Today’s Treasures – 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.

I received an email from the Trust advising that they had 350 hens needing new homes in the Wrexham area so I offered to adopt some.  I’ve kept hens for years so was somewhat surprised to receive lots of advice on how to look after them – although I do appreciate that there would be quite a few new foster families who had never kept hens before.

What surprised me even more were the recommendations for caring for ex-battery hens.  I had to go and get some layers mash (which is basically crushed layers pellets).  My free range hens are mainly fed on corn (locally grown wheat) with some layers pellets during the winter. Evidently ex batts need the food they are used to for a while – I found this out when I tried to tempt them with some bread – they looked at me as if I had gone mad!  Goodness knows what they will do when they eventually encounter a worm!

Our hens have a very large hen house and I was advised to keep our new arrivals in a smaller pen inside the hen house initially.  So I shut them in a little pen for the first three nights.  On the fourth evening, I took the top off so they could get out but (as I was told but didn’t quite believe) they were all still in their little pen in the morning.  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.  Usually there’s a bit of a scrap when new hens arrive – until they have sorted out the pecking order.  Next morning, they were all in their little pen once more.

The Spice Girls are missing a lot of feathers and their combs are pale and droopy.  Hopefully they will all be feeling better soon and their combs will be bright red again.  Here are some of the other hens outside with Dillon – our Dorking cockerel – wonder how long it will be before the Spice Girls join them?

It’s fascinating looking after livestock – you never know what you are going to find when you go out in the morning – there’s always something interesting going on.  My hens come running when I call them – and of course they give me presents of beautiful free-range eggs!

Published in the February edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Today’s Treasures – Snowflakes

Snowy Shropshire

The snow transformed Shropshire into a magical winter wonderland, blanketing the fields in white, icing branches and fences with a layer of glittering frosty snow and, even as I write, the hilltops and field edges are still highlighted in wintry white – although a smudge of snow and a carrot are all that is left of our snowman!

There’s something hypnotic about watching snowflakes falling – each one a tiny unique crystal different from the rest, softly fluttering to the ground and gradually, relentlessly, changing brown and green to dazzling white.

The snow brings lots of hungry birds to our bird table.  Coming into the warm with frozen fingers after feeding the birds, there’s something really satisfying about watching them enjoy the peanuts and seed cake – and sipping water from a birdbath you have just thawed out.

All the places I have written about this year will look very different in the snow to the photographs I took – Grinshill, Audlum, Brown Moss, Wollerton Garden, Stokesay Castle – but at all of them there is a touch of magic in every season – even in the darkest days of the year – a robin singing, the scent of a late winter rose, bright red holly berries – if you stop for a moment – use all your senses – you can feel the magic of life around you.

All of us suffer sadness at some time in our lives.  Sometimes that sadness is hard to dispel and that’s when Today’s Treasures can help – finding something lovely in every day and enjoying that moment with all your senses.

A kind word, a thoughtful act – a smile for a stranger – is sometimes all it takes to bring sunshine to someone’s life – and make them feel better.

Wishing you all many moments to treasure in 2018.


Published in the January edition of the Whitchurch gossip

My 12 days of New Year Today’s Treasures

Special moments to treasure every day #mentalhealthin2018

Day 1:  A free range egg for breakfast from #happy #hens #mentalhealthin2018

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Day 2:  Herbal tea made with fresh #herbs – camomile, mint, hyssop, thyme, sage will all grow in windowsill pots #mentalhealthin2018



Day 3:  Watching the wild #birds eating the food I have put out for them #mentalhealthin2018



Day 4:  Eating fresh fruit #mentalhealthin2018



Day 5:  Walking in the #sunshine – even if it’s not sunny – fresh air helps clear your mind #mentalhealthin2018



Day 6:  A vase of wild #flowers or winter berries on the kitchen windowsill I can look at whilst washing up #mentalhealthin2018



Day 7:  A smile – smiling makes you feel better, sharing a #smile makes two people feel better #mentalhealthin2018



Day 8:  Listening to the birds #singing especially the robin – beautiful, mellow, liquid notes #mentalhealthin2018


Day 9:  #hugs – everyone needs hugs – if you don’t believe me just try it with an open #mind #mentalhealthin2018


Day 10:  #music – but especially sharing live music #mentalhealthin2018


Day 11:  #sunset watching the sun go down #mentalhealthin2018



Day 12:  Writing helpful happy #tweets and posting pretty pictures on #twitter #happiness #mentalhealthin2018

Today’s Treasures – Grinshill



Grinshill is one of the smallest parishes in North Shropshire but with one of the best views across the English Countryside.  It’s quite a steep climb up the meandering path but, when you finally reach the rocky outcrop at the summit, it’s well worth the view – patchwork fields speckled with sheep and cows, dotted with farms, criss-crossed with lanes and hedges, all bright and sparkling in the morning air.  The reds, golds and dark greens of autumn frame a landscape of peace and tranquillity sleeping in the autumn sunshine.

The Hill rises to 192 metres (630 ft) above sea level and evidence has been found showing it was used during the Mesolithic to Neolithic period.  From the top you can see many other hills and ancient settlements including The Wrekin, Caer Caradoc, Corndon Hill, Cefn y Castell, Titterstone Clee, The Long Mynd, Breidden Hill and Haughmond Hill.


The buff-coloured sandstone quarried at Grinshill since at least the 12th century has unique properties.  It was subjected to volcanic heat giving it its buff colour and making it extremely tough giving a sharp straight side whichever way it is cut.  The Romans recognised these qualities and used it to build Wroxeter (Viroconium Cornovium), once the 4th largest city in England.  You can also see it at Haughmond Abbey, Welsh Bridge, Shrewsbury Railway Station – and even at No. 10 Downing Street – the lintels and door surround are made from Grinshill sandstone.

Whatever time of year you visit Grinshill, and whichever way you walk to the summit, there’s always a great sense of achievement to reach the top and see that panoramic view spread out in front of you.


There is a car park at Corbett Wood and there is also a more direct path from Clive church. It is a site of special scientific interest because of its geological importance – exposed rock faces show fossilised skeletons and footprints and distinctive features such as fossilised sand dunes and rain prints.

Published in the December edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Today’s Treasures – Blackberry Fair

Blackberry Fair – Ten Glorious years!

This is the 10th year that Whitchurch has been transformed into a living, breathing festival of music, song, dance, poetry and street theatre, complete with Lost Luggage (below) – the metallic beastie from a long lost planet – and The Urban Astronaut – bringing hope to a dying world.


When I arrived, Urban Astronaut were just positioning their lifting machine ready for moving into action outside the Civic when someone spotted a mouse hiding in one of the speakers.  Much to the amusement of onlookers, he was carefully rescued and set free before they trundled off down the High Street to save the rest of the world.


Sustainability is what Blackberry Fair is all about – a carnival filled with the rustic spirit of nature, growing things, Meres and Mosses, the Wild Zone, scarecrows, recycling, herbs and herbalists, the Fairtrade town becomes a magnet for artists, poets, actors, dancers, singers and musicians; a haven for food lovers, real beer drinkers, nature lovers, photographers and writers.  It inspires, fires the imagination, screams innovation; young and old are all captivated, drawn in to the spirit of sustainability, saving the earth – mesmerised by Urban Astronaut’s street theatre.


The afternoon culminated in the Carnival of Plenty, celebrating the spirit of harvest with Morris dancers, stilt-walkers, and fire breathers – and the music carried on into the evening with incredible poetry and music and dancing into the night.


See more photos at

Published in the November edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Today’s Treasures – Audlem Wharf

Today’s Treasures – Audlem Wharf


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.


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.


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 for details.


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

Autumn, season of mellow mists and fruitfulness

 Autumn at Brown Moss


In Shropshire you never have to go far to find tranquillity.  We are surrounded by fields, trees, hedges and streams but, even in our market towns, there are pockets of greenness where you can think and breathe; space to relax and remind yourself of the beauty that is all around us – the wings of a butterfly, the fragile petals of a flower, the delicate notes of birdsong all around you.

Shropshire is a haven for wildlife, the meres and mosses support strange species like sundew – a tiny insect eating plant; Prees Heath Common hosts the silver-studded blue butterfly that needs both heather and ants in order to survive.  Brown Moss, one of the smaller meres, provides the perfect habitat for the rare nodding bur-marigold and is much loved by many species of water birds.  Dragonflies and damselflies make the meres, mosses, streams and canals their home and dart and flutter amidst the reeds and rushes.


Take a walk around Brown Moss in the early morning sunshine, relax for a moment, close your eyes, listen to the sound of birds twittering in the trees, ducks and geese spreading their wings or landing with a splash on the water.  And make the most of the September sunshine sparkling on dewdrops and spiders webs; soak up the warmth – before Will’o’the’Wisps bring the chill of Autumn and Winter arrives with Jack Frost.

Brown Moss is maintained and monitored by Shropshire Volunteer Rangers.  Volunteering is an excellent ways to get out of the house, meet people, get some exercise and be involved in the local community.  If you would like to help with things like keeping the paths clear or surveying the site they are always glad of any help – no experience, commitment or fitness necessary.  Contact [email protected]


Published in the September edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Today’s Treasures Wollerton Old Hall Garden

Today’s Treasures

Wollerton Old Hall Garden


I was invited to visit this intriguing garden by Jane Bebbington of Dearnford (now Alderford) Lake.  We were talking about gardens and she said:  “What?  You’ve never been to Wollerton Old Hall?  Then I’ll take you.”  It was a beautiful sunny afternoon in late Spring and I was absolutely stunned by the sheer artistry of the garden.  Every step you take there is a different vista of flowers, rainbows of colours, framed by oak gateways and wrought iron arches, sculptured trees and manicured hedges – it feels like walking through a living art gallery.


John, my husband, is an artist and I longed to show him the garden – we finally visited this summer and he, like me, was enchanted.  From the moment you step inside the garden you feel like Alice in Wonderland – you can almost imagine a Cheshire Cat smiling down at you from an oak tree – then vanishing into thin air.

The variety of flowers is amazing – and changes with every twist and turn – lavenders and roses, heliotropes and hostas interspersed with foxgloves and hollyhocks; beds of lilies, immaculate lawns border phlox and salvias dotted with verbena and mulleins; white and blue agapanthus have a whole border to themselves.

Sundials stand immobile as the sun shadows the hours, and time stands still as you pause in wonder at the rainbows of colours, the honey scent of stocks fading to the delicate perfume of roses as another wrought iron gate opens a new page, a whole new landscape of colours and shapes.

Clematis and roses scramble over archways, pergolas and ancient brick walls, with shady benches to relax, close your eyes for a moment, and immerse yourself in the sheer tranquillity of growing things.

When your senses are totally saturated with nature’s palette of colours and scents, you can relax in the café and enjoy home-made cakes and proper afternoon tea in real china cups.


Although Wollerton Hall is a 16th Century House, the garden has been recently designed and developed by Lesley and John Jenkins who bought the hall and its 4 acres in 1983. For more information visit

Or better still see the real thing

Wollerton Old Hall Garden, Wollerton, Market Drayton TF9 3NA






This article was published in the August edition of the Whitchurch Gossip and the Drayton Gossip

Today’s Treasures: The 9.22 Stockport to Stalybridge – one way only

On the 9.22 train from Stockport to Stalybridge

Last year, on my way to Wakefield for a conference, I inadvertently caught the 9.22 Stockport to Stalybridge once a week train. I say inadvertently because then I wasn’t aware that it is a unique train and only goes to Stalybridge once a week – and it doesn’t come back – you have to return via Manchester.

The track gets quite overgrown between Reddish South and Denton as this is the only train that visits these stations. It’s a Parliamentary line and, although it is many years since the workers from Oldham Battery Company went on their annual trips to Blackpool, it would take a vote by MPs to close Denton station – which is why it is still here.


The train looks quite lonely waiting patiently in Stockport station for its weekly outing to Stalybridge. I felt it should have a name –like Thomas – or Toby – with coaches called Annie and Clarabelle – like in the Thomas the Tank Engine stories.  The doors creak open and I climb aboard, the diesel engine leaps eagerly into life and we chug along the overgrown track heading for Stalybridge. The train travels so sedately that I can identify the wildflowers populating the tracks – toadflax, foxgloves and evening primrose –hedges rambling with honeysuckle and wild roses and the white trumpets of bindweed climbing over crumbling drystone walls.

The old-fashioned train ambles along through tunnels hewn in the hillside, rocky sides and ancient stone walls sprouting moss and ferns, then we trundle over viaducts crossing rivers and cobblestone roads. Stone bridges cross canals that remember the days before the railways, when horses plodded quietly along the towpath bringing coal to the mills and delivering wool to the busy market towns.  These canals now guide tourists past lonely mills and warehouses with empty windows staring blankly at the world, haunted by the clamour of looms and treadmills creating endless patterns – and the tired hands that wove them.

Past towns whose spires pierce the sky and chimneys interrupt the skyline, warehouses old and new, wonderful old buildings now transformed into health clubs and conference centres.

Wheat fields marked with rain soaked patterns, sheep peacefully grazing hilltops they now share with telegraph poles and radio masts.

We stop at toy town stations with carefully tended flower beds, one person gets off, two people get on – the conductor knows them all as they are regular travellers – once a week!


Finally we arrive at Stalybridge (where I am told you can get a really proper English breakfast) but I don’t have time to find out as I am jolted back to the present boarding the TransPennine Express to Leeds – and on to Wakefield.


Published in the July edition of the Whitchurch Gossip and the Drayton Gossip

Often you don’t have to go very far to find Today’s treasures

Often you don’t have to go very far to find Today’s treasures

June is a delicious month, a time of strawberries, new potatoes flavoured with apple mint, and the first broad beans melting with butter.  And the gardens are alive with colours – yellow flag irises decorate ponds, azaleas brighten up patios, rhododendrons mist the hillsides with a purple haze and poppies startle you with their brilliant red blooms.

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Butterflies and damselflies flex their wings and the heady scents of honeysuckle and wild roses fill the hedgerows.  Bees are busy investigating every single foxglove flower and the buttercups dance their golden heads in the summer breeze.

The bird table is alive with hatchlings, families of blue tits and great tits vie for space on the feeders – and the swallows return from far off places, wheeling and diving across our skies.  Alas, gone are the times when the cuckoo called across our fields and the skylarks sang high above our heads – we need to go further into the wilds of Wales to hear these birds now, but we get more visitors to our bird table – goldfinches, nuthatches and great spotted woodpeckers love peanuts and sunflower seeds.

June is also the time to make elderflower champagne (not really champagne – and in fact not alcoholic at all if you drink it soon enough – but it tastes delicious).  Iced elderflower cordial is the perfect complement for summer lunches – these traditional recipes were handed down to me by two elderly aunts – handwritten on yellowing paper, now immortalised on my website:  visit

So quite often, you don’t have to go very far for Today’s Treasures, you can always find something new in your own back yard – a blackbird’s liquid notes heralding the dawn, daisies opening up their petals to the sun’s rays, a glimpse of the first wild rose, the sweetness of strawberries, or honeysuckle’s saturating scent – stimulating all our senses.  As our very own Shropshire A.E. Housman said:  “What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?”  Take a moment to enjoy Today’s Treasures.

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Published in the June edition of the Whitchurch Gossip