Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The unfolding leaves of an aquilegia

Watching a queen bee in the damson blossom, brushing the petals to the ground is a reminder that summer is on its way....

The Bee -Orchis

I saw a bee, I saw a flower,
I looked again and said, For sure
Never was flower, never was bee
Locked in such immobility.

The loud bees lurched about the hill,
But this flower-buried bee was still;
I said O Love, has love the power
To change a bee into a flower.

Andrew Young

This is a little orange tailed bee in a cranesbill, the ultra violet of the veins draws it to the centre of the flower.

Peter Gabriel and music

sometimes music and words seem to have a far more powerful poetical edge.......


Peter Gabriel and Here Comes the Flood.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Lansdown Battles

Wood anemones found on the way

Today I took Moss for a walk across the Langridge (long ridge), this time to the other part of the ridge where one of the battles of the Civil War were fought. The battle line must have ranged over a good mile, and this particular part was on Hanging Hill looking out over to Bristol and the Severn Channel, with the Welsh hills in the distance. The following photo will give some idea of the position and what happened...

Self explanatory

The top of the hill, with 'dugouts', these though may have come from exercises in the first world war

The slope of the hill

Looking out to Wick with Bristol in the distance in the middle foreground are the stones of Wick Burial Chamber

A view looking towards the Bath side

This is the other part where the battle took place


Sunday, March 29, 2009


Three not very exciting images, the shaft, which I think is a Norman cross shaft, was exposed yesterday in some hardcore the contractors were putting down on the racecourse.
It looks as if it has come from the medieval pilgrim chapel (St.Lawrence) at Chapel farm in Braythwaite, just across the road. The carvings are very worn but are probably acanthus leaf, there was more of the shaft under the soil. Four sided, with decoration on all sides, it would be interesting to see if there was an earlier foundation under Chapel farm, as it faces two bronze age burial mounds on the other side of the road.....

Although I have mentioned the chapel as a stopping place for pilgrims, there is another reason why there maybe an earlier connection. Just a field or so down from the chapel is St.Alphege Well, the following explains why there would have been an earlier hermitage or cell somewhere.... Alphege was martyred in London by the Vikings in a pretty brutal manner, hammered to death with oxbones by the drunken men, though there leader Thorkell tried to stop it, Alphege was put out of his misery by a newly converted christianised Viking called Thrum, who administered the fatal blow.

Alphege, or Elphege, (written as Aelfheath in Anglo-Saxon times but pronounced as it is today) was reputedly born in 954 of a noble family in the village of Weston, now a parish in the west of Bath, Somerset. While still young he renounced the world and entered the monastery at Deerhurst, near Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, apparently against the wishes of his widowed mother. The ancient church at Deerhurst still contains features from that time and a mediaeval stained glass window depicting the saint. Alphege served as monk, and later as Abbot, at Deerhurst, but he found the life there too lax for his taste. After 8 years, seeking a life of greater seclusion and austerity, he moved back to Weston in 980 and set up a small cell on the slopes of Lansdown Hill above the village. Ordnance Survey maps mark a spot there as St Alphege’s Well.

This sunday walk, the first day of the new summer time, did in fact herald two interesting things, the first was my buzzard, sat high on his telegraph pole, scanning the fields for mice. And sure enough Moss on his way back started digging in the field for mice, who must have come out of hibernation from the winter, needless to say Moss arrived home covered in soil and needed a thorough wash on the terrace. The soil on the Lansdown is a rich red/brown colour and stains his colours, but there must have been continuous cultivation and settlement on this upland land. Though the racecourse bought the land many years ago, it covers a about a hundred acres, they must have got rid of the hedges of the farm, but there are still concrete slab gate posts in the grass showing how the whole area was covered in small fields. The area where the buzzard and Moss hunt for mice must have been pasture land (harebells can still be seen in their time), but further up towards the bronze age barrow cemetery, wide rig and furrow lines show medieval ploughing.

Friday, March 27, 2009


Picking up a pot of yellow dye today for my silk yarn, which is slightly useless because it is a 'resist' dye and needs to be painted on, set me wondering about the colour yellow and its exuberant explosion of colour at the beginning of spring.

Daffodils by the million deck the roadside, gardens and the flower shop. Pale fragile primroses nestle amongst the grass, there is a favourite tulip of mine, yellow with a green streak through its outer petals in the front garden flowering happily. From my window I can see the pale yellow catkins of the pussy willow in the next garden, and bushes of forsythia everywhere.
There was the bed of calendula I grow each year, the bed this morning has been dug over by Moss and in his usual manner has covered the terrace with dirt, why he does it heaven knows.

Welsh poppy - a pretty sort of weed in the garden

evening primrose - again a wild flower that grows intermittently in the garden. Go out in the evening and watch the lovely unfolding of its petals to welcome the moths with its scent.

Yellow Iris much later but look at its clear colour

I can never name this plant!

The tulips that started it all


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Not sure what to make of this video, which I picked up on my weaving group, is it cruel to the sheep? very clever border collies though, and completely original, who'd have thought a bunch of Welsh farmers could be so ingenious..

Extreme Sheep LED Art


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

39 Saintly Bundles and hungry jackdaws

Each morning I go through the archaeological news for Heritage Action, mostly its boring, though what has come out over the past weeks is that museums are feeling the pinch, and many jobs may go, today it is the Bristol Museums that are in the news;
But one item caught my eye, the British Museum having dragged out, from one of its vaults presumably, a portable altar which had been donated in 1902 and not opened. Well they opened it this year and found the relics of 39 saints, wrapped up in separate cloth bags - see here...

The jackdaws, well whilst reading the news on the computer, happened to look up at the big laurel bush outside the window, and there was a jackdaw on the branch 'fixing' me with his beady eyes "where's the bread" is what I read in them. So I went and fetched their morning breakfast, goodness knows what they do when I'm not here, and as I threw it down several more appeared from nowhere. My jackdaws are a part of the garden scene, and having been instrumental in saving a few of the young, they seem to acknowledge my presence as a person who should provide for them...

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Bath garden

Bath at this time of year springs into life literally, blossom is to be seen in Victoria Park, and the yellow of forsythia cascades through everyone's garden. Daffodils dance down Lansdown Lane, and in the Archery Field where I occasionally walk the dog, or at least throw his ball interminably, the yellow of celandine can be seen lining both sides of the ditch of one of the streams that cascade down from the Lansdown itself. On the slopes if you look up, you may spot deer, a muntjac shot out the other day five yards in front of a group of dogwalkers much to the surprise of the dogs.
But in the garden, spring can be seen as getting underway. Butterflies, the yellow of the brimstone, and brown ones dance around each other, great queen bumble bees buzz slowly past looking for a new home in the bank or lawn. Frogs have been and gone around the pond, and the hawthorns I planted years ago, are breaking into that green foliage one can nibble on. At the bottom of the garden is a bank, which I have always allowed to be wild, it holds its history in the plants it produces, it was once part of the garden of the old Victorian house behind.

There is an old holly tree from the 19th century, the great trunk of a dead Japanese cherry tree, double petalled in its day, that we hung a swing on years ago. Japanese knotweed makes an appearance on this bank, as does Iris foetidissmus, at the moment there is the blue flowers of brunnera, earlier on a pale mauve crocus would sprinkle the grass, again a relic from the Victorian garden. Yellow primroses carpet this end of the garden now, a couple coloured pink where they have managed to hybridise with the later coloured primulas perhaps. The lovely fresh leaves of the cow parsely, to flower later in April, scenting the air faintly with a honey smell.. Rushes are everywhere, this is due to the stream that once meandered through the land.

Ponds have been dug in the garden, the larger one destroyed by an over-enthusiatic young dog called Moss in his heyday, the reeds produce long spires of golden brown seedheads which scatter their fine seed all over the garden, and it is an annual chore to pull these young plantlets out.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


Portico of Celtic temple of Rocquerpertuse, 3rd or 4th century BC. The three pillars have niches for skulls, and the lintel has carved horse heads on it, with a goose presiding over the whole.

Slightly odd juxtaposition of photos but the question is did trilithons have any meaning in themselves. Thinking about this Stonehenge is a stone monument made with carpenter skills. Someone or some people, had gathered round in a tribal meeting, looked at the great wooden henges, and the stone circles and said why can't we make a stone circle in imitation of a wood henge.
What they did shows great skill, but it also showed up that its much easier to carve in wood than stone, unless of course you have some soft easily carveable stone around. Stonehenge is therefore an imitation of something else, though of course it is unique in this aspect.
So why put the two together, it was the question, what lies behind the shape of a trilithon; for instance it is immediately a doorway/portal to somewhere else, but we know that Stonehenge is a circle, and that in the case of a roundhouse the space between the wooden posts would have been filled with wattle hurdling, so therefore the trilithons at Stonehenge are not doorways, its entrance coming from the Avenue side.
But the portico, the act of entering into another world, has of course been taken up by later religions in the Celtic world. A facade/doorway into the 'place for ancestors' for instance can be found on the Cotswold longbarrows 5000 years ago - West Kennet and Wayland Smithy come to mind. A doorway/entrance delineates the difference between the outside world and an inner sanctum, even though that may only be a humble domestic interior. Perhaps we should look to the materials used, a pole tent, in which skin or cloth is used, relies on a triangular network of poles to keep it upright. At Wayland Smithy the original timber mortuary house had such a ridge effect, there was even two stones balanced against each other. All this shows of course is technology being concieved, ideas going forward through time. The trilithon developed in a logical fashion, balancing a third horizontal pole on two vertical - neat and simple, joining them of course was the next stage in carpentry, a mortise and tenon, as seen on Stonehenge, is the method.
Of course there are other types of arches, gates and porticos, one at the Roman fort of Caerleon, this time a tetrapylon - a four pillared open-sided archway, which according to the literature survived into the 13th century, see below. It was here at Caerleon, in Wales that the Romans overcame the Silures, and gained a foothold in Wales. Also of course the saints Julius and Aaron were put to death here by the romans in 304 AD, perhaps they would have been marched through the archway to their martyrs death.

"Excavations in Caerleon, the headquarters of the Second Augustan Legion, have demonstrated the existence of a tetrapylon at the centre of the Roman fortress. Evidence indicates that the structure survived into the medieval period when it was undermined and demolished. A recent review of ceramic finds associated with the demolition horizon suggests that the tetrapylon was razed in the thirteenth century. While stone-robbing for reconstruction of the medieval castle in Caerleon may provide a partial explanation for the destruction, political circumstances at the time provided additional incentives."

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Urnes Church - Norway

Lately I have been reading "The Real Middle Earth - Magic and Mystery in the Dark Ages" by Brian Bates. Tolkien is of course one of my favourites, so the combination of dwarves, elfs and trees taken from the Anglo-Saxon and Norse myths is a must, found in the book was one of the following similar photos....
one thing that has been nagging at my mind after our visit to Greensted Church, was the oldest stave church in Norway at Urnes with its beautiful World Tree carving - The Yggdrasil Tree.. and a bit of finger tapping bought up two beautiful photos by Gari-baldi on Flickr, and he had kindly licensed them under Creative Commons.....

This is part of the wood sculpture on the north wall of the 11th century church at Urnes, in Sogn, Norway. The carving is exquisite, the deer under the tree is browsing on the foliage, and those lovely curving lines.

The oldest Stave church in Norway at Urnes

Brian Bates sees the Yggdrasil Tree as representing Sleipnir, the spirit horse of Odin, a great eight legged creature that takes him down to the otherworld. Bates works his way from the word Yggdrasil, Ygg being a nickname for Odin and drasil a word for horse. Odin of course famously hung from the tree for 9 days but it was during this time, a time of spiritual quest and dreaming that the tree transformed into Sleipnir. And Bates points out that the gallows in Anglo-Saxon times were also known as "a 'horse' upon which its victim rode to death".

Sleipnir carries Odin on his ride round the nine sacred cosmos of knowledge, Sleipnirs eight legs representing eight of the worlds, with Odin representing the ninth. Of course, Tolkien also had a great horse in the Lord of The Rings, this was Shadowfax, and there is a dramatic moment in the film, when the great army of Gandalf stands high on a steep hill, Shadowfax, gleaming white to the fore, and then they sweep down this impossibly steep hill to destroy the myriad trolls and terrible creatures on the plain below that are harassing the fort. Tolkien describes Shadowfax "as being foaled in the morning of the world". The tale of Odin's descent into the Lowerworld is for another day, it was a place that contained wisdom, but of course it also contained the dead spirits, which at that liminal time of the year allhalloween, would seep gently into our world, curling and spinning round the houses ;)

Detail from the Greensted Church

Detail from the Greensted church

A Jeremy Hooker poem

I have neglected my blog for some time, but on checking back through my sitemeter, I often find a blog called 'Matrix' has been visited quite a lot. Don't know why I called it Matrix perhaps it is the name of the poem I forgot to record. But the poem by Jeremy Hooker is a firm favourite of mine, catching within its words the slow dying of history caught for evermore in the dust and 'petrified creatures' of chalk.

A memorial of its origins, chalk in barns and churches
moulders in rain and damp;petrified creatures swim
in its depths.

It is domestic, with the homeliness of an ancient
hearth exposed to the weather,pale with the ash of
countless primeval fires.Here the plough grates on an
urnfield, the green plover stands with crest erect on
a royal mound.

Chalk is the moon's stone; the skeleton is native to its
soil. It looks anaemic, but has submerged the type-sites
of successive cultures. Stone,bronze, iron; all are assimilated to
its nature;
and the hill-forts follow its curves.

These, surely, are the works of giants; temples
re-dedicated to the sky-god, spires fashioned for the
lords of bowmen;

Spoils of the worn idol, squat Venus of the mines.

Druids leave their shops in the midsummer solstice;
neophytes tread an antic measure to the antlered god.
Men who tresspass are soon absorbed, horns laid beside
them in the ground. The burnt-out tank waits beside
the barrow.

The god is a graffito carved on the belly of the chalk,
his savage gesture subdued by the stuff of his creation.
He is taken up like a gaunt white doll by the round hills,
wrapped around by the long pale hair of the fields.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Greensted Church, Essex

The church is one of the oldest stave churches in Europe, and before I go into the detail, the atmosphere of the place is a must.

A quiet country lane just outside Ongar, leads you to the church, it lies just in front of a large house and is surrounded by about three other oldish houses, one a pretty little church lodge.
The church has dormer windows which is unusual for a start, it is quaint and very pretty, the white wooden tower gives a modern look to the little brick and wooden church behind it.

Peace pervades the small churchyard, crocuses in front of the doorway, and those marvellous timber staves are extraordinary. Dark black, and so finely fissured vertically that it is almost like a comb, but there the similarity stops, for there are elegant waving shapes as the lines move round old knots, or branches that were sawn off all those centuries ago. This is where the marvel comes in, you are touching wood grown in the Saxon age; the wood is hard, almost like stone, it has weathered the centuries and now stands rock hard against the elements.

But I said it was a pretty little church, and so it is, open the door and go inside, the first thing to strike is the darkness of the place, your eyes must grow accustomed to the wealth of detail inside.

The staves inner faces are inside, and everywhere there is wood, the high timbered and cross roof beams are ornamented with carved pictures in the triangulated intersections. The pews are closed and you must unlatch a small gate to sit on a seat; the stained glass is mediocre, but there are certain windows that have a lightness of touch in their execution.

For sale, and here the parishioners have been very generous in their bounty, there are pots of jam, marmalade, lemon curds and that new fangled delight red onion marmalade. Priced at about £2 a jar, they are quite reasonable and all have the name of the church on them.
Outside wandering round the bank and you will see the little triangle opening that appears in the stave, apparently this was the door, but I have'nt quite worked out its relationship to the rest of the church.

Outside towards the east, and the land slopes away from the church, and looking over the wall that bounds this side, are open fields with a public footpath going through. There is a pond to the right, which would probably have been the water source in Saxon times. Walk along the footpath, and the land to the left is landscaped for the large house with another pond for ducks, and there is a great cluster of snowdrops scattered under the trees with artless natural ease.

you have muddy shoes, a great bag of plastic carrier bags, is at the church entrance for putting over your shoes, rather spoiling the inital impression. But the day was beautiful, sunny and the Essex countryside a quiet mix of brown ploughed fields, and the green of pasture land. Woods there were aplenty, marching right up to the fields they curved in graceful lines, there soft browns and silvers etched in the sun, with a rich mush of golden brown litter underneath.

Information from the Church handbook; - The church is one of the oldest wooden churches in the world, and the oldest wooden building standing in Europe. The two earlier wooden buildings dating from the late 6th or 7th century, people have worshipped continuously here for 1300 years.
First church at Greensted; It was St.Cedd who probably inspired this little church, he began his work in 654 A.D. and probably the first church at Greensted (probably a clearing or space in the vast forest of which Hainault and Epping are the only remains). An archaeological dig in 1960 revealed the impression of two simple wooden buildings under the present chancel floor, these would have been the 6th or 7th century buildings. The logs had been held upright by simply dropping them into a trench, and it goes on to say that people would have gathered outside to listen to the celtic missionaries and priest. The dedication to St.Andrew suggests a Celtic Foundation.

The nave was added in about 1060 A.D. but the timbers seem to go back to 845 A.D. and since then there have been many more additions, stretching from the Norman piscina, to a Tudor window, the church tower could probably have been built in the 17th century and then of course the Victorian restoration which includes the dormer windows and porch.
St.Cedd's Church of 654;

Notes; It is interesting to see from the handbook that there is a great deal of interest in this 'stave' church from archaelogists and historians, and English Heritage is to fund some work on the church. The mind always falls back to the Norwegian staved churches and to one in particular with the beautiful carved doorway, but the Greensted church predates these, and is truly a Saxon building that has survived.
It is an 'original' very much like Stonehenge in its class, that wood and the shape of the old building with its building techniques is still there after a thousand years is a bit of a miracle.
To imagine this small wooden building, very cosy, for it is a great deal warmer inside a wooden church than our old stone churches, filled with people maybe, or originally perhaps a visiting monk or priest evangelising to the Saxons, who have only just recently settled in the area, the solitary monk living within the confines of the earliest building.

The thatched roof rustling with mice, the great forest stretched for miles around and the people working quietly in the clearing to build a life in this wilderness. So these heathen Saxon people would have heard the sound of the bell (or bangu) of the wandering monk, he would come through the trees, food would be offered, and then the great discussion about whose god would prevail, we know the inevitable truth about which god did win out in the end but this first 'church' would have been very unlike the churches we see today.

Photos courtesey of Littlestone.

More photographs here 

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Essex musings

Ugley Green. Yesterday we went looking for a puddingstone, something very particular to Essex - at least I think so. Eventually we tracked it down, to a small hamlet, thatched cottages around a green. The stone itself was placed at the junction of three lanes, next to a green pump. Stones, crossroads and water of course all have a symbolic meaning, and in the middle ages people were hung at crossroads and buried on the spot, apparently, I have been reliably informed so that their wicked spirits would not know which track to take.

After the stone we went hunting for Ugley Green church, strangely about a mile away next to a large house. To access it you drove down a long track, and you are greeted by the brick church tower, at the end of a short row of pollarded trees. The bricks are 16th century though the church itself is 13th century, and the bulk of the church is flint and mortar. Surprisingly it is rather large, and fortunately someone arrived who opened the churchfor us. She had brought a great armful of forsythia for decoration, the branches forced indoors to flower. The church itself had been restored in the 19th century, but its east window was rather beautiful.

There were four small panels of christian stories either done by William Morris or Burn-Jones, though presumably the workshop is the place of attribution. The church could only afford these four small panels, so the rest of the window was filled in with a lovely traceried pattern of Morris's 'wallpaper' flowers in a sort of trellised effect in the glass.

Which reminds me that there was a very large tapestry by the Pre-raphelite workshop that appeared in the papers a couple of weeks ago . It was in the Yves St.Laurent collection, but I think the tapestry was withdrawn and will stay with the Musee D'Orsay due to export licence complications...

One of the things about Essex is its glorious house building tradition, cottages with thatched roofs, some so tiny that they are one-up, one-down. Tudor timber and plaster, and exquisite pargetering, think that is the term for the decoration you find on the plaster.

Audley House was the next place on the list, a very large splendiferous house in the Jacobean style, though it looked very Elizabethan to me it had been a Benedictine monastery but dear old Henry had got his grubby little paws on it in 1538...

The gardens were put together in the 'Capability Brown' style, again you cannot beat a large expanse of land with sculptured waters, fountains, bridges and tastefully arranged trees around some of our larger estates but the 'pattern' book these 18th century gardens came out of are strikingly very similar. I still love an untidy garden of flowers, a bit William Morris or Elizabethan, herbs, flowers, fruit trees nudging each other for space, a useful garden is so much prettier than a functional view.... No photos till I get back to my own computer but a couple from earlier on.

Thaxted, the view up to the church, and on the left somewhere Dick Turpin's cottage

Payecocke House Coggeshall

Elizabethan House at Terling