Over The Edge And Far Away ~ In Search Of Heath Chapel Beneath The Clee

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Between Wenlock Edge and Clee Hill.

[This photo is by way of a prologue, just to give you a gist of place – a glimpse of the ‘lost world’ where we found ourselves last Friday. This is actually an autumn scene taken from the Wenlock Edge viewpoint, the freshly sown winter wheat just sprouting in the field to the left. Beyond the middle horizon lies Corvedale, one of the loveliest valleys of the Shropshire uplands. Today this country is mainly agricultural land, arable and pasture, but back in the Middle Ages coal was mined on the Clee Hills and the valley then would have gushed with fumes and smoke from blast furnaces and iron foundries – an industrial scene then, and well before the actual  Industrial Revolution of centuries later. And generations before the fumes, in 7th century Saxon Mercia, all this land was a small part of the domain held by Milburga, a Saxon princess and abbess of Much Wenlock’s first convent – a double house for both nuns and monks. Doubtless the Saxon villagers who farmed this land back then would have paid tribute to Milburga’s establishment, or to one of its daughter houses.]

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If in a madcap moment you turn off the Craven Arms-Ludlow road that runs out of Wenlock and along Corvedale, and then head down one of the many side-lanes, you will soon find yourself meandering through tiny hamlets of old stone cottages, farmhouses and the occasional manor with surrounding parkland. Oaks and ash trees shade the narrow byways that dogleg round wheat fields and cattle and sheep meadows, nudge between tall hedgerows of wild flowers, scuttle across farmyards, elbow their way in and out of cramped cottage-clusters where the signpost to the place you are seeking is hidden by trees. Progress, then, can be slow and also nerve-wracking. Mostly the road is only wide enough for one vehicle, and passing places, by way of field gateways, are sometimes scarce. One may spend much time going backwards.

There are no shops or inns and and, now and then, only the sight of an isolated notice board at a crossroads alerts you to the fact of a community’s existence, somewhere behind all the greenery. Of course there are old churches whose towers you may glimpse as you wend and bend through the hinterland. And then there are VERY old churches, and it was the pursuit of one particular ancient chapel that last Friday had lured us into uncharted territory (for us that is), if barely a dozen miles from home.

In short, we were having ‘a day out’, a break from the ongoing domestic chaos that had begun with exchanging an old bathroom for a new one, but then morphed into an unexpected schedule of re-decorating – one big mess somehow multiplying into several others. Also, after last Thursday’s 24 hours of rain, we had seen more than enough of the chaos in particular and of indoors in general.

The road out of Wenlock and into Corvedale is narrow and steep, and as main roads go, is more of a lane to begin with. It wanders up and down through Bourton, Brockton and Shipton, then straightens and widens through Broadstone and Hungerford. But before we reached Munslow we left it, turning off at the staggered crossroads where there’s a sign for Wildgoose Nursery (more of which in another post), zigzagging through Baucott down Sandy Lane, skirting Bouldon (though it looked beguiling), taking a sharp left to Heath, peering through overgrown hedgerows.

And suddenly there it was, alone in its field – and looking just like the Shropshire guide book photos – Heath Chapel built around 1150 CE, and at some point in the late Middle Ages left high and dry by its community which, for reasons unknown, simply ceased to be. In a nearby field you can see the humps and bumps of house platforms that were once its village. In fact the map shows a number of deserted medieval village sites along the dale. All rather mysterious.

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The notice board at the chapel gate tells you that key is hanging behind it. At first I was sceptical. But here it was. A good 10 inches of it.

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I was further surprised to learn from the board that loo facilities are available behind the chapel, along with car parking. I also noted the paths that have been mown across the meadow, and the wrought iron seats placed for quiet contemplation in this secluded spot. Although I soon saw we were not quite alone. Across the field I spotted a small graveyard where three young calves were grazing. While Graham manhandled the huge key to open the chapel I went over to say hello to them.

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Back at the chapel door I considered its rustic Norman arch and the time-line progress of humanity that has passed beneath it: the Saxon serfs of some local Norman overlord, monastic labourers perhaps, since the reach of Wenlock Priory under the rule of the French-speaking Cluniac monks was long, and they had diverse money-making projects, most especially in sheep wool. Later, after 1540 when monastic rule was broken, and Wenlock Borough managed by burgesses, town worthies of the rising merchant classes, perhaps the manor’s lord and lady and their retinue worshipped here. No one knows. The chapel is simply there, silent about its history although there are some tantalizing hints inside.

And inside it was dark, dank and musty, though apparently still sometimes used for worship. Only by holding the door wide open was there enough light to photograph the font.

I weighed up the box pews and thought they would have been little defence against the cold rising from the stone flag floor, or a winter’s wind under the door. But I also noticed something else. Here and there, where the white plasterwork had fallen damply from the walls, there were faint outlines of Gothic text and more besides.

It seems there were once religious texts illuminating the walls above the pews. Later I discovered these were added in the 1600s, inscribed atop the whitewash that had blotted out the earlier medieval wall paintings. And then astonishingly up on the south wall there is the ghost of such a painting, and said to be the image of Saint George. It is a full-scale work, and even these faint vestiges suggest that this modest little chapel was once very grandly adorned. But by whom and why here?

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It was good to step back out into the sunshine. Graham locked the door and the chapel continued to keep its secrets. We walked around the field perimeter and, under a large tree at the furthest point from the chapel, we found a small, and discreetly placed garden shed. The loo. There really was one and provided there by the thoughtful chapel custodians. It also proved an attraction of sorts in its own right and made us laugh when we looked inside.

A valuable introduction into compost toileting arrangements then. The same kindly people who created these facilities presumably had also put a pack of bottled water in the chapel. Heath is in on a popular walkers’ route, and so if you’d forgotten, or finished your own water, you could help yourself to a bottle and drop a donation in the box. It was all so heartening; a piece of English heritage that was well loved and cherished and generously shared by unseen souls.

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View from the loo

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The key re-hung and the gate string re-looped, we returned to the car that Graham had parked tidily in a hedge, and meandered on. More narrow winding lanes – more unfamiliar terrain with Clee Hill now looming on our right, more searching for signposts in the overgrowth which involved a U-turn or two. We headed for Abdon, then Tugford, inching past farm vehicles, slowing for a girl on a horse, narrowly missing being run over by a speeding parcel delivery van, admiring picturesque stone houses with pretty gardens, the well farmed fields, and at last regaining the road home at Broadstone.

Back in Wenlock, we felt we’d been a long way away, and for a very long time. It was that well known Rip Van Winkle effect that often happens in Shropshire if, in a madcap moment, you choose to leave the main road.

copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

Lens-Artists ~ Taking A Break  This week we’ve followed Tina’s wise advice.

Twr Mawr Lighthouse On Llanddwyn Island

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Llanddwyn Island on Anglesey is only an island at high tide. Mostly it is a narrow spit reaching out across Llanddwyn Bay to the mountains of the Welsh mainland. It is named after the early 5th century Christian mystic, Dwynwen who, unhappy in love, is said to have retreated to the island, living out her days there alone. Later she became known as the Welsh patron saint of lovers, and in medieval times pilgrims would flock to the island in hopes of divining the faithfulness of their own loves at Dwynwen’s well. In fact so much revenue was raised from the pilgrims’ quest for true love that in the 16th century a substantial chapel was built on what was believed to be Dwynwen’s own place of sanctuary. You see the chapel ruins if you go there today.

The lighthouse was built in 1845 to guide shipping entering the Menai Strait from the south. Now it serves mostly as a very striking landmark, viewed here on a blustery Christmas morning a few years ago.

Lens-Artists ~ Seascapes

Dreaming In Africa

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Long ago when we lived in Africa and far away on Manda Strait in the Lamu Archipelago, Captain Lali dreams. It is late afternoon, the day after Christmas Day, and we have been sailing in Mzee Lali’s small dhow, out exploring the reef and catching a fish or two for a seaboard lunch that will be cooked on a little jiko stove, and served with freshly chopped coleslaw. Even wide awake it seemed like a dream to us.

I’ve posted this photo several times before, as some of you will know. The way time is speeding up, it’s rapidly assuming vintage status. So here’s an ancient Swahili tale to go with it, also one I prepared earlier:

There came a time when Sendibada signed on with a strange sea captain. The next day, as dawn was breaking, the ship cast off, a strong breeze filling the lateen sails, and bearing them swiftly out to sea. But towards noon the wind died, and the boat drifted, becalmed, on still waters.

At this, the captain strode out on the bridge, and began to utter words that Sendibada could not fathom. He stared and stared for, to his astonishment, the ship began to rise, graceful as an egret taking flight. Sendibada grinned. He liked a good adventure, and now it seemed this strange captain of his was none other than the most powerful magician.

Up into the clouds they soared, flying, flying until at last they saw a faraway red spot. But little by little the spot grew, until at last Sendibada saw it was a city in the sky, and that every house there was made of copper. Soon they set down in the harbour and, as the crew made to go ashore, from every quarter, lovely girls came out to greet them, bearing on their heads copper trays laden with the most delicious fruits and sweetmeats and tender roasted morsels.

And so it was that much time passed, the ship’s crew enjoying month after month of this most gracious hospitality. Sendibada, though, was growing homesick, and said as much. Now the magician gave him a round mat and told him how to use it.

Sendibada followed the instructions, placing the mat on the ground and seating himself upon it so that he faced the direction of his home town. Then he spoke the foreign words that meant: Behold! We shall all return to it . And at once the mat rose into the clouds, and faster than a diving hawk, set Sendibada back on the beach just outside his home town.

copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

The Copper City  retold from a translated text in Jan Knappert’s Myths and Legends of the Swahili

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Related posts:

Lamu Dreaming

Quayside Lamu

The Swahili

Lens-Artists: Dreamy  This week Ann-Christine is hosting Lens-Artists’ Saturday challenge. If you want to join in, please tag your post ‘LENS-ARTISTS’ and add a link to the challenge post. Or just visit their lovely blogs and be inspired:

Patti https://pilotfishblog.com/

Ann-Christine aka Leya https://lagottocattleya.wordpress.com/

Amy  https://shareandconnect.wordpress.com/

Tina https://travelsandtrifles.wordpress.com/

It’s A Small World ~ Over The Garden Fence

Most of you who come here often will know that over our garden fence beside  the field path we have been encouraging a wilderness garden to flourish. Most of it is not on our land, and so we call it ‘the guerrilla garden’, referencing a movement that began some years back and involved certain UK citizens going around, often under the cover of darkness, establishing gardens in derelict and unsightly corners of public spaces.

Our version was aimed at encouraging bio-diversity, mostly of the insect kind. It is wholly unplanned and includes some cultivated herbaceous species i.e. those that had grown too uncontainable in our small garden and had to be set free, the crab apple that had to be moved when the garden steps were being rebuilt, wild flowers sown and invaded, and quite a few weeds. I don’t do much to it beyond a big tidy up in the autumn, though I do have to tackle the fieldside margins now and then to stop the thistles and brambles from taking over.

Anyway, the ensuing floral jungle is a great source of pleasure for six months of the year, and once you start peering over the fence to study it whole hours can pass. So here’s a glimpse of some of what goes on there . I should perhaps warn you before you set off, the photo of the Mullein Moth caterpillar is very much larger than life. Also, who can spot the crab spider in the close-up of the Giant Mullein flowers? And anyone who has more accurate identifications of the ‘?beetles’ and hoverflies (Pete?) please shout up.

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Lens-Artists: Detail This week Patti sets the challenge.

For more about the Lens-Artists photo challenge go HERE

 

Rain Between Showers And Sweet Wild Roses

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And so many associations too: old tales of a princess and a poisoned spindle, of a derring-do lad with thorny ramparts to vanquish and kisses to impart. Then there’s the therapeutic qualities of Rosa canina, the dog rose. Herbalists have long used the dried petals in compresses for the eyes and as a tea to soothe digestion. And of course the bright red hips of autumn are still valued for their high vitamin C content. If you were a child in Britain during WW2, and indeed for some years afterwards, you will still remember the taste of rosehip syrup, promoted by government during the war-time absence of citrus fruit. The hips are said to have 30 times more vitamin C than an orange.

And rose petals are indeed edible. In times past I have been known to crystallise them with a coating of gum arabic, rosewater and caster sugar, delicately applied with a small paint brush. Once they had been left to dry in a warm place, I would serve them with creamy lemon syllabub and homemade meringues. A memory then of my culinary ‘dog days’ – of a June without deluges, and the dog roses scrambling airily through hedgerows suffusing the lanes with their delicate scent.

All the same, the flowers do look rather lovely scattered with raindrops – not too many, mind. Which rather brings me to John Coltrane, and my favourite version of My Favourite Things. I’m hoping some you like it too:

 

 

Lens-Artists #49 Favourite Things

This week Patti has set the ‘favourite things’  theme, so pay her a visit and be inspired. And here’s what she says about the Lens-Artists weekly challenge: “If you’re new to the challenges, click here to learn how to join us.  Remember to link your post here and tag it Lens-Artists to help us find your post in the WP Reader.

Next week, it’s Ann Christine’s turn to lead the challenge, so be sure to visit her blog.  As always, Amy, Tina, Ann-Christine, and I are delighted that you’re joining our challenges!

Delicate Distinctions In The Great Rift

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I mean to say are these my memories caught in decomposing film, the photos taken long ago on the shores of Lake Elmenteita? Or are these scenes simply mirages?

There’s no way to be absolutely sure.

But then I do recall distinct sensations – eyes stinging in the corrosive cocktail of flamingo guano and volcanic soda – a circumstance that could well account for the blurriness of these vistas. The acrid deposits along the water’s edge also made my nose curl and run. And then there was the disorientating honking and grunting of lessers and greaters, so oddly amplified over the shallow lake. That pale pink mist was strange too, as if some unseen hand had released it for theatrical effect. And finally there were the chilly first-light temperatures which ever argued with a determined point of view that equatorial climes could not possibly be so frosty.

Sometimes in Africa it was hard to know which way was up.

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copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

Lens-Artists: Delicate This week Ann-Christine shows us delicacy in many exquisite forms. Please pay her a visit and be inspired.

All Quiet In The Mara?

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This week at the Lens-Artists, Tina explores the concept of harmony. There are of course many ways of thinking about it  – physically and metaphysically, in terms of colour, music, flavours, composition, structures, relationships, (angelic choirs even). My first thought, though, was of the East African plains: harmony in the sense of the natural cycle of things; every species occupying its niche within the grasslands ecosystem; harmony with edge since eating and being eaten also come into it. This photo, taken at sundown, could also be seen as harmony – at least from the human perspective – a case of the pathetic fallacy perhaps: disparate creatures roaming and grazing peacefully together in the  wilderness idyll, all bathed in golden late-day light. On the other hand, and I am not absolutely sure about this,  but there could well be a hyena on the prowl – the tiny brownish entity, slightly dog-like, a zebra and a half in from the right, and just below the bough of the right hand thorn tree. Harmony about to be interrupted then.

copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

Lens-Artists: harmony

Growing Thoughts

April and sowing and growing are very much on this English gardener’s mind. So far it’s been too cold to think of putting much in the ground, but impatience inevitably triumphs over common sense. In the last few days I have given in to inclinations to plant some first early potatoes. I’m trying a new technique as suggested by TV gardener Monty Don, growing them in a raised bed, and popped into a deep layer of compost a foot or so apart. But after I’d done it, I grew worried about the poor little tubers being subjected to Siberian icy blasts, and covered the bed in horticultural fleece. Now it’s down to ‘wait and see’.

Otherwise, it’s been mostly ‘housekeeping’ chores at the allotment: the first mowing of paths, turning compost heaps, edging beds, putting up climbing bean and pea canes, weeding, sowing stuff in the polytunnel. And dreaming of delicious produce to come.

Here are some crops I grew earlier, and all eaten long ago:

And of course the allotment plots don’t feed only us humans. Most of the gardeners grow flowers too – i.e. besides the flowering fruit and vegetables. And there are always plenty of flowering weeds on the abandoned plots, and so therefore lots to keep the bees, bugs and butterflies well fed. Deliciousness all round then.

copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

 

Lens-Artists: delicious

This week Patti at #Lens-Artists asks us to show her ‘delicious’.

What’s Not To Love About Ledbury’s Market House?

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We English do well with our market towns, at least ones where developers were not let loose during the 1960s-70s era of replacement brutalist shop fronts. Ledbury in our neighbouring county of Herefordshire, and the town closest to our Eastnor cottage break at the end of March, is pretty nigh perfect. It has a long, long High Street composed of many 18th century and earlier facades, and in the centre is the Market House that began its civic life as piece of determined urban refurbishment 400 years ago.

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Town records show that the site where it stands had been a market place since 1122, but by the end of the 1500s the space had been encroached on by rows of tatty shops which greatly offended local trader, John Phillips. He set about raising funds through public subscription, and for the sum of £40 bought Shoppe Row and had it demolished. Work began on the Market House in 1617. The original plan included the building  small shops between the oak pillars while the upper storeys were to serve mainly for the storage of goods – corn, wool, hops for brewing and acorns used in the leather tanning trade.

However, all did not proceed as expected. In 1655 when John Phillips died the building work was still not completed, and there was no money left to finish the job. In fact it wasn’t until 1668 that local worthies came up with a cunning plan to raise the necessary funds. They helped themselves to £40 from two legacies that were meant to provide clothing for the town’s poor, but then drafted a new instruction: each year 12 poor citizens would have clothing paid for from the profits of the Market House. So it seems the civic misappropriation may be forgiven.

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The Market House had a fresh lease of life in the Victorian era when the present windows and staircase were installed. The upper floors then served as the town hall and meeting room. Further restoration work was carried out in 1939 and during the 1970s and 80s. But the most dramatic resuscitation project took place in 2006 when it was discovered that the oak stilts were under threat from ‘foot rot’ and boring wasps. Repairs involved raising the entire structure  2 feet (600mm) off the ground so  the builders could scrape out the damaged bases, and infill with a natural lime-grout mortar which is structurally strong, but does not seal in damp as modern cement does.

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And so the Market House survives well and into its 5th century, and is now used for meetings and exhibitions, its ‘downstairs’ still hosting weekly markets while at other times impressing all with its well-worn and pleasing venerability.

But as I said earlier, there is much more to look at up and down the town – intriguing alley ways with unusual shops, lots of cafes and restaurants, and a potential for a darn good hike up and down the High Street. There are some literary connections too – Poet Laureate John Masefield  (1878-1967) was born and lived here.  Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) also lived here during her formative years. In 1809 when she was three, her father Edward Barrett Moulton Barrett, the owner of slave plantations in Jamaica, bought Hope End estate near the town. Elizabeth lived here until 1833 when family litigation and the abolition of the slave trade caused her father great financial losses, and thus the sale of Hope End and a move to Sidmouth in Devon.

Masefield is also well loved (and especially by me) for his children’s book ‘A Box of Delights’. I especially treasure his word ‘scrobbled’ meaning to be nabbed by the baddies. But now for some Ledbury views, including a glimpse of the writer himself, discovered in a quirky alley leading to the town Printers, who advertise themselves around the place with amusing posters. A town of delights then – old and new:

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copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

Lens-Artists: Something Different This week Tina asks us to show her something new or out of the ordinary.

 

Every Saturday one the Lens-Artists posts a new challenge.

Patti  https://pilotfishblog.com/

Ann-Christine aka Leya https://lagottocattleya.wordpress.com/

Amy  https://shareandconnect.wordpress.com/

Tina  https://travelsandtrifles.wordpress.com/