Sun And Shadows On The Linden Walk And Olympic Games Connections

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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:

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This post was inspired by Paula’s Thursday’s Special theme ‘shadow’. Please visit her blog and join in this week’s challenge.

#2016OlympicGames

February: Windmill Hill Twilight

There are two Changing Seasons challenges over at  Cardinal Guzman’s.  It’s a monthly challenge and if you want to join in you can find the rules below.

For my February photo I’ve chosen this recent shot of Windmill Hill. I caught it – in this single shot – just as the sun was going down. The landscape is still wintery, but the strange light suggests the possibility of spring. Also the windmill seems more impressive than it usually does in broad daylight. It’s good to see its mysterious side; we actually know very little about how it looked and functioned in this, its 17th century phase, only that it was probably struck by lightning.

Our local archaeologist also thinks it may be standing on or near the site of an ancient trackway, although recent trial excavations have yielded no evidence to support this. But never mind. I anyway like the glimpse (far right) of the swiftly departing small figure in blue. It rather reminds me of Daphne du Maurier’s Don’t Look Now. And yes I know that was set in Venice, but the residual horror is enough to resonate here in Shropshire and so evoke the February chills.

You can see January’s Changing Seasons HERE. In this series I am featuring Windmill Hill and the nearby Linden Field where the world’s first modern Olympian Games were held from the 1850s onwards. The Much Wenlock Games inspired the present day Olympic Movement, a fact that is now recognized. That’s a big claim to fame for our very small town, and I think it’s worth bragging about at every opportunity. Windmill Hill provided a natural auditorium back in Victorian times. Spectators and competitors came from all over Britain, and from the 1860s they could arrive by train, the station conveniently sited beside the Linden Field where most of the events took place.

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Please visit the Cardinal to see his and others’ changing seasons. And then join in, if not this month, then next.

Here are the Cardinal’s Rules:

«The Changing Seasons 2016» is a blogging challenge with two versions: the original (V1) which is purely photographic and the new version (V2) where you can allow yourself to be more artistic and post a painting, a recipe, a digital manipulation, or simply just one photo that you think represents the month. Anyone with a blog can join this challenge and it’ll run throughout 2016. It doesn’t matter if you couldn’t join the first month(s), late-comers are welcomed. These are the rules, but they’re not written in stone – you can always improvise, mix & match to suit your own liking:

These are the rules for Version 1 (The Changing Seasons V1):

  • Tag your posts with #MonthlyPhotoChallenge and #TheChangingSeasons
  • Each month, post 5-20 photos in a gallery.
  • Don’t use photos from your archive. Only new shots.

These are the rules for Version 2 (The Changing Seasons V2):

  • Tag your posts with #MonthlyPhotoChallenge and #TheChangingSeasons
  • Each month, post one photo (recipe, painting, drawing, whatever) that represents your interpretation of the month.
  • Don’t use archive stuff. Only new material!

 

‘Bench’ with a mission

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We’ve time and talents, not to be buried~

Plant a tree, and you give the future a present ~

 

Over at Travel Words’ Bench Series 44 Jude is charging us to find a bench with a message or an autumnal theme. This may not  be a bench as such, but it does have a message and a seasonal acorn. Also, along with the inspirational motto, it was designed to provide a perch and meeting point for the town’s passing visitors.

There are four more of these artworks-cum-tuffets sited around the perimeter of Much Wenlock’s Linden Field, the venue for the Wenlock Olympian Games since the 1850s. The works were created in 2012, the year in which the International Olympic Movement acknowledged Much Wenlock’s historical connection to the modern games by naming one of their one-eyed, androgynous mascots ‘Wenlock’.

Anyone remember he/she/it? Perhaps better not to. The mascots were apparently conceived by a committee, and delivered into the world by a company in Telford. The intention was well-meaning: not to make reference to an identifiable ethnicity, gender, or known human disability.

Here on home ground, members of our local William Penny Brookes Foundation decided to mark the town’s Olympics connection by commissioning community sculptor, Michael Johnson, to work with local school children, and Wenlock poet, Paul Francis. Their brief was to celebrate the life and work of the Wenlock Games’  founder, Dr. W P Brookes. If you click on the Michael Johnson link you can see the other four pieces. The designs on the bronze panels were derived from work by the town’s school children.

The frame is stainless steel with  stone side panels and bronze sections on top. Every tuffet has a piece of thought-provoking text, each one relating to William Penny Brookes’ major contributions to the town’s wellbeing.

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I love the idea of them, although I’m not too sure about the weathering capacity of the stone component. I just wish they were sited in places where more locals and visitors might see and appreciate them, and indeed sit on them for a spell: perhaps on the High Street, in the Square, on the Church Green opposite the doctor’s former home.

Anyway, this particular tuffet definitely has a mission to propose. Should you choose to accept it, please note, this tuffet will not self-destruct, but the world might be happier.

I’m thus leaving you with a view down the Linden Walk that borders the field and was planted by Dr. Brookes over a century ago. It is a joy to walk here whatever the weather, and whatever the season. So yes: more trees needed.

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We’ve time and talents, not to be buried~

Plant a tree, and you give the future a present ~

 

Connected, on and off the rails: a passion for steam

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This year Shropshire’s Severn Valley Railway celebrates 50 years as a tourist attraction. That this 16-mile remnant of an 1862 main line railway is still up and running is due to the efforts of several generations of steam engine enthusiasts who lobbied, fund-raised, rescued and restored old rolling stock, and then threw the lot open to a willing public that now loves to spend its spare time watching and riding on steam trains. I mean who wouldn’t want to catch the Santa Special? If you’re up for it, I should tell you that advance booking opens on September 14th.

These photos were all taken back in the winter at Bridgnorth Station, our nearest market town, and the railway’s terminus. Graham was there on a mission – to look at rivets. I was just there to savour the steam. Aaaaah. Oh yes, and to take snaps. But perhaps I’d better explain about the rivets.

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First a little back story. Rewind 153 years…

In 1862 a branch from the original Severn Valley line was built through Much Wenlock. Mainly it served the limestone quarries, but at Whitsuntide, the Great Western Railway put on special trains to bring thousands of spectators to see William Penny Brookes Wenlock Olympian Games. Conveniently, the station was right beside the Linden Field where the games were, and are still held every year.

And because it was Wenlock’s William Penny Brookes who inspired the notion of the modern Olympic Games, and because we are proud Wenlock residents, some time in 2011 Graham had the idea, as a de-stressing pursuit, and as his own celebration of our town’s connection to the 2012 Olympics, to make a gauge 1 model of the  ‘Olympic Special’.

This resulted in the creation of very pleasing passenger carriage, and a goods waggon that was the original practice piece for the enterprise. The superstructures of both were  made from scratch, following some 1860s plans that Graham had unearthed. I don’t remember where he found them. But then came the stumbling block – the locomotive itself.

For this, he would need equipment he did not own, and skills he did not think he possessed. Ever since he has been pondering on how to set about it, egged on by our good neighbour, Roger, who does have handy engineering skills. Part of the on-going pondering included first-hand experience of GWR engine rivets so that Graham could judge the scale of them. And who am I to throw cold water on a chap’s enthusiasm.

Besides, as a child, I spent a lot of time on steam trains, and more specifically waiting to catch one on Crewe Station. And anyone who knows their railway history will know that Crewe Station, built in 1837, is one of the world’s oldest stations, and that its junction was once a thing of railway wonder. So, all in all, I was glad to tag along on the boiler rivet hunt, and thereby have the chance sniff hot coal and engine oil, and look at rust on old locomotive hulks. Graham always claims I was born on the foot plate. And no. My father was not an engine driver.100_6822

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Also it was good to watch the happy voyagers waiting to embark on The Royal Scot…

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And finally that brings me to the work in progress. It’s sitting over the DVD/CD shelves in the kitchen, waiting for an 1860s vintage locomotive to take it away.  Passengers please take note. This train may not be leaving until the advent of the next Olympic Games. Graham says it’s good to have a deadline…

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copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

Severn Valley Railway Go here to find out more about the SVR

#SVR #SevernValleyRailway #steamrailways

 

Connected

Seeking Spring ~ A Walk on Wenlock’s Wild Side

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I knew there was only a small window of opportunity. At nine thirty yesterday morning there was sunshine. Go out there at once, I told myself. The way the weather is these days, it might be the last you see of it. Carpe diem and all that.

So seized it I did, and it was certainly warmer to the touch than it has been for many days, and as you can see from the above photo, the ancient, and thus arboreally wise lime trees on the Linden Walk definitely think it is spring.  Drifts of green. Blissful.

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The dog walkers, too, were out en masse, owners chatting amiably on the Linden Field quite as if it were – well, spring. And despite Thursday’s appalling election results (Scots Nationalists excepted) and the return of a government that treats food banks as something to be proud of, and regards the nation as a resource for unbounded fracking, everyone I met seemed pretty cheerful. I will thus make no further mention of Tory attrition and spoil the moment.

The little green building you can see in the background behind the dog walkers is Much Wenlock’s Bowling Club HQ. It occupies a re-cycled railway carriage, a relic from our erstwhile lovely railway that once ran beside the Linden Walk and, until the 1960s, when the wretched Dr. Beeching axed thousands of miles of Britain’s railways, linked Much Wenlock to the outside world. But enough! Too much negativity already.

I headed off behind the Bowling Green to see what was growing on Windmill Hill. This quest was motivated by Meg at Snippetsandsnaps. In response to an earlier post here, she said she would like to see more of what happens on the old limestone pasture on which the windmill stands. I’d mentioned the wild orchids for one thing, so I thought  (given our erratic climate) I’d better go and check if they were flowering yet.

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They weren’t. Still too early. But the first thing I spotted were the cowslips, also known in Olde Shropshire as cowslops. The richly eggy coloured clumps were growing here and there. In the past they would have grown in yellow meadowsful all around Much Wenlock. I even remember them. When I was a child, my parents would make a point of driving out from Shrewsbury where we lived, simply to visit them. We’d have picnics amongst them.

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Once, too, cowslips were an important resource. In the days before modern farming methods seriously reduced their habitat, Wenlock’s school children would absent themselves from class at the National School in order to help with the annual gathering. The flowers were used to make herbal infusions to combat coughs and bronchitis, and in a town regularly doused in limestone dust from the quarries, bad chests would have been a common problem.

Doubtless, too, the town’s doctor, William Penny Brookes, (he who inspired the modern Olympics and planted the avenue of lime trees that we have just walked along), supported such an activity. He practised for the last fifty years of the 19th century and, as well as being a physician, he was also a highly knowledgeable herbalist, having trained both in medicine in London and herbalism at the renowned University of Padua.

And this was by no means quackery in action as some are wont to call herbal medicine. After all, from where does Big Pharma get so many of its notions if  not from trying to concoct synthetic (patentable) analogues of the deemed active chemicals teased from botanical compounds? All of which is to say, we lose our plant heritage at great cost to our future well being, to say nothing of the planet’s well being.

Besides which, flowers can mean fun and festivities. Cowslips were also used to make wine, and to strew the paths of spring brides. Mm. Just think of the air filled with their subtle, sunny scent in times when May was WARM.

And talking of warmth and nuptial pursuits, the next thing I came across while snapping cowslips, was a pair of mating molluscs, also known Cepaea nemoralis (Linnaeus, 1758), Britain’s commonest snails. Spring has certainly made this pair frisky, but I will spare you the more intimate shots, and leave you with their rather pleasing  Northamptonshire dialect name of pooties. Canoodling pooties then.

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Windmill Hill has more than its open, calcareous pasture. There are wooded flanks to the north and south and here, beneath the trees, I found violets and celandines. You can also see leaves of tiny wild strawberry plants (north of violets), germander speedwell (northeast of the celandine), and sprigs of Dog’s Mercury at the bottom of the shot.

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And coming up is Dog’s Mercury (Mercurialis  perennis  or Boggard Posy) in full flush. This unremarkable looking plant is a member of the spurge family and very toxic, a fact reported in a letter from Shropshire in 1693 and published that year in the Philosophical Transactions of the  Royal Society, 203 VIII. The letter gave a detailed account of how one  Mrs. Matthews had gathered, boiled and then fried the herb with bacon for her family’s supper. Two hours later there was much purging and vomiting followed by heavy sleeping. Sadly one of her children died after remaining unconscious for several days. Mr. Matthews, however, reported going to work the next day three hours late, but feeling as if “his Chin had bin all Day in the Fire.” He had therefore been forced keep his hat at his side as he worked, filled with water, so he could keep dipping his chin in it.

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This next plant, Arum maculatum,  also has toxic characteristics. And it has a host of intriguing country names, some of them certainly alluding to what William Shakespeare referred to in Hamlet as ‘country matters’. For instance we have Lords-and-ladies, Ladies and Gentlemen (Shropshire version), Devils and Angels, Willy Lily, Cows and bulls, Red-hot-poker. Then there are the more curious Jack in the Pulpit, Cuckoo-pint, Fairy Lamps and Shiners. Its hooded sheaths (spathes) do glow in a faintly sinister, not to say priapic fashion in the shadiest spots. When done flowering, and presumably duly fertilised, the sheath collapses in a disturbing manner. In the autumn, though, there are spires of fire-red berries that light up gloomy days.

As to usage, in the times when people still wore lacy ruffs, the arum roots were crushed to make starch, although the processing apparently gave the launderers nasty blisters on their hands. It presumably did not do much for the ruff-wearers’ necks and faces either. So yes, it’s also good to remember the toxic properties of plants along with their more healthful aspects.

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And now for something seriously edible, if you like garlic and onions, that is. The Wild Garlic or Ransoms (Allium ursinum) grows in profusion at the foot of Windmill Hill, and especially along the banks of the old railway line. Those who don’t care for the smell will appreciate its vernacular names of Stink Bombs and Stinking Nanny.

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But you can certainly cook, or add to salads, both the leaves and the flowers, and their flavour is not as strong as the smell suggests. Excellent wilted in olive oil with pasta, for instance, or in soups – cream of potato and wild garlic say.

This wild garlic photo was taken while the sun was still shining, and as I said at the start, I knew it wasn’t going to last. Even if I hadn’t read the Friday forecast of rain by noon, followed by more rain all day, the green woodpeckers would have warned me. As I headed down the hill and along the old railway line their cries, known as yaffling, dogged my footsteps. It’s interesting how this member of the woodpecker family likes to alert everyone to a coming downpour. In Africa it is the red-chested cuckoo that performs reliable rainbird duty.

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Those yafflers were dead right too. As I turned for home, the sky was leaden, and the first drifts of rain were falling through the trees. Bye bye sun!  But then the old railway line is a good place to be whatever the weather. It is one of the town’s most popular footpaths, and it is hard to imagine that along it the Great Western steam engines once came rattling into Wenlock – the Olympic special bringing thousands of spectators to the annual Wenlock Olympian Games on the next-door Linden Field; goods trains from South Wales coming to collect limestone from Shadwell Quarry behind Windmill Hill. These days, then, there a trees as well as leaves on the line (NB for those living outside the UK,  ‘leaves on the line’ has long been the old British Rail’s excuse for non-arriving trains.)

Finally, I’ll leave you with a few more shots of botanical specimens discovered round Windmill Hill and along the railway line. Clearly the natural world is busy cracking on – full of vim and vigour – even as I shiver in the cold wind, and hang on to my much layered clothing. That’s good to know though – that nature will out, even if, as time goes on, it may not quite do what we expect.

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copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

Reference: Richard Mabey Flora Britannica

Forces of Nature

This post was also inspired by Jo’s Monday Walk at restlessjo, a great venue for walkers, whether in body, mind or spirit.