Reflections Of Ludlow ~ March Squares

Ludlow is probably the most handsome of Shropshire’s ancient market towns, and one of our favourite places for a day out. It is also the region’s foodie capital so you can usually be sure of something delicious to eat at one of its many inns and restaurants. And it has shops as they used to be – proper butchers, green grocers and bakers. Then there is this place on Corve Street – a magical emporium of light fittings and fixtures. They are all rather expensive so we usually just look in for the show, or press or noses to the window.

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March Squares This month Becky wants squares in squares or squared circles.

Frigid February But With Flowers ~ The Changing Seasons

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:

The Changing Seasons: February

Much Wenlock As Seen On TV!

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This view of the town is the one I see as I head to the allotment. I have captured it in many seasons. Today I’m posting it because it features one of the town’s oldest and most notable landmarks at the heart of our town – Holy Trinity Church which dates from the early Middle Ages and was once part of an impressive priory complex. And the reason for doing that is because its current vicar, Matthew Stafford, also known as ‘the mad vicar’ is featured in a 4-part BBC series A Vicar’s Life. The programmes follow the parish duties of three vicars in the rural Hereford diocese (of which Much Wenlock is a part although in Shropshire) over a one year period.

I adhere to no church or dogma, but I do have a lot of time for Matthew Stafford and the work he does in the community. If you watch only the first four minutes of this first episode you will perhaps see why. You will also be treated to bird’s eye views of Wenlock and see Matthew out and about in the town, as well as arranging a marriage at my local hairdressers.

Daily Post: Tour-guide

Yesterday Along The Lanes In Wenlock

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I don’t remember ever seeing lesser celandines flowering in January. They are at least a month too soon, and this one has clearly been around a while, and much rained on. Snowdrops, though, are timely, and they are cropping up everywhere in gardens and wooded margins around the town.

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All the footpaths are very waterlogged and slithery. On our walk yesterday it was necessary to stop at intervals to de-mud the boots and stop growing giants’ feet. This also gave me the chance to photograph the highland cattle in the Cutlins meadow, the sheep in the Priory park, and puddles on the track to Bradley Farm. Welcome to Much Wenlock in January.

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Six Word Saturday  Please pop over to Debbie’s to see her very astonishing photo

Starting As I Mean To Go On ~ The Big De-Clutter, Or This Writer’s Extra-Convoluted Displacement Activity?

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Well not so much de-cluttering as re-arranging, though somehow I’ve ended up with a whole BIG EMPTY drawer beneath the cabin bed in the office. I should of course see this as a great achievement on day one of 2018, but I’m afraid the whole process has made me very ratty. Not a good way to start the year.

One problem is I find myself at the end of the line for two branches of family memorabilia – in particular the material evidence of the lives of two deceased aunts – maternal and paternal. I was very fond of them, Miriam and Evelyn, and we three had much in common. Both were passionate gardeners, readers, writers, watchers, makers, generous authors of many small kindnesses. And both were keen on family history, gathering in whatever they could in the days before Ancestry and Find My Past.

I now have their gleanings – barely readable notes, diaries, photographs – all the makings of good stories if only someone could knock the stuff into a shape that would mean something to family others. That someone has to be me. And I think I should do it, because if I don’t, no one else will. And that’s when I start getting cross. Imposition looms like a heavy, wet fog. Hmph.

The moving of the auntly archive from the pine blanket chest in one bedroom to the pine chest of drawers in another bedroom (so facilitating the BIG emptying of the office drawer into the now empty pine blanket chest) leads to encounters with my own archive. The aunts kept most of the letters I wrote to them during our eight years in Africa. They are very detailed letters. I need to revisit them. Well I do, don’t I? Then there are all the Africa photos and negatives. I never did finish scanning them.

More long-winded tasks loom.

Not only that, when you start shunting stuff around the house, and arguing with yourself over what should be kept, and what should not, you then find all sorts of diversions.  And yet the whole point of the de-cluttering process was so I could free up the office, create clear spaces for laying out the notes relating to some of the several unfinished writing projects that have long lodged on my brain’s back boiler.

Which is where this photo comes in. As I was sorting through boxes and folders, I found a forgotten scan of it, taken by Graham many New Years ago at the Bronze Age stone circle, Mitchell’s Fold in the Shropshire borderland. You will notice that my blog header is cropped from another scanned version of it. That’s me all huddled up in many layers. But I love the huge wintry sky above me, and the blue hills of Wales stretching far, far away behind me. It’s reminding me that this is where my head needs to be. Never mind the clutter. It’s a piece of very elaborate self-sabotage. Off to the realm of imagination, that’s where writers need to be.

Thank you, Julie Riso, for reminding me of where the best paths are.

copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

Monday Magic ~ Today In My Wenlock Garden

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Good heavens! This morning we woke to frost. The windscreens of the cars parked across the road were definitely glinting whitely. But there was bright sunshine too, lighting up the last of the leaves on the lime trees. They looked like great golden flares.

And since the temperature was much keener today than yesterday, sun notwithstanding, my cooking thoughts turned to making Greek lentil soup. While it was it was cooking I went out in the garden to snap whatever was blooming.

Extraordinary, isn’t it. We’ve had vicious gales, heavy rain and yet on the 30th day of October we still have sweet peas on the back fence. There are also masses of buds on the Morning Glories, though when they do open, it’s a half-hearted show of the decidedly shivery. I’m  not sure why they waited till October to get going.

The real stars are geranium Rozanne, now in its second or third flowering, and the little border of coral and shell pink Hesperantha; pull off the lilies’ spent stems and more burst forth.

So welcome to my autumn garden and all that’s still flourishing there. Frost, what frost?

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Copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

Views From the Morville Lych Gate

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The lych gate is of course the corpse gate, the covered entrance wherein the dead might be laid until a funeral could take place in the parish church. In the past there was often a several day wait for this essential ceremony, during which time the deceased must be shielded from bad weather, robbers and worse.

This particular lych gate stands on the path to Morville’s parish church of St. Gregory.  Morville, itself, is a small hamlet on the main road between Much Wenlock and Bridgnorth, and like Wenlock has a monastic past, although the church is all that remains of this period. I suspect that the fabric of the actual monastery may well have been re-purposed in the building of the next-door Morville Hall, which began hot on the heels of Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1540s.

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In Saxon times the place was a thriving manor, and after the Norman invasion of 1066, continued to be so, its existing church and associated  lands bandied about as pieces of valuable real estate in deals between kings, earls and churchmen, its native inhabitants bound by fetters of superstitious dread and the obligation to provide wealth and labour for their overlords.

The Norman earl Roger de Montgomery took over Morville (along with most of Shropshire) in 1086. Here he had built a Benedictine monastery, an outpost for his more prestigious Shrewsbury Abbey some twenty miles away. He also had Wenlock’s Saxon priory remodelled on a monumental scale, and ordered the building of numerous other religious houses in every adjacent small community across the county.

I do not think this extensive building programme had much to do with piety. This was first and foremost about stamping Norman authority over the land. It was also an overlord’s means to control people, the wealth they created, and by the ordering of good works from the wealth accrued, so ensure his own place in heaven. It was his insurance policy in an era when everyone lived with a mortal terror of hell and the devil. As Baldrick in Black Adder might say it was a very cunning plan – political, physical and psychic control all of a piece – a top-down wealth management strategy.

If you go inside the church you may see, as you will in many old churches, the evidence of the psychic tyranny. The present building dates from the 1100s. Between the column arches on both sides of the nave, serpents slither down – an early medieval manifestation of ‘fake news’ perhaps? Imagine having them breathing down your neck every Sunday from infancy to grave. There was no opting out of the experience. Your very soul was in peril should you try to, and anyway this and the other snakes are endlessly hissing at the horrendous cost of becoming an outcast.

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Even when the service is over – the mysteries of it conducted in a language you do not know, you are sent on your way by this jolly trio, just to reinforce the sense of threat for the rest of the week:

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Today, the church in its country churchyard and the nearby hall  are quintessentially scenic. My senses tell me that this is a lovely spot. But I confess, too, that increasingly I struggle with the rustically picturesque and the meaning I take from it.

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For one thing, I still detect traces of susceptibility. The view of the hall, though presently owned by the National Trust, is still likely to induce a fit of the Downton Abbeys…P1010953

…that ultimately distasteful sense of nostalgia for a fake past of benign lords and grateful retainers. We may have Henry VIII to thank for loosening a little the stranglehold of the ruling elite, and broadening the class of major players to include merchants and professional men, but nearly five hundred years on, most of the country is still owned by small and powerful factions including the monarchy.

The fascinating thing is most of us don’t seem to notice, or realize how the way land continues to be controlled affects our lives in critically fundamental ways – the cost of a home – to buy or to rent – and the acceptance of ever-rising property ‘values’, the acceptance of mortgages for life. It is not for nothing that these holdings are referred to as ‘land banks’, or that any release of land for development is minutely managed to ensure maximum return from high priced, often poorly built, overcrowded properties.

We no longer have to plough milord’s fields, or give him our tithes in wheat and eggs, or bow to his whims, and tug forelocks, but the vestiges of feudalism are alive and well and residing in Britain, and more particularly, idling in its well-worn seats in the House of Lords, currently the focus of ‘a bit of a scandal’ as reported by the Electoral Reform Society. Of course we could do something about all this – if we really wanted to – if we stopped romancing about the past and started planning for a present that embraces everyone’s needs. It’s an interesting thought anyway.

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Thursday’s Special: Traces of the Past

copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

Harebells Colonize An Old Industrial Wasteland

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This photo was taken at Snailbeach Mine in the wilds of the Shropshire Hills. From the 1780s through the nineteenth century this was the most productive lead mine in the world, employing over 300 workers. But the history of lead mining in the area is much older than this, and for centuries the mineral was mined all over the nearby Stiperstones hills.

The Romans were certainly here. They left behind a great lead ingot weighing over 87 kilos and impressed with the inscription ‘IMP HADRIANI AVG’. This meant that not only did it belong to the Emperor Hadrian, but also that Snailbeach was an imperial mine between the years of his rule, 117-138 A.D.

The Romans used lead for water pipes, cooking vessels, paint and to sheath the hulls of ships.  Of course some of these purposes proved highly toxic to the users.

And it is now hard to imagine an association between something as hard, industrially wrought and poisonous as lead and these delicate harebells that seem to thrive on the waste ground near the mine ruins. In fact this whole area, with conservationists’ help,  has been so reclaimed by wildlife it is now part of the Stiperstones Site of Special Scientific Interest. The birdlife of the area includes red grouse, ravens, buzzards, peregrine falcons, curlew and the rare ring ouzel. There  are grayling and green hairstreak butterflies, fox and emperor moths. The vegetation includes heather, cowberries, whinberries and rare mountain pansies.

It is so heartening, isn’t it, when so much on the planet seems environmentally challenged. Here in this corner of Shropshire at least, the natural world has overcome – reclaiming this once poisonous, highly industrial environment.

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For those of you interested in mining history there is more about Snailbeach HERE and HERE. The latter link includes lots of useful teaching information and has a great video of aerial views of the area, which is anyway worth a look if you want to see more of this fascinating part of Shropshire.

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DP Daily Prompt: overcome

July’s Changing Seasons ~ To Shropshire’s Mysterious Stiperstones

It is a wild and brooding place, one of the strangest in South Shropshire’s hill country. For one thing the Devil has his chair there, and when the mist comes down, this is where he sits – brimming with pent-up malevolence but unseen by us mortals.

We did not encounter mist on Saturday when we ventured there so we assumed the Devil was out. But there were lowering skies, a near absence of light and the threat of rain. Oh yes, and wind, that somehow caused a discontinuity of function between brain and feet, so making the trek over moorland paths strewn with quartzite cobbles somewhat hazardous.

The Stiperstones ridge extends 5 miles (8 km), and at its highest point on Manstone Rock is 1700 feet (536 metres) above sea level.  Standing on the top you can look west across the great expanse of Wales, and on clear days see Snowdon and Cader Idris mountains. Turn east, and you can scan across the Long Mynd to north east Shropshire and far, far beyond.

The ridge has ancient origins and half the world away, some 60 degrees south of the equator. It probably began existence as a quartz sand beach laid down by a shallow sea during the Ordovician, some 495-443 million years ago. Thereafter the landmass moved one inch a year for the next 450 million years to reach its present location 50 degrees north of the equator. A slow, slow journey, then, of 7,500 miles.

You might think, as you look at succeeding images, that it doesn’t look much like a beach these days. In fact it has suffered much folding, sending the beach skywards, and tilting it at angles of 80 degrees in places. Along its length are a series of  quartzite tors described by the eminent Victorian geologist, Murchison, as ‘rugged Cyclopean ruins’ (The Silurian System 1854). Besides the Devil’s Chair and Manstone Rocks there are also Diamond Rock, Cranberry Rock, Nipstone Rock and several other eye-catching outcrops.

The place is also described as ‘relict landscape’, one that is undergoing continuous weathering. What we see today was mostly shaped during the last Ice Age when the quartzite was locked in permafrost. Moisture seeped into the cracks, and as it froze, expanded, causing the rock to fissure and fragment.

The moors below the ridge-top are rich in whinberries and cowberries, and so provided food and grazing for human populations from at least the Bronze Age. These people from prehistory left us their burial monuments – stone cairns along the hill’s spine. Then around 100 CE the Romans arrived, avidly searching of silver, but mostly mining lead, and smelting it in hillside boles to provide material to line their plunge pools, make water pipes, cover roofs, construct their coffins, and for the craftsmen of Wroxeter Roman City to use in the production of pewter.

Down succeeding centuries lead mining expanded dramatically. The flanks of the Stiperstones are littered with adits and the mine shafts that featured so dramatically in Mary Webb’s Gone To Earth.  One of the biggest concerns, Snailbeach Mine, started at the foot of the hill in 1783, employed 500 workers at its height. For a century and more, then, the wild countryside was also a filthy industrial zone of delving, massive spoil heaps, steam-pumping engines and hard-worked men and boys.

Yet somehow this phase too has somehow welded itself into the mythic fabric of the landscape, an impression heightened by the strange visual effect of Stiperstones quartzite – that it somehow looks black against the light, when in fact it is grey and speckled with ice white crystals.

And on that note I’ll leave you with the words of Much Wenlock’s Mary Webb, whose writerly landscape this very much was – and in all senses. This quote is from The Golden Arrow:

The whole countryside was acquiring in his eyes something portentous, apocalyptic. For the personality of a man reacting upon the spirit of a place produces something which is neither the man nor the  place, but fiercer or more beautiful than either. This third entity, born of the union,  becomes a  power and a haunting presence – non-human, non-material.

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copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

Changing Seasons – Please visit Max for this month’s jaw-dropping vistas from his trekking trip to the Romsdalseggen: not for the faint-hearted.