Do you know Gainey’s Well? I know you’ve probably heard of it, You can obviously google it, But that’s not knowing it, is it? It’s only knowing of it. It lies at the end of a street with a rec, Through a seeming suburban garden, (That is in fact a secret pathway) read more
Who Needs Google Earth?
I know that debate rages, dear readers, within you and without you, as to the respective merits of Flann O’Brien’s “The Third Policeman” and his wonderful “At Swim Two Birds”. Personally, I probably enjoy re-reading the latter even more than the former; be that as it may, it is the Policeman that we need to guide us on our next walk: Mothering Sunday, March 10th. Meet outside the Prince Albert at 11.15 or outside the Crown and Sceptre at 12.30 for a walk around the Heavens and the Edgelands of Stroud – three hours at the most, then into Number 23 in Nelson Street for a chinwag in the bistro.
But here is your preparatory reading:
Chapter 3 in Flann O’Brien’s “The Third Policeman” has a diverting section on walking, emanating from the pen of the imaginary mad-savant, de Selby. O’Brien’s eccentric, but, alas, fictional genius, saw roads as “the most ancient of human monuments, surpassing by many tens of centuries” the most ancient of stone edifices created by humanity. De Selby talked of “the tread of time” and how “a good road will have character and a certain air of destiny, an indefinable intimation that it is going somewhere, be it east or west, and not coming back from there.” The unconstrained thoughts of de Selby led him to the conclusion that “If you go with such a road…it will give you pleasant travelling, fine sights at every corner and a gentle ease of peregrination that will persuade you that you are walking forever on falling ground.” I am sure you can see the converse: “…if you go east on a road that is on its way west, you will marvel at the unfailing bleakness of every prospect and the great number of sore-footed inclines…”
De Selby also wrote of urban walking, of “a complicated city with nets of crooked streets and five hundred other roads leaving it for unknown destinations.” Needless to say, “a friendly road” “will always be discernible for its own self and will lead you safely out of the tangled town.” Thus, I think we can say that we do not need Google Earth or even an OS map to guide us both into Stroud and out towards the Heavens or Rodborough Fields or the Slad Valley. Instead, we might carry a copy of Colin Ward’s “Talking Green”, stopping to look at paragraph two on age 44: “Cherished corners of the landscape can be changed beyond recognition in a few hours. Trees, streams, footpaths, buildings, symbols of permanence which transcend ownership, may suddenly disappear.”
Just as the price of liberty might be eternal vigilance, so might be the price of the right road.
I remember studying Charles Lamb’s “Essays of Elia” and William Hazlitt’s essays for A Level; I loved them all, but especially Hazlitt’s piece on walking. It struck a chord back then and just the other day, as well: “One of the pleasantest things in the world is going a journey; but I like to do it myself. I can enjoy society in a room; but out of doors, nature is company for me. I am then never less alone than when alone…” So, “dear readers”, as Mr. Lamb used to write, here follows an essay on the joys of a solitary ramble around Stroud. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy walking and thinking at two and a half miles an hour with friends and family, but sometimes it’s a joy to do it like Greta Garbo, but with the script of Hazlitt.
So let’s hear from the man himself again, for one last time: “Give me the clear blue sky over my head, and the green turf beneath my feet…Instead of an awkward silence, broken by attempts at wit or dull common-places, mine is that undisturbed silence of the heart which alone is perfect eloquence”.
With this in mind and a welcome day off, I walked down Rodborough Hill and into town. It was a Tuesday, but memories of the 1831Captain Swing Riots passed through my mind: “No work today, boys, it’s Rising Monday!” The pre-industrial tradition of Saint Monday floated around my head too, when handloom weavers and so on would take the day off if they fancied it; a pastime destroyed by the tyranny of the factory clock and hooter. But hey ho, in these days of the post-industrial service economy, I had Tuesday off and was free. A walk beckoned, but first I had to deal with William Blake’s “mind-forg’d manacles”, or rather what we today call, a list of things to do.
Now there’s another way to look at lists rather than through the Blakean trope, and that’s the Sergeant Pepper Day in a Life style: a sort of stream of consciousness Zen type thing, but with a periodic break with pen and paper to maintain a list of musings, events and reflections – the sort of thing that can be done only on one’s own. And having serendipitously read Katie Kitamura’s thesis the weekend before in the Guardian, as to why lists are a raging against the dying of the light: “…as long as we’re making lists…we’re keeping faith with some idea of perpetuity”, what chance did I stand?
Whatever. Off we jolly well go. I walked down the Slad Road, past the tumbling stream, an old mill or two, Uplands Post Office at Springfield House, and then turned right into Libby’s Drive. I bumped into Tony, who suggested I call in to see his wares at “Trainspotters”, but couldn’t find the right warehouse, so hearing the sound of saw and hammer, wandered into an old mill for directions. “No speak English,” said the carpenter, but I managed to locate Tony’s bazaar (“I am setting up a series of Love Walks, some of your group might want to join us…walks for single people”) before turning up a lovely old footpath, past the evocatively named “Dyer’s Mead”.
This footpath felt venerable and worthy of veneration: telegram boys in the Great War; cloth mill workers; handloom weavers; medieval peasants; stone age itinerants – who knows in whose footsteps I trod that day, on that worn down, polished-stone pathway. But the crumbling dry stone walls, all dripping with moss, did not prepare me for the shock of the signpost, with news of the threatened development of Baxter’s Field, just down below Summer Street.
Oh Cider. Oh Rosie. O tempora. O mores.
I walked a few metres along Summer Street, before finding the footpaths that took me up to Bisley Old Road, turnpiked Bisley Road and thence Stroud Cemetery. These secluded footpath-thoroughfares are a treasure: Troy Town wooded nooks and crannies, rus in urbe brick and stone, chickens and woodland. They lead past streets with names like Belmont Road and Mount Pleasant, past whistling builders playing out the Ford Madox Ford painting of “Work”. This walk to top of the town Stroud in February sunshine, with its Five Valley cyclorama and River Severn panorama, has that unique and distinctive charm of the mill town in the Cotswolds vibe that makes Stroud Stroud.
I walked through the Cemetery, past the unnamed pauper burial area, past Great War gravestones, past crocuses and snowdrops, down through the gate and left towards Horns Farm. Here the walk takes you right, into the woods, past an old quarry and where, on this cloudless late February morning, wild garlic was just beginning to show. I sat down on a wall eating a cheese and onion sandwich, the ground dry as a bone above the spring line, but below, one could hear the characteristically talkative Five Valley trickle.
The walk then takes you up the hill and into shadow, and on this late winter day, across the frost’s Plimsoll Line, and into the land of frozen water. The arc of this walk then takes you back towards Stroud; glance to your right and hold the old workhouse in your thoughts, as you take in the beauty of the landscape. When the Poor Law Amendment Act was brought in in 1834, the driving force was to make conditions inside the workhouses worse than the worst paid job outside, and to prevent poor relief occurring outside the workhouses. Think of that as you enjoy the wide sweep of the expansive view; workhouses were often designed to prevent inmates having any view of the outside world at all, in the attempt to criminalise and punish poverty.
The mind can turn in on itself when it has no window on the world, but when out walking, the mind can wander creatively, therapeutically and laterally – when you don’t have to continually look at directions, instructions or a map: the “skull cinema”, as John Hillaby once put it. This Zen-like mindfulness and absence of adult cares are some of the joys of solitary walking; I’d reached Claypits Lane without realising it: another wonderful name derived from the fundamentals of the landscape.
I turned around to see a pale moon rising above the equally appropriately named “The Heavens”, before dropping down the hill to reach the main road and the “Shop’N Drive”. It all started to go wrong here: garages and cars and a text from my daughter saying she needed to borrow money; but a glance up towards Butterow and a sight of the Primitive Methodist Chapel and nearby toll house sent the mind off again, away from the petty mundane material concerns of the here and now. Farewell mind –forg’d manacles and hello Hazlitt.
I reflected on the significance and meaning of it all as I walked the canal towpath. What could be the synopsis of the wonders of this day’s solitary walking? What Twitter style summary could I write about all the variegated events, thoughts, events, observations and reflections involved in this individual ramble?
You Never Walk Alone.
theory that has achieved archaeological notoriety
in recent years for explorations of primarily prehistoric landscapes. Its use in archaeology has been one of
the most provoking theoretical developments in the discipline in recent years
and has been a constant source of debate between archaeologists (Bruck, 2005:
Fleming 2006). The following discussion
will not provide an overview of the wide-ranging philosophical field of
phenomenology. It will focus upon on
archaeological phenomenology and whether it can increase our understanding of
the landscape context of Neolithic and Bronze Age burial sites.
Factor” by Traffic, 1973.
history of describing and classifying prehistoric burial sites but many are often uncomfortable with defining how people might have experienced them. Early studies tended to focus on the monument rather than its’ situation (Chapman & Geary, 2000, 318; Watson, 2001). The way in which landscapes and sites were, and still are generally understood is commonly dictated by conventional established fieldwork methodologies such as survey or excavation. To this end, landscapes are still frequently depicted as static and disembodied, two-dimensional diagrammatic
representations (Tilley, 2004). The landscape archaeologist would argue that such “typical” information gives no sense of first-hand familiarity with the site. It does not convey information relevant to how prehistoric burial sites were physically experienced by the people that constructed and interacted with them (Cummings et al, 2002: Parker Pearson, 1999). In an attempt to address this problem, landscape phenomenologists study place, and analyse “sites and locations as static positions where human actions are carried out” (Peterson, 200, 394; Woodward, 2000, 123).
We first need to identify which particular elements of a burial landscape can be shown to be important factors influencing their location in the past and which cannot. However as a point of interest, two of Tilley’s proposed sacred mountains have later religious connections which could have originated in the prehistoric period. Carn Ingli or “hill of angels”, has been linked with the Irish saint Brynach, while Mynydd Troed in the Black Mountains was known in the 5th century as Garth Matrun, the “hillspur of the Great Mother” (Thomas, 1994, 57 & 145-6).
The visual interactions postulated by Tilley (1994 & 2004) may not have been the overriding factor in barrow placement. The dead do not bury themselves (Parker-Pearson, 1999), and the selection of burial sites is a carefully considered undertaking and argument only arises in interpretation of the barrow placement (Barrett, 2004). Field suggests that it is not the burial that is sacred but the landscape itself is sacred, and the important relationship may have been one that placed the barrows in harmony with the landscape (Field, 1998, 321). He compared British Prehistoric burial sites in Sussex with the preferred location for Chinese burials and concluded that they were broadly similar in nature. The majority of sites were located on “well drained, south facing slopes…with water at the base…and mountains in the rear to protect them from…evil influences”
(Field, 1998, 322).
while relying heavily on a sense of vision, also embraces a belief that there are key points of common connection. In Wiltshire, Tilley contrasts a “deep interior world of the coombes and the exterior world of the ridge tops” where the coombes were dangerous places associated with “spirits, mythical forces and the underworld” (2004, 196). He argues that the Neolithic cairns he studied in Wales were connections between Neolithic inhabitants and their Mesolithic ancestors, and were placed in locations with “emotional attachment…and significant places linked by paths of movement” (Tilley, 1994, 202). This raises interesting questions about whether prehistoric barrows were deliberately constructed over spaces imbued with significance, or whether it was pure coincidence (Benson & Whittle, 2007, 31). There is certainly a case for the argument of continuity, as many of the Black Mountain cairns have been found to be sited on early Mesolithic flint scatters, suggesting an ancestral connection via a collective social memory (Nash, 2003, 5 & 2007, pers. comm.; Tilley, 1994, 117). Cummings et al interpreted the Black Mountain cairns as “places of transformation” sited to mark significant landscapes and places where the dead would undergo a metamorphosis from flesh to bone (Cummings et al, 2003, 67). This is another plausible phenomenological theory that cannot be discounted but like so many phenomenological arguments, cannot be proved either.
would argue that a present-day experience within a burial landscape will not be considerably different from that experienced in the Neolithic or Bronze Age (Tilley, 1994). In his discussion of Wiltshire Bronze-Age barrows, Tilley suggests that the present day topography of coombes and ridges was virtually the same in the Bronze Age as it is now. Natural features such as sudden dips, marshland or steep inclines are perceived to have had a similar effect on prehistoric people’s experience of landscape as they have on his own (Tilley, 2004). He neglects to mention that form and character of the landscape may have altered dramatically over many years. The surface appearance of the monuments will also be different as several millennia of soil drift and erosion, stone robbing and plant invasion has transformed their original appearance (Savoy, 1973, 1). It may also look and feel quite different at different times of the year or different times of day. Therefore, it is recommended that sites should be visited under different conditions over a lengthy period of time to have any hope of recreating the experiences of people in the past. (Cummings et al, 2003: Chapman and Geary 2000).
interpretation “is carried out in and for the present”, and a prehistoric experience of a burial landscape might have been very different and probably emotional experience to that encountered today (Tarlow, 2000; Tilley, 2004, 225). While some aspects of “being there” are partially or directly reconstructable such as “…visibility, sound, and touch”, we can never wholly reconstruct the way in which our prehistoric ancestors viewed or experienced a burial landscape (Parker Pearson, 1999, 139). We know that prehistoric people visited, used and reused burial sites, but we don’t know that they understood and saw burial sites in the same way we do today. We often forget that any visits to burial sites were most certainly encountered with friends, family, strangers, animals and objects, and all to the sound of stories, songs and conversation (Nash, pers. comm.; Watson, 2001). Tilley himself acknowledges this and “makes no claims to an understanding…or significance of the prehistoric burial landscape (Tilley, 2004, 74). All that can be suggested by phenomenological explorations of burial landscapes are interpretive possibilities based on our own contemporary experience and observations.
deeper significance to the placement of prehistoric burials than is currently
S. (2000) “Emotion in Archaeology”. In Current Anthropology, Vol. 41, No. 5, pp. 713-746 (Chicago: Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research).
Landscape Archaeologist, Neil Baker, led about a dozen assorted adults and dogs on a guided tour of The Heavens on Saturday, January 19th. We met outside – I said outside – the Crown and Sceptre at two of the clock, for a two and a half hour stroll and muse. Many thanks read more
Re-imagining the landscape’s mapping, Envisioning an old-new cartography: Erasing the blue of the motorways, The red and yellow of roads and thoroughfares, The lines of footpaths, byways, bridleways, All that pale blue signification That denotes tourist amenities, Ignor read more
The following haiku are based around our 12th Night walk and the traditions of turning the world upside down on that day. Commoners became aristocrats, lords and ladies, for one short, if lengthening, day. We maintained that continuity by locating bedraggled, forgotten, read more
Our first Radical Springs Walk today was a great success. Eighteen of us wandered through the Toadsmoor Valley, hoping to locate and name six springs in the tumbling landscape. In the end, we discovered seven. We gathered at the first spring and named it ‘Bella’; we sto read more
Rendezvous Prince Albert for our first springs walk and organise cars. It seems oddly contradictory to ask for a dry day when we track six springs in the Toadsmoor Valley, in our search for the genius loci of Stroud and the Five Valleys, but there we are. Please give us read more
Mapping of the Springs
Sunday 6th January, 11.30 am
On the basis that the Christian festival of Epiphany walked hand in hand with a winter festival involving the Lord of Misrule and a consequent turning of the world upside down, what better day to have for our first springs-walk? Despite the Shakespearian trope of gender-swopping and cross-dressing as in his play, Twelfth Night, first performed on this day, it is probably more practical to make sure you are sensibly shod and attired – just in case “the rain it raineth every day.’
We shall revisit the folk-lore of the bean and pea in the feast – or, rather, cake, for us – and whosoever has the legume shall become the Lord/Lady of Misrule. S/he shall lead our motley throng with the map as s/he attempts to locate and name the springs of the Toadsmoor Valley.
The hunt is on for the six springs within in the steep-sided Toadsmoor Valley, as depicted on pre-war maps. Will we be able to find them, or in the spirit of Epiphany, might we discover others? The walk will be between three and five miles in length – depending on what we discover. Bring along something to eat – and your curiosity.
Precise meeting point to be confirmed – watch this space or Facebook or www.radicalstroud.org.uk