bee on comfrey

Today’s Treasures – Bees

Today’s Treasures – Bees

bee on comfrey

Some interesting facts about bees:

  • There are over 25,000 species of bees.
  • Honeybees live in a colony, but many bees are solitary and nest alone – but often near to other bees.
  • Most bees live for about 6 weeks, but some bees live for years.
  • In one day, a foraging honeybee can visit up to 2000 flowers.
  • It takes around 12,000 bee hours to make a 1.5 kg jar of honey.

beehive

Male bees do not sting, and their job is to mate with the queen.  The worker honeybees are female and do sting – but only when it’s really necessary as they are damaged in the process and die afterwards.

Turning nectar into honey is a two-stage process involving chemically changing the sugars in the nectar from complex to simple sugars and reducing the water content. When complete, the honeybees seal the honeycomb with a white wax cap. This keeps the honey fresh in a natural airtight container for the winter.

If natural, raw, unfiltered honey is stored properly in sealed containers it can last virtually forever – the bees’ honey-making process combined with the high sugar content and low pH prevent organisms from damaging it.

beekeeper

Bees love my herb garden, sage and thyme, lavender and chives – and, later in the year, hyssop, rosemary and marjoram – and they love the wild flowers – especially comfrey and foxgloves.  I’ve spent many relaxing hours watching them popping into foxglove bells and cleaning the pollen off the fairy shoes – as Enid Blyton so elegantly described the stamens.

Wild flowers are generally much better for bees – cultivated forms are often hybrids propagated by cuttings and they have evolved without need for pollinators so most produce little nectar or pollen.  So, plant old-fashioned varieties of hellebore, salvia, rudbeckia, cosmos, sedum and verbena – and snowdrop and crocus for early spring when there are very few flowers – they provide a much-needed source of pollen for our bees.

Some businesses have planted wild flowers around their car parks and installed beehives – like Midcounties Co-operative – who now have a head beekeeper, Lee Franklin, at their head office in Warwick.

www.midcounties.coop

Published in the July edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

2 canal boats

Today’s Treasures – Canals – accessible green spaces for everyone

Today’s Treasures – Canals – accessible green spaces for everyone2 canal boats

In North Shropshire we are very fortunate to have the Llangollen branch of the Shropshire Union canal providing a wildlife corridor connecting our quaint market towns and our beautiful meres and mosses.

From Whitchurch, the canal vaguely follows the Welsh border, travels through Whixall Moss, borders the lake at Colemere, then meanders along past Whitemere and Blake Mere to Ellesmere.  At Lower Frankton, the Llangollen branch goes west to the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and the Montgomery canal heads south to Freestone Lock near Newtown.  Initially named the Montgomeryshire Canal – and now fondly known as ‘the Monty’ it does not – and never did – go to the town of Montgomery.

The Montgomery Canal was built in the early 19th century, primarily to transport lime for agricultural purposes and it was the landowners that were granted permission by Parliament in 1794:  “An act for making a navigable Canal from or near Porthywain Lime Rocks in the parish of Llanyblodwell, in the county of Salop, to or near Newtown, in the county of Montgomery”.

Over the last 40 years more than half of the 34 mile long canal has been restored to navigation.  The Canal and River Trust are currently working with Friends of the Montgomery Canal to restore ‘The Monty’ and all its locks and bridges, connecting, along its route, market towns, heritage railways, ancient footpaths, earthworks and castles. www.restorethemontgomerycanal.org.uk

The Canal and River Trust looks after 2,000 miles of waterways making a significant contribution to improving the wellbeing of millions of people, providing accessible green and blue spaces everywhere – even in cities.  It works with communities and volunteers across England and Wales to transform canals and rivers into spaces that support wildlife and make people feel better. www.canalrivertrust.org.uk

canal barge

Published in the June edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

waves

Today’s Treasures – Meditation

Today’s Treasures – Meditation

waves

It’s two years since a new virus reared its ugly head and the world, as we knew it, changed.  We had to adapt and learn to survive in a different way, in a very different world.

We couldn’t do some of the things we took for granted but we learned to appreciate the ones that were still available – like enjoying making and eating meals – and many of us learned new skills to help us adapt – like meditation.

Many more people found that meditation helps with lots of stress related conditions like headaches, insomnia, IBS, indigestion and phobias.  Sleeping and eating are a vital part of every day and our bodies need a regular balance of both or they start to complain.  A regular routine for sleeping and eating helps balance the rhythms of our body and meditation can help establish this routine and will enhance the beneficial effects.

You don’t need anything special in order to meditate and you can start with just a few minutes a day – as you reap the benefits you will most likely want to meditate more but just a few moments enjoying watching a butterfly on a flower will be beneficial.

butterfly

You can sit on the floor or in a chair – or lie down – it really doesn’t matter.  The best meditation I have ever experienced was sitting on a deserted beach feeling the sand touching my feet and hands – being a part of the ground beneath me, watching the waves cascading onto the beach – nothing else existed, just me and the sand and the waves.  A magical experience but you can recreate a taste of that by just standing still and really listening to the birds singing, closing your eyes and enjoying the fragile scent of a primrose, or concentrating on the brilliantly coloured patterns on the wings of a butterfly.  With meditation you just focus on something totally and shut everything else out.

Meditation music can really help, try some of the tracks on

https://www.youtube.com/c/MeditationalState/featured

This whispering music enhances the senses, creating metaphysical sensations of silvery sparkes which release negative energy and the vibrations emanate a tranquil feeling of wellbeing.

meditation

Published in the March edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

a painted pebble

Today’s Treasures – Serendipity – A lucky find, an unplanned fortunate discovery

Today’s Treasures – Serendipity – A lucky find, an unplanned fortunate discovery

a painted pebble

This beautifully painted pebble was found recently in Prees.  It’s such a lovely idea, and it really cheered me up.  So I looked up ‘Love on the rocks uk’ on Facebook and found the page which says:

“Paint a rock, write ‘Facebook love on the rocks uk’ on the back, take a photo and let us know where you are hiding it, then make a stranger smile when they find it.  It’s so easy, spread the love.”

We’ve kept this pebble for a little while – it’s on the windowsill in the kitchen – but it will be hidden again somewhere new soon – to hopefully make someone else smile.

a pebble with words 'love on the rocks'Arigatou gozalmasu
(Thank you in Japanese )
Fb:  Love on the Rocks uk
Share your find,
then keep me,
or rehide me,
enjoy,
PPN x

Anyone can join in, you just need a pebble and some acrylic paints and you can share on ‘Love on the rocks uk (hiding rocks – making smiles)’

I wish I had found this pebble during the first lockdown as I would have painted lots of pebbles and hidden them all over North Shropshire once I could go out again – we all needed a lot of cheering up by then as many of us had only seen smiles on screens!

Serendipity can mean a lot of things – have you ever been in a bookshop and found yourself drawn to a particular book which you then had to buy – and somehow the story held a message that was relevant to your life at that time

Or woken up with a song in your head, turned the radio on and that same song was playing?

Or wished for something and seen a shooting star?

Today’s Treasures are things that have extraordinary meanings in people’s lives – serendipity.

 

sunlight on field

Today’s Treasures – Happy New Year

Today’s Treasures – Happy New Year

A new year – a new start – January is about looking forward – to Spring – to new beginnings – the trees reawakening with the lengthening days, new lambs in the fields, snowdrops in the woods and the birds in their bright spring colours getting ready for courtship.

sunlight on field

North Shropshire has some beautiful places to go for a walk – Prees Heath Common, Whixall Moss, Ellesmere and Colemere, Whittington castle and Brown Moss – take some corn or bird food and feed the ducks.

Ellesmere

We are so lucky to have the meres and mosses close by – with their easy walking and beautiful views. There are also several interesting canal walks along the Llangollen canal – including the staircase locks at Grindley Brook. The Whitchurch arm of the canal – is now abandoned but continues in a beautiful walk through Whitchurch Country Park – as does the disused canal at Dobson’s bridge – which the swans have now colonised making their nests there each year.

Brown Moss

Several paths cross North Shropshire – The Sandstone Trail, the Shropshire Way – and Offa’s Dyke is on the Welsh border.  Whitchurch Walkers organise regular walks locally: www.whitchurchwalkers.co.uk as do Prees Walking Group – which you can find on Facebook.  www.shropshiresgeatoutdoors.co.uk has lots of great walks – which include some historical information as well as access details.

ducks

Get 2022 off to a happy, healthy start by enjoying our beautiful countryside and treading in the footsteps of historical figures that have walked before us – right back to King Offa at Whittington Castle; the commoners who dug peat for a living on Whixall Moss – and the famous names – Charles Darwin – the naturalist born in Shrewsbury who studied the geology of Llanymynech Rocks; Randolph Caldecott, born in Chester but who created his illustrations for ‘The House that Jack Built’ whilst working in Whitchurch. They all found inspiration from our Shropshire hills, rivers, woods, meres and mosses.

Published in the January edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

inclinometer

Today’s Treasures – Whixall Moss

Today’s Treasures – Whixall Moss

lift bridge

The Marl Allotment (or Marlot as it is known locally) is an area of common land between Whixall Moss and the Llangollen canal which has now been designated a Local Nature Reserve.  It gets its name from ‘marl’ a crumbly limestone clay which was used as a fertiliser and the clay may also have been dug out and used to line the canal – which could explain how the ponds were formed.

The Marlot has been incorporated into the circular Whixall Mosses Trails that can be accessed from Roundthorn Bridge and Morris Lift Bridge (pictured).

Whixall Moss is the most amazing place – a wilderness of bogmosses, ferns and cotton-sedges – described by Gladys Mary Coles as “a kingdom of sphagnum where space and time interweave”; it reminds me of a long-forgotten English lesson learning about D H Lawrence: “He breathes the fern seed and drifts back, becomes darkly half vegetable, devoid of preoccupations,” – which probably ignited in me the first stirrings of inspiration to be a writer.

Throughout the summer and autumn, a series of sculptures depicting wood and metal work measuring tools formed an art trail across the moss.  This inclinometer, created by Elizabeth Turner & Keith Ashford is one of the waymarking sculptures.  An inclinometer is “a tool for measuring angles to the horizontal.  Its curve reminds us of the turn of our head as we scan the horizon”.

inclinometer

As well as being a SSSI, at nearly 1,000 hectares, Fenn’s, Whixall and Bettisfield Mosses together form one of the largest lowland raised bogs in Britain.  The acidic and waterlogged ground provides the perfect environment for rare bog plants and insects to thrive, including 18 species of sphagnum bog moss, cranberries, bog rosemary, bog asphodels, and sundews; nearly 2,000 species of invertebrates; bird calls from teal, curlews, skylarks and hobbys fill the air – and adders can be seen basking in the sunshine.   Formed at the end of the last ice age, sphagnum bog moss absorbed and acidified the rain, water-logging the peat surface and dying vegetation became preserved as layers of peat which, in turn, preserved history – a bronze age axe and 3 peat bodies have been discovered on the reserve.

bogoration

 

“It took millennia to lay us down, the ferns & moss decay.
Down in the ancient darkness, the ancient dead were laid.
The sedges and the mosses, the grazing lands of beasts.
And all the time the Earth rolled on and nature was at peace.”

(From ‘Bogoration’ by Dave Lock)

 

 

 

 

Meres and Mosses

 

 

 

 

 

Published in the December edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Crisis What Crisis?

Today’s Treasures – Blackberry Fair Art Trail

Today’s Treasures – Blackberry Fair Art Trail – Hope From the Wild

creative sculpture

Blackberry Fair had a different format this year with the Hope from the Wild art trail but it retained the traditional theme of sustainability which was visible in all the artworks like ‘It Could all Come out in the Wash’ outside the Civic Centre created by John Rainford – the world of the positive future – with wood and metal pegs (on the right) replacing the plastic pegs holding up the negative words on the left.

Leap of Faith by Fee Jackson highlights the plight of our oceans drowning in plastic.

leap of faith

‘Bogoration’ tells the story of The Peatbog in a poem by Dave Lock and is situated in the Country Park along with ‘Dragonfly’ by Russell Kirk.

bogoration

You can enjoy a beautiful walk along the Whitchurch arm of the Llangollen canal, follow Staggs Brook – home to some of Britain’s few remaining water voles – and stroll along the now abandoned remains of the canal that used to go all the way into Whitchurch.

dragonfly

Thank you to all the shops that took part to make this ‘Hope from the Wild’ art trail so interesting, all the artists and volunteers that made it possible – and to all the people – young and old – who made pledges to save the planet for future generations.

Love where you live

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published in the November edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Today’s Treasures – Llanymynech Hill

Today’s Treasures – Llanymynech Hill

Llanymynech Hill

LLanymynech Hill was once an impressive iron age or possibly late bronze age hillfort – one of the largest in Britain.  Archaeological excavations have revealed part of an iron age roundhouse and coins dating between 30 BC and 161 AD were found in the cave known as the Ogaf on top of Llanymynech Hill. There is evidence of copper and lead mining dating back to at least Roman times.  Lime putty mortars were used by the Romans and the use of lime as a fertiliser may date back to the medieval period.

image of a miner

The site is now a significant industrial heritage area.  From the early 19th Century to the end of the first World War limestone was quarried here – on both the Welsh side and the English side – eventually linked by a railway tunnel.  The Montgomery Canal was specifically built for the transportation of limestone from the hill and reached Llanymynech by 1786.  The opening of the Ellesmere Canal with connections to Birmingham and Liverpool greatly increased the market for Llanymynech limestone.

Originally, limestone would have been transported from the quarries to the canal by horse and cart. In 1806 a tramway and incline were constructed to transport limestone to a new wharf on the canal. In 1863 the Llanfyllin branch line, part of Cambrian Railways, opened and eventually took much of the lime trade from the canal although quarrying and lime burning continued until 1914

As well as abundant lime, Llanymynech was also near to sources of coal from the Oswestry, Chirk and Ruabon coalfield.

Limestone was burnt in a kiln to make quicklime and spread on fields to improve acidic soils; some was used in building mortar and some would also have been transported via the Montgomery Canal to the blast furnaces of Staffordshire as flux, cleaning the impurities in iron ore.

Built in 1899 and working until 1914, the lime kiln in Llanymynech village is one of only 3 remaining Hoffmann lime kilns in the country and the only one with its historic 42.5 metre tower intact.

limekiln tower

Being a more modern version of the old ‘inverted bottle’ type kiln, limestone was loaded through the arches – not from above – from trucks on temporary rails.  Iron rods were held in position through the holes in the roof so that packers beneath could build a stack of limestone rocks around them.

Coal was poured into the kiln through holes in its roof by the firers.  Each section through its respective arch was packed and fired in succession rather than every section packed and the whole kiln fired, the fire never goes out as it is transferred from one chamber to another.  All chambers connected to the single chimney shaft.

limekiln outside limekiln inside

 

 

 

 

 

Standing in the now derelict kiln shaded by a leafy canopy, it is difficult to imagine the working conditions that the men must have endured, the heat, the dust, the rumble of trucks, the smell of burning, the long hours and tiring manual labour entailed.

image of limekiln worker

Thanks to a conservation project managed by the Llanymynech Heritage Partnership the site has been restored and opened in 2008. www.llanylime.co.uk

Written for the Bronington Bugle

silvesilver studded blue butterflies

Today’s Treasures – Prees Heath Common

Today’s Treasures – Prees Heath Common

prees heath common

With the help of many volunteers, Prees Heath Common is managed by the Shropshire Wildlife Trust and Butterfly Conservation.

The old WWII airfield and surrounding land were restored to heathland to provide a haven for the few remaining silver-studded blue butterflies.  Heather brash was brought from Cannock Chase to provide food plants and the heath is now covered with many nectar rich flowers for the butterflies who are thriving.

silver studded blue butterflies

The heath has become a patchwork of yellow bird’s foot trefoil and pink-purple bell heather, interspersed with musk thistles, mulleins and evening primroses.  Larks soar overhead, buzzards sweep across the heath, chiffchaffs chatter in the crab apple trees, and yellowhammers sing their ‘little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheese’ in the hedgerows.

bell heather

The caterpillars of the silver-studded blue have a symbiotic relationship with ants.  The ants protect the caterpillars from predators and parasites and, in return, get to feed on a sugary substance produced by the caterpillars.  When the caterpillars pupate – often in ant nests just below the ground, the ants protect them – and they also look after the newly-emerged butterflies until their wings are dry and they can fly away.

The musk thistle (Carduus nutans) is loved by bees – and goldfinches love the seeds.  It is also called the nodding thistle because of the way it gracefully bows it elegant deep purple-pink flowerheads.

musk thistle

Find out more:  www.preesheathcommonreserve.co.uk

Published in the August edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

chamomile

Today’s Treasures – Wild Flowers

Today’s Treasures – Wild Flowers

Wild flowers feature in folklore as well as herbalism and the origins of some of their common and Latin names are fascinating.  Bird’s Foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) is so called because the seedpods look like a bird’s foot.  The latin name ‘lotus’ is Greek for clover and corniculatus means ‘in the form of a horn’ because of the shape of the seed-pods.

birds foot trefoil

Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum) Geranium is Greek meaning ‘a crane’ because of the shape of the fruit – like the bill of a crane – and robertianum is thought to be after Robert, Duke of Normandy, who was famous for his medical work in the Middle Ages.   The plant was once used for staunching blood.

herb robert

Wild Thyme (Thymus serpyllum).  Thymus from the Greek thumosthuein ‘to sacrifice’ because in ancient times the plant was used as incense in Greek temples.  Serpyllum again from the Greek herpullonherpein – to creep because of its snakelike habit of creeping along the ground.  The oil was used by the Egyptians for embalming and the Romans used it to purify their rooms.  Thyme has antiseptic properties, it is still used as a mouthwash; made into a tea it helps soothe sore throats and cure infected gums.  It is also purported to be good for hangovers!  And of course it’s a very useful culinary herb for soups, stews, stocks and stuffing.

thyme

Germander Speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys) is named after St. Veronica.  The original common English name for speedwells was Fluellen – derived from the old Welsh llysiau Llywelyn – the herb of St. Llywelyn.

germander speedwell

Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) from the Latin matrix ‘womb’ because the plant was thought to be good for uterine diseases and chamomilla from the Greek chamaimelon meaning ‘apple on the ground’ since the plant is apple-scented.  Chamomile has many uses for herbalists – fresh or dried chamomile flowers can be made into tea that relieves anxiety, aids digestion and helps you sleep.

Published in the July edition of the Whitchurch Gossip.