Pursuing The Light In Wenlock Priory

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On Saturday the weather gods handed down sunshine and stillness, and so after lunch I spent an hour wandering round our local ruins, trying to catch the best of the light. We take them for granted, of course, these ruins. They are practically on our doorstep, a few minutes walk past the Linden Field and down the Cutlins where the sheep are presently grazing. Even before you get there you can glimpse the ragged elevations of the 13th century priory church through the Corsican pines, the old sandstone with its strange quality of luminosity, no matter the weather.

The ornate Norman arches you can see in the header photo date from c1145 (I’m standing in what was once the cloister to take the photo) and this is the entrance to the Chapter House, the monks’ meeting room. The building to the immediate right, is now a private house, long known as The Abbey, but once containing the monks’ infirmary and dormitory. You can also glimpse the rooftops of the later and very grand Prior’s Lodgings beyond it (late 1400s). (You can see more about them at Going behind the scenes at Wenlock Abbey.)

The less imposing doorway to the left of the archways leads to the library. This is not the original entrance but was added after the Dissolution when the priory remains were used as farm buildings. Above it soars the remains of the south transept, once part of one of the most imposing monastic edifices in all Europe. It’s hard to imagine the full scale of it now. Not only did Henry VIII’s dissolving crew do a good job in 1540, but the good citizens of Wenlock were quick to repurpose all that well cut stone. Most of the oldest houses in the town doubtless have some monastic stonework in them somewhere.

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This view from St. Michael’s Chapel (the Prior’s private place of worship) shows the southern edge of the church nave. The church originally extended to the far wall just in front of the trees (107 metres/350 feet). The stone stumps are the remains of gigantic columns, a matching arcade to the north side (out of shot). The remains to the right of the columns belong to the south transept. See next photo.

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St. Michael’s Chapel right, south transept centre, north transept left. And still it is hard to grasp the original scale of the place. The roof of the nave would have risen way above the south transept, the church forty years in the building.

But now I’ve lingered too long. The shadows are gathering. My presence here feels like intrusion. Time to head home.

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copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

 

More about the priory’s history in an earlier post HERE. And for an account of Henry James’ visit to The Abbey see When Henry James Came to Wenlock.

 

Lens-Artists: Doorways  This week Tina gives us doors and doorways as the Lens-Artists’ theme. Please pop over to see her ever impressive work, and don’t forget to visit the other Lens-Artists.

Time For The Big Leaf Harvest ~ The Gardener’s Gold

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For the last week I’ve been out and about on woodland paths scooping up fallen leaves into big blue IKEA shopping sacks. This pursuit invites worried stares from passing dog walkers and the ingress of nosy dog noses into my bags of gatherings – presumably in hopes that I’ve also raked up decomposing animal parts, or at the very least, an interesting stick.

Two days ago, by such devices, I was nearly able to kidnap a very nice cockapoo, and after my exchange with its human companion, I rather wished I had. ‘They are lovely dogs,’ I say to the man as he closes in on me. ‘I wouldn’t know,’ he says dismissively. ‘All I know is it needs a lot of exercise.’ Well, I thought, such disgruntlement in the face of this good-hearted, intelligent canine whose cappuccino coloured face I am presently clutching (come home with me little woolly dog). I decided he must have been dragooned into enforced dog walking by a wife at work, or an aged mother-in-law – how else could one explain such sour reactions.

But back to the leaves. When I’ve filled two bags I haul them down the footpath to the allotment where I tip them into wire silos. After that it’s a question of waiting for them to rot down into leaf mould. Usually this takes about two years if you want dark crumbly loam. The process can be speeded up by shredding the leaves first, hence my collecting them on paths where people walk and mash them up. Oak, beech and hornbeam leaves are said to make the best leaf mould since they break down well. It also helps to turn the pile now and then and give it a watering if it looks like drying out.

There’s not much nutrient content in the finished product, but it helps retain moisture and is brilliant as a general soil conditioner, to pile round the roots of cane fruit and for mixing into potting compost. Last year I was also glad to use the half-rotted stuff as a mulch to stop the vegetables from baking in the heat wave. In this state, too, it can be used to cover bare earth over the winter. Always a good move if you want to encourage worm activity as every gardener does.

But obviously the best part about the leaves just now is their magnificent glow. At half past four yesterday as I left the allotment it was already heading into dusk, but the bird cherry was lighting up the place like a torch. And further along on the field path a beech hedge was floodlighting its garden. What a show. I took its photo, while making a note to return when all the leaves had fallen off. So much treasure for the taking.

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copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

Gallery

By the Grace of God Nursery

Welcome to gardening Kenyan-style – a plant and tree nursery in Embu on the foothills of Mount Kenya – and a visit there by blogging chum, Dr Ian Cross who is currently volunteering his expertise in that town after a gruelling stint at a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh:

Have Stethoscope, Will Travel

Albert and his son, Samwell, run a plant nursery about a kilometre away from my home in Spring Valley Road. One of my colleagues had bought a plant here last month and another colleague wanted to know if she could buy a basil plant. “It is good for making tea to treat respiratory infections,” she said. They asked me if I wanted to accompany them on a visit to the nursery and I gladly accepted.

The dirt roads around Embu have been a quagmire for the past month but we have not had any heavy rain for two days and the mud has dried out. We found Albert using a scalpel to whittle away at a shoot of a macadamia plant. He slotted it into a “V” shaped notch in the top of a sapling which was also a macadamia, but a different variety. Then he bandaged the two together…

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Forgotten heroes of the First World War

I am reblogging this post from Historic England’s Heritage Calling blog. A matter of necessity I believe. The service of thousands of non-white personnel, who provided essential labour and more during World War 1, more often than not went unregarded and unrewarded. In East Africa alone 50,000 conscripted African porters of the Carrier Corps lost their lives. Many families who had waved goodbye to their sons never heard of them again, or received their pay, or compensation, or even a thank you from the British Army. That is one story. Here are many others – of the Chinese Labour Corps in particular:

Heritage Calling

The Labour Corps of the First World War comprised mostly of a now largely forgotten multi-ethnic army of tens of thousands of workers (along with British servicemen unfit to fight), without whose manpower the war would have ground to a halt.

These unarmed non-combatants, working under military control, carried out crucial tasks behind the lines on the Western Front and in other theatres of war – building and repairing docks, roads, railways and airfields, manning ports, stores and ammunition depots, unloading ships and trains, digging trenches and constructing camps.

SANLC men round a brazier at their camp SANLC men round a brazier at their camp, Dannes, France, March 1917. © IWM Q4880.

After the Armistice, the Corps undertook the dangerous and difficult work on former battlefields clearing live ordnance and exhuming bodies – reburying them in the great military cemeteries of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC).

Despite their vital contribution (including the Chinese, Indians and South Africans, many of whom…

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The Changing Seasons ~ May With Zest Of Lime And Cricket

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Only last week did the lime trees on Wenlock’s Linden Walk show any real signs of coming into leaf. The avenue itself was a faint haze of juicy green. The leaves may be late, but they sum up the sap-filled exuberance of spring.

Another sign of spring around English villages and towns, is the weekend sight of chaps in their whites lingeringly engaged in the friendly cricket match. It’s one of those things, cricket. I scarcely understand the game, but I’m glad someone does. Or to quote the chorus from 10CC’s Dreadlock Holiday  “I don’t like cricket, oh no, I love it”. At least I love the idea of it: a quintessential cultural marker layered with notions of perfect summers that never were.

It conjures ghosts too. The thwack of ball on willow. Resounding cheers at a good catch. An inexplicable sense of something lost. This doubtless explains why many cricketing poems are interwoven with strands of war. Here’s one such from A E Houseman’s A Shropshire Lad cycle, poem XVII. It alludes to young men lost in the Boer War:

Twice a week the winter thorough
Here stood I to keep the goal:
Football then was fighting sorrow
For the young man’s soul.
Now in Maytime to the wicket
Out I march with bat and pad:
See the son of grief at cricket
Trying to be glad.
Try I will; no harm in trying:
Wonder ’tis how little mirth
Keeps the bones of man from lying
On the bed of earth.

*

And now to relieve that sombre note, my May gallery in and around the Linden Field:

 

 

 

Related: Heading for the Light ~ Wenlock’s Linden Walk in Winter

To join in Cardinal Guzman’s The Changing Seasons challenges go HERE

The Art of Fencing

At the risk of seeming like a mutual admiration society, I’m reblogging Thom’s story. He wrote it in response to one of my photos. The image, as you can see, caught his eye and imagination, just as it continues to catch mine, so I suggested he wrote something. And in no time, he did. Thom writes some very fine flash fiction over at his place. And I love this current story, the reel of wire spooling out across the land under the careful eye and hand of Buddy. I’m going to look for him later. Thank you, Thom. Over to you:

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Kudos and applause for Tish Farrell whose generosity and photo made this post possible.
Tish- coil of wire



Buddy is a fence guy. He wears a black Stetson, leather chaps over denim jeans, a leather coat (or a vest in the Summer) covers a long sleeved blue work shirt and his heavy gloves are either on his hands or tucked into his belt. This is his uniform.

When I first met him, a number of years ago, he was working as an independent contractor in Lincoln County New Mexico. Buddy would take down old barbed wire and replace it with new. The life span of barbed wire is approximately 80 years. Sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on the climate where the fence is located.

Buddy told me that he “figgered” In Lincoln County a fence was “prob’ly” good for 100 – 120 years. That’s a pretty good Return on Investment, there. When Buddy restrung…

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Known outage report for Western Washington

Today, Mak (Makagutu) at Random Thoughts is quizzing us about the length of blog posts: what is acceptable to us blogger-readers. The general consensus so far is that the quality of the writing is the key. So here’s a post from Pinklightsabre’s Blog (whose longer posts I also read with great pleasure). This post is short, funny, zips off the screen and is wholly of our time. So this is my response to Mak’s question: good writing will out every time. Please enjoy! (And when you’ve read this, read the previous post HERE.)

William Pearse | pinklightsabre

We’re sorry. The website <http://pinklightsabre.com&gt; is temporarily out of service in your area and not accepting new patients. This is a Known Outage. If you believe you’ve received this notice in error, we’re sorry again. There are no paragraph breaks in this recording. If you would like to leave a message, please have your Case Number ready and your mother’s maiden name. If you have children, high-resolution JPEGS are safe with us and won’t go any further we promise. Expect a longer-than-normal response time due to longer-than-anticipated call volumes and no urgency it’s your problem not ours. Once you’ve processed your application it will be reviewed by a Human Authentication Wizard with self-guided prompts best experienced on a PC with up-to-date anti-virus protection, autocorrection software, spermicide jellies, caps or sponges. The H.A.W. — aka Human Authentication Wizard — will suss out droids and spam for the mold spores you are and…

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Travel Theme: Beaches (Mombasa)

sea and sky on the reef at Tiwi

Tiwi Beach and lagoon at dawn, South Mombasa, Kenya

Going to the dogs on Mombasa’s Southern Shore

It’s a dog’s life on Tiwi Beach, the white strand where ocean roars on coral and trade winds waft the coconut palms; and where, best of all, as far as the local canines are concerned, there are quiet coves sparse in holidaymakers. It means they may do as they please. For after all, it is their own resort, and every morning they set off there from the beach villages along the headland, nose up, ears blown back in the breeze, ready for the day’s adventures.

But the dogs are not churlish. They can take or leave the odd pale human wrestling to right his windsurfer on the still lagoon; ignore the sentinel heron that marks the reef edge beyond; pay no heed to the etched black figures of the Digo fishermen who search the shallows for prawns, parrot fish, or perhaps a mottled lobster or two.

Digo fisherman on lagoon, Tiwi 2

But in this last respect at least, the dogs are smug. For the fishermen come down to the beach only to make a living. And when they are done hunting, they must toil along the headland from beach village to beach village, then haggle over the price of their catch with the rich wazungu who come there to lotus eat. Hard work in the dogs’ opinion.

The dogs know better of course; know it in every hair and pore. And each morning after breakfast, when they take the sandy track down to the beach, they begin with a toss of the head, a sniff of the salt air, a gentle ruffling of the ear feathers in soft finger breezes. Only then do they begin the day’s immersion, the sybaritic sea savouring: first the leather pads, sandpaper dry from pounding coral beaches, then the hot underbelly. Bliss. The water is warm. Still. Azure. And there can be nothing better in the world than to wade here, hour on hour, alongside a like‑minded fellow.

There’s not much to it; sometimes a gentle prancing. But more likely the long absorbing watch, nose just above the water, ears pricked, gaze fixed on the dazzling glass. And if you should come by and ask what they think they’re at, they will scan you blankly, the earlier joy drained away like swell off a pitching dhow. And, after a moment’s condescending consideration, they will return again to the sea search, every fibre assuming once more that sense of delighted expectation which you so crassly interrupted. You are dismissed.

For what else should they be doing but dog dreaming, ocean gazing, coursing the ripples of sunlight across the lagoon and more than these, glimpsing the electric blue of a darting minnow? And do they try to catch it? Of course they don’t. And when the day’s watch is done, there is the happy retreat to shore ‑ the roll roll roll in hot sand, working the grains into every hair root.

Maweni beach at dawn 2

And if as a stranger you think these beach dogs a disreputable looking crew, the undesirable issue of lax couplings between colonial thoroughbreds gone native: dobermanns and rough‑haired pointers, vizslas and ridge‑backs, labradors and terriers, then think again. For just because they have no time for idle chit-chat, this doesn’t make them bad fellows: it’s merely that when they are on the beach, they’re on their own time. But later, after sunset, well that’s a different matter. Then they have responsibilities: they become guardians of the your designer swimwear, keepers of your M & S beach towel, enticing items that you have carelessly left out on your cottage veranda.

For by night they patrol the ill‑lit byways of your beach village, dogging the heels of a human guard who has his bow and arrow always at the ready. And when in the black hours the banshee cry of a bush baby all but stops your heart, you may be forgiven for supposing that this bristling team has got its man, impaled a hapless thief to the compound baobab. It is an unnerving thought. You keep your head down. Try to go with the flow, as all good travellers should.

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But with the day the disturbing image fades. There is no bloody corpse to sully paradise, only the bulbuls calling from a flame tree, the heady scent of frangipani, delicious with its sifting of brine. You cannot help yourself now. It’s time to take a leaf out of the dogs’ book, go for a day of all‑embracing sensation ‑ cast off in an azure pool.

And in the late afternoon when the sun slips red behind the tall palms and the tide comes boiling up the beach, the dogs take to the gathering shade of the hinterland and lie about in companionable couples. Now and then they cast a benign eye on you humankind, for at last you are utterly abandoned, surrendering with whoops and yells to the sun‑baked spume. They seem to register the smallest flicker of approval: you seem to be getting the hang of things.

© 2013 Tish Farrell

Travel Theme: Beaches

headland from the reef

…of Mombasa Beach

In 1992 I ran away to Africa. I meant to stay only three months, but it was eight years before I came back to live again in England. When I first arrived in Nairobi on a hot February morning, stepping off an Air France jumbo jet that had taken far too long to park, I felt as if some unseen hand were striking matches on my cerebral cortex – the sky, the bush, colours, smells, so many beautiful faces: it was as if I’d woken up for the first time.

But if Nairobi was the place I woke up, Mombasa beach was always the place of waking dreams. It does not matter how well focused your eyes or how alert the brain, in the tropic light your perceptions turn to molten honey. Is this place real? I still don’t know.

sea and sky on the reef at Tiwi

During the 1990s we often stayed at Swahili-style beach cottages that were owned by German or British expatriates. These little villages, strung out along Tiwi’s headlands, were low-key in every sense, and their bohemian, beach-combing ambience made them popular places to stay with long-term aid workers and mixed race families. Tanzanians came across the border to stay there too. Although at any one time, there never seemed to be many people staying there and the nearby beaches were often empty but for the local fishermen.

Capricho our house in Feb '92 b

The beach village owners were at pains to be part of the local community, encouraging Digo fishermen and vegetable sellers to call round the cottages with the day’s produce, and employing locals as cooks and gardeners. At night, though, there were often concerns about security. (The 90s were unsettled times in Kenya).  And this is where the village dogs came in. From dusk to dawn they patrolled with armed guards. But in broad daylight, their time was their own, and they generally spent it, unsupervised, down on the beach.

I wrote the following piece for Quartos Magazine in 1995. It won first prize in their article writing contest and was published in January 1996. 

                               Going to the dogs on Mombasa’s southern shores

It’s a dog’s life on Tiwi Beach, the white strand where ocean roars on coral, and trade winds risp the palms along the headland; and where best of all, as far as the dogs are concerned, there are quiet coves sparse in holidaymakers. It means they may do as they please. For after all, it is their own resort.

But the dogs are not churlish. They can take or leave the odd pale human wrestling to right his windsurfer on the still lagoon; ignore the sentinel heron that marks the reef edge beyond; pay no heed to the etched black figures of the Digo fishermen who stalk the shallows for prawns, parrot fish, or perhaps a mottled lobster or two.

But in this last respect at least, the dogs are smug. For the fishermen come down to the beach only to make a living. And when they are done hunting, they must toil along the headland from beach village to beach village, then haggle over the price of their catch with the rich wazungu who come there to lotus eat.  Hard work in the dogs’ opinion.

The dogs know better of course; know it in every hair and pore. And each morning after breakfast, when they take the sandy track down to the beach, they begin with a toss of the head, a sniff of the salt air, a gentle ruffling of the ear feathers in soft finger breezes. Only then do they begin the day’s immersion, the sybaritic sea savouring: first the leather pads, sandpaper dry from pounding coral beaches, then the hot underbelly. Bliss. The water is warm. Still. Azure. And there can be nothing better in the world than to wade here, hour on hour, alongside a like-minded fellow.

There’s not much to it; sometimes a gentle prancing. But more likely the long absorbing watch, nose just above the water, ears pricked, gaze fixed on the dazzling glass. And if you should come by and ask what they think they’re at, they will scan you blankly, the earlier joy drained away like swell off a pitching dhow. And, after a moment’s condescending consideration, they will return again to the sea search, every fibre assuming once more that sense of delighted expectation which you so crassly interrupted. You are dismissed.

For what else should they be doing but dog dreaming, ocean gazing, coursing the ripples of sunlight across the lagoon and more than these, glimpsing the electric blue of a darting minnow? And do they try to catch it?  Of course they don’t. And when the day’s watch is done, there is the happy retreat to shore – the roll roll roll in hot sand, working the grains into every hair root.

And if as a stranger you think these beach dogs a disreputable looking crew, the undesirable issue of lax couplings between colonial thoroughbreds gone native: dobermanns and rough-haired pointers, vizslas and ridge-backs, labradors and terriers, then think again. For just because they have no time for idle chit-chat, this doesn’t make them bad fellows: it’s merely that when they are on the beach, they’re on their own time. But later, after sunset, well that’s a different matter. Then they have responsibilities: they become guardians of the your designer swimwear, keepers of your M & S beach towel, enticing items that you have carelessly left out on your cottage veranda.

For by night they patrol the ill-lit byways of your beach village, dogging the heels of a human guard who has his bow and arrow always at the ready. And when in the black hours the banshee cry of a bush baby all but stops your heart, you may be forgiven for supposing that this bristling team has got its man, impaled a hapless thief to the compound baobab. It is an unnerving thought. You keep your head down. Try to go with the flow, as all good travellers should.

But with the day the disturbing image fades. There is no bloody corpse to sully paradise, only the bulbuls calling from a flame tree, the heady scent of frangipani, delicious with its sifting of brine. You cannot help yourself now. It’s time to take a leaf out of the dogs’ book, go for a day of all-embracing sensation – cast off in an azure pool.

And in the late afternoon when the sun slips red behind the tall palms and the tide comes boiling up the beach, the dogs take to the gathering shade of the hinterland and lie about in companionable couples. Now and then they cast a benign eye on you humankind, for at last you are utterly abandoned, surrendering with whoops and yells to the sun-baked spume. They seem to register the smallest flicker of approval: you seem to be getting the hang of things round here.

Maweni beach at dawn

© Tish Farrell 2011