So much to say - so little time and where does one start? On Fyfield Down perhaps, an extensive area of protected chalk downland dotted with large Sarsen stones between Marlborough and Avebury. Together with my wife I was walking there in early May with an old friend, my best man, who had returned from Brisbane to our childhood home for a week to get his fill of fresh spring air, budding beech, rolling down and Wiltshire ale.
Dry valley on Fyfield Down
On a previous visit two years prior he had expressed an interest in the prototype cufflinks I was making using flint, a stone local to the area. Not forgetting this I had spirited a couple of pairs into my pocket thinking that I might surprise him when we stopped to picnic. Quite by chance this happened beside what is known as the 'polishing stone' which we had stumbled upon. Used in neolithic times for laboriously polishing axes (see main photo) it seemed rather appropriate given that the pieces that came from my pocket were made by hand - and that the whole process had taken some years to get to a finished product. This is how the first set of flint cufflinks in Bailey ended up in Australia.
Fast forward 3 weeks and we are in Co Donegal for a birthday weekend break - home of the Donegal granite which I select myself and use in the Bailey and Barrow designs. Driving through the Bluestack mountains towards Glenveagh National Park our attention was drawn by a large pile of colourful queenie scallop shells heaped beside the road. We could not but screech to a halt and enquire in the farmstead opposite whether we might be allowed to take half a dozen or so. There we met Eddie.
The Heap of queenie shells
We were very much wiser as to the history of farming practice in highland Donegal and the wonderful warmth of its people when we eventually returned to the car a good half an hour later. Not before Eddie had shovelled a few digger like handfuls of shells into a turf bag for us to take. He was, in his own words, an alcoholic for machinery and on seeing my old Discovery regaled how he had once put an old Perkins diesel engine from a JCB into an equally old Range Rover - used to tow horse boxes full of cut turf to Ballybofey until the Guards gave him his final warning. 'They were on to me something terrible' said he!
Quite coincidentally Eddie insisted on showing us the stone that his grandfather and previous generations had used to sharpen their sleáns, special two-sided spades used for cutting turf in the bog. He had rescued it from the side of the road which was being widened and it was sitting covered in cut branches, leaves and accumulated moss amongst a collection of rusty old machinery. Clearing away some of the debris from the surface of the stone revealed striations similar to those that we had seen on Fyfield Down 3 weeks before. Thousands of years and in many other ways apart - but connected nonetheless.
Oh - and the queenie shells were used to fill field drains. Eddie explained that his tractor sank in the wet ground when he put stone into his link box. The queens did the same job but were so much lighter. So there you go!