5 Photos 5 Stories: Hidden Wenlock #5

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For the final post in this Hidden Wenlock series I thought I’d show you Ashfield Hall, one of the most impressive houses on the High Street. Yesterday I said how many of the town’s ancient timber-framed buildings had become hidden within later stone exteriors. With this house it was rather different.

The left-hand wing with the arch was built some time between 1396 and 1421 by one William Ashfield, a town resident. The impressive timbered wing was added in the 1550s for Richard Lawley. He and his brother, Thomas, were members of a leading local family, and it was they who, after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, bought the Priory and its estate from Henry VIII’s physician, the Venetian, Augustino Augustini.

Augustino seems to have been a slippery type, always short of money. He had been Cardinal Wolsey’s physician before Wolsey lost royal favour. He then became embroiled in the intrigues of King Henry’s ‘fixer’, Thomas Cromwell, who had also been  a Wolsey retainer. One of Augustino’s missions was to go to Germany to lobby support for Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon. The Priory was thus his reward for services rendered. He wasted little time in selling it off, and the Lawleys paid him £1,606 6 shillings  8 pence for it. On the proceeds of the deal he then headed home to Italy.

In the 17th century Ashfield Hall became the Blue Bridge Inn, named after the bridge that crossed the malodorous stream, the town’s open sewer that ran down the main street, and was known for good reason as the ‘Schet Brok’.

Despite the insalubrious quarter, legend has it that King Charles I stayed at the Blue Bridge in 1642, en route for Oxford and the Battle of Edgehill. Thereafter, the place went seriously downhill, and became a lodging for itinerant labourers.

But there are earlier stories than these relating to Ashfield Hall. The High Street used to be called Spital (Hospital) Street, and it is believed that the archway probably gave access to the Hospital of St. John whose existence is first documented in 1267. In 1275 an appeal went out for the Master and Brethren of the hostel “to which lost and naked beggars are frequently admitted for their relief, the house being in great poverty.” Merchants coming to town with grain and other goods to trade were called on to give some assistance. By 1329 the Priory was taking over the premises, although it is not known if they continued to run the charity.

This reminds me, though, of a statistic I read years ago in an economic history of Medieval Europe. It shocked me at the time, but it seems it was the norm pretty much everywhere in the Middle Ages for 20% of the population to be beggars (professional or otherwise) and living off lordly charity. Giving to the poor was apparently an important means by which the rich got over their guilt at being rich, and so gained grace. It was how society worked.

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By the 18th century, we have a different story. Much Wenlock has some of the most comprehensive pre-1834 English Poor Law records still surviving. The dismal picture they paint is more about local bureaucrats trying to save the town from the expense of supporting any more poor than it absolutely has to.  The destitute were mostly women and children. The women, often no more than girls who had been sent off as apprenticed labour and returned, impregnated by their overseers and masters, were subjected to pre-birth, and post-birth bastardy examinations to determine their right to stay in the parish. If churchwardens and overseers found against them, they were subject to removal orders. Pauper children were sent as indentured apprentices to anyone in need of cheap labour. I have a copy of a Much Wenlock churchwardens’ indenture of 1805 which places

Thomas Williams aged eight years or thereabouts, a poor Child of the said Parish ~ Apprentice to James Barker of Madeley Wood, Whitesmith…with him to dwell and serve…until the said Apprentice shall accomplish his full Age of twenty one years ~

In return, James Barker is to train the lad in the business of a whitesmith (tin working), and give him “sufficient (the quantity is unspecified) meat, drink, apparel, lodging, washing and other things necessary and fit for an apprentice.”

It’s a sobering glimpse of life for the powerless and underprivileged. It shows, too, the disparities between rich and poor, the respectable and socially unacceptable in a small, but  largely prosperous town like Much Wenlock.

Which rather brings me back to the Schet Brok, the town’s once infamous open sewer. In fact it was not until Victorian times that the stream was finally enclosed and culverted, and a proper sewerage system installed. These improvements were down to the town’s good physician, Dr William Brookes, he who also masterminded the Wenlock Olympian Games and inspired the modern Olympic  movement.

The brook still causes the town problems, even though (mostly) we can no longer see it. Come heavy storms on Wenlock Edge, and the culvert has been known to cause terrible flooding, the last event being in 2007. But that, as they say, is another story, although I’ll leave you with some pictures courtesy of Much Wenlock’s Flood Action Group. It is a good example of how the doings of the past, hidden though they may be, can be very much with us.

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

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5 Photos 5 Stories Challenge

Pauline at Memories Are Made of This nominated me to take up this challenge. The idea is to  “post a photo each day for five consecutive days and attach a story to the photo. It can be fiction or non-fiction, a poem or a short paragraph, and each day nominate another blogger for the challenge”.

So today I would like to nominate Anke at Life in Baku. She has been living and working in the capital of Azebaijan since 2012. Her blog is an on-going quest to reveal in words and photos, places and people, their ways of life. Join her on this fascinating journey. 

P.S. To those who are taking up my challenges, I gather from Jo at Restless Jo (who is also doing it this week) that it should be ONE photo. Oh well.

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Reference: W F Mumford Wenlock in the Middle Ages

Going All Symmetrical At Portmeirion

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Surely only a wizard could have conjured this  place – or so I thought, aged six, when we, the Ashford family first made pilgrimage to Portmeirion on the North Wales coast.

Story continues with more photos at Arch Wizard of Wales: Clough Williams-Ellis “Architect Errant”
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Origins of the Skyscraper: Historic Angles

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This detail comes from a building, which believe it or not, was THE proto-type for all our high-rise buildings. It is Bage’s Flax Mill, the world’s first iron-framed building, constructed in Shrewsbury, in the English Midlands in 1797. As with much invention, it was driven by a series of disasters, specifically the conflagration of several timber-framed textile factories. Cotton and flax dust is highly combustible, and these early factories were candle lit. The losses to the owners were considerable  (never mind the damage to the workers).  Fire resistant buildings were what they wanted. The techniques of this iron-framed brick clad mill were further adapted in the rebuilding of Chicago after the great fire of 1871.

Shropshire Archives

For more on this and the grim story of the young flax mill workers who were employed here see my earlier post: Pattern for the Sky Scraper

 copyright 2014 Tish Farrell

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Floating not flooding: Adeyemi’s ‘Ark-ademy’

 

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Photos © 2014 NLÉ

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And what is this extraordinary structure?

Why, a floating school of course. It is also a prototype building created by Nigerian-born architect, Kunle Adeyemi  and his Amsterdam-based company NLÉ. Adeyemi has more plans too, ones that will relieve the dire conditions for the 100,000 people who currently live in this, Nigeria’s Makoko slum. The fishing settlement in Lagos Lagoon has been there since the 18th century. To cope with changing tidal levels, the shanties are built on stilts, rising from the lagoon mud; the main way to get around is by boat. There is zero sanitation, and consequently much disease. Life expectancy is reckoned to be less than 40 years.

For the past two centuries Makoko slum dwellers have adapted to tidal changes, but now climate change, with rising sea levels and increasingly extreme weather events, is putting them at grave risk.

Recently the Nigerian authorities have addressed their plight by demolishing many of the stilt-built dwellings, making the inhabitants homeless. There will be re-development  naturally – not for the poor who have long lived there, but to replace their community with flashy lagoon-view high rises. Makoko as it stands is deemed a blot that must be erased. It is an interesting approach to social deprivation: to make it worse.

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See instead Adeyemi’s vision:

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Now doesn’t this make your heart sing? Homes to live for.

And here is where it begins:

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Diagram courtesy of NLÉ.

 

Makoko floating school, then, is literally the flagship of NLÉ’s proposed waterborne city. The structure was designed and built in collaboration with the Makoko Waterfront Community and with input from Dutch naval architect, Erik Wassen. It is movable, and capable of dealing with storm surges and flooding. The triangular frame which is mounted on 256 floating plastic barrels makes it very stable and with a capacity to keep 100 people safe in storm conditions. PV cells on the apex generate solar power, and there are facilities to recycle organic waste and harvest rainwater. Most importantly of all, it was built using the techniques and skills of local craftspeople. It is a building that fits with people’s view of themselves. And it is beautiful.

 

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Photo © 2014 NLÉ

The school has three levels with a capacity for 60 -100 pupils. The 1st level is an open play area for breaks and assembly. Out of school hours this space may be used by the community. Level 2 is an enclosed space for 2-4 classrooms, and Level 3 has a partially enclosed workshop space.

The only fly in the ointment of NLÉ’s scheme for Makoko’s regeneration is the fact that Nigerian authorities say the floating school is an illegal structure, and should not be there. NLÉ are currently in negotiation with Lagos state government and are said to be optimistic that no immediate action will be taken.

I for one hope that this African solution to an African problem will be seen for what it is – an amazingly wonderful, life-giving, life-enhancing scheme of which Nigeria should be heartily proud. The floating school addresses both present need and future uncertainty, and in ways that its community can reproduce and embrace. It has inherent sustainability. It is a pattern to build on, adapt, develop, replicate, but on an individual human scale that everyone can understand. And as time goes on, we may all have need to tap into some of NLÉ’s ingenuity if we wish to continue living well and safely on our home planet. Town Planning that gladdens my heart and gives me hope, and believe me, that does not often happen.

text copyright 2014 Tish Farrell

 

Further info:

Kunlé Adeyemi Founder NLÉ

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The Architectural Review Jan 2014

http://www.nleworks.com/case/makoko-floating-school/

 

Flickr Comments F – archive

Arch Wizard of Wales: Clough Williams-Ellis “Architect Errant”

Surely only a wizard could have conjured this  place – or so I thought, aged six, when we, the Ashford family first made pilgrimage to Portmeirion on the North Wales coast.

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“Cherish the past. Adorn the present. Construct for the future.” This was the life-long credo of Clough Williams-Ellis, the man who dared to build an Italianesque village on a beautiful Welsh headland.

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It was like stepping into a living picture book or melting through the mirror into Looking Glass Land. The houses were the rich, powdery, pastel shades of Loveheart sweets (does this strange confection still exist?). There were mythic frescoes in places were a child might least expect them, and best of all, a shell grotto that was just like the Little Mermaid’s deep-sea garden.

It was enchanting from the moment we stepped through the gatehouse entrance. How could there be so much colour, so many decorative flourishes to catch the eye, so many mermaids – here on a wooded Welsh headland with the lowering grey sky above? And the weather was gloomy on that first visit; I was forced to wear my dull brown mac over my pretty summer dress. The photos taken that day show me looking pensive and withdrawn. But I did love the place, and was quick to register the tones of admiration in my parents’ voices whenever they uttered the name of the man who had conceived this folly to beat all follies – Sir Bertram Clough Williams-Ellis, self-taught architect and champion for the preservation of rural Britain.

Clough Williams-Ellis (left) with Frank Lloyd Wright at Portmeirion in 1956

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Of course he built Portmeirion to prove a point: that a beautiful site could be developed without wrecking  it. When he bought the land in 1925  he described it as “a neglected wilderness.” There was “a pale mansion, a hundred years old, spread along the balustraded terrace on the sea’s edge.”

That house became the Portmeirion Hotel, and some of its associated cottages were integrated in the village plan. The two previous owners from the 1850s onwards had planted the site extensively with specimen oriental trees and exotic plants, many of which still survive. The planting, along with the building of a close-knit hillside village continued from 1925 under Clough’s direction for the next fifty years.

Many of the original plans still exist. The first phase of development was influenced by Clough’s interest in the Arts and Crafts movement. Later buildings followed Classical lines. He also made use of what today we refer to as architectural salvage, and indeed he called Portmeirion  “a home for fallen buildings.” With this architectural bricolage are references to some 5,000 years of architectural history from around the world. Critics of modernist inclination thus tend to overlook Clough’s contribution to architecture. This is a mistake. On our most recent visit to Wales we discovered his Caffi Morannedd Cafe at Criccieth, a few miles north of Porthmadog.

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Caffi Morannedd by the sea at Criccieth

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Of course it was at Portmeirion that I first learned there was such a thing as architecture, and that this was something altogether more momentous and wonderful than drawing pictures of “our house” as one endlessly did at primary school.

Clough was also intent on giving people pleasure. He fought all his life to create and preserve beauty, which he called “that strange necessity.” But this did not mean that he was against development. “Enterprise by all means,” he said in 1931 when he was Chairman of the Council for the Rural Protection of Wales, “but reasonable, seemly development where it is in the public interest and nowhere else.”

And oh how fine it would be if English planning authorities were ruled by such objectives, instead of developer aspiration.

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As a child, I liked the way the houses seemed to have grown out of the rocky hillside, and that there was a mysterious “smugglers’ path” through a tunnel of overgrown rhododendrons that led to a secret sandy cove and the little tin lighthouse on the headland. It was all such fun, and created by a man who, like any magician, or indeed a wizard, wanted everyone to take delight in his illusions.

And now, since this post was prompted by Sue Llewellyn’s Word A Week arch challenge, here are some more views of Portmeirion – naturally with arches of all kinds in mind – all taken last week in Wales under mostly sunny skies.

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Unicorn Cottage: this illusion of a stately home is in fact a bungalow

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Arch with a view: glimpse of the estuary below the village

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In the foreground, behind the palms, is the colonnade from a Bristol bathhouse built in 1760. Another view below.

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There are cafes and restaurants in the village, and cottages to let.

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Mermaid Cottage was already on the site when Clough bought the land. It was built in the 1850s, and Clough adorned it with the canopy and added the palms for the Mediterranean look.

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The Hercules Gazebo, complete with cast iron mermaid panels, serves to disguise a generator.

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The Prisoner, the cult TV series of the late 1960s starring Patrick McGoohan, was filmed at Portmeirion. It put Portmeirion on the map and its association with the place is still celebrated.

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Arches at all angles.

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Archway to the Piazza and (below) the Piazza itself below.

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The village from the estuary.

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The arc of the Dwyryd Estuary taken from the esplanade at the Portmeirion Hotel

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Clough Williams-Ellis 1883-1978  Photo: Polandeze Creative Commons

A man who lived creatively in all senses, and whose work has delighted millions.

copyright 2013 Tish Farrell

References:

http://www.portmeirion-village.com/en/visit/clough-williams-ellis/chronology/

http://www.brondanw.org/english/history/portmeirion.html

http://www.100welshheroes.com/en/biography/sircloughwilliamellis

Sydney Harbour Bridge reflected from the Sydney Opera: an unusual point of view

 

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/09/06/unusual/

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We have a copy of this photo on our landing wall, taken by the Team Leader some years ago. I suppose it’s a case of familiarity  making you forget to look at things with due care and attention. In fact, come to think of it, I may have scanned the slide back to front and upside down. But then that should be OK too for this particular challenge, and whichever way, I think it deserves a more appreciative audience. The man who caught this image by chance doesn’t seem to think that it’s up to much as a photograph. What do you think?

 

Windows in Wenlock

In response to Frizztext’s  ‘Tagged W’

Here are some scenes of the town where I live, Much Wenlock, a settlement continuously lived in for the last thousand years. For more of its history see my post Of Silurian Shores.

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The town grew up around a medieval monastery. This is the tower of Holy Trinity church which survived Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1540. It has been our parish church since around 1100 AD. Originally it was part of the monastic complex.

The Priory ruins are now owned by English Heritage. This twelfth century Cluniac Priory was once one of the largest religious houses in Europe. It was built on the site of a much earlier abbey founded in the seventh century by St Milburga, daughter of King Merewald of Mercia. England’s Norman rulers wished to cash in on the sanctity of St. Milburga’s remains as well as making a big architectural statement on the Saxon landscape.

This is street is called The Bullring, once the place for bull-baiting, a popular local sport until the early 19th century.

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The Guildhall was built around 1540 as the court house to replace the monastic court after the Dissolution. Town Council meetings are still held here. The ground floor is used for various markets. In this photo, taken in 2012, townspeople are celebrating Much Wenlock’s Olympic Games connections. See Of wolf farts, windmills and the Wenlock Olympics.

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The George and Dragon is one of the few survivors of the town’s once numerous inns and public houses. The town’s main industries were limestone quarrying, lime burning and agriculture – all hard-working pursuits guaranteed to build up a thirst.

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Raynald’s Mansion (above) on the High Street dates from around 1600.

Ashfield Hall, also on the High Street, was built before 1421. It was possibly built on the site of St. John’s Hospital for ‘lost and naked beggars’. For a time is was the Blue Bell Inn and then a lodging house for itinerant labourers. (A History of Much Wenlock by Vivien Bellamy.)

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These ogival windows are a local ‘speciality’.

And some of my windows.

Looking down on the town from the south west, Windmill Hill top right, The Wrekin top left.

© 2013 Tish Farrell

WP Challenge: In the Background (MMBA in Zimbabwe)

Graham at Great Zimbabwe

Weekly Photo Challenge: In the Background

There’s always a lot of background in Africa: MMBA as the colonial British frequently referred to it – Miles and miles of bloody Africa. The origin of this expression is variously attributed to Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway and Robert Ruark. In any event MMBA is always difficult to capture in a photograph.

The shot above was taken from the hilltop ruins above Great Zimbabwe. The original negative has degraded a little, but the photograph was also taken in winter-time when the landscape of southern Africa anyway takes on the aspect of an ‘old master’ oil painting.

As ever when Team Farrell go travelling, Team Leader Graham was striking out in front – ‘Our Man in Africa’, while Nosy Writer was busy being nosy and fumbling with the settings on her Olympus Trip. Inevitably, TL ended up walking into NW’s line of sight. Here, though, I’m glad he did. He may be in shadow, but he provides a handy foil for the backdrop. It could be a stage set, couldn’t it? There’s definitely a sense of unreality.

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And here’s another painterly ‘in the background’ view: the Great Enclosure of Great Zimbabwe with giant aloes in the foreground. Of course, when it comes to the history of this World Heritage site, ‘in the background’ could well have another  and wholly insidious meaning. When geologist, Carl Mauch, first visited the site in 1871 he was convinced that the massive dry-stone granite walls were the remains of the Queen of Sheba’s lost city of Ophir.  (See also my post on The Swahili). For some decades this view persisted. It was not in the interests of pioneer imperialist Cecil Rhodes for it to be known that Africans had a sophisticated historical heritage. He financed the first excavation by James Theodore Bent whose brief was to ‘prove’ that the complex had been built by the Phoenicians or the Ancient Egyptians. In 1928-9 British archaeologist, Gertrude Caton-Thompson refuted this conclusion, pronounced it African-built but “the product of an infantile mind.”

Some people may be surprised to know how often archaeology is used as a political tool, but it was, and still is.

In the 1960s-70s when Zimbabwe, then Southern Rhodesia, was under the white rule of  Ian Smith’s regime, history was again re-written. Any historians who dared to state that Great Zimbabwe was built by indigenous Africans put themselves at risk, and their work was censored. This led to the departure from the country of many prominent Rhodesian archaeologists including Peter Garlake, both an expert on the ruins, and Rhodesia’s then Senior Inspector of Monuments. His excavations in the 1960s, and those of Paul Sinclair in 1986 fully demonstrate that from around 1200 AD to c. 1500 AD when it was abandoned, the Shona-speaking Karanga people built and lived in this extensive settlement.

Estimates for the population over this period range from 5-30,000. It was a wealthy centre for cattle rearing and for cereal and cotton growing. Gold from mines further inland was brought into Great Zimbabwe, its rulers acting as middle-men in the trade that extended to the Swahili city of Sofala on the Mozambique coast.  In return for gold and ivory, the Karanga imported luxury goods – fine textiles, Persian and Chinese wares, including Ming porcelain.

So much for Cecil Rhodes and his racist agenda. Although even in death this man manages to still make his presence felt. He chose to be buried in the Matobo Hills, territory of Ndebele people, and at a place known as Malindidzimu, Hill of Spirits. From here, also known as World’s View, I imagine that he thought he could continue to ‘rule’ Africa. The locals find the presence of his spirit here in their own sacred place quite offensive.

Matobo Hills - view north from Cecil Rhodes grave

View from Cecil Rhodes’ grave in the Matobo Hills, and his stated aim: “I contend that we are the finest race in the world and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race. Just fancy those parts that are at present inhabited by the most despicable specimens of human beings what an alteration there would be if they were brought under Anglo-Saxon influence, look again at the extra employment a new country added to our dominions gives.”

From his 1877 Confession of Faith

And as an antidote to that dispiriting diatribe here are some more ‘in the background’ views in Zimbabwe:

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Gateway in the Great Enclosure, Great Zimbabwe

Great Zimbabwe inside the great enclosure

The mysterious tower inside the Great Enclosure

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Me looking small and very young inside the Great Enclosure. The walls are dry-stone granite – not a lick of mortar.

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A roadside soapstone artist in Harare. This bust of a Shona elder is a common subject. Zimbabwe has produced some of the world’s outstanding sculptors.

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Looking down on the Great Enclosure. For decades many Europeans refused to believe Great Zimbabwe was an African settlement.

Victoria Falls and buck

Victoria Falls through a misty spray of mighty Zambezi.

Zambia's Victoria Falls looking along knife-edge to Zimbabwe's falls

Victoria Falls from the Zambian side. Most of the water on this side of the Zambezi is abstracted. My wet kanga wrap nearly took me hang-gliding off the knife edge in a rainstorm, but that’s another story.

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Dete school girls, with a train in the background!

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And finally, because this is Africa, there has to be shot with some elephants in the background. Taken in Hwange National Park.

© 2013 Tish Farrell