September’s Changing Seasons ~ Late Summer Days

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September in Shropshire has been pretty perfect until the last few days. Now we have bouts of heavy rain, weighing down the garden flowers, washing out the last of summer colours. But between the downpours there are still bees and butterflies about, though nothing like the clouds of them we had earlier in the month when I’d find the allotment verbena covered in Painted Ladies. Of course it’s pretty much the last chance for all the insects to stoke up on dwindling supplies of nectar; sunflowers, Michaelmas daisies and sedum being the busiest bug take-aways.

At the start of the month the wheat behind our house was finally cut. As I said in an earlier post, the dust cloud was monumental, covering the garden in chaff. But that’s a small price to pay for the freedom to roam across an empty field. Doubtless, it won’t be like that for much longer. The field will be ploughed and sown. Farmers  no longer leave stubble fields to overwinter, so providing forage for wildlife, particularly native bird species, during the hardest months. For now though, the straw bales left behind have been providing some of  Wenlock’s youngsters with new play venues, even if scaling them  has been proving something of a challenge.

As Cyndi says: ‘Girls just wanna have fun’.

And from this morning’s garden on the last day of the month, and between the rain showers:

 

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copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

The Changing Seasons: September 2019

It Seemed Like A Small Treasure

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There it was lying among the chaff and wheat stalks, a small fossil brachiopod, the size of my thumbnail, both shells of the bivalve quite intact, but washed free of its sedimentary matrix, to be found by me as I wandered about in Townsend Meadow after the harvest.  I was out in the field, relishing the new views, seeing the town from fresh angles as I climbed the hill, and much like Monet with his many haystack renditions, as I went, snapping multiple views of the large straw bales. With the morning sun on them they looked like some rustic art installation.

I saw the fossil from the corner of my eye and instantly switched to archaeologist mode, at first hoping it might be a Roman coin. It was a similar size and pewtery dullness to the ones I’d uncovered at nearby Wroxeter Roman City when I was digging there aeons ago. But no. It is a washed up remnant from the Silurian Sea, the 400 million-year shallow ocean, whose bed in more recent eras thrust upwards to form Wenlock Edge.

But that’s not all that is marvellous. Before the upthrusting, back in the oceanic days when this little mollusc was still busy sifting warm currents to find its lunch, the land beneath my feet was lying south of the Equator, somewhere near the Comoros Islands in the Indian Ocean. It takes one’s breath away: Shropshire to the Comoros. Is all too hard to grasp. Too much time, too much planetary expanse for the mind to girdle. I mean how could the world’s parts have done so much monumental shunting about? And we humans with all our technology think ourselves masters of the globe. Silly, silly us.

Anyway, I brought the little fossil home, and it sits on my desk. It feels like a touchstone, an omen, a talisman. What meaning might I take from it? This 400 million-year-old mollusc found by chance among the chaff and sawn-off stalks after the wheat harvest.

copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

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On The Way To Myndtown, To See Which Way The Fish Blows

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I’d noticed the sign on several occasions as we’d passed by – a brown heritage sign at the turn to Wentnor on the Bishops Castle road. It sounded tantalising: 12th century Myndtown Church 1¼. On Saturday, after a fish and chip lunch in Poppies in Bishops Castle we decided to take a look.

To say it’s off the beaten track succinctly sums it up. The lane is narrow, a car’s width between verged hedgerows, gateway glimpses only of the pasture and wheat fields on either hand. No sign of habitation, only the Long Mynd looming ahead, and so it’s not long before we are questioning the wisdom of the excursion. For one thing its another of those odd Shropshire moments: here we are in wide open country yet apparently heading for a place with ‘town’ in the name? Surely not.

Surely is right. After about a mile we pass the sign to Myndtown Cottage. No house is visible, only the name board and dirt track approach. And finally, around the next bend, and on a little plateau above another sign, this time to Myndtown Farm, there it is – Myndtown Church of 12th century origins.

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The church is dedicated to St John the Baptist, its east end nudging towards the Mynd. There is also a barn and a venerable house nearby. And in the field opposite a pony under an ancient apple tree, a snoozing sheep for company. And finally, views of Shropshire hill country all around.

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But have you spotted the fish? As one brought up with 1950s I-spy books to ensure I passed the time quietly on long car journeys, I feel sure a ‘weather cock’ in piscine form would have merited a good 25 points.

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And while I have you looking skywards, look higher still. There are gliders up there too, drifting silently between the clouds. They are launched from the top of the Long Mynd where the Midlands Gliding Club has its HQ.

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Back to earth in the church yard, all is peace and late summer sunshine, blackberries ripening on the wall, no sounds but wind-rush and bird call. Listen! says Graham. No traffic noise. I listen. There isn’t. It’s almost unimaginable these days. Also the white painted church door suggests an airy welcome somehow, and inside we’re struck by the amazing roof timbers, the tub-shaped early medieval font, the simplicity of the place that began in the 1100s or possibly earlier still, and was rescued from ruin in the 21st century by a generous grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Services are still held here once a month although not in March because this is lambing time. These days it is one of a group of neighbouring rural churches – Norbury, Wentnor, and Ratlinghope – all served by a single rector.

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By the door we find all sorts of interesting historical snippets on a series of notice boards. For instance Myndtown makes its historical debut in 1086, during William the Conqueror’s famous auditing exercise, otherwise known as the Domesday Book. At this time the manor, then known as Munete, was part of the hundred of Rinlau whose lord was a Norman incomer, Robert de Say. He let the manor of Munete to a free man called Leofric, presumably a Saxon. The assets included 1½ hides of land, about 240 acres, sufficient for 3½ ploughs. Of the population at this time, there were 2 slaves, 4 villagers, and 4 small holders with 2 ploughs between them. Before the Conquest the holding was valued at 60 shillings, but only 30 shillings at the time of the audit, a reduction, historians suggest, possibly due to predation by raiders from over the border in nearby Wales.

In a later, and sombrely touching account from  1341, the tax assessors reduce the Chapel of Munede’s bill to the Crown from £4’s worth of parish lamb, wool, wheat, to less than half this amount: “because the lands lay fallow and untilled, the Tenants being poor.”

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And so the Myndtown name turns out to be misleading. There never was a town here, or hardly even a hamlet. In 1708 under the lordship of Richard Clough there were 4 houses and 4 cottages. In 1793 there were still 8 households and a population of 39. During the 18th century the manor was bought and sold to and by members of the local gentry who received rents from the 3 tenant farms therein. The last sale was in 1797 to the Plowden family who own it today and have lived nearby since the 1200s.

In some ways, then, and in some key matters, things have changed less than we imagine in the almost thousand years since William of Normandy effected regime change in Saxon England. So it does make me very happy to know that since 1965 the Long Mynd itself – the 7-mile long hill that you can see looking down on Myndtown – has been owned and managed by the National Trust, the degraded uplands constantly being improved and made ever more accessible to anyone who cares to hike, bike, trek, wild swim or wander there – definitely a change to celebrate. Incidentally, now I come to think of it, it’s also the way the fish is blowing – towards the Mynd.

But finally another nugget of information gathered while inside Myndtown Church – that from 1155 until 1752 the English year began, not on 1st January, but on the 25th March, Lady Day. This is still a date when estate rents are traditionally paid, which as it happens, also includes the rent for my allotment plot.

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copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

The Changing Seasons ~ August And The Turn Of The Year

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There’s been a sense of autumn happening all month. The wheat harvest began extra early, some weeks ago in fact, then stalled during heavy rain, then started up again, the combines’ drone resounding from the hills around the town. But over the hedge behind the house the crop remains uncut, though it received its chemical drench last week, the mega-tractor leaving great tracks of smashed crop as it sprayed – a herbicide no doubt. It’s not my wheat of course, but somehow I find this a disturbing sight, though quickly suppose there must be a ready reckoner knack for weighing up the benefit of bad weed removal over good crop loss. Now it is raining again and by yesterday the ears that were pale ochre had acquired a coppery glow. At this rate the grains will take a lot of drying out, and we’ll be hearing the grain driers’ drone instead. When activated, they go all night. Or that’s my impression.

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But as to the autumnal feelings, the lime trees have a lot to answer for. After magnificent flushes of tiny green blossoms that filled the byways with delicious scent, the flowers’ seed wings have fallen everywhere in drifts, filling the gutters, strewing the Linden Walk like so much sea litter,  and thereby also doing a very good impression of autumn leaves before we’re ready for them.

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We’ve had high summer intervals too, days when the garden has been filled with blossoms, bees and butterflies, and especially Painted Ladies which have appeared in huge numbers this year, apparently on a reproductive a high in a ten-year cycle. There have been lots of Gatekeeper butterflies too, and Peacocks and Tortoiseshells and Commas. Also Cabbage Whites, which I’m not at all keen on, since no vegetable defence system seems secure against the breeding imperative. The guerrilla garden over the fence has been spectacular, and the garden within very pleasing, if unruly.

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At the allotment all the gardeners are heavily into ‘harvest home’ mode – baskets of runner beans, courgettes, tomatoes and potatoes being gathered, armfuls of dahlias, asters and gladioli borne home to share with friends and neighbours. The place is alive with pollinators of every kind, flocks of Gatekeepers and Painted Ladies on the abandoned plots where teasels, verbena and oregano are running rampant among the weeds; lots of bees in my butter bean blossoms and courgette flowers too.

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So all in all, things in Wenlock have been pretty good this August, and we are very lucky to be here. The weather may be weird, our democratic system such as it is coming apart at the seams, no one really knowing what Brexit will mean, but Rip Van Winkle Land is alive and well, and just to prove it, here’s a somnolent evening view of the town from the allotment.

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copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

The Changing Seasons: August 2019

In The Frame ~ A Garden Treasure Trove

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We’re back in Corvedale, the lovely valley that lies between Wenlock Edge and the Clee Hills, not far from the ancient Heath Chapel that featured in Over the Edge and faraway.

Wildegoose Nursery is a plants persons’ dream, conjured within an old Victorian kitchen garden. The owners lease the walled garden from Millichope Park and, over the last few years, have transformed decades of dereliction into a magnificent showpiece for uncommon varieties of herbaceous plants. We went there because my sister Jo kept saying we should.  You’d love it, she said.

She was right. We did.

So: I’m posting this set of photos in response to Lens-Artists’ weekly theme. This week Amy asks us to think about how we frame our shots, and as this happened to be my particular challenge during our garden ramble: how to capture the essence of the whole, as well as the particular, it seemed a good opportunity to post them.

The colourways and combinations of the Wildegoose planting schemes are captivating, painterly, often flamboyantly informal, sometimes riotous.

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Incidentally, I think this lily is hosting an invader harlequin ladybird. They originate in Japan and according the Royal Horticultural Society, were deliberately spread about the planet as a biocontrol for aphids, though not in Britain, whence they came of their own accord. They began arriving here in 2004. Unfortunately they also eat butterfly and moth eggs and our native ladybirds, and there are fears they will outstrip our native strains.

One particular challenge camera-wise was how best to photograph the astonishing Millichope Glasshouse. This too had been restored, all 12,500 postcard sized hand-made glass overlapping panels replaced. The glasshouse dates from around the 1830s and is highly unusual with its curved profile.

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Restored from this:

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Originally a Victorian kitchen garden such as this would have been cultivated by a small army of garden men and boys, all under the stern eye of a head gardener like Charles Ashford, my own grandfather. The glasshouses would have been devoted to producing exotic fruit, tropical plants for table and drawing room display; the garden walls used to support espaliered fruit trees – peaches, apricots, cherries, apples of many varieties, pears, each sited according to the most beneficial aspect. There would have been hot beds for melons and cucumbers and for forcing early crops, strawberry and asparagus beds, salad crops and vegetables of every kind, and also borders for cut flowers. Such production units were very expensive to run and by the interwar period most big gardens like that were beginning to be abandoned.

Wildegoose Nursery does have some vegetable beds, but mostly the garden is given over to exuberant herbaceous planting. There is also a small, beautifully arranged plant sales area, and a very welcoming tearoom which served such lovely food, we forced ourselves to stay for lunch, even though we’d not long sampled their coffee and cake for a late elevenses.

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And here are some planting schemes that especially caught my eye:

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And here are some general garden views with Clee Hill in the background. I should add there was also a particular soundtrack to these scenes: above the hum of a million pollinators and the soft chatter of garden volunteers, the thrum of combine harvesters in nearby fields, and overhead, the plaintive mew of buzzards.

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P.S. There is a fee for going round the garden, but we thought it worth every penny.

Lens-Artists: Framing the shot

Over The Edge And Far Away ~ In Search Of Heath Chapel Beneath The Clee

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Between Wenlock Edge and Clee Hill.

[This photo is by way of a prologue, just to give you a gist of place – a glimpse of the ‘lost world’ where we found ourselves last Friday. This is actually an autumn scene taken from the Wenlock Edge viewpoint, the freshly sown winter wheat just sprouting in the field to the left. Beyond the middle horizon lies Corvedale, one of the loveliest valleys of the Shropshire uplands. Today this country is mainly agricultural land, arable and pasture, but back in the Middle Ages coal was mined on the Clee Hills and the valley then would have gushed with fumes and smoke from blast furnaces and iron foundries – an industrial scene then, and well before the actual  Industrial Revolution of centuries later. And generations before the fumes, in 7th century Saxon Mercia, all this land was a small part of the domain held by Milburga, a Saxon princess and abbess of Much Wenlock’s first convent – a double house for both nuns and monks. Doubtless the Saxon villagers who farmed this land back then would have paid tribute to Milburga’s establishment, or to one of its daughter houses.]

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If in a madcap moment you turn off the Craven Arms-Ludlow road that runs out of Wenlock and along Corvedale, and then head down one of the many side-lanes, you will soon find yourself meandering through tiny hamlets of old stone cottages, farmhouses and the occasional manor with surrounding parkland. Oaks and ash trees shade the narrow byways that dogleg round wheat fields and cattle and sheep meadows, nudge between tall hedgerows of wild flowers, scuttle across farmyards, elbow their way in and out of cramped cottage-clusters where the signpost to the place you are seeking is hidden by trees. Progress, then, can be slow and also nerve-wracking. Mostly the road is only wide enough for one vehicle, and passing places, by way of field gateways, are sometimes scarce. One may spend much time going backwards.

There are no shops or inns and and, now and then, only the sight of an isolated notice board at a crossroads alerts you to the fact of a community’s existence, somewhere behind all the greenery. Of course there are old churches whose towers you may glimpse as you wend and bend through the hinterland. And then there are VERY old churches, and it was the pursuit of one particular ancient chapel that last Friday had lured us into uncharted territory (for us that is), if barely a dozen miles from home.

In short, we were having ‘a day out’, a break from the ongoing domestic chaos that had begun with exchanging an old bathroom for a new one, but then morphed into an unexpected schedule of re-decorating – one big mess somehow multiplying into several others. Also, after last Thursday’s 24 hours of rain, we had seen more than enough of the chaos in particular and of indoors in general.

The road out of Wenlock and into Corvedale is narrow and steep, and as main roads go, is more of a lane to begin with. It wanders up and down through Bourton, Brockton and Shipton, then straightens and widens through Broadstone and Hungerford. But before we reached Munslow we left it, turning off at the staggered crossroads where there’s a sign for Wildgoose Nursery (more of which in another post), zigzagging through Baucott down Sandy Lane, skirting Bouldon (though it looked beguiling), taking a sharp left to Heath, peering through overgrown hedgerows.

And suddenly there it was, alone in its field – and looking just like the Shropshire guide book photos – Heath Chapel built around 1150 CE, and at some point in the late Middle Ages left high and dry by its community which, for reasons unknown, simply ceased to be. In a nearby field you can see the humps and bumps of house platforms that were once its village. In fact the map shows a number of deserted medieval village sites along the dale. All rather mysterious.

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The notice board at the chapel gate tells you that key is hanging behind it. At first I was sceptical. But here it was. A good 10 inches of it.

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I was further surprised to learn from the board that loo facilities are available behind the chapel, along with car parking. I also noted the paths that have been mown across the meadow, and the wrought iron seats placed for quiet contemplation in this secluded spot. Although I soon saw we were not quite alone. Across the field I spotted a small graveyard where three young calves were grazing. While Graham manhandled the huge key to open the chapel I went over to say hello to them.

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Back at the chapel door I considered its rustic Norman arch and the time-line progress of humanity that has passed beneath it: the Saxon serfs of some local Norman overlord, monastic labourers perhaps, since the reach of Wenlock Priory under the rule of the French-speaking Cluniac monks was long, and they had diverse money-making projects, most especially in sheep wool. Later, after 1540 when monastic rule was broken, and Wenlock Borough managed by burgesses, town worthies of the rising merchant classes, perhaps the manor’s lord and lady and their retinue worshipped here. No one knows. The chapel is simply there, silent about its history although there are some tantalizing hints inside.

And inside it was dark, dank and musty, though apparently still sometimes used for worship. Only by holding the door wide open was there enough light to photograph the font.

I weighed up the box pews and thought they would have been little defence against the cold rising from the stone flag floor, or a winter’s wind under the door. But I also noticed something else. Here and there, where the white plasterwork had fallen damply from the walls, there were faint outlines of Gothic text and more besides.

It seems there were once religious texts illuminating the walls above the pews. Later I discovered these were added in the 1600s, inscribed atop the whitewash that had blotted out the earlier medieval wall paintings. And then astonishingly up on the south wall there is the ghost of such a painting, and said to be the image of Saint George. It is a full-scale work, and even these faint vestiges suggest that this modest little chapel was once very grandly adorned. But by whom and why here?

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It was good to step back out into the sunshine. Graham locked the door and the chapel continued to keep its secrets. We walked around the field perimeter and, under a large tree at the furthest point from the chapel, we found a small, and discreetly placed garden shed. The loo. There really was one and provided there by the thoughtful chapel custodians. It also proved an attraction of sorts in its own right and made us laugh when we looked inside.

A valuable introduction into compost toileting arrangements then. The same kindly people who created these facilities presumably had also put a pack of bottled water in the chapel. Heath is in on a popular walkers’ route, and so if you’d forgotten, or finished your own water, you could help yourself to a bottle and drop a donation in the box. It was all so heartening; a piece of English heritage that was well loved and cherished and generously shared by unseen souls.

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View from the loo

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The key re-hung and the gate string re-looped, we returned to the car that Graham had parked tidily in a hedge, and meandered on. More narrow winding lanes – more unfamiliar terrain with Clee Hill now looming on our right, more searching for signposts in the overgrowth which involved a U-turn or two. We headed for Abdon, then Tugford, inching past farm vehicles, slowing for a girl on a horse, narrowly missing being run over by a speeding parcel delivery van, admiring picturesque stone houses with pretty gardens, the well farmed fields, and at last regaining the road home at Broadstone.

Back in Wenlock, we felt we’d been a long way away, and for a very long time. It was that well known Rip Van Winkle effect that often happens in Shropshire if, in a madcap moment, you choose to leave the main road.

copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

Lens-Artists ~ Taking A Break  This week we’ve followed Tina’s wise advice.

Out In The ‘Blue Remembered Hills’

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Into my heart on air that kills

From yon far country blows:

What are those blue remembered hills,

What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,

I see it shining plain,

The happy highways where I went

And cannot come again.

From A. E. Housman’s  A Shropshire Lad  1896

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We are lucky enough to live on the edge of Wenlock Edge whose ridge-top road delivers us straight to the heart of Shropshire’s hill country. Caer Caradoc, Lawley, Ragleth, Long Mynd, Stiperstones are some of the most well known of our uplands, each striking in its own way and often featuring in old tales and mysterious legends. This is not surprising considering that humans have been walking these lands for at least the last 9,000 years when the ice sheets retreated.

The whole area is rich in prehistoric remains – burial cairns, standing stones, hill forts, Bronze Age field systems, trackways, drove roads and trade routes. This photo was taken from the northerly flanks of the Long Mynd, on the lane to Ratlinghope and Bridges, and looks over the Lawley to the long blue-green spine of Wenlock Edge.

July Squares #18

It’s A Small World ~ Over The Garden Fence

Most of you who come here often will know that over our garden fence beside  the field path we have been encouraging a wilderness garden to flourish. Most of it is not on our land, and so we call it ‘the guerrilla garden’, referencing a movement that began some years back and involved certain UK citizens going around, often under the cover of darkness, establishing gardens in derelict and unsightly corners of public spaces.

Our version was aimed at encouraging bio-diversity, mostly of the insect kind. It is wholly unplanned and includes some cultivated herbaceous species i.e. those that had grown too uncontainable in our small garden and had to be set free, the crab apple that had to be moved when the garden steps were being rebuilt, wild flowers sown and invaded, and quite a few weeds. I don’t do much to it beyond a big tidy up in the autumn, though I do have to tackle the fieldside margins now and then to stop the thistles and brambles from taking over.

Anyway, the ensuing floral jungle is a great source of pleasure for six months of the year, and once you start peering over the fence to study it whole hours can pass. So here’s a glimpse of some of what goes on there . I should perhaps warn you before you set off, the photo of the Mullein Moth caterpillar is very much larger than life. Also, who can spot the crab spider in the close-up of the Giant Mullein flowers? And anyone who has more accurate identifications of the ‘?beetles’ and hoverflies (Pete?) please shout up.

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Lens-Artists: Detail This week Patti sets the challenge.

For more about the Lens-Artists photo challenge go HERE

 

Today In The Garden ~ Blue On Blue

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One of the best things about a garden on several levels is that you get to see plants  from unexpected view points. Here’s Rozanne busy flowering her socks off. She’s on top of the wall that holds up the bank behind the house, well above my head height,  and will be flowering now until the first frosts. The almost black foliage in the corner is Cotinus aka Smoke Bush or Smoke Tree. When it flowers it is a mass of feathery creamy-pink plumes.

July Squares #4