"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, 25 June 2012

Following in the Footsteps of an "Edwardian Lady"- Part 4: Local Villages and Lanes

In the "Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady" written in 1906, Edith Holden writes of a long country walk she made on 25th June through Catherine de Barnes, Hampton-in-Arden, Bickenhill and Elmdon. She mentions the fragrant perfume of wild roses and honeysuckles from the hedgerows and wild grasses and clover from the meadows. She found other wildflowers on her walk - meadowsweet, self-heal, dogwood and great burnet.

Although I cannot be sure of the exact route she took as she may have travelled not only along country lanes but across fields, it was certainly a long walk of between 10 and 15 miles (16 - 24 kilometres) bearing in mind she would have walked from her home in Olton. One sunny afternoon last week I managed to "escape" and follow in her footsteps - although to be honest much of my journey was done by car interspersed with many short walks!

I certainly found foxgloves, dog roses and honeysuckle in abundance but no sign of meadowsweet, great burnet or self heal and, sadly, meadows full of wild grasses and flowers are now very few and far between!

I started my journey in a lane near Catherine de Barnes

where I found a field full of buttercups

and foxgloves growing in the hedgerow.

Foxgloves have a number of charming "country" names such as goblins' or witches' thimbles, snoxums, lady's gloves, ladies'fingers, fox fingers and elf gloves. Interestingly, a Doctor William Withering who discovered the medicinal value of digitalis (contained in the leaves of the plant) in treating heart disorders, lived in Warwickshire.

At the bottom of the lane I came upon Ravenshaw Ford. Edith Holden mentions crossing and following fords several times in her diaries so she may well have visited this one.

I stopped off at the village of Catherine de Barnes (the name derives from Ketelberne, a twelfth century Lord of the Manor), and today locals often call the village Catney. In 1907 (the year after the Country Diary was written) an isolation hospital was built in Henswood Lane in the village to house people with contagious diseases such as diptheria, typhoid fever and smallpox. The hospital opened in 1910 and in 1978 the unfortunate Janet Parker died there - the last known victim of small pox. In 1987 the hospital was fumigated and turned into a housing development.

I went a walk around the village which now contains many more houses than would have been there when Edith used to visit so I have concentrated on buildings that she would have seen as she walked through.

St Catherine's Church, now a Church Hall, built in 1879. The bunting would have been hung during recent Diamond Jubilee celebrations for the Queen.

The Boat Public House

I went a walk along the Grand Union Canal which bissects the village

There were more foxgloves growing on the banks of the canal

Other flowers in bloom included buttercup and speedwell, bramble and I think the yellow flower may be creeping cinquefoil.

I continued following Edith's footsteps to Hampton-in-Arden and found more wildflowers along a lane

Cow wheat?

There may not be fields of clover but I did find a few clumps of clover flowers on my travels

Hedge Woundwort


"Wreathing honeysuckles winding
with the westering sun
Self entwined and twig entangled
bush and briar o'er run, -
What a mass of yellow bloom!
Clustering heads of sweet perfume!
Finger-buds of rose unfurling
Clarion trumps their tips uncurling
Opening to the azure sky
Waxen throats of minstrelsy!"

"Honeysuckle" by E M Heath

Hampton in Arden is a much larger village today due to housing development than it would have been in Edith's time so again a few photos of buildings that would have been there when she visited.

The parish church of St Mary and St Bartholomew has a chancel dating back to 1130

Ox-eye daisies line the footpath

The White Lion dates back to the seventeenth century

I stopped off along a lane on the way to Bickenhill. Edith mentions having a picnic under a hedge near pink and white clover flowers with grasses nodding nearby where a pair of robins fluttered and sang nearby - possibly in a place like this

Sadly, there were few clover flowers and the road signs would not have been apparent in Edith's time! but it is nice to see a field with tiny newly planted trees

Further along the lane I found more wild roses in the hedgerow

and a few more clover flowers

A view across fields of oil seed rape - I don't believe this crop would have been grown in Edith's time

but it was nice to see a few poppy flowers

Finally, I arrived at Bickenhill an old Anglo Saxon settlement mentioned in the Domesday book.

The Parish church of St Peter dates from 1140 but there have been many alterations and additions over the centuries

Lichens growing on a church wall

An interesting looking footpath!

More fragrant delicate dog roses

Edith continued her journey to Elmdon Park but I had run out of time so I will feature the park in another post as its a place that Edith often rambled around.

"Why will your mind for ever go
To meads in sunny Greece?
Our song-birds have as fine a flow,
Our sheep as fair a fleece;
Among our hills the honey-bee,
And in the leaning pear -
I tell you there is Arcady
in leafy Warwickshire"

by Norman Gale

Sadly, two of the places mentioned above are going to be affected by large developments. Much of Bickenhill may disappear due the proposed runway extensions at nearby Birmingham Airport. The proposed HS2 rail route will pass very close to Hampton-in-Arden and its fifteenth century packhorse bridge over the River Blyth. According to Warwickshire Wildife Trust's website the biodiversity of Warwickshire is likely to be adversely affected by HS2. 90 statutory or non-statutory wildlife sites, such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest and Local Nature Reserves, in Warwickshire are going to be affected directly or indirectly by the proposed railroute. Of this 90 sites, 46 are located directly along the planned route and will suffer from habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation.

I wonder what Edith would have made it all - I suspect she would have been horrified!


The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden
Nature Notes by Edith Holden

Discovering the Folklore of Plants by Margaret Baker - a Shire Classic


kirstallcreatures said...

What a super post Caroline, a wonderful account of the sights encountered during your walk . Sad to read of the great number of proposed habitat losses due to the rail development. Linda

Ragged Robin said...

Kirstallcreatures - many thanks Linda - I'm so glad you enjoyed the post. The loss of wildlife sites re: HS2 is horrendous especially as there is already a quick railroute to London.

Rohrerbot said...

Another stunning event. I had an exhausting day and just can't keep up with anything anymore. The heat here is too much and I just started a little work for some extra cash....in other words, exhausted. But with that mentioned, I am now in my pj's reading this extremely well written and wonderful post about some more walks from her book. Each blogger has their "thing" and you do such a wonderful job connecting the literary world with the current. I very much look forward to these posts and I thank you for taking an in depth look at the now. I, too, am concerned with the fragmentation. Does transportation override the Wildlife Trust? That's very sad news. Such things should be preserved forever. I've done a post similiar to these which will be coming up....and it made me sad. But I have to admit that the views are wonderful! You take really nice scenic pictures. Thanks for another excellent post.

Toffeeapple said...

What a lovely post, so very refreshing. I do enjoy your rambles with a purpose. I found some Self Heal in my garden yesterday, it made me happy to see it.

Your poetry pieces are lovely too, thank you.

I am hoping that the rail thing will be seen to be too expensive and die a natural death. I don't understand the need to go faster all the time.

Ragged Robin said...

Rohrerbot - Many thanks Chris for such a lovely comment. I'm so glad you enjoy these posts.

Sadly, I think schemes like HS2 override anything - although I should say they have put mitigation plans in place in some areas to try and limit the effects.

Sorry to hear you are so hot and tired. Must admit if it was so hot over here - I would just sit somewhere with air conditioning and never move! Hope you feel better soon.

Toffeeapple - Many thanks too for yur lovely comment.

I agree so much with your last paragraph. I fail to see how they can justify the expense with the recession. David and I went to London by rail from Birmingham International last year and it only took one hour 10 minutes - surely that is fast enough!

ShySongbird said...

A lovely post Caroline with lots of lovely photos and observations. The wild roses look particularly beautiful this year I think. No doubt all the rain will have benefited them, it is raining again as I type this, it was not in the forecast :-(

I expect many of the oil seed rape fields would have been meadows full of wild flowers in Edith's day. The Foxgloves and Honeysuckle look beautiful as do those Ox-eye Daisies, they too seem to have done very well this year!

So sad to read of the plans for development, more valuable habitat lost, ninety sites affected!!! So very, very depressing...will we never learn...

Ragged Robin said...

ShySongbird - Many thanks Jan.

Wildflowers in general do seem to be doing well this year which is lovely. It was raining here again today too - and not forecast here either!

I agree wholeheartedly about your comment on the oilseed rape field - it may well have been one of her fields full of clover and wild grasses! I thought I was going to get into "trouble" when taking photos in that particular field as the farmer suddenly turned up in a massive tractor and I made a very rapid and undignified retreat :)

I meant to mention too that the ninety sites are just in Warwickshire and there will, of course be loads of sites in other counties badly affected. My son walked the approximate HS2 route in Solihull (for his job) chatting to various residents en route and found no-one in favour of the idea!

Omi said...

What an incredible walk! I think my favourite name for a Foxglove is Elf Gloves, hadn't heard that one before. :D

Ragged Robin said...

Omi - Its a particularly lovely area of Warwickshire I think even though its not that far from the West Midlands conurbation. Elf Gloves is rather great - I find Foxgloves rather magical - the sort of plant where you half expect to see a fairy pop out of one of the flowers :)

Cathy from Maryland said...

Caroline, I must tell you how much I'm enjoying reading your posts about the places Edith Holden lived. I've been doing monthly posts on her 1906 diary and trying to teach myself to draw and paint in her style. Once I discovered your posts I've been including a link to your posts for my readers to enjoy. Thank you for providing this wonderful resource to enrich my year of following The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady.

Ragged Robin said...

Cathy from Maryland - Thank you so very much for your lovely comment and for getting in touch - also for giving links to my blogs.

Your project sounds absolutely wonderful - I have computer problems at the moment (have borrowed son's laptop for a few minutes to reply) but when my computer is working again or replaced I will check out your blog.

I wish I could paint/draw - I did actually buy a book teaching you how to paint flowers with water colours as I so envy her illustrations but have never had time to try!! Thanks so much again - it makes blogging worthwhile when I receive a comment like yours :)