Borderlands ~ Distance In Time And Space

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We’re in border country here – between the Shropshire Hills and Wales  and I’m standing inside a Bronze Age stone circle, Mitchell’s Fold, looking in a northerly direction. And if the circle is a little raggedy  after three millennia, then its location is surely still impressive.

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Here is the southerly view towards Corndon Hill on whose flanks are the remains of several prehistoric burial cairns. To the right are the hazy Welsh uplands.

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This westerly view towards Wales shows more of the Bronze Age circle. Several of the stones have been laid flat or damaged, and this apparently happened long ago. Perhaps when the land through the circle was being worked. You can see here the rig and furrow outlines of medieval fields. I think the climate must have been milder back then or they grew very tough crops.

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Now looking east, the furthermost ridge is one of Shropshire’s most mysterious and curiously named hillscapes: the Stiperstones with its lunar Manstone and Devil’s Chair outcrops. This ridge is formed from quartzite laid down some 480 million years ago.

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All these places loom darkly in local legends and folklore. I’ve told the story before of Mitchell, the wicked witch for whom Mitchell’s Fold is named. You can read about her grim deeds and sticky end in an earlier post: Witch Catching in the Shropshire Wilds which also comes with snow-scene photos courtesy of he who no longer uses his camera.

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: In the distance

“What Are Those Blue Remembered Hills”?

Anyone who saw July’s To The Mysterious Stiperstones post might just recognise those distant heather-covered hills. Last month they were captured under looming skies, but this was how they looked yesterday when we went to Wentnor.

This off-the-beaten-track South Shropshire village must have some of the best views in the county – the Stiperstones to the west, and the Long Mynd to the east, and nothing but rolling farmland in between. The nearest towns are Church Stretton and Bishops Castle (6 and 5 miles respectively) but take note: Wentnor miles are at least twice as long as other people’s miles. It is a world all its own.

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Coming up next is a glimpse of the Long Mynd looking east from the village. The name, unsurprisingly, means long mountain. It does not allow itself to be photographed in one shot.

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And here’s the northerly end, taken from the car park of the village pub:

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Talking of which, this was the objective for the outing – lunch at The Crown at Wentnor along with our best Buffalo chums, Jack and Kathy. The last time we four had been there, Graham and I were still living in Kenya, and only briefly in the UK on annual leave. We decided it had to be a good twenty years ago. How time flies.

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After lunch we wandered about the village, and paid a visit to the parish church of St. Michael. None of us are subscribers, but when out together we often seem to find ourselves in country churchyards. Besides, Wentnor church is welcoming, and vistas within and without most picturesque. In fact I was so taken with the charm of the kneelers along the pews,  I thought I might even like to join the people who had made them in a spot of hymn-singing – All things bright and beautiful of course; nothing like some tuneful gratitude as harvest festival time approaches.

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The church was rebuilt in the 19th century, although parts date from the 12th century. I was particularly struck by the craftsmanship of the ceiling, and have never seen anything quite like it before. It made me think of the ornate wooden Viking churches of Norway.

Out in the churchyard with its ancient spreading yew, there were views of the Long Mynd and the hills towards Clun and Radnorshire:

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And it was all so very quiet with few signs of the locals as we wandered up and down the lane; only a couple of horses waiting for new shoes from the travelling blacksmith, the village noticeboard, old barns and cottages. And then the skies turned threatening and it was time to leave, back to the real world beyond the Mynd.

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N.B. The title quote is from A E Housman’s A Shropshire Lad  no. XL

 

Into my heart an air that kills

From yon far country blows:

What are those blue remembered hills,

What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,

I see it shining plain,

The happy highways where I went

And cannot come again.

Six Word Saturday 

Treats and Treasures at Entertaining Elephants

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There’s a story that the Duchess of Windsor once had a cushion with words that read: If you are bored with shopping, you are in the wrong shop. With this thought in mind, please step inside my own favourite shop – Entertaining Elephants 0f Church Stretton in the Shropshire Hills.

For the past two years this lovely little emporium of quality foodstuffs, grocery essentials and ethically made gifts and clothing has been run by Jo Bickerton. And before I go much further, I should declare an interest: Jo is my sister. Here she is in her domain. You can  be sure of a warm welcome if ever you visit. I also doubt you will leave the shop without buying something wonderful.

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Just now there is an array of Christmas speciality foods, but you can also buy your basic groceries too: free range eggs, Wenlock Edge bacon, Pimhill organic porridge oats. As far as possible, all produce is organic, ethically sourced and fairly traded. Customers with food sensitivities are also catered for. Artisan foods, such as bread, soups and cheeses, are produced locally. The same goes for many of the craft items and artwork. Jo’s guiding principles are that whatever she sells must be well made and life-enhancing.

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Upstairs there are more Christmas treats, and also Jo’s latest addition – a range of organic cotton and bamboo clothing.

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The classically simple tunics, tops, and leggings can be dressed up with stunning recycled sari wraps and scarves, Turtle Doves lovely wrist warmers made from repurposed cashmere knitwear, and necklaces strung from Kazuri beads made in Kenya.

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And in case you are wondering where the name Entertaining Elephants comes from, it was chosen by the shop’s previous owners, from Maurice Sendak’s lovely picture book Alligators All Around An Alphabet.

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E is for Entertaining Elephants – every day, not just for Christmas. It’s worth coming to Shropshire just to visit.

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Contact: The Old Barn . 43 High Street . Church Stretton . SY6 6BX

http://www.entertaining-elephants.co.uk

#shoplocally

copyright 2014 Tish Farrell

Witch-catching in the Shropshire wilds

Naturally, suffering as I do from Out-of-Africa-itis (some of you may just have noticed this)  any mention of ‘wild’ instantly conjures the sweeping Mara grasslands and herds of wildebeeste.  Or scenes of Zambia’s South Luangwa as featured in the last post (here). But then I thought it was time I took more joy in the place where I actually live  and, indeed, grew up – the wonderfully rural county of Shropshire. And for those of you who do not know England, Shropshire is in the Midlands, along the border with Wales. Also as I have mentioned in other posts, this segment of Great Britain was once (400 million years ago) to be found somewhere off East Africa. Shropshire’s rocks are thus among the world’s oldest, and its hills a magnet for geologists from all over the planet.

My home county, then, is largely farming country – dairy, sheep, and arable – the population living in scattered small settlements and market towns, many dating back to Roman times and the early Middle Ages. But there are also many wild places, especially up in the hill country overlooking Wales. One such place is Mitchell’s Fold, a Bronze Age stone circle.

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This bleakly sited  monument comes with a strange legend attached – the tale of a wicked witch and a fairy cow. And so one December day Nosy Writer and the Team Leader set off to explore. Winter seemed a good time to go searching for the spirits of the past. The photographs, by the way, are all Graham’s. Nosy Writer said she could not possibly take her gloves off in such frigid conditions.

The site itself is near the Welsh Border on Stapeley Hill, south west Shropshire. The stone circle was created between three and four thousand years ago, and originally comprised thirty stones of local dolerite. Today, only fifteen are visible. Some were perhaps re-purposed by subsequent generations; others buried. Often such circles were regarded with superstitious dread, particularly during the Middle Ages.

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In the prehistoric past, though, the place was not so isolated as it appears today. In the vicinity are two other stone circles, although one of these, known as Whetstones was blown up in the 1860s. The other, Hoarstones, was said by locals to be a fairy ring, where on moonlit nights, six ‘fairesses’ would dance. There are also numerous cairns and a long barrow, and, not too far away,  the Bronze Age stone axe factory of Cwm Mawr whose finely carved mace heads were traded far and wide across England and Wales. Of the reasons for this and the other circles, all is shrouded in mystery. All that may be said is that once these upland places were of great importance to the people who laboured to make them.

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But what about the witch-catching story, I hear you ask. Well that I can tell you. It goes like this.

Once, when there was a terrible famine in the district, the fairies took pity on the starving peasants and sent them a snow-white cow. The cow was kept in a circle of stones on Stapeley Hill, and, as with all such gifts, there were strict conditions as to usage. Every person was allowed to milk the cow by turns, but only so long as  the cow was never milked dry, and each person took no more than one pail full.

Everyone followed these instructions, and all went well until the wicked old witch who lived nearby grew envious of the peoples’ good fortune. Why had they not called on her to solve their problems? Her name was Mitchell, and out of sheer spite, she thought up an evil plan.

And so one night, when all honest folks were asleep in their cottages, she approached the cow and began to milk it. The only thing was, the bottom of her bucket was full of holes. She milked and milked until the cow was dry, thus breaking the fairy charm. At once the cow sank into the ground, never to be seen again. But Mitchell did not escape either. She had challenged the forces of good too far and found herself trapped inside the stones. And when the people came next day and saw their fairy cow gone,  and they saw the false pail and pool of wasted milk, they knew exactly what the witch had done. So just to  make sure she never escaped, they walled up old Mitchell inside the stone circle, where she was said to have finally starved to death.

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And just in case you are wondering, no, this is not Mitchell’s ghost in the photo, but me, wrapped up in many post-Africa layers. And beyond me, the Welsh hills.

Finally, here are more scenes of Wild Shropshire – in particular, the hills known as the Stiperstones, which featured often in the novels of Shropshire writer, Mary Webb. The last photograph is of the  peak known as the Devil’s Chair. It also features many local legends, but they will have to wait for another post.

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