Wassail in the Wyre once again

Earlier this month, just before old twelfth night, we held the second Wassail event here at Ruskin Land.  The evening was a few degrees warmer than last year and the atmosphere slightly damper, although we were spared the heavy showers forecast earlier in the week.

This year, I think it’s fair to say, the occasion was a little livelier than the first.  We have the scratch Morris dancing side – calling themselves the Wassail Morris – and accompanying musicians to thank for that.  Particular thanks are due to Lucy Greenwood for leading the wassail ceremony and organising the group which came together especially for the event and provided great entertainment and dancing opportunities  during the evening.  It was great that a trio of musicians specialising in Irish music, some of whom came last year, were also able to join in once again. One particularly memorable moment (though perhaps not for folk purists) was when the Wassail Morris gave an extemporary performance inspired by the Irish dance tunes.

It looks like the Wassail at Ruskin Land will become an annual event.  This is good news for the orchard at St George’s Farm where the trees require all the help they can get to establish themselves so that they can bear fruit for decades to come.  Sadly, a small number of trees that we planted last winter, mainly varieties of cherry,  have not survived their first year.  I suspect this is partly due to that winter being a particularly wet one, creating waterlogging for weeks in parts of the field with heavy clay soil.  We will shortly be replacing these lost trees shortly with new specimens sourced from specialist nurseries such as Keepers in Kent, Frank Matthews near Tenbury, and the Walcot organic nursery in Gloucestershire.

A meeting for local orchard enthusiasts is taking place at the Ruskin Studio at Uncllys Farm, a neighbouring smallholding, on 14 February.  The aim is to discuss a long term vision for the orchards of the Wyre Forest, no doubt considering what the future holds post-Brexit for public funding for land management.  It is worth noting that agri-environment funding available under the Common Agricultural Policy has helped pay for most orchard conservation, and other environmental land management schemes, in recent years.  This issue has been explored in a recent Parliamentary report produced by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee.    We need to make sure that funding for such vital work continues after Britain leaves the EU.


We also need to discuss how we can make the most of our orchard produce in future, including through stepping up our juicing and cider-making activities.  On that note, shortly before Christmas we were delighted to be offered by friends a hydro-press juicer, scratter (which pulps the apples before pressing), and other juicing equipment. This  will help us increase our output just as many of the trees planted recently round here start to produce increasing quantities of fruit.  Look out for top quality, Ruskin Land Apple Juice at a retail outlet near you soon!



Winter light and stained glass

Not many of us look forward to the long, dark nights of winter.  Natural light is increasingly understood to play an important role in our physical and mental wellbeing. It is not surprising that Seasonal Affective Disorder , sometimes known as ‘winter depression’, is closely related to the lack of light during this time of the year.


Living here at St George’s Farm, in the depths of the Wyre Forest, there is little pollution from artificial light.  This seems to have made us more sensitive to changing levels of natural light.  In the cloudy, gloom of drizzly and damp winter days – such as today – it is harder to escape from the  midwinter torpor that can feel overwhelming.


But there is another, more positive side to this.  When the sun does shine – and it seems to have done so most days this winter, at least for a short while – the quality of the light can be stunning.  This is especially the case at sunrise.  With the sun hanging so low in the sky, it barely rises above the top of the tree line but the angle of the light through the forest can create dramatic effects.    This is often enhanced by moisture held in the air causing atmospheric mists to cling to the ground, turning to magical hoar frost when it freezes. The darkness of the night recently has also created the most wonderful displays of starlight.

Of the course the quality of light has motivated artists for centuries.  The formation of artists colony in St Ives almost a century ago was driven by the crystal clarity of the air that is often found in that part of Cornwall.    Anne Wroe has recently written on this topic in her book Six Facets of Light.  She describes how artists such as Eric Ravilious and Samuel Palmer, more closely associated with Kent and Sussex, were drawn by and sought to capture the character of the light they found there.


Samuel Palmer, Early Morning (1825)

Stained glass is one artform that has a particular dependence on light.  We have written before in this blog about the glass work by Amber Hiscott – inspired by the quality of light in the forest clearing that surrounds St George’s Farm.  It has been a delight to discover the wonderful stained glass designs by Edward Burne-Jones, and produced by the company set up by William Morris, to be found locally.   Both figures were strongly influenced by John Ruskin.


All Saints Church at Wilden, with all of its glass by Burne-Jones – examples above – which was commissioned along with the building itself by Stanley Baldwin’s father Alfred, is particularly impressive.  St Leonard’s at Ribbesford also has a beautiful window – below – again by Morris and Burne-Jones.  More of their stained glass designs adorn the Cathedral Church of St Philip, and other churches in Birmingham where Burne Jones was born in 1833.  There are also a number of other examples of their work in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery that are well worth seeing.


Instead of lamenting the lack of natural light in winter, we should be grateful for the changing quality of light through the seasons.  As well as playing a vital role in the work of many of our most treasured artists, it connects us with the natural rhythms of the world we live in.