June Wanderings: Windmill Hill And The Linden Field

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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We also found spotted orchids…

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…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.

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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.

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

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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:

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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.

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And a final floriferous view of Windmill Hill:

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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

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Ripening barley

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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.

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The fence at the top of the field in winter

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Over the garden fence

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Summer grasses on the field path

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After the wheat harvest

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Winter hedge-top

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Midsummer sunset

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

Every Little Thing

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

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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:

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A neat little cloud traversing Townsend Meadow

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

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Spotted in the garden sage bush

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Spring sun-catchers: crab apple flowers…

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…that in autumn become perfect tiny apples

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The Linden Walk in full summer leafiness

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Lens-Artists: Every Little Thing

Bokeh For All Seasons ~ The Art of Blur

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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:

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

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And late summer teasels forming outside the garden gate:

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

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Early morning dew on a heuchera flower in early summer:

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

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Lens-Artists: Bokeh

Long Mynd Wrought By 600 Million Years Of Earth Change

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This sheep is posing on some of the world’s most ancient rocks, layers of mud-stones, sand-stones and shales laid down when this incipient Shropshire Hill was still lying in shallow seas somewhere in the Indian Ocean off East Africa. This was followed by much shunting and shifting across the planet, tectonic plates smashing and colliding.

Our most local collision was along the Church Stretton Valley, just over Wenlock Edge, some twelve miles from where we live. To the east of it (some 600 million years ago) volcanic ash and lava formed our well loved hills of Wrekin, Lawley, Caer Caradoc and Ragleth. To the west lay the sedimentary formations of Long Mynd, which around 550 million years ago were folded and thrust upwards along the Church Stretton Fault.

Then in recent times (2.4 million to 20,000 years ago) glaciers slipped and slid along the  Mynd’s flanks, although the summit was clear of ice. And then during successive interglacial (warming) periods (300,00-15,000 years ago) melting ice fed stream torrents that cut deep valleys and batches…

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Ashes Hollow, one of the Mynd’s stream-cut batches

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And so it might be timely to ponder on the momentous natural forces that brought about the formation of this single Shropshire hill – begun in tropical seas half a world away, then wrought by collision, compression, ice and melt-water. And all achieved without the meddling of humanity and on a planet that is endlessly reshaping itself.

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View from the Long Mynd’s Carding Mill Valley towards Ragleth Hill

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Looking east from the Long Mynd towards the Wrekin

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Lens-Artists: Earth Story    Please visit Amy to see her very stunning Earth Story photos.

Spring Curves

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Alder catkins catch the sun in the Linden Field

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Spring came to Wenlock this week, both time-wise and weather-wise. We’ve had lunch in the garden three days running. Astonishing for March! Full-on sun and a general bursting of buds and blooms in every quarter. Even the moss on the garden steps has switched to hyper-green mode.

Over the road in the Linden Field there are prairies of wild garlic leaves just begging to be plucked for sauces and soups. In fact such  is the vegetative imperative of this particular plant, it’s to be found sprouting from the lime tree hollows on the Linden Walk. At the top of the field, under the oaks, the daffodils are at peak perfection. Also growing there are wood anemones, dog’s mercury, violets and primroses. Then beside the Cutlins path the horse chestnut trees are now a mass of sticky buds. And at home in the garden the white japonica is looking its serene best.

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This week Ann-Christine at Lens-Artists asks us to show her curves.

Lens-Artists: Curves

Don’t look now, but there’s a man in the tree…

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Monday morning. Sunshine after days of rain plus hints of spring.  A walk to the shops then. We set off down the Cutlins field path, pleased to find it dry underfoot, though we’re pleased too soon: at the path bottom by the kissing gate we find a huge puddle.  Ah well. Muddy shoes AGAIN. There are strange sounds too, out on the lane, shattering the peace of the Priory ruins. Chainsaws.

When we reach the Priory Hall (originally a National School that once served Much Wenlock’s poor children, but now is the town’s community centre), this is the sight that greets us. Goodness.

Then we recall the recent planning application. The line of  lime trees along the churchyard wall behind the Priory Hall has been scheduled to be taken in hand – three cut down and the remaining ones pruned. Better get a better look then. It’s not often that Much Wenlock provides so much excitement on a Monday morning:

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Lens-Artists: Close and closer

The Things We Find When Lost

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Farrell Safaris are notorious for their cross-country deviations even when kitted out with a fully functioning map. And so it was on our recent Anglesey stay, and with an intended short (couple of miles) drive from Aberffraw to next-door Rhosneigr, that we managed to miss the turn and instead head off to who knew where.

Usually when this happens, Captain Farrell’s first resort is to keep going, perhaps in hopes that, if we do this for long enough, all will come right.  Fortunately this time we had savvy niece in the back seat, and she soon had our position pinpointed on her phone. We did indeed need to turn around. And it was while this was going on – i.e. finding a suitable turning space on a narrow country lane, that I spotted the Neolithic burial chamber in the far corner of a farm field.

Can we stop, says me, hoping for a better look over the wall and maybe a long-shot photo (poor light willing).

But once turned about, we soon saw that a proper visit was feasible. There were official signs in Welsh and in English ‘Ty-Newydd Burial Chamber’, a pull-in space on the verge and a stile.  Sister, cockapoo and niece were up for a visit, though the wind was brutal and it was starting to rain. In my rush to head the expedition as chief prehistorian I was ensnared in a hawthorn bush and held up proceedings. Meanwhile Captain Farrell gathered himself for unscheduled activity, and manfully brought up the rear.

We then tramped across the muddy field only to find the ancient capstone (a whopping 12 ft by 5ft/3.7 m by 1.5m) had been propped up on two unsightly brick pillars set on a concrete base. And while their solid intervention was doubtless necessary for many reasons, their presence jarred. The dreary light did not help.

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So it turned out that the original drive-by view had been more impressively mysterious than the close-quarters’ encounter. Ah well.

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The tomb was excavated in 1935 and is considered typical of the funerary monuments built by the first farming people (see also the Barclodiad y Gawres tomb in an earlier post). Finds included a hearth with charcoal remains, some flint flakes, a burned flint arrow head, and a chip from a polished stone axe. But there were also pottery shards of the later Beaker People of the Bronze Age, and signs of a further chamber, which suggest the tomb was used, or re-used over a considerable time-span. The large cairn that once covered the tomb is long gone – ploughed out and/or its stones re-purposed. Instead, small concrete bollards have been set out to indicate its original extent. Useful guidance on the one hand, but like the brick supports, they felt intrusive somehow.

Anyway, we paid our respects to ancient souls who then, like us, must have been alarmingly blasted by the training jets taking off at nearby RAF Valley. The New Year’s holiday was over and ‘business as usual’ resumed. Out of the gale the engines’ roar filled the sky, the earth, the universe, my skull. It was noise so loud as to be physically shattering. I had that strange sense of someone walking over my grave and a horrid glimpse of what it must to be some innocent village dweller in a war zone; to be on the receiving end of the northern hemisphere’s mighty industrial war machine.

Several times during that day the soundtrack for Armageddon rebounded through my bones and being. It happened again in late afternoon as we walked on Aberffraw’s magnificent beach. And I wondered then, as I have done many times recently, what on earth the ancestors would think of us now. We who believe ourselves so very civilised?

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A Hawk T1 or T2 (?) caught over Aberffraw estuary. And the photos taken immediately afterwards – first looking towards mainland Wales, and the second across the Celtic Sea towards Ireland:

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Lens-Artists: interesting things

This week Patti wants to see the kinds of scenes/objects that catch our eye or pique our interest. Please go and view her interesting choices.

‘The Little Church In The Sea’

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Or in Welsh: Eglwys bach y môr. Dating from the 12th century, it survives the sea storms only with the help of some robust 19th century defences. Erosion has reduced the peninsula on which it was originally built to a tidal island known as Cribinau. You can find it along the Coastal Path just north of Aberffraw (Anglesey).

The church itself is dedicated to the Irish Saint Cwyfan (Kevin) who lived in the 6th century. Whether he ever visited Anglesey is not known, but the island, once the stronghold of the Celtic Druids until the Roman invasion, was certainly a favoured retreat for early Christian hermit-saints.

You can walk across to the island at low tide and the church is still used for weddings and christenings. Come a bright summer’s day, it would be hard to imagine a more momentous setting for such important family rites.

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Six Word Saturday

Lens-Artists: double dipping

Quiet Hour In The Maasai Mara

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Almost sunset and a good time for mamas to play with the children…

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Or for lads to roll and loll…

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Or a cheetah to snooze in the grass beside a mulului tree…

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And then for humans to watch day’s end over the Mara plains…

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Lens-Artists: Serene  This week Patti invites us all to stop and ponder on peaceful scenes. As ever,  these views are from the old Africa album.