Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether summer clothe the general earth
With greeness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Avebury - Part One

I set off at 6.20am which wasn't too far off my original aim. The M1 was packed with traffic but happily I only go down as far as Northampton and then I turn off onto the A43 going towards Oxford. From this point life became much pleasanter, it's a good road but with a fairly low volume of traffic and some pleasant scenery. The weather was lovely - hot and sunny, but my car has air conditioning so I stayed nice and cool. By just after 10am I'd reached Newbury and turned onto the A4 which goes through Marlborough and on to Avebury. I arrived in Marlborough just before 11am and to my astonishment was able to choose from several empty parking spaces in the centre of the main road through the town - it's very wide and the left hand traffic goes on one side of a double row of parking spaces and the right hand traffic comes down the other side. It's a really pleasant small town and I'd be happy to see more of it at some stage but, being short of time, I just stopped for coffee and cake at the Polly Tea Rooms then found the Post Office to post a parcel. The tea rooms came straight out of a light novel from the 1930s, full of smartly dressed grey-haired elderly ladies and waitresses in black dresses with white aprons. I half expected to see Miss Marple walk in:)
There is a little website with photos here. The waitresses have red aprons in the photos but I'm sure they were white when I was there.

I set off again and after half an hour or so reached a sign saying 'Silbury Hill' - not that I needed the sign because to my amazement it was right there at the side of the road. No-one knows exactly what it is or why it was built, only that it is entirely man-made and was constructed in prehistoric times (around 2500BC) with picks made of antlers. Considering that it is 130ft high and covers a base area of 5 acres that is quite some feat, it's the largest manmade mound in Europe. There have been several excavations but no-one is any the wiser. The photograph required some careful positioning on my part as they are doing largescale conservation work on the mound and the base is actually surrounded by barriers and huge diggers and dumper trucks etc - not at all romantic looking!

Just across the road from Silbury Hill is the path leading up to West Kennet Long Barrow, a distance of about half a mile I should think. It was a lovely walk through water meadows then up a gentle hill to the barrow. I had it virtually to myself and it was so quiet and peaceful, there were skylarks singing and peewits calling and all kinds of wildflowers to see. Peewit is a country name for a lapwing as that is exactly what its call sounds like - my dad introduced them to me as peewits when I was a very small girl and I was well in my 20s before I discovered that they had a more official name. The photo above is showing the approach to the barrow.

This is an attempt to show the shape of the barrow which gives it the name of long barrow. The entrance faces east and there was a semi-circular forecourt at the front.

It was in use from 3500BC to 2000BC when, for reasons unknown,the chambers were filled with stones and the entrance sealed with the big sarsen stones. When it was opened there were piles of bones all over the place but only one complete skeleton.

This is taken from the entrance looking into the barrow with the main chamber at the end. Only about one sixth of the 340ft of its length has ever been excavated. In spite of its association with bones and bodies and death there is a very tranquil and friendly atmosphere all around the area.

There are several small chambers on each side of the main passage of which this is one.

For this photo I was standing on top of the barrow looking along its length towards the West.

I have simply turned round to face south to take this photo, I thought the view was absolutely beautiful.

This skylark was standing on top of the barrow while I was taking photographs so I thought I'd try out the 18x zoom - gradually I edged nearer and nearer and I couldn't believe how close it finally let me get to it before it finally flew off. It was a privilege to be so close to this bird which sings such a beautiful song as it soars into the sky until it is so high that it is virtually invisible, though never inaudible. There is a wonderful piece of music by a British composer called Vaughan Williams called The Lark Ascending which captures all the beauty of its song and flight. The moments spent so near to it were the crowning pleasure of the time spent in this truly magical place.

I think this is long enough so I will write about Avebury itself in another post. It may be worth clicking on some of the photos to enlarge them especially the views from the barrow.

Monday, May 21, 2007

On The Road Again

Early tomorrow morning (around 6am in theory) I'm off to Sussex to do another course at the Weald and Downland Museum - the 16th Century Dairy this time. The course is on Wednesday but I always go down the previous day and come back the day after the courses because it's a four and a half hour drive - if the Force is with me, which it often isn't! On the way down I
usually try to do a side trip and tomorrow I'm considering the possibility of going to see the stone circle at Avebury. It isn't exactly on the way, I shall have to do a detour of about 25 miles to the west but if I get as far as Newbury in good time I may do it as I've always wanted to see Avebury. The route takes me through Marlborough too and I rather think that might be an attractive town. We shall see, there are alternatives of Jane Austen's house at Chawton or Gilbert White's house at Selborne. The photo at the top is the medieval Bayleaf farmhouse at the Museum.

The dairy at Pendean where the course will be held.

Steve,Hannah and Kaitlyn came to lunch yesterday and this was the best I could manage in the way of a photograph, she is like greased lightning at the moment and is always facing the opposite way to the camera!

Another failed attempt:)

Will be back at the weekend hopefully with some interesting photographs.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

A Visit to Hill Top

We have been back from Lancashire for several days but life is very busy at the moment and I haven't had time to read blogs or to write in my own. It looks like staying that way for a while too, summer involves much more coming and going than the stay at home winter months and postings are likely to be sporadic over the next couple of weeks. The photo above is the outside of Beatrix Potter's house Hill Top. It was extraordinarily difficult to get a photograph without people in it as it's very popular with visitors thanks to the film 'Miss Potter'. It is only a small place so visitors are given timed tickets and about a dozen people go in every five minutes. There is no limit on how long you can stay once you are in though so every room is crowded and, to be honest, I didn't particularly enjoy it. The National Trust have a way of de-personalizing places and, even though all the contents belonged to Beatrix Potter and Hill Top is just as she left it when she died, it feels more like a museum than a home. This isn't inevitable when somewhere is open to the public, I've been in places which felt as though someone had just left the room and would be back any minute. Of course in the case of Hill Top it is true that after her marriage Beatrix didn't live here, she did visit it every day and still did her writing here but perhaps that is the explanation of the lack of atmosphere.

This pretty little building is one of the outhouses - the privy I rather think.

The path leading up through the garden to Hill Top,the garden was very pretty and appealed to me very much. There was quite a lot that you couldn't actually get into though, the vegetable garden(below) was only viewable over the gate and the small orchard was also off limits.

Another thing that really irritates me about the National Trust is that they won't allow any photographs to be taken of the interiors of their properties so all I can offer is photographs from a book I have on Beatrix Potter called 'Beatrix Potter At Home in the Lake District' by Susan Denyer. It's a very interesting book with a great many photographs - well worth buying if you are interested in Beatrix Potter. The photo above is of the room you go into as you go through the front door. I know it actually looks very attractive and homely but it has been set up especially for the photo! The only similar thing that I saw was that the fire was lit in the range.

These are the stairs leading to the upper floor, I find this very attractive with the bare polished wood. It's just occurred to me what part of the problem is with NT properties, it's their obsession with light levels which makes everywhere dark and gloomy because there are always blinds shutting out some or all of the light. I know that bright sunlight does fade things and that they need protection but I really do think that the NT go over the top with this.

This is the staircase in an illustration from The Tale of Samuel Whiskers, Beatrix used Hill Top and it's furnishings a good deal as a basis for her illustrations.

This is the main bedroom with the bed that Beatrix Potter never slept in! When she was living here before her marriage she did use this bedroom but with a different bed.

This is the room where Beatrix did her writing at the desk in the corner.

The road which runs through the village of Near Sawrey, just a short distance from Hill Top.

This is Castle Cottage which is where Beatrix Potter lived after her marriage to William Heelis. I took the photo from an upstairs window at Hill Top.

The Beatrix Potter Gallery is in this building in Hawkshead which was originally the offices of the country solicitor's practice in which William Heelis was a partner. I enjoyed looking round here, it was quite atmospheric and had a lovely display of some of the original watercolours done for the books. There were a lot from The Tale of Tom Kitten as that particular book is 100 years old this year. There were only 3 or 4 other people there and it had much more of the quiet,peaceful feel that I would guess Hill Top had once upon a time. L and Mr B.Baggins strolled around the village while I was in there. Afterwards we went into a pub called The King's Head for some lunch - outside it had a notice saying 'Dogs Welcome' which is a very nice change from 'No Dogs Allowed'! Mr Baggins made himself at home, stretching full length in front of the fire and wagging his tail furiously as people stepped over him saying things like' what a lovely dog' and 'isn't he well behaved'. Meantime I was thinking things like 'I can't believe he's being this good' while smiling and trying to look modest:):)

Two books that I bought in the Gallery, both full of interesting bits and pieces.

A row of cottages in Hawkshead.

A view across Lake Windermere with the fells in the distance.

Another view of Windermere, both these were taken when we stopped in Ambleside.

There were dozens of swans on the lake and this is one of them. We had a really nice day in the Lake District in spite of a dire weather forecast, it was dry and pleasantly warm all day and only started to rain just as we got back to our house.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A Short Break

We are off to stay in our 'little grey home in the West' later this morning so I shan't be online for a few days. The weather forecast is pretty awful but I expect we shall be seeing both the beach(10 minutes walk) and the river estuary( 5 minutes in the car and Bilbo Baggins' favourite place)since he'll have to go out regardless of the weather. The plan is to go up to the Lake District and visit Beatrix Potter's old home,Hill Top,but that will depend on how wet it is. The Lakes are only an hour away so we can go later in the summer, it's just that it will be quieter at this time of the year. As always, my knitting and cross-stitch will be going with me too.

This was taken on one of the walks I did with Bilbo last summer, it's a few miles inland and is a pretty lane with wild honeysuckle flowering in the hedgerow.

Just a couple more photos from last summer taken on the same lane, I can't remember what this is but I thought it was a beautiful architectural shape.

This the herb meadowsweet growing wild - it smells delicious.

Finally I have to blow my own trumpet here, last night when I was round at Neil and Francesca's place, Cesca said to me 'you must be the best mother-in-law in the world'. As far as I'm concerned accolades don't come much better than that:):)

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Show and Tell

I can hardly call this Show and Tell Friday when it's now Sunday evening but I'm working, once again, on the better late than never theory:)
The two pictures at the top are actually exactly the same size though they don't look it in the photos. I had to take them off the wall and lay them on the bed as the reflection of light from the window made them impossible to photograph on the wall of the half landing where they live. I think I've mentioned before that I have an aunt in Montreal who went out to Canada as a war bride in 1945 and had never been home since. In 1999 I went to stay with her to meet her and my five Canadian cousins for the first time. On a visit to the home of my cousin Terry he was showing me round and I remarked that I liked this pair of pictures. He simply took them off the wall and gave them to me!! At the time they were in heavy,ornate frames so there was no way I could get them in a case and take them back to the UK like that. Cousin Maurice came to the rescue and removed them from the frames and I just brought back the actual pictures carefully wrapped in layers of tissue and right in the middle of the clothes in my case. When I got home I had them re-framed and they've hung on the wall ever since. They have no intrinsic value, they were done by an amateur artist who lived near my cousin. I like them because they have an old-fashioned air about them and I like the golden colour of the wood they done on, but most of all I love them because they are a constant reminder of my kind and generous cousin in Canada.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Bluebells and The Big Sort Out

I've been rather out of the loop over the last 10 days or so - a combination of a back problem, a rather unpleasant virus that left me with no energy, physical or mental for several days, and a sudden passion for doing jigsaws! The back problem and the virus are now, happily, more or less OK but..... 'My name is Rowan and I do jigsaws' :):) This has all been brought on by a recent decision to sort out the attic which has an accumulation of 30 years worth of 'we'll put it in the attic for now'. My husband rather grudgingly agreed to go through several boxes of his books which have been up there since we moved here. I should think that 80%( we are talking several hundred here) of them are now for sale on Steve's Amazon website and the others are in the cellar awaiting further review. This appears to have inspired my husband and last weekend he sorted all the games and jigsaws into various piles and brought all the jigsaws downstairs. We decided that we'd better actually do them all to make sure they are all complete before doing the throw away, give away or keep bit. Again this began in a rather half-hearted way but.............well, what can I say, our family has always enjoyed doing jigsaws. I don't think either of us has got to bed much before 12.30am for the last few nights and a lot of other stuff has been neglected too. We both of us get lost in what we are doing and 2 or 3 hours has passed before we realise it. Usually it's Bilbo Baggins enquiring whether he is ever going to get fed or go out for a walk that brings us back to reality. We're only doing the 500 piece ones at the moment, wait until we move onto the 1000 and 1500 ones!
When I finally felt up to taking Bilbo into the woods again I took some photographs of the bluebells and other wildflowers that are in there at the moment, the bluebells look much better than in the photographs because they are all taken in the afternoon and the sunlight drains some of the colour. I shall try and get early morning ones before they start to fade. The blue is so intense and the scent of them is heavenly, I think an English bluebell wood in Spring must be among the most beautiful sights in the world.

There are little grassy glades in places and among the bluebells are the starry white flowers of Greater Stitchwort - it is such a pretty combination.

More bluebells

Pink Campion - these sometimes grow among the bluebells too but, once a very common wildflower, there seem to be fewer of them these days

A young fern emerging.

Yellow Archangel growing with goosegrass or cleavers - regarded with loathing by gardeners but actually a very useful wild herb.

A dandelion clock, the first I've seen this year but probably not the last!!

A beautiful peacock butterfly on the woodland floor.

And, of course, the ever present Mr B Baggins - here ferreting after a large stick in the river.

Lastly, thank you for all the lovely comments on my last posting, it was so nice to see new people leaving comments and I shall be visiting all of you soon.