After The Storm: Big Skies On Wenlock Edge

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Late afternoon yesterday, calm restored after Storm Francis’s racketing about the place, we took ourselves off and up for a walk along the Edge. It was scarcely a hike, more of a ramble, though the climb up through the fields beyond Sytche Lane is a touch demanding. But then that gives me a good excuse for a breather while I snap a view of the town.

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This flank of Wenlock Edge has been good wheat growing land for centuries, but this year, in the fields that could not be harvested early, the crop is looking grey and mildewed. Too much rain when it was least expected. I suppose it will be ploughed in. The hedgerows, on the other hand, were bursting with wild produce: wall to wall sloes (wild bitter damsons) which, after a good frost or a spell in the freezer, are excellent for making sloe gin or vodka; brilliant red haws on the hawthorn bushes; elderberries and rosehips beginning to ripen. All very autumnal.

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Turning away from the town to the south: Clee Hill.

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Once up on Wenlock Edge, and now heading in a northerly direction we come upon a view we had not seen before. Something was missing since the last time we were here – which just goes to show that we should go rambling more often. So what’s missing: guesses anyone? Clue: Ironbridge Gorge dead ahead.

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From this point the path along the Edge runs out flat and even, fields on the right, ancient hanging woodland on the left where the escarpment falls alarmingly away to the Shropshire plain below. I thought of A.E. Housman’s poem ‘On Wenlock Edge’, (number 31 in A Shropshire Lad) and wished I’d come up here on the morning of the storm. It would have been exciting – all thrashing boughs and wind rush:

On Wenlock Edge the wood’s in trouble;
His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves;
The gale, it plies the saplings double,
And thick on Severn snow the leaves.

And finally, since Housman has kindly provided the caption, coming up is the Wrekin, as seen from the homeward path.

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There’s an Iron Age hillfort on the summit, once a stronghold of the Celtic Cornovii clans who inhabited the Welsh borders and English Midlands. After the Roman occupation, the local Cornovii became the Romanized inhabitants of Wroxeter/Viroconium Roman City whose remnants still survive (just off-screen to the left) beside the River Severn. The Wrekin itself, as all locals know, was made by a very grumpy giant called Gwendol. You can read my version of that story HERE.

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I’m linking this to Jo’s Monday Walk: she is an inspiration to all of us to get rambling. This week’s expedition includes some very fine Portuguese Roman remains at Mirobriga, an archaeological site which also has Iron Age connections.

Look Out: Here Comes The Wind!

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This morning over the fence the guerrilla garden was all of a frenzy, the helianthus being whipped hither and thither as Storm Francis started to make his presence felt. The odd thing was the wind was warm, and it was rather marvellous to stand in it. Exhilarating even. Left one feeling well swept in the mentally cobwebbed department.

Now though in early evening we have lowering cloud banks over the Edge and intermittent lashings of rain. Francis is still blustering about but only with 40 mph gusts, or so the weather folks tell me. We’re lucky here in inland Shropshire. Out on the coast there have been 70+mph winds and much flooding and damage. It makes me wonder with all this year’s upset and turbulence: did some entity out in the universe open Pandora’s Box back in January?

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Can’t See The Wood For The Trees?

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These photos were taken on an October morning not so long ago – on the path to Croft Ambrey Hillfort from Croft Castle in our neighbouring county of Herefordshire.

The old saying of not seeing the wood for the trees has deep resonance now. We need to start seeing. The Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine in Oxford is a good spot for some illumination; lots of informed common sense on matters covid from Professor Carl Heneghan who is also a practising doctor.

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Cee’s Black & White Challenge: wood

August Over The Edge And Faraway

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Sunday afternoon, and the sudden need for fresh horizons spurred us out the door to explore parts of Wenlock Edge we cannot reach on foot from the house. The escarpment, wooded for the most part, is some twenty miles long, and though crisscrossed from end to end with paths and bridleways, we are not committed walkers of the long-distance variety, more amblers than ramblers. The expedition thus required a short car sprint – along the Edge from Much Wenlock and a sharp turn left in Longville-in-the-Dale for Wilderhope Manor. This Tudor mansion sits above Hope Dale, its back to the Edge. It is owned by the National Trust but run by the Youth Hostel Association, and its car park is handy for a number of cross-country paths.

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The house was built in the 1580s for one Francis Smallman and it was a Smallman scion, Major Thomas Smallman, who, during the Civil War (1642-51, Charles 1 versus Oliver Cromwell) performed a feat of dashing bravery. He was a staunch Royalist and when he learned that the Roundhead army was approaching Wilderhope he mounted his horse and headed for Shrewsbury, a dozen miles away, to warn the Royalist forces there.

The Roundheads followed, and in a bid to escape them, the Major and horse took a flying leap off Wenlock Edge. Sadly the horse did not survive the 200 foot drop, but by a stroke of luck the Major’s fall was broken by a wild cherry tree (or apple tree depending on which version you read). He thus completed his mission on foot, rousing the Royalist forces who launched an attack at Wilderhope. The Major apparently bequeathed us his ghostly presence, said to be seen by some still plunging over the precipice on horseback. The supposed spot, ‘Major’s Leap’, is now a popular viewpoint.

But enough dawdling. Back to the walk. We had decided to follow a 2 mile stretch of the Jack Mytton Way which itself is a 70-mile foot and cycle path named after another local personality, Mad Jack Mytton, a somewhat surprising association for a facility promoting healthful pursuits. Mytton, born into wealthy Shropshire squirearchy in 1796, died in Southwark debtors’ prison at the age of 37, a drunken, spendthrift, philanderin’, huntin’, roisterin’ rake of the first water who, it is said, claimed to have seen a mermaid in the River Severn. Not following in his footsteps then!

The path from Wilderhope starts off on the farm drive, passing through pasture and a very fine herd of Hereford-Friesian cattle who gave us the once over as we passed.

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Then it was across the lane into the wheat field. This (and the header view) is Hope Dale looking from Wenlock Edge with Corve Dale and the Clee Hills in the distance

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At the field boundary the path heads into Coats Wood, and the rest of our walk to Roman Bank is under dappled shade: oak, ash, beech, an ancient yew, field maple, holly, birch, lime, rowan, the odd sycamore, and many coppiced hazel trees. The woods that covered all of Wenlock Edge in ancient times were a valuable resource for fuel gathering, timber cutting and stock grazing and, in the Middle Ages every township within a mile of the Edge (most of Saxon origin) had common rights there.

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Coppicing is the ancient practice of cutting a tree’s main trunk so encouraging the growth of multiple upright stems. These were used in hurdle making for fencing in farmstock, stakes for hedge laying, for bean poles, basket making, and in early times before forges and furnaces ran on coke, to make charcoal. These days coppicing has been re-introduced in a bid to manage woodland sprawl and encourage the re-establishment of dormouse populations.

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It was mid-afternoon by the time we retraced our steps. There was a sense of somnolent wildlife stirring. (All had been silent on the outward meander). Blackbirds were bobbing about in the leaf litter, and overhead we heard ravens cronking. Then as I was surveying an area of coppiced hazel, I found two roe deer looking back at us. They melted away – woodland ghosts. But the fleeting glimpse made us glad we had stirred ourselves to take a trip out, this even though we had managed to miss lunch and were by then very hungry. But even that was catered for. On the Wilderhope Manor drive we found a wild cherry tree hanging in delicious dark fruit, and later I wondered if the National Trust had planted the it as a reminder of Major Smallman’s heroic leap. And next there were apples, astonishingly early, but all the better for being scrumped.

 

 

copyright 2020 Tish Farrell

Through My Great Grandmother’s Eyes? ~ Ancestral Perspectives

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Well I like to think my great grandmother, Mary Ann Fox, might have looked through the hole in this old Derbyshire gatepost on her way from Callow Farm to Hathersage village. The post stands beside a path she would have known well until 1886 when, at the age of 23, and apparently already betrothed to the local squire,  she ran off with a city type, a Bolton spindle manufacturer, Tom Shorrocks.

The High Peak of her homeland was by no means a rural idyll, although it looks so today. Alongside stock rearing and subsistence agriculture, small landowner-tenant farmers like the Foxes had for centuries engaged in other trades. Lead and fluorspar mining were mainstays of the area. So was the making of millstones up on Stanage Edge, though not so much for wheat grinding since the local gritstone discoloured the flour, but for pulping wood and crushing the lead ore for the smelting houses. The grind-stones also served the cutlery industry in nearby Sheffield and stones for wood pulping were exported to North America and Russia.

Hathersage, then (seen distantly here through the gate post), has a busy industrial past. From Tudor times it was the centre of wire-drawing, at first for making sieves for miners, and later for pins and needles. By Mary Ann’s day there were 5 such mills there, all powered by steam, their chimneys gushing out fumes that would have hung over the Derwent Valley. By then, too, the railway had arrived, the line from Manchester to Sheffield passing through land once owned by her grandfather. So, as I say, this was no rural idyll, but a community of industry and enterprise of the sort that had characterized High Peak farming families for generations. Growing and stock rearing might put food on the table, but farming did not bring the kind of prosperity that a rich seam of lead could be expected to yield.

But I do wonder if Mary Ann was not shocked to find herself in the little terraced villa on Kildare Street in Farnworth, (part of Greater Manchester), there in a maze of town streets, far from the far-reaching uplands she would have seen every day from Callow Farm. Did she miss these views? She certainly told my grandmother about crossing the River Derwent stepping stones on her way into Hathersage. And she told how she never forgave her father for taking away her pony, this because she would not desist from jumping the 5-bar gate at the end of the lane. He feared for her life. She mourned only her pony’s loss, back-broken by the overweight farmer who had bought it from her father.

Perhaps she had good reason to leave. Perhaps the squire of Abney was not to her taste. Perhaps city life was more exciting. From my perspective it is too easy to be overly sentimental about the loss of this landscape; one that I find so beguiling. It wasn’t really like this in great grandmother’s day. As L.P. Hartley says in the opening of his novel The Go-Between:  “The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.”

Square Perspectives #7

Windmill? What Windmill? Perspectives Through Time And Space

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Those of you who come here often will know that Windmill Hill is my home town’s much loved landmark. Lucky for me it is only a five minute walk from the house, and that the walk there is mostly through the Linden Field (with its Linden Walk) where, from the 1850s the Wenlock Olympian Games, devised by William Penny Brookes, the town’s physician, were held every summer. In fact they still are an annual event, and should have been happening any day now, but for the pandemic panic.

Back in the Victorian era there were no large trees around the field as there are today and the slopes of Windmill Hill provided spectators with fine views of contesting hurdlers, hammer throwers and stone putters (featuring only local limestone quarry men and lime burners), football and cricket matches, tilting at the ring (lances wielded on horseback), long and high jumping, sprinting and cricket ball throwing. Needless to say these events did not feature women though there were knitting and sewing competitions for girls. And one year there was an ‘old woman’ race, for which the prize was a pound of tea.

Windmill Hill in 1850s

The above photo shows the Wenlock Olympian Games in action in 1867. I could find no copyright notice for it. It appears, source unacknowledged, in Much Wenlock Windmill  by M J Norrey.

And here’s a more recent scene with the William Penny Brookes Academy on the left and some of its pupils during soccer practice. The oaks at the foot of Windmill Hill have all been planted to commemorate various events associated with the Olympian Games.

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The windmill itself is a bit of mystery. The Windmill Trust who take care of it have done extensive research, and although there are documents from the 1540s onwards relating to successive land owners (i.e. post the 1540 dissolution of Wenlock Priory, the original landowner), there is no information that is absolutely specific to the windmill. Physical surveys of the present tower, however, did uncover two dates of 1655 and 1657 carved within the stone construction layers, but there were no clues as to the kind of milling gear and superstructure that may once have existed here.

Here’s what the inside looks like. These were taken on an ‘open day’ a few years ago:

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And here’s a cropped long-shot evening view taken from allotment three summers ago when oil seed rape was flowering in Townsend Meadow.

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Square Perspective #5

A Curious Perspective

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There is a particular time (just now) when the wheat in Townsend Meadow, having grown its tallest, conjoins with a particular spot along my homeward path from the allotment. Together they cause the rooftops on Sytche Lane to look like this.

Note to self: must remember to take another shot when the wheat has turned to gold.

Square Perspective #1  For the month of July, Becky challenges us to show her some perspective – contrive it how we will, just so long as it’s in square format.

Quietness In Times Of ‘Isolation’

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In these corona days people who live alone may well feel they have had far too much quietness thrust upon them, while many family members, forced together into states of furlough, home working and home schooling, may long for some personal space and silence. In either case heartfelt commiserations are due. Meanwhile here in Wenlock we are lucky to have many peaceful spots, and though they are a little busier than in pre-lockdown days, there is still a chance for some quiet meandering, and especially here along the Linden Walk. These photos were taken a few weeks ago during the lime trees’ first flush.

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Mostly, though, we Farrells hardly need to leave our little domain for our ‘quiet moments’. He who is presently constructing a scratch model vintage Great Western Railway wagon has his shed in one corner of the garden, whither soft strains of classical music and the whirring of the lathe waft out over the flower beds. That or the sounds of heavy man-pondering.

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At the other end of the garden we both have the benefit of the garden fence to lean on, which we do often with a mid-morning cup of coffee or a sundowner glass of wine, while surveying the sky, the field, the guerrilla garden or saying hello to the odd passer by. At times we can stand in the field and chat (loudly) with the next door neighbours, who have been sheltering for medical reasons, over their garden fence.

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Near the back gate, between the honeysuckle and the Smoke Bush there is also the old Seat of Wisdom. This particular facility serves all who sit on it with a dousing of sage essence, this from the bush that insists on growing through the back of the seat no matter how many times we cut it back or move the seat. Recently we have let it get on with it, now certain that this ad hoc herbal treatment is most beneficial for body, mind and spirit. In fact I seem to remember sage figured largely in medicinal remedies during times of the  Plague.

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Finally on the daily-quiet-resort front there’s the field path to the allotment, which a little like Charles Darwin’s thinking path, though without the angst of evolutionary rumination, is a good place for my own brand of heavy pondering – on matters horticultural, or indeed for some silent ranting about the state of life, the universe and everything. For here’s the paradox: despite the immense good fortune of having at hand all these lovely places for peaceful contemplation, I can still feel another lockdown-regime rant coming on.  Time to head to the allotment then – execute a few weeds.

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Lens-Artists: A Quiet Moment  This week Patti invites us to capture peaceful interludes, places for reflection and the recharging flagging spirits.