Sunday, 31 December 2017

A walking tour of Avebury.

A quick 2 hour drive and we were in the ancient World Heritage Site of Avebury in the county of Wiltshire. The walk we had planned was going to take in; West Kennet Long Barrow, the Avenue, the Sanctuary , Silbury Hill and Windmill Hill. We actually parked at the start of The Ridgeway ( a route I walked part of a few weeks ago from the Tring side). In actual fact the route today did not actually touch on The Ridgeway until the very last part.

The Ridgeway is definitely a route that I will be re-visiting in the future to complete a few more legs on.

West Kennet long barrow with Silbury Hill in the background
With all the recent rain and snow the going was very heavy in places so progress wasn't the quickest .... The first notable stopping place was West Kennet Long Barrow (3700 BC). Created by early Neolithic people there are around 14 burial mounds in a 3 mile radius around Avebury. They vary in length from 20m to over 100m. The longest and the longest in the British Isles is West Kennet long barrow. These were major projects , digging ditches through the chalk and moving huge stones to form chambers. The one at West Kennet is a perfect example and excavations revealed 5 chambers containing human remains.

From West Kennet Long Barrow there is a good view of Silbury Hill (2400-2000 BC). The hill is the largest prehistoric mound in Europe, around 37 m high, 30macross the top and around 500m at the base. It occupies a valley-floor position, close to where the River Kennet rises at Arrowowhead Springs. I would definitely have climbed it but public access is forbidden unfortunately.

Windmill Hill
So instead a photo with me standing in front will have to suffice. Despite various excavations have not been able to answer why the hill was built ? However they did uncover how it was made.It started small, a mound of clay and gravel and then a larger mound of turf and soil. Archaeologists calculate that it took 18 million man-hours, equivalent to 500 men working for 15 years to create. Earth worshippers believe that Silbury is, in fact, the swollen womb of the Earth Goddess and provides a symbol linking the harvest with the pregnant earth. Others suggest that the hill was built as a burial mound for King Sil and his horse, whilst some believe it to be a giant astronomical 'sun' dial. 

Adam and Eve
 At the far end of the Beckhampton Avenue there are only two stones left standing 'Adam and 'Eve'and are know as the 'Longstones'. Adam is the larger of the two stones, weighing an estimated 62 tons, and along with three others formed a four-sided cove.The Beckhampton Avenue was a curving prehistoric avenue of stones that ran broadly south west from Avebury towards The Longstones. Our walk took us to Windmill Hill, still about one and a half miles from Avebury Centre. it is the largest known causewayed enclosure in Britain. The weather had started to deteriorate and there was rain in the air giving the landscape a bleak foreboding look. However my walking companion was confident that we would see a sunset over Avebury before the day was done. A large barrow cemetery once stood ion Windmill Hill. Barrows being burial mounds of which there are numerous examples all around Avebury. They are quite a feature on the horizons and often had groups of trees planted on them and known as 'Hedgehogs' locally.

We arrived in Avebury via the Anglo Saxon churchyard. The Church of St James has an 11th-century Saxon nave in which two original Saxon windows survive. Our next stopping point was more welcomed 'The Red Lion' and a couple of pints of the local brew 'Avebury Well Water'. Avebury contains the largest megalithic stone circle in the world.


Our thirst suitably quenched we set off to explore the three historic stone circles around the village. As well as a tourist attraction it is also a place of worship for modern day pagans. it is the largest megalithic stone circle in the world. The monument is made up of a large henge (a bank and a ditch) with a large outer stone circle and two separate smaller stone circles situated inside the middle. The surrounding ditch today is only around a third of it's original size when dug out of the chalk landscape. It is the giant stones though that create the long lasting impression. The local sarsen stones range in height from 3-6 metres and weighing up to 20 tons that formed the Outer Stone Circle. 53 stones remain, from around 85 in the original structure. Sarsen stone is a silicified sandstone found as scattered blocks on the chalk in southern England.


Even the trees seem to take on a magical air conjuring up images of some ancient gothic horror. Just briefly the clouds have parted sufficiently to allow the sun to shine some light through for the first time today. It is short lived but I did manage to capture it at least. Last leg of the journey now back to our starting point which involved some creative fieldwork to get back on to the right path just as darkness was beginning to fall. A cracking walk and probably a distance of at least 10 miles covered.

Friday, 29 December 2017

Snowy Christmas Cycle Ride

Friends said that I was either very brave or very stupid to venture out on an icy, snowy morning. However the sun was shining bright (some of the time)I was well insulated and the bike has thick tyres and it was time to blow away the excesses of Christmas. I hadn't actually planned a route as such , just a question of sticking to roads that had been gritted, or been in the sun for a while if possible. Off I went along the Holcot Road turning left into the Brixworth Road crossing the causeway at Pitsford Reservoir. The reservoir looked beautiful coated in a layer of snow and I was tempted to do a circuit. Instead I carried in up the hill to Brixworth. Stopping only to take a picture of the sun shining on Pitsford Reservoir in the distance.

Going down the Spratton Road hill was a little worrying as it is a steep drop but the views to the left with the sheep on the hills were worth it. I made a slight detour at the crossing to go a short distance along the Brampton Valley Way towards Market Harborough to one of my favourite spots. Plenty of birdlife was in evidence, Several Kestrels , two Buzzards, Redwings and Fieldfares.

Another long climb was to follow as I went up to the village of Spratton, going through the village and joining the Welford Road. It wasn't too busy but I veered off as soon as possible taking a pleasant ride down Merry Tom Lane. This took me back on to the Brampton Valley Way this time heading
towards Northampton.

The track was extremely icy and wet for the most part so I took the opportunity to get off at the Brampton Halt and continue up Brampton Lane, yet another hill to Pitsford village. From Pitsford it was plain sailing or rather cycling back into Moulton. A very enjoyable ride ! In total 16.7 miles with a total elevation gain of 910 feet.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Waddesdon Manor Imaginarium

Talk about 'In the bleak Midwinter'! The scene at Waddesdon Manor encapsulated the words of the Christmas carol perfectly. When it wasn't drizzling there was a dampening mist along with a bitter cold air. Waddesdon Manor is a country house in the village of Waddesdon, in Buckinghamshire. It is located in the Aylesbury Vale, 6.6 miles west of Aylesbury itself. The Grade I listed house was built in the style of a French château between 1874 and 1889 for Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild (1839–1898) as a weekend residence for grand entertaining and as a setting for his collection.


 To get out of the miserable weather our first port of call were the wine cellars. They are modeled on the private cellars at Château Lafite Rothschild. More than 15,000 bottles are stored in the Cellars, some 150 years old, the majority from the Château Lafite Rothschild and Château Mouton Rothschild estates. It is the largest private collection of Rothschild wines in the world.

Venturing back outside we made our way to the aviary completed in 1889. The aviary is stocked with endangered birds and exotic species and is a registered zoo. Throughout the grounds there are light-based artworks created by Lauren Booth depicting various illuminated neon birds, goats and dragons.

 A warm up was needed in the form of a hot chocolate drink. Thankfully the courtyard cafe provided cosy sheepskins to keep out the cold. There was plenty going on outside the house but it wasn't really a day for walking the gardens. As the light gradually began to fade the house became more and more illuminated.

The highlight of the afternoon was as soon as darkness had fallen at 4:15 pm. This is when the Waddesdon Imaginarium came to life. The front of the Manor was lit up with roaming animals, flowers, Christmas images and dancing clocks that were projected on to its frontage. It is a 10 minute performance of light and sound created by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. It was absolutely spectacular and well worth braving the elements for.


 A really enjoyable afternoon that couldn't fail to put you in the mood for Christmas with it's lights, displays and festive fayre. We shall definitely return , preferably during the Summer time though !

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Fish - Leamington Spa Assembly Rooms

Undaunted by the snowy weather we set off to Leamington Spa not knowing for sure if the gig was going to go ahead? Two hardy souls were already queuing outside The Assembly as we walked past some three hours before the doors were due to open. We made for the nearest pub and had a warm up watching the Manchester derby football match on the tv. This was also notable as I had my first pints of beer since September 15th, which as you would expect went down rather well.. We made our way back up to the venue with half an hour to go before the doors opened and low and behold it was still the same two hardy souls in the queue. Apparently they were saying on Twitter there was some dispute about whether the gig should be cancelled. Certainly there would be those who couldn't make it, but then again the band had managed to get down from Manchester the previous night. It's a tricky one but I think it was right to go ahead as many had made the effort to be there.


First up was Doris Brendel with her band of Prog and Pop rock with a bit of a 'Steampunk' theme going on. She has been described as the modern day 'Janis Joplin.' Her father Alfred Brendel is an Austrian pianist, poet and author, known particularly for his performances of Mozart, Schubert and especially Beethoven. They were fine and got a good reception from an ever increasing crowd but I don't think I will be putting their CD on my Christmas list.It wasn't the last we would see of Doris though as she was providing backing vocals for Fish too.

Fish has returned to UK stages to debut his new studio album ‘Weltschmerz’ together with a final full 30th anniversary performance of ‘Clutching at Straws’, his last album with ‘Marillion’.
‘Weltschmerz’ was coined by the 18th Century German writer Jean Paul to describe a ‘feeling of apathy caused by the sadness about life when seeing the evils of the world.’
 Clutching at Straws was the fourth Marillion studio album( 1987) and the last with Fish before he quit the following year. A concept album that is dark in places exploring the principle characters relationship with the demon drink and a life going off the rails."The concept was maybe too close to home," he wrote in the liner notes for the album's 1999 re-release. Very different from the much more commercial sound of 'Misplaced Childhood' many see this as Marillion's finest hour. 


Fish welcomed and thanked the audience for their efforts in getting to the show in such awful conditions. He quipped ' When people have said in the past there is snow at the gig it meant something else entirely'. He spoke briefly about his unhealthy relationship with Cocaine back in the day and his over familiarity with alcohol. The first four songs are are all from his solo albums, '13th Star, 'Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors' and 'Suits' .


 We are then treated to 'Clutching at Straws' in it's entirety. Some of the songs have never been played in over thirty years and rarely heard live. We kick off with 'Hotel Hobbies' depicting life on the road and the temptations that go with such an existence. 'Hotel hobbies padding dawns hollow corridors. Bell boys checking out the hookers in the bar. Slug-like fingers trace the star-spangled clouds of cocaine on the mirror. The short straw took its bow'.
This is followed by 'Warm Wet Circles' which was the third single released from the album. Possibly the best know track from the album is 'Incommunicado' which reached number 6 in the UK charts in 1987 and still gets some radio play today on stations such as Planet Rock.

By now Fish has  started to deal with a bottle of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc , something clearly well practised. £5.99 from Majestic he informs the crowd. Much cheaper than the twenty quid they were asking at that posh Italian place over the road. He is on good form waxing lyrical and his chief target tonight is 'Donald Trump' . 'How embarrassing is it that is mother is Scottish he asks'?
It is great to hear 'Clutching at Straws' for one more time and nobody who has made the effort will leave disappointed i'm sure.
We get one final song from the era 'Tux On' during the first encore, which has always been a favourite of mine. The final two songs are from 'A Feast of Consequences' and wrap up a superb night.

Guitarist Robin Boult

Full Set List
  • The Voyeur (I like to Watch)
  • Emperor's Song
  • Circle Line
  • State of Mind
  • Hotel Hobbies
  • Warm Wet Circles
  • That Time of the Night (The Short Straw)
  • Just for the Record
  • Incommunicado
  • Torch Song
  • Slainte Mhath
  • Going Under
  • Sugar Mice
  • White Russian
  • The Last Straw
  •  Tux On
  • Perfume River
Encore 2
  • The Great Unravelling

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Metallica - Birmingham Genting Arena

Its a frightening thought that I was still a teenager the last time I saw Metallica at the wonderful and much missed Birmingham Odeon. I will forever remember that night , a mere callow youth being about 10 feet away from the stage on one of the loudest gigs ever where even the floor seem to be vibrating. It was one of the last few shows with Bassist Cliff Burton who tragically died on September 26th in the tour bus crash in Sweden. So, here we are some 31 years later since their first visit to these shores and 8 years since they last came to Birmingham.

I shall skip over the support act 'Kvelertak' from Norway who to me were just a noise and I was pleased when they had finished in truth.


 The stage was “in the round” and the band entered as the lights dimmed to Ennio Morricone’s “The Ecstasy of Gold” from the 'Good the Bad and he Ugly overture. The sell out  15,000 crowd are in raptures and the digital boxes suspended from the ceiling light up with spectacular visuals and rise and fall accordingly. James Hetfield promises us a lot of new stuff and a lot of the old, so something for everybody without a doubt. But we kick off with two new songs before the real crowd pleaser 'Seek and Destroy' from the 'Kill em All' album. The latest album 'Hard wired to Self Destruct' has been hailed as their best effort since the legendary 'Black' Album. And we were to get seven songs from the new album in total.

James Hetfield
Robert Trujillo

‘Now That We’re Dead’ sees more digital cubes holding drums rising from the stage floor ans all four band members bashing out the rhythm. One of my favourites 'For Whom the Bell tolls' came after 'Now that we're Dead'. Without any doubt Metallica are on top form, energetic, powerful  and as tight as any band you will ever see.

As if the Birmingham crowd needed any more reason to party then it came when Hammett and Trujillo  gave a rendition of Black Sabbath’s ‘War Pigs’ after Halo on Fire and a cover version of the 'DiamondHead' classic 'Am I Evil? Which as all Metallica fans know had a a huge early influence on them..
Hetfield shouts out 'Gimme fuel, Gimme fire and that is just what we get with flames shooting from all over the stage!
'Moth into Flame' was dedicated to the late Amy Whinehouse and was memorable for the cool drone-moth-things that flew around the stage during the song.

‘War Pigs’rendition
Kirk Hammett

The technology and effort behind the band is of epic proportion with the planning that goes into making the show an extravaganza of sound and light. So I suppose it shouldn't be that much of a surprise when something 'snaps'. This happened midway through 'One' when a power outage brought things to an abrupt albeit temporary stop. It didn't stop the band for long and once resolved they were straight back into their stride from exactly where they left off, almost seamless. The mark of a band who are at the top of their game , an amazing live band who never disappoint .

Lars Ulrich
Hetfield has been in playful mood tonight, conducting and entertaining the crowd making sure that the sound 'isn't too heavy for them' ? Taking time to talk to a young fifteen year old at the front and another fan who claimed to have seen the band 140 times. 'But I got you beat' is Hetfield's reply. Then we got 'Master of Puppets' before the band made their exit.

Naturally the encores followed even though by now it was gone 11O'clock and timings were running late. Another new boy ‘Spit Out The Bone’ before the epic ‘Nothing Else Matters’ and ‘Enter Sandman’.
The crowd leave absolutely buzzing and probably wondering if and when we may ever see Metallica again? Whatever happens we all feel part of the 'Metallica family' even if it is only for one short night.

Set List
  • The Ecstasy of Gold (Intro) 
  • Hardwired 
  • Atlas, Rise! 
  • Seek & Destroy 
  • The Shortest Straw 
  • Welcome Home (Sanitarium)
  • Now That We’re Dead
  • Dream No More 
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls 
  • Halo on Fire 
  • Am I Evil? 
  • Fuel 
  • Moth Into Flame 
  • Sad but True 
  • One 
  • Master of Puppets 
  • Spit Out the Bone 
  • Nothing Else Matters 
  • Enter Sandman