Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether summer clothe the general earth
With greeness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Roman to Regency

It's back to the Time Travellers weekend for this post and as you can see the weather wasn't great when we arrived in Bath for our guided tour of the Roman Baths which is the building on the left of the photograph.

We had an hour or so before our 12pm tour so Rosemary and I decided to have a look inside Bath Abbey which dates from the late 15th/early 16th centuries and was the last of England's great abbey churches to be built. Underneath the current Abbey lie the remains of the Norman Abbey and before that an Anglo Saxon convent founded in 676AD stood on the site. In 757AD a monastery was built  and for a while the convent and monastery may have existed side by side. Certainly the board listing the Priors of Bath Abbey named two Abbesses - Bertana and then Bernguidis - at the top of the list..

The beautiful fan vaulted ceiling above the nave. The guide book says that the famous dandy Beau Nash is buried in the nave but other sources claim that after an elaborate funeral funded by the City Corporation he was buried in an unmarked pauper's grave which is hardly likely to be in the nave!

The Abbey is absolutely stuffed full of memorials and an amazing number of the people named on them either came from or had spent many years abroad. Rosemary and I wondered whether they had come to Bath to take the waters and had died there either in spite of or because of this! Though in all fairness to the waters of Bath a good many of them had lived to a ripe old age even by modern standards.

Prior Birde's Chantry Chapel - before the Reformation the Abbey was part of a Benedictine monastery. William Birde was Prior until his death in 1525.

Finally the view from the choir looking down the nave towards the West window.

Bath is famous for its thermal spring which  produces over a million litres of water every day. It reaches the surface with a constant temperature of 45C (113F) but quickly cools to a pleasant 34C(93F). It also contains 42 different minerals and has been regarded as a healing spring since the 9th century BC - long before the Romans arrived in Britain. It was a sacred site dedicated to the Celtic goddess Sulis and the Romans combined Sulis with her Roman equivalent Minerva and built a magnificent temple and an equally magnificent bath house around the spring. The photograph shows the sacred pool of Sulis where the water rises before being channelled into the bathing pools. People would throw votive offerings, including over 12000 Roman coins, into the water and 130 lead curse tablets have also been found on the bottom of the pool. Some of the curses ask for very specific and unpleasant punishments for  the person being cursed!  These were all discovered when the spring was temporarily diverted in 1979/80 so that archaeological excavations could be carried out.

This is the pediment from the Temple of Sulis Minerva that was discovered under the present Pump Room in 1790. Some sort of clever lighting has been used to fill in the missing pieces and also to indicate the fact that originally it would have been brightly painted. If you look in the bottom righthand corner of the central stone you will see a small owl which was the symbol of the goddess Minerva.

In case you have as much trouble spotting it as I did here it is:)

This is the Great Bath which was the centre of a large bathing complex with changing room, warm, hot and cold rooms as well as three pools for swimming. It was a centre of social life as well as a place to get clean, people played board games, gambled, ate and drank and generally had a good time. Can you spot the Roman soldier?

Perhaps he is just coming off duty and is looking for his friends:)

This isn't the first time that I've visited the Roman Baths but it's a very different place now than it was when I last saw it many years ago. A great deal of excavation has been done some of it very recent. This is the Temple of Sulis Minerva which is located I think beneath the street outside the modern entrance to the Baths. The Roman street level was much lower than it is now.

This inscribed stone pedestal stands pretty much in the place where it was found close to the altar. The inscription reads

 Deae Suli
L Marcius Memor

 and translates as

 'For the goddess Sulis
Lucius Marcius Memor
Gave this gift'.

It's thought that the gift would have been a statue of some sort. Oh, you want to know what a haruspex is? He is a priest who interpreted omens by inspecting the entrails of sacrificial animals! Well, you did ask:)

There is an excellent mueum as part of the complex which has some really superb objects in it but this is the piece de resistance as far as I'm concerned - the wonderful gilded bronze head of Sulis Minerva. It was found in 1727 when workmen were digging a sewer beneath Stall St which is right outside the Roman Baths. It would  have been part of the cult statue that once stood inside the Temple and the rest of it must be somewhere not too far away. Perhaps one day it will be found.

After our tour of the Baths Rosemary and I decided to wander round the streets and look at some of the wonderful architecture.It happened that our visit coincided with a Jane Austen weekend and Bath was full of people in Regency costumes - some more authentic than others:) This little group is outside the Assembly Rooms. In spite of several attempts I have never yet managed to get inside the Assembly Rooms as they have always been closed for a function or refurbishment. This was no exception as there was a wedding taking place! The Assembly Rooms opened in September 1771 and became the centre of fashionable society life in Bath during the Georgian era.There is a magnificent ballroom, a tea room and a card room and one day I hope to actually see them! This is where Beau Nash, a celebrated dandy and leader of fashion, was Master of Ceremonies. He was also a notorious gambler which is why he ended up in a pauper's grave. It does seem very odd that the Corporation were happy to pay for a splendid funeral but didn't provide money for a grave and headstone.

As you can see from the clear blue sky the weather had improved dramatically by mid afternoon.This is The Circus with its lovely Georgian town houses which were built between 1754 and 1768. Thomas Gainsborough lived at No 17 for 16 years. There are three curved sections of houses which together form a circle with three roads leading out of it. In the 1800s the central area which is now grassed over was a railed garden and the majestic London Plane trees that are growing there now must be all that is left of it.

The Royal Crescent built between 1767 and 1774 is probably the most famous landmark in Bath. No 1 Royal Crescent is now a museum showing how one of these houses might have been furnished and lived in by a wealthy 18th century owner. We didn't have time to go inside as we needed to get back to the Park and Ride bus for the hour and a quarter drive back to Birdlip. There was so much more to see and Rosemary and I are thinking we might go and spend a day there in the Spring - apart from anything else we never got to Sally Lunn's teashop!

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Wheel Turns

A few days ago I received a comment on a post called 'The Four Seasons' from 2013 and when I went back and looked at it I thought that it was worth repeating and that the Autumn Equinox was an appropriate time to do it. Bilbo Baggins had four legs and a lot less grey in his muzzle two years ago but he still loves doing all the walks that are shown in the photographs.

Breezes blow through the woods in springtime
Roots drink deep from the wakened earth
The young leaves shine in the quickening sunlight
Dance the song of the new year's birth

The dance goes on and it's never ending
 The circle turns and the singer sings
The year turns round but the woods in springtime
 Do not care what the winter brings.

 When the leaves are long in the days of summer
 And the light drifts through them cool and green
 The great trees stir in their dreaming sleep
 And sing slow tales of the years they've seen

 The dance goes on and it's never ending
 The circle turns and the tale unfolds
 The years turn round but the wood in summer
 Has no thought of the winter's cold.

Blackberry, hazel, and elderberry
Hang heavy and ripe in the shortening days
Bright as a banner the autumn leaves
Burn red in the old sun's dying rays

The dance goes on and it's never ending
The circle turns and returns again
The year burns on but the wood in autumn
Gathers itself for the winter's pain.

When winter bites and the leaves are falling
Through the hawthorn cold winds run
Through the dwindling day the cruel-leafed holly
Keeps safe the memory of the sun

The dance goes on and it's never ending
The circle turns and the singer sings
The year grows old but the winter wood
Still holds the memory of the spring.

The Four Seasons By Brian Pearson (From the album "Tam Lin")

 I discovered this song only recently on a CD called The Dance Goes On by Blanche Rowen and Mike Gulston. I absolutely love the words, they are precisely what my blog is all about. Originally I couldn't find the song on Youtube but when I looked again there it was - The Four Seasons

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Time Travelling

Last weekend a group of us from the Time Travellers, our local archaeology group, went down to the Cotswolds for our annual weekend away visiting sites of historic and/or archaeological interest. The photograph above might give the impression that we were at a fairly modern site but that is far from being the case. In 1864 a gamekeeper discovered pieces of Roman tesserae on land belonging to Lord Eldon. At the time Lord Eldon was a minor and it was his uncle and guardian James Farrar, who fortunately had an interest in antiquity, who organized a team of workmen to excavate the site which turned out to be Chedworth Roman Villa. When Lord Eldon eventually came of age ( in 1866) he also was interested in the villa  and carried on with the conservation work that his uncle had begun. This is the Victorian shooting lodge and museum which he built on the lower part of the villa site. Chedworth Roman Villa was acquired by the National Trust in 1924.

A model of the villa showing the layout as it would have been in the fourth century AD. To the left is the west range containing the main dining room and the bath house, at the top is the north range and nearest the front is the south range . No-one has been able to work out exactly what the various rooms were used for but the south range certainly contained the kitchen and the latrine suggesting that this was at least in part a service wing.

Here we are beginning the tour with our guide who was a retired forensic archaeologist. He was brought in specially for us as it was assumed - not necessarily correctly:) - that we all knew more about what we were seeing than the general run of visitors. As well as the enthusiasts there were one or two wives in the party who were just along for the ride rather than because they had any real interest in archaeology.  In my case the assumption was correct though as I did Classical Studies 'A' Level many moons ago and Chedworth was one of the Romano British villas that I studied. We are walking along the front of the north range which  faces south so the main reception rooms would be along here including what is thought to be the summer dining room which would have taken advantage of the sunlight and the  lovely view in the warmer months.The climate in Britain was much better during the Roman period than it is now.

Pillars of the underfloor heating system in a room labelled cautiously 'Multi purpose heated room' which translates as 'we have absolutely no idea what this room was used for' :):)

This is part of the bath house which shows both the proper floor level on the left in the tepidarium or warm room and also the pilae which supported the floor of the caldarium or hot room. At the back is the semi circular hot tub. Outside the wall on the right was a furnace and the hot air entered through the opening that is just visible at the bottom right. It was circulated under the floor through the open spaces between the pilae.The hot room was nearest the furnace so was hottest, it had cooled down somewhat by the time it reached the warm room and I think there would also be a hypercaust under the changing room which would be third in line and so just comfortable.

All the rooms in the bath house would have had mosaic floors, this is the frigidarium or cold room. Bathing was a very important part of Roman life and was quite a prolonged and complicated affair. You would go into the baths and undress in the changing room before going into the cold room. I wouldn't imagine you would linger there too long before moving on to the warm room for a while. Then it's on to the hot room where there was a boiler or basins filled with hot water to provide steam and you could sit in the hot tub if you wanted.The steam opened the pores and released the dirt and then it was back to the warm room where you would have a massage with scented oils and then all the oil and dirt etc would be removed using a strigil. Back to the cold room for a dip in the cold plunge bath before returning to the changing room feeling clean and refreshed. This would have been a daily ritual not something you did once a week or once a month or - as happened in later centuries - once a year!

This is the cold plunge bath.

I scanned the really neat little sketch from the National Trust's excellent guide book to Chedworth Roman Villa which will help you follow what I've written about bathing. All the odd bods trotting about are the slaves who would assist you when required - folding your clothes, fetching towels, doing the massage and wielding the strigil.

In the north west corner behind the villa is a nymphaeum - a shrine built over a natural spring which was channelled into an octagonal basin, This was a religious site where a water goddess would have been worshipped  but also from here came the water supply for the villa. Since traces of iron age round houses and an iron age burial of a child have been found nearby it is almost certain that the spring will already have had a native British goddess who would have been combined with a Roman equivalent. I should perhaps say here that the family who lived in this villa will have been wealthy Romano-Britons not Romans. Very few 'Romans' ever lived in Britain, the administration was largely carried out by Romanized high ranking Britons and the military men came from all parts of the Roman Empire. After 25 years service a soldier would gain Roman citizenship and a parcel of land and might well settle permanently here. You can also banish any visions of chaps wandering about wearing togas, only Roman citizens were allowed to wear togas and as they were distinctly cumbersome even those who were entitled to wear them probably only did so on formal occasions.

By the time we left Chedworth it was quite late in the afternoon so the four of us who were travelling together decided to visit Cirencester as it was close by. Cirencester was once known as Corinium Dobonnorum and was the second largest town in Roman Britain. The second part of the name comes from the Dobunni who were the local British tribe. The photo shows the fantastic yew hedge in Bathurst Park which is the family seat of the \earls of Bathurst. We knew that we didn't have much time but decided to have a quick look in the Corinium Museum which has a large collection of Roman antiquities.

Among the exhibits is a recreation of a Roman garden which was full of familiar plants - borage, myrtle, bay, roses, lilies, cyclamen and many others most of which were introduced to this country by the Romans.

Members of the Dobunni tribe - Corinium was their tribal capital which had evolved from the vicus or settlement that grew up around the 1st century Roman fort that was built here. The garrison was transferred elsewhere by 75AD.

This is the lower half of a Corinthian column capital - the largest ever found in Britain. It came from the site of the Basilica in Corinium and the column that it stood on would have been 13 metres high.

Part of the 4th century Orpheus mosaic that was discovered just outside the centre of Cirencester. There's quite a lot more of the mosaic left and the portrayal of the animals is really appealing. One day I shall go back to this museum, we only had 45 minutes before it closed and it deserved a far longer visit than that. It's one of the best museums that I've visited - light, spacious, beautifully laid out and the information about the exhibits was both clear and interesting. Cirencester itself would be worth exploring as well I suspect. A town as old as this must have a lot of history.
So off we went to our hotel in Birdlip, the rooms were not especially wonderful - no shampoo or shower gel for a start! The bed was comfortable though and the food was truly excellent - the salted caramel tart I had on Saturday night was heaven on a plate:)

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Life in the Old Dog Yet!

On a beautiful early Autumn morning I thought I would see whether Bilbo Baggins could still do the walk up to Piper House Gate, across the top to Devil's Elbow and back down to Short' s Lane. On Wednesday it will be a year since his leg was amputated and he's twelve and a half years old now but he's still fit and enjoys life. We always park opposite this field on our walks on Blackamoor.

The first part down the lane and along the river is either slightly downhill or flat as far as the stepping stones where we make the decision about whether to cross the river and go up Lenny Hill or to continue up to Piper House Gate. This is a long steep uphill climb and the path is quite narrow in parts. We passed this burdock plant which has finished flowering and is now producing its sticky hooked seed heads which are dispersed by attaching themselves to the fur of passing animals. We always called them sticky bobs. If you click on the photo to enlarge it you should be able to see the little hooks.

As we climbed above the tree line we started to see clumps of heather growing by the side of the path, the moors are beautiful at this time of the year with huge sheets of purple in many areas around here.

Almost at the top now, you can see for miles from up here and B Baggins is doing fine so far.

There are masses of bilberry bushes up on the moors but tucked in among them is the lovely bright red cowberry or lingonberry which is just as edible as the bilberry though nothing like as prolific - at least not round here.

The rowans are wonderful in the autumn with their huge, generous clusters of berries, they will grow in the most inhospitable of places - another of its names is Lady of the Mountains.

We are back in the woodland now on our way across to Devil's Elbow. As you can see B Baggins is still going strong and looking back to see why I'm lagging behind:)

Here we are on the third leg of the walk, the bracken is everywhere and grows shoulder high in many places - at least it's shoulder high to me but at five feet two and a half I don't present a huge challenge really:) My husband has just read the first bit of this and burst out laughing when he saw 'the third leg of the walk' under a photo of B Baggins with his three legs. This was entirely unintentional on my part:):)

Back on Shorts Lane with the hawthorn berries ripening against the background of a beautiful blue sky. B Baggins made it without any problem at all - just as well since at 30 kilos I certainly couldn't have carried him if he'd given up half way!

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Cider With Rosie

By the time we arrived in Painswick the sun was finally shining for the first time since we left home.I haven't been to Painswick for several years and it struck me as being much quieter with fewer shops than on my previous visit. Certainly we had no problem finding a space in the car park. St Mary's church is renowned for its yew trees - ninety nine of them were planted in the early 18th century and there was a legend that if a hundredth one was planted then the Devil would pull it out. I gather that there are now one hundred and three so draw your own conclusions:) The churchyard is also famous for its many table tombs belonging to the clothiers and merchants of the area who became wealthy as a result of the thriving Cotswold wool trade. In the 15th century when the Lord Chancellor's seat was created in the House of Lords it was made of Cotswold wool and became known as the Woolsack and the name continues to the present day. 

The 15th century nave of St Mary's. The original Norman church is mentioned in the Domesday book but nothing is left of it now.

The north aisle which you can just see on the left of the previous photo was built in the reign of Richard II who was king from 1377-1399 and on two of the stone corbels are carved heads of Richard (above) and his Queen Anne of Bohemia.

My favourite thing in this church was the wonderful model of the 'Bonaventure' the flagship of Sir Francis Drake when he saw off the attempted invasion of England by the Spanish Armada in 1588. I believe that it replaces a much older model which was badly damaged during the Civil War when Royalist soldiers threw hand grenades through the church windows to drive out the Roundhead soldiers who were sheltering inside.

In 1643 a Puritan soldier passed his time while imprisoned in the church by carving this graffiti on one of the stone pillars in the nave! It included a rough quote from Edmund Spenser's 'Faerie Queene' - Be Bold, Be Bold, But Not To Bold. The spelling mistake is his not mine:)

By this time it was early afternoon and we were hungry so we looked for somewhere to have a spot of lunch, Juliette spotted a little cafe called 'The Patchwork Mouse' so we went in there and had an excellent toasted sandwich and a cake. Afterwards we had a stroll round Painswick but I don't seem to have taken any photographs for some reason. I don't know why as there were a lot of lovely Cotswold stone houses and cottages. Before we left I wanted to go and see if we could find Tibby's Well which was down a long and very steep lane. It was once the main source of drinking water for the village and is rather attractive. The climb back up the lane was just the thing to work off lunch!

Not far from Painswick is the village of Slad. We wanted to see the place made famous by Laurie Lee's book 'Cider With Rosie'. It tells of his childhood in a remote Cotswold village in the early years of the 20th century - he was born in 1914 and came to Slad at the age of three. Although he eventually left the village at the age of 19 he returned to Slad in his later years and is buried in the churchyard more less opposite the Woolpack Inn where he apparently spent a lot of his time! The inscription at the bottom of the headstone reads 'He lies in the valley he loved'. Incidentally the name of the village comes from the Old English word 'slaed' which means a damp valley - it's well named I think.

I didn't immediately realise that there was more on the reverse side of the headstone - these lyrical words come from his poem 'April Rise'

 If ever I saw blessing in the air
 I see it now in this still early day
 Where lemon-green the vaporous morning drips
 Wet sunlight on the powder of my eye.

This is the memorial window to Laurie Lee in the church, it isn't a very good photo but it was the best I could manage. The church was very dark and there was quite strong light outside. It's a shame as it's a very attractive window. The violin is in one of the panels because as well as being a poet and writer he was a talented fiddle player and he earned money in both London and Spain by playing his violin after leaving home in 1934.

The 16th century Woolpack Inn which is still an unspoilt country pub, it's a pity we didn't arrive in Slad a bit earlier because we could have had some lunch here. Apparently the food is very good. We didn't go inside but I wish now that we had. Laurie Lee lived very near to the Woolpack and spent a lot of time in here:)

The Old School House is across the road from the Woolpack and this is where Laurie went to school in his early years before moving on to Central Boy's School in Stroud when he was twelve years old. It's a private house now of course, so many of the old village schools no longer exist. I would really like to go back and spend several hours in Slad as there is what looks like a lovely and interesting four mile walk around the area which is still idyllic. By now it was quite late in the afternoon and we needed to start heading back to Evesham but instead of taking the main road we went across country along narrow winding lanes that went on for miles and were literally just the width of our car. I don't know what would have happened if we'd met something coming the other way as passing places were pretty much non existent.

Eventually we came to the attractive little village of Duntisbourne Abbots with its simple but beautiful 12th century church. I had a particular reason for wanting to stop here.

We had with us an old guide book to the Cotswolds and in a small paragraph about Duntisbourne Abbots it said that in 1875 the villagers had disturbed the neolithic Jack Barrow when ploughing and had reinterred the bones they found in the churchyard. They marked the spot with a cross made from stone of the original barrow megaliths. It didn't say where the grave was but I found it quite quickly by just looking round for stone that looked different from the rest of the gravestones in the churchyard.

Proof that I'd found the right grave from the  worn but still fairly legible inscription.

Much of the original Norman church is still there in spite of some restoration in Victorian times. I should perhaps say here that my daughter's enthusiasm for visiting churches is very minimal indeed and my interest in them is purely because in general that is where the history of most places is to be found. She is kind enough to indulge me in this:)

The final photograph is of the late Norman font beautifully decorated with flowers. We think that there might have been a recent wedding and that was why the flowers were there. This font must have been here for nearly 900 years. There are so many lovely places  in the Cotswolds to visit or revisit. I feel sure we shall be returning for a few more days next year.