Monday Meditation: St Luke’s Village Church, Hodnet

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St Luke’s Church is next door to the beautiful Hodnet Hall Gardens, sitting just beside the entrance. This small, intimate church was open for visitors when we were at the gardens in the summer and is well worth a look if you like historic buildings and richly-coloured stained glass windows.

This Grade 1 listed building is Norman in origin and listed in the Doomesday Book. Much of the original Norman nave still exists. It has the only octagonal tower in Shropshire, with octagonal wooden clocks on each side. I had never seen a tower like it. I warmed to this unusual church instantly before venturing inside the porch, its open door inviting us in.

The stained glass windows were beautiful. One is in memory of Mary Heber, an ancestor of the current family in residence, and the other tells the story of The Holy Grail.  It was really difficult to find the right angle to do justice to the vivid colours and images, the sun was streaming through windows and washing out some of the colour. We were the only ones there and took our time, not feeling in anyway rushed by person or event.

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The aisles and chapels are tiled in various colours and intricate patterns. They are in wonderful condition. I spent a lot of time just sitting, contemplating, taking everything in, all the magnificent beauty and craftmanship.

 

 

IMG_3995The families who have owned the Hall have been – and still are – long-time patrons of this church, supporting its upkeep. Many of them are buried there or memorialised within the church. There are some very elaborate marble memorials on the walls and in the family chapel. Unfortunately, my camera battery died and I didn’t realise it had given up on the marble sarcophagus in the family chapel.

I’ve never seen pews like these before, they were all across the front of the congregation, no doubt there for the great and the good! I found them incredibly uncomfortable, forcing me to sit up rather than lean into them.

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I don’t know exactly what it was about this church, but it had a very welcoming feel to it. It’s quite small which makes it more intimate, less intimidating, for all its imposing stone and sense of history. There was a sense of continuity through the family names that you get in small villages, and lots of notices addressed to visitors and parishioners inviting them to look around, providing information and histories, a visitors’ book, but also framed photographs of the current incumbents and articles about local people and activities.

A lovely touch was the invitation to request a prayer for, or thoughts be sent to, someone who needed it, whatever the circumstances, no names necessary, and there were candles and matches if you also wanted to light one on their behalf. No charge. I requested a mention for our dear friend, Terry at Spearfruit.

(Please Note: I wrote this post some time before Terry passed away and I hope it doesn’t cause distress to anyone close to him. He was very much on my mind at the time of our visit).

One project I particularly warmed to was some research conducted by the local Scouts group into the names on the War Memorial in the church yard. This research was left out for all to see and filled in the details behind the names, turning them into real people not just ciphers. The project was at the back of the church for anyone to leaf through, with an invitation to contact the authors if any information is incorrect or if the reader had more up to date details to include.

There was a small piano alongside the ancient organ, and really old prayer books, Bibles, registers in full view, not locked away or removed for fear of vandalism, as in many churches these days. This added to the welcoming atmosphere of this beautiful church.

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I was reluctant to leave, but we had been out all afternoon and now it was approaching evening and the gardens where we had parked the car would soon be closing. If you click on the link in my first paragraph, you can read about this magnificent estate, one of the most stunning and unspoiled places I’ve visited.

A final look up towards the church from the entrance to the Hall:

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Copyright: Chris McGowan

 

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Monday Meditation: Lilleshall Nature Trail Part II – By Day

I know that many of you are recovering from Thanksgiving, are in the final week of preparations for other family get-togethers at this time, or coping with the after-effects of winter weather or fires, but I hope you will accompany me on this week’s walk in the sunshine, take a few deep breaths, admire the landscape and recharge your batteries for a few moments.

I wrote in a previous post about our spooky night-time discovery of the new nature trail around the estate that is home to our National Sports Centre. We first saw it – barely! – in the gloom of the early evening and as I  promised, this post highlights the trail on a beautifully sunny autumn day 4 weeks later.  

The day was perfect for a walk: crisp and bright, the colours and the light perfect for photographs. It didn’t take long for us to realise that we had previously only experienced about a quarter of the trail, having missed the signs to other parts due to the darkness that had quickly descended.

The ducks look like they hadn’t moved since our last visit!

29936896_UnknownWe visited after lunch and despite the long shadows and bare branches in places, the sun is so full of himself, some of the photos look like they were taken in summer.

29936080_UnknownThe afternoon shadows of the trees stretch across the lush green lawns, but the sun illuminates the bright green trail sign at the entrance.

These next photos are some of my favourites, featuring more grand trees, with the sunlight showing off some glorious reds and oranges against a wide expanse of blue sky. There are several places on the trail where you can’t see around a dark corner and then you are treated to a wonderful view of the estate in the sunlight, or the path ahead is a stunning carpet of red leaves with that lovely autumn scrunch as you step across, or a patch of squelchy soft mud that kids like to stomp about in.

 

 

29936496_UnknownAs well as snaking through all the breathtaking grounds by follies and flowers, the trail takes you through dark woodland with lots of nesting boxes for all kinds of birds, bees and bugs, a bug hotel, and boggy areas for amphibians, all well-signed with lots of bright easy-to-see pointers and information boards.

This is the entrance inviting you in to explore the trail, you have no idea where it will take you – the last time we venture in, we disappeared into the dead of night!

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Here’s the ingenious bug hotel made from all sorts of natural materials and recycled items.

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These next exhibits made us stop in our tracks! Not real unfortunately, although there are several places around the grounds where you can see evidence of their presence.

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This one, however, is very real:

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Fortunately, we have very mild-mannered snakes here – my niece in Colorado recently posted a picture on Instagram of my recently-emigrated brother and sister-in-law on a hike with her 4 year old son, they were standing in front of a sign advising Caution: Rattlesnake area!

(I have never seen a snake in the wild, despite living in the countryside for most of my life and having walking holidays in Scotland). 

The trail would be fun with children, but anyone who is able-bodied would enjoy it. It is a great idea and well set-out.  There are tree trunks and fallen tree limbs to scramble over, wide spaces of grass to race about on, while above you stretches the wide open blue sky or the arching branches of majestic trees.

Sometimes you think you’ve come to the end and then you notice another sign on the opposite side of a wide area of lawn or pointing down a narrow track into another part of the woods. But you can exit at any point.

I loved every minute of our revisit to the nature trail, although my husband was disappointed we couldn’t find the way to the café – it was the only part that wasn’t well-signed!

I left one of my stones on a tree trunk near the bug house for a child to find on a future visit.

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I hope you enjoyed our  walk in the woods for this week’s Monday Meditation.

You might also like:

Laughter Really Is The Best Medicine – Paint a Rock & Give a Smile to Someone Who Needs It!

Monday Meditation: Mindfulness and Rock Painting

Monday Meditation : Gratitude & Faith in Nature

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Monday Meditation: Lilleshall Nature Trail Part 1 – By Night

29669888_UnknownOne afternoon/early evening, late September, we’d both been cooped up all day for various reasons and as it was going to be a fine evening, we decided to take a walk around our favourite estate, Lilleshall National Sports Centre. We were on the cusp of autumn, the leaves were changing and the days were growing shorter, but we decided we’d have plenty of time before the light disappeared and it would be lovely to stroll among the trees at dusk for a change.

When we arrived, the sun was in quite a hurry to reach the horizon, everyone but us seemed to have taken the hint because there was no-one else in sight. I took a few photos, but by the last one below, the light was really fading and I had to use the flash. I thought we were soon going to have to make our own way home.

The ducks were enjoying the fine evening on the lily ponds:

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However, just as we were about to turn around, in the distance and off to the side, a large colourful sign caught my eye and I strode off to investigate. It announced the development of a new nature trail:

29670064_UnknownThis was too good to miss! It looked really dark and spooky in there but I couldn’t resist, I was sure we could make it through in what light was left. I wished we had our grandchildren with us, it would have been even more fun. With hindsight, we probably would have lost them and there was no gingerbread house for them to shelter in!

This was what greeted us as we stepped into the woodland:

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My husband was very reluctant but I left him no option as I marched off into the gloom. It was a bit foolish really, neither of us had torches and we didn’t realise until we did the trail a few weeks later in daylight how many obstacles I could have tripped over and really done some damage: large tree roots and fallen limbs, tree trunks, low narrow wire fencing to prevent people straying off the trail, just at knee height! But I love exploring and off I went.

29670112_UnknownWe came across lots of wooden boxes on trees for bugs, bees, birds and so on and illustrated signs with fun pictures and information about creatures and habitats. This is a bug hotel made from bricks, cardboard, plant pots, straw, pine cones, ferns and pebbles. I used a flash but you can see how dark it was:

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I felt a bit guilty as we realised we were disturbing the birds who were settling down for the night and who knows what other creatures felt invaded by our stumbling feet and stage whispers?

I’ll post some better photos of the whole trail taken in daylight next time, these don’t really do it justice.

By the time we came out, the light had completely disappeared. We discovered on our next daylight visit that we had only experienced about a third of the trail as there are exits and continuing paths all over the estate. Finally, on the way back to the car, this little chap was almost squished under my husband’s size 9s, it was so black out he only saw it at the last moment because a car’s headlights shone over it:

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He was in no hurry to move off the road, sitting frozen while I took several photos before he finally hopped off. He was the only wildlife we saw on our first visit to the nature trail!

We had set off in bright evening sun and arrived home in the dead of night an hour and a half later. I never take Lilleshall for granted, every visit shows up new sights and our evening walk didn’t disappoint. It is a little-known oasis of calm and beauty that we are very fortunate to have free access to at any time of day – or evening!

See Part 2 for more photos taken 4 weeks later on a beautiful autumn day.

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Monday Meditation: The Edwardian Gardens of Victoria Park, Stafford – & Lots of Ducks!

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A few weeks ago, we had occasion to take refuge in The Edwardian Gardens of Victoria Park in the centre of Stafford, a vast award-winning site of colourful flower gardens that also includes a bowling green, a glass house, an aviary, sculptures, the official town war memorial and a couple of listed buildings.

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29933792_UnknownThis park has everything for everyone. Previously, we’ve only been there with the children on a hot summer’s day. There is a separate huge play area for children of all ages, including a splash pad which our young grandchildren loved: spouts of water shooting up from the ground at different times and heights, great fun, and a concrete skate bowl. These are at the far end from the more peaceful flower gardens, however, and there is no need to fight your way through over-excited children and buggies to enjoy the flowers, the birds and the waterfowl – oh, I forgot to mention there’s also the River Sow running through it! You can picnic by the river and take shade under the weeping willows.

This time, however, we were there for a little respite on a chilly early autumn afternoon after spending a couple of hours in the bank registering Power of Attorney for my mum’s accounts. This was our second trip as the first time I didn’t have the right documents – have you tried proving your identity these days without a passport or driving licence? It was draining and time-consuming, and I was feeling the stress and anxiety of having to acknowledge that Mum was struggling and I was now responsible for taking care of her and her finances.

When we came out, I suggested we have a look at the gardens, I wanted some air and time to destress, but I also wanted to see if they were accessible for Mum. I find that everywhere we go now, I am assessing the access and whether it is somehwere Mum would like to go. This was definitely her cup of tea. Sadly, despite obvious attempts to make it so with entrance ramps, they were much too steep for an elderly woman who can only shuffle with a walker. My husband thought we could hire a wheelchair but I burst out laughing and said they would both end up in the river!

These sculptures are of the cricketer, W.G. Grace, and the 17th century writer, Isaak Walton, most famous for ‘The Compleat Angler’ but also author of several short biographies.

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 Even at this late time of the year, there were plenty of brightly coloured borders to walk by or sit alongside – there are lots of benches all over the park. It is much more structured than other parks or woodland areas I’ve written about (and usually prefer), but it was lovely to reacquaint myself with this vast area of parkland, trees and flowers, and of course the ducks! I couldn’t believe how many there were, far more than I could fit into the photos. In one of the photos it looks like they’re either queuing up for a boat ride or about to dive in for a race!

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We couldn’t spend long there as the light was going amd it was threatening rain, but we strolled about and stood and watched the ducks and birds. It was long enough to let go of the stifling couple of hours sitting on an uncomfortable chair in a tiny cubicle in the bank. The young woman who dealt with us couldn’t have been more helpful or understanding and patient, but it takes as long as it takes and I was grateful for this short respite. Our forefathers had incredible foresight in designing and constructing public recreation areas like this one, in the middle of the town. For me, they are a lifesaver. Being among trees and wildlife is rejuvenating, it allows me to let go, to breathe in the clean energising air and to look beyond what is currently taking up my thoughts and time: my mum is adjusting to the idea of moving to be near us, but there is a lot to do and she needs constant reassurance that it’s the right thing for her now.

When we arrived home, my brother and sister-in-law, newly ensconced in the US, Facetimed us before we had chance to remove our jackets and, now relaxed, I was able to give them a positive rundown of the afternoon’s proceedings and give them a laugh about the wheelchair.

Look at these beautiful birds. We are so fortunate to have access to wide open spaces of natural beauty and the wildlife therein.

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Copyright: Chris McGowan

Monday Meditation: We Finally Discover Shifnal Millenium Sensory Garden

When I wrote this post, I didn’t realise that it would be Invisible Disabilities Week when it was published; as someone who has spent her entire adulthood with an invisible disability, I am pleased to highlight a community sensory garden we discovered on one of our many meandering drives this summer.

29398928_UnknownSome time ago, I wrote about unplanned detours while travelling through our local Bermuda triangle (see below for links). On our first detour, I had noticed some public gardens. I thought we could take my elderly mother and I wanted to check it out to see if it was easily accessible, as I hadn’t been able to see an entrance. I didn’t know the name so hadn’t attempted to look it up. I knew it was near the railway bridge and a little terrace of cottages, how hard could it be? No matter how many times we tried to retrace our steps on the way to other nearby destinations, we could not find it.

This time, however, we made a special trip to find it once and for all. Having Googled ‘public gardens, Shifnal’, I came up with Shifnal Millenium Sensory Garden. We looked at the map, noted the street and off we went. I wasn’t at all sure this was it, but thought it was worth checking out anyway.

 True to form, despite having directions, we went around in circles several times before spotting it. We had been looking for gates and a car park, but there aren’t either. You have to park on the street, which is not ideal when the gardens are structured for people with mobility issues, sight or hearing impairment. It’s a busy road and there are few spaces, with no drop down pavement. However, it was a weekday when we visited, and therefore quiet, so we had no problem parking.

29399792_UnknownThe gardens are a community initiative, locally funded and run, quite small but having the appearance of being much bigger as they merge seamlessly into the vast grounds surrounding St Andrew’s church, which comprises lawns, the cemetery and woodland. In fact, the church had provided some land for these award-winning  gardens.

The old church surrounded by tall trees makes a stunning backdrop when you first enter the gardens:

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Inside the entrance, there is a sensory map:

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It was late summer when we visited and a warm but cloudy day, so the gardens are not really shown to their best advantage in the photos. There were mainly large, showy, bright yellow, pink and red begonias in raised beds and hydrangeas in shrubby areas, other wilder and darker wooded glens, tall grasses and ferns. The geraniums had finished flowering, unfortunately. The pathways were either grassed, pressed pea gravel, or block paving, easily accessible for wheelchairs or people with walkers or sticks. Occasionally you come across a sculpture.

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There is a peaceful air about the grounds; there are benches where you can sit and listen to birdsong or watch well-fed, healthy-looking squirrels migrating from the churchyard, digging up acorn stashes or chasing each other around trees.

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The church grounds are vast, with silver birch trees, oak and yew, Scots pine, hollies and conifers. Some of the older areas of the cemetery are overgrown and unkempt, a haven for wildlife, while other parts of the grounds are immaculate and surround a beautiful Anglo-Saxon church, which unfortunately was locked when we were there so we couldn’t take a look inside.

We intend to return next summer to take a proper look inside this ancient village church, but for now here are photos of the exterior:

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We spent a long time here, until late in the afternoon, each with our own thoughts, meandering about the old graves, around the church, under the trees or just sitting watching the squirrels. We could hear a lot of birds, the trees were so tall though that we couldn’t see most of them, but it was lovely to sit with eyes closed listening to such a melodious soundtrack in this woodland oasis just yards away from a busy road.

Monday Meditation: Stunning Stained Glass in a World-Reknowned Medieval Shrewsbury Church

Monday Meditation – A Stroll Around Hodnet Hall Gardens

An Impromptu Mother’s Day Adventure or How We Survived the Vortex that is Our Local Bermuda Triangle …

Ducks, Daves and Detours

 Copyright:  Chris McGowan

Monday Meditation – A Stroll Around Hodnet Hall Gardens

On the recommendation of 29400512_Unknowna new friend, we recently visited the beautiful gardens at Hodnet Hall, a sprawling, centuries-old estate in Shropshire. It has so many trails, gardens, lakes, magnificent trees, waterfalls – there is always something else to discover around the corner.

It is such a tranquil place, we went on a fine though at times overcast August Sunday and often felt like we were the only people there. It is not a flashy place at all, no amusements, almost no signage (you are handed a map of the trails on arrival), no ice cream vans, no litter, no overhyped overtired children, no gift shop. Instead, young children were happily roaming about, enjoying the freedom and fresh air, often accompanied by grandparents, sometimes extended families; there were young couples, elderly couples and those who were obviously regular visitors to historic houses and/or serious walkers. But as you can see in the photos, we were barely aware of anyone else, such is the design of the estate.

The grounds are structured so that there are many separate parts to the whole, where you can sit or walk through areas of parkland or woodland, waterways or flower gardens and barely hear a sound but for the birds, ducks or swans and the gentle lapping of water. There are wooded glens, wooden bridges and walkways over the water – one looked decidedly like the hangout of the local troll!

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There is a sixteenth century timbered building that has become the tearooms but used to be the stable block of the original mansion. Its interior is not for the faint-hearted i.e. me! The walls are covered in the heads of African game, including a huge water buffalo, and there is even a fully stuffed lion and tiger, just standing there to left and right of the entrance! No vegan food here!

But back to the start:

The small pay booth by the entrance gates is manned by a lovely elderly gentleman called Tony, who is so welcoming and knowledgeable, and always happy to chat.

The driveway into the gardens is flanked by beautiful multihued hydrangeas, they grow throughout the grounds in indivdual gardens and along the paths: blue, purple, all shades of pink, white, so many I could have spent all visit just photographing hydrangeas and little else!

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The current house is Victorian and was built when the family decided to move across the grounds to a higher, less damp position, but it was renovated in the 1960s. These steps lead down to one of the lakes:

The middle photo is of the other side of the house to where the main drive leads. Unfortunately the house is roped off, only the gardens are open to the public.

The bottom picture is the stone garden, a separate circular and sheltered spot where you can sit and just listen to birdsong.

The lakes are stunning. There are 5 of them, in varying sizes and settings. Some are quite wild and dark, set in almost rainforest-like conditions, one has pike, one has waterfalls, some more restful with swans and lily pads.

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There are some interesting structures and sculptures too. 

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The structure top left is the old smoke house – it has a seat in it these days.  The building below it is a 16th Century dovecote, a symbol of financial and social success. Pigeons would nest there and the young squabs taken before they could fly, destined for the dining table and regarded as a rich man’s delicacy. Below is the tithebarn or threshing barn from the same period:

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But this was my favourite view, we sat here for a very long time in quiet contemplation – my camera had given up when the battery died so I had to take this with my iPhone and it turned out to be my favourite. I leave it here for you to enjoy:

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Note there are no photos of big game!

(See also my post on the beautiful St Luke’s Village Church next door to the Hall).

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Monday Meditation: Stunning Stained Glass in a World-Reknowned Medieval Shrewsbury Church

As some of you will know, I recently had a birthday outing to Shrewsbury (see Vegan Birthday Burgers at O’Joy Wellness Bistro, Shrewsbury – Review). When we had finished lunch, we were so stuffed and had been sitting so long, we needed air and exercise. The skies were heavy and grey, it didn’t look too promising. However, close by the bistro in the town centre stand three medieval churches. We randomly chose to take a look at the redundant Anglican Church of St Mary The Virgin, not knowing anything about it, but once inside it took my breath away. It has the most stunning stained glass windows I have ever seen, which are apparently world-reknowned: it is said that there is no other collection like it.

The Norman Gothic style church dates from Saxon times and has additions dating from the twelfth century onwards. At over 500 years old, the spire atop the tower is reputedly the third tallest in the country, in fact it is so high I couldn’t get it all in the one shot. Unfortunately, the weather was really taking a turn for the worst, the light was awful for taking photographs. I had also forgotten to take my camera so these were taken with my iPhone.

 

I’ve borrowed a photo from Wikipaedia of the exterior and spire to illustrate its entirety:

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These beautiful wooden doors welcome you into the most overwhelmingly imposing building, with sweeping stone arches, a huge ancient carved stone pulpit, a dark wooden organ gallery.

However, you are immediately drawn to the enormous and detailed panels of brightly-hued stained glass in the famous fourteenth century ‘Jesse’ window*, with its panels of portraits of Old Testament Kings and Prophets, as well as a medieval cartoon strip of the life of St Bernard. Much of the glass was originally used for a Franciscan church, then moved to nearby St Chads after the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry Vlll.  It was rescued after the church went up in flames and reused to dramatic effect here. The rest of the glass came from various parts of Europe.

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The photos really don’t do it justice, the light streaming through the intensely-coloured glass left me lost for words. I couldn’t get the right angle to include it all in the best light. The Trinity Chapel on the right, first created in the 1300s, also has brilliantly-lit stained glass panels. These are bolder and more dramatic.

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The aisles and chapels have beautiful Victorian tiled floors and the ceilings have intricate fifteenth century oak carvings of animals, angels and birds, that are so high up you have to use the handheld mirrors provided to view their reflection.

 

I found the whole experience humbling. It was awe-inspiring. I am not a religious person, I just love historic buildings including churches and this was one of the most affecting that I’ve visited. I constantly marvel at the craftmanship, creativity, ingenuity and sheer hard work that went in to building these churches, often not just over decades but centuries too. They survive fire, flood, hell and damnation – in the form of Henry Vlll’s distruction of these fine buildings – and are still here for us to enjoy and to sit in peaceful contemplation. I feel the presence of all those who have gathered here before me, and it is an opportunity to feel close to my dad and my brother who both passed away at this time of year.**

This church is now under the care of The Churches Conservation Trust.

Visiting old churches and ruins is my favourite thing to do, Shrewsbury and the surrounding area is awash with them – there will be further posts I’m sure – and all in all I had a very enjoyable day. The weather even held off until we made it back to the car – just – before the deluge arrived!

* A ‘Jesse’ window refers to an artistic rendering of the biblical family tree starting with Jesse of Bethlehem, father of King David.

To read about other historical visits, please see:

A Nursery, a Ruin and a Baby Cow

Wroxeter – A Roman City on A Beautiful Summer’s Day.

William Penny Brookes, Father of The Modern Olympics!

Magnificent Trees, Olympic Medallists, A Czar & Some Sheep!

For more photos of buildings in a Shrewsbury:

Some Fine Tudor Buildings – And Albert’s Shed!

**To read about my dad, please see:

You Were So Much More Than Your Job: A Tribute to My Dad For Father’s Day

Two poems:

My Dad Walked Straight and Tall Like A Soldier

Hand in Hand: A Poem for Father’s Day

and my brother:

Sweetpeas For Dave

Thank you!

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Some Fine Tudor Buildings – And Albert’s Shed!

When we went to Shrewsbury recently for my birthday lunch, we got lost. And when we made the return trip home, we got lost. Some helpful drivers assisted in rectifying our poor navigation by pomping their horns and making hand gestures. We did eventually find the vegan bistro and we also made it home in one piece – just.

While stopping and starting and turning around, I took some snaps of some of the Tudor buildings for which Shrewsbury is famous. Unfortunately I had left my camera at home and these were taken with my iPhone. The light was appalling, it poured down just after we left, so they don’t present this county town at its best, but do give a little flavour of the birthplace of Charles Darwin. There are over 660 listed medieval and Tudor timber-framed buildings from when the town was a centre for wool trading.

Here are a few: IMG_3878IMG_3875IMG_3821IMG_3814IMG_3819IMG_3788IMG_3874IMG_3820

Oh, and Albert’s Shed – I have no idea who Albert is or what’s in his shed, but to have one in the middle of Shrewsbury is pretty impressive!

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Copyright: Chris McGowan

If you like country estates, you’ll love this!

Last summer, in Magnificent Trees, Olympic Medallists, A Czar & Some Sheep! I took you on a tour of our National Sports Centre at Lilleshall and gave you a potted history in among the photos of the beautiful grounds. Many of you have liked this post and those of a similar ilk, and I am so thankful to be living in the vicinity of these grounds, I thought I’d share these photos of Lilleshall in Spring. Unfortunately, we only had an iPhone, so some of the ones taken at a distance are out of focus, the zoom is really bad. I hope it doesn’t spoil your enjoyment.

These were taken on a gorgeous sunny midweek afternoon – these gardens really are breathtakingly beautiful and the trees are just overwhelming in their majestic beauty. Whatever season you visit, the colours are just stunning. The amazing thing is that it is always quiet and peaceful. During this visit, there were people from Rugby England (the sport not the town) on some sort of course; the England gymnasts and archers train here as well as the footballers, but local people can visit and use facilities, my husband has sports massage there and benefitted from their treatment when he had his bike accidents.

Get ready to be in awe! The rhododendrons take your breath away, there are at least five different colours, as well as yellow honeysuckle and bluebells.

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These wrought-iron gates are generally locked and the trail inaccessible, but this time they were left open invitingly. It led through a cool woodland with bluebells and yellow honeysuckle.

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When you come out of the woodland and back onto the trail, you’re confronted by this striking maple tree which stops you in your tracks. It reflects the light and displays so many shades of red, brown, orange, russet, burgundy .

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There was a lot of clearing going on near the mansion house too (which is a hotel, restaurant and wedding venue). I don’t know if it was all the result of Storm Doris or if they’re planning another structure:

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 While driving down the long, tree-lined drive on the way out, we saw a pair of pheasant, just I pressed the shutter the female flew off, again the zoom spoiled the photo:

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We are so lucky to have this wonderful playground on our doorstep. The young grandchildren love the freedom and space, we collect giant fir cones and spot rabbits, squirrels and pheasant.

It’s a wonderful place to recharge your batteries for an hour or two.

And all for free.

(Also posted on Haddon Musings 52 Weeks of Thankfulness)

Copyright: Chris McGowan

A Nursery, a Ruin and a Baby Cow

This is a bit of a mish-mash of a post resulting from a spur-of-the-moment decision to take advantage of a sunny (but chilly) afternoon to buy some plants from the local nursery. On the way back we did a little detour (of course!) to look at the ruins of an Augustinian abbey, the idea being to see if Mum would at least be able to make it inside the site, if only to sit on a chair rather than walking around. The sky was stunningly blue and so clear, the moon was easily visible. You can just about see the white dot in the top left and bottom right photos. The photos are a little deceptive as there was a fairly strong cold wind blowing when you were out in the open, but a couple of hours in the sun and fresh air was just what I needed after a difficult few weeks (see here). I took deep breaths and absorbed the tranquility of the place in its wide open spaces. We were the only ones there, apart from the cows, and even they were still and silent.

The shapes in the bottom right photo are the graves of the abbots. The right column of the entrance in the first photo used to be higher and there are spiral steps up to it where my husband and young grandsons once climbed up and had their photos taken right at the top. Sadly, the entrance is now fenced off and it looks like the tower has crumbled somewhat.

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The abbey is surrounded by farmland and these very young calves were in the field by the lane. I thought this one was an unusual colour, it was nervous and very wary.

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The others couldn’t care less!

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Here are the some of the plants we bought, still waiting to be homed:

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Just don’t ask me what they’re called!

Ps You can read about our other detours here: An Impromptu Mother’s Day Adventure or How We Survived the Vortex that is Our Local Bermuda Triangle … & Ducks, Daves and Detours

PPS Unfortunately, the entrance to the site is through an awkward swing gate with such a narrow opening so no, Mum wouldn’t be able to get through.

Copyright: Chris McGowan