Corn Dollies

Corn Dollies

You don’t often see them now, but the culmination of harvest this week and an article in NFU Countryside magazine on how to make them set me to reminiscing about the art of corn dolly creation.

In my early rural-school years we had a teacher who wove corn dollies as she taught. She sat in a battered armchair in the corner of the classroom and her hands rarely stilled as she counselled us in the ways of nature, with an old-country wisdom which resonates with me to this day.

I recall that the different dollies had meanings and potencies and that the spirit of the corn was encased in their form. Mrs Homewood crafted works of some intricacy whilst the class had a go at the simple, spiral ‘drop dollies’ (with mixed results!)

Some are traditional to an area, named after counties and places.

EssexTerret
This is an Essex Terret…
CambridgeshireHandbell
… and this one’s a Cambridgeshire Handbell.

Plump, comfortably dressed and slightly dishevelled, Mrs Homewood made a greater impression on me than even gorgeous, blonde, Miss Ford from my city-infant class who let me brush her long hair and handed out sweets from the drawer of her desk. I thought Mrs Homewood was ancient, but she lived on for decades after I left so that must have been an illusion of youth. I wonder if she was actually a pagan goddess of nature, even the name fits!

Our classes were often conducted outside (whatever the weather) and we walked the length of the village river to study the life and nature of its twisting path. I certainly knew what a tributary was long before I could spell it. Our very own forest school (before forest schools re-emerged as a trendy ‘new’ idea) but do not be misled into thinking that Mrs Homewood was saintly. Oh no. She chased one of the boys with a bunch of stinging nettles (he was chasing us girls with the same) and when a classmate told her he’d been stung by a bee she offered no sympathy.

‘Poor bee. You do know that he’ll die now?’

The varieties of wheat we grow today have stalks too short for successful dolly making. It’s been cultured that way to prevent the crop falling and to accommodate combine harvesters. But maybe I should give it a try anyway…

The dolly should be kept over winter and laid in the first turned furrow of the plough to set the spirit of the corn free again. Bless Mrs Homewood, whose spirit is free now too, bless all the teachers who shaped us and the spirit of the corn which makes our bread.

 

Rustic Guest Alison Howell – Walking the Cotswolds

Rustic Guest Alison Howell – Walking the Cotswolds

AlisonHowell

Alison is the founder of Foot Trails, a specialist travel company crafting custom independent walking tours in the South West of England.

It’s a beautiful, inspiring part of the country (and the setting for my Draymere Hall romances, of course!)

I’ve been lucky enough to visit many times but Alison could tempt me back with her wonderful walking tours.

Let’s have that cuppa first, and let Alison tell us about her world.


Walking the Cotswolds

At this time of year the fields of barley (with its long wispy delicate whiskers) and wheat are starting to turn and ripen. Barley changes beautifully from its vibrant green to a light beige. And wheat, standing tall and proudly as it does in the fields to a golden hue.

The sight of both crops growing whisks me instantly back to my childhood on the farm. I remember (with fondness and probably rose tinted spectacles) the seemingly endless flurry of activity from early in the morning until late into the night. Tractor drivers, trailers and my father, driving the machines and combine harvester to race against the unpredictable British weather. This will soon be underway.

We would pack frozen ice lolly’s in newspaper and rush them to the fields to keep my father cool in the heat of the dry dusty work that is harvest.

Back on today’s trail I am lulled soothingly by the sway and movement of the crops.

Alison image 1

We are in the Cotswolds. We, my husband and our Guide and Trail Creator, David, our children (who often accompany us on trail checks and have learnt much over the years, Molly, Foot Trails mascot and our Cavalier King Charles.)

There have been recent reports of logging on one of our trails and we are here to assess the situation and see if we need to re-route the trail.

 

Long views of green, mellow fields and impossibly inviting villages stretch out in front of us.

Out here the crowds, throngs and coaches of visitors seem miles away.

Village life is blissfully slower paced and simple. We walk, we talk we pause at the village shop café for Americano coffees, ice cream and a cream tea. We study the map and ponder the route directions on the trail card.

Alison image 4

By the side of the fields wild Poppies are thrown around by the breeze. Their heads of delicate and strongly hued petals dancing.

Alison image 5

We partake enthusiastically in the obligatory choosing and discussion of which would be the cottage we would most love to live in. There are several contenders. We admire their stone porches, elaborate chimney pots and quiet locations.

The Cotswolds are such a distinct area to walk in. Clues of its geography are everywhere. In the stone walls, skilfully put together by hand without cement, they mark boundaries and keep in sheep and live stock. And by the buildings, churches, built in the trade mark local stone.

Alison image 6

We reach the point of the logging and instantly see what needs to be done. A few tweaks and changes are spoken into our Dictaphone and the new directions are recorded. Soon to be written into trail cards and feature in trips for guests from around the world to enjoy.

Alison image 7

I reflect on my life as the sun beams enthusiastically through a gap in the trees in front of me. For 15 years Foot Trails has been the product of my life work. What began as a dream, a vision to inspire people to walk rural England in a way that was authentic and meaningful has grown and developed in ways I could not then imagine.

But one thing has remained. The simple act of walking and the pleasure it brings. The simple act of putting one foot in front of the other, repeatedly and letting our feet take us on a journey. Sometimes to places known sometimes to places new. It matters not. The world our feet let us see always holds something fresh and new if we look closely enough. A view, a season, a feel, weather….

Years ago we chose the phrase walking England’s rural canvas to sum up what it is we do at Foot Trails. It seems more apt than ever.

I am still inspired by walking. In many ways more than I ever was. I hope through our efforts, passions and goals you too will discover not only beautiful places like here in the Cotswolds, but gain a perspective of life that sustains and inspires you.


This post was originally shared on Alison’s Foot Trails blog where you can also read more of Alison’s Story (and book a wonderful holiday off the beaten track!)

@howell_alison

@FootTrailsUK

Facebook.com/FootTrails