Riddle me this…

The Anglo-Saxons were very fond of riddles and word-games. At a recent feast, I spoke these riddling words:

In youth I stood still.
People slew me,
They spun me round and round.
After death, I am still again,
But people grow dizzy.

As the banquet-guests puzzled over these words, I took a drink of mead and explained that it wasn’t something obscure.

The answer is given below, in white text. Highlight the box below to read the answer!

A wooden cup, turned on a pole-lathe, and filled with mead.

Did you guess it?

Tree pruning

An orchard in February doesn’t look like much, but there are promises of spring appearing – snowdrops, catkins, and swelling buds on the trees. High time to prune those apple and pear trees!

Our first task was to prune the older tree, which we’ve been gradually reshaping to a proper ‘tree’ shape (it had grown very siiiiiiideways due to the light from the south being blocked). We went at it somewhat cautiously, pruning a bit at the ends, and removing branches that crossed each other, or went too much straight up.

The variety is unknown but it produces nice eating apples.

The unknown variety mature apple tree, after pruning

The Hambledon Deux Ans got a bit of a trim, as did the Wyken Pippin. This latter is such a sturdy tree now, and has kind of gone sideways, so Al removed the protective frame around it. We’ve kind of decided to keep livestock out of the orchard now, as it’s clear that the fruit will always be low enough to be munched even by sheep. And the frame was very rickety. But it may be reused later.

Hambledon Deux Ans apple; still the smallest tree in the orchard
Wyken Pippin apple, now released! And a good tree-shaped tree it is.
Uvedale St Germain pear, just a few bits trimmed as it’s a pretty good shape already
Portugal quince; seems to have no main trunk, just lots of twiddly branches! I clipped them in a bit.
Pears planted nearly two years ago: Jargonelle and Winter Nelis. They didn’t grow much, being swamped with nettles, so I didn’t take anything off them. We’ll try to give them more light and hope for better growth this year.

Last apples from 2022

Stored apples 29 January 2023

Candlemas has been and gone, marking the beginning of the end of winter, and the first signs of spring as the days lengthen. Indeed the name of the coming Christian period of fasting, Lent, derives from the Old English ‘lencten’ meaning ‘lengthen’.1 Although rats ate most of the good eating apples in the apple store – and this would be a disaster in a farming community, and we’ll have to rat-proof the store for next year – the Bramley apples proved less tempting and although there were some depredations, most were left for our use. Their keeping properties were mixed, with some surviving well and others decaying. By January they were mostly showing their age with brown fibres appearing in the flesh. On the 29th January 2023 we brought the remaining apples in to the kitchen.

Over the last week I’ve worked through them, and about one in three has eatable flesh now. If I’d been more organised I could have stewed and bottled or frozen vast amounts of good apple, but I just didn’t have the time and energy. I started eating the Bramley apples in August of 2022, as they were sharp but OK cooked, and they made excellent jelly then as they contain more pectin while unripe. So the tree has kept me in apples for about six months.

The trees now need pruning, and I have of course no idea what kind of harvest we will get this year, but I hope for a few more of the new apples, and that I’ll manage to look after the fruits better.

Ice on the meadow

January of 923 included a week or so of really cold weather – almost unknown in these later years – following on from some weeks of flooding. Thus a layer of ice formed on Lake Meadow, and as the water level fell it was left lying on the meadow.

You can see that the cold weather was protracted by the row of ice circles removed from the bird bath, one per day!

The ice was several centimetres thick and you could walk on it; it was like walking on a glass surface suspended over the grass. Sadly not safe for skating, I think, because in so many places the ice had broken and refrozen leaving holes and jagged edges.

Now, a week later, the ice is gone and there are catkins on the hazel trees.

A silver Cuthbert cross

On the 13th January, the nuns of Rumwoldstow celebrate the Feast of St Eadwald of Rumwoldstow, that local priest who received St Rumwold after his baptism. And on this day in 923, the local silversmith presented Abbess Cyneswithe with a fine silver pendant cross in commemoration. Its style is notably old fashioned, but then we are an unreformed house, honouring that early saint, Rumwold, and seeking to refound a house based on those early Christian principles.

The Rumwoldstow silver cross made by Alister Perrott in 2023
Back of the silver cross made by Alister Perrott in 2023

The Rumwoldstow Cross is essentially a Cuthbert cross, in a plain style inspired by a silvered bronze cross held found at St Hild’s abbey in Whitby, and now held by the British Museum.

Silvered bronze cross in the British Museum

Text accompanying the silvered bronze cross

Photos of the Whitby cross copyright Alister Perrott.

The Whitby cross is entirely plain, and forms almost a complete circle.

The Winfarthing cross, found in 2015, is gobsmackingly fancy but is a complete circle. It dates to around 660 C.E. and forms part of a collection of jewellery buried with a woman thought to be one of the very earliest Anglo-Saxon converts to Christianity – and fortunately for us, buried with grave goods, as soon ceased to be the custom in England.

Source: https://museumcrush.org/these-burial-treasures-open-a-window-into-early-anglo-saxon-east-anglia/

The picture above shows the cross after conservation. From earlier photographs you can see that the base is a plain shape very similar to that of the Rumwoldstow cross, but it has been embellished with indented gold wire and a gold boss.

Source: http://www.stedmundsburychronicle.co.uk/ixworthcross.htm

So our silver cross at Rumwoldstow derives from two early Anglo-Saxon finds, both Cuthbert crosses, one plain, and one a complete circle. And we thank Alf Silversmith for his gift with all joy.

The Hambledon Deux-ans

Last year for the first time we got a couple of apples from the young Hambledon Deux-ans apple tree, planted nearly five years ago now. It was the tree that was most munched by enthusiastic young cows in its first year and I’m honestly chuffed that it’s alive at all. I put the apples in the dining room and kept meaning to move them somewhere cooler but never got round to it, and finally decided to just eat them!

All things considered, I think the apple didn’t do too badly; more than half of it was eatable, though very tart. I can see why it’s described as a cooker. Fingers crossed the tree will do better this year, though with the hazards of drought and late frost, it’s an absolute unknown quantity.

Yew tree and moonlight

Our good friend the Bogwitch made a reappearance over the midwinter festival and despite her incomprehensible ramblings in some strange language, she bore a gift! A yew tree, without which indeed no chapel or church is complete, and it has absolutely no pagan significance whatsoever. It’s on the small side and it’ll probably continue to live in a pot, as we don’t want it to be out in the orchard where livestock might nibble it. Yew is toxic, leaf berry and wood, so don’t mess with it.

Ah, I haven’t introduced you to the Bogwitch. Well, that’s something to look forward to! She’s….a bit of a character.

Anyway, yes, here’s a lovely tree. It needs a bit more soil in the pot, if it only stops raining for long enough I’ll get out there and fix it up.

I awoke before dawn (not so hard in early January) and was lured outside by the shimmer of moonlight on water…Lake Meadow is flooded good and proper, and looked very pretty.

As it was about 6am the moon, though full, wasn’t very high in the sky. But still, you get the idea, and it was well worth getting out of bed for. And I’m impressed that the camera on my phone managed to make any sense of the scene!