When we left Hay-on-Wye on Friday morning we headed west into the hill country above the Wye valley. The lane wound up narrowly from Clyro to Painscastle, the hedgerows bathed in high-definition sunlight. But there were also rafts of ice – here and there, where the road dipped into shadow. It was exciting to see – real ice, even if it was swiftly turning to slush.
We were taking a somewhat round-about route to our immediate destination – the Erwood Art Gallery whose leaflet says it is the biggest privately owned gallery of contemporary art and craft in Wales. It is also in an isolated spot in the woods above the Wye, and to add to its interest is housed in three Victorian railway carriages left over from the days when the train came this way. Into my mind’s eye puffs a doughty steam engine pulling a long tail of carriages. I imagine rattling along the wide river valley, hills and farms and sheep pasture all around. And think: it’s a crying shame this loss of Britain’s most scenic railways – killed in the ‘60s by the wretched Dr. ‘Let them drive cars’ Beeching, he with his most undiscriminating axe that has done so much to promote the slow misery of dying rural communities, and the clogged up byways of our small island.
But enough ranting. It’s too fine a day. When we reach the moorland tops of The Begwns, and before our descent to Erwood, we stop to admire the view. And that’s when I come across the frosted bracken…
Aren’t we lucky to still have our own independent bookshop when across Britain such places are sadly becoming a thing of the past. So here it is, Wenlock Books, a landmark on the High Street, and housed in a wonderfully restored 14th century building. Its owner, Anna Dreda, is passionate about book selling, and has nurtured it and us for over twenty years, creating a haven for book lovers of all ages, from infants upwards. Downstairs the shelves are brimming with crisply published new books, while upstairs you can sit in cosy corners surrounded by ancient timbers and read the pre-owned and antiquarian books. Or if you are nosy like me, you can look out of the window on to the street below and surreptitiously see what Wenlock’s citizens are getting up to.
Also when you pop into Wenlock Books for a good browse, don’t be surprised if you are offered a cup of tea, or invited to join one of the reading groups that meet around the big upstairs table. The most recent book on the go in the Slow Reading Group has been George Eliot’s Middlemarch wherein those taking part, week by week discuss a single chapter over coffee and biscuits. The next slow read starts in September with Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory. That month too there will be the Children’s Book Launch, starting with local writer, Sarah Griffiths, who will be reading her book Douglas’s Trousers to 2-8 year olds.
It will not surprise you, then, to learn that the bookshop has won national awards. Anna was also the founding force behind the hugely successful Wenlock Poetry Festival which over several years has hosted poets of international standing, and has Britain’s former Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy as its patron. (You can what poetry lovers get up to in the town HERE.)
This year the festival has taken a break. Anna also has been very unwell, but I’m glad to say, she tells us that she is feeling very much better.
So all best wishes, Anna, for your continuing good recovery.
In the meantime, if you go to the Wenlock Books link, you can meet Anna in a splendid 3 minute video. You can also have a snoop inside the bookshop and see just why it and its owner are so very much loved and appreciated by all of us.
I don’t know about you, but the transformation of luscious red strawberries into non-colour is more than a little disturbing. For one thing it’s challenging my atavistic hunter-gatherer impulse to be drawn to a much-loved, ripe and ready fruit. My hand is reaching out to pick even as I am anticipating the sweet juiciness on my tongue and the inevitable dribble down the chin.
But what am I to make of the monochrome fruit? At the moment I’m thinking not only do they NOT entice, but I would also give them quite a wide berth. I’m also thinking I could be onto a whole new weight-loss-fad – ‘The Monochrome Diet’ anyone?
copyright 2017 Tish Farrell
P.S. Many thanks to Paula at Lost in Translation for her intriguing ‘After and Before’ photo editing exercise. It throws up all sorts of perceptual conundrums.
I’ve chosen a very literal interpretation of Paula’s theme at Black & White Sunday. First of all I thought you could not get any ‘lower-lying’ than at sea level, at least not without immersion in said sea. And then I thought of Marram grass being laid low in the gale, and how I was attracted by its bowing texture.
And then I thought of the sand beneath our feet:
These photos were taken last Christmas on a beach walk to Llanddwyn Island on Anglesey, North Wales. You can see more about the island HERE.
I do not think of Africa in black and white, and when we lived there during the 1990s it was still in the days of conventional photography, and only colour film was readily available. So I am rather intrigued by these monochrome edits from the old Africa photo file.
They were taken in August – in the cool, dry, gloomy season, and the time of the wildebeest migration. We had driven down to the Maasai Mara from Nairobi under lowering skies, taking our visitors, Chris and Les, on safari. The roads were dusty and the bush country parched and dreary looking for mile after mile.
Amongst other things, the first photo shows how empty the landscape can be of wildlife, or indeed of people. In the distance is the Oloololo Escarpment which forms the north west boundary of the Mara Triangle. The tented camp where we were staying was on the Mara River outside the park, and part of the Mara Conservancy, a reserve managed by the Maasai themselves.
The lone tree is a Desert Date (Balanites aegyptiaca ), and is typical of the open savannah where its presence is highly valued by humans and grazing animals alike. It fruits under the driest conditions. The tree has also long provided traditional healers with remedies; like the baobab, Balanites is one of Africa’s tree pharmacies. The fruit’s outer flesh was used for treating skin diseases, and preparations of the root and bark were used to combat malaria.
The oil within the fruit in fact has a host of remarkable properties. It has long been known that it kills the freshwater snails that carry bilharzia and the water fleas that are vectors of guinea-worm disease (Trees of Kenya Tim Noad and Ann Birnie). It has also been studied more recently by Egyptian scientists who reported their findings in the the 2010 Journal of Ethnopharmacology. Their laboratory tests revealed anticancer properties for certain human carcinoma cell lines, as well as demonstrating selected antimicrobial, anthelmintic, and antiviral activity.
An all round useful tree then.
The shape of the trees in the photos is also typical. The result of having their canopies nibbled by passing giraffes, although there are none in sight here – only wildebeest and Thomson’s gazelle.
My very good chum Lesley, took me to Kit Hill for a sun-downer walk back in May. It is an amazing spot, the highest point in Cornwall’s Tamar Valley. From the summit you can see for miles and miles – south across Cornwall, north to Bodmin Moor and Dartmoor.
The hill itself is an outcrop of the Cornubian batholith, a mass of granite rock formed 280 million years ago, and covering much of the Cornwall-Devon peninsula. The granite is formed from crystalized and solidified magma that has boiled up from deep within the earth’s crust. The resulting rock is mineral rich: principally the tin ore cassiterite, but also copper, lead, zinc and tungsten.
There are signs of mining dating back to medieval times, although this involved only surface quarrying of weathered out tin stones, or ‘shodes’. It was not until the eighteenth century that men were working in deep-shaft mines, drained by adits (horizontal shafts driven into the hillside.) However, you look at it, tin mining was a tough way to make a living.
The ornate chimney in the first photo dates from 1858. Now it is used to house various masts. Back then, and until 1885, it was part of the pumping arrangements for several mining concerns on the hill. Further down is the the chimney of the South Kit Hill Mine (Bal Soth Bre Skowl in Cornish), and the town of Callington below it.
The shaft of this mine reach a depth of over 90 metres (300 feet). The chimney served the steam engine house which operated machinery to crush and sort the ore. The mine was worked between 1856 and 1882, but foundered as the quality of accessible tin declined and the business became mired in legal actions for fraud.
Now these chimneys serve only as mysterious and dramatic landmarks within a 400-acre countryside park. It is a wilderness place rich in wildlife: deer, badgers, skylarks, buzzards, stonechats and sparrow hawks. There are signs of ancient humankind too – a 5,000 year old Neolithic long barrow, and some 18 burial mounds, dating from the Bronze Age, including one beneath that ornate chimney stack.
When Lesley and I were there we were treated to some marvellous views of a cuckoo – a bird more usually heard than seen, it having well known tendencies to sneakiness and stealth. There was also a rapid fly-past by two small raptors – too swift for identification but probably sparrow hawks since this is their well-known milieu. Stone chats and pipits bobbed about in the gorse, and around us the land stretched out as far as the eye could see, its fields and boundaries, in their own way, a document of human activity and endeavour over many centuries. And a very special place. Thank you, Lesley.
copyright 2017 Tish Farrell
Faithful followers of this blog will know that my home town of Much Wenlock was host to writer Henry James on three occasions. He came as guest of local worthies, the Milnes Gaskells who owned both the Prior’s House (which they called The Abbey) and Wenlock Priory ruins.
Adjoining the house is a beautiful ruin, part of the walls and windows and bases of the piers of the magnificent church administered by the predecessor of your host, the abbot. These relics are very desultory, but they are still abundant and testify to the great scale and the stately beauty of the abbey. You may lie upon the grass at the base of an ivied fragment and measure the great girth of the great stumps of the central columns, half smothered in soft creepers, and think how strange it is in that in this quiet hollow, in the midst of lonely hills, so exquisite and so elaborate a work of art should have arisen.
Henry James Portraits of Places
I imagine the Priory remains were more romantically ruinous in James’s time, lacking the custodial tidiness of English Heritage, whose property it now is. Those lofty Corsican pines in the background would have been saplings back in his day. All the same, at least once during his visits, the writer must have stood where I was standing when I took this photo – gazing through the old glass panes of The Abbey’s Great Hall, where, in the 1500s, the Prior of Wenlock did his most lavish entertaining.
Local legend has it that James was working on his novella The Turn of the Screw during one of his visits. We know from his accounts in Portraits of Places that he was struck by the antiquity of the place, and much interested in its ghost and tales of haunting that drove the household staff to spend the night in their homes. and not under The Abbey roof.
There’s more about Henry James and Wenlock in my earlier post When Henry James Came To Wenlock
By now you may be wondering how come I’m looking out of the Prior’s window. The Abbey is still privately owned, now the home of artist Louis de Wet. Last summer we were treated to a private tour by Gabriella de Wet : Going Behind The Scenes in Wenlock Abbey. There are more of Henry James’ descriptions in that post.
And now please head over to Lost in Translation where this week’s theme is windows. As you can see, my interpretation is somewhat oblique. Paula, though, presents us with some very unusual windows.
The Abbey, Much Wenlock, once the Prior’s Lodging. It boasts a host of windows:
I think I’ve mentioned that here in Much Wenlock we’re in the throes of having a couple of attenuation ponds dug above the town – this in a bid to reduce flood risk. We are in what the Environment Agency calls a ‘Rapid Response Catchment Area’. This means that if a severe storm hits our part of Wenlock Edge, then we have about twenty minutes warning before a flash flood reaches the town. There are other factors involved too. Flash flooding is more likely if the ground is already sodden from periods of prolonged rainfall. Or if it is frozen hard.
Our last bad flood was in the summer of 2007 when over fifty homes were affected. Due to the steepness of our catchment, any flood is usually quick to leave, but even so, it can cause a lot of damage.
One of the attenuation ponds, currently nearing completion, is in the top corner of Townsend Meadow behind our house. Earlier in the year, and in preparation for the excavation work, a number of small trees were felled and shredded into heaps around the pond perimeter. Yippee, I thought on discovering them by the path on the long way round to the allotment. More chippings for paths and weed suppression.
I duly went to collect a few bags full, but it was harder work than I expected. For one thing there is quite a haul up the path from the pond, and then once at the top of the hill and into the wood, another haul down the field boundary to the allotment.
Meanwhile, my chippings collecting habit had not gone unnoticed. Late one afternoon in April, and after the working day was over, I was plodding up the path with a full bag when a truck pulled up on the field track that the construction crew were using. It was the digger driver in the photo. A very Welsh digger driver. At first I didn’t quite grasp what he was saying. I thought he’d come to tell me off. But that wasn’t it.
When I explained what I was doing and where I was going with the chippings, he said it would be no problem for him to move the chippings piles to the top of the hill. In fact I think he would have delivered them to the allotment if there had been suitable access. He drove off down the track, and I carried on with my bag, and rather forgot about the digger man.
Sometime later (I was pottering around in my polytunnel) fellow allotmenteer, Dave, came to tell me that he had been surprisingly hallooed from the neighbouring field by a very Welsh man who was going on about chippings and some woman he’d met on the path. After some thought, Dave had concluded I was the woman in question, and so we went up the field to investigate, and there at the top of the track was a huge pile of wood chips – enough for all my paths, and more to compost over the winter. There was no sign of the digger man. I expect he’d gone home for his tea, but Dave helped me fill my big blue IKEA bags and carry them back to the plot.
So lucky me! Two very kind men in one day. And a nice new path between the polytunnel raised beds, which incidentally were made by a third kind man who lives in my house.
Black & White Sunday: After and Before This week Paula asks us to give a colour shot a monochrome edit.
This week at Black & White Sunday Paula asks us for an ‘After and Before’ – i.e. a colour photograph converted to monochrome. She wants us to use this device to look at our work with fresh eyes. It is an interesting exercise.
This shot was very spur of the moment’, and into the sun to boot – taken as the bus to Llandudno swung round a sharp bend down and past Conwy’s mediaeval town walls. But I liked the juxtaposition of ancient and new, the impressively static versus the transient. For some reason I also like the ‘one way’ traffic road sign – as if it might mean something other than the obvious.
Overall, as a composition I’m not sure what to make of it, but I keep looking at it just in case it might have something important to say, and I think the monochrome version has a certain drama. The first version is in ‘Cyan tone’ according to my Microsoft editing programme. This next one is what happens when you press the ‘Black & White’ option:
And here’s the original:
Now over to Paula’s at Black & White Sunday for more ‘Afters’.