Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Random Brown Sign of the Day - Uffington White Horse

This is the view from above the White Horse Hill in Uffington, Oxfordshire. Apart from deserving the Random Brown Sign of the Day accolade for it's gorgeous views over the beautiful Oxfordshire countryside, having an excellent quirky name and being over 3000 years old, this horsey hill also holds a special place in my heart.

In a former life as a travelling marketing consultant I spent many hours in my car driving all over the south of England listening to radio 4 and audio books which, needless to say, started getting a little bit depressing. In order to combat the monotonous hideousness I used to turn off the road whenever I saw a brown sign to help me engage with where I was and to feel like I'd done something more with my day than talk about a company brand I didn't care about and get annoyed with the Afternoon Play. I lived in Oxford at the time and as much as I love discovering new places I found myself turning off at the brown sign for Uffington White Horse on the way home again and again. I'd park at the bottom of the hill and walk up to the horse's big head and admire the views. It's windy up there and one day I thought I'd buy myself a kite to fly (I hadn't done this since I was 8), so feeling like a bit of an idiot (luckily there weren't too many people around) I put my kite together and after a few failed attempts (running desperately down the hill to retrieve my tangled and flapping kite) I started to get quite good.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

How to win at greyhound racing - go for a Swift Gin

The joys of The Brown Sign Way not only come in the sheer quantity of brown-signed attractions across Britain but also in their variety. There are 93 different types of attraction and facility that get their own symbol on brown signs, for example:

Birds of Prey

Motor Museum


Historic Dockyard/Naval Attraction

Of course there are attractions that don't fit into any of the 93 categories and these either get their own unique symbol (like Jodrell Bank Observatory and the Millennium Dome) or don't have a symbol and have just text on their sign. There are a few niche categories, like heavy horse and brass rubbing centres that get their own symbol and as much as you might think there aren't really enough of them to warrant having their own symbol I like the idea that they're important and British enough to be included.

An attraction that doesn't have it's own symbol but really should (and what a brilliant symbol it would be) are greyhound stadiums, so when Perry Barr dog track in Birmingham signed themselves up to my website it inspired me to research the history of greyhound racing in Britain. The first ever official greyhound races were held at Manchester's Belle Vue Stadium after an American enthusiast brought over the concept (which emerged from coursing) in 1926. By 1927 there were over 40 dog tracks across the UK and the sport proved very popular, especially with the urban working classes. It enjoyed it's peak in popularity just after WWII but as with many sports and leisure activities at the time visitor numbers began to wane in the 1960s, probably due to the ease and affordability of travel and the shifting trends in how people spent their leisure time.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Stormy times in a whole world of barometers....

This was the view from Chris’ balcony window at 7.30am on Wednesday morning. After the blindingly gorgeous weather we’d had the day before this sight was mildly disappointing. Sometimes though having your options limited ends you up discovering random places you probably wouldn’t have gone to before and today turned out to be just one of those days.

Chris told me about a brown sign he used to pass on his way to work that he’d always been intrigued by which points to (and this is no joke) Barometer World. I’m the biggest fan of the quirky and off-beat, however even I was a little apprehensive about the potential of this nicheset of niche attractions. But it was indoors, somewhere new and there's a man with sideburns on the website, so I was sold.

Barometer World is just through the little village of Merton near Okehampton on the north side of Dartmoor. Moors fascinate me, they creep me out bad and I can’t help imagining myself suddenly lost, alone and wandering the windswept eerie landscape Jane Eyre style, perhaps encountering a rabid werewolf or running into a serial killer hell bent on axing me to death or something just as ridiculous, and weirdly I have a massive pull to things that freak me out, so I donned my bonnet and set off for Dartmoor.

Once we got up onto the moor the weather was appropriately dank and foggy. Chris wanted to show me the sprawling and ominous Dartmoor Prison but we could hardly see our own hands in front of our faces, let alone the road and other road users, so I didn’t get to appreciate it’s scariness as much as I could have done. The point was this brown sign though and I was obviously bouncing off the walls with excitement when I saw it...

Sunday, 10 April 2011

The nerve centre of The British Empire in a quiet little Cornish cove. Who knew?

This is the sign at the bottom of the Minack Theatre hill. I'd never heard of the Telegraph Museum so I was intrigued, and when I'm intrigued I must discover. We'd passed a big white building on the way to the Minack with MUSEUM printed in massive letters on it so I guessed that was it.

After parking up you walk through a garden full of "sci-art" sculptures which were born out of an interesting collaborative project that aims to bridge the age old divide between the art world and the science world by engaging local school children and innovative artists to design pieces of object d'arts that reflect the invisible science behind telegraph technology portrayed though the medium of sculpture, sound and light. I liked this eerie one the best...

This is a telegraph pole connected to a redundant submarine cable that was once used to send telegraph signals between here and Vigo in Spain. Since the cable no longer transmits telegraphs the signals it now picks up are the earth's faint electrical charges which are then processed and sounded out through the speaker on top. It emits live changes in the electrical signals under the sea, so in effect what you're listening to is the cumulative sound of the earth's magnetic field, radio waves, lightening and man-made electromagnetic charges (among other things) and hearing it makes you feel like you've been shot straight into an episode of Doctor Who. It was all creepy and scary and I love that.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

England's most westerly point and a single-handed open air theatre builder

At 1am on Monday morning I was in my old pal Chris' sitting room in Plymouth after a non-stop 4.5 hour belt down the motorway straight from work. We'd spontaneously decided I'd visit and go brown-signing around the South-West after The Minack Theatre signed up to I was hell-bent on paying them a visit after reading what they had to say about themselves: "The Minack is the UK's only cliffside open-air theatre, created by Rowena Cade in the 1930s, we're now hosting an 18 week summer season of plays and musicals and open all year to visitors who just wish to explore this incredible venue". A cliffside open air theatre on the tempestuous Cornwall coast, wowzers now that sounds cool. After a little more research I discovered their live webcam (permanently open in browser) which quite frankly cemented my hell-bentedness on visiting even more. I gave Chris a week's notice to get some time off work and so it was that I came to be sitting on his sofa at 1am. We haven't seen each other for about 8 years but I have Chris to thank for doing all my brown sign graphics early on when I finally decided to properly do my project full time. Ever since he's been massively supportive of me and really encouraging of my pursuits along The Brown Sign Way, so the prospect of spending the next few days with him was something I was really looking forward to.

We set off for The Minack nice and early the next day to allow for some random brown sign action along the way, and those Cornish brown signs didn't disappoint either.

I was excited about seeing the sign for Lands End because I've never been there before despite numerous trips to Cornwall. I've also thought a lot about doing a massive Land's End to John O'Groats brown-signing trip so I was happy to find my starting point had the appropriate signage. I think it's romantic to be somewhere where the land quite literally ends and to imagine yourself marked on the map, standing on the rugged toe of England as it juts out into the vast expanse of sea beyond, I like the thought of me being there on the very tip of Britain's toenail.