Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hornsea carnival

I traveled up to Hornsea in East Yorkshire last weekend to tell at their annual carnival. I did get the impression that they had forgotten I was coming, but still I was made very welcome and I think it was just that everyone was very busy getting everything ready.

The stunt team doing their thing
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The carnival had lots going on including a motorcycle display team, dancing, falconry, a chain saw carver, live music and even a magic show. But the weather was against us for most of the weekend and so some displays had to be cut short, although this didn't stop the stunt team jumping their bikes over twenty people and a car as well. Although due to the wet conditions, the safety barriers had to be moved back to my telling tent and i was worried that one of them would end up inside it!

The chain saw carver, chain sawing an owl

The chainsaw carver also kept going, using various size chainsaws to carve bears, dragon flies, foxes and all sorts of creatures. I'd never seen anything like this and being a carver of wood myself was amazed at the fine detail he could make using a chain saw. That said I still prefer chisels, because you really get a feel for the wood.

Music at Hornsea Carnival

Grey skies looming, but still still some stayed to listen to the bands

The interdenominational church service

The rain couldn't even dampen the spirits of those who gathered for the interdenominational church service in the main arena on Sunday morning. I'm not religious myself, but I was impressed by their staying power. From the safety of my tent I watched as the heavens opened upon their service, but still everyone kept singing and stayed until the end. All I will say is that no sooner did the service end, than the sun came out. What that means I do not know although it might suggest that their God has a sense of humour!

Sam playing crazy golf. He's crazy!

Certainly the weather went from hot sunshine and cold showers on both days, but I think the Yorkshire folk must be much hardier than southerners like me and many stayed to listen to music, ride on the various funfair rides and come and listen to my tales. In fact the more it rained, the more people came into my tent!

And not all southerners are soft for Sam came with me and braved the crazy golf when no others would dare. His three main passions in life are his band, Paleopathology and crazy golf!

A stock photo of Hornsea seafront

As for Hornsea itself I was really looking forward to it because I had told last year up at Scarborough Castle and really like the dramatic coastline up that way, much more than I like the sandy beaches of Norfolk. But I was surprised to find that the beaches of Hornsea are flat and sandy and driving along that stretch of coast it was surprisingly like Norfolk. I found out later that this is because Hornsea is set within a large natural bay.

The town itself however is not like a Norfolk seaside town and is funny in that it doesn't look like a seaside town at all. In fact you wouldn't know it was until you walked right down to the beach with its one large main amusement arcade and fish and chip shop which incidentally served fantastic fish and chips! I think that most people probably come to Hornsea to visit the mere, a large open stretch of fresh water formed during the ice age that has its own wildlife reserve, many walks and an island or two.

Sam's pebble before....

And after!

Sam's second and more well worn fossil ammonite

Hornsea is also every different to Norfolk in that its beaches are littered with fossils, which are presumably eroded from the cliffs further north at Ravenscar and washed down south by the waves. Certainly many of the fossils were well worn, but on Saturday evening when day was over, but night time had yet to begin Sam and I explored the beach and he found a well rubbed pebble with a fault line all the way around it. We took it back to the camper and the following morning as I was cooking breakfast Sam took a hammer I keep in the van for such occasions and tapped, tapped, tapped until the pebbles split and the partial remains of an ancient ammonite was displayed for all to see, meaning me and Sam. The first humans to look upon something that died perhaps hundreds of millions of years ago!

Humber Bridge looking across

Humber Bridge looking up

Leaving East Yorkshire behind for the even rainier Norfolk

Hornsea Carnival for all the rain was excellent and I love the friendliness of Yorkshire folk and the fact that they are better at riddles than many down south I have met. We drove home wet and happy, especially since we decided to come back over the Humber Bridge, and I really like bridges!

Thanks to Colin for inviting me to tell at Hornsea and to all the other carnival organisers for their hospitality.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Battle Abbey & the New Forest

Main and very grand entrance to Battle Abbey
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Last weekend I was telling at Battle Abbey near Hastings in East Sussex, before traveling further down the south coast for few days off in the New Forest. We arrived on Friday night and set up my tent at the east end the novices (Trainee monks of sorts) chambers just next to the abbey latrines. Just as with many other medieval abbeys, the young monks to be slept near the toilets and other smelly places such as tanning pits, in order I think to test their resolve, before they were accepted into the cloistered life as Monks proper!

View of Abbey gate from the main street

The Abbey was founded by William the Conqueror as atonement for all the blood spilt during the battle of Hastings fought on that very spot between the invading Normans and the English and it was clearly meant to impress as you can see from the grand and very imposing Abbey gate. The problem is that there is not that much of the original abbey complex left and the site is a bit of a mish-mash, being made up of Abbey ruins, Senlac hill which was the name for the ridge where the battle was fought and a Private school which sits slap bang in the middle of every thing!

A plan of Battle Abbey

That's not to say that its not interesting, because the undercrofts to the novices chambers are impressive, especially when everyone else had gone home and in the gathering dusk when they took on a decidedly spooky air! There are also the remains of the crypt that was once under the chancel end of the now lost church. Its significance being I think that it was the place where many of the abbey's sacred relics would have been stored, perhaps even directly beneath the Bishops throne so that he might absorb their powers! There is also a museum in the great gatehouse with objects from the abbey and pictures which chart its history .

Just set up at the end of the east range-
The Novices chambers next to the remains of toilets on right.

Then there is Senlac hill itself now partly covered by the abbey. As with the abbey ruins its well interpreted with panels dotted about the whole of the battle field and also with the aid of interpretive 'wands'. Although I'm not a fan of these as everywhere you look you see people with them struck to their ears, not actually looking (Unless directed too by the wand) and also not talking to each other. I think that that's a shame, because people get so much more from a site when imagining how it was for themselves. And that's all the more important at Battle, because there is so very little to see-after all its is a hill just like any other in Britain! And being just a hill, its very hard to picture the momentous events that took place here nearly 950 years ago. Events that certainly reshaped English history and culture. Certainly there is lots of information on both the wands and in the newly built visitor center, but no amount of facts can really get across what happened when in a few short hours up to 7000 men from both sides lost their lives...

The actual field of battle between Normans and Saxons
Looking up towards Abbey

The battle field looking down from the Abbey

One of the many interpretation panels doted about the battle field

It was one of those occasions when being privileged enough to stay on site when all the visitors had left, certainly came into its own. For one thing to walk about the hill side at dusk gave the place more atmosphere and it was peaceful enough to try and imagined the sights and sounds; the screams and shouts, anger and fear that such a hard fought battle must have caused. But standing there also made me realise how in the long run, Senlac hill was just a grass covered hill like any other. The Town and Abbey are called 'Battle' now to commemorate an event that took place in little more than six hours, about 950 years ago. But of course the real battle still goes on to this day, the battle for survival!....

For standing there at dusk, we watched as a barn owl glided and swooped its way across the field hunting for mice and who knows what else. Then a leggy young fox came trotting around the side of some bushes. The first time it saw us it ran straight back the way it came. But after ten minuets or so it returned and stood regarding us for a good while, before deciding we were no real threat and continuing on its way to go hunting for his supper on Senlac hill. I was telling a version of Chaucer's Nun's Priest's Tale that weekend, about Chanticleer the Cockerel and the sly, cunning fox. The fox we saw, was I think a Raynard in the making although perhaps a tad more laid back!

The private school on site

The really big pond

The undercrofts under the Novice's chamber

The remains of the crypt at Battle Abbey

Interpretation panel about the crypt

The New Forest

From Battle we continued along the coast to the New Forest. I had passed through the forest last year when traveling over to the Isle of Wight and really liked the look of the place. And I wasn't disappointed. I really loved the history of the place, because its not history! Meaning that there is still a link today to ancient customs, and the locals, the 'commoners' as they are known still have a well used right to graze horses, cattle and pigs in the forest. These rights are still protected and managed by the Verderers Court and five 'Agisters' and other forest wardens to this day. This was all news to me and I've never seen so many horses in one place, even trotting about the campsite!

The many headed monster of the New Forest...

As close as I dare get!

Kim as a sacrifice to the Hydra to ensure peace!

What I really liked about the place though was the lack of things to do and by that I mean some places are awash with museums and all sorts of other experiences that can drain you body, mind and wallet! In the New Forest there are a few visitor centers and the odd museum, like Bucklers Hard where they built warships in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, but apart from that the only real option is to wander in the woods, and relax. And that's precisely what I wanted to do, going over a few stories for the coming months and exploring. And it was a real sense of exploration, because unlike some other woodland sites, there aren't lots of well worn marked paths that take you to the same places everyone else has been before.

We had a great explore and the woods were beautiful. Not least because the woodlands are covered in dead wood, which helps attract wildlife and just looks very sculptural. Obviously in times past the dead wood would have all been cleared by locals who had rights to wood as well as the grazing, but luckily for us no more. We came across an oak, still whole that must have died a long time ago and now looks like the skeletal remains of a many headed Hydra guarding the gates of Hell! Also a fallen tree which must have fallen long, long ago, for it appears that another large oak has grown in the very spot where the dead one once stood. The New Forest is certainly the place to do some serious ancient tree hugging with an oak dating back to the 1600s and a yew in Brockenhurst churchyard which is said to be over a thousand years old.

Sculptured dead wood everywhere...

An oak that fell long, long ago..

We did do a little bit of traveling round to Bucklers Hard and also to the Rufus stone, which marks the place where William Rufus, the 2nd Norman King of England was slain. I tell a version of this tale which includes all the sons of the Conqueror, so I had to go and although the monument itself is a bit lackluster, the surrounding countryside is lovely and just how I describe it in my version of the tale! A long open avenue or 'chase' between the trees, pointing west towards the setting sun and ideal for hunting deer. The very place where the King was killed by his friend Walter Tyrrel. Or was he? Was it an accident or perhaps greed on the part of Tyrrel, or was it perhaps that no mortal hand killed the King? Perhaps instead it was the spirits of the woodland; the Greenman or Herne the Hunter who killed Rufus as a punishment for his greedy ways and as a blood sacrifice to ensure that thew woodlands of England remained forever green...

Re-enacting the slaying of Rufus!

Myself I couldn't be sure, so I re-enacted his death in an attempt to feel the Kings pain, to put myself in his shoes-It was a role I felt that I could really get my teeth into... But whether it was the lack of a real arrow or my festival trousers that I'm certain no King of England would have worn and in the case of Rufus would not even have been seen dead in, I'm not sure. But what ever the reason, I could not get a feel for what happened. Which is just as well, for I like my version of the tale too much to have to change it!

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Riverside Festival

Birds eye view of Stamford Meadow and Festival
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This was my first year telling at the Riverside Music Festival at Stamford Meadows near Peterborough.

The Riverside Stage

The Acoustic Stage

Unfortunately I was on my own at this one day event and didn't get a huge amount of time away from my telling tent and it was a real job getting through all the crowds. As you can see from the birds eye photo its not a huge site, but I think that they have about 8000 people on site at anyone time and over 25,000 over the course of the whole afternoon and the festival only runs from 1.00 pm to 11.00pm!

Just some of the 25,000 visitors!

As festivals go it was quite small in size, but they still managed to pack in 3 main stages and a smaller buskers stage. Also a children's area with crafts, puppetry, circus skills and me! There were plenty of traders, food stalls and a huge beer festival and there were plenty of very merry people chilling out - many lounging around my tent, one of whom had a go at telling a story or two!

The beer festival in full flow

One of the beer festival visitors in full flow in my tent!

That's about all I can say about the festival itself, but what surprised me more was the town of Stamford. It wasn't what I expected at all especially since I had to drive through the Lincolnshire fens to get there and expected more of the same flat landscape. If I'm honest I'm not a great fan of the Lincolnshire landscape not least the area that can be seen from the A17! But as I turned off that road and made my way toward Stamford, I began to see a few hills and the landscape began to change. So too the buildings; for they began to be built of what looked to be a beautiful yellowish stone in the bright sunlight and more and more it reminded me of the Cotswold's. Especially when I passed the entrance to Burghley House, which looked very posh. Certainly when you drive about the Cotswold you do get a feeling of grandeur although its a place I could never afford to live and whilst I like it to look at it I'm not sure I would like living there!

The grand facade of Burghley House

I then drove through a village called Uffington, which made me think of the village in the Vale of the White Horse, not that far from the Cotswold. Again it made me think that I'd lost my way and was somewhere much further down south, around parts of Orfordshire and Gloucestershire, just north of the Berkshire downs. Especially when I drove into Stamford itself. It's a beautiful place and as with many a Cotswold town its packed full of antique shops, cosy pubs and the like and has a very grand bridge crossing the river.

Stamford Meadow in quieter times!

The grand looking bridge

Some ancient almshouses just off the bridge

A real Georgian feel to Stamford

Part of the high street

Not all of Stamford was so grand, but still good to see

I suppose if you are local to the area you would be surprised by my surprise, but having driven through Lincolnshire many times and having never been that impressed I have to say that I would recommend leaving the A17. If you do you might be pleasantly surprised, especially if you drive towards Stamford; a little bit of the Cotswold, just west of the fens!