Sunday, 29 September 2013

Okehampton Castle

Okehampton; this rather faded market town does have a most impressive castle!

A lovely motte and bailey castle, it was originally built in 1068 and 1086 but most of what survives is 14CE. The castle has a long history but was finally abandoned after the execution of its then current owner by Henry VIII

 The motte is surprisingly steep on all sides and I wouldn't fancy trying to scramble up it with the defenders raining arrows down- which of course is the whole point..

The view from the keep at the top. Well worth the climb up. You do get a feel for the steepness of the mound from here.

You really get a feel of how the building was used as a home from the numerous interlocking rooms and doorways although some are now fenced off as presumably unsafe.

The castle is said to be haunted by the ghost of Lady Howard who murdered four of her husbands and now drives a  phantom carriage between Okehampton and Tavistock. The carriage is made of the bones of her dead husbands and she is accompanied by a large black dog with red eyes. Oh and the driver is headless and in some versions the horses are headless too.

I can't say we were lucky ( or unlucky!) enough to see her so the question of headless horses or not remains unresolved!

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Return to the West Country

Rather an unexpected expedition this week.

You may ( or may not) recall a trip several months ago to Bodmin and to see the Hurlers - a stone circle on the moor.

A chance discovery on the web showed an archeological dig going on there this weekend as as we had to be in Okehampton on the Sunday it seemed to be an event we shouldn't pass up.

A Bronze age crystal pavement was being uncovered for the first time since the 1930s. The pavement links the circles on the moor and is believed to be the only one in the UK.  The original records were buried in the archives and forgotton about until accidently ediscovered.

This was a week long project and today was the last day. We got there before the archeologists but they had it well fenced off so it wasn't possible to get close. The stones were muddy  but we were informed that they are white quartz.

They were taking some heavy duty camera equipment on to the site when we left so I guess they'll get far better pictures and probably clean up the stones before the photo shoot.

Not exactly a hive of activity at the moment!
I did get more than enough shots of the Hurlers a few months ago but couldn't resist a few more. It was a very warm still day for late September and other than a few dog waters ( and the odd archeologist of course) it was very quite. Unlike last time when you couldn't take a step without falling over a picnicker!

 So this pavement? What was it's original function? It links two of the three circles but doesn't seem to pass between the stones. Both ends of the pavement align with a stone rather than a "gap"  - unless of course the stones are not in their original positions which is quite possible. 

The Hurlers' original use is still unknown and subject to speculation for example  some believe its alignment mirrors the celestial bodies that make up Orion's Belt . 

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Forever Autumn

Well summer has gone. Definitely. No doubt about it.

Grey, wet and windy today with storms forecast. It would be sensible to stay in or at least find somewhere sheltered. Not a bit of it.

White Sheet Down can be described as many things but sheltered isn't one of them!

 It's a largish site just north of Mere and stands proud of the  rest of the landscape. Quite conspicuous in fact.

There are some spectacular earthworks at the neolithic camp. Sadly they are showing signs of erosion which the National Trust has tried to reduce by cutting steps into the sides of the steeper chalk banks.

Right on the top of the downs are some nice bronze age barrows. It was also surprisingly busy. Lots of men flying their toy aeroplanes.

I admit I failed to see the attraction. By now I was wishing I'd thought to bring hat scarf and gloves!

Time to move on to the iron age hillfort at the far end. Although enclosed the banks are very low, too low really to be defensive so they must have had another purpose for building it. Maybe ritual? There have been several burials discovered here.

One advantage of being so high ( and blown about) was that you can look down. And look down we did, spotting this Kestrel looking for his lunch. He was quite a way away and I wished I brought the long lens.

 This is right on the limits of my general purpose lens so it's a bit pixellated.

This was a very short walk and I was glad to head back to the shelter of the car. On the way down though I had to stop an admire these.

A nice crop of dainty little Fairy Ink caps.

So insubstantial that they were swaying in the breeze even in their sheltered location.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Holey Stones Batman!

A grey and wet day and my camera battery died unexpectedly in Cwm Pwca this afternoon. I'm sure Puck had nothing to do with it of course.

So back to the Cornwall pictures and this is an odd one indeed.

MĂȘn-an-Tol of course. A very famous set of stones and very strange. The name simply means "the hole stone " 

It's a bit of a mystery. There is a theory that it is the remains of a stone circle, in which case the holed stone would surely have had significant ritual importance but it's unclear whether the stones are in their original position of have been moved.

The hole is big enough for an adult to crawl through and has the reputation  for being able to cure a bad back ( its alternative name is the Crick stone!). I didn't put it to the test but my companion did and swears that he has had no further trouble...

We were early enough to have the site to ourselves but the hordes arrived just as we were leaving. Including a druid and a cameraman.

As I said - a strange place.

Onward then and off to Lanyon Quoit which is another well known site. Probably because it is right by the road and needs no effort to access.

Originally this had 4 uprights and was apparently orientated to the cardinal points. A storm brought it crashing down and one of the supports was broken. It was re- erected on just 3 pillars and at right angles to its original position ( why?).

This was busy, really busy. One strange thing we did notice at most of the old sites was the lack of British visitors. The French/Dutch/Germans though all seem to be interested in our ancient heritage, far more than we seem to be and we followed the same cars to many of the same places.


Sunday, 1 September 2013

Whether the weather be grey?

Walking on from Fernworthy circle...

The path dropped through a damp dank moss encrusted piece of woodland before opening out on to the open moor ( Dartmoor itself in fact!)

Very Lord of the Rings somehow.

Our objective now was the Grey Wethers, a very well known pair of circles. Some debate ensued as to the proper direction ( up hill of course!)

 And a nice pair of circles they turned out to be.
 Grey Wethers is the subject of local folklore which explains the origin of the name ('wether' is an old English word for sheep) 

The tale goes that a  farmer who had recently moved to Dartmoor  criticised  the sheep on sale at a local market. . He stopped for a drink at an Inn  and helped by several pints of  cider the locals persuaded him that there was an excellent flock of high quality sheep nearby which he would be welcome to buy. They walked off in search of them, and through the mist the farmer saw what he took to be a fine flock. He agreed to the sale, and returned to the site the following morning to find that what he had taken to be sheep were actually the stones of Grey Wethers.

Nothing so exciting for us. Just a chance encounter with a Czech chef who was also visiting the circles at the same time. It was threatening to rain now so we beat a hasty retreat back past Fernworthy circle to the car.

One last Dartmoor location then before we head on to Cornwall where we were actually headed for the week.

Hound Tor has a spooky reputation so it was a "must see". I admit I was rather disappointed.

We chose to visit in the early evening when it was likely to be quiet but unfortunately it wasn't as deserted as I'd hoped.

A gaggle of shrieking children and some rock climbers didn't do a lot for the atmosphere and I was quite disappointed
It is quite an extensive site and in places the yells of the children were muted by the rock. Then it was possible to get a hint if how it got its reputation. "Picnic at Hanging Rock" went through my mind more than once.
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