A Walk Through The Woods Looking For The Roots Of Love

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Yesterday was a scorcher! The temperature steadily rose throughout the morning until it reached its peak of 28 degrees. I’m not complaining. And compared to most of southern Europe that’s nothing! I liberally applied the factor 50 to my burning-prone skin and positioned my reclining chair in a sun spot to soak up some rays.

By coincidence I had just started reading a book by one of my favourite authors, Bill Bryson. ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’ is an old book, first published in 2003, but one I had never bothered reading before because it’s about science. Nevertheless, I’d decided that anything that Bryson had turned his hand to must be worth a look, so look I did. I quickly became sucked into (not literally, obviously) black holes, galaxies, mind-bending facts about the universe and that ‘singularity’ that is theorised to have been the first moment of life. I found myself wishing that my science teachers of yesteryear had been able to engage me in this way. It has been an easy and fascinating read so far. I squinted up in awe at that great ball of fire in the sky that sustains life on our planet and which, according to Bill Bryson (and I have no reason to doubt him) appears as a tiny dim dot to those planets which orbit at the outer reaches of our solar system. Then it disappeared behind a huge grey cloud.

Yesterday was also the anniversary of the death of a close friend; a vibrant, gregarious, compassionate and funny woman who cycled or walked the three miles to and from work each day, climbed mountains and swam most lunch times – and had decided she was going to live to be a hundred. A ferocious illness seemed to come from nowhere and took her within weeks.

My friend loved nature and had a favourite woodland walk which is where her ashes were scattered. I don’t know exactly where as, quite rightly, her family carried out that last rite. I’m glad I don’t know, as she would have hated the idea of her friends standing, all maudlin, as if by a grave. Instead, some other friends and I decided to walk in her footsteps and joyfully remember happy times we spent together.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We approached the trees through dense long grasses and wild flowers which had been left to do their thing, mostly undisturbed. In one or two places the vegetation revealed snaking paths where regular walkers had left their marks. We followed those, confident of solid flat ground and not wanting to disturb the terrain elsewhere. Once into the thick of the trees, the intense sunlight filtered through revealing ancient roots and branches. I have a treasured photo of my friend sitting in the midst of those branches, laughing her head off because I’d suggested she looked like she was in a web and I wasn’t sure If she was predator or prey.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In a clearing we came across some bees feasting. I got a close-up of one.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Life burst forth all around.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Suddenly, the sun once again disappeared behind the cloud as we approached a dense grove between the trees. It seemed to mirror life itself where joy and sadness, light and dark co-exist, in harmony and in balance, side by side.

Wigan 025

Life blossoms and decays, and out of the decay comes new life. The circle must complete itself for life to continue. Our friend celebrated this truth, and we celebrate her.

We laughed at anecdotes we had shared so many times already but which had not lost their humour. That’s how our loved ones live on. Our friend once said she wouldn’t mind coming back as a butterfly but we didn’t see any. We did, however, find the strangest thing on the ground amidst the sprawling roots and crushed twigs: this piece of bark with what looked remarkably like a heart at its centre.

DSCF8045

I don’t expect I’ll read about friendships in Bill Bryson’s science book, but we’ll see. There are many scientific explanations for the bonds that we form and hold on to and celebrate, even beyond their physical endings. It’s part of being human and will continue as long as we inhabit the earth and spin around the sun. 🙂

Buzzing After The Rain

Yesterday was the longest day of the year. Recently it has felt most unlike summer here in the UK where we’ve experienced one of the wettest Junes on record. In some parts of the country rivers have burst their banks, turning surrounding areas into flood plains. More water has fallen on some days than usually falls in the whole month. Where I live, thankfully we have not had to endure the worst of the weather, but it has still been cold and wet a lot of the time. Happily, temperatures are rising again now. Yesterday – appropriately on the summer solstice – the sun shone all day. Today looks promising too.

BED78943-D484-461F-8BCB-9236A4EAC691

After a warm dry May, the first rainfall was a blessing, at least for parched gardens. The rain soon outstayed its welcome, but at least the blooms, quenched and invigorated, seemed grateful.

DBD19D57-74CD-4DEA-907F-00FB981E4997

AC057F14-21ED-454F-B056-A4A0CB352D21
I cleaned up, resprayed repurposed this old fire pit which I’d hardly used and had become a rusty mess

My garden is tiny but it gives me a lot of pleasure throughout the year. Summer, perhaps unsurprisingly, is my favourite time. I love foliage and, if I could only have one or the other, would choose lush evergreens over brightly coloured flora any day. Happily there is room for both.

E7114BC1-DBB3-4D0E-9A92-67F135B152BE

Whilst some plants won’t flower until July there are still brilliant displays of blue and purple amongst the green. I decided this year to work with nature and keep things very simple. Apart from a few pots of gloriously bold geraniums which I love and will always find a spot for every year, any new additions to the garden would be first and foremost chosen as a food source for pollinators.

094A0E2C-8650-4F5B-8577-5F1694193634

5C969AA2-CE4B-403D-82EE-CEEFAE1D72B0

In one corner I had previously had a lot of containers. I decided to move most of them as some had long since stopped thriving or even growing at all, and some of the pots looked ugly. I very reluctantly discarded the worst of them and have kept others for reusing. Unfortunately, a solution has not yet been found for industrial  recycling of black plastic plant pots – at least in my part of world – which is very frustrating.

Early in the year I had attempted to train some early-flowering clematis up the fence but sadly, as with all other clematis I’ve planted in the past, it failed. I dug them up and put them back into pots and they still seem to be OK , so with a bit of luck they may flower again next spring. I’ve moved some herbs from their pots into the ground and they seem to be happy enough there. Scabiosa and salvia are enjoying the sun spot along with a variety of cat mint, Walkers Low, which is a real pull for the bees. I’ve left the French lavender in pots as that’s how it seems to grow best in my garden. The bees can’t get enough!

B63BADEB-61EF-4C14-9898-E760EA82660D

I plan to place some annuals in the gaps, also pollinator- friendly varieties. I’ll review these each year as the perennials spread and gain height and the gaps hopefully become fewer. Hopefully, in a couple of years’ time, the little stepping stones will lead through an abundance of green and shades of blue and purple.

One of my favourite shrubs is the Caryopteris Heavenly Blue which I planted about three years ago. It is another bee magnet and exudes a heady sweet aroma which I love. I would like to plant more of this but because it spreads up to 1.5 metres I don’t think I have room in a sunny enough spot.

F8D0FB46-CFDF-4E67-9922-BC20128FA0C2

I’ve sewn a few wildflower seeds in small pots and they have come on well. I can’t wait for the Nigella to bloom in a few weeks’ time. Another favourite aromatic container is the rosemary and thyme against the back fence. The little purple flowers are beautiful and another food source for insects.

6FA44565-BF52-46CE-824A-2EA23C4C223D

D9CB9ABC-1C7F-4C6B-A552-9D042FB2B66D

My arthritis has really flared up this year, exacerbated by a knee injury a couple of months ago, and although I love  my little plot the more physically demanding aspects of maintaining it can be very challenging for me. Rethinking my garden, reviewing what grows well and what doesn’t, going with nature’s flow and including more of what thrives easily and with minimal effort on my part is my new philosophy. I’ll be keeping it very simple, providing a banquet for nature if I can, and a place for me and the cats to relax now the rain has stopped. 😁

Poppies: prolific elusive


For the last few years I have tried, in vain, to grow poppies. I have scattered seeds. I have planted plugs. I have nurtured tiny green shoots, indoors and out. I have bought very expensive specimens with very impressive names from well-known suppliers of repute. All of my efforts have been fruitless.

One or two larger plants survived long enough to reveal scarlet petals, beautiful, bold but fragile, within the first day or two devoured by slugs, or scattered by the breeze. I have planted in poor soil – as per the received wisdom, in good soil, in pots and in the ground, all to no avail.

It seems that I am destined to appreciate these most lovely of wild flowers only in the wild as nature intended. And in car parks. By road sides. On waste ground. In cracks between old paving stones. Growing out of wall crevices. Anywhere except in my garden. Oh well…….. Here are some I saw earlier 🙂

poppy 5

poppy 4

poppy 3

poppy 2

poppy 1

I received no less than ten spam messages through WordPress last week, different names but clearly the same person, informing me that unless I pay a certain amount of bitcoins by 1st June they would hijack my account and send all sorts of nasty communications posing as me. I have been promised a bad name and that I will be thrown out of blog world and shunned by all the universe if I don’t pay up. Oh dear! If this calamity comes to pass, please know it’s not really me. It’s been a pleasure. Enjoy the poppies 😄

 

Medieval Shrewsbury

 

3633D554-C04C-4A51-BFD1-538AC0B0C003

Being ideally situated on the border of England and Wales, Shrewsbury has been an important political and commercial centre for a thousand years and more. English monarch, King Edward IV and his wife, Elizabeth Woodville, at one time resided here, the birthplace of their unfortunate son, Richard of Shrewsbury, one of the two princes presumed murdered in the Tower of London. The royal connection continues with Henry VII, the first Tudor king, lodging in Shrewsbury before the Battle of Bosworth where he defeated the reputed killer of the princes, King Richard III.

The river Severn links the city to the Irish Sea via the West Country and the Bristol Channel, a key route for trade during the industrial revolution and even earlier.  Many English locations are as old and historic as Shropshire’s county town, but not all have such a wealth of buildings as well preserved and still in everyday use.

On Saturday, I visited Shrewsbury for the first time. After a relaxing river sail between the Welsh and English bridges, our coach party was told where we were to reconvene at 16:45, leaving four hours to explore. Unusually for me, I had no plan for the afternoon and had just decided to wander and get a flavour of the city. I damaged my knee ligament a few weeks ago, and though I’d been walking crutch-free for over a week, I didn’t want to push my luck. I was also still feeling queasy after a terrible coach journey.

AFF2D125-8DB4-4CAA-863C-2B8196C924DC
The King’s Head pub shows the victorious Henry VII. The background is the same pale blue as the city’s coat of arms.

From the river we entered the city centre, passing the King’s Head pub, its sign depicting an image of  King Henry VII and the date 1483, referencing the Battle of Bosworth. The current building dates from that time, just one of many timber-framed buildings from the 15th and 16th centuries. Georgian and Victorian  buildings are slotted in between, with lots of passageways to explore. It isn’t a big place but the free city map was very useful in making sense of all the nooks and crannies.

 

 

17AA71A4-B8D6-4793-8D83-EB397FD90E94

We looked around the new market hall which seemed to be thriving, full of stalls selling the usual wares and a couple of small but very popular eateries, one Thai and the other serving what looked like French/Mediterranean dishes. It was lovely to see a town market doing well in an age where many, including the one in my own town, are virtually dead.

A short walk away was the old market hall, or what remained of it. The British Legion was having some sort of gathering there, and the collection of military vehicles parked in front spoiled the opportunity for photographs, but I captured the most interesting features of the front facade.

978BCC6A-5E5C-4CB4-9A5A-9BCB297DA3FA

47BD2826-B85A-4AFA-864A-154EF409E9FC
The three leopard heads or ‘loggerheads’ on the city’s coat of arms
A74D6CEE-3F96-4BF9-A68A-956660D83082
Interesting that this spelling variation of ‘removed’ was still in use after 1791.

7776572C-91F3-4542-81EA-E81FBF3400F2

We stopped for a sandwich and another look at the map to decide our next steps. A very useful feature which I hadn’t seen on any other city maps was the little signs indicating both moderate and steep inclines. Having a better idea of the gradients informed my choice to not walk down a particularly steep lane and across the river to Shrewsbury Abbey, the setting of Ellis Peters’ tales of medieval monk and sleuth, Cadfael. With my knee still unstable I could not have attempted the challenging walk back up again. A longer, flatter return walk along the river bank could have been an option, but we didn’t have enough time on this occasion.

Another religious building attracted our attention: the oldest church in the city, dedicated to St Mary the Virgin. As we walked up the gentle brew over the cobbled stones we both commented on the number of runners that had passed by, seemingly taking part in an event. All were consulting the free city maps and seemed to be in a rush and in pursuit of something elusive.

E6A23E12-C10E-431F-B5D0-801993EAA642

I observed one runner who had stopped outside the Three Fishes pub. His vest displayed the name of his orienteering club in Cornwall….. so that was it! After consulting his compass, off he ran again to find his next clue. A cryptic set of numbers and letters had been written by hand on one of the pub’s very old doors.

D9BBAC8F-E6E8-408F-AC27-E3947F74C17D

D03E25DB-58D3-4AF1-8EC9-7E8986EE5DC4

St Mary the Virgin is the oldest church in Shrewsbury, so although I’m not particularly interested in churches on the whole, I thought it might be worth a look. The doors are always a clue to what’s inside.

 

I wasn’t disappointed. The entrance is the oldest part, and dates back to Norman times. A small section of the red stone wall was crumbling slightly and it was wonderful to touch brickwork almost a thousand years old.

0F1C484B-5FE2-425D-963F-BC56334E9930

Some ancient tomb stones were propped up against the wall.

 

Inside were some stunning examples of German stained-glass, depicting, amongst biblical scenes, some splendid ducks and a Masonic- type symbol which I have seen in other church windows elsewhere in the country.

BD583B83-9FAE-4210-A643-9E28FCEA9AF7

 

A particularly interesting feature was a quite striking wall which had originally been external before the church was extended. I liked the way the light still filtered through from the new windows beyond.

41113A3C-AC20-4C16-B4D5-06E73D0468F7

The rich and opulent colours of the beautiful altar below were mesmerising and quite exotic looking.

67642483-997D-4631-9D35-93EC51793BE8

 

St Mary’s, Shrewsbury, is one of the most interesting and attractive churches I have visited and was an excellent consolation for missing out on the Abbey.

 

With an an hour or so left before assembling at the coach pick up point, we ambled along more old paths; marvelled at the misshapen wood panelling on the still sturdy shops; reflected on the leaded windows, no two exactly the same, and decided we would definitely return to explore further – by train next time!

A short sail on the Severn

CA6352A3-D148-4B4C-94E8-3152E95DE82E

Yesterday, I visited Shrewsbury for the first time. I had been looking forward to experiencing the olde world charms of this quaint Shropshire city on the Anglo/Welsh border. I was less sure about my choice of conveyance: a good old British coach excursion. I suffer from travel sickness, but it affects me only on some terrains and modes of transport. Coaches and winding country lanes are a very, very bad combination indeed. Having been advised (wrongly!) that the journey would be via motorways and straight A roads, I decided to chance it.

Fast forward from leaving the M6 south of Warrington and along many, many miles of rural Cheshire’s scenic but convoluted lanes; fast forward through the inevitable, fortunately not witnessed by fellow passengers, and  I finally arrived in sunny Shropshire, still green around the gills .

01512D2F-96CE-4061-B108-9CEF2316B208

The travel company had arranged for our first views of Shrewsbury to be from the vantage point of the upper deck of Sabrina, a small pleasure craft offering short sails along the river Severn, which separates England and Wales. Sabrina is named after the Celtic river goddess, a name also bestowed in ancient times to the Severn itself. The source of the river is near the town of Llanidloes, mid-Wales. It loops through Shrewsbury, continues into the west country, and eventually on into the Bristol Channel. The Severn is the longest river in the UK – five miles longer than the Thames.

The short wait at Victoria Quay near to the Welsh Bridge provided me with a bit more time to recover in pleasant surroundings from the hellish coach ride. 

BE6AC6CF-9457-4B6B-BEDA-ECB7EAB57F32

Rod, our friendly Scottish skipper, told us about some of the points of interest as we sailed first towards the English Bridge. The tree-lined river banks were lush and green on both sides. Interestingly, exactly three hundred Lime trees are sited on the bank. In accordance with a local regulation, if one has to be cut down another must be planted to replace it. Kingfishers frequent this section of the river but unfortunately none appeared for us. The view was lovely, nonetheless.

22691B28-0797-4A96-9B80-E1EA849496F8

766BAE39-C3E8-4E58-BAEF-29BBA29CD5E3

006010D7-1822-45E2-9563-C999EC8F4F69

We passed Pengwern Boat Club, Pengwern being an ancient name for the county of Shropshire, dating back to the time when it was a Roman settlement. A small herd of Old English long-horn cows grazed happily as people walked by. The reminders of the border position of this city are all around. According to Rod, the cattle are recruited every year to munch on the lush grass and keep it in check.

C6D65999-CBA0-4ED7-A27E-CCDDAF1F9E0C

9C2D6DBC-DD8A-43B9-9EDF-DAEF6D1FEBC2

People strolled along the bank or sat on the grass, reading or just passing time. An adjacent park appeared to be very popular; through the trees I glimpsed dog walkers, and excited children scurrying up climbing frames. Charles Darwin, a local boy, had spent a lot of his time there ( perhaps pondering the origins of the flora and fauna?) and a garden area has been named after him. Another famous former resident is the font of all gardening knowledge, Percy Thrower. Rod pointed out his former house, which could just be spotted inside the park, but I wasn’t able to get a photo. Percy served as Superintendent of Parks in Shrewsbury before he became well-known.

We arrived at the English Bridge, originally a Norman construction, but rebuilt in 1768 to allow larger boats to pass beneath as Shrewsbury became a more important industrial link between England and Ireland via the port of Bristol.

2F7C503C-D71E-4AC3-9BB6-D2BBD454AC46

Here, Rod swung the boat around, and we retraced our route.

AE03860D-029C-47A0-AF38-5503BBC103E6

D39BADF2-205E-4743-912A-6B9878F05EB9

The Kingsland Bridge is privately owned, and originally a toll charge was due from all who crossed it. Nowadays, it’s free to walk across on foot, but drivers must still pay 20p. I spotted the city coat of arms: three sinister-looking leopard heads on a blue background. These are locally known as loggerheads, as in the turtles, though the reason for this is not clear.

We sailed beneath a gorgeous example of early 20th iron work. The Porthill suspension footbridge was built in 1922 at a cost of just over £2000. Its refurbishment a few years ago cost over half a million pounds.

452AA2B9-6E16-4832-BBDB-681A41C52095

Sabrina arrived back at Victoria Quay and the Welsh Bridge. Originally named St George’s Bridge, it was built between 1793 and 1795 on the site of other river crossings dating back as far as the 12th century. I wasn’t able to get a good shot of the bridge from my viewpoint, so below is one from the internet, which also captures Sabrina at her mooring.

Welsh_Bridge_1

We crossed the bridge into the centre of the city, ready to experience its medieval charms.

 

Low Tide

When a friend suggested an evening drive to the beach at Formby point, I gladly accepted. Accessed by way of a lonely road through woodland, the sand dunes at Formby would not ordinarily be somewhere I could visit by my usual means of public transport as night time loomed.

DSCF7976

We exchanged  greetings with dog walkers and joggers. An older couple helped a small child look for shells whilst sea birds trotted across the damp sand, investigating the shallow pools left behind by the outbound tide.

DSCF7934

Staying  close to the shore, we made a seat out of stone steps at the foot of the lifeboat station and looked out to sea.

Dusk was descending. The sky shifted through a muted palette of greys, mauve and smoky amber as the sun’s lamp was slowly dimmed.

The camera’s zoom lens revealed the hazy shapes of distant pedestrians, on four legs and two, traversing the expanse of the beach, out to the water’s edge and back again.

DSCF7943

DSCF7900

Buoys bobbed in the shallow water, guiding to safe passage marine vessels bound for the port of Liverpool, or sailing into the night towards Dublin. Towering wind turbines stood still, imposing but strangely graceful.

DSCF7931

DSCF7971

The silver ribbon of sea, its mirror-surface bouncing back the last of the light, marked the end of the road where the silhouette of a solitary vehicle was stopped at the water’s edge.

DSCF7938

 

 

 

Tulip Fields: An Impression

Dutch bulb fields have, since the time of ‘tulip mania’ in the 17th century, attracted painters from Europe and beyond, mesmerised by vistas of flowers, row after row, vibrant and tantalising, extending like floral carpets to meet the horizon.

One of my favourite examples is Tulips in Holland by French Impressionist, Claude Monet, painted in 1886.

Claude_Monet_-_Tulip_fields_in_Holland_(Musée_d'Orsay)

I am fascinated by the light and the vivid hues, and had pondered the reality and how it compared with Monet’s impressions as he set them to canvas in real time.

The Dutch tulip season is short, beginning in March and ending in May. A short visit to Holland’s southern bulb region last week presented the opportunity to feast my eyes on multitudes of magnificent blooms as Monet did on another spring day over 130 years ago.

The flat land and waterways reminded me of happy childhood holidays cruising on the Norfolk Broads with my family. They are early memories, set in time in a technicolour palette; our sensory perceptions of colour, smell, pain and sounds gradually fade as we grow older. I still remember the boldness of scarlet poppies against the parched East-Anglia fen land and vast sky. Of course, the two regions of England and Holland were once joined, back in the mists of time, so perhaps the connection is understandable.

The landscape changes from week to week as fields are harvested and return to barren soil, their glory days ended for another year.  Elsewhere, new flowers open to the sun as their moment arrives. 

DSCF8207

I ambled alongside one narrow canal which skirted several smaller fields. Views from the water’s edge offered a chance to see further and to form my solitary impressions.

DSCF8176

DSCF8201

DSCF8210

DSCF8230

My impression is of a grand artistic collaboration between nature and nurture at its triumphant moment of fruition, and that I was lucky to be in the gallery to see it for myself.

DSCF8256

.