Posts Tagged ‘UK’

That’s better…

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…

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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

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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.

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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

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My old friend J woke up with a stomach bug yesterday, so instead of having his company here for the weekend, I am alone with Nora the dog and the cats. Although this menagerie means I’m patently not alone, it does mean my time is being spent much more productively than it might have been.

man with book in pub

Instead of pub lunches where I point out the coincidence of J sitting in front of a book written by someone of the same name that then turns out to be actually written by him, or getting lost on scenic walks, the weekend’s entertainment consists of apparently never-ending hedge cutting and a homemade lunch of avocado on a bed of toast and houmous with poached eggs passé à travers un tamis (go on, Google Translate it).

wheelbarrow on the grass

Today’s hedging, always rather A Task, was enlivened briefly by the last flying Avro Vulcan, a cold war era bomber that was taking part in the Dawlish Airshow in Devon, flying earsplittingly low, directly overhead. Quite the unusual sight in these parts normally devoid of RAF practice sorties. The only planes we see here are tiny, silently cruising airliners and their contrails. It turns out that this was one of the last opportunities to see it, which I rather wish I’d known. So, since I haven’t a picture of the bomber, I’ll blather on about the hedge some more.

garden with long hedge

I’ve blogged about the hedge before, several times, which is because cutting it, or rather, them, takes a lot of effort. Trimming it looks quite manageable from these pictures but that’s because I’d already carted away about four wheelbarrows full of clippings when I took them and the whole of the hedge isn’t in the pictures.

Wheelbarrow, rake and garden

The trimmed section (garden side and top) took me about six hours today and I still have to do the side along the lane, which I can’t reach from the garden because it’s too wide in places, and for which I will need to deploy a stepladder, a lot of nerve (slurry and milk tankers heading down the lane to the farm) and some agility.

But I’ll be delighted to have it behind me, which is probably how you feel about this post. I promise to be more interesting in my next one, which should be coming to you from my adventure with Nora in Provence.

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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.



IMG_7412 IMG_7408 IMG_7411  IMG_7414 IMG_7415

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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.


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.



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.


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.



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.


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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