Today’s Treasures – Moreton Corbet Castle

Today’s Treasures – Moreton Corbet Castle

In 1086 two Anglo Saxon thegns, Hunning and Wulfgeat, were living at Moreton Toret – maybe on the site where the first fortified timber house was built around 1100 – by the Torets.  It passed by marriage into the hands of the Corbets – who gave their name to the village – and was gradually replaced in stone in the traditional style of fortified manors in the Welsh Marches.

By the 16th century the Corbets were amongst the most powerful and richest landed gentry in Shropshire .  In 1485, Sir Richard Corbet supported the House of Lancaster at the Battle of Bosworth.  Richard III had alienated the people of Shrewsbury when he imprisoned Edward V and his brother, Richard of Shrewsbury, ‘The Princes in the Tower’ – Prince Richard was born in Shrewsbury in 1473.

Richard’s son, Sir Andrew Corbet modified the medieval castle making it into a manor house – remodelling the gatehouse and adding the Tudor great hall.  When Sir Robert Corbet inherited the castle, he completed the refurbishment of the castle, adding Sir Andrew’s monogram, SAC, which was carved above the gatehouse in 1579.   Sir Robert Corbet then set about building the new Elizabethan building – from elaborate plans he had brought back from Italy – and influenced by the classical architecture he had seen overseas in his role as a diplomat.  Unfortunately, he died of the plague in 1583.  After his death, his two brothers and successors, Richard and Vincent Corbet, carried on with the building of the new manor, but left what remained of the original fortification.

In 1642, during the Civil War, Sir Vincent Corbet, fought for the king and the house was used as part of Royalist Shrewsbury’s defence – you can still see where the masonry is pock-marked by musket shot.

At this time, Puritans were being persecuted and, whilst Sir Vincent was not himself a Puritan, he gave sanctuary to a neighbour, Paul Holmyard, who was. Unfortunately, as Holmyard’s views grew more radical, Sir Vincent felt he could no longer protect him and cast him out.  Holmyard cursed the family, declaring that none of them, or their descendants, would ever inhabit the house.

When Richard died, Vincent inherited huge debts, so he moved his family to Acton Reynald Hall and left the elaborate new building, begun by Robert, a quarter of a century ago, still unfinished.  Their grand design fell into decay – leaving Paul Holmyard’s ghost to inhabit the ruins.

Moreton Corbet Castle is still owned by the Corbet Family, but managed by English Heritage.

Published in the December edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Today’s Treasures – Blackberry Fair

Blackberry Fair 2018

The subtle tones of an acoustic guitar serenade volunteers setting up tables in the hall – getting ready for workshops for youngsters – crafting items for the Carnival of Plenty – little ones create leaves for the Tree of Life – and older ones decorate poles with different bits and pieces that glow, and shine and rattle.

Volunteers appear for a welcome hot drink after putting up gazebos and  distributing sofas to strategic points about the town, musicians have finished setting up speakers and microphones – the stage is set for Blackberry Fair to begin once again.

The music changes and we’re clapping hands in time to a drumbeat, accompanied by a guitar – and voices join in singing well known songs. Next come the Urban Gypsies, dancing, swinging, gyrating to gypsy music – looking around, everyone is foot-tapping, clapping, swaying in time to the music – mesmerised – no-one can keep still.

Then comes the Whitchurch Brass Band, trumpets and cornets – and all conversation ceases as tubas and trombones send oompahs and oom-pah-pahs reverberating around the walls.  Lunchtime, there’s such a lot to choose from – wild boar burgers, freshly made pizzas, ice creams, and deliciously decorated cupcakes, with real beers and ciders to wash it all down with.

Blackberry Fair has an atmosphere all its own, the spirit of poetry, singers, dancers, actors, fine foods, real beers, street theatre, costumes and characters, Urban Gypsies and Morris Dancers, skateboarding and stilt walking, jugglers and firebreathers – all join Harminder the Elephant in the Carnival of Plenty procession at the end of the afternoon.

Entertainment continues into the night with live steel band music and fireworks – and another Blackberry Fair comes to an end with lots of happy memories for families to take home.  “Our children made puppets, crushed apples, watched films, literally the whole of Whitchurch was alive, down every street and avenue – it’s the best fair we’ve ever been to.”

Published in the November edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Today’s Treasures Grindley Brook Staircase Locks

Grindley Brook Staircase Locks

It’s the Llangollen branch of the Shropshire Union Canal that drops down the staircase locks at Grindley Brook, then under the A41 and through three other locks on its way east to Nantwich.

Originally built by the Ellesmere Canal Company, this fabulous stretch of the Shropshire Union Canal was designed by Thomas Telford and completed in 1805.  It linked the ironworks and collieries of Wrexham to Chester via the Chester Canal, and extended west into the Montgomery Canal – which closed in 1936 and fell into disrepair but is now gradually being restored.

The canal carried lead and stone from Wrexham, bricks from Ruabon – and – by 1808 when the Whitchurch arm was opened – cheese from Whitchurch market to Ellesmere Port on the Fly Boat – a horse drawn canal boat – a journey of some 65 miles that took 24 hours, non-stop – except for changing horses along the way.

It was much later that it became the Llangollen branch of the Shropshire Union Canal and now is mainly important for holidaymakers.  Between March and November up to 60 boats a day negotiate the locks keeping the lock-keeper busy supervising – 3 boats up, then 3 boats down – he’s there between 8.30 am and 6.00 pm every day.  Visitors from all over the world come to enjoy the tranquillity of Britain’s canals, the beautiful rural scenery, the industrial architecture – and of course the trip across Thomas Telford’s famous Pontcysyllte Aqueduct near Llangollen.

The staircase locks at Grindley Brook are unique because they have no side ponds – the water comes from the River Dee near Llangollen via the feeder canal at the Horseshoe Falls at Llantysilio.

The Lockside Café is always busy with walkers along the Shropshire Way and the Sandstone Trail as well as boaters – it’s a fascinating place to sit and enjoy a cup of tea – watching the boats go up and down the locks – and the lock-keeper making sure that everyone takes turns and the lock gates and paddles are opened and shut in the correct order.

Published in the October edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Today’s Treasures – Lake Bala – a Moment of Tranquility

Today’s Treasures – Lake Bala – a Moment of Tranquility

A visit to Lake Bala is always an uplifting experience.  Its tranquil waters have a calming effect.  On this late August morning it was amazing, the lake was drenched in clouds but as we watched, the floating mist drifted across the surface of the lake, dissipating in the sunshine.

A faint hint of the chill of autumn touches the morning air, the sun gathering warmth as it climbs in the sky.  Boats perch on the water, still as statues.  A slight breeze touches a flag and its reflection ripples the glass mirror surface.  The silence of the water is surreal.

Dewdrops glisten on blades of grass, twinkling tantalisingly in the sunlight.  As the clouds unfold, hilltops peep out like prehistoric creatures, fields and trees appear as if a magic paintbrush is wiping the mist away.

Sitting watching the last of the mist disappear, I let my mind drift in amongst the boats, floating along the ripples on the lake, free of life’s complexities, like a bird, devoid of human preoccupation.  A moment of tranquility.

Apart from being a beautiful place to sit and dream, Lake Bala (Llyn Tegid) is the largest natural lake in Wales and an internationally important Ramsar wetlands site.  It is the home of the Gwyniad (a type of whitefish), and glutinous snails – both species unique to the area.  In the River Tryweryn, one of the rivers that feed the lake, live freshwater pearl mussels and The Lamprey, a rare eel-like fish.

Pblished in the September edition of The Whitchurch Gossip magazine.

Today’s Treasures – The Big Butterfly Count

This year I took part in the Big Butterfly Count

www.bigbutterflycount.org

As soon as the buddleia comes out I always take some time to watch the myriad different butterflies who just love the purple spikes.  There’s often a dozen peacock butterflies sunning themselves on the flowers, sipping nectar, fluttering their wings and showing off their spectacular colours.

Counting butterflies on a beautiful sunny afternoon is a tranquil, calming experience, watching them flutter from flower to flower, sometimes dancing together against the blue sky and skating clouds, seeing how many different butterflies join the feast; large and small whites love the flowers and there’s usually one or two red admirals and commas as well.  This year there were also two painted lady butterflies – but no small tortoiseshells – evidently they have been attacked by a parasitic fly – one of the reasons why David Attenborough’s butterfly count is so important – we can see the effects of these invasive insects.

Butterflies love buddleia because it produces lots of nectar, its deep flowers are accessible only to insects with long tongues and its flowers are clustered together so a butterfly can collect lots of nectar from one place.  Verbena and cosmos also attract butterflies – and food plants for their caterpillars include nettles and thistles.  Also ragwort which is a fascinating plant to watch – dozens of different insects love the flowers and the black and yellow caterpillars of the beautiful red cinnabar moth love the leaves.

I also discovered that we have two different blue butterflies – the common blue – which likes bird’s foot trefoil – and the holly blue which (as the name suggests) feeds on holly (and ivy).

Meadow browns (left) and ringlets (right) love the marjoram in my herb garden.

Published in the August edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Today’s Treasures – The Herb Garden

Today’s Treasures

The Herb Garden is my favourite place to sit and dream.  As you can see, it’s not just herbs – there are a few wild flowers as well – the foxgloves just come and go as they please, setting seed in the most unlikely places – and there are poppies in every corner of my garden.

Herbs are so versatile – some have pretty flowers like thyme, borage and hyssop – all of course have definitive scents – lavender and lemon balm, sage and tarragon, fennel, basil and coriander.

They make delicious flavours for the simplest meals – tarragon chicken, rosemary lamb, garlic and parsley bread, chopped chives with potato salad, mint sauce, sage and onion stuffing.

I love experimenting with herbs – my latest success was potato wedges roasted in olive, sunflower and groundnut oil sprinkled with a mixture of herbs freshly picked and chopped.  Traditional horseradish sauce made with freshly chopped horseradish root, salad cream, fresh cream, mustard powder and a hint of cayenne pepper is divine.

Mint sauce made with apple mint, vinegar, cabbage water and a spoonful of sugar makes even the blandest cabbage delicious.  Cooked carrots fried in a little butter with chopped lovage leaves give a continental twist to any meal.  Fresh basil livens up any pasta sauce – sprinkle curry with coriander leaves just before serving for a more authentic taste.

Lovage

Herbs also have healing properties – you don’t need to buy expensive packets of herbal tea – you can make your own by simply pouring boiling water over leaves of your choice.

Hyssop tea is good for maintaining healthy blood pressure – whether it’s high or low it helps stabilise it.  Peppermint tea helps digestion and soothes an upset tummy.  Chamomile is calming, sage is stimulating, fennel is relaxing.

Peppermint

You can add the flowers and leaves of calendula, nasturtium and borage to salads to add colour as well as flavour.  Borage flowers frozen into ice cubes made an attractive addition to summer drinks. Mint is an essential ingredient of any Pimm’s cocktail.  Poppy seeds can be added to cakes and cookies – and sprinkled onto bread rolls.

Wherever I am, I will always have a few pots of soothing, fragrant, healing herbs on my windowsill.

Published in the July edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Today’s Treasures – Summer is here at last!

Today’s Treasures – summer is here at last

Summer took so long to arrive, it was so cold – and so wet – for so long, we seemed to miss Spring altogether and, when the sun finally did come out, summer crash landed with a profusion of flowers, all blooming at the same time.  The daffodils slowly struggled into life, then the sun shone and the tulips rapidly joined them, celandines and coltsfoot dotted the hedgerows and then they all quickly faded away, giving way to bluebells and buttercups.

All the flowers came out in rapid succession with hardly any time to savour their individual colours and scents.  The apple blossom was amazing, a profusion of apple white touched with pink, raining down confetti petals in the breeze.  Now lilacs and wisteria vie for attention with their delicate mauves and sweet scents.

The clematis climbing up the ancient barn surprised me one morning with an array of flowers which seemingly opened overnight and, trying to catch up with weeding the vegetable patch I looked up and suddenly noticed that the irises were all out, flashing their yellow flowers at the sun.

And the roses – they all seemed to bloom together, to open in a rush, to catch the sunshine, before it disappeared again.  Clouds of petals, sweetly scented, creating a beautiful archway that saturates the senses with perfumed peachy petals, a paradise for bees.

I almost despaired of ever planting the onions and potatoes this year, it was so cold, and the garden was so wet you couldn’t tell where the pond ended and the garden began.  A veritable smorgasbord for slugs and snails who have proliferated everywhere, I like those little banded snails which are so pretty but not the slimy slugs, you would need really big frogs to eat some of the slugs I’ve found this year.

I was really worried about the frogs, they were very late arriving in the pond to find a mate, then when the first frog spawn did appear, the pond froze over again and I thought the tiny eggs would all die – but they didn’t and the tadpoles have had lots of rainwater to grow up in.

The fields are now full of buttercups ‘the little children’s dower’ I often think of William Wordsworth languishing abroad and am so glad I live in England – even with its precocious weather.

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

Today’s Treasures – Ever Thought about Running a Marathon?

Have you ever thought about running a marathon?

Nor me – but we went to the Chester half marathon (13 miles) to cheer on some friends – and our eldest son who ran for the first time.  Although quite fit, he was very apprehensive and wasn’t at all sure that he would be able to finish the race but he said that, once he started, he felt he had to carry on.  When he reached 6 miles, he was getting tired but he said there were so many people shouting and clapping, and cheering him on, people standing on the doorsteps of their houses, bands playing, runners in front of him wearing T-shirts saying ‘keep on running’, that he felt he had to go on – he realised: “Failure would be worse than not carrying on”.

So he finished the race.  We were standing on the last bridge before the finish line, clapping and shouting with everyone else.  We met him at the finish line afterwards – once he had collected his medal – and his T-shirt – and he was exhausted but euphoric.  He said.  “I’ve never felt anything like it – it’s like meditating – but incredibly more powerful.  All those people – over 6,000 runners – and all the volunteers, guiding, handing out water bottles, the paramedics and first aiders – and all the onlookers.  Such a feeling of goodwill, from good people – so different to what you see on the news on TV every day.”

“I felt like I was running for life itself – there were people fighting cancer, fighting to the finish – and I was one of them, fighting with them, sharing an amazing experience and sense of achievement.”

So if you’ve never been to watch a marathon – go and see this incredible experience for yourself.  If you’re feeling down, it’s the best anti-depressant you can take – with no side effects – and no addictions. Dane had to be helped to the car, but this day will stay with him – and us – as a memory to treasure forever.

Published in the May edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

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