Monday, 17 May 2010

Our mobile sundays

Life often imitates art, or maybe it (life) is just an abstract being.

This weekend just gone was a "do our own thing weekend". As such we (Julie and myself) spent the weekend apart and of course then spent so much time on the phone and e-mailing, we may as well have been together. At least BT are making a profit.

Yesterday was a fine example of the changing face of communications. What did we ever do before BlackBerry's, mobiles and e-mail's. A walk in the country was something of a solitary pursuit for the likes of Wordsworth, BB and Peter Scott. Silent dawns, reflecting on the passage of nature and the insignificance of the human race in the bigger scheme of the things. Yesterday was all of the above, but all the photos here in this posting were taken on mobile phones and e-mailed to each other. One of Julie's e-mails to me had the title "Our Sunday" and that just fitted the mood so well.... so well in fact, those 2 words formulated this posting in my mind overnight. Julie was in Wiltshire doing whatever happens in Wiltshire to a young maiden; meanwhile I was on a day trip to Boscastle (photo above to prove my presence in that fair County) doing what a young blade does when unleashed into the community. Walking.

Pull up a chaise lougue and I'll elucidate our weekends............. or strictly speaking Our Sunday, May 16th 2010.

East Grafton is on the outskirts of Savernake Forest. The whole area is a wonderful jigsaw of classic English pastoral farmland with the added benefit of the Marlborough Downs as it's backdrop. As part of Julie's day, she walked out on a summers morn.... (with apologies to Laurie Lee), to refresh the sinues. Striding out with a-plomb from her domicile the tracks and farmland around the village are a wildlife pleasure ground and in particular the skylarks are just omni-present. Proceeding along an aptly named Dark Lane eventually Julie came across "Julie's Tree"...... there is a long story attached to this based on the first walk we had out over the fields together in February - I love the trees in that area and so named this stately oak after her. I like standing next to this tree and communing with the landscape.

Walking up the farm track the tree (and others) stand out against the skyline. I've not been up there myself for a few weeks and the differences in the landscape with the oil seed rape in flower, and herbage luxuriant, were noticeable. So it was a joy to get a collage of images from Julie highlighting the walk to, past (below) and beyond the tree.

Elsewhere on her walk she spied this tree in a field against a dark and brooding sky......

..... and then descended to the Kennet and Avon canal which winds it's way silently through the fields.

Last night while talking on the phone, another view of trees and roosting corvids took Julie's interest into an embryonic thought of hers for a painting. I'll look forward to that and when this is completed, in a future posting will post my own pencil drawing of another tree in this area which has special significance.

At the same moment in time yesterday, although I was unaware until later, Quicksilver found himself in Boscastle. Waking feeling restless and unraveled, I decided I needed a walk and sea air to re-ravel me. Lyme Regis was my aimed for port of call, however on reaching Junction 25 of the M5 I had a flash of inspiration to head further south and visit Boscastle. This is the first time I've visited this village since my 45th Birthday on April 1st 2009.

The weather yesterday was against me when I arrived, but that added to the mood, dark and brooding. So I trudged up to the view point and looked out over the sea. Wind buffeted me as squally rain showers hurled themselves against the cliffs, and of course me. Around the turquoise sea changed black and inky as the squalls came in, foam piqued on the wavelets and seabirds began calling and effortlessly soaring past my vision of the sea....... which is the image now being used as my blog banner.

I find being in inclement weather by the sea very therapeutic, those dark cliffs adding the the sense of foreboding that Man is insignificant in the might of the elemental forces of nature. For me being by the sea calms the emotions, I think it is because of the constant movement of tide, wind, seabirds and waves which almost mesmerises me into a sense of deep calm. I sat for a good half an hour looking at the view on my banner until the cold and a car park ticket about to expire drove me back down the Valency river, and reality!

One of the astonishing things I never tire of with the Boscastle area is the dramatic and foreboding mouth of the river to the sea, cutting through the dark rocks, and then upstream beyond the village, a lush and verdant valley cuts up through the hills towards St Juliot's church. The riparian contrast in so short a space of time is quite dramatic.

And yesterday it was made all the more contrasting as it was a just the most perfect time for spring flower emergence; ferns unfurling, wild garlic, bluebells, field campion, gorse, and a whole myriad of wild flowers in full show, nothing had begun to wilt and die, everything was in it's perfect condition.
Even the birds were performing. I watched a dipper dipping in the stream for a good 10 minutes (sadly my photos on the phone were disturbingly awful, I can't publish here), but also 2 yellow wagtails, pip pipped along the stream, swifts and swallows overhead, buzzard, crows and a plethora of little brown jobs in the trees. An excellent end to a 3 hour walk - not overly strenuous, just very pleasant and contrasting.

And finally this image from the Valency Valley.... not massively sharp as photo's go, the light was failing, but I love the fact that nature has composed an artistic canvass without trying.... moss covered trees, blue bells, primroses and the stream behind.... I just love walking through countryside and looking for the unexpected and of course beautiful. We should all look closely at nature, view the unexpected with joy, not least as we may never come this way again..... make the most of being there at that point in time.

So we've reached the end to Our Sunday. Two views of southern England, taken at the same time and shared. This is really a green and pleasant land, no matter what the doom-sayers may tell us.

Julie and I walked our own footsteps over countryside 200 miles apart, but at the time of walking each were thinking the same thoughts and those were thoughts of sharing the experiences of nature for each other when we got home. I like modern technology, it allows different experiences to develop without too much effort.... and then we can share...... although my battery did almost expire I'd taken so many photographs.

And as for my walk.... well of course it recharged my batteries wonderfully..... next stop Isle of May in Scotland on Friday for work, then up to Cromarty early next week; there will be a blog posting from there I expect....... keep mobile, that's my motto.

Friday, 14 May 2010

And a Nightingale sang......

Last night an open invitation to the good folk of the BBC's Natural History Unit was offered to take us on a Nightingale walk at an RSPB reserve in Somerset. On a gloriously sunny and peaceful evening we met the RSPB's warden, Becky Thorpe and volunteer Dion Warner for what turned out to be a most memorable evening.

I thought I knew Somerset very well but have never been to Swell Woods before near Langport. We duly arrived at the allotted time and while faffing about with boots and binoculars, the group were entertained by a nuthatch on the feeders. A good omen for the rest of the evening. It turned out we weren't having the walk there, but being taken to a closed access area a few miles away. So off we went and it being only about 7.30 pm and a bit too early for nightingales set off to explore the wildflower rich farmland.

And what a fabulous spot. I apologise for the quality of the photos, these were taken on my BlackBerry, especially the out of focus green winged orchid below - but I wanted to record it on the blog. The two fields we walked through were awash with flowers, cowslips, some ox-slips, orchids, cuckoo flower to name a few. It was heartening to see such a fabulous oldy worldy field again. And that part of Somerset is fabulous anyway. We were in heaven.

But we'd come here for the birds.... as we entered the field we heard a cuckoo and while walking at the head of the group with Dion I thought I spied it flying across the bottom field. Walking down there, I saw it again, this was looking good. It's been many years since I have had a good view of a cuckoo. Hang onto your hats, this is going to get better. Dion and I stood there while the rest of the group caught up; there it was again, fantastic, oh hang on, there's another, oh just brilliant 2 cuckoos flying backwards and forwards across the field in what we assumed was a courtship flight (Stephen Moss organised the walk and he thought this was the reason).

But then one cuckoo flew behind us and a third began to .... err, well, cuckoo. This third cuckoo was located in a tree. So that was three cuckoos in a single field. Many years ago this wouldn't have been remarkable, but these days with the dramatic decline of migrant species in the UK, this was heartwarming. The pair gave us a display for well over 20 minutes. Talking to Stephen, Becky and Dion we said we had never seen such a wonderful, and prolonged view of a cuckoo. I'd got so excited I'd forgotten why we had come here, for the nightingales.

But the fields also teemed with wildlife, roe deer, reed bunting, sedge warbler, stonechat, heron, moorhen, long tailed tit, bats, swifts and swallows low over us, a peregrine and many corvids. So as we wandered back I was a happy man.

We got to the woods and Dion said to me come this way before the rest catch up with us. The two of us hoofed it down this track as he wanted to show me more flower rich meadows. But there it was, a nightingale singing in the distance, and beyond that another. It was a bit too far away to get the full effect of one of natures operatic singers, but good for me. We walked back to the group and there, not 20 meters from our gathering another nightingale sang. This time in full Pavarotti mode. What a voice.... the nightingale that is. I had some recording equipment with me so managed to capture the little fella-me-lad for a good 10 minutes. In the gathering gloom, with bats and moths flying overhead, and that crystal clear, waterfall song of nature, this was undoubtedly one of the best evening walks I've ever been on.

But it wasn't over yet. As we left the nightingale to itself and headed back to the cars, above Dion's car, yet another nightingale in fine voice. An evening seeing 3 cuckoos flying around us and 4 nightingales singing at their very best has to be a red letter day for me. I hope to return again one day ....

However, changing the subject somewhat and to catch up on the week briefly, I'll not return to Swell woods with Molly (exhibit 1 below m'lud)

This is Julie's cat, she's about 11 I think and mother of Sammy (not in picture) and Molly spent a good hour watching what I was getting up to in the garden on Monday. The beginning of last weekend was spent at my house, then Julie's. On Saturday we went to the Malvern Spring Garden show, it was a good day, but I would say it was wet and blooming cold, so we didn't stay as long as planned. So wet and cold in fact I had to cook soup on the stove under an umbrella..... yes thanks for the photo reminder Julie!!

Then on Sunday it was back to Wiltshire, where we went into domestic chores mode, such as gardening on Monday as I has a lieu day to take..... see evidence below.

Monday was also her MOT day, the car that is not Julie, so we spent a lot of time driving back and forth to the garage at Oare. To get there one has to drive through Pewsey and I'm getting to like that place, not least for the wildlife perched above shop doorways. Hares are a favourite of mine and these two made from chicken wire have caught my eye many a time. So much so (coupled with a wire crow in the gallery nearby) just before taking this photograph, I purchased a 10 meter roll of chicken wire........ watch this space folks.. !

and finally, not least as the smoke alarms have just gone off, which means my sausages are burning, in a previous posting I posted a worrying and disturbing photograph of Julie's wellingtons. Well I have had another photograph which sent a shiver down my spine.... all I will say about the photo below is the secateurs look remarkable clean and untouched for a professional gardener..... and apparently she was in trug heaven when she took this photo. Those of you who do garden will understand how a happy trug is a trug filled with weeds.

............. I need a lie down in a darkened cupboard seeing this again, before I have my breakfast !!

Monday, 3 May 2010


Throughout my life I've swung this way and that with various interests, although Morris Dancing is not one that has so far hit my sphere of activity.

Gardening though has very much been part and parcel of my life ever since I became big enough to wield a trowel with a certain amount of alacrity. As a child I used to collect wild flowers and try and sell them to my parents neighbours - who fortunately were kind enough to press half a sixpence into my palm for a semi wilted bunch of bluebells. Obviously just a ruse to get me to stop door stepping them in a menacing fashion.

I find it intriguing though that no matter what else has gone on in my life, gardening has always bobbled along just under the surface. Yet these days, it is now pushing shoots through the surface and being a big part of my life.

This is due to Julie, partly at least. See disturbing photo above - Julie's wellington's in relaxed mode mid gardening...... doesn't every man receive a romantic photo like this from his lady friend, with the caption... I'm thinking of you ????

Weekends in Wiltshire are now accompanied by the plaintiff dervishing of said lady gardener in the greenhouse, surveying her 1000+ plug plants, now apparently referred to as plug-plus plants, as they grow and are nurtured into their finest luxuriant foliage and floribunda display ready for hanging basket and pot plant creation. Hard work but once the baskets are filled and delivered a sense of great satisfaction.

But weekends are not always about plug plants. Last Saturday found both of us in another part of Wiltshire where Julie has a client with a goodly sized garden offering views over a white chalk horse on a hillside. Until a fortnight ago this garden in a remote hamlet resembled a hay meadow. I said I'd help and so following my second visit there (the first being a fortnight ago) this Saturday, after 3 or so hours of manic mowing and hedge trimming the garden is beginning to look like a garden again. A sense of real satisfaction doing work like this. I find it satisfying not only for myself to be outdoors, but as the lady in question is well into her 90's, I like to think a little of what we did helping restore her garden will give her something pleasing to look at while quaffing her G&T and telling her interesting stories about the war years spent abroad.

So after a busy old week at work, spending all that time working outdoors, the scent of new mown grass mixed with petrol, it is a real tonic, and rejuvenates Quicksilvers soul. Sadly I didn't take any photographs of what occurred on Saturday, but as we are both heading to Malvern Spring Gardening show next Saturday. I'll post a photo from 2008, one of my favourite gardens seen there.

So this posting, whilst being not that earth shattering, is what I hope to be the beginning of a series of posting about gardening, along with wildlife and art, walking and Wiltshire. Although after Saturday's gardening maelstrom of excitement, we went on a car tour of west Wiltshire and headed into north Dorset, where I relived some nice memories too, ably assisted by a delicious Dorset Cream Tea!

I may post a photo of the plug plants soon..... Julie may need to avert her eyes for a while. It'll be too much for her!!

And here you go, as a postscript, not half an hour ago this evening I received the above photo from Julie to illustrate the blog. Taken a few weeks ago...... I'll explain all soon... save to say they're much bigger now !! I just need to lie down quietly somewhere first and recover before doing so!