Friday, March 30, 2007

This Sceptered Isle – In search of Spring IV

The village of Ilam is approached by crossing a small bridge over the River Manifold. The river because it flows through limestone country, is the stuff of geography books. It disappears for most of its five mile route from Wetton Mill, to flow underground before re-emerging at the Boil Holes, in the grounds of Ilam Hall. Only in the rainy season does it behave like an ordinary river and flow above ground.

In stark contrast to Alstonfield, Ilam despite having a history dating from Saxon times appears a relatively modern village. Investigation reveals that the current village was moved in the 1820s by Jesse Watts-Russell the local squire and industrialist from its position near Ilam Hall and rebuilt in its current location in what Watts-Russell considered to be 'Alpine style'. This explains both the unusual style of the buildings and the surprising distance between them and the village church.

The centre of the village is dominated by a memorial cross similar to Charing Cross, erected by Jesse Watts-Russell in 1840 to commemorate his wife, Mary. Whether the village was moved so that Watts-Russell didn’t have to live too close to the hobble-de-hoy isn’t clear. Despite the dubious motive, the result it has to be said is attractive and the village is well laid out.

Watts-Russell also built the school and provided it with an endowment. It fits in so beautifully with the alpine style cottages that one cannot imagine any child not wanting to go to school!

Here in the village other signs of Spring could be found. Blossom was out and growth was moving in the wall bottoms, although the magnolias were still struggling. However, the clearest evidence that the winter was over was the re-appearance of the Tesco van, the Gortex and gaitered walkers and the litter. [to be continued]

Don’t laugh – let's see you read Welsh!

Another one for the weekend – what is it?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

This Sceptered Isle – In search of Spring III

Tuesday. The makings of another fine day, but even so the mist was taking some time to clear. According to Radio 4 much of the Midlands was under fog.

As you enter Ilam and begin the decent into the valley, the winding, unfenced road traverses a steep hillside. It was here I hoped to find incontrovertible evidence that Spring had arrived. There were plenty of sheep dotted about, but not what I was looking for. I switched the engine off and listened to the Book of the Day on Radio 4 – one of the few things that the BBC does well these days. So much better than their (let’s slug it out with ITV) mainstream TV offerings such as ‘Bin Men from Hell’ etc.

Slowly the mist cleared and I ventured down into the valley and parked up. Then, there it was - what I’d been looking for. Spring had finally reached the Peak District.

Casting about the bottom field was full of them.

Fertility didn’t seem to be an issue either…

… although clearly this presented logistic problems.

I spoke to mother, but she wasn’t optimistic about Britain under Gordon Brown. In her view he looked like a sheep stealer.

Junior wasn’t that happy either. Nevertheless, having now found incontrovertible proof that Spring was here I set out to explore Ilam. [to be continued]

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

This Sceptered Isle - In search of Spring II

With the pub well and truly shut I shuffled off to find somewhere selling coffee and home made scones. As I washed my hands and reflected on the often diffident way in which the British hospitality trade is said to treat its customers, it dawned on me that perhaps this might be a two way process.

Duly fortified and with a plan in mind I set off to admire the old school house, where once the village teacher lived.

From Victorian times learning has always been an integral part of village life and there remains evidence to show that once there was even a reading room here. Usually newspapers were provided and the gentry had access to them from 9 to 4 pm and the riff-raff thereafter.

While the local branch of the Conservative Party at Prayer remains, albeit with a dwindling congregation, the Chapel closed sometime ago and is now a workshop where hand-made oak furniture is made.

As at least one of our readers is interested in wells, I took time to examine the local water situation. While the interest professed was in dressed wells, I not unreasonably thought that undressed might proved doubly interesting. A small set of steps lead down into the well and the women would carry the water away in buckets with wooden yolks across their shoulders

After that the village got themselves a pump.

By now I had reached the end of the village. Whilst there was no conclusive proof that Spring was here, there certainly was evidence to back the supposition, so I said farewell to the farm dog and retuned to my car. [to be continued]

This Sceptred Isle - In search of Spring I

Yesterday, I awoke to the sound of some New Labour Harridan braying on about how divisive exams are. Apparently they exclude kids who don’t know the answers and it seems New Labour is against all forms of exclusion.
My best option seemed escape, so I decided to get out and see how Spring in the countryside was doing, besides I also needed to check that the Government hadn’t banned it because it discriminated against people who live in towns.
Around here, some of the first, or at least more obvious pointers to Spring are provided by the willow and the humble hawthorn. Down on the Cheshire Plain the hedges are full of leaf, but here progress is very patchy and limited to sheltered corners. Spring comes late to the Staffordshire Moorlands because of its height above sea level. Every time I see fresh hawthorn I am reminded of my grandmother, who used to tell me how a hundred years ago in Gloucester the rural poor used to eat the leaves when they were hungry. Hence the bush’s alternative name – the bread and cheese tree.

My destination this morning was Alstonfield which proudly claims it is one of the best kept villages in Staffordshire – if not the Galaxy. Apparently ‘Alstonfield is picturesquely seated on a western declivity above Dovedale, ten miles E of Leek, and six miles N by W of Ashbourne. It has a good inn, for the accommodation of tourists who come hither to view the wild and romantic scenery of this neighbourhood, which equals the grandeur of many of the most celebrated scenes in Derbyshire, from which county the extensive parish of Alstonfield is separated by the river Dove.’ Not that your countryside correspondent was swayed by that kind of balderdash.A green lane led up from the carpark to the village and my arrival was carefully noted by a farm dog.

The village seemed to be well signposted, although it also struck me as slightly pretentious. The houses are built of limestone and while it is an excellent building material it always makes for a cold and austere feel. Despite the sun, it was cold and there were very few people about. Occasionally, as I paced the main street the odd curtain twitched but nothing more than that.

Nevertheless, the daffodils were in full bloom. A good sign, which suggested that Gordon Brown hadn’t yet fathomed that such things can give people pleasure. Alstonfield is also one of those villages peppered with large numbers of seats, all dedicated to people who used to like to sit here. I suspect these days that the tidy village may well consist of second homes, but the usual clues like Range Rovers and Beamers parked outside were absent.

Like many English villages some of the buildings were of a brave age.

Clearly I needed a plan for the day, so I made my way to the George. What could be more English? Unfortunately the George was shut, not an auspicious start to the day. A lone, mutley dog peered out of the window. [To be continued]

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Other sunny images.

The pictures were taken in Georgetown, PEI last summer, - it is the capital of Kings County and used to be a very big shipping port in the late 1800s early 1900s. Now it is a small town, well village really, used by fishermen, lumber boats and gravel barges. The stone building is the Georgetown courthouse, still in use, and where Howard had his office when he was sheriff. The other is the Kings Playhouse, a jewel of a theatre used only in summer. The gardens you see are actually between the two buildings and are beautiful in summer.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Looking forward.......

No stopping me now! No, seriously, just thought you would like to see how it is in summer here.

Trying again!

As the heading says, I am trying again.

Still trying ?

Farming in PEI i had better let Diane explain.Princess and Hunk made the trip there last summer,lucky b's.

Weekend Quiz II

This is real Yorkshire ……. but where is it?

[If you click on the photos they will all expand to fill your screen.]