Related: …of Maasailand a travel piece that was long-listed in the Brandt Travel Guide writing contest 2000
I think I may have mentioned somewhere on this blog that, a few miles up the road from Wenlock, we have the remains of Wroxeter Roman City aka Viroconium aka Uriconium. In its day it was one of the largest urban settlements in Europe (AD 47 – AD 650). Most of it still lies under farm fields within the broad sweep of the River Severn, although the outlines of houses and roads have been eerily revealed in aerial photos and LADAR surveys.
For centuries, too, farmers at their ploughs have turned up marvellous Roman artefacts. Even now, if you walk the fields after harvest you can easily spot the polished terracotta shards of fine Samian pottery among the wheat stubble. Archaeological excavations have been on-going for decades. I dug there myself aeons ago, as an undergraduate archaeology student who needed to rack up some fieldwork experience. The exposed remains are now in the care of English Heritage, and many of the finds are on display in the site’s small museum. More of the collection has been recently re-displayed at the county’s new Shrewsbury Museum.
But now we come to the Roman Villa in the photo – this ‘desirable town residence’. Its appearance here was prompted by Jo’s ‘restoration’ challenge. Strictly speaking, this is not so much a restoration as a reconstruction. Although on the other hand, you could say that its builders did attempt to use only Roman construction methods – thus ensuring the restoration of long-lost skills. They did, however, have to apply for present day planning permission before they could start work.
And the whole project came about as part of a TV series on UK’s Channel 4 – Rome wasn’t built in a day. You can have virtual tour of the villa HERE
Of the original city, there is not a great deal to see, although the remaining high-standing basilica wall is pretty impressive, and did feature rather splendidly in Simon Schama’s epic A History of Britain TV series. You can see the first episode in which it and the surrounding remains feature at 40 minutes in:
One of the reasons why the physical remains of this large and long-lived city are so few is because the building stone was recycled through the ages. If you walk down the lane to Wroxeter Church you will find that Roman pillars have been used to make the gateposts. Doubtless much more of the Roman stonework found its way into the body of the original Anglo-Saxon, later Gothic church. The church is redundant now, and looking rather sad.
And finally, I can’t leave you without showing off some more Roman treasures that may be found in Shrewsbury Museum’s Roman gallery. The finest object of all is a polished silver mirror, made in the Rhineland but found in Wroxeter forum’s courtyard. It dates from the AD 2oos. Its convex design, and the weight of the silver suggests it would have been held by a slave or servant so ‘my lady’ could admire her latest hair-do. Enjoy!
Back of a convex silver mirror, circa 3rd century AD, Shrewsbury Museum.
Restored section of Roman mosaic floor from Whitley Grange Roman Villa, near Shrewsbury.
The Shrewsbury Hoard: over 9,000 coins dating from 280 AD to the following century. The coins were wrapped in cloth bags and buried in a big storage jar.
copyright 2015 Tish Farrell
With sunset there is a general homecoming behind our house: hundreds of rooks and accompanying jackdaws return to the rookery in Limekiln Wood. The corvid air fleets head in from all points, returning from the day’s foraging grounds around the town. There are the strident greeting calls – a caw-cophony if you like – of passwords given and passwords received, as the early-bird returnees acknowledge the arrival of others. Sometimes, it seems, an incoming squadron ends up in the wrong tree, and then there is an avian explosion, black silhouettes shot into the sky. Much rook-shouting and abuse ensues.
They sort themselves out, and the wood soon echoes to sounds of companionable muttering.
As the year progresses we will be treated to elaborate twilight fly-pasts and synchronised acrobatics that resemble the murmuration of starlings. And, as the weather warms and we sleep with open windows, so the night will be sound-tracked by the chuntering of rooks. I know from the sleepless small hours that they talk all night. ALL NIGHT. Sometimes I want to tell them to settle down in their nests, and SHUT UP.
The collective term for rooks, of course, is ‘a parliament’, and anyone who has listened to the proceedings of Britain’s House of Lords or Commons on the BBC will have a rough idea of how a rookery sounds. Some might say the corvids are the more intelligent. I could not possibly say.
The rookery wood thus gives us much pleasure, but there are strains of melancholy too in the resonant kaah-kaahing, and the tchaka-tchak counterpoint of jackdaws. It evokes the kind of nostalgia that is so very English, the longing for a lost and perfect England that never existed; a feeling that A E Housman conjures so well in stanza XL of A Shropshire Lad:
Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?
That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.
Post inspired by Jennifer Nichole Wells’ One Word Photo Challenge: Bittersweet, a colour that is roughly the colour of the sky in the photo.
copyright 2015 Tish Farrell
A Shropshire Lad by A E Housman – you can read the full work HERE courtesy of Gutenberg Press
To see/hear rook acrobatics click on the link below to my brief video …OF ROOK DANCING
This climate change business is most perplexing. There was a time when winter was a time to get the digging done. Not so the last few years. With the autumn comes rain and more rain. By November the ground is sodden, the soil claggy. My wellies become giant boots in seconds if I am unkind enough to the soil to walk upon it. This year the situation looks set to last until March.
Certainly we have intervals of splendid skies like this, but these periods of unrain never last long enough for the soil to dry out. All I can do on my plot is pick a few overwintered vegetables (leeks and greens), add fresh supplies of pony manure to my compost bins (a nice man who keeps horses dumps regular supplies out in the lane), and well, take photographs.
The light was just going when I took this first photo, but the burst of clouds above the bare ash trees made me think of Ailsa’s energy challenge over at Where’s My Backpack. Simply to see them filled me with energy, and made me think that the generally dreary look of allotment gardens in February had its scenic qualities too. And of course there are signs of spring. Lurking inside this nest of purple and green is an emergent winter cauliflower, in real life, little more than an inch across.
And the marigolds that grow themselves all over my plot, are coming into flower, although they proved a little hard to capture in the biting wind. Perhaps these hopeful signs mean that I will soon be out digging.
Where’s My Backpack – go here for more responses to Ailsa’s ‘energy’ photo challenge
This photo was taken two Christmases ago on the island of Anglesey (Ynys Môn) in North Wales. The island saw the last stand of the Celtic druids, who were defeated there during the Roman conquest of Britain. This edited image, with the faint glow of light around the dark silhouette, suggests to me the lingering Celtic spirit – quiescent and contained now, but still purposeful.
Inspired by Paula’s request for quiet. For more hushed compositions in black & white please visit her blog at Lost in Translation
Zanzibar’s days of building large ocean-going dhows were on their last gasp when this photo was taken in 1999. Hari, our guide, told us that the large dhow on the right had been commissioned by a Somali trader at a cost of around £7,000. The building yard is on Maruhubi Beach, not far from Stone Town, and on the edge of a mangrove forest which provides much of the construction timber. All the work is done by hand, following centuries old traditions. It is a slow and painstaking process, and dhow builders camp out on the beach while working on a big contract like this.
I have said elsewhere (In the old stones of Wenlock) how our cottage in Much Wenlock is built from a recycled fossil sea bed – the stony remnants of the 400 million year old Silurian Sea that once lay in the tropics off East Africa. If you want to know more of this extraordinary geological phenomenon, please follow the link.
Here in the midst of northern hemisphere weather, a warm sea in Shropshire is a hard concept to grasp, but then Shropshire was south of the equator back then. All the same, I would give much at this moment to soak myself in clear tropical waters – as long as giant Silurian water scorpions are not included.
Anyway, this is the rear view from our cottage window. At the front we look at oversized passing heavy goods vehicles. In some ways I like the ambiguity of our position, poised between the rush and rumble of commercial imperative, and the monumental immanence of Wenlock Edge – between the speeding trucks and a hard, quiet place. The Edge of course is mostly made of limestone – the compressed remains dead sea creatures. At some point the sea bed was shunted upwards to make the long escarpment that is now a striking landmark across the south east of the county.
From our house we look towards the back of the Edge. Some undulating ‘foothills’ obscure an actual view of it, but we see the big sky above the escarpment, and have a sense of weather always moving behind the horizon. The cottage, then, is not only on the Edge and of the Edge, the Edge is the reason why it is here at all.
So far our researches have been rather patchy, but we think the house was built around 1830. It was probably a squatter cottage, meaning that it was built on the local landowner’s property, and a rent or fine was paid to him by the inhabitants. The first occupants appear to have been lime burners, working at nearby limekilns. The limestone was burned to make quick lime that was used for fertilizer, for building mortar, and for lime wash for walls inside and out . It was an immensely important commodity.
It is hard to imagine, though, what the atmosphere of Much Wenlock would have been like in lime burning days. The town sits in a hollow, a frost pocket. On cold winter’s days one imagines a fog of fumes from roasted limestone shrouding the rooftops. Doubtless it would have been corrosive on the lungs too.
This last shot was taken in January from the top of Wenlock Edge. Here we have the cooling towers of Ironbridge coal-fired Power Station (its days are numbered), and the Ironbridge Gorge beyond. Limestone once played a crucial role in that locality too, used as a flux in the iron masters’ blast furnaces in Coalbrookdale. Along the River Severn just south of these steaming towers, the Industrial Revolution began with the first casting of iron using coke as a fuel. It is hard to picture I know, much like a fossil tropical ocean in Shropshire, but the technological breakthroughs made in this English backwater spurred on the world’s drive to industrialisation.
It would seem that the Silurian Sea and its petrified molluscs and sea lilies have much to answer for.
copyright 2015 Tish Farrell
Inspired by Paula’s Thursday’s Special: cold
Zanzibar is of course famous as a spice island. The Omani Sultans once made fortunes from their clove plantations there. And while saffron, I am sure, is not one of the local commodities, Stone Town at sunset seems bathed in a saffron light. It is the kind of light that makes you wonder if you are awake or dreaming.