Thorpe Green, Surrey

After a stormy night this morning dawned bright and breezey and I walked to nearby Thorpe Green. It always brings to mind Enid Blyton summer holiday reading from childhood and rightly or not is how I imagined the south of England.

The Rose and Crown is a popular pub, especially on weekends during the summer when it’s difficult to book a table and the garden is overflowing.

Cricket isn’t played on the green, which is a pity because it looks a perfect setting although the land is quite wet.

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Behind the bank of trees marking the boundary of the green is this hidden gem. Although it all looks tranquil the peace is disturbed by the passage of planes overhead and the sound of the M25 that runs alongside the resevoir.

 

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Borough Market

I visited Borough Market last week. It’s the first time I’ve been this year and although some of the photographs I took didn’t have many people visible,  it was very busy with the usual vibrant atmosphere.

As the London Bridge attacks began on the 3rd June 2017, I was walking south across Waterloo Bridge on my way home with my family after seeing the musical, 42nd Street. We were all happy and still buzzing from the spectacle of the previous few hours but were alerted to danger by the sight of hundreds of emergency vehicles with their blue lights causing the night sky to take on a different hue, pouring south across the Thames. The sound of sirens filled the air as we picked up speed to escape our very vulnerable position mid-way across the bridge. Not only were the vehicles pouring south over Waterloo Bridge, but looking up and down stream, we could see the same thing happening on the bridges in both directions. Looking over our shoulders we saw that the Embankment also had a stream of blue-lighted vehicles progressing rapidly towards the danger.

It was too early for news to have broken in the media but we sensed danger and got off the bridge as quickly as possible, opting to avoid crowds by crossing the roof of the Hayward Gallery. From this vantage point we could see nothing, but the sound of the sirens being deflected off taller buildings, became deafening.

Until we reached ground level we had no idea whether we were walking into danger or not as we were unable to pinpoint the direction the vehicles were heading. Once we descended the steps we realised we were probably safe as we met no crowds of people fleeing.

As we approached Waterloo Station we walked past several restaurants full of people enjoying a Saturday night out and everything in the station appeared normal. As we waited for a train we looked on Twitter and found early reports of the horrors that had been happening a short distance away. At that time it was thought that a third attack was happening at Vauxhall, a station we pass through on our way to and from London. This was later reported to be unconnected but at the time it added to our sense of unease and anxiety. Being unable to settle once we reached home, we sat and watched as the media began to broadcast reports from the multiple scenes.

As hours and days passed I was able to put my experience into some sort of cohesive order. Despite the horror everyone feels upon hearing of these atrocities, certain things stand out. The thing that I was most struck by was the bravery of the first responders who, in these situations, run into danger. I know they train for this and are better equipped to deal with it than members of the public but it runs against every natural instinct of a human being.

My family and I found ourselves on the fringes of this particular attack but we weren’t in any danger. We went to a show, walked to the station and boarded a train home, but our proximity to the danger emphasizes how much a part chance plays in these things. If we’d been to a different theatre we may have been walking over London Bridge or if the attackers had chosen Waterloo Bridge we’d have been caught up in events. Although I am more alert, I intend to continue visiting London regularly and applaud the crowds of people I saw this week doing exactly the same thing.

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.

Signs of Autumn

Walking this morning I was struck by how autumnal it looked. Weather forecasters tell us that meteorologically speaking, autumn begins in August, and although it is still July, there were definite signs of autumn everywhere I looked.

The fact that the day was overcast heightened this feeling as well as the strong breeze but also the beginnings of warmer colours amongst the leaves on the trees as well as an abundance of golden, dead leaves beneath them. I even caught sight of ripe berries in the hedges.

Here are some of the images I captured.

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.

 

 

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 Shorter Walk near Virginia Water Lake

Using the same car park near The Wheatsheaf Hotel, I set off for a shorter walk near Virginia Water Lake. The photographs I took, compared to the ones in my last post,  show how diverse the landscape round the lake is.

My walk took me through a beautiful wood comprising of mainly of Scots Pine trees with lush green bracken beneath them. This part of the park is quieter and a favourite place for dog walkers.

Heading north I made my way across a grassed area to a shaded path through mixed deciduous trees, enjoying the birdsong that could be head there.

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I crossed a pretty bridge over a stream as I left the woods and walked towards the Totem Pole before making my way back towards the lake.

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.

RHS Wisley

Last week I visited the headquarters of the Royal Horticultural Society in Wisley, Surrey. Despite the forecast, it kept fine during my visit and I was able to take some photographs of the various displays.

As I walked round the extensive grounds I noted the tranquility of the location with the sound of birds singing and breezes stirring the leaves, but on the southern fringes of the gardens, the modern world intruded with the sound of a motorway filling the air.

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.

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