Archive | January 2015

Is it a ring, is it a hillfort?

A vintage modernist moonstone and sterling silver ring:

Ring.

Ring.

Cadbury Castle, Somerset, an Iron Age hillfort, as drawn by William Stukeley, 15 August 1723:

v

Iron Age hillfort.

As an archaeologist, I tend to see archaeological-related shapes everywhere: the ripples in a pond are the conchoidal ripples on the ventral surface of a flint flake; the tarmac repair in a pavement over a service trench is a prehistoric ditch, waiting to be excavated; the fruit and nuts in Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut Chocolate are the inclusions in coarse Bronze Age pottery (okay, maybe I’m getting a bit carried away here …)

So it’s no great surprise I suppose that when I saw this ring, the first thing I thought of was the famous Stukeley engraving of Cadbury Castle (which he called Camalet Castle: it’s near the villages of West Camel and Queen Camel, and local tradition holds that it is the site of King Arthur’s Camelot). I have a copy hanging in my study and love it very much.

Cadbury Castle, just to the south of the A303. The enormous earthworks show up much better in the winter, when there is no foliage on the trees. 26 April 2009.

Cadbury Castle, photographed from the A303. The enormous earthworks show up much better in the winter, when there is no foliage on the trees.  As you can see, there is some artistic licence in the Stukeley version of this view … 26 April 2009.

I drive past Cadbury Castle frequently, as it is just to the south of the A303. I remember as a child being taken to the excavations there one summer when we were holidaying in the south-west, and the Iron Age body sherds were being sold for 3d a piece (I think it was) with a sign saying the proceeds would go to the diggers’ beer fund. I bought a couple of sherds and they were my treasured possessions for a long time. Until I lost them, and promptly forgot about them, as kids do.

It’s a great spot for a walk too, and always very empty of people. There is a terrific view of Glastonbury Tor from the hillfort.

Cadbury Castle. View from the top of the ramparts. 24 January 2010.

Cadbury Castle. View from the top of the ramparts (Glastonbury Tor sadly out of shot). 24 January 2010.

And as for the ring, it’s for sale in my Etsy shop.

UPDATE: 18 March 2015 – the ring has now sold. Sorry!

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch

Every year since 1979, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has asked people across the UK to spend an hour recording the birds they see in their garden: the Big Garden Birdwatch. The results are used to provide a snapshot of the bird life in our country, and to work out which species are in trouble and in need of help. The census is billed as the world’s largest annual wildlife survey, and last year nearly half a million people took part (not bad in a country of 64 million people), counting 7,274,159 birds. This year’s event took place over the weekend of 2425 January, and we spent an hour on Sunday morning doing our bit.

Chap and I take part every year, and I love the enforced stillness that an hour spent at the window watching and counting birds brings (Chap covers the front of the house and I look out of the back). An extended period of observation allows you to see things you might not otherwise have noticed, such as the several times I saw a blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) and a great tit (Parus majorflying, perching and then flying on together, very much a twosome;

Blue tit (left) and great tit (right). Photo by Tatiana Gerus.

Blue tit (left) and great tit (right). Photo by Tatiana Gerus.

or the male blackcap (Sylvia atricapillafeeding on the windfall applesI have never seen this behaviour before (in fact, I have never seen a blackcap on the ground before), and always assumed they were insectivores rather than being fruit eaters as well. I saw two male blackcaps hanging around together, and wondered if they were perhaps part of a sibling or family group, or if simply male blackcaps aren’t very territorial (in contrast, the robins in our garden are forever chasing each other off), and later I saw a lone female. I hope they meet up and there’ll be lots of baby blackcaps this summer!

Male blackcap - well-named! Photo by Katie Fuller.

Male blackcap – well-named! Photo by Katie Fuller.

Female blackcap. Photo by Chris Romeiks (Vogelartinfo on Wikimedia Commons).

Female blackcap. Photo by Chris Romeiks (Vogelartinfo on Wikimedia Commons).

I was also really pleased to be able to add fieldfare (Turdus pilaristo the list for the first time, as our Scandinavian guest is still with us. We first noticed him on 29 December last year, though he may well have been around before that, and since then he has been assiduously guarding the windfalls from his perch on the apple tree above them, or from one of the surrounding higher beech trees.

Fieldfare. Photo by Noel Reynolds.

Fieldfare. Photo by Noel Reynolds.

Of the more unusual birds we see, no siskins (Spinus spinusor bullfinches (Pyrrhula pyrrhulaor bramblings (Fringilla montifringillathis year, which was a shame.

Last year for the first time we were asked about other wildlife in our gardens too, so we were able to enter information about the frogs, badgers and hedgehogs that we have seen, as well as other animals.

RSPB website.

Eric Gill, The Song of Songs

I have always loved Eric Gill‘s work (though revelations in his 1989 biography by Fiona MacCarthy make me not at all keen on the man himself). Gill (18821940) was a supremely talented sculptor, typeface designer (Gill Sans is probably his most famous), stonecutter and print maker. His work has a wonderfully sparse, graphic quality, with purity of line and lack of fussy ornamentation and detail.

Gill illustrated a 1925 edition of The Song of Songs, otherwise known as The Song of Solomon from the Old Testament of the Bible, published by the Golden Cockerel Press in a limited run of 750 copiesThe Song of Songs is a strange part of the Bible: it is a celebration of erotic, sexual love. Gill was drawn to erotic subjects, and so it is no surprise that he chose The Song of Songs to illustrate.

Eric Gill, woodcut from The Song of Songs, published by the Golden Cockerel Press, 1925.

Eric Gill, woodcut from The Song of Songs, published by the Golden Cockerel Press, 1925.

This piece accompanies the part of the text that reads:

     While the King was reclining

           mine own spikenard gave out his odour.

     A bunch of myrhh is my beloved to me:

          he shall rest between my breasts.

A hand-tinted version of the Eric Gill woodcut in an edition of The Song of Songs, published by the Golden Cockerel Press, 1925.

A hand-tinted version of the Eric Gill woodcut in an edition of The Song of Songs, published by the Golden Cockerel Press, 1925.

I recently bought a small brass plaque with an image that I didn’t recognise, but a style that I did. A bit of poking about on the internet, and my hunch was confirmed: it was based on an Eric Gill woodcut, specifically one from The Song of Songs.

Brass plaque based on the Eric Gill woodcut in , for sale in my Etsy shop. Click on photo for details.

Brass plaque based on the Eric Gill woodcut in The Song of Songs, published by the Golden Cockerel Press, 1925. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details. (NOW SOLD).

Another view of the brass plaque based on the Eric Gill woodcut in The Song of Songs, published by the Golden Cockerel Press, 1925. For sale in my Etsy shop. Click on photo for details.

Another view of the brass plaque based on the Eric Gill woodcut in The Song of Songs, published by the Golden Cockerel Press, 1925. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details. (NOW SOLD).

I’m not for a moment suggesting that the plaque itself is by Gill, but it is clear whose artwork is depicted in low relief. The ‘Relax’ underneath is also nothing to do with Gill (a shame the makers didn’t use a Gill typeface for it … Bit of a missed opportunity there!)

There is also a lovely hand-coloured Gill woodcut for sale in the FittedFab shop on Etsy at the moment:

Hand-coloured woodcut 'Angels and Shepherds' by Eric Gill, 1923. For sale at FittedFab on Etsy: click on photo for details.

Hand-coloured woodcut ‘Angels and Shepherds’ by Eric Gill, 1923. For sale at FittedFab on Etsy: click on photo for details.

Website of the Eric Gill Society.

What I’m dreaming of …

It’s such a cold, damp, dismal day today (as Chap and I like to call it: A ‘Grade A’ Grey Day) that I thought I’d post something to cheer myself up.

Here’s a bluebell wood near us, taken on 4 May 2009:

A bluebell wood in Wiltshire, 4 May 2009.

A bluebell wood in Wiltshire, 4 May 2009. The beech and hazel leaves are just coming out on the trees.

v

So pretty. The big old tree is a mighty oak.

v

Coppiced hazels with bluebells growing underneath.

And here’s our tiny garden, taken on 21 May 2009:

v

Sunny days in an English country garden, 21 May 2009.

It’s hard to picture the garden like this right now, when all is black and grey and dingy out there, but things are stirring alreadythe snowdrops are nearly out and there are buds on the pulmonaria. And once spring gets going, it yomps along. So not long now ’til the walks in the bluebell woods that I so love!

Our visitor the fieldfare is still with us24 days now. His apple supply is fast turning brown, so I think we need to buy some more to lob over into the secret garden to keep him with us for a bit longer.

11 years on – Beagle 2 has landed!

Earlier this week came the news that a joint NASA and UK Space Agency and Leicester University announcement about Beagle 2, the British-led Mars probe, would be made on Friday. I have been twitching all week—hoping so hard that the news would be good. And it is!

At last—Beagle 2 has been found! Such great news, courtesy of NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which sends back images of the planet’s surface from a height of between 250 and 316 km above Mars.

Beagle 2 on the Martian surface. Photo by Hirise / NASA / Leicester University

Beagle 2 on the Martian surface. Photo by HiRISE / NASA / Leicester University

The MRO scientists have been searching for it for years, and at long last they have found Beagle 2 at its Christmas Day 2003 landing spot at Isisdis Planitia. No message was ever received from the probe, and so it was assumed that it had crashed or somehow been destroyed or rendered unable to send back data. Its fate remained unknown.

Now we can see that Beagle 2 landed intact, and due to some of the solar panel-bearing ‘petals’ failing to unfold, it could not generate the energy needed to send back data.

Beagle 2 on Mars.

Beagle 2 and landing equipment on Mars.

The lead scientist, Professor Colin Pillinger, sadly did not live to see this great day. He died last May, but is immortalised at a topographic feature on the surface of Mars: Pillinger Point.

Professor Colin Pillinger and a model of Beagle 2.

Professor Colin Pillinger and a life-size model of Beagle 2.

I wonder if the landing spot of Beagle 2 will be named after its most recent arrival?

(I should add that I bear no truck with talk of the Beagle 2 mission being a heroic failure. It was an incredibly difficult mission achieved on a miniscule budget, and it should be remembered how challenging a successful landing on Mars is—the success rate is 51%. So to have got so close to achieving the mission goals is to be celebrated. And as Prof. Pillinger himself said, in that wonderful, warm West Country accent of his—there are no failures, just experiences providing valuable data from which to learn and progress.)

Sunday stroll: Cold Kitchen Hill

It was a chilly and blustery day today, and we went on a lunchtime walk up on Cold Kitchen Hill, which rises above the Deverills in southern Wiltshire. The Deverills are a set of villages in the Deverill River valley which wends its way between between chalk downs, and there are five of them: Longbridge Deverill, Hill Deverill, Brixton Deverill, Monkton Deverill, and Kingston Deverill. We parked by Kingston Deverill Church, where we saw our first flowering snowdrops of the season in the churchyard.

Scattered snowdrops in the strangely headstone-free churchyard of Kingston Deverill church.

Scattered snowdrops in the strangely headstone-free churchyard of Kingston Deverill church.

Spring is definitely on its waythe birds are twittering and the buds are fattening. The cow parsley is starting to growit always strikes me how early in the season it gets going, but then again it has to be at full height and flowering by late April, so that’s not such a surprise really, I suppose. A raven cronked overhead as we walked away from the church.

As we walked along the road two racehorses were being unloaded from a horsebox and were ridden off. We followed the road to one of the many footpaths and bridleways that cross the hill, meeting the racehorses and their riders. Later, as we climbed the grassy slope, we could see them being ridden at a fair lick over the hill in the distance.

Looking south towards Kingston Deverill.

Looking south from the lower slopes of Cold Kitchen Hill, towards Kingston Deverill.

Looking eastwards from the lower slopes of Cold Kitchen Hill, looking up the valley towards Monkton Deverill.

From the same spot, looking eastwards up the valley towards Monkton Deverill.

A lovely flock of fieldfare, maybe fifty or so, flew over us, and reminded us of our lone visitor (he was still there this morning patrolling the lost gardenI check every day to see if he is still with us). We met a lady, flushed of face and runny of nose, with two serious looking walking sticks, and we stopped and had a natter. She hadn’t seen the fieldfare or the raven but introduced us to a wonderful new termcrookdawsfor flocks of indeterminate black corvids/mixtures of crows, rooks and jackdaws.

Lovely chalkdownland from Cold Kitchen Hill. The track is the Mid Wilts Way.

Lovely chalk downland from Cold Kitchen Hill.

Then onwards and upwards. We startled a hare and it hared off, making a wide circle around us. We wandered over to the trig point on the summit (a mighty 257 metres above sea level). The trig points are built on high points around the country by the Ordnance Survey, the veritable surveying and mapping agency for the UK. The trig point (or trigonometry point, to give it its proper name) is a concrete obelisk with a flat upper surface, into which are set the fittings to accommodate the base of a theodolite.

The top of the trig point, showing attachment fittings for a theodolite. In the blurry middle distance is the beacon, a metal basket atop a high pole.

The top of the trig point, showing attachment fittings for a theodolite. In the blurry middle distance is the beacon, a metal basket atop a high pole.

On the site of the trig point is a bench mark, the height of the top of the horizontal line of which is established in metres above sea level (m ASL). They are invaluable not only for map makers, but for archaeologists and architects and builders and surveyorsin fact, anyone who needs to know the absolute height of where they are. In our archaeologising days Chap and I frequently had to go hunting for bench marks. Their location is marked on OS 1:2,500 maps, along with their value in m ASL, and they are usually on buildings like churches or other structures that are assumed likely always to be there, and unlikely to be demolished.

The bench mark on the trig point on Cold Kitchen Hill.

The bench mark on the trig point on Cold Kitchen Hill.

Anyhow, one of the basic features of a bench mark that it has to be level and unlikely to move, as of course this will alter its height and thus make any readings taken from it inaccurate. So we were somewhat amused by the appearance of the one on Cold Kitchen Hill. The ground at one side has been poached out into a hollow, presumably by cattle or sheep trampling there and resting against it, and so the whole thing leans at a drunken angle, making both the theodolite base and the bench mark, both of which need to be level to be of any use, rather useless.

Chap and the drunken trig point on Cold Kitchen Hill.

Chap and the drunken trig point on Cold Kitchen Hill.

In the distance we could see the beacon which had held the ceremonial bonfires that were last lit across the country in 2012 to celebrate the queen’s diamond jubilee, a rekindled (sorry, couldn’t help it) tradition that harks back to the days when the fastest method of transport was by horse, and so lighting fires in beacons on prominent hills was a far quicker way of relaying a message. Beacon Hill is a very common hill name in the UK, for just this reason. Beyond that, on the horizon, is Alfred’s Tower, a fantastic folly near Stourhead. In another direction we could see Duncliffe Hill and the escarpment on which Shaftesbury sits. And to the north-east was Salisbury Plain. Gliders were flying from the nearby Bath, Wilts and North Dorset Gliding Club.

Beautiful skyscape, looking north from Cold Kitchen Hill towards Salisbury Plain.

Beautiful skyscape, looking NNE from Cold Kitchen Hill towards Warminster.

It was very windy and pretty coldthe kind of keen wind that makes your mandibles/ears ache, for some reason, so we headed back down the hill. We scared a lark from its roost in the grass, but it settled nearby very quickly. On the way we noticed an abandoned ranging rod in the fenceline by the Mid Wilts Way, the sort we have used many times on archaeological sites, for surveying and to serve as 2 metre scales in photographs. I assume it was left by a surveyor, possibly an archaeologist, and forgotten. It was a wooden one, which dates itmost are metal and come in two parts these days.

The abandoned ranging rod. Note the bottom hinge on the gate made of the farmer's best friend, baler twine.

The abandoned ranging rod. Note the bottom hinge on the gate made of the farmer’s best friend, baler twine.

When we got back to the car we decided to have a look around the churchbut that’s for another post, I think.

Pretty in pink

I was never a girly girl and so pink isn’t my top colour (give me orange any day). But I have a couple of pieces of rose quartz jewellery in my Etsy shop at the moment that I really, really like: the colour is so delicate and light, and the crystal so clear that I find both immensely appealing.

Skonvirke rose quartz and silver ring. For sale in my Etsy shop:

Skonvirke rose quartz and silver ring. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details. (NOW SOLD).

I love this Skønvirke ring, which dates from dates from c. 19101920. Skønvirke (often anglicised to Skonvirke, and meaning ‘beautiful work’) was a Nordic offshoot of the Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts movements, with its artistic centre in Denmark. Georg Jensen and Evald Nielsen were perhaps its most famous proponents. This ring isn’t signed, but is unmistakably Skønvirke in style, with the free-form globular and organic silver designs on the shoulders of the ring, and the beautiful split collet. Even though it is almost 100 years old, it looks amazingly modern and funky. The natural striations within the quartz add interest and life.

Rose quartz Arts and Crafts pendant necklace, probably German. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details.

Rose quartz Arts and Crafts pendant necklace, probably German. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details. (NOW SOLD).

The second piece is an Arts and Crafts pendant necklace, probably made in Germany and dating from just a little earlier than the ring, ie from between 1900 and 1910. It seems likely that originally the necklace had two of the dangling teardrop shaped pendants below the circular cabochon, on single chains of differing lengths, giving an asymmetrical appearance. At some point in the past one of the teardrops was lost, and the necklace reconfigured so that the remaining teardrop hung centrally below the cabochon.  There is some damage on one side of the circular cabochon, with fractures, and a crack and chip in the teardrop, but these aren’t too noticeable given the overall striated appearance of the quartz crystal. It is still a very pretty and delicate piece of jewellery, and perfect for someone who loves a piece with a hundred years’-worth of story.

Lovely as they are, I’m not a Barbie Girl just yet. This is as close to pretty in pink as I am likely to get:

The Psychedelic Furs’ 1981 album Talk Talk Talk was one of the soundtracks to my early ’80s …

Fetch, girl!

Hecate spectacularly failing to secure our supper

DSCF8594

Photographed in January 2010. The cock pheasant hung around the gardens near us for over a year. There are shoots nearby, so I don’t know if he eventually succumbed to a gun, or a predator, or old age (what is a pheasant’s life span?) or simply wandered off elsewhere. We certainly missed him and his clattering call and beautiful colours.