"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

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Following in the Footsteps of an "Edwardian Lady" - Part 6: Temple Balsall

On 21st July, 1906, Edith Holden wrote in "The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady" that she cycled to Baddesley and then walked to Temple Balsall (or Balsall Temple as she called it).

She described the area as a beautiful part of the country containing "low-lying meadows with sedgy streams meandering through them" with the banks being full of water flowers and rushes.

The power lines in the photo above would not have been there in Edith's day!

Edith searched for the wild Canterbury Bell which she had found growing by a stream some years previously and was pleased to rediscover the flower even though she managed to get badly stung by nettles in the process!

I looked for many of the flowers she mentioned seeing such as Purple Loosestrife (or Long Purples) as she called it, Meadow Cranes-bill, Water Forget-me-Not and Yellow Water Lilies. Sadly, I failed to find any of these plants just getting bitten by a horde of insects who had appeared in the heat and humidity. I am sure if I had been made of "sterner stuff" and searched more I would have found some of these species!

Although even Edith in 1906, having gone out of her way, failed to find one species that she was looking for - the Spreading Campanula which she had seen in this spot several years earlier.

Edith mentioned seeing large numbers of Meadow Brown Butterflies during her walk and a veritable horde of them by a bank of Henbit Nettle and Knapweed topped with flowering wild Privet. I did see a few butterflies - a sole Gatekeeper, Speckled Wood, Comma and several (but not hordes) of Meadow Browns.

I couldn't find the privet topped bank although, of course, it may no longer exist, but I did find a steep bank covered in wildflowers and grasses.

Scrambling over here I found a secret, little, sun-filled dell full of wildflowers,


Evening Primrose

Lady's Mantle - presumably a garden escape


Rose-bay Willow Herb

Part of the area Edith would no doubt have visited at Temple Balsall is now a 6.5 acre nature reserve managed by Warwickshire Wildlife Trust. The Cuttlebrook which bisects the reserve joins the River Blythe a little further east. I spent some time exploring this reserve.

The photo below shows an area full of the giant leaves of Butterbur

I eventually managed to find a Giant Bellflower (Campanula) - a flower painted by Edith following her visit.

Close to the Reserve is a 17 acre field bought by the Woodland Trust in 1999 and planted with trees to form a Millenium Wood. I am sure Edith would have approved wholeheartedly!

I wasn't lucky enough to see a Kingfisher as Edith did and nor could I find her dry marl-pit where she found a Great Mullein flowering. Its difficult knowing exactly where Edith walked whether by lane, or field or path but it does give me an excuse to return to this lovely area one day.

Temple Balsall itself is a charming village steeped in history with links to the Knights Templar, Katherine Parr (6th and final wife to Henry VIII), Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester (and a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I) and Lady Katherine Leveson. Its one of those places that time seems to have forgotten and I will do a further post on the village later.

Many thanks to Edith who inspired me to revisit this lovely area and also thanks to to Temple Balsall Nature Reserve Blog where you can see far better photos of the Giant Bellflower. Please see the link on the far right of the page or visit



The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden


Anonymous said...

I love it when you make a new post in this series. Whilst it would be marvellous to follow in her exact footsteps, it is unreasonable to expect development not to have occurred over the years. I shall go and look at the blog you recommend, thank you!

ShySongbird said...

Another thoroughly absorbing read and lovely photos Caroline. I do like Mallow, such a pretty flower I think. I used to grow then in the garden and sometimes they would self seed. I don't see Evening Primrose very often but they are always a pleasure to find. The Giant Bellflower is another welcome but, in my case, only ocassional find.

The Nature reserve looks an interesting place to explore. Sorry to read you were troubled by biters! They do seem to be out in force at the moment! I too bear the evidence :-( Still, think yourself lucky you don't have the vicious Blandford Fly there (I assume it hasn't reached you yet) I was bitten two years running by one and although you don't feel anything at the time, they are awful! Many people are hospitalised! Thankfully, it didn't come to that in my case but I spent two to three weeks in a lot of pain and being barely able to walk on the affected leg!!

A very enjoyable read and I shall look forward to more 'footstep' posts :-)

Ragged Robin said...

Toffeeapple - Many thanks so glad you enjoyed the post. Edith walked a lot round the Widney area in Solihull and, although there are some parks there, most of it is now housing development. So its hard to exactly visit some places she mentions expecting to find them the same as she did as you say.

ShySongbird - Many thanks Jan. Hope you are enjoying the Ina Taylor book :)

The Blandford Fly sounds awful :( - I don't think they have reached here yet - I hope not! Sorry to hear you are suffering from biters too! Not fun. I kept smothering mine in acriflex gel which seems to work better than some of the ointments meant for bites. The worst bite I have had was from a horsefly - not pleasant :( David and I once went on a moth trapping night in a wetland area and I couldn't understand why one of the ladies had a beekeepers type veil on - next day when we were covered in dozens of bites I realised!

The Quacks of Life said...

excellent series Caroline!

Rob said...

I've enjoyed your 'in the footsteps' series. I wonder how much of what you've found that Edith Holden saw will still be there in another 100 years - perhaps someone will follow in your own footsteps in the 2100s!

Ragged Robin said...

Pete - Many thanks! :)

Rob - Many thanks. To be honest I find the thought of what the area will be like in another 100 years too depressing to try and contemplate. I have visions of a huge housing development linking Birmingham, Solihull and Coventry with no green space at all :( I've got an os map from 1901/02 and when you compare it with today's os map the amount of development is unbelievably large in the Solihull/Knowle/Dorridge area.

Rohrerbot said...

Another treat to her journey. I totally understand your pains with the insects. On my hummingbird challenge, I was attacked by lots of gnats. Today I'm sporting(a week later!), many many bites. Glad you didn't go into further investigation or you might be suffering like I am now:)

It think it's great they've made a reserve out of this area. What a wonderful thing to do. All of us everywhere, eventually will have to draw boundaries to what is to be developed and what will not. I think if we managed our older sections of town and cities, we could save our countries from that suburb sprawl.

I've worked on wildflowers and moths this month. While I don't know much, I'm learning although it's a slow go:) Thanks for your great ID's, I was able to recognize several and say them without looking at the answers:) Hope you have a great day. All my best. Chris

Ragged Robin said...

Rohrerbot - Many thanks Chris! So sorry to hear about your gnat bites - not nice :( and I hope they get better soon.

I think you are so right about re-developing older parts of cities and so many buildings are empty. Something certainly needs to be done. I fear (controversially) that population growth is almost as great a threat as climate change.

So glad you id's are improving - my moth id skills need improving! and I have made more effort this year with wildflowers. There is so much to continue to learn about with the natural world but such great fun :)

So glad you have got your blog reinstated - what an awful experience. Have a great day too. I'm off (with son) to the Olympics tomorrow. Probably no pics though as they seem funny about cameras so I will leave mine at home :( Will be lost without it!

kirstallcreatures said...

What a lovely walk and a great post Caroline, glad you found that giant Bellflower! Linda

Ragged Robin said...

Kirstallcreatures - Many thanks Linda. Great relief to find the Giant Bellflower :) I did eventually see several other plants on the far bank of a stream but light was so poor the photos were even worse :(