Llanddwyn Island, Anglesey, North Wales shot in monochrome
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
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).
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.
Redhill limestone quarry at Middleton Top, opened in the early 1900s to take advantage of the nearby Cromford and High Peak Railway.
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.
Cee’s Black & White Challenge things made by humans
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.
copyright 2019 Tish Farrell
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.
Yum! Lovely crunchy hay. So important to keep well stoked up in this cold snap.
Six Word Saturday Pop over to Debbie’s at Travel With Intent for some truly striking photos.
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
This magnificent sun dial was erected on the wall of Eyam parish church in 1775. I’ve posted a photo of it before, but this one was taken in October during our stay in Derbyshire. The village of Eyam is famous for its extraordinary response to an outbreak of bubonic plague in 1665 wherein the villagers agreed to quarantine the entire village so as not to spread the infection. You can read more of this story at an earlier post: In Search of Lost Time in Eyam and an Outbreak of Plague. As to the accuracy of this sun clock, well according to my camera it was exactly one hour slow when I took the photo, but then that may have more to do with the way we keep shunting the hour about at different seasons.
Time Square #8 Pop over to Becky’s for this week’s squares round up.
Photo taken this week on All Hallows Eve on the path to Croft Ambrey hillfort.
And when we’ve trashed this one, there won’t be another (see postscript).
In case you’re wondering where I’ve been for the past week – we’ve been staying in a barn in the Derbyshire High Peak where we woke to views of Higger Tor and Millstone Edge (haloed here) and the wide vistas of Hope Valley. The barn in question was one my maternal ancestors would have known and used, though not in its current luxurious holiday-let manifestation of five bedrooms, three bathrooms, plus central heating, range cooker, vast TV screen and free Wifi.
For around two centuries the Fox family lived at Callow Farm, tenants of the Eyres, and later of the Dukes of Devonshire who bought the Highlow estate from the Eyres/Archers in the early nineteenth century. The Foxes were also in this particular vicinity (around Highlow and Offerton in Hathersage Outseats) for at least the preceding 500 years, although trying to unravel the multiple generations of Georges and Williams is proving pretty impossible. All the more tantalizing when we know a 19th century list of Derbyshire Charters has a certain William Fox holding a few acres at Offerton in the late 1200s.
The more recent tenant Foxes owned some land too, and so in their way were very minor landlords. This in itself is a puzzle, since from earliest times this whole territory was controlled by abbots and monarchs and thence parcelled out to sundry lords and lordlings who taxed, tithed and generally reaped the rewards of ordinary mortals’ labours.
In High Peak the bulk of those returns included a large annual cut from the proceeds of the lead mined and processed by Derbyshire yeomen farmers like the Foxes – a raw and life-threatening trade carried out when they were not engaged in growing oats, making cheese and butter from their small dairy herds, cutting mill- and grinding stones from the precipitous millstone grit edges or minding their sheep. I have evidence of some of these multiple activities from local newspaper details of October 1892 when my great great grandfather George Brayley Fox sold off the Callow Farm stock before leaving the farm. This also means I know precisely what was in those barns at that particular time.
I have also now witnessed what the Dukes of Devonshire did at Chatsworth with the income from their tenant farmer-lead miners. The extravagant display of the 6th Duke in particular is jaw-dropping. But for all this and more – see upcoming posts.
For now here’s a daylight view from Callow farm fields, looking across the Derwent Valley to Hathersage: Higger Tor on the far right, Stanage Edge along the skyline to the left.
And here is Callow Barn – now cut off from the next door farmhouse, the properties being privately and separately owned and perhaps originally sold off from the Chatsworth Estate in either the 1930s or 1960s, both occasions when the estate’s massive death duties required the sale of extensive property and farmland.
And finally Callow Farmhouse as seen from the public footpath to Leadmill:
P.S. Much of Derbyshire – the uplands and dales – lies within the National Park. I learn this morning from the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE is an organisation well worth supporting) that our government wants to bury nuclear waste in our National Parks, wilderness areas that are now used by many hundred thousand citizens for walking and cycling, and whose consistent presence there through much of the year significantly supports local rural economies. The Derbyshire national park in particular positively teems with humanity at weekends, happy families and dogs out for a jaunt and some very fresh air, away from the nearby cities of Manchester, Sheffield and Derby. Words fail.
copyright 2018 Tish Farrell
I have no idea why other people’s washing is so fascinating to humankind; nor perhaps should one enquire too deeply into the rhyme and reason of it. In scenic foreign places (i.e. not at home) it does have a certain art-installation allure. So here’s some Greek washing you haven’t seen, and coming up is more Greek washing that was hung out to dry in an earlier post. I thought is was worth a second airing. A washing line with a view of the Taygetos and the Gulf of Messenia. How uplifting must be the daily act of pegging out. (Not metaphorically of course).
copyright 2018 Tish Farrell