Monday, 15 June 2015

Rosa de Rescht, Lost in History


Everything about this little grown rose is a conundrum. Even its name is spelt in different ways as it is sometimes listed as De Resht and categorised as a Portland rose and sometimes as a Damask. Wherever it is found in a catalogue one factor that is consistently agreed upon is its scent which is exquisite.
Rosa 'de Resht'   copyright
Its history is equally confused with stories of how it was found growing in Persia at the end of the Second World War or how it was brought to France in the early 1800s with numerous other theories of its origin in almost every decade in between.
The rose flowers are of medium size and fully double, magenta in colour with a slight crimson hue. They are repeat flowering although this tends to be in flushes so there are short periods when the plant is quiet. Being double, they are of less value to bees and other insects.
Rosa 'De Resht' (3)   copyright
Rosa de Rescht is an upright rose about 3ft (1m) in height which makes it ideal for use as a small hedge. It suckers sporadically, these often being thrown up some distance from the parent plant. These are never a nuisance and as they come true to type can be severed and grown elsewhere or left to bloom where they wish. The foliage is bluish-green and, in my garden at least, is healthy and free from pests.
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As with all roses, care when planting is rewarded although they do cope quite well on poorer, dry soils too. They revel in sunshine but I also have them growing in light shade without any noticeable problems with flowering or growth. Like all repeat flowering roses, removing the fading blooms (dead-heading) encourages new ones to form.
I’m not a great lover of gardens where roses are grown formally on their own – there can be few uglier sights than a rose bed in winter! Rosa de Rescht grows admirably amongst herbaceous plants and this is how I grow them.
Rosa De Resht   copyright
It is unlikely that you will find Rosa de Rescht in a garden centre but it is readily available from specialist nurseries. Peater Beales and David Austin both list it as do some smaller mail order nurseries. A single plant of this variety won’t add much value to a border, buy a minimum of three even for planting in small spaces. In time, you are likely to end up with more but why worry? This little rose is so charming and its scent so sweet you will be only too delighted.


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Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Castlelyons - an Irish Gem

The small village of Castlelyons in Co. Cork, Ireland appeared deserted when we drove into it and as we seemed to be the only car on the road there was no fear of being run over when taking the photo below. As if to confirm its silence the main street was dominated by the ruins of an old Carmelite abbey.
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Little is known of the origins of the abbey for there are few surviving written records. It is thought that it dates from the beginning of the 14th century although the existing ruins are from a hundred years later.
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The size of the nave is huge measuring over sixty feet in length and twenty in width. It is separated from the chancel by the tower which although very ruined still has its complete spiral staircase which can be climbed – but not for the faint-hearted. The chancel which is also very large (over fifty feet in length) is where the altar would have been placed. A number of grave slabs survive some of which still have visible markings.
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The cloister, where the monks walked and meditated, is less complete but the turf square and parts of columns gives a sense of the place. The monastery was dissolved during the Reformation and passed into private hands. Now it is a national monument.Castlelyons (12)   copyright
A mile or two from the abbey ruins is the Castlelyons Graveyard at Kill-St-Anne. At its centre is a mausoleum built about 1747. The interior is circular with just one marble monument to James Barry, Earl of Barrymore and carved in 1753. External steps lead to a crypt below.
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Close to the first lies a second mausoleum, also built in the eighteenth century, for the Peard family, local landlords. Their earliest grave (dated 1683) lies elsewhere in the churchyard and commemorates Richard Peard, an ensign from Devonshire in England.Castlelyons (20)   copyright
The church – or more accurately churches – lie in ruins for a more recent one was built within the original. They date from the eighteenth and fourteenth centuries respectively. The remains of the bell tower and gothic arches are from the earlier date, the elaborate stone window which are in the later ruins are reputed to have belonged to the original church. Whatever the truth of this tale, the result is beautiful and romantic.
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The churchyard is a haven for wildlife and native flowers flourish beside mown paths. Beside the old cemetery is another, newer one still in use and equally well-maintained as were the old abbey ruins and the village itself. Castlelyons maybe off the beaten track but it is well worth making the effort to visit. It is rural Ireland at its very best.
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Much information has been gleaned from information boards within the village and also the Castlelyons village website – link here. Apart from details of its history the website shows that despite its small size, the village social life is thriving.



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Thursday, 7 May 2015

JFK and the Irish Famine

The Great Famine – also called the Irish Potato Famine – killed a million people between 1845 and 1852 and created much bitterness towards the ruling British.  Restrictive laws against Catholics who made up over three-quarters of the population, including the prohibition of owning land, had been relaxed but the majority still held only tiny parcels of land, the remainder owned by absentee British aristocracy.  As a result, only potatoes could provide anywhere near enough food for their families and these were grown at the expense of all other crops.  When the previously unknown disease, blight, destroyed them they had no access to other foodstuffs.   At the height of the famine, enough food was being produced elsewhere in the country but this was sent for export fuelling ever greater resentment.  Evictions too were common.  The alternative to death was emigration and over a million left for a new life elsewhere.  Pictured below is the Dunbrody Famine Ship, moored at New Ross, Co. Wexford, a replica of the original boat.

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The New World was a popular destination and in 1849 Patrick Kennedy, great-grandfather of American President, John F Kennedy and whose family lived near New Ross sailed to Boston, albeit from Liverpool, England. Marrying soon after his arrival he died nine years later of cholera at the age of 35.

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In 1963, President Kennedy visited New Ross and his ancestral home at nearby Dunganstown.  In 2008 his statue was unveiled by his sister Jean Kennedy Smith.

New Ross   copyright

Fifty years after JFK’s visit, the Emigrant Flame was lit by his sister and daughter, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg.  The fire was taken from the Eternal Flame by his graveside in Arlington Cemetery travelling 3500 miles: it burns constantly to commemorate all emigrants throughout the world.

New Ross (6)   copyright



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Tuesday, 31 March 2015

A Walk Across Dartmoor - part 2


A riverside path heading north from the village of Postbridge, famed for its ancient clapper bridge, leads into the heart of the moor.  The bridge dates back at least to the fourteenth century and some of the slabs weigh over eight tons.  The ‘modern’ bridge in the background was built as recently as 1780.

Postbridge copyright
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At the point where the river turns abruptly westwards are the remains of a beehive hut.  These were used mostly for storage and, compared to many of Dartmoor’s archaeological features which date back millennia, are also of more recent origin and date from the 1500’s.  They ‘disappear’ into the moorland  features but are clearly visible once you know where to look.

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Beehive Hut   copyright

Walking further onto the moor and leaving the river behind are the low grey shapes of the Grey Wethers double stone circle.  Sitting close to Sittaford Tor, they are so named for their resemblance to sheep, ‘wether’ being the Old English name for a castrated male sheep.  A tale, often repeated, is of a traveller stopping off at the remote Warren House Inn (where this walk started and will end) who complained of the poor quality sheep in the district.  After a drink or two, he was led to the circles and in the mist mistook the stones for sheep and bought them, only to discover later that he had been fooled.

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The two circles of Grey Wethers appear to the eye as one shaped as a figure of eight but an aerial view shows them to be quite separate to one another, sitting side by side.  The circles are of similar size and lie on a north-south axis although whether this is of relevance is unknown.  Numerous theories abound: perhaps the meeting place of two separate groups of people, or possibly they represent life and death. When excavations took place in 1909 a thick layer of ash was found to cover their centres but, again, the purpose of this is unknown.

Grey Wethers Stone Circle (2)   copyright

From Grey Wethers the walk back to the Warren House Inn skirted the edge of Fernworthy Forest.  Hidden behind the trees is Fernworthy reservoir, created by damming the South Teign River.  When water levels are low the remains of an old farm can be seen, as can the remains of a small clapper bridge, drowned reminders of life on the moor in times past.

the remote Warren House Inn



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Saturday, 21 March 2015

A Walk Across Dartmoor - part 1

All the best walks start and end at a pub and a popular place to aim for is the Warren House Inn.  Located in the heart of Dartmoor, a national park in the county of Devon in England’s West Country, it has been a stopping point for thirsty travellers since the mid eighteenth century.  The fire, according to tradition, has never been allowed to go out – probably out of necessity for the inn is isolated and exposed on a high windswept plateau.

Warren House Inn copyright

Two miles to the south-west of the inn is the village of Postbridge, famed for its ancient clapper bridge, first mentioned in 1380 and reached by a track opposite the pub.  It passes the remains of habitation for Dartmoor once had a tin mining community and these are just some of the signs of this now vanished industry throughout the moor.  The mining is thought to have predated the Romans, flourished during medieval times and also the nineteenth century before finally ending in the mid-1900s.

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Spring comes late to this harsh environment: the few trees grow slowly and stunted.  When the moor flowers many different species of butterflies can be seen.

Stunted and sheep grazed hawthorn
Stunted and sheep grazed hawthorn
 
Small Pearl-Bordered FritillaryButterfly
Small Pearl-Bordered Fritillary Butterfly
 
As with many parts of Britain where rock lies close to the surface, drystone walls are a feature.  Unlike the soft limestone walls of the Cotswolds which use small pieces of thin, flat stone, Dartmoor’s are granite and some of the stones massive.  It is hard to conceive how they were built but the huge slabs foreshadow those that are to be found at Postbridge.

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Crossing the East Dart River, the clapper bridge at Postbridge is perhaps the best known of all of these bridges in England although there are more than two hundred on Dartmoor alone.  Thought to have been built to allow carts to carry tin off the moor, the bridge is over four metres long and two metres wide.  Some of the stones weigh more than eight tons.  The village consists of a few houses, a pub and a post office and is a favouriteplace to stop  for a traditional Devon cream tea.

The clapper bridge with the 'new' bridge behind built in 1780
The clapper bridge with the ‘new’ bridge behind built in 1780
 
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A riverside path heading north from the village leads into the heart of the moor towards the next stopping point, the prehistoric Grey Wethers stone circle, featured in part two of this blog.

East Dart River   copyright




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Monday, 23 February 2015

Seeking Great-Aunt Ba-ba

Some people make a lasting impression on you and in the case of Great-aunt Ba-ba it was just as well for I only met her once as a child when she was very elderly.  Someone of twenty seems ancient to a youngster, as for being ninety, I just couldn’t get over anyone being that old or that much fun.

Gt Aunt Baba (Frances White) 90th bithday about 1965
photo take by me about 1965, which means she would have been born around 1875

Great-aunt Ba-ba was a ‘spinster of the parish’, a description that conjures up a sad and somewhat diminished individual whereas in reality, if she was anything to go by, they were far from that.  Lively and interesting, I adored her instantly but was too young to ask her any questions about her life.  I doubt if I would have been told much anyway for that generation were far too busy living in the present: perhaps the effect of surviving two world wars.

Frances White - auntie baba - and Clara Joyce Shortland
On the left, about 1925

One story I heard many times from my father was of how when he and his brother were sent to stay with her in the school holidays they were allowed to run wild, something that wouldn’t have been tolerated by their strict parents.  This would have been about 1920 and to reach Rudgwick in Sussex from the Thames Valley took the whole day.  Once there they would spend all day running free through the woods and cowslip-ing in the meadows.  On trips to the south coast my father would always make time for a detour to show me his playground and Aunt Ba-ba’s wonderful house.

postcard of Greenhurst, nr Rudgwick
about 1918-20

So how did she get her pet name?  I have no idea – I understand that her real name was Frances White – and there is no one now left alive that can answer the question. Perhaps her name was Barbara, or is that too simple an explanation? I had another great aunt that was called ‘Toddles’ so perhaps silly names were just a family thing!

Frances White - auntie baba
1940’s?

I’d always assumed that Frances White was just a family friend for, in days past, it was customary for children to call them aunt or uncle out of respect.  Recently I have discovered another old family photograph – that of Charles William Langston-White and this could be a missing link.  His mother Norah Langston (my first cousin twice removed, whatever that means) married James William White in 1909 – he was born in Sussex.

charles william langston-white, aged 3yrs 3mths
“aged 3yrs 3mths” so taken June 1916

Could Great-aunt Ba-ba have been related to this White family?  I would have thought it probable but, so far, my researches have drawn a blank and I have found no trace of her having even existed in the public record books.  Fortunately I have these few photos of her and my memory to prove she existed.

If there are any enthusiastic genealogists or amateur sleuths reading this I will be grateful if you can find out more.



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Tuesday, 10 February 2015

On the Edge of the Precipice

Snowdonia, the third of Britain’s national parks to be designated (and the first in Wales) is a popular holiday destination despite it being the wettest place in the UK.  Mt. Snowdon, Wales’ highest peak after which the park is named, is challenging to climb although thousands ascend by the easy route – using the narrow guage railway.

Far to the south and away from the crowds the scenery is still dramatic giving great opportunities for hill walking.  It is possible to walk all day with only ravens, buzzards and red kites for company.

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The Precipice Path near the small town of Dolgellau is a relatively short and easy circular walk that offers spectacular views in all directions.  It is a good introduction to walking in the hills for it is well signposted and, more often than not, there are other walkers nearby.  If, like me, you prefer to walk in splendid isolation then that is still possible by starting early or late in the day and avoiding weekends.

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The path leading up to the precipice winds its way gently alongside woodland before climbing more steeply for a few hundred yards.  It is rocky and uneven and, as with any hill walking, strong shoes or boots should always be worn.  During the winter, this part of the path is often icy.

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As the path turns towards the west spectacular views of the river, the Afon Mawddach appear, set in a deep glacial valley that leads out to sea.  The path now narrows and with a sharp drop to one side – although it is quite safe small children need to be supervised and those that suffer from a fear of heights will find this stretch challenging.

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For those not worried by height the bird’s eye view of Dol-y-clochydd is fascinating especially if you are lucky enough to see the sheep being herded by the farmer and his dogs.

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At the halfway point, a bench marks the end of the precipice and from here there are views of the village of Llanelltyd and of the river flowing into the sea.

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The path now turns back on itself in a wide arc before descending to the edge of Llyn Cynwch, a small reservoir with views of the mountains and crystal clear water giving superb reflections.  The path follows the edge of the lake until it returns to the starting point of the walk.  Novice walkers should allow at least two hours for completion.

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The Precipice Path lies within the nine hundred year old Nannau Estate and, although not a public right of way, the estate has opened it to the public since 1890.  It is a working estate and there may be sheep or other livestock roaming freely so it is necessary to keep dogs strictly under control.

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