The Night Ploughing

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It was the strangest thing – to look out on the nightscape behind the house where there are no roads or houses as far as the Edge, which itself drops a thousand feet through near vertical woodland to farm fields below on the Shropshire flatlands, and see what looked like searchlights moving doggedly through the darkness. The sight induces a frisson of fear. Iron Curtain watch towers spring to mind; H.G. Wells and War of the Worlds: are these Martian invaders patrolling the hinterland? Have the Thought Police hacked into my anti-establishment cogitations and are now tracking me down?

Of course a second later, common sense regained, I knew exactly what was going on, though it was still surprising – this spot of nocturnal November farming, presumably intent on finishing the job before the next round of deluge. The two tractors had been out working on Townsend Meadow since early afternoon. One tractor was ploughing. I watched it moving up and down the field, the glint of steel blades, the rig periodically disappearing from view over the brow of the hill. The other tractor was working back and forth across the ploughed-in wheat stubble, it equipped with high-tech agri-gear fore and aft – (and I’m assuming) seed drilling and then harrowing.  I’ve yet to discover what crop was being sown. Doubtless there will be shoots any time now.

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But in the meantime, on my most-days slither and slide along the path to the allotment, I’m astonished how very spirit-lowering is the lustreless expanse of darkly sodden earth after months of pale and textured gold. No more taking short cuts across the field or fossicking for pot shards and clay pipe bits either. I’ve also noticed that the tenant who currently has the field in hand, has reduced the strip of uncultivated headland between our home boundaries and the crop by a good 2 or 3 metres. We always understood that the headland was there as a flash-flood reducing measure, to say nothing of providing a swath of bio-diversity. Only time and heavy rainstorms will reveal the consequences or not of this little development.

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The day before ploughing and drilling – 3rd November.

 

copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

Power Lines ~ Ironbridge Switch-Off

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Ironbridge Power Station has run out of steam, its huge cooling towers presently stark monuments to the era of dirty energy, an era that kicked off in this very valley, the Ironbridge Gorge, where in millennia past the River Severn turned its back on the north and, turbo-charged by glacial melt-water, drilled its way through inconvenient uplands and headed south, thereby exposing strata whose properties ingenious humankind would one day find well suited to industrial enterprise.

Limestone. Ironstone. Coal. Fire and brick clay. These were the materials revealed by Severn’s pre-emptive workings. They provided the means for the building and fuelling of blast furnaces. The first iron works in nearby Coalbrookdale were run by monks and lay workers of Wenlock Priory. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1540, there was a massive sell-off of monastic land and facilities around the Gorge to London merchants and get-rich-quick gentry all keen to make iron; or mine coal; or extract natural bitumen that also occurs here.

The Gorge and its tributary valleys were, in their way, covert places, and later proved attractive locations for 17th century iron masters set on pioneering new technologies: coke-fired casting; fine boring of cannon; trialling of new materials in new constructions that would astonish the world and change it and us forever.

But back to the power station that now no longer burns trainloads of coal to feed the national grid. It sits on a floodplain at the head of the Gorge, a World Heritage Site no less, the Ironbridge Gorge. A local lordly landowner once observed to me that the discharges of warm water from the cooling towers heated up the river along his stretch of bank by one degree, thus ruining his salmon fishing; the salmon, he said, did not care for warmth and rushed on by. To his credit his lordship did not seem too bothered. At least for now the river is subject only to natural forces when it comes to temperature.

Soon the demolition teams will move in, and trainloads of furnace ash will be shipped out along with countless tons of strategic reserves of gravel which happen to occur on the site. And down will come the four cooling towers – and what a sight that will be. Then the plan is to build 1,000 homes and create a business park to create thousands of jobs, and all beside a river with a history of monumental flooding, and on a site with all manner of embedded pollutants, and in a geographical cul de sac with only two narrow lanes either side the river by which to access the outside world. The head of our local authority that is championing the scheme is on record saying that he won’t let considerations of climate emergency get in the way of the county’s need for economic growth.

It takes one’s breath away – this Age of Bonkers!

Line Squares #23

Sticks, Clogs, Ribbons And Bells ~ Yesterday Was A Big Hurrah For Apples At Coalbrookdale’s Greenwood Trust

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The Ironmen lining up.

And the Severn Gilders Morris doing their stuff:

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While the band played:

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And apples were pressed:

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And unusual varieties identified:

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And home-made cakes and roast pork buns scoffed, stories told, local makers’ wares displayed, and all matters relating to trees and woodland widely shared, and then bottles of fresh-pressed juice to take home…

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And all in celebration of the apple whose magnificent variety and native seasonal range has been much undermined since the advent of supermarkets which managed to reduce a possible choice of 750 cultivars to half a dozen. But things are changing. Old apple trees are being rediscovered and nurtured, and orchards replanted. Nor could there be a better time to be planting them. Trees absorb carbon and we need to plant three trillion fairly fast. Apart from which, there is much to be said for the old saying: an apple a day keeps the doctor away.

Line Squares #13

Abermawr Cove ~ It’s The Seal’s Whiskers

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It was hard to tear myself away from Tregwynt Mill; unexpected burst of hot September sun or no, there was a strong inclination to curl up among Welsh tweed quilts and cushions on the showroom bed. To distract myself from wool-lust I suggested we walked down to the sea. It’s not far, I tell Graham, he who too often suspects me of total map-reader-error. I was surprised when he agreed.

We followed the course of the stream that had once powered several mills in the valley. The lane was bosky, enclaves of deep and mossy shade, then sudden sprinkles of sunlight through sycamore, ash and alder. There were old walls, built in the local style of vertically laid stones wherein strap ferns and pennywort had found a root-hold.

After about half a mile we found the sign to the coastal path, and almost at once, there we were, looking down on Abermawr beach. The cove itself was sparse in humanity, and we found out why when we got down there. The pebbles were so heaped up and huge they were almost impossible to walk over. Most people were passing by, following the cliff trail that crossed at the back of the cove.  We perched on some rounded rocks and tried to locate the source of the strange barking calls to seaward. And then we saw it. And it saw us. And in between sunning its face, it watched me taking its photo. Nor was it alone. Its partner (parent perhaps) was somewhere out in the bay, doubtless doing some fishing, but whenever it returned to the cove it did not seem keen to show much of itself.

And so a chance walk proved to be one of life’s blissful moments, a piece of happenstance that won’t be forgotten, sitting by a blue sea, under blue sky, dreamy warmth, blue coastline of Llyn Peninsula barely there on the sea-line, and now and then meeting the eye of a sun-bathing seal.

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Line Squares #6

What Next: A Cloud Of Herring?

Once it was said the hauls of  herring landed at Fishguard were so great that the fields of West Wales were spread with the excess catch. And if this sounds balmy, decomposing fish would make a good (if environmentally expensive and pretty maloderous) fertiliser. When I read this I then remembered that the farmers of the great Inca Empire of Peru were said to do a similar thing. Before planting their maize seed, they dibbed a hole and dropped a fish in first to feed the growing plant. I’m assuming it wasn’t a fresh one that could otherwise have been eaten.

The sculpture (maker not credited) sits beside the harbour in Lower Fishguard and commemorates the town’s rich herring days. The trade was already established by the 900s CE when the Vikings, who spent a lot of time raiding Wales and Ireland, left off pillaging for a bit of fish buying.  These rapacious sea-raiders called the little inlet Fiskigarðr  and this, according to the town web page, means ‘fish catching enclosure’ in Old Norse. The name Fiscard in fact hung on for centuries after the Vikings were long gone, and only Anglicised at the end of the 19th century. The Welsh name is of course quite different, and probably these days more geographically useful. Abergwaun means the mouth of the Gwaun River.

The herring industry scaled reached industrial heights in the late 18th century. Fifty Fishguard coastal vessels were bringing in catches that were sold in Ireland and the English ports of Bristol and Liverpool. Oats were the other main export, the crop doubtless well fish-nourished on the fields of the West Wales hinterland. It now becomes clear why the town’s shipping was targeted by the American privateer Black Prince in 1779 (see previous post). It looked like the town would be good for £1000 ransom fee. But then looks can be deceptive.

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Line Squares #5

Six Word Saturday

Scenes From The Realm Of Ancestors

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Two thousand years ago the people who lived within the mountain hillfort of Carn Ingli (seen here in the distance) would have looked down on this 5,500 year-old chambered tomb of Pentre Ifan. Back then, the Neolithic burial cairn was probably mostly intact, still covered with an earth mound and extending some 120 feet (36 metres). Over the centuries most of the stones have been removed, most likely for wall and house building; only the most immovable stones remain. The capstone is reckoned to weigh 16 tonnes and is supported on the tips of three larger-than-man-size stones.

However you think about it, this tomb is an extraordinary feat of construction by people who only had tools made of stone, wood and bone. In the next photo I have included men (near and far) to give some sense of scale – height and original tomb length. The burial place, probably used for successive interments and not only for one individual, is also in sight of the sea, the harbour inlet at Parrog, Newport, which may well have been used by trading boat as far back as the Neolithic.

I’m wondering what the ancestors would think of us now: the age when folly and ignorance finally ‘triumphed’ over wisdom?

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Six Word Saturday

Thoughts From The Blue Glass Sea

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Yesterday, 20th September 2019 when young people around the world were on strike to urge politicians to start telling the truth about climate emergency and to take action NOW to save their future, I looked out on this view across Cardigan Bay in West Wales. And I thought: isn’t it time we all stopped killing the planet and thus everything we truly value?

On the 23rd September 2019 the United Nations Climate Action Summit takes place. Let’s hope the world leaders attending have their brains switched on. It will cost us a lot otherwise – the earth in fact.

Six Word Saturday

Monday Musings: A World Worth Saving? And Why Aren’t Our Leaders Taking Action NOW?

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And so asks Greta Thunberg:

 

Because there’s so much we could be doing and now. See the UN’s Climate Action site: https://www.un.org/en/climatechange/climate-action-areas.shtml

Meanwhile this is what the Secretary-General of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, António Guterres was saying a year ago when he called for global action:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VNe-jBVij-g

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change. You can find all the scientific reports Here, including the special report on global warming Here.

None of us wants to think about this, but there are things we can do, beginning with our own community leaders. For instance the council of my  county town of Shrewsbury has declared a climate emergency and a 2030 net carbon neurtral target, this after energetic campaiging by residents and members of Extinction Rebellion.

Many other councils across the country have done likewise. You can see the UK map at climateemergency.uk

However, our county council leaders are dragging their heels. Under public pressure, they declared the climate emergency but seem unprepared to take action if it will upset economic interests. They further appeared not to know of the many innovative business initiatives (especially in biogas generation) already taking place in Shropshire. At the parliamentary level, only one of our 5 county all Tory MPs, Philip Dunne, has acknowledged the crisis and said he will do all he can to change resistant attitudes. Last week I wrote to ask him how he meant to do this, though I’ve since noticed that he has been pressing Government for zero road emissions. All in all though, there are still monumental obstacles to shift, and here in the UK we’re still stuck in the 3 year Brexit Effect – tactic of mass distraction.

So time for every one of us to get snapping at the heels of our local representatives/councillors/senators/MPs/ministers. Use their social media sites. Join or support a campaign group. Government inertia will take a lot of shifting. E.g. The oil men have known about the effect of carbon emissions on the climate since the 1970s yet, as Greta Thunberg states, still we use 100 million barrels a day. A staggering amount – and all those oil dollars into somebody’s pockets; all the wars and regime-change invasions involving oil. And it’s not just oil; it’s all the waste from the by-products of oil. Even the deniers of manmade climate change cannot deny the mess we’ve made of the planet.

And if this is leaving you feeling depressed then check out what the small ‘negative carbon’ nation of Bhutan has been doing to protect itself and help out its neighbouring countries, and indeed provide a wellbeing pattern for global action, and for all of us.

An Elephant In The Garden?

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That would be of the hawk-moth variety, Deilephila elpenor. The elephant in the name is not due to its size, though with a wingspan of one and half to two and half inches (45-60mm) it is quite large, but to the appearance of its caterpillar which has a trunk-like protuberance. The caterpillars like to feed on Rosebay Willowherb and bedstraws found in rough grassland, while the moth prefers to sup on the wing, from dusk till dawn, feeding at tubular flowers such as honeysuckle.

Before this particular Elephant hawk-moth was in the garden, it was in the utility room. We found it on the window blind, but decided it would be better off outside with the honeysuckle. It did not react to being moved or having its photo taken. In fact I think it was asleep. A very striking livery though, as moth colour schemes go.

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The Changing Seasons ~ July’s High-Summer Gold

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Without a doubt July’s stars in the-garden-over-the-fence are the Dyer’s Chamomile daisies, also known as Golden Marguerite (Anthemis tinctoria). They have flowered and flowered for weeks now, spilling out on to field path behind the house, tumbling into the garden through the fence. So much gold from a small packet of seeds bought from Jekka’s Herb Farm.

In fact some of you may remember that back in the winter I was worried about the plants’ survival. Some started flowering late last autumn and were still going in December. I was afraid that after such an untimely show, they would keel over and die. I needn’t have worried. I think they have magic powers, though they do have their foibles. For one thing, they are not early risers, and if you catch them too soon in the day, they will not be properly dressed. Each night as the sun goes down they fold back their petals, tight to the stem so they look like a crowd of golden lollipops. Now there’s a thought to ponder on. It makes me wonder if they do this to attract particular  night-time pollinators.

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And talking of pollinators the garden has been humming with hoverflies, bumbles and honey bees. And now as the month draws to a close, hot on Marguerite’s sunshine heels come Helianthus, Doronicum, Golden Rod, while among them, dots of mauve and purple from Centaurea, Phlox and Drumstick Allium add a touch of flair. What a happy garden. Which of course makes us happy too. So I’m passing it on Sun even though today it is raining here in Shropshire.

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The Changing Seasons ~ July 2019

Please pop over to Su’s to see her changing seasons in the southern hemisphere.