Sunday, August 31, 2014

The village of North Stoke

Telling stories, as I have wandered the landscape so the stories unfold and you begin to realise that now this moment is just that, below you on this very spot you stand, thousands may have walked, led lives, even settlements lie under you feet all now dead and forgotton, crumbled into dust so that only the imagination can fill in the spaces.  Therefore when you approach history or archaeology you are picking up fragments from the past.
So it has always been with me, I wandered a part of land called the Lansdown for 25 years, such knowledge allows you the place of the deer, the short legged muntjac early morning, the golden plovers nesting in the ground, the fox coming home from a night's hunting.  It also brings up the ghosts, and before I embark on my original story about North Stoke that lies just below the Lansdown let me begin with unusual happenings.
Ghost stories maybe, firstly there was that early Sunday morning walk, the downs were covered in fog, Moss loping by my side went onto red alert, every muscle straining to see through the fog, he started barking as a figure emerged through the fog, even my heart was beating, Moss had hysterics, normally he is a sensible collie, but this figure that emerged was wearing a tam o shanter, and a kilt to boot, truly Scottish, in fact was so strange that ghost seems a normal way to describe him, he passed by a cheery greeting and was gone, was he a ghost? or some drunken fool walking back from somewhere, who knows!  One person who walked the downs and had 'the sight' told me of his wife seeing an old soldier  limping back along the same path from the battle of the Lansdown from the Civil War of the 17th century, now that surely was a ghost.  A friend had a similar experience, riding along on his motorbike in the lane at night past Dyrham House, and passed an old fashioned gaitered man.  He stopped and turned round, but could not find the old man, though there was no place for him to vanish...
So North stoke, a small hamlet with a Saxon place name meaning that it was a small Saxon stead to the north of Bath.  I think at one stage it had a small monastic foundation in the 7th century.  The village is set half way up a hill, and looks down on the road out of Bath to Bitton, Keynsham and Bristol, in fact it would have been the old Roman road to the port of Ebona, and called Via Julia but according to some sources this is wrong.
The church of St.Martin stands on the hill, with a fast flowing brook beside it, in fact it is a 'water spout' that emerges just above on the hill.  This itself gives credence to the fact that the church had a long history and was built on a Roman villa's foundations, though this has never been excavated, and cannot therefore be guaranteed but what I have read of the place, the foundations of the church are slightly askew, and given that the name St.Martin alludes to a very early saint. There is nothing spectacular about the church, there are a collection of old yews in the churchyard and the church itself stands above the manor barn and a few old cottages just about makes up the sum of the place.

So who was St.Martin of Tours, AD 316 to AD 397 and short biography would put him as a Roman soldier turned christian, for a fuller biography you will see he did not step into England, but lets allow the story to be embellished for the sake of the Roman villa in North Stoke, and there are a number of churches named after him in England, and his story is interesting.  Here is a description as he came upon the 'pagans' (people who lived in the countryside).....
As bishop, Martin set to enthusiastically ordering the destruction of pagan temples, altars and sculptures. Scholars suggest the following account may indicate the depth of the Druidic folk religion in relation to the veneer of Roman classical culture in the area:
"[W]hen in a certain village he had demolished a very ancient temple, and had set about cutting down a pine-tree, which stood close to the temple, the chief priest of that place, and a crowd of other heathens began to oppose him; and these people, though, under the influence of the Lord, they had been quiet while the temple was being overthrown, could not patiently allow the tree to be cut down".
In one instance, the pagans agreed to fell their sacred fir tree, if Martin would stand directly in its path. He did so, and it miraculously missed him. Sulpicius, a classically educated aristocrat, related this anecdote with dramatic details, as a set piece. Sulpicius could not have failed to know the incident the Roman poet Horace recalls in several Odes, of his narrow escape from a falling tree.

The felling of 'sacred trees' in Ireland is documented in the old  celtic tales, and I have often wondered if the tree carried on the shoulders of the Celtic soldiers on the Gundestrup cauldron, is a sacred tree won from their enemy.

The Celtic Head

As I wind this story round it several routes, landscapes interlacing with histories, it is well to remember that at the great temple of Roman Bath, there would have been this magnificent face of the Celtic 'guarding figure' over the portico of the door, the Romans had meshed their gods with the local deities, perhaps I would rather use the word 'nested' a comfortable mythology to spread good social order on the natives.
There are supposed to be Saxon and Roman work in this church..

The view over the valley from the churchyard, there are lynchets or terraces. Read somewhere that Roman grapevines were grown here, but the lynchets could be medieval.

A holloway with dear old Moss

The water tumbling down by the side of the church steps

1) The great celtic head above, dramatic and a very fine sculpture, Roman or native no one knows, has of course a part in celtic history and as Ann Ross says, maybe she is exaggerating slightly ,"the Celts venerated the head as a symbol of divinity and the powers of the otherworld, and regarded it as the most important bodily member, the very seat of the soul.  but the head  of the vanquished  played a role in battle, and was often kept as a trophy afterwards. Sometimes visitors to Roman Bath see it it just for the hot baths when in actual fact the temple was a fusion and meeting place of many people in Roman times, including pagan worship and druids.

2) This road may, for convenience, be said to start from Bath. But it seems to have been regarded in Roman days rather as a continuation of the route from London, than as a road from Bath to the west. It does not, strictly speaking, start from Aquae. It diverges from the Fosse at Walcot church, half a mile east of the Roman settlement, and runs on westwards without entering the Roman area. Through modern Bath its course is roughly represented by Guinea Lane and Julian road. In Victoria Park it may have been joined by a road from the west gate of Aquae. But the evidence for such a road is scanty. It does not include any trace of an actual roadway and rests mainly on the probabilities of the case. Thence our road continues through Weston, mounts the neck of high land which joins Kelston Round Hill to Lansdown, runs close beneath North Stoke and drops sharply to the Avon valley and the 'station' or village at Bitton. ......

Friday, August 29, 2014

Capturing the imagination

A model of a Neanderthal child at the Neanderthal Museum in Krapina, Croatia. Photo by Nikola Solic/Reuters

I found this photo yesterday but LS took it for an article, still it reminds me of my youngest granddaughter,  Lillie, there was a point last year when on following her sister along the ledge of a small fountain when we were in the park at Whitby she fell into the fountain.  Covered in green slime she emerged in tears, and as her laughing sister took photos of Lillie's plight, I wrapped my cardigan round her and we all went back to the cottage. The model has that same dreamy look that can often be found on Lillie's face, the  face of innocence, the leaves float on the mirror/water, the reflection so clearly cast back.  A reminder in this wretched world that we must protect childhood at all cost, and punish those that turned their heads away when such terrible crimes were committed in Rotherham.

Black Mountain Quarries  A video of the wild Welsh country, and it's long forgotten lime quarry.  If you have ever travelled round the Pembrokeshire coast, the ruined cottages of Aberridi and the great brick hods for stone and gravel at Porthgain, this video is so reminiscent of those once flourishing industries in the 19th century.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Old faces now lost

Listening to the Food Programme on Sunday, and the familiar voice of Derek Cooper came over the airwaves, he died last April, but I so enjoyed his programmes in the past and find he was the instigator of the Food Programme in 1979.  Nowadays I hardly listen to it, we have moved on great strides in the media making cooking the 'in subject' and I lose interest, sorry Mary Berry!

It brought back to mind the other series I loved Jeanine McCullen and her 'Small Country Living', a place I wanted to be , and yet it still eludes me ;).  Somewhere in Wales with her dogs and mother if I remember rightly she struggled on her small holding, going out interviewing all these people who were doing similar things.

Well before I leave people 'who have died' I can almost hear LS chomping in the background for my supposed interest in death, I will mention one other Fred Dibnah, who we both watched yesterday in 'Magnifient Monuments' as he sauntered from Stonehenge through to the very early Saxon Escomb Church

Escomb Church, one of the earliest churches
and then the magnificence of St.Paul's dome, in his indomitable Northern way with his flat cap fixed firmly on his bald head, till it blew off on a switch back ride.  We have lost in this man a character of such charm and intelligence and so full of enthusiasm for the way the mechanical world worked and as he first appeared on our screen, knocking down the great chimney stacks of the Northern mills, etc.
Such people move through our lives, catching our interest, till something new replaces it, and we realise that age is creeping up on us.   One of the things that today's media seems to underline is what I call 'contemplating one's own navel' we have become obsessed with 'self' and perhaps the projection of self in a wider world.  I may be guilty of it myself, but blogs are a record a bit like a diary, filling in those bits of life we lead elsewhere.  Our thoughts tumble through our heads at enormous speed, nearly all not worth recording but occasionally we need to catch them, even if only for our own memories......

Monday, August 25, 2014


Being retrospective once more;  Finding my apple photos bought a lot of other memories to light, the garden pond, as it developed over the years collected  many a native species. Here in these three photos you can see the mating of the blue damselfly. You need patience to see the emergence of these nymphs up the reeds as they crawled out of the water in one stage to emerge shivering into the world  as these pretty insects.

The next three used to be a favourite walk to Kelston Hill, a timeless scene, turning down the old trackway to where the deer slept at night, so overgrown it was a secret place, and then glimpsing Kelston with the old Roman trackways beneath....

Soft Somerset landscape

Moss waiting for deer to emerge from the woods

Kelston Round Hill

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Causeways and natural wilderness

"Thou who dost pause on this aerial height/ Where Maud Heath's Pathway winds in shade and light/ Christian wayfarer in a world of strife/ Be still and consider the Path of Life."
You may often see small causeways in Essex, alongside a river that will flood in winter, they rise above the flood so that the inhabitants of the small villages and hamlets could walk safely.  The above line of verse comes from the nineteenth century Wiltshire poet Lisle Bowles, on the famous Maud Heath's causeway outside Chippenham in Wiltshire, she left £8 on her death in 1474 for a causeway to be built, and is remembered ever since!
Yesterday we went to down to Paper Mill lock, I had wanted their delicious carrot cake three weeks ago, which had been duly noted by my love and so we sat by the lock with the throng of people who also come to have lunch by the river, and I forgot to photograph this culinary triumph, though we did get to see the new cygnets that can be found all along the river, their gray feathers, a beautiful dove colour.

Afterwards we went down tiny lanes to Nounsley village, a hamlet off Hatfield Peverel, and stopped at the bridge where the little River Ter, makes its way through the choked vegetation that has accumulated over the years.  There is a neglected air round this part of the river, great willows, the girth of their trunks showing old age, sometimes large branches are brought down by storms, or an old giant tumbles, to lie for years crumbling into dust.  They are true characters these willows and I am somewhat in awe of them, but one thing I look out for at this time of year is the tangle of hops that scramble through the hedges, a relict perhaps of hop growing in the past. They also cover the causeway here too. 
Untidy mass of hedge with hop vines weaving their tangled way through

The silver of willow

The choked vegetation of the river

On the other side of the bridge

Friday, August 22, 2014

Apple trees

Being retrospective;  The other day I bought some conference pears from Asda, they were Belgium and completely unlike the ones I love, hard and slightly sweet, the ones of my childhood.  So it left me reminiscing about the fruit trees that I planted out in the old garden.  The truth of the matter is that I fell in love with names, same with the old fashioned roses.
Pulling out my old green book, now housing 'passwords' by the dozen and before the real onset of the computer. At the beginning from 1999 I have listed the seeds I planted and also written about the emergence of the apple blossom, which I looked forward to each year.  I see reading my untidy writing that  the Blue Pearmain was rife with the scab disease but on the whole the apple trees produced fine beautiful apples, there was also plum and pear trees, not forgetting nut trees, which the squirrels robbed each year (unripe) and planted round various places in the garden, for me to find and get cross about.
So here are the old trees, the first is White Transparent, a Russian, very early cooking apple, it was prolific, turning golden and soft fairly quickly, July picking.  The Blue Pearmain, was a beautiful red and green apple but hard and slightly bitter, and as it got chopped down because of the scab did not last long, though it resprouted from the graft.
The Reverend Wilkes was bought for his name, I think was a large green cooking apple, not given to producing many apples. Then there was the Merton Russett, not much said about that, and another cooking apple. Orleans Reinette was an eating apple, pretty name! I bought two of these trees, and she was planted next to the Reverend Wilkes down in the valley part of the garden, and this could have led to less apples being produced.
Then came a new batch, on smaller graftings, Discovery, Katy, Fiesta and Gala,  I found with the smaller trees that they had to be supported because of the greater number of apples.  Also May Queen I note though not much said about that tree either
Next came the pears, Conference, William and Deacon which was an old pear, good taste if I remember.
Plum trees never produced well in the garden, but were planted; Cambridge Gage, Victoria, Oullins Gage, Damson Merryweather, Denniston Superb.  I remember the gages for the sheer sweetness as compared to the plums.
I must have kept this gardening diary for about 6 years, always curious about everything, I grew wild flowers and herbs throughout this period as well.  Much of my gardening practice is based on Permaculture, whereby fruit and perennial vegetables are grown.  And also recording this list of trees it is a reminder, that we have a whole history in the development, grafting and breeding of our fruit trees.

So what happened to all those apples we did not eat? I had a small apple mill, not sure of the right word, from which I would extract the juice, real apple juice is miles away from the stuff you buy in the market.  In Bath Organic market they used to sell the different apple juices exactly like wine, the colour is superb, the taste even better.
All hard work, but if we really want our world to survive from the overall blandness of fruits from other countries which we get in the supermarket wrapped in plastic, then these different apple trees need to be kept going, and that can only be by us learning to experiment.  The Good Life is occasionally mocked for its 'yoghurt weaving, sandal image' so often portrayed in that easy fashion of the media, but there are people and nurseries out there devoted to the cultivation of the obscure and old seeds, and fruit trees, they  need our support.

Thursday, August 21, 2014


Just back from delivering our old bed to the recycling depot, it went into an enormous machine that presumably gobbled it up.  Took the bed apart yesterday and then constructed the new one when it arrived which  took up some time.  But though hardly a help for when we move, throwing things away is a first start. We have a 'rag and bone' man come down the road every week, not with a horse and cart but an old van from which he rings a bell, last week he took a large generator.  Today our friend in Cornwall went to see a cottage for us, small, damp and cold is his verdict, so that one is off the list.  It was pretty though from the outside, opposite the church, and had been the post office for the village.

The sheep itself, their wool has to go through a whole process before it achieves the spinning flexibility of the tops below.  Creative Commons photo

The Bluefaced Leicester evolved from a breeding scheme, to develop the Longwool sheep in the 1700's, by Robert Bakewell. Originally known as the Dishly Leicester. The breed was developed over the next 200 years and became commonly known as the Hexham Leicester due to it's early concentration in the North of England. 

Today it is known as the Bluefaced Leicester and is now the most popular crossing sire throughout the British isles. 

Oatmeal Blue Faced Leicester, with tussah silk
 Soft and silky this blue-faced leicester fibre is a joy to spin, more expensive than Merino, which though soft is not as lustrous.  Why oatmeal? well it will make a subdued background for fair isle work.  The silk tussah fibre dyes beautifully but stranded with other wools will always be darker than the wool.... It is not really blue-faced, it comes from the mixture of white and black hairs on the face, and it is used as a 'mule' sheep which I believe means it his bred with other types for meat etc....

Autumn sedum
The garden begins to fall under the spell of golden light in the morning, chill air, that Autumn feeling, but the bees are still busy in the bean flowers.

Second crop

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


Reading Daniel Quinn's Ishmael online;  Quinn's book was in our household years ago but I never read it, it appeared about the time my son went to university, I remember picking it up and the story was told through a gorilla called Ishmael, so I put it down again, perhaps I should buy it..... Here Quinn is explaining that the way humanity went through an agricultural revolution, marking our progress through farming and civilisation, forgetting the greater amount of time humans, or their contemporaries had actually been living through the stone age as foragers or hunters.  Now sense tells us that we could not all go out hunting and foraging, and that human kind would indeed be reduced if we did - not a bad idea some would say.  His theory that we should resort to a more tribal nature, in many ways a bit like the protestors at Heathrow demostrating against the proposed third runaway, which drifts through the news this week.  Four years and our hippies have turned this vacant land into something more productive, but the bailiffs are moving in to move them on, the owner wants the land back.  The battle is of course to do with noisy aeroplanes for the people living round Heathrow, for the protestors it gives them a meaning and value to life to fight something that is seen as destructive  but in doing so bonds people into a 'tribe' different from the 9 to 5 people around them.

 "We have at last arrived at a point where we can abandon this vague and clumsy way of talking about “people of our culture” and “people of all other cultures.” We might settle for “Followers of the Law” and “Rejecters of the Law,” but a simpler pair of names for these groups has been provided by a colleague, who called them Leavers and Takers. He explained the names this way, that Leavers, by following the law, leave the rule of the world in the hands of the gods, whereas the Takers, by rejecting the law, take the rule of the world into their own hands. He wasn’t satisfied with this terminology (and neither am I), but it has a certain following, and I have nothing to replace it with."

When we talk of tribalism of course the first image to come to mind is the 'Law of the Jungle,' a 19th century understanding in that the strongest survive, and also our ideas are given extra credence by such images these Amazon Indians give who have emerged from the jungle in Peru recently as their lives are  by threatened by logging and oil companies

Historians wouldn’t touch this other stuff, and here’s the excuse they fashioned for themselves. They didn’t have to touch it … because it wasn’t history. It was some newfangled thing called prehistory. That was the ticket. Let some inferior breed handle it - not real historians, but rather prehistorians. In this way, modern historians put their stamp of approval on the Great Forgetting. What was forgotten in the Great Forgetting was not something important, it was just prehistory. Something not worth looking at. A huge, long period of nothing happening.

As I’ve pointed out again and again, the foundation thinkers of our culture imagined that Man had been born an agriculturalist and a civilization-builder. When thinkers of the nineteenth century were forced to revise this imagining, they did it this way: Man may not have been born an agriculturalist and a civilization-builder, but he was nonetheless born to become an agriculturalist and a civilization builder. In other words, the man of that fiction known as prehistory came into our cultural awareness as a sort of very, very slow starter, and prehistory became a record of people making a very, very slow start at becoming agriculturalists and civilization-builders. If you need a tip-off to confirm this, consider the customary designation of prehistoric peoples as “Stone Age”; this nomenclature was chosen by people who didn’t doubt for a moment that stones were as important to these pathetic ancestors of ours as printing presses and steam locomotives were to the people of the nineteenth century. If you’d like to get an idea of how important stones were to prehistoric peoples, visit a modern “Stone Age” culture in New Guinea or Brazil, and you’ll see that stones are about as central to their lives as glue is to ours. They use stones all the time, of course - as we use glue all the time - but calling them Stone Age people makes no better sense than calling us Glue Age people.

Do I get a better understanding of the world as it is today, I think not sadly, but my understanding of the 'stone people' is that they were on the road to where civilisation stands today, nothing could have been done to prevent it, we are the sum of our curiosity, which drives forward advance.  The religious meme will always be a source of wonder to me, it has had terrible consequences in the way we humans use these different belief systems to lead our lives.  As I despair of the cruelty inflicted on animals so I despair of crude faiths that use their symbols to inflict death, to bully, to send women and children into slavery.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Moon Bears

 It has been a busy weekend, but the fate of these two Moon bears trapped in their cages for nine years over water for the entertainment of a restaurant came to light on Facebook via Peter Yuen, a photographer, last week, and who became part of the rescue.  When they were transferred to solid floors they were unsure of themselves, but seem to be settling into  their new life.  When you look at history, bears seem to have had a particularly bad time of it, is it their slow ponderous movement, slightly like us humans, made them ideal for chaining, then performing and fighting to keep the masses happy in medieval times, how can we treat animals so?  Bile farming is another horror, locked in these sort of cages for a lifetime, they become ill with the cruel extraction of bile. Slowly it is changing, a realisation that such cruelty cannot be continued, with companies in China acknowledging they will no longer buy the bile extract. All to the good, I am sure Peter Yuen will not mind me using his photos to highlight some of the work that goes on in rescuing bears.  Jill Robinson through Animals Asia is best known for her work in Vietnam and China with the bears.

Being rescued, the bears are very docile

Happy Moon bear

Sunday, August 17, 2014

17th August

End of the weekend;  Saturday we went to the Cats pub, for a sandwich and a pint for LS, drove back through a rather wet countryside, and the question that steals into my mind, if the ground is saturated now, as it is in some fields, when normally we are experiencing drought symptoms at this point of summer what happens if it rains heavily again in the winter?  The V Festival has happened in Chelmsford over the weekend and it was a bit soggy, though never as bad as Glastonbury.

In the evening a phone call from Calais the family were on their way back and would arrive at midnight which they did, the children looking very tired. Next morning my daughter and I had a morning full of gossip catching up, as Darron slept on the sofa too tired to drive back.
It transpired that their chalet did not have electricity, just gas and solar panels, so they went to bed early every night, quite happily, and D is already saying he is booking the place for next year.  But Ben says he will not go, think he missed his friends and football, and at 14 is thinking differently. The Chrysler has been playing up, on the way out it lost power at Dartford Tunnel, which they thought was down to being in a queue, but apparently it has also played up going back, they are lucky it worked on the difficult trackway to the chalet.

The car is full to the roof.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


Blackberrying;  Very ripe, old Satan has arrived and already spat upon a few of them! But it has been an early summer fruiting with the weather we have been having.  This small spot of wilderness has many blackberries, sloes and hawes.  We come each year, and today a small knot of worry unfolded in my stomach as the prolific greenness of everything gave out its vitality on all sides and relaxed that core of stress.  The soft grey of the old willows, the pink of the Himalayan Balsam,  a welcome 'foreigner' for me, blackberries squidging between ones fingers, the angry squawk of blackbirds as their domain was invaded, and the thrush picking a snail from the road and cracking it in the dark interior of the hedge.  This part of the Chelmer river, gently falls into the decay of land not used.  Belonging to Sandford Mill, a museum for some of the river and farming treasures, though only open on specific times during the year.  Autumn is in the air though, a slight chill bought on the wind by Bertha!

The little path over the river to nowhere

Secret pathways

Himalayan balsam


Old Willows

A small wilderness

Lilac teasels forming