June Wanderings: Windmill Hill And The Linden Field

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Two sunny Saturdays in a row and an early evening stroll to check on the orchids on Windmill Hill. First, though, there’s a spot of cricket to watch on the Linden Field: a perfect English summer scene:

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Apart from the green idyll, there’s some very big history in this view. This is the ground that hosted the annual Wenlock Olympian Games, devised in 1850 by the town’s physician, Doctor William Penny Brookes (1809-1895). They are still held here and at the neighbouring school every year. Brookes was an energetic lobbyist for all round social improvement. He was responsible for the introduction of physical education in English national schools. He also wrote letters to every literary celebrity in the land, begging copies of their books for the Wenlock Agricultural Reading Society’s library, a facility he founded to give local working people educational opportunities. But it was the town’s Olympian Games that were to have world-wide impact.

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In 1890, Brookes wrote to one Baron Coubertin who was visiting England to study sports education, and invited him to attend the Much Wenlock games, which he duly did. Brookes apparently filled him on all aspects of the enterprise, including the array of medals that he himself had designed and funded. And so it was that 6 years later in Athens when the first Modern Olympic Games were held, Coubertin paid tribute to Brookes who had died only months before, aged 86. The baron said it was down to the good doctor that the games had been revived, although it is Coubertin who is remembered as ‘the father of the modern Olympic movement.’

If you scan the field today, you can see it has been well treed since Brookes’ time, although he was responsible for the planting of the Linden Walk (behind the conifers in the view above). He was also responsible for bringing the railway to the town. This ran directly behind the Linden Walk, with the station just beyond the field gates. Olympian Special trains would be run to bring  games participants and spectators from all over the country.

And Windmill Hill, overlooking  the Linden Field (now obscured by trees) once provided a natural gallery for thousands of visitors:

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Today this hill is one of the town’s favourite walking spots, the windmill  (probably late 17th century) a well known landmark. The grassland all around is a surviving example of a traditional limestone meadow – rich in grasses and many wild flower species. Brookes would have known all about the local flora. Not only had he trained as a physician in Paris and London, he had also studied medical herbalism at the University of Padua. During his life-time in Wenlock he created a magnificent herbarium of pressed flowers, another town treasure, although it is now kept in Ludlow Museum’s special conservation facility. It is a marvellous document of what was once growing along Wenlock Edge and what has been lost.

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But back to the walk. Climbing the hill behind the Linden Field we soon spot the freshly sprouting pyramidal orchids. To my eye, they seem to be extending their range across the hill. I’m surmising that this is due to the new management system for the grassland: the  end of season raking up of dying vegetation that has spread the tubers far and wide.

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We also found spotted orchids…

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…and, thanks to a chum who alerted us to its location, a single tiny bee orchid. They are very hard to find, their stems only a few inches tall.

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June and July are the main flowering times on the hill. Already you can see the wild thyme on exposed outcrops. Then there are briar roses, elderflowers, red clover – all four of them long used as medicinal herbs. The thymol extracted from thyme is a key active ingredient in cough syrups. Rose petals may be used to treat skin conditions. Elderflowers are particularly potent, with a host of healing properties including quercetin. Brewed as a tea they relieve colds and flu symptoms. Red clover is also used for skin and more deep-seated complaints.

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And then once you reach the top of the hill, there the views to ponder. Always something new, whatever the season.

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By the time we clamber back down to the Linden Field the cricket is over, and now is the moment for Wenlock dogs to play. We wander home beneath the conifer avenue. I always love the play of light and shadow under these trees:

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As we go there’s the waft of lime tree in the air; only a subtle scent as yet;  the tiny green flowers are only just opening. But later in the month, and as the days grow warmer, the field will be bathed in its fragrance. And so we have another therapeutic plant, one that calms and heals, although as with all herbal remedies, it is best to consult a qualified medical herbalist as to their use.

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And a final floriferous view of Windmill Hill:

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Lens-Artists: Local Vistas   This week Anne Sandler at Slow Shutter Speed  wants to see views from home territory.

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

The Changing Seasons: May 2022

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Poppy time on  my allotment plot, the oriental perennials I grew from seed last year. I’d been hoping for a range of colours, but it looks as though they are all turning out to be tomato soup red. I should not complain. This bunch are brightening the spot in front of my shed.

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Otherwise at the allotment, the globe artichokes are going bonkers, arriving far earlier than expected. We’ve already polished off several. By contrast, the early potatoes are making a slow start, their green tops only beginning to sprout last week. Parsnips, on the other hand, have germinated well, this time sown in a large builders’ tub, and the onion sets are making their first green shoots. Beetroot, cauli and cabbage seedlings have been successfully planted out and the broad bean plants are flowering magnificently.

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In the home garden all is alliums and aquilegias, valerian and catmint. The apple blossom is long gone, quickly dispersed by May’s repeated rounds of wind and rain, but a few days ago I noticed there were lots of tiny apples forming – on the Coxes and the crab apple trees.

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Meanwhile around the town, all is lush in the fields beside the Cutlins path – shaggy sheep on one side, young MacMoos on the other, up to their knees and noses in buttercups. And oh yes, don’t forget to watch the sky. Looks like there’s another downpour coming:

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Nearby, on the Linden Field all is bursting green. The cricket season is upon us, the pitch well fettled, and lads in the nets  honing batting skills.  As ever, the Linden Walk is the favoured resort of walkers and runners and lately been proving a welcome resort out of the persistent chilling wind.

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But as you can see, the spring growth hasn’t in the least minded the ongoing coolness, and it’s certainly made the most of May’s sudden spate of unseasonal downpours. He who has given up binding books for the making of small and interesting occasional tables tells me it’s supposed to be getting warmer now June’s arrived. And yes, I think at last I can believe him. Today the sun is out, and best of all, the wind has dropped. In the greenhouse the French beans are surging out of their pots and the sweet corn seeds have germinated, and up in the upstairs garden, rose Teasing Georgia is strutting her stuff. Happy days.

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The Changing Seasons: May 2022  Brian at Bushboy  and Ju-Lyn at Touring My Backyard are the kind hosts of this monthly challenge. Please go and see what they have been doing during May.

Every Little Thing

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Out on the line – an unexpectedly good drying day in February

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This week at Lens-Artists, Amy asks us to show her things that make us smile. So here are some of the happenstance little-big things that, at various times, have caught my eye or otherwise brightened my day:

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A neat little cloud traversing Townsend Meadow

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Finding I’d grown a rather good cauliflower at the allotment

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Spotted in the garden sage bush

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Spring sun-catchers: crab apple flowers…

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…that in autumn become perfect tiny apples

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The Linden Walk in full summer leafiness

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Lens-Artists: Every Little Thing

Framed In All Seasons On Windmill Hill

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A Don’t Look Now moment? Who is that small, retreating turquoise person?

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This week’s Lens-Artists’ challenge is from Tina. She asks us to think about ‘the rule of thirds’ in our photo compositions. Please go and see her very striking photo gallery (link at the end). As for me, I thought I’d feature some of my too many Windmill Hill photos. It’s the place where I go to play with my camera.

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June is orchid time, mostly pyramidal (above) and spotted, and  a small population of tiny bee orchids which are very hard to find (below)

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The grassland on the Windmill Hill is a rare survival – a traditional limestone meadow: clover red and white, bedstraw, orchids, agrimony, ragwort to name a few of its summer floral inhabitants.

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A profusion of Lady’s Bedstraw. Its subtle fragrance is delicious.

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After the flowers, a host of grass species

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A seat in winter

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Girls just wanting to miss netball practice

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Little ponies once used to graze the hill in autumn

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Early spring Cuckoo Pint

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Blizzard!

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Lens-Artists: rule of thirds

Wild And Wychy On Windmill Hill

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Here in the northern spring lands our eyes are presently filled to bursting with blooming displays of cherry, apple, pear, black thorn and magnolia trees. It’s easy to forget that all trees have their floral season, one way or another. Some tree flowers are so inconspicuously green, are so very small, or flowering at the end of winter when we’re least about, it’s easy to overlook them. This is certainly true of the early spring flowers that preceded this branchy display of green-winged fruits, discovered last week, sprawling over the perimeter fence on Windmill Hill.

Its ID took a bit of tracking down. I’d got it in my head that it was some kind of hornbeam. But it isn’t. It’s a Wych Elm sapling, Ulmus glabra. This, I further discover, is Britain’s only native elm, common throughout the land as tree cover was restored after the Ice Age, but much depleted from round 7,500 years ago, when the first stone age farmers began to systematically clear the woodland for agriculture.

The so-called English Elm Ulmus procera  was only introduced some 3,000 years later by our Bronze Age ancestors. This introduction may well be a reflection both of the utility of water resistant elm wood (for boats, wheels, furniture and coffins) and of its ritual significance. The tree was sacred to many peoples of Northern Europe, and in particular was thought to induce prophetic dreams.

Since the 1960s the English Elm has succumbed drastically to Dutch Elm disease – a fungal infection spread by elm bark beetles. The Wych Elm, to some extent, appears to have resistance, though it too is now a rare find in our English countryside. The decline in both species has meant a decline in the white-letter hairstreak butterfly which breeds in elm tree canopies.

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But if the Wych Elm does manage to escape infection, and finds itself growing in a preferred climate of cool summers with damp air, or on a rocky hillside beside a stream, then it can reach 30 metres (100 feet) in height, while surrounding itself with a sweepingly majestic canopy.

And so what of the Wych Elm on Windmill Hill? Did some human hand plant a young sapling there, or did it grow itself from an off-chance, wind-blown seed? That it is growing entangled with the chain-link fence that surrounds the perimeter of Shadwell Quarry, suggests more happenstance than intention. On the other hand, at some time in the past, the old quarry face has been planted with a wide variety of trees – both deciduous and coniferous species. In the next photo you can see the tree-line (behind the windmill) that marks the quarry perimeter. Beyond it, the ground falls away in an alarming manner, the most recent limestone workings lying way below and filled with a deep, deep pool of turquoise water, locally dubbed ‘the Blue Lagoon’.

Anyway, note to self: remember to collect some seeds when they ripen in the summer. A Wych Elm nursery is a fine prospect.

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Today Over The Garden Fence

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There may be a lingering chilliness on the wind, but in the upstairs garden crab apple tree Evereste  is in full floral finery. I don’t remember seeing her quite so blossom laden.  And she’s already attracting a few bees and sundry bugs, all calling in for their spring pollen fix. So if anyone is thinking of a crab apple tree for their garden, then Evereste  is a real treasure. She’s compact too, for despite the suggestion of gigantism in the name, she only grows about 10 feet (3 metres) tall.

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Wenlock Views Near And Far

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The header photo was taken among the ruins of Wenlock Priory, looking towards the trees and roof tops of the Prior’s Lodgings, now a private house, locally known as The Abbey.

This next shot is my well-trodden path to the allotment, along the southerly edge of Townsend Meadow. That’s an ash tree on the skyline – doing a good Ent impression as our Shropshire ash trees tend to do.

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And a nearer view of the ash tree – a sundowner shot complete with rooks flying home to their roost in the Sytche wood.

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And finally a rather strange and blurry photo of the Linden Walk, taken when all the pale and papery sepals had fallen off the lime tree flowers in late summer. I think if you squint, you might just spot someone at the top of the path.

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: In the distance

Bokeh For All Seasons ~ The Art of Blur

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Sofia at Lens-Artists suggests we think about bokeh – the judicious (or in my case mostly accidental) application  of blur to add depth and accent to our photo images.

Here are some garden bokeh, taken at different seasons and times of day. The header photo is a late autumn crab apple over the garden fence. And next up is a very wintery globe artichoke at the allotment. I like the russet tones, focused and unfocused, picked up by the afternoon sun:

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Summer and a self-invited opium poppy out in the guerrilla garden:

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And late summer teasels forming outside the garden gate:

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An October sun-downer sunflower in the ‘upstairs’ garden:

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Early morning dew on a heuchera flower in early summer:

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And a May-time bouquet in the kitchen: lilac and hawthorn blossom:

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Lens-Artists: Bokeh

Spring Curves

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Alder catkins catch the sun in the Linden Field

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Spring came to Wenlock this week, both time-wise and weather-wise. We’ve had lunch in the garden three days running. Astonishing for March! Full-on sun and a general bursting of buds and blooms in every quarter. Even the moss on the garden steps has switched to hyper-green mode.

Over the road in the Linden Field there are prairies of wild garlic leaves just begging to be plucked for sauces and soups. In fact such  is the vegetative imperative of this particular plant, it’s to be found sprouting from the lime tree hollows on the Linden Walk. At the top of the field, under the oaks, the daffodils are at peak perfection. Also growing there are wood anemones, dog’s mercury, violets and primroses. Then beside the Cutlins path the horse chestnut trees are now a mass of sticky buds. And at home in the garden the white japonica is looking its serene best.

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This week Ann-Christine at Lens-Artists asks us to show her curves.

Lens-Artists: Curves