Book of Miracles

The recently discovered Augsburg Book of Miraculous Signs reveals a 16th Century society gripped by anxieties that we can relate to today, The illustrated manuscript is now available, edited by T. Borchert and J.P. Waterman.

Danger! White Light

Between the River Crouch and the River Thames in Essex a footpath leaves the land at a place called Wakering Stairs and heads due east, straight out to sea.

p04p1fl9.jpgSeveral hundred metres offshore it curls northeast and runs in this direction for around 5kms, still offshore, before cutting back to make landfall at Fisherman’s Head, the uppermost tip of a large, low-lying and little-known marshy island called Foulness.

p04p1g0t.jpgThis is the Broomway, allegedly “the deadliest” path in Britain,

p04p1dr7.jpgand certainly the unearthliest path. It gets covered by the tide twice a day and usually these rise and fall more quickly than most human explorers. The Broomway is thought to have killed more than 100 people over the centuries; it seems likely that there were other victims whose fates went unrecorded. Sixty-six of its dead are buried in the little Foulness churchyard; the other bodies were not recovered.

p04p1cj8.jpgEdwardian newspapers, alert to the path’s reputation, rechristened it “The Doomway”.


The Broomway is known as the most perilous path in Britain – and is a favourite walk of writer Robert Macfarlane, who describes it in his book The Old Ways.


The path leads towards a white light.

More than Meets the Eye

Milton’s Paradise Lost is 350 years old this month.


William Blake, a most brilliant interpreter of Milton, wrote of how “the Eye of Imagination” saw beyond the narrow confines of “single vision”, creating works that outlasted “mortal vegetated Eyes”.

In more than 10,000 lines of blank verse, the poem tells the story of the war for heaven and of man’s expulsion from Eden. a meditation on challenging and longing.

Milton is shown dictating Paradise Lost

The almost blind Milton dictates Paradise Lost to his daughters in an engraving after a painting by M. Munkacsy (Credit: Alamy)

In Paradise Lost, Milton conjures the spirits of blind prophets. He invokes Homer, author of the first great epics in Western literature, and Tiresias, the oracle of Thebes who sees in his mind’s eye what the physical eye cannot. As the philosopher Descartes wrote during Milton’s lifetime, “it is the soul which sees, and not the eye”.

Now, there are many ways to see through blindness. One is by scanning tunnelling microscopy which can give images on an atomic scale.

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Old Prickly

Adrian Coles (1930-2017) was fascinated by hedgehogs, like a character from AE Houseman’s A Shropshire Lad.

Hedgehog numbers in that part of England are falling. Pesticides poison them, cars run over them, and fences stop them.

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Hedgehogs featured in Beatrix Potter’s tale of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, the tiny lady who stole handkerchiefs. Major Coles founded the British Hedgehog Preservation Society. It had 11,00 members, including 700 carers who looked after injured animals. They put out water and food in dry weather and promoted gaps in garden fences. They also lobbied parliament and brewed ale.


The BHPS held its tenth anniversary at the Golden Cross pub in Clee Hill, Shropshire. The pub was renamed The Cross Hedgehog for the occasion and brewed Old Prickly.


Fake Demons

Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable is at the Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana, Venice, 9 April – 3 December. The show is from the same artist who put a tiger shark in a glass tank of formaldehyde.

Detail from Demon with Bowl
Demon with Bowl D Hirst  (Prudence Cuming Associates © Damien Hirst)
Hirst now claims a role of archaeological impresario. In 2008 the wreck of a treasure ship called the Apistos (Unbelievable) was found on the seabed off east Africa. According to the myth, it sank about 2,000 years ago. This is its cargo and Hirst has assembled an underwater grotto in his mind where artefacts and monsters live.

Sphinx by Damien Hirst.

Sphinx by Damien Hirst (Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images)

Calendar Stone by Damien Hirst.

Calendar Stone by Damien Hirst (Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images)
Detail from Hydra and Kali by Damien Hirst.
Detail from Hydra and Kali by Damien Hirst (Andrea Merola/AP)
Skull of a Cyclops and Skull of a Cyclops Examined by a Diver.
Skull of a Cyclops and Skull of a Cyclops (Prudence Cuming Associates © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd.)

Aspect of Katie Ishtar ¥o-landi.

Aspect of Katie Ishtar ¥o-landi (Prudence Cuming Associates © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd)


About half a million years ago, in the midst of an Ice Age, a land bridge connected Dover in the South of England to Calais in northern France.

Immediately to the north of it, was a huge glacial lake, which had formed at the edge of the ice sheet that covered much of Europe.

When it started to overflow, vast amounts of water crashed over the land bridge, forming a series of very large waterfalls.


The lake overflowed 450,000 years ago, damaging the land link. Then a later flood fully opened the Dover Strait.


The scars of these events have recently been found on the seabed of the English Channel. The study is published in the journal Nature Communications by S. Gupta et al. on 04 April 2017.


Decades ago, engineers who were surveying the seabed for the Channel Tunnel, discovered a series of mysterious large underwater holes (fosse) between Dover and Calais, caused by the lake overspill (black regions on the map above)  The fosse are now in-filled with sediment and show up as a line of isolated depressions 100m-deep carved into the bedrock and hundreds of metres to several kilometres in diameter.

450,000 years ago, the glacial lake water plunged over the rock ridge as a series of waterfalls from Dover to Calais, which then eroded and carved out these depressions.


A second catastrophic flood took place about 150,000 years ago forming a huge valley about 10km wide with a lot of features suggesting flood erosion. Perhaps an ice sheet broke off, collapsing into the lake, causing a surge that carved a path for the water to cascade off the chalk ridge. As the channel floor slowly eroded by these torrential floods, seawater from the Atlantic Ocean rushed into the resulting channel, isolating the British Isles from the mainland.


Clouds Over Islands


What really happens in this picture is this: land heats up faster than water. When the sun comes out, the land heats quickly, forming an area of low pressure directly on the island. This results in an area of higher pressure offshore.


Since air moves from high to low pressure, the marine moisture as well as moisture from the island gets drawn into the low pressure over the island. Low pressure creates upward vertical movement, causing the warm moist air to rise, cool and condense into a cloud directly over each island.

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