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!

Monday, 3 October 2011

Jurassic Park? No just a coast.

The weather is still fabulous here ( but nor for long now I'm told). With such a nice hot day promised where to go but to the coast!

Didn't fancy braving the crowds at the main south coast resorts so we went to a part of the coast between Lyme Regis and Bridport - Eype to be exact. Eype means "steep place" and it certainly lives up to its name. I was puffing before we reached the top of the first climb which might have been the high temperatures or just a plain lack of exercise over the last week or so - I'm blaming the heat. Eype is a great place for fossil hunting but this time we avoided the beach and headed up on to the downs.

We found a tumulus or two on  top of the bluff but other than that it was a day of sitting in the sun at the pub in Seatown, having a gentle stroll around the downs ( I swear much more up than down) and finishing off with a cream tea!

 View down to Seatown and lunch!

So not much to write about this week - just some photos of the spectacular scenery to share.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Sun is out but it is Chilli here at the moment

Summer has definitely arrived very late this year and the temperatures here at the moment are the highest they have been since May.  The so called summer months here were a grey wet disappointment and the garden and crops have suffered for it

The outdoor chilli plants are now finally mostly ripe and the greenhouse is full of somewhat over-ripe tomatoes basking in the autumn sun. They are definitely on the squishy side now so need using up. I'm picky- only firm tomatoes go into salad!

The chilli crop is well down on last year. it just hasn't been warm or sunny enough for them but I still have plenty in the freezer from last year so I'm happy to use the few I have this year in chilli jam.

This is a cross between a jam and a chutney, great with cold meat or cheese.

I haven't been able to adapt it successfully to the slow cooker method, the tomatoes are generally much too juicy so back to the traditional methods this time.

The recipe is simple
  • 1 1/2 lbs of ripe tomatoes
  • 8oz of sugar - I used up some golden sugar I had but white is fine. Brown sugar will give a darker jam.
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 2-4   whole red chillies   - adjust to suit. I use a lot of very hot chillies but follow your own heat tolerance here.
  • About an inch of fresh root ginger - peeled
  • 8floz red wine vinegar

Blend  the chillies with the garlic, ginger and half the tomatoes. Add the vinegar and blend again
Place in large thick bottomed saucepan
Chop the remaining tomatoes fairly finely and and add to the blended mix
Bring to the boil and simmer for 1-1 1/2 hours stirring occasionally  until it  gets to a thick jammy consistency
Allow to cool slightly and seal into sterilised jars. Cover immediately and keep in a cool dark place.

As you can see these quantities do not make a lot - not a bad thing. Chillies vary a huge amount in potency so it is worth trying a test batch like this first before making a large quantity.
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