Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Tithing at Bradford on Avon

 A very gentle amble this week along the canal at Bradford on Avon in deference to the weather ( mud  anyone?) and some visitors who are no longer in the first flush of youth!

The only problem with Bradford on Avon is it is popular, very popular  even when everything is closed. In the summer it is truly packed.

Our perambulation started at the old Tithe Barn.
According to English Heritage this is "one of the country’s finest examples of medieval monastic barns – rightly called ‘the cathedrals of the land’"

It was originally built in the first part of the 14th century and was part of a group of farm buildings grouped around a yard. 

 Strictly speaking this isn't a tithe barn at all but the  remains of a grange. Originally owned by  Shaftesbury Abbey it was built to hold the produce from the estate. The abbey was dissolved in 1539 and the grange became became a farm, the barn remaining in use until the mid 1970s.

The interior roof is dramatic but on this occasion the bar was closed to the public.

Passing the barn to reach the canal we came upon a hive of activity. Lots of christmas bikes and some determined groups seemingly heading for the pub.

Many of the narrowboats were occupied and lots bore christmas decorations.

Our walk ended at the aqueduct and a retrace of the steps back  to the car and home for lunch.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Solstice Greetings

The Winter Solstice is at 5.30 am GMT on 22nd December so a few pictures of my seasonal decorations to celebrate the return of the sun.

Happy Solstice Everyone

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Mandrake madness

The mandrakes are waking up. I've given up trying to understand this strange plant and am just going with the flow.

The world's smallest mandrake is living up to his nickname. This is the third year and he is still as tiny as ever! He's now been moved from the kitchen windowsill to see if he is any happier upstairs with the others.

Four of the five planted last year are now up again. They were moved outside for the summer and immediately sulked by becoming dormant.  So back to the windowsill it is.

This is my oldest plant and the first to wake up this year. It has just been transplanted into a piece of old saltglazed sewer pipe to give it sufficient depth for the roots. I'm hoping it might flower for me this year - but probably not.

It was planted centrally but seems to have moved...

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Some Cheesy Pictures

Dreadful title and dreadful pun I'm afraid.

Today was a quick dash out for some exercise and fresh air so didn't venture too far. On the itinerary this time was Draycott Sleights, a site of special scientific interest for its flora and fauna and where some scenes for Robin of Sherwood were filmed.

Parking the car in a sea of mud we waded up onto the hill through even more mud. At times the path was almost impassable and we finally gave up and headed straight up on to the grassland which was still very squelchy but not quite as bad as the trackway. Off road vehicles and horse riders make a horrible mess of paths for walkers.

Probably the wrong time of year to visit this area as there are of course few flowers out in December, may return in the summer to see the rare orchids that bloom here.

The views however were magnificent even on a dark gloomy day with rain in the air. The bump on the horizon is Glastonbury Tor.


This is Brent Knoll looming over the levels. It doesn't take a lot of imagination to see it ( and Glastonbury Tor of course)  as an island rising out of the original water logged marshland that surrounded it.

Now of course the levels are  criss crossed by rhynes to provide drainage. Nice example here in the picture.

We were above the town of Cheddar ( now the title might make sense!). The reservoir is clear as is the sea in the far distance.  There were some hardy souls sailing - rather them than me today.

 One final picture - looked exactly like half a cherry tomato!  Now just got to try and identify it  - any advance on Scarlet Waxcap?

Sunday, 4 December 2011

A Palace at Fishbourne

A couple of weeks late but no matter. On our semi regular visits to Chichester take us past the Roman site at Fishbourne but somehow we've never stopped.  Time to change that!

We were there bright and early on a Sunday morning ( no school parties!!) so apart from a couple of other visitors we had the site pretty much to ourselves.

The palace was discovered by chance in  1960 during the digging of a new water main.  One of the finest Roman sites in Britain. There have been a number of phases of development here and some very early mosaic floor. Most of what is currently visible dates from approximately 75CE although it was continually updated and improved.

Surviving plaster gives a tantalising clue to the quality of the decoration and the mosaic floors are some of the best in Britain. Unfortunately the palace was badly damaged by fire in the third century and never really rebuilt, much of the stone being robbed out for reuse.

One of the earliest mosaics - monochrome but an amazing 3D effect nonetheless.

The famous Cupid and Dolphin mosaic. Hidden in the scroll border is a small black bird which has been suggested as representing the "signature" of the maker.

Although there is little evidence of the Palace remaining in use after the fire, there are some later Saxon burials on the site - this one was cut through one of the mosaics.

The palace was surrounded by formal gardens which have been partially recreated to give a feel of how the site looked. Some plants known to have been the contemporary gardens ( from pollen analysis) have been reintroduced. Obviously this is not the best time of year for garden shots!

and finally - some of the finds that didn't make it on to display. The sheer size of this store is incredible and I certainly hope they get a big discount from the maker of Really Useful Boxes!!

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Cardiff Castle - a monument to Victorian excess

New laptop is now up and working - can receive email but strangely can't send it! Oh well a job for another day.

I've had a few days away with some friends in Cardiff and although I've visited many many times before, the castle is so taken for granted it has probably been 20 years since I've been in. Neither of my friends had ever been so it seemed a good way to pass Sunday morning. Firstly I apologise for the photo quality. This wasn't a planned photo excursion so I didn't have my camera. These were taken on a fairly basic camera phone with no zoom or other refinements.

Firstly ( of course!) the obligatory stone circle. This is  the Gorsedd circle - a modern circle, erected in 1978 in Bute Park right under the walls of the castle. Dreadful picture but the best of a bad bunch!

The Normans reused the old Roman site and build a motte with a moat around it and a Keep on top. Originally wooden it was eventually constructed in stone.

Although the city with all the usual city noises presses up against the walls, the atomosphere inside is curiously peaceful.

 The climb up into the keep is by means of some steep stairs but the view over the mountains of South Wales and the modern city of Cardiff ins well worth it. Mostly now a shell, some medieval graffiti survives as well as a garde robe ( a lavatory which empties directly into the moat from a great height!)

The castle walls ( some Roman parts remaining) are hollow and were used during WW2 as an air raid shelter for the people of Cardiff. Even on a bright sunny day the corridor was cold and dank. Must have been far far worse to be there in the cold and the dark with the fear of bombs dropping.

The old castle is only part of the story. Also part of the complex is a large Gothic mansion built by the Bute family who amassed a huge fortune from the sale of coal and are largely responsible for the emergency of Cardiff as a major city. The house too has been enlarged  over the years and now stands as a magnificent example of the power of money over taste. Everything possible that could be decorated with gold leaf was and it is elaborately painted and carved.

 My camera couldn't possibly do justice to this jaw dropping interior but here are a few interior shots which will give the general idea.

This is the Arab room ceiling. A small octagonal room used as a sitting room or occasionally as a guest bedroom.

This is the over mantle in the library, the oldest part of the house. The central figure is holding a scroll inscribed with runes.

Finally here is some detail of the carving in the small dining room. The carved wooden frieze extends much of the way around the room and each scroll holds an exquistely carved bird. As far as it is possible to see they are all different.

Underneath are hand painted butterflies, again they are beautifully executed.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Technology woes

Having a few problems here so apologies but this week's update has to be postponed for a day or two. 

Got to love technology - the replacement for the faulty new lap top is also faulty and is going back to Amazon again.....the Roman Palace will follow as soon as  I'm back on line (won't be long!)

Sunday, 13 November 2011

The Temple of Sulis at Bath

No walk this week for various reasons so more pictures from the archives.  I used to work in Bath so was able to visit the Roman Baths and the associated temple remains fairly regularly.

The site has recently had a makeover no doubt to "improve" the visitor experience. Whether it does is definitely debatable. I am not a great fan of the general "dumbing down" and "interpreting" of the remains and I don't think that large moving pictures of reconstructions and the associated sound effects add anything. I find them distracting and annoying but be that as it may. Judging by their proliferation I must be in a  minority

These pictures were taken before the recent changes, some of them would not be possible to take now.

This is the sacred spring itself. It bubbles constantly and in cooler weather you can see the steam rising. Many votive offerings have been found in here along with objects that may have been accidently lost by the priests and of course the famous curse tablets.

There is evidence of Neolithic activity here long before the Romans came and built the temple they dedicated to "Sulis Minerva". The importance of Sulis is reflected in her name preceding that of Minerva,  I am not aware of another case of conflation where the Roman  half of the deity did  not take precedence over the native god/dess. This surely indicates that Sulis ( also known as Sul) was a very important goddess and in fact there are archaeological finds here that originate from as far away as Egypt indicating her importance and power.

This is the famous Gorgon's Head. In fact there are only two snakes, the rest being hair. The main problem with this interpretation is of course that the Gorgon was female and this is unmistakeably a male face. Alternative interpretations are that this is the sea god, Oceanus, a view that is strengthened by the dolphins which form part of the frieze. Another theory is that this is a representation of a Celtic sun god.

 The Temple courtyard.  This was the sacred area surrounding the temple and housed the Great Altar where sacrifices to the Goddess were made, mainly cattle judging by the bones discovered. The area is surrounded by tombstones bearing Roman inscriptions. 
Part of the Great Altar.  Contemporary descriptions describe a fire of burning rocks kept alight on it. Almost certainly a description of coal which is found in the area.

Finally a video. This is taken in a corner of the courtyard and is of the overflow from the Sacred Spring. It captures the steam, the noise and the whole atmosphere of the Temple area.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Wanders in Wales - Even more dogs!

Last day and we are heading home - seemed a shame though not to take it gently and see what we could spot on the way. Approaching Barmouth  Cerrig Arthur appeared on the map. It looked reasonably close to the road and as all the walking gear was packed this was definitely a point in its favour. The road was narrow. Very narrow and very short of passing places. Mercifully we didn't meet anything as we wended our way up the mountain to the end of the line where there was plenty of room to park.

Hardly had we done so when a transit van appeared, followed quickly by another and a whole string of cars. Our remote deserted spot was suddenly busier than Piccadilly Circus. The mystery was soon revealed. The locals had arrived to exercise their dogs!

Very nice friendly people they guided us to our very destination and we spent some time chatting to them. Time very well spent as it happens as they mentioned a burial chamber nearby that we should visit... so we did. Back to the circle first though. Three conspicuous stones surrounded by others that may or may not be part of the circle.  In the background stands Cader Idris, claimed to be Arthur's seat.

Time to inch back down, again praying we didn't meet anything!  Lunch and then back to Dyffryn Ardudwy. This was another mind blowing location. Just off the busy main road it could have been in the middle of nowhere surrounded by mature oak trees and a thick carpet of acorns ( one or two of which just might have come home with me!)

Originally a stone covered mound  it now survives as two well preserved dolmens, one of which has some strange carved lines on one of the uprights.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Wanders in Wales - In the footsteps of the Druids

Day two and the sun is out - well at the moment!

A heated debate follows on where to go -  Penmaenmawr won. A wealth of circles, stones and other features beckoned but at the cost of a long steep climb. I am definitely fitter than I was but I don't think I will ever enjoy climbing long steep hills.

 Anyway I was not disappointed. The climb was indeed long and steep in places. Where it wasn't steep it was wet and boggy- not a good time to find that the waterproof boots are less than waterproof and that wet socks give me blisters.

This is the view into the valley from the car park- quite magnificent.

I was feeling pretty miserable when we reached the first circle- Red Farm Circle. all that effort for a fairly poorly preserved  "circle" of a few low stones. This is about the best picture I could get- you may need to look carefully!

Nearby was  Maen Crwn a magnificent standing stone overlooking the site (why do people feel they have to carve their names on things?).

By now I'm feeling somewhat underwhelmed but nothing daunted we push on - yes more "up" and find the a tiny but much better preserved circle with the picturesque title of Stone circle 275. A pretty little circle of just 5 stones which deserves a better name,

However a quick glance up and silhouetted against the sky are some magnificent stones. The Druids Circle beckons.

I'm not feeling quite so tired now and the next hill is quickly climbed.

The pictures here don't come close to capturing it. Like Brodgar this fair crackles with  energy. There are several legends attached to the circle. The deity stone carries the legend that anyone who swears by it will be struck dead- I didn't try it and the sacrifice stone is said to have held the bodies of sacrificed infants - maybe as some child cremations were found here.

After spending nowhere long enough at he Druids circle time was getting on and we still had two more circles to find.

I am reasonably sure that this is circle 278 - but not 100%. The whole area is covered with the remains of circles, cairns and burial mounds as well as a neolithic axe factory so it can sometimes be difficult to pick out the features on the ground.

One more circle to go - that of   Cors y Carneddau. This did involve some head scratching, intensive map reading and GPS. It now appears mostly as a jumble of stones but I'm confident we found it. Doesn't look much in the picture but you can't fault the location.

Starting to get cold now so time to head down in search of dry footwear. I'd forgotten about my wet feet and blisters whilst in the circles but the trip down wasn't pleasant.

You'd think that would be enough for one day? Nope. One more to visit. The circle at  Cerrig Pryfaid. This is right on the road so no more walking required..... however high stone walls and a single track lane mean it isn't actually visible so it was a case of park where possible and walk back.  Scaling the 6ft stone wall surrounding it was relatively easy and the circle of small stones dwarfed by huge electricity pylons was revealed. Not the best picture I'm afraid. I was tired by now!

All in all a very successful day - and one more to go.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Wanders in Wales - Mysterious dogs

Just got back from a fabulous weekend in North Wales- one of my favourite parts of the country but unfortunately just that little bit too far away for a regular visit.

This visit had a theme - as many stone circles and tombs as possible in 2 days of hill walking.

First morning dawned grey and misty. It was very late when we drove up the night before after a full day at work so it was a chance to see where we were and to decide what we wanted to go.  The weather although good for Wales,  wasn't good enough to go high. I don't enjoy having rain flung in my face or winds trying to dislodge me especially if the view is obscured by cloud so it was a lower level walk today.

Capel Gamon is a small village just above Betws y Coed.  The pub is sadly closed and up for sale but plenty of parking nearby.

First stop on the planned 12 mile walk was the neolithic tomb just outside the village. This is easy to find and helpfully sign posted from the road - well you could call it a road.....

The tomb is a chambered cairn dating originally from neolithic times but with the finding of some beaker pottery it could have been in use until the early bronze age.

The layout is similar to that of Belas Knapp in the Cotswolds  and has stunning views- they certainly knew how to site a tomb. You can just about see the circle of rocks marking the perimeter of the mound.

The site was "guarded" by a very friendly farm dog who insisted on a nice game of sticks before deciding he was going to escort us along our way. If in doubt we followed the dog who led us on to a neighbouring farm before taking himself back home.

At this point things started to get rather surreal. We hadn't gone more than a mile or so when we were joined by another dog. I have no idea where he came from and he started off in the direction we were headed. As it happened we'd made a mistake so we back tracked a few hundred yards and took a second path. Within half a mile the dog had rejoined us - taking the lead and looking back to make sure we were still following.

At this point the old tales of the Cŵn Annwn started to flit uncomfortably across my mind. Not much we could do about it so it was again a case of follow the dog! We dawdled a bit as I was collecting lichen for dyeing and the dog started barking to hurry us up. Eventually we got to the bottom of the hillside on the main road above Fairy Glen and the dog vanished as suddenly as he had appeared.

There are lots of tales of strange happenings in the woods above Betws and it seems I now have my own tale to tell.  The rest of the walk was uneventful if rather wet and boggy in places and despite  ( because of?)  the mysterious dog we returned safely to our guest house for a well earned cup of tea

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Tanis - a trip into the desert

Another from the archives I'm afraid. No walk this week for a number of reasons but I have definite plans for next week.

Anyway, last week I posted some pictures from Bubastis - that was in the morning. In the afternoon we moved to the ancient city of Tanis ( Djanet to the ancient Egyptians, Zoan in the New Testament). This was formerly a capital of Egypt and is an incredibly important site. It is also in the middle of nowhere and again we were the only visitors - oh apart  from the armed entourage from the morning of course.

Unlike Bubastis which is cheek by jowel with Zagazig, this is much more remote. As at many sites the security is quite tight and we had to go through an airport type scanner to enter the complex.

The scanner is clearly not actually plugged in  and the small fact that there is no electricity at the site anyway didn't seem to be a concern  so we all dutifully trouped through it..... Well you don't argue with a man with a big gun! Once in we had a fabulous view down the valley and over the site itself.

Again far too many pictures to share so here are just a couple.

Tanis is inextricably linked with Rameses II - so here is the man himself.

The deep hieroglyph is the cartouche of Rameses II.  He is well known for hijacking statues of his predecessors and removing their cartouches, replacing them with his own.

To avoid any subsequent phaorah doing the the same thing to him, he had his name carved very deeply and this is a feature of all his cartouches all over Egypt. It does make him extremely easy to identify even if you know nothing about hieroglyphics.

Many features are preserved under the sand, two temples   to Horus and Amun, tombs  sacred lakes and a nilometer.

(The nileometer was an essential part of bureaucratic  life- its function was the measure the height of the river thus predicting the fortunes of the crops and thus the level of taxes to be imposed)

The tombs found here rival that of Tutenkhamon for treasure but all has been removed from the area leaving a deserted desert wasteland dominated by the occasional huge piece of masonary. However the site is vast and I have a feeling that there is much yet to be found.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

In search of the Egyptian Cat Goddess

House guests this weekend so no expedition ( other to Hobbycraft - see the sister blog!). The weather isn't so great either with strong winds and occasional rain so I don't mind being indoors in front of a blazing fire.

I was contacted this week by the author of a book I've just finished and reviewed on Amazon and as the subject was Ancient Egypt  I thought I'd post some pictures taken around a year ago on a trip to the Egyptian Delta.

This was part of a 2 week exhaustive archaeological tour. Exhaustive was the word, I came back worn out but I wouldn't have missed it for the world and luckily we were able to go before the recent political unrest.

We'd picked this tour because it visited sites that most tours don't - in this case Bubastis in the Delta area. Dedicated to the cat goddess Bast ( Bastet) the red granite temple was originally documented by Herodotus in the 5th century.
"When the Egyptians travel to Bubastis they do so in the following manner. Men and women sail together, and in each boat there are many persons of both sexes. Some of the women make a noise with rattles, and some of the men play pipes during the whole journey, while the other men and women sing and clap their hands. When they come to a town on the way, they lay to, and some of the women land and shout and mock the women of the place, while others dance and get up to mischief. They do this at every town lying on the Nile; but when they come to Bubastis they begin the festival with great offerings and sacrifices, during which more wine is consumed than during the whole of the rest of the year. The Egyptians say that some 700,000 men and women make this pilgrimage every year."

The site is rarely visited by tourists which is a shame as they have a swanky new reception centre, and a newly landscaped display area for some of the major finds. What they don't have are visitors and we were easily out numbered by our armed guard  and the staff on the site. No other visitors there  at all! To have a vast ruined city more or less to yourself is an amazing feeling especially when taking into account just how crowded the more well known sites can be.

Did I mention the armed guard? The 10 of us had a fully armed chap on the minibus and an escort of three land rovers full of fully armed soldiers under the command of a 2* general as well as two motorcycle outriders with flashing lights and sirens. Talk about making us conspicuous! The cavalcade rolled into Bubastis to be greeted by MORE armed guards. The old city is crowded by the modern city of Zagazig and is believed to extend well under the new buildings so much will have been lost or destroyed. There is however still plenty to see.

Of the hundreds of photographs taken, here are just a few.

This is the "show site". Note the extensive areas of white concrete which is appealing under the baking Egyptian sun. In the foreground is a nice representation of Sekhmet, the lion headed goddess who is one of the aspects of Bastet.

Away from the show site  it is much more chaotic- the ruins are in a fabulous jumble, looking as if they still lie where they fell.

 A view down over the site showing Zagazig in the background.

A more close up view showing a nice example of a cobra frieze which is a recurring motif - we saw more examples at Saqqara.

We were able to wander freely amongst the ruins, trying not to step on fragments of 3000 year old pottery, all of which would be treasured exhibits in western museums but here lie unheeded in countless piles   Even taking great care it was impossible to avoid crushing them. Our guide was happy to translate any fragments of hieroglyphs we came across and the morning passed much too quickly.

As well as the ceremonial areas, housing and burial tombs have also survived and have been excavated and some conservation work has been carried out.

Here is a typical scene, you can see the huge visitors centre in the background.

Our exit via Zagazig was as discreet as our arrival. The motorcycle outriders brought the local traffic to a halt and we were subject to much attention by the local population who must have wondered who on earth we were. I was happy to return safely to Cairo is sink back into quiet anonymity.  VIP treatment? No not for me!
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