A.J. Walker

writerer

Volcanoes, Guitars, Aeroplanes and Motorbikes

When I was a young kid there were four things I wanted to do at some point in my life. One was learn the guitar, another was to fly in a plane and I wanted a motorbike. Lastly, but not least, I wanted to climb onto and into a volcano. I've got a couple of guitars, I've flown countless time and I've had a couple of motorbikes (and want to return to that too). I've also climbed up (or been driven up) few volcanoes.

Seeing the people in New Zealand on White Island (Whakaari) it is horrible to see what has happened, but I understand the desire they had to go and see a volcano, preferably an active one. I'm sure they'd have preferred it a little less active, but they probably wouldn't have wanted to go there if it had been dormant. Then it would just be a hill.

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Arenal, Costa Rica
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Arenal

I've been up a few active volcanoes and a few dormant ones. My most disappointing one was Arenal in Costa Rica, because for years it had been bubbling away reliably putting on a lovely show at night with the lava plopping up into the air. But I got there about a year after it had stopped - and I don't think it has restarted again yet. The locals want it back as the tourists come for the volcano (and the natural heated waters - albeit in awful naff attractions). The two best volcanoes I've been to were active in so much as there was a great deal of steam and sulphur coming out of the craters which I walked into. These were El Chichon in Chiapas, Southern Mexico and Mount Sibayak in Northern Sumatra, Indonesia.

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Mount Sibayak
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Sibayak
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Sibayak

The first one, El Chichon, I went into with mates from work back in 1996. It was an epic day which I have described previously (click here). The latter was several years ago when I was travelling in Malaysia, Borneo and Sumatra. I expressly went to Berastagi so that I could climb one of the volcanoes - either Mount Sibayak or Mount Sinabung. As it happened, on the day I chose Sibayak as there was a trail which went right by my hotel and it should have been a bit shorter. It turned out to be a more difficult walk than I expected as for every thirty metres you went up it seemed you went down another twenty before going up again. It was really tiring. But when I got up I was rewarded by colourful lakes, steaming vents and sulphur. It was everything a volcano should be–minus the lava and pyroclasts. Still, it felt safe and I was glad to have put the effort in. As it happened the other volcano, Mt. Sinabung, exploded about ten days after I was there causing 10,000 people to be evacuated. There but for the grace of whatshisface and all that.

Irazu
Irazu

Vesuvius and the other dormant volcanoes I went to in Costa Rica were all impressive - especially the latter ones with the beautiful lakes in the crater - but being dormant or extinct they weren't the same. I can understand the desire to go to an active volcano and would do it again and again given the chance.

Anyway, about that motorbike…
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A Fine Line

Doing a delivery job is a bit of a lottery every day. Imagine all the bad driving you see every day and then put yourself on the road for 200 miles plus each day, whilst having to stop regularly on every type of road and track you can think of. That's interesting enough on any day, but in the winter when the days shorten the difficulty is multiplied painfully by the early fall of dusk and then night. At the moment come 4pm it is very hard to read numbers or names of houses/businesses and when you are looking at delivering twenty or so an hour in a suburban environment you are suddenly down to 12-14. Which can add hours and stress to your working day. As for finding isolated houses on unlit country roads… well that's harder still (not to mention slowing down and parking up on narrow roads to make your delivery (or just to read a house name)). Oh, then theres the cold, the wind, the wet. The ice. Yep, winter stinks.

Yesterday I was driving around 4:15pm on the road south of Llanwrst which is a National Speed Limit road. And I was doing around 50mph with only one vehicle ahead. So far, so standard. Then I see the reverse lights come on the black van in front of me. On a National Speed Limit road! And they didn't have hazard lights on. I did well to even realise what it was doing. I swerved out a little to give it room. In the horrible dusk light I then saw across the middle of the road step ladders. So there was the explanation for his sudden reversing. I had to swerve again to miss them. I actually just clipped the top of the ladder and in the mirrors saw it rocking slightly in the road. I was terribly lucky not to damage the van seriously (or even 'just' get a flat) or veer into the oncoming reversing van. Anyway, I breathed a sigh of relief and got on with the last few drops of my day in the dark thankful. I hope the guy who didn't secure his ladder properly has unusable ladders, but I dare say they'll be usable still. At least next Friday maybe he won't be in a rush to get home and he'll do a better job.

The day before one of my colleagues fell when she was getting out of her van. She smashed her arm and feared it was broken. After six hours in A&E she was relieved to find she'd only dislocated her elbow. At least that means she'll be out of work for a week or two rather than months. There but for the grace of… well, we all each day could have this type of thing happen to us. Trips, falls, dogs, all sorts of hazards are so much more dangerous in the dark. Not so often step ladders.

It's nice to be lucky. And hopefully that luck can hold out.

Stay safe out there people. And please secure any roof loads.
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No Singing, or Dancing

Missed four Open Mic nights on the trot in October and November due to work and a dodgy throat on the last occasion. I finally got up an running again a couple of weeks ago when I made it and played four songs at the Sanctuary. It was the first time I've played on the ground floor. Did four of my usual songs: 'Sweet Carolina', 'Somewhere Down the Road', 'Couldn't Get Arrested', and 'Whiskey in My Whiskey.' And so it was that I was looking forward to getting back up again yesterday.

I got back quite late thanks to a rather heavy work load in and around Denbigh (officially 126 drops, probably 140 in reality). Most of the town is okay but the ones around the old town centre are horribly slow with the narrow streets and little one ways and the like. Wasn't sure I'd get home in time to get out again, but in the end I was home for 7.25pm. After a quick change I was out and at the bus stop for 7:45pm, then into town and in the Sanctuary for 8.30pm. Huzzah! I could see plenty of people downstairs, but no guitarists or PA. I was happy to see it would be upstairs or downstairs then…

But no. There were no guitarists there 'cos the Open Mic had been cancelled. Apparently it had been heralded on Facebook, which is all well and good but I don't do FB, do I? So it was a couple of beers and home without giving the singing muscles a go. Ho hum.

I suspect the next Open Mic will be cancelled. As in two weeks time it will be Election Night. Hopefully get one or two more Open Mic's in before the end of the year.
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Tick Tock, Dandelion Clock

Been a while since I've done a Mid Week Flash Challenge from Miranda over on the Purple Queen website. But here is one for this week. The challenge is for stories up to 750 words (my story below is 699 words). Click on the photo to go through to the website and have a read of the site and give it a go sometime.

Dandelions
Sculpture by Polish artist: Mirk Struzik


Tick Tock, Dandelion Clock

Karl Hosman hated dandelions when he was young. They took over his parents lawn quicker than the Germans circled the swimming pools on their family holidays (and that is quick!). But he did like them whilst they were dandelion clocks. They had an undeniable beauty, especially on a sunny day and whilst he wouldn't no longer blow on them it was hard not to as a child - it would be like walking past a football and not kicking it. He thought dandelion clocks and their flowers related to each other like caterpillars and butterflies; albeit that the damn flowers seemed to take over whole towns sometimes and for months too.

In art college Hosman focused on sculpture and mostly he’d build mythical towers with marble and steel, and studied busts of everyday people he knew. His art was all about people and what they built, he eschewed nature: apart from dandelion clocks, which many people noted to him. He claimed they’d invaded his psyche as some alien presence which he hadn’t been able to shake. He got several commissions for his sculptures; mainly for his fantastical towers and castles - some were in galleries in the Americas and Asia as well as Europe. He was a master with mixed modern materials.

And so it was that he was commissioned by his own city council to create something unique for the city park, but something with a nod to nature, he eventually chose to produce a single shining steel stalk of some ten feet tall, which over a period of a week produced a giant dandelion clock. People came and marvelled at it from many miles, and in an area where art was not usually a thing (apart from graffiti along the railway lines) that was something to be proud of. He quickly became a bit of a celebrity, getting on the local and national news - not a common thing for a young artist. The headlines were positive: he was The New Real Deal and live sculptures were going to be the next big thing in public art. He anticipated more commissions.

Things went wrong a couple of weeks later, whilst he was on holiday. He was sat at the pool (inevitably behind the Germans who he was sure had moved his towels when he was at breakfast) when he received a text from local planning officer he’d dealt with for the park: ‘What’s going on? You never said about this. We only have planning for the one sculpture.’.

Hosman was puzzled and went online to see if he could find anything about it online.

‘Shit!’ he exclaimed, before taking a large swig of lager. ‘I don’t believe it.’

His wife sat up and removed her sunglasses, quickly regretting it as she couldn’t see anything in the brightness. ‘What’s up?’

‘It’s the dandelion. It’s gone rogue.’

‘What?’

‘The park’s now got three sculptures not one.’

‘I was there, love. I saw it. How can it be? Someone copycatting your work?’

‘I wish. I think it’s a tad more problematic than that. I think it’s the nanobots. They’re replicating each other.’

‘I thought they were programmed to build the clock then stop.’

‘So did I, so did I. Me thinks that there’s been a problem in the software.’

‘So when will they stop then? Maybe it’ll be just these three. That’ll look quite good in any case.’ She secretly thought that there should have been more than one anyway and thought a collection of them would look more balanced. Still, it was worrying that it was doing things out of their control.

Hosman sat up. He’d found a live feed from the park. There were images of the metallic seeds blowing across the park. He could see from the trees behind that there was a strong westerly wind. Not good at all. Suddenly dreams of myriad commissions seemed to be disappearing to be replaced by multiple lawsuits. By the time he got back from holiday the town could be swamped by the things and his career could be over. Still, at least he hadn’t programmed the sculpture to go beyond the clock to a flower. Now that would have been really bad.
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Capel Garmon: a clearer visit

It was a lovely day on Monday this week and I was back in North Wales around Llanwrst and Trefriw, including getting down as far as Capel Garmon. I switched the order of a couple of drops so that I could finish the route there in order to take the opportunity to revisit the neolithic burial chamber - on a much nicer day than two weeks or so ago when it was very wet and immensely grey. It gave me the chance to go and look at the Gorsedd Stone on the adjacent rise. I didn't have my camera with me but got some okay shots with my lightly battered phone instead. Easy to get nice shots when the day was so nice.

So here they are (the previous photos, and the write up, can be seen here).

As well as being much clearer in the late afternoon light I also got proper shots where you can see the massive cover stone above one of the chambers. In addition to this I went over to the Gorsedd (throne) Stone on the adjacent rise which is obviously part of the site assemblage.


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View of the Capel Garmon burial chamber.

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View into the burial chamber.

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Covered chamber.

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Beautiful view from the covered chamber.

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Massive stone covering one of the chambers.

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Original entrance way into the burial chamber (with chambers on either side of it). Gorsedd Stone on rise roughly in line with it.

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Second, uncovered, chamber

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Gorsedd Stone

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Gorsedd Stone (burial chamber in background on right side)

All in all a worthwhile revisit on a beautiful afternoon.
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Calexico and Iron & Wine Gig

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Went to the third gig of the last month. Wow! I say wow because it's also the third gig of the year too (discounting pub bands). Following Kathryn Williams in the Liverpool Philharmonic Music Room and Rival Sons at De Montford Hall at the Liverpool Uni a couple of weeks ago it was time for another class act (or two really): Calexico and Iron & Wine.

I'd last seen them together years ago but seen them separately several times in Liverpool, Manchester and at festivals. And I have even seen Iron & Wine (aka Sam Beam) at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall before with my sister several years ago. The album they are touring with is Years to Burn and is absolutely beautiful. If you haven't got it, what's stopping you? (Okay, stream it if you must)

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I had an eventful time getting to the gig. Having a late start at work meant I didn't get home until 18:58. I managed to get showered, changed and out of the house by 19:10 and to the bus stop for 19:14, with the bus due at 19:17. Brilliant. Come 19:30 still no sign of bus and me getting anxious. What this time? It wasn't like there was a big footy match on or anything. Oh no. Theres always something with the infamous No.17. What could it be this time? Well a lady got of a 62 and asked us if we were waiting for the 17, for if we were we'd be waiting a long time as the woman driving it had crashed into A&E at Fazakerley Hospital. I mean, WTF? How do you not see a hospital? Still, I suppose dispensing any injured passengers would be handy and wouldn't tie up any ambulances.

So I had to get to the next bus stop to double my chance of getting a bus - with both a 19 and 17 a possibility. The next 17 was late so I ended up on a 19 and running about 45 minutes late. Meaning I'd get to the Phil about 20:20. I checked on Twitter for stage times… Calexico and Iron & Wine due on at… yep, 20:20.

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Dispensed out of the bus at London Road and took the ten minute walk to the Phil. I realised I was parched after the long wait and realised I hadn't drunk much at work either. I decided I'd throw myself into the Pen Factory for a very speedy pint. Took me about three mins, including ordering, to get a pint of Dark Star 'Hophead' down. It hit the spot. I speedily passed on down Hope Street arriving at 20:20. Get in! The bar in the foyer had a queue but was handily placed. I needed one to last through the 1.5 hours of the gig (as the bar was closed during the performance (shocking state of affairs). A security guy said 'Sorry, the bar is shut' - my face fell and I blurted out the tale of woe getting there and the hospital jumping in front of my bus and a lovely lady (the loveliest) said 'Go on, get in the queue.' Woo hoo! So five minutes later I had a pint of Love Lane Pale Ale and then went through to my seat. As it happened they didn't start until about 20:35 or so, so I didn't miss a note (though I missed the support, Lisa O'Neill).

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Sam, Joey Burns and Lisa O'Neill performing 'Dreams'

I was sat downstairs in the stalls on Row L. Not a bad spot to be in; that said to be fair anywhere in the Phil would be a good place to see a gig. Of course, I'd much rather stand than sit through music but sometimes you don't have a choice. From the first notes of Father Mountain through so many of their songs, and some of the Calexico's and Iron & Wine's, and several great covers; including the Everly Brothers' 'Dream' (sung with Lisa McNeill), and Echo and the Bunnymen's 'Bring on the Dancing Horses', it was musicianship of the highest quality. The level didn't drop.

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Accordion Solo

Only slightly negative thing for me occurred when three late arrivals, all guys in their sixties, sat down and talked through parts of several songs. And then did some American style Whooping. I mean, NO! I was half expecting a 'Get in the hole'.

They played around an hour and half before I plodded of with a large grin on my face to the merchandise where I got a tour T-shirt and a signed poster. Bit odd this, as I never used to buy merchandise at all - despite years and hundreds of gigs I only have tour T-shirts from Ryan Adams, Wilco, and Frank Turner. I think a Calexico and Iron & Wine T-shirt is a mighty fine addition to the not-even-collection.

If you can get to see them: do so. If you don't know them and are interested in finding out what they are like here's a link to a live performance of 'Bring on the Dancing Horses'.

DancingHorses

Finally I got back home on the No.17 and it managed to get back without hitting any buildings, well not so you'd notice anyway.
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Gwytherin Stones

My third visit in a week to see some ancient stones was to see the Gwytherin Stones. This is a line of four stones in the churchyard of St. Winefred's Church in Gwytherin. As a simple line of stones within a church environment there is not much in the way of setting for them to be able to date them and the age of them are disputed from Bronze Age through to something more modern. I won't say who knows, it's a no-one knows - at least yet. The church itself dates to 1869 but there is thought to have been a church on the site since around 600AD.

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Gwytherin 2

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The stones are each around 1m high and one of them (the western most one) has writing on it. They are aligned perfectly in an east-west direction. They are the closest to the church and it is nice that they have been left in place and not destroyed during its development. You do wonder if other stones may have been on the site previously and how they may have been arranged. The four stones sit above a steep slope down to a stream, a tributary to the nearby River Cledwen, and I wonder how it has moved historically - has it eaten into this embankment and taken away archaeology?

As well as the stones the churchyard has three ancient yews. Three? That's just greedy.

Gwytherin 6

Gwytherin 5

Gwytherin itself is a pretty little village and one literary claim to fame is that it is the setting in 'A Morbid Taste for Bones' the first book of Ellis Peter's Cadfael series (written in 1977 and set in 1137)/ Haven't read it. Wonder if the stones are mentioned by the monks? Will have to buy the book, and maybe read it in front of a roaring fire in the Lion Inn, which is lovely looking old pub opposite the church.

Gwytherin 7
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The Gop

The Gop 1
The Gop

Saturday, another wet autumn day and another Neolithic site in North Wales. Yep, after the previous day's visit to Capel Garmon this time I found myself near to Trelawnyd and The Gop. As I had the time I decided to give it a go and once more, despite squally showers and continuing camera issues, it was well worth the small detour.

I'd only found out about the place the previous night when reading about it both online and in Julian Cope's excellent tome, 'The Modern Antiquarian'. As I approached Trelawnyd from the west in the afternoon I looked up the hillside to see if I could see The Gop and was surprised at how distinct and obvious it was - in so much as I'd travelled this road so many times and never noticed it. Now I know it's there I will never not see it.

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View of The Gop walking up from the path from Trelawnyd

Of course this area is full of hills and sometimes any strange shapes can be interpreted as due to geology or often down to quarrying. In this case The Gop is a man made hill (Neolithic c 3-4000 years old) on top of a hill. It is the second largest Neolithic mound behind only the very famous Silbury Hill. Which makes you wonder why this place isn't more well known. I suppose being a hill on a hill it is less obvious than being a hill on a plain like Sllbury. Unlike Silbury you can walk right up to The Gop and onto it too. Which I did. I parked at the bottom of a path in the village and took the short walk via just one stile and a kissing gate. The path up to The Gop was wet, muddy, quite steep and very slippy. It was actually easier getting up the mound itself.

The mound is massive, but because of its place like a pimple on a hill you really don't feel it from distance. In some places, especially on the northern side of the mound, you can see the construction materials which comprises fragments of limestone, much of which are incredibly small in that you can hold multiple pieces in your hand. To think of the number of people and time it would have taken to construct it is a bit mind boggling.

In the late 19th century there was investigations into the mound looking for burial chambers (or dare I say treasure) which didn't find anything. That doesn't mean there's nothing there given similar early investigation of Sutton Hoo. Given the type of material (loose limestone) it must have been hellish to dig. Nearby at lower levels of the hill are caves where ancient human and animal remains have been found and could well be linked with the site. I can't see it would have been constructed as a hill fort - you'd be better protecting the existing hill top rather than building the hill on a hill - not to mention the issues with constructing on it. Surely the mound is related to the importance of the caves?

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View south east from The Gop

The views from The Gop are great. Or rather would have been on a better day. Apparently on a clear day you can see Blackpool Tower (the universal SI unit for distance viewing in the north west). I was told this by the only couple I saw whilst on my jaunt. They had come up walking their very bouncy, wet, black Labrador. He bounded up to investigate me and seemed an inordinately happy soul. Unfortunately he managed to time one bounce such that the lady owner who was leaning down to say nice things to him got hit in her chin by his head. Bit through her lip, she did. Ouch! Love can be painful.

After they had gone I decided to go down the northern side of the mound to look at where the limestone is exposed towards the base. It was wet and slippy. And yes, I slipped. I managed yet again to fall in glorious slow motion whilst twisting and moving to avoid landing on my shoulder (the one which is already dislocated), and side where my phone was and land so I didn't risk my fingers or arms too much. Basically my arse took the brunt of it and other than being wet I survived without injury or damage to technology. And no-one saw it either. Huzzah!

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The northern slope of The Gop, where you can see the building materials

When you see the material and the slope from that position (see fourth pic, below) you get an idea of the size of the place and the effort that must have gone into its construction. It was easier to climb back up the mound from the side - I'm not sure if it was practical to walk around, with the long days of rain I feared further slippage events or a twisting of an ankle. And getting down the mound on the south side is easier as there are paths (after a fashion).

Like Capel Garmon it only took me around half an hour from parking to returning. And the benefit to myself far outweighed getting home that half hour earlier. Next time I'll go when its a blue sky and I'll check out where the caves are (though they are closed off now I believe).

So, lastly, if you're ever on the road through Trelawnyd look up the hill to The Gop and see it for the first time. Then maybe even go and see it close up. On a blue sky day you may be able to see Blackpool Tower (incidentally I would suggest this is about as close as you would want to get to Blackpool).

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View south west from The Gop


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Capel Garmon

Have been around Capel Garmon, which is a few miles south of Llanrwst, a few times over the last couple of months. The very first time I went through I saw this sign to a burial chamber:

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Sign at the main road

When I got home I looked it up on Dr Google and found that it was for a very interesting burial chamber indeed. It is estimated to be around 3500 years old and the site was used for a long time - including by the Beaker people. The working day doesn't always give me half an hour to take a break (or have lunch) but I said to myself if I got the chance sometime I'd go down and take a look. As it happens, whilst there is a bit of walk from the main road, it only took me about 20 minutes to get there and back. It was a shame it was wet and grey day (and that my camera was acting up) but I took a few shots. It was well worth using 20 minutes of my day to pop down to see it.

As you walk down the road towards the site the first thing you see is a massive stone - known as a Gorsedd, or throne - which on the adjoining rise, which is associated with the chamber. The burial chamber is not well signposted (one sign is missing from one of the gates) but as you walk down the private road to the farm there is a swing (kissing) gate through to the public footpath (no real path), which at the time was pretty muddy. And fifty yards up from there is another gate (with the missing sign), go through this and then you should see the fenced off area of the chamber. This field was even wetter than the first one but it has been a very wet couple of weeks.


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Current entrance into the barrow beneath the one remaining top stone.

There was no soul around though somehow one of the sheep from the surrounding field had somehow got in for a gander himself. Not sure how he'd got in through a swing gate. The chamber is of a type known as Severn-Cotswold construction and is one of the most northern examples of it (though Trefignath on Anglesey is of the same classification).

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View out of the barrow from the first circular chamber

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Second circular chamber, which is uncoverered

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This would have been the original entrance into the barrow - with the two chambers either side at the end of the passage. The Gorsedd stone is on the rise in a straight line from this entrance to the chamber.

I'll definitely go and see it again when I get the chance. Preferably when my camera isn't acting up and on a blue sky and dry-underfoot kind of day. I'll also go and look at the Gorsedd.

It's got me fired up to keep an eye out for other ancient sites whilst I'm traveling around. And I've now found, for example, I've regularly driven past The Gop cairn hill which is the second largest Neolithic mound coming behind only Silbury Hill. I have never noticed it (or heard of it before). I also need to see how long it would take to get along to the Druids' Circle above Penmaenmawr; the Four Stones of Gwytherin; and the stones of Tal y Fan.

Unfortunately November on the run up towards Christmas and of course the shorter daylight… well all in all not ideal to try and fit these in now. Though I'll keep my eye out for any which are near a road side.
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Reading - The Way I Roll

It's been a good year for reading. I've already surpassed the book numbers I read last year and am just four books shy of my 40 target. From my initial plan back in January I have read the majority of the non-fiction books from the reading list, but I've been a lot less successful with the books from the fiction list–in that I keep getting other second-hand books to read.

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I have just finished 'Rivers of London' by Ben Aaronovitch, which actually is one from my initial list - I'd previously read a later book from the series ('Lies Sleeping'). Have loved both of them - and it didn't matter too much that I read them out of order either - I will defo keep my eyes open for other books in the series when I'm in second-hand bookshops. So that is basically just two out of eleven of my fiction reads achieved–so far.

Currently reading another book on my Kindle, which wasn't on my list for the year but has been on my TBR list for several years. It's 'Station Eleven' by Emily St. John Mandel. It's another dystopian story to follow on the footsteps of Margaret Atwood from last month. Not sure which books will follow but it would be good to catch up on some of the fiction ones; maybe Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake, The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman, and They Came and Ate Us by Robert Rankin.

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That said I suspect it'll be four completely different books, because that's the way I roll.

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By the way, clearly I only know where I'm up to because I use Goodreads. It's a great website/app for tracking your reading and seeing what books are out there that you may like. One of my favourite apps, it's got one job and it does it very well.
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