A blogging anniversary and a new year

Happy New Year! I hope as we start 2020 all in WordPress world are well and in good spirits. I decided that rather than write a review of 2019 I would write a few thoughts on what I’d like to be blogging about during the year ahead.

Yesterday marked my first visit of the year to the coast (my favourite kind of location), and I can’t think of a better first photo of 2020 than a spectacular sunset viewed from Southport Pier.

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Apparently, today is this blog’s birthday. I have been pressing words for five whole years! This is also my 100th post, so a double milestone. Do the maths and you will see that I’m far from a prolific poster, and that is unlikely to change in 2020. I’ll still post when I have something new to share about somewhere I’ve visited or an experience I’ve enjoyed that I think might be of interest to some other people. I’ve never had a writing schedule and have sometimes gone weeks – and in the early days of the blog, months – without writing a word, though I’ve posted more over the last year or two. 

Regular readers will know that I love to be near to the sea, in all seasons and at any time of day. Yesterday afternoon I decided to make the short train journey from my home in Wigan to Southport on the Lancashire coast. It was after 2 o’clock when I arrived, so after having a quick bite to eat and a mooch in a couple of shops, I made my way to the Pier. The town was busy, unsurprisingly on such a dry and bright day, but by this time it was about 3 o’clock and the light was starting to fade.

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Bridge over the marine lake

Although it wasn’t a cold day for the time of year the wind coming in from the sea was bitter as I walked towards the end; I wished I’d worn a scarf and gloves. My hands shook a little as I angled my phone towards the western sky, partly cold fingers and partly the biting breeze. It was well worth it though, as I was rewarded with breathtaking views as the sun descended.

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At the end of the Pier I sat for a while on one of the wooden benches, watching as the light diminished and the sky changed from one moment to the next, nature’s own light show, unsurpassable.

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This is a ‘first’ for me as I have never before written a post on my phone, or used in a blog photographs I took with it. I don’t really like using this small key pad for anything other than texting, but other devices are out of action at the moment, and actually the typing is not that bad and I like the photos. Perhaps that opens a door to more spontaneity in 2020.

Five years ago, this blog started out purely as an extension to my Facebook page where I would share photos with friends and family of places I’d visited but without any details or narrative. People would often ask about the locations, want more specific information or want to share their thoughts. I had the idea of writing a simple little blog which I would link to Facebook where folks could click on a link to see more than just the photographs. I seldom use Facebook these days, but here I still am.

It never occurred to me that anyone else would be reading my blog, or even how they would come across it. Even now, I sometimes wonder what people must have ‘Googled’ to end up here. One day I logged on for the first time in months and noticed a tiny orange circle near the alert bell at the top of the screen which I hadn’t seen before. I thought it was probably a notification from WordPress and was very surprised to find it was a message from a real person who had been reading one of my posts. As that started to happen more often, and one or two people started to follow my blog, I changed my style slightly, and wrote for anyone who might visit, not just those readers I knew personally.

It was even longer before I started to explore WordPress and  found so many interesting and talented writers whose words and images I still thoroughly enjoy. I’ve discovered great places to visit and have been intrigued, amused, moved, entertained, inspired and educated by the posts I’ve read. I look forward to seeing more in 2020.

So what will I be writing about this year? Probably exactly the same as before. There is no plan. I’m sure I’ll revisit my favourite places and may write about those again if there’s something new to add. I’m also sure I’ll seek out new places to explore which I’ll share here. I’ll probably focus more on places closer to home, though there will be one or two trips further afield too. One thing I can guarantee is that there will be more posts from the coasts and hopefully more stunning views like these.

Thank you for reading and all the best! Amanda

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Sun Stands Still

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In the past I used to wish away the time between November and March but in recent years I’ve come to appreciate winter, if not quite like it. I have adjusted my mindset and my expectations of the season and the weather, and instead of feeling frustrated at how I perceive my plans repeatedly thwarted by ice and rain and cancelled trains, or my activities limited by short days and lack of light, I have altered my own rhythms and lifestyle to fall in with nature.

That being said, I still do not look forward to winter’s arrival, and although I have made peace with it I still rejoice when the days start to lengthen again, and feel positively buoyant when the season has departed.

Today is the shortest day, a day later than the solstice usually falls. Apparently, yesterday was one second longer. Solstice translates from Latin as sun stands still when for three days our star holds its lowest position of elevation in the sky before it starts once again to ascend, bringing the promise of new life.

Last year’s beautiful blooms have withered now but look graceful in their dignified decay.

 

Though there are still splashes of colour and signs of life.

The cat mint, virulent and super fragrant all summer and into the early autumn looks dead to me; brown twigs rotting in the damp soil. I think Paddy cat’s keener sense of smell may still detect the faint delightful aroma, or perhaps he’s reflecting too, on memories of warmer days and basking in olfactory pleasures.

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In the autumn I dug up a little crimson rose bush which wasn’t thriving, diminished and crowded out by its bigger neighbours. It had stopped flowering when I transferred it to a large pot and hoped for the best. This week, a solitary new rose has opened up. A magical sign of things to come in the darkest week of the year.

The winter jasmine is in full bloom and the ivy looks as good as ever.

 

It will soon be dark again but right now the sky is still blue and it’s not too cold; a perfect moment to sit in the garden and enjoy a cup of tea with Jasper cat.

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and meditate on the cycle of life

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and the sound of a lone bird

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In a few weeks from now there will be the first stirrings from beneath the ground, green shoots emerging and new beginnings. For now, it’s still time to rest while Mother Earth works her magic in secret.

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On the cusp of seasons

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Well, what a changeable summer we had here in the UK! August in particular was wetter and cooler than usual here in the north west of England. We also had a few exceedingly hot days which were most welcome. This summer I spent more time at home than usual, relishing those dry, warm days and, like a contented sloth, lazing in the garden, admiring nature’s handiwork in which my own efforts have played a small part. Not knowing how many more luxuriously sultry, blazing days might still be to come – or not – I made the most of each, in case it was to be the last.

I also became something of a wimp as far as travelling was concerned. I hope this is a temporary thing. I found repeatedly that I could not muster much enthusiasm for being out in the countryside or at the coast – or anywhere – in heavy rain, or in cramped, sticky, sweaty trains or buses on the hotter days. As autumn advances I’m sure I shall once again return to my gallivanting ways, but it has actually been rather lovely slowing down and enjoying my own small but exclusive green space.

Autumn is here. Instinctively, I hold with the ancient calendars which place the start of autumn in August at the time of the first harvests. There is a tangible shift which is felt most keenly in those colder, damper evenings.

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The blackberries in my hedges, which appeared for the first time two years ago, have been and gone. Blackberries remind me fondly of childhood when we used to go as a family on long walks, parents and siblings all harvesting the plump purple fruits in old ice cream tubs or Tupperware containers, fingers stained blue and arms invariably scratched from delving into prickly brambles. Those days are distant memories, and nowadays I leave my own miniature crop for the birds to enjoy.

The wild flowers have all died back now and new growth has slowed down. The rose bushes are still adorned with buds but I know from experience that many of those will not open. Those still in full bloom continue to nourish wild life.

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It has been a joy to see so many butterflies in the garden this year, mainly feasting on the verbena, which has been a triumph. There will be more of that next year too. Some of my graceful visitors are below: commas, small whites, small tortoiseshells, peacocks, speckled woods (I think!) and painted ladies which arrived en masse in late July.

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In mid September we are still enjoying some fine sunny days. There is still a lot of colour. The shop-bought Nigella seeds have, like last year, added so much beauty to every part of the garden in shades of white and various blues. They are amazing, growing vigorously and splendidly wherever the seeds were scattered.

Most have now finished blooming, their stunning seed heads continuing to delight.

A few have already turned brown and as thin and dry as old paper. The black seeds rattle inside their shells. After releasing and collecting them I’ll store in a dry dark place until the spring when they can be planted, providing me with an abundance of new plants for free.

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It will soon be time to place the spring bulbs in the earth and to cut back the spent growth so that it may rest over the winter until it’s time for the cycle of growth to start again. For now, I’ll enjoy this warm start to the autumn, relishing every moment.

Conishead Priory and Manjushri Kadampa Buddhist Temple

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About once a year I travel to the pretty Cumbrian town of Ulverston and from there make the short journey to the small coastal village of Bardsea to visit one of the most distinctive properties in the north of England, Conishead Priory.

In the 12th century a community of Augustinian monks established a church and hospital on the site which grew in size, importance and wealth, was promoted to the status of priory and later received a royal charter from King Edward II. The Priory ministered to the poor of the surrounding areas, spiritually and medicinally, and didn’t do badly in return through tithe payments and hopeful pilgrims seeking blessings and cures through the medium of the in-house relic, a piece of the girdle of the Virgin Mary, no less.

All that came to an end in 1537 when the Priory, and all others like it, was demolished during England’s Protestant Reformation. The estate passed through several owners until it came into the possession of the Braddyll family in the 1600s, remaining the family seat for almost 200 years. The last of that line to own the Priory was Colonel Thomas Braddyll who inherited the estate in 1818. He found it in a state of disrepair and decided to rebuild from scratch, engaging the services of architect Phillip Wyatt at a cost of £140,000 and taking 15 years to construct. Master craftsmen from all over the world were brought in to contribute to a grand design resembling a fortified house with an ecclesiastical structure.

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Financial losses in the Durham coal mines bankrupted Thomas Braddyll and in 1848 he had to sell the estate. After changing hands several times, Conishead was bought in 1878 by a Scottish syndicate and was turned into a luxury hydropathic hotel and health farm offering salt baths, lawn tennis and pleasure boating amongst other benefits for those who could afford it. A branch line from Ulverston Station even ran directly to the site which, sadly for me, was long ago dismantled.

The Priory continued as a place of rest and recuperation from 1928 until 1972 when it was run as a convalescent home for Durham coal miners, interrupted during the years of World War II when it was temporarily the largest military hospital in the north west of England.

When the miners’ tenure came to an end, the site sat empty for four years and fell into a shocking state of decay until it was bought in 1976 by the Kadampa Buddhist Community which, over many years, worked continuously, initially to repair the extensive rot and then to transform Conishead into an international college of Buddhist learning and meditation.

Conishead is, with no exaggeration, a fantastic place to visit because it has so much to offer. Primarily a Buddhist centre of learning, it attracts tens of thousands of Buddhists every year, especially to its festivals and retreats. Generously, it has extended its welcome to all, and the beautiful grounds are open, free of charge, to those of us who just enjoy this gorgeous place.


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The reception area gives a short multi-media history of the Priory and is the starting point of a tour – very reasonably priced at £3 – which takes place once daily at weekends and bank holidays, excluding religious festivals when the estate is closed to day visitors. Every time I have visited since the first time in 2015 I have planned to join the tour, but have never ended up doing so. Once I start roaming around the grounds I lose track of time and just want to carry on in solitary happiness, taking pleasure in the tranquility. I hope you enjoy, through my photos, my own solo tour which I’m sharing with you.

From the car park, an archway leads to what would have been the courtyard and stables. Cottages which would formerly have housed staff or been stables are now the homes of Buddhist community residents. A friendly cat greeted me as I approached.

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Continuing through the cottage courtyard and through another archway leads to a wide lawn area bordered by plants and shrubs. Community members also live in parts of the main house and some clearly love gardening.


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A tunnel of evergreens leads to a small wild garden. I love to sit in the corner surrounded by the fragrant herbs. Everything here is left to do its own thing and signs of autumn are all around in the form of ripening fruit and flowers gone to seed. In one of the pictures you’ll see a clue to our next stop on our tour.


Another lawn leads us to the spectacular temple. The lawn is surrounded by stone seating where visitors can sit and relax. It’s usually quiet here.

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The temple is relatively simple in design compared with others I’ve visited. Let’s look inside. We have to take off our shoes.



Everybody is welcomed warmly and free to sit quietly, look around, take photos or meditate as they like. Visitors can ask questions as there are always community members supervising, but happily they are not evangelical, and leave visitors to appreciate the space in their own way.

Back outside, we’ll walk across the outer lawn and into the private woodland.


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I deviate from the wide main path and come across a sad but lovely little clearing I’ve not seen before; a little resting place for furry friends passed away.



I stay for a few minutes thinking about life and love and how precious time is before moving on through the trees to enjoy the time I have right now on this warm sunny day. Glorious bright sunshine greets me as I exit the trees and walk out onto the Priory’s private beach, again generously available to all visitors and their dogs. The stunning fells of the Lake District are a splendid background. In the second picture below you can see the viaduct across the bay at Arnside.

Looking out to the right towards Heysham.

I sit for half an hour doing absolutely nothing before retracing my steps through the wood. Emerging outside the conservatory cafe, I head inside for a cold drink.

It’s time to leave. I promise myself that I won’t leave it so long in future.

A Warm Welcome To The Painted Ladies

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This year I have planted a lot of verbena bonariensis. I love this plant with its tall stalks supporting clusters of tiny purple flowers. Verbena grows quickly in almost any location and any soil, which is perfect for charlatan gardeners like me whose skills fall far short of their enthusiasm. Tiny plants which I placed in April are now about 6ft tall. The delicate appearance of the thin stems belies their strength; I am mesmerised by their waving and bending with the strongest of winds, bouncing back upright and unperturbed.

My main reason for including verbena is its attractiveness to pollinators at a time when we have to do our bit to help out wildlife, even in the humblest and smallest of gardens like my own. I’d noticed that the verbena didn’t seem to be as popular with the bees as some of the other plants such as the cat mint and lavender; butterfly visitors were also few and far between….until this week.

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Looking out of the kitchen window on Tuesday morning I was delighted to see three butterflies flitting gracefully from one purple floret to another, lingering long enough to feast. I quietly stepped out to take a closer look and was able to identify the visitors as painted ladies. They certainly did look like works of art, scallop-edged scarlet wings embellished with bold black and white markings. I marvelled at the trio for 10 minutes, contemplating the magical metamorphosis of unremarkable caterpillars into such beautiful creatures as these.

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Since Tuesday there have been more and more painted ladies gracing my garden, favouring the various verbena. At one point I counted eight on the same plant. I had wondered about their sudden arrival on the scene as if from nowhere; had they hatched somewhere nearby? It was wonderful to sit and watch their charming, oblivious exhibition.

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Deciding to find out more about my lovely colourful visitors, I came across some online news items about a mass migration of painted ladies to the UK this summer. So that explains it! 🙂. Painted Ladies are not rare or endangered, and they migrate here from Europe every summer, but this year promises to see huge numbers crossing the English Channel. I was utterly amazed to read about the epic journey which starts in North Africa and sees these tiny fragile-looking creatures achieve such an incredible feat. I don’t know how long they will stay, but I look forward to these ladies enjoying my verbena for as long as it lasts.

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A day in the life of the garden

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It’s the start of a new July day. It gives me great pleasure each morning to walk around my tiny garden whilst my coffee is brewing. I love to look for any new flowers which might have opened up to greet the sunrise and I feel a childlike excitement when yesterday’s bud has become today’s bloom. I tread the little stepping stone path through the carpet of cat mint, banana mint, scabia, lavender, verbena, salvia and buddleia in shades of purple, blue and white. It’s almost silent except for distant sounds of traffic. The bees are already busy harvesting nectar for the hive. They are not the only fans of the cat mint.

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It’s very warm already today so I bring my coffee back outside. I love this time of day. I don’t like noise so I operate a secret ‘time share’, relishing the moments when others are not out in nearby gardens. At other times ear phones are a godsend. 🙂

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I have some chores to attend to but return mid-morning, coated in factor 50 sun cream and with a new book to begin. I’m pleasantly surprised to find that although the school holidays have started, it’s still quiet. Maybe families have gone out for the day. A dog barks somewhere. Somebody is mowing a lawn in the next street. I recline my chair and open the first page but am distracted by a butterfly settling on the banana mint. I watch it until it flitters away.

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In the heat I inevitably start to nod off. I can see the heat shimmering in waves as my eyes close. I don’t resist. The heady sweetness of the caryopteris and the intensely vibrant geraniums appearing through the tall stalks of verbena add to the almost hallucinogenic other-worldly feeling.

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The harsh chattering of a magpie in the tree wakes me suddenly. I don’t know how long I’ve slept. Wondering what has sparked the commotion, I check if my cat that climbs has caused the alarm call. Fortunately, the tree is cat free. I admire my yellow Chinese lanterns hanging in the lower branches, storing up sunlight for their after-dark display.

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It’s time to go back indoors for a sandwich and to top up the sun protection. I drink a couple of glasses of water and remind myself to water the garden later.

Back outside, I decide to dead-head some spent flowers to make room for new growth. I have left the red roses to cascade onto the ground, creating habitation for insects.

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Small pots of wildflowers change day by day. Next year I will grow more. I love the surprise of not knowing what will emerge from the soil.

Last year I discovered Nigella or ‘Love in a Mist’. I was enchanted by the intricate structure and ability to grow anywhere, even from between paving stones where seeds must have been dispersed by the wind. I scattered a couple of packets around May time and the results are delightful once again. They have sprung up in sunny and shady spots alike, and need nothing apart from a sprinkle of water – my kind of flowers!

It’s mid-afternoon. I’m not getting on with the new novel. Life’s too short so I abandon it after five chapters. There is more activity now; a paddling pool is being inflated according to the excited shrieks I hear from two little sisters a few houses down from mine. A hedge trimmer whirs into action, brutally cutting through the tranquility. Two of my cats, also lovers of peace and quiet, return from whence they have been and offer a quick greeting before heading indoors to a favourite chair or bed.

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I follow them. I’ve been lucky and have enjoyed more time to myself than I had expected. In an hour or two there will be barbecues, music and the sounds of play all around. They are joyful summer sounds, and I don’t begrudge them for a moment, but I prefer the quiet. I hear an ice cream van play the theme tune to ‘Match of the Day’ as I go indoors.

I’ve been out for the evening but it’s still balmy when I return. It’s also quiet again in the garden, the only human sound the low indecipherable buzz of a TV coming from an open window. I’ve been told some wonderful news and feel like a glass of something is in order. In the darkness, the garden is a magical place. Lights twinkle. I pick out the shapes of moths darting through the air. Sometimes there are bats, but not tonight. There are always cats though 😁.

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Southport beach

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I’m officially on leave for five glorious weeks. Even if the sun doesn’t shine every day it’s still glorious having more time to relax and recharge the old batteries and having weekdays at my disposal to do as I please. Monday was scorching hot; too hot to do anything except laze around in my garden for most of the day – so that’s exactly what I did.

Yesterday was another very hot day and I decided to brave the sticky discomfort of travelling on a hot and potentially crowded train to Southport, the nearest seaside resort to my home, 35 minutes away on the west Lancashire coast. I wasn’t going for a paddle – though the idea was tempting on such a sweltering day – but because I wanted to buy some curtains from a well-known retailer which happens to have a store on the sea-front retail park. I dislike shopping and tend to do it online when I can, but at least this was for something specific (quick in and out) and the beach was a bonus. The train wasn’t too bad as the schools around here don’t break up until tomorrow or Friday – next week will be a different story.

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The sea was in when I arrived. To me, nothing is as soothing as the gentle rhythmic rolling of waves, and I can happily sit for a couple of hours, just listening. I think I was about 40 when I first saw high tide at Southport beach; all through my childhood that sight had evaded me and, like many people, I had come to believe that the water never advanced any further forward than a point about half a mile out. As kids, we always had to walk for 20 minutes just to get our toes wet.

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Southport is a different place now to the exciting resort that I remember from my childhood. But that can be said of everywhere, and change isn’t always a bad thing. British coastal waters are certainly much cleaner now, for sure. I don’t think people worried too much about that back in the day, or possibly were not even aware. I don’t ever remember being told in the 1970s that I shouldn’t go into the Irish sea, though in the 1990s I was certainly saying that as a mum myself. Fortunately, legislation and Health & Safety initiatives have improved seas for recreation, if not yet sufficiently for marine animals, sadly and shamefully.

In the 1970s Suthport was buzzing. It had a big funfair with the usual thrilling rides, candy floss kiosks and all the rest. There’s still a fair now though a much scaled-down version. Though Southport is known as a retirement town, the young families still arrive and appear to enjoy its charms. I was happy to see buckets and spades still seem as popular as ever with the little ones.

It’s amazing how quickly the tide turns, both incoming and outgoing. The seaweed-strewn sand was revealing more and more of itself as I sat and reminisced. Reluctantly, I dragged myself up and across the coast road to get some lunch and search for curtains. In the end I found that the ones I’d liked online were a pale imitation in reality; a bit like memories and the present day. I didn’t feel that I’d wasted my time though

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Crossing the road back to the beach I saw that during the hour-and-a-half or so that I’d been gone, the sea had also gone, leaving pools and rivulets and sand sculptures fashioned by the waves.

Closer to the sea wall, the grasses gently moved in the delicious breeze. I could have been somewhere far away, tantalisingly exotic…. as long as I didn’t look behind and back across that road 🙂

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