Saturday, December 06, 2008

So Cold it’ll Bourne

It wasn’t snowing on November the second, 2008, but there were a few squirrels running round Thornton carrying what at first glance appeared to be hazelnuts but which, having recognised that look of mortification in their eyes, probably weren’t.
There’s an icy blast that blows up Bourne Hill on wintry days such as this. It comes straight in off Morecambe Bay, freezes the shaggy coats of the Aberdeen Anguses on the slopes so that they look as though they’ve turned punk, and then heads directly for any un-tethered trouser legs. Thermal long johns, fingerless gloves and a flask of piping hot leek soup are all sensible precautions.

Not that we had a lot of choice. The geophysics equipment had been booked for November the ninth -- we’re never ones to turn down the free loan of equipment from UCLAN (that’s the University of Central Lancashire before anyone asks…and we’re currently angling for a minibus) -- which gave us just one week to square up, graph out, plot, discuss, examine, argue about and, ultimately, decide on where the machinery could be best put to use. Hypothermia-inducing sub artic conditions or not, some jobs just have to be done.

Our first battle, therefore, was to draw up an accurate plan of the ‘enclosure’ on the summit of the hill, so that our future geophysics results could be laid squarely over the top of it; a simple enough operation you’d think, being the enclosure a basic rectangular shape with straightforward right-angled corners.
You’d think…wouldn’t you?
The trouble is Bourne Hill is quite big. We’ve estimated in the past that the summit alone covers about 80,000 square metres. Add to that the rest of the site, the lower defensive earthworks, the impregnable swamp that constitutes most of the south base, the outer rim of hawthorn bushes and dykes and stuff, and it all starts to get a bit intimidating.
We set up the dumpy over the scratching post (so called because the Aberdeen Anguses use it to scratch their flea-ridden backsides against) figuring that this was about as permanent a feature on Bourne Hill as we were likely to find.
Then we took angles and measurements for the first two corners i.e. the northeast and southeast corners of our upper embankment.
So far so good!
However, when it came to the southwest and northwest corners we hit a couple of problems.
For a start, our walkie-talkies had been dropped in a puddle, or piddled on by a cow or something, several weeks before and we hadn’t replaced them. This made communication a bit on the tricky side.
Then there was the fact that the southwest and northwest corners themselves were actually located down the west slope, out of sight of the aforementioned dumpy and, by way of consequence, its operators, which meant that Ken had to extend the stadia staff to its full, windblown height and then stand there as upright as was humanly possibly in the arctic gales, not knowing what was happening half a mile away with the dumpy.
We stuck Carlo in the middle so that he could pass on messages such as, “Straighten up the top of the pole a bit”, “Extend the staff a tad more” and “Jump about on one leg while humming the theme tune from Pinky and Perky”, but, not being used to the rather vague and complicated hand signals we’d individually adopted, it all became remarkably similar to a game of Chinese Whispers…only without the whispering, of course.

Because this wasn’t enough to completely dampen our spirits, the icy blasts of wind from Cumbria were making our dumpy shiver, thus rendering it impossible to gauge an accurate reading. The technique, you see, is to read the heights on the staff as marked at the upper and lower stadia lines inscribed on the dumpy lens, then multiply the difference by 100 to get the overall distance; simple enough in theory but completely impossible when the stadia staff is little more than a thin white line when viewed through the sights, and then blurred beyond comprehension due to wind-shake.
Chris tried his best with watering eyes and steamed up glasses for the southwest corner. This came to 156 metres distance at an angle of 240 degrees anticlockwise from our northern baseline. (As you’ve probably gathered, I’m reading those figures from our badly scrawled notes.)
In order to double check that, Ed and Dave then took our extra long tape measure and, performing a sort of dance routine similar to that of two rutting fantails, pirouetted their way across to the southwest corner in measured intervals of thirty metres.
Shortly they reported back that the corner was 162 metres from the dumpy.
If you’ve been paying careful attention you might have noticed this wasn’t the same as our original calculation.
Undeterred we moved on to the northwest corner where, respectively, we discovered our embankment to be 165 metres, 158 metres and 167 metres in length. (Or as David Thompson put it: “Five black ‘E’s, one whole wodge of red ‘E’s, another two black ‘E’s and several dots”.)
At this point, Danielle’s nose fell off because of the cold, and we moved on to squaring up our chosen areas for the following week’s geophysics.
We’ll cover those on our next visit to Bourne, I reckon. In the meantime, here’s the finished diagram of our rectangular enclosure…give or take the odd twenty metres or so. Next time we’ll re-measure the sides using a different approach.


JahTeh said...

You told me it never got really cold in Fleetwood.

Why couldn't they lend it to you in Summer?

I'll be interested in the results though.

Andrew said...

read the heights on the staff as marked at the upper and lower stadia lines

So that is what those lines were on my father's dumpy were. He could never explain it to me.

Can't imagine your area could get too cold. So, Fleetwood to St Anne's trams would have heating then. They were certainly hot and stuffy enough.

So what is the point of mapping this hill? Did I miss somethin?

Brian Hughes said...


"You told me it never got really cold in Fleetwood."

Unfortunately I've sobered up since I said that. It's amazing how whiskey keeps out the chill.

"Why couldn't they lend it to you in Summer?"

Because Danielle didn't turn up until winter.

"I'll be interested in the results though."

So will I. Unfortunately we're having to redo the original lot because the results were somewhat on the not-completely-convincing side. It's not going to happen this week though. I'm full of the second dose of the flu in as many weeks. That's the problem with not having a couple of glasses of whiskey every gives the flu germs plenty of room to manoeuvre.

Brian Hughes said...


"Can't imagine your area could get too cold."

Neither can I at the moment, seeing as I'm running a massive temperature. But it was snowing last week and I had to unthaw the cat's paws from the shed roof yesterday with boiling water, so it must be a bit on the chilly side out there.

"So what is the point of mapping this hill?"

It keeps the officials happy. It'll also give us a good, accurate map so that we stick the geophysics results and the locations of our future trenches on it. Basically it looks good in excavation report, which is what counts.

John said...

Once again, you've proven that folks like Indiana Jones and Lara Croft have it easy in the movies, compared to the true life adventures of real archeologists!

Sirs (and Madams), I applaud you, tip my hats to you, and raise my Guiness high in the air to you. All Britain should be proud of its fine sons (and daughters), and the rallying spirit that makes some face the elements in the call of duty.

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Brian Hughes said...


Except for the flu, which I've caught again for the second time in three weeks...probably because I keep climbing ruddy hills in the middle of winter, which is why I won't be surveying this weekend. I'll be staying in bed with a lot of hot toddies on order and a good book instead. Not something you'd see Indiana Jones or Lara Croft doing very often...but that's their look out.

John said...


Actually, I believe both Indy and Lara would enjoy cozying up with a good book on a cold winter's day.

My point, though, was that neither seems to take the time to do proper archeology, as such. Of course, they're usualy raiding treasures, instead of making new discoveries, but still... you'd think they'd have to do SOME work. :0)

Get well soon, JOHN :0)

Brian Hughes said...


I suspect that 'Indiana Jones and the Contour Survey' or 'Lara Croft: Geophysics Storeroom Raider' wouldn't generate quite the same box office returns. But you're right, of course...they're not the most responsible of archaeologists.

Jayne said...

I can see Ken Stott playing you in the next Adventures of A Fylde and Wyre Antiquarian movie, Brian :P
Though the fiddly survey stuff will probably end up on the cutting room floor, I suspect.

Brian Hughes said...

Is that the bloke who plays Rebus, Jayne? I went off him when he appeared in that drama about Tony Hancock and was wandering about in the nuddy. Put me off my supper that did.

Jayne said...

Yep, that's him though I haven't seen the Tony Hancock thing.
*shudder* he isn't pretty with clothes on, in the nuddy he'd be positively scaremongering!

Brian Hughes said...

It wasn't a pretty sight, believe me. No wonder John le Mesurier couldn't keep a straight face.

Jayne said...

I'd be too busy heaving and/or screaming in fright to laugh :P

RVB said...

...but there were a few squirrels running round Thornton carrying what at first glance appeared to be hazelnuts but which, having recognised that look of mortification in their eyes, probably weren’t.

Our Possums (the Australian version of the squirrel) also carry peanuts.

Also, I want a Dumpy.

Brian Hughes said...


I recommend you give that particular drama/documentary a miss then. The one about Frankie Howard in the same series was quite interesting though.


"Also, I want a Dumpy."

Too many meat-pie floaters I expect.

RVB said...

Too many meat-pie floaters I expect.

Not so, Briallen.

Brian Hughes said...

Last night's keema vindaloo from the Melbourne Balti perhaps?

RVB said...

I want to geosurvey Micky's brain. Only it'd have to be from a distance since I don't want to be near the cesspool of scum.

Brian Hughes said...


Micky's certainly a one, isn't he? At least I hope is. I'd hate to think there were any more of him.

RVB said...

True to the nature of most E-Coli, they do tend to multiply though Brian.

Brian Hughes said...

A good squirt of Domestos in the eye should sort him out though.