As Seen In Fresh Light ~ Over The Garden Fence

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Of itself the field behind our house (Townsend Meadow) is not very interesting. It is simply a farm field, much subjected to agrochemicals in order to produce year on year wheat, or rape, or oats, or field beans or barley. On days when the light is flat it is plain dull. Most of the time it is the activity above it that catches my eye – cloud movements, and the odd effects created by a false horizon which obscures the further horizon of Wenlock Edge where the ground drops off a few hundred feet to the Shropshire Plain below. But there are moments when the quality of light bestows a certain glamour. Somewhat astonishingly the header photo was taken at first light one February morning – a piece of magic all its own since February in England is rarely a scenic month unless one is thinking about carpets of snowdrops.

Here are some more ‘best’ moments – over the garden fence, or from the office skylight.

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Lens-Artists: It’s all about light Many thanks to Tina for this week’s theme. Please go and see her very inspirational gallery of light works.

Bridge Over The River Teme

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Dinham Bridge in the Shropshire market town of Ludlow is not as old as looks suggest. It was built in 1823 and is sometimes attributed to Thomas Telford, who in earlier decades had been Shropshire’s Surveyor of Public Works. But it seems unlikely that this is one of his bridges; around this time and for several years before he was most often to be found far away in his Scottish homeland, very much taken up with the mammoth enterprise that was the construction of the 60 mile-long Caledonian Canal.

On the other hand, Ludlow Castle, seen here above the bridge, is every bit as old as it looks – over a thousand years old in fact. Work began on the hillside promontory in 1075 and continued over the next hundred years. It was a key defensive position aimed at keeping the nearby rebelling Welsh suitably subdued. The town grew up below its walls from the 12th century onwards, all laid out in the manner typical medieval town planning.

Meanwhile the castle continued to play its part – in the Wars of the Roses, and the English Civil War. It was also the place where, Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales and Henry VIII’s older brother died in 1502, a circumstance that later had much to answer for. In the November of the preceding year, Arthur and his new bride, Catherine of Aragon, had gone to Ludlow Castle for their honeymoon. They were both 15 years old, and had been betrothed since infancy. You can read more of that story in an earlier post Honeymoon Destination Anyone?

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: bridges

Wheels Within Wheels: Or How To Make A Lot Of Hot Air

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In another life I worked at the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust (IGMT). This was back in the days of government funded job-creation projects when these were the only means of beginning a museum career. I did various jobs – education officer, archaeology project supervisor, head cook at the New Inn at the Blists Hill Victorian Village. Fund-raising catering events also featured. I once devised lunch for a thousand Commonwealth University Vice Chancellors, and served apple pie in the Blists Hill  Squatter Cottage to a bunch of bemused Italian Industrial Archaeologists. Then there was the party for the class of Welsh school children in the depths of the Tar Tunnel whither provisions were wheeled in on an old mine truck and we all had to wear hard hats with miner’s lamps, and the poor kids had to tuck into the party food before the dark, dank atmosphere of the tunnel turned the crisps and sausage rolls to mush.

But I digress. This is supposed to be about wheels and a (vaguely) technical explanation of the header photo is called for.

So: back in the early days of IGMT, as in the late 1960s, the putative museum had among its patrons venerable local industrialists, men who were worried that Shropshire’s  industrial heritage would be lost in the van of Dawley (later Telford) New Town development. They had the notion of saving particular technological exemplars and exhibiting them, sculpture park fashion, on one of the Ironbridge Gorge’s abandoned industrial sites. Blists Hill seemed ideal because it was anyway rich in original 18th and 19 century industrial remains: blast furnaces, adits, canal, brickworks, steam-winding engine, and the fabulous inclined plane, (tar tunnel beneath) – all still waiting to be conserved and/or restored.

One of the first ‘exhibits’ to be relocated there was David and Sampson, a huge steam powered air blowing machine that from 1851 to 1900 had been deployed to stoke up the heat in four blast furnaces at the nearby Lilleshall Company.

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Unfortunately I don’t have a photo of the two massive beams (obscured here by the protective superstructure) but you can see what they look like at this link. Both beam engines were harnessed to and regulated by a single large flywheel., each connected to a steam cylinder (beside the wheel) and a big air tub (to the rear). Between them, the engines pushed out 12,500 cubic feet of air per minute. As in WHOOSH!

These days, it’s hard to imagine that East Shropshire was once a centre of industry – i.e. from early mediaeval monastic days to the 1960s. The Lilleshall Company that originally commissioned the beam engines from Murdock, Aitken and Co, Glasgow – was active in iron and steel production, coal mining, engineering and brick making over some 150 years, and belongs to the latter phase of Shropshire’s industrial history. (There is more about Murdock, Aitken and Co plus some old photos of beam engines HERE.)

And while we’re at Blists Hill and looking at wheels, here’s the restored pit head of an original 19th century mine, also operated by a very fine (still working) steam engine. The local mines very conveniently produced fire clay, iron ore and coal – just what the industrial entrepreneur ordered.

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Blists Hill pit head, and 19th century brickworks ruins behind.

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: wheels

Today A Piece Of Sky Fell In The Garden

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And here it is:

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…a male Holly Blue butterfly Celastrina argiolus on the sedum. Blue butterflies tend to be very skittish, and as far as I know I’d not seen a Holly Blue before, though they are quite common. This one was also very shy, and after he flitted off to feed on the oregano flowers would only show me his underwings. But still, they are also very pretty – at first sight white, but then a shimmer of iced blue.

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copyright 2021 Tish Farrell

The Changing Seasons: July

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The field of gold behind the house has gone now, the barley cut and baled and hauled away, the ground harrowed. It happened in a few days too – to beat the change in the weather. The sky gods simply snapped their fingers: high summer heatwave off; autumn wind and rain on, plus a 12 degree drop in daytime temperatures. Gone too are the drifts of lime flower scent along the town lanes and by-ways. In fact on Friday the change felt so dramatic I kept thinking I’d lost a month or two and that we were actually in late September. Most disorientating.

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But on the things-to-be-very-pleased-about list, number one is the completion of the greenhouse construction against the cottage back door. He who builds sheds and binds books worked his socks off, first demolishing the plastic conservatory, then being confounded by limestone wall (and how to affix said greenhouse to it.) Next were the bad delivery issues of wrong window fittings, wrong glass and dealing with the installation of a door that should have gone on the other end. This one step forward – two back construction phase was also preceded by devising means to resolve a perennially leaking gutter issue. But he sorted it. Hats off to Dr. Farrell.

And so you might be a tad underwhelmed when you see the final creation. It is so low-key compared with the plastic predecessor whose existence I tried never to record apart from this one photo:

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And so now for the new version – recently rain-tested and presently filling up with my drying onion crop:

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Meanwhile out in the garden the bees aren’t letting the weather affect the feeding imperative. The hollyhock flowers have been a particular favourite, the bees calling in for an all-over pollen wash.

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The oregano flowers are a big hit too:

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Then out in the guerrilla garden, the knautia keeps on flowering and is now providing a hunting ground for a tiny crab spider:

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The latest floral interlopers there (though most welcome) are some lemony evening  primroses:

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The tansy has been taking over too and about to flower:

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Finally some soothing sounds from July on the Linden Walk:

 

The Changing Seasons: July  This month hosted by Brian at Bushboys World. Go see his fabulous gallery of New South Wales flora and fauna.

Taking The Back Roads In The Shropshire Hills

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My home county of Shropshire is farming territory and so, with only two main towns (Shrewsbury and Telford), five smaller towns, and very many villages, hamlets and isolated farms, there are far more by-ways than highways. Sometimes the back roads start off well, asphalt sealed and marked on the map, only to deliver you, after much meandering, into a farmyard midden or sheep field. This is a particular feature of the upland tracts of the South Shropshire Hills. Sometimes, too, after you’ve been driving on a narrow lane for several miles, thinking you are well on course, you may find the tarmac sprouting weeds. Sometimes it runs out of asphalt altogether yet clearly progresses as a dirt track that must go somewhere. Other times it may simply devolve to a footpath with retreat the only option.

The top photo shows the great divide between the north and south of the county. In the foreground is a hill lane crossing the Long Mynd. The vista beyond is the North Shropshire Plain which in due course runs into the Cheshire Plain, fertile dairy terrain both. By contrast, the hill country is very much about sheep.

The next location is definitely the haunt of sheep, but also of walkers, day-outing picnickers and school parties studying environmental matters. This is Carding Mill Valley, the largest of several combes that cut into the Long Mynd’s flanks, and thus through some of the world’s oldest geology.  This particular lane may begin looking intentional, but then it simply gives up and becomes a rock strewn defile with trickling streamside accompaniment. Boots not wheels for onward progress.

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Now we have moved on across the Long Mynd, and are looking at its westerly slopes as seen from Shropshire’s most mysterious hill country, the Stiperstones, place of mine shafts and lead workings. One of the Stiperstones’ craggy tops is said to host the Devil and his court whenever the fog descends. Such be-misted gatherings of wicked entities obviously won’t enjoy views like this one.

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These next three views are of and around the Stiperstones: gorse along the lanes in high summer, and heather blooming on the hillsides.

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We’re close to the Welsh border now. Corndon Hill in the background, and the white lane we’ve driven along…

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…which then becomes one of those tracks that still looks to be going somewhere. In fact as we left the car to walk, we were passed by a police patrol car. It sped by us over the hill in a manner that suggested routine activity, doubtless taking the unpaved route into Wales.

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We weren’t going that far, at least not terrestrially, though we were going back in time, following 6,000 year-old footsteps to Mitchell’s Fold, the remains of a Bronze Age stone circle.

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These final photos are closer to homes, the lanes below Wenlock Edge, near Easthope.

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Lens-Artists: along back country roads  Beth at Wandering Dawgs wants us to take to the by-ways.

The Changing Seasons: This Was June

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This week the wild flower plot at the allotment has burst forth from the meadow grass to bring us poppies, blue cornflowers and bright yellow anthemis. More exciting still is the discovery in the nearby communal orchard of a spotted orchid. Thank you, bird. Something you did must have resulted in this new arrival. Spotted orchids are of course quite common around Much Wenlock. Nearly 4,000 were counted last Friday up on Windmill Hill in the annual orchid count. They thrive in limestone meadows. I’d show you its picture of the newbie, but when I went to check on it yesterday morning, the flower was very much ‘over’.

On the home front all is chaos in the Farrell garden – the vegetation rampant and he who builds sheds and greenhouses up to his ears in the new lean-to greenhouse whose parts are currently reclining rather than leaning. Well, it seemed like a good idea to remove the nasty plastic conservatory from the back door. But then how do you attach a metal framed greenhouse to a very unstraight limestone boulder wall? Much pondering involved. I am however informed that progress has finally being made – an intervening wooden frame being attached to said wall which will make gap filling and water-tight-involving interventions feasible. Phew!

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This is the ‘upstairs’ garden with (thankfully) few glimpses of the greenhouse construction chaos below. Here you can meet some of our best ‘girls’.

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And then there are tumbles of campanula and the exuberant ‘tapestry’ of colours in the downstairs garden:

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Out in Townsend Meadow the barley is changing colour – hints of buttery yellow with gingery flushes, but still green on the peripheries. The grains are swelling fast after a few good showers. And talking of showers, the path to the allotment is now very overgrown, this despite my frequent to-ing and fro-ing. It is now the season of wet knees and rising damp in the gardening pants, and otherwise arriving dew-soaked on the plot. I could of course take the garden shears to it. This has been known.

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We have not been far this month, though we did pop over to Ironbridge last week. It was good to see lots of visitors in the outdoor cafe in the Square, and the Severn Gorge brimming with greenness. But there’s no pretending, life is not as we knew it.

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The Changing Seasons: June 2021

It’s A Wonderful World: From Kenya’s Rift To Wenlock’s Edge

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Two landscapes a world apart, but for the most part both largely shaped by human endeavour. The first shot is one from the old Africa album: the Great Rift Valley just north of Nairobi. In the foreground is Escarpment, a faulted terrace of the Eastern Rift. The patchwork of fields are smallholdings – some 12 acres, others much smaller. This was one of the study areas for he-who-builds-sheds-and-greenhouses’ doctoral thesis on the smut fungus of Napier grass, an essential staple fodder crop for farmers who, for lack of pasture, zero-graze their cows and sheep (i.e. stock is kept in pens and paddocks and food is delivered to them).

Beyond Escarpment on the Rift floor you can see the yellow wheat fields of large-scale farming concerns. The last time we drove that way from Lake Naivasha there were zebra and other plains game helping themselves to the crop. Zebra in a wheat field? Now there was a sight to excite a Shropshire lass used only to seeing flights of greedy pigeons in her homeland fields.

The hazy peak in the distance is the old volcano, Longonot.

But that was then.

So now to Shropshire – a winter view from Wenlock Edge not far from home: farm fields and the Wrekin, which is not actually an old volcano but a hill composed of lava layers spewed from other volcanoes.

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Lens-Artists: wonderful

Clouds With Silver Linings?

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I have to say that on the presentation front the cloud gods have truly upped their game this year. Even in the stormy wet and frigid months that were supposed to be spring, but weren’t, we were treated to some magnificent cloudscapes. And lately too, during our present hot spell, we’ve had some stunningly captivating creations. There’s much to be said for cloud watching. In fact I think this huge job spotted over the barley field the other afternoon could well be the Starship Enterprise in disguise.

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Life in Colour: White/Silver

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Telford is Much Wenlock’s closest town, just a few miles away across the River Severn. It’s a new town in fact, begun in the 1960s when its developers laid claim to the brownfield land between the traditional coalfield communities of Wellington, Madeley, Ironbridge, Dawley and Oakengates, places whose inhabitants had played their part in Britain’s industrial revolution from at least the 17th century.

One new-town aim was to provide fresh work opportunities and decent housing for families of the ever-expanding West Midlands (Birmingham-Wolverhampton) conurbations. Another was to revive the old Shropshire coalfield towns and villages, including Ironbridge, which by the 1960s, with their declining local industries, appeared to have lost the will to live. Back then I recall visiting Ironbridge on a school history trip. We peered at the decaying bottle kilns of the Coalport China Works through a jungle of waste-ground weeds and wondered why on earth Miss Price had brought us to such a dreary place.

From the start, then, Telford Development Corporation (TDC) panjandrums had a mission: their new town had heritage. They chose to name it after a man of vision: Thomas Telford 1757-1843, father of modern civil engineering and a man with strong local connections. At the start of his career, after leaving his Scottish homeland, he had been Surveyor and Engineer for Shropshire. He left us many striking landmarks too, including the breath-taking Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.

The ‘new town with a past’ message was not simply a piece of window-dressing. TDC committed huge resources to saving the historic industrial fabric of the coalfield settlements, deploying teams of conservation architects and builders across the district, restoring everything from workers’ cottages and toll houses, to ironworks warehouses and riverside tile factories. It is probably fair to say that without all the new-town investment in conservation, the internationally famous Ironbridge Gorge Museums might never have made it off the starting blocks.

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This particular high-rise, Darby House, is also a nod to the past. HQ for the Telford and Wrekin Council, it rises above one of town centre’s notoriously numerous traffic islands, and salutes the ingenuity of the Darby ironmasters of Coalbrookdale. (Abraham Darby I invented the means to smelt iron using coke instead of charcoal, and  Abraham Darby III built the world’s first cast iron bridge over the River Severn).

One can’t help but wonder though what Thomas Telford and the Darbys would think of these tributes – the new-fangled new-town architecture, the dizzying, multiplying networks of roads, shops, business parks and housing. But then you could say these were men who started it all; played their part in the pioneering of cast-iron construction which gave rise to the high-rise and more besides.

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Anyway, here, by contrast, is a building that the Coalbrookdale ironmasters considered  ‘just the thing’ in its day. Designed in the Gothic style around 1840, it was the riverside warehouse for the despatch cast iron goods down the River Severn to Bristol. It is also one of the many buildings saved from decay by Telford Development Corporation and now part of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum complex.

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And finally the Iron Bridge (1779) (restored and owned by English Heritage).

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For those of us who tend to think the modern more ugly than picturesque and prefer to take comfort in the ‘antique’, it is worth remembering that in its day, this bridge, the manner of its construction, was unthinkable for most people. There it was, replacing the stalwart, heavily buttressed stone bridges that everyone had used for hundreds of years. It literally was ‘the shock of the new’, a daring piece of pioneering technology designed to show off and sell a concept. In this respect then, you could say it has very much in common with the enterprise and entrepreneurial zeal that gave rise to Telford ‘new town’. Surprising or no, the connections are real ones.

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Buildings