Flora and Fauna

I read this week that the temperatures this August have been below average. This is the only month this year to be cooler than average. It has also been wet, as have eight of the past thirteen Augusts. As I have noted before this has resulted in very early signs of autumn.

Some of the photo’s I took this week reflect this but in others the bright green grass makes it look more like spring.

 

Walking along this valley a movement caught my eye and I stopped when this small deer came in sight. My stillness was rewarded when another one followed and I was able to take photo’s as they crossed to the trees on the other side, grazing as they went. As I was about to move on a bigger deer appeared. This one seemed more wary and after checking all around, it quickly galloped across the grass to join the others before disappearing into the trees.

London

One of the things that sets London apart from other major cities is the amount of green space. There are several well-know parks such as Hyde Park as well as a multitude of squares. Walking through London you often come across one of these beautiful tranquil squares within a stones throw of the bustle of the city.

I often cross the river and from the Embankment cut through Lincoln’s Inn and am always amazed at the contrast between the area containing the Inns of Court and the busy roads that intersect it.

Narrow paths and alleys criss cross the area, some still having cobbles to walk on. The architecture is fascinating with many different styles and various decorations that signify the wealth of the companies that built them.

Traversing these walkways you come across many small squares, usually containing some type of garden whether formal or informal and the sound of birdsong is easily heard above the muted roar of the city in the background.

Osterley Park

I visited Osterley Park on a very cool June day that was in marked contrast to the high temperatures of the previous and succeeding weeks. Although it isn’t a huge self contained estate it has an impressively large house and extensive grounds.

Having driven along suburban streets and past Heathrow, with planes skimming the top of the car as they came in to land, entering the grounds seemed like stepping into the past. A drive threaded it’s way through verdant parkland with animals grazing and a range of old farm buildings.

Walking from the car park I passed a lake with lots of wildfowl and birds calling, but their songs were drowned out every few minutes by the roar of aeroplanes flying low overhead. Through the trees I caught a glimpse of the mansion, which looked blank and cold and contrasted sharply with the stables, part of which had been converted into a gift shop and restaurant. I was able to look round the ground floor of the house but found the insistance of the volunteer guides to explain every detail to everyone passing through, somewhat irritating. The highlight was a room without a guide but with a spinning top game that visitors were encouraged to use.

Osterley Park has often been used as a location for film and television including an early episode of Dr Who and films such as The Young Victoria and The Dark Knight Rises.

As it was such a chilly day I decided to have a warm drink before wandering through the gardens and thought that it would be a lovely tranquil place exept for the planes seemingly endless flight above.

 

 

Flowers and Views North Yorkshire

I visited North Yorkshire last weekend and was invited for breakfast at a ‘hidden gem’ near Crayke. The breakfast was delicious and included pancakes cooked in the way I remember from childhood.

The owner used to look after the Museum Gardens in York, and has created a beautiful natural garden around the cafe.

Here are some of the things I saw that day.

Farming

I recently had the rather surreal experience of attending my daughters Graduation ceremony amidst the pomp and splendour of academia followed by a trip to my roots in North Yorkshire. The two events couldn’t have been more different.

Although I have spent two thirds of my life living away from the region where I was born and brought up, as my uncle reminded me, ‘you can take the person out of Yorkshire but you can’t take Yorkshire out of the person’. It’s years since I felt that as strongly as I did last weekend.

My family have regular reunions but I think this one will go down in the annals of family history as one of the best as it took place on the farm that has been in our family for several generations. Four generation were present with ages ranging from ninety one years to the newest member, a four week old baby. My cousins were the hosts and along with their families had put in so much effort to make for an interesting and very different experience for everyone present.

The day dawned with grey, leaden skies and rain but it did little to dampen our spirits. Everybody present contributed food and the family caught up over a delicious meal.  A table covered with photographs, documents and letters had been set up illustrating the history of the family on this and various other farms we had connections with. Those old enough to remember reminisced, whilst those born more recently had the opportunity to compare the past with the present. Luckily the weather improved after lunch enabling us to enjoy the display my cousins had in store.

Walking to the stackyard memories of past visits resurfaced for many of those present. To children this working farm had appeared to be a vast adventure playground where they could climb stacks of straw or make dens, swing from ropes, and sit on machinery pretending they were old enough to drive. With imagination the bigger equipment became props in our games, taking the place of various craft, from pirate ships to stage coaches.

As I walked with one of my cousins I asked if they still had ‘The Old Lady’. This tractor holds a special place in the hearts of the family, being the first one the family bought as they made the transition from horse to engine power.  It came from George VI’s estate at Sandringham and they had seen it advertised in a newspaper. I don’t know how they negotiated to buy it but my uncle went to collect it, driving it all the way to it’s new home. I was delighted to see it still has pride of place and today was attached to a threshing machine, the fore-runner of the modern combine harvester.

While one of my cousins fired the Old Lady up, the other gave a talk and they both demonstrated how the threshing machine worked and what back-breaking work it was. The corn was put into sixteen stone bags, raised on a sack barrow then carried up the granary steps on a farm labourer’s back. Four, four stone weights had been brought out so that people could get an idea of how hard this job was. I can just remember when threshing machines were in use and how labour intensive the operation was.

After the thrill of seeing these machines in action we walked to a field where several vehicles were lined up for our inspection, some from the present day and some from the past. Some of us were lucky enough not only to be given a short ride on the machines but to actually go for a drive.

As people began to drift back to the house for dessert, my cousin took a handful of people round the buildings where there are various machines being restored. I thanked him for all the effort he’d put in to make it such a great day, mentioning that all he needed to complete the collection was a grey Fergie tractor like my father’s. Little did I know he’d kept the best till last, ushering me to the side of a building where he proudly pointed out just such a tractor. Telling me to go and sit on it, he then pulled the final rabbit out of his hat by telling me it was indeed my dad’s old tractor and a vehicle I was so familiar with, in fact the vehicle I learnt to drive on.

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Writing this I reflect that the day was so enjoyable because it brought back many happy memories not only of place but of people no longer here. As we age we are accused of looking at the past through rose-tinted spectacles but I feel that last weekend my cousins created new memories for a younger generation to look back upon, whether or not they give them a rose-tinted wash.

A Walk in Savill Garden

The heat and dry weather over the past few weeks has dried the land considerably but there was still plenty to see inside the gardens. I expected to see some birds but this pheasant was an unexpected bonus

The main building was designed to blend into the land and this is aided by a bank of beautiful wild flowers at the front. Inside, interior partitions have been removed and the underside of the roof can be seen rippling away in each direction from the entrance.

 

It was a hot day and the stream had almost dried up but there were things to be found flourishing outside in these conditions.

Inside the glass house I discovered more exotic plants although the temperature was barely higher than outside.

 

My final destination was the rose garden which has an elevated viewing platform. I believe that wall built along the boundary at this point was made from bricks recovered from London after the blitz in WWII.

A Walk Round the Lake at Virginia Water

Virginia Water is an artificial lake at the southern end of Windsor Great Park. It was created in the eighteenth century by George II’s son William, Duke of Cumberland who saw the potential in a landscape that contained numerous streams. He had a dam built at the southern end of the park near the hamlet of Harpesford and dug out an area to form the lake. When it was first formed it was the largest area of artificial water in the country.

It is part of the Crown Estate and in the past provided royalty with a vast, private pleasure garden containing numerous strange and unusual buildings, most of which have now disappeared.

A severe storm in 1768 breached the dam holding back the waters of the lake, which caused much destruction downstream. A new and more robust dam was built in a slightly different location, causing the hamlet of Harpesford to disappear beneath the waters of the lake.

There are good paths all the way round on mainly level ground and I walked in a clockwise direction and passed the Cascade, a man-made waterfall built at the pond head. Unfortunately the water wasn’t running so what is usually a cool and attractive feature, looked sad and neglected, with stagnant water in the pool beneath.

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The Cascade 2017 and below how it looks in the snow

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The area around the lake has beeen used in many films including a fight scene on the cascades in Into the Woods, the Harry Potter films and the 2010 version of Robin Hood. King John’s castle was build on the Moated Island and a fleet of boats set sail down what was supposed to be the Thames estuary, but was actually Virginia Water Lake.

A little further on I passed the rather surprising sight of some of the ruins of Leptis Magna, which date from Roman times and were originally located at Lebida overlooking the Mediterranean to the east of Tripoli in Libya.

Although I couldn’t see it, a ride has recently been cleared between the lake and Fort Belvedere. This was one of the royal residences and home to Edward VIII. I believe he was residing there at the time of his abdication, and where he signed the letter relinquishing his right to the throne.

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The path took me through wooded areas with pine trees and bracken and a variety of wild flowers. At the north western end of the lake, the water looked still with a coppery coloured tinge to it.

I crossed the Five Arch Bridge near Blacknest Gate and turned to walk down the eastern shore.

I walked to the edge of the water along a path cut through dense bracken and realised I was standing on the side of a moat. Before the lake was formed a manor house had been built on a moated island. At a later date the south and eastern side of the moat were swallowed up by the lake. In the early part of the nineteenth century George IV had a fishing temple built on the island. I couldn’t see any sign of that but an attractive house, boathouse and bridge were visible.

As I neared the Punchbowl, one of the breathtaking sights of Spring, a red deer ran out of the undergrowth but I wasn’t quick enough to get a good photograph of it. I was surprised to see the Punchbowl valley closed but it appears this area is undergoing a replanting programme.

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Punchbowl 2017 and below how it looked in 2008

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My final interesting sight is the Totem Pole, which was installed in 1958. Given to Queen Elizabeth II to mark the centenary of British Columbia as a Crown Colony. It is made from a single log of a Western Red Cedar Tree from Canada.

Smiths Lawn, Windsor Great Park

It is almost mid-summer in England and we have been experiencing unusually high temperatures. When not complaining about this, people seem to be enjoying getting outside more. An acquaintance who was brought up in America has been discussing whether it’s worthwhile investing in an air conditioner for the handful of unbearably hot days scattered over the summer months.

I have lived in numerous hotter climates but like the rest of the population, find prolonged periods of high temperatures difficult to endure. It’s partly because we aren’t well equipped to deal with them, especially at night when houses that have absorbed the heat from the sun all day remain very hot, making it difficult to sleep. Several nights of lying awake, tossing and turning, make for frayed tempers and irritability. However, for those intrepid souls who brave leaving the house, there is much to see and enjoy.

With that in mind I visited Windsor Great Park on a scorching Sunday and discovered many others had had the same idea. The area around Savill Garden was crowded and the ever popular children’s playground near the Obelisk was similarly busy, but I was aiming to watch some polo on Smiths Lawn.

Walking away from the more populous areas I barely saw a soul. My route took me along paths twisting through cool woods with dappled sunlight and shadows flickering amongst the branches and tree trunks. Blinking as I emerged from the shade I saw laid out in front of me a huge swathe of pristine, green turf.

Smiths Lawn is home to the Guards Polo Club and is the largest polo club in Europe. There are ten pitches covering more than a hundred acres and matches are played throughout the summer. My path had brought me out opposite the clubhouse but on match days temporary pens are placed around the perimeter of the pitches where the polo ponies are prepared for their matches. Standing being groomed, fed or watered they look smaller than a race horse and quite placid.

A game was in progress and I stopped to watch. It is very fast-paced and exciting. I don’t know the rules but standing on the side of the pitch with just a six inch board marking the boundary between the match and the spectators is quite frightening. The horses that seemed small and placid in the holding pens take on a different aspect as groups of them thunder towards the boundary in pursuit of the ball. Horse and rider display great skill, twisting, turning and manoeuvring for position. A rider swings his polo stick, makes purchase and the ball flies over the ground with the horses in quick pursuit, leaving me to contemplate the tranquility once again.

Sutton Bank, North Yorkshire

Sutton Bank is situated on the Hambledon Hills, overlooking The Plain of York. I last visited this location on a beautiful summer day in 2016 but it is very familiar from my childhood in the 1950’s and 60’s. It was much quieter then but just as impressive.

gOn my most recent visit we approached from Thirsk so didn’t have to climb the steep, winding road to the crest and  I am sure that if we had, modern cars would complete the climb with little effort. That wasn’t the case when I was young and cars were less sophisticated. At that time it was almost unheard of for women to drive, so either my father or one of my uncles would be behind the wheel, eager to show off their expertise and whatever car they happened to be driving. There would often be a gaggle of children in the back, usually my sister and cousins. This was in the days before seatbelts and we would be packed in to the small space, hearts in mouth as the car struggled to negotiate the steep gradient. Meeting another vehicle heading down was a hair-raising experience, especially if it happened on one of the many corners, as the driver ascending would inevitably have to slow down and any loss of speed could result in the engine being overstretched, causing it to stall. This terrified the excited children in the back as they imagined the brakes failing and the car hurtling backwards and possibly crashing off the road and plummeting down the steep sides of the bank. The relief on reaching the top was always reward enough but added to this was the prospect of a picnic on the top of the bank.

There is a large white horse cut onto the side of Sutton Bank and painted with limewash paint. This is a very well-known local landmark and familiar to me throughout my life. There are many stories about it’s beginnings but the one I was told as a child was that a farmer, the worse for wear after visiting the local hostelry, was riding his white stallion home and lost his way. He put his horse to jump a hedge and sent himself and the horse to their death over the cliff.  The place was marked by the local community who carved the white horse, thereby creating a monument in memory of the gallant beast. I have heard other stories so think this was maybe just a local legend with little bearing on the truth.

The steepness of the hillside has led to some instability and visitors are no longer allowed access to the white horse but when young it was possible to clamber all over it and we once laid our picnic rug on top of it’s eye. Upon seeing it again at close quarters this surprised me very much because the hillside is almost sheer and I wouldn’t want to venture onto it now!

A walk along a popular path has incredible views of The Vale of York and I reflected that David Hockney had made the East Yorkshire Wolds famous with his series of paintings a few years ago, but that these views were more than a match for them.

Watercress Line

The Watercress Line is so named because it was used to transport watercress to the markets in London. Before that it was a private line built to open up the predominantly agricultural region. It is now run by volunteers who enable it to function as a tourist attraction, thereby preserving it’s history.

There are four stations and each one is presented in a different time period from pre-war to the 1960’s. We began our journey at Alton which is also a mainline station to London Waterloo. Crossing the footbridge, we stepped back in time, hearing the sound of a steam engine running alongside the carriages to get to the front for it’s return journey.

The platform was packed with excited passengers, including a group of school children who were dressed in period costume as they re-enacted the evacuation of children during WWII, complete with cardboard name boards hanging round their necks and wicker baskets containing their lunch. Having this group added to the atmosphere as they blended into the surroundings, unlike the adult passengers who, armed with modern technology could never be mistaken for people from a different period.

The carriages were also from different time periods and we found ourselves at the front of the train, in a rather functional, but attractive carriage with wood panelling and hard seats.

The guard informed us that the first section of the journey would take us over what is termed ‘The Alps’ to Medstead and Four Marks, the highest station in the south of England. From our vantage point at the front, we could hear and feel the thrill of power from the engine as it climbed this section.

After a brief halt at Medstead and Four Marks we progressed to Ropely, which is where the engineering works are situated. This station is set in the mid 1940’s with a Waiting Room, Booking Office and Stationmaster’s Parlour, all decorated in the style of this period. We followed the restoration route around the station, being able to view working trains as well as  a number of engines awaiting restoration in the yard. We crossed the line via the Kings Cross Footbridge, which was made famous in the Harry Potter films.

Alresford marked the last stop and is set during the pre-war period. The Buffet served meals that would have been familiar to visitors from the Twentieth century with such culinary specialities as egg and chips or cheese sandwiches so dried out that the edges were curling over on themsleves. As we contemplated these offerings we felt envious of the group re-enacting the evacuation, who would no doubt have had a tasty Twenty First Century packed lunch to enjoy!

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