Saturday, 30 March 2013

Danebury Hill Fort

The Easter holidays arrived yesterday. It was freezing cold and not at all Spring-like or indeed Easterish so we decided to take everyone to Danebury, our local hill fort, forgetting that the clue is in the name: Hill fort- it was far more bitter up there than anywhere else, but our small people (who are increasing in size these days at a rate so rapid as to be almost alarming, and in fact our eldest is now as tall as me so doesn't really count as "small" anymore anyway) are used to going out into the countryside in all weathers. They run around when they get cold. Initially this was because they were little children, now they do it because it's what their father does. No matter where we are M finds an excuse to run about. It is an often acknowledged fact in our house that dad is 46 going on 7.

Danebury has been extensively dug and recorded over the years so a lot is known about it's history and there is a wealth of gruesome evidence for said martiality. These days it is peaceful enough, with impressive earth ramparts rearing up out of the ground made for racing up and down, and beautiful beech trees lining the edges which I like to photograph. Unlike many historical sites, there are no restrictions on where you can walk and the free access makes it a wonderful place to roam.

Sheep with impressive double-horns, and either Dartmoor or Exmoor ponies graze the central part where round houses stood two thousand years ago (and from which dogs are now sensibly excluded, so sadly no Teddy with us yesterday). In the summer they hold open days with painted celtic warriors fighting in small bands and industrious flint nappers demonstrating their skills in the shade of noble beech trees.

The views are breath-taking and although there are always people about, it's not overly soaked with them so you can breath in the atmosphere and easily step back two millenia. 

Last time we were there, which must have been Autumn 2012, M found a family of snails resting in the crack between two close-growing trees near the entrance to the fort. I wondered if they'd still be there, and I'm pleased to say they were...


The entrance gateways are still impressive and it doesn't take much to imagine how imposing they must have been when the fort was in it's heyday...

It's quite hard to give an impression of just how steep and high the banks are from photos, but hopefully this will help.....

  Here are the sheep with the impressive horns and the ponies grazing at the top...

When we were kids we used to pull the thorns off rose bushes, lick the flat underside and stick them to the end of our noses and then charge about pretending we were rhinos or unicorns. I was happily telling the children this yesterday when we found these very wicked-looking thorn bushes. They looked at me in that pitying way teenagers reserve for adults who reveal something uncool about their past. Perhaps childhood was simpler thirty years ago?

Anyway, we got round the hilltop walk without freezing too badly and were very glad to head back down the hill towards the car. By this point other families were arriving with their children to admire the views and learn about the past. These children and their fathers were all well behaved, sensible people who walked quietly up the hill dressed in warm coats and offering encouragement to keep going in the face of the cold as the sharp wind threatened to buffet the little ones off the slope and into the fields below. 

How nice, I thought, turning to smile at my own brood and their father, only to discover this......

It's not the first time, and it won't be the last.

Happy Easter all.

CT x

Monday, 25 March 2013

Mavis declares the arrival of Spring

Yes. Believe it or not (and it is pretty hard to believe given the pictures of snow-encrusted towns, nineteen-foot high drifts and electricity poles snapped in half by the ferocity of storms lashing across the country that are being beamed around the UK as tales of winter woe poor in from North, South, East and West all at once and with equal ferocity), Mavis, our neurotic but impressive-looking Cream-Crested Legbar Chicken, has decided Spring is here and has begun to lay her blue eggies once again.

Mavis is an odd girl by most people's standards but she is usually a pretty reliable Herald of Spring. I know she sometimes gets in a muddle and thinks she's a cockerel and tries to mate with her sisters, and it was only a couple of weeks ago that her adventurous (unkind people here would say unstable) spirit led her to attempt a daring escape from the hen run, an escapade which ended in rather silly failure when, having accomplished the hard part of breaching the fence and finding herself within a feather's breadth of the freedom of the garden, she unaccountably turned round and dropped back into the pen with the others, but, unless she knows something we don't, it does look at the present time as if her instincts have led her up the proverbial garden path. 

There is no sign whatsoever of Spring's arrival here in Hampshire. The poor daffs are putting on a brave show but frankly they're fooling no-one. The frogs have re-hibernated (sensible creatures) and although a few buds are making half-suggestions of themselves on the bough and our garden birds are carrying around a hopeful beaks' worth of nesting material, there is no support for any of these season-changing nudges by the weather, which has returned after a very brief flirtation with warmer days to cold, cold, cold.

The temperature is stable at about 1 degree by day and goodness knows how many below at night; the East wind saws the skin off your face the second you put your head out the door so it feels more like minus twenty; Mr and Mrs Pigeon have been pecking with impressive but sadly unsuccessful and after a time bewildered perseverance at the frozen water in their bath, and the mud in Anemone's field has crystallised prettily but frankly impractically into silvery twinkly little shivers of crusted muddy ice that pretends to a solidity and weight-baringness it does not have (I nearly slipped over several times this morning which sent Ted into "oh my gosh mummy are you alright?" mode, and Neems into "you idiot- you nearly dropped my feed"). 

Where a week ago coats were beginning to start the Spring drop, leading me to hope the horses at least knew a change in the seasons was only just around the corner, they are now quite sensibly holding on to them for dear life as proof against the bitter wind raging across their paddock.

M has been cheerfully comparing this week's icy weather with the same period last year when we were all, he tells me, basking in 17 degree warmth.

I have told him there are times when a persons' unbridled joy at recording daily weather occurences is best kept to themself.

However, he does raise an important point which I have found myself pondering these last few days- is it really unseasonable weather, or have we just got so used to early Springs which don't, in the long run, help anyone, bird or beastie? If I think back to March childhood days the words that rise up in my brain are "cold, sharp, windy, bitter, chilling, raw, jumpers, coats, gloves, hats, scarves"  not "sunshine, t-shirts, suntans, dry ground, grass growing and chardonnay lunches outside."

Perhaps Mavis has got it right after all then and she is in fact bang-on with her assessment of the progress of the year: these cold days may simply be the herald for Spring's arrival at it's proper time some point in the coming weeks, rather than an unreasonable icy grip meted out from a malevolent nature spirit....

Friday, 22 March 2013

A thought for Friday

I've had a wobbly sort of a week: burning the candle, rushing around, head and heart filled with concerns that have required stoicism and the application of brain power to work through, still require stoicism and brain power to work through. It isn't always easy to find the time to stop and be still when you need to, yet the space to breath, to reflect quietly, to look at the sky and the trees and the birds is an important counter-balance to those weeks that white-water raft you along regardless of whether you want them to or not.

I'm an Aries, not great at slowing down, more prone to busy busy busy from the minute I get up till I lay my head on the pillow at night and on the whole that is how I like to be. I tend to ignore the subtle hints my body gives me of "I'm tired and need to rest" and keep going until I end up feeling like a tube of toothpaste that's been squeezed with the lid on.

It isn't until words and indeed entire trains of thought disappear from my head that I know I'll have to retreat to the sofa and put my feet up with a mug of boiling water and the biscuit tin at hand for the afternoon to recoup vital energy.

Really? At midday? Are you sure?

It does work, even if I'm usually off racing around again the next day rather than pacing myself like a sensible creature would. M despairs of me, but it is just the way I am.

Of course there are longer-term feelings of  squeezed toothpastedness or disconnected fuzzy headedness which require more than an afternoon on the sofa to put right. Below is a meditation I was taught years ago which can help if the world is pressing too insistently on you.

Go outside and stand on the earth or grass (if not a carpet will do). Which part of your body can you feel most strongly? Your head? your chest? your feet? 

If it's not your feet then relax, drop your shoulders, be present in that moment and be quietly aware of all the things around you. Allow yourself to begin to feel your breath flowing in and out, gently, simply, effortlessly. Once you're aware of your breath, feel it expanding into your lungs. Allow it to work it's way to the very bottom of your lungs where it collects all the stale air that's got stuck there, then breath it out through your mouth. On the next breath feel the energy flow to the very end of your fingertips. On the breath after that feel it flowing all the way down your legs into the tips of your toes. Know that your breath is re-energising everything and connecting all the component parts of your body into one healthy vibrating whole
Now stand again and feel which part of your body are you most aware of.  If you still can't feel your feet go back through the breathing exercise again. If you have regained awareness of the soles of your feet and can feel the ground beneath them, I want you to imagine that there are roots growing out of the soles of your feet; healthy, strong roots that go deep into the soil anchoring you and nourishing you and giving you a sense of connection with the earth that you walk upon. These roots won't prevent you moving about, they won't hold you where you don't want to be, instead they are there to steady you and give you a feeling of being grounded that you can call upon whenever you need it.

Stand for a moment or two enjoying the feeling of being rooted and grounded, supported and nourished, of breathing well so that all your organs benefit and your blood is healthy with fresh oxygen and your whole being is vibrating as it should. Now that you feel calm and centred and capable, go forward into your day knowing that you have balance once more and can cope with all that the toothpaste-squeezers might throw at you.

Enjoy the weekend. CT x

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Poppet hops along

Poppet (my one-legged dunnock) continues well. Here she is in a short video shot earlier this week...

Monday, 18 March 2013

Down in the forest on a rainy day/ Sleepy Bees

This is a bit of the forest that is a favourite with my family; we come here in all weathers and love it regardless of what the sky is doing. The river that runs through it meanders between steep banks where tall trees grow; in places it sighs over the gravel a few inches deep, in others you can lose a welly in it. In the summer months it potters along quite content humming softly to itself; after rain like we got at the weekend it fairly roars between the banks. 

The boys designed a game they call "river walking" here: it involves hopping from bank to bank, running across fallen tree trunks over the water and climbing roots to reach the top of the banks between meanders.There are lots of beautiful trees in this part of the forest- I never get tired of looking at them and being among them. This is a place of Water and Wood in equal measure for me.

 Wherever you go in a forest you can always find interesting trees. I particularly love this one- you can stand in the middle of the four trunks and if you rest an ear on one and somebody taps a branch coming off it you can hear it knocking inside the tree.

Teddy loves walks by the river because of the interesting smells and places to go exploring. He used to most definitely NOT be a water dog, but the river has taught him to be less afraid and now he leaps over or plunges through it much more confidently.

There's an ancient crossing-place half-way down the river where the banks fall away and the river becomes shallow over pebbles. I'm not sure how well it came out in the photo but it's a peaceful spot:

 I also love all the unusual fungi, moss, lichens, ferns and other plants that grow from and near the trees beside the river...

  Best of all for me in this part of the forest is the wild bee's nest I discovered at the end of last summer. It's inside this fallen tree and I found it quite by accident. 

  The bees were all very dear and put up with me checking on them at regular intervals until they all fell asleep late last autumn. They're pretty much still tucked up snugly inside the deepest layers of wax, but the odd one or two were buzzing about on Sunday. The smell up close to the nest is beautiful, a rich honey aroma. Clever bees!

By the way, if any of you are interested in helping the bees (who are facing a big threat right now),  this organisation is worth a look: 

I'll leave you with  a picture of the King Tree. There is almost always one King Tree in a wood and although they are not necessarily the biggest, there is something about them that marks them out from other trees. Try looking for one the next time you're out in woodland.


Friday, 15 March 2013

A Riddle for Friday...

No jokes today but here's a riddle for you instead. My favourite one which I taught L years ago and he remembered it last week when he wanted something to fox school friends with...

Little Nancy Netticoat
Has a white petticoat
And a red nose.
The longer she stands
The shorter she grows

What is she? A candle, of course!

Happy weekend all,
CT x 


Sunset on Cadbury Hill

Back in the Autumn M and I had a weekend in Sherborne. I'd never been and always wanted to go (plus there is a hunter trial course at Toomer farm I was keen to check out as a potential competition venue for this year), so we packed our things and headed down on a Friday night.

Sherborne is  a beautiful town with lots of interesting history and we could have done with longer there. Suffice to say it whetted my appetite and I'm sure we'll go back for more. There is a really delightful little museum tucked into the city wall which is well worth a visit, and the town centre has some lovely buildings lining the way. Plus there are some great pubs to eat at locally, fantastic walking nearby and plenty of other interesting places to visit within an hour's drive. What more could you possibly want from a weekend away?

The museum is on the left by the old gateway

This seems a bit harsh....

Were bicycles particularly offensive to monks I wonder??

After exploring the town we headed up to Cadbury Hill, another place I had long wanted to visit. When I was younger I was very drawn to the legends of King Arthur; I read everything I could find about him, was fascinated by druids and all the myths and fables that had sprung up about him. I found the whole thing fascinating and mesmerising in equal measure, and places connected to him still have quite a pull for me today.

The weather was perfect for being up on the hill- chilly and clear with a magnificent sunset. You can see for miles up there on a good day. The atmosphere was stirring, all too easy to imagine ancient painted warriors patrolling the ramparts ....

My ancient warrior on guard duty....

The next day we went to Tolpuddle. I remember studying the Martyrs at school but it never really connected with me. I found it much more affecting as an adult and was struck by the simplicity of the tree in the village under which they met contrasted with the terrible harshness of the sentences meted out to them. The museum in the village is small but it does explain the context of what happened- worth a visit if you find yourself in that neck of the woods.

The story of the Martyrs is both simple and frigtening: 6 men were transported to Australia as an example to others for swearing an illegal oath of loyalty to a "Friendly society of Agricultural labourers" set up to protect farm workers wages, which were falling in the 1830's. The formation of the Union was legal, but the oath of fealty to it was not (by a law of 1797 which had never been repealed) and the men were transported to Australia as a warning to others.

They quickly became a focus for the unrest in the country, and were soon popular heroes. A freedom movement grew up around them which numbered amongst its members some very influential figures such as Lord John Russel, who argued the case of the Martyrs in Parliament, telling the PM that : "if being members of a secret society and administering secret oaths was a crime, the reactionary Duke of Cumberland as head of the Orange Lodges was equally deserving of transportation". Eventually the sentences were remitted and the men allowed home.

Here's a link if you want to know more:

I didn't know about the "50 Great British Trees" recognised for their place in the national heritage as part of the Queen's Jubilee. Here's a list of the other 49

James Hammett was the only Martyr to return to Tolpuddle after being released (the others emigrated to Canada). The story goes that he was not present at the fateful initiation but may have been arrested in place of his brother in law who's wife was expecting. He was certainly an outsider, unlike the  others he had a criminal record (for theft), wasn't a Methodist and he never wrote about his experiences. He lived his days out in the village working as a farm labourer and died in Dorchester Workhouse (apparently not wishing to be a burden on his family). This is his grave at St john's Church at Tolpuddle.

The tree under which the infamous meeting was called, where an "illegal oath" was sworn, resulting in six men being transported to Australia.

It looks so insignificant, growing quietly on the side of the road, yet because of what happened under it's branches Tolpuddle village is famous. The Labour party has sent its big guns here over the years- both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have visited - and Tolpuddle is often quoted as an important place in the history of the Trades Union movement.

All in all a fantastic weekend and I would definitely go back to see more, as well as recommend the area if you're looking for somewhere interesting and beautiful to visit.