|Part 1 is here
Picnic PeopleBefore the feast
Saturday 26 July 2003
After breakfast at my B&B between Uffington itself and the White Horse, I asked the pleasant (but a bit too huntin', shootin' fishin'-y) B&B lady if she knew where I might get an OS map of the area.
She reckoned the shop in Uffington would have one, so I headed off, also in search of some vittles for the picnic. Having arrived at the counter with my basket of unsurprisingly over-priced food, I asked about an OS map. They were expecting some….
So, not wishing to be rude, I still bought the gold-plated bread, cheese etc and zoomed off to Wantage. OS Explorer 170 purchased (I LOVE the Explorer series!) I had a few hours before the appointed hour for the picnic, so I headed for Lambourn Seven Barrows, via the Blowing Stone.
I visited the Blowing Stone once many years ago and it was exactly as I remembered it. In a word, 'odd'. No idea what it's doing there, no idea where it's come from, no idea what it may once have been and no idea if you can get a sound out of it. Unlikely. Well worth a look though.
Popping a quid in the 'upkeep' box, I jumped back in the car and headed up the hill along the B4001 towards Lambourn Seven Barrows.
As you decend gently towards the seven barrows, it's possible to play 'spot the barrow' to the left of the road. I even stopped at map ref SU324833 where there is a small overgrown barrow next to the road and a larger and neater one out in the field perhaps a quarter of a mile away, slightly back towards the Blowing Stone. This one was easily visible, as it too was covered in unmanicured growth.
I later noticed that the map shows a long barrow on the hill at the opposite side of the road here, at SY323833. Unlike me not to have noticed it on the map – that's what comes of not getting the map in advance I guess…. Curses!
Continuing down the road I managed to completely miss the seven barrows. Think I must have still been half asleep, because although they and their sign are harder to spot from this direction, they are so close to where I had just stopped, that I deserve shooting!
I won't go into detail, but I eventually realised I'd missed them, so I promptly misread the map completely and found myself going off on another road in a different direction….
Retracing my route, I was soon approaching the right place and from the South, I had no problem spotting the barrows and the sign for them (and the nature reserve they reside in). Plenty of grass to park on at the bottom of the hill, only yards from the barrows.
26 July 2003
Fascinating site. Such a mixture of different sized and shaped barrows. And not set out in any pattern, yet seeming to fit together somehow…. Or maybe that's just me.
For some reason I can't quite put my finger on, photographs of this site have always particularly appealed to me. And I wasn't disappointed. It nestles near the bottom of the eastern side of a wide yet sheltered, gently sloping valley. I wouldn't personally use the word 'dell' as Treaclechops did in her fieldnotes, it seems more 'open' to me than what I would call a dell. No matter. A very pleasant place.
After spending 20 minutes or so walking up and down between the barrows I took a few photos from various angles, but didn't feel they were really 'working'. I meandered along the track up the hill past the barrows, but still couldn't find a view I was happy with, so I wandered back.
Studying the mounds for a few moments I looked around and behind me noticed that the very far corner of the field on the other side of the track gets up quite high.
The elevation looked like it might give a good shot with a big lens on, so nipping across a handy and sizeable gap in the fence, I strode round the edges of the field pausing only to pick up and study the odd bit of interesting looking flint. I soon gave that up when I realised just how many bits there were and matched that up with my lack of experience of worked flint!
Before I knew it I was in the top corner of the field and, fitting my 300mm lens, I had he shot I wanted…. Very satisfying! I've posted it here.
Having wandered around for a good 40 minutes and got the photos I wanted, I couldn't see any other places on the map that would be quick to visit so I decided it was time to head for the Uffington White Horse.
Arriving at the car park I decided I'd walk up to the Horse's head where we planned to meet. If nobody was there yet (as I was about an hour early I didn't expect much!) I would carry on up past Uffington Castle and across the Ridgeway to have a look at Idlebush Barrow Cemetery.
Sure enough there was nobody lurking in such a way to make me think they were TMAers, and Jane and Treaclechops certainly weren't there. (Of course it was impossible not to ponder whether just about everyone I passed was someone whose username I knew….)
So off I went up the hill, across the Ridgeway and onto the downs to the south….
26 July 2003
Up the hill, passing the magnificent Uffington Castle enclosure or fort on my right, I reached the Ridgeway and followed it west for a short distance until a bridlepath appeared on the left.
Orientating myself with the wooded land marked on the map and what I could see on the land, I followed the slightly overgrown path for about half an hour at a pretty brisk pace.
This brought me to the twisting ribbon of woodland right beside the barrow cemetery.
A short distance across the down I could see what looked like the top of a barrow largely hidden by a dip perhaps. Ah. No dip. Not the TOP of the barrow then? The whole thing? Uh-huh.
Making a shape a bit like a little flying saucer sitting on the grassy plain, Idlebush Barrow itself looks to me to have been fairly denuded at some stage. Its outer edge is a very low embankment, with the small mound (less than 20 feet across, at a guess) rising only about 5 feet up from it. (Sorry if these guesstimates are way out, but what I'm trying to say is it's pretty small!!)
A little further on across the down is another barrow, this time almost completely ploughed out, but enhanced (or at least made more noticeable by the long reedy grass it is covered by. It is just about possible to make out a slight embankment surrounding it.
I've posted some photos of both. Retracing my steps and bearing west toward the strip of trees, I went back past both barrows looking for a 'tumulus' (another barrow really) marked on the map that I had missed.
Well, if it's there, I missed it on the way back too, and it must be virtually invisible. I suspect that to most non-experts like myself, it is effectively ploughed out.
A word of warning. Although they still look far from impressive, somehow my photos actually manage to make the barrows look more appealing than they seemed at the time…. Don't get your hopes up!
Approaching the Ridgeway on the return route, I was rewarded with excellent views of Uffington Castle, and once back across the Ridgeway I climbed the bank to look out onto the centre of the fort's enclosure.
Back to the car to pick up my 'picnic' and then to the horse's head. Couldn't see anyone until the last moment, then there were Jane and Treaclechops with Miriam – all of who I was expecting to see (though I didn't know what Miriam looked like).
With them was a slim distinguished-looking chap wearing glasses and a white baseball cap. Quick introductions revealed this to be Jimit. And Treaclechops' welcoming hug proved me to be "Yuuuuchhhh…all sweaty!!!"
I fluttered (or thudded) to the ground beside them and lay back on the ground listening to the conversation and banter. I could immediately tell it was going to be a good day.
I continued to lay splayed on the cool grass for a few moments to relax and allow my internal thermostat to kick in – the speedy walks to Idlebush and back, followed by the car park and back had been fairly strenuous. Then, propping myself on an elbow I joined the 'party'.
To everyone's delight, Jimit produced a bottle of fizzy stuff, the cork flying high into the air over the White Horse's head before being retrieved. Very pleasant stuff to drink this. Can't remember what it was called. Lemonade was it? No that's not right….
Seriously classy fella, that Jimit.
Before long we were joined by the softly spoken and bearded Baza accompanied by his quiet smile. Baz had met Jane and (I think) Treaclechops before, and after Miriam, Jimit and I were introduced to him, the group was complete for the moment.
Chasing the Dragon
After we'd all chatted for a while, Jane asked if anyone had ever walked down to Dragon Hill. Surprisingly none of us had, and amazingly, neither had the locals – Jane and Treaclechops!!
As we were still expecting Ocifant & Mikki and possibly Goffik, (as well as anyone else who might turn up) we made the trip in shifts.
Baz, Jimit and I made the first approach, unanimously dreading the return climb before even reaching the road between Dragon Hill and the White Horse.
Lots of shaking of heads and stroking of beards followed the short ascent onto Dragon Hill as we pondered whether this was the spot for Brigantesnation's shot of the horse. A recurring theme for the rest of the day.
The answer was generally held to be 'no' though I was probably inordinately keen on the picture my imagination produced of BN teetering at the top of a step ladder holding the camera above his head to try to get the horse's head in….
Soon we turned back to be greeted by Jane who was making a typically non-conformist between-shifts trip to Dragon Hill. Treaclechops and Miriam made the trip a little later.
An Ocifant arrives
By the time we got back to base camp, Ocifant had arrived from his adventures recounted elsewhere. Greetings were hardly made before Jane also returned to the fold.
It seemed everyone was probably there, so I thought it was time to prove my Scottish Megarak credentials by producing Bakewell tarts and almond slices for everyone. Some people eventually even ate a few….
After a while Ocifant went to check whether Mikki felt able to tackle the hill, but she decided not to and he returned to the rest of us.
The first sets of group pictures were duly taken, and around this time we saw the emergence of Sarnt-Major Treaclechops as she spied some unobservant teenagers wandering along the chalk of the horse's back.
All I heard before my ears lost sensitivity was "EXCUSE ME!! EXCUSE ME!!!!!!" as TC flew down the hill in a frenzy of righteous indignation that a national treasure was being abused.
I'm told she followed this up with "DO YOU KNOW THAT'S AN ANCIENT MONUMENT YOU'RE WALKING ON???!!!" (not a phrase one gets to use often) but I was too busy nursing my ringing ears to hear. Suffice to say the hapless youths shifted their asses fairly damned pronto…
Smokin' at the Smithy
After more eating, chatting and photo taking, we decided to go and join Mikki and if she felt like it to have a trip by car convoy to a lane that Jane knew that gets you pretty close to Wayland's Smithy. Mikki was game, so off we went – Baz finally giving up on the legendary 'Brigantesnation Horse Shot' (for now!).
Once at Wayland's we made ourselves comfortable under the trees opposite the entrance to the long barrow, Jane settling down with her sketchbook.
Various forays were made around and into the barrow, Jimit wandering into the chamber with a 'rollie' dangling from his lips bringing a cry of "DO YOU KNOW THAT'S AN ANCIENT MONUMENT YOU'RE SMOKING IN!!!"
I think just about all of us went to observe the phenomenon that Jane has mentioned, that although the barrow tapers towards the back, it tapers exactly the amount to make its sides appear parallel when viewed from behind.
And do you know what? She's right. It's quite a striking effect once you see it – surely deliberate!
After conducting a group lecture to an unfortunate couple unwise enough to ask one of us a question about the long barrow, with much giggling we posed ridiculously amongst the entrance stones for some group photos. Luckily for them, the hapless couple had got away by then, or they would probably have been roped in too.
A little more 'chilling' was cut short by some real threats of rain, and much to the delight of Treaclechops and myself, we set off in convoy for The Eagle Tavern in nearby Little Coxwell.
'Blonde moments' and beer moments
After a couple of minutes we were brought to a halt as local girl Jane, the 'not at all dizzy but rather intelligent and sassy' blonde driving the lead car realised she'd gone completely the wrong way….
The 'up' side was that as we turned the cars, we finally found a view of the Uffington White Horse where you can actually see it's head…. Unfortunately the weather and the lack of a 600mm lens made a really good photo impossible. Another day maybe?
It still wasn't as good as Brigantesnation's shot.
One more 'blonde moment' from Jane (as she likes to call them – makes a change from "I'm an artist….") caused another mass u-turn, but having stolen Ocifant's map she managed not to get lost again!
Jane's defence spokeswoman said:
"Jane was overcome with excitement at having visited these splendid ancient monuments with such an enthusiastic group of persons. It is this, coupled with the riotous singing occurring in her car, which caused her to experience temporary loss of concentration on the lanes she actually knows very well. No further comment....
Twenty minutes outside the pub in the rain waiting for it to open passed like… twenty minutes outside the pub in the rain waiting for it to open. And then we were firmly ensconced supping or sipping our respective tipples while chatting happily.
Time flew and after about an hour we were sorry to find it was time for Ocifant and Mikki to depart. Maybe another hour later, Jimit headed for home and his local boozer.
Soon stomachs were rumbling and resisting the temptations of the Eagle's menu, we jumped into cars to follow Jane to a great chippy in Faringdon. I WON'T mention that she got lost there too (oops!), but will say that the chippy WAS pretty damn good.
Jane's defence spokeswoman continued:
"We've already seen how Jane was overcome with excitement: it is this, coupled with the fact the planners have changed the one-way system in the town which caused her to swerve and swear so violently in her quest for the chippery. No further comment....
Back at the car park, farewells and pledges of further meets were made, then we all headed off, me back to the B&B.
Lying on the bed planning my trip for Sunday I reflected on what a great bunch of diverse people I had just spent the day with, and was full of wonder at the incredibly mellow and good-natured bond that seemed to have sprung up spontaneously between us all. I silently thanked TMA for bringing us together.
A real shame about those who wanted to come but couldn't make it.
Part 3 is here
Posted by Moth
1st August 2003ce
Edited 24th November 2005ce
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