Wednesday, 17 October 2018

A Garden In October

Of all the monthly visits I planned to make to the University Botanic Garden in Cambridge it was the Autumn season that I most eagerly anticipated. It's true that most of the flowers are past their best, but that's more than made up for by the glory of the trees. Even if the golds, reds and browns haven't yet painted the woods and hedgerows of the countryside with their outrageous palette, you can always guarantee that the species selected in the garden will be riotously colourful. As always the American Sweetgum beside the lake was star of the show - you'll know when we get to it even if  I don't say another word.

Take care.

Monday, 15 October 2018

Old Ways Of Working

A few more photographs from the Working Steam Weekend at Stotfold Mill last Saturday:

A threshing machine in operation, separating the grain from the chaff and straw. The earliest of these machines were powered by a horse-gin - a horse was harnessed to a wheel and walked in circles to turn the thresher. Later steam-power was employed, making the process even more efficient. It was these early forms of mechanisation that were smashed by the farm workers during what were known as the Swing Riots - not because the men were inordinately fond of threshing by hand but because their livelihoods were threatened by the new innovations.


Steam was also used to power saw-mills. Lining up this apparatus correctly seemed to take a long time, but once in action sawed through huge logs with ease.

This magnificently rusty contraption is what's known as a "portable engine" of the kind used to power all kinds of equipment. It would however require a team of horses to move it any distance.

The machine above was being used for splitting firewood. It looked highly dangerous but as far as I could see the operator had a full compliment of fingers!

The owners of the various machines camp on site for the weekend in all manner of carts and caravans.

Apple pressing taking place prior to making cider.

This huge steamroller was formerly used on the roads of Cambridge. I think I might have seen this one in operation when I was a child; steamrollers were certainly used into the 1960s by many local authorities, their huge weight being an obvious advantage for road building. It seems to have a very little buddy alongside!

There were many tractors in all sorts of condition, some awaiting their turn to go ploughing.

Tractors in a wide variety of colours too.

The watermill was also open and making flour. A mill has stood here in one form or another for over a thousand years, but in 1992 there was a huge fire which destroyed most of the mill. However local volunteers decided that it could, and should, be rebuilt. It was reopened in 2006. Though it lacks some of the antique atmosphere of older mills it shows what these buildings must have been like in their heyday. 

Take care.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

A History Of Ploughing Backwards

"I like nothing better than hard work - I could watch it for hours!"

Saturday afternoon found me at Stotfold Mill's "Working Steam Weekend", where there were demonstrations of various types of ploughing - lovely to watch but hard graft for those involved. The kind of hard labour that must have hurried many of my ancestors to early graves. But nevertheless a very pleasant way to pass an afternoon. Just watching, naturally.

When I say "ploughing backwards" I don't mean "ploughing backwards", of course. It's the history that was backwards because it was the more modern methods I saw first.

Later on I stood in the sunshine for a while observing the forerunner to the tractor, ploughing by steam. If you'd run about the fields with one of these monsters you'd do more harm than good - and you'd probably get stuck. They had to use a different system.

Underneath the steam engine is a large winding-drum which pulls the plough across the field by means of a thick steel cable.

Six furrows at a time! The early days of farm mechanisation. If you look carefully you'll spy not only the cable pulling the plough, but also a chain hanging down at the front - they'll need that in a minute.

Oh, how we enjoyed watching them struggle to manually tip the whole plough, ready to make its return journey across the field.

Back they go, being pulled by another steam engine on the opposite side of the field. Of course there's an even more picturesque way to till the land....

A two horse-power outfit.

At the end of each hard-pulled furrow they paused for affectionate pats from admirers young and old. They also seem to have an instinctive understanding of how to pose for the camera!

Then off they go again, while we loiter around unproductively, take a few snaps and eat ice-creams. As I say, "I could watch it for hours!"

Take care.

Friday, 12 October 2018

Into The Sun

Wednesday was unseasonably sunny in this part of the world as summer had what may be its final fling. As we drove through Newmarket we saw the racehorses returning from their early morning gallop. Horse racing dominates this small town to the extent that, when a statue of the Queen is commissioned, it's no surprise to see that it also includes a racehorse and a foal.

But my brother and I are on our way to Moulton to do a circular walk through the villages of Moulton,  Dalham and Gazeley. I've done the walk before, but today I see a sign that tells me that my route coincides with the Three Churches Walk and there's a map outside Moulton church which echoes our intended journey.

The sun at this time of year is quite low in the sky and we were heading straight towards it for the first leg of the journey.

Sunbeams filter down through the leafy branches.

Dalham is a small but perfectly formed little village with many picturesque cottages.

It also has this puzzling structure by the roadside. It's actually an eighteenth century malt kiln, an important part of the brewing process. Most villages would have had one of these in the past but this is one of only a few survivors.

An avenue of trees leads up towards Dalham Hall.

The Hall was built for the Bishop of Ely in the early eighteenth century. Nowadays it's owned by Sheik Mohammed, Prime Minister of the UAE and leading race horse owner.

This is the view the Sheik can enjoy from the property, not as extensive as that from his Burj Khalifa in Dubai but pleasant enough to my eye.

The path from Dalham to Gazeley passes along woodland edges with views out across the newly ploughed arable fields.

This seventeenth century barn in Gazeley has also been taken over by horse racing and is converted to stables. 

The footpath here is confined between fences. Walking near Newmarket you get used to the security around the racing stables which is quite understandable considering the value of some of these horses.

Just a trace of autumn gold along the roadside leading back to Moulton.

And in Moulton you'll find this rather grand packhorse bridge, built back in the days when horses were used to carry goods from town to town - rather different beasts from those that today carry small men at high speed towards the winning post. The village also has a prize-winning village-shop-cum-post-office-cum-coffee-shop where we enjoyed a well-earned mug of tea.

Take care.