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

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.

Taking The Back Roads In The Shropshire Hills

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My home county of Shropshire is farming territory and so, with only two main towns (Shrewsbury and Telford), five smaller towns, and very many villages, hamlets and isolated farms, there are far more by-ways than highways. Sometimes the back roads start off well, asphalt sealed and marked on the map, only to deliver you, after much meandering, into a farmyard midden or sheep field. This is a particular feature of the upland tracts of the South Shropshire Hills. Sometimes, too, after you’ve been driving on a narrow lane for several miles, thinking you are well on course, you may find the tarmac sprouting weeds. Sometimes it runs out of asphalt altogether yet clearly progresses as a dirt track that must go somewhere. Other times it may simply devolve to a footpath with retreat the only option.

The top photo shows the great divide between the north and south of the county. In the foreground is a hill lane crossing the Long Mynd. The vista beyond is the North Shropshire Plain which in due course runs into the Cheshire Plain, fertile dairy terrain both. By contrast, the hill country is very much about sheep.

The next location is definitely the haunt of sheep, but also of walkers, day-outing picnickers and school parties studying environmental matters. This is Carding Mill Valley, the largest of several combes that cut into the Long Mynd’s flanks, and thus through some of the world’s oldest geology.  This particular lane may begin looking intentional, but then it simply gives up and becomes a rock strewn defile with trickling streamside accompaniment. Boots not wheels for onward progress.

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Now we have moved on across the Long Mynd, and are looking at its westerly slopes as seen from Shropshire’s most mysterious hill country, the Stiperstones, place of mine shafts and lead workings. One of the Stiperstones’ craggy tops is said to host the Devil and his court whenever the fog descends. Such be-misted gatherings of wicked entities obviously won’t enjoy views like this one.

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These next three views are of and around the Stiperstones: gorse along the lanes in high summer, and heather blooming on the hillsides.

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We’re close to the Welsh border now. Corndon Hill in the background, and the white lane we’ve driven along…

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…which then becomes one of those tracks that still looks to be going somewhere. In fact as we left the car to walk, we were passed by a police patrol car. It sped by us over the hill in a manner that suggested routine activity, doubtless taking the unpaved route into Wales.

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We weren’t going that far, at least not terrestrially, though we were going back in time, following 6,000 year-old footsteps to Mitchell’s Fold, the remains of a Bronze Age stone circle.

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These final photos are closer to homes, the lanes below Wenlock Edge, near Easthope.

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Lens-Artists: along back country roads  Beth at Wandering Dawgs wants us to take to the by-ways.

Over The Garden Fence ~ The Monochrome Series

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I am much in love with black and white photography and often use the monochrome setting on my camera. My small Lumix Panasonic ‘point and shoot’ camera used to produce the best results, the current small Canon not so good. The photos here are a mix of original monochrome and converted colour shots featuring various views of Townsend Meadow in different seasons.

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Excavating the flood attenuation pond at the top of Townsend Meadow 2017

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Bringing in the wheat harvest

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Teasels

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Clouds over the Edge

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Lens-Artists: black and white   Anne at Slow Shutter Speed  wants to see black and white this week.

Night Comes To Sytche Lane Rookery

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This view of rookery wood was taken from my upstairs office window. The wood, mostly ash trees at the south end, is on the lane that runs beside Townsend Meadow. As the field name suggests, this area once marked Much Wenlock’s actual town boundary. At different seasons and times of day the rooks provide a favourite household diversion: watching the cohorts return at sunset, the aerial displays over the meadow, especially as autumn approaches, the caw-cawing racket as they fly in and out of the treetops while they sort themselves out for the night’s roost. Sometimes late on a summer’s night, with the window open, you can hear them chattering branch to branch. Sometimes you wish they would close their beaks and go to sleep.

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Tree Square #5

On Windmill Hill

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The old windmill is a much loved landmark, seen from many quarters as you approach Much Wenlock. To reach it you can take the Linden Walk which brings you to the wooded flanks of Shadwell hill. Or you can walk across the Linden Field to the far corner where there is an old iron gate that opens onto the well worn trail up to the windmill. It’s a steepish climb mind you, but at this time of year there’s plenty of reasons to stop and gaze: every few steps a fresh wildflower panorama to take in, the scents of summer grasses and of lady’s bedstraw.

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Along the path where the footfalls of Wenlock’s denizens have worn the topsoil to bare rock – wild thyme – a mass of tiny purple flowers, spills over the exposed limestone. There is also pale pink musk mallow, seemingly clinging to the most meagre soil cover. Then by contrast, on either side the path is an exuberant  floriferousness, typical of an unspoiled limestone meadow: a host of flowering grasses whose names, I’m sorry to say, I do not know, purple pyramidal orchids, pale yellow spires of agrimony, golden stars of St. John’s Wort, pink soapwort and pea flower, purple knapweed, yellow vetch and buttercups, pink and white striped bindweed, viper’s bugloss, musk thistles and clovers. One could spend all day up here and not see everything.

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Tree Square #4 This month Becky wants to see trees (header shot) in square format.

Blissful Linden Green

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Full flushed green and the air beneath filled with lime-flower scent – now is the moment when the Linden Walk is at its billowy, verdant best – the perfect resort for soothing overheated body, mind and spirit. What a treasure our long-ago town physician bequeathed us when he planted this avenue of  lime trees.

I think they must be the broad-leaved variety, Tilia platyphyllos , since they always start flowering in June, whereas the blossom of the Common Lime only gets going in July. But good for old Doctor William Penny Brookes who roused his chums to go tree planting some fifty years ago. Ever since, the trees have thrived on the limestone soil (an intriguing congruency of lime and lime), and in fact a Professor of Lime Trees who visited Much Wenlock some years ago to give them a health check, told us that, with care, they could last us another 150 years.

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Tree Square 1# For the month of July, Becky’s square extravaganza features the arboreal. The only ‘rule’ is the header photo must be squared.

It’s A Wonderful World: From Kenya’s Rift To Wenlock’s Edge

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Two landscapes a world apart, but for the most part both largely shaped by human endeavour. The first shot is one from the old Africa album: the Great Rift Valley just north of Nairobi. In the foreground is Escarpment, a faulted terrace of the Eastern Rift. The patchwork of fields are smallholdings – some 12 acres, others much smaller. This was one of the study areas for he-who-builds-sheds-and-greenhouses’ doctoral thesis on the smut fungus of Napier grass, an essential staple fodder crop for farmers who, for lack of pasture, zero-graze their cows and sheep (i.e. stock is kept in pens and paddocks and food is delivered to them).

Beyond Escarpment on the Rift floor you can see the yellow wheat fields of large-scale farming concerns. The last time we drove that way from Lake Naivasha there were zebra and other plains game helping themselves to the crop. Zebra in a wheat field? Now there was a sight to excite a Shropshire lass used only to seeing flights of greedy pigeons in her homeland fields.

The hazy peak in the distance is the old volcano, Longonot.

But that was then.

So now to Shropshire – a winter view from Wenlock Edge not far from home: farm fields and the Wrekin, which is not actually an old volcano but a hill composed of lava layers spewed from other volcanoes.

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Lens-Artists: wonderful

Barley Summer ~ Field Art Over The Fence

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What’s with the barley? Some may say I need to get out more.  Others may be quite mystified by my fascination with this summer’s crop in Townsend Meadow behind the house. In my defence I have to say that this particular grain is so very lovely on the stem. Also this is the first year it’s been grown in the field while we have lived here. And then there’s the fact that barley-growing has great heritage: around 10,000 years ago its evolution played a key role in the development of hunter-humans to farmer-humans; the wild grasses (including wheat) of the Middle Eastern plains transforming themselves into useful food crops. This happened (most probably) by some accidental selection wherein some plants for some reason failed to shed their grains as their wild forebears did, and so could be harvested. Then it was discovered (again perhaps by accident) that any of a stored crop not eaten could be saved and sown and produce similarly cooperative plants. It was the beginning of settled living – the creation and management of fields.

These days in the UK, barley is still a common food staple. But most important of all, when malted, it is an essential ingredient in the making of British ale. And until fairly modern times ale was the drink of necessity, even for children, in the absence of clean water supplies. So: now you’ve had the barley-praise. Here are the pictures.

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Copyright 2021 Tish Farrell