The humble monastery of Rumwoldstow was honoured to be visited by the esteemed bishop, Godfrid, and his utterly splendid cat Isidore. As Rumwoldstow exists before the Benedictine reforms of the mid-tenth century, the monastery and the behaviour of the nuns would not have been subject to very strict inspection.
Not interested in videos? Well, the only other news is that the wild strawberries which have taken over part of the garden are ripe. And while the nuns live on a simple diet, it would be sinful to waste the lord’s bounty!
Some six years ago now, we moved to the house adjoining what is now Rumwoldstow. At that time, there were two self-seeded sycamore trees which overshadowed the walled garden almost entirely, being to the south. We somewhat sadly had them felled (we’ve planted other trees in more suitable locations) and one of them had a fine section of trunk that I couldn’t bear to waste, so we had some guys with a mobile sawmill cut it into beams. At the time, Rumwoldstow was a very faint beginnings of an idea and we had little in the way of plan for using the beams. However, thanks to Al’s hard work, they have now come into their own! He has used them to build the rafters for the central gatehouse tunnel; they are perfect, and were just sufficient for the job!
It’s great to make a showpiece of timber that has travelled no more than 50m from where it grew.
The rafters over the guardrooms to the sides of the gatehouse tunnel are ordinary timber bought from a builders’ merchant. But it won’t be as visible.
One final shot of the garden, which has been strimmed so you can actually walk around it. Slightly inauthentic borage – the Romans had it, and the later mediaevals, but I don’t know of evidence of it in the tenth century. But it’s covered in bees. The Iris Germanica didn’t flower last year, apart from one randomly white blossom, but the plants have filled out excellently and we have some nice purple flowers.
I think we’ve been working on the Roman gatehouse for 2 years now? Yes I could check, that’s why I have a blog, but I can’t be bothered just now. A point of some anxiety has been how to construct the blocks to hold the top of the gate pivot posts. Just as the arches had to be right, the gates also need to look right and move in the right way. Al finally worked out a plan, possibly prompted by the near arrival of Chris the stonemason, and cast the first of the two incredibly important blocks! I keep wanting to call them corbels, but corbels are meant to hold things up, whereas these blocks are for holding something in place below them. Anybody know what they are called? There must be a technical name for them apart from “big stone with a hole in to hold the gate pivot in place”.
The first metaphorical milestone, fresh out of its mould
Al made a rectangular mould with think plywood scavenged from a pallet to form the curve, and a bit of plastic drain pipe to leave the hole for the pivot post. This will remain in place and will be undetectable unless some irritating person goes up there on a ladder with a torch determined to find fault. And none of you would do that would you?
I took advantage of the spring sunshine to cut back the wormwood, southernwood, costmary and some other plants. And to observe how well traditional plants self-seed where you don’t want them…
Of course I now feel that we ought to have a real milestone. Out along Green Street perhaps?
The tree specialist in the next village sold me three new fruit trees for the orchard. They had to sit in the shed with their lower appendages swathed in bubble wrap for two days until we had time to get out and plant them. What have we got?
Pear: Winter Nelis. This is a heritage variety known from the early 19th century and its pears are apparently not a super pretty fruit, but sweet with a good flavour. And they’re said to keep into January. On the down side the tree prefers a sheltered spot and our orchard is quite exposed with the chilly meadow to the west.
Pear: Jargonelle. First recorded in 1629 but thought to be older, so a great pear for our early mediaeval orchard. It’s an early pear but to my surprise, our existing Louise Bonne and the new Winter Nelis are apparently all suitable pollination partners. The tree man knows his stuff!
Plum: St Julien. I found very little on t’internet about the St Julien as a tree in its own right, as it is so widely used as a rootstock. But the tree man said it produces a tasty green plum, and is actually one of the earliest cultivars around, so a great fit for us – and unusual, which is part of our thing. One forum post suggested the fruit is best dried, but another described the fruit as complex, sweet when perfectly ripe but potentially acidic. I am excited to let this little tree develop naturally and do its thing, whatever it turns out to be!
The Jargonelle and Winter Nelis are quite close together, and to the quince and the Hambledon Deux Ans apple, but the I couldn’t choose between these two and had to have them both, and they needed to be planted further from the place where they diseased Victoria plum was removed last year, which restricted my options somewhat. I will need to keep them relatively small but that will make it easier to pick the fruit. Anyway, more trees for the win!
Finally, the St Julien plum is so small that I decided to stick it in a pot for a year or two to gain some height, otherwise we’ll lose the poor thing in the undergrowth. This pot had dwarf beans last year which didn’t do well and anyway are an annual, so there was a handy pot with soil and no plants. I might try beans around the side this year and hope for a better harvest. They actually did better in 2019 even though the sheep got out and had a munch at them before exploring the road (and then retreating swiftly when they saw the cars).
We at Rumwoldstow celebrated the feast day of St Pandiona by welcoming a group of visitors. St Pandiona, likely an Irish princess, only died in 904 AD so may have been personally known to the nuns at Rumwoldstow in the year of 921; she was also associated with a well, not unlike our own dear St Rumwold. Anyway, I digress. These visitors were from a local re-enactment society, and spent the weekend doing crafts and getting weaponry into shape the better to defend us from Viking attacks.
One warrior practised with the sling, a simple yet highly effective weapon.
The next project was to complete three new shields; the handles and bosses had already been riveted on so we set to work edging them with leather. First step was to cut 5cm strips of leather and sew them into loops 4% smaller than the circumference of the shield.
We tried a couple of different ways of stitching the strips together so that they’d like flat. Tunnel stitching didn’t hold up well with this particular set of ingredients but the methods shown below were very successful.
The loops were soaked in cold water for an hour or two before being fitted to the shield rim.
After drying overnight, we drilled holes through leather and shield at about 2cm intervals and sewed the layers together with saddle stitch. The thread was a brown nylon thread because that’s what we had; artificial sinew would have been better.
I have finally potted all my apple seedlings into individual pots of at least 1 litre capacity. And counted them. I have 112 seedlings, some tiny, some being munched by various parasites, some growing with great enthusiasm. I lost one seedling to what I think was silverleaf fungus, and disposed of it carefully, but overall it’s a pretty encouraging collection.
Above, the back row is from apples that I found in a box outside somebody’s house in the nearby village of Aynho, labelled as Cox’s. The front row is seedlings from the tree behind the forge at Murton Park (Yorkshire Museum of Farming). Some I grew from apples that I collected last August (2020) and kept while the apples ripened – I am amazed how many germinated. Some I found as seedlings in the “village brown” and area around the tree. The tree itself was badly damaged in a fire last winter which burned down the forge and fence; the tree was alive in April but I don’t know if they’ll keep it or replace it. So I’m very happy to have scions, especially as the tree produces very tasty early apples.
Above we have the Royal Gala seedlings, grown from apples that I bought in the supermarket.
Next up (above) are the Egremont Russets, an English apple bought in Morrisons. Two at the back seem to be dying but the rest look pretty good.
Braeburns (above) again from supermarkets. The larger ones were planted last year, from seeds which had germinated inside the apple – I assume false winter experienced while being shipped in cold storage. The one at the far left is a mystery seedling which I found growing in the patio. It looked very much like an apple seedling but is now developing rather shinier leaves, so I’m going to have to wait and see what it is really!
My friend Emma brought me “Cox like” apples from Kittyfields orchard near her home in Galashiels. Above and below – they proved very enthusiastic!
And finally, at the back are the Discoveries, and the front are Cripps Red which are bonus apples – the others are mostly ones I gathered in autumn 2020 and refrigerated for a month before germinating them. The Cripps Reds are all seeds that I found already germinating inside my breakfast apples in spring 2021.
As you can tell from the photos, the garden at Rumwoldstow has got away from me. Where are the energetic nuns and monks when we need them eh? But the plus side is lots of flowers for bees and butterflies.
Returning to the elecampane, it appears to be a plant with many medicinal uses and also an edible potherb known to the Celts and Romans. It was known as ‘elfwort’. The roots can be candied or used as a flavouring; they contain up to 44% inulin, a naturally occurring polysaccharide that humans do not digest well. The leaves are apparently bitter but edible, preferably cooked; I have not yet tried this! Medically, it appears to be extra good for lung function and coughs, which is of particular interest in these days of COVID-19. Of immediate benefit is the fact that the bees are all over it.
I put in the two elecampane plants last year, and this is the first year they have flowered. I had no idea how vast they would be!
April was a drought; May was a series of rainy days! The apples, pears, damsons and plum have all flowered. The pears seem to have lost almost all their fruit, perhaps due to the frost, but the apples run a bit later and are still in fairly full flower, and the frosts *seem* to be over, fingers crossed. At present there are damsons and plums growing – better than last year when I harvested exactly one damson! The quince and medlar have yet to flower. The orchard is super full of cow parsley and looks very pretty.
The cloister garden is a bit of a jungle, but I’ve started to weed out the central area and moved some things around. I originally planted three sorrels, trying to fill the space, but they are monsters and not pretty. So I’ve moved two great clumps into my regular garden and have put in their place some of the self-seeded cornflowers and viola tricolor that I weeded out. The madonna lilies are looking good, and I have hopes that the elecampane will flower this year (didn’t last year).
I have planted some things in the “old Roman well”. Sadly only one of them (the veronica) is native but the blue flag iris is a generally European-looking thing, and the Saururus cernuus “Lizard’s tail” is one of the few plants in the shop that looked like it might cope with the situation and poke its head above the parapet in due course. Al put some scraps of pond liner on the base of the pond bucket, then concrete blocks on top, to allow the plant pots to be put in at a sensible (not too deep) level.
And we had flooding! In May! It looks different to the winter because the dock in in full growth, but there was plenty of depth for my trusty and beloved coracle. This time, I took my phone out with me, wrapped in a double layer of ziplock bags, and took some snaps from out on the water. Amazingly, I didn’t even get bitten by flies…
I spent the last week on pilgrimage to the North, staying in the Viking village at Murton Park. It was a wonderful escape from everyday life and was topped off by the discovery of apple seedlings sprouting in the area around the old apple tree behind the site of the recently-burned-down forge. I rescued a good number of them, and have added them to my apple tree stash. One seedling is a second-year survivor, which has been chopped off at some point but is sprouting well. Of the rest, four look pretty good, and three very feeble. The parent tree was badly damaged by the fire but is sprouting on one side.
On my return home, I found that one of my Braeburn pips has sprouted, which brings me back up to three after one of last year’s seedlings mysteriously died. The seed came from a pack of six apples that I bought in April from Morrisons, and unlike the first batch they are from the UK.
After six months of rain over the winter, followed by a few days of blissful warm sunshine, we’ve returned to icy blasts of north wind and drought conditions. All the trees in the orchard are alive, except for the old (probably Victoria) plum which had to be removed last year because it had silverleaf fungus right down into the roots.
Last year, most of the trees lost their fruit due to May frosts. Will the current frosts be early enough that the trees won’t mind? Only the plum and damsons are really in flower yet.