Saturday, 20 April 2019

Stonehenge World Heritage Site Under Threat

I went to Stonehenge many years ago, on a coach trip, when access to the stones was via a grim little underpass from a bleak car park. The stones themselves were great (though I preferred Avebury, where you could wander around the stones, and which we visited on the same trip).
When I go back to Stonehenge, as I intend to do one of these days, I want to see the new visitor centre, and I want to see the stones as part of the amazing landscape that I've learned about over the last few years. It's far more than just Stonehenge - the archaeology extends over the whole Plain, linking many different sites, and it's a unique picture of prehistoric communities coming together in a place that was special to them.

And, of course, the government wants to put a road through it.

There's a road there already, of course, the A303 - originally built when nobody was terribly interested in archaeology and what it could tell us about the past.
The plan is to widen the A303, and put a 2.9km tunnel under the Stonehenge area. This will not just be a tunnel - it'll be the slope down to it at both ends, and it's planned to be a four-lane Expressway with deep cuttings and junctions.
It will cause great damage to the surroundings of Stonehenge, and the site will probably lose its World Heritage status.

There's been a campaign to stop this from happening for some time now, but it's important to keep reminding the powers that be that the road scheme is opposed.
There is a website at
They also have a Facebook page and are on Twitter at @savestonehenge

The Stonehenge Alliance is supported by Ancient Sacred Landscape Network (ASLaN) (you can see they chose the name just to get that acronym!), Campaign for Better Transport, Campaign to Protect Rural England, Friends of the Earth and RESCUE: the British Archaeological Trust.

As a former archaeologist, I really have to support this campaign, or I'd have to hand in my trowel!

Saturday, 13 April 2019

Doreen Valiente's Witchcraft for Tomorrow

A friend lent me a copy of Witchcraft for Tomorrow by Doreen Valiente, one of the founders of modern Wicca.
I'd been aware of her name and her importance in the history of paganism in this country, but I'd never got round to reading anything she'd written before.
To start with, I was surprised to find she'd written the book in 1978 - I may have been mixing her up with Dion Fortune, but I thought her work was earlier than the 1970s. And in 1978 I was starting to do some research to find my own spiritual path - I would have lapped this book up if I'd found it then. Now I'm looking at it more as a historical text, since the tradition has evolved over the years.

Doreen Valiente knew Gerald Gardner, the founder of modern Wicca (who wrote a book called Witchcraft Today in the 1950s) - she calls him "old Gerald" throughout the book, and talks about the Museum of Witchcraft where he was the resident witch when it was on the Isle of Man.
It's quite a comprehensive beginners' guide to Wicca, talking about the eight festivals of the year, how to find a coven, and various rituals and how to perform them. I did like her sense of humour about the new books about witchcraft that were starting to come on the market at that time, supposedly written by people whose family had been witches for generations, and they'd learned the ancient rituals at the knee of their old granny - and Doreen took one look at the words of the ritual, and thought "I wrote that!"

She does throw all sorts of things into the pot when it comes to historical influences on Wicca, though, and some of them have been debunked since she was writing. She thought highly of Margaret Murray, for instance, and repeated the story of the Templars worshipping the demon Baphomet.
She talks about the Age of Aquarius, and Atlantis, and Aleister Crowley and the Order of the Golden Dawn. Then there's "Old George" Pickingill, a Victorian witch and teacher of witches, supposedly founding nine covens across the country. There's also a section about Tantric sex, so they were borrowing practices from all sorts of different traditions. There's even some archaeology.

The descriptions of the rituals are refreshingly down to earth. For instance, for candle-lit rituals she stresses the importance of placing the candles where they won't set fire to billowing robes (if the participants are not working sky-clad), and gives different options for where they should be placed "as long as there is sufficient light". In rituals where wine is drunk, she says it should be whichever wine the participants prefer.
At the end of the book is Doreen's own Book of Shadows, based on older material - she was also the owner of Gerald Gardner's own Book of Shadows.

Monday, 8 April 2019

When Three African Kings Met Queen Victoria

I came across a fascinating book in the Victorian History section of the shop where I work, about a little known State visit to Queen Victoria.
The book is King Khama, Emperor Joe and the Great White Queen, by Neil Parsons.

In Southern Africa, Cecil Rhodes was increasing the territory under the control of his British South Africa Company.
In the 1880s and 90s, he was looking at the territories ruled by three dikgosi - kings or chiefs - in what was then known as Bechuanaland.
Dikgosi Khama III had worked closely with the British military during his reign - he ruled the Bamangwato people.
Dikgosi Bathoen ruled over the neighbouring Ngwaketse people, and Dikgosi Sebele I ruled over the Kwena people.
Together they agreed that they didn't want to be ruled by Cecil Rhodes - so in 1895 they decided to visit the Queen of England and put their case to her.
They were supported in this by the British army and local missionaries.
At first they were denied an audience, so they went on a tour of the British Isles to put their case to the British public. They gave speeches in chapels and at town meetings and gave interviews to newspapers, through interpreters, though Sebele and Bathoen spoke Dutch/Africaans as well as their own language of Setswana. There were even ballads written about them.
Eventually, they did meet with Queen Victoria privately. The result of the meeting was that their lands were put under the direct rule of the Crown, rather than the British South Africa Company, under the Chamberlain Settlement (Joseph Chamberlain was Secretary of State for the Colonies).
This agreement eventually led to the independence of the country of Botswana in 1966, and in 2005 a monument was put up to them in the capital of Botswana, Gaborone.

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Vonda McIntyre has Died

I'd already read Dreamsnake by the time The Wrath of Khan came out, so I knew Vonda McIntyre was a good SF author. She won a Hugo award for Dreamsnake, only the third woman ever to win a Hugo for best novel. She wrote original Star Trek novels as well as film novelisations, and gave Sulu and Uhura their first names, which became canon - Hikaru and Nyota. I think I bought them all.
So her name is inextricably linked with my period of greatest Star Trek fandom, which I remember with great fondness, and I was sorry to hear that she was ill, a little while ago.
It seems that several writers I follow on Twitter remember her with fondness, too, and they have been relating what a welcoming figure she was when they were starting out, or when they met at Conventions, and she was also the "fairy godmother" of people who had attended the Clarion West writing workshops.

Friday, 29 March 2019

Goodbye, Scott Tracy

I've just heard that Shane Rimmer, the voice of Scott Tracy, has died.
Shane Rimmer was a Canadian actor, who also appeared in The Spy Who Loved Me, with smaller parts in other James Bond films - he's believed to have appeared in more Bond films than any other actor apart from those in recurring roles.
He appeared in many films, including Star Wars, as a Rebel Fighter Technician!
In his long association with Supermarionation, not only did he provide the voice of Scott Tracy, but he also wrote scripts for Captain Scarlet, Joe 90 and Secret Service, as well as providing some of the uncredited voices. He also appeared in UFO and Space:1999.
He also appeared in Doctor Who's brush with the Wild West, The Gunfighters, and appeared in The Persuaders.
He was 89.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

More about Boscastle

I've got to go back - I only saw a fraction of what Boscastle has to offer.
When I got back to work, I found a guidebook to the area. It's by Jim Castling, and it's very comprehensive.
The map at the beginning of the book shows me that the pretty little river that flows through the village (the one that occasionally floods catastrophically) is the River Valency, and it's joined around the Wellington Hotel by the River Jordan.

The Wellington Hotel ran a daily coach and four service to Camelford Station until the beginning of the First World War, and famous visitors include Edward VII, Sir Henry Irving the actor, and Guy Gibson of the Dambusters.
Thomas Hardy stayed there when he was working as an architect (before he became a famous novelist) when he was working on refurbishing nearby St Juliot's church. and beside it was the Old Mill, which still has a (now only decorative) mill wheel.

I'd been looking around to see where the castle that gives its name to Boscastle was - and it's actually further up the Jordan valley, with a whole other part of the village that we never saw.
Even further up, on Forrabury Common, you can still see the medieval field system with the strips that were shared among the community. Each strip is about an acre in size, and the area covers 80 acres.
Forrabury Church is dedicated to the wonderfully named St Symphorian. Originally Norman, it was rebuilt in 1867, so there probably isn't much left to interest church-crawlers like myself.
There's also the Minster Church nearby, once the site of a medieval monastery.

The Cobweb pub, where we had lunch, was a warehouse up until 1947, for corn, coal, building materials and household items. The building itself dates back to the 17th century.
Boscastle Pottery, next door, used to be a bakery.
The Old Manor House pub we passed on the way to the Witchcraft Museum really was the old manor house, and amazingly there were once 18 pubs in the village!
The little National Trust bookshop, which we didn't have time to go in, further along, used to be a blacksmith's forge. The National Trust bought the entire harbour, right up to Forrabury Common, in 1955.

There's an old lime kiln by the Harbour restaurant. This was once the village hall, and the local cinema. The lime kiln wasn't the only industry in the village - another building, now called Seagulls, was a manganese mill, and then there were the "fish palaces" where fish were processed. There was even ship building along that stretch of river, and a service that carried passengers from Boscastle to Quebec and New York up until the 1850s!
In its heyday as a port, Boscastle handled up to 300 ships in a year, carrying anything from coal to wines and spirits into the port, and taking out cargos of slate and limestone from nearby quarries. This went on until the railway reached Camelford in 1893. The last cargo ship to come to Boscastle was the Francis Beddoe in 1916.

Tuesday, 19 March 2019


On the Sunday of the Pagan Conference, we all went down to Boscastle for the day. Boscastle is a small coastal village which is home to the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, and they had agreed to let Conference goers into the museum free when we showed them our badges.
There are a lot of artefacts relating to the history of witchcraft, and information on famous witches of the past. One room is done out as a typical witch's cottage, with a tape on in the background talking about charms and spells. Upstairs is a case full of 'poppets' with pins in them - one sad case was a doll dressed as a nurse, with a nail through her belly, apparently made in 1941 by a nurse who had become pregnant, and who was hoping to cause a miscarriage.
Everywhere we looked there was something interesting, like the figure with a goats' head mask, holding a stang, (a sort of trident cum pitchfork) which was used in ritual magic.
It's a fascinating place, and we didn't really spend enough time there, because the Gloucestershire Pagans had booked lunch for 1pm at the nearby Cobweb pub, for 26 of us. The carvery was pretty good, and the pub itself was all flagged floors, low beams and local beer.
By the time we'd finished lunch the weather had worsened, but I was determined to get to the end of the harbour. I left my friends either sheltering in a gift shop or struggling along the path behind me, while I leaned into the wind, felt the hailstone coming in horizontally on my face, and danced along the path to the first harbour wall.
Up there, even I thought it was too windy to go any further, but I did take a photo to prove I'd been that far:

Back in the village, I treated myself to a yarn bowl from Roger the Potter at Boscastle Pottery. It's decorated in their unique mochaware style (with the use of a secret herb to make the tree like markings on the purple and green glaze). I've already used it to keep my ball of wool from rolling around the floor while I'm using my lucet.