Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Walk to Maiden Castle

Part II

From the entrance to the Bolesworth Estate, the road goes ever on and on...

and up.

Lesser Celandine hide in the grass and nettles in the verge, like sparkles on water.

My mum used to say that you can tell the moment when spring really starts. For weeks the dark brown bulbs of chestnut buds have been forming and growing. Then one morning, they leaves have all flopped down and it has begun.

Jews ear fungus. Edible, I discovered, and I think popular in the Far East where it is sold dried.

Sat on a stump at the top of the hill behind the Bolesworth Estate, looking back whence I had come. You can make out Tattenhall in the distance, but more important, the weather catching up to me. The hills in the far distance are Wales.

...and up and up...

The woodsy bits at the top of the hill are the crest of the Sandstone Ridge. A morraine of rock and rubble pushed up by the thousand foot-high ice sheets that once covered the Cheshire plain. (No photo of latter, sorry). The ice is responsible for much of the shape of the terrain here and for the type of things that can be grown. It picked up boulders and rocks from miles away in Cumbria and Scotland and left them desposited all over. Some of them are local landmarks and some, it is said, were the site of pre-Christian ritual sacrifices. The ice also carried with it lots of smaller bits of rubble that its great weight ground down to a very fine powder which was deposited all over the plain. This formed a clay that still prevents drainage, which is why the fields are often flooded and where the meres and pools come from.

Oak wasp galls.

Very unusual to find farm buildings of wood here. Almost all the farm outbuildings are solid brick or sandstone. The feeling it gives is one of great permanence and dignity, something I always found lacking in Canadian rural areas, other than Quebec. These people have lived here a very long time and clearly intend to remain another thousand years or so.

A case in point. This little barn was clearly expanded at least twice. You can see the places where the newer brickwork was added to the older building in two stages.

Being chased by the weather as I climb higher up above the plain. Gorse bushes always remind me of the Winnie the Pooh story where Bear tries to get to a honey bee nest with the help of a balloon lent to him by Christopher Robin. The plan failed when Bear found that, although he could see the bees and smell the honey, the necessity of holding onto the string meant that he could not reach it. The problem of how to get down became serious. Christopher Robin was, sadly, forced to shoot the balloon, which deposited the hapless Bear into a Gorse bush.

We have to go up there?!

Yes. But not before we get a pint.

Some of the farms on the way to Burwardsley.

Other walkers, complete with all the Walker Geek Gear, looked decidedly long-nosed at me in my sturdy tweed skirt and wellies. I let them get well ahead before I started talking to myself again.

It seemed like miles and miles. One of the things about walking everywhere is that it gives one a deep appreciation of the seriousness of the land. In a car, one just whips past it, careless and unheeding like Toad in his automobile. Walking forces one to take seriously the distances and matters like food and water, tired feet and hills to climb.

Burwardsley cottages.

Everyone was out digging the gardens.

Many cottages have brightly painted doors. Often this particular shade of blue or bright red. And don't you love the name?!

Daffs are everywhere.

I fell instantly in love with this cottage. The chap who lives there sold me ten bags of fire logs at 50p per bag less than I was paying. Delivered the next day.

The last stretch of the hill before gaining the top of the ridge. But not yet. Onwards, to the Pheasant!

The seething core of metropolitan Burwardsley. The shop was closed (Sunday), but it had a lot of useful and interesting notices and a nice bench to sit on for a rest.

This little cottage, just before the Pheasant, was once a Methodist chapel. So many of these are now converted into flats or cottages, one wonders if there are any Methodists left. The one in Tattenhall has been changed into very uncomfortable looking flats and it makes me sad when I remember that it was once host to the great John Wesley himself who preached in the village in the late 1700s.


The Pheasant at last. My mum's favourite pub in all Ynglonde.

The walker's reward. I ate my tongue sandwich, cheese and sausage rolls, but it was too cold and windy to stay on the patio. I moved inside where the pub was full.

The next stile is the entrance to the Sandstone ridge and the beginning of stage two.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Walk to Maiden Castle

Part I

I simply can't resist a stile. They are symbolic, somehow. When I climb over a stile, the modern world just goes away and stops bothering me for a while. Closest I've come to the door to Narnia. This stile is the closest one to the edge of the village on the east side, towards Beeston. At night, it is an eerie place to approach since the road is only lit about as far as this stile. After that, the light stops at what looks like a cave of blackness as the road winds away into the countryside. Actually, it is quite dangerous to walk on the lanes at night. They are only about 15 feet wide, less in some places, and there is no pavement (that's a "sidewalk" to Northamericaners). The verge is often only about two feet wide and sometimes less. And the corners are blind. There is only room for one car at a time and no place to jump when they come. You just listen very carefully, (easy because of the total silence) and press up against the hedge when a car comes.

Off in the distance, you can see the hills where I'm heading. That's the Sandstone Ridge. Historically, shelter for Celts, Cavaliers, gypsies and hermits, all seeking refuge from detection. If the door to Narnia is anywhere...

On the other side of the stile

the sheep fields (looking back toward the village,) stretch ahead. Despite the word "sheepishness", the sheep are actually quite protective of the lambs so it's a good idea to give them plenty of room. They certainly look at you very sternly and usher you on your way quite brusquely.

My kit-bag

with Beeston crag, ever looming, in the distance. The weather is pretty changeable this time of year. It was a very warm day, in general, but up on the ridge, I was very glad to have my wooly cardie.

The sacred earth. How long has this particular patch of ground been tilled, every spring (or every other, being left fallow in between)? I like that the farmers are so careful not to plough up the footpaths...there's probably a fine.

Sometimes you have to do a little creative interpretation of the right of way laws

it really makes one appreciate the great Wellington Boot

Every inch of this country is cultivated, cared-for and jealously watched-over. The English have turned their island into another Eden.

This little wood is at the end of the fourth field along from the lane. It surrounds a pair of still ponds, full of newts, frogs, ducks and coots. I go in there when I'm looking for kindling sticks and at Christmas for pine cones and holly, and I always wonder how long it has been there.

There's a funny thing about cows. I don't know why, but if they see someone walking across their field, they become very agitated. Even when they see people walking along the lane next the field, they will come crowding around, often clamouring over each other to get close. I don't know how to interpret this. Are they defending their territory? Or do they think it's feeding time? I don't know anything about cows and have no idea why, but they do go all wiggy when they see someone crossing a foot path. It's why it's a good idea to take along a pair of binos. When you come to a stile, it's good idea to check to see if there are cows at the other end who aren't held in with a line of fencing. And if there are, to find another route.

At the end of five fields from Tattenhall, towards Bolesworth Castle, we come over an other stile to Dark Lane.

go down that lane for quite a while, and you will come to the road up to Burwardsley, and a place called Cheshire fishing where people go to practice with their rods. It doesn't seem like real fishing to me. More like kids playing at fishing in a pond that has been deliberately stocked for the purpose. But that's probably just the Canadian in me. There isn't any wilderness here, and hasn't been for a very long time.

The other direction, you can see, is the road to Bolesworth. This is the back gate to the estate. When I came here, this cottage was empty and I had a poke around the back. It's lovely, and the garden is well-kept. That's Bolesworth. They have a very good reputation here as excellent landlords.

more to come...

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Big Stomp today

Going to walk to Maiden Castle, near Bickerton today. Taking camera. The Iron Age hillfort is the blue dots at the very bottom of the map below Fuller's Moor.

Gotta get going.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Lady Ridley's Nettle Soup


1 lb potatoes
½ lb young nettles
2 oz butter
1½ pts chicken or vegetable stock
sea salt & black pepper
4 tablespoons sour cream


Cook the peeled, chopped potatoes for 10 mins in salted water. Drain.

Wash & chop coarsely the nettles (Only pick the new, young tops,using gloves!)

Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the nettles and stew gently for a few minutes. Add the potatoes and heated stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes or until tender.

When all is soft, cool slightly & purée in a blender, adding seasoning and the sour cream.

I hope you enjoy the nettle soup. The hardest work is picking the nettles. Half a pound is a lot of small leaves, but it is fun to do, in season, once a year.
The Viscountess Ridley

More Nettles

There's a website for everythynge

National Be Nice to Nettles Week

Not the Apocalypse

just spring.

Weird weather today. Windy and chilly; one minute brilliant sunny, the next second slate grey sky; the next hail; then a snow flurry...


It's quite chilly; colder than it was in February's weird warm patch, and the wind is very blustery, pushing even the big high cumulous clouds fast across the sky.

Normally (or I should say, "so far") our weather comes from west to east, with the wind off the Irish sea pushing the clouds down from the Welsh hills five miles away. But I've noted that it seems to be reversing itself as the spring gets going.

I went out for a long long stomp yesterday up as far as the sandstone ridge of which the most prominent part is Beeston Crag. Cheshire, despite its idyllic rural atmosphere, is a little...well...flat, for me, raised as I was in the mountains.

The little cottages and crofts up there in the hilly bits are lovely, nestling between the streams and rocks and the lanes even windier than usual.
But the wind that one hardly notices down here on the flat bits really screams up there and one is grateful for the lee of the hills. Was very grateful for the Norfolk tweed shooting jacket Uncle Mike gave me. It's a bit like wearing a space suit, completely water and wind proof and very snug. What one wants when spending four hours out there Looking At Things.

Made friends with a very nice horse. He stood quite still nibbling the buttons on my jacket while I petted his head. Next time, I'm going to take my camera and a couple of carrots.

I saw so many little woodland creatures yesterday that I realized if I'd had an airgun, the freezer could have been filled with rabbits, pheasants (yes I know it's illegal) and wood pigeons. Every time I saw the cute little hippity-hoppities, I thought the same thing...if only I had a gun.

Found what can only be a badger sett too. The holes were much larger than the bunny holes under the hedges and it was obviously a fairly extensive system in a little hill in a woody bit. I thought of buying a webcam and setting it in a tree to see what we could see.

I was going to venture out again today to see if I could gain the Sandstone Trail and make some headway on it, but for some reason the Spirit of Frobisher is not with me today. I think I'm going to jar the syrup, put the fire on and see if I can make a bit of Scotch broth, without burning the house down.


Stinging nettle has a wide range of uses and is a very versatile medicinal herb.

Since biblical times, it has been used to help with arthritis. The practice called urtication (from its botanical name) involved stinging stiff swollen joints affected by arthritis. Urtication often provided considerable relief with reports of arthritic swelling subsiding within minutes after stinging!

In more recent years, nettle has been increasingly used for treating bronchitis, asthma and hay fever. Research shows that it may effectively treat allergic nasal symptoms and has been used for centuries around the world to treat nasal and respiratory troubles: coughs, runny nose, chest congestion, asthma, whooping cough (pertussis) and even tuberculosis and laryngitis Scientific studies have proven that nettle is an anti-histamine. The leaf extract may also be used to help treat and heal hives.

Nettle is also a traditional liver tonic often recommended for ridding the body of all kinds of toxins. When the liver is sluggish, it processes oestrogen slowly, contributing to the high levels that may cause or aggravate premenstrual syndrome. This herb can also reduce bloating and breast tenderness.

Nettle is recommended for the prevention and treatment of kidney stones and as it's a diuretic it can help with bladder infections. Nettle is a silicon-rich herb which has strong folkloric support as a treatment for gout and rheumatism. Experimental animal studies found nettle increases uric acid secretion and lowers blood levels of uric acid making it useful for the treatment of gout. It has long been used to treat inflammatory conditions that affect the joints and therefore may help in treating bursitis and tendinitis as well.

Nettle contains considerable amounts of the mineral boron, which can double levels of the hormone oestrogen circulating in the body. In several studies, oestrogen helped improve short-term memory and helped elevate the moods of some people with Alzheimer's disease. In addition to the magnesium in nettle greens, studies show that nettle also has anti-bacterial activity. It can be added to toothpastes and mouthwashes to reduce plaque and gingivitis.

Nettle may also be used to treat prostate enlargement. Extracts have successfully treated benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH). Researchers gave a few teaspoons of extrxct daily to 67 men over 60 with BPH and found the herb significantly reduced their need to get up at night and urinate. The herb apparently has some inhibitory effect on the conversion of testosterone.

Finally, tincture of nettle leaf can also prevent balding in those with thinning hair.

100ml 1:4 Alcohol Volume 25%. Take 10 - 15 drops 2 x daily.

Friday, March 21, 2008


Well, as we have read elsewhere, the jelly was a bust, but not to be deterred, I've tried nettles.

Went collecting today with the Norfolk jacked Uncle Mike gave me (that thing could probably stand up on its own and very likely deflect bullets. At least, it certainly was entirely proof against the very cold wind today).

Just for starters, I collected a shopping bag's worth and carted them home. Washed in cold water with rubber gloves on and sauteed in a hot pan with olive oil and a crushed garlic clove. And they were GREAT. Very much in the spinach line, but with a nice subtle mushroomy flavour and a much nicer texture, given by the little hairs that normally deliver the sting.


(I have to admit though, that before getting outside them, I did give them a little poke with my ungloved fingertip. I'm not crazy, after all.)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Cottage Life

So, I found out that the way you get a name for your house is just to decide on one, buy a sign and stick it on your front door. Or more usually, stick it on the front wall of your house next to the door.

Most of the houses around here have names, which is a Big Thing in rural England. What I like is that the Royal Mail will take the name of your house as the official address, so that when you give your address, you can call it "Hawthorne Cottage, Huxley Lane, Cheshire, England, CH9 9QE" and letters will come to you as that.

So, I've decided to get right into it and name the cottage. I'm leaning towards "Rosehip Cottage" since rosehips have become something of a defining lifestyle choice for me. But I think it might just be a leeetle too twee.

Suggestions are welcome, therefore, since those who know me will remember that I am the world's very WORST name-thinker-upper. I have had the same teddy bear for 22 years and in all that time, other people have named him all sorts of things, (including, oddly, "Manta-Bear"...don't ask) but between the two of us, he has remained "Mr. Bear". All my dollies were "Dolly". I got really creative one time and had a dolly named "Polly".

I went today for a very long stomp up past Bolesworth Castle and along some footpaths that had been flooded out in the "winter". I saw that the time for collecting nettles is upon us, with the sprouts everywhere and looking very healthy and green. I'm looking at recipes online for nettle wine, nettle beer, tincture of nettle (good for all sorts of things that ail you) and nettle shampoo that is guaranteed to keep your hair from falling out or thinning and is very good for it.

Nettles are also very good to eat and extremely healthy. But of course, the best reason to eat nettles is revenge. The same reason I used to enjoy eating shark a lot in Nova Scotia, ("Oh yeah? Think you're so tough? Well, who's got the thumbs now Mr. Toothy, eh? EH?!")

Some more excellent news is that, while the relations have moved from the house next door ("Medway House") to a place that was once the Tattenhall train station ("Station House" Get it?) and I feel a little lonely without the kids screeching and giggling next door, the new house has an enormous garden, including a formal herb garden. Uncle Mike and I inspected it as we were all helping the tribe move yesterday, and we decided to appropriate the garden for ourselves. With five very rambunctious kids to chase after and two full time jobs, there won't be a lot of time for yard work, so I get my wish of having a bit of Cheshire to dig in without having to wait 30 years on the list for a Council allotment, and the cousins get a gardener they don't have to pay.

There is tons of work to keep the diggers happy; it has been sorely neglected for many years. Mike and I happily pottered about inspecting hedges and shrubberies, lawns and garden sheds. The house is semi-furnished and comes with a full complement of gardening tools. There was a pond in the front lawn that has been filled in with rubbish of various kinds. We decided that it will make an excellent raised bed for veg, and the front gets sun all day (as much as there is in Cheshire), so there can be cold frames as well. Possibly one day even a hothouse for tomahhtoes.

Oooo! Digging! Rapture!

Went for a short stomp on Friday morning and took the camera, as well as the collecting bag for bits of oak tree.

my sitting room in the morning light.

St. Alban's churchyard daffs

I like it when the willows get that yellowy-green haze...sprouting.

Daffs grow in great carpets and clusters everywhere, wild, lining all the lanes, in the fields and woods...(note the young nettles)

I'm not sure what this little yellow flower is, but it grows very abundantly by the sides of all the streams. For some reason I think it is a mallow, but I'll have to look it up.

crab apples flowering in the hedgerows. Next year's jam crop.

a pal of mine with Beeston crag in the background.

This lane, between two fields, is my favourite. It is lined and arched over with oaks, chestnuts, roses and crab apples. It has been lovely in every season I've been here, and is the best place for rosehips. Its hawthorned hedges have started sprouting.

as you can see.

towards the village end of the lane, on one side is a rather posh house with very beautifully kept grounds.

apple blossoms.

the flowering plum across from the Village Indian and green grocer's at the end of Church Bank.

an host of golden daffies

the flowers came from Auntie Gill and Uncle Mike for my birthday.

Anyone looking at this would think I live in a decorating magazine.

I had a bucket of boiled crab apples and rosehips in the freezer all winter, waiting on the day when I was down to the very last scrapings of the last jar. Today's the day. The rig was something Uncle Mike came up with in the fall for the first batch of rosehip syrup. It works a treat.