A Dorset Weekend With The Silent Eye – Part 2

Still officially on a blog break, I swear. But there is more to tell about my trip to Dorset, so here is part two of my weekend with The Silent Eye (for part one click here).

Saturday morning arrived early. There was a lot planned, as there usually is on these weekends, so there was no time to lie in my (very comfortable) bed. Not that I was complaining – I was looking forward to exploring the village and surrounding area, as well as seeing what else might happen in the course of the day.

The village of Cerne Abbas is ancient – the hotel in which I stayed started life as a hall in the 12th century, and was expanded by a prosperous owner in the 14th century. It is called the New Inn, despite its age, and its warren of rooms felt somewhat like a puzzle box, layers upon layers of history all held in one place. The nearby Giant, however, may be older still.

We had driven past him the previous evening, on our way to the village, stopping to take in the view from below. He is best seen from the air, oddly enough, though the view from across the valley is not too bad. There are several theories to the Giant’s history and significance – some say that he is a Celtic god figure, thousands of years old, others that he is a later, Roman, depiction of Hercules. Still others state that he is political satire, a figure made to represent Oliver Cromwell during the Civil War – however, it seems a great effort to make in a out-of-the-way village, nor does it explain the Iron age earthwork just above him on the hill, or the long-standing fertility traditions associated with him.

After breakfast, I joined the group, our meeting place just a short walk away. There was something special taking place this morning, and I felt honoured to be part of it. We wandered along picture perfect streets, past ancient timbered houses and a doorway so perfectly garlanded with flowers it looked as though it had been decorated for a wedding. Perhaps appropriate, considering our destination later that morning…

But first there was a visit to a sacred spring, and a ceremony. While rabbits danced in the nearby field, leaves rustling and water falling, one of the companions took the next step on their journey. While this is not my story to tell, I will say that I held the role of scribe, and was very taken with the solemnity and emotion of the ceremony. Sue has written about it in more depth here, if you’re interested.

Once events were concluded, we set off through an ancient graveyard. It had once been attached to the Abbey which gave Cerne Abbas both its name and much of its wealth, until it was dissolved in 1539 by Henry VIII. Not much remains of the Abbey, but the graveyard holds some interesting tombs, including this one marked with Catherine wheels, an icon we had also seen at the nearby spring, and one which echoed other symbols we were to encounter several times over the weekend.

Now it was time to visit a giant. A gate out of the graveyard led us almost to the foot of the great hill where he rampaged, his club raised, manhood erect. Archaeological evidence suggests that there were originally more details, now lost to time, including what may have been a cloak or animal skin on his outstretched arm and, possibly, a severed head in his hand. He is certainly anatomically correct – so much so that, in Victorian times, his phallus was removed from tourist images so as not to offend delicate sensibilities. A maypole used to be set in the earthwork above him, where childless couples would dance in the hopes of conceiving and it is said that, if the deed is done on the Giant himself, infertility may be cured. However, while there may have been some jokes among the group about the strident masculinity on display, all we planned to do that morning was climb the hill, as we’d been told there was a crop circle in the meadow below the Giant, and were very keen to take a look.

Not everyone decided to make the climb, and so it was a party of four who started along the pathway that ran through a small woodland before ascending, quite steeply, to the top of the hill.

…There was no string to pull her aloft here, the way difficult at times. But worth it, as the landscape unfolded around her, the swelling mound of the hill beneath her feet, the giant rampant to one side…

We took the ridge at the top of the hill, past the ancient earthwork, the pathway lined with orchids and brambles, cinnabar moths with their distinctive bright green and red markings fluttering around. The view was wonderful, the landscape opening up around us as it had at Cadbury.

The Giant is fenced off, though not in such a way that you couldn’t gain access should you want to. We chose, however, to respect the fence, leaving the Giant to the sheep who clung to the steep hillside. Up close, he was nothing more than a series of ridges in the soil, making us consider once again how he was supposed to have been viewed, and by whom.

Sadly, when we reached a point where we could see the meadow below, there was no crop circle. Slightly disappointed, we half-walked, half-slid down the narrow chalky path running alongside the giant, meeting the rest of the companions further down the slope. As we skirted the base of the figure…

…‘Can you feel the heat?’ she asked her companion. ‘Yes,’ she replied. ‘I can.’ The side of her closest to the giant felt warm, as though near to a fireplace or furnace. Something was brewing, midsummer only a few days away…

At the base of the hill we paused for a short while to reflect on the giant and what, possibly, his significance may have been…

…heat rising…

Then we wandered along the river that ran past his feet, clear water laughing as we took the green-garlanded path back to the village. It was almost lunchtime and we had a long way yet to go. This was one of those days where time would stretch and twist upon itself…


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Wednesday Wander – Hampton Court Palace

Okay, so I’ve not wandered too far this week – a train ride, rather than a plane ride, away. Still, it’s to a rather interesting place. London is home to some wonderful palaces – I have another post about the Tower of London still to write – and Hampton Court Palace is one of the finest, a treasure trove of history, design and architecture.

Built by Cardinal Wolsey and taken over several years later by Henry VIII, the palace was constructed between 1515 and 1694. Not much of the original Tudor palace remains in its original state, as successive monarchs each sought to put their stamp on the building.The palace remained a royal residence until Victorian times, though George II was the last monarch to reside there. However, the monarch with whom the palace is most closely associated is Henry VIII. Oranges carved over an internal doorway are symbols of Catherine of Aragon, Henry’s first wife, while the clock above is the Hampton Court astronomical clock, set in the Anne Boleyn gate, named for his second wife. Jane Seymour, his third wife, gave birth to their son Edward, and subsequently died there, two weeks later. It was also at Hampton Court that Henry learned of the infidelity of his fifth wife, Catherine Howard. Imprisoned in her rooms, it is said she escaped and ran the length of the Haunted Gallery, screaming for mercy, but was recaptured and, eventually, executed.

Large landscaped gardens surround the building, running alongside the river Thames. One of the original 16th century tiltyard towers remains, part of Henry VIII’s jousting range, as does his Royal Tennis Court. My friend and I also walked the Hampton Court Maze, planted between 1689 and 1695 for William of Orange, the ancient green hedges taller than we were.

This is the Fountain Court, designed by Sir Christopher Wren during the reign of William and Mary, when a huge program of renovation took place at the palace. William and Mary wanted the design to reflect their status as equal monarchs, so two sets of apartments, equal in size and stature, were designed, as well as two identical interior staircases. However, when Mary passed away, William lost interest in the renovation project and work ceased.With all this history, it’s not surprising that the palace is reputed to be haunted. Several tourists have reported strange occurences, and then there’s ‘Skeletor’, a famous image captured on the CCTV cameras which has not been adequately explained. We didn’t see any ghosts, but we did see a rather dishy fellow, a cross between Damien Lewis and Tom HIddleston, decked out in full Elizabethan regalia, including a single pearl drop earring. Seeing him on the train later in civilian clothes rather spoiled the illusion… 😀

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Thursday Doors – In The Village

img_5301I had a little time after work the other day, so decided to photograph a few of the lovely Georgian doors in the village where I work. It’s a small high street, 16th century half-timbered pubs next to Victorian villas and tiny cottages, older timber framed buildings ‘modernised’ with Georgian facades. The village dates back to Saxon times and is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. In the 12th century it was home to one of the royal Plantagenet palaces, since demolished.

img_5298It’s a lovely place to work, the river running in the valley below next to the more placid waters of the old canal. I’ve seen a kingfisher, flash of brilliant blue, along the river, and at the moment there are snowdrops on the banks – it’s nice to have the option to walk to work, too.

img_5314And I also took a shot of this wonderful fellow. He obligingly stopped so I could take his photo – isn’t he great?

img_5304This is my response to Norm 2.0’s Thursday Doors Challenge, for door-lovers from around the world. For more doors, or to add one of your own, visit Norm’s site and click the link.


If you enjoyed this post and want to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJ,  Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon.

Treasure From My Garden

A little while ago I posted about a horseshoe we found while digging out the back of our garden in preparation for some building work. It was an odd horseshoe in that it was quite small and light, so I shared it in the hopes someone might be able to shed some light on it.

And quite a few of you responded, thank you 🙂 Interestingly, a couple of people commented that it might not have been a horseshoe, but rather a horseshoe shaped heel tap for a human shoe. Looking into it further, this seemed entirely plausible. Then we did some more digging and found something that made it seem even more probable. This is what we found: IMG_3068 If it’s not immediately obvious, this is a last, or a metal sole shaped stand that shoemakers use when making or repairing shoes. It’s very rusty, but still incredibly heavy, and adds credence to the idea that our little horseshoe was in fact meant for humans, rather than horses.

But that’s not all we found…

IMG_3071We also found this old piece of metal, also very heavy. And, upon researching images of old shoe repair sewing machines, it seems very likely it came from one of those.

IMG_3069Then we discovered this old enamelled candle holder, along with a whole host of old enamelled bowls, saucepans and a kettle, all rusted beyond repair.

IMG_3067Plus this sweet little bottle, along with several other old bottles. A quick Google search reveals it to be a Manon Freres perfume bottle from the 1940’s – my daughter thinks it’s just adorable. There were also the remains, sadly smashed, of several cut glass vases, strewn amongst the soil.

And finally, we found this:

IMG_3066It looks Victorian to me, like something you’d see along the line of a roof. Interestingly, underneath all the earth and the remains of the old air raid shelter, we did find several rows of old red bricks. Our house was built in the 1930’s, and I’d been told that the area where we are was, prior to that, all forest. But the bricks and this find seem to indicate to me that there might have been a workshop or some other sort of building here beforehand, perhaps even the mysterious shoemaker’s shop. We are quite near to the Grand Union Canal and the old paper mills where paper was first industrialised, so it wouldn’t be surprising for there to be other industries around the area to support the workers. Of course, it could just have been an old shed or one hell of an outhouse, but I think it might be worth a search through the old town records to see if I can find out more.

So there you go. Treasure from my garden. It’s probably not worth anything, other than curiosity value, but it’s been wonderful to discover.

A Trip Through The Old Town, Hemel Hempstead

IMG_2175Today’s post is a weekend wander around Hemel Hempstead. There is a reason for this – last week, on my Thursday Doors post, roughseasinthemed asked if I could post some pictures of the Old Town area, as I had mentioned that improvements had recently been undertaken. Apparently their partner used to live here, and was curious to see what had been done. So here we are.

IMG_2163Hemel Hempstead Old Town has buildings dating back to the 1500s, though it is believed there has been settlement here since Roman times. Henry VIII used to rampage his way through here, and had a hunting lodge nearby, plus there are rumours of secret tunnels and trysts with Anne Boleyn. He is reputed, as is Anne, to haunt at least one building in the Old Town.

IMG_2180The Old Town has a mix of architectural styles, from half-timbered Tudor buildings,

IMG_2173to Georgian shops and apartments,

IMG_2164to the Victorian splendour of the rebuilt Corn Market, home to my Thursday door.

IMG_2194There are old carriageways leading to hidden courtyards,

IMG_2195Where the gates have been open so long, flowers grow around them.

IMG_2151The improvements took place a couple of years ago and are still ongoing. A rather nice set of gates was installed, one with an image of the church steeple, the other with the old Town Hall.

IMG_2176New paving and parking bays were laid, adding to the appeal of the streetscape.

IMG_2160The building covered in scaffolding was, until recently, a rather unattractive late 70s/early 80s edifice in dark red brick, a bit of an eyesore when compared to the other architecture in the area. It has now been painted off-white and is undergoing other renovations, no doubt trying to make it more sympathetic to the area.

IMG_2155This building is still a mystery, though a small plaque on the front door reads ‘Bank’. It is no longer a bank, and the tattered curtains and peeling woodwork add to the air of intrigue.

IMG_2170This is a small parking area overlooking the Norman church and graveyard. When it was being repaved, an underground chamber was discovered. Perhaps a remnant of the rumoured tunnels?

IMG_2204

I’ll finish with a view over Gadebridge Park, which runs behind the Old Town. Apparently ghostly galloping can be heard there at night – at one time, the Park was private land belonging to a large house (now gone). The owner of the house was a military veterinarian and he used the land to rehabilitate injured cavalry horses, so was somewhat ahead of his time. Apparently the horses lived out their days in peace and tranquility but, every so often, would make formation and charge down the field, as though reliving their battle days. So perhaps it is their hooves that people hear…

Thanks for taking a trip around the Old Town with me. Happy weekend, everyone!