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Friday, October 30, 2009

What Katy Did Next

Well the title might be misleading, its taken from those books I read when a child, about the late 19th century fortunes of Katy and her family and of course Louise M.Alcott's Little Women.
Well this is not about that Katy but about the non-celebrity Katie Price aka Jordan, who was in town yesterday signing her book (ghost written presumably). I have just read her biography on Wikipedia, knowing nothing about but am furious at her!
Post offices are shutting down everywhere, our government is letting another institution go to the wall with little thought to how we are going to get our letter, parcels, cards etc posted.
So where does our Katie come in to all this, well our local post office has just closed which means a visit to town to the main one for forms.... but, you are never going to believe this, this main office is situated on the first floor of W.H.Smith, and Katie was signing her latest book downstairs. Half a dozen police officers outside and a couple of hundred young females were barricaded between metal barriers clutching their books to be signed. Is she the heroine these young females should aspire to? no, a life of thrusting oneself into the limelight with a pair of big boobs, that seem to go up and down in size as the will takes her, and writing crap in ridiculous magazines is not what the female revolution was all about! though apparently she is very, very rich on all this!
Deciding not to go into Smiths meant coming back to another local post office (closed though because of the strike), all I wanted was a form, yes we can get stamps from our local supermarket, but they don't weigh large envelopes, etc. Another thing as small shops disappear everywhere, it is wise to note that supermarkets only hold a couple of days food, so in case of emergencies have a few tins put by like the Swiss who have to carry a fortnight's spare cache...
Knitting and presents has been my preoccupation this week, a funky pink scarf for Matilda, wooden puzzles for Lillie, and probably some wooden games I spied in one of those shops for the boys.
The children have been banned from Amazon wish lists "Mum and dad are now saying were not aloud on amazon for a strange reson???" according to Matilda yesterday....
Still the weather is beautifully autumny and it would be nice to go into the country for a walk and not face Sainsbury shopping this morning...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Wild Hunt at Halloween

yn annwfyn ydiwyth, in Annwfyn the peacefulness,
yn annwfyn ygorwyth in Annwfyn the wrath,
yn annwfyn is eluyd in Annwfyn below the earth

Halloween approaches and maybe the Wild Hunt will take to the skies. It is supposed to come from the kingdom of Annwn in the Welsh version, neither heaven or hell it is like middle-earth, here it is the god Lugh who rides across the sky with his hounds, white with red tipped ears. Maybe the hunt starts from Glastonbury Tor, who knows. They ride through the sky and those that dare look at them are not long on this earth.

Its story has its roots in Germanic or Gaulish stories, one tribe the Harii painting themselves black to attack their neighbours, another tribe the Heruli, nomadic wolf-warriors were dedicated to Wodan.
Or we could go to the Scandinavian version, here the Norse god Odin rides Sleipnir across the skies, if you saw it passing and cursed or mocked it very soon you would vanish from this earth but if you joined in you would be rewarded.

A black dog is also part of the tale, and if you found it on your hearth, than you could exorcise (not exercise it which is a very different thing!) it, similar to the custom for removing changelings, but if that did'nt work you had to look after the dog for a whole year very carefully!

The black dog legend, a story motif that occurs all over Britain, can be found in a northern version, here the dog is called Barghest, which is the name given to a special phantasmal dog. It is supposed to prowl the narrow alleyways of York, and also in Whitby along its narrow streets. The story of Dracula written by Bram Stoker in Whitby, has Dracula changing into a black dog as he leaves the ship for the town, and in this picture Robin Jarvis has him coming down the 199 steps in his children's books called the Whitby Witches.

And according to Wikipedia "The object of this phantom hunt varied greatly, and was either [that of] a visionary boar or wild horse, white-breasted maidens who were caught and borne away bound only once in seven years, or the wood nymphs, called Moss Maidens, who were thought to represent the autumn leaves torn from the trees and whirled away by the wintry gale." Whatever the case, the Hunt was most often seen in the autumn and winter, when the winds blew the fiercest."

Moss maidens of course could live in Wistman's Wood, one of those haunting places with gnarled miniature oaks softly covered in moss.

Mossy Wistman Wood

The Hosting of the Sidhe

The host is riding from Knocknarea
And over the grave of Clooth-na-Bare;
Caoilte tossing his burning hair,
And Niamh calling Away, come away:
Empty your heart of its mortal dream.
The winds awaken, the leaves whirl round,
Our cheeks are pale, our hair is unbound,
Our breasts are heaving our eyes are agleam,
Our arms are waving our lips are apart;
And if any gaze on our rushing band,
We come between him and the deed of his hand,
We come between him and the hope of his heart.
The host is rushing 'twixt night and day,
And where is there hope or deed as fair?
Caoilte tossing his burning hair,
And Niamh calling Away, come away.
William Butler Yeats

The 199 steps

All in all halloween or All Saints Night is a time for telling stories of the risen dead, as they coming knocking on your door with their skeletal fingers - its best not to let them in.

I shall not tell them to my grandchildren the two girls have already frightened themselves to death with a ghost story Matilda brought home a few days ago, of a ghost looking through the window, and even little Lillie who doe'snt actually know what a ghost is was scared stiff!

photos from the creative commons, and quite a lot of the information from Wikipedia

Children's book reading;

Hugh Scott - the Shaman Stone; Martha's father dies while investigating the Rollright Stones. She believes that he is reaching out to her, and in this haunted atmosphere the story of the Shaman's stone is unfolded.

Hugh Scott - Why Weeps The Brogan

Hugh Scott - The Haunted Sand

Yaxley's Cat - Robert Westall.....

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Ponies and children books

Something happens around 4 o clock in the afternoon, as the little family gather for tea? or to watch the children come home.

By the pub garden

Inquisitive young

This little family of ponies are incredibly sweet, there is a bond between them all, one wonders what will happen when these two grow up.

Children books, its been a week for the old stories to come to the fore. Firstly, there is Asterix having a 40th birthday, can't say that I bought all of those marvellous books for my son but I bought a great many of them, they were then handed on to my first grandchild, but memories of standing in Waterstones perusing the titles and trying to remember which we had at home comes back to me.

Next Mr.Fox has been made into a film, Roald Dahl is seen as something of a cruel writer, but very readable, my favourite is The Giant Peach not Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Then this morning its Maurice Sendak and The Wild Things that have also been made into a film; surrealistic illustrations is my memory of the book but another favourite with the children.

What else, well I've ordered Shirley Hughes Tom and Lucy books for Lillie the smallest, if only for her marvellous illustrations.

There seems to be a rennaisance of children's books, and I must admit I enjoy them as much as the children. My own treat last year was a set of Fairy Tales by the Folio Society, and the Wind In The Willows cover is absolutely stunning. But strangely my favourite is a rather obscure book called The Little Grey Men by 'BB' - a tale of three gnomes who set off down the stream in a toy boat to find their friend who has disappeared, and though they only travel a mile or two, their adventures are well told as they drift through, spring, summer and autumn, ending up with a very strange meeting with the great god Pan.

And just as I was writing this, a radio programme on Masquerade by Kit Williams - the hunting of the golden hare - has been on, a book I still have, apparently after the finding of the hare (by devious means and old girlfriends!) it disappeared for years but Kit Williams now seems to have it in his possesion.
What is it about the approach of dark nights (the clocks goes back tonight) and halloween next week we all go back to childish things!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Stanton Drew and Folklore

The following which is taken from John Wood's book A Description of Bath of 1765 describes the superstition that lay round the Wedding stones of Stanton Drew as seen by the local people. People being turned to stone, and also drinking from the stones, which is a slightly different aspect of the story.

John Wood had a weird and wonderful theory about Stanton Drew and Druids, that belongs elsewhere, but in writing his book he gave valuable information as to the the existence of the two Tyning stones, and another folklore story about Hakill the Giant who in good giant tradition threw The Coit from Maes Knoll, a hill situated west from Stanton Drew, which also encompasses Maes Knoll Hillfort and the great Wansdyke barrier which either divided two kingdoms in the late British Iron Age or was some form of defense. The work of giants perhaps recognised by our 18th century inhabitants but not rationalised as they are today!

Stanton Drew in the County of Somerset
That's where the Devil played at Sue's request,
They paid the price for dancing on a Sunday.
Now they are standing evermore at rest.

The Wedding Stones
"The remains of this model bear the name of The Wedding, from a tradition that as a woman was going to be married, she and the rest of the company were changed into the stones of which they consist "No one," says the Country People about Stantondrue, was ever able to reckon the "number of these metamorphosed Stones", or to take "a draught of them" or tho' several have attempted to do both, and proceeded till they were either struck dead upon the spot, or with such an illness as soon carried them off.
This was seriously told to me when I began to a Plan of them (the stones) on the 12th August 1740 to deter me from proceeding: And as a storm accidentally arose just after, and blew down part of a Great Tree near the body of the work, the people were then thoroughly satisfied that I had disturbed the Guardian Spirits of the metamorphosed Stones, and from thence great pains were taken to convince me of the Impiety of intent I was about.
Hakim's Quoit
Large flat stone called Hakill on the north-east side of the river by which Stantondrue is situated: And this stone tho' greatly delapidated is till ten feet long, six feet broad, near two feet thick, and lies about 1860 feet from the centre of the circle.
....Now if we draw a line from the centre of the Circle D, to the centre of the Circle B and produce it westward 992 feet, it will terminate on three stones in a garden (Druid Arms now) by the parish church of Stantondrue: two of which stones are erect, and the other lies flat on the ground............. it will terminate on two stone lying flat on the ground in a field call the Lower-Tining (stones now vanished).
In plowing the ground of Maes Knoll as well as that of Solsbury Hill, the people frequently turned up burnt stones, and often find other Marks to prove each Place to have been long inhabited: the former, according to a Tradition among the people of the Country thereabouts, was the Residence of one Hakill, a Giant, who is reported to have toss'd the Coit that make part of the works of Stantondrue from the Top of that Hill to the place where it now lies: He is also reported to have made Maes-Knoll Tump with one spadeful of Earth, and to had the village underneath that Hill given him......
The 'wedding stones' story is found at other stone circles, the wedding taking place on a Saturday and lasting through the night into Sunday, when they were all turned to stone by the piper/harper, or in this case the 'devil'. The christian church again concocting a story to stop people enjoying themselves, one wonders where this story originally came into the history timeline.
The Giant story again a very familar motif in folklore, throwing stones of course explains the long distance some of these stones seem to have travelled down into valleys where there is no obvious sign of stone.
Funnily in these tales caught from the past about Stanton Drew there is no 'drinking stone' myth whereby they would have gone down to the river Chew and refreshed themselves.
The 'Song of Stanton Drew' can be found here

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Sandford Brook

Seagulls follow the plough

We have walked beside this brook several times, its incredibly neglected and yet has that aura of a natural ecosystem getting on with its survival, unworried by human intervention. The brook flows through farmland, ploughed fields on either side, but the farmer is gentle with his use of the plough, and there seems to be bulwarks of unploughed grassland protecting the brook, as it finds its way through a choked waterway.
It curves in a sinuous fashion, a dark brown ribbon threading its way through watercress and tumbled branches, sometimes lost in vegetation, but bubble rising to the surface will indicate its flow. This is not a chalk stream, that flows crystal clear, yet stare into its shallow pools long enough and you will see clear water that the fish enjoy.
The old fallen willow sprawled across the banks, has flood debris caught up in its branches, showing that the brook must rise about five feet when in full flood. This part of Essex has a beautiful landscape of richly furrowed fields set amid rolling woodlands, a farmed landscape that is at home with its underlying fragments of wilderness that escape to the far corners of fields; trees die gracefully in old age, the silver leafed willow is predominate around the rivers and brooks, its fissured trunk often covered in lichen to reflect the clean air. The heavy weeds of nettle, cow parsley and field weeds are very much in evidence.
The fish, though being no expert, are probably graylings (Thymallus thymallus), because apparently they smell like thyme when taken out of the water.

The fish gently swimming against the current as they enjoy a patch of sun

disappearing into the distance

Old willows

looking up into the willow on a perfect warm October day

the fallen willow

natural debris

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Abbot Illtud

Abbot Illtud c.475-525/537; This Abbot is no saintly monk to begin with, but was a knight and a warrior until a great tragedy overtook him when all his soldiers were drowned in a swamp.

It's difficult to start when myth and story are mixed up, that he seemed to have studied to become a monk at the monastery of Cassian, near Marseille, and that he is also of Breton origin is part of the story, his father being Bicanus a noble man and his mother the daughter of (Anblaud, Amlawdd Wledig) king of Britain.

That he was a warrior is down to the story that he served the king of Glamorgan, Pawl, and the following dramatic event happened. He lost 50 men, here the story diverges into the fact that they were either monks or soldiers, who were 'swallowed up into the earth'. Breverton goes with the story that they were soldiers, and it is well to remember that these 'celtic' monks were living in a time of turbulence and warfare, and were often of high class, as indeed Illtud was. Breverton speculates that the tragedy took place at Llancarfan, where 7 streams flow and the ford is often flooded there.

Anyway our knight turned monk was admonished by an angel to turn his wife away, Trinihid, and never communicate with her again. So our Illtud took himself off from the court of Pawl and became a monk on the banks of the river Hodnant, and of course eventually built the great monastery of Llanilltud.

He has had many churches dedicated to him, also in Brittany, here he was the patron saint of poultry. In some sources it is stated that he taught David, as well as Samson, Maelgwyn, and others and that he is buried at Bedd Gwyl Illytd in Brecon,

His legends are a touch unbelievable but are'nt they all he was often given to going on retreats to a cave. Basically because he got into trouble with the local king at Llanilltud Fawr - Merchwyn Wylt of Gorfnedd; firstly he seems to have melted the king's steward before a fire and Illtud was forced to flee to a cave. He returned to the monastery after a year but again found himself in trouble with another royal steward, who unfortunately got himself 'swallowed' by the marsh. The king furious and wanting revenge arrived at Llanilltud with his men but suffered the same fate as the royal steward, there was no end to Illtud's ability to kill those he found obstreperous, or maybe it was the divine hand of the angels or god according to the Life of St.Illtud here , which gives a long account of his various 'miraculous exploits.
He was credited as having invented a special plough, the fields around the monastery were full of limestone rock, and before his time it was customary to cultivate the land by mattock and an 'over-treading plough'; he also so it is said claimed land back from the sea.
There is such a lot of 'celtic' myth in the stories wrapped round Illtud, this of course because is story was recorded much later by the monks, so that there is that inevitable twinning of pagan stories being woven into christian angels, and 'miracles', that it is difficult to know where to begin. He is credited with taming a stag and saving it from the king who was out hunting at the time. This stag was to help pull his cart at a later stage, though another version of the story gives the animal as half horse/ half stag.

Maen Illtud at Llanhamlach is known as Ty Illtyd - a dolmen thought to be Illutd's hermitage, and a standing stone at Llanhamlach stands opposite Peterstone Court..ref: Breverton

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Pointed Stone in the Icy Corner

Now that is a name to conjure with but this Welsh, presumably prehistoric stone, found in the entrance porch of Corwen Church looks as weird as its name that it acquired over time. It is known in Welsh as 'Carreg y big yn y fach rhewllyd'.
Delving into the history of the church and we find that the two saints that it is named after, Mael and Sulien are early 6th century saints coming from Brittany. Corwen itself being an important Roman crossroad coming from London to Holyhead.
There is not much information on Mael but Sulien with his cousin Cadfan settled at Bardsey Island. There are many dedications to Sulien across Wales, from the Gower coast to Wrexham, sometimes his name being spelt Silian, and like all good saints his cult is strong in Brittany and Cornwall.. There is a well Ffynnon Sulien about a mile away the church, and other prehistoric sites.
Interestingly a fair was held on May 13th Ffynnon Fael, and at Llansilin in Denbighshire on October 1st, up until the 19th century, the last tuft of corn cut, the 'harvest mare' was mixed with the seed corn for the following year 'to teach it to grow'. The ashes from the 'yule log' were also used mixed with the 'mare' and 'seed', the harvest mare evolving into the corn dolly we see today. So says Breverton though it would be interesting to read other versions of how the corn-dolly came into existence, though less of the romanticised versions we find in the latest tranche of 'mystical' books.
Why was the stone built into the wall is the question, my theory is that it was such a scary stone that no one dared pull it out of the ground, but of course it could also point to the fact that with other prehistoric sites in the vicinity and it being an important Roman road junction, our two saints could easily have founded their church on an old 'pagan' site in their terminology, there would probably also have been a roman pagan shrine somewhere in the vicinity as well.

ref; The Book of Welsh Saints - T.D.Breverton
Another stone with a rather pointed top comes from Glandwr's churchyard, this having Ogam cut on its side. The stone found in the church yard, or probably chapel, maybe has links with the Via Julia that seems to be found round here according to the map.....
Note; Via Julia Montana - from Caerlon to Carmathen

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Chelmer - Sandford Mill

A walk by the Chelmer yesterday revealed another part of its history as a navigational water route. This time it was Sandford Mill. Intermittent sun had bought out a butterfly on the nectar rich late ivy flowers, a large hornet was also feasting so I only took a photo of the butterfly. Once many years ago riding in Epping forest, I had stopped for a break, and all of a sudden a hornet appeared. My panic stricken horse just threw one almighty wobbly before dashing into a blackberry thicket to rid herself of it, never will I mess with hornets.
But to return to the canal, two brick bridges grace this part of the river, one by the lock-keepers house. This rather original wooden house replaces an earlier, probably Victorian house, that can be seen in the old picture with the horse drawn barge.
This is rather a lost part of Chelmsford, low-lying fields will hopefully never be built upon because of the flooding which can turn the fields by the Barnes pub into a lake.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Prittlewell Saxon Burial/Staffordshire Hoard

Pictures of all the Staffordshire Hoard have been put on Flickr under the Creative Commons, attributed to Staffordshire Hoard website.

....Hildeguth heartening him,
Never shall work of Wayland fail
a master of Mimming, a man who knows
the handling of that blade, bleeding from its wounds,
lords and aethlings are laid on the field...

This Anglo-Saxon text taken from the fragmented prose of Waldere, is copied from Michael Alexander' s The Earliest English Poems and its' concluding lines reminds us of what battles were fought for in a history founded on myth, glory and heroics. Wayland is the blacksmith of legend forging the great swords like Mimming..........
If he has enemies against whom
He must guard his life's hoard. It has not let me down
when untrue kinsmen have betrayed me
and turned swords on me, as yourselves have done

Prittlewell Saxon Burial
The quality and preservation of the Prittlewell Chamber Tomb has led to inevitable comparisons with the Sutton Hoo Ship Burial and associated graves. The artefacts found were of a quality that it is likely that Prittlewell was a tomb of one of the Kings of Essex and the discovery of golden foil crosses indicates that the inhabitant was an early Christian. Other objects, such as the Coptic bowl and flagon, appear to point the same way. This suggests that it was either Saebert (died 616 AD) or Sigeberht II the Good (murdered 653 AD), who are the two East Saxon Kings known to have converted to Christianity during this period. It is, however, also possible that the occupant is of some other wealthy and powerful individual whose identity has gone unrecorded.......

So says the blurb on Wikipedia, but with the event of the marvellous Staffordshire gold Hoard that has recently been discovered and it being hailed as a greater find than Sutton Hoo, it is also well to remember the Prittlewell Saxon burial of a rich individual, who may also have been one of the Saxon kings.
The unusual factor about our 'christianised' king was that he had a pagan burial, probably arranged by his sons. A reconstruction appeared in the British Archaeology magazine at the time, and as I was in to miniature making I reconstructed the wooden burial chamber over a few days out of curiosity.
I used balsa wood for the planking, it is easy to 'distress' with a fine file, and the rest came from bits and pieces. The little bags hanging up are from fine leather from inside a purse, similar to the seating of the little 'folding 'roman' chair. Pegging material is from a specialist wood person, and the stave barrel is made from cardboard strips bound with some material. The bowls are silver chased Persian salt cellars given to me by my mother-in-law. The gold crosses I made from tin were I think found on his breast, but there was sword, etc, food pots and jars for liquid to feed him in the 'otherworld'.
But what struck me this morning was the similarity between the stave church at Greensted and the planked interior of the tomb.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Staffordshire Hoard
What we have of course in the Staffordshire Hoard found in Mercian country, is another exciting episode which may give us a different history from those found in in our text books, the appeal to the christian god, 'Rise up O lord, and may thy enemies be scattered, and those who hate thee be driven from thy face' on the gold strip bent and worn; the fact that most of the gold pieces seem to belong to bits of the sword, with the tantalising fact that it is sword fittings that were handed over as if in defeat, very similar to a line in Beowulf....... when 'the gold hilt was handed over to the old lord, a relic from long ago'. Could this Mercian hoard of the 7th or 8th century change our perception of history, rethinking chronology of metalwork and manuscripts.

Greensted Staved Church



Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Jumping barge horses

As someone who is always curious as to how things work, we had been puzzling how the canal horses work on the Chelmer Navigational system when there were horse drawn barges, and they had to get from one side to another. Well I stumbled on the answer today, they jumped on to the barges of course and were taken across, this fascinating article by Dudley Courtman explains the how; comparing my handsome black horse to Constable was the clue, it was a Constable picture of a rearing horse that held the truth...........

Jumping Barge Horses on the River Stour
Some of the celebrated paintings of John Constable illustrate this fact most clearly. The White Horse shows a horse being ferried from one bank to the other. The riparian owners of the time had to be persuaded to agree to provide access to their land, consequently the tow path constantly changed sides. It would have been too expensive to build lots of bridges, which meant that a horse had to jump on and off a barge 40 times on the 26 mile journey from Sudbury to the sea. Special jumping stages were provided. It would seem that the barge would be poled close to the bank and, at the optimum moment, the horse would leap aboard, or off, as the case might be. It is recorded that not all jumps were successful and some horses were injured. As if the horses did not have enough to cope with they also had boundary fences to overcome. These had to be at least 2ft 10ins high so that the horse could jump them and the cattle couldn't!
Brian Osman in his article, Barge horses on the River Stour, draws our attention to Constable's painting; The Leaping Horse (1825) is a vivid illustration of how the horses performed a standing leap. The horse is gathering himself up ready to tilt over the fence. This position is the same as that used by the Spanish Riding School in Vienna , where, depending on the angle the horse's body makes with the ground, it is called Levade( 30 degrees) or Pesade (40 degrees). John Constable's picture is carefully observed. The horse is posed ready to tilt forward. The swingle tree lies on the ground attached to the traces, which are slack. A figure half hidden by the tree appears to be taking up the slack in the towrope that is attached to the boat. He may also be lifting it over the fence rails beside the river. The tow rope is not disconnected: presumably frequent disconnections would be too time consuming. The tilt forward would have to be carefully controlled so that the swingle tree did not fly forward and clobber the horse or its rider. It is possible the figure on the ground would have been ready to check the rope to prevent this. ................

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Gypsy Horses

He should be in a Constable painting

I quite like the idea of the following being gypsy horses, as they are of course, they have the unkempt air of freedom as they graze the large water meadows down by the river. The two foals are gorgeous and the handsome black gelding has that heavy thickness of a good cart horse. Captured under the willow having a doze, he takes one's mind back to a more peaceful time, when horses ploughed the fields and the world moved at a slower pace.

Two foals, the other mare is down by the river

tender scratching moments

The other two

Sleeping in the shade of the willow tree

Mother and foal show similar markings

Nostalgia.... Gilbert O'Sullivan's name came up on the radio, gosh says I to my love I used to fancy him, though looking at that bouffant hair style not quite sure why. Only to be told that he had actually gone to art school with him and sold him a fireman's jacket for 10 bob (don't ask).
Anyway his music reminded me of Top of the Pops and my daughter teaching my little son to dance on thursday evenings....

Saturday, October 3, 2009


Yesterday I decided to make a fruitcake, and duly put in the dried fruit to soak in tea last night, but then I got thinking about the history of this substantial food. Fruitcake and a slice of cheese by the way are excellent fodder when walking for a long time and one gets physically weak from hunger and the nearest shop or pub is miles away......

First of all pound cakes this seems to come from America but must have surely been exported when a lot of British people emigrated in the 18th century. Probably there was no such things as proper scales so the logical thing to do was to take eight eggs, which weigh about a pound, then weigh equal measurements of flour, butter and sugar, and dried fruit got added to the mix when you had some. There is a history here of the fruitcake, which seems to have started in Roman times with different ingredients.

Susan Hartley's book Food in England gets consulted but not much on fruitcakes, though I notice you can make 'snow' pancakes. Make the batter, then go outside take a spoonful of snow put it into the batter, then fry swiftly before the snow entirely melts, leaving holes in the pancakes!

Crempog or Welsh pancakes;

half a pound of flour, piece of butter the size of a walnut rubbed in, buttermilk to mix (you can add a few drops of vinegar if there is no buttermilk to be found), beat one egg, add it, then leave to stand for one hour. Before frying add half a teaspoon of bicarb. of soda. Sounds like those funny batter things you can make quickly if you have no cakes in the house for unexpected visitors, top with butter that will melt on the hot cake and sprinkle with icing sugar - delicious.

Friday, October 2, 2009


As a break from my saints and churches, which even bores me sometimes, some photographs of horses by the river Chelmer. I love horses, and often think of owning a couple and then taking to the paths of England, but they are incredibly expensive creatures and though beautiful can be unpredictable.
They are not laughing in the photos but have just woken up from their afternoon siesta and are yawning, surrounded by electric fencing these rather elegant creatures amuse us when we go on a walk, the grey and the brown are geldings and do a lot of 'I'm boss here stuff' which entails snorting, stamping of feet and mock charges.

Stopping for a drink in a Wiltshire pub

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Alphamstone Stone Circle

St.Barnabas church

I had forgotten about this stone circle on the boundary between Suffolk and Essex. The county of Essex has been accurately described as a megalithic desert it does have pudding stones around and they may heark back to prehistoric times but Alphamstone has the church of St.Barnabas and seven sarsen stones, though I'm not sure the two in the church foundations are counted, so it may make it nine.

Bronze age burial urns have been found and also Roman material, and it has the classic signs of a church built on a high rise above a river, the Stour being the river in this case.

Sarsen is unusual for Essex, and the stones must have come from the river gravel of the Stour, being dragged up the hill to the site of the church.

The village or hamlet of Alphamstone is approached through a maze of lanes, and the church tower wooden spired. The two stones sunk deep in the foundation can be viewed from inside the church, one having a peculiar texture. The other stones are under the hedge, and can hardly be described as awesome, small and oddly shaped they have signs of rounded, probably root marks on their surfaces.

Flint filling to old archway

Stone 1 inside the church

Stone 2 inside the church

Looking down to Stour River

Church yard

Stone under hedge

Stone by buttress

The church sits in a very peaceful and tranquil setting, and in the literature it is said to be built on a Bronze Age barrow, similar of course to the previously mentioned St.Arild's church.

The story goes that a Saxon called Aelfham came in search of a rich land which would be fertile, he climbed up the hill, presumably to the barrow, and at his feet lay a stone, and he then claimed the hill as his own, and the stone as totem of his clan; a mark of his homestead and that is how it became known as Aelfham's Tun.