Look Out! Ghosts On The Line

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Last week the Severn Valley Railway had a fit of the Sleepy Hollows: witches, ghouls and other scary entities popping up all over the place; ghosties wiffling off platform lampposts, skellies rising from station gardens, mega cobwebs and evil pumpkin faces. There was even a huge red devil to give you the willies if you were thinking of catching the train from Kidderminster. It was schools’ half-term holiday of course, so there were plenty of kids ready to go in for some serial screaming at Bewdley Station’s gruesome set pieces. It all added to the fun of trundling along on a steam train. We spent the whole day doing it – up and down the 16 mile line – Bridgnorth, Hampton Loade, Highley, Arley, Bewdley, Kidderminister, and back to Bridgnorth in time for tea.

Here’s a gallery of things we saw on the way, mostly through the train window – a very flooded River Severn for one, and also a most surprising sight in rural Worcestershire. But you’ll have to wait till the end for that.

And last but not least in the way of motley scenes and sightings on the Severn Valey Railway: elephants at Bewdley Safari Park.

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Six Word Saturday

What Next: A Cloud Of Herring?

Once it was said the hauls of  herring landed at Fishguard were so great that the fields of West Wales were spread with the excess catch. And if this sounds balmy, decomposing fish would make a good (if environmentally expensive and pretty maloderous) fertiliser. When I read this I then remembered that the farmers of the great Inca Empire of Peru were said to do a similar thing. Before planting their maize seed, they dibbed a hole and dropped a fish in first to feed the growing plant. I’m assuming it wasn’t a fresh one that could otherwise have been eaten.

The sculpture (maker not credited) sits beside the harbour in Lower Fishguard and commemorates the town’s rich herring days. The trade was already established by the 900s CE when the Vikings, who spent a lot of time raiding Wales and Ireland, left off pillaging for a bit of fish buying.  These rapacious sea-raiders called the little inlet Fiskigarðr  and this, according to the town web page, means ‘fish catching enclosure’ in Old Norse. The name Fiscard in fact hung on for centuries after the Vikings were long gone, and only Anglicised at the end of the 19th century. The Welsh name is of course quite different, and probably these days more geographically useful. Abergwaun means the mouth of the Gwaun River.

The herring industry scaled reached industrial heights in the late 18th century. Fifty Fishguard coastal vessels were bringing in catches that were sold in Ireland and the English ports of Bristol and Liverpool. Oats were the other main export, the crop doubtless well fish-nourished on the fields of the West Wales hinterland. It now becomes clear why the town’s shipping was targeted by the American privateer Black Prince in 1779 (see previous post). It looked like the town would be good for £1000 ransom fee. But then looks can be deceptive.

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Line Squares #5

Six Word Saturday

Scenes From The Realm Of Ancestors

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Two thousand years ago the people who lived within the mountain hillfort of Carn Ingli (seen here in the distance) would have looked down on this 5,500 year-old chambered tomb of Pentre Ifan. Back then, the Neolithic burial cairn was probably mostly intact, still covered with an earth mound and extending some 120 feet (36 metres). Over the centuries most of the stones have been removed, most likely for wall and house building; only the most immovable stones remain. The capstone is reckoned to weigh 16 tonnes and is supported on the tips of three larger-than-man-size stones.

However you think about it, this tomb is an extraordinary feat of construction by people who only had tools made of stone, wood and bone. In the next photo I have included men (near and far) to give some sense of scale – height and original tomb length. The burial place, probably used for successive interments and not only for one individual, is also in sight of the sea, the harbour inlet at Parrog, Newport, which may well have been used by trading boat as far back as the Neolithic.

I’m wondering what the ancestors would think of us now: the age when folly and ignorance finally ‘triumphed’ over wisdom?

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Six Word Saturday

Thoughts From The Blue Glass Sea

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Yesterday, 20th September 2019 when young people around the world were on strike to urge politicians to start telling the truth about climate emergency and to take action NOW to save their future, I looked out on this view across Cardigan Bay in West Wales. And I thought: isn’t it time we all stopped killing the planet and thus everything we truly value?

On the 23rd September 2019 the United Nations Climate Action Summit takes place. Let’s hope the world leaders attending have their brains switched on. It will cost us a lot otherwise – the earth in fact.

Six Word Saturday

Communing With Orchids On Windmill Hill

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Yesterday morning he who presently spends his time making a scale model of a static steam engine, surprised me by abandoning house and shed to take part in the orchid count on Windmill Hill. We had the first count last year, but this year the orchids are far more numerous. The hill is in the care of the Windmill Trust, a group of local volunteers, and in the past the limestone grassland was mostly kept in check by a flock of small ponies, brought in to graze at the end of summer. Unfortunately the little ponies had to be sold, so last year at summer’s end  the Windmill Trust had the hill mowed, the hay baled and dispatched to the local riding centre and the ground harrowed. It’s certainly given the purple pyramidal orchids a boost, though later when I went up the hill to see for myself, apart from the pyramids, I could only find this single Bee Orchid and one Spotted Orchid, though I was probably a bit late for the latter; they anyway prefer the parts of the hill where the soil is less calcareous.

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With all the rain we’ve had, the grasses are knee-high and the orchids not as conspicuous as they usually are. But there are also masses of other limestone meadow flowers: wild thyme, mallow, agrimony, viper’s bugloss, knapweed, thistles, ladies bedstraw, hop trefoil, vetches, yellow rattle, cinquefoil, brambles, St. John’s Wort and hawkweeds. The place was alive with insects too – not only bees, but also blue damsel- and dragon flies and masses of Meadow Brown and Small Heath butterflies. Also a Common Blue. I didn’t see the peregrine falcon though that Graham had seen in the morning, but I went home thinking what a treasure place is Windmill Hill.

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P.S. Hot off the press come the orchid count results: 3,574 pyramidal orchids (compared to 864 last year); 129 spotted orchids; 15 bee orchids.

 

Six Word Saturday

In The Red ~ Iron Bridge Makeover

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For much of last year this 240-year-old bridge was under wraps while English Heritage engineers carried out major repairs on the iron work. And it was during this process that the original paint colour of the world’s first cast iron bridge was discovered – a rusty red. This seems to have struck many as surprising, probably because in the living memory of most Shropshire folk, the bridge has either been lugubrious black (as I remember it in the 1960s) or battleship grey – its most recent shade before the overhaul.

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And this is how it looked last week bathed in May sunshine. A much more jaunty effort.

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That the bridge was originally this colour, or as near as can be recreated, was documented at the time. While Abraham Darby III was having it built (between 1779 and its official opening in 1781) he commissioned some promotional artwork from William Williams. He wanted to show the wide world what marvels could be created using cast iron.

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William Williams c 1780 Cast Iron Bridge near Coalbrookdale  Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust

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Needless to say, as with all propaganda, inconvenient truths have been elided from the view, and we have instead notions of paradisal punting and extreme millinery rather than the filthy outpourings of riverside ironworks and coke burning furnaces that were actually in the vicinity. (And don’t forget the ear-splitting soundscape of clanging steam hammers and the general clamour of the wharves and boat-building yards).

In fact if you want an image of where man-made global warming began or a metaphor of how some of us prefer to deny responsibility for the damage caused by our industrial excesses, then this painting could well serve the purpose. Beguiling, isn’t it?

Standing on the freshly caparisoned bridge today and looking at a river empty of the the fleets of trading barges that once plied these waters from early monastic times and into the 19th century, the lush hanging woodland of the Severn Gorge all around, it is hard to believe that the Industrial Revolution had its roots here; that the innovations in iron making and casting made by the Darby dynasty and John (Iron Mad) Wilkinson sparked the multiplier effect of technological invention (from the soul-sapping iron-framed textile factories of the north to the transport systems of Stephenson and Brunel) and so on around the world; and that now, after all the excitement and technical derring-do and ingenuity we’re left to contemplate the mess that industrialisation has made of the planet.

However, on a warm afternoon in May, with the little town of Ironbridge quietly hosting the season’s first sightseers, it seems altogether like too much irony (cast, rolled, puddled or wrought). We’ll just enjoy the views then.

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copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

Six Word Saturday Pop over to Debbie’s to see her wonderful naked man.

Spring Well Sprung On Wenlock Edge

Bye bye Siberian icy blasts, hello summer! It’s been all change here in Wenlock and all go, go, go out in the garden. Tulips bursting, crab apple blossom unfurling, Spanish bluebells shooting up, euphorbias at their vibrant, greenest best, pesky weed oxalis suddenly a haze of soft pink flowers just to stop me pulling it up, columbines on the cusp, perennial Centaurea cornflowers showing off their best blues, Sweet Cicely all lacy umbels (and a good addition when cooking fruit to reduce the amount of sugar needed). Ladybirds on pest patrol. Bees on the forage. Cloudless blue above. Hot sun. It’s just all too exciting.

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copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

 

Six Word Saturday (that would be in the post title!) Pop over to Debbie’s for more 6-worders.