On The Path To The Allotment: A Retrospective

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I usually do have a camera in my pocket when I go to the allotment, although gardening and snapping are not ideal co-activities given the photographer’s general grubbiness. Anyway, here are some of my favourite shots from the past few years: nature small but beautiful, and in no particular seasonal order. I especially love the header photo though – the winter sun caught in a windfall apple that has been hollowed out by blackbirds, so many natural forces at play here.

Also the fact that I caught a Common Blue butterfly, wings open and with a one-handed click and it turned out to be pretty much in focus, is hugely pleasing. These little butterflies flit about at high speed, and seem especially nervous if you point a camera at them.

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Most perversely too, while my gardener self fumes at finding dandelions, thistles and bindweed in the garden, since they are the most difficult weeds to oust, I still admire their beauty, and in all their phases. And the bees clearly love thistle flowers too.

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So much to see all around us. We only have to look.

Lens-Artists: Nature

This week Patti at Lens-Artists gives us nature as her theme. Please call in to see her and the other Lens-Artists’ work.

All Man-Made At Derbyshire’s Middleton Top

It was a gloomy September afternoon when we visited these relics of the Cromford and High Peak Railway just outside Wirksworth in Derbyshire. It is a truly remarkable piece of early railway engineering. The challenge was to make a viable transport route over the High Peak in Derbyshire to Manchester: Derbyshire coal and finished manufactured goods to go to the city, raw cotton for the East Midlands textile factories to come the other way. The line of rail was surveyed by Josias Jessop in the late 1820s, and his solution to surmounting the seemingly impossible limestone uplands involved the construction of 9 inclined planes (5 up and 4 down).

The 33 miles of line was the first long distance railway to be built anywhere. It also preceded the introduction of steam locomotives, which had not quite been invented in 1825 when the original Act of Parliament was drafted, though the Act did make provision for their presumed arrival. Instead, stationary steam engines, housed in august ecclesiastical looking buildings like the one seen here, provided the power to haul the goods wagons up and down the inclined planes. On the flat stretches, and until the arrival of the expected steam locomotives, horses and donkeys pulled the wagons. In 1831 it took two days to travel from one end of the line to the other.

The steepest stretch was up to Middleton Top from Cromford Canal. Within the short distance of 5 miles the railway had to climb over 1,200 feet, requiring five inclined planes with stationary steam engines to do the job. The Middleton Top engine house (below) still has its fully operational Butterley beam engine, which is shown off from time to time during open days, but not on the day when we were there. (Sorry, engine enthusiasts – no hiss of steam or magic whiffs of burning coke and hot grease).

Middleton Top steam engine house

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These days most of the line has gone and the old track bed provides 17 miles of fine walking and cycling on the High Peak Trail which in turn joins up with other walking routes that cover 120 miles of the magnificent Peak District. The men who toiled on this line, or in the quarries and mines whose produce it carried, or the women and children who worked in the textile factories served by it, would not have believed this transformation – from the mass-production-imperative of the Industrial Revolution that gave workers little respite from their heavy labours or work-induced diseases, to a mass health and leisure facility for the citizens of several nearby conurbations. No smoke or chemical fumes or mine dust or cotton lint to inhale day in and day out, just the wide open country and the time and space to breathe and simply be. Freedoms and landscapes to treasure then.

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Redhill limestone quarry at Middleton Top, opened in the early 1900s to take advantage of the nearby Cromford and High Peak Railway.

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This happy chap has just wheeled his bike up 700 metres of the very steep Middleton Incline, and presumably the inclines before it. The trackway varies in steepness between 1 in 8 and 1 in 14. In its working days, there were up and down rails side by side, the trucks raised and lowered on heavy steel cables.

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Cee’s Black & White Challenge things made by humans

Six Word Saturday

 

Crocus Love

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Up at the allotment this morning it was full throttle crocus, and also this year’s first sighting of a honey bee which was paying them a visit. Sadly the bee is missing from this photo due to the malfunctioning state of the camera wielder who was in a bit of a dream due to the astonishing arrival of warm and dazzling sunshine.

In fact the day remained so perfect I returned to the allotment late this afternoon to do some actual work. Nothing like a bit of twilight gardening with only foraging blackbirds for company. The sky over the town was rose pink, and all was quiet on the allotment plots. When I opened up the polytunnel it was pleasantly warm inside. I sowed some spinach seeds in one of the corner beds, broad beans in modular trays (Super Aquadulce, and Masterpiece Green Longpod) and a few handfuls of Early Onward peas in two metre lengths of plastic guttering (a method that makes for speedy transplanting).

And then as the fine weather had done a good job drying up the allotment’s general sogginess, I thought it would be a good moment to fetch some soil from the old compost heap which some of us have been recycling over the last three years. In the last of the daylight I managed two barrow loads of nice crumbly soil, just enough to top dress a raised bed. And then, as it really was growing dark, I put away grandfather’s spade and walked home across Townsend Meadow under a bright half moon, serenaded by blackbirds singing their evening songs.

Happy Valentine’s Day

Love Not War

copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

Crown Prince Finally Gets The Chop

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He’s been sitting on the kitchen cupboard all winter, and I’d grown used to his being there; rather forgotten that he might be eaten. Then last week I did remember. Soup. We need more soup! It was quite a tussle breaking into him, and then I found a quarter of him was more than enough for a big pan of spicy squash and onion concoction with added tub of  tomato ‘stock’ from the freezer. The soup did us for two lunches, the first day topped with plain yogurt and rye bread croutons, the next with homemade walnut-parsley-garlic pesto and toast.

The rest of the squash has been consigned to the fridge, there awaiting more souping and roasting (perhaps with dates, soy sauce, lime juice and onions). All hearty winter food.

But then, the thing is, when I first broke into him after much battling with my largest knife, and the two halves finally fell apart on the counter top, out whooshed the scent of summer. And I was transported, and all without the need for white mice magicked into coach horses by passing fairy godmothers. I was back. Those weeks and weeks of long hot days (with all that hauling of water about the allotment and (not the least of it) tending to his highness). And then I thought, well now, it will soon be time to sow more Crown Princes, seeds kept and dried from a princeling eaten back in December. And finally I thought so this is the essence of things, the cycle of sowing, growing and harvesting, of being nourished and the pleasure of simply being. And that made me feel very happy. It’s amazing how much mileage there is in a pumpkin. Thank you, Crown Prince, for your great beneficence.

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copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

Six Word Saturday

Maasai Mara Landscape ~ A Warrior’s View

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I’ve written about the Maasai Mara in other posts. Here’s an excerpt from a piece that was long-listed in the Brandt Travel Guide competition ages ago:

Dances with warriors

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.

Their dance fires the blood as it was once meant to in the days when the young morani proved their courage by killing a lion; but we see the collecting box left discreetly in the grass.  These kids are from the nearby settlements, but before I unravel the question of exploitation – theirs or ours – the dancers pounce, dragging us into a conga, pastoralist-style.  I let the Maasai girl take my hand.  She’s about fourteen years old and she is boss. After all, this is her land – the big skies and the rippling oat grass, and our small camp in the outer reserve remains there only on her clansmen’s say-so.  The hand that grips mine is small and hard.

So I follow her, graceless in the rhythms I cannot fathom, wend with the snake of dancers on and round the camp. The dancers know we’re squeamish and should not be put at risk, so we stray no further than the firelight’s edge, never crossing the bounds of the vast out there.

And of course, being on safari, and staying at a luxury, tented camp, we have been taken to visit the vast out there. We went earlier that day and naturally, being tender wazungu, we ventured only in daylight, with the rising sun at our back, and we went, not on foot, but in the Land Rover whose solid sides we were sure would protect us from too much closeness with the wilderness.

copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

Continues HERE

 

Lens-Artists: Landscapes

 

How Now Brown (And Black) Cows…

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One of the very best things about living in a rural town like Much Wenlock is that you can be setting off for the shops to buy ordinary stuff like a local newspaper or half a dozen eggs, and come upon small happenings of one sort or another. So here we are. As we slipped and slid down the muddy path  that brings you first to the Priory ruins, and thence to the town centre, we met up with a new batch of Highland Cattle recently ensconced in the Cutlins meadow. Teenage moos, I should think. Not fully grown anyway. They were certainly most curious, and so posed nicely to have their photos taken. Or at least two of them did. The third was too busy eating breakfast.

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Yum! Lovely crunchy hay. So important to keep well stoked up in this cold snap.

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Six Word Saturday Pop over to Debbie’s at Travel With Intent for some truly striking photos.

The Changing Seasons: January (Or Is It?)

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There is more seasonal confusion to report this month. I continue to be astonished by this Dyer’s Chamomile, aka Golden Marguerite (Cota tinctoria). It’s growing in the guerrilla garden behind the back fence, and has been flowering for months. I’ve heard the plant described as ‘a hardy but weak perennial’ because it fizzles out after its second year. Well that’s as may be. This particular exemplar hasn’t reached its first birthday yet, but so far at least is looking remarkably resilient after Tuesday night’s snowfall. Nor is it alone. A tender trailing geranium that I had abandoned  in its garden pot at summer’s end has recently started to flower again. It didn’t seem to mind the snow either.

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Admittedly it wasn’t much of a fall. By Wednesday morning it was already melting, and a quick wander round the garden now reveals many signs of spring. There are breaking leaf buds on the roses, flowering currant and honeysuckle; the columbines and centaurea are making vigorous new growth; bulbs are sprouting; hellebores flowering; along the lanes the snowdrops are out in force, and the winter wheat is greening all the fields around the town. Even the birds are singing spring songs. Will it all go horribly wrong one wonders? Better enjoy it while we may then, this summer-spring-winter.

 

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The Changing Seasons ~ January 2019  Please visit Su to join in this monthly challenge.