My mother worked at Christ Church (Oxford University) and she was the first to bring the Trill Mill Stream to my attention. Pictured here the stream appears deep and slow – coming from under the University into Christ Church Meadow.
At one time the stream actually flowed on the surface, but it was eventually buried. The high walls within which the stream is channeled (just before it reaches the Thames – or the Isis as they call it in Oxford) is because in the 1800s the vapors coming off the water were blamed for causing a cholera epidemic- hence the idea to contain it. Initial exploration of the stream in the 1920s revealed a rotting Victorian punt wedged somewhere within and populated by 3 human skeletons.
Numerous people have traversed this underground waterway, Lawrence of Arabia did it in a canoe and one enterprising adventurer used a sea plane float. Modern urban explorers record their adventure and reveal an arched roof of bricks, the undersides of numerous manhole covers and a passage that makes at least 6 90 degree turns – finally ending in an iron gate – as seen from the outside it is this incredibly archaic industrial age contraption – a plate of metal that is raised and lowered by a wheel.
In Ronald Knox’s book, “The Hidden Stream; the Mysteries of the Christian Faith” he mentions Trill Mill Stream in his introduction in saying that, “if you know the right turning close by the gas works you may thrust your canoe up to the mill-pool under the castle walls where an entrance hardly more dignified than that of a sewer invites you to leave the noise of Oxford behind, and float down through the darkness.”
If I still lived in Oxford, I would certainly have been one of the explorers. I had at one time entertained the idea of using an air mattress. Now that I live in Canada the gloomy tunnels under Guelph will have to suffice – sadly they do not have the history of the Trill mill stream.
Well, Rockwatching has been up and running for a number of years now (5 to be exact) and I believe it has contributed significantly to the interest of people like myself who like caving, rocks, the outdoors, gems and minerals in Ontario.
We are just a few short days from 2011 and I believe it’s high time we made some resolutions -all of us (you my loyal fellow bloggers as well).
So in the interests of all involved a few ground rules to follow on Rockwatching from now on
1) Lets not carry a personal vendetta onto this site which is meant to be a forum where like minded enthusiasts can interact in a positive way.
2) Lets respect each other and try not to get personal when we are frustrated.
3) Lets respect the basics of conservation and eco-minded thought.
4) Lets not assume stuff we don’t know for sure (hence the survey at the bottom of the post).
5) Lets keep in mind that this is all about enjoyment.
6) Lets keep in mind that just because the topic is on the table, every single aspect that pertains to it is not an open book.
7) Lets respect people who are not on the site, private property, reputations etc. Just because there is discussion of a site or feature does not mean permission has been granted to go there.
8) Lets not get petty, self righteous or important. Stop correcting my grammar, spelling or use of terms. I am a writer at heart and so I believe I can use the language as I please (providing it’s in good taste, or if I choose, not in good taste).
9) Lets not waste my time by having to re-direct you to one of the above rules.
Just recently Maggie and I had spent the day walking around the walls of the ancient Roman city of Chester – the town from which her father came and in which her mother had worked as a nurse. Apparently the two of them met when her father was choking after an appendix operation and her mother applied her nursing skills.
We had visited Chester some twenty years ago and had stayed in a bed and breakfast down on the banks of the River Dee.
This ruin was situated above Chester’s Roman Wall and it is part of the structure of the church of Saint John the Baptist. Set up into the wall there is a most unusual feature – a medieval coffin of solid oak. It looks like the coffin was cut from a solid tree trunk and inside it is inscribed “ashes to ashes.”
Nobody really knows the exact story behind the coffin but there are many theories – everything from, “it was bought from gypsies,” to “somebody dug it up while digging another grave.”
Scotch, whiskey, whisky or whatever you want to call it
Anne Gordon kindly offers this post as a special guest blogger, she is a national travel writer, having written for every major newspaper in Canada and many others across the world; she is also a member of TMAC. The following post is one on a subject that I find especially appealing – scotch!
“For centuries in the hills and highlands of Scotland, pure spring water, malted barley and yeast, together with the distinctive smoke of peat, have given the Scots an alcoholic experience finer than any other. Called ‘Uisge Beathe’ ( the ‘water of life’) in earlier days, Scotland’s most favoured drink is now more widely known as whisky.
Introduced to the country folk by Christian monks centuries ago, the art of distilling started out in hidden bothies (roughly made shelters) in the hills. It was a precarious operation. The distillers spent a great deal of their time dismantling the tubes and cans of their trade and fleeing whenever word reached them that the Customs men were close on their heels.
Today those small beginnings have flourished, providing Scotland and the Scots with an industry that has greatly enhanced the country’s economy. Worldwide whisky exports now exceed 1 billion bottles a year, an income of more that $4.7 billion.”
See more of Anne’s posts on her visits to various distilleries here
Before dinner we went on a tour of Mario’s farm – he had an alligator on a chain that he goaded for our entertainment. It lived in a scum covered cement pool behind the shed where he kept his Lada. I wondered if I could keep a pet like that, but come to think of it, we have some kind of exotic pet law back in Guelph.
Here is a little bit of how the article had initially appeared (though in “Beyond the Playa”, the editor had coaxed it into something more about the dinner than the crocodile) …
““My he looks like a nasty fellow” I commented to my host. The creature eyed me coldly. “How long have you had him?” “9 years” “ And I suppose you are going to take his belly skin? Use it for handbags? Gangster shoes?” “Si, my pet, I feed”. Still no reaction from the beast, it seemed indifferent to its fate. I doubt that it understood me, but then again, neither did my host.
Life never fails to amaze, I wondered at the bond that must have developed over those 9 years. Master gazing fondly over his ill-tempered charge; a rusty chain fastened around its armoured neck. Reaching over in provocation the farmer yanked it’s tether and the beast went absolutely beserk, snapping and thrashing it let loose a fetid hiss from its gaping mouth. Whereas a dog bites at 300 pounds per inch this killer pulverizes bone at a crushing 5000 pounds pressure.
I wondered what it was that had bought me here. My resort offered a perfectly suitable meal – rice and beans – typical Cuban fare, and chicken or some kind of fish. “What kind of fish?” I would ask. “Cuban fish” they would invariably reply.
Well here I was in the banana grove of a farm near Varedero; overlooked by the various creatures who lived there, my host’s Cocker Spaniel, Hootie, the hootia and of course the angry beast. “Nombre?” I asked my beaming host. “Crocodillo” he told me. The “Tinyosa” – great flapping black vultures watched from a tree nearby. I am sure they hoped that I might get to close.”
As for the piggies in the picture, sweet and snuffling as they were, I believe we derived a significant amount of guilt. I hadn’t realized that one of their brethren would serve as dinner until a part of him/her appeared with our meal. I believe we would have paid for his freedom if we’d realized the consequence of our visit, but then again, a wild pig soon grows ferule and even uglier, so freedom for these creatures might be good in theory, but in practicality Mario’s family would go hungry and so would we – “Circle of Life”.
This lady was selling pink buddhas at the Bancroft Gemboree. I have just got back from spending the weekend there and I have taken a number of interesting photos of the people and the minerals that were being sold. This was the first person that I saw as I walked in.
Ontario rockhounds look forward to the Bancroft Gemboree, it is the biggest rock and gem show in Canada. I have taken a week off work to attend the gemboree and visit various rock collecting sites up in that area.
In my book (as of yet unpublished but still under review by a publisher) I write about the experience of the Bancroft Gemboree. There is a distinct division between the merchants inside and those without. As for deals – you are most likely to get a good deal where the dealers are not professionals. As I wrote …
“These outside dealers of rough stone and mineral oddities are shaggier and rougher than the smoothly coiffed gem merchants within. They are often amateur; this pursuit of beauty is their life’s calling, but not their full time job. It’s not about cash; it’s the love of rockhounding that drives them.
An aged lapidary was selling his polishing equipment. On a table beside him he had an archaic buffing wheel. He was willing to part with it for a mere $250. All around him he had 3-litre strawberry baskets filled with cut agate. I bought one on a whim and upon closer examination back at the cottage I regretted not buying more. It was an incredible mix of sliced nephrite, chalcedony, banded agates and jasper. There were all sorts of striped and spotted rocks, cabochons and nodules of every type, an absolute treasure-trove for $10.
“Why dump this beautiful stuff at such a low price?” I asked. Leaning on the table he smiled sadly at me, watery red eyes suggesting long hours at the grinder. “I’m getting on in years you know.””
Rockhound don’t despair, Ontario is a treasure trove of gem deposits – especially near Bancroft
Above: Diopside or tremolite, I cant remember which, but I found it at this amazing road cutting near Wilberforce.
As I have mentioned in prevoius posts, I have a book that is in with a publisher right now – its huge and will have to be trimmed down if they want to publish it. The following is an extract from my chapter on finding gem diopside crystals in Ontario …
“According to Chris Fouts, the main face of the cutting is a pyroxenite skarn cut by coarse-grained calcite veins. The really impressive crystals occur right along the contact between the country rock and the intruding calcite veins.
No doubt, this advice is true, but as my friend, the proprietor of Starlite Gems in Wilberforce told me, the best place to dig is in the dirt right below the tree roots. Apparently last year ambitious collectors knocked over four big trees around the lip of the exposure. Chief amongst those trees was a birch whose roots had clutched several translucent tremolite crystals, some of the blocks as big as a quart of milk and “as green as grass”, he told us. He rummaged in a grubby box that he kept beneath the counter, tossing aside lesser specimens and finally, with a triumphant grin producing a sizeable spike of deep green tremolite. “I was up there a couple of weeks ago and I found this in the dirt beside the road.”
I was amazed by the discovery and even more surprised when he agreed to sell it for $5. Apparently the best diopside and tremolite crystals are buried beneath the road. It supposedly shears off the top of several calcite veins.
This exciting find, tossed aside with so little regard, suggested the existence of far more spectacular treasures somewhere under the forest floor. It set me off in a fever of poking and scavenging. I had been unable to find the toppled birch of which I had heard but I burrowed deep into the sand, further undermining the already tenuous placement of the trees on the forest side of the ridge”.
What can I say – Cubans are wonderful people. I was wandering along the beach somewhere near Jibacoa and these two young fellows approached me. “Ola Senor”. They just wanted to have their picture taken and to look at my camera. Cubans will drive you anywhere, take you anywhere and help you in any way they can. We stopped a car and asked the guy if he could drive us to Havana for 20 pesos, this he agreed to do but when I tried to give him 30 pesos he refused and insisted that it was only 20 pesos that we had agreed to. Fantastic people!
A mother and baby howler monkey in what we came to refer to as “the monkey tree”.
One really hot day when Maggie only wanted to relax on the beach I ventured further inland up a dusty road. I reached this tree that must have had about 30 howlers in it. I think it may have been a guanacaste tree that has been enveloped by a strangler fig.
The monkeys just watched me until I got really close and then the males started barking. It was insane. Every monkey within several kilometers took up the cry, you could hear them everywhere. Its quite intimidating.
Following the release some time ago of my book "Rockwatching; Adventures above and below Ontario", I am pleased to announce the release of my new book "Tamarindo; Crooked Times in Costa Rica". It is a story of opportunity. Edgehill Press is the publisher. (www.edgehillpress.com)