Sunday 28 June 2020

#048 Tusk Trust Lewa Virtual (Half) Marathon

Well that was a fun Lewa Virtual (Half) Marathon.

Starting in Hayfield, my route ascended steadily for 30 minutes up the Pennine Bridleway to South Head. 

The hill had sheltered me from the southerly wind, but once jogging along to Rushup Edge, the forecast for heavy showers proved accurate and I paused to put on my jacket. 

Warm summer humidity returned after the shower, so jacket off  and over the habitat conserving slabs to  the Brown Knoll 569m trig point.

But not 5 minutes later and dark clouds rolled in from the valley and another heavier shower arrived. This was the established pattern for the day. I pressed on to the saddle at the top of Jacob's Ladder.

Visibility was down to 30 metres on Kinder, but I knew the route off by heart having walked and guided up there for several years. I paused in the lee of a rock near the 633m Trig Point for a snack. A few folks in passing by were quizzically looking at mobile phone apps. 

Frustratingly, my own phone touch screen didn't want to cooperate with my video plans to do a short piece to camera about the successes of Tusk Trust over the past 30 years and the challenges currently faced by Lewa Wildlife Conservancy due to Covid-19.

Perhaps with a little imagination the hills in the mist could be taken for the foothills of Mount Kenya...or maybe not.

But there was enjoyment in remembering running in Lewa for real back in 2008. It still ranks as one of the best experiences of my life. From the start which was delayed by 15 minutes while the safety team ushered away a pride of lion from the course overseen by helicopter and super cub spotter plane. A couple of days previously I had joined a guided training run in the Aberdares seeing giraffe and zebra from the trail.  

At the time, the Lewa Safaricom Marathon was the only marathon held inside a game reserve. Mount Kenya is a magnificent presence on the skyline, at daybreak its steep slopes glow orange and pink. Early morning is a joy in Kenya. For the first half marathon circuit running was free and easy. But while the elites were finishing their 42.2km, for everyone else on the full marathon the African sun burned like a torch, stealing the oxygen from every breath.

My finishing time of 4h 18min was a footnote compared to the inspirational local professionals but it was good enough to be the 7th fastest non-Kenyan

The t-shirt I have on for the 2020 Lewa Virtual Challenge is the one from the race goody bag, carefully kept for a special occasion. I think this was a good time to wear it.

Onwards, following the Pennine Way northwards. Another persistent shower but the gritstone felt sure underfoot. Past the blown back spray from Kinder Downfall. The weather had kept most of the usual Saturday walkers at home. I was grateful for unimpeded progress as the rain intensified into a deluge and wind picked up. 

But this was no time to slacken off and get cold. Just another ten minutes to the top of Sandy Heys and then a careful descent over saturated slopes and through run off water, to Kinder Reservoir.
No defassa waterbuck or sitatunga here, but I did catch a glimpse of a lovely roe deer in red summer coat.

Then it was a bob back into Hayfield and home well before the afternoons thunderstorm forecast. 

Over the past 30 years Tusk Trust and Lewa Conservancy have set the gold standard in partnering wildlife conservation with communities and education. Millions of hectares have been secured for wildlife, with investment in jobs and training for local people to protect inconic species such as rhino, elephant, lion, cheetah, African wild dog, gorilla and chimpanzee.

Everyone is affected by Covid, but wildlife especially so, with complete loss of tourism revenues in Africa. This is impacting on Ranger anti-poaching and security operations as well as conservation projects.
I'm proud to support Tusk Trust so that future generations can experience the sight of elephant in the shimmering heat and the roar of lions in the night.

I've made a donation through Tusk Trust for this virtual run, but with so many friends struggling at the moment, I've not set up a just giving page or such like. It just didn't feel right to do so. But if you would like to support Lewa and Tusk conservation projects, I've included a link here...

Thank you & safari njema


#TuskLewaSafariChallenge #LewaSafariMarathon #RunWildKenya

Monday 1 June 2020

#047 Skara Brae - The Neolithic Shelved Stone Dresser

At last, long term project is finished!

I first visited Skara Brae in 2013 to make a short documentary about the transition from Mesolithic hunter gatherers to new stone age, Neolithic, farmers. In the film we explore several sites and discuss the practical and cultural changes brought about by the domestication of animals and plants in Britain, 6000 years ago. I received special permission from Historic Scotland to film at Skara Brae.

The Skara Brae piece starts at 5mins 55sec and the best preserved original shelved stone dresser located in 'House One' is shown shortly afterwards. At 6mins 55sec is the replica house, situated next to the visitor centre, which has a shelved stone dresser laid out if it were used for food preparation.

Link to Neolithic Orkney Film

We can't be sure whether the dressers were used solely for preparation. Its location within the house, always directly opposite the entrance and the shelves suggest it may have also have a display purpose. The occupants showing off their finest possessions, such as the curious etched stone balls which have been found on the site, the use of which remains an enigma. We'll return to these in another blog. The shelf would have been useful as place to keep the fine items such as bone needles from becoming lost or broken on the floor.

Or perhaps the dresser was a multi-functional installation. The top for food processing. The shelf for storing items. And the space underneath for stacking dried wood before burning on the central hearth.

Setting out, on a compacted and levelled base. A substrate of rubble for stability overlaid with ten-to-dust crushed limestone. The three verticals are proportionally spaced to suit the size of the pre-sourced shelf stones.

Using the sizes of available stones to build up dry courses and strength through a stretcher bond where possible. The stone used is responsibly sourced, recycled, local Peak District sedimentary sandstone. In Orkney, abundantly available flagstone was the material of choice in the Neolithic passage tombs and settlements. But also very evident in the later Iron Age Broch towers. Both Peak District and Orcadian sedimentary rocks can be cleaved along settlement planes, but flagstone is much easier to work in this respect.

I don't profess to be a dry stone wall expert, so here I used a diamond edge disc cutter to reduce a large slab to three full width pads for the lower layer shelf stones. No thumb damage or trip to A&E  on this occasion either, bonus! Also, to achieve an authentic Skara Brae dresser appearance, on the middle wall, I placed a stone vertically on its end. Then carefully built up the courses behind, to match the natural topography of the rear face of the front stone. A pad stone was then laid on top.

At the point when I was ready to place the first layer of shelf stones Covid-19 had caused the Government to place Britain in lockdown, hence I couldn't bring in some additional muscle. The shelf stones were more than a one man lift (at least more than I could dead lift...and no evoking the late Jon Pall Sigmarsson could make up for that). So, I slid each shelf stone along the ground, to the front, then rocked and chocked it progressively upwards until it could be cantilevered over and lowered under control onto the pads.

Note how the heavy first layer of shelf stones exerts pressure onto the central pad, which locks the central vertical stone in position.

Building up the shelf layer of stones. Trying to achieve a level surface across the back and three walls so that the top shelf cap stone sits evenly and flat. At this point work was on placed on hold with the ongoing lockdown, as the weight of top cap stone was beyond safely rocking and chocking.

A few weeks later and lockdown lifted. Assisted by good friend Davey, we achieved a socially distanced lift (one at each end) of the top cap stone.

Completed re-creation of the Skara Brae, Neolithic Shelved Stone Dresser. With a suggestion of how the shelves and space under the dresser may have been used. The stone dressers are unique to Orkney, but the culture of building dressers at the time is expressed in different parts of Britain. Excavations at Durrington Neolithic 'avenue' in Wiltshire have provided compelling evidence...

This extract from Stonehenge: Exploring The great Stone Age Mystery, by Mile Parker Pearson.

Against the north wall of the large house, opposite the doorway, were foundations of a piece of wooden furniture, narrower than the beds, with two end uprights and another in the centre. Thanks to the surviving stone built Orcadian furniture, we know exactly what this was - a wooden 'dresser' formed of two shelves, one on top of the other, and divided into left hand right hand sides. Perhaps this is where the house's special belongings were kept, or the clothes and fabrics.

This indicates the shape and structure of the dresser, and by extension the layout of the house was culturally significant. But the building materials were simply what what most readily available, locally. Wood was very scarce on Orkney in the Neolithic, indeed it still is to this day. Whereas in southern England, wood was far more abundant and Wiltshire chalk does not stratify or cleave at all well, though Orcadian flagstone does.

I'm looking forward to using the dresser to lay out drinks and food, when gatherings are once again fully permitted after Covid-19.

Meanwhile, it makes a nice background prop for Stone Age Crafts, Hand Made In Hayfield. Showing here are Paleolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age inspired images and pictograms.

Link to Stone Age Crafts Hand Made In Hayfield