Tuesday, 31 January 2012

"A Wretched width of Cold." Thank you Philip Larkin for your wonderful words.

The weather is so cold here, that the birds are having to wear their socks!  Thank you Meggie in Hamburg for your photo of the thrush wearing my mandmade socks.  Their little feet certainly need some protection from the icy conditions.   The description of the cold as, "a wretched width" succintly sums up that feeling of an all encompassing chill.    I have written out the poem below, it is one of my favourites:

First Sight
by Philip Larkin (1956)

  Lambs that learn to walk in snow
  When their bleating clouds the air
 Meet a vast unwelcome, know
Nothing but a sunless glare.
Newly stumbling to and fro
All they find, outside the fold,
Is a wretched width of cold.

As they wait beside the ewe,
Her fleeces wetly caked, there lies
Hidden round them, waiting too,
Earth's immeasurable surprise.
They could not grasp it if they knew,
What so soon will wake and grow
Utterly unlike the snow.   

Saturday, 28 January 2012

The Calne Town Trail via the Wilts & Berks Canal and the old Railwayline.

Red ER pillarbox and Blue Plaque
Yesterday we recced the outskirts of Calne and the Town Trail, an interesting walk around the little town situated about six miles from Devizes.  The main A4 Bath Road runs through the town centre, but if you walk the side streets, a whole new world of interesting buildings and history opens up to be explored.  The photo left shows two iconic symbols of Englishness, a red pillarbox and a blue plaque.  All pillarboxes have the  royal crest and initials of the incumbant monarch imprinted at the time of casting. The Blue Plaque scheme recognises places where famous people have lived, worked  or died.  This one commemorates Dr Jan Ingenhousz who, with others, discovered photosynthesis.  Further along the street is the house where Dr Joseph Priestly, the discoverer of Oxygen in 1774, lived and worked.  A blue plaque here commemorates his work.

Below, the recently restored "Chaveywell Bridge" spans the Calne Arm of the Wilts & Berks canal.  The main line of the W&B canal connected the Kennet & Avon canal with the River Thames at Abingdon, but is long abandoned and infilled.  Sections have been restored,  and it is hoped that one day it will be open again to boats, with Swindon, once again, having  a  the canal running through the city.  Many canals throughout England are being restored, as people realise their potential for leisure activities, including: boating, fishing, jogging, walking, birdwatching and industrial history studies.
The newly restored "Chaveywell Bridge" spans the Calne Arm of the Wilts and Berks Canal.

The path towards the distant derelict canal and railwayline.
The railway once ran through Calne connecting it to Bristol and Bath in the west and Reading in the east.  The line was abandoned in 1960, when many lines in Britain were axed to save money, a decision now regarded as a somewhat shortsighted.  However the defunct line has become an easy, level walk which connects Calne with nearby Chippenham.  We walked part yesterday, and discovered some relics of the old railway line, pieces of metal fencing and the top of a telegraph pole.  The line of the old canal is still visible, with one section restored and in water, and an old lock being renovated as a visitor attraction.
The soft coloured houses in a Calne backstreet. 

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Preparing Two Talks for the DEG in Braunschweig.

Leaflet for the Town Walking Trail
The Avebury information leaflet, giving inside a detailed map of the area.
The city of Braunschweig has a thriving English German Association and each month they hold a meeting with a guest speaker, who gives an interesting talk in English about some aspect of life in GB.  I talked to the group last year about the Kennet and Avon Canal, and this year I will give two talks, one about  "My Life in Devizes" and the other about "Avebury, a Prehistoric Landscape."   I've gathered together some leaflets on which I will base my talks, and will enhance them with my photographs and anecdotes. 

The Medieval Town Trail in Devizes is marked with thirteen wall plaques, each giving information about the particular spot at which it is placed.  The one below marks the spot in Couch Lane where,  in medieval times,  the edge of town  met open farmland.  Devizes has an interesting and turbulent history, royalty once lived in the castle and a famous Civil War battle was fought on Roundway Down.  In the middle ages it was a prosperous town,  and when the canal opened in 1810, it bought new opportunities for trade.  Many Devizes civic buildings date from this time, when Bath stone arrived by barge for the construction of the fine Town Hall, Corn Exchange, and other buildings.
Plaque No.12 giving information about Couch Lane, which was once on the very edge of the town, where it met farmland.  Most people in medievel times spent their entire lives working on the land.  They lived hard lives, infants died young, and life expectancy for the poor was about 40 years of age, although the wealthy could expect to live into old age. 

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

To "The Firs" then up and over Easton Down to the "Bridge Inn" at Horton.

"Strip Lynchets" on Easton Down
This morning's walk up and over Easton Downs took us past these "Strip Lynchet" the remains of a Celtic farming system of flat ridges ploughed into the side of a hill, making a sloping surface workable for the growing of crops.   The walk of just under five miles was a recce, (short for reconnaissance) a walk into the unknown, needing to be "recced" in the hope of finding the right path, thus avoiding the walking group becoming lost!

This part of Wiltshire is famous for its many barrows, ancient burial sites made by prehistoric man.   The county has 80% of the entire chalk grassland in Britain, and to cultivate so much undulating land, early man needed ingenuity, thus the "Lynchets" formed in the hillsides.   Silbury Hill, that strange man made mound reaching up to the sky is just out of shot in the photo below.   Know one knows why it was built, and a lot of man hours went into its construction, which could have been spent on growing food.   We may never know the real answer of why it was built.  Below's view shows the rolling landscape nature of beautiful Wiltshire.
Looking towards the Marlborough Downs

The "Wansdyke" defensive ditch.
"Wansdyke" consists of two sections, 9 and 12 miles long with some gaps in between. East Wansdyke, the part that runs across this landscape is an impressive linear earthwork, consisting of a ditch and bank running approximately east-west, between Savenake Forest and Morgan's Hill.  Here the bank is up to 13 ft high with a ditch up to 8.2 ft deep. 

Wansdyke's origins are unclear, but archaeological data shows that the eastern part was probably built during the 5th or 6th century.  After the withdrawal of the Romans and before the takeover by Anglo Saxons, the ditch on the north side, was presumably used by the British as a defence against West Saxons encroaching from the upper Thames Valley,  westward into what is now the West Country.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Civil War Cannonball holes in the tower of St James's Church, and some Geese.

Canada geese and gulls on a windy "Crammer" pond.
The canada geese and gulls seem to like the "Crammer" pond, where they receive daily a goodly amount of food and never want to fly off home.  St James's Church can be seen in the background of the photo, with its graveyard and the new wall at the water's edge.  The old wall collapsed into the pond two years ago, and a big tussle ensued as to who was to pay for a new wall.  I think the church and the local council eventually came to some arrangement.  This church is one of three large medieval churches in Devizes, and very unusual for a small town.  The following website:  www.devizesheritage.org.uk  is worth reading, as it gives more information about this church.  Type St James's Church in the search box.   It has been very mild here of late, and in the graveyard,  little clumps of snowdrops are beginning to show their tiny white heads.
St James's Church on a dark and windy Saturday morning.
This photo makes the morning appear far darker than it was, and reminds me of the church and graveyard in Haworth in Yorkshire, where the famous Bronte sisters lived and wrote their novels.  I was so immersed in taking these photos, that when the clock suddenly struck 12 noon, it frightened me to death!
The tower showing two canonball holes.
If you look carefully at the tower you can see two black holes in the stonework.  These are canonball holes made by guns firing at the church from Coatefield up on the old Jump Farm.  During the English civil war a battle took place on Roundway Down in Devizes on July 13th 1643.  The day before, the Royalist became trapped by the Roundheads, who besieged the town with canon and guns.   The Royalist Prince Rupert managed to escape and rode to Oxford for reinforcements, who returned to Devizes and met the Roundheads up on the Down, where a bloody battle ensued.  The Royalists won, having driven some of the Roundhead horsemen over and into "Bloody Ditch."   Very nasty!  

On the battlefield site platforms have been erected which give an elevated view of the whole scene.  Information boards provide details of the battle at each particular position, and you can almost hear the sound of the horses and screaming soldiers and the smell of death and blood!   Not a place to visit in the dead of night.
A closeup, showing more detail of the canonball holes.  The Roundheads mounted their canon on a hill overlooking the town and  fired shots at the church where the Royalist had taken refuge.  In the mid 19th century two canonballs were discovered in the bell tower,  and these are now displayed in  Devizes Museum.  Few relics of the battle have been found.  I assume the bodies were stripped of valuables, so no trace was left, and the body of only one soldier is buried in Bromham Churchyard.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

The Weather is Terrible, therefore it must be Thursday and Market Day.

Pots of Hyacinth and primulas
Every Thursday the weather in Devizes is absolutely terrible!  Sometimes the market traders don't bother to erect their canopies and awnings and why?   They get blown down in the high winds as soon as they are put up.  Today it poured with rain for a couple of hours, although by 10am it had brightened up and the sun shone for a good 30 seconds!   I like taking photos in the market, as there is much opportunity to see the decorative side of flowers, fruit and veg.  On occasions I get quizzical looks from the stall holders, who simply cannot see the beauty in big green cabbages, bundles of carrots and bunches of bananas and grapes.
Tubs of heather, snowdrops and white primula.
Spring flowers are rearing their little heads, and because of the unseasonally warm weather, some are far too advanced and will end up with frosted buds if they are not careful.  The snowdrops and heathers are very hardy, and the primulas can stay indoors.
Pink, hardy cyclamen await a buyer.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Canalware and Gifts for Sale in the Wharf Shop, Devizes

Traditionally painted canalware for sale.
The Wharf shop had been looking a bit tatty of late, so after a revamp last week when walls were painted, doors repaired, furniture moved about, the ice cream freezer and the drinks cabinet repositioned  and the counter smartened up, I was invited to take some photos that will eventually go into the "Butty," the bi-monthly magazine of the "Kennet and Avon Canal Trust." 

The pottery above is traditionally painted canal ware, showing roses and leaves.  The old bargees painted their barges, buckets, tillers, doors, hatches and brooms with decorative patterns of roses and castles.  The origin of this kind of decoration is unknown, but modern boaters still decorate their boats in this way

Models of the old barges, workboats and narrowboats.
Model boats for sale, the upper ones replicas of the old working barges that carried goods from Bristol to London, stopping on the way to deliver coal, flour, wood, stone and a multitude of all the necessitites of life to the towns situated on the canal.
A selection of canal guides and maps of the local area.
It is useful to have a canal guide, just like a road map it gives you details of canal mileage, the lock widths, the bridges, mooring places to stop for the night,  and best of all, information about where you can buy your next plate of fish and chips.   Devizes has three really good chippies, the one in the Market Place is the best!
Children´s toys for sale. 
During the summer months many visitors come to Devizes from around the world to visit the canal and the shop.  Parties of school children also come to learn about the history of the canal as part of their history lessons.  Here they have a chance to spend their precious pennies on souveniers in the shop.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Sheep, Saxon Church, a Lock, a Lock Up and a Tithe Barn in Bradford on Avon

Sheep grazing beside the River Avon.
I'm beginning to think that I should have called this blog, "Devizes Walking Days" as just recently I can't stop writing about walking!  I did 17 miles last week and have started the new week with another 4 miles.  Today's walk began near the town lock and we walked along the towpath to Widbrook Wood and down to the River Avon.  This  scene of English tranquility could have been  painted by John Constable, with the river, a flock of sheep, trees and sunshine, (no rain.)  What a beautiful afternoon for a walk. 

The Kennet and Avon canal passes through Bradford (a corruption of: broad ford) and where John Rennie the canal engineer used the river to supply water to the canal.  The town is also the site of the "Avoncliff Aqueduct" a magnificent structure, built to carry the canal over the river.       www.avoncliff.co.uk
The medieaval Town Bridge complete with a "Lock Up."
The old town "Lock Up" was a place to imprison troublemakers overnight.  It is not very big, and I assume only one person at a time was locked up, or did they cram a dozen or so in when the partying got out of hand!  I am glad "Human rights" have moved on a bit!  The bridge still carries the main road over the river.  It is much too small for today's traffic, and causes permanent traffic jams in the town.   www.bradfordonavon.co.uk
St Laurence Saxon Church founded by St Aldhelm in ca. 705.  For many years it was surrounded by other old buildings, and when these were demolished in the mid 19th century, the little church was rediscovered.  It had been part of somebody's house in medieaval times.

Bradford on Avon Lock on the Kennet & Avon Canal.
This lock takes the canal down towards Bath.  This area has interesting connections with the last century, when the canals were hives of industry, carrying goods from Bristol to London and needing places to unload goods, wharfage, stabling for the horses, and inns for the boatmen to drink and be merry.   The barges were family concerns, and would carry an entire family, mum, dad and many children.  On the right of the photo is the site of a dry dock, still used today to repair the boats, and left can be seen an old canal building, maybe the home of the old lock keeper and his family.
The medieaval Tithe Barn at Barton Farm, is in what was a manorial estate, complete with farmhouses, chapel and sheds for animals.  The barn is huge, 180ft long and 30ft wide and is now a Grade 11 listed building.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Down Caen Hill on the way to "The Three Magpies."

Lock 37, part of the continuous flight of 16 locks
Here we are walking, once again down Caen Hill, the famous flight of 29 locks on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Devizes.  This is lock 37, one of the locks in the middle the continuous flight of 16.  The flight down starts at Town Bridge Lock, after which you travel through 6 locks, meet the continuous 16 down at Foxhangers, and onto the last 7 locks to Lower Foxhangers.  This flight is 5th in Britishwaterways "Wonders of the Canal System" list.  I have travelled up and down this flight on many occasions when I had my lovely boat, and used to gather a good crew of 6 friends and make a day of the journey, eating tasty rolls and drinking beer on the way!  

With a crew and depending on how busy it was, the entire flight could be traversed in 4/5 hours, although on some occasions we travelled very slowly and took three days!
Looking up the flight from the bottom of the 16 locks
The best view of the flight is from the bottom of the 16.  John Rennie was the canal engineer, and I always wonder how he felt looking up this hill and thinking, "How on earth do I dig to the top?"  But to the top he dug, digging out tons of earth and clay by hand and shovel with the workman navigators or "Navvies" as they were known.   This last section of the canal was completed in 1810, opening on December 28th of that year.
Hire-fleet boats moored at Lower Foxhangers, with the newly opened "Foxhanger's Marina " in the background.  The disused bridge, the pillars of which can be seen mid picture, used to carry the railway line from Chippenham to Devizes over the canal.  Mr Beeching axed this line in 1960 to save money!  We eventually arived at the "Three Magpies" for lunch and a pint, and then walked some of the way back.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Up on the Ridgeway at Avebury with Ancient Man, (and woman!)

The Ridgeway, walking towards West Kennet Long Barrow
Today's walk in Avebury took us up to the "Ridgeway" an ancient track that runs along the top of Marlborough Downs and is described as Britains oldest trackway.  It is an 87 mile, long distance walk that starts in Marlborough and runs up to the Chiltern Hills and Aylesbury.  Britain now has many long distance paths, all interlinking and providing an opportunity to walk the whole of the country without setting foot on a tarmaced road.  We walked on chalk, not too slippery after the rain, although we had to dodge the many puddles, as can be seen in the photo.  

Avebury is famous for its stone circle of neolithic origin, although its exact purpose is not understood.  Stonehenge, the other more famous stone circle is some twenty miles away.  The trees below are growing out of a Bell Barrow, one of many neolithic burial mounds.  Not far distant is West Kennet Long Barrow, a many chambered burial mound, and excavated some years ago, where many skeletons of ancient man and his burial objects were found.  Nearby too is Silbury Hill, another enigma, a very large artificial hill, built for we know not what!   Was ancient man trying to reach the stars?  That's my theory.    
Trees growing on a Bell Barrow.

Walking back to the "Red Lion" through the Avenue of stones.
Alexander Keiller, 1889-1955 of the famous marmalade making company lived in Avebury Manor.  As a very wealthy man, he could indulge his interest in archeology and in the 1930s with his wife, he excavated the stone circle, re-erecting the stones, digging out the ditches and re establishing the stone avenue.   The following website:  www.avebury-web.co.uk  is very informative and shows scenes of the excavations.   This avenue of stones leads from Avebury up to the Santuary, another henge further along the Ridgeway. 

The small area of Wiltshire is littered with the remains of ancient man and must have been the centre of a very important primitive settlement near the River Kennet.  At the end of the walk we retired to the pub for a well earned drink.
A large monolith at the end of the Avenue.

The haunted "Red Lion" in Avebury, where we ended our walk.  A young lady fell down the well here, and her ghost is supposed to haunt the pub.  I have never seen her.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Rambling from Edington, up and over Imber Down to Coulston and Bratten.

"The Duke" at Edington, the start of the walk.
We never start a walk with a drink, although "The Duke" in Edington looked tempting on Sunday morning.  Fourteen walkers gathered at the start for a 7 mile walk over rolling Wiltshire landscape, and with beautiful weather to accompany us.  It felt like a spring day, and in places we saw daffodils in full bud, waiting to bloom.  Hold on!!  It is too early to bloom, you could get yours heads frozen off next month.  We plodded a steep climb up to Imber Down, an army range still used for tank manoeuvers and firing practise.   

During the last war Imber village was requisitioned by the army to give soldiers practise in the art of warfare.   Some derelict buildings remain, including the church, were every year services of remembrance are held for those forcibly removed from their homes and for the fallen.  The village is open to the public on certain days, but closed when the army is firing its guns!  Red flags fly warning you to keep your head down!
Walking towards the steep climb up to Imber Down.
Climbing Imber Down was a steep, prolonged struggle, but once at the top the wind blew through your hair and the view back down into the valley was wonderful.  Near Edington we passed a battle site, where in 878 King Alfred met the  Danish army, won a decisive battle and forced Guthrum the Dane to sue for peace.  England was once again back in the hands of the English!
The chapel of "St Thomas a'Becket in Coulston, with its watercress pond.

The old "Squeezes" gateway into Edington Priory churchyard.
Edington Priory was built by William of Edington and completed in 1361.  It was a large priory and the remains of outer buildings can still be seen.  This interesting, little entrance gate allows people in and out with ease, but prevents cattle from roaming into the churchyard.   The English language has many local dialect words for this kind of gateway.  I call them all "squeezes" because you have to squeeze in and out. www.edingtonfriends.org.uk   The photo below shows us walking back to our parked cars at "The Duke."   We did not stop for a pint and a packet of crisps, what a shame!
The long, lonely way back to the cars in Edington with Imber Down in the background.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Ebenezer Prout or Watkins Shaw? That is the Question!

Mr Watkins Shaw's arrangement.
The Marlborough College Choral Society will be singing Handel's "Messiah" in March this year.  It is a well known work, and this will be about the 12th time I've sung it during my long love affair with choral singing.  There are two arrangements of the work, one  by Mr Watkins Shaw and the other by Mr Ebenezer Prout.  The two arrangements differ slightly and each chorus, air or recitative is on a different page in each edition.  Each of my two copies of this work is marked with the page numbers of the other, and last night we had the same confusion that always reigns, the conductor says,  "Right, for those with the Shaw it's page 99, and in the Prout it's page 78."  The bar markings vary too, so my copies have the bar numbers of each edition.   Hi di ho, confusion reigns but we get there in the end!

Last night, singing the "Hallelujah Chorus" (that's Shaw page 171 bar 1, or Prout page 158 bar 1) we produced a most magnificent sound.  When asked, over two thirds of the choir of 240 singers had sung the work before, so last night's practise went really well.  It is easy to sing in a "run of the mill" Messiah, but last night our pencils were busy marking our scores with accents and diminuendoes, ff and mf.  The language of music is universal, these same markings would be understood from the North to the South Pole, and from east to west.

The music librarians organising the various editions of the Messiah.
Copies of the "Messiah" can be hired, so the two music librarians were kept busy issuing the scores.  I have a copy of each arrangement, so do not pay a hire fee.  The photo below is of the auditorium in the College theatre where practises are held.  We spend 10 sessions here, and then have two practises, and eventually the concert itself in the College Chapel.  This year we will be accompanied by a London  orchestra, I was told its name,  but my ageing brain has forgotten already.  I need a cuppa!
In the auditorium at Marlborough College before the first practise.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Etchilhampton Hill back to Devizes via the Wessex Ridgeway.

Ohhh it was a beautiful morning for a brisk 3.75 mile walk from Etchilhampton Hill back to Devizes via the Wessex Ridgeway.   Our group of 12 caught the bus and set off on the three mile journey to the start of the walk.  The picture below shows some of our group and Salisbury Plain in the background, much of which is used for army manoeuvers and out of bounds to walkers.  The Great Bustard, a large bird once common in this area, has recently been reintroduced here.  It obviously copes well with the sound of tank fire and gun shots.   Wiltshire's flag has a image of the Great Bustard upon it, it is our county bird, but we did not see one today!
Looking out towards Salisbury Plain on a beautiful January morning.

Joyce explains the history of the area to an attentive audience.
During the walk we came across a dump for waste stone, infilling in an old quarry.  Joyce, who led the walk gave us a brief introduction to the history of the area.  The Ridgeway is the line of the old road from Devizes towards Salisbury, but the route was changed in the last century to accommodate motor vehicles and to avoid the climb up the hill.   The last time we walked this route,  we climbed the hill in thick fog and couldn't see the  much of the beautiful Wiltshire countryside.
Scraping  mud off our boots at the end of the walk.  Roundway Hill is in the background.
The route down the hill was very muddy after several days of rain, so each of us had about an inch of mud to scrape off our walking boots.  In the background of this photo is Roundway Hill, the site of the civil war battle in 1645. 

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Cabbages, New Laptop, New Wifi Printer and Stress.

Decorative cabbages growing on Sandown Promenade over Christmas.
These decorative cabbages must have a proper name, if anyone knows what they are called please tell me.  They are obviously mutations from the normal variety, but are very pleasing to the eye.  These were growing in a small garden on Sandown seafront near the pier, and I particularly like the purple colour.  Below are the normal dinner table variety.

Edible cabbages growing in Bromham.
Today was very stressful!  My new laptop arrived yesterday and was a doddle to set up, make back up discs and generally organise into a machine that felt like home.  Today I bought a new wireless printer, one that is attached to my home hub, and should serve the three pcs I use here.  It should have been idiot proof to install, and all went well until I couldn't get the software disc to run.   

At one time, a nice little box would come up when I inserted a disc,  the on screen instructions asking me what I'd like to do, but for some unknown reason the box disappeared several months ago.    My nice little "easy to use"  instructions were gone and I had to work around it by uploading photos straight into Picassa.   The problem is now solved, thanks to the help of a PC expert friend who told me what buttons to press and in what order.  I now need several cups of tea.
My desk that has not been this tidy in years,

Monday, 2 January 2012

The Annual "Devizes Bounds" New Year's Day Walk.

Climbing up "Boundary Ditch."
Here we are climbing in "Boundary Ditch," part of the medieval boundary of old Devizes.   This walk  has become a tradition, a  good walk on New Year's Day to aid the digestion after the binge the night before, and to clear the fog in ones brain, caused mostly by alcohol.  The sky was overcast, but it didn't rain, the drops  saved themselves for the last moment when we  arrived on the steps of the "Silk Mercer" in Devizes Market Place for a pint and a well earned meal. 

The walk is varied, starting in the Market Place and walking part of the canal towpath, down towards the old railway line (sadly axed in the 1960s) and then down dale, up a steep, grassy hill and over or under several stiles.   Onwards along a muddy lane to Devizes, we passed "Gallows Ditch," the site of public hangings over the last centuries.  We saw the old railway tunnel under Devizes Castle, the present building, a Victorian idea of a castle, replaced the original which was  built by the Normans in the 12th cent.   Princess Matilda was held here during her fight with her brother Stephen, over her accession to the throne, via the female line.
Curious cows watch us pass by, mud was plentiful!

Mrs Pig enjoys her oats.
I first walked the "Bounds" with the Devizes Mayor way back in 2007.  Every year the Mayor in office leads a walk of the boundary, which in total measures approx 7 miles.  I have only once walked the whole distance in a morning,  but yesterday we walked only the western part of the walk, and at the half way point of 3.5 miles,  the general concensus was to walk on, but to the PUB!    Nobody objected.
A Monkey Puzzle tree bearing cones, which is most unusual, so I am told.