Friday, 13 April 2018

Broken Britain

The governments program of local authority cut backs are really starting to bite, though the parks and leisure department continue to do their best to provide for the community. Broken Britain. 

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Hurst shrine

It was looking like a lovely evening, so I decided on a coastal walk and chose Hurst Spit, a mile and a half walk along a pebble spit protruding into the Solent, not the easiest walking, but that's easily made up for my the views and the air. The spit curves gracefully round on itself, so that if you walk right to the furthest point, way past the castle, you look over sheltered salt marsh towards the route you'd taken out. It's a spot which depending on the weather can solicit an array of differing emotions, when stormy it's decidedly isolated and frightening, when misty it's weird and haunting, and when it's sunny or calm it's tranquil. The spit's ever changing, you can see that by the piers that are now inland or who's remnants lay inaccessible off shore. I was shocked to find the water lapping at the walls on the Solent facing side of Hurst's Victorian fortress, I'd not seen that before (that's not to say it doesn't happen, just it was new to me). Tucked away in one of the bricked up firing embrasures on the Solent side, a shrine of a type has developed. I don't think it's a shrine to anything or anyone in particular, as there's all sorts of themes, various dates, styles and purposes. I took a while to explore the deposits, and wondered how and why. Then turning the corner I wandered back under a peach/salmon pink coloured sky. Worth the pebbly walk, pebbles of course being just the worst.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

The tree

Set in the burgeoning sea of stinging nettles that edges Creepy Woods stands the tree. It's not the only tree, there are four of them, four Oaks in a line, no doubt the former boundary to a field or paddock, although it's the only tree climbable, and with the capacity for three or four people to lounge.  We'd  meet at the 'tree' when foraging, or just if was a nice day. It was a favourite place to just hang out. I remember it being a great place for sunsets, the land gently rises and you're afforded an expansive canvas for the sun to express himself. Then the fields were far more extensive, a broad green buffer between Christchurch and Highcliffe. Though thirty years on, and several parcels of development later, the trees stand in a shrinking island of post agricultural land, a shadow of their former glory. Still, they, and the woodland, remain a haven for wildlife and a good place to forage wild resources.  It was stinging nettle again for me today. Well, it's free food, delicious and nutritious. I'd postponed my walk today because of rain, when I did set off I was well dressed, and I walked home in my t-shirt; that's when you know springs here proper. 

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Highcliffe

Seeing Highcliffe Castle today you'd never imagine that by the 1980's is was a wrecked shell, after fires in the late 60's had left it derelict and years of neglect had led it to ruin. I remember in fenced off, covered in brambles and invasive shrubs, a fascinating and very dangerous place to explore. Now look at it. Restoration works have been going on since the 90's, with a huge proportion of the building either restored or in the process of being restored. The conservators eye has now fallen on the wider grounds. Between the castle and Steamer Point a parcel of woodland was inaccessible for years, a dense jumble behind fence and gate. The area has now been opened up, much over the overgrown shrubs removed and a series of different level paths exposed and restored. I imagine it would've been part of a romanticized woodland walk which would have extended into what is now Steamer Point nature reserve (the path depressions and low banks continue into there).  How the other half lived, and still do.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Great Huntley Bank

It appeared that in places Camel Green and Brinken Wood were wetter than Highland Water, whose gravel banks were showing through if not exposed in places. Crazy that with so much rain, evident in how waterlogged the land is, that the streams are flowing so low. Though even the land, which as I say is waterlogged, is not as waterlogged as it could be. I suppose really it's been another dry winter, for the most part. That said, the environs beyond the banks of Highland Water were too sodden for walking, and hugging the stream banks was the driest and most sure footed path to take. It's nice that way anyway, you get to see the wrinkles in the stream, the overlooked places and the inevitable changes up close as you meander. Having walked these parts for decades I can almost thumb a 40 year plus flip-book in my mind of the changes, sketchy in places, maybe, but it's there. I sat against a gnarled moss covered trunk in one of the meanders in Great Huntley Bank and listened to the woodland. I got more comfortable and relaxed in mossy repose, as birdsong filled my ears, the more I listen the deeper and richer the combined singing became, so many different conversations, until in completely filled my auditory sense. Then about 25 minutes later I woke up.  I know 'forest bathing' is recommended for well-being, but I recommend 'forest snoozing' too, snooze whilst bathing (though of course, don't snooze while actually bathing, no, don't do that).

What is it?

What do you think you're looking at?

Friday, 6 April 2018

Where's Pathy?

Where's pathy? It's like 'Where's Wally?', but with paths. It's a fun (or tedious) game for all the family round these parts. I was wandering Resource Woods (real name Great Woar Copse, know by us as Resource Woods due to the high number of resources available), and following a well used path, when all of a sudden the path had vanished. It had simply ceased to be. I found myself adrift in proper bog woodland.

Wood Anemone

With Spring proper comes a noticeable increase in flowers, an environment in which that's most apparent is woodland. Resource Woods, a part neglected Hazel copse, is our local Bluebell wood; you know, there'll be a wood near you that you know is the place to go see a proper Bluebell show. Although before that the Wood Anemone's (Anemone nemorosa) reign. A woodland blessed with an abundance is a beautiful scene to behold, that's all, mind, as the Wood Anemone is pretty toxic to man and beast. Like Bluebells or Ramsons, they're a good sign that the woodland is old, especially when found on mass.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Skin

Freed from winters constraints the sun shone brightly, warming the air and raising your spirits. The weather wizards predict that these clear skies will be short lived, with a grey blanket once again being drawn up over us by the weekend. Still, that's not today, and anyway, that's spring for you, April showers and all that. Today’s walking venue, Hurst Spit, a long curving shingle spit extending into the western mouth of the Solent, and crowned with a multi period fortress with its origins in Tudor fears.  The spit is high and although battered by the sea at times to the point of near breach, it affords protection to the salt marsh and tiny harbour at  Keyhaven beyond. We walked the length of the spit and round to its furthest point, way beyond the castle. The one thing a beach is always guaranteed to do is show you something new, it's their way. The worlds flotsam and jetsam is continuously on a grand tour, and nature is forever revealing her strangeness; I find no end of weird shit where the land meets the sea. Take these stones, shrink wrapped in sheer seaweed. I couldn't help wonder if somewhere in that there might not be a solution to part of our packaging problems. Groovy looking, whatever.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Nettle

Collected my first Stinging Nettles of the year whilst walking back from the food fortress today. I was near Creepy Woods, it had rained, everything was looking green and nettles popped to mind. Of course they would, spring and Creepy, means it's nettle time. We've been collecting nettles from Creepy Woods for 30 years. Creepy isn't the real name of the woodland, I don't think it has one, but that's how we've always known it, so called after Creepy Mansion, a posh home which for many years stood derelict and dilapidated on the edge of the woods. Nettles are one of our many overlooked free foods, delicious, nutritious and versatile, use them in soup, as a veg or dry them for later use when they take on a Nori quality and flavour.  They are a well used resource in this abode. And, I love that we've collected the same natural resources from the same places year on year, for so many years.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

From tiny acorns

At the end of September I mentioned the forestry commission had harvested a block of mature conifers in Burley Old Enclosure. I passed that way again today and found the forestry have already replanted the block, and this time it appears to be with Oaks.  It's so easy to forget that swathes of the forest we know and love are an artificial construct, the creation of necessity and commerce.

Monday, 2 April 2018

Ear, ear!

One of the few edible mushroom resources available at this time of year, the Jew Ear or Jelly Ear (Auricularia auricula-judae) is distinctive, looking exactly as it's name would suggest like an ear.  It grows most frequently on old Elder, which is how it got the name Jews Ear, Elder being the tree Judas was said to have hung himself from, it was originally called Judas's Ear, though through time it got shortened.  It's not been a much valued mushroom in this part of the world, though is much more popular in China and South East Asia. For that reason I've found it best cooked in soups or with noodley things.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Death by ?

I frequently come across bones and skulls when out walking, probably as I have some trouble keeping to paths, and choose those less walked, but two skulls together is a first for me. Two deer skulls amongst a jumble of disarticulated bones, Roe Deer I think, quite small skulls, juveniles, I'm not sure whether they aren't different genders too. An odd find. Usually I'd put a single skull or skeleton down to natural causes of some kind, disease or trauma, but two together suggest something else, foul play of some kind, maybe. I wonder what went on here?

Cranborne

Walking through Cranborne can feel like walking back through time, it wouldn't surprise you if a horse drawn haywain or pre-war tractor appeared around the corner of a hedgerow or emerged from a sunken drove. There's something timeless and ancient about the land. I think it's that it embodies every aspect of what we traditionally define as the English rural landscape; sweeping grassland escarpments dotted with sheep, hidden wooded valleys brimming with game birds, ploughed fields, thick hedgerows, sunken tree lined droves and deer silhouetted on the horizon. The heavily carved ancient beech which line the Faulston drove as it climbs out Bishopstone and the Ebble Valley confirm reinforce the idea of this being old land. Graffiti on the trees celebrate loves, holiday visits and all manner of life's events and memories, as well as historic events, the silver jubilee of George the 5th and the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, right up to more recent scribblings. This landscape has seen life in all it's shades. The drove itself will be of ancient date, nearby medieval strip lytchets and even older field systems can still be seen, as can the even older barrows, long and round, which hold the remains of the oldest inhabitants of this place. Like I say, a timeless and ancient land where if you look you can glimpse history.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Ritual

I find myself sitting by a fire, one of the regular fires I raise to mark the full moon or the important points in the transit wheel of the year, and again my mind wanders down a familiar path...ritual. Ritual is something that I've been mulling over for years. I recently read William Ayot's book 'Re-enchanting the Forest; Meaningful Ritual in a Secular World', it was a fascinating read, using ethnographic and anthropological examples to show how ritual, which remains alive in other cultures, has been lost from our culture and that we are possibly worst for it. We had it, but we lost it, sadly the story of British culture in general. I like ritual, I'd say I'm a person who naturally ritualizes activities and looks for deeper connections. I enjoy the group events I attend with local groves, and the communal rituals up on Glastonbury Tor or at the Henges. I enjoy participating and take a lot from those events, as well as the words and practices therein. I dig the acknowledgement and affirmation of natures cycles, the natural world and our place in it. Although I want to develop rituals and practice of my own, the group ones don't always feel natural when I'm on my own. I want to create something more personal, though keep/adapt some existing aspects, maybe. Tonight under the moon, warmed by the fire and enthused by Ayot's book, I resolved to create my own personal rituals.

Early adopters

It's only a matter of time now, the forests trees are preparing to burst in to leaf. Some of the early adopters are already pushing their first leaves out, ready for the big cover up, when the woodlands close in on themselves. You can feel the lands about to shift into a new gear; the wild inhabitants know it.  The air is thick with bird song, so many different calls, the canopies are alive with activity.If you don't get out into the woods much, make time to do so now, it's electric.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Carlton Melton Mind Minerals

West Coast psyche-rockers Carlton Melton (Andy Duvall, Rich Millman and Clint Golden, all masters of psyche) are a band of consistency, they're constantly producing top quality sounds, you know, the good shit. Release after release the band produces music of the highest quality which has the power to transport you, open a door and let your mind fly. Take their most recent release 'Mind Minerals' (I picked up a copy at their recent Salisbury gig), it's the 'dogs', man, and I can't get enough of it. It's an album that makes you sort of greedy and selfish. Greedy because you want more of it, you seek out opportunities to listen to it. I've been particularly enjoying listening whilst out walking, its expansive soundscapes suit the outside, it's great walking music (it's great lying down music too, mind, and of course there's the added warmth of the record). And selfish because you really don't want to be disturbed while you're listening to it, you just want to immerse yourself, savour every morsel. It may be a double album, though its time altering qualities means it feels as if it's over far too soon. There is an easy solution though...play it again. Mind Minerals seamlessly swings from driven psyche rock riffs that have your head bobbing and feet tapping to powerful droney hypnotic soundscapes which have you pinned against the walls of your mind like a centrifuge, building the pace before propelling you out into space, or wherever your mind takes you. Don't take my word for it, listen and know. It's a groovy meditation, man.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Neither or both

It was a revolving themed walk today, it was coat closed coat open, hood up hood down, repeat. Driven by high winds the clouds scud across the sky, banks of grey sodden cloud dumped their chilly loads, sometimes heavily. These banks of cloud were regularly broken by expansive patches of clear blue from which a growing spring sun shone. Both weathers blended at their seams, and both were quite intense when established. The sky resolved itself so frequently. I found myself buttoning my coat and putting my hood up to protect from the cold rain, only to have to unbutton my coat and put my hood down as the sun came out and I heated up,  only again to be buttoning my coat and putting my hood up to protect from cold rain, only to........you get the picture. The day really couldn't decide what it wanted to be, it just kept repeating it's options, and I had to go with it. 

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Mossy Throne

The abandoned mossy throne of a woodland monarch.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Coltsfoot

Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) reminds me of asparagus spears with dandelion flowers on.  Round these parts they flourish on the unstable mud slides of the Barton under-cliff, and around now swathes of yellow/orange flowers are opening to the spring sun. Their leafless stems (the leaves will form later)  have pushed up through the grey mud of the Eocene sea bed slowly making its way home, to dot a monochrome landscape with spots of gold.  Years ago we used to collect flower heads here to make a white wine, nice it was too. We used to use the leaves in other ways too, mostly as a constituent of herbal teas, we were right into that.   The German government banded the sale of Coltsfoot, still a popular herbal remedy, after recent studies showed toxicity causing liver problems, though they mainly appear to have been in infants. Still, worth bearing in mind. Can't hurt you looking at them though.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Gus

There are a few places I walk that have that strange air about them, you know, there's something disconcerting about them, something that unnerves you, and you can't really put your finger on what it is. Usually I walk in mental abandon, lost in thought or in the beauty surrounding me, calm and relaxed, comfortable with the land and my place in it. Usually. Then there are some places, and I know it sounds a touch clich├ęd, that really give you an uneasy sense of being watched, and of unseen menace. Gus Common is one of those places. Whenever I walk through or around Gus I feel uneasy. You could say, 'man, your creating a self fore-filling prophecy', though I'd disagree. When out walking my mind will be miles away, totally distracted in thought, when feelings of unease begin to intrude, first manifesting themselves physically, like your hackles rising or that strangle tingle you get running up your spine, then on an emotional level. Chewton Common, has always solicited the same sensations in me, and in that I know I'm not alone. Why do some places effect you like that? Can a place retain emotional residue that can still be sensed? Do places harbour memory, again, that could be sensed?  If so, what happened here? The name 'Gus' (which most locals know the common as, the real name of the common being Burton Common) comes from a long abandoned hamlet which stood there. There are connections to smuggling. And, I read somewhere that a disreputable coven may have practiced here at some time. I know, that just sounds mental. Or, could it be our response to some natural phenomena, magnetic fields or some such. Other animals are able sense things beyond our range of perception. I don't know how to explain the different feelings you get from some places to an other, although I do know they feel real, and have a tangible effect on you.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Willow

The pussy willow catkins are just bursting out. Still fluffy and soft, it wont be long before the erupt in to a myriad of yellow flowers.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Snow way!

So, the snow's returned, this time with more force than before, although I think with equal transience. At 6am the snow was falling heavily, creating a white out wonderland. Though by the time I ventured out into the forest about 9am, the snow had stopped and already begun to dissipate.  That said, it still looked lovely. As I wend my way through the stands, gusts of wind dislodged the fine snow from the high boughs, causing cascading flurries to swirl in a passing blizzard. The forest is always magical, though the addition of snow, so rare, adds another dimension to the wonder. As I though, the snow had no longevity, and by the time I left the forest the boughs were for the most part clear of snow and a general thaw was noticeable. Good walking.

Opportunity knocks

When opportunity knocks it's silly not to take it. Many bush-craft skills are reasonably easy to perform with practice, though as is the nature of practice, practice is usually done under the right conditions with all the resources prepared to hand. The thing is, nature's not really like that,  the conditions can vary wildly and resources may require sourcing and preparing. That's why I believe it's always worthwhile practicing in less favourable conditions. It took about 15 minutes to gather the resources I required; a good handful of last seasons bracken, dried off in my trouser pocket, a handful of papery Silver Birch bark, a handful of dry needles and a bundle of dead Silver Birch twigs graded into three groups. I found a sheltered spot in a closely planted juvenile conifer plantation on the edge of Burley Old, and through proper preparation and execution in under 5 minutes from putting my bag down the birch bark had caught a spark and I had a fire going. I was pleased, as the last couple of fires I'd tried were slow and laborious to get going due to complacency on my part, slack perpetration and general stupidity. It was nice to sit out in the snowy forest and get a little fire on the go. I have to say, it's a lot easier raising a fire snowy conditions than it is when it's wet, most of the materials are still quite dry.

Friday, 16 March 2018

A wrinkled land

The Chase is a mighty diverse landscape, high open chalk grasslands, rolling agricultural land, dramatic wooded valleys and extensive conifer and deciduous woodland can all be found in abundance. It's diversity makes it great walking, sometimes arduous walking, mind. Walks which can take you though all the mentioned environmentally different worlds. The western end of the Chase is a particularly wrinkled and puckered landscape, like a scuffed rug. Walking you move quickly through one environment then another, the landscape's condensed, it's full of suprises.  A good number of the areas narrow valleys and hollows are far too severe for most farming, beyond grazing sheep, so many have been turned over to woodland, particularly forestry. Much of the forestry is predictably coniferous, with their relatively quick return they're a very popular choice, although still a good proportion are deciduous, and of course Hazel coppice is always well represented. Obviously taking it's name from a previous time,  Washer Pit Coppice is now planted with rows of the tall straight Beech, indicative of the deciduous plantations in the area. They may look sterile in their uniformity but they bristle with activity, the naked canopies house a chorus of bird song, groups of Roe Deer watch you from the ridges of the steep slopes, a large yellow butterfly sails drunkenly by, squirrels scurry and all around there's the sounds of movement and activity. And, it must really be spring...I even saw a bumble bee this afternoon; it looked off it's head, mind. You really are hidden away in many of these deeply cut wooded valley. I bet there's a lot of folklore and legend to these parts. This would have been a wild landscape back in the day. Right back in the day, it would a landscape you could easily get disorientated, if you didn't know it. I love it.

Posh pads

Something you notice whilst rambling about is, how many posh gaffs there are dotted around the place. The country 'piles' and mansioned estates of those to whom the exploitation of the colonies had brought substantial wealth are hidden in every nook and cranny. And, I remember seeing a program some years ago about how many of these 'piles' where abandoned or left to fall into decay through the 60's and 70's, as a result of changing financial circumstance and the loss of heirs through the two wars. That got me thinking today, did the wars have a disproportional effect on the landed demographic? Proportionally, did more toffs die than regular folk? I don't know. Anyway, what we're seeing are only the remnants of what was a far greater phenomena, one which helped shape today’s countryside. The majority of the big houses which endure have often seen a massive change in use, many may have remained in the hands of a landed family, many are now corporately owned, though nearly all have been forced to diversify in to events, holiday lets or some such. This Beech avenue belongs to West Lodge built in 1753, the last surviving royal hunting lodge in the Chase.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Dainty flowers

For years I'd never noticed the tiny flowers on the Hazel. Yeah, the male catkins, they're very obvious to see hanging down, sometimes in clusters; but not the tiny reddish pink styles of the female flowers are much easier to pass by unless you're looking very closely. The Hazel (Corylus Avellana) is monoecious, with both male and female flowers on the same tree, although they can't self pollinate and require another hazel to produce fruits. Another sign of springs burgeoning.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Archaeology is rubbish

Archaeology 'is' rubbish, no, really, that's what it is. As an archaeologist I was trained to recover, analyse and interpret the remains of the material culture (literally the rubbish most times) left behind by previous human societies in order to better understand their society, culture and technology.  From the shell middens of coastal foragers, the feasting waste of our prehistoric forebears, through domestic waste dumped in pits and ditches during the Roman and Middles ages, to the manuring of fields and the development modern rubbish tips, the disposal of waste has always been a problematic necessity and a gold mine for archaeologists. And even though it's thought of as a modern disease, throughout the ages folk have littered, just dumped their shit. When out walking I've always been  a collector of rubbish, mumbling obscenities as I stuff others discarded crap into a bag. Then a few years ago it dawned on me that I had become a sort of anti archaeology archaeologist, depriving future professionals of research resources. Hmmm. It was then that I decided not to, in most cases, collect up bottles anymore (I still collect the other shit), leave some past to found in the future.  I chose bottles as they're stable-ish and even if plain can be a good source of dating information, though they're even better with writing on. Take this bottle thoroughly wedged amongst the roots of a forest tree, it's decorated with a band of stippling and you can read 'Quencher Drinks' around the bottom of it. From that I discovered that 'Quencher' was a Southampton company, the bottle's possibly late 19th early 20th century and that it probably contained some form of 'pop'. At first I'd imagined it was left by a day tripper to the forest. Or was it?  With a bit of investigation I learned of new possibilities. Where it was found is close to Lyndhurst's old Race course, closed during the latter quarter of the 19th century, by 1891 an 18 hole golf course prospered (still does), from 1922 it was the site of the pony sales,  and during both world wars troops were billeted and trained here.  The list of possible culprits is as endless, as littering is timeless.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Winter or Spring?

The seasonal tug of war continues. We know who'll win. The question is when?

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Roma Alan

There's always a story in graffiti, too often it's hidden from us, although sometimes we can gleam something. I'm going to assume that Alan was of the travelling community. Was Alan using the prefix 'Roma' so the local community knew it was him, he wouldn't have known himself as Roma Alan, surely he was just Alan. The prefix serves an identifying purpose, they always do. I think that's a reasonable assumption. The travelling community, contrary to suggestion, mixed, traded and worked with the settled population.  Clearly Alan travelled this way in 1948, '49 and '50, and would have been travelling through the twilight of a traditional lifestyle, as modernity increasingly demanded uniformity and under a variety of pressures that traditional way of life became marginalised made increasingly inaccessible to the point of untenable. Sad. The period saw travellers move from Vardo to motor drawn caravan, and saw the community buy their own land in the face of reduced stopping sites. I wonder what happened to Roma Alan, what was his story? Did he travel through this way at other times not recorded? Was he forced off the road into settled life by imposed restrictions? I'll never know.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Ibsley Battlefield Headquarters

Hidden amongst the trees on the edge of Ibsley Common, behind Moyles Court, overlooking the quarry lakes which were formally the runways and dispersals of RAF Ibsley (one of the forests World War Two airfields) is RAF Ibsley's Battlefield Headquarters and associated defences. An airfield's Battlefield Headquarters were a hardened position, an observation and command bunker surrounded by defencive works, from which to mount a defence and counter attack if the airfield was compromised by the enemy (paratroopers/gliders).  The forest had 4 major airfields, Ibsley, Holmsley, Beaulieu and Stoney Cross, although only Ibsley's Battlefield Headquarters remains intact and accessible, and from other Battlefield Headquarters's I've seen, is unique, having 2 observation cupolas. In fact, in my experience, the whole site is uniquely preserved. The main Battlefield Headquarters, although seasonally wet and full of modern rubbish, is solid, with all rooms accessible; though it's the survival of the surrounding defencive works which are most impressive. The hilltop is defended by several simple circular concrete (sections of pipe?) machine gun positions, lengths of zig-zag trenchworks with corrugated iron revetment and sandbagged positions, as well as individual 'foxholes' dotted about. Some damage was done when the hillside was planted with conifers, though more has been done since the plantation was harvested 10 years or so back. That said, but for the barbedwire entanglements, the position remains nearly complete.  I see the overall neglect and subsequent destruction of nearly all the New Forest's Wartime Airfield structures/features as a heritage crime, or at least a reckless waste of a heritage resource, making the survival of the few remaining intact features even more important. Our complacency, based on the idea that 'there's loads of World War 2 stuff about, has let to the point where most of what we thought we had has gone, and we've only recently woken up to what we've lost. If you dig military archaeology or history, you could do worse than pay this site a visit