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Features

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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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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Anything but plain sailing as renovations start at Wilton Windmill

Going – the crane moves into positionGoing – the crane moves into positionThe sails have come down at the last working windmill in Wessex – but for the professional millwrights tasked with removing the sails, the job was anything but straightforward.

Rusty iron bolts which affixed the one-and-a-half-tonne oak sails to the iron axis cross had galvanised, and had to be cut off using an angle grinder.

The restorers – with a low-loader, cherry picker and crane – moved onto the site at 6am today (Tuesday) and by 2pm they were still only three sails down, with one to go.

Going – an angle grinder is used to remove the rusty boltsGoing – an angle grinder is used to remove the rusty boltsThe sails were erected in 1976, after the windmill was purchased – in a dilapidated state - by Wiltshire Council, and restored to its former glory.

They were modelled on the original 1821 sails. Two of the sails are ‘plain’ sails covered in canvas, while the other two, which are in the worse condition, are known as ‘Patent Sails’. The slats can be opened or closed to suit the wind speeds.

The patent for the Patent Sails was only granted in 1818 – meaning Wilton Windmill was using cutting edge technology when it first started milling flour.

Gone – three sails down, one to goGone – three sails down, one to goIn the 1970s, the entire renovation cost £25,000, which coincidentally is the cost of the current sails restoration project.

It is estimated that the restoration work will take two months – which means that the sails won’t be back for Heritage Open Day, which takes place on Sunday, September 11, when the site is opened to the public, and free guided tours are offered by members of the Wilton Windmill Society.

 

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New excavation near Stonehenge: first evidence shows mystery shapes beneath Durrington's henge are empty post holes not stones

Blue plastic sheeting covers one pit - the other lies under the light coloured patch of chalkBlue plastic sheeting covers one pit - the other lies under the light coloured patch of chalkIt's an opening in the grass meadow on the Durrington Walls henge about seven metres by six metres and cut at the beginning of the week - and already it is revealing intriguing evidence.  

While Marlborough.News was at the site on day two of the dig, the archaeologists announced they had found the floor of a Neolithic house.  

That discovery is just a by-product of this excavation.  The real aim is to investigate two of the two hundred and more mysterious 'anomalies' lying beneath the 4,500 year-old bank at Durrington Walls which were revealed by recent geo-physical surveys led by Professor Vince Gaffney using ground penetrating radar and other technologies.  

One school of thought was that they were the remains of old standing stones.  Had this been the case it would have radically changed our views of the whole Stonehenge complex.

The alternative theory - held by Professor Mike Parker Pearson - was that they might be pits dug to hold giant wooden posts - but then filled in again when there was a change of plan.

It is now certain that the Parker Pearson theory is right.  They have found two pits, which had been sunk before the bank was built.  And so far they have found no signs of old or broken up standing stones.

One pit has been partly excavated - and may never have held a post.  Work on the other one and a nearby heap of spoil probably dug from one of the pits, is still going on.  This second pit may have once held a post that decayed in situ.


Professor Mike Parker Pearson told Marlborough.News about the pits which were made to take huge wooden poles standing about twenty feet above the surface: "Each pit has a vertical shaft and a ramp to guide the huge post into the hole - it would then be raised and packed with flints and chalk. But here no posts were put in - the holes were filled in with soft material - loose soil and wood ash."

Prof Parker Pearson takes a pickaxe to the upper layers of chalkProf Parker Pearson takes a pickaxe to the upper layers of chalk The house floor with traces of burnt material & - top left - the covered pit The house floor with traces of burnt material & - top left - the covered pit Prof Parker Pearson getting down to some finer workProf Parker Pearson getting down to some finer work

He believes there was a bit of what he laughingly calls "Neolithic managerial incompetence" in deciding to commemorate the site with timber posts:  "Wooden posts would have lasted about 150 years. They wanted something that would last for ever - so they changed their plan and built the bank.  That's a real statement of memory and commemoration - and authority."

He points out that organising the building of Stonehenge, its associated sites like the giant cursus and Durrington henge involved a huge number of people.  He reckons 600 people were involved in making the Durrington post holes and 4,000 in building the bank - that needs 'authority' and organisation.

Prof Vince Gaffney & National Trust's Dr Nick SnashallProf Vince Gaffney & National Trust's Dr Nick Snashall Probably a Neolithic spoil heapProbably a Neolithic spoil heap Bones exposedBones exposed

Apart from the pits, finds so far include part of the floor of that Neolithic house with a chalk plaster floor and traces of its hearth, an antler tine that may have been part of an antler pick, a piece of pottery and some fairly large bones.

The excavation continues until Thursday (August 11.)

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RURAL BROADBAND - Part Two: alternative routes to increased speeds - while the real solution runs past the front gate

A dish for broadband via satelliteA dish for broadband via satelliteOur last government - that's the one led by Mr Cameron - put forward a scheme to get the last five per cent of homes onto superfast broadband.

It was announced in the Queen's Speech in May as giving 'a legal right to high-speed broadband'.  But this 'legal right' included the government's right to ask users for a contribution if costs were too high.  And it might rest on vouchers that do not cover ongoing costs that will be higher than those for high-speed broadband by fibre optic cable.

Still, as far the politicians were concerned this solved their problem.  Whether it will survive government changes and the introduction of an 'industrial strategy' remains to be seen.  Politically May was a long time ago.

There are people who work from home in the Marlborough area whose low broadband speeds via BT lines impact so disastrously on their work that they have already taken the plunge and tried alternative means of broadband delivery.  

Here are two examples - we will return later to the fact that a BT fibre optic cable runs right past their front gates.

First stop is a person working for a company relying on international reach who needs to use multi-point Skype-type conference calls via a WebEx on-line meetings system.  Via BT's broadband this was "simply hopeless".   He also needs to be able to download large spread-sheets and contracts.  

His broadband speed prevented him working as his job demanded.

So he is trying 4G.  Via a roof aerial, he gets download speeds of between 10 and 15Mbits/s and upload speeds of 10.  This is viable - but it does not like rain: "To be accurate the system is reliable for around 95 per cent of the time we need it."

"We suffer reduced speeds down to about 1mb/sec for around 4 per cent of the time and occasional complete loss for very short periods - with heavy rain. Most problems are solved with a reboot of the router. Incidentally, 1mb/sec is about what we were getting from BT 100 per cent of the time!"

Having paid £300 + VAT for gear, the cost of this is £25 + VAT per month for 25 gigabytes of download:  "25Gb is plenty of data for our four employee business. It wouldn’t suffice if the family were using the system for movies etc., but for the business use it’s plenty."

Improved internet speed means he can rely on VOIP (Voice over internet protocol): "This operates via our internet and serves as our company telephone system. Using VOIP you can dispense with the BT phone lines - a major cost saving. The telephone number is completely portable - so if you’re in Marlborough, Wiltshire on Monday and Marlborough, Massachusetts on Wednesday, your 01672 number is the same."

He is pleased he turned to 4G: "We’re about six months in and will likely retain the 4G based system until we can get fibre or some other solution presents itself."

...but not in the rural area where our two examples live ...but not in the rural area where our two examples live Our second example lives not too far away and has chosen to go the broadband-by-satellite route.  He sees the problem like this:  "We live in a rural place and have all the benefits of the countryside, but we are poor in our mobile 'phone service as well as in broadband."

His solution involves a satellite dish and a contract with a commercial provider.  The problem is that the service relies on the amount of space on the satellite transponder that the provider has bought and how many people are using the service at any one time.

This means the system has what is called a problem of 'contention' - a conflict over access to what is in effect a shared resource.  In simple terms, when too many people are logged on, you can get a sharp dip in the broadband speed.

Our satellite-broadband user finds that he sometimes gets "...a very poor service":  at 3.00am he can get 28Mbits/s.  At 6.00pm - when everyone has got home and switched on their computers - it can be back to BT speeds of +/- 2Mbits/s.

BT's travelling sales pitch...BT's travelling sales pitch...He is paying £69 per month - and during the first year of his contract paid an extra £10 per month for equipment and installation costs.  He could buy a more expensive 'Business package' which would give him priority when there is a contention issue on the service.

He sums up his experience: "It is not consistent. On bad weather days we get poor service and when lots of people are viewing it gets worse still."

Both these people are working from home.  Both live beside a main road and along that road runs a BT fibre optic cable.  Breaking into a fibre optic cable of this sort costs is a complicated technical exercise - it is said to cost £17,000.

However, no one from Wiltshire Council has contacted these two people - or others living nearby - to ask whether they might like to pay towards using this cable for a high-speed broadband service for them and for their neighbours.

Both live in the Council's so-called broadband 'intervention zone' and both had asked for high speed broadband when the Council's scheme was launched.  Perhaps the new government will pay for accessing that fibre optic cable running so temptingly close to their homes.

If any reader wants to try the 4G route to broadband Marlborough.News can put you in touch with someone who will check whether the 4G system will work for them in their location, where to buy the data at wholesale rates, which router and where to buy it:  "I’ll give them, chapter and verse in exchange for an undertaking to donate £100 to Cancer Research UK."  Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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RURAL BROADBAND - Part One: Why can't BT produce decent broadband speeds to rural homes

This past week MPs have told BT (July 19) that it must spend much, much more on the broadband infrastructure - and that this monopoly company risks being broken up if it does not invest enough. 

Reports of the House of Commons committee's decisions mentioned that parts of Britain were 'superfast' while large parts remained 'superslow' - and many of those parts are rural.

BT's week got worse when many of its customers lost internet after a power failure at one of its providers - perhaps another example of lack of appropriate investment.

The failure to keep the country in the EU will eventually - one assumes  - mean that government ministers will not have the excuse of EU competition rules to stop them putting our money into companies' coffers when they are threatened with closure and job losses - or fail to provide a proper service.

Could this, in turn, lead finally to fully funding of British Telecom's infrastructure and provide twenty-first century broadband services across the country and especially to rural areas?  And pigs might....

But, ever hopeful, here is a story told to Marlborough.News by a friendly Wiltshire householder.  It should embarrass the present government, BT and Wiltshire Council.  The latter's use of millions of council tax pounds has failed to improve promised broadband speeds even across its own so-called 'intervention zone':

"I thought my iPad was having a turn.  It was suddenly producing amazing download speeds - I could hardly keep up.  In case I was hallucinating, I checked.  The checker read 15.25Mbit/s. Impossible.  I checked again.  Wow!"

Will BT's Openreach eventually be split offWill BT's Openreach eventually be split off"I was not, of course at home in rural Wiltshire - where the download speed to my iPad sometimes creeps just over the 2Mbit/s mark. I live about 6kms from the nearest telephone exchange."

"I was in very rural France.  In Lower Normandy. I was in a settlement of four homes - hardly even a 'hamlet' - and 100 metres from what my map calls an 'other road'."

"The nearest village is 1.5kms away and has a population of 211.  The nearest town (9 kms away) has a population of 2,532 (about half the size of Pewsey - though boasting a very fine chateau.)  The nearest town even approaching Marlborough's size is 16kms away."

"When the English owner of the house I was staying in bought it as a ruined property in 2010, he asked France Telecom (now Orange SA) for phone services.  The very next day a man arrived offering a survey for 75 euros. 'Yes, please!' "  

"Three days later two young men arrived and strung a line down from the road on new poles - all at no extra cost.  He now pays 36 euros a month for his broadband, all mobile and land-line calls within France and land-line calls to about 100 overseas countries.  And he has a download speed on his laptop that hovers around 20Mbit/s."

"Last winter, the house owner told me, a major storm knocked out his service for 48 hours and he was offered - repeat offered - a month's free service."   

That is some story - all of it true.  Last year a group of Marlborough residents moved into newly built houses in the centre of the town and had to wait thirteen weeks to be connected by BT.

Delivery of fast broadband speeds is - repeat is - possible even in rural areas.  It must be that BT - with the connivance of government and council - cannot be bothered.

What's the difference between Orange SA and BT?  The French government still owns about a quarter of the shares in Orange SA.  The British government sold its last shares in BT in 1993 and BT is now totally beholden to its shareholders.

Or may be it's simply that Britain's much-vaunted engineering and digital skills are not all they are cracked up to be.

See Broadband Part Two - for alternative delivery options.

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Two Marlboroughs take a leaf out of each other’s book

Mayor Noel Barrett Morton library manager Carol Moylan and councillor Cynthia BrooksMayor Noel Barrett Morton library manager Carol Moylan and councillor Cynthia BrooksBook lovers who want to find out more about Marlborough in New Zealand will soon be able to – thanks to a new tome-filled shelf in the town’s public library.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Kiwis will be able to pop into the public libraries in Blenheim and Picton to find out more about us.

An exchange of books too place on Friday (July 15) to strengthen the bond between, and foster a greater understanding of, the two communities.

Marlborough UK’s mayor, Cllr Noel Barrett-Morton, presented his Antipodean counterpart with a range of books written in, about, or by writers who lived in the town.

The collection included Trains and Buttered Toast, a selection from John Betjeman’s 300 radio talks, and Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man, a novel by Siegfried Sassoon.

There were historical books packed with pictures of old Marlborough – Marlborough & Around Through Time by Stanley C. Jenkins, and The Western Kennet Valley in the Great War by Roger Day, and books for children including The Savernake Big Belly Oak by Barbara Townsend.

Councillor Cynthia Brooks presents Autumn Twilight in Marlborough to mayor and mayoress Noel and Susan Barrett MortonCouncillor Cynthia Brooks presents Autumn Twilight in Marlborough to mayor and mayoress Noel and Susan Barrett MortonIn return, Marlborough NZ councillor Cynthia Brooks presented Marlborough UK with a selection of works tracing the gold rush that originally brought settlers to the region, and the wine on which its fortunes rest today.

Among the collection was Marlborough: Celebrating 150 years. Produced in 2009 to mark the century and a half since the first settlers’ boats reached the Marlborough Sounds, the book was described by Cllr Brooks as “150 years condensed into 508 pages” and she should know: she edited the work, while photographer husband Graham provided many of the photographs.

During a ceremony at Marlborough Town Hall, Cllr Barrett-Morton said “the two Marlboroughs are separated by thousands of miles, but the bond is very strong."

There was an extra gift for Marlborough UK from its Kiwi cousins: a painting in the pointillism style by the renowned artist Clarry Neame.

The landscape, Autumn Twilight in Marlborough, shows vineyards in their autumnal colours, after the crop has been harvested. Eighty percent of the wine produced in New Zealand comes from Marlborough. The painting will be hung in the Town Hall. 

The New Zealand book collection is now in the hands of Marlborough’s library manager Carol Moylan, who will catalogue the books before they are given their own special shelf.

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