Bothering Bisleys Woods

Going uphill from Stroud along the old Bisley Road the escarpment trudges up to meet you as the long spine of ridge Stroud High Street is perched on lower down gives to the high cold upland. There are wide fields here, clumps of beech trees, hedges and views all around of the valleys and ridges that wrap about dipping out of sight. You can see right out of the valleys to the endlessly stretching distance of the Severn Vale. It is well wooded around Bisley as it is everywhere in the valleys. Woods are at the heart of this landscapes history. There are still several places near Bisley called ‘Frith Wood’ or ‘the Frith’. This is a well recorded name around here. Frith is one of the less common and probably early Anglo Saxon woodland naming words. There are many other kinds of Old English names for describing words embedded in modern place names and certain regions of England have a particular abundance of some specific woodland names, which might be hardly found in others. The Frith name around Bisley comes from ‘Fyrhthe’ that describes probably in its oldest sense a kind of wood in a well-wooded region, maybe of oak and beech. There’s another meaning of a scrub-woodland on the edges of a large wood. These are good guesses made by place name experts trying to work out the intricate land vernacular of words Anglo Saxons gave to topography and silviculture. Bisley as well being surrounded by Frith names has the Lower, Middle and Upper Lyppiats. This means a ‘Hleap Geat’ or leap gate and specifically is describing the kind of gate made for deer to leap in or out of a woodland enclosure for the purposes of hunting. The Lyppiat area is defined by the Toadsmore Valley on one side, and the smaller Horns valley on another side.  Bisley was then once far more wooded and the woods stretched from Stroud High Street with glades breaking it in places to Bisley and Oakridge. The woods would have varied but beech, ash and oak are species recorded in placenames here, especially in the many ‘buckholt’ names on the escarpment on the periphery of Stroud. Names of Ash trees emerge hidden in ‘Eastcombe’ near Bisley that was ‘Ashcombe’ and not much further on ‘Nash End’ that is ‘the Ash Tree end of the Estate’. At Chalford there is Avenis Green which was ‘Abbas Ash’ the Ash of Abba. I’ve also noticed Box, holly and yew likes growing in certain woods around here. Bisley’s own name has ‘Leah’ at the end that here means ‘clearing in woodland’ or seeing how wooded this area was it could mean ‘Bisas Wood’. Bisa or Bisi is apparently a Germanic personal name like Abba.

Today Bisley is a rather tidy and well-off village of Cotswold stone cottages that meet around its church which stands above a prolific spring gushing out of a series of  gothic-ish Victorian stone spouts into a curving gutter. I have feeling that this amazing spring feeding into the Toadsmore Valley had a small temple-shrine attached to it in Roman times reverencing the waters. There are surviving stone altars now in the Stroud Museum that seemed to have come from Bisley church into the possession of Lyppiat Park. Was there even once a Celtic goddess of Bisleys springs? The church standing on the ground above seems to occupy its ground in a deliberate act of taking over from a pagan site, though Bisleys church foundations may be late Anglo Saxon or Post Norman Conquest. Not far away is Bournes Green where a significant Roman Villa is known to have existed. Bisley seems to float in a sea of trees hiding another mysterious history.

 

 

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Stroudwards We Go

The kind of historical landscape that can be seen from the earliest place names around the Stroud Valleys shows that in the Anglo-Saxon age and after the Norman conquest this was quite an ‘undeveloped’ region. The name Stroud has only become an important name in later history. It was originally recorded as ‘The Stroud’ for a marshy stretch of land probably where the Slad Brook originally met the Frome in the Wallbridge vicinity. ‘Stroud’ is a specific kind of marsh apparently defined by abundant brushwood, so willows, dogwood, hazel and alder growing in a wetland might have greeted your sight coming to Wallbridge a thousand years ago where you look to that modern roundabout with the canal between you. That it was recorded as ‘The Stroud’ has the look of it being a name describing elements of a large estate. At the time of the Domesday Book it was Minchinhampton a few miles away from Stroud following the Frome back that acted as a central manor. Bisley as well was an important medieval manor. There are plenty of ‘bridge’ names around Stroud, ‘Wallbridge’ , ‘Dudbridge’ and ‘Bowbridge’ being the most well known ones. In Anglo Saxon times a bridge may not have meant what we think of as a bridge today. It was a term used for a built passage over water that may have been like a causeway of wooden pilings or perhaps the remains of a stone Roman bridge or a bridge like a timbered roadway. Dudbridge lies over the confluence of the Frome and Nailsworth stream on a very old roadway connecting the Severn Vale with Painswick.  Dudbridge could have been a survival of a bridge built in the Roman period, or a timbered adaption of it later in the Anglo Saxon period.  Everywhere you cast your eye around these valleys the placenames show signs that in the Anglo Saxon period this was a wooded region with difficult access and where there was any settlement it was small and probably linked to a more important site like Painswick or Bisley. Outside the valley escarpment Gloucester shows a much more agriculturally developed region in the vale with many interesting lanes joining up settlements and echoes of earlier Romano-British Villa estates influencing perhaps where the Anglo Saxon farmsteads chose to locate themselves.  The one most important villa in the valleys was at Woodchester and later in the Anglo Saxon age old charters show this to be very wooded area, described in Latin as ‘Ruris Silvatici’ a term for ‘wooded country’. It is interesting to walk along the Bagpath that goes through Butterow onwards to Brimscombe following a very old route below the escarpment contour. It still feels like a hidden inwardly turned and bosky place gazing about from the Bagpath. In the Anglo Saxon age the dwellers in these parts must have felt distinctly different from those lot living in the Gloucester vale. The Bagpath winds along with pasture and woods around, the view narrowing into the river Frome valley an umbilical cord-like journey. Bagpath could mean ‘Badgers Path’ or ‘Pack Path’. Brimscombe lies scattered up its own steep hill with a long coombe going into the hillside next to it. The scatter of its houses along the road joining the valley with Minchinhampton up top is of recent history.  Brimscombe is ‘Bremes Combe’  Breme was one of those valley dwellers his name fossilised like the oolitic limestone.

Two Poems of Jolly Political Satire

Here are two of my most recent political satire poems ‘Eating Her Brexit’ and ‘Where’s That Bastard David Cameron?’ I find the current political orgy of stupidity and contempt for the rest of the population quite fertile material for making fun of a not very fun situation.

Eating Her Brexit

She staggered

through the murky streets

waving the tattered Brexit plan.

Eyes bloodshot, voice creaking with the strain

as she tried to explain.

They avoided this mad phantom

making prompt swerves

as the gibbering prime minister flapped the brexit deal at them.

They remember when brexit entered

politics like a virus,

and everyone’s speech became infested

with its itchy brexit problem like a venereal embarrassment.

What does it mean? Who cares anymore?

Mrs May has come to the public

white faced with her continued

repetitions about her brexit deal.

Wearing jelly on her head could improve the situation.

Why not have all her party dressed as bananas

going round the country on a carnival float chanting:

‘Strong and stable as our promise to ruin your future’

Finally Mrs May

is taken away in a white van

she can’t stop saying:

‘To avoid a future of division and uncertainty’

her mouth is full of chewed paper:

she’s eating her brexit.

In the front seat

slime-face Jacob Rees Mogg

turns around

to wink at her and begins

to sing we’re all going on a summer holiday.

 

Where’s that Bastard David Cameron?

His shiny cheeked phizog

once filled television screens

like a corporate helium balloon

goody two-shoes Cameron

smiling and rolling up his sleeves

for the camera as he helped give bowls of gruel

to pox ridden children in a forsaken Northern housing estate.

Lying two-faced Cameron

who suddenly vanished

after his Brexit referendum threw all the egg on his squeaky face.

He used his helium balloon head to float away

to his luxury hide-out where he dresses up as a pork pie

and plays croquet with a baguette.

Cameron’s got a hundred soft dolls of himself that he’ll never sell

now to those pox ridden children

he had hopes for a whole brand of David Cameron action figures to be sold across the nation

now he’s the only one who’ll play with them

and articulate his plastic limbs into heroic contortions.

He tells himself he was a hero

but nobody understands heroes have to conveniently

disappear after making bad self-centred decisions everyone else has to live with.

Where’s that Bastard David Cameron

the public demand to know

that selfish Waitrose approved pillock

has a rubber dingy waiting for him

at Dover

and a nice tent ready for him at the Calais refugee camp.

 

The Most Evil Robin Treefellow Christmas 2018

Thinking about Bronze Age Britain

Before the Romans first landed here with Julius Caesar (going no further than a corner of Kent) Britain had not been some detached mist wreathed island at the western edge of the known world waiting to be found. From the Neolithic it had been constantly involved with a maritime network stretching down the Atlantic and was influenced back at home by what was happening beyond our waters. The height of this time was reached in the middle Bronze Age. A distinctive Atlantic seaboard culture grew out of the intense tin and copper trade that linked Bronze Age Britain to the distant Mediterranean. With the exchange of raw metals came many other exchanges, a cross fertilization of ideas and blood that rippled from Ireland, along western Britain,  and onwards following the coast of France to Northern Spain. I believe from this vital bronze age culture was born what we now call the ‘Celtic’ languages (Welsh, Cornish, Breton, Irish).  The archaeologist Barry Cunliffe writes about all this in his book Facing The Ocean and it is a far more convincing idea of the diffusion of Celtic culture along the Atlantic Seaboard rather than the dated Victorian hypothesis of it originating solely from the Danube basin and spreading from a central European cradle.

This is really interesting in the implications of what such an Atlantic Bronze Age proto-Celtic culture would have believed about gods and the divine. You only have to read the branches of the Mabinogion and also the story of Saint David to realise that the sea and water are regarded as thresholds into the miraculous and wondrous. The sea itself becomes a realm that brings forth the birth of legendary and mystical individuals such as the well-known bard Taliesin. Otherworldly islands reside offshore in the sea where time never passes and enchantment is brought by the songs of  Rhiannons dead-wakening birds or Brans decapitated head uttering poetry.  But looking at the Bronze Age artefacts from Britain and Ireland that have survived it is possible to imagine how the smelting and crafting of bronze could be seen intimately linked with the sun and in particular the experience of the sun rising and setting on the sea where it becomes like the eye of a god. The power of Bronze to catch and dramatically reflect light would have been seen as divine in itself. The suns journey out of the Western Sea was the journey of the gods carrying the light across the sky and down into the darkness of the earth. It is still very moving to watch the sun and become more aware of its course over the seasons. Watching the sun’s trajectory increase over summer and then slowly wane over autumn feels like you are entering into a mythology encompassing all of time; the life, death and rebirth of the sun manifests as a divine truth of a soul on a journey for wisdom, for impossible treasures. What the sun endures in the darkness of winter and when the nights are longer is a terrible death yet always a part of the sun survives and is carried back to the living and the day is bright again.  Bronze Age Britain must have been seen as an island where the sun’s divine power originated. The flow of tin, copper and gold coming from its (and Irelands) shores, the green and fertile land that had emerged from generations of wildwood destruction and now supporting roaming herds of cows. Plenty of stories would have circulated back down the Atlantic Seaboard of this islands fecundity, its holy seers, its rich tribal leaders and bronze smiths who literally were shapers of fire and air bringing the suns power into tangible objects glistening with the unknowable face of the divine. A powerful place to make your home and yet none of this could have unfolded without Britain being part of a bigger world.

pondering the gods of Britain Before Rome

I have pondered the old pre-Christian gods of Britain for a long time. My pondering has brought me to different ideas and theories, to navigate the swamp of druids, to investigate what archaeology has so far discovered about Pre-Roman Britain and countless times I have sat under that particular hill called ‘I don’t know but this is something’. I have come to the point now where I can see our conceptions about what gods and goddesses should be and how we think of the ‘sacred’ has been influenced enormously by the classical Roman and Greek concepts, as well as by Snorri Sturlisons Norse Eddas and no doubt Christianity. The late Roman and Greek gods were well defined in their functions and were housed in temples patronised by the wealthy, priests were men and the role went to those of aristocratic standing. We are familiar with the ‘Olympians’ as a pantheon of gods and goddesses. The idea of there being a clearly defined family of gods and goddesses with clear roles to play in our lives, who are perceived as being similarly human shaped albeit with divine powers and appetites, I feel does not belong to how the gods were understood in prehistoric Britain. Looking at prehistoric ‘ritual’ monuments and sites from the Neolithic to the Iron Age the divine is approached as something in process, unfixed and a connection with watery places seems to have resonance through this time. Also as well the concept of the divine being located in the land and having focus in particular hills/rocks/trees and rivers was obviously the former relationship people had in Britain before Christianity shifted it further off, out of the immediate present. Gods and goddesses always become more abstracted once we start to pigeon hole them, assign them their duties, put them in their temple and it changes us. The native gods of Britain in the Roman period were changed by Roman practises. I always think of the Roman temple to Mercury up at Nympsfield (Gloucester). This was a sacred place long before, going back to the Neolithic with the long barrows gazing from the ridge down to the Severn Vale. Yet under Roman rule this sacred site was given a small temple complex and re-invented in worship of Mercury. I think the gods of pre-Roman Britain had always been changing, but certainly Roman society brought in ways that changed the gods from being not defined, more embedded in secrecy and blurred with the land. this sounds more like a ‘presence’ rather than a ‘thing’. Perhaps it was the presence of the Iron Age gods and goddesses that was far more important than their appearances, as they become more and more visible in the Roman period with statues, inscribed names and mass produced votive offerings.

 

Not that long ago I wrote about the names of Haresfield and Harescombe deriving from the old Germanic personal name ‘Hersa’. I went back to the library to read through Place Names of Gloucestershire and found I had made the mistake of deriving the names Horsemarling (Stonehouse) and Horsepools (Harescomb) from the same as Haresfield. But there was a Horsepools derived from the name ‘Hersa’ yet this was down by the Severn near Hempsted. On the map are two old lanes at Hempsted and Netheridge called ‘Lower Rea’ and ‘Upper Rea’ that meet at ‘Middle Rea’. This is an interesting confluence of ‘Rea’ names! The meaning of ‘Rea’ comes from Old English ‘Atten Tha Ea’ or ‘At the waters/river’. It was clearly the waters of the river Severn and the lanes may have been creeks that filled at high tide. Here lay the forgotten ‘Hersas Pool’ which would have been a fish weir belonging to the same fellow. Also there was a ‘Hersas Brook’ at Harescomb which is the Daniels Brook now. So now we can see a web of ‘Feld’ ‘Cumb’ ‘Broc’ ‘Burh’ and ‘Pool’ (field, comb, brook, bury and pool) stretching from the limestone Cotswold edge down to Gloucester associated with old Hersa. This is a rich land holding which included ample grass pasture for cows and oxen, lighter pasture for sheep higher up, acres for crops in the vale on the more drained soils and a fish weir by the Severn. There would be woods on the sloping edges around Harescomb and the Beacon for coppice and timber. I think I can confidently say this substantial land holding was ‘Hersas Estate’ . But that is as much as I can say about Hersa, who we only know ever existed because at some point in the distant past of the Anglo Saxon Age he happened to be a significant landowner here in Gloucester. The area of Gloucester, Worcester, the Cotswolds and part of Oxford and Warwick all were once lands of the Hwicce who were sub-kings under whoever was the Mercian king at the time. Hersa presumably was a Hwiccean.

And here I have cleverly used georeferenced maps to show you Haresfield, Harescomb and down at the bottom Haresfield Beacon back in the 1888s.

harescombe and haresfield

And here is Middle and Upper Rea at Netheridge by Gloucester

Middle and Upper Rea.png

Lower Rea here and just about discernable are two places marked as fishing houses by the banks of the Severn.

Lower Rea.png

 

Hersas name is solely connected with topographic place name elements which is why it is such an interesting group of place names. Individual names attached to topography belong as I have read to an early period of Anglo Saxon settlement. Anglo Saxon settlement archaeology pre 600 AD in Gloucestershire and Worcestershire remains in the Upper Thames Valley and does not get further than the Fosse Way crossing the Cotswolds. I guess from the middle of the 500s AD patches of Anglo Saxon settlement may have already begun to appear following the river valleys of the Churn and the Coln from Cirencester, but they wouldn’t have been significant. The Welsh Britons of the Severn Vale remained the majority population here even though we have lost much of the Welsh names they would have used for the land. It would have been in the 600’s that Gloucester began to become more Anglo Saxon, albeit Hwiccean Anglo Saxon. Hersas name must belong to that time before later names ending in ‘Worth’ or ‘Tun’ started to emerge out of the existing land use pattern. The land of Hersa may not have even been populated by any Anglo Saxons, but worked by Welsh Britons whose leader had intermarried with the Germanic folk for the status advantages and this land passed in that marriage into the ownership of a Hersa.

And here’s the blue boxes joined by a blue line.

Harescombe Haresfield and the Reas.png

Turold Ditchlouse went off down the lane to the old dung heap. He began to carefully walk around it looking at the mud. After he had moved round it looking at the mud he found a sheeps bone. He picked the sheeps  bone up and waved it. Instantly he was transported to a far future just as happened last time. Blaff! the air made that sound again as he arrived in the far future. Blaff! He was standing in the throne room of an enormous spotted sentient wall hanging. Lo! This was the Monarch Zorgmerp and Turold went forwards bending on one knee in courteous deference to the great speckled sentient wall hanging. ‘What kingdom is this your majesty?’ he asked meekly. ‘In the far future Turold Ditchlouse your land will be ruled by spotted wall hangings and there will be battenburg to eat everyday, also the worship of a large shoe shall have become the manifest religion’ and the Monarch Zorgmerps voice was mighty and extraordinarily low-pitched for such a wall hanging. ‘What about pease pottage?’ meekly asked Turold. ‘Oh there is plenty of battenburg nobody needs pease pottage anymore!’ Zorgmerp answered. ‘Have you seen the Whore of Babylon around in this future?’ Turold could scarcely contain the avid interest in his voice. ‘In this future the world itself now rotates on the Whore of Babylons head’  the monarch wall hanging spoke. ‘Look out this window and behold the rotation of the world!’ and Turold obeyed seeing that indeed the world was rotating just as if on the Whore of Babylons head. ‘Fancy some battenburg oh smelly little man?’ the monarch offered. ‘If you would beg my forgiveness I must get back to my pease pottage’ and Turold left Zorgmerp the giant spotty wall hanging who ruled the distant future.

 

Here is a poem where I try honestly to ridicule the ongoing political implosion with brexit though the ridiculing has actually been achieved by the politicians to themselves mostly before I could:

She staggered

through the murky streets

waving the tattered brexit plan.

Eyes bloodshot, voice creaking with the strain

as she tried to explain.

They avoided this mad phantom

making prompt swerves

as the gibbering prime minister flapped the brexit deal at them.

They remember when brexit entered

politics like a virus,

and everyone’s speech became infested

with its itchy brexit problem like a venereal embarrassment.

What does it mean? Who cares anymore?

Mrs May has come to the public

white faced with her continued

repetitions about her brexit deal.

Wearing jelly on her head could improve the situation.

Why not have all her party dressed as bananas

going round the country on a carnival float chanting:

‘Strong and stable as our promise to ruin your future’

Finally Mrs May

is taken away in a white van

she can’t stop saying:

‘To avoid a future of division and uncertainty’

her mouth is full of chewed paper:

she’s eating her brexit.

In the front seat

slime-face Jacob Rees Mogg

turns around

to wink at her and begins

to sing we’re all going on a summer holiday.

 

Robin Treefellow Badgerman 2018

World War Wrong

It all was wrong

when war was industrialised

and thousands of young men were brainwashed and cajoled into the march of machine slaughter

ruined in sloughs of mud, blood, body parts, shards and barbed wire

with maddened workhorses screaming

It all was wrong

when war was rationalised

a killing factory to test out nerve gas and deadly chemicals

mangled, maimed and mentally fractured

what purpose for the war than to demonstrate how efficiently we can now simultaneously slaughter and utterly mask the reality, the mind numbing horror from everyone at home

It all was wrong long before the machines monotonously crushed soft human body tissue into pieces

it was wrong

but for the men in positions of power and authority war was profit

(ordinary people easily expendable)

like the arms trade today Britain keeping the world steadily fed with weapons

remember World War Wrong

remember it is a choice to live in a world that prioritizes war as the solution

where poppies bleed with soldier and civilian blood

life is nobodies game

throw away the guns

surrender to what could be

wake up to the humanity

in the embrace of a shared vision

peace

no more sides to take

we can make the Earth

a home without divides

a sacred Earth where

every life

a measure of gold

will never be sold to the profanity of war

Robin Collins 2018 A wet Saturday in November just before the 100th Anniversary of Armistice Day 

 

 

 

Recently I was in the Welsh Borders at Radnorshire. This splendid contested hill country oscillating between Welsh and English has a kind  of topographical omphalos or central focus in the Forest of Radnor. This is a high and bald plateau cut with very deep valleys surrounded by the various rumpled hills of this end of Hereford and the beginning of Powys. It is akin to a great fort and the highest gradiants are found up here at Black Mixen and the Whimble. The Forest of Radnor was never a ‘forest’ in the conventional misconception of a forest being a place full of trees. The word forest was brought in by that bag of hooligans known as the Normans and they had adopted it from the Franks of today’s France. For the Normans a forest was a large area of land designated as a place for the nobility to hunt and supply the feasts of the thug aristocracy with a lot of deer flesh or venison. The Forest of Radnor was covered in heather moorland and wooded in its valleys perhaps with sessile oaks clinging with ferns. Radnor comes from the village of Radnor (there’s New Radnor which is under the Whimble and Old Radnor further away on the English side) The Welsh called the Forest of Radnor ‘Fforest Clud’. Today you will find the Forest of Radnor has been  invaded by the monotonous forestry plantations that haunt the Welsh hills like bristling armies regimented in straight lines. Fortunately the moorland heights of Black Mixen and the Whimble are still heatherclad and sky open. The Whimble is a very lovely tit-shaped prominence that rises up out of the plateau. There is an old saying about the Whimble having ‘its cap on’ meaning that it was going to rain. I walked up to the Whimble from New Radnor following an ever steep little road where the trough of a valley fell away on one side and rose up to another full ridge. At the top of this road a buffer of larch plantation cut across the head of the trough valley and a track curved around its edge going out onto brisk headed moor. The larch trees were going gold in their needles. Out on the moor there reared an official sign warning that the deep valley hidden under the massif of the moor was off limits due to it being used by the military (perhaps for picnics?). Walking up the moor was a further slog but the skies were clear and the huge sensuous ridges and backbones of Radnor Forest and the nearby hills of the Edwy valley reared silently. Carpets of wiry heather and bilberry spread into the distance.  The Whimble finally was reached appearing like a shapely prehistoric burial tumulus. The path followed below it and above an almost vertically-sided valley. Behind the Whimble became more elongated and on the escarpment that lay behind it was the scarred cliff of Whinyard Rocks. The air was bracing and lung cleansing up here. I picked up some of the slatey rock from the scree at the bottom of the Whinyard and it went into my pocket.

P1011945.JPG

Towards the Edwy valley

P1011950.JPG

The Whimble from behind

P1011946.JPG

If you squint hard enough you can make out the sheep on opposite ridge