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, August 28, 2007

Desert Island Books - Part 2

I've always been a fan of Agatha Christie and she is is well known for her Poirot and Miss Marple books. Less well known is the fact that she was married to the eminent archaeologist Max Mallowen and she accompanied him on all the digs that he did in what is now Iraq. In fact she became the expedition photographer and catalogued and labelled all the finds. It was from these expeditions that she got the background material for some of her most famous novels such as Appointment With Death and Murder in Mesopotamia and also for Murder On The Orient Express - she always travelled by the Orient Express on her way out to the Middle East - how I would love to have done that fabulous journey travelling First Class on this legendary train:)
I'd actually never heard of Come Tell Me How You Live until a few years ago when I went to a special exhibition at the British Museum called Agatha Christie and Archaeology. It was absolutely fascinating and I thoroughly enjoyed it and at the end I discovered in the shop this book. I bought it on impulse and am very glad that I did. It is a light-hearted and very amusing account of her life when she was on these digs. Well worth trying to find a copy of if you are interested in either Agatha or archaeology.

It must be pretty obvious from the dog-eared appearance of this book that I have read it several times! As long as I can remember I've had a fascination for the Second World War - not the fighting but the everyday lives of women and how they coped with life. These diaries of Clara Milburn were discovered and published in the late 1970s and I find them absolutely rivetting. She was an ordinary middle-aged, middle class woman who kept a diary right through the war detailing the ordinary everyday things that happened interspersed with war news as they heard it on the wireless or read it in the newspapers. She wrote about her garden, rationing and the food they ate, her clothes, the dog,the weather, nights in the air raid shelter - it is all so immediate that you are taken back into her world and worry with her about her son who is a prisoner of war and share her delight when letters arrive from him.

One of the things I love to see when I fly over England is the patchwork quilt of fields which are unique to this country - this book is about these fields,the hay meadows, pasture, water meadows and arable land and the history of agriculture which has shaped them. Together with this it tells of the wildflowers and wildlife which lives on and around them in the hedgerows,drystone walls and the wooded copses. Apart from history and ecology it is full of wonderful photographs of both the countryside and the plants and animals that live there. Just right for someone exiled on a desert island:)

Norfolk Life by Lilias Rider Haggard is another book about country life in England but between the wars this time - my favourite period apart perhaps from medieval/Tudor times. Lilias lived in Norfolk and was the daughter of H Rider Haggard who wrote 'King Soloman's Mines' and 'She', both of which were made into famous films. They were minor landed gentry and the book gives a fascinating insight into the life of a woman who had no need to work for a living, she was intelligent and had many interests but was essentially a countrywoman. From this particular book I'm going to put a tiny excerpt to give you a flavour of her writing:

The snow-flood is coming down the river, and a steadily rising tide of turbid water creeps over the marshes. This afternoon the Common lay without a sound, a flat, grey expanse up to the low hills on the horizon, where the woods lie black against the sky. Behind them the sun, a furious ball, was sinking through a pall of mist. A solitary swan was moving in the sunset waters of the river. Suddenly there was a winnowing of many wings, a strange whistling call, and out of the mist seven wild swans swept down with necks outstretched,and settled on the water in a flurry of spray. They floated there almost motionless while the fire on the water faded to the steel grey of the sky, and only their plumage was flamingo pink. It was like the fairy-tale of the enchanted swans, but in February one would search in vain for enough nettles to weave seven shirts for their disenchantment.

Of all the books I've written about, this is the one I would choose ahead of all the others. Incidentally, if you are wondering about the nettles - if you cut nettles and leave them lying under a hedge through autumn and winter to rot you can obtain lengths of fibre from what is left that can be spun just like flax and used to make cloth. I hasten to say that I have never done it, I just know it's possible:)

This book is here because it's a reminder of the best and most interesting holiday I've ever had. A group of us went regularly on archaeology/classical based trips, visiting all kinds of mostly Greek and Roman sites with a couple of free days to do our own thing. Evenings involved good food and quite a lot of wine:) Jordan is a fabulous country just packed with interesting things to see - the Dead Sea, the Rose Red City of Petra, Jerash, Mount Nebo( where Moses looked out over the Promised Land),Crusader castles, the desert where Lawrence of Arabia spent a lot of time and all sorts of other things. Driving out in the desert in an open top jeep is quite an experience, so is walking on the red hot sand! The food is wonderful, the people are friendly and polite and the weather is great. The final couple of days we spent in Aqaba which has a beautiful beach, warm sea and glass bottomed boats that take you out to see coral reefs in the clear waters of the Red Sea. This book has masses of pictures and the history of the places nearly all of which I've seen. I know I sound like a travel brochure but if ever you get the chance to visit Jordan, take it - you'll love it.

Finally, another gardening book. I bought this in 1986, the year it was published. The author, Stephen Lacey, was only 29 and though he's written other books since none has come even close to The Startling Jungle, it has passion for the subject, great knowledge and lyrical descriptions of the flowers and foliage which make you want to rush out and get every one of them to grow in your own garden. This is another book which bears evidence of the number of times that I've read it.

You may have noticed something about the books I've chosen, they are almost all written in or about the 1930s and 1940s, those that aren't are written about aspects of an even more remote past - an indication of the fact that I don't find the modern world especially attractive. A desert island would probably suit me very well:)

Monday, August 27, 2007

Five (Plus Dog) Go To Edale

Friday was a beautiful sunny day - a rare thing in England this summer. When Steve rang and suggested an outing to Edale we didn't take much persuading. The title was inspired by one of my favourite Enid Blyton series', though that particular Five actually included the dog Timmy so I'm cheating a bit:) Our Five consisted of DH, Steve,Hannah, grand-daughter Kaitlyn and yours truly plus, of course, the inevitable Mr B Baggins. Edale is made up of several small hamlets which were originally shepherd's booths or shelters. It is in the centre of some fabulous walking country which I intend to explore more thoroughly in the near future. Most of the photos would benefit from clicking and enlarging.

The Old Nag's Head dates back to 1577 and was originally a smithy. It is now the official start of the Pennine Way which runs for 270 miles along the backbone of England. It runs through the Peak District, the Yorkshire Dales, across Hadrian's Wall and the Cheviots finishing up in Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish borders. This is a walk I'd love to do though probably with a guide led group as my map reading skills are pretty well non existent - frequent remarks by DH about it helping if I had the map the right way up will give you some idea:)

We passed this pretty group of cottages as we walked through the village.

Interested spectators - the interest was mutual as far as Kaitlyn and Mr Baggins were concerned. K kept pointing and after granny had said 'sheep' several times we got pointing accompanied by 'eep' 'eep' :) Bilbo Baggins of course was on a lead much to his disgust. He was anxious to demonstrate his sheep herding skills to us.

K with her sunhat rather askew and showing off her unicorn reins which she loves wearing. At 16 months old she walked a considerable amount of the way up this hillside path. We were rather proud of her and I gather she slept extremely well that night:)

Just one of the views as we walked.

B Baggins enjoying a drink and cooling his paws in a moorland stream.

As we get higher the heather starts to appear along with the gritstone rocks of the Dark Peak.

A solitary rowan tree growing among the bracken and heather - so naturally I had to take this photograph.

Cute or what? The drystone wall is typical of this area - Derbyshire, Cheshire, Yorkshire and the Lake District. They are, I think, found mostly in the north of England. Dry stone walling takes a considerable amount of skill, as the name implies there is absolutely no cement involved. My dad could do it, he actually had quite a few old country skills though I didn't really realise it when he was alive. He could use a sickle and scythe and I suspect he also had some poaching skills too, he certainly came home with the odd rabbit or pheasant in his capacious pockets on occasion.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Granny J left a comment on one of my posts and asked what exactly moorland is so I'll try and explain with the help of one or two not very great photos taken hurriedly in the last couple of days.
Moorland is invariably at least 800 feet above sea level on high plateaus and hillsides and it is very open country. The moorlands of the Dark Peak near where I live are gritstone with a layer of about 12+ feet of peat on top. It is generally exposed, windy, cool and has a high rainfall and this means that there are many areas of treacherous bog around. The moors are covered with heather, bracken, moorland grasses and very low growing shrubs like bilberry and crowberry. The scenery can be magnificent but not in this particular post - I just stopped the car and took quick photos from the roadside which isn't the best position.

This was taken yesterday in the late afternoon with lowering skies and a decidedly unfriendly aspect to the landscape. It also explains the fact that it looks as though only half the photo is there - the rest is thick grey cloud. I took it really because the heather is flowering so fantastically this year and I wanted to try and capture it. The photo at the top was taken at the same time and shows some of the rock formations that are scattered over the area. It will need enlarging to see it better but isn't very clear anyway because of the conditions.

Looking down towards the Hope Valley - again not all that clear because of the low cloud and low light.

This was taken today on a different road and on a much pleasanter day. There are great sheets of purple stretching into the distance. I can't ever remember seeing it as good as this.

One of the permanent residents of the moorland, sheep can survive up here and there are large flocks of them everywhere.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Desert Island Books - Part 1

I've always loved reading as far back as I can remember, I think the first book I ever owned, certainly the first I can remember, was Little Grey Rabbit's Washing Day by Alison Uttley and for that reason alone it remains one of my favourites. I possess hundreds and hundreds of books though few of them are fiction. Not that I don't read fiction but mostly it is borrowed from the library or bought in paperback and then passed on when I've read it. The books I keep are mostly to do with the things I'm interested in so I have a lot of gardening books, cookery books both old and modern, books on knitting and other crafts, books about the Home Front in WW2, books about family history and local history and country life and so it goes on. If I was banished to a desert island with only a dozen of my books I'd be very hard-pressed to choose which they would be. Among them though would be Little Grey Rabbit's Washing Day for the happy childhood memories it brings.

Also among the favoured few would be the two volumes (counting as one book!)of Meta Given's Encyclopaedia of Cookery, it fell open at the page containing my favourite recipe - Quick Apple Streusel Coffee Cake. I made that a lot when the children were young. Clicking and enlarging the picture should make it readable I think.

I've always been attracted to cookery books that give a week's or a month's menus, Meta Given went one better and did a whole year - breakfast, lunch and dinner! It's an American book published in the 1940s and I came across it by chance in a secondhand bookshop. My friend C in New Hampshire supplied a set of US cup and spoon meaures and translations of words I didn't recognize.

The Scented Garden by Eleanour Sinclair Rohde is a delight to read, there are lyrical descriptions of all the wonderful scented flowers and shrubs that grow in English gardens from the winter months then spring and summer through to autumn or as she calls it 'the afternoon of the year'. The last part of the book has the most wonderful recipes for sweet bags, pot pourri and other delights taken from old manuscripts and books such as A Queen's Delight (1664) and Delights For Ladies (1594). Finally there are plant lists which are perhaps a touch out of date as far as the names go since the book was originally published in 1931 and the botanists have been busy changing names since then - often more than once!

Letters From Compton Deverell was discovered in a secondhand bookshop near Saffron Walden about 30 years ago and was the first of my collection of books by 'BB' who was both an artist and naturalist as well as a sportsman. It is in the form of a series of letters to a young man posted abroad telling of the passing seasons in the English countryside. The year it describes happens to be my first one in this world beginning with the winter of 1946 which was one of the worst in living memory.

England Is A Village by C Henry Warren is illustrated by 'BB' and was written during the first months of WW2 and is again just about daily life in an English village - a world and way of life that no longer exists.

Another children's book now though I didn't actually read it until a few years ago. I read a magazine article about the garden of a small manor house in Huntingdonshire called Hemingford Grey. A few weeks later I was driving down to Suffolk when I spotted a signpost for Hemingford Grey and as I had time to spare I decided to detour and visit the garden. This happy spur of the moment decision opened up a magical world for me, the garden is lovely and there is a small shop which is where I discovered the Green Knowe books by Lucy Boston. I met the present owner of the house who is Lucy Boston's daughter-in-law and she told me that the house and garden are the setting for the books and that it was possible to book a tour of the house. I didn't have time that day but I bought the first of the books and a few weeks later I went back to see the house and bought the rest of the series. The house is quite magical and dates back to the 11th century, it is one of the oldest continually inhabited houses in the country. There is a wonderful collection of patchwork quilts there too as Lucy Boston was not only an author and talented gardener but also made the most beautiful quilts. During the tour I was fortunate enough to be allowed to hold the original of the little ebony mouse from the story - everyone else had to be satisfied with just seeing it:)
This seems to be turning into another of my novels so I'll do the other 6 books in a seperate post.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Thank You!

I have several 'thank you's' to say,some of them, regrettably, well overdue. Some time ago Julie Marie of Celtic Woman nominated me for the Blogger Reflection award that is now on my sidebar. I've also been given the 'Nice Matters' award by Lynda at Hedgerow Hollow, Kim at Ragged Roses and Sandra of Shropshire Girl and that also is now on my sidebar. The delay was partly the problems I had with my computer and partly that I've been waiting for my RCE (Resident Comuter Expert) to put them there for me. The delay doesn't mean any lack of appreciation for these awards, I'm both grateful and flattered to receive them - thank you so much all of you:)

Finally a huge 'Thank you' to Kim at Ragged Roses for the wonderful parcel that arrived this morning - she did a giveaway for her 50th post that I was fortunate enough to win and fortunate is certainly the word! As soon as I opened the box I was enveloped in the wonderful fragrance of lavender which was a pleasure in itself. Exploring the contents I found all these really lovely lavender bags, a piece of lavender gingham with which to try my own rather inexpert hand at making a lavender bag, a lovely corsage, a pretty posy, three little business cards that are so pretty I shall use them as bookmarks and finally a big bar of orange and geranium chocolate. The only reason that the chocolate made it as far as the photograph is that tonight is what my daughter describes as 'Fat Club' and we have to go and be weighed!! I rather doubt that it will survive until tomorrow morning - in my future I see a sofa, a good book and a lot of chocolate:) This was a more than generous parcel Kim, and opening it was like having an extra birthday, it gave me an enormous amount of pleasure.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Summer Afternoon

The weather has finally been warm and sunny during the last week or so and Mr Baggins and I have enjoyed some pleasant walks. I realised when I looked at the photos from this particular outing up the Limb valley that he doesn't appear on a single one of them, most of the time he was out of sight. I can't leave him out altogether as it was really his walk so the photo above was taken on another walk in the same place.

I thought this made a really attractive picture. I'm not sure what the plant is, though it's one of the huge parsley family - I suspect it may be ground elder, should have looked more closely at it, didn't think at the time!

A Comma butterfly (I think) on the bracken, it was there only for a moment or two so I only had the one chance at photographing it. It has the ragged edge to its wings that a Comma has but it's much paler - I'm hopeless at butterfly identification so I could well be wrong about it.

A wooden bridge over one of the many little moorland streams.

The aforementioned stream.

The rowanberries are already ripe, they are always the first berries to colour and signal that autumn is just around the corner.

Eventually the woodland ends and opens out into fields, Mr Baggins is always on a lead at this point until I've checked whether there are sheep grazing up there. He's a sheep chaser unfortunately so I have to be really careful. All was well though so he was allowed off to run again and I discovered this lovely patch of harebells just over a style. The photograph doesn't do them justice, it has faded the colour which is actually a beautiful sky blue. This is one of my favourite wildflowers

Another wild flower that was plentiful was yarrow, a wild herb with great healing properties. It is said that Achilles used it to staunch the wounds of his warriors afetr the Battle of Troy hence its Latin name of achillea. It was used by the Anglo Saxons for the same purpose. Here it has a more peaceful role as a supply of nectar for a Gatekeeper butterfly and its companion. You will probably need to click on the photo to spot it.

This is a lovely walk to do on a really hot day as much of it is in the dappled shade of the beech trees. It takes us about two and a half hours at a fairly leisurely pace to walk up to the fields at Ringinglow and then back down to Whirlow again. The name Ringinglow indicates that this was originally the site of a burial mound.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


I'm here again with a brand new laptop - my last one was erasing everything I wrote which is why no-one has heard from me recently. Hopefully normal service will be resumed from today. The picture at the top is Gabriel who is now known as Mr Giggles - I caught this one just right. The one below is his 'Can you please take that camera away Granny!' look. It really made me laugh:)

He looks very disapproving doesn't he?

Of course I wasn't able to post anything at Lammas but J and I took the dogs up on the moors and as we walked down the lane we passed a herd of Herefords with several new calves, one was still very unsteady on its feet. This one is just as attractive as the newborn one but mum was keeping a close eye on our activities.

I'd tucked a couple of plastic bags in my little rucksack in the hopes that we would be able to gather some of the first fruits of the harvest to celebrate Lammas and my hopes were fulfilled - enough bilberries for a decent size crumble:) Bilberries are a moorland fruit and have different names in different parts of the country, they have been one of my favourite fruits since I was a child. Picking them is hard work, they are small and hidden away under the leaves and getting enough for a pie is a time-consuming occupation done with the assistance of what seems like thousands of enthusiastic flies! By the time you get to eat the pie you have earned every mouthful.

Growing among the bilberry bushes in places was this rather beautiful red-berried shrub - the same kind of low growing evergreen plant. I wish I knew what it is, does anyone know?

More first fruits - gooseberries from the garden this time.

Gooseberry Pie.....

....and the left over pastry made a dozen cheese and onion tartlets.

Kaitlyn - waiting for lunch to appear and ready to supervise the filling of the pastry cases. I've just bought a new high chair and hadn't quite figured out the straps at this point. They are a bit more secure now!

My garden has a new guardian - my summer Green Man. There is an autumn version of this plaque too and he will be appearing due course.

And Salmagundi? It's a 17th/18th Century salad made from cooked chicken,hard boiled eggs, anchovies and all kinds of salad leaves, vegetables and herbs. These are beautifully arranged on a large platter and the finished dish is quite something. But basically it's a mixture of all sorts of things:) It's great to be back blogging.