Sunday, 31 May 2015

Creeping Bentgrass 10th Year at Heskin Hall Steam Fair

What a brilliant night last night! The best comments are those you overhear and early on in the night Fran heard someone say "Oh this is the band everyone's been raving about..."

Four and a half hours of non-stop joy followed with four or five encores. Tense beginning though, as it took me a while to get both speakers working on the PA - perhaps time for another major purchase grrr!

The dance floor filled up nicely and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. At the end someone said "We've been coming here for eight years and you just get better each year!"

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Dulcote Village

Sunday 24 May 2015 (continued). We trudged (sorry - I meant "skipped") up the hill from Cheddar back to the car and set off back down the hill past the show caves and souvenir shops to head back towards our holiday B&B. Though a B&B, because I had known Mary for a long time (it doesn't do to dwell on how long I always think...) we were invited to dine with them for our evening meal.

I wanted also to explore the tiny village a bit more. This is the White House - see the earlier entry for the reason it's not white! Opposite the White House is a property called The Old Mill. There were a couple of paper mills in the village in the past, making paper out of rags. Old clothes etc would be pounded until they turned to pulp and this was then spread and dried to form the paper. A laborious business.

In a previous entry I mentioned the monks of Glastonbury not having cameras to record their finding of what they said was King Arthur's tomb, but we find it hard now to understand just how hard to come by - and therefore expensive - our everyday items like paper, pencils, pens and ink would be to someone in medieval times. The Romans used tablets spread with wax and used a stylus to write. They were definitely not for long-term storage. Usually the wax would be wiped smooth and the tablet re-used. For longer storage clay would be written on and then baked.

Paper was almost non-existent in Europe until the 1400s, though paper was first made by the Chinese in about 100 BC. It took a thousand years to spread across the Islamic Middle East and came to Spain in the 1100s, reaching Germany by 1400. The first paper mill in England was in Hertfordshire in 1490, though the first commercially successful one was owned by John Spilman in Dartford, Kent as late as 1588. Before then sheepskin was widely used for writing on, being scraped with knives to remove old writing so that it could be used again. Paper made with wood pulp instead of textiles was only properly developed in the mid 1800s.

More information on the mills and much more can be got from the excellent website about the village at www.dulcote.com.

In the centre of the small village is a triangular village green. Apparently a toll house once stood here, but after some time following its removal, the villagers created this fountain from the overflow from the local springs. This is a natural flow, there is no mechanical device to pump water up into the air. The fountain was dedicated in 1861 to the village's benefactor Mrs M.C. Tudway of nearby Wells and, due to the high mineral content of the water being deposited, grows a little in height every year!

School-cum-chapel built by the afore-mentioned Mrs Tudway in 1860. Again according to the village website, it ceased to fulfil this function in the late 1980s and is now privately owned.

In addition to the fountain we found this delightful grotto in absolutely beautiful condition. It is set into the wall at the side of the small village green and is obviously lovingly tended and maintained. We were assured that the water is drinkable and behind hanging greenery we saw three falls of water into the clear basin which drains away on the left. The last time I came across an old well in this part of the world, it had green brackish standing water and a sizeable community of tadpoles who definitely banished any thoughts of wanting to have a taste!

We had another wonderful meal with Mary and Rod and a houseful of children which made for a jolly mealtime. After we had eaten, Mary's daughter asked me (after screwing up her courage!) to draw her, having seen my sketch of the house from the garden. It was lovely to be asked, though I am not used to drawing people at all and had never drawn a live model. But she curled up in a chair and I sketched her over about half an hour. At one point the sketch looked like her Mum at a young age and it ended with a sketch that, if it wasn't exactly her, it was a close family member! Thank you so much for asking L - give me another try sometime, ok?

Links

The White House B&B: www.thewhitehousedulcote.co.uk
Dulcote Village: www.dulcote.com
History of Papermaking (Wikipedia): en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papermaking
History of Papermaking in the UK: baph.org.uk/ukpaperhistory.html

Somerset Weekend Index

Friday, 29 May 2015

Cheddar Gorge Sketches

Sunday 24 May 2015. Once we had left Glastonbury it was raining and we decided to try our luck at Cheddar, knowing that if it came fine we could wander up and down the road from the gorge through to the village and that if it was wet there were plenty of cafes to sit in and watch somebody else getting wet...

If you are a regular reader apologies, because you will have seen this sketch before. It was just about fine by the time we had driven slowly up the hill and found a parking space in the third car park above the top show cave. I decided to leave the camera in the dry and we walked down the hill in search of somewhere to have a quick snack.

We knew Mary was cooking a meal for us that night again and we didn't want to have a full meal, but Miss Franny was fancying a clotted cream tea. In the event we should have had one between us as the cafe we ended up in served up the most huge scones! But I like a fruit scone and Miss Franny likes plain ones so perhaps one of us would have had to feel disappointed anyway.

The cafes were all fairly crowded and we were halfway down to the village when we found one with space to sit. It had a framed collection of tea cards (collectable cards from packets of leaf tea from the 1930s) hanging on the wall at the side of our table with glamour photos of Hollywood starlets of the day on them. I counted 54 cards but only knew five of them - and was proud of my achievement, given the rather short periods of relative fame most of them had. Hedy Lamarr was there and Sonja Henie, the skater. But the other three were only familiar for a single film such as Anita Louise - she played Titania to James Cagney's Bottom in the 1935 version of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Looking her up on the Internet Movie Database, I found that the only other thing she did that I could remember was the 1950s TV show My Friend Flicka.

I dashed this one off earlier today for this blog post, knowing I hadn't any fresh photos. "Dashed off" might not be a totally apt description if I'm honest, but it didn't take me hours on end either... I included a cyclist riding up the gorge because there was a cyclist staying in one of the other rooms at the B&B and she had cycled all the way up the gorge the previous day.

We had a look round the village shops - is it me or have several cafes turned into souvenir shops? Anyway, there was even one with a few Edwardian penny arcade machines in it. And Miss Franny decided we hadn't got a fridge magnet of Cheddar (with all the ones we have got how can she remember???) so we came back with a fridge magnet as well. The fridge is full, I'm thinking of swapping the kitchen cupboards for ones with steel doors...

And just to finish off, because I know you will be wanting to know whether Anita Louise was a bit of a babe or was totally hideous - I can reveal she was a bit of a babe... And no, I can't remember who the other two starlets were that I recognised... Anita Louise at IMDB.

Somerset Weekend Index

Thursday, 28 May 2015

The Chalice Well at Glastonbury

Sunday 24 May 2015. We waited until the rain had died down a little and then braved the weather to walk to the Chalice Well.

On the way up towards the well we had this excellent view of Glastonbury Tor with the tower of St Michael, dedicated to the Archangel Michael.

The Chalice Well gardens are built around the well where legend has it that the Holy Grail was placed when Joseph of Arimathea brought it to England. There is of course no actual proof that there was an actual chalice at all, never mind that it was brought all the way from the Holy Land and placed here. But over the centuries the tradition grew and is linked with the legend that Joseph of Arimathea came here as a merchant. We have already seen the Glastonbury Thorn that is said to have grown miraculously from his staff. The gardens are run by a trust and there is an admission charge.

The actual well sits at the top of a garden that has been landscaped around the spring that feeds the well and cascades down the gardens via a series of cascades, falls and pools. It has to be said that it attracts some strange people (I'm not referring to anyone in the photo). The first time I visited around 30 years ago, someone was sitting in a robe running a pestle around the rim of a brass mortar that was emitting what to them was no doubt a spiritual soothing sound, but to me was totally annoying...

The water here comes from the spring and can be drunk. I ignored the glasses though and cupped my hand under the spring to taste the water. It was quite nice tasting with little of the sour metallic taste of a high mineral content, though the red colour of deposited minerals shows there is some present.

The Holy Grail has been the subject of so many legends and quests down the centuries that it is easily latched onto by the pseudo spiritual. Glastonbury abounds in hippies. I was 13 in 1967 and then hippies were people from my age up to late twenties who liked bright clothes and music and perhaps drugs, though very few people I came across ever went that way.

I grew out of wanting to be a hippy around the age of 17 or 18. By contrast it seems that today's hippies are all aged from 40 to late 60s and far from peace and light, colourful clothes and care for others, it seems now to be more about pseudo spiritualism, being as scruffy and appearing as unwashed as possible... Floaty cheesecloth has been replaced by leather jackets. Glastonbury is full of shops offering "Tibetan Sensory Massage" and anything to do with fairies and elves and that part of the town came across a little (if I can be blunt) as being up its own backside... I imagine that many of the inhabitants don't feel much affinity with this aspect of the town either, though it is well established now.

It's obviously enough of a problem for the entrance of the gardens to display a message forbidding "group rituals"... In 2006 there was a clash in the town between local pagans and an association of young catholics who threw salt in the face of pagans with shouts of "You will burn in Hell, witches!" The problems are not always caused by the pagans...

This did bring a rather ironic smile to my face though. The Healing Pool. You can paddle in it but the sign warns it is slippery and they are not responsible for any (my words) injury caused by the healing pool...

We had climbed down from the well to the final terrace of the garden. There are lots of benches to sit on and for anyone into plants and gardens it would be worth a visit for the well-landscaped presentation alone.

I have to admit I didn't feel one little bit spiritual whilst there, despite others clasping the sides of their faces and rocking about. The Holy Grail or chalice legend seems to have its origins in the Norman period, 1100-1200 years after Christ and some 650-750 years after the time of the earliest Arthurian mentions. There are many many claims for its location and more recently a totally different interpretation of its nature based on the similar sound of the Old French terms "san gréal" (holy grail) and "sang réal" (royal blood).

A lot of thought and effort have gone into the garden, its sculptures, landscaping and planting (which includes at least one cutting from the Glastonbury Thorn). The mysticism, spiritualism and just about all other manner of isms were a bit lost on me...

Links

The Chalice Well Trust: www.chalicewell.org.uk

Somerset Weekend Index

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Glastonbury Abbey

Sunday 24 May 2015. Mary and Rod at the White House B&B had warned us that the road through the village of Dulcote was due to be closed from 9:30am due to a running event, so we opted for a fairly early (and mouth-wateringly huge and lush!) breakfast in order to be able to get the car out and away. We drove a short distance to Glastonbury and went into the famous abbey.

We found some sort of event taking place. After paying and starting out in the small museum there was a woman dressed in the costume of a medieval peasant standing looking at us but not saying anything. "Are you real?" I asked pleasantly, not wanting ghosties phasing through me just after eating Mary's massive breakfast - it would put me right off... Anyway... she was real!

The two eastern piers of the abbey's crossing. The western piers have both fallen and only a single stone foundation exists of them. The majority of the abbey buildings have been lost, but there are some quite spectacular things to see here.

The main Abbey church seen from the chancel. The chained area marks where the High Altar once stood. Seen between the piers is the Lady Chapel, of which more later. Beside the Lady Chapel, in 1191 the monks of the abbey claimed to have unearthed the body of a huge man with his wife in a coffin made from a single hollowed out oak tree trunk. They announced that it was King Arthur and Guinevere his queen. This has to be set against the fact that the abbey had burned down in 1184 and they were desperate to have the money for rebuilding that hordes of pilgrims would bring.

The sign reads: "Site of King Arthur's tomb. In the year 1191 the bodies of King Arthur and his Queen were said to have been found on the south side of the Lady Chapel. On 19th April 1278 their remains were removed in the presence of King Edward I and Queen Eleanor to a black marble tomb on this site. This tomb survived until the dissolution of the abbey in 1539."

To the east of the abbey, the grounds contain areas of protected wild flowers and an arboretum. Even such a committed non-gardener as myself, whose most exuberant uttering on looking at the most luxurious flower specimen would be "that's nice..." could enjoy the walk through trees, past shrubs and signs warning of badger setts and mole holes. Despite some rather dullish weather, we walked around the entire perimeter.

The abbey pond. Fish were spawning and causing swirls and splashes in the water as they broke the surface in their mating.

A number of people were breaking camp in this area, having spent the night under canvas, or at least under some sort of thin material with a long chemical name, whatever it is they make tents with these days. They were happily calling to each other in German or Dutch or some other language that was beyond me, saying things like "If you go for a dip in the pond, dear, don't come back with your shorts full of pond weed like yesterday..."

We are returning back down towards the visible bits of the abbey again. This is the view from the south side of the abbey showing the Bishop's Kitchen towards the left.

This is by far the best preserved building of the abbey and is one of the best preserved of all medieval kitchens in Europe. It was built as part of the abbot's house, during the tenure of Abbot John de Breyton (1334-42).

Inside are little tableaux set out to show how the kitchen might have appeared during medieval times. I suspect a great many people might have been running about and working here! This was a preparation area, not a dining area. In another corner were little waxwork roasting porkers, complete with wounds from arrows, skewered above a "fire" which does glow and emits little gasps of "smoke" and also a bacon smell!

A glance up a chimney though reveals a mass of spiders' webs who wouldn't have hung about so much when fires really did blaze below! In yet another corner a deep oven is set into the wall. Bread would have been a staple of the monks' diet, though no doubt in the Bishop's House a rather more splendid fare was available.

We exited the Bishop's Kitchen on the opposite side to which we entered and a fragment of masonry allowed me to climb to a railed area for an elevated viewpoint.

Unfortunately the Bishop's House has not fared so well as the kitchen. But we do know from archeological evidence that there was a sumptuous guest house attached to it that was built for the royal visit of King Henry VII - a king who had claimed his throne in battle against Richard III and who spent the rest of his life watching for and imagining acts of vengeance and treachery on every side. It would have been much safer to have made a fuss of him with a huge welcome!

Here we are looking north towards the Lady Chapel across what was a cemetery - the cemetery where the grave of King Arthur and Guinevere was found, buried at a great depth between two pyramid structures. The female skeleton still had long blonde hair attached to the skull but it disintegrated on being touched. A lead cross lay over them according to the records with an inscription that brooked no doubt: "Hic jacet sepultus inclitus rex Arthurus in insula Avalonia" - "Here lies buried the renowned King Arthur in the Isle of Avalon".

1194 is 641 years after the claimed date for the Battle of Camlann in which Arthur was reportedly slain. The find is almost directly comparable to the 21st century finding of the burial of King Richard III, in that very similar amounts of time passed between burial and discovery. Yet the monks at Glastonbury had no sophisticated tests to verify the identity of the remains, nor cameras to record it. Their search is sometimes reported as being at the behest of King Henry II following his interpretation of a tradition told to him by a Welsh bard and sometimes as having been ordered by the Abbot Henry de Sully.

The bones of whoever it was they claimed to have dug up were lost forever when Henry VIII threw his hissy fit at the Pope and Catholicism and destroyed all evidence that might have remained. The tomb and its contents have never been heard of since the Dissolution. The Abbot at the time, Richard Whyting tried to stop the desecration and for his efforts was taken on 15 November 1539 to the nearby Tor and there was hung, drawn and quartered.

On the interior walls of the Lady Chapel, built very soon after the finding of the Arthurian remains, there are still traces of paint from a very sumptuous decoration that adorned the entire interior with colour and design. There are also traces of ancient graffiti...

The Glastonbury Thorn. Or rather, one of the thorn trees, said to have originated from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea, the uncle of Jesus Christ who donated his own tomb to hold the body of Christ after the Crucifixion. It is said he stopped to rest on Wearyall Hill above Glastonbury and when he awoke next morning his staff, which he had pushed into the ground, had taken root and burst into blossom. This is one of several trees in Glastonbury grown from cuttings taken from the tree on Wearyall Hill.

We left the abbey and looked for somewhere to sit down for a coffee. There are lots of places available but I do have a liking for the more traditional tea rooms and we found one called "The Abbey Tea Rooms". We went in, sat down, ordered and got a coffee and sat watching the Heavens open...

Links

Glastonbury Abbey: www.glastonburyabbey.com
Glastonbury Abbey Shop: www.glastonburyabbeyshop.com
The Abbey Tea Rooms: abbeytearooms.co.uk
King Arthur (Wikipedia): en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Arthur
King Arthur (BBC History): www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/anglo_saxons/arthur_01.shtml
King And King To Be (Kindle book by this blog's author): www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B008BL7HUG
Other articles referring to King Arthur: on this blog

Somerset Weekend Index

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

The White House, Dulcote

On Saturday we motored down to Somerset for the weekend, heading for the tiny hamlet of Dulcote, just outside Wells.

We were booked into The White House B&B, which is owned and run by an old friend, Mary Harris, who many of my old friends and colleagues from the Further Education sector will remember as Mary Barker who managed NILTA, the National Information and Learning Technologies Association.

Mary with Fran and I in the gorgeous garden at the rear of The White House. Now you may be thinking "but the house in the first photograph is plainly not white..." And you would be right. Even around the back there's a distinctly pinkish aspect to the stucco on the wings.

According to the information on the excellent village website (www.dulcote.com) the house was for several centuries an inn and then later a public house, presumably offering both drink and accommodation as an inn, but refreshments only as a public house. The earliest record of this type of use comes from the year 1696 when John West was inn-keeper. I wonder if he exasperated the local anglers by rejecting a lot of their fish...? Anyway, during its time as an inn it was known as The White Horse.

In 1913 the leaseholders, Richard and Sarah Pointing, bought the inn by auction. At the time it had a "parlour, tap-room, cellar, kitchen, larder, W.C, 4 bedrooms. The outbuildings are stone -- stables for 7, pigsty, trap-house, garden, meal-house and store". Mary showed us the room they thought might have been the main tap room - with a huge fireplace with oven set to the side and signs of the existence of fixed apparatus for swinging pots over the fire in the brickwork. It has a lovely atmosphere - as a place should where generations of village folk have come to enjoy food and drink and genial company.

Folklore takes over a little now, but it is thought that after Richard Pointing died, Sarah (listed as proprietor of the White Horse Public House in 1914 but as a private resident by 1919) thought to change the name to something less obviously an inn. She did this in the most expedient way. Rather than have a whole new sign made, she had the letter R of "horse" changed to a U and the building became The White House!

Today the B&B has three suites available for guests. We stayed in The Loft, a suite of three rooms at first floor level. It is detached from the house and other accommodation and is quiet and private and provides a lot of space and we enjoyed it thoroughly.

Entrance to the garden area from the car park. The garden is divided into areas by low level shrubbery, which allow you to view over them and this gives the impression of lots of space. In fact the garden is big - I'm not sure my plant-killing prowess would allow me to look after such a garden!

When we arrived, Mary made a welcoming cup of coffee and we caught up something like a decade(?) sitting in the summer house with the doors wide open in warm sunshine and straight away we felt at home and starting to relax.

It was so nice that after we had finished our coffee and Mary had left us to unpack and explore on our own, I returned to the summer house and drew a half-hour sketch of the house and garden from the viewpoint at the rear of the garden.

The village has more to show us, but we'll save that for another entry and over this weekend break we'll also have a look at Glastonbury Abbey, King Arthur and Queen Guinevere's grave, the Chalice Well and Wells Cathedral and city.

Links

The White House B&B: www.thewhitehousedulcote.co.uk
Dulcote: www.dulcote.com

Somerset Weekend Index

Friday, 8 May 2015

Eamont Bridge

The Bank Holiday was the expected washout and this week in Blackpool, Tim Burton and Samuel L Jackson have been film making and turning the Promenade back to winter. The weather has done its best to show them every single sort of weather possible over the course of a few hours.

But yesterday promised and delivered sunshine and we jumped merrily in the car and motored up into Cumbria to Keswick and Eamont Bridge. The bridge of Eamont Bridge is listed as Grade 1 and dates from the 1400s. It was widened both in the 19th and 20th centuries but is still narrow enough to need one-way traffic controlled by traffic lights. Pedestrian refuges are built into the parapet, though it is much safer to cross by the more recent iron pedestrian bridge at its side.

This does restrict your view to the west to being the side of the bridge. But the bridge remains a part of the major A6 route. Before the M6 motorway this was a place of stationary queueing traffic and long tailbacks waiting to get over the bridge.

The river it crosses is the River Eamont - the village gets its entire name from the river and bridge. This has been an important place for millennia. There were three prehistoric henges here, two of which are still impressive. King Arthur's Round Table henge is thought to have been a place for festivities and merry making. Mayburgh Henge still has a single standing stone left of the four in the centre and four at the entrance - which faces King Arthur's Round Table. A smaller henge on the far side of King Arthur's Round Table has now been lost, flattened in the 19th century.

In 927 AD King Athelstan brought together all the kings of the various kingdoms of Britain here. The meeting could have used one of the henges or perhaps the great square of the Roman fort embankment at Brougham nearby. It included Constantine II of Scotland, Owain of Strathclyde, Hywel Dda of Southern Wales and Ealdred of Bamburgh. They agreed not to ally with the Viking kings of Northumbria and Dublin and swore to ally with Athelstan. He had to remind Constantine and Owain of their alliance some seven years afterwards. Some say Athelstan marched all the way up to Caithness, but after that Constantine and Owain found themselves based at Athelstan's Court, rubber stamping his laws and his coins had "REX TOTIUS BRITANNIAE" stamped on them - "King of all Britain".

In Keswick we bought new potatoes and strawberries on the market, declined the offer of muesli (I nearly drowned in muesli once after a strong currant pulled me in) and had a latte in one of the many tea rooms. The waitress was chalking up the specials board with "Pizza topped with tomatoes and goats cheese with salad". I may have been a bit pedantic but I said she should put an apostrophe in the word "goats". Otherwise someone may have thought there should be a full stop and it was "Pizza topped with tomatoes and goats. Cheese with salad". How many goats does it take to top a pizza I wonder...

I have to say we witnessed some of the most appalling driving during the day, including a white van driver holding a bowl in one hand and shovelling pasta into his mouth with the other (whilst moving!), people signalling to turn one way and then turning the other, and one idiot who had stayed behind a cyclist instead of overtaking on straight clear roads who waited for a blind corner and then after overtaking immediately slammed to a halt causing the car behind him (we were behind this one) to almost crash into him and the cyclist to have to skid and almost fall off. The mind boggles...

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