Thursday, July 30, 2009

Longdown Station

For some reason the planned trip to Longdown coincided with one of the hottest days of the year so far. It's good to be walking in the shade of trees in sunny weather and there's a nice old place here with a bit of hills and view then down into an old winding path that follows a brook, past a ruined barn and on to an old railway.

The whole area seems to be covered with the Empire of Giant Wood Ants now but up and past them and again past the lake and to the old railwaytrack itself and the inevitable 248 yards of dripping Edwardian darkness that is Culver tunnel. Going back isn't really an option at this point so it's through the tunnel whatever.

Back into the light on the other side is Longdown Station, built in 1903 and still complete with platform. It closed to passengers in 1958 so the trains are long gone now. Then there is a very wet track which leads to the second and longer Perridge Tunnel, gated on this end and named after the adjacent posh family The Perridges. Perridge Tunnel (829 yards long and curving) which has collapsed somewhere two thirds of the way through possibly due to a mushroom growing business going pear shaped in 1986, actually lies on a natural fault line of some sort, earthquakes in Okehampton and all that. I have been walking here since I was about 15, it hasn't changed much.

Usually it's quiet in the woods, apart from the pheasant shooting of course, though this time when we were about three quarters of the the way through the tunnel we heard a distant engine sound which turned out to be a tractor coming up the tunnel from behind us, the sound being much more disturbing than the resulting tractor which finally appeared, with a bit of smiling and waving. An interesting acoustic situation indeed. Plenty of drinking water useful around here. I forget how much slower you have to move in the heat.

The tunnels were originally built not because of any specific geological obstacle of any sort but because the folk in the big house didn't want to be disturbed by the railway, which is some indication of the lengths gone to to please these sort of people. It's a lot of work in the dark and an awkward bloody business by the look of it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Serpent of Dunscombe

After the previous fiasco of scuttling like a crab between the barbed wire and the hurtling metal deathboxes on the black ribbon I head back to Dunscombe with some friends to meet the serpent again.

There are structures in Britain dating back as far as 4000 B.C. Many of these have been altered over the following years as habitation of them waxed and waned and they would have been reconstructed at times as defensive positions.

If you stood here on these cliffs in 55B.C. you may have seen one of Caesars little boats creeping up the coast to have a look at the land that would be invaded by them in 43A.D. although there is no evidence that they came as far west as this.

History is of course written by the victors which is why so much of it is rubbish and the Celtic people passed on their information orally so none of it is here to tell, but we have a couple of nice portraits here of the old people and the fair ancient women. First from Ammmianus Marcellinus writing of the Gauls across the water to our south.

"Nearly all the Gauls are of lofty stature, fair and of ruddy complexion: terrible is the sterness of their eyes, very quarellsome, and of great pride and insolence. A whole troop of foreigners would not be able to withstand a single Gaul if he called his wife to his assistance who is usually very strong and with blue eyes; especially when, swelling her neck, gnashing her teeth, and brandishing her sallow arms of enormous size, she begins to strike blows mingled with kicks, as if they were so many missiles sent from the string of a catapult."

And here, Dio Cassius's portrait of Boudicca, queen of the Iceni, of the east of Britain in the first century A.D. paints a lovely picture:

"She was huge of frame, terrifying of aspect, and with a harsh voice. A great mass of bright red hair fell to her knees: she wore a great twisted torc, and a tunic of many colours, over which was a thick mantle, fastened by a brooch. Now she grasped a spear, to strike fear into all who watched her."

This one is for the traitors and the bankers in London, and of the hope that one one day we will throw this scum back into the sea.

Friday, July 10, 2009

farway necropolis keeps its secrets

On top of Gittisham Hill towards Honiton is the site of Farway Necropolis. Not much of this remains anymore and the barrows that are left are very difficult to reach as the place is overgrown and thus impenetrable.

Apparently this was once one of the important sites in the country and is also known as Broad Down Necropolis, which was a three mile long linear barrow cemetery but many of the tumuli have been ploughed under or destroyed in other ways. It is also possible that some of these barrows had stone circles associated with them. There is a stone surrounded by barrows on an old 1979 map of the area but this seems to be gone now. There is a feature somewhere around here called 'Ring-in-the-Mire' though I couldn't find anything on this occasion.

The walking here is much harder than it appears in the photographs and within a few yards of leaving the busy road I was up to head height in a terrible tangle of growth. I quickly gave up on the idea of trying to reach any of the barrows, though I might try again in the winter when all this growth has died back again.

I went to the nearby campsite where a tumulus is marked on the map and after walking round a couple of times and not finding anything asked in the shop about it and got the reply "Oh the ancient burial site, it's next to the toilet block, we're not supposed to go in there" and she was right, it was next to the toilet block, hidden in a very small clump of trees was a slightly raised circle of ground all but invisible unless you knew it was there.

Down the road is a nice little village called Gittisham which is very thatched. In the last photo is a small house that is up for auction soon, it is the part which shows the door and two windows, not the rest of the structure.

Along the road a bit is Combe House, a large, mainly Elizabethan house which is now a hotel. As they put it "all gables, finials and transom windows." Rooms for the night are between £175 to £355 so I probably won't be staying here in the foreseeable future though I might nip in for a coffee at some point and have a poke around. If they let me in of course.