the boathouse

Today’s Treasures – Shrewsbury is coming to life again

Today’s Treasures Shrewsbury is coming to life again – change is in the air – with the promise of laughter and happy times.

the boathouseTheatre Severn is still closed, silent and deserted, but its namesake flows swiftly past the lonely building under weeping willows clothed in vibrant spring green to The Boathouse which is alive with visitors again, enjoying the spring sunshine.

The Quarry is busy with children playing and people sunbathing, playing football, running and cycling – and the ducklings on the river dodge canoes and rowing boats – and the Sabrina chugging her way downstream, serene in the sunshine.

Shrewsbury is coming alive again.

These first tentative steps of meeting friends for meals outside hold high hopes of a return to the events that Shrewsbury has become famous for – the Food Festival, the Folk Festival, the Shropshire (West Mid) County Show – and the Flower Show – seeing the bandstand lonely and empty, you can imagine the musicians in their bright red uniforms, the sun glinting off trombones and trumpets – and hear faint whispers of the brass band playing well known British tunes.

the bandstand

Shrewsbury, with its timbered buildings and cobblestone alleys, is one of the oldest towns in the UK with many Saints remembered in its churches – St. Nicholas, St Chad, St. Alkmund, St. Mary, St. George, St. Peter and St Giles all have a place in Shrewsbury’s history.

The spire of St Mary’s is one of the tallest in England and for over 500 years it has dominated the skyline of Shrewsbury’s old town. The church is now the only complete medieval church in Shrewsbury. It dates from Saxon times and has beautiful additions from the twelfth-century onwards.

St Chad’s Church is the only grade 1 listed circular Georgian church in England.  It overlooks the Quarry and has a wonderful view of the Dingle gardens.

the dingle

St. Alkmund’s church is named after a prince of the Christian Kingdom of Northumbria, who was murdered by Eardwulf and became a saint.  In 889, Aethelfleda, the ‘Lady of the Mercians’, governed Mercia.  She believed that St. Alkmund was her ancestor, and she named the churches on the route from Gloucester to Chester, through Mercia, after him – so the churches would have some protection from marauding Danes – hence Aymestrey, Whitchurch and Shrewsbury all have a St. Alkmund’s church.  Let’s hope he protects us from future marauding viruses!the dingle

Published in the May edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

dragon

Today’s Treasures – Happy St. George’s Day

Today’s Treasures – Happy St. George’s Day

The Story of the Patron Saint of England

It is believed that George was born in Cappadocia – an area which is now in Turkey – in the 3rd century; that his parents were Christians; and that when his father died, George’s mother returned to her native Palestine, taking George with her. George became a soldier in the Roman army and rose to the rank of Tribune.

The Emperor of the day, Diocletian (245-313 AD), began a campaign against Christians at the very beginning of the 4th century. George is said to have objected to this persecution and tore up the Emperor’s order against Christians which infuriated Diocletian.  George was imprisoned but refused to deny his faith. Eventually he was dragged through the streets of Palestine and beheaded. Stories of his courage spread throughout Europe.

King Edward III made him the Patron Saint of England when he formed the Order of the Garter  in St. George’s name in 1350, and the cult of the Saint was further advanced by King Henry V, at the battle of Agincourt in northern France.

In Shakespeare’s play, King Henry V completes his famous pre-battle speech with the phrase: “Cry God for Harry, England and St. George!”

There is however more myth than fact in the story of St. George and The Dragon. Folklore tells  that St. George killed a dragon on the flat topped Dragon Hill in Uffington, Berkshire, and that no grass grows where the dragon’s blood fell.  This tale was similar to The Golden Legend printed by Caxton in 1483.  Saint George was quickly incorporated into miracle plays adapted from pagan sources and is a prime figure in the famous epic poem The Fairie Queen portrayed as the Redcrosse Knight.

The Golden Legend tells the story of a town in Cappadocia, terrorised by a dragon; to placate it, the townspeople fed it sheep, then people were selected by a straw poll to be sacrificed to the dragon.  Unbeknown to the King, the princess had included her name and eventually she drew the short straw.  The king was mortified, but the princess insisted on taking her place – happily just then St. George came along.  When the princess explained her predicament, Saint George confronted the dragon, made the sign of the cross and then stabbed the dragon with his sword, wounding it.  Led by the girl’s girdle, the dragon followed them into the town.

The townspeople were terrified when they saw the dragon, but George told them if the King and all the people were baptised then he would slay the dragon – they agreed, the dragon was slain and a church of Our Lady and Saint George was built on the site – where there sprang up a fountain of healing water which flows to this day.  The story continues, telling how Saint George continued to preach Christianity and so earned the wrath of Diocletian, he survived many attempts on his life until he was finally beheaded.

The photograph of this dragon was taken at The British Ironwork Centre near Oswestry with Clive Knowles at a charity event;  the centre reopened to visitors on 12th April.  Visit www.britishironworkcentre.co.uk @britishironworks for more details.

#StGeorgesDay

dragon

Published in the April edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

stroking a sheep

Dorking chickens – and amazing coincidences

Dorking Chickens – Amazing Coincidences

The story started last year during lockdown when I hatched some Silver Grey Dorking hen eggs in an incubator.  All five hatchlings turned out to be cockerels – so we couldn’t keep them all.  Sadly a fox got Dillon our resident rooster – se we needed to keep one – three of the others went to a neighbour, the fourth one escaped this fate – so we were left with two cockerels who just about tolerated each other.  I advertised for ages on www.preloved.co.uk, then, last week, I had an enquiry from www.wildlife-sanctuary.org.uk and yesterday we delivered a cockerel to them in Pendeford, Wolverhampton .  We had trouble finding it and turned round in a car park – which I noticed was a Midcounties Co-op – at Coven (coincidence number 1)

We met Mark and Tina who run the sanctuary – which is a sensory park – set up to give anyone with disabilities a wildlife experience in a safe space and offering autism therapy and land-based learning.  They explained that they particularly wanted Dorking chickens because they are one of the oldest breeds.  The children wanted a bird dinosaur and this was the nearest they could find!  Dorkings have five ‘toes’ – an extra claw on the hind leg which possibly demonstrates this.  They were absolutely thrilled with their new cockerel.

Needless to say, we were shown around and met extremely tame sheep and pigs – I had never stroked a pig before!  (They are bristly!).  I asked where they got their funding from and Mark said that Midcounties Co-op (not The Co-op like people usually say) had helped a lot, initially funding a ramp for disabled access.  Then, last Christmas, during lockdown, they were at their wits end, having run out of food for the animals and birds – and they rang Midcounties and asked if they could have any out of date food – Midcounties have been supplying them with food ever since.  I explained that I was a director of www.midcounties.coop Amazing coincidence.

The final coincidence is that I put some more Dorking eggs in the incubator – and yesterday the first ones hatched.  Hopefully there will be some ladies who will have a lovely home with a beautiful cockerel – making autistic children happy.

Bonnie the pig featured in several Midcounties stories as a piglet.  We were talking about animal welfare and Tina said she loves the fact the co-op source food sustainably and buy from suppliers who properly care for animals.  I would love to see this story on a co-op advert –  after all – “It’s what we do!

stroking Bonnie the pig stroking a sheep

Today’s Treasures – A Taste of Summer

Today’s Treasures  A TASTE OF SUMMER

In these dreary days before Spring really gets going it’s nice to look back on summer and the flowers that bloom in our English Country Gardens.

Daffodils, hearts ease and flox
Meadowsweet and lady smocks
Gentian, lupine and tall hollyhocks
Roses, foxgloves, snowdrops, forget me nots
In an English country garden – according to the song by Jimmie Rodgers

And poppies and evening primroses, cosmos and sweet peas with their vibrant colours and heavenly scents, which all brightened us up during 2020.

evening primrose

It looks like Easter is going to be as exciting as the non-event that Christmas turned out to be, but at least we have a vaccine now – and our most vulnerable people have some protection.

Whilst we wait for the celandines, coltsfoot and primroses to follow the snowdrops and crocuses as spring unfolds, we look to the herb garden to brighten up home-cooking which I am sure we are all getting heartily fed up of doing.  Take-aways are simply not the same as sitting as a table with a glass of wine and a beautiful view and being presented with a menu that you don’t have to shop for or cook.

Some herbs grow through the winter – rosemary, thyme, sage and bay leaves – others are very effective as dried herbs – and make delicious flavours for the simplest meals – tarragon chicken, garlic and parsley bread, minted peas, pasta with basil and oregano.

In the summer I always freeze some fresh herbs in ice cube trays – chopped mint and parsley and grated horseradish for sauces, and basil and marjoram to add to pasta dishes, chopped coriander for curries.

Herbs – fresh or frozen – also make excellent herbal teas – hyssop regulates blood pressure, peppermint helps digestion, chamomile for stress relief, lavender helps sleep, sage is stimulating, fennel is relaxing.

lovage

Published in the March edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Today’s Treasures – Snowdrops, Sunsets and Sunshine

Today’s Treasures – Snowdrops, Sunsets and Sunshine

sunset

As I write, the hotels, cafes, and restaurants are closed again, all events are still cancelled, and a lot of people are still in isolation – but we do have a vaccine, the snowdrops are out, the days are getting longer – and the end of winter is in sight.

snowdrops

Lots of things have changed during the last year.  People have discovered that they really do not need to travel so much – it’s possible to work from home – and it’s relatively easy to hold a council meeting online – and in fact it’s much easier for more people to attend when they don’t have to travel.

Families have become closer – finding things to do together.  Books, jigsaws and family games have come out of hibernation and everyone has learnt about home education.  We home-educated two of our children (under very different circumstances!) and there’s a book telling our story on Amazon

 

The January sunsets have been amazing, the rain turned to snow and snowmen – and women – and snowdogs and cats – in all shapes and sizes (some even wearing masks!) decorated many gardens.  The snow was more magical somehow – knowing that we hadn’t got to go out and drive in it!

sunset Grinshill

We have learned to enjoy dancing and singing, via Zoom, shared music and films, watched wildlife and this year we can look forward to a summer when most of the vulnerable people will have been vaccinated and we can have long-overdue birthday parties and celebrations in the sunshine.

Published in the February edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Soulton Long Barrow

Today’s Treasures – Soulton Long Barrow

Today’s Treasures – Soulton Long Barrow

Soulton Long Barrow

Soulton Long Barrow

During the second lockdown, the Ashton family very kindly offered the opportunity to walk from Soulton Hall, to Soulton Long Barrow following the standing stones marking the way.

standing stone

It’s the perfect site for a modern barrow as signs of a settlement here go back to the Neolithic period (about 5,500 years ago).  In the Bronze Age, a barrow was built to the east, and an Iron Age Hillfort was built at Bury Walls about a mile south east of Weston-under-Redcastle.

The Roman road from Viriconium (Wroxeter) to Mediolanum (Whitchurch) goes through the farm and in the Dark Ages the manor was on the border between Powys and Mercia.

To the north-east of Soulton Hall, the site of a fort is still visible – built after the Conquest of 1066 during the reign of King Stephen and empress Matilda around 1130.  It is thought that the remains of a deserted medieval village are located to the north of the hall along Soulton Road.  The earliest surviving deed for the manor is dated 1399.

Soulton Long Barrow has been built with niches to safely keep the ashes of loved ones in a calm and private space.  Funerals, placement ceremonies and memorial services held there are powerful and moving experiences and the barrow exudes a calm tranquil atmosphere perfect for remembering and celebrating the lives of those who have moved on.

As with all ancient barrows, the burial mound is aligned to the Midsummer solstice – in line with the rising sun on Midsummer’s Day. It stands between two natural ponds, surrounded by trees with a clear view across the fields to Hawkstone Hill.

pool

During 2020 outdoor theatre has been performed in the natural amphitheatre located alongside the barrow.

Published in the January 2021 edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Today’s Treasures – Butterflies, Bees and Blackcurrants

Today’s Treasures –  Butterflies, Bees and Blackcurrants

bee on borage

Life can be a challenge sometimes and, although places are opening their doors again, people are still scared to go out – and anyone who had social issues before – has much more to deal with now.  But people have found solace in nature – growing vegetables and enjoying walks and found life’s little treasures all around them in flowers and trees and butterflies and bees.

I walk around the field every morning and there is always something new to see.  When it’s been wet, toadstools spring up unexpectedly overnight and when it’s sunny butterflies dance along the hedgerows.  The buddleia flowers are opening and butterflies of all colours love its purple blooms.

toadstool

I bought a packet of mixed seeds ‘flowers for butterflies’ and planted them in an old wheelbarrow, they’ve been really pretty – corn cockle, cornflower, field poppy, vipers bugloss, forget-me-not, corn marigold.

wheelbarrow of flowers

I always leave some ragwort at the edge of the field for the Cinnabar Moth and in July I check every day for the appearance of their striking orange and black caterpillars.

cinnabar moth caterpillar on ragwort

The blackcurrants are ripe and the kitchen is fragranced with the rich aroma of blackcurrant jelly and the anticipation of that first delicious mouthful on toast the next morning.

The chicks that hatched in an incubator during lockdown have grown.  Dillon III – who was the only one to hatch successfully in the first batch – is the boss and leads them on forays around the garden.  They are quite mischievous and keep finding ways to get out – under or over the fence, trying my patience somewhat!

chicks

The herb garden is at its best – and the bees love all the blues and purples – sage, hyssop, thyme, rosemary, chives, borage and marjoram.

herb garden

Life is not about the destination – but the journey – every day is a gift – fill it with moments to treasure.

Published in the August edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

The Evening Primroses are out

 

The Evening Primroses are out

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So called because of the transformation of their bedraggled daytime appearance into beautiful, fragrant, phosphorescent, fragile pale yellow blooms when the flowers open in the early evening. Long known for its medicinal properties – since the Flambeau Ojibwe tribe first used it in a poultice to heal bruises and clear skin problems – it is now used as a treatment for pre-menstrual tension and, more recently, nervous disorders, particularly multiple sclerosis.

Its generic name Oenothera biennis, comes from the Greek ‘oinos’ (wine) and ‘thera’ (hunt). According to ancient herbals the plant was used to dispel the ill effects of wine – and the oil does appear to be effective in counteracting alcohol poisoning and preventing hangovers.

A native of North America, The Evening Primrose was introduced to Europe in 1614 when botanists brought the plant from Virginia as a botanical curiosity – many strains of the plant also came to Britain as stowaways in soil used as ballast in cargo ships.

Apart from all this plant’s amazing herbal properties, the roots can also be used as a vegetable – and boiled they taste like sweet parsnips. Personally, I just enjoy looking at them!

Midsummer in Barbara’s Back Yard

Midsummer in Barbara’s Back Yard

It’s June and I have finally managed to replant the hanging baskets with petunias and fuchsias – bought this year – geranium cuttings overwintered in the conservatory – and Busy Lizzies (Impatiens) bought online as plug plants and planted out into pots when they arrived.  Couldn’t get any lobelia so used Mexican Fleabane (Erigeron Karvinskianus) instead – it’s a mass of tiny white daisies and grows anywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last year I split up the Oriental Poppies and planted some on the rockery.  They have been absolutely stunning in the recent sunshine – poppies always make me think of Enid Blyton’s story of Greencaps the Goblin who made caps for the poppies to protect their buds – and Cicely Mary Barker’s poem describing the seedheads ‘poppies with their pepperpots…’

A few years ago, an adjoining field was left wild.  People complained because it was full of thistles and ragwort – but there were also some really lovely wild flowers – pink campion, wild roses, white dead nettle – all of which relocated over the hedge and now grow in our field.  They do of course go a bit wild so you have to cut a lot of them down before they seed but I love the variety of wild flowers.

 

Last year I bought a packet of wild flower seed – not a lot of them germinated but the knapweed, ox-eye daisies and bedstraw have regrown this year and have been really beautiful.  Ox-eye daisies make excellent cut flowers – fresh, simple, and they last for ages.

There’s a Broom bush (Cytisus) which has seeded itself in the big field and has been truly magnificent this year.  I love Broom and my Dad bought me an orange version from a garden centre which I planted by the hen house.

Unfortunately it got blown over one winter and died but I found a seedling in the polytunnel – absolutely no idea how it got there – so I replanted it by the hedge and, to my amazement – it has turned out to be a beautiful variegated version.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The foxgloves are just coming out.  My aunt told me the story of how the fairies hide their dancing shoes in the foxgloves but – according to Enid Blyton – they hide them in the white dead-nettle flowers so the mice can’t steal them!

The fields have had a haircut – they look so different shaved of grass.  Good job they don’t need to go to a hairdresser, we’ve all had home hair-cuts this summer – and all the men have grown beards!  Farming is something that will not wait for anything – life goes on and haymaking is only restricted by the weather.   The little wild field has not been cut – it’s left to its own devices most of the time and provides a wonderful habitat for voles and mice – it’s full of butterflies in the summer – they love the bird’s foot trefoil and ragwort – as well as the not-so-wild buddleia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The herb garden has excelled this year – and the bees love it – all the purple flowers – chives, hyssop, rosemary, marjoram, sage, thyme.  And I keep finding different uses for them – lovage soup was not very successful – but adding some angelica when stewing rhubarb makes it sweeter – so you don’t need as much sugar.

Today I finally finished weeding the herb garden – planned for last week but then the heavens opened! Started early because it’s so warm – and had a lovely time. Took me two hours but during the morning, apart from bees and butterflies, I saw ladybirds, damselflies, a big dragonfly, a green shield bug, a beautiful red and black cinnabar moth – and then a toad crawled out of the chives and disappeared into the angelica. I don’t mind toads, they crawl, frogs hop and make me jump.  The herb garden is near the wild pond, full of yellow flag irises at the moment and surrounded by wild roses and honeysuckle.

A lovely morning topped off with some home-made elderflower champagne!

Barbara’s Back Yard in May

Barbara’s Back Yard in May

I had not anticipated growing many vegetables this year – because we planned to put our house on the market on 1st April.  Maybe we should not have chosen April Fool’s Day!  So, as Corona virus scuppered our plans, we decided to stay here another year, and I have replanted the vegetable patch – and, with all the extra time, the garden looks better than it ever has done!

I finally managed to replant the hanging baskets with petunias and fuchsias – bought this year – geranium cuttings overwintered in the conservatory – and Busy Lizzies (Impatiens) bought online as plug plants and planted out into pots when they arrived.  Couldn’t get any lobelia so used Mexican Fleabane (Erigeron Karvinskianus) instead – it’s a mass of tiny white daisies and grows anywhere.

Last year I split up the Oriental Poppies and planted some on the rockery.  They have been absolutely stunning in the recent sunshine – poppies always make me think of Enid Blyton’s story of Greencaps the Goblin who made caps for the poppies to protect their buds – and Cicely Mary Barker’s poem describing the seedheads ‘poppies with their pepperpots…’

A few years ago, an adjoining field was left wild.  People complained because it was full of thistles and ragwort – but there were also some really lovely wild flowers – ox-eye daisies, pink campion, wild roses, white dead nettle – all of which relocated over the hedge and now grow in our field.  They do of course go a bit wild so you have to cut a lot of them down before they seed but I love the variety of wild flowers.

Ox-eye daisies make excellent cut flowers – fresh, simple, and they last for ages.

A Broom bush (Cytisus) seeded itself in the big field and has been truly magnificent this year.  I love Broom and my Dad bought me an orange version which grew by the hen house.

Unfortunately it got blown over and died but I found a seedling in the polytunnel – absolutely no idea how it got there – but I replanted it by the hedge and, to my amazement – it has turned out to be a coloured version.

The foxgloves are just coming out.  My aunt told me the story of how the fairies hide their dancing shoes in the foxgloves but – according to Enid Blyton – they hide them in the white dead-nettle flowers so the mice can’t steal them!

The fields have had a haircut – they look so different shaved of grass.  Good job they don’t need to go to a hairdressers, we’ve all had home hair-cuts this summer – and all the men have grown beards!  Farming is something that will not wait for anything – life goes on and haymaking is restricted only by the weather.   The little wild field has not been cut – it’s left to its own devices most of the time and provides a wonderful habitat for voles and mice – and is full of butterflies in the summer – they love the bird’s foot trefoil and ragwort – as well as the not-so-wild buddleia. 

The herb garden has excelled this year – and the bees love it – all the purple flowers – chives, hyssop, rosemary, marjoram, sage, thyme.  And I keep finding different uses for them – lovage soup was not very successful – but adding some angelica when stewing rhubarb makes it sweeter – so you don’t need as much sugar.

Looking forward to June – sunshine, strawberries and elderflower champagne!