In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.
Albert Camus 1913-1960
This is Much Wenlock’s Guildhall, standing in the heart of the town next to the parish church. It was built in 1540 after the dissolution of Wenlock Priory, so marking the end of monastic rule and the growth of secular, civic administration. The ground floor was originally a corn market, and several weekly markets are still held there. The upper floor has a court room, now a museum and gallery, and a council chamber, where our Town Council continues to meet every month.
Surprisingly Much Wenlock has a prestigious civic history for what today seems a small and sleepy town. It was first granted borough status by a Charter from Edward IV in 1468. This was to mark his acknowledgement of the “’laudable and acceptable services’ of his ‘liege men and residents of the town of Wenlock’ in his gaining of the crown.” Under the Charter the townspeople acquired a certain autonomy and could organise markets and fairs, and have their own officers – a Bailiff and Burgesses to oversee secular matters. The Prior still held sway though, effectively acting as lord of the manor. But after the Dissolution it was down to the Bailiff and Burgesses to run the town.
We will soon all know what these pillars of the community got up to – at least from 1495 to 1810. Extraordinarily, the Borough Minute Book covering 300 years of civic pronouncements and records has survived, and this year the Town Council raised funds to have it conserved and digitised. Now there are teams of volunteers working on the transcription of the entries. There are 800 pages, since the Burgesses who had the book made in 1495 were looking ahead. They were also using a newfangled material – paper. It was expensive stuff too, for during the conservation process it was discovered from the water marks that they had commissioned only the best from a maker in Italy.
The whole thing is quite breath-taking. Almost too much to imagine in our little town of two and half thousand souls; even when we were looking at the newly conserved Minute Book back in September when it was given its first public airing. Our very own half-millennium time machine of bureaucratic declarations and decisions. It will not be a pretty story either, not all of it anyway. There will be hangings, and the poor will be shoved from pillar to post, but within these pages we might also perceive the seeds of English democracy beginning to swell and take root.
Well one thing was certain, when I waded through the snow to the allotment yesterday afternoon – no-one else would be daft enough to be there. A hundred or so yards from the house, I almost turned back. The snow was coming in over my wellies, and it truly was hard work tramping through the low drifts. My well trodden path along the field edge was no longer familiar. The world was iced blue-white with only a passing buzzard to break the stillness.
You might wonder what had induced me to go up there at all – with all the garden plots buried under a foot of snow. But I needed parsnips, and I needed leeks, and parsley and Tuscan kale from the polytunnel. And once I was there, I thought I’d better shift some of the snow from the polytunnel roof, since we’d been promised all-day snow on Sunday, which has indeed come to pass.
It took a while to find and extract the parsnips. The soil wasn’t frozen under the snow-blanket, but was very, very sticky – doing a good impression of stuff stuck in quicksand. But mission accomplished, veggie-wise, I noticed a change in the light and started taking photos instead.
As I was heading home, I realised I could hear the whoops and cries of happy sledders. You can just make them out on the hillside north-east of the church tower. But for the power-lines (that intrude on most views of Wenlock) it might be a traditional Victorian winter scene.
Which reminds me. While I’m here, I’d like to thank all the local farmers who have been out on their tractors clearing roads and spreading grit. My entranced-by-snow moments are all very well, but some people need to drive places. Multiple gold stars to the farmers then.
copyright 2017 Tish Farrell
We wake this morning to the kind of quietness that is only made by falling snow. I’m instantly thrilled – aware of the mood shift. Yesterday I felt like vestige-of-road-kill. Now I am fizzing like a firework. How did that happen?
At 8 am the landscape looks like a scene from a post nuclear winter, and as I tell Jo, when I take the header photo, I do not need the monochrome setting.
But by 10 am the sun is out, and the field at the back of the house is all of a sparkle.
I’ve not yet had breakfast, but I have to go out there. I wrap up in many layers, jump into my wellies. He who is sitting on the sofa reading The Guardian on his laptop, and still wearing his dressing gown, thinks I am nuts. I promise him toast on my return, dash out of the house and head for the Linden Field.
But even as I cross the playing field to the Linden Walk I know I’ve missed the moment –at least as far as the light is concerned.
As I pick my way up Windmill Hill, the blizzard begins, although I am briefly distracted from the change in the weather by three woolly dogs – large and small. They too are thrilled by the snow and have to tell me so. Icy muzzles push into my hands. Brrrr. Thanks a lot, dogs.
I retreat from the hill the long way round – this to avoid an unseemly slithering, bottom-first. By now it is hard to see where I’m going. Not only that, I’m turning into the Abominable Snow-Woman. Even the Linden Walk, when I reach it, offers precious little shelter. Goodness! This is the most exciting weather we’ve had in ages.
But still, enough mucking about in the elements. There’s toast and Greek honey and good hot coffee to be had at home. Besides, any further inclinations to snap snow scenes may be catered for from the comfort of my desk and the window next to it.
Also I’ve remembered that I told Jo the snow wouldn’t last. My mistake. We’ve had several inches in the past few hours. But the best thing is that there is far less traffic out on Sheinton Street, and what there is, is moving so slowly that it is wonderfully quiet. Reminds me that it’s time to put in another request to the Council for a 20 mph speed limit. It’s interesting how a spell of disruptive weather can remind one of what really matters re life and well being.
It looks pretty dreary on the plots, and these days the only person I see at the allotment is an elderly man who likes to walk his dog around the perimeter path. But there’s still stuff to harvest – parsnips, carrots, leeks, kale, perpetual spinach, Swiss chard, purple sprouting, and in the polytunnel lettuce and various Chinese mustards. There are also 8 compost heaps to turn or add to, and now is the season for collecting leaves to make leaf mould. I’ve filled three new bins with leaves from the wood, and last autumn’s caches are beginning to rot down nicely; I’m hoping they’ll be ready for spring sowing. So despite these gloomy looks – all is filled with new possibilities.
When we left Hay-on-Wye on Friday morning we headed west into the hill country above the Wye valley. The lane wound up narrowly from Clyro to Painscastle, the hedgerows bathed in high-definition sunlight. But there were also rafts of ice – here and there, where the road dipped into shadow. It was exciting to see – real ice, even if it was swiftly turning to slush.
We were taking a somewhat round-about route to our immediate destination – the Erwood Art Gallery whose leaflet says it is the biggest privately owned gallery of contemporary art and craft in Wales. It is also in an isolated spot in the woods above the Wye, and to add to its interest is housed in three Victorian railway carriages left over from the days when the train came this way. Into my mind’s eye puffs a doughty steam engine pulling a long tail of carriages. I imagine rattling along the wide river valley, hills and farms and sheep pasture all around. And think: it’s a crying shame this loss of Britain’s most scenic railways – killed in the ‘60s by the wretched Dr. ‘Let them drive cars’ Beeching, he with his most undiscriminating axe that has done so much to promote the slow misery of dying rural communities, and the clogged up byways of our small island.
But enough ranting. It’s too fine a day. When we reach the moorland tops of The Begwns, and before our descent to Erwood, we stop to admire the view. And that’s when I come across the frosted bracken…
We’ve just returned for a two-day trip to Hay-on-Wye, the second hand book capital of Great Britain, if not the universe. This ancient, tiny town stands on the banks of the mighty River Wye, on the Welsh side of the Wales-England border and, astonishingly for so small a settlement, has 23 book shops. Some are small and specialist – catering for poetry enthusiasts, natural historians and sleuthers of good murder mysteries; others are labyrinthine emporia, the size of college libraries – where all topics are covered. Many sell new books too and also, since the advent of the famous annual Hay Literary Festival, have upped their game from being the fusty, dusty places I remember from years ago, and transformed themselves into smart bookish resorts where you can curl up in a big leather armchair and spend the whole day reading. Richard Booth’s Bookshop even has its own cinema and very popular cafe. Treats all round then.
This photo was taken through the window of Mostly Maps and I think it covers all Paula’s word prompts for her December pick a word. Here we have the portrayal of a young woman by a non-human mannequin. She has the most sagacious looks too, clad in the re-worked remains of old ordnance survey maps. There are more remains reflected behind her – the dark silhouette of Hay Castle ruins. And then, here and there, are small stellar bursts from street and Christmas lights. Tarrah!
Now please visit Paula to see her and other bloggers’ cunning interpretations:
P.S. There will doubtless be more about Hay and our meanderings along the Wye in upcoming posts