Taking The Back Roads In The Shropshire Hills

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My home county of Shropshire is farming territory and so, with only two main towns (Shrewsbury and Telford), five smaller towns, and very many villages, hamlets and isolated farms, there are far more by-ways than highways. Sometimes the back roads start off well, asphalt sealed and marked on the map, only to deliver you, after much meandering, into a farmyard midden or sheep field. This is a particular feature of the upland tracts of the South Shropshire Hills. Sometimes, too, after you’ve been driving on a narrow lane for several miles, thinking you are well on course, you may find the tarmac sprouting weeds. Sometimes it runs out of asphalt altogether yet clearly progresses as a dirt track that must go somewhere. Other times it may simply devolve to a footpath with retreat the only option.

The top photo shows the great divide between the north and south of the county. In the foreground is a hill lane crossing the Long Mynd. The vista beyond is the North Shropshire Plain which in due course runs into the Cheshire Plain, fertile dairy terrain both. By contrast, the hill country is very much about sheep.

The next location is definitely the haunt of sheep, but also of walkers, day-outing picnickers and school parties studying environmental matters. This is Carding Mill Valley, the largest of several combes that cut into the Long Mynd’s flanks, and thus through some of the world’s oldest geology.  This particular lane may begin looking intentional, but then it simply gives up and becomes a rock strewn defile with trickling streamside accompaniment. Boots not wheels for onward progress.

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Now we have moved on across the Long Mynd, and are looking at its westerly slopes as seen from Shropshire’s most mysterious hill country, the Stiperstones, place of mine shafts and lead workings. One of the Stiperstones’ craggy tops is said to host the Devil and his court whenever the fog descends. Such be-misted gatherings of wicked entities obviously won’t enjoy views like this one.

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These next three views are of and around the Stiperstones: gorse along the lanes in high summer, and heather blooming on the hillsides.

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We’re close to the Welsh border now. Corndon Hill in the background, and the white lane we’ve driven along…

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…which then becomes one of those tracks that still looks to be going somewhere. In fact as we left the car to walk, we were passed by a police patrol car. It sped by us over the hill in a manner that suggested routine activity, doubtless taking the unpaved route into Wales.

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We weren’t going that far, at least not terrestrially, though we were going back in time, following 6,000 year-old footsteps to Mitchell’s Fold, the remains of a Bronze Age stone circle.

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These final photos are closer to homes, the lanes below Wenlock Edge, near Easthope.

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Lens-Artists: along back country roads  Beth at Wandering Dawgs wants us to take to the by-ways.

This Must Be The Stuff Rumpelstiltskin Used

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Well here it is – all set to spin into gold. So now you know. Rumpelstiltskin surely had barley straw.

But before the spinning – this was the barley crop three mornings ago:

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Then in the afternoon, in the baking heat, this happened:

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And the dust flew:

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And now we have this:

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And I can hurdle across the field to the allotment, leaping limping over the straw furrows which are half a metre tall, grabbing a few handfuls as I go – not for gold production unfortunately, but to add to the compost bins. There’s another bonus too. This early harvesting may mean we have the freedom of the field for much longer than we usually do – i.e. before it is ploughed for the next crop. I’m also looking forward to baling, if that’s what happens with barley straw. Lots more photo opportunities if the bales are left in the field long enough to take the camera out.

Grimms’ Fairy Tales: Rumpelstiltskin

A Very Big Baobab

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A Christmas holiday with chums down on the South Mombasa coast, and one very sturdy baobab, Adansonia digitata. It’s a tree with many surprising properties: a drought tolerant soft wood that is also fire resistant. It may also live for up to 3,000 years and grow an astonishing 25 metres in girth. The fibrous bark stores water and provides emergency dry season fodder for elephants and elands. Humans also work the fibre to make ropes, twine for basket making and cloth.

Baobabs are leafless for most of the year, which doubtless gave rise to the many traditional tales of an upside-down tree with its roots in the air (planted by creator, or the devil, or hyenas who are always getting things badly wrong). When they do happen, the leaves are large and finger-like and villagers harvest them as vegetables. In the flowering season the branches hang in fleshy cream flowers that only open at night, smell somewhat foetid and are pollinated by bats and bushbabies. The resulting fruits – large woody capsules – contain seeds that are eaten by wild and domestic grazers alike, while the white, cream of tartar like pulp that surrounds them is a good source of vitamin C and used in juices and beer-making.

One of my best African treasures is a Kenyan kiondo  bag made in the traditional way from baobab fibre. These days the baskets are more commonly woven from sisal cord. Either way you can see how they are made at an earlier post HERE.

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Tree Square #20

Over The Field Not Far Away

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We’ve gone Mediterranean in Wenlock this week with temperatures hitting a surprising 30 degrees C. Here is this morning’s view of Townsend Meadow and the well ripening barley, caught as I was heading for the allotment on a pea and raspberry-picking mission.

I don’t seem to have written much about my allotment garden so far this year, even though it is my essential ‘get-away-from-it-all’ space and somewhere I go to most days. Best of all, it is only five minute walk along the field path from the house, yet it is quite a world of its own where there are now-and-then quiet exchanges with fellow gardeners, or sometimes no one else there at all.

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Anyway now is suddenly the season of concerted picking and consumption (peas, strawberries, new potatoes, cauliflowers, broad beans, beetroot, carrots, lettuce, onions, globe artichokes, Sun Gold tomatoes, courgettes); and also the moment when many crops are shifting gear towards later production mode: French, butter and runner beans, sweet corn, cabbages, parsnips, leeks, purple sprouting. All of which means there is much change in Farrell eating habits (another kind of getting away) as produce dictates meal content. Today, for instance, we had globe artichokes for lunch with garlic butter – and so we might well have been in France. Later we’ll have new potatoes with steamed broad beans, peas, and crispy bacon lardons. There may well be strawberries too.

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This year I’m growing a late variety of runner beans not tried before. Today the blossom was just opening – a lovely shade of pale apricot. It’s aptly named Sunset. IMG_0998

I also have a row of Firestorm growing beside the polytunnel. That bean blossom is also living up to its name:

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Another newcomer on the plot this year: round courgettes (zucchini)…

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And here’s the Sweet Corn being rather Incredible too – a variety not tried before:

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I also have flowers on my plots: some that bring themselves like pot marigolds, purple toadflax, the pale pink musk mallow, and others I have grown from seed e.g. Verbascum Wedding Candles (2nd photo from top)  and detail in the next shot:

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And what with all the flowers, vegetable and otherwise, the place is humming with bees and hover flies. Also this morning in the heat there were scents of strawberry jam (as the fruit began to simmer on the plants) and high octane rose and sweet pea scents as the volatile oils filled the air. I kicked off my gardening clogs and went up and down the grassy paths barefoot, variously harvesting and filling water butts and watering cans, soaking myself in the process. It was blissful. Then I went back through the barley field to he who is still trying to construct a greenhouse, even though the right glass has not yet been delivered. Instead we podded a big bag full of peas and beans. Harvest home!

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Lens-Artists: Getting Away

Bert and Rusha at Oh, the Places We See have posed this week’s challenge.

Over The Garden Fence ~ The Monochrome Series

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I am much in love with black and white photography and often use the monochrome setting on my camera. My small Lumix Panasonic ‘point and shoot’ camera used to produce the best results, the current small Canon not so good. The photos here are a mix of original monochrome and converted colour shots featuring various views of Townsend Meadow in different seasons.

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Excavating the flood attenuation pond at the top of Townsend Meadow 2017

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Bringing in the wheat harvest

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Teasels

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Clouds over the Edge

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Lens-Artists: black and white   Anne at Slow Shutter Speed  wants to see black and white this week.

On The Reef ~ Tiwi Beach

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In bygone days of Nairobi living we often made the long-haul drive down the old Mombasa Highway to the south Kenya coast. After 300 miles and six and more hours of judder and roar in the Land Rover, humping in out of potholes, getting covered in dust and smothered by truck fumes, being broiled in the queue for the Likoni Ferry, which once boarded you could never feel quite sure of making touch down, to arrive at last on Tiwi Beach felt like stepping into heaven. There were rarely many people there, not even in the Christmas high season, just a couple of beach cottage enclaves, the  local farmers calling round with fruit and vegetables for sale, the Digo fishermen bringing parrot fish and lobsters, and the unbroken soundscape of ocean pounding on reef, fluting notes of the water bottle bird, soft ting-ting of a bicycle bell when the vegetable seller came calling, the breeze in the coconut palms.

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Madagascar Flame Tree and beach cottage

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Life in Colour: greener shades of blue

Tree Square #11

Trees For Everything On Zanzibar

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While I’m in East Africa arboreal mode, I remembered Zanzibar could not be beaten for its array of fabulous trees – from giant mangos and jackfruits to its plantations of spice-bearing nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves trees. On the family farms there are papaya, orange, banana and coconut groves, not only sources of family food, but also crops for market. And the leaves of the coconut palms can be turned into all kinds of useful recyclable household essentials – roof thatch, baskets, screens and sleeping mats.

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The Coconut Harvester

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Island guide, Hari, doing a deal at the farmhouse door.

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Roadside spice farm stall:

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Jackfruit tree:

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Maruhubi boat builders’ beach with an ocean going dhow under construction:

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And then there are the baobabs. This one coming up is a little unusual – apart from being in leaf which only happens now and then, it’s providing the structural wherewithal for a Stone Town pizza joint:

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Tree Square #10

Where Trees Grow On water

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In my last post I mentioned the exposed Silurian seabed in our local quarry was once located somewhere off East Africa. And Jude at Travel Words said she wished she was somewhere off East Africa – to escape our recent rain-pouring summerless weather. Which then had my mind whizzing back to our years in Kenya, and in particular to a trip to Lamu Island, and a December day spent sailing by the mangrove forest of Manda Strait, drifting and dreaming aboard a traditional dhow.

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The timber from these curious trees has long been an absolute necessity for the Swahili seafaring people of the East African coast. They built their dhows from mangrove planks and harvested the pole wood (boriti) for house construction, both at home and for export to places as far away as Yemen and Iran. The traditional Swahili merchant’s house was build of coral rag, excavated from old reefs, with the roof raised on boriti poles. The oldest surviving houses in Lamu Town date from the 18th century, but the Swahili City states of the East African seaboard – from  Somalia to Mozambique – date back to the 8-9th centuries – a fusion of Arab and African cultures.

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Christmas Day on Shela Beach. Distant baobabs across the strait.

Lens-Artists: on the water This week the challenge is hosted by John at photobyjohnbo.

Tree Square #8 Becky wants to see trees in square format.

Life in Colour: blue is Jude’s colour of choice at Travel Words.