Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Taking Time Out

Sorry, I'm not going to be around for a while.  Yesterday I lost a wonderful little friend.  I'm heartbroken, can't eat, sleep or think straight.

Chloe

April 1996 - 23rd August 2016

  Thank you, my precious girl, for twenty wonderful years of your companionship, friendship and love.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Ashby de la Zouch Castle

When we arrived in the town we parked near the Museum and Library and set out on foot down one of the ancient alleyways which lead onto the wide main street.  There is a car park a little closer to the castle but it was full and as we wanted to pop into the museum later in the day we parked close by.
 
 We crossed the busy main street and cut through the brightly festooned covered market

The castle ruins looked wonderful in the sunshine.  We had visited before but many years ago so it was time for a re-visit.

In the photos above and below you can see both the kitchen tower and the main tower.

We seemed to have the place to ourselves although once we got in amongst the walls of the ruins one or two people could be seen gazing upwards or heard as their voices echoed around the dusty, shadowed corners.

The property began as a manor house in the 12th century and reached castle status in the 15th century.

In the 14th century the manor was in the hands of the le Zouch family who were of Breton descent. In 1399 with the death of the last remaining direct heir of this family there began a protracted dispute over Ashby.  In 1461 it came into the hands of James Butler, Earl of Ormond and Earl of Wiltshire.   He was executed after the Battle of Towton, one of the bloodiest battles of the Wars of the Roses. Ashby Castle was then given, along with many other tracts of land, to William, Lord Hastings, son of Sir Leonard Hastings of nearby Kirby Muxloe, who was in favour with King Edward IV and rose to high status in his court.  In 1472 he received licence to fortify four of his manors. Ashby being one of them.


Above is the arched passage between the great hall and the kitchensWe decided to climb up the steps of the great tower first.  My knees made it to the top.

Halfway up the ninety odd steps into main tower you can stop to catch your breath and look at the stone shields on the wall and the graffiti too.

There is also a seat on which to rest awhile.

There were wonderful views across the town in all directions.

The Parish church of St Helen's

Looking down on the kitchen tower which was our next destination


There were lots of fireplaces, wells and ovens in this part of the ruins and it was easy to imagine the sounds, the heat and the smells emanating from what would have been a hive of industry.

Above you can see a cauldron stand in one of the surviving hearths and a bread oven at the side.

We couldn't go any further up the tower but we could go down into the undercroft

and through the tunnel which lead us back to the foot of the great tower.

It is thought that the tunnel was put in place during the English Civil War.  During this war Ashby was an important Royalist base under the control of Henry Hastings, Lord Loughborough. There is an interesting display in the Museum about Ashby in the years of the Civil War where I found a reference to the tunnel in a letter written by a Parliamentarian in Leicester. 

'Sir, our forces are gone with Derby horse towards Ashby, but the enemy are very strong and their works good, they have vaults under the ground through which they can go from one fort to another at their pleasure'

   The castle finally surrendered in 1646 and the fortifications were removed.  Some of the remaining buildings were incorporated into a house called Ashby Place which was itself demolished in 1830.  In the 19th century the town and castle ruins became a visitor attraction after Sir Walter Scott set a scene of his novel Ivanhoe there.

The Chapel

 Earthworks and garden

The castle has been maintained and cared for by English Heritage since 1983.
Here is a - link - to more information

Monday, August 15, 2016

Monday Miscellany

Jacob Sheep on the Trentham Estate


It was lovely to see them as we walked up the hill towards the Monument.  Apparently there are 31 sheep in this flock and they were obviously spread out across the moorland, grass and ferny areas of the walk.  We saw a little group of no more than a dozen.

Here are some facts about Jacob Sheep

1.  They are believed to be the oldest breed in the world and were first mentioned in the Old Testament Book of Genesis.

2.  They were named after Jacob who worked for fourteen years for his father-in-law Laban without pay for the love of his wife Rachel.  He asked to be allowed to keep his share of the sheep - all the speckled and spotted ones.

3.  The sheep were taken to the Iberian Peninsula from North Africa in the 8th century.

4. Until recently the Jacobs were also called 'Spanish Sheep' as it was originally thought that the first sheep to come to Britain swam ashore from a sinking Spanish Galleon during the Armada of 1588.

5.  During the 18th century they were also known as 'The Gentleman's Sheep' as they were used as decoration in the grounds of many stately homes and grand estates. 

You can find out more from the Jacob Sheep Society

Monday, August 08, 2016

Monday Miscellany

August in the Garden

The weather has been so weird lately.  Yesterday it was so windy that the trees and bushes in the garden were whirling around just as they do during a late autumn storm.  Yet, kneeling down whilst weeding, it seemed as if I was below the gusts of wind and I could hardly feel them and it was so warm too.

We saw quite a few butterflies whilst out in the garden but they were too skittish to take any decent photos.  The birds are still around but not feeding at the feeders as much as usual.  There are many sparrows, a couple of robins, blackbirds and of course the ubiquitous wood pigeons.  Mr Fox visits us every night and we've spotted him early morning too. One evening he brought three friends with him.  Mr Badger has been digging up our potatoes.  We didn't know what had been digging in the raised beds but our next door neighbours saw a badger on their lawn late one evening so we think that he or she the culprit.  The squirrels are still doing all they can to pinch the sunflower hearts in the bird feeders, shinning up and down the pole and hanging upside down shovelling the hearts into their pouches. 

 I was particularly pleased to see the little bug house we fastened to the fence has been in use.  We seem to have several leaf cutter bees in residence.

The bees also love this plant which grows near the pond.  It has been there since we moved here and I've no idea what it is.

 The grass has been cut which makes the garden look a little bit tidier as some of the bed and borders look a little overgrown at this time of year.

Most of the flowers are shades of pink and lilac now with the occasional shot of colour from the dahlia flowers, crocosmia and what is left of the nasturtiums in a hanging basket.


I bought some local Staffordshire grown plums from the supermarket and made a crumble which I forgot to photograph but it was delicious.

 The plums on our tree will take a lot longer to achieve crumble status.

 The hazel tree next to the plum tree has some growth too.

We always hope to get to those nuts before the squirrels but it is a battle we seem to lose every year.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

The Old Church

At the side of Barlaston Hall 
 

stands the older St John's Church. I say older as there is a new one further into the village.

 This church was closed in 1980 after cracks appeared in the walls due to subsidence.

 The earliest part of the church is the tower which dates from the 12th century.  The rest of the church was rebuilt in 1888.  There is also a modern vestry on the back which looks very 1960s.

 It is locked up, of course, so I must see if it is ever open for guided tours.  There are some memorials inside to the later Wedgwoods, whose factory is further along the road.  This factory was moved from Etruria in the city of Stoke-on-Trent in 1940 and the hall, church, lake and grounds became part of the whole factory complex.  The Wedgwood family never lived at Barlaston Hall but in a house built in 1845 for Josiah I's grandson, it is now a hotel called The Upper House.

In the churchyard is the Mason's Vault, burial place of the Mason family also potters and makers of the distinctive Mason's Ironstone China.

Miles Mason was the founder of the company.

There were many old grave stones in the churchyard, including some 18th century ones

It was all very overgrown although  the grass had been mown on the south side of the church nearest the hall and paths cut through the tall grass on the other side.

The church clock is badly damaged

It all looks very neglected and forlorn.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Paint Monthly - August

We recently visited the World of Wedgwood, just to see what changes had been made and to walk in the woods nearby.



We had a quick look around and I saw this painting leaning against a wall waiting to be hung as part of a new display in the shop and tea room. 

I recognised it as a George Stubbs and it looked similar to one of the Wedgwood Family which is in the Musuem but I didn't think that it was of them and also of course that, having been left propped against a wall in a public area, it wasn't the original but a print. 

When I got home I did a bit of 'googling' and found out that the original painting is in the Nottingham Museum and Art Gallery collection. 

It was painted by George Stubbs in 1777 and depicts John and Sophia Musters of Colwick Hall in Nottinghamshire.  The painting hides a sad story.  John Musters was a country gentleman and content to stay at his home in Nottinghamshire where became High Sherrif of Nottinghamshire and Master of the South Nottinghamshire Hunt but his wife Sophia after producing four children felt she wanted more from life and the couple drifted apart.  Here is a -  link - to a blog I came across whilst googling.  It tells the tale far better than I can.

Joining in with Barbara at Coastal Ripples for Paint Monthy.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Sandlands by Rosy Thornton



A few weeks ago I mentioned that Rosy Thornton had sent me a review copy of her latest book which this time is a collection of sixteen short stories rather than a novel.  I have previously reviewed two of her novels and I will put links to these reviews at the bottom of this post.  I have spent the last week reading Rosy's wonderful stories and I've enjoyed them immensely.  I had to limit myself to two stories a day but I could have read more as it didn't seem as if I was reading totally separate stories as similar themes and characters run through them all.

Rosy's wonderful writing draws you into each story with her poetic descriptions of the land and her sometimes amusing and sometimes poignant observations of people and places, of nature and nurture and the performing of simple everyday tasks.  The linking of these stories is in the history of place and of the people within that place.  Of several generations each affecting the other often in the same family through ancient houses, letters and old photos, of things that have gone before.

The stories are set in the county of Suffolk on the salt and sand marshes where fogs and floods are always present or threatened. There are many themes running through each story mostly of past and present merging, of early beginnings, superstitions, old traditions, the fragility of life in both human and animal world, of birth and death.  There is also always the threat from the closeness of the sea, fear of innundation, threats from those beyond the seas like maurauding Danes in the early centuries of the county's history and Dorniers in the skies during the second world war. Also running through the stories are strong, practical women, women coping with motherhood, pending motherhood, the loss of a child or spouse, widowhood and loneliness.   There are the academic men in their ivory towers like Mr Napish in High House, the narrator of Silver Studded Blues in his museum and Dr Whybrow in his Martello Tower in Whispers.
 
Another theme through many of Rosy's stories is flight.  World War Two planes overhead, old wartime airfields, later sites of protest against nuclear warheads, now wartime museums; seeds of rare wildflowers cast into the wind, the silver studded blue butterflies rising in a mass from the heather on Blaxhall Common, the sand blowing into houses in coastal villages and most notably of birds. A barn owl guarding letters in an old Oxo tin hidden in a tree, the sad, plaintive call of curlews as night falls across the marshes, oyster catchers feeding along the estuary and rooks nesting in the horse chestnut trees at the edge of Willett's farm, the nightingales who sing to the son of an Italian prisoner of war as he walks to visit the farm where his father worked on the land during his capture.

A lot of the stories are based in one village, Blaxhall and its church with its female rector who is on maternity leave, its bell ringers, its pub The Ship a centre for both the characters of the village, a group of aged folk singers plus the people who visit, whilst working on archaeological digs or researching ancestors. The meeting of the old ways and the new, pagan practises, Christianity, folklore and mystery.

I have enjoyed reading these stories very much and I'm sure I will return to them later this year to read them again just for Rosy's descriptions of the landscape she loves and writes about so well.

Sandlands by Rosy Thornton published by Sandstone Press 2016, P/Bk 260pages, ISBN 9 781910 985045 £8.99 

Here are links to my other reviews of Rosy Thornton's books

A Tapestry of Love
Ninepins