On Saturday we went to Blackden. If you have read my blog for a while you might know about Blackden but I am going to tell you about it again anyway. It is a place that can bear repetition!
Driving from here in North Wales to Blackden you leave the hills behind you and drop down to the lush Cheshire plain. The stone or lime rendered houses give way to warm brick or sometimes to older, black and white timbered buildings.
This is Little Morton Hall (and not my photograph as you can see), but it is perhaps the most spectacular example of black and white that I know locally. You know you are in Cheshire without needing to read the road signs, now all in English instead of English and Welsh. In such a short distance the landscape and buildings change completely. Sheep here in Wales are replaced by dairy cows and the rolling hills become wide fields. The farms are bigger and look prosperous and sleek. In the middle of Cheshire and almost in the shadow of Jodrell Bank is Blackden.
Blackden is the home of Alan Garner, the writer, and his wife Griselda. This is not sleek Cheshire, this is old, old Cheshire, older than imagining. There are two houses here, Toad Hall on the left, where the Garners live, which is a medieval hall house, and the Old Medicine House on the right, once an apothecary's house and rescued by the Garners from demolition forty years ago in nearby Wrinehill. It was taken down, piece by painstaking piece and moved and rebuilt on this site. But even these ancient houses are newcomers here. The site itself has been in continuous occupation for ten thousand years. You can't dig in the garden without turning over the past: Bronze and Iron age weapons and tools, musket balls from the Civil War in the 17th Century, shards of pottery maybe two hundred or two thousand years old.
The Old Medicine House now belongs to the Blackden Trust, set up by the Garners to preserve this site. The trust runs inspirational courses and open days and exists to both protect and share Blackden. Every year university students and others take part in an archaeological dig but you don't need to commit yourself for a fortnight, you can simply take a tour of the house and see some of the many beautiful, strange and ancient things that it contains or go on an open day to see what they do. If you are within reach of mid Cheshire and at all interested in history, archaeology, literature or herbs, do go and see for yourself. It is a place which defies description: beautiful, unsettling, peaceful and inspiring, a place where the past and the present push against each other and the air is thin.
If you are really interested in herbs you could come along to a course which I am running with Sue Hughes, Director of the Grosvenor Museum in Chester. Sue will be talking about how herbs were used in medieval and Tudor times and giving a tour of the Old Medicine House in the morning. Sue knows more about the history of the use of herbs than anyone I know! In the afternoon I will be looking at the newly planted herb garden, helping you identify herbs, common and not so common, and talking about how to grow them, propagate them and use them today. Griselda Garner and I have been madly propagating herbs for months - feverfew, woodruff, lemon balm, sweet cicely, hyssop and thyme. All the herbs which will be for sale have come directly from Griselda's garden or my own.