The all-conquering conker!

Conkers mean the arrival of Autumn.

I spotted a request for conkers from a friend’s mother on Facebook this morning. Was she about to stage a local conker championship or challenge her grandchildren to a match, I wondered? No… she was one of the many people who believe conkers can keep spiders out of their house! Hmmm, I thought, is there any truth in that, and are conkers good for anything else, other than looking lovely, confirming Autumn has arrived and entertaining kids in the playground.

Are conkers spider killers?

I hate to disappoint you, but there’s no proof this is true. The story goes that conkers contain a noxious chemical that repels spiders but no-one’s ever been able to scientifically prove it. Legend has it that if a spider gets close to a conker it will curl its legs up and die. Others say spiders will happily crawl over conkers with no ill effects at all. What do you think? Are you one of those people who have conkers strategically positioned around your house?

Bake a cake with conker flour?

Chestnuts, the edible ones!

Do not confuse horse chestnuts (conkers) with chestnuts, the latter is a pleasant and popular nut, the former is actually mildly poisonous! Despite this, I have read that those old stalwarts, the Victorians, wrote recipes for making conker flour. The seeds were shelled, ground and then leached to remove bitter flavours.

Conkers can cure sprains and bruises?

It is said that the horse chestnut is so named because its seeds were once used to treat ailments in horses. It has since been discovered that aescin, which can be extracted from conkers, has anti-inflammatory effects and is an effective remedy for sprains and bruises in humans.

Leave conkers in your wardrobe to deter moths

Horse chestnuts… the much less edible ones!

Is this another spider scam? It seems not. If moths are munching their way through your winter wardrobe then conkers could help stop the little critters. Conkers give off an aroma called triterpenoid that wards off pests. Place fresh conkers in among your clothes and as they dry out they emit the moth-repelling chemical. I shall be investigating this!

You can get clean with conker soap

Conkers contain saponins, which are soap-like chemicals that are sometimes added to shampoos and shower gels. It is believed that the Vikings (who were apparently surprisingly clean!) made their soap out of soaked, crushed up conkers. I’m not sure I shall be relaxing in a conker bath any time soon, but fascinating nonetheless!

 

 

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Crafts in France

Time for another of travel blog from Tina Dorr. Here, she gives us the lowdown on traditional and modern crafts in France…

France is a country steeped in traditional crafts, handed down generation by generation – from the master craftsmen such as stonemasons to families that love to make toys and household items out of wood. Go to any market or fete and you will find stalls that sell so many beautiful things that you would be at a loss as to what to buy first.

Wickerwork is very traditional and there are many beautiful baskets on sale. If you fancy one as a decorative piece, you can even buy some stunning dried flowers to put in them. They hang at the stalls in shades of blues, reds, yellows, lilacs and more, and are just so pretty.

Another popular and traditional craft is soap making and you can find soaps of all shapes and sizes in a range of wonderful perfumes, lavender being a huge seller. The fragrance is so strong they can scent a room.

At country fairs, you can still find old traditional crafts such as weaving, lace making, leatherwork and tapestry. Often, you can watch the craftspeople at work and it is fascinating to see such skill and see how things are made.

A lovely piece of upcycling!

As in the UK, other popular crafts in France include knitting, crocheting, painting and upcycling. Upcycling is big business here as you can buy good quality furniture cheaply from a ‘vide grenier’, upcycle it and sell it for a profit. (Vide grenier means ‘empty attic’ and is the French equivalent of car boot sales).

Sadly, from my point of view, papercraft is not huge in France, mainly I think because the French are not big on sending cards. Having said that… it does seem to be starting to take off, probably because of all us Brits that have bought houses here! I know of two large scrapbooking shops in Paris and you can now buy some things online. These are still quite expensive though – so thank goodness for Joanna Sheen!!

Our local hypermarket sells a small number of craft bits and pieces, but that is aimed more towards the children’s market. We also have a shop called Action that sells a lot of British stuff and has quite a large and not badly priced craft section.

I am certainly hoping that papercraft takes off more, in the meantime, I send my French friends and neighbours homemade cards and explain how I make them… You never know, I may get them interested yet!

 

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Heather and gorse – moorland beauties

From a distance, Dartmoor can seem rather gloomy and forbidding as Autumn draws in, but pause to look closer, and you’ll see that it is carpeted in the most lovely shades of purple, pink and yellow as heather and gorse combine to create a stunning patchwork.

Heather is also known as ‘Ling’ and you’ll find it on heathland, moorland, bogs and even woodland with acidic or peat soils. Its delicate pink flowers appear from August to October with the plants growing tightly packed together. Surprisingly, given the tough areas they seem to thrive in, heathers can live for up to 40 years or more!

Historically, heather has been used for many purposes, such as fuel, fodder, building materials, thatch, packing and ropes. It was also used to make brooms, which is how it got its Latin name – Callunais derived from the Greek word meaning ‘to brush’.

People have lived and worked on Dartmoor for thousands of years and managed the vegetation to produce what they need. Swaling (or burning) has been carried out by farmers from earliest times, as a way to clear scrub and improve grazing for sheep, cattle and ponies. Today, laws and regulations stipulate the time of year and even the time of day that swaling can take place – so very different from times gone by. An old farmer friend of mine recalls being sent out with a box of matches to swale nearby moorland with three friends, the oldest being 12 and the farmer himself 5! He said they did it every year without mishap and their parents trusted them to get on with the job, it wasn’t a game, and they all knew how to manage the burn – quite extraordinary!

The other star of the moorland landscape is gorse. Its vivid yellow flowers create a real splash of colour and, although I wouldn’t normally think to put pink and yellow together, in nature they look stunning against the dark green foliage. Gorse is a prickly character and can leave you with scratched legs should you walk through it, even in thick walking trousers!

Common Gorse can be seen in all kinds of habitats, from heaths and coastal grasslands to towns and gardens. Western Gorse, which is abundant on Dartmoor, flowers from July to November. Gorse provides shelter and food for many insects and birds, it’s spiky leaves creating an effective deterrent for even the nosiest dogs!

Traditionally, gorse was regularly collected from common land and, like heather, had all sorts of uses – including fuel for firing bread ovens, fodder for livestock and was used as a dye for painting Easter Eggs.

Common Gorse flowers a little in late autumn and through the winter, coming into flower most strongly in spring, while Western Gorse and Dwarf Gorse flower in Autumn. Between the different species, some gorse is almost always in flower, hence the old country phrase: “When gorse is out of blossom, kissing’s out of fashion”!

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Dowsing – discredited medieval practice, or useful skill?

Dowsing on Dartmoor!

As you probably know by now, I am interested in traditional remedies and ancient beliefs. I like to keep an open mind and try and discover whether things might be true or not, rather than just dismissing them out of hand. I’ve always been fascinated by dowsing, or water divining, and was reminded to look into this ancient practice last week when I drove past a sign for a dowsing convention in deepest Dartmoor! Actually, given it is such an ancient and fascinating landscape, I shouldn’t have been that surprised… What did surprise me, once I started looking into it, is that there is no scientific evidence that dowsing works – I had always thought there was.

Dowsing is a type of ‘divination’ used to locate ground water, buried metals or ores, gemstones, oil, gravesites and many other objects and materials without the use of scientific apparatus. Dowsers, or water witchers, claim that their divining rods cross over when the presence of water is detected below ground. It is regarded as a pseudoscience after numerous studies showed it was no better than chance at finding water.

A Y-shaped twig or rod, or two L-shaped ones — individually called a dowsing rod, divining rod or witching rod — are usually used for dowsing. The scientific explanation for what happens when people dowse is that ‘ideomotor movements’ – muscle movements caused by subconscious mental activity – make anything held in the hands move. It looks and feels as if the movements are involuntary.

Dowsing has been around for a long time and originated in Germany in the 16thCentury. In 1662, dowsing was declared to be ‘superstitious, or rather satanic’ by a Jesuit, Gaspar Schott, though he later noted that he wasn’t sure that the devil was always responsible for the movement of the rod! Nothing like sitting on the fence! In the South of France in the 17th century, it was used in tracking criminals and heretics. Its abuse led to a decree of the Inquisition in 1701, forbidding its employment for purposes of justice.

And there you have it – a bit of a cranky practice with no place in today’s world. But hold on a minute… in 2017, 10 of the 12 water companies in the UK admitted they are still using dowsing despite the lack of scientific evidence for its effectiveness! This discovery was made by the science blogger Sally Le Page after her parents reported seeing an engineer from Severn Trent Water “walking around holding two bent tent pegs to locate a pipe” near their home in Stratford-upon-Avon. The disclosure prompted calls for the regulator, OFWAT, to stop companies passing the cost of a ‘discredited medieval practice’ on to their customers. Extraordinary!

Some water companies, however, insisted the practice could be as effective as modern methods. Sally Le Page asked Severn Trent why it was still using divining rods to find pipes when there was no evidence that it worked. Replying on Twitter, the company said: “We’ve found that some of the older methods are just as effective than the new ones, but we do use drones as well, and now satellites.” Well, that’s all right then!

Photo credits:

Top image:
Photo credit: <a href=”https://visualhunt.com/re/91c89d”>Visual Hunt</a>

Water witcher: 
Photo credit: <a href=”https://visualhunt.com/author/8f7aff”>State Library and Archives of Florida</a> on <a href=”https://visualhunt.com/re/6ba9d8″>Visual Hunt</a> / <a href=”http://flickr.com/commons/usage/”> No known copyright restrictions</a>

Woodcut: 
Photo credit: <a href=”https://visualhunt.com/author/b0d021″>Jeff Dray</a> on <a href=”https://visualhunt.com/re/f771b4″>VisualHunt</a> / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”> CC BY-SA</a>

Group dowsing: 
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

 

 

 

 

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Even more fans!

Just available for pre-orders is this latest boxed set from Practical Publishing. As usual, the value of all the ingredients included in the set makes it amazing value and I have loved working with all the bits and pieces.

So, what do you get? Well here is where we have added it to the website if you want to check that out, but basically it includes some really great dies that work well, gorgeous stamps (the rose one in these cards is lovely), a really useful embossing folder, a template to help you make a little cake box, lots of backing papers and toppers and of course importantly the magazine with ideas and full instructions.

It can be so frustrating when you see something in a magazine or elsewhere on the internet and you can’t work out how to make it – well this magazine has full shopping lists and how to makes for every project featured.

I hope you will enjoy using it as much as I have, the cards have all been so simple and that tissue box is amazing isn’t it? What a great use of the embossing folder – and yes all instructions clearly laid out for you to copy, I can think of a couple of friends that would like one of these.

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