Tuesday, 29 November 2011

In a Country Churchyard.

Devizes has three large medieval churches, and this one, the Church of St Mary, is now redundant and is about to be adapted into a community centre.  The pews will be removed to allow space for a performing area, and it is hoped local choirs, music, drama groups and dancers will be able to hold small concerts here with an audience of around 200.  A new extension to the side of the nave is planned,  and this will provide space for a kitchen and toilets. 

Before the work can begin, a team of archeologists has arrived to excavate the churchyard and burial ground, and remove and reinter any human remains that may be found, or to find and record other objects of archeological interest.  The churchyard was excavated years ago when evidence was found of 11th & 12th century burials.  

The photo below shows a recently dug hole near the blue tarpaulin.  The tombs and gravestones in the foreground date from the early 19th century.   Just behind the nearest soil heap is a surveyor in his yellow coat with a theodolite, obviously recording the lie of the land.  Work should begin on the extension later this year.

Excavations begin on the site of the new extension.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Six Miles around Compton Bassett with the Mid Wilts Ramblers.

Walking under another mighty English oak
Every Sunday the Mid Wilts Ramblers organise a walk in the local area.  We meet in Tesco's car park in Devizes, climb into various cars, and take the short journey to the start of the walk.  Yesterday we enjoyed a walk around Compton Bassett, a small village about six miles north of Devizes.   There are several place names bearing the name Bassett, which I believe derives from the Bassett family and their medieval land ownership.  The now famous Royal Wootten Bassett, Winterbourne Bassett and Berwick Bassett are another three towns and villages in the vacinity.    Sunday morning was unseasonally warm and sunny and a group of 18 walkers set out for a six mile walk around the small village.  At one point we passed Hill's Waste Landfill site,   a mega hole in the ground into which local refuse is dumped.  The company also runs a huge recycling centre from an industrial sized big shed,  which is painted green and blends well into the landscape.  Gas produced from this landfill site produces enough energy for 4,000 homes.  There was no smell, which surprised me, but we did contemplate on the amount of rubbish we, as a country, produce, which is a rather terrifing thought!    www.hills-group.co.uk  

There was no opportunity to visit the church which, I am told, contains some interesting stone carvings, but I have added Compton Bassett to my list of "Must See Churches" before I leave planet earth for................. ?      www.comptonbassett.com
Dappled sunlight on a warm November morning.

Making our way down towards the village.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Christmas Comes to Devizes with a BANG!

The Queen of the Frost spreads her icicle hands.
The Queen of the Frost frightens small children in Devizes, an exciting way to start the Christmas celebrations!  Last night Santa arrived in  town  and welcomed the coming  festive season with a few words from Lapland.  Hundreds of excited children and parents joined the lantern parade that wandered around the town.   Santa had his snowy grotto at the Wharf, and when the paraade arrived, he joined in and was excorted into the Market place.  Here he climbed onto the balcony of the "Bear Hotel" and turned on the lights.  The Christmas tree lit up, and Bang! Bang! cascades of red and white rockets  arched over our heads.   It was a wonderful occasion, with christmas market stalls selling crafts and gifts in the Market Place, in the Corn Exchange in in the Old Cheese Market,  known as the "Shambles." 

The white horse below is a big lantern, carried by two people, and just one of the many so imaginatively made by local school children.  Wiltshire is famous for its white horses carved into the chalk downland, and Braunschweig in Germany also has a white horse as an emblem.  Santa can be seen below greeting everyone. (Secretly I know him as Ray, one of my friends who is learning German, and doing very well.)
A White Horse leads  the lantern parade.

Fireworks and lanterns.

Santa brings a Christmas message from Lapland to Devizes.

More cascading rockets and lanterns.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

A Passiflora Blooms in mid November.

A Passiflora blooms in mid November on my roof garden.
I am still here, but have something that is doing the rounds, a virus I think.  I will be back with news and views as soon as I am feeling better.    This beautiful flower is blooming on my roof garden in the middle  of November, should this be happening? 

Monday, 21 November 2011

A Sunday afternoon walk around Bromham, Netherstreet and St Edith's Marsh

Walking through the curly kale field.
Sunday's ramble took us around Bromham, an area of fertile land which supports many vegetable growers, who supply local supermarkets with fresh vegetables.  The photo left show us in a field of curly kale, all planted in very regimental lines.  Bromham church can be seen in the background, and here in the churchyard lies the body of a soldier killed in the 1643 battle of  "Roundway Down" during the English Civil War.  The group can be seen below,  walking towards St. Edith's Marsh with Roundway Down  and  its clump of trees on the skyline, the place where we walked last Sunday.  We walked about 5 miles yesterday, at a time when most of the fog had lifted allowing a little sun to peep through the clouds.   The lowest photo shows a small allotment plot with a bed of nasturtiums still happily blooming.  The weather is so mild that the plants seem totally confused.  A passiflora is booming on my roof garden, surely something is wrong!

Bromham is divided into five small hamlets, and yesterday we walked through two,  St. Edith's Marsh and Netherstreet.  The others are named Chittoe, Hawkstreet and Westbrook.  There is interesting information about the village on: www.bromham.org.uk
A distant Oliver's Castle on the down, the site of a Civil War battle

Sunset approaching through an English oak tree.

The nasturtiums are still blooming.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

The Wharf Theatre beside the Kennet & Avon Canal in Devizes

The "Wharf Theatre" beside the canal.
The Kennet & Avon canal was opened in 1810, and bought much trade to Devizes from Bristol, Bath, Reading and Newbury.  This place, the old Wharf,  and managed by a "Wharfinger," what an interesting old name,  must have been a hive of activity up until the mid 1840's.  The opening of Isambard Kingdom Brunel's  "Great Western Railway" between London and Bristol,  killed off canal traffic almost overnight.   Goods could be transported by train in a matter of hours, instead of the days it took on the old, horse drawn barges.  Devizes council took over the wharf buildings after the collapse of the canal company, and the site was used by carrier services, coal merchants and various traders.   The Theatre building is canalside and the old cranes that lifted the goods from the barges can still be seen, as can many bricked up windows.  At the moment the theatre is preparing for it's Christmas production, and it's various shows and events are  well supported by the people of Devizes.

Below is another interesting Wharf building.   Once warehouses, it is now the home the canal museum, information centre and shop.  Devizes Canoe Club is also based here, and every year at Easter stages the world famous "Devizes to Westminster" canal race, the longest canal marathon in the world.   Elite crews and those of amateurs and young people leave at intervals on Good Frioday and must negotiate all the locks to Reading, and then onto the River Thames towards London.  The record is around 18 hours!  Amazing, but the canoeists do have support teams.   www.dwrace.org.uk  Every year the smell of bacon butties wafts around the Wharf, as the early morning starters tuck in before their gruelling paddle to Westminster in London.  Many famous rowers enter the race, and next year Steve Redgrave says he hopes to take part.
The Old Wharf Building, home of the K & A Trust's shop, museum and information centre.

What's On?  This Christmas it's  "The Witches" by Roald Dahl.
The new Main Entrance.  Note the bricked up windows of the old warehouse.
The Old Crane still attached to the wall.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

The Holburne Museum in Great Pulteney Street, Bath.

Pulteney Bridge and the weir.

This is Pulteney Bridge in Bath, the beautiful structure based on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence.  The bridge is lined with shops, and when passing over, you are not aware of the River Avon flowing underneath.  The bridge appears as an ordinary street and linked the wealthy area of Bath around the Abbey, to the less desirable parts of the outer  city.  The River Avon floods in winter, and at times the weir  completely disappears from view.  Today the river was placid, but it can become a ferocious torrent.

Today I visited an exhibition of Thomas Gainsborough's landscape paintings in the Holburne Art Museum.  This beautiful building was originally designed as an hotel standing in Sydney Gardens.   When Jane Austen lived just across the road in Sydney Place in the early 1800s, she regularly walked in the gardens.  The paintings of English landscapes were wonderful, and alongside the pictures were the preliminary sketches in various mediums, chalk, ink and pencil, that Gainsborough had used to compose his paintings. 

Below, the photo shows the new glass extension added to the back of the building.  There was much desention about the building of this modern, glass structure.   Many thought that it did not fit in with the building heritage of Bath.  It is now completed,  I think it fits in well and is hidden from view from Great Pulteney Street.  It now provides a cafe on the ground floor, and two extra galleries for the display of china, miniatures and glassware.  In the lowest photo, Jo waits for me at the main entrance.  We had a most enjoyable visit and wander around the busy city.
The Holburne Art Museum.

The new glass extension added to the back of the museum.

Jo waits for me at the Museum entrance.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The Great Porch House in Monday Market Street.

The Great Porch House with its Blue Plaque

This is the "Great Porch House" one of only two surviving medieval houses in Devizes.  It was a timbered-framed,  three bay hall, open from floor to roof, and with a two storey cross wing.  Originally it had a large porch to the front, after which it was named, but which was removed in the 17th century to allow houses to be built in the back courtyard.  The board across the arch give it a date of 1450.  The interior has carved heads of Henry 1V and Queen Joan of Navarre, and the flowers paintings on plaster  at each end, inside the roof, suggest that it was the home of a wealthy merchant, possible a member of the Coventry family.  It is also thought that Queen Joan may have stayed here when Devizes castle was being repaired.

In the photo below can be seen, top left, the remains of a rare clerestory or chamber window, the other windows are from the 19th century.  It is now a listed building and in private hands.  The cross beam that carries the date board, is decorated with little carved roundel flowers.  I live two minutes walk from here and can see the roof from my roof garden.  It is very foggy here today,  a day for staying in the warmth.

Monday, 14 November 2011

A Walk Over Roundway Down.

Information about the Civil War Battle of Roundway Down
 On Sunday afternoon I enjoyed a long walk with the "Mid Wilts Ramblers."  We went up to Roundway Down and walked part of the Civil War Battlefield site.  The Battle on July 13th 1643 was a decisive  victory for the "Royalists," who supported King Charles 1, against the "Parliamentarians" lead by General Hopton.  The Royalists had been trapped in Devizes and had taken refuge in several large churches.  Even today, St James Church shows cannonball holes in its tower, and in the late 1800s, a cannonball was found in the belltower.  The Royalists eventually managed to escape from Devizes and the two opposing sides met and fought each other up on the Down. 

The photo below gives you some idea of how high up we were, and below there is a view near "Bloody Ditch,"  so called because the Royalists chased the Parliamentarians over the edge of the escarpment and they, and their horses tumbled to their deaths.  Some remains of the soldiers, horses, musket balls and other artifacts have been found and can be seen in Devizes Museum.  This hill is known locally as "Oliver's Castle" and is the site of an old iron age hillfort. 

Oliver Cromwell, the leader of the Parliamentarians, and the eventual winner of the civil war, never fought here.  He became Lord Protector in 1653, and governed Britain for five years until he died in 1658, the only time that Britain has been a republic.  The monarchy was eventually restored when Charles 11 ascended to the throne in 1661.       http://www.wikipedia.org.uk/  Battle of Roundway Down
"Pippin" the poodle leads the way.

At Oliver's Castle near "Bloody Ditch."

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Wadworth's Dray and Shirehorses.

Max and Prince outside the "Black Swan Hotel"

Beer brewed at Wadworth's Devizes Brewery is delivered to the local pubs by dray and shirehorses.  They are a regular sight around the narrow streets of Devizes and often cause a traffic jam, much to the consternation of some drivers.  The brewery was founded by Henry Wadworth in 1875, and when it outgrew its original building, it moved into new premises that now stand at Brewery Corner in the Northgate.  The brewing process is gravity fed, so all the ingredients of a good brew are lifted five floors to the top of the Victorian building, where they are fed into various hoppers for their journey down to the ground floor, brewed and ready for dispatch.  The brew is then transported to Burton on Trent for canning and to Liverpool for bottling.  When finished, some bottles of Bishop's Tipple find their way back into my store cuboard in New Park Street.
Wadworth's have stabling for Max, Monty and Prince, the three magnificent shirehorses that pull the dray.  Several breweries in the country use dray and horses for local deliveries, although recently Wandsworth Brewery reluctantly stopped using them, as motorists were becoming more and more abusive to the draymen. after finding themselves held up in traffic jam.   Fortunately Devizes drivers are more tolerant, and hopefully this method of delivery will continue for years to come.  Each year the horses go for a holiday on a local farm.  Pictures of them galloping freely in the fields are a joy to see.
                  http://www.wadwoth.co.uk/                www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shire_horse.

Max and Prince at a Drayman's Wedding.

Friday, 11 November 2011

The 49 Bus to Bishops Cannings and a Walk Back.

The 49 waits at the Bus Island.
Here she is, the No. 49 Trans Wilts Express waiting to take us to Bishops Cannings.  Today I led a small group of walkers to Bishops Cannings, a small village about four miles miles outside Devizes.  We alighted near "The Crown" the village pub and then walked up onto a hillside ridge, but not for long, we soon walked down again towards the K&A canal towpath for the flat walk back into Devizes.  The photo below shows the group in "Quakers Walk," the name having nothing to do with the Quakers, but is a corruption of "Keepers" meaning a game keeper, a man responsible for looking after the game birds, pheasant, grouse, quails etc, on a large estate. 

This pathway led towards Roundway Down and the former "Roundway House" a large mansion with many historical connection, which was demolished just after the war and replaced by a new house. 
The two curious concrete domes on top of Brickham Bridge are tank stoppers from the last war.  When it was thought that an invading force might use the canal for transport, large concrete obstacles were placed to impede invading vehicles.  Kitty then arrived to meet us and said hello, but soon disappeared again as a man with a big black dog approached.
Strolling back through Quakers Walk.

Over Brickham Bridge complete with tank stoppers.

Kitty wanted to join us.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

An Entire School Visits Devizes Wharf for a Trip on the boat.

"Kenavon Venture" passing Cemetery Road Bridge.

Many local village schools like  to bring  their children to  Devizes Wharf, and   on Wednesday,  an entire school arrived for a day's visit.  The group included the smallest children from the reception class to those more grown up in year 6.  The visit was part of their studies into the history of transport and map making.  The visit included a ride on the K&A Trust's tripboat down  through "Town Lock," a visit to the Museum to see the many exhibits  about the history of the canal, the boats that plied their trade and the horses who pulled the great barges.    Divided into several small groups, the children had an opportunity to experience life on the canal,  to see a lock being operated, and to walk the towpath where the horses once trod.  The children  also did some drawings to take back to school to commemorate their visit.  Packed lunches were the order of the day, and everyone had an enjoyable time.

The lowest photo below shows "Avon Vale" the K&A Canal Trust's workboat, which was bought from Britishwaterways for a £1, but on condition that it was renovated and then used for canal maintenance.  It is used to clear trees that block the passage of passing boats, cut back the undergrowth and to remove obstructions on the canal bed.  Some of the locals like to throw supermarket trolleys into the canal, and these cause damage to passing boats. 

The long Wharf building in the background was used as a place of storage for goods carried on the barges.  The canal opened in 1810, and was a hive of activity until the coming of Brunel's Great Western Railway in 1838 from London to Bristol.   It was then possible to move goods in a faction of the time that it took a barge to travel the same distance.  http://www.steam-museum.org.uk/  This museum is housed in the old engine sheds at Brunel's works in Swindon.

The trip boat enters "Town Lock"

At the bottom of "Town Lock"

"Avon Vale" the Trust's workboat lying opposite Devizes Wharf.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Fog Yesterday, Fog Today and Fog Tomorrow.

The Millenium White Horse in fog, to the left on Roundway Down
The weather is in its "Dire November" mood, with fog, drizzle and widespread gloom.  I did venture out today, as yesterday I spent the day nursing my aching right wrist, that's what comes from writing too many German emails.  The top photo shows the path from Quakers Walk to the foot of Roundway Down, the site of an English Civil War battle on 13th July 1643.  Cromwell was never here, but there are references to him, with a pub named, "The Oliver Cromwell" and part of the Down is called "Oliver's Castle."  It was here, at "Bloody Ditch,"  that the Royalists drove the Roundheads over the edge of the chalk escarpment and won the battle for King Charles 1.   Each year a group re-enact the battle with much  colourful relish, the clashing of swords, gun smoke   and artificial blood!    www.devizesheritage.org.uk/battle_of_roundway.html  

To the left of the photo is a foggy white horse carved into the chalk, you may just be able to make it out near the top of the hill.  There is a tradition in Wiltshire of carving horses into the chalk and this one was created in year 2000 to celebrate the Millennium.  It is unusal in that it gallops to the right,  but that is because it can then meet the neighbouring Alton Barnes horse that is galloping to the left.  They can meet and kiss in the middle.  On its 10th anniversary, many of us stood on the horse in the shape of a 10, while a plane few over and took  photos.  I'm in them somewhere and will post one tomorrow, if I remember. 

The view under the bridge shows swans with their cygnets, and the blue boat is "Avon Vale" a K&A Trust workboat that helps keep the waterway clear of fallen trees and other obstructions.

Quakers Walk

Towards Devizes Wharf through Cemetery Road Bridge

Monday, 7 November 2011

The Sarsen Stone Valley on Fyfield Down near Marlborough.

Sheep among the Sarsen stones.
This valley of stones at Fyfield Down was formed when the overlaying sands and chalk eroded over the millennia, to leave behind these huge bolders.  The Down has the best assemblage of "Sarsen stones" in England, and they support nationally import lichen flora.  The stones are known locally  as "Grey Wethers"  because, when seen from a distance, they look like sheep. These are the boulders used  in the building  of the Stone circle  at Avebury and the more distant Stonehenge, and must have been transported by prehistoric  man from here  to their eventual resting places.  The landscape is hilly, and many man hours would have been needed to pull them up hill and down dale.  Silbury Hill, the artificial prehistoric manmade  mound is nearby, as is West Kennet Long Barrow and many other Bell Barrows, all ancient burial sites.  Much of this area is a World Heritage Site and a place of international archeological importance. I am very fortunate to live in this part of wonderful Wiltshire.  

I walked with the "Mid Wilts Ramblers" a group who organise local walks on Sundays.  I have lived in Wiltshire for ten years, and this was my first visit to the stones.  I will visit again, as many of the stones are named and  have interesting markings.  Yesterday it was not possible to linger awhile, sit on a stone and commune with my ancient ancestors.  The sunset was glorious as we arrived back at our cars, but I failed to capture its full glory on my camera.  http://www.visitwiltshire.co.uk/  and search Fyfield Down.
The Ramblers walking among the bolders.

Sunset over Fyfield Down

Climbing a ridge to sit on the stones for a tea break

Saturday, 5 November 2011

A Mass to Celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the Parish "Mary, Mother of the Church."

A full congregation in St Mary's Church.

Only three  known  Catholics worshipped in Devizes in 1761, although by 1861 in nearby Chippenham 20 more were worshipping.  The first centre for the Mass  in Devizes was a  disused warehouse  in Monday Market Street, which was served  from Chippenham until 1864.   In 1865 the new Catholic Church was opened.  Last night the "White Horse Opera Chorus" sang parts of Haydn's "Nelson Mass" to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the opening of the catholic church. The church was packed with worshippers, and our voices singing in this magnificent medieval church sounded wonderful.  Haydn's Mass is a glorious piece to sing,  I enjoyed the music in spite of its top As and Bs.

St Marys  is now redundant, and is to be turned into a much needed arts, dance, exhibition and music centre for the people of Devizes.   The pews will be replaced with moveable seating, a wooden floor laid,  and an extention will provide toilets and facilities for refreshments.
Below is a photo of the bright candles in my window.  I do hate the dark, early evenings of winter, and the brightness of the light makes me feel so much better.  Many people suffer from SAD, Seasonal Effecive Disorder, and bright light in the form of a lightbox, which mimicks sunlight is used as a therapy.  Sitting with bright light really works on cold, dark winter evenings and nights.
My lights to brighten the dark winter nights.

Friday, 4 November 2011

The Legend of the Wiltshire "Moonrakers."

The Crammer Pond with the church of St James in the background.
"Listen 'ere, whyle e tell ye a tale of contraband and excisemen and thik gurt yaller cheese int pond and us group yokels."  That is the limit of my Wiltshire dialect, which is still going strong in Devizes.  It sounds lovely, but I fear it will disappear completely, now that standard English has reached Salisbury Plain and the Vale of Pewsey.  The photo above shows the "Crammer" pond,  a word probably coming from the German for "Kramer" meaning tradesman.  This area was formerly part of the wasteland forming Bishops Cannings, and was used for fairs and stalls.  The plaque below gives another possible meaning for the word "Crammer."   I hope you can enlarge my photo to read the information.

History has it,  that  one evening a group of canny Wiltshire smugglars tricked the local excisemen, by throwing their contraband kegs of brandy into the Crammer pond.  They thought they would come back and retrieve it when the coast was clear.  One moonlit night they  returned, and as they were raking the kegs  out of the pond,  the  excisemen arrived.  "What ye doing?" they shouted.  Thinking quickly the smugglars replied, "We're raking the thik gurt yaller cheese out of pond." 

They were, of course,  trying to rake the reflection of the moon out of the pond.   The excisemen continued their journey thinking,  "what a bunch of stupid yokels we 'ave here."   Meanwhile the smugglars laughed to themselves,  they had  safely retrieved their contraband.  This old story is popular in other parts of England,  but folk born and breed in Wiltshire are still known as "Moonrakers."   Unfortunately I am not a "Moonraker."
The Crammer Pond and its Legend of theWiltshire Moonrakers.