"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

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Following in the Footsteps of an "Edwardian Lady" - Part 3: Olton Mill Pool

Olton Mill Pool

In her "Nature Notes" written in 1905 Edith Holden writes that on 3rd April she saw 2sand martins flying over Olton Mill Pool catching flies, she also saw her first Willow Warbler of the year and found 2 blackbirds' nests - one built in brambles containing one egg and one built in a whin-bush with 3 eggs. On the 24th April she walked across Olton Golf Course to the Mill Pool where she saw a water-hen (this would probably have been a Coot or Moorhen) sitting on a nest built in the centre of a reedbed. Edith went on to mention that the nest was about 2 feet high and it looked like a small floating island.

As there are no public footpaths crossing the private Golf Club (and I don't play golf!!) it doesn't seem possible to walk across it today. Between the Golf Course and the Mill-Pool is a small wood called Mill Pool Spinney. A Scout Group now appear to use this area as its not possible to access the area around the pool or spinney as its marked private property.

The only place to view the pool is from the side of the road.

I didn't see any hirundines or Willow Warblers! but I did spot a few Blackbirds, Blue Tits and a Robin. No sign of any Coots or Moorhen although I imagine they could well still be found on this pool. There were, however, several Canada Geese and it looked as though one may have been sitting on a nest. I am not sure though how familiar Edith Holden would have been with this species. Canada Geese (a North American species) were introduced to St James Park, England initially in 1665 as an addition to the waterfowl collection of King Charles II. They were kept through the centuries in waterfowl collections but their numbers remained low until the 1950's when their numbers began to increase dramatically.

Mill Pool and the Spinney

This pool originally fed Olton Mill which was built during the sixteenth century. It is not clear when the mill was actually demolished but it is recorded as still standing in 1937 so would have been there when Edith used to visit the pool. Although the Golf Course and Spinney still remain today Mill Pool is surrounded by housing developments rather than the farmland that Edith would have recognised.

Later as I drove past the village of Catherine de Barnes (a place Edith Holden mentions visiting and walking through several times in her Nature Notes) I spotted this grassy bank full of cowslips.


I am not sure if these are truly wild cowslips or if they have been planted but it was still a lovely sight especially seeing a male Orange Tip butterfly dancing above the flowers - just magical.

"The cowslips tall her pensioners be;
In their gold coats spots you see;
Those be rubies, fairy favours,
In those freckles live their saviours.
I must go seek some dew-drops here,
And hang a pearl in every cowslip's ear."

From "Midsummer Night's Dream" by William Shakespeare


"The Nature Notes of an Edwardian Lady" by Edith Holden


kirstallcreatures said...

Looks like an interesting pool, made all the more interesting by the lack of access! Nice to see the cowslips, and especially with the sighting of the orange tip nearby.

Toffeeapple said...

Charming, I am enjoying your occasional series of this book. The Cowslips are lovely.

Ragged Robin said...

Kirstallcreatures - I think you're right the lack of access does add an air of mystery/interest! Pity I couldn't get a photo of the orange tip - wrong lens on camera and it was too far away.

Toffeeapple - Many thanks. Its lovely to know you are enjoying this series of posts.

Chris Rohrer said...

I really love these posts. Warblers are hard to spot so they may have been hiding;) I'd hate to believe that they cannot be found around the pond anymore. Was it a golf course back then? Or is it now a golf course? Terrible game.....and terribly boring to play:) I didn't know that about Canadian Geese but it makes sense.....like Mallard ducks, they've made themselves known across the world:) Thank you for taking the time to explore her book in real life. It's a lot of fun. When I see these posts, I put them off to the side so that I can sit down and absorb your walks. And it has to be absolutely quiet:) Have a good week!

Ragged Robin said...

Chris - Many thanks for such a lovely comment - I'm so glad you are enjoying them as I thought they might have a limited appeal to people who had read the books! But I've meaning to explore the area where she walked/cycled in more detail for years so it seemed a good subject to blog about :)

It was a golf course back then you can see it on the 1901/1902 Ordnance Survey Map and it still is. Perhaps they let people walk across it in those days! I played golf once (and once was enough!!!) when I was about 20 and had a boyfriend who played regularly. I was dreadful - you had to hit or is it drive?? the ball over a pool at the start of the course and I failed miserably!

Hopefully, there will still be warblers in the spinney behind the pool.

I have also researched some nearby woods that have been there for hundreds of years and luckily a few fragments remain! You can visit these so I will hopefully do a post on these in a few weeks as they were within a few miles of her home and possibly visited by her. I'll visit more places too as the year progresses and as she writes about them. Its turning out to be great fun :).

Have a good week too and look after those young owlets!

ShySongbird said...

A very interesting and enjoyable post. This certainly is proving to be a fascinating project, sad though to see built up areas which Edith would have known as farmland. Lovely to see all those Cowslips, another of my favourite Spring wildflowers.

Ragged Robin said...

ShySongbird - Many thanks. I am glad you are enjoying the project. I am coming to the conclusion that Spring wildflowers are my very favourite too!

Chris Rohrer said...

A golf course back in the early 1900's.....imagine what that would be like??!!! I can't! But even more interesting are the secret little woods in hiding. That sounds extremely enticing for exploration alone:) I think the best part is the detective work behind it all and comparing the past to the present....and that is what is so fascinating about the writing and pictures. You paint vivid pictures with your words.

As for the owls, tonight I have a post on them.

Ragged Robin said...

Chris - it would be so interesting to go back in time :) Her books contain the most exquisite charming drawings of the wildlife she saw but I don't like to take photos and put on blog - copyright issues??!!!

I am looking forward to visiting the "secret little woods in hiding" - what a brilliant expression! But as you say a lot of the fun is in the research - I completely drift off into a world of my own!

I look forward to your post on owls - just hope they are ok!