I wrote on Tuesday about how the hedgehog silhouette was inspired by a visit to the Wiltshire countryside last year, and this is a good opportunity to share a few (or maybe slightly more!) photos from that evening, when a chance hunt for bluebells turned into the opportunity to see a local area in a whole new light.
[Insert your own “Why did the pheasant cross the road?” joke here.]
I find pheasants to be paradoxical birds: a traditional symbol of the countryside, yet an introduced species to Britain. Almost as bright and gaudy as a peacock, yet viewed more as dinner than decoration. This particular pheasant made our evening, allowing us to get incredibly close for photos before he ambled on his way.
Late April and early May sees fields across the southwest turn bright yellow as rapeseed (canola) begins to flower. This, plus the purple and blue of a patch of bluebells, meant that the golden hour before sunset was full of colour.
But wait, there’s more!
We couldn’t resist just one more stop as the sun disappeared over the horizon. This land near Lacock is known as Bewley Common and owned by the National Trust. And at sunset on a May evening, it is absolutely stunning.
The last, but certainly not least of the Magnificent Mammal collection is the hedgehog. It is such an iconic British animal that its absence in the collection would have been noticeable—much like it is in reality: hedgehog numbers are down at least 25% over the past decade, and they’ve been plummeting for the past 30-40 years. Needing a decent-sized territory in which to roam, these little critters are finding it difficult to adjust to the increasing fragmentation of urban gardens. While this can be dealt with by ensuring that holes are made in fences, an increase in garden chemicals and road traffic are harder obstacles to work around.
A few years ago, I had a close encounter with a hedgehog that showed me how endearing they can be. It was a hot day in September and I was trimming the hedges between our house and the park when I spotted a dead hedgehog. I was saddened—this was my first encounter with one and it was deceased. I went to move it off the path and deeper in the bushes so it could rest in peace, out of the way of dogs and park visitors, when I discovered that it was actually still breathing. I grabbed a shoebox and some thick gardening gloves, and very carefully scooped it up and took it inside. The cooler temperatures revived it, and I could hear it scrabbling away in the box (and looking for an exit) as I rang up veterinarians and animal rescue places in the area. Fortunately I found someone willing to collect it on a Sunday afternoon. Before it went away to be fattened up over
the winter, I couldn’t resist a few photos and giving it a name: Lazarus.
Returning to the card collection, from a silhouette perspective their rather rotund shape makes hedgehogs rather tricky! And what to show as a landscape? In the end, I decided to go with the British countryside, with some eponymous hedgerows in the background. This particular photo was taken last May on a beautiful spring evening when we went to check out a recommended bluebell wood. The bluebells were spectacular, but we also got more than we bargained for with an absolutely charming pheasant.
Miss the details about the other animals in the Magnificent Mammals collection? Read them here:
I am not a morning person. A late night of reading, writing, or working on a current project, followed by long, luxurious lie in the next day is the height of bliss for me. However, there is one thing that will get me out of bed even before the crack of dawn: bluebells.
Every year, the woods near Marlborough gain a carpet of blue as these spring flowers make their presence known, and it is a sheer delight to meander through the forest trails. You can, of course, go at any time of the time of the day, but the early morning light on the flowers is golden, perfect for photography. Add in a spot of mist and the dawn chorus of dozens of unseen birds, and it becomes almost a spiritual experience.
And this is what MrElaineous and I were up to yesterday. A 4:30 am wake-up call to get out of the house just after 5:00 am. A journey through the sleeping towns of Wiltshire, having the road to ourselves for much of the way. And a reminder of how rich Wiltshire is in archaeological heritage.
As a result, our very first stop was not West Woods, but rather the mound of Silbury Hill. Recent rains have turned the area around it into a moat, and the cold weather (-4.5 C according to the car, or about 24 F) meant that mist was rising from the water, shrouding the hill and adding to the mysterious atmosphere. We couldn’t resist stopping for a few photos.
Measuring 30 metres high (almost 100 feet) by 160 metres (525 feet) wide, the mound was completed around 2400 BC. Excavations over the centuries have shown that it is not a tomb, and was constructed in several phases, over a number of generations. Despite its location in the midst of a landscape full of burials (the West Kennet Long Barrow is just a stone’s throw away), the actual purpose of the structure—the largest man-made mound in Europe—remains unknown. Maybe it was a way to unite communities through its construction. Maybe it was to signify the importance of the area. Or maybe it just seemed like a good idea at the time!
We made it to West Woods as the sun was rising and, with the exception of one other photographer who quickly disappeared down one of the trails, had the place to ourselves. The bluebells were not quite at peak, or perhaps just not quite as vibrant as in past years due to the weird spring weather we’ve been having (see above re: morning temperature), but it was still a lovely way to spend an hour. We made plans to return in a week or two, then turned our attention to pressing matters, like what to do for breakfast.
Our favourite place in Chippenham doesn’t open until 9:00am, and considering it was just past 7:00am, we had a bit of time to kill. We had been talking for years about re-visiting Avebury, but had never gotten around, so the decision was made for us: a trip into one of the largest stone circles in Europe.
Avebury is a Neolithic henge monument. The most famous of these is Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain, but the name is misleading: the stones are not the henge. A henge is a bank and ditch earthwork structure that may have a stone or timber circle constructed within it. It should not be confused with a hedge, which is a completely different landscape feature entirely.
The various parts of Avebury were constructed over centuries, from approximately 2850 BC until 2200 BC. Like everything to do with the archaeology of the distant past, interpretation tends to focus on possible ritual aspects. I, however, tend to think back to a book I was introduced to as an undergraduate: Motel of the Mysteries. This parody shows an archaeologist of the future excavating a “graveyard”—a standard motel—and the interpretations he makes as a result. All of this is to say that the reason that Avebury was built and how it was used by its creators will remain a mystery—and that is one of the enduring attractions of archaeology to me.
Complicating matters further at Avebury, many of the stones were destroyed or buried during the Middles Ages because they were associated with paganism. In the early 20th century, marmalade magnate Alexandar Keiller bought the entire village and site of Avebury and commenced excavations. He re-erected the stones where he thought they should be, and also put placeholders where it is thought stones had been lost. This reconstruction has led to the site of Avebury we see today, and also raises the question: is Avebury an ancient or a modern monument?
Regardless, a visit to Avebury on a clear, if slightly cold, spring morning is a wonderful way to pass the time. And in case you’re wondering about all of the sheep: they keep the grass at a reasonable level without damaging the stones. They can also get to places on the steep banks that lawnmowers wouldn’t dare venture.
I think it’s often easy to ignore or overlook the things that are practically on your doorstep. However, it’s worth taking the time to make your own adventure and look at these things in a new light. At the very least, you’ll feel that breakfast is well earned–we certainly did!
This past week I’ve showcased scenes from Bristol, my adopted hometown, as well as new designs I’ve been working on. I am very pleased to announce that these designs have now been turned into postcards and are available in the MissElaineous Shop.
I was also fortunate to live in Bath for a time, and a few of its landmarks have also found their way into my work. Like all of the things I am working on at the moment, from wildlife to writing, this set will expand to include other locations. Including Chippenham at some point, providing I can fit it onto an A6 card!
All of the Local Pride designs are also available to purchase on a number of products on Redbubble: tote bags, throw pillows, mugs, and more can be printed with any of these or the wildlife designs.
A key part of my PhD dissertation involved creating a working prototype of a location-based guide for a heritage site. Bristol doesn’t have a shortage of these: from Civil War defences on Brandon Hill to the eponymous castle of Castle Park, the difficulty is in just choosing one! In the end, my supervisor and I agreed on the Clifton Suspension Bridge: not only is the history of the bridge itself fascinating, but there are a number of other sites visible to visitors as they stroll along the pedestrian walkway.
For example, this unusually shaped stone building overlooking the Avon Gorge is now known as the Clifton Observatory, but it has undergone many transformations over its lifetime. Pre-dating the Clifton Suspension Bridge, it was originally constructed in 1766 as a windmill and used to produce snuff. A decade later, a gale caused the sails of the windmill to spin too fast, starting a fire that left the building in ruins for 50 years, until it was purchased by artist William West to use as a studio. West installed telescopes and a camera obscura in the tower to provide views over the picturesque Gorge and Leigh Woods, and the camera obscura can still be visited today.
And can you see the railings in the lower left? That’s Giant’s Cave. Much like the Observatory, the Giant’s Cave has also been known by many different names over its long history, including St. Vincent’s Chapel, Fox Hole and Ghyston’s Cave, so-called after one of the mythical giants who constructed the Avon Gorge. Its origins, however, are shrouded in mystery, with some claiming that it was used as a chapel as early as 305 AD, before becoming a hermitage dedicated to St. Vincent. In the early 19th century, a gang of robbers used the cave as a hideout, but this was not to last; in 1837 William West excavated a 200 foot tunnel from the Observatory into the cave and opened it to the public.
And here’s one more view of Bristol … come back on Saturday to see how these photos are being used, or check out Redbubble for a preview.