Today’s Treasures – Whitchurch, Home of Canals, Clocks and Cheshire Cheese

Whitchurch, home of Canals, Clocks and Cheshire Cheese

Whitchurch, located on the Cheshire and Welsh borders, is the oldest continuously inhabited town in Shropshire being the site of an early mediaeval castle. Built on a low hill, Whitchurch provided a perfect location for the Roman town of Mediolanum (meaning “The place in the mid plain”) on a major Roman route, half way between Chester (Deva) and Wroxeter (Viroconium).

 

 

The name ‘Whitchurch’ comes from the original Norman Church made from ‘white stone’ – the current church of St. Alkmund was built in 1712 of red sandstone and its clock workings were made by J.B. Joyce & Co, the oldest established maker of tower/turret clocks. Joyce clocks can still be found all over the world from Big Ben in London to the Customs House in Shanghai – and the Eastgate clock in Chester, one of the most loved and photographed clocks, was made in Whitchurch.  The original J.B. Joyce building still exists in Whitchurch High Street.

Despite being in Shropshire, Whitchurch is widely considered to be the home of Cheshire cheese, one of the oldest recorded cheeses in British history.  In the early 1900’s Cheese fairs were held in the old market hall in Whitchurch on every third Wednesday.  When the Whitchurch Arm of Thomas Telford’s Llangollen Canal opened in 1811 cheese was transported by horse drawn boat to Ellesmere Port (65 miles) and took 24 hours, non-stop – except for changing horses along the way.

Local cheesemakers Belton Cheese, Applebys and Windsors are all still famous for their cheeses.

     

There’s lots going on in Whitchurch all year round with a market every Friday and a Makers Market on the first Saturday of the month.

In May there is a Walking Festival, closely followed by a Food and Drink Festival

In June it’s music and mayhem at the Party in the Park

September sees the Canal Boat Rally and October 7th Blackberry Fair, the wildest, wackiest street festival you will ever find, full of actors, musicians, street theatre, fire-breathers, clowns – fun for people of all ages. The theme is sustainability and the name simply signifies Autumn.

    

Further information can be found at www.whitchurch.info

This article was published in the April edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Today’s Treasures – Spring is just around the corner … or is it?

Spring is just around the corner … or is it?

The snowdrops are out and the frogs are hopping around the pond looking for mates, primroses are in bud and daffodils are peeping tantalising flashes of yellow ready to blossom into sunshine flowers. Then, just when you think Spring is finally on the way, the #BeastfromtheEast arrives and we’re in the middle of a snowstorm again.  Only in England!

But it won’t be long before the primroses are out in profusion and daffodils and tulips will be swaying gently in the breeze. The birds are already dressed in their Spring colours and singing their Spring songs joining in the dawn chorus – and they know that the snow will soon be gone.

The hens don’t mind the snow, they are always eager to rush out into the fresh air and scratch around outside.  The Spice Girls (our ex-battery hens – see previous post) have settled in and have become part of the family – at least two of them have – one didn’t survive the move and another managed to get lost somewhere – but Ginger and Meg (Nutmeg) now rush out to greet me every morning.  They seem to be so grateful now they have settled into a ‘normal’ lifestyle.  They still haven’t got many feathers (I tell them they will freeze in this snow but they take no notice) but their feathers should grow back eventually.  They still don’t perch at night – they settle down in one of the nest boxes whilst the other hens roost in the rafters. But apart from that, they act like ordinary chickens and are part of Dillon’s flock (he’s the cockerel and definitely rules the roost).

When it’s cold and snowy the wild birds seem so grateful for the food on the bird table.  I always thaw the water in the birdbath if it’s frozen and put extra food out.  I watch them for hours – the long-tailed tits arrive all of a flutter, twittering to each other, the tiny wren, and of course the robin, showing off his best red waistcoat.  We’ve seen lots of different birds this winter – even a bullfinch graced us with his presence for a few days.

Published in the March edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Update on the Spice Girls – our ex-batt Hens

Update on The Spice Girls – our ex-batt hens

The bad news is that Cinnamon didn’t make it, she was struggling to stand up and eventually just gave up.  The other three worked out how to hop out of their little pen and joined in scratching for bits in the hen house – keeping a wary eye out for the resident hens and keeping out of their way as much as possible.

Ginger has become very inquisitive and now she always hops out to meet me and follows me around, keeping close to my feet to avoid Doris and Fliss and Floss – the youngest hens.  Here she is pecking at the grass – it’s the first time she’s seen snow and she’s missing half her feathers but she’s happy to be outside when I am around.

Although the young hens don’t like the Spice Girls and peck at them if they get too close, the older hens are quite kind to them.  Ebony, the oldest, really doesn’t think a lot of Dillon and has always kept out of his way as much as possible.  She has found the little pen a refuge and spends quite a lot of time in there with the Spice Girls.

Whilst the rest of the hens perch at night, the Spice Girls all go back into their little pen.  I wonder if they will ever learn to sleep in the rafters.  In the meantime, they’ve learned how to perch on the edge of their pen in order to get out, that sunflower seeds are a treat worth running over for and grass is edible.

This is Dillon with Doris – she is the biggest bossy boots in the hen house and definitely top of the pecking order.

What will the Spice Girls make of Dillon?

What will the Spice Girls make of Dillon?

I was wondering what the Spice Girls (our newly arrived ex-battery hens) would make of Dillon – our Dorking cockerel – he’s grown into a really fine specimen.  He was a bit small when he arrived and I wasn’t sure if he would grow to full size, but, as you can see, he has.  I put an ad on www.preloved.co.uk when I lost my last cockerel and a very kind family from Kent donated him.  A friend of theirs was visiting family in Cheshire and she offered to deliver him.  We met at Audlem (which is how I came to write about Audlem for Today’s Treasures).  It was a baking hot day and she was worried he might get too hot – she was also worried that he might crow all the way there but he was really good and arrived safely.  I racked my brains of a way to say thank you – then spied the pumpkins – and thought they might be a good idea (it was September) so swapped Dillon for two pumpkins – one for Dillon’s taxi driver and one for his previous owner.

The Spice Girls have settled in – and are laying eggs!  But (as I was warned) have stayed pretty much in their little pen.  However, I went out at lunchtime to see how they were getting on and Ginger was ‘gingerly’ exploring the hen house, carefully negotiating around obstacles and looking curiously at the food trough full of corn.  Head on one side she studied everything cautiously.  Then Doris came in with Dillon to see what I was doing and if there were any titbits.  Amazingly they ignored Ginger – even Dillon – who usually jumps on everything that moves – it was like Ginger belonged to a different species – or was invisible.  Ginger ignored them too.  So I guess it will be a while before they realise they are all chickens and then there will be a bit of a scrap until they have sorted out the pecking order – and the Spice Girls will eventually find out that Dillon’s a cockerel!

Meet The Spice Girls – our Ex-battery hens

Meet the Spice Girls

We have adopted some ex-battery hens through the British Hen Welfare Trust @BHWTOfficial.

We’ve called them ‘The Spice Girls’ – there’s Cinnamon, Meg (nutmeg) Corrie (coriander) and Ginger.

As advised, I’ve kept them in a smaller pen inside the hen house.  I shut them in the little pen for the first three nights.  I’ve taken the top off today so they can see outside but (as I was told but didn’t quite believe) they have stayed in their little pen.  I wonder how long it will be before they venture out.  They probably don’t even know they can jump onto the side of the pen to get out.

My hens all perch at night – I have put perches at a sensible height (3 – 4 feet off the floor) but the younger ones fly up to the rafters as high as they can get.  They fly up in stages but come down in one big jump – of course feathers help a lot in getting them safely to the ground.  It’s a big shed so they have plenty of room to manoeuvre and navigate a flight path.  The older hens are more sensible and perch lower – and come down in stages – I put straw bales in steps so they can hop down a bit at a time.

The Spice Girls are missing a lot of feathers and their combs (the red bit on the top of their head) are pale and droopy.  To henkeepers this is a sign that a hen isn’t happy.  Hopefully they will all be feeling better soon and their combs will be bright red and perky.  Cinnamon doesn’t seem to want to stand up much so I’m keeping an eye on her.

Here are some of the other hens outside with Dillon.

Today’s Treasures – Audlem Wharf

Today’s Treasures – Audlem Wharf

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Take a walk on the waterside this autumn – along the Weavers Way at Audlem – the towpath along the Shropshire Union canal which was designed and built by Thomas Telford.  One of his last projects before his death in 1834, it includes a flight of 15 locks and an aqueduct over the River Weaver.

 

It was a beautiful autumn morning, warm and sunny with just the hint of a breeze stirring the branches overhead, dislodging yellowing leaves which fluttered down like confetti to drift lazily along the surface of the canal, dappled sunlight painting patterns on the sparkling water,  ripples chasing each other along the canal banks to finally swirl in eddies and whirlpools at the lockgates.

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Brightly patterned barges were tied up at the permanent moorings – chimneys smoking and washing  fluttering in the breeze – and part of me longed for the simplicity of canalside living – so different now from the days when narrow boats worked the canals carrying everything from coal to cheeses, spending their whole lives on the canal and stopping only when the ice was so thick it froze them to stillness.  This towpath remembers horses hooves plodding along pulling working boats behind them, the locks a real hindrance to momentum – once the boats were moving it only took slight pressure to keep them going but a standing start takes a lot of horsepower.

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Next to the Shroppie Fly is Audlem Mill, built in 1915 for H Kingsley Burton, a local miller – it was one of the first mills powered by a diesel engine.  It was converted into retail space in 1973 and is now a treasure trove for canal enthuiasts and needlework artists.  The ground floor has an extensive selection of canal ware – from windlasses and neckerchiefs through jigsaws, candles and teatowels to canal books and maps.  The first floor is (to quote the leaflet) ‘An Aladdin’s Cave of every kind of product and accessory for needleworkers’;  sewing, knitting, weaving – whether you are making cushions, bonnets or rugs – it’s a paradise for anyone who loves art and crafts – with some wonderful gift ideas.   Audlem Mill hosts workshops on all these skills throughout the year visit www.audlemmill.co.uk for details.

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Part of the Canal and RiverTrust, The Towpath Taskforce at Audlem welcomes volunteers to help to maintain the towpath.  They meet on the second Saturday of each month at the wharf outside the Shroppie Fly pub at 10.00 am.  If you think you might be able to help please contact Neville Preece on 0303 040 4040 or at [email protected]

Published in the October edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Ducks Go a Dabbling

The ducklings are now so big I can’t tell them apart from Arthur and Martha.  Love this clip, reminds me of Wind in the Willows – Ducks Ditty:
All along the backwater,
Through the rushes tall,
Ducks are a-dabbling,
Up tails all!

I cleaned the duck pond out today and filled it with clean water.  It’s only a plastic ornamental pond and not very big but the ducks love it – especially when it’s full of clean water.  Love this clip.

https://barbararainford.co.uk/ducks-are-a-dabbling

 

Was it a polecat? A fox? Or an Owl?

Last week was very sad.

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When you go out in the morning, you never know what you are going to find.  Sadly, these few bits of white fur are all that is left of Holly rabbit and her six babies – just one week old.  Something had got into her pen overnight and taken all Holly’s babies AND Holly rabbit!  I am guessing it was a polecat as it had ripped a hole in the wire at the bottom of the pen.  It might have been a fox but a fox would easily have jumped into the pen, not made a hole in the wire.  We also heard an owl in the night which is quite unusual as we live so near a main road.  Whatever, Holly has gone and so have her tiny babies.

Happily Eny rabbit and her kits are all OK – Eny is a more aggressive and protective rabbit – she gets really cross if the cats go anywhere near her and she runs at them.  So Eny has to be shut in her hutch at night now which she doesn’t like at all – and tries to hide under the hutch – I keep telling her that won’t protect her and her babies from whatever got Holly but she’s not impressed.

It was so sad, Holly was my favourite rabbit and loved being cuddled.  But there’s always something to cheer you up.  Wandering around the field looking for clues as to what happened I came across these poppies growing in the ashes of last year’s bonfire night.

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Sweet tubs make great water bowls for my rabbits

Water bowls made from sweet tubs

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I am a great fan of recycling – and if you can reuse something first – even better.  This is an excellent example.  Sweet tubs – the large ones everyone gets for Christmas containing a selection of chocolates – make great water bowls for my rabbits.  They are reasonably easy to clean – and you can replace them with new ones every January!

 

 

Freeze mint ready for mint sauce

Freezing mint ready to make mint sauce later in the year.

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There’s nothing like fresh mint sauce, made with freshly chopped mint – and freshly frozen mint is almost as good.  If your mint bed is is thriving, now is a good time to pick some and freeze it.  Just chop it and seal it in plastic bags.  You can do the same with parsley ready for parsley sauce.  I also freeze small quantities of basil, oregano, marjoram, coriander and tarragon for adding to meals like spaghetti bolognese and curries.

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I have two varieties of mint in my garden, apple mint (on the left) and peppermint (on the right).

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I find apple mint is the best variety to add to early potatoes to get that ‘new potato taste’ and to make mint sauce.  Peppermint leaves are delicious with Pimms, mixed with lemonade, lemon slices, cucumber slices, strawberries and ice.

To make mint sauce:

Mix together in a jug:
1 tblsp chopped mint leaves (fresh or frozen)
1 tblsp malt vinegar
hot water (ideally cabbage water)
1 tsp sugar