Sunday, 24 February 2013

Down in Nemphett Trubwell

 If you find life a race, you just can't stand the pace,
Come with me to the West Country - the perfect hiding place:

Pack your bags, and make your way to Somerset, and I will lay Ten to one you'll wanna stay down in Nempnett Thrubwell

Well with a name like that who can resist Nemphett Thrubwell? Especially with a barrow nearby called Fairy Toot! The name is evocative and it's said to be the haunt of fairies and goblins. Not that there were any in evidence today. If they had any sense they were all somewhere much warmer...

The Fairy Toot is extremely badly damaged and no virtually unfindable ( I'm reasonably confident but not 100%) that this is it. Originally it was a large chambered longbarrow but its just a low mound now with some ash trees on the top of it.

There were snow flurries beating down so we beat a hasty retreat and on to Felton Common. A quick dash across the top of the common down into Felton for some lunch and then a more leisurely re-ascent on to the common.

This is now a nature reserve but it's too early in the year for much to be seen.

There are large rocks scattered about, many buried in the undergrowth and an unusual pair of linked bowl barrows both surrounded by ditches.

Some of the locals were about  - including this rather cold looking buzzard who was kind enough to pose nicely for me

Back down now and headed for home via the famed Nempnett Thrubwell.  The village, such as it is, is just a collection of farms and houses spread over a maze of minor roads and an evocatively named "Awkward Lane"! 

 The church is above the rest of the village and I'm just glad we didn't meet any traffic coming the other way... Couldn't go in as the building was locked.

A bit of a let down really - no frogs as big  as dogs or pigs doing Irish jigs to be seen! Or at least not today!

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Tarren Deusant - 2 saints or a druid altar?

Venturing a bit further afield today - to the valley just above Llantrisant  in fact (and that's 3 saints for you already!)

As it was promising to be a nice day we thought we'd venture over the border and see what we could find. Tarren Deusant looked very interesting, a holy spring and some petrosomatoglyphs. Some preliminary research indicated that the actual finding could be challenging so we took the precaution of programming the co-ordinates into the GPS locator before we left.

This subsequently proved to be a wise precaution but even locating the general area was a challenge. This part of Wales has changed a bit since our elderly OS Map was produced ( cost all of 6/6 when maps were 1 inch to a mile). In the end comparing the map with the smartphone google map identified exactly where we actually were! Plenty of footpaths around according to the map but absolutely nowhere to park on a very narrow single track road. In the end we pulled off the verge and walked back to where the path should start.

And there was a footpath sign! Very well hidden and the access gate itself was tied closed with orange twine ( naughty!) . No way was it opening so it was a quick climb over the 5 bar gate and follow the footpath.  Annoyingly the next gate was also tied shut so more climbing and down into a pretty wooded valley

Bit rough going here - under that layer of dead leaves is some very slippery mud and this is actually quite steep.  By this point we were using the GPS to make sure we were heading in the right direction.

In the end the spring proved very easy to find. Crystal clear water pouring out of a cleft in the rock face.

So on to the petrosomatoglyphs. They were supposed to be nearby so a close examination of the rock face ensued.
And here they are - the picture is larger than usual to show them more clearly. There are distinct faces cut into the rock.


The age of these are disputed. in the 1600s two were reported. There are now clearly more than that. Whilst some consider the originals to be medieval it is of course possible that they are older than that.  Below that strange central tear drop shaped protrusion is a flat piece of rock which makes a perfect altar and  someone had left an offering there.

 Close up of one of the faces

and another. There are also other carving in the rock of what appear to be fish and crosses. The local name for the site is the "Druid's Altar" but it does seem to be very christianised. Whether this is another case of an old ritual site being taken over by the Church? Who knows.

and lastly a picture of some of the locals as a reminder that spring is on its way.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Savage Myrtilles

It's been time for the annual trip to the ski slopes and in a major departure from the norm - a new resort! Or at least new to us! Unlike the  Three Valleys Serre Chevalier is at least built around a genuine old  town and on the France/ Italy border does have some charm of its own.

Firstly apologies for the picture quality. I left the camera at home so these were all taken on the little Cybershot  - it was also so bright that I had no idea what I was actually taking. It was very much a case of point the camera in the right direction and hope for the best!

This is a shot of Briançon, the highest city in the EU...  and a world heritage site for its fortifications and history.  I can't say we saw anything of the town though other than the ski lift!

It is a very pretty resort, lots of runs through the larch woods but it was bitterly cold. Too cold to be enjoyable at times thanks to a biting wind that even multiple layers of high tech fabric failed to keep out.

What a difference a day makes! That is the sun trying to break through in total whiteout conditions. The wind was whipping up the snow and throwing it every which way.

Add in low cloud and falling snow and it was hard to tell where "down" actually was. This was no fun at all and we decamped as quickly as possible to another part of the mountain.
And thus to the reason for my punning title. The run down the other side is known as "Myrtilles". Mrytille Sauvage is a well known type of French bilberry jam and it's a family joke to refer to it as "Savage Myrtille".  I was half expecting to be ambushed by irate bilberries seeking retribution for the countless millions that are turned into jam each year but instead of angry fruit  we found this  - a "nomadic" village. Situated just off the piste  it represents  a very French view of assorted nomadic peoples.

 This is the "mongol" hut. It had a fire going and we were tempted to seek refuge from the terrible weather but we were afraid we'd be trapped into having to listen to the history so we skied on through and down in search of the Station Bar and warming glasses.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Seeking the Devil in his Churchyard

Minchinhampton is a pretty little town and the visits to the stone and the barrow didn't take long. Driving up from the town we spotted something called  "The Bulwarks" on the outskirts so decided to take a look.

And well worth it too they were. Some nice iron age earthworks sweeping in an arc around what was once a common but now seems to look very like a golf course!

Very little information seems to be available about this site other than they were intended to be "protective" rather than "defensive". Now there's a subtle distinction if ever I heard one. Some iron age pottery has also been found.

We did have a short walk along them but it was bitingly cold as you might deduce from the remains of the snow and we were getting hungry.

Also I chose my camera angles carefully. The site is criss-crossed by some reasonably busy roads so the ambiance isn't great when hulking great  4x4s whizz past.

After lunch ( Lamb Inn at Eastcombe if you are interested - wasn't much taken with my vegetarian burger but I'm told the wild boar sausages were nice) we set off in search of the Devil's Churchyard. Well who can resist a name like that!

This did require a bit of a walk. The blue skies had been replaced with grey at this point but we hoped the rain would soon pass over.

A level east walk if very muddy as was only to be expected. The Devil's Churchyard is now a patch of woodland and signs told us it was a nature conservation area.

We passed a grove of nicely coppiced hazels on the edges and then took a short detour into the woods themselves.

Unlike the Bulwarks the stillness here was absolute. Not a sound. We disturbed a couple of rabbits who looked pretty shocked to see us.

 It would have been idyllic other than the common farmers' habit of dumping unwanted detritus on land they aren't farming. Rusty water breakers etc don't really add to the countryside.

How the woodland got its name is a bit confused. One story goes that the town's attempts to build a church here on what  may well have been an old ritual site were frustrated by the work being torn down every night until they gave up and built the church elsewhere. Other local tales tell of there being stones here which were removed and used elsewhere - the Long Stone is said by some to have originated here.

Undecided whether this is entirely natural or has had a little help??

A side view of the woodland. We walked on a few extra miles but the weather deteriorated sharply and the resulting hailstorm was far from pleasant. I was glad to get back to the car and head for home.
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