Monday, 25 June 2012

Petrified in Pensford

The main wander this week was from Pensford to Stanford Drew and back again - yes one we have done a number of times  - well I like it! It ticks all the boxes, near to home, beautiful scenery , a decent pub for lunch and of course a stone circle.

This time should have been no different but we had hit a day when the church tower at Pensford was open to visitors. This wasn't to be missed so getting back just in the nick of time before it closed, up we went.

I should have been warned by the rather small and narrow doorway...

I should have further been warned by the warning that you went up at your own risk...

.....and by the offer of torches

and lastly by the suggestion that you waited at the halfway station for those at the top to come down!

The first part wasn't too bad, other than the steps were small and steep and it was dark. And I had a bulky backpack.

 I was relieved  to reach the halfway station. It was dark, very dark but using the camera flash  showed some interesting ironwork.

After the halfway stage came the belfry. I decided to carry on up and visit the belfry itself on the way down. This proved to be a mistake,

The steps got smaller, steeper and darker  -  no handrail to hold on to, just the smooth limestone of the walls. There were similarities with the broch at Mousa but much longer and Mousa did at least have a handrail.

None too soon the top was reached  and we emerged into daylight. The top had a narrow parapet around  and some spectacular views.

A long long way down!

A nice view of the disused viaduct.

I delayed as long as possible at the top as I wasn't looking forward to the descent. To re-enter the tower required an initial careful reversing into the hole and then a 180 degree turn whilst holding on to the top step.  In the dark and the steps only a few inches wide. ..

This is where my backpack and I got wedged and I had visions of falling. Fortunately I had friends above who managed to free me and I started down. This was far worse than coming up and I completely forgot to stop at the belfry in my haste to be safely down!

It was well worth it though  - but I don't think I'd do it again.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Shetland - the end is nigh

I'm getting bored with the Shetland posts now - time to move on. We visited a lot more sites over the last 2 days of the trip so here is a whistle stop tour and I promise something different for next week!

Firstly then the Giants Grave and tomb

Nicely weathered pink granite standing stone. Fairly accessible being close to the road but set in a very boggy piece of ground....

This is the burial tomb- now almost completely collapsed and resembling  a pile of tinned pink salmon. ( well it does - sorry)

On now to Esherness. This had some of the most spectacular scenery we saw. Here is just a taste. Worth visiting Shetland just for this. The wind though was incredibly strong and I've never seen water blown back UP a waterfall before.

and a little further inland.

and finally the obligatory broch. Nicely situated this one, right on the banks of a small loch. Unlike many it has a fairly sheltered position, the surrounding undulating headland would deflect much of the wind.

Leaving Northmavine and heading back south we visited Lerwick and Clickimin Broch. Heavily reconstructed it is still a powerful site. However a bit of an anti climax after Mousa!

Lastly a random standing stone - don't ask me where this is. It seems to have lost its tags. If anyone recognises please let me know

Sunday, 10 June 2012

A trip into the Arctic

Leaving Unst it was time to head to Northmavine, our final couple of days in the Shetland Isles.

Northmavine is home to the highest point of Shetland so up we had to go - right to the top of Ronas Hill. The sign that greets you tells you all about it - how it is as high as the Arctic Tundra and home to many  rare species.

The sight that greets you is desolate indeed. Piles of fractured red granite lie all around and it is not hard to imagine oneself as a polar explorer.  The climb up isn't too bad

  An hour or two later I got my reward  - a very nice neolithic  burial chamber. Don't be fooled by the blue sky, it was cold, very cold, in fact so cold.....

.... that the inside of the chamber was filled with snow.

If you do climb Ronas Hill  make sure that you sign the guest book. It is not at the burial mound but at a modern feature not very far away - the OS trig point. I wonder how many make it to the top and don't find the book?
Coming down as usual took less time than going up so we had time to go for some lunch and then consider what to do afterwards.  A study of the map showed a fairly inaccessible neolithic axe factory and another burial site. It was rather a long way from anywhere but we had nothing better to do so we thought we'd attempt to find it. The map reference was not terribly clear and with no Internet signal to pick up  the coordinates needed to program the GPS, it was rather uncertain if we'd actually find it.

Finding it was a bit of a challenge.

 An axe factory really is just a pile of rocks. The only differentiating feature here was that the rock was different from the red granite so it was fairly clear where it was. However it was a long walk across the steep sides of a hill, again I wished I was one of the native Haggis with one leg shorter than the other!

Finding the axe factory was simple compared with finding the burial chamber. In the end we split up and combed the hill side. Even then we almost missed it!

It was now starting to rain - we'd been lucky up til then so it was the long trudge back to the car. At least all down hill.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Shetland - Furthest North

Strangely appropriate for the 100th post as well.

We'd made a poor choice of accommodation in Unst so up bright and early and eager to be off despite the grim weather ( and trying to forget that we had to spend a second night there!).

The plan was to spend the morning driving around as many old sites as we could and then head to the RSPB bird sanctuary at Hermaness for a spot of puffin spotting. By then we were hoping the weather might have cleared a little.

 First off then was the Stone of Gunnister. A strange flat stone with a series of obviously man made scooped depressions around the edge.

On next to a large standing stone. I don't often include people but this gives a nice idea of size and also just how nasty the weather was!

We weren't disposed to linger I'm afraid and it was on to the ruins of the broch at Underhoull. After Mousa this was a bit of an anticlimax, being largely ruined but an imposing construction nonetheless.
Underhoull has a wealth of remains and we braved the wind and rain to walk down to the lowest building, a Viking house. This is now down to foundation level but you can see the layout of the rooms and the  entrance to the souterrain. No we didn't attempt to go in. I was in more of  a hurry to return to the car and escape from the wind.

Wonderful views though across the bay and out to sea.

Unable to delay any longer so off to Hermaness and the puffins. It is a long walk from the car park to the cliffs where the birds nest nut the RSPB has boarded 90% of it so it is an easy walk.

And puffins we saw! Not that many but they were remarkably unafraid and came to within a couple of feet of where we were sitting. They are incredibly entertaining to watch.

 The established pairs were engaged in the mating ritual of rubbing beaks and doing their best to ignore the attempted interruptions of single puffins looking for a mate.

I do need to work on my bird photography skills. This was the best shot of the lot and it still isn't good.

Still had a little time to kill before we had to return to our accommodation so we took the car to the furthest point of the island which is accessible by road to see the remains of a wheelhouse.

Wheelhouses are so named for the rooms arranged around a central communal space and seem to be unique to Shetland and the Hebrides. This one is now being lost to the elements. Half of it has gone over the cliff edge already.

If we thought the weather had been bad before, it was nothing compared to this site. The wind was coming straight from the arctic and so strong it was hard to stand against it. The rain was being literally thrown at us. The conditions were so harsh that it was too much even for the local sheep who are extremely hardy and we were greeted by the sad site of a ewe standing guard over the frozen body of her dead lamb.

By now we'd had enough and stopped off at Foords Chocolates  for a hot drink and a piece of cake. Thoroughly recommended. The Belgian chocolate cake was magnificent and a fitting end to the day.
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