We have lived just six miles from Tutbury Castle for over 40 years and have seen it from the outside many times but until quite recently I had never actually been into the grounds. In July, as lockdown restrictions continued to be relaxed, Tutbury Castle reopened for three days a week and we took the opportunity to visit. It turned out to be a good choice as it was a beautiful day and there were not too many people about.
Tutbury Castle sits on a hill close to the Staffordshire/Derbyshire boundary which at that point is the River Dove. There are excellent views towards the river and hills of Derbyshire.
The first record of the castle is 1071 as one of the new castles built to stamp the authority of the Norman conquerors across the Midlands.
The castle is best known as one of the prisons of Mary Queen of Scots, who was held here on four occasions. It was here that she became involved in the plot that ultimately led to her bloody execution at Fotheringhay.
Her first visit began on 4th February 1569 when she arrived with no fewer than sixty attendants. She had been many hours in the saddle and for the first time since her arrival in England, she realised that she was now in prison. Mary loathed Tutbury, not only because of what it represented but also because it was cold, draughty and extremely damp – threatening her already delicate health. She wrote of its miseries and rather than waxing lyrical about the magnificent view Tutbury offered, she described it as ‘sitting squarely on top of a mountain in the middle of a plain’, subjecting her to all the ‘winds and injures of heaven’.
It is suggested that letters to and from Mary were smuggled concealed inside beer barrels from the brewers of nearby Burton on Trent who were supplying Tutbury Castle.
It is exactly a year since I first posted about bluebells, and here we are again – bluebell season. The difference this time is that we are in coronavirus lockdown so we have been walking close to home and enjoying a nearby small wooded dale.
My post last year stated – ‘Here in the UK we have more than half of the world’s bluebells and you can see them in woods up and down the country each spring. They are powerful magnets for photographers and artist alike, although strangely not always the easiest of subjects to photograph and capture the colour accurately’. The photographs this year were taken in the little known local bluebell woods. There is no car parking nearby and consequently they are only used by nearby residents and they do not attract people from other parts of the town. This year they are being used by local families were the parents are clearly on the ‘home schooling’ duties. What better classroom?
Last year I also wrote ‘Native bluebells are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. It’s against the law to dig up bulbs in the wild and landowners aren’t allowed to dig them up to sell them either’. This year we have our 3 and 4 year old grandchildren with us and whilst it is a pleasure to see their joy and excitement when seeing bluebells it can be quite difficult to stop them picking them and taking some home. I remember one shortened and simplified version of the official Countryside Code was ‘Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints’. Today, I only took photographs but the ground was dry and firm so I didn’t even leave any footprints.
We have been out and about this week taking a few mid-May landscapes. I only tell you this so that I can use the expression ‘mid-May landscapes’.
I first heard the description over 30 years ago, when a colleague, who was also interested in photography, told me he would be taking his mid-May landscapes the following week. Ron’s birthday was in the middle of May and each year, without fail, he would book the whole week off work. This was partly to celebrate his birthday but mainly to capture his mid-May landscapes.
Each day of that week Ron would load his car with his camera gear and set off in a different direction, towards the open countryside, sometimes with a destination in mind, but more often than not, just follow his instinct, the light, the dramatic sky or whatever else caught his eye. He would drive down roads and lanes he had never explored before and thoroughly enjoy his week of self-indulgence.
I hadn’t heard the expression until I met Ron but I immediately realised that it meant the time of the year when the leaves are new, fresh and vibrant; when the grass is lush; when the whole of nature buzzes with life and energy and the light often has a special quality about it. I thought perhaps it was a well-known term used by photographers and artist which had somehow passed me by.
That was back in pre-internet days but the term stuck with me and several years later I consulted Professor Google expecting to find a long list of famous artists or photographers who had used the description, but nothing. Perhaps it was an expression Ron had made up, or had once heard and it stuck with him just as it stuck with me and perhaps after today, with you too.
Here in the UK we have more than half of the world’s bluebells and you can see them in woods up and down the country each spring. They are powerful magnets for photographers and artist alike, although strangely not always the easiest of subjects to photograph and capture the colour accurately.
Native bluebells are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. It’s against the law to dig up bulbs in the wild and landowners aren’t allowed to dig them up to sell them either. The ones found on many gardens and for sale in garden centres are Spanish bluebells.
Not only is Burton on Trent the brewing capital of the UK, but it is also the home of Marmite, which has been produced in the town for well over 100 years. Marmite is a by-product of the brewing process and is made from the excess yeast produced during brewing.
Those of you who don’t live in Burton on Trent can be forgiven for thinking that this is an April Fool joke. Why? Because while other towns and cities have statues of kings, queens, prime ministers, politicians, military heroes, writers, artists, sports personalities and entertainers, we have a sculpture of a Marmite jar! (Actually we do have other statues, etc. and these may be covered in future posts).
So, well established facts or April Fool fiction?
• Marmite is good for you. It is gluten free and contains high levels of vitamin B3, folic acid and thiamine • Countless Burton babies have been weaned on Marmite on toast without any (known) ill effects. • There is a sculpture in Burton in the shape of a jar of Marmite • The sculpture is called Monumite • It incorporates some digital technology and visitors can download information from it onto their mobile phones via Bluetooth. • Recent scientific studies have discovered that ‘love it or hate it’ all depends on your genes. The Marmite Gene Project reports that ‘whether you fall into the loathe it or love it category all depends on your genes. The ‘Marmite Gene Project’ shows that people are born biologically more likely to be either lovers or haters of Marmite thanks to 15 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP’s or genetic markers, in lay terms) linked to their taste preference’.
‘March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb’. Weather lore goes back centuries and even today many of these sayings have some degree of accuracy. The trouble with March is that it doesn’t follow the transition from lion to lamb, or winter to spring, in a gradual, measured way. Each of its 31 days could be a fraction of a degree warmer, and the wind that little bit calmer, perhaps with a slightly more noticeable change on 21st as a token gesture to mark the first day of spring. But no, March keeps us guessing. A few days of fine weather followed by days of cold wind, frost, and, like today, a sprinkling of snow. If she’s feeling particularity mischievous, March will give all those things, and more, in a single hour.
Charles Dickens describes it particularly well in his quote on the back of today’s postcard.
A postcard from St George’s Park, the National Football Centre in Staffordshire. The extensive grounds are beautifully maintained and the overall impression is that of a centre of excellence, wellbeing and perfection. It therefore seemed strange that this tree had escaped the woodcutter’s axe (or chainsaw). I couldn’t help but think of The Crooked Tree story.
Once upon a time there was a crooked tree and a straight tree. And they grew next to each other. And every day the straight tree would look at the crooked tree and he would say, “You’re crooked. You’ve always been crooked and you’ll continue to be crooked. But look at me! Look at me!” said the straight tree. “I’m tall and I’m straight.” And then one day the lumberjacks came into the forest and looked around, and the manager in charge said, “Cut all the straight trees.” And that crooked tree is still there to this day, growing strong and growing strange. Tom Waits. From the film Wristcutters – A Love Story