As promised in the last post we're heading today for the Winter Garden, part of the University of Cambridge Botanic Garden. This year, thanks to our bizarrely mild winter, there are spring flowers blooming in February - in fact many were on flower in January or even back in December.
No, not mine! There's nothing in mine apart from a few rather sad snowdrops amongst the moss and mud. So I went for a stroll around the University Botanic Gardens in Cambridge.
What? Pay good money to see a garden in February? Surely there's nothing to see....
Well, the lake and rockery are always pretty whatever the season, particularly on a bright sunny afternoon like we enjoyed yesterday, even if flowers are few and far between. But what's this.....?
Some of the trees are already showing a little blossom. But there's something even better...
Although nobody ever seems to mention it, the Gardens have a wonderful display of snowdrops, not just the patch I'm showing you here but throughout the gardens. It's every bit as good as the snowdrop walks advertised by other gardens in England. And if it's chilly you can always warm up by visiting the tropical flowers in the glasshouses.
Spectacular colour is guaranteed at any season of the year. Occasionally you might find a little fungus taking advantage of the warm, moist micro-climate.
A few spectacular orchids were also making a show....
I'm always attracted by the structure of these tropical beauties....
Anyone who will be in Cambridge during the second half of February may be interested to know that there'll be an Orchid Festival taking place in the glasshouses, which should be worth a visit - and possibly a blog post if I manage to get there myself.
But none of this was what attracted me to the gardens this week. For although the University uses the gardens as a teaching and research facility, there's plenty of room for decorative and artistic horticulture too, and I was really on my way to see the winter garden. I'll show you in the next post.
"Would you care for this dance?" It might mean "Would you like to join me for this dance?" If you've seen me dancing you probably wouldn't, but that's not what I mean. It might mean "Would you enjoy watching this dance?" I hope you will. Or it might mean "Should we look after this dance and preserve it for future generations?" And that is precisely what the people you're about to witness are trying to do.
I've been scouring YouTube looking for an exponent of Northern Clog Dancing and can find none more entertaining than the wonderful Hannah James. In addition to her dancing she's also a lovely singer of traditional songs and also plays the accordion. Here she is dancing with the wonderfully-named band Kerfuffle....
Now if you come from the Appalachians you may think that this is your tradition, but it's actually been danced in the north of England since Columbus was setting sail for the west. At around that time clogs changed from all-wooden shoes to leather shoes with wooden soles and these proved to be ideal for "kicking up a racket". The tradition got a big boost during the Industrial Revolution when miners took it up as a cheap form of entertainment. Champion dancers made it on to the stage of the music halls, though in those days all the dancers were men.
Just when you think you've seen every kind of dance there is to see, up pops the gently absurdity of The Britannia Coconut Dancers from Bacup. Every Easter Saturday they dance their way across Bacup, as they have done for generations, taking in several pubs and a stop for lunch. They wear wooden discs upon their hands, knees and midriff which may or may not be the origin of the "coconut" part of the name. The dance and their get-up is just about indescribable so it's just as well that you can watch them for yourselves....
(a wide variety of videos with quite a few featuring dancing)
Their blacked-up faces have caused all kinds of controversy in these politically-correct times. One day someone will notice that they also wear skirts and turbans too! And what about those clogs? Won't that upset the Dutch?
No, not that kind of rapper. These rappers are short "swords" with handles on either end and are used in the north-east of England for dancing. In recent years the dancing has become faster and there are more and more female dance teams - and they keep getting younger! Here are the remarkable Sheffield Steel......
In the village of Kennett, on the Cambridgeshire-Suffolk border, stands the magnificent early Sixteenth-century Bell Inn. Along with just about every other old coaching inn around here it claims to have been a favourite haunt of the highwayman Dick Turpin. It's a wonder he was ever sober enough to have robbed anyone! The building also boasts several ghosts including one of an artist who, unsurprisingly perhaps, inhabits one of the bars. But it was neither ghosts nor highwaymen that attracted my attention as I walked past last summer, but its very individual pub sign which sits, most unusually, on the path outside.
The Hero Of Ware
"Where do you live?"
Many small towns have erected statues to their most famous past inhabitants, be they writers, artists, politicians, revolutionaries or reformers. But for the millennium celebrations the town of Ware in Hertfordshire unveiled "The Maltmaker" by Jill Tweed which commemorates all the men of the town who worked in the malt-making industry from 1339 to 1994.
Malt is produced by soaking barley so that it germinates, then halting the process by drying it with hot air. The malted grain can then be used in the brewing of beer. The town was ideally situated for the task, being in the midst of good agricultural land and also on the River Lea, along which the malted grain could easily be transported to the big breweries in London.
The Foundation of Prosperity
The area around Cambridge's railway station is being redeveloped and is increasingly inhabited by students, young executives who commute to London by train, and doctors who work at the nearby Addenbrooke's Hospital. But in amongst the modern brick and paving there stands this reminder of a time of hardship and physical toil. For this rough iron post was the base of a 5 ton crane used for unloading coal and other goods in the railway yards. Although nothing else remains of the equipment it is known that it was constructed in the late 19th century and that the winding gear was operated entirely by hand. Hard graft.
People Of Today
Close by are these steel discs set in the pavement. They are etched from drawings done by the artist, Dryden Goodwin, of people seen in the streets of Cambridge.
One of the perks of being monarch of this fair land is that one gets to have ones initials on every postbox erected in the land during ones reign. While George V and our present Queen are represented by the simple capital letters GR and EIIR respectively, others have more intricate, ornamental ciphers, none more elegant than Victoria's VR (for the Latinised nameVictoria Regina). Those of Edward VIII are the rarest of all since he quickly traded the honour of having his initials on postboxes for the charms of Mrs Wallis Simpson.
Britannia Quells The Flames
High on the wall of a thatched cottage I spotted this copper plate representing Britannia with the word COUNTY underneath. It's another fire insurance plaque of the kind which I wrote about in an earlier post. They were erected to show that the owner had paid his or her fire insurance premium and, if the house caught fire, the fire brigade should attempt to put the fire out. Without such a plaque they might let the house burn down. In reality they seldom did, especially in rural areas where everybody knew their neighbour.
A Fish With Feet !
The owners of modern or refurbished pubs often go out of their way to invent ridiculous but memorable names for their premises. But, as is often the case, tradition is often stranger than invention: Ladies and gentlemen, I present the Eel's Foot at Eastbridge in Suffolk - an excellent hostelry for anyone who likes a good pint and is not too fussy about apostrophes. Eels were once an important food throughout East Anglia, especially in the Fens and other low-lying areas rich with water-courses. In order to dine on eels you must first catch them and one tried and tested method was to use long, narrow tubes made of wickerwork. These were baited then submerged in the stream and left overnight. Once the eel had entered, backward facing spikes prevented its escape. These traps were known locally as "boots". A more fanciful story is that it is a derived from Neale's Boot, after a medieval priest who trapped the Devil in his boot and tossed him into the river. The Devil escaped disguised as an eel! Take care.
I mentioned last time that as I walked into the Essex village of Arkesden the rain began falling and I made my way towards the parish church.
I pushed the door and it creaked open. Once my eyes had adjusted to the gloom I found myself in a pleasant enough village church so I slipped off my muddy boots and padded around in my socks to see what treasures the building might contain. A few months ago I let slip that I'm not a great fan of some of the memorials to the good and great that you find in some churches. Maybe somebody up there heard this and directed me to St Mary The Virgin at Arkesden which has a wide variety of monuments.
The oldest, but by no means the most obvious, is this brass of a military man, commemorating the life of one Richard Fox and is dated 1439. It's around 3 feet (1m) long and is placed on the floor in the SE corner of the nave. It was probably once on the top of an altar tomb.
Also dating from the Fifteenth Century is this effigy of a rather pious-looking individual who turns out to be John Croxby, the vicar here from 1453 to 1456. He went on to other parishes and it's been suggested that the memorial might have been brought here from elsewhere.
But the memorial that you really can't miss because it's a) enormous and b) partly painted bright red, is the tomb of Richard and Mary Cutte, both of whom departed this life in the 1590s.
The painting of the figures is charmingly naive and the representation of their faces is somewhat crude, but it is the sheer bulk of the figures, particularly that of Richard lying there in his full armour that impresses. The details of their lives and ancestry is written on the canopy above.....
You'll notice that punctuation and spelling was rather erratic back in those days - "thoyden boys" is in fact the village of Theydon Bois (pronounced like the name "Boyce").
Richard and Mary look understandably horrified to find out that they're dead!
Around the base of the tomb are figures representing their children. Some are missing their heads and, predictably, this has been blamed on Cromwell's men. However, whatever else you might say about Cromwell's troops, they were usually pretty thorough; it seems unlikely that they would have left two figures untouched. I think it's more likely to be just accidental damage; the two undamaged figures being saved by the ruffs around their necks.
In the tower, rather more hidden than it ought to be, is this elegant memorial to John Withers and his wife (1692). It was once attributed to Roubilliac, though it's since been found to be the work of Edward Pierce, who was an assistant to Sir Christopher Wren for many years.
Underneath there are some finely-carved skulls which were often a feature of such work at this time, but now look distinctly ghoulish.
Coming to more modern times, the lovely stained glass above, depicting The Sower and The Reaper, is dedicated to the memory of Charles Beadle who died in 1925 at the age of 90.
But it'd stopped raining so I pulled my boots on in order to explore the rest of the village and then continue my walk. Take care.