"And did those feet in ancient time, Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God on England’s pleasant pastures seen...in England's green and pleasant land." ~William Blake
On our way up to Llangollen we stopped for the day just past Marbury lock. It was pouring rain. We brought a load of wood and coal inside, made some tea, and settled down to wait it out.
We didn’t wait long, and after the lull of the fire it was refreshing to walk, hand in hand through the misty spring time weather along small country lanes. I was excited because nature was just unfurling its green spring banner and as a medicinal herbalist I stop every few feet to examine local plant life as we walk along. Dear Sir has taken this excursion previously and he knows the beauty that awaits me…
As we walked down the lane towards Marbury village I looked back to see this view of NB Valerie. It looks like a fey landscape with lace trees! This photo hasn't been changed--this is exactly as I took the picture.
This is a typical British village lane: narrow and winding, with tall hedges on either side. The air was crisp and clean; soft, clean, rain, fresh grass, and that elusive bright green, slightly sweet, liquorice scent filled my nose and made me feel thrilled to be alive for another spring. White Thorn or Sloe is flowering throughout the hedges, and puddles call to the child in me for a splash or two.
Les serves as a visual measurement for the width of this lane. To the right is a passing place! What un-nerves me is how the locals tear down these narrow streets at break neck speed.
Dock has a beneficial effect on bile production and is known as a valuable remedy in treating skin eruptions. Its high iron content makes it a good remedy for anemia.
Dock is a medicinal plant known in antiquity for its laxative effect. Centuries later in Anglo-Saxon England physicians used a mixture of Dock leaves, other herbs, ale, and holy water to cure people believed to have been struck by witchcraft with “elf sickness.” Common folklore holds that dock leaves will alleviate the sting of nettles. One often sees them growing side-by-side in fields. The root yields a yellow dye.
The village lane curves ‘round and downward to a small lake framed by on old oak. Marbury has been settled since at least 1200 BCE. It was mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1066 as having seven inhabitants. In 1551 sixteen villagers died of “sweating sickness”—most likely Influenza. Today the number of folks living in Marbury has grown to two hundred.
17th century two story outhouses on the left. These were not toilets—they were farm buildings. Marbury is dairy country. Cheese making was an important source of income in here beginning in the 19th century hence the thick clusters of cleavers fringing the lanes; by 1951 this artisanal craft died out.
Local history records that by 1850, nearly all local tradespeople were involved with agriculture, whether directly or indirectly. At that date, Marbury had two blacksmiths, butchers and shoemakers, and a wheelwright; later there was also a smithy, coal merchant, tailor, bake house and one or more grocer's shops. Today these thriving business are in the past. The center of this village is a natural conservation area.
Follow the lane around to the Swan pub, below, which has been integral to village life since the 1765.
Directly across the lane from The Swan is a park with a fine view of the small mere (Welsh for lake)…
…and the perfect seat under an old, gnarled oak planted in 1814, on which to sit and watch for birds on the water, or maybe doze in the afternoon sun while keeping one eye open for the locals coming and going from the pub!
Turn back up the lane the way we came and directly across the street from the old outhouses are beautifully restored buildings from the 1600’s--still lived in. The original inhabitants would have been eye witnesses to the English Civil War in 1642.
This cottage wears its heart on the door…
while this one makes a bold statement with a red entry!
Periwinkle is used in these postage stamp gardens as a ground cover. Vinca Minor is a hybrid of a Madagascan flower, Vinca Rosacea. It is poisonous and today it is used medicinally to manufacture Vincristine—a cancer chemotherapy drug.
Another popular plant in Marbury’s bijou plots is Oregon Grape Root (Mahonia Aquafolium)! I am astonished to find it so far from its natural home—Eastern Washington and Oregon. It is typically used as a hedging plant, growing to six feet tall over a period of years. It has sharp, pointed, leathery green leaves similar to Holly.
In spring it forms clusters of bright yellow flowers beloved by bees, followed by dark blue berries. Most folks have no idea that this is a very potent and vitally important medicinal plant. It is the three year old roots that are used to make a decoction which will kill viral illnesses like Influenza. Oregon Grape contains immune boosting, infection fighting Berberine. The whole root contains tannins that ease inflammation, irritation, and itching of the skin.
It has a considerable reputation as a blood purifier, cleansing the tissues and blood of toxins and waste products. Its bitter components stimulate the liver and gall bladder, and are tonic to the digestion with a mild laxative effect. (Caution: this plant should never be used during pregnancy.)
To make a decoction, dig the root up and divide it in year three. Take a healthy bit of teh root and wash it thoroughly. Towel dry and chop it into pea sized pieces with a very sharp knife. Add one ounce of Oregon Grape root to 4 cups of clean, cold water in a non-metal pan with a lid. Bring quickly to a boil.
Once the water is boiling, set the pan on another burner turned as low as it can go. Simmer very gently for 60 minutes. Don’t open the lid or you will lose beneficial alkaloids in the steam.
Remove from all heat and allow to cool for two hours. Pour all ingredients into a clean quart jar and cap it off. allow it to sit for 12 hours. Strain the plant material out and keep the liquid. This will only keep for about two days refrigerated. You can add one fourth cup of brandy to it to help it last longer. Drink a quarter cup two times a day until the decoction is gone.
Les pointed out the tower of St. Michael and all Saints Anglican church as we walked along…
Dear Sir walked ahead of me while I stood, enthralled by the beauty of the mist clouded view. The only sound was that of a light wind ruffling the grass and bushes with a birdsong chorus accompaniment. There were no other people, no cars, engines, planes, or anything to indicate we were in the 21st century. I could just as easily have been standing in the 14th century!
The entrance to the churchyard is through a lych gate. The word lych comes from the old Saxon word meaning corpse. In the Middle Ages bodies were buried in shrouds not coffins. The shroud-covered body was carried into the lych gate and laid on a bier where the priest said the first part of the mass for the dead under the roofed gate.
The lychgate of Saint Michael’s was built in 1919 and is dedicated to those who served and died in World War I. It is inscribed, “Ye who live on mid English pastures green, remember us, and think what might have been.”
Inside the cemetery facing the front of this Sandstone edifice built in the 1400’s.
Dear Sir led me around the side of the church to the back, a smile of anticipation on his face…
…as I looked upon a vista of green fields enclosed by low rock walls…
…and the village lane winding off into the distance.
I gasped in amazement as another mere appeared behind the church…
….beyond the low rock wall and the gravestones.
Les checked out the gargoyle faces carved from Sandstone as we stepped inside the church doors.
The wonder and simple majesty of hand carved stone and wood took my breath away.
I was quitely speechless with marvel at the history of centuries in which humans have walked, knelt, prayed, rejoiced, and suffered within these walls.
In the floor, a tombstone worn smooth in places by the footseps of two huundred years says, “Here lies Deborah, the wife of Samuel…who departed this life June 27th 1780, aged 40 years.
Nothing prepares one for eternity like the interior of a 14th century church built by the un-named craftsmen without the use of modern tools, still standing and still used for worship, weddings, christenings and funerals.
This splendid organ takes pride of place up behind the pulpit, adjacent to the choir stalls.
This dark and mysterious cove in the belfry holds the cords for the church bells! One seldom gets to see this part of an old church. On the walls all around are plaques dedicated to those who still support their parish and its people many hundreds of years after they were laid to rest:
The above dated alms for the poor are from 1731; the plaque below…
…honors Mrs. Elizabeth Wright who gave in trust £100 in 1839, the interest of which is given yearly to all parishioners of Saint Michael’s who reach the age of seventy years, in equal shares.
This beautifully hand carved pulpit dates to 1456.
The list of Vicars begins in 1530 with Henry Dickonson and lists 43 names up to the present day. Parish records indicate John Talbot, Rector of Saint Michael's beginning in 1564, was paid a stipend of forty pounds, six shillings and eight pence a year. (I’m not quite sure what the difference is between a Rector and a Vicar. Both serve the Anglican church as priests and have paid positions as clergy.)
This beautiful window was given in memoriam to the church in 1837.
Tithes of the parish in 1839- each dweller in the parish was assessed and paid tax to the vicar as follows: for owning 1 cow and calf-1 and half pence; 1 barren cow,one pence and one shilling; beehives-one shilling and one pence; 1 cockerel-2 eggs; 1 hen-1 egg; every master, mistress, child or servant over the age of 16 years-2 pence each; under 16 but over the age of 7- 1/2 pence each.
Pensively I reached the solid wooden church door, and stepped back outside into the 21st century. How many souls have stepped through this doorway before me?
Outside I considered the eternal view of those who are buried here in the churchyard overlooking the mere…
…it brings to mind the words “How lovely is thy dwelling place,” of Brahms requiem from Psalm 84.
The clouds and mist over the mere frame the stunning view rather than detract from the visit. The rain has come and gone leaving the world quiet and clean…
…while nature reclaims someone’s book of life.
The bell tower of Saint Michael’s is 63 feet tall and leans 25 inches from vertical. It contains a peal of 6 bells which were given to the parish in 1719. “These bells have rung out their message of joy and sorrow, war and peace for over 200 years and still ring.”
These are the marks of the original stone cutters, made by human hands…
….and this is an example of machine cut stone where the front wall has been repaired. It does the job but lacks the mark of humanity that makes this old church so touching….
The front walk through the graveyard, with the mere beyond…
…and looking back at the church. I was stunned by the atmosphere created by the weather. It could easily have been 1535…
As we walked away I was filled with peace, and the pleasure of Les sharing the beauty of the the mere of Saint Michael’s with me.
On the road back home to the boat I was reminded of Local author Beatrice Tunstall who described the village in 1948 as "far from the madding crowd", and praised the "ancient lanes, deep trodden by the feet of endless generation, flower fringed amid the woodlands, with great hedges where honeysuckle and wild roses riot." (Local History Group & Latham, p. 10)
Back on board NB Valerie, our view out the dinette window: a lone white goose patrolling in a green field, bordered in the distance by the hedgerow blooming with white thorn, along the lane we walked to Marbury and back.