Friday, November 27, 2009

Avebury Church

St.James Church

Because I've been so often to Avebury, the church has become a backdrop not focussed on, yet there it sits in the village with the great stones all around, and the elegant manor house to the side, built upon a French founded priory.
It has a tranquil graveyard in which I have often sat in the sun, opposite the cottages of Avebury High street. This year when we visited, there were swallows nesting in the porch of the church, and as I took photographs of the fledglings, I noticed all the pieces of old stonework over and around the archway. Its history is written over various blogs, in the Domesday book it is recorded as the church of Reinbold the Priest, one of our Norman conqueror's favourites no doubt, he also held Pewsey Church as well.
The font which is of interest, as Pevsner would say, is intricately Norman with interlaced arcading at the bottom of the bowl, reminscient of Malmesbury Abbey blind arcading on its front facade.
The carved figure of what is presumably a bishop, (though it could be Jesus) with his feet on two dragons is well executed and leads to speculation what this little tableau represents....

The graveyard, with the manor house behind the wall

                  Fleur de lye motifs, echoed in the fragmented stones in the porch

                                        Dragons, bishops and interlacing

                                                 Columns on side of porch door


                                            Fledglings; note rather crude carved stone

Typical Norman typhaneum, note 'dot' motif round 'zig-zag' the same dotting can be found on dragons tail

Meanderings which gives a fuller historic description of the font

Reducing Chaos

Or trying to bring some of my blogs on churches into some order, and there is an order! in one instance it is following the Winterbourne river to Avebury, and the churches that cluster so near to each other. At Avebury, or at least not far from Silbury at Swallowhead Spring the Winterbourne becomes the Kennet river, and another set of churches to be found.

Several hours have been spent sorting photos into neat files, neatness is something I don't go in for, so much anguish has been spent over fonts that do not appear next to churches, and vague photos of porch doors and bits of Saxon work.

This blog is named after a church at Northstoke, situated in a small hamlet in Somerset, I found out that the church itself had been built on a roman villa site, the church foundations being roman, with a small stream tumbling down beside the church steps it set the imagination rolling, and to look over the valley and see the terracing on the other side for probable roman vineyards taught me that traces of past history are all around us in the landscape.

The next exercise was to record the churches that clustered around Avebury, and to hunt for a pagan beginning for the siting of the churches, this took me on a merry journey, I fell in love with Kilpeck Church in Gloucestershire for a start (though I have never been) and learned that it marvellous carvings probably belonged to a school of craftsmen called, if memory serves me right The Herefordshire Romanesque School, the famous carvings on the church, which includes a sheela-na-gig, probably the whim of some lord of the manor that had come back from the Crusades and incorporated exotic design from abroad.

Carvings tell stories, dragons, serpents and gargoyles indicate a mindset of fear that we know little of today, crude female (and there are a couple of males) carvings tell us that the 'sin of the flesh' was frowned upon by the church, though one wonders at some of the carving if the craftsmen were'nt having a bit of a laugh at those selfsame clergy.

Essex had a different tale to tell, corn wealth had built beautiful churches, the emphasis on elegant wooden doors with Elizabethan motifs, flint, brick and roman tiles were used, this is one of the abiding impressions that one gets with this part of the country the reuse of every available piece of material as churches got rebuilt or modified over time.

So to the list; Working backward from Avebury church with its figure of a bishop stamping down two dragons on the font, though strangely I have'nt written about this church situated in the stone circle of Avebury.......

Wiltshire - Winterbourne

Avebury Church (dragons and bishop on font)

Berwick Bassett (Redundant)

Winterbourne Bassett

Winterbourne Monkton (sheela-na-gig figure on font)

Clyffe Pypard

Broad Hinton

Wiltshire - Kennet

East Kennet

West Overton Church


Mildenhall (Cunetio)

Wiltshire - Pewsey Valley

Alton Barnes

Alton Priors (redundant)

Pewsey church

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Late Autumn days

I have'nt posted much these last few days, too much reading of Druids and Dracula may be one reason but as a queen bee flew gently past the window this morning, I realised that the natural world still goes on and that spring will be on the other side of Xmas A great host of starlings on the lawn feeding on the bread I threw out, one bird busily stabbing the apple that had seen better days.
Yesterday we went to the garden centre for more pansies and primroses, it was alive with the sparkle of Christmas. Prettily displayed craft stuff of glass, father christmas's galore in all shapes and sizes, willow work, dried flowers a plethora (if that is the right word) of goodies.
A dark grotto for the children, and real animal sized creatures covered in soft fur to stroke, again for the children, there was a camel towering above me nodding his head gently, a sheep and a donkey! In these dark dull days of Autumn, even the most trite glittery baubles appeal to lighten up the gloom.
Two images come back to me of last year, the golden plovers on the down in the early morning light, and the deer by the woods chasing with such grace across the fields.
This morning a two kilo box of biscuits from the people next door (we looked after their house) whilst they went swanning away on the continent in their posh motor home. The biscuits were Spanish, like a confectionery shop they were all wrapped in brightly coloured papers, sugared almonds and chocolates pleading to be opened, if my grandchildren were nearer they would have had them...
Also joined Facebook over the weekend, and pottered around on there, found my son-in-law and an old friend which was rather good.. As for Dracula, which is a pretty good read, though I had a horrendous nightmare of this faceless black cloaked figure in the bedroom menacing me, I was intrigued to discover how Bram Stoker used Whitby in the telling of the story.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Lots of painted lady butterflies spied up at Avebury on Waden Hill, they arrived in their thousands this year. A common enough butterfly and we might be fooled into thinking that there is no need to worry about the environment but news tells us otherwise.

A Guardian article highlights the loss of biodiversity that our planet is experiencing at an ever increasing rapidity in the last few decades, whether by our human activity or be climate change. E.O.Wilson, hailed as the successor of Darwin, is giving a video talk at the Royal Institution in London on tuesday. There is also a corresponding article that highlights one of the great dangers that we humans play at, the continuing argument of those who say climate change is real and those so-called 'deniers' who argue that we should go on exploiting the Earth for the good of the human race.
The point of course is that its a useless argument, my Google news tells me today that the melt of ice from Greenland has lost 1500 cubic kilometres of ice between 2000 and 2008, making it responsible for one-sixth of global sea-level rise. Even worse, there are signs that the rate of ice loss is increasing, we as humans will feel the effect but our flora and fauna will have an increasingly difficult time as well.
Biodiversity is lost when we cut down Indonesian forests so that palm oil can be grown. When the great Amazon forests are cut down for more and more farming, every time we dam a river for energy we create a different set of environmental issues that have to be addressed.
Below are photographs of snow loss on the mountains in Peru and how it affects the people who live there.
Melting mountains

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Nishijin Textile Centre - Kyoto -3

Looms set up for the traditional sashes worn with kimonos called obi

The large Jacquard loom on the left

Obi pattern

Another view of the jaquard press

Nishijin Textile Centre - Kyoto -2

Up till recently I owned a beautiful four shaft table top loom, it looked complicated and was, and I realised I needed another lifetime to get to grips with it, so as a change was happening in my life, I put it on Freecycle, and surprisingly it was snapped up pretty quick and it left in the back of someone's station-wagon, and I kept my simple rigid heddle loom to play around with. But I am still fascinated by these complicated creatures that require a great deal of patience and understanding. The following are patterns that are created by shaft looms, though one looks as if the warp has been handpainted........

Nishijin Textile Centre - Kyoto - 1

In Japan craftwork is respected and craftspeople are paid for keeping their skills alive. The following people work in the textile centre above....

He is cutting the fine threads of silver, for presumably embroidery work to silk, the silver has a paper backing. When gold leaf is used, it is applied to red lacquer (which is the glue) and then paper. What happens of course is that the gold flakes away and exposes the lacquer which gives an attractive finish. On silk the gold thread is woven on a loose weft/warp into the required embroidered pattern, so as the silk fabric is woven by the weaver, two other people sit on either side of the loom and weave the gold pattern into it, the gold stitch is then reinforced from the back by extra stitches such brocade can cost a thousand pounds a metre..

Cutting stencils, these stencils are used in on indigo, the stencil area filled with a resistant rice paste when the cloth is dyed.

Colouring in the pattern

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Indigo Dyeing

Aizenkobo Indigo Dyer's Workshop

Spinning, dyeing and weaving are things I occasionally do, though indigo dyeing not, its a summer occupation as the wool or silk has to be dipped back and forward so its better done in a garden. Above is a Japanese traditional dyer, his kimonos for sale though are very expensive; the fermentation process is similar to our Woad dyeing something I have done, though again fermentation is required, this time the process if not in lye is in urine for best results, is not particularly pleasant; I used washing soda, though you can use caustic soda very carefully.

The Japanese Natural Fermenting Pure Indigo Dyeing

Indigo(ai) is an organic pigment in every continent of the earth. Derived from leaves of a variety of different plants, indigo has been a prized dye substance throughout the world for thousands of years. Available only to the aristocracy in the 8th century Ai-zome (indigo dyeing) later became the most popular method of dyeing cotton clothing for common people, and indigo-dyed pants and jackets are still worn in farm villages throughout Japan by crafts men and women.
The indigo plant contains indikan, a water soluble substance which, when acted upon by fermentation forms indigo. Reduced in an alkaline solution from indigo white, it is fixed to the fiber by oxygenation. Indigo is an extremely fast dye, particularly in light and water, with repeated oxygenating, deep shades of blue are possible.
The indigo dye vat is a combination of ground, fermented indigo leaves; lye; lime to control fermentation; and wheat bran to nourish the bacteria needed so the oxygen from the indigo solution will dissolve and be absorbed into fibers. The vat is kept heated to maintain a state of fermentation. A natural fermenting indigo dye vat requires a delicate balance of the above ingredients and condition to produce a deep permanent colour. Hence most indigo dyers use synthetic indigo and chemical additives.
The Utsuki family at Aizenkobo continues to use the natural fermenting pure indigo dyeing techniques only, in the belief that only in this can true ‘eggplant’ indigo blue be obtained. The following are a few of the traditional Japanese weaving and dyeing techniques used to decorate fiber.

Shibori i (tie dyeing)
Is a method of resist dyeing in which the required design is securely tied or stitched onto the fibre before it is dyed. This tie-dyeing technique has been used in Japan since the 8th century(and possibly earlier) for the decoration of silk and cotton fabrics for Kimono, as well as for cushion and quilt covers. Kanoko-shibori, tiny dye resist circles on fine silk, is a speciality of Kyoto, and the Arimatsu-shibori of Nagoya is also famous as a center for the production of fine shibori-dyed fabrics.
Kata-zome (Stencil Dyeing)
Is done by placing a cut stencil over a piece of cloth and applying glutinous rice paste over it. When the past is, the uncovered areas of the cloth are hand-dyed, by dipping the fabric a number of times to achieve the lasting deep eggplant blue. An even more difficult type katazome requires that the fabric be resist-treated on back and front, and then vat dyed, to achieve a reversible design. The stencils themselves are works or art, cut by hand from special paper treated with persimmon juice for extra strength. Katazome has been used in Japan since the 16th century.

Kasur i (Ikat)
Kasur i (literally to blur) is a technique more commonly known in the West as ikat, a Malay-Indonesian word that describes a very old binding process used to colour threads in sections before weaving. This technique produces blurred patterns of alternating colours woven into the fabric, rather than dyed after the cloth has been completed. The pattern is created by binding a section of the warp or weft tightly with thread and vat dyeing the skeins before attaching them to the loom. To create a pattern, careful calculations must be made to determine the exact distance between the bound sections, producing the finished design.

An earlier blog Apparently the difference between chemical dyes of indigo and the organic plant material is highlighted when you photo them, the narrow range of digital colours focuses on the chemical dye and renders the photo purple whereas the real indigo will produce its proper colour in the photo...

Note;`Jill Goodwin in a Dyers Manual says this, she calls the plants of indigo the Indigoferas;The reader will note the similarity of method between dying with fresh indigofera or polygonum leaves and fresh woad leaves with the following difference. Indigofera and polygonum leaves contain an enzyme, liberated at a temperature of 122 f, which removes a glucose which is combined with the indoxl. Fresh indigo and polygonum* leaves are therefore always put into cold soft water and heated slowly up to 120 F with a lid on the saucepan, whereas woad leaves are scalded with nearly boiling water and cooled to 120 F before use. In both cases the leaves are strained and discarded from the solution, which is then used for direct dyeing with whichever reduction agent and solvent the dyer may use.

*The polygonum leaves belong to the Japanese Knotweed, a weed of distinction in this country especially in West Wales.

Imperial Palace Gardens - Kyoto

Last week my partner went on a business trip to Japan, though his 'business trips' are about the crafts of silk, papermaking, dyes, etc... so the next blogs will be a compendium of some of the things he photographed....
The photographs below are the Imperial Palace and its gardens, and the palace itself, opposite the hotel he stayed in. Japanese gardens are fascinating, cool, calm, serene are the words that come to mind, the moss gardens are probably the most beautiful. Completely different from an English garden, formalised or cottage, what you do notice is the lack of flowers, the elements being rock, trees and shrubs, water and moss,* and of course the famous symbolic raked gravel surfaces that can be found at the Imperial Palace or the temple garden of Ryoan-ji.
Autumn colours of the maple making striking combinations against the evergreens, and the twisted branches remind you of bonsai....., the only similar thing that I can think of in England at the moment is the Westonbirt Arboreteum which also has the vivid hues of orange and red maples in Autumn.
*Moss of course is one of my favourite words, its the name of my dog, its soft sound invokes images of pillow-soft green mounds, its has a symbiotic relationship with water and stones, mounding softly it embraces the stone, it revels in the moist air, turning emerald green, squiges in bogs with that strange sucking noise; its minute flowers a reminder of a time long ago when the earth was frozen - its as old as the stones themselves sometimes and like lichen, which takes such a long time to form on gravestones reminds me of the first beginnings of life on Earth.
Click once on photo, then once more on small photo, which will then become full screen.

The Palace , no longer in use, with mannequins

A raked surface

Ryoan-ji temple garden

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Waldo William 'fields'

Waldo Williams's memorial stone

For the last few days I have trying to find time to write about Iola Morganwg, the 18th century 'archdruid' for the revival of Welsh druidry, unfortunately he created a myth with his translations and poems, a vivid reconstruction of a 'truth'.
But all the time another person nagged at my mind 'Waldo' who's stone monument I had seen on the moors below Carn Meyn in the Preseli mountains, so putting Iola aside for the time being, a quick note on Waldo Williams.
Williams when young lived in the village of Mynacholog-ddu and details of his biography can be found here.
The Preseli mountains has a very strong pull on my mind, its landscape and stones, the fields nestling below the mountains, the hundreds of sheep scattered on its slopes in summer, the beautiful loneliness of it all would lead to a life of contemplative ease. The great stone cairns of Foel Drygarn that sit above the village of Mynacholog-ddu are a stark reminder of the high office bronze age leaders were afforded in death, and the great crested stone ridge of Carn Meyn reminds us that such manifestations of our earth had enormous symbolism to the prehistoric people who lived here, and maybe transported some of the stones to Stonehenge.
So to his rather beautiful and famous poem, written in Welsh I believe, here it is translated from another website.

Those fields – I’ve walked across them - they are
Extraordinary fields, though inaccessible to the seeker
After transcendence this is no loss for the page
Holds them in view and they extend into the margins
Between field hedges and the nets of the Hunter

In many places and times where time
Is arrested and held captive by a tether
Of stillness long enough to feel chastened by silence.
Sunlight touches a wall on a summer afternoon,
Shadows enclose a moment which passes from forever

To forever: Such blessings are felt to be precious.
But hearing beyond them voices calling in a common
Tongue of work and worship echoing through centuries,
And knowing that they witness this moment
When all is still, so that being alone

Is to be with them, resonates beyond solitude.
Voices heard in the echoes of whistling lapwings
Tremble to life over empty meadows; each hand,
Each tongue unique in the passing of time yet fused
In a moment making one of many things.

Foel Drygarn with Carn Meyn in the distance

Gors Fawr stone circle

Foel or Moel Drygarn stone cairns

A marvellous, and dearly loved companion

Peak Oil

George Monbiot on Peak Oil, or maybe the end of oil, its not happy reading, though I have been reading about it for several years now, but one of the books on the subject is Richard Heinberg's The Party's Over (Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies) .

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Autumn storms and the last of the leaves

A photo of the 'quiet' before the next storm

As the rain and wind beat against the windows this morning, with the storms that are making their way from Wales to the east coast. ....

A group of trees across the green, with the last silvered leaves in its topmost branches, become illuminated against a western dark louring sky from the sun who was making a brave but futile gesture in the east this morning.... with a touch of photoshopping to make it more dramatic...

Friday, November 13, 2009


The subject of whether they actually existed or not has always fascinated me, firstly one must make the distinction of actual druidism which may have existed in the Iron Age, and the made-up variety of 'historical' druidism that wound through time after that, culminating today of course in the neopagan druidry.

Ronald Hutton's - Blood & Mistletoe - arrived this week from the library, a beautiful unread copy (so there's not much interest out there then). For me Professor Hutton is the expert on the subject and this book does the subject justice, just under 500 pages.

Dipping in and out and slowly I begin to learn of the effect of druidism on the scholars of the 18th century and the important change it bought to the understanding of megalithic monuments. Stukeley and Borlase who both wrote and illustrated outstanding works on megaliths, are of course motivated by religious curiosity, their interest stemming from an Anglican viewpoint. So the following will be the bits I find interesting in all this, firstly of course turning to John Wood the architect and his design of The Circus in Bath, in this article which I wrote a few weeks back.....

Hutton says that John Wood was influenced by the works of Sir Isaac Newton (Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended), and Wood took for his model the Temple of Solomon as a way of interpreting and designing the Circus, the design reflects Wood's esoteric interest.

It is based on the Masonic (Bath still has a very ugly, though some might see it as beautiful, Masonic hall) sign of of a triangle within a circle, incorporates the mystical sequence of druidic or Pythagorean numbers which he claimed to have found at Stanton Drew, and, as a sacred structure occupied by houses, reflected his concept of the great circle at Stanton Drew as a Druidic college.....Lest anybody miss, at a glance, its connection to Druids he topped it with a row of giant stone acorns to represent a grove of oaks. He also gave it superb acoustics, fitting the central place for ceremonies because words spoken aloud there are naturally amplified by the curve of the surrounding buildings. Functionally the Circus is a series of residential blocks, symbolically, it is the first Druidic temple to be erected in Britain since ancient times, created as the testimony of faith of a passionate, if highly unusual, Christian. It may, in fact, be the first stone temple ever built in the name of druidry... Ronald Hutton p107

Which is a thought to ponder on given the fact that modern day druids tend to treat Stonehenge as their temple, but I expect the residents of the Circus would not be highly amused.

William Borlase; A name to conjure with, his book is out on the web with many fascinating illustrations of Cornish Cromlechs, a typically 18th century book, ponderous and full of marvellous conjectures and fantasies that only an 18th vicar can do, especially when they only 'work' on Sunday. But that is to be cruel to Borlase, for he spent a lot of time tramping the moors of Cornwall to record the standing stones, dolmens and stone circles, he thought were put up by the Druids. In a brief resume Hutton says that Borlase represents the standing stones as their idols, the dolmens as their burial places and the third as the setting for acts of worship and judgment, I cannot fail to mention this...."He concluded, that Rowlands had been wrong in identifying the megalithic chambers - the dolmens, cromlechs and quoits of popular terminology - as Druidic altars, because of the difficulty of climbing and balancing on top of them to perform sacrifice"

His parish encompassed the great area of Penwith, and perhaps a much later piece of prose written by Edward Thomas in the early 20th century underlines the profound effect that the inspirational writings of Borlase shows just how much of our history is caught up in a romantic past that may have no bearing on the reality of prehistory at all......

Nineteen tall, grey stones stand round a taller, pointed one that is heavily bowed, amidst long grass and bracken and furze. A track passes close by, but does not enter the circle; the grass is unbent except by the weight of its bloom. It bears a name that connects it with the assembling and rivalry of the bards of Britain. Here, under the sky, they met, leaning upon the stones, tall fair men of peace, but half warriors, whose songs could change ploughshares into sword. Here they met, and the growth of the grass, the perfection of the stones (except that one stoops as with age), and the silence, suggest that since the last bard left it, in robe of blue or white or green – the colours of sky and cloud and grass upon this fair day – the circle has been unmolested, and the law obeyed which forbade any but a bard to enter it… And the inscription on the chair of the bards of Beisgawen was “nothing is that is not for ever and ever” – these things and the blue sky, the white, cloudy hall of the sun, and the green bough and grass, hallowed the ancient stones, and clearer than any vision of tall bards in the morning of the world was the tranquil delight of being thus ‘ teased out of time’ in the presence of this ancientness….

The romantic image captured in prose, but going back to earlier poets of the 18th century, who are by now creating a view of Britain that is nationalistic and stems from a past when the noble 'druid' had a say with the many kings of both Ireland and England...

With sacred mistletoe the Druids crown'd,

Sung with the nymphs and danc'd the pleasing round,

they had now become priests of nature, gone were the horrific human sacrifice in the gory groves, Hutton likens them at this point in history to flower-children, and also at this time beginning to take a different role as Bards, the true representatives of the wild and beautiful landscapes of Britain; here we find them, meeting at night in a sacred grove, white robed and carrying harps, only offering up white cattle for sacrifice.. All of course made up as the fancy took them, echoing down of course to the early 20th Druid, so that when we look at a picture of Stonehenge in 1905 there is a serried rank of Druids staffs raised in front of Stonehenge...

Turning to William Stukeley so much a part of the Stonehenge and Avebury experience, books have been written about this 18th century person, that it is difficult to even paraphrase Hutton on his character. That he meticulously and methodically recorded Avebury with such enthusiam but somewhat marred that enthusiam with his need to point to a Druidical beginning for the stones, his book Abury - A Temple of the British Druids says it all.

Hutton says that Stukeley was also an admirer of Sir Isaac Newton (similar to John Wood who also not only followed Newton's ideas but Stukeleys' as well)...what it entailed was "to understand the natural world and (thereby) to understand the divine plan that underpinned it" doing this though through the more orthodox lense of the Anglican religion.

Stuart Piggott had admired Stukeley's work up to the 1720s when he had recorded without a religious bias, and it was only when he became ordained later on that Stukeley began to elaborate his story of the monuments being attributed to the ancient druids.

Further research into the extensive papers and diaries of Stukeley revealed, at least to the author David Haycock, that Stukeley always had a "strong streak of mysticism with which he interpreted ancient remains in accordance with set notions, concerning the nature of primitive nature" This theme was of course to be found in the writings of later 19th century vicars such as the Reverend Smith at Avebury and the Reverend Skinner of Camerton. And a further note must be made here on the subject of freemasonry which was also taking a hold at this time..

"The nature of primeval religion, and its relationship with christianity - were incorporated into the mythology and symbolism of freemasonry - spreading through England rapidly in the 1710 and the 1720s."

Stukeley took up a post in Lincolnshire as a vicar, he was by now married but unfortunately his wife had suffered two miscarriages, he had apparently left London in a huff, as his ideas were the butt and ridicule of his friends and mentors. But when he settled in to his new home he created a garden and here part of his 'mystical' relationship to Druidry and the ancient monuments comes to the fore, for it was in his garden that he created a 'sacred landscape'. It included a Temple of the Druids, which consisted of concentric circles of hazels and evergreens modelled on Stonehenge, an apple tree with mistletoe growing in its branches was at the centre of the circle. Apparently he also had a 'tumulus' beside the temple and a little chapel which contained a roman altar. One of the babes from the miscarriage was buried in the camomile lawn that faced the altar. A rather sad footnote to end on, this man possessed by an illusionary religion that coloured his viewpoint of the 'old stones', but perhaps all the paraphenalia in the garden was an expression of the vision he had invoked from a long gone history, none of which was true, a human desire to create a belief system once removed from the Anglican church he was avowed to.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The last Wolf at Leinster

Taken from the Creative Commons, this wolf probably comes from Canada!

Going through the archaeology news as I do every day, the following article in a Canadian paper tells the fate of the last wolves in Ireland who were exterminated during the time of Oliver Cromwell. Its a sad indictment of our human effect on other creatures in the environment.

The other piece of news that caught my eye was Egypt's museum directors asking for the Rosseta Stone back, again the high handed way colonialism took valuable artefacts from subject countries must give pause for thought.

And perhaps the fate of Bath and how near it came to losing its World Heritage Site status, and of course since the Western Side development is yet to be built, might lose it in the future;
The Southgate project which is mentioned as finished replaced a 1960's single storey concrete block, in this photo the pastiche neoclassical features are shown, again there height is a problem, and it very true that you could see greenery from any part of Bath (the seven hills of Bath) when you looked up to the skyline, these new buildings obscure the view from this side of the city....

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Winter arriving

Clearing the mind and sliding in
to that created space,
a web of waters streaming over rocks,
air misty but not raining,
seeing this land from a boat on a lake
or a broad slow river,
coasting by.

Taken from Gary Snyder's Mountains and Rivers without End, it reminds me that the mind should be peaceful as we contemplate the happenings around us. Darkness greets us in the morning and the land turning so quickly towards winter, is becoming grey and monochrome after the sharp colours of autumn.

The birds rise late, the host of sparrows that live in the hedge just across from the house are not so noisy, but the starlings are still here. The young can still be distinguished by their bright colours. I had never come across so many starlings massed together before, and this summer watched them come down in the garden to feed. The young formed a creche, so sometimes there was as many as 20 to be seen, they learnt to bath in the clay pot, perching on the edges, watching each other, they would take courage and jump in splashing their wings clean.

The same comedy was enacted by a young blackbird, a rather nervous youngster who was always getting chased off by his father, at least I think it was father, for he followed him around in a rather forlorn manner. When he got chased off, he would hide under the shed, and though the older bird would not let him bathe with him, the little one would come out when the father had gone and very bravely practise washing in the pot - though he was obviously frightened.

The poem at the top reminds me of all the rivers, brooks and streams I have gazed down into this summer; seeing the great water lily leaves floating just below the surface, pondweed a green haze on dark waters. The rushes and tall spikes of irises, intermingling with meadowsweet and mallows. The fish swimming lazily in the mill pond, bright gleams of sun on water and the small dabchicks 'walking on water'

Coggeshall Abbey, the mill is situated behind the large farmhouse here....

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Walking along the river yesterday, it was only a few days ago that I caught the soft orange glow of the autumn landscape, yesterday the steely grey tones of winter are starting to creep in. A storm of rain and wind brought many of the leaves down, the river is full, and is starting to lap over the top of the old lock gates. Ducks are appearing in the river and the mill pond, and a weir was revealed from the mill to the river which we had'nt noticed before. The handsome black horse is a bad tempered creature, ears back when we approached, I soft talked him and stroked his nose but he is probably a miserable creature to ride! The gypsy horses, were at their gate again watching the world go by, or waiting for tea I don't know, but as I have to dive into a hedge to photograph them, the black gelding always looks solemn as he peers at me curiously - far more trustworthy than the elegant one in the field.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


As I was making a stuffing for two very large mushrooms this mornings, my mind strayed back to Shirley Conran's words 'life's too short to stuff a mushroom' and thought well I'm glad that occasionally we find the time to stuff one! Philosphical thinking when we prepare food is probably a good excuse, but the end results are always rather delicious.... this morning, a bread mix I found at Sainsbury, containing parmesan cheese and dried tomatoes makes tasty rolls, whilst homemade fish cakes of salmon and spring onions will go nicely with the mushrooms...
But after finding mushrooms on sunday and not being allowed to pick them I turned to Susan Harley's Food in England for some advice on English mushrooms.
Well she loved her mushrooms too and has written a whole chapter on the subject.., names to conjure with.....

Common field mushroom (Psalliota campestris) is dainty pick and white when young turning brown, then almost black, as it grows old.. You will find them in pastures, normally where cattle graze. They may be anything from 4 to 24 inches across!

Horse mushroom (Psalliota Arvenis) is a clumsy version of the field mushroom. The top is thicker and the stem lumpy, and the colour of the gills less pink. The smell is that of field mushroom. Note if a horse mushroom stains yellow when cut or bruised(not a faint tinge but a definite bright yellow -as if dabbed with mustard or egg yolk -discard it as it may be be Psalliota xanthoderma which, though not deadly, has been known to cause illness
It is the solitary dead white fungus that should be disregarded with suspicion. It is the death Cap (Amanita phalloides) which is most dangerous.

Fairy Ring (Marasmius oreades), are best for drying, they are not always true to their habit of growing in rings, especially where lea has been broken. But the delicate 'fairy ring mushroom' is unmistakable. They are seldom more than 2 inches across, and carried comparitvely high on slender stems. The gills are deep and very regular, one long one short, like the minute marks around a clock. The top is buff, and the gills are very much paler, the slender stems are stringy and tough so cut them off.

The puff-balls (Lycoperdon); The really giant one (lycoperdon giganteum) can be as big as a football, both large and small puffballs taste exactly the same. Their texture - solid white, like smooth, white cream cheese, and the outer covering is fine as white kid. .....

Cooking; Smallest puff balls, walnut size, are best dipped in batter and fried like rissoles. Drain and serve as a pebble beach around a pool of green spinach. Medium sized, are rolled in flour, pepper and salt, then drop into an earthen ware pan with barely enough milk to cover, and simmer to cook. Thicken sauce after cooking, pour back over the puff-balls and garnish with scarlet barberries and green parsley.
Giant puff-balls are sliced, and dipped in egg and milk and then fine dry breadcrumbs. Fried in hot bacon-fat, drain on kitchen paper, pepper and salt and serve piping hot, sprinkled with cider or vinegar..

Chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius); One of the prettiest of fungi. You find them, suddenly, in the autumn woods, sometimes clustered so close that they look like a torn golden shawl, dropped down amongst the dead leaves and sticks. They are all the same clear, egg-yolk yellow, the stem coming up straight, and springing and spreading stiff as a tiny fountain spurting gold. The top surface is damp and glossy yellow; the underside crinkly matt yellow; and they smell faintly of apricots.

She goes on to list more edible fungi and her writing is a marvellous description of the rich harvest of mushrooms in general before the advent of modern farming techniques. Though I am nervous about picking and cooking mushrooms and perhaps a course is called for, it is wonderful to think how the countryside furnished such a rich culinary diet, and though the warning nowadays is all about the deadly fungi, (and if I have time will give her description of the Death Cap,) the funny little tree drying mushrooms before a fire is evocative of a self-sufficiency that has become extinct in this country.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Walk

Today the wind and rain is beating against the window, but yesterday we had another fine warm Autumn day, a few fireworks on the green but no 'trick or treating'. So we went for a walk in the afternoon, though we stopped off down a lane to buy some vegetables. A smallholding, we get our logs from here, plants and vegetables. Yesterday a large homegrown cauliflower and a 'hispi' cabbage, plus those classic flowers of autumn - chrysantheums, a lovely red brown bronze colour. Pansy plants for the garden, I'm sure she makes no money from selling her stuff, but its nice to see and buy something local.
The walk was around a field which we occasionally stop at. Here once I watched a pheasant and his mate solemnly drink from a puddle and then off into the field they wandered. Today I saw another (same?) but he ran across the road and did'nt stop running till he was a little speck in the ploughed field. There was a lot of young pheasants in the field, so perhaps they are his offspring.

We wandered around our field, past holly in the hedge with bright red berries, along the ridge the tractor makes, fresh mallow leaves of the little meadow plant, mushrooms and toadstools grace the trackway, I would have picked them but was'nt allowed to - a mushroom course is called for. My mobile beeped, a text message from a friend who had read my blog and as I texted back, I remembered Sandy Tostvig's story on the radio that morning.
She had been out with an oldish friend and her mobile had bleeped - the friend turned to her with astonishment - 'is'nt that clever, they can find you even when they don't know where you are'
We have come along way with technology thats for sure, for the last three weeks my 'other half' has 'researched' the best notebook laptop to buy, he now owns one, and its fully fired to work on the wireless system (which I don't understand) but my computer also works on wireless.
Its miniaturisation is of course also mirrored in the new mobiles which can also go on the internet but the thought of having the internet with one permanently does'nt bear thinking about.

Lucy Mangan on the demise of the Post Office

It does seem that if people don't fight for this particular institution. the 'Mandys' of this world will sell us down the creek - once again!


On Friday I wrote about the destruction of open cast mining of the Karanpura Valley in India, today I find in the Guardian another terrible tale of environmental devastation in India, again because of the hungry search for minerals to fuel their economy. Rivers, forests and in this instance the Niyamgiri hill part of a range of hills are to be reduced to nothing in the search for bauxite, and I can only quote Arundhati Roy as to what will happen if this annihilation takes place...

“If the flat-topped hills are destroyed, the forests that clothe them will be destroyed, too. So will the rivers and streams that flow out of them and irrigate the plains below. So will the Dongria Kondh. So will the hundreds of thousands of tribal people who live in the forested heart of India”

Sometimes we are very parochial in our bid to save the planet from disaster, wind turbines are seen as a disaster in this country to a few who don’t want their view obscured, we half-heartedly yell at the bankers and their bonuses, but yet forget that their bonuses are built on the wealth of banks and stocks and shares that are in the very quarry and mineral industries that ruin the life of other people.
Environmental degradation hits us all in the end, whether it is the tar sands of Canada, Alaska’s oil, rainforest destruction in the Amazon, or the forests of India, we become responsible for not speaking out, for allowing our governments to ‘weasel word’ their way out of a responsibility to the Earth on which we live – short term gains equal long term disaster for all our grandchildren.
The comments make interesting reading in the Guardian article, the argument against the Maoists and the argument for taking people out of their way of life and giving them a 'better' life in the cities, I argued in the Karanpura Valley news that cultural heritage was important and should be saved - there is a dilemma over the issue and perhaps one can only fall back on the environmental destruction that will take place, and leave for others to judge how the indigenous people of these forests and hills should respond to their own lives and the place they live in.