Sunday, 30 December 2012

Light on Glastonbury

After a couple of days cooped up at home I think we were all about to go stir crazy. Got to get out. Somewhere. Anywhere. Never mind the rain.

Everywhere around here is awash. If it's not flooded it is ankle deep in mud which is not fun. The path up Glastonbury Tor is at least mostly hard so it won by a mile.

I've photographed Glastonbury before several times so I was looking for something a little different and I wanted to take advantage of the bad weather. It was also mid afternoon with only an hour or two until sunset which made for some interesting light which I hoped to capture.

It had ( just about ) stopped raining at this point so I seized this opportunity of an unusual view of the Tor.

The view from the top. This is not Photoshopped in any way. The combination of heavy black clouds, rain and the occasional appearance of late afternoon winter sun combined to give some  interesting lighting effects. This one of the Somerset Levels .

Taken from inside the ruins of St Michael's church, the sun was   low and so bright reflecting off the floods.

Walking down along the shoulder of the Tor, the clouds gave way to blue sky but the light had an eerie feel which is reflected in this shot. A few moments later and the had light changed completely and the mood was lost.

And finally - a short detour to the White Spring which was open and beautifully lit with many candles. The heavy rain and subsequent  water flow meant that the entire floor was flooded and the roar of the water  meant that talking in a whisper didn't work too well.

They do not permit photography inside to preserve the ambiance (and I guess the privacy of the bathers in the healing pool) but I couldn't resist the fabulous bracket fungus just outside the door!

Sunday, 23 December 2012

An Enchanted Christmas

A little different this week. As most people ( at least in the UK) will already know, the South West has been badly hit by torrential rain and flooding. Although the roads around here are mostly  passable with care, everywhere is extremely muddy and the thought of a walk wading through mud and water not  terribly appealing.

The ( fairly ) local arboretum at Westonbirt  does a regular Christmas event which involves a woodland walk with special lighting effects. It's a mile of easy walking and given that it was pouring with rain we didn't think it would be terribly busy!

So after dark we set out. It wasn't terribly busy but even so we were far from the only ones to brave the appalling weather. The walk is lovely and some of the special effects dreamed up by the lighting specialists were extremely effective. Not all photographed well and most of the following pictures were taken on my daughter's BlackBerry which proved more equal to the conditions than my fancy Nikon!

A lot of the lightening effects had movement with the spot lights fading out and coming back on. The rain added a whole new dimension to the scene with the patter of rain drops falling from the trees - well pouring off the trees would be more accurate. The rain didn't let up at all. Those said raindrops contributed an otherworldly mist around the spots as they evaporated in the heat - almost like dry ice.

The following selection of pictures were our best attempts at capturing some of the effects. Unfortunately the bubbles which provided some of the most memorable vistas proved to be somewhat camera shy.


Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No it's a giant smoke ring!

and another

A tree with a face ( thanks to a camera and projector). Very spooky this one.

and finally a very bad picture of the Green Man  (the others were worse!)

As well as the illuminated trail there was a craft activity for the children ( somewhat underwhelming; most of the children thought so too as I didn't see any actually trying it and only one Dad carrying around the completed project!)

I was hoping for some nice rural crafts as well but I was to be disappointed on that score. We were also faintly horrified by the price of the mulled wine  (£4.00 a cup) so passed on that one.Given the price of entry they could have at least given us a free mince pie :-(

However all credit to them - a traditional Father Christmas. Not a red robe to be seen. 

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Turkish Delight - A fine place for a long sleep

After the Atemission  we were ready for a nap  so where better to visit than the cave of the Seven Sleepers!

This is close to both Ephesus and the Temple to Artemis but is the focus of Christian mysteries. The seven sleepers are 7 Christian  men who were said to have been walled up in a natural grotto to save them from persecution.

Safe in their cave they fell asleep only to wake 200 years later around 435CE. Walking down into Ephesus they were amazed by the number of churches and the ability for them to worship safely. Eventually they died natural deaths and were buried in the cave where they had slept.

Obviously the site of such a miracle became a place of pilgrimage and a church and mausoleum added later.

Many others also wanted to be buried on such a sacred site ( may be in hope of waking up themselves in the future) and there are many other grave slots above the original grotto. This was a major place of pilgrimage up to the 15CE but nowadays it doesn't seem much visited. There were just a handful of other visitors despite the location of a busy tourist trap just below on the road.

These legends of people falling asleep  only to wake  and find that many years have passed are found worldwide. Indeed  King Arthur is said to slumber under Britain awaiting the time when  he will waken and save the country in its time of need.

Possibly the most interesting thing about this site was the discovery of a series of clay lamps found in the grotto. Many were decorated with Christian themes but many other bore pagan images such as  the head of the  Attis  ( Consort of Cybele and a god of death and resurrection, born of a virgin mother....sound familiar?).  

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Turkish Delight - one of the 7 wonders of the world. The Artemision

As you may have gathered from the previous instalment, Ephesus was far from my favourite site this trip.

However leaving Ephesus we stopped at the Artemision. This temple, dedicated to Artemis, was one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. It was also much less busy, Most of the cruises don't seem to bother with it. They have no idea what they are missing!

 The site is right on the outskirts of Selcuk and easily accessible. I wasn't complaining about the lack of crowds though!

The site is mostly rubble now but there are tantalising hints of what it must once have been like. This model in the Selcuk museum gives an idea of the sheer scale of the place. 

The original temple here dates back to the Bronze age and was destroyed by flood.

The temple had a tempestuous life, destroyed by arson. rebuilt, destroyed again....

Like many of the sites in Turkey, the columns seem to have been randomly reconstructed with odds and ends of masonry. I suppose this travesty does give an idea of the height of the original column but still.....

Much of the site slumbers buried under the scrub grassland, deserted apart from a few tortoises exploring the boulder strewn ground. 

The heart of the temple is now quite swampy so it looks a lot greener.

This gives an indication of the location of the columns.

Most of the contents or the temple are now in the British Museum but the local one in Selcuk has the two main temple statues. This one is known as the beautiful one and it is not misnamed.

The quality of the carving is breathtaking and the whole piece just radiates beauty and serenity. Even better, it is not fenced off so you can get close enough to appreciate the quality of the workmanship that went into this statue.

A close up of the detail down the side panels of the skirt - bees yes but the Tudor Rose? Some symbols recur in the most unlikely places....

The Ephesus Artemis is distinctly different from the Greek goddess and her cult shares more similarities with that of Cybele, the mother goddess of the region.


Sunday, 2 December 2012

The Green Man of the Woods

We've been here before  - Sugar Loaf  (Mynydd Pen-y-Fal) near Abergavenny that is.

The southernmost peak of the Black Mountains it's just shy of 2000 ft but we cheated by starting from the car park which is about half way up!

We chose a different way up from the last time though oak woodland and along the stream. It's been a bit wet over the last week or two and the watercourses and springs were busy relocating the water from the hill stops to the rivers in the valley bottoms.

The car park was busy but the woods were quiet - almost supernaturally so. There was no wind so other than the noises of the water rushing down the hill there was no sound - not even birds, and the stillness was absolute. It would be hard not to believe in the fairy folk in such a setting.

Close to the tree line the oaks were stunted and twisted into fabulous shapes. Many of the trees had faces  - here are just a few.

OK this one is lichen but the green man it definitely is!

More of a gargoyle than a green man perhaps  but the way he was waving his stick at us made us disinclined to linger too long.

Finally I couldn't resist taking a few pictures of the purple alder catkins that lined the stream

And yes I did make it to the top - It was a hard slog but the views were worth it; even if the ravens at the peak were camera shy!

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Turkish Delight - Ephesus

If you've seen the pictures of Somerset on the news you'll understand why we didn't venture out today. I'm longing for some heat and sun after the days of torrential rain so got out the pictures of Turkey again to remind myself that there are parts of the world that are sunny and hot.

So this is Ephesus  - high on the "must visit" list of every visitor to Turkey and jam packed with bored cruise liner passengers who quite clearly would have been happier to stay on board their floating hotels judging by snippets of overheard conversation.

In any event it was busy - very very very busy. This should give you an idea. This is the main street. Fortunately the cruise liner parties started at the top and headed straight down to the bottom and back on to the waiting coaches. This did mean that the side streets were much less crowded and almost pleasant.

Trying to photograph Ephesus was hard - I'd get a shot lined up and in the time it took to click the shutter someone would have inevitably walked in front of the lens. So I bought a guidebook for some decent pictures. I did get a few though that I quite liked.

This is Nike - the winged Goddess of Victory. Part of the drape of her robe is the famous "swoosh" of the training shoe brand.

The Library - there was said to be a tunnel linking the library with the local brothel across the street. This was to allow the town worthies to hide their true destination from their wives....

 They did have some very grand public lavatories - obviously it was a communal event!

Much less crowded were the terraced houses. These are  a fairly recent excavation and are covered with a huge protective structure. They are also the site of the biggest jigsaw puzzle in the world as a team try and replace the beautiful marble cladding on the hall walls.

Entry does cost extra but it was well worth it. The preservation of the mosaics and wall frescoes is second to none.

and a close up shot.

Here as elsewhere Ephesus has been "reconstructed" by the frankly bizarre habit of just stacking random bits of stonework on top of each other. Here is a fairly typical example - I guess it gives the impression of a third dimension but I'd really rather they didn't!

More random stacking.

Looking up certainly bore fruit at times but I'm not sure that this bull actually belongs where he's been put.

You'd almost think we had the place to ourselves looking at this picture!

and lastly the amphitheatre - I managed to avoid most of the crowds but not the crane. I may need to develop some Photoshop skills and get rid of that :-)

So a whistle stop tour of Ephesus - the crowds did rather spoil it for me and it was probably my least favourite ancient Turkish city. 

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Portus Adurni ( Portchester Castle)

After blitzing the seasonal shopping yesterday ( how could it have taken 8 hours??) in Chichester it was time to head home.

WE'd come up on Friday night and had to abandon the motorway and take the old A27 route instead. Spotting the signs to Portchester Castle I realised that I had never been there despite many years of living not that far away.

With the idea planted it seemed sensible to detour on the way home.

Portchester Castle is understood to have been built in the later part of the 3rd century CE  by the Romans and is considered on of the best preserved Roman forts in Northern Europe. There are tantalising but unconfirmed hints that in fact it is earlier still.

Lots of the original Roman stone and brickwork survives alhough it has been extensively repaired and augmented over the last 1700 years or so.

This is a seriously imposing construction with a medieval castle now taking pride of place in the middle of the walls. Like most castles this was based on earlier castles and grew and evolved over the years.

The Keep is huge. And solid looking. It was used for a gaol for prionsers of war on more than one oaccaion - the last time being in the late 19C for French prioners from the Napoleonic war.

Conditions inside must have been grim. Additional wooden floors were inserted above the medieval hall to house them all and the wall paintings and grafitti they left can still be seen.

It is a long long way up the Keep and the last bit is by a rather narrow spiral stairway. Fortunately it was very quiet when we visited but I think the last part could be potentially "very interesting".

The view from the top though over St Mary's Church ( 12C) which is within the fortifications was worth  a few rather scary moments.

That is the modern city of Portsmouth on the

Would have been nice to see the reputed equine ghost though....

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Turkish Delight - A city to launch a thousand ships

Ever since I read the tales of this city it is a place I have longed to visit. As a child I never thought I'd ever have the opportunity so whilst in Turkey this was the must see and personally the highlight of the whole trip.

Where then? Well if the post title hasn't given it away then this will...

 Yes - unmistakably Troy. This (rather dreadful) horse was put up to give the visitors something to photograph... You can if you want to climb up inside and stick your head out of the body. We didn't bother but it took a while to be able to get a clear shot like this.

 With some high anticipation I was half expecting the site itself to be a bit of an anticlimax but it was far from that.

True, the remains are less spectacular than some of the sites but given the quality of the "reconstruction" we saw elsewhere this was no bad thing.


The site is huge. And overgrown. But that didn't matter.

We saw red squirrels playing in the trees and tiny tortoises bathing in the hot sun.

Some areas are much tidier - a testament to the destructive archaeology of some of the earliest excavators who were seeking the legendary treasures of Troy.

Troy was indeed fabulously wealthy thanks to it's control of the shipping in the Aegean. If the winds were unfavourable as they often were, ships would have to remain in  port at Troy until they were able to proceed - sometimes months. This added to the wealth of the inhabitants.

Troy is actually multiple cities, in fact 9 of them, all piled on top of each other and the archaeology is confusing. Even the pros have to label each layer!

How anyone could say that there is nothing to photograph beats me  - this is the ramp into the pre homeric Troy 2.

and of course the inevitable amphitheatre! (Roman, Troy IX)
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