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Today’s Treasures Wollerton Old Hall Garden

Today’s Treasures

Wollerton Old Hall Garden

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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.

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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.

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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

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

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Today’s Treasures: The 9.22 Stockport to Stalybridge – one way only

On the 9.22 train from Stockport to Stalybridge

Last year, on my way to Wakefield for a conference, I inadvertently caught the 9.22 Stockport to Stalybridge once a week train. I say inadvertently because then I wasn’t aware that it is a unique train and only goes to Stalybridge once a week – and it doesn’t come back – you have to return via Manchester.

The track gets quite overgrown between Reddish South and Denton as this is the only train that visits these stations. It’s a Parliamentary line and, although it is many years since the workers from Oldham Battery Company went on their annual trips to Blackpool, it would take a vote by MPs to close Denton station – which is why it is still here.

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The train looks quite lonely waiting patiently in Stockport station for its weekly outing to Stalybridge. I felt it should have a name –like Thomas – or Toby – with coaches called Annie and Clarabelle – like in the Thomas the Tank Engine stories.  The doors creak open and I climb aboard, the diesel engine leaps eagerly into life and we chug along the overgrown track heading for Stalybridge. The train travels so sedately that I can identify the wildflowers populating the tracks – toadflax, foxgloves and evening primrose –hedges rambling with honeysuckle and wild roses and the white trumpets of bindweed climbing over crumbling drystone walls.

The old-fashioned train ambles along through tunnels hewn in the hillside, rocky sides and ancient stone walls sprouting moss and ferns, then we trundle over viaducts crossing rivers and cobblestone roads. Stone bridges cross canals that remember the days before the railways, when horses plodded quietly along the towpath bringing coal to the mills and delivering wool to the busy market towns.  These canals now guide tourists past lonely mills and warehouses with empty windows staring blankly at the world, haunted by the clamour of looms and treadmills creating endless patterns – and the tired hands that wove them.

Past towns whose spires pierce the sky and chimneys interrupt the skyline, warehouses old and new, wonderful old buildings now transformed into health clubs and conference centres.

Wheat fields marked with rain soaked patterns, sheep peacefully grazing hilltops they now share with telegraph poles and radio masts.

We stop at toy town stations with carefully tended flower beds, one person gets off, two people get on – the conductor knows them all as they are regular travellers – once a week!

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Finally we arrive at Stalybridge (where I am told you can get a really proper English breakfast) but I don’t have time to find out as I am jolted back to the present boarding the TransPennine Express to Leeds – and on to Wakefield.

 

Published in the July edition of the Whitchurch Gossip and the Drayton Gossip

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Freeze mint ready for mint sauce

Freezing mint ready to make mint sauce later in the year.

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There’s nothing like fresh mint sauce, made with freshly chopped mint – and freshly frozen mint is almost as good.  If your mint bed is is thriving, now is a good time to pick some and freeze it.  Just chop it and seal it in plastic bags.  You can do the same with parsley ready for parsley sauce.  I also freeze small quantities of basil, oregano, marjoram, coriander and tarragon for adding to meals like spaghetti bolognese and curries.

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I have two varieties of mint in my garden, apple mint (on the left) and peppermint (on the right).

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I find apple mint is the best variety to add to early potatoes to get that ‘new potato taste’ and to make mint sauce.  Peppermint leaves are delicious with Pimms, mixed with lemonade, lemon slices, cucumber slices, strawberries and ice.

To make mint sauce:

Mix together in a jug:
1 tblsp chopped mint leaves (fresh or frozen)
1 tblsp malt vinegar
hot water (ideally cabbage water)
1 tsp sugar

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Often you don’t have to go very far to find Today’s treasures

Often you don’t have to go very far to find Today’s treasures

June is a delicious month, a time of strawberries, new potatoes flavoured with apple mint, and the first broad beans melting with butter.  And the gardens are alive with colours – yellow flag irises decorate ponds, azaleas brighten up patios, rhododendrons mist the hillsides with a purple haze and poppies startle you with their brilliant red blooms.

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Butterflies and damselflies flex their wings and the heady scents of honeysuckle and wild roses fill the hedgerows.  Bees are busy investigating every single foxglove flower and the buttercups dance their golden heads in the summer breeze.

The bird table is alive with hatchlings, families of blue tits and great tits vie for space on the feeders – and the swallows return from far off places, wheeling and diving across our skies.  Alas, gone are the times when the cuckoo called across our fields and the skylarks sang high above our heads – we need to go further into the wilds of Wales to hear these birds now, but we get more visitors to our bird table – goldfinches, nuthatches and great spotted woodpeckers love peanuts and sunflower seeds.

June is also the time to make elderflower champagne (not really champagne – and in fact not alcoholic at all if you drink it soon enough – but it tastes delicious).  Iced elderflower cordial is the perfect complement for summer lunches – these traditional recipes were handed down to me by two elderly aunts – handwritten on yellowing paper, now immortalised on my website:  visit www.barbararainford.co.uk/recipes

So quite often, you don’t have to go very far for Today’s Treasures, you can always find something new in your own back yard – a blackbird’s liquid notes heralding the dawn, daisies opening up their petals to the sun’s rays, a glimpse of the first wild rose, the sweetness of strawberries, or honeysuckle’s saturating scent – stimulating all our senses.  As our very own Shropshire A.E. Housman said:  “What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?”  Take a moment to enjoy Today’s Treasures.

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Published in the June edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

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New Zealand White Rabbits – all Eny and Holly’s babies have new homes

New Zealand White Rabbits – all Eny and Holly’s babies have new homes

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I had the most wonderful day on Sunday. All 12 baby rabbits went to new homes and will become breeding rabbits.  One breeding trio (one buck and two does) will be going to Portugal with their new owner in September.  Brendon was telling me about his smallholding and how much he is looking forward to retiring there – and he will be taking Eny and Holly’s babies with him.  He said he has had to build a really strong fence to protect his livestock – the foxes are bigger there – and there are golden eagles and otters that eat rabbits and poultry.

This is the first time I have had two litters from different parents so they can be sold as breeding pairs – but I discovered it’s quite complicated working out the best way to pair them off.  It sounds simple but one breeder wanted one buck and one doe and Malcolm wanted two bucks and two does (from different litters) to increase the number of wild white rabbits that visit his Manor House garden.  He realised that my rabbits would not be used to being outside so he has built a pen for them as an interim stage to ‘going wild’.  It was so lovely to see them hopping about on the grass.  My breeding bucks and does live in pens outside most of the time but it’s too dangerous for the babies.  All sorts of things eat them – not least our cats – Lunar and Sooty – who are the same size as my bucks and eat wild rabbits for fun!

Eny and Holly are both due to have new litters next weekend.  If everything goes as well as last time, I shall be delighted.

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Eny’s babies 10 weeks old

 

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Eny

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Today’s Treasures – Stokesay Castle

Stokesay Castle: “One of the best-preserved medieval fortified manor houses in England” (according to historian Henry Summerson).

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It was built in the late 13th century by Laurence of Ludlow, a prosperous English wool merchant.  Designed as a prestigious, comfortable, but secure, home, English Heritage has preserved these medieval buildings – virtually unchanged since they were built – and kept them mainly untouched by modern furnishings.

Stokesay is mentioned in the Doomsday book and takes its name from the Old English “’stoc’ meaning a place or enclosure, or stoches, meaning cattle farm, and the Norman family name ‘Say’, the surname of the de Says family who had held the land from the beginning of the 12th century.

The castle consists of a stone hall and solar block protected by two stone towers and is surrounded by a moat, now colonised with wild flowers.  Entrance to the courtyard is via a stunning 17th century timber and plaster gatehouse next to where the café is situated.

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Standing on the staircase in this spacious hall, sheltered beneath the magnificent 13th century timbered roof, you can imagine Laurence and his family sitting at the high table at one end of the room with the rest of the household placed at tables running along the length of the hall.

Go back in time and you can envisage the fire burning in the hearth in the middle of the floor and hear the echoes of voices deep in conversation, feel the hall alive with music and busy with the comings and goings of servants fetching wine and beer from the buttery on the lower floor.

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Now the hall is cold and silent, lit by sunlight filtering through the tall Gothic windows, no fire burns in the bricked up hearth and the voices of past Sheriffs of Shropshire drinking from pewter tankards, toasting ladies in long-sleeved silk gowns are long-ago echoes of ages past.  But: “Even in its emptiness, the hall at Stokesay is one of the most evocative rooms in Englandhttp://englishbuildings.blogspot.co.uk

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published in the June edition of The Gossip magazine

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Mitchell’s Fold Stone Circle

Mitchell’s Fold Stone Circle

Mitchell’s Fold in South Shropshire is a Bronze Age stone circle dating back to 2000 BC (making it older than Stonehenge) and it lies on one of the mystical ley lines.

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We still do not fully understand why stone circles were built, but it is clear that they were ritually important for prehistoric people. Most of them have precisely aligned stones marking important lunar and solar events which became festival days like Beltane and Midsummer.

Neither do we understand ley lines – they are thought to be invisible alignments of mystical or magnetic energy areas in the Bronze and Iron Ages connecting sites like stone circles, standing stones, holy wells, hill tops and cairns.  They were forgotten in modern times but the networks of leys were accidentally preserved because many medieval churches were built on top of pagan sites.

There is also a suggestion that there is a connection between ancient sites on ley lines and extra-terrestrial craft which use them as a point of navigation – or to refuel by tapping into the energy.  Mitchell’s Fold is a location of high UFO activity with several sightings of discs and triangles over the years.

Whatever you believe, I have always had a strange feeling that ancient stones hold supernatural powers and I have to touch them to reach out to this energy.  When we visited Avebury I touched each of the stones – after all – they must have been touched by generations of people over the last two thousand years and those people must have left something of themselves in these special places all those years ago.

It was a beautiful Spring day and a lovely walk along the lane and across the heath to the stone circle; we counted the stones (we could only find 14) and then stood in the centre of the circle and admired the views east across Shropshire and west over Powys into Wales.

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As with many of these prehistoric sites, local folklore has a story to tell:  Once upon a time there was a great famine and a fairy gave the people of Mitchell’s Fold a magic cow – that would fill any container with milk.  One night an evil witch milked the cow into a sieve.  Once the cow realised the trick she disappeared, the witch was turned to stone and a circle of stones set around her so that she could not escape.

Mitchell’s Fold Stone Circle is now an English Heritage site.  There is also a Bronze Age axe factory nearby at Cwm Mawr, where distinctive axe-hammers were made from a rock type known as picrite which is found on a small hill just to the north-west of Hyssington.

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Coltsfoot – little dots of sunshine decorating the path

Coltsfoot – it’s name comes from the hoof-shaped leaves.

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Every spring, as soon as the daffodils start to come out, I start to look for coltsfoot flowers – then suddenly one morning, there they are, little yellow stars, dots of sunshine, decorating the path – the stems seem quite invisible until the flowers come out.

Like Butterbur, the flowers appear before the leaves.  In fact, Pliny and many of the older botanists thought that the Coltsfoot plant grew without leaves.  Rabbits like coltsfoot leaves but they will have to wait awhile for the foliage to appear.

Coltsfoot is a well-known herbal remedy for irritating coughs and respiratory disorders and Coltsfoot tea sweetened with honey will help soothe a dry cough.

The leaves were formerly smoked to relieve coughing and are even today included in herbal tobacco.

The seeds are crowned with a tuft of silky hairs which goldfinches like for lining their nests.

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Evolution Explored, Shrewsbury

Evolution Explored, honours Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury on 12th February, 1809 – if he visited his childhood town today I wonder what he would remember from his boyhood in Shrewsbury.  The river still meanders under English Bridge to the East and Welsh Bridge to the West and The Market Hall still stands in the Square, but he might be quaintly surprised that the Darwin Centre is a shopping centre and the museum is in the Music Hall – very confusing to any visitors to the town.

He might also be very interested in a unique outdoor photographic exhibition that has just arrived in Shrewsbury honouring his birthday and International Darwin Day and also commemorating the 70th anniversary of Magnum Photos – a co-operative of photographers formed in 1947. Noted for its diverse work chronicling world events and personalities, Magnum provides a living archive of people, places and discoveries reflecting our built environment, society and history that have shaped the world we live in today.

The exhibition was opened by Mike Matthews, Chairman of Shrewsbury BID with a very eloquent speech describing the range of photographs depicting a complex world of beauty, conflict, sadness, wonder, exploration, compassion and discovery and the emotions invoked by gazing at the images.

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David Hurn, one of Magnums most celebrated photographers, also spoke at the opening ceremony in St. Mary’s Church, saying how important photography is – in whatever format – and how much he hoped that the exhibition would reach out to young people and encourage their creative talents.

The photographs are displayed in two locations in the town – outside St. Mary’s Church and in The Square and are brought to Shrewsbury thanks to The Shrewsbury BID and The Hive.  Shrewsbury Business Improvement District represents over 500 businesses in the town and has been tasked with destination marketing – putting Shrewsbury on the tourist map. The Hive is a creative hub celebrating arts culture and creativity and providing funded creative projects for young people.

This exhibition is certainly unique – and definitely worth a visit – have a day out in Shrewsbury – you can get the train from Whitchurch or Wem, visit the exhibition, have lunch at one of the amazing cafes in the town, enjoy a stroll along the river and pause on Welsh bridge for a moment to think about how life has changed – and how much we have learned – since Darwin was a boy.

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Today’s Treasures – Snowdrops – Tiny Pearls of Springtime

Today’s Treasures – Snowdrops – Tiny Pearls of Springtime

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The days are getting longer and the first flowers of the year are peeping through Autumn’s fallen leaves – snowdrops – tiny pearls of springtime, creeping towards the light; frosts may wither them but their fragile stems soon revive in the sunshine, they shake their petals free of winter and their tiny white bells tremble in the spring breeze.

Snowdrop Walks mark the start of the season for many of our historic houses and there are lots of early spring walks through snowdrop-dappled woodland.  Rode Hall, just over the North Shropshire border, has a wonderful display of snowdrops set in enchanting woodland.

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The snowdrop trail begins alongside neatly manicured lawns overlooked by a picturesque combination of unusual mature trees, through formal rose gardens, heavenly scented in summer but now lying dormant waiting for the first rays of the summer sun.

Through the gap in the hedge, a whole new vista opens out and you enter a wild woodland star spangled with snowdrops roaming unchecked, under the trees, along the brook, scrambling around the shrubs and bushes that decorate the landscape, and you can find a bench, or perch on a  stone bridge, and merge with the magic of the trees, serenaded by robins and blackbirds and soothed by the sound of the stream bubbling over stones, watched by myriads of tiny snowdrop faces, studying their reflections in the water.

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Rode Hall is open from Saturday, 4th February to Sunday 5th March (except Mondays) for snowdrop escapades for all the family (including dogs – on leads).  The tearoom is open serving light lunches and you can warm up by the logburner with a welcome pot of tea and homemade cakes.  The art exhibition in the barn is well worth a visit, showcasing creations by local artists – and not all of the paintings feature snowdrops!  www.rodehall.co.uk

In the Druid calendar Snowdrops heralded Spring and first appear at Imbolc – celebrated on 31st January and 2nd February (Candlemas Day).

There are snowdrops walks all over Shropshire, including Combermere Abbey, Attingham Park, and Dudmaston Hall.

The Snowdrop Fairy

Deep sleeps the Winter
Cold, wet, and grey;
Surely all the world is dead;
Spring is far away.
Wait! the world shall waken;
It is not dead, for lo,
The Fair Maids of February
Stand in the snow!

Cicely Mary Barker

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