I’ve been thinking about benches again.
I hear your groans, but before you quickly move on to the next blog, let me assure you that I’m not about to launch into another tirade about poorly positioned benches, quite the opposite.
As I explained in my April blog, benches assume huge importance in a hiker’s daily life, especially in this soggy land we call home where you’re guaranteed a damp posterior if you throw caution to the wind and plonk yourself down on a grassy verge to enjoy the scenery, nibble elevenses, check the map, etc.
For this reason, Harri and I generally greet each and every bench along the route with great enthusiasm (even if we don’t actually sit down on it). Yet, as I’ve noted of late, all benches are not equal.
Some blend into the landscape beautifully, while others are (to borrow from Prince Charles’s well-publicized views) nothing more than ‘monstrous carbuncles‘ which detract from the beauty of their natural surroundings.
Here are just a few of the stunners and carbuncles we’ve come across recently (all located in South Wales).
The girls thought this bench at Dunraven Castle was the biggest they were ever likely to see but I’ve since learned that there’s a 240 ft park bench in Oskarshamn, Sweden. Långa Soffan was constructed from wood in 1867 and was used by sailors’ wives, who sat side by side in the harbour, waiting for their husbands to return from sea.
Many of the benches we encounter are even older, some incorporated into the walls of castles and old stone buildings or taking pride of place in historic and ornamental gardens.
Of course, not all seating in castle grounds are ancient, or made of stone, as this ogre of a bench in the gardens of St Briavel’s Castle, Gloucestershire (now a Youth Hostel) demonstrates.
Sometimes you can’t shake off the feeling that something’s not quite right with a bench.
Of course, there are some benches that merge so beautifully with their environment that it’s easy to miss them altogether.
Or perhaps they’re not seating at all but just part of the natural landscape.
It’s long been acceptable for bereaved families to dedicate a bench to a loved one, so in this age of blatent self-promotion what’s wrong with the villagers of Grosmont, Monmouthshire, singing their own praises in this highly visible way?
However, my favourite bench out of all those we’ve flopped onto or scurried past while out walking has to be the wonderful commemorative offering to Welsh cartoonist Grenfall Jones, who died in 2007. Located on the Gren Way (a route around Hengoed which features several of Gren’s best-known characters, including Ponty and Pop and the Gren sheep, Neville and Nigel), this stylish bench combines great design and functionality; it also looks as though it’s going to last. Bench designers everywhere take note.
But that’s enough about benches; recently I’ve been focusing my attention on a particular aversion of mine… stiles. Watch this space!