Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Stoney Littleton Longbarrow

Demoiselles and frogbite (only one in the photo)

Orchids and ox eye daisies

thyme and ox eye daisies

lady's bedstraw

As I prepare to leave this part of the world, it would perhaps be useful to record one of my favourite longbarrows. Stoney Littleton is a small jewel set in the Somerset landscape, if you were to read the field notes on The Modern Antiquarian you would find the same sort of joy at finding something so unexpected. The last time I visited was with the person I shall be with from now on and I'll expect we shall come back and visit it again some day.
One of the good things about visiting the same place, is that you get to see the flora over a period of time, ox eyed daisies, thyme, orchids, ladies bedstraw, ragwort, etc adorn this barrow at different times of the year. The little Bybrook stream that meanders at the bottom of the hill, is clear and shallow and I have seen the beautiful metallic blues of demoiselles flying above its surface with the small white flower of frogsbite in the water below, tresses of green swirling plants gently moving in the current. Other times I have seen the pink hooded flower of balsam gracing the sides of the stream.
As you come down this tiny lane and park in the small carpark opposite the cottage, stand awhile on the little wooden bridge and take in 'old England', walk up the steep hill, past the sheep if they are there, over the stile into the small plot of land that surrounds the barrow, and do please note the stoniness of the field you have walked through, it is quite extraordinary.
Coming to the barrow, this is a time for contemplation and peace, prehistory gave birth to this place, and as you sit by the entrance look up to the ridge above, the barrow is seen as a 'goddess' symbolling the entrance to mother earth,and it is from the ridge that the approach would have been made, entering into the womb of the earth. Julian Cope in his book The Modern Antiquarian, has articles on this.


Monday, April 27, 2009

Impressive bronze age barrows - Priddy Nine Barrows

Round barrows are the poor cousins of megalithic stones, they are rather boring to look out, many have been ploughed out, and now just remains as cropmarks in the land. They can be singleton, a barrow cemetery, which can consist of either a linear line of them or just an a group of them.
There are two linear barrow groups that are very impressive though, they lie very near to the four Priddy circles, and are probably part of a sacred landscape, that is somewhat lost now.
Looking through my photographs I came across the two separate groups, Priddy Nine Barrows and the Ashen Hill Barrows both very close to each other. The Nine Barrows group follows a ridge downhill, but at the bottom there are two large barrows at an angle, from these two barrows you can look at the eight Ashen Hill barrows about a five minute walk away.....

Nine Barrows - The two separate barrows in front, with the Ashen Barrows in the background

Close up of Ashen Barrows, which Skinner excavated

Ashen Hill bronze age barrows;

All these eight barrows were investigated by the Reverend John Skinner in 1815, and all barrows produced one or more cremations. Some of these contained Early Bronze age urns and were covered with stone slabs (similar to Lansdown barrows cemetery). Three barrows had bronze daggers, one in a wooden sheaf. One barrow contained a rich burial which included beads and other objects of amber (maybe faience) and a miniature incense cup. There are a further two, much larger barrows, located north of the main cemetery.Taken from;British Barrows (A Matter of Life and Death) by Ann Woodward. Similar

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Local Woods

A tranquil scene taken last year, today I saw a different lot of sheep asleep on this old trackway, it must be the stones that keep them warm

A Rant;
Today walking the dog I decided to go to Brockham woods, to monitor the progress of any wildflowers that might be coming up. There are many woods round this part of the downs, they cling to the steep side of the valleys and are a last refuge.
What makes me so angry is the indiscriminate use of herbicide that the farmers, and today the golf course use on the verges. Several weeks ago, whilst walking down a green lane towards Swainswick, the verges had been gouged out by the wheels of some enormous farm machinery. This is a very old track, in spring you would find bluebells, yellow archangel, primroses, stitchwort, a whole host of vulnerable verge plants. Some will survive, but it is this insidious small scale destruction that makes sure our native herbage is so rare.
Today walking along the track through the golf course, nettles had been sprayed, and yes nettles are a nuisance, but these plants are only growing after the damaging herbicides that have been sprayed over the years. This is all we are left with when nitrogen is used to 'encourage' grass, the 'bullies' of the wild plants take hold, and the delicate plants are killed.

Brockham Wood, a place Moss loves but I hate

Spooky Brockham wood, with its 19th planting of beeches and douglas fir, is bare of any vegetation at ground level, just a thick layer of dead leaves, though I did find one small group of native bluebells. I also found the cultivated form of the yellow flowered deadnettle at the entrance, I'm not sure why people plant cultivated varieties in the wild, there are two good native deadnettles that are normally abundant at this time of the year the white flowered one and the red flowered one.
We also passed Pipley wood, this small hanging wood is quite dangerous, the trees that have fallen lie rotting on the ground, and the pathway is often very boggy with all the little streams that 'leak' out of the hill.
Looking through my photos and I came across the 'burning' of weeds on the three remaining barrows in the bronze age barrow cemetery. The singleton barrow by the entrance to the Little Down Hillfort is also always in danger of farm machinery being ridden over it.

The burnt barrows

Little Down Hillfort is at the top of this slope
Sunday, the above was written yesterday, I again walked in a very cold easterly wind up on the downs, this time to the fields where the Lansdown Battle took place. Luckily this large area of downs is so steep and rough, that only cattle graze on it. So it was lovely to see patches of cowslips everywhere and a group of ladies smock growing in a hollow, probably where a stream seeps through. There is also the dainty ground ivy lacing and dancing its way through the wild grasses. A soft blue, very much like a violet, coming home I took down the Englishman's Flora by Geoffrey Grigson and looked this little plant up, and it has a history all to itself.
Grigson describes it as a 'bitter, aromatic', it was a doctor's medicine and a home medicine, strengthening and cleansing, but also interestingly the chief bitter used in ales before hops. 'It was the Alehoof, the Tunhoof, the plant called hofe in OE, used in tunning the ale', and Gerard mentions it in 1597, though by that time it was getting old fashioned.
Grigson mentions that the Anglo-Saxons called it eorthifig - translating the chamaikissos of the ancients - that I do not understand but presume it must have come from the Greek. Apparently in Ludlow there was a tradition of eating pork stuffed with the leaves, and people used to drink it as Gill-tea.
Enough of ground ivy, I was moaning earlier on about the planting of the cultivated forms of deadnettles. Well Grigson full of fascinating facts tells us that the white deadnettle has the name Adam-and-Eve-in-the-Bower, why so, well if you turn the plant upside down, the black and gold stamens lay side by side just like two human figures. The deadnettles have in their familar names the word archangel, and Grigson puts this down to the fact that it was their benign nature of not stinging as compared to the real nettle which stings horribly making these flowers angelic.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


This is a miscellany of what I have found today, firstly are these two beautiful percherons pulling logs out of a wood. Over the last few years horses have been used more and more to drag out the logs from difficult places in the woods and forests of Britain, who could resist these beautiful blond giants......


My second photo is taken from the Resurgence magazine which arrived today, it is a print done by Francis Wishart, a monotype, the procedure is difficult to explain but at the end you only end up with one print, this one was created on a metal plate on the spot in the Brunswick's Arcadian Forest in Canada.
Wishart and his friend Jean Guy Comeau are environmental activists trying to stop the logging of this forest by two very large paper companies, the Finnish firm UPM-Kymmene and the Canadian Irving Company. Wishart and Comeau made a film about the destruction of the Arcadia forest Forbidden Forest, which chronicles the 'destructive nature of industrial wood-harvesting and its grim implication for water supplies' and also of course for the flora and fauna of the region.

Computers are bringing us to the paperless society, though of course, energy use by computers is set to go up, apparently the equivalent of the total amount of plane flight round the world. So perhaps we need to be less wasteful of paper, and use our computers less as well! or at least switch them off when not in use.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Nonakado Stone Group

A fascinating stone group from Japan, late Jomon - Oyu Site - Towada. It seemingly represents a sundial, you can see three of the 'quarter' stones, and there is apparently nothing like it on the Continent, and the information states, that it could come from as far a field as Siberia to the Mongolian Steppes, where many types of stone arrangements are found.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Battle of Deorham

                             Hinton Hill fort and the lynchets or terracing on the slopes of the hill

; "AD 577 Now Cuthwine and Ceawline fought with the Britains, and three kings they slew, Commagil, Condidan, and farinmagil in the place that is called Deorham and they took three cities, Glevan-ceaster, Ciren-ceaster and Bathan-Ceaster"

These words taken from the Anglo -Saxon Chronicle are the only evidence of a battle believed to have taken place near  Dyrham, the battle itself in the hillfort at Hinton. The Saxons after a long march had managed to invade this last bastion of the West, the end of Wessex and its British culture, and had taken the old Roman towns of Gloucester, Cirencester and Bath. In the following link written in the nineteenth century ......


the author argues that the Saxons came from the south down the Portway, through the old roman stations of Castle Combe and ...... and that the Saxons in wanting to defeat the British, had their goal as Bath, giving them entrance to the Severn Valley, the last stronghold of the British. This may be the case, we know that there was a strong Saxon influence in Bath from the early monastic settlement there in the 7th century, and the Saxon influence in the churches around Gloucester and Somerset is very strong.

                     The slopes of Hinton Hillfort, Dyrham Park and House behind the camera

To understand this part of the world, you must envisage the Cotswold escarpment slowly coming to an end just before Bath. Great hillforts are to be found along this ridge, Bathampton and Solsbury guard the southern trackways into Bath, but turn north up the long length of the Cotswold, and you will find Hinton, Old Sodbury and Horton hillforts in near proximity to each other.
Old Sodbury is an enormous hillfort, beautifully delineated banks, 'improved' by the Romans who also used this fort as well. Hinton and Horton are much smaller but still impressive.

                                                     Old Sodbury Hillfort banks

The interior of Old Sodbury, showing the 'romanisation of the banks and the height, exhausted Moss in the centre, gave up on a hot afternoon and went to sleep
Horton hillfort is much smaller but still has banks up to 15 foot in height, these three forts follow the line of the A46 road....

Horton Hillfort; this photo shows what the hillforts may have been guarding, the last stronghold of British  land with Wales over the other side of the Severn Estuary.

                                                    Interior of Horton with sizeable banks

Note; lynchets are a form of farming along the sides of the downs and they can be found all over this part of Somerset and Gloucester. They can come from the Iron Age I think, definitely the Romans, but the ones on Hinton Hill look medieval.

In the Battle of Maldon, fought four hundred years (991 ad) later than the Battle of Dyrham, we meet the East Saxons fighting the Vikings. The Saxons by now have encompassed Christianity and they are fighting the heathen Scandinavians who are after gold and loot. But it is in the word of this famous early English poem that we may have some idea of the idealism that lay at the heart of these terrible battles. Bryhtnoth is the elderly leader of the Saxons and

                                                .....He raised shield-board,
Shook the slim ash-spear, shaped his words
Stiff with anger, he gave him answer.
'Hearest 'ou, seaman, what this folk sayeth?
Spears shall be all the tribute they send you,
viper-stained spears and the swords of forbears,
such a haul of harness as shall hardly profit you.

In the Dyrham battle we have the West Saxons as the invading, marauding force, pitted against the British  tribes. The battle was lost of course, The british (or the Walesi) were forced over the Severn Estuary back into Wales, there is a famous story of one of the Saints. Saint Beauno was walking by a river one day, and heard a man calling out to his dogs in a strange language on the other side. Furious, Beuno went back to his small monastery collected his entourage and moved further into Wales to escape the terrible Saxons....

Dyrham/Deorham - the place of the deer, still to be found at Dyrham Park, and all over the countryside round Bath.

There are photographs taken by Chance on The Modern Antiquarian of Castle Combe presumed hillfort, that the Saxons could have passed if they had come the way that the Gloucester article says. Presumably the Saxons followed the old Roman roads, and would have had to cross rivers; Chippenham has always been a good crossing point for the River Avon, and in later history in the time of Alfred, there was supposed to be a stronghold/residence of Alfred here.

AD 878 In this year, at midwinter,
after Twelve Night, the host stole away to Chippenham
and overran the land of the West Saxons and occupied it.
And many of the people they drove beyond the sea
and the greater part of those who remained they harried
and the people submitted to them,
except the King Alfred.
And he with a small band, retreated through the woodlands
and into the fastness of the marshes.

Guthrum was the Viking who made war on Alfred of Wessex, and drove him of course near to Glastonbury at Athelnay.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Seamus Heaney

Tis Seamus Heaney birthday today he is 70, earlier on in my blog I collected some of his poetry from the book called North. They are mostly about the bog people, and pretty macabre to boot, but not until you have read Glob's book of the The Bog People, can you understand Heaney's fascination with the lives of these early people who were uncovered from the bog. The following is a muse on a female that is found in the bog and the stories that emerge.


The next few lines from Kinship

Earth-pantry, bone vault,
Sun-bank, embalmer
Of votive good.
And sabred fugitives.

Insatiable bride.
Casket, midden,
Floe of history.

describe the horror of the bog, often depicted in Glob's book in the photographs showing the dessicated remains of the humans that were sacrificed it is thought to the goddess Nerthus (Mother Earth). There is an account by Tacitus in his book Germania....

"In an Island of the ocean is a holy grove, and in it a consecrated chariot, covered in robes. A single priest is permitted to touch it; he interprets the presence if the goddess in her shrine and with deep reverence as she rides away drawn by cows; then come days of rejoicing and all places keep holiday, as many as she may think worthy to receive and entertain her. They make no war, take no arms; every weapon is put away; peace and quiet are then alone, known and loved, until the same priest returns the goddess to her temple, when she has had her fill of the society of mortals. After this the chariot and the robes, and if you will believe it, the goddess herself, are washed in a sequestered lake; slaves are the ministrants and are at the same time swallowed by that lake. Hence a mysterious terror and an ignorance fullof piety as to that that may be which men only behold to die"

This photo shows an image of Nerthus, a crudely carved wooden naturalistic stature, and something like this, a goddess, would have travelled around in a cart drawn by oxen maybe in early spring. The bog sacrifices seem to show, from the contents of the last meal that some of the victims ate that they had eaten plant material from this time of year.
Ann Ross in Death of a Prince which she wrote with Don Robins - a pathologist - also followed the same line of thought for the Lindow Man, in which she speculated that he had been sacrificed in the Lindow Bog by the Iron Age people when the Romans invaded for the gods to intervene with the invasion. Lindow Man's date roughly corresponded with the terrible slaughter at Anglesey of the Druids by the Romans.
Ross and Robins interpreted the death of this particular bog man as a threefold death, by strangulation, blow to the head, and stabbing, though this may be true, another interpretation can easily be found in that the body suffered damage when it was taken from the bog, but she makes an interesting point that the rope used to strangle the sacrifical victims, is very similar to the twisted gold torques worn at this time. The torques themselves symbolically representing the rope.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


At this time of the year one's soul aches for the summer flowers, spring flowers come and go, the countryside is blossoming in showy clouds of blackthorn and hawthorn. But it is in the planting of seeds, lily bulbs, vegetables that ones heart takes great pleasure in. Somewhat restricted by space, runner beans, their shiny purple colour are planted in two tubs, two tubs of the mixed green salads, so fashionable and so sensible now..instead of waiting for 'hearted' lettuce, there can be a mix of dark purple and green salads, with a dash of rocket seeds. Bright yellow calendula flowers for warming up a dull corner. Boxes of the tiny violas under the trees, there soft mauves ranging from dark to light, a splash of pale lemon pansies - the big sister of the pretty violas, interspersed (with very expensive) cranesbills, Ingersen variety, and a pale chalky pink one called Wargrave Pink. A cool white aquilegia, the dainty fronds of its leaves complementing the viola, and Tellima Grandiflora with its pretty heartshaped leaves and tall spike of yellow flowers to set against the bamboo. Hollyhocks set against the wall of the garage to take advantage of the dry rubbly non-soil that they seem to love, and Purple fennel leaves, thyme, marjoram and chives are the herbs planted. Two mints, the soft furry leaf of the apple mint, which makes a good tisane, and the dark ordinary mint leaf so beloved of lamb and mint sauce. There are many different types of mints, and Suffolk Herbs catalogue is one of the best places to delve into for these.....
Nasturiums the short and tall clinging ones to bring the clear yellow and orange flower to decorate salads, leaves to add spice.
And a book to recommend, mine's a 4th edition, The English Flower Garden by William Robinson, an extraordinary list of the plants that you would find in a Victorian garden......

Saturday, April 11, 2009


Essex so close to London and yet with a special charm of its own. The hedgerows are full of white blossom, and in the dull grey light of today, it seemed to highlight them even more. Dark grey storm clouds outlined the shape of the old hedge trees, one day I shall take photos of all their strange curved outlining against the flat brownness of the fields. Some hedges have been cut to ground level in many places revealing the bank on which they must have once grown, but along these banks are great trailing masses of stitchwort, the whiteness of the flower emphasised by the green of the grass. Red and white deadnettle flowers also in profusion, and the pale new green of the trailing willows line the river.


The garden is full of bees feasting on the Japanese cherry blossom and the maple tree flowers. Yesterday a white tailed queen bee hunted the ground looking for a nesting hole, round the woodpile she climbed in a never ending search for a nest. There was a red tailed queen bee as well exhausted on the shed floor, so I took some wet tissue with honey on it for her, and watched as she drank the sweetened water for about 5 minutes. When I put the tissue next to her she raised her front leg in an act of defiance, but soon the black needle like probiscious found the tissue and the tiniest of orange tongues came out as she sipped.
Starlings in their hundreds on this eastern side of England, something I never see on my western side, also many collared doves, their gentle cooing noise as they colonise the rooftops is a beautiful sound.

Fordhams, Ford End, a place where I once lived.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Welsh Cromlechs

Wales has that marvellous air of melancholia, its greyness rising from misty rain and impregnable grey rocks. White foam crests the green-grey of the waves as they hassle the rocks of the cliffs, a quiet gnawing away of the land by the sea.

Above this sea stands one cromlech, Samson Carreg facing the curving coastline, the ground is not high, softly sloping to the small bay beneath and the tiny island offset against the beach. Was this the reason the burial mound was placed here? It is an elegant statement of large standing stones that balance a chunky capstone. Julian Cope says of its stones that they are shot through with amber quartzite, it has become sculptured on the landscape like an "ancient stone rhinoceros, caught mid-charge in one instant and destined to remain here forever".

This angle is looking away from Carreg Samson to the sea and a small island called Ynys Deullyn

However much we interpret in the present what we see from the past, the imagination is fired by the creative force of such places, the knowledge that minds not so far removed from ours, thousands of years ago undertook this massive attempt at monument building with the materials to hand and crafted on the land stone shapes that have an elegance of thought and creativity today.

Take another cromlech, not so far away from Carreg Samson, and marvel at Pentre Ifan with its beautiful flying capstone. Almost like a a wing of a bird it sits atop the stones, allowing the mind to fly to the sky above, as they wandered amongst the rocky landscape, did someone visualise this stone as a great stone wing ready to transport the dead to another place.

The car must wander down hidden lanes to find Pentre Ifan, park, and it is but a short walk along a grass path edged with great stones to the longbarrow itself. All that remains of the long barrow are these upright stones sitting on a slight bank, there is a 'closing door' stone signalling the end, a closing down of the religion perhaps, or of the last ancestor maybe.

Just two of the many cromlechs that cluster round this part of the south-west of Wales, protected by a harsh landscape that has not allowed farmers to remove these stones, they stand as a magnificent reminder, every bit as grand in their undertaking as a Stonehenge or an Avebury, of a desire to render into the landscape and the consciousness the reminder that man does not wish to be forgotten, that the flesh is soon gone but that something else, whatever you may choose to call it still lingers in the air.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Notes; St.Andrews Church, Boreham, Essex

"Archaeology has revealed traces of Bronze Age, Iron Age and much Roman occupation of Boreham. The earliest written information about Boreham is in the Domesday Book which mentions Danish inhabitants and also shows that Boreham was a multi-manored parish. The largest manor (consisting of 8 hides and 23 acres) was held by fourteen freemen and probably included the church. The next in size was then known as Walkfares, and is now New Hall. It had been given by Earl Harold to the Canons of Waltham Abbey in 1062. New Hall was owned by Henry VIII from 1517 to 1547 and later in its life it became the convent and school as we know it today."

Another Essex church visited yesterday, it is given a date of 1066 to 16th century on the SMR. Traces of a Saxon arch can still be seen above the newer Norman arch, again one of those rather rich Essex churches with a wooden covered walkway up to the church. Roman tiles were used in the rebuilding of this church, again coursed with the black pudding stone, but flint is the predominate feature. An elegant large church somewhat marred for me by the three stone tomb effigies in a small side chapel.
Three knights lay in regal splendour, their noses and hands chopped off by the Puritans, but what is rather macabre is the six grotesque fanciful creatures that lie at their heads and feet. No small family dogs these, instead an amalgam of the fantastic with pig faces, plump bodies, chains and cloven hooves. The three at the heads of the knights have also had their heads neatly sliced off, again presumably by the Cromwell brigade.
The graveyard was a pretty mix of trees, and primroses and violets covered the grass. Red deadnettle was also prolific, the day was glorious, the blossom of the blackthorn everywhere, and the planted cherries trees are in full bloom.
One thing you notice in Essex, is the wealth of the old timber cottages and houses, they have become overrun to a certain degree by modern implanting, but even round the church you can trace the old village with its small crop of cottages running along the 'back' lane, and a storied timber Elizabethan house in front.
What is interesting about some of these churches is the reuse of old Roman tiles. Given that the Romans left the country in the late 5th century, these tiles must have been used several centuries later within the building of the Saxon churches, that they survived so long is a bit of a miracle, but one wonders how they were used in Saxon times as well. Given the tetrapylon mentioned earlier that was found in Caerleon fort still standing to the 13th century, it does give some idea of how ruined roman buildings were still around, a great source of building material, in fact very similar to the later 'quarrying' of the abbeys for stone to rebuild the 'fancy' houses of the new landed gentry of Henry V111's pillaging and destruction of the monastc order.

Later blog October 2014

Thursday, April 2, 2009

We live in momentous times at the moment, catastrophy or an adjustment of the economic climate - who knows?
But travelling through London yesterday, the day of the first protest against the G20talks I was struck how quiet the tube was. Did not see any police at Paddington, though plenty at Liverpool Street. A small middle aged man handed out anarchists leaflet on the train, and the only t-shirt I saw on the London train was a respectable CND one.
Watching the TV coverage later of the protestors hemmed in by the police at the HBS bank, it struck me that there was not much fire in the belly of the protestors. Most seem to be there for a day out and were taking photos of the whole, that they got trapped by the police for several hours in the 'kettling' or coralling was unfortunate.
Protest has of course gone for the more non-violent carnival atmosphere approach, thereby giving the police little chance of retaliation. Living as I did in the south west, for years we would have the picture of the'star wars' helmetted, batonned and shield bearing police preceding our news. It was a quiet warning to those that govern I suppose that we do not really tolerate violence to our young whatever the cause.
Being an active member of the Green party for some years, I remember the poll tax demonstrations in Bath outside the Guildhall. Chris Patten (middle of the road conservative) was the MP for Bath at the time, and as our party organised the opposition I was there holding the banner. The demonstration was fairly peaceful, but on my drive down through the park, I had seen two coachloads of police sitting there ready for trouble, it was rather nerve-wracking. I had been to the Guildhall Market the day before, and watched in astonishment as plain clothes men checked the security in our very quiet city.