Author: Ruth Philo

A Place, and Time for Everything by Stuart Bowditch

A Place and Time For Everything flyer image

A Place, and Time for Everything

CAMP Radio (Quarterly)

In 2020 Stuart Bowditch was invited to contribute a regular show to CAMP Radio, an internet radio station run by CAMP FR from their base in the French Pyrenees mountains. His previous shows/DJ residencies were music based so he thought it would be a good opportunity to broadcast some of his field recordings of the natural, urban and suburban environments instead of playing the creations of others.

Each edition is representative of a particular location, whether Stuart’s time there has been part of a project or on his travels around the world. Episode 1 features 2 hours of field recordings from the River Blackwater in Essex, where Stuart visited between November 2019 and April 2020 as part of his Resounding project, (funded by Arts Council England). Resounding followed in the footsteps of JA Baker, author of The Peregrine that was published in 1967, and documents his endeavours to spot and understand the elusive bird of prey. Listen to Stuart’s recordings made near Tollesbury, Osea Island, Goldhanger, Maylandsea, Stone and Bradwell. Resounding here.

Episode 2 captures a visit to Palestine and Israel in 2019 with Ruth Philo, and includes recordings made in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Dormition Abbey, Tomb of the Virgin Mary, St. Anne’s Church, Church of Condemnation, The Western Wall and St, James’ Cathedral Church, all in Jerusalem; The Milk Grotto and Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem; St. Joseph’s Church and The Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, as well as streetscapes from each of those cities. Listen to Palestine and Israel here.

Episode 3 documents a month-long trip around China conducting research for the Fabric:Silk Road project with Ruth Philo (funded by British Council). Fabric:Silk Road is a cultural and ethnographic exchange making connections between the silk mills of Sudbury, Suffolk and the silk industry and traditions in China. During their time there they visited the cities of Yantai, Xi’an, Nanjing, Hangzhou, Suzhou and Shanghai researching and meeting silk designers, shops, mills, historical exhibits and a sericulture plant. As well as streetscapes, buskers and religious ceremonies you can listen to several different silk mills and even hear silkworms munching mulberry leaves. Listen to China here.

The River Runs Through Us film still

The River Runs Through Us film still

Episode 4 will be broadcast on 15th March and will feature recordings made along the River Stour between 2016 and 2018 as part of the project The River Runs Through Us with Ruth Philo (funded by Arts Council England/Dedham Vale AONB). The film from the project has been screened at 7 pubs and galleries in the Stour valley as well as in China, Berlin and Venice Biennale 2019, and Stuart played a selection of the field recordings between bands at a Daylight Music event at the Union Chapel in London in 2019.

Further information can be found at:

CAMP Radio http://listen.camp/#shows

The River Runs Through Us http://www.theriverrunsthroughus.uk/events.html

Stuart Bowditch https://www.stuartbowditch.co.uk/live-dj/

 

Carrots by David Hodgson

A crop of early organic carrots at Old Hall

There is a common myth that carrots are good for your eyesight and in particular for
night vision. Indeed the RAF pilots were persuaded to eat copious amounts of carrots
every day during the early years of the Second World War as were all service
personnel. The myth was created, not because eating them improved your night vision
when you were out on bombing missions, but because the government had mistakenly
set such a high price for carrots in 1941 that farmers produced a huge glut to capitalise
on the inflated price. The armed forces were forced to eat the lot.

Mind you, carrots are good for you and if you have ever taken a supermarket carrot and
eaten it raw alongside a fresh home grown organic carrot you might never want to
waste your money buying supermarket carrots again. The difference is truly a
gastronomic delight.

Which brings me on to growing your own. Here in the Stour Valley, here at the Old Hall
community, we have been growing our own organic carrots for more than forty five
years. I have only grown them for twenty of those years however. If you want some
figures we grow about eight rows and each row is about eighty metres long. That is
enough carrots to feed 60 people from early June one year to February the next year
assuming the carrot fly don’t get to them first.

Carrot fly love carrots. They travel several miles in search of carrots and can smell them
from a mile away. Considering that they are poor fliers and cannot fly higher than
eighteen inches, 450mm to you millennials, that means one hell of a sensitive nose for a
creature smaller than a small fly. When they find your carrots in early spring they will lay
their eggs in the ground around the carrot heads. The larvae hatch and burrow their way
into the carrot, where they eat, live and grow. Rendering them inedible to you and me.
Job done.

Four tips to avoid carrot fly.
One. Never plant your carrots in the same place year on year. Rotate your site on a four
year rotation if you can. There may well be larvae left in the ground over winter.

Two. Companion plant carrots alongside your onions and garlic. The smell throws them
into confusion. A sensory overload so to speak.

Three. Cover your carrots in carrot fly netting once the shoots appear, or better still, as
soon as you have sewn them. Carrot fly are a bit predictable, they hit carrots twice a
year. Once in early spring and then again in late summer. So avoid the early spring by
planting late April and May when the first wave offensive has waned. I usually plant my
Early Nantes on the first May bank holiday and my Autumn King on the last May bank
holiday. Or I pick the full moon closest to these dates. But that’s just the old hippy in me.

Four. Stop thinning and weeding your carrots once the onions have been lifted and
keep the netting on all the time after that. This way you will avoid the autumn attack.
Remember digging up or thinning or weeding around a carrot increases the smell. Push
the soil back around any carrots disturbed by this process to avoid this. Most important
in the autumn when the onions are gone.

Long rows in a garden ready to be planted with carrots

Rows at Old Hall ready to be planted with carrots

Carrots seeds love a warm sunny sandy soil. Do not plant in clay. Dig, rake to a fine tilth
before planting, removing stones and weeds. Do not compost. April is a good time to do
this. Not once, not twice, but three times over a couple of weeks and your bed should
be perfect, ready for planting. Shallow drills, half inch deep should do it. If you want, mix
your seed with five times as much dry sand or bone meal. This helps spread the seed
more evenly and sparingly along the drill resulting in less thinning, therefore less
exposure to the squadrons attacking your carrots while you remove the netting to weed
and thin them. Watering twice a day is a must, early morning and again at sunset.

The River Stour Festival this year has a theme which encourages us to source our food
from as local a source as is possible. Eat all your food for thirty days from sources
grown no more than thirty miles away. Food miles being important factors. The best
thing you can do is to grow your own organic fruit and vegetables. Healthy eating, zero
carbon footprint, healthy planet.

David Hodgson

Notes from a riverside garden – February 2021

A bend in the River Stour in the snowy landscape

The river continues to run at a high level with a few days of flooding following a spell of rain. Even relatively small amounts of rainfall propel the river level upwards. Pools of floodwater linger, reluctant to drain away, on the water meadows. The bomb crater, within the water meadow, now resembles a large pond. Debris, left high and dry following the flooding, is caught up in the sheep fence running across the meadow. Sadly this includes an assortment of discarded packaging, plastic bottles etc which have been, at some point, tossed into the river. This mound of debris has been of some assistance to walkers during times of flooding. We have seen them precariously balanced on the debris, hanging onto the barbed wire top strand of fencing for extra support, as they try to negotiate the deep flood water at a higher level. I must say we have had some entertainment observing the antics of walkers. Two men were seen with trousers rolled up, carrying their trainers and wading through the knee high flood water with bare feet. Not an enviable option given the temperature of the water! Two young women were in fits of giggles as the water spilled over into the tops of their wellington boots as they struggled across.   Others have prodded fearfully into the depths with their walking poles and decided to turn back. Dogs have had great fun charging about, spray flying in their wake.

A few days have passed since I wrote the previous paragraph, a blast of very cold weather has arrived with snow, ice and very low overnight temperatures. The temperature last night was forecast to dip to minus ten degrees, the coldest night for ten years. Outside the snow that fell earlier this week still lingers in places. The view across the water meadows is akin to frozen tundra! Our terracotta pots now resemble giant cupcakes with a liberal topping of royal icing!

The bird table has been a hive of activity with a constant flurry of visitors. The robins and blackbirds appear to expend a vast amount of energy chasing each other away from the food supply. In addition to the usual offerings of bird seed, fat balls, insect suet squares (much preferred to the fat balls) and peanuts, I add mealworms and also handfuls of wheat during harsh weather. The wheat is for the pheasants and dare I say for the four pigeons who visit the feeding area. My father, a farmer, would be horrified to know that I feed pigeons!! There is quite a squabble between the pigeons and collared doves if they arrive at the same time. The collared doves usually win and drive the much larger pigeons away.

A beacon of golden yellow at this time is the Hamamelis (witch hazel) on the millpond bank. It is a large specimen and looks fabulous against a clear blue winter sky. We recently planted three young witch hazel’s on the island but due to all the recent flooding they have spent a while with their roots underwater. In flower at the moment but not sure what the long term repercussions of being so water-logged will be. It is relatively fleeting however.

Snow on a flowering bush

Snow on a flowering bush

The intense cold has created some incredible ice sculpture around the garden. Beside the sluice gates spiral formation icicles encase overhanging branches. Further into the garden a truly magical natural wonder awaits where the spray from the weir has created a multitude of extraordinary icicles. The photos below illustrate some of them.

Icicles hanging from a tree by the River Stour

River Stour icicles

Icicles hanging from a tree by the River Stour

River Stour icicles

SB

Notes from a riverside garden, January 2021

 

There are indications that the autumnal signs in nature of a harsh winter to come might be born out with the current cold spell we are experiencing. I am writing on the 8th January so perhaps by the time you read this it will be milder again! The frost is lingering in sheltered spots with a gloomy, grey sky overhead. Snow is falling in some parts of the country.

In November we were amazed to see two broods of fourteen ducklings appear in the garden! One of the ducks brought her brood up to feed on the spillage from the bird feeders outside our kitchen window. We quickly put duck food out for them and were delighted to watch them during their regular visits, such an unusual sight at this time of year. Sadly, as is normally the case, the brood reduced in number on a daily basis, until only four remained. This was also the case with the family that didn’t come to the house for food. We have watched the remaining ducklings mature and they are now fully fledged and have become part of the large flock of ducks residing in the garden. The ducklings have survived sharp overnight frosts, snow and cold conditions generally. Plus several large floods. The river in flood seemed a major peril but even as small ducklings, faced with the very strong current to cross the river, accomplished the crossing with apparent ease. We feared they must surely be swept away. Amazing how strong small ducklings are!

The floods have been very dramatic with my husband and I raising and lowering the sluice gates several times over the past weeks. Parts of our garden were underwater and the flood plain water meadows opposite us a sea of water as far as one could see. On one occasion a lone canoeist was paddling about on the water meadow and waved as he came past our house. Vast flocks of seagulls and other birds descended creating a scene of true wilderness. The Canada and Greylag geese increased in numbers present too. The sunrise looking particularly fabulous reflected in the expanse of water. The straw protection placed over the Gunnera Manicata was swept away but now we have the replacement straw held in position with a ring of bamboo canes, we hope!

The owner of the water meadow has left a pile of tree trunks close to the river for wildlife. A colony of rabbits has taken over the area and can frequently be seen sitting on the trunks or in the vicinity. We wondered what would happen to the rabbits during the flood as the whole area was underwater. To our amazement we have seen at least four rabbits since the water has subsided, so somehow at least a few have survived! Molehills have appeared on the island where the water was at least three feet deep. How do moles survive a flood? There are many unanswered questions!

Signs of spring are appearing. Snowdrops are out in the shelter of a hedge and bulbs are pushing through. Spring is on its way! SB

Into the Wild and Watery Heart of Things

Matt Gaw explains how the Stour seduced him, inspiring his acquatic adventures through the rivers of Britain.

This is just a wet run, a jaunt to celebrate the building of the canoe, but I’m already lost to the water: the way she holds us, the gentle current squeezing us downstream like muscles inside the throat of some giant snake. The river here is wide and soft, bobbled and furred with a yellow fuzz of catkins blown from groups of willow that lower their tresses to the water like women washing their hair. We are moving slowly, each paddle stroke sending up tiny green whirlpools that dance and wink in the summer evening’s light. Behind us we leave a wobbling trail of water, folding in on itself and disappearing with just the smallest of bow waves that shiver to the muddy bank.

The pair of us – my friend James Treadaway and I – set out just under an hour ago from Sudbury Water Meadows, humping the Canadian canoe past the last of the picnickers and the first of the cider drinkers. We heaved her into position and slid her nose-first into the water, wincing at the sound of her wooden hull scraping along the platform and sighing with relief when she didn’t sink to the river’s silty bottom. It was James who built this canoe. A suburban Noah, he beavered away in his garden while his bemused neighbours peered over the fence, offering encouragement and the odd glass of orange squash. Like me, he has little experience of being on the water, but said he felt compelled to make a boat; spending months bending, shaping and gluing wood, before painting the canoe’s handsome curves and broad bottom a joyous nautical red – the colour of Mae West’s lips.

The canoe is high in the water and reassuringly stable, but it took until the frothing flow of Cornard Weir for us to learn how to keep her steady, our rookie strokes pulling and pushing the canoe’s nose from bank to bank like a swinging compass needle. Once, twice, three times we ploughed at speed into the side or plunged through thrashing branches and into reeds, emerging sheepish and covered with downy seeds and a boatload of surprised insects. The rhythm is easy now, the lifting and the pulling of the paddles unthinking and unhurried, minds and boat adrift.

In front of me James gestures with his hand. He doesn’t need to say anything. Both of us have grown up near this river. Played on its banks, shinned up its trees and cooled off in its waters, but this is the first time we have actually stepped off the land and followed it; have felt its pull; its relentless crawl to the sea. In some ways it’s a strange feeling. I had it as soon as we pushed off, not so much an out-of-body experience as an out-of-land experience. Yet that’s not right either, because I’ve never felt so utterly consumed and engaged with a landscape. I feel like I have been ushered into a world that until now has somehow been hidden. It is as if the river is a vein beneath the skin of the land and has the power to take us into the wild and watery heart of things.

Matt will be talking about his new book The Pull of the River at the Quay Theatre, Sudbury on Thursday 18 April 7.30 pm, tickets £10, book here

Nigel Chapman: Dedham Vale AONB and the River Stour Festival

 

I was delighted when Ruth Philo mooted the concept of the River Stour Festival. it seemed to me there has long been a need to link together in some way  the many attractions of the river Stour from its source in Cambridgeshire to the North Sea at Harwich. The Festival aims to do that and  also will integrate themes and ideas of its own. I am so pleased to be part of the Festival team.

Personally, I have enjoyed many aspects of the Vale all my life. From spring visits to Arger Fen to see the bluebells and to Lawford to walk the watercress beds in the fifties; enjoying the many pubs, most of them now gone, in the sixties and seventies and moving to the edge of the AONB in Boxted in the nineties and travelling from there to work at a small business unit in Manningtree for a short time too. So, I am delighted now to be able to do something to ensure this wonderful stretch of countryside will be enjoyed by everyone well into the future. I am proud to have been involved with the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and Stour Valley Project for fifteen years, the last nine as chair of the Joint Advisory Committee (JAC).  I have lost count of the number of times I have been asked to explain what AONBs are and what does the Project organisation actually do. AONBs are part of a group of nationally protected landscapes that include National Parks and Heritage coasts. Our Project area is around 117 square miles. AONBs are designated to ensure that the natural beauty and special qualities of an area are conserved and enhanced for future generations.

Much of the eastern end of Dedham Vale AONB is associated with the celebrated artist John Constable and many of the views he painted are recognisable today. Further west the area is connected to the nationally recognised artist, Thomas Gainsborough.

The local authorities in the AONB have a statutory duty to produce and review a five-yearly management plan. This is drawn up by a partnership of organisations that have an interest in the area, including the local authorities, and the work is co-ordinated by the project team, who also do similar work in the adjacent Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB.

The JAC comprises elected members and officers from the seven local authorities that fund the Project; a none executive board if you like. We also receive funding from the national Government through Defra.

The vision as set out in our current Management Plan is, ‘The AONB and Project area is a distinctive landscape with agriculture and wildlife at its core that retains its natural beauty and special qualities, which is conserved and enhanced by a wide-ranging partnership. It is an area where residents feel a strong sense of belonging, visitors are welcomed to enjoy the countryside and the heritage is understood and appreciated by all’.

Although tourism is not a responsibility of the AONB Project team, we are well aware of the economic impact visitors have on the Stour Valley and that the prime attraction is the very things that we are there to conserve and enhance.

Our visitors come from around the world but we must equally recognise that the population of north Essex and south Suffolk will continue to increase over the next few years and many of these people will want to enjoy, exercise and relax in and around this area. I am encouraged by the number of families, who having moved to the area, have discovered the Stour valley and enthuse to me about all the area has to offer and are as keen, as I am in a ‘Natural ‘ Health Service! I frequently quote Octavia Hill, the 19th century social reformer and one of the founders of the National Trust, who put it so vividly when she wrote, ‘the need for quiet, the need of air and, I believe, the sight of sky and things growing, seem human needs, common to all.’ 

Further information on our work at the AONB can be found on our website www.dedhamvalestourvalley.org

Recording of Professor John Thornes’ talk on Constable’s Skies

Professor John Thornes giving his talk in front of a screen.

Constable’s Skies – A talk by Professor John Thornes at Boat House Gallery, National Trust, Flatford on 6th March 2018.

Professor John Thornes, Professor of Applied Meteorology discusses the sky in John Constable’s paintings. To John Constable the sky was “the keynote”, the “standard of scale” and the “chief organ of sentiment” in landscape painting but how much meteorology did Constable understand? John Thornes, a professional academic meteorologist, discusses why the sky plays such an important part in Constable’s most famous representation of British landscape, The Haywain. Recorded by Stuart Bowditch.

John Thornes and Sarah Milne standing in front of Willy Lott's House, Flatford.

John Thornes and Sarah Milne standing in front of Willy Lott’s House, Flatford.

“I like this place and willingly could waste my time in it.”

This week we’ve handed over the blog to Ordnance Survey Outdoor Champion Barbara Walshe, who lives in Boxted and said in the Gazette that her favourite walk is from Flatford to Dedham.

Barbara plans to walk the Essex Way as well as all sorts of other long distance paths. Read more below or on Barbara’s website www.barbsoutdoors.co.uk

***

Barbara Walshe writes…

“I like this place and willingly could waste my time in it.” Those words, spoken by Celia in ‘As You like It,’ remind me of the first time I stepped off the train at Manningtree in June 2015. The fields were bathed in the warm reds and oranges of the sunset. Though London was only an hour away, we felt we had escaped to some kind of Shakesepearean pastoral idyll. Just under six months later we had sold our flat in London and moved to Boxted near Colchester. My husband and I still work in London but we feel so lucky to be able to enjoy the beautiful countryside in this part of the world.

I have my parents to thank for my love of the outdoors. When I moved to London ten years ago to train to be a lawyer I don’t think I knew that the hours I spent in Richmond Park were not a luxury but were actually a necessity. The importance of time spent outside started to dawn on me when I began my training contract at my law firm and worked very long hours with quite a lot of stress. Going for a run or cycle in the park seemed to make me feel so much better after a tough week. More and more research is showing the positive effects on physical and mental health of being active and being outside. Fortunately, mental health is not the taboo subject it once was and I firmly believe that our own mental health is not something that we should ignore until we reach a crisis. We should consciously try to take care of our mental well-being. Making time to enjoy the outdoors is a crucial part of that.

As we get older we tend to lose our sense of adventure and our sense of wonder. It is so easy to slip into a routine and not take time to explore. When we moved to the Stour Valley I made a conscious decision to explore as much as I could and ordered some Ordnance Survey maps. When I received the paper maps, I discovered the wonderful OS Maps app that allowed me to check I was always on the right track. It was through this I became aware of the Ordnance Survey #GetOutside campaign and was delighted when my application to be a #GetOutside Champion for 2018 was accepted. Being a #GetOutside Champion allows me to combine my love of the outdoors and my belief in the mental health benefits of being outside with my enjoyment of the beautiful landscapes of the Stour Valley.

Through my website www.barbsoutdoors.co.uk I hope to inspire more people to #GetOutside by blogging about my adventures (big and small) and my thoughts on the outdoors. The River Stour Festival has so many fantastic events providing so many opportunities to #GetOutside and I am very much looking forward to attending events throughout 2018 and encouraging others to join me.

Fisher’s rainbow

Professor John E Thornes of the University of Birmingham will talk  about Constable’s Skies – before and after The Haywain?‘  at the Boat House Gallery Flatford on Tuesday 6th March at 2pm. Tickets from National Trust Flatford £8

In this blog post he explores John Constable’s painting of  a rainbow over Salisbury Catherdral. The Archdeacon John Fisher he refers to was once the Parish priest of Langham, at the side of the Stour, and that is where Constable and Fisher became friends.

John Thornes writes…

When and why was the puzzling rainbow in Constable’s Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadow painted?

As part of Tate’s In Focus: Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows exhibited 1831 by John Constable, I have been researching the rainbow and I have found new meteorological evidence that supports the theory that the rainbow was added over a year after the painting was first exhibited at the Royal Academy.

John Constable’s powers of observation and his thirst for meteorological knowledge propelled him to paint more natural-looking skies than nearly all other English artists before or since. In his own words:

‘Painting is a science, and should be pursued as an enquiry into the laws of nature. Why then may not landscape painting be considered as a branch of natural philosophy, of which pictures are but the experiments?’

This experimental approach was certainly applied to the clouds and weather in Constable’s paintings, but it was not the case with all of his depictions of rainbows. Unlike clouds, rainbows are seen much less frequently in his work and may be considered more mysterious in their symbolic function. Although Constable knew that the sun must be directly behind the observer of a rainbow for the rainbow to be visible, this is plainly not so in Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows , in which the sun’s rays emerge from the right of the composition. Why should Constable be such a perfectionist about the weather in his scenes – his accurately depicted clouds, the effect of wind and harmonic daylight – and yet be content to introduce a meteorologically inconsistent rainbow?

My theory is that Constable’s remarkable scientific knowledge enabled him, at a later date, to add a rainbow that corresponds to the time of his friend Archdeacon John Fisher’s death on the afternoon of 25 August 1832. Resting on Fisher’s house, ‘Leadenhall’, the rainbow in Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows has been painted into a sky that is lit by sunlight coming from due west, which is confirmed by the way light illuminates the west front of the cathedral. A rainbow produced from this solar geometry and resting on Leadenhall would only have a height in the sky of up to about 22 degrees, and would occur in early August at around 5pm (GMT).

Constable has magnified the size of the cathedral and rendered the rainbow much taller than would have been possible. Solar geometry confirms that from the artist’s viewpoint close to the Longbridge, a full 42-degree rainbow resting on Leadenhall and arching over the cathedral would have been visible during the late afternoon of 25 August at around 7pm (GMT). This reasoning suggests that Constable expressly chose to add the rainbow to a painting in which the sun is not directly behind the viewer as a magnificent remembrance of his friend John Fisher.

 

 

 

Thoughts on the Stour

Stour, Dedham, Flatford, River Stour Festival

John Milne writes…

My wife is a painter and works for the National Trust. It was with her that I started to explore the valley of the Stour river.  I think we are both moved by trees and always have been. That response may be formal – in general landscape goes from side to side and trees go up and down. So for a painter a tree in a landscape is like a mark on a drawing. Our responses may have been to the increased unnaturalness of the post-industrial world we inhabit. We seek out trees in landscape because their scale reflects the human scale and their generally long lifespan appeals to us. Sarah can point to oaks around East Bergholt and Flatford which were there when Constable walked by. It may have been just a colour response – people feel happier, appear handsomer, just look better against a green leafy ground. The effect is doubled if water runs through the scene. The Stour valley is an uplifting place to be.

Stour, Dedham, Flatford, River Stour Festival

Of course on the Essex and Suffolk Stour we have the extra element of John Constable. He dominates the landscape as much as he reflects it. Constable’s childhood is just before the industrial revolution and his adult life takes place during it. He lived in East Bergholt and was schooled in Dedham, across the valley and across the Stour. His paintings often feel to me to be reflections on his walk to school – there’s my father’s mill, there’s Fen Lane, there’s the bargemen on the river, there’s our cart and horses. These images stayed with him even though he was in London. His work is a prism through which we see the landscape which both exists and for us – living long after the Industrial Revolution – is like a dream. If you take photographs in the Stour valley, especially close to Dedham and Flatford, you can’t help but find little glimpses of Constable in your pictures. Much has changed but many of the shapes remain – bends in the river, hand-fired brickwork, calves in a field, sometimes even the very same trees he saw. And this remains true though we are 180 years after Constable’s death.

John Milne

photos by John Milne ©2017

 

John Milne is a novelist, photographer and screenwriter. A version of this post was published at www.johnmilne.photography