Saturday, April 26, 2008


In my post of April 17th about the cuckoo I was remembering the nature walks we took as children from our school in a small Derbyshire village. I thought that today I would introduce you to that village. On our way to meet up with an old friend we popped into Scarcliffe to take flowers to the churchyard and I decided, as it was such a pleasant day, to take some photographs. Lots of things have changed since I was a child and teenager here but surprisingly many of the houses are still as I remember them. Below is the Parish Church of St Leonard, when I was a child, there were small cottages where the grass and access road are now. I don't know if I am remembering correctly but I'm sure they had gardens to the front and on the backs, off the track up to the church, they had stable type doors and steps down into the rooms beyond. Behind them at the side of the church were farm buildings and a farm house.

Below is the view up the main street towards the top of the village. You can see The Horse and Groom Public House, known in the village as 'top pub', at the end of the street. This is the street we children would walk down to get to school each morning. Generally calling for each other and walking down in little groups sometimes eager and sometimes not, to get to school.

There were two farms in the village with their farmhouses off this road, the one below is Manor Farm.

Further down the main street, beyond the church, on the way to the school was the village shop and post office. The red brick building to the left of the photo below used to house both the shop and post office, now sadly closed and the house refurbished and called 'The Old Post Office'. The windows on either side of the front door have been cleverly matched so that, other than the name, a visitor would never know that there had ever been a shop there. At the end of the street you can see The Elm Tree Inn, or 'bottom pub' as it was known then. The road to the right of the Elm tree led eventually to the old station, once such a busy bustling place, but closed by the time my mother and I moved into the village.

We used to turn left at the bottom of the street and walk up to the school. It now has an extension on the front in what was our large playground. When I went to school here there were just three class rooms, 'Baby class', where we had our 'nature table' and 'art table' and danced to music from the radio; I think we had sand pits and a Wendy house in there too. The 'middle class' was in the main hall of the school which housed the boiler that heated the whole building and also doubled as a dining room, stage and auditorium for things like school plays and concerts as well as a venue for WI meetings, church Christmas bazaars and beetle drives. Whilst I was there it always had times tables around the walls which we had to learn by heart and be tested on regularly. 'Top class' was where you ended up to take your eleven plus exams to see if you were to go to the Grammar School or the Secondary Modern school. I remember we sat at desks with ink wells and had pens with scratchy nibs. There was a fireplace in this room with a picture of 'The Laughing Cavalier' by Frans Hals over the mantle. I passed my eleven plus and duly went to Grammar school but the shift from a small village school with only about 35 children in the whole school to a large school where each class held about 30 pupils was quite a culture shock to me and it took some time to adjust and I never really enjoyed it.

One of the joys of living in this village was the fact that we lived in such a rural landscape and we could walk out of our back gates and in just a few minutes be in the woods just at the edge of the village.

We had the freedom and security to do that then and we would disappear for hours on end, into the woods by the ruins of the old gamekeeper's cottage,along Vicarage Lane to the sheep dip or up Wood lane to the bridge over the brook. We hadn't a care in the world.

After our quick visit to Scarcliffe we set off to meet up with an old friend from those school days and lots more reminiscing about the old days as well as catching up with more recent news. What a lovely day it was, too.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Come and explore....

with me. We'll walk

Along the path under the oak tree...

over the stile, past the friendly horses.....

down by the canal, where the smell of woodsmoke lingered in the air...

and up the back alley way, past the old mellow brick wall, into

the lovely village of Brewood, near Stafford.

Here we will find so many things to look at and admire, like pretty cottages.....

The cottages in the photo above were called The Old Smithy, and Smithy Cottages. Across the road were two more little cottages one called 'the old lock-up' and next door was 'policeman's cottage'.
There are two churches, the one below is the Parish Church, at the other end of the village is a Catholic church.

In the centre of the village is the very ornate Swan Hotel, apparently now housing flats. It was always known as Speedwell Castle from an unsubstantiated legend that it was built from winnings following a bet on a horse called Speedwell.

I hope you have enjoyed your walk around Brewood, pronounced locally as Brood, it is a delightful place, but it is time to move on to the village of Acton Trussell; I'll tell you more in another post.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

'May un Ma Lady'

'May un Mar Lady' is a retrospective exhibition of three decades of the work of local, but also internationally renowned cartoonist Dave Follows. The exhibition has been curated by Mr Follows's family as a tribute to him and his work. Here we see art work and materials, cartoon strips and all sorts of memorabilia. The exhibition area was buzzing with animated and excited people of all ages. There was a huge TV showing excerpts from a new cartoon called 'The Hungry Hamsters' to be show on TV soon, with voice overs by people like Brian Blessed, Harry Hill, Jack Davenport and Alice Cooper. It looks quite sophisticated in humour so adults would enjoy it as well as children.

Crowning glory of the exhibition were the life size models of 'May un Ma Lady', characters in the popular cartoon featured in the local newspaper The Sentinel. The cartoons ran in the paper until Mr Follows's death in 2003 and are still running now as 'May un Mar Lady Revisited'. The cartoons have to be read with a local accent and there was, to help, a video of people speaking in a Potteries accent. As we were watching this a man came and joined us and told us that even the Potteries accent is diverse and that at one time people living in the north of the city, say in Tunstall, wouldn't understand the accent of those in south of the city in Longton. I asked a museum attendant if I could take a photo of 'May un Mar Lady' and was told I could so here they are:-

The exhibition runs until 29th June at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Hanley, it's free entry and, if you live not too far away, very well worth a visit.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


I've been dipping into my copy of 'A Countrywoman's Journal' first mentioned in this post last year. I thought I would see what the author and illustrator Margaret Shaw was finding in her garden at this time of year. Her entry for April 17th 1928 is about the cuckoo.

She writes:- 'Heard the cuckoo before 6a.m. got up and saw him sitting in a tree opposite my window. His tail goes up and his head down each time he cuckoos, a very wooden looking bird.'

Reading about the cuckoo brought back childhood memories of the small Derbyshire village we lived in when I was a child. I too remember waking up and hearing the cuckoo's call in the early mornings. I associate that call with the arrival of Spring, the growing warmth of the sun, the greening of the trees and the promise of the glories of late Spring and early Summer to come. That wonderful time when everything is lush, fresh and sparkling in the sunshine. The cow parsley swaying on the roadside, the hawthorne hedges in blossom and the horse chestnut trees bedecked with their elegant white flowers. It reminds me of our school 'nature walks' into the woods close by. Led by the teacher we would snake off, two by two, down the lane near the school, over the stone stile, across the field to the wooden bridge over the brook and into the woods. We would come back clutching our specimens to be displayed, usually in water filled jam jars or milk bottles, which would be labeled by the teacher and placed on the 'nature table' in our class room.

The cuckoo may be a wooden looking bird and certainly the only one I hear nowadays is a wooden one; when I'm out in the garden and my neighbours have their front window open I hear their cuckoo clock on the hour chiming in it's quaint, mechanical way but it doesn't have that magical lingering call of the real bird, heard in the mists of early morning offering promise for the new day. The cuckoo is now listed as an endangered species so maybe sometime in the future perhaps the only cuckoo any of us will hear will be the mechanical call of the cuckoo clock; I really hope not.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Memories of Italy

Following on from my 'Memories of France' post; Paul has now scanned all the negatives of our 1990 holiday in Tuscany. I remember waiting for the coach to arrive in Peterborough, the nearest 'pick-up' point to Spalding. It was very late arriving and we still had to travel to London to pick up there and then on to Dover for the ferry crossing. The coach came from Llanberis and our two drivers were Welsh and chatted to each other in their own language. When we arrived at Calais our tour guide joined us, he was from Paris. Throughout the week we were also joined by local tourist guides, all Italian, of course. There was a constant stream of chatter from the front of the coach in three or four languages which was very entertaining if sometimes incomprehensible. We traveled overnight and the first thing I remember is waking up at 5a.m. on the Route Soleil and wondering why the world was suddenly bright yellow; it took me a few second to realise that we were driving by field after field of the most wonderful sunflowers on either side of the road as far as the eye could see. We passed through the border to Switzerland and stopped a while to admire the cool looking mountains including, just visible through the mist, Mont Blanc, then we were into Italy. A bad accident near Turin meant that the coach had to follow a longer route to our destination and we finally arrived at our hotel on the coast at Marina de Massa well after 10pm. the following day; my feet were swollen from the journey. Here are just a few of the photos we took during our 10 days there.

The doors of the Cathedral at Sienna

Palazzo Pubblico - Il Campo, Sienna

The Cathedral, Florence

The Ponte Vecchio, Florence, taken from the top of the Uffizi Gallery

Me, finding a quiet moment away from the crowds on the steps of the Battistero, Campo dei Miracoli, Pisa

The towers of the hill town of San Gimignano

The road from San Gimignano to Sienna in the Chianti region

Anfiteatro Romano, Lucca

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A Peaceful Place

About 10 miles away from where we live can be found the impressive ruins of Croxden Abbey. The abbey was founded around 1179 by Bertam de Verdun, Lord of Alton for the Cistercian order of 'white monks' who came from Normandy in France. Quite a lot of it still stands including the imposing remains of the 13th century church.

It is the most atmospheric place. Serene and tranquil in it's rural setting with just sheep grazing in and around the ruins.

The Monks who lived here bred sheep and made a good income from wool production. They lived in peace with their surroundings for 350 years until the dissolution of the monasteries during the reign of Henry VIII.

When the Abbey was in it's infancy the community of monks were French but the first Abbot, Thomas of Woodstock, was an English man. When the Abbey was finally closed in September 1538 there were still 12 monks and an Abbot living there, probably the same number of residents as in it's first years.

Bertam de Verdun founded the Abbey for the purpose of the salvation of the souls of himself, his wife, his mother and other family members. The plan for the Abbey was based on that of the 'mother-house' at Aulney-sur-Odon. Many of the 13th Century additions were instigated by Abbot Walter of London.

As you can see from the photo above the road cuts through the abbey site, parts of the huge west wall of the abbey stand almost on the road side giving a good idea of how tall the building was.
Below is a book engraving of Croxden Abbey (courtesy of Staffordshire Archives and English Heritage) which shows what the ruins would have looked like at the end of the 18th Century.

The Abbey is now in the hands of English Heritage and is open all year round 10a.m. -5p.m. and there is no admission charge.

A Book MeMe

I've found an interesting book meme from Rowan's blog, Circle of the Year (see side panel for link). The idea is to take a random book nearest to you, turn to page 123 find sentence number 5 on that page and type up the next three sentences, so here goes:-

"Three chaise and two phaetons full of guests arrived to dine in a setting that could scarcely have been more romantic.

'We found the scenery of Valle-Crucis grand, silent, impressive, awful' wrote Miss Seward to a friend of this serene and unalarming spot. While the guests strolled about the grass and the hired harper played his soul-haunting airs; while Miss Seward and the Ladies, no doubt plagued by midges, mutually pondered 'the deep repose, resulting from the high umbrageous mountains'; the friendship ripened."

The excerpt is from a book I bought ages ago called 'The ladies of Llangollen' by Elizabeth Mavor. It is the story of Lady Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby who were, according to the introduction, from which I quote 'two aristocratic spinsters of thirty-nine and twenty-three respectively, who were to provide Welsh travellers with food for speculation over the next fifty years'

The Ladies escaped from their families in Ireland, with the help of a faithfull servant, and in 1780 set up home at Plas Newydd in the town of Llangollen in Wales and set about transforming the small cottage into a Gothic style residence, altering the house and gardens out of all recognition. In so doing they attracted the attention of many of the literary luminaries of the time. People like the poet William Wordsworth, the author Sir Walter Scott and the Duke of Wellington all visited the Ladies and held them in high esteem and affection. The Miss Seward mentioned in the extract would be the poet Anna Seward also known as The Swan of Lichfield. The Ladies lived happily at Plas Newydd for over 50 years and it still remains almost as it was then.

We visited quite a few years ago now and I've always wanted to visit again, it is such an interesting place. I bought the book above whilst I was there and also a poster of a painting The Ladies at home with their servant and their cats, which I'm sure we still have somewhere.

I'm not going to pass this on to anyone, have a go if you want to.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

I'm Bored

Chloe was fed up today, rain, no hail and snow, outside and one very bad owner inside doing things like ironing, cooking and cleaning when she wanted attention

'What shall I do', she asked? 'I know, I'll find out what's at the top of those kitchen cupboards. Oh, well, not a lot really, bit of dust - not cleaning up here are you? A different outlook on the cat food tray below but it still hasn't got any new food in it, or any of those nice fishy biscuits!'

'Hmm, now how do I get down from here, top of the fridge first, o-er, can you get me down please?'

So 'bad-owner' lifted her down..... and gave her some of those nice fishy biscuits.

'Thank-you, but are you going to sit down now - I want a lap.'


I thought that every two or three months I would list the books I have read, just as a reminder, mostly for me, to see how well I am doing on the reading front and possibly highlighting any books that may be of interest. I did use to review local history books but I've never reviewed fiction and don't really intend to start. So I will just list the books and possibly make a little comment here and there. So here goes:-

Over Christmas 2007 into January 2008

The Man in the Picture – Susan Hill - a pleasure, as always, such a wonderful, gifted writer in so many genres.

The Death of Dalziel – Reginald Hill - Reginald Hill back to his best, enjoyed this very much.

The Chapel of Bones – Michael Jecks - Okay, quite entertaining

Exit Music – Ian Rankin- glorious, loved it, love Ian Rankin's writing

Jumping the Cracks – Victoria Blake - very enjoyable, this is the third I've read in this series set in Oxford.


The Chocolate Lovers Club – Carole Matthews - quite amusing as a diversion, light and frothy.

On Chesil Beach – Ian McEwan - wonderful writing, strong story, so sad.

The House at Riverton – Kate Morton - very enjoyable and intriguing.


What Came Before He Shot Her – Elizabeth George - wow, how can this writer be so good - wonderful research, so very uncomfortable, a sad indictment of our society today.

Union Street – Pat Barker - wonderful, strong and vivid writing - loved it, laughed, cried, I knew those people.

Facing the Light - Adele Geras - I really enjoyed reading this one.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Wild Garlic

The wild garlic which grows at the top of our garden, under the hazel tree, is flourishing at the moment, spurred on, no doubt, by the spring like warmth we've had for the last few days. I've been thinking that I ought to use some of the young leaves for a salad and I found a good recipe in one of my books which uses lettuce leaves with the wild garlic leaves and also radishes and spring onions. It is then drizzled with a lemon dressing - it sounds lovely and refreshing. I was going to make it this weekend but now the weather forecast is for snow and wintry showers. With this in mind we have this morning bought leeks and intend to make hot, warming leek and potato soup instead. The spring salad will have to wait for a while.

This photo was added Sunday - it did snow! By the way, the leek and potato soup was lovely.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Walk this way..........

This morning we drove out to Hartington and up to the car park at the old station which is on the Tissington Trail. The only part of the trail we hadn't walked was the 5 mile stretch between Hartington and Alsop. We didn't know how far we would get along the trail but set ourselves a time scale of an hour and a half towards Alsop knowing we would have to walk for the same amount of time on the way back. We had to be careful not to overstay our welcome on the car park.

As we set out it was cloudy and grey with just the hint of a breeze and as some parts of the walk along this trail, which follows the line of the old railway, are protected from the weather by the steep banks of the railway cuttings we were able to enjoy the peace and hear the birds twittering in the trees and bushes on either embankment. At one point the pathway was littered with striped snails and it was hard to avoid treading on them. Some had already been squished by passing walkers and cyclists; the thrushes would be well fed. Little wrens skited about in the bushes, skylarks flittered over the fields and robins and blackbirds were singing their uplifting, melodious songs.

We walked past the village of Biggin whose church we could see in the distance. I did take a photo of the church but it wasn't a good one as parts of the tower were shrouded in mist. After another twenty minutes or so we turned to set off back towards Hartington. The weather had become cooler and the breeze was now quite strong with a little drizzle in the air.

Back to the car for refreshment - coffee and home-made date and walnut cake - and we were off again around the Nature Reserve. As we crossed the fields at the top of the old quarry all that was heard was a scurrying rabbit and the tap tap of a farmer mending his fence. As we reached the highest point we heard getting closer the plaintive and distinctive cry of a curlew, it passed overhead and flew away from us, it's cry getting fainter as it disappeared into the cloud.

The walk led us back onto the last part of the Tissington Trail by now busy with cyclists and other walkers. It was way after 1p.m. and lunch time for many, the picnic tables near the car park were full of people enjoying their packed lunches before heading off along the rest of the trail. With great satisfaction we pulled off our heavy boots, clambered into the car and set off towards home.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


.....I wish I was a cat!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Sky and Flight

This is the cloudy sky above Berry Hill fields on Sunday afternoon. We were walking on this area, which is not very far from where we live, and I was trying, not very successfully, to photograph a skylark. The black dot in the photo below is in fact a skylark as it was hovering in the sky, singing to it's full lung capacity, before making it's swift, almost vertical descent to the ground. The little birds were all around us.

Berry Hill fields is an interesting site an area, only two miles from the city centre, which has always, until fairly recently, been farmed. There are also the remains of coal mines and brickworks but the most interesting feature, gradually uncovered by recent archaeological digs, is a13th/14th century moated manor house. Below is the site as it is now.

Still with the theme of flight, today is the 90th anniversary of the foundation of the Royal Air Force. To commemorate this at 1p.m. today there will be a flypast over London by the Red arrows, amongst others, and one by the Battle of Britain flight over the RAF Museum at Hendon. Below is photo I took recently of the Spitfire in the Reginald Mitchell gallery at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Hanley. Mitchell, the designer of the Spitfire, was a local man and much is made of him in the city.

Another local hero who served in the RAF during the second world war is football legend Sir Stanley Matthews. Known as the 'Wizard of Dribble' he was born 1915 in Hanley where there is a statue in his honour. When he died in 2000, an estimated 10,000 people lined the streets to watch his funeral procession pass by. He was my father's football hero so it was a great pleasure one day at work to pick up the phone and to hear a lovely voice saying 'Hello, Stanley Matthews here, I wonder if you can help me?' I did help him, quickly and efficiently, as he rang off he said 'Thanks, dear, you've saved my life.'