Saturday, 7 May 2016

The Windy Welsh

Standing three long days of hard walking away from the Welsh border at the Dee estuary, Pen-y-Ghent serves to remind us that once upon a time everybody in Britain was Welsh (except that back then there was no Welsh border, and folks had the good sense not to be bothered by nationality). Today our Welsh-est people are almost certainly descendants of those short dark Britons who placed themselves where they were most able to avoid the Romans, the Angles, the Saxons, the Norse, the Normans, etc.
Some people say that Ghent does mean border, but I'm siding with "windy" from the Welsh gwynt, i.e. windy peak, or Windy Mountain (or indeed Mont Ventoux), but for all my ponderings and conjecture I still fail to understand why yesterday the Welsh should have been so fucking stupid as to vote seven UKIPpers into their Assembly.
"Croeso i No-one", is it, boyos?

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Sunrisings in May

Over a period of what seems like no time at all, the rising sun has leapt around to the back of our house. It must have been at the side for a short while, but being in a terrace we seem to have no sides, and anyway wasn't it only a few days ago that on the last early morning I looked for it the sunrise was definitely at the front? Well, it's definitely at the back now, and I'm wondering what distracted me, how I could drop so far out of contact with daylight's realities? I thought I appreciated every single day, every twist of the seasons, and our whimsical weathers, and that I'd notice the changes of the circling year as they were happening. But I missed this change, and because of its suddenness I am wishing with the fervency of a religious fanatic that the year... would... slow... right... down. To gallop so fast down the steepening slope towards midsummer is to risk missing far too much of what is happening all around.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Get your Kicks on the A66.

Get your Kicks on the A66. (It's all in the topography).
A few days ago I finally, though too hurriedly, visited Thornborough Henges, huge earthworks in the relatively rock-free flatlands of North Yorkshire.

Then I drove north towards the biggest "hill" fort in Britain, Stanwick Iron Age fortifications. To reach the middle of the site I still had more than a mile to drive when I stopped to ask a young couple what a line of ancient-looking earthworks might be. I was very surprised to be told it was all part of the same huge site. I drove around, then I walked around, and I came to an excavated section of wall so wide, so high, and so well built that, oh, the shame of it, I assumed I'd made a mistake and it was Roman. But it isn't - it's proper Iron Age British!

As I drove away I was letting the sat nav do the thinking, so I wasn't expecting to be driving on the A66, the central and western sections of which I know quite well. But soon there came a heavy clunk as the insightful penny dropped and I realised I was travelling along what I'd read about but hadn't got to grips with - the prehistoric east-west trade route across the northern Pennines. Over Stainmore Summit I went (and at Brough turned away south towards Tebay), but had I continued I would have been on more familiar territory.

Close by (the A6 and), the A66 at Eamont Bridge are two mighty henges, and further west, in different geology but still close to the A66, is Castlerigg's wonderful stone circle. (There's no need to dig huge ditches and banks when you've plenty of good quality rock for your civil engineering projects).

I suggest that, saving your energy as best you can, you now turn your prehistoric footsteps south, over Dunmail Raise, perhaps over Red Bank at Grasmere, into Langdale, home of some fabulous rock art and a very famous stone axe factory. Imagine your backpack soon loaded with stone axes, perhaps as yet rough cut, unpolished, and you've promised to take them to Stanwick Camp. Trundle down Langdale to Ambleside, where you could turn back north to Castlerigg, or take the southerly route out of the Lake District and then east on past the hill fort at Ingleborough, but you head east up The Struggle. At the north-south Kirkstone Pass ignore the rock art down in the Ullswater Valley and climb east across the north-south High Street, down Mardale and eventually to Shap by which time you'll be crossing another major north-south route and be almost completely surrounded by stone circles, rows, avenues, and burial cairns.

Less than 20 more miles to the east you'll be back on the A66..
Whence. You. Came.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016


I've had a good hardworking day today. I drove up to Yealand Storth where I was surprised to see people clearing south-facing scrub woodland and wondered who'd convinced them that it was necessary. And why.
Anyway (<< it doesn't mean anything, but you can say it), their chainsaws were making such a racket that when I walked into "my" woodland (I wish it was), the deer must've been relaxed thinking they were safe from those noisy saw-wielding people down the hill, and I was able to get a long clear view of three dotty-spotty female fallow deer jostling along a limestone ledge like over-anxious schoolgirls in a busy corridor.
Using my own noisy chainsaw, a very well behaved, small, Chinese-Swedish Husqvarna, I felled a few thigh-thickness sycamore hoping they'd still be there in 12mths time, and cut some bigger fallen trunks of ash. Ash is wonder-wood. As usual I cut them longer and therefore heavier than I should've and carried each log, sometimes two at a time, up the awkward slope to the road. The soil in this top left hand corner of Lancashire is generally poor, thin, wet and slippery with limestone pavement bursting out wherever it damn well feels like it, so the carrying wasn't easy.
Just before I left I noticed a bird, tinier than a wren, dodge-scuttling through the saplings by the roadside. It was a goldcrest, its gold not very bright, and the species not unusual, but I think they're rather special.
Tomorrow at home I'll lift each log for the fifth time, cut it to 12" length or less, and split every one down to about 3x2". My biceps are already pumped up like those of a weirdo who goes to a gym - you'll hardly recognise me by the time it's all split and stacked.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Winter Solstice Waking

Hey, I've just woken up with a xmas morning sort of feeling, as if I've something to celebrate, which is a bit odd because I'm not a party animal..., Unless I am, and I just hadn't realised, and the winter solstice is a big deal, isn't it, in a mathematical, geographical, world-tipping-over sort of way, because after today it'll all be downhill, like easy going, until midsummer and beyond, won't it. Won't it?

Well, no. For a couple of months at least, it'll be increasingly grim (apart from having a little more daylight), and it would surely make more sense to celebrate having got through a winter, than having reached the start or middle of one. Wouldn't it. My own internal clock(s) tell me that here at Britain's latitudes the seasons aren't of equal length, but if each season is thirteen weeks long, then the middle of February would be a good time to start thinking that we might not starve, nor die of cold, and that we might then still have enough flour in the bin, turnips in the clamp, and dried apples in the loft, to almost ensure our survival into another summer. If the spring isn't too wet.

So saying, it's highly likely that in the bleak midwinter those ancient dudes did have a significant party involving many days of excessive consumption and for that I think we owe them considerable respect for having contrived a lifestyle which allowed them the confidence to use up a lot of their stored food and drink at a time when for weeks and weeks and weeks no more would be coming in.

Around 1st February the Celts had another party, Imbolc, pronounced Ee-molk (you want English pronunciation to make sense?), and that party again implies considerable confidence in their own survival abilities, but it's not related to a generally recognised solar event and doesn't occur at a particularly neat division of the year. And meteorologists say 1st March is the first day of spring, but only on 20 March will we reach the spring equinox, so before we introduce any more confusion, can we please agree to celebrate every single day?

And to be deep, not shallow, to be crisp, not stale, and most of all, to be even.