Offa's Dyke path

Today’s Treasures – Offa’s Dyke Path

Today’s Treasures – Offa’s Dyke

Offa's Dyke path

BBC Countryfile recently visited Offa’s Dyke – the programme started in Knighton on the Powys/Shropshire border and finished at Treflach Farm and Sweeney Fen on the Montgomeryshire/Shropshire border.

Offa’s Dyke path goes from Sedbury in the south to Prestatyn in the north and broadly follows the English/Welsh border so you can therefore often have one foot in Wales and one foot in England as you follow the path – as Matt Baker demonstrated on Countryfile.

The path goes through the Llanymynech Rocks nature reserve, managed by both Shropshire and Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trusts, it’s adjacent to the Lynclys Common Nature Reserve and borders an Industrial Heritage Site managed by the Llanymynech Heritage partnership which maintains the amazing Hoffman Lime Kiln with its tall chimney.

limekiln chimney

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.

bee orchisrock climbing

All in all, it’s a fascinating area and takes days to explore properly with something for everyone, fossils in the limestone, a stunning array of wildflowers (including several species of orchids) which are loved by many different butterflies; abseiling, rock climbing, the archeological history and industrial heritage of mining and limeworks and not least the magnificent views across wales.

view from Llanymynech hill

Pubished in the September 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.

Today’s Treasures – Bluebells

Today’s Treasures – Bluebells

Our English Bluebell has many names: wood bell, cuckoo’s boots, wood hyacinth, lady’s nightcap, bell bottle, fairy bells, witches’ thimbles – and in Scotland – it’s called the wild hyacinth as the harebell is the Scottish bluebell. Its Latin name is Hyacinthoides non-scripta but it used to be called Endymion non-scripta (after the beautiful youth Endymion of Greek mythology)

Bluebells love the dappled shade of beech trees but thrive in any woodland with grassy glades. Bluebell woods have a magic all of their own, following winding paths through velvet carpets of vivid blue, pause a moment, listen to the birdsong, feel the spring sunshine, and savour the exquisite fragrance enveloping you; let your mind wander into the mythical kingdom of the elves and as the tiny flowers tremble in the breeze you can hear the fairy bells tinkling in fairyland.

This is Combermere Abbey’s bluebell walk through mixed woodland, the bluebells love the damp shade of mossy dells and dappled glades and grow in profusion alongside the paths.

bluebells

THE BLUEBELL FAIRY

My hundred thousand bells of blue,
The splendour of the Spring,
They carpet all the woods anew
With royalty of sapphire hue;
The Primrose is the Queen, ’tis true.
But surely I am King!
Ah yes,
The peerless Woodland King!

CICELY MARY BARKER

Bluebells are relatively rare in the rest of the world and half of the world’s population of bluebells grow in the UK.

@CombermereAbbey

Published in the June edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

chick in hand

Barbara’s Backyard – Hatching Chicks

Barbara’s Backyard – Hatching Chicks

I’ve written this blog as a reminder to myself of the specifications and times for hatching chicks in an incubator – and when to do what – but it should be helpful to anyone else thinking about hatching chicks.

An incubator is designed to regulate incubation temperature (about 99.5 degrees F for hens), and humidity (between 35-45% until the last two days when it should be raised to 65-75% for hatching) and some also rotate the eggs – if it doesn’t – then you have to do this manually.

A broody hen does not of course know what temperature her nest is – or the humidity – or how many times a day she has turned her eggs – but she seems to get a better hatching rate than my incubator!

Choose eggs ideally up to 7 days old – but they can be up to 14 days old.

Wipe the eggs if necessary – and store pointed end down. Egg shells are porous so don’t wet them.

Mark the eggs – I put an ‘X’ on one side and a ‘O’ on the other side – and I use a felt pen although often a pencil is recommended – but my eyesight isn’t that good!

Turn the incubator on and leave to warm up for a few hours.

Put the eggs in the incubator and leave for 24 hours to settle – day 1.  On the following days you need to turn the eggs 3 times a day – this prevents the embryo sticking to the shell.

Turning 3 times a day means that they are a different side up every night.  Don’t panic if you miss a few turns – hens can’t count.  But it helps if the eggs are a different side up each night.  I keep a notebook and mark every time they have been turned with a ‘O’ or an ‘X’.

Candling – is holding an egg against a light to see if a chick is developing – this can be done at day 8 but you can see better at day 14.  I don’t do this because I only have a tiny incubator so only have 8 eggs to turn and as an amateur, I am never sure what I am looking at.  It also means opening the incubator more which upsets temperature and humidity, so I just turn them three times a day and top up the water – and hope for the best.  50% hatching rate is normal, the most you are likely to get is 80% hatch.

Day 18 – increase the humidity to 65% and stop turning the eggs – just leave them until they hatch – usually 21 days for hens.

Turning the eggs on the 21st day, it’s incredible to think that there might be a little life inside each egg, a tiny heart beating, just waiting for the right moment to break the shell. Life is amazing. 

My Silver Grey Dorking chicks never started hatching until day 22 – and sometimes it was day 25 before the last one hatched – so don’t despair.  Just wait and DO NOT be tempted to help them.  It can be really painful hearing a chick cheeping, but their chances of survival massively increase if you leave them alone.  (There speaks the voice of experience.)

One chick took 3 days to hatch from pipping – so don’t worry.

chick in incubator

 

If you try and help, the chick may not absorb the egg yolk properly, and its legs may not develop properly.

And you don’t need to move chicks – they can happily stay in the incubator for 72 hours before they need to be moved to a brooder.

Absorbing the yolk gives chicks enough nutrients for about 72 hours – which allows other eggs to hatch before mother hen leaves the nest to find food and water.  Newly hatched chicks spend the first 4 days mostly sleeping – so don’t rush to move them.

brooder

Most of what I have read says that the first few days chicks need a temperature of around 95 degrees F – which is nearly the temperature that they hatched at – then it is recommended to

reduce the temperature by 5 degrees each week until week 6 – when you get to 70 degrees.  In practice, the chicks just move further away from the heat source as they grow.

And temperature depends on a lot of things – the size of the space they are kept in – the number of chicks that hatch – one chick is going to be much colder on its own than cuddling up to brothers and sisters – so the best advice I have read is to use common sense.

If the chicks are all huddled together cheeping then they are probably too cold.  If they are asleep together then they are fine.

If they are panting and cheeping then they are too hot. If they are hopping about and drinking and eating then they are OK.

chick in hand

I use hay as bedding but you can use shavings, sawdust, or straw, whatever you use it needs to be changed regularly.

Chicks need chick crumbs for the first 6 weeks, then you can give them growers pellets – it’s a good idea to feed a mixture of both for 2 weeks, gradually reducing the crumbs.

Mother hen will peck corn into tiny pieces for her chicks but your chicks will have to put up with pellets until they can fend for themselves.

chicks 4 weeks old

Chicks at 4 weeks old

At 8 weeks they will have all their feathers and can go outside but they will still need protecting from rain and wind – and predators – and will of course need to be indoors at night.

Introducing them to the hen house can be a bit fraught – and I leave this as long as possible as hens will have a pecking order and the current residents will want to demonstrate this quite forcefully.

hen with chicks

Ducklings take 28 days to hatch and the humidity needs to be higher. So I tend to leave mother duck to this task. The most wonderful thing about ducklings is the first time they find they can swim in their water bowl.  I have read that ducklings shouldn’t be allowed to swim until they have their feathers – but as long as they are warm and can get dry quickly – and the water is very shallow – I have never had a problem with tiny ducklings having a swim!

When they get older and go in a proper pond, they discover that they can swim underwater and they get so excited splashing from one end of the pool to the other, wonderful to watch.

ducklings in pen

 

 

 

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