"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour."

From "Auguries of Innocence"

by William Blake

Monday, 23 May 2016

A Country Churchyard (and Latest Reading)

I persuaded D it would be a good idea if we stopped off at a local churchyard yesterday on our way home from the farm shop at Meriden. I was really hoping we might get a sighting of a Spotted Flycatcher as I've seen them here in the past. Highlight of the journey, apart from the glorious display of wild flowers in the hedgerows, was a weasel which ran across the road in front of the car carrying something in its mouth - presumably a prey item.

Berkswell is a very picturesque little village. Sadly, the museum housed in this 17th century cottage has been forced to close due to lack of support.

Just outside the churchyard is the very ancient St Bercul's Well which takes its name (as does the village) from a Saxon chieftain. Monks who brought the Christian faith from Lichfield baptised converts in this well. This ancient spring was once dedicated to a Saxon deity and the base of the churchyard preaching cross (or a round stone depending on which book you read!!) may once have held the statue of this pagan god.

Maud Watson - the first woman Lawn Tennis Champion at Wimbledon - was the daughter of a former Rector of Berkswell and once lived in this house. The House is no longer the rectory and is now privately owned and called The Well House. It has the most beautiful walled garden and (if I won the lottery) I could just see myself living here!

Maud is buried in the churchyard and one of these days I will remember to look for her grave.

St John the Baptist is one of the best examples of Norman and Early English Architecture in the Midlands and features in Simon Jenkins 1000 Best English Churches book.

The 12th century church was built on the site of an earlier Saxon church. It contains a superb crypt parts of which date back to the 8th century. The 2 storey gabled and timbered porch was added in the 16th century. The room over the porch is now used as a vestry but originally it was a village school room and pegs for the boys' coats and benches where they used to sit remain.

Sacred ancient wells, preaching crosses, (a possible mark stone which I failed to photograph), ancient church built on a pagan site - Alfred Watkins who wrote the Old Straight Track would be in raptures and immediately looking for leylines. Since reading the Watkins' book I've done a bit of research with OS Maps into local ley lines and several possible ones lead from the Berkswell church/well - one continues to a moat, then Maxstoke Priory and onto another moat giving the four minimum ley markers. Another possibility passes through Packington Ford, Coleshill church (Coleshill or Cole's Hill is mentioned in Watkins' book as Cole is one of the possible names for a ley man (or person who planned and laid out the leys)) then onto a moat at Curdworth. I've thought about doing a series of posts but to be honest whenever the family spot me with ruler, pencil and OS Maps there is a rolling of eyes and mutterings of "away with the fairies" again so have decided it might not be such a good idea!

To totally change the subject my camera lens is away for repair at the moment so I was using the Canon Bridge but at this stage D decided to commandeer his share of the camera so the rest of the photos are by him. He does take far more creative shots than me even if he does have a preference for shots taken at an angle!! In retrospect, I could have taken my Olympus with the macro lens and at least taken some flower photos. I found I was at a total loss without a camera and spent most of my time telling him to take a picture of this, that and the other.

The Preaching Cross - a medieval replacement of an earlier one (Please see above)

There are around 36 of these grotesque masks just below roof level - they are believed to have been a protection in the days of the early church from evil spirits. (These would probably have been of interest to Alfred Watkins too!)

We named this frightening stone "face" "The Scream"

A lovely sundial on the church tower

The churchyard here is a delight - another example of a "God's Acre" or "Living Churchyard" where wild flowers and wildlife flourish.

Wild flowers included Bluebells, Cow Parsley, Dandelions, Cuckoo Flower (Lady's Smock) and Speedwells.

Hawthorn is in full flower now - we saw lots in the hedgerows along the lanes too along with Red Campion and Greater Stitchwort and fields shimmering with Buttercups.

Mole hills!

Sadly, we didn't see any Spotted Flycatchers although I will hopefully return to search again. Birds seen included Jackdaws, Blackbirds, Pied Wagtail, Jay, Swallows, Blue and Great Tits. This is also a good site for Green Woodpeckers - plenty of places for them to "ant" but again failed to spot one today.


I've just finished the second Anne Cleeves "Shetlander" book and enjoyed it as much as the first. Am really looking forward to reading the rest of this series and then moving onto the Vera Stanhope books.

I first heard of the "Morville Hours" some years ago when I listened to extracts read aloud when it was "Book of the Week" on Radio 4 and thought then what a beautiful book it sounded. Finally, I pulled it out of my pile of "books to be read" and I wasn't disappointed. It is one of the loveliest books I've read. Its not just a book about the creation of a garden but includes snippets of gardening and religious history, geology, wildlife, books, poets, plants, Books of Hours, history of the Dower House and its past inhabitants, the author's family and childhood. It really is a magical and beautifully written book which I would heartily recommend if you haven't read it. Even better, I have discovered that Katherine Swift's garden isn't that far from here (just past Bridgenorth) and is open 2 days a week so I am really hoping I can persuade B (or D) to visit with me.

I've also re-read the fifth of the six books in Susan Howatch's Starbridge novels.

I've just finished "House of Shadows" by Nicola Cornick - a new author for me. It is the untold story of Elizabeth Stuart - The Winter Queen. The novel set around Ashdown House (now a NT property) and mill is one of those time-slip novels which are not that easy to read on a Kindle as its not so easy to flip back and check previous chapters. Nevertheless I really enjoyed it. Sorry I never got round to taking a photo of the cover.

Two recent arrivals in the post and both make very interesting and useful reading :)

My Wildlife Trust #30DaysWild pack has arrived :)

and a little treat to myself - I do love these butterfly pin badges and have built up quite a collection. Proceeds go to fund various butterfly conservation schemes.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

A Magical Woodland - Puzzlewood

We had a day out in Gloucestershire last Thursday and visited the very magical Puzzlewood, near Coleford, in the Forest of Dean. There are 14 acres of ancient woodland with meandering paths and hundreds of steps which pass through deep ravines and gorges, over wooden bridges and past incredible trees covered in mosses and ferns and superb rock formations.

If the wood seems familiar it has been used as a film location for several films and tv series including Merlin (unicorns, dragons, chases and Morganna's hideaway), Doctor Who (the Weeping Angels), Atlantis, Hidden Kingdoms (the nature programme) and the latest Star Wars film.

The geological features occurring in the wood are called Scowles - over millions of years the natural caves in the wood have been eroded and eventually exposed at the surface. Hence there are many dips and hollows as you walk through the wood.

Veins of exposed iron ore were mined by Iron Age settlers and the Romans. 3000 roman coins hidden in 3 earthenware jars were found in the 1800's by workmen.

Species of tree in the wood include oak, beech, ash lime and yew. The roots of yew seek out the iron ore veins.

It would be a great place to take children and there are many "treasures" to seek such as Dinosaur feet, a magic doorway, balancing beams, hidden benches, spooky trees a crocodile and a secret cave.

Wild garlic is just coming into flower - it will look fantastic in a few weeks and we found Bluebells, Wood Anemones, Wood Sorrel and Violets.

The wooden crocodile.

I could see a face in this tree - D couldn't!

We were a little disappointed in the photos - I do find woodland hard to photograph and, in addition, my camera has started to "play up". When I zoom out the lens towards 42mm to take close-ups the picture in the view finder looks very dim and under-exposed with a very low shutter speed and the more you try to re-focus the more under exposed it looks. I think it is the lens that is the problem rather than the camera body as I tried my macro and 70-300mm zoom lenses today and they would zoom out without any problem. The camera has been discontinued so I won't be able to buy a new lens so it will be a matter of either sending it back to Olympus for repair or buying a second hand lens. I'm not very happy that I shall be without the camera for a while but at least it might make me get to grips with the controls and settings on the Canon Bridge!

Talking of which here are a few of D's photos with the Canon.

There is an area with some farm animals and donkeys including this Gloucester Old Spot pig.

Birds seen included Blackbirds, Wrens, Treecreepers, Nuthatch and several very friendly Robins.

Opposite -leaved Saxifrage

Wood Sorrel

A cup of tea and a Star Wars cake before we left.