A Travellerspoint blog

September 2009

2 Day Kayaking Trip

(And BBQ and North Lake Pics)

I’m writing this on September 23rd having just got back from my Silver Week trips to Kyoto, Osaka and Nagoya – and as much as I’d like to write about all that while it’s fresh in my head, I’ve still got all of the events from the beginning of September to write about.

So let’s start September off with the photos from the full 2 day kayaking trip across the lake which happened over the 6th and 7th.

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http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2019913&id=1122485897&l=92fe86ebc8 (As usual click here to see the full gallery!)

Basically it was simply a bigger version of what I did on my first day of work, with more students, more teachers and about 20 parents joining the trip as well. Oh, and we all got to wear lovely pink Imazu 2009 Kayaking trip T-Shirts – fashion item of the year!

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STUDENTS

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TEACHERS

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PARENTS

We had an early meet at the school that the students had to cycle to the beach in Makino to start while the teachers got driven there. This time getting started was more logistically challenging with more support boats and even one of the ferries that crosses the lake joining us a central support boat.

Finally everything was ready and we started with a pistol shot

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and then it was the same as before switching between the support boats and the kayaks again. Only this time I got to do the full trip meaning I could stay overnight in the hotel in Nagahama. I didn’t really have time to go into Nagahama but I did have a quick look at the castle.

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The students also put on a show in the evening to entertain us – the best part of which was a brief version of Snow White, where the boy who thought it was funny to play Snow White at the school with his friends obviously regretted it in front of the full audience.

The return trip was even more fun as things were a bit more relaxed. On the lunch break stop the students were allowed to get in the water and swim and play around in all their kayaking gear – which looked like fun so I joined them too; making it the second time I’ve ended up swimming in my trousers in the lake then just dried off in the sun – the first time was 2 days earlier at a BBQ for the new JETS arranged by some local Japanese people we welcome us (Thanks Yo and Hatsumi for that!!).

At that BBQ not only did we get lots of tasty food, but Marilyn and Leila also pulled an old bike out of the lake and I got to impersonate a big dead catfish – which is always fun.

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After the BBQ, I was still in a swimming mood so Leila and I cycled up to my favourite beach on the North end of the lake and ate ice cream, checked out a really weathered Buddha statue (that looks like a zombie now) and swam. I mentioned this beach before – and I had my camera this time! So you can see a few BBQ and North Lake photos here.

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I’d also like to take this opportunity to point out LEILA AND I ARE JUST FRIENDS!!! I stress this because I am getting kind of tired of Japanese people asking if she’s my wife just because we hang out quite a lot. So, we have a similar sense of (very inappropriate) humour and an overlapping taste in music – but IT isn’t there; and now I’m beginning to meet some nice Japanese girls and collect phone numbers I really don’t need people thinking I’m married!! 

Posted by DKJM74 03:24 Comments (0)

Daytripping

(Other highlights from August)

Writing a blog is strange – even though I feel like I’ve written an awful lot, I’m still condensing a whole month into a few hundred words and pictures. It gives a very distorted picture – maybe I look like I’m having a great time at the fireworks BBQ party, and it was alright – but it was something I could quite happily have lived without; while on the other hand a lot of the really great moments are so short, unexpected or simple that I don’t get a record of them; just the light on the lake, or over the rice fields and distant hills near my school (which I don’t feel I’ve really caught in any of the pictures) and the hum of the cicadas in the air. And moments like the one where one of the Japanese teachers came up to me and said ‘DO-YOU-WANT-A-CUP-OF-COFFEE?? Is my English good?’, or Leila and I singing The Sex Pistols in a small karaoke bar in Shinasahi where I don’t think they’ve even had a non-Japanese customer before. I guess what I’m trying to say is that what these pictures don’t show is that I’m having a wonderful experience here, a kind of pinch-myself-on-the-arm-is-this-really-happening experience sometimes.

Anyway, as August went on I had less free time as school was starting up again and I began to prepare and teach lessons; and to coach four students for a speech contest. However, I still got to do a few nice day trips. So you’ve had a general collection of random bits and pieces from all around Takashima – but I have ventured to other parts of the Shiga prefecture as well so here are some pictures from those trips.

August 22nd - Nagahama (via the island of the BAD birds)

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So, Leila needed to go to a shop in Nagahama on the other side of the lake and she asked me to go along to help out with the Japanese communication; which while not quite being the blind leading the blind, it is at least the very short sighted leading the blind.

To make it a bit more interesting we decided to take the ferry across the lake and stop off at the island in the middle (in the background of many of the Kayaking pictures) and see the shrine there. The island looks pretty bare as most of the trees have lost their greenery thanks to the BAD birds. Apparently the droppings of the birds that settle there are so acidic that it’s like acid rain, and strip the trees bare once it gets into the ground.

The island was also the first place around here I’ve seen that seems to understand tourism, once you get off the ferry you have to pay again to see the shrine (even though most shrines on the mainland are free) and photographers take the visitors pictures to sell them when they leave. The shrine isn’t much special except for its location and once nice open wooden corridor with nice views.

Nagahama itself feels much more like a… real place than anything on the west side of the lake. We didn’t have too much time to really explore, but we looked around the streets that make up the covered shopping arcade.

Best spot though was the small ‘museum’ of toys/collectible figures – where I got chased….

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… and brutally killed by Godzilla.

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However, not being one to let a small thing like death stop me, I was back on my feet two days later.

August 24th - Mt.Hiei

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Although this was a Monday, I had a substitute holiday thanks to the upcoming two day Kayaking trip which would take place on a Sunday and Monday. So I decided to take that day while the kids were still on holiday and it would be easier for me to be away.

Looking for a reasonable one day trip, I ended up taking the train to the south end of the lake and Hieizan. There’s another famous temple complex there near the top of the mountain, reached by a special ‘train’ on one side or a cable car on the other.

It’s a big spread out collection of buildings, some designated as National treasures (due to being built around the 12th century, and being where the first Japanese novel was supposedly written). So despite the fact that all of these shrines and temples do seem to blur into one mass of red pointy architecture after a bit I decided to go and have a look – and it certainly was red and pointy!

As an added bonus I got to walk the rest of the way to the top of the mountain from the temple (because I couldn’t work out the bus timetable – not by choice) to visit the Garden Museum there. There are some really nice views of the lake and Otsu on the south shore from up there. The gardens are modelled on French impressionist paintings and Monet’s water garden (which, having been there, I have to say they’ve done a good job of recreating). Reproductions of the original painting are dotted around the gardens as well. This probably explains the small army of amateur painters at the base of the mountain; expressing their unique vision en masse – how Japanese!

August 29th – Hikone

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I only have a few pictures of this as I left the memory card for the camera at home and was very limited on how many pictures I could take – so some of these are from Connie’s camera not mine.

Anyway, this was a JET organised trip to Hikone castle with an English tour provided by two Japanese volunteers. The obvious main feature of the site is the white castle keep on the top of the hill, overlooking a nice Japanese garden below.

To be honest I don’t remember much about that trip except what you can see in the pictures for yourselves. After that tour, I ditched most of the other JETs and went few stops down the line on the train to Omi-Hachimon to get a cheap mobile phone I’d arranged for myself and spent a long time sorting out a Japanese mobile phone contract: successfully.

And that brings us to the end of August only really looking at key trip and days – I’ve still got stuff about the full two day Kayaking trip and the speech contest to write up; and next week there’s another block of public holidays so I’ve got 5 days off work and am planning to travel out of Shiga for the first time since I arrived – to do a tour of the Kiso Valley area and meet one of my pen friends in Nagoya. BUT, once I’ve blogged all that, then I should be able to put something about my more everyday life up; stuff about the school and my local area for example.

Posted by DKJM74 04:03 Comments (0)

Getting Settled

Exploring Takashima, Obon Week

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Now please bear in mind that everything I’ve reported from Japan so far (The flight out, the Tokyo orientation, the trip to Shiga, the local training, the kayaking trip and the fireworks in Shiga and Imazu) all happened in one week.

A wonderful, mad, exciting week – but also a hectic and tiring week without any chance to really relax and settle into my new life. The next week things began to slow down a little. There was still a lot to do – meetings to attend, offices to go to and paperwork to do – but there was also more personal time to get to know the local area.

I got to spend a couple of easy days at the school, because until August 27th it was still the summer holiday and the only students around were those doing sports club training. Many of the teachers had taken holiday too, and those that hadn’t are either training clubs or doing administrative work – so there was a half day closing feel to the whole school. I got the guided tour and some basic daily work information and was pretty much left to my own devices as there wasn’t a lot to do. Wanting to seem pro-active I asked if I could start an English notice board for the students and was given a nice big one just outside the staffroom, so I started putting together some materials for that.

Then before I’d even had time to really get into that I basically had 5 days off work, because it was Obon; a kind of unofficial national holiday when many people travel home to see their families. So, I was told that as long as I stayed in Takashima city limits I didn’t have to come into work on Thursday, Friday or Monday.

So I set about exploring Takashima. Takashima is an odd place, although it’s classed as one city it is made up of 5 distinct separate places; Takashima, Ado-gawa, Shinasahi, Imazu (where I live) and Makino. I can cycle to Shinashi or Makino easily, but it’s easier to take a train to go further afield. Not that there are any really huge places of interest in any of the five areas – they’re all small quite rural communities that combine nice lakes side views, rice fields, a small shopping area and a few places to eat or drink – oh, and a couple of shrines and temples of course.

So instead of trying to do a gallery of each place I’ve decided to compile a few themed galleries, starting with Biwako (Lake Biwa). Ironically the nicest lake views I’ve seen yet were on the north tip of the lake just past Makino and I didn’t have my camera with me then – but I’m sure I’ll go back again soon! So here are some lake views from Biwako taken in and around Takashima; and a few from a visit to Omi-Maiko, a popular swimming beach, just outside Takashima.

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Now, heading inland, some non-watery scenery from Takashima and a few ‘social’ pictures; including a Shinashi windmill village (three windmills I think!), eating sushi and some BBQ party pictures that didn’t really fit anywhere else.

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Lastly, all things bright and beautiful. There are so many interesting creatures here. I’ve turned into a real bug hunter. So be warned - this last collection if full of all the furry, scaly, multi legged beasties that you might not want to have seen by surprise in the other galleries.

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There are spiders, crabs, lizards, HUGE grasshoppers, dragonflies and even a cat in there. Enter at your own risk – but I am quite proud of some of these shots, in particular the ones of the dragonfly in flight. It was laying eggs in the shallow water and with some patience I was able to get very close and get some great shots; but I suffer for my art, spend too much time in boggy woods snapping pictures of dragonflies and land crabs and the mosquitoes do find you – look at the wonderful bites I got!

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So that is a scattered collection of small moments and shining fragments of Takashima, I haven’t bothered with many pictures of the Imazu itself as it isn’t much to look at but I will go and do an Imazu photo shoot later. However, I hope it gives you a feel for where I am now.

Posted by DKJM74 03:04 Comments (0)

Come On Baby Light My Fire(works)

Otsu and Imazu; 2 fireworks shows in 2 days

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August 7th. Otsu, capital city of the Shiga prefecture as seen from a window in the board of education building.
Today is JET survival training… so it have must have only been by luck that I’d survived up until now. Come to that it must still be just luck I’m surviving now, as I don’t remember much we got told. Some of it was a bit odd; like how to use the train in Japan, after we’d just taken a train to get to Otsu (but I do understand how to read the time table better now, so I guess it was useful). We also got taken on a shopping trip to get to know a few local shops, including the 100 Yen shop where you can pick up almost anything cheaply – including, not very realistic, fake breasts … which two of the guys just had to buy. What can I say they’re young and American – here’s Tyler modelling his new jumper lumps; he’s actually a nice guy, really!

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Well, as unbelievable as it might seem, fake boobs were not the highlight of the day. We arrived in Japan at the height of firework season and the biggest show in Shiga prefecture was happening in Otsu that night. So, whilst most folks headed off to nearby Kyoto for a night out, I (and a few others - including Tyler sans breasts) stayed in Otsu. First, we just wandered around enjoying the festival atmosphere and the beautiful yukata (light summer kimonos) being worn, and then we staked out a spot by the, already very crowded, lakeside to wait for the show. In the end we got a good spot on top of a big rock which we shared with four schoolboys who were the only other people brave (or stupid) enough to climb up there – if you don’t count the tree growing on top of it too.
So we waited, the sky faded to black and 8 O’clock it exploded! It was a long show, I watched the first half hour from the top of the rock getting some nice pictures – I really like the ones filtered through the tree branches. Then as I had a train to catch I climbed down and worked through the crowd to the train station taking more pictures as I went.

But that wasn’t it for fireworks, the very next day (August 8th) my town, Imazu, was having its local fireworks; which apparently should have been a week earlier but got rained off luckily for me. Obviously, this was much smaller, but the atmosphere was really nice – and I got VIP seating on the portside seats promised to me thanks to gaijin smash (which is a wonderful phrase meaning special preferential treatment given to foreigners – yeah, gaijin smash!).

I had thought I might actually be the only JET there this time, but then three girls from group A turned up; being Group A they had arrived a week earlier and had done their training already, so I hadn’t met them before. Luckily my gaijin smash credit extended to an extra 3 seats, so I ended up watching fireworks with Kitty, Jessica and Leila (from left to right).

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As you can see from that picture, fireworks were not the end of the evening. Someone suggested karaoke, and though in the past I might have smashed myself in the head with a hammer rather than go to a karaoke spot, things have changed. Firstly, in the spirit of getting the most out of my time in Japan I’m really going to try and be more social and open to things like this, and secondly, three nice girls were asking me!

Initial reservations aside, it was really fun and nothing like I expected. I thought it’s be a smoky bar with a little stage and us having to wait our turn while drunken Japanese business men crooned Elvis songs in Jinglish, but what we actually got was a private air conditioned karaoke box – with slightly dubious hostess bar décor. And, as these pictures don’t have any audio, I’m just going to say my singing was great and leave it at that; well Jessica said something about going again sometime so it can’t have been that bad.

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2018043&id=1122485897&l=1b55d6019e

Posted by DKJM74 04:23 Comments (0)

Lake Biwa

(My First Day of Work)

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August 6th, my first day of real work in Japan; time to get out the suit and tie, practice my bowing and set 3 alarm clocks so I’m not late – right?

Well maybe, if today wasn’t the day the second year students practice kayaking across the lake in preparation for the main kayak trip in September – so day one and I’m getting a chance to get acquainted with Lake Biwa already
I’m sure that throughout this blog I’ll be posting a lot of pictures of the lake as it does dominate the prefecture somewhat - but it is very beautiful. I can’t think of a better way to start my life in Japan. It was such a nice way to meet some of my students and fellow teachers in a really relaxed way. Here are a few people I now work with.

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Far left - …..Sensei; the school principle (So much for the formal introduction we’d been told to expect!)
Next – Aiba Sensei; another English teacher and my direct supervisor, a very nice and helpful lady.
Top right - …. San; the school nurse.
Bottom right – Nakagawa Sensei; sits opposite me in the teacher’s room, not sure what she teaches and she speaks very little English (but understands a lot I think!) - But she’s very lively and has a great sense of humour as you can see in her glove footed monkey impression here.

We started off at about 6am from the beach at Makino and headed West across the lake (about 20km) to Nagahama – with a lunch break on the north shore. To do this we had two support boats that circled around with about 8 teachers and students onboard who sometimes switched places with tired kayakers, so everybody got a turn. I started off in one of the support boats (a fishing boat by trade) and got to do three stretches of open water in the kayaks. That was a nice mix as I got to enjoy kayaking without getting too tired and had plenty of time on the support boat to enjoy the sights and take pictures – which you can enjoy here.

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My only complaint about this trip was I only got to do half of it; whilst the students and teachers stayed overnight in Nagahama and kayaked back again the next day I had to be driven back to Imazu that night so I could attend another JET job training in Otsu the next day. Still this was just the practice run and I’ll get to do the full 2 days trip in September.

Posted by DKJM74 04:21 Comments (0)

Tokyo (a-go-go)

The Blog Starts Here

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August 1st. After lots of packing, weighing bags, unpacking and repacking the departure day finally arrived. Thanks to having no choice, but to get a very early bus, I was one of the first at the airport in London, but soon familiar faces from the London training began to arrive and, although it was actually a really long process, it now seems like it happened all so quickly.

The flight followed almost the same route as my holiday flight 2 years ago, going over the huge frozen wasteland that forms the Urals. Spectacular to see from a plane, but not a place I’d like to be left to walk home from. The time passed quite quickly; chatting to the guys sitting next to me, watching movies and playing games on the screen built into the chair. Then somewhere we crossed the date line and it was my birthday. August 2nd, several hours ahead of time as we were flying into the east, meaning it was still August 1st and my sister’s birthday in England. So, for the first time ever, Emma and I shared our Birthday’s on different days, but at the same time – that made my head hurt. I guess time is indeed relative. Then 12 hours later, and 9 hour in the future, we were there – Tokyo.
We were met at the airport by a small army of purple T-shirted, grinning JET representatives who guided us through the airport, helped us sort our luggage and packed us onto buses for the hotel in Shinjuku. The hotel was surprisingly posh and elegant and certainly not a place I could have afforded to stay in if it wasn’t for the generosity of the Japanese government; so my thanks to them!

Once there we were checked in and given rooms; each shared with two other JETS. I was pleased to find that both my roommates had lived in Japan before and weren’t going crazy at being in Japan for the first time; in fact they both soon left to meet Japanese friends leaving me with a bit of peace and quiet.

Already being exhausted from not sleeping on the flight, and having been in Tokyo before, I decided not to go too far and just stayed in the Shinjuku area close to the hotel; which consists mostly of electronics shops and places to eat. Everywhere there were little groups of nervous and confused young foreigners who were obviously JETS that didn’t speak any Japanese. My Japanese proved good enough to ask what I was ordering, but not good enough to fully understand the answer; so while I was expecting beef I was still surprised to get beef livers. After eating and taking a few photos from the 45th floor of the business plaza opposite the hotel I tried to get some sleep, but couldn’t thanks to jetlag, an uncomfortable bed and a roommate who snored (and spoke – in Japanese) while sleeping.

By next morning the full 600 or so JETS in Group B, from the UK, US and Australia and elsewhere, had arrived and the orientation training began with formal opening address from representative of various Japanese governmental bodies. This was followed by prefectural meetings and seminars over the next two days. There were all kinds of people from all over the being sent to every corner of Japan, the diversity was quite incredible; though I was the oldest person I met there by a good few years.

The seminars did fluctuate from being essential, through entertaining, to useless, and in the end it felt more like an exercise in letting people know that there was a support system in place and that they weren’t alone. Personally I just wanted to get his part over and done with and get to my placement as soon as possible.

August 5th, the training was over and the mass of JETS was splitting up into smaller prefectural groups to move away from Tokyo. About 15 of us were heading out to Shiga prefecture by Shinkansen train accompanied by existing Shiga JETS and Mr. Takeda, a very nice representative of the Takashima city Board of Education; who had actually spent some time in Nottingham. From Tokyo we went to Kyoto and then changed onto a local train to Otsu, capital of the Shiga prefecture, where we walked to the Board of Education … this is a good point to mention the weather.

Tokyo was hot, and humid, but a little rainy and just about bearable. Shiga is a little bit more south and even hotter and even more humid, when the doors of the air conditioned train opened the heat hit you like a punch from an angry hot cloud and you started to sweat – it was so hot that the little rubber tyres on my bag’s wheels just kind of melted and exploded off leaving me rattling along on hard plastic.

Once at the BoE building, we changed into formal wear again and went to meet the representatives of our various cities. I was expecting some big hall with a stage, but in reality it was something like a largish classroom with two groups of chairs facing each other. We filed into one group of chairs facing the various representatives and one by one briefly introduced ourselves in Japanese, and then the representatives introduced themselves in English. Every time a new rep stood up I wondered if it would be Yoko Okimoto, my new BoE supervisor, until it was the last person and… it wasn’t her either. She’d been delayed in traffic due to a road accident and wasn’t there, so I’d introduced myself to an empty seat without knowing it

So one by one the others left to go to their various towns in Shiga and I was left with Louise and Peter who were also waiting for Okimoto-Sensei. However, we didn’t wait too long and soon she arrived along with Aiba-Sensei, my direct supervisor in my school in Imazu and we were off again. Away from Tokyo, away from Kyoto, away from Otsu and getting more and more rural as we headed up the east side of lake Biwa to Takashima; some things are very similar, like the roads and the cars, but other things are very different, like the road signs which include warning signs about bears and monkeys … yes, monkeys. There are monkeys here, which is so cool (even though I haven’t actually seen any of them yet). The noise is also incredible, the air is just humming with the sound of Cicadas in the trees or frogs on the rice fields and god knows what else – my last vacation here was in the spring and I got no idea of just how tropical it gets here in the summer.

One last stop in Takashima’s local BoE office in Ado-Gawa (One of the five towns that make up Takashima city) to fill in some paperwork and then we last three separated and went with our supervisors to our towns in Takashima and our flats – and so after a long few days I finally got ‘home’ … not that I got much time to rest, the next day I’d be starting work.

Posted by DKJM74 04:21 Comments (0)

P.S. Oxford

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I’m going to keep this entry short and sweet as it seems strange to add it now when I’m already in Japan and ready to start the real Japan Blog – but on the 24th and 25th of July I took a couple of days to go down to Oxford and visit an old college friend, Julian.

I’d actually lost contact with Julian for several years, but thanks to ‘Friends Reunited’ on the internet we got back in touch last year and managed to have a mini reunion of our old ‘gang’.

Here you can see us aged about 17 or so

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and then about 17 years later.

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Julian and Helen are now married and have 2 kids; Samuel and Isobel. So, it was nice to see them all again and spend a bit of time in Oxford.

Thanks to delayed trains and the like, I only really got one afternoon to explore the town and could quite happily have spent an extra couple of days just looking at the wonderful architecture of the various college buildings (some of which are used in the Harry Potter films as parts of Hogwarts school). Oxford is, I think, what many non-English people think all of England looks like – which could explain why it’s almost impossible to see anybody English in the town centre, it’s so full of tourists.

The second day we had a ‘family’ day out to go to Uffington, home of the famous white chalk horse. There are many examples of figures cut into the white chalk hills in the south west of England, but the Uffington horse is the oldest of them (I think). It was created about 3’000 years ago in the Bronze Age – and nobody really knows why; most likely it was just a marker for navigation and land boarders though.

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Posted by DKJM74 04:08 Comments (0)

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