Uplands: Wenlock In Shades of Brown

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It is rather strange, but when you are wandering round Much Wenlock you are hardly ever aware of its upland surroundings. Yet it sits in a steep-sided bowl between the upthrust strata of Wenlock Edge and various residual hills and hummocks from Ice Age days. It is a place of natural springs and erstwhile saintly wells, with hints, too, from ancient finds that its waters may well have been venerated in Roman times. It was doubtless the reason why the Saxon Princess Milburga established her convent here around 670 CE, ‘cleanliness being next to godliness’ and so on.  She was the subject of many local legends, most of them relating to her fleeing the unwanted attentions or lusty males, while conjuring protective streams and rivers to thwart her pursuers. The water from the town well named after her was believed to restore poor eyesight.

The priory ruins and parish church you see in these photos date from six and more centuries after Milburga, belonging mostly to the Norman era wherein the invaders sought to dominate the local populace with overbearing architecture. Wenlockians, though, knew how to take some advantage from the situation. It was said that the best ale in town was brewed from rainwater collected from the church roof.

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SquareUp #19

Life in Colour

This month Jude at Travel Words is asking us to consider the beauty of BROWN – earth colours.

Having The Upper Hand…Or Would That Be Beak?

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In recent days there has been a bit of a coup over in the crab apple at the top of the garden. Mama Blackbird has staked her claim to the crop. In fact the other morning I caught her seeing off the male blackbird in a most aggressive manner. No quarter given there then. He went off in a fluster.

Back in early December it was he who was King of the Crab Apples.   There had been no frost or snow to soften the fruit, and he was finding the going tough, adopting a fencer’s lunging stroke to slice off shreds of fruity flesh. Once in a while he’d (accidently) end up with a whole mini-apple wedged in his beak, too hard to scrunch in one pincer movement. Next would come a rapid descent to the garden path to sort himself out. Once or twice I thought he was in danger of choking, and wondered what the procedure might be – to unchoke a blackbird.  But then he hopped back on the fence and, if birds can cough, he coughed a few times and returned to lunging.

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And so now all is clear. There was naturally a very  good reason why Mama Blackbird was biding her time, waiting for wintery weather to make easy pickings of the apples .

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Apple Sorbet on a stalk. Mine! All mine! says Mama Merle.

 

Square Up #7

Signs Of Squirrel-Dupery? Who knew?

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Grey squirrels don’t hibernate, though they are said to do less scampering in wintery weather, and when it is very cold, they will curl themselves up, using their tails like duvets.

These photos were taken before the snow when the big oaks at the top of the Linden Field were alive with squirrel-kind seeking out acorns. They were also pretty busy after the snow, doubtless seeking out their respective stashes. But here’s the thing. It seems they are a sneaky lot and will make a big pretence of burying nuts in particular places to fool other squirrels. The little dupers.

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Square Up #6

Becky has a wonderful sun for us today.

Looking Up Between Mynd And Ragleth

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On Christmas Day we drove over Wenlock Edge to Little Stretton to spend the day with our family. It was a bright and chilly day, but as I climbed the steep steps to my sister’s home I saw the spring bulbs already emerging in her terraced beds and some frisky pink primroses freshly opened. The house is perched on a lower flank of the Long Mynd and overlooks Ragleth Hill. So while the turkey was roasting, I stood out on the deck and took these photos, watched a pair of buzzards who live in the garden’s larch trees waft over in the stillness.

And now I’m thinking that these views are rather apt for Jude’s new challenge at Travel Words. She wants us to think about colour through the coming year, and in January that colour is brown: earth shades.

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The close-up above was a very ‘long shot’, but I like the way the sun glints off the bare branches of the dark wood; the layers of russet leaves and bracken and the deeper soily looking browns among the ash trees. It could well be a candidate for Jabberwocky’s tulgey wood. It also reminds me of one of those ‘heavy’ Victorian oil paintings – Arcadia seemingly overdone with every expectation of rustic maids and shepherds popping up. But here it is. No time-slipped lads and lasses, just a piece of real Shropshire landscape.

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Square Up #5

Becky is keeping us ‘upspired’ during trying times. Interpret ‘up’ anyway you like, but keep it sUPer square.

Life in Colour: brown   Jude at Travel Words wants us to really pay attention to colour. This month she asks us to explore shades of brown.

Looking Up

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Hurray for Becky and her January Squares. There are only two ‘rules’: the image must be square, and this month’s theme is UP – however you choose to interpret it. You can post a square a day, or dip in as and when.

My first ‘up’ is a slightly blurry grey squirrel, spotted by chance in the Linden Field while taking the snow photos I posted yesterday. It was perched way, way up in an oak tree, thus requiring lots of camera zoom and steadiness, both of which were hard to effect with frozen fingers. In fact it was sitting so still, it looked frozen to the branch. I think it must have been nibbling an acorn.

Onwards and upwards, everyone!

Square Up #1

The Changing Seasons: This Was October

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Until today’s storm and bluster ‘the garden over the fence’, aka the guerrilla garden was still doing its stuff on the floral front. The rosy crab apples have of course been stealing the show, followed by the Michaelmas daisies (white, mauve and purple), Anne Thomson geranium (heliotrope) and a scatter of late lemony Silver Queen helianthus. Now all looks blown away, though a few pink cosmos behind the old privies are hanging on.

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Beyond the garden, out in the field, all has been ploughed, and already the new crop, winter wheat again by the look of it, has started to sprout. In fact all around the town the hillside fields are a haze of new growth while the hedgerow trees and woody margins turn to old gold. But then much like last autumn we have had far too much rain, which in turn means us Wenlockians take to country paths at our peril – slithering in Silurian clag that threatens a serious upending at every step. The following photos, then, reflect only the surprise sunny intervals.

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Up at the allotment it’s now the season of gathering in and tidying, mulching and compost turning. This year many garden crops did not thrive as expected. I have no explanation for this, except we did have several weeks without rain in the spring and hand watering never quite makes up for it. But then this has been the pattern for several years now, and I had taken precautions with plenty of mulching.  After the brief hot spell in May the summer was generally lacklustre, often cool and windy, and light levels low.

And this in turn has me wondering that there is more to weather than CO2, on which of course all our plant life, and therefore us, wholly depend for existence. Something’s up with the sun. It seems to be having a quiet phase. We’ve also apparently had an El Nino event out in the Pacific, which usually makes for cold-wet La Nina after-effects. And then the earth’s magnetic field is having a wander across the hemispheres; the jet stream has been meandering all over the place, and lots of geothermal goings on have been happening under the ocean beds at the poles.

All of which is to say the time is clearly out of joint (all ends up), and this an over elaborate excuse for failed sweet corn, rubbish broad beans and a disappointing runner bean crop.

Anyway, failures apart, there is still much to pick – leeks, greens, carrots, beetroot, parsnips outside; salad stuff and a few tomatoes in the polytunnel; lots of apples on communal trees. On my cleared beds the green manure crops are growing well and there are still bumble bees in the flowering phacelia. I’ve broken into last autumn’s stash of fallen leaves and found some brilliant well-rotted leaf mould for mulching the raspberries. And I’ve sown over-wintering field (fava) beans for next year’s early summer picking, and they’re already sprouting. And that’s the great thing about gardening – the onward cycle of growing and nurturing, the continuous big ‘do-over’.

 

The Changing Seasons: October 2020

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

Some Peacock Perspectives

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Today in the Sheinton Street garden we have both sunshine and warmth, elements that have been lacking so far this month. And so amongst the Doronicum we also have a profusion of peacock butterflies, sip-sipping like mad at the tiny compound flowerlets. I watch them as I hang out the washing – the survival imperative played out before our very eyes.

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Square Perspective #30

In The Evening Sun ~ Lemon Balm

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In these viral days – virtual and actual – we could probably all do with some regular infusions of lemon balm tea. Medical herbalists prescribe it for anxiety, shock, insomnia and all round jangled nerves. Simply brushing your fingers against the stems fills the air with a lemony minty freshness that lifts the spirits. Last night as I was standing at the kitchen door, waiting for the couscous to fluff up, I saw these sprigs among the montbretia leaves, briefly lit by the last of the sun – a glow to savour then between our present squalls of wintery rain and high winds. Last Saturday it was all heat and high summer here in Shropshire. This Saturday the weather clock has regressed to early March. Strange times all round. Time to brew some lemon balm methinks.

Six Word Saturday