Tuesday, 21 April 2015

A history day: West Stow Anglo Saxon Village and Grime's Graves

After our weekend 'holiday' in Stratford, we are now on an interesting
Caravan Club CL site on the edge of Thetford Forest, Wideham Farm. Our field is part of a working equestrian centre which stables dozens of horses and ponies, their own, some liveried for other people and some which are undergoing rehabilitation. We are asked not to approach any but can watch them from a distance. There are also a few geese which get quite vocal at times, and a dozen or so hens with a very grand rooster. The hens came to check us out pretty much as soon as we arrived and surrounded Dave's chair. Coincidentally, Kris Delmhorst, whose great gig we attended in Lewes on Wednesday, also keeps chickens. For those of you who weren't at the Con Club, you missed one of the best evenings. Kris was well worth the seven year wait. She has a strong emotive voice and her harmonies with new-to-us discovery Hayward Williams were simply perfect.

Wideham Farm is incredibly convenient for visiting the West Stow Anglo
West Stow Anglo Saxon village 
Saxon Village which is just over the road and easily walkable. The site includes several reconstructed houses and buildings incorporating experimental archaeology to test out theories. There is also a good visitor's centre with lots of interesting artefacts from West Stow and its surrounding villages. Most are genuine and include lots of flint axes, arrowheads and the like, plus pottery, glass and jewellery. A few things are replicas such as gold bangles, silver dishes and 'the Sutton Hoo helmet'. We both tried on a different replica metal helmet which was unsurprisingly heavy. I also found it pressed down on my nose - did Anglo Saxon people have much smaller noses? A small agricultural section of the village has pigs and chickens and raised beds where traditional food plants and medicinal plants are grown. The staff were knowledgeable and helpful, and we mostly managed to dodge the sixty-strong school group who were very enthusiastic!

Dave models an Anglo Saxon helmet.
A Sutton Hoo helmet replica is in the background 
Killing time before lunch, we strolled past the Village and down to the River Lark, a small and picturesque river whose footpath leads to a reclaimed gravel quarry that is now a lake and a natural wildlife haven. An important trade route in Anglo Saxon times, the river is now only partly navigable. We saw Canada Geese, Greylag Geese and Egyptian Geese all with their goslings, orange tipped butterflies (or possibly the same one repeatedly), mallards, a coot, big fish that were probably carp, and another butterfly that we couldn't identify because it wouldn't sit still long enough. All this in the space of a hour's stroll!

By contrast to the fairly busy village, our visit to the English Heritage owned Neolithic site called Grime's Graves, a twenty-five minute car drive away, was practically a private tour. I was reminded of Iceland by the disturbed and uneven landscape except here, instead of recent lava flow, the craters and hillocks are man made. Originally identified as an intensive flint mining area in the 1800s, Grime's Graves covers some 400 individual pit shafts over a 96 acre area. Each looks like a collapsed Sussex barrow but the one that is open to visitors entails climbing down - and back up - a thirty foot ladder. I really didn't think that through before visiting! At the base of the ladder, it is possible to peer down ridiculously low chalk and flint tunnels but they are gated off to prevent visitors getting the full Neolithic miner experience and, presumably, getting stuck!

Returning from Grime's Graves, we made a tiny detour to Elvedon Estates Farm Shop which I learnt of this morning via a great developing resource, the caravanning-based website Meals In Fields. This directory includes loads of local shopping opportunities nationwide such as farm shops, pubs, cafes and restaurants. I searched for a farm shop near West Stow and up popped Elvedon Courtyard - a huge tempting display of deliciousness! We bought sausages, cheese, jam, two small fruit crumbles ... and onions.

I'm going to finish up this post with a blast of art and this gorgeous
The Forest Path by
Shannon Curtis 
photograph of Thetford Forest by MotherDuckStudio, a company which is actually based in Nebraska in America. I took a few pictures during our walk through the forest on arrival last Thursday, but they haven't come out well so I'll leave this scenery to an expert! The photographer is Shannon Curtis and the image, entitled The Forest Path, is available on Etsy UK as a greeting card print for a smidge under five pounds, including airmail shipping to the UK. I like the way Shannon has caught the eternal quality of the forest and the way its trees seem to continue endlessly into the distance. Also, I think her photograph was taken on a typically British grey day which makes the lighting particularly atmospheric.

If you like my photographs, some are now available as Greeting Cards via Zazzle.
Please feel welcome to browse my new shop!

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