Treasure of the World

Two weeks ago, my husband and I had the opportunity of an extended break in the historic and beautiful city of Bath. Whilst there not only did we explore the amazing Roman Baths, dine at the lavish Pump Rooms, we also set one day aside for nature.

In the midst of Autumn what better place to visit than the National Arboretum of Westonbirt.

With over 18,000 trees we were spoilt with autumnal displays and happily wandered for four hours along some of its 17 miles of pathways (one of these amongst the treetops!).

As is often the case, Westonbirt was the vision of one man; in this case a wealthy landowner, MP and gardening enthusiast Robert Halford who started the Arboretum in 1829. Since 1956 it has been managed by the Forestry Commission.

Today it boasts over 2,500 species from all across the globe, and ‘is internationally renowned not only for the diversity and importance of its collection but also its breath-taking beauty’.

“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.” John Muir

“The world’s forests are a shared stolen treasure that we must put back for our children’s future.” Desmond Tutu

“I never see a forest that does not bear a mark or a sign of history.” Anselm Kiefer

“In a forest of a hundred thousand trees, no two leaves are alike. And no two journeys along the same path are alike.” Paulo Coehlo

“An autumn forest is such place that once entered you never look for the exit!” Mehmet Murat Ildan

“The strongest oak of the forest is not the one that is protected from the storm and hidden from the sun. It’s the one that stands in the open where it is compelled to struggle for its existence against the winds and rains and scorching sun.” Napoleon Hill

‘TWIXT THE CUP AND THE LIP *

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Sometimes we don’t need to travel far to journey a long way.

With a publication agreed weeks ago it was with a song in my heart and a dance in my step that I prepared for this major event in my life.

My first book was due out in the world!!

A wonderful celebratory party away was planned…local to us all but a special place to be spoilt and dine in style!

As the date for publication drew closer, delay followed delay and to my shame, lowered my spirits. Worst of all was the lack of communication from the producer and broken promises. In my naive trust, I waited and believed. Until now. At last, our cooperation had to be terminated.

As for the celebratory weekend – I was all set to cancel. My family refused to accept this, insisting that after all the book is ready; apart from the elusive cover! (And final proofread before publication!)

So we set out to celebrate life and what has been achieved – I hope you’ll join me in reliving the wonderful weekend.

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It’s not easy to get anywhere high up in Essex…it’s a pretty flat county but Wivenhoe Park is situated on top of a hill and it is here that Wivenhoe House was built. Wivenhoe House’s fascinating history stretches back to 1759 when Isaac Rebow asked Thomas Reynolds to build the mansion house, which is now Grade II listed.

Stepping out of the car we admired the same landscape painted by the English Romantic artist John Constable in 1816.

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The building escaped mostly unscathed apart from a few broken chimney pots following the country’s worst earthquake in 1884, was requisitioned by troops during WWII before becoming the original home to Essex University in 1964. It is now a hotel.

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The university campus is close by in the park, the tall 1960s tower blocks iconic and for the first time ever I wander amongst them, past a delightful library full (!) of students, past a modern theatre, into the main campus site.

 

Lakes and fountains adorned the area; ducks and coots pecking amiably on the cold ground. A stunning sunset greeted us and we paused to let the peace and beauty sink in – not too long though as the bitter chill bit through our coats.

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Heading round we realised how hungry we were on seeing this unusual cafe…a Routemaster double-decker bus cafe – closed alas but probably just as well as dinner was soon.

The hotel was impeccable with friendly staff who were eager to help. The bedrooms were superb.

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The balcony overlooking the park was a bonus – even if it was too cold to use the welcoming table and chairs.

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The brassiere dining room was delightful and we were welcomed by the sommelier who recommended his original cocktails. How could we refuse! By the end of the evening, my spirits rose even further when presented with the ‘Congratulations’ platter.

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The next morning we just had time for another walk around the grounds; this time to hunt out the two famous cork oak saplings which had been smuggled into the country in the boots of General Redbow following the Peninsular War. What had they witnessed in their two hundred year existence, I wondered?

These impressive trees were both enthralling and majestic; languidly they grew along the ground as well as upwards, their trunks dramatically pock-marked and small leaves reaching in bunches for the sky.

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Gazing at the trees I felt a certain sense of calm for the first time in weeks…their strength and timeless aura transcended my worries and concerns. During this trip, I once again became re-aligned, my inner journey to renewed energy and belief reignited during our short sojourn.

Finally, my deepest apologies to you all…your warm, generous and enthusiastic support for the publication of my short story collection has been overwhelming and it has been hardest to let you down. I hope you will bear with me and kindly ask for your patience until the launch of my book.

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Supermoon photo taken through the trees in the evening.

‘Painting is but another word for feeling.’ John Constable.

I would just substitute the word painting with writing in this case!

Photo ©Annika Perry, except the Constable painting of course!!

*There’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip is a very old proverb, similar in meaning to “don’t count your chickens before they hatch”. It implies that even when a good outcome or conclusion seems certain, things can still go wrong. (Wikipedia)

AN ENCHANTED HAVEN

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Last weekend I fell a little bit more in love with life.

Every journey I set off on, I feel a flutter of excitement, a bundle of palpable nervous energy, never quite knowing what to expect.  A short weekend break booked on the spur of the moment a few days ago was no exception! For our first trip away on our own in fourteen years, my husband and I decided our anniversary was a perfect opportunity for some time-out; June had been, for various reasons, a hectic stressful month with little opportunity to just stop and be together.

North Norfolk proved the perfect haven; a blissful retreat from our busy schedules and our brief sojourn there seemed to last a week as the peace and tranquility washed over us, tension headaches easing, laughter and lightness returning.

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How could this vast empty beach fail to soothe? Trudging through the slip-sliding shingle, the bracing wind playing havoc with my hair, my brain cells vibrating under the onslaught  – I felt alive!

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Hints of fishing were evident from the odd boat pulled up far on the beach, however, it is hard to believe that this was busy port until it silted up in the 19th Century.

20170701_111833Nowadays tourism is the biggest industry in the area – although Cley proved to be quiet, with visitors dotted around the town, coast and visitor’s centre.

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Isn’t nature our greatest artist, I wonder, standing for the longest of time looking at the waves crashing on the shore, hypnotised by the wondrous displays with each roll.  I’m mesmerised.

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Cley-next-the-Sea is protected from the vast and powerful waves of the North Sea by a steep shingle bank, behind which there is saltwater marshland separated by the narrow New Cut; on the south side of this is a huge expanse of freshwater marsh.

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Both areas are alive with the flurry of unusual bird life and it was a joy to celebrate the natural environment; a bird-hide providing helpful reminders of the names and characteristics of the avian visitors.

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Here though we were the outsiders, the intruders. We stepped with ease, avoiding the fenced off nesting area and viewed in awe the terns and skuas as they majestically claimed the skies; the egrets reminding me of my trip to Florida, the geese almost hidden in a patch of distant marshland.

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Pausing by the reed beds I close my eyes and just listen…the music of the wind drifting into my soul, the rustle of the leaves creating their own rhythmic sound, soothing, in harmony with the bird calls.

20170702_103741Whilst others muttered at the lack of mobile signal I celebrated the return to ‘olden’ days and scouring my purse for coins I headed to the red phone box to call home. Memories of university days flooded my thoughts, my whirlwind of emotions as I recall hours spent calling from these tardis-style contraptions!

The village has a lovely quaint feel to it; many buildings are reminiscent of its former Flemish trading partner with gabled roof lines and many built using the local Norfolk flint. The main road, although narrow, winds its way through the centre of the town with lots of mysterious alleyways leading around the back of the village, often into people’s gardens!

Gourmet meals punctuated the end of our days and at one restaurant we were welcomed on our special day with complimentary champagne, a strawberry slice resting at the bottom of each flute. The food was sublime, an ecstasy of tastes and occasions that will long live with me!

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As always I admire the strength and vitality of the flora as even in these somewhat inauspicious conditions flowers flourish; particularly striking is the yellow horned-poppy, native to the area.

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It’s been a long while since it’s been this hard to leave a place – one of those times when all elements of a trip conspired to offer us an exquisite time filled with joy every moment. On the car drive home, I sit in silence, savouring the sense of contentment and resolve to carry this harmony forward into the everyday, letting the lightness shine brightly into the days and months ahead.

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Finally, many thanks to Klausbernd and Dina (Hanne) at The World According to Dina for inspiring me to visit Cley-next-the-Sea – their photos and description of the village and surrounding area caught my imagination a while ago. Alas, we didn’t have time to arrange to meet up…next time hopefully!

GHOST CRABS ET AL

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‘Hey folks! Have you got the photo yet? I’m getting pretty bored with this posing lark!’

I noticed the  perfect round holes first. 

What lived in these burrows visible across the beach? Soon after I began to catch glimpses of the elusive crustaceans as they scuttled across the sand and as if leaping, disappeared into their holes.  Impossibly so,  I felt as the crabs were far broader than its habitat. Intrigued I wondered about their appearance, colouring. Not the usual dark brown crabs from the North Sea coast, that much I could see. 

Then one morning one of the mysterious ghost crabs obligingly paused by its burrow and looked up. Its expression was priceless; slightly disarming, slightly grumpy. It stayed still. Waiting patiently as camera phone was found, put on correct setting, sun glasses removed in order to see the screen. Ready at last! The black piercing eyes were unmoving, its shell pale and almost translucent. In contrast the legs shone with gentle light golden hues, furry-like at the tips. The two claws were of uneven size; a characteristic of the ghost crabs – so named for its pale complexion and chameleon ability to blend in with its environment and the shading of the body adjusts according to the time of day.

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The first morning I was mesmerised by a flock of large birds swooping and gliding across the ocean. Five clearly visible although other days up to eighteen would fly across the water close to shore. Suddenly one dived into the ocean before quickly reappearing. What were these majestic birds? Soon I had my answer. Pelicans! I was in utter awe; before I had only seen Pelicans in zoos. It was a joy and privilege to view them on a daily basis in the wild.  Often during meal times three pelicans would pass within two metres of our balcony, their heads and wings clearly visible. An awesome overwhelming sight and we sat in silence savouring the experience.

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One particularly elegant and regal bird was a constant visitor on the shores, purposefully striding along the waters edge, its crisp white plumage gleaming in the sunlight. Always keeping its distance from each other, the little egret, a type of heron, occasionally bopped its black beak into the wet sand before moving on with its striking yellow feet. Time stood still as I watched the egret; sheer peace and harmony. The only time it seemed bothered was as the wind increased following the hurricane and then it tucked its head snuggly against the body, seeking lee within itself.

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Partly hidden under the bottom wooden stair down to the beach, the turtle’s head stretched beyond the step. Oh no! It should have returned hours earlier back to the sea but then I saw its injury, a large chunk of shell lying by its side, no doubt attacked by the seagulls during the night. My heart went out to the poor animal. After our walk it was still on the beach, but heading in the right direction. Later it had disappeared, hopefully after making its own way to the sea!

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Geckos galore! That is the only way to describe the paths around the condo building by the car park as geckos of all sizes crowded the paths. I had to keenly observe the path I walked along, particularly as the baby ones were only a cute centimetre long!

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The sunlight sparkled from this alien orb on the sand; hypnotic in its strange beauty. Was it alive? The answer I found out was no as this was the the ‘jelly’ remains of a jellyfish. Called the mesoglea, this is the last part to decompose when a jellyfish dies, usually after being torn apart by fish, turtles or rough weather. It doesn’t sting but not knowing that at the time I wasn’t taking a chance!

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Butterfly clams were a delight of tiny proportions. Visible briefly as the waves washed over the sand, the butterfly clams use the water to move around on the beach before quickly burrowing themselves again. This recurrent movement is known as the “dance of the coquina”.  Although it was difficult and rare to catch sight of the clams themselves, their shells were scattered across the beach and the child within me eagerly collected a handful of the 15-25 mm empty shells.

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Image from Google

Finally, a mystery! These little birds were a common sight on the beach, pecking away at the sand along the water’s edge. They were among our favourite animals in Florida, so cute and particularly endearing as with each oncoming wave they would dash quickly away up the beach, their little legs stepping so fast. Despite numerous conversations with other walkers along the stretch of coast we became no wiser as to what these birds were actually called. Can anyone help?  Below are my first attempt to upload my own videos from Vimeo – fingers crossed they work!

I hope you have enjoyed the visit to the animal kingdom from New Smyrna Beach; my next post will visit the bricks and mortar of the towns in the area.

Unless specified all photos copyright © Annika Perry

CRYSTAL GROTTO

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“Two contrary emotions arose in me, fear and desire – fear of the threatening grotto, desire to see whether there are marvellous things in it.”    Leonardo Da Vinci

The same contradiction of feelings rose in me as I studied the noticeboard outside the grotto at Painshill Park, Surrey. Here, outside the bright sunlight sparkled across the lake and immaculately white swans swam in a disjointed line. Inside beckoned darkness and the unknown.

‘We are going to the park for a picnic,’ my friends had said. In my mind I pictured swings and slides interspersed with the occasional thwack of a football.

I never imagined this wondrous landscaped garden created over two hundred and fifty years previously. The perfect landscape of green grass, trees, vineyard and a lake with a variety of bridges. The park teemed with formidable follies such as a Turkish Tent perched on a hill, a Gothic Temple tucked away in the trees  and nestling away by the water’s edge the frontage of an abbey ruin.

For the creator of Painshill Park, Hon. Charles Hamilton (1704- 1786), the folly par excellence was this grotto, the largest and rarest of its kind in the country. Hamilton owned Painshill and as a landscape gardener with experience to rival Capability Brown, he designed the garden, including the grotto, which alone cost over £ 8,000 (now £600,000). He then commissioned the premier grotto maker of the era, Joseph Lane to carry the project to completion.

I had heard murmurings from my friends about the grotto as we walked. ‘Recently restored grotto.’ ‘Took over 15 years to repair.’ ‘The whole roof had caved in.’ I paid scant attention to their words, allowing the briefest image of dark dank caves dripping with water to flash before my eyes before quickly banishing the images.

‘Can we go in?’ exclaimed my son as he rushed back from his ventures around the park. ‘It’s just around the corner,’ he added, knowing us too well.  Us lazy adults had enjoyed the unseasonal warmth and sunshine to rest on the blankets after a hearty lunch (thank you Waitrose!).

Who was I to say no? I’m glad I didn’t!

We ducked into the darkness and slowly our eyes adjusted to the dim light coming in slithers of beams from small openings in the corridor. In front of me unfolded the shimmering crystal display. If ever there was a ‘wow’ moment, this was it. In awe our small group were silenced and as one we twirled  around, appreciating the grotto entrance.

This was just a taster of what was to come, as we ambled carefully through the 60 ft long corridor to the main chamber. I stopped and gasped. My heart leapt with joy at the extraordinary vision surrounding me. A cavern of stalactites glittered from the roof of the cavern, water flowed gently to a pool and water dripped gently down the walls. Light filled the chamber, with beams of sunlight coming through the wall openings as well as light reflected from the serpentine lake. The largest opening was built to allow the light from the setting sun to shine into the chamber. The magical aura was all pervasive.

The stalactites are giant inverted wooden cones placed onto the main wooden superstructure which is the main chamber. The interior was covered in lime plaster, a task that alone took four months.

Hundreds of thousands of crystals were subsequently glued onto the coned stalactites and surrounding walls. The crystals were made from calcite, gypsum, quartz and fluorite and the restorers were lucky enough to be able to use some of the original crystals. Most had to be hand-cut however, this task taking over 9,000 man hours as well as eight months to glue into place. 

The vision for the completed restored grotto relied heavily on a 1776  painting of the grotto by Swedish artist and garden designer (Frederik Magnus Piper) to the King Gustav III of Sweden.  Alas google searches of the painting fell foul of European Data Protection laws.

The grotto is a peaceful haven with the sound of the rippling water an aural delight allowing meditative thoughts to flow. ‘The acoustics were amazing,’ my friends said, as if reading my thoughts. They had attended a violin concert in the grotto chamber last Christmas and couldn’t believe the magical quality of sound.

The one real stalactite

The one real stalactite

Visually alluring was the pool of water into which the water flowed. If relatively calm it became ‘nature’s mirror’ and staring into its shallow depths I was overwhelmed with a deep sense of infinity.

In silent harmony we headed one by one to the dazzling blinding light outside, the peace and quiet remaining within us for a long time after our visit.

Thank you to my friends, I thoroughly enjoyed our day ‘in the park’!

SUBMERGED FORESTS

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Whilst reading My Sister’s Sister by Tracy Buchanan I was taken with her wondrous descriptions of the submerged forests her characters visit and not knowing anything about them I wanted to learn more. Join me as I travel (virtually of course, it’s free!) to seven of the submerged forests around the globe.

The forests are created either as a result of deliberate flooding by man whilst building dams or caused by natural catastrophes, such as earthquakes resulting in landslides. More rarely there are the submerged forests that appear and then disappear according to the seasons. I have written about all three variations in this post.

GREEN LAKE, STYRIA, AUSTRIA

Green Lake

This ethereal submerged forest is a natural phenomena formed every Spring as snow melts from the surrounding mountains. The name comes from the emerald-green of the water which raises by 10 m and floods the forest. Beneath in the crystal clear cold waters divers flock to witness the mysterious underwater trees, park benches, footbridges and footpaths. The park itself begins to be restored in July as the waters recede.

Green Lake

LAKE KAINDY, KAZAKHSTAN

Lake Kaindy

This ghostly haunting submerged forest contains huge spruce trees which still retain their pines in the cold water. The imposing trunks rise like supernatural apparitions out of the water, as if still grasping for life.

Lake Kaindy

This 400 m long lake was created following an earthquake in 1911 when a landslide formed a natural dam which filled with rainwater in the valley. Again because of the excellent visibility this lake has become highly popular with divers and unlike Green Lake there are no seasonal restrictions.

Lake Kaindy

LAKE VOLTA, GHANA

Lake Volta

This lake is the opposite of the two previous ones which showed so much life.  Here huge trunks of dead hardwood trees stick straight out of the water in an eerie atmosphere of decay and destruction.

It was formed when the Akosombo Dam was built in the 1960s creating the world’s largest reservoir. Altogether 3,000 square miles was flooded. Following the building of the dam hundreds of people have been killed in collisions with the tree stumps in the water as the lake is a busy waterway for fishermen and travellers.

Lake Volta

Recently it has become part of a massive commercial operation as underwater logging has begun and it is estimated that the total value of the tropical hardwood recovered can be in excess of $ 3 million.

DOGGERLAND, NORFOLK

Dogger land Submerged Forest

Closer to home there is the submerged ancient forest off the coast of Norfolk. The age of the forest is estimated to be over 10,000 years old and it had been part of the Doggerland region which at one time allowed hunter-gatherers to travel across the land mass to Germany.

The lost forest was only uncovered following the storm of December 2013 when tens of thousands of tons of sand and gravel from the buried forest shifted under the power of the waves. Although in more obscured sea conditions this is still a significant find.

Dogger land Submerged Forest

It is believed that the oak forest was knocked flat by glaciers and the compressed ginormous solid lumps of wood are visible. Divers are not only treated to the visual delights of the re-emergence of this ancient forest but also to the array of sea-life, such as star-fish and crabs, that have made a home for themselves in the knotholes of the trees.

LAKE PERIYAR, KERALA, INDIA

Lake Periyari

Enclosed within the Periyar National Park this lake was created in 1895 upon the building of the Mullaperiyar Dam. The alluring apocalyptic scene consists of lake punctuated  with a graveyard of dead tree stumps situated in the midst of the stunning beauty of hills. The park itself boasts a large variety birds and mammals as well as being a famous tiger and elephant reserve.

Lake Periyari

LAKE BEZID, ROMANIA

Lake Bezid

Situated in Transylvania this haunting (and perhaps haunted?) lake was formed during the building the of the dam which resulted in the flooding of an entire village. The villagers were displaced in 1977 to make way for the dam.

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Eerily the former Roman Catholic Church tower dominates the centre of the lake. The dichotomy of the normal in such an abnormal situation lends the area an aura of otherworldliness. The church itself was visible until its recent collapse. Dead tree stumps are dotted around the lake.

LAKE CADDO, TEXAS-LOUISIANA BORDER, USA

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It was a delight to read about Lake Caddo on the Texas-Louisiana border. It is the world’s largest cypress forest and is home to living trees that are growing in their semi-submerged state. The sense of magic and mystic is palpable from the photos alone.

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The lake is named after the Native Americans – Caddons or Caddo – who lived on the land until expelled during the 19th Century. Local legend tells of an earthquake in 1812 leading to the formation of the lake. Besides being a place of great natural beauty it is also renowned for the hundreds of sightings of Bigfoot in the area!

Lake Caddo

I hope you have enjoyed the tour of only a few of the world’s submerged forests. Have you visited any of these? Or perhaps even dived in the lakes? It would be interesting to hear from you. All comments are very welcome.

THE 4,000 YEAR-OLD STORY

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Hasn’t mankind always had a desire to tell a story? To tell their story?

The thought struck me as early one Friday morning during Easter as my son and I visited Vitlycke Rock Carvings in Sweden. It’s not often you have a World Heritage Site all to yourselves and in quiet reverence we strolled amongst the 4,000-year-old rock carvings.

100_7892As if bleary from sleep, the sun hung low in the sky, its light dancing between the trees, the dew on the grass shimmering in sparkles of delight. Slowly we approached the biggest rock panel which alone bears over 500 images.

The creative force of the images struck me first. They were full of passion; with brute strength telling the story of their lives. Of gods, hunting, fishing, ships. Of people and animals. Of men and women. Of war and battle. The artistic images rendered vibrant and more visible by the red coloured paint.

In the silence, we felt we had stumbled upon a sacred site, the atmosphere spiritually ladened. The vivacious animated figures were ready for action and seemingly about to leave their two-dimensional existence and enter the realm of 3-D.  I imagined a flotilla of boats sailing away across the seas.

On my first visit many years ago the ship images had bemused me as from the hill the sea was not visible, being miles away. However, a plaque quickly explained that in the Bronze Age the water level was 15 m higher. Below us, where the car was parked, where the visitors centre was built, would all have been under water.

100_7894One particular image of a man is over 2 m long and is the largest petroglyph in the area. Is it a portrait of a local chieftain I wondered? I read the plaque which states this is an image of the god Odin.

With determination and care the people of the Bronze Age wanted to leave their mark – literally! They wanted to leave us their story for future generations. These petroglyphs are a testament to their success, to the power of their story.
100_7905Certain images are still enigmas, argued over by university scholars and school pupils. That is the joy of them as well. What is the meaning of the 30,000 or so ‘cup’ marks visible across the county? One set here has a line of them, reaching down and then ceasing in a circle of ‘cup’ marks. Is it fertility symbols, as declared by scholars? Or at times I like to imagine a group of children, not yet capable of drawing the more detailed images, ‘doodling’ on the rocks.

The magical mystical morning ends with a quiet picnic of contemplation overlooking some of the rock carvings. The people from the Bronze Age beat their story into solid granite, stories which survived four millenniums. Will our forms of story telling live on into eternity?

Wishing you all a lovely day; may the sun shine brightly and breeze blow gently.

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”

Philip Pullman

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