Friday, December 30, 2011

to sail beyond the sunset

Here are some photos of the sunset on Christmas Eve. I stand on this temporary shoreline and observe the passing of another day and am reminded of the people no longer here. Mind you, there's a fair chance I would have been on my own here anyway, but now these people are no longer at home when I get back and I am unable to reach them by telephone. I have my memories of them and they also make an occasional appearance in dreams, which seems an appropriate place to catch up with those who have gone. I also have to consider that whatever I have lost, it has been a worse year for many other people. There are all these plans for the future and all the time in the world but the time runs out unexpectedly one day.

The sea uncovers the remains of a ship, another hope foundered and was abandoned to the incoming tide. What have we learnt from this loss? The wise king Canute has somehow been misrepresented as foolish by history when he seemed to be demonstrating against the sea to "Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws." and if there isn't then no matter, for whatever net you may try to throw over the universe to contain it makes no difference in the end when you should already know the reason and the answer.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

up the snod

We leave the dark month of December briefly to look back at this record of a hot and dry morning in late September. The River Sid can be followed inland and upstream to where it connects to The Snodbrook, a small tributary of the Sid, having its source in the hill to the north. A small tarmac lane runs beside the quiet and unseen Snod. In the Sweetcombe Valley we pass by the beautiful Boswell Farm, which originally dates back to pre-Norman times and has a threshing barn built in 1710 which still stands on its original stone monastic pillars.

A couple of cars pass by and then all is quiet again. I don't meet anyone here for the next hour or two and then not until I get back to the bright lights of Sidford. I decide to get off the lane and have a look at the Snod. After working through the abundant plantage the Snod is found to be a dark but clear river about six feet wide. The lane becomes a green lane, unmade and used by ancient packhorses and drovers. These can date back to Bronze Age times, others may be just a few hundred years old. Some are known as Hollow Ways, those that have sunk below the level of the adjacent ground. Hollow Lanes sometimes give the impression of being circular in shape, so you get the sensation of walking down a long tube of flickering light, foliage and track. The lanes in the middle section of the photos are about seven to ten feet wide and are used by the occasional land rover or tractor and for the movement of cows. Gates and other exits or passing places are few and I am glad that I don't meet a herd of cows coming down the lane towards me. The lanes amble around the hills, going nowhere in particular but always connecting the fields and the isolated houses and farms to nearby civilisation.

The word Snod might have its origins in Scotland and the North of England, where it is an adjective used for smooth and sleek or neat and tidy. In old Norse there is snothin - bald and snauthr - bare. It has been suggested by some that it means sweet in Old English. It's a bit like snood, the distinctive headband formally worn by young unmarried women. In Italian Snoda seems to mean winds, in Arabic it might be الرياح . I found it in an extensive Anglo Saxon dictionary produced in 1921, appearing as snoda redimicula, Latin for a band, a necklace, or a girdle. It's even in the Urban Dictionary where Snod is an acronym for Slutty New Outfit Day, described as being when attractive girls wear outfits that are very slutty on the first good day of spring. Snod is also there as drunk and on mushrooms."Dude, I was so snod last night, I don't remember was awesome!"

These lanes are close to the towns but are quiet and empty and as such they are very much recommended for travel and exploration. The hedgerows contain lots of food, so it is possible to eat as you walk.


Saturday, November 19, 2011

autumn woods

We walk out into the gloom and ascend the hill, where the sights of Autumn surround us. The woods are quiet, many of the birds have flown though we still have the squirrels and their manic scampering for company as we walk. As lovely as the sight of Autumn is it's actually the smell that is remarkable; rotting leaf matter and strange fungoid aromas fill the air.

We've had a mild Autumn which has so far saved me from burning lots of wood, giving us more fuel for the later part of Winter. It's been so mild that I have seen bees and butterflies this week. Last Winter we began having fires at the beginning of October, but here we are in late November and it still isn't very cold. I'm sure it'll come soon enough. My store of wood seems unusually large this year and upon opening the door to the shed I am confronted by what appears to be a huge breaking wave of wood coming towards me. Exchanging a small pile of paper money for an enormous pile of hard wood has always seemed like a very good exchange to me. We bring the hardened sunlight into the house, and being the thief of fire, release its energy. Our own personal mini sun for heat and light against the dark and cold. How fortunate we are.

Short dark days make for long evenings as the world turns and tilts. It gets properly dark before five now, though some days it hardly seems to get very light at all. The air is still today and all would be quiet, but I can hear the faint sound of a choir nearby, practicing carols as I type this, such a seasonal sound.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Water Sky Moon




I had some fun filming timelapse on the beach in August. First of all it was a long walk on a hot day which was also very windy. Dangerous weather for me on a beach as I am liable to get burnt to crisp. There isn't much possibility of shade or shelter what with it being cliffs on one side and sea the other but fortunately I made it to some large rocks and was able to shelter behind those for few hours while I pointed the camera up and down.

In the first shot the camera ended up being a bit closer to the incoming tide than I was hoping for, so I moved it and got the shot looking down the beach the other way. I still managed to get the camera and lens covered in spray being blown off the sea, as can be seen in the increasingly obscured shot. I really should look after my equipment better.

Photo number two is the moon rising in June I think. Yes it's a moon in June. The third photo was taken earlier this evening and shows the wind picking up nicely. Time to batten down the hatches by the look of it.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

some more from the bus

Just a quick posting of some photos taken back in the summer that I haven't had time to put up before now. These were taken on a bus trip to Okehampton for a walk I had planned and show Dartmoor in the background. The three peaks are at Belstone, where I took last years' tor photographs, and the large round hill is what used to be known as Cowsand Beacon and which is now called Cosdon Hill for some reason.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The old mill at North Tawton

From the Middle Ages and until late in the 18th century woollen manufacture was Devon's most valuable industry. The first known fulling mill in North Tawton was at Cottles Barton in 1558. As the nineteenth and twentieth century’s progressed the Devonshire woollen mills failed, one by one, although North Tawton’s was one of the last to go. The processes carried out in the factory included sorting, washing, drying, combing, spinning and weaving.

A brief history since 1930

The mill was brought by Hosken Trevithick & Polkinghorne, trading as Farm industries, for use as a store and wool grading centre.

1939-1951. The new shed was requisitioned by the Ministry of Works, and was a major centre for storing Government wool.

1948. The North Devon water Board abstracted water from the leat. Two pumps were built to extract water and the mains water was augmented by the factory supply.

1950. Ambrosia of Lapford rented a building on the site, for the storage of milk and rice, where ten women were employed sorting the grain.

1957. The North Devon Water Board leased the yard and a shed for storage at £25 per annum.

1964. The British Wool Marketing Board took over the premises, and it became an important wool grading centre. Wool buyers came from all over the country to view the board’s samples. The Wool Board made their own electricity until 1991 and sold surplus to the Electricity Board.

1992. Wool stores were closed at Buckfastleigh, Launceston and North Tawton and the business was concentrated in South Molton. Two of the remaining employees were transferred there. A sad end to what was once a great enterprise. In the Okehampton Times of 17 December 1992 it was reported that: West Devon Council issued a development brief for the wool factory, which, it is suggested, could be put to leisure use, e.g. a public sports hall, the mill leat could be developed for water sports, and buildings converted to a restaurant and/or museum connected with the former wool industry.

In 1994 the premises were bought by a local land owner, and have remained empty ever since.

I visited the site on what turned out to be a day of continual rain, which is fairly typical for Devon and not a problem. The site is very large and takes a good while to walk around even quickly as there are numerous sheds and buildings there. Many of the roofs have given way and the rain is getting into a lot of the buildings making them unstable. Some of the roofs contain glass, some of which has fallen and a lot of which still swings in the wind, so these sheds would be best avoided on very windy days. The large and beautiful mill building also seems to be leaking, as when I was inside there was a constant running and dripping of water on the large wooden stairs, so these stairs and possibly the floors above are not to be trusted. All in all an interesting site which was nearly bulldozed earlier on in the year until the plan for rebuilding fell through again and so the mill remains derelict, and is slowly being reclaimed by nature. Visiting the site is trespassing I believe and caution should also be taken due to the dangerous condition of the place.

Monday, September 26, 2011

road station of the sacred groves

I spend a lot of time travelling on buses or as is quite often the case, waiting around for buses to arrive. These photos were taken on a bus trip returning from North Tawton one evening in July, on one of those occasions when the light and cloud conspire to do something striking, so the camera comes out to record the passing. The weather around Dartmoor can change very quickly, so there is often much drama in its movement.

North Tawton is the place that Ted Hughes brought Sylvia Plath to live back in the 1960s and with all due respect to the people here, it is still a very small and insular town that couldn't have been much fun for a cultivated and sensitive American woman to spend the winter in, more than a bit thoughtless of Ted really.

There are the remains of a roman fort in North Tawton, just over the bridge and to the south, which had the name of Nemetostatio, meaning "The road-station of the sacred groves" and there are other places in the general area which still have similar names, such as Nymet Rowland and Nymet Tracey or Bishop's Nympton. A nemeton was a sacred space of the ancient Celtic religion and names like this are found all the way from Scotland to as far south as Spain and as far east as Turkey, and maybe even further away if anyone can think of any.

The roman poet Lucan gives this seemingly exaggerated account of a nemeton near Marseille (another place which provides traces of very ancient settlement with its 30,000 year old cave paintings)

'No bird nested in the nemeton, nor did any animal lurk nearby; the leaves constantly shivered though no breeze stirred. Altars stood in its midst, and the images of the gods. Every tree was stained with sacrificial blood. the very earth groaned, dead yews revived; unconsumed trees were surrounded with flame, and huge serpents twined round the oaks. The people feared to approach the grove, and even the priest would not walk there at midday or midnight lest he should then meet its divine guardian.'

North Tawton gets its current name from the river Taw, which I have photographed nearer to its source on Dartmoor and which were put up here last year I think. In the Syriac alphabet, as in the Hebrew and Phoenician alphabets, taw (ܬ) is the last letter in the alphabet but then there is also the Welsh Taw, meaning silent, and which describes the river as it meanders across Taw plain on Dartmoor very nicely. We will return to North Tawton soon and have a look round the disused mill.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Legal Illegal - Frances Black

Songwriter: Ewan McColl

Every time you pick up a newspaper,
Every time you switch on the T.V.,
You can bet your old boots that at some point you'll see,
A high ranking Garda or else a T.P.
Calling on all who are meant to be free,
To stand up and defend law and order.

It's illegal to rip off a payroll,
It's illegal to hold up a train,
But it's legal to rip off a million or two,
That comes from the labour that other folk do,
To plunder the many on behalf of the few,
Is a thing that is perfectly legal.

It's illegal to kill off your landlord
Or to trespass upon his estate
But to charge a high rent for a slum is O.K.
To condemn two adults and three children to stay
In a hovel that's rotten with damp and decay
It's a thing that is perfectly legal.

If your job turns you into a zombie
Then it's legal to feel some despair
But don't get agressive and don't get too smart
For Christ's sake don't upset the old applecart
Remember you boss has your interest at heart
And it grieves him to see you unhappy.

If you fashion a bomb in your kitchen,
You're guilty of breaking the law,
But a bloody great nuclear plant is O.K.,
And plutonium processing hastens the day,
This tight little isle will be blasted away,
Nonetheless it is perfectly legal.

It's illegal if you are a traveller,
To camp by the side of the road,
But it's proper and right for the rich and the great,
To live in a mansion or own an estate,
That was got from the people by pillage and rape,
That is what they call a tradition.

It's illegal to kill off your missus,
Or put poison in your old man's tea,
But poison the river's the seas or the skies,
And poison the minds of a nation with lies,
It's all in the interest of free enterprise,
Nonetheless it's perfectly legal.

Well it's legal to sing on the telly,
But make bloody sure that you don't,
To sing about racists and fascists and creeps,
And those in high places who live off the weak,
And hose who are selling us right up the creek,
The twisters, the takers, the conmen, the fakers,
The whole bloody gang of exploiters.

Monday, August 29, 2011

okehampton castle

The evenings are drawing in now, the nights begin to have a chill and the air begins to smell of autumn as we face the prospect of another long dark winter ahead, so I can present to you one of the spookier places that I spend some time in on occasion.

Okehampton is situated in the geographical centre of Devon and to the south are the largest hills of Dartmoor, tree covered from this aspect, they rise quickly to 620 metres at High Willhays and Yes tor. A short walk from the town and to west are the ruins of the old castle. This castle was not ruined as is often by war, but by time, neglect and abandonment and also the fact that the locals nicked a lot of the stone to build houses from. An engraving from 1734 shows it already in an advanced state of decay.

The castle has been here for a very long time, the oldest portion being the part that looks like, but isn't, a large chimney and the walls surrounding it, which is in fact the remains of a stairway. This forward keep was built on a motte (an enditched mound) in the late 11th century and is one of the famous symbols of Devon. The larger keep behind it, which actually has the spookier atmosphere, (pictured above in photo nine) was built in the early 14th century.

The castle was first mentioned in 1086 in the Domesday book and is thought to have first been established in 1068. In 1274 the castle was described as 'an old motte which is worth nothing, and outside the motte a hall, chamber and kitchen poorly built.' although this should not be regarded as a full description of the whole site.

Okehampton shows signs of settlement going back a few thousand years and the choice of location for the castle is a natural spur of shale projecting into the valley of the West Okement river, which also gave control of a nearby river crossing. The field between the castle and river was waterlogged until at least 1800 and was probably so in medieval times. The slope underneath the keep is very steep indeed, and a tight path runs around the walls up there where you can scare yourself with the possibility of falling off, a prospect that the children seem to enjoy very much here as they run merrily around it. It has a long drop which is not really apparent in the photos.

There are many ghost stories associated with the castle (The Maid has one) which I haven't got the space to go into here unfortunately though I can say that I consider the best time to view the castle is any time after about 5:30, as the National Trust gatekeeper drives away and you are free to hop over the fence and walk around without paying for the privilege of your own history. Also at that time you can savour the pleasing sound of an enormous amount of Jackdaws and Rooks that inhabit two large neighbouring trees as they kick up their evening racket. They do very much add to the atmosphere.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

east dartmoor walk

A good walk out on the east of Dartmoor to see if I can locate the other stone circle in the area. To the south is the more famous Scorhill (pronounced skoh-rull) stone circle which is easy to get to by walking from Gidleigh and which is popular both with walkers and photographers, and it is a beauty. I get off the bus at South Zeal and walk south a few miles down the lane avoiding the massive shape of Cosdon Hill which at 550 metres I don't need to be walking up today and then out onto the moor by following a lane made up of large stones, up over a hill and tor and down the other side heading westwards.

It is very difficult to locate anything out here as the landscape is so vast and empty that there isn't much in the way of landmark to orient yourself to. Finding a small stone circle in a landscape that is liberally covered in rocks turns out to be more of a challenge than I expected and I miss the circle completely on the way down. Realising that I had probably missed it I decide to work my way back up the hill again to see if I can see it on the way back, and there, just at the point of my giving up finding it, it appears, a low collection of stones arranged as a circle in exactly the same place as they were set about 4000 years ago.

Dartmoor is an odd and empty place and although very green is as close to a desert landscape as we get around here. Lots of sky, lots of grass and then the occasional sheep, cattle and dartmoor pony, but very little else. Easy to get lonely in this emptiness as you are made very much aware of your own insignificance, not only in space but in time as well. All afternoon and to the east I have been observing a large dark cloud shifting and spinning, building itself up to a large raincloud. It promises rain but as so often lately, it doesn't deliver.