Thursdays Special ~ Profile Of The Leonine Kind

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We came upon the Maasai Mara’s famous Marsh Pride on a morning game drive out from Mara River Camp. It was August – as close to winter as Kenya gets – the skies leaden, the plains parched and dusty, the whole place waiting for the short rains that will not be happening for another two months; and perhaps not at all. In fact this trip had started out from Nairobi in thick fog, and descending the Great Rift escarpment was even more hair-raising exciting than usual.

But to get back to the lions. The pride was resting up in home territory, most of its members – mothers and cubs – scarcely visible in the grass. For one thing they were the same colour as the vegetation. For another, it is what lions do – disappear in twelve inches of grass.

As we drove nearer we spotted this male. He was pacing through the grass, roaring. This was answered by another male some distance away. It seemed they were busy marking out their patch. They ignored us anyway, which was comforting, though I have to say that lion-roars, especially ones at close quarters, make your spine resonate, and not in a good way.

Another hair-raising exciting moment then.

We watched them for a while from the safety of the safari truck, then left them to it, the roars following us down the track. By which time  we were  wondering if we were really there at all. Out in the African wilds it mostly feels like dreaming.

 

Profile:     Panthera Leo

                    Simba in KiSwahili

Weight:    Males 420-500 lb/110-135 kg

Length:     Males 5-7 ft/2.5-2 m

Lifespan:  Males 12 years

 

Thursdays Special: Profile

Please visit Paula to see her fantabulous shot of a snowy owl.

Kenya’s Prolific Green Highlands ~ Thursday’s Special

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Nothing could have prepared me for my first glimpse of Kenya’s fertile uplands all  those years ago when I ran away to Africa. I’d flown out from Paris on the overnight Air France flight to Nairobi. It was my first long-haul flight, a good eight hours, and I did not sleep a wink despite being served a very delicious small-hours’ supper, and having a whole row of seats to myself.

I was pent up with the prospect of meeting up with Graham, whom I had not seen for some weeks, rather than wondering about my destination. Quite ridiculous I know. I was flying blind, having done not a scrap of  research on Kenya. In fact I had set out armed with only my brother-in-law’s comment: you’ll either love it or hate it; there’s no in between.

And so early one February morning as the great jumbo jet slid down the valleys of Central Province towards Nairobi, I could scarcely believe my eyes. Volcanic hillsides unfolded beneath us – every scrap of earth burgeoning green to their summits, the patchwork plots of Kenya’s smallholder farmers. Before we set down at Jomo Kenyatta International I was already in love. I did not know then that this was the start of an eight year affair with a land that could not be more different from my Shropshire homeland. I am still infected.

Some years after this arrival, when Graham was combining his project work at Kenya Agriculture Research Institute with some field work for his doctorate, I had the chance to visit many of those highland farms and meet the farmers and see at first hand the kind of crops that they were growing so prolifically – maize, tea, bananas, fodder grass, squash, beans, potatoes, plums, apples, cabbages and kale. This photo was taken on one of these expeditions, and like me it has aged somewhat. But it was the first image I thought of when I read through Paula’s list of word prompts as this week’s Thursday’s Special. Do drop in there to join in the ‘pick a word’ challenge.

For more of my Kenya story see also:

Valentine Day’s Runaway

Looking for smut on Kenya’s Highland Farms

Luminous Lions in the Maasai Mara

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It’s as if the East African landscape only becomes itself at sundown and sunrise; is only visible to us humans in steeply angled light. It reminds me of the magic painting books I had as a child: nothing but white pages, the images barely descried, a palimpsest of silvery lines. All is blank then; staringly dull. But take a pot of water, and ply a paint brush across the page, and all springs astonishingly to life. Everywhere bursting in colour.

Out in the bush the wild life anyway lies low during the midday hours.  And even if you could see them, the equatorial sun flattens the vista. You lose a sense of scale and distance. Even a magnificent eland spotted in the Great Rift at noon can look strangely unimpressive.  Just a big antelope then.

Kenya’s game parks and reserves are vast – hundreds of square miles. The animals are not fenced in although, increasingly along the borders, farming (large and small scale) encroaches on grazing grounds and migration routes. But this lack of containment means you can drive around a game reserve for hour after hour and see nothing but thorn scrub; or the retreating rear end of a warthog if you’re very lucky.

But then the sun begins to set, and you are out with a local driver-guide who knows where to look; and the light turns rose-gold, and the land puts on its best colours. And what was distant, and unfocused takes on form and clarity. Out of mind-numbing absence, and hours of searching, emerges this big-cat presence…

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Of course they were there all along. Only now they let us see them. Apart, that is, from the big male who is still hiding in the grass behind his mate. It’s another piece of bush magic, how a 500-pound big cat can disappear in twelve inches of grass. Can you spot him?

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

Ailsa’s travel theme: luminous

Many Shades of Grey in Africa

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Grey days in Africa can be incredibly dull. It is a strange effect: as if the light has been sucked out, but without it actually turning dark. This photo was taken around noon on a July day – Southern Africa’s winter. The sky weighed down in a way that was almost palpable; like walking through a Welsh sea mist, except it was dry; or as if you were looking at the world through gauze.

We had driven down from Lusaka in Zambia to spend a couple of weeks exploring Zimbabwe. The objective was to meet up with two Kiwi friends who were flying into Harare, and take them sightseeing before heading with them (via Victoria Falls) back to our house in Lusaka. The day this photo was taken we had just spent the night in one of the guest bungalows in Hwange National Park, and assembled a picnic of sorts in the Park shop.

Hwange Park has metalled roads which detracts somewhat from the notion of wild Africa, and so whenever a dirt track presented itself we took it.  Even so, we saw very little game apart from some kudu. It was mostly dry bush, and more dry bush, which soon grew rather boring. In the end we pulled up by the dwindling waterhole in the photo, and ate our lunch.

The waterhole had been empty when we arrived, and then quite suddenly, as is usually the way with elephants, this small family group appeared. The photo looks like a water colour, or a colour plate in a vintage travel book. I only had my little Olympus Trip, and I often had it on the wrong setting. But the other thing about elephants (and I think this image captures it) is that even when you are there, and can see them with your own two eyes, and are close enough to catch a whiff of their musky hides, it is still hard to believe in them. They come and go like mirages, walking always on the tiptoes, their heels supported by fatty pads that deaden the sound of their footfalls. It is thus very easy to be sneaked up on by an elephant.

Of course if they’ve decided to do a little tree felling, since they like to clear land to encourage their favourite grass to grow, or are seeing off some deemed intruder, then you hear them alright. Indeed, there is nothing quite so alarming as a trumpeting matriarch, clearing a waterhole of potential threats to the family’s infants. On this day, though, all was dreamy peacefulness, and concluded surreally enough in the Game Reserve Hotel at Dete where we were the only guests, and the only food on the menu were pieces of very tough meat  that took an hour to chew.

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The next day, though, we woke to a new kind of dream – golden sun through a mist of coal dust that hangs like a heat haze over the vast Hwange Coal Field. And so we quickly turned our noses from the industrial smog and headed for the border and Victoria Falls.

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copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

For more shades of grey please visit Ailsa at Where’s My Backpack

Melting in Mombasa

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The sticky humidity of Kenya’s coast is a shock to the system after Nairobi’s airy upland plains  where, even in the hot season, temperatures rarely rise above the low 80s F.  Back in our day, when were travelling the Mombasa Highway quite often, the road south comprised 300 miles of ragged tarmac that descended in stages through nearly 6,000 feet – from highland plains to lowland plains, and thence through the rugged thorn scrub of the waterless Taru Desert, until the final drop down to the Indian Ocean. It was like plunging into a warm bath, the air thick with sea smell and frangipani blossoms.

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During the rains, large sections of highway were often washed out, sometimes with horrendous chasms opening up. In the dry season the potholes through Kibwezi were filled with sand like mini deserts. And if we found ourselves stuck behind a fume-belching truck, we could travel many miles before finding a stretch of road with a sufficient tarmac on which to overtake it.

None of this stopped us from setting out though. You simply had to be prepared for anything, and this could include a brooding big Cape Buffalo holding the road hostage through Tsavo.  And now here’s an excerpt from the diary I kept, and just found loitering in my filing cabinet:

 

Kenya Diary 30th August 1994

It was raining and steamy when we arrived in Mombasa at lunch time. The streets were jammed with hooting traffic, and there were vast rain lakes everywhere. The pavements were brilliant red with row upon row of ripe tomatoes, laid out by  the Swahili women  in their black buibuis.  Everywhere the roads rang with the chink-chink of the metal washer rattles on the delivery guys’ handcarts. The carts were piled high with everything and anything: crates of sodas, cooking oil, jerrycans of water, baskets of pineapples, coconuts, mattresses, a wardrobe. It struck me that Mombasa feels so different to much of inland Kenya it might as well be another country.

For once we drove straight onto the Likoni Ferry without the usual sweaty wait in a tail-back of trucks and safari vans. Soon we were bowling along the coast road to Tanzania, moving between plantations of coconut palms that bowed with the sea breeze, flitting past  tiny white-painted mosques  and palm thatched homes built from coral rag. Here it  was  the skyline not the pavements that was a brilliant red: all the roadside Nandi flame trees were in flower, fist-sized blooms glowing like coals against a stormy sky.

By two thirty we were sitting down at a Tiwi beach bar, eating spaghetti and homemade tomato sauce while the rain drove in suddenly across the reef, drumming on the thatch. The sticky heat dissolved in the wind and the ocean took on a mean and steely look, and roared. It all seemed very Somerset Maugham, that is if one overlooked the presence of the spaghetti.

 

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copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

Jennifer Nichole Wells OWPC: humid

Off Season and Off Centre at Old Orchard Beach

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It was late September when we headed for Southern Maine. By ‘we’ I mean Graham, my sister Jo and her chap, Bob, and I. The trip had been Jo’s or G’s idea, we couldn’t agree who had started it. But it felt like a jaunt, or as G put it later ‘Four Go Mad in Maine and Mass.’ We were going with the aim of meeting up with our third cousin, Jan, whom I had never met (being away in Kenya when she and Craig had visited the UK). Jo had met them, though, and shown them around Shropshire. Now Jan had kindly invited us to stay in her beach cottage for a week before travelling on up to Richmond to the family alpaca farm.

The day was hot as we drove up from Boston, but already I could feel summer slipping away. There was a dreamy, dusty air about the small towns we drove through, the civic gardens still brightly neat with flowers, yet with that ‘nearly over’ look.  Salem, Gloucester, Portsmouth, Kittery, Biddeford, Saco,  we passed on through, except for a quick pit stop at Kittery, and our first taste of Maine clam chowder. The first of many ‘tastes’ I should say, since we all became hooked on the stuff.

And so well and severally chowdered, we sped on northwards up route 95. The trip was taking longer than we had reckoned on. Being the end of the  holiday season, the highways department had started digging the road up for what seemed like miles. We could spot  no useful turn off, and we were keyed up in the knowledge that Cousin Jan was meeting us at the cottage with the keys at 3pm.  Back at the farm, the alpaca moms were busy having babies and she was on tight schedule.

But then just when we thought we’d never get there, there was the sign we’d been looking for.  Ocean Park. We turned off the highway into the maze of pretty lanes and avenues that make up this quaint seaside community.

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Our destination was in fact just a step away from the beach, in what had started out as a single storey, verandahed cabin, but later had been jacked up on cinder blocks to provide another floor. The verandah had been enclosed and turned into two rooms. Jan told us that the cottage had originally been the 1920s retreat of an Englishman who had lived in India. Many of his books were still on the sitting-room book shelves where he had left them. He had apparently later created the lower floor for his mother  so making two little houses in one.

Jan was sitting out on the lawn reading when we arrived. The sunlight had that honeyed September glow, but the sea breathed autumn at us. Jan was worried we would be cold at night since the cottage had no insulation. She had come armed with extra duvets from the farm. It was an odd feeling that meeting. Although we were strangers, I felt instantly embraced by family affection. For one thing, Jan so looked like my Aunt Evelyn.

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Apart from the occasional and poignant call of a passing train (a sound we grew quickly to love), Ocean Park is a serene and leafy enclave. A place out of time. Most of its houses date from the late 19th century when the Free Will Baptists founded a family summer resort there. The presence of water and a grove of trees were requisite for such a retreat, while religious and educational meetings and all round self-improvement were the focus of the gathering’s activities.  The Tabernacle Temple meeting hall is still there amongst the pines and maples.

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Meanwhile, a couple of miles along the beach, the resort of Old Orchard Beach aka OOB, could not be more different.  In season it is teeming with humanity, the coastal strip lined with cheap boarding houses and motels. It is not the sort of place we would normally go to in any season, too much razzamatazz and bustle, junk takeaways, and nowhere to buy real food. But now, at summer’s end, it did hold a certain doleful fascination – you know, the kind of fascination of the David Lynch Twin Peaks sort.

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IMG_0058 - CopyWhat else can you say, off-season resorts are simply desolate. When summer ends they lose their reason ‘to be’; the body is there, but someone has switched off the blood supply. We wandered up and down empty streets, feeling somewhat perplexed. Most of the shops were shut.  The rides at Palace Playground had been wrapped up for the winter. There was scarcely a soul around.

It was only when I had a notion to take the Downeaster train to Portland, and we ended up in the library, trying to find out how to buy tickets (the station machine being terminally out of order), that it was all change. Inside the library it was humming with cheerful librarians and  young moms with kids. And so just when we thought we were all alone on Planet OOB, lovely human life was discovered. The librarian even let us use the phone to reserve train tickets, and then print them off from her computer. So thank you Libby Library, you surely know how to give good service – in or out of season. We hope, too, that by now you have reached your building fund target. ‘Support Your Local Library’ – that’s something we all need to do.

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copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

 

Follow the links for more bloggers’ off season off centre posts:

Ailsa’s Travel Challenge Off Centre at Where’s My Backpack

Off-Season

A little blurred on the road to Lunga Lunga

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And blurred is often how we felt after driving down the Nairobi-Mombasa highway to Tiwi on Mombasa’s south coast. We used to spend Christmas down there. It was a three hundred mile trip, descending from the air-conditioned high plains of Nairobi to the  wet-hot steaminess of the coastal strip.  On a good day it would take around five hours. Other times we’d break the journey, staying at Tsavo Inn or Taita Hills. Sometimes the road was hardly there at all, washed out by December rains.  You never knew until you got there. The final leg of the trip also always involved the infamous Likoni Ferry  that carries traffic from Mombasa Island to the southern mainland.

To catch it, you first had to drive through Mombasa, negotiating mad matatu drivers and throngs of push-cart guys, shunting impossibly huge loads of cooking oil, coconuts, pineapples, coca cola. Then came the broiling wait for the ferry. If you timed it badly, the traffic tailed back into town.  Being tetchy Brits who do not bear overheatedness well, we did not welcome being sitting ducks for all the street traders, despite the fact that roasted cashew nuts were a favourite. Grumpy old us.

But then, when we found ourselves close enough to the head of queue to see the in-coming ferry, it was all change. Suddenly the excitement hit. This place was Africa with bells and whistles, and in every sense. All of life swarmed by as the ferry spilled out its trucks, multi-coloured matatus and crowds and crowds of humanity. The burst of colours under the tropic sun set the brain afire – the women in their vibrant kanga wraps, men in kanzus and embroidered kofia caps, the youth sporting the rich world’s recycled tee-shirts with every imaginable corporate slogan draped from skinny shoulders.

There was always a frisson of anxiety as we boarded. Would we make it to the other side? After all, the ferry had been known to cut loose and drift off towards the Indian Ocean. But no. It never happened to us.

Even so, the final glide up the mainland slipway always seemed a minor miracle. We’re here! And here was Likoni market – throbbing with rhumba rhythms, and hooting-whistling matatu crews. Ramshackle stalls line the road – hoteli, hair salons, tailors’, fruit and veg sellers, Chinese multi-coloured enamel ware and plastics. There are smells of steaming market waste, hot mandazi donuts, joss sticks, cheap perfume, diesel and dust.

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The foot passengers poured around us. We crawled through the melee. Until – at  last – the open road – the long straight causeway that runs south through Kwale District to  Lunga Lunga, the last town in Kenya before the Tanzanian border.

This road is lined with coconut plantations, the palms all leaning with the sea breeze.  Cattle graze beneath baobabs and kapok trees. There are guest houses, and small-holdings, schools and tiny mosques. The homes have corrugated iron or palm thatch makuti roofs. The walls are coral rag or wattle and daub. Verandahs feature. There are more trading centres, curio carvers, furniture makers, general stores, charcoal sellers, second hand clothes, kangas flying in the breeze like flags.

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We never went as far as Lunga Lunga. Tiwi was far enough. To arrive at Maweni, the little beach village perched above the Indian Ocean, to immerse in clear waters, and finally unblur with bottle of Tusker beer – bliss.

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copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

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wild shopping in Kenya

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In Africa shopping is often an adventure. Well, who needs the thrill of the mall when you can strike a deal in a hippo-infested papyrus swamp? And for carnations too. I was most impressed by this young man’s opportunism, though puzzled too. Flower-buying customers seemed in short supply in this particular location. I was in the wilderness grounds attached to the Safariland Hotel on the shores of Lake Naivasha when he popped out of the papyrus. I had been wandering alone there (as I did over several days), not on the look out for retail therapy, but for Cape Buffalo (as indeed the sign warned me), and also for hippo whose very loud grunting was resounding off the lake. Both creatures can be deadly if you catch them, or they you, in circumstances not to their liking. 

In short then, I was engaged in my own form of adventure bird-watching, while the Team Leader, aka Graham, was back at the hotel, involved in workshop brain-storming with fellow scientists from across Africa. The other surprising factor is that I had some money on me so was able to buy a bunch. The flower seller kept his stock hidden from view in a swamp puddle. It seemed he was recycling the discarded side-shoots from one of the local flower factories. There are several of these huge horticulture enterprises along Lake Naivasha’s shore, all abstracting and polluting the only freshwater lake within Kenya’s Rift in order to export perfect metre-long stems of roses and carnations to Europe. The seller was thus making an opportunity out of stock control squeamishness over European “standards”. But as you can see, his little posy is very pretty. The flowers lasted ages, even surviving a hot drive back to Nairobi. A good buy all round.

You can read more of this story at CARNATIONS, CROOKS AND COLOBUS AT LAKE NAIVASHA  For now, here are more views of this unique wildlife outlet store:

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DP weekly photo challenge: adventure

Ailsa’s Travel Challenge: merchandise

Hyena Heist in the Mara

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First light on the Mara plains, and the Marsh Pride lionesses have eaten well. In the night they have killed a giraffe and are resting up near the remains of the carcase.  The peace doesn’t last though. And it isn’t us who are bothering them.

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Other predators are moving in on the leftovers.  First a black-backed jackal comes trotting by, watches hopefully from the side-lines. Her chances are looking slim…

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…already the heavy mob are moving in – a pack of spotted hyenas.

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As I said in an earlier post, hyenas do  not only scavenge, they are powerful hunters with jaws like demolition-crushers. And despite their lop-sided gait, their feet with blunt, non-retractable claws, are well adapted for the long-distance chase. They can take down a wildebeest and eat and digest the lot (apart from horns and rumen) within 24 hours. They will also eat anything, including the faces of sleeping humans caught out without sufficient night-time protection. This was a commonly reported horror while we lived in Kenya.  In consequence they are East Africa’s most successful large predator, apart from politicians, that is.

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Here, one of the pack has made a rush on the kill and escaped with some leg bones, but it doesn’t look as if sharing is on the hyenas’ menu.

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The lionesses go on watching, alert in that laid-back kind of way that cats do so well. The remnants are not worth fighting over. When the time comes, and bellies are empty, they will make another kill.

FLICKR COMMENTS ‘H’ WORDS for more bloggers’ stories

copyright 2014 Tish Farrell

When Henry James came to Wenlock

“If Gaskell asks you to Wenlock don’t for the world fail to go.”

Henry Adams in a letter to Henry James 1877

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This is the house where Henry James stayed  on his visits to Much Wenlock in 1877, 1878 and 1882. At the time it was known as The  Abbey, but  once it was the Abbot’s House, and part of a great medieval Cluniac priory whose ruins stand beside it. Only the house, and the town’s parish church survived Henry VIII’s great monastic dissolving campaign of 1540.

I’ve recently read, too, that the Dissolution did in fact involve actual structural ‘dissolving’. The first thing King Henry’s agents did in their bid to disempower the clergy and seize their estates was to rip the lead off the monastery roofs. The wear and tear of English weather then did the rest. Since Wenlock Priory was once one of the most imposingly large religious houses in all Europe, you can well see how efficiently the elements did their work.

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The adjacent small town of Much Wenlock town dates from at least from Saxon times when St. Milburga, daughter of a Mercian king, founded the first religious house here. She was Abbess of Wenlock  between 675-690 AD. The later priory was the work of the invading Normans, who liked to use looming architecture to cow the natives into submission. The monks were brought in from France, but it wasn’t  until end of the 12th century when Bishop Odo, a former Cluniac monk, published his account of the discovery of St.Milburga’s bones (he describes them as “beautiful and luminous”)  that this great house acquired the kind of saintly cachet that ensured serious pilgrim-appeal, and thus brought much prosperity to the town.

After the Dissolution, however, pragmatism ruled, and much of the fallen priory masonry was used to build or expand the town’s homes and businesses. Thereafter, Much Wenlock’s success was based on providing a small but busy mercantile and manufacturing centre for the local agricultural and quarrying community. It even had two Members of Parliament.

But back to  Henry James (1843-1916). What on earth had brought this widely travelled writer to the little town of Much Wenlock? And not once, but three times.

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In fact it was only the urging of a friend, Harvard history professor, Henry Brooke Adams, that brought James here at all on that first visit in 1877. He hardly knew his hosts, Charles and Lady Catherine Milnes Gaskell. Charles Milnes Gaskell, rich barrister and landowner, was a close friend of Adams, and it was Adams who indirectly secured the invitation for Henry James. He knew that James would love the Abbey. Hence the exhortation: “If Gaskell asks you to Wenlock don’t for the world fail to go.”

And so, further enticed by “a gracious note from Lady Catherine Gaskell” and armed with a copy of Murray’s Handbook of Shropshire, Cheshire and Lancashire, Henry James left London for deepest Shropshire, travelling by train to Much Wenlock. The details of how he spent his time on his  five-day visit appear in a travel sketch called Abbeys and Castles, later published as part of Portraits of Places (1883).

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At the station (now private houses) he was met by the Gaskell’s coachman, Crawley, driven into the town, passing in sight of Holy Trinity Church (today without the spire shown in the Frith photo). Here they  turned left into the Bull Ring… 

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passing Priory Cottage on the left…

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…the turning right into the Abbey’s winding drive…

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…with the priory ruins on the left.

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The carriage would then have swung hard  into the open courtyard of the Abbey, and this would have been Henry James’ first view of his destination. Well-travelled as he was, I think he would have been astonished.

Adams’ certainty that his friend would love the place was spot on. In Portraits and Places (p278)  Henry James says:

“It is not too much to say that after spending twenty four hours in a house that is six hundred years old, you seem yourself to have lived in it for six hundred years. You seem to have hollowed the flags with your tread, and to have polished the oak with your touch. You walk along the little stone gallery where the monks used to pace, looking out of the gothic window places at their beautiful church, and you pause at the big round, rugged doorway that now admits you to the drawing room. The massive step by which you ascend to the threshold is a trifle crooked, as it should be; the lintels are cracked and worn by a myriad-fingered years…it seems wonderfully old and queer. Then you turn into the drawing room, where you find modern conversation and late publications and the prospect of dinner. The new life and the old have melted together; there is no dividing-line.”

In letters James admits to being rather  in love with Lady Catherine, whom he describes as a perfect English rose. She was only twenty years old at the time, and expecting her first child. She apparently put garden flowers in his room and made sure he had plenty of writing paper and pens. But when it came to entertainment, this was down to Charles Gaskell. Despite the rainy weather, he and James appear to have yomped all over the district looking at stately homes and other ruins. They also took the train to extend their excursions to Stokesay Castle and Ludlow. Henry James was clearly enchanted. Of Much Wenlock and its setting he says:

“There is a noiseless little railway running through the valley, and there is an ancient little town lying at the abbey-gates – a town, indeed, with no great din of vehicles, but with goodly brick houses, with a dozen ‘publics’, with tidy, whitewashed cottages, and with little girls…bobbing curtsies in the street. But even now, if one had wound one’s way into the valley by the railroad, it would be rather a surprise to find a small ornamental cathedral in a spot on the whole so natural and pastoral. How impressive then must the beautiful church  have been in the days of its prosperity, when the pilgrim came down to it from the grassy hillside, and its bells made the stillness sensible.”

Things have changed of course, although we still have a fair few ‘publics’ for so small a town – five in fact. But there are no longer little girls who curtsey to gentleman, and sadly no railway, which means instead we do now have the inevitable din of vehicles.

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An interesting aside to the Henry James’ Shropshire travelogue is that he is said to have been working on his disturbing ghost story The Turn of the Screw while staying at the Abbey. He certainly had the supernatural on his mind during that first visit.

“…there is of course a ghost – a gray friar who is seen in the dusky hours at the end of passages. Sometimes the servants see him; they afterwards go surreptitiously to sleep in the village. Then, when you take your chamber-candle and go wandering bedward by a short cut through empty rooms, you are conscious of a peculiar sentiment toward the gray friar which you hardly know whether to interpret as a hope or a reluctance.”  (Portraits of Places)

And this does rather remind me of a passage in The Turn of the Screw  where the governess narrator describes how her young charge, Flora, takes her on a guided tour through the rambling old mansion at Bly:

“Young as she was, I was struck, throughout our little tour, with her confidence and courage with the way, in empty chambers and dull corridors, on crooked staircases that made me pause and even on the summit of an old machicolated square tower that made me dizzy.”

But then Henry James seems to have made a life’s career of ‘staying’ in, or visiting large country houses. All the same, I like the idea of his brewing this grim tale in Wenlock. Certainly from across the old monastery parkland, the Abbey does have a more brooding and sinister air. And now I’ve sown that notion, I’ll leave you with some more views of undissolved monastic relicts:

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References;

Cynthia Gamble John Ruskin, Henry James and the Shropshire Lads New European Publications Ltd 2008

Vivien Bellamy  A History of Much Wenlock Shropshire Books 2001

copyright 2014 Tish Farrell