The Changing Seasons ~ This Was Wenlock In May

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Last May the field behind the house was a yellow sea of oil seed rape flowers. This May the rape has only been visible on more distant hillsides around the town and I’ve rather missed having it on my doorstep and walking the golden arcade through the crop where the farmer’s big tractor had left a barren track during spraying.  This year the rape bloomed extra early too, is already running to seed – which perhaps means chances of a better harvest; last year’s crop was scorched in the heat wave and shed much of its seed before it could be cut.

Elsewhere around the town we’ve been watching greenery happen. This next photo shows the Linden Walk on the 30th April. The one below it was taken yesterday, the 31st May. I noticed the pale flowering wings are already well formed, though the tiny buds were still tight shut, and I thought of their heavenly scent to come.

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In the Cutlins meadow members of the MacMoo clan have been absent for a couple of weeks. Then on Thursday we saw they were back. There they were dreaming amongst the lush grass and knee-high buttercups.

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On the home front all is blooming. Yesterday morning I found our front garden – the one that slopes down to the main road – positively heaving with small bumble bees. The orange verbascum flowers had reached just the right state of ripeness, and the bees were gorging on them. The sparrows, too, have been enjoying the front garden, which goes to show – even a small roadside plot can make a bit of a wildlife sanctuary.

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The Changing Seasons: May 2019

Wishing Su a speedy recovery from the flu.

In The Red ~ Iron Bridge Makeover

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For much of last year this 240-year-old bridge was under wraps while English Heritage engineers carried out major repairs on the iron work. And it was during this process that the original paint colour of the world’s first cast iron bridge was discovered – a rusty red. This seems to have struck many as surprising, probably because in the living memory of most Shropshire folk, the bridge has either been lugubrious black (as I remember it in the 1960s) or battleship grey – its most recent shade before the overhaul.

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And this is how it looked last week bathed in May sunshine. A much more jaunty effort.

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That the bridge was originally this colour, or as near as can be recreated, was documented at the time. While Abraham Darby III was having it built (between 1779 and its official opening in 1781) he commissioned some promotional artwork from William Williams. He wanted to show the wide world what marvels could be created using cast iron.

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William Williams c 1780 Cast Iron Bridge near Coalbrookdale  Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust

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Needless to say, as with all propaganda, inconvenient truths have been elided from the view, and we have instead notions of paradisal punting and extreme millinery rather than the filthy outpourings of riverside ironworks and coke burning furnaces that were actually in the vicinity. (And don’t forget the ear-splitting soundscape of clanging steam hammers and the general clamour of the wharves and boat-building yards).

In fact if you want an image of where man-made global warming began or a metaphor of how some of us prefer to deny responsibility for the damage caused by our industrial excesses, then this painting could well serve the purpose. Beguiling, isn’t it?

Standing on the freshly caparisoned bridge today and looking at a river empty of the the fleets of trading barges that once plied these waters from early monastic times and into the 19th century, the lush hanging woodland of the Severn Gorge all around, it is hard to believe that the Industrial Revolution had its roots here; that the innovations in iron making and casting made by the Darby dynasty and John (Iron Mad) Wilkinson sparked the multiplier effect of technological invention (from the soul-sapping iron-framed textile factories of the north to the transport systems of Stephenson and Brunel) and so on around the world; and that now, after all the excitement and technical derring-do and ingenuity we’re left to contemplate the mess that industrialisation has made of the planet.

However, on a warm afternoon in May, with the little town of Ironbridge quietly hosting the season’s first sightseers, it seems altogether like too much irony (cast, rolled, puddled or wrought). We’ll just enjoy the views then.

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copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

Six Word Saturday Pop over to Debbie’s to see her wonderful naked man.

Today In The Garden ~ Granny’s Bonnets Galore

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I’ve said before there’s a lot goes on in our garden that has little to do with me. This month’s aquilegia/columbine/granny’s bonnets invasion is just one of them.  Year after year they self-seed and appear in subtly new colour variations. Sometimes the mauve palette predominates, sometimes the pink and claret. This year there are several white ones with mauve hints, and also some new salmon pink ones that have chosen to grow in amongst the Gloire de Dijon climbing rose which is just about to break into blooms of the very same shade. Makes you wonder if the Grannies have more than bees in their bonnets. I mean, did they plan this?

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Out in the guerrilla garden (between our back fence and the field) the Grannies are growing in thickets. They have also crept round to front garden for the first time this year, though last year I did plant a species yellow one out there (a plant rescued from an abandoned allotment plot) in hopes that in time it might mingle with the residents and create some new shades.

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And then besides the Granny’s Bonnets, there are the self-gardening Welsh poppies, forget-me-nots and perennial geraniums (which also mingle and change colour). Soon there will be foxgloves and corn cockles, and if we’re lucky, the opium poppies may visit us again. When friends ask us if we’re going away, we always feel a touch bemused. With so much going coming and going outside the back door, why would we need to?

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Whenever we can, we sit on the bench at the top of the garden, stare at clouds (though there wasn’t a single one this morning when I took these photos), listen to the racketing of rooks, the keening call of buzzards, watch the jackdaws fly over, hear the garden buzz, observe the wood across the wheat field as it changes in shade and texture day by day, exchange greetings with a passing walker on the field path. And we think – this is a good place to be; a very good place.

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Earth Sense: The Sweet Smell Of Wet Soil

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There’s nothing like it: either the word or the phenomenon. Petrichor is the term coined in 1964 by two Australian scientists, Isabel Joy Bear and Richard G Thomas, derived from the Greek word petra  meaning stone and ichor the fluid that flows in Greek gods’ veins (Nature, Volume 201, Issue 4923, pp. 993-995) and they used it to describe the smell of soil when it rains after a prolonged dry spell. They even defined the component parts. Oils from drying plants are absorbed by clay-based soils and rocks and when it rains, these are released in the air along with the aromatic exudations of actinobacteria in the soil.

And that’s what happened here today, spot on 2 pm just when the weather forecast said it would, and after several weeks of drought. I’d just made it back from the allotment where I had been moving raised beds, making new terraces and breaking up compacted soil in readiness for the promised rain. On the way home, draped in emergency polytunnel mac – a somewhat scabby garment I have to say, I noticed how the blossom on the crab apple tree by the garden gate is already going over, and I had only posted its picture the other day, the flowers so pink and freshly unfurling. Today the petals are white and shedding, here and there revealing the makings of miniscule apples on their stems. The procreative imperative in full swing then, which naturally induced a fit of gardener’s panic, a feeling that somehow I was lagging behind. So much to do, and so little time.

But then down came a soft and steady rain that made the garden sit up tall, and pretty soon filled the air with those delicious earth scents, the sort you breathe up your nose and into your soul, that make you one with antique divinities whose veins flow with ethereal fluids. No need to rush. Just breathe. Aaaaah. Petrichor!

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Copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

Spring Well Sprung On Wenlock Edge

Bye bye Siberian icy blasts, hello summer! It’s been all change here in Wenlock and all go, go, go out in the garden. Tulips bursting, crab apple blossom unfurling, Spanish bluebells shooting up, euphorbias at their vibrant, greenest best, pesky weed oxalis suddenly a haze of soft pink flowers just to stop me pulling it up, columbines on the cusp, perennial Centaurea cornflowers showing off their best blues, Sweet Cicely all lacy umbels (and a good addition when cooking fruit to reduce the amount of sugar needed). Ladybirds on pest patrol. Bees on the forage. Cloudless blue above. Hot sun. It’s just all too exciting.

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copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

 

Six Word Saturday (that would be in the post title!) Pop over to Debbie’s for more 6-worders.

Today The Weather Feels Like This

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Country lore has it that if March comes in like a lion it will leave like a lamb. Well roll on flocks of little ovine entities. As I write this, the wind is roaring up over the Edge, and blowing right through the house even though all the windows are shut. And IT IS ICY. And outside,  it is blow-you-over gale force across the field with intermittent fierce rain squalls. Yet the BBC weather people claim that here in our corner of Shropshire we are currently having ‘sunny intervals with a fresh breeze’. In support of this contention, they have staked out their hourly weather map with a row of sunny-cloud icons. It’s a sign of the times of course. You can no longer trust a single mediated report, not matter how supposedly trustworthy the source. Wear more vests, that’s my advice. And balaclavas.

Photo: Bin bag and barbed wire, St Bride’s Bay, Pembroke, March 2018

Spiky Square #9

Six Word Saturday

Much Wenlock’s Changing Seasons ~ Flaming June 2018

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Who’d have thought it? Here in the UK we’ve been having summer and all before it was officially summer; week after week of sunshine, and hardly a drop of rain. May was the warmest May in over a hundred years, and June has continued in like vein. The roses have been flowering their socks off and, along with the pinks and honeysuckle, filling the garden with delicious scents. In fact everything is blooming at high speed, intent on pollinating and seed-setting before being fried. This evening I saw fully formed, if not yet ripe hazel nuts at the allotment. The biological imperative in action then. Already the countryside has the dry and dusty look of late August.

Of course all this sunshine means there’s lots of watering to be done at the allotment, though I’m very conscious that water is precious and I should not waste it.  I’ve been trying to mulch things where I can, and otherwise shelter crops with netting, mesh or fleece. I have not managed to get to grips with the strawberry bed though. Did not put straw down when I should have done, and although the plants have been producing lots of fruit, they looked flat out and flabbergasted yesterday evening  – beyond being watered now.  On the plus side – more heat = fewer molluscs.

All around the town the hay fields have been cut and cleared. And when we drove over Wenlock Edge to Church Stretton this morning all of Shropshire lay sweltering under the sun, and set to bake for another fortnight too.

This raises serious issues – the water supply in particular, and climate change in general. We need to start taking both seriously, and we especially need the water supply and its management back under public control. And if we’re now going to have largely rainless springs and summers, followed by very wet winters with the increased likelihood of serious floods too, then we need more water storage facilities. Many conurbations are still relying on reservoirs built by the Victorians. Birmingham water comes from Elan Valley reservoirs in Wales, built in 1893.

This week in our part of the West Midlands we’ve been having very strange goings on with the taps courtesy of Severn Trent Water whose CEO earns £2.45 million a year.  (She is one of the 9 water company executives who between them have received £58 million pounds in pay and benefits over the last 5 years.) In the evening the pressure drops until water is either absent or only a dribble. Severn Trent say this is happening because increased usage due to the hot weather is causing air pockets in the pipes, and they’re having to pump the air out.

This is an entirely new phenomenon to us, although having lived in Africa we are well used to the absence of water and the notion that we should not take its provision for granted. Anyway the STW explanation rather reminds me of old British Rail’s excuse of ‘leaves on the line’ whenever services went awry. In early March there were similar happenings in the pipes due, Severn Trent said, to an unprecedented number of leaks because of the cold weather.

However you look at it, a delinquent water supply that is so susceptible to changes in the weather, and for which most households pay £400 a year, is not fit for purpose. ‘Take back the taps’ say the GMB Trades Union.

Changes in rainfall patterns, and failure to properly manage rain-fed water supplies is going to seriously affect the nation’s food production. We’ll need to eat different things, learn to grow them in new ways, opt for drought-resistant plants. When we leave Europe, we will have to grow our own vegetables, since most of them seem to come from there. Is anyone taking some action on this, I wonder.

But for now we can go on enjoying the unprecedented warmth, making hay etc. It has many very good points. Earlier this month the town held its two-week arts festival without a drop of rain on its outdoor performances, and on Sunday we had the town picnic on the Church Green, and the whole afternoon was blissful – at least it was if you had a good tree to sit under. Here are some views around Wenlock during flaming June:

And last Sunday’s town picnic:

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Changing Seasons June 2018

“How Green Was My Valley” ~ Thursday’s Special

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Here in Shropshire, May has been a month filled with much welcome sunshine. Everywhere you look, the countryside is brimming with green-ness, so no colour enhancement was needed for this view across the River Severn at Arley (just south of Bridgnorth). It was taken last Saturday at the Arley Arboretum Plant Collectors’ Fair – post to follow.

I’m sorry you can’t see the river, which is actually quite wide at this point (hiding behind the foreground hawthorns). Nor can you see the railway line that runs midway across the frame. For this is the landscape through which you will pass if you have the good fortune to board the Severn Valley Railway, and chug along the river behind a good old coal-fired locomotive, trailing its long white steamy banner as it goes, and not a few smuts. Clackety-clack and much toot-tooting and many a rustic halt en route.  Oh, the nostalgia!

Thursday’s Special: saturation

How Green Was My Valley  a 1939 novel by Richard Llewellyn set in Wales: tales of the Morgan coal mining family. Also a 1941 John Ford film.

In Which The Farrells Go To Ratlinghope To Visit Shropshire’s Last Sin Eater

Okay. Hands up those of you who know about sin eaters. I certainly had not registered their existence despite having read Mary Webb’s Shropshire novel Precious Bane (1924) which includes a sin-eating scene. It was coming across an article by  environmental scientist, Harriet Carty, (also Shropshire based) that alerted me. She was describing the work of the non-religious charity Caring For God’s Acre which has set itself the task of recording Britain’s churchyard flora. I read it back in March when we were in Pembrokeshire and it prompted me to do a post featuring the fine show of lichen in St. Bride’s graveyard. Helen Carty’s article also mentioned the grave of the last sin eater, one Richard Munslow, who died in 1906 and is buried in St. Margaret’s churchyard, Ratlinghope (pronounced Ratchup), up in the Shropshire hills between the Long Mynd and the Stiperstones.

What could be more curious and curiosity-inducing than the grave of a sin eater. Clearly an expedition was called for. Ratlinghope is only twenty miles or so from Wenlock, and so last Thursday, after doing the shopping in Church Stretton and with the weather set fair, we headed for the hills.

That Ratlinghope is an out-of-the-way place is an understatement. The lane from the busy Shrewsbury-Ludlow highway at Leebotwood is mostly single track, and wends up and over the northerly spur of the Long Mynd. If you stop and look behind you, all of the Shropshire and Cheshire Plains spread out below you. On Thursday, though, it was rather hazy, but you’ll get the general idea.

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Now for sin eaters. The first thing to know is that the sin-eating custom that once featured at funerals appears to be both ancient and confined mostly to the Shropshire, Hereford and Welsh Marches region. In the extract below, Mary Webb, suggests the sin eaters could be wise men, exorcists, or poor people somehow outcast by misfortune. At a burial, the last meal of the corpse – usually bread and ale – would be passed over the coffin for the sin eater to eat. Through this act, he took on the sins of the deceased thereby ensuring that the departing spirit went in peace. In latter times, it is said, the poor took on the role willingly in order to have a decent meal.

But this was not the case for Richard Munslow of Ratlinghope. He came from generations of respectable farming folk and had his own farm at nearby Upper Darnford where he employed at least two labourers. He also enjoyed the sheep grazing rights on the Long Mynd. The style of his memorial certainly indicates a man of substance.  He in fact revived the sin eating custom of his own volition. It is thought that he was inspired to do this through personal loss and an elevated sense of compassion. The gravestone also provides the clue. In 1862 Richard and Ann Munslow lost their first child George aged 11 weeks. Then in the first week of May 1870 they lost all three of their children to scarlet fever. Later, though, there were two daughters who did outlive them. Richard died in 1906 aged 73. Ann lived on until 1913.

The little church itself has its origins some time before 1209 when an Augustinian cell for a prior and seven brethren was established at Ratlinghope. It was an outpost of Wigmore Abbey in north Herefordshire. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries it continued life as the parish church. There are few signs of the original building beyond the foundations, and the church you see to day is the product of successive rounds of renovation. The oak front door, though, has the date 1625 carved on it – a gift of the then church wardens. It is a peaceful place for the last sin eater to take his rest, even if there was no one to perform like offices on his behalf.

Next: sin-eating as described in Precious Bane.

Mary Webb was born at Leighton, near Much Wenlock in 1881, and spent her teen years in the town. She also knew the communities of the South Shropshire Hills and was well versed in their folklore and local vernaculars. It is probable she was familiar with the sin eating of Richard Munslow, hence the passage in Precious Bane, though she gives the performing of the rite her own narrative twist.

I’m posting the whole extract here, not only because it paints a picture of past Shropshire life, but because it includes some fine writing by this often under-valued author. The novel is set in the early 1800s and the narrator is young Prue Sarn, a sensitive and good-hearted farmer’s daughter, who believes no one will ever marry her because of her hare lip. Her older brother, Gideon, is a hard-nosed go-getter who thinks only of making money. At this point in the story Prue’s father has just died.

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It was a still, dewy summer night when we buried Father. In our time there was still a custom round about Sarn to bury people at night. In our family it had been done for hundreds of years. I was busy all day decking the waggon with yew and the white flowering laurel, that has such a heavy, sweet smell. I pulled all the white roses and a tuthree pinks that were in blow, and made up with daisies out of the hay grass. While I pulled them, I thought how angered Father would have been to see me there, trampling it, and I could scarcely help looking round now and again to see if he was coming.

After we’d milked, Gideon went for the beasts, and I put black streamers round their necks, and tied yew boughs to their horns. It had to be done carefully, for they were the Longhorn breed, and if you angered them, they’d hike you to death in a minute. The miller was one bearer, and Mister Callard, of Callard’s Dingle, who farmed all the land between Sarn and Plash, was another. Then there were our two uncles from beyond the mountains. Gideon, being chief mourner, had a tall hat with black streamers and black gloves and a twisted black stick with streamers on it.

They took a long while getting the coffin out, for the doors were very narrow and it was a big, heavy coffin. It had always been the same at all the Sarn funerals, yet nobody ever seemed to think of making the doors bigger. Sexton went first with his hat off and a great torch in his hand. Then came the cart, with Miller’s lad and another to lead the beasts. The waggon was mounded up with leaves and branches, and they all said it was a credit to me. But I could only mind how poor Father was used to tell me to take away all those nasty weeds out of the house. And now we were taking him away, jolting over the stones, from the place where he was maister.

I was all of a puzzle with it. It did seem so unkind, and disrespectful as well, leaving the poor soul all by his lonesome at the other end of the mere. I was glad it was sweet June weather, and not dark. We were bound to go the long way round, the other being only a foot road. When we were come out of the fold-yard, past the mixen, and were in the road, we took our places—Gideon behind the coffin by him- self, then Mother and me in our black poke bonnets and shawls, with Prayer Books and branches of rosemary in our hands. Uncles and Miller and Mister Callard came next, all with torches and boughs of rosemary.

It was a good road, and smoother than most—the road to Lullingford. Parson used to say it was made by folk who lived in the days when the Redeemer lived. Romans, the name was. They could make roads right well, whatever their name was. It went along above the water, close by the lake; and as we walked solemnly onwards, I looked into the water and saw us there. It was a dim picture, for the only light there was came from the waning, clouded moon, and from the torches. But you could see, in the dark water, something stirring, and gleams and flashes, and when the moon came clear we had our shapes, like the shadows of fish gliding in the deep. There was a great heap of black, that was the waggon, and the oxen were like clouds moving far down, and the torches were flung into the water as if we wanted to dout them.

All the time, as we went, we could hear the bells ringing the corpse home. They sounded very strange over the water in the waste of night, and the echoes sounded yet stranger. Once a white owl came by, like a blown feather for lightness and softness. Mother said it was Father’s spirit looking for its body. There was no sound but the bells and the creaking of the wheels, till Parson’s pony, grazing in the glebe, saw the dim shapes of the oxen a long way off, and whinnied, not knowing, I suppose, but what they were ponies too, and being glad to think, in the lonesome- ness of the night, of others like herself nearby.

At last the creaking stopped at the lych-gate. They took out the coffin, resting it on trestles, and in the midst of the heavy breathing of the bearers came the promising words— “I am the resurrection and the life.” They were like quiet rain after drought. Only I began to wonder, how should we come again in the resurrection? Should we come clear, or dim, like in the water? Would Father come in a fit of anger, as he’d died, or as a little boy running to Grandma with a bunch of primmyroses? Would Mother smile the same smile, or would she have found a light in the dark passage? Should I still be fast in a body I’d no mind for, or would they give us leave to weave ourselves bodies to our own liking out of the spinnings of our souls?

The coffin was moved to another trestle, by the graveside, and a white cloth put over it. Our best tablecloth, it was. On the cloth stood the big pewter tankard full of elderberry wine. It was the only thing Mother could provide, and it was by good fortune that she had plenty of it, enough for the funeral feast and all, since there had been such a power of elderberries the year afore. It looked strange in the doubtful moonlight, standing there on the coffin, when we were used to see it on the table, with the colour of the Christmas Brand reflected in it.

Parson came forrard and took it up, saying— “I drink to the peace of him that’s gone.” Then everybody came in turn, and drank good health to Father’s spirit. At the coffin foot was our little pewter measure full of wine, and a crust of bread with it, but nobody touched them. Then Sexton stepped forrard and said— “Be there a Sin Eater?” And Mother cried out— “Alas no! Woe’s me! There is no Sin Eater for poor Sarn. Gideon gainsayed it.”

Now it was still the custom at that time, in our part of the country, to give a fee to some poor man after a death, and then he would take bread and wine handed to him across the coffin, and eat and drink, saying—I give easement and rest now to thee, dear man, that ye walk not over the fields nor down the byways. And for thy peace I pawn my own soul. And with a calm and grievous look he would go to his own place.

Mostly, my Grandad used to say, Sin Eaters were such as had been Wise Men or layers of spirits, and had fallen on evil days. Or they were poor folk that had come, through some dark deed, out of the kindly life of men, and with whom none would trade, whose only food might oftentimes be the bread and wine that had crossed the coffin. In our time there were none left around Sarn. They had nearly died out, and they had to be sent for to the mountains. It was a long way to send, and they asked a big price, instead of doing it for nothing as in the old days.

So Gideon said— “We’ll save the money. What good would the man do?” But Mother cried and moaned all night after. And when the Sexton said “Be there a Sin Eater?” she cried again very pitifully, because Father had died in his wrath, with all his sins upon him, and besides, he had died in his boots, which is a very unket thing and bodes no good. So she thought he had great need of a Sin Eater, and she would not be comforted. Then a strange, heart-shaking thing came to pass. Gideon stepped up to the coffin and said— “There is a Sin Eater.”

“Who then? I see none,” said Sexton.

“I ool be the Sin Eater.” He took up the little pewter measure full of darkness, and he looked at Mother.

“Oot turn over the farm and all to me if I be the Sin Eater, Mother?” he said.

“No, no! Sin Eaters be accurst!”

“What harm, to drink a sup of your own wine and chumble a crust of your own bread? But if you dunna care, let be. He can go with the sin on him.”

“No, no! Leave un go free, Gideon! Let un rest, poor soul! You be in life and young, but he’m cold and helpless, in the power of Satan. He went with all his sins upon him, in his boots, poor soul! If there’s none else to help, let his own lad take pity.”

“And you’ll give me the farm, Mother?” “

Yes, yes, my dear! What be the farm to me? You can take all, and welcome.” Then Gideon drank the wine all of a gulp, and swallowed the crust. There was no sound in all the place but the sound of his teeth biting it up. Then he put his hand on the coffin, standing up tall in the high black hat, with a gleaming pale face, and he said—

“I give easement and rest now to thee, dear man. Come not down the lanes nor in our meadows. And for thy peace I pawn my own soul. Amen.”

There was a sigh from everybody then, like the wind in dry bents. Even the oxen by the gate, it seemed to me, sighed as they chewed the cud. But when Gideon said, “Come not down the lanes nor in our meadows,” I thought he said it like somebody warning off a trespasser. Now it was time to throw the rosemary into the grave. Then they lowered the coffin in, and all threw their burning torches down upon it, and douted them.

The full Hathi Trust novel text is HERE

 

 

Following In The Footsteps Of The Green Man

Clunton and Clunbury, Clungunford and Clun, are the quietest places under the sun.

A E Housman A Shropshire Lad

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We arrived in Clun last Tuesday in summer weather and headed for the Bridge Cafe. The little South Shropshire town was indeed quiet, although the young woman at the cafe apologised for still being in a bit of a confusion after the town’s two-day Green Man Festival. It was quite a do from all accounts, and the Green Man duly defeated the Ice Queen after heavy battling on the bridge.

One can easily imagine, too, that if the Green Man still lived anywhere, then it would be in the Clun Valley. The mysterious manifestation of spring renewal has ancient roots, possibly Celtic, or maybe older still, back in Stone Age. Trees and greenery have anyway long been reverenced in many cultures across the world. And you will certainly see his face peering from a garland of leaves among the carvings and gargoyles of many medieval churches.

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But I forgot to look for him at the parish church of St. George, our next stop up the hill from the cafe. I was too diverted with other finds there. Most particularly the graves of playwright John Osborne and his journalist wife, Helen Osborne. John Osborne blazed into the theatrical world with Look Back In Anger (1956) and The Entertainer (1957) changing British theatre forever. In fact he changed the air we breathed in post-war England, especially in the sixties when his plays were often performed. We grew up questioning establishment mores. These were the days of activism.

After his death, Helen honoured his wishes to hang on to their house, The Hurst, at nearby Clunton – this despite massive debts – and later ensured that it would serve future would-be writers. It is now one of the three homes of the world famous Arvon Foundation that nurtures creative writing and writers on its residential courses.

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Let me know where you’re working tomorrow night and I’ll come and see you

Inscription on John Osborne’s grave

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The church itself is very old, begun in the C12th, but added to in the C13th, C14th, and C17th centuries and considerably and carefully restored in 1877. It has some fine Norman arches, and a magnificent timber ceiling with added angels. Also in the porch are some interesting C18th and C19th boards announcing  donations by the well off to the poor of the parish. Beyond the acts of generosity, the public proclamation of them at the church door rather struck me as more of a bid to ensure holy favours for the donors.

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One of the most pleasing aspects of St. George’s are the fine views of the countryside from the churchyard. The town itself has a population of around 700.

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From the church it’s back down the hill and over the river, and up another hill into the main street where there is a butcher’s, a Spar supermarket, two inns, a gift shop, hair salon, hardwear store, cafe and (in the old town hall) a small museum. By the time we got there, after stopping to eat some very fine fish cakes in the Malt House Cafe, the summer weather had gone, so the following photos have lost their sunny lustre.

The museum is well worth a visit – mostly for its quirkiness. It is very much the community attic (and none the worse for that in my professional museum person’s opinion). It houses a melee of artefacts and memorabilia dating from 10,000 years ago (Mesolithic micro-flints used in the making of harpoons) to the silk dress worn by one Mrs Nora Bright in 1928. Hanging on the wall there is also a horrific mantrap (use illegal in England since 1827 apart from within houses at night to deter thieves). Alongside are spears and various agricultural implements, and in nearby Victorian display cases there’s an array of prehistoric flint tools, a Roman bead, and the once personal belongings of Clun’s inhabitants. Upstairs the display is more themed and mostly features military and war-time service uniforms with associated period objets. You can also rifle through three files of the town’s photographic collection – a must for those with tendencies to nosiness.

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Back into town:

 

We had saved the best of this visit until last. Because Clun also has a castle – or at least some very dramatic ruins thereof. The only problem was, by the time we reached it, the weather gods had opened the door and let winter back in. So much for the Green Man’s conquest of the Ice Queen. Not only was it too cold to explore – the sudden wind cutting us in half, but the light was very poor. So these next photos only give a quick view of this ancient Norman motte and bailey fortress. But just look at the scale of the earthworks – and think of the enforced human-power necessary to construct them.

Norman rule was all about domination of locals. The castle was built to control the rebellious souls of the Welsh Marches in the late C11th  by one of King William’s marcher lords, Picot de Say. In 1155 it passed by the marriage of Isabella de Say into the powerful Fitzalan dynasty (later known as the Earls of Arundel).

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English Heritage kindly provide a visual reconstruction for the year 1300 as drawn by Dominic Andrews, by which time life was less martial in aspect, and lords in castles also went in for pleasure gardens. You can see them in the right hand top corner. The castle also had its own farm (bottom right) and accommodation with associated trades for the soldiers and servants (left outer bailey).

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And with this final very green view of the Clun Valley and of St. George’s church, Dr. and Mrs. Farrell hotfooted it back to the car before it started to rain.

I’m linking this to Jo’s Monday Walk. I’m thinking she might have paid Clun a wee visit during her Shropshire safari last summer.