Thursday, 19 March 2009

St Botolph's Church, Hardham

This tiny, whitewashed church is tucked away just a few miles south of Pulborough, is one of Sussex's oldest and most fascinating.

Dating from the 11th Century (claimed to be 1050 AD), this Saxon foundation contains Roman tiles in its walls, presumably re-used form the earlier Roman settlement sited in the area. The windows are, for the most part, of the Saxon or early Norman style, very narrow and with rounded heads.

But the real reason for a visit is that Hardham contains what may be England's earliest mediaeval wall paintings, and certainly one of the most complete decorative schemes to survive. Dating from shortly after 1100 AD, they are in amazing condition for their age, with vivid colours. They cover every wall.

The subjects include an oddly anatomical Adam and Eve (above), the Annunciation, scenes from the life of Christ, and St George (in classic 11th century armour, riding a fine white charger) killing the Dragon.

Hardham has a regular church service at 11am on Sundays, but it is often open in the daytime for visitors. (Hooray!).

To get there head south out of Pulborough on the A29 towards Arundle. Slow down and prepare to turn left as soon as you pass the sign telling you that you are entering Hardham: the turn is not signposted in advance, and appears like a track, although you can see some half-timbered houses in the distance. The church is half way along this lane, and will amply reward a half hour of anyone's time.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

The Six Bells in Penmark

It's often hard to find somewhere to go for a decent meal without breaking the bank in these days of economic uncertainty, so here's a suggestion following a recent visit to my folks in South Wales: located in the tiny village of Penmark in the Vale of Glamorgan, the Six Bells is a traditional pub with a small restaurant and function room.

Penmark itself is a small but delightful village, close to Cardiff Airport. It has a single main street, a church and the remains of a 12th century castle, once home to the Umfraville family (shades of 'Tess...'). The Pub itself has a traditional bar area with a low ceiling, wooden beams and a tiled floor and a large fireplace, which is home to a roaring fire in winter. There's a second bar on the other side of the servery leading to an airy, modern dining room, although I prefer the cosier side myself. They serve real ales (essential), which on my visit included Hancock's HB and Old Speckled Hen.

They also serve food with a decent menu of pub grub favourites and a slightly more upmarket menu for the evenings with the likes of steak and sea bass. They also have a daily selection of traditional desserts and a Welsh cheese board. On Sunday lunchtimes they do a traditional roast, for which it is advisable to book.

We had a family meal there recently, and the food was both well cooked and very good value indeed, with everything freshly prepared - be warned that some of the portions can be on the generous side, so if you want pudding, you may want to skip the starters! Although they weren't terribly busy with diners (it was a Saturday lunchtime), service was spot on, and all the staff were very friendly and helpful.

The pub has strong competition locally, as neighbouring villages feature the Blue Anchor (a genuine 'olde worlde' building with excellent real ales and a more upmarket restaurant) and the Fox & Hounds at Llancarfan (also well known for its food, but pricier). The Six Bells sensibly goes for something slightly different, and scores on fresh, good value food and the friendliness of its service.

Worth looking out for.

Practicalities: It has a large car park tucked behind the building, so parking is straightforward. It is accessed by a minor road (signposted to Penmark) off the B4265 Cardiff Airport - Llantwit Major Road.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

London Motorcycle Museum

Located in the slightly unpromising wilds of suburban West London, this is a small but fascinating museum for anyone interested in the history of British Motorcycles. The museum is housed in some rather anonymous former farm buildings just off The Broadway in Greenford, which give little hint of what’s inside.

The collection is the main event, and includes over 80 motorcycles dating from 1902 to the 1990s. The core of the display is the amazing collection of Triumphs belonging to museum founder Bill Crosby, with over 50 bikes loaned and donated from other sources.

Although the Triumphs dominate the selection, there are many other familiar names: Rudge-Whitworth, BSA, Brough, Ariel, Matchless, Norton and Royal Enfield, alongside a few foreign bikes. There are vintage, racing, road, police, sprint, custom and military bikes on display, as well as various items of motorcycling ephemera and memorabilia.

One of the most fascinating is a small 50cc Moto Minarelli sprint bike built for the successful record attempt by Des Heckle in 1973. It doesn’t even have a seat, and was built to his personal measurements. Other items of specific interest include a rare 1902 Ormonde, several Triumph prototypes, and - my favourites - an amazingly modern-looking 1930s Coventry Eagle 1000cc Flying 8 and a Rudge TT from 1911. (My grandfather owned a Rudge Multi).

The main building has a (very) small shop and eating area with seating and drinks machines, although there are plans to expand the museum by opening up one of the sheds behind, currently used as a store and workshop. The volunteer staff are friendly and helpful and, as well as the museum, they also put on displays at events elsewhere.

This museum is clearly a labour of love by dedicated enthusiasts, and doesn’t have the glitz of bigger museums, but its collection is both fascinating and absorbing for those interested in British motorcycle heritage.


The site has free car parking, and is a short walk down Oldfield Lane from The Broadway in Greenford. It’s a 15 minutes walk from Greenford underground station (turn right and just keep going, using the subway to cross under the A40), and there are buses both to Greenford and Ealing Broadway stations.

The museum has a short ramp to enter and a long sloping access ramp through the main building, suitable for wheelchairs, and there is a disabled toilet on the site.