So another year has gone by and as New Year’s Eve fast approaches it is time to reflect on the one past and look forward to the one to come.
I try to visit Exmoor National Park as often as possible for I consider it to be “home from home”. I spent a lot of my youth and early adulthood there on a remote farm not realising that I was witnessing a way of life now gone. With the benefit of hindsight I wish I’d taken many more photographs but, in the days before digital, films were both precious and expensive.
In January, I made a special trip to take a look at the new headquarters of the Exmoor Society in the pretty, little town of Dulverton. The enlarged space that they now have has meant that they it is now much easier to access the archives and seek information. If you are planning a holiday on the moor, it is well worth visiting. Click here to find out more about my day there.
February found me walking along the edge of a precipice and seeking an elderly great-aunt, fortunately not at the same time. I met Ba-ba (how she got this name is still a complete mystery) once as a boy when she was in her late nineties and she left a lasting impression on me. With everyone else that knew her now dead (I’m now the ‘old’ generation) I’ve been trying to research her. Despite the post creating a lot of interest it ended sadly without much success. Perhaps, this post might reach someone who knows who she was. To check out the detective work so far take a look here.
The Precipice Walk in Snowdonia, although not overly strenuous, is not to be attempted by the faint-hearted. Travelling clockwise, the path clings to the edge of the drop before turning back on itself alongside a more gentle and peaceful lake. If you’re afraid of heights go anti-clockwise for a delightful, if somewhat short, walk and turn around when you dare go no further. Alternatively, sit back in your armchair and take a look at the photos here.
A much longer walk, completely different in character, was described in two March posts. Dartmoor is another national park in the West Country but much harsher than Exmoor. Despite its bleakness now, in the past the climate was kinder, confirmed by the large number of Neolithic remains there.
The walk starts at a pub where according to tradition the fire has never been allowed to go out in the past two hundred years. Our path crosses the moor to the village of Postbridge, home of the famous medieval stone clapper bridge. The second part of the walk follows the river before continuing across the moor, taking in beehive huts dating back to 1500AD before arriving at the Grey Wethers stone circles. The twin circles are about two thousand years old. Reaching the stones is described here.
The history of the United States and Ireland are intertwined by mass emigration. In April I visited New Ross in the south of Ireland and the birthplace of John F Kennedy’s great-grandfather. Fifty years after JFK’s visit his sister came to light… Well, read here to find out exactly what she did.
The image below might give you a clue.
I stayed with the Irish theme in May and wrote about the lovely village of Castlelyons where a friend spent her early childhood. Well off the tourist trail when you red about the place you’ll wonder why. In the meantime, we had the place to ourselves.
June is a lovely month both for walking and also for garden lovers, with hedgerows and gardens smothered in rose blossom. Continuing the theme of elderly ladies and ancient times the month’s post explored the history of Rosa de Rescht – fascinating for the mystery it holds. Incidentally, even if you a hopeless gardener (and no-one is completely so) this is the simplest of roses to grow…
Wednesday, 30 December 2015
Sunday, 13 December 2015
With Christmas almost upon us one of the most traditional of purchases along with the tree, goose or turkey will be sprigs and bunches of mistletoe. Placed carefully above a doorway where passing under it is unavoidable many of us will be subjected to the torture of being kissed by those we’d rather not and disappointed by those that we would have liked to have been but ignored.
The tradition of kissing beneath mistletoe is very much a British one although it is rapidly gaining popularity (and why not?!) around the world. Our own mistletoe, Viscum album, (European Mistletoe) grows throughout much of Europe but is decidedly fickle as to its requirements. The majority of British mistletoe grows to the west of the Cotswolds, especially amongst cider orchards found in the counties of Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire. However, in other areas in the south, there are isolated populations where it can grow locally abundantly – the photos for this blog, for example, were taken in a garden in the Chiltern Hills. The further north, the rarer mistletoe is, being absent from much of northern England, Scotland, the Low Countries and Scandinavia.
Mistletoe is a parasitic plant – or to be more accurate hemiparasitic – attaching itself to its host tree, most commonly cultivated apple or lime. Strangely, mistletoe rarely is found on the wild crab apple, perhaps due to its more congested growth. Likewise, it is rarely found in woodland where the density of trees probably reduces the amount of light and air circulation required. Although mistletoe, being green, carries out some photosynthesis this is limited and where it grows in abundance on one tree, it can weaken the host plant and reduce fruiting potential.
In the past, mistletoe has been very much associated with fertility and winter solstice rituals and its use as a decoration is still sometimes banned in churches. The Druids held the plant sacred, especially if it was found to be growing on oak (which it rarely does). Modern-day Druids now hold a festival each December at Tenbury Wells to celebrate the plant.
Growing your own mistletoe is relatively easy for most of the difficulties commonly associated with germination are false. Ideally, fresh berries should be ‘sown’ in February. These can be gathered or purchased or you may prefer to store those from Christmas. If choosing the latter option, store them in a cool, light, airy place and rehydrate in a little water before use. Squeeze the seeds out of the berries and remove as much of the stickiness as possible; they will still attach easily to the bark. Choose young branches away from the trunk and fix to their underside. There is no need to nick the bark or cover the seeds although it is probably advisable to mark the branch in some way to identify it in the future. The seeds germinate quite quickly but it will be four years or more before any real growth is apparent. Mistletoe (like holly) have separate male and female plants so it will be necessary to have several plants to ensure cross-fertilisation and berry production.
There are over 1500 different species of mistletoe growing throughout the world. In America the native mistletoe looks very different to our own – one of the reasons why, to British eyes, plastic mistletoe sold in the shops looks so unreal: it is modelled on the American species.
For a huge amount of fascinating information on folklore and medicinal use, advice on conservation and purchase of mistletoe seed do visit The Mistletoe Pages website where much of the above information has been gleaned.
For those interested in Druidry: The Mistletoe Foundation