Some of you may have tripped over me on Twitter, there may be corners of Twitter that are bitchy and nasty or rude and sweary – but there are other corners that are on the whole good natured and polite; where people who like making things and growing things, generously share their knowledge.
It was on Twitter early one morning (early mornings is a good time to stumble on Tweets from gardeners, before they put on their boots and head off to their plots) that I discovered @ultingwick aka Philippa, she lives in Essex and likes gardening, art, books, travel and horse racing. I gradually began to realise that Philappa's garden was a bit special!
As often happens on Twitter, virtual acquaintances become real life ones and today Cliff and I drove down to Essex to look around Philippa's garden at Ulting Wick – although officially it wasn't open to the public for the NGS until 2pm, we were allowed to look around in the morning . . . the only other visitors were another Twitter acquaintance @HarietRycroft and her husband – Harriet is head gardener and plant potter-upper extraordinary for Whichford Pottery.
Philippa is a self-confessed tidy gardener – you can see how beautiful the box hedging and lawns and paths are maintained in my top photo. There is a view that wildlife gardens need to be an untidy mess but Ulting Wick dispels that myth, it is a garden full of birds and insects as well as native wildflowers and trees – while we looked around we heard a Cuckoo and saw Wagtails, Great tits, Blue tits and Swallows flitting to and fro . . . there are Kingfishers too but we didn't spot them.
The Spring highlights of Ulting Wick – tulips – have faded, so the next planned open days will be in late summer to show off the Dahlias. But I'm sure the gardens are beautiful all year, I particulary liked the large wildflower meadow which will be in full bloom in late May/early June – my tip is to follow @ultingwick on Twitter so you don't miss out.
After exploring the garden at Ulting Wick, we took Philippa's advice and headed for the quayside, or Hythe, in Maldon – yes, where the sea salt comes from.
The town's long High Street flows downhill to the Blackwater Estuary and along the Hythe opposite old cottages, pubs and boatyards, are moored half a dozen old Thames barges – a forest of masts, rigging and furled sails against the blustery sky. The linen sails' traditional red-brown colour was from a waterproofing made from red-ochre earth, cod fish oil and sea water.
Thames barges were once the haulage trucks of the river estuaries and coast of South-East England, today the restored barges take on different roles.
We walked alongside the Blackwater estuary, the tide was at its lowest leaving boats high and dry on the mud. Rain clouds were blowing over fast as we looked back at Maldon Hythe from a distance – but luckily we didn't get wet.
At the end of the path loomed a huge bronze statue of a Saxon warrior . . . this is Byrhtnoth, the Earldorman of Essex. Byrhtnoth (or Brithnoth, as it is sometimes written) was the leading military figure of Saxon England at the end of the 10th century. He rejected King Ethelred's policy of appeasement to Viking raiders, and at the age of 68 he led an army that confronted the Vikings as they made their way up the Blackwater and came ashore near Maldon on 10th August 991 AD.
What happened on that day would probably have been lost in the mists of time, like many other battles and skirmishes between Saxon militia and Viking raiders – what is different is that The Battle of Maldon was described in detail in an Anglo-Saxon poem, you can read the translation here.
The inscription near the statue tells us that Byrhtnoth "surrendered his life in defence of the people, religion and way of life".
After the battle Byrhtnoth's body was taken to Ely in Cambridgeshire and was buried in the abbey, his widow Aethelflaed, presented the abbey with "a curtain woven and depicted with the deeds of her husband as a memorial of his virtue" – which sounds very much like something that was made to commemorate a later more famous battle.
We ended our visited by enjoying a 99 from the park cafe (and very nice ice-cream it was too). I hope you've enjoyed learning a little bit about the Essex that isn't 'the only way'.