Posts Tagged ‘UK’

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Blissfully quiet it’s been for weeks. Hardly any passing traffic, no huge machinery going from farmyard to field. Only an occasional whirrzzz as a bicycle flies down the hill, a bit of banging from the convertors of Winter’s Barn into New Holiday Let over the road, and the rustle of leaves in the hedge as the twice-daily milk tanker hauls itself between parlour and dairy.

Glancing out of the window in the early morning, though, I saw not grass waving in the breeze but grass cut and lying in the sun to be gathered in. Now, late in the day, every other field round about lies combed into rows, neat and green, pale and dark. And vast machines dance a well-rehearsed display of shoo, vacuum and spray into the evening.

Days of noise and dust are due, then, as all this must pass our door before the silage clamps are full.

At least the forecast must be dry.

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Having not blogged properly about Spring Cottage for a while, I thought we might take a tour of the back garden.

It’s mostly grass, or rather, moss that’s slowly smothering the grass because we don’t mow frequently enough. On the other hand, not mowing allows the wild flowers to have more of a life cycle.

On the right, there’s the end of a bit of concrete covering the septic tank — a feature of all properties that aren’t attached to sewers. I’d forgotten it was there. I recently exhumed this from a large patch of comfrey that was threatening to overwhelm the rest of the garden. The bare earth I also uncovered has already been colonised by small seedlings. Time will tell what they are. I’ve scattered various things here over the last few months and we’ll see what survives into next year. Or maybe the comfrey will win, again. It’s the yellow sort. I don’t think it’s really very pretty but the bees love it and this part of the garden is usually loudly abuzz with their activity.

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The ‘lawn’ lies beyond the area in the picture below, which is a mixture of paving and gravel laid by my predecessor here. In the middle of the gravel an old wagon wheel is set into the ground and I replanted this with herbs a few years ago. They’ve come on a lot since.

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Below is one of the cut flower beds full of Higgledy Garden flowers for the second year running. These have been more hit and miss this time following some, er, rearrangement by Nora the dog, who had a digging frenzy in late autumn. It was an autumn seeding of hardy annuals this time. Last time was a spring sowing. I’m not sure which I prefer. Both would be ideal obviously. I’ll have to have a think about where and how to do that.

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The beds were disused cold frames that I filled with earth for the glorious summer that yielded six carrots. So I gave up and decided to grow flowers instead.

The bed on the other side of the railings is planted with, amongst other things, alliums, marjoram, some fennel and a half-hearted rhubarb. I think it was intended as a kitchen garden by the previous inhabitants. You can see the ornamental vine too. It had great grapes last year although the jelly I made has only been added to gravy so far, as it’s more like syrup. I cut it back rather cruelly, having seen how hard vineyards are pruned, so we’ll see what happens this time around.

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I was given this poppy which I manage to miss flowering almost every year. At least I caught one of them this year. It’s in the wrong spot at the front edge of a bed but I didn’t plant it – the giver did and I have left it alone.

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Here is a really old rose with a beautiful scent. It was rather weak and straggly so I cut it back far more than in previous years and it’s really benefited. Much less mildewy, stronger stems and more flowers. I think it’s probably been here for a very long time and will probably outlast my tenure here.

Finally, some of the most ordinary things, these geraniums which are everywhere and are so lovely up close.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Labrador dog on Glastonbury Tor

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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