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

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

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