Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Meres, Tarns and Daffodils

Hello, thanks for calling in, it's lovely to see you here.  If you are expecting to see a post about my progress through my summer list during the third week of the school summer holiday I'm afraid you might be disappointed because I made no progress whatsoever.  Actually, that's not strictly true because I did read a book, but I didn't finish it so I can't tick it off the list yet.  There are still eleven things left on the list and three weeks of the holiday left so I'd better get a move on.  No, the list took a back seat last week because...we were on holiday with our children and grandchild in the Lake District.
We had a wonderful time together.  There is so much to do in Cumbria that I feel we barely scratched the surface of the area and I'd like to go back there to do some more.  There was boating, walking, fishing (not me), ghyll scrambling (definitely not me), museum visiting (definitely me), reading and knitting (both obviously me).  There was also a great deal of "Ooh, ah, look at the view!"  We stayed in an old farmhouse, self-catering, and in the evenings we enjoyed sitting around the table together, playing board games and chatting in the hot tub.  I'd like to show you some of the views we enjoyed.
On the first day the sun beat down and we headed to the beach at Silecroft.  With a free car park, a wickedly good ice-cream shop, warm sea and sand that was perfect for building castles it met all of our needs and we couldn't understand why there weren't more people there. 
 On the second day some of us went to Wray Castle, a National Trust property on the shore of Windermere in which Beatrix Potter enjoyed a summer with her family when she was a teenager.  Those who went on this outing reported that it was brilliant for children of junior school age but that I would have hated it.  This photo probably sums up why.  Honestly!  The Best Beloved sent it to me with the caption, "Look what they've done to Mrs Tiggywinkle.  She looks like Mrs Overall."  If you are familiar with Julie Walters' character in Victoria Wood's Acorn Antiques, you will understand. 

 On the third day we drove to Bowness-on-Windermere first thing in the morning and collected a little boat.  We pootled around the lake water all day, mooring up at public jetties and hopping on and off wherever we fancied, with a longer stop in Ambleside for lunch.  We all enjoyed it except for Tom Kitten, who doesn't think he likes boats and knows he doesn't like cumbersome life jackets, but everyone else thought it was a holiday highlight, despite the grey sky and the grey water. 

 On the fourth day some of us went for a walk around Tarn Hows in the sunshine. Everyone who did this declared it to be a holiday highlight.
On the fifth day some of us went ghyll scrambling but there are no photographs because there are no pockets in a wetsuit and even if there were, you need two hands to hold on to the rockface you are climbing. 

On the sixth day some of us went to Coniston Water and then visited the museum in the village.  I like a local museum, you usually learn the history of a place and how that has informed its present and I thought this one was very good, full of information about copper mining, quarrying, climbing, John Ruskin, Arthur Ransome and Donald Campbell.  The Best Beloved was especially keen on the Donald Campbell gallery and I thought about my sister, who loved Ransome's Swallows and Amazons when she was young and became a sailor when she grew up.
On our last night there something magical happened: the Best Beloved and I went outside and sat in the garden at around midnight, craning our necks to look at the spectacular starry sky.  With no light pollution and no clouds the stars were vivid points in the darkness, and the Milky Way arched above the white farmhouse as far as we could see.  We watched three satellites steadily moving across the sky and then, best of all, shooting stars, meteors from the Perseid showers.

On the seventh day some of us went to Grasmere and visited Dove Cottage in Town End where William Wordsworth lived with his wife, sister, sister-in-law and three children while visitors including Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Southey and Sir Walter Scott came to stay in the spare bedroom.  It must have been a bit of a squeeze.  We had a guided tour and our timed ticket told us to knock on the front door five minutes before our tour was due to begin but I was disappointed to find the door already open and the guide waiting, so she very kindly closed it so that I could knock and ask if Mr Wordsworth was at home!  If you have even a passing interest in Wordsworth I recommend this visit, it's very well done.  There is a museum too, but we didn't have time for that so I told the Best Beloved that we would have to return another time!  Here are some more photos of the interior of the house - it's quite dark, flash photography is not allowed and the Best Beloved took them on his 'phone so please make allowances.
 This is Wordsworth's favourite writing chair, in which he would sit in the evenings and write after a day spent walking outdoors.

"For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills
And dances with the daffodils." 
We don't know for certain that Wordsworth was referring to this couch BUT this couch was in the sitting room then and, as the guide says, how many couches would he have had?!  I am the only person for whom this was a holiday highlight and that's fine.  I loved it.
Then we came home and it poured with rain but we didn't mind because we had enjoyed a wonderful holiday.
Of course, there is somewhere else I visited too, and I expect you may be able to guess where it was, but I shall save that for next time because it really deserves a whole post of its own.
See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Monday, 6 August 2018

Summer List - Week 2

Hello, thank you for calling in.  Last week was quite exciting, well, perhaps not exciting in itself, but it held the promise of something exciting, which made it feel exciting, if you know what I mean; maps were purchased, a holiday planning meeting was held and a shopping list was compiled.  Amidst all of this I ticked something off my summer list and yesterday I managed to tick off another.
4.  Go to the Long Mynd to see the heather
"Mynydd" is the Welsh word for "mountain" and the Long Mynd is a high heathland and moorland plateau about seven miles long in the South Shropshire Hills which, for a couple of weeks every summer when the heather is in full bloom, is a riot of pink.  (I've just read a number of articles which refer to it as purple but I disagree, I think it's pink, although it's a colour I usually call "heather"!)  We often go up there at the end of the summer after it's gone over and I always say to the Best Beloved, "Oh, we've missed the heather," so this year, going up there while the heather was actually blooming was on my Summer List.  Of course, our unusual summer weather has taken its toll and what we actually saw was not a riot of pink heather but muted patches of it among many brown ones on the parched ground.
We carried on and eventually found the "riot" I was hoping for along with a bonus...ponies, with a foal!!!!!  Now, gentle reader, these are not the photos I was hoping for as the sun was hiding behind the clouds, the wind was blowing, the ponies were shy and I do wonder if we might have been a week too early, but I definitely went up the Long Mynd and I definitely saw an abundance of heather in flower.

 5.  Go To A Beach
To be honest, this would be on my list at any time of year but a visit in summertime is extra special.  The sand was golden, the sky was blue and the sea was sparkling but best of all, the children and grandchild came too.  Memories were made and while Tom Kitten can confirm that sand really doesn't taste very nice, I can confirm that key lime pie ice cream really does.

So with sixteen things on the summer list that's five down, eleven to go!
See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Friday, 3 August 2018

St Winefride's Well, Holywell

Hello, it's good to see you here, thank you for dropping in.  It's hot and sunny here, no rain since Sunday and although the combine harvesters have been out and the fields have been cropped, the farmers are watering the land because it's too hard to plough.  We are gently pootling our way through the school holiday, trying to keep up with The Mathematician's busy schedule of holidays, festivals and visits before she leaves us later this month.
Back in the Spring a friend of mine asked me if I would like to go on a trip to St Winefride's Well with her.  "The one in Shropshire or the one in North Wales?"  I asked.  "The one in North Wales," she replied.  She had wanted to visit it for ages, so three of us set a date to visit in May but circumstances overtook us and we couldn't go, we set another date in June and those arrangements also fell apart but eventually, on the first Friday in July, we made it to Holywell.  Oh My Goodness.  I honestly believe those first two arrangements were meant to fall through because our visit was greatly enhanced by glorious sunshine and baking heat.  In fact, it was an amazing day which left its impact on all of us. 
I didn't know anything at all about St Winefride so I had to do some research before we visited.  Her name was Gwenffrewi (pronounced Wen-FROW-ie) and she was a beautiful young Welsh noblewoman who lived with her parents in the early years of the seventh century AD.  She had been a devout Christian since she was a little girl and planned to become a nun.  One day, while her parents were attending a church mass presided over by her uncle, St Beuno, Prince Caradoc rode by and called in at the house to ask for a glass of water.  He really wasn't a very nice man and, finding Gwenffrewi by herself, he tried to rape her but she escaped from his clutches and ran to the church, calling to her uncle and father to help her (I may have added a bit of dramatic licence there).  Caradoc caught up with her just outside the church door and, angrily drawing his sword, decapitated her.  Her head rolled down the hill, there was an earthquake and a spring burst out of the ground where it landed.  St Beuno rushed outside, just too late, and cursed Caradoc so that the ground beneath him opened  and the Devil rose up and dragged him down to Hell.  St Beuno then picked up Gwenffrewi's head, placed it back on her neck and led his congregation in prayer for her, which restored her to life.  Gwenffrewi then devoted her life to God and became the abbess of a convent at Gwytherin, where she eventually died and was buried.  She is always depicted with a scar on her neck.
 The spring at Holywell became known as a place which had miraculous healing powers almost immediately and was already an established pilgrimage site in the twelfth century when her bones were moved from Gwytherin to Shrewsbury Abbey, and it has remained so ever since.  In 1415 King Henry V walked from Shrewsbury to her shrine at Holywell to give thanks for his victory at Agincourt and in 1687 King James II and his wife Mary of Modena went there to pray for a son (successfully, he became The Old Pretender).  The buildings survived the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII, possibly because of a connexion to his grandmother, Margaret Beaufort, under whose patronage the current well house and chapel are believed to have been built.
So, I thought that my friends and I would be visiting an interesting historical site with some rather lovely 16th century buildings; I did not realise that we would be visiting a very active site of Catholic pilgrimage, the Lourdes of Wales, which receives about 36,000 visitors every year.  Culturally, I felt a bit out of my depth.
On arrival, we were informed that a priest was available on the site to hear our confessions but we chose not to do that.  However, we did attend the fifteen minute service of prayer at the shrine, which is inside the well house, although we graciously refused the invitation to kiss the holy relic.  Ah, I need to tell you about St Winefride's Finger: in 1852 a monk was looking through the Register of Relics in Rome when he came across a small finger-sized bone which is known as St Winefride's Finger, although we don't know which bone it actually is.  The bone was chopped in half, half was retained in Rome and the other half was sent to Shrewsbury Cathedral, where it was chopped in half again and half (really a quarter) was sent to the shrine at Holywell.  It is this fragment which all pilgrims were invited to kiss, and please be assured that the priest wiped it carefully between each pair of lips.

The well house is stunningly beautiful inside and over the centuries, pilgrims have carved their names and initials into the stone pillars.  From the well, the crystal-clear water runs outside into a pool in which "respectful bathing" is allowed and we saw people of all ages paddling, walking or swimming.  In the pool sits St Beuno's stone, on which pilgrims can sit or stand and ask St Winefride for help three times, because apparently, she may not act the first time.  Also from the well (not from the pool!) a pipe carries the holy water to a pump from which visitors can fill a glass or a bottle - in fact, we were each given a plastic cup by the custodian when we arrived so that we could do just that and "take the waters". 
There is a small exhibition centre which displays these crutches, left behind long ago by pilgrims who had been healed by the water.  There is also a pilgrimage museum, but it is not open every day and it was closed when we were there.
Above the well house there is a chapel which is locked but the custodian will lend you the key if you ask.  There were people using it to pray when we asked to come in and they were reluctant to admit us, even more so when we declined their invitation to pray with them, but we explained that the custodian had suggested we follow them in and we promised to be quiet and respectful.  They locked us in and prayed loudly and long until we very quietly turned the key and left them.

 We stayed in the precinct for several hours.  We enjoyed tea and scones in the new tearoom, we took the waters and we cooled our feet in the pool, respectfully and thoughtfully.  Although the shrine is right beside a main road, it feels like a secluded, special place.  Honestly, if you are in the area, I highly recommend a visit - even the Best Beloved is keen for us to go together.  Entry costs £1 (free if you are a member of Cadw), there is a small car park on the opposite side of the road and if you would like somewhere to stay overnight, you can stay in the convent (which is, I think, where St Winefride's Finger is looked after). 
There are about twenty recorded variations of Gwenffrewi's name.  In Latin it is Wenefreda, in England we would call her Winifred but in the nineteenth century Winefride was settled on  simply because it was thought to look Gothic and Gothic was very fashionable at that time.  I think I like to call her by her own name, Gwenffrewi.
See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Monday, 30 July 2018

Summer List - Week One

Hello, thank you for calling in to my Shropshire patch, I'm delighted to find you here.  The big news is...IT HAS RAINED.  In any other summer this would not be news and most people would not be happy about it but this year, it is news and we are definitely happy, although I do wish that the rain had waited until my washing had dried and I had brought it indoors!  The Best Beloved said that it would start raining as soon as the school term finished but this time, he was wrong mistaken because our schools broke up for the summer a week ago.
Do you have a summer list?  I know that many people compile a list of things that they would like to do over the school summer holiday or before they die or before they reach a significant birthday.  I have never made such a list but this year I have been inspired to compile one by a friend who has made a list of forty things she would like to do in the year of her fortieth birthday; some of the things on her list are very simple treats, things that we tend to overlook or to do routinely without remembering to savour, and that set me thinking.  So, I have made a list of sixteen things which I would like to accomplish over the six week holiday. Sixteen didn't feel too ambitious, I thought it was an achievable number.  Some of the sixteen are things which I have been wanting to do for a long time, some are challenging and some will be very easy to achieve but all, I think, will be treats.  In the first week of the holiday I ticked three of them off the list.
1.  Visit Haughmond Abbey
Haughmond Abbey is a ruined Augustinian abbey just outside Shrewsbury, the oldest walls dating from the twelfth century.  I don't know why I've never visited before because I've been to the other three local ruined abbeys many times, all of them, like this one, in the care of English Heritage, but now that I've been I shall definitely go again, with a picnic.  It is free to visit, you can park your car right outside the entrance and it is really quite substantial - not the church itself, there is very little of that left, but the domestic buildings, with walls high enough to provide welcome shade on a very hot summer day. 

2.  Sit by a babbling stream
When I am feeling wound up, anxious or worn out I find the sound of running water very soothing.  My next-door neighbour has a pond which recirculates water and I like to sit and listen to it on summer evenings, feeling the tension dissipate until I feel calm and relaxed.  The campsite I stayed on with the Best Beloved last week is beside the River East Onny, more of a stream than a river and made shallow now by the lack of rain so very early on Thursday morning, before anyone else was up and about, I snuck out of my tent and sat on a bench, under a tree, beside a place where the water has to find its way around and over stones laid on the river bed by children building dams.  I sat there for half an hour, listening to the water, mesmerised by its sound. 


3.  Visit Shropshire Lavender
I have wanted to visit this lavender farm for years but never got round to it, perhaps because it's only open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons from the middle of June until the end of August.   However, when I read Rosie's post on Friday, this one, and saw her lavender photo, I decided that this weekend would be the time to go.  We visited on Saturday afternoon and sat in the charming tea garden - the Best Beloved had coffee with a lavender scone with jam and cream, I had tea with lavender and lemon cake, all was delish. We were walking into the orchard, planted with many different varieties of lavender which flower from June till the end of September, when the rain began to fall, slowly at first but then more heavily until everyone was running to their cars, including us.  We decided that we shall come back another time to visit properly, although we might not be able to fit it in this year as they are only open for another four weekends. 
So the first week of the summer holidays is over and I have thirteen things left on my list.  I haven't planned anything for this week, I don't want to tie myself in to a schedule because one of the things I enjoy about the school holiday is not having a schedule, so I'll just see how the week unfolds. 
Before I go, I cannot let today pass without mentioning Emily Bronte, who was born on this day two hundred years ago, 30th July 1818.  I read Wuthering Heights, her only novel, for the first time when I was fifteen years old as it was one of my O-Level English Literature texts and I fell in love with it.  I have claimed it to be my favourite book ever since.  I had to hand my copy back in to school so I bought another in a junk shop, a hardback whose spine has broken with repeated use (for which I ought to be ashamed, but I can't be because it shows how many times I have read the book).  Happy Birthday Emily, and thank you.

See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Saturday, 28 July 2018

A Tale of Tents

Hello.  Thank you for dropping in.  Until today we have still been "enjoying" very, very hot weather.  It did rain for about an hour on Tuesday, lightly and softly, not enough really as we were able to walk barefoot on the grass afterwards very comfortably and today we have blustery winds and proper showers, real rain for the first time in almost nine weeks!  We drove to the South Shropshire hills on Wednesday and noticed how brown and parched they are.  We spent a night under canvas, except that tents aren't made of canvas anymore, and because we were so high above the level of the sea, I felt blissfully chilly after the sun had gone down - I had to don a fleece, and even my woollen wristwarmers!  I didn't mind at all. 

I first camped as a Girl Guide, in good old Icelandics, six girls in each tent, and I took to it straight away (except for the toilet arrangements, obviously, because they were horrible).  I proudly bore my Camper and Backwoodsman badges so I know that you mustn't touch the inside of the tent if it's raining, where to stake the guy ropes  and how to storm lash them in the event of fierce weather.  I know that you shouldn't pitch your tent at the bottom of a hill and that when you strike camp, you tap the mud off the pegs and stack them to dry before you pack them away.  Oh yes, I am A Camper.
When I met the Best Beloved, he owned a small, two-man tent which he had used when he  travelled around France a few years beforehand.  We never used it together but when The Teacher was a little girl, her special birthday treat was to camp in the garden, just for one night, with her father.  Honestly, the man was practically a saint - her birthday is in August so those evenings were long.  "Daddy, I spy with my little eye something beginning with S."  "I give up."  "Stitch!"  There's really not much to see inside a very small tent.
Approaching The Teacher's ninth birthday, her grandfather rang me and said, "She's asked us to buy her a tent for her birthday.  I assume she means a play tent?"  Er, no.  She really wanted a tent in which the four of us could go off for camping adventures together and I had no idea that she had asked her grandparents to buy her that tent.  So being wonderful grandparents, they bought her a Lichfield four-person tent.  It was a cracking little ridge tent, easily put up and pegged in within half an hour.  There was one sleeping cabin, big enough to roll out four sleeping mats with a space at the end for our luggage.  The porch was big enough for a small table and chairs, a cooker and kitchen paraphernalia.  It was perfect for weekends away - our first trip was to The Golden Valley in Herefordshire and The Teacher was disappointed because it wasn't like Enid Blyton's Valley of Adventure!
For over three years that little tent served us well and we had little adventures in England and Wales.  Then we decided that we wanted to travel a bit further and stay for longer than a weekend but the vagaries of the British weather (ha ha, she said ironically) meant that we would need a tent with a larger living space, big enough to spend time in together in wet weather and with space to dry clothes out.  Off we went to a recommended camping shop which had a large range of tents erected outside; the saleswoman told us that the staff erected all the new tents at the beginning of the season but only stocked the ones they felt were good enough to sell.  We chose a tent with a large, hexagonal living space and three low bedrooms leading off alternate sides, a Wynnster Satellite 12 - in theory it could accommodate 12 people but in practice, that would only be 12 very small children!  Each bedroom slept two adults or three children comfortably, on airbeds, so our girls were able to bring their friends on our trips sometimes or, as they grew older, take the tent away without us for teenage group holidays.  On one memorable occasion, twelve of us ate a meal inside, sat around tables, and we reckoned we could have fitted in another four!  With more than twenty guy ropes and more than sixty pegs it took ages to pitch but it was rock steady in a storm - one morning, on the edge of Wales, we woke up and saw that we were the only tent on the campsite that was still intact, high winds having at least partially demolished every other one there.  That really was a great tent and it gave us fabulous holidays from North Yorkshire to West Wales to Cornwall as well as weekend trips closer to home, but perhaps our happiest memories are of the Best Beloved's fiftieth birthday when we held a family camp for thirty people.
After twelve years the tent was showing signs of wear and so were we - we were old enough to be fed up of lying on the floor to wriggle our trousers on and off and we wanted to be able to stand up in the bedroom!  Our girls were older, too, and had their own tents and we realised that our future camping holidays were most likely to involve just the two of us so we downsized to...a six-person tent!  In practice, the large bedroom, which was alleged to accommodate four adults, sleeps two of us very comfortably and the second bedroom would sleep another one if necessary but we use it as a dressing room, giving us more space in our bedroom.  The living space, in front of the bedrooms, has lovely big windows (I really LOVE to sit inside and look out when it's raining) and is large enough for our children to come and sit inside with us - it turns out that we do not yet holiday alone, the girls come and camp with us in their own tents!  It's not as robust as the last tent but on the basis that we're unlikely to be camping in a gale any more, I like this one very much indeed and it seems perfect.  I also like the colour, much preferring the brown and green to blue and grey.  Like a car, the colour of a tent is really important, right?!
This tent is only four years old (and has only been to Cornwall, Anglesey, Somerset and Shropshire) so I was shocked  when, two months ago, the Best Beloved announced that he intended to buy a new tent.  To be absolutely honest, I might have been a bit grumpy about it, I certainly wasn't enthusiastic, but he had seen what he wanted and there was no stopping him.  His stated reason was that he wanted a tent with inflatable beams so that I no longer have to crawl inside and hold up the intersection of poles over my head for as long as it takes for him to insert the ends into their holders.  I thought this was just an excuse for him to play with new technology. 
This week we went away for a night to try out the new tent.  It is very easy to erect: the Best Beloved pegged it in at the corners, I simply staked out two guy ropes and he pumped away and inflated the beams before completing pegging in and staking out.  It was quick... and it's humungous!!!!!   It is supposed to sleep six people but it's MUCH bigger than the last one and I reckon we could easily have a family sleepover for our Christmas Twenty-one.  I sat in the cavernous living space and didn't feel at all cosy.  I looked around for places to fasten fairy lights and bunting but I couldn't see any.  It's blue and grey.  I might still have been a bit grumpy.  However, as we sat outside watching the butterflies and dragonfly flit about and relaxed into our usual contented camping mode over dinner and a bottle of wine my lovely husband explained to me the real reason why he bought this tent: he is planning for the future, thinking ahead to a time when we'll be a bit too creaky to cope easily with a conventional tent and we might want camp beds rather than the airbed we currently use, hence the large size.  He is doing this because he really loves camping and wants to extend our camping years for as long as we can.  He is also thinking that in about three years time Tom Kitten can come with us, with or without his parents, so we can teach him to love camping, too, so we need a tent with enough space for him.  I really couldn't be grumpy any more.

The Teacher has retired her Lichfield tent after twenty years of faithful service and we are passing our lovely brown and green tent on to her.
See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x