Saturday, August 29, 2009

Stanton Drew and its stones

The Avenue leading up from the river Chew

I have been to Stanton Drew several times over the years, its stones are less distinguished than either Stonehenge or Avebury, yet it is a favourite of mine, this large circle, the 'cinderalla' of the three great stone circles of Wessex. I have photographed most stones, they lie half hidden in the grass, some as grey as can be, whilst others have that lovely reddish tinge to them. When I first came upon them I saw them as 'bloodstained' with the strange little holes you see on one or two of them as the 'letting of blood' from the stone. Fanciful maybe, the colouring is after all only bought on by oxidisation or something. The village sits to the side of the stones, the church obscuring the great cove in the pub's garden, last time we were there we sat outside by the stones drinking beer and the pub's hens strolled around pecking aimlessly.
The Druid Arms, is a quiet pub and the home to the second cove in the district, funnily enough Avebury cove sits next to the Red Lion, though what's to be made of that fact I don't know.
Recently a thread has appeared on TMA about the nine concentric circles found in the centre, the theory is that what the geo-phys threw up with these enormous timber post holes (though that has'nt been confirmed) that it was a place to learn to hunt and slaughter pigs, an artifical forest or wood..... not sure I agree with that theory but its interesting. Apparently though there was a henge around it, again no longer visible, but additional survey work found that running outside the great stone circle 'is a ditch broken by a 50 metre wide entrance gap to the north-east, with another possibility to the south-west'.
In my Wooden Book on SD the timber circle is denoted as a great thatched house, and has some information on Guy Underwood's dowsing there, but the only spiral/ or concentric circles he found was at Hautville Quoit. When we there there was another dowser called Paul Dawes setting out his little red flags from one of the stones, when I asked him about Maes Knoll, which sits prominently on the horizon, he said that it had a relationship with the great circle - but there again.........
Further reading brings up the subject of 'closed' and 'open' sites, stone circles being open and timber circles being closed, the henge functions as a bank so that the seated spectators can see whatever is happening within the arena. The closed timber circle, and SD would have this aspect with all those timber posts, perhaps could be seen as a place for the ritual slaughter of young pigs, either marking a special feast day, or the culling of too many animals in the autumn. The West Kennet Palisade Enclosures which had evidence of a lot of pig bones (dates 2458-2046) bc) at Avebury seem to have a ritual function with 'offerings' being left around the post holes.
The argument arises as to whether stone and timber were contemporary, and there is no way of showing this at Stanton Drew till excavation takes place, both types of circles might represent completely different religions, or the timber circles could relate to a building, or even totem poles.But the fact is that sometimes timber circles have evidence of fencing, and there are parallel or at least similar features on the nearby Gorsey Bigbury henge and the Priddy Circles. At Gorsey Bigbury Henge there are two postholes in the north entrance, and it could well be that its original function was a stock enclosure, though later usuage during the Beaker period has somewhat disturbed it earlier beginning. Evidence of an 8 foot bank at Gorsey Bigsbury was seen by the Reverend Skinner in the 19th century but was subsequently ploughed out by a farmer.
There are four circles at Priddy, and it is the first one that is the most interesting. Definition of a henge is also a crucial point to understanding how they are often interpreted. For instance Gorsbury has an outer bank and an inner ditch, similar to Avebury, Stonehenge on the other hand has an inner bank and outer ditch. The Priddy circles also have an outer banks and inner ditches, but the bank in Circle One has been revetted with timber posts, with stones being piled into the bank and hurdling attached to post holes against the bank, making it a 'closed' circle

The half fallen stone.LS

'Squared' stone of which there are plenty.LS

The 'lion' stone.LS

The Cove

The church that stands between the circles and the cove

The 'rabbit' stone

refs; Jodie Lewis - Neolithic Somerset- Monuments, Ritual and Regionality
Gordon Strong - Stanton Drew and Its Ancient Stone Circle

Thursday, August 27, 2009


A recent purchase of this rather lovely hybridised lobelia plant, made me check Robinson's English Flower Garden, for it's parentage. It obviously stems from the Lobelia Cardinalis, which he says is one of the prettiest and rarest of the genus. The parent flower is scarlet, at the nursery there were several different shades, ranging from a deep pink to a dark red. It is a bog loving plant and can tolerant a certain amount of shade. The earliest mention in an English garden is 1629, but it seems to have come from North America or Canada.
There is a wild version also in this country that grows in water, the petals are arranged exactly as in the cultivated variety version.
The lobelias belong to the bellflower family

Monday, August 24, 2009

Notes on Llanrian

Llanrian Church

The church was named after Rhian - 5th or 6th century, a follower of St.David. He founded a church here, "probably a wattle and daub building behind an earth wall" Breverton says, also "In Llanrian parish, not far from Tregynon, is Llain y Sibedau (Place of Whispers) a ruined stone circle" The Book of Welsh Saints.

1849 - Llanrian "Near the church are some Druidical remains, consisting of many large stones, most of them now broken: they were formerly erect, and, in their arrangement and general appearance, formed in miniature, according to Mr. Fenton, a tolerably correct representation of Stonehenge".From: 'Llanrhychwyn - Llansawel', A Topographical Dictionary of Wales (1849), pp. 85-98. URL:

Chasing ideas takes up many hours, and a few years ago I had taken a photo of a stone on a triangular green in front of a farmhouse, which looked suspiciously prehistoric. Anyway someone said that it was more probably a stone that had been erected in front of the farmhouse.

Llanrian stone with friend for height

Be that as it may, the stone probably did relate to the stone circle mentioned above in the 19th century. Also of course there is a bronze age barrow in a field, leading out of Llanrian towards the Compass and Square.
But just to confuse me another photograph taken by someone else of a stone circle just a kilometre further above Trefin Cove came along. Well this one is definitely modern as can be seen from the following link hopefully on Google Earth. What I did learn about Trefin, is that the ruined mill there had a famous poem written about it by the then archdruid Crwys, and that the memorial stone on the Presceli moor belonged to Waldo William, a famous welsh poet who was born in Haverfordwest but moved to Mynachlog-ddu when he was a child; the small village one heads for to see Carn Drygarn.
I also found out that the rather ugly Mathry church is seemingly built on an ancient site, its high and has a circular churchyard.

Trefin Cove modern circle;


Before we went to the Saxon church of St.Peter on Sunday, we had got up early to go blackberrying at Sandford Mill. The early morning light is as everyone knows, or should know, tinges everything with a soft rose glow, it has a special luminosity. We parked the car by an oak full of acorns, this has indeed been a fruitful year for all the wild berries and nuts. Over the stile into the field by the mill, a great bush covered in rosehips greets you, I might go back and pick some and make rosehip jelly, even if it is only to catch that lovely shade of orange/yellow they are at the present. Blackberries are starting to go over, but there are still a lot on the bushes. Tall teazels in the sunlight, red berries on the hawthorn, a tiny pale lemon closed flower on the ground which looked like a buttercup but was'nt. Which reminds me of the ladies bedstraw at St.Cedd's church which smelt very sweet, and the large stand of bulrushes (edit; not bulrushes but great reedmace)by the side of the track. All things to look up in Margery Blamey's book on wildflowers.
Back over the stile and we walk down to the leat by the bridge, looking down into the enlarged pond small fry dart around, then larger fish come into view, the water is clear and plenty of fish around. Over on the other side by the great willow, a small waterway has an emerald green scum on top, pondweed? or is it algae produced by the hot sun and field run off from fertilisers. There is plenty of these poisonous algaes around at the moment in the sea and rivers, killing off fish.
There are more blackberries down this lane, and the bag is starting to burst with the weight of the fruit, nettles tangle amongst the briar, picking them is a painful affair.
Following photographs, and was'nt the digital camera a marvellous thing , records what I see.

Water forget-me-nots on the other side

Green sludge

Rose hips

Teasels caught in the sun

Greater Reedmace on the track to St.Cedd's church

Old willow at Sandford mill

Pretty gall on wild rose

Teasels are extraordinarly exotic plants

Sunday, August 23, 2009

St.Cedd Church

Another visit to a favourite spot, the Celtic church of St.Cedd founded in 653 AD, and as can be seen from this article built out of a Roman fort, in fact on the entrance of the fort. When we were there before we wondered about its pagan history, after all it is one of the first Christian church to be built on a Roman spot, especially as there is a stone in the corner of the church, at odds with christianity.
It has a spiritual tranquillity that transcends a Christian viewpoint, its sober austerity in the flat sparse Essex fields overlooking marshy ground and the estuary gives it a timelessness that says here be a life of hardship. Cedd was one of four brothers all educated at Lindisfarne, he sailed down the coast to these Essex reaches, and built a wooden church here, but a year later he reused the roman stone to build the church that stands today, though of course it has been much modified in the medieval period as a barn.
The starkness in the landscape is emphasised by the great fields of wheat now shorn of their harvest, and in the distance the decommissioned Bradwell Nuclear station. It is a landscape where sky meets the sea and melds into the landscape, so that on walking the straight track down to the church (the old Roman road) it is impossible to distinguish where any of them meet, only the white sails of yachts tell their tale.

This little niche held a carved little figurine of St.Cedd probably, holding his church, the flowers were an offering by LS.

The far end, perfect simplicity with its large flagged stones

Othona Community

We found this building hidden in a copse, the Othona community welcome all religions, though Christian based, and was founded in 1946 just after the last war. I have a feeling that there is probably a green/hippy base to this community, but it looks a welcoming sort of place.

Marshy land in front of the church

A reconstruction

Harvested wheat field

Bradwell Power station and a great stack of bales being built the landscape is somewhat bizarre on this old airfield land

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Computers and Wasps

Your service will be activated on the 24th June at midnight; So say BT when they sent me my hub to connect my computer to the wireless system. Well we struggled for a few days to connect to the internet and eventually it began too work in a fashion for a few days. Until one morning, no connection, no association, nil, etc. Yesterday after a visit from a BT engineer it is finally working, almost two months to the date.
Technology is brilliant but it is exceedingly frustrating when it refuses to co-operate. To be quite honest it even would'nt work for the engineer and he got a bit confused when the hub would'nt let him access its secret, my computer programmes were overhauled, throw out Norton he says, cut out the other stations that seem to arrive on my router, all this was done after two hours and now it works. Wireless is not the 100 per cent whizz kid its cracked up to be but considering computers have'nt been around that long I suppose the internet has taken long strides of success. And yes we signed to the contract that is called Home IT Call, whereby phoning someone (probably in India) they can take over your computer thousands of miles away and fix it (hopefully).
This is the time of year when wasps make an appearance, as we picnic or dine out they appear as unwelcome guests. Apparently something to do with the queen dying and the drones having a last feast. Earlier this week eating out in the garden with friends I got stung by one of the wasps, people were flapping around, something you should never do as it makes them angry. Next day I took a ham sandwich out to eat, and a wasp duly appeared, and very beautifully and delicately sliced a small piece of ham off my sandwich on the plate and then flew off with it - makes you think - perhaps if we could leave an offering of food for the wasps, both the human and insect species would be happy.
There is also good news this morning for the great yellow bumble bee in Scotland, which seems to becoming scarce. The bees are happiest in the wild machair grasses with the abundant flowers that seem to provide plenty of pollen over a long period. Well there is to be a two million pound grant to farmers and crofters to manage the machair, grazing etc so that the bee and such birds as the corn crake can be saved from becoming extinct in this part of the world.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Companion planting and caterpillars

Caterpillars, or at least the little green one that develops into the white butterfly. Now under normal circumstances most gardeners get rid of these caterpillars, but I became intrigued by the way they ravished a pot of 'oriental' leaves for eating whilst leaving the lettuces alone.
The oriental leaves obviously came from the crucifera (cabbage) family, and as can be seen are devouring the leaves at a rapid pace.

Ravaging caterpillars

I had come across on another blog of silk butterflies?/moths being kept in this country for the silk cocoons they produce, they were kept in the house and did indeed produce cocoons. In Japanese sericulture, the pupae in the cocoon is suffocated (otherwise it would eat itself out of the silk), and is sent away to be spun, the outer silk of the bave is kept by the farmer and used for wadding or simple clothing.

The silk cocoon or bave is now unwound mechanically and its average length is seven to eight hundred metres, though before it undergoes this treatment it is placed or goes through hot water to remove the sericin (a proteinic gum) which holds the cocoon together. Having bought a quantity of gummed silk for spinning I found it impossible to spin or remove the gum without getting the thread in a terrible mess! But have been dyeing cotton, firstly with an acidic dye of lilac and also with alder fruit using the same mordant mix of salt and white vinegar that I used with the artificial dye, though with acid dyes you are supposed to use Glauber salts....

Light and dark lilac, with alder fruit (brown) and natural cream cotton

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Musings on books

Hollyhocks at Avebury, seems to have been a good year for these plants that love to grow in hot sun in practically soil less ground

Life has been quiet this last week, though I have been dyeing cotton to start a weaving project, but at the same time my mind had strayed to making small books, and when I had ordered my cotton yarn I also bought some handmade Lokta paper, with a brown hand printed (fern leave) paper for the cover. All that is in the future but my interest was sparked by someone I had met at our annual megameet in Avebury.
He is a graphic designer called Andrew Johnstone, (though his forum name is Common Era) and his degree final had been a wonderful book called The Prehistoric Peak, beautifully executed with a cover of leather, but not content with just this book, he had also produced a coffee table book of black and white images, and a whole boxful of coloured co-ordinated small walk guides for the peak. This project had run into thousands, but it had been done with such passionate commitment to the subject matter - them old stones - that one can only hope that he will get over the difficulty of photographing on National Trust sites - yes people 'big brother' has just arrived again, you have to get permission to photograph on their outdoor sites!
Anyway details of his book can be found here, on the Wordpress Heritage Journal
And, because I am very proud of how our democratic Journal is progressing Gordon Kingston's essay on 'Some Thoughts on Portal Dolmens' is pretty well spot on too ;)
My books on the other hand, will be kept as personal commonplace books, recording all the church material which has now gone across two blogs and needs drawing together. Though how I'm going to make them still needs to be worked out.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Walk by a Brook

A quiet walk along a small brook in the Essex countryside on a hot afternoon. Like the blackberries, sloes are thick on the bush, a soft dark sheen on their fruits, Rosebay willowherb lines the bank,and the Essex fields stretch out in the flat land full of ripe wheat, some fields are already harvested. Heavy green woods edge the fields, and butterflies and demoiselles galore. An old oak, probably 20 foot round, is full of acorns even though it is partly hollow inside, concrete posts support the bank on which it grows, this is a great giant which must be a couple of hundred years old, if not older. Children play in the ford down the narrow lane.

Dappled sunlight on the brook

Old Oak tree


The ford

Banks of Willow herb (fireweed)
And a rather trite rythming poem from Tennyson
called The Brook....

I come from haunts of coot and hern,
I make a sudden sally
And sparkle out among the fern,
To bicker down a valley.

By thirty hills I hurry down,
Or slip between the ridges,
By twenty thorpes, a little town,
And half a hundred bridges.

Till last by Philip's farm I flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.

With many a curve my banks I fret
By many a field and fallow,
And many a fairy foreland set
With willow-weed and mallow.

I wind about, and in and out,
With here a blossom sailing,
And here and there a lusty trout,
And here and there a grayling,

I slip, I slide, I gloom, I glance,
Among my skimming swallows;
I make the netted sunbeam dance
Against my sandy shallows.

I murmur under moon and stars
In brambly wildernesses;
I linger by my shingly bars;
I loiter round my cresses;

And out again I curve and flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever .

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Winterbourne Basset - St.Catherine Church

A lovely sunday morning, and a visit to this church set above the Winterbourne and which lies hidden behind some houses. It feels old, 13th century but has had bits and pieces added over time. Typical manorial church, but pretty with it, a sprawling flower bed on the south side played host to old fashioned flowers, Japanese anemones were in full flower, and marjoram and thyme flowers were covered in white butterflies. It said on the notice board that there was a service to be held at this church on the first of the month but no one had turned up, except the bell-ringer as we were leaving, and he turned round when he heard there was no one there. It is one of the small parish churches that are tied up with Clyffe Pypard down the road and Avebury church as well. One of the 'Winterbourne' churches, no evidence in the immediate vicinity of prehistoric stuff, but Hackpen Hill of course not so far away produces plenty.

Late 13th century effigies

South Porch

Early font with late wooden cover

The church and its relationship to the manor house

The church was dedicated to St. Catherine in the 16th century but was known as St. Peter's in 1848. Since 1904 it has been dedicated to ST. KATHERINE AND ST. PETER. Much of the building is of coursed sarsen rubble with freestone dressings. It has a chancel, a nave with north transeptal chapel, north aisle, and south porch, and a west tower. The earliest features are an early 13th-century font and a late 13th century effigy slab in the north chapel. The chancel and the nave with its aisle and chapel were apparently rebuilt in the mid 14th century although the nave may follow an older plan. In the late 15th century the tower was added, new windows were made in the north aisle, and the south-west corner of the nave, including a window and the south doorway, was rebuilt. Another window on the south side of the nave is of the 16th century. The south porch was added in 1611. Most of the fittings in the nave, including the pews, pulpit, and font cover, are of the 17th century. The chancel roof, which was lowered at that time, was raised again at a restoration of 1857. New roofs were then built over the nave, aisle, and transept
Ref; British History online.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Part Two - Piggle Dene

The great stone river of sarsens left over from some geological ice age happening is an impressive site, far more attractive than the Lockeridge outcrop a couple of kilometres away.

The 'grey wethers' or sarsen stones - a great drift or river of stone.

Trees and stones

There is a mystical element with the old hawthorns

Old stone gateways, there is another stone gateway in the top photograph

Joshua Pollard in his book, Avebury - A Biography of the Landscape, says that in the neolithic the people would have viewed the stones through this valley very differently and that they would have been set amongst a wooded landscape, giving a different 'feel' to them.
Differently shaped stones would have had an aesthetic and symbolic response to people passing by, the strange shapes of the sarsens would have acquired names or perhaps even neolithic folklore. Their flatness, buried in the earth gives them a benign nature, there is nothing aggressive about their smooth shapes, lichens colour the surfaces, there is a peaceful attractive -ness about them. There was a body found buried beneath a sarsen in the 19th century with a sarsen muller beside it. At Lockeridge as well a grave under one of the sarsens contained a crouched skeleton with a beaker and dagger.

A week end in Wiltshire part one

Music making

Several churches to be seen, a megalithic meeting in the run down pub at Avebury, and in the church there in the porch was a swallows nest with four little heads poking out as busy parents flew in and out feeding. Druids of course on the first day of August, plus a walk down the 'gray wethers' of Piggle Dene. And talking of sheep, why did all the black sheep get the comparitive cloistered calm of Silbury whilst the white sheep were being chased by children round the stones of Avebury.
But firstly the church at Clyffe Pypard, the cliffs can be seen behind the cattle, the ground is very marshy round the church, probably due to springs, and the giant horsetail was flourishing well, a beautiful pale green in the early evening light. The church itself is gloomy, in fact the whole feeling in the church yard is spooky and rather dismal. Nicholas Pevesner is buried here along with his wife Lola, they lived in a cottage at nearby Broad Town.

Handsome long-horned cattle in the field at Clyffe Pypard

Giant Horsetail in the very boggy land round the church

The rather gloomy church at Clyffe Pypard
Nicolas Pevesner's grave - His Buildings of England eventually ran into 42 books