Today’s Treasures – Snowdrops, Sunsets and Sunshine
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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
December’s Treasures are all the local businesses that work so hard. A friend who bought beehives and is now selling her own honey posted on Facebook:
Until we started doing it, I had no idea how much a sale means to a small business owner – how exciting it is when someone values something you’ve created, worked hard over and worried about being good enough. With this knowledge, this year every single Christmas present we’ve bought and will buy is coming from an independent retailer, a crafter, handmade and/or upcycled, a voucher for a service and made in the UK. If you can, give it a go, I can guarantee the person you buy from will be excited, grateful and likely give a happy dance – it will help pay a mortgage, feed a family or pay for dancing lessons and importantly it spreads a little love, a little happiness in this craziest of years
So, instead of buying gifts from the big multiples and lining shareholders pockets to pay for another holiday home abroad, buy from a local family business. Belinda at Mick’s Mill sells everything you need for livestock – and Christmas treats for pets – she also makes her own holly wreaths every year.
We are so lucky in Shropshire as we have lots of Shropshire food and drink producers making wonderful things to eat and drink over the festive season. You can find a range of local preserves and pickles in many local shops – give a taste of Shropshire for Christmas.
At Maynard’s Farm Shop, as well as their own award-winning bacon, sausages and hams – they sell their own pâtés and a range of locally produced real beers, ciders and wines. Lots of other local produce too – including Belton Farm’s hand-crafted Red Fox cheese – perfect for Christmas – it’s a Red Leicester with a difference that is guaranteed to surprise taste buds.
It also makes a delicious toastie or panini with Maynard’s ham which you can sample in the Coffee Barn at Holly Farm Garden Centre – and where you can choose a Christmas tree grown locally at Woodfield Christmas Tree Farm.
When you use the local services advertised in this Gossip magazine you are supporting local families, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, chimney-sweeps, garden designers, – we have some unique artisans right on our doorstep – designers like Katrina Kitchens – beautiful bespoke kitchens.
When you buy local, you are not just buying food – you are buying responsibly sourced, ethical, ecological food that tastes really delicious – and when you sit down to your Christmas dinner you know the people involved in producing it have been fairly treated, paid properly and not exploited for corporate profits.
Published in the December edition of the Whitchurch Gossip
This time last year I was writing about Blackberry Fair – music and mayhem, storytelling and skateboarding, street theatre, poetry and painting, dancing and singing, actors and artists, creativity and sustainability, love, life, living things all crammed into one day in our tiny market town. Here is a glimpse of previous years https://youtu.be/E9gONwEOwiI
This year we had to use our imagination to conjure up what might have been and create our own music, singing and dancing in our own homes – and look forward to future fairs bringing colours and culture back to the town.
At the moment, we need to make the most of happy memories from the past and ensure we thoroughly enjoy as many good things as we can. Sometimes, it can be really hard to see that glass half full and we need some happy images stored up to pull out and remember happier times – and believe they will come again. The internet is a wonderful resource – we might not be able to go to concerts, but we can watch on YouTube – and sing along with our favourite tracks. Carnivals have been cancelled – but – like Blackberry Fair – we can watch the highlights from previous years online. You can go on ‘virtual tours’ of many wonderful places that we are unable to visit at present.
Autumn has been beautiful this year – the pumpkins loved our hot summer and grew enormous, rose hips brightened up hedgerows, tomatoes carried on ripening right into November and the squirrels have been busy hiding hazelnuts ready for winter. Dahlias blossomed in the October sunshine, perfect blooms in a myriad of colours brightening up borders and dancing in the Autumn sunbeams. Nasturtiums lasted well into November without any frosts demolishing umbrella leaves and wilting flowers. Toadstools have loved the warm damp air and the elves have had picnics in fairy rings on the lawn and danced up tree trunks on bracket fungus staircases. Enid Blyton wrote amazing mystical stories about the pixies and goblins that live in our gardens and look after the flowers and butterflies. Sometimes we simply have to use our imagination to create our own magical moments to treasure.
When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
Published in the November edition of the Whitchurch Gossip
The September sunshine has been such a tonic after all the August rain, and the Autumn mornings have a special sweetness; the leaves are turning, the apples are ripening, pumpkins are peeping through fading leaves and the golden rays of harvest sunshine bathe everything in a warm glow.
We had two glorious days away exploring the Llŷn Peninsular. The sandy beaches are magical experiences, paddling through wavelets lapping onto the shore, feeling the sand between your toes, watching the seagulls soaring above, or standing motionless in the shallows; listening to the waves whispering onto the sand, swirling around rocks and making little whirlpools with white foaming edges.
Walking down to the beach the paths are decorated with late honeysuckle, curling around orange and red rosehips, sparkling in the sunshine. A few bright pink campion flowers brighten the grassy verges, along with ox-eye daisies and pale pink thrift.
We drove right to the end of the peninsular – and ate lunch overlooking Bardsey island, listening to the sheep grazing quietly all around us and the gentle whistling of a slight cooling breeze, and drowsing in the warm sunshine.
We stopped for fish’n’chips on the way home and ate them watching the last rays of the September sun set over lake Bala.
You don’t need to go far to find moments to treasure on a sandy shore caressed by whispering waves.
Published in the October edition of the Whitchurch Gossip
This unique haven for wildlife on the Shropshire and Montgomeryshire border of England and Wales is entrancing. The harsh limestone cliffs rise almost vertically to a height of over 200 feet creating a dramatic backdrop to the sheltered quarry floor which, in spring, is carpeted with orchids.
Common lizards hide in sheltered rock crevices, jackdaws, sparrowhawks, buzzards, and peregrine falcons soar over the cliff face; many different butterflies – including skippers and fritillaries – enjoy the nectar from over 300 species of plants that all find sanctuary in this sheltered abandoned quarry. Here can be found rare bee orchids and butterfly orchids along with a stunning variety of summer wild flowers including yellow wort, agrimony, red bartsia, wild marjoram and wood sage.
The cliffs at Llanymynech form the southern end of the carboniferous limestone outcrop that stretches from Anglesey and the Great Orme at Llandudno through Llangollen to Oswestry. This limestone was formed around 360 million years ago and the fossilized remains of corals, brachiopods, crinoids, and bivalves can be found in the spoil heap remnants of the old quarry.
Apart from being a SSSI, it is also a significant industrial heritage site. 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. 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 had a major impact on the quarry,
The site is managed by both Shropshire and Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trusts, and Offa’s Dyke path runs through it. There are amazing views across the Shropshire Hills and the Welsh Hills – and you can see Rodney’s Pillar on Breidden Hill – and the historic 42.5 metre tower of the Hoffman’s lime kiln in Llanymynech village – one of only 3 remaining Hoffmann lime kilns in the country and the only one with the tower intact. Thanks to a conservation project managed by the Llanymynech Heritage Partnership the site has been restored and opened in 2008.
Published in the September edition of the Whitchurch Gossip
Today’s Treasures – Butterflies, Bees and Blackcurrants
Life can be a challenge sometimes and, although places are opening their doors again, people are still scared to go out – and anyone who had social issues before – has much more to deal with now. But people have found solace in nature – growing vegetables and enjoying walks and found life’s little treasures all around them in flowers and trees and butterflies and bees.
I walk around the field every morning and there is always something new to see. When it’s been wet, toadstools spring up unexpectedly overnight and when it’s sunny butterflies dance along the hedgerows. The buddleia flowers are opening and butterflies of all colours love its purple blooms.
I bought a packet of mixed seeds ‘flowers for butterflies’ and planted them in an old wheelbarrow, they’ve been really pretty – corn cockle, cornflower, field poppy, vipers bugloss, forget-me-not, corn marigold.
I always leave some ragwort at the edge of the field for the Cinnabar Moth and in July I check every day for the appearance of their striking orange and black caterpillars.
The blackcurrants are ripe and the kitchen is fragranced with the rich aroma of blackcurrant jelly and the anticipation of that first delicious mouthful on toast the next morning.
The chicks that hatched in an incubator during lockdown have grown. Dillon III – who was the only one to hatch successfully in the first batch – is the boss and leads them on forays around the garden. They are quite mischievous and keep finding ways to get out – under or over the fence, trying my patience somewhat!
The herb garden is at its best – and the bees love all the blues and purples – sage, hyssop, thyme, rosemary, chives, borage and marjoram.
Life is not about the destination – but the journey – every day is a gift – fill it with moments to treasure.
Published in the August edition of the Whitchurch Gossip
Use grass cuttings to mulch around plants – retains moisture and stops the weeds growing. Use on runner beans, peas, broad beans
French beans – and I use straw once the beans start to grow to keep the pods off the soil.
And fruit bushes
Don’t mulch potatoes – I found out (to my cost) that it encourages blight – earth up instead to encourage more potatoes – and suppress weeds at the same time.
Use straw around strawberry plants to keep the fruits off the soil – the straw helps to deter slugs as well.
In late spring when you repot and split houseplants you can plant the extra plants outside – they won’t be frost proof but they will last all summer
This is Kalanchoe – this year I planted out pink Streptocarpus too.
Once the first broad beans are ripe, cut off the tops of the plants – it stops them growing too tall – and getting blown over – and it also helps prevent blackfly.
And cut off the tops of runner beans when they reach the top of the poles – stops them becoming top heavy and susceptible to windy days – and if you can’t reach them you can’t pick the beans anyway!
Grow nasturtiums alongside runner beans – helps deter blackfly – not sure whether it’s the smell of nasturtiums that overpowers the bean scent – or whether the blackfly just prefer nasturtiums – but it certainly seems to work – and they look pretty too.
Grow purple flowers to attract bees and butterflies – and put out a shallow dish of water filled with pebbles for the bees to drink from.
So called because of the transformation of their bedraggled daytime appearance into beautiful, fragrant, phosphorescent, fragile pale yellow blooms when the flowers open in the early evening. Long known for its medicinal properties – since the Flambeau Ojibwe tribe first used it in a poultice to heal bruises and clear skin problems – it is now used as a treatment for pre-menstrual tension and, more recently, nervous disorders, particularly multiple sclerosis.
Its generic name Oenothera biennis, comes from the Greek ‘oinos’ (wine) and ‘thera’ (hunt). According to ancient herbals the plant was used to dispel the ill effects of wine – and the oil does appear to be effective in counteracting alcohol poisoning and preventing hangovers.
A native of North America, The Evening Primrose was introduced to Europe in 1614 when botanists brought the plant from Virginia as a botanical curiosity – many strains of the plant also came to Britain as stowaways in soil used as ballast in cargo ships.
Apart from all this plant’s amazing herbal properties, the roots can also be used as a vegetable – and boiled they taste like sweet parsnips. Personally, I just enjoy looking at them!
I had not anticipated growing many vegetables this year – because we planned to put our house on the market on 1st April. Maybe we should not have chosen April Fool’s Day! So, as Corona virus scuppered our plans, we decided to stay here another year, and I have replanted the vegetable patch – and, with all the extra time, the garden looks better than it ever has done!
I finally managed to replant the hanging baskets with petunias and fuchsias – bought this year – geranium cuttings overwintered in the conservatory – and Busy Lizzies (Impatiens) bought online as plug plants and planted out into pots when they arrived. Couldn’t get any lobelia so used Mexican Fleabane (Erigeron Karvinskianus) instead – it’s a mass of tiny white daisies and grows anywhere.
Last year I split up the Oriental Poppies and planted some on the rockery. They have been absolutely stunning in the recent sunshine – poppies always make me think of Enid Blyton’s story of Greencaps the Goblin who made caps for the poppies to protect their buds – and Cicely Mary Barker’s poem describing the seedheads ‘poppies with their pepperpots…’
A few years ago, an adjoining field was left wild. People complained because it was full of thistles and ragwort – but there were also some really lovely wild flowers – ox-eye daisies, pink campion, wild roses, white dead nettle – all of which relocated over the hedge and now grow in our field. They do of course go a bit wild so you have to cut a lot of them down before they seed but I love the variety of wild flowers.
Ox-eye daisies make excellent cut flowers – fresh, simple, and they last for ages.
A Broom bush (Cytisus) seeded itself in the big field and has been truly magnificent this year. I love Broom and my Dad bought me an orange version which grew by the hen house.
Unfortunately it got blown over and died but I found a seedling in the polytunnel – absolutely no idea how it got there – but I replanted it by the hedge and, to my amazement – it has turned out to be a coloured version.
The foxgloves are just coming out. My aunt told me the story of how the fairies hide their dancing shoes in the foxgloves but – according to Enid Blyton – they hide them in the white dead-nettle flowers so the mice can’t steal them!
The fields have had a haircut – they look so different shaved of grass. Good job they don’t need to go to a hairdressers, we’ve all had home hair-cuts this summer – and all the men have grown beards! Farming is something that will not wait for anything – life goes on and haymaking is restricted only by the weather. The little wild field has not been cut – it’s left to its own devices most of the time and provides a wonderful habitat for voles and mice – and is full of butterflies in the summer – they love the bird’s foot trefoil and ragwort – as well as the not-so-wild buddleia.
The herb garden has excelled this year – and the bees love it – all the purple flowers – chives, hyssop, rosemary, marjoram, sage, thyme. And I keep finding different uses for them – lovage soup was not very successful – but adding some angelica when stewing rhubarb makes it sweeter – so you don’t need as much sugar.
Looking forward to June – sunshine, strawberries and elderflower champagne!