This week Cee says show her anything that’s long. I’ve chosen long paths and lanes and distant views.
It’s years since I rode a bike. In fact I wonder if I still can, though I do remember the precise moment when I first mastered the skill and forward momentum suddenly happened. Just like that – after hours of wobbles and falling about. What a sense of freedom. And so I’m thinking if I had a handy beach I might well give it another go. Softish surface to land on for one thing. But what joy to whizz over tide-washed shores, sea wind in one’s face, gulls wheeling in their own particular way.
Looking at this photo now I’m beginning to feel envious of this unknown cyclist caught plying Newborough sands a few Christmases ago.
It’s almost always the case with things on your doorstep: you forget to visit them, or even to appreciate their handy existence. I’ve known Wenlock Priory for over half a century which possibly adds its own miniscule historical dimension to this most ancient Shropshire site. Anyway, a few weeks ago I took myself off there for a long-postponed visit. It’s only a short walk down the Cutlins path past the MacMoo clan. I quite enjoyed playing tourist in my own town.
The photo shows the remnant south aisle of the once vastly prestigious monastic edifice built in the 12th century CE to house monks from their mother foundation in Cluny, France. But then that’s only half the story.
We need to wind the time-machine clock back another thousand years. The Romans were here too, though what they left behind has been hard to interpret: villa, bathhouse, shrine – all, or only one of these. The remains anyway survived into Saxon times and were apparently repurposed in the building of a double convent i.e. for both monks and nuns (in separate quarters). This work was commissioned by King Merewald of Mercia (basically the English Midlands) in the 600s CE.
His daughter Milburga (later to be sanctified and made pilgrimage-worthy) served as abbess once she had been sufficiently well educated over in France. Her two sisters were also similarly educated to be abbesses of other religious houses. Their mother too, left Mercia and her marriage, to become abbess down in Kent. Such positions entrusted to royal woman allowed them to control extensive landed estates along with their agricultural and mineral assets, as well as to look to the spiritual welfare of the land’s lowly inhabitants.
Over succeeding centuries, Milburga’s convent underwent various phases of redevelopment. When the Normans arrived in the 11th century the site was re-dedicated to the Cluniac (monks only) monastic order. But after the finding of what were believed to be Milburga’s bones in 1101, the priory received a very big upgrade, along with a saintly shrine and the patronage of the King of England. So began the era of pilgrim-tourism and the up-sprouting of Wenlock town to cater for the influx. In fact two of our well-loved public houses – the George and Dragon and the Talbot have their origins in these times. So much history then in one small place. So many long-established ties with Europe. Makes you wonder what our forebears would have thought of Brexit.
Doorway from the south aisle to the now roofless cloister.
For Historic England’s schedule summary of the Priory’s history please go HERE.
Llanddwyn Island on Anglesey is only an island at high tide. Mostly it is a narrow spit reaching out across Llanddwyn Bay to the mountains of the Welsh mainland. It is named after the early 5th century Christian mystic, Dwynwen who, unhappy in love, is said to have retreated to the island, living out her days there alone. Later she became known as the Welsh patron saint of lovers, and in medieval times pilgrims would flock to the island in hopes of divining the faithfulness of their own loves at Dwynwen’s well. In fact so much revenue was raised from the pilgrims’ quest for true love that in the 16th century a substantial chapel was built on what was believed to be Dwynwen’s own place of sanctuary. You see the chapel ruins if you go there today.
The lighthouse was built in 1845 to guide shipping entering the Menai Strait from the south. Now it serves mostly as a very striking landmark, viewed here on a blustery Christmas morning a few years ago.
Perverse, I know, to be featuring this wintery scene as summer arrives in the northern hemisphere. Still, it seems to fit quite well with this week’s b & w challenge over at Cee’s. I’m thinking too that those poor souls who are presently being broiled by unnatural heatwaves across Europe might be glad of a cooling vista.
Nigella damascena is a wonderfully self-seeding annual that has been grown in English gardens since Elizabethan times. It is much loved for its sky-blue flowers (sometimes also white or pink) and its delicate ferny leaves. And of course, once the flowering is done, there are the strikingly odd sputnik seed capsules to admire. Though seen here in monochrome (with a hint blue), the flowers already have a distinctly alien look. I took this photo last night at the allotment. I have several self-seeded clumps around the vegetable plots, and they are just beginning to flower. It’s always good to mix things up like this, the flowers not only attracting the pollinators for the fruit and vegetables, but also, in the case of French marigolds, diverting crop pests. And talking of crops, or ones in the making, here’s a rather fine pea flower:
Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge ~ flowers of any kind
Our cottage is rather short, the upstairs rooms being contained mostly by open roof space rather than walls. Also, the house itself is set in the side of a steep bank between Townsend Meadow and the main road, which means the best views (our only good ones) are from the bedroom roof-lights. These windows all face west and overlook the field towards Wenlock Edge and the big sky above.
Much time can pass at these windows, studying cloud movements or the wheeling of rooks and jackdaws. Sometimes the odd soul (with or without companionable dog) walks by on the field path just beyond our garden gate, and sometimes on Monday mornings, the town’s entire ‘walk for health’ mob, several dozen strong with high-vis vested leaders and bringers-up of rear, trails by. Now and then, too, the farmer can also be spotted, driving his latest substance-spraying rig back and forth across the crop (this week it was a top-dressing of fertiliser for the wheat which – after the rain – is already shooting up like multiples of Jack’s beanstalk). So given this general lack of activity out back, the appearance of a big digger and very large dump truck on the near horizon was an exciting event.
The work in progress (over the brow of the hill and out of sight in the field’s top corner) is the excavation of an attenuation pond. (There is another larger one to the south of the town). They are basically reservoir basins, but without water – designed to stem the impact of any flash flood off Wenlock Edge. The town sits in a bowl between the Edge and several hills, and has been designated a rapid response flood zone. This sounds alarming, and indeed could well be, but the conditions for flash flooding are very particular: i.e. if a severe storm hits our catchment after prolonged periods of rain when the ground is sodden, or in winter after hard frost. Water that cannot drain into the land flows into adjacent roads which then act like rivers, speedily conducting the run-off into the town centre. This can all happen in the space of 20 minutes.
As far as we know, and despite its shortness and low-lying position, our house has no history of being flooded. In the last big flood of 2007 the water seemed to flow around us. I watched the rain pour off the garden terraces behind the house, flow by the kitchen door in a fast running stream before emptying on to the main road where it doubtless contributed to the flooding of properties downstream of us.
It was unnerving to see, and later we heard that at least 50 houses in the centre of town had their cellars and ground floors deluged. That evening, coming home from work across the Edge, Graham had to abandon the car on the far side of town and take an upland ‘cross-country’ route home.
How well the ponds will serve us is yet to be demonstrated. After 12 years without a flood, it is easy to imagine that it won’t happen again, though last month The Man from the Environment Agency did come specially to town to tell us we must remain vigilant. As many round the world know to their cost, climate change is responsible for an increase in extreme weather events and, in the most extreme scenario, our ponds will only slow the flow, not stop it. There are probably further measures that could be taken: urging (enforcing would be better) landowners to plant more trees, create more flood plains round water courses, stop selling their land for large housing developments whose roofs and access roads accelerate run-off.
For now, though, all thanks are due to the workforce who toiled, excavating and landscaping the ponds, which may one day save our most vulnerable residents the distress of having to spend a year and more drying out a flooded home. In the meantime, I keep watching the sky over Wenlock Edge. At times when the rain closes in, day after day without let up, it’s easy to wonder: is this flooding rain?
copyright 2019 Tish Farrell
This week Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge is ‘vanishing point’. The photos here were taken in monochrome on the Mawddach Estuary in mid-Wales and at Marloes Sands, Pembrokeshire.