“Random encounters with the unusual” is a repository for the oddities that me and Mrs J have encountered on our travels, which we find interesting or amusing in some way. Have a look, maybe you will find something interesting or amusing herein.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Weirdness at Versailles

The below photos show the popular tourist destination of the Palace of Versailles, which lies about 12 miles southwest of Paris. The palace began life in the1600’s and became the centre of France’s political power in 1682 when Louis XIV moved to Versailles. The palace remained the seat of power until 1789, when the French Royal Family eventually moved back to Paris.

Of all the places that I have visited on my travels, most have left me feeling under-whelmed. The Palace of Versailles however (well more specifically the gardens of the palace), is the only place to date that has really made me say "wow". When you first stand at the back of the palace and look downhill at the ornate gardens and the lake which stretches seemingly to the horizon, it is an impressive sight.

I am not the first person to be awe-stuck by the gardens however.

On the 10th August 1901 two female academics Charlotte Anne Moberly (1846–1937) and Eleanor Jourdain (1863–1924) visited the Palace and they had a very odd encounter during their tour of the gardens. After touring the palace, the women decided to walk through the gardens and they soon became disorientated. While trying to gather their bearings the pair reportedly experienced a “timeslip”, encountering buildings, a bridge and people (including Marie Antoinette) which did not seemingly exist in 1910. It is reported that on subsequent visits to the palace the pair could not re-trace the path that they had taken, nor locate the landmarks that they had seen, leading to the question did they really experience a step back in time or were they simply mistaken?

Palace courtyard.
Palace courtyard.
Palace rear aspect.
"Oval Buddha".
First view of Palace gardens.
The lake.
The lake.
Main fountain.
Citrus garden.

Pictures, France (October 2010).

Friday, 21 December 2012

Housing Estate Air Traffic Control

Recently Mrs J and I visited the relatively new housing development at Kings Hill, which is about 5 miles west of Maidstone in Kent. While looking around the development the obvious facets of modern housing estates were evident: large modern houses; schools; a golf course; a small shopping precinct; supermarkets; and an air traffic control tower! The air traffic control tower is a rather unassuming building, nestled between modern new-build houses and a branch of Waitrose.

The site of Kings Hill used to be the location of RAF West Malling, which began life as an airfield during the First World War and eventually become RAF West Malling in 1940. During the Second World War RAF West Malling served to protect the UK against attack by the Luftwaffe. The airfield is most famous for being an early posting for Guy Gibson (who found fame commanding 617 Squadron on the Dambusters Raid), and for being one of the most successful bases at intercepting V1 rockets on their approach to London. By the end of the war RAF West Malling had laid claim to around 280 V1 kills.

The air traffic control tower in its odd new environment is pictured below. The tower is currently being refurbished so unfortunately it is shrouded in scaffolding. However a view of what it used to look like before it was hidden has been reproduced from the controltowers.co.uk website, where further historic pictures of the control tower can be found.

West Malling Control Tower - Today
West Malling Control Tower - Today
West Malling Control Tower - As it used to be.
Picture reproduced from www.controltowers.co.uk. Copyright  Hywel Williams (2005).
The approximate GPS coordinates of the West Malling Control Tower are (51.27194, 0.40298).

Pictures, Kent (December 2012).

Thursday, 13 December 2012

The Dirty Devil of Rennes-Le-Chateau

In May 2010 Mrs J and I visited the small French hilltop village of Rennes-Le-Chateau. The village is most popularly known due to claims that the local 19th-century priest (Father Bérenger Saunière) uncovered some form of treasure during his tenure in the village. The rumours surrounding the nature of the treasure are wide and varied and include claims that the treasure could be: the gold horde of Blanche de Castile (a ransom fund for Louis IX); proof that Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene were married (which allowed Saunière to gain wealth by blackmailing the Vatican); treasures of the Temple of Soloman (including the Ark of the Covenant and the Menorah); and even the Holy Grail (which is also rumoured to have resided at one point at nearby Montsegur).

During our exploration of the village the only treasure that we came across was a rather naughty Devil that was residing inside the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene. The Devil lives just inside the entrance to the church and supports the holy water stoup. He greets visitors with an interesting hand gesture that most people would instantly recognize, and perhaps it is his own special message to would-be treasure hunters!

The view from Rennes-Le-Chateau.

Inside the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene. 

A tribute to Saint Mary Magdalene.
The Dirty Devil of Rennes-Le-Chateau.
The picture of the Devil of Rennes-Le-Chateau has previously featured in Andrew May’s Forteana Blog.

Pictures, France (May 2010).

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

The Kensington Flamingos

Walking through busy Kensington one thing most people would not expect to find is a group of Flamingos living in the area, but they are there if you know where to look. The Flamingos live in the Kensington Roof Gardens, which can be found via Derry Street (just off of Kensington High street). The roof gardens sit atop the former Derry and Toms department store building on Kensington High Street, and are accessible via an entrance on Derry Street (marked 99 Kensington High Street). The roof gardens are extensive, covering 1.5 acres and until recently were reported to be the largest roof gardens in Europe. Visiting the roof gardens on a sunny English day is a bizarre, rewarding and (most importantly) free experience, and one can easily imagine themselves as being somewhere in the Mediterranean as opposed to being in the centre of busy London!

Pictures, London (May 2012).