“What Are Those Blue Remembered Hills”?

Anyone who saw July’s To The Mysterious Stiperstones post might just recognise those distant heather-covered hills. Last month they were captured under looming skies, but this was how they looked yesterday when we went to Wentnor.

This off-the-beaten-track South Shropshire village must have some of the best views in the county – the Stiperstones to the west, and the Long Mynd to the east, and nothing but rolling farmland in between. The nearest towns are Church Stretton and Bishops Castle (6 and 5 miles respectively) but take note: Wentnor miles are at least twice as long as other people’s miles. It is a world all its own.

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Coming up next is a glimpse of the Long Mynd looking east from the village. The name, unsurprisingly, means long mountain. It does not allow itself to be photographed in one shot.

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And here’s the northerly end, taken from the car park of the village pub:

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Talking of which, this was the objective for the outing – lunch at The Crown at Wentnor along with our best Buffalo chums, Jack and Kathy. The last time we four had been there, Graham and I were still living in Kenya, and only briefly in the UK on annual leave. We decided it had to be a good twenty years ago. How time flies.

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After lunch we wandered about the village, and paid a visit to the parish church of St. Michael. None of us are subscribers, but when out together we often seem to find ourselves in country churchyards. Besides, Wentnor church is welcoming, and vistas within and without most picturesque. In fact I was so taken with the charm of the kneelers along the pews,  I thought I might even like to join the people who had made them in a spot of hymn-singing – All things bright and beautiful of course; nothing like some tuneful gratitude as harvest festival time approaches.

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The church was rebuilt in the 19th century, although parts date from the 12th century. I was particularly struck by the craftsmanship of the ceiling, and have never seen anything quite like it before. It made me think of the ornate wooden Viking churches of Norway.

Out in the churchyard with its ancient spreading yew, there were views of the Long Mynd and the hills towards Clun and Radnorshire:

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And it was all so very quiet with few signs of the locals as we wandered up and down the lane; only a couple of horses waiting for new shoes from the travelling blacksmith, the village noticeboard, old barns and cottages. And then the skies turned threatening and it was time to leave, back to the real world beyond the Mynd.

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N.B. The title quote is from A E Housman’s A Shropshire Lad  no. XL

 

Into my heart an air that kills

From yon far country blows:

What are those blue remembered hills,

What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,

I see it shining plain,

The happy highways where I went

And cannot come again.

Six Word Saturday 

False Horizons On The Way To The Allotment: A Not So Bucolic Picture?

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I usually have a camera with me when I go gardening. The field path from our house to the allotment provides many diversions; opportunities to stand and stare. And also there’s often something to snap around my plot. I took this photo just over a week ago. Even then the wheat looked more than ready to harvest. But it was infested with wild oats, hence the feathery ‘horizon’ seen here above the wheat.

Earlier this week,  while I was picking runner beans, I heard the roar of an approaching tractor, and looked up to see the farmer on his mega vehicle, massive spraying rig in action. He was dosing the fields behind and beside the allotment.

Then the breeze got up.

“Roundup,” muttered my allotment neighbour crossly, he who also happens to be an agricultural consultant of many years standing. “Just look how it’s drifting.” It was definitely coming our way. We don’t use weed killer so we had a mutual humph. What else could we do?

Roundup is the most widely sold weed killer in the world. It’s  main active ingredient is glyphosate, but it is also combined with a number of apparently inert adjuvants. These are substances that are added to accelerate,  prolong or enhance the action of the main ingredient.  Adjuvants are also added to vaccines for similar reasons, but that’s another story.

Here’s what Britain’s Soil Association has to say about Montsanto’s glyphosate. If you follow this link, and feel so minded, you can find out more and sign the petition to get it banned. And just to spur you on:

…glyphosate can follow the grain into our food. Tests by the Defra* Committee on Pesticide Residues in Food (PRiF) found that almost two thirds of wholemeal bread sampled contained glyphosate.

* Defra is the UK Government Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

As to actual health risk, the World Health Organisation seems to be at odds with itself as to whether glyphosate is more of danger through external exposure or as residues in our food. Even so, I find it alarming that according to The Guardian, urine samples taken from 48 Members of the European Parliament showed that

all had glyphosate traces in their bodies, with the average concentration being 1.7 micrograms a litre, 17 times above the limit for drinking water.

But whatever its full effects prove to be, I’m with the The Green Party’s MEP for the south-west of England when she says:

With ongoing controversy over the health risks of glyphosate, we can be quite sure it has no place in the human body. We hold concerns for its impact on biodiversity, with evidence of glyphosate having detrimental impacts on the honey bee, monarch butterfly, skylark and earthworm populations, and posing a threat to the quality of our soil.

Molly Scott Cato MEP

Well why would I, or anyone want to eat weed killer?

From My Window ~ Black & White Sunday

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According to the old tithe maps the field behind our house was known as Townsend Meadow, and for obvious reasons: it lies on the north end of town directly below Wenlock Edge. For nearly a year now Shropshire Council has been building a large attenuation pond just over the brow of this hill. The objective is to reduce the effect of flash flooding, holding back storm water that runs off surrounding hills, turns all the roads and brooks into rivers which then converge in the centre of Much Wenlock.

In July 2007, over fifty houses in the town were badly flooded. Ours was fortunate not to be one of them; although our house is built into the foot of this hill, the main burden of run off flows around rather than through our property.

The fence in this photo was the first thing to go up before work on the pond began. The tree that appears to be in the corner is a piece of ‘borrowed  landscape’ and is actually some distance away in the field hedgerow. And the rooks were just passing.

Before the fence went  up I did not particularly notice the tree, but now I like the way this visual convergence gives an accent to what before was a rather featureless wheat field.

It was even more exciting when the big digger moved in.

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copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

 

Black & White Sunday  This week Paula’s challenge is STRUCTURE

Back To The Stiperstones ~ Or Slow Under The Surface, And What On Earth Were The Luftwaffe Doing Here?

This week at Lost in Translation, Paula’s prompt is ‘SLOW’. So here is another vista from our recent trip to South Shropshire’s Stiperstones (see also the previous post.) And the reason I’ve chosen it is because I cannot think of anything slower than the trans-global  journey of the landmass on which these hills sit. It has been travelling an inch a year for 450 million years, moving up from its source on the southern shores of the Iapetus Sea, 60 degrees south of the equator and roughly where the Indian Ocean is today. I’m not sure if the land beneath our feet is still heading north, or if one day Shropshire will be in the Arctic.

That’s quite a thought.

The other aspect of slow-going to be seen in these photos is the gradual weathering of the folded, upthrust former beach from which this 5-mile ridge is mostly formed. Much of the shaping began with the last Ice Age when the glaciers extended across Shropshire.

A far more recent, and somewhat bizarre reshaping apparently took place during World War 2, when the Luftwaffe, flying over the north end of the Stiperstones, mistook the rocks of the Devil’s Chair outcrop for a town with ammunition dumps, and duly bombed the place. How they came to this conclusion is hard to understand. Even in the heyday of the local lead mining industry, the communities were small and sparse and tucked into hillsides and valleys. There has never been a town in these parts. Perhaps in the dark the strangely glowing quartzite exercised some mystical, mystifying interference in pilot perception. Who knows?

It is anyway another good yarn to add to the tales of witchcraft and devilry that, in the human imagination of ages, enmesh these bleak uplands.

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We certainly saw no signs of bombing, though it might be hard to spot among the heaps of fragmenting quartzite. These particular shots were taken at Cranberry Rocks at the southerly end of the Stiperstones. We did not make it as far as the Devil’s Chair; it was too hard underfoot and too windy. But we do mean to make another visit one day soon, and tackle the hill from the northern end. We just have to remember not to go when mist threatens, or we might come on the Devil himself, brooding nastily on his craggy, Luftwaffe-remodelled throne.

 

copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

July’s Changing Seasons ~ To Shropshire’s Mysterious Stiperstones

It is a wild and brooding place, one of the strangest in South Shropshire’s hill country. For one thing the Devil has his chair there, and when the mist comes down, this is where he sits – brimming with pent-up malevolence but unseen by us mortals.

We did not encounter mist on Saturday when we ventured there so we assumed the Devil was out. But there were lowering skies, a near absence of light and the threat of rain. Oh yes, and wind, that somehow caused a discontinuity of function between brain and feet, so making the trek over moorland paths strewn with quartzite cobbles somewhat hazardous.

The Stiperstones ridge extends 5 miles (8 km), and at its highest point on Manstone Rock is 1700 feet (536 metres) above sea level.  Standing on the top you can look west across the great expanse of Wales, and on clear days see Snowdon and Cader Idris mountains. Turn east, and you can scan across the Long Mynd to north east Shropshire and far, far beyond.

The ridge has ancient origins and half the world away, some 60 degrees south of the equator. It probably began existence as a quartz sand beach laid down by a shallow sea during the Ordovician, some 495-443 million years ago. Thereafter the landmass moved one inch a year for the next 450 million years to reach its present location 50 degrees north of the equator. A slow, slow journey, then, of 7,500 miles.

You might think, as you look at succeeding images, that it doesn’t look much like a beach these days. In fact it has suffered much folding, sending the beach skywards, and tilting it at angles of 80 degrees in places. Along its length are a series of  quartzite tors described by the eminent Victorian geologist, Murchison, as ‘rugged Cyclopean ruins’ (The Silurian System 1854). Besides the Devil’s Chair and Manstone Rocks there are also Diamond Rock, Cranberry Rock, Nipstone Rock and several other eye-catching outcrops.

The place is also described as ‘relict landscape’, one that is undergoing continuous weathering. What we see today was mostly shaped during the last Ice Age when the quartzite was locked in permafrost. Moisture seeped into the cracks, and as it froze, expanded, causing the rock to fissure and fragment.

The moors below the ridge-top are rich in whinberries and cowberries, and so provided food and grazing for human populations from at least the Bronze Age. These people from prehistory left us their burial monuments – stone cairns along the hill’s spine. Then around 100 CE the Romans arrived, avidly searching of silver, but mostly mining lead, and smelting it in hillside boles to provide material to line their plunge pools, make water pipes, cover roofs, construct their coffins, and for the craftsmen of Wroxeter Roman City to use in the production of pewter.

Down succeeding centuries lead mining expanded dramatically. The flanks of the Stiperstones are littered with adits and the mine shafts that featured so dramatically in Mary Webb’s Gone To Earth.  One of the biggest concerns, Snailbeach Mine, started at the foot of the hill in 1783, employed 500 workers at its height. For a century and more, then, the wild countryside was also a filthy industrial zone of delving, massive spoil heaps, steam-pumping engines and hard-worked men and boys.

Yet somehow this phase too has somehow welded itself into the mythic fabric of the landscape, an impression heightened by the strange visual effect of Stiperstones quartzite – that it somehow looks black against the light, when in fact it is grey and speckled with ice white crystals.

And on that note I’ll leave you with the words of Much Wenlock’s Mary Webb, whose writerly landscape this very much was – and in all senses. This quote is from The Golden Arrow:

The whole countryside was acquiring in his eyes something portentous, apocalyptic. For the personality of a man reacting upon the spirit of a place produces something which is neither the man nor the  place, but fiercer or more beautiful than either. This third entity, born of the union,  becomes a  power and a haunting presence – non-human, non-material.

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copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

Changing Seasons – Please visit Max for this month’s jaw-dropping vistas from his trekking trip to the Romsdalseggen: not for the faint-hearted.

Windswept On Llanddwyn Island

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I’ve chosen a very literal interpretation of Paula’s theme at Black & White Sunday. First of all I thought you could not get any ‘lower-lying’ than at sea level, at least not without immersion in said sea. And then I thought of Marram grass being laid low in the gale, and how I was attracted by its bowing texture.

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And then I thought of the sand beneath our feet:

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These photos were taken last Christmas on a beach walk to Llanddwyn Island on Anglesey, North Wales. You can see more about the island HERE.

 

Black & White Sunday: low-lying

Looking Out From Wenlock Edge ~ One Subject Two Formats

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You can see why this part of Shropshire falls within an Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty. These shots were taken on the viewpoint just past Hilltop on Wenlock Edge and I’m looking south-west towards the Shropshire Hills. You can see, too, why poet, A E Housman called them ‘blue remembered hills’. They seem like a memory even if you have never clapped eyes on them before.

And so when presented with the kind of blissful panoramic views that the Edge provides, it is tempting to try to capture all of it. And that usually does not work, not unless the light is perfect, and your photographic skills are considerably greater than mine. Even this landscape view is only a small segment of the 180 degree vista. I chose it because I liked the visual flow of man-made fields towards the grassy uplands, and the here-and-there accents of hedgerow and woodland; the many shades of green.  Also, despite the millennia of human intervention here, you can still discern the landscape’s natural rhythms beneath the pastoral surface.

It’s a soothing scene to look AT. But the portrait version, I feel, is doing something rather different. It invites you into the landscape as if stepping through a door; it is therefore more actively affecting. Just my thoughts anyway. Also a thank you to Paula for stirring us up to think about the different effects of landscape and portrait composition.

 

Thursday’s Special: Portrait vs Landscape

Thursday’s Special ~ Pick-A-Word At Penmon Point

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This buoy at Penmon Point, on the Menai Strait in Anglesey tells shipping to be vigilant – the channel between the main island and Puffin Island is too shallow for passage. The lighthouse says so too in a big notice on its topmost white stripe (out of shot):

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This month Paula’s pick a word at Lost in Translation includes: branching, vigilant, pomp, hooked and continual. So I’m laying claim to them all – distantly branching wind turbines off the Great Orme, the need to be vigilant in these waters, the hooked profile of the bay, and the continual ebb and flow of the tide. And as for pomp, well I think the lighthouse has plenty of it.

But for a truly outstanding interpretation of these prompts, please visit Paula, and enjoy her Venetian gallery.

Serpent’s Eye View From Llandudno’s Great Orme And A Spot Of Lamb Retrieval

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It was Monday morning, and here we were cresting the head of a sea serpent – the mighty Welsh marine worm. At least that’s what how the invading Vikings saw Llandudno’s Great Orme, and named it accordingly.

It is indeed an extraordinary craggy eminence that juts into the Celtic Sea, very much like a gigantic head. Amazingly, too, you can drive to the top, and see mountain mirages like this one. I’m looking south down the coast of North Wales, and this real-life illusion took little editing apart from cropping and reducing the brightness.

And now that I’m looking again at this still, blue scene, it is hard to believe it was blowing a gale as I took this photo.

Next are a couple of windscreen shots as we ascend and descend – rather more mythic edits this time and in keeping with this amazing slice of 300 million year old geology:

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And now we come to Operation  Lamb Rescue –  a kind man restoring very little twins to their mother. They had slipped down the bank towards the road, and couldn’t climb back up. So this was more nightmare than illusion – but with a happy ending:

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Finally, a distant view of the sea serpent, taken from Anglesey on a still, but warm day in late December, when yet again Wales was in dreamy illusion mode. Perhaps we imagined it – the Great Orme, the mighty worm, snaking its way across the Menai Strait:

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In this week’s Thursday’s Special, Paula asks us for illusions however we wish to present them.

The Changing Seasons ~ March

This first photo sums up our best  March highlight so far – a trip to Ludlow a couple of weeks ago – a day of near summer weather where we sat out at a pavement cafe without coats, and had a delicious pasta and spicy clam lunch; followed a couple of hours later by afternoon tea and cake at the riverside Green Cafe, where we were still outside and coatless. Bliss. Ducks in companionable clumps were sunbathing on the river islands, the River Teme was teeming over the weir, the more active ducks were using it as a duck chute, and people and dogs were lazing about the place, soaking up the sun. The whole day seemed like a dream.

But now we are not dreaming, for if March came in like a lamb, then today it is definitely in lion mode – all biting, icy teeth, and I’m being a weak and feeble woman, and failing to gird myself for an allotment visit. It’s much more pleasant to assemble a gallery of warm-day-out photos. Welcome to Ludlow, South Shropshire’s loveliest market town:

 

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copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

To take part in The Changing Seasons challenge, please visit Max over at Cardinal Guzman. The rules are simple, and you get to see Max’s photo shoots around Oslo.