Over The Home Hill: More Hills

P1050952ed2

Wenlock Edge behind our house runs for twenty odd miles, a wooded escarpment that bisects the county of Shropshire on a north-east-south-west axis. It’s not always easy to see out for the tree cover, but here and there, a few choice viewpoints give you a glimpse of Shropshire’s other hills, the Long Mynd living up to its name in the distance here. I’m fumbling for the name of the hill in the middle distance (not recognising it from this angle). It could be Caradoc.

*

If we turn right round in the other direction, then we can see Clee Hill:

P1050963ed

*

Closer to home, you can take the National Trust footpath out of Much Wenlock and head for the Edge landmark, Major’s Leap, from where, on a winter’s day, you may be treated to an other-worldly view of the Wrekin, subject of many quaint Shropshire tales. (My version here).

IMG_1949ed

*

And coming down the Edge footpath behind our house you have a fine view of Much Wenlock hugged round by hills, Walton Hill and Shirlett Forest:

IMG_1373ed

*

And while I’m showing off our local hills, I can’t leave out the town’s favourite landmark: Windmill Hill with a small turquoise person heading over it:

P1030046ed

Lens-Artists: over the hill  Donna at Wind Kisses has set this week’s challenge.

Light, Shadow, Sun And Storm…

bright field 1 cropped

This week at Lens-Artists, Tina shows us many creative ways to interpret her chosen theme ‘opposites’. I thought I’d choose just one photo – a chance weather moment in Wales – one of those hard-to-credit solar beams piercing a storm-heavy sky. I mean to say, how can that field be so luminously green when the town of Harlech below is so deep in shadow, and the clouds above so full of rain? I even desaturated the image a notch or two. Of course there are other opposites here too: townscape-landscape;  manmade-natural; urban-rural.

Lens-Artists: opposites

Urban Fantasies In Downtown Manchester

100_5318ed

This is the wheel that was, aka the Wheel of Manchester, a version of the London Eye, which was sited in Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester until  2015 when its licence with the City Council expired. This photo was taken in April of that year. It finally came down in the following June. I’m not sure what my camera was doing to produce the washed-out, somewhat retro look, but I rather like it. In fact everything about it says ‘urban’ to me – the sense of detachment/isolation/alienation/coldness; an environment overwrought to the extent of being pointless.

You can tell I’m a country lass.

Though having said that, generations of my maternal ancestors worked in the Manchester cotton trade that created the city and all its wealth: hand loom weavers, yarn winders, blouse finishers, machine weavers, bleachers, fustian cutters, fly and spindle manufacturers, cotton merchants and one mill owner. And then there were the bricklayers who helped build the place. So perhaps, after all, I do have some investment there – at the cellular level.

Here are more odd photos taken on that visit…

100_5302 (2)ed

Last walls standing: the facades of the old wholesale fish market, preserved as the perimeter entrances to an apartment block courtyard garden.

*

100_5280ed

Not sure what’s going on here – Steam Punk meets Mary Poppins the musical?

*

100_5259ed

A tribute to city high-rise window cleaners perhaps?

*

100_5192ed

The Bridgewater Hall international concert venue. We were there to see Buena Vista Social Club on their farewell tour.

*100_5311ed

Affleck’s in the Northern Quarter – an indoor market specialising in alternative clothing and music and retro-gaming

*

100_5225

100_5231ed

The Palace Hotel where we were staying (now The Principal Manchester). It was a long climb to find our room in the converted former Refuge Assurance Office built between 1891-1895.

*

Lens-Artists: Urban environments  Sofia has set the theme this week. Please pay her a visit.

Trio Of Photo-Favourites From ‘The Old Africa Album’

Mzee Lali

This first photo of Mzee Lali having a nap, with three full-sail Lamu dhows  in our wake  has to be my absolute favourite photograph. It was sheer chance that a) the scene composed itself so beautifully, b) I was alert enough to snap it and c) my Olympus-trip was not on the wrong setting.

It was Boxing Day and we had been out cruising the Manda Strait for several hours. In the morning some of our small party went in for a spot of snorkelling out on the reef. Next, using baited lines, we caught a few little fish which Lali and his nephew Athman scaled and cleaned. At noon when we were moored off Manda Island, Lali waded ashore and knelt down on the beach to pray. Then lunch was prepared, the fish grilled on a portable charcoal (jiko) stove and served up with freshly chopped coleslaw. Delicious.

In the afternoon we meandered back along the strait between the mangrove forests, waiting for the wind to pick up. We passed a large dhow taxi, utterly becalmed, engine stalled. It was brimful with laughing, chattering passengers, all hopeful  that some time or other they would finally reach Lamu mainland to visit their relations.

*

Robert Omondi ed

This photo was taken a few years later. It’s a favourite because it was a chance meeting that pretty much sums up all that is so powerfully positive about young Kenyans. We were staying at Safariland Lodge on  the shores of Lake Naivasha. Graham was hosting a conference of international crop pest scientists, and I was spending the days wandering around the place, bird watching. One afternoon I met Robert Omondi on the hotel mooring. He sold me one of the hand written booklets he had made, its topic the ecology of Lake Naivasha and the water sources that fed into it. He was visiting all the hotels and lodges along the lake, selling copies where he could, and so raising funds for his next term’s school fees.

*

And finally a photo to prove to myself I was actually there, although even at the time I took it, it was hard to believe. Besides which, the Great Rift Valley is almost impossible to photograph and give any true sense of scale or depth. If there isn’t a heat haze, there is often a fog. I was standing somewhere north of Nairobi, on the east escarpment highway which runs up to 9,000 feet above sea level. Below, in the foreground, is Escarpment location, a community of smallholder farmers. The bright green of the plots suggests it must be the main growing season after good rains. In the Rift bottom are the wheat and barley fields of larger-scale farmers, the crater of defunct volcano, Longonot on the left. The low road to Lake Naivasha runs north beneath it along the valley floor.

Escarpment

Lens-Artists: picking favourites This week Sarah at Travel With Me  invites us to choose three favourite photos (not necessarily absolute favourites). Please go and see her three stunning choices.

Stranger Than Fiction

P1080542ed

And Shropshire’s Stiperstones with its brooding Devil’s Chair outcrop has indeed provided the setting for several works of fiction: the novels of Mary Webb, Malcolm Saville’s still popular Lone Pine adventure stories for children, and also D.H. Lawrence’s novella St. Mawr. And naturally, given its dramatic looks, it also features in local myths and legends, particularly those associated with Wild Edric, the Saxon earl who refused to surrender his lands to the Norman invaders and stirred up rebellion, allying himself with the Welsh princes of Gwynedd and Powys just over the border.

In real life it is an utterly strange place. These photos were taken on a summer’s day, but somehow, when we reached the hilltop, the light leached away. Even so, the grey-white quartzite outcrops seemed to have an unsettling luminosity.  The photos I took using the monochrome setting on my camera are especially other worldly. There also appears to be an odd patch of mist on the next photo. I can’t explain it.

P1080574ed

P1080557ed

*

And in colour, too, the landscape’s disturbing presence is scarcely diminished:

P1080552ed

*

Lens-Artists: Surreal This week Tracy challenges us to post some surreal images, and believe me, she has her own very original take on the topic. Go see for yourselves.

Cool Cool Convolvulus But Hot On The Plot

IMG_0957ed

We’re having a two-day heatwave here in the UK, temperatures in the 30s. That our summers for the last few years have been fairly heat-free seems to have erased memories that in times past we also had heatwaves. I remember baking to a crisp day after day on a Welsh beach back in the mid-1950s, and that was in May. And then there was the prolonged drought of 1975-76 when, due to severe water shortages, bathing with a friend was the catch phrase du jour. Wikipedia says this about that year:

Heathrow had 16 consecutive days over 30 °C (86 °F) from 23 June to 8 July[ and for 15 consecutive days from 23 June to 7 July temperatures reached 32.2 °C (90 °F) somewhere in England. Furthermore, five days saw temperatures exceed 35 °C (95 °F). On 28 June, temperatures reached 35.6 °C (96.1 °F) in Southampton, the highest June temperature recorded in the UK. The hottest day of all was 3 July, with temperatures reaching 35.9 °C (96.6 °F) in Cheltenham.

Whatever the weather, this gardener usually tries to avoid going away during the main growing season. At the best of times, watering the allotment vegetable plots and polytunnel seems too big an ask of fellow allotmenteers, and especially so during a dry spell. Summer for me, then, means garden watch. And so with the promise of a hot day ahead, this morning I was off to the allotment at 6 a.m. to see what rescue remedies might be needed after yesterday’s heat.

I needn’t have worried. The polytunnel (a sweat-inducing structure even in coolish weather) was fine. I’d left both doors open and the tomatoes, cucumbers and aubergines, lettuce and herbs looked happy enough. Meanwhile out on the plot, and since I was there, I damped down the mulch around the climbing peas and beans, courgettes and sweet corn, then picked raspberries that were looking a bit cooked, and gave vulnerable beetroot and leek seedlings a good soak.

IMG_0892

IMG_0919

IMG_0942ed

IMG_0929

IMG_0913ed

IMG_0910

*

And then I wandered around and took these photos, and was home by 8 a.m., by which time it was definitely warming up.  The BBC forecast says 35 C now at midday, though the Norwegian Met Office site YR (which I usually follow as it’s pretty good) says 34. In any event, it will be a much cooler 22C max tomorrow, and in the 20s for the rest of the week. I just hope we get some meaningful rain showers along with the returning coolness.

*

IMG_0956ed

*

Back in the home garden, the borders are definitely struggling  through lack of rain. I can’t begin to water everything. The driest area is over the back fence in the guerrilla garden. Plants there simply have to take their chances, but even so, the tansy and golden rod are running rampant, towering over my head, and the late flowering Michaelmas daisies and helianthus are catching up. Meanwhile Ann Thomson geranium is holding her own against the lot of them. She may get cooked each day, but she’s still comes back flowering each morning. Oh, for such repeat resilience.

IMG_0970ed

IMG_0969

IMG_0966ed

And this summer in the garden I’m really pleased to find that one of my favourite  wild flowers, yellow toadflax, has decided to colonise the upstairs path. I grew it from seed a couple of years ago, and now it’s taken off. I first fell in love with it as a child, on trips into the Shropshire hills where it grows along the lane verges in high summer…

IMG_0961ed

*

And talking of the Shropshire hills, I’ll leave you with summer views of the Shropshire-Wales borderland, taken a week or so ago on a visit to Mitchell’s Fold prehistoric stone circle.

IMG_0865ed

IMG_0862ed

Lens-Artists: Summer Vibes

This week Solaner has set the challenge.

June Wanderings: Windmill Hill And The Linden Field

IMG_0634

Two sunny Saturdays in a row and an early evening stroll to check on the orchids on Windmill Hill. First, though, there’s a spot of cricket to watch on the Linden Field: a perfect English summer scene:

IMG_0615

IMG_0627re

IMG_0622

Apart from the green idyll, there’s some very big history in this view. This is the ground that hosted the annual Wenlock Olympian Games, devised in 1850 by the town’s physician, Doctor William Penny Brookes (1809-1895). They are still held here and at the neighbouring school every year. Brookes was an energetic lobbyist for all round social improvement. He was responsible for the introduction of physical education in English national schools. He also wrote letters to every literary celebrity in the land, begging copies of their books for the Wenlock Agricultural Reading Society’s library, a facility he founded to give local working people educational opportunities. But it was the town’s Olympian Games that were to have world-wide impact.

Wm Penny Brookes

In 1890, Brookes wrote to one Baron Coubertin who was visiting England to study sports education, and invited him to attend the Much Wenlock games, which he duly did. Brookes apparently filled him on all aspects of the enterprise, including the array of medals that he himself had designed and funded. And so it was that 6 years later in Athens when the first Modern Olympic Games were held, Coubertin paid tribute to Brookes who had died only months before, aged 86. The baron said it was down to the good doctor that the games had been revived, although it is Coubertin who is remembered as ‘the father of the modern Olympic movement.’

If you scan the field today, you can see it has been well treed since Brookes’ time, although he was responsible for the planting of the Linden Walk (behind the conifers in the view above). He was also responsible for bringing the railway to the town. This ran directly behind the Linden Walk, with the station just beyond the field gates. Olympian Special trains would be run to bring  games participants and spectators from all over the country.

And Windmill Hill, overlooking  the Linden Field (now obscured by trees) once provided a natural gallery for thousands of visitors:

IMG_0648

Today this hill is one of the town’s favourite walking spots, the windmill  (probably late 17th century) a well known landmark. The grassland all around is a surviving example of a traditional limestone meadow – rich in grasses and many wild flower species. Brookes would have known all about the local flora. Not only had he trained as a physician in Paris and London, he had also studied medical herbalism at the University of Padua. During his life-time in Wenlock he created a magnificent herbarium of pressed flowers, another town treasure, although it is now kept in Ludlow Museum’s special conservation facility. It is a marvellous document of what was once growing along Wenlock Edge and what has been lost.

*

But back to the walk. Climbing the hill behind the Linden Field we soon spot the freshly sprouting pyramidal orchids. To my eye, they seem to be extending their range across the hill. I’m surmising that this is due to the new management system for the grassland: the  end of season raking up of dying vegetation that has spread the tubers far and wide.

IMG_0712re

We also found spotted orchids…

IMG_0701re

…and, thanks to a chum who alerted us to its location, a single tiny bee orchid. They are very hard to find, their stems only a few inches tall.

IMG_0703re2

*

June and July are the main flowering times on the hill. Already you can see the wild thyme on exposed outcrops. Then there are briar roses, elderflowers, red clover – all four of them long used as medicinal herbs. The thymol extracted from thyme is a key active ingredient in cough syrups. Rose petals may be used to treat skin conditions. Elderflowers are particularly potent, with a host of healing properties including quercetin. Brewed as a tea they relieve colds and flu symptoms. Red clover is also used for skin and more deep-seated complaints.

IMG_0633

IMG_0733re

IMG_0748re

IMG_0715re

*

And then once you reach the top of the hill, there the views to ponder. Always something new, whatever the season.

IMG_0640

*

By the time we clamber back down to the Linden Field the cricket is over, and now is the moment for Wenlock dogs to play. We wander home beneath the conifer avenue. I always love the play of light and shadow under these trees:

IMG_0663re

As we go there’s the waft of lime tree in the air; only a subtle scent as yet;  the tiny green flowers are only just opening. But later in the month, and as the days grow warmer, the field will be bathed in its fragrance. And so we have another therapeutic plant, one that calms and heals, although as with all herbal remedies, it is best to consult a qualified medical herbalist as to their use.

IMG_0752re

IMG_0442re

*

And a final floriferous view of Windmill Hill:

IMG_2155

Lens-Artists: Local Vistas   This week Anne Sandler at Slow Shutter Speed  wants to see views from home territory.

Townsend Meadow: Views Spare Or Complex

IMG_0089

Ripening barley

*

It’s pretty much a truism when it comes to prose, the fewer words the better. This is a hard lesson for most writers to learn: how much to leave in; what to cut. Of course timing is involved too, not only scene setting. To build suspense, a sense of drama, irony, mystery, you can’t rush things. But then too much detail and description can bog things down, or worse, bore.

For most of us, honing the craft of captivating verbal particularity, the sort of writing that transports readers, heart-and-mind, right to the spot takes much practice and perseverance.  And there may come a point when the attempt to conjure with words becomes too darned hard. Well, aren’t we humans, above all, moved by visual stimuli. Just think.  If Word Press blogs were solely prose, how many of us would be here?

And so to images. These are all views from the field behind our house: the things that catch my eye: light and shadow; blocks of texture; earth colours. In this space, between our garden fence and Wenlock Edge,  it’s usually the sky that creates all the drama.

IMG_0053cr

The fence at the top of the field in winter

*

img_1729

Over the garden fence

*

p1060998

Summer grasses on the field path

*

cr

After the wheat harvest

*

P1000566re

Winter hedge-top

*

P1080430re

*

100_5858re

Midsummer sunset

*

100_5995

*

100_6568re

*

P1050990re

Lens-Artists: minimalism/maximalism   Sofia at Photographias has set this week’s theme. Please pay her a visit.

Every Little Thing

IMG_6811

Out on the line – an unexpectedly good drying day in February

*

This week at Lens-Artists, Amy asks us to show her things that make us smile. So here are some of the happenstance little-big things that, at various times, have caught my eye or otherwise brightened my day:

IMG_6932sq

A neat little cloud traversing Townsend Meadow

*

IMG_7440re

Finding I’d grown a rather good cauliflower at the allotment

*

100_6855re

Spotted in the garden sage bush

*

IMG_7452

Spring sun-catchers: crab apple flowers…

*

100_7068

…that in autumn become perfect tiny apples

*

IMG_7605

The Linden Walk in full summer leafiness

*

IMG_8321

Lens-Artists: Every Little Thing

Bokeh For All Seasons ~ The Art of Blur

P1050485cr

Sofia at Lens-Artists suggests we think about bokeh – the judicious (or in my case mostly accidental) application  of blur to add depth and accent to our photo images.

Here are some garden bokeh, taken at different seasons and times of day. The header photo is a late autumn crab apple over the garden fence. And next up is a very wintery globe artichoke at the allotment. I like the russet tones, focused and unfocused, picked up by the afternoon sun:

P1060855cr

*

Summer and a self-invited opium poppy out in the guerrilla garden:

IMG_4158cr

*

And late summer teasels forming outside the garden gate:

IMG_8803cr

*

An October sun-downer sunflower in the ‘upstairs’ garden:

P1020262cr

*

Early morning dew on a heuchera flower in early summer:

IMG_0377cr

*

And a May-time bouquet in the kitchen: lilac and hawthorn blossom:

IMG_7572

Lens-Artists: Bokeh