Thursday, 28 October 2010

Methera: Autumn tour

Further to the previous post about the string quartet Methera - see Unusual string quartets - we just had a flyer:
Methera Autumn News 2010
Upcoming National Tour and Album Launch
We are excitedly preparing for our upcoming autumn tour and the launch of our second album.  We are on the road from the 4th to the 14th November and are playing in some lovely venues in England and Wales - from Northumberland to Surrey and Gloucestershire to Cumbria, so it would be great to see you somewhere on the way. All the gig details are ... on our website -
Our second / tan album is 'Methera in Concert'.  It is an exciting live recording now receiving brilliant reviews and lots of airplay...  It is to be released on 01.11.10, but if you want to order a copy now, you can do so on the shop page of the website:

Happy Autumn,

Lucy Deakin - John Dipper - Emma Reid - Miranda Rutter
If you haven't listened to Methera, who play an exciting fusion of English folk and string quartet idiom, there are samples at their MySpace page: The flyer continues:
P.S. Emma has 4 gigs together with Daniel Carlsson between 15th and 19th November, details listed below. Beautifully lyrical folk music by Swedish composers. Daniel Carlsson - soprano and baritone saxophone, Emma Reid – fiddle.
This also is very worth checking out: hear samples from

- RG

Thursday, 21 October 2010


I just ran into an example of the phenomenon of idiolect - language unique to an individual - when I did a double-take on reading the intro to Arnold Zwicky's Language Log post on the psycholinguist Jean Berko Gleason.
From Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky, a link to a Nova "The Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers" piece on Jean Berko Gleason (shown with an enormous wug), here. Very charming.
"Wug", in the context, is a nonsense-word she coined for the "Wug Test", a cognitive test that examines children's ability to correctly form plurals (see her paper The Child's Learning of English Morphology for techie details).  The wug is typically depicted as a bird-like creature. However, to me, "wug" is well fixed in my vocabulary (unused, alongside "kisser", "cakehole", "gob", etc) as a slang term for mouth, so it was as if the phrase read "shown with an enormous gob". It seemed so unlikely that Professor Zwicky would write something with such potential for misinterpretation that I looked it up, and found there to be vanishly few examples of its use in the meaning I'd acquired. However, I tracked down where I most likely picked it up: from a book I first read at 11 or so.
In the latrine he bobbed his head around trying to find a clear space on one of the mirrors. All of them had been heavily stenciled in large letters with such inspiring messages as KEEP YOUR WUG SHUT-THE CHINGERS ARE LISTENING and IF YOU TALK THIS MAN MAY DIE.

"We crashed!" Bill gasped. "Good as dead…" "Shut your wug. That was just the film what broke, Since there's no brass on this run they won't bother fixing it."

Bill, now that he had recovered from his first shock, was being a little crafty, remembering all the trouble he had gotten into by opening his big wug.

- Bill, the Galactic Hero, Harry Harrison, 1965
There are a handful of Google hits, in forum posts, for variants on "keeping one's wug shut" = not blabbing. I wonder if the writers all similarly picked it up from Harrison's novel?

But returning to the Jean Berko Gleason usage, I also wondered if "wug" isn't merely a nonsense-word in that context. Looking at Google Books - see the 1845 Oneóta: or Characteristics of the red race of America from original notes and manuscripts (page 103) and other works by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft - it appears that in the Chippewa language, "wug" is the suffix used to form plurals of adjective-noun combinations involving animate creatures.  Its use by a linguist in a test about plural formation for a little creature seems either a remarkable coincidence or a very nice linguistic in-joke a pleasantly apt coincidence.

Edit made in the light of Professor Zwicky's comment to the effect that the vast search space - a small syllable across all languages - makes such a coincidence, and even semantic coincidence, unremarkable. Point taken, and being well aware of false cognates, I should have been more cautious about it! However, it did lead up a nice linguistic byway.

- Ray

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

The Suspicions of Ermengarde

Updated and reposted: I just finished The Suspicions of Ermengarde (Maxwell Gray, 1908, London, John Long - US title Mrs. Allonby's Suspicions). This is one of the later novels of Maxwell Gray (Mary Gleed Tuttiett).

It concerns the misadventures of Ermengarde Allonby, a young(ish) married middle-class Londoner who goes to the  Côte d'Azur resort Mentone (now called Menton) and finds herself being shadowed by a mysterious bearded man in coloured glasses and a fur coat - she suspects him to be a Russian Anarchist or Nihilist.

Revision: the original post here has now been incorporated into my book A Wren-like Note: the life and works of Maxwell Gray (Mary Gleed Tuttiett). See the official site,

- Ray

Monday, 18 October 2010

The Eskimos' Hundred Words for Snow

Via Yahoo! Answers via The Eskimos' Hundred Words for Snow, Phil James's lovely (and lyrical) satire on the much-debunked 1 but still-repeated myth that Inuit has vast number of words for snow.

tlapa: powder snow
tlacringit: snow that is crusted on the surface
kayi: drifting snow
tlapat: still snow
klin: remembered snow
naklin: forgotten snow
tlamo: snow that falls in large wet flakes
tlatim: snow that falls in small flakes
tlaslo: snow that falls slowly
tlapinti: snow that falls quickly
kripya: snow that has melted and refrozen
tliyel: snow that has been marked by wolves
tliyelin: snow that has been marked by Eskimos
blotla: blowing snow
pactla: snow that has been packed down
hiryla: snow in beards
wa-ter: melted snow
tlayinq: snow mixed with mud
quinaya: snow mixed with Husky shit
quinyaya: snow mixed with the shit of a lead dog
slimtla: snow that is crusted on top but soft underneath
kriplyana: snow that looks blue in the early morning
puntla: a mouthful of snow because you fibbed
allatla: baked snow
fritla: fried snow
gristla: deep fried snow
MacTla: snow burgers
jatla: snow between your fingers or toes, or in groin-folds
dinliltla: little balls of snow that cling to Husky fur
sulitlana: green snow
mentlana: pink snow
tidtla: snow used for cleaning
ertla: snow used by Eskimo teenagers for exquisite erotic rituals
kriyantli: snow bricks
hahatla: small packages of snow given as gag gifts
semtla: partially melted snow
ontla: snow on objects
intla: snow that has drifted indoors
shlim: slush
warintla: snow used to make Eskimo daiquiris
mextla: snow used to make Eskimo Margaritas
penstla: the idea of snow
mortla: snow mounded on dead bodies
ylaipi: tomorrow's snow
nylaipin: the snows of yesteryear ("neiges d'antan")
pritla: our children's snow
nootlin: snow that doesn't stick
rotlana: quickly accumulating snow
skriniya: snow that never reaches the ground
bluwid: snow that's shaken down from objects in the wind
tlanid: snow that's shaken down and then mixes with sky-falling snow
ever-tla: a spirit made from mashed fermented snow, popular among Eskimo men
talini: snow angels
priyakli: snow that looks like it's falling upward
chiup: snow that makes halos
blontla: snow that's shaken off in the mudroom
tlalman: snow sold to German tourists
tlalam: snow sold to American tourists
tlanip: snow sold to Japanese tourists
protla: snow packed around caribou meat
attla: snow that as it falls seems to create nice pictures in the air
sotla: snow sparkling with sunlight
tlun: snow sparkling with moonlight
astrila: snow sparkling with starlight
clim: snow sparkling with flashlight or headlight
tlapi: summer snow
krikaya: snow mixed with breath
ashtla: expected snow that's wagered on (depth, size of flakes)
huantla: special snow rolled into "snow reefers" and smoked by wild Eskimo youth
tla-na-na: snow mixed with the sound of old rock and roll from a portable radio
depptla: a small snowball, preserved in Lucite, that had been handled by Johnny Depp
trinkyi: first snow of the year
tronkyin: last snow of the year
shiya: snow at dawn
katiyana: night snow
tlinro: snow vapor
nyik: snow with flakes of widely varying size
ragnitla: two snowfalls at once, creating moire patterns
akitla: snow falling on water
privtla: snow melting in the spring rain
chahatlin: snow that makes a sizzling sound as it falls on water
hootlin: snow that makes a hissing sound as the individual flakes brush
geltla: snow dollars
briktla: good building snow
striktla: snow that's no good for building
erolinyat: snow drifts containing the imprint of crazy lovers
chachat: swirling snow that drives you nuts
krotla: snow that blinds you
tlarin: snow that can be sculpted into the delicate corsages Eskimo girls pin to their whale parkas at prom time
motla: snow in the mouth
sotla: snow in the south
maxtla: snow that hides the whole village
tlayopi: snow drifts you fall into and die
truyi: avalanche of snow
tlapripta: snow that burns your scalp and eyelids
carpitla: snow glazed with ice
tla: ordinary snow

1. See particularly Language Log's post by Geoff Pullum, Sasha Aikhenvald on Inuit snow words: a clarification, which explains the core of the problem: that Inuit is a polysynthetic language that uses constructs that are essentially equivalent to phrases or sentences in English, so attempting to count them as if they were single-morpheme 'words' is completely meaninglees.

- Ray

Friday, 15 October 2010

Autumn assemblage

Another 3D photo - crossed-eye stereo, click to enlarge. Clematis, blackberries, and (probably) honeysuckle berries, taken at Under Hooken on Tuesday.

- Ray

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Samuel Carter Hall visits Topsham

As it's of local interest, I cross-posted this from the Devon History Society blog.

If you visit St Margaret's Church, Topsham, you'll see in one corner, currently laid out over some pews, an old and very fragile military banner whose logo reads "[Dev]onshire & Cornwall Fencible Reg[iment?]" (text extrapolated, as there's a warning not to touch it, so I couldn't turn it over to see).

Mustered in 1794 by Colonel Robert Hall, with its headquarters at the Salutation Inn, the Devonshire and Cornwall Fencible Regiment was one of a number of such volunteer regiments - see The Forgotten Army: Fencible Regiments of Great Britain 1793 - 1816 - set up for domestic defence during the War of the First Coalition. Their role was somewhat equivalent to the Home Guard of World War 2, but they were more mobile, and many Fencible regiments did see action; the Devonshire and Cornwall Fencibles, for instance, were stationed in Ireland during the 1798 Rebellion.

The basics are on a plaque on a pillar nearby, but I found an interesting and more detailed account of how the banner came to be in St Margaret's in the autobiographical Retrospect of a long life: from 1815 to 1883 by Samuel Carter Hall.  This Irish-born art journalist (reportedly the model for the sanctimonious Seth Pecksniff in Charles Dicken's Martin Chuzzlewit) was one of Colonel Hall's sons. He spent part of his boyhood in Topsham, and in this extract from Retrospect of a long life, he tells of his return in old age, including the story of his father's donation of the regimental colours to the church; their sale to help fund the rebuilding in the 1870s; and their restoration in 1881.
The farthest removed of my memories carries me back to the period of the most glorious of Britannia's sea-fights—immortal Trafalgar. I remember it distinctly, partly because of the following incident : At Topsham, in Devonshire (where my father then resided) in common with all the cities, towns, and villages, of the United Kingdom, there was a general illumination. My father's house was, of course, lit up from cellar to attic ; in each pane of glass there was a candle—the holder being a potato, in which a hollow had been scooped, to supply the place of a candlestick. The universal joy was blended with mourning: Nelson was dead, and in losing him the nation had paid dearly for victory. My father had, therefore, twisted a binding of black crape round each candle—emblematic of the grief that had saddened the triumph. Few are now living who shared with me the sight of the rejoicings blended with mourning that commemorated the 21st of October, 1805.

In the September of 1881 I visited Topsham, the port of Exeter, in Devonshire. Former acquaintance with the town dated, as I have intimated, a very long way back : yet it was fresh in my memory as if barely a year had passed since the last day I spent there, as a boy. I visited first the house (it is the Manor House) that was so long our home, and where nine of my brothers and sisters were born between the years 1792 and 1807. I entered every room; each was as familiar to me as if I had seen it yesterday—every path, step, porch, door, " where once my careless childhood strayed," though I had not seen them for upward of seventy years. I recognized in the flowers descendants of those that had gladdened my childhood ; at least, I fancied they were such. Once, there was in the yard a large chestnut-tree, which, in its fruit season, tempted the boys to " rob " : without any very heavy penalty, I am sure ; but a poor lad fell from one of its branches, and was killed. My father then ordered the tree to be cut down. The school I attended up to my eighth year is now a dwelling let out in apartments ; the playground borders the churchyard, and the latter has absorbed much of the former. A mantle of venerable ivy still adorns the wall of the old house: the ivies were old when I was young.

My main purpose in visiting my old home was one that I think my readers will care to hear of: the memories it revived were such as to make me proud of the name I bear.

When the Devon and Cornwall Fencibles, commanded by my father, was disbanded in 1802, he presented the colors of the regiment to his parish church. They had remained over the altar for just seventy years, when the vicar sold them. Certainly the proceeds went to restore the ancient and venerable structure; but the act was utterly inexcusable—to say the least. I resolved, if possible, to discover what had become of those colors, in the dim hope of replacing them in the church. I found they had been purchased by a Major Keating, an Irishman and a Roman Catholic, whose hall they then adorned, and by whom they were greatly prized. He generously offered to present them to me. I tendered to him the sum he had given for them ; but he declined to receive it. I had the happiness to spend a week with him and his estimable lady at their beautiful dwelling, Westwood, near Teignmouth (her grandparents were relatives of my mother), during which visit arrangements were made for the restoration of the colors to the church, the present vicar of which —the Rev. John Bartlett—was as anxious to receive as I was to restore them.

It was a proud and happy day for me when such presentation took place—on the 20th of September, 1881, the fifty-seventh anniversary of my wedding-day.

I walked from the old Salutation Inn (the inn that was my father's headquarters when recruiting the regiment in 1794, and which in all important features remains unchanged), leaning on the arm of Major Keating, on either side a sergeant-major of the volunteer artillery (each bearing one of the flags), followed by many of the present Devon volunteers and large numbers of the townsfolk. We were received by the vicar; the church was full. Mr. Bartlett preached a sermon appropriate to the occasion ; I unrolled the colors and placed them on the altar. Over that altar they now rest; and there, where they had reposed through so many years that are gone, they will continue, I hope, to meet the eyes of the men and women of Devonshire through generations to come. They will remain, I trust (to borrow the words of Mr. Bartlett to the congregation), " where their children's children may see them—to hang there till they crumble into dust."

My share in the proceedings of that day will be, there is very little doubt, the last public act of my life. Surely the public life of any man could not have been more gracefully or more happily concluded. For with those colors are connected associations of which the counties of Devon and Cornwall may well be proud. There is not the stain of a single drop of blood on those banners of the Devon and Cornwall Fencibles. War is ever a horror; but no Christian man or woman can look at those flags in the church at Topsham without the reverence of love and honor. They dignify and grace the temple in which peace and good-will are preached.

During the Irish Rebellion of 1798 the regiment was quartered in one of the most disaffected Irish counties—Kerry. Under the considerate and humane sway of my father, well seconded by the mingled forbearance and firmness of his men, not a single life was taken in the district over which he ruled with almost autocratic power. Nor was any officer or man of the Fencibles so much as ill-treated, I think, dunng the time the regiment was quartered in "wild Kerry." To all who have read of the horrors elsewhere perpetrated in Ireland— both by rebels and loyalists — during that unhappy year, such a record will be eloquent. The colors presented by my father to Topsham church—that I was the happy means of restoring to their resting-place within the sacred walls — are more hallowed by the memories connected with them than they would have been if they had been carried in triumph over the reddest fields of victory.

- Retrospect of a long life: from 1815 to 1883, Samuel Carter Hall, 1883, D. Appleton and company.
The anecdote is confirmed in the Western Antiquary, which reproduces a newspaper report.
"Weekly Mercury" October 8th, 1881.


The Editor has received the following interesting communication, per favour of Mr. S. C. Hall, K.S.A., and thinks it of sufficient general interest to warrant its publication in the pages of the Western Antiquary.

In 1802, after the " Peace of Amiens," when the Devon and Cornwall Fencible Regiment was disbanded. Colonel Robert Hall, by whom that regiment was raised in 1791, presented its colours to his Parish Church of Topsham. They were hung in that church during a period of 72 years. But they were, in 1874, removed from the place in which they had been so long honoured, and were told—to aid a fund for restoring the church. They were purchased by Major Keating, D.A.V., of Westbrook, Teignmouth, and, very recently, were given by that generous gentleman to the son of Colonel Hall, Mr. S. C. Hall, F.S.A., the well-known author. Thus, by the patriotic sympathy of a Devonshire Volunteer of 1881, the old flags of the Volunteers of 1794 (for such were in reality the Fencibles of that period, although raised to serve in any part of the British Dominions) will be restored to a position they had occupied for nearly three-quarters of the nineteenth century.

The ceremony of their restoration will take place on Tuesday, the 20th of this month (September), with the warm approval of the Vicar, the Rev. John Bartlett, and the churchwardens : when the son of Colonel Hall will restore them to the church, in which, eighty years ago, his father placed them.

The Vicar is not only gratified and happy to receive back into the church these interesting relics of a faraway time : but will undertake that the fact shall be recorded on a brass plate fixed in the church.

No doubt many Devonshire Volunteers will desire to be present on an occasion that cannot but be, to them, deeply interesting. The grandchildren of some of his " companions in arms " may be living to render homage to the memory of the Colonel and their forefathers, respected and loved.

The regiment did the highest possible credit to the native counties of the thousand men who composed it. It was quartered in 1798, the dismal year of the Irish rebellion, in the most disturbed county of Ireland— Kerry; yet, to the honour of its Colonel be it stited— and still more to the honour of the good and true men he commanded - during his uncontrolled sway over that district, not a single " rebel" was hung or shot. According to the testimony of the old Exeter Historian, Jenkins (1806), and other evidence equally conclusive— " By strict discipline and good behaviour they (these soldiers of Devon and Cornwall) not only preserved the tranquility of the south-western parts of Ireland, but gained the esteem of the inhabitants in every station where they were quartered." The Volunteers of to-day may be proud of their predecessors of the long ago.

In Topsham Church, Colonel Hall had nine children christened, all born in Topsham between the years 1791 and 1807 ; and in that church he was married, in 1790, to a most admirable and estimable Devonshire lady, the beloved mother of his twelve children. He was, in all ways, a good and just man. He was horn in Exeter, in 1753, and died in London, in 1836. Yet his fourth son is living to bear testimony to his worth, and to accord him honour—justly his due—in his native county, Devonshire—129 years after his birth. Colonel Hall had three other children—born in Ireland while his regiment was quartered in that country.

Persons who desire to take part in the ceremony will assemble either at the old "Salutation Inn," Topsham (the head-quarters of the Regiment in 1794), at two o'clock, or in the Parish Church, Topsham, at three o'clock.

- The Western Antiquary, Volume 1, 1882, ed. William Henry Kearley Wright
I haven't been able to find out where Samuel Carter Hall was brought up in Topsham; his reference to the "Manor House" is puzzling, since Topsham had no manor house in the 1800s. He clearly misremembered, but what house did he mean?

Update. See also Salutation Inn, which mentions a literary connection and a sinister find.

Detail: banner of the Devonshire & Cornwall Fencible Regiment, St. Margaret's Church, Topsham. Heraldically, the coat of arms incorporates those of Exeter (left) and Cornwall (right).

 - Ray

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Hooken Undercliff and beyond

Hooken Undercliff, East Devon

While the weather and walking mood lasted, we took a day off to walk the Beer-Sidmouth section of the South West Coast Path. I've been wanting to visit this part for a while, as it takes in yet another Undercliff (less known than the Dorset and Isle of Wight ones): the bijou but spectacular Hooken Undercliff (above).

Here a tract of chalk clifftop slipped, leaving an isolated (and now deeply overgrown) enclave between the cliffs and chalk pinnacles to seaward. Like the other southern English Undercliffs, it harbours a moist sheltered microclimate; today it smelt intensely of ivy in flower (a plant unusual in being autumn-blooming), clematis was seeding, and brambles and sloes were in fruit.  You can walk along the clifftop and admire it from above, but we took the other option of the path down through the slipped land - Under Hooken - which at the base takes an undulating route above the beach, through undergrowth on lesser slipped material, until you reach Branscombe Mouth.

The history of the Hooken Undercliff is interesting for its sheer recency, as documented in White's Devonshire and elsewhere:

A part of the high cliff facing the sea, between Beer and Branscombe, called Southdown, was the scene of a great landslip in 1790, when upwards of ten acres of land sunk down about 250 feet.
- History, gazetteer, and directory of Devonshire, William White, 1850

Woodward and Ussher's The Geology of the Country Near Sidmouth and Lyme Regis dates it more precisely to March 1790, quoting George Roberts (the historian of Lyme Regis) saying that two years before a fine stream had ceased to flow at the site, and that cracks had appeared long before the catastrophe. See the Geological Conservation Review for a detailed geological description of the site. This extract gives a graphic account of the event:

... in the middle of the night, a tract of from seven to ten acres, ranging along the brow of a steep cliff immediately overhanging the sea, suddenly sank down from 200 to 260 feet, presenting a striking group of shattered pinnacles and columns of chalk entangled with the sunken fragments of the fields thus torn away from their native site; the remains of hedges still traversed these fragments, and a stile was seen undisturbed on the summit of one of the subsided columnar masses. The subsided mass pressed forward into the sea … fishermen relate that points on which they had laid their crab-pots beneath the water, and over which they had sailed the night before … were raised … on a reef at a height of fifteen feet in the air
- W Dawson (Civil Engineer of Exeter) et al, 1840

Hooken Undercliff - descending toward Branscombe Mouth

See here for another geological account, which notes that a great deal of fallen material from the slip has been eroded by the sea. See the Westcountry Studies Library image - Rocks at Branscombe (1819) - which shows a deal of now-disappeared rock to seaward of the present-day pinnacles. Another interesting point is that it wasn't always as overgrown as today; we did notice one or two remnants of stone buildings in the undergrowth, and this sign of human presence is explained in Arthur William Clayden's 1906 The History of Devonshire Scenery; An Essay in Geographical Evolution:
There is a beautiful walk here along the sloping undercliff through the little fields where early young potatoes are raised in quantities. Tall pinnacles of fallen blocks stand out above the greensward of Under Hooken.
There's a better copy of the image (right) here; compare the visibility of the path with that in my photo above.  I'm glad to have visited the place, as it's going to be a short-lived feature on a geological, and even historical, time-scale. See for a detailed route guide.

As to the Beer-Sidmouth walk in general, it's beautiful (see the photo below) and quite varied: chalk clifftop, overgrown undercliff,  woodland, and clifftop pasture. But it's definitely the most gruelling section of the Jurassic Coast to walk, even more so than the Lyme-Axmouth Undercliff. Although the route is only about 7.5 miles horizontally, the coast traverses the edge of a plateau with deeply-incised valleys cutting the 500-foot cliff down to sea level, so there's a total ascent (and corresponding descent) of around 2000 feet. Mountaineering-wise that's not much, I guess, but it's quite a lot for an afternoon walk in East Devon (it took us about six hours, counting a break for lunch at Branscombe Mouth). My knees are going to hurt tomorrow.

Cliffs between Branscombe Mouth and Sidmouth
- Ray

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Isle of Wight flying visit (3)

View Larger Map

I've mentioned Undercliff areas a few times previously: southern English coastal terrains where landslips have created irregular clifftop terraces backed by further cliffs, creating local microclimates. The Lyme-Axmouth one is a remarkable wilderness - the nearest thing England has to a jungle. But the Isle of Wight one is, for the most part, rather gentler; it contains the villages of St Lawrence and Bonchurch, and the small town of Ventnor. Pretty and sheltered, yet easily accessible, it was a hit with the Victorians: a number of sanatoriums were established there, notably the the Royal National Hospital for Diseases of the Chest (now demolished, the site occupied by Ventnor Botanical Gardens). In the days when trains ran direct from Ryde to Ventnor 1, a non-stop service nicknamed 'The Invalid Express' reputedly made the journey in around 20 minutes. Nor did you have to be an invalid; a whole book could be written (and probably has been) on literary figures who lived there or used it as a retreat. For instance, Algernon Swinburne was brought up at Bonchurch; and Charles Dickens, Thomas Carlyle and Thomas Babington Macaulay stayed there regularly. Lesser-known authors included Pearl Craigie (see The writer, the cancer-merchant, his eccentric wife, and the faux castle) and Henry De Vere Stacpoole (see South Sea shenanigans). The Ventnor and District Local History Society has a longer list of famous residents and visitors.

But despite its picturesque villa-studded woodland, the Undercliff is still an active landslip zone, as evidenced by a number of case studies on coastal slip and erosion (see, for example, the Eurosion case study, this one on the Ventnor Undercliff Landslide Complex and this Isle of Wight Shoreline Management Plan report - the last leads with a very nice photo). Two sections are as untamed as the Dorset counterpart: that between Blackgang and Niton (where a whole chunk has become isolated by the destruction of the road - see Google Maps), and the Bonchurch landslip between Ventnor and Shanklin - see ditto). It could be described just in terms of geology, but there's something emotionally compelling about the area: Wendy K Harris, who has written a series of Undercliff novels, describes the fluid nature of the landscape as a metaphor for impermanence:
There’s something about The Undercliff of the Isle of Wight which expresses perfectly for me the impossibility of striving to hold onto anything in the physical world.

When I was a schoolgirl I assumed that geographical maps were accurate and permanent, but now I experience a landmass shifting its shape, adjusting itself to the forces of wind and water, re-contouring, spitting out dinosaur footprints like ancient messages from eroding cliffs, whilst simultaneously concealing more recent secrets waiting to be unearthed.

It's certainly a lesson in acceptance of the nature of all things physical. But also, sitting quietly, simply being here, the movement of life itself feels unquenchable and eternal.
I agree. A couple of years back, in The disappearing chine, I wrote something similar about the erosion of Blackgang Chine, "how this piece of landscape progressively fraying away is a very literal metaphor for the departure of the past into memory".

Anyhow, last week we walked one of the shorter Undercliff sections. We started at Ventnor (above - the IOW tourist board will probably shoot me for saying so, but I found it thoroughly depressing.  It was, however, a deeply overcast day, and off-season too, with the well-known Isle of Wight paddling pool drained for the winter). I was going to say hello to Ventnor Rare Books - I've bought a couple of Maxwell Gray books from them - but they were shut for lunch and we had limited time.

From Ventnor we walked along Wheelers Bay, a not terribly interesting coast with cliffs of chalk rubble fronted by a concrete sea wall with tetrapod defences. At Bonchurch, however, the scenery picks up; the path ascends to clifftop level, passing close to Bonchurch Old Church (this itself has a literary connection: Charles Hassard Wilcox, cousin and godson of Lewis Carroll, is buried in its churchyard - while his burial is mentioned in Carroll's diaries, the grave was only rediscovered in 1998 2). The path then runs through about a kilometre of occasionally strenuous ups and downs through the wooded landslip. One possible detour (or access route) is the scary gully called the Devil's Chimney.  Another, after the path leaves the landslip section and levels out, is down Luccombe Chine to Luccombe Beach, though last week it was inaccessible due to path repair work. After Luccombe, the main path joins the road down to Shanklin. You can either take it past the upper entrance to Shanklin Chine or take a flight of steps down to Shanklin Beach. All in all, it's a very nice walk if you want to experience the Undercliff and don't want to take all day.

Update: we revisited this area at the end of May 2012, and I've reported on it in more detail. See The Landslip - Bonchurch to Shanklin.

1. I just about remember this from childhood; the train went through a tunnel under St Boniface Down and emerged in a quarry (see Disused Stations). The tunnel has been kept open to carry Ventnor's water supply and other cabling. There have been a number of proposals to reopen the line.
2. See Bandersnatch, 1998. Wilcox was dying of tuberculosis, and Carroll wrote The Hunting of the Snark while sharing with other relatives the task of nursing him. Like many TB sufferers, Wilcox came to Ventnor in the hope of improvement, but died there on November 10th 1874, aged 22.

- Ray

Isle of Wight flying visit (2)

Westbury Station - crossed-eye stereo - click to enlarge

Not a book-related post, but still: over the holiday I had a chance to refine the technique for taking stereo photos.  I've come to like it a lot as a format, especially for woodland scenes, which easily turn into a tangle without the depth information. I was also playing with a new compact camera; my Fuji A850 has started to get cranky and I didn't want to take anything heavier, so I got a General Imaging Z1300 from Argos. It does all the standard stuff very nicely, with a few novelties such as built-in panoramic stitching.

Bonchurch Old Church graveyard - crossed-eye stereo - click to enlarge

Undercliff, near Luccombe - crossed-eye stereo - click to enlarge

Carisbrooke Castle - crossed-eye stereo - click to enlarge
- Ray

Friday, 8 October 2010

Isle of Wight flying visit (1)

The Silence of Dean Maitland, manuscript title page

The gray afternoon was wearing on to its chill close; the dark cope of immovable dun cloud overhead seemed to contract and grow closer to the silent world beneath it, and the steep, chalky hill, leading from the ancient village, with its hoary castle and church, up over the bleak, barren down was a weary thing to climb.
- opening of The Silence of Dean Maitland, Maxwell Gray, 1886

Earlier this week we just visited the Isle of Wight again on a short holiday to see my family and get in a little scenery (more on this later). However, there was time to indulge in a bit of bibliographic geekiness: I was delighted to track down and examine the original manuscript of The Silence of Dean Maitland by Maxwell Gray: I knew that it had originally been deposited with Carisbrooke Castle Museum by the author's literary executor, but they had no knowledge of its whereabouts. I found it quite unexpectedly via a different location search at the Isle of Wight Records Office.

It's interesting in a number of ways. One of them is the generally relaxed attitude of publishers in the past about submission format: this document - much-corrected, handwritten not brilliantly legibly, single-spaced on notepaper - would be completely unacceptable nowadays. Another is the title revision history: A Terrible Price revised to The Agony of Dean Maitland re-revised to The Silence of Dean Maitland. Yet another was the associated correspondence in the box, which included a fairly excessive fan letter from the actor J Martin-Harvey, who said that while reading the latter part of the book he had been in a "continual state of hysterical excitement", with his "throat in a state of choking spasm".

This is a fairly standard shot at the foot of the hill described in the book's opening - see Isle of Wight Postcards and the Isle of Wight Family History Society gallery. The location is High Street, Carisbrooke, and the village's fictional name in the novel, "Chalkburne", well reflects its nature.  The original settlement of the central Island, Carisbrooke is criss-crossed with forded streams, some seasonal, fed by water emerging from the chalk ridge that backs it.  The family of Maxwell Gray's mother, Elizabeth Trickett Gleed, lived at Priory Farm, not far behind the row of houses pictured. My great aunt lives in one near the bus-stop. Small world.

Update: for more shots of Carisbrooke, see A summer morning in Carisbrooke.

- Ray