Wednesday, 31 August 2011

An unexpected Cat Hole

IT housekeeping all done - so plenty of space for lots more pictures! This week's blog was intended to be a couple of castles but a trip out on Monday led to Parc Cwm in the Gower and on to  the Cathole cave.

 The cave is well hidden but some kind soul left a clue..... The (fairly well trodden) earth path leaves the main tarmac park through Parc Cwm and disappears into the trees and undergrowth.

A second leaf arrow indicated the even more well hidden path to the right which leads to the cave. The cave entrance forms a narrow cleft, wider at the base, which goes deep into the rock.

It is (of course) pitch dark in there and not having planned this find I was lacking a torch. However the camera flash came to the rescue, disclosing an intriguing interior with some dark passages leading even further back. There were a couple of bays, both seem to have passages.

The cave is well known for Late Glacial finds ( approx 10,000BCE). Some finds may be even earlier - 26000BCE. The cave appears to have been inhabited by  a variety of creatures, red fox, arctic fox and brown bear.  Other animal finds include   mammoth, woolly rhino, red deer and giant deer.

Later in it's history the cave was used by Mesolithic hunters and later still by Bronze Age peoples who left remains of burial urns. Personally I'd have found those dark passageways behind me very unnerving!

As I mentioned, the visit to the cave was unplanned ( didn't even know it was there) but it overshadowed the intended objective - the Parc le Breos  long barrow which was rather an anti- climax. Heavily restored it is a chambered long barrow dating from around 3800BCE.

Some 40 human remains were found within, some of which appeared to be excarnated, some not. It does seem possible that the rituals surrounding the burials may have incorporated the use of the cave. This theory is strengthened by the discovery of late  ice age animal bones - gathered up with the exposed human remains from the cave perhaps?

Monday, 29 August 2011

It's a bank holiday here in the UK and time to take advantage of family ties in South Wales. I was planning on a cornucopia of castles, caves and barrows for this blog entry - unfortunately I seem to have run out of hard drive space. It's full. Completely full. So full that I daren't store any more pictures on it!

Major computer housekeeping is needed ( obviously long overdue) so I'll settle for a nice view for the moment with a lot more to come later this week!

This is from Bracelet Bay in the Gower. Although you can't see them you'll need to take my word for it that there were indeed grey seals in the bay this morning.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

A very English affair

Over the bug now but travels were curtailed this weekend. However I did spend a pleasant Friday in a field near Dunster at the Agricultural show.

Dunster Castle in the background provides a spectacular setting for the show- and unusually for these affairs the sun even made an appearance. Shame I was working and not able to make the most of it!

This year's show was the 165th to be held so it has quite a history.

I don't think Alpacas are terribly traditional but they are very appealing.

More traditional animals also abound. Lots of  showing classes for sheep.....

......and cattle

and displays of horsemanship

Monday, 22 August 2011

Slight hiatus in the normal schedule!

It's a bit early for the virus season but it  looks like no one told this particular one! 

Monday, 15 August 2011

Now you see them - now you don't! The mystery of the disappearing rivers

 Well no mystery really, just geology but I'm sure the early inhabitants of the land had quite a different view of things.

This walk starts at Pont Melin Fach in South Wales with a scramble up Afon Nedd. It starts gently through woodland along the side of the stream but rapidly becomes more challenging as it follows the stream up the valley. The scenery is lovely, the overhanging trees make a damp micro-climatic in which ferns and mosses thrive. The downside is that the path can be wet and muddy and the rocks slippery.

As you can see this is a fair size river at the point - however all of a sudden it just disappears - actually it is reappearing rather than disappearing! Photos really don't show this well so a short video is in order I think. I'm sorry about the quality. Being balanced on wet mossy rocks doesn't help a steady hand! You can see it bubbling up though nicely.

Another  re-appearance; this is Pwll Du. The tributory stream flows out of the cave in the rock  but the water itself seems to barely move.

In both cases the water has run into a sink hole or swallet hole much higher up the valley and made its way underground until it reappears much lower. The overall effect though is quite surreal with the sound of the river which is considerable just disappearing as you climb the valley.

After this the actual disappearance of the river when you get to it higher up is a bit of an anti climax.

After following the river a little futher the path wends its way over the top of the mountain through a strange almost lunar landscape.

 These are shake holes- depressions in the ground caused by the underground rivers dissolving and washing away the rock. The ground above collapses leaving these round depressions looking like someone has taken big scoops out of the ground with a giant spoon.

Having seen no one all morning, the adjoining valley of Afon Mellte seems very busy. This is much more accessible with a car park nearby so many more visitors.

Here the river Mellte disappears into a cave. It is popular with cavers and pot holers. The river seems to just stop in a pool with water flowing in endlessly but the pool with no apparent visible exit gets no bigger. You can hear the rush of the ( now invisible river from the back of the cavern but it isn't accessible without the proper caving equipment.

The rush of the water can be seen here though. Again photos don't give any idea of the speed and noise of the now subterranean river so another short video.

Nearly back now past the ( reappeared) river and past some spectacular waterfalls. Here is just one of them.

All in all a really lovely day out even without a pub for lunch - now if we hadn't got slightly lost we would have been able to make a short detour to the nearest village - oh well there is always next time!

Friday, 12 August 2011

Sloe Gin

At the white horse last week, the first sloes were ripe, very early for sloes and they are better after a frost but I couldn't resist picking some to top up the sloe gin stocks.

It didn't take long to pick the couple of handfuls needed leaving plenty on the blackthorns for another day. As usual we got the curious looks of other walkers but  unusually no one asked what we were picking.  Sloes are one of the great unrecognised hedgerow  fruits, not popular I guess as they are too bitter to eat raw. Leaves all the more for the rest of us then!

So home to make gin. I left them in a warm kitchen to ripen a little more before using and I could I guess have put them in the freezer for a little to simulate frost but I didn't bother this time.

  So for sloe gin:
  • Bottle of gin - I use a mid quality gin, it isn't worth using the very expensive gins but the cheap "value" ones are harsh especially if you only plan to let it mature for a short time
  • Sugar  - ordinary granulated is fine
  • Sloes   

Firstly  empty the gin into a jug ( unless you have a suitable bottle already empty of course)
Rinse the sloes removing any stalks or leaves and prick each one with a skewer.

Pour the sugar into the bottle until it is 25-30% full. I like mine less sweet so I  use the lesser amount.

Add approximately a third of a bottle of sloes, I tend to be generous but it depends on how many you have

Top up with the gin, screw the lid back on tightly and shake well

Leave the bottle in a convenient place and shake regularly until all the sugar has dissolved. This may take a couple of days if you've used a lot of sugar.

Once all the sugar has dissolved the bottle can be put away to mature. How long you leave it is up to you. Around 3 months is the minimmum but the longer the better really. The bottle above is 4 years old and the bright pinky red drink has softened and mellowed like a tawny port.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Uffing and Puffing at Uffingham White Horse!

Yet another wet Sunday- I can see a theme developing for Summer 2011! The white horse at Uffingham has long been on my list of places to visit. This is the oldest chalk cut figure in the UK and has been dated as approximately 3000 years old. The hill below with a flat top, Dragon Hill has legendary associations with St George and is said to be where he killed the famous dragon (!).

The car park is below the horse so it is a medium  climb up the hill to get close. The horse itself is very hard to photograph. There are no spots where the whole horse can be seen so you need to take aerial shots.

That's a bit out of budget for me so follow this link to the National Trust page which has some lovely pictures as well as some details on Dragon Hill which it seems I completely neglected to photograph despite climbing down to it and the horrible long steep climb back up!

 Directly above the horse is the remains of the Uffingham Castle, a large iron age fort.
 This is the highest point in Oxfordshire and we had some fabulous views of the rain storms heading our way. At least it gave us the chance to see what was coming.

 Dodging the raindrops we walked along the Ridgeway, a chalk by way leading to Wayland's Smithy. This is a long barrow in which the  remains of 14 people were found. The burials have been carbon dated to between   3590-3550 BCE which is a very short period of time.

The barrow is actually two, a later and much larger barrow was built on top and this is what we can see today. The white horse had been busy but we had the barrow more or less to ourselves other than for a couple of people trying to track down a reported crop circle near by. I hadn't been looking out for one so wasn't able to help.

There are many legends associated with the barrow.  The name Wayland is said to derive from Wolund, a Germanic smith and metal working God.

This  name was bestowed on the site by the Saxons about a 1000 years after it was built and subsequent foklore has it that if a traveller's horse loses a shoe he should leave the horse ovrnight at the Smithy along with a silver coin. In the morning the horse will be shod and the coin gone. Whether this tale is based on a still older folk memory of rituals and offerings at the site can only be the subject of conjecture but is interesting food for thought.

It is a truly lovely setting. Although it is surrounded by farmland it is enclosed by mature trees which lend it a secluded and peaceful air. Well worth a visit.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Apple Carving

It's looking like a very good year for apples. My poor Bramley has partially collapsed under the weight of the crop.

We've lost at least a third of the tree and I think it is now on its last few seasons given the spectacular bracket fungus growths that it also produces each autumn. I shall be very sorry to see it go, it is very old and a superb cropper ( ironic!)

The broken branches are loaded with very underripe apples which are not really cookable. An experiment with stewing them took a very long time and an awful lot of sugar...

 Most will be composted but I saved a couple to try some apple carving as suggested by some friends on a cross stitch board.

So this is it after the carving. It's been soaked in acidulated water ( water and white vinegar) to stop it going brown and now just needs to dry out in a warm place.

Anyone have any ideas on what else I can do with them?

That is the Four Thieves vinegar in the background. Still looks horrible and I haven't dared open it to see if it still smalls bad. Another 2/3 weeks before that is ready for bottling.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Castlerigg, Birkrigg and St Anna

A rather unplanned trip to Cumbria this week to do some walking in the Lake District. All a bit last minute and as it is school holidays we couldn't be too choosy about where we went. In the end we found accomodation in Borrowdale and sallied forth.

Of course once I knew we were doing I couldn't resist a quick internet search for stone circles and of course Castlerigg came up.

It was busy. Very busy.  People having picnics, children climbing the stones and an idiot who thought carving his initials into the Sanctuary stones was a good thing. However I did manage to get a few pictures where it appears to be deserted!

This is a lovely location, the site is surrounded by some of the most famous peaks in the Lake District. It is believed to be an early circle- strictly speaking an oval rather than a circle with the rectangular "Sanctuary" added later.

It was too busy to really get much atmosphere so we decided to come back later when the crowds would have gone home to try and get some better pictures.

We were partially successful, one remaining family and a hyperactive 10 year old who was practicising his rock climbing skills on the stones as well as a couple of other photographers there to try and capture the sun set. However with some patience and a long wait I did get some nice pictures of the circle and we did eventually get it to ourselves.

Not all the Lake District is mountainous and to rest the legs we had a stroll near Cockermouth with the intention of finding the Holy Well of St Anna - also known as Stanger Spa.

The well is reputed to have health giving properties and the water was sold in Victorian times. The well itself is protected by a rusty iron grill and the water is definitely unappealling!

This was a short break and we decided to return home via Furness Abbey to take full advantage of the new English Heritage membership cards. Funny that there should be another circle on the route I chose - pure chance of course!

Birkrigg ( Druids Temple)   was a real challenge to find. It is on common land currently covered with waist deep bracken. If we had started from where we thought we were rather than where we acually were it would have been a lot easier but a little research confirmed that we are not the only ones to have worked hard to find this one, even if it is actually visible from the road!

This is a lovely little circle, actually two. There are two concentric rings here. The middle one is very clear but the outer one is not so well preserved. There is also evidence of vandalism in the form of traces of red paint on one of the stones. Why?
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