Symbolic Forest

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Blog : Posts tagged with ‘Somerset’

Beating the bounds

On how unchanged our landscapes can sometimes stay

Recently I’ve been reading Viking Britain: A History by Thomas Williams, so far at least a very good and modern history of the Viking Period in the British Isles, evoking what we know, what we don’t know, and particularly, what experiencing the Vikings may actually have been like, and what they may have thought. In particular it is very good at making clear which stories are likely true, which are likely not true, and which were assembled to make something that may have resembled a form of poetic, literary truth, even if in truth things did not happen exactly as the sagas and chronicles describe.

This blog post isn’t about that book as a whole, though, if nothing else because I haven’t finished reading it yet. This post is about a small section in one of the introductory chapters, translating a land grant from 808 AD, from the King of Wessex to the brethren of a church in Bath. The following is my own edit, picking my favourite parts from William’s translation and the version published online in the Electronic Sawyer Catalogue of Anglo-Saxon Charters.

First from the swine ford up along the brook to Ceolnes’ Spring; along the hedgerow to Lutt’s Pit; then on to the edge of the coppice; along the edge to the road; along the road to Ælle’s Barrow; down to Alder Coombe; along Alder Coombe and out to the Avon; along the Avon to the swine ford.

“The Avon?” you might be thinking if you’re from Bath or Bristol. “The Swine Ford?” I pulled out the maps, and found Swineford, where the Avon Valley downstream of Bath starts to widen from a few hundred yards wide to a mile or two. I used to travel through it daily on the train, to and from work, looking out for the deer in the morning fields. And the land grant, as described, is very clearly still largely the modern boundary of North Stoke parish, although it gets a bit hard to trace up towards Landsdown and near the racecourse. This map is from the 1950s, partly for aesthetics and partly for copyright reasons, but the parish boundaries haven’t really changed much since then.

Map of North Stoke parish, Somerset

Swineford, after all, is still Swineford. The brook leading up to the spring must be Pipley Bottom; and there are a number of springs up in Pipley Wood. On Lansdown it is now hard to trace, as the road pattern has changed, the racecourse has been built and there are any number of prehistoric earthworks that could be Ælle’s Barrow; but Alder Coombe must be the small wooded valley that runs down to the river near Avon House.

It’s strange to think that this line on the map, this little patch surrounding one small village, has not in essence changed very much for around 1,200 years. No doubt there are many parishes across England where the same applies—not so much in Wales due to the rather different early medieval history of that country. In Lincolnshire, for example, parish boundaries still sometimes follow the line of Roman-period roads which were landmarks in Saxon times but today are little more than farm tracks or lines on a map.

I’ve never explored North Stoke, just seen it many times from a train window. Maybe, as the year comes in and the days grow lighter, I should try exploring the ancient boundaries of some of the places around me. Just to see what I can still trace.

Photo post of the week

Into the woods

If you have a day to spare at the tail end of autumn, and the weather is all damp and misty, what better to do than go for a walk in the woods? In this case, a Forestry England wood just outside Failand, Ashton Hill Plantation. At its centre is a stand of sequoias, looking suitably mysterious in the mist. For a moment you can start to imagine you’re in some sort of supernatural horror-mystery filmed in Washington State.

Grove of sequoias

In the shelter

However, brief glimpses of the rolling landscape outside the woods, showing off the traditional English fear of outsiders, soon remind you where you are.

Keep out

Near the edge of the wood is a fairy tree, naturally beloved by The Child Who Likes Fairies, decorated with several tiny doors and various garlands and trimmings round its base. Further up, I noticed at adult head height, something that seemed much deeper, speaking directly to the fairies themselves, not there to entertain children.

Corn dolly

A corn dolly pinned to the tree with a baby’s teething toy. Some sort of offering; some sort of old ritual; maybe some sort of prayer.

Photo Post Of The Week

In which things are square, and vintage

Back in August, I talked about photo framing, and the use of square frames. In fact, if you’re viewing this on the main page, there’s a good chance it’s down below somewhere, I’ve been writing so few posts lately. In essence: nowadays you get a rectangular photo, and it’s very, very easy to crop your photo to whatever aspect ratio you like. Back in the day, you got a square photo,* and if you wanted to crop it you had to take a guillotine to your print.

I’ve been trying for a while to be more disciplined with my aspect ratios, and either keep all my shots to the same aspect ratio as the camera uses - 121:81, in case you were wondering - or crop them to square. And, moreover, I’ve had the vintage cameras out. Back in August, I posted a test shot I took to check exposure. Today: the actual shot I was trying to take!

Harbour and lighthouse, Watchet

This was taken on an Ensign Selfix 420. The one big problem I have with it: getting the camera straight. It has two viewfinders: a glassless frame finder on the body, and a small brilliant finder attached to the lens. The former doesn’t really tell you if you’re pointing it in the right direction, and the latter is too small to see if you’ve got it properly upright. The light leak, on the other hand, I rather like; it’s only noticeable in bright sunlight in any case.

* Bear in mind that right through the 1950s 35mm cameras were a relatively rare thing, and the majority of the photo market used 6cm film such as the 120 format. It wasn’t until the 60s that the 35mm camera really started to take over the market, even though they had been around earlier.

Photo Post Of The Week

In which things are squared

Hot weather is not very nice. How people manage with it, never mind enjoy it, I’ll never know. The brightness of the sunlight is something; but even then, winter sunshine is much better for photography. Midsummer sunshine, in the middle of a clear-skies day, is just that bit too harsh.

Recently, our burgeoning vintage camera collection has made me reassess the use of square photos. They’ve often been a bit of an unpopular photography style, seen as a bit awkward, a bit ungainly, and hard to make interesting. Generally, I suppose this is all down to even numbers: they make it rather harder to make a composition interesting, and a square frame is as even-numbered as you can get. With lots of 120-film cameras, though, you don’t get a choice: square or nothing.

Harbour and lighthouse, Watchet

This photo started out as a test shot for one of the 120 cameras. So far the film in question hasn’t left the camera, so I’ve no idea how successful it was. As a digital photo, cropped down to square, I think it works rather well, though. Despite the sunshine.

Update, October 2011: the 120-version of this shot is now out of the camera and back from the processors, complete with some interesting light leaks which make me worry there might be a hole in the camera’s bellows. I will have to try to get it scanned some time.

Update, November 2011: well, I scanned it, and it is in my queue of things to upload to the internets. Which might happen some time this year.

Photo Post Of The Week

In which we go to Glastonbury

Talking of summer storms: we popped down to Glastonbury the other month, for a poke around the bookshops, and for a walk up to the top of Glastonbury Tor. As we did so, the heavens opened, and we, and all the other tourists making the climb, got soaked.

Glastonbury Tor

We watched the storm motoring its way off across the Somerset Levels, away to soak the distant hills.

View from Glastonbury Tor

Photo post of the week

In which we visit east Bristol, and Clevedon

A month or so ago, we took a trip to Clevedon, Somerset. I wrote about it at the time, although, I realise now, didn’t explicitly say which town we’d been to. Here, though, are some of the photographs.

The derelict Royal Pier Hotel, Clevedon

Clevedon Pier

The derelict Royal Pier Hotel, Clevedon

And, as that’s not very many, here’s some of Bristol just after Christmas, too:

Christmas decorations, Church Road

St Georges Park

The moon in Bristol

Days Out

In which we describe Portishead

Another lazy weekend this weekend. Wanting to get out of the house, though, we took a trip to Portishead.

It’s a strange town. A strangely-shaped town. Like Clevedon, it’s a seaside town that doesn’t look towards the sea. The harbour is lined tightly with recently-built classically-themed terraces, designed to look like Totterdown or Clifton, but packed in much more densely. Further south is a muddy bay, a headland looking across to Newport; and the remains of an old fortress, little more than lines of concrete in the clifftop grass. There is also, signs said, some Iron Age defensive works; but they are well-hidden by trees and my rusty eye couldn’t make them out.

Clevedon had a pier and an interesting bookshop; Portishead didn’t seem to have any similar attractions. We tried to find the lighthouse marked on our map, before going home, blown back by the wind off the sea.

Photo Post Of The Week

In which we have history in words, and archaeology in pictures

Over on the bookshelves – but not the bookshelf I talked about the othe day – is an interesting little local book by an artist called Cleo Broda. It’s called Symes Avenue: Building On The Past, and it’s about the rebuilding of the centre of Hartcliffe, and the ways in which public art was involved in the rebuilding; particularly, community art which celebrates the area’s history.*

Hartcliffe doesn’t have a particularly long history as a residential centre in its own right: it was built from scratch in the 1950s and in many ways was and is a typical 1950s council housing estate. Shiny and sparkling for the first few years, the first decade even, it decayed. By the time the term “social exclusion” came along, Hartcliffe was a prime example; so the 2000s plan to knock down the old, mostly boarded up shopping street and replace it with a new supermarket and community centre was definitely a Good Thing. The book concentrates on efforts to preserve memories of the estate, record oral histories of its origins, and generally recapture the optimism felt when it was first founded.

Quotes from the oral histories collected during the project fill the cover of the book. Reading through them, I noticed one in particular:

The stone circles at Stanton Drew are three miles from here as the crow flies

I’d heard of Stanton Drew, at some point in my education. And I knew that Hartcliffe was right out at the edge of the countryside. So – look, I’m finally getting to the point – one day, we went out there. To take photos of the stones.

Standing stone, Stanton Drew

Tree, Stanton Drew

Recumbent stone, Stanton Drew

Standing stones, Stanton Drew

Standing stone, Stanton Drew

Standing stones, Stanton Drew

Photo Post Of The Week

In which we visit Weston-super-Mare

The summer holiday photos might well all be up online now; but there’s still a bit of a backlog.

In October it was surprisingly hot and sunny; so we had a day out at Weston-super-Mare. Most of the beach was cordoned off for some motorsport event; so we ended up taking pictures of warning signs and derelict buildings.

The derelict Royal Pier Hotel, Weston

The derelict Royal Pier Hotel, Weston

The derelict Royal Pier Hotel, Weston

Warning, Weston

Ruins of the Tropicana, Weston

Warning, Weston