Talk about a week of contrasts. We started the week (or more specifically last weekend) by visiting a gentile English village and marked the start of this weekend in deepest, darkest Birmingham.
After discovering some reasonably priced vinyl on sale in a Shropshire Antiques Centre (I bagged the Kate Bush album Never Forever, which sounds incredible!), we headed to a village at pains to distance itself from the short legged omnivores with distinctive white striped heads, despite being called "Badger." I'm hazarding a guess that it was named after an individual who was, for whatever reason, named after a badger. I like to think it was a village squire who, after a row with his wife one stormy evening, headed outside for some air, traipsed up a hill in a black mood, had an unfortunate encounter with Zeus and henceforth became known as Badger. Subsequently, as a result of the squire being held in such high esteem, the village promptly adopted his surname and the rest is history.
Fantastical stories aside, Badger is a tiny little village with its origins lying in the Anglo Saxon period (it is referenced in the Domesday survey of 1086, comparing the situation at that point, with that before the Norman Conquest). In reality, its name appears to have been taken from the tenant of the manor in the mid 12th century, William de Badger. The village has barely grown over the centuries and in the 2011 census, was registered as home to 126 people.
Here's the Thatched cottage reflected in the village pool...and resident duck.
The church, a 19th century Gothic Revival church built from sandstone has remnants of an earlier Medieval Church. It's position on the edge of a tranquil pool was instantly calming.
Unfortunately we discovered the church at the end of our walk and were a little pushed for time, so whilst I have no photographic evidence, I can report that it contains some early Flemish stained glass and a memorial window to Dr Margaret Dix, who died in 1991 and was the daughter of the last rector and an eminent Neuro-Otologist, having published important research on vertigo which led to a common diagnostic tool for paroxysmal positional vertigo.
The primary purpose of our visit however, was to locate the village's best kept secret; a stunning little wilderness created in a narrow valley landscape, known as "the Dingle".
The area was landscaped in the 18th century by William Emes (commissioned by the British Tory politician, essayist, Old Park Ironworks owner and one time lord of Badger Manor, Isaac Hawkins Browne) to further enhance its picturesque qualities.
Sadly the early Georgian house, Badger Hall (not named after a badger), was demolished in 1953, after years of neglect. Once upon a time it allegedly housed the most incredible collections of Renaissance art and the consensus today is that had it survived intact, it would have been one of the most important treasured houses in Britain. Here is is in its former glory.
The Dingle as it is known, comprises four pools, the two most prominent being Church Pool and the Town Pool. The pools are the result of the damming of a small stream running down to a brook in the Dingle. However, they had been a central feature of the village for centuries before as evidenced by an historical dispute which lead to Francis Kynnersley (Lord of the Manor in the early 1600s) threatening to "throw the rector into the pond".
The Dingle was opened to the public in 1851 and is now fairly accessible with a circular walk taking in the pools and the Dingle's other notable features, although it does have a few precipitous pathways and was very muddy when we visited.
There are sandstone outcrops and caves and weathered sandstone cliffs flanking the valley. I loved this Ash tree, rooted in the sandstone outcrop.
A wooden bridge takes us over the Snowdon brook.
There were stunning reflections created by the trees...
...and a cascade!
This building pictured above, is a reconstruction of the Doric Temple, originally commissioned by Isaac Browne, now managed by the Landmark Trust as a holiday let. Just after this photograph was taken, a couple appeared on the terrace with a bottle of wine. Don't let the sunlight fool you - it was an icy cold day, but they were understandably determined to make the most of their mini escape. Who can blame them?
In other news, we revisited Dowles Church, the eerie, abandoned church just outside Bewdley, mentioned in a recent blog here Winter Peach Photography: Answers on a postcard, found the mortsafe (a rarity in England) and a clootie - the pagan, early Christian tradition of hanging coloured strips of rag in trees, believed to bring about healing!
The Big Garden Bird Watch, organised annually by the RSPB, where the British public is encouraged to spend one hour in the garden at any time during a designated three day period, was a disaster last year. The weather was flat, grey and freezing and the UK's bird population sensibly checked into a bird hotel and studiously avoided the majority of British gardens this time last year. This afternoon, layered up like the Michelin tyre man, I sat, stock still, in the garden. What did I see? A pair of mating pigeons, a blue tit and a male and female blackbird. Better than last year.
This was about as energetic as I felt after a night wandering the streets of Birmingham. Last night, we found ourselves in the urban jungle of Digbeth in our second city, Birmingham, observing other forms of wildlife, but more on that very soon.