Monday 30 December 2013

Wandlebury In Winter

Christmas has gone, but the calories linger on! So on a bright morning what could be better than to go out for a walk in the countryside, in Wandlebury Country Park to be precise.

Only one car in the car park when my brother and I arrived. But having wrapped up against the cold we turned our backs on the usual trails, crossed the road and headed for Little Trees Hill.

For very little effort we were rewarded with views across the city of Cambridge. We picked out all the famous landmarks and then puzzled over several new buildings which seem to have sprung up overnight.

Down the hill, back across the road and into the Wandlebury woods. I wrote in a recent post about the ability of trees to recover from seemingly catastrophic damage: here a tree has been blown down by wind at some time in the past and the trunk and branches have been removed by the wardens leaving just the root disc. But see how the remaining roots have sent up a squadron of straight poles which have survived despite two more trees having fallen on top of them.

Catkins in December which, along with the bright sunshine made it look like spring - even if it didn't exactly feel like it!

A gentle ascent through the trees led us to Ely Viewpoint where, as promised, Ely Cathedral could be seen dimly on the horizon.

Sauntering down the beech avenue, looking out for elusive Goldcrests that could be heard calling, but were tricky to spot.

And on to the Roman Road which, incidentally, is where Robert Macfarlane begins his journey along "The Old Ways", a book which should be on the shelves of anyone with an interest in the British countryside.

Frosty leaves could still be seen where the sun had failed to penetrate. A Blackcap sat rather dejectedly on an overhanging branch. You never used to see these little warblers in winter but now, thanks to global warming perhaps, they're a much more common sight. This one looked as if he might be regretting the decision!

Then it was time to turn back through the woodlands and meadows of the Country Park. At the car park, which was now almost full, we were approached by an enthusiastic birdwatcher.
"Where are you off to now?" he enquired.
"Home for dinner!"

Take care.

Wednesday 18 December 2013

People Are Strange!

My mother was born in London where her grandfather owned four houses. She lived in one of them and her mother used to collect the rent money from the other households. One of these tenants was a particularly awkward and cantankerous lady who came originally from Cambridge. "Oh, Cambridge people are a strange lot!", my grandmother would frequently complain as she returned home from collecting the rent.

When my mother was just nine years old, war with Germany was declared and the children were evacuated to safer areas of the country. For my mother and her brothers the destination was Cambridgeshire. My mother looked everywhere she went, but was surprised to see that people had just one head each and nothing strange about them at all!

But it's always best to be sure so I checked through some of my old photos......

There you are....nothing strange about us at all!

Take care.

Sunday 15 December 2013

Daisy Roots

A song about a pair of boots ("daisy roots" as my grandfather John Cawdery would have called them in his Cockney rhyming slang). But this is not just about his boots but the boots - and roots - of many of my ancestors and the roads they trod.

Daisy Roots

When these old boots had soles, my boys,
They walked the country round
From Cornwall to Northumberland
And on the Scottish ground
Just like some wayward vagabond 
Or like some Irish rover
They tramped about in search of work
From Liverpool to Dover.*
And they don't make 'em like that any more.

When these old boots had soles, my boys,
They never thought to shirk
Rose early every morning, boys, 
And they tramped their way to work
They carted coal round London town
And navvied on the line**
They walked the ground behind the plough
And down the dark coal mine.
And they don't make 'em like that any more.

When these old boots had soles, my boys,
They marched to foreign lands
With brothers, fathers, uncles
And a mil-i-tary band
The drums were beat so loudly
And the bugles they were blown
Till one rainy April morning
They came limping home alone
And they don't make 'em like that any more.

When these old boots had soles, my boys,
They danced the whole night through
On flagstone floors in many a pub
They beat a fine tattoo
If someone played the fiddle, boys,
These boots would never rest
To a good old Yarmouth hornpipe tune
They stepped it with the best.
But they don't make 'em like that any more.

Now these old boots have holes, my boys,
The leather's worn right through,
The missus says to chuck 'em out
But that I'll never do
They walked a land I'll never know
'cos these old boots ain't mine
No, these are granddad's "daisy roots"
And he's been gone some time.
And they don't make 'em like that any more.
* the last two lines of this verse are lifted directly from an old comic song my mother sings called Paddy And The Rope (And they don't write 'em like that any more.) 

** the men who built the railways and canals in England were known as Navvies or Navigators.

Take care.

Wednesday 11 December 2013



In an earlier post I mentioned that when farmworkers stopped for their lunch break around these parts they called it their "dockey", the word being applied to both the break and the food and drink they took with them to the fields. In the Cambridge Folk Museum I found displayed this dockey bag and can. The bag appears to be hand-made rush-work - so much more elegant than the plastic bag in which I used to take my dockey to work on the farm. The word is said to derive from the fact that farmers used to "dock" their pay for this unproductive time.

The Hole In The Wall

A tiny little opening in the screen in Harlton church. This screen is unusual in being a stone wall rather than the usual wooden screen. In medieval times the screen was just that - a solid partition between the chancel and the nave of the church - and the hole, or squint, was provided so that there could be communication and synchronisation of the service in the two quite separate parts of the church. Over the years the screens have been opened up and now have a more symbolic existence. But in this church the squint remains, presumably because of its more permanent stone construction.


As it's getting near Christmas perhaps we ought to look at something seasonal. Yes, the prickly stuff with the red berries. Except they're technically not berries but drupes. And only female holly bushes have them anyway. The leaves aren't all prickly either - the prickles are only there to dissuade animals from browsing and once a bush reaches a good height it stops producing prickly leaves on the upper branches. This is the top of same bush photographed above...

Like many trees and bushes holly has an adaptation which makes it almost indestructible; if you cut it down it simply grows again. The reason trees have developed this trick (if you believe the conservationist and writer, George Monbiot, anyway) is elephants! Elephants and other large animals cause enormous damage to woodland, and trees adapted in order to survive. Although the large animals have disappeared from our woodland long ago the trees have not lost the ability to regrow.

An Interesting Post 

Deep in the Hertfordshire woodland stands this rather smart post. It owes its existence to the Great Fire Of London. In order to finance the re-building, the City Of London imposed taxes on coal which was brought in. The area over which they claimed these payments stretched about twenty miles from the City and by the 1860s it was decided to mark the area with a series of posts. No by-way was too small to have a post as our photo shows.

Well, I hope that was an interesting post.
Take care.

Thursday 5 December 2013

Tuesday 3 December 2013

A Wander Through Wymondham

Wander through Wymondham and you you could be forgiven for thinking that it's always been a quiet little place where nothing has ever happened. You'd be wrong of course.

I've written before about Robert Kett and how he led a rebellion against the wealthy landowners of these parts. How he and his followers took over the City of Norwich, only to be defeated by an army of mercenaries hired by the king. Kett was hanged from the battlements of Norwich Castle, but his brother was brought back to Wymondham and hanged from the Abbey tower as a warning to the town to mind its ways in the future. Kett is remembered on the town sign.

In the centre of the town stands this rather strange-looking octagonal building which is known as the Market Cross. King John issued a charter proclaiming the market in 1204 though it may have been in existence before that date. This building dates from 1617 and cost £16 7s 0d, money which had to be borrowed from a prominent citizen.

Markets were controlled by strict rules and were the main places of trade up until quite recently. A market still takes place in the square every Friday. In times when roads were poor and transport was slow there needed to be a lot of market towns to serve the population; a fact which is born out by Wymondham being less than ten miles from Norwich.

The reason the Market Cross had to be rebuilt in 1617 was because, in 1615, the previous building had been burned down along with a large part of the town. Such fires were not uncommon in the days of open fireplaces, candles and oil lamps, straw mattresses, rush matting, wooden beams, thatched roofs.....It's a wonder it didn't happen more often!

But this fire was no accident and three gypsies and a local woman, all of whom held a grudge against the town, were arrested, found guilty and hanged for the crime. Some buildings such as the Green Dragon pub (below), which dates from the late fifteenth century, survived the inferno.

Like many towns in this part of the world Wymondham relied on the wool-trade for its wealth and when the market for wool went through one of its periodic troughs in the nineteenth century the town hit very hard times. The number of hand looms in the town fell from over 600 in 1836 to about 60 in 1845. The town did not recover which is why the buildings of that era still stand today. 

There were also other industries associated with Wymondham in the past, particularly the making of small wooden objects such as spoons. This is commemorated on the reverse of the town sign and in the name of the nearby settlement of Spooner Row. On top of the sign, incidentally, is a monk behind whom is a representation of the Abbey as it must have looked before its east end was destroyed.

However it's not a town that has been completely by-passed by the modern world. Just down the road is the headquarters of Lotus sports and racing cars, all of which are well out of my price range. I'll take the train!

Take care.

Sunday 1 December 2013

Wymondham Abbey

Why are there TWO towers on that church?

Well, there used to be three towers; a big one at this end and two smaller ones at the other end. Except that in those days the one this end used to be in the middle, as it was a much bigger church - an Abbey in fact.

In 1107 William d'Albini, whom we met before at Castle Rising, founded a Benedictine priory on this site. There was a large church and many associated buildings. In 1376 the monks commenced constructing an octagonal tower in the centre of the abbey. It still stands though has been redundant since Henry VIII did away with the monasteries. Then the part of the church which was formerly used by the monks was pulled down, leaving the tower standing aloof but unused. Meanwhile the remaining portion of the building serves as the parish church. 

Fine as all this ancient stonework is, I've actually come here to see something much more recent, a work of art that is not without it's critics, but one which you certainly can't ignore. Step inside and take a look.

The eastern end of the church, which was formerly used by the monks, was walled off and the congregation had to stare at a plain wall till in 1913 Sir Ninian Comper was chosen to design this reredos, a decorative screen behind the altar. War interrupted its construction and it was later decided that it should be a memorial to those sacrificed in that senseless slaughter. 

All I can do (apart from say "Wow!") is show you some details. If you want to find out who is represented by the various statues then Wymondham Abbey's own website will help.

It had been a typical, grey November day, but as I sat looking up at the richly gilded figures the sun broke through and streamed in through the clerestory windows to illuminate the scene. Perfect. But does this grand building still operate as the parish church of the people of Wymondham.?

You bet it does....

Anyone who reads these posts regularly may remember Robert Kett, who led a rebellion against landowners who enclosed the common lands in 1549. He was a Wymondham man and as I made my way out through the churchyard I happened to see this gravestone... of Kett's descendants presumably.

Take care.