Brimham Rocks

 

 

IMAG2250

 

“Come on let’s go see some rocks” is not generally the most enticing thing I could say to the kids to get them out of the house but that was the call to arms yesterday.  They had no idea where we were going as they’d not been to Brimham Rocks before but it features often for me on an MTB route I do in the area and I knew that they would love it.  They actually couldn’t quite believe it as we began to explore the weird geology of the rocks which became not rocks but the best adventure playground you can imagine.  All of us became children as we played, scrambled, climbed, hopped and explored the amazing landscape.

One of the things that I love is the you can clamber about the whole area in a very un-British way, there are not warning signs all over the place and no fencing, there is an acceptance that this is potentially dangerous (some of the rocks are 30 metres high) but it is left to you to manage that risk.  Learning how to manage risk is I think a really key skill and one that I’m not sure we are very good at teaching our kids anymore and it was really interesting for me to watch how mine got on and also for me to hold my tongue and let them explore and work out what they could / couldn’t / should / shouldn’t do or contemplate.

The rocks themselves are utterly magical, they feel like they belong to some other world or country not North Yorkshire, weird shapes and forms appear to be shifting around you as you cavort about exploring and seeing things from different angles and we were lucky in that the light was fantastic and every changing, clouds one moment, dazzling low winter sun the next.  The kids did admit to me that yes these rocks were very cool and they would be happy to come again – a seal of approval if ever I heard it.

A really really magical place and possible the best hide and seek playground in the world.

IMAG2286 IMAG2284 IMAG2277 IMAG2266 IMAG2259 IMAG2257 IMAG2252 IMAG2249 IMAG2247 IMAG2241 IMAG2238 IMAG2237 IMAG2208 IMAG2206 IMAG2200 1383226937751

Pentre Ifan

 

IMAG1617

When I was down in Cardigan recently I went to have a look at Pentre Ifan burial chamber which is something I’ve been meaning to do for a couple of years now but not got round to.  It must be tricky when managing historical monuments to decide what you do in terms of access and information, do you build a visitor centre, have lots of display boards and information, car parks etc all of which have their place and can add to your enjoyment but at the same time they can detract from the actual monument.  I liked the approach that had been taken at Pentre Ifan in that there is basically nothing so you can sit and take in the ancient stones very much in the elements with nothing around.  There is a simple fence and path out to a small road (no car parking) and one display board.  Parking is a couple of miles away with footpaths meandering upwards through woodland and farmers fields to the monument which only reveals itself at the last moment.

I found the stones absolutely breathtaking, it was a warm still day when I went and only a trickle of other people were around which meant I could spend a good period of time simple taking in the enormity of what I was looking at.  The placing of the burial chamber is on a hillside high enough up to give fantastic views across the rolling countryside down to Cardigan Bay.  There are around 7 stones still standing (with some others scattered about) that would have formed the entrance to what was believed to have been a communal burial chamber.  The stones date back to 3,500 BC and I was in awe of the skill and engineering of the ancient neolithic people that constructed this.  I was scratching my head as to how they got the stones there? how did they get them in place? how did they manage to sculpt the stones to create what in some instances were completely smooth cuts and surfaces?   I also boggled at the fact that South West Wales is not exactly heaving with people now so how sparsely populated was it 5,500 years ago? and yet clearly whoever was there at that time lived I think in a technically sophisticated and structured community.

The largest stone on the top (or capstone) is about 15-20 feet in length and is estimated to weigh around 17 tonnes and is beautifully balanced on the sharpened tips of 3 supporting stones.  It honestly looks for all the world like the capstone is going to slide off at any moment but clearly it’s stood the test of time.

Fforest

dome

A couple of weeks ago I returned to where I’ve been on holiday for the last few summers, Fforest near Cardigan in South West Wales, which is a truly marvellous place to unwind and recharge the batteries while at the same time offering a fantastic place for the kids to enjoy.  I’m not the sort of person that tends to return to places as I like to move on to somewhere new as there are after all so many nice places to discover but from the moment that I first came to Fforest and saw how much my kids enjoyed it I knew it would be a place I’d return to and each year the kids ask to return.  I’ve also been there for a long weekend and managed to attend the Do lectures as well (which I really much get round to writing about at some point).

As soon as you arrive after a long drive (and it doesn’t really matter where you are coming from it’s a long drive) you are struck by the space and the chilledoutness of the place.  The staff are fantastic superbly laid back but very professional which is a tricky mix to pull off.  You can’t take your car onto the site so it does mean you have to do a bit of lugging with your stuff but once that is done the feeling of space and peace takes over.  There are several different fields, each one with different types of accommodation (and I can’t tell you how good it feels to arrive somewhere and not have to struggle to put up a tent) but the key is that whatever field you are in there are only a few tents, tippis or domes spaced around one or two edges a design means that you look out only onto greenery and there are wide open spaces for children to explore.  Over the years they have cultivated the hedgerows to grow out between the tents creating a lovely atmosphere of open privacy.  I’ve stayed in most of the different types of tent but this year I went for a dome as a treat and what a treat that was and it was perfect for us as the kids are much bigger now and we need more space.  Whatever you stay in there is also a deck with chairs and beanbags and a cooking area which is a lovely place to relax, cook marshmallows over a fire and watch the sun set.  The site also has a central lodge and the most fabulous little stone pub.  There are numerous footpaths that head off into the local woodland that can take you to the nearest village, Cilgerran or down to a wildlife centre situated on the river Teifi from which there is path through the marshes down to Cardigan which makes for a perfectly safe cycle or leisurely walk.

The area is perfect if you like being outside with walks, rivers, beaches, cycling etc all on your doorstep and Fforest link up with a local company Cardigan Bay Active to provide you with organised activities if you want to do that or you can just find your own way.  Over the years we’ve been Canoeing, Sea Kayaking, Surfing, Tree Climbing, Coasteering and this year we had the most fantastic time canoeing up the river Teifi as well as taking a trip out into Cardigan bay seal and dolphin spotting.  There are numerous beaches within easy reach many of which are sparsely populated even in the height of summer and if you like your mountain biking there is plenty of natural trails and I’ve also managed to sneak off for the morning and ride at Brechfa.  Wales is very green and it’s green for a reason it gets a lot of rain and last year we did get a bit damp but this year the sun blazed and I really couldn’t have wished to be anywhere else.  I’ll be writing a few posts over the next week on some specific things in the area that I enjoyed but the gallery below should give you a flavour of Fforest and the surrounding area which were all taken within 20 mins drive of the site.

December Photofun – Week 2 – Structure

Wow what a week this has been, almost as soon as the kids had picked the theme Structure photos were pinging in from all over the place.  In fact I found it hard to get out of the house last Saturday such was the initial flurry.  Unsurprisingly there are lots of buildings but oh what wonderous structures so many of them make and great photos taken from all sorts of angles.  Lots of iconic structures from the old of Stonehenge through to Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House, via Petra in the Middle East.  It’s interesting to compare some of the new additions to our built environment like the new roof at Kings Cross or the Shard say to some of our older ones.  In fact the roof at Kings Cross very much reminds me of some of the religious archwork.  In addition we have natural structures, trees and cobwebs for example as well as sculptures and all sorts of other interpretations of what a structure is.  There are others that make you think be it the square in Berlin in remembrance of the Holocaust or the simple but quite scary looking walk over the bridge into urban Leeds, what does this tell you about how structures affect our everyday lives ?

I’m particularly indebted to the photographer Mark Fairhurst who very kindly contributed the video at the top of the post which was a preview to his exhibition on religious architecture.  It’s a beguiling film and makes you look at the structures in a whole different light, I was struck by how Mark has made, what are very old structures, appear other worldy and almost alien.  I felt like they were the photos of some distant civilization and you could easily imagine them on the set of Prometheus for example.  Stunning stuff.

This week I have not set the gallery at random so the photos are static, some are bigger than others but please don’t take this as any element of organisation on my part, I just feed the photos into the gallery and see what comes out.  If you want to see them all at original size simply click on the gallery and it should open a slideshow that you can flick through.

Huge Huge thanks to all of you who have contributed it’s kept me and the kids entertained and enlightened all week.  They choose a new theme tomorrow and I hope it gets the same response.  Do let us know which ones you liked and how DecemberPhotoFun is shaping up so far

Avebury

One of the advantages of my job is that I get to see things along the way. Yesterday was a long road trip to see a client in Swindon but the trade off for me was a visit to one of my favourite places in the UK – Avebury.

One of my many obsessions are megalithic stone circles. For the uninitiated, these start with Stonehenge and cover everything in between. Basically these are stone circles built by our ancestors for reasons we can only guess. Either way, Avebury in my opinion is the most impressive stone circle site in the UK and one that can be enjoyed up close as there are no fences stopping you touching or even hugging the stones – more on that later.

Stonehenge is often cited as the role model for stone circles but compared to Avebury, Stonehenge is the newcomer bristling with innovation. The stones at Avebury predate Stonehenge not by hundreds of years but thousands. Astonishing. Avebury is a dynamic prehistoric landscape that has been developed over thousands of years, never standing still, never actually finished.

Walking amongst the stones in 2012 then is a deeply spiritual experience where we can touch our distant past and feel connected in some unknown way with our long lost forbears. The oldest part of the site itself has been dated at 3000 BC with developments and additions to the site until the site was forsaken in Early Bronze Age in favour, no doubt for something new.

The stones are scattered across a strange location with a village built around and within them and a main road weaving through. It’s quite tidy these days (well kept by The National Trust) and with a decent pair of boots can be navigated quite easily. Not all of the stones have survived the ravages of time with early Christians destroying or burying them and early scientists blowing them up to see what was inside them.

The first thing that strikes is the scale. The stones themselves are enormous and dwarf the sarsen stones of Stonehenge. With at least two thirds buried in the ground the sheer engineering feat of planting these giants is awe inspiring. But I think for me it’s the mystery of the place that endures.

I’ve visited in the rain, sun, mist and snow and every time it never fails to excite. Theories abound of course about the purpose of Avebury and in Aubrey Burl‘s superlative The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany he goes into incredible archeological detail, painting a detailed picture of prehistoric man and his life. This offers up lots of clues as to the use of the site and perhaps why it fell into disuse. It seems ultimately that the bright lights and innovation of Stonehenge overtook the ancient and mysterious traditions of Avebury.

Today these ghosts play amongst the stones and if you can find a quiet morning or early evening just before dusk when you can have the stones to yourself, you can almost hear them whispering. There’s no denying the stones tap into an ancient relationship we have with our environment that we have lost through the millennia. The cycle of life – and worship of it – is at the heart of all megalithic sites, hard wired into the landscape reminding us that we owe everything to the Earth.

I realise it’s all very hippy this – but if you’re interested to read more on Avebury and other sites, then a brilliant place to start is Julian Cope‘s comprehensive The Modern Antiquarian. This wonderful book turned me on to stone circles and has been my companion on many trips.

In the meantime, if you’ve never properly visited a stone circle, then Avebury is an awesome place to start but be warned, they don’t get much better than this and it’ll blow you away.