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.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

A Saturday Stroll with Bilbo Baggins

Now that the cricket season has begun Bilbo Baggins and I are usually on our own on Saturday afternoons and yesterday we went for a long walk through Ladies' Spring Wood to Beauchief Abbey. B Baggins suggested that we might show you some of the things we saw.

Yellow Archangel is a pretty but rampant wildflower which grows in moist woodland areas and is one of several plants that are ancient woodland indicators.

As the path climbs up there are fields to one side and we spotted comfrey growing at the margins between woods and fields. The country name for this wild herb is knitbone, I make an ointment from it which is wonderful for bruises, sprains, joint pains etc It should never be used on open wounds though.

Ladies' Spring Wood is ancient woodland which means that it has existed since at least 1600 since it was not until this date that landowners started planting trees to make woodland. It is on a steep slope running down to the River Sheaf and from the late 12th century until the Dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century the wood belonged to Beauchief Abbey.

Wood Sorrel, another ancient woodland indicator and associated with fairies, elves and woodland spirits. The leaves are edible and have a lemony flavour apparently though I've not tried them. It is also known as fairy bells and the fairies are said to be summoned to their moonlight revels by the ringing of these bells.

The 12th century Norman bell tower is all that remains standing of Beauchief Abbey now, in the 17th century a chapel was built on to the back of the tower and it is still in use as a church. The Abbey was founded by Robert Fitzranulph, the Sheriff of Nottingham(!) and Derbyshire, and was dedicated to St Mary and Thomas a Becket. There would have been about 12 to 15 canons living in the Abbey and running the many activities associated with it which are not the quiet, contemplative pastimes that you might expect. They were farmers which is within the scope of what you might associate with a monastery but also they had coal mines, a corn mill, water mills operating the hammers and bellows of iron forges, a tannery and a mill that was rented out for the grinding of scythes. Of course they employed lay people for the day to day running of all these industrial enterprises but nevertheless I found it very surprising that these came within the compass of an abbey.

The only other substantial part of the original abbey is a wall of the nave of the abbey church at the back of chapel. The graveyard is Victorian.

You will need to click on the photo to see the bits of wall that are all that remains of store rooms and the left hand wall of the Refectory. It's a pity that more hasn't been done to conserve what remains above ground. The house on the right of the photograph is Beauchief Abbey Farm which was built about 1700.

Considerable imagination will be required here to visualize the cloister which was where the open area of grass now stands. A visit to Derrick's blog Melrose Musings will provide you with some rather more impressive abbey ruins to look at:)

If you hadn't been driving along the lane slowly your chances of spotting this sign would have been minimal!

A lovely big patch of the herb sweet woodruff, in medieval times this it was used as a strewing herb and to stuff mattresses, there is no scent to the fresh herb but when it is dried it smells of new mown hay. It can be used in pillows to help you sleep and is an ingredient of May Wine which is drunk at Beltane - next year this is going to be part of my celebration, sweet woodruff grows in my garden so I don't have to go far for a few sprigs of it.

May Wine

bottle of white wine
bottle of champagne or sparkling wine
juice of 2-3 lemons
two lemons cut in slices
juice of 2-3 oranges
two oranges cut in slices
handful of strawberries, cut in slices
handful of whole strawberries to float in the wine

Open the bottle of white wine, insert the sprigs of woodruff, recork the wine and leave in the refrigerator overnightto allow the herb to steep and flavor the wine.Next day, in a large punchbowl, combine the woodruff-flavored white wine with the champagne or sparkling wine. Add the juice from the lemons and oranges.
Add slices of oranges and lemons, and sliced strawberries to the punchbowl.
Garnish with sprigs of woodruff and whole strawberries.

Back into Ladies' Spring Wood now much to B Baggins' relief as he had to be on his lead on the lane and in the Abbey grounds.

We found it hard to get a good photo of the bluebells as the sun was striking from the wrong direction and fading the colour. There were great sheets of them all over the wood though and every so often the wonderful scent drifted on the air.

As we dropped down nearer to the river the scent of bluebells was replaced by the scent of wild garlic or ransoms. I had no idea that they grew so prolifically round here until B Baggins' friend Bertie showed us this walk.

'Come on mum', we've been out ages and I'm ready to go home for my tea now'


Sal said...

The woodland is to die for...and so are your lovely photos!

PG said...

Lovely walk, I really enjoyed reading about the plants as well, I am shocking at remembering names, I think I might be able to do the archangle and ransoms now, though we don't get the latter. I've never seen woodruff growing wild, I do have a pot of it though.
(Wood sorrel leaves are very tasty, btw)

Wanda said...

Rowan...I love your countryside and photos...I'm wondering if ransoms there is the same as ramps here...I will have to research it...Your walk was wonderful and enjoyed the history lesson! :)

Derrick said...

Hello Rowan,

So many lovely photographs. You and BB obviously had a good day out! Thanks very much for the mention too.

I have seen huge drifts of what I take to be Forget-me-nots around here, which I hope to capture. We also have an abundance of Gorse in bloom and the perfume is powerful.

Wanda said...

Me again...same...but different!!!

Ramps (Allium trioccum) are a member of the lily family, which includes garlic, leeks, and onions...they grow wild all over the United States
The English name is: “ransoms”...they’re a different species from ramps but fill the same cultural and culinary role.

hart said...

I am here on the rainy east coast of the U.S. and I feel like I've had a walk in the English country side with you. Thanks, I may even try the May wine and use some of my woodruff that is jumping its bed.--Hart

Anonymous said...

Nice shady stroll Rowan. BB has definitely got his priorities right to know when its time for tea.

Rosie said...

What a glorious walk for you and Mr Bilbo Baggins - much better than cricket. The woodland and grounds look so lovely and I enjoyed reading about Beauchief Abbey - the May punch looks good, too:)

Thimbleanna said...

OhMyGosh Rowan -- it's all so beautiful! I'd love to come to England in the spring and see the beautiful carpets of bluebells. Bilbo Baggins looks like he's had a wonderful walk -- I love that picture with his tongue hanging out!

Piecefulafternoon said...

What a lovely walk - thanks for taking us along. The photos are fabulous and the history so interesting.

Lynda (Granny K) said...

It looks heavenly Rowan. We haven't been for our bluebell walk yet. Hoping for some good weather later this week.
We have Sweet Woodruff in our garden, must try the wine!

Anonymous said...

A lovely post. xxx

FireLight said...

Well you certainly had a grand time out...the only thing better than the secenery...your companion...Bilbo Baggins, of first time to meet him. Your last caption for him was so perfect. Thanks for taking us along!

Mrs Boho said...

Lovely, thanks for sharing ... :0)

Anonymous said...

BB is so cute!

sally said...

Glad you found my blog Rowan - and now I've found yours. Lovely. I also walked through Ladies Spring Wood to Beauchief last week but haven't put it on the blog - just not enough hours!

Gracie said...

Thanks for the nice walk! And thanks to BB too!
Gracie at

Diane said...

We have not done this walk, so I'm popping it on the list. I might combine it with a visit to Abbeydale Hamlet. It looks really nice.

Anonymous said...

Such a lovely, lovely post. I enjoyed it immensely, especialy meeting Bilbo Baggins :o)

solsticedreamer~laoi gaul~williams said...

thank you for the wonderful walk and history lesson too!!!
i have heard the bluebells are in bloom up at the old church so i will be up there very soon for one of my rambles.

thelma said...

Is'nt England beautiful at this time of the year Rowan? everywhere the leaves of the tree are so fresh and green, great sheets of willow branches hanging over the rivers and hedgerows full of stitchwort here. Thelma x

lila said...

A beautiful walk! I love learning about the native plants you show.
I was especially surprised to see the "yellow archangel". We have lots of that as a ground cover. I did not know it'w name or that it was a wild flower in your area!

Julie said...

Such a good post - combining natural things and those of man. I still wish I could see a bluebell wood someday. And then there's mister Bilbo B. to cap it all off!

Sarah said...

Beautiful post, Rowan! Have you done the ancient woodlands course at Bristol Uni? I went a couple of years ago - fascinating. I keep meaning to get the books, but have been sidetracked so far!