Sunday, 26 October 2014

St David's October 2014: Part 1

Here we are again for our Autumn sojourn in Glowty, near St David's.  The weather forecast is reasonable and we are looking forward to a relaxing week. Not that our first full day was that relaxing as we had a 12 mile walk along the Pembrokeshire Coastal Footpath from Newgale back to St David's. It was a linear route as we had caught a bus from St David's to Newgale to get to our starting point. Boo hoo - the Welsh bus company did not accept our English bus pass. It was a good walk with views, and strong winds, all the way. Solva, conveniently was just about the half way point and afforded us a lunchtime stop. I'd be less than honest if I did not mention that we were both a little leg weary after this one: it had quite a few ups and downs.
Looking back towards Newgale Sands: at 2 miles in length it's the longest beach around these parts.
Looking forward along the coast we'd be walking along. In the distance is Ramsey Island, lying just off St David's.
Lots of sky and plenty of seascapes all the way along.
Our half way point - Solva.
Every promontory on the coast seems to have an associated ancient fort. Most need a lot of imagination to make out any remains. This one is unusual in that the defensive earthworks are still clearly visible.

There were plenty of Parasol Mushrooms alongside the footpath. Some still at the bulbous stage..........
.....whilst others had completely open and showing their characteristic pointed top. They are quite edible and have an intensely strong 'mushroomy' taste. Although I've never tried cooking them, I would imagine that they would be very tasty.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

My style guru?

An acquaintance once suggested that, with my keen sense of casual coordination, I should adopt ZZ Top's Sharp Dressed Man as my signature tune. A kind thought but one that I had to pass on as I already have someone to whom I owe fashion inspiration.

And that person is Robert Herrick, whose poem 'A sweet disorder in the dress' has been my sartorial compass ever since I read it in my first year in grammar school. Fashions come and fashions go but he has always pointed me in the right direction.

A sweet disorder in the dress
Kindles in clothes a wantonness:
A lawn about the shoulders thrown
Into a fine distraction:
An erring lace which here and there
Enthrals the crimson stomacher:
A cuff neglectful, and thereby
Ribbons to flow confusedly:
A winning wave (deserving note)
In the tempestuous petticoat:
A careless shoe-string, in whose tie
I see a wild civility:
Do more bewitch me than when art
Is too precise in every part.

And never in his wildest dreams could Herrick have had in mind the fashions recently unveiled by Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto. Extravagantly praised in Vogue magazine (how else do you think I keep at the cutting edge of fashion?) under the heading 'A sweet disorder in the dress', they described Yamamoto's latest collection as 'frank, fearless and free'. Vacuous publicity-seeking tosh for the rest of us, I would guess? More of a sour disorder of the dress, methinks.

FWPE2015 Suzy Menkes Yohji Yamamoto: A Sweet Disorder in the DressFWPE2015 Suzy Menkes Yohji Yamamoto: A Sweet Disorder in the DressFWPE2015 Suzy Menkes Yohji Yamamoto: A Sweet Disorder in the DressFWPE2015 Suzy Menkes Yohji Yamamoto: A Sweet Disorder in the Dress

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Walking on South East Dartmoor

A short two-night break at Ashburton enabled us to have a couple of walks in a part of Dartmoor that we are visit infrequently. An enjoyable sojourn.
Walk 1 (bottom left), just under 5 miles, took us from New Bridge on the Dart up around Aish Tor, along Dr Blackall's Drive and then back down to the river for a finishing leg along its bank. Walk 2, around 6 miles, involved a few tors (Rippon, Pill, Top, Hollow) and Buckland Beacon with its carved Ten Commandments stone. 
Autumn is coming and the trees are starting to shed their leaves. Not at their best colour yet but not far off.
Looking west from the side of Aish Tor. The folds of the meandering River Dart can be clearly seen.
At the top of Rippon Tor looking south. The keen eyed can see the Teign Estuary just to the top left of the rocks in the foreground. Perhaps it's 15 miles to the sea at Teignmouth from here.
Looking down from Top Tor towards the church at Widecombe-in-the-Moor. We had a meal there in the evening at the Rugglestone Inn. 
From Hollow Tor, looking over the browning bracken towards the moor around Princetown. Wonderful views like this all the way on this walk and, most of the time, not spoilt by the rain clouds.
The cluster of buildings which make up Bowden Farm. We think it's a long-house, with a cross passage separating the people (under the thatch) from the animals down the slope in the rest. There's clearly been some modifications made and additions built on but the core of the mediaeval farmstead can still be discerned. 
Some serious stone-walling on either side of the green lane leading from Bowden Farm up onto the moor. For many generations this track has functioned as a drove road for farmers bringing their stock up to graze on the high pasture from further down the valley around Buckland-in-the-Moor.
The delightful little church of St Peter's at Buckland-in-the-Moor. Dating from around 1100, it's a typical moorland church in a sublime setting. Can you notice anything unusual about the clock face?
St Peter's still retains its original 15th Century painted rood screen. This is one of the very few we've come across that you can climb up the rood steps in the wall of the church to see the broad top of the screen. 
The screen has some magnificent carvings and, on the congregation side, the lower panels are covered in these paintings of saints and dignitaries. Although much faded now, their original colours must have been very bright. On the reverse of the panels, obscured by the pews, are painted 'grotesques' - mythological creatures and the like. I don't think they have any religious significance but were the fashion for a period.
And the clock face? Look closely and you'll see 'My dear mother' inscribed instead of the usual numbers. Nothing mysterious about the origin of these as they date from the 1930s and were placed there at the behest of the local squire in memory of his mother. The same squire was responsible for the carving of the Ten Commandments on the eponymous stones on the nearby Buckland Beacon. Actually there are eleven verses carved there as the mason had some spare space to fill. Although the carvings were re-incised about twenty years ago, they are suffering from significant erosion now. 

Friday, 17 October 2014

Walking around Burrator - again.

 Just a select few for our walk yesterday and the rest of the group missed another good one. We seem to have centred on Burrator Reservoir and its environs recently and our route today was a circumnavigation in a clockwise direction. A day of heavy showers with intermittent fine spells. Autumn is definitely here.
We started at the Longstone Manor car park (the peninsular jutting out into the water), headed across the dam and then followed the Devonport Leat up to where it crosses the River Meavy. Then it was back down the eastern side of the river back to our starting point. We'll give ourselves 8 miles for this one.
Longstone Manor originates from the 13th century but was abandoned when Burrator Reservoir was built in the late 1800s. It's ruins are extensive and have been 'stabilised' recently. There are lots of granite artefacts scattered around including this apple crusher. The top circular piece would have been positioned vertically and would have turned round in the trough like bottom piece of granite. Revolving and turning round a centre vertical pillar, the granite was turned by a horse walking round and round the trough. Apples were placed in the trough and crushed by the wheel, producing pulped apple for cider making. I don't think they were into apple juice in those days.
An unusual bird on the water. It took us a while to figure out what it was and it's a male Muscovy Duck. Probably an escapee from somewhere as it's not a wild species.
Walking in the mist along an old mineral railway track.
I like gates as they act as a threshold to somewhere else. This one takes the walker from a fir plantation onto the open moor, via a puddle.
This is the caterpillar of the pale tussock moth. The hairs and the red tuft at the back end are there to deter birds - allegedly. Some people get quite a rash after handling these as they exude an irritant liquid when held. I'm glad to say I was not one of them.
Devonport Leat with a good head of water flowing along it. It was built in the late 1700's to supply water to the port of Devonport, rather than the town of Plymouth - which had its own water supply via Drake's Leat. The head weir of the Leat is some 28 miles out from Devonport, on the moors above Two Bridges and looking at the route the Leat takes on the map, you'd think it was a tortuous way to get from A to B. In actual fact, it's a pretty smart bit of engineering as it follows a contour line most of the way. Nowadays it ends above Burrator and discharges several million gallons of water into the reservoir as the drinking supply for Plymouth. Remnants of it can still be found en route to the outskirts of Plymouth, where it finishes in a car park of the DIY superstore, B & Q, at Crownhill.
The Leat forms an impressive cascade as it drops down Raddick Hill. At the bottom it crosses the River Meavy via an aquaduct. Since around 1840 the aquaduct has been a metal tube and before that it was an 'oaken shute'. At around this point the Meavy is diverted to flow into Drake's Leat, and has done since the early 1600s, and supply the then growing town of Plymouth with water. That role has been superseded by Burrator Reservoir but there are remnants of the original leat if you know where to look. Apparently one of the reasons for the source of the Devonport Leat was to make sure that it had no effect on the catchment of water for Drake's Leat.
A typical wooden Dartmoor finger post, this one at the crossroads of the tracks near Leathertor Bridge. Is this the best clapper bridge on Dartmoor? I think so, even if it is relatively modern (circa 1820), being the last clapper bridge built on Dartmoor.
A mediaeval tin mould stone lying on the site of a blowing house (early type of furnace). I surmise that the ore would have been obtained from the nearby River Meavy.
Once obtained, the ore would have been crushed by some water-powered stamps. The constant pounding of the up and down motion of the heavy wooden stamps (capped with metal) would caused indentations in the granite stones at the bottom. Two of these 'stamp holes' can be made out on this moss covered stone. There are about 5 of these scattered around this site. A site which, for me, has a 'spirit of place'. It's so easy to conjure up what it was like when the furnace was working and the stamps were in operation, all against the background of the River Meavy thundering passed. 
And it rained and rained for the final few yards.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

War Poetry - with a difference.

At the risk of being accused of heresy, I will confess to a certain glazing-over of the eyes when encountering the words "first world war poetry". Some of the poetry is memorable, of course, but some is best passed over. When I came across Tim Kendall’s new 'Poetry of the First World War: An Anthology', I thought "another First World war poetry anthology? Surely there are plenty in the bookshops already?". A new offering needs to be pretty special to justify its existence. Luckily this one is very good, partly because it does not follow the usual pattern of arranging the poems thematically or chronologically, or both. In this anthology, all the examples of one poet’s work are put together, and the poets are arranged by order of birth date. This has the effect of placing the emphasis on the poetry rather than on a narrative of the war. The poems have been selected for their literary qualities rather than their documentary interest and this arrangement works for me as I found I was appreciating familiar poems once again.As you might expect, all the names we learned at school are here: Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brooke and Siegfried Sassoon (who was, fleetingly, in the Sussex Yeomanry at the same time as my grandfather) There is also Edward Thomas, whose lines:

No one cares less than I,
Nobody knows but God,
Whether I am destined to lie
Under a foreign clod

strike me, and probably many others, as being the antithesis of Brooke's corner of a foreign field:

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England.

Through the work of  Owen, Brooke, Sassoon et al we think we know the poetry of this war but it is the unfamiliar that makes this book so interesting. Who has heard of Edgell Rickword, Wilfrid Gibson, David Jones, Ivor Gurney or Mary Borden? All well thought of in their day but now largely forgotten. Read them and come across poems with such evocative lines as these:

I knew a man, he was my chum,
But he grew darker by the day,
And would not brush the flies away

(Rickword: Trench Poets) 

I shall be mad if you get smashed about
We've had good times together, you and I

(Rickword: The Soldier Addresses His Body)

As an unexpected bonus this anthology includes, in a final section, a compilation of songs from the trenches and music halls of the time. There is black humour and grim laughter in this section but with no less feeling than anything in the preceding pages.

And finally, I have to say how much the schoolboy in me was delighted to come across A.P. Herbert’s song of resentment against the officious martinet General Cameron Shute. Here it is in its entirety:

The General inspecting the trenches
Exclaimed with a horrified shout
'I refuse to command a division
Which leaves its excreta about.'

But nobody took any notice
No one was prepared to refute,
That the presence of shit was congenial
Compared to the presence of Shute.

And certain responsible critics
Made haste to reply to his words
Observing that his staff advisors
Consisted entirely of turds.

For shit may be shot at odd corners
And paper supplied there to suit,
But a shit would be shot without mourners
If somebody shot that shit Shute.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Two books about wide open spaces

I can't be certain but I think I must have been around three or four when I first stood on  a mountain top. It would have been Mynydd Crug just up from where we were living. Even back then I sensed there was something special about such places. It is this sense of the numinous that I find in many of our walks on Dartmoor: the notion that there are places which chime mysteriously with the human spirit and which drew our ancestors to them just as we are drawn there now. Some call it the 'Spirit of Place' and, in my experience, they can't be sought out - you just know when you've come across one. They can spring up in the most unexpected places and at unexpected times. I expect we all have them.

I carried my thoughts on the 'Spirit of Place' into two books I've read recently. From their reviews, it sounded as if both authors had captured the essence of their subjects and I was keen to find out how they did it. After completing both, I think one did and the other didn't.

The first one, entitled 'The Moor', was written by William Atkins and purports to explore the lives, landscape and literature of England's moorland areas. I know two of these (Bodmin Moor and Dartmoor) pretty well and one (Exmoor) reasonably well.  His descriptions of these I found unconvincing and they came across as a travel guide more than anything else. If he couldn't convince me that he'd captured the spirit of the places I knew, how could I believe him when he ventured further north to Yorkshire and Northumberland? A disappointing book and not one that I'd recommend to anyone who loves the wide open spaces.
The second book was a complete contrast. Written by Nan Shepherd, it is almost elegiac when compared to the first. In 'The Living Mountain' Nan details her walks, hikes and climbs in the Cairngorms. She clearly loves the terrain and her writing resounds with the 'Spirit of Place' time and time again. There is an anonymous quote on the back of my copy: "The finest book ever written on nature and landscape in Britain."  Ho, ho, publisher's hyperbole, I thought. After about three pages, I began to see why those words had been written. After about 11 pages, I was hooked. Quite simply, it's a masterpiece. £10 might seem a lot for a book barely over 100 pages long. But it's not: it's over 1,000 pages long, because I know that I'm going to read it at least 10 times – and find something different in it each time. She says of the Cairngorms exactly how I feel about Dartmoor: "However often I walk on them, these hills hold astonishment for me. There is no getting accustomed to them." She understands the 'Spirit of Place': a kindred soul. Read it and be captivated.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

If a tree falls in the forest...

If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one around to hear it, does it even make a sound? Wishy washy philosophical twaddle: or so I used to think. But as I get older I realise that philosophy isn’t about finding answers, but it is about making you think. The tree thing? Of course it makes a sound. Tree, land, impact, sound…has to happen.

Except, suppose in this one case the impact made no sound at all?  If there was no one around, how do we know? There is no answer, but it makes you think.

It makes me think about blogging.

If you submit a post on the internet and no one ever reads it, did you have any impact? Did you even make a sound?

It makes me think about life.

If you pass away and leave nothing behind, no memories, no ideas, no children, no friends, did you have any impact? Did you make a sound?

That is why I blog. In addition to enjoying the freedom of writing, it is my way of having some impact. It is my way of making a sound.

I have a fantastic wife, two terrific children (plus their partners) and 6/7 amazing grandchildren. I expect they will have an impact, they will be my sound, but for much of my own life I have been relatively quiet. I did all the things you are supposed to do. I went to school and earned my degrees.  I raised a family. I put food on the table and a roof over heads, but in the great scheme of things I've been quiet. 
So I blog.

It is fun. It is rewarding. I meet people in cyber-space. I exchange ideas and opinions. I hear what others have to say. That means they make a sound.

If you read this: I made a sound.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Family at War: Part 3: Ernest Parsons

"And what about Grandad Parsons? He fought in WW1 as well", came the cry from certain members of my family when I started my Family at War series. Yes, I know, I know and I've been working on his piece for a while. Finished now and here it is.
Of the family members who served in WW1, I know more about my grandfather, Ernest Parsons (EGP), than anyone else. Not because his exploits were talked about a lot, not because he took me on his knee and thrilled me with tales of his adventures (in fact, he died in 1945, two years before I was born) but because he left a diary describing much of what he got up to. Here is a pictorial, but brief, summary of his army career. 
EGP enlisted in the 1/1st Sussex Yeomanry on 23rd October 1915. He was 32 at the time and probably joined at a Recruiting Office in Brighton. The Sussex Yeomanry was a mixed horse/cycle regiment and EGP, possibly because of his age, seems to have ended up as a sanitary orderly - but more of that later.
I think this photograph was taken soon after EGP had enlisted and shows my great grandmother, Emma Parsons, nee Kirkham. Emma, incidentally, came from Shropshire and her features are echoed in several of the women in my family.
And here he is in tropical gear (I love the pith helmet) in front of a mock backdrop. I've always assumed that this was taken when he was awarded his Lance Corporal's stripe, when he was on active duty in the Middle East. Perhaps the sandy floor suggests it was taken in a photographer's studio set up in a tent in the desert somewhere? There's sand on EGP's boots as well.
EGP undertook some of his training at Birchington in Kent and from there travelled by train to St Budeaux in Plymouth to be shipped out to Alexandria in Egypt to enter the Mesopotamian theatre of war. We know the details of what he did and where he was  from a letter he wrote, headed 'My Voyage to Egypt', and a couple of diaries he kept describing most of his time in the army. His handwriting is best described as 'neat but illegible': however I have managed to transcribe all of his script and now have an intimate knowledge of latrine management, grease pit construction and the fumigation and delousing of troops. Having said that, I do like the style of his writing and what he finds interesting. I've always had the feeling that we would have got on well if we'd ever had the chance.
The 1/1st Yeomanry formed part of the Suez Canal Defences and then joined the Western Frontier Force fighting the Senussie Arabs in the Libyan Plateau.The brigade units were reorganized in January and February 1917. As a result, the 1/1st Sussex Yeomanry was converted to infantry at Mersa Matruh on 3rd January 1917 and redesignated the 16th (Sussex Yeomanry) Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment. As such the battalion took part in the invasion of Palestine in 1917 and 1918. It fought in the Second and Third Battles of Gaza (including the capture of Beersheba and the Sheria Position). At the end of 1917, it took part in the capture and defence of Jerusalem and in March 1918 in the Battle of Tell 'Asur.  EGP's diaries are very graphic in their description of life and times in the desert. I've often wondered what he'd think of what's happened since he played his part in 'liberating' the region from Johnny Turk (his terminology, not mine).
One surprising thing I found out about EGP is that he was a dab hand at embroidery. The above is a tapestry he completed whilst he was overseas. My uncle has it hanging over his mantelpiece and it's about 3' square.
On 3rd April 1918, EGP wrote that the Division had just been told that it would be moving to France and by 30th April he was on board a troop ship at Alexandria, heading to Marseilles. A trip that was not without its interest as the convoy was protected by some Japanese warships. No, I didn't know they were there either. Notwithstanding that fascinating fact, EGP and the rest of Yeomanry served in France and Flanders for the rest of the war. By 18th May, the division had concentrated around Rue in the Abbeville area and here the dismounted Yeomanry underwent training for service on the Western Front, particularly gas defence. On 14th July the Yeomanry Division went into the front line for the first time, near Merville. From September 1918, it took part in the Hundred Days Offensive including the Second Battle of the Somme (Second Battle of Bapaume) and the Battles of the Hindenburg Line (Battle of Épehy). In October and November 1918 it took part in the Final Advance into Artois and Flanders. By the Armistice they were near Tournai, Belgium and I have a faded photograph of EGP sporting what he describes as the Grammont Grin, taken in the Belgian town of that name. It's obviously the grin of those who survived until the end.
Here's a nice bit of militaria for those who are keen on this sort of thing (I am!). As the above certificate shows EGP was disembodied on 7th August 1919. A dictionary defines disembodiment as "To free (the soul or spirit) from the body". Gosh, mysticism on the parade ground, I thought. But, no. It refers to the battalion being removed from the army's active list. EGP was formally discharged on 31st March 1920.
EGP's service entitled him to the British War and Victory medals, which are hanging above my desk as I write this. I pin them inside my suit when I attend Remembrance Day services in the village each November.
When I first learnt of my grandfather's role as a sanitary corporal, I was highly amused and used to joke with my father about having a 'bog cleaner' as a war hero. My father was not impressed by my jollity. But, as I discovered more about the realities of trench warfare and the terrible toll that disease took on the troops, I realised that what he did might have been unglamorous but it was essential. Apart from his medals, the only recognition EGP got for his work was in the above inscription written in the front of the regimental history of the Sussex Yeomanry by its author, Colonel Powell-Edwards, commander of the Yeomanry throughout its spell in Egypt and Palestine. A fitting epitaph: 'Good work, well done'.