Friday, 31 January 2014

A 15 Minute Walk in Avebury before the Rains Came. ( What a good excuse to go into the "Red Lion.")

 The Red Lion with it thatched roof. (photo taken in the summer.)

The weather is so awful, that it is impossible to go out for a really long walk without being almost drowned or sinking into deep mud.   Five of us caught the bus to Avebury on Friday morning, hoping to walk for at least and hour before the rains came.  No such luck!  We managed 15 minutes in a strong headwind, before first the drizzle started, followed by the heavy stuff.   Fortunately the newly revamped "Red Lion," was there to rescue us, so we went in, bought some drinks, ordered lunches,  and sat out the deluge in comfort.

 The recently revamped restaurant and its cosy window seat.

The pub has undergone some extensive redecorating and an extension to the restaurant area. Lying in the heart of the Avebury stone circle, it is always a busy pub, especially in the summer months, when tourists from around the world visit the ancient site.  We tend not to visit in the summer, preferring to have the place to ourselves in the winter months.  The present landlord is leaving soon, which is a shame, as we all like him with his pleasant, welcoming manner.

 Smaller tables in the restaurant with coffee menu.

Prince Charles has lunched in this pub, and until recently a large sketch of him hung just above where the coffee menu now stands.  It was not a flattering sketch, and it seems to have disappeared during the revamp.  The tables have been stripped of the dark lacquer, and the chairs and benches have been re-upholstered.  It all looks a great improvement. 

My half pint of lager and what's left over from a £10 note!

This is my half pint of Foster's larger!  I like Fosters because it is light to drink, and a half pint is enough to make me feel very jolly on a miserable, rainy day.  I chose a healthy option for lunch, a jacket potato filled with baked beans and covered with cheddar cheese, with a side salad.  All very tasty, and a good way to spend a wet lunchtime.  My umbrella has turned itself inside out, and a spoke has broken!   It is the latest victim of the terrible winds and rains!

Monday, 27 January 2014

Catching Pike on the Caen Hill Flight of Locks.

Almost in the net.

I always feel very sorry for fish being hooked out of the water, and prefer not to watch as a fisherman begins to haul in his catch on the bowed end of a fishing line,  so bent,  that it always looks as if a baby whale could be hanging on the hook.    However, I could not avoid this scene, as the fisherman was struggling with what looked like a big catch just as I walked past.   He hauled in the creature from the far side of the canal, and with gentle persuasion, it swam reluctantly into his catch net.

Playing dead in the net.

Out it came onto the bank and played dead!  I asked if I could take some photos, at which point he said, "This is just a baby pike, I have caught much bigger ones than this,"  another fishy story!   The pike looked pretty big to me, especially its wide open mouth with rows of sharp teeth!  It lay motionless in the net, until the gloved hand of the fisherman attempted to remove the hook from its mouth, at which point it flung itself rigorously back into life!

What a very large mouth.

I was impressed with the man's gentle approach to the fish, and he treated it with great respect, especially the rows of sharp teeth ready to remove one of his fingers!   With the hook removed, he lowered it gently back into the water, where it swam off,  seemingly none the worse for being in the net for a couple of minutes.  (Seemed a long time to me and the fish!)

Saturday, 25 January 2014

St Mary´s Church Planning Update.

The church tower projected onto the screen in readiness for the planning update.

Thursday evening´s meeting in the church attracted fifty or so people, all concerned about the future of the church and the acceptance of plans to convert the unused church into an arts centre.   It seems that the original plans were only marginally refused, and it has been decided to appeal against this decision.

New plans have been drawn up, with proposed colonnaded walkways linking the church to a free standing extension in the churchyard, so as to maintain a view of the east wall of the medieval church.  Changing the plans has meant removing some space from the proposed meeting room, cloakrooms, storage and office facilities.   This change  puts the business plan in jeopardy, since smaller facilities for the public will mean only small concerts and activities can be held in the church.   It was pointed out that there must be enough ladies loos to cope with a large audience.   I agree wholeheartedly!

The final words from an excellent speaker were,  that should the plans fail, and the scheme become unviable, the church authorities will make the church formally redundant, and the finance for its maintenance will be lost.   Another "Law Court" scenario looms on the horizon.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

"Gold in the Time of Stonehenge" a talk at Devizes Museum.

The leaflet to the left, (not a good photo, as it got a bit wet and crumpled in my pocket,)  gives information about the lovely new gallery at Devizes Museum devoted to finds from the Stonehenge area, in particular the many gold finds.   With the opening of the new visitor centre at Stonehenge, Devizes Museum has become a "must see" place, with its many interesting artifacts.  This  part of Wiltshire, with more places of prehistoric interest than almost any other part of England, is a big attraction for visitors from home and abroad.   The old huts that formed the previous visitor centre have been replaced by  a brand new, state of the art, child friendly history and archeology centre, , with a cafe and all mod con!  Electric vehicles take visitors from the centre to the stone circle, and now that a nearby road has been closed and grassed over, the stones stand it a more isolated setting.   

The entrance fee at £14.50 seems rather expensive to most of us, but I'm sure visitors from far away will be happy to pay it.   There have already been issues with the visitors numbers, with too many people arriving at weekends and swamping the facilities.  Soon a timed ticket system will be in place, and hopefully the centre's teething troubles will be ironed out.

Stonehenge | English Heritage

 The lecture room, soon to become too small for the many visitors to the twice monthly talks.

The photo shows the screen and projector, just out of sight in front of the gentleman standing beneath the screen.     The talk was fascinating, with  David Dawson, the museum's director showing us photographs of the gold finds, and information about their possible uses.  The gold was as bright as the day on which it was mined and worked into personal objects of decoration.

The main entrance in Long Street.

The museum was opened in  1873,  in  buildings that were once the old grammar school.

Wiltshire Museum Home Page

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Walking in "Puddles Lane."

 Standing on the corner of "Puddles Lane."

How appropriate, after weeks of heavy rain, we took a walk in "Puddles Lane,"  a tarmaced road that later became a muddy track.  The morning was bright, and it was so pleasant to wander the Wiltshire countryside with some warmth on our backs.  We walked past the village's old school house, a school built with money bequeathed by John Anstie, (1743 - 1830) a local wealthy wool manufacturer and philanthropist. 

The track from "The New Inn" pub in the village of Coate.

The wet English winter has left some big English puddles!

At the track's junction with the "Wessex Ridgeway."

We have walked this way before, and it always seems to be muddy.  We walked the path in the centre of the photo, and the Wessex Ridgeway runs from right to the left.   Wiltshire is littered with path and tracks, most of which are out in the wide, open spaces.  In the distance can be seen Tan Hill and Milk Hill in the Vale of Pewsey.    Milk Hill at 968ft above sea level is the highest point in Wiltshire.  I remember climbing it, and feeling very pleased with myself to be have reached the top, and even more pleased to stroll leisurely down the other side.  So much less effort!

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Stargazing on a Cold Evening in Devizes

Hillworth Park cafe on a dark night with astronomer's and their telescopes.

We had three stargazing evenings last week, and I managed to get there on the Thursday evening, which was the only evening when it didn't rain!   Several astronomers had set up their telescopes aimed at the heavens, and I had a good close up look at the craters on the moon's surface.  It was a first time for me, and really quite magical to see the moon in such detail.

The astronomer to the left of the photo above had trained his telescope, (just visible in the centre of the photo,) on the moon, and the image was projected through his laptop for all to see. Although it was a cold evening, the park was full of parents and excited children, interested bystanders, dogs and reporters from Radio Wiltshire and BBC television.  

A closer view of the moon's surface on the laptop.

Hillworth Park cafe.

I lighten this photo, and it is possible to make out another telescope in the centre left near the lit window.   One large telescope was trained on Jupiter, which I didn't manage to get a view, as the queue was very long.  By this time my feet and hands were complaining of the cold. 

The moon over St. John's Church.

I walked home via the churchyard, and took this photo of the moon shining so brightly above the medieval church.   This photo was taken with a star filter, which has made the moon look like a big star.   I lurked around in the dark taking photos for 20 minutes or so, and then got so cold, I had to rush home for a warm cuppa!  All in all, a very interesting, if cold evening in the park.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Singing Mozart with Marlborough College Choral Society

Ian, our accompanist sits at the old Steinway piano, soon to be replaced with a brand new one.

The original Steinway was purchased for £25,000 many years ago, and is being replaced with a new one costing £75,000.   Steinway have however, offered us £25,000 trade in for the old piano, so the investment in the instrument has not been lost.   Ian is a wonderful accompanist, a quiet, reserved man who plays not only the piano but the chapel organ.  In the spring of each years, he gives a series of  organ recitals in the chapel.

The sopanos sit left, with the basses and tenors in the middle, and the altos far right.

Morzart's Requiem K626 and The Coronation Mass K317

I have sung the Requiem on several occasions, and the Coronation Mass only once way back in year 2000.   Both are wonderful to sing, and each time I sing both, I discover something new in the score.

The Requiem Mass was composed in Vienna in 1791, and was left unfinished after the composer's death on on December 5th of that year.  A completion by Franz Xaver Süssmayr was finished in 1792, and delivered to Count Franz von Walsegg, who had anonymously commissioned the piece for a Requiem Mass to commemorate the anniversary of his wife´s death on February 14th.   "Amadeus," a play written by Peter Schaffer, and later filmed,  tells the story of the mysterious figure who commissioned the work, the death of Mozart, and the eventual completion of the Mass by Süssmayr.

The Coronation Mass was completed on March 23rd 1779 in Salzburg, and is one of Mozart´s 17 extant settings of the Ordinary of the Mass.  Mozart had just returned to the city after 18 months of fruitless job hunting in Paris and Mannheim.  His father Leopold promptly found him a post as court organist and composer at Salzburg Cathedral.  This short Mass was probably premiered there on Easter Sunday April 4th 1779.   

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Monoliths at Avebury Stone Circle.

The Sausage Dog and the Monolith.

Avebury is the largest stone circle in Europe, and never cease to fascinate anyone with an inquiring mind.  Why did ancient people spend so much time establishing these sites, with the necessary hard work involved in moving these monoliths, and setting them up in huge hand dug ditches.  The site probably provided the working man with something to do on a cold, prehistoric morning, especially if there was a drop of beer about, but I jest, as I suppose that we will never really know for certain what went on at this ancient site.

Monolith, with the encircling ditch to the right.

Each stone has a name, only one of which I know!   I really must do some extra homework on my "Avebury" studies.   One monolith is called the "Barber's Stone," because a few years back a skeleton of a man was found under a stone, complete with what looked like barber's tools.
Whether he was deliberately buried under the stone or crushed as it toppled over,  is not certain, but he was very dead!

Monolith with a silhouetted figure on the hill.

The stone circle is lovely to walk, and I have strolled around it on many occasions in all weathers.   It is a good place to feel the connection between 21st century man and our ancestors.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Flooding near Silbury Hill.

The flooded River Kennet, with a distant Silbury Hill.

It has rained here for the past month.  Not gentle rain, but heavy continuous stuff, that has flooded the rivers, villages, town, flood plains and fields.   So much rain has fallen, that it now has nowhere to drain away.  The ground is waterlogged, and everyone is a miffed, that the normally wet UK is wetter than ever, and with global warning, is set to get even worse.

Flooded fields near Avebury.

This field is near the River Kennet, and acts as a flood plain for the overflowing River Kennet.  The river is a "winterbourne" meaning it can be dry in the summer, but becomes flooded in the winter months when it rains.

On the little bridge over the River Kennet.

I have stood on this bridge in all weathers and in all seasons.  In drought conditions, the river bed is completely dry, but it becomes a torrent in wet weather.  I have photographs of the dry bed, and in ca. 2006 to 2011, when the weather was exceptionally dry, we were all concerned about the lack of water.  Would the river ever return was the big question?   We need not have worried, it has returned with a vengeance!

Friday, 3 January 2014

Carols by Candlelight in St Mary´s Church

My candle, lit for the candlelight carol service in St Mary´s Church.

We sang unaccompanied, which is not easy, but two men with good, strong voices gave us the first note, and we attempted to stay in tune throughout all the verses of the carols.  This service was held to keep the church in use,  and to collect donations to enable an extension to be built. to provide the much needed facilities for an arts centre..   The plans were submitted, but were, last autumn, turned down, much to the chagrin of those who have worked hard for two years to convert the church into a social centre for local choirs, dance groups and for community activities in general.  

 An appeal against the refusal will soon be lodged, and will hopefully be successful.   It is such a tragedy to leave the church unused, when it could be put to good use by the community.

The chancel, looking towards the high altar.

The church will remain open for weddings, with the possibilty of holding the reception within the same space.   The church was full for the carol service, although we needed warm clothes, as it was not that warm!