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July 2015

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The Marden Henge Dig

Sam Bertram

17 July 2015

We are incredibly privileged to have such a wealth of history in Wiltshire. It’s a mecca for archaeologists as it contains the only 4 superhenges in the UK - Marden, Durrington Walls, Avebury and Mount Pleasant. You may wonder why Stonehenge isn’t included in that list, a question I raised when being shown round the Marden site by a Newcastle University student. A henge traditionally has an inner ditch and an external bank – the internal space being used for ceremonial activities. Stonehenge doesn’t have the ditch and bank so it is unique.   The University of Reading are currently doing an archaeological excavation in Marden, a site that has been intermittently dug since the 1890s when they found Neolithic pottery. It’s also known as the Hatfield Earthworks (named after the farm on which it lies) and is English Heritage protected and the largest Neolithic Henge in the UK. The dig is being led by Jim Leary who previously dug there in 2010 with the intention of finding a mound similar to Silbury Hill.  At the end of that dig Jim and his team stumbled upon a Neolithic building but didn’t have time to fully investigate. The result is a return to the site this summer to find out more. There are two sites, Marden henge and Wilsford henge, being excavated by undergrads and some A level students. The dig is running for 6 weeks and we are currently in week 5. The public can visit any day except Friday from 10.00 to 4.30pm and on Saturday there is an open day where all will be welcome.  While Wilsford Henge has shown up some bronze age pottery and Roman buildings, Marden has unearthed a Neolithic dwelling – unique in Britain. What makes Marden unique is it uses a stream as part of its boundary – there are banks and ditches only on 3 sides. Earlier in this dig they were trying to find an entrance and unearthed a ritual pit within the entrance that contained pottery, bone and flint. On my tour we looked at trench A – some were chipping away at the dwelling and others were cutting through the bank to see how it was constructed. The student pointed out the revetment or the wall surrounding the area. Often these walls are to keep things out of the ritual area but a current theory is that this wall may have been to keep things in. The building has a compacted chalk surround which would have been brought from elsewhere. Under the building you can see darker soil which is the heath. One theory is it was a sweat lodge – that they would heat stones; bring them in and pout water on to create steam. Bone, pottery and flint have been found at the site and the dark earth is compacted charcoal. They have also found a pit nearby containing meat joints and charcoal which suggests there was a feast. We also looked at artefacts they’ve found – flint arrowheads, pottery which is identifiable as Neolithic due to its pattern and crumbly texture (having been fired on a bonfire rather than a kiln) and antler tools that have been found at the base of most pits. They would have been used to construct most of the pits and dwellings.  From the Roman site in Wilsford they’ve found hobnails, used by Romans under their shoes for grip, brooches, buckles and coins.  It’s fascinating to see and I would highly recommend a visit. There’s only one week to go so pop in on their open day on Saturday or next week to witness history first-hand. SN9 6HG https://www.reading.ac.uk/field-school/About/afs-about-pewsey.aspx        

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Swap screens for outdoor adventure

Sam Bertram

9 July 2015

How often do you wish you could tear yourself or your children away from the screens that dominate our lives? We’re constantly attached to our phones, glued to our computers and finding ourselves manipulated by children to give them more screen time. Grove Farm Woodland in Stitchcombe near Marlborough is the antithesis of this modern living. An outdoor adventure playground, that harps back to our childhoods where screens, let alone TV, were barely on the radar. Originally from Coventry, Simon Keith is a dairy farmer turned youth worker who set-up Grove Farm Woodland in 2011, opening to the public in 2013. It’s been a dream long held and was made possible at a chance meeting with local philanthropist Martin Gibson. Martin bought into the vision and gave Simon a tract of forest on which to develop his dream. Simon was brought up on a farm and has always loved the outdoors. He has memories of milking cows before he went to school and the peace and quiet of his first farming job on the Isle of Sark, where he learnt more about animals and nature. He recalls with fondness taking boats to Guernsey and Conger Eel fishing – the pleasure of throwing down a line and pulling out a 20ft beast on the end of the hook. Delicious too! This combined with three years of travel has sealed his love of nature. Most of his travels were spent running camel tours in the desert in Egypt but he also spent time in Morocco and China. It was after travelling that Simon sought change and trained to be a youth worker.  And it was while running the extreme sports at a youth club in Westbury that he met Martin, who owns the land and is a trustee of the charity. Simon now lives in the woods except in the cold winter months, he loves having no commute and being so close to nature. It is this enthusiasm for the outdoors that makes Grove Farm Woodland so special. It’s magical - there are fairy doors in trees, tepees, a stage, kids' play area, birds of prey and lots of logs and trees to clamber on. Currently set in 24 acres he is looking to extend the wood to an area of circa 65 acres. He runs a toddler group on Monday mornings, a session for home schooled children on Tuesdays and re-integration activities for disaffected youths on Wednesday and Thursday. Many of the activities feed into the curriculum – navigation for geography, outdoor art, dance and camp activities. He is also getting involved with the Primary activity scheme – the mini version of the Duke of Edinburgh for 8 to 11 year olds. A popular venue for birthday parties he’s also keen to start a Saturday kids club. But it’s not just for the kids. Simon is keen to get parents back into nature too and is looking at doing more family days and a dad and kids’ weekend, where you can camp overnight and completely escape the doldrums of commuting. It’s mostly to just enjoy nature but he’s planning drumming & art sessions, entertainment and a bbq. Holiday club is from 27th July onwards on Monday to Friday. 4-6 year olds will be doing forest school - identifying plants and fauna, building camps and playing in the outdoors. The older children will do bush craft, play nature awareness games and green woodworking. There’s lunch provided, marshmallow toasting and bread baking on the fire. Depending on the time of year ingredients from the wood make their way onto the menu.  From spring to June Simon can be found using nettles in soup, potato cakes and tea and in autumn there’s even more that can be used. And there are lots of plans afoot – from building more bridges and tree houses to having more music events and a theatre night.  In the autumn he’s adding a classroom and kitchen and extending the woods. So what are you waiting for – throw away technology and go and embrace nature… http://www.grovefarmwoodland.com/       

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Alfresco dining

Gastro Nicks

2 July 2015

Summer has arrived. Family bbqs or summer evening suppers - no matter what the occasion, nothing creates a more relaxed environment than eating alfresco. Enjoying good food outdoors with friends and family is what summer entertaining is all about. Whether your outdoor space is confined to an urban patio, or you are fortunate enough to have a country garden, there are a few ways to be sure of an ambient dining experience. Entertaining in your garden allows you to have some fun with what you serve. Experiment with aperitifs and canapés. It's all about colour and flavour! Summer Cocktails are always a hit. Even when kept simple for quick and easy preparation, a light and fruity cocktail never fails to make your guests feel like you have really made an effort for them. You can offer your own Prosecco Cocktails. Adding a splash of flavoured gin to your glass of fizz is an easy way to create a fresh and fruity welcome drink for guests. A summer favourite is Rhubarb and Ginger Gin added to our Canella Prosecco. Wild Strawberry Vodka and lemonade also makes a very refreshing long drink. And for the less adventurous who wish to stick with Gin and tonic, these can still be made with a difference. Try cutting lemons into segments and freeze them. Drop a couple into your glass to provide all the chilled zestiness required for a cool and refreshing intro to your party. Don't forget the drivers! Non-alcoholic cocktails are just as refreshing and ensure that each and every one of your guests is catered for. Rhubarb and Lavender Cordial or Strawberry and Mint Cordial mixed with sparkling water can be served in a tall glass with some chilled fruit and ice. Simple canapés can be easily prepared for serving alongside aperitifs. For a Mediterranean feel, opt for warm asparagus spears wrapped in Parma Ham dusted with grated Pecorino Cheese and lemon zest coupled with shavings of Parmesan Cheese topped with Balsamic Jelly. Both are perfect for a summer evening. Crostini with Bath Soft or Cornish Blue cheese topped with a spot of Fig Fruit Caviar or even a pastry cup filled with Caponata of Eggplant topped with Goats Cheese grilled for a minute or so also make quick, easy but utterly delicious nibbles. When it comes to the meal, keep the menu simple. Eating outdoors means you may have to contend with many unexpected elements. Presentation of food should be straightforward. You don't want a gust of wind to spoil a painstaking masterpiece of culinary artwork! Table presentation is key. If you are seeking a relaxed atmosphere for a BBQ, then bright colours make a bold statement. Bundles of coloured cutlery coupled with crisp coloured table linen can set the scene. Bright melamine plates and cups can serve as a practical alternative to your best China as well as fitting well with your theme. Salads should be prepared and served in glass bowls to act as your table decorations. For a more sophisticated feel, opt for white table linen, your best china and crystal. A centre piece of large floral stems can be used to add a splash of colour. Peppering the table with lightly scented candles can also add to the ambiance of any summer evening. Name places can be used outdoors too and remember to protect your table setting from the summer breeze by weighing down your linen with glass pebbles. Lighting is as important outdoors as it is indoors when it comes to setting the mood. Turn off any outdoor security lights and instead drape strings of fairy lights over some of you trees or shrubs. Tea lights in jars or mini lanterns are also a great way to light pathways when dusk sets in. The last thing to do for your balmy summer evening party is to enjoy it.      Gastro Nicks is a high quality delicatessen & wine merchant in Collingbourne Ducis near Marlborough.  Everything is available online and from their deli and this Saturday 4th July you're invited for a drink and samples at a garden themed party.  There's 10% off when you spend over £10.   http://www.gastronicks.co.uk/  

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