Sunday, May 30, 2010

Rain, Wind and Badger?

Yesterday's rain and today's winds have wreaked havoc in the garden. Don't get me wrong it was lovely to have the rain because the garden was in desperate need of it.

The pond has had to be topped up quite a few times over the last few weeks to keep the frogs and newts happy but the dry weather hasn't helped the willow tree and I think it is lost. By now it should be covered in green - the long, cold, wet winter and very dry spring have killed it. I'm sad to lose it as we bought and planted it when we lost our beloved cat Biddy in February 1997. It looks sad and brown against the pink of the nearby tamarisk tree.

Meanwhile, something has been attacking our pond! Is it badger? Is it fox? We don't know but whatever it was has pulled weed and mud out of the pond and overturned the marsh marigold.

The raised beds seem to be coping with the vagaries of the weather and the chives are now in flower.

The little fern we planted a few years ago has spread this year and the forget-me-not is everywhere.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

She Sells Sea Shells

Ever since I first visited Lyme Regis in 1980 I've been fascinated by both its literary and geological connections. I must admit I initially wanted to visit because of Jane Austen's Persuasion and was enchanted to find the little bow windowed houses and the wonderful harbour wall known as the Cobb from which Louisa Musgrave fell in Austen's story. A visit to the local museum however opened up another fascination for me in the life and work of the well known fossil collector and dealer Mary Anning.

Whilst on that first visit I bought the little book and postcards in the photo above and have kept them all this time. Of course, over the years, I've read in other books about the life of Mary Anning - books like Deborah Cadbury's The Dinosaur Hunters.

Mary's life was a harsh one! She and her brother Joseph were the only surviving children of the 10 born to Richard and Mary Anning. As an infant she was struck by lightening- an accident that changed her completely. Her family weren't well off, her father was a cabinet maker and fossil enthusiast; Mary followed in his footsteps and from early in her childhood was able to spot and collect fossils from the beaches in and around Lyme. Her father died when she was still young and Mary took over as the main hunter of fossils whilst her family sold the fossils from their house in Cockmoile Square. Mary collected things like ammonites, Belemnites and sea urchins to clean and sell.

She came to the attention of many of the scientists and collectors of the day including The Reverend William Buckland, Henry de la Beche and the Reverend William Conybeare. As she scoured the beaches of Black Venn and the Undercliffe with her faithful dog, Tray she found some of the most startling and interesting fossils. As well as finding the remains of creatures now known as ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs - at first thought to be ancient crocodiles and turtles - she also discovered the first complete pterodactyl, or pterosaur as they are now called, in the UK.

Imagine then my delight to find a new novel written by Tracy Chevalier about the life of Mary Anning. This book covers Mary's young life and her friendship with the Philpot sisters and in particular Elizabeth Philpot who was herself a collector of fossil fish. The Philpots had moved from London to Lyme about 1805 (missing Jane Austen, who visited in 1804, by a year) and were soon drawn into the social life of the town. The Philpot Museum in Lyme was built in 1901 on the site of Mary Anning's first home by Thomas Philpot the sisters' great nephew as a memorial to their life and work in Lyme.

Tracy Chevalier's 'Remarkable Creatures' brought Mary to life for me. It is written in the first person a chapter each in the words of Mary and Elizabeth covering the same events in time from differing viewpoints. She has captured society's restrictions on both Mary Anning and the Philpot sisters so well. Mary, of a lower class to the Philpots, was disapproved of by their servant Bessie. The genteel sisters - non of whom would marry - the cards and dancing at the assembly rooms, the interest in botany, art and drawing and collecting fossils; the making of salves and lotions to distribute for presents. It was Mary who worked so much in what was then considered a man's world - roaming the beaches of Lyme, hacking out fossils, cleaning them in the family basement and dealing with the gentlemen collectors and dealers as well as the geologists and scientists with whom she became acquainted over the years.

Mary's work was finally acknowledged when, just a few years before her death in 1847 she was granted a modest annuity raised by members of The Geological Society and others even though women were not admitted as members at the time. Mary left Lyme only once in her life to visit London. She is buried in the churchyard at St Michael and All Saints, Lyme where there is also a window dedicated to her and her work, paid for by the Geological Society.

It is said that the 'tongue-twister' whose first line is 'She sells sea shells on the sea shore' was inspired by the life of Mary Anning - hence the title of this post.

Wikipedia entry for Mary Anning - link

William Buckland's paper on 'The discovery of a new Species of Pterodactyle in the Lias at Lyme Regis' - link

The Philpot Museum's website - link

Waterstone's Review of Remarkable Creatures - link

Friday, May 21, 2010


One of my favourite plants is flowering in the garden. This is rhododendron 'Dreamland'; its lovely flowers turn from dark to light pink as they open - last week its buds were tightly furled, this week they have opened their faces to the sun.

We bought this plant about five years ago from the Dunge Valley Rhododendron Garden. The first year it stayed in its pot. The second and third year it was given a place in the garden but then we thought we were going to move so it was put back in a pot so I could take it with me. It is still in the pot and seems to be alright in there at the moment although it will grow to between three and four feet tall so it is probably going to have to go back into the garden soon.

Meanwhile in the rest of the garden we are all in a bit of a 'dreamland' - the very welcome warmer weather has slowed us down - the chairs have come out of the shed for morning coffee under the plum tree.

One of my other favourite plants the little pink clematis (montana rubens) is in flower over the leylandii at the top of the garden; it always looks so pretty in the evening light.

The frogs are basking in the pond - lifting their heads up into the air; there were 19 frogs in the pond this morning plus a few newts - I'm guessing the newts are the reason we don't seem to have any tadpoles this year.

Now Max has reached the age of fourteen and his black whiskers have turned white he likes nothing better than to sit in the shade of the plum tree in one of our comfy chairs. Meanwhile his sister Chloe stays indoors under my bedside table whilst the sun is at its highest.

The forecast is for more warm weather over the weekend so I'm predicting more 'mooching' about in dreamland - well the garden - at this house.

Have a great weekend everyone, whatever you are doing!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Busy Doing Nothing

Apart from keeping the greenhouse and raised beds watered and some grass mowing very little has been done in the garden over the last week. I'm going through one of those phases where I know there are things to be done but somehow I can't settle to do anything very much; so whilst the dusting and vacuuming needs doing and another huge pile of ironing needs tackling I've just been drifting through the days ignoring it all. We have managed to get out of the house on a couple of walks so here are some photos from those.

Sunday - a field of dandelions taken from the Hollins Lane Car Park of Consall Country Park

The start of the walk into the country park from Hollins Lane, Kingsley.

A train full of Brownies - apparently over the weekend it was the 100th birthday of the Brownies and some of them had taken over the Churnet Valley Railway for the weekend.

Monday - the bridge at Wetton Mill

Destination - Thor's Cave

Steps up to the cave

Inside looking out

Inside the cave

Back at the mill whilst sipping at a well earned mug of coffee at the cafe, surrounded by ducks looking for crumbs, I saw this very agile cow above the roof.

Right, I really must go and do that ironing!

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Biking Birder

This morning we walked in the Manifold Valley from Wetton Mill to Thor's Cave and back. We actually clambered up into the cave - of which more in another post. On the way back we came across a man lying in a field photographing orchids. He stopped for a chat and we found out his fascinating story.

Gary Prescott, otherwise known, for this year at least, as the biking birder is taking a year out of his job to travel the length and breadth of the UK by cycle visiting every RSPB and WWT Nature Reserve open to the public and spotting as many species of bird as he can in aid of charity. Here is a link to his - website - so you can see his itinerary and which charities he is supporting. Yesterday he was at the local RSPB site at Coombes Valley - here is a link to their - blog - for the story of his visit.

He also has a blog (link) on which he records his journeys. I've just been reading his posts from the last couple of months and it turns out that he visited the Glaslyn Osprey Project - link- which was just down the road from where we were staying a couple of days after we visited. Sometimes it is a very small world.

Good Luck with the rest of your itinerary, Gary - it was a pleasure meeting you.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Things of Beauty

Seen on yesterday morning's walk around Trentham lake and gardens.

Dappled sunlight in the Beech trees

Vibrant contrasting colours in the flower beds

Greylag goslings watched over by a proud mum or dad!

Meanwhile earlier in the week in our garden I took this photo of a raindrop in the middle of a lupin leaf - it looks like a little jewel doesn't it?

I asked Paul to go out and take a close-up photo with his camera. You can see the results below

He also captured this lovely photo of Chloe near the Lady's Mantle by the pond.

Friday Cake Bake
I saw this cake in Saturday's Guardian magazine and thought I would like to try it. I had all the ingredients in the cupboard except lemons and poppy seeds which we bought earlier in the week. The poppy seeds were 50p from the local health food shop and the lemons 99p for a bag from Aldi - so not a great expense to buy in the extras needed to make the cake - here is a - link - to the recipe - scroll down past the meatballs. It is a bit fiddly but I enjoyed making it only panicking slightly when I thought I hadn't got a large enough cake tin - but all was well!

The lemon syrup makes it quite sticky in the middle but it is very tasty!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Herbs in the Garden and the Kitchen

There is something magical about herbs growing in the garden and being able to fetch the leaves from the garden and use them immediately in the kitchen.

The Chives are in bud in the raised bed - these are nice chopped into mayonnaise over new potatoes, the flowers look colourful in a salad, too.

Flat-leafed parsley - lovely chopped into mushroom and pea rissotto.

Rosemary - laid on top of home made Focaccia bread with halved olives before baking in the oven.

Mint - wonderful chopped in with cucumber, tomatoes, spring onions and bulgar wheat to make a tabouleh. Or just put a sprig in the pan with new potatoes or peas.

and in the conservatory windowsill - Basil - roughly torn and placed in a mozzarella and tomato sandwich or scattered over a homemade pizza. Just brush the leaves and smell your fingers as you pass by!

and coriander which we use to make carrot and coriander soup.

I love herbs in the garden and in cooking! Do you have a favourite herb that you often use?

Friday, May 07, 2010

A Taste of Wales

As it is time for Simone's Friday Cake Bake and as I'm still in Wales in my head and heart if not in body I decided to make some Bara Brith. After we'd walked along the riverside at Beddgelert were went into one of the small cafes in the village and had coffee and Bara Brith in a cosy corner where we lingered awhile looking at newspapers and tourist leaflets. I thought I would try to make my own Bara Brith or Welsh fruit cake.

It is quite easy to make by soaking about 10oz of mixed fruit in hot tea overnight. Next day strain the fruit and keep the liquid. To the fruit add 3oz of brown sugar, just over a teaspoon of mixed spices, (I used cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg) the grated rind of one lemon, one egg and 12oz of self-raising flour. Add the liquid a bit at a time until the mixture is a soft dropping consistency. Turn it into a lined 2lb loaf tin and bake at 180C for about 50 minutes. The cake was lighter in colour than the one I'd tasted in Wales but I used white self-raising flour and light brown soft sugar - maybe next time I'll use wholemeal flour and dark brown sugar to see if it makes a difference. It tastes wonderful sliced and spread with butter - or in my case Flora light spread!

I missed Simone's Tuesday Garden Rake this week but below are a couple of photos from the garden which seemed to spring into life whilst we were away.

I'm not sure what the tree in the foreground is called; it is very pretty but doesn't stay in flower very long. You can see the Spiraea Arguta or Bridal Wreath behind.

The Kerria Japonica, which grows near the green house opposite our back door, always looks lovely at this time of year.

On our way home we stopped at Conwy for a walk around and some lunch. Below are a few photos I took whilst we were there.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

The Legend of Gelert

Beddgelert is Welsh for Gelert's Grave. The legend is that one day Prince Llywelyn the Great of Snowdonia returned to his castle nearby to find the cradle of his baby son upturned, no sign of the baby and his favourite hunting hound Gelert with blood around his mouth.

A distressed Llywelyn thought that Gelert had killed the baby and stabbed him with his sword. As Gelert lay dying Llywelyn heard a child's cry, lifted the cradle and found his son safe and sound underneath; hidden behind the cradle was a dead wolf, killed by Gelert to save the little prince.

Overcome by remorse Llywelyn carried his hound to the river side and buried him there with a stone marking his head and another marking his feet; it is said that after the incident Llywelyn never smiled again.

He also built a church, dedicated to St Mary, close by to thank God for the life of his son.

Legend also says that although this story is based on ancient tales it was used, towards the end of the 18th century, by David Pritchard the owner of a local inn, The Royal Goat, to bring people to the village to boost his trade. It is said that with the help of the parish clerk he placed the stones near the river and invented the hound's name; apparently the stones are only 200 years old.

In spite of this the tale of Gelert is such a powerful and moving one that the village of Beddgelert and Gelert's grave are visited each year by thousands of people. Everytime we visit I have to go and look at Gelert's grave and the bronze statue gazing up at the nearby hills.

Here is a link to the story of Llywelyn and Gelert - link.