New Zealand Mud – it has attitude!

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Travel broadens the mind they say. It also amazes and educates…

Disagree if you will, but I think that for those of us born in geologically stable places, rather than being properly terrifying or exciting, the idea of events such as earth-quakes and volcanoes is mostly simply unimaginable. We see film or read about natural events like these and although we are captivated we can’t really imagine what it is like to be in the presence of such power. So a trip to New Zealand is illuminating.

Around Rotarua there are geothermal wonders aplenty: sulphorus pools, clouds of steam, geysers and bubbling hot mud pools. You are left with no doubt that the Earth’s crust is thin right there, and you are protected from all that heat and energy by just a few metres of rock.

The mud pools are great to watch too, although there always seems to be something extraordinary happening out of the corner of your eye – just where you weren’t looking. I focused on one circle of activity and took a stream of photos with a fast shutter speed. Most just look like muddy ripples, but I came up lucky with the one I’ve included up above. By no means technically perfect, but it captures the moment.

(The photo is available to buy in a range of formats through my RedBubble shop)

 

The things you see on a walk…

I’ve always believed that walking is equally beneficial to your mind, body and indeed your soul.

Physical benefits – heart, lung and muscle work- surely we all know about those. Blood flowing through your veins; fresh air and exercise. Marvellous stuff – helps keep the weight down, and more importantly helps keep you healthy too.

But here are three examples of the mind and soul benefits from my early morning walk around Poet’s Walk and the Marine Lakes in Clevedon.

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Soul-food. Not my finest photograph – I had an all-purpose lens on the camera – but maybe you can just see the sunlight catching the lower mandible of this wren, singing for all it’s worth. You can certainly see it’s distinctive tail sticking up. A fabulous sight and sound. I just stood and listened for a while – set me up for the day.

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A bit of brain fodder – certainly food for thought. When you walk, you have the chance to notice things that you’d never see if you were in a hurry. You wouldn’t notice this old gateway if you were jogging around Poet’s Walk, I bet. But if you wonder while you walk, you can easily work out that this is a left over from the days when there was a lower path on the hill: maybe even a path down to the water. They are gradually replacing the fences along Poets’ Walk, and one day this gateway will be gone. A hint, a clue, about the changes going on quietly around us will have vanished.

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A rarely seen spectacle. Well, water regularly fills the Marine Lake as the tide rises, but the sun doesn’t often turn the cascade into quite such a silvery curtain as this. Maybe the calm of the sea added to the sight, but it was worth a photo.

So there you have it: just three of the things I saw that made my walk special. And the truth is, there is always something worth seeing: you just have to get our there! Walking for pleasure, indeed.

What makes your day?

Isn’t life sweet when you’re a simple soul? These are some of the little things that have really pleased me in the last few days.

1. Torrential rain.

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Photographed from our window, it’s a sensory experience: the sound, the way the temperature drops and the change it the light. I love walking in a downpour too, but only if I’m on my way home to a shower and dry clothes!

2. Practically perfect pizza.

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Here it is, almost ready. Just a bit more browning on top and crisping up underneath. Especially pleasing as I made the dough by hand, and it was my most successful yet. Light and fluffy inside, crispy on the crust. Maybe a touch more salt for perfection. The garlic butter and parmesan rolls I made with the left over dough were fab too.

3. Bees!

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Just love them! So single minded, and they never bother you if you don’t bother them. I was pleased with the photo too, as a quick snap, and just a bit blurry as they can’t be persuaded to sit still and pose.

4. A perfect English summer day.

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We were at Myddleton House in Enfield (North London). A great place for people who like plants, kitchen gardens, old walls and stone work and lovely sunny days. I could have pointed the camera almost anywhere and liked the results. And …

5 Grass snakes

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This one was hunting at Myddleton House. We’d just walked past a pond, and I’d said the conditions were great for snake spotting – and there he (she) was! Head down a hole, and plainly engaged in swallowing something. After several minutes he (she) popped his (her) head out, with just the back legs of a frog still moving a little and sticking out between his (her) jaws. But the speed as he (she, but I’m getting bored with this now!) shot away through the plants and into a hollow log had to be seen to be believed. Poor frog, but what a treat to see. We felt just a little bit like David Attenborough as we snapped away.

What’s your top five from the last three or four days?

Gorge-ous walks and photo opportunities

Always nice to get out and about and see something new. Although we have lived in North Somerset for two years now, there are many places that many people will know very well that we are just discovering.

This weekend we went with our lovely family visitors up the Mendips, to Burrington Combe, where we enjoyed a short walk beside the gorge. Much less famous than the nearby Cheddar Gorge, there is a pub and a cycling centre at the bottom of the combe, but then just nature and local people living their normal lives. We parked in a small layby with several others cars and then headed off up the hill.

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Before we knew it we were beside the edge of the gorge with the rocky ribs showing through the thin vegetation clinging to the steep sides. We’d seen the small herds of goats from the car, but didn’t manage to spot any here: they are too canny and too agile to be approached too closely.

I photographed a carline thistle, which looked spikilly regal against the turf. Not a plant I have ever really noticed before, but one that I am glad to have seen.

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Fantastic views of further afield from the hill top, too. I can almost claim that I can see my house from here, as the view extends to Wales in the far distance, with the Bristol Channel and Clevedon and then the flat country which spreads out in front of the Mendips.

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We went on the the lakes at Chew Stoke for a completely different sort of walk – water birds, reeds and trees – before heading back to Clevedon.

The evening was so beautiful that we went off for our third walk of the day, round by the marine lakes and then up the hill. Here’s the view of the Mendips from Clevedon …

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and here’s the last shot I took of the setting sun with some fishermen and walkers obligingly silhouetted against the sky. Love the way the sun looks!

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Some of the featured photographs are available to buy at my RedBubble shop – MagsArt. You can buy them as framed or unframed prints, cards, prints to metal, cushion covers, tote bags … the possibilites are endless!

It’s so easy to walk and maintain fitness levels if you are enjoying what you are doing, and although we must have walked well over 6 miles in total, several of which were up and down hills, we hardly noticed the distance. For ideas on how to start walking your way to health, and have fun while you are doing it, see my Kindle book A beginner’s guide to walking for pleasure. It’s ASIN number is B00L3D7ENY, and it’s available to borrow free if you are a member of Amazon Prime.

Make the most of days like this …

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What a fabulous morning.  Blue skies, almost warm.  Wildlife and people out and about, enjoying the weather and feeling good about life.

Maybe you have to have winter and floods to really appreciate the beautiful days, or maybe we’re just hard-wired to respond to the light levels and the blue of a clear, sunny sky.  Whatever the reason, life is too short, so leave the housework, get out there and enjoy!

Walking and thinking

I’ve always enjoyed walking:  it needs no specialist equipment (just a comfortable pair of shoes) and it is non-exhibitionist (you always seem to notice joggers, but who takes note of a walker?

Provided your joints are in fairly good shape, the health benefits are obvious, especially if you keep up a good pace and take in a few hills along the way.  Here in Clevedon there are plenty of great walks and most days I get out before breakfast and do something between 7 and 12 thousand steps.  They say that 10,000 steps a day is enough to keep you healthy.

Favourite walks are Poet’s Walk:

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or looking the other way, towards Clevedon:

Imageor walking down the coast path, round Marshall’s field and the edge of the golf course and on towards Weston.

At high tide the boats moored at Clevedon Pill have an atmospheric look.Image

 

I’ve always known that I like the way that walking gives you the opportunity to stop and look when you see something interesting.  I like the natural world, and have been very pleased this year to see some wild birds I haven’t seen for years, such as linnets and skylarks, as well as a little egret.  And I like the vistas and landscape here too.  You can see why from the photos, I hope!

Recently I have been thinking about the actual pleasure that there is in walking.  There is a moment when you hit a nice rhythm and feel that you could walk for ever.  As it’s an easy and natural thing to do, you don’t have to think about what you are doing and your mind can range wild and free.

I think everyone has experienced the particular pleasure of stepping where no one has walked before – the first footprints in freshly fallen snow, or across a newly washed sandy beach for example. Recently I have been thinking about the pleasure of walking on ancient paths, where generations of people have walked over the years.  In more cases than you might think, footpaths have been in use since ancient times.  Lately archaeologists have been uncovering neolithic human footprints in the mud flats of the Bristol channel, and there’s an iron age fort on Wain’s Hill (around which poets walk runs). So my mind was running on the idea that I’m following in the footsteps of generations of people, and that more generations of people will follow the same routes in the future. This adds a spiritual aspect to the physical pleasure, which I haven’t thought about before.

Do pilgrims pick up on the same feeling, and does it add to their religious experience on reaching the object of their journey.  I wouldn’t be surprised.

Anyway, if you haven’t tried recreational walking lately, pick a good route, some comfortable footwear and get out there!

 

Watercolour sunsets and Winter swimming

So winter has arrived, and the UK has had the first snow of the season!  None near us yet.

We were down in Cornwall this week visiting Belinda and Jack, and had a very four-seasons-in-one-day time with hail storms, ferocious winds, sunshine and balmy warmth. Very nice to see them both and we are hoping for news of a house purchase soon.

Back in Clevedon the all or nothing weather continues.  Yesterday Nature was catering for the artist in us, with displays that anyone would want to photograph, paint or turn into a multi-media extravaganza.

First, the water on the Marine lakes had a marvellous texture.

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It looked like tweed with many crossing diagonals – but you have to look closely to see the effect in the photo.

And a little later we had a real water-colour sunset.

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Wales was a very attractive variety of blues, setting off the pastel sky beautifully.

On Saturday it was freezing and a strong wind was coming straight off the Bristol Channel.  However that did not deter one brave swimmer, who we saw tackling the waves.

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He didn’t get far before heading back in – we snapped him as he emerged from the tempest.  To be fair, I think the waves would have defeated all but the strongest swimmers, even if the temperature hadn’t been just over freezing.  It reminded me of the scene in Cast Away where Tom Hanks just couldn’t get over the breakers into the open sea until he built the super-raft.

I guess he’s in training for the traditional winter swim that takes place every News Year’s Day by the pier. (The swimmer, that is, and not Tom Hanks.  Although he might be there too, of course!)

I was thinking the other day how a few years ago my daughter was bemoaning the warm winters, and the fact she hadn’t seen more than a grey dusting of snow since she was tiny. That same year there was a television documentary considering whether, due to global warming, we in South of England had seen our last local snow and would need to become snow tourists to enjoy a white Christmas.  Well, things have changed since then with snow every winter and, for the last couple of years, snow before Christmas.

How is your Christmas shopping going? I think I have got everything I need, but it helps that I have family and friends well used to having low expectations. We are fine tuning arrangements now, with family booking train tickets and food shopping being planned.  I’m going to make some Christmas Chelsea buns, filled with dried cranberries, golden sultanas, butter, ground almonds and cinnamon, and drizzled with orange icing.  The plan is to arrange them into a Christmas tree shape on the baking tray.  If they turn out well I’ll post a photo!

Good luck with the shopping, everyone, and don’t forget to have fun!