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 29, 2009

Oak Apple Day

Today, the 29th of May, is Oak Apple Day, the day that commemorates the Restoration of the Monarchy when Charles ll returned from exile in France to become king in 1660. The date was declared a holiday by Parliament but was formally abolished in 1859 which seems rather a shame.

Oak apples or sprigs of oak leaves were worn on this day in remembrance of the day after the Battle of Worcester in September 1651, when the future Charles II of England escaped the Roundhead army by hiding in an oak tree near Boscobel House in Shropshire while fleeing to exile in France.

May 29th 1660 was also the thirtieth birthday of the Merrie Monarch so ' A Health Unto His Majesty' who would certainly would have known how to have a good time on his birthday!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Wet Start and a Detour

I've just spent a week in Sussex and Dorset and when I left home the weather was so bad that I decided to stay off the motorway and find my way down to Northampton on the ordinary roads. I left at 6am in pouring rain so at least there wasn't much traffic while I navigated on strange roads. On the map the route looks perfectly straightforward, on the ground it's full of roundabouts, narrow roads through small towns and a general lack of signposts where you need them most! However by 9am I was driving through Leicestershire and the rain had eased and suddenly I saw a large brown sign that said 'Bosworth Battlefield'. Working on the theory that 'I may never pass this way again' I did a sharp left turn and set off to see what I could find. It was too early for the Visitor Centre to be open when I arrived but there was a walk around the area of the battlefield with good information boards at intervals.

The Battle of Bosworth took place on the 22nd August 1485 and was the final battle of the Wars of the Roses. It changed the course of English history as the Plantaganet king, Richard lll, was killed on the battlefield and Henry Tudor became Henry Vll, father of Henry Vlll and grandfather of Elizabeth l. Above is Ambion Hill where Richard's army camped the night before the battle.

The battle standard of Richard lll which would have been flying on Ambion Hill on that fateful day when Richard was betrayed by Lord Thomas Stanley who waited to see which way the battle was going and finally committed his large private army on the side of Henry Tudor and attacked Richard and his cavalry and Richard was killed, the last English king to die in battle. His body was treated shamefully by Henry Tudor, he was stripped naked and tied to a horse and taken to Leicester where it was exposed to the public gaze for two days before being buried without ceremony at the Church of the Greyfriars. At the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries his coffin was dug up and his bones thrown into the River Soar. This was followed by the blackening of his reputation by supporters of the Tudor dynasty in particular Sir Thomas More. William Shakespeare's play, Richard lll, was largely based on the book written by More. During his lifetime contemporary sources suggest that he was an able and greatly loved administrator who did much to improve the living standards and liberties of ordinary people.

A cairn covers the spring where King Richard is said to have stopped to drink during the battle.

This is the board standing just in front of the spring, The Fellowship of the White Boar was the original name of the Richard lll Society

St James Church, Sutton Cheney where Richard is reputed to have heard his final Mass on the eve of battle.

The memorial to Richard lll and his followers which is on a wall of the church. A poor photograph because of the way the light was shining on it. Loyautie me lie translates as 'Loyalty binds me' and was the motto of Richard Plantagenet. The memorial was placed there by the Richard lll Society.My own interest in Richard began after I read a book called The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey - it's a detective novel which I have read several times and it never gets any less intriguing. However we'd better carry on to Sussex now.

I was in Sussex to do a course called Food for Free at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum, it was a pleasant enough day but to be honest I can't say I learned a great deal that I didn't know already, it didn't rain anyway and we had a pleasant ramble in the woodland but other than that it wasn't very notable.One thing to do when you are out in the country is to notice not only what is available now but what might be worth coming back for later in the year - in this case the wild strawberry flowers will eventually become small,sweet fruit.

This is a fungus that grows on dead ash trees and is called King Alfred's Cakes - and they do look like little cakes left in the fire too long. They aren't edible but they are very useful for anyone who is living off the land and needs to start a fire.

They can be either brown or black and the black variety can be very useful for lighting fires because the inner flesh, once dried out, will easily catch a spark which will ignite the flesh of the fungus and, although it burns slowly like a barbecue briquette, once it has been lit you can get a flame started. It can also be used to carry as a living ember if wrapped in birch bark or fresh grass. "Oetzi", the 5000 year old Iceman who was found in the melting ice of an Alpine glacier in Italy in 1991, was carrying a piece of tinder fungus in a leather pouch. They are rather attractive when they are cut open too, the inside reminded me of tree rings.

This is burdock, most widely known in its context of Dandelion and Burdock - one of the world's most wonderful drinks in my opinion:) The root can also be eaten as a root vegetable provided you have sufficient strength and stamina to dig it up! It has several medicinal uses too.

Good King Henry is not only wild but was widely grown in cottage gardens in the medieval period and used as a potherb. It can be cooked like spinach and you can also use the stems which are known as Poor Man's Asparagus. The Henry part has nothing to do with English kings - Good Henry was a kind of Anglo-Saxon elf!

We were shown how to hot smoke fish on an open fire using a couple of baking tins and a tray from a disposable barbecue. You shave half a dozen slivers of wood such as apple, beech, hazel, or oak into one of the trays,put the fish on the grid over the top and season it, then put the other tray over it. Do NOT use woods like yew, pines or horse chestnut as they are toxic, you really do need to know what you are doing when using wood for anything like this.

Put the lot straight onto the fire and put a big rock on top to keep the lid on, leave it for 10 minutes or so and...

...smoked cooked fish. Very nice it was too. Afterwards I went back to where I was staying and went to a local inn called the Keepers Arms to eat a beautiful steak closely followed by a beautiful creme brulee! No foraging required!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

My Anglo Saxon Warrior!

I spent last weekend in Suffolk and on Saturday we went to the Anglo-Saxon village at West Stowe. It is built on the site of an original Anglo Saxon village which was occupied between 420 and 650AD by people who migrated to this country from the area that is now part of Northern Germany. Around 650AD the village moved to a site about a mile away which is where it remains today but the reason for the move isn't known.
The original site was gradually covered by sand dunes until it was discovered quite by chance during trial quarrying for sand and gravel.

It was decided to do an archaeological excavation of the whole site and this took place between 1965 and 1972. When the excavation finished the decision was taken to reconstruct the village using the tools and materials available to the Anglo Saxons. There are no written records for this period of English history so the venture was experimental archaeology as they tried to discover how the Anglo Saxons built their houses and lived their day to day lives. Huge numbers of artefacts were found so there was plenty of material to build on. Some weekends during the year it really comes to life when an Anglo Saxon living history group lives there and carries out all the activities of daily life including storytelling round the fire which was one of the great sources of entertainment for the Anglo Saxons, children and adults alike. This way the history and legends of the family and tribe were passed from one generation to the next. I'm hoping to manage a visit to Suffolk when one of these events is on.

Before you go into the actual village there is a room with a short video telling you about West Stowe and also a display of various artefacts. Above on the right of the display case is the Brandon Hoard which is on loan to West Stowe but was discovered near by. It dates to the lst century AD and consists of an iron bound bronze cauldron, a wine strainer, a skillet and a bronze bound wooden vessel. It probably belonged to a wealthy chieften and was hidden during the Roman invasion of Britain. The owner may well have lost his life when taking part in Boudicca's rebellion around AD60 - she was the legendary female warrior chieftain of the Iceni tribe who led a revolt against the Roman invaders and East Anglia was her territory.

Permanent residents of the village - at least until the autumn when they will probably be providing a selection of hams, bacon and pork sausages! Gabriel liked these a lot.

The interior of one of the buildings showing a central hearth in a wooden frame. Several of the houses had these so it must be a recognized style of hearth. I have a feeling that oak doesn't burn very easily so it may be safer than it looks. Any experts who could comment on this? Against the wall are warp weighted looms with the clay loom weights hanging from them.

George was having a good time and he thinks he'd like to be an Anglo Saxon.

Gabriel sees himself as the tribal chieftain and is trying out the chair for size:)

One or two of the Romano British re-enactors who were in the village when we were there, not a full scale presence but giving a little authentic atmosphere.

One of the houses had a built in box bed not unlike the stone box beds found at Skara Brae in the Orkney Islands. Neil prodded the straw filled mattress and announced that he didn't think it would be very comfortable!

There is an excellent small museum at West Stowe and on the way in this splendid gentleman flew up onto the fence and cried 'cockadoodledoo!' very loudly several times much to Gabriel's delight. I managed to catch it in full flow.

It was a serious museum but also had things for children to touch and feel including this replica of the helmet found in the burial at Sutton Hoo which is not far away and is scheduled for a visit sometime this summer. He was thrilled at having it on and wanted to see himself in the mirror. It's a poor photo because of all the lights.

Then mummy discovered a dressing up box and he became a small Anglo Saxon. At this point daddy got in on the act as you can see at the start of this post. Gabriel thought it was hilarious seeing daddy dressed up like this. I think he rather looks the part!

I had to leave after lunch on Sunday but in the morning we went to Shotley Gate which is on the estuary where two rivers, the Stour and the Orwell, meet to flow into the sea. Shotley Gate is on a little peninsula in the middle and on one side is the port of Felixstowe and the other is the port of Harwich. The cranes are in Felixstowe which is the largest container port in the UK.

Shotley Gate itself has a nice marina and the estuary is full of boats both cruisers and sailing craft.

There are little sandy beaches and it's possible to walk for 10 miles along a path that goes by the river and through lovely countryside so Neil tells me.

The beaches are thick with seashells, crab skeletons, beautiful coloured pebbles, seaweed and the occasional stranded starfish. Neil and Gabriel are looking for shells so that Francesca can make a shell necklace.

Time to go and get some lunch at the local pub but on the way there we were able to see the lock opening for a boat to move out of the Marina and onto the estuary.
This will be my last post for a while as early in the morning I am off to Sussex and Dorset for a week. A week in the pouring rain by the looks of it too! The forecast is dire for tomorriow and I'm not much looking forward to the drive but hey ho - maybe I'll be lucky and the sun will shine:

Friday, May 08, 2009

The Intrepid Exploreres in Monsal Dale

My elder son had a day off work last Thursday, he suggested packing a picnic and taking Kaitlyn for a walk in Monsal Dale so off we went.

Eagle eyed K spotted this little beetle almost as soon as we set off, neither Steve nor I would have seen it at all as it was only tiny, less than quarter of an inch long, but such a lovely colour. I have no idea what kind of beetle it is so any suggestions would be welcome.
Added later - Thanks to Kate the mystery is solved, I looked up 'red weevil' and came up with the Red Rumex Weevil which is exactly like my photograph, it lives on docks and sorrels. Well done Kate!

After walking across the viaduct, which used to carry the railway line from Bakewell to Buxton, we turned off to the left and started to climb up a stony pathway towards the ridge. There were wildflowers growing in profusion, on both sides of the track were swathes of cowslips. Monsal Dale is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and also a Special Area of Conservation. The wildflower-rich grasslands of this and other limestone valleys in the area are of international importance.

We saw lots of rabbits - I don't think these are among the rare species in Monsal Dale!

The track is quite steep especially for little legs but after a picnic lunch we had renewed energy and onwards and upwards we went through one of the squeezer stiles that are common in Derbyshire.

At last - we made it to the top and were rewarded with a beautiful view and the sight of new twin lambs having their lunch.

Violets growing in a shady area, I can't remember ever seeing quite so many - like handfuls of amethysts scattered across the landscape.

More of the wildflowers, if you click on the photo to enlarge it you will see wild strawberries (white), bugle (the dark blue spires), ladies' bedstraw (yellowy green) and field speedwell(light blue). The ladies' bedstraw was dried and used to stuff mattresses, as with sweet woodruff the scent increases as it dries. It is also a dye herb and was used in cheesemaking as it will curdle milk when it is boiled.

One of Kaitlyn's favourite pastimes is jumping in puddles - the muddier the better! Fortunately there were quite a few along the track which helped us encourage her onwards as her legs tired to 'look for another muddy puddle'!

Another kind of style - this step style took us over the wall to begin the downhill part of the walk.

Still marching gamely on ahead of the other explorers.

The track was in shade here as it lead down towards a farm, I love the way the stones are covered with a thick blanket of moss.

The farmyard nursery where the ewes who have recently or are about to lamb are kept. The weather can be very bleak up here and lambing is much later than on the lowland farms.

Eventually we came back into the valley bottom and came upon this big patch of marsh marigolds. We always called them Kingcups when I was a child.

Marsh marigolds have lovely glossy leaves and are loved by bees, hoverflies and other insects. They provide good cover for frogs when they are growing by the water's edge too.

Having fun in one of the tiny streams that flows down to the River Wye.

Walking along by the river we eventually came to the weir which can be a very spectacular sight in the winter or after heavy rain. From here the path climbs steeply upwards back to our starting point at Monsal Head. Small legs gave out half way up and daddy had to carry Kaitlyn the last few hundred yards. The walk was over 3 miles and this was the first time she needed to be carried - not bad for someone who only had their 3rd birthday at the end of April.

Back at the top and looking back over our route. It's a poor photo as the sun was streaming in from the lefthand side. The viaduct which carried the railway is now considered to be an elegant feature of the landscape and has a preservation order on it. There was considerable opposition to it when it was built in 1863 especially by John Ruskin who wrote these words which give a lovely description of the valley -

"There was a rocky valley between Buxton and Bakewell, once upon a time divine as the Vale of Tempe; you might have seen the Gods there morning and evening - Apollo and all the sweet Muses of the light - walking in fair procession on the lawns of it, and to and fro among the pinnacles of its crags."