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 – 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

Today’s Treasures – Our Local Businesses

Today’s Treasures – Our Local Businesses

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

Today’s treasures – Autumn 2020

Today’s Treasures – AUTUMN 2020

 

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

Today’s Treasures – Llanymynech Rocks

Today’s Treasures – Llanymynech Rocks

View across the hills

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.

iron image of a quarry workerApart 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

climber

Published in the September edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Today’s Treasures – Butterflies, Bees and Blackcurrants

Today’s Treasures –  Butterflies, Bees and Blackcurrants

bee on borage

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.

toadstool

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.

wheelbarrow of flowers

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.

cinnabar moth caterpillar on ragwort

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!

chicks

The herb garden is at its best – and the bees love all the blues and purples – sage, hyssop, thyme, rosemary, chives, borage and marjoram.

herb garden

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

Summer Gardening Tips

Summer Gardening tips

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.

The Miracle of Life – watching chicks hatch

The Miracle of Life – watching chicks hatch

During lockdown – as we couldn’t go anywhere – I thought we might try hatching some eggs in the incubator.  They need to be turned three times a day so it’s impossible to manage under normal circumstances.  After 3 weeks of patiently turning the eggs (had to set an alarm on my phone!) and topping up the water every day, 3 eggs pipped.

The first chick died in it’s shell, the second chick climbed out all on its own, the third chick (bearing in mind I didn’t help the first one and it died) I helped out, it survived for a while but it’s legs were very weak and eventually it too died.  So, we had one ‘Cheepy Chick’ left.  In the meantime, a fox took Dillon, my beautiful cockerel – in broad daylight – and a few days later – despite my being vigilant and outside most of the time – he took the 3 brown hens as well.

So, I decided to put the rest of the fertile eggs in the incubator.  We eventually had 4/7 chicks hatch.  It was quite traumatic waiting for them to pip (on the 23rd day – not the 21st day as anticipated) – and then being patient and letting them climb out of the shell themselves.  I made sure the water pot was properly topped up this time so the humidity was better and probably helped with hatching success.

Dane managed to get a video of the first chick hatching – it took ages so he created a condensed version – but I can’t get WordPress to add it to this page yet – so here is an image from the video.  The magic of life – how can an egg change into a chick?

In the meantime, back in the hen house, both the ducks went broody and sat on eggs.  Duck eggs take 28 days to hatch (much easier to let the ducks keep them warm and turn them every day!).  As Mr Fox was still around, I shut the ducks in most of the time, only letting them out when I was around.  Jemima eventually hatched 5 tiny ducklings, three of which have survived.  I have found ducks and hens are not terribly good mothers and don’t seem to be able to keep their babies together and out of harm’s way but it’s definitely easier than hand rearing so you just have to leave them to it and hope as many as possible survive.

I’ve read somewhere that ducklings are not waterproof when they are tiny so shouldn’t be allowed in water, but our ducklings immediately found the water bowl and were happily splashing about.  I always put a stone in the bowl to make it shallower so they can get out.

While I was clearing up the hen house, I heard a frantic quacking and turned around to see all the ducklings in the pond – and of course they were too tiny to get out, so I had to rescue them.  I’ve filled the pond right to the top now so they can get out.  So much for not being waterproof!

One night last week we forgot to shut the hen house door and Mr. Fox returned and I found the ducklings without a mother the next morning.  Happily, the others survived and Jake the Drake is now a very proud father taking parenting duties very seriously – it’s quite touching the way he’s now looking after the ducklings when he wasn’t terribly interested in them before.

 

Midsummer in Barbara’s Back Yard

Midsummer in Barbara’s Back Yard

It’s June and I have 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 – 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.

 

Last year I bought a packet of wild flower seed – not a lot of them germinated but the knapweed, ox-eye daisies and bedstraw have regrown this year and have been really beautiful.  Ox-eye daisies make excellent cut flowers – fresh, simple, and they last for ages.

There’s a Broom bush (Cytisus) which has seeded itself in the big field and has been truly magnificent this year.  I love Broom and my Dad bought me an orange version from a garden centre which I planted by the hen house.

Unfortunately it got blown over one winter and died but I found a seedling in the polytunnel – absolutely no idea how it got there – so I replanted it by the hedge and, to my amazement – it has turned out to be a beautiful variegated 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 hairdresser, 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 only restricted 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 – it’s 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.

Today I finally finished weeding the herb garden – planned for last week but then the heavens opened! Started early because it’s so warm – and had a lovely time. Took me two hours but during the morning, apart from bees and butterflies, I saw ladybirds, damselflies, a big dragonfly, a green shield bug, a beautiful red and black cinnabar moth – and then a toad crawled out of the chives and disappeared into the angelica. I don’t mind toads, they crawl, frogs hop and make me jump.  The herb garden is near the wild pond, full of yellow flag irises at the moment and surrounded by wild roses and honeysuckle.

A lovely morning topped off with some home-made elderflower champagne!