Saturday, September 26, 2009

St Arild's Church

Photo copyright - David Napier under the Creative Commons

"Located on the southern fringes of the village, Oldbury's parish church stands boldly on the summit of a tumulus which may be pagan in origin, commanding fine views of the nearby Severn Estuary and downstream, the Severn Bridge motorway crossing opened in 1966."

St.Arild's church is one of those churches that come under the heading of christianised pagan site. Now I cannot verify if there is a tumulus under the church, but given its prominent position on top of a hill overlooking the Severn Estuary and with a well nearby that runs red giving rise to the legend of Saint Arild, there is indeed longevity in the use of the site, probably because of its position as a navigational point. The well is called a chalybeate one, meaning that it seems to run red, though chalybeate is really about iron in the water whereas the reason the water at St.Arild's well runs red is to do freshwater algae called Hildenbrandia rivularis. The following gives the legend of St.Arild. The circularity of the church yard also points to an earlier phrase in its history, probably giving it a pre-christian origin, and roman finds have also been found here.

"John Leland, the sixteenth-century traveller and writer gives us some more information, gathered during his visit to Gloucester Abbey. He tells us that St Arilda, 'martyred at Kington by Thornbury [and] translated to this monastery had done many miracles', and that she was martyred 'by one Muncius, a tyrant who cut off her head because she would not consent to lie with him'. Kington near Thornbury is now in the parish of Oldbury on Severn (which itself was once a chapel of ease to Thornbury church), and here we find the third memorial to St Arilda: her well. A local tradition that the water runs red with her blood is well-founded, as the stones in the well's outflow are stained red."

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Anglo-Saxon treasure discoveries

Damien Hirst has nothing to compare with what was found in this Saxon hoard - Dark Ages??? no such thing..........

Mystery Tour

The Chelmer River

The weather is beautiful this week, autumn at its best, soft winds and no rain. So today we went on a secret trip, at least it was secret for me.
The first call was The Food Company, very expensive, but nice to browse round, the first thing I noticed when we came in was the vegetables and fruit, but no home grown apples and pears in this month of beautiful English apples! Large mushrooms for stuffing, a pound each, and the large white Spanish onion which I have'nt seen for years. The meat counter had lean saltmarsh lamb chops, but the prices per kilos ranged from £20 to £30. Fish counter was good and enough comestibles to stock your larder for life but small jars at £3,£4,£5 is going over the top a bit. Fresh baked bread at £2.50, and beautiful hand made cakes and sweets. We did buy things, frozen mixed berries, cheeses which are my weakness and something reduced to eat for tea tonight.
Next the Cats pub, a favourite of mine, the inside of this old pub is covered with all types of cats, be they ornaments or prints, a large ploughman then we sat out in the garden, which overlooks a great brown field.
Late afternoon and as we drove back, and stopped at a small crossing, in an opening of a field gate, young grouse pottered around, whilst a small rabbit chewed grass at the side. We stopped off for a walk through Blake's Wood, and met a rather agitated couple who were doing a nine mile walk from Danbury and could'nt find the right path. The cleared space in the wood I had photographed this spring full of bluebells, now has thick bush like growths round the stumps of the trees cut.
One of those 'stolen' days that are not often experienced in our temperamental weather, the countryside at its best as it gently slips towards winter.

Grouse and small rabbit

The Cats Pub

Blakes Wood

View from the pub garden which blends into the field

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Rivers and Tracks

One of the things that keeps cropping up in my blog are rivers and brooks, so as an exercise I went through my photos to see what I could find.
Firstly is the River Kennet in flood one winter, I remember going with Moss and as I waded the water over the bridge, Moss carefully took himself off over the grass at the side, little snails clung to the grass to escape the water and in the swollen river a brown and white spaniel swam in the cold water.
The Solva river (in Pembrokeshire) photo is the path through the wood to Middle Mill where the strength of the water was used for the mill. Middle Mill is a favourite spot of mine, a place I've fancied living in, in the past. At Solva itself there is also another river or stream that runs down to the sea, here one has to climb the Gribin and descend the steep side to follow this small river in its 'drowned valley'.
The next brook is the Wellow that runs at the foot of the valley that the Stoney Littleton longbarrow overlooks. This is a very pretty brook, with its natural flora still intact.
The River Boyd is in Somerset, and travels by Wick Rock, it empties out into the River Avon at Keynsham, and it is at this junction a bronze age barrow is found.
The Bybrook in Wiltshire runs by the Nettleton Shrub Roman Temple, it also is the brook that runs through Castle Combe, one of those pretty Cotswold villages.

The Kennet in flood

Solva River

The Wellow Brook
The quarried rock at Wick, the small River Boyd runs through here. What makes Wick so interesting is the burial chamber about a mile from here, not very far from the river; and the fact that at the quarry, red ochre was also mined in the 19th century.

The River Boyd as it flows through the Golden Valley at Wick

This is the Bybrook, the brook that runs past Nettleton Shrub Roman Temple

The Bybrook running through Castle Combe

The little pack bridge over the Bybrook

Chalk grass flora at Nettleton Shrub

Reading a chapter in Prehistoric Religion and Ritual about double entrance henges, a subject touched upon in Stanton Drew. The idea put forward was that the two opposing entrances were in fact the trackway that lead from one place to another, a bit like a medieval walled city. The track could be old but what had happened over time was that subsequent trackways could have built up around the old ones, giving a 'braided' effect. The author of the article Roy Lovedale had put forward the premise that roman roads were often sited, or at least ran parallel to the course of the Neolithic tracks and had given examples as such.

Putting the theory to the test, my first thought was Stanton Drew and the entrance from the River Chew up through the large circle would come out, drawing a fairly straight line past The Cove, heading towards Chew Magna..... Priddy circles also has entrances running fairly parallel with the Roman road to the north....Whilst Bigbury Gorsey (North/south entrances) is situated very near to a Roman fort and settlement, and of course Cheddar Gorge.

Gorsey Bigbury

Minerals mined by the Romans on the Mendips, centred around Charterhouse, and the 'roman fortlet' to the right of the map. Lead and silver were mined, and there is evidence of smelting in the fort itself, also in the Roman settlement in the Town Field. Whilst there is no evidence of prehistoric mining, there is some evidence to suggest that lead was probably mined in the late Iron Age. Also a coin dated to Julius Caesar, has been found, which might represent an earlier excursion into these regions. A report here outlines the industrial nature of this part of the Mendips. Gorsey Bigbury is centre stage for bronze age barrows, the great Cheddar
Gorge and also Ebbor Gorge are to be found in this area, with of course the caves and swallets.

Interestingly the author in the report makes mention of the need for a lot of water for the extraction of lead, something that is in short supply up on this plateau.

Priddy Circles, with the Roman road going between third and fourth circle.

Two things strike you about Priddy Circles, firstly the roman road which goes on to the fortlet at Charterhouse, the other is of course the bronze age barrows that are very close. The Ashen Barrow group which is at right angles to the circles, whereas the very close Nine Barrow group curve slightly around following the ridge down to head towards the Priddy Circles.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Goathland Station

Goathland the village is approached over the North Yorkshire moors, past heather, stones and sheep pottering across the small road, this is Postman Pat countryside, and his tune always runs through my head as we go over the little bridge into the village.
Goathland is of course famous for the fact that the long running series 'Heartbeat' is filmed here, and that the the village is called Aikenfield, we had a drink at the Aikenfield pub, and true to style there was a few old Yorkshire men sitting round the tables, a pleasant place to stay the night but a bit pricey at £47.50 per person for B&B.
The village is a great tourist spot, and also had an old railway station snuggled down in a dip by the beck and one of those funny small bridges. The steam engines on this line goes as far as Whitby, and I've done the trip in the past, though it is expensive with all the family.
It is a lovely tranquil setting, the moors on either side, and there is talk of one day taking the line from Whitby to York as well which would be a godsend.


Two letters caught my eye this weekend, one in the Guardian and the other an email on Eric Avebury's blog.

Tribunes of the People, now thats a nice phrase to play with, it was a rant against the absurd mess we find ourselves in with the 'bankers fiscal hole'. As Penelope Newsome argues in her letter to the Guardian, if the banks returned the money we had lent them there would be no fiscal hole, and spending could be channelled into public services, which apparently now come under the heading of 'irresponsible overfunding' ouch! So paying a new appointee to the Royal Bank of Scotland £7m annual income is not irresponsible overfunding as well? Alice in Wonderland, or at least Lewis Carroll could not have written a better book on the folly of greed and stupidity. Our politicians have had their long summer break and presumably expect us to forget the 'expense scandal' that erupted beforehand, methinks there's something nasty lurking in the coal shed of our political system...Newsome ends 'And why are the people themselves being hoodwinked by immoral elites who are laughing all the way to the bank? Wake up people, we are walking over a precipice'

And the email on Eric Avebury's blog; Lord Avebury believes in 'right action' and campaigns diligently for the rights of people abroad, he is the other side of politics the good side that fights for justice. The email he printed was a response to the furore that has suddenly broken out in America about Obama's healthcare plans, and the backlash that came back on our own National Health service, when one of our politically motivated conservative members decided to trash the National Health care in America .....
Two sides of how our country works, maybe we profit from the games that bankers and city dealers play, we should take the rough with the smooth, accept the facts that corruption and greed maybe helps fund the universal health care we take for granted.... who knows.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Since I've been back from Whitby I've had emails from my granddaughter Matilda, and hopefully we will begin a dialogue that will continue. One of the things that was important going up North was to introduce my new partner to the family, well everything went well, Matilda got to be given a little special treatment, and my partner got to see the rather marvellous interaction of my four grandchildren. Surprisingly his favourite impression was when we all walked up to Whitby Museum, when little Lillie asserted her right to be 'first' and raced down the steep path on her short legs and the others all kept behind her. When we were in the museum, there was a quiz paper to fill in, two teams, Tom and Ben, me and Matilda, Lillie and her mum (she also had a pretend quiz paper), the boys won just about, though there was a certain cheating as we followed each other from display case to display case.
Captain Cooke set off from Whitby, and we had to find him in a fight with a polar bear which took ages, the commonest gull was easy but the 'hand of glory' was difficult. This grotesque, I think wax lifelike hand lay in its case, from what I gathered it was used by burglars, when they went into a house, they burnt it to frighten the occupants away? I never quite got the hang of the story.
Museums are strange place, cases full of long dead stuffed birds, boringly old fashioned ships galore, the local artist's gallery, someone called Weatherhill in the 19th century, old clothes, doll houses and dolls, this museum trip was voted for by Matilda, who is a great doll fan.
Funnily enough when we got back home, we had to go to the storehouse of the museum there to look at a large print (I went along for the ride). It was quite a large place out in the countryside, with great racks of print and paintings that are not on show, but as we wandered around the store, there was rocking horses, old 19th century clothes, carefully wrapped in plastic, a coarse cream smock hung up, beautifully stitched and lots of uniforms for the military side of the museum.
One of the things that brought some memories backs were the books I used to buy the children; today at the Oxfam shop I saw the Steven King my son read at one stage, James Patterson is Tom's favourite. But seeing Lillie I was reminded of Shirley Hughes 'Lucy and Tom', so they have been added to my wish list on Amazon. Also The Whitby Witches by Jarvis and the mice tales by the same author.
Managed to buy a couple of books at Oxfam, but the Stone Circles of the Peak by John Barnatt at £20 was too much, so I ended up with a book by John and Caitlin Matthews an Encyclopedia of Myths plus another druid book. And, feeling deprived of books, also ordered Christopher Tilley The Materiality of Stone, and with another book being sent by a friend Ritual and Religion by Tilley should have some reading material for a while.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Caedmon's poem

This is a 19th century carved Celtic Cross, it is dedicated to Caedmon the first Christian poet. The cross itself is beautifully carved with runes on one side and the pictorial element of David, Hild and Caedmon on the side above. There is also the latin inscription with birds and flowers on the left hand side. It stands in the graveyard of the church next to Whitby Abbey.

Praise now to the keeper of the kingdom of heaven,
the power of the creator, the profound mind
of the glorious father, who fashioned the beginning
of every wonder, the eternal lord.
For the children of men he made first
heaven as a roof, the holy creator.
Then the lord of mankind the everlasting shepherd,
ordained in the midst as a dwelling place,
almighty lord, the earth for men.

Caedmon's tale was told by Bede, and the elderly lay monk lived in the time of St.Hild at the abbey, who died in 680 ad, so Caedmon must have lived through the 7th century. The first text was recorded in Early Northumbrian in 749 ad, but the text below is late 11th century Saxon.

Nu we sculan herian / heofonrices Weard,
Metodes mihte / and his modgepone,
weore Wulderfaeder; / swa he wundra gehwaes,
ece Dryhten. / ord onstealde.
He aerest gesceop. / eordan bearnum
heofen to hrofe, / halig Scyppend;
oa middongeard / moneynnes Weard,
ece Dryhten, / aefter teode
firum foldan, / frea aelmihtig.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The hole of Holcrum

Known as the Hole of Holcrum this impressive indentation is not caused by giants throwing stones or meteorites from outer space, but by the constant drip of water from the sides I think. Evidence of prehistoric living as well, plus an ancient dyke.

My family

Gerald Durrell once wrote a book about My Family and Other Animals, which was a bit unfair, but there is plenty of gentle humour to be got from one's family. Two children have I, my son who is a computer expert/geek, and writes programmes, most of which seem to relate to complicated ones for Ghana where he spent some time with his best friend. My daughter on the other hand chose to have children and live in the wilds of Yorkshire running a childrens' clothes shop with her husband. She has blessed me with four grandchildren, and they all live in a tall Victorian terraced house up a very steep hill with Ollie the cat who has no tail.

The house is always in a state of renovation, though now the five bedrooms and two bathrooms are together, and it only remains for the central hall area to be painted (but this has to wait until funds are together to repair the ceiling). Whilst we were there the new boiler broke down over the weekend, which meant no hot water or heating. The children have variously occupied different rooms in the house over the years, but now are all settled. Darron my son-in-law has made an office in the attic, with state of the art computers and a number lock on his door, whilst next door Tom my eldest grandson resides in solitary splendour in his attic bedroom, approached by the way via very steep stairs. The attic has a tale to tell, at one stage in its early history, hens were kept up there, I think it had something to do with the butchers family that have a shop at Ruswarp.
Next floor down, Ben has the small bedroom now, whilst the two girls have the larger one, the large bathroom has been refurbished, and gleams white. Now that Ben and Matilda have reached the grown-up age of 7 and 8, they are trusted with plugs for the wash basin - twice they have deliberately let the water overflow, so that it drips into the bedroom below.
The next floor houses the big bedroom, which must have been the drawing room in another life, here the laptop is kept for general use, and children sprawl on the large bed waiting for a go on it.
A spare bedroom has also been created on this floor, and is now in soft browns, though last year was a pink girly room for Matilda.
Downstairs is a calm oasis and tidy, the children live far enough away so that the noise of squabbles are muted. Little Lillie the latest is fast growing up and follows in the tradition of 'tyrant' of the family demanding her own way in everything - and its easier that everyone gives in, rather than face her fury if she is not allowed to be first in everything.

The family, (without the noise) butter would'nt melt in her mouth, little Lillie; Tom dressed for his Sunday rugby game - he's pretty good and plays round the country; Ben who idolises Tom and is football mad; Matilda, or Boudicca in an earlier life; My daughter who gave birth to all of them and is foolishly contemplating having another one....

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Adding more useless facts to saints

Well someone has mentioned that the great Pentre Ifan cromlech lies also in a Samson field see TMA folklore by Rhiannon....

George Owen in his 'Description' apparently mentions that the field in which Pentre Ifan stands is called Corlan Samson - Samson's sheepfold. Were his sheep in keeping with his own huge size? It's a bit frightening to think of one big enough to squeeze itself under the capstone.

So the biblical story of Samson has been appended to some of the large stones that have been thrown from the summit of mountains to build the Welsh cromlechs, in many cases with one finger, this throws an interesting light on how this story of Samson came into being. But it looks like we are again with celtic monks who are hanging the christian story of the Herculean Samson onto an old celtic mythology of giants, after all the early British must have been just as confused by these old stones hearking back to an old religion as we are today.

Another tale that shows how near our 'desert' monks were to their celtic pagan brethren, this tale is of Columba's founding of the settlement of Iona, and to quote Geoffrey Ashe (Mythology of the British Isles) its graveyard is dedicated to Oran, and it is the royal graveyard of Scotland, 60 kings, Scottish, Irish and Norwegian are buried here.

One of the tales goes that when Columba arrived he wanted to consecrate the ground with a burial, though according to another version of the tale, the monastic quarters could not be built because the walls kept collapsing and it needed a live burial there. Well up spoke Oran, who had been having a quarrel with another monk about heaven and hell, and he volunteered to be buried! So a pit was dug, Oran placed in it and then the pit was lightly filled (it does'nt say with what in the story). But 20 days later the pit was opened, and Oran's head appeared and uttered these damning words....

'Heaven is not what it is said to be;
Hell is not what it is said to be;
The saved are not for ever happy;
The damned are not for ever lost'

Well this rather jaundiced view of religion seems to reflect the Pelagasian heresy of the old celtic monks, with just a touch of the 'head' motif.

Today we are off to Whitby for the weekend to see my grandchildren, who fortunately are'nt a bit religious and will be more interested in what I have bought them rather than dreary saints, though Whitby of course also likes to dabble in myth with the annual Goths 'do' in the town, when vamperish females in black stalk the town.....

and also a fleeting visit from Darth Vader and his crew to Whitby

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Saints and Stones

Carreg Samson

In this instance Samson is the saint, or to be more precise Bishop Samson of Dol (485-565). His name has been appended to a lot of stones, the reason why is not known but there are a few in Pembrokeshire, Carreg Samson perhaps being the most famous. Though the answer here may be that the small island just in front of this cromlech accounts for his presence as there is also the Grave of St.Samson's Finger; one of the stories is that he threw the stones from the island to the mainland. There is also another small cromlech Carnwynda which has his name attached.
Therefore at Longhouse Farm we have Carreg Samson;
Trelly's cromlech in St.Nicholas is Ffyst Samson (Samson's flail)
St.Samson Finger
At Nevern there is Bedd Samson (Samson's Grave).
At Llanfyrnach a great stone said to have been thrown the summit of Freni Fawr in the Prescilies.
Two other cromlechs, one already mentioned at Garn Wynda, the other at Garn Wen
Information taken from Myths and Legends of Wales retold by Tony Roberts

Turning to Breverton, a fuller history reveals that this saint is supposed to have incised a cross on a pagan stone in the district of Tricurius in Cornwall. Three stones in Glamorgan named after him, and there a couple at Dol in Brittany.

Interestingly, there is a tiny (ruined) Chapel at Merythr Mawr set within an Iron age hill fort with two early christian burial stones inside the chapel. One was called the 'Goblin Stone', the story being that a goblin would grab the hands and feet of passers-by and force them through the four holes of the celtic cross.
In the written record his uncle is supposed to be the famous King Arthur (Arthwys ap Meurig)and that his cousin Morgan became king of Glamorgan.

Garn Wynda/Carreg Samson

This particular type of cromlech is known as a sub-megalithic, because the capstone rests on the ground, sub megalithic cromlechs are a particular feature of this area of Pembrokeshire. Though it looks easy to find, this particular one was difficult, they are hidden in the jumble of rocks similar to the ones at Carn Llidi on St.David's Head.
Also managed to jam the lock of the car here, and stood outside the car with my dog panicking on this lonely Welsh lane, eventually drew my wits together and managed to gently unlock it. The car was not happy this time in Wales, and kept heating up with steam gently billowing out of the bonnet. As I had been told it did not need water, was somewhat perplexed where to put it..but travelling out of Haverfordwest back home, it did it again, pulling into a layby and slowly coming to a stop. A police car pulled up behind me, and as the nicest person in the world at that time he identified my problem and went over the road to a golf course and brought back water for me, admonishing me to drive carefully and stop and fill up at garages along the way!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The wild Alexanders/Angelica

Plants of the Celery Order, which would be of some use for their form had we not so many fine hardy plants in the same family. A.Arch-angelica is a well-known plant in most kitchen gardens. Used for conserves; as a vegetable in the north; the roots in medicine and the seeds in making liquer. to quote W.Robinson in the English Flower Garden.

This plant led me a merry dance through books, when I had photographed it (see below) my mind had absentmindedly said Angelica Alexanders the stem of which you candy, but on checking through The Illustrated Flora, Alexanders (smyriunum perfoliatum) and Angelicas (angelica sylvestris) were listed as separate plants - though they look very similar - Robinson provided the clue of course, they more or less all come from the same family and look very much like the cow parsleys, only that the angelicas like to grow in damp places and by rivers, but are edible.
Grigson (The Englishman's Flora) says of this plant that the Alexanders are a relic of old cultivation as a pot herb or vegetable (probably similar to lovage which also has celery tasting leaves and grows enormously in a true Alexandrian fashion) a naturalized plant from the Mediterranean. It was mentioned in 1562 as growing on Steep Holm in the Bristol Channel, where there had a small religious house in the middle ages, and it can often be found by the ruins of castles and abbeys both in England and Wales.
These 13th century monks on Steep Holm apparently left peonies, alexanders, both still growing there to this day, and caper spurge, garlic and red valerian, all must have been grown in their physics garden.
You can make a soup of the alexander, nettles and watercress apparently, so that should some terrible catastrophe befall the supermarkets, wild foraging of the plants will produce a meal, though perhaps a rabbit could be added to the pot as well.
The Lovage plant; which as can be seen from the following article has similar properties to the Alexanders.
Note; all these umbelliferae plants belong to a large family and some are poisonous, like mushrooms identification is crucial, hogweed is one of them, though it looks like a cow parsley; hogweed is identified by the spotting on the stalk.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Banks of Green Willow

This music has been haunting me over the weekend, but could'nt remember the title till walking by a brook, the old willows everywhere made me remember. Essex is a very pretty county in its hidden corners, all the waterways seemed to be lined with shimmering gray-green willows and the red gold of the harvested fields is an extraordinary contrast. Two things which are a 'first' for me, plants, set amongst the nettles, that look like angelica, and good sized fish in the brook.


Old willows, there were a couple that had fallen over the brook

fish in the shallow pools

a clear stretch

choked up with reedmace and flag irises