Off to see the King

At work lately we’ve been having four day weeks and it’s wonderful! There are slightly fewer orders coming in but that’s OK. There’s enough to keep everything rolling by. And who doesn’t love having a day off? Those who said not me, are either liars or simply mistaken.

So that Friday I decided that I wanted to stay away from the house and get my booty off somewhere to take photos. But where? While I was edging closer to be a full time professional musician I did a spot of teaching in a place called Vihiers. It’s miles away, but still a nice drive out. I stopped edging towards music, and photography has taken over. One of my pupils talked about the Abbaye de Fontevraud. I looked it up on the Internet and started learning about it.

I’m half English and part of that is being real with the French. They need this. During and before the Hundred Years War, this area of France was English, and our King was their King. Those of you who aren’t English might have heard of Robin Hood, who looked just like Kevin Kostner and had a mate who looked strangely like Morgan Freeman. There was the Evil Prince John who became King when Richard the Lionheart (who looked really badass and you could mistake him for Sean Connery) went off on a Crusade to show just how badass he really was. Their mother was Eleanor of Aquitaine. Eleanor, her Husband Henry Plantagenet, their son Richard (the famous badass), and Isabelle d’Angouleme who was married to John. Her bad… We all make mistakes.

So this is kind of crazy for me who enjoys history and discovers more of the Anjou region which is just down the road from the Vendée. On the way I recognised a place where I used to buy foie gras when we first moved here. I called in on the off chance of being able to make a purchase and take something good home for my family. It’s changed a bit since 15 years ago, and offers different products. I left some money there and felt happy about buying something directly from the producer that was made on site etc. And it tasted really good too.

Sooooo… I turn up in the Village of Fontevraud l’Abbaye and I even managed to find the said Abbaye. 11€ for the entrance ticket, which seemed reasonable.

A bit of history here for those who can’t be bothered to click and have a read. Basically, the abbey was founded 1101 by the itinerant preacher Robert of Arbrissel. It developed and flourished during the Plantagenet era, went downhill after the Plantagenets were no more, however by the Hundred Years War things were going downhill, and during an inspection in 1460, the abbey was found to be barely inhabited. Fast forward to 1457 reforms were introduced by the then abbesse Marie of Bretagne. Louis the XI gave the place his blessing and the place started to really try to get back on its feet again, but without a huge amount of success. In 1491 there came Renée who was from the French Royal family (the Bourbons, french royals and not the rather tasty biscuits or whiskey). I’m not going to translate the whole of the French wikipedia article but you get the gist right? Things got better, and by the time the French decided that Royalty wasn’t for them during the French Revolution, things were OK!

However as the revolutionaries weren’t into Royalty and because of the so called “Enlightenment” philosophies, they weren’t into religion in a big way either. That continues to this very day. I promise not to get political! They basically get rid of the nuns, and by 1804, Napolean, yes him again, decided to make the place a prison, and it remained so until 1963.

When I went there I wanted to feel the Royal side with Richard the Lionheart and feel the medieval legends in the walls. But I’ll risk being contraversial, and say that I felt more the “prison vibe” and it might be because of the less than sunny autumnal weather, but I could feel the buildings being a place of great suffering. Quite ominous in fact.

Since 1975 it was converted from a prison into a Cultural Centre for the Region. You can see a few “colour” photos of the latest art installation which was very impressive.

Would I go back? Possibly, but not in Autumn.

Omaha Beach, Normandy

Omaha Beach was one of the five beaches that had to be taken on D Day, 6th July 1944. That task was given to the 1st and 29th Infantry Division of the US Army. To say they took a hammering is an understatement, and General Bradley saw the very grave situation, and one stage nearly abandoned the operation. The grit and determination of his men paid off and they took the beach, but the amount of casualties and dead was tremendous, around 2000 men. A great sacrifice was made that day.

Whilst on that beach, I saw American families turn up, and the emotion was visible on their faces. It is almost a spiritual experience for them, and a form of pilgrimage. The dead are remembered, not only by the few that survived, but by the local population , and the French in general. Just next to the beach, there is the American War Cemetery at Coleville sur Mer. The prisitne graves serve as a reminder to those of us that didn’t experience what they did: the horrors of war!

I remember seeing footage of an old veteran who landed on Omaha, saying that the greatest reward they had, was to see children playing on that beach now, enjoying the peace that was earned by those men who lay down their lives on that same beach all those years ago.

I’ve decided to share photos of both the beach and the cemetery with you. The camera used that day was the Canon 6D Mark II with the 16-35mm Canon lens.

Commonwealth War Cemetery, Ranville

In my last article I talked about Normandy and the battle to take Pegasus Bridge, and in this article I want to talk about the soldiers that didn’t come back. Ranville is a town, not too far from Pegasus Bridge and the men that fell in that engagement are buried in the Parish Churchyard. Just next to the chuchyard is a Commonwealth War Cemetery.

The cemetery contains predominantly British soldiers killed during the early stages of the Battle of Normandy. A large proportion of those interred were members of the British 6th Airborne Division. These places are always very moving, even more so when one looks at the ages of some of those that died in June 1944. My son is 20 and the same age as so many of those soldiers.

Even when dead they are still on parade in ranks with perfect dressing. They died as soldiers and even in death they remain soldiers. When you look through the photos you will notice certain anomalies. One was a tank crew that was buried together, as a crew. One is a grave of a German Jew who escaped to join the British army, and was given a pseudonym so if he was captured his name wouldn’t betray him, One grave is of a parachutist and his dog who were buried together.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Extract For the Fallen, Laurence Binyon

Greyfriar’s Kirkyard, Edinburgh

We’d both decided that before we even got here we would have to visit this Churchyard with many of Edinburgh’s famous and infamous residents who decided to stay on permanently… JK Rowling used some of the residents’ names for her characters in the Harry Potter books. See if you can spot where Tom Riddle is buried…

It’s a very “haunting” place and is supposed to be one of the most ghostly cemeteries in the UK. As you get closer to the (now closed) section where the Convenanters were imprisoned you can really feel the ominous pain and suffering that they endured at the hands of Mackenzie, and the hatred as you pass Mackenzie’s mausoleum.

Elsewhere there was a feeling of calm. The sun was just coming up over the hill and Edinburgh castle was so warm in the golden hour light.

This little guy, as bold as brass just didn’t care about the photo shoot! He just went around looking for food…