Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Green grow the rushes.........and grasses...........and trees..........

If I had to describe Cornwall in colours, I think it would have to be blue and green. Blue for the sea, obviously, and green for pretty much everything else. You can get greens from a Pantone chart or you can go direct to source and get an infinite variety of shades from nature. Here is just a selection from a walk we did last Sunday around North Hill. Better than any old Pantone chart any day.
The Withey Brook at the start of our walk.
A plod up an old green lane onto the eastern fringe of Bodmin Moor.
A quiet country lane down off the moor, dropping down to.....
.....the River Lynher. About 1/4 mile down from where we crossed the Withey Brook. Question: what makes a brook a river?
Not green but a very attractive Little Magpie Moth. Yes, there is a larger version, the Magpie Moth, which looks similar but bigger. This specimen was about 2 cm across.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Stomping over old ground

Remember my recent post describing a recce we made of a walk for one of our groups? How did it go? It went pretty much as planned, thank you for asking. A few points learnt on the recce were incorporated and these made for an energetic but straightforward 5.5 miles. One of the joys of venturing into the terrain we do is that, no matter how many times you walk the same route, there is always something new to see. Maybe it's something you haven't noticed previously. Maybe it's the different light and vegetation at a different time of day or year. Maybe it's the weather. Maybe it's your mood. Whatever the reason, it's never less than enjoyable.
I hadn't noticed this stretch of wall before and was struck by the fact that the faces of the blocks were dressed. Stone wall fans: compare and contrast with the 'build with what you pick up' style we see on Dartmoor.
A sheep creep. A small passage in a wall that allows sheep to get through.
Farmyard detritus from yesteryear. An old sharpening stone.
A granite trough and, I think, a crushing stone from an old cider press.  There were a lot of similar items laying around and I don't think the farmer realises how much these artifacts would fetch at an auction. One man's junk is another man's desirable garden ornament.
Bodmin Moor ponies.
More evidence of granite working, as shown by the drill marks. Despite having seen a lot of it, it still moves me when I think of the hard work in pretty bleak conditions that went into splitting these boulders.
On the side of Kilmar Tor were a group of large triangular shaped granite columns. I'm no expert but I reckon each one probably weighed in at several tons. They seemed complete to me and I wonder why they had been abandoned. I just hope that the worker got paid for his efforts.
I'm not having much luck with my butterfly photography of late but I did manage to capture a few shots of this male Speckled Wood. Not a rarity but a pretty little thing.
And if you look carefully into the distance you can see Kit Hill with its iconic stack on top. If you look even more carefully at the third light field halfway up the hill, and go down a little, you can just about make out our house.
A post from my last post of this walk. Remember I wondered what the number was there for? I found out! I had a word with the farmer and he told me that it was a marker for an orienteering course used every now and again. So now we all know.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Some advice for our friends in the USA

My first thought when I saw that Donald Trump, with typically disarming modesty, was offering himself as a candidate in the next US Presidential Election, was that it fitted in really well with my current blogging theme of loonies and eccentrics. But then it struck me that, with a little lateral thinking, there was something there that our Colonial Cousins could build upon. Bear with me whilst I elaborate and to do this, I'll have to move from Mr Trump to Mr President.

By any sensible measure, the President of The United States is extremely busy. Just think about it. He leads and inspires the country in good times and bad times. He makes decisions on the economy. He works with Congress and the Senate. He appoints judges. He campaigns for legislation he wants passed and the government officials he wants appointed or elected. He is on call all the time to make decisions on international issues and to deal with emergencies. His opinion is solicited and put under a magnifying glass on every subject from Terrorism to what he likes for breakfast.

And that's not all as, in addition to his duties and responsibilities, Mr President is also the figure head and formal representative of the country. He hosts State Dinners for every dignitary from Russia to Ruritania. He represents the USA at funerals and in the aftermath of every tragedy, it is he who tells the world that “Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of XXX during this time of great difficulty.”  He travels the world to shake hands with other leaders and wave to foreigners in order to send a signal to the rest of the world that the USA supports the country and people of the great nation that is XXX. The USA needs a figurehead and representative for all these mundane functions, but does it have to be the President? Does it have to be the busiest man in the world? Of course not. And this is where the colonials should look back to the Mother Country for inspiration and a solution. I know I've said ad nauseum in the past that a monarchy in a modern democracy is absurd but given the present context, it's obvious that the USA needs a King.

Let me develop this a little further. This should not be an elected position, neither should it be a political appointment. The King should be a person universally adored, admired and (thinking of Machiavelli's advice) feared. He should simply step into the position and be anointed based on his kingly attitude and kingly sense of entitlement. The title should be passed down to his heirs, thus creating a whole class of princes and princesses, lords and ladies, and dukes and duchesses. This new class of privilege, based on birth alone, would give the country a family that it could safely hate, without being accused if one -ism or another. The USA clearly needs a figurehead to assume the tasks of representing the country to the world and, as importantly, a group to absorb the hate and disenchantment currently heaped on Mr President for issues over which he has no control. It's obvious: the USA needs a King!

Who should get the title? Surely there is only one person who fits the bill. Only one person who is haughty enough. Only one person with the right degree of absolute and unshakable self-belief. Only one person with the sense of entitlement and who has the necessary annoying offspring to take over when he passes. There is only one person with all these attributes who also looks good in a suit, regardless of his unusual hair. Donald Trump should be King of the USA!

Think of the other benefits of enthroning King Donald. He would not need a crown, his comb-over already does the job. He would not need Air Force I as he has his own planes and helicopters (lots of them). He even has his own anthem - the “Money, Money, Money” theme. Admittedly not quite as stirring as her Maj's 'God save the Queen' but perfectly serviceable nonetheless. And finally, let's not forget that King Donald has golf courses and enough real estate fit for….mmm….a King.

Hooray for Google for the next bit. The Donald has two ex-wives and a current wife 25 years younger than he is. He has three grown children, Donald Jr. the hair apparent to the throne, Ivanka, and Eric by his first wife. There is a daughter, Tiffany by Marla Maples, wife#2, and 8 year old Barron (come on, if that's not a prescient name, I don't know what is) with his current wife Melanoma, sorry, Melania. With all these off spring and given his own 'colourful' past, there is plenty of opportunity for drama and controversy from the new royalty to keep the media going for years. Focusing on them for gossip will take the pressure off Mr President and his family. Who will care what the First Lady is wearing? It will be Melania under the microscope. What are the President’s teenage girls up to? How uninteresting when compared to an 8 year old Prince Barron chasing girls around the playground. What world leader would prefer a meeting with a boring President of the United States, when he could be shaking hands with King Donald and posing for pictures with Queen Melania?

Let the elected President make the tough decisions on international matters.  Let him make the speeches which set the tone and direction of his country. Let him concentrate on running the country without worrying over his every move.
King Donald and the Trump scions would create the controversies so in demand by the media. King Donald would handle all the pomp and ceremony.

Vive le roi. Vive le Trump. Vive King Donald.
King Donald with the Comb-Over of State


Monday, 15 June 2015

From loonies to an eccentric

After a few futile attempts over the years, we finally managed to visit a nearby 'stately home', Port Eliot, in St Germans. There are lots of reasons to go, including:

*  It's only open for a relatively short time each year - precisely 100 days to conform to an arrangement they have with Plymouth City Council ("we'll look after your portraits as long as you grant the public access for a 100 days each year").
*  It's reputed to be one of the longest continually occupied sites in the UK - starting some 1500 years ago in the late Iron Age, through an Augustinian priory/monastery founded in the fifth century to the 500 year occupancy of the family of the present owners, Lord and Lady St Germans.
*  It has an amazing mural painted over a 20 year period by a well known local artist, Robert Lenkiewicz.
*  It has an extensive collection of paintings by Sir Joshua Reynolds, another local artist but probably better known than Lenkiewicz.
*  There is a tenuous family connection in that some of Mrs P's forebears worked on the Eliot Estate, in fact one of her x4 great grandmothers died on an estate farm almost within sight of the house.

So, many reasons to visit and we were glad that we did. Extremely friendly and informative staff and a nice tea in the main dining room. But I much prefer Mrs P's scones. I did have a little frisson of excitement as we had tea as I thought that we were being served by the lady of the manor, Lady St Germans. It struck me as fitting that we should be served by the family that Mrs P's forebears had waited on so long ago. Sadly, it was not to be. Bring on the Revolution!
The first glimpse of Port Eliot as we came down from the car park in a nearby field.
Port Eliot from the front. The present house incorporates the remains of the Augustinian priory, which was pulled down during the Reformation. At one time the nearby River Lynher came up, more or less, to the line of the wall, so it really was Port Eliot. But, in the late 1600s, the Eliot family decided that they wanted a parkland view and had the river diverted about a quarter of a mile away. You can do that sort of thing when you've got money and lots of peasants to call upon.
Just behind Port Eliot is St German's Parish Church. There have been a succession of churches on or near this site for centuries. The original Celtic church (founded circa 500AD), dedicated to St Germanus, was just to the east and was succeeded by an Anglo-Saxon structure in wood which, in turn, was succeeded by the Norman structure you see. It is, officially, a priory church and, at one time way back (about a 1000 years ago), was the cathedral church of Cornwall. This status came to an end when there was a merger with the Diocese of Exeter and, to come relatively up to date, the Cornish cathedral is now in Truro.
The west doorway of the church with its typically Norman carvings.
Looking up into the bell tower at the bell ropes.
Inside the church looking east. A few years ago I sang at a choir festival here and it was one of the coldest experiences of my life.
Looking up to the rather fine barrel vaulted ceiling.
Photography was not allowed within the house but I did sneak one (naughty, naughty). A very ornate chandelier designed, or so we were told, by the principal designer of the Ballet Rambert. Pretty to look at but a complete dead loss as a source of light. There were a few fairy lights intertwined with the flummery but they wouldn't have contributed much to brighten the gloom.
Perhaps my main reason for wanting to visit Port Eliot - the Lenkiewicz mural in the Rotunda (the circular tower on the left of the front panorama of the building). The photograph above is an extremely wide-angle view of the room and shows the mural pretty much in its entirety. A great shame that you can't see the detail. To the left is the 'dark' side with cheerful themes like loss, death, betrayal, divorce etc. To the right is the 'light' side which shows an unfinished rural idyll. Interspersed throughout were portraits of family, friends, enemies and whoever had an interesting face and was around at the time. There are also some 'jokes' that need to be pointed out and explained - luckily we had a very informative guide. Some don't like Lenkiewicz's work but I'm not one of them. If you like big, bold, irreverent art, he's your man.
And here's the man himself in the early to mid 1970s in front of the mural he was painting down on the Barbican in Plymouth. I can't claim that I knew him but we did exchange pleasantries a few times as I passed on my way to do some fishing off the sea wall near the Fish Market. Licentious, larger than life, with a great empathy for the underdog, he was a complex man and well worth reading about. Here's an example of one of his adventures: in 1981 he faked his own death in preparation for a forthcoming project on the theme of Death (1982): "I could not know what it was like to be dead," he said, "but I could discover what it was like to be thought dead."
And this is what his mural looks like today. Lenkiewicz died a few years ago and could never be described as a favoured son of Plymouth. The City Council still has a bee in its bonnet over the fact that he didn't having planning permission for the mural! Only in Plymouth could such a unique work of art, and potential tourist attraction, be allowed to decay so tragically.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Great British Loonies: Part 1 of a very occasional series

There's a long tradition of Great British Loonies and, after being reminded of them during an extremely pleasant dinner in Wadebridge with some friends from 'oop North, I'd like to introduce you to one such bunch - The Britannia Coco-nut Dancers. Affectionately, and appropriately, known as the Nutters, they are a troupe of Lancastrian clog dancers who perform every Easter in Bacup, dancing 7 miles across the town, and have been doing so since around 1850. Their name refers to the wooden nuts worn at their knees, waists and wrists, which are made from the tops of bobbins. These are taped together like castanets as a percussive accompaniment to the dance, the nuts on the hands striking the nuts on the waist or knees in an intricate and dextrous rhythm. They wear white turbans with blue plumes, dark jerseys and trews, a white baldric, red and white skirts, white hose and black clogs. Why do they black their faces? No-one knows for definite but common explanations are that it's either due to the origins of the dance in the mining community, a reference to the dancers' ancient origin as Barbary pirates or as a disguise to ward off evil spirits. Of course, in today's climate, they are often accused of being racist but this is vehemently denied by all concerned.

If you are wondering what they look like in action, there's a Youtube clip below for your enjoyment and probable bewilderment. But before that, here's a wonderful description from A.A.Gill that appeared in the Sunday Times a few years ago:

The dance begins with each Nutter cocking a hand to his ear to listen to something we human folk can’t catch. They then wag a finger at each other, and they’re off, stamping and circling, occasionally holding bent wands covered with red, white and blue rosettes that they weave into simple patterns. It’s not pretty and it’s not clever. It is, simply, awe-inspiringly, astonishingly other. Morris men from southern troupes come and watch in slack-jawed silence. Nothing in the civilised world is quite as elementally bizarre and awkwardly compelling as the Coco-nutters of Bacup.

Elementally bizarre and awkwardly compelling? Come on, admit it. You want to see them now, don't you?. And here they are.  - The Britannia Coco-nut Dancers. Yep, elementally bizarre and awkwardly compelling hits the nail on the head.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Walk Recce: June 7th: Bodmin Moor

Every now and again we lead a walk for one of the walking groups we belong to. It's always a good idea to reconnoitre the proposed route and check out any potential, or actual, problems. Today was a day for such a recce and we took ourselves to the western edge of Bodmin Moor to try out a walk for later on this month. Our starting point was a little frequented part of the moor and our circular route took us around Hawk's Tor, across the top of Trewortha Tor, around Arthur's Bed and thence back to our starting point via Twelve Men's Moor and the Kilmar Tor mineral railway. Excellent weather and wide-ranging views all the way around. There were a couple of potential problems thrown up - an extremely rough patch (not good for the less agile members of our group) and prohibited access across an area of farmland (not good as the necessary diversion was not that easy to negotiate). We'll have to get our thinking caps on for solutions.
The route' looking quite innocuous in 2D. Much more 'bumpy' on the ground.

The view north from our starting point - Hawk's Tor. We would be walking around it not over it.
Still plenty of bluebells around, possibly because of the relatively high elevation and lower temperatures  putting the plants a little behind other areas. Whatever the reason, it was a joy to see them in the dappled sunshine under the trees.
Talking of trees, here's a rather fine specimen of a hawthorn in full flower. May in June. And in the distance a goodly number of wind turbines. My mind supports their use but it will take a long time for my heart to accept what they do to the landscape. Try as I might to think otherwise, I still find them very intrusive.
An unusual sight on Bodmin Moor, a very large patch of very large rhododendrons. Thuggish, invasive plants though they are, they do add a splash of colour at this time of year.
Somewhere up here our map shows Elephant Rock. Is this it? Actually, no, it's not. But the 'real' one is even less like a pachyderm than this one.
Arthur's Bed, apparently. Casting aside this dubious connotation, this is a good example of a granite tor. Once covered in soil, it has weathered down to a bare outcrop of the hard stuff - just waiting to be worked.
Number 28 of what or for what? Under a tree in the middle of not a lot.
It's not often that you come across an Iron Age hut on a walk. The area is replete with hut circles, animal pounds etc from the Iron Age and this is a reconstruction of a hut done by a local farmer a few years ago. Trewortha Farm is very isolated but has a centre which is used by school groups to give them a taste of moorland living. We went to a talk by the builder of this hut a few years ago and it was fascinating to hear of the methods he used. It was all based on the dimensions of hut circles in the same field and was essentially trial and error. In the end, what came out was what produced the most stable structure. 
To the left is the old mineral tramway/railway which took stone off the moor some 20 miles down to Looe. To the right is a loading ramp where stone was loaded wagons.
There were small granite quarries in the area (in fact, there is one that is still working) but most of the stone was worked where it lay or where it was just under the surface. Most of these stones show signs of being worked in some way - drill marks, perhaps, or, as in the one in the foreground, drill holes. This is a bleak exposed place and all of the work would have been done in the open in all weathers. It has been estimated that a couple of hundred men would have been employed in the mid 1800s. Not a job I'd like.
These are the remains of a blacksmith's shop, essential for sharpening drills and other tools of the trade.
Kilmar and King's Tor from the mineral trackway.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Pigs 'Ere Blog Part 19: And in conclusion..............

I never actually got around to writing a post-script to our porcine adventures last year and someone has just asked me about it. Just in case anyone else is wondering the same thing, here's a summary of what we learnt.

* It was a really fun experience and working with the pigs was enjoyed by all involved. The British Lop variety is a nice friendly breed and the pigs were very easy to handle.
* We produced some fat, happy pigs with an emphasis on the 'fat'. We were probably too generous with the food and some of our joints had more fat than meat. Less food near the end and slaughtering them earlier would have sorted this out.
* Nothwithstanding the above comment, the taste of the meat and sausages was as good as we had hoped for. And the crackling on a roasted joint was probably the best we've ever crunched our way through.
* The team worked well together: all took their responsibilities seriously but with the right attitude. No pettiness, no preciousness and plenty of laughs.
* Seven families in the team was a good number as it made allocation of duties easy - one set day each but with some flexibility when other things (holidays etc) cropped up.
* The abattoir we used was as humane as it could be and we were very pleased with the send-off they got.
* Our hog roast was universally acclaimed to be a great success.

So, what happens next? Easy question to answer: we'll be doing it again, taking on board what we gleaned from our experiences in 2014, and the weaners come in next week. Not sure we can make a piggy giggle but we will definitely give them a happy time between then and our plates.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Dartmoor Walk May 28th 2015: Merrivale, Sampford Spiney Circular

Off to Dartmoor yesterday for a supposedly 5 mile walk, which came in at 6.5 miles (surprise, surprise) - not that the extra mile or so was a problem as the route was a good one. Starting in a car park just outside of Merrivale, we headed down a mixture of footpaths, tracks and quiet lanes roughly following the course of the Walkham River to Ward Bridge. From there we headed to the hamlet of Sampford Spiney and then back to our starting point via open moor around Pew and Vixen Tors. The weather was mixed and a total contrast to our recent steamy days in Cyprus. The route is given below. We crossed the Walkham at Point A (Ward Bridge) and Point B (Merrivale Bridge) and, from the walk elevation profile, it can be seen that the river drops some 400 feet between these two points. This rapid descent is typical of the rivers coming off the escarpment of the moor and is a guarantee of spectacular torrents most of the year. There is never a shortage of water in these parts!  As ever, I've included a few more photographs for the record.
The view from our starting point, out across the moor to the Staple Tors. In the middle are the remains of the Merrivale Granite Quarry which closed down in the 1980s. At one time there were a couple of rows of workers' cottages and a chapel, all now demolished. And the white building? The Dartmoor Inn.
Although the bluebells were passed their best, there were enough around to give a good indication of what they must have looked like.
We've walked this way a few times and I always like coming across this gate. To me, it seems like a portal between one world and the next.
I only saw one orchid and this is it - the Common Spotted Orchid.
Making the best use of local materials to edge a lane. These lined both sides of the lane and extended for at least half a mile. Think of the total weight of material used and the effort of getting it all down off the moor and shaped.
I wonder how long these will be a feature of our walks? A letter box from the reign of Queen Victoria. This one is in a fairly isolated spot but still gets a daily collection (except for Sundays, of course). With the privatisation agenda of Posh Dave's Boys, I wouldn't bet on these continuing for very much longer. Another nail in the coffin of rural living.
The tower of the church at Sampford Spiney peeping through the trees. At the beginning of the reign of Henry II (1154-1189) the Manor of Sampford belonged to one Gerard de Spineto. This family remained at the manor for many generations and it is thought that their family name eventually led to the Parish being called Sampford Spiney. As good an explanation as any.
We come across examples of worked granite quite often on our walks. This one looked as if it was destined for some substantial construction - a bridge? harbour wall? Why was it left there? Surplus to requirements, perhaps? I do hope the poor worker who chipped away at this was paid for his efforts.
A view of Vixen Tor, which changes shape with each angle you look at it. It was a popular place for walkers and climbers...........
...........until the landowner changed and the new one, despite vehement public protests, prevented access. Boo, hiss. what a shame.