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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Our Thrilling View of the Crosby-Garrett Roman Cavalry Mask

As I mentioned in my last blog, while on our April trip to Cumbria, Great Britain, I was reading Under Another Sky by Charlotte Higgins, about her visits to Roman ruins in Britain. She dedicated some pages in describing the 2010 discovery by a metal detectorist near the eastern Cumbrian hamlet of Crosby-Garrett of what he at first thought was a crushed Victorian ornament, but what turned out to be a 3rd century A.D. Roman cavalry sports helmet used for ceremonials. If the helmet had been declared treasure, a value would have been placed on it by the government, which the finder and land-owner would have split, most likely paid by the wonderful Tullie House Museum in Carlisle, Cumbria, for its Roman antiquities collection. It was bronze, but not part of a find of bronze objects, and so by law it was allowed to be sold on the open market at auction.  Because of regional excitement, Tullie House Museum managed to raise 1.7 million pounds sterling.
In the meantime, a restorer reshaped what had been deliberately crushed and buried, perhaps as part of a ritual. The helmet, which would have been attached to the visor mask with hinges, was in 68 pieces, the visor's chin  "gashed,"  the curling hair "missing chunks." The restorer reshaped it, closed cracks, cast molds of curls in resin to replace the missing ones and made a chin of resin. Higgins, who visited the helmet at Christie's prior to the sale, wrote, "He gilded the resin with silver leaf and distressed it, so that the whole object had a smooth seamless patina with no visible joints. He reattached the griffin." This restoration was to make the helmet more appealing to an art collector. A museum would have allowed missing parts to remain absent. "When first made, the helmet would have appeared golden and the visor tinned, so that it would have shone like silver." It was made in Phrygia, now a part of central Turkey, and probably brought to Britain with a cohort of Phygian soldiers, part of the Roman army, to occupy north Britain and man Hadrian's Wall
And so at Christie's auction in the fall of 2010 Tullie House bid its 1.7 pounds, but an anonymous buyer made the successful bid of 2 million pounds. All that was known was that the buyer was a Brit. The Tullie House's request to exhibit the helmet for its 2011 reopening after renovations went unanswered.
Jump ahead to April 2017. After reading this chapter in the book, I was sorting through booklets in our rental flat and there was a Tullie House Museum pamphlet. Lo and behold, on its cover was a photo of this Phrygian mask.  It was currently on exhibition at Tullie House (through September 2017. And so we visited the museum and this marvelous artifact.  A curator saw our intense interest and strolled over to give us a private lecture. No, they still don't know who owns it - its loan was done through a third party.  He pointed out where the hinges were and where plumes would have been attached to a metal loop on top.  And told us that when the helmet was pressed and buried between two rocks, its was already an antique.
Close-up of griffin crest on helmet
Tullie House exhibits some amazing Roman artifacts from the Border region where the Romans and their cohorts built and manned Hadrian's Wall. 

Roman helmet meant to represent Amazon woman from Trojan War. 2nd century A.D.

2nd to early 3rd century A.D., meant to represent a Greek warrior
Roman propaganda showing Scottish Caledonians being trampled by 2nd Augustine Legion

We were in the right place at the right time, and I was delighted to see this ceremonial helmet in person.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Roman Remains at Hardknott Castle, Cumbria

Sheep among the ruins of Hardknott Castle Roman fort c. 2nd century A.D. Cumbria

While Jay and I were staying in the Lake District of Cumbria in late April, I read Under Another Sky by Charlotte Higgins, who wrote of her visits to various Roman sites in England and what earlier travelers had written about these sites. She expressed great pleasure in visiting the Roman fort of Hardknott Castle, the best preserved Roman remains in the north of England. None of the pamphlets or booklets in our holiday flat with in Keswick extolled this site, so I Googled it. Not far away, but the map showed a nearly uninhabited area of mountainous terrain with no more than a track winding to it. At breakfast the next morning, an older Cumbrian couple at the next table suggested we go down the coast and approach it from the other side. "Not as difficult," our acquaintance offered. But we had been given a Mercedes as a rental (Jay had wanted an automatic and it was all they had available) and we chose the more difficult route, approaching from the east.

The going didn't look so rough at first
The track, one lane but paved (all roads are paved in England), rose up into the mountains, where only sheep summer.  We met only a cyclist, two runners and two cars as we began our climb.
On this narrow track, it was best to pull over to allow these runners to pass.
 And some sheep.
Herdwick mountain sheep, brought by the Norse to Cumbria in 10th or 11th century, their DNA connected to present-day sheep in Finland
Descending through the pass, we nearly missed the ancient site, for it sat high on a hill above the road and we were its only visitors. We climbed up through some boggy areas, where Jay slipped and sat  in the mud, but saved his camera. And then we were among the ruins.

Photo taken from what had been the Roman parade ground above the fort.
The view west toward mountains separating us from the Irish Sea was breathtaking. The Romans built a road from the sea and their fort, but stayed only about 20 years.  It was a lonely outpost constructed during the reign of Hadrian by a cohort of Dalmatians from what is now Croatia. When archaeologists began excavations around the turn of the 20th century, there was no sign of a vill. Only soldiers occupied the site. "Thou shalt not pass" was their message to any wanting to come this narrow way in an attempt to stop the Romans from consolidating their northern frontier.

Note the dressed stones. Roman soldiers had a secondary MOS as construction engineers.
When we finished climbing about the ruins and photographing the few grazing sheep, we continued along the track west and down to Ravenglass on the coast, where we visited the remains of a Roman bath, situated down a long wooded path. 

Roman Bath at Ravenglass, Cumbria
  It was a delightful day.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Ancient Stone Circle at Castlerigg, Cumbria

Castlerigg Ancient Stone Circle
 During our recent visit to Cumbria, England, after walking Hadrian's Wall HERE, my favorite experience was our visit the ancient stone circle outside of the town of Keswick, in the Lake District, where we stayed for a week.
Lake Derwentwater at the edge of Keswick
Map of the stones and their surrounding mountains at the site.
Older than Stonehenge, these stones sat encircled on this hilltop for thousands of years. 

After an April shower with more rain predicted, Jay and I drove up a narrow winding lane in early evening. As we'd hoped, few visitors were present - and then they left and we were alone. 

Wherever you turn are valleys ringed by mountains, the same view the ancients had. Because I have ancestors from this Border region of England and Scotland, perhaps the old blood of my blood had gathered here for pagan ceremony.

Over the valley rain returned and with it twilight.  And then was only the earth and the stones and the hollow sky.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Walking Hadrian's Wall

For many years I'd wanted to visit Hadrian's Wall that stretches from the North Sea about 80 miles to the Irish Sea through Northumberland and Cumbria, England. The Romans began building it in 122 A.D. to demarcate the northern edge of the Roman Empire. Built in six years, it really was a sort of status symbol to show the might of the Roman Empire. 
The Roman Wall at Steel Rigg
 At age 71 I figured I'd better do it soon, and so Jay and I flew into the Glasgow, Scotland, early one April morning, checked into a hotel, and the next morning drove a rental car a couple hours south into Northumberland.  I'd  studied the wall's  route on the Internet, zooming in for close ups, and decided we should walk the three miles from Steel Rigg to the ancient fort of Halsteads. This route was supposed to have the best views.

Jay starting the first climb
This trek isn't for the faint of heart.  The wall in this section goes up  a steep crag with a stiff breeze blowing.

I climb. A part of the wall is far below.

I'm nearly to the top, grabbing a rock in one hand, my cell phone in the other., my head band protecting me from the wind.

Jay and I at the top

Looking north from the wall
 And then we descended the other side of the crag to one of the small garrison forts the Romans built every three miles.  Rock steps without hand rails, what was I thinking.

The mile fort at Crag Lough

At least I didn't have to tote a backpack. Met these kids on my way down
I wear sandals so I can loosen their straps when my feet swell with walking.  Didn't the Romans wear sandals, too, marching along the Military Road near the foot of the Wall? And mine have treads.

Originally the wall was carefully built with dressed stones reaching about 9 feet high and three feet wide.
 We climbed another crag, following the wall, and got a nice view of Sycamore Gap, where Kevin Costner met Morgan Freeman in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves.
Sycamore Gap from above

Sycamore Gap from the below
 After the Romans abandoned Britain in the 5th century, through the next sixteen hundred years the wall's rocks were looted to build abbeys, churches, castles, and farm houses.

Very old farmhouse as viewed from what's left of the wall in its yard
 Jay and I were pretty tired when we finally reached Halsteads.

Foundation of a Roman building at Halsteads

Remains of Roman bath house. They always elevated the floor on pilings so its sauna could be heated with warm air from below.
We took a few photos and then waited for the bus at the road for a ride back to where our car was parked. The driver dropped us off and we slowly plodded another mile up a lane to the parking area.  We treated ourselves to a fine meal at a nearby old inn and a soft bed in one of their rooms above.  And the next day, our feet feeling fine again, we tramped about a Roman Army museum. And so began our visit to north Britain.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

My Winter Activity - Raney Family Genealogy

I spent the winter obsessively researching my mother's side of the family, discovering that her roots stretched back to Colonial Maryland, Virginia, North and South Carolina - not just colonial, but very early colonial.  So I began a blog for my extended Raney family, recounting many of these ancestral lines. My husband Jay says only my family members would find my blog interesting. And he's probably right. Other people waxing upon their ancestors barely holds my attention. However, my ever-so-great grandmother, Jane Stephenson, who was captured by the Shawnee in 1792 in Kentucky makes for an interesting story. 

You can read it HERE

Saturday, November 26, 2016

An Autumn Ramble

Find Jamie in this photo.

Autumn is ending, but a walk with the cats still reveals intriguing sights. 

The creek takes on color as leaves drift down.  I played in this creek as a child in summers when it wasn't so icy.

Claire found a warm spot at the corner of the old log barn where Dad stored hay. Now fallen in, it was built by Mr. Cable in the 1890s.

A few apples cling to branches. Sour and hard in October, this late apple is now crisp and sweet, despite frosty nights.  I shake one down to munch while I walk.

The deer will wait near an apple tree for apples to drop.  We have over one hundred wild apple trees on the place -- and lots of deer.  Bears come through every evening, too.

You never know what you'll run across if you take a different route.

A tramp over our 66 acres is enjoyable, even more so with friends along.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

November Mushrooms

Edible Bolete

I have a wonderful neighbor, Theresa - a born naturalist and a mushroom enthusiast.  My mother always said to avoid all fungi.  Mushrooms, toadstools and anything similar.  "You'll die," she told me.

Well, a few years ago Jay and I discovered we had morel mushrooms and have spent each late spring hunting morels. 

Now, Theresa informs me, we have other edible mushrooms on the property, especially in November after a very wet October.  Porcini, chanterelles, truffles and others.  She took me around our pasture to show me porcinis. Today I hunted on my own.

No, not this one, though a deer or squirrel gave it a nip to test it.  In fact, this Rosy Russula has an acrid taste and shouldn't be eaten.

All over, up though the woods, deer had dug out mushrooms. The photo below indicates that one ate some, but left some deeper down.  I uncovered more pine needles and dug around.  Still a neophyte, I wasn't certain about these particular mushrooms, so left them, especially since I noticed some of the deer droppings were piles of diarrhea.

 But the bolete below, often called porcini, is edible. It's the bottom part of the one in the first photo.

You can tell by their brown shade with a pale yellow underside without gills.  So, I hunted and picked some, brought them home, and cleaned them.  Jay sliced them, coated them with flour and fried them up in butter.  They have a sort of nutty flavor.

Delicious with chicken with Bengal eggplant sauce and Mandarin orange slices.

They can be frozen, so I think I'll go hunting again tomorrow.  It's a beautiful November.