Sunday, 24 May 2015

Culbone Church

It's a bank holiday weekend here in the UK which means that half the country headed to the South West - me included!

With a typical bank holiday weather forecast ( ie wet) we didn't want to go too far so headed with the crowds to Porlock Weir.

After a very slow trip it was lunchtime when we finally got there so we grabbed a quick coffee and sandwich in the cafe, had a little look in the Exmoor Glass shop and came out with a skull tea light holder ( a somewhat unexpected little gem that shop!) and then took the footpath up through the woods in the direction of Culbone Church.

Uphill of course. As usual.

Still the views were worth it - the forecast rain failed to materialise and the sun filtered through the trees to give the effect in the picture. I was also pleased to note that all the effort I've put into learning our native plants is paying off and I was able to identify the vast majority of the plants in the wood.

The church can only be reached by foot from the coastal path but it is incredibly picturesque, nestling as it does in a valley.

It is dedicated to St Beuno, a Welsh Celtic saint and is said to be the smallest parish church in England. It's said to date back to Saxon times and yes there is a big yew tree in the graveyard and as expected it is also said to have pagan origins.

Nice font

Inside the church does look Saxon. It is very small and 30 people would fill it easily.

Leaving the churchyard  we happened upon some more skulls - actually the seed heads of the wild snapdragon!

 Leaving the church we headed up the valley in search of a neolithic stone row.   It was a very pretty walk but very steep! Leading up through a farm we rescued a lamb that had managed to get itself trapped in a wire fence ( it panicked when it saw us and tried to dive through the fence, unfortunately its baby horns then acted as barbs and it was stuck) and eventually found our objective, However they were very small stones and surrounded by woodland so I'm afraid no pictures.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Sunning with the Devil

Exmoor this week - it ALWAYS rains on me on Exmoor  but not this time!

These are Tarr Steps. The longest clapper bridge in the UK at 180ft. Local legend has it that they were placed by the Devil so that he could sunbathe comfortably. Whatever the origins, the bridge is said to date back to 1000BCE or 1400CE depending on who you talk to. It has certainly been washed away and repaired during that time frame - the last time being in 2012

So lunch at the pub first is always a civilised way to start a walk and as this is actually quite a long drive it seemed like a good idea. The plan was to cross the bridge and walk up the River Barle onto Exmoor and tray and find the Caratacus Stone on Winsford Hill.

Being a nice sunny Saturday the bridge was popular with visitors but as is always the way, once you get a couple of hundred yards from the car park, the crowds seem to vanish and within half a mile or so we had the valley to ourselves.

 Well apart from the odd pony or two of course. I think this one needs his fringe cut!

Several uphill miles later ( or at least what felt like it) we found the stone. It's had a nice little house built for it to protect what is left of the inscription from the elements.

The inscription is now very faint but it is possible to make out some of it. It reads" CARAACI NEPVS" or possible CARATACI NEPVS" which translates as "grandson or immediate descendant of Caratacus".

The stone was first mentioned in 1219 and it's little shelter added in 1906.


Sunday, 3 May 2015

The Mernaid of Zennor

Zennor - famous for two things. The Tinner's Arms ( good food) and  of course the legend of the Mermaid.

It's a well known story but what is a mermaid carving doing inside the church?

After a good lunch in the Tinner's we thought we'd go and find her. Fortunately the two buildings are virtually side by side so although we had to brave the rain we didn't get wet.

It's a nice old church. There's been one on the site for 1400 years but the current one is part Norman but with later additions in the 13 and 15  centuries CE. As is so frequently the case it's built on Bronze and Iron Age settlement foundations.

And here she is  - the Mermaid on the side of the chair. She is easy to find being in one of the side chapels. The carving is believed to be some 600 years old so did the legend inspire the carving? Or the carving the legend? I guess we will never know.

As to what she is doing in a church - according to the notice beside the chair, she reminds us that St Senara came from across the water 1400 years ago to bring his/her message and found the church.So that is all right then! ( I'm sure the parallels with the Greek myth of Danaë and Perseus are purely coincidental...)

This has nothing to do with the mermaid but as we turned to leave, my eye was caught by the stained glass window. I've done a bit of digging around on the Internet but I have yet to discover why there is a rather cute green dragon sitting in the chalice!

Sunday, 26 April 2015


It's been a weekend in the Iron Age for me - more so than usual I might say.

Firstly I got some images from a film shoot I took part in last January on Dartmoor

Fortunately you can't see my feet in this shot. It was freezing and I was switching my authentic period footwear for some thoroughly unauthentic but nice and warm modern ones at every chance I got. 

Anyway I digress - it was another weekend in Cornwall but for walking not filming. Fogues are uniquely Cornish.  Man-made underground "caves" used for who knows what. They are often considered to have ritual purpose and the one at the B&B we were staying in particularly so.

This is Boleigh Fogue - considered to be one of the best. As it is in the garden of a private house you need permission to access it.  As guests of the B&B  though we had unrestricted access to it.

At the entrance ( on the left hand side) is the only known Iron Age humanoid carving in Cornwall. It has been suggested that it is the representation of a deity. It is actually much clearer in the photograph than it is on the stone. I took several pictures of this but only two actually recorded on the card.

And the passage way. There is also a chamber off to the left which has a large stone inside. Far too big to have been squeezed in to the chamber entrance. There are no pictures of this as my attempts to photograph the chamber and its contents failed. The camera simply didn't work there at all. Make of this what you will!

So on to  Bosporthennis Fogue. Now this did take some finding. The forecast was for sunshine and showers. What we actually got was Cornish fog and rain. This one is really off the beaten track but so well worth the effort.

Remains of the associated Iron Age settlement

The fogue ( beehive hut) itself. Unlike Boleigh  this one was not camera shy! Although it is above ground it resembles Carn Euny so strongly in both size and orientation that it is considered a fogue. Maybe it had a earth covering at one time?

The current entrance. There is a small chamber which you can just see to the right. Sadly it was full of the usual polyester ribbon detritus so beloved of some neo-pagans. We were obviously not the only ones to have searched out this site.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Woodland Wonderland

The extended Easter weekend was spent this year in South Wales ( as usual) but unusually we decided to walk UP to Castell Coch and into the woodlands above and behind it - Fforest Fawr

A familiar sight. The Red Castle itself. A Victorian 19th-century Gothic Revival folly built on a much older and originally Norman ruin.

However we bypassed the castle this time and went into the beech woods behind it. These are home to rare plants and lichens and are a SSSI.

As always seems to be the case it was a steep pull up before the path leveled out and we met a bear...

Well two bears to be exact.

These bears even had their own caves. Actually entrances to some old iron workings.  These may actually look familiar as they've featured in many TV productions including Merlin, Torchwood, Sherlock and Dr Who.

 They've also starred as the dragon's cave in  the BBC show Voyage of the Dawn Treader thanks to the Iron Pyrites in one of the inner caverns.


Not so much further on we came across someone else hiding in the trees. Intrigued now we changed direction and followed the path past him. 


I think someone dropped their watch?

That looks awfully like a cauldron - getting a bit worried now!

Is that a dragon I see? Well to be expected up in a Welsh forest I suppose. He looks asleep. Maybe we can creep past him...

And where there are dragons there is usually treasure and here was no exception! More treasure than usual I think as we passed a father laying a trail of shiny foil wrapped Easter Eggs for his children to find.

I hope they got to them first before the dragon woke up!

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Brown(e)'s Folly

Nasty attack of inertia this Sunday - nothing of course to do with a very late night? Well maybe

However I remembered that I've never posted these pictures taken late last year high above Bath.

We started the walk near the bottom and it as a nice climb up past caves and woodland. Remains of the quarries used to source the local Bath stone are everywhere. These are the remains of ancient woodland and home to woodpeckers - not that we saw any mind you!
It wasn't hard to spot faces in the rock. This one looks a little stern and forbidding.
 The quarries were closed in the 1930s and the Avon Wildlife Trust which now runs the nature reserve has closed off the entry into the cave system which now provides a home for the Greater Horseshoe Bat which is now getting very rare. They can be seen in the summer at dusk leaving their roosts. 

We resolved at the time that we should go back at an appropriate time of day - maybe now is the time to consider planning an evening picnic up there with some friends.

And the Folly itself - named after it's builder Wade Browne and built in 1848 to provide work for local agricultural workers during a period of hardship. It was later modified to be used for hunting.
Like the quarries it is blocked off so it isn't possible to go in. There is some talk about restoration but I guess there isn't the money for it. The views of Bath from the top must be spectacular.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Wayford Woods

Wayford Woods has been much in the news.

Fairy Control

Another report

I'll admit I'd never heard of the place until this week but as it isn't far my curiosity was piqued so why not. We were expecting it to be busy after all the publicity and it was. Fortunately we parked elsewhere and made the woods just a small part of a much longer walk.

It wasn't what I was expecting. The woods were clearly originally a garden with lots of non native plants and specimen trees. Plenty of rhododendron and camellia, some of which was in bloom and looking very decorative even if they play no part in the native ecosystem.  Nice ghost gums though. Fortunately there is no money to keep the garden maintained and the natural plant life is starting to try and make a comeback. I was interested to see that they had cut through a lot of the ivy stems. Normally this is now left as it provides an important habitat and contrary to popular belief doesn't harm a healthy tree.

An attempt has been made in one place to introduce some other plants.

Very pretty hellebore but it's a shame they've chosen some fancy double hybrid.

And so on to the famous "fairy doors". The cull has obviously started as many trees sported hinges but no doors.

This was a nice use of a tree stump.

 Others I'm afraid just look like litter
This is probably not going to make me popular but the "cull" is well overdue.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus

Had to be a trip to Wales now didn't it!

Having heard the wind in the night trying to strip the tiles off the roof it was rather a releif to be greeted with a bright sunny morning. The forecast wasn't great so we didn't want to go too far.

It's been a few years since I visited Blaenavon.  It was once one of the most important producers of iron in the world and along with the mines a hotbed of early industrial activity - at a huge cost to the landscape. However since the ironworks closed, nature has gradually crept in and reclaimed the land, although the marks are still there to be seen.

Blaenavon is now a World Heritage Site thanks to its  geological features, industrial relics and nationally important wildlife habitats. Good place for a walk then.

 We parked the car by Pen-ffordd-goch pond ( Keepers Pond)  which was built to provide water  for Garnddyrys Forge. The forge was dismantled in the  1860s but the pond remains.

Nature has done a superb job in reclaiming the spoil tips - when I was young there was little green in places. Now the areas of spoil are only visible where the piles are too steep to be easily colonised.

 Fabulous views of the Skirrid. Look at that blue sky

This is the Sugar Loaf taken from the same vantage point as the Skirrid at the same time - typical Welsh weather closing in fast!

Of course face in the other direction and it's all good. Plenty of remaining  scars from the mining. I wonder what they'll make of all this in 2000 years time when the true origins are forgotten. A 20CE hill fort perhaps?

The rain was starting to hit now - with some hail and sleet mixed in so it was time to turn back and head for the car. The most direct route was across the bog and over the rocky summit. So that's where we went.

The bad weather had cut short the walk so it was a quick drive down in Blaenavon and lunch at the Red Lion.

It would have been nice to take a leisurely trip around the Iron Works after lunch but the weather was now completely foul so we saved it for next time.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Afloat on the Ganges - Varanasi

On a cold damp Sunday evening in February - time to revisit the warmth of autumn in India. Well I say warmth; it was actually pretty cold on the Ganges!

Varanasi is one of the most holy cities of India. It's where the devout come to be cremated and their ashes cast into the holy river. At all times there are bodies being cremated on the pyres along the riverside. Day and Night. Those who cannot afford to be cremated ( or can't be under Hindu doctrine) are wrapped and the bodies themselves cast into the water. Yes we did see them floating past and no I did not take pictures of them.

Having arrived by overnight sleeper in Varanasi ( an experience in itself....) we spent the evening on the river to witness the regular evening worshipping rituals for the holy river.

The side of the river is covered with "ghats" which are riverside steps leading down to the river. This one belongs to the Jain temple.  Jainism is an ancient religionthat teaches that the way to liberation and bliss is to live a life of harmlessness and renunciation. 

We were just waiting for it to get dark so that the ceremonies could begin.

 The locals are expert at extracting the tourist $$ and everywhere these little floating candles were available to be bought. Made of dried leaves and little pats of clarified butter and decorated with dried flowers these diya were for sale in their hundreds. 

We were far from the only boat on the water and the river was lit - if only for a few minutes at a time - by dozens of these little lights. 

The crowds were starting to gather on the ghats for the worship of the Ganges by the holy men. 

Lots of drumming and chanting and the raising and circling of lights. Whilst this was a big celebration, there were lots of smaller  versions happening along the riverside, some with just one or two participants.

The worship of the river is carried out at both dawn and dusk - so we were of course up at the crack of dawn to get back on our boats....

Sudden large flocks of birds descended from apparently nowhere - it took me a moment to realise that food was being flung overboard from some boats for them. Feeding birds brings good Karma and I guess feeding birds on a holy river brings very good Karma. 

It was pretty cold though - so much for India being hot. Still it was well worth it to have been able to see the sun rise over the Ganges.

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