The Things We Find When Lost

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Farrell Safaris are notorious for their cross-country deviations even when kitted out with a fully functioning map. And so it was on our recent Anglesey stay, and with an intended short (couple of miles) drive from Aberffraw to next-door Rhosneigr, that we managed to miss the turn and instead head off to who knew where.

Usually when this happens, Captain Farrell’s first resort is to keep going, perhaps in hopes that, if we do this for long enough, all will come right.  Fortunately this time we had savvy niece in the back seat, and she soon had our position pinpointed on her phone. We did indeed need to turn around. And it was while this was going on – i.e. finding a suitable turning space on a narrow country lane, that I spotted the Neolithic burial chamber in the far corner of a farm field.

Can we stop, says me, hoping for a better look over the wall and maybe a long-shot photo (poor light willing).

But once turned about, we soon saw that a proper visit was feasible. There were official signs in Welsh and in English ‘Ty-Newydd Burial Chamber’, a pull-in space on the verge and a stile.  Sister, cockapoo and niece were up for a visit, though the wind was brutal and it was starting to rain. In my rush to head the expedition as chief prehistorian I was ensnared in a hawthorn bush and held up proceedings. Meanwhile Captain Farrell gathered himself for unscheduled activity, and manfully brought up the rear.

We then tramped across the muddy field only to find the ancient capstone (a whopping 12 ft by 5ft/3.7 m by 1.5m) had been propped up on two unsightly brick pillars set on a concrete base. And while their solid intervention was doubtless necessary for many reasons, their presence jarred. The dreary light did not help.

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So it turned out that the original drive-by view had been more impressively mysterious than the close-quarters’ encounter. Ah well.

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The tomb was excavated in 1935 and is considered typical of the funerary monuments built by the first farming people (see also the Barclodiad y Gawres tomb in an earlier post). Finds included a hearth with charcoal remains, some flint flakes, a burned flint arrow head, and a chip from a polished stone axe. But there were also pottery shards of the later Beaker People of the Bronze Age, and signs of a further chamber, which suggest the tomb was used, or re-used over a considerable time-span. The large cairn that once covered the tomb is long gone – ploughed out and/or its stones re-purposed. Instead, small concrete bollards have been set out to indicate its original extent. Useful guidance on the one hand, but like the brick supports, they felt intrusive somehow.

Anyway, we paid our respects to ancient souls who then, like us, must have been alarmingly blasted by the training jets taking off at nearby RAF Valley. The New Year’s holiday was over and ‘business as usual’ resumed. Out of the gale the engines’ roar filled the sky, the earth, the universe, my skull. It was noise so loud as to be physically shattering. I had that strange sense of someone walking over my grave and a horrid glimpse of what it must to be some innocent village dweller in a war zone; to be on the receiving end of the northern hemisphere’s mighty industrial war machine.

Several times during that day the soundtrack for Armageddon rebounded through my bones and being. It happened again in late afternoon as we walked on Aberffraw’s magnificent beach. And I wondered then, as I have done many times recently, what on earth the ancestors would think of us now. We who believe ourselves so very civilised?

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A Hawk T1 or T2 (?) caught over Aberffraw estuary. And the photos taken immediately afterwards – first looking towards mainland Wales, and the second across the Celtic Sea towards Ireland:

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Lens-Artists: interesting things

This week Patti wants to see the kinds of scenes/objects that catch our eye or pique our interest. Please go and view her interesting choices.

‘The Little Church In The Sea’

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Or in Welsh: Eglwys bach y môr. Dating from the 12th century, it survives the sea storms only with the help of some robust 19th century defences. Erosion has reduced the peninsula on which it was originally built to a tidal island known as Cribinau. You can find it along the Coastal Path just north of Aberffraw (Anglesey).

The church itself is dedicated to the Irish Saint Cwyfan (Kevin) who lived in the 6th century. Whether he ever visited Anglesey is not known, but the island, once the stronghold of the Celtic Druids until the Roman invasion, was certainly a favoured retreat for early Christian hermit-saints.

You can walk across to the island at low tide and the church is still used for weddings and christenings. Come a bright summer’s day, it would be hard to imagine a more momentous setting for such important family rites.

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Six Word Saturday

Lens-Artists: double dipping

Quiet Hour In The Maasai Mara

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Almost sunset and a good time for mamas to play with the children…

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Or for lads to roll and loll…

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Or a cheetah to snooze in the grass beside a mulului tree…

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And then for humans to watch day’s end over the Mara plains…

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Lens-Artists: Serene  This week Patti invites us all to stop and ponder on peaceful scenes. As ever,  these views are from the old Africa album.

Chasing The Light Over Townsend Meadow

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Those who come here often know that our Shropshire cottage overlooks a field that once marked Much Wenlock’s northerly boundary. It’s all in the name of course – Townsend Meadow. In times past it was pasture for dairy cows. The farm, long gone, was in the corner of the field, and the dairy, where the milk was collected, was a few doors down from our house on Sheinton Street. But in the years since we’ve lived here the field has been used solely for growing arable crops; wheat mostly, but now-and-then oil seed rape, oats, field beans and barley.

Our further view, beyond the field, is of the woods along the summit of Wenlock Edge. You can just make them out in the middle distance of the first photo. This vista and this field and the sky above, are the places where I endlessly discover events and effects. In this sense you could call it a source of rich sustenance; the everyday world that is never commonplace.

When it comes to photography, I belong to the ranks of happy snappers. I have zero technical skills, though somewhat perversely I’m particularly drawn to taking photos in challenging light conditions – to see what will happen, I suppose. The first photo is a good example. It was taken by opening the rooflight window in my office to the horizontal position (which also involved standing on the spare bed) resting my Lumix point-and-shoot camera on the back of said window – that is, on the outside frame nearest me – engaging some zoom, and hoping things are as focused as can be. And there we are.  It is a strange photo. A bit quantum physics-ish. Lost realms and parallel universe kind of stuff.

Here are some rather more obvious low-light Townsend Meadow moments.

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Lens-Artists: Follow Your Bliss Lindy has set the challenge this week.

And Another View Of Yesterday’s Mystery Square…

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It comes with added red tailed bee bum, and so the mystery is revealed…a globe artichoke flower, or rather an artichoke inflorescence since each part is an individual small flower. There were several valiant stabs at it, but Jude and Izzie were the first to guess correctly.

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The up-close version as seen in yesterday’s response to I.J. Khanewala’s challenge at  Lens-Artists

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And here’s an artichoke flower just opening, the scaly outer leaves  meanwhile serving the constructional purposes of a small green spider:

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And now for the whole plant. I grow several globe artichoke varieties at the allotment. The purple ones are probably our favourites:

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Here’s one in the throes of being prepared as an artichoke heart, i.e. before having its inner leaves and hairy choke scooped out:

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And now for a ‘B’ Movie: ‘Three Bees In An Artichoke’

 

Past Squares #11

Ordinary Extraordinary ~ Past Perfect Encounters

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It is often on the field path to and from the allotment that the seeming ordinary catches my eye. Often too it’s the result of collaborating elements. Take this apple, one of a bucket of windfalls that a neighbour had tossed over the hedge into Townsend Meadow. Then came the blackbirds who, through the autumn, nibbled at the flesh until only this translucent skin remained. Then there was some frosty winter weather and a lowering late-day sun over the Edge. And so we have an apple lantern. And I just happened to be passing as it lit up…

The allotment plots are also fertile grounds for the extraordinary ordinary and finding them can provide protracted and absorbing diversions from weeding and digging. Who can guess what this is?

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On the home front too, the multifarious parts of my unruly garden can be an endless source of distraction whatever the season, though autumn can yield some especially fine moments.

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Lens-Artists: Ordinary  This week I. J Khanewala asks us to explore the commonplace with fresh eyes. A focused look at the ordinary can suddenly transform into the extraordinary.

Past Squares #10

Seen Better Days? Reflections On The Past At Pentre Ifan

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Here we have the bare bones as it were – the remnant massive boulders of a 5,500 year old chambered tomb – Pentre Ifan in Pembrokeshire. The cap-stone is said to weigh 16 tons, yet now seems barely to touch the three supporting megaliths. It all but floats, defying both logic and gravity.

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Which then has us demanding answers? Who on earth (without aid of heavy plant gear, cranes and tackle) did all the lugging and lifting to position it so? How many man and women hours did it take? For whose after-life were they toiling – a revered clan lord or lady? Or did the tomb provide a resting place for the many, in some way an accessible repository where the earthly remains of the entire clan could be placed?

We can never know exactly. We can only wonder – in both senses. The builders left scant traces of themselves – a few pieces of Neolithic pottery and flint tools.  But excavations in the 1930s and 1950s did at least suggest that the tomb had been re-used and appeared to have had some sort of ceremonial forecourt, a feature known from other chambered tombs across the British Isles. Here’s a proposed reconstruction.

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Doubtless over the centuries the more moveable stone components of outer cairn and inner chamber have been repurposed in farm walls and barns, but originally the cairn that covered the actual tomb extended downhill some 120 feet (36 metres). You can get some sense of the scale of operation from the last photo where you can still see the outline in the grass. The monument would have been visible from the sea, dominating the high ground above Cardigan Bay.

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As I look again at these photos, taken two years ago, I now find myself wondering more about us than the ancestors. What kind of people have we become? Time for some serious scrutiny?

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Related post: Scenes from the realm of ancestors

Lens-Artists: Seen Better Days Please visit Tina who set this week’s challenge. She has posted some fabulous photos.

Past Squares #5

Last Of Summer Days In Heart-Of-England Country

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…and in this case that ‘heart’ would be Warwickshire, homeland of master playwright, Will Shakespeare, the man who tantalizingly left scant evidence of his existence there. But then we weren’t pursuing him in his Stratford birth-and-death place along with many a late summer visitor. We were choosing the quieter option, staying on a farm in a cottage near Royal Leamington Spa, watching horses graze in lush paddocks and meandering down leafy footpaths to the River Leam.

For seven days last week we were blessed with full-on summer warmth. Lucky us.

It was new territory too. For us Shropshire dwellers (slightly north and west of Warwickshire), this particular county has always been one to drive through to somewhere else, usually to Devon or Cornwall. This being due to its having various motorways which incline one to dash through. This has clearly been a mistake. At the very least it is a county of two stunning castles – each in the magnificent, must-visit-settings of Warwick and Kenilworth. Then there are the elegant Georgian boulevards of Leamington Spa with its riverside parks. Then out in the surrounding countryside there are ancient pretty villages with well patronized pubs serving delicious food. One little village called Wappenbury even had the distinction of having grown up within the  bounds of an Iron Age hillfort. You could still spot the weathered ramparts from the path down to the Leam.

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Warwickshire is largely an agricultural county, mostly arable with ‘big-field’ cultivation and wooded peripheries, the surviving 18th century (and older) farmhouses displaying well kempt manorial looks.  By late September the harvest was pretty much done, the drilling of winter wheat underway. What remained, though, were fields and fields of pumpkins, they of the now customary Halloween variety. In fact there were so many acres of them – Sleepy Hollow on agristeroids – we decided the farmers must be growing them under contract to every  big supermarket chain across the land. Who knew?  But we pitied the poor pickers who we saw arriving on gathering duty: some of the pumpkins were HUGE, not easy to grapple with.

This next photo is one portion of a single field.

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As you can see, our English trees are yet to gain their autumn tints, but there were other signs in the astonishing hedgerow shows of hawthorn berries and crab apples. I also discovered a tree of wild plums, the fruit so sharp yet lusciously sweet. An ode to wild plums is definitely called for.

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But in case this all seems idyllic, there were also dark rumblings across the county: the incessant daylight thump-thump of heavy plant piling machines.  The controversial high speed 225 mph train line HS2 – London to ??? is carving up the land. And just in case, like me, when someone says ‘railway’ you picture only a narrow swath of track bed, then think again. There are all the access roads and service infrastructure to accommodate. The farm we stayed on had had a compulsory purchase order slapped on 100 of its acres. These are now fenced off.

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For now, only phase 1 London to Birmingham is approved and underway though already, according to Construction News July 2021 it is £1.2 billion over budget; a situation described as ‘cost pressures’.  Nor is this limited section of the projected line likely to open before 2029-2033 (or even 2041 according to whistle-blowing info revealed by one Tory MP). Meanwhile, the whole point of the exercise (apparently) which was to open up the north of England: Manchester west and Leeds east (see map at previous link) seems unlikely to be approved. On top of that, the opposition to the project on grounds of horrendous cost, deemed general pointlessness, and wholesale destruction of ancient woodland continues, as noted in the most recent Government report:

The key issues across the route continue to revolve around traffic and road
related matters, woodland, vegetation and wildlife issues and noise
disturbance. HS2 Independent Construction Commissioner: Eighteenth Report

One also wonders, with all the moves to make people work from home, that come completion in 10+ years’ time – we’ll have more of a ‘ghost train’ than a viable commuter service.

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Still, one shouldn’t let madcap schemes spoil things. Here are more sunlit Warwickshire vistas as summer slips into autumn.

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Lens-Artists: The Colours of Autumn

Life in Colour: gold

Taking The Broad View ~ Mara Grasslands

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In the rainless months it is the oat grass that gives the Mara plains their golden hue. The small trees with their sculpted looks are desert dates, mulului trees, much browsed by all the local herbivores.

These photos from the Farrells’ old Africa album were taken outside the main Maasai Mara National Park, below the Oloololo Escarpment on territory owned by related Maasai families, locally referred to as a group ranch. Visitors pay a daily fee to group ranch elders. We were lucky to be able to make three trips there while living in Kenya.

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Life in Colour: Gold

Lens-Artists: Going wide

As Seen In Fresh Light ~ Over The Garden Fence

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Of itself the field behind our house (Townsend Meadow) is not very interesting. It is simply a farm field, much subjected to agrochemicals in order to produce year on year wheat, or rape, or oats, or field beans or barley. On days when the light is flat it is plain dull. Most of the time it is the activity above it that catches my eye – cloud movements, and the odd effects created by a false horizon which obscures the further horizon of Wenlock Edge where the ground drops off a few hundred feet to the Shropshire Plain below. But there are moments when the quality of light bestows a certain glamour. Somewhat astonishingly the header photo was taken at first light one February morning – a piece of magic all its own since February in England is rarely a scenic month unless one is thinking about carpets of snowdrops.

Here are some more ‘best’ moments – over the garden fence, or from the office skylight.

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Lens-Artists: It’s all about light Many thanks to Tina for this week’s theme. Please go and see her very inspirational gallery of light works.