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 – 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 – 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 – A Day at the Beach

Today’s Treasures



Sometimes, our very British weather can be very surprising.  We had planned a day at the beach for ages but for one reason or another it kept being delayed until finally, it was on Halowe’en that we set off for the coast.

It was a beautiful drive through Llangollen – the sun reflecting all the autumn colours, russet reds, green, gold and amber; we stopped for a cup of coffee at Lake Bala and went a walk along the edge of the lake enjoying all the colours reflected in the water.  The sun was shining and there was hardly a breath of wind to ripple the surface of the lake.  Then we drove on through the rolling hills and watery dales of Snowdonia to Barmouth – and found the toilets!  Barmouth was unreal, the sun was so warm it felt like a hot summer’s day but, as it was nearly winter, Barmouth was pretty deserted.  The few people that were about were sitting outside café’s sipping tea and basking in the warm sunshine.

After lunch, we meandered along the beach, picking up pebbles and paddling at the edge of the waves.  Two cups of tea later, we were on our way again heading for Shell Island.  We found the car park and wandered over the sand dunes to the beach.

Last time we came here the wind was howling a gale and we had our coats zipped up to our noses.  Today, there wasn’t a breath of wind and we stripped down to T-shirts, bare arms soaking up the sun.  It was almost warm enough to sunbathe.  The waves lapped onto the beach, seagulls soared lazily above us, and the sand glistened in the sunshine.

Shoes off, we paddled through the waves, a restful, tranquil way to unwind, feeling the sand between our toes and the waves lapping around our feet.

By this time, the sun was going down and we could feel the Autumn chill creep into the air, so donning jumpers and coats again, we set off back down the beach and across the sand dunes to the welcoming warmth of the car and tea and biscuits.


Today’s Treasure – Boscobel House

Boscobel House, Shropshire


For my birthday this year we purchased joint (senior!) membership of English Heritage.  One of the first places we chose to visit was Boscobel House in Shropshire – where Charles II famously hid in an oak tree after his defeat at the battle of Worcester in 1651.

You can visit an oak tree that grew from an acorn from that very famous Royal Oak tree.  You can also see the priest’s hole in Boscobel House where Charles II subsequently hid.


It was a beautiful sunny autumn day.  We declined the guided tour and meandered through the house and gardens on our own, through hazel avenues and around lavender and box formal flowerbeds.  The house has some wonderful old beams and floorboards and there are magnificent views over the surrounding countryside.  The dairy is very well equipped with ancient equipment, milk pails, enamel jugs, wooden butter churns, memories of a by-gone age when everything was painstakingly done by hand.

By this time, we had worked up quite an appetite so, before embarking on the 20 minute walk to White Ladies Priory (which actually took our ambling gait well over half an hour!), we decided to treat ourselves to a late breakfast.  The café is installed in the old stable block and we enjoyed delicious real bacon sandwiches and a proper cup of tea in china cups, poured from a china teapot.


Thus fortified, we set off the find the priory.  The path goes along the edge of the fields alongside the road so we made a mental note to walk back on the easier terrain of the tarmac.  The priory must have been magnificent in its time (built in the 12th century).  As you can see from the pictures some impressive archways of the church remain – after the suppression of the monasteries most of the convent buildings were taken down.  We imaged the nuns (Augustinian canonesses who wore habits of undyed cloth) at morning prayers, growing herbs, peacefully tending the gardens and watching the sun set on the Shropshire/Staffordshire border.

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Special Sausage Rolls

Special Sausage Rolls and Sausage Plait

These sausage rolls are really tasty and not peppery. You can make this recipe as traditional sausage rolls or as a sausage plait – ideal for parties.


1lb (500g) pork sausagemeat
1 medium size onion, finely chopped
4 mushrooms, finely chopped

2 tsp of dried mixed herbs or, ideally, chopped fresh herbs as follows:
1 tsp basil
1 tsp parsley
½ tsp thyme
½ tsp oregano
½ tsp marjoram

1lb rough puff pastry (frozen or you can make your own)
Flour for rolling out pastry
1 egg, beaten
Poppy or sesame seeds

Thoroughly mix the sausagemeat, onions, mushrooms and herbs.

Sausage Rolls
Roll out the pastry to an oblong about 5 mm thick.  Spread the sausagemeat in a long roll down the centre of the pastry.  Brush one edge of the pastry with beaten egg, fold over the pastry to form a long roll.

Cut the roll into 35mm lengths and place on a baking sheet lined with baking paper.  Brush the rolls with beaten egg.

Cut small slits in the pastry with scissors and sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds.


Sausage Plait
Roll out the pastry to a rectangle.  Mark into thirds lengthways.  Spread sausagemeat evenly over middle third.

Cut pastry either side into strips (see photo) and fold strips alternately over sausagemeat to form a plait. Seal ends with left over strips, brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with seeds.

Bake in oven 230C (220C fan oven) for 10-15 minutes until the sausagemeat is cooked (maybe a little longer for sausage plait).


8 oz (250g) flour
6 oz butter or butter/lard
Water for mixing

Rub 4 oz of the butter into the flour until it looks like breadcrumbs.
Add water and mix to rolling out consistency.
Roll out pastry to a strip, mark into 3 and spread rest of fat on one third in small pats.  Fold into 3, roll out gently to a strip again and fold into 3, then roll out to the shape required.


Rose Hip Syrup


Rose Hip Syrup


The recipes I have found for rose hip syrup suggest 2 lb (1 kg) of rose hips but they are really hard to pick so I decided to try with 1 lb and found this provides 4 small (275g) bottles which is probably more than enough.

Any sort of rose hips will do but I used all wild rose hips.  Cultivated roses have bigger rose hips.

1 lb (500g) rose hips, minced (I chopped them in batches using the chopper/grinder device with my mixer).
3 pints (1.8 litres)  boiling water
300g granulated sugar

Mince rose hips then put immediately into boiling water.  Bring to the boil again then remove from the pan and leave for at least  15 minutes.  Strain through a jelly bag/muslin/linen  (I used an old cotton pillow slip placed in a sieve over a bowl).  Leave to allow most of the juice to drip through.  (I left overnight ‘cos I was too tired to finish it off after dinner.)

Because rose hips have fine hairs that are a serious irritant, you need to strain again to make absolutely sure you have removed them all.  So strain again through a double piece of muslin or pillow slip folded over in a sieve.

Measure the rose hip juice into a large saucepan and for every 500 ml add approx. 300g of sugar.

Heat slowly, stirring until the sugar has dissolved, then bring to the boil and boil for 3 minutes.  Pour into warm sterilised bottles* and seal and label.

Use within 4 months and refrigerate once opened.

*To sterilise bottles and tops, wash in warm soapy water and rinse well, then put on a tray in a low oven (120°C Gas ½) to dry out and heat up.

Rose Hip Syrup has a unique taste – described as ‘warm, floral and fruity’ on the River Cottage website.  I quite liked it poured neat onto ice cubes – like a liqueur.  It’s also good with lemonade and it’s very high in vitamin C – ideal for keeping winter coughs and colds away – and as a hot toddy diluted with hot water.  During the war – when there were no oranges – children were given rose hip syrup from the Ministry of Health and even after the war, as a child, my mother gave me a teaspoonful of neat rosehip syrup every day.


Betsy saved me from a Rat!

Betsy Saved Me from a Rat!


Well it wasn’t exactly life-threatening – but she saved me being really scared by a rat.  As usual she came with me to let the ducks out and she followed me into the rabbit shed – where she pounced on a rat and quickly killed it.  It was probably half dead from poison or she would never have caught it – she is getting on a bit!  But it was dead very quickly and I didn’t have to kill it.  Horrible things.  Always makes me think of the poem:

Rats, they fought the dogs and killed the cats and bit the babies in the cradles, and ate the cheeses out of the vats and licked the soup from the cooks’ own ladles…

Shropshire might not be as bad as Hamelin, but we don’t have a Pied Piper to lure the rats away and, in the past, I have had problems with rats eating tiny baby rabbits.  Finding half eaten babies in the morning is not one of my fonder memories!   After persevering with rat traps for ages, we finally had to resort to rat poison – you can buy packets of liquorice smelling poison that you don’t have to open but just place in the boxes.  The council used to come out but they don’t any more – although you can still get advice from your local council.  They provided us with safe rat poison boxes which are placed along the rat runs.  I keep an eye open for any rat droppings which act as a reminder to put poison down again.  It doesn’t matter how careful you are with never leaving food lying around, rats always find a way – and they cause so much damage eating holes in everything too.

Looking up the spelling of Hamelin, I found the poem – I didn’t know that Robert Browning wrote it and it has a different ending to the fairy tale I knew.  It’s one of the poems on this website if you want to read it for yourself.

“Calling at: Machynlleth, Caersws, Aberystwyth, Borth, Dovey Junction, Harlech.”

“Calling at: Machynlleth, Caersws, Aberystwyth, Borth, Dovey Junction, Harlech.”  Shrewsbury station – travelling on the train to Birmingham I have often wished to be going the other way to these strange-sounding names by the sea.  Today my wish has come true and we are getting the train to Harlech and travelling through the Welsh hillsides, along the coast to visit Harlech Castle.


The train pulls out of Shrewsbury station and soon we are passing cornfields, golden in the early morning sunshine, some of the wheat has been cut leaving bales, straw blocks, dotted around the fields like faceless dominoes.  Other fields have plastic wrapped silage bales, scattered like alien larvae; gone are the days of haystacks that we used climb up and slide down, landing in a giggling heap, then scrambling up for another ride.

It’s not long before we arrive at Welshpool, the trees and bushes grow so close to the train tracks that they sometimes brush the windows, then the rails rise above the surrounding countryside and reveal magnificent views stretching to distant hills, the foothills of misty mountains beyond.  The tracks are patterned in pink and yellow with willowherb and ragwort – and Himalayan Balsam, an alien invader from another part of the world that smothers everything in its path but still our native bees love it and it makes beautiful honey.  We pass Welshpool Cattle market, the empty car park waiting for market day – sheep, cattle and pigs all arriving to be sold on – for breeding – or butchers.  Then on to Caersws, past the coal merchants, cars waiting at the level crossing for the train to pass.

Grassy churchyards, isolated standing stones, relics of an ancient past, of others that have lived and died without seemingly leaving a mark.  The landscape becomes wilder, fields criss-crossed with hedges, tiny foals stretched out lazily in the sun, sustained by mother’s milk, they have no need to constantly chew the grass.  Scalped, a hill devoid of trees, ferns shrinking from the sunlight, with no respite until the saplings grow again, shading, cooling the earth beneath.  Bracken, meadowsweet, willowherb, lining the tracks, viaducts crossing deep valleys, rocky streams tumbling down hillsides to valleys below, bounding towards the sea.  Anticipation mounting as the children become aware that the train is nearing its destination and the seaside is imminent.

The river meanders through the fields leaving shingly beaches and deep pools on the bends, under the willows where pike and perch are lurking, stalking unsuspecting minnows darting from the shallows.

Then the train travels right along the edge of the sea, the waves breaking along the shore, to the Barmouth estuary, the railway bridge crossing the river – with magnificent views out to sea and inland to Snowdonia.

Until we finally reach our destination – Harlech castle towering above us, guarding the coast and watching over Snowdonia, history unfolds within its towers and castellated walkways.


Trains travel this route regularly from Shrewsbury to Pwllheli and you can alight, wander around one of the places en route and hop back on the next train home.  A great day out!