Shepherd’s Delight

It’s almost 10 pm and the sun is setting on another gorgeous July day. The sky is a delicious blend of burnt oranges, pinks and corals: red sky at night, shepherd’s delight. Tomorrow looks promising then. Through the still-open window I can hear the faint and exotic sounds of a bamboo wind chime in a neighbour’s tree, gently animated by a cooling breeze. Muted conversation and laughter is carried on the air from nearby gardens. At the end of a magnificent week of scorching sunshine, today’s slightly lower temperature has been most welcome. We can be such a contrary lot where the weather is concerned, craving to be baked and sweltered, but soon needing respite before yearning for the next heatwave.

The little garden is a joy to behold, bursting at the borders with tecnicoloured blooms. I’ve never seen as many bees as this year, which is what it’s all about for me. It took a long time to get going after an exceptionally cold and rainy May, but the plants have forgiven and forgotten and have made up for lost time.

Here are some of the most vibrant and gorgeous that give me so much pleasure. Apparently, lots of people dislike orange flowers, but they never fail to make me smile. Tigger appreciates them too.

Having had mixed results from new plant varieties I have added this year, it’s been wonderful to see that once again the cosmos, calendula and nasturtiums have done me proud. Seed harvested last year was roughly sown straight into the soil in April and the flowers are thriving, needing very little care. There’s a lesson there, I think.

The light has faded since I started writing this post, and in the darkness the garden has another kind of magic, fairy lights and lanterns picking out the shapes of tiny bats as they flit above, looking for insects or heading back to their roosting places. It’s time for music and wine and thinking up plans for a new day. Have a great weekend!

June in bloom

May was very wet and cold here in the north of England, and the garden has taken much longer than usual to get going. Except for the ever-dependable cat mint, determined to push through and show off in pride of place, the flowerbed seemed quite a sad little spot last month. Some of the herbs pots have been thriving since April, but I have been longing to see some colour. June arrived, bringing glorious sunshine, day after day, and temperatures into the twenties. At long last, the first flowers have started to push through to greet the sun.

Last year I dabbled more with seeds than ever before because the garden centres were closed in the spring. I was so delighted with the results that I decided to carry on this year. The results so far have been variable. I started most of my seedlings indoors inside propagator trays and started transferring them outside from April, potting them on and leaving them to grow on the nursery shelves. Heavy rain throughout May meant covering the shelves with plastic sheeting much of the time. Many perished, battered by wind and rain when I wasn’t able to cover them, or rotted in too humid propagators. Nothing has been planted out yet but some cosmos and a few sunflowers are doing well and should be big enough to go into the flower bed in a couple of weeks. There are also some newly germinated nasturtiums, varieties I haven’t grown before and which I am so happy have come through.

Last summer, I sowed some calendula seeds directly into the ground and lavished time, effort and compost nurturing others from propagation. The results were identical, so this year – yes, you’ve guessed it – all have gone straight into the soil and all are doing well, considering recent weather.

It was the same story with nasturtiums last year, some shooting up in the poorest soil, between flags and stones or gate crashing in other pots, all performing as well as their pampered relations. They are classed as annuals but some have decided to come back. Wonderful!

For the first time I’ve decided to try growing some veg. I’m starting small. Very small. In this hanging basket I’m growing cucamelons, which I have never tried before, and chard. I hope they’ll be safe from slugs up there. There are more chard plants on the shelf. I have never been interested in growing fruit or veg up to now and this is just for fun. We’ll see.

Scabiosa is such a resilient plant, as well as gorgeous and attractive to butterflies and bees. They never fail to delight.

Salvia is another perennial favourite for me and the bees. I have bought a couple of new plants which will remain in pots, where they seem to do best in my garden. The bees are happy!

I tried to grow yarrow from seed but not one little shoot emerged. Imagine my delight when I found mature plants on sale at a good garden centre. The first florets are opening and I hope the pollinators will enjoy the feasting.

I picked up two Lady’s Mantle plants from the Pound Shop, both on their last stalks, yellowing and looking doomed. I was moved to try to rescue them. For weeks they seemed to be clinging on but showed no signs of growth. Earlier this week they were replanted together and the transformation has been astonishing. Within a few days they have turned from puny stumps to lush, green pot fillers, soon to be separated and given more room to spread.

Another new addition and a first timer in my flower bed is this delphinium, buds about to open as she rises above the cat mint. I planted three but only this one has succeeded. I can’t wait to see the flowers.

The little California poppy is ready to open again. I sowed some more seeds around it for company but it looks like it will be on its own again.

The fastest mover has been another new plant, this gorgeous erysimum, Bowles Mauve. It has thrived from the moment it was planted out and is a real bee magnet!

It’s such a joyful thing to be able to take pleasure in a garden, especially one as small as mine where every plant counts. Next week is looking lovely, if not so hot, and I’m looking forward to my morning pottering as my coffee brews and my evening cup of tea as the sun goes down. I wish everybody a lovely week!

A local walk

A recent visit to the GP about something unrelated (and which thankfully was nothing to worry about) revealed the alarming news that my blood pressure is higher than it should be. If I am not able to reduce it myself through ‘lifestyle changes’ I may be looking at medication in the future. This news has motivated me to make some positive changes to my now very sedentary lock-down, home-worker life, including becoming more active. It’s the old chicken and egg scenario: I started walking less as my arthritis pain worsened, which probably led to me becoming even more unfit and putting weight on, which undoubtedly has made the pain worse, and so on. Having now to sit at my desk all day, five days a week, has not helped matters. Although these are proper reasons and not just excuses, I am still set on taking action to improve my health in whatever way I can.

We are back to walking locally again, though for me that never changed during the few months’ interval between lock downs; I have only been out of town once in the past 10 months and have become something of a contented recluse. This morning, however, the bright sunshine and dry sky tempted me out into my locality for a bit of a brisk stroll. There are some great places to walk within the wider township, but I would need to get a bus there. On my own doorstep, options are very limited. Nevertheless, off I set in pursuit of fresh air and exercise and with camera at the ready.

Westwood Flash

I live in an area which was heavily mined when Coal was King in Wigan. Although the collieries are long gone they have left a legacy of flashes – lakes formed on sites of mining subsidence. There are eight flashes in total within the nature reserve. The Leigh branch of the Leeds & Liverpool canal cuts through the bodies of water and these days is extremely popular with walkers, cyclists and boaters.

Three or four anglers were in situ, one with a very bored looking child who was distracting himself by rolling about in the mud whilst the female companion of another looked like she would rather be watching paint dry. I was much more interested in the wild fowl amongst the reed beds.

There were lots of people around, mostly walking dogs and mostly very friendly. I turned around to look for the speaker of “Long time, no see,” to find a man who daily used to travel into town on the same bus as me, also now a home-worker. I don’t know him, other than as a fellow former member of the 07:24 bus micro-community, but it was strangely uplifting to meet again somebody who seems part of a distant and strange past, and to be reminded that we will hopefully return to those banal but now welcome routines.

A lot of money has been spent on improving accessibility to this area in recent months, partly to mitigate the presence and associated noise, visual and environmental pollution from a pointless new dual-carriageway, nick-named locally the road to nowhere, because, being part of a much longer link road whose other parts have not yet been constructed, it really doesn’t go anywhere. It’s a relief to see that wildlife still seems to be thriving, post road construction.

Two men, one in a bizarre, possibly home-made, face covering which looked like it had been fashioned out of several plastic bottles, asked for directions to the canal tow path. I indicated the way that I was myself headed. By this time, the route was really quite busy and it was sometimes necessary to stand to one side to let people pass. It’s a pleasant walk, more so since the improvements, and I regretted that I hadn’t been walking here more often.

Arriving at the towpath, I decided that as a re-introductory amble I had gone far enough for today. I spent a few minutes watching the swans and having a short chat with another person I knew in the old life.

Lost in my own thoughts and camera lens, I was momentarily startled when a woman asked me if I put photos on “that website”. “What website is that?”, I replied, wondering if this humble domain had come to her attention. It had not, of course. It was something else entirely that I have never heard of.

I spotted a few people in the wood on the other side of the water where I had thought it was inaccessible. More to investigate on another walk.

And in the other direction lies the largest of the flashes and walks that I haven’t done for years.

As others have written, it is easy to forget the green spaces that are close at hand. I’m looking forward to renewing that connection.

Shamelessly retro

So here I am tapping out a few words. It feels as though this is a bit like one of those pieces that appear in the news during a quiet week when the politicians are all behaving themselves and celebrity scandal has gone off grid. But papers must still go to press and cameras must still roll at the appointed hours, and so are rallied all of those trivial and regional fall-back stories to plug air time gaps and spaces on pages. And so it ashamedly seems to be here.

I don’t write for writing’s sake, and this is, after all, supposed to be a blog about me getting out and about; and as I have become something of a social recluse for the time being, there has been nothing new to write about. Somewhat surprisingly, though admittedly rather gratifyingly, I was told this week by somebody who I didn’t even know read this blog, that as he hadn’t seen any new posts recently, he had been reading all the older ones. He also asked about my profile picture, the philosophising French carrier bag. Well, there’s a story……

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is paris-autumn-209.jpg

Montparnasse is the second largest cemetery in Paris. It covers about 46 acres in the 14th arrondissement and is the final resting place of some of the city’s great and good, including artists, writers and thinkers. My friend and fellow traveller on that trip about six years ago is fascinated by necro-architecture and how, like abodes in life, graves can reveal the personalities of the dead.

Tiny staircase

Some were nothing short of art installations, the exhibitors’ final works in a gallery where they would be both present, and not.

Did any have a hand in those creations; set their living eyes upon them and envisage future reactions? Or were these the designs of others who had loved and admired, expressing who, to them, the dead had been?

My favourite tribute

Interesting then the plainness of the tombs of some of Montparnasse’s best known occupants. Jean Paul Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir, celebrated intellectuals of their time, are identified only by their names and the dates of their lives, though the imprints of admirers’ kisses show they are remembered and revered. So often, less is more; that’s one of my own philosophies, anyway.

Jean Paul Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir

I like the photos that you find on headstones; a smile in a happy moment frozen in time. Who was behind the camera? What was the joke? Heartbeats immortalised.

Who can think of Serge Gainsbourg without a mental soundtrack? Younger readers, click and learn.

Considered to be quite racy at the time, with all the sighing and breathless utterances of desire and amore, Je t’aime is probably the song for which Serge is best remembered. It has become a tradition for adoring visitors to leave their metro tickets as a sign of how far they have travelled to pay their respects. I don’t think we left ours, but we may have spared a wistfulness sigh and hummed a few bars as we moved on.

Born Emmanuel Radnitzky in 1890 and raised in a New York Jewish immigrant community, Man Ray was one of the most celebrated artists of the Surrealist and Dada movements. I am not a fan of surrealist painting, but I like some of Man Ray’s photography. Much of it is provocative and some of it disturbing. Dada was as much a political movement as it was creative, and some powerful messages are expressed through Man Ray’s images. The simple message epitaph is equally open to interpretation.

The most celebrated work of Charles Baudelaire is Les Fleurs du Mal or The Flowers of Evil, an eclectic mix of sensory and sensual compositions which speak of appetites and desires and the exotic. I’m not keen on traditional poetry where contrived rhyme metre determines the words, but I do still have a battered old copy of The Flowers, from my youth, which I dip into on rare occasions.

How very fitting and amusing it was then that as we made our way to one of the exit gates we spotted an unusual plastic carrier bag near a composting receptacle full of decaying floral tributes. In a place of dead thinkers and dreamers it offered an inspirational philosophy for living.

And that’s the story.

A lesson in patience and seeds of change

So, here we are on the last day of September. The hours of daylight and darkness have passed their balancing point and we move slowly towards the dark and the cold. Figuratively speaking, we are, and will be, living through darker times than usual this year. But those long months of shorter, colder days offer hope of renewal and regeneration when the warmth returns.

There have been some frosty mornings of late. I have opened the back door to look at the slivers of dawn light and to observe my misty breath in the air. As the garden dies back and slowly goes to seed there is still a lot of colour to take pleasure in, and there is even new growth.

Back in early spring, unable to source any plants, I picked up a few packets of seeds from the supermarket, amongst them some blacked-eyed Susan. Unlike some of the other more vigorously sprouting seedlings, the Susans were very slow to emerge from their little plug pots and, when they eventually did, seemed to be stuck, no bigger than tiny cress stalks, for a long time. I almost gave up on them, planning more than once to throw them into the composting bin. With nothing to lose, I moved the little pots one late July day to a slightly sunnier spot. Their transformation into robust little plants was fast and furious, as if seizing the moment and making up for lost time. I planted them, still doubtful due to their relatively small size, into a bed. Happily, they took hold and went from strength to strength and their sultry shades of ochre and golden-brown keep the spirit of summer alive for a bit longer.

Calendula and nasturtiums are still flowering. Every time I think I have dead-headed for the last time I spot a tiny bud or two.

Roses also continue to bloom, hopefully for a few weeks yet.

The cosmos seeds I potted in April were the first and fastest to grow, feathery stems reaching for the sun. The baby plants were the first to go into the ground and they continued to shoot up and up, lanky and eager. But there were no flowers for the longest time. I gave up on the idea. I pulled up some of the plants which were blocking the light and putting other plants in the shade, stunting their development. I want my garden to be a food source for pollinating creatures; I couldn’t spare the space for anything that provided neither beauty nor nourishment. I left a few of the smaller specimens there, including a sad little thing in a small terracotta pot. To my surprise, they have produced a small number of flowers in white and vibrant pink, a joyful late summer gift, long after I gave up on them.

I adore the muted pink leaves of this honeysuckle plant which I had forgotten about. The pot, invaded by moss and in an inhospitable shady corner, was nearly recycled months ago. Moved into the sun to serve as a stand for a solar battery, the plant awoke again, returning to a long- forgotten splendour. I bought it on the same day as its cousin below, now well over two metres tall and one of my favourites, its pink and purple berries succulent and splendid. They were 50p each on the half- dead rejects shelf.

Nigella have grown in my little garden for about four years now. My first pack of seeds was shop-bought, but for the past three years I have gathered the brown seed heads in September and October, releasing the black seeds, each a potential new flower in the next summer. I move them around the garden, this year planting in perhaps too sunny a spot, shortening their season. Some seeds found their way, on the breeze, to a shady place beneath an over-hanging tree. They have done much better, new flowers still appearing. There is a lesson there.

One of my favourite shrubs is the heavily fragrant caryopteris, Heavenly Blue. It is a bee magnet from May to early September, but its season is nearly over.

Last year I added another caryopteris, White Surprise. It didn’t seem to thrive in its original spot so in early spring I moved it next to its relation, not knowing if it would take root. There was some growth but no flowers. I decided it would have to give up its prime position to a newcomer next spring, but it could stay put for the time being. Over the last few weeks I have not been disappointed. A profusion of lavender blue flowers have taken over, a nectar fest for the insects. I see it from my kitchen window and take great joy in watching the feasting. To think, I might have dug it up, not knowing it was a late summer bloomer!

Another new addition is the pink buddleia, bought from a pound shop. It has grown quite a lot and its big candy-floss display enchants me, though it doesn’t seem to attract the butterflies. I haven’t seen a single one sampling its supposed delights. I am still in two minds about its future prospects, but I won’t be rash. Perhaps the right butterflies haven’t spotted it yet.

When is a weed not a weed? This geranium Robert has the most wonderful aroma, like parsley. I leave it alone to do its thing.

In this mellow season of winding down, decay has its own beauty.

I have bought some spring bulbs to plant at the weekend. They will rest in the cold winter earth before energising and bursting forth to surprise and delight on a March morning. Hope springs eternal.

What a difference a year makes

Two months have passed since gradually and tentatively the tourist and leisure industries opened their doors again to the lock down weary, desperate to get back to some sort of semblance of normal life. Of course, normal is now very different to before. Things are not as easy as they were. It’s wonderful that many people can get back out again to visit their favourite countryside and coastal beauty spots, albeit not necessarily in the same carefree or spontaneous ways.

I have toyed with the idea more than once of jumping on a train and heading up to the Lakes or a favourite beach. I have even checked out timetables, but in the end the thought of sitting on a train for an hour or more in a face mask seems to defeat the object of travelling for pleasure. And what would I find at my destination? Would there be a place to eat without having to book in advance or stand in line for a table? And then there are the masks again. It all still feels slightly more trouble than it’s worth at the moment. Strangely, my wanderlust has not yet returned properly, though I sense its first stirrings, and I wonder if I will be a different sort of traveller in the future, perhaps more appreciative and selective. Until the time feels right to be back there in the flesh, here are some photos, as yet unpublished, of my last visit to Windermere, almost a year ago.

The Windermere ‘steamers’ and launches sail all year round between the three landing stages at Lakeside, Bowness and Waterhead Pier at Ambleside. They are all motor-powered these days and the oldest, Tern, is almost 130 years old. Teal and Swan are both in their eighties. Although I must have done it a hundred times, I still enjoy finding a comfy spot on board one of the Lakes boats and watching the views as they change throughout the seasons. You have to book in advance now and stay in your seat.

The first shades of autumn start to appear.

This visit fell on a warm and sunny day in early October, just as the year was turning. Around that time I always feel an urge to soak up every ray of sunlight and appreciate every warm breeze as if it might be the last of the year.

Storrs Hall, the large residence at the side of the lake is now a hotel but was formerly owned by John Bolton, an Ulverston born merchant who made his fortune in slave trading, money from which was used to purchase the property. Bolton, a lavish host, moved in the same circles as William Wordsworth, who was a visitor to Storrs Hall on many occasions and enjoyed taking part in regattas on the lake.

Autumn tinted trees

At 10.5 miles, Windermere is the longest of the English lakes. It is probably also the best known and certainly the most popular with tourists. It isn’t my favourite lake, but it’s the one I visited most as a child with my family and holds a lot of happy memories. It is also the easiest to access by train.

Time seems harder to measure and events to pin point now than before; a slower pace and less happening seems to simultaneously lengthen and shorten the timeline. Was it really a year ago since I took these photos? Whilst I remember the day in great detail it seems, at the same time, so long ago. Here we are at the start of another autumn.

But I’m enjoying the sun while it lasts.

Bright and Beautiful

20200712_154242

Back in May when we baked and sweltered in days on end of glorious sunshine it was said -only partly in jest – that this was summer so enjoy it while it lasted. It feels now like that was true. I can count on one hand the number of days in July when it hasn’t rained here in north west England. Grey, miserable, wet and even cold are not adjectives that normally are associated with summer, and the season has been hugely disappointing so far.

On a more positive note, wonderful things have been happening in the garden. When I last posted on the subject a few weeks ago everything was pastel and purple, which was lovely, but I was eager to see some bolder colours bursting forth. Well, burst forth they have, and they have been the perfect antidote to the wet and dreary days of late. This afternoon has been sunny and warm for a change so I sat outside with a book and a brew and Tiggy the cat for company.

50E210A5-74FA-4A16-A741-20D04173BD67
Tig having a nap

In the spring when it became clear that garden centres would not be opening any time soon I decided to buy some seeds. Previous efforts at growing from scratch had, in the main, not been successful, but undeterred I bought a few packets from the supermarket and I set about sowing. My biggest success story has been calendula.

06E25C8B-AFB0-4F88-8A42-160CD8A912C8

These joyful yellow flowers have grown effortlessly and have been a surprise and a delight. I’ll definitely be growing them again next year

738B1B46-0434-4BBB-80B2-54D83A7A457B

Their sunny faces always make me smile. The bees love them, too.

396DE918-27C1-4280-A2D3-54644F23A328

I sowed some seeds directly into the ground and planted others into plug cells, repotting a couple of times. There has been no difference in size or vitality. I even scattered a few randomly and they have grown just as well, including in the little herb bed where I’ve allowed some of the chives to flower for the insects to enjoy.

EF62D4A9-CA26-498C-819C-C2AE34037E1C

Nasturtiums have been another triumph.

CD7D4C75-4E89-42C4-A30E-BC3BC9E493CF

I sowed all of the seeds directly into pots, some with host plants such as winter jasmine which won’t flower until November, and mainly into old compost. Nasturtiums were the first of my seeds to shoot, and they continue to thrive.

C5EDD943-170D-407B-946C-35478010D60B

Like the calendula, nasturtiums are so joyful and sunny and their brightness is such a tonic. I’ve learned that they grow even better when planted into the ground so I’ll try that next year.

For the last three summers I have grown Nigella and have collected the seeds each autumn. They have not let me down this year either. They grow anywhere and everywhere in my garden; some have even returned where they were planted last year, even though they are supposed to be annuals.

A3DAC43D-8AEA-47AC-915F-37EFF123A8AE

A545DEEA-D8F8-4329-A1FE-38B048C1FE74

My poor little purple scabiosa always starts off well but no matter where I move it to it always withers as surrounding plants overshadow it. I have a plan to move it again. I was given a white scabiosa which seems fearless, standing proud, keeping the cat mint at bay and pulling in the bees.

5F30D839-5ECC-4968-AFA2-876850DDAC47

67AC5C3B-FD21-41EC-869C-4DE98437C465In February I dug up some roses which were in the wrong spot. They were spreading onto the little path and plucking my clothes whenever I walked past. I transferred them to very large pots and crossed my fingers. After a slow start, all have taken to their new homes.

20200712_154217

This year has also been a time for making the most of what I already had. I divided a pot-bound and poorly-flowering fuchsia into three new plants, all of which are flourishing.

9B10BB54-156D-4077-A558-B1895BEF27A2

I adore the smell of caryopteris Heavenly Blue, another favourite with the bees. Planted about four years ago it has spread beyond the bed, but I just leave it.

FD4020E0-4D73-4098-BC3D-45C89C9DC4A1

The cat mint and banana mint are going strong and providing food for bees and butterflies.

20200712_153957

20200712_154101

I had hoped for another Painted Lady invasion like last year, but I’ve had very few butterfly visitors this year, sadly. When they do drop in they prefer the verbena like this tortoise shell.

20200712_153938

The Met Office has promised some proper summer weather tomorrow and especially on Friday so I’ll be out in my unruly little garden enjoying the bright and the beautiful. Happy days!

336ECE92-7E4B-4B3E-94D2-3DA30CA98406

76242D6B-F452-42AC-9A91-AAD11951A5EE

20200712_153336

 

 

Nostalgia, rediscovered

20200721_124733

Today, I had arranged to visit an elderly member of my family who lives in one of the more rural parts of town so I decided to combine the visit with a short walk in her locality, an area I know well – or thought I did.

Early lock- down restrictions led to a lot of people exploring their local areas and finding walks and green spaces that had hitherto been unknown to them, or which would previously have been eschewed in favour of more exciting destinations. Unfortunately, options close to my own home are very few so I haven’t been out and about for quite some time. Travelling still has its complications and limitations, especially for users of public transport. Before the pandemic, it wouldn’t have crossed my mind to set off on today’s walk, but an unexpected feeling of nostalgia and a desire to be near to water enticed me quite literally down memory lane.

20200721_121113

My walk started at Hey Brook where it runs under the main road at the boundary of the villages of Abram and Bickershaw. Back in the 19th and early 20th centuries this was coal mining country, an area of heavy industry, but the pits are long gone, leaving behind what I remember as a wasteland where once had stood giant winding gear, mountains of coal and railway tracks. The sign for a caravan site points not in the direction of a place for holiday-making, but to a notorious travellers’ camp. The road is the start of a short nature trail to Low Hall Park, about a mile and a half away, and not my destination today.

20200721_121407

Not many people head that way because of the travelling community’s very aggressive dogs, which roam freely around the site and onto the public footpath. A couple of terrifying childhood encounters on that path, including an incident where a cousin’s clothes were torn by one really vicious hound, left me frightened of dogs for many years. Needless to say, it’s not the fault of the animals, and I love dogs now.

20200721_121331

Somewhere along the path is a memorial plaque which marks approximately the place where on 30th April 1945 an entire train – locomotive engine and 13 wagons – disappeared into the New Zealand shaft of Low Hall Colliery. Without warning, a huge chasm opened up where the shaft had been filled in in 1932. The body of the driver, 67 year old Ludovic Berry, was never recovered and remains 150 ft below ground with his beloved  train, Dolly, which he had driven for 35 years. I would have liked to seek out the plaque but I confess I’m not courageous enough to risk another encounter with a travelling dog.

Back across the road and through the kissing gate I was on another path which I hadn’t been along for 35 years or more. Behind me, a section of Hey Brook emerged as a trickle beneath the bridge where a large amount of litter had accumulated, and then twisted to the south on its course towards Pennington Flash in nearby Leigh.

20200721_121916

My surroundings, lush and green, a plantation of young oak and beech trees and wild vegetation, were nothing like the barren landscape I had walked over with friends and cousins in the 1970s and early ’80s. Known as the ‘rucks’, a local word for the site of a demolished colliery, it stretched out for miles, still littered with bits of mining detritus and the masonry of smashed-up outbuildings. We used to walk that way to get to a small flash – another word from the lexicon of coal mining – a lake created where water had filled an area of mining subsidence. That’s where I was headed.

20200721_135613

I hoped I would still be able to find my way there and that the path had not been rerouted.

20200721_135145

The transformation from industrial desert to botanical haven was truly wonderful.

20200721_122242

Pollinators’ paradise

20200721_134801

20200721_122651

Tracks led off in other directions but I had the main path to myself, and it felt a little surreal to be in a place both familiar and unfamiliar.

20200721_122931

20200721_133904

I felt like I could have been in an art- house film; no sound except bird song and the camera lens focused on flora and fauna.

There were no trees when I was last here, but now there is a woodland in the making.

20200721_123427

The path ended in another place that I knew, yet didn’t know. Last time I was here it was open and bare, but instinctively I knew the way.

20200721_124034

Polly’s Pond to me, or Kingsdown Flash to give it its proper name, came into view. I remember a friend’s grandma telling me that when she was young it used to be known as Auntie Polly’s. Nobody knew why, or who the mysterious ancient aunt was.

20200721_125101

20200721_132048

The sky was mostly grey but emerging patches of blue were reflected in the water. Families of ducks swam in formation, approaching fishermen and walkers, clearly used to being offered food.

20200721_133121

Back in the day, kids used to launch dinghies and kayaks onto the pond. Staying at the water’s shallow edge, I remember wading in up to my knees and examining tadpoles and frog spawn and trying to avoid leeches, not always with success. Algae on the surface was known as Nanny Green Teeth, the malicious old water spirit who would suck children under if they got out of their depth and gave her the chance. Today, this seems to be the domain of anglers –  and their very patient dogs.

20200721_124610

I took a stroll on the gravel path. Trees screened the flash from view for the most part, and many openings were occupied by fishermen. Not all though.

20200721_133510

20200721_124521

I retraced my steps along the green path, encountering a group of beautiful horses along the way, they and their riders more than happy to pose for the camera.

20200721_130100

This short and very humble walk gave me immense enjoyment, not only because it was an opportunity to be out in nature again, but because it was a lovely example of environmental improvement and enrichment at a time when so much green space is being lost to development. Here, the trend is very much reversed. I have rediscovered a place from my past as a new place that will be part of my future.

The Colour Purple

EDE8A1AE-D90A-4FC8-8B2D-825B36C95823

This week, the wind and rain have lashed the garden, whipping the tender shrubberies and blowing a sheet off the line and into a neighbour’s tree. I had to take down the wind chimes for a couple of days until the gusts settled. Even I, lover of tubular tinkling that I am, was driven to distraction by the cacophony that sounded more like an ice-cream van in melt-down than soothing music for the soul. Today it is warm, muggy even, and although a storm has been forecast for this evening, it’s lovely so far.

The little garden has taken quite a bashing too, but the flowers and shrubs are none the worse for some much-needed rain. I have decided to abandon the various plans I had for my tiny plot this year; it’s been hard enough to get compost, let alone the shrubs and the landscaping materials I had hoped for. The fences, thirsty for a coat of wood preserver, will have to wait a bit longer. The prospect of queueing outside B&Q for an hour does not appeal.

Strangely, I find that I don’t really mind. Some of my plants seem slow in getting going this year, but I am enjoying what there is so far, and the wildlife is enjoying it too. It’s not always a bad thing to be forced to slow down and enjoy right now rather than think about what’s next.

A30CD348-F927-4631-9FBB-7F81DF563E5D

Most of my planting has been deliberately chosen to encourage bees and butterflies, and purple is definitely one of their preferred colours. I yearn for those bolder, brighter colours to come through but whilst the roses, geraniums and fuchsias are still just on the edge of revealing themselves, there is a lot of pretty purple in full bloom.

Scabiosa

9ADE5BDA-6E25-4BCE-8B14-D69CB6F528FC

Lavender

EAC803F4-94C8-48C6-A3BE-3118A29CEF72

BB0BC123-A0EE-4FF0-AEA2-DFF8C1C07666

Thyme in flower

A03F2E0A-8EF5-4041-8E22-69F8964FC65D

Verbena Bonariensis, a butterfly magnet

One of the most popular plants with the bees is Walker’s Low, cat mint. Like all mint it takes hold and spreads, offering the pollinators a fragrant feast. Oddly, there were no bees around when I took these photos.

8E42CFF2-9C1C-41D8-85CF-426B2395896F

2C7EFFF2-0C18-4DFD-8BF6-BAEC5BC249C9

It’s not just popular with bees either.

925AA92A-7F63-47CC-9AB4-71960028E7FD

A5A4BA52-640B-4ED7-AA9A-192FBE6C180F

A carpet of cat mint under a honeysuckle canopy offers a cool and peaceful shade from the hot sun.

BB8F9A40-548E-46BC-965F-85F362EA0C41

The heady scent of salvia is intoxicating.

We all love being in our garden.

9DD15E7E-5A9B-4E33-88B1-62276AE715C3

ED4B5432-5E13-47A6-A121-CEF2B620CB31

The Tower of London

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

Today is the  484th anniversary of the death of Queen Anne Boleyn, the ill- fated second wife of  King Henry VIII.   I don’t think either needs any further introduction. I should point out that this is not a date which I usually mark, or would even have been aware of had it not been for my current reading material. I have finally reached the end of The Mirror & The Light, the third and final instalment of Hilary Mantel’s retelling of the story of the fall from grace and eventual execution for treason of Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex, Lord Privy Seal and Henry Tudor’s general right-hand-man until he fell out of favour. Cromwell was the common man, a blacksmith’s son, who had risen, under Henry’s patronage, to become the most powerful man in the kingdom bar the king himself. Indeed, that was the problem. The most popular reason proffered for Cromwell’s grisly demise was his role in forging Henry’s disastrous union with Anne of Cleves that ended in annulment after 6 months. Whilst that was undoubtedly an important factor, whispering in the King’s ear were those English nobles of ancient lineage, consumed by envy and contempt towards the lowly nobody who had risen to greatness and who they wanted out of the way.

This isn’t a history blog, nor do I do book reviews, but reaching the final (875th) page on the date of Anne Boleyn’s beheading felt quite poignant and inspired me to have a look at my photos of the single occasion on which I visited the Tower of London, on another sunny day about six years ago.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420
Tower Bridge beyond the keep.

In 1070, William the Conquerer decided to show the recently vanquished Londoners a symbol of his power by erecting a fortress on a hill above the city, complete with a tower that would loom menacingly, casting a shadow of fear. Just in case anybody got any ideas. Over the next few centuries, the Tower was expanded and fortified through a concentric design of defensive wall within defensive wall. Within, medieval kings built their regal abodes and locked away their riches and armoury. The Crown Jewels of Queen Elizabeth II are stored there and can be viewed, though not photographed, by visitors. I wasn’t particularly interested in seeing them but decided that since I was there I would take a look. I was struck by how blingy these national treasures appeared, almost too shiny and glittery to be real, as if they had come out of a dressing-up box.

On the day of my visit, troupes of colourful Morris dancers jingled and jangled their bells for the audience. Mock medieval tents stood on the lawn where soldiers appeared to be going through some kind of training activity.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

In medieval times, prisoners accused of treason would usually be brought into the Tower by boat, sailing along the Thames and  through the notorious Traitors’ Gate. It must have been terrifying, knowing that almost certainly they would not leave again and that all manner of horrors might await within. It felt quite disturbing to me to look beyond the grille and imagine passing through.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

Although a prison for over 500 years, not all of those incarcerated were kept in dingy dungeon cells. Lavish apartments were comfortable abodes for the weeks, months or years that some English nobles awaited the monarch’s decision as to their fate. Some did get out alive. The ones we know most about are those that didn’t.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

On Tower Green stands a glass memorial which marks the site of the execution block where so many heads rolled. On it is inscribed:

‘Gentle visitor pause awhile: where you stand death cut away the light of many days: here jewelled names were broken from the vivid thread of life: may they rest in peace while we walk the generations around their strife and courage: under there restless skies.’

The memorial is dedicated to all who were sent to their deaths by order of the state, though some names are better known.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420
Queen Anne Boleyn; Margaret Pole

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420
Queen Catherine Howard; Lady Jane Grey, Queen of England for nine days

The light and clarity of the glass and the gentle touch of a cushion in place of the block seemed quite fitting in such a sad and gruesome spot where the blood of many was shed, sometimes for reasons of political expediency.

Queues were very long on that hot day, so I decided to avoid entering the more crowded exhibitions which included a display of royal armour from across the centuries. Instead, I joined a guided tour of the Royal Chapel of St Peter Ad Vincula, the final resting place of those executed for treason including, amongst many, Thomas Cromwell, Thomas More and the two beheaded queens. Our guide was one of the beefeaters or Yeoman Warders. Again, photography was prohibited.

Until the 19th century, the Tower had its own zoo; a royal menagerie of exotic creatures; novelty gifts from courtiers or ambassadors, or procured at the Regent’s request. Happily, the real animals are long gone and are replaced by some impressive metal sculptures.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420
Get your fake bling here!

There are still some famous animal residents at the Tower of London; creatures of legend, the ravens. There are seven in total, all looked after by the yeoman raven master; pampered, in fact. The legend goes that the ravens protect the Tower, and if they ever leave the Tower and the kingdom will fall.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

I watched a programme about the ravens a couple of years ago and found it intriguing. They really are very spoilt. As they are, like so many before them, prevented from leaving (in this case through the clipping of a wing feather), it seems only right that there is a pay off. I wonder if they would leave if they could. Perhaps we should be hoping not.