Monday, August 30, 2010

Megameets - mini and large

Yesterday we went to our Essex mini megameet, held at a beer festival, the photo above gives some idea of its popularity. The little pub set in the midst of woodland attracts a lot of people, the weather was somewhat uncompromising, there was a larger marquee, under which many people sat. Dry at first, suddenly a great gust of wind blew up sending two of the table umbrellas twirling into the air, then a heavy burst of rain so that all outside people moved into the marquee. This is autumn weather, and as people rolled down the flaps of the marquee, I think some thought it would take off, though it was weighed down by beer kegs. A little boy sat unconcernedly under a table keeping dry and playing his game box!
The earlier megameet at Avebury was very successful, everyone turning up and chattered away in the pub. Avebury itself was full of people, as always of course and there is talk of another one soon.

This is one of the moved Winterbourne Bassett stones from the supposed stone circle that existed in the field over the lane. Funnily enough we met the man who had moved it several years ago in another pub where we were having a meal with friends.

The Cove with visitors..

And this, to show Silbury mound just peeping above Waden Hill now that the wheat crop is cut. Is it an alignment? the great obelisk stone (now no longer in existence) doesnt seem to be focussed on it though.

The Winterbourne Bassett stone from behind, grasses already turning autumn gold

Saturday, August 28, 2010


Carn Llidi one of the great gorsedd outcrop, three cromlechs on this headland....

We bought back two presents, one from Wales and one from Avebury. BBs husband chose for us out of their garden two stones for our garden, and now they reside under the maple tree. Why stones? well there is a belief that stones can carry the memory of a loved one, we always mark graves with a headstone after all, how long has this tradition been going on? It may have been so in prehistory. I have written elsewhere of the 'gorsedd' stone, many of the Welsh cromlechs are to be found by a particularly striking outcrop, a shaped jagged rock rising from the earth, in Wales they suddenly rear up from a field and strike the eye unexpectedly.

So what was the other present, this was a book from an Irish friend, he had travelled all the way from Ireland to be at the Megameet in Avebury, and had travelled through Wales and stopped off at Hay-on-Wye to look at books, and bought us Ted Hughes - The Remains of Elmet, illustrated by the photographs of Fay Godwin.
Ted Hughes is one of those 'gloomy' poets, an incisive way with words, a deep understanding of the ways of animals and fish, and the brooding Yorkshire moors are evoked pretty strongly in his poetry. Elmet is of course the old Celtic kingdom of long to the poem

The Ancient Briton Lay Under His Rock

Under the oaks, the polished leaves of Sunday.

He was happy no longer existing
Happy being nursery school history
A few vague words
A stump of of local folklore.

A whorl in our ignorance.

That valley needed him, dead in his cave-mouth,
Bedded on bones of cave-bear, sabre tooth.
We needed him. The mighty hunter.

We dug for him. We dug to be sure.

Stinging brows, Sunday after Sunday.
Iron levers.

We need that waft from the cave
The dawn dew-chilling of emergence,
The hunting ground untouched all around us.

Meanwhile his pig-headed rock existed.
A slab of time, it surely did exist.
Loyal to the day, it did not cease to exist.

As we dug it waddled and squirmed deeper,
As we dug, slowly a good half ton,
It escaped us, taking its treasure down.

And lay beyond us, looking up at us

Part of the cliff face walking from Solva, deeply folded rock, born out of fire and water, LS picked up some small, megalithic type stones from the beach to bring home that has the same brown and grey colour, a stone that is used in the building of cottages with such good effect.

Sometimes I question why a particular idea strikes me, gorsedds in this instance was it when I was looking over Pentre Ifan's stones and suddenly realised that there were three stone outcrops above it; its capstone is said sometimes to resemble Carn Ingli (which is the above photo) and my long view with the long barrow underneath the ridge has a vague resemblance....

Friday, August 27, 2010

Still homesick for Wales

What else, apart from the welsh cromlechs that I have written about elsewhere, the Bishop's Palace at St.David, it is so 'wedding cakeish' with its fancy ornamentation, beautifully executed stonework and a place where the bishops of this small town must have hosted the weary travellers or pilgrims. Picturesque ruins is one of the charms of Wales, and the way to approach the cathedral is to go through the town and park at the little car park signposted. The secret is to go down the little paved path to the left of the car park, and you will get a sense of all the ruined buildings that made up the palace. The stones of the footpath are old, worn by time, the path takes you over the river and by a lovely small field still with ancient remains in.

Newgale, a bleak spot by the sea but with an enormous beach that seems to stretch endlessly. Its along the road to Solva, breasting a hill, the road ahead seems to head straight for the sea but luckily at the bottom it curves round the huge bank of stones that ptotect the camping area from flooding. The tides were high this time around, sand bags clustered around the cottages in Lower Solva, a high tide mark of just under 7 metres - not sure if it was'nt due to a full moon.

And of course a visit to a fellow blogger and friend who lives in the fastness of Wales, up a long zigzagging narrow lane near to the beautiful River Cothi to visit their home. It was so Welsh, lots of Welsh antiques every where, a gorgeous house that oozed history (and ghosts) but not frightening in anyway. Typically a house that over the century had been added on to, a Georgian room, 8 bedrooms! covered in beams and the small adjoining house at the back which was a delight. I still can't quite believe that the old cupboards bought from a theatre housed an attendant ghost who sang opera one night ;).... Boveybelle and her husband had worked on this house for years, and you can see the love and care that has gone into every wooden beam restoring it from a very uncared state all those years ago, think I'd be sad to leave it.....

And last of all the Cambrian Pub where we ate, this is for LS who loves his food and especially sea food, of which there is an abundance of in Solva. The little bridge of the river and next door the chapel converted into a shop cum studio featuring Raul Speek gallery of art work.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Middle Mill

The Quarry

Solva River
Middle Mill is one of those places I always return to, stayed in one of the holiday cottages in years past and of course visited the Woollen Mill and followed its fortunes. At the moment, the tearooms are under refurbishment, but there is a range of attractive things in the shop. Always liked their Welsh rugs though they seem to be keeping to the traditional 'portcullis style' pattern.
This time took photos of the old working looms, there was a lot of fluff in the shed, and a box full of bags of thrums, mostly carpet weight, so I did'nt buy. Alphaca wool for sale as well, alongside some beautifully knitted shawls.
I suspect it is a question of love and dedication rather than money that keeps the old place going, its surrounding is idyllic; the old quarry rears a dramatic edge against the blue sky, but nature is so abundant that everything is covered in green. The little river Solva still runs as strongly as ever here, Middle Mill is one of three mills that belonged to the Bishops of St.David in the 14th century, and still has a working overshot water wheel. There had been a feud for years about access to the woollen mill, up the drive of the Corn Mill (the house that went along with the mill, and separate from it) but now after a long legal battle, deliveries can be made up the drive, though the public can cross a small bridge from the car park.
There is always a feeling of serenity when you approach this small settlement, at the junction of three lanes, one of which goes up to Whitchurch, which is one of the old pilgrim churches on the way to St.David's Cathedral, a wide expanse of green meets the eye with the old three bay pack horse bridge leading to another three lanes. One that is incredibly steep up to King's Heriot, another to Llandeloy and the third to one of those particularly ugly chapels, which may have been one of the first to be built, what denomination it is escapes me.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

All packed and nowhere to go for the moment

Its a tidying the house, packing day today, books sorted, maps for various people at the megameet who are coming from afar, emails written and so like a dinner party you wait for the guests in anticipation and nervousness on my part. In theory we all just meet up for the Avebury megameet and have a picnic somewhere in the circle, and if it rains (which it has done quite often) in the pub, but it does'nt necessarily work out that way!

There is a dig going in the water meadows next to Silbury, they are looking at the Roman settlement that once stood here by the Kennet and presumably Swallowhead Spring, will it be a local 'sacred' spring for the Romans I wonder? Verlucio, or the Sandy Lane settlement beyond Calne looks like it had a watery connection as well - all very exciting. And of course the other side of Marlborough settlement, this time Cunetio at Mildenhall has the same watery connection - somewhere on this blog is the story about the ghostly wraiths that haunt the Kennet at Mildenhall.

Now for a moan about Chelmsford; things I like in shops which sadly are not found in this fair Roman town... the Kitchens shop in Bath, full of everything you could want in a kitchen, expensive for sure but for browsing a cornucupia of beautiful cookware, Lakeland does'nt even come close.

Materials, for patchwork, etc, though I admit Cathy Kidston is over the top in her floral designs, but a browse round her shop gives you ideas. Laura Ashley of course for the little 'victorian print', and the expensive clothes to browse, but there is a cheaper patchwork shop tucked away behind M&S that has rows of graduated coloured materials that greet the eye that I miss...

Ikea is a place my love refuses to go, it seems mostly males that shy away from this vast warehouse of Scandinavian furniture, materials and exotic rugs, though there is the extra treat of coffee and cakes at the end. And then of course there is Rossiter's of Bath, not a place I can afford but their elegant deep coloured settees are something to hanker after!


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Horses again

Who can resist these gorgeous echinacea

A new garden created this year

Retrievers and collie

The wheat being cut

Stand off

Show off
A walk down to our local along the river, produced some photos that will bring back memories for us. The grey, rather dirty horse, decided to put on a show for us and its owner as we stood chatting. The bucket over the head (he's got through 6 recently) is accompanied by a lot of dancing around, then said bucket is deposited at the end of the field; then in true arab style he high kicked up and proceeded to be frightened of it, not sure if he is'nt called Heathcliff. The rather grumpy chestnut, is going slightly grey and is 19 years old, but obviously loved dearly by his owner. The owner lives in the rather large house next to the field, and was out taking her dogs for a walk, all beautiful, the retriever is kept on a lead, or will disappear into the river for three hours at a time, or until someone goes into the river and hauls him out! Bracken the collie just needs hugs and attention.....

And who can resist an old softie

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Books and memories

Capel-y-Ffin - courtsey of the Creative Commons license

This week a book arrived from Amazon, I had ordered it in April - Fiona McCarthy's William Morris, and had read it before along with many other books on Morris but decided I wanted to own it, over 700 pages long it is the definitive essay on the man himself.
Of course Fiona McCarthy had written another excellent biography on Eric Gill, a man of many talents, sculptor, type face design, print designer, etc. We had even passed the BBC's front door in London on our trip and I had forgotten to look up at the statue above the front entrance. Gill was of course a particularly weird person, and it is best not to dwell on his sexual pecularities but he had lived in a place I had been to several times just by Llanthony Priory, called Capel-y-Ffin, and had used this church/monastic building as his studio and home with his family.
The last time I had been to Llanthony Priory was with my son, when he was about 11 years old. We had wandered round the ruins, and then walked through the fields up onto the mountain (these are called the Black Mountains) above, along an old track. It was memorable only in that we had come to a dead sheep half fallen into a stream. The poor animal had been unable to get up, and her shaggy coat still remained round the skeleton - totally weird. Later as we drove along the narrow winding road to Hay-on-Wye, we noticed a great boulder had rolled down a steep slope and come to rest on the verge, it had gouged the soil out on its way down. This is dramatic Wales, rain sodden, misty, grey, a land of weather and rock, and an extraordinary country compared to the soft South of England.
Of course we wandered round Hay-on-Wye's tatty bookshops, its quite famous now and hosts an annual bookfest where the great and the beautiful go, but it was not so popular a few years ago when Richard Booth declared himself king of this small principality.
So what started this thinking, perhaps it was Jan Morris's - The Matter of Wales book, another good writer, who said of Wales that one only had to take a square yard of its ground and you would instantly understand its history, the meagre soil that covers the hard stony heart of Wales..
Its beauty lies in its wilderness and strangely in its greyness, the patterning of mosses and lichens over stones, the 'greyness' of the many churches and chapels lying neglected amongst luxuriant foliage, the ivy trailing and hugging everything in sight. Wales enters the soul and never really leaves it, and perhaps most of all in its history, the Norman castles that dominate Welsh towns show an oppression to an indomitable Welshness, read the poems of R.S. Thomas, a 20th century vicar and poet and your heart sinks in his gloomy despair, see how 19th century Iola Morgannwyg with his translations of celtic folklore has, and still does, raise howls of despair with his 'druidism', was he actually translating a 'fair copy' or did he make it up along the way....
Jan Morris on the Black Mountains - that range that separates the English from the Welsh...
"When the English writer Walter Savage Landor bought Llanthony Priory in 1808, intending to settle in the mountains, he was soon driven out by the natives... English settlers still sometimes find the inbred pecularity of the valleys hard to manage. It is a queer part of the world, and queer dark things happen there, from incest to inexplicable suicide, from sheep-rustling and bomb laying to whispers og witchcraft. Drifting through the 80 square miles of the Black Mountains you may feel the anxiety of the frontier festering still, its causes long since forgotten, like the indeterminate unhappiness of a house that has known bad times"
Well I'm glad that Morris wrote that, it is a rather gloomy place, but as for its inhabitants he seems a bit cruel or at least, the mythical presence of 'badness' seems to haunt these valleys.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Looking forward to Avebury and Wales

In a couple of weeks time we are down to Avebury for the annual megalithic meet to see friends from around the country, a stay of two days and then off to Solva to stay in a pretty little B&B for a couple of nights so that we can explore the area there as well, though I know it like the back of my hand.
My mind has been going over what we will see, not enough time of course, will we walk down the Nine Wells path to the little cove where the water crashes over the rocks and a small promontory hillfort with its steeply banked side is just along the coast path. Or down the lane out of St.David's to St.Non's church surrounded by its supposed stone circle, a peaceful place still. There is St.David's cathedral itself with the elegantly ruined Bishop's Palace at its side, or the bookshop at the top of the steps to browse. Welsh chocolates to buy and small galleries everywhere, as English people try to make the 'dream' of Wales come true.
What about Middle Mill with the small looms still making Welsh rugs, and tea and cake in the restaurant and the River Solva wandering along at this point under the pack horse bridge. Then further away there is the magnificent Pentre Ifan long barrow its showy capstone poised like a birds wing on the stones below. Not forgetting also Carreg Samson long barrow overlooking the sea and the island where Samson the saint (with his little finger) threw the great stones, to be approached from the little village, not through the farm entrance though. And then there is Coetan Arthur at Newport, snug in its little garden amongst the bungalows.
There again St.David's Head has another Coetan Arthur, this time the cromlech is concealed in a jungle of rocks, you will spy it from afar but get close up and it disappears from view. There are the two hidden cromlechs crouched against Carn Llidi, and what of the promontory fort at the tip of St.David's Head, with its heaps of stone walls still presenting the defence for this small Iron age fort. Or we could walk down the long farm lane to St.Elvis's long barrow just outside Solva, a tumble of stones as a farmer in the 19th century tried to blow them up...
Perhaps on the drive home we could wander past the Presceli mountains, following the route of the bluestones down to the great estuary at Milford Haven, but before we did that we would stop and and see Carn Meini, the great craggy outline that is the source of the bluestone, stopping at the small stones of Gors Fawr circle on the moor below.
Somehow I think two days is not long enough!

And what of Avebury, so many times visited that I could draw its map, the little Kennet meandering through, Silbury repaired and healing from its affliction of man made tunnels etc.
Tourist ridden now, but in the early days when I got to knew Avebury, it was more deserted a place to walk the dog, park the car and walk to the Lansdowne monument on Cherhill down and the great bounded banks of Oldbury hill fort would greet you. A landscape so strange with its ribbed sides curving and falling from your feet that it would make you dizzy the steepness of the fall. One artist Anna Dillon has somehow captured through her paintings the 'curvyiness' of these downs, it is in many ways an alien landscape, smoothed over by time, golden now I think with the great wheat fields that grace the curves.
The Silbury mound was the first thing to strike me many years ago that it was in actual fact man made, travelling from London newly widowed with a young daughter and no central place to call home, I put roots down in Calne just a few miles on, though my intention had been to move to Wales... Archaeology became a passion, but I studied prehistory through the eyes of logical books, that compared and contrasted pottery, bronze, flints and barrows through long lists that grew tiring and utterly boring. Funnily enough it was a book by Julian Cope called The Modern Antiquarian that gave me a completely different viewpoint, though the book is a gazzetter of megaliths, it also has essays at the front which explored the esoteric nature of such places, made you look at the landscape with a different eye, and for that I am very grateful to him, though his singing is probably not to my taste I admire his writing.
So in celebration of going to Avebury and the fact that Julian Cope in his Address Druidon this month is featured alongside Vybik Jon and Common Era posing with Silbury in the background, and don't be fooled by the clothes, people. Vybik Jon has a wicked sense of humour and a kind heart, whereas Common Era has created a marvellous book, or at least a series of little books, which has as yet not been published I think but was featured in The Journal last year after we met him at the last meeting, and looked at the range of small map books he had created, beautifully boxed and bound.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

A Walk to the pub

Not too warm, but with the sun shining, we mooched around the meadows by the river. A bush full of sweet juicy early blackberries reminds us that autumn is on the way. The fields are a soft palette of yellowing grasses, with highlights of yellow flowers, soft purples, the silvery blue willows in the distance. Butterflies everywhere, dancing around the purple thistle, grass hoppers rattle their legs at us in the bleached cream grasses. As we get nearer the river the ground dips and a patch of green long grass hints of water underneath, great brown dragonflies whizz around.
Before we had reached this hollow way, we had to pass an ugly concrete pillbox; they are scattered all over Britain, a reminder of a war once fought. Their ugliness is such that it catches the breath but history reminds you that once we were afraid of being overrun by the Germans..
The river has been cleaned over the last few days of the green sludge that covered its surface because of the hot weather. The water is black against a slick of green algae that still clings to the side of the banks. But there is a profusion of flowers, butterflies and the low flying brown dragon flies whizz past. Reedmace reaches to the sky, probably the lesser reedmace, though it looks pretty tall to me. A green patch of horsetail, probably the water variety in this instance, for it does'nt have the stripy dark stems of the more common one. Eyebright mingles with the fireweed flowers, tall yellow daisies jostle for a place with the creeping convulvus which is threatening to strangle a patch of flowers.
We come to the bridge after the mill, and the ponies cluster round the area immediately in front of the step. The foals have grown, though they will win no beauty contests, their sturdy legs and tails echo the stallion's genes. The little brown one comes up curious, thrusting her nose at us, she has burrs caught up in her mane which need cutting away. The animals are bunched together and the mares will flare at each other in a bad tempered way, yet they are good with us humans. Three children come down the steps and join us, and we warn them not to box the animals in, or go behind the mares and to talk gently to the ponies all the time but I have a feeling as we leave that the ponies are pretty good with children anyway, even though they must be half wild. We reckoned about a two to three mile walk with the Fox and Raven as the destination point and an elderflower fizz for me.

Water horsetail

Lesser reedmace

There is something extraodinarily beautiful about the colour of a field left to go wild, these fields would probably have been water meadows in time gone by, there is a certain silt like texture to the soil that is unusual.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


Today there has been a thunderstorm, and the ground has received at least some rain but it needs much, much more. Its tiring this weather, no time for long written blogs just two photos taken today. One of my loom work, the other of the white bowls with their different coloured pigments in the studio today. The white is ground oyster shell, reading an article on it it says that the oyster shells were aged before they were ground up for use as a paint. Pearls were also used in a similar fashion. Another thing I learnt today about Japanese culture, is that the hangingscrolls are put up on a temporary basis to reflect the season. Therefore you would never hang up a chrysanthmum scroll in spring, it would always be cherry blossom. So in a typical teahouse or room, the scroll would hang maybe just for the afternoon tea ceremony and then rolled and put away for years, so different to our Western culture of hanging pictures on the wall for years and years. I would'nt mind a teahouse in the garden, utter simplicity, no furniture, a mat on the floor and peace and quiet..bliss
And some music I came across in an old blog about 'Natural Places' its was composed during the protest against the motorway built under the Hill of Tara last year. Well its built now, though not much used according to Save Tara group, people don't want to pay the tolls ! well well.