Wild orchids for Meg, meeting Marathon Man, then elderflower sorbet to finish

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In case you don’t know Meg she is presently in Warsaw, and if you want to get in lots of vicarious walking with fascinating things to see (and sometimes eat) please join her there. Anyway, this wild orchid is for her, and so is this walk, since it took me back to Windmill Hill (which is actually only across the road from my house), to search once more for signs of spring.

At least last Friday the sun was out, but we still have a continuous chilling wind. As I may have said elsewhere, it feels as if it has blown across an ice sheet before ending up in Shropshire. Brrr. So far it looks as though ‘clouts’ will not be cast in June, never mind in May. I, for one, am sticking to my many garment layers, which may or may not include a vest.

But back to the orchids. This one took some finding, but I had promised Meg I would look. She had read my mention of limestone-meadow plants in an earlier post about Windmill Hill, and wanted to see more. This lovely little plant, about a hand’s span tall, has the plain name of Common spotted orchid. It was growing at the foot of the hill, and I had seen the darkly spotted leaves a week or so before. They are definitely being slow to flower this year. They probably don’t like the wind either.

To find them I went the long way round, once more up the Linden Walk whose ancient limes are now bursting into juicy green clouds. Soon (I hope) they will be flowering, and then I can get high on the scent, as well as on the sight of them. (Herbalists use lime flowers as a sedative, quite a strong one, so don’t use the flowers without expert guidance). Good old Dr. William Penny Brookes, Much Wenlock’s erstwhile physician, and the man who planted this avenue over a hundred years ago, knew what he was at on the life-enhancing front. Bravo Dr. Brookes.

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Once out of the Linden Field and onto the hill, I’m taking the low path around the bottom when along comes octogenarian, Jimmy Moore, our local marathon man. He’s out on his morning run – an example to us all. He’s raised over £30,000 for charity. Seeing him approach in his buttercup yellow shirt is enough to lift the spirits sky-high. Keep on running, Jimmy.

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As he passes me, he still has breath to crack a joke, and to say my photo of him will doubltless be worth a fortune. He speeds away, and I meander on, peering into the meadow grass.

The cowslips are over, but there are low growing clumps of Common bird’s foot trefoil, Lotus  corniculatus if I am not mistaken in my identification from the classic Keble Martin work on British flora. As you can see from its pea-like flowers, it belongs to the legume family.

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Up the hill to the windmill and there are carpets of buttercups, and a little family pretending the windmill is a castle. I like overhearing their interpretation of these remains. I shall think of them differently from now on:

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The search for orchids next takes me along the hedge line where the open meadow becomes woodland. And here I find the first elderflowers of the year. I love their creamy colours, and they make the most delicious sorbet (recipe at the end).

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The flowers also make a fragrant tea that is anti-catarrhal, and when mixed with peppermint is a good remedy for colds and flu.  The elder tree itself has magical connotations, and features in many traditions of indigenous peoples around the world, including North America’s First Nations’ tales. The dark purple berries are of course now used in a commonly available anti-viral that goes under various names that derive from its botanical name Sambucus. The berries’ efficacy was trialled some years ago by Israeli scientists, if I remember rightly, and used to treat HIV- patients. They are thus, not by any means, ‘a quack cure’.

Into the wood, and the flowers of my earlier spring walk (which you can find HERE) the arum lilies, violets and wild garlic, are over and, beyond a few tiny wild strawberry flowers, there’s not much to be seen until I reach the roadside verge. First the Oxeye daisies…

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And then the orchids, although so far only a handful are in flower. Here’s what they look like before they bloom, along with a glimpse of a wild strawberry flower at 3 o’clock:

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And now as promised a recipe:

 

Elderflower Sorbet

8oz /1 cup/ 250 gm  fair trade unbleached granulated sugar

1 pint/0.5 litre  water

2 lemons

2/3 big heads of elderflowers

 

First pick the elderflowers  when they are freshly open , and on a dry day. Shake out the bugs but  do not wash. Keep the heads intact.

Pare the rind finely from the lemons, and squeeze out the juice.

Heat the water and sugar in a pan, starting gently until the sugar has dissolved,  add the lemon rind and then boil briskly for 5 minutes.

Remove from the heat. Add lemon juice and elderflower heads. Leave to cool.

Strain  into a suitable container and freeze. After an hour or so,  when the sorbet is slushy and starting to set , you can give it a good mash with a fork to break up any crystals, and return  it to the freezer.

Alternatively, strain and churn in an ice cream maker.

This sorbet is delicious with  fresh strawberries.

 

And guess what, as I finish writing this post the wind has dropped, and it is suddenly HOT.  Just the weather for sorbet. Hurrah!

P.S. It didn’t last, so we had broad bean soup instead.

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

 

 

Please do drop in on Jo’s Monday Walk and Meg’s Warsaw2015 if you are up for some more interesting excursions.

 

 

A bench with many views and a windmill

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This bench is only a short walk from our house, although a bit of a steep haul up Windmill Hill. The windmill itself is quite a landmark in Much Wenlock, although much about its history, and how it looked when in use, remain to be discovered by the stalwart Windmill Trust whose members take care of it.

There is always something to see from this bench, quite apart from the views across Shropshire. Even the vegetation is interesting. It is a rare remnant of limestone meadow, and in late spring there will be cowslips and orchids here, wild thyme and primroses. Later there will be agrimony, giant  knapweed, St John’s Wort, yellow bedstraw and hare bells. Sometimes the miniature ponies graze here, all part and parcel of preserving the meadow.

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Recently some of us combined dog walking and watching the eclipse from here. And while we were doing that…

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… we also caught a glimpse of local marathon hero Jimmy Moore, apparently eighty years old this year, and still out training.

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He, more than most, has done so much to uphold the values of the town’s erstwhile physician, William Penny Brookes (1809-1895). Brookes reinvented the Olympic Games in Much Wenlock in the 1850s, and provided the inspiration for the modern Olympic Games.  The Wenlock Olympian Games are still held every July on the field below and at the nearby William Brookes School. The three-week series of contests attracts athletes from around the world. Jimmy has also coached many youngsters  participating in the Wenlock Games.

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And finally, I thought I’d pass on some Olympian glow on this Monday morning. You can just see the windmill in the background, the William Penny Brookes Academy on the left, and the community’s own Linden (Olympian) Field in the centre ground. Besides, it is not good to linger about, sitting on benches, splendid though their views may be. Latest medical opinion informs us to keep standing up.  Or to quote Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers  “if you don’t run, you rust.”  Walking, however, is probably best for most of us.

Copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

At Travel Words during April, Jude is looking for benches with a view

Eclipsed in Much Wenlock on World Happiness Day and Taking a Solar Selfie

100_5065 Here I am on top of Windmill Hill, Much Wenlock’s landscape landmark, and this is the only way I could see the partial eclipse – with my back to it, and camera at the ready. We had such clear skies, and the sun was so bright that we remained bathed in sunshine throughout this cosmic event, although it did seem very cold. Lots of people who were out walking their dogs had gathered  at the windmill too, one lady monitoring the process through a pin-hole viewer. This is the scene before me as I take the photo over my shoulder: windmill and pointer. Had the eclipse actually happened? P1000779 P1000764 P1000788 Aftermath. I caught the sun in the trees as I walked home across the Linden Field. This, incidentally, was the place where the Much Wenlock Olympian games were, and are still held every year. They were devised in 1850 by the town’s physician and herbalist, Doctor William Penny Brookes, and went on to inspire the founding of the modern Olympic Movement. Windmill Hill provided the natural viewing platform where spectators sat to watch the events. See how this little town of ours spread its good hearted influence around the world. Wishing everyone joy on this, International Day of Happiness   #eclipse #International Day of Happiness

Rambling Tales: My Little Pony, Windmills, Olympian Dreams

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For a small community a lot goes on in Much Wenlock. In fact you  never do know what you will find even a stone’s throw from the doorstep. So it was that on a recent  foray up Wenlock’s Windmill Hill, and for quite another purpose, G and I met up with this astonishing little horse.  Given its newness on the planet, I was impressed by its air of stolid self-containment. It did not move an inch as I walked around it snapping photos. I asked it a few questions of course, but it seemed lost in thought. I even felt it might be having an identity crisis: I am a real little horse, aren’t I? Or am I?

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Then at last it reached a happy horsey conclusion and went off to do a bit of grazing with the other little ponies. But please do not ask about the man in the next photo. He has the most irritating habit of walking into my shots. Does anyone else have a man who does this? Here, though, he is perhaps adding some sense of scale, a factor drilled into me as important during my student-archaeologist days. And archaeology, not little ponies, was the real reason for this outing to Windmill Hill.

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In the background you can see the limestone tower that gives the hill its name. It is a famous local landmark, and only a short walk from our house. In its time, it has been both a watch tower and  a windmill. Carved stones from its interior suggest construction dates of 1655-57, but none of the members of the Windmill Trust, the volunteers who look after the monument, has been able to discover quite what the mill would have looked like during its working life.

On the day of our visit a small archaeological dig was taking place beside it to investigate the possibilities of earlier human activity on the site. We went to see how the diggers were getting on, but disappointingly they said they had not found much that was particularly old. There were broken clay pipe stems  of course– a feature wherever you turn a spadeful of earth around the town. Clay pipes were an important manufactured product here in the 17th century, and clearly used extensively by the locals as well as being exported.

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On finding there had been no great discoveries, we wandered off across the hill. In early and late summer the pasture here is covered in wild flowers typical of a limestone meadow – orchids, cowslips, agrimony, wild thyme, St. John’s Wort, knapweed, drifts of yellow Lady’s Bedstraw, but now the grassland has a tired look, though clearly tasty enough for the ponies.

We scanned the fields all round. Recent lidar remote sensing surveys have revealed the existence of extensive mediaeval remains a few fields away from the windmill, and also the possible outline of a Roman villa. In any event, there would have been much human activity in the area from at least 680 AD when Milburga, the daughter of the Mercian king, Merewahl,  became abbess of Much Wenlock Abbey. Her land possessions were extensive. She also later became a saint, renowned for all manner of odd miracles.

But great antiquity apart, the views from the hilltop reveal everyone’s idea of  a typical English farming landscape, although it does not come without its adjacent ‘blot’. The ground immediately behind the hill falls away into a bleakly huge quarry with a deep pool of strangely turquoise water.

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Now disused, the workings are screened by conifers, and also by this astonishing display of hawthorn berries. Plans to turn the site into a diving school with log cabins seem to have to been dropped.

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At the foot of Windmill Hill is the Gaskell Recreation Ground, or Linden Field. Having long been used for village cricket and bowls, it was bequeathed to the people of Much Wenlock in the 1930s by a descendent of the Gaskell family who owned much of Milburga’s former domain. It was here too, from 1850 that the first modern Olympian Games took place every year, attracting athletes from across the country. The man responsible for reviving this prestigious sporting event was the town’s local doctor, William Penny Brookes.

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Every year, thousands of visitors would come to watch the games, arriving on the Olympian Special train. The station was conveniently situated  beside the field, the bringing of the railway being another of Penny Brookes’ successful projects for the benefit of Much Wenlock. The field was bare of trees in those days, so spectators could sit on Windmill Hill, amphitheatre-style, and have a fine view of track and field events.

Penny Brookes was also a campaigner of national standing. It was he who argued for the introduction of physical exercise into Victorian schools. He even did clinical trials to prove how young bodies grew well as a result of it.  His fame spread, and in the 1890 Baron Pierre de Coubertin, charged by the French Government to improve the physique of the French army, came to Wenlock to see Dr. Brookes’ Olympian Games for himself.  An elderly Penny Brookes apparently took this opportunity to share his ideas with the younger man, but sadly died four months before the launching of the first international Olympics in Athens in 1896. De Coubertin did, however, pay tribute to the Shropshire doctor’s vision: 

” If the Olympic Games that Modern Greece has not yet been able to revive still survives today, it is due, not to a Greek, but to Dr W P Brookes.”

The Much Wenlock Olympian Games still take place on the Linden Field every July, and attract sportsmen and women from around the world. The Olympic Association also acknowledged Much Wenlock’s contribution to the modern movement with the naming of the Wenlock Mascot in the 2012 games.

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But now here we are heading homewards, taking the path that runs down edge of the Linden Field, and beside the old railway line. Here William Penny Brookes left another legacy. He planted an avenue of lime trees – the Linden Walk. Many of the trees are around 150 years old and still going strong. The scent of the blossom in summer is transporting, but the walk is beautiful any time of the year. It is one of the town’s many treasures, and accessible to all.

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As I stopped to take this photo, a young woman went powering past me, clearly in training for some event. But as you can see, that man is also there again. It is a puzzling phenomenon – how he is ever in my sights.

copyright 2014 Tish Farrell

Jo’s Monday Walk

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