The Leomansley Witch Project

Imagine you’re watching a horror film. A woman heads into ancient woods which are shrouded in mist. And before long, she comes across a tree. With an eye stuck to it.

leomansley-mist

Chances are at this point in the film, you’d be shouting, ‘Don’t go in there. Run away!, whilst feeling smugly confident behind your cushion that you’d never be as stupid as to stay hanging around in mist shrouded woods where there are eyes stuck to trees. Well, I was in Leomansley Woods earlier this week. It was shrouded in mist and there was an eye on a tree. But did I leg it? No. And not just because I don’t do running under any circumstances.

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If something wicked that way had come, I had Finn the swamp dog to protect me and my experience of fighting off a clown in Beacon Park earlier in the month to draw upon. Crucially though, I know and love these woods and consider the tokens and trinkets that have been appearing there since the summer more curious than creepy, possibly symbols of someone else’s affection for them.

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Back in 2004, when I was a newcomer to these parts, I remember getting a call from my sister telling me to go and take a look in the woods as somebody, or more likely somebodies, had created works of art in amongst the trees. There were mosaics created from leaves and petals, clay faces sculpted onto the trunks of trees and brightly coloured papers hanging from their branches. For reasons I can’t remember, I didn’t take any photographs but I can clearly recall the sense of mystery and magic someone had created in the woods that day. We never discovered who or why and there was no encore. The seasons turned and the years went by and then, early this summer, we began to notice things. At first it was subtle. A pebble placed here, a strip of silver birch bark there. It was the first piece of pottery appearing lodged in the knot of a tree that convinced us this was more than the handy work of squirrels and our overactive imaginations. Dog walks took on a new dimension as every day seemed to bring something new. I’m sure at its peak, others were joining in and making their own contributions. And this time I did bring my camera.

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As the summer faded, the activity seemed to wane, and I’d assumed there would be no more. The other half took over the dog walks for a while but recently, for reasons involving a prolapsed disc, I took up the lead once again. Many of the original tree decorations had vanished but a handful of hawthorn berries, melted candle wax and a tickle of feathers (that’s genuinely and rather pleasingly the collective noun for them) had taken their place. Interestingly, others seem to be joining in once again, including the Leomansley contingent of the One Direction fan club.

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Once again, the who and why is a mystery, and perhaps that is how it should remain. Whether activity continues beyond the season of the witch or not, for me, Leomansley Woods will always remain a magical place.leomansley-cobweb

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Starry Eyed

Walking through Leomansley Wood (or was it Sloppy Wood? I’m never sure where one stops and the other starts), I came across hundreds of wood anemones growing alongside Leomansley Brook. Up until now, I can only ever remember seeing two small patches of these pretty star like flowers – one near to the path that skirts the edge of the woods and the other near to the old mill culvert on Pipe Green.  As they are growing in one of the muddier areas of the woods (actually it was probably Sloppy Wood!), it may be that I’ve always missed them, having turned off to find a drier route. At the risk of sounding like one of the motivational sayings people share on Facebook, it just shows that sometimes it’s worth persevering with the trickier path!

Anemones in Leomansley

As well as their obvious beauty, the thing I love about wildflowers is their associated folklore and their alternative names. Nicholas Culpeper tells me that the anemome, “is called the windflower because they say the flowers never open unless the wind bloweth”. Wet weather has the opposite effect, and the flower also closes as night falls, giving rise to the story that fairies use anemones both as somewhere to shelter from the rain, and somewhere to sleep, tucked beneath the petals.

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For superstitious folk, I imagine that disturbing sleeping fairies was probably best avoided and may be why it’s generally considered unlucky to pick the plant, especially here in Staffordshire. According to Roy Vickery,  the wood anemone was known as ‘thunderbolt’ in the county, because, as as the name suggests, picking it would result in a storm. Mr Vickery also relays the experience of the Rev E Deacon, a member of the North Staffordshire Field Club in 1930.  One day, Deacon arrived at a farm where a wedding party was taking place. Apparently, the expression of the smiling person who opened the door changed to one of alarm when he or she realised that Mr Deacon had brought bad luck to the wedding in the form of a wood anemone in his lapel.

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Along with several other species, including bluebells which are just starting to appear, anemones are indicator species of ancient woodland i.e. one which has been around since 1600AD. The way I understand it, their presence in Leomansley Wood isn’t proof that it is an ancient woodland (or more accurately, a replanted ancient woodland, where the area has been continuously wooded but trees have been felled and replanted), but a suggestion that it might be. Ancient or not, it’s always a beautiful place for a walk but especially at this time of year.

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Edit: you know how in Finding Nemo, he can’t say anemone? Well ‘m having trouble spelling it – anemone, that’s right isn’t it?

Sources:

Roy Vickery, Oxford Dictionary of Plant Lore

ExpLore – Lanes Around Leomansley

Walking is such a pleasure. I get seriously itchy feet if deprived for more than a day or so, and my spirits are always lifted after a good old trudge around. Exploring somewhere for the first time is fantastic, but I also love to walk around the places I know. It somehow gives me feel warm and comfortable feeling, like a favourite old cardigan. And of course, sometimes there can be surprises up even the most familiar sleeve…

I’ve decided I’d like to try and put some walks here so that people can get out and explore for themselves.  One of my best loved walks is of course around Leomansley, so here’s a walk around the lanes that I hope you’ll enjoy doing for yourself. Naturally,  I always encourage straying from the path to investigate something that looks interesting. Getting lost is part of the fun!

Lanes Around Leomansley

The map below gives a rough idea of the route, which is about 2km (depending on how many diversions you take!). I’ve marked some of the points that I think are of interest but of course there may be other things…….Below the map is a PDF with a written version of the route, giving information about each of the points. Hope you enjoy it, I’d like to hear how you get on!

Lanes Around Leomansley walk

 

An Inconstant Stream

According to place name expert Margaret Gelling, Leomansley Brook has a pre-English name. It’s thought the name could contain the Celtic word lēmo, meaning ‘elm’ (1) or lēme meaning ‘limetree’ (2).

1- Conduit Heads; 2 – Start of Leomansley Brook?; 3 Site of Leomansley Mill/House/Manor; 4 – Former Beacon Place fishponds, now Beacon Park boating lake

The brook rises near to the conduit heads at Pipe Hall Farm, Burntwood (at a place I’ve just noticed was also known as The Dimbles, just as the area near to the Circuit Brook is/was!), and crosses the Lichfield/Burntwood boundary, to fill a series of pools on the edge of Leomansley/Sloppy Wood before meandering through Pipe Green.

As mentioned in my previous post, Leamonsley Mill was built on the brook at the edge of Pipe Green in the 1790s. There are a few traces of the industry that was once here – ‘Leomansley Mill Cottage’ is a little further back down the track towards Christ Church Lane and there are also some possibly related brick structures. The second photo shows the place where the brook re-emerges to flow through Pipe Green, and is shown on some maps from the late 19th and early 20th century as a ‘Spout’.

Taken June 2011. On old maps, this is marked as sluice. This part of the watercourse was filled with water once again this weekend

Taken December 2010. Shows as spout on old maps.

I found a recollection by someone who spent the summer of 1984 at the old mill cottages then known as Leomansley House (which they have included a photo of!) producing the first and only issue of what they describe as a ‘local anarcho-DIY philosophy magazine’. In their description of the old house, they describe how Leomansley Brook ran past the front door.

The other stories I’ve found about the pool relate to changes brought about by nature. In February 1902, the frozen pool was used for ice skating.  The Lichfield Mercury reported that on the Friday after the freeze, the pool was quiet, but by Saturday a group of ‘horrid hockey people’ (as one unnamed woman described them) had discovered it and monopolised the best part of the pool.

Another Mercury story, from April 1976 when the artist Eilidh Armour Brown lived at Leomansley House, tells of a water shortage at the pool

Lichfield District Council Staff had been prepared to move fish from Leomansley Pool, after the water levels dropped to a dangerous level for the fish. The fish were to be transferred to Minster Pool until the water level at Leomansley had risen. Luckily a storm that weekend brought the much needed rain and it was no longer necessary.

Things couldn’t have been more different this weekend. The normally dry part of the course along the edge of the woods was full, and levels in the pools were high, as you’d expect.

Taken November 2012. This part of the brook is normally dry.

Taken November 2012. I was told there used to be a bridge somewhere near here for farm carts to cross into the adjacent field.

Taken November 2012

As you can see in the above photo, not only was the brook refilled,  but the water was also claiming parts of the path. I imagine that’s how the name Sloppy Wood came about!

From Pipe Green, the brook is culverted under the A51, and then flows through Beacon Park, filling what used to be the fishponds for Beacon Place (now the boating lake in the park), before finally ending up at Minster Pool.

November 2012 – Through Pipe Green

 

November 2012 – Looking back towards Leomansley House/Mill/Manor!

June 2012 – Leomansley Brook enters Beacon Park via a culvert under the A51. The reason the water looks murky by the pipe is that a little dog was paddling just before I took the photo!

June 2012 – Passing the play area in Beacon Park. This used to be a fish pond for the mansion Beacon Place (demolished 1964).

I don’t know anywhere near as much about streams and brooks as I’d like to but am really interested in them and their importance in the development of our landscape, e.g., the formation of natural boundaries and giving names to places that grew up along them. I’m also fascinated by our relationship with watercourses like these and our attempts to manage them, for better or for worse.

Sources

(1) ‘Lichfield: The place and street names, population and boundaries ‘, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 37-42.

(2) http://finds.org.uk/staffshoardsymposium/papers/mattiasjacobsson

Lost in the Woods

Whenever I see an object out of place it intrigues me.  I’m not talking litter here, I mean the things that are dropped by accident, things that are left behind. Lost property. Things that might (or might not!) interest future archaeologists if they were to discover them in a couple of centuries time.  I want to know the story behind them, who they belonged to & how they ended up lost, but I realise that I might be on my own with this one! 

I’ve put together a gallery of things found on the path past Leomansley Wood to Pipe Green and on the Green itself.

Lost by a horse, found by a friend. Brownhills Bob told me that it's not that old. Still lucky though!

 

 

Dropped by someone in need of a lucky horseshoe? Or on the way home from the fair?

Lost whilst blackberrying?

 

Dropped after an impromptu paddle in the brook?

 

See above!

 

In the rough. Not sure Leomansley Wood makes a great fairway.

Or a great rugby pitch either.

I guess the robber escaped from the cop.

 

The remnants of an overenthusiastic dog's toy?

I would ask people to send me photographs of things they’ve found, but I appreciate that I might be the only person in Lichfield who goes around taking photographs of old socks!

 

 

 

 

Tree following: White Heat

“No, I can’t come out with you, I’m supposed to be working”. “You know you want to… I’m only going to be around for the next few days and then I don’t know when I’ll be back in Lichfield again”. “Oh, go on then…..”

Yes, my old friend summer is back in town, and so I went to see how my tree that I follow on the path from Leomansley Wood to Pipe Green is getting on. To be honest I’m now following pretty much the whole path, so the tree doesn’t get that much of a look in these days. I’m sure it’ll come in to its own as the seasons progress though!

It was a delight for most of the senses.  Birdsong and drumming woodpeckers, butterflies and an abundance of mostly white flowers along the floor and hedgerows, the warmth of the sun, the cool of the breeze and the shade of the trees and of course the scent of early summer in the air. Taste is the only one that eluded me on my walk (although I’m sure there were probably some wild goodies I could have tried if I was both more knowledgeable and brave about these things). I think my tea & cake when I got home might just about count though.

Tree following: Mayday

It took a bit of effort to drag myself out into the murky, wet evening. Glad I made the effort though. Before I’d even got to the woods, I had a treat when a heron swooped down onto a roof and remained there for a few moments before flying off in the direction of Waitrose. I’ve spotted a heron a couple of times near the old mill pool over there. On twitter, Brownhills Bob & someone from the Pipe Green Trust thought he may have been heading to a heronry at Aldershawe.

Another few steps and I found myself passing a slightly wonky fairyring of mushrooms. I didn’t get too near. I’ve read what happens to mortals who do…..

Once in the woods, the trees, plants and hedgerows glistened, but with drops of recent rainfall, rather than may dew.

I wanted to measure my tree, to get an idea of how old it was. It soon became apparent that this was no task to undertake alone. The people in the flats overlooking the lane, and this robin that turned up to watch, probably wondered what on earth I was doing.

Happily, I managed to enlist someone’s help and we discovered that the trunk measured about 3.2m which could mean that it is anything from around 210 years old to around 130 years old. According to the Royal Forestry Society, a tree could grow between 1.5cm & 2.5cm per year, depending on things like location, soil quality.  So I’m going to read up on Mitchell’s Rule and then maybe I’ll have another go at estimating the age!

Tree measuring task completed, I headed back down the lane and met a couple out for a walk. They didn’t seem to mind the weather, in fact they thought it was lovely…….