Red squirrels and the Lake District in September

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What a fabulous few days up in the lakes with lovely company and beautiful weather. There were so many photo opportunities, as the low, golden September light and still conditions made all the textures stand out and the colours sumptuous. I’m now sorting masses of material, and will be offering my favourite shots for sale through alecarte.com.

The good weather meant there were still plenty of tourists about, but the crowds of high summer have passed, so it was relatively easy to find parking places and secluded spots. And of course there are lots of opportunities to get right off the beaten track.

A particular high spot for me was seeing red squirrels in the wild around the charming little town of Cockermouth. I have seen them before, but only in wildlife parks. Recent efforts to support these natural British mammals seem to be working, and local people are making sure they have a habitat and can thrive. So lovely to see them running around, feeding up and preparing for the hard winter months! I didn’t even try for a photograph: I didn’t have the right kit with me, and I didn’t want to waste a moment of just enjoying the sight. We were too late to see osprey as they head for Africa once summer is over, and you have to try a bit harder for otters, I think, but maybe next time! We stayed at Rose Cottage guest house, and it was scrupulously clean, very comfortable and the breakfasts were excellent value. We will go again.

There were firsts for visiting some historical places too, and I really enjoyed Beatrix Potter’s house, Hill Top, and William Wordsworth’s childhood home on Main Street in Cockermouth. Hill Top was very busy – well, it’s a small house on a small plot and Miss Potter is eternally popular – so parking is limited, but it was well worth the visit. The atmosphere is exceptionally homely and warm, and the house looks just as it did when she lived there. We were able to park in the hotel car park next door – their tea room is busy with visitors to the village, and the view from their terrace is wonderful.

I don’t need to tell you how varied and exhilarating the opportunities for walking and cycling are. Miles and miles of stunning walks, and plenty of people taking full advantage!

Some of the roads need a confident driver and a suitable vehicle – Wrynose and Hardknott passes anyone? Steep (very), bendy (very) and narrow – single track with plenty of cars with nervous drivers comng in the opposite direction. A white-knuckle ride indeed, and I think we’ll consider hiring a 4×4 next time. And there will definitely be a next time!!

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.

Rain

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.

Out and about in Bradford on Avon and Clifton

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I’ve had a lovely Easter weekend, thank you for asking, with my son, daughter and daughter’s boyfriend visiting. We picked them up in Bristol on Saturday afternoon, and following a beautiful sunny walk along the Clevedon seafront enjoyed a pint at the Moon and Sixpence followed by a delicious meal at Junior Poon’s on Hill Road. Strolled home under a star-lit sky, chatting all the while.

On Sunday we headed out towards Bradford on Avon, although the weather forecast was less promising than we had hoped. However, the road over the Mendip’s was gloriously misty and atmospheric, and we saw the herds of goats used to crop the plants on the cliffs that otherwise would overwhelm the natural rare species and character of the gorges. I hadn’t been to Bradford on Avon before, even though one of my ancestors was born in the town, and I must say I loved it. I have included just a couple of photos to give an idea of the character of the place, but it is just lovely. The same golden stone that you see in Bath, interesting shops, and great walks, boat rides and cycling along and in the Kennet and Avon canal.  It poured with rain, so we dived into a very quaint coffee house for shelter and refreshments. Then we drove back to Clevedon via Bath and Bristol.

This morning we popped into Clifton across the beutiful suspension bridge, parked up and spent sometime strolling around Clifton village. My son had to head off to Temple Meads for his train, but the rest of us had lunch on the pub terrace at the Avon Gorge Hotel overlooking the gorge, basking in the beautiful warm sunshine. I saw a raven, but was the only one who was really impressed!

If you don’t know North Somerset, Bristol and Bath, I would recommend a visit. The countryside is beautiful with lots of good walks, and there are so many villages with welcoming pubs, so don’t just drive through on your way to Devon and Cornwall. Stop and say hello!

Floods and gales part II. It’s getting personal.

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I wasn’t going to add to the amount of words being bandied about over the continuing rain and floods, but my hand has been forced.

How unhelpful to have Eric Pickles and others in government sniping at the Environment Agency! Without unlimited funding, how could they have put in sufficient water management and flood defences to stop flooding with the amount of rain we have seen this winter?  And can you imagine the uproar there would have been if they had pushed for extra funding for flood defences five years ago, when the UK was in the middle of a dry period, with very low rainfall each winter? Well I can imagine the headlines, and they wouldn’t have been pretty!

The situation is dreadful and steps need to be taken to help those affected as much as possible in the short term, but almost more importantly we need to prevent this extent of flooding happening again.

Long term solutions are going to take real leadership and imagination. Yes, we need to spend money, but we need to spend it wisely. We need to hear about all the ways in which we can capture heavy winter rain to hold it back from causing floods to be used during dry months, as I can’t imagine dredging rivers alone will be enough. Perhaps large rain storage tanks installed wherever possible (new developments, parks, public land …) to be pumped out during the summer for irrigating crops, watering gardens, flushing toilets and the like.   Perhaps a law that buildings on low lying or flood risk land need to be raised up above the possible flood levels on stilts.  It should not be beyond our collective skills to come up with solutions that manage water to save properties, businesses and lives, but which can also help the wider environment including wildlife.  Maybe we can build in some green energy production into the bargain.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know that we need to be clever and collaborative to do this well. Come on, politicians!  Stop blaming everyone in sight and starting working on a big plan for the long term.

 

Holiday in Oz

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Aah!  The sun! The sand!  The sea!!

It’s just five days since we returned from our long-planned trip to Australia.  Fortunately we spent the weekend in Cornwall, collecting the cat from her holiday with our friends Belinda and Jack, so we have had a gentle re-introduction to real life.

We were away for almost a month, and combined a holiday with catching up with friends and family and going to my step-daughter Yolly’s wedding to  Casey.

The holiday started with a short stopover in Singapore, which gave us the chance to have a proper rest to minimise jet-lag and see somewhere new.  Alec had been to Singapore once before, but this was my first long-haul flight, so everything was new to me.  We took in a sightseeing tour bus for an overview: singapore slings at the Long Bar at Raffles and the retail overload that is Orchard Road.

Next day we flew to Brisbane and I was lucky enough to have a window seat so could watch the moonlit clouds passing beneath, and then the dawn spreading out over the east. You can sleep most nights, but you only get views like that a few times in a lifetime (unless you are a very frequent flier).  This is Brisbane from the air:

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The first week was taken up with catching up with family and seeing something of Brisbane.  We stayed with Claudia and Justin in Paddington, a lovely leafy suburb with beautiful Queenslander houses (wood cladding, wide verandahs and tin roofs) and plenty of cafes, restaurants and independent shops.

The wedding was held at Woodlands at Marburgh, inland from Ipswich.  I’ll post some photos in due course – they are mostly on a mislaid memory stick at present!!  The wedding was lovely. Yolly and the bridesmaids and flower girls were absolutely beautiful, and Casey handsome and happy.  A very good time was had by all.  Al did an excellent job as father of the bride, and you would never have guessed that he was nervous about his speech.  Preparation is everything!

After the wedding we had a few days with the family near Noosa on the Sunshine Coast (where I snapped the feet pictured above).  The area delivers on the Australian beach holiday front with beautiful sea, sand and skies, as you can see from the shot of Noosa Heads.

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We rented a big, slightly out-dated house at Marcus Beach.  The price was great though, so there were no complaints at all. And I saw my first kukkaburra. (Is that how it’s spelled?)

Then we visited Al’s friends Simon and Anne on their farm near Tumbulgum in New South Wales.  Fabulous setting with Mount Warning in the distance and wallabies, parrots, cockatoos, avocado trees and much more close at hand.  They held a wonderful barbecue to which they invited lots of old and new friends. We also enjoyed a pint (or a schooner, as they don’t do pints in Australia) at the Tumbulgum Tavern.

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Next on the itinerary was a stay ay Yolly and Casey’s house at Fernvale near Ipswich. It was much hotter inland, but the houses are well designed to be comfortable in the heat.  I really liked the fly screens all the homes have, which mean you can have the windows wide open without any worries that bugs and spiders might get in!  We enjoyed some delicious food, including pies from the world famous pie shop in Fernvale (115 varieties).  We also went for a drive up Mount Glorious, seeing some authentic rainforest and views that were, frankly, glorious, took a little walk beside lake Wivenhoe, had a picnic at the river and a trip into Ipswich.

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That’s our friend Ian on the left hand side with Al, Yolly and the little ones.

It’s always true that time flies when you are having fun, so it was much too soon that it was time to head to the airport for the last phase of the holiday in Melbourne.  We were only there for three days, but packed a lot in mainly thanks to Al’s friends Judith, Eileen and Mike.  We started by catching up with Jo and Silvio (Al’s niece and her boyfriend) in the suburb of Prahran.  Lovely to see Jo and meet Silvio, and what a nice place they live in! Lots of buzz and great eating places.  On the Saturday we met Al’s friends (and now mine, I’m happy to say!) under the clock at Flinder’s Street Station.

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We took a river boat out to Williamstown, where we had some delicious tapas and sangria.

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Mike and Eileen had to catch a train, so after an irish coffee Al, Ian, Judith and I found a nice japanese restaurant on Flinders Lane and spent a very happy evening.

Next day Judith drove us down Mornington Peninsula for a most delicious lunch cooked by the talented Eileen.  We had a stroll around the marina and then drove out to Port Phillip estate winery for a tasting, cheese and biscuits and dessert.   What lovely people, and what a lovely way to end the holiday, because then it was back to the airport and home via Singapore.

So that’s the holiday in a nutshell.  For those of a nervous disposition, I can report a marked lack of spiders, snakes and sharks, although we did get out into the country to see the wildlife.  One small and harmless snake close to, and one running away from us as fast as it could from the car window in the bush.  One small and very beautiful spider that politely stayed in it’s web in the garden.  Don’t believe what you read about death lurking around every corner!

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:

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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!