Christmas Trip to Wells
December 2nd 2017
Our festive outing this year was to the south side of the Mendips. The day started with a visit to Beacon Hill, a woodland maintained by the Beacon Hill Society. We were in the capable hands of our guide Steve Tofts who took us around the many ‘lumps and bumps’ in the woods which range from Bronze Age barrows, medieval emparkment and WWII installations. Following this we treated ourselves to a well deserved and warming meal at the George in Croscombe. After lunch we visited the beautiful city of Wells where we were taken on a guided tour by the extremely knowledgeable heritage guide Siobahn Goodwin who revealed many fascinating insights into the medieval and post medieval development of the Cathedral, market and Medieval streets.
Many thanks to Steve Tofts and Ellie McQueen for all the preparation and a wonderful trip!
Lansdown Lecture with Vince Russett
‘Castles in the Mist’
October 25th 2017
A fascinating lecture entitled ‘Castles in the Mist’ from the former North Somerset County archaeologist Vince Russet. Vince presented an ongoing community archaeology project which is concentrated on several possible 11th century castles around Weston that are now only visible as grass covered mounds or ‘mottes’. The mystery is what were important nobles from Normandy doing building castles around Worle at the Conquest? The answer may lie in the Northmarsh area to the north of Weston and the communication channel which winds its way through it. Vince and his team make use of historic data allied with software packages that convert photographs and data into 3D models of the landscape and associated structures. A good example of what community archaeology can achieve.
Trip to the Dordogne
At midday on Monday 18th September, a group of intrepid archaeologists met at Bristol Airport for the Ryanair flight to Limoges. After passing through security with no problems regarding liquids, some unfortunate members were given rather a thorough frisking, to no avail. Undeterred, we eventually boarded the plane and took off for Limoges.
Our destination in France was the village of Lanouaille and we were not disappointed with our accommodation. It was a lovely spacious house in extensive grounds and on arrival we soon encountered the village postman, Alain, who also acted as caretaker. A visit to the local bar was the next essential destination, before heading back to the house where Alain met us with a stack of pizzas from the local pizzeria and several bottles of local wine. This bode very well for the rest of the week!
The following morning we made our way to look at three dolmens. Dolmen dit Peyre d’Ermale was a very unusual structure, resembling a cottage loaf in appearance. Referred to as a dolmen, it is most probably a humanly modified natural outcrop of weathered rock and unlikely to be of Neolithic origin. Several basins have been cut into the rock base and platform with channels cut into the surrounding rock to collect water. On the north side, the middle section of the structure contains a carved door recess which may be relatively modern. The group had many theories as to whether this structure had a religious or sacrificial purpose and remains an enigma.
The next site was Dolmen de Peyrelevade, Paussac-et-Saint Vivien. The initial architecture was drastically modified in 1933. Classified as a dolmen of the Angoumoisin type, the chamber is delimited by five orthostats in limestone and one in sandstone, covered by a sandstone capstone. A small polished 8 cm axe was found during the reconstruction.
The Dolmen de Peyrelevade was the last one of the morning and stands in a forlorn state on a concrete plinth on the outskirts of Brantôme. A support pillar, added at the end of the nineteenth century, is partly concealed behind a bushy plant, and the whole site is very poorly preserved and presented.
We then made our way into the town for a coffee stop and to buy food supplies. The small town is situated on an island opposite the Abbey and has very pleasant houses, restaurants and cafés. Our lunch stop was at Saint-Jean-de-Côle, a small medieval village with eleventh century origins. A picnic feast of bread, paté and cold meats was spread before us and we settled down in a delightful spot near the river and old mill. After lunch we wandered through the picturesque streets and visited the large and very unusual church of St Jean–Baptiste.
As befits staying in a country well known for its cuisine, the topic of conversation during the car journeys inevitably led to a discussion of favourite foods. Celia happened to mention chicken with chorizo and she was instantly nominated as head chef for the evening.
The following morning we made our way to the Grotte de Bernifal, a privately owned cave located close to Les Eyzies and one of the areas classified as a Unesco World Heritage site. Having parked the cars, we made our way up through the woodland pathway (indicated with the occasional arrow attached to tree trunks) and finally arrived outside a metal door at the cave entrance. No-one appeared to be at home, but after some canny detective work by Donovan, it was discovered that a car parked nearby still had a warm bonnet. So, we waited…. and lo and behold, after about 30 minutes 82 year old Gilbert Pémendrant emerged from the cave with an earlier group, and we entered inside. With just the light from his torch, we thoroughly enjoyed the next hour or so, and what a character! The cave comprises two main chambers separated by a narrow passageway with several small galleries leading off which are barely accessible. There are approximately 110 engravings and paintings, many using the natural reliefs and hollows of the walls. Mammoths, some engraved and some painted are dominant and there are many other animals such as horse, bison, auroch and deer. In addition there are engraved human hand images, an unusual possible depiction of a human face and some 50 geometric signs whose meaning remains unknown. The art is dated to the Upper Palaeolithic Middle Magdalenian period dating to around 13,000 years BP. The cave has never been formally excavated and the artwork has not been extensively recorded, probably as a result of being privately owned.
Lascaux IV was our next stop, and after another al fresco picnic we made our way inside. Opened in December 2016, this incredible facsimile is split into seven zones, including an accurate replica of all of the original Lascaux art, a history of the research in the original Lascaux I and the story of how it was discovered. The colours and artwork are stunning and quite overwhelming. However, the individual touchpads with headphones which were meant to enhance the experience refused to work for most of us and this needs to be addressed.
Later in the day we paid a visit to the Savignac –Lédrier Forge which lies at the edge of the Auvézѐre valley overlooked by a renaissance castle that reminded us of the feudal origin of the first owners. It was one of the great forges that originally produced iron by means of a blast furnace and a refinery. Surrounded by woods, grassland and next to a weir, it was hard to imagine how it must have looked in its heyday when the trees were cut down for charcoal and production was at its height. Production ceased in 1930 but part of the works continued to make wire for keys to open sardine cans until 1975. Restoration work is ongoing.
One of the highlights of the trip was the visit the following day to L’Abri du Cap Blanc. It was the first cave discovered which revealed that Palaeolithic art included sculpture as well as painting and engraving. The 15.000 year old carved frieze which includes bison, reindeer and horses was discovered on the wall of the rock shelter in 1909. The carvings follow the natural contours of the limestone cliff and are all in high relief. When first discovered they bore traces of red ochre suggesting that they may have been painted. A ‘Cro-Magnon’ burial was discovered two years later in the shelter floor and is known as the Magdalenian Girl dating from 15,000-13,000BP. The sculpture frieze is the only example in the world that is open to the general public.
The picnic lunch stop was in Sarlat, a very attractive medieval town whose town houses were built between 1450 and 1500, then on to Chateau de Commarque. The partly restored ruins date from the twelfth century. Over time it developed into six separate fortresses for noble families of which the Beynac family had the most impressive and these are the most preserved today. It was abandoned in the seventeenth century and lay covered in vegetation until the present owner Count Hubert de Commarque bought it back into the family in 1968. Restoration has taken place for the last fifty years but with particular attention to the troglodyte caves below the chateau and across the valley.
Here there is evidence of prehistoric human occupation and rock art from the Magdalenian period, such as the beautiful full sized horse which is not usually open to the public. It was unfortunate that our guided tour to see the horse with the owner could not take place as he had an unforeseen appointment at an auction for another chateau!
On our last day we made our way towards the airport and stopped en route at the ruins of Oradour–sur-Glane. The village was destroyed in June 1944, when 642 of its inhabitants, including women and children, were massacred by a German Waffen-SS Company. The village has been left in its ruined state as a permanent memorial, and one could not fail to be moved.
And finally, we could not go home without visiting some more dolmens. On our way to Dolmen de la Borderie in the region of Berneuil, we happened to spot an extra dolmen which required a quick visit before arriving at the intended one. This was an imposing dolmen standing almost two metres tall with a massive capstone on top of six orthostats. The setting for the last dolmen of the trip, Dolmen de la Betoulle, was undoubtedly one of the best. Set on the edge of a sunflower field it provided a lovely spot for our last picnic.
Thank you to all the committee members who organised the trip and especially to Laurie and Donovan for their superb navigation skills and careful driving.
Report on the Festival of Archaeology, Blaise Castle House
29 July 2017
Once again that time of year had come around; the Festival of Archaeology at Blaise Castle House, Bristol, was upon us.
As in previous years it was organised, with their customary excellence, by Kate Iles and her team from Bristol Museums, part of the City Council. This time Clifton Antiquarian Club found itself sharing an outside, covered pitch with our friends The Travelling History Company, situated between the National Trust and Medieval Music which made for some interesting sounds during the day!
In total 21 exhibitors took part with somewhere around 1,300-1,400 members of the public visiting the festival in total. For us as a club it was a great way of letting the public know what we get up to and have to offer. It was also a good way to catch up with friends in the archaeological world we hadn’t seen for some time as well as meet new people and spread the antiquarian word.
Although the weather forecast had threatened rain at some point in the day we were lucky and a dry day throughout, much to everyone’s relief.
I was kept busy virtually all day with a steady stream of visitors interested to find out what we are about and I think we’ve potentially gained a few new members in the process. Our main aims in taking part in the festival are to support the rest of the archaeological community in the area as well as letting the wider world know about the club and its activities. If we can persuade more of the public to take an interest in archaeology then so much the better.
I’m sure we’ll be there again next year; why not come along and see us there?!
Read all about our latest excursion here: CAC Walk Clapton
Lansdown Lecture by Dr Dr Paula Gardiner
Crossing the water: hunter gatherers in a changing world
Dr Paula Gardiner gave a talk about excavations on Hawkcombe Head, Exmoor. This area was a hunting ground in Mesolithic times, when the ice had receded but the sea had not yet risen. Hawkcombe Head has two springs that flow down Ven Combe towards the coast. Mesolithic flints have been picked up since the l890s.
The area was surveyed by walking over it, then excavated in metre squares. Near Ven Combe was found a clay floor with post holes, about a hundred pieces of flint. (Flint does not occur naturally on Exmoor). There was also a late Mesolithic hearth with oak, hazel and holly charcoal, which gave a date of 5311-5075 BC. In addition to microliths, there were bevelled pebble tools and an early Mesolithic mace head or perforated disc. Excavation suggests the site was frequently visited over 1000 years or more, temporary structures were erected, and were possibly used as a butchery site. Piercers and scrapers were found there.
Dr Gardiner also described work at Farley Water on Brendon Common, another spring head site. Four trenches were dug, three sterile but in trench two there were 46 retouched tools and 150 pieces of debitage. Not far away at Larkbarrow farm, more Mesolithic flint and debitage waste were found. Details of the excavations can be downloaded at: http://www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/environment?
Report: Dartmoor Walk 2017
Clear blue sky. Blazing sunshine. Unfettered vision to the far horizons of Cornwall and the sea. What more in the way of weather could we have wanted for our 2017 Dartmoor walk? Less wind, that’s what. But it did ease over the day and as our antiquarian interests increased so the wind became less of an issue. Maddy, whose main interest in archaeology revolves around bones, might not agree, being somewhat lighter on her feet than the rest of us.
This year’s walk was prompted by a throw-away comment by Laurie a few years ago that somewhere around the Merrivale area of the moor were some left over bits of London Bridge. By chance, last year Martine and I stumbled upon them near Swelltor Quarries. They were incorporated into a round trip of Walkhampton Common to the south west of Princetown which contains a pantemporal treasure chest of sites.
Proceeding in a clockwise direction from our starting point near Leedon Tor we found and followed the line of the disused Plymouth & Dartmoor railway as it snakes its way around Ingra, Swell and King Tors as it heads for Princetown. After looking around Swell Tor quarries and examining Laurie’s bridge corbels we headed on around the base of King Tor where we left the track to cross the Long Ash Brook. Here we stopped for lunch, trying to maintain a low profile out of the wind.
Prehistory beckoned in the afternoon with the stone rows, a menhir and burial monuments of what Butler describes as the Merrival ceremonial complex. Here too we looked at the Bronze Age settlement and noted the line of the Great Western Reave heading for Roos Tor to the north. Turning east we passed the site of the old school house, now a car park, while keeping an eye out for stones marking the old Tavistock and Ashburton track.
At the site of Red Cottages we headed south along the track to Yellowmeade Farm and Foggintor quarries, then on to examine another fine collection of hut circles and pounds down the slope from the railway track. A group decision was made at this point and instead of heading directly up over Leadon Tor, we skirted around to its east side, picking up the line of the Walkhampton Common reave, as with the Great Western Reave, named by Andrew Fleming in his seminal work on these Bronze Age land boundaries.
Yet another fine group of hut circles presented themselves on the slope of Leadon Tor just metres away from the car park. The wind had eased and we still had the clear sky and sun so, once again, luck was with us for our latest Dartmoor walk.
Thanks must go the Moorland Hotel at Wotter who, as always, looked after us so well.
Lansdown Lecture by Pip Osborne
Excavations at Chewton Mendip
The Chewton Mendip Excavation (Pip Osborne)
The evening of Monday 20th February saw members once again assembling at the Lansdown pub in Clifton, Bristol, for another in our series of informal lectures. This time member Pip Osborne came along to give us a fascinating insight into progress at her excavations in Chewton Mendip, Somerset.
For the past six years, on a plateau above the main village and close to the church, Pip has been excavating a large post-Norman building. It is believed to have belonged to the Abbey of Jumieges and lies within the curvilinear boundary of what is probably a Saxon minster.
In what was a very well structured talk, Pip took us in some detail through the last two years of work that has seen geophysics, radio carbon dating, X-ray flourescence, soil analysis and ceramic study all play a part in teasing out the story of what is undoubtedly a complex, intriguing and important site. The work is not yet complete – another season of excavations will start later in 2017 and we look forward to Pip coming along in a year or so to report on progress!
Many thanks must go to Pip Osborne for coming up to Bristol and giving such a comprehensive talk and to Donovan Hawley for organising the event.
Club Christmas Trip to Cirencester
December 3rd 2016
For our Christmas excursion we visited festive Cirencester. Read all about it here: cirencester-christmas-cracker
Ireland Trip September 2016
This year we visited the wonderful prehistoric monuments of Ireland. Read the write-up here: ireland-trip-2016
Festival of Archaeology Day 23rd June 2016
We set our stall out for a wonderful Festival of Archaeology day at Blaise Castle. Write up here: Festival of Archaeology write up pdf
Pembrokeshire Excursion 17th-19th June 2016
Find out all about our latest trip to Pembrokeshire here: Pembrokeshire write up
Dartmoor Trip 6th-7th May 2016
Read the Dartmoor trip report here: Dartmoor 2016
Report on the Lansdown Lecture by Win Scutt, 4 May 2016.
Win Scutt, English Heritage, came along to the Lansdown pub on 4th May and gave a fascinating talk entitled Dartmoor and Beyond: Upland and Lowland Landscape in Devon’s Prehistory. We hadn’t planned for Win’s lecture to take place just days before the Club trip to Dartmoor but the coincidence proved a happy and fruitful one.
Win summarised the conventional view that settlement on Dartmoor had been confined to the uplands until the first millenium BC when communities are believed to have moved to the lowlands. He challenged this idea, suggesting instead that landscape evidence on and around Dartmoor pointed to the upland settlement remains seen there today being the upper limits of settlements that had also occupied the lowlands. Evidence from the study of the Dartmoor reaves in relation to watersheds and contemporary field boundaries running from the moor to the coast was used to back up his assertions. So too did the locations of Iron Age hillforts of the area, lying as they do on the lowland watersheds between the rivers that drain from the uplands, suggesting routeways for the movement of stock from the lowlands to the moor in summer.
Win used examples in the landscape from the area of the moor that, a few days later, members were to explore (see the report on the Dartmoor walk elsewhere on the website). This in addition to encouraging a participative approach to the lecture ensured all present had a great evening. Many thanks must go to Win for the lecture and Donovan Hawley for organising the event.
Report on the lecture by Julian Richards at the Wills Memorial Building, University of Bristol,
Saturday 2nd April 2016.
As part of our celebration of 10 years since Clifton Antiquarian Club was reformed in 2006, on Saturday 2nd April we were very pleased to be able to welcome Julian Richards, renowned archaeologist, author and TV presenter (above with George Swann), to the Wills Memorial Building to give our summer lecture which was entitled ‘Stonehenge: the story so far’.
Members and guests were treated to a wide ranging, informative and highly entertaining lecture that covered not only the construction and present state of Stonehenge but also key moments in its history, all illustrated with a plethora of maps, plans and photos. Julian covered much peripheral information such as the various experiments performed over the years to demonstrate how the huge sarsen stones might have been moved across the landscape from their origins in the Avebury area and then erected, as well as the many theories on how the bluestones from the Preseli Mountains in Pembrokeshire may have ended up on Salisbury Plain. The lecture also explored the surrounding landscape, highlighting other monuments and burials that link in to the wider story of Stonehenge. As an independant archaeologist, Julian was able to summarise the theories of the main competing projects currently working on Stonehenge and its environs which are trying to explain its purpose. He also touched on some exciting work being carried out this year at Durrington Walls, the results of which could fundamentally change our view of Stonehenge and its surroundings.
As we have come to expect from his TV work, Julian’s enthusiasm for and knowledge of his subject was very apparent. I know many of us came away from the lecture with a much clearer picture of the monument, its construction and history than we previously had.
Many thanks must go to Julian Richards for coming along and giving the lecture; Donovan Hawley for organising the event and, not least, member Steve Tofts for his impromptu presentation on Mendip lead mining that kept us all entertained while Julian battled with the Bristol traffic!
Report on the Lansdown Lecture by Jasmine Woods
24 March 2016
Jasmine Woods is a writer, editor and post-graduate student at the University of Bristol and is currently studying for her Masters Degree in Anthropology. Her work on diseases and disabilities in the archaeological record is just one of her varied areas of anthropological research. On March 24th she came along to the Lansdown pub in Clifton to give a lecture to members of the Clifton Antiquarian Club in which she addressed this neglected avenue of study.
Jasmine discussed the ways in which individuals with physical deformities have been treated throughout history, from prehistoric to modern times. Archaeological evidence from across the world suggests, perhaps contrary to common belief, that those with physical deformities appear to have been treated without much differentiation from the rest of society in the prehistoric period; indeed they may well have benefitted from increased care and attention in order for them to have survived as long as they did. This changed with the adoption of religion and the consequential shifting of social values. A polarisation occurred; those with physical disabilities were either viewed as an embodiment of evil or as a source of religious power. Whichever, they were singled out as different or special.
So how does the drive towards physical perfection in the modern era affect our analysis of disability in the archaeological record?
Once again in this series of lectures we were treated to a fascinating and thought provoking talk. Many thanks must go to Jasmine for coming along and to Donovan Hawley for organising the evening.
Report on the Christmas Trip to Caerwent and Newport 2015
‘Caerwent has been waiting just over a hundred years for your return’
With these words John Barnard, our guide around Caerwent, welcomed members of the club who had braved the unseasonably mild weather to reach this surprisingly well preserved Roman town. John was, of course, referring to the excavations carried out by the club between 1889 and 1913 when the Caerwent Exploration Fund, established by the club, revealed much of what is to be seen on the ground today together with a not insubstantial quantity of artefacts, many of which we were to see later in the day.
Setting off in a clockwise direction around the town we arrived at Pound Lane and here examined the foundations of smallholdings and workshops that had been constructed along the roadside. Further along later extensions to earlier buildings became apparent and, in the north eastern corner of the town, a large villa was in evidence.
Next on the itinerary was the basilica and forum in the centre of town. Once again the large area of open foundations and their thickness spoke volumes about the size and impressiveness of the buildings they had once underpinned. A chest high surviving wall at the back of the basilica still had, at the time of the excavation, some wall plaster preserved on it some of which we were to see later in the Newport museum.
The 4th century temple was next; it has a classic foundation plan that is usually interpreted as an inner rectangular sanctuary, in this case with an apsidal end, surrounded by an enclosing outer ambulatory. Continuing our exploration of the spiritual, we moved across the road to the present-day church within which are preserved some key Roman artefacts; the Civitas Silurum stone, the inscription on which refers to the council of the Silures, the Iron Age tribe that occupied the nearby hillfort; a Roman altar dedicated to Mars and the local god Ocelus together with part of a mosaic floor and stone carvings.
A short walk to the site of the East Gate marked the start of a perambulation of the walls of the town. Again dating from the 4th century, these walls, in places up to 5 metres high, are extremely impressive due to their size, excellent state of preservation and the fact that so little later rebuilding has taken place. The obligatory group photograph was taken next to a distinctive area of walling shown in one of the photos John showed us of Alfred Hudd and Lord Tredegar at the time of the club’s excavations.
Although not Roman, our next site was nevertheless of great interest to all present; the Groes Wen Inn just west along the A48 at Penhow. The pub was warm and welcoming with good food and beer. Taken together with the company present this ensured that lunch was enjoyed by all, giving us the sustenance needed to tackle the drive into Newport city centre.
The party reassembled in the archaeology section of Newport museum. Our guide for the afternoon tour around the exhibits was Oliver Blackmore and he gave us a fascinating run through of all the Caerwent material on display – no mean feat as, unlike more modern museums, Newport has lots to see. From tessellated floors, wall plaster, coins, gaming pieces and household objects the wide range of items was impressive. Oliver kept the best until last – two stone sculptures with no Roman influences which may possibly be pre-Roman deities and the base of a pewter vessel with an incised chi-rho symbol, believed to be the earliest sign of Christianity in Wales yet found. Newport museum is justly proud that it, not the National Museum of Wales, holds the collection of finds from the Caerwent excavations.
A bonus for the club was the kind gift from John of monochrome prints of some photos of the original excavations and a presentation of more material from that time.
Many thanks must go to Ellie McQueen for organising the trip and to John Barnard and Oliver Blackmore for making the day so special.
Fossil Pigments and the Colour of Dinosaurs Dr Jakob Vinther, University of Bristol
12 November 2015
Report by Peter Fenn
Our November Lansdown Lecture by Dr Jakob Vinther continued the welcome trend of an increasing numbers of attendees. We all gathered to hear his fascinating lecture about fossil pigments and the colour of dinosaurs, a research subject in which Jakob is pre-eminent.
It had long been realised that organic residues had been preserved in some of the early fossil dinosaurs discovered. It was thought that these were the remains of bacteria that had colonised the carcass after death but Jakob explained the fortuitous circumstances that led to the discovery that these structures were actually fossilised pigments – melanin that contained melanosomes. The shape of the melanosomes was the key; some were sausage shaped, some spheroidal, each shape corresponding to a colour. Jakob’s work has pushed forward the matching of melanosome shape to a specific colour. Fortuitously, melanosomes in modern feathers exhibit the same shapes as their fossilised remains, enabling this correlation to be expanded.
Jakob demonstrated that it was now possible to show that dinosaurs employed colour in their feathers – in particular grey, brown, white and black. In addition, colourful iridescence can also be inferred as the microscopic structures that make a surface look iridescent can also be fossilised.
He than went on to outline how animals use body colour to blend in to their surroundings, using light and dark shading to confuse predators. Mimicking the angle of sunlight on the body, light and dark body shading helps achieve this aim. The ability to predict different areas of colour on long-extinct species than allow us to suggest what sort of environment they evolved to be in, be it shaded woodland or sunlit, open savanna.
Many thanks must go to Jakob for coming along and giving so freely of his time, to Donovan Hawley for arranging the lecture and to the members who braved the wilds of Clifton to attend.
Clifton Antiquarian Club
Trip to Rioja
Report: John Swann
Read John’s excellent write up for our recent visit to Spain here! La Rioja write up
Clifton Antiquarian Club Summer Lecture 2015
Professor Alex Bentley
June 11th 2015
Report: Peter Fenn
Clifton Antiquarian Club members plus several guests were treated to a stimulating and wide ranging lecture on Saturday July 11 in the University of Bristol’s Wills Memorial Building. In what was to be his last lecture at the University before leaving for a post in Houson, Texas, Alex’s lecture was entitled Neolithic Kinship, Land Use and Community Differentiation.
Drawing on his own work together with that of colleagues and other workers in the same field, he outlined recent isotopic evidence for community differentiation in the early Neolithic of Europe. In particular, pottery styles and associated preserved organic residues, economies and evolutionary genetics were used to show that, even at that time, communities were demonstrating clear diversities in a culture that hitherto has been described as one homogenous package. Examples included one Linearbandkeramic (LBK) site where differing pottery styles found at the site were assigned to discrete areas within the settlement; another example where, using isotopic methods of research produced evidence which suggested females moved between geographical sites unlike males who were more static, suggesting a patrilineal nature of the community in question.
Interspersed with the hard science was revealing evidence from the study of the archaeology of linguistics and tradition, including folk tales, that added to this picture. The revelation that the Little Red Riding Hood fairytale had its earliest roots over two thousand years ago was indicative of the insights gained from this avenue of research!
This lecture dovetailed neatly with earlier lectures given to the Club from PhD students at the University on isotopic research into early population lifeways and mobility and was very well received. Many thanks must go to Professor Bentley for the lecture and Donovan Hawley for its organisation.
Reconstructing Ancient Lifeways in the Prehistoric Andes
Dr Emily Webb
May 15th 2015
Report: Donovan Hawley
That we are able to reconstruct diet, mobility and stress levels during the last months of an individual’s life from a sample of their hair seems unlikely, but at this fascinating lecture at the Lansdown in Clifton we were given a detailed view of how this is done.
Dr. Emily Webb from the University of Bristol is a biological anthropologist specialising in bioarchaeology and archaeological science. Her research focuses on exploring palaeodiet, migration and human-environment interaction in prehistoric societies in many regions around the world, including the Andes, northern Europe and Mesoamerica.
In this lecture we were given several examples of Dr Emily Webb’s research, which is in the forefront of developments in the this field of archaeology. We had the feeling of being closer to the lives of these individuals in prehistory than ever seemed possible.
Gerald of Wales Velocipede Section Excursion
A Journey in Wales in the Footsteps of Geraldis Cambrensis – Gerald of Wales
May 9th – 10th 2015
Report: John Swann
Five intrepid explorers from the club’s velocipede section follow in the footsteps of Gerald of Wales. Read all about our (and Gerald’s) adventures here! Gerald write up
Bristol Docks Walk
February 25th 2015
Report: Donovan Hawley
For those who know Bristol well, the docks are a place for a pleasant walk, sight seeing and somewhere to grab a bite to eat. To the idle observer its recent and not so recent history is not immediately apparent, unless one knows where to look! For these reasons it was educational as well as pleasant to spend the day wandering around this fascinating area, tracing the industrial and maritime past that in places still endures in the fabric of what has become the largely gentrified part of Bristol that we see today.
Club chairman, Peter Fenn was our guide as we started at the Mshed where the last cargo was landed in 1974, four of the original eight lofty electric powered cranes still stand and remain in working order. We then passed the Fairburn 35 ton steam crane dating from 1875, again still in working order. Visible along much of the route were remnants of the railway track that used to serve the docks, this was originally closed in 1965 but has since been revived for the tourist trade. Following the waterfront we visited the Great Western Dockyard where the SS Great Britain was built and from there on to Baltic Wharf, so called because this was where timber from that region was handled.
The Underfall Yard marks the original course of the Avon. Here is a still functioning boatyard where there is the evocative smell of freshly cut timber and varnish. Many years ago the Campbell steamers were based at this dock.
Lunch was taken at the Nova Scotia, another name recalling Bristol’s maritime trade and once itself a boatyard, but now serving most excellent bacon and egg sandwiches!
Cumberland basin marks the entrance to the floating harbour and partly hidden under the current flyover is Brunel’s ‘other’ bridge which is undergoing restoration. Enjoying the sunshine we returned towards Bristol on the north side of the harbour passing well groomed houses and gardens now occupying areas that were once docks. The past history of this part of the harbour is all but destroyed although information boards and the odd glimpse of railway remind us of how very different this part of Bristol once was.
Thanks once again to Pete for a most informative and enjoyable day out.
Stonehenge: an exploration of a monumental landscape
February 25th 2015
Report: Peter Fenn
One of our best attended Lansdown Lectures so far took place on Wednesday 25th February. Sue Greaney of English Heritage and Cardiff University came along to talk on Stonehenge: an exploration of a ceremonial monument complex.
Stonehenge is one of the most famous prehistoric monuments in the world, attracting over one million visitors a year and featuring in countless television programmes, artworks, books and adverts. But, as Sue explained, Stonehenge doesn’t sit in isolation. She described how the henge monument is just the centrepiece of a ceremonial monument complex consisting of sites, some of which existed thousands of years before the stones of Stonehenge that we see today were erected, as well as many burial mounds constructed after it was completed. Stunning aerial photographs illustrated the extent of these sites such as The Cursus, The Avenue leading up to Stonehenge, Durrington Walls and Woodhenge to name but a few.
Sue highlighted some of the latest research and excavations in the area to explain the development of the complex. She also outlined current thinking on the interconnectivity of many of the sites and their relationship with natural features in the landscape. She then went on to highlight other Neolithic complexes in the UK looking at similarities between them and the Stonehenge area.
Finally Sue reviewed some of the issues she is taking forward in her PhD. These include what the complexes of monuments can tell us about why they were built, what made them special places that were the focus of repeated visits and if they throw light on how Neolithic societies were organised.
It was a really interesting and wide ranging lecture! Many thanks to Sue for coming along to talk to us and to Donovan Hawley for organising the event.
Christmas Trip to Devizes
13 December 2014
The Clifton Antiquarian Christmas trip to Devizes on 13th December I thought was notable for four things: the trip around the Wiltshire Heritage Museum with curator David Dawson, very fine faggots and mash at the Castle Hotel, a narrow boat trip on the historic Kennet and Avon Canal and lastly, some very good company.
The museum has exhibits that span the ages, but the new display of the Bronze Age culture of this area of Wiltshire at the museum was quite amazing. Antiquarians of the 19th century, notably William Cunnington, had plundered many round barrows, doing untold damage. Cunnington did, however, discover some wonderful finds, many now on display at the museum. David gave us a privileged insight into this, the best collection of Bronze Age artefacts in Britain.
One such treasure is the golden breastplate from Bush Barrow. This lozenge shaped gold plaque was found in the grave of a Bronze Age chieftain. Its craftsmanship is spectacular but the technology it reveals is what I find fascinating. The plaque is decorated with a complex pattern of lines and zigzags, the design of which is determined by concentric circles and engraved to an accuracy of a fraction of a millimetre. The design is also based upon a hexagon, its sides drawn from a point on the hexagon to halfway along the next side (see illustration). Amazingly, the narrow angle of the lozenge, 81 degrees, is the angle between winter and summer solstice sunset at the latitude of Stonehenge. Is this a hint at the knowledge and science of some four thousand years ago?
Among other grave goods from Bush Barrow on display are the remains of a dagger, its blade of copper. It is the scant remains of the wooden handle that is so remarkable. It was studded with thousands of gold pins. Each pin was about one millimetre long, crafted from square section gold wire, doubled back on itself then twisted and shaped to a sharpened point and flattened head. Each stud was little bigger than the eye of a needle. They were set into the dagger handle in a herringbone pattern. It is thought that such detailed work required a child’s eyesight and the demands of this work over the several years it took to make would lead to severe damage to vision.
When Cunnington’s workmen dug it up, they missed these tiny studs and they had to use a magnifying glass to retrieve them from the spoil heap. Remarkably, the wooden handle was largely intact, enough to show the design, but got destroyed as it was being taken back to Stourhead for Cunnington’s friend Colte-Hore to see. I shudder to think of the less tangible treasures he failed to recognise in his ignorance.
After a very enjoyable lunch, it was time to leap forward to sample technology that was a mere 204 years old. The Kennet and Avon canal was constructed to take goods between Bristol and London. The town of Devizes would have been bypassed but for a spectacular feat of engineering at Caen Hill: a flight of 29 locks with a rise of 237 feet in 2 miles. Once completed the canal was busy and profitable, the horse drawn barges working through the day and night.
We boarded our narrow boat captained by Father Christmas himself under the watchful eye of a character dressed in red and green with rather large ears. His role, of course, was Elf and Safety. As we gently chugged along the canal we learned of the canal’s history to the accompaniment of mulled wine and mince pies. They didn’t have those in the Bronze Age.
Trip to the Netherlands
24 – 28 October 2014
Saturday 25 October
The Netherlands may not be the first country you’d think of when contemplating great archaeological sites. Surely, you might imagine, it’s all reclaimed land, far too recent to have much to see. This is why it may have come as a surprise that the Club should organise a trip there and, for those who came along, more surprises at what was to be found.
We arrived early on the Saturday at Hoek van Holland ferry port and headed north-east along the A4 motorway past Amsterdam. Keeping to the west of the Zuider Zee our northern trajectory took us off land and onto the Afsluitdijk, a stunning 20 mile long dyke across the mouth of the Zuider Zee constructed between 1927 and 1933. This brought us into the northern province of Freisland (Fryslân), best known for its cows! Our first stop of the day was at Workum, until the 18th century a busy seaport. After a welcome coffee and cakes at a very friendly tearoom (a trait that we would find everywhere in the country), we visited the museum dedicated to local artist Jopie Huisman before looking at the exterior of St Gertrudiskerk, Freisland’s largest medieval church with its separate bell tower.
We moved on to Franeker, founded around AD 800 as a Carolinginan stronghold. After an al fresco lunch we visited the Eise Eisinga Planetarium (left), built by him between 1774 and 1782. It is the world’s oldest working planetarium and was constructed in his canal-side house, using the ceiling of his main living room as the ‘face’ of the orrery. We then went to see the Saxon church and were lucky – although closed to the public a friendly local man working in the church, showed us around.
Our next stop was Firdgum with its 13th century church tower on its terp, an artificial mound. The tower is all that remains of the original church which was demolished in 1794 as it had subsided, probably due to locals removing the fertile terp soil for their farmland! Close by was another ancient church on its terp, at Hogebeintum. The earliest part of the church dates to 1130 and we were lucky to gain entry just before it closed for the day.
At this point we headed for the city of Groningen, our base for the remainder of the trip.
Sunday 26 October
Early Sunday we set off on a circular route clockwise from Groningen. We headed first to Fort Bourtange (right), a star shaped fort dating to 1593 with a small village at its centre, very close to the German border. Now very much a tourist attraction this site was for many years a key military installation that had been constructed by William of Orange I to blockade the Spanish who were occupying Groningen at this time.
Next stop, after a brief excursion into Germany to use the autobahn south, was our lunch spot at Aalden, in a classic timber Saxon longhouse, now a pancake restaurant. Whilst in Aalden we also called into Jantina Helling’s windmill, a classic of its type.
The Westerbork Transit Camp was the most moving of the sites we visited. Originally erected by the Dutch to house displaced Jews in 1939, it was taken over by the Nazis after the occupation and served as a deportation camp to the more familiar concentration camps. Although little remains on the ground the museum and its reconstructions still have the power to shock.
Next were the first of many hunebedden (giant’s beds) we were to visit. These are Neolithic passage graves constructed from large glacial erratics deposited as part of a ridge of sandy moraine left by the Saalian glaciation of 170-150 ka. This ridge of moraine, known as the Hondsrug, runs NW-SE, south of Groningen and is the location of some 53 remaining hunebedden. Zeijen (D5) and Steenbergen (D1) were two such monuments we visited that afternoon before stopping at Norg for an excellent dinner in the convivial surroundings of Karsten’s Hotel.
Monday 27 October
First stop of the day was the Saxon church at Anloo, sadly locked but we were able circumnavigate its exterior. We then explored a group of hunebedden in the locality, starting with Anloo (D8) and Schipborg (D7), moving on to Eext (D13), Eexterhalte (D14), a co-located pair at Drouwen (D19 & D20) and another at Drouwenerveld (D26). Lunch was taken at the Hunebed Centre at Borger where we were treated to a guided tour of the museum by Wolter ter Steege and a talk by its Director Hein Klompmaker. In the museum’s grounds is the largest of the hunebedden, Borger (D27), some 22.6 metres long. More were to come! Next on the tour was Schimmeres (D43), an unusual monument made up of two hunebedden enclosed by a ring of peristaliths, then it was the turn of Emmerdennen (D45).
As a change from the megalithic monuments we called in on the small church of Zweeloo (above left) which dates from the 13th century and which was made famous by Vincent van Gogh who sketched it in 1883.
Another hunebed, this time at Schoonoord (D49), was next on our itinerary. This site is unusual in that it has been reconstructed in two halves to show how it may have looked with a covering mound and also without. With the light starting to go we headed for Balloo (D16), notable for its recently discovered cupmarks. Last site of the day, enhanced by a beautiful sunset, was Loon (D15).
An evening in Groningen was not to be missed and we were not disappointed by the location and dinner at Javaans Eetcafe, an Indonesian restaurant!
Tuesday 28 October
Our last day meant we had to head south for an afternoon ferry but we had time to see a few more hunebedden en route! Our luck with the weather held and Diever (D52) looked stunning in the morning sun (right). Another pair of monuments still in their heathland setting at Havelte (D53 & D54) followed before we got on on the motorway for the Hook of Holland and our ferry home.
All in all it was a great trip, lots of interesting and varied sites, good company and excellent food! Many thanks must go to Laurie Waite for conceiving the trip, its research, organisation and the driving!
Landscape of the urban destitute:
reflections on slumland Dublin
By Dr Thomas Kador
September 24th 2014
By Donovan Hawley
For our series of Lansdown lectures this subject was new territory for us, being set in relatively recent times historically speaking. The subject concerned an area of Georgian Dublin known as the ‘Monto’, named after Montgomery Street which ran through the district. After setting the scene with the 1913 ‘Lockout’, Thomas took us through the social and economic decline of the Monto during the 19th century following the Act of Union in 1800. As the wealthy owners moved away the Georgian houses were let, poorly maintained and left to fall to ruin as the Monto became one of the worse tenement slums in Europe and a notorious red light district.
Aided by a stunning selection of images taken from lantern slides which showed the abject poverty of people living in the Monto, we were treated to a salutary lesson in the archaeology of the poor. Excavations in the area had produced items from the wealthier era of the Monto, but virtually nothing from the later period of poverty, the families living there had little to leave in the archaeological record.
We would like the thank Thomas for an excellent and thought provoking lecture.
Cycling Through (Pre) History
The Velocipede Outing
August 17th 2014
By John Swann
The velocipede section venture out onto the Marlborough Downs, read all about it here: Cycling through History
The Lansdown Lecture with Dr Penny Bickle
The First Farmers in Central Europe
May 7th 2014
By Peter Fenn
The evening of Wednesday 7 May saw a good gathering of members and some non-members at the Lansdown pub in Clifton, Bristol, for the latest in our series of informal lectures. Dr Penny Bickle, Research Associate in the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Bristol, very kindly came along to share with us some of the latest insights from three current projects that she’s involved with, all of which centre on the Linearbandkeramik (LBK) period of the Neolithic. This spanned from c.5500-4900 BC and stretched from the Ukraine to the Paris Basin.
Her first area of discussion was the use of stable and strontium isotopes to reveal detailed information on diet and human mobility. Samples taken from many collections of human bone and teeth taken from across Europe were used and have provided some fascinating insights to life and death in the LBK. For example, the remains at one cemetery suggested that those born and raised locally were much more likely to have been buried with grave goods than those whose samples suggested they had been raised in a different geological area.
Penny also touched on other areas of continuing research. The use of Bayesian probability modelling of radiocarbon dates has opened up the real possibility of refining dates down to tens of years; her example of the dating of the period of use of a long barrow to just 60 years highlighted this well. Another area she is closely involved with is the analysis of lipids left in deposits on cooking pottery which is providing new insights on early dairying and milk consumption. Both these areas of research are still current so we hope Penny will be able to update us on developments in the future.
Many thanks to Penny for coming along to talk to us and to Donovan Hawley for organising the event.
The Spring Lecture with Dr Jacqueline Cahill Wison
What did the Romans Ever Do For Us?
April 12th 2014
By Peter Perrot
Dr. Cahill Wilson stated that there is no evidence apparently, of any military presence in Ireland or indeed, any form of annexation. It seems rather, that a Romanised trade in materials and artifacts made itself felt over a long period of time. This can be briefly summarised as follows:-
Roman finds have been found in the Irish Iron Age and classified as 1] Random 2] Booty and 3] Intrusive. However, it is difficult to explain in detail both 1 and 2. Finds have been found in the passage tombs of Newgrange and Knowth [ County Meath] Interestingly Ogham inscriptions follow the grammar of classical latin. Isotope strontium and oxygen analysis on late Iron Age burials, shows movement of both peoples and animals into Ireland from the Roman World. A Roman hairpin, for example, classified as 1st to 4th C AD was originally analysed incorrectly as of Celtic origin. Cavalry artifacts and other pieces show that there was a reciprocal trade with Rome and the question has to be asked, why was Roman material found at historical centres? However, unlike Britannia, none of this evidence suggests invasion.
This was yet another informative talk organised by the club.
Dartmoor Longbarrow Walk
March 21st & 22nd 2014
By Donovan Hawley
Dartmoor has a fascinating and eclectic collection of monuments, settlements and sites dating from the prehistoric era right through to modern times. Despite this, it is also one of the wildest and remote landscapes in England. These attributes made it the ideal location for our archaeologically themed 10 mile walk with something of interest for everybody, especially the group of long barrows which are not typically associated with this area.
We met the evening before in the quirky but welcoming Moreland Hotel in Wotter which is situated on the southern flanks of Dartmoor. This is an area containing huge china clay workings, thankfully barely visible from the hotel, although we did speculate as to how much archaeology has been destroyed by these works over the years.
The following day after a hearty filling breakfast we set off in bright sunshine under the guidance of our club Chairman Peter Fenn, who has extensive knowledge of the history and geography of the area. Our first site was the short lived Red Lake mineral railway constructed in 1910-11 that was used in the transport of men and equipment for china clay workings on the open moor to the north. Due to raw material problems the works had ceased by 1932. The interesting factor with this site is that the railway engineer, R. Hansford Worth, in an early example of archaeological preservation deliberately routed the railway to avoid prehistoric sites. One of these is the impressive setting known as the Cantrell double stone row and cairn, we wondered at the purpose of the row and its alignment running diagonally downhill from the cairn toward the south-west.
Our next site was the Cuckoo Ball long barrow, but only after looking on amazed as hundreds of sheep streamed down off the moors after being called to greener pastures by their shepherd. There is little remaining of the monument itself although the mound is still visible and two uprights are still in place with other large slabs lying around. The long barrow alignment conforms to the topography of the landscape and also respects the nearby Lud Brook.
We then proceeded to Butterdon Hill long barrow, located 400m to the north of Cuckoo Ball long barrow. This monument is better preserved with its long axis similarly aligned to the Cuckoo Ball monument and again seeming to respect the Lud Brook. An alignment of slabs within the mound is suggestive of a gallery grave, although we considered the mound to be more like that of a long barrow. A small round barrow lies some five metres from the tail of the long barrow.
After a pleasant walk we arrived at Spurrell’s Cross which marks the intersection of several ancient Dartmoor tracks, one, a route way from Buckfast to Plympton connecting religious houses, and the second, a path from moor gate at Owley to Harford on the Erme. The stone cross has been largely restored with only one piece of the original stone in place. Near to the cross is a stone row which required some searching amongst the heather, the diminutive stones being barely visible in the undergrowth!
Just before we stopped for lunch we visited what is perhaps the most enigmatic site of the day, the East Glaze Stone Rows and Cairns also known as the Corringdon Ball Group. This consists of seven stone rows that became more evident as we progressed northwest towards the terminal cairns and stone circles.
We started our lunch sat in the sunshine in an idyllic spot by the East Glaze Brook, and had only just managed to finish before being hit by an amazing hail storm which accompanied us up to our next site, Corringdon Ball Long Barrow. This monument is an impressive 48m long and has five remaining stones that once would have formed part of a chamber. The landscape setting is more prominent here with the monument located on a crest and visible from far, the orientation however, similar to the other long barrows respects the topography of the ridge
With the weather now clearing but still blowing a sharp breeze we climbed onto Corringdon Ball Hill to admire the massive amount of work that would have been needed to construct the stone walled enclosures on the flanks of the hill. We discussed at length how effective these walls would have been, and were they for keeping animals in, or out?
Following the Glaze Stream we came upon the remains of a tinner’s blowing house. This has a surviving wheel pit suggesting a wheel diameter of 2.4m (8 feet). It was interesting to see several discarded used morter stones each having two cup shaped depressions from where the wheel operated hammers had processed the rocks into suitable fragments ready for smelting.
After final well earned rest in an excavated hut circle we climbed up over Ugborough Beacon and onto the Beacon Rocks which gave us fantastic views over this beautiful part of Dartmoor and out to the south coast. The rain then closed in and we made our way back to the cars and warmth!
A wonderful day out and very special thanks to the organisation and knowledge of our chairman, Peter Fenn.
‘An Irish El Dorado? The source of Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age gold’
Lansdown Lecture with Dr. Chris Standish
February 19th 2014
By Peter Fenn
Another in our occasional series of lectures held in the Lansdown pub in Clifton was this time given by Dr. Chris Standish, a research assistant in the School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol.
As the title of Chris’s lecture suggests, the source of the metal used to make the abundant gold artefacts from the Chalcolithic and early Bronze Age found in Ireland is not as obvious at it may seem. Having described just a fraction of the these artefacts found in Ireland, Chris outlined several locations, in particular the Mountains of Mourne in County Down, that have hitherto been suggested as being the primary source of the gold used in these finds. He then went on to describe how, using lead isotope analysis of samples from many of these finds, he has concluded that Ireland was after all not the source of their gold. Indeed, having looked at sources further afield, he identified a site in the south west of England, either in Devon or Cornwall, as being the most likely source of the gold used in the Irish artefacts. Then taking a wider view, he also examined more samples from early Bronze Age and Chalcolithic gold artefacts from Britain and northern Europe, concluding that the gold used to make the great majority of them had also come from the same English source. Although the exact location is not known, Chris suggested that, as gold is often co-located with tin or other metallic ores, the site of the source of the gold may well have been mined away in later periods in the search for tin.
As Chris said afterwards, he has been described as controversial! All in all it was a fascinating lecture about cutting edge research producing results that forces a re-examination of our long held beliefs. Many thanks to Chris for giving up his time to come along and to Donovan Hawley for organising the whole event.
Clifton Antiquarian Club Christmas Trip to Old Sarum, the site of the earliest settlement in Salisbury
December 14th 2013
By Janet Enoch
On a chilly and windy day the Blue Iris bus carrying the Bristol contingent arrived at the Old Sarum car park just before 11 am. Sheila and I joined them and we all walked over the bridge built in an opening between two Iron Age banks into the ruins of the Norman castle. We were met by Andy Phillips from English Heritage who gathered us together at a strategic point and explained how this mighty Iron Age hillfort had been through many phases of modification over the millennia.
The site sits high on a natural promontory between two rivers, the Avon and the Bourne. Further south, the valley widens into an extensive flood plain and, together with the surrounding environment, it would have been an ideal location for hunting and gathering. The hill could therefore have been a meeting place. Stone tools found at Old Sarum and Neolithic finds in the immediate vicinity suggest that farming communities possibly occupied and developed the hilltop during the period. Excavations carried out between 1909 and 1915 and in 1957 suggest that the outer ramparts were constructed during the Mid Iron Age around 400 BC, exploiting the natural shape of the hillside and enclosing an area of 29 acres, a large fort by Iron Age standards. It was built with a double bank with intermediate ditch and a horned entrance on the eastern side.
Soon after the Roman conquest it developed as a major focal point in the road network and is referred to as Sorviodunum, possibly coming from the celtic name for ‘the fortress by the gentle river’. From where we were standing in the ruins, we were able to see the straight road in an easterly direction to Winchester through the main entrance. Other roads connected to Silchester, to the SE in the Southampton water area, to Badbury/ Dorchester/Exeter and west towards Charterhouse and the Severn Estuary.
The Anglo Saxon Chronicle of 552 states that the Saxon King Cynric of Wessex captured ‘Searobyrig’ (Old Sarum) when it was again refurbished and used as a refuge. However, after the destruction of Wilton, as recorded in 1003, the mint moved to the site and by 1066 the Domesday book refers to it as ‘Sarisberie’.
After the Norman Conquest the site was recognised for its strategic importance. It developed into a Royal castle with a Motte in the centre of the hillfort and soon developed into a complex of towers, halls and apartments. Without an explanation from our guide the remaining ruins would have been very difficult to interpret. By this time, we were all feeling the effects of the chilly wind so we took shelter in the chapel ruins and made our way up to the top of the complex where we were able to look down on the outline of the original cathedral built in 1075 in the north western part of the bailey (left). It was explained that eventually strained relations between the cathedral and the garrison, poor water sources and deteriorating fabric led to a decision to move the cathedral location into the valley below. Legend has it that the Bishop of Old Sarum shot an arrow in the direction he would build the cathedral; the arrow hit a deer and the deer finally died in the place where the cathedral is now. Much of the stone was recycled and can be seen in Salisbury Cathedral today.
Steve Toft’s write up on New Sarum
It was pretty obvious why Old Sarum was decommissioned and moved to the river terrace below. It was, as we witnessed, indescribably cold and windswept up on that hill. (That and a limited water supply, no further space to build, cantankerous soldiers and so on).
So an arrow was shot in the air and fortuitously hit a hind that ran away to the perfect spot; the site of the new Salisbury Cathedral and city. (Except that a lot of the ground was marshy). Luckily the hind took the arrow to a solid bed of gravel, thick enough to support the tallest spire in Britain. In 28 April 1220 the foundation stone was laid and the building completed in 38 years in the Early English Gothic style. The magnificent spire was added in 1320 on top of the already imposing tower, set over the transept of the cathedral. To the population of the time, it must have been awe inspiring; a spire reaching 404 feet to the heavens.A highlight for me (along with a very tasty pint of ale with sausage and mash for lunch in a medieval pub) was the trip into the roof of the cathedral, up into the tower that supported the spire.
The trip was special from the start. We had to climb above the cathedral floor level and cross a gallery set above the west end, looking down onto a full blown symphony orchestra and chorus giving full volume to Berlioz’s Grand Messe Des Morts. I counted 5 sets of kettle drums. A huge sound accompanied us as we climbed higher and higher to walk over the roof of the nave. The oak timbers were massive, some trees encouraged to grow bent, to be split and used as matching trusses on the south and north sides of the roof. Masons’ marks could be seen on the fine limestone (quarried nearby at Treffont Evias) and sometimes carpenters’ marks. A ship’s mast was incorporated at one point, its length allowed it to be used as a diagonal brace to support the trusses during construction, but still there now.
The lantern tower (over which the spire was built) was strengthened by filling in its windows. A medieval wrought iron frame further supported the extra 6397 tons of the spire by stopping the tower being squashed out sideways. (Sir Christopher Wren though it was unequalled in its work, but added more iron work in 1668). Even so, the stonework below the spire can be seen to have bent, yes, BENT. Here amongst the roof timbers , the oldest working clock in the world can be seen, built in 1386. It has no face, but chimes the hours and quarters via pulleys on bells installed above our heads.At this higher level, via a creaking wooded spiral staircase, a fascinating relic of construction was still in place: a tread wheel hoist. It was like a giant hamster wheel, powered by men walking around the inside and capable of lifting several tons.
Higher still after more stone steps set within the walls; we reached the base of the spire; 332 steps above floor level. We could look up into the timber frame supporting the stone cladding of the spire (right), little changed from 1320 (or so it appeared). In fact massive restoration was needed to replace rotting stonework that threatened to collapse the spire. But the best was to come. Through tiny doorways we squeezed outside onto the parapet at the very top of the tower, immediately under the spire. The view of Salisbury was spectacular. Old Sarum was visible away to the north-east on the sky line.
This was as far as we could go (and as high as many of us wished to go). The wind was blowing and the building shook. Indeed wind speed indicators would initiate a complete evacuation of the cathedral if it were to blow too hard. A 404 foot spire falling on the congregation is not good for business.
Below us on the green, we could see the footprint of the old bell tower. It had been a strong point in the civil war and set alight to flush out the defenders. A simple solution was to pull it down in 1792 (thanks to the cathedral’s architect James Wyatt). The brilliant medieval stained glass cut out the light a bit, so that went too, along with the original rood screen. (We might criticise EH but I wish they had been about in 1792.)
Darkness was falling as we left the Cathedral precinct. The Christmas lights were shining and for a while the rain and wind stilled. Quite magical.
Thanks, Ellie, for organising the trip.
Report on the Second Walk Based on Barrett’s History of Bristol 1789
Saturday 7th December 2013
By Peter Fenn
In recent months much has been made in the media about the 50th anniversary of that famed time traveller, Dr Who. Following in his pan-temporal footsteps, a group of members met outside St Nicholas’ Market, Bristol, in order to travel back to the late 1780s and visit some of the Bristol churches that existed (and some that no longer exist) at that time.
As far as possible we followed only paths and roads that existing in 1780, using Barrett’s map of Bristol as our guide. We started at the very omphalos of the old city, where Corn Street, Broad Street, High Street and Wine Street all converge, the site of the High Cross. Looking back down Corn Street to its junction with Small Street we noted that the church of St Werburgh, shown in early photographs of the city on this corner, had been taken down in 1878 and rebuilt in the district of Bristol of the same name. All Saints, next to the market, was next described but internal access was not possible. Crossing the top of Broad Street we were able to go inside Christchurch (left) and see the fine interior. The church of St Ewen, which formerly stood opposite, was consolidated with Christchurch in 1787 and demolished. Christchurch was then rebuilt and re-opened in 1788.
Moving on down Broad Street we called in at Taylor’s Court and the run-down burial ground of St John the Baptist, before visiting the church itself (right), again unfortunately not open. Noting that a former church of St Lawrence located close by had been consolidated with St Johns in 1580, we followed the line of the Saxon city wall around to the bottom of Small street noting the former existence here of the church of St Giles, as described by Barrett.
Our next church was that of St Stephen, luckily for us just being opened as we arrived. Passing the site of St Leonard’s church at the bottom of Corn Street, we noted that Barrett describes it as being built over gateways in the city wall. Its site is shown on Barrett’s map although it had been demolished some ten years before the map in 1771. Continuing along the Saxon wall line we reached St Nicholas, again not internally accessible. Crossing the bottom of High Street we walked up ‘The Shambles or Worshipful Street, now Bridge Street ’ on Barrett’s map to the rather sad site of what now remains of St Mary le Port. From there a short walk took us to St Peter’s, a victim, like St Mary le Port, of Second World War bombing.
Heading north, we crossed Wine Street, ignoring Union Street that didn’t exist in Barrett’s time, and made our way down The Pithay, following the approximate route of Duck Lane, Needless Bridge and St James’ Back to the corner of St James’ Churchyard, now bisected by the dual carriageway. Now one of the oldest buildings in Bristol, the church was not open but the fine exterior was admired by all before we repaired to the nearby White Hart pub for lunch.
Well rested, we continued on along Lewins Mead passing the sites of the White and Black Friars to St Bartholomews Hospital (left), a Grammar School in Barrett’s time. We were in luck as we were able to gain access to the courtyards and have a look at the remains now incorporated into modern office accommodation. Retracing our steps we followed Jonny Balls Lane (sic) as Barrett shows it, clearly an old way up to the higher ground of Maudlin Lane. Our next church was that of St Michael’s now sadly boarded up. Circumnavigating the church we walked along Upper Church Lane and dropped down to join Park Row, a road not existing in Barrett’s time except as the top of Stoney Hill. Here we were forced to walk down Lodge Street, again not extant in Barrett’s time. Trenchard Street and Orchard Street took us to the bottom of Park Street, shown as a new road on Barrett’s map.
Our next church was St Mark’s; unusually for a Saturday it too was shut, so we made do with an external inspection as the lane on its south side was open.
Crossing College Green we stopped to consider the lost church of St Augustine’s the Less, bombed in the war and cleared away in the 1960s. Its site is now marked by the more recent extension of the Royal Hotel. Our final site of the day was The Cathedral. Barrett rather surprisingly described its magnificent Chapter House as ‘curious’! Those members that remained took afternoon tea in the Cathedral cafe, allowing us time to acclimatise ourselves once again to the 21st century.
Many thanks to everyone who came along on the day and for the various helpful inputs made by members throughout the walk.
The Autumn Lecture with Dr Clive Bond
The Sweet Track, Somerset: a Neolithic ‘Water Cult’?
Saturday 30th November 2013
By Donovan Hawley
For this autumn lecture 2013 we were delighted to welcome Dr Clive Bond from the University of Winchester.
In an excellent and entertaining lecture Dr Bond presented an alternative view of the Sweet Track’s meaning and function to the people that built and used it. Rather than being a purely functional track-way was it also part of a belief system? Reasoning that some of the artefacts found alongside the track may have been votive deposits rather than an accidental loss, Dr Bond built up a case for this structure representing the links between wet-lands and dry-lands and playing an essential part in the social landscape of the Early Neolithic peoples.
Lithic analysis was pivotal to understanding the links between the Sweet Track, the surrounding landscape and the communities who lived there. The evidence from the field-walking and test pitting, much of which was carried out during the Shapwick Project indicate an attendant settlement pattern with seasonal mobility, revealing something people who built these enigmatic structures.
A fascinating talk that give us a new insight into the Early Neolithic of the south-west. There was also the added bonus of some probable future field-work for the club!
Clifton Antiquarian Club Trip to the Archaeological Sites of Finistère, Brittany
By Celia Haddon and Peter Fenn
Gallery graves, dolmens, ancient chapels and gigantic menhirs were the focus of our autumn trip to Finistère, a département of Brittany rich in prehistoric sites. We were lucky; our ferry to Roscoff from Plymouth was the last for several days due to storms and arrived early in Roscoff on the Sunday before the worst of the weather set in. This resulted in us arriving at our first site, the Allée Couverte de Guinirvit (or alternatively Kernic), a gallery grave site which is drowned by the sea at high tide, when the water was low (left). Rising sea levels since Neolithic times have resulted in many monuments around the Brittany coast being caught in the intertidal zone as we were to see in the coming days.
Our next sites were the two standing menhirs of Mesdoun with a nearby dolmen, arrived at more by luck than judgement as we were really aiming for the huge, dressed Menhirs de Kergadiou several fields away! Having examined both sites at length we moved on to the tallest menhir in Brittany, the Menhir de Kerloas. This stunning monument dwarfs the surrounding landscape and is intriguingly dressed over part of its surface.
After a picnic lunch at the lakeside in Saint Renan, we moved on south past Brest, crossing the Élorn estuary on the impressive Pont de I’lroise. Our last site of the day was the Allée Couverte de Lesconil, also known as Ty-ar-C’horriket, an extraordinary gallery grave without capstones constructed by making the upright stones lean inwards like a ridge tent. Originally this was covered by an oval mount about 14 x 5m. Only eight examples of this type of grave are found in southern Brittany. Our arrival at the hotel in Quimper was somewhat damp but dinner and drinks soon lifted the spirits!
The following day’s sites started with two small dolmens à couloir at Kervadol. Each had a single chamber possibly originally within one mound. “A double dolmen works wonders” was one comment. Two other dolmens in the vicinity appeared to be part of the same Kervadol group. Not far from these was the impressive Nécropol de Quelarn, originally a huge cairn 55 metres long with six independent chambers, and a standing stone nearby. We found a cup mark on one of the orthostats. On the other side of the lane was another monument of the Quelarn group.
Next we headed south to the coast for a look at the Menhir de Marais de Lehan at Lechiaget, another excellent example of a monument whose surroundings have changed since the rise in sea levels. We then moved on to probably the most visually stunning site on the second day, the row of three huge standing stones at Kerfland, each around 3 metres high (right). Now set in a woodland clearing, they may have been part of a longer row as one more menhir lies prostrate some distance away. Eager to get one more site in before lunch we arrived at the ‘Tombe à couloir en T’ de Kerugou, north-west of Plomeur. The ‘T’ shaped plan is typical of many of the Tombe à couloir monuments in this area.
A short drive took us to the Pointe de la Torche on the coast for a very windy picnic lunch and visit to the the stunningly situated allée couverte on the exposed headland. Although much denuded by many visitors its structure is still clear.
We then headed north up the coast, past a small menhir at St Saturnin to the 16th century Chapelle St Vio, the smallest of the many Bigoudènes chapels that occur in this area. It was sadly locked but the cup-marked hemispherical Iron Age stele close by made up for this, at least in part. Heading north we briefly looked at another Iron Age stele in a garden at Penhors, this one columnar in shape and with a fine cupmark on its flank. The ruin of the Chapelle de Languidou was our next stop. Built in the 13th century and dedicated to St Quidou it was later rebuilt, sold during the French Revolution and partly demolished in 1794.
Moving on we came to what can only be described as the archaeological treasure-house of at least three separate monuments located in and around Pors Poulhan. The reconstructed Allée couverte of Menez Korriged was impressive and doubled up as a useful shelter from a passing rain shower. A few hundred metres along the cliff top we came to the Pointe du Souc’h Neolithic necropolis complex with its associated visitor’s centre (right). This is cliff top site was once covered by a cairn 40 metres long. It has been excavated and reconstructed in part to show the six phases of construction, tomb by tomb, between 4,500 to 2,500 BC (possibly a similar stage by stage construction was followed at Quelarn). A short walk seawards brought us to the Menez Dregan Palaeolithic cave shelter site that has undergone extensive excavation. There was not much to see here as the whole area had been fenced and covered over for security. We had a quick look at the remains of yet another chambered tomb over the road before heading back to Quimper. The final stop of the day was at Plozévet to see a large menhir in the churchyard (converted into a war memorial by adding a soldier carved in stone!) and several springs incorporated into the external wall of the church.
Our last day started with a morning exploring Quimper, its Cathedral, museum and half-timbered old quarter (left). Heading north back to Roscoff for our afternoon ferry home we stopped at one last site, the Dolmen de Kerivin just south of St Pol-de-Léon, another ‘T’ shaped passage and chambered tomb.
Once again luck was with us; our scheduled ferry home was the first since we’d arrived in Brittany due to the storms.
Celia Haddon & Peter Fenn
Saturday 6th July 2013
By Peter Fenn
One of the hottest days of the year so far set the scene for a walk on the Mendips. We met in the car park of the Swan Inn at Rowberrow and set off in the direction of Rowberrow Cavern, located at the head of a now forested area of Rowberrow Warren. The cavern was excavated between 1920 and 1926 by Herbert Taylor, the results of which were published by the University of Bristol Speleological Society (UBSS). Finds ranged from Palaeolithic flints to Roman, Medieval and post-Medieval remains.
Moving on, we headed uphill through the forest to emerge onto Black Down. Here we followed the ridge path up to the OS triangulation point on the summit of Beacon Batch, passing on the way the regular series of small mounds erected in World War II to deter enemy gliders from landing on the open ground. Black Down was also the site of a WWII decoy; lights and fires intended to replicate Temple Meads station were set up in order to tempt enemy bombers to drop their loads here rather than on the real thing. No remains now exist in this peaceful spot, with only the grazing ponies distract the walker from the extensive 360 degree views.
We headed off north-west from the summit dropping across the downland slopes to the valley where Read’s Cavern lies. Here we stopped for some sustenance and a look at the cavern site with its multiple entrances and impressive overhang. First excavated once again by the UBSS from 1919 to 1928, the site has had recent excavations in 2010 by Marcucci and Kern of the University of Bristol Department of Archaeology. Prehistoric and Iron Age finds were recorded. Suggestions that the site had been used for votive offerings have been suggested.
The next site of the day was Dolebury Warren hillfort. This large, impressive site covers some 20 acres looking over the Churchill Gap, a major routeway through the Mendip hills. Bronze Age finds suggest early occupation, but Iron Age, Roman and Saxons finds have also been made here. There is evidence of pre-medieval field systems within the hillfort and medieval pillow mounds (hence the ‘warren’).
By now members were hot, tired and hungry so the last site of the day was very welcome – the Swan Inn, a series of miners cottages that have been knocked together. Here a late lunch was enjoyed including some of the local beverages from the nearby Butcombe Brewery.
Many thanks to Ellie McQueen and Donovan Hawley for organising a splendid day out!
The Lansdown Lectures with Jamie Lewis
If Your Teeth Could Talk: Strontium Isotopes
and Mobility in Archaeological Peoples
Wednesday 29th May 2013
By Peter Perrott
A great lecture by Jamie Lewis who started by introducing primary evidence from burials: Burial position, culture, diseases, longevity. And then onto age and whether violence was evident; Diet: meat or plants. He also made an interesting comment that sedentism in humans was the exception rather than the rule, a contrast with our Western society. Hunter gathering may mean a species entering another environmental place, this is where strontium enters the analysis.
It is in all soils as a stable isotope, four altogether: Sr 84, 86, 87 and 88, the most abundant being Sr88. They are stable except for Sr87 which decays to Rubidium 87 with an exceptionally long half-life. Strontium is preserved in rocks and in our bones and teeth [ 10-20mg] Teeth are then analysed to gain a set of values taking into account the local geology. Progressive analysis of teeth shows a migratory trend of individuals. This technology was emphasised when the Weymouth relief road was constructed and many decapitated individuals were discovered. Strontium analysis showed they were Viking in origin and probably from the North of England.
The Anglo-Saxon Princess Edith, whose remains were found with an inscription on her coffin in Magdeburg. O2 isotopes and strontium analysis track rain water origin at 6/7ppm from S.Britain, so this trends towards Edith as being the correct person and originally from Britain.
Future research will improve upon micro samples in, for example Neanderthals, to show two days of tooth growth which may reveal the mobility of some individuals, however, Jamie did emphasise this technology was in it’s infancy. Teeth, are a better substrate than bones for strontium input due to the density of their structure rather than bones, which are more porous.
A very interesting lecture by Jamie, who described a difficult science with admirable clarity.
The Spring Lecture with Dr Keith Wilkinson
The Hrazdan Valley Palaeolithic project 2008-2012
Saturday 4th May 2013
By Donovan Hawley
For our spring lecture 2013 we were delighted to welcome Dr Keith Wilkinson from the University of Winchester. The subject of the talk was the Hrazdan Valley Project in the southern Caucasus, Armenia. During the Middle Palaeolithic era this area may have been an important hominin communication route from the Levant to Eurasia. The talk focused on the discovery of what is considered to be the world’s earliest Middle Palaeolithic site at Nur Geghi 1, as well as one of the latest at Lusarket 1.
The Middle Palaeolithic is new territory for us and it was fascinating to hear the very different approach to archaeology employed from what we are used to in later periods such as the Neolithic. Dr Wilkinson gave an outline of the geographical location to put the site in a regional context, then reviewed the geology of the region which explained how the site of Nur Ghegi 1 consisting of alluvial and colluvial sediments from what once would have been a floodplain, is sandwiched between basaltic lava flows thus reserving the in-situ archaeology, comprising large amounts of obsidian tools dating to between 400 and 200 kya. The excavation, instead of digging downwards was exposed as a chest high section under a layer of basalt, and was dug inwards, at least for as much as the 5 to 6 metres of rock overlying the archaeology would safely allow!
Sadly we ran out of time before we were able to hear more than a brief summary of the work being carried out at Lusarket 1, but this was very engaging and informative lecture and left us wanting to hear more.
Lydney Park and Hopewell Colliery
Sunday 28 April 2013
By Donovan Hawley
Lydney and the Forest of Dean were the focus of our day trip on the 28th of April, and what a wonderful day we had.
First stop was Lydney Park, an extensive 17th century country estate that includes within its grounds the remains of a Norman motte and bailey castle, an Iron Age promontory fort and a Roman temple site excavated by Sir Mortimer Wheeler, an archaeologists delight!
All this is set amongst a picturesque deer park containing a secluded woodland valley that was a blaze of colour with magnolias, azaleas, rhododendrons and other flowering shrubs coming into bloom, although we were a bit early for the best of the display because of the cold spring weather.
An added attraction was the endearing museum, crammed with Roman artefacts in old wooden display cases. Last but not least, we had lunch in the wonderful café that is set in a panelled room overlooking the Severn, the cakes deserve a special mention!
After this we made our way into the Forest of Dean to visit the Hopewell Colliery. Hopewell is a small working colliery, owned and operated by one the Forest of Dean’s last remaining ‘free-miners’, Robin Morgan. Robin is a fit and active 78 year old and still working the coal seams. He is a true character, full of fascinating anecdotes about the mine and the people who worked there.
Going deep down into the mine workings gives a feeling of what the working conditions must have been like before the advent of automated machinery, with miners having to work lying down because of the narrow seams. This visit provided a wonderful insight into what is now becoming a piece of social history in the Forest of Dean.
Many thanks to Ellie for organising a great day trip to two such memorable sites.
Inaugural outing of the Velocipede section
April 20th 2013
By John Swann
The very first outing of the velocipede section, cycling through history! See the Velocipede Outing Report for further information.
Clifton Antiquarian Trip to Gibraltar October 2012.
Gibraltar has an amazing airport, where the runway is bounded at both ends by the sea and is crossed by the main road from the Spanish frontier. Developing the airport and extending the runway was not always a simple matter; works were strongly opposed by The Gibraltar Jockey Club whose race course now lies underneath the airport!Eight Club members signed up for this trip, led and organised by Laurie and John. Everyone gathered on time at Gatwick in spite of the 8am rendezvous. We arrived in Gibraltar in warm afternoon sunshine. Laurie had booked the sun to stay with us for the whole of the trip, and it behaved accordingly.
It became obvious very quickly that our group was the ideal maximum number, since it matched the carrying capacity of most taxis; but how they managed to navigate the narrow roads so quickly is something that will stay in my memory. The vehicle sped along very narrow roads, around tight corners with just fractions of an inch between the taxi and any building or parked vehicle.
We stayed at the Callaghan Elliott Hotel, situated in the middle of town, and just a short hop to the shops in Main Street and the Museum. The hotel was very well appointed, but we didn’t spend much time there as Laurie and John had arranged an action-packed itinerary. It really was bed and breakfast only – well, and a drink or two.
The trip kicked off in style with a drink on the hotel patio, which gave me an opportunity to meet everyone and begin to get to grips with putting the correct name to the face, but everyone was so friendly, that mistakes didn’t matter.
Trafalgar Cemetery was the first stop. A beautiful, peaceful oasis in the centre of town, where those who died of their wounds after the battle are buried. A quiet little acre shaded by mature trees, with plenty of neat windy paths to explore the memorials. Definitely not an English cemetery, but neither is it ‘a foreign field’. It was both sad and uplifting reading the dedications on the tombstones. One dedication mentioned that the dead person was ‘an ornament to his company’.
Next stop the Botanic Gardens. Being interested in horticulture, I always find these places intriguing. This is a very well tended garden, full of the local flora, but not many labels to identify the variety of strange shapes and colours. This time of year the big blowsy flowers have just about finished, but Strelitzia or Bird-of-Paradise Flower was still hanging on in with its exotic shape and colouring. The garden was very well tended; an asset that does credit to the community. While walking on the Rock we saw several plants growing wild, which are in cultivation at home; Autumn Crocus (Colchicum autumnale), Alyssum and others I couldn’t name.
Then, in the footsteps of Churchill, we climbed our way up to The Rock Hotel; one of the long-established hotels; a beautiful white edifice standing proudly against the backdrop of the Rock, and within whose quiet corridors were displayed a multitude of photographs illustrating people and events from the past, which helped shape Gibraltar. What can beat a drink on the veranda sitting with a group of friends in the warm afternoon sun looking out over The Bay of Gibraltar?
Back to the hotel in a taxi. Wow, these taxi drivers really know the width of their vehicle! With less than an inch to spare on either side, he sped through the streets. Lucky most roads are one-way, but even then, a small error and you either scrape a wall or turn over a parked motor scooter. Driving is not for the faint hearted in the cramped and vibrant town.
Our first evening meal was in the Marrakech Restaurant, which looked, smelt and tasted very authentic – but then it should do, as we are only a strip of water away from its home country. We staggered back to the hotel (well really, we just crossed the road) to enjoy jazz night and a nightcap.
Friday turned out to be the best day of the trip, with the visit to Gibraltar Museum; but more of that in another section. Breakfast was on the top floor, where the view over Gibraltar was amazing, especially to watch dawn break and the sun rise across the bay. Unfortunately no one provided entertainment for the diners by using the integral swimming pool. Ellie, you let us down!
After we regretfully left the museum, most would have liked to stay all day to examine the wealth of material relating to prehistory – never mind the battles, sieges and Trafalgar. It is hard to believe that such a small place as the Rock of Gibraltar has played such an important, pivotal role in European and world history.
We were only allowed a short snack stop before we were off again to meet up with others for a guided tour of part of the tunnel complex, which is not normally open to the public. In total there are more than thirty miles of tunnel within the Rock, sufficient for all the population to move/live under cover! However, the best laid plans of mice and men, sometimes fall apart and a misunderstanding with the guide over meeting time and the visit was off! Ah well, a hasty re-jig of the schedule, and we were off to see the Moorish Castle. This was more impressive from the outside than within; but interesting nevertheless. Lots of stairs and lots of climbing, up and down and up again. Some respite was assured as we took a local bus back into town.
Next on the schedule was a boat trip to see dolphins in the bay. Wow! I have never been a particular fan of dolphins and killer whales in captivity, but this was something quite different – watching mammals in their own environment, totally without constraint. The dolphins appeared out of nowhere, a huge number swam alongside, under and across the boat, leaping out of the water; as if to greet us. We could clearly see mother and baby in pairs along with others in pairs, as they turned on their side to look at us. It was almost as if they were putting on a welcoming display for us. But, of course, they would recognise the sound of the boat’s engine and propeller. Excitement built in the group (humans, not dolphins) for the best dolphin photo. To get a single dolphin in the frame was quickly considered too simple; multiple beasts were the order of the day. Laurie was very proud with four in a frame until John announced that he had achieved seven! Seven dolphins in one photograph! He had the cool nerve to accept the adulation, before decency and goodness got the better of him (it did take a long time) and he admitted whilst the camera took the image, it wasn’t him at viewfinder, but a friend, who was holding it!
After all the excitement and the sea breezes we felt in need of food. Casemates Square was recommended by John. It was absolutely marvellous having a guide as one of the party. It must have been a bit boring for John, retracing steps over familiar ground; but for me, it was really great being able to relax, follow the crowd, and not have to think about map reading or where I was heading or maintaining my bearings.
Casemate is a technical word; “a fortified position or chamber, or an armoured enclosure from which guns are fired”. The Square looked the part; a large open area surrounded by tall very thick walls and many artificial caverns dug into the rock around the sides. It was a very military-looking place.
Nowadays the caverns have been converted to a huge variety of restaurants, which spilled out onto the Square. We were spoilt for choice and quickly found one which offered a menu that everyone was happy with. It even had a very attentive waiter. The waiter was a young lad who had been educated in America and quickly took Pam under his wing. Ordering food is often a little chaotic in a large group, but it soon became hilarious with misunderstanding piled on misunderstanding. The waiter was doubled up with tears of laughter in his eyes at the innuendoes that flew around. A wonderful evening was had by all.
Saturday was the day of the walk up to the top of the rock. Alarm set for 7am, breakfast, and then we were off at 8am; before dawn had broken. I was a bit apprehensive since it is more than twenty years since I had done any serious walking, and I have absolutely no head for heights! Anyway, no chance to turn back now; so the only way was ‘onwards and upwards’. As we walked through the botanic gardens it was starting to get light in the sky; so it was no real surprise to see a bat fluttering back to its daytime roost. Are we the early birds, or just bats?
Stopped for a group photo at The Pillars of Hercules. Had a brief rest, then off the road and onto the rough gravel of The Mediterranean Steps. This is where the real walking and climbing begins. The pathway from here to the top is quite comfortable to walk. The route is impossible to mistake, just that the steps are very steep (twice the height of domestic stairs). Although the path was on the edge of the rock with the maquis or nothing to break a fall, there was a rope handrail extending most of the way; giving me great confidence just to have it there. The others didn’t notice, but when we stopped for a breather or to admire the view, it was me who clung to the safety of the rock, while they peered over the edge into the abyss, or hung out over the vertiginous drop!
Laurie had his binoculars, so was able to tell us all about the multitude of ships, both civilian and military at anchor in the bay. It was amazing just how much shipping was stationary in that huge expanse of water; I suppose it is evidence of the current economic climate. We came upon a cave entrance, which must have been at sea level at some time in the past; exploring the interior was tempting, but impractical. We stopped at a couple of WWII gun emplacements where the graffiti had been painted over. John wouldn’t tell what was underneath, other than it was in poor taste (surely the good archaeologist should share this type of data with colleagues?) but he did say it was of a high artistic standard!
At last, after 2 hours walking from the hotel we crested the ridge and arrived at the top, near O’Hara’s Battery. Yippee! We soon linked up with the rest of the group, who had ascended via the cable car, and there we encountered our first group of apes, at what appeared to be an official ape feeding station. They were basking and grooming in the sun; not the least interested in us.
We descended a short distance to visit St. Michael’s Cave (together with retail opportunity and coffee shop). What an amazing cave system; it beats anything in the Mendips. The quality and size of the stalactites and stalagmites is quite awesome, and far too large for the flash on my camera to penetrate. I ended up with some very dark shadowy images. After exiting the cave we paused at the shop to buy drinks/food to take with us; this was a big mistake. A large group of tourists had gathered near the entrance and they had attracted the attention of a troupe of apes. In making our way through this throng Ellie was attacked by a pair of apes determined to get her ice cream. One leapt on her shoulders and another at the same time came up from the ground; almost an organised attack. Needless to say, Ellie was rather shaken by the incident, but thankfully not injured. A few seconds later an ape made a grab at Janet’s carrier bag, but the foray proved fruitless.
We departed that area promptly, making our way to the Great Siege Tunnels, high up on the North end of the Rock, pausing for a while to watch an Easy Jet plane take off from the runway below. We had a bird’s eye view from up on the Rock. it was fascinating watching a vehicle slowly patrolling the runway to keep it clear of seagulls, before the main road was closed to traffic and the plane took off into a clear blue sky.
The Great Siege Tunnels were devised and constructed by English military engineers in the 18th Century to defend “el Penon” (Spanish name given to The Rock) against the Spanish and French. What an amazing feat of engineering, to have carved the tunnels from the solid rock using only hand tools and gunpowder. What really brought it to life as a story were the frequent tableaus in the gun embrasures. I personally had an emo moment when I saw among a list of all the British Army regiments that had been stationed on the rock, my father’s (8th Battalion, the Devonshire Regiment in 1940).
Dinner was going to be at a special fish restaurant (La Mamela) on the shady side of the Rock. On route, the taxi stopped at Europa Point, where we stepped out for a photo opportunity looking out over the Straits and over The Rif Mountains in Morocco. The taxi driver pointed out the brand new mosque, where he had been part of the security team, built with money from Saudi Arabia; it stood brilliant white in the evening sun. The restaurant food was excellent, as was all the food we had on the trip. I think John must have worked extremely hard sampling all the many restaurants in order to find the best for us.
Sunday; the day of departure, and I was very sad to reach the end of such a wonderful visit. Just walking out from the hotel; met a group of soldiers who were descending the rock at the end of a fun run! Ah, the fond memories of youth; being able to undertake such exercise before breakfast! The return flight went like clockwork, as did the trip home to Bristol.
A big thank you must go to John and Laurie for organising this trip. I look forward to the next outing of The Club.