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

Bird's foot trefoil

Bird’s Foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)

Bird’s Foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)

Bird’s Foot Trefoil is a common plant of grassland.

Bird's foot trefoil

Lotus from the Greek lotos ‘a kind of clover’; and Corniculatus (Latin) ‘in the shape of a horn’ because of the shape of the seed-pods – which also give the plant it’s common name as the clawlike seed-heads look very much like a bird’s foot.

Another common name is ‘eggs and bacon’ because of the yellow and orange flowers.

bird's foot trefoil - eggs and bacon

The flowers are loved by bees and are a valuable foodplant for the caterpillars of the common blue, silver-studded blue and wood white butterflies.

silvesilver studded blue butterflies

Photographed on Llanymynech Hill – and with silver-studded blue butterfloies on Prees Heath Common.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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