Friday, April 27, 2012


Dark purples goodness know what pattern I will turn out!

I'm off for a couple of weeks down to Whitby this coming sunday and don't feel like taking my computer.  Bags packed, my new patchwork included, plus knitting of course.  Though there will be some house painting to do. I have a knitting book for Mary next door full of witches and fairies, as when we arrived last time she came running out with her newest project which was a knitted meerkat. Her husband was also full of news that time as he had fallen down and hurt his arm, so our long conversations, his Yorkshire accent sadly muffled by the traumas of a stroke will be one of the things I have too concentrate on.
Talking to my daughter yesterday and there is great excitement in Whitby and lots of police around as there has been a murder.  Matilda is terrified, her dramatic nature is not only given to the stage but plays quite happily in the home as well.  Apparently there was a police exercise early in the morning to, with divers and boats down at the quay, something to do with terrorism, though terrorists and Whitby hardly seem a match, it takes such a long time to get down to London!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Wallflowers - Cheiranthus Cheiri

A stripey rain soaked wallflower 
This is the time for wallflowers, belonging to the genus Erysimum, their bright oranges, yellow and deep reds  adorn the walls and verge sides, slightly untidy and not very glamourous cruciferous plants.  Years ago could buy an untidy bunch of the plants at our local greengrocer in Bath, tied with string and mud clinging to their roots in autumn, hardy as well (cold fingers as you pushed their strong roots into the soil).  Not sure if they are wild, they straddle that line of cottage flowers  creeping out of the garden anyway, or into, take your pick.
We have them in the front growing in impoverished soil under the laurel hedge, they have danced over to the green and into other people's gardens. You bring them into the house for their spicy perfume but not their elegance.  William Robinson says of them,
"The wallflower is a native of Southern Europe, growing on old walls, quarries and sea cliffs, it loves a wall better than garden, it grows coarsely in garden soil but forms a dwarf enduring bush on an old wall if planted in mortar"
He recommends growing them in dry stony banks in the rock garden, or on old ruins, many different varieties were grown round the London nurseries in the 19th century..

Bowles Mauve its grey foliage setting off the mauve of the flower. 

There is another wallflower in the garden, Bowles Mauve, a shrubby perennial much loved by the solitary bee, which I call the Pulmonaria bee ,(Anthophora plumipes), which feeds on the early lungwort flowers at this time of the year, and which the old garden was full of, as it spread itself quite happily.
I'm not sure of this fact, but I think Bowles Mauve was raised by the Reverend William Lisle Bowles, who wrote atrocious 19th century poetry and lived at Bremhill not too far from Calne in Wiltshire where once I lived.  An Important Person, or so it would seem from the biographies online ;)

White sweet rocket growing against the wall on Bath racecourse.  This would be a survivor from  the old cottage that stood where now the modern house stands.
I notice in my wildflower book (Margery Blamey) that the other beautiful cottage flower Sweet Rocket or Dames Violet, or even Hesperis Matronalis to give it its latin name also appears on the same page.  Another crucifera but much more beautiful than the bright yellow of the oil rape seed that is growing at the moment - wild mustard all these spicy plants.....

Rain has been falling for the last two weeks, sometimes sun and showers, other times heavy storms, so we are at least getting some of our quota of water from the heavens above.

Monday, April 23, 2012


The pursuit of nature is an almost certain road to happiness...there has never been an age, however rude and cultivated, in which the love of landscape has not been in some way manifested.  John Constable

Landscape is such a difficult thing to describe, it is a journey through time, evocative memories pulled from the subconscious laid bare and the emotional content plays like a harp on the soul.  There is in me a practical nature, that says the spiritual does not really exist, it is just our own egos playing a game of chance, the images that fill our minds is dictated by nature itself that we may learn to love the living world so that we may nurture it - a self sustaining Gaia, is perhaps the nearest I can get to spirituality.
So I questioned it's relevance, how does each thing marry up in the ologies of our writings.  Where does geology, art, prose, poems, archaeology all the many disciplines that we use to transcribe the world, fit in.  
For me sometimes it is the wild flowers as they come into being, the first thrust of the leaves through the soil, the unfolding of petals, the insects dancing attendance on the rituals of pollination and then the end game - formation of seeds to start the whole process once more, the never ending cycle of life caught in the ceaseless movement of sun and moon.
We can stare dreamily at the sea noticing the vast size and movement of this other half of Earth, some say we should  call this great ball of molten Earth that we live on after the sea or even Airth, because air takes up as great a volume as land itself.
Two images taken from the internet Paul Nash's 'Trees on the Down', capturing the unique 'bareness' of the downs with the white chalk paths, the road that goes on forever.  And a painting by Cara Enteles, a New York artist who has the most lovely way of depicting flowers and bees, see here.

Landscape is the sweep of a mountain range complimented by the dip of valleys.  The sweet sound of running water as the rivers flow unceasingly to the sea. And for me the many varied rocks as they break through the thin crust of earth and remind us that we scratch a living on this planet through a tenuous strata of soils, that can easily be blown away by fierce winds; remember the red Saharan dust that has on occasions coloured our northern skies dusting  our cars in the past....
Humans are always trying to tame and cultivate the land, we need to sustain our ever growing populations but also we scar the land with our greed for minerals, subjecting the poor to slavery whilst the rich scavenge in our Western world. 
To go from our rampant consumerist age to the soft world of a Cara Entele's painting, seems impossible, to create it, a fantasy, a bit like the painting itself.  But it is the first step we all make, the inner acknowledgement of beauty in the world around us, it stays the hand, makes us question our actions.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Blakes Wood - 22/4/2012

Starry wood anemones

Massed wood anemones

Sun behind us, dark clouds ahead so that the silver birch stands out .

Bluebells are starting but they have not yet reach that beautiful tranluscent blue as the bells open

Tiny pale violets amongst the leaf litter

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Furness Abbey

Whilst hunting out news this morning I stumbled across the information that a medieval small crozier and ring had been found in a grave at Furness Abbey.  Remembering I had seen the abbey in an old book, the Ruined Abbeys of Great Britain I pulled it down and read the long histories of Furness and Whitby Abbeys.  Fascinated as always, the abbey of Furness was built in the Glen of the Deadly Nightshade, did the cook  absentmindedly poison the flock of monks so that this warranted a 15th century poet too write about it?.
Well I spent all morning reading the book and also putting together an itinerary of all the great North Yorkshire Cistercian abbeys we could visit when next up North.  Forgetting at the same time to make any bread for lunch!

The following four photos are taken from the book and show Furness Abbey, the book itself was written late 19th century, and I sometimes feel it should be transcribed to the web for its diligence and interesting facts about the monastic houses and their dissolution.

The next photos are Whitby or Streoneshall Abbey, home of St.Hilda and the great Easter Day debate, (The Synod of Whitby) and also of course Caedmon's poem... The tinted plates are not fabulous but the black and white illustration are well executed.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Battle of the Lansdown

The battle of Lansdown Hill was fought between the armies of Sir William Waller and Sir Ralph Hopton on 5th July 1643. By late May 1643 Waller’s army, based around Bath, was parliament’s main defence against the advance out of the South West of the royalist army under Hopton. After several probing moves to the south and east of the city, the two forces finally engaged on the 5th July.

The battlefields on the Lansdown in 1643 stretch a couple of miles, skirmishes on Freezing Hill, Tog Hill and the Lansdown itself are mentioned in the above.  For years this was a favourite walk, wild orchids, bluebells, white campion lined the green lane in the warmer months.

This path has a great old tree hanging low across, at the beginning of the walk.   There is, amongst the sweet woodruff, foundations of an old building.

  This lane probably had its origins in prehistory, the trackway between the Lansdown bronze age barrow cemetery and Solsbury Hill, and Charmy Down of course. Further down in history the Romans came and built their villas up on these downs, so that you can still see the humps of old Roman buildings on the Lansdown golf course.
You started the walk at Sir Granville's monument, commemorating his death in battle.  The Civil War was fought between Parliamentarians and Royalists but it was also fought between friends and brothers, each on opposing sides.  The men of the villages were opted into service on either side. Death was brutal in this war, I once read a surgeon's account of the injuries, they would have similar to injuries experienced today. Thomas Carlyle was the person I read on the war in the South West, and I rue the day I got rid of all his books but he wrote quite an interesting account...

Moss coming over the great stone stile with the flag marking the  battle

Freezing Hill

The ransoms in the wood alongside the path

Another part of the 'edge' of battle

Vague earthworks, which must have been thrown up at the battle

Looking towards Bristol from another 'edge' of battle, this part of the down land also has hollow dug out for training in the first World War....
Can you capture an atmosphere? I doubt it, this long edge of the Cotswold was ideal for defending, the Royalist won, but with heavy loss whilst the Parliamentarians had hardly any losses.

Orchids below Langridge barrow

Monday, April 16, 2012

Oldest House in Wales?

 News;  Well it is only a cowshed at the moment but Heritage of Wales are excited about it.....

Oldest House in Wales

There was excitement earlier in the year when a cowhouse in the lovely Conwy Valley was identified as an ancient Welsh hall. The discovery was first reported on the Heritage of Wales News and was then picked up by BBC and ITV news, and Current Archaeology is running a feature, ‘The Oldest Cowshed in the Land?’ The cruck-framed building is the medieval predecessor of the lovely Plas Tirion built in the 1620s and currently being restored by Ned and Sophie Scharer. The old house was built using roughly trimmed (‘boxed’) whole trees for the arched shaped roof-truss or ‘crucks’. This is an archaic building technique – and the big question is when was Plas Tirion old hall built?

We now know that old Plas Tirion was built exactly 514 years ago. The trees used for the arch-shaped cruck-truss started growing in 1418 and was felled in Spring 1498. These are the conclusions of Dr Dan Miles of the Oxford Dendrochronology Laboratory, who was commissioned to tree-ring date the old house by the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments after it was discovered by the community-based Dating Old Welsh Houses project. Plas Tirion is not the oldest house in Wales but it is one of very few precisely dated C15th houses. It is astonishing to realise that it was built by an unknown Welshman as Columbus was discovering the Americas. Plas Tirion was then and is still - as the name suggests - a very pleasant place. 

The identification and dating of Plas Tirion old hall is one of the triumphs of the Dating Old Welsh Houses project, which is working in partnership with the Royal Commission to document the older houses in north-west Wales. The project is community based and has over 100 members and volunteers spread all over north Wales who are rediscovering the built heritage of Caernarfonshire, Merioneth, Anglesey and Conwy, and have made some very important discoveries indeed. Further information is available on

There is a video here; of Plas Tirion

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Silbury plants in the 17th Century

The Englishman's Flora - Geoffrey Grigson

The following information are for two plants found on Silbury Hill,  as it was called then; Grigson must have done a lot of reading to put this invaluable book together, and I must one day write down his history in the area, and also I note for future reference some of the 17th century Civil War, which took place in this corner of the world, especially on the Lansdown.....
Jane Grigson, wife of Geoffrey and Sophie Grigson their daughter, both are writers on cookery.  Jane Grigson's history of vegetables is a must...

Round-headed Rampion - Phyteuma tenerum
Climbing Silbury in Wiltshire on a hot August afternoon, climb to the top of this ziggurat of prehistory, and at your feet you may see an unusual insect of sharp blue or violet.  Look nearer, and it is more like a violet sea-anemone - air anemone - closing upon an incautious bee or fly.  But it is vegetable, after all, a globe of curving, or incurving, tentacle- like corollas, which is the flower head of Rampion.
The Round-headed Rampion was found here on Silbury in 1634 by Thomas Johnson and a party of botanizing apothecaries exploring their way from Marlborough to Bath.  Not far off more of these violet air-anemones float over the actual ramparts of the Avebury 'Temple'
note;  Rampion distinguished by 'round-headed, since nobody could think of  better name than the one which already belonged to the vegetable bellflower Campanula rapunculus.
Another history note the Roundway Down Battle was fought nearby in 1643  

Squinancywort - Asperula cynanchica
Every time a botanist journeyed from London to Bath, he was tempted to get down from his horse and climb Silbury, as Thomas Johnson and his friends climbed it in 1634 (see above).  The Flemish botanist De l'Obel must also have been up this 'acclivem cretaceam et arridam montem arte militari aggestum', this 'steep chalky dry hill raised by military art', as he called it in his Stirpium adversaria nova in 1570.  On Silbury he found a plant blossoming in July and August which seem to have been Asperula Cynanchica and which he called Anglica Saxifraga the first record for Great britain.
Squinancy is the quinsy, sore throat and this waxy flowered little perennial of the downs made an astringent gargle.
Squinancywort from Creative Commons; Bernd Haynold  photo
One of its local names is Shepherd's Bedstraw, which probably shows that it was scented.  Scented woodruff is called Asperula Odorata and there is of course the useful and beautifully scented Lady's bedstraw just across the page from squinancywort. 

Easter flower

LS said you haven't been writing much and I said that is true but life is quiet at the moment but yesterday (Easter Sunday) we went a walk round our urban area, the place is alive with all the white and pink blossoms of individual planting and council planting (Chelmsford has acres of  green verges and trees) the yellow of forsthyia and mock orange blossom.  But taking a small footpath I spied a lone pasque flower sitting miserably in the grass* of a neglected garden, maybe left over from when the area was more wild and houseless.  I of course exclaimed excitedly look the Easter pasque flower and today looked it up in Geoffrey Grigson. He says "has a fair claim to being the most dramatically and exotically beautiful of all English Plants and then goes on to give Gerard's description of this Eastertide flower..
"The first of these Passe flowers have many small leaves finely cut or jagged, like those of carrots; among which rise up naked stalkes, rough and hairie; whereupon do grow beautiful flowers bell fashion of a bright delaide purple; in the bottom thereof groweth a tuft of yellow thrums(stamen) and in the middle of the thrums thrusteth a small purple pointell;  when the wholemis past there succeedeth an head or knoppe, of many graie lockes, and in the solid ports of the knops lieth the seede flat and hoarie, every seede having his own small haire at it"
Pasque flower; taken from the Creative Commons
It was also known as Dane's Blood or Dane's Flower, this because of its unusual beauty, the flowers appeared on the great earthworks of the Devil's Dyke and Fleam Dyke; dykes associated with the Danes; and of course as the area around East Anglia.

Which led me to look up a flower I used to see on the Somerset downs, the harebell, belonging to my favourite group of flowers the Campanula or bellflowers, and with such a name plenty from Grigson on this delicate pale blue flower of summer.
"Bluebell of Scotland or not, it was aslo the Old Man's Bell, the devil's bell, which was not to be picked, the Witch Bell, the Cuckoo's Thimble, and in Gaelic the Cuckoo's Shoe, brog na cubhaig. In Ireland this fine etched plant is sometimes mearcan puca ,  thimble of the puca* or goblin and it was a fairy plant in the South-West of England and of course the hare" (which has so much folklore and is also an Easter/witch animal).  The Englishman's Flora - Geoffrey Grigson.

Harebells - campanula rotundifolia. On the Lansdown where you can also find hares if you are lucky. 

 The word Puca/Goblin can also be found in Somerset 'Pucklechurch' a large village of Saxon origin, and an old well on the Lansdown Puca Well...
Apparently the nettle leaved bellflower - Campanula trachelium, which I found  once in Ebbor Gorge should according to Gerard be called the Cantebury Bell (Campanula medium), a name which possibly referred to the horse bells which tinkled as the pilgrims rode to the shrine of St.Thomas a Becket...

Nettle bellflower

Campanula - cantebury bell

*Grass: There is a suggestion in the Saturday Guardian, that grass should be got rid of or taxed, this is because lawns are seen as relatively useless and take up the scarce water resources we are experiencing at the moment.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Goth Week in Whitby

Goths are part of Whitby's mystique, given that it developed from some music between 1979 and 1983 (don't quote me though on dates) it has blossomed in Whitby - one day I will take photos of Goth shops.. but until then show some old photos of a Goth festival.  Those who like 'dark' writing will know what Whitby and Dracula has to do with it.  Someone on the radio was talking  about Edgar Allan Poe, a 19th century horror writer I read as a child, and I spent a lot of reading hours scaring myself to death with grown-up horror and ghost stories.  Denis Wheatley followed but I then grew out of this particular genre.  My son went through a Stephen King stage, so I would hunt books in The Guildhall Bath market stalls for him but only read one, I had obviously reached the end of gory books!
But it looks like I shall be in Whitby for the next Goth week, albeit the latter end, if the family come down to Chelmsford I shall go back with them on the 27th/28th of this month.

This photo is taken from Whitby photo

They posed for me

Glamour puss just down from the 199 steps


Sherlocks for tea, a treat place for chocolate cake!

Darth Vader (or the local firemen) and his forces scaring Matilda and Ben

Whitby has many things going for it, and Gothicism is one of them when people take pleasure in dressing up and promenading round town, it was funny hearing in one pub when last down, the landlord say to a customer in very downbeat tones about food and Goths, 'trouble is they only drink blood', but I often wonder whether the dark side of Whitby is the black jet jewellery you can buy in so many shops (though apparently it comes from China now) so reminiscent of QueenVictoria and her choice of jewellery after her husband's death....

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Staithes - Jurassic Coast

Fossil shop at Robin Hood Bay 

Staithes is known for its fossils, part of the Jurassic coast line appears here in North Yorkshire and on the Wessex coastline as well.  Fossil hunting has been going on for many years, I did not know that the footprint of a dinosaur had appeared at Whitby beach but it is so. We have ammonites scattered around the house and LS found another one whilst pottering along the beach at Staithes.  I stayed back, the cliffs are formidable and dangerous, they overhang making slight noises as you listen to the sound of the breaking waves.  But rock has always fascinated me the colour and shape, these great formations thrown up by the upheavals of the earth are a reminder that this earth was once very different.  Yesterday someone put forth the theory (an old theory) that the dinosaurs because of their great weight did not move on the dry surface of the land but used the shallow seas to carry their weight.

Whitby Cliffs 

Whitby embedded fossil 

Staithe Cliffs - Intrepid LS goes forth 

Found on the beach at Staithes
Well that is as may be but too turn to the elegant spirals of the ammonite, and it should be remembered that our Neolithic ancestors  also took note of them as well, see the Stoney Littleton long barrow ammonite, and the belemites on the stones inside the chamber.  Linked through history the Celtic saints St.Hilda and St.Keyne banished the 'snakes' to a frozen stony death as ammonites, St.Hilda throwing them over the cliffs at Whitby and St.Keyne as well from Keynsham in Wiltshire.

Stoney  Littleton ammonite