And Another View Of Yesterday’s Mystery Square…

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It comes with added red tailed bee bum, and so the mystery is revealed…a globe artichoke flower, or rather an artichoke inflorescence since each part is an individual small flower. There were several valiant stabs at it, but Jude and Izzie were the first to guess correctly.

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The up-close version as seen in yesterday’s response to I.J. Khanewala’s challenge at  Lens-Artists

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And here’s an artichoke flower just opening, the scaly outer leaves  meanwhile serving the constructional purposes of a small green spider:

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And now for the whole plant. I grow several globe artichoke varieties at the allotment. The purple ones are probably our favourites:

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Here’s one in the throes of being prepared as an artichoke heart, i.e. before having its inner leaves and hairy choke scooped out:

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And now for a ‘B’ Movie: ‘Three Bees In An Artichoke’

 

Past Squares #11

Ordinary Extraordinary ~ Past Perfect Encounters

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It is often on the field path to and from the allotment that the seeming ordinary catches my eye. Often too it’s the result of collaborating elements. Take this apple, one of a bucket of windfalls that a neighbour had tossed over the hedge into Townsend Meadow. Then came the blackbirds who, through the autumn, nibbled at the flesh until only this translucent skin remained. Then there was some frosty winter weather and a lowering late-day sun over the Edge. And so we have an apple lantern. And I just happened to be passing as it lit up…

The allotment plots are also fertile grounds for the extraordinary ordinary and finding them can provide protracted and absorbing diversions from weeding and digging. Who can guess what this is?

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On the home front too, the multifarious parts of my unruly garden can be an endless source of distraction whatever the season, though autumn can yield some especially fine moments.

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Lens-Artists: Ordinary  This week I. J Khanewala asks us to explore the commonplace with fresh eyes. A focused look at the ordinary can suddenly transform into the extraordinary.

Past Squares #10

Seen Better Days? Reflections On The Past At Pentre Ifan

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Here we have the bare bones as it were – the remnant massive boulders of a 5,500 year old chambered tomb – Pentre Ifan in Pembrokeshire. The cap-stone is said to weigh 16 tons, yet now seems barely to touch the three supporting megaliths. It all but floats, defying both logic and gravity.

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Which then has us demanding answers? Who on earth (without aid of heavy plant gear, cranes and tackle) did all the lugging and lifting to position it so? How many man and women hours did it take? For whose after-life were they toiling – a revered clan lord or lady? Or did the tomb provide a resting place for the many, in some way an accessible repository where the earthly remains of the entire clan could be placed?

We can never know exactly. We can only wonder – in both senses. The builders left scant traces of themselves – a few pieces of Neolithic pottery and flint tools.  But excavations in the 1930s and 1950s did at least suggest that the tomb had been re-used and appeared to have had some sort of ceremonial forecourt, a feature known from other chambered tombs across the British Isles. Here’s a proposed reconstruction.

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Doubtless over the centuries the more moveable stone components of outer cairn and inner chamber have been repurposed in farm walls and barns, but originally the cairn that covered the actual tomb extended downhill some 120 feet (36 metres). You can get some sense of the scale of operation from the last photo where you can still see the outline in the grass. The monument would have been visible from the sea, dominating the high ground above Cardigan Bay.

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As I look again at these photos, taken two years ago, I now find myself wondering more about us than the ancestors. What kind of people have we become? Time for some serious scrutiny?

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Related post: Scenes from the realm of ancestors

Lens-Artists: Seen Better Days Please visit Tina who set this week’s challenge. She has posted some fabulous photos.

Past Squares #5

Last Of Summer Days In Heart-Of-England Country

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…and in this case that ‘heart’ would be Warwickshire, homeland of master playwright, Will Shakespeare, the man who tantalizingly left scant evidence of his existence there. But then we weren’t pursuing him in his Stratford birth-and-death place along with many a late summer visitor. We were choosing the quieter option, staying on a farm in a cottage near Royal Leamington Spa, watching horses graze in lush paddocks and meandering down leafy footpaths to the River Leam.

For seven days last week we were blessed with full-on summer warmth. Lucky us.

It was new territory too. For us Shropshire dwellers (slightly north and west of Warwickshire), this particular county has always been one to drive through to somewhere else, usually to Devon or Cornwall. This being due to its having various motorways which incline one to dash through. This has clearly been a mistake. At the very least it is a county of two stunning castles – each in the magnificent, must-visit-settings of Warwick and Kenilworth. Then there are the elegant Georgian boulevards of Leamington Spa with its riverside parks. Then out in the surrounding countryside there are ancient pretty villages with well patronized pubs serving delicious food. One little village called Wappenbury even had the distinction of having grown up within the  bounds of an Iron Age hillfort. You could still spot the weathered ramparts from the path down to the Leam.

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Warwickshire is largely an agricultural county, mostly arable with ‘big-field’ cultivation and wooded peripheries, the surviving 18th century (and older) farmhouses displaying well kempt manorial looks.  By late September the harvest was pretty much done, the drilling of winter wheat underway. What remained, though, were fields and fields of pumpkins, they of the now customary Halloween variety. In fact there were so many acres of them – Sleepy Hollow on agristeroids – we decided the farmers must be growing them under contract to every  big supermarket chain across the land. Who knew?  But we pitied the poor pickers who we saw arriving on gathering duty: some of the pumpkins were HUGE, not easy to grapple with.

This next photo is one portion of a single field.

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As you can see, our English trees are yet to gain their autumn tints, but there were other signs in the astonishing hedgerow shows of hawthorn berries and crab apples. I also discovered a tree of wild plums, the fruit so sharp yet lusciously sweet. An ode to wild plums is definitely called for.

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But in case this all seems idyllic, there were also dark rumblings across the county: the incessant daylight thump-thump of heavy plant piling machines.  The controversial high speed 225 mph train line HS2 – London to ??? is carving up the land. And just in case, like me, when someone says ‘railway’ you picture only a narrow swath of track bed, then think again. There are all the access roads and service infrastructure to accommodate. The farm we stayed on had had a compulsory purchase order slapped on 100 of its acres. These are now fenced off.

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For now, only phase 1 London to Birmingham is approved and underway though already, according to Construction News July 2021 it is £1.2 billion over budget; a situation described as ‘cost pressures’.  Nor is this limited section of the projected line likely to open before 2029-2033 (or even 2041 according to whistle-blowing info revealed by one Tory MP). Meanwhile, the whole point of the exercise (apparently) which was to open up the north of England: Manchester west and Leeds east (see map at previous link) seems unlikely to be approved. On top of that, the opposition to the project on grounds of horrendous cost, deemed general pointlessness, and wholesale destruction of ancient woodland continues, as noted in the most recent Government report:

The key issues across the route continue to revolve around traffic and road
related matters, woodland, vegetation and wildlife issues and noise
disturbance. HS2 Independent Construction Commissioner: Eighteenth Report

One also wonders, with all the moves to make people work from home, that come completion in 10+ years’ time – we’ll have more of a ‘ghost train’ than a viable commuter service.

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Still, one shouldn’t let madcap schemes spoil things. Here are more sunlit Warwickshire vistas as summer slips into autumn.

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Lens-Artists: The Colours of Autumn

Life in Colour: gold

Taking The Broad View ~ Mara Grasslands

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In the rainless months it is the oat grass that gives the Mara plains their golden hue. The small trees with their sculpted looks are desert dates, mulului trees, much browsed by all the local herbivores.

These photos from the Farrells’ old Africa album were taken outside the main Maasai Mara National Park, below the Oloololo Escarpment on territory owned by related Maasai families, locally referred to as a group ranch. Visitors pay a daily fee to group ranch elders. We were lucky to be able to make three trips there while living in Kenya.

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Life in Colour: Gold

Lens-Artists: Going wide

As Seen In Fresh Light ~ Over The Garden Fence

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Of itself the field behind our house (Townsend Meadow) is not very interesting. It is simply a farm field, much subjected to agrochemicals in order to produce year on year wheat, or rape, or oats, or field beans or barley. On days when the light is flat it is plain dull. Most of the time it is the activity above it that catches my eye – cloud movements, and the odd effects created by a false horizon which obscures the further horizon of Wenlock Edge where the ground drops off a few hundred feet to the Shropshire Plain below. But there are moments when the quality of light bestows a certain glamour. Somewhat astonishingly the header photo was taken at first light one February morning – a piece of magic all its own since February in England is rarely a scenic month unless one is thinking about carpets of snowdrops.

Here are some more ‘best’ moments – over the garden fence, or from the office skylight.

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Lens-Artists: It’s all about light Many thanks to Tina for this week’s theme. Please go and see her very inspirational gallery of light works.

Taking The Back Roads In The Shropshire Hills

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My home county of Shropshire is farming territory and so, with only two main towns (Shrewsbury and Telford), five smaller towns, and very many villages, hamlets and isolated farms, there are far more by-ways than highways. Sometimes the back roads start off well, asphalt sealed and marked on the map, only to deliver you, after much meandering, into a farmyard midden or sheep field. This is a particular feature of the upland tracts of the South Shropshire Hills. Sometimes, too, after you’ve been driving on a narrow lane for several miles, thinking you are well on course, you may find the tarmac sprouting weeds. Sometimes it runs out of asphalt altogether yet clearly progresses as a dirt track that must go somewhere. Other times it may simply devolve to a footpath with retreat the only option.

The top photo shows the great divide between the north and south of the county. In the foreground is a hill lane crossing the Long Mynd. The vista beyond is the North Shropshire Plain which in due course runs into the Cheshire Plain, fertile dairy terrain both. By contrast, the hill country is very much about sheep.

The next location is definitely the haunt of sheep, but also of walkers, day-outing picnickers and school parties studying environmental matters. This is Carding Mill Valley, the largest of several combes that cut into the Long Mynd’s flanks, and thus through some of the world’s oldest geology.  This particular lane may begin looking intentional, but then it simply gives up and becomes a rock strewn defile with trickling streamside accompaniment. Boots not wheels for onward progress.

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Now we have moved on across the Long Mynd, and are looking at its westerly slopes as seen from Shropshire’s most mysterious hill country, the Stiperstones, place of mine shafts and lead workings. One of the Stiperstones’ craggy tops is said to host the Devil and his court whenever the fog descends. Such be-misted gatherings of wicked entities obviously won’t enjoy views like this one.

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These next three views are of and around the Stiperstones: gorse along the lanes in high summer, and heather blooming on the hillsides.

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We’re close to the Welsh border now. Corndon Hill in the background, and the white lane we’ve driven along…

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…which then becomes one of those tracks that still looks to be going somewhere. In fact as we left the car to walk, we were passed by a police patrol car. It sped by us over the hill in a manner that suggested routine activity, doubtless taking the unpaved route into Wales.

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We weren’t going that far, at least not terrestrially, though we were going back in time, following 6,000 year-old footsteps to Mitchell’s Fold, the remains of a Bronze Age stone circle.

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These final photos are closer to homes, the lanes below Wenlock Edge, near Easthope.

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Lens-Artists: along back country roads  Beth at Wandering Dawgs wants us to take to the by-ways.

Over The Field Not Far Away

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We’ve gone Mediterranean in Wenlock this week with temperatures hitting a surprising 30 degrees C. Here is this morning’s view of Townsend Meadow and the well ripening barley, caught as I was heading for the allotment on a pea and raspberry-picking mission.

I don’t seem to have written much about my allotment garden so far this year, even though it is my essential ‘get-away-from-it-all’ space and somewhere I go to most days. Best of all, it is only five minute walk along the field path from the house, yet it is quite a world of its own where there are now-and-then quiet exchanges with fellow gardeners, or sometimes no one else there at all.

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Anyway now is suddenly the season of concerted picking and consumption (peas, strawberries, new potatoes, cauliflowers, broad beans, beetroot, carrots, lettuce, onions, globe artichokes, Sun Gold tomatoes, courgettes); and also the moment when many crops are shifting gear towards later production mode: French, butter and runner beans, sweet corn, cabbages, parsnips, leeks, purple sprouting. All of which means there is much change in Farrell eating habits (another kind of getting away) as produce dictates meal content. Today, for instance, we had globe artichokes for lunch with garlic butter – and so we might well have been in France. Later we’ll have new potatoes with steamed broad beans, peas, and crispy bacon lardons. There may well be strawberries too.

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This year I’m growing a late variety of runner beans not tried before. Today the blossom was just opening – a lovely shade of pale apricot. It’s aptly named Sunset. IMG_0998

I also have a row of Firestorm growing beside the polytunnel. That bean blossom is also living up to its name:

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Another newcomer on the plot this year: round courgettes (zucchini)…

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And here’s the Sweet Corn being rather Incredible too – a variety not tried before:

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I also have flowers on my plots: some that bring themselves like pot marigolds, purple toadflax, the pale pink musk mallow, and others I have grown from seed e.g. Verbascum Wedding Candles (2nd photo from top)  and detail in the next shot:

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And what with all the flowers, vegetable and otherwise, the place is humming with bees and hover flies. Also this morning in the heat there were scents of strawberry jam (as the fruit began to simmer on the plants) and high octane rose and sweet pea scents as the volatile oils filled the air. I kicked off my gardening clogs and went up and down the grassy paths barefoot, variously harvesting and filling water butts and watering cans, soaking myself in the process. It was blissful. Then I went back through the barley field to he who is still trying to construct a greenhouse, even though the right glass has not yet been delivered. Instead we podded a big bag full of peas and beans. Harvest home!

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Lens-Artists: Getting Away

Bert and Rusha at Oh, the Places We See have posed this week’s challenge.

Over The Garden Fence ~ The Monochrome Series

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I am much in love with black and white photography and often use the monochrome setting on my camera. My small Lumix Panasonic ‘point and shoot’ camera used to produce the best results, the current small Canon not so good. The photos here are a mix of original monochrome and converted colour shots featuring various views of Townsend Meadow in different seasons.

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Excavating the flood attenuation pond at the top of Townsend Meadow 2017

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Bringing in the wheat harvest

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Teasels

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Clouds over the Edge

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Lens-Artists: black and white   Anne at Slow Shutter Speed  wants to see black and white this week.

Where Trees Grow On water

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In my last post I mentioned the exposed Silurian seabed in our local quarry was once located somewhere off East Africa. And Jude at Travel Words said she wished she was somewhere off East Africa – to escape our recent rain-pouring summerless weather. Which then had my mind whizzing back to our years in Kenya, and in particular to a trip to Lamu Island, and a December day spent sailing by the mangrove forest of Manda Strait, drifting and dreaming aboard a traditional dhow.

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The timber from these curious trees has long been an absolute necessity for the Swahili seafaring people of the East African coast. They built their dhows from mangrove planks and harvested the pole wood (boriti) for house construction, both at home and for export to places as far away as Yemen and Iran. The traditional Swahili merchant’s house was build of coral rag, excavated from old reefs, with the roof raised on boriti poles. The oldest surviving houses in Lamu Town date from the 18th century, but the Swahili City states of the East African seaboard – from  Somalia to Mozambique – date back to the 8-9th centuries – a fusion of Arab and African cultures.

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Christmas Day on Shela Beach. Distant baobabs across the strait.

Lens-Artists: on the water This week the challenge is hosted by John at photobyjohnbo.

Tree Square #8 Becky wants to see trees in square format.

Life in Colour: blue is Jude’s colour of choice at Travel Words.