Posts Tagged ‘countryside’

duks6 dusk dusk4 dusk5

Now, what does a lilac sky at night mean?


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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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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.


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.


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.




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.



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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The Countryside Stewardship Scheme was still operating properly when I first moved here just over four years ago. Then, as local authority cuts started to bite in the aftermath of the meltdown in the financial markets, my neighbour over the road commented that he was going to close the permissive paths across his land maintained by the scheme. He had been warned that no further money was likely to be forthcoming, meaning that he could no longer afford to maintain the paths appropriately for public access, and he was afraid of insurance claims from people injuring themselves.

gate with closed sign

Last week, however, I thought I would make my way down to where I knew there would be some early (for here) blackberries. John had said that I wasn’t to mind the ‘closed’ signs on the gates if I wanted a walk, but the undergrowth now had other ideas. The paths, once clear and wide, were almost completely overgrown by nettles and brambles.

overgrown path

If I hadn’t known the route, I would definitely have turned back. As it was, I did almost give up a couple of times, boiling in the heat of my windcheater pulled down close over my hands for protection, and exhausted by tramping down shoulder-high nettles and unhitching myself from the brambles that caught and re-caught me at every turn.

little lake

But it was worth my efforts. At the lake, ducks quacked as they paddled away across the still water between the water lily leaves. Lovely spots of cool widened out here and there beneath the canopy and the sudden rustling of the undergrowth, as rabbits lolloped away and horses came nuzzling up on the far side of the beeches to see who was passing, signalled the creatures that live here.

trees against the sky

I came home with not very many blackberries and a lot of sadness. I just have to consider myself lucky that I arrrived in time to experience these neglected byways at their best.


There are other paths to the lake and across the land and I will have to content myself with those in the future.

public footpath sign

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The weather was fine today– in the sense of ok, but actually, no, it was fine. Dry most of the day so that I had time to cut the hedge, although I’m not quite finished. Everything in the garden seems to be out at once and the water butt’s empty so I can tell it hasn’t rained properly for a while. Not that the house seems any less damp. But that’s fine too.Sage and chives

Lupin 2


Something to do with the warmth but being outside was really relaxing, and there was so much to look at just in my little piece of the world.Dandelion clocks

When I was sweeping up the hedge cuttings, I suddenly felt like someone was watching me and turned to find the field over the lane full, not only of cattle but also sheep. The buttercups won’t last long now that they’re back and I’ll be able to hear them ruminating in the night. Funny things. They are so curious. Sometimes they come and stand in a row along the hedge and watch what I’m doing.cowIMG_2720

I listened to Desert Island Discs today in the car and decided that I liked the outgoing governor of the Bank of England, Sir Mervyn King, very much. One of his choices of music was a song sung by Anne-Sofie von Otter, which reminded me of a curious album by Elvis Costello and her. As luck would have it, I found in the kitchen on cassette and have spent most of the day listening to it on repeat. I had to remind myself how a cassette player worked but it was just what I was in the mood for.home

IMG_2706house at sunset

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I was on my way somewhere else when I saw them, hinting away, from the side of the road.

bluebells in the woodsI have been waiting so long for this sight.

bluebells in the woodsAnd there they were finally, a beautiful carpet of blue, as far as the eye could see.

bluebells stretching away into the distance

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I’ve been reading The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë, and the contrast between the setting of the novel in the nineteenth-century countryside and the news from America this week was extreme. But somehow this little detour I went on after a walk fitted right into my reading.

Cothelstone church

I had been clearing up some rubbish from a lay-by near Cothelstone Manor, as I sometimes do when people’s thoughtless stupidity about the countryside annoys me, when I noticed an odd little building by the side of the road, so I went off across the fields to investigate.


Following a sign, I picked my way across some rather marshy grass and found this funny little stone building with an Alice in Wonderland-sized door.

St Agnes Well

Named after the wife of a nearby landowner in the sixteenth century, not after a saint at all, it’s an ancient well which is supposed to bring good fortune to those who wash their hands in its water.

It was restored about 15 years ago and apparently the stonemason who worked on it wanted to create a place for the water to collect while still allowing the well to remain locked up. That’s worked out rather nicely. After my rather muddy crisp packet gathering expedition it was quite instinctive to dip my hands in the cool, clear water pooled at the entrance.

St Agnes Well close upIt’s a nice little place that I must have driven past hundreds of times and I love the idea that the countryside is literally stuffed with these hidden treasures, if you only know where to look.

Postscript: On collecting rubbish from the Quantock Rangers.

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I took these photographs in the back garden around the herb plot. This is one of the times of the year when I am so grateful to my predecessor’s sense of garden design. The burgeoning leaves and flowers remind me every spring and summer that they were chosen complement each other, down to the tiny rock plant’s flowers.

I can only claim credit for the dwarfish lupin. Surely they’re meant to be taller than that? Oh, and the cat who is a delightful beigey shade called ‘lilac’.

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Across the road, there’s a field.

It looks like it’s just got grass and buttercups in it.

Until you start looking…

and then I found I couldn’t stop looking,

even at things I don’t like.

If anyone’s interested in huge pictures of wild flowers, the pictures enlarge when clicked and enlarge most in Firefox (on a Mac, at least). But then you’re probably not as obsessively interested in this field, as I have become.

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Driving down the M4 today, in Wiltshire, I had the sudden feeling of passing through an invisible curtain, leaving behind a cold, grey Spring day and passing into Summer.

When we arrived, the cats went straight out and lay down to enjoy the warmth. I pottered about looking at what had changed in the garden in the last week.

I’m thinking about converting those disused cold frames into raised beds for vegetables. I didn’t think this would work but I discovered today that they have drainage pipes built into the backs of them, so I think it might. I’m a bit daunted by the idea of ordering almost a tonne of topsoil.

Last year’s herb planting is looking fine, although I probably shouldn’t have let them flower but they’re so pretty. The strawberries are all in flower too.

The peonies are out and I must prop this one up before it bites the dust.

Now it’s nine o’clock at night but as the farmers are hell bent on working all the daylight hours, three, no, sorry, four tractors have just gone past. The birds are singing their last notes as the light fades. I’m tired but looking forward to tomorrow.

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I’m sitting here with a headache today, finding it very hard to motivate myself to do anything active. So I’ve been looking at some old photographs taken in Nether Stowey, which has some lovely examples of typical English housing from the eighteenth century. I say typical but what I mean is typical for this area. The red sandstone is very common around here at it’s the underlying rock – an extension of Exmoor. I find it a bit gloomy compared, perhaps, to the lighter, creamy, hamstone of southern Somerset and northern Dorset houses.

As you can see, it’s a place where a lot of people leave their outer doors open, so that it’s possible for the nosy passer-by to catch a glimpse of what goes on inside. There’s usually a secure inner door though. And those crazy little stones? That’s actually the old pavement (sidewalk, for American readers), which still exists in several parts of the village.

I’ve blogged about Nether Stowey before, and here as well, as I’m quite a frequent visitor.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the English poet, spent a couple of years living here and, if it weren’t for our ruddy cars dwarfing the houses, you could imagine that it’s not so changed from his day. And then, of course, there’s always something that predates even those old houses.

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It’s cold. The sky is clear. Inside is best tonight.



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It’s good to look back over the last twelve months and a few things that happened. It’s so easy to let life whizz past you without noticing much about it. For instance, I’m surprised that it’s only last January that I was making bike seat covers, as this feels so much longer ago to me.

In January a huge, new cowshed was completed next door to spoil our beautiful view over Bridgwater Bay.

It was also so cold that the many birds that visit my garden were more than usually glad of some extra food. (I am turning into my in-laws with binocs constantly at the ready.)

In February, the weather was warmish and then cold, giving us daffodils, primulas and frost.

In March  the cash-strapped council still managed to open up our most local footpath almost over the road, which must have been on the planning list before the crunch. But hooray for it, as it’s the best way to get to our nearest walk.

In April, the days grew lighter again and Percy was confused about doors.

We had visitors from London, who inspired me to make some changes to the garden.

And I ticked a chore off my list by painting the garage, which needed timber preservation – a rather Swedish blue, natch.

In May, we stayed home and went out.

June was disappointingly un-sunny, but things grew anyway…

As July proved.

It was often not until the evening that the skies cleared and the sun came out.

By August, the wheat had ripened.

And we took ourselves for walks.

Then, in September, the harvest was brought in, changing the views.

In October, the neighbouring field gained some very ordinary cows. We usually have rarer breeds round here. I’m a cattle snob.

The neighbouring farmer cut down the hedge so that you could actually see Broomfield Hill from the garden.

Then as the days shortened in November, there was more staying in than going out.

Although, the occasional walk was managed.

Until the year ended in a grey and mild December; such a contrast to last year’s snow.

All in all, this has been a good and happy year. What more could I ask?  I hope your year was   also good and that 2012 will bring you all you wish for. x

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I’ve learned some things this morning. It’s too early to be trying to take pictures with my new vision, as it involves scrunching up my left eye to focus with my right and that doesn’t feel good. Also, it’s making me hyper-conscious of the fact that my left eye’s focus isn’t as good as the right. It has been that way since right after the surgery and may catch up.

I have to add that, when I wake up with rested eyes, the vision is amazing and I think this shows its potential. The other issues, I hope, have to do with healing, adjustment and recuperation still being necessary. It’s only a week since the surgery.

But this morning was beautiful as seen from my bedroom  – lucky me – chilly, with a bleak, bright sunlight streaking over the hills. I couldn’t resist.

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The winds got stronger and stronger last night until, at about quarter to three, I had to go and sleep on the sofa in the living room downstairs, as I had convinced myself that the chimney was going to come crashing down on my head while I slept in my bed. In the great storm of October 1987, the chimney of the house opposite us in London was blown straight through their roof into the house; miraculously hurting no-one, so worrying about this was not completely stupid, if a bit night-brained.Perhaps because of my lack of a good sleep and or because I must admit that, for some time now, I haven’t been in the greatest of moods, I woke up to a beautiful, if still blustery, day feeling massively negative. So to try to fight my lethargy, I took myself out for a bracing walk. I meant to go up to Lydeard Hill but the road was closed, so I carried on down to Cothelstone Manor, where I’ve never actually walked before, although I’ve stopped and taken pictures. I didn’t have my big camera with me today, so these are just phone photos but I think you’ll get the jist of what a lovely place it is.

As if to make up for yesterday’s ghastliness, the sun shone and everything looked brilliant and clean and, um, bracing. The wind was still howling. But I walked for a while, although footpaths were a bit hard to follow, electric fencing in their way here and there, which always makes me cross. I could still get round though, and made my way up the elegant drive and round to the tiny church.

Cothelstone must have been quite a thriving community when it was originally built in the 12th century to have warranted such a church – although it is tiny. It’s certainly more than a family chapel. There are a quite a large number of buildings here, some in total disrepair, some well maintained. The estate was hugely renovated in the nineteenth century, having been through many changes of fortune. Having a place like this must be such a burden – it’s certainly not for everyone. There are a number of parts that are obviously inhabited: cottages, the main house, and a secondary, quite large, house and lots and lots of outbuildings. All built out of the local red sandstone, softened by age to a wonderful, delicate pink.

Unfortunately, the church was locked but it was clearly not in any way abandoned; the porch being full of the usual watering cans, flower rotas and lists of charities. There was a also a small war memorial to those who fell in World War I. One family had lost six members and there were two names from at least four other families. This is always terrible but really does not bear thinking about the effect in a place as minute as this.

As I walked over the meadow back from a small boating lake to the road, the churchyard looked like the archetypal place that you think of when calling to mind a quiet country resting place and it was sad to think that those men had not made it back to lie here.

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