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8 Ways to Cross the English Channel (without a boat)

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The English Channel (La Manche) is the part of the Atlantic Ocean that separates Britain from France. The actual channel is the length of the entire southern coast of England, and contains many inhabited islands. When people attempt new ways of crossing the channel, they do it at the Strait of Dover, which is the narrowest point of the channel at only 34 kilometers (21 miles) between Dover and Calais. The cachet of crossing the channel is way out of proportion to its distance. There is something symbolic about making the trip, particularly if you do it in a new way.

1. Balloon

The first channel crossing by air was in the 18th century. French balloonist Jean-Pierre Blanchard and American doctor John Jeffries took off from Dover Castle in a hydrogen balloon on January 7th, 1785. The two had to pitch almost everything they took overboard in order to stay afloat, but landed unharmed at Guînes, France about two and a half hours later.

2. Swim

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The first man to swim the channel was Captain Matthew Webb in 1875. It took 21 hours and 45 minutes. Webb trained for two years and made an unsuccessful attempt a couple of weeks before his historic crossing. The course he took was 39 miles, due to strong currents. He became a celebrity and a professional swimmer afterward. Webb died while attempting to swim the Whirlpool Rapids under Niagara Falls in 1883.

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The first woman to swim the channel not only broke ground for her sex, but beat the time of the five men who preceded her by at least two hours! American swimmer Gertrude Ederle had already won a gold medal and two bronze medals at the 1924 Olympics. On August 6th, 1926 she swam from Cap Gris-Nez, France to Kingsdown, England in 14 hours and 30 minutes. That speed record stood until 1950.

3. Airplane

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The first flight over the channel in an airplane came in 1909 when French inventor Louis Blériot piloted a monoplane he designed from Calais to Dover in 37 minutes. He was one of three competitors who answered a challenge from the Daily Mail, which had offered a thousand pounds ($5,000) to the first man to fly the channel.

4. Pedal

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The first human-powered flight across the channel occurred in 1979 when the Gossamer Albatross piloted by cyclist Bryan Allen flew over the channel in 2 hours and 39 minutes. It was powered by pedals that turned propellers. The Gossamer Albatross was designed by Paul B. MacCready and his team. MacCready won his second Kremer Prize (worth £100,000) with the channel crossing.

5. Train

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Since May 6, 1994 it is possible to cross the channel by train. It was on that day the Channel Tunnel (Le tunnel sous la Manche) or "Chunnel" officially opened. A Eurostar train left Folkestone carrying Queen Elizabeth II, and another left Coquelles carrying French president Francois Mitterand. In addition to passengers, trains carry trucks and other vehicles underneath the Strait of Dover.

6. Skydive

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In 2003, Australian Felix Baumgartner became the first person to skydive across the channel. He jumped out of a plane over Dover and landed in Cap Blanc-Nez, France 14 minutes later. Baumgartner wore an aerodynamic suit with a 6-foot carbon fin attached to guide his flight.

7. Jet Pack

Swiss pilot Yves Rossy flew the channel last week using a jet pack. He launched from a plane high over Calais and flew to Dover in just ten minutes. Rossy, known as the Rocket Man, uses a jet wing powered by four kerosene-burning engines.

8. Human-powered Zeppelin

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The quest for new ways to cross the English Channel never ends. 39-year-old Stephane Rousson made an attempt this past weekend to cross the channel in a pedal-powered zeppelin. The French amateur pilot was 11 miles from his goal in Wissant, France when the wind direction changed and he had to abort the flight. Rousson was inspired by a scene in the movie E.T.

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Ramones Karaoke, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0
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Fake It Until You Make It: 10 Artificial Ruins
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Ramones Karaoke, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

The love of ruins, sometimes called ruinophilia, has for centuries inspired the creation of clever fakes—a host of sham facades and hollowed-out castle shells found on grand English, European, and even American estates. The popularity of constructing artificial ruins was at its peak during the 18th and 19th centuries, but architects occasionally still incorporate them today.

Why build a structure that is already crumbling? Between the 16th and 19th centuries, the popularity of counterfeit ruins was influenced by two factors—a classical education that enforced the ideals of ancient Greece and Rome, and the extended tour of Europe (known as The Grand Tour) that well-to-do young men and women took after completing their education. Travelers might start in London or France and roam as far as the Middle East, but the trip almost always included Italy and a chance to admire Roman ruins. More than a few wealthy travelers returned home longing to duplicate those ruins, either to complement a romantic landscape, to demonstrate wealth, or to provide a pretense of family history for the newly rich.

Here are a few romantic ruins constructed between the 18th and 21st centuries.

1. SHAM CASTLE // BATHAMPTON, ENGLAND

Sham Castle (shown above) is aptly named—it’s only a façade. The "castle," overlooking the English city of Bath, was created in 1762 to improve the view for Ralph Allen, a local entrepreneur and philanthropist as well as to provide jobs for local stonemasons. From a distance it looks like a castle ruin, but it's merely a wall that has two three-story circular turrets and a two-story square tower at either end. The castle is not the only folly (as such purely decorative architecture is often called) that Allen built. He also constructed a sham bridge on Serpentine Lake in what is now Prior Park Landscape Garden—the bridge can't be crossed, but provides a nice focal point for the lake. Today, Sham Castle is part of a private golf course.

2. WIMPOLE FOLLY // CAMBRIDGESHIRE, ENGLAND

Building a structure that looks as if it's crumbling does not preclude having to perform regular maintenance. The four-story Gothic tower known as Wimpole Folly in Wimpole, Cambridgeshire, England, was built 1768-72 for Philip Yorke, first Earl of Hardwicke and owner of the Wimpole Estate. Owned by Britain’s National Trust, the ruin threatened to truly crumble a few years ago, so restoration efforts were needed. The last restoration was so well done it won the 2016 European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage. The Wimpole Estate is now open to the public for walks and hikes.

3. CAPEL MANOR FOLLY // ENFIELD, ENGLAND

Capel Manor at Bulls Cross, Enfield, England has been the site of several grand homes since the estate’s first recorded mention in the 13th century, so visitors might be tempted to believe that the manor house's ruins date back at least a few centuries. But that sense of history is an illusion: The faux 15th-century house was built in 2010 to add visual appeal to the manor gardens, which have been open to the public since the 1920s.

4. ROMAN RUIN // SCHONBRUNN PALACE, VIENNA, AUSTRIA

The Roman Ruin was built as a garden ornament for the 1441-room Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna, one of the most important monuments in Austria. The ruin was once called The Ruins of Carthage, after the ancient North African city defeated by Roman military force. But despite the illusion of antiquity, the ruins were created almost 2000 years after Carthage fell in 146 B.C.E. The ruin’s rectangular pool, framed by an intricate semi-circle arch, was designed in 1778 by the architect Johann Ferdinand Hetzendorf von Hohenberg, who modeled it on the Ancient Roman temple of Vespasian and Titus, which he had seen an engraving of.

5. THE RUINEBERG // POTSDAM, GERMANY

One of the earliest examples of artificial ruins in Germany was the complex of structures known as The Ruinenberg. Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, had a summer palace in Potsdam, near Berlin, that was said to rival Versailles. In 1748 Frederick commissioned a large fountain for the palace complete with artificial ruins. The waterworks part of his plan proved too difficult and was soon abandoned, but not before designer Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff constructed the ruins. The complex includes Roman pillars, a round temple, and the wall of a Roman theatre. Since 1927 the site has belonged to the Prussian Gardens and Palaces Foundation, Berlin-Brandenburg.

6. PARC MONCEAU // PARIS, FRANCE

Elegant Parc Monceau is located in the fashionable 8th arrondissement of Paris near the Champs-Elysees and Palais de l’Elysée. In 1778, the Duke of Chartres decided to build a mansion on land previously used for hunting. He loved English architecture and gardens, including the notion of nostalgic ruins, so he hired the architect Louis Carrogis Carmontelle to create an extravagant park complete with a Roman temple, antique statues, a Chinese bridge, a farmhouse, a Dutch windmill, a minaret, a small Egyptian pyramid, and some fake gravestones. The most notable feature of the park is a pond surrounded by Corinthian columns, now known as Colonnade de Carmontelle.

7. HAGLEY PARK CASTLE // WORCESTERSHIRE, ENGLAND

The ruins of the medieval castle at Hagley Park in Worcestershire are definitely fake, but they were built with debris from the real ruin of a neighboring abbey. The folly was commissioned by Sir George Lyttelton in 1747 and designed by Sanderson Miller, an English pioneer of Gothic revival architecture. The castle has a round tower at each corner, but by design only one is complete and decorated inside with a coat of arms. The grounds, which also feature a temple portico inspired by an ancient Greek temple, some urns, and obelisks, are now privately owned and not open to the public.

8. TATA CASTLE RUINS // TATA, HUNGARY

French architect Charles de Moreau (1758-1841) was a scholar of classical Roman architecture known for his ability to counterfeit impressive ruins. Nicholas I, Prince Esterhazy of Hungary, hired him to work on Tata Castle and to create the ruins of a Romanesque church for the palace’s English Garden. Even though the ruin Moreau created was fake, he built it with the stones of a real ruin, the remnants of the early-12th-century Benedictine and later Dominican abbey of Vértesszőlős. A third-century ancient Roman tombstone and relief were placed nearby.

9. BELVEDERE CASTLE // MANHATTAN, NEW YORK

Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux designed Central Park in the mid-1800s, and their plan for creating romantic vistas included the construction of a folly known as Belvedere Castle. The Gothic-Romanesque style hybrid, overlooking Central Park’s Great Lawn, was completed in 1869. Although the folly was designed as a hollow shell and meant to be a ruin, it eventually served a practical purpose, housing a weather bureau and exhibit space. The castle also provides a beautiful backdrop for Shakespeare in the Park productions, evoking the royal homes that play prominent roles in the Bard’s works.

10. FOLLY WALL IN BARKING TOWN SQUARE // LONDON

In a borough known for its real historic buildings, the ancient wall found in London’s Barking Town Square might look centuries old. It’s not, and ironically, the wall is part of the square’s renovation efforts. The wall was built by bricklaying students at Barking College using old bricks and crumbling stone items found at salvage yards. Known as the "Secret Garden," named after the children’s book about a walled garden, the wall was designed to screen a nearby supermarket and was unveiled in 2007.

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Theo Rindos
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Graphic Designer Visualizes America's Major Rivers as Subway Routes
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Theo Rindos

Mark Twain spent his early years navigating America's winding waterways, but the steamboat pilot-turned-author was also a fan of modern transportation: He was one of the first passengers to ride the London Underground's longest tube line—the Central Line—when it first opened in 1900. Needless to say, Twain would probably be a fan of the map below, which visualizes U.S. rivers as subway lines.

A map depicting U.S. rivers as subway routes, by graphic designer Theo Rindos
Theo Rindos
 
 
A map depicting U.S. rivers as subway routes, by graphic designer Theo Rindos
Theo Rindos

Created by graphic designer Theo Rindos (and spotted by CityLab), the map is inspired by Harry Beck's original London Tube map from the 1930s. It's based on data culled from the U.S. Geological Survey, Google Maps, and Wikipedia.

"I have always been fascinated by transit maps and river systems, and I thought, 'Why not put them together?'" Rindos tells Mental Floss. Beck's design style "has been kind of a staple for many city transit systems because it's so easy to understand and is so beautiful. The rivers of the United States are complex, and I wanted to see if I could achieve a similar outcome."

The source of each river is denoted with a solid-colored circle. White circles indicate where these waterways converge and split, and neighboring cities and towns are marked as "stations." That said, the map doesn't feature every single U.S. river: It includes ones important to the transportation and shipping sectors, but for aesthetic reasons, Rindos opted to leave out awkwardly shaped rivers and turned smaller ones into bus routes.

You can purchase Rindos' map here, or visit the designer's website to learn more about his work.

[h/t CityLab]

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