Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether summer clothe the general earth
With greeness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Monday, September 23, 2013

German Apple Cake

A couple of recent posts about apple cake recipes by Granny Sue at Granny Sue News and Reviews and Jo Ann at Scene Through My Eyes inspired me to make a German Apple Cake and post up the recipe. I used to make it regularly when my children were all at home but haven't made one for several years. It makes a lovely pudding served warm with single (pouring) cream.

 The recipe came to me from my great friend Linda many moons ago and I've scanned the page from my recipe folder.  If you click and enlarge it you'll be able to read it without straining your eyes:)

This is the cake at the stage of adding the spicy apple mixture and before putting the dollops of cake mixture on top. I had a slice with my lunch and as DH was out and hadn't got back before I went out myself I left a note saying 'edible but not great' as I didn't think I'd beaten the batter enough before putting it all together and baking it. When I got back a rather large portion had disappeared and he was highly enthusiastic about it. Then my daughter called in on her way home from work and spotted it. Another slice disappeared 'Mmm that's good' she said. She remembered it from days of old. I still think I can do it better and make it look more attractive. I may have another go tomorrow but that one will go in the freezer!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Autumn Equinox

Today is the Autumn Equinox when the hours of  darkness and daylight are equal. This is a time of ripening fruits, berries, nuts and seeds which hold the promise of new life when  Spring comes round again. They also hold the promise of continuing life for the birds and animals who depend on them for food during the long, hard months of winter.

I love both of the illustrations that I've used in this post, the one above is by Angela Jayne Barnett and is just perfect for this month. September brings the completion of the harvest season when all the crops are safely gathered in and in days gone by this was celebrated by all those who worked on the land - a rather more robust celebration than the feeble shadow that passes for harvest festival nowadays! Although I confess that I have always loved the rousing harvest hymn 'Come, Ye Thankful People, Come' - largely because of the music that it is sung to:)

Come, ye thankful people, come
raise the song of harvest home,
All is safely gathered in
ere the winter storms begin

From today we begin the long, slow (we hope!) descent into winter as the days grow shorter and the nights grow longer. Already the bracken is turning brown and the first  red, yellow and bronze leaves are appearing as the trees begin to withdraw the energy into their roots ready for the long winter's sleep. The circle is turning again as we move into this lovely season.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Chesters and Vindolanda

Our final visit on the second day was to Chesters which was by far the most attractive of the sites we saw - it also sells fabulous ice cream:) The setting is really lovely and it was helped by a blue sky and warm sunshine.
The river is the North Tyne. 
This will be a long photo heavy post but this is because my blog acts as a kind of diary for me rather than because I think that everyone is so desperately interested. In fact I can already hear cries of  'oh no, not more Roman ruins!'  :):)   Many of these photos will be clearer if you click on them to enlarge them.

The preservation is pretty good at Chesters, this is part of the Barracks. For most of its time Chesters was home to the 500 men of the Second Cavalry Regiment of Asturians from Spain. The barracks would have had stabling for the horses as well as accommodation for the men - eight men to a room with separate houses for the officers. 

This is the Commanding Officer's House which has its own private Bath House - the difference between the COs living quarters and those of the men was substantial!

The Bath House at Chesters is one of the best preserved buildings of Roman Britain. Itwas an important part of the fort, the Romans were aware that where so many men were housed at close quarters hygiene was an important consideration. The Bath House was also a place which acted as a social centre. The men not only went there to get clean (by being covered in oil which was then scraped off with a strigil) but they could also recline on the stone benches in the various rooms chatting or playing board games. My shadow was an unavoidable part of the photo due to the late afternoon sun:)

The Hot Bath - there were several rooms of varying temperatures from cold to really hot and usually a plunge pool too.

The final photo from Chesters shows the Strong Room at the back of the Headquarters Building

Not far from Chesters at Carrawburgh is the Temple of Mithras. The Eastern cult of Mithraism was a very popular one with Roman soldiers. It's interesting as well, more about it if you follow this link.

A close up of the three altars (replicas, the originals are in the Museum of Antiquities at Newcastle)which stand at the far end of the temple. The altar on the left shows Mithras as Charioteer of the Sun. The carving is done in such a way that a lamp placed in the hollow behind Mithras will cause the rays to light up. As a matter of fact the way the sunlight is falling on it gives you an idea of the effect the lighted lamp would have.
The annoying thing about this stop is that I didn't discover until too late is that just a little way further on is Coventina's Well. I'm researching the gods and goddesses of the Brigantes tribe and Coventina is one of these. I believe there's little there now other than the spring but just the same I would have loved to have seen it.

The final morning was spent at Vindolanda which is famous for the wood tablets that give a wonderful insight into daily life in this fort on the northern frontier of the Roman Empire. There are work assignments, lists of stores, a letter (probably from the soldier's Mum!) saying ' I have sent you ...pairs of socks from Sattua, two pairs of sandals and two pairs of underpants' :) Another one is to Sulpicia Lepidina, the wife of the fort's commanding officer, from Claudia Severa, the wife of the CO of a neighbouring fort,inviting Sulpicia to a birthday party. All of which has nothing whatever to do with the photo above which is a reconstruction of one of the timber milecastle gateways on Hadrian's Wall.

Vindolanda had excellent water supplies from wells and water tanks fed by springs and streams. Above is a stone slab water tank, the water was channeled to the fort and civilian buildings in stone aqueducts or timber pipes.

This is the remains of a mausoleum, one of several outside the gates of the fort. The Romans didn't allow burials within the boundaries of their forts or towns and the roads leading to them were often lined with tombs and mausoleums

Outside every Roman fort there grew up a civilian population eager to part the soldiers from their hard earned money. Many of the soldiers had families living in the vicus too although they weren't allowed to marry while they were serving soldiers. The vicus contained shops of all descriptions, pubs, both craft and industrial workshops and domestic housing. This is the road leading from the vicus through the West gate into the fort.

This was probably a butchers shop with drainage channels in the floor.

Inside the fort itself this is what remains of the Military Bath House, the artist's impression below shows how it would have looked originally. The steps on the right of the first photo are clearly visible and the pillars to the left  would have supported the floor of the hot dry room and the cold room with the changing rooms to the left of that. If you enlarge the photos it will be clearer:) Note the latrine at the front of the artist's impression - the Romans were a very sociable lot!

The fort contained the usual Principia (HQ building), Praetorium (C/Os house), Horrea(granaries) and Barracks. The photo shows part of the private bath house in the commanding officer's residence. You can see the pilae of the hypocaust system that was used to heat not only bath houses but homes as well. Hot air from a furnace circulated under the floor that was built on top of the pilae. Spaces were left inside the walls so that the hot air and smoke could escape through flues in the roof. Clever chaps these Romans!

I've put in this photo of the Headquarters Building to try and give an idea of the size of it - it really was large and impressive. 

This is on the top right of the above photo near the little tiny people, it's the strong room behind the central shrine.

This is one of the fort latrines - you have to imagine a row of wooden benches along three sides with about 16 hinged seats:) You can see the two channels down the central floor too which would contain running water for washing sponges. I leave the rest to your imagination!  

These hut circles date from about AD208-211 when the Emperor Septimius Severus was campaigning against the northern tribes in Scotland. No-one really knows who they housed - possibly hostages or refugees from friendly tribes looking for protection from the warfare in the north. The earlier Severan fort lay further to the east of the current fort wall

Vindolanda is still being excavated and every summer volunteer diggers come from not only all parts of Britain but from all over the world to help with this vast project. There's a great deal still to be discovered here. There is also an excellent Museum which houses many of the finds including the writing tablets. After a spot of lunch in the cafe(also very good) I set off on the long drive home - the sort I hate, nearly all motorway which is both busy and boring. Worth it for the wonderful experience of walking the Wall though.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Walking The Wall Day Two

We started off at Steel Rigg on our second day walking towards Housesteads. Hadrian's Wall was indeed the 'Edge of Empire' when it was built. It stretches coast to coast from Bowness-on-Solway in the west to Wallsend in the east, a distance of 73 miles. It was built on the orders of the Emperor Hadrian and was begun around 122AD. Although both the height and width varied from place to place it was roughly 10ft wide and 16-20ft high. The building was done by the soldiers of all three of the occupying Legions - the Legio II Augusta, Legio VI Victrix Pia Fidelis and Legio XX Valeria Victrix. Roman Legions contained skilled craftsmen including surveyors, masons,blacksmiths and carpenters. They had plenty of experience at digging ditches as well - at the end of every days march they would have to set to and build a marching camp before they could start thinking about making a meal or getting some sleep. The life of a Roman soldier was not for wimps! They certainly got plenty of experience of digging ditches on the Wall as all the way along it to the north ran a deep V shaped ditch which was up to 3 metres deep in places. The only places where there was no ditch was where the steep crags made it unnecessary.

All along the Wall at roughly one mile intervals were gates each defended by a small guard post known as milecastles. This one is Castle Nick milecastle which is built in a dip in the landscape. In between each mile castle were two turrets which acted as observation posts.

My own photo of Sycamore Gap is rubbish so I've borrowed this one from here. I saw this view from the road but wasn't able to stop and take my own photo. It is, apparently, featured in the 1991 film 'Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves' and is now known as Robin Hood's Tree! And, yes, it is as steep as it looks:)

Another of the stunning views to be had as you walk along this section of the Wall.

We're actually walking on the Wall here rather than beside it. This is looking back along the way we've come and we are beginning to drop down towards Housesteads Fort now.

We're still pretty high up though.

I'm not sure how excited most of you will be able to get about some ruined walls but this building was in its day the central and most important building in the fort. It was the Principia which was the administrative and religious centre, the legionary standards were kept here and it also housed the strongroom where the soldiers pay chest was kept.

This is the fort's hospital, it's built around a courtyard (the grassy bit) and to the right you can see the walls of the small rooms where ill and injured soldiers were cared for. The area between the courtyard and the wards was a covered walkway which went around all four sides of the courtyard. The Roman army took great care of its soldiers, all the men were trained in first aid and some specialized as doctors or orderlies. Every unit had medical staff who were highly trained in surgery and the treatment of wounds and they also had knowledge of pharmacy and medicines. You might find this level of care surprising but the Army played a crucial role in the Roman Empire so it was necessary to keep the men as fit and healthy as possible.

This one of the granaries, the stone pillars supported a timber floor to help keep the grain dry and vermin free. The basement where the pillars are had ventilation holes in the side walls.

This truly was the Edge of Empire, Housesteads is unusual in having Hadrian's Wall as the north wall of the fort. Behind me as I took the photo was the Roman Empire, ahead of me on the other side of the wall was the untamed country of the barbarians!

Here you can see the Wall snaking on down the hill and then up and over the steep ridge ahead towards Chesters but I'll leave Chesters and Vindolanda for another day. I thought some of you might be interested in the following description of the end of a long days march for a Roman soldier from the site of Roman Britain! There's a great deal more about the Roman Army here for those who would like to know more.

 The Roman marching camp was constructed in the following manner:

 The area would be scouted and the best site chosen. The centre of the site would be marked by a flag; this would preferably be placed at a point slightly higher than the surrounding topography. The camp engineer would take sightings using a single groma - a simple instrument which allowed the efficient sighting of right-angles - placed at the designated centre, and the positions of the intended gateways would be marked by other pairs of marker flags at measured distances paced out from this central point. Upon the arrival at the camp site of the bulk of the force, each unit would move to its assigned position within the marked-out area and would dump its gear. The strongest and most experienced centuries would be first, and they would march through almost the entire length of the marked out area before turning aside and making camp; in this way the most experienced troops were set to work on the defences nearest to the enemy. Every eight-man contubernium in each century would assign each of its members to different tasks: If the camp was made in hostile territory, a proportion of the force would be used to form a defensive cordon around the remainder, who would prepare the encampment. The bulk of the force would be used to construct the camp defenses, usually comprising of a single ditch and an inner bank formed from the ditch outcast, with a row of staves implanted in the top of the bank. If there were sufficient men, the defenses may be more elaborate, perhaps built of stacked turves. Whilst the heavy construction fell to the rank and file, under the watchful eye of their centurions, some legionaries were excused the dirty work and as a consequence were termed immunes (Latin immunis, free or exempt from...). These would be required to perform the less arduous tasks; clearing the camp interior, unloading baggage, erecting tents, cooking dinner, tending horses, etc. The first half of the force would already be employed building the forward part of the camp by the time the commander arrived and took up position at the centre. He would probably begin with a meeting of all centurions and officers to discuss any immediate defensive problems. During the time that it took the rearward half of the force to reach the encampment, most of the defensive circuit would already have been delineated by a bank and ditch.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Walking The Wall -Day One

Twenty five years ago my younger son came home from school one day and told me that his Latin teacher was 'looking for mums and dads to do Classical Studies at 'A'level' - apparently he had several 6th formers wanting to do it but not enough for a viable class. Having discovered that Classical studies involved ancient Greek and Roman history, literature, art and architecture I decided to have a go. This was one of the best decisions I've ever made and opened up a whole new world to me. I read Homer, Herodotus, Aristophanes, Plautus, Virgil, Horace, Tacitus and various other authors. I visited the British Museum to look at Greek Vase painting, Fishbourne to see the Roman Palace, Newcastle to see Roman antiquities. Towards the end of our first year Mr Wade suggested that the adults might like to have a week in Athens looking at the Parthenon, the Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus and various other ancient sites - the response was immediate and enthusiastic! The following year we went Rome, Pompeii, Herculaneum and peered into the depths of Mount Vesuvius. After the course was finished the trips continued and we went to Jordan to see the Rose Red City of Petra, sailed up the Nile from Luxor to Aswan visiting all the ancient Egyptian sites,went to Tunisia to visit the wonderfully preserved Roman sites and so on. One place I wanted to visit and never got to was Hadrian's Wall but last week I finally realised that ambition when a group of us from Time Travellers (local archaeology group) went up to Northumberland to walk a couple of sections of the Wall and visit some of the forts that have been excavated. The photos are poor I'm afraid as walking with a group I didn't have the time to do anything other than point and shoot and scurry on after the others:)

We all drove up independently and met up at the Roman Army Museum at Bardon Mill which stands on the site of Carvoran Roman Fort. It's a brilliant museum but sadly one of those 'absolutely no photos' places so all I can do is refer you to the Museum website If you are in the area it is well worth a visit, we saw a superb 3D film called Edge of Empire which happily was available in the shop as a DVD and so has come home with me! After lunch we then drove up to Birdoswald Fort. There was a small exhibition here where I was allowed to take photos and above is a figure of a hooded deity known as genius cucullatus. These native British gods are found only in the north and west of Britain. These are of particular interest to me as in my guise as a member of the Brigantes group I'm (supposedly!) researching the religious beliefs and domestic life of this group. The Brigantes were among the most powerful of the Celtic British tribes and controlled the largest section of what would become Northern England and a good deal of the Midlands too.

Much of Birdoswald Roman Fort is now under farm buildings or under the shop and exhibition area. This is the farmhouse the earliest part of which dates back to the late 17th century.

This is the only part of the interior of the fort that is really visible and it's the remains of the two granary buildings where wheat and barley were stored. The wheat was for bread and the barley for brewing beer for the garrison. Around 800 men would have been stationed here. By 410AD the Romans had left Britain and we were in the so-called Dark Ages. Birdoswald continued to be occupied though and the timber posts mark out the site of what is thought to be an Anglo Saxon timber hall belonging to one of the warrior aristocracy.

From Birdoswald we walked a short section of the Wall from Cawfields Quarry to the Twice Brewed Inn which stands on the old Military Road built in 1746 by General George Wade in the wake of the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion. It's now known rather less romantically as the B6318!  The photo shows Hadrian's Wall snaking its way across the landscape.

This less than flattering photo shows me standing at the highest point on Hadrian's Wall - Winshield Crags. As you can see from my hair it was rather windy!

Here we have the rest of the gang at the same spot - some already striding off into the distance!

It had been warm the whole time but with very heavy cloud, by late afternoon however the sky was beginning to clear and we were starting to see the fantastic views which stretched away in every direction. You'll see the view better if you click on the photo to enlarge it.This is the last photo of the day, once we got down off the Wall we had a quick drink in the Twice Brewed Inn and then went on to the farmhouse where we were staying - all of us ready for the excellent dinner that awaited us.

Sunday, September 01, 2013


I shall be missing for a few days as I'm off to Northumberland early tomorrow morning to spend three days exploring Hadrian's Wall though sadly I shall not be driving there in this lovely old Alvis car. I daresay that my little red Golf is both faster and more reliable though! The Alvis was part of a display of vintage cars at Chatsworth Country Fair which is where I've spent today with my daughter and some of her friends.

I only took a few photos but couldn't resist this lovely horse and her foal - Shetlands I think but I could be wrong as I wasn't listening to what the commentator was saying!edited to say that Penny is absolutely right! I intended to say Shire! There were some little Shetland ponies in the Scurry racing and they must have been on my mind:)

The highlight of the day for me was the fabulous display by The Red Arrows. This formation is called' feathered arrow'.

Somehow they made the shape of a heart with an arrow through it in the sky - I think the mum of one of the pilots was among the visitors:)

The Red Arrows flew in various formations and did all sorts of manoeuvres including flying upside down. Getting photos wasn't all that easy as they were flying so fast .

Love this aerobatic manoeuvre when they all zoom down and then peel off in different directions. These pilots are incredibly skilled  and are a credit to both the RAF and Great Britain.

PS I'll catch up on commenting when I get back.