Thursday, May 29, 2008

Oak Apple Day

We were taking a leisurely stroll around the Oak Wood at Trentham when it suddenly occurred to me how apt it was that we should be walking there on this particular day. The woods were quiet and peaceful with just the wonderful sound of differing bird song to keep us company.

Most prolific birds were, of course, blackbirds, crows and magpies but we also saw a jay flitting around in the branches, a buzzard soaring overhead and in the distance the sound of a cuckoo. I'd only mentioned a few posts back that it was years since I'd heard a cuckoo so it was wonderful to experience it. The weather was warm and dry and as we walked the sun began to peer through the leaves of the trees highlighting the gnarled and twisted branches.

Suddenly in the distance we saw the deer grazing under the trees as they made their way up into the woods, they seemed oblivious to us being anywhere near them. Usually at the first scent of humans on the air they scatter and hide but today they confidently carried on with their lunch.

Oak Apple, or Royal Oak day was celebrated on 29th May it being a celebration for the return of King Charles II and the day of his triumphal procession into London. The 29th May was also Charles's birthday and the oak is significant because during the Civil Wars, Charles had hidden in an oak tree to escape the Parliamentary troops after his defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651. The tree in question was at Boscobel House in Shropshire where Charles spent several days in hiding and from whence he escaped dressed as a servant to begin his exile in France.

We visited Boscobel House a couple of years ago on our way back from Cosford. It is one of those fascinating old houses with plenty of hiding places and priests holes in which a fugitive could spirit themselves away.

Below is the spot where Charles II hid amongst the leafy branches of the Oak Tree. We were told on our visit that it wasn't this tree though as the one below is grown from a cutting from the original tree so it is sort of 'offspring of' the original.

In 1664 Parliament declared 29th May to be a day of thanksgiving and people would go to a special service in their church and wear sprigs of oak on their coats or hats in celebration. Apparently people caught not wearing a spring of oak or an oak apple (actually an oak gall) risked the chance of being whipped with stinging nettles or having their bottoms pinched because of their 'Roundhead' sympathies; in some areas 29th May is also known as nettle day. Apparently in Castleton in Derbyshire a special 'garlanding' procession is held, when a man (the King) carrying garlands on a frame on his shoulders, accompanied by his Queen and the children of the village, is led to the church where, after much dancing along the way, the 'garland' is lifted up to the church tower to be displayed. I'm assuming the 'King' has been safely released from it by then.

Oak Apple Day ceased to be a public holiday in the 1850s but was still celebrated, especially in rural areas, well into the last century. I remember my mother telling me about celebrating Oak Apple Day when she was at school; by the time I went to school it wasn't celebrated in any way.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Time Out

We made the decision, given the dire weather forecast for both Sunday and Monday - yes, it's Bank Holiday again - that yesterday would be the best day to venture out. We have National Trust membership that is due to run out in July; as we can't afford to renew it we will have to let it go. So we have decided that over the next month we will try to re-visit some of the National Trust properties that are not too far away - we have to conserve petrol - for one last time. First up is Sudbury Hall.

Although very windy Saturday was actually quite warm and sunny. I always enjoy visiting Sudbury Hall as there is plenty of parking and an easy walk to the property - if you can't walk very well there is a covered buggy to run you up to the site. We took refreshments with us, although there is a tea room on site, so after a quick coffee we set out to walk to the Hall. As the Hall itself didn't open until 1p.m. we went around the gardens first. Below is a photo of the opposite side of the Hall taken from the lakeside.

Built by Sir George Vernon in the second half of the 17th century, on the site of an older manor house, it has ornate decoration both inside and out with much wood carving and ceiling paintings in the interior. It also boasts a beautiful long gallery on the upper floor with raised areas for sitting in the double windows you can see on this side of the hall in the photo above. The long gallery and the white carved staircase were used as the interior of Mr Darcy's home Pemberley for the 1995 BBC production of Jane Austen's 'Pride and Prejudice' - yes, that one! As we were walking around the ground floor of the hall we were accompanied by lovely piano music. A young woman arrived to play just as we reached the music room so we were lucky to hear her.

After our stroll around the garden and churchyard we went into the Museum of Childhood which is housed in the Victorian part of the hall. It has been refurbished since our last visit and both children and adults were having a wonderful time. The displays are much improved and there is a fascinating display of three 'period' bedrooms upside down on the ceiling. As we looked up the attendant said to me that she felt old as she could remember all three eras - 1940s, 70s and 90s. After the museum we walked back to the car and found a picnic table where we could eat our lunch and then we walked back to visit the hall itself. I love the colours in the interior, the slub greens and yellows on the walls and in the bedrooms the pale green or navy and white flowered wallpapers.

Before we left we had a little walk in the village of Sudbury. There was a cricket match on the field at the side of The Vernon Arms and a game of bowls on the pitch opposite it. The village is lucky to still have a post office and shop.

And also a village school with lovely wisteria around the door. It must be wonderful to go to school here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

At Dorothy's Place

One of my favourite gardens and indeed one of the very first we visited when we moved to this area is the Dorothy Clive Garden. Until we bought our present house we lived in rented accommodation in a village close by, the property didn't have much garden so we would visit here quite regularly just to sit and admire the beauty of it all. The yearly season ticket we could buy then allowed us the luxury of regular visits. We would often call for a stroll and a morning coffee on a Sunday morning.

Over the last couple of years we have received in the post a brochure called 'Great Gardens' which contains gift vouchers to gardens in the Staffordshire/Shropshire/Cheshire region. So armed with our 'two for one' voucher we decided that now would be the time for a visit.

The flower borders were looking particularly wonderful with swathes of gorgeous colour. At this time of year the garden is noted for its Rhododendron and Azalea displays in the quarry garden. Around every corner was a new and delightful vista, a rainbow of colours, a feast for the eyes.

We didn't know which way to turn next. I don't think that photographs can do justice to the vividness of the colours but at least you can get some idea of how lovely it was.

We spent nearly three hours wandering around, taking photographs, chatting to other admiring visitors and last but not least coffee and scones in the tearoom.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Over the Causeway

Yesterday we went to Staunton Harold to meet up with friends from Nottingham for a birthday lunch (not mine, but one of my friend's). We had a lovely time, consequently I didn't take many photos as I was too busy enjoying myself, chatting, eating and mooching around the lovely craft and art shops in the stables courtyard.

I love the journey to Staunton Harold from Stoke firstly because we just have to pop down to the A50 and travel along it until we see the signs for Melbourne and Swadlincote. We turn off the A50 and take the road towards Swarkestone, then, and this is my favourite bit of the journey, we drive over the Swarkestone Causeway.

Designated an Ancient Monument, it is just under a mile long and as such is one of the longest bridges in England. It was built in the 13th century by two sisters, who, according to a local legend watched helplessly from the safety of their home as their menfolk were drowned trying to cross the River Trent on horseback. Vowing than no one else should suffer the same fate they spent the rest of their lives having the bridge built and died in poverty after spending all their wealth on the project. We then passed through the pretty villages of Stanton-by-Bridge and Ticknall and down the winding track to park up at the back of the garden centre.

The Hall itself is now a private home so I didn't photograph it yesterday. Below is a photo I took about three years ago. The building we see now was built in the mid 18th century by the 5th Earl Ferrars. During the second world war it was requisitioned by the army and later used for prisoners of war. Saved from demolition in 1954 by Group Captain Lord Cheshire, VC it first became a Leonard Cheshire home and then it was used as a palliative care home by his wife Sue Ryder's charity.

Below is one of my favourite views at Staunton Harold; the tree and the church, for some reason I just love that tree. The history of the church is interesting. It is one of very few interregnum (between kings) churches in England. It was built in 1653 by Sir Robert Shirley, at this time the Civil Wars that had split and ravaged Britain had ended, Charles I had been executed; his son Charles II was in exile in France after escaping from the Battle of Worcester two years earlier and Oliver Cromwell was appointed as Lord Protector.

Apparently Sir Robert Shirley had the church built in defiance of Oliver Cromwell's laws and died whilst imprisoned in the Tower of London. He left money and plans for the completion of the building, now owned by the National Trust, which is actually known as the Chapel of the Holy Trinity.

We saw some lovely things in the Ferrers Centre shops and the food in the tea shop was warm, comforting and tasty on such a cold day, made colder by the shock of the change from the heat of the previous few days. Above is the Victorian Model Workshop which is absolutely fascinating. I decided to part with 20p to watch the firemen making a daring rescue in a 'Dickensian' street but decided that, although they looked interesting, I wouldn't watch the working biscuit factory or the circus. I loved the animated fairies sitting around the workshop, flapping their luminous wings and the crow in the shop window. Paul was intrigued with the Dr. Who and Torchwood models and cartoons.

All too soon, after a cup of tea and the purchase of plants and seeds at the garden centre, it was time to say our goodbyes. We set off back through Ticknall and Stanton-by- Bridge, back over the Causeway to the A50 and home.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Busy in the Garden

Over the past few days we have been really busy in the garden. I've been cutting grass, weeding, splitting and re-planting. Paul has been sorting out the back of the shed which had become a bit of a dumping ground for old pots and logs; so much so that it became a struggle to get to the compost bins.

I've been splitting up and thinning out the Geums which have really spread this year. Rivali is the most prolific so I've re-planted some of it in a border left partially empty by the demise of a huge Hebe in last August's very wet weather. Our other Geums are 'Lemondrops' which I've also split and 'Dolly North' which we only put in last year so I've left her alone for a while to spread even further.

I contacted our nearest Wyvale garden centre, which happens to be Bridgemere Garden World, to enquire if they were taking part in the 'Plan Apple' project for recycling plastic plant pots and seed trays. They are, so we will be disposing of a lot of pots there. Now we can reach the compost bins easily when we empty our under the sink household waste bin.

The Rhododendron we planted in 2006 is looking good and the flowers are so pretty. Also doing well is the Solomon's seal. We bought two little plants about five years ago, just look at them now.

Behind the Solomon's seal you can see the small logs which make up one of the wildlife habitat areas Paul has created around the garden. The water buts, full to the brim from the rain earlier this year have been put to good use during the warm weather.

You may have been wondering what the cats have been doing whilst we have been busy in the garden. Well, as you can see, they've been keeping themselves occupied.

The frogs in the pond have been enjoying the warm weather, too. Paul has been photographing them for his blog.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Things of Beauty

Lovely garden flowers, white scented stocks, from the flower shop and the perennial cornflower or centaurea montana which grow in profusion in our garden at this time of year.

Bluebells in the woods on Barlaston Downs, taken during a walk a couple of weeks ago.

Friday, May 09, 2008

The Meerbrook Scarecrows

After our walk on the Roaches and a picnic lunch we headed down into the village of Meerbrook where there was a Scarecrow Festival happening. We had passed several scarecrows on the edge of farm lanes on our drive up to the car parking near the Roaches and now we were to discover many more. It is such a pretty village and it was great to see that almost all the residents had entered into the spirit of the Festival. We found a few other people wandering around and chatted to a couple who were visitors to the area and had just happened upon the scarecrows and stopped to look.

Here are just a few of the ones we saw, there were many more along the lanes where it was impossible to stop and take photos.

The one above was close to where we parked for our walk on the Roaches.

A very colourful milkmaid in a farm drive.

This bird watcher or 'twitcher' was peering over a hedge just in the village.

Mary Poppins on a lamp post on one of the roads out of the village.

A lady potting plants outside one of the little cottages in the village.

An inebriated cleric outside the vicarage.

A lady resting on the corner of the street near the Lazy Trout Inn.

There were pretty plants for sale outside the cottage with the "For Sale' notice board.

Just outside the village is Tittesworth Reservoir which is well worth a visit. We quite often walk here as there is so much to see. Below is the reservoir as seen from up on The Roaches.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Walking Boots

These boots were made for walking 30 years ago, I don't wear them very often, as they are very heavy and I have a lighter, softer pair of 'Aigle' boots that I tend to favour, but today the oldies saw action as we climbed up and up in the warm, breezy air, onto The Roaches.

We parked at the roadside and walked up towards the rocky outcrop, not a soul in sight, just us, the birds, bees and butterflies and the distant 'baa' of the sheep mingled with the crow of a cockerel from a farm in the valley below and the cry of a curlew overhead.

We rested awhile and gazed at Hen Cloud bathed in sunlight it was then we saw our first fellow walker, coming down from the summit, in the distance. Beyond we spotted a Peregrine Falcon, soaring away over the landscape, above this famous landmark.

Further up we came to a forest, it was cool and shaded in here and there was something so special about it, I said it was like a 'fairy glade' and so it seemed, lush and green, light but shaded, joyful bird song accompanied us as we walked.

By now we were nearing the top and we clambered up through this gully in the rocks and out onto the other side. The view was amazing.

I don't know if these pathways are very old or not, but to me they seemed ancient; as I trod on the stones I felt as if I were walking where generations had walked before.

It was time to return to the car as lunch was calling and we still had the Meerbrook Scarecrows to visit, but they deserve a post of their own.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Dents de Lion

Dandelions look so pretty in the meadows don't they, and in the hedgerows so why don't they look like that in my garden? Every year we have a running battle with them as they appear in the lawns, in the flower beds and then in pots and raised beds. They do say that a plant is a weed only if it is the wrong place. So these dandelions in my garden; are they weeds or just in the wrong place?

The word Dandelion may have originated from the medieval Latin Dents Lioness or the French Dent de Lion, lion's teeth. Some people say that the name comes from the jagged leaves, others from the long root. When I was a child we would blow the dandelion seeds or clocks and make a wish. The resulting little white fluffy seeds that floated delicately on the breeze we used to call fairies. Although we don't find the Dandelion useful in our gardens, unless we keep rabbits or guinea pigs, it does have it's uses both medicinal and culinary.

When you look at both the flowers and the 'clocks' they are very pretty but still we want to banish them from our gardens. I must admit I like to mow them off the lawn and take them out of the borders and flower beds but we do leave them at the back of the trees and allow them to stay put in the grass around the raised vegetable beds. The plants survive because they are hardly ever attacked by pest or diseases.

According to 'Jekka's Complete Herb Book' (Jekka McVicar 1994) medicinally Dandelions can be used as a remedy for kidney, liver and digestive problems, the leaves are a strong diuretic. The sap from the stalks can be rubbed into corns, warts or verrucas and the flowers can be boiled with sugar to make a cough mixture.

The leaves of the Dandelion can be used in salads and was often used for cleansing the blood as well as the digestive system, the leaves being quite high in certain vitamins. The root can be chopped, dried and roasted to make Dandelion Coffee and wine can be made with the flower heads. According to Mollie Harris in her book Country Wines (Alan Sutton Publishing 1991) the wine made with Dandelion flowers is a lovely golden colour and as well as being a tonic wine it can be used as a table wine too. She advises using flowers picked on a warm day and that St George's Day, 23rd April, is considered the best day to pick them if it isn't raining, but, she advises, never pick them from a dusty road side.

Perhaps we should give Dandelions a bit of a chance in our gardens instead of trying to wipe out every one? But, oh, no, I swear there are hundreds more in my lawn than were there yesterday - I'm off to get the mower out.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Blossom Time

Walking round Trentham Lake this morning in the warm Spring sunshine we came across this wonderful sight:-

Just thought I'd share them with you. That's all for now.