Friday 29 April 2011

From Wales to Wells - now with words!

(Captions to follow. Just dashing out the door . . . ) I noticed the above sign set into a house wall as I walked through the streets to the Cathedral. It is hard to imagine a time when Pepper (and other spices) were rare commodities and not readily available.

This is the entrance (or rather, one of them) into the Cathedral Close from the Market Place.
This gateway into the bishop's Palace is known as the Bishop's Eye.

Worked in stone, this amazing panel was worth recording. Note the dragon's? head above.

Sadly I was on a tight budget, and had to forgo the internal delights of he Bishop's Palace, but plan to go back, as my husband has never been to Wells, and very much wants to visit, so we will explore together.

Bishop Jocelyn was responsible for the building of the Bishop's Palace (and indeed the Cathedral as we see it today) in the 13th Century. He died in 1242 and was buried in the Cathedral. The gatehouse and a corner of the drawbridge are shown in the above photograph.

The Bishop's Palace is surrounded by this wonderful moat, beloved of swans and ducks. Later in the morning the sun came out, but here it was still a little overcast.

I lurked in the gatehouse to take this photograph of the inner courtyard. There are also the ruins of the Great Hall dating to the 12th C, where the last Abbot of Glastonbury (Richard Whiting) was tried and condemned. He died in 1539, having been found guilty of High Treason by Cromwell (he refused to disclose the whereabouts of the "treasure" of Glastonbury Abbey - Henry VIII's fingers were twitching to lay hands on it). About 80 years old, he was dragged to the top of the Tor and hung, drawn and quartered . . . Wells was one of the sites where the tarred quarter of his body was displayed.

Below - a corner of the Cathedral Close, and gateway. Enlarge the photograph and look at the house directly adjoining the gateway on its left. There was a massive solid lump of stone set in the roof. I am still trying to work out why it should be there - a pillar from an earlier building? Remains of a gigantic standing stone? Suggestions on a postcard, please.

Thursday 28 April 2011

Back home

Wisteria on a cottage at Childe Okeford in Dorset.

Just a line to say I'm safely back home and I have had a truly WONDERFUL holiday, meeting up with all my dearest friends in Hampshire and Dorset.

The new header photo (Bluebells) was taken in the orchard at Thomas Hardy's cottage yesterday afternoon, but is just one of lots of bluebell pictures I couldn't resist taking.

I will do a proper blog posting as soon as I can keep my eyes open long enough! There will be postings on Wells Cathedral, a stroll around Lymington, a walk to Edward Thomas's memorial at Steep in Hampshire, Thomas Hardy's Cottage, and the view from Bulbarrow Hill. . . .

Saturday 23 April 2011

Off to visit friends

I shall be away from my computer for a few days as tomorrow I am travelling down to the New Forest to stay with friends. On the way there, I shall pop in and see one or two more friends and I am really looking forward to this break.

There will be a Thomas Hardy walk and visit to the cottage in Higher Bockhampton where he grew up, and an Edward Thomas walk (around Steep, near Petersfield in Hampshire, where he spent several years with his family). I can't wait.

There is much to be sorted here before I leave though, not the least of which my packing, and a list of what must be done in my absence . . .

Friday 22 April 2011

Wheelbarrows - an endangered species - and Grockles . . .

We have had a dilemma with our ageing wheelbarrow this week. Bought when we still had the horses, it has served us well in stable, paddock and garden. Until this week, when it finally collapsed with the iron tubular support broken in two (rust). Finances are tight at present - we checked out the cost of a replacement - the smaller less robust started around £35 (and wouldn't last 5 minutes here, with our loads of stones, logs, muck heap etc which we wheel around.) Others were between £45 and £55, with the top of the range (the sort we needed) £99.99!!! I nearly fell into a swoon when I read that price tag, I can tell you. Anyone would think they were an endangered species, for heaven's sake! Anyway, that got OH into action, and he managed to find some metal tubing which turned out to be soft enough for him to cut with his metal-cutter, and he had soon mended the wheelbarrow - until another bit gives up!

You can tell it is holiday time. The Easter holidays have brought the Grockles to our part of Wales. Grockles are what we called them in Hampshire and Dorset. In Devon I believe they're Emmets - what the Welsh version is I don't know . . . They are a pain in the butt though, either driving too fast around our narrow country lanes (single track with passing places mostly), or too slowly to look at the scenery, or they get lost. I encountered the first lot a couple of days back, meandering along the bottom lane by the river, without a care in the world, the bloke driving not bothering to pay attention or look in his mirror (and notice me behind), waving his hand and arm out of the window until I thought he must be going to turn right into the river! Anyway, he obviously didn't know where the heck he was when he got to the junction, so he signalled right and then pulled over to the left, right across the end of the lane leading up the valley side. I passed him. On the way back, I found the car (4x4, natch!) parked on my side of the road by the gate into our neighbour's fields. The driver's door was wide open, radio blaring for the benefit of the wee wifey sat inside whilst her husband and two children were "exploring" my neighbour's fields, ducking through a gap in his hedge instead of the gateway 3 feet away and heading for the river. I guess this comes under their "freedom to roam" mindset. The fact that their car was blocking the carriageway and I had to drive into the layby opposite to pass them (and obviously where they could have parked) had simply not occurred to them.

Then today, whilst I was out by the front gate planting up chunks of hollow tree trunk (Willow) with Geraniums and Nasturtiums, two cars (obviously holiday-makers as the cars were CLEAN!) approached, and the woman driving the leading car gesticulated as if to say, "Where's the road?"!!! I walked across to her and asked, were they lost? Oh no, no, but the Sat. Nav. had brought them here and they didn't know where to go now. I asked where they were headed - "Freshwater East" was the reply. Hmm - beyond Tenby in Pembrokeshire. They were a bit wide of their mark here. . . "We need Carmarthen," she said (she must have been boiling in that suit jacket . . .) I told them, up the hill, and first left and follow the lane along until you reach the A40, then turn right for Carmarthen. She looked confused still, "But which," she asked, gesticulating again, is the road?", pointing to two of Next Door's 8-cow highways beside our lane. How I kept a straight face I don't know, any more than I know how I resisted the temptation to send them up to his top fields . . . I wonder if they've found Carmarthen yet?!

Tuesday 19 April 2011

Visualisation Board

I have been feeling very down in the dumps over the house selling situation, as there has been no interest in our house. We have dropped the price yet again but the agent still thinks we should go with their recommendation. This would put it at just 2/3 of the top valuation we had and although we realize in retrospect that this was a flattering figure done purely to get our business. So I think another agent will have to be consulted.

A couple of friends have suggested I try a visualisation of what we would like to come to pass. Kim sent me a few cuttings from magazines to give me the idea, and this afternoon I finally got around to creating a visualisation board. Just making it cheered me up. It encapsulates what we want in the next home. I cut out lovely cottages and gardens, chickens, ducks, crafty things for me to make, nice furniture, a polytunnel (!) and in the centre are a family who might be like that who fall in love with our house. I am imagining them as a youngish doctor and his family, with a widowed mother who needs the granny flat downstairs. I expect some people reading this might think it is a pointless exercise, but I have nothing to lose. It is said that it is possible to influence outcomes, so I may as well have a go.

If nothing else, it looks pretty!

Oh, and I heard someone singing Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide" earlier on and just can't get it out of my head now. I found it on you tube and have been singing along - that made me feel good too . . .

Monday 18 April 2011

Edward Thomas's view of Glastonbury

In March 1913, Edward Thomas bicycled from London to Cothelstone Hill, in Somerset. I love his writing and his eye for nature. Here is a extract from his book "In Pursuit of Spring":

For three miles I was in the flat green land of Queen's Sedgemoor, drained by straight sedgy watercourses, along which grow lines of elm, willow, or pine. Glastonbury Tor mounted up out of the flat before me, like a huge tumulus, almost bare, but tipped by St Michael's tower. Soon the ground began to rise on my left, and the crooked apple orchards of Avalon came down to the roadside, their turf starred by innumerable daisies and gilt celandines. Winding round the base of the Tor, I rode into Glastonbury, and down its broad, straight hill past St John the Baptist Church and the notoriously mediaeval "Pilgrim's Inn," and many pastry cooks. Another peat cart was going down the street. The church stopped me because of its tower and the grass and daisies and half-dozen comfortable box tombs of its churchyard, irregularly placed and not quite upright. One of the tombs advertised in plain lettering the fact that John Down, the occupant, who died in 1829 at the age of eighty-three, had, "for more than sixty years owned the abbey." He owned the abbey, nothing more; at least his friends and relatives were content to introduce him to posterity as the man who "for more than sixty years owned the abbey." If the dead were permitted to own anything here below, doubtless he would own it still. Outside the railings two boys were doing the cleverest thing I saw on this journey. They were keeping a whip-top, and that a carrot-shaped one, spinning by kicking it in turns. Which was an accomplishment more worthy of being commemorated on a tombstone than the fact that you owned Glastonbury Abbey. The interior of the church is made equally broad at both ends by the lack of screen or of any division of the chancel. It is notable also for a marble monument in the south-west corner, retaining the last of its pale blue and rose colouring. A high chest, carved with camels, forms the resting-place for a marble man with a head like Dante's, wearing a rosary over his long robes.

At first I thought I should not see more of the abbey than can be seen from the road -- the circular abbot's kitchen with pointed cap, and the broken ranges of majestic tall arches that guide the eye to the shops and dwellings of Glastonbury. While I was buying a postcard the woman of the shop reminded me of Joseph of Arimathea's thorn, and how it blossomed at Christmas. "Did you ever see it blossoming at Christmas?" I asked. "Once," she said, and she told me how the first winter she spent in Glastonbury was a very mild one, and she went out with her brothers for a walk on Christmas day in the afternoon. She remembered that they wore no coats. And they saw blossom on the holy thorn. After all, I did go through the turnstile to see the abbey. The high pointed arches were magnificent, the turf under them perfect. The elms stood among the ruins like noble savages among Greeks. The orchards hard by made me wish that they were blossoming. But excavations had been going on; clay was piled up and cracking in the sun, and there were tin sheds and scaffolding. I am not an archaeologist, and I left it. As I was approaching the turnstile an old hawthorn within a few yards of it, against a south wall, drew my attention. For it was covered with young green leaves and with bright crimson berries almost as numerous. Going up to look more closely, I saw what was more wonderful -- Blossom. Not one flower, nor one spray only, but several sprays. I had not up till now seen even blackthorn flowers, though towards the end of February I had heard of hawthorn flowering near Bradford. As this had not been picked, I conceitedly drew the conclusion that it had not been observed. Perhaps its conspicuousness had saved it. It was Lady Day. I had found the Spring in that bush of green, white, and crimson. So warm and bright was the sun, and so blue the sky, and so white the clouds, that not for a moment did the possibility of Winter returning cross my mind.

Pleasure at finding the May sent me up Wearyall Hill, instead of along the customary road straight out of Glastonbury. The hill projects from the earth like a ship a mile long, whose stern is buried in the town, its prow uplifted westward towards Bridgwater; and the road took me up as on a slanting deck, until I saw Glastonbury entire below me, all red-tiled except the ruins and the towers of St John and St Benedict. At the western edge the town's two red gasometers stood among blossoming plum trees, and beyond that spread the flat land. The Quantocks, fifteen miles distant, formed but a plain wall, wooded and flat-topped, on the horizon northward.

This extract will be found on the Edward Thomas Fellowship webpage.

Sunday 17 April 2011

Busy in the garden

Shire horses at Weston's Brewery, Much Marcle.

Ah, I see that my interests are not necessarily my readers' interests. I will put the last church on hold for another time.

The return of the sunshine has seen me out in the garden. Today I got my husband to be my unpaid labour and he carried breeze blocks about and cut the end off a plank so I could put my Auricula collection on the shadier and cooler side of the yard. It is the nearest thing I can get to an Auricula theatre, and not anything like as stunning as some you see, as I have lots of plants but only half a dozen colours. I bought myself one at the car boot sale this morning. A deep red with a yellow "eye" - 3 plants in one pot for just £1.

I am trying to get everywhere up together just in case we ever have someone to view the house, and I have been painting various rooms indoors (again) and tidying up outside. I am trying to think positively but it looks like only a gigantic drop in price is going to get anyone here. We HAVE to relocate sooner rather than later.

What a shame I have lost the writing mood I had this time last night, when I had to carry on with what I was doing. I was thinking of hearing Nightingales singing (I must have been about ten years old) and wanting them to shut up because I was tired and they were keeping me awake! What I wouldn't give to hear one now. . .

Saturday 16 April 2011

Much Marcle church

A little footpath crosses in front of the cottage and joins the church with the road running towards Kempsley and Dymock.

An early preaching cross which dates from the 15th C.

In Victorian times, the swooping branches of the Yew tree were supported beneath by metal stands which looked rather like street light bases, and the biggest upright branches were tied together with these chains, which have been encircled by the growing tree in places.

The base has a shape rather like a Baobob tree, but if you look closely, the downward ribs are, I believe, the roots descending from former regrowth . . . See lower picture for how this happens.

The carved wooden effigy of Walter de Helyon c. 1350.

Church "furniture" has a tendency to be a) pretty hefty and b) lockable so you can neither open it or carry it and its contents away! Fairly effective against burglary . . .

I couldn't resist these little angelic music-makers - look at those fat chubby fingers : )

I have never seen a Hedgehog as a footrest before - they are normally dogs or lions!

You'll have to double click to read this.

The tomb of Blanche Mortimer.

Regrowth on one of the "dead" areas of the yew tree. my husband says this regeneration can cause the tree to be reborn several times - no wonder

The Much Marcle tree is believed to be at least 1500 years old - in THIS incarnation. Who is to say how much older was the tree it grew from?

My friend J and I sat in the tree. i am the gormless looking one on the right, trying not to grin!

is a link to the history of this church.

Thursday 14 April 2011

History . . .

One of the stunning 12th century frescos at the beautiful church we visited on Monday. Just to whet your appetite . . .

Ill be back again later, with postings about the 2 churches (leaving the best until last of course), but just when I should be cracking on with painting the office walls, now I have got some more cream emulsion as the white really DOESN'T work in here, I am on a wonderful voyage of discovery reading about Edmund Crouchback, Roger Mortimer, Blanche Mortimer, Piers Gaveston and the Marcher Lords et al.

I wish they'd taught us more of THIS sort of history at school - I really wasn't that enamored of the Industrial Revolution (though I would be much more so these days, especially the Social History that our teacher merely paid lip service to). I can honestly say that only when I left school, did I actually start learning as I read about the things which interested me . . .

Wednesday 13 April 2011

Two churches and a castle

I have had a busy, and very enjoyable week here, with my birthday in the middle of it, and I have been gardening fit to bust, taking advantage of some beautiful sunshine and temperatures in the upper 60s. I had a spread of presents over several days - having opened a couple of parcels to find that the pressies inside weren't wrapped, so the pleasure was spread out. Likewise, we couldn't get out as usual on my birthday, so we went out a couple of days later and headed towards Ross-on-Wye, so I could meet up with my dear friend J.

The weather was lovely (despite it being a bit gloomy and picking with rain when we set off), but the further we drove, the more it improved. Heading Eastwards, we found that Spring was still on the back foot in Carmarthenshire. Once free of the mountains, nearly all the trees had leaves and there was the most beautiful green flush across the hedgerows and woodland. Here in our neck of the woods, we are predominantly Oak and Ash and Sycamore, and these are still bare, though some of the Oaks have a slight rusty mist about them. How good it was to see so much green, so much blossom - it lifts my spirits just thinking about it. There were pear trees white with blossom from head to foot, like shining spires in the orchards as they are such tall and stately trees. The pale petals of the wild Geans (cherry trees) danced in the breeze and the apple orchards were just breaking into deep pink buds and sharp green leaflets.

I shall be peverse, and start with the Castle first, which was Skenfrith, visited on the way home as my husband hadn't been there. If only we had had more time, and could have visited its partners in crime, Grosmont and White Castle (which I have visited in the past). The three formed a triangle of Norman command in this area,controlling the Welsh marches in river valleys (the Monnow for Grosmont and Skenfrith, which are further Eastwards, and White Castle by the River Troddi).

Skenfrith is a veritable pocket-handkerchief of a castle, easily run by a small garrison of men. One imagines that it may well have been surrounded by marshland (it is low-lieing) when it was built.

This triumvirate of castles: Grosmont, White and Skenfrith, were established by the early 12th Century when the Lordship of the Trilateral or the Three Castles, was granted to Payn Fitzjohn in 1136. Skenfrith, at that point, would have been a simple wooden motte and bailey castle. Skenfrith still sits on the main route through this area from Abergavenny (where there is another castle) towards Ross-on-Wye (Wilton and Goodrich castles on outskirts of).

Henry II ordered Skenfrith to be rebuilt in stone in 1187, but work stopped just a year later, and then in 1193 William de Braose (a Marcher Lord whose history can be found in the excellent novel Lady of Hay by Barbara Erskine) took it over and filled the gaps in the stone walls with a strong wooden pallisade. He was Sheriff of the area at that time.

By 1219 Hubert de Burgh was given the Lordship and set about rebuilding in stone, but a disastrous flooding of the Monnow a year later undid all this hard work. Undeterred, de Burgh then raised the level of the motte and bailey into a platform above the marshes, and built on again in stone. The round keep, which still survives very well, was roofed with lead in subsequent years, at the command of Henry III, and a 5th tower was later added whilst Edward I was king. In 1267, ownership was passed by Henry III to his son Prince Edmund "Crouchback", Earl of Lancaster, and ownership stayed in the Lancaster family for 200 years, although Grosmont was the primary residence and Skenfrith and White castles fell into disrepair.

Skenfrith, as you see it today, gives the impression of a doughty little castle, the tower still standing to attention, an appletree beside it well-grown from the core which must have been thrown there in Victorian times . . . With the shadows lengthening across the grass, and the huddle of houses built in beautifully dressed - castle! - stone nearby, and a squat Welsh church, it was a fitting end to our day.

Plenty of Mistletoe bedecking the apple tree.

Brief history of the castle and below, picture of what it would have looked like in its early years.

One of the corner towers.

Many thanks to THIS on-line article about Skenfrith's history.

Saturday 9 April 2011

Award time

I have been awarded an . . . Award! It's from Bron and I would like to say a big thank you to her.

The Liebster Award is designed to be awarded to ‘small’ blogs with less than 300 subscribers to spread the blog love and get them out to a wider audience.

The rules are:

1. Post displaying the award, linking back to the person who awarded you.

2. Choose your own blog picks and let them know they’re awarded.

3. Hope everyone discovers some new favourites.

4. Revel in the blog love! Here are my choices to receive the award. Enjoy!

I would like to pass this on to:

1. Circle of the Year.

2. North Stoke.

3. Where Beechmast Falls.

4. Morning's Minion.

Wednesday 6 April 2011

Busy Day

Violets on my walk today. The sunshine had me outside from dawn till dusk practically and I couldn't resist a little walk along the valley.


Several Shetlands enjoying the sunshine.

These two were nosy and came across to say hello.

What a sweetheart!

Now just a trackway I used to ride along on Fahly, this was once the main link from our valley to Llanfynydd in the next valley over.

Ground Ivy flowering on a sunny bank.

There were huge banks of Windflowers all along my walk today.

One of 5 Orange Tip butterflies I saw this afternoon.