British Sundial Society Bath Conference April 2019

I know its June, but I’ve been busy.  Way back at the end of April we went to Bath for the 30th annual B.S.S. conference, held at an edge of city hotel called Bailbrook House.

The best of Bath is built of beautiful fine grained limestone, and whilst there are many classic views of that architecture I thought I would offer you a different one.  The Griffin Inn sells excellent beer and opens early.  Here is an internal wall showing off its stone construction, free of plaster.

Bath stone wall Griffin Inn Bath

Most years the conference includes a tour of local dials, and this year the best thing about it (for me anyway) was the mode of transport:

BSS tour bus

I rode the bus into town to this, the first stop, to see the unveiling of a plaque at a sundial in a leisure garden beside the river.  The remaining dials were all in schools, and I’ve had enough of schools so took myself off to explore bits of Bath.

Business roof sign Bath

Spotted this beautiful sign which must predate any conservation area status was created.  Whilst no Council would permit it today I would not be surprised if this one is an integral part of the conservation area, and as such protected from alteration and removal.  Of course being well made to last decades has helped its longevity – J Ellett was a good Smith and Plumber.

I was told by a lady in a museum, that though Royal Crescent is most visited and cited some of the later ones, further up the hill, are actually more pleasing, so I went up the hill.

Lansdowne Cres 6 sheep

This is Lansdowne Crescent, with its living lawnmowers – the grass is on a very steep slope where these beasts probably fare better than sit-on mower operators.  Lansdowne Crescent has some fine ironwork including – a new one for me – a basement bell pull built into the railings.

Lansdowne Cres 3 basement bellpull

On Sunday morning we had an early start.  We had been permitted an early tour of the Pump Room and baths of Bath, specifically to see a famous clock by Tompion and the sundial nearby which was used to set it.  But I thought I’d share this picture of a fine mist over the bath.

mist on the bath

It is possible that you came to this post because of the sundial reference, so I’d better finish with a dial.  This one is beside the Assembly Rooms, and was not mentioned during conference, nor visited on the tour, but it is my favourite.

Admiral Philip sculpture 4

It is dedicated to Admiral Arthur Phillip, first Governor of New South Wales who commanded a ‘fleet’ of prisoner ships sent there, and founded the first settlement in 1788.  He returned to England in 1793 and retired to Bath where he died in 1814.  This dial was unveiled in 2014, and it was made at David Harber’s studios in Oxfordshire.

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Gower gathering planning trip

Jackie and I joined Steve and Jane Jones on the Gower to visit some Jones-related sites and plan this summer’s gathering.  On arriving in Swansea Jackie and I walked up the hill in search of the Bethesda Chapel, which is where Jackie’s great grandparents Thomas Jones and Mary Ann Lewis got married in July 1877.

smaller chapel

Its now the regional HQ of the NSPCC, but it is still standing.  Caught a bus to Mumbles where we met Steve and Jane at the rather delightful Langland Road B&B.  Went for an exploratory walk the next morning, and got as far as Caswell Bay.

smaller of Steve in Caswell Bay cave

And here is Steve exiting a cave thoughtfully.  Just to the north there is a nice bit of folding and faulting in these steeply dipping beds – worth a look next time you are there.  We walked up to the house where Morfydd (Ernest’s first wife) died and looked at the new blue plaque put up there by the Gower Society in 2018 to mark the 100th anniversary of her death.

After meeting with representatives of the Village Hall in Llanmadoc to discuss catering on the big day we walked down to the beach where we found a dead and largely decayed seal skeleton.  They posed for this picture but urged me to hurry as they were downwind of it.

smaller of Steve Jane and JJ with dead seal

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Death Valley to Hospital Heights

Back in early March I went for a walk to Kemptown starting in the cemetery just down the road.  There are lots of ways to walk through the cemetery but one of my favourites is alongside the steep-sloping valley side which was transformed by our Victorian forebears into a street of the dead.  Built into the hillside are fancy tombs, like exotic front doors – something way out of Bilbo Baggins’s price range.  They all have a delightful south facing view, but I guess that doesn’t really matter to the residents.


Climbing out of the valley onto the main road and up to the open grassland that gives fine views across the city and Round Hill, before heading past the racecourse and finding a track heading south towards the growing hospital site.

Once it had a single tower block and was surrounded by lower and older buildings.  Now the tower block is burdened under an ugly helicopter landing pad and the site rises up out of the ground all around its boundaries, dwarfing the streetscape.  I hope it saves buckets of lives and eliminates waiting lists.


Just round the corner there is a newly installed Blue Plaque noting that Prince Petr Kropotkin lived there between 1911 and 1917.  Though a real prince amongst the Tsars he got hooked on Darwinism, and from there developed the idea of Mutualism – saying people could do more for their lot if they worked together, serving their mutual interests.  The plaque is in Chesham Street.

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Nyman’s for the art

On the 22nd March three of us went to Nyman’s, the National Trust property near Haywards Heath, to walk the woods and visit an exhibition of original artwork done by Jackie Morris for a set of poems written by Robert MacFarlane, all in a book called ‘The Lost Words’.


This is Starlings, but you probably guessed that.  Each animal or plant is illustrated with 3 drawings – the thing in its habitat (as the above), the absence of the thing (a trickier idea, but for starlings it was the phone wires without starlings) and an icon of the thing, complete with gold leaf background.  This last illustration works so much better as original artwork than the printed book version, just ‘cos of the gold leaf.

But its the poems that make the whole thing sing.  They are designed to be read aloud, which is a little embarrassing in the quiet gallery space, but has to be done if only as a bold whisper.

Try it with this one about the Wren:

When wren whirrs from stone to furze the world around

her slows, for wren is quick, so quick she blurs the air

through which she flows, yes –

Rapid wren is needle, rapid wren is pin – and wren’s song

is sharp-song, briar-song, thorn-song, and wren’s flight

is dart-flight, flick-flight, light-flight, yes –

Each wren etches, stitches, switches, glitches, yes –

Now you think you see wren, now you know you don’t.

I hope both artists will forgive my use of their works, but I hope you find time to get to Nyman’s to see it for yourself before it closes on June 2nd.  By the way, did you spot the  initial word of each sentence spells the thing in question?

The woodland walk was a delight, especially the exposures of stone, and buildings made of it.



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Front door circular walk

On Friday 22nd February the sun shone and I went for a walk.  Just a mile north of home is a ‘Gateway to the National Park’, well, its just behind Moulsecoomb railway station – the southern flank of Hollingbury Hill, upon which sits an ancient hillfort.  You can walk up teh Lewes Road, but why would you? Perhaps to look at traffic and the enormous building site where Brighton University is expanding?


No, I didn’t either.  There is a quiet way just behind those trees at the top right of the photo above – a sequence of residential streets that go to Moulsecoomb station and the bottom of Hollingbury Hill.  It was a misty day, and the view over Brighton from the hill was, well, limited:

2.5. Lewes Rd valley from southern flank of Hollingbury Hill

But I’m in the National Park, along with scores of dog-walkers – you might spot 4 or 5 of them halfway down the hill.

At the top of this rough grass field there is a dewpond, traditionally a hollow lined with  puddled clay which would retain rainfall.  Perhaps dew as well, they say the cold water might encourage moisture to condense from the air passing over – but can you prove it?  I thought not.

3. pond on Holl Hill 326077

But I don’t want to talk about the pond, beside it there is a tree – such a tempting tree – just asking to be climbed.  So I did.  About 10 feet up I wondered if I’d break much in a fall.  I came down again.

2. tree by pond on Holl Hill 326077

Safely back on the ground I headed north, passing unseen the hillfort mentioned earlier, hiding as it is behind a screen of trees and defended by flying golf balls.  Access is mainly across golf fairways – I usually hold a partially folded map up against my head on the upstream side – this improves my visibility to golfers and offers some sort of protection should they decide to ignore me.

At the north end of the golf course there are three fields running north to the bypass which marks the edge of the city – nearly a mile of permanent pasture.  Walking up the middle of the fields keeps you at least 200m away from the busy Ditchling Road to the west, so that’s what I did.  Until the herd of heifers at the north end spotted me, and , being bored, decided to see if I’d like to play.  Or perhaps I had a cunningly hidden hoard of hay with me.  I cannot pretend to know their motivation, only their action.  They started out slowly, cautiously even, just a couple at first, gradually  gaining courage as their numbers swelled.  Casually, without any outward signs of mounting panic, I turned west, not so much for the road as a gate and its reassuringly strong fence.  I finished that section walking on the cycleway beside the main road, feeling more at ease beside thundering lorries than would normally be the case.

The bridge over the bypass gives fairly easy access to Stanmer Park and it woods dotted with giant trees, many of which are entering their declining years.

6. Bracket fungus

This giant bracket fungus is accompanied by scores of woodpecker holes further up the trunk.  And as I saw them I heard my first woodpecker of this year, drumming on a tree to my west.

Brighton and Hove Archaeological Society have been conducting a dig in Stanmer Park for several years.  Its on a tiny area of pasture, and when the sun shines and the companions are encouraged by occasional finds of not very exciting pottery shards, and lazy lunches are full of buzzing bees and interesting speculation about the site and its historic uses I’m sure digging is thoroughly worthwhile, if only as a social activity.  But such conditions are exceptional.  The usual weekly online dig reports are more about rain, mud and the impossibility of interpreting the plethora of post-holes, ditches and pits exposed.  I don’t dig.

9. BHAS Stanmer site

The photo shows the site partially refilled, as is done each year.  Incidentally, the lane (top left) follows the line of the actual boundary of the City of Brighton and Hove, so this point is the first time I have left the city since closing my front door behind me two hours ago.  Google Maps currently shows the site before the new digging season, at 50.87462 North and -0.11357 West, have a look why don’t you?

I had planned to continue east in this open access land for a while longer, but had my plans amended by the appearance of a n enthusiastic young cow.  She popped over the near horizon, clearly sent on a mission to greet newcomers.  With a determined look she head my way, perhaps to help me across the swathes of churned up mud around the cattle trough.  And indeed her approach did assist my speedy crossing of the mud, even if one foot disappeared briefly from view.  I pulled it up promptly and left her field with only about 2 kilos of mud still attached.  At this point I met my neighbour, John, who seemed to think I was running away from a young cow!  Remarkable how easy it is to misinterpret events.  John was on his road-bike, taking a quick trip up to Ditchling Beacon – with no risk of bovine obstruction at all.

Soon I was passing around the north and east of  Sussex University campus, a feature which seems to require bigger and bigger detours to skirt.  Its growing fast.

11. UoS expansion

To my delight the Swan, at Falmer village was open, so I popped in for a pint.  Palmer’s IPA from Bridport – most unexpected.  Traditional ale, but very welcome, and the landlord was chatty, making the half-hour there thoroughly satisfying.

14. Palmers at the Swan

After passing through Falmer village and its scenic pond (Warning:  blue-green algae, do not enter the water!) I headed south to explore an earthwork just off the right of way.  The low angle of the sun helped define it.

16. earthwork in shadow

Just beyond this enigmatic feature there is a steep-sided valley that contains the visible remnants of a medieval sheep enclosure.  The OS map shows it all, but that is the power of imagination over reality.  Or perhaps access to historic records.  Only one section is really clear, but it is a delightful quiet location – well worth the trespass.

18. enclosure edge on left

Can you see it yet?  On the left hand side of the valley a strong boomerang shadow defining part of a ditch and embankment.  Now I was beginning to run late, so it was over the barbed wire and onto the right of way, past lots of sheep glowing in the nearly setting sun, and a quick, foot-bashing 3 miles on tarmac back home for dinner and the theatre.  If you have been, thank you for reading.

25. shiny sheep 2


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January 2019 – birthdays, a book and an eclipse.

A new book by Dave Bangs is always good news.  The new one is a lifetime of walking and recording nature as only a real committed enthusiast like Dave can.  Its nearly A4 in size, and 360 pages long and he calls it a field guide to the middle Sussex and South East Surrey Weald.  He started exploring as a young guy, using trains, buses and a bike.  More recently its been by car, but the train core is revealed in the area, a few miles east and west of the Brighton to London railway, north of the South Downs up to about Redhill.  And the detail is stunning.

dave bangs new book 4Jan19

I am planning trips to find some of his veteran trees.  He says he has logged over a thousand of them, though hes been doing it so long some may have collapsed and gone now.  Time to plan a few spring walks and see some whilst they still stand.


This is a huge pollarded beech – over 5 full arm-spans around – with Dave nestled in its folds.  He gives 8 figure grid references for the things he cites, which should help me find them.  When I heard of his latest publication I phoned him and he brought a copy round.  What service!

That was 4th January, so I call it a birthday present to me.  On the actual day a group of friends had a fine vegetarian Indian meal in a nearby church hall where Robb Johnson entertained us with his songs after we had eaten food prepared by his partner Meeta.  Below there is Jerry, me and Jackie, and over her left shoulder another friend Jim Grozier – what a sociable evening.

12th Jan pic

Jackie’s birthday is only a few days later, and to mark that she and I had lunch at BomBanes in George Street Brighton.  We would have visited in the evening, but it was a themed dinner, with cryptic crossword clues to baffle and stun.  As neither of us has any talent in that direction we waited until friends came to stay, and all 4 of us went for dinner on the 19th January.

19th Jan bombanes

Whilst the above Viv and Graham were staying with us an eclipse of the moon was due.  Though it was rather early in the morning (maximum eclipse at 3.34am) we agreed to have a look if any one of us woke in time.  One of us woke, so we were all at the upstairs back windows looking NW towards a moon just coming out of eclipse at 4.30am.  Below is my best effort.

eclipse pic21st Jan 2019

At the end of the month I spotted a sad thing – two of Brighton’s taggers had finally decided its OK to spray their scent marking equivalent on a wall supporting a Blue Plaque commemorating the birthplace of a First World War Victoria Cross holder.  Ernest Beal was born on the Lewes Road, and we put up the plaque in the summer, where it has been unsullied by graffiti until January.

tagged Beal 30Jan19

On the same day I attended the AGM of the Brighton and Hove Way Association, in the Cherub Room of a local private school for girls.  I volunteered to act as Secretary of the group which exists to promote a permanent way-marked 18 mile walk around the back of Brighton and Hove, connecting to the coast at both ends, and public transport links at several other points.  I have now walked all of it once, and some parts two or three times, so at least its getting me out and about.  Here is the small gathering hearing from our Chair, Cllr. Pete West.



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Two bits of Culture

In late December we went to see a thing which had too long a title and very little explanation, but did sound as if we would approve the politics – that’s how we culture vultures select stuff, you know.

‘The Animals and Children Took to the Streets’ had just 3 actors (though it seemed more at the time) and a vital projectionist who turned simple backdrops into many and varied scenes.  The projected images where not all still, there were animations of animals and children.  One of the main characters (a mother) was an actress, but as she walked hand in hand with her daughter you had to remember daughter was a projection.  And loads of sounds.  Its from the 1927 Theatre Company, and like the write-up said, has the feel of a dark graphic novel.

The story was one of ghetto poverty and the neighbouring elite and their park.  And it was realistic – when the poor tried to use the park in an act of rebellion they were crushed and forced back to their ghetto.  The end.

The other bit of culture was one I saw with little expectation, but it was stunning.  I caught it on the penultimate day of the Brighton showing, so if you missed it – well, tough.

lady, squirrel and starling

‘A Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling’ by Hans Holbein the Younger (about 1527) was fairly small, beautifully lit (I was unaware of the glass covering it) and delicious.  The colours, detail and textures were lovely.  You had to be there.  The image here is from the National  Gallery website, and if you go to it you can zoom up to full size, and get some sense of the detail.

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