Of Men Turned To Stone And A Cup Of Gold

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We were spending a few days in south-east Cornwall last week and, in between downpours, we managed a trip up to Bodmin Moor to visit The Hurlers. This unique prehistoric site comprises three stone circles set out in a row, and dating from the Late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age. This would make them around 4,000 years old. It is impossible to capture the full complex without aid of  hot air balloon or hang glider, so here are some piecemeal shots. Also the light, as you can see, was pretty poor.

The local explanation for the origin of these stones is that they are petrified men – turned to stone in punishment for playing hurling on a Sunday. (Cornish hurling is an ancient team game played with a silver ball. See the link for more details. And no, I don’t think that is an ancient hurler on the skyline).

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The circles are 33, 42 and 35 metres in diameter (108, 138  and 115 feet respectively), and none have all their stones intact. The central circle is the best preserved with 14 standing stones and 14 marker stones. This circle and the one to the north of it align with the huge Bronze Age Rillaton Barrow, visible on the skyline to the north-east. It was here that one of the British Museum’s most precious treasures, the Rillaton Gold Cup was discovered during excavations in 1837. At that time it was passed as treasure trove to King William IV and so remained in the royal household. It was only a hundred years later, after the death of George V in 1936 that its full historical significance was recognised. HRH had apparently been using it as a receptacle for his shirt and collar studs.

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Photo: Creative Commons      Rillaton Gold Cup circa 1700 BC

 

Thursdays’ Special: Traces of the Past – Please visit Paula to see her dramatic view of San Geremia church in Venice, plus other bloggers’ posts of relics of times past.

Thursdays Special ~ Spring In My Garden

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This week at Lost in Translation Paula’s theme is ‘vernal’ and she is calling for our spring compositions. So here are a few scenes from my Wenlock garden. Things have been a bit slow this year because we’ve had no rain for weeks and weeks. But today we did – and the garden has come alive with aquilegias and alliums. And I had no time to take photographs because I had a hundred other things to do. Hey ho. So the photos here were mostly taken back in March/early April: ornamental cherry, crab apple, and damson – the flowers of fruit to come.

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Hafren, Sabrina, Severn ~ Please Meet Our Local Goddess Plus A Tale Of Madcap Daring

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She is most usually known by the Roman version of her name: Sabrina goddess of the River Severn. I told her story in the previous post, but thought this close up view fitted the bill for Paula’s ‘pick a word’ at this week’s Thursday’s Special. The five prompts are: confined, jazzy, patulous, momentous and serene. So I’m going for the first and  last – Sabrina serene but confined to her plinth in a pool in Shrewbury’s Dingle.

It also seems she is confined in other ways too.

The statue was the work of Birmingham sculptor Peter Hollins (1800-1886), and made for Shropshire worthy, the Earl of Bradford in 1846. I thought she was carved from stone, but a little googling reveals that the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association National Recording Project ( who knew of such a body?) thinks she may be cast in some sort of metal and then covered with plaster. They also say she is afflicted with a biological growth – so that has ‘patulous’ covered too, though they don’t say what it is. I’m wondering if it’s responsible for the vaguely luminous areas. Poor nymph.

The scarcely legible quotation underneath her comes  from John Milton’s Comus , a mask in which  Sabrina is one of the main characters. This  work also has Shropshire connections having had its premier showing at Ludlow Castle in 1634, presented before another worthy,  ‘the Earl of Bridgewater, then President of Wales.’

Sabrina fair,
listen where thou art sitting
under the glassie, cool, translucent wave,
in twisted braids of lilies knitting
the loose train of thy amber-dropping hair;
listen for dear honour’s sake,
goddess of the silver lake,
listen and save.

And if you find these words far too gluey and overwrought, then here’s an edgier Sabrina yarn, though I must warn you – it does not end well. It was the Public Monuments entry that put me on to it. It begins with a church spire – specifically the one atop St Mary’s Church in Shrewsbury and also one of the tallest spires in England.  This church has graced the town’s skyline for over 500 years, although parts of it are far older than this, dating back to Saxon times c AD 960. Also some of its stones were apparently cut by Roman masons, and carted in from the abandoned Roman city of Wroxeter some miles away.

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I think you might call the spire momentous – even before we get to what happens next.  It is over 200 feet tall.

Enter one Robert Cadman, steeplejack and mender of weather cocks. It is the winter of 1739, time of the Great Frost, and Cadman has been employed to put right St. Mary’s weather cock that has been blown askew. He duly does the job, but he has further plans for the church spire. For Robert Cadman is also a stuntman and, for his daring descent from the cupola of London’s St Paul’s cathedral, blowing a trumpet while sliding down a rope,  he has already earned the nickname ‘Icarus of the Rope’.

He has handbills printed and spread about the town:

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The History and Antiquities of Shrewsbury From Its First Foundation to the Present Time, Comprising a Recital of Occurrences and Remarkable Events, for Above Twelve Hundred Years, Volume 1, 1837

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The River Severn is frozen solid, and so the Great Frost becomes an occasion for fun and festivities. An engraving of the time shows  skaters and people playing table tennis out on the frozen river; there are tents; there are sheep being roasted; several of the great Severn trow sailing barges are ice-bound; there’s even a printing press out there too. All in all, then, Sabrina is providing the perfect arena for the spectacle Cadman has planned.

He attaches an 800 foot rope (240 metres) through a window on St. Mary’s spire. The other end is anchored across the river at Gay Meadow – (well out of shot on the right of the next photo). The show begins with Cadman’s walk up the rope towards the spire:

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His usual act is to ascend bare-chested, performing all kinds of stunts as he goes. When he performed in Derby this walk took around an hour. The return descent, or flight as it was termed then (since there was apparently quite a yen for this kind of flying  in the early 18th century), would be swift. For this part of the act our intrepid performer puts on a wooden breastplate which has a groove cut down the middle. He then lies on the rope and hurtles down, headfirst, blowing a trumpet, and accompanied by a stream of smoke as his breastplate burns with the friction of the rope. Whew!

But on this day, when Cadman reaches the spire, he decides the rope is too tight and signals across the river for it to be loosened. There is a misunderstanding. The rope is tightened, and half-way down, the rope snaps – whipping up in horrible coils as Cadman hits the iron-hard ground, his body apparently rebounding several feet in the air. Accounts have it that Cadman’s wife, who has been moving among the crowd of spectators collecting money, runs stricken to his corpse, throwing away the money as she goes.

Robert Cadman was buried at the foot of the spire and the sorry tale is commemorated in a plaque by the main door of St Mary’s church:

Let this small Monument record the name
of Cadman, and to future time proclaim
How by’n attempt to fly from this high spire
across the Sabrine stream he did acquire
His fatal end. ‘Twas not for want of skill
Or courage to perform the task he fell,
No, no, a faulty Cord being drawn too tight
Harried his Soul on high to take her flight
Which bid the Body here beneath good Night
Feb.ry 2nd 1739 aged 28

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And now just to restore some sense of serenity, here are some shots of St. Mary’s interior. The church is now redundant, but it does have a very good cafe. It also contains some wonderfully ancient stained glass windows. The final image of the set is the Jesse window above the altar and dates from between 1330 and 1350.

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copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

Juxtaposing The Old, New And Re-Purposed In Manchester’s Northern Quarter

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It’s hard to believe it’s a year since we were up in Manchester. Lovely niece Sarah had bought tickets for the Buena Vista Social Club’s Adios Tour. We went up by train. Astonishingly there is a direct service from rural Church Stretton to Manchester Piccadilly. The venue was The Bridgewater Hall. It was a great night out: Omara Portuondo, still singing at 85, gave us her all. But it was a little sad too, with film tributes on screen, commemorating past members of this life-affirming ensemble; it left one with a bit of a hum-ho feeling.

And the antidote to such feelings is a trip round the city’s Northern Quarter.

Early on the following Monday morning we set off there. It was once the heart of Victorian Manchester’s cotton trade (there are family connections here: my Hickling grandfather and great grandfather were cotton merchants), now it is a hive  of quirky, alternative, creative, innovative, vintage, left-leaning city living. As in the first photo, there is a lot of what architectural conservationists (if they were feeling generous) might call ‘adaptive re-use’.

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There is still much recycling to do and the place is not pretty. The streets display layers of multi-period dilapidation from the nineteenth century onwards. But there is a vibe here, in the same way there is a vibe in London’s Camden Market. People are doing interesting and creative things. There are independent boutiques and craft-beer bars. If you are into vintage then there are many shopping opportunities, and most especially at Affleck’s Palace emporium:

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If you are a maker then Fred Aldous provides a whole department store of art and craft materials to keep your fingers busy.  And if you want to see what local artists and designers are up to, then the Manchester Craft & Design Centre, located in a former Victorian fish and poultry market, showcases their work:

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But my favourite piece of juxtaposing is the new development that allowed the survival of the facade of the old wholesale fish market. Aesthetically some might say it’s uneasy union of old and new. But I like it. Mostly because someone had the wit to think it possible. If you look inside the entrance you can see the apartment block has a courtyard garden that has retained the original cast iron columns of the market hall:

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And finally, after all the hiking around, what is most needed is a nice cup of tea with some of the finest cakes on offer. In fact they cater for all tastes and food requirements at the Teacup Kitchen.

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Thursday’s Special: Juxtaposition

Waiting At The Severn Valley Railway

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Ghosts of travellers past, or reflections from across the track? I truly cannot say.

This week’s Thursday’s Special cue is WAITING. Paula’s stunning piece of graffiti made me think about trains, and how, as a child, I seemed to spend a lot of time waiting for them, and mostly on Crewe Station. Anyone who knows about the history of railways will know that Crewe is the railway junction, gateway to the north-west of England, and one of the world’s first railway stations (completed in 1837). Being a country child, I used to find it all a bit alarming: shunting, clanking, whistles, whooshing, hissing, porters, trolleys, oil, iron, coal, steam, strangers…

By contrast, the Severn Valley Railway, seems like a dream, although all the same ingredients are there – relics of the age of steam. Strange to think that this includes me too.

Thursday’s Special ~ Being Serially Arrested In Wales

This week Paula’s Pick A Word  challenge is giving me the chance to post more views from our March trip to the Conwy Valley in North Wales. Projecting, arresting, pastoral, convex and communal are the prompts, and this distant shot of snow-dusted mountains pretty much covers the first three. However, I won’t let that stop me.

Arresting is my word of choice for all the following images; Wales was at  its magical, magnificent best – from the glittering waters of the River Conwy to the surreal towers and ramparts of Conwy Castle. It made you want to burst into song. Cue: Land of My Fathers, the Welsh National Anthem, which you can join in with at the end, and so definitely cover the communal. It doesn’t matter if you can’t speak Welsh; humming will do. Besides, there is nothing quite like the quality of Welsh singing voices.

Also look out for Thomas Telford’s amazing suspension bridge in the next shot of Conwy Castle. It was built between 1824-26 to improve access between Holyhead on Anglesey and Chester, and was also part of Telford’s larger road and bridge improvement scheme to enable swift and safer travel to London for Irish Members of Parliament. A triumph, then, in both function and form.

The castle was built between 1283 and 1289, and is another of Edward I’s overbearing edifices to oppress the Welsh. Not only did he invade, he also cleared out the monks who occupied the site and set about building both a fortress and a model town below it, the latter confined by massive defences. Today, these walls still surround the town, and you can walk around them, though I should issue a warning: the wall-top walk is not for the faint-hearted or those prone to vertigo. But if you don’t mind heights, they provide striking views in every quarter.

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A few miles upstream from Conwy is the market town of Llanrwst. It is claimed that in 1947 its town council made an unsuccessful attempt to gain a seat on the United Nations Security Council as an independent Welsh state. One has to admire this piece of Celtic chutzpah. I’m sorry they did not succeed. P1070238

Anyway, one of the present day arresting features of Llanrwst is this bridge, the Pont Fawr or Great Bridge. It was built in 1638 and still cars drive over it. There are other names too – the Shaking Bridge – because if you tap the central parapet the whole structure vibrates, and also Pont y Rhegi – bridge of swearing, explained by the fact that the carriageway is too narrow for vehicles to pass, and the height of the central arch too steep for forward visibility,meaning that everyone meets in the middle and this happens…!&?#!

The view through the central arch shows the ground on which the National Eisteddfod was held in 1989. The town is currently campaigning for a return of this annual extravaganza of Welsh culture in 2019. Which is a good point to bring on the choir. Croeso – welcome!

Serpent’s Eye View From Llandudno’s Great Orme And A Spot Of Lamb Retrieval

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It was Monday morning, and here we were cresting the head of a sea serpent – the mighty Welsh marine worm. At least that’s what how the invading Vikings saw Llandudno’s Great Orme, and named it accordingly.

It is indeed an extraordinary craggy eminence that juts into the Celtic Sea, very much like a gigantic head. Amazingly, too, you can drive to the top, and see mountain mirages like this one. I’m looking south down the coast of North Wales, and this real-life illusion took little editing apart from cropping and reducing the brightness.

And now that I’m looking again at this still, blue scene, it is hard to believe it was blowing a gale as I took this photo.

Next are a couple of windscreen shots as we ascend and descend – rather more mythic edits this time and in keeping with this amazing slice of 300 million year old geology:

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And now we come to Operation  Lamb Rescue –  a kind man restoring very little twins to their mother. They had slipped down the bank towards the road, and couldn’t climb back up. So this was more nightmare than illusion – but with a happy ending:

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Finally, a distant view of the sea serpent, taken from Anglesey on a still, but warm day in late December, when yet again Wales was in dreamy illusion mode. Perhaps we imagined it – the Great Orme, the mighty worm, snaking its way across the Menai Strait:

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In this week’s Thursday’s Special, Paula asks us for illusions however we wish to present them.

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.

Thursdays Special ~ Great Zimbabwe Re-Scanned

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I was very pleased that this Thursday’s Special from Paula is another Traces of the Past challenge. I spent yesterday afternoon attempting to scan these photos of Great Zimbabwe. I’ve shown other versions of these images before – scanned from negatives, but either I or the scanner was on the blink, and I wasn’t very happy with the results. Then the scanner broke altogether (it was a whizzo Nikon one too), and that was that.

So yesterday I had a go with some of the original prints on the flat-bed scanner, which then led to a lot of dust-speck removing  – very tedious.

This is the best I’ve been able to do. The first shot shows the Great Enclosure, and the top of the mysterious stone tower within. The sci-fi plants on the left are giant aloes.

This next shot is taken from the Hill site, where archaeologists have discovered gold and other metal working enclaves.

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It gives a good sense of the surrounding terrain, although in the heyday of Great Zimbabwe, the environs may well have been a good deal more lush. The citizens’ domestic economy revolved around cattle herding, and indeed, one of the theories for the city’s demise in the C15th is over-grazing. But I’m sure there was more to it than that.

Great Zimbabwe was part of an extensive trade network throughout the period equivalent to Europe’s early Middle Ages. Its  merchants trekked in caravans to the Mozambique coast, taking gold and ivory to trade with Arab dhow merchants of the Swahili seaboard cities. It is very possible, then, that the gold floating around Europe and the Middle East in Crusader times came from Great Zimbabwe. In other words, it was not the remote settlement it may seem today; it was strongly connected to the Old World’s wheeler-dealer networks. Nor was it the only great African city state in southern Africa. So much of the continent’s human history remains to be discovered and told; historian Basil Davidson made a good start, though most of his works may be out of print now. And it was Peter Garlake who wrote the classic work on Great Zimbabwe (1973).

I only wish I’d taken more photos while I was there. We were being distracted by a travelling companion who was intent on not noticing that we were visiting one of the world’s most fascinating archaeological sites. Ah well. Anyway, looking at these photos now, it all looks very dreamlike, and that’s how it felt at the time.

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But I’ll leave you with a few hard facts. Great Zimbabwe was built and lived in by Shona people between 1000 and 1500. The enclosure walls, though often monumental, were seemingly never defensive. The entrances are simply open, undefended spaces. The stone came from the nearby granite hills, and was cut and laid without mortar. The walls vary from 4 to 17 feet in width with some reaching over 30 feet in height. It is, in short, a very amazing place, and I have written other posts with more of the history.

But oh, wouldn’t it be wonderful if these walls could speak and tell us their stories!

Thursday’s Special