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Another castle from Cathar Country now, and something which really, really, REALLY reminds me of the Ninth Gate!!

This is the castle of Villerouge-Termenes, which probably fits everyone's idea of what an archetypal castle should look like - full stop.  It's incredibly well preserved, with its intact enciente wall and angle towers, and it dominates the town.


The castle was in the hands of the Bishops of Narbonne from 1110, when it was handed over to them by the Lords of Termes (not altogether willingly, by the sounds of things...) and it remained with them until the French Revolution. Obviously they kept it in good order - it now earns its keep as the home to an exhibition about the last Cathar, Guillaume Belibaste, who was burned here as a heretic in

Here's a view from just outside the village, showing its location from a distance.  Note how it seems to nestle quite low in the landscape, rather than perching at the top of hills as is more usual round these parts:-


This of course means it wouldn't have been much use against artillery, but obviously no-one tried to take it by force, or I doubt it would still be here to impress us today.

One last view now, showing at close quarters how it dominates the village:-




Nov. 8th, 2012 10:12 pm
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Um, WWI Tunnels of Death is on Channel 5, not Channel 4, and it's actually a series. 

And on a Thursday evenings, it's followed by Hatfields and McCoys, which seems to me to represent a perfect insight into human history throughout much of its past - it certainly reflects late medieval Scotland perfectly, anyway, even though the settings post-Civil War America. 

Funny how history has a tendency to repeat itself...
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I'm currently watching a fascinating programme on Channel 4 called 'WWI Tunnels of Death: The Big Dig'.

I thought it'd be your standard run-up to Remembrance Day fare of history combined with film footage, etc. but as a piece of archaeological film-making  it has proved fascinating.  The work was carried out in advance of a pipeline, and the upstanding archaeology has in many cases been wrecked by shells, though I suppose these shell holes themselves now count as archaeology so you have to assign them context numbers and excavate them in the same way that you excavate a post-hole.

They've just uncovered a messed up bit of German fighting trench, which has been hit by a British shell and which I suspect may have bodies in it (I remember a Facebook feature referring to the recovery of some in situ corpses in a WWI trench and I can't help wondering if this is the same dig...)

Great archaeology, but oh so miserable (horse jawbone uncovered, too...) and a reminder that the past can be so very, very brutal... 

Well worth catching up with, I must admit!
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I'm delighted to report that my feeling of general no-wellness has now become an evil lurgie of doom, so my brain isn't much good for anything much at all today.  I haven't really got much to say, either. I'm writing a little bit, and the words seem to be translating themselves down onto paper okay, but I'm going to give logical reporting and discussion a miss today, I think.

So it's time for pretty pictures instead!

What I noticed about the historic buildings of Languedoc was how the authorities had taken great care to theme the presentations at each different site.  If they were given enough dry, warm exhibition space, they created a small museum, dedicated to different aspects of the area's medieval past.

The claustral buildings at Lagrasse had found a secondary use as a museum dedicated to Romanesque sculpture.  The sculptures themselves were breathtaking, and they really couldn't have found a better setting.  So I thought today I'd treat you to a sample.

Two carved capitals, first of all:-



Now, I've seen a few bits of Romanesque scupture in my time, but I don't think I've ever seen anything quite as fine as this.  Perhaps it's because most of the stuff I encounter is weathered to within an inch of its life, or perhaps it's because in situ sculpture is impossible to view in any detail because it's always located way above head heigh.  Anyway, these pieces were really delightful.

Here's a rather fine lion:-


Onto human subjects now.  I'm not entirely sure what's going on here - it looks military in character, but since it derives from an ecclesiastical building, I suppose it may be Herod giving orders to begin the Slaugher of the Innocents:-


It is, of course, a fine depiction of chainmail hauberks and kite-shaped shields, and the Ivery small!) horses look quite jolly, though the same can't really be said of the 'spur-clanking boneheads' (thanks to Simon Schama for the quote!) who bestride them!!

Carrying on the religious theme, we have here a relief featuring the dismemberment of a saint by a bull.  I think I featured a reproduction of this relief previously - this is the original, and - I think - a better photograph:-


If you ask me, the bull's looking even more traumatised by the whole affair than the unfortunate saint...

Now, I'm not much of an art historian, but when I see carvings like this I can see similarities between the Norman French style of carving and the Norse sculpture of the north and west Atlantic seaboard.  This is perhaps not surprising, considering the 'Viking' origins of both groups, though it's not something I've really given much thought to, mainly because all things Norse have long left me cold (I did, however, watch Neil Oliver's recent series, and thoroughly enjoyed it, too...).

And that, ladies and gentlemen, was Lagrasse.  I hope you enjoyed reading about it as much as I enjoyed exploring it in the first place!  And if I can persuade any of you to go and visit it next time you go to Carcassone, so much the better! 

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Here, as promised, are some more images of the wonderful abbey at Lagrasse.  I know I previously waxed lyrical about the painted ceilings which proliferate throughout the medieval houses of Languedoc - well, here's another bit of medieval interior decorating which left me a bit gobsmacked.

Now, experts in medieval architecture often wax lyrical about our colourful medieval past, always going out of their way to remind us that the cold austere stonework we see in modern churches is nothing like the original medieval decor.  But it's a bit difficult to envisage what actually would have been going on, and I find that usually, when I stumble across real examples of medieval interior paintwork, it's nothing like how I would have imagined it.

Take this wall, for example.  I hadn't a clue what was going on here, until I actually found a display in the room which revealed that this incredible painted stonework is original medieval painting:-


The photograph has actually come out rather well, giving a true impression of what is a very strange but not altogether unpleasant decorating scheme.

No sooner had I got my head round this, than I realised that this little room was the antechamber to a small chapel which could not unfortunately be accessed, because it still had its original medieval paintwork surviving on all four walls, and an original in situ medieval tiled floor, too.


Thankfully, the authorities have provided visitors with shuttered hatches through which they can view the interior.  The These do not do much to assist photography, but I did my best.  The east wall shows the Tree of Life, and is still inlaid with some of its original precious stones:-


I've left these photographs at an unusually large size so you can get a better look...

Here's a view of the tiled floor now, which doesn't do it justice, I'm afraid, but believe me, it was impressive:-


One last view of the interior now.  This magnificent fireplace is much later than the medieval paintings and tiling featured above, but if I remember aright, it was earlier than I'd expected.  I'd opted for a late 16th or early 17th century date, but I think it was much earlier in the 16th, a sign no doubt that Scotland (and England!!) were the tail end Charlies as far as renaissance fashions were concerned:-


Again, it's really worth a close look because the details were incredible.

And as far as Lagrasse is concerned, that's still not everything...
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At last the begonias have decided that it's about time they came in for the winter!  Well, most of them have -  first frost struck last night and now most of them are looking a bit dreepit.

I've started bringing them in, and as per usual, I'm sticking them in a bath of hot water for a couple of minutes in order to cook the vine weevils.  It's a bit cruel, I know, and I do my best to evict all innocent parties like worms and centipedes before the soaking begins.  It seems to work, because I've had one dead weevil grub floating in the water already.

Since I have so many begonias kicking around now, there's no way I'm going to get them all sorted tonight. So I hope they'll be able to hang in there until tomorrow, because the temperatures are supposed to dip below zero tonight until mild air moves back in from the Atlantic tomorrow.

Will post some more photos from Lagrasse tomorrow!  Enjoy your weekend everyone - don't know about you lot, but I really need this chance to sit back and put my feet up!!
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This is the first of a series of posts devoted to the Abbey of Lagrasse, which is one of several extremely well-preserved abbeys in Languedoc.  It's currently undergoing a massive programme of renovation, which will hopefully ensure that the building will survive well into the future.

The church, unfortunately, was not accessible, so I can't show you any pretty pictures of the interior.  But the conventual buildings are all extremely well preserved, and the structures have now found a new life as a museum of Romanesque sculpture.

Here's a distant view, showing its magnificent Romanesque bell-tower:-


Clearly, the building programme here was pretty much completed during the Romanesque period, as there's few traces of Gothic to be seen.  Unlike the nearby church in the town which we visited yesterday, which has seen a substantial amount of remodelling.


Here's a view of the cloisters, with its lovely Romanesque capitals.  The classical influences are certainly evident here:-


But the regional traditions are also clearly visible.  This is a view of the refectory, which has the massive diaphragm arches which are so commonly seen in the local churches.  At the time of our visit, some restoration works were underway here - you can see the fenced-areas where archaeologically-monitored works have been taking place.  The roof has been replaced recently, but the buildings were still in use until at least the eighteenth or nineteenth century, which probably explains why the fabric hasn't been brutally pillaged the way our own abbeys have been in the UK.


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Time for some ecclesiastical architecture now...

There's an abbey at Lagrasse, and a very splendid one, too.  But there's also a church, right in the middle of the town and hemmed in by buildings (the painted ceilings, incidentally, were in a residential building attached to the church - not exactly a Bishop's Palace, but still representing quite a comfortable residence, thank you very much!)


As usual, the church architecture showed plenty of complexity.  I was particularly struck by this doorway, which had previously been much larger.  I suspect though, from the ogival shape of the larger archway, that this didn't mark the original entrance - it looks a bit fifteenth century to me, while the church itself is earlier...


Inside, we have another example of these apsidal ended churches which proliferate throughout the area (comparable with the church of St Vincent in the Bastide de Saint Joseph, Carcassone...):-

I'm not sure if the lop-sided character of the vault is real, or a trick of the camera angle.  The Narbonne church which now houses the carved stone repository certainly features a lop-sided vault, so I wouldn't be at all surprised.  I don't recollect spotting such weirdness in this church at the time of our visit, though, so it could be purely an illusion.  Or else I was still in such a daze and a dither after gazing upon the painted ceilings that I didn't even notice...
This isn't another example of the meridional gothic form which is so commonly found throughout this part of France.  Instead, we see quite a complex arrangement of vaulting, as opposed to the plain barrel-vaulted form with its hefty diaphragm arches which I've featured previously:-

The painted walls are, of course, much much later than the medieval ceilings I featured yesterday, too!

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Apologies for the photographs, which are nowhere near the usual standard, but I really, really, really had to share these!

During our 2012 visit to Carcassone and Languedoc, we visited a whole lot of sites, all of which had much to recommend them.  But if I was asked to pick a personal favourite, it wouldn't be the majestic city of Carcassone, or the dramatic towers of Lastours, or indeed any of the castles and abbeys that we visited (and I'll be introducing you to more of these over the winter!) 

No, I think it would have to be the painted ceiling of Lagrasse, a hidden gem which lay completely off the tourist trail and which caught us completely by surprise.

The clues were right there from the beginning.  Here's a 'faux' set of pictures painted onto the exterior of a medieval house in Lagrasse itself.  You can spot a reference to that inevitable medieval cliche, the Lady and the Unicorn, amongst other motifs:-


"Oooh!" thought I.  "How interesting!" But I didn't realise just how interesting, until we found ourselves with half an hour to kill while we were waiting for the church to open.  The church was itself accessed from a tiny lane, surrounded by roughly contemporary buildings.  One of them was advertising 'Les plafonds peintures' or similar (please pardon my french!) so, since it was open and we had nothing better to do, we went inside.


It was then that we discovered that the images we'd spotted earlier were based on originals:-


Sorry about the quality, folks - the camera hated focussing on these.  In case you're wondering why these blew me away, please bear in mind that they're c.700 years old.  Some of the images were heraldic, but others depicted morality tales, some of which were positively bawdy in flavour.  I think this particular picture shows one of these inversion type scenarios of which the medieval folks were very fond - here we have a farmer harnessed to the plough while the donkey goads him on:-


It was only when I visited a temporary exhibition in Carcassone that I found out that these painted ceilings are discovered in prolific numbers throughout the region, with several having been unearthed in the Bastide de Saint Joseph (at the foot of La Cite) in recent years. 

Over the last couple of hundred years, householders made these plain timber ceilings more ornate through the addition of decorative plasterwork.  To do this, they left the existing structure in place, tacking on a new ceiling with all the pretty plaster mouldings that were the height of fashion,.  Now, as these old properties get restored and renovated, the later plasterwork - considered too over the top for our modern tastes -  gets ripped out (sob!!) leaving these little beauties behind.

Ah, if only developer-funded building surveys in my neck of the woods revealed such treasures as these!!!
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Right.  I'm still enjoying my quiet period in between episodes of  writing frenzy, so I thought I'd start a series of blogposts which continue my earlier French series.  Today, I'll be taking you to the village of Lagrasse, which is best known for its abbey (more of that to come!!) but which is also worth exploring because it represents a beautifully preserved example of a medieval town, including this rather fetching bridge:-


A number of very early houses (again, medieval in origin) still survive throughout the town:-


There's also a covered market-place, again medieval in origin:-


Also surviving, though in a somewhat reduced form, are the town defences:-


Here's another view of the river, with some more of the town defences visible:-


Also present are the well-preserved remains of the abbey, several churches, and....

Some wonderful painted ceilings which are worth a post in their own right and which I'll be going back to in the next couple of days...
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It's Thursday evening, and because it's pouring with rain outside, my usual Thursday evening walk is postponed until tomorrow. 

So I'll post instead!

I promised you a follow-up post on Lancaster Castle, and here it is. 

I originally intended to include a shot of the ghastly medieval cellar where the poor old Pendle witches were incarcerated, but unfortunately my one decent photo was cluttered with people (including children), so I didn't think it appropriate to include it.

The 19th century prison is a different matter...

Years and years ago, when I first studied Archaeology at Uni, I attended a brilliant series of lectures called The Archaeology of Religion, Magic & Burial, presented by the one and only John Barrett (of Fragments of Antiquity fame - if you haven't read it, and you're interested in British prehistory, then go find a copy. It's just like having a potted version of the lectures to hand!). 

Throughout this course, we were encouraged to read all manner of works by anthropologists (like Levi Strauss), sociologists (like Giddens and Bourdieu) and philosophers (like Barthes and Wittgenstein).  This breadth of reading certainly gave us a fascinating insight into the past which was completely at odds with the Processualist school of archaeology which remained the dominant paradigm at the time and placed the acolytes of 'Barrettism' (I'd happily count myself as one!!) in the realms of the post-Processualist movement.  Scary to think that I'm now talking of post-Processualism in the past tense, though to be honest I'm not sure what's replaced it!

One of these lectures was devoted to the works of Michel Foucault, who wrote an in-depth study of the changing history of punishment.  As an undergraduate I never read this book, which is entitled DIscipline and Punish, if I remember right, but I do remember a contrast being made between 'medieval' modes of punishment, which usually involved the physical destruction of the body (the example quoted was the horrific torture and execution of a fellow who tried to assassinate a French King in the 17th century - We were subjected to a detailed excerpt from the book which detailed the death and it left a deep and lasting impression on Meek Little Student-me...).

Foucault contrasted this means of punishment with the 19th century belief in correction and confinement, with its roots in the post-Enlightenment period, and cited as his example that typically 19th century institution the 'panopticon' style prison.  Here you have your inmates under constant surveillance by a central warder, who is located in a way that they can observe their charges at all times.

The prison block at Lancaster is a good example of the panopticon style. This photo is taken from the central point in the cell bay, where the warder would have been located.  Bear in mind that the solid doors are a very late addition, and that originally you would have been able to observe the inhabitants within a barred door:-


This view shows the interior of a cell - complete with a later addition, a ceramic toilet bowl.  (I'm sure slopping out would have been carried out until quite recently, judging by the modern style of the toilet bowl...)


It looks palatial, but I'm not convinced that this cell would have provided accomodation for just one individual.  Instead, we might have had a few unfortunates crammed in here, though whatever happened to them there would have been a marked improvement on the fate of the poor (and, I believe, slightly deranged) Frenchman.

PS. This is partly a nostalgic photo, because it reminds me of the little Ayrshire police station I surveyed with The Classicist a few months back....  I should probably send a photo of it to the Classicist with one of those 'I saw this and I thought of you....' messages, though these cells have much bigger windows than ours, and the toilets in the provincial police station were tucked tidily away beside the door where you could at least get a bit of privacy....

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Monday night is Writers' Group night, so I stop checking my e-mails at 6pm or thereabouts.

And with her typical sense of humour, Mother Nature decides that Monday night is also Aurora Night.  The AuroraWatch amber warning came through at 20.35, I drove home at 9pm, and saw... Well, nothing.

Did I check my e-mails???  No.  Did I bother to stick my nose outside the door?  Considering that for once we had no clouds whatsoever and we're in the middle of a sunspot maximum.  Of course not.

And naturally the aurora borealis were doing a song-and-dance routine all night... 

Of course the national media have been bleating excitedly about it, just to rub salt deep into smarting wounds.  And of course they've been titillating us with the promise of clear skies and - perhaps!! - more aurora tonight.  Knowing my luck, they'll be concentrated in a line north of Stirling and the Trossachs.

I shall console myself with the latest episode of The History of Wales... 

And would somebody please tell my begonias to hurry up and get their annual blast of frost burn so they can go to bed for the winter???

Parys Mountain's on the telly now, so I have to go.  It's my favourite blasted heath in the entire country!!! 
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A brief diversion now, by way of Lancaster Castle, infamous for the role it played in the trial of the unfortunate Pendle Witches...

Now, as some of you might remember, I am particularly fascinated by sites which show evidence of consistent use over long periods.  Churches and cathedrals are a good example: many of our early ecclesiastical buildings are still performing the same role in the wider community now as they did a thousand years ago...  Another example I think I featured was Fort George: a Hanoverian barracks which still houses a working regiment of soldiers.

Here's another one: Lancaster Castle, which occupies the site of a Roman fort and which has been in almost constant use for the same basic purpose ever since, namely a focus for administration and the dispensation of justice (however flawed that justic might be, as I'm sure the Pendle Witches would be keen to argue...)

Lancaster Castle was used as a prison until the early years of the 21st century, and is currently in limbo while its owners (the Duchy of Lancaster) decide how best to deal with it. It may, for instance, find itself reborn as luxury holiday let accomodation,,,

Anyway, when we stayed in Lancaster on our way down to Wantage, we jumped at the chance to have a good look round this excellent example of a kind of building which usually isn't open to casual inspection.  And Lancaster Castle really did not disappoint.  It was a brilliant example of a palimpsest, where layers of meaning are overwritten and superimposed and the 'reader' has to disentangle all the different elements to create a meaningful narrative.

Most of the buildings are of 18th or 19th century build.  But within this later gothick confection, earlier elements survive.  The earliest surviving part of the castle is the Well Tower, which is pictured below:-


The Well Tower evidently dates back to the 11th century, and is highly unusual for various elements of its design which appear to bear similarity to Irish defensive architecture of this same period.  Please don't ask me what these where - as you can imagine, we weren't exactly allowed open access around the place, though it amused me to see that one of the medieval chambers had been adapted into an extremely well-secured and fortified (!) bicycle shed.

Another very early survivor is the keep, the massive crenellated structure with the little windows (seen below).  Our guide suggested that it may have its origins in some building works carried out by none other than our very own King David I of Scots (he who brought us Scots parishes, planned burghs and feudalism...), who evidently made it this far south on occasion and undertook some castle-building in this neck of the woods.  An interesting suggestion indeed....


Throughout the centuries, the castle suffered greatly through the predations of beseiging armies - it was, after all, a castle, and as such a potentially defensive structure.  It had a particularly hard time during the Civil War...  But its fabric was also transformed by generations of occupants whose attitudes to crime and punishment changed throughout the centuries (we'll cover that in another post!) and who reworked the architecture to accomodate these changes.

Sitting next to the well tower we have the 18th century Governor's House.  Built in the aftermath of a seriously bad outbreak of disease which took out the previous governor (presumably cholera or similar), its high chimneys reflect the desire of the next incumbent to avoid the fate of his predecessor by ensuring the good circulation of air throughout the prison buildings by the use of large flues which drew heated air up from the low levels.  This was, of course, a means of combating the foul miasmas which  - as any inhabitant of pre-mid 19th century Europe will earnestly tell you - spread disease through bad air...  

Of course, having lots of fresh air and a bit of heat to circulate it probably did a lot to help improve the inmates' (as well as the governor's...) health and well-being, if you don't factor in the almost inevitable overcrowding, that is....


During the Victorian era, much of the prison was rebuilt again in a more modern style.  At this time, the prison housed both male and female prison populations, and operated both as a debtors' prison as well as housing a wide range of felons and miscreants....

Here's a view into the Victorian prison blocks and exercise yard, and we'll take a look at some of the cell blocks in my next post:-


And there you have it.  Never say that this blog doesn't provide you with a wide variety of historic buildings and monuments!
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Hoorah!  My conference requirements for 2012 are now over, and I can now concentrate on being a writer again!!

I didn't really learn much that was new today, but it was a great refresher course which put various disparate bits of knowledge together that I've accumulated over the past couple of decades (!).  The conference was held in the Burrell Collection, hosted by Glasgow Archaeological Society and dedicated to The Clyde.  It was mainly modern in its subject matter - with much said about the improvement of the river, and the history of the mercantile and industrial centres on its banks - Glasgow, Greenock, Port Glasgow, but there were a couple of papers on earlier aspects, such as crannogs.

I had my writer's hat on for one particular paper dedicated to Dumbarton Castle, which features in Novel #2.  Guess I'll have to do a bit of rewriting now, as it doesn't seem to be laid out the way I'd anticipated.  Ah, well.  These things are sent to try us. 

But after seeing endless views of Dumbarton Castle from land, from sea, and from the air,  there's no excuse for my not returning to those missing pages of MS I've been bewailing over the last couple of weeks, because - you've guessed it!!- they feature none other than Dumbarton Castle!!!

Must put nose to grindstone... Must put nose to grindstone....
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I've just returned from the second of my three conference outings for the autumn season.  Today's offering was the autumn meeting of the Finds Research Group, a research body dedicated to small finds of the historic period. The FRG normally has its meetings down south in Englandshire (i.e. well out of the reach of Yours Truly) but today it was having an unusual foray north of the border in Edinburgh.

It was certainly well worth the trip.  The papers were all very interesting, in a day conference devoted entirely to Precious Metals.

My highlights had to be the two papers on Early Historic & Viking silver: Firstly, Martin Goldberg gave a fascinating talk on the Early Historic & Viking Use & Manufacture of Roman to Viking Silver, which demonstrated how metallurgical analysis can establish the relative dates of Early Historic & Viking artefacts by the nature and percentages of impurities in the metal - Roman silver is higher quality, and less debased, and as it gets recycled through the years, more base metal gets added, hence more impurities appear.  Goldberg's presentation was followed by another equally absorbing paper by Alice Blackwell, who presented a paper on New Research on the Norrie's Law Hoard. This identified the presence of three 19th century fakes amongst the original Pictish hoard, again isolating them by using metallurgical analysis.  One of the interesting observation made by Goldberg was how the English warrior elites of this period favour gold & garnet, while the Pictish/Viking elites of the north make more extensive use of silver and enamel.

Honourable mention must also go to David Caldwell for his engaging lecture on that magnificent artefact of medieval Scots origin, the Bute Mazer - here's a link for what can only be described as an over-sized quaich with real attitude!!


Caldwell was somewhat scathing of the abilities of the goldsmith, who's thought to have been based in the West of Scotland.  He pointed out that the lion looked like it was wearing a knitted balaclava, then compared it to the man-in-a-lion-suit that features in that classic comedy sketch, Scott of the Sahara by Monty Python.

Oh dear.  I'll never be able to look at the Bute Mazer in the same way again. Conversely, I'll never look at Scott of the Sahara the same way, either!!!

And now I'm signing off.  Last night's Book Signing was for the launch of The Healing of Luther Grove by Barry Gornell.  Again, it was a fascinating insight into how it;s done - this particular event featured a useful question & answer session, but how I could possibly fit this in to a similar event is a trickier task to accomplish...
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I was originally aiming to attend an author's event in the Mitchell Library tonight, but it was a) chicklit; b) £8 and c) clashing with horse-riding, so I opted for the horse-riding instead. I'm going to an event in  Waterstones tomorrow instead, featuring a debut novel by a local writer which seems to be a dark psychological thriller - which is much more my thing, even if it's not set in the medieval period!!

I was paired with Diva tonight, and we worked extensively on circles and transitions. I really had my money's worth: after a 35 minute lesson, the warm-up was added on as an afterthought which meant I was riding for 45 minutes altogether, and oh boy, didn't Diva know it!

Our weather is irritatingly sprinkled with heavy showers, but this means a lot of nice stuff going on in the sky.  There's rainbows every day when I'm travelling to and from work, and tonight at the stables there was a very fetching sundog.

And The History of Wales is getting really rather interesting now we've got into the medieval period, and I'm about to abandon it for a nice hot Lush-scented bath.  I'll really have to catch up with it on demand - judging by the opening section, with that gorgeous piece of silk, this is going to get rather interesting.

Oh, and I really love those opening titles...
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Because I had a fabulous day at work today, speed-writing captions to accompany an array of pretty slides which summarised almost twelve thousand years of human occupation in Scotland (Mesolithic to World War II - Phew!!!) and appeasing that frustrated part of me which is and will always be a Failed Academic (!).  And because I'm currently enjoying a television history of WALES which is being shown on BBC SCOTLAND (wonders never cease...)...

...I thought I'd indulge in some gratuitous photos of Segbury Hillfort.

Okay, it's not quite an Uffington in its grandeur, because it's a univallate hillfort, as opposed to a more complex multivallate hillfort, but its scale is still quite staggering;


Once upon a time, a helpful person planted trees upon the rampart, which might not do the rampart much good in the long term on account of the resulting root disturbance, but it sure helps get an understanding of the size of its interior.

In one field, we get one half of the monument. Here's a view of the other half, from the road that splits it in two:-

You can just see the rampart as a darker green strip along the horizon above the interior of the field...

My last photo features the rampart. I said earlier that Segsbury's a univallate fort - well it is over most of its extent, except in some places where parts of a second, outer, rampart can be identified:-

Well, Part One of The History of Wales is over.  I've always wanted to see a programme like this on Welsh history, and I knew one was in the pipeline, but I was kind of hoping that it would be a bit more in depth and presented by a Neil Oliver type. Don't get me wrong - I like Huw Edwards a lot, but he ain't no professional historian, if you get my drift... 

Anyway, what struck me in this first episode devoted to Welsh prehistory and extending through to the early medieval period was firstly how much I already knew, and secondly how many of the featured sites I've actually visited in the past: Tre'r Ceri, Pentre Ifan, Caerleon, St David's, Great Orme. And Llanfair PG, too...  In a way this is of course quite reassuring, since Wales is supposedly the Land of My Fathers but I'd hoped I'd learn something new...

Ah well.  One thing's for sure: I really must pencil in another visit to Anglesey some time, just so I can check out the chambered tombs.  A return visit to the one and only Paris Mountain would be on the cards, too (please forgive any spelling mistakes, oh Welsh followers of this blog!!)

Oh, and then there was the one, the only, the magnicent - LLYN FAWR HOARD!!!  Yay!!!!!!

And tomorrow we'll no doubt be progressing onto the medieval period.  Eddy I, Llewellyn & Co. And all the Welsh castles...  Can't wait!!!

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Apologies for the silence.  It's been a busy couple of days...

I've just returned from Edinburgh, where I was attending a fascinating conference devoted to the prehistory of the Tyne-Forth region, details of which are posted in the link below:-


Now, as you can probably imagine, modern archaeological studies have a tendency to focus on areas lying to either side of that illusory little line that divides Scotland from England (and that only got fossilised in its current form when the Scots lost Berwick-upon-Tweed just over 500 years ago...). This conference made a refreshing change in that it comprised a whole bunch of collaborative studies which considered the disputed 'border' territory in its wider, regional context.

Supposedly, they'll be web-mounting video-recordings of the speakers, so those of you who feel inclined will be able to experience the entire proceedings for yourselves.  There was plenty of food for thought, with presentations that included papers on the evolution of the roundhouse and changing settlement patterns within the Tyne-Forth region and beyond, with Rachael Pope and Strat Halliday proposing their views on long term change and questions of occupation versus abandonment in a Bronze Age/pre-Roman Iron Age context.

Highlights of the day were Alison Sheridan's engaging summary of the Neolithic in the Tyne-Forth region, and a fascinating paper by David Metcalfe on the different approaches to creating narrative used by archaeologists on the one hand and storytellers on the other. This latter paper was certainly a departure from the norm and, for someone who more often than not these days feels her allegiance pulled more to the world of creative writing than to archaeology, it was something I could really relate to. 

An honourable mention also goes to Kristian Pederson for his summary of the Palaeolithic (no, I'm not joking...) and Mesolithic in the Tyne-Forth region.  Back in the days when I studied at Uni, it was just assumed that prehistory began in the Mesolithic as far as Scotland was concerned, with any earlier periods of occupation erased by the last advance of the ice-sheets. It turns out, however, that people were hanging around right at the limits of the ice sheets in the immediate post-glacial period and that evidence of their activities can be found if you look hard enough, and deep enough, in the right places. 

A further honourable mention should be awarded to Jan Harding and Mark Lawson for their paper on the orientations of cup-and-ring radials and penannular motifs in Mid-Argyll and Northern Northumberland. Cup-and-ring markings never fail to fascinate, and it's a refreshing change to hear someone trying to actually ascribed meaning and context to the things.  Most of the time, they're just dismissed as 'ritual' and left neglected at the metaphorical back of the shelf...

Next week, I've got ANOTHER conference, so it's busy, busy, busy, I'm afraid!!!  Hope you're all keeping well - I shall catch up when I can!!
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Hot on the heels of Wayland's Smithy comes another chambered tomb now.  This time it's a bit closer to home - yes, at last J and myself managed to track down that elusive beast known as the Haylie Chambered Cairn, which lurks up on the raised beach behind Largs. 

This monument is also known as 'Haco's Tomb' - Haco being a reference to King Hakon, who led a band of Norsemen against the Scots in the Battle of Largs (1263). There are a few prehistoric monuments recorded around Largs: by the nineteenth century they'd earned a place in local folklore as burial markers for dead Vikings, or monuments set up to commemorate key sites in the battle.

They are, of course, several thousand years earlier than the battle itself.  The earliest of these monuments is undoubtedly this chambered cairn, which I've tried and failed to locate on a previous foray into Largs but which today I actually managed to track down!!

It was originally part of a much larger mound called 'Margaret's Law', but this has been largely removed over the past two hundred years leaving just this burial chamber ('Haco's Tomb') behind:-


Fans of Neolithic monuments please note that this particular example is not a representative of the Cotsworld-Severn group.  I cast a critical eye over it today, trying to figure out if it was a prime example of a Clyde-Carlingford, but since I couldn't see any sign of any overlapping side slabs, or any horizontal slabs subdividing the chamber ('septal slabs') I wasn't convinced:-


But according to the experts, the Haylie cairn is indeed an example of a Clyde-Carlingford, though sadly this chamber represents a much diminished remnant of what would originally have been a much bigger and more impressive monument.  Futher information is available, on both the monument itself and the results of the early excavations carried out here, in the RCAHMS' Canmore entry which I have linked to below:-


And because we were walking through Largs enjoying the prehistoric monuments, I just couldn't resist taking another picture of the Bronze Age standing stone that I featured in photos from my last visit to the town. Only this time it doesn't look quite so gloomy!

Oh, and as a postscript, gardeners amongst you will be delighted to hear that my ivy-leaved pelargonium 'Vectis Glitter' has now been dug up and brought in for the winter, so it will hopefully provide us with another year of productive blooming in 2013!

And the begonias are still hanging in there, stubborn as always... 
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I heard today that I've had the go-ahead to get my Mr Telford/Mr Watt paper spruced up & polished and sent off to journal, so to celebrate, I thought I'd post some pretty pictures of a Boulton & Watt steam engine.

This is Crofton, which houses not one but two working steam engines, installed here to pump water into the Avon & Kennet Canal to maintain water levels.  A view, first of all, of the engine house:-


Unfortunately, we arrived three days too late to see the engines actually working.  But evidence of their labours was still apparent: the boiler which powered them was still burbling happily to itself during our visit.  Evidently, it has to be fired up a couple of days prior to the 'steaming', and it takes another three days to cool down afterwards...

One of the engines had its 200th anniversary this year.  It's a Boulton & Watt engine, which survives in excellent condition. It's interesting to see it sitting side by side with a younger engine: the B & W one seems quite chunky and clunky when compared with its younger companion:-




Being a Boulton & Watt engine, it of course bears its Boulton & Watt serial number 'B.42':-


So for all you fans of industrial archaeology out there, enjoy!  Unfortunately, it's far too late for me to start wittering on about how steam engines operate, and I'm still trying to get my head round the modus operandi myself...

And besides, Neil Oliver's currently demolishing the cute & cuddly reputation that the Vikings have been enjoying over the past few decades, so I guess I'd better stop typing and pay attention, hadn't I?
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