historical site, insects, plants, ruined chapel, South Elmham Minster, Suffolk, walking, wild flowers
WARNING: OVERLONG POST
It was our 26th wedding anniversary the Thursday before last and we had intended to go out for a walk and take a picnic with us. However, the morning was very wet and, even though the rain had stopped by midday we decided that walking through long grass and along overgrown paths and then trying to find somewhere to sit and eat our lunch without getting wet would be too difficult, so we put off the walk until the following day. I did the ironing instead.
Friday was a much better day for a walk, with warmth, some sunshine and a fair amount of cloud. There was a light shower of rain mid-morning and another just as we approached our picnic spot but not enough to dampen our spirits or make the going, or sitting, any trouble.
As usual, I took my pocket camera with me and looked out for things of interest. You will have to excuse the quality of the photos; I have to take the pictures as quickly as possible so that I am not left behind. Also my camera has decided it doesn’t like pink and has changed all the pink flowers to blue or purple.
I quote here from my ID, ‘Harrap’s Wild Flowers’ by Simon Harrap ” The name (Meadowsweet) refers to its use in flavouring mead and other drinks, rather than a predilection for meadows, and also used as a strewing herb, scattered on the floor to freshen up the house.”
The plant gives off a very strong pineapple scent when it is crushed. It is an introduced plant, coming originally from east Asia and was first recorded in the wild in this country in 1871.
In olden times, this flower could be used to tell a girl whether she would marry soon. She had to pull all the expanded florets off the flowerhead and then put the rest of the flower inside her blouse, next to her heart. After an hour she should take it out again and if the previously unexpanded florets had blossomed, that was a sure sign that the man she was going to marry was soon coming her way.
By this time we had left the lane and were walking along a footpath between fields.
Harrap’s tells me it is ‘honey-scented when fresh but smells of new-mown hay when dry. Formerly believed to discourage fleas and was incorporated into straw mattresses, especially for the beds of women about to give birth, hence its name.’
I cannot confirm the information about the scent because: 1. I would have found it very difficult getting down low enough to smell the plant and would then have struggled to get back up again, so I didn’t. 2. The wind was blowing too strongly for the delicate scent to be discernible and 3. I haven’t got a strong sense of smell, anyway. We’ll just have to take Mr Harrap’s word for it.
This plant is one of the hop trefoils; its seedheads look like tiny heads of hops. Once the seeds begin to ripen the petals don’t fall off the plant but turn brown and the standard, the upper petal of the flower, folds down on either side of its centre line over the ripening pod like a ridged roof. If you click on the photo above to enlarge it and look about a third of the way up from the bottom, you will find a seed head in the centre. Does that make sense?
Another not-as-pink, pink flower. Here is a link to images of what a Pyramidal Orchid really looks like.
Ragwort is poisonous, its leaves containing an alkaloid poison that can remain in plants that have been dried with hay. Animals are not aware they are eating it when it’s in hay (though they will avoid it when it is growing in the field) and the alkaloids will destroy their livers in just a few months. Understandably, farmers will try to get rid of all the ragwort they find.
Our aim was to picnic at South Elmham Minster and we discovered it surrounded by trees. It is on private land but the owners allow walkers to visit it as long as they respect the place.
Richard, Alice and I had been here before, when we walked to it from St James in April 1995, nearly two years before Elinor was born! We hadn’t been back since, though it is only half an hour’s walk from our present home.
The entrance and path leading to the ruins of the ‘Minster’ were very overgrown which somehow added a frisson of mystery to the occasion.
There was a lot of Comfrey growing next to the path.
And there it was!
Instead of me writing screeds about this interesting ruin I will recommend this article for you to read, if you so wish.
We wandered around for a short while and then sat on the bench provided under the trees and had our lunch.
Below are a few photos of the ruins themselves.
Many of the trees surrounding the Minster were Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus). Hornbeam trunks are said to be ‘fluted’ which might describe the tree above.
The Hornbeam nut forms with a three-lobed bract attached that sometimes grows as long as 5cms. This acts as ‘wings’ when the nut is released from the tree in the autumn.
I think the Hornbeams have been coppiced in the past though Hornbeams are usually pollarded. Local children have been making dens under the trees.
Above are two different plants with fruits covered in hooks. The stems and leaves of Cleavers also have bristles that cause them to stick to anything that touches them.
There was another exit path from the Minster which crossed the wide surrounding ditch. This ditch is fairly deep though my photographs do not show this at all clearly.
Woundworts have been used to stem bleeding and treat wounds since the time of the ancient Greeks. Formally, the leaves were usually used as a poultice. Ointments and infusions were also made with the leaves and the flowers made into conserves. In fact, the volatile oil in Hedge Woundwort does have antiseptic qualities.
We left the Minster and walked home in the sunshine.
I didn’t take many photos of our surroundings as we walked and most of those shots were not suitable. I am glad this one came out as it shows the countryside through which we walked. Old-fashioned small fields with high dense hedges. Lots of birds were still singing and wherever we walked we heard numerous skylarks.
Richard pointed out the cracked clay sides of this ditch. The water though not deep, was running quickly along and was particularly clear. We saw small fish swimming in it.
Unfortunately I couldn’t get into the field because of a deep ditch around it. I had to take my photos using the zoom on my camera.
I think the owner of this field has sown some wildflower seed mix here. I have never seen so many different flowers all in one field before. From what I hear from the stories of the elderly people I know at church, all the fields were covered in wild flowers like these when they were young. Intensive agriculture was becoming the norm thirty or forty years ago: hedges were ripped out and everything was sprayed to kill off the wild flowers and most of the insects. This was still being done when I moved to East Anglia in 1988 and the birds I heard regularly then and the quantities of moths, butterflies and other insects I used to see then are much reduced. I especially noticed the difference when I returned to East Anglia in 2006 after our 18 months in Somerset. Far fewer insects certainly. However, we had got used to hearing and seeing Buzzards during that 18 months while in Somerset and I was greatly surprised and excited to see and hear a Buzzard in Suffolk for the first time in 2007. They are well established here now.
You will be glad to know we all got home safely having met no-one on our walk and only saw a lady driving her pony and trap and I think a couple of cars along the lane.You will be especially glad to know that this is the end of the post!