Posts Tagged ‘UK’

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.

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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.

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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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As my activities repeat themselves year after year, my posts here have become more sporadic and maybe focus more on things that are a little more out of the ordinary for me (yes, my life is that dull). I sometimes forget that I’m quite happy to read about other people’s day-to-day lives on their blogs.

Even if I’m feeling less inspired to write these days, the blog still has a use as a diary and I find it interesting to look back at a similar date in previous years. I feel quite pleased with the pictures I took a year ago today; obviously didn’t take those with my phone!

walk

I may not be as as motivated to write about an ordinary weekend like this one, where all I’ve done is walk the dog nearby and mow the grass but it’s still nice to record things. I’ve kept a diary, one way or another, since I was a teenager.

Milestone

So today I found myself looking back over the five years since I came to Spring Cottage. During that time I’ve gone from waffling to myself about preparations for moving in to opening up the blog and wittering on to those who follow me and the odd other person or two who finds themselves here when they were looking for curtain material.

In the first couple of years, there were big changes involving redecorating and moving in. Then I focused more on the garden, and it’s with reference to the plants that I can see how the weather has differed from one year to another. Last year at this time in May the peonies were only just in bud. Today, they are all in full bloom and about half of them have been battered to death by yesterday’s heavy rain. I rescued the others and brought them inside. They are so splendidly fragile.

peonies in a vase

Even though things seem to repeat themselves, there are always differences. This year, perhaps due to the amount of rain over the winter, the bluebells seem to be more abundant than ever before. Although I used to ride up there quite often, I had never noticed them on Cothelstone Hill but maybe, without a Nora to exercise, I had just missed them. This morning, they were out in every direction, along with campions and buttercups. And I never tire of that view. Spring Cottage is a little dot on the brow of a hill in the distance and I love it even more for that.

View from Cothelstone Hill

Cothelstone Hill

As always with the past, the weather seems to have been better. Let’s hope tomorrow’s a bit warmer and sunnier as well.

 

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When is graffiti vandalism and when is it art? When is it tradition?

I found myself thinking about the distinctions between different kinds of graffiti the other day when I saw a local tree that had been tagged “LASER” in spray paint. It’s a West London tag and I’ve seen it in lots of places and styles – some more elaborate than others. Normally I wouldn’t have done more than notice its recurrence.

Why did I feel that the tree had been spoiled by the spray paint when knife-cut graffiti (ultimately the longer lasting of the two) doesn’t offend me at all? Was it the very urban use of spray paint on something as natural as a tree? Possibly, because I don’t mind spray-painted graffiti in an ‘appropriate’ location at all (see pictures below), although I completely appreciate that what is appropriate is a value judgement.

I think I tend to forgive the cutting of names or initials and dates into wood – whether living or not – because it (generally) has a life that continues developing as time passes. I also like the directions that my mind is sent in by by the addition of dates.

I don’t have the answers to any of my questions. Nor do I have a picture of the spray-painted tree as I was in a car at the time. But here are some trees and their adornments and some urban graffiti that I’ve enjoyed, as well. There’s also some helpfully labelled graffiti of a tree, which I found very pleasing.

And, yes, I have done it myself. I carved my initials into the woodwork of my school’s sixth form garden on the day I left school. I wonder if they’re still there and what they look like now.

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Tipped off by a local, I headed off to walk Nora in the best spot hereabouts for bluebells. They aren’t quite at their peak yet but are pretty impressive. Half the world’s bluebells are in the UK and, looking at this lot, you could well believe it.

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It was quite a magical walk in the drizzly rain surrounded by bird calls. I also saw two deer running past only a few feet away but was too slow to snap them. It’s the first time I’ve encountered them so close.

 

 

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Towpath trot

On Easter Monday, between squally showers, Nora and I joined some friends for a walk along the Grand Union Canal in West London. Beginning in the surprising Georgian streets around The Butts in Brentford, we walked past the spot I had discovered a few weeks ago at Boston Manor for about four miles along the towpath to Hanwell, joining up the two ends of the walk with a quick bus ride back to the car.

On a bright bank holiday, the towpath was busy with runners, cyclists and walkers, and the canal and locks were full of waterborne traffic. Nothing like the odd atmosphere when we were last there.

The walk was inspired by Margaret Sharp’s Travelcard Walks and is well worth a look if you’re in West London.

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Victorian lock at Hanwell, Greater London, UK.

There’s a marvellous flight of five or six locks at Hanwell. Such an engineering achievement!

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The water’s stillness is remarkable. Even when it is disturbed, it quickly returns to its mirrorlike calm. Yet the canal divide and merges with the River Brent in a couple of spots and there’s quite a current flowing downstream.

Bridge over canal with boats on the water.

There are bridges of all kinds over the canal. Footbridges like this Hanoverian iron one and others that carry underground and mainline trains, as well as major roads feeding into London, such as the A4 and M4.

Bluebell glade.

The bluebells weren’t fully out but were starting to put in their glorious annual appearance in woody glades here and there.

Cormorant drying its wings on a roof.

Birds are everywhere along the canal filling the air with their calls. Here, an urban cormorant dries its wings on the apex of a wharf roof.

painted barges lining the Grand Union Canal

People live on the many well-kept barges that line the Grand Union Canal. There are also a fair number of  travelling narrowboats going through the locks.

Labrador on a canalside ramp

The canalside has ramps built into it. This was so that when a horse towing a barge fell into the water, as they inevitably occasionally did, it could clamber out again. Falling into the water was called ‘taking a look’. I was keen that Nora shouldn’t do more than actually look, so where it was busy she was kept on her lead.

The Fox pub sign on the canalside at the Hanwell end of the walk.

I rather wished that we had been able to go for a drink at this pub with it’s jaunty sign, but we’d started the walk with fish and chips at a pub in Brentford, so by the time we reached here we felt it was time to return home for tea.

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flower trug hanging from nails

sheddy

shed crop

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The woodshed is one of my favourite places at Spring Cottage, although I like all the outhouses, of which there are three; there’s also a garage (used mainly to store gathered wood for kindling) and an ancient stone building known as the wash house.

I’ve worked out that the woodshed’s 1960′s windows used to be the kitchen windows before my predecessor ‘improved’ things with a wide span of double-glazed panes overlooking the fields. The trouble is that the double glazing has let moisture in between the panes, so the build-up of condensation often means you can’t see out as clearly as you might like to. But, that aside, at least the woodshed has some nice windows.

The light is lovely in there on a fine evening, and the building is warm and smells gorgeously woody. The floor is covered with wood-chips, fragments of bark and butterfly wings however much I sweep. I don’t know why so many butterflies seem to meet their ends in here; perhaps they find the log pile a good place to rest.

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Now, what does a lilac sky at night mean?

 

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Nora and I went for a little walk along the Thames Path from Chiswick to Barnes today. It could have been somewhere quite rural at first but it got more urban as we went along. So we just turned around and went back again. London’s full of these quiet little spots. You just have to go a little off the beaten track and explore.

Chiswick Bridge Mortlake tree stump grown around fence black labrador on country path Barnes Bridge Train going under graffitied bridge jogger on urban path

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I’ve always longed for a garden trug but new ones are really expensive and it’s something you can easily do without. After all, a cardboard box or a plastic basket of some kind work just as well for holding picked flowers until you bring them indoors. Also, until I came to Spring Cottage I didn’t really have any flowers to pick so a trug had to wait. P1010966 Now, however, Spring brings loads of daffodils and other narcissi, and I also plant all kinds of seeds in my cut flower beds specifically to grow things to bring inside. So I’m enjoying a clapped out old trug that I bought last summer at a car boot sale for three quid. It’s a bit brittle and won’t last for ever but I’ve waterproofed it a little by painting it with Danish oil and it now looks as thought it’s a family heirloom, which I much prefer to things being brand new. It kind of goes better with the ancient nature of the cottage, looks suitably rustic hanging in the woodshed, and I can spend the money saved on seeds instead.

The main flowerbeds here are in the front garden, which is at the side of the cottage, if that makes sense. Being at the side, at the gable end of the house, there is no window overlooking it. So I have to bring flowers in if I want to see them more than in passing on the way to the car. in hedge Many of the daffodils have also been planted under the various hedges. Well, they would have originally been under the hedges but now they are in the hedges, the hedges having grown widthways as well as in height over the years. So the daffs need rescuing before they are forced to bend over by the branches sprouting above them. daffodils on windowsill

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water barrel and tapI love allotments; those little patchwork plots in cities, like here on the edge of Bridgwater in Somerset, where people grow vegetables and flowers; where they build sheds and scarecrows out of discarded materials; where they go to relax and unwind by toiling on their actually not so little patches of earth. Turning the overgrown, run to seed dirt into neat rows of sprouting vegetables and fruit.

allotment run to seed

allotment compost heapI think it’s the variety that you find on allotments that appeals to me: neatness, abundance, rot, abandonment and nurture side-by-side in equal measure. I love the textures of the ground, of the buildings, and of the things that are grown. I find them just as satisfying to look at at this time of year as in the fullness of harvest time.

I don’t have an allotment or even aspire to having one, having just one mouth to feed these days, but they’re still very pleasing to look at. It’s like looking at a microcosm of the countryside: tiny little fields, sharing water, battling to outdo each other yet doing completely different things, their keepers annoying each other with their varied methods of cultivation and outcomes.

Allot 4  Allot 6 Allot 7

Allot 5

What do you think? Have you got an allotment or do you want one? Or are you one of those who find them a messy eyesore on their horizon? Are my glasses totally rose-tinted?

 

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N2 When Nora arrived she was small enough to slip under the gate to the back garden from the little contained area immediately around the house. Fortunately, that didn’t last long and for a few months it was safe to let her out of the back door knowing that she wouldn’t be able to run off and get lost.

Then she became a teenage dog and discovered exploring. Through the hedge she would go, unerringly finding the one section where there was a break in the ancient wire netting embedded in it. Terrifyingly, she would run out into the lane and then stand stock still in the middle of the road ignoring all calls for her to return. Heart stopping, knowing that people bomb down here fairly fast, although it’s often quiet for hours, lulling you into a false sense of security. more fence Then she got even naughtier and started to jump over the ridiculously low back fence and go off foraging for things in the field behind the cottage. The fence was deliberately low, having been put up by my predecessor who favoured the view. Oddly, at that time the field was used for cattle grazing, which was brave or foolhardy of her, depending on your point of view, as she might have had a ton of cow land on her while she was sitting out in the sun. fence Worse than the possibility that Nora would leave an occasional poo among the growing crop was my fear that she would be seen. In the hills, you can see an animal from a long way off when it is the only moving object in a field, so I worried that the farmer would be annoyed that I’d let the dog loose on his land.

So, off I went to buy some wire fencing to temporarily (I hope) constrain her adventurousness until she is old enough to listen when she is told to wait and come down. It’s ugly, much harder to put up than I thought and knackered my hands completely, but it does the job and I hope to be able to take it down in about eighteen months or so.

I do feel rather sad at spoiling her fun as there are a lot of pheasants around at the moment and she’s very curious about them. Nora 1

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As a child I visited Boston Manor Park frequently with my father but nothing apart from the children’s playground had stuck in my memory. I often catch sight of the Jacobean manor house when driving along the M4 motorway’s elevated section; the bit that links Heathrow airport with London. If you’re travelling towards London, the house is visible on the left-hand side at around the same time as the shiny GlaxoSmithKline monolith appears ahead of you on the right.

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Curious to see what it’s like, I decide to take Nora for a walk there. Expecting more or less an ordinary park, I am first rather disappointed and then surprised. Disappointed because the grounds appear very small, with only a small lawned area and a large pond immediately behind the compact house and stable block. I almost regret having paid for an hour and half’s parking. But we are surprised and rewarded by the discovery of a ‘nature trail’ leading down under the motorway into a mysterious other world that co-exists with the impatient roar of the traffic over our heads.

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The trail is really only a hint of a dirt path that descends out of a flowerbed into a boggy, overgrown mass of ivy and untended greenery. It’s quite off-putting. However, we persevere, with me cursing a lack of waterproof footwear, until we see what I suspect is the Grand Union Canal but turns out later to be a canalised bit of the River Brent, complete with barge and lock (I’m not showing you the side of the lock with the graffitied penises all over it).

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Despite the filthy water, a swan swims up to greet us and we are surrounded by the echoing calls of hidden waterfowl. Nora finds the inevitable pile of human poo and what looks like the skin of a fish and evades my attempts take it away from her. The smell makes me gag and I worry that she will get ill from eating it.

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A cyclist passes on the other bank where there is a well-maintained path but our side seems utterly desolate until a brown-haired man in his thirties wearing a striped tee-shirt wanders by looking aimless. I wonder if he’s a part of this place where nothing looks official or managed. There’s a ramshackle, padlocked, chicken wire gate that leads to more wasteland littered with old bits of tractor and more rubbish. It seems odd to fence in such abandonment. I wonder if the barge people have claimed it for their own since no-one else seems to care.

Beneath the motorway itself stretches an underworldly tarmac paradise, spacious and deserted. It feels strangely liberating to be somewhere so hidden from the mainstream of city life. It occurs to me that I should feel frightened but I don’t. However, I also don’t investigate further under the motorway. Not on my own with a rather unpredictable young dog.

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Looking at a map later, it appears that we might have found more open parkland had we gone on further towards the Glaxo building but, drawn in by the atmosphere of dereliction and isolation amid the busy-ness overhead and in the light industrial areas round about, this seems enough for one day.

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We resurface and return to the car, feeling mildly astonished to have been so close to tennis courts resounding to the noise of a game and council employees working in the children’s play area.

It turns out that I don’t even actually remember the playground.

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Today Nora and I went on a walk with some Twitter friends. How very modern, don’t you know. We’d already met at a tweet-up in Birmingham a couple of years ago and then, last summer, we realised that we were getting black labrador puppies at around the same time.

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Having someone to share your concerns with during those early weeks when your puppy is a widdling mystery that seems to have ruined your perfectly nice life, is a real support and I was keen to meet Lucca in person and spend some time with his humans.

Dogscrop

Like any individuals, the dogs turned out to be both different and similar. Nora (above left) is from a working background, while Lucca is a traditional ‘show’-type labrador. Even allowing for one being a bitch and the other a dog, Nora has a lighter build with a more delicate facial structure and a thinner tail, as you’d expect from the gundog strain. Both are typical boisterous, often clumsy, selectively deaf, giant puppies who had a great time play-fighting, sharing sticks and finding some inevitable water along the way. Both are totally gorgeous.

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stick

water

The walk, around the Devil’s Punchbowl in Surrey, was about halfway along the A3 between our respective homes. There was enough tree cover that we weren’t out in the sun the whole time (which would also be good for rainy days) and the gradients were just about right for chatting humans and juvenile dogs on an unusually clear and warm March day.

gibbet hill

hyde park cornerThe area is owned by the National Trust, which means that historic landmarks like this milestone that was found by the contractors when the old route of the A3 was being dug up, are well-explained. Seeing traditional woodland activities, like coppicing and charcoal burning, make it only a slight stretch to imagine yourself travelling along here between Portsmouth and London in a stagecoach a couple of hundred years ago. The views reach as far as London forty miles away and, with a café and a large car park as a base, I’d highly recommend this as a spare afternoon’s activity with or without canine companions.

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I don’t know about Lucca but Nora got home dusty and exhausted, and has barely moved since, other than to wolf down her supper.

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