Monday, 7 February 2011

In the tooooown where I was born...

I've mentioned my home village a couple of times in relation to palaeontology as I have spent the last year attempting to collect fossils there. I spent my whole life not knowing that I could find them, but that is not surprising considering how small they are and their rarity. My village does not have much to offer palaeontologists, but that does not mean it is a dull place to live. The village is Conisbrough, which is almost a small town, sitting on the outskirts of Doncaster, along the river Don, in South Yorkshire, England. Conisbrough is one of those places which is quite built up, yet at the same time is surrounded by countryside, so one is able to live in both worlds in a way. I spent my youth wandering the streets at times, whilst also being able to wander off deep into the woods or through farmers' fields. We also combined the two when we roughed it in the woods sometimes, as we used to raid skips in the street for firewood instead of what was available there. Conisbrough has some great appeal, especially for me, as I have passing interests in castles, old churches and UFOs/aliens, all of which can be found in Conisbrough.

The main attraction of Conisbrough is the castle, standing proud even though its walls are mostly rubble. Built in the 12th century, it also has a round keep, making it rather special. It is well known as the inspiration for Sir Walter Scott's novel Ivanhoe, and many streets and schools in Conisbrough are named after characters in the book (Conisbrough also used to have a street called "Butt Hole Road" but sadly it changed to "Archers Way").  I have a soft spot for castles, they are such incredible buildings and speak of a lost age where warriors died by the sword and not by the bullet. Conisbrough Castle is well worth visiting and does not get the advertising it deserves. It is one of the most breathtaking buildings in South Yorkshire, if not the whole of Yorkshire. I've lived in Stafford and currently live in Portsmouth, both of which have castles, yet neither have compared to Conisbrough and that is not bias speaking.

Conisbrough also boasts the oldest building in South Yorkshire, as St Peter's Church dates back to the 8th century. It was greatly expanded in the 12th century, during a time when it was one of the most important churches in the area. Even though I have spent most of my life attending this church, crawling under pews as a kid, taking kids up on the roof as a youth group member, playing guitar in the worship group, I still don't know which part is from the original church. A couple of years ago some kids smashed a Medieval window in the church, among other things. It has also suffered from lead being stolen from the roof repeatedly, necessitating the expensive replacement of the roof recently. This is not just a place of worship, it is an icon of Conisbrough (along with the castle, the water tower and the viaduct) and a valuable piece of English history. It is such a shame when people take it for granted.

I also mentioned that UFOs could be found in Conisbrough - I was not lying. In 1966 a schoolboy named Stephen Pratt (I went to school with his son) took this picture, which is widely considered to be legitimate. Any good book on UFO sightings will show it. The street happens to be very close to my nannan's house, where I also saw a UFO once. I was sitting in one of the bedrooms at my nan's, watching things out of the window, when suddenly I saw something zoom above the back gardens. It was roughly level with the window and looked like a rock, possibly about the size of my body, with a long tail of fire. I automatically thought it was a meteorite and my dad did not dismiss my claim. I still have no idea what it was, or whether I even really did see something. I don't for a second believe that I saw an alien craft, just that I saw something flying through the sky which I could not identify.

For the record, my views on aliens are that they may possibly exist in a form which we would identify as microbial. I don't rule out the possibility of microbial alien life existing in our solar system, though I don't see it as too likely. I also don't rule out the possibility of alien life having converged on different aspects of Earth-life. I like the idea of plants on other planets requiring different coloured chlorophyll due to different stars and atmospheres. Even sentience evolving more than once is not completely far-fetched, however, I do believe it would be so rare that it would either be too far away or will have gone extinct already. We will never make contact in my opinion. I wrote a bit more on a Facebook discussion a while ago. I also blogged about the possibility of Martian palaeontology, see here.

Conisbrough does have more to offer, though not too much. The Earth Centre was intended to be an eco-friendly theme park, built for the millennium, yet it bombed and closed in 2005. I personally only went there when it was free or when they had a skate park up. It may soon be used by universities teaching ecology or some such, though at the moment it reminds me of Jurassic Park in places. Conisbrough also spawned the singer Tony Christie and Top Gear's Jeremy Clarkson traced his family back to the village (which he labelled a shithole apparently). And then there is me...

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