Midsummer

This morning Nora took a very me on an almost-midsummer walk up Broomfield Hill, our local walking spot. We can walk there straight from the cottage when I have the energy. Other times, if I’ve been gardening all day or when the weather’s foul, we drive.

We hardly ever meet anyone and when we do, Nora growls as if to say: “what are you doing here on my hill?” So different from the town dog she is at other times, who sees probably about 20 dogs and more than 50 people a day. Today she growled at some loud people who had climbed over a decrepit gate into a field they shouldn’t have been in, taking engagement photos (they were very shouty which is why I know). So silly of them when there’s literally acres of open access and National Trust land right here on the hill. People, eh?

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Nora’s favourite thing is finding some fox poo and rolling in it. Today there was a good harvest and she got lots of it under her collar. If it’s still early enough for dew or if it has been raining, I’ll get her to roll over in some long grass so that a little of it comes off her before we get home. Other times, I have to shampoo her with a special potion that more or less works but has its own curious aroma.

We walked past some highland cows and their calves who live on the hill. The calves all came running to their mothers when they heard us. They’re just a bit bigger than Nora. Their mothers are the size of a car and have long, pointy horns. I was glad they were on the other side of the fence because of the young. Sometimes they (and their poo) are all over the path, which can feel a little daunting, but on the whole they’re pretty timid and stay out of your way as you go by. I swear there was a bull one time though.

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highland cow and calves

I got very excited today because I found some wild orchids growing on the hillside amongst the other wild flowers and grasses. Only about 20 centimetres (eight inches) tall, I wouldn’t have noticed them if I hadn’t decided to sit down in the sun. I think they were Common Spotted Orchids, not fully in flower here yet.

common spotted orchid

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And here’s Cothelstone Hill with the Seven Sisters group of trees—a local landmark—on its summit, seen from Broomfield Hill. It’s such a lovely day that I’m going to get right out there again into the sunshine now.

Happy midsummer!

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In Jerusalem’s old city the flagstones have been polished by probably millions of footsteps. The pale, mellow stone brightens the narrow alleys, reflecting the sunshine that manages to penetrate between the overhanging awnings and radiates the warmth of the day after dark. In the souk, ancient stone ramps between the risers allow traders to push trolleys laden with wares up steep steps to their shops and stalls as they have for centuries.

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On the shores of the Sea of Galilee ficus, eucalyptus and olive trees grow and tourists visit. Among the visitors are those who inscribe their names in their bark as everywhere in the world. Groups of pilgrims from all over the world paddle here in the shallow waters near the Church of the Multiplication, which celebrates the feeding of the five thousand, taking pictures on their iPads, while others sing hymns and speak in tongues.

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In Bethlehem I snapped a fragment of Byzantine mosaic in the Milk Grotto, a Christian shrine. At the time, it seemed to be just a jumble of pale coloured stones. Now I see it is a Star of David. Like the swastika, this symbol originates from the Indian subcontinent.

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Bethlehem is under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority and there’s a massive concrete and turnstile procedure you have to go through to pass from the Israeli side and back again. This particular bit of rusty barbed wire has nothing to do with the separation of the West Bank from the rest of Israel but its inclusion here is symbolic. The buildings in the background are in Jerusalem on the other side of the tall concrete wall that has been built around Israeli territory. The picture was taken from the Palestinian side.

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These ancient and, I hope, disused letterboxes were the first thing that caught my eye on arriving in Jerusalem’s old city. I could have spent all day finding such delights but sometimes I had to listen to the guide and follow the rest of the group.

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Impoverished as some of the neighbourhoods in Tel Aviv are, their inhabitants find ways of decorating their balconies. Sometimes cracked old pots full of vibrant flowers, sometimes just bits of fishing line threaded with beads. I wonder who did this: a grandparent entertaining bored grandchildren or someone who just wanted to brighten the view out over the bustling street market? I suspect that, while I find this picturesque, whoever lives here would love to sweep it away in exchange for something more stylish and glamorous.

I have a confession. I am that person who is always lagging behind taking a photograph in a smelly street corner because there’s an interesting looking bit of peeling plaster that I just must capture. There’s something about worn layers of paint and plaster, and other decrepitude, that I find fascinating. I suppose they tell a story of previous lives and I love the muted colours that result simply from the passage of time.

Last week I was in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, which gave me a lot of opportunity to indulge my obsession. As in most hot countries, buildings in the region fall into disrepair quite quickly. Add to that a degree of poverty, an abundance of graffiti and about a million tourists, and you’ve got an extraordinary degree of wear and tear on which to focus.

I usually use detail images like this to remind me of the feel of places I visit or to add a bit of context to a blogpost. But rather than waffle on generally about my trip I’ve decided to let some of these pictures speak for themselves. Except, of course, I’m waffling as well. Can’t be helped…

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This bit of peeling pink paint on the outside wall of an old house in a Tel Aviv lane overshadowed by swanky, new, high-rise blocks reminds me a little of a printed furnishing fabric. I love the combination of colours: the pink and the grey with just enough cream to emphasise what could almost be a floral pattern if you squint.

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I had to smile at this jaunty heart that cheered up a cottage in the same road. Tel Aviv seemed to be covered with graffiti’ed hearts. It will always remind me of a long walk in the blazing hot sun on our way to see the Bauhaus architecture of Boulevard Rothschild. We passed through this much older area when we weren’t quite sure where we were heading and started wandering around. Most of the old streets had been torn down to become temporary car parks or wasteland awaiting development but this little row of worn-looking but cared-for houses remained.

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Number 29 was around the back of our hotel in the flea market area of Jaffa. It must have been in the process of being demolished when the work to ground to a halt, leaving a whole corner of the house behind.

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I’ve no idea what these posters in the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem’s old city say but I like the way that they have seem to have become part of the metal utility box cover they were stuck to. The grey, ochre and yellow complement each other and I can see both the colours and shapes being the inspiration for a geometric design of some kind. Perhaps something with a 1950s influence?

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Here paint and rust have fused on the windowsill of an old warehouse in Jaffa that now houses a cool restaurant with a vibrant music scene called Container. The different shades of blue make me think of a piece of china, or perhaps of clouds and sea. Really quite appropriate for its portside location.

Maybe I’ll do an occasional series of Detail Freak posts. I’ve certainly got enough material…

Walking in the woods on Saturday, it seemed to be getting lighter and lighter as we pressed on into the trees, mesmerised by the carpet of bluebells through which we were walking. I realised that we were coming to a large clearing and knew we must have reached a tree felling zone I’ve only seen from the road until now.

We had decided to turn left when we set out from the car park instead of right as most people do. It’s a popular walking spot and I wanted to avoid other people on this busy, sunny morning and hear some birdsong in amongst the trees.

There were no signs to tell us to keep out so I decided to walk along the edge of the felled area before taking up our intended walk again in amongst the broadleaved trees. This was a pine plantation that I’d heard had been compulsorily felled to prevent the spread of Phytophthora ramorum (Sudden Oak Death), a tree disease that, it is feared, may cause as much damage to the English landscape as Dutch Elm Disease did in the 1970s.

Having read up about it since, I’ve worried whether we should have entered the felling zone at all, as the disease can be spread by foot, but as the pines were felled to create a barrier and, in any event, our footwear wasn’t leaving the area and we only walked along the rutted track left by the logging trucks, so I hope no harm has been done.
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The bluebells which are everywhere at this time of year, although not yet fully in bloom, are suddenly exposed on the bare ground in the sunshine. Blooming away as though nothing had happened, they look forlorn among the tree stumps and the deep scars left in the earth by heavy lorry tyres.

Fortunately, there are many, many other woods in this part of Somerset for the squirrels, birds, rabbits and other wildlife who have lost their habitat to move to, as it will take another half a century at least until this place returns to how it was just a year ago. We can only hope this ugly piece of destruction succeeds in preventing something very much worse.

Glastonbury

I always think of Glastonbury as being quite near but it isn’t really. It’s the other side of the M5 motorway from the Quantocks for a start and that’s quite a divider, although it’s not hard to cross. It’s also the other side of the Somerset Levels, the very flat part of North Somerset which was badly flooded in 2013-14. The countryside is really different from here: quite flat but with big hills that seem to suddenly loom up at random. Of course it’s random, it’s geology, not planning but you know what I mean.

Somerset’s like that. Big and with a very varied landscape, ranging from tidal mudflats of the northern coast to sharply delineated hills and valleys, or combes (pronounced ‘cooms’) as they’re called locally. Densely wooded hillsides fill your ears with birdsong and windswept beaches that give you the best blowdry should you get drenched in a shower of rain.

Georgian house with tulips

Somerset includes beautiful cities like Bath and tiny farming hamlets down long, winding lanes without even a sign to tell you you’re there, like ours. People often say: “Oh, I know someone in Somerset,” and it turns out they mean in Frome or thereabouts. I’ve never even been to Frome (rhymes with combe, in other words, ‘Froom’), although I must go one day. It’s south of here and apparently quite hip but for now I’m pleased that I managed to make it to visit Glastonbury, finally, after six years. I have been there before but that was in the days of fitting out the cottage and searching for bits and pieces at reclamation yards, which isn’t the same as pottering around the place, dog in tow.

People sitting around monument

Glastonbury High Street

Glastonbury is pretty dog friendly with lots of shops quite happy for you to take your four-legged companion inside. There are water bowls outside lots of shops and many cafes have outdoor tables, so that you and your pooch can eat al fresco.

Glastonbury Tor

Labrador dog on Glastonbury Tor

dog on hill with view

There were also lots of dogs on Glastonbury Tor, which is a steep climb right in the middle of the town. Don’t wear stiff old wellies as I did because getting up the hill with no ankle flexion is rather hard work. It was also blustery and drizzly, and hence there wasn’t a very good view which was a pity as it’s obviously fabulous on a good day. The trade off – not that many people around, although up at the top there we found lots of people sheltering from the squally showers inside the small base of the tower.

Mural with girl in floaty dress

macabre graffiti of skeletons

Fireman's witch

Quirky and lively, Glastonbury’s a great size to walk around and the contrast between the grassy hill of the Tor and the town makes for a good combination of activities. The atmosphere of old hippy tat reminds me of the Kensington Market of my teenage years but Glastonbury clearly is still a place of serious pilgrimage for many. It attracts young and old: grizzled guys with long beards, middle-aged women in flowing robes, young women with flowers in their hair and colourful leggings, guys sporting long black coats and top hats leading dogs along on floral garlands. And lots of tourists of all nationalities.

New Age shop in Glastonbury

Today it is grey, with hill fog and drizzle but last time I was here the garden had gone into full Spring mode. The sun shone, the insects and butterflies found nectar everywhere. The flowers were almost all yellow (this week the garden’s theme is predominantly blue and I just love the way this happens, although I probably ought not to allow the bluebells to proliferate further). And there was a forest of fritillaries. Simply glorious.

Although the cottage is named after the spring which flows underground just on the other side of the boundary, it’s definitely at its best in springtime.

Garden on sunny day Wasp on a dandelion Butterfly feeding on yellow primroses Garden with bench and stone building Spring flowers in the grass

Labrador lying in the grass

Frayed around the edges and over-sensitive for no good reason. Always the paradox of wanting to leave one place and be in another, and then the fret about doing it and what I might find when I arrive.

Work over the road going on apace. Winters Barn, sold at the end of last year together with the field it stands in, has been completely pulled down. The field is full of heavy machinery and the radio goes all day. A flock of sheep is grazing and they appear to be charmingly right in amongst all this but they aren’t. Closer inspection reveals an electric fence.

They’ve renamed the place and I disapprove. The old name was good and the new one inappropriate. Like the doubling in size of the cowsheds down the road, these changes make me feel sad. I liked what I’d found here – the remoteness and the dark skies. Now there is orange light on all night in one direction (why, do cows crave streetlight?) and soon there will be people over the road plus the additional traffic all this creates. It’s already a local rat run. You NIMBY incomer, I chastise myself. What makes you the arbiter of how things should be?

Nice things: Sunshine, birdsong, lambs bleating in the distance. Leaf buds bursting everywhere: hazel, beech, hawthorn and rowan. Blackthorn blossom, tiny flowers nestling among brutal thorns. Gorse now fully out and wafting coconut after months of being only half in bloom. Delicate little short-lived wildflowers crouching close to the ground, easily missed. A new fern stalk standing proud of the crushed fronds of last year’s dry remains, unfurling slowly as if stretching after winter’s long sleep.

And lazy, bad-tempered me, who didn’t bother to take a proper camera because it’s only a walk.

a wood tree branches against a blue sky and clouds wild flowers

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