After The Flood ~ The Primrose Path

IMG_7132

After our sunny blue-sky Monday, Tuesday was back to dank and gloom. Undaunted, though, we decided on another local jaunt, this time to the nearby River Severn and the historic settlement of Jackfield, a couple of miles downstream of Ironbridge. This old industrial enclave was once the centre of the 19th century decorative tile manufacture – two vast factories, Maw & Co and Craven Dunnill that once shipped their products down river and thence around the world to grace the walls of palaces and grand public edifices.

These days the remains of the Craven Dunnill works are given over to the Jackfield Tile Museum, part of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, while the remnant buildings of Maw & Co house craft workshops and apartments and the very pleasing Tile Press Cafe which was where had lunch – halloumi toasties with lots of salad.

IMG_7135

Part of the former Maw & Co decorative tile factory now used for workshops and small businesses.

*

February had seen some massive flooding along the Severn Gorge, and we were glad to see the river was pretty much back in its bed, though still flowing fast and furious and above usual levels. Turbid was the word that came to mind as I took this muddy shot.

IMG_7121

One of the worst and serial casualties of Severn flooding is the traditional old pub,  The Boat Inn.  It stands in a hollow below the footbridge to Coalport, and its front door records nearly a century of flooding. This year’s deluge was one of the worst, making third place under the 19 feet 5 inches of February 1946, and just above the 1947 flood of 19 feet 1 inch. In fact the 1940s saw 4 really bad floods, with the next worst in 1966, so this extreme excess of water is by no means a new event.

IMG_7125

IMG_7123

*

And here’s what it looked like last month, photo courtesy of The Shropshire Star on-line:

Boat Inn February 2020

It’s hard to contemplate the horror of being on the receiving end of so much water. The inn sits at the lowest point of the settlement and apparently floods from behind as well as to the front. The flood inside then holds the front doors shut against the outside flood! We felt so sorry for the licensees. There was not much sign of life when we walked by. Hopefully it will be back in action soon.

IMG_7128

IMG_7124

The inn sign gives a big clue as to the business of the past. This is one of the big trading barges (Severn trows) that used to ply the River Severn. Until the railway arrived, trows provided ideal means of transport for the Ironbridge Gorge ceramics industries, including porcelain from the Coalport China Works just across the river – much smoother by boat than by 19th century roads.

For some fascinating old photos and more history from Jackfield please visit From Shropshire And My Shins Are Sharp blog.

Wandering back to the car past The Boat Inn’s neighbouring cottages we didn’t see much obvious sign of flood damage there, only the clump of celandines and primroses by a cottage gatepost which seemed like a sign of hopefulness and recovery. Here they are again.

IMG_7132

Yesterday Was A Blue Sky Day

IMG_7110

It seems the hyperactive Polar Jet Stream has been responsible for the last few months excessive weather events in the northern hemisphere. This particular ‘river in the sky’ (there are others) apparently rips across the globe between the Arctic and the sub-tropical zone at the height of a trans-Atlantic plane. It can be up to 3 miles thick and between 1,000-3,000 miles long. And at this time of year it travels between 300 and 400 miles per hour. You can find out all about it at The Jet Stream.

Anyway last week the weather person promised us a break from its more obvious machinations, and said we were in for some bright, cold weather starting Monday.

And so it happened. Yesterday we woke to wall to wall blue sky, sunshine, fluffy clouds and coolly crisp air. And no rain! So to boost any signs of flagging spirits and counteract the effluent spewed daily by our mass media we set off for the wide open loveliness of Attingham Park for a big dose of fresh air and some brisk exercise.

IMG_7010

When we arrived there we found several hundred other people had had the same idea.  Hoards of mothers-and-toddlers, multitudes of dog owners with multiple canines, and a whole bunch of ‘at risk’ age-group folks like us. The several car parks were almost full to bursting.

IMG_7111

The National Trust staff, mostly volunteers, were their usual welcoming selves, and soon all the visitors were well dispersed across the parkland. In places around the deer park, where there are several gates to deal with, I noticed that everyone we met was opening them with their elbows and in like manner holding them open for others. At which point I decided it truly was impossible to get a complete grip on how one should react to this current Covid-19 drama.

IMG_7105

As I’m writing this I can hear the rumble of the farmer’s tractor in the field behind the house, monster arms of the spraying gear outstretched, giving the emerging crop a food boost. At the front of the house the traffic is still dashing by to Telford. Earlier I spotted Mr and Mrs vicar passing by on their daily dog walk. They stopped to chat with other walkers. The postman delivered the post.  People (some exceedingly aged since that’s a significant feature of Wenlock’s demographic) have been walking by into town to do their shopping…

IMG_7001

So yes. I was glad we went out yesterday. There was still quite a lot of flood water standing in the park, but the hawthorns and willows were bursting green. The daffodils were out. I found a crop of violets complete with butterfly. We saw a pair of ravens, making their cronk-cronking calls and doing a spot of aerial somersaulting. Jackdaws were cavorting; blue tits twittering, and the fallow deer looking frisky. And then of course we also saw the 650-year-old Repton Oak (see previous post). So much to be pleased about. Lots to be thankful for and wonder at.

IMG_7045

copyright 2020 Tish Farrell

#EarthMagic

Still Going At 650 Years Old

IMG_7088

Today we paid our respects to this very elderly oak tree. It has been growing in Attingham Park in Shropshire since the 1370 where it is now under the care of the National Trust and fondly known as the Repton Oak since it was already a veteran in 1797 when garden designer, Humphrey Repton landscaped the parkland for the Barons Berwick.

But just think of the span of human history it has lived through. When it popped shoot and radicle from its acorn Edward III was still on the throne, and the Hundred Years War between England and France was only half done. By the time it had grown to a sturdy sapling Geoffrey Chaucer was thinking of writing The Canterbury Tales and the peasants were in revolt against the draconian levels of taxation (raised to fight the war that did not end until 1453 and was actually the 116 years war).

The oak tree is still a great presence in the landscape though sadly its innards are decaying. But this is not all bad news since it provides an important haven for the rare Lesser Stag Beetle whose larvae feed on the rotting wood at the centre of such ancient trees.

A national treasure of a tree then: arboreal emblem of stalwart resilience. We must remember to pay another visit when it’s in leaf.

IMG_7084

 

#EarthMagic

The Changing Seasons: February

IMG_6748

There’s been little chance to take photos this month. We have had altogether too much bad weather: two storms and one on the way; rain that has been raining since the end of September; wind, sleet and hail; and for poor people who live near the River Severn, horrendous floods. Nearby Ironbridge has been deluged, the water breaching the flood barriers. Our county town, Shrewsbury, has been returned to the bad old winter flood days of the 1960s, this despite its modern flood defences. (You can go here to see the BBC coverage.)  In Much Wenlock ten homes on the High Street were treated to a slurry of liquid mud and gravel courtesy of run-off from surrounding hillsides delivered by road into their living rooms and parked cars.

There is much that could have been done since our region’s last big floods in 2007-8. No one seems to drain fields properly, or maintain lane and roadside ditches as they did in my childhood, interventions that would at least help to slow the flow. In fact our verge-side ditches seem to have mostly disappeared, presumably filled in and sacrificed to road widening. And so in times of heavy rains when highway drains may become quickly blocked, our roads serve as highly efficient flash flood delivery systems.

We need to start thinking about better water catchment management, and especially on our denuded uplands where our rivers rise.

Australian farmer initiatives show how all our water catchment areas could be managed better with the addition of ‘leaky weirs’ set at intervals down water courses: rocks, tree trunks judiciously placed to create a series of delta effects. No need for hugely expensive hi-techery. Such simple methods not only hold back flood water and sediment, but hydrate surrounding land and foster regrowth of bank-side vegetation that in turn restores biodiversity, providing resilience too in times of drought. AND, most importantly of all, reducing soil erosion.

BECAUSE apart from the absolute misery caused by flooded homes, the impact on life, health and livelihoods, the biggest long-term loss to us ALL, is the fertile soil that floods carry away. Once it is gone, it is gone. Many of our soils are already mineral depleted. This will ultimately have an impact on the quality of food produced and on human health. The way we treat the land, always clearing, forever taking out with an eye to greater efficiency and higher productivity, but without ever replenishing adn rebuilding, is a good way to degrade local and regional weather systems.  In fact creating land resilience and restoring the natural environment are probably the most useful things we could be doing now this minute to mitigate future extreme weather events.

And before too much blame is laid at farmers’ doors for industrial farming practices, the UK and Australia, it seems, have various laws that forbid landowner interference with water courses on their land. They must seek official approval to do anything that impacts on water flow. In the UK, riparian owners have some very serious responsibilities which include ensuring the clear movement of water through their properties.

Here’s an interesting video showing how leaky weirs work, and showcasing the pioneering efforts of farmers and the Mulloon Institute in New South Wales:

*

And back on the home front and to fend off sensations of all round rising damp, here’s a photo of my drying washing, taken on the one day this month when it was worth hanging it out in the garden. Nothing like filling one’s sheets with wind and sunshine; always makes for the best sort of sleep, I always think.

IMG_6811

 

The Changing Seasons: February 2020

Sue has a very lovely gallery of photos this month. Please go and see.

Below The World’s First Cast Iron Bridge: Half ‘n Half-Light

IMG_5919sq

I admit this is not a great shot of one of industrial history’s key artefacts, though you can just make out  the new rust-red livery of the ironwork. Obviously the thing that caught my eye here was the strange lighting effect between bridge and river.

But for those of you who like a few facts to support ‘first in the world’ claims, the bridge was built in 1779 by Quaker Ironmaster Abraham Darby III. It spans the Severn Gorge in Ironbridge, Shropshire, and was intended to replace a (sometimes treacherous) ferry crossing between Broseley and Coalbrookdale, much used by the local workforce. But most of all it was designed to impress. Not only was it the world’s first cast iron bridge, so demonstrating a pioneering structural material, it was also the first single span bridge on the River Severn (all the other bridges were built of stone and had low arches). This new design meant that the large sailing barges (trows) coming up from Bristol did not have to de-mast to pass under it.

The River Severn trade was a busy one too – all manner of luxury goods coming upstream, locally produced pig iron, castings, ceramics and porcelain going downstream. Inevitably then, word of this daring new structure would quickly spread. People would start thinking of cast iron as a material with prospects. The Coalbrookdale iron masters certainly had plenty of ideas – from the industrial (iron framed factories, wagon wheels, rails, boiler castings) to the decorative and all points in between. The Great Exhibition of 1851 and the world trade fairs that it engendered provided the shop window for their ever more ingenious fabrications.

The Company’s catalogues were the ‘style books’ of the late 19th century. Cast iron was used to make just about everything – glasshouse frames, intricate park gates, garden rollers, seats, horse troughs, statues, fountains, stoves, boot scrapers, fire surrounds, nut crackers, bandstands, lamp posts, fruit bowls, cooking pots, grave memorials and all manner of finials and fancy pieces. Its beauty lay in the fact that once designs had been committed to moulds, pieces could be mass produced, and whether for grand architectural statements for the stately pile or a cauldron for the workman’s home the material was supremely functional (if a little cold to the touch).

So how about one of these to hang your hat on:

Cbd a

These pieces might seem ‘overdone’ to our eyes, but they involved consummate skill (and physical risk) in their moulding and casting. As to design, the Coalbrookdale Company founded a technical institute for its workforce with the specific aim of nurturing local expertise and innovation in the fields of decorative ironwork.

But these days it is perhaps the enduring and durable ornamental garden seat that is more appealing to us. Here’s one I spotted at Dudmaston Hall back in the summer:

IMG_2465

*

And now back to where it and I started, but with a better view of the Iron Bridge: Abraham Darby III’s magnificent cast iron PR stunt. And it’s still going strong after 241 years (thanks to some recent rigorous conservation work by English Heritage). And still the tourist attraction it was back then too – even to us locals who like to pay homage to this piece of engineering chutzpah every once in a while.

IMG_5920

January Light #24

Caught In The FogLight – Ghosts Of Cooling Towers Past

IMG_5993sq

This photo was taken at the end of November not long before Ironbridge Power Station was spectacularly demolished. I’ve always been drawn to the epic quality of the cooling towers, though not necessarily always in a comfortable way.  I’m ever a sucker for earthenware and the smooth curves of the terracotta brickwork, and the way it caught the light, certainly did appeal. I’ve not yet been back to Dale End Park in Coalbrookdale to see what the Severn Gorge looks like without the towers. I’m thinking a loss of grandeur.

The CGI below envisages a complete small town of 1000 houses plus community infrastructure for this riverside cul de sac, though there is the surprising inclusion of a steam railway. You can see the recently submitted plans HERE and HERE. The cooling towers occupied the area above the far left-hand bridge. The bridge on the far right is the Buildwas Bridge. This is the road to Much Wenlock a few miles away. The road to Telford (a new town with massive ongoing housing development, plus well planned existent infrastructure, schools, shopping centres, station, motorway and industrial complexes) runs along the bottom of the photo. Access to it from the Power Station site is over the narrow Buildwas Bridge (???)

power station development

Photo: Harworth Group Ironbridge Power Station Proposed Development Plan

January Light #15

Wildegoose Rooflights

sq

Discovering Wildegoose Nursery was one of the high spots of 2019 – a plantsperson’s paradise set in an old walled garden on the edge of Corvedale in Shropshire.

We went there first in high summer, wandered through drifts of verbena, phlox, day lilies, cone flowers, alliums, grasses. The place was alive with butterflies and bee-hum. Buzzards mewed overhead and nearby, harvesters throbbed – the Corvedale farmers cutting their wheat. Far away over the wall, Clee Hill lay in a haze. A dreaming day.

We went again in November, and in its way, the garden was no less beautiful, the plants and grasses settled in muted tones, and the 1830’s glasshouse looking as magnificent as ever, the low light glancing off its 12,000 postcard-sized panes. It just goes to show – there’s treasure to be found on one’s doorstep. We’ll be back there in spring.

For now a pot pourri of summer and autumn views:

IMG_3328

IMG_3409

IMG_3446

IMG_3379

IMG_6077

IMG_6054

IMG_6061

IMG_6055

Lens-Artists: special spot shots

January Light #8