Wednesday, 16 October 2019

St. Anthony, More Dorset, and How I Encountered Rebellion.

I said I would continue my post on Dorset. I often don't continue posts, but here it is! You'll remember that we went west to Dorset for a family celebration but decided to stay on because the weather was so perfect....  But I'll write about it all in a minute because I'm wondering what happened to a large folder of research material which I took with me to read on the trip.  It's gone. I've looked everywhere, checked with everyone. 

I've just sent up a prayer to St. Anthony, who finds lost things. If he directs me to my folder, I'll give some money to charity.  I don't consider myself to be a religious person, but I have to say that things usually do turn up, sometimes in the weirdest places, after consulting this saint.   So I'll let you know next post.  

So, this big house above is Monkton Wyld Court, in west Dorset.  I found it quite by chance when researching bed and breakfasts in the area.   As you'll see if you click the link, it's a sustainable community which runs a smallholding of several acres, and welcomes volunteers to work on the farm, and it also offers hostel and bed-and-breakfast accommodation to overnight visitors who just want somewhere to stay.  It was built as a parsonage in the late 1830s, and has a matching church across the road, now mostly obscured by trees.    I was astonished to learn that the vicar who lived here for years did so all by himself.  His wife supposedly "did not like the country" and if there were any children, perhaps they didn't like it either. What the poor man did with a ten bedroomed house, I'm not too sure.  I would like to think he housed the poor in it, but I bet he didn't. 

This is is my idea of a living room ...I might have a little more furniture in it if it was mine, but actually you can't see the beautiful and colourful pictures on the walls, and can only just catch a glimpse of the big fireplace on the right.  

And this is a nice music room, a good size for parties if you move the sofas around. 

As you can see, there is a lot of natural stone and in fact the main corridor of the house has stone pillars and archways, a little like an abbey. 

There's a vast garden outside, in which they've opened a licensed pub.  Yes, that's it, seen through the window - it looks like a summer house, and in fact it is one.   It's hung with fairy lights and is a great place for the residents to hang out and drink draught beer from a barrel - there's also local pressed apple juice.  I believe the Monkton Wyld villagers also come there too.   It was like heaven on a hot summer's evening, but I'm not sure what happens in the winter when sitting outside drinking beer doesn't sound quite so idyllic. Since the whole place is run on sustainable low emission lines, (translation: not much heating),  I suspect the answer would lots of sweaters and gloves.  We plan to go back, probably before Spring, and may then find out. 

The house has a large kitchen garden of several acres.  I can't help thinking of that vicar. Did he let his servants cultivate the garden and send the produce home to their families? Did he sell it to supplement his income?  Did he let it get overgrown?  Anyway the garden is now maintained by the community, who grow the fruit and veg that they eat.   T and I really enjoyed wandering around it in the late afternoon sunshine, eating a (windfall) apple or two and peeping into the greenhouses. Here are beans and grapes, the latter not quite ready when we visited. 

Lots of apple trees, mostly of old and unfamiliar varieties. 

The area is networked with really tiny, narrow lanes which are also extremely steep and with hedges at least fifteen feet high.  This makes driving quite challenging, and we didn't go much above second gear. This means, of course, that there is not much traffic, and there really is a most rural atmosphere.  Here's a photo T took when we went for a walk in the woods and reached a tiny stream.  

One day I got up before the sun rose and went out to look over the countryside. It was completely quiet except for birds.  

Milk was from their Jersey cows and delivered up to the house each morning by bike both for use in cooking and to make cheese.

We met several interesting people staying there, ranging from someone who made TV commercials for a living, and wanted peace and quiet to write a book about the music scene on Ibiza; a couple of women who had written a book on the uses and folklore of wild plants and were preparing a course on making herb gardens, and an elderly and very genteel pair who looked as if they belonged in their local Rotary Club or but were actually planning to travel to London for two weeks to take part in the Extinction Rebellion climate protest. 

"I've been worried about the environment for decades, and nothing I've ever said or done has had any effect. Now I'm going to make people notice!" said the gentleman, fiercely.   

 "And we are retired, so it doesn't matter if we get criminal records if we glue ourselves to lamp posts or anything like that," added his wife.   

If we hadn't met them, T and I might not have decided to visit Extinction Rebellion when they arrived in London shortly afterwards.  But when we learned it was encamped in central London we went down  to see if we could spot our acquaintances from Monkton Wyld, and perhaps bring them some sandwiches.   

We didn't see them. It was far, far too crowded.  This pair below are NOT them, but you can see from the lady's posters that that she and her partner are there on behalf of the older generation, who have presided over the crisis. I loved them (and the many other elderly folk there) for not being part of that group of oldies that sits at home complaining about protestors they've seen on TV that they don't like the look of.

The movement is not centrally coordinated, but it was well organised, with open air kitchens and free food, and all kinds of activities, as well as a tented First Aid post for those who find the whole experience a bit hard.

There were people of all ages, all types and all backgrounds. Looks like this lad and his baby sibling might have been here with grandparents, but I didn't ask. 

Here's someone who described herself as an ordinary mum who cares about children's futures. 

The reason that they all came is to make everyone aware of climate change, and urge action to contain it.  As I've been researching my book,  I've talked to many professionals, and can now understand why action does need taking, and fast. It's not exactly that the world is getting hotter. It is actually ecosystem breakdown, which happens when the globe's average temperature is too different from what it should be. 

  The early symptoms have been showing for only a few years, so it's still possible to deal with it.  The mistiming of plant flowering, so that their usual insects can't eat them or pollinate them, loss of familiar birds and animals who can't find the wild food they normally eat, melting icecaps, and unusually hot, cold, wet or stormy weather which is baking, freezing or drowning more animals (and humans) than ever before.  It's not much at the moment, but it's the equivalent of ignoring a few cracks forcing their way through crumbling bricks in a dam.  When something big starts going wrong, there's a domino effect as one failure triggers off another,  until it gets very hard or impossible to fix the whole thing.  

 Some of the protestors mentioned science and wildlife, though not as many as I expected. 

and this, at a stand aimed at medical professionals, is about climate change and human health.

But this gloom and doom does repel people, and makes them turn away, so I was actually quite pleased to see so many people spreading the word positively in the way that appeals to them.  You need carrot as well as stick.   Maybe by talking, persuading...or possibly planning future protest....

By making music.... this was the leader of a large circle of drummers outside Downing Street. I don't suppose our PM was sitting back and enjoying it in his lair, but I'd have paid to hear them - they were world class. (I was glad they were using earplugs, and wished I'd had some)

Some people staged elaborate set pieces. This, in the tent encampment in Trafalgar Square.

I found these figures disturbing as they wound their way silently around Trafalgar Square. They had something of the feeling of a Greek chorus.

Here's a picture of the sort of protestors who seem have particularly annoyed the elderly telly watchers.   This lot built a construction, sat on top of it in their colourful hippy clothes, and sang soppy sounding protest songs. The police had to dismantle their framework around them, and stand by in case their supporters objected.  I just wonder what it cost.  The bobble-hatted ones might not have done anyone any harm, but must have cost a fortune in public money, because they attract so much attention and so many police are needed to keep order and take them away.  So actually they do make the point very effectively that climate change will strain public resources and public order, and I was glad they did such a good job in such a peaceful way.   

These old fellas have a tambourine on their walker, thankfully they did not beat it when I was in earshot.  Not quite sure what the EU flag has to do with it, except that conservation charities are now uniting in alarm at the deliberate alteration and weakening of much of our environmental legislation under cover of Brexit. Yes, maybe that's it. 

Some countries, like Trump's America and Bolsonaro's Brazil, are not interested in the future, they  want the money now. Boris Johnson's government is promising real action, but when I saw they'd refused to give BBC's "Panorama" an interview about just what they were doing,  I reckoned that we're better off looking at this to get the real story on the government plans.  Some of the other parties are taking it seriously, though, so I am pinning my hopes on them if and when Britain is free of the black hole fiasco of Brexit.

Going down this route can be sombre, so maybe on reflection I'm glad there wasn't too much of it at Extinction Rebellion. It was better to be there and see people celebrating life and love, creating art, music, happiness and wise ideas,  all the good things, to see them having fun and relaxing in the sun, while making their point all the same. 

Friday, 4 October 2019

Dorset, Part One

I've changed my header to one which is a bit blurry but it was taken out of a plane window. It makes me think of the feeling of excitement as you are descending at night to some unfamiliar place - in this case, I took the picture over Africa, and you can see how few settlements there are, just one not-very-big town.  I look at it and I wonder what it is like to be down there in the dark African countryside with the plane droning far above?

I haven't gone far recently, and have so much to do here I'm glad of that - daresay I'll change my mind when winter gets under way though!  We had a great trip to Dorset during the recent sunny spell.  It was to attend a golden wedding celebration in the extended family, and then the weather was so nice that we decided to just stay on in Dorset. 

These beautiful blue butterflies could be one of several varieties, and I'm not smart enough to tell them apart. But I'd like to think at least one of them is a Silver Studded Blue,  a rare one local to Portland, where we took the picture. Portland is an island reached by an isthmus and overlooking a long, wild and empty beach, Chesil Beach. It's of great geological and wildlife interest, and has good fishing, but I'll be honest with you that its eighteen miles of unadorned shingle wouldn't make it my choice of beach on which to spend the day. 

Portland has been quite industrial in its time, and is indeed the main source of Portland Stone, a prized white limestone that has been used both for Buckingham Palace and St. Paul's Cathedral.  The island is bleak, stony, quite densely populated and not too affluent but it's interesting.  The butterflies live in one of a number of disused quarries which have become nature reserves. Each has their own personality.

 The one below, Tout Quarry, is notable for its sculptural decorations carved into the rock, which you come across unexpectedly. I loved this Victorian fireplace, complete with clock in the centre and what might be geological specimens on either side.  

And here is a life-sized falling man, below. The sculptures are not named or indicated in any way so it's startling to come across these curious things unexpectedly as you explore. 

The beaches down this coast are mostly rocky, although in different ways, so very different from each other. The coast is actually a World Heritage Site on account of its geological interest.  From a photographic point of view, I found the different sorts of beach rocks very interesting. This is one of my favourite pictures of the trip, taken on the beach near Osmington Mills,  east of Weymouth. Do you think the irregular shape on the central rock looks like part of an ancient map?  Of course it is a type of seaweed, which close up looks like curly hair.   

Many of the stones on this beach are huge, brown, smooth and sculptural, in fact the sculptor Henry Moore is said to have gained inspiration from them - there's an interesting little item here showing some of the other things that gave Moore sculptural ideas. 

There's also a very jolly pub in the hollow near the beach, called the Smugglers' Inn.  It is not just a fanciful name - the area used to be a haunt of smugglers and in fact there is an amusing tale which I found written in the church of the nearby village of Langton Matravers .... 

So, here is a picture of the west wall of Langton Matravers church, below.  If you look carefully you'll notice that the wall looks old and if you look very closely you will see two different roof lines, both of which show a pointy roof.  That shows the church has been rebuilt, and these are the ghostly remains of earlier churches. 

  To be honest with you, they haven't been so very lucky with their churches in Langton Matravers, and maybe it's not surprising.  The church before this one was built with a large space above its concave ceiling, some way below the roof timbers.  It seems this large space struck the churchwarden, Charles Hayward....

...who also happened to be a smuggler, as an ideal place to hide a large number of barrels of brandy, which he just happened to have in his possession. He stationed his grandson at the church gate as lookout, and he and his mates carried the huge barrels up and hid them above the curved ceiling.  

 Since the floor was obviously not at all flat in their hiding place, (in fact, it was very curved, almost in an arch) the barrels all rolled down to the sides, and such was the weight of them that they pushed the walls of the church outwards, and eventually, the whole place collapsed. 

We only know this because Charles' grandson, the lookout, wrote about the whole exciting incident in his diary.  I don't think the diary surfaced in time to convict Charles, in fact, he seems to have got away with it, perhaps because smuggling was one of the local businesses and not exactly a crime, or something. It certainly looks from the plaque above that Charles Hayward died a respected member of local society.  

 One of the best known villages on the coast is Kimmeridge.   It might be well known but it is very small.  It's about a mile from the sea, which is reached by a narrow toll road.  It's a lovely place, with the gardens of its thatched cottages absolutely alive with butterflies.    

Someone drove a vintage car up the road as I was there.  You can see it going past the old thatched pub, Clavells, which does very nice food.

Kimmeridge has several claims to fame.   There is a circular folly called Clavell Tower, built in the Tuscan style in 1830 by the wealthy local vicar, Rev. John Richards Clavell. It's now owned by the Landmark Trust, which lets out fantastic unusual quirky old buildings to holidaymakers.  They actually rescued it from falling into the sea by moving it physically back from the cliff edge where it once stood.

There is also a modern and spacious museum, beautifully designed and built of the local stone. This is the Etches Collection, the lifetime's collection of local plumber Steve Etches who got into collecting local fossils in a big way when he was young and ended up getting a PhD.  He has donated his stunning specimens to the nation in a museum built with National Lottery funds. (click the link above to find out more about it). The museum's displays give a real feeling for what these bizarre and often unnervingly huge marine animals were like, how they looked and moved and lived, and the many little films of Steve at work convey not only his great enthusiasm for them but are also really informative.  I can only feel grateful that they died out many millions of years before I came along because I would definitely not have liked to encounter them when swimming in the sea.

The layered rocks on Kimmeridge beach are very striking and interesting.  T and I thought the broken off bits looked a bit like sandwiches with thick fillings.... but I guess that just shows we don't know much about geology.

On the way to Kimmeridge, down extremely narrow and steep little roads, we stopped off at the village of Steeple.  By coincidence, there's also a village of Steeple in Essex (that's the area I visited in the last post). The name in Steeple, Essex refers to an ancient lookout point, and its church doesn't have a steeple. Nor does the church in Steeple, Dorset.

What Steeple Church in Dorset does have is a barrel organ. These were used in small remote places where there wasn't anyone to play a real organ.  If you've ever tried to play a barrel organ you'll know it's fiendishly difficult, specially if you have to pump it with your feet at the same time. You need to turn the handle very smoothly at exactly the right speed otherwise the notes come out as a jumble.

Here's the organ. It should have a case but that's being used in the vestry for something else.
It does play, though.

... and here is  a very similar barrel organ, playing the hymn tune "Cranbrook,"

The church considers this to be the old tune of "While Shepherds Watched their Flocks By Night."
  You, though,  may recognise that the tune often has very different words sung to it.  "On Ilkley Moor" is almost the National Anthem of Yorkshire, although I wasn't able to find any decent videos of people singing it - not unless you like listening to people singing in the pub on Saturday night anyhow. 

Oh, forgot to say. We saw this caterpillar in the quarry in Portland. T. reckons it is a moth of some sort, but we couldn't identify it. 

It curled up when picked up, and I took it off the main path which it was slowly crawling across and put it into the long grass. If anyone can suggest what sort it was, I'd love to know.

This post is getting a bit long so I'll end it here, but we did lots of other things in Dorset, and I'll write some more about it in my next post. I know I often say I will and then don't, but this time,  I really will! 

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

A Trip to Essex

 Well, I came off my bike and twisted my knee and skinned my elbow, so I am taking only gentle exercise and don't feel too guilty about sitting at the computer even when not writing the book. Actually, I am a bit shocked at how long it is since I last did a post. 

Last week (before I came off the bike) we decided to take a couple of days and see more of Essex. Essex doesn't sound that thrilling a destination if you live in London. Some of it has been swallowed up in London suburbia, and the rest of it is rather flat and agricultural, without all that many eye popping major tourist attractions.  Which doesn't of course mean there's nothing to see - far from it - but it does mean you don't feel too crowded out, and there's the big advantage that it's little more than an hour from where we live in London. 

I've written a few times about Essex, including  here about the lost garden and here about Tiptree jams. My great grandmother lived there (although we could never work out why, since she'd always planned to retire to Ireland) and my mother had lots of  childhood memories of the place, including travelling from Chelmsford station to granny in Tolleshunt Major in an old pony and trap, since there wasn't any public transport!  

We based ourselves in a bed and breakfast in Maldon, an old sailing town.   The house where we stayed is right on the quayside,  where traditional Thames barges are moored. The pink arrow marks the house, which, if you are interested, is called 32 The Hythe.

Our room had windows on three sides, two of them overlooking the water and the boats, and the other overlooking the church.  It was just about as perfect as a b& b could be, we thought.  Lots of little goodies and even hens (who lived in a palatial coop outside the kitchen door), to provide fresh eggs for breakfast.   And a telescope at the window to look over the estuary, which winds around for miles. 

The boats were so picturesque, especially in the early mornings... 

....and the evenings, when the local starlings would choose one particular boat for them all to roost on with a great chattering and cheeping. 
Maldon feels like a good place, it is well cared for and interesting without being pretentious. It celebrated its thousand year anniversary in 1991 and the town possesses a huge commemorative embroidery stitched by local people, which I spent ages looking at.  It's bold and vibrant, and it is on display inside a building which is also a unique late 17th century library donated by a local benefactor, Rev. Thomas Plume.  

The books in Plume's Library mostly date from before 1800 and the library is still very much alive, opening for four days a week, (I am sorry to say this is better than some local council libraries these days.)  A look at the catalogue shows he was a keen collector with wide tastes, but unfortunately I managed to visit just too late for the day's opening.  Next time, I will be sure to go earlier, and might find out a bit about the secret influences, wiles and ways of bad angels in Henry Lawrence's "Militia spiritualis, or, A treatise of angels: handling the nature, power, substance and existence of good [and] evill angels : wherein is likewise shewed what incredible power, secret influences, wiles and wayes, methods and moods the good and bad angels doe daily exercise in the hearts of men though they little mind it."

I loved the embroidery for its liveliness and graphic style in telling the story of the town from its early Saxon days right through to the  foxhunting protests of more modern times.

My eye was particularly caught by the building shown below.  I don't know what "Pant" means, but the building, with a Celtic cross on one side, was from longer ago than the soldiers in the 991 AD Battle of Maldon who are shown to the right.   In fact it is one of the oldest Christian buildings in the British Isles, dating from 654 AD, and it still stands near Maldon. 

Of course T. and I decided to go and see it, even though we suspected it wouldn't be quite as multi coloured as the beautiful embroidery suggests.  It's in a village called Bradwell,  and has had a chequered history. It was first built by St. Cedd, a Celtic saint from the holy island of Lindisfarne, 350 miles to the North.   Its name is St. Peter ad Murum, (Latin for St. Peter at the Wall) and it's build on - and from - the remains of a large Roman fort which stood on the site about 1,500 years ago, for this area had some importance in the Roman Empire. 

There is nothing visible left of the fort except for a few stones, and I am sure the fort was a godsend to the locals wanting to build cottages over the past millennium and a half.    The car park is over half a mile away and you need to walk along a country footpath to reach the chapel which is in an exposed position opposite the estuary.  

The place had a real atmosphere. Take a look at this stonework below. You can be sure that the local Anglo-Saxons, who lived in little wood and mud huts, wouldn't have had the technology to cut stones like this, let alone bring them all the way to this silty, sandy and largely stoneless landscape.   The Romans cut these, and they also made the red tiles which went on their roofs. 

The chapel has had a chequered history, having at various times fallen into disrepair - it was once even used as a barn, but it always retained the story of its holy past.  It would have made a very good barn, being high and long, but its most recent restoration has given it a modern altar containing three large stones from holy places, as you can probably see if you look closely. 

 There is no electricity, heating or toilets, and the chapel is left open all the time. Despite this, it is in good repair, clean and decked with flowers, and has weekly services, special services at Christmas and Easter, and open air services in summer, as well holding as an annual pilgrimage.  A local Christian community, Orthona (which was the Roman name for the fort) lives in a nearby wood and also uses the chapel, so perhaps they are the ones who guard and care for it. 

It's a really minimalist landscape, flat and big-skied, and T and I wandered along the dyke which protects the low lying land down the shore, admiring the sometimes strange effects of the shadows and light.

Maldon has a lot of old buildings but doesn't take itself too seriously. When we returned, we spotted an amusing plaque to a popular 18th century tradesman,  Edward Bright, whose name still survives in a street in the centre of town called Bright's Path.   Bright was known as the Fattest Man in England, and was quite a celebrity for it, which luckily he seems to have taken in a good spirit.  After his death, seven local men undertook to fit into his waistcoat for a wager.  In fact, the wager said "Seven Hundred Men" but the seven still won because each of them came from a place called the Dengie Hundred, which was the equivalent of the local county in which Maldon stands.  

I was also amused at the sign for one of the pubs down by the water. The Queen's Head's pub sign features a 1588 portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, the unaltered version of which you can see below.

She doesn't look that friendly even in the portrait, but someone has gone to quite a bit of trouble to get a couple of those eyes you stick on teddy bears and carefully glue them to Queen Elizabeth's eyes, on the pub sign, giving her a glare which to me looks icy enough to terrify any courtier.

Maldon's not far from the Royal Horticultural Society's gardens at Hyde Hall, and we called in there on the way home.  Summer has started to fade,  and Autumn has not yet arrived, so it is not a good time for gardens but there was some interesting planting, often mixing flowers, seed heads and decorative grasses (oh, and by the way, please can someone remind me of the name of the large red flowered plant below? I just can't remember it!)

 I am a fan of grasses, so I liked this too

And this modern garden, designed to make you think of an overgrown topiary garden, intrigued me.  Of course it is not overgrown, and is very carefully tended. The only flowers were a clump of huge yellow kniphofia, which looked startling against the dark yew.  

More traditional were some beautiful gladioli, this one was such a pure perfect white

and this was an eye-shattering collection of new varieties of popular bedding plants, lent by their growers and breeders as a way of assessing public reaction. The display really was as bright as this, , including a almost fake looking  light-and-dark pink rose just right of the centre.

I think I was keener on several of the plants which looked as if they had been hand-made out of wool or other textiles.  A pumpkin-sized squash... 

 and giant-headed sunflowers, which were full of detail.

Back in London, we went out for a meal to a restaurant I was glad to discover. At last, a local restaurant that serves nice food and isn't too expensive! The food is Georgian, from the ex-Soviet Union, a place which one of our friends knew well. She assured us the region is renowned for its food.  On each table is a cute little model showing the dishes you can order in the restaurant. Walnuts are a popular ingredient, and it's all delicious (except for dumplings, which I can never learn to love.)  

I'd almost like to buy one of these little models and take it home. Which reminds me, it is time for me to make something if we are to eat tonight.   Well, I'm glad I got this post done at last!

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