Not even the birds could persuade us to linger at the motorway services, and we soon found our way to Shropshire, and Ludlow. Where Canterbury has a farmers’ market in the old railway goods shed, Ludlow has a brewery. Even on a Monday morning there were people enjoying the sun and the beer. We saw no reason not to join them.
Impressive plumbing behind the bar, where we bought a sample of three small glasses of different beers; all very good.
From our seat on the mezzanine floor, we were able to appreciate the physical labour that goes into producing the beer. The mash tun was being cleaned out, but was obviously still very warm for the man dismantling the filters. In the old days he would have been allowed beer ad lib; today he had a pint glass of good Shropshire water. Probably as well, all three we tasted were very drinkable, but might leave the drinker a little unsteady on those steps.
Mrs T brought bags to church on Sunday, intending to gather pine cones for winter fire-lighting. This happens every year, you could almost set your watch by it. And then we got sidetracked.
Following the success of her apricot jam, Mrs Turnstone has caught the preserving virus from her daughters and husband. She gathered sloes on the way home, while I threw in rowan berries; with bramley apples the latter made a tart jelly that will go well with lamb or venison (fat chance of that, but I had to pass by on the other side when I saw a road-killed roebuck whilst on holiday!) The sloe and apple jelly will go well with meat – turkey or goose or duck.
Then while I was at work Mrs T went out to gather blackberries and elder to add to apples and a few sloes for a hedgerow jelly. Even on her own, she reported, she thoroughly enjoyed herself. Purple fingers! Making this jam 12 years ago in Shropshire started NAIB’s addiction. We threw in rose hips and haws on that occasion; the recipe is flexible.
Oh yes, we gathered pine cones too. It’s as well my brother Chris was not with us; I recall his ambushes over at our old blackberry patch, with cones whizzing part the ear, and knocking pots of berries over; but he did help make the jam when all was gathered in.
Into the scented woods we’ll go,
And see the blackthorn swim in snow.
High above, in the budding leaves,
A brooding dove awakes and grieves;
The glades with mingled music stir,
And wildly laughs the woodpecker.
When blackthorn petals pearl the breeze,
There are the twisted hawthorn trees
Thick-set with buds, as clear and pale
As golden water or green hail —
As if a storm of rain had stood
Enchanted in the thorny wood,
And, hearing fairy voices call,
Hung poised, forgetting how to fall.
It was local patriotism for the Marches that first had me open a book by Mary Webb; later I found the poems, a literary treasure Mrs Turnstone shares. Though we are well away from Shropshire we have the Blackthorn in bloom and the buds of the hawthorn are as Mary Webb describes them, green raindrops, poised on the tips of the twigs. Don’t analyse the poem, enjoy it!
PS – This links to the MS of the poem at Stanford University.