No one can remember when Old Mary took up residence in the abandoned cottage at the edge of Ackley Wood. She gave up living in the busy metropolis of London to enjoy a simpler way of life. Gone are the days when she was known as Miss Pearce; today the villagers simply refer to her as their much loved Old Mary, the herbalist. Mary is a petite woman who could be described as pleasingly plump with pure white hair and kind green eyes that accentuate her peaceful countenance. She has a laugh that is contagious and can tell a story to make you hang on her every word. She doesn’t mind living alone, she has Walsingham her grey cat for company and together they keep house quite happily.
Never was there a home so snug and inviting as Thistledown; a one room cottage filled with herbs hung to dry and shelves of bottles filled with herbal concoctions. A simple curtain divides the common area from her bed nook which is strung with lavender and hops to encourage sweet dreams. An ancient table and two chairs stand just inside the door by the window and there is a comfortable chair near the fire punctuating the cosiness of the room. The bouquet of scents from the drying herbs mixed with the earthy aroma of the dirt floor tantalise the senses and beckon one inside.
Thistledown cottage and its gardens exude the feeling of home and draw people to it. A steaming cup of herbal tea, made from the herbs grown in Old Mary’s garden is always offered and guests sit and chat amiably at her table by the window or in the front garden on a bench good Tom Meyrick fashioned for her out of a limb that came down from one of the mighty oaks in the Ackley Woods during the great storm.
Mary is the one the villagers come to when they are poorly, or just have something troubling them and need a chat to cheer themselves up. Her welcome smile and herbal tea give comfort, making Mary one of the most popular inhabitants of the village. But Mary isn’t an eccentric old spinster, she is a licensed medical practitioner, so say the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries who bestowed the title upon her. She also has the distinction of having contributed some of her herbs to the Chelsea Physic Garden which is a great source of pride for her. Yet even with these prestigious accolades, Old Mary prefers to be known as a simple herbalist.
Tudor Owens, the butcher, is a fast friend for her help in curing his daughter Salley of a lingering illness. Her table is often augmented with a nice joint in thanks for this most appreciated deed. Salley visits with Mary often and helps to harvest the herbs and hang them, something she has taken a great interest in and so Mary imparts her wisdom to her enthusiastic apprentice hoping it will live on in the youngster.
For Mary life is full; cultivating her precious herbs to be made into the draughts and medicines that are so sought after suits her just fine. A quiet existence with many friends who make up her family is what she came to Amberleigh for so many years ago.