New Series – Hidden Heritage

be-sixtowns In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Alec Clifton-Taylor made a series of programmes with the BBC entitled Six English Towns, Six More English Towns and Another Six English Towns. He was principally interested with showing off the wonderful survivors of beautiful architecture that was available to discover in our towns across England. Although a simple premise of looking at buildings, he did it with such charm and authority, it became a landmark series. That was thirty years ago. Much of what he showed us still remains, fortunately, but in that time towns have expanded enormously and a lot of our heritage has been swallowed up and tucked away behind the commercial hoardings, large plate-glass windows and new utilitarian constructions; what survives nowadays is often ignored or taken for granted.
I am planning to go in search of my own six towns to explore the hidden gems that are under our noses and often overlooked. To fund this, with the help of the Community Channel, a Kickstarter fund-raising project will start towards the end of June this year. (More information on that will announced soon.) This will mean, with a small TV crew, I shall be making a jaunt in the autumn and spending one week at each of the following towns:

Lyme Regis – Dorset
Lyme Regis is a coastal town in West Dorset, England, situated 25 miles west of Dorchester and 25 miles (40 km) east of Exeter. The town lies in Lyme Bay, on the English Channel coast at the Dorset–Devon border. It is nicknamed “The Pearl of Dorset.” The town is noted for the fossils found in the cliffs and beaches, which are part of the Heritage Coast—known commercially as the Jurassic Coast.

Barnstaple – Devon
Barnstaple or is a former river-port, large town, civil parish and the capital of the local government district of North Devon in the county of Devon, England. Since 1974, it has been a civil parish governed by town council.

Monmouth – Monmouthshire, Wales
Monmouth is a traditional county town in Monmouthshire, Wales. It is situated where the River Monnow meets the River Wye, within 2 miles of the border with England. The town is 36 miles north-east of Cardiff, and 127 miles west of London

Bridgenorth – Shropshire
Bridgnorth is a town in Shropshire, England, situated on the Severn Valley. It is split into High Town and Low Town, named on account of their elevations relative to the River Severn.

Newark-on-Trent – Nottinghamshire
Newark-on-Trent is a market town in Nottinghamshire in the East Midlands region of England. It stands on the River Trent, the A1, and the East Coast Main Line railway.

Sandwich – Kent
Sandwich is a historic town and civil parish on the River Stour in the Non-metropolitan district of Dover, within the ceremonial county of Kent, south-east England. It has a population of 6,800.

I do hope you will support our fund-raising efforts, tell your friends and family about the project and following the progress here on the website and on Twitter (@BaldExplorer #BaldExplorer) and of course Facebook too.

Crumbling Churches Preview 3

Rector, John Gay, tells Richard Vobes about the problems with the roof of his beautiful church in Itchingfield, West Sussex in this preview of the new Bald Explorer episode coming soon to the Community Channel in 2013.

Wendy Dorkings, the church warden at St. Nicolas, allows the cameras in to see the wonderful and rare priest house that stands in the church yard and shares some of the fascinating history.

Itchingfield is home to a group of dedicated bell ringers who enjoy practicing the traditional art in the extraordinary timber built bell tower.

This is just a preview of the episode that will explore the problems the rural parish churches faces as congregations decrease and ancient buildings begin to need attention.

You find out more and watch full episodes at www.CommunityChannel.org.

In the TV listings

The Daily Mail 'Weekend' magazine TV Listings
The Daily Mail ‘Weekend’ magazine TV Listings
It is a strange feeling when you catch yourself looking back at yourself, especially when it is from a national newspaper’s Saturday magazine. On 9th February, the Daily Mail’s ‘Weekend’ magazine published its TV guide along with several pick of the channel programmes and awarded them a number of stars according to their opinion of the programme. I was thrilled to see that not only was the Bald Explorer highlighted for Sunday night, but it was also given three out of four stars.

I am not sure how much this will persuade people to watch the programme, but the added description of the episode was pretty complimentary. I was excited to notice that they deemed the episode ‘a jolly pleasure’.

The programme in question is the visit to the East Sussex town of Lewes which is broadcast on the Community Channel. The recently completed new adventures will commence on the same channel towards the middle of March and with luck further ones are to follow on after that.

It is certainly a boost to the morale and, without doubt, encouragement to make further forays into Britain’s traditions and historic past. Watch this space.

The Community Channel can be found at www.CommunityChannel.org

Do We Need Our Crumbling Churches?

A crumbling relic - should we let this continue?
A crumbling relic – should we let this continue?

According to a report I read in the Times a while back, nearly 4,000 churches out of the 47,000 in the UK are slowly falling to bits and need attention. And when you average out the congregation per church the number is a mere 33 people attending. Take into account that each of these churches, again on average, require around £80,000 for repair and restoration work, a very big question is clearing being raised. Do we need these crumbling churches?

The Bald Explorer is off on another quest to find out if our ancient churches should be left to fall apart gracefully or whether they ought to be fought for. We lost most of our abbeys, monasteries and nunneries in the mid 16th Century as a result of the Dissolution and the country is scarred with their sad remains. Would we wish to allow that to happen again?

Many of the smaller rural religious houses have stood for hundreds of years, with a great many dating back to the Norman period. These Norman churches would have been the most significant building in the villages and towns and having been built-in stone have out-lasted almost all the timber-framed structures surrounding them. In some cases, a church stands alone, marking the spot where a village once stood.

The church was, and in many cases, still is the centre of the community. Not only was it a place of worship, but in the days before the benches and pews were erected and the building was more open plan, the church was effectively the village hall. Markets were held there. Pigs and sheep would be bought and sold from the nave and many feasts took place within those ancient walls. It would have been a loud, gay, busy building, white washed and painted with colourful murals, quite the reverse of the sombre, hushed place we see today.

As monuments they encapsulate the village’s or town’s history. The walls, may seem bare, scraped and devoid of life, but they full of the vibrations of all that has gone on before, from birth, to marriage and finally death. You do not need to be religious or a believer in Gods to appreciate the significance such a building has played in the history of man. The story is played out in village after village, town after town across the land. And as each town grew and spewed further and further out into the green belt, gobbling up the countryside with the construction of modern, yet distinctly plain, utilitarian houses, often like a plan from prisoner of war camp, it is still possible to discover at its centre, the throbbing heart, the parish church.

Work is under way on another Bald Explorer episode, which hopefully will be shown on the Community Channel later in the year to find out if saving our crumbling churches is possible and what needs to be done to bring this about.

Community Channel Youtube Page

The Community Channel's Bald Explorer Youtube Page
The Community Channel’s Bald Explorer Youtube Page

I am thrilled to announce that the Community Channel has now dedicated a special Youtube page to the shows for the Bald Explorer. It gets its own nifty url too: www.youtube.com/show/thebaldexplorer which is fabulous!

The next three episodes are due to air soon on the channel and I will update you as soon as it happens.

Coracle on a Canal

On the best surviving stretch of the Newport Canal.
I have been back in Shropshire filming more footage for the Bald Explorer over the last few days and on this occasion I had my son, Billy, to assist me. We had a number of key sequences to shoot including the opening, various pieces to camera and a coracle in the only surviving ‘looked after’ length of the Shrewsbury and Newport Canal.

The biggest problem filming in winter is the short days, low sunlight and unpredictability of the weather. It can be numbingly cold, but provided it isn’t windy I can live with that. It certainly focuses the mind to get the shots in the can as quickly as possible and not to hang about.

Paddling the ancient coracle on the old canal.

It isn’t the best time of year to go filming canals if you want to see pretty narrow boats chugging along because many are moored up for the winter, in for repair and covered up. I desperately need to get some footage of boats going through locks, passing one another and chuffing under bridges. I think I will need a special day of narrow boat hunting.

The highlight of the recent batch of shooting was getting back into the coracle again. I bought the thing over two years ago for another episode, but haven’t had a chance to use it yet, so I found an excuse in this episode to get it on water. Billy and I took it to Newport where there is a fair stretch of the canal and having had special permission to do so, we filmed my slightly wobbly attempt to paddle the ancient craft.

Thanks to Bernie Jones for his help making this happen

A big thanks must go to Bernie Jones from the Shrewsbury and Newport Canal Trust for organising and smoothing the way. I am looking forward to editing the video and seeing this sequence in the programme when it airs on the Community Channel, hopefully in January.