Stuck

We’ve been stuck in London for a few weeks. My mother-in-law (or ex-mother-in-law, to be precise but it makes no odds) and two friends from the older generation died within a couple of weeks of each other, so it’s been impossible to get away with one thing and another. Then the Girl finally moved out and I’ve been feeling a bit low as a result of all this.

I do miss the Quantocks very much: our long solitary walks and the ponies on the hills.

Exmoor ponies grazing

And the sense of freedom that comes from the fine, long, uninterrupted views across the countryside.

view across field

To compensate, we have been going to Wimbledon Common in south London a lot and it’s lovely walking there too. It’s enormous and feels quite country-like. There are ponds and lakes and Nora has learned to swim. It’s getting quite hard to keep her out of the water…

dog swimming in pond

Here she is in Richmond Park, another favourite walking spot, on another day.

dog by a lake

We love the woods at Wimbledon.

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There are different kind of woods there. Some mixed deciduous on the hillier ground and one, in a very flat area, is just birch. It has a rather beautiful stillness about it on a cold winter’s day.

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The blackbirds have started singing, and magpies and great tits are collecting nesting materials in the garden. Quince is flowering here and there, and this morning I noticed a little bit of cherry blossom where yesterday there was none.

Dog amongst crocuses

It’s a good thing that Spring is just around the corner.   

Yesterday, I had too much of this trying to get here.

motorway traffic jam

I make no apologies for taking a picture at the wheel. We weren’t going anywhere. We were stationary on the M4 motorway that runs from east to west across southern England. Or west to east, depending on where you’re heading.

The traffic cleared after a while but the two-and-a-half-hour journey had been so extended by then that the dog needed a walk. Realising roughly where we were, I decided to see if I could also fit in a glimpse of a starling murmuration on Shapwick Heath on the way home as it was almost dusk. So I turned off the motorway and promptly got lost. With a satnav. They’re only as good as the information they are fed, which, if I’m the user, can be sorely wanting.

Nyland Hil

Anyhow, I eventually found myself on a road running along a kind of narrow, raised causeway with a water-filled ditch on either side and decided to stop to let Nora out of her misery. All she did was go mad with sniffing and then squat down and arooooo at another dog because she was spooked.

These ditches are called rhynes (rhymes with ‘seen’ not ‘rhyme’, annoyingly). They make up part of the ancient drainage system that criss-crosses the low-lying Somerset Levels to keep the area useable and productive. This is the area that was so badly flooded last winter and you can see why.

sunset over a rhyne

It’s a complex patchwork of fields and waterways, dotted with windblown trees and little basic bridges to let livestock and tractors in and out of fields. There are no hedges – you don’t need them – just gates standing alone at the roadside.

drainage ditch at sundown

You can see for miles. Here’s Glastonbury Tor on the horizon.

Across the levels to Glastonbury Tor

The hills are the first slopes of the Mendips.

lichen-covered gatepost

The Levels have a peculiar beauty, very different to the surroundings with which I’m familiar up here in the Quantock Hills. There’s something quite elemental about an area that only exists because of the constant monitoring of water levels and small adjustments to outflows and inflows. Not sure I’d like to live here with the risk of flooding but there are some really pretty old villages in the area.

lichen and barbed wire

I did see a medium-sized murmuration but I wasn’t in the right spot, so I’m going to go back and have another try soon. I think I’ll take a look at a proper map first.

For Jenny

advent

I went back through my photographs today and realised that I’ve got very lazy about taking pictures, which I used to do with a passion when I first came to Somerset.

Weather vane

With the arrival of Nora the dog, now eighteen months old, the big camera’s excursions dwindled to only a few times a year. Then I bought a compact camera so that I didn’t have to lug the DSLR about and that kept me happy for a while, although I only really liked its ability to take pictures in low light. The rest of the images could be disappointing with the focus often not quite right. Being a bit longsighted doesn’t help and I’ve missed having a viewfinder. When I got a newer iPhone the photographic equipment’s outings stopped almost completely. It takes pretty good pictures and I can use Photoshop to improve the original, but I don’t enjoy it as much. So, although I haven’t made any resolutions this year — I hate the idea — I intend to go about a lot more with the big camera in 2015.

Here are some ‘proper’ photographs, then, that a recent photo request reminded me I had taken in 2010 in Montacute, a village centred around a late Elizabethan mansion, that I’ve blogged about before. They are not fantastic pictures. I don’t claim to be any kind of photographer but they remind me of a good day in a beautiful place.

Montacute House, Somerset

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Tudor window with leaded lights

tudor window exterior

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Chinese screen

Row of shaped trees

Signpost in MontacuteHouse in Montacute

When I first moved here, my neighbours had opened permissive paths and bridleways across their land as part of the Countryside Stewardship Scheme. We could do a circular walk across their land, over hills and past ponds right from the front door without driving anywhere first. Since then, their old age and the austerity of the last few years have meant that the Council-run scheme ended and the paths fell into disrepair and were closed.

On the positive side, the closure of our most walked local route has meant I’ve been trying to discover new ways across the land nearby. Being a bit more adventurous and going in new directions is always a good thing.

We found a lovely walk the other day through the wood on the brow of the hill that I can see from my kitchen window. I haven’t found a way through the trees to a spot from which I can see the cottage yet, so lots more scope for exploration here.

woodland

labrador retriever

path through woods with dog

woods

winter sunshine through trees

All gone now

But wait, I still have some pictures to share of that pretty white stuff. It’s all melted and wet now but it was lovely while it lasted. It makes everything so… I don’t know … picturesque, somehow. Silly, isn’t it?

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Hamlet in the snow.

Snowfall

Snow was forecast overnight. Drawing the curtains in darkness this morning, the electric outside light revealed a couple of centimetres of snow in the garden. Further afield, particularly uphill, there is a little more, so after a bone-warming bath and breakfast we head up the nearest hill for the dog to experience her first snowfall.

reflected chandelier

Before we can even get there, she goes a bit crazy in the garden but not at the snow, which she takes in her stride. It’s the frozen pond that freaks her out as she desperately tries to eat the incomplete sheet of ice covering it. “What’s this? Why can’t I pull it out? It’s so heavy. And COLD. I’ll zoom around like a lunatic because this is blowing my mind!”

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The snow reveals all kinds of things I don’t normally see: footprints of birds and deer that have passed only a short while before, branches that arch above my head pointing at vaulted structures of deadwood and ivy. A new beauty. It also hides uneven ground, deep mud, drifts of leaves that trip me up, cowpats that squelch over my boots as they get sucked into the ground beneath. I forgive them all.

snowy gate

dog in snowy wood

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snow covered old tractor

thawing snow

view from hills

Back home now. Holed up, hunkered down, behind battened hatches, I listen to the wind whooming down the chimney. That is the noise that it makes. The fire finally decides to stop smoking and I relax and curl up on the sofa with a book, a cup of tea, thick socks, a blanket and a sleeping dog. Bliss.

cottage in the snow

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