Archive | November 2017

Don’t miss All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride: Magical festive viewing

I’m a huge fan of all things Nordic, and I’ve just found out that the BBC is repeating a wonderful slow tv programme: All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride.

This is two hours of fabulously festive viewing, as we follow two female Sami reindeer herders and some of their reindeer on a sledge ride across the snowy Lapland landscape as dusk falls. There is no narration or music, just the crunch of the snow, the gentle grunts of the reindeer and the occasional conversation between the women and people they encounter: ski-shod travellers, dog sleds and their drivers, ice fishermen on a frozen lake, and Sami living in their lavvu (wigwam-like tents).

Every now and then some graphics give us information about the Sami and their history and beliefs and social structure, about the animals and plants in the snowy lands: this is done in such a clever way, seemingly embedded within the landscape and sometimes incorporating old photographs.

The programme was first broadcast on Christmas Eve two years ago, and was repeated on Christmas Eve last year. This year it is being shown again, on BBC4 on Saturday 16 December, starting at 7 pm.

The reindeer ride follows an old postal route in Karasjok, in northern Norway, within the Arctic Circle. During their journey, the sledges cross frozen lakes and birch woodland. Sometimes the women ride, and sometimes they walk alongside the reindeer. As the hours of daylight are so short at this latitude in the winter, the journey both starts and finishes with the way lit being by flaming torches. It ends with the Northern Lights putting on a beautiful display above a lavvu. The two Sami reindeer herders are Charlotte Iselin Mathisen and Anne-Louise Gaup.

Ann-Louise Gaup and reindeer.

It may sound boring but it is absolutely magical, and I am so glad to have another chance to watch it again. If you can, do give it a look. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. It’s calming, hypnotic, meditative, beautiful, informative, and utterly wonderful.

Slow tv is a type of television programming that started in Norway in 2009. It eschews music or narration, and follows real-time action, rather than that edited for speed and brevity.

If you want to learn more about how the programme was made, this Radio Times article has lots of interesting information. Four separate rides were filmed, one a day for four days, and the best ride was used. There were only four hours of daylight per day, and the temperatures dropped to minus 20 degrees C.

Programme website

Daily Mail review

The Unthanks: Magpie

Every now and then I hear a song for the first time and it becomes an instant earworm. ‘Magpie’, by the English folk band The Unthanks, is just such a song. I don’t often listen to folk music, so this song would probably have passed me by, had it not featured at the end of the first episode of the third series of the BBC comedy, Detectorists.

The series centres around two metal detectorists and is filmed in the bucolic Suffolk countryside. It is a lovely, gentle series, in which not a lot happens. As an archaeologist I’m no fan of metal dectectorists and the damage they can (and so often do) wreak on archaeological sites, but the ending of this particular episode summed up in a beautiful montage what I often wonder about the finds I dig up: who they belonged to, the lives lived, and how the pieces ended up where they ended up. So many stories.

Dectectorists is written, directed by and stars the talented Mackenzie Crook, and co-stars Toby Jones. It is currently midway through its third series, broadcast on BBC4, and can be viewed on catch-up on the BBC iPlayer.

‘Magpie’ is a track on The Unthanks’ 2015 album Mount the Air, and uses the traditional English nursery rhyme about the magpie to wonderful effect, with additional lyrics emphasising a pagan theme and music by Dave Dodds. Here’s the full version of the song, with a fan-made video:

Here are The Unthanks performing the song live on Later with Jools Holland:

The magpie (Pica pica) is a beautiful black and white corvid, a familiar bird in the English countryside and one with a rich tradition of symbolism and folk history attached to it.

Magpie (Pica pica). Photo by Andreas Eichler.

I invariably automatically count out the number according to the rhyme when I see a group of magpies (or rarely a singleton: they are gregarious birds). Apparently Crook was inspired by The Unthanks’ song, and certainly the magpie theme has carried on into the second episode, with magpies being featured at the start and finish. I wonder if they will prove to be more significant or symbolic as the series progresses.

Rings that remind me of things: Part 15

Part 15 of an occasional series about rings in my Etsy shop that remind me of things.


1972 sterling silver modernist ring, London hallmark. For sale.


Sea anemone.

So far I have had rings that remind me of an Iron Age hillfortan alien spaceshipa cream horna radio telescopeNoah’s Arkan octopus tentaclespider eyesPluto and its moon Charonthe rings of SaturnThe Starry Night by Vincent Van Goghsome lichenthe stepped Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara in Egypt, the Quality Street lady, and a herb knife.

UPDATE: the ring has now sold.

Sunday stroll: Bulbarrow

Bulbarrow Hill is a beautiful hill in north-central Dorset, south of Sturminster Newton and west of Blandford Forum. Here the chalk hills rise to 274 metres, making it the third-highest point in the county (after Eggardon Hill at 279 m and Pilsdon Pen at 277 m). It has spectacular views all around, especially to the north and north-west, over the Blackmore Vale, and south-eastwards towards the Dorsetshire Gap. This is in the heart of Thomas Hardy country, and is as lovely as it was in his day, seemingly little-changed. Click on all photos to enlarge: if you then click on the photo again, you get an even bigger version.

View looking south-west from Bulbarrow Hill. The Dorsetshire Gap is on the right in the distance.

By the stile to the footpath leading to Rawlsbury Camp was this sign:

Dating, Dorset style. I wonder what was in the message and if they ever met up again?

Rawlsbury Camp is a small multivallate hillfort, dating from the Iron Age. It is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, and according to its listing, does not appear to have been excavated. A large, fairly new wooden cross has been placed within the hillfort. I can see no mention of this in the listing and wonder if it is a modern construction or replacing an older, historic one.  I would hope the latter, as I cannot see how such despoilation of a scheduled ancient monument would be allowed otherwise.

Rawlsbury Camp with its intrusive cross.

The Dorsetshire Gap is a prominent landscape feature, a very obvious gap (and thus passageway) between Nordon Hill to the east and Nettlecombe Tout to the west. Five ancient trackways meet at the Gap.

The earthworks (ramparts and ditches) of Rawlsbury Camp. It must have been a bleak life living up here. The Dorsetshire Gap is on the horizon.

A beautiful windswept oak on the ramparts.

One of the things that struck us here is that even though there is a road running right across the top of the hill, there is no road noise, allowing you to enjoy the proper sounds of the countryside. This is in marked contrast to another favourite Dorset spot of ours, Fontmell Down Nature Reserve, where the A350 runs noisily close by and the neighbouring Compton Abbas airfield sees plenty of small aircraft coming and going.

Looking north across the Blackmore Vale towards the Shaftesbury escarpment and the lone tump of Duncliffe Hill. You can just make out the clump of trees on Win Green on the very right of the photo, on the skyline. (Click to embiggen/bigify).

On the way home we stopped at the River Stour, just north of the wonderfully named village of Hammoon. Here there is a small brick-built river water monitoring station, run by the Environment Agency, and there is a very touching plaque mounted on the wall.

The lovely plaque at the water monitoring station by the bridge over the River Stour, near Hammoon. Tom Poole was clearly much loved by his colleagues.

The River Stour, taken from Tom Poole’s Bridge (as I shall call it from now on).

The River Stour, and in the background Hambledon Hill. I have a very soft spot for Hambledon: it was here I went on my first proper archaeological dig, in 1979.