Walking through time on Lincoln’s Steep Hill

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Steep Hill in Lincoln has seen a lot of history its time. The invading Romans built the first road around AD 48 to link their legionary fort of Lindum Colonia on the top of the hill with the riverside Iron Age settlement at bottom. After the Romans came marauding Vikings, who then gave up pillage for commerce, and so turned Lincoln into a thriving trading centre. Next in 1066 came the invading Normans. All have left traces of themselves around the city.

Today, Steep Hill ranks among the most scenic streets in Britain. It now links the city’s historic Cathedral Quarter in Bailgate, with the bustling shopping centre down by the river.

But a word of warning. You definitely need to take plenty of time to walk up it. In the lower reaches it rises seven feet for every one foot (just over 2 metres for every 0.6 metres). In fact I was so concerned about staying alive on the ascent, I forgot to take any photos until I stopped for a breather outside this curio shop (above). The building itself is unremarkable, probably nineteenth century, but it struck me that it has many things of its own to say about the passing of time. I like the worn steps and the old bicycle. I also imagine that it might once have been a corner shop where you popped in for your milk and bread and a packet of tea.

Heading on, though, you come upon these astonishing old sandstone buildings. The Jews House is 12th century, and dates from the time when the city had a strong Jewish community. But like many others in medieval England they fell foul of bigotry and false accusations, and the entire community was expelled in 1290. The Norman House below it is also 12th century, and said to be one of the oldest surviving domestic buildings in Britain.

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And it’s at this point we reach the part of the street that is seriously concerned with a preoccupation of our own time – shopping:

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At the top of the hill is Castle Square. The castle was built by the Normans on the site of the Roman fort, but it was under wraps and being restored when were there so I couldn’t photograph it. Ahead, though, you can see the fine timbered 16th century building that was once a Tudor merchant’s home, and is now the Tourist Information Centre.

And finally, coming up is the building we’ve been struggling up the hill to see – Lincoln Cathedral in all its splendour. Work began on it in 1088, and continued through several phases over the following centuries. The towers, for instance, were raised and improved upon during the early 1300s. All in all a breath-taking feat of architectural engineering, to say nothing of standing the test of time. It is Britain’s third largest cathedral:

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And so if any of you are thinking of visiting the UK, Lincoln is definitely a must. It is a city to wander around, layers and layers of time revealed at every turn. There are museums and galleries and even a surviving town windmill. Pleasingly, too, the cathedral towers now provide nesting sites for peregrine falcons. As you walk around the precincts their mournful calls echo off the leaded roofs. These sounds, too, give one a wistful sense of times past.

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Today Paula’s guest, Debbie Smyth, at Thursday’s Special is asking us to think about time. Please visit Debbie and Paula for their own interpretations of the theme.

Many Shades of Grey in Africa

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Grey days in Africa can be incredibly dull. It is a strange effect: as if the light has been sucked out, but without it actually turning dark. This photo was taken around noon on a July day – Southern Africa’s winter. The sky weighed down in a way that was almost palpable; like walking through a Welsh sea mist, except it was dry; or as if you were looking at the world through gauze.

We had driven down from Lusaka in Zambia to spend a couple of weeks exploring Zimbabwe. The objective was to meet up with two Kiwi friends who were flying into Harare, and take them sightseeing before heading with them (via Victoria Falls) back to our house in Lusaka. The day this photo was taken we had just spent the night in one of the guest bungalows in Hwange National Park, and assembled a picnic of sorts in the Park shop.

Hwange Park has metalled roads which detracts somewhat from the notion of wild Africa, and so whenever a dirt track presented itself we took it.  Even so, we saw very little game apart from some kudu. It was mostly dry bush, and more dry bush, which soon grew rather boring. In the end we pulled up by the dwindling waterhole in the photo, and ate our lunch.

The waterhole had been empty when we arrived, and then quite suddenly, as is usually the way with elephants, this small family group appeared. The photo looks like a water colour, or a colour plate in a vintage travel book. I only had my little Olympus Trip, and I often had it on the wrong setting. But the other thing about elephants (and I think this image captures it) is that even when you are there, and can see them with your own two eyes, and are close enough to catch a whiff of their musky hides, it is still hard to believe in them. They come and go like mirages, walking always on the tiptoes, their heels supported by fatty pads that deaden the sound of their footfalls. It is thus very easy to be sneaked up on by an elephant.

Of course if they’ve decided to do a little tree felling, since they like to clear land to encourage their favourite grass to grow, or are seeing off some deemed intruder, then you hear them alright. Indeed, there is nothing quite so alarming as a trumpeting matriarch, clearing a waterhole of potential threats to the family’s infants. On this day, though, all was dreamy peacefulness, and concluded surreally enough in the Game Reserve Hotel at Dete where we were the only guests, and the only food on the menu were pieces of very tough meat  that took an hour to chew.

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The next day, though, we woke to a new kind of dream – golden sun through a mist of coal dust that hangs like a heat haze over the vast Hwange Coal Field. And so we quickly turned our noses from the industrial smog and headed for the border and Victoria Falls.

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copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

For more shades of grey please visit Ailsa at Where’s My Backpack

Getting down and dirty in a Shropshire meadow

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So much goes on beneath our feet, and beneath our gaze. For instance, if you want to find out what is going on in an English meadow, then you need to get down and in amongst it. There’s a whole other world down there, or maybe a thousand tiny universes. On the other hand, finding a meadow in the first place could well be a challenge. They have been dwindling since the 1920s. Mechanisation – bigger machines and bigger fields – plus a continuous drenching of agrichemicals has done for most of them. (One local landowner once told me he had to give his brussels sprout crop 14 separate dressings of pesticide).

Of course we have to be fed, but I often wonder if mass-production monoculture is the only way. I also wonder if there are perhaps still unrecognised consequences of us so radically down-sizing our natural biodiversity, and that what currently seems advanced, scientifically devised, and wealth-creating might in the end prove ill-conceived and ultimately impoverishing. But then perhaps we do not think it matters to lose potentially useful medicinal plants, or rich habitats that support a host of insects and other life forms, or to fail to rear our stock on the best and most varied herbage, both for their good and for ours.

In  Much Wenlock we are lucky to still have several limestone meadows; fortunate too that they have been officially designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest, which gives them some protection. They do need to be managed however. A meadow does not just keep itself. My father used to talk of being roped in as a lad to help with mowing the hay in his village. He said the menfolk would walk in step, spread out across the field, each swinging his scythe with an easy, even rhythm.

These days how many people know how to use a scythe without cutting themselves off at the ankles? Our surviving meadows thus require the seasonal addition of grazing animals to keep them in some sort of order, usually after the summer wild flowers are over. And of course, in the past, the hay from a wildflower meadow would have provided farm animals with a wealth of mineral nutrients and vitamins, dietary additions that humans, too, would have benefitted from, particularly in the milk they drank.

Even back in Shakespeare’s time, the consquences of mismanaged land were well understood. The following passage from Henry V  Act V Scene II is thus much cited by meadow management proponents:

The even mead that erst brought sweetly forth
The freckled cowslip, burnet and green clover
Wanting the scythe, all uncorrected, rank
Conceives by idleness, and nothing teems
But hateful docks, rough thistles, keksies, burs,
Losing both beauty and utility.

In fact the whole of Burgundy’s speech in this scene is a condemnation of bad agricultural practices – “husbandry doth lie on heaps, corrupting in its own fertility.”

All of which is to say, wherever we live in the world, we would do well to pay attention to the ground beneath our feet and to what is going on there. Our long-term health, the health of every living thing, depends on the quality of the soil. Right now most of it needs some concentrated TLC.

My home county of Shropshire is one of England’s biggest agricultural counties, with many large gentry-owned estates of ten thousand acres and more. And so, apart from the upland sheep grazing of the hill country, most farming here is highly mechanised. Of the few exceptions that still practice traditional mixed farming, Pimhill Farm is one of the most noteworthy. It has been managed organically by the Mayall family since 1949 – wheat, oats and dairy – so it proves it can be done. Their oat products are fantastic. Even their humble, savoury oatmeal biscuits taste out of this world, and porridge made from their oats is unbelievably creamy (no milk needed). You can read the Pimhill story by following the link.

And now I’m putting my soap box away in order to get down in the dirt in my local meadow on Windmill Hill. Please also imagine the sweet and subtle scents of grasses, thyme and Lady’s Bedstraw that may only be fully savoured by lying down with them. First, though, look out for the snails:

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copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

Beneath Your Feet

#PimhillFarm #organicfarming

Bee In My Bonnets, Granny’s That Is

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Today over at Lost in Translation, Paula’s Thursday’s Special theme is minuscule, which is a word I often have problems spelling because it comes in two versions, and that then leads me to make up  my own. Anyway, I instantly thought of  pollen grains, which made me think of bees, and of the small busy world of pollen gathering that goes on all spring and summer, mostly unnoticed by us humans. And so since I believe we cannot think of bees too much or too often, given the valuable work they do for us, here’s another bee snap.

I am also grateful to Pauline at Memories Are Made of This, who in today’s post also has bees on her mind, for reminding me a few a weeks ago in one of her comments that Granny’s Bonnets is another name for columbines or  aquilegias. So there you have it – bumble bee in my Granny’s Bonnets, but not in my actual bonnet, although my other half would often beg to differ on that statement.

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

Thursday’s Special: Minuscule

Wind Catching ~ The Ancient Art And Science Of Persian Air Conditioning

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Wind towers – aren’t they  just beautiful? Not only that, they provide low-tech, totally renewable energy solutions to day-time desert heat waves. Within the capped tower is a port that is opened towards the prevailing wind. Some towers are multi-directional, the vents opened and closed as appropriate. Air is drawn into the living quarters below, its movement providing the cooling effect.

When there is no wind, the tower acts as a chimney, venting hot air from the interior. A more sophisticated version involves an underground canal, qanat, in which case the wind tower vent is opened away from the prevailing wind, and the system pulls cooling air up from the canal. You can read more about this if you follow the link.

But it seems to me to be an example of perfect human ingenuity – problem solving with minimal impact on the natural environment, while at the same time harnessing natural resources without depleting them. Persian architect-engineers came up with such elegant and aesthetically pleasing solutions over 2 millennia ago, although Ancient Egyptians apparently had something similar.

And not only can you have upmarket palace installations, but there is also the demountable, flat-pack desert nomad version.

The first kind was photographed (above and below) in Dubai at the restored Sheik Saeed Al Maktoum House on Dubai Creek. It is now a museum, but built in 1894, it was originally the home of the ruling Al Maktoum family. Persian architectural techniques arrived in Dubai in the nineteenth century along with the development of the pearl fishing industry there.

The portable Bedouin version I spotted in the Dubai Museum  in the courtyard of the old fort. Apparently the disadvantage of this kind of makeshift structure was that close proximity to the cooking hearth could have the unintended consequence of turning it into an actual chimney, and thus a major fire hazard.

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 copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

For more wind themed posts please visit Ailsa’s blog at Where’s My Backpack

Melting in Mombasa

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The sticky humidity of Kenya’s coast is a shock to the system after Nairobi’s airy upland plains  where, even in the hot season, temperatures rarely rise above the low 80s F.  Back in our day, when were travelling the Mombasa Highway quite often, the road south comprised 300 miles of ragged tarmac that descended in stages through nearly 6,000 feet – from highland plains to lowland plains, and thence through the rugged thorn scrub of the waterless Taru Desert, until the final drop down to the Indian Ocean. It was like plunging into a warm bath, the air thick with sea smell and frangipani blossoms.

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During the rains, large sections of highway were often washed out, sometimes with horrendous chasms opening up. In the dry season the potholes through Kibwezi were filled with sand like mini deserts. And if we found ourselves stuck behind a fume-belching truck, we could travel many miles before finding a stretch of road with a sufficient tarmac on which to overtake it.

None of this stopped us from setting out though. You simply had to be prepared for anything, and this could include a brooding big Cape Buffalo holding the road hostage through Tsavo.  And now here’s an excerpt from the diary I kept, and just found loitering in my filing cabinet:

 

Kenya Diary 30th August 1994

It was raining and steamy when we arrived in Mombasa at lunch time. The streets were jammed with hooting traffic, and there were vast rain lakes everywhere. The pavements were brilliant red with row upon row of ripe tomatoes, laid out by  the Swahili women  in their black buibuis.  Everywhere the roads rang with the chink-chink of the metal washer rattles on the delivery guys’ handcarts. The carts were piled high with everything and anything: crates of sodas, cooking oil, jerrycans of water, baskets of pineapples, coconuts, mattresses, a wardrobe. It struck me that Mombasa feels so different to much of inland Kenya it might as well be another country.

For once we drove straight onto the Likoni Ferry without the usual sweaty wait in a tail-back of trucks and safari vans. Soon we were bowling along the coast road to Tanzania, moving between plantations of coconut palms that bowed with the sea breeze, flitting past  tiny white-painted mosques  and palm thatched homes built from coral rag. Here it  was  the skyline not the pavements that was a brilliant red: all the roadside Nandi flame trees were in flower, fist-sized blooms glowing like coals against a stormy sky.

By two thirty we were sitting down at a Tiwi beach bar, eating spaghetti and homemade tomato sauce while the rain drove in suddenly across the reef, drumming on the thatch. The sticky heat dissolved in the wind and the ocean took on a mean and steely look, and roared. It all seemed very Somerset Maugham, that is if one overlooked the presence of the spaghetti.

 

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copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

Jennifer Nichole Wells OWPC: humid

Inspiration: striving to succeed

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It was in Africa that I became a professional writer. And it was writing for children like Zaina that spurred me to begin. It seemed to me, that unlike many British young people, Kenyan kids were desperate to go to school and, once there, strove to do their utmost to make something of their lives. I was cross, too, at the then lack of contemporary local fiction that showed young Kenyans as heroes, and in the kinds of situations they could identify with. Then I found that many of the stories I wrote for African children also worked for a European readership, or at least for those who were keen to find out what life was really like in the parts of African that I visited and lived in. And now, all these years later, and living back in England, these are still the things that drive me to write.

 

 

 

Inspiration