Royal Botanic gardens, Kew - Temperate House, London

Last year in May, the largest Victorian glasshouse in the world opened its doors to public once again. Grade I. listed Temperate house in London‘s Kew Gardens undertook long renovation work by architects Donald Insall Associates. The result is a huge success not only in showcasing the engineering prowess of the past and present but essentially in re-opening this space for conserving the collection of rare temperate plants – the main objective of this project.

Kew Gardens was established by princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha who commissioned head gardener John Dillman to enlarge botanical garden planned by her deceased husband Frederick, Prince of Wales. The gardens opened in 1759 and one of the oldest plant here is tall tree ginkgo biloba planted in 1762, the year in which the first sandwich was served in London.

Temperate house was designed by Decimus Burton (1800 – 1881) in 1859. This glasshouse was then opened in 1863 but the construction continued for the next 36 years. After the turn of millennium the glasshouse was so run down that it was no longer safe for public to enjoy the beauty of diverse plants and flowers inside. With help of funding from National Lottery, private and commercial donors it was possible to start restoration project that took five years to accomplish with the total amount spent close to £42 million. Most of the plants were removed during painstaking restoration however, nine trees remained in situ as they were too horticulturally significant to risk moving them elsewhere.

The embellishments decorating the glasshouse such as statues and urns were recast to the original Burton‘s design. Burton‘s sense for architectural detail is highlighted in terracotta urns placed in each corner of the central building. These urns are in fact concealed chimneys. Their function was releasing the steam from the old heating system.

This spectacular building comprising five pavilions (with its 4880 meters square) houses about 10 000 plants in diverse habitats like for example China, Himalaya‘s, Africa, Australia or Americas. One of the most interesting plants here is Encephalartos woodii, named after John Medley Wood, curator of Durban Botanic Garden who discovered it in 1895. This palm tree like cycad, brought to Kew in 1899, has also been called the loneliest plant in the world because there are only male specimens left – the female Encephalartos woodii has never been discovered.

It will also be interesting to observe the new growth of plants in Temperate house. There are currently unobstructed views from the upper walkway and it will take some time before most plants reach maturity and therefore it is possible to appreciate the expansive view of space inside of this architectural gem.

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Malhamdale, Yorkshire, England

Watlowes valley, Yorkshire, England   Watlowes dry valley was formed by meltwater running underneath a glacier for a considerable period of time during last Ice age. The dry stone wall which extends in the valley is thought to be the oldest standing wall in the area of Malhamdale. It dates to medieval times when the wall functioned as an ancient boundary between eastern lands of Bolton Priory and western lands of Fountain Abbey.

Watlowes valley, Yorkshire, England

Watlowes dry valley was formed by meltwater running underneath a glacier for a considerable period of time during last Ice age. The dry stone wall which extends in the valley is thought to be the oldest standing wall in the area of Malhamdale. It dates to medieval times when the wall functioned as an ancient boundary between eastern lands of Bolton Priory and western lands of Fountain Abbey.

It was in Carboniferous period, about 300 million years ago, that this area of Yorkshire Dales was a shallow tropical sea. Over a time of about 50 million years a series of limestone beds accumulated at the bottom of this sea. The bedrock got composed from shells of marine organisms and chemical precipitates. Once at the bottom of the sea this limestone formation, now eroded due to slightly acidic rainfall, is to be found at the top, capping the landscape around Malham.

Malham village was founded sometimes in the 8th century. People here grew barley and oats until recently but today the land is dotted by sheep and cattle roaming among the extensive length of dry stone walls. According to survey done in the end of 20th century it is estimated that there are over 5000 miles (8 000 km) of dry stone walls in Yorkshire Dales alone. These walls are dominant feature here and the first field systems may have been built during the Iron Age (about 500 BCE) with the purpose to make livestock safer against wolf’s attacks. Most of the walls around Malhamdale however, were built or rebuilt in the Enclosure period (1780-1840) when government act gradually helped to turn communally owned land into private property. Individual landowners abandoned farming in favour of raising sheep and cattle.

Dry stone walling is done without use of mortar and as such is a disappearing skill on British Isles. Today, this unique trade supports only about 40 qualified dry stone wallers in the whole of United Kingdom.

Malham cove (Winter 2017)

Malham cove (Winter 2017)

Malham cove by moonlight (Autumn 2018)

Malham cove by moonlight (Autumn 2018)

Malham dry stone walls

Malham dry stone walls

Malhamdale limestone pavement

Malhamdale limestone pavement

Malham Tarn

Malham Tarn

Town Head farm, Malham

Town Head farm, Malham

Cheddar Gorge, England

Cheddar gorge in Mendip Hills is the largest gorge in England. This gorge was formed in limestone during last Ice age by meltwater rushing down from glaciers over period of 1.2 millions of years. The river (today called Cheddar Yeo river) gradually made its way underground thus creating a complex underground system of caves. There are now many smaller caves in the area around Cheddar as well as two bigger ones that are open to public. Cox’s cave was discovered by George Cox in 1837 and Gough’s cave by Richard Gough in 1898. The underground was extensively examined by cavers as well as archaeologists and many bones and various artifacts were found. The most distinguished archaeological find (1903) was an almost complete skeleton of so called Cheddar man which is currently on loan in Natural History Museum in London. Radiocarbon dating suggests this specimen lived here around 10 000 years ago. New research into his ancient (degraded) DNA was recently carried out at the NHM and the study proposes that there is high probability this mesolithic hunter-gatherer still had dark skin.

Due to its natural beauty and steep rocks Cheddar gorge is a great place for climbers. It is also generally touristic place that is visited by nearly half a million people every year. The road B3135 winds through the gorge and is an ultimate test for drivers, bikers and cyclists alike. Not all people come to see protected landscape as their priority because this area is also very famous for its cheddar cheese that is still being produced in the village.


Cheddar gorge


Cheddar gorge (Heart Leaf Bluff) by moonlight


St. Paul's chamber at Gough's cave


Road B3135 (Horseshoe bend)


Road B3135 through the gorge


Gough's cave


Skeleton of Cheddar man at Natural History Museum, London

Walks in English countryside

Some time ago I was given old Czechoslovak camera called Flexaret IV. Apparently it wasn’t in use for long time, hidden in loft of a household gathering the dust. It is a medium format camera very popular during 50’s and 60’s. In those times it was preferable choice for amateur photographers beyond eastern Europe and indeed very popular with Czechoslovak families. This camera utilizes square format (approximately 6X6 cm) and uses 120 film which was initially introduced by Kodak for their Brownie No.2 camera in 1901.

It looked in good repair and after I cleaned it I realized that this camera was in really good condition. I ran through it Ilford film in order to find out whether it was worth keeping for the actual use or to be kept as a decoration or perhaps even a collectable item. The resulting images pleasantly surprised me. I started to take the ‘box’ with me on walks with my friends in English countryside as I wanted to have images with different feel as pictures taken by today's camera phones are just too ubiquitous. Another, more tangible reason for its use on my walks is that I do not want to carry the weight of my main camera kit on my back.

It is all manual camera made in 1957 and its design, function and durability makes it still possible to take photographs after 60 years since it was made by Meopta company in Přerov.