"Nails of gold driven so thickly that the true surface was not visible - countless rootlets drew up the richness of the earth like miners in the darkness throwing their yellow patches of ore broadcast about them."
Whilst reading Richard Jeffries book The Life of the Fields I came across an essay on The Roman Brook, Jeffries out on a walk one afternoon by a favorite brook of his came across an old man working in his garden. He stopped to chat, and the old man grumbled about how the hares pigeons, rooks and water rats ate his vegetables and as he rambled on Jeffries saw an old jug hanging from from one of the apple trees in the orchard. On enquiring why it was hanging he was told that it came from the brook from the time of the Caesars and that lots of pottery and coins had been found also. The children played with the coins and the labourers from the village tried to buy their beer with them at the inn, but of course as they were roman the innkeeper refused them as payment.
Strangely this story has an echo in an earlier tale of the fourth century at Nettleton Shrub, a roman temple situated by the Fosse Way and also by a small brook. Ransacking the temple, Irish raiders, also threw away the roman coins along the path as they came away from the temple, the money having no value for them; these coins were discovered in the 20th century when the site was excavated. The brook at Nettleton Shrub, also has the same story of pottery sherds to be found within its depths
The two photographs show Kingcups or Marsh Marigold that can be be found at Nettleton Shrub, the little valley is a nature reserve and is a quiet enchanting place to wander through. To find it one must take the road from The Shoe, towards the motorway, this lane is the Old Fosse Way from Bath, and winds up and down till you eventually reach a small bridge over a brook, here you can just about park the car by the farm gate, and crossing the bridge take the path on your left, following the old 'canalised' roman brook (now a path) through the valley. Its roman history belongs in another essay, buts it natural beauty of wild flowers and dark sluggish brook is still there. As you walk along following the waters edge, curving hither and thither amongst the trees, echoing down through the centuries the voices of the native British-romano people may faintly be heard, from the buildings and temple just up on the hill. There will be the sound of soldiers cantering along the Fosse, stopping here to rest their horses, and pay homage to the gods that adorn the temple.
Further on you will come to a wicker gate, and if it is summer, as you open the gate, you will be greeted by a profusion of meadowsweet, and policeman's helmet (impatiens glandifura - a pretty foreign flower it is cited as a noxious weed!) flowers all of which thrive in boggy areas. The path is crossed here by a small muddy stream, perhaps the site of an old roman well. Keep walking and now you come to an old packhorse bridge, for this track also served the little villages round here, cross over and climb the hill through the trees. In spring there will be bluebells and wood anemones on the banks and of course the little primrose.
Marsh Marigold- Caltha Palustris has another historic tale to tell, this time from Geoffrey Grigson. He says that this flower was growing before the Ice Age in Britain and its bright yellow flowers that arrive so early in the year must have forced itself into the consciousness of all who saw it on damp, cold grey days of early spring. In Iceland it appears when the snow is still on the ground, and its flowers surround the farmsteads on the high dry knolls separated from the boggy land below.
The Anglo-saxons when they arrived as colonists must have welcomed this flower from their home country and they probably called it Meargealla or mersc meargealla. Mear from 'horse' and gealla from 'swelling' or 'blister', a horse-blob or mare-blob. This is of course conjecture on the part of Grigson but is well to remember that names, and especially saxon names, have a direct correlation between that which is seen and experienced, and apparently because the round globe flower suggest a round swelling, and the flower itself looks like a large buttercup, whose roots were used as a soothing concoction for blisters.
I began with Richard Jeffries as he reminscenced about a walk he took way back in the 19th century along a brook and found evidence of a past roman history, my walk along the little valley of Nettleton Shrub shows a similar picture, but the exuberant wildlife and plants that Jeffries experienced is fast fading, over the intervening period much has been lost, we erode the diversity of the natural world till one day all that will be left are top predators and rank weeds that thrive in the artifical nitrogen rich world we have created in our farming regime.
His prose, and other writers, will be all that remains of a lost world we have polluted with our insatiable need to be prosperous, to rob the earth of all its wealth .....