Sunday, 18 September 2016

Hop Picking

I have never had a liking for beers or ales but, after a recent trip to Kent, I have developed a taste for it and will happily sample any that come from small local breweries. 

Hop picking machines have to be one of the most amazing pieces of farm machinery and it is interesting that, although the company that made them ceased to exist many years ago, the Bruff hop picking machines are still going strong in remaining hop farms.  My Mother worked for Bruff in Suckley, Worcestershire, for a year or so when we lived nearby for a while.

I have always loved the smell of hops and several family friends in the past have been hop growers. Two farms I visited frequently as a child were in the Teme Valley east of Tenbury Wells. Back in 1990 I painted a picture for one of the farmers but I haven't got a copy of the original. I do have a copy of an initial picture I created (shown here) but I had to re-paint it because the farmer didn't want the name on the apple box to be visible. I have searched high and low for the photos I thought I had taken at the time but can't track them down. Trying to capture the scale and perspective of the huge machine was rather difficult and I couldn't get it all in. The other pictures here are photo-collages of a hop picking machine at the other farm that I took in October 2001. Again, the pictures don't quite get it all in and miss out all the adjoining drying kilns.

Hopton TItterhill

A conifer plantation: tall maturing trees, widely spaced with little to impede a walk through the towering silent softwoods. No breeze, a soft overcast light.  I can hear a buzzard (or some bird of prey), small birds, an occasional distant car and some mountain bikers whose voices echo across the hillside. I sit on a carpet of pine needles and small wood sorrel plants that cover the ground like a dusting of green snow.

I like sensing the three dimensional space that surrounds me. Although I am just sitting with my back against a tree I focus on objects around me and try and imagine what they feel like with respect to temperature, moisture, texture etc and their place in the landscape. It is as though I am imagining myself being everywhere around me and not just within.

I have written before about finding space, peace and separation from technology in places like this over the years so I am trying to find new things to write about. With quick fleeting visits to these places that isn't always easy.

Over my life I have explored many woods like this and, generally they are quite safe places as long as one takes a few precautions. Forestry tracks can suddenly stop in the middle of nowhere or deviate from maps so having a good sense of direction is important. Fortunately, in this area of the country there aren't any vicious wild animals or venomous snakes that can cause harm. The only things that really worry me are ticks. They aren't too prevalent around here as in some parts of the country but I always check myself over when I get home. I was never too worried about falling branches until I watched a tv programme about american loggers who had armour plated logging machines. So far, in 50 years, I have never had a branch fall next to from high up and I generally avoid woodland in strong winds. Oh, and it is generally a good idea to avoid wood ants and gamekeepers.

Hopton Castle

It is 7am on a Saturday morning in early September and I am parked at Hopton Castle in South Shropshire. According to the information board this is thought to have once been a high status tower house rather than an actual castle due to rather undefendable position in the bottom of a valley. It is cloudy wth a slight drizzle with mist on the hills. Pigeons coo around me. I hear the occasional tit, crow, wren, chiffchaff and cow. A stream gently murmers nearby.

I didn't enjoy the drive up yesterday afternoon as motorway congestion held me up for an hour but once I was near Tenbury Wells I was happier. The hop harvest seems well underway with tell-tale tractor tracks of the rich red soil mark roads leading from the roadside hop yards to the picking machines.

Up on black hill near Clun I stop at one of my favourite views for tea. After a glorious summer of warmth and sunshine I seem to have travelled up here to see the arrival of autumn. Here, the hills of the Welsh border stretch out westwards into mix of rain bearing cloud and mist. It is surprisingly windy up here and the car is buffeted by the gusts and my gas stove struggles to heat my beef casserole. On my way up here I didn't notice any uncombined fields. Here though, on a nearby hill about a mile away, a green combine slowly completes one final field under the threat of the looming dark clouds. Nearby the road is lined rowan trees laden with deep red berries and there is a beautiful mix of dead grasses, docks and other foliage along the roadside.

I spent the evening just listening to the wind around me in the trees where I had parked up for the night. Just for a few hours I can create a space where I can forget about time and the pressure it places on my daily life and work.

The rain arrived sometime in the middle of the night and once the dawn arrived I moved on to Hopton Castle from where I could begin my day.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Cathedral of trees

I wrote this back in May when I was visiting Croft Castle. It was meant to be part of an illustration project but that has yet to materialise as I have moved onto other things. I had forgotten about it until now.

Cathedral of trees
Evensong: choirs of birds
I dance in the aisles

Here, ancients sang songs
Distant hills silhouetted
Golden sun setting

Stretching out my arms
Fingers touch gentle sounds
This land of my dreams

Dusk buzzard circling
Yellowhammers and lambs; calm
Long valley shadows

Slow, silently, step
Woodland senses awaken
Others show themselves