Those of you who come here often will know that the Linden Walk is Much Wenlock’s best loved path; mine too as it is only a couple of minutes from the house. It is always beautiful – whether in storm, snow, rain, sunshine, with or without leaves. It is also the enduring gift of the town’s physician, Dr. William Penny Brookes, who with his friends planted it in the 1860s. Thank you. Dr. Brookes. I should remember to say this more often.
This is my absolutely favourite Much Wenlock place (apart from home and the allotment), and it’s just across the road from the house. The Linden Walk borders the Gaskell (Linden) Field, and until the 1960s, steam trains would have been chuffing past just a few metres to the right of the tree cutting sign. In Victorian times there used to be an Olympic Special that every year brought in hundreds of spectators to watch the July Olympian Games masterminded by the town’s doctor, William Penny Brookes. The handsome station was only a hundred yards behind the point where I’m standing to take this photo.
Dr Brookes was also responsible for bringing the railway to Wenlock and for nagging his friends into helping him plant this double row of lime trees (Tilia x europaea). This was done in the 1860s, and I wonder if he foresaw then how lovely it would be. I’m guessing he would. He was a man of vision and a great believer in devising means to cultivate both the physical and mental well being of the townsfolk.
Apart from being a physician, he was also a keen botanist and, before taking over the town’s medical practice from his father, he had studied herbalism at the University of Padua. Doubtless he would have known that preparations of lime flowers have strong sedative and pain relieving properties, a remedy to be treated with some caution.
I’m also sure he had in mind the blissful effect of simply wandering beneath an avenue of limes on a hot June day, absorbing the soothing green shade and breathing in the delicious fragrance of the trees’ inconspicuous cascades of blossom. Now the trees are at peak leafiness they create a continuous arcaded canopy. The small hermaphroditic flowers also produce nectar which means there are bees. Blackbirds and squirrels forage round the roots. There is birdcall in the treetops, and even though the tree cutting sign suggests the barking of chainsaws, there was only quietness when I took the photo. The trimmers of the lime trees’ epicormic growth must have gone to lunch. You can see the effect they have had if you compare the trees with those in the second photo taken the day before. While the overgrowth is boskily attractive it can get out of hand; limes are prone to fungal diseases, and so are probably best protected by improving ventilation.
In fact the continued good health of the Linden Walk it taken very seriously. Cricket club supporters and bowling club members are no longer allowed to drive their cars along the avenue as they were wont to do, an activity that threatened to compact the tree roots. In fact we’ve been told by a Professor of Lime Trees that the trees could live another 150 years if we look after them. What a treasure Dr Brookes left behind – for us and a few more generations yet.
Last week I found an arum lily behind our garden fence. On Sunday afternoon I found another fine specimen growing in the shade of the lime tree walk in our nearby Linden Field. I had gone there to photograph the lime trees coming into leaf, and the avenue was a haven of leaf shadow and dappled light, and wonderfully cool in our unexpected heatwave. There was also the heady whiff of wild garlic. The plants whose leaves I had been cropping earlier in the year were bursting with white star flowers. You can eat those too. But you definitely can’t eat the arum lily, also known as Cuckoo-pint (pint to rhyme with mint), Lords-and-Ladies, Parson in the pulpit and Willy lily – though the roots were apparently once crushed to make household starch for crisping up Elizabethan ruffs (Richard Mabey Flora Britannica).
Wood Anemone . Anemone nemorosa . Windflower . Grandmother’s Nightcap
I hadn’t meant to go wild flower hunting. I was only intending a quick dash along the old railway embankment beside the Linden Walk. A bunch of wild garlic leaves was the objective. They had started appearing soon after the second snow, and I’ve been cropping them on and off since early February. Now all the shady ground either side the former track bed is carpeted in clumps of lush, green, garlicky leaves.
I’ve found that chopping them into a jar and steeping them for a week or so in unfiltered cider vinegar makes for a delicious salad dressing ingredient. You can also treat this as a general spring tonic – a dessert spoonful in a big glass of water. The leaves are also good in a pesto sauce instead of basil, and you can chop them with abandon into soups, curries and casseroles. When they start to flower, you can use the tiny white florets too.
Anyway, as I picking my way through the undergrowth I came upon the wood anemones creating their own little galaxies under the lime trees. They are one of the loveliest of our spring flowers, and their presence is an indicator of ancient woodland. In his Flora Britannica, Richard Mabey also says they do not seed, but their roots spread very slowly in dappled shade. If you spend some time with them, you will see how they turn their faces always towards the sun. Less appealingly, their foliage is said to have the musky odour of foxes, though I can’t say I noticed any such smell when I sniffed the leaves.
copyright 2018 Tish Farrell
We’ve had gales, sleet, snow, frost, downpours and sunshine, lowering skies, gloom, dankness, glowing sunsets, and starlit nights, and throughout all variations it has been bitterly cold with far too many Arctic blasts and draughty peripheries. Yet despite the chill factor, some things seem to have been growing since December, many of them out of season.
For instance, up at the allotment this afternoon, I came upon a very confused globe artichoke. In the last few days it has grown some very chunky buds. Too soon, I tell it. It was also surrounded by a vigorous bouquet of spanking new foliage. In the garden at home a butter coloured geum has been flowering, one stem at a time, all winter. Likewise a blue penstemon. I have also been cropping the wild garlic leaves for several weeks. They are shooting up along the old railway line beside the Linden Walk.
All of which apparently tells me that it can’t have been as cold as I think it has.
Certainly the spring flowers have not been deterred – celandines, snowdrops, primroses, crocus, flowering currant and hellebores all quick off the mark – with daffodils just on the cusp of opening.
Here then are February scenes around and about the Farrell domain in Much Wenlock:
To join in the Changing Seasons challenge please visit Su at the link:
We wake this morning to the kind of quietness that is only made by falling snow. I’m instantly thrilled – aware of the mood shift. Yesterday I felt like vestige-of-road-kill. Now I am fizzing like a firework. How did that happen?
At 8 am the landscape looks like a scene from a post nuclear winter, and as I tell Jo, when I take the header photo, I do not need the monochrome setting.
But by 10 am the sun is out, and the field at the back of the house is all of a sparkle.
I’ve not yet had breakfast, but I have to go out there. I wrap up in many layers, jump into my wellies. He who is sitting on the sofa reading The Guardian on his laptop, and still wearing his dressing gown, thinks I am nuts. I promise him toast on my return, dash out of the house and head for the Linden Field.
But even as I cross the playing field to the Linden Walk I know I’ve missed the moment –at least as far as the light is concerned.
As I pick my way up Windmill Hill, the blizzard begins, although I am briefly distracted from the change in the weather by three woolly dogs – large and small. They too are thrilled by the snow and have to tell me so. Icy muzzles push into my hands. Brrrr. Thanks a lot, dogs.
I retreat from the hill the long way round – this to avoid an unseemly slithering, bottom-first. By now it is hard to see where I’m going. Not only that, I’m turning into the Abominable Snow-Woman. Even the Linden Walk, when I reach it, offers precious little shelter. Goodness! This is the most exciting weather we’ve had in ages.
But still, enough mucking about in the elements. There’s toast and Greek honey and good hot coffee to be had at home. Besides, any further inclinations to snap snow scenes may be catered for from the comfort of my desk and the window next to it.
Also I’ve remembered that I told Jo the snow wouldn’t last. My mistake. We’ve had several inches in the past few hours. But the best thing is that there is far less traffic out on Sheinton Street, and what there is, is moving so slowly that it is wonderfully quiet. Reminds me that it’s time to put in another request to the Council for a 20 mph speed limit. It’s interesting how a spell of disruptive weather can remind one of what really matters re life and well being.
Here is a dog who knows just where he’s going, taking the steps down to the old railway line that runs besides the Linden Walk. I caught him by chance in a beam of sunlight. This rather makes him look as if I stuck him on later. I also like the way his master has become a silhouette at the top of the steps. One my photo-accidents that turned out quite well.
While I’m here I’d like to wish you all a Happy 16th April in whatever capacity you are enjoying or celebrating it. As for me, I’m waging a campaign against moths – cleaning out my closet and putting all my fine wool items into the freezer for a fortnight. It’s just as well the stock of frozen allotment beans and raspberries is now dwindling and I have a spare drawer for assorted Indian shawls. And in case you think this very odd behaviour for an Easter Sunday, my other half tells me that this is the only way to ensure my woollies are moth egg-free without the application of noxious chemicals. Apparently there is quite an outbreak of clothes moths in the UK just now. I’m wondering if this isn’t due to all the buying of cashmere jumpers that people have been indulging in; it’s ideal moth food. Anyway, it does have its uses being married to an entomologist.
Black & White Sunday Please visit Paula to see her mesmeric stairwell. If you follow her steps down and down, they could well take you to a parallel universe.
Here’s another place I never tire of photographing – the Linden Walk. Not only is it lovely of itself, but it also leads to Windmill Hill, that other object of my snapping affections. I took this photo yesterday with the leaves whisking off the trees. It was too windy for those addicting musky smells of autumn leaf litter, and the delicious summer scent of lime tree flowers was only a memory (until next year of course).
But whatever the weather or time of year, this lime tree avenue is always a very soothing place to walk. Its other-worldly quality takes you out of yourself: a pathway to another dimension perhaps? Doubtless the town’s physician, Doctor Penny Brookes, who planted the trees in 1869 was well aware of the calming properties of lime trees since he was also a Padua-trained herbalist.
When made into a tea, the blossoms have a sedative effect. This was a recommended therapy during World War 2 (Richard Mabey Flora Britannica).
But in the absence of linden flower tea, here’s the lovely second movement ‘Petals’ from Takashi Yoshimatsu’s Piano Concerto Memo Flora; Kyoko Tabe piano:
Post inspired as ever by Paula at Lost in Translation Please pay her a visit. CALM is today’s watchword.
The Olympic Games begin in Rio today – cue views of Copacabana Beach and Corcovado Mountain with its astonishing statue of Christ the Redeemer. Now switch scenes to a small town in rural England, to a meadow in Much Wenlock, and turn back the clock to 1850, for this is where it began – the source and the inspiration for the modern Olympic Movement.
The town’s physician, Dr William Penny Brookes was the man behind the revival of the ancient Athenian games. His objective was clear:
for the promotion of the moral, physical and intellectual improvement of the inhabitants of the town & neighbourhood of Wenlock and especially of the working classes, by the encouragement of out-door recreation, and by the award of prizes annually at public meetings for skill in athletic exercise and proficiency in intellectual and industrial attainments.
He had already started the Agricultural Reading Society and been hard at work raising funds from Shropshire’s gentry to establish a working man’s reading room, while lobbying every famous writer of the day to donate copies of their works to the cause. Much of the library still exists in the town’s archives and includes some heavy-going and esoteric histories of far-flung lands. It is hard to guess the appeal of such books to farm hands and quarrymen after their long day’s labours, but at least they would have had decent light to read by. Brookes was also behind the founding of the town’s gas works.
Wenlock’s Olympian Society grew out of the Agricultural Reading Society. The very first games were held on the town’s race course but in later years took place (as they still do every year) on the field below Windmill Hill, now known as the Gaskell Recreation Ground, or as Penny Brookes himself called it, the Linden Field.
Nor was it any rustic village fete affair. The local MP J M Gaskell provided seating on Windmill Hill to give everyone a fine view, and the event was heralded with much ceremony, the town streets decked out from end to end, a parade of competitors, flag bearers and officials all marching with the local band. From the start, then, pageantry was a key part of the games, lifting people from their humdrum, hardworking existences. And although there were many fun contests and traditional country sports, the athletic events were taken seriously, and attracted competitors from all over the country. Prizes included silver cups and ink stands presented by local worthies and Penny Brookes designed elaborate medals – gold, silver, bronze, and had them made at his own expense.
News of the games spread far and wide, and indeed were spoken of in very high places. In 1890, when the French aristocrat Baron Pierre de Courbetin had been charged with finding ways to improve the fitness of the French Army, he was advised to go and see the Wenlock games. He stayed in Brookes’ house on Wilmore Street during his visit, and what he saw and also learned from Brookes inspired him to found the International Olympic Committee. The IOC held their first games in Athens in 1896, and although Brookes did not live long enough to see the extent of his influence, de Courbetin gave him due recognition:
If the Olympic Games which modern Greece did not know how to establish again is revived today, it is not to a Greek that one is indebted, but to Dr. W P Brookes.
We the people of Much Wenlock are also indebted to Dr. Brookes for his planting of the lime tree avenue alongside the Linden Field where the games took place. As I’ve said before, it is one of the town’s enduring treasures. The trees are over 150 years old, and still in fine form. There is no time of the year when this avenue is not beautiful. In winter it is deeply mysterious, a colonnade to another reality. But whatever the season, there is always a play of light and shadow. And there is windrush in the high canopies, and crow call. And in summer the soporific scents of tiny green lime tree flowers.
Here, then, are a few more views, and so when you see the grand and glamorous opening of the Rio Olympics, give a thought also to this place and the Shropshire doctor, who with the well being of his townspeople in mind, inspired the modern Olympic Movement:
This post was inspired by Paula’s Thursday’s Special theme ‘shadow’. Please visit her blog and join in this week’s challenge.