Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Mothering at Mid-Career: Ready, Set…

I'm back at Inside Higher Ed today, and back to class as well. More later!

Blog U.: Mothering at Mid-Career: Ready, Set… - Mama PhD - Inside Higher Ed

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The White Horse

The White Horse of Uffington appears to be about 3000 years old, and is part of a complex of ancient sites in the Vale of the White Horse. The horse itself was probably constructed by digging trenches and then re-filling the trenches with chalk blocks; it needs to be cleaned regularly to remain visible. In Terry Pratchett's Discworld, a remarkably similar location exists:
There were odd carvings in the chalk, too, which the shepherds sometimes weeded when they were out on the downs with the flocks and there was not a lot to do. The chalk was only a few inches under the turf. Hoofprints could last a season, but the carvings had lasted for thousands of years. They were pictures of horses and giants, but the strange thing was that you couldn't see them properly from anywhere on the ground. They looked as if they'd been made for views in the sky. (The Wee Free Men, 119)

The image appears on pre-Roman British coinage, and while there has been some debate as to whether it is really mean to be a horse, it has certainly been referred to as such since at least the 11th century. In A Hat Full of Sky, the sequel to The Wee Free Men, Tiffany reports that Granny Aching said, “Taint what a horse looks like, it's what a horse be." While there don't appear to be other carvings of similar age still extant [edited to add: in England; my brother reminds me of others in Peru] (the Cerne Abbas giant, for example, seems to date back only to the 17th century), this may be because other carvings were not maintained as the Uffington White Horse has been.

Near the White Horse is the site of Uffington Castle, an Iron Age hill-fort. Also nearby is the “Dragon Hill,” reported to be the place where St. George slew the dragon. In The Wee Free Men, Tiffany walks to the top of “Arken Hill”:

There was a flat place at the top where nothing ever grew, and Tiffany knew there was a story that a hero had once fought a dragon up there and its blood had burned the ground where it fell. There was another story that said there was a heap of treasure under the hill, defended by the dragon, and another story that said a king was buried there in armor of solid gold. There were lots of stories about the hill; it was surprising it hadn't sunk under the weight of them. (52)

I took my class to the White Horse during the last week of classes. It was a warm, sunny, day and the wind blew along the ridge as we walked up the hill towards the carving. Then we sat up above and looked down at the flat-topped hill and thought about the people who lived on this land, and carved the horse, and buried their dead. Sheep graze on the hillside now and tourists come and walk among them.

(Cross-posted from the other blog, which I've been neglecting even more than this one...)

Sunday, August 02, 2009

weekend jaunt

We left for the Lake District Friday morning under overcast skies, with a promise of intermittent rain Friday and heavy downpours Saturday. Raincoats and umbrellas in the back, we pressed northward, getting to the hotel by about 2 pm (just under four hours). We'd chosen a hotel Mariah and I had stayed in nine years ago, hopeful that it would live up to our memories of it. (It did.) After checking in we took a quick walk to see the sights, then decided we'd best see what we could of the local attractions before dinner since the next day would likely be rainier.

the stream running under the road, across the street from the hotel.

I remember hanging over this gate with Mariah nine years ago.

Once we got our legs stretched we decided to head towards Windermere, Ambleside, and Grasmere. Despite the threatening weather, Windermere was like Fisherman's Wharf in SF: awash with tourists, spilling off the sidewalks into the (very narrow) roads. We drove on through and made our way to Rydal Mount, the last home William Wordsworth lived in (and the loveliest). Mariah remembered it so fondly from our trip in 2000 that we paid the admission to the gardens and had a glorious walk through them. It started to rain in earnest at the end of our walk, but held off until then.

Nick enjoyed experimenting with the "macro" setting on the camera. There are lots more of these flower photos.

From Rydal Mount we made our way northwards towards Ullswater, after driving through some glorious countryside. Ullswater is a spectacular lake, though it looked rather forbidding in the late afternoon with the clouds overhead.

I think it might have been the drive back from Ullswater, over the Kirkstone Pass (not the way we'd come), that was the most spectacular bit of the day, though really, it was all gorgeous. The road through the pass warned of difficult conditions in the winter--even in summer, it was windy and narrow and occasionally sheep took up a little more of the lane than one might wish for--but the views of waterfalls and lakes were spectacular.

After a great dinner at the (complete with candle on Nick's ice cream--we decided it was our celebratory dinner) we retired to our room. Mark and I walked around the inn one more time--the rain was just a drizzle at this point. (It had been showery off and on all afternoon.)

Have I mentioned the stone walls yet? You can see them in this photo--they divide the countryside absolutely everywhere--up on Kirkstone Pass, even, where you'd think no one would bother, they mark the boundaries of the roads as well as marking off one grazing area from another. The something that does not love a wall would have a hard time in the Lake District.

The next morning we had our full breakfast in the dining room and set off northward. "Full breakfast" included eggs, bacon, sausage, grilled tomato, grilled mushroom, potato cake, and blood pudding, which I decided not to try--the veggie full breakfast, which Mariah had, included veggie sausage and veggie bacon, and beans instead of blood pudding. Most people would just go back to bed after a meal like that, but we only had one more day so we forged ahead.

We'd picked up a flyer for the "Lakeland Sheep and Wool Centre" in the hotel and made that--in Cockermouth--our destination, though we weren't too particular about how quickly we got there. We took the ferry over to Sawrey and drove through Beatrix Potter country, then up northward towards Keswick. Seeing a sign for the Castlerigg Stone Circle we decided to follow the (very narrow, twisty, one and a half lane but two-way) track up the hill to the top, where we found these views.

The skies look a little threatening in the pictures, but actually by this time they had cleared and it was warming up and turning into a glorious day. We could have stayed up on that hill for hours, I think. The views are spectacular in every direction, and the circle is, as such things always are, mysteriously beautiful. Why is it there? The ring of stones replicates the ring of hills around it; we felt as if we were in one bowl placed in another bowl.

Eventually we drove on from Castlerigg through Keswick to Cockermouth--where we decided that the Sheep and Wool Center was really not worth much, after all--it was basically a big shop, with the promise of a "show" in a theatre--and barely any yarn for sale, even! (The show may be fabulous, and others may have a great time there, but it wasn't for us.) We headed back to Keswick for lunch and found ourselves in a somewhat overtaxed tea room, where there was something wrong with every single order: chutney on the plain cheese toastie, forgotten scone and strawberries with the strawberry cream tea, beer not cold enough to serve and then brought with a warm glass, you name it! Situations like this sometimes make me feel very American: bad service really annoys me at home, and I can be unusually assertive when things are going wrong in a restaurant. Somehow, though, this was fine--we had a great table right by a window, where we could see all kinds of people (and their dogs!) go by; the food was good, once it came, and we weren't in any particular hurry. So we lingered and eventually ate and then headed "home" to Oxford, ready for another adventure.