Zanzibar’s House Of Wonders: A Door On The past

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The ancient Swahili towns of East Africa’s seaboard and islands are renowned for their elaborately carved doors. Zanzibar (more properly Unguja) has some fine examples, so it’s a pity I have so few photos from our long-ago stay in Stone Town. There is a reason, however. For one thing the streets are so shadowy and narrow it is difficult to take decent shots without causing pedestrian chaos. And anyway, neither photographer, nor my then Olympus trip camera, whose back kept flicking open, were up to job.

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Here though, on the steps of Beit-al-Ajaib, the House of Wonders, there was both light and room for manoeuvre. The doors belong to a palace built by Sultan Barghash in 1883 to host ceremonial events. Barghash belonged to the dynasty of Omani Arabs who had ruled over the Swahili city states from the late 17th century, this after the expulsion of the Portuguese who, thanks to explorer Vasco da Gama, had held the territory, thus controlling the Indian Ocean trade, for some two centuries.

So it was that one set of invaders succeeded another, the situation further complicated in the 19th century by competing European interests wherein Britain saw off Germany, and proclaimed the Zanzibari Omanis’ dominion a British protectorate; the stated objective being to put an end to the Arab slave trade, though some might say this was only an excuse, since there appear to have few means to back up the fine words, and slaving on parts of the East African coast anyway continued into the 1920s.

But back to the palace. Barghash was an extravagant man and, before his death in 1888, built six palaces across Unguja island. (The Zanzibari sultans’ wealth derived both from the slave trade and Unguja’s spice plantations). Their rule did not end well. 1964 saw the Zanzibar Revolution. The Omanis, along with many Indian residents, were killed or expelled. Thereafter the House of Wonders was used as government offices. When we visited in 1999 it was abandoned, shrouded in dust and empty  but for one of the last sultan’s  cars (a candy pink saloon) parked inside the atrium just behind those two front doors. One wonders how many men it took to carry it up the palace steps. A friend who visited more recently told me it was still there.

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And finally, my only view of a Stone Town door, more gist than detail:

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Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: doors and drawers

Quiet Scenes On The Edge

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The hamlet of Easthope lies a few miles south-west of Much Wenlock. To reach it you travel along Wenlock Edge towards Church Stretton, then drop down a winding lane, too narrow for comfort. At the village heart is St. Peter’s church and the meadows of Manor Farm. The houses are scattered round: old limestone cottages, some ancient timber framed buildings, some modern homes built last century, a gracious rectory no longer ecclesiastically engaged. Most look out on the Mogg, a darkly forested hogsback ridge whose trees hide the the remains of  an Iron Age hillfort known as The Ditches.

You can just see the conifer tops of the Mogg between the churchyard trees in the next photo.

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I took these photos one bright December afternoon. It was something of a pilgrimage.  My good friend and artist Sheilagh Jevons resides in this peaceful graveyard, the perfect spot for a woman so in tune with the Shropshire landscape and its liminal spaces and much in love with the Mogg. Her house and studio were just down the lane from the church and she called her home The Mogg.

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Here is another hill topped with a conifer plantation. It lies on the easterly side of Much Wenlock, and this is the view I see as I come home from the allotment, stepping out under the big ash tree that guards the unofficial ‘gateway’ through the field hedge.

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And naturally, one of the most peaceful spots in the town are the ruins of Much Wenlock Priory whose origins, in the charge of Saxon princess and abbess, St. Milburga, go back to 670 CE. The remains you see here are much later, dating from successive building phases in the 12th and 13th centuries. In its day, Wenlock Priory was among the grandest monastic houses in Europe, its monks belonging to the Cluniac order and brought here from France. It’s a mysterious thing to think of now, a French community ruling the lives, body and spirit, of Shropshire folk. All dissolved in 1540 of course, with the protecting lead stripped off the roofs by Thomas Cromwell’s team of asset strippers.

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: peaceful

Dads And Lads At The Severn Valley Railway

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This week Cee wants to see tender moments. Here are some that caught my eye on a couple of visits to Shropshire’s Severn Valley Railway.

They make me wonder too: young dads sharing their passion for steam trains; little lads not quite big enough to be sure. Which is also touching.

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And quite another take on the topic…

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A case of sore feet and

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a tender behind… (I know, it’s an old joke)

*tender = coal wagon

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Tender Moments

Wenlock Views Near And Far

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The header photo was taken among the ruins of Wenlock Priory, looking towards the trees and roof tops of the Prior’s Lodgings, now a private house, locally known as The Abbey.

This next shot is my well-trodden path to the allotment, along the southerly edge of Townsend Meadow. That’s an ash tree on the skyline – doing a good Ent impression as our Shropshire ash trees tend to do.

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And a nearer view of the ash tree – a sundowner shot complete with rooks flying home to their roost in the Sytche wood.

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And finally a rather strange and blurry photo of the Linden Walk, taken when all the pale and papery sepals had fallen off the lime tree flowers in late summer. I think if you squint, you might just spot someone at the top of the path.

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: In the distance