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.

Today The Weather Feels Like This

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Country lore has it that if March comes in like a lion it will leave like a lamb. Well roll on flocks of little ovine entities. As I write this, the wind is roaring up over the Edge, and blowing right through the house even though all the windows are shut. And IT IS ICY. And outside,  it is blow-you-over gale force across the field with intermittent fierce rain squalls. Yet the BBC weather people claim that here in our corner of Shropshire we are currently having ‘sunny intervals with a fresh breeze’. In support of this contention, they have staked out their hourly weather map with a row of sunny-cloud icons. It’s a sign of the times of course. You can no longer trust a single mediated report, not matter how supposedly trustworthy the source. Wear more vests, that’s my advice. And balaclavas.

Photo: Bin bag and barbed wire, St Bride’s Bay, Pembroke, March 2018

Spiky Square #9

Six Word Saturday

All Man-Made At Derbyshire’s Middleton Top

It was a gloomy September afternoon when we visited these relics of the Cromford and High Peak Railway just outside Wirksworth in Derbyshire. It is a truly remarkable piece of early railway engineering. The challenge was to make a viable transport route over the High Peak in Derbyshire to Manchester: Derbyshire coal and finished manufactured goods to go to the city, raw cotton for the East Midlands textile factories to come the other way. The line of rail was surveyed by Josias Jessop in the late 1820s, and his solution to surmounting the seemingly impossible limestone uplands involved the construction of 9 inclined planes (5 up and 4 down).

The 33 miles of line was the first long distance railway to be built anywhere. It also preceded the introduction of steam locomotives, which had not quite been invented in 1825 when the original Act of Parliament was drafted, though the Act did make provision for their presumed arrival. Instead, stationary steam engines, housed in august ecclesiastical looking buildings like the one seen here, provided the power to haul the goods wagons up and down the inclined planes. On the flat stretches, and until the arrival of the expected steam locomotives, horses and donkeys pulled the wagons. In 1831 it took two days to travel from one end of the line to the other.

The steepest stretch was up to Middleton Top from Cromford Canal. Within the short distance of 5 miles the railway had to climb over 1,200 feet, requiring five inclined planes with stationary steam engines to do the job. The Middleton Top engine house (below) still has its fully operational Butterley beam engine, which is shown off from time to time during open days, but not on the day when we were there. (Sorry, engine enthusiasts – no hiss of steam or magic whiffs of burning coke and hot grease).

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These days most of the line has gone and the old track bed provides 17 miles of fine walking and cycling on the High Peak Trail which in turn joins up with other walking routes that cover 120 miles of the magnificent Peak District. The men who toiled on this line, or in the quarries and mines whose produce it carried, or the women and children who worked in the textile factories served by it, would not have believed this transformation – from the mass-production-imperative of the Industrial Revolution that gave workers little respite from their heavy labours or work-induced diseases, to a mass health and leisure facility for the citizens of several nearby conurbations. No smoke or chemical fumes or mine dust or cotton lint to inhale day in and day out, just the wide open country and the time and space to breathe and simply be. Freedoms and landscapes to treasure then.

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Redhill limestone quarry at Middleton Top, opened in the early 1900s to take advantage of the nearby Cromford and High Peak Railway.

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This happy chap has just wheeled his bike up 700 metres of the very steep Middleton Incline, and presumably the inclines before it. The trackway varies in steepness between 1 in 8 and 1 in 14. In its working days, there were up and down rails side by side, the trucks raised and lowered on heavy steel cables.

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Cee’s Black & White Challenge things made by humans

Six Word Saturday

 

Crown Prince Finally Gets The Chop

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He’s been sitting on the kitchen cupboard all winter, and I’d grown used to his being there; rather forgotten that he might be eaten. Then last week I did remember. Soup. We need more soup! It was quite a tussle breaking into him, and then I found a quarter of him was more than enough for a big pan of spicy squash and onion concoction with added tub of  tomato ‘stock’ from the freezer. The soup did us for two lunches, the first day topped with plain yogurt and rye bread croutons, the next with homemade walnut-parsley-garlic pesto and toast.

The rest of the squash has been consigned to the fridge, there awaiting more souping and roasting (perhaps with dates, soy sauce, lime juice and onions). All hearty winter food.

But then, the thing is, when I first broke into him after much battling with my largest knife, and the two halves finally fell apart on the counter top, out whooshed the scent of summer. And I was transported, and all without the need for white mice magicked into coach horses by passing fairy godmothers. I was back. Those weeks and weeks of long hot days (with all that hauling of water about the allotment and (not the least of it) tending to his highness). And then I thought, well now, it will soon be time to sow more Crown Princes, seeds kept and dried from a princeling eaten back in December. And finally I thought so this is the essence of things, the cycle of sowing, growing and harvesting, of being nourished and the pleasure of simply being. And that made me feel very happy. It’s amazing how much mileage there is in a pumpkin. Thank you, Crown Prince, for your great beneficence.

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copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

Six Word Saturday

How Now Brown (And Black) Cows…

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One of the very best things about living in a rural town like Much Wenlock is that you can be setting off for the shops to buy ordinary stuff like a local newspaper or half a dozen eggs, and come upon small happenings of one sort or another. So here we are. As we slipped and slid down the muddy path  that brings you first to the Priory ruins, and thence to the town centre, we met up with a new batch of Highland Cattle recently ensconced in the Cutlins meadow. Teenage moos, I should think. Not fully grown anyway. They were certainly most curious, and so posed nicely to have their photos taken. Or at least two of them did. The third was too busy eating breakfast.

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Yum! Lovely crunchy hay. So important to keep well stoked up in this cold snap.

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Six Word Saturday Pop over to Debbie’s at Travel With Intent for some truly striking photos.

Marigolds Still Blooming At The Allotment

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January can be a dreary time up at the allotment: cold claggy soil, weedy peripheries, bare trees and a general sense of neglect and of plots too long abandoned. And yet…and yet…when I slip-slide around my raised beds I find there is still plenty to harvest: leeks, parsnips, Tuscan kale, Swiss chard. The slugs have even left us some carrots (the voracious little gastropods are especially fond of the sweet and stubby rooted Paris Market variety), but I manage to find a bunch that have not been too gobbled.

There are also some golden beetroot to pluck, some as big as turnips. From the outside they do not look too promising – over-weathered and their skins suggesting woodiness within. But to my surprise, they are still good – delicious chopped  into cubes and roasted till they start to caramelize, and even better with added quartered onions (Sturon still going strong from the summer cropping) and cloves of garlic kept in their papery jackets (so they can be popped out later, if squidgily, and accompanied by much finger licking).

Down by the raspberry bed, the purple sprouting plants, long nurtured through the summer drought and now wrapped in netting against pigeon attack, are looking stout and lush-leaved. I see that they are beginning to yield, and manage to find half a dozen fat florets. Hopefully, the plants will keep cropping now into the spring.

And then as I make for home with my muddy bag filled with veggies, I spot the marigolds (Calendula officinalis). There they are, back in flower after their December lull, and making their own sunshine on a dull and chilly day. I feel a bit guilty about picking them, but then I think some sunshine on the kitchen table would be a cheering sight for He Who Is Presently Coughing His Socks Off. And of course a scatter of petals, therapeutic little entities that they are, would be just the garnish for a dish of roasted golden beetroot.

copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

Six Word Saturday