Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Neolithic sights of Cornwall

Last weekend we went on a short trip to Cornwall. We were there to play a really fun fish-and-chip fuelled show in Falmouth, in a little pub full of nautical paraphernalia on the harbour (our thanks to Luke and Tom for their efforts in putting this show together). However we managed to fit in more than a little sightseeing.

Top of our list were a handful of Neolithic sites. First up, at the very tip of Cornwall was Lanyon Quoit, probably the most famous of these monuments. At between 2500-3500 thousand years old, its position at the edge of a field off a winding road at the top of a hill is inauspicious.

Although smaller than some of the other sites we have seen recently, there was an impressive gravity to this site. Its small size is a relatively new phenomenon because a storm heavily damaged it in 1815 and attempts to reconstruct it were not able to recreate it accurately, as the stones were so badly damaged. Originally the horizontal stone, known as the capstone, was over 7 feet high and a man on a horse could sit underneath. Like many of these stones, its original function is not clear, but the capstone at the top puts it in to the dolmen portal category of stones - which suggests that it is a burial chamber (it is surrounded by barrows). It would be a bleak but remarkable place to bury your dead, at the peak of a hill in a place which feels even now like the end of the world.

Second on our list, and only a short distance from Lanyon Quoit was something completely different - Men an Tol. This monument comprises a highly unusal circular stone (Men an Tol is "the hole stone" in Cornish) and two standing stones in a line. The stones have always attracted superstitious feeling - some saying that they had healing powers. There are many stories of villagers passing sick children through the hole to cure them, and there has been a long held belief that a woman can increase her fertility by passing through the stone. A stern notice on the stile that led into the field warned people that the stones had recently been repaired and to keep away, but the condition of the grass around the hole stone suggested that the latter belief was still in practice.

The site is hidden in a dip on a plateau, and was only identifiable by the small gathering of people with walking poles stood in the field. There was a young fashionable man in tweed talking very loudly and authoritatively about how wonderful it would have been to have lived in one of the cottages that now stand dilapidated and weather beaten in the surrounding fields and how he was trying to renovate one. I wondered what the rate of infant mortality was for the Cornish families that so long ago fled these fields and not for the first time this trip considered the romantic myth of rural life.

We continued around the coast and almost by accident drove past the Merry Maidens, a classic stone circle that is unusual because it is perfectly circular. Being frozen in stone was the usual punishment for fun loving neolithic Britons, and these maidens had just been having too much fun, the Christians thought they were punished for having a dance on the Sabbath. Like many of the single stones on this part of the coast, the Merry Maidens is comprised of small but consistently sized stones. We loved the juxtaposition of the stones and the bus stop.


Hiding behind a PDSA veterinary clinic off a long and lonely wind of road in Ilford, Essex lies a poignant patch of ground, overshadowed by electricity pylons and studded with diminutive graves. Ilford Animal Cemetery was established in the 1920's and has a distinct topographical lore all of its very own. The cemetery is a very singular, quiet place only interrupted occasionally by the sounds of a speeding car or ripple of Eucalyptus leaves. Amongst the headstones, plaques, stone dogs and carved rabbit memorials, nestle older partly rotting wooden crosses from the pet cemetery's earliest days, these weather-tested signs flake paint and memory in equal measure. Besides beloved companions, the 3000 plots here also find final resting places for 12 animals who were awarded the Dickin Medal for bravery, including Able Seacat Simon and the wonderfully titled carrier pigeon Mary Of Exeter, who made several trips behind enemy lines in WWII delivering secret messages to the resistance. However, for all the glory of their graves, at the back of the site where a creosoted fence shields conifers from the elements you can just about make out a wooden sign hidden beneath a landslide of dried leaves and pine needles. This humble square of painted wood remembers all the "strays and ill-treated creatures" who don't have graves, or thoughts spent on them and certainly packs the most powerful emotional punch. Forgotten and decaying on the outermost perimeter this tiny sign makes you acutely aware the unwanted animals are watching and waiting.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

...a circle of burnt earth

Visiting Mercia - WAY THROUGH by Upset the Rhythm

Hello again!
We're releasing a cassette through Comfortable On A Tightrope next month! The tape is entitled 'Enclosure' and the first song from the 10 track album can be heard above. 'Visiting Mercia' continues in the tradition of 'Adlestrop', 'I Remember, I Remember' and 'Pershore Station' as a "train window" poem, only set to sound with Claire's vocal and a cameo from a hooded crow. We hope you like it!

Friday, 20 January 2012

NTS Radio - Live and Living

Hey again,
There are two live songs (Ruined Acre and Rural Fringe) from a show we played with Corpsekisser last week available to hear as part of Upset The Rhythm's radio show for NTS. Think 74 minutes and 30 seconds for WT, but listen to the whole thing too, it's great!

Thursday, 12 January 2012


Kilpeck is a small village in Herefordshire, a few miles east from the Welsh border. We made a special trip over Xmas to see the incredible Norman / Pagan carvings decorating the tiny Church of St Mary & St David. The sandstone figures (attributed to the Herefordshire School of Stonemasons) depict the tree of life, human consuming beasts, green men, dolphins, hares, demons, serpents, musicians and even a sheela na gig! Here's some photos we took, more info here!


Whiteleaf is a hamlet in Buckinghamshire that we visited to see the monumental chalk cross carved into the hillside that dominates the horizon of the village. We went up at dusk to explore the cross and found not only had it snowed up there but some WWI practices trenches, a neolithic barrow and an enigmatic message scratched in pen onto the broken information board overlooking the chalk slope. Here's a painting Paul Nash made in 1931 of the Whiteleaf Cross.


After visiting the Sandham Memorial we were driving through some cryptic country lanes of rural Hampshire and randomly came across Watership Down. I had no idea that this was actually a real place so we made a pilgrimage in honour of childhood obsessions with the Richard Adams book and the animated film from 1978. At the end of the story when Hazel meets the ghostly rabbit folk spirit El-ahrairah and is invited to leave his friends and body behind to run into an afterlife through the blooming primroses I am left destroyed. I'm pretty sure this was my first exposure to the concept and reality of death and I can't watch this without openly weeping like an emotional mess. The beautiful winter light coloured the fields and downs to stunning effect as we walked past a mysterious heap of flowers and a lonely series of horse jumps. I've never been anywhere like this before, it was heavy on the poignant.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Hark the Herald!

A happy New Year to you all! Hope that the festive season has brought a chance to rest and overindulge. We have been busy putting the finishing touches to our new tape, which will be out on Manchester's Comfortable on a Tightrope label later in the year. We're also editing a video for our song Bledlow Cross, which is on the tape, and have been researching a new project about the longest roads, paths and trackways in London.

Furthermore, we have produced a new badge, with heraldic theme, pictured below. They are enamel badges with a butterfly pin and are available to purchase for £2.50 including postage in the UK.

(postage free in the UK)