Harebells Colonize An Old Industrial Wasteland

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This photo was taken at Snailbeach Mine in the wilds of the Shropshire Hills. From the 1780s through the nineteenth century this was the most productive lead mine in the world, employing over 300 workers. But the history of lead mining in the area is much older than this, and for centuries the mineral was mined all over the nearby Stiperstones hills.

The Romans were certainly here. They left behind a great lead ingot weighing over 87 kilos and impressed with the inscription ‘IMP HADRIANI AVG’. This meant that not only did it belong to the Emperor Hadrian, but also that Snailbeach was an imperial mine between the years of his rule, 117-138 A.D.

The Romans used lead for water pipes, cooking vessels, paint and to sheath the hulls of ships.  Of course some of these purposes proved highly toxic to the users.

And it is now hard to imagine an association between something as hard, industrially wrought and poisonous as lead and these delicate harebells that seem to thrive on the waste ground near the mine ruins. In fact this whole area, with conservationists’ help,  has been so reclaimed by wildlife it is now part of the Stiperstones Site of Special Scientific Interest. The birdlife of the area includes red grouse, ravens, buzzards, peregrine falcons, curlew and the rare ring ouzel. There  are grayling and green hairstreak butterflies, fox and emperor moths. The vegetation includes heather, cowberries, whinberries and rare mountain pansies.

It is so heartening, isn’t it, when so much on the planet seems environmentally challenged. Here in this corner of Shropshire at least, the natural world has overcome – reclaiming this once poisonous, highly industrial environment.

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For those of you interested in mining history there is more about Snailbeach HERE and HERE. The latter link includes lots of useful teaching information and has a great video of aerial views of the area, which is anyway worth a look if you want to see more of this fascinating part of Shropshire.

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DP Daily Prompt: overcome

After The Harvest Around Much Wenlock

It’s the brief window of opportunity that comes when the wheat has been cut, and we Wenlockians can go in for a bit of unbridled scampering in the fields. Well, if not scampering exactly, at least walking up the hill behind the house for some fresh vistas of the town and its surroundings. I need to be quick. If past years are anything to go by, the ground will be harrowed and re-sown in the blink of an eye, so while I have the chance, I’m passing on some post-harvest views. I’ll also leave you with a paradox, because although we have good views around the town, within it there is an officially recognised deficiency in public open space; many of the footpaths that we use are permissive, that is to say, they are open only at the landowner’s discretion. In more ways than are often realised, feudal England, with its roots in patterns of Saxon landownership, still remains.

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Here you can see three of the town’s medieval relics, from middle left to right: the priory ruins, the priory gate tower, and the parish church that was once part of the priory. The town grew up around the priory, its residents subject to its rule, both in terms of paying tithes and providing labour. The monastic domain was considerable, based on the possessions of the 7th century Saxon Abbess Milburga. Her lands extended several miles – beyond the River Severn and the Ironbridge Gorge and into Madeley in Telford in one direction, and to Broseley, near Bridgnorth in the other. She was also the daughter of a Mercian king, and the setting up of religious houses ruled by princesses appears to have been a common and cunning Saxon strategy for maintaining control over the territory claimed by their regional kingdoms. After the dissolution of the monasteries in 1542, the monastic estate was sold off to members of Henry VIII’s court and merchant opportunists. Today, most of the land around the town is still in the possession of two large landowners. We are however fortunate that a good stretch of Wenlock Edge is owned by the National Trust which provides everyone with free access to a very special place.

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The Red House, and a ghostly farm labourer off for an evening pint at the George and Dragon Inn?

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I’m old enough to remember the days when the post-harvest straw was stacked in teepee-like stooks, and the wheat grains had to be detached from their ears in a hulk-like threshing machine. The farmer whose house we rented when we lived in Cheshire, would have the itinerant threshing man park his contraption the other side of our garden wall. I remember a sense of menace when I looked out of the bedroom window and find it had arrived. Once in action, it would throb hideously all day, spewing out great storms of petrol fumes and wheat dust.

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Didn’t Rumpelstiltskin spin this stuff into gold?

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Six Word Saturday

The Weather On The Edge ~ Black & White Sunday

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I often snap this view before I dive through the gap in the field hedge and into the allotment. I’ve said before how fascinated I am by the movement of weather beyond the brow of the hill. Sometimes I think it looks as unreal as a theatre backdrop, and especially so on blue-sky days. But as I am writing this, the sky is leaden, and the air full of chaff from the combine harvester as it thunders up and down the hill. Farm machinery these days is so over-sized and overbearing, the wheat cut and threshed in one process. The whole field will be cleared in an hour.

Anyway, that’s beside the point. This is an exercise in photo-editing, courtesy of Paula at Black & White Sunday. This week she asks us to show her a colour photo that has been transformed into monochrome – and ‘after and before’. Below is the original:

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Please visit Paula at the link above for more afters and befores.

Changing Seasons ~ Is It August Or Autumn In Much Wenlock?

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Much like this thistle down in the field behind the allotment gardens,  I’m feeling wind-blown; swept off course somehow; as if I’ve woken from a Rip Van Winkle deep-sleep and found myself in another time. I’m not the only one either. Others I’ve spoken to feel equally unsettled and disorientated.

One moment, around mid-June we were having sun-shiny suppers out in the garden, the evenings still warm after sunset; summer stretching  ahead and full of promise.

Next it was all change – to cool, wet and windy. It seems as if autumn  has been here for weeks. The fields above the town are harvested and already ploughed. The still-standing wheat has a grey look as if it has been  left in the field too long (or had too much Roundup). The apple trees are shedding apples, leaves are turning colour,  and the Linden Walk has browning drifts of fallen lime tree seeds.

The question is: has autumn come to stay, or will there be another shot of summer just when we least expect it. In November maybe?

 

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The Changing Seasons Please visit Max for his take on Norway’s changing season, and also to catch up with the challenge rules.

“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.