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.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Wildflowers in Lathkill Dale

Thursday was such a lovely day that I decided to take advantage of it and go for a walk in Lathkill Dale. It's a national Nature Reserve and is famous for its wild flowers. The photo at the top is the early purple orchid. A lot of the photos will be improved by clicking on them.

It takes about 30 minutes to drive out to the village of Monyash where this walk begins. I parked in a layby just outside the village, crossed over and went through the gate into this gentle looking landscape.

I had to walk through this herd of young cows, they must be used to seeing hikers and apart from one or two curious looks they took no notice of me.

Right from the start the wild flowers were wonderful, this one is water avens which I've never seen growing wild before.

From a distance water avens isn't an especially eyecatching plant but the individual flowers are beautiful.

The blue flowers are Germander Speedwell, the pink ones are a type of vetch, the white one is Greater Stitchwort and the yellowy green flower is, I think, Lady's Bedstraw. I'm open to correction on this as I haven't seen it before and am by no means certain.

By this time the gentleness of the original scenery had changed and this is the path way ahead of me. As I walked on both sides of the dale rose steeply but there were still wildflowers everywhere. To my right there were hundreds of the beautiful purple orchids in the grass.It was impossible to take a photograph that really showed them up though unfortunately.

This was the best I could do.

There were several large patches of cowslips but they were virtually over, there were just the odd one or two still in flower, they must have been wonderful a couple of weeks ago.

This is pink campion, this is still quite common and grows on grassy banks on country lanes and in open bits of woodland too.

This shows the steep sides of the dale and the rocky outcrops of limestone. It looks so peaceful and rural doesn't it? Yet in the 18th and 19th centuries this was a busy industrial area with three corn mills working, men quarrying the limestone and the noise of the machinery used to mine the lead ore which lies beneath the surface. Leadmining was never very successful though as it proved impossible to drain the water from deep shafts. It's dangerous to leave the path in this area as there are still many hidden mineshafts.

This is a lovely flower but I have no idea what it is - any suggestions? I feel that I ought to know what it is but in spite of going through my wildflower books I haven't come up with any ideas. Apart from wildflowers there were also lots of bees and butterflies, I saw a couple of beautiful yellow Brimstones, some Peacocks and many pretty little Orangetips.

This is called Jacob's Ladder and I know it because the cultivated version grows in my garden. It is one of the rarest of Britain's wild flowers though and in spite of a notice saying that a particular fenced enclosure is full of them I saw only three or four plants flowering.

Lathkill Dale is very open and there is virtually no shade, this lamb had found one of the few cool spots on a hot day.

The halfway point on my circular walk and I am standing on a small bridge looking down on the River Lathkill which is more visible sometimes than others, in dry periods it has a habit of practically disappearing partly because the limestone is so porous and partly because the water drains away into an old leadmine drainage sough.

This photo shows why this area of Derbyshire is known as the White Peak, the soil here is thin and poor and it's an area of caves and dry river valleys. It's a favourite area for potholers and I can only say rather them than me! The recently discovered cave called Titan is in the White Peak and is the largest known cave in the UK. It is not on my list of places I want to visit!! The Dark Peak is also limestone but is covered with a layer of millstone grit which makes it badly drained and this is the part which is the peat moorland.

After crossing the bridge and following the path upwards and round a bend I found to my surprise that I was walking through woodland and eventually I came to this rather magical, mysterious place with steps cut into the rock climbing upwards to a small cave.

The track eventually led to a farm and as I went through the farmyard I saw what must be about the most luxurious pigsty I've ever seen.

The slits in the wall had a sloping piece of stone on the lower half and that must be where the pigswill was poured in to the grateful recipients on the other side.

Here is the only occupant of this palace among pigsties - you will need to click to see her as I didn't feel I should start scrambling about on the stonework to get a better picture.

Beyond the farmyard I found this lovely old-fashioned signpost, so much nicer than the horrid modern metal ones and just as readable and effective.

Further on still I came across this rather splendid gentleman - there was a stone wall between him and me but to be honest he looked rather a sweetie, some of the sheep looked fiercer than he did.

The last lap walking along the top of the dale and looking down on the area where I'd walked earlier in the day. This is modern agricultural pastureland and the lack of wildflowers was really noticeable. Nature Reserves like Lathkill Dale are the last bastions of the once rich diversity of the English countryside.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Domestic Bits and Pieces

I've come to the conclusion that blogging is actually a habit as much as anything else so I've decided to just post about some odds and ends to keep the ball rolling and get me into the groove again. The photo of Gabriel was taken in April just before they moved down to Suffolk. I really miss seeing him every week but life is much better for him down there living in a village with a garden and the countryside all around. Up here they lived in an apartment in a very urban area. He's walking well now but so far I haven't seen him doing it, with the situation as it is with my husband trips to Suffolk are not possible right now.

I'm doing a lot of knitting in the evenings and this is a cardigan that I recently made for Kaitlyn, it went home with her when they came over for her daddy's birthday tea. It's been cool enough for her to need it too. I'm now doing a blanket for Gabriel's new brother or sister who is due in early July. Knitting it is easy, sewing together all the little squares isn't among my favourite things though so I knit eight of them and then have a sewing session before I carry on with the next eight.

Over the weekend I picked some of the rhubarb and here it is ready to go in the oven on a very low heat. This way all the pieces keep their shape instead of falling apart. The green bits are a herb called Sweet Cicely which is one of my favourites. It looks pretty,smells of aniseed which I love and acts as a natural sweetener so that you don't need to use as much sugar as usual.

Rhubarb crumble ready for the freezer. I've added ginger to the crumble mixture because it goes really well with rhubarb.

I finally got round to another of those 'I really must' jobs on Sunday, this is one of my favourite baskets, a reproduction of a medieval apple basket. It contains comfrey leaves ready to be turned into ointment.

The torn up comfrey leaves sitting in a pint of sweet almond oil. These go in the oven on the lowest possible setting and stay there for four hours or so. Then you strain the oil and add melted beeswax and get it into jars as fast as you can before it starts setting.

This year's batch all ready to use on sprains, bruises and minor cuts and grazes. It shouldn't be used on any open wound that isn't absolutely clean as it heals quickly and if there is dirt or grit in the wound it may be trapped and cause infection. Elderflower ointment is the one for those. I shall be making a new batch of that soon when the elderflowers appear.

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:)