I love the city’s ability to hide spots of nature in areas you think you know well.


Tired of dodging the runners on the Thames Path this week, Nora and I were tempted into a slight fork, deeply carpeted with yellow, fallen leaves. It looked like it just led onto the road again. Disappointed and about to turn back, I found myself looking at a metal gate leading to the Leg of Mutton Reservoir, unused for thirty-odd years, and now a nature reserve.

Tucked away beside a road I’ve driven along hundreds of times, it’s a little gem of a place. The low-lying water is still and sheltered, with pontoon-like structures on which stand herons, cormorants and ducks. A single, stately swan swims silently past. Moorhens peck at insects just below the waterline.

Cars drive past invisibly and don’t bother us, masked as they are from view. We pass a couple walking three dogs—it’s not until I leave that I see a sign telling us to keep dogs on leads—but Nora listens when I say no and they are all well-behaved, not chasing birds or going in the water.

We make a circuit, first alongside the road and then on the inside edge of the former reservoir that abuts the Thames Path. The runners keep on running while we walk undisturbed on our side of the fence.


We switch sides as it starts to drizzle again and head back, and all at once the main path looks a lot more inspiring and interesting than it did only twenty minutes earlier.

That’s better…

Foggy morning

people and trees in the fog

As we drive south for our walk, the fog thickens and I put on the car’s fog lights, yet some people are still driving without any lights at all.

Pulling off the main road, I head down the long drive to the car park, wondering whether there will be anyone there and am surprised to find business more or less as usual. The car park is busy; people wearing lycra stand around chatting after their runs while others whistle to their dogs as they return to their cars. Only the usual groups of young mothers with pre-school children are absent. Less for us to worry about then.

cobweb in the mist


Away from the cars the fog blankets everything and deadens sound like snow. I stand still for a moment to sharpen my senses, listening to the drip, drip, drip of moisture off the trees, the occasional bark of a dog, a plane flying overhead along the flightpath to Heathrow and, unexpectedly, the bright chatter of a bird.

a path in the fog

We walk on through the mist, sticking to the wide main paths. I’m soon able to orientate myself though, oddly better than usual, perhaps because I know I need to concentrate harder in poor visibility.

pond in foggy wood

graffiti on a tree

Nora soon sniffs out a path to the small pond where she likes to swim and I follow her down a narrow trail through some birch trees so that she can have her dip. She swims and fetches the stick I throw her until it disintegrates and then we return to the car.


Dog day

As a devoted user of social media over many years, I’ve met quite a number of online acquaintances from various platforms in real life; a few of which include a bunch of dogs and their owners. Anyone who follows me on Twitter will know that I am a frequent tweeter, so once Nora the dog became part of my life and I proved unable to resist the urge to post far too many canine comments, she had to have her own Twitter account if I was not to alienate and lose all my followers. She now has more followers than I do.

dogs on West Wittering beach

We saw our doggy Twitter friends recently en route between Somerset and London at the beach at West Wittering in Sussex. It was a glorious day for October, both warm and sunny. The tide was out, revealing a broad stretch of sandy beach backed by dunes, on which they ran about to their doggy hearts’ content, chasing balls and each other.

dogs in the sea

There are fields and sand dunes, as well as beach to enjoy on the West Wittering estate. The large, grassy car park (a tad expensive for a couple of hours at the daily rate of £6.50 but still…) was full of camper vans and barbeques even in October, so heaven knows what it’s like in summer.

Along the back of one part of the beach there’s a row of beach huts. As I love painted wooden structures of almost any kind from an aesthetic point of view these were very pleasing. Also, the idea of having a little haven on the beach seems really attractive, although none were in use while we were there, their owners presumably choosing to stay at home on what proved to be a busy day full of out-of-town visitors.

IMG_7988 beach huts

beach huts

West Wittering’s two beaches are on either side of a small headland. One allows dogs in the winter but is human-only during the summer, and the other allows dogs all year round. There must have been about a hundred dogs there that morning but it didn’t feel at all busy because the beach is so, so huge.

Bondi, eat your heart out. I hope I’ll go back sometime.

West Wittering beach

A couple of months ago I saw a letter from the English writer Evelyn Waugh on headed notepaper that gave his address as Combe Florey House. As Combe Florey is a village quite near Spring Cottage in Somerset of course I had to go and have a look.

Combe Florey lane

Waugh lived here for 10 years from 1956 until his death. Well hidden from the road, the house is quite close to the main entrance to the village on the main road. It is at the end of a winding uphill track that leads away from a quaint and less than forbidding, inhabited gatehouse on the lane. The gatehouse looks like it would be fun to live in.

Combe Florey House gatehouse

Combe Florey House gatehouse detail

Not really being able to more than catch a glimpse of the house from the lane, we went into the church as I’d heard that Waugh and his son Auberon were buried in the village.

Combe Florey church

In a peaceful uphill spot, slightly separate from the main graveyard, Waugh lies, with his wife and one of his daughters, under a plain stone on which his name is now only just decipherable.

Graves of Evelyn and Mary Waugh and their daughter Margaret

Beneath his name it says simply ‘writer’.


His burial here in an Anglican graveyard was by special dispensation as he was, of course, famously a Catholic convert at the time of his death, having converted some 30 years earlier. No sign of Auberon’s grave here but we found it later when we walked over to the cemetery extension over the road.

Combe Florey House

From Evelyn’s grave, a path leads to an iron gate opening into the garden of Combe Florey House itself. This is probably the private path that frequently exists between a country house and the village church, which the inhabitants used in order to avoid hoi polloi. It also, of course, underlines the link between the church and the upper classes of the past, when the church’s ‘living’ would have been in the gift of the local manor.

Combe Florey church entrance

The house, seen from this oblique angle, looked closed up and there was possibly some building work in progress. The electoral roll posted in the church’s vestibule does not record any residents.

We were short of time as my companions needed to get home but I’d very much like to go back and look at the rest of the village. One day, I’d like to make a project of travelling up the A358 from Bishops Lydeard and visit and record all the villages, although this would take some time… and some better weather than we have at the moment.

* By Special Request is the title of the final episode in A Flat in London, the serialised version of Evelyn Waugh’s novel A Handful of Dust, which appeared in American Harper’s Bazaar in October 1934.

My friend J finally made it down to Spring Cottage last weekend, which coincided nicely with Somerset Art Weeks, a kind of open studios event that allows you to buy art direct from artists (and have a lovely snoop at their where they live too). It’s a really good way to explore the area as well. We did a round trip through Bawdrip, Langport, Duddlestone and Kingston St Mary, although we didn’t make it to Kingston before going home exhausted.

Entrance to artists studio

In the fabulously named Bawdrip, we stopped at Jackie Curtis‘s studio where three artists were exhibiting turned wooden items, paper quill work and Jackie’s prints and paintings, which I love. I bought an unframed print, as well as some paper quill Christmas decorations as I like to have one or two new things each year to make up for the slow demise of my parents’ old ones. J managed to get a cup of coffee out of them; I’m not quite sure how but it was very welcoming.

My print is of birds coming home to roost and J says he counted 19 depictions of birds at Spring Cottage. I only make it 8 but he has a point, I may be a bit obsessed.

Jackie Curtis monoprint

On our way out, we spied a bucket of (presumably) windfall Bramley apples with a sign saying “Help yourself”. Those we took were eaten as delicious apple crumbles. The first of these was, of necessity, inventive as I couldn’t find the sugar and had to use comb honey and elderflower cordial to sweeten it, which worked fine.

Bramley apples

Langport was a little less successful: the Gideon Mendel photographic show I wanted to see turned out to be exhibited in individual shop windows around the village – a nice idea as the theme was the effect of 2013’s winter floods on the Somerset levels but it was tiring to track down the pieces one by one. Perhaps we were just hungry.

Gideon Mendel picture in shop window

The Langport Arms

We stopped for lunch in an authentically English village pub cum hotel for lunch. Originally Georgian or possibly older (I imagined it as a coaching inn, which is supported by its website that gives its origins as a private house in 1420). It has loads of original features such as panelling and wooden window shutters, together with some mid-twentieth-century Formica additions in the ladies’ toilet that possibly only someone who grew up in this country, or perhaps the US, could love (Formica is the brand name of a type of plastic ubiquitous in the ‘modern’ kitchens and bathrooms of my childhood). I use the word ‘love’ in an ‘isn’t it nice to see these relics of the past?’ kind of way. I am quite glad we’ve moved on.

Alley in Langport

Old County Council footpath notice


Wandering around Langport is always fun and after a look at the viaduct, we wandered around a deconsecrated church which had some good examples of tombstones and memorials, including this one which really shows how women were viewed in the past. Poor Mary.

Family memorial in church

Leaving Langport, we drove on to Duddlestone where we visited a beautiful but slightly dilapidated house – the home of the mother of one of the artists. A gorgeous old property with lovely grounds and outbuildings. I rather enjoy places that are a little in need of repair because you can see more clearly how they were lived in in the past. I’m sure the owner would love a bit of updating though.

country house and gate

barn covered in Virginia creeper

I’ve noticed something recently: I’m becoming relucatant to write here. Scared of not writing well enough or of putting what I feel into words. Pictures alone no longer seem enough although they were for a long time. Maybe it’s a phase, like others I’ve gone through with this blog which has gone from private diary, to ranting about all and sundry, to carefully curated picture album to … well, I don’t know what it is at the moment. But I’m sure as hell not putting much up here.

To be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about Spring Cottage anymore either. It was my bolthole from a life that involved far too much unsatisfying work. And now that I’m not working anymore, it’s still a bolthole but I don’t need it as much, and I’ve therefore come to wonder whether it’s time to draw things to a close before I start to see is wholly as a burden: the cottage and, consequently, the blog.

I’m not sure what the next step is. Perhaps I would actually start writing properly and get to grips with whatever it is that nags at me all the time and I ignore. And how would I feel without my bit of countryside time? I don’t know but, as I scour estate agents for houses in London that have a garden that would compensate a little for the loss of Green, I see nothing affordable that I like.

I’m spoilt to have had the luxury of my little bolthole all these years, I know. This has been true luxury; not smart taps and shiny surfaces, but the option of being in one place or another, even if both are filled with dust and spiders.

French doors

IMG_0125I said my next blog post would be from Provence but I didn’t envisage how detached from the world I would feel when there was no internet in the house. The young people I was with went down daily to the épicerie in the bas village, or lower village, and sat outside to network on their phones and computers but after one or two essential hook-ups for info purposes, I no longer bothered.

Instead, I stared contently across the wide stretch of the valley from my terraced eyrie in the garden of our borrowed house in Simiane la Rotonde. I watched individual cars wend their way along the main road, overtake each other and disappear around the bend again. Sometimes, they turned off the main road into the village, sometimes they didn’t. Sometimes dogs barked in the distance, sometimes they didn’t. Time began to pass more slowly…

Then one day, I got up and ran round the village photographing all the doors in the haut village and one or two outside its medieval walls. Actually, although there are over 100 here, I don’t think I got them all as I started trying to avoid a small group of Spanish tourists. The village is so little that I could hear them coming from around two corners but I think they thought I was a bit weird, loping off everytime they hove into view, so I stopped.

There were doors of all sorts. Old mostly; mended and warped and used for centuries. There were front doors, shutter doors covering French window doors, garden doors, cellar doors, wood store doors, cistern doors, garage doors, shop doors, a town hall and a church door. Doors low in the walls and below the height of the roadway. Doors used daily and doors closed for months at a time. After typing the word door for a while the word it starts to look quite strange, so I’ll stop and let them speak for themselves.

Perhaps you can see why I found them so fascinating?

Door in Provence, France




Door in Provence, France







Door in Provence, France
































































































And finally, my favourite door of them all: the door to our garden.



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