Quiet Scenes On The Edge

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The hamlet of Easthope lies a few miles south-west of Much Wenlock. To reach it you travel along Wenlock Edge towards Church Stretton, then drop down a winding lane, too narrow for comfort. At the village heart is St. Peter’s church and the meadows of Manor Farm. The houses are scattered round: old limestone cottages, some ancient timber framed buildings, some modern homes built last century, a gracious rectory no longer ecclesiastically engaged. Most look out on the Mogg, a darkly forested hogsback ridge whose trees hide the the remains of  an Iron Age hillfort known as The Ditches.

You can just see the conifer tops of the Mogg between the churchyard trees in the next photo.

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I took these photos one bright December afternoon. It was something of a pilgrimage.  My good friend and artist Sheilagh Jevons resides in this peaceful graveyard, the perfect spot for a woman so in tune with the Shropshire landscape and its liminal spaces and much in love with the Mogg. Her house and studio were just down the lane from the church and she called her home The Mogg.

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Here is another hill topped with a conifer plantation. It lies on the easterly side of Much Wenlock, and this is the view I see as I come home from the allotment, stepping out under the big ash tree that guards the unofficial ‘gateway’ through the field hedge.

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And naturally, one of the most peaceful spots in the town are the ruins of Much Wenlock Priory whose origins, in the charge of Saxon princess and abbess, St. Milburga, go back to 670 CE. The remains you see here are much later, dating from successive building phases in the 12th and 13th centuries. In its day, Wenlock Priory was among the grandest monastic houses in Europe, its monks belonging to the Cluniac order and brought here from France. It’s a mysterious thing to think of now, a French community ruling the lives, body and spirit, of Shropshire folk. All dissolved in 1540 of course, with the protecting lead stripped off the roofs by Thomas Cromwell’s team of asset strippers.

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: peaceful

And Another Shropshire Ghost

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In an earlier post this week I mentioned Wild Edric our heroic Saxon warlord who challenged the Norman interlopers and ended up as a ghost haunting the Stiperstones. Now shunt forward a few hundred years to the 1640s, a time when England was locked in civil war: Roundhead Parliamentarians versus Charles 1 and the Royalist army. The Parliamentarians were intent on curbing the king’s proclivities to do as he liked at the nation’s expense; the Royalists were set on protecting the monarch’s prerogative.

We’ve shifted from the South Shropshire hills to Wenlock Edge, a wooded limestone escarpment that rears up above the county’s farming lowland for nearly 20 miles. Enter one Major Thomas Smallman, fleeing on horseback from his home in nearby Wilderhope Manor. He is a King’s man, carrying despatches for the Royalist headquarters in the county town of Shrewsbury, some dozen miles away. On his heels are Cromwell’s troops. Trying to evade them, the major veers off along the Edge. But there’s no escape. He and horse leap over the precipice. It is a two hundred foot drop. The major was caught up in a crab apple tree, and so survived to deliver his despatches to Shrewsbury, but his valiant horse was lost. Perhaps that’s why a ghostly major on horseback may sometimes be glimpsed near this signpost on the Edge footpath.

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And to give you a notion of what lay before the major when his horse took off:

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The Square Odds #10

The Changing Seasons ~ January 2022

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Our January blew in with sudden squalls and sea gales off the Celtic Sea, and a week’s sojourn on west coast Anglesey. From the sands of Aberffraw and nearby Newborough we could see the mountains of Snowdonia across the Menai Strait, a wood-cut frieze: sometimes steely grey, sometimes indigo; watch as snow dusted the high slopes. The place was blisteringly cold, but enthralling too. And we did have sunshine interludes too.

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And the deep-cloud afternoons did give up their gloom just in time for some breath-taking sunsets.

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And then, too soon, it was time to leave, and then, as often happens when we drive over the Menai Strait away from Anglesey, the morning light failed. An eclipse of the sun? Some ancient Celtic curse on the land made manifest? In any event, our hundred-mile, mid-day drive home to Much Wenlock proceeded through a depressing dusk, although it did have its moment of mystifying grandeur as we wound through the Llanberis Pass. Can you spot the tiny white farmhouse at the foot of the photo?

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And so back home and last week’s walk up on to Wenlock Edge, taking the field paths behind the house. A gentler landscape certainly, and warmer too after a brisk upward hike. Also from our side of the Edge its true drama is quite concealed. We see only fields and treetops, but when you reach the path that runs along the ridge summit, it is only when you peer through the underbrush that you see that the land simply drops off – falling through hundreds of feet of hanging woodland, so steep as to be inaccessible except to birds and small mammals and perhaps an adventurous deer. This impression of no-man’s-land and apparent lack of management by humankind adds to its eeriness. On winter days, too, when the trees are bare, you can glimpse the village of Homer way below, and beyond it the farm fields of the Shropshire Plain.

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The path up to Wenlock Edge

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Looking back on the town

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Over the Edge

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On the homeward path with view of the Wrekin

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And on the home front, a wintery upstairs garden:

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But still a few crab apples left

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And in the kitchen: some surviving allotment marigolds and crusty spelt-flour soda bread:

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The Changing Seasons: January 2022. Please call in on our hosts, Ju-Lyn in Singapore, and Brian in Australia and see their January vistas.

So What’s Missing Here?

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We were walking along the top of Wenlock Edge earlier this week – Edge on the left of this photo, Ironbridge Gorge right of centre. This is a circular walk that can include Windmill Hill as a slight detour, but otherwise takes you out of Much Wenlock before sending you up a field path (with fine views of the Wrekin) to the Edge above Homer village.

The final climb to the Edge top is quite steep and rocky, but once negotiated, you step out on a  pleasingly level track, farm fields on one side, hanging woodland on the other. I should say, though, that for those nervous of heights it doesn’t do to stop and look down into the wood. There, the huge ash, beech, oak, and sycamore trees grow hugger mugger on prodigiously tall, straight trunks that cling to several hundred feet of near vertical hillside. Here and there, between rare gaps in the canopy, you can just glimpse the fields of the Shropshire plain way below.

This is a winter’s day view of the Edge trackway, the seeming benign but beetling Edge wood on the right:

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There’s a point further along this track where a path hives off at right angles, taking us back and down to the town. There’s also a particular fence post here that I often use in lieu of the tripod. I used it to take the header shot, including the grass stem pointer,  but in the past I used it to capture these views – the cooling towers of Ironbridge Power Station, shortly to be developed into a very large riverside housing complex:

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Here’s another winter’s view with the cooling towers steaming away, and to the left a glimpse of the chimney beacon that finally came down this summer:

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All gone now. This may well be a good thing. On the other hand,  we need to think very hard and carefully how, and at what precise cost, we will heat and power our homes in the future. At present there is, to say the least, something of a technological shortfall. Nothing, it seems, is settled.

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Past Perspectives ~ Up the Meadow And Over The Edge

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Those who come here often will know that our cottage in Much Wenlock sits at the foot of Townsend Meadow, a field that rises quite steeply to the west and towards the summit of nearby Wenlock Edge. At the Edge top (c 1,000 feet above sea level) the land plummets through hanging woodland of beech, ash and yew to the Shropshire plain below. From our perspective in the undulating Edge uplands above this drop we see the sky above a false horizon that turns this vista into a gallery. Every moment we are treated to ‘cinematic’ sky doings, either viewed over the garden fence, as in the header photo, or from the upstairs’ rooflights as in the next two photos.

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There can also be curious effects – strange prisms of light that may be due to cold air rising from below the Edge, a bit like a fire rainbow. I’m sure a weather person can tell me. This next was spotted in early summer on a sunny evening:

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I’m also often treated to some good cloud installations when I’m on the field path, to-ing or fro-ing the allotment. A good storm brewing up is always exciting:

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Or a quieter top-of-the-meadow sunset:

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The wood at the top field corner behind the allotment also goes in for its own cloud formations:

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Past Squares #23

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It’s A Wonderful World: From Kenya’s Rift To Wenlock’s Edge

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Two landscapes a world apart, but for the most part both largely shaped by human endeavour. The first shot is one from the old Africa album: the Great Rift Valley just north of Nairobi. In the foreground is Escarpment, a faulted terrace of the Eastern Rift. The patchwork of fields are smallholdings – some 12 acres, others much smaller. This was one of the study areas for he-who-builds-sheds-and-greenhouses’ doctoral thesis on the smut fungus of Napier grass, an essential staple fodder crop for farmers who, for lack of pasture, zero-graze their cows and sheep (i.e. stock is kept in pens and paddocks and food is delivered to them).

Beyond Escarpment on the Rift floor you can see the yellow wheat fields of large-scale farming concerns. The last time we drove that way from Lake Naivasha there were zebra and other plains game helping themselves to the crop. Zebra in a wheat field? Now there was a sight to excite a Shropshire lass used only to seeing flights of greedy pigeons in her homeland fields.

The hazy peak in the distance is the old volcano, Longonot.

But that was then.

So now to Shropshire – a winter view from Wenlock Edge not far from home: farm fields and the Wrekin, which is not actually an old volcano but a hill composed of lava layers spewed from other volcanoes.

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Lens-Artists: wonderful

To And From The Allotment ~ The Monochrome Seasons

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When I set off across the field to my allotment garden I often do have a camera tucked in my pants’ pocket. And yes I know very well this is no way to treat a camera. But then the inclination to take photos overtakes the scruples. There is so much to see and consider, both around the allotment plots and along the field path from our house – the different times of day (or night); the changing seasons; the shifts of light; the state of the land; what is growing; what is not.

This month Jude at Travel Words is featuring black and white photography in her 2020 Photo Challenge. And as I’m presently in monochrome mode and most days still going gardening, I thought I’d post a somewhat themed response to this week’s assignment, ‘a retrospective’ using archive shots.

This is what Jude says about the assignment:

‘Look for shadows and textures. Carefully choose your images so that you can angle the light to create a sense of depth with the shadows’.

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Much Wenlock’s Southfield Road allotment plots back on to this field. It’s an adjunct to Townsend Meadow, the field behind our house. I’m guessing this photo was taken in October, though only because the ground looks newly ploughed, but not yet harrowed and re-sown, which is the farmer’s usual habit. I certainly don’t remember him missing a chance to put in some over-wintering crop, wheat or oilseed rape or field beans. On the other hand the ash trees are very bare and the hedgerows very spiky for early autumn. The light, too, and the dead grasses along the barbed wire fence also suggest winter. Even the glint of turned earth says ‘cold’.

Here’s that distant same spiky hedge, but a late afternoon view taken from the Townsend Meadow side:

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This is the field path running up beside the allotment hedge, also a wintery view from a couple of years ago. Much of this grassy margin has been ploughed up now and is presently sprouting winter wheat. The next photo is the path closer to our house, in early summer with the Queen Ann’s Lace going full throttle.

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English allotments tend towards the shambolic – lots of recycled greenhouses, makeshift sheds, cold frames, and windswept polytunnels. They can look very bleak in the winter months, or in the case of the next shot, disturbingly other worldly. It was taken at dusk when the greenhouses seemed to be capturing the last of the light in a distinctly sci-fi manner. The eerily lit straggle of dead tomato plants caught my eye.

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This was the shed I inherited from several previous owners when I acquired my first allotment plot. That was back in 2007. (Goodness how time flies when you’re digging and composting.) Heaven knows how old it was, but never mind. Before I moved to another plot some years later, it served me well despite its tendency to lean to the east and harbour roosting snails.

There had of course been moments when he who builds new sheds from scratch and lives in my house was called in for emergency resuscitation measures i.e. when the leaning reached critical declivity and demanded a hauling back to as near vertical as was humanly possible; a manoeuvre that took our combined effort. One day I found a 1725 halfpenny just in front of the door. Astonishingly it was barely covered by soil, and in a spot I had walked over hundreds of times. I wondered who had dropped it there long ago. Had the old path from the Sytche across Townsend Meadow (now only visible on antique maps) passed under my shed? And who had dropped it and later sorely missed it? A lass on an errand to fetch a jug of ale? A ploughman dropping it from his pocket while reaching for his tobacco?

The shed was also picturesquely sheltered by a very old greengage tree, the light through its foliage making the sunspots you can see on the door. It was more of a copse of several trunks than a single tree. Fruit production was sporadic, but once it a while it produced the most delicious plums ever invented if only you could get to eat them before the wasps did.

These days the shed is no more. For several years it lay abandoned. Then last winter the new plot holder demolished it, along with most of the tree. By then the shed truly was on its last legs, but the same can’t be said of the tree. Now only one spindly trunk remains after fellow allotmenteers objected and stopped the final act of culling. I still think of the tree that was. The creamy spring blossom was spectacularly lovely, the scent so delicate.

But enough reminiscing. We have the tree’s offspring over the hedge at home. I dug up a seedling tree a few years ago and planted it there. It’s already four metres tall and grew four greengages this year, none of which we sampled as they were difficult to reach, though  we were very happy to see them.

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A home-from-the-allotment shot: the ash tree at the top of Townsend Meadow caught with the sun about to slip off the edge of Wenlock Edge.

copyright 2020 Tish Farrell

ABOUT TISH FARRELL

 

2020 Photo Challenge

August Over The Edge And Faraway

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Sunday afternoon, and the sudden need for fresh horizons spurred us out the door to explore parts of Wenlock Edge we cannot reach on foot from the house. The escarpment, wooded for the most part, is some twenty miles long, and though crisscrossed from end to end with paths and bridleways, we are not committed walkers of the long-distance variety, more amblers than ramblers. The expedition thus required a short car sprint – along the Edge from Much Wenlock and a sharp turn left in Longville-in-the-Dale for Wilderhope Manor. This Tudor mansion sits above Hope Dale, its back to the Edge. It is owned by the National Trust but run by the Youth Hostel Association, and its car park is handy for a number of cross-country paths.

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The house was built in the 1580s for one Francis Smallman and it was a Smallman scion, Major Thomas Smallman, who, during the Civil War (1642-51, Charles 1 versus Oliver Cromwell) performed a feat of dashing bravery. He was a staunch Royalist and when he learned that the Roundhead army was approaching Wilderhope he mounted his horse and headed for Shrewsbury, a dozen miles away, to warn the Royalist forces there.

The Roundheads followed, and in a bid to escape them, the Major and horse took a flying leap off Wenlock Edge. Sadly the horse did not survive the 200 foot drop, but by a stroke of luck the Major’s fall was broken by a wild cherry tree (or apple tree depending on which version you read). He thus completed his mission on foot, rousing the Royalist forces who launched an attack at Wilderhope. The Major apparently bequeathed us his ghostly presence, said to be seen by some still plunging over the precipice on horseback. The supposed spot, ‘Major’s Leap’, is now a popular viewpoint.

But enough dawdling. Back to the walk. We had decided to follow a 2 mile stretch of the Jack Mytton Way which itself is a 70-mile foot and cycle path named after another local personality, Mad Jack Mytton, a somewhat surprising association for a facility promoting healthful pursuits. Mytton, born into wealthy Shropshire squirearchy in 1796, died in Southwark debtors’ prison at the age of 37, a drunken, spendthrift, philanderin’, huntin’, roisterin’ rake of the first water who, it is said, claimed to have seen a mermaid in the River Severn. Not following in his footsteps then!

The path from Wilderhope starts off on the farm drive, passing through pasture and a very fine herd of Hereford-Friesian cattle who gave us the once over as we passed.

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Then it was across the lane into the wheat field. This (and the header view) is Hope Dale looking from Wenlock Edge with Corve Dale and the Clee Hills in the distance

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At the field boundary the path heads into Coats Wood, and the rest of our walk to Roman Bank is under dappled shade: oak, ash, beech, an ancient yew, field maple, holly, birch, lime, rowan, the odd sycamore, and many coppiced hazel trees. The woods that covered all of Wenlock Edge in ancient times were a valuable resource for fuel gathering, timber cutting and stock grazing and, in the Middle Ages every township within a mile of the Edge (most of Saxon origin) had common rights there.

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Coppicing is the ancient practice of cutting a tree’s main trunk so encouraging the growth of multiple upright stems. These were used in hurdle making for fencing in farmstock, stakes for hedge laying, for bean poles, basket making, and in early times before forges and furnaces ran on coke, to make charcoal. These days coppicing has been re-introduced in a bid to manage woodland sprawl and encourage the re-establishment of dormouse populations.

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It was mid-afternoon by the time we retraced our steps. There was a sense of somnolent wildlife stirring. (All had been silent on the outward meander). Blackbirds were bobbing about in the leaf litter, and overhead we heard ravens cronking. Then as I was surveying an area of coppiced hazel, I found two roe deer looking back at us. They melted away – woodland ghosts. But the fleeting glimpse made us glad we had stirred ourselves to take a trip out, this even though we had managed to miss lunch and were by then very hungry. But even that was catered for. On the Wilderhope Manor drive we found a wild cherry tree hanging in delicious dark fruit, and later I wondered if the National Trust had planted the it as a reminder of Major Smallman’s heroic leap. And next there were apples, astonishingly early, but all the better for being scrumped.

 

 

copyright 2020 Tish Farrell

Reflections From The Edge

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Twilight over Wenlock Edge and in my office roof-light; captured by opening the window to the horizontal and placing my little digital camera on the back of the frame. Click and there you have it – the Edge between two sky-worlds; cat’s-eye watchers looking on?

 

Lens-Artists: Reflections Thanks to Miriam at The Showers of Blessings for this week’s theme.