Cornwall’s Smallest Stone Circle ~ Thursday’s Special

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When it comes to photographing prehistoric stone circles, you need the right kind of light, preferably a dramatic dawn or sunset or a good frost. And this clearly wasn’t any of these, but the best I could do on dull, dank December morning. The whole thing was definitely improved by the arrival of the sweet little girl in her tangerine wellies.

Anyway, here it is – Cornwall’s smallest prehistoric stone circle. It is just over thirty feet across (10-11 metres) and is at least 4,000 years old. It sits most domestically behind farm cottages and among a few sheep in the small village of Duloe. There are eight stones, some estimated to weigh around 12 tons, and they were probably chosen because of their high quartz content, which gives them an otherworldly bloom even in this poor light. In any event, they had to be manhandled from the nearest source, at least one mile away.

The  first historical reference to them was in 1329 CE, when they are mentioned in a record relating to the farm called Stonetown (still existing with that name), on whose land they stand.

In 1801 they were discovered again, although at that time the stones were all lying flat and there was a hedge growing through the middle, with a field on one side and an orchard on the other.

Many stone circles in Britain have recumbent stones, (e.g.  see my post on Arbor Low in Derbyshire) and it is usually not known at what stage the stones were laid flat, or in what circumstances. Certainly there is archaeological evidence of prehistoric people themselves ritually ‘closing’ a monument or burial site when it is no longer needed. In more recent times superstitious dread, and/or Christian repugnance at old ‘pagan’ ways prompted people to bury standing stones or lay them down. All of which is to say, everything to do with stone circles is pretty much shrouded in mystery and conjecture.

At Duloe though, there was an interesting and tangible discovery. In 1861, during efforts to restore the circle and raise the stones, a workman put his pick through a Bronze Age burial urn containing human bones. It had been placed at the foot of the largest stone which was also broken during the restoration work, and is still lying on the ground in two pieces. The urn and its contents have since been lost.

But it is this find that provides 2,000 BCE date for the site. However, the circle itself may well pre-date this. As has been shown with recent work at Stonehenge, the world’s most famous prehistoric circle, the stones there were erected in the late Neolithic (c.4,500 BCE) and not in the Bronze Age as originally conjectured, although there are many Bronze Age burials in the vicinity. It also appears that before the Stonehenge stones, there were earlier wooden pillars on the site and these belonged to the Mesolithic period circa 8,500-7,000 BCE when people were still hunter gatherers.

In other words, throughout human existence, a site that has once held, or is perceived to have held ritual significance will often be re-used by succeeding inhabitants across many centuries, and by people of quite different ethnicity and religious viewpoints. So we find Roman temples in earlier Iron Age hillforts, or medieval churches built atop Neolithic chambered tombs.

We cannot divine what these stone circles truly meant to the people who constructed them. But we can surmise that the monumental effort involved implies life and death importance. There are political implications too, both in the conception of the work and in its realisation. Even the building of a small circle like Duloe would have required considerable organisation of people-power. But if these circles have no stories to tell us, they do at least reflect an era when humanity had a very different relationship with the natural and cosmic world than we do today, and that alone might give us some pause for thought.

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Thursday’s Special Paula’s August ‘pick a word’ prompts include fortified, chic, submerged, embodiment, prehistoric. I think I might claim submerged here too, since the meaning and means of construction of this site are well and truly buried.

copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

Traces Of The Past ~ Monuments To Cornwall’s Tin Miners

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My very good chum Lesley, took me to Kit Hill for a sun-downer walk back in May. It is an amazing spot, the highest point in Cornwall’s Tamar Valley. From the summit you can see for miles and miles  – south across Cornwall, north to Bodmin Moor and Dartmoor.

The hill itself is an outcrop of the Cornubian batholith, a mass of granite rock formed 280 million years ago, and covering much of the Cornwall-Devon peninsula. The granite is formed from crystalized and solidified magma that has boiled up from deep within the earth’s crust. The resulting rock is mineral rich: principally the tin ore cassiterite, but also copper, lead, zinc and tungsten.

There are signs of mining dating back to medieval times, although this involved only surface quarrying of weathered out tin stones, or ‘shodes’. It was not until the eighteenth century that men were working in deep-shaft mines, drained by adits (horizontal shafts driven into the hillside.)  However you look at it, tin mining was a tough way to make a living.

The ornate chimney in the first photo dates from 1858. Now it is used to house various masts. Back then, and until 1885, it was part of the pumping arrangements for several mining concerns on the hill. Further down is the the chimney of the South Kit Hill Mine (Bal Soth Bre Skowl in Cornish), and the town of Callington below it.

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The shaft of this mine reaches a depth of over 90 metres (300 feet). The chimney served the steam engine house which operated machinery to crush and sort the ore. The mine was worked between 1856 and 1882, but foundered as the quality of accessible tin declined and the business became mired in legal actions for fraud.

Now these chimneys serve only as mysterious and dramatic landmarks within a 400-acre countryside park. It is a wilderness place rich in wildlife: deer, badgers, skylarks, buzzards, stonechats and sparrow hawks. There are signs of ancient humankind too – a 5,000 year old Neolithic long barrow, and some 18 burial mounds, dating from the Bronze Age, including one beneath that ornate chimney stack.

When Lesley and I were there we were treated to some marvellous views of a cuckoo – a bird  more usually heard than seen, it having well known tendencies to sneakiness and stealth. There was also a rapid fly-past by two small raptors – too swift for identification but probably sparrow hawks since this is their well-known milieu. Stone chats and pipits bobbed about in the gorse, and around us the land stretched out as far as the eye could see, its fields and boundaries, in their own way, a document of human activity and endeavour over many centuries. And a very special place. Thank you, Lesley.

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copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

 

Black & White Sunday: Traces of the Past

Thursdays Special ~ Winding Our Way Round Kingsand and Cawsand With Some Pirate Tales Thrown In

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The meandering streets of Kingsand and Cawsand were all but deserted when we went wandering there one winter’s afternoon. The twinned  villages fringe adjoining bays, clinging to the hillside above the Tamar Estuary in south east Cornwall. The river marks the county boundary – Devon, and the port city of Plymouth to the north, Cornwall to the south.

The communities of these rugged shores run together so it’s hard to know when you have left one and entered the other. They have always looked to the sea for a living, although these days this is more about providing seaside holidays for outsiders. The place had a determinedly deserted air during our December visit. Many of the houses are now second homes; unoccupied out of season.

Once, though, it would have been a teeming place – a thriving fishing community from the medieval period, and the centre of the pilchard trade from the early 16th century. You can still see the remains of the fish cellars, or ‘pilchard palaces’ that were built along the shore north of Kingsand. These were for the storage and processing of fish, and there’s a surviving example, the red sandstone building, on the far right of the next photo.

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Smuggling was the other big business – its heyday running through the 1700s and into the 1800s. The place was a smuggler’s haven in fact – with some fifty vessels dedicated to the nefarious trade in contraband liquor.

And then there were the pirates. In 1604 one especially notorious rogue, a Kent man called John Ward,  upped the stakes of his earlier career as a privateer, and decided to join forces with the Barbary pirates of North Africa. He stole a French merchant ship off the Scilly Isles and headed for Cawsand, even then a well known centre for Cornish smuggling.  Mooring in the bay there, Ward went ashore and set about recruiting local smugglers to join his enterprise as a Barbary pirate.

The Barbary corsairs were slavers, mostly North Africans from Algiers, Tripoli and Tunis, but there were Dutch and Englishmen operating with them too. They terrorised Britain’s south west shores for 300 years, snatching people from their homes. By 1626 there around 60 Barbary men-of-war preying on communities of the Devon and Cornish coasts, and attacks were almost a daily event. A parliamentary committee of 1645 established that there were at least 3,000 English men, women and children held captive in Algiers. It was only in 1816 that combined British and Dutch forces ended their power, at which time four thousand Christian slaves were said to have been liberated.

As for Ward, he and his happy band of recruits wormed their way in with governor of Tunis, he who had made that city rich by providing a haven for pirates and taking a cut of their loot in goods and captives. Ward captured many ships, and directed his own pirate fleet. Then built himself a palace with his ill gotten gains and lived a life of drinking, gaming and swearing, to name the least of the vices he apparently indulged in. One wonders what happened to his Cawsand recruits. Did they ever go home? Ward himself gave up piracy, got married and took to raising chickens. He died of plague in Tunis 1622.

And now, after that little diversion, some more turny-twisty byways and shorelines from Kingsand and Cawsand, accompanied always by the sea’s ebb and flow on the nearby rocks, and the cries of gulls:

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Thursday’s Special: winding.  Please visit Paula to see her astonishing interpretation of this week’s theme.

March: Windswept

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It was blowing a gale when I took the February #ChangingSeasons  photo on Windmill Hill. So too for this March photo. On Sunday the wind was so fierce I could hardly hold the camera steady, and these poor daffodils at the foot of the hill were being whooshed off their roots. You can almost hear their trumpeting distress calls.

So if, as the saying goes, March means to go out as a lamb, and not persist in roaring at us, then it needs to go in a corner and think some calming, and softly woolly thoughts. It does not need to cover us in snow as it did in the early hours of Monday morning. Not that I saw it for myself. I was up far too late, by which time it had melted. Even so, we are left with icy draughts that zoom inside any gap in one’s under-layers, or sting the ears that are silly enough to go outside without a hat.

So what is going on with all this gust and bluster? Is this more El Nino effect? In between the rain and wind storms, spring seems to have been teasing us here in the UK since December. That was when I photographed the first daffodils, albeit in the slightly milder climes of south-coast Cornwall. Meanwhile at home on Sheinton Street, the tulips have been pushing out of the garden pots since January, accompanied by flurries of white flowering currant blossom – all far too early. So spring, if you truly do mean to come this year, please get on with it, and cut out the frigid blasts. Now please visit Changing Season’s host, Cardinal Guzman. This month not only does he give us fine photos, but also a master class in sofa assembly.

Cardinal Guzman: Changing Seasons

There are two monthly Changing Seasons 2016 challenges, and you can join in at any time. Here are the Cardinal’s rules:

The Changing Seasons 2016 is a blogging challenge with two versions: the original (V1) which is purely photographic and the new version (V2) where you can allow yourself to be more artistic and post a painting, a recipe, a digital manipulation, or simply just one photo that you think represents the month. Anyone with a blog can join this challenge and it’ll run throughout 2016. It doesn’t matter if you couldn’t join the first month(s), late-comers are welcomed. These are the rules, but they’re not written in stone – you can always improvise, mix & match to suit your own liking:

Rules for Version 1 (The Changing Seasons V1)

  • Tag your posts with #MonthlyPhotoChallenge and #TheChangingSeasons
  • Each month, post 5-20 photos in a gallery.
  • Don’t use photos from your archive. Only new shots.
  • Rules for Version 2 (The Changing Seasons V2):
  • Tag your posts with #MonthlyPhotoChallenge and #TheChangingSeasons
  • Each month, post one photo (recipe, painting, drawing, whatever) that represents your interpretation of the month.
  • Don’t use archive stuff. Only new material!

Related: My chosen location for tracking the changing seasons is Windmill Hill  and its associated Linden Field – a few minutes walk from my house in Much Wenlock, Shropshire.  Here are the  January and February posts.

Thursday’s Special: Organized Noise

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This week Paula’s guest at Lost in Translation is Tobias  M. Schiel. He has set us a challenging challenge entitled Organized Noise. I think I have the gist of it – and this is my take on what he says (so if I’ve got it all upside down and backwards, Tobias, please tell me) – that you can use the camera’s eye to frame everyday  ‘stuff’ and ‘clutter’ that of themselves do not have aesthetic appeal. In other words, the photograph itself endows the scene with creative interest and possibility through framing, focus and cropping. It thus exposes something intrinsically or extrinsically fascinating in a context that we might otherwise screen out as uninteresting or unworthy of particular notice. As Tobias says, this is more likely to work in the abstract.

So I’m  not sure that this photo of a stricken pine on Cornwall’s Seaton beach quite fits the bill. But I’m posting it because the scene as a whole caught my attention. The tree had been blown off the cliff.  The way it was lying suggested to me a crash-landed dragon, the peeled trunk in the foreground its snout and eye.  But with a more abstract eye, the main thing that struck me about this pile of beach debris was the vivid range of colours – materials natural and unnatural.

Maybe this next shot is a better example? – a close up of some of Seaton’s amazing geology:

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In his explanation, Tobias says that this approach is used in musical composition, but as a writer I can see that this photographic version is also a visual analog for what the best creative writing does: that is, it takes a scene, or a detail of it, something that others might miss altogether were it not for the affecting way in which the writer chooses to delineate it, often mixing heightened reality with metaphorical abstraction.

Thanks to Paula and Tobias for hosting this fascinating challenge.

copyright 2016 Tish Farrell

Seaton Seascape

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All I can say is my Lumix point and shoot was on a very strange setting when I took this photo. I blame the gale that was blowing along Seaton Beach, though you’d hardly know it by the ‘frozen-in-time’ look of this shot.

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge

This week Cee says the subject can be anything beginning with the letter ‘S’. Please follow the link to see her work and other bloggers’ renditions.