Monochrome Favourites

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Ash trees at St. Brides Castle, Pembrokeshire

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This week Cee says we can pick our own black and white images. These are some of my favourite shots of Welsh winter scenes.

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Llanddwyn Island, Anglesey

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Farm fence, Aberffraw, Anglesey

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P1060515edWinter dawn, Menai Strait, Anglesey

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Family gathering, Penmon Point, Anglesey

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Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: favourites

Iced

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For anyone currently suffering any kind of over-heating, herewith some cooling images of frosted ferns. These photos were taken a few Decembers ago during a sudden frigid spell in Hay-on-Wye, widely known as the book capitol of the world. We’d planned a long weekend there – a brief trip out of Shropshire and into Powys. It was only an hour or so’s drive. Up to the moment we set off, we’d had mild winter weather, but even as we stopped for a cup of tea half way in scenic Eardisland, we could feel the bank of cold, cold air closing in.

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And so it proved to be three nights of cold comfort.  On one of them the central heating system in our inn failed altogether. In between times a gale blew through the place as no one thought to shut the doors. Nor thought to light the log burning stove in the bar while we ate our evening meal. Street wandering could only be undertaken in small doses. Or at least that was our excuse for popping into Eve’s for regular rescue infusions of hot chocolate. Thank goodness, too, for Hay’s many hostelries that were far more welcoming than ours and for Richard Booth’s bookshop with its big squidgy sofas to camp out in.

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Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: hot or cold

Stranger Than Fiction

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And Shropshire’s Stiperstones with its brooding Devil’s Chair outcrop has indeed provided the setting for several works of fiction: the novels of Mary Webb, Malcolm Saville’s still popular Lone Pine adventure stories for children, and also D.H. Lawrence’s novella St. Mawr. And naturally, given its dramatic looks, it also features in local myths and legends, particularly those associated with Wild Edric, the Saxon earl who refused to surrender his lands to the Norman invaders and stirred up rebellion, allying himself with the Welsh princes of Gwynedd and Powys just over the border.

In real life it is an utterly strange place. These photos were taken on a summer’s day, but somehow, when we reached the hilltop, the light leached away. Even so, the grey-white quartzite outcrops seemed to have an unsettling luminosity.  The photos I took using the monochrome setting on my camera are especially other worldly. There also appears to be an odd patch of mist on the next photo. I can’t explain it.

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And in colour, too, the landscape’s disturbing presence is scarcely diminished:

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Lens-Artists: Surreal This week Tracy challenges us to post some surreal images, and believe me, she has her own very original take on the topic. Go see for yourselves.

Centred At Wenlock Priory

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Of course for centuries Much Wenlock Priory was the centre of things for the ordinary folk who lived along Wenlock Edge and across the River Severn beyond Ironbridge. And I don’t only mean for the saving of their souls or temporal spiritual guidance. Successive priors were effectively CEOs of a large agricultural and industrial business enterprise. They ruled over an extensive landed estate in much the same way as powerful feudal lords of the manor ruled over their serfs and villeins.

The Priors laid down the law. They exacted rents, tithes and substantial death duties from the community, while the peasant smallholders, who were their rent-paying tenants, were obliged to provide a considerable amount of their labour –  ploughing, harvesting, transporting goods. The Priory was also a big wool producer and it was involved in industrial enterprises such as quarrying, milling, extracting coal, operating an iron-making bloomery in Coalbrookdale, and so presumably relying on members of the 18 local serf families to do much of this work.

The Priory also did very nicely when anyone died. One third (a terciar) of the value of the deceased person’s moveable goods would be claimed. In 1377 when John Brice a local lord of the manor died, his executors had to pay out 5 oxen, plus a further third in value of 5 cows, 7 horses, 132 sheep, 90 ewes, 75 lambs, 2 silver spoons, and 3 drinking bowls with silver decoration. Other terciar records indicate that people’s every last possession was weighed up (in all senses). This might include the value of meat in the larder, the iron parts of a plough, corn in the barn, pans and axes, a worn out harrow all converted to monetary worth and paid in coin (Wenlock in the Middle Ages  W F Mumford).

It is thus pleasing to know that there were moments when the Prior’s powers were well and truly challenged. In 1163 the villeins rebelled and ‘threw down their ploughshares’, calling for the repressive Prior to be deposed. The monks’ response was to excommunicate the lot, a truly horrifying penalty at the time. This only led to a riot. The church was besieged and knights called in to save the monks. But in the end the Prior was forced to hold an enquiry before a committee of knights and monks who, it seemed, listened to the villeins’ grievances and effected a compromise. In the following centuries, as the villeins’ own economic power grew, they were more and more able to demand payment for their services (A History of Much Wenlock Vivien Bellamy).

But with all this taxing and tithing, you can well see why in 1540 Thomas Cromwell wanted to get his hands on, as in liberate, the accumulated wealth of nation’s monastic houses. And here in Wenlock we still have the end result, nearly 6 centuries on – the dissolved relics of one of Europe’s most prestigious monasteries.

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Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Centred

Quiet Scenes On The Edge

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The hamlet of Easthope lies a few miles south-west of Much Wenlock. To reach it you travel along Wenlock Edge towards Church Stretton, then drop down a winding lane, too narrow for comfort. At the village heart is St. Peter’s church and the meadows of Manor Farm. The houses are scattered round: old limestone cottages, some ancient timber framed buildings, some modern homes built last century, a gracious rectory no longer ecclesiastically engaged. Most look out on the Mogg, a darkly forested hogsback ridge whose trees hide the the remains of  an Iron Age hillfort known as The Ditches.

You can just see the conifer tops of the Mogg between the churchyard trees in the next photo.

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I took these photos one bright December afternoon. It was something of a pilgrimage.  My good friend and artist Sheilagh Jevons resides in this peaceful graveyard, the perfect spot for a woman so in tune with the Shropshire landscape and its liminal spaces and much in love with the Mogg. Her house and studio were just down the lane from the church and she called her home The Mogg.

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Here is another hill topped with a conifer plantation. It lies on the easterly side of Much Wenlock, and this is the view I see as I come home from the allotment, stepping out under the big ash tree that guards the unofficial ‘gateway’ through the field hedge.

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And naturally, one of the most peaceful spots in the town are the ruins of Much Wenlock Priory whose origins, in the charge of Saxon princess and abbess, St. Milburga, go back to 670 CE. The remains you see here are much later, dating from successive building phases in the 12th and 13th centuries. In its day, Wenlock Priory was among the grandest monastic houses in Europe, its monks belonging to the Cluniac order and brought here from France. It’s a mysterious thing to think of now, a French community ruling the lives, body and spirit, of Shropshire folk. All dissolved in 1540 of course, with the protecting lead stripped off the roofs by Thomas Cromwell’s team of asset strippers.

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: peaceful

Dads And Lads At The Severn Valley Railway

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This week Cee wants to see tender moments. Here are some that caught my eye on a couple of visits to Shropshire’s Severn Valley Railway.

They make me wonder too: young dads sharing their passion for steam trains; little lads not quite big enough to be sure. Which is also touching.

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And quite another take on the topic…

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A case of sore feet and

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a tender behind… (I know, it’s an old joke)

*tender = coal wagon

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Tender Moments