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

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

Update on the Spice Girls – our ex-batt Hens

Update on The Spice Girls – our ex-batt hens

The bad news is that Cinnamon didn’t make it, she was struggling to stand up and eventually just gave up.  The other three worked out how to hop out of their little pen and joined in scratching for bits in the hen house – keeping a wary eye out for the resident hens and keeping out of their way as much as possible.

Ginger has become very inquisitive and now she always hops out to meet me and follows me around, keeping close to my feet to avoid Doris and Fliss and Floss – the youngest hens.  Here she is pecking at the grass – it’s the first time she’s seen snow and she’s missing half her feathers but she’s happy to be outside when I am around.

Although the young hens don’t like the Spice Girls and peck at them if they get too close, the older hens are quite kind to them.  Ebony, the oldest, really doesn’t think a lot of Dillon and has always kept out of his way as much as possible.  She has found the little pen a refuge and spends quite a lot of time in there with the Spice Girls.

Whilst the rest of the hens perch at night, the Spice Girls all go back into their little pen.  I wonder if they will ever learn to sleep in the rafters.  In the meantime, they’ve learned how to perch on the edge of their pen in order to get out, that sunflower seeds are a treat worth running over for and grass is edible.

This is Dillon with Doris – she is the biggest bossy boots in the hen house and definitely top of the pecking order.

What will the Spice Girls make of Dillon?

What will the Spice Girls make of Dillon?

I was wondering what the Spice Girls (our newly arrived ex-battery hens) would make of Dillon – our Dorking cockerel – he’s grown into a really fine specimen.  He was a bit small when he arrived and I wasn’t sure if he would grow to full size, but, as you can see, he has.  I put an ad on www.preloved.co.uk when I lost my last cockerel and a very kind family from Kent donated him.  A friend of theirs was visiting family in Cheshire and she offered to deliver him.  We met at Audlem (which is how I came to write about Audlem for Today’s Treasures).  It was a baking hot day and she was worried he might get too hot – she was also worried that he might crow all the way there but he was really good and arrived safely.  I racked my brains of a way to say thank you – then spied the pumpkins – and thought they might be a good idea (it was September) so swapped Dillon for two pumpkins – one for Dillon’s taxi driver and one for his previous owner.

The Spice Girls have settled in – and are laying eggs!  But (as I was warned) have stayed pretty much in their little pen.  However, 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 – or was invisible.  Ginger ignored them too.  So I guess it will be a while before they realise they are all chickens and then there will be a bit of a scrap until they have sorted out the pecking order – and the Spice Girls will eventually find out that Dillon’s a cockerel!

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.

As advised, I’ve kept them in a smaller pen inside the hen house.  I shut them in the little pen for the first three nights.  I’ve taken the top off today so they can see outside but (as I was told but didn’t quite believe) they have stayed in their little pen.  I wonder how long it will be before they venture out.  They probably don’t even know they can jump onto the side of the pen to get out.

My hens all perch at night – I have put perches at a sensible height (3 – 4 feet off the floor) but the younger ones fly up to the rafters as high as they can get.  They fly up in stages but come down in one big jump – of course feathers help a lot in getting them safely to the ground.  It’s a big shed so they have plenty of room to manoeuvre and navigate a flight path.  The older hens are more sensible and perch lower – and come down in stages – I put straw bales in steps so they can hop down a bit at a time.

The Spice Girls are missing a lot of feathers and their combs (the red bit on the top of their head) are pale and droopy.  To henkeepers this is a sign that a hen isn’t happy.  Hopefully they will all be feeling better soon and their combs will be bright red and perky.  Cinnamon doesn’t seem to want to stand up much so I’m keeping an eye on her.

Here are some of the other hens outside with Dillon.

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.

_DSC1093s

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.

_DSC1012s

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.

_DSC1030s_DSC1035s

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.

_DSC1040s

See more photos at www.blackberryfair.co.uk

Published in the November edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Today’s Treasures – Audlem Wharf

Today’s Treasures – Audlem Wharf

sIMG_0872

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.

sIMG_0873c

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.

sIMG_0878c

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 www.audlemmill.co.uk for details.

sIMG_0883c

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

_DSC0887s

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.

_DSC0879s

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]

_DSC0852s

Published in the September edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Today’s Treasures Wollerton Old Hall Garden

Today’s Treasures

Wollerton Old Hall Garden

s_DSC0803

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.

s_DSC0741

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.

s_DSC0801

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 www.wollertonoldhallgarden.com

Or better still see the real thing

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

s_DSC0807s_DSC0802s_DSC0769s_DSC0756

s_DSC0752s_DSC0743

s_DSC0748s_DSC0742

s_DSC0738s_DSC0734

s_DSC0735

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

Ducks Go a Dabbling

The ducklings are now so big I can’t tell them apart from Arthur and Martha.  Love this clip, reminds me of Wind in the Willows – Ducks Ditty:
All along the backwater,
Through the rushes tall,
Ducks are a-dabbling,
Up tails all!

I cleaned the duck pond out today and filled it with clean water.  It’s only a plastic ornamental pond and not very big but the ducks love it – especially when it’s full of clean water.  Love this clip.

https://barbararainford.co.uk/ducks-are-a-dabbling