Wednesday, 29 February 2012

The 49 bus breaks down, so a late lunch at the "Red Lion" in Avebury

The crow enjoys his nuts.
This tame crow was busy pecking at nuts in a feeder as we wandered past and into a gift shop in Avebury.  I met friends for lunch in "The Red Lion" supposedly haunted by a lady who fell down the well and drowned.  I'd arrived late for lunch as the 49 bus had broken down in Devizes, and the driver had evacuated the doubledecker, as blue smoke wafted out from behind the front, nearside wheel.  It smelt of burnt rubber, and the driver refused to continue the journey until the mechanics arrive to find the fault.  After a late  lunch and a much needed pint, we wandered around the village and shops, but bought nothing.   The area was quiet, this world famous site is usually crowded in the spring and summer months with tourists from around the world, and usually the pub is so  busy, that it's impossible to find a table.

Avebury stone circle was built by neolithic people over 2600 years ago, and this is the only place in the world where you will find a pub and a village inside a stone circle.   Sir Alexander Kieller (of the famous marmalade family) excavated the site in early in 20th century, and re-erected many of the stones that form the largest stone circle in Europe.  See more information on:
The 17th century threshing barn at Avebury is now a museum.
This 17th century threshing barn is now a museum, and at present is displaying a interactive exhibition about five species of bats. The neolithic artifacts found by Sir Alexander Kieller during his extensive excavations are displayed in the old farmyard buildings, which I have yet to visit.  Keiller was also responsible for re-establishing much of the village outside the stones, and area now called "Avebury Trusloe."  However the church and manor house, together with the farm buildings and of course the stones, now form the entire visitor complex.
Inside the threshing barn museum, the bats are in here somewhere!
Snowdrops cover the grass with Avebury Manor in the background.
In the background can be seen Avebury Manor, a fine 16th century house and recently the subject of a complete makeover, which was  filmed for BBC television.  Since all the publicity, the house has become a busy tourist destination, and is sometimes forced close because of visitor numbers.    The snowdrops are lovely at the moment, obviously the cold snap encouraged them to grow, and it warms the heart to know that spring is just around the corner.  (I hope)

Monday, 27 February 2012

A flat six miler around Marston.

The spring is coming!  Sunday's walk in the warm sun around Marston, a small hamlet near Devizes, made us feel that life is worth living after all!  I have never walked this area before, and I'm always pleased to discover the many little churches and chapels that litter the Wiltshire countryside.  Worton Church in the neighbouring hamlet was bathed in sunshine as we past.  At Worton Common we walked through snowdrop bedecked banks and verges and eventually came to the trout ponds at Great Cheverell Trout Farm.  I eat fish, but always feel rather sorry to see the beautiful creatures hanging from a hook and line.    I'm much too sentimental.
The group passes Great Cheverell Trout Farm
The water in the ponds was fast moving, and being fed in and out again to keep the water fresh and flowing, I think trout like it this way. Nets covered the ponds, as I suppose the herons would be dining on the fish if they had half a chance.  We walked on towards our Mill Farm coffee break, where I always find it difficult to stop, for whenever I do, my ankles object when I start up again.  We wandered through Cheverell Wood to the accompaniment of the squawking geese penned in a nearby field.  It was possible to buy eggs here from the owner, but all had gone.  This was an enchanting, short, flat walk and thoroughly enjoyed by all 22 walkers.
Walking through Cheverell Wood in dappled sunlight.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Sir William Herschel and the Planet "Uranus."

William Herschel was born in Hanover on 15th November 1738, one of ten children born to Isaac, a bandmaster in the Hanovarian Guards and his illiterate wife Anna.  At the Garrison school he showed a talent for languages, music and mathematics at an early age.  After service in the Army he  came to London in the hope of finding work as a professional musician.  It was not to be, and so he toured the country as a freelance player in various bands, and composing and  copying music for a living.   In 1767 he finally obtained work as organist at the Octagon Chapel in Bath and played in the orchestra in the "Pump Room."  He lived at 19 New King Street, which is now the home of the "Herschel Museum of Astronomy."   Here William lived with his sister Caroline, and where he begun his famous  "Review of the Heavens" and built his  first 5 inch lens reflector telescope for his observation of the stars.   Caroline carefully recorded his observations in  notebooks, some of which can be seen in the museum, and it was from here in 1781, in his little garden that he discovered the planet "Uranus," a discovery that at once doubled the then known size of the  universe.
Herschel's garden at 19 New King Street, Bath where, through his own handmade telescope lens,  he discovered the planet "Uranus," thinking at first, that it was a comet. 
The great planet was discovered in this little garden, and a statue of Herschel looking skyward, with Caroline recording his observations with a quill and notebook marks the occasion.   The garden is planted with herbs and also contains "Starburst," a silver coloured piece of modern sculpture.   In Herschel's day the Bath sky must have been very black, and he did not have to suffer the nusiance of light pollution that dogs modern man.  There are very few places in the UK where the sky is black at night.
Herschel's workshop where he experimented with various materials and cast and polished the lenses for his telescopes.
Most modern telescope lenses are cast in glass and coated in aluminium or some material which is highly reflective, but in the eighteenth century it was impossible to cast glass mirrors of any size, and the solution was to use an alloy of copper and tin, known as speculum metal, and which had to be laboriously polished to make it relective.  Poor Caroline not only cooked, kept house for William and recorded his nightly observations, but also spent many hours polishing his lenses.  Herschel became a famous astronomer, and a visitors book in the museum records the rich and famous who came to visit him in  this little, unassuming house.  With this success, Herschel eventually moved to "Observatory House" Slough near Windsor Castle, where he became astronomer to King George 111.   This potted history is far from complete, and information can be found on:

Sir William Herschel eventually married and had one son, John, who continued his father's work.  William is buried under the tower of St Laurence's Church Upton, near Slough, and he is widely commemorated in the town, having recently had a new shopping centre named "The Observatory" named in his honour.
Statues of a stargazing William, and his sister Caroline, keeping a  careful record of his nightly observations.  She became an astronomer in her own right, and discovered several comets.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

An Uphill climb to "Wansdyke" and over Milk Hill.

The Mid Wilts Rambers climb Milk Hill.
A line of ramblers straggles its way along Wansdayke towards the top of Milk Hill. A great walk, although the first two miles uphill were somewhat strenuous for my old legs, and I was pleased to get to the top,  and there begin the long descent back to our starting point at East Kennet Church.  The sun shone, the skylarks twittered in the blue sky, and a northerly wind blew a gale of wind in our right ears, and  I had to  borrow one of Pamela's hats, before I developed earache.  The group finished their walk at the church, but Pamela and I walked on to the "Santuary," the site of a possible neolithic henge or settlement.  We crossed the road to the "Ridgeway" and then walked down and onward through the "Stone Avenue" that leads into Avebury Stone circle.  This particular part of Wiltshire is crammed with neolithic sites, with Silbury Hill, that huge, and for purposes unknown, man made mound.  I still believe prehistoric man was trying to touch the stars and see if the moon were made of cheese!  After our walk we had to visit the "Red Lion" for a well earned beer and packets of crisps.  (I also had a packet of dry roasted peanuts too, very nice!)
Wansdyke snakes its way through the Wiltshire countryside towards Marlborough.
After the withdrawal of the Romans and before the takeover of the  Anglo-Saxons  "Wansdyke"  was built in the 7th century as a defensive linear earthwork of ditch and bank.  It formed a border between the Romano-British Celts in the West Country and the West Saxons, who were encroaching in the east from the Upper Thames Valley.  The Saxons named the bank after their god Woden, hence "Woden's Dyke."
West Kennet Long Barrow is silhouetted on the brow of the hill.  In my previous blog you can read about West Kennet Long Barrow.

Monday, 20 February 2012

West Kennet Long Barrow and Silbury Hill

The barrow entrance viewed from an inner chamber.
Wiltshire is rich in prehistoric neolithic sites, and last week we took a walk to West Kennet Long Barrow, an chambered, burial long barrow on the ridge of a hill.  Evidence suggests that it was in use from 3600 BC until 2500 BC and contained the burials of about 50 people, ranging from babies to old people.  The barrow is the longest in Britain at approx 100m in length.  The photo right was taken from the second burial chamber, all the cambers coming off a central walkway.  The barrow has been damaged by indiscriminate digging in past centuries, and only the first few metres and five small chambers can be viewed.  Huge sarsen stones originally sealed the entrance, but now access is via a gap behind the biggest stone.  The finds from this site are now in Devizes Museum, photos of which can be seen on the previous blog page.  A detailed account of this barrow and its artefacts please read on:
The entrance to the Long Barrow with its large stone which once sealed the entrance to the tombs.
It was half term last week, and so a series of families with schoolchildren and dogs made their way uphill to visit the barrow.  This family is enjoying the magnificent views of the Wiltshire landscape from the top of the chambered tomb.
A distant Silbury Hill viewed through the stone entrance of West Kennet Long Barrow.
Silbury Hill, the great enigmatic mound can be seen between the stones of the barrow's entrance.  This artificial hill has been excavated on several occasions, and was recently infilled to prevent its collaspe.  It is judged to be 4,500 years old, and was completed in 2,500 BC, evidence gained from the remains of seeds and insects.  It was once possible to climb to the top of Silbury, something I did on a wet and windy evening in the mid 1970's, and very creepy it was too.  The following website contains interesting information about the Avebury area:   www.­avebury-­web.­co.­uk/silbury_hill.­html   

The view of the hill below, was taken from the bank of the once clear flowing River Kennet, which now, because of water extraction has dried up.   I remember it as a rippling stream that attracted flowers and butterfies, and which must have provided water for the primitive families who lived on these sites at Avebury.  It is rather sad to see the now dead river bed.
Silbury Hill with the dried up River Kennet in the foreground.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Wiltshire Heritage Museum, Devizes.

Devizes Museum in Long Street.
Devizes Museum was founded in 1853 and is owned and run by the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society.  Its collections are "Designated" meaning they have been officially recognised as being of national importance.   I visited on Tuesday to take some photos for a talk I will be giving in Brunswick about Avebury and prehistoric man.  The museum houses a big collection of artefacts gathered from Avebury and the surrounding area.   The whole collection gives the history of man in the local area from the Neolithic 4500 to 2000BC, through to  Recent History from 1500 AD to the present day.  This week was half term, and the museum was full of excited children playing with the "hands on" exhibits.  I will have to visit again, as one visit is never enough.  The museum is housed in several buildings that front Long Street, a most beautifully preserved street of 16th and 17th century houses.  It is the loveliest street in Devizes. 
Flint arrowheads in a quiver.  There are four types of Neolithic arrowheads: transverse, leaf shaped, asymmetrical and triangular.  A Neolithic wooden bow, originally two metres long, has been found on the Somerset Levels.
The display above shows an archer's quiver holding several arrows, and a reconstructed axe, with its wooden handle and stone chopping head.  It must have taken many hours to chop down a tree with such crude tools.  An implement like the one below has never been found, although many tiny sharp flint pieces have been found in areas of habitation.  Archeologists think the little flints may have been set into a wooden block and used as a tool for grating plants and shredding flesh.  I rather like the idea.
A shredding board, a hypothetical tool which was possibly used for shredding flesh.

A delightful model of the flint mines at Easton Down.
This delightful model shows three men working in a flint mine at Easton Down, a few miles from Salisbury.  The silted-up mine shafts were excavated in 1930.  Amongst the finds were antler picks, rake fragments, picks and chisels made of flint.  the axes were made here, but ground and polished somewhere else.  I like the little man on the ladder and the poor soul lying on his side digging out the flints.  To the left and just out of sight in the photo is a modern model of a tiny fluffy dog lying on a blanket.  I smiled, as it has been added to made the model more interesting for children.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Four small Churches among the Snowdrops and Winter Aconites.

North Newnton Church with its mighty yew tree.
The sun shone brightly on Saturday, but unfortunately not on Sunday when the Mid Wilts ramblers made their annual circular walk around the four churches near the village of Pewsey.   It was still cold, the sky was grey but the fog had lifted, and so with snowdrop thoughts  in our minds we set off at a comfortable pace for the 5 mile circular.   The photo right shows our starting point at North Newnton church.  Several  wooden projections, which are covered with stone tiles, can be seen coming out of the tower. These are the ends of massive wooden beams that are set across the tower to hold the bell frame.  They each have their own tiled mini roof to protect the wood from the weather.  The churchyard yew tree must be at least 500 years old, and had a knarled, shiny dark red trunk.
The ramblers at Manningford Bruce Church.
The path here is still covered in icy snow, but in the grass snowdrops and winter aconites were in full bloom.  The daffodils had sensibly stopped their buds from opening, the warm winter weather had almost fooled them into blooming.  We went inside this church and found a beautifully painted and decorated curved apse.  I have never seen one quite like this before, and must read about its origins.
Snowdrops everywhere!  There are many varieties of snowdrop, I do not know the name of this one.

Coffee time at Manningford Abbots Church.
Half way through the walk, or when, by mutual consent, we start gasping for a drink, we stop somewhere suitable and rest our legs and drink tea or coffee.  Here some large tombs conveniently provided us with tables on which to rest our cups.  This pretty, small,  picture postcard church is no longer used for church services.
Manningford Bohune Church through the trees.
Our path took us away from this church, so I couldn't dash through the thicket to take some closer photos for fear of being left behind in the wilds of the Wiltshire.  By this time it was late afternoon and I could feel the temperature dropping once again.  The path became very muddy, but a mile further on we were back at the car park in North Newton, ready to climb aboard the cars and journey back to Devizes.  A really lovely walk with good company.

Friday, 10 February 2012

In the Bleak Midwinter, Snow had fallen, Snow on Snow, Snow on Snow. (Christina Rossetti's words.)

"Raffles" the dog watches the ducks at Caen Hill.
Scenes from a wonderful walk in the snow from the Corn Exchange in Devizes, down the Caen Hill flight of locks to Sells Green for lunch in "The Three Magpies."  It was still snowing when we set off and feeling very cold, but the brisk walk soon gave us rosy cheeks.  We met Raffles the labrador, watching his owner feeding bread to the ducks.  "He has to be tied up," she said, "Otherwise his throws himself into the canal for a swim."  Rather him than me in these icy conditions!  The towpath walk to the pub is about 4 miles in distance and takes about 1.5 hours.  We took the easy route, down the hill for lunch and then the X72 bus back.
My three friends walk towards lock 44 at the top of the Caen Hill flight of 16 consecutive locks.

Looking up the frozen flight of sixteen locks.  This flight is the 4th Wonder of the British Waterway system.  It was last section to be built and the canal opened for trade in December 1810.  Because millions of bricks were needed for the construction of the locks, brickworks were built alongside the canal.  Here at Caen Hill a little rail track ran on the towpath,  so that wagons drawn by horses could carry the bricks uphill.

Walking past the willow reeds at Lower Foxhangers.   In the summer months, some parts of  the canal are almost blocked by reeds.  These beds are protected by law to provide nesting sites for Reed Warblers.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Ice Cold in Devizes

The view through the London Road Bridge.
It is so cold, that I am suffering from "Blog Writers Block!"   I do not want to go out in the cold and discover interesting little corners in my home town.  I much prefer the warmth of my flat!  I should not complain as it is 1c here, and not the -4c that it is Braunschweig, Basel and Berlin.   I took these photos earlier in week, when I ventured out fully togged up in winter boots, thick coat, hat, scarf and woolly gloves. I really hate the cold!   The photo right shows a typical canal bridge over the K&A canal designed by John Rennie the canal's engineer.  This one is built of stone, as most are towards the Bath end of the canal.  From Devizes onwards the bridges are brick built, and several brickworks were built along the canal to supply bricks for the bridges and locks.   Many of the bridges still show ridge marks low down on the arch walls, marks made by the ropes as the horses pulled the barges through the bridge.  

A word on the titles of these blogs!!  I try to write titles with literary references.  This one alludes to:  "Ice cold in Alex," the famous film made in 1958 from a book by British author Christopher Landon and directed by J. Lee Thompson.
I suppose they wonder where the water has gone!  Ducks on the canal near Devizes Marina.  The marina has mooring for a 100 or so boats, and a covered dry dock for the maintenance of narrowboats.   The steel hull of each boat needs to be "blacked" every three years, in order to prevent rust and stop the boat from taking in water.  When drained of water, it is possible in the dry dock to inspect and paint the hull.

Walkers and dog on the towpath of the London Road section of the K&A canal.   Boats can moor, free of charge,  on the towpath side of a canal for fourteen days.   The narrowboats in the photo above are moored non-towpath side at the foot of resident's gardens.   British Waterways charges a mooring fee to these boat owners.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Snowdrops in Drew's Pond Nature Reserve.
I walked 4.5 miles this afternoon, came home, made a cuppa and went to sleep for an hour in my reclining chair!   It was a lovely walk, and one I have never discovered before.  I've lived in Devizes for 11 years, and I'm always surprised at finding a new walk I never knew exsisted.  It was down a track I've walked before, where I had noticed a lone fingerpost pointing to a walk in the opposite direction, but had never bothered to find out where it went.  Today all was revealed! 

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Marlborough is Alive with the Sound of Music

Sopranos front, tenors & basses middle, altos right.
Some slightly fuzzy photos here of my choir practise last night at Marlborough College.  I took them surreptitiously on my Blackberry phone, as not everyone likes to be photographed!  The choir is large and consists of 230 singers with mostly sopranos, about 70 altos, about 40 tenors and some very powerful basses with big voices making up the number.  We are singing Handel's "Messiah," and are spending 12 weeks in rehearsal before the performance in the College Chapel on Sunday March 18th.  We will be accompanied by the Southbank Symphonia Orchestra, and will have four professional singers as the solists.  It will be a splendid occasion.
Ian our accompanist on the piano and Simon our conductor discuss the music.
Ian, our wonderful pianist, accompanies the practices on the grand piano and here he is discussing with Simon our conductor, the finer details of Handel's great work.  Or perhaps, they could be discussing what to drink later after the practise! 

Simon talked last night about Baroque music and its lack of dynamics. There are no crescendos or diminuendoes marked in the score of the "Messiah."  It contains what is called, "Terraced dynamics" meaning, a phrase of music was played either strongly and loud ff, moderato mf, or quiet p or pp.    Simon is full of interesting little snippets of information about the history of music and is an excellent conductor, getting the most out of his willing singers.   The website gives more information about the college music department.  

Music is an international language, the markings I apply to my score are they same as those applied by singers and muscians around the world.  It is a great uniter of people, and Daniel Barenboim has used his talent to unite both Israeli and Palastinian musicians during the terrible troubles in both their countries.  We must all make music!
The large stage is empty during our tea break.  This concert hall is used by the school for musical evenings and for concerts given by outside performers, singers and orchestras, which are often free to the audience.  The college chapel holds a series of organ concerts, which are also free of charge to attend.  The college involves the local community in its events. 

Simon waiting to resume the practice after our break, with some of the lady altos in the backfground.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Dog on a Cold Gravel Towpath.

Fritzie enjoys her drink of water in a collapsable dish.
I enjoyed a nice walk today with S and  Fritzie, a contented little dachshund with very short legs, and who had to walk 15 steps to our one!   We walked to the Caen Hill flight of locks, walked down one side and then back up the other in a bitterly cold wind.   We were both togged up in thick coats, hats, gloves and boots, and Fritzie wore her burgandy coloured fleece jacket.  The puddles were covered in ice but the sunshine saved the day. 
On our way to the top of the Caen Hill flight of locks, 29 locks in all, 16 of which are consecutive.  Caen Hill locks on the Kennet and Avon canal, were completed in 1810, ready for the canal's opening on December 28th of that year.

Fritzie has second thoughts about entering the tunnel.  The canal bridges on the Caen Hill section have an arch for the canal and a separate, smaller one that once allowed a small track to pass through.  The trucks pulled by horses, carried the bricks for building the locks, which were made in the brickwords at lower Foxhangers.

A "I think I've had enough of this walk" look.