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.

woods-oct-16-2

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.

finn-swamp-dog

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.

woods-june-2016-3

leomansley-woods-june-2016

woods-june-2016-6

woods-june-2016-4

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.

leomansley-wood-berries

woods-oct-16-3

Woods Oct 2016.jpgwoods-oct-16

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

amelia-bluebellssun.jpg

 

 

Advertisements

Blue Sunday

My second ‘starting off at pub, and exploring the surrounding area’ type walk of the week, but this time with real life swans with just the one neck.

The sunny beer garden at the Red Lion was busy and I couldn’t help but feel that those who chose to remain inside the pub were missing out.  They were, and it wasn’t just the just the sun but also the wonderful sight of a pair of swans gliding down the canal with their eight cygnets. At one point the young ones were startled by a barking dog on one of the moored boats and darted back to huddle around one of their parents.

We began our walk by crossing the Lichfield Road Bridge (aka the Tummy Bridge in my house) to get to the towpath on the opposite side of the canal to the Red Lion. The next bridge along is the Hopwas School Bridge. As the name suggests it is near to the village school, named after founder Thomas Barnes. A lovely example of the local lad made good story, Thomas is said to have been abandoned as a baby, and discovered in a barn by villagers who gave him a surname to represent his humble beginnings. Educated and cared for by the villagers, Thomas became a successful London merchant. Had I walked a little to the right of the school, I would have seen the original schoolmaster’s house with a plaque reading ‘This house was built at the charge of Mr Thomas Barnes native of this place and a citizen of London in the year of our Lord 1717 for the dwelling of a person to teach the children of this village to read English’.

Instead, we kept on walking under the bridge and along the tow path. Something I did wonder about but couldn’t think of any explanation for at the time was the small door in the bridge itself. After doing a bit of post-walk googling it seems it might be a storage place for stop planks, used to block off part of the canal when maintenance work needs to be carried out. I think.

There was also some machinery on the other side of the tow path that looked interesting but again, I’m not quite sure of its purpose.

This, however, I did recognise to be one of the well documented pillboxes that stand in this area, defences against an invasion that thankfully never came.

Growing alongside the pillbox was a hint of what was to come in those infamous and ancient woods about which I’ve heard so much but seen so little, only ever passing by in the car. I’m pleased to say that Hopwas Woods lived up to my expectations, with a display of bluebells that put even my beloved Leomansley Wood in the shade. I attempted to capture it in photos, although they could never do it justice.

From then on I saw blue everywhere – the boats, the sky over the distant towers of Tamworth, a piece of pottery by the side of the canal and, after a big lunch and this short walk, a hammock at the water’s edge that looked very inviting indeed….

 

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

Hidden Depths

Circuit Brook marks part of the northern boundary of the city and runs through the Christian Fields Local Nature Reserve.  Last week I went for a walk to find the brook and found a whole lot more besides.

Despite the blue lines on the map, water was scarce, although some evidence of its presence lingered on in the channels it had forged over the centuries.

For much of the walk, we were separated from the route of the stream by steep embankments and rampant nettles, and at particularly challenging points, both!  Concerned about both the possibility of broken limbs and the availability of dock leaves, I didn’t stray far from the path, and used the zoom on my camera instead. Not very adventurous I know, but at least I lived to tell the tale!

Steeper than it looks! No, really it is!

Zoom.

Amidst the nettles is this green post. Any ideas?

A little way into the walk, watery looking plants and a visible outline convinced us that we’d found the site of the well marked on our Ordnance Survey map.

The smell of mint is what first alerted us to what we think is a well

At the point where we lost the route of the brook altogether we retraced our steps back and tried to pick it up again further upstream. This time the route took us along a flat, public footpath with woodland and fields to our left and the busy western bypass and underpasses to our right,  reminding us that we were right on the fringe of the city here.

Bypass underpass

A footbridge gave us easy access to the stream here, but once again it was dry.

Had we not turned back, we’d have found ourselves in Elmhurst.  What I hadn’t realised at the time was that part of the route apparently dates back to Saxon times, and incorporates an archaeological feature known as ‘The Dimble’. It’s great that the name is still evident in the area today. I’d like to find out more about this ancient walkway (the information I’ve included here is pretty much all I’ve been able to find so far), and also clarify exactly what  a ‘Dimble’ is, as I’ve seen a couple of different definitions.

I was also unaware until reading up on it, that the Christian Fields LNR was a landfill site until the 1980s when it was capped. Twenty or so years of allowing nature (and volunteers) to reclaim the site, has resulted in a place reclaimed for people to enjoy and explore. So go and enjoy & explore!

Notes:

Big thanks to Brownhills Bob for providing me with a map of the site and information about the nature of water, especially the advice to keep an eye on that well…..

Information on Christian Fields LNR taken from http://www.lichfielddc.gov.uk/info/200029/countryside/83/site_management/4

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…….