If I want to impress visitors with just how special our little country can be, then Kilve, only 20 minutes away from the cottage, is always a good place to start. My kind-of-niece Z is staying, so I decide it’s about time we made another visit.

It’s a gentle walk to the beach from the A39 where we park in the free village car park opposite the pub. There’s another car park much nearer but it’s pay and display and it’s a shame to miss the walk which gives us a good snoop at the bungalows, Victorian houses and farmhouses that line the road.

Nora in Kilve graveyard

We briefly visit the lovely old church and graveyard overlooking a farmyard where a JCB is doing something that looks quite dangerous for the collie dancing by its side. “What’s a JCB?” Asks Z, who’s Canadian. “A digger,” I explain. “Why do we call them diggers?” asks my girl graduate… Hm.

Graves at Kilve

Door handle at Kilve church

Opposite the pay and display car park by the old retort, there’s a cricket match going on – that quintessential of all English pastimes. Kilve are playing Castle Cary and there’s blackboard inviting visitors to stop in and watch. We don’t – cricket is beyond me – I don’t mind watching it and love listening to it on the radio, but am incapable of explaining anything about it to anyone else. At any rate, the girls don’t look that keen.

Kilve v Castle Cary

So we set off on our walk along the path leading to the cliffs. Luckily the tide’s out so we go down and have a great scramble on one of the most remarkable beaches in the country.

Kilve from the cliffs

cliff top at Kilve

Kilve beach looking towards Minehead

Kilve is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). I have written about it here and here so I won’t repeat myself. Suffice to say it is a place well worth a visit, even if you’re not interested in fossils. I’m not particularly, but am so happy when we stumble across some pretty big ammonites. I’ve never seen such good specimens before.

Nora and the ammonite

The girl and Z make a good duo of red-haired mountain goats climbing up the cliff and we shout to each other across a little natural amphitheatre in the rock strata, our voices sounding strangely close by.

girls and rock strata

girls walking on Kilve beach

Nora chases her tennis ball through tide pools full of seaweed, sea urchins and barnacles. She loses it and I replace it with a second one which I am wisely carrying. Then she loses that as well.

Dog in a rock pool

Earlier she proved herself trepidatious where water is concerned; unwilling to plunge into the pool formed by the stream that flows alongside the road into the sea. Not even the ball can encourage her to do more than dip in her toes.

Pool made by the stream

The light is theatrical: bright in one direction and gloomy in the other, emphasising the rock strata. We are lucky to completely avoid a huge storm that builds up in the uncharacteristic heat of the day.

Kilve beach looking into the sun

Then we go home and eat freshly-baked scones in the garden with clotted cream and strawberry jam. Pretty perfect, I’d say.

Small things

passionflower

Sometimes it’s the little things that make my day. Like the passionflower which I bought from Morrison’s for £3 flourishing on the side of the woodshed. I thought it would die during the winter, so buffeted did it get on our exposed hillside.

Like our wasps’ nest. They’re squatting in the bird box on the side of the garage. The hole you can see in this rather fuzzy picture (I was holding the phone above my head with rather shaky hands – see previous post) is where I poked the crepe bandage-like structure inside with the end of the shears because I was wondering what it was. I’d never seen one before.

I soon knew. They all came flying out to have a look at what was attacking them but they didn’t seem very aggressive. I left them to calm down and go back inside, which they did quite quickly. When I went back later to check, the hole I made seemed to have been mended or to have mended itself. I will have to do some research into wasps’ nests now to find out how.

wasps

Like my ‘exciting’ 15 minutes in the garden one night. While I was standing there waiting for the motion-activated outside light to go off so that I could well and truly lurk in the dusk, an owl turned up and sat on the telegraph wires. I could only see its outline but it was obviously an owl with its massive round head and silent, swooping flight. It’s my first owl sighting, although I hear them quite a lot from the woods nearby. From the calls I’d say it was a tawny.

rainbow over country scenery

And like the rainbow that was so complete and huge that I couldn’t fit both ends of it into the picture. There was a rainbow on the day I moved into the cottage and I’ve always thought of them as a good omen, although they usually signify an impending shower.

Hard labour

shears resting on a half-cut hedge

I’ve just taken an anti-inflammatory pain killer. This is not how a post about gardening should start but after two days’ hard graft outdoors, it’s much needed. With carpal tunnel syndrome, my fingers get painful, numb, tingly and I lose a lot of my normal dexterity when I do any exercise. After rowing regularly in the gym during the last few weeks the fingers on my right hand have been particularly bad, although some exercises I was prescribed by the hospital do help reduce the symptoms. Doing some heavy gardening hasn’t helped much. However, I don’t see what the alternative is other than spending most of the time being inactive or learning to use my feet more creatively, and that’s not going to happen.

The irony is that I thought a lot of the trouble I had with my hands was due to the amount of keyboard work I used to do. But it’s now almost a year since I left work and the hands are infinitely worse than when I was desk-bound. The head’s a lot happier though, and that’s what counts.

So the hedge needed trimming again. If you’re a regular reader, you might think: “but hang on, she just wrote about this…” and you’d be right but I hadn’t finished the job I started a couple of weeks ago. The cottage has both a front and a back garden (at the sides of the house along the lane). The picture in the right-hand column over there shows what I mean, although it’s only of the higher or front part of the hedge.

This is the one that needed attention, so I did the laneside section as soon as I arrived as the weather was showery. Not a good idea. The battery-operated trimmer, while very sturdy, decided it felt damp and needed a full 24 hours to dry out before it would work again. So, conscious of the lack of time to do the job (I’m never here long enough at a stretch to take my time), I moved on to the shears, which needed to be strongarmed by the pliers before they would cut properly. It was definitely one of those days.

hedge cuttings on the ground

piles of hedge cuttings

The next day, feeling quite achy and stiff, I attacked the hazel hedge in the lower garden which separates it from the field behind. It’s easy to cut and the powered trimmer was working again, so it wasn’t too bad. I’m always sorry to cut hazel at this time of year as the nuts get nixed, but I can’t always do it at the right time because either I’m not here or the weather isn’t right, so I do it when I can.

Of course, I never stop when I should and I ended up also clearing the rather overgrown beds as well. There’s so much more I could do. If only I had the time. Oddly, that’s what I used to say when I worked…

All the hard labour seems worth it though when I gather up vase after vase of lovely flowers. There’s nothing like it!

su

Midsummer

the author

a cottage back garden

black labrador chewing a bone

midsummer sunset

Midsummer? It feels like the year has only just started and yet here we are already. But it was glorious and reminded me why I love this place. Long, light hours of warmth. No wind (a rarity). Supper outside, with Nora by my side gnawing on her bone. Bats silently swooping up and down the lane as the daylight dwindled into a rouge-y sunset, the darkness finally claiming the light around 10.45.

The garden had exploded since the last time I’d seen it, so I’ve had a lot of catching up to do. Last year’s left-over, autumn-sown Higgledy Garden seeds had grown huge while I was away, so I picked as many flowers as were ready, to give the few remaining as much time as possible to develop.

I sowed most of the Higgledy seeds last Spring but scattered some remaining hardy annuals in the Autumn, with the more tender lot going into the ground in the late Spring this year as a bit of an afterthought. They are the tiny ones in the top of the flower pictures below. Rather a long way to go yet.

small raised bed with flowers

Nigella and California poppies in a blue vase

A week later when I’m writing this and the flowers are mostly still going strong. Only the old roses have died. They never last long but to make up for that they smell fantastic.

box of garden flowers

In case this is sounding just a little too lovely, I should add that I also spent hours strimming, and cutting the hedge and sweeping up the bits. This was a lot easier after the big cut Jay did in March but still really hard work with my gammy wrists.

trimming a long hedge

Nora helped with some of the pruning though.

dog chewing a rose

We walked on a very quiet Cothelstone Hill courtesy of the World Cup and Nora kept relatively still while I played with taking a panoramic shot, so we didn’t end up with a ‘dogarpillar’ walking across the view, which I’ve seen online a few times.

Cothelstone Hill panorama

And finally, carelessly picking up the wrong set of keys, I locked myself out and had to go down to the farm and ask for help. Kind Sally, whom I hadn’t met before, came back with me to hold the borrowed ladder while I climbed in through an open upstairs window. If you’re going to get locked out, living up the road from a farm is the best place to be because there’s always someone around. “I thought you must be from Spring Cottage,” she said when she saw me. Probably made a laughing stock of myself now, haven’t I?

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While a great many multi-national corporations operate in Canada, on my trips to Vancouver to see my family, I’ve been noticing that a lot of fairly individual styles of shopfront and associated typography co-exist with the more modern global brands. It feels quite ‘small towny’, which makes it all the more charming, although I don’t imagine those I know over there will be delighted with me for saying so. No-one wants their lovely city described as that, but it is meant as a compliment.

I have a feeling that most of this atmosphere will be swept away by the rapid redevelopment that is taking place across the city. Sometimes, as in Yaletown, this has made huge modern residential areas out of what used to be mostly derelict land. Elsewhere, parts of the University of British Columbia campus are being developed for a mixture of student and other housing. Older single-storey shops are often dwarfed by the high-rise apartment buildings that grow up behind them. It feels like low-rise construction all over the city, from downtown to the residentials suburbs, will be gone in a few years to be replaced by something less individual. I hope this isn’t universal, as that would be a great loss to the city’s character, which is largely still one of small stores owned by individuals.

In one of the most down-at-heel areas of Vancouver – on the east side – there are still some really old and characterful signs advertising hotels that might be better described as ‘flop-houses’. Like most cities, Vancouver has its darker side and this is part of it. The streets are filled with down-and-outs, drug users and homeless people, and feels like it has been forgotten in a time-warp. A lot of lovely advertising signage from the 1950s remains here and some of it is really imaginative, even if rather dilapidated.

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Footnote: I called this post ‘Vancouver Old-Style’ because it’s the only city in Canada that I have visited a lot, so I don’t know whether the typographic phenomenon I’m observing is common to the whole country or just to British Columbia. I did once spend a month in both Montreal and Victoria on Vancouver Island, but it was a very long time ago before multinational companies, beyond maybe Kodak and Martini, were as ubiquitous as they are now.

 

trellis seen through screen of flowers

bee feeding on flowers

wedding bouquet of peonies

wedding dress train

hand with engagement ring holding bouquet

Flower girl wearing garland at wedding

Vancouver west side street scene

flowerallotment

dilapidated building and lichen-covered tree

So we packed our bags, took Nora to her home boarding place in Sussex and headed off from Heathrow on a rainy and chilly Tuesday afternoon. Arriving in Vancouver for a family wedding (the third in two years), it was easy to relax in the warmth and sunshine. We were lucky with the weather all week, apart from one day. I’m writing this back in cool English temperatures and am about to change out of my sandals into some warmer shoes. Home sweet home.

Our time away was a mixture of emotion, enjoyment and exploration. We watched a young couple marry amid a throng of family and friends, bicycled along rivers and up and down hills, went in a motor boat on a fjord – yes, an actual fjord – learned to love Orange Is The New Black, explored the seamier – and typographically more interesting – side of the city (a neat line in 1950s lettering styles, some of which are still practised today, about which more in another post), went to hear some blues at a casino, walked a lot, and ate a lot – a lot – of delicious food.

And we went to yoga but still have cricks in our necks. Om.

Elderflowers

The scent of elderflowers has been overwhelming this spring – perhaps more so because of the profusion of blossoms after the wet winter. Slightly cloying but unmistakeable, the nose perceives the presence of an elder in bloom long before the eye. They remind me slightly of tree-bound cauliflowers which makes me smile. Even in the rain there is something to enjoy about them when the tiny off-white flowers fall to the ground like so much mouse confetti.

I went foraging in a local park for my supply, given that I wasn’t in the countryside. I suppose if we all did this the bushes would be bare but it only takes 20 flower heads (about half the contents of a regular supermarket carrier bag) to make four litres of elderflower cordial. I chose mine carefully so that I only took a couple of flower heads from each bush, making sure that they were far enough off the ground not to have been targeted by any dogs.

I used this recipe from the BBC Good Food magazine but it doesn’t matter which you choose, as it’s a pretty straightforward business. You just have to melt some sugar into some water by gentle boiling, making a syrup in which you then steep the flower heads and lemons for 24 hours. No cooking involved really, just a bit of heating up.

One thing I did think, is that if people were forced to make a concentrated drink like this at school, they might think twice about how much squash and juice or fizzy drinks they consume in later life. I was pretty horrified to need two-and-a-half kilos of sugar, which practically filled the large saucepan I had at the ready. Of course, this is a concentrate so you only use a tiny amount for each glass but it still makes you think.

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Elderflower cordial is quite delicious and made this way, you can either freeze it or keep it in the fridge for six weeks – a reminder of spring that will last almost until the nights start drawing in again.

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