Sunday 29 April 2012


In honour of our miserable British weather here's a post dedicated to the birdwatcher's refuge in times like these - the hide. Usually a little wooden shed with a slit window through which you can point your binoculars of telescope and sit watching the birdlife in the company of like-minded souls.

Some, like the new building at Titchwell, are very grand....

....while others, like the beautiful little Kingfisher Hide at Paxton Pits, are simplicity itself..

Despite its modest proportions it gives good views out over two neighbouring lakes and the narrow stretch of water connecting them and therefore being perfectly placed to reveal any birds flying between the two.

It's often an advantage to be in an elevated position to give a clear view across a wide area like the Jordan Hide at Holkham Freshmarsh (above).

But what could fit into the landscape more perfectly than the hides at Cley with their thatched roofs?

If anyone reading this is a little, shall we say, "shy" about going into hides you really shouldn't be. Just go in very quietly (in case there's anything posing just in front of the hide) and take a seat. You'll see more than you'll ever see just wandering the paths around a reserve and if you listen to the experienced birders you'll learn a lot - including that they get things wrong too!

Nice as it is to take in the scene from the hide it's always been my preference to walk miles and find places to sit out in the open - and if we're talking about the North norfolk coast then it can be very cold if you sit for too long! A rare, if not very beautiful, photo of the author, by the way. There are those however who say that the ideal perch for me is the bench photographed below:

Take care.

Saturday 28 April 2012

"Sacred Land"

In between listening to obscure music from the 1960s, tending to tiny plants, drinking endless cups of tea and staring out at the rain, I've found time to read a book: "Sacred Land" by Martin Palmer.

It started like this: I woke up ridiculously early one morning, a time which most people refer to as "the middle of the night", turned on the radio to Five Live and, instead of someone telling me about soccer in Albania, there was a man talking about churches in Bristol. And telling me things I'd never even paused to consider.

A little research the next morning led me to the nighttime broadcaster's book, "Sacred Land". Mr Palmer has a theory, an insight, a mission, a story to tell and a whole lot of information that he simply has to impart. It concerns what he terms the "sacred landscape" of these islands. The vast sweep of his subject stretches from Bronze Age burial mounds to modern architecture, taking in the layout of churches, town plans, the significance of the names of villages, hills and rivers, social change, sewers, railways...well, just about everything!

Just occasionally he seems to be selecting information which supports his theory while disregarding other possibilities but that's inevitable when tackling such a huge subject in just a single volume; if he examined every piece of evidence in detail we'd end up with a vast, unwieldy tome. As it is we have a breathtaking ride through 4,000-odd years of history and how our shifting beliefs and priorities have left their mark on our British landscape.

Take care.

Tuesday 24 April 2012

Loose Ends

A number of posts on "By Stargoose And Hanglands" consist of snippets of information about things encountered on walks and cycle rides. Things which catch my eye, capture my attention and otherwise divert me from my intended journeys. If you want to view all these posts just click on the 'Roadside' label in the sidebar on the right.

Sometimes, having taken a photo and written a few words on the subject, I find out more or find a better example. So here are a trio of such instances:

Threshing Barns

This barn didn't look very exciting when its smart new roof appeared on the skyline. The general size and shape was right for an old threshing barn and some of the weather-boarding looked, well, weathered. As it was morning and I was in energetic mood I thought I'd take a closer look.

Inside some of the timbers were clearly old, fashioned by hand and retaining the natural curves of branches coming off of the main trunk. The builders knew that nature had designed the shape to hold up a load and reasoned that they couldn't improve on it. Occasional trees were left to grow in hedgerows to supply beams for such building projects.

These barns had a large central door for the waggons to enter laden with sheaves of wheat or barley. The sheaves were stacked on either side and then threshed by hand during the winter months. I've pointed out before that boards were placed across the bottom of the door to prevent the threshed grain from being lost and this is the origin of the word "threshold".

And there it was: the slot which held those very boards, still in place though it's many a long year since any threshing would have taken place here. Quite often, too, you'll find that such door-posts have this "flared-out" shape at the bottom and I'm told this was to push the waggon wheel away from the post in case a tired old horse decided to cut the corner.


I've done a two entries about milestones here and here. These old stones were erected to tell travellers the distance to Cambridge, the exact distance to Great St Mary's church, in fact. I knew that these stones were old and were put up soon after the standard mile measurement was adopted. But recently while wandering past Great St Mary's I noticed this plaque which I must have failed to see many times before.
In case you can't make it out, it reads:

marks the datum point
from which in 1725 William Warren,
Fellow of Trinity Hall, began to measure
the one mile points along the roads from
Cambridge, at which were then set up
the first true milestones in Britain
since Roman times.

Quite why they've chosen to spell the second word of the inscription DISK instead of the more usual DISC (well, it's more usual in England apart from when it's a computer disk) I have no idea. Here's another milestone this, time on the Old North Road near Longstowe:

The Old North Road, once a major road though now less busy, is otherwise known as Ermine Street, one of the major thoroughfares of Roman Britain. But that will perhaps one day be the subject of another post.

Rooftop Animals

And finally - I've written about straw animals on the roof-ridge of thatched buildings but here's a link to something even more surprising!

Take care.


Saturday 21 April 2012

Still Raining, Still Dreaming

During my damp dawdle the other day I noticed some new sculpture in front of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. It was an exhibition known as "Sculpture Promenade". You were encouraged to 'interact' with the pieces which I presume meant that you were allowed to touch. The rain gave everything a special shine and encouraged me to interact through my camera. Here are the results of my endeavours:

Kan Yasuda -

Tensei, Tenmoku

Peter Randall-Page -

Solid Air II & III
(marble and oak)

Several granite pieces displayed on North lawn

Detail from Pythagoras Stone and Untitled.

Helaine Blumenfeld -

The Space Within





Yesterday's songs (for those who haven't Googled them) were:
"Rain" by The Beatles, "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" by Sacha Distel, Bobby Gentry, BJ Thomas and others, "Flowers In The Rain" by The Move, "Purple Rain" by Prince, "Singing In The Rain" by Gene Kelly and others, "Still Raining, Still Dreaming" by Jimi Hendrix, "Rhythms Of The Rain" by The Cascades, "Set Fire To The Rain" by Adele, "Rain On The Roof" by The Lovin' Spoonful, "Umbrella" by Rihanna, "Banks Of The Sweet Primroses" an English traditional song.

Take care.

Singing In The Rain

"If the rain comes they run and hide their heads.
They might as well be dead.
If the rain comes, if the rain comes"

"Raindrops keep fallin' on my head
But that doesn't mean my eyes will soon be turnin' red"

"I'm just sitting watching flowers in the rain
Feel the power of the rain keeping me good"

"I only wanted 2 see u laughing in the purple rain"

"Let the stormy clouds chase
Everyone from the place
Come on with the rain
I've a smile on my face"

"Lay back and groove on a rainy day."

"Rain please tell me now does that seem fair
For her to steal my heart away when she don't care"

"I set fire to the rain, watched it pour as I touched your face"

"You and me and rain on the roof
Caught up in a summer shower"

"Now that it's raining more than ever
Know that we'll still have each other
You can stand under my umbrella
You can stand under my umbrella"

"It's many a dark and cloudy morning
Turns out to be a bright and sunny day"

Well, how many song lyrics did you recognise?
Take care.

Thursday 19 April 2012

Our Lady And The English Martyrs

The Roman Catholic church of Our Lady And The English Martyrs, usually just known as "the Catholic", is one of the main landmarks on the skyline of Cambridge. It first came into my consciousness as part of the mantra "One and two halves to the Catholic" which my mother used to say to the bus conductor when she took my brother and I on the number 128 bus to town. And half a century later I decided it was time I had a look inside.

The first impression that the church makes is that it is BIG. Like many Gothic Revival buildings of the late Victorian period it appears to have been built for a race of giants; the doors are huge, the ceilings high and the windows set so high that no one could see out. It was designed by Dunn and Hansom who designed many Catholic buildings, mostly in the north-east of England. Hansom, incidentally, was the nephew of Joseph Aloysius Hansom, the man who invented the Hansom cab.

The building was paid for by Mrs Lyne-Stephens, the former Yolande Duvernay, a famous operatic dancer of the mid 19th century. She was the widow of Stephens Lyne-Stephens, a politician and banker who was reputed to be the wealthiest commoner in Britain. On her husband's death she used her fortune to fund the building of churches and schools.

The erection of such a huge Catholic church in the 1890s caused quite a stir, not least because of its dedication to the English Martyrs, those men who were put to death by the Protestant authorities during the religious intolerance of the Tudor and Stuart period.

There is much beautiful carving around the walls of the church, most of it telling the story of the crucifixion.

This post is really for my cousins in the USA, for I believe their parents, my aunt and uncle of course, were married in this church. I hope I've got that right Granny Sue. For Granny Sue of Granny Sue's News And Reviews blogsite is my cousin who inspired me to try my hand at blogging.

I went outside and looked up again at the soaring architecture. I tried to find some different viewpoints to show the building to advantage and wandered around the surrounding streets for a while before realising that I already knew the place I was looking for. I made my way to the grounds of Downing College to see the church from the college lawns.

Take care.

Tuesday 17 April 2012

Wandlebury Ring

Just a couple of miles to the south-east of Cambridge, on the edge of the low ridge of the Gog Magog Hills, lies Wandlebury Country Park, a great place for a stroll; rich with history and nature. You can travel there by car or public bus service or, like me, you can include it as part of a longer walk. I told you about the walk in the last post so now lets concentrate on Wandlebury.

Wandlebury today is managed by Cambridge Past, Present & Future. There's a picnic field and many woodland walks to enjoy. There's interesting and varied wildlife as well as much to learn about the history of the area.

Like many chalk hills in the area Wandlebury was important to early man. Archaeological finds indicate that the area has been settled since the Neolithic but you don't need to be an archaeologist to see the evidence from the Iron Age (about 400 BC). A hill fort was begun then and the ditch and rampart which was created then can be seen to this day. You can walk around the whole circular excavation which measures about 985m (1,077 yds) in circumference.

At one point a bridge crosses the ditch. This presumably dates from 1685 when a racing stables was built within the ring fort. The attraction for racehorse owners was the same as for early man: namely the open free-draining grassland, ideal for exercising horses and giving Iron Age man a clear view of any enemies who might be approaching. The woodland has only grown up since the area stopped being grazed by sheep.

In the 1730s Francis, 2nd Earl of Godolphin, who was also known as Viscount Rialton, bought the stables and added a large house and gardens. Godolphin was a keen breeder of racehorses and bought a horse known as "The Godolphin Arabian", one of the three horses who are the ancestors of all modern racing thoroughbreds. His most famous descendant today is "Seabiscuit". When the Arabian died in 1753 he was buried at Wandlebury.

Also in the grounds you can have a look at an old granary which was rescued from a farm at Tadlow....

The building was in very poor condition but has been lovingly restored. It would have originally stood upon staddle stones but these had been replaced with brick piers at its original location. The building was raised off the ground to deter rats and mice from entering.

The door was locked but I managed to put my camera through the gap at the top and take a picture of the roof structure. You can see that the beams are held in place with wooden dowels rather than nails or bolts.

As I left I recalled the story which was related in the recent Cambridge Past Present And Future newsletter, which I present in shortened form here:

In the 16th and 17th centuries the area around Wandlebury was open grassland. Students from the University used to come up here to take part in games and sports such as bowling, running, jumping, shooting and wrestling. The University did all they could to prevent this kind of nonsense and issued a decree forbidding "scholars of what degree so ever, to resort or go to any play or game either kept at Gog Magog Hills or elsewhere within five miles radius of Cambridge on pain of a fine of 6s 8d"  (What a contrast to today when universities promote so many sports.)  Luckily for the participants the open nature of the hill meant that any approaching University Proctor could be spotted long before his arrival!  In 1620 games were planned to take place at Wandlebury under the designation of "Olympic Games" but the Vice-Chancellor of the University managed to prevent them taking place. Interestingly the new Olympic Stadium in London has a very similar shape and dimensions to Wandlebury Ring.

Take care.