Oloololo Escarpment: Maasai Dreaming

 

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Night on the Mara River – darkness wraps round, close as a Maasai’s blanket.  It is cold, too, on the river’s bend. We press closer the campfire, our white faces soon roasting red. No one speaks. There’s too much to listen for. A hyena whoops across the water?  It sounds close. It sounds unearthly, sending shock waves through vulnerable bones – mine, conjuring packs of predators, out there, circling our ring of light. And even as I think it the Maasai are on us.  Six warriors, spears in hand and naked to the waist.  Their leader tosses his ostrich-feather head-dress that looks like a lion’s mane.  He is fearless.  He is lion.

Then the singing starts, a nasal falsetto that resonates through time and space – the winds’ whine through Mara grasses.  The Maasai girls trip lightly into the firelight, their wraps like flames – yellow, red; close-cropped heads hung with beads; chins jutting forward as the crescent necklets – tiny beads so patiently strung – rise and fall on skinny chests.  The moran start to leap – higher, faster.

excerpt from Dances With Warriors © 2014 Tish Farrell

Continues HERE

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DP Weekly Photo Challenge

Thursday’s Special: Manscape to Landscape

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This shot was taken a couple of weeks ago from the ruins of a gold mine crushing mill at Cefn Coch, Dolymelynllyn. During the 1860s there was a gold rush involving the working of several mines around Dolgellau, on the southern edge of the Snowdonia National Park in Wales. It is a dramatic landscape, a hard place to toil, cracking open the earth in hopes of riches. The remains of the industrial buildings stand starkly against the hillsides, the moorland vegetation gradually reclaiming the stonework.

copyright 2014 Tish Farrell

Now hike over to Paula’s blog for more splendid landscapes: Lost in Translation’s  Thursday’s Special

Related: Now that summer’s done, we take the Dol Idris path

Polytunnel Vision

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Oh all right, I know. As ambitions go, wanting to own a polytunnel might seem pretty odd. Also it’s not as if I don’t have enough housework in the house without having additional premises to tend elsewhere. But then sometimes in life you get precisely what you wish for, and most unexpectedly at that.

Ever since I took over my plot from Much Wenlock Allotment Society some seven years ago I have increasingly thought that a polytunnel was the very thing I needed. Gardening on the edge of Wenlock Edge can be challenging. The site is exposed, sloping, and often very windy. Much Wenlock is also in a frost pocket, and thus is a degree or so cooler than anywhere else in Shropshire.

Worse still, the soil comprises a decaying fossil volcanic ash that is like wet cement when it rains, and hard baked cement when it doesn’t rain. It has thus taken seven years of digging, mulching, composting, green manuring, horse manuring, hacking and weeding to get the soil looking like something that vegetable plants might want to grow in. The dandelions, however, grow most verdantly, along with the creeping buttercups, sow thistles, docks, bindweed and couch grass. And so despite improvements, small vegetable seeds still find the soil heavy going. If they germinate at all, they struggle, the soil creating a bonsai effect on the roots, and then the slugs quickly finish them off. Most seeds thus need to be germinated under cover, and grown on before they can stand a chance after being planted out.

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And then, of course, there are the pigeons. They sit on the telegraph wires and watch what I’m doing. They especially like to eat cabbages and newly sprouted pea plants down to the roots. The rotters. In consequence I spend a lot of time making defensive systems out of environmesh and bits of wire fencing. This kind of protection also has to be applied to beds of leeks, garlic and onions due to the arrival in our part of the world of the allium beetle that likes to lay its eggs in the fleshy roots. The effect of these assaults on the leeks is especially dramatic: they unfurl in spiral fashion and develop rust-coloured stripes.

So you can see that to be an allotment gardener in Wenlock requires the same kind of pig-headed (idiot) tenacity it takes to be a writer. I have visions of deep, humus-laden beds bursting with lush, green spinach and broccoli, in much the same way I have visions of producing beautiful books that everyone wants to devour, and feel nourished by.

And that’s where the polytunnel comes in. I’m hoping I can crack both objectives in one fell swoop, this on the basis that if I can raise and eat more broccoli and spinach, my brain might produce writing with the requisite added enrichment. We can but hope. I might also say, as I probably have before, the contents of my writer’s brain have much in common with the contents of my compost bin, although at least they don’t smell. (Please note pallet structure installed by the Team Leader aka Graham who endlessly tries to bring order to my chaos).

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Anyway, back in the early spring when I was clearing my plot I noted, with a severe pang of envy, that my neighbours, Bob and Sally, were making preparations to erect a fourteen foot long polytunnel. I could see it was hard work, with foundation trenches to dig (in the aforementioned concrete soil) and the frame to erect. I watched them toil, hanging doors, and making beds. Next, I watched as my other neighbours, Pete and Kate, followed suit. Their installation was even more hard work, being on a slope. It took them weeks to complete. In the meantime I kept the Team Leader posted as to these events, from time to time mooting the possibility of us having a tunnel; perhaps something smaller, I hazarded.

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I have to say the response wasn’t altogether encouraging, even though we were by then falling out at home over whether the small conservatory on the back of the house was my potting shed and greenhouse, or his workshop. Increasingly my bean and sweet corn seedlings were having to compete with saws and wrenches and other man-things whose function I cannot identify. Nor was there the possibility of building either a man-shed to contain his stuff or a woman-greenhouse to contain my stuff since the garden at  home is too narrow.

Back at the allotment I watched the new polytunnels fill with tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers…I thought longingly of gazpacho that simply cannot be made from flavourless supermarket produce. Ho hum.

Then out of the blue in mid-summer, a little bird, otherwise known as ace fellow allotmenteer, Phoebe, told me that Bob and Sally were moving and were looking to sell their tunnel. She thought I should discuss terms with them.  Not long after this I received a small inheritance from my once passionately gardening Aunt Evelyn of whom I have written elsewhere.

And so to cut a long story short, a week last Sunday I became the proud owner of the Auntie Evelyn Memorial Polytunnel, complete with potting bench, garden chairs and an automatic watering system. My aunt would have loved it. Bob and Sally even left me the last of their tomatoes and cucumbers. Not only that, the plot comes with a new shed that does not lean, nor provide roosting space for snails as my old one does. Already the Team Leader has added a shelf and guttering. In short, my water butt runneth over…Or will do very shortly.

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I have started clearing the tunnel’s beds and planted out lettuce and oriental vegetables to extend the salad season. But from now on, it is all new territory on the gardening front. There’s a lot to learn about tunnel cultivation and management. Planning and forethought are required. Better get cracking with that spinach and broccoli then.

Related stories about my aunt:

The Many Faces of Evelyn Mary Ashford

Grand Girl: Great Prospects

The Birds; Who, Where, When?

      copyright 2014 Tish Farrell

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Still Life at the Allotment

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Mid October and the marigolds are still blooming up at the allotment. I love the way they simply grow themselves amongst my vegetables. In a mild winter they may flower into December.  It was also good to see this bee out and gathering pollen. These days, every bee is precious. Once we have killed them all with agri-chemicals, we can expect to starve. It’s as simple as that. My allotment empire has recently expanded – more of which in the next post – so I’m intending to grow more varieties of late and early flowering plants on my plot. Or maybe I should simply stick to marigolds, and let them grow EVERYWHERE. The flower petals are lovely in salads, and a herbal tea of marigold flowers is good for warding off flu. Simply looking at them makes you feel better. All that orange straight into the brain, lighting up the little grey cells as the days darken.

‘Happy Autumn’ northern dwellers.

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For more vibrant treats visit Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge

Refracted, reflected beneath Cadair Idris

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This photo was taken on a recent trip to Wales. On a sleepy October afternoon we took a stroll beneath Cadair Idris, one of Snowdonia’s most spectacular mountains. I wrote about the walk in an earlier post. You can follow in our footsteps here: Now that summer’s done, we take the Dol Idris Path…

http://www.visitwales.com/working-with-us

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DP Photo Challenge

Inside Autumn

Tish Farrell:

Inside Autumn by Nomzi Kumalo. Please take joy in the work of this wonderful poet

Originally posted on NOMZI KUMALO:

Multicoloured leaves along the street in a hill
Wood soaked and sweetened by the rain falling
Merciful water dripping onto quiet pavements
Dribbling slippery down the tarred thirsty road

A neutral sky where the air harbours no pressure
The rooftops and local windows leaking domestic
An uninspired dog lays heavy by an entrance hall
When there is nothing to do is there nothing to do

Flattened tired carpets still pretend to be luxury
Inside wooden walls of the same old thing again
Sometimes the coffee steaming will hold comfort
One of those days without a name to label it by

Forgotten picture frames capture some yesterdays
Glossy managed smiles and gestures from parties
The trolls and magnets and broken love messages
Settled into grown up life and ways of escaping it

The stale kitchen mood meets a crisp autumn air
Spring long dead visits the city to play some tricks

View original 22 more words

Portmeirion: Pastiche in pastel?

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Cee’s challenge this week instantly conjured vivid childhood impressions – of Edinburgh Rock, those tartan packs of sugar sticks that delivered instant tooth decay in soft shades of lemon, apricot and rose; my long-lost, but once treasured set of Lakeland crayons whose red plastic wallet held so many delicious colours of mauve and blue, and Portmeirion, the Welsh cliff-top confection of architect Clough Williams-Ellis. All three come in colours that, even now, I long to bite into. Bizarre, I know. Anyway, I have already written about Portmeirion HERE. But now for some more soft-hued scenes of an Italianate village and its ever surprising setting on the rugged North Wales coast. It is a place that has fascinated me for fifty years. It is also the place where The Prisoner, the cult TV series of the late 1960s starring Patrick McGoohan, was filmed. Devotees still gather there. Curiouser and curiouser…(allusion to Alice in Wonderland fully intended).

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Cee’s fun foto challenge: soft pastels

Now that summer’s done, we take the Dol Idris Path…

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The other day I decided we should take a short break in Wales as we did this time last year. Back then we went to the Llyn Peninsula. On Thursday we headed further south, to Dolgellau in Gwynedd in north-west Wales. It’ is well under a two-hour drive from home, but given that the local guidebook states that the town ‘enjoys’ 70 inches of rain a year, it might seem a perverse choice of holiday destination, and especially in the autumn. All I can say was we were very lucky. For four whole days the weather was fine, the sun often hot, and when it did rain, it did so while we slept. What could be better?

Dolgellau (Dol-gethl-eye) is an ancient market town, once prosperous as a centre of the wool trade.  Today, agriculture, especially sheep and cattle rearing are still important, but tourism has now become a mainstay. And for those who relish outdoor pursuits of every kind, then this part of Wales has pretty much everything on offer, and all set in the most stunning mountain landscapes.

Perhaps the most dominant feature in this locality is Cadair Idris, seen here in its lower reaches from the Dôl Idris Path, a few miles outside the town.

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The mountain is 893 metres (2,930 feet) high, and there are several routes to the summit, but the most direct one strikes off  almost vertically from the Dôl Idris Path, which itself is a short, level route created for those who wish to stroll on the horizontal. (That would be us). So we were not tempted to take the winding stairway up the hillside, this despite its splendid setting beside a roaring waterfall. We had read the guidebook and learned that those steps mark the start of 3.8 kilometre (2.4 mile) ever-upwards haul that includes a 300 metre (1,000 feet) cliff scree face. It would take five hours to go there and back, and besides which, there was also the legend to consider. This says that anyone who spends the night on the mountain will wake up either  mad or a  poet.

We couldn’t risk it, not even for a brainstorm of bardic eloquence. Instead we took photos, but only after we had visited the tea-room and eaten chicken curry and rice (me) and a bacon sandwich (G) while watching nut hatches on the bird feeder outside the window. (All Farrell safaris must include tea rooms, coffee houses and restaurants). Also, while we were there, we viewed the cartoon about Idris the Giant, who uses the mountain as his armchair (cadair) while gazing up at the stars. And finally, we peered uncertainly at the bat-cam video that mistily revealed to us rare and roosting horseshoe bats who live in the tea room roof space. Bats in the attic. That was  somehow pleasing too.

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The food in the cafe was really rather good, but once back on the path we found still other diversions. There was the spotting of bat boxes in the trees. Apparently 9 species are catered for. I didn’t discover the exact purpose of the boxes – emergency roosts for dirty-stop-out bats caught out in the daylight while still far from  home?

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More curiously, at the foot of the mountain path, we found the ruined remains of Idris soft drinks company’s research laboratory.  And yes, it does look more like a barn. It is hard to imagine that, in its day, a cutting-edge business empire based on non-alcoholic fizzy drinks, had its  roots  in an isolated valley below Cadair Idris. The company even went on to supersede Schweppes as the sole soft drinks purveyor to HM Queen Victoria.

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The founder of the company, a successful Welsh chemist called Thomas Howell Williams, began the laboratory in 1873. The Temperance Movement was gathering momentum at this time, and the production of cheap, non-alcoholic, and (apparently) healthy drinks was welcomed.  Why Williams chose this site in particular is not exactly clear, but he was so impressed by the mountain’s splendour that he changed his name by deed poll to Thomas Idris. He also became known as The Ginger Beer Man, and all these years on, Idris Fiery Ginger Beer is still produced, albeit under the Britvic label.

In the 1980s the Idris family gave the land to the Snowdonia National Park Authority and, in the last few years, a flat, circular path of just over a kilometre has been created to cater for all who wish to enjoy what remains of the Idris parkland domain. There is an ornamental lake with wild balsam on its margins, specimen trees dotted here and there, a fish ladder and weir to examine, secluded tables for picnics, a chestnut tree avenue, streams to walk by, and of course the tea room for the scones and carrot cake we didn’t have the first time round.

On our slow wandering we did not see the buzzards, kites or peregrine falcons noted on the tea room’s  recent ‘bird sightings’ board, but it was a fine walk on a fine autumn day, and so thank you Mr. Idris for your gift to the nation – to Wales that is, and thence to the United Kingdom that derives only the greatest benefit from the sum of its peripheral lands’ magnificent places.

copyright 2014 Tish Farrell

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This post was also inspired by Jo’s Monday Walk : Fountains Abbey