Sunday, 24 July 2011

From Avebury to Devizes

For a change  a "straight line" walk rather than a circular trek.Thank you to Nigel Vile and the Bath Chronicle for suggesting this one.

It meant getting up horribly early for a Sunday and driving to Devizes to leave the car tucked away in a safe corner of a long stay car park and taking the "trans-Wiltshire express" ( better known as the number 49 bus !) to Avebury with the intention of walking the 9 miles back.

Avebury was safely gained and rapidly left with barely a glance at the circles ( I know I know but I've been there many times). I couldn't resist just one shot though as we walked down towards the church and out into the countryside.

I was rewarded though by the sight of the  two Long Stones at Avebury Trusloe. The landowner very kindly allows access to the stones  across his field so we were able to go in amongst them.   These are truly massive stones, originally there would have been more but they have been removed.

Nice vistas of Silbury Hill

Eventually we reached the highlight and main objective of our walk  - Wansdyke ( Woden's Dyke). This is a Saxon linear defensive earthwork consisting of a long ditch and bank and now dated to around 500CE. The path runs along the top of the bank giving views across the downland and provides a wildlife corridor between the intensively farmed field on either side. A major highlight for me was seeing a hare up close which is very rare now. The hare once it spotted us "hared" off into a cornfield and for several hundred yards we could see his ears popping up above the ripe corn as he bounded away.

Time for lunch and time to leave the Wansdyke path for the village of Bishop's Cannings and lunch in the garden at the Crown.

 Getting close to Devizes now and the last 2 miles were along the Kennet and Avon canal which was busy with narrow boats. The white horse by the way is fairly new - a millennium project!

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Four Thieves Vinegar

Having some spare time I thought I'd mix up a batch of this for the winter. It needs to soak for around a month so it should be ready by early autumn.

The legend surronding the vinegar is very well known and there are lots of different recipies. I used one using just culinary herbs I had to hand as I want to be able to use it as an immune system booster for the winter especially as this summer has been so grim so far.

So the contents are:
  • a bottle of decent red wine vinegar 
  • 4 heads of garlic ( according to Judika Illes you can never have enough garlic - we'll see!) 
  • crushed black pepper, 
  • dried rosemary, 
  • dried thyme
  • dried coriander.
It looks fairly horrid at the moment as you can see- once it is strained and bottled at the end of August I hope it will be more appealing. If not I'll just use it to banish the overwintering mice!

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The Landscape of Stonehenge

It's the British Festival of Archaeology this week and there are lots of special events going on across the country. Living where I do I am rather spoilt for choice so having limited time I opted to go on the National Trust tour of the landscape around Stonehenge guided by the NT archaeologist  Dr Nick Snashall.

I've been past Stonehenge so many times and have read so many books on the subject but there is no substitute for actually walking the larger site and actually experiencing how the different archaeological features actually do fit together.

The walk started with the Cursus. This has been recently dated to between 3630 and 3375 BCE which makes it considerably older than any part of Stonehenge itself. We walked past the round barrows  and along the line of the cursus which is approximately 2 miles in length. The round barrows were added long after Stonehenge was built and have a principal burial with others added afterwards. Much later still cremation burials have been inserted into the side. Unfortunately  these barrows were excavated before DNA analysis was developed so whether the individuals are related or not cannot be known.

The cursus is ended by a neolithic long barrow which cuts across at right angles. This has been dated to be very similar in date to the cursus but  has been badly damaged  by ploughing.

We then proceeded to the "cuckoo" stone to enjoy our lunch. This is a sarsen stone that has been moved  a short distance from its   natural resting place and set upright ( before falling over!) Cremation burials have been found nearby.

On to Durrington Walls. Here there is little left to see of the henge  other than the remains of the walls and ditch - however under the grassy field lies much more. In 2007 a reinvestigation of the site revealed a well preserved chalk floor and further investigations unveiled a whole village complete with evidence of mid summer and mid winter feasting - they were apparently very fond of pork!. It is now considered that this was the village in which the constructors of Stonehenge lived during the building period.  Interestingly though the henge itself is  of later construction than the village and the site was abandoned soon after the henge was completed. Was it built to honour the workers who built Stonehenge?

Below Durrington Walls there is archaeological evidence of a timber circles which could have been used ceremoniously by the workers. Next to all this is Woodhenge itself where the positions of the original timber holes have been sensitively filled with concrete (!) in approximately the right positions. Fortunately the original excavator did not go down far enough and in 2007 more dating evidence was found along with stone sockets for at least 2 standing stones. There was a child burial found in the centre.

If  this wasn't enough then close by there are some more round barrows. Underneath these barrows were found 4 post holes and it has been suggested that these posts supported a platform which might have been used for sky burials with the bones then being removed and stored elsewhere or thrown into the nearby river for disposal. This would explain the scarcity of human remains found on the complex - with the number of people known to be there, there are nowhere near enough human remains accounted for.

Time now to start heading back to Stonehenge itself along Kings Barrow Ridge and to the barrow cemetery. Although there are traces of many more barrows only a few survive without severe damage and have not been excavated. Trees were  planted on the top by the Victorians as a decorative feature but these are destructive to the archaeology. However the storm of 1987 blew down many of them and environmental archaeologists took the chance to look at the material brought to the surface by the tree roots. 

Almost back now apart from the Avenue up to Stonehenge itself. Amazingly this has been shown to be a largely natural feature and may explain why Stonehenge is situated where it is. The Avenue aligning both  the winter solstice sunset and the summer solstice  sunrise and leading up to a plateau which was a natural clearing in what would have been woodland. This would have seemed a gift from the gods to the local people which would lead it towards a ritual use.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

One fort is never enough.

Not exactly raining today but looking as if it might do so. Nothing daunted, pack the waterproofs and venture into Dorset and to Hod Hill near Blandford Forum.

Make no mistake this is a STEEP climb up and I'm gasping long before we reach the top - also keeping a wary eye on the young bullocks in the field - they have some fearsome looking horns but mercifully take no interest at all in me.

This is a large fort - Roman at one end and Iron Age at the other. The Roman's captured the fort from the local tribe and unusually reused it themselves. Seeing the extent of the fortifications who can blame them. The amount of labour that must have gone into digging the ditches is incredible ( the cows to the left give a degree of scale)

This is the Iron Age end  - there are the remains of over 2500 round houses so it would have been a sizeable settlement for the Durotriges. The site dates from around 500BCE before it was taken by the Romans in 44CE.

Getting close to lunch time now so a trip to nearby   Child Okeford and the Bakers Arms for a snack lunch in the pub garden. I'm told the beer was excellent but unfortunately we were driving....

So close so it seemed a shame not to visit Hambledon Hill fort which is very close by.
Another steep climb up and more young bullocks - these were older and had even more fearsome looking horns!

The fort comes into view long before you get there so it does provide some incentive for the climb. 

This fort is originally neolithic - radiocarbon dating places it at around 2850BCE in places although it must have been added too over the centuries. There are a couple of long barrows on the top.
Neither site has been ploughed or farmed in the interim and both are covered with an array of chalk lovng plants. As SSRIs they are protected and maintained by light grazing  - plenty of evidence that cows graze there!

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Glastonbury Tor

I've a couple of days off so I thought a mid week walk was warranted. It's been years since I climbed the Torso I thought I'd take the opportunity before the holiday season started for a trip up again.

I'd forgotton what a steep climb it is up from the town. There is no parking near the Tor and it is a  good mile from the town centre.  As you can see a very grey day!

Well if I was expecting a quiet site I was to be disappointed. It was really busy up there but the views were well worth it - not quite sure what's with the heart on the hill but ths is Glastonbury after all!

The remains of St Michael's Church crown the top. Dating from the 15CE there are remains of earlier buildings underneath.

The stone work is amazing  where is survives but there is little left other than the tower. 

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Walking the Labyrinth

Spent the weekend with some friends at their home in Chichester, West Sussex. After last weeks debacle I was definitely in need of some exercise so quite up for a wander on the South Downs. The plan was  (as usual!) a 5 mile of so walk and a nice pub for lunch.

Another glorious day. The walk started off in some woodland, climbed gently on to Bignor Hill and descended gently into Houghton to the "George and Dragon" for lunch ( Nice food but a bit pricey).

The hedgerows are thick with flowers including lots of mugwort and silverweed which doesn't grow anywhere near where I live. This is chalk downland and there were a number of plants I made a note of to look up later.

We are all feeling suitably refreshed so decide to extend the walk into Amberley. This must be one of the most pictureque villages around. Thatched cottages abound, tearoom, 12C church and a hotel in a castle. Couldn't ask for more!  It did however turn a 5 mile walk into a 12 mile one!

Although we had climbed Bignor Hill, the Roman farm and villa wasn't visible so we had to take the car down to pay it a visit. Some superb Roman mosaics here but much of the site is buried to preserve it.

The mosaics are kept under cover to help protect them but outside on the grass the owners had laid out a unicursive labyrinth and the later Roman style "geometric" one for visitors to walk so of course we did both!

Interestingly the classical labyrinth was much more calming and soothing to walk than the far more complex ( and much longer) Roman version. I know which one I preferred.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Not according to plan!

You know, some days life really is out to get you. Carrying on regardless may seem like a good idea at the time but I really should know better.

The Brecon Beacons beckoned - nice weather ( for once) so a picnic lunch in the car and off we go. Hit the M4 for the Severn crossing and all well. That is until we pass the junction for the M48. Huge traffic jam. Huge. Going nowhere very slowly. WTF did they install those expensive roadside screens for if they are just going to be used for trite "Don't drive tired" (sic) messages?

Anyway after 20 minutes able to loop back via the Avonmouth junction and make the 25 minute round trip back on to the M48 to go over the old bridge.

Now an hour later than planned so tempers start to fray. Several wrong turnings later we get to Merthyr Tydfil where we planned to pick up some more bottled water. On a Sunday this is the place that time forgot. Eventually find an off licence open but miss it so several circuits of the town later we get back to where we started. Park and buy water and head for the hills. Choice of a couple of unmarked tracks - yup you guessed it - wrong choice.

Eventually find our destination and start the ascent. It's heaving. Every few yards we pass someone and have to nod and smile in greeting. This is really not my idea of fun. 

 The idea was to walk up the bottom of the valley, up the side of the mountain and along the ridge back to the car park. Some pretty little rills though to break the montony.

The trouble is I'm bored. Very bored. I can see where I've been, can see where I'm going and worse still can see where I'm going to have to climb up and walk back. Well we reach the end, scramble up a really steep slope, admire a pretty view and admit defeat,  heading back to the car as quickly as possible.

  After that what else to do but find a nice pub and have a drink. We do find a nice pub - first thing that has gone right all day ( if you ignore the small issue that the car park was full). There was even a table left at the canal side.

And  look what we saw - I've never seen a coracle in use before- plenty in museums of course but never one on the water!  This almost made up for the rest of the day!

Of course it couldn't last- heading back to England what did we get caught up in? Yes another massive traffic jam! Definitely NOT my day......
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