Wednesday, 29 March 2023

A Medieval Treasure

 The Cosmati Mosaic Pavement

The Cosmati Pavement is currently in the news, but did you know about this rare national treasure previously? 

The pavement was commissioned by King Henry 111 from the reknown Cosmati family in Rome.  In 1268 they journeyed over from Italy to London where they designed and then laid the pavement in front of Westminster Abbey's High Altar. For the last 150 years the mosaic has been cover in a carpet to protect it. The reason for the present interest is because King Charles will be seated on the 700 year old Cornation Chair placed upon the mosaic when he is crowned, the mosaic having been carefully conserved and restored in recent years.

The mosaic is something that I have known about for a long time, courtesy a painting by Hans Holbein the younger, called The Ambassadors, which he painted in 1533. The painting was done at a time of great religious upheaval both here and across Europe.


Catherine of Aragon

The Pope had refused to annul King Henry V111's marriage to Catherine of Aragon which resulted in the break with the Roman Catholic Church. 

King Henry V111 & Anne Boleyn

In the year that Holbein executed his painting King Henry V111 married Anne Boleyn. The array of objects seen in the painting alludes to the religious discord both here and across Europe. Holbein came to live in England in 1532 and was, therefore, both witness and party to this tumultous period in our history. In his painting two French Ambassadors are seen standing on the Cosmati Pavement, however, this mosaic holds a criptic medieval prophecy, but what is it? If you are interested in discovering the answer and would also like to know about the meanings behind some of the other objects depicted in the painting, then you can find out about them here.    

Friday, 24 March 2023

Your kind messages...........

........................................were greatly appreciated - thank you.

Despite the wretched Covid virus, it appears that other viruses too have also been doing the rounds, some of which have caused strange and difficult reactions for many. Midway through last December we both caught a flue type virus that for me was over within days, but for my husband it dragged on and on. By the middle of January we had thought that he was beginning to recover, but in fact he became far worse. Without going into too much detail, the paramedics came to the house twice, two hospital visits with many tests, and nights where we feared he would not see the light of day. This all continued until two weeks ago when suddenly he started to turn the corner and is now slowly building back his strength day by day. The warmer weather, the flowers in the garden, lighter nights and sunnier days will hopefully help. It is my understanding that the immunity that we have all built up over the years could have been compromised. This is mainly due to the strange lives that we have all been living for the past three years particularly those of us who have not been mixing with others as much as we normally would have done.

Do take care yourselves.

Wednesday, 1 February 2023

🧅 Almost a Year.............

The onion is his head, the roots
 his wispy hair. She takes the knife

and runs it down his cheek,

sloughing the crackling skin.

The kitchen window is misted

from the borsch in the pan.

By candlelight, she peels back

the gilded skin and deposits it

in the peelings bin. Why is his face

so featureless? She takes the tip

of the knife and carves beady eyes

and a slit of pouting mouth.

It's almost a year, and she's survived

this long, despite the evil onion.

She trims the roots and flattens

them down, remarking to herself

how earless he is. Just the fumes

of this tyrant can make her cry.

He's alive now, a pale face that gloats

as her country floats in darkness.

Calmly, she takes the knife and slices

him six times this way

and six times the other, then

six times, to be certain, from ear to ear.

She picks up the board and slides

his remains into the borsch

that bubbles with homely goodness -

something to nourish the kids,

a recipe her mother taught her.        

courtesy eldest son
Apologies for not replying to comments on the previous post. 
Due to family reasons I shall not be visiting blogs, making comments, or writing any posts. 
Will return, hopefully, sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, 25 January 2023

Quiz - the Answer

A Bee Bole is the official name of the structure - i.e an individual recess or row of recesses usually set into a stone or brick wall. Each recess holds one Bee Skep - a skep being a coiled straw bee hive which has been traditionally used by bee keepers until the introduction of wooden hives around the 1850s. The word "bole" is an old Scottish word meaning a wall recess. 

A big thank you to all of those who attempted the quiz and offered an interesting variety of comments. The first and only 100% correct answer was given by John from the blog By Stargoose and Hanglands. John knew that the recesses were called Bee Boles and that the hives are called Bee Skeps . The second answer came from Jeanneke who said "is it a bee hotel for solitary bees to use for pollinating?" Jeanneke was definitely on the right track as she recognised that the structure was for bees. However, these structures and hives are for honey bees Apis mellifera who live in large colonies unlike solitary bees.  Anyone who is interested in the life story of a solitary bee can read a post that I wrote about them here. Wondering if it was possible to have a second attempt, "yes", I was more than happy for anyone to try again, Britta said "are the holes to put bee hives into?" An excellent second attempt Britta. A 50% correct answer came from "East Witton" (no name or blog) who said that Bee Skeps filled the recesses, but omitted to give a name to the structure and recesses. Finally comment number No.5 arrived from Yoko who said that in the third image she imagined holes for bees as apartments - Yoko's answer is definitely travelling along the right track.  

Bee keeping was a common activity for hundreds of years being the main source of sweetness before the arrival of sugar. It was a commodity in high demand not only for the honey but also for the beeswax which was used to make candles and tapers for churches, cathedrals, abbeys and the grand homes of the wealthy. The common man would have used tallow which is a rendered form of beef or mutton fat. Tithes and rents were often paid for with honey and/or beeswax, and even bee swarms.

I mentioned that we have a Bee Bole structure in one of our drystone garden walls which also holds a Bee Skep. It is not easy to find a Bee Skep craftsperson, but eventually I successfully tracked someone down.

The golden straw of the Bee Skep has weathered and mellowed now that it is in situ.

Thursday, 19 January 2023

A Quiz for 2023

It is a long time since I offered you a quiz.  The following free standing structure is unusual, this stone feature is normally to be found built into a wall - I have one in my own garden. Alas it is not historic, ours was built into our drystone wall at my request. They should be south facing, and many can still be found right across Britain today, some dating back as far as the 12th century. They can still be seen in the fortified walls of medieval towns, castles, monasteries and in the walled gardens of many stately homes or large properties.

a) What is the official term used for these structures and b) The special name given for the items that they contained?
Comments moderation has been switch off
for the duration of the quiz.

Tuesday, 10 January 2023


I enjoy growing flowers in my garden but I especially love discovering flowers growing in their wild habitat. My interest in flowers was first kindled as a six year old when my parents bought me the Flower Fairy Alphabet book written by Cicely Mary Barker.

The girl's school that I attended had a very enthusiastic botany teacher - Miss Hunter. I wonder, is botany still taught at school? She would take us out for the whole day into the Derbyshire Dales once or twice a year. She carried a large biscuit tin in which one of us would place one specimen of each wild flower that we discovered. The following day all of the flowers would be laid out, dissected, drawn and labelled. She taught us both their scientific names and their common names. Their different growing habitats, how they distributed their seeds, but above all gave us all a real love of wild flowers. 

I want to tell you about a very remarkable lady, Dr. Margaret Bradshaw, MBE, who has written her very first book at the grand age of 97years. The book, which is due out next month in the UK, is called Teesdale's Special Flora - Places, plants and people, pubished by Princeton University Press. The subject is the unique wild flowers that grow in Upper Teesdale, Co Durham, many of which date back to the Ice Age, a subject that has consumed Maragret for much of her life.

She hopes that her book gets the message out that there are many special plants in Teesdale that should be treasured and their habitats conserved. 

When asked about her great age she said that genetics played a part. Her twin brother lived to 93, her mother and grandmother both to 95, but the key, she said, was to get yourself a hobby - something you enjoy doing and become an expert. Remarkably she enjoys horse riding having only taken it up just three years ago. Last year she rode 55miles over ten weeks to raise money for the conservation charity she set up. 

Margaret out riding on Queenie in Upper Teesdale

The following photographs are a few of the beautiful wildflowers to be found growing in Upper Teesdale

spring gentian - Gentiana verna 

birdseye primrose - Primila farinosa

common cow-wheat - Melampyrum pratense

montane eyebright - Euphrasia officinalis subsp. monticola
This plant is a very special rare plant that only grows in species-rich upland hay meadow vegetation. It is a Nationally Scarce species and listed as Vulnerable on the UK Red List. 
marsh lousewort - pedicularis-palustris
alpine bartsia  - Bartsia alpina

This is another of Upper Teesdale's special plants, It is Nationally Rare - it's main British distribution being in the Breadalbanes, Scotland. It is very rare in England and it too is listed as Vunerable on the English Red List. 

It is semi-parasitic because the plants are parasitic on the roots of other species, but they also have chlorophyll, so they don't totally rely on their host plants. 

I am very gratefully to Botanist John O'Reilly, who was chosen by Margaret to be the main botanist recording the plants recently. All of these photos are his, apart from the last one which was taken by Margaret.