Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether summer clothe the general earth
With greeness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Sheepwash Bridge

This is Well Dressing Week in the Derbyshire village of Ashford-in-the-Water so yesterday I decided to go and see this year's efforts. Ashford is a pretty village with some interesting things to see. Above is the medieval Sheepwash Bridge, it stands on the route of the old packhorse route called The Portway which ran from Nottingham to Castleton, a distance of about 45 miles. The bridge was built on the site of the ford across the River Wye. The Portway is a very old indeed and it is believed it dates back to the Bronze Age. I rather think that it is still possible to walk the whole of the route.
The photograph is better if you click on it and you will then be able to see the V shaped buttresses where people on foot could stand while the packhorses went by. In medieval times there would several hundred packhorses crossing the bridge every week.

The name of Sheepwash Bridge is quite literal, before the sheep were sheared in the early summer they were washed in the river to clean the fleeces. They were driven into the stonebuilt pen then driven into the river one at a time where one man would hold the sheep while another gave it a vigorous rub down after which it would swim to the other side and scramble out to have a good shake and dry off. I would imagine that this was a fairly strenuous exercise for those involved!

There is a second version of how it was done, in this one it's said that the lambs were put into the pen and the mothers were driven into the river at the spot where I'm standing to take the photograph. The mother's would instinctively swim across to get to their lambs. Personally I think this is the less likely of the two versions. The sheepwash was still being used up to the 1930s so you'd think there would still be someone around who would remember seeing it.

This tranquil view is taken from the bridge, when you look down into the water it is crystal clear and if you are lucky you will see large rainbow trout swimming around.

There are six wells dressed in Ashford this year and usually they are fantastic, I was rather disappointed this year though. This was my favourite of the ones I saw, it is on the site of Little Well which I think is the prettiest of all the wells..

This is just down the lane and is Greaves Lane Well, I rather like this one even though it isn't very colourful, it is celebrating the 90th anniversary of the Act of 1918 allowing women to vote for the first time.

This is the village church which has unfortunately suffered from a Victorian 'restoration' and consquently little is left of the original Norman church apart from the tower and part of the North aisle.

The only really interesting thing about Ashford church is that it contains four of the rare Maidens' Garlands. These were wooden frames decorated with rosettes, flowers and ribbons made of paper. A paper glove or handerkerchief was draped over the 'Crown' with the name, age and date of death of the dead girl written on it. The 'Crown' was carried in front of the coffin of young girls who died as virgins - usually by a girl of a similar age to the one who had died.

After the funeral the garland would be hung over the family pew. It is no longer known who two of the Garlands belonged to but the other two belong to Anne Howard who died in 1747 aged 21 and Elizabeth Blackwell who died in 1801 aged 16. Legend tells that she was drowned in the river.

In the churchyard is the base of a Saxon preaching cross.

The last photo is the medieval tithe barn which, as is fairly obvious, stands handily placed right next to the church! It's a lovely old building though sadly a bit ramshackle in places.

There is a short explanation of Well Dressing here which I wrote last year for anyone who is interested.

Finally can I say thank you to all those who have made concerned enquiries over the last few weeks, life has been a little stressful and my DH is still waiting for his operation so consequently what has been lacking is inspiration, I just couldn't think of anything to write about I'm afraid. That's partly why I went to Ashford - time to take myself in hand I thought:)


Thimbleanna said...

Boy, I sure wish my posts could be so beautiful when I can't think of anything to say. I love your posts of the historical places in your area -- they're always so endearing. What wonderful stories about the bridge. And the wells -- did wells just exists along major roads so that weary travelers could have water?

Leanne said...

welcome back Rowan, i have missed your posts!
that was such an interesting read, great photos, and how poignant are those maiden garlands- ive not seen or heard of those before.

Hope to see you posting more now- when I cant think of anything to write about I just ramble on about anything! oh dear!

Hugs to you and get well wishes speeding to your hubby

Leanne x

miss*R said...

I have missed you too, alot! I have been wondering how everything was going..
as usual, a wonderful post xoxo
I cannot wait to come over next of the things on my 'list' is to visit some sacred wells!

Strawberry Lane said...

Rowan, so glad to have you back. First, best wishes to your husband.

What a wonderful read ... the details of history are so fascinating, the photos make me feel as though I am there.

And, oh my, do I ever wish for another trip to the English countryside.Thank you!

I wish you peace of mind during this time.

Jenny said...

Although I wasn't one who inquired, I'd been thinking about you just earlier this week and wondering how you and your husband were doing. I'm so sorry that he hasn't had his his operation yet- I hope the trip to Ashford was much-needed distraction for you. I am so glad that you went, both for yourself and because I love reading about the lovely places you visit. Do I need to say I was happy to see that you'd posted?

DayPhoto said...

I have missed your blog, also. Checking it everyday and wondering how you are and sending prayers of healing to your husband.

Thank you for this lovely post. I am just now reading Ken Follet's "World Without End" and the bridge photos were just great, since the book is about a bridge.

Thank you so much for writing such a lovely post!

smilnsigh said...

I'm so happy to see an entry here! And it's wonderfully full of photos and lore, from around your area. But even if it wasn't full of such, it's so good to see words from you.

It's nice to know how things are going, with old friends. Whether they are being inspired by the muse, or not. So please don't stay away quite so long again. Drop by your blog and give us a little update, please.

And I wish all of your life, to smooth out soon. And for your husband to have his operation, and it all to go well.

Gentle hugs,

Julie said...

Rowan, My Dear,

First of all, thank you for commenting on my post about Kristen's graduation.

Second of all, welcome back! I have been worried about you. I was afraid your lack of posts meant something calamitous had happened.

I am so glad you are back and writing about "dear old England". Yes, I can say that, even as an American who has never set foot in the British Isles. But my heart is there!

Love, Julie

Ragged Roses said...

Hello Rowan
It is so lovely to hear from you again and have your beautiful posts to read. I often thought about emailing you to ask if everything was okay but felt it best not to trouble you. Hope things are improving for you. I remember the well blessing post from last year (can it be a year?!) and found it very interesting. So good to have you back again

PAT said...

Rowan, I was so happy to see you at the Back Porch, today! I've checked here often, wondering how you and your husband are.

I hope you find out something about his surgery, soon! I can't imagine what it must be like to wait so long!

J is doing quite well, afer his surgery. He will have a follow up in June, then check ups, with the surgeon/urologist every 6 months for 5 years.

It is so good to see you posting. As usual, you've put together a wonderful entry!

Looking forward to reading more!

kate smudges said...

Hi Rowan,

I was happy to see a post from you. When I saw the photographs of the well dressings, I realised how fast a year can pass by... I clearly remember your post from last year. I was fascinated by it and went off to read more.

I hope your husband will have surgery soon ... and make a complete and fast recovery!

I've missed you.

peppylady said...

I missed your post and once again you out done your self.

I wish we did something here like well dressing around memorial day instead of put flowers on graves.
To me I think there should be day to remember our love one that gone before us...Thanks for listing.

Kelli said...

What an interesting and beautiful place to visit! The little church is so sweet. I hope your husband is able to have his operation soon!

Lynda (Granny K) said...

Dear Rowan, I have thought about you and your DH often, and would check out your blog frequently. Thank you for posting and keeping us in the picture. I do hope your DH gets his operation soon and makes a good recovery. Love, Lynda

solsticedreamer said...

oh welcome back rowan and with such an interesting post!
especially about the maidens garlands~they made me feel quite sad~and how amazing they still are there to be seen.

Sheila said...

I'm finally getting around to making some comments..!
I have missed your posts Rowan, and really enjoyed this one and all those that followed it.
I have a busy summer ahead and so I'm taking some time away from my blog, in order to keep up with things.
I hope your DH doesn't have to wait too much longer for his op, and that in the meantime he is comfortable.