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.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


I was tagged recently by liZZie so here are my answers to the questions. I've dotted a few photos around to make it a bit less boring for you{:)

What is your current obsession?
I don't really get obsessive about things but I suppose family history might come under this heading - the photo is me aged three.

What is your weirdest obsession?
No weird obsessions that I can think of.

What are you wearing today?
Dark brown jeans and a cream T-shirt.

What’s for dinner?
Chicken and broccoli pasta bake

What would you eat for your last meal?
The oak smoked salmon rosti that I had at Betty's in Harrogate a couple of weeks ago followed by the homemade Key Lime pie I had in Virginia a few years ago - together they rank as the best food I've ever eaten.

What’s the last thing you bought?
Two skeins of embroidery silk.

What are you listening to right now?
One of my favourite sounds - silence.

If you could have a house totally paid for, fully furnished anywhere in the world, where would you like it to be?
Tucked away in a quiet corner of the South Downs. I've travelled a good deal but never found anywhere I'd rather live than England.

If you could go anywhere in the world for the next hour, where would you go?
To the little cafe on top of the Kasbah in Hammamet, which looked out over the sea on one side and the Medina on the other, to drink Turkish coffee and eat little honey cakes with the same small group of people I was with when I first went.

Which language do you want to learn?
Italian, it's a beautiful language and I love to listen to it even though I don't understand what is being said.

What’s your favourite quote (for now)?
The wonder of the world,
the beauty and the power,
the shapes of things,
their colours,lights, and shades;
these I saw.
Look ye also while life lasts.

The photo is Bourke's Luck Potholes in Blyde River Canyon, South Africa.

What is your favourite colour?

What is your favourite piece of clothing in your own wardrobe?
A three piece set of primrose yellow trousers and strappy top with a floaty short sleeved shirt in shades of primrose, peach and soft sage green.

What is your dream job? The one I have - housewife.

Describe your personal style? Classic

What’s your favourite tree? Er - Rowan?

What are you going to do after this? Put the ironing away

What’s your favourite fruit? Ripe English strawberries

What inspires you? The beauty of the natural world, in this case a South African sunrise.

Your favourite books?
Too many to mention but would include all of Dornford Yates' Berry books

What are you currently reading?
The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey, Jonah and Co by Dornford Yates and The Garden Cottage Diaries by Fiona Houston.

Go to your bookshelf, take down the first book with a red spine you see, turn to page 26 and type out the first line: 1250, and the rate may have originated in the bailiffs' power to...
from The Parish Chest by W.E.Tate. Not very exciting I'm afraid, it's one of my family/local history text books and is about rates and rating - to be precise it is talking here about the local levies of labour for the maintenance of sea walls in Romney Marsh. Now I'll bet you always wanted to know about that didn't you?

What delighted you the most today?
The scent and sight of wild honeysuckle as I walked in the woods this morning.

By what criteria do you judge a person?
I go on pure instinct, I've learned over the years ago not to judge on appearances. The first lesson was when I was waiting at a bus stop on a deserted street in Chester many years ago. An old man with, I kid you not, a stick over his shoulder with a bundle tied up in a large red spotted handkerchief attached to it, came and stood next to me. He looked like a gentleman of the road and I was a tad nervous. He was chatty and my mum always taught me to be polite so I replied. He turned out to be a delightful real old countryman and one of the most interesting people I've ever met. I was quite disappointed when the bus eventually turned up!

What is your earliest childhood memory?
Being in my cot next to my parents bed, I must have been about 18 months old. I'm lucky and can remember a lot of my childhood very clearly.

The question I'm adding is 'What is your all time favourite film?
Mine is one that is visually beautiful, a lovely gentle story and has a happy ending. It's called 'Enchanted April'.

The rules:
1. Respond and rework; answer the questions on your blog, replace one question you dislike with a question of your invention, add one more question of your own.
2. Tag eight other people. As ever I'm not tagging anyone as not everyone has time or inclination, I found it interesting to do though so if you want to have a go then please do.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Ruined Abbey and A Dovecote Part Two

The Dovecote

The weather was starting to improve by the time I'd had lunch and I set off towards Dorchester to visit a medieval manor house called Athelhampton. The original part of the house was built in 1495 with the addition of a West Wing in the 16th century and over the next 300 years the North and East wings were added. The photograph shows the West Wing from the garden - and also, at last, some blue sky and sunshine.

The original part of Athelhampton with the 15th century porch which leads into the Great Hall. You can see the oriel of the Great Hall on the left - the tall, narrow windows which project from the wall. The only other rooms at this period were the buttery at the north end of the Great Hall and the solar on the south side.

Athelhampton is privately owned and when I asked my usual question about taking photographs they said 'yes, but please don't use flash'. Refreshing change from the NT! The interior shots are not that great because there were a lot of lamps on so there is glare but hey! at least I can show you what the inside looks like. Above is one end of the Great Hall with a lovely log fire going in the fireplace. The linenfold panelling is really elegant and beautiful.

On this you can see just the oriel on the left - it's an early form of bay window. The doorway leads into The King's Ante Room. The tapestry above the fireplace is late 16th/early 17th century Flemish and illustrates ' Sampson slaying the Philistines with the jaw bone of an ass'. If you click on the picture to enlarge it you will just about be able to make out Sampson.

The other end of the Great Hall with the Minstrel's Gallery, beneath the portrait is a lovely oak and walnut coffer dating from 1631.

The Screens passage with a lovely old stone floor. It runs under the Minstrel's Gallery and the oak door is 15th century, there is one of these doors at each end of the passage. Click on the photo to see it more clearly.

This is the dining room now but it is part of the original 1495 building and the buttery would have been here then. This was where the butts of wine were kept hence the term buttery. I imagine it was also used for the storage of anything that needed cool, dry conditions.

This is The King's Room, also part of the original house. It was once the solar which was the room where the lord of the manor and his family could withdraw and have some privacy. It isn't called The King's Room because a king has slept there but because this is the room where the Manor Court was held in the name of the king.
The lovely oak Tester bed dates from the reign of Charles l ie between 1625 and 1649.

This isn't the main library of the house but a small and cosy little study/library opening off a landing on the stairs.

The Yellow Bedroom, the fireplace is lined with lovely Delft tiles and the panelling is 19th century but is fixed directly onto Tudor brick and timber walls.
The ghost of The Grey Lady haunts this room.

The State Bedroom with its oak four poster bed.

This rather splendid fire place is 15th century and is made of Ham stone which comes from a quarry on Ham Hill in Somerset. The small arched doorway leads to a private chapel.

The gardens at Athelhampton are very pleasant to walk in especially on a sunny afternoon which by this stage is what I had. This is the Corona which is more or less at the centre of the gardens. The walls, like the fireplace in the previous photo, are of Ham stone backed by clipped yew and they frame a lovely vista through to the fountain in The Great Court.

The River Piddle runs through the grounds - no sniggering at the back there please!
On a rather more romantic note, this scene reminded me of the Pre-Raphaelite painting of Ophelia by John Everett Millais.

Finally we come to the piece de resistance - at least, it is as far as I'm concerned. I think this 15th century dovecote is absolutely beautiful.

This lantern on top of the roof provides landing stages for the doves.

Dovecotes were a status symbol but also had a very practical purpose, they were used to farm pigeons to provide fresh meat especially in the winter months. The door is only three feet high but, in the interests of science and also because I was curious!, I crept in and took this photograph of the interior showing some of the nesting boxes. There is room in here for 1500 birds to nest.
I had a really pleasant afternoon at Athelhampton and from this point on the weather was much better and the two best days were still ahead of me.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Ruined Abbey and A Dovecote Part One

The Abbey

The day after my visit to Wimborne it was grey and damp once more, I'd decided to go in the opposite direction this time so headed up to Shaftesbury. This is a very ancient Saxon town set on a hill top and was founded in the 9th century by King Alfred the Great and, thanks to its great Abbey,it was a place that attracted great numbers of pilgrims. The photograph shows the statue of King Alfred that now stands among the ruins of the Abbey that he founded. It's a modern piece commissioned in 1989 and I really like it.

I started off by walking down Gold Hill which is famous for being featured in a well known nostalgic UK advert for Hovis bread. I was standing at the bottom of the hill looking up and the thick stone walls on the left are the remains of the Abbey precinct wall - since the Abbey was destroyed in 1539 these walls must be at least 800 years old. It was raining when I took the photograph so it looks rather less appealing than it does in the golden light of the advert!

Even in dull light this ancient water pump makes an attractive picture.

I took this photo because it was like suddenly stepping back into another age, it's rare these days to see anyone using a sickle but this elderly man was obviously an expert and was cutting back the growth on the hedgebank in the same way that his ancestors would have done for centuries past. You will need to click on the photo to see the sickle clearly. I have one just like it in my kitchen that is around 100 years old.

This is Edwardstow in the oldest part of Shaftesbury, the centre part of the house predates the Dissolution of the Abbey in 1539 and it is the oldest house in Shaftesbury. If you enlarge the photo of the cottage you will see the blue plaque on the far end.

Shaftesbury Abbey was a large and wealthy Benedictine nunnery with vast land holdings and its first Abbess was King Alfred's daughter Aethelgifu. The Saxon King Edward the Martyr was buried here in 978AD and his shrine attracted great numbers of pilgrims including royalty. King Canute visited the Abbey frequently and died here in 1035 though he isn't buried in Shaftesbury, his body was taken to Winchester which was the capital city of England at that period. The Abbey grew and prospered until March 1539 when the nuns were forced to leave, the Abbey was stripped of its treasures and the church and Abbey precincts destroyed. Then in 1985 a group of people formed a Trust and bought the grounds and some inspired soul had the idea of turning it into a garden with a small museum attached. It has been superbly done and although there are discreet information boards around the ruins the area remains both tranquil and beautiful. The photograph(which will need clicking on) shows the nave with the nave altar, which would have been used by townsfolk and pilgrims, nearest the front. Just behind it is a line of stones where the screen would have been and only the nuns and their priest would have been allowed in that area behind there. The mounds of stone at intervals on either side were the pillars that supported the arcades which led to the north and south aisles.

One of the information boards which shows an artists impression of what the interior of the Abbey church would have looked like.

The remains of four steps to the High Altar, on the site of the altar is a 14th century wayside cross which originally stood in the town. During services the altar would have held chalices and other items made of gold and decorated with precious stones which were part of the Abbey's great treasure store. Legend has it that Elizabeth Zouche, who was Abbess at the time of the Dissolution, arranged for the treasures to be hidden in a chamber that was dug in one of the tunnels that are supposed to exist under the Abbey so that Henry Vlll wouldn't get his hands on it. An elderly priest was in charge of the digging and led the blindfolded workmen to the site each day. Finally the chamber was completed and the priest put the treasure inside and locked the door. As he hurried to tell the Abbess where the chamber was he collapsed and died of heart failure and the secret of the treasure's whereabouts died with him - so it must still be there somewhere under the Abbey ruins!

The crypt and the steep stone steps that lead down into it.

This is thought to be the site of the shrine of King Edward, Saint and Martyr. He inherited the crown from his father King Edgar in 978 at the age of 16 and was murdered by his step-mother so that her son Aethelred could become king. After his burial there were stories of miracles occurring and in 1001 he was canonized and became St Edward the Martyr - the pilgrims flocked in and the Abbey's future was looking good.

One of several Purbeck marble coffins that were found during excavations. It is in the South Aisle and they think it contained the remains of Abbess Juliana de Bauceyn who died in 1279. The remnants of a veil edged with gold thread were found here.

This is my favourite part of the whole place, King Alfred's statue stands in the centre of Aethelgifu's Herb Collection which is absolutely fascinating - to me at any rate:) Monasteries and Abbeys were the main providers of medical treatment in Saxon and Medieval times and all would have had extensive herb gardens and there would have been at least one member of the order who was an expert in the uses of herbs for healing - think Brother Cadfael here. This is a collection of the herbs that would have been in use in Anglo Saxon times not only for medicines but for strewing, insecticides, dyeing and many other things. There is also a collection of orchard fruit trees growing at the back against the wall.

Horsemint was apparently eaten to cure dry skin and the juice was taken mixed with wine for worms in the ear! Happily this unpleasant sounding affliction seems to be a thing of the past now - at least, I've never come across it I'm glad to say.

Plantain was one of the nine Anglo Saxon sacred herbs and was very highly esteemed. On one of the herb courses I've done it was used with other herbs in a soothing ointment for cuts, small burns and insect bites. The Anglo Saxons used the bruised leaves to relieve sore feet too.

Here are spurge which was used for catarrh, sweet woodruff was a strewing herb and moth deterrent and the opium poppy which was used as a sedative. If the weather had been better I could have spent much longer exploring all the herbs, the Museum shop had a super little booklet listing all the herbs and their uses, there are over one hundred herbs listed and I was surprised at how many of them I have growing in my garden. Shaftesbury Abbey is well worth visiting if you are ever in the area. The town itself has a jolly good cafe too just at the top of Gold Hill where I had sausage,pea and mint soup on the recommendation of the waitress. It sounded odd but tasted delicious. This is getting rather long so I shall divide it into two parts and do the Dovecote in part two.

Friday, June 19, 2009

A Midsummer Night's Dream

“Where the water whispers mid the shadowy rowan - trees
I have heard the Hidden People like the hum of swarming bees:
And when the moon has risen and the brown burn glisters grey
I have seen the Green Host marching in laughing disarray”

Fiona MacLeod

Tonight is Midsummer Eve when the veil between the worlds is thin, it is one of the few times of the year when it is possible to see the faery people as they hold their Midsummer Revels especially if you sit under an elder or hawthorn tree at midnight.
Tomorrow will be the longest day of the year, for a few days the sun rises and sets in the same place before the wheel of the year begins to turn again and the days begin to shorten once more. The Crown of the Year passes from the Oak King to the Holly King as we begin the journey to the fullness of the harvest and the long cold days of the winter.

Come faeries, take me out of this dull world,
for I would ride with you upon the wind
and dance upon the mountains like a flame


For now, though, the sun is at the height of its strength and it is time to celebrate and enjoy all that summer has to offer - the scent of the wild honeysuckle drifting on the air, the brilliant blaze of red where the poppies grow in profusion and all the new young lives that are in every tree and field and woodland glade at this time of the year.

"I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses, and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania some time of the night,
Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight"

Shakespeare - A Midsummer Night's Dream

A very Happy Summer Solstice to all.

The paintings are
1.The Riders of the Sidhe by a 19th century Scottish painter called John Duncan.
2.Midsummer Eve by Edward Robert Hughes a Pre Raphaelite artist
3.Titania Sleeps by Frank Cadogan Cowper

Monday, June 15, 2009

Another Left Turn

While I was in Dorset I stayed in a village called Iwerne Minster (pronounced yewurn) chosen because it is fairly central to the area I wanted to see. I had a wander round on the evening I arrived and found this wonderful old cottage right on the edge of the churchyard which looked as though it was in a time warp.

There were several lovely old houses including this one standing on a quiet lane.The weather was still grey and very windy on Monday morning and I decided to head for Wimborne Minster where there is a museum as well as the Minster and having indoor options seemed like a good idea. However as I drove along the B3082 I saw a brown sign (brown signs in UK are used to indicate places of interest) - it pointed to the left and it said 'Badbury Rings'. The indicator went on and once again I made a sharp left turn off my planned route.

Badbury Rings is an Iron Age hillfort surrounded by three large banks and ditches and the area that was the actual area of occupation is now covered with trees. This is approaching the entrance on the western side of the rings. As I was walking up here I met a woman on her way out and she said she had walked the circumference of the hillfort on top of the ramparts and that it was worth doing for the views. She had walked both the third and second but had decided against doing the inner ring because it was already occupied! I decided that, in spite of a really strong wind, I'd walk round the second ring. My new friend had said that the wind was exhilarating and she'd felt almost as though she could fly! Hmmmm, I think I've mentioned before that the wind and I are not on especially good terms so the plan was to see what it was like on the top and turn back if it got too bad.

This gives a better idea of what Badbury Rings looks like than I can manage with photographs. Clicking on the photograph will enable you to read what it says and to see the drawing more clearly.

It's hard to give a real idea of the height of the ramparts which would have been about forty feet high with the wooden palisades that would have been on top, even now they are still substantial. As I walked along it was rather thrilling to think that I may well have been treading in the footsteps of King Arthur - Badbury Rings is thought to be a possible site of the Battle of Badon Hill where King Arthur finally defeated the Saxon invaders and brought a prolonged period of peace to Britain.

I discovered that my friend was quite right - it was exhilarating up there in the wind and the views were certainly worth seeing. They would have been even better on a clear day but there was heavy cloud and the rain was never far away.

Here we have the reason for avoiding the area which would have been occupied during the Iron Age! It was occupied currently by a herd of beautiful Devon Reds, they had calves with them and gave the impression that they wouldn't take kindly to closer inspection. I'm not at all afraid of cows but I have a healthy respect for them when they have young at foot. Discretion is definitely the better part of valour at times like this. It took me about an hour and a half to complete the circuit, it was a fair distance and I kept stopping to look at the views and the wild flowers. It was time well spent though and I was glad I'd followed the little brown sign.

Practically the first thing I came to when I started off to explore Wimborne Minster was the Priests House Museum which was on my list of things to see. It's an interesting little museum set in a 16th century town house, there are period room settings and a great many exhibits telling of life in East Dorset from prehistoric times to the present. At the back of the museum is this lovely walled garden which also has a little tea room.

There has been a church on the site of Wimborne Minster since 705AD when an Abbey was founded by Saint Cuthberga, sister of the king of the West Saxons. The nunnery was destroyed by the Danes in 1013 but the Abbey church survived and was remodelled and rebuilt by the Normans between 1120 and 1180. The outside of the Minster isn't especially thrilling but it does have, high up on one of its two towers, this Quarter Jack which dates from 1612. Originally he was a monk but during the Napoleonic Wars he became a Grenadier - and very smart he is too. He strikes the two bells every quarter of an hour.

The nave with its Norman arches with the typical chevron decoration. Above the arches are small round headed windows which formed the clerestory of the original Norman church before the roof was raised probably in the mid 1400s. The two arches in the centre are the oldest part of the building dating to 1120 and they support the central tower of the Minster.

Each of the Norman arches is decorated with a corbel figure or animal, I was particularly taken with the second of these two which I think looks like friendly little monkey though I don't expect that it really is.

This wooden chest survives from the original Saxon nunnery which makes it over a thousand years old! It is carved from the trunk of an oak tree and was used to hold religious relics.

My favourite thing in the Minster - this is a monument to Sir Edward Uvedale who died in 1606. It's about the most laid back looking monumental figure I've ever seen I think. It's worth clicking and enlarging as it really is beautiful.

The mid 15th century tomb of John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset and his wife Margaret, they were the grandparents of Henry Tudor who we met in a previous post when he fought and defeated Richard lll at the Battle of Bosworth and became King Henry Vll of England.

The thing about Wimborne Minster that I found most interesting is that King Ethelred, the elder brother of Alfred the Great, was buried here in 871AD following his death in battle against Danish invaders. Alfred succeeded him as king. The exact location of Ethelred's tomb is unknown but is thought to be in the wall close to the high altar. This memorial brass was engraved about 1440 and is the only memorial brass effigy of an English king. Incidentally this is not the the same Ethelred as Ethelred the Unready who was a great grandson of King Alfred.

The sundial has a date of 1676 on it and has three faces which is very unusual. I would have liked to see the Minster's Chained Library but it was closed the day I was there probably because they were preparing the church for a funeral service. Wimborne is a pleasant enough town but it is, I regret to say, rather a dull place in spite of having a very long history. I did walk round the town clutching a little town guide but didn't find anything either especially interesting or especially beautiful and so,as it was by now mid afternoon, I decided that it was time to move on.

'I'll go back via the scenic route' I thought, 'and see whether I can find Knowlton Circles'. Well, it certainly was the scenic route, I got to know Wimborne St Giles quite well as I drove through it at least three times trying to find the lane to Knowlton! I could find any number of signs pointing in various directions but they all ended up in Wimborne St Giles. Eventually I came across a young couple and they were able to tell me the way, it was no wonder I'd missed the turn as it was up a very narrow lane with no sign at all and I drove on into what appeared to be a totally deserted landscape. The road climbed higher and higher and got narrower and narrower but eventually I spotted the silhouette of a church on the skyline and soon I was getting out of the car to explore. The ruined church is Norman and, as is the case with a great many Christian churches, it was built on an ancient pagan site.

Here you can see the bank and ditch of the henge which the church stands on, Knowlton has three henges in a row and the church is on the middle one with a fourth one known as 'Old Churchyard' to one side. In the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age it was apparently one of the most important ceremonial sites in Wessex, the equal of Stonehenge. Knowlton was once a thriving village and the capital of a Saxon hundred. It was devastated by the Black Death around 1485 and gradually people moved away and the church fell into disrepair in the 17th century. Knowlton 'village' now consists of one farm!

Knowlton was a centre for the building of Bronze Age round barrows, the one above is just to the east of the central henge and is the largest round barrow in Dorset and there are many others close by. By this time thoughts of dinner were beginning to enter my mind so I headed back to Iwerne Minster at the end of an enjoyable day. As so often happens though it was the unplanned parts that were the best.