Taking The Broad View ~ Mara Grasslands

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In the rainless months it is the oat grass that gives the Mara plains their golden hue. The small trees with their sculpted looks are desert dates, mulului trees, much browsed by all the local herbivores.

These photos from the Farrells’ old Africa album were taken outside the main Maasai Mara National Park, below the Oloololo Escarpment on territory owned by related Maasai families, locally referred to as a group ranch. Visitors pay a daily fee to group ranch elders. We were lucky to be able to make three trips there while living in Kenya.

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Life in Colour: Gold

Lens-Artists: Going wide

Day’s End Over The Garden Fence

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Summer came back this week, a few days of full-on sun before tomorrow’s promised thunder storm. As you can see, the helianthus in the guerrilla garden are all of a glow, caught here yesterday evening – sun dipping over Wenlock Edge. Even Townsend Meadow, recently doused with herbicide, looked quite good in sundowner light. The story here is that after the barley was harvested in July, much of the fallen grain germinated, turning the field into a grassy sward. This has now been dealt with. Next comes the ploughing and drilling. It is also the season of muck spreading, though thankfully not in the field behind the house. Even so, the odour is wafting about the town, especially pungent when combined with a heat wave. All of which is to say,  beauty presently comes with a bit of a whiff.

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Meanwhile back in the Farrell jungle, all is gold…

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Life in Colour: GOLD

The Changing Seasons ~ This Was August

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And it has been all about tomatoes. The allotment polytunnel has been in production for many weeks now: more than enough from a dozen plants. This in turn has meant tomatoes with every meal and much processing of the remainder. For the latter, this year’s method of choice is simply to roast  them until soft. Additives include a drizzle of olive oil, black pepper, sea salt, garlic and fresh basil.  Once cooked, all is whizzed with an electric wand-thingy and put through a coarse sieve into plastic containers. These are then frozen, contents decanted and stored in bags as sauce ‘bricks’.

Otherwise we’ve been enjoying a very simple Greek dish of repeat layers of thinly sliced potatoes, tomatoes, courgettes (starting and finishing with the potatoes) – also with added basil, seasoning, garlic, drizzle of olive oil, and baking the lot slowly in a moderate oven until the potato-slice topping is crispy. Good with baked fish and/or thinly sliced and steamed runner beans or Violette French beans. We’ve also been eating runner beans as a meal on their own, sprinkled with parmesan or pandano cheese, with or without a homemade pesto sauce, or the pistou version which uses up a tomato.

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I’m thinking that by now we must comprise 99% processed vegetable matter.

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For several weeks the weather here has been more like early autumn than summer – some sun, but many overcast days and often quite chilly. We’ve even lit the wood stove a couple of evenings. But lacklustre temperatures have not stopped the garden. Geranium Rozanne made a bid to take over the entire upstairs terrace. Serious curtailing had to be implemented to ensure a bit of space for human kind. The rest of the borders also seem to be several feet taller this year, including the guerrilla garden which has done great service standing in for the too often absent summer sun.

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For those of you who missed our special garden visitor in early August – here he is, the male Holly Blue butterfly. It was spotted first on the sedum also seen in the photo above. Later I saw it feeding on the oregano, also much favoured by the bees:

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One of my favourite August flowers is the wild yellow toadflax. This is one I’ve grown from seed bought from a specialist wildflower nursery. It is common along the verges of Shropshire’s hill country, especially on the lane up the Long Mynd to Rattlinghope.

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Another summer latecomer is the Morning Glory. The deep indigo-purple ones have just started blooming in the polytunnel where they’re happily growing up a Sun Gold tomato plant. A pleasing cohabitation:

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And in the home garden we had a single ‘Flying Saucer’ version. I caught it fully open just as a little bee found it too. Said little critter could not get enough of the nectar. Every time it thought it was full, it made to leave, only to return again and again. Made me wonder if there was something seriously addictive in there. And what with all the pollen too: a new take on the meaning of Bee-line perhaps.

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And just to show we have had some sunny interludes along with the sun flowers:

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The Changing Seasons: August  This month hosted by Ju-Lyn at Touring My Backyard alternating with Brian at Bushboy Blog. Ju-Lyn has been doing some delicious cooking, though sadly short of tomatoes when she needed them (Sorry about that!) And Brian has some fabulous plant and birdlife on show.

Looking In Looking Out On Wenlock’s Old Railway Line

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The old railway line that runs for a couple of miles on the edge of town is a local treasure. If you are outward bound, and up for a really long hike, it is the starting point for a host of other footpaths. You can head for the Severn Gorge, or go cross country through farmland searching out ancient signs of lost medieval villages. The towards-town stretch runs past the outskirts of Shadwell Quarry and then on below the Linden Walk, terminating abruptly above the Cutlins meadow where the highland cattle are often found grazing.

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For much of its length the old line is a shadowy arcade of ash, hazel and crab apple trees. Bosky in other words. In spring there are masses of tiny white violets among the ferns, later a scattering of orchids and wild strawberries. Now and then someone comes along and clears back the tree branches and ivy to stop total junglification. There are scarcely any views out. The fence in the first two photos is the main ‘window’ of opportunity.

On the northerly side you have to a bit of clambering above the trees to glimpse the quarry peripheries. Not very scenic, but I quite like the starkness of these next two winter shots – wild clematis (Old Man’s beard) and barbed wire and then the detention camp look of the perimeter fence.

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And finally one I’ve posted before – the gate at the entrance of the Linden Walk. At this point the railway line is in a cutting to the left of the trees.

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Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Fences and gates

As Seen In Fresh Light ~ Over The Garden Fence

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Of itself the field behind our house (Townsend Meadow) is not very interesting. It is simply a farm field, much subjected to agrochemicals in order to produce year on year wheat, or rape, or oats, or field beans or barley. On days when the light is flat it is plain dull. Most of the time it is the activity above it that catches my eye – cloud movements, and the odd effects created by a false horizon which obscures the further horizon of Wenlock Edge where the ground drops off a few hundred feet to the Shropshire Plain below. But there are moments when the quality of light bestows a certain glamour. Somewhat astonishingly the header photo was taken at first light one February morning – a piece of magic all its own since February in England is rarely a scenic month unless one is thinking about carpets of snowdrops.

Here are some more ‘best’ moments – over the garden fence, or from the office skylight.

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Lens-Artists: It’s all about light Many thanks to Tina for this week’s theme. Please go and see her very inspirational gallery of light works.

Bridge Over The River Teme

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Dinham Bridge in the Shropshire market town of Ludlow is not as old as looks suggest. It was built in 1823 and is sometimes attributed to Thomas Telford, who in earlier decades had been Shropshire’s Surveyor of Public Works. But it seems unlikely that this is one of his bridges; around this time and for several years before he was most often to be found far away in his Scottish homeland, very much taken up with the mammoth enterprise that was the construction of the 60 mile-long Caledonian Canal.

On the other hand, Ludlow Castle, seen here above the bridge, is every bit as old as it looks – over a thousand years old in fact. Work began on the hillside promontory in 1075 and continued over the next hundred years. It was a key defensive position aimed at keeping the nearby rebelling Welsh suitably subdued. The town grew up below its walls from the 12th century onwards, all laid out in the manner typical medieval town planning.

Meanwhile the castle continued to play its part – in the Wars of the Roses, and the English Civil War. It was also the place where, Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales and Henry VIII’s older brother died in 1502, a circumstance that later had much to answer for. In the November of the preceding year, Arthur and his new bride, Catherine of Aragon, had gone to Ludlow Castle for their honeymoon. They were both 15 years old, and had been betrothed since infancy. You can read more of that story in an earlier post Honeymoon Destination Anyone?

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: bridges

Wheels Within Wheels: Or How To Make A Lot Of Hot Air

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In another life I worked at the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust (IGMT). This was back in the days of government funded job-creation projects when these were the only means of beginning a museum career. I did various jobs – education officer, archaeology project supervisor, head cook at the New Inn at the Blists Hill Victorian Village. Fund-raising catering events also featured. I once devised lunch for a thousand Commonwealth University Vice Chancellors, and served apple pie in the Blists Hill  Squatter Cottage to a bunch of bemused Italian Industrial Archaeologists. Then there was the party for the class of Welsh school children in the depths of the Tar Tunnel whither provisions were wheeled in on an old mine truck and we all had to wear hard hats with miner’s lamps, and the poor kids had to tuck into the party food before the dark, dank atmosphere of the tunnel turned the crisps and sausage rolls to mush.

But I digress. This is supposed to be about wheels and a (vaguely) technical explanation of the header photo is called for.

So: back in the early days of IGMT, as in the late 1960s, the putative museum had among its patrons venerable local industrialists, men who were worried that Shropshire’s  industrial heritage would be lost in the van of Dawley (later Telford) New Town development. They had the notion of saving particular technological exemplars and exhibiting them, sculpture park fashion, on one of the Ironbridge Gorge’s abandoned industrial sites. Blists Hill seemed ideal because it was anyway rich in original 18th and 19 century industrial remains: blast furnaces, adits, canal, brickworks, steam-winding engine, and the fabulous inclined plane, (tar tunnel beneath) – all still waiting to be conserved and/or restored.

One of the first ‘exhibits’ to be relocated there was David and Sampson, a huge steam powered air blowing machine that from 1851 to 1900 had been deployed to stoke up the heat in four blast furnaces at the nearby Lilleshall Company.

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Unfortunately I don’t have a photo of the two massive beams (obscured here by the protective superstructure) but you can see what they look like at this link. Both beam engines were harnessed to and regulated by a single large flywheel., each connected to a steam cylinder (beside the wheel) and a big air tub (to the rear). Between them, the engines pushed out 12,500 cubic feet of air per minute. As in WHOOSH!

These days, it’s hard to imagine that East Shropshire was once a centre of industry – i.e. from early mediaeval monastic days to the 1960s. The Lilleshall Company that originally commissioned the beam engines from Murdock, Aitken and Co, Glasgow – was active in iron and steel production, coal mining, engineering and brick making over some 150 years, and belongs to the latter phase of Shropshire’s industrial history. (There is more about Murdock, Aitken and Co plus some old photos of beam engines HERE.)

And while we’re at Blists Hill and looking at wheels, here’s the restored pit head of an original 19th century mine, also operated by a very fine (still working) steam engine. The local mines very conveniently produced fire clay, iron ore and coal – just what the industrial entrepreneur ordered.

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Blists Hill pit head, and 19th century brickworks ruins behind.

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: wheels

Tiny Red House

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This week at Travel Words Jude wonders if we have any quirky red subjects. So I thought it was time to reprise ‘Great Britain’s smallest house’, a piece of opportunistic infill building in a space between a cottage row, and the gatehouse tower of Conwy Castle in North Wales. This squeezed-in dwelling is said to have been created in the 16th century. Inside are two rooms, sitting room with bench cum coal store and fire-place downstairs, single bed up.

The overall height is just over 3 metres (122”) and 3 metres deep; width 1.8 metres (72”). It was lived in until 1900 when the then occupant, fisherman, Robert Jones, at 1.9 metres tall (75”) had to do much bending and folding in order to inhabit the space.

The house was declared Britain’s smallest in the 1920s though these days I think its claim to fame might well have been overtaken by many London dwellings, likewise made from opportunistic infill structures – garages, corridors and the like. The guide in the photos is wearing a version of traditional Welsh dress from around the 18th century when red capes and gowns (as well as the distinctive high-rise hats) were also apparently very popular with Celtic womankind.

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Life in Colour: red

How Elephants Hide In Bushes

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These elephant photos were taken in the very special community sanctuary of Mwalunganje near the South Kenya coast. It was set up in the 1990s to ensure the future of an important migration route from the Shimba Hills to Tsavo East National Park AND as means to provide compensation to 300 smallholder farmers whose crops were being destroyed by the herds. The farmers retained ownership of the land in the form of shares, and many of them took up posts running the sanctuary as a tourist attraction. The project continues to be run (or at least it was still going last year) with the support of the Kenya Forest and Wildlife Services and the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. (More photos at this link).

The Mwalunganje sanctuary is extraordinary terrain, a remnant Jurassic Forest survivor that still supports many cycads. They look like small palm trees and, as living survivors from a 200 million year old forest, are a seriously endangered species.

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Mwalunganje Hill is also a sacred place for the local Duruma people. Here there is kaya, a palisaded space where traditional rites are performed by the elders. On the day when we went to look for it there was a tree blocking the trail – frustrating for a nosy mzungu, but then I thought, ‘quite right too. You have not been invited there.’

There’s more about the sanctuary HERE

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