Monday Meditation: Lilleshall Nature Trail Part II – By Day

I know that many of you are recovering from Thanksgiving, are in the final week of preparations for other family get-togethers at this time, or coping with the after-effects of winter weather or fires, but I hope you will accompany me on this week’s walk in the sunshine, take a few deep breaths, admire the landscape and recharge your batteries for a few moments.

I wrote in a previous post about our spooky night-time discovery of the new nature trail around the estate that is home to our National Sports Centre. We first saw it – barely! – in the gloom of the early evening and as I  promised, this post highlights the trail on a beautifully sunny autumn day 4 weeks later.  

The day was perfect for a walk: crisp and bright, the colours and the light perfect for photographs. It didn’t take long for us to realise that we had previously only experienced about a quarter of the trail, having missed the signs to other parts due to the darkness that had quickly descended.

The ducks look like they hadn’t moved since our last visit!

29936896_UnknownWe visited after lunch and despite the long shadows and bare branches in places, the sun is so full of himself, some of the photos look like they were taken in summer.

29936080_UnknownThe afternoon shadows of the trees stretch across the lush green lawns, but the sun illuminates the bright green trail sign at the entrance.

These next photos are some of my favourites, featuring more grand trees, with the sunlight showing off some glorious reds and oranges against a wide expanse of blue sky. There are several places on the trail where you can’t see around a dark corner and then you are treated to a wonderful view of the estate in the sunlight, or the path ahead is a stunning carpet of red leaves with that lovely autumn scrunch as you step across, or a patch of squelchy soft mud that kids like to stomp about in.

 

 

29936496_UnknownAs well as snaking through all the breathtaking grounds by follies and flowers, the trail takes you through dark woodland with lots of nesting boxes for all kinds of birds, bees and bugs, a bug hotel, and boggy areas for amphibians, all well-signed with lots of bright easy-to-see pointers and information boards.

This is the entrance inviting you in to explore the trail, you have no idea where it will take you – the last time we venture in, we disappeared into the dead of night!

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Here’s the ingenious bug hotel made from all sorts of natural materials and recycled items.

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These next exhibits made us stop in our tracks! Not real unfortunately, although there are several places around the grounds where you can see evidence of their presence.

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This one, however, is very real:

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Fortunately, we have very mild-mannered snakes here – my niece in Colorado recently posted a picture on Instagram of my recently-emigrated brother and sister-in-law on a hike with her 4 year old son, they were standing in front of a sign advising Caution: Rattlesnake area!

(I have never seen a snake in the wild, despite living in the countryside for most of my life and having walking holidays in Scotland). 

The trail would be fun with children, but anyone who is able-bodied would enjoy it. It is a great idea and well set-out.  There are tree trunks and fallen tree limbs to scramble over, wide spaces of grass to race about on, while above you stretches the wide open blue sky or the arching branches of majestic trees.

Sometimes you think you’ve come to the end and then you notice another sign on the opposite side of a wide area of lawn or pointing down a narrow track into another part of the woods. But you can exit at any point.

I loved every minute of our revisit to the nature trail, although my husband was disappointed we couldn’t find the way to the café – it was the only part that wasn’t well-signed!

I left one of my stones on a tree trunk near the bug house for a child to find on a future visit.

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I hope you enjoyed our  walk in the woods for this week’s Monday Meditation.

You might also like:

Laughter Really Is The Best Medicine – Paint a Rock & Give a Smile to Someone Who Needs It!

Monday Meditation: Mindfulness and Rock Painting

Monday Meditation : Gratitude & Faith in Nature

Copyright: Chris McGowan

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Monday Meditation: Lilleshall Nature Trail Part 1 – By Night

29669888_UnknownOne afternoon/early evening, late September, we’d both been cooped up all day for various reasons and as it was going to be a fine evening, we decided to take a walk around our favourite estate, Lilleshall National Sports Centre. We were on the cusp of autumn, the leaves were changing and the days were growing shorter, but we decided we’d have plenty of time before the light disappeared and it would be lovely to stroll among the trees at dusk for a change.

When we arrived, the sun was in quite a hurry to reach the horizon, everyone but us seemed to have taken the hint because there was no-one else in sight. I took a few photos, but by the last one below, the light was really fading and I had to use the flash. I thought we were soon going to have to make our own way home.

The ducks were enjoying the fine evening on the lily ponds:

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However, just as we were about to turn around, in the distance and off to the side, a large colourful sign caught my eye and I strode off to investigate. It announced the development of a new nature trail:

29670064_UnknownThis was too good to miss! It looked really dark and spooky in there but I couldn’t resist, I was sure we could make it through in what light was left. I wished we had our grandchildren with us, it would have been even more fun. With hindsight, we probably would have lost them and there was no gingerbread house for them to shelter in!

This was what greeted us as we stepped into the woodland:

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My husband was very reluctant but I left him no option as I marched off into the gloom. It was a bit foolish really, neither of us had torches and we didn’t realise until we did the trail a few weeks later in daylight how many obstacles I could have tripped over and really done some damage: large tree roots and fallen limbs, tree trunks, low narrow wire fencing to prevent people straying off the trail, just at knee height! But I love exploring and off I went.

29670112_UnknownWe came across lots of wooden boxes on trees for bugs, bees, birds and so on and illustrated signs with fun pictures and information about creatures and habitats. This is a bug hotel made from bricks, cardboard, plant pots, straw, pine cones, ferns and pebbles. I used a flash but you can see how dark it was:

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I felt a bit guilty as we realised we were disturbing the birds who were settling down for the night and who knows what other creatures felt invaded by our stumbling feet and stage whispers?

I’ll post some better photos of the whole trail taken in daylight next time, these don’t really do it justice.

By the time we came out, the light had completely disappeared. We discovered on our next daylight visit that we had only experienced about a third of the trail as there are exits and continuing paths all over the estate. Finally, on the way back to the car, this little chap was almost squished under my husband’s size 9s, it was so black out he only saw it at the last moment because a car’s headlights shone over it:

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He was in no hurry to move off the road, sitting frozen while I took several photos before he finally hopped off. He was the only wildlife we saw on our first visit to the nature trail!

We had set off in bright evening sun and arrived home in the dead of night an hour and a half later. I never take Lilleshall for granted, every visit shows up new sights and our evening walk didn’t disappoint. It is a little-known oasis of calm and beauty that we are very fortunate to have free access to at any time of day – or evening!

See Part 2 for more photos taken 4 weeks later on a beautiful autumn day.

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Monday Meditation: Making the Most of Autumn Leaves

29936192_UnknownIf it weren’t for the cold gusting winds, autumn would be my favourite season. We went for a walk in Lilleshall* again the other afternoon on a very blustery day, the wind so strong at times it almost blew us along. I didn’t take any photos because I’ve written often about Lilleshall and will be posting again soon (this picture is from a few weeks ago). The colours of the trees and the carpets of leaves were breathtaking and when the wind gusted, a shower of pale yellow silver birch leaves swirled about us, it was like walking through autumnal confetti. I just wanted to take it all in and not spend all my time framing shots with my camera. Sometimes I feel like I only have the experience secondhand through my photos afterwards rather than in the moment. This once, I wanted to take my time and drink it all up, really feel the wind in my hair, absorb the colours, take in the sounds of the trees, the ducks (all 13 of them) and the birds.

I’ve had a break from online activity recently and have not only been painting Christmas rocks, but also cards using various leaves as templates. It’s a relaxing, peaceful activity and takes no skill, just poster paint or thinned acrylic paint and a paintbrush. Children love to do leaf prints, many of the younger ones do them at school and I remember doing them with my young children.

IMG_4208One of the leaves I used is from the cherry tree I had planted for my dad and brother in our local cemetery – pictured here on a beautifully sunny autumn day a few weeks ago, I tried to catch the squirrel at the bottom of the tree but it ran off as I focused the camera.  I made cards from this leaf for upcoming family birthdays. It’s the top left in the photo below.

Here are some of my efforts:

30201488_UnknownWash and dry the leaves and flatten them between paper under a heavy object to smooth them out.

With fairly thin but not too runny paint, cover the front of the leaf, working the paint into all the veins.

Turn it over and gently position onto your paper or card, pressing down all over, especially the edges, trying not to smudge it.

Gently ease the leaf from the paper and if there are any gaps in the images, you can touch up with a thin brush.

I added some glitter glue to the holly ones when they were dried as I’m going to use them as Christmas cards. If you enlarge the picture below, you should be able to see the glitter.

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No two are ever the same, which makes them all individual and special to those who receive them.

My craft room is getting a little crowded what with all the rocks and cards, my collection of leaves and conkers, my paints and pens, but it is a quiet, calming and light space that overlooks the garden and is warmed by the sun. Virginia Woolf famously said that every woman should have ‘A room of one’s own’, I have waited years to have this space, but finally after all its many previous incarnations, I now have mine.

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PS The smoothie is Pomegranate Chia Pudding. Yum!

*Magnificent Trees, Olympic Medallists, A Czar & Some Sheep!

If you like country estates, you’ll love this!

Ducks Crossing! In Which We Take a Break from House Refurbishment

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Monday Meditation: An Autumnal Walk in the Park

29670864_UnknownA few weeks ago, we had to return a couple of items to a clothing store in the town centre and I realised it was near the vast Telford Town Park. I have never been there because it is huge, nor had I previously been able to manage the slightly uphill walk from the car park to the children’s area, which in the past would have been the part we would be visiting. It was an iffy sort of afternoon, it had all the appearance of being fine and unthreatening when we set off, but by the time we left the store it looked like it could turn at any time. We decided to risk it.

I wasn’t feeling great that day and was lacking in energy, so we took our time meandering just far enough to feel the sun on our faces, take some uplifting photographs and enjoy the peace and the autumn colours. The experience was eye-opening. I never knew this oasis existed in the middle of this urban conurbation. I was only aware of it as a venue for mass Bank Holiday events, mostly aimed at teenagers and young adults.

There is a small lake just inside the park and I was delighted to see geese, ducks and swans either snoozing on the banking, gliding over the morror-like surface or – in the case of the geese – apparently having had a bit of a tiff and taking time out!

I love the reflections. It was a huge privilege to witness this family of cygnets enjoying the late afternoon sunshine.

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The goose on the right looks in a real huff and none too pleased at my appearance! I abandoned the notion of any type of mediation. He didn’t attempt to wander off though and I stood watching for quite some time.

The mallard, however, was to all intents and purposes, having a siesta, but as I drew closer I realised he had his beady eye on me and was watching my every move. He did not twitch or flinch or show any signs of being disturbed by my presence and allowed me to take several photos. I felt humbled and honoured to be given this opportunity to be so up close, to see the textures and colours of his beautiful plumage. I seem to get on well with ducks!*

Eventually, we walked slowly away and sauntered around the play area. It was a school day, so we pretty much had the place to ourselves. These are extensive grounds but I only saw a tiny portion. I was tired and it started to drizzle so I just took a few photos of the trees, the magpies and a beautiful sculpture comprised of assorted shiny metal leaves:

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I am ashamed to admit I almost laughed at the quote. For anyone who knows Telford, it has been the butt of jokes since its inception as a new town comprising mainly industrial parks, ugly modern buildings and roundabouts, similar to East Kilbride in Lanarkshire and other New Towns. It was built to provide a hub for several outlying smaller towns surrounded by the beautiful Shropshire countryside. However, I looked around me and shed my preconceptions. I turned a blind eye to shopping centre (mall) at the far side of the lake, with all its junk food outlets and gaudy hoardings, and looked at the wonderful undulating landscape of the park, extending further than I could see with its woodland areas, lakes and abundant wildlife.

It had given me a couple of peaceful hours in the company of waterfowl and birds, amongst autumnal colours of every hue. I was sad to leave and go back to the car, but it was getting late and the light was fading. It was beginning to drizzle. I made a mental note to come back in the summer when body and blooms are at their best.

*Monday Meditation: A Study in Perseverance

Copyright; Chris McGowan

Monday Meditation: Taking Time Out To Just Be

 I had a whole week’s ebreak. Rather greedily, I was hoping to make it longer: it takes a couple of days to get used to not checking for mail/posts etc. but then I really enjoy the liberation that comes from being unfettered by phone and iPad. However, I generally have to email a company about a product I need to return, or do some online banking or some such thing, and it’s impossible to avoid noticing there are a gazillion emails awaiting my attention, and that’s just the inbox I use for my blog!

But even just a week away from screens is enough to make me feel calmer, and it’s good to take time out to reassess and plan changes.

A week away from all the negative news works wonders, lifting the spirits and renewing a deep-seated faith in human kindness, friendship and compassion. And there is so much more energy and motivation to tackle things that have been ignored for too long: you know that growing mound of paperwork that needs attending to, but with which you vainly try to avoid eye contact? I attended to mine! It felt so much better to have that done and dusted and no longer have it in the back of my mind, gnawing away.

We spent a lovely day collecting our Bramley baking apples and cherry tomatoes, swapping them with our neighbours for eating apples, beetroot, advice on growing potatoes for Christmas. I say ‘we’ collected, I just pointed and tried to stop him falling off the ladder!

 

We had so many face-to-face conversations with neighbours and enjoyed catching up with old friends, recently returned to our street.

We – or rather, my husband, again, I just supervised! – did some work in the garden, dead-heading, pulling up the sweetpeas and collecting seeds for next year, planting potatoes and ordering a pear tree from our local nursery. Time outdoors is never wasted time, whether it be just sitting watching the birds, the ants, or children running about, or walking in the woods or park. I feel my shoulders relax and my mood lift; my breathing slows and I take time to really look and absorb what’s around me.

When indoors, I painted and crafted, made cards and wrapped presents. On sunny days, I went for walks, collected leaves, watched squirrels, took pictures (the squirrels were too fast so excuse the poor quality!)

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I did get one to sit still though:

 

This sculpture was carved from a tree trunk with a chainsaw! Such talent. There is another sculpture of two hares in a circle, but I’ll save that for a future post about my rock painting as I hid one there.

I met this friendly little chap. We communed for quite a while, he posed quite happily for photographs before eventually hopping off through the hedge.

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Such a lot of butterflies around this past week, too, of varying colours. I saw the one below on a walk near my house. It alighted on the lamp-post as I approached. My 2 year old grandson sent me some conkers he had collected. We planted 2 as well as the acorn. On another afternoon I sat in the garden and watched the various layers of clouds moving and changing shape, brightening and darkening by turns.

 

So much achieved in a few days away from that ever-hungry screen, that devours so much of our time and attention. Yet, I didn’t feel stressed or overworked. I highly recommend it.

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Quick, Easy & Tasty Vegan Mushroom Soup (& Not a Drop of Milk in Sight!)

I love organic mushrooms. They are one of my must-haves on every weekly shopping list. I like different types but especially chestnut mushrooms. I like the firm, ‘meaty’ texture.  This week we had a glut, 2 weeks’ worth, as I’d been doing a juice cleanse and we forgot to cancel them. Most of them were little button mushrooms.

I really fancied some soup yesterday and thought I would try using some of them. I swithered about whether or not to use coconut milk and make a creamed soup, but really I just wanted it plain and simple, the milk felt too rich for my stomach. So here’s what I came up with. It’s not for the purists – the real chefs – I’m sure, but I loved it.

It’s quick and easy with only 2 ingredients apart from the oil and the seasoning. The only thing that may need adjusting is the salt levels: there is salt in the celery, tamari, stock cube and miso. We used 1 Tbsp of Miso but I’ve reduced it to a teaspoon in the recipe. I’m not even sure it needs it at all, I added it for the nutrients as much as for the flavour.

Miso paste is made from fermented soya beans and is a good source of probiotics (to keep the gut healthy), Vitamin K for bone health, copper, manganese and zinc as well as dietary fibre.

Chestnut Mushrooms are high in copper and vitamin B5 and are a source of B2, B3 and folate as well as potassium and selenium.

Celery is also an excellent source of vitamin K, and is a very good source of folate, potassium, dietary fibre, manganese and B5. It’s also a good source of vitamin B2, B6, copper, vitamin C, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and vitamin A.

So all in all, this soup is very good for you (adjust the sodium if you need to keep it low).

Serves 2.

All ingredients organic, vegan and gluten-free.

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Ingredients

1 Tsp Coconut Oil

Approx. 350g/13oz Chestnut Mushrooms, washed and skin left on

Celery Stalk, scrubbed

Tamari

Mushroom Stock Cube + approx. 450-500mls Hot Water

2 Tsps Cornflour + a drop of Cold Water to mix

1 Tsp Miso Paste + a drop of the soup to mix

 Black Pepper

Method

Chop the celery finely and most of the mushrooms roughly, reserving a few small whole ones for garnish.

Dissolve the stock cube in the water.

Melt the oil till hot but not smoking.

Place all the celery and mushrooms in the oil, a little at a time, stirring to keep them moving.

Add a couple of splashes of tamari and a few twists of black pepper.

Stir again.

Place the lid on and leave to cook on a low heat for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove the whole button mushrooms and leave them aside.

Add the stock, stir, replace the lid and cook for about 35-40 minutes, making sure the celery is cooked. Stir a couple of times. Don’t boil it, just let it cook gently.

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Add a little cold water to the cornflour and stir until smooth, add a spoon of soup to the mix then add it into the pan and stir on the heat until the soup is slightly thickened.

Add the miso paste then blend with a stick blender.

Add more black pepper if required.

Serve with a few button mushrooms on top.

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Copyright: Chris McGowan

A Rare Family Get-Together

img_1537We had my 86 year old mum staying with us for a few days last week and my brother and sister-in-law were able to make the trip up north from the south coast to spend the day with us on Friday. They had only recently returned from a family visit to the US, and Paul was suffering a creaky back from the plane journeys and playing with babies and toddlers, so I was extremely grateful that they made this special trip.

Mum only gets to see them about once a year as they live so far
apart and they spend a lot of time in the States visiting their son and daughter’s families.
She is very restricted in her mobility now and extremely deaf, we don’t know how much longer she will be able to travel here as it is a real struggle for her to get in and out of our car and up the single step into the house, so these get-togethers take on greater significance as the months go by.

We had a lovely day, swapping photos of our grandchildren and funny stories from our childhood. Mum learned about a few things my brothers used to get up to! She is always amazed at my powers of recall but she later told me a story I didn’t remember at all, of when we were very young and she looked up out of the front window to see cows in the garden, and in her neighbours’ gardens. They were trampling the borders and churning up lawns. Some roadworkers had left the gate open to the field they were in further up the street and they had escaped. This was a brand new urban council estate, so although we lived on the edge near surrounding fields, this was an unusual sight to say the least. We were the only ones in the street with a phone and someone suggested she call the police. She said she lived to regret it as she was called as a witness in the prosecution of the elderly farmer, whom she felt very sorry for.

Before Paul and Jila had to leave, we managed to perch on our new very firm sofa for a rare family photo:

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The Three Not-So-Wise Monkeys!

The following day was really warm and sunny and Mum and I were able to have lunch outside in the garden. She’s not able to sit out in her own garden and loves the peace and quiet here. We are very fortunate to have a back garden that is an oasis of sun and tranquillity, despite living on a very busy road. Often, there is just a distant hum of an airplane and the thwack of willow on leather from the nearby cricket club or a cheer from the bowling green around the corner. Mum loves the birds, but unfortunately can never hear them singing (she refuses to wear hearing aids!), which is a shame because the robin was trilling his heart out in the hawthorn tree for her. She is developing cataracts too, so she couldn’t see him, either.

She did however have some afternoon entertainment watching her son-in-law ‘scrumping’ or picking apples from the tree for her to take home. He was bumped on the head more than once from falling produce. He hade made an apple crumble the previous day which she enjoyed and she was going to take some apples back for herself and her neighbour.

I am always on pins when Mum is here in case she has a fall, but the visit passed without incident. She enjoyed speaking to our daughter on the phone on her last evening here and we sat up relating more stories from the past. I am always conscious of soaking up all the details when she speaks and I jot down dates and places. Her memory is starting to go in and out now, so I make the most of these moments.

My husband drove her home on Sunday, checked all her lightbulbs, plugged in lamps, checked the timer and clock on the heating and fixed the timer for her security lights. She is always happy to be home and is much more confident in her own surroundings. I am grateful that he does all this for her and makes the long and difficult journeys to bring her here and take her back, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to see each other.

Some October garden photos (copyright: me)