Saturday, 25 June 2016
MIDSUMMER ADVENTURES 2016 PART TWO
Late on Monday the 20th of June, post our Sunday ritual and when most of the residue had been cleaned and tidied away. Our minds turned towards the possibility of a trip or pilgrimage for the 21st. It was eventually decided that the Hearth Defender and myself would travel to Wiltshire to observe the sunrise. We set off later than planned, at three o’clock in the morning.
We had several options open, including paying the excessive parking charge at Stonehenge or choosing an alternative location. The Hearth Defender has a particular fondness for Barbury Castle, an Iron Age hill fort in Wiltshire, one of several ‘hills with lumpy bits’ as I call them, that lie in that area and a pleasing alternative venue.
Our approach to the general area was complicated by a somewhat unreasonable ‘satnav,’ that sent us in a circle and caused us some slight delay. This delay and detour however, led us by chance to enjoy walking across the road in front of us and only a few yards away from the car, the sight of a muntjac deer. The early hour naturally meant that there was little traffic and the wildlife took full advantage of that situation.
Our delay also led to our observing the sunrise from a country lane, situated between two of these ‘hills with lumpy bits.’ We saw a most spectacular sunrise come over the top of one such hill and directly opposite as expected, a truly gorgeous full moon setting over the brow of the other.
Wisely ignoring the ‘satnav’ and driving by memory, we eventually pulled into the carpark at Barbury Castle and set off through the mist to find the ramparts. It was here overlooking a flat meadow with the enclosure behind us and to the accompaniment of skylarks; that we held our short observance, sharing a horn of mead. We then set off to walk the ramparts and spent an hour enjoying the fine views of the surrounding landscape.
The morning was quite beautiful, neither too warm nor cold, with a light mist slowly dissipating as the sun rose higher. Whilst walking the ramparts and on the walk back to the car, we were able to appreciate the peace and beauty of the Country Park. We were the only people present, seeing our first jogger as we approached the carpark. Having already delighted in observing skylarks and other birds that we had difficulty in identifying, we enjoyed watching buzzards, whitethroats and yellowhammers.
Returning to the car and it still being quite early, we set off not in search of lunch but breakfast. We drove through the rolling Wiltshire country, into and through Avebury, out past two white horses and on to Devizes. Devizes is an attractive town and we eventually found ourselves in the Bear Hotel being served by extraordinarily polite staff. These included an African gentleman by the name of Charley, who carried a permanent smile and an air of exceeding good humour.
The walk back to the car enabled us to explore the market, picking up a rather attractive circular board carved with a Tinners’ Hare design and a set of roebuck tines. We then set off proper for Avebury, clutching my National Trust membership so we would get ‘free postage’ once there. I was tired but the Defender knew I meant free parking.
Parking up and gathering our necessaries we set off for the circle, crossing the road and walking down a short lane, to climb the steps and enter the bank from the National Trust complex side. Here as is ‘traditional’ I gave three blasts upon the horn to mark our setting off. We then began our stroll amongst the stones in a deosil (clockwise) direction.
Leaving the Swindon Road stone we again crossed the road to approach the Cove. This magnificent structure hints at what the Avebury could have looked like before the removal of other stones, as the Cove is now only two stones of what was a larger feature. Here talking to other visitors, I permitted people to try the horn and then persuading a couple to stand with their palms on the larger stone, I demonstrated the resonance of the sound wave from the Cove, when the horn is blown in that direction. The vibrations are tangible and the bounce back, clearly experienced. In the distance but not too far away, we would hear the reply of another horn. A not uncommon occurrence at gatherings such as this.
Walking along the fence on a very conveniently mowed path, we re-joined the ring and paused to admire the so called ‘Catstone.’ Then progressing further, we came upon a group of young men and women, gathered about and sitting upon one of the larger stones. It transpired that the replying horn was a didgeridoo and so we stopped to chat, allowing two of their number to experiment with my instrument while I took snapshots. I declined to attempt the didgeridoo however, experience has taught me not to, as I find the breathing technique extraordinarily difficult.
Making our way across the next road, we climbed the outer bank by the famous Avebury ash-grove, stopping to admire the views and take more snapshots. The surveyed a ‘pleasing prospect’ as William Stukeley would have said. To one side of us a rolling meadow, climbing up to the low hills and ‘hedgehogs’ on the horizon A hedgehog being the local county name for a tumulus topped with a copse. On the other side, we looked down into the great bowl of Avebury, with the assorted stones and markers sweeping away towards the village proper.
Descending into the bowl we broke with tradition and rather than walk through the stones, skirted around the edge to approach the Kingstone Marker, from whence we departed the circle through the stones to cross to the final quarter of our walk. Here passing over the St. Michael Line we made our way to the final stone, here as is our want and in accordance with tradition, I signalled the end of our stroll with three more blasts upon the horn.
Time was catching up but it was not yet lunchtime, so we retraced our steps down the lane to the National Trust complex and visited the museums. The first I found a little disappointing, as it is really more an activity centre for children somewhat younger than ourselves but it did include some interesting snippets and its merit should not be disregarded. The examination of the internal structure of the barn itself held some interest for us and we could appreciate that a family group could spend considerable time exploring the displays.
We then moved to the second museum which was far more historically interesting, containing as it did some magnificent artefacts and displays. Of particular interest to me were the examples of pottery. I simply adore pottery, stylish mugs, cups and bowls. If they are hand thrown, then all the better. So to see such fine examples of Iron Age work, both plain and decorated, was something of a delight.
A display of unique interest, was a depiction of the construction of the circle made by Alexander Keiller for when his private museum first opened. Keiller was one of the first to undertake a proper archaeological survey of Avebury and many of the items on display originated in his collection. This particular item dating from 1938 was a museum artefact in its own right, adding a certain continuity to the arrangements.
Leaving the museum complex we returned to the circle, taking our position a little way from the St. Michael Line on a conveniently mowed spot. Here we faced a stone with the sun directly in line above, to hold our noon observance (local time 1.08pm approximately). This once again served as an excuse for a blast upon the horn and the necessary sharing of mead
Gathering ourselves together with our few items, we departed the circle and once again as is our tradition, settled down for lunch in the Red Lion. Here post meal we chatted to interested tourists who seemed quite enamoured by the day, the horn and our clothing. They don’t see many people wearing cloaks apparently. One couple even wanted to pose for photographs with us. Naturally we consented, it would have been rude not to.
Leaving the Red Lion we did our usual and yes traditional tour of the shops. Again stopping to talking to passes by and teach people how to give a blast on the horn. A group of French visitors expressed an interest in my wooden pendant, having spotted it when I had removed my green cloak in the pub. I noted significantly, than one gentleman in the group wore a Templar Cross signet ring.
Leaving Avebury behind us, we began our journey home to the Midlands, at first a totally uneventful experience, with the added joy of spotting red kites from the car. Unfortunately in attempting to negotiate the Oxford ring road we missed a turning, drove through the city centre and found ourselves heading in the general direction of Gloucester. This was not what we had planned.
We doubled back, joined the correct road and finally pulled in a Little Chef north of Oxford. This once again was a traditional stopping off point and it is famous in our circles, as the spot where the Most Ancient and Venerable Order of the Skylark and Hawthorne was founded in 2006. It would take far too long for me to explain the significance of our Order but one can clearly see how ancient we are, predating the foundation several of supermarkets in the local area.
Leaving Oxford behind once more, we set off north and homeward bound, passing close to Coventry as we did so. Although I am not absolutely certain on that last point, as we may have strayed from our route a second time.
Returning home at the end of a long, tiring and rewarding day, we could reflect that the day was almost like old times. Right down to the detours, remembering that we once set off for Penzance, changed our minds and went to Southampton instead. Like old times however, we had truly experienced a Solstice from dawn, through noon to dusk, touching the land as part of our journey.
Midsummer Adventures 2016 Part One
Another relevant blog:
The Bear Hotel
The Alexander Keiller Museum