Today’s Treasures – the Bird Table in Winter

Today’s Treasures – The Bird Table in Winter

One of the wonderful things about wintry mornings is the increased activity on the bird table.  The birds really seem to appreciate my efforts to fill up bird feeders and thaw out the bird bath.

The robin, resplendent in his bright red winter waistcoat sedately pecks at the sunflower seeds.  A rival arrives – as often happens on cold frosty mornings – and is crossly chased away.

A blue tit perches on the edge of the birdbath and takes dainty sips of fresh water.  Belinda and Bertie raised a family of blue tits this summer – it was fascinating to watch them feeding their tiny babies on the bird table.

The nutchatches – Nigel and Nolly – creep around the tree trunks then take turns taking peanuts from the feeder.

Then the Twits – a flock of long-tailed tits that always arrive in a flurry of chirps and fluttering wings – take over all the bird feeders, scrapping for perching space.

The great tits Colonel Twist (due to his having a wonky tail) and Lady P (Penelope) wait patiently for the Twits to fly off before resuming their feeding.

A blackbird scurries along to the bird seed sprinkled on the ground and busily tucks into a grain feast before the hens arrive and clear up.

Woody the woodpecker loves peanuts and can often be spotted in the garden with his undulating flight and unusual cry – and peck, peck, pecking on the dead pine tree looking for insects.

There’s a selection of finches – goldfinches with their little red and yellow heads and chaffinches, and, when it’s been really cold, we are sometimes honoured with the presence of a bullfinch or the odd visit from a siskin, or brambling.

Unwelcome visitors that thankfully are seen very infrequently are kestrels and sparrowhawks.  In the summer the little birds are safe in the leafy green cover of the roses and honeysuckle; in the winter the branches are bare – except for the ivy which offers welcome cover as well as berries to eat.

There’s no knowing what the cat will do next – but I believe he is actually watching the little mouse that lives in the rockery and uses the bottom of the bird stand as a tunnel, popping in and out collecting seeds.

Published in the February edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Today’s Treasures – Winter Treasures

Today’s Treasures – Winter Treasures

“When winter winds blow cold and chill, it cannot be denied, the nicest place of all my friends, is by our own fireside.”

Autumn has been so wet and miserable, I am really looking forward to some frosty mornings this winter – but when the frost does arrive, my freezing fingers feeding the hens will no doubt wish it was warm and wet again!

We need things to cheer us up during the dull January days.  Although the nights are slowly getting shorter, we don’t really notice the difference until we reach Candlemas Day – 2nd February.  And while we wait for the snowdrops to appear, poking their tiny white heads through the frozen ground to herald spring, it’s good to have some ideas to brighten up the winter days.

So what’s good about winter – a blazing log fire – and a good book – firelight, watching the flames flickering shadows across the room.  Lighting candles – there’s some beautiful scented candles now – vanilla is one of my favourites but there’s some lovely winter scents of mulberry and spice to warm up winter nights too.  Mulled wine and warm sausage rolls are also good for cheering up dismal wintry evenings.

Houseplants always brighten up winter gloom – as Cyclamen fade, amaryllis flower and hyacinths fill rooms with the fresh scents of spring.

The bird table is always busy in winter – and the colder it is – the more birds seem to arrive looking for food and water.  Thawing out the bird bath on frosty mornings is always worth the effort to see the birds glad of a drink of fresh water.  Goldfinches come for niger seeds, nuthatches and woodpeckers love peanuts, and the robin loves showing off his red winter waistcoat.  A little mouse also found our bird table!

And, if all else fails, and you still feel miserable looking out at our dreary English winter, remember Spring is just around the corner and it won’t be long before we’re walking in the sunshine down to the beach again.

Published in the January edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

January 25th is Burns Night

25th January – Burns Night

Have you ever attended a Burns supper?

Robert Burns wrote the poem ‘Address to a Haggis’ which is what linked Burns and the haggis together forever – and Robert Burns became celebrated as the national poet of Scotland.

Burns suppers typically include haggis, Scotch whisky and the recitation of Burns poetry. They generally begin with the Selkirk Grace – so called because Burns was said to have delivered it at a dinner given by the Earl of Selkirk:

Some hae meat an canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit.

After soup, everyone stands as the haggis is piped in, then comes the recital of Burns’ poem ‘the Address to a Haggis’. After a whisky toast to the haggis, the meal is served with tatties (potatoes) and neeps (swedes), followed by more toasts, speeches, songs and dancing, and concluding with Auld Lang Syne.

So why don’t we have a Shakespeare supper – to celebrate our great English poet?

Perhaps we should celebrate all our British poets along with Robert Burns on Burns Night.  Drink a toast to them and eat tatties and neeps with our meat.  Recite our favourite poems – and share the beauty of their words with our feast.

Today’s Treasure – Croft Ambrey Hillfort


Croft Ambrey, comprises a hillfort, a Romano-Celtic temple and a medieval warren; it was excavated between 1960 and 1966 and found to have been in use from the 6th century BC up to AD 48 by a population of 500-900 people.  Finds included weapons, bone and antler artifacts, hammer stones and Iron Age pottery.

As well as the rampart banks and ditches there is a series of mounds which are the remains of a medieval rabbit warren constructed for the breeding and management of rabbits or hares which provided fresh meat and skins.

The Romano-Celtic temple was built over two phases and excavation found the remains of fire pits and stake holes.  Its purpose was to house treasures to revere the gods and serve the spiritual needs of the community.  Communal gatherings took place outside.

From the top there are extensive views over the Herefordshire countryside and it’s easy to see why it was an excellent place for a settlement.  There are many ancient trees – oak, beech and yew – that could tell amazing stories of the ancient communities that lived there.

Standing under these primeval branches it’s easy to imagine Druidic priests collecting magical mistletoe with a golden sickle, catching it before it touched the tainted earth ready to use in spiritual rituals.

These hillfort trees could have watched prehistoric communities gathering around fires, wearing animal skins, heating food in cooking pots, gathering bracken for bedding and blackberries and hazelnuts for food – and defending the ramparts from invading Romans with bows and arrows.

Many generations of animals and birds have nested in their branches and hollows and their decaying boughs still provide a haven for invertebrates and reptiles – including common lizards and slow worms.

It is thought that Aymestrey (at the foot of the hill) was once a fortified town, along with Shrewsbury and Whitchurch – along the route through Mercia from Gloucester to Chester.   In 889, Aethelfleda governed Mercia (which was then a massive area across the whole of central England) and St. Alkmund was a prince of the Christian Kingdom of Northumbria.  Aethelfleda was a very powerful woman and was known as the ‘Lady of the Mercians’.  She built churches in fortified towns so they would have some protection from marauding Danes and, as she believed that St. Aklmund was her ancester, she named the churches after him.

The Croft family still live at Croft Castle but the estate is managed by the National Trust.

This article is published in the January 2019 edition of the Whitchurch Gossip.

Today’s Treasures – Snowflakes

Snowy Shropshire

The snow transformed Shropshire into a magical winter wonderland, blanketing the fields in white, icing branches and fences with a layer of glittering frosty snow and, even as I write, the hilltops and field edges are still highlighted in wintry white – although a smudge of snow and a carrot are all that is left of our snowman!

There’s something hypnotic about watching snowflakes falling – each one a tiny unique crystal different from the rest, softly fluttering to the ground and gradually, relentlessly, changing brown and green to dazzling white.

The snow brings lots of hungry birds to our bird table.  Coming into the warm with frozen fingers after feeding the birds, there’s something really satisfying about watching them enjoy the peanuts and seed cake – and sipping water from a birdbath you have just thawed out.

All the places I have written about this year will look very different in the snow to the photographs I took – Grinshill, Audlum, Brown Moss, Wollerton Garden, Stokesay Castle – but at all of them there is a touch of magic in every season – even in the darkest days of the year – a robin singing, the scent of a late winter rose, bright red holly berries – if you stop for a moment – use all your senses – you can feel the magic of life around you.

All of us suffer sadness at some time in our lives.  Sometimes that sadness is hard to dispel and that’s when Today’s Treasures can help – finding something lovely in every day and enjoying that moment with all your senses.

A kind word, a thoughtful act – a smile for a stranger – is sometimes all it takes to bring sunshine to someone’s life – and make them feel better.

Wishing you all many moments to treasure in 2018.


Published in the January edition of the Whitchurch gossip

Liquid Gold Sunset

Liquid Gold


Sunset over Shropshire as the last rays of the setting sun shine on the flood waters spreading across the fields

Managed to spend sometime in the garden last weekend, tidying up, muck spreading in the polytunnel – digging in rabbit manure and some lime. Rabbit droppings are quite acid and tomatoes suffer from blight (yellowing and wilting of the leaves and the tomatoes rot) if the soil is too acid.

Just finishing off and I was leaning on the fence in my favourite spot, the sun was setting and a flock of starlings were making patterns in the sky. This isn’t a lake it’s a waterlogged field, we’ve had so much rain this winter; I’ve had to move the hens from the front lawn as they were paddling in mud. Now there’s Spring in the air and we wake to frosty mornings.  The Candlemas Day rhyme was right – it was fair and bright and winter is having another flight although this year it’s more like it’s first fling, this morning’s frost felt like the coldest so far this winter!