Today’s Treasures – Whixall Moss

Today’s Treasures – Whixall Moss

lift bridge

The Marl Allotment (or Marlot as it is known locally) is an area of common land between Whixall Moss and the Llangollen canal which has now been designated a Local Nature Reserve.  It gets its name from ‘marl’ a crumbly limestone clay which was used as a fertiliser and the clay may also have been dug out and used to line the canal – which could explain how the ponds were formed.

The Marlot has been incorporated into the circular Whixall Mosses Trails that can be accessed from Roundthorn Bridge and Morris Lift Bridge (pictured).

Whixall Moss is the most amazing place – a wilderness of bogmosses, ferns and cotton-sedges – described by Gladys Mary Coles as “a kingdom of sphagnum where space and time interweave”; it reminds me of a long-forgotten English lesson learning about D H Lawrence: “He breathes the fern seed and drifts back, becomes darkly half vegetable, devoid of preoccupations,” – which probably ignited in me the first stirrings of inspiration to be a writer.

Throughout the summer and autumn, a series of sculptures depicting wood and metal work measuring tools formed an art trail across the moss.  This inclinometer, created by Elizabeth Turner & Keith Ashford is one of the waymarking sculptures.  An inclinometer is “a tool for measuring angles to the horizontal.  Its curve reminds us of the turn of our head as we scan the horizon”.


As well as being a SSSI, at nearly 1,000 hectares, Fenn’s, Whixall and Bettisfield Mosses together form one of the largest lowland raised bogs in Britain.  The acidic and waterlogged ground provides the perfect environment for rare bog plants and insects to thrive, including 18 species of sphagnum bog moss, cranberries, bog rosemary, bog asphodels, and sundews; nearly 2,000 species of invertebrates; bird calls from teal, curlews, skylarks and hobbys fill the air – and adders can be seen basking in the sunshine.   Formed at the end of the last ice age, sphagnum bog moss absorbed and acidified the rain, water-logging the peat surface and dying vegetation became preserved as layers of peat which, in turn, preserved history – a bronze age axe and 3 peat bodies have been discovered on the reserve.



“It took millennia to lay us down, the ferns & moss decay.
Down in the ancient darkness, the ancient dead were laid.
The sedges and the mosses, the grazing lands of beasts.
And all the time the Earth rolled on and nature was at peace.”

(From ‘Bogoration’ by Dave Lock)





Meres and Mosses






Published in the December edition of the Whitchurch Gossip


Bogoration – Dave Lock



PETE BOGS didn’t like his name
Now he’s #CO2le.
I asked him what the ‘C’ stood for;
He said:  “It’s what makes the planet blue
… you fool.
Sit down here, I’ll tell you what’s gone before
And the horrors still to come, till you can’t take it anymore …

It took millennia to lay us down, the ferns & moss decay.
Down in the ancient darkness, the ancient dead were laid.
The sedges and the mosses, the grazing lands of beasts.
And all the time the Earth rolled on
and nature was at peace.

But at last there came the humans
and the killing had begun.
The curse that lies upon us
is now by the hands of man.
You cut us and you burned us,
You let your cattle graze.
Until the acrotelm was lost;
the archive was erased.

You bought machines to dig us up, to drain and
bleach the land.
You planted crops, you planted trees,
but you didn’t understand.
We were soaking up the CO2
we kept the Earth in balance:
So you could keep on breathing –
it wasn’t just by chance!

But now, you see, it’s gone too far.  You’ve
taken all we had.
Let the gas go we had in store to satisfy
your fads.
The temperature has got too high!
Now the tundra starts to burn.
But the smell of mammoths burning
is the fate you have to learn.

But you’ve maimed us and you’ve killed us
and you haven’t understood.
So fare thee well, humankind,
We did the best we could:
And there’s NOTHING we can tell you now
That will do you any good!!!


Cottage Pie with Squash and Potato Mash

Cottage pie with Squash and Potato Mash

A delicious way to use up those extra squashes

1 tblsp oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 lb minced beef
Salt and pepper
1 tblsp soya sauce
1 tblsp tomato sauce
1 large squash, peeled and chopped into 1 inch square chunks
2 medium potatoes, washed and cut into 1 inch chunks
½ tsp salt
1 tblsp butter

Put the potatoes on to boil with the salt – after they have simmered for 10 minutes – add the squash.  Cook for a further 10 minutes by which time the potatoes and squash should be soft.

Drain and mash with the butter.

Whilst the potatoes are cooking, heat oil and fry onion until soft, add minced beef and salt and pepper, stir until browned then add soya sauce and tomato sauce.

Put mince into casserole dish, then spread the mash on top.  Cook in oven for 30-40 minutes at 180 C.


Crisis What Crisis?

Today’s Treasures – Blackberry Fair Art Trail

Today’s Treasures – Blackberry Fair Art Trail – Hope From the Wild

creative sculpture

Blackberry Fair had a different format this year with the Hope from the Wild art trail but it retained the traditional theme of sustainability which was visible in all the artworks like ‘It Could all Come out in the Wash’ outside the Civic Centre created by John Rainford – the world of the positive future – with wood and metal pegs (on the right) replacing the plastic pegs holding up the negative words on the left.

Leap of Faith by Fee Jackson highlights the plight of our oceans drowning in plastic.

leap of faith

‘Bogoration’ tells the story of The Peatbog in a poem by Dave Lock and is situated in the Country Park along with ‘Dragonfly’ by Russell Kirk.


You can enjoy a beautiful walk along the Whitchurch arm of the Llangollen canal, follow Staggs Brook – home to some of Britain’s few remaining water voles – and stroll along the now abandoned remains of the canal that used to go all the way into Whitchurch.


Thank you to all the shops that took part to make this ‘Hope from the Wild’ art trail so interesting, all the artists and volunteers that made it possible – and to all the people – young and old – who made pledges to save the planet for future generations.

Love where you live









Published in the November edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Offa's Dyke path

Today’s Treasures – Offa’s Dyke Path

Today’s Treasures – Offa’s Dyke

Offa's Dyke path

BBC Countryfile recently visited Offa’s Dyke – the programme started in Knighton on the Powys/Shropshire border and finished at Treflach Farm and Sweeney Fen on the Montgomeryshire/Shropshire border.

Offa’s Dyke path goes from Sedbury in the south to Prestatyn in the north and broadly follows the English/Welsh border so you can therefore often have one foot in Wales and one foot in England as you follow the path – as Matt Baker demonstrated on Countryfile.

The path goes through the Llanymynech Rocks nature reserve, managed by both Shropshire and Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trusts, it’s adjacent to the Lynclys Common Nature Reserve and borders an Industrial Heritage Site managed by the Llanymynech Heritage partnership which maintains the amazing Hoffman Lime Kiln with its tall chimney.

limekiln chimney

LLanymynech Hill was once an impressive iron age or possibly late bronze age hillfort – one of the largest in Britain.  Archaeological excavations have revealed part of an iron age roundhouse and coins dating between 30 BC and 161 AD were found in the cave known as the Ogaf on top of Llanymynech Hill. There is evidence of copper and lead mining dating back to at least Roman times.  Lime putty mortars were used by the Romans and the use of lime as a fertiliser may date back to the medieval period.

bee orchisrock climbing

All in all, it’s a fascinating area and takes days to explore properly with something for everyone, fossils in the limestone, a stunning array of wildflowers (including several species of orchids) which are loved by many different butterflies; abseiling, rock climbing, the archeological history and industrial heritage of mining and limeworks and not least the magnificent views across wales.

view from Llanymynech hill

Pubished in the September edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Bird's foot trefoil

Bird’s Foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)

Bird’s Foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)

Bird’s Foot Trefoil is a common plant of grassland.

Bird's foot trefoil

Lotus from the Greek lotos ‘a kind of clover’; and Corniculatus (Latin) ‘in the shape of a horn’ because of the shape of the seed-pods – which also give the plant it’s common name as the clawlike seed-heads look very much like a bird’s foot.

Another common name is ‘eggs and bacon’ because of the yellow and orange flowers.

bird's foot trefoil - eggs and bacon

The flowers are loved by bees and are a valuable foodplant for the caterpillars of the common blue, silver-studded blue and wood white butterflies.

silvesilver studded blue butterflies

Photographed on Llanymynech Hill – and with silver-studded blue butterfloies on Prees Heath Common.









Today’s Treasures – Llanymynech Hill

Today’s Treasures – Llanymynech Hill

Llanymynech Hill

LLanymynech Hill was once an impressive iron age or possibly late bronze age hillfort – one of the largest in Britain.  Archaeological excavations have revealed part of an iron age roundhouse and coins dating between 30 BC and 161 AD were found in the cave known as the Ogaf on top of Llanymynech Hill. There is evidence of copper and lead mining dating back to at least Roman times.  Lime putty mortars were used by the Romans and the use of lime as a fertiliser may date back to the medieval period.

image of a miner

The site is now a significant industrial heritage area.  From the early 19th Century to the end of the first World War limestone was quarried here – on both the Welsh side and the English side – eventually linked by a railway tunnel.  The Montgomery Canal was specifically built for the transportation of limestone from the hill and reached Llanymynech by 1786.  The opening of the Ellesmere Canal with connections to Birmingham and Liverpool greatly increased the market for Llanymynech limestone.

Originally, limestone would have been transported from the quarries to the canal by horse and cart. In 1806 a tramway and incline were constructed to transport limestone to a new wharf on the canal. In 1863 the Llanfyllin branch line, part of Cambrian Railways, opened and eventually took much of the lime trade from the canal although quarrying and lime burning continued until 1914

As well as abundant lime, Llanymynech was also near to sources of coal from the Oswestry, Chirk and Ruabon coalfield.

Limestone was burnt in a kiln to make quicklime and spread on fields to improve acidic soils; some was used in building mortar and some would also have been transported via the Montgomery Canal to the blast furnaces of Staffordshire as flux, cleaning the impurities in iron ore.

Built in 1899 and working until 1914, the lime kiln in Llanymynech village is one of only 3 remaining Hoffmann lime kilns in the country and the only one with its historic 42.5 metre tower intact.

limekiln tower

Being a more modern version of the old ‘inverted bottle’ type kiln, limestone was loaded through the arches – not from above – from trucks on temporary rails.  Iron rods were held in position through the holes in the roof so that packers beneath could build a stack of limestone rocks around them.

Coal was poured into the kiln through holes in its roof by the firers.  Each section through its respective arch was packed and fired in succession rather than every section packed and the whole kiln fired, the fire never goes out as it is transferred from one chamber to another.  All chambers connected to the single chimney shaft.

limekiln outside limekiln inside






Standing in the now derelict kiln shaded by a leafy canopy, it is difficult to imagine the working conditions that the men must have endured, the heat, the dust, the rumble of trucks, the smell of burning, the long hours and tiring manual labour entailed.

image of limekiln worker

Thanks to a conservation project managed by the Llanymynech Heritage Partnership the site has been restored and opened in 2008.

Written for the Bronington Bugle

silvesilver studded blue butterflies

Today’s Treasures – Prees Heath Common

Today’s Treasures – Prees Heath Common

prees heath common

With the help of many volunteers, Prees Heath Common is managed by the Shropshire Wildlife Trust and Butterfly Conservation.

The old WWII airfield and surrounding land were restored to heathland to provide a haven for the few remaining silver-studded blue butterflies.  Heather brash was brought from Cannock Chase to provide food plants and the heath is now covered with many nectar rich flowers for the butterflies who are thriving.

silver studded blue butterflies

The heath has become a patchwork of yellow bird’s foot trefoil and pink-purple bell heather, interspersed with musk thistles, mulleins and evening primroses.  Larks soar overhead, buzzards sweep across the heath, chiffchaffs chatter in the crab apple trees, and yellowhammers sing their ‘little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheese’ in the hedgerows.

bell heather

The caterpillars of the silver-studded blue have a symbiotic relationship with ants.  The ants protect the caterpillars from predators and parasites and, in return, get to feed on a sugary substance produced by the caterpillars.  When the caterpillars pupate – often in ant nests just below the ground, the ants protect them – and they also look after the newly-emerged butterflies until their wings are dry and they can fly away.

The musk thistle (Carduus nutans) is loved by bees – and goldfinches love the seeds.  It is also called the nodding thistle because of the way it gracefully bows it elegant deep purple-pink flowerheads.

musk thistle

Find out more:

Published in the August edition of the Whitchurch Gossip


Today’s Treasures – Wild Flowers

Today’s Treasures – Wild Flowers

Wild flowers feature in folklore as well as herbalism and the origins of some of their common and Latin names are fascinating.  Bird’s Foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) is so called because the seedpods look like a bird’s foot.  The latin name ‘lotus’ is Greek for clover and corniculatus means ‘in the form of a horn’ because of the shape of the seed-pods.

birds foot trefoil

Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum) Geranium is Greek meaning ‘a crane’ because of the shape of the fruit – like the bill of a crane – and robertianum is thought to be after Robert, Duke of Normandy, who was famous for his medical work in the Middle Ages.   The plant was once used for staunching blood.

herb robert

Wild Thyme (Thymus serpyllum).  Thymus from the Greek thumosthuein ‘to sacrifice’ because in ancient times the plant was used as incense in Greek temples.  Serpyllum again from the Greek herpullonherpein – to creep because of its snakelike habit of creeping along the ground.  The oil was used by the Egyptians for embalming and the Romans used it to purify their rooms.  Thyme has antiseptic properties, it is still used as a mouthwash; made into a tea it helps soothe sore throats and cure infected gums.  It is also purported to be good for hangovers!  And of course it’s a very useful culinary herb for soups, stews, stocks and stuffing.


Germander Speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys) is named after St. Veronica.  The original common English name for speedwells was Fluellen – derived from the old Welsh llysiau Llywelyn – the herb of St. Llywelyn.

germander speedwell

Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) from the Latin matrix ‘womb’ because the plant was thought to be good for uterine diseases and chamomilla from the Greek chamaimelon meaning ‘apple on the ground’ since the plant is apple-scented.  Chamomile has many uses for herbalists – fresh or dried chamomile flowers can be made into tea that relieves anxiety, aids digestion and helps you sleep.

Published in the July edition of the Whitchurch Gossip.

Today’s Treasures – Bluebells

Today’s Treasures – Bluebells

Our English Bluebell has many names: wood bell, cuckoo’s boots, wood hyacinth, lady’s nightcap, bell bottle, fairy bells, witches’ thimbles – and in Scotland – it’s called the wild hyacinth as the harebell is the Scottish bluebell. Its Latin name is Hyacinthoides non-scripta but it used to be called Endymion non-scripta (after the beautiful youth Endymion of Greek mythology)

Bluebells love the dappled shade of beech trees but thrive in any woodland with grassy glades. Bluebell woods have a magic all of their own, following winding paths through velvet carpets of vivid blue, pause a moment, listen to the birdsong, feel the spring sunshine, and savour the exquisite fragrance enveloping you; let your mind wander into the mythical kingdom of the elves and as the tiny flowers tremble in the breeze you can hear the fairy bells tinkling in fairyland.

This is Combermere Abbey’s bluebell walk through mixed woodland, the bluebells love the damp shade of mossy dells and dappled glades and grow in profusion alongside the paths.



My hundred thousand bells of blue,
The splendour of the Spring,
They carpet all the woods anew
With royalty of sapphire hue;
The Primrose is the Queen, ’tis true.
But surely I am King!
Ah yes,
The peerless Woodland King!


Bluebells are relatively rare in the rest of the world and half of the world’s population of bluebells grow in the UK.


Published in the June edition of the Whitchurch Gossip