Through The Lattice

Every now and then I love to mansion-drop.

It’s the same as name dropping, except one brags shamelessly, not about acquaintances or stars, but about mansions with which one has had a comfortable working relationship.

Schooled in Eisenhower’s British war HQ, taught to teach at Walpole’s Strawberry Hill, I do not come by my mansions through breeding but by happenstance.

I did once date a lovely gentleman who owned a mansion, however. It was fun, from the first heady party surrounded by oak panels to the stunning 18th birthday cake made in the great kitchen by the Aga, and decorated with exquisite sugared primroses from the old house’s market garden.

When I stayed over, I was given the butler’s bedroom. There wasn’t a butler any more, but he had left us his little room clad in black oak or some such wood.

But it was the windows that were special. They were latticed: criss crossed with strips of lead which held the glass in place. Granted, less light could get through the allotted space, but there was something quite magical about this arrangement which is known here as a ‘leadlight.’

At nighttime, I would switch the light off to watch a great round moon play hide-and seek with the lattice.

Great sheets of glass were simply not a possibility when the lovely old place was built. Instead, one could get small diamond-shaped glass pieces which could be sealed with lead to bring light into a dark oak-panelled house.

Lattice bound the glass together. But it also makes the whole structure stronger. And it means a window might be patched with many different ages of glass, a transparent patchwork of time.

Lattice work gives these patchworks a rigid structure.

It provides structure in nature too. In sand-sized crystals of rock, the atoms are arranged in patterns, a tiny miracle of order and symmetry. And the patterns centre around a set of points called the lattice: points which repeat, at regular intervals, in three dimensions.

It is this lattice-work in the natural world which makes it possible for neolithic humans to speak to us today.

Their parchment is silt.

Far finer than sand, silt. Because what makes rocks strong can render them weak, too. Nature’s elements can exploit the lattice. The frost shatters the rock crystals; or salt water deposits salt which becomes warm and expands to prise the crystal apart. A lattice is a Trojan Horse, purpose-built to usher in in the elements.

When the process of breaking down is complete, a fine tilth remains, a layer on the soil, or a sediment suspended in water: or even a layer at the bottom of a pond.

And it is the most perfect canvas.

An affluent settlement and a favourite of tourists in Summer, Formby sits on the Irish Sea near Liverpool. On its seashore, the sand is being washed away, and beneath lie messages from the past writ large, uncovered as a coastline which was once expanding now recedes.

Footprints. Hundreds of them. Not just humans but deer and birds and even an extinct species of six-foot cattle.

And, just like the footprints in the sand on the beach can tell whether you’ve been running or walking, with a dog or a small child, archaeologists have uncovered unbelievable clues to past lives.

So archaeologists record this ten-foot long trail of man’s prints. They show a man walking fast – 3.9 kilometres an hour – and they estimate he was one metre 66 centimetres tall.Or there’s a trail where man and roe deer tread an interlinked path: was the man hunting or husbanding?

Back then was when cows were cows. The most common animal footprint to be found on the shores of Formby is the auroch, a now extinct species of cow, which would have towered above the men which managed them.

The women and children worked together, gathering seafood – their trails are scattered with the remains of razor shells and shrimps. Or the teenegae boy who walks with his toe facing outwards and a strangely pointed foot caused by the long uncut toenails dragging through the silt.

All life is uncovered, fleetingly,there: 200 foot trails, wolves, dogs,Β aurochs, cattle, red deer, roe deer, unshod horse, dog or wolf, wild boar, sheep, goats) and wading birds -crane, oystercatcher and rail.

The sand uncovers these trails but they are ephemoral. They appear today but will be gone very soon.Such is the nature of silt.

And so the archaeologists of Formby – the most prolific of only 63 neolithic footprint sites worldwide – have appealed to those in the know to keep their eyes open. One day, they say, silt may present itself anywhere along the coast, where the lattice in rocks has done its work, and within a short time the footprints may first appear, and be gone once more.

A ghostly march to the music of a land before time.

Written in response to Side View’s weekend theme: footprints. Have a look at her challenge here

48 thoughts on “Through The Lattice

  1. It’s wonnderful what we can learn from footprints, recent and ancient. Then one needs the time to speculate about what happened there.

    I love early morning beach walking with the canvas washed smooth by the tide, and the tiny trails of bird footprints, crams and sometimes things I’m not sure of.

    Down at a place on our coast called St Lucia one early morning walk turned up what were probably hippo footprints, sent us walking back away from them quite fast, as they can be very dangerous.

  2. Absolutely fascinating. I’m always in awe of the way you mix and weave themes. Always unexpected, always interesting.

    I love the comment on the photo on the Costal Heritage site you linked to “…Note the pointed toe outline caused by drag of long, uncut toenails!” *shudder*

  3. No1 son is dating a girl who was at school with the daughter of the owner of Highclere, aka Downton Abbey. In my opinion, that makes us related πŸ™‚

  4. ghosts of the past, giving hints and so much more about their lives lived so long ago… Just like us, they had hopes, and dreams, I wonder were they fulfilled?… Were they happier with less, as we are sometimes less happy with so much more… I would wish we could take a peek through a time portal, as see for ourselves. xPenx
    (Visiting through a portal via Sir Aquatoms. Pleased to meet you. πŸ˜€ )

    1. It’s mutual, Pen, just popped over to your site and had a lovely time. Any friend of Tom’s is a friend of mine….and of course, archaeology must always have the twin fascination and shortfall: each find sparks more questions than answers….

  5. How elegantly done Kate. You’ve transported me from the Eisenhower’s HQ to the boyfriend’s kitchen where I am still wondering about a sugared primrose to windows to a lattice and from there to the fine world of footprints. I so enjoyed this journey. The standard that you set in your writing really ratchets it up for the remainder of us – may your words remain in the silt.

    1. Thank you, Tammy πŸ˜€ Sugared primroses: I have never seen anything so exquisite: my boyfriend’s sister and mother coated real primroses in sugar and put them on the top of my cake. I have never forgotten them. I was reminded of them when I read the most amazing book: “At The Sign Of The Sugared Plum’ by Mary Hooper. The heroine leaves her country village to help her sister in London, in an extremely successful venture: a sweet shop. She described sugaring flowers in the same way.

  6. Oh, this is wonderful, Kate. I would love to see these footprints (hoofprints or whatever else) and I appreciate how you tie in the mansion, lattice work, and these neolithic footprints. Amazing place we live on, this earth of ours, isn’t it?

    1. It is, Penny. What beats me is that we manage to achieve all of this while spinning in space at a speed of 1,000 miles an hour. How did our neolithic friends, and how do we, not fall off?

  7. After reading this posting, I have such a compelling urge to go visit this place to see those footprints. How cool that would be! Thanks for a wonderful post!

    1. You are so welcome, Cindy: I mentioned there are 63 sites like this worldwide, although this is the most extensive…I now also have an urge to get in the car and drive: four hours is a long time to drive here in the UK, but so worth it!

    1. Thank you Andra. It is truly amazing that these traces still exist. To look on them is an ambition for me now. LOved your Lady in Waiting today πŸ™‚ What wonderful competition prizes your regulars get!

  8. excellent.
    Oxfordshire has it’s own footprints…. dinosaur ones from quarries. So maybe t hat’s the direction I need for my weekend post?!

  9. I don’t live that far away from Formby, and I have never heard of that site before today, Kate, so thank you for highlighting it to me… I will have to go and check it out sometime. I love to see footprints, and imagine what had left them, why and when. I also love old windows; the distortions in the glass, the frames, that kind of thing – which sounds like a really odd thing to say.
    Once again, a fascinating post, Kate! πŸ˜€

    1. Oh, take your camera if you go, Tom! And post the results! I think a call to the guys I linked to will be able to tell you whether there are any footprints visible to see, when you plan to visit. Lattice windows have their own magic: very evocative.

  10. Must have been neat staying in a mansion! I haven’t even really seen a mansion before, let alone stayed the night in one.
    And that’s awesome how they can tell so much from a simple footprint!

  11. Great stuff as always, Kate. Very interesting, rather like Barton Cliffs where the
    fossils emerge and fall on the beach then it’s back to the sea again!

    Love Dad

  12. Amazing! How is it that archeologists can tell, just by looking at (well, perhaps a little more than that) a series of prints, how fast a long-ago gentleman was walking, and how tall he was. It really is fascinating, isn’t it?

  13. Fascinating Formy footprints, Kate. I only knew of Formby for its dunes and natterjacks. One more reason to visit next time we’re ooop north. πŸ™‚

  14. Nice to meet you! I came here through Sir Aquatom’s portal, and instantly I was drawn in. This beautiful post was a lovely welcome gift – expect me to visit to read more fantastic tales!

  15. I’m oft amazed that these ancient records still exist….imagine footprints, just there, marking time awaiting their fate…nature made concrete hallmarking our physical echoes ~

  16. What ? 5 and a half feet tall? I come to you looking for giant causeway…and giant chair fables… …this is so,.. Well, okay, I apologize for my inability to keep up with you.. but, I am on the other side of the “Big Pond” ya know…and on top of that…I’m from the south, we are a little slower, but, more patient than the rest of the world…as you undoubtedly have surmised from my forbearing demeanor …NOW HURRY UP AND TELL US ABOUT THE GIANTS…already…
    just kidding
    or not…

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