“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, 27 February 2013

The Devil’s Golf Course

The Devil's Golf Course is a salt flat in Death Valley (part of the Mojave Desert), where crystallised salts form a complex and jagged landscape which fill the valley as far as the eye can see. The valley was once home to a lake, and it was the evaporation of this lake over the centuries that led to the salt formations being left behind.

The salt formations that comprise The Devil’s Golf Course are ever changing, and are continually sculpted by the weather. Apparently, if you listen closely on a warm day the expansion and contraction of the salt pinnacles can lead to a metallic cracking sound being heard.

The salt beds are believed to be extensive, with some studies suggesting that their depth ranges from 300m to 2,700m in places.

The Devil's Golf Course.
The Devil's Golf Course.
Salt formation close up.
Salt formation close up.
Notice board.
A sign showing sea-level.

 Mr Fox, approximately 85m below sea level, but still dry!
Pictures, California (2008).

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Thursday, 21 February 2013

Saint Marys of the Sea

Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer ('Saint Marys of the Sea') is a town situated on the south coast of France in the Camargue Region. One of the most prominent features of the town is its fortified church which was built between the 9th and 12th centuries. Over the years the church has acted as both a place of worship and a place of refuge for the local people (for when pirates attacked the village from the sea). Over the course of its history it seems that the church has been a focus for a number of religious groups, most notably Christians and Romani Gypsies.

The church is dedicated to three saints called Mary, Mary Magdalene (of Da Vinci Code fame), Mary Salome and Mary Jacobe, all of whom were believed to be the first witnesses to the empty tomb at the resurrection of Jesus. As the popular legend goes, the three Marys (with their uncle Joseph of Arimathea) escaped the Holy Land after the crucifixion of Jesus (circa 45 AD). Their journey eventually saw them coming ashore at what is today Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.

The church also prominently features the relics of Saint Sara, who according to legend is the Egyptian servant of the three Marys. Today the shrine beneath the church is mostly dedicated to Saint Sara and is an annual place of pilgrimage for Romani Gypsies.

The church.
Church side view.
Plague outside the church.

View from the church roof.
The church bell tower.

The church viewed from the sea.
Inside the church.
A relic display.
Bone of a Saint?
Two of the Marys arriving by boat?
Relic of Saint Sara.
Statue of Saint Sara.

Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer has also featured on Andrew May’s Forteana Blog.

Pictures, France (October 2012).

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Thursday, 14 February 2013

Lost Little Compton Street

If you know where to look in Charing Cross Road you can see evidence of a street that used to intersect Charing Cross Road, but which is now buried out of sight beneath your feet. This “lost” street is Little Compton Street, and it used to provide a connection between Old Compton Street and New Compton Street (the section that would have been between where Greek Street is and where Crown Street used to be). Little Compton Street was depicted in a map of 1799.

To find what remains of Little Compton Street you have to find the traffic island in Charing Cross Road where it intersects with Old Compton Street (as shown in the below Google Maps image). Peering down into the metal grill in the middle of this traffic island reveals some old road signs that show where Little Compton Street once lived.

It is clear that the level of Little Compton Street would have been much lower than the level of the present day road, and presumably in the past the now-a-days basements of the surrounding buildings may have once been at street level.

Google Street View - Looking from Old Compton Street into Charing Cross Road. The metal grill in the traffic island can be seen.
The metal grill.
Peering into the grill - evidence of Little Compton Street.
Peering into the grill - evidence of Little Compton Street.
April 2014 update - I was recently made aware of another blog, which had "borrowed" the above picture for use in their own blog. As they had taken the effort to improve the colour balance in the picture I thought that I would include it here, as it is admittedly an improvement over the original.

Peering into the grill (2) - evidence of Little Compton Street.

Pictures, London (May 2012).

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Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Getting the Measure of Trafalgar

Have you ever sat in Trafalgar Square on the steps below the National Gallery and munched your lunch? Many tourists do this every day and what most of them won’t have realised is that they are resting their feet on the standard imperial measures of length! These standard measures, which were installed in 1876, are cast in brass and are set into the granite stonework of the steps.

So next time you happen to be in Trafalgar Square you can always check the length of a foot, a yard, or a chain and the size of a perch or a pole (amongst others) as measured at 62 degrees Fahrenheit.

The National Gallery.
A pole or perch.
A yard.
Three feet.
A hundred links.
Eighty links.
Temperature notice.
If you do sit on the steps below the National Gallery you may also notice a black door in a plinth, which leads to what is often referred to as "the world’s smallest police station". This former police post was reportedly hollowed out of the existing stone plinth (circa 1930) to allow a police officer to be stationed in Trafalgar Square around the clock. Trafalgar Square has always been a common meeting place for protest groups, and it is believed that the police post allowed any trouble to be monitored. The police post was reported to have been installed with a telephone and a direct line to Scotland Yard, enabling support to be called quickly to deal with any emerging trouble.

The smallest police station in the world?

Pictures, London (May 2012).

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