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Features

October - where was the rain?

Westonbirt in all it's October gloryWestonbirt in all it's October gloryThis quotation from John Burroughs (1837-1921), an American naturalist, is so apt for the last couple of weeks.  He is best known for his observations on birds, flowers and rural scenes. “October’s Party.  How beautifully leaves grow old.  How full of light and colour are their last days”.

Our weather is still breaking records.  We have just enjoyed 23 dry days, average is 13, with a total of just 31.5mm of rainfall.  This makes October 2016 a record month for my weather station with minimal rainfall of just 31.5mm, the driest since 1984.

Looking at my records I note how this month can be so different from another in that the previous driest was in 2003 with 36.8mm but the following October was a washout with 159.3mm.  The 33-year average is 88.1mm.  October was the second driest month in the year, after July, which is surprising being an autumn month.

The wettest day occurred on the October 1st with 12.0mm with the second wettest on October 15th with 7.9mm.  These two days make up two thirds of the rainfall recorded in October.

When the records for wind direction are studied the reason for this dry weather becomes clear.  The winds for the month have been predominantly from the north to east quarter.  There were several days with light drizzle brought in from the North Sea and four days with daily rainfall that was less than 1mm.

Although we did have many days with several hours of strong sunshine, the end of the month brought a number of days with thick, persistent cloud.  The high pressure trapped beneath it stagnant air that was reluctant to move due to minimal wind.  On October 25th and October 31st the maximum gust all day was just 9mph and many hours when the wind dropped out altogether.

Analysis of the data for barometric pressure shows that the average daily pressure for October was the highest I have recorded for this month with 1023.3mb – another reason for the dry month.

The latter half of October is the time when, as a rule of thumb, evaporation of moisture from plants and ground sources into the atmosphere is overtaken by rainfall totals.  At this point precipitation exceeds evaporation, which allows the rainfall to percolate down through the soil to the aquifers.  October 2016 is an exception in that the evaporation for the month of 31.6mm is greater than the rainfall total of 31.5mm.

The many dry days this month produced 95.4 hours of strong sunshine.  This total exceeds those for the last two years, 2014 and 2015 gave us 65 and 68 hours respectively, since this instrument was installed.  Even though we had many dry days and much sunshine it was not a record month for temperatures.  The beginning of the month was warm with maxima a few degrees above the mean but noteworthy was October 31st when the last of the very mild air pushed the thermometer to 17.6C. In fact the mean for October was 0.14C below the 33-year averages.

At least one air frost has occurred each October, sometimes as many as six in the 1980’s and 1990s. However no air frost occurred in the year 2000, with several years since being frost-free, but the last four consecutive years have been frost-free.

There were four days in the month when fog formed overnight with visibility down to 200 metres although when October 31st dawned this dropped to 100 metres before the sun broke through.

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Rotary Club chalks up another first for women in Marlborough

President Sally WolfendenPresident Sally WolfendenSally Wolfenden is the first woman in the history of the Marlborough Rotary Club to be elected as their president - her appointment follows the election earlier this year of Trish King as the first woman to captain Marlborough Golf Club.

The Rotary Club organisation was formed in 1905, but it was not until 1987 that women were allowed to become members. Sally was the first woman to join the Marlborough Rotary Club seven years ago.

She was first attracted to Rotary when she retired from her teaching career and wanted to find a way to become involved in her local community. She was also keen on the international aspect of the organisation.

Sally’s father was a refugee who moved from St Petersburg, to Odesssa, to Berlin and finally to London where Sally was born.

Rotarians are able to visit any Rotary meeting in the world and Sally has enjoyed attending meetings as far afield as Bordeaux and New Zealand. The link made with the New Zealand club led to Marlborough Rotary raising funds to buy sports equipment for children affected by the earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Rotary International has some 1.22 million members in 200 countries. The aim of the organisation is to provide humanitarian services, encourage high ethical standards and work towards world understanding and peace. The club’s motto is Service Above Self.
 
Marlborough Rotary Club fundraises for charity through activities like car boot sales, street collections, a Spring Fayre, Santa’s Grotto and most recently supporting the Triathlon to raise money for St Mary’s School.

Charities benefitting have been local - such as Julia’s House, national – flood victims in Gloucestershire, and international - Rotary’s Polio Plus campaign.

Members also take part in service activities, many of which have a focus on young people - for example holding mock interviews for school leavers, youth competitions, Rotary Youth Leadership Awards and Kids Day Out (a day out at Longleat for disadvantaged children).

The social aspect of the club is also important with members enjoying a variety of talks from visiting speakers, bowls, boules and quiz nights.

Sally Wolfenden firmly believes that the role of the Rotary President is ‘to get the best out of the members, to maximise and use their talents for the good of the community’.

The Rotary symbol is a wheel with cogs and Rotarians are the cogs in that wheel. ‘It’s knowing that our little bit here makes a difference there,’ says Sally.
Sally’s regular volunteer activities include the Talking Newspaper for the Blind, Meals on Wheels and listening to children reading at St Mary’s.

She is proud to be the first female president of Marlborough Rotary and is convinced that, in her own words, "Women can bring a different perspective to things".

Marlborough Rotary Club has around 35 members aged between 30 and 84, representing a wide range of professions. Women are still in the minority and Sally is keen to promote the club as inclusive to all.

Sally encourages everyone she meets to find out more by visiting the Marlborough Rotary Club website.

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What happens when you mess with the Mop - funfair reduced to just one ride

Mop Fair plans have been thrown into chaos, following a campaign by traders. This year, the traditional Mop Fair, granted by ancient charter, will consist of a solitary children’s ride.

This isn’t Marlborough, but it is happening just 30 minutes’ drive away, in the market town of Cirencester.

For the uninitiated, Cirencester is a bit like Marlborough. Its historic shops are occupied by the same brands (a White Stuff, a Joules, a Fat Face, a Pizza Express) and supermarket shoppers are divided by their loyalties to Waitrose or Tesco.

It also has a twice-yearly Mop Fair: held on consecutive Monday evenings in October. It even shares some of the rides with Marlborough, as operators commute between the two.

Until 1962, the Mop Fair was held in Cirencester’s Market Place, an open space used predominantly for car parking, dominated by its impressive parish church and flanked on three sides by tall, narrow shop fronts.

Then the site of the internationally-important Roman Forum was excavated and redeveloped, and car park was built over it to preserve the structures below. The Mop Fair duly moved on to the car park.

Last year, though, that car park was resurfaced. And – it turns out – the material used to surface the car park is not strong enough to bear the weight of the fairground rides.

So the funfair moved back to the Market Place. But traders were furious, citing significant disruption to their business. This might sound familiar to residents of Marlborough.

This year, reports the weekly printed newspaper, the Wilts & Gloucestershire Standard, the funfair will be reduced to a solitary children’s ride, in order to maintain the fair’s 650-year-old charter.

An alternative, its readers are assured, is being sought for 2017.

It remains to be seen whether anything can be done to save Cirencester’s Mop Fair, or whether it goes the same way as its weekly cattle market (closed down, built over), its Art Deco cinema (closed down, built over), its Victorian railway station (closed down, built over), or Rome’s administrative capital in Britannia (closed down, built over).

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Moving words as mayor cuts ribbon to new dementia centre

The mayor cuts the ribbonThe mayor cuts the ribbonThe mayor of Marlborough offered a moving tribute to the work of staff at a care home in the town as he officially opened a refurbished dementia wing.

The Orders of St John Care Trust has spent £240,000 refurbishing the 20-bed dementia household at the 60-bed Coombe End Court, off London Road.

Describing the home as “a highly regarded and important part of our community,” Cllr Noel Barrett-Morton said: “There are so many things that are sent to try us as we age, both physical and mental.

“But it is reassuring to know that we have a care home here in Marlborough which offers special care for almost every challenge.

“Through greater understanding, kindness and patience, we can all be positive about the future.”

The charity that operates the home has incorporated European ideas described by the Trust’s Janis Tunaley as “cutting edge innovations” to improve the lives of the 20 dementia residents.

“New zones have been created to promote reminiscence,” she explained. “There are objects, like sea shells in the beach room, which the residents can pick up.”

Resident Tim presents the mayor with a book about the history of the Order of St JohnResident Tim presents the mayor with a book about the history of the Order of St JohnOn the walls, picture frames surround felt butterflies and birds, which are designed to be touched.

The beach room, which its weathered wood walls, seafront frieze, and fruit juices to encourage hydration, is just one of the themed areas.

A cinema room, with comfy tub chairs, movie memorabilia on the wall, and boxes of popcorn on the tables, plays classic films all day, while the potting shed in the conservatory is decorated with garden accoutrements, and provides a view of the grounds outside.

There is also a shop corner – a mural recreating a village store with windows packed with fresh produce.

Baskets offer the real thing – residents are free to grab a chocolate biscuit or a piece of fruit.

The refurbishment also includes the creation of a ‘destination area’ for residents and their relatives, including a cafe and bistro. The home’s existing hair salon has also been given an update as part of the refurbishment.

“Because of all the work we’ve done here, lives will be better lived,” said Care Trust chief executive Dan Hayes.

One corner of the home has been transformed into a village shop to promote reminiscenceOne corner of the home has been transformed into a village shop to promote reminiscence

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There's now more life in the River Kennet than you expect - as ARK's River Day showed

Look! Ones that didn't get awayLook! Ones that didn't get awayAction for the River Kennet's (ARK) Life of the River Day event in partnership with Thames Water last weekend brought 120 visitors to the Marlborough College Science Department where ARK had mounted a display in the Biology Laboratory.

On show was a selection of the many creatures that depend on a healthy chalk stream - like the River Kennet - to survive.

The trays and tanks contained everything from tiny flatworms to brown trout, providing an opportunity to learn basic facts about each species.

There were species that are not generally visible to humans as they stand so far above the water on a river bank.  The American signal crayfish attracted lots of attention and were a great way to explain to visitors about invasive species.

A Kennet troutA Kennet troutOther stars of the show were the two types of brown trout that showed people the differences between wild and farmed trout.

Outside, in the College grounds ARK volunteers led very popular river dipping sessions.  This gave children the chance children to use nets and see what kind of river life they could discover for themselves in the Kennet and find out about invertebrates that are indicators of good water quality.

Other activities throughout the afternoon included a children's quiz and a riverside nature trail.

ARK Project Officer Anna Forbes was delighted with the response to the event: "Everyone was very interested in the specimens we had collected for the day and exhibited in the laboratory and the river dipping for wildlife was pretty much non stop."

"It was great to see so many children keen to get in the river and nice for them to find a wide array of chalk stream creatures too. Bullheads were definitely the favourite!"

The next public ARK event is a Summer River Walk to be held August 27 - details are here

The Biology LabThe Biology Lab

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Yellow Tide wins accolade for Marlborough photographer

Yellow Tide by Adrian TravisYellow Tide by Adrian TravisA stunning picture of the Ramsbury countryside has won a Marlborough photographer a top industry accolade.

Yellow Tide, a photograph of a field of oilseed rape near Ramsbury, won photographer Adrian Travis a special recognition on the photography website ViewBug.

Adrian has been a professional photographer for 15 years and has lived in the Marlborough area for nine.

It’s the second time he’s won an award from the judges a ViewBug, when on both occasions one of his images was picked from the thousands uploaded every week.

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Discoveries at Durrington excavation reveal a massive wooden monument - but probably a very temporary one

Archaeologist Mike Parker Pearson celebrates reaching the bottom of one of the pits (Photo: Abby George - copyright National Trust)Archaeologist Mike Parker Pearson celebrates reaching the bottom of one of the pits (Photo: Abby George - copyright National Trust)Archaeologists who have been excavating on National Trust land that is part of the Durrington henge, are now as certain as they can be that they have discovered clear traces of a new and remarkable late Neolithic monument - a great timber circle that once stood tall in the Stonehenge-Avebury World Heritage site.   

They are now closing up (Friday, August 12) their trench and the two pits they have excavated. Then their many finds will go to laboratories for the all-important post-excavation phase of the project which may bring certainty and dates to their theories.

The dig - which is only about a hundred yards from Woodhenge - was designed to investigate two of the 'anomalies' revealed during a comprehensive geophysical survey using ground penetrating radar and other modern technological aids.  One theory was that these anomalies were the remains of standing stones.  The opposing theory was that they were pits dug to take large posts.

Two large pits have been excavated - each about one-and-a-half metres deep.  And it is now clear that both held posts that were about half a metre in diameter and about four-and-a-half metres tall - so standing about three metres above the surface.

Echoes from the ground penetrating radar have revealed at least 120 of these pits - there may possibly be as many as 200.  And in the days when the circular henge was complete, there may have been 300 or more.

The National Trust archaeologist Dr Nick Snashall told Marlbough.News: "It's phenomenal. There was a vast timber monument in a huge arc - it might have been a circle - round the [Durrington] settlement.  We wouldn't have known anything about this without the geophysics survey."

Clearing in-fill from the western pit Clearing in-fill from the western pit    Checking a find in the eastern pit Checking a find in the eastern pit

Each pit showed the posts had been packed into place - and some unusual objects placed in the pits like animal bones and a small lump of sarsen and another of iron pyrites.  Perhaps some kind of offering?

However the most extraordinary discovery is that posts seem to have been left upright for a short period and then lifted out vertically.  How they did this remains a matter for speculation.

A tray of findsA tray of finds  The British Oblique arrowhead (Photo: Abby George - copyright National Trust)The British Oblique arrowhead (Photo: Abby George - copyright National Trust)  The site of a fire with a piece of cob and flakes of flintThe site of a fire with a piece of cob and flakes of flint  Recording one of the pits [Click on photos to enlarge them]Recording one of the pits [Click on photos to enlarge them]

As Dr Snashall pointed out: "These were mature, straight trees put up in a landscape that was very bare - more so than it is today. Where did they come from?  And where did they go once they were lifted out?"

Dating of this weird monument may be possible from finds.  In one pit there was an antler in the filling that had been put into the empty pit.  And in another a cow's shoulder blade which was unscathed.   It would certainly have been crushed into pieces by the post, so it must have slipped into the pit after the post was removed.

As the excavation proceeded various finds were identified and then later overturned.  So traces of a Neolithic house that we noted in our first report from the site, turned out not to be the floor of a house at all.

Similarly the part of a second presumed house turned out to be something else entirely.  This was just the remains of a large fire and a scattering of flint flakes - perhaps left by someone sitting by the fire knapping flint into an arrowhead.

They did however find lumps of chalk cob - a mix of coarse chalk pieces and water - that was probably used round the base of the walls of a house made mainly of woven stems and skins.

Pieces of the grooved ware potPieces of the grooved ware pot  Protecting the grooved ware potProtecting the grooved ware pot  Pieces of chalk cob Pieces of chalk cob Preparing to record the site with a 3-D laser imagerPreparing to record the site with a 3-D laser imager

There were other interesting finds including the site's first British Oblique flint arrowhead - a late Neolithic design.  There were also bits of a grooved ware pot and its round base.  These fragments have been carefully protected, but will not be lifted out.  They will be left - with slight regret on the part of the archaeologist who found them - for the next archaeologists who investigate this site.

Professors Vince Gaffney (left) & Mike Parker Pearson Professors Vince Gaffney (left) & Mike Parker Pearson The National Trust have had volunteer guides at the site - welcoming a large number of visitors. Dr Nick Snashall: "More than one parent has commented that they are delighted their children have been allowed inside the fencing to see what we’re doing.  It’s been a real pleasure to see children watching, asking questions and be totally engaged – future archaeologists in the making?"

It was Professor Vince Gaffney who thought the earlier geophysics research had indicated broken standing stones.  He explains that the excavation has revealed how the pits were filled with packed chalk that had shown on the radar scans as solid matter.

Whoever was right, it seems the order of play at this site was first the creation of the Durrington settlement (for workers at Stonehenge), then the creation of the pits and timber monument, and then the building of the henge over the top of the pits.

That seems to support Professor Mike Parker Pearson's slightly tongue-in-cheek theory (which we reported earlier) that it is a case either of someone changing monument policy at a very late stage or merely "Neolithic managerial incompetence." 

A full report on this project on the Durrington henge will be made once the results are back from the labs - probably in about six months.

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