Monday, 13 January 2014

Bee Skep Collection

In the wake of the storms the calm
The keenly awaited email arrived from Farmer David - 'bee skep is ready'. Saturday morning set off early to collect, stopping briefly in Cirencester - Roman town Corinium. The local parish church built in 1115 wearing a deep golden hue against blue skies in the morning sun. Called at Marks & Spencer to buy our 'Dine-in for Two' - £10. Fantastic value - more of that later.
On arriving in Farmer David's village there was plenty of evidence resulting from the recent rain storms. The River Churn which runs into the Thames is often little more than a trickle.
Here it had overflowed across the road now slowly receding. 
It is strange that we have never visited this pretty little village before which is no more than half an hour from our home. Definitely must return in the summer to explore it more - we have learnt there is a treasure in the church.
A wonderful espaliered tree growing against the wall of a house. I wonder how old it is? - I want to see it again when it is wearing its summer gown.
Farmer David and his wife are 'the salt of the earth' a couple whose family have farmed and lived in the same old stone farmhouse for generations, a pleasure to meet. As well as David's ancient bee skep craft they keep traditional Cotswold sheep, sell jars of honey, and make candles out of their own beeswax. Farmer David has made a wonderful job of the skep, we are delighted. Although made from straw it is exceedingly robust, very rigid, and so firm and strong that you could even sit on it!!!
Cotswold sheep, nicknamed Cotswold Lions, are classed as a rare breed, and known for their lustrous, long curly locks. They are thought to have been introduced here by the Romans. The Romans were great makers and exporters of woollen cloth from the British Isles to the rest of their Empire. In its heyday the sheep did much to shape the landscape of the Cotswolds. In addition to the grazing of large flocks which has created the distinctive field systems surrounded by drystone walls, many of the beautiful churches and houses owe their existence to Cotswold sheep, albeit indirectly. Rich early medieval wool merchants made fortunes in the cloth trade. They gave money to build churches, and built themselves beautiful houses in the countryside and little towns, including Cirencester, mentioned at the beginning of this post.
More information on bee skeps here.

58 comments:

  1. Ooh! what does one do with a bee skep? Sorry for my ignorance! I have seen them before but never really enquired as to what they are for! x

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    1. Dear Penny - they are homes for honeybees. The skep sits in what is known as a bee bole - an alcove in the wall to you and me (as I have done in the photo). Then you hope that during the late spring/summer some bees will come and make it their home.

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  2. Amazing pictures, all of them. And very interesting post of course, I hope everything is Ok there!


    Marina

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    1. Thanks Marina - beautiful sunshine now - we live 750 feet up on the top of a very steep hill, so no flooding around our home.

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  3. The Farmer Davids sound like a brilliant couple, and how wonderful is your bee skep. He is a true artisan. I love the Cotswold sheep, who have lovely faces, and look completely different from Australian merinos. I remember reading that either Prince Charles or Camilla gave the other a rare sheep for a gift which I thought quite an inspired choice for a royal gift. I know Highgrove is somewhere in the vicinity of Cirencester ... Oh and that church is so beautiful, so old, and wonderful in the golden light.

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    1. Dear Patricia - You are right, Highgrove is not far from Cirencester - both Princess Anne and Prince Charles live in the same vicinity as us.
      Cirencester church is one of the biggest parish churches in the country and holds some special treasures - I really must try and do a post on it someday.

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  4. Hello Rosemary, Cirencester is a wonderful town--well worth a revisit, as long as you report back to us. It's amazing how the delicate stone tracery in the church can stand all those centuries, especially with periodic storms such as the one just experienced.

    Your bee skep turned out great, very natural and traditional, (although I also like seeing box hives). Is it possible to open the skep for access to the combs? I hope you get some tenants for it soon.
    --Jim

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    1. Hello Jim - I am regularly in Cirencester - it is one of my nearest towns. I should endeavour to do a post sometime. It has many remains from the Roman period including a wonderful museum full of Roman mosaics found in the town, and the earthwork remains of one of the largest Roman amphitheatres in the country. Roman Cirencester was second only in size and importance to London.
      The skep has access underneath, but if I do get tenants I shall have to call in a bee expert to remove them as I have no knowledge about caring for them. People with hives are always happy to come and collect a swarm from you.

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  5. Fantastic to have an original bee skep, it looks beautiful, now the bees........but I suppose they love such a magnificent home. The Cotswold Lions are cute looking I did not know this breed. As a farmer's daughter and a border collie lover I am fond of sheep too.

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    1. I shall put the skep in the walls alcove at the end of March, and just wait and see what happens. It may just end up being an interesting ornament in the garden!!!
      There is something very appealing about sheep and also their lambs. It seems that there is currently a resurgence of interest in the rarer breeds. I understand that there are more than a 1000 different breeds of sheep.

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  6. I loved this post, Rosemary. The skeps are wonderful. I'm very keen to have some for myself, now! (and thank you for the link on your earlier post). If your skep does attract bees, I will be very interested see how the colony develops in it, as I've never seen bees kept in one (except on TV!) I'm so pleased to hear that this farmer is keeping this traditional craft alive (and that he's keeping traditional breeds of sheep, too.)
    The tree against the wall is fascinating.

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    1. I really had not expected the skep to be as tough and strong as it was - for some reason I thought that it would be more floppy being made out of straw. It is a lovely thing to have and we shall just have to wait and see if the bees like it. If I get a swarm I may have to call on you to take it off my hands!!!

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  7. Hi Rosemary, sounds like collecting your amazing handcrafted bee skep turned into a wonderful discovery of a little old town close but unknown to you so far. I guess it can't get much better than that! I always love to see photos from these places in England and Cirencester seems to be particular quaint and beautiful. The Cotswold sheep are quite something, too! Have a nice evening!
    Christina

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    1. Cirencester is a town I know well, it was the village we had to find in the surrounding area that was unknown to us. Although we have lived here for nearly 20 years we still keep discovering little places that are new to us - I think that it has something to do with the terrain which is full of deep valleys which have lots of ways in and out of them, and villages clinging to the hillsides.

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  8. A few amazing pictures. The sheep and architecture.

    Greetings,
    Filip

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  9. I must admit I hadn't heard of a bee skep either but you've described it beautifully and hopefully it will do the job well. What a lovely town to happen across by accident as it were. Lovely photos Rosemary. I love that part of the country and are hoping to visit the area this year sometime.
    Patricia x

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    1. Dear Patricia - the town of Cirencester I know well, it was the little village that we had to find beyond there that we did not know. We are always discovering places here that are new to us even though we have been here nearly 20 years. There are so many little country roads leading off into valleys that a trip becomes a magical mystery tour.

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  10. Is that bee skep in youre garden now?
    Have you already a bee population?
    Nice photo's....the tree lookes amazing.
    Nice evening Rosemary.

    Greetings,
    Inge, my choice

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    1. Dear Inge - I put it into the garden wall for the photo but it is now in the conservatory and will stay there until later in the Spring. I do not have any bees but hope that when the sunshine and warmer weather comes they will find it and decide to make it their home.
      Yes, I love the way that tree has been trained up the wall too.

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  11. Glad you had such a lovely sunny day when you collected the skep! The espaliered tree looks so old. I will look forward to you returning there in the summer to share with us some more wonderful images.
    Sarah x

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    1. Wasn't last Saturday was a perfect winters day? - a great big sun spreading its rays wall to wall all day long.

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  12. Such a pretty village Rosemary! Are you really going to keep bees? It was one of the things my husband would have loved to do as well.

    Happy week!

    Madelief x

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    1. Dear Madelief - I am hoping some honeybees will make the skep their home when I put it out in the late Spring. However, I don't have a clue about how to look after them so would have to call in an expert to deal with them. Bee people are very happy to remove a swarm and take it home with them - they might even give me some honey in exchange.

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  13. I just love that bee skep - beautifully crafted. It doesn't look as though there is a removable lid to collect honey but then perhaps you do not collect honey from these bees. The espaliered tree is great - look forward to photos on your return to that wonderful village.

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    1. You can get in through the bottom of the skep Susan.
      The tree was obviously espaliered by an expert - it is quite wonderful what you can do with plants if you know how. We have made balls out of our box shrubs, but our neighbour lollipops his trees, as I call it, however, it is a very time consuming task.

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  14. Those sheep are similar to our English Leicester ones down here.
    Lovely photos as always.

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    1. Yes, you are right they do have a resemblance to the Leicesters. Both have long luscious curly locks.

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  15. I love the Cotswold Lions, almost as much as my favourite Romney Marsh breed aka Romneys - or just Kents!

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    1. We once stayed at a lovely farm in Winchelsea and I remember that they grazed their Romneys on the salt marshes below the farm. The meat went to all of the top London restaurants.

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  16. You got it! It will be fascinating to see if any bees come a-visiting.
    There does seem to be an awful lot of water still around. Quite a few of those Cotswold villages are close to rivers, it must have been terrible for them over the last few weeks.

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    1. I used to think that it would be lovely to live beside a river or the sea, but not anymore. For some reason, not by choice necessarily, we have always lived on top of a high hill wherever we have lived in the country.
      I shall put the skep in the wall at the end of March and wait and see what happens.

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  17. Hi Rosemary...thanks for stopping by my blog!
    Your pictures are awesome...as I have said many times....I LOVE the English countryside!
    Make sure to go back and take photos of the tree, in it's summer gown!

    Cheers!
    Linda :o)

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    1. Dear Linda - thanks for your visit - the way the tree has been groomed is very unique, someone with foresight must have clipped it.

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  18. Cirencester looks like an interesting and pretty little village to visit , and the tree against the wall is really amazing ! That storm has been a total disaster for so many people, incredible how the water just pours everywhere !

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    1. I think that in the future builders will have to design houses that can withstand flooding i.e. build them on stilts or something similar.
      You are right, Cirencester is a small town that has much to offer. A wonderful museum showing the Roman mosaics discovered in the town, and one of the largest earthwork remains of an amphitheatre built in Roman Britain.

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  19. Dear Rosemary,

    Your bee skep looks beautifully made, and I'm looking forward to hearing about the bees that will undoubtedly find it and love it. I'll also look forward to seeing what's in the village church, and perhaps more of the Cirencester church, too. It looks as though it might have been an inspiration to Charles Barry of your last posting. Amazing that the lacy parapet would have withstood do much time.

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    1. The lacy parapet is not quite so old as the rest of the church, but it is considered to be one of the most elaborately decorated porches in an English parish church. It was built in 1490 - still over 500 years old.
      My skep has been beautifully crafted, and it did not cost very much considering the work that it must have involved.
      I must try and put aside a day in the summer to take some pictures of Cirencester and the little village where Farmer David lives.

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  20. Hello Rosemary - greetings from a fellow blogger - yours looks more sophisticated than mine! Hastings Battleaxe is about Hastings and East Sussex where I now live, but many years ago I lived near Stroud...Strangely enough my last post mentions bees - your bee skep looks great. Can it stay outside all weathers? http://hastings-battleaxe.blogspot.co.uk

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    1. Hello Stephanie - thank you for your visit and kind comment.
      You will recognise much in this blog if you know the area already.
      The bee skep will go into the wall at the end of March, and if it appears to have remained sheltered from the rain then I shall leave it out. I understand that the straw is not penetrated by the bad weather.
      I have another little wooden chalet for solitary bees which you can see here if you are interested.
      http://wherefivevalleysmeet.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/santas-little-gift.html
      Popping over to see your blog now.

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  21. AMAZING. Lovely images as always and the bee skep is wonderful. I can't wait to see how things work out with the skep.

    Jean x

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    1. I will put the skep in the wall during the warmer weather and see what happens. Thank you for your kind comment.

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  22. Hi Rosemary
    Thanks for your lovely comment on my blog earlier :-)
    How exciting that you are becoming bee keepers.... I look forward to reading more about your venture....

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    1. Hi Nat - if the bees come then I might have to call in a bee keeper (a proper one) to take them off my hands. I just want to give them a little home and encourage them into the garden.

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  23. Love those photos of the sheep, Rosemary. I also enjoyed reading about the bee skeps. I had one years ago, kept it on the balcony and it grew all over green with nasty mold. But still I enjoyed it for years.

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    1. I think that there is a lesson in here for me Yvette - I will put mine in the wall alcove during late spring and take it in during the winter. I have heard that the straw is supposed to be waterproof but I shall see how it fares during the summer.

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  24. The bee skeps look so well made and sturdy. The town also looks interesting to walk around and discover. Then the sheep, what a beautiful sight!

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    1. We are delighted with the way the skep has been made. It is a dying art, so we shall treasure it.

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  25. Cirencester looks like an interesting little village to visit and it's not that far from us either. I'll keep it in mind for when the weather is drier and warmer.

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    1. They have a wonderful Roman Museum there Paula which your family would probably enjoy visiting.

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  26. Dear Rosemary, Now there is a trip I would have loved to been along....from start to finish. Everything about your journey is fascinating, especially the couple whose family has lived in the same stone farm house for generations. The bee skep is a work of art and so is the espaliered tree. I wonder what kind it is? Maybe you will tell us later in the year. ox, Gina

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    1. How lovely it would have been to have had you join us dear Gina.
      We are delighted with the bee skep, and feel Farmer David charged us a small price for the skills employed in making it.
      Hopefully when I return I shall discover what tree it is that has been espaliered - it looks a bit like a pear tree to me.

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  27. Dear Rosemary,
    to think that you will get bees: so wonderful! And you gave me an idea: my friend Anne, with whom I am sometimes in England, calls four sheep her own (and a mill to live in). Now she wrote her doctorate - and I am looking for a present. We have been in the Cotswold together - and the sheep you are speaking of look great! I will try to get one (though I think it is not easy to find those 'lions' in Germany - but I will try.)

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    1. Good lion hunting Brigitta - they are very appealing with their lustrous curly locks.

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  28. Ciekawa miejscowość z pięknym kościołem. Mam nadzieję, że woda nie zrobiła szkód. Drzewo na murze wygląda wspaniale. Pozdrawiam.
    An interesting village with a beautiful church. I hope that the water did not do damage. Tree on the wall looks great. Yours.

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    1. As far as I know the water just flooded the road and some gardens. The tree beside the wall should look wonderful in the summer when it has some leaves.

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  29. Dear Rosemary,Cirencester looks like an interesting and pretty little village to visit !!Amazing tree!!
    Thank you for sharing!
    Dimi...

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    1. I look forward to seeing the tree later in the year when it has grown its leaves - congratulations on the safe arrival of your little granddaughter.

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