Monday Meditation: St Luke’s Village Church, Hodnet

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St Luke’s Church is next door to the beautiful Hodnet Hall Gardens, sitting just beside the entrance. This small, intimate church was open for visitors when we were at the gardens in the summer and is well worth a look if you like historic buildings and richly-coloured stained glass windows.

This Grade 1 listed building is Norman in origin and listed in the Doomesday Book. Much of the original Norman nave still exists. It has the only octagonal tower in Shropshire, with octagonal wooden clocks on each side. I had never seen a tower like it. I warmed to this unusual church instantly before venturing inside the porch, its open door inviting us in.

The stained glass windows were beautiful. One is in memory of Mary Heber, an ancestor of the current family in residence, and the other tells the story of The Holy Grail.  It was really difficult to find the right angle to do justice to the vivid colours and images, the sun was streaming through windows and washing out some of the colour. We were the only ones there and took our time, not feeling in anyway rushed by person or event.

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The aisles and chapels are tiled in various colours and intricate patterns. They are in wonderful condition. I spent a lot of time just sitting, contemplating, taking everything in, all the magnificent beauty and craftmanship.

 

 

IMG_3995The families who have owned the Hall have been – and still are – long-time patrons of this church, supporting its upkeep. Many of them are buried there or memorialised within the church. There are some very elaborate marble memorials on the walls and in the family chapel. Unfortunately, my camera battery died and I didn’t realise it had given up on the marble sarcophagus in the family chapel.

I’ve never seen pews like these before, they were all across the front of the congregation, no doubt there for the great and the good! I found them incredibly uncomfortable, forcing me to sit up rather than lean into them.

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I don’t know exactly what it was about this church, but it had a very welcoming feel to it. It’s quite small which makes it more intimate, less intimidating, for all its imposing stone and sense of history. There was a sense of continuity through the family names that you get in small villages, and lots of notices addressed to visitors and parishioners inviting them to look around, providing information and histories, a visitors’ book, but also framed photographs of the current incumbents and articles about local people and activities.

A lovely touch was the invitation to request a prayer for, or thoughts be sent to, someone who needed it, whatever the circumstances, no names necessary, and there were candles and matches if you also wanted to light one on their behalf. No charge. I requested a mention for our dear friend, Terry at Spearfruit.

(Please Note: I wrote this post some time before Terry passed away and I hope it doesn’t cause distress to anyone close to him. He was very much on my mind at the time of our visit).

One project I particularly warmed to was some research conducted by the local Scouts group into the names on the War Memorial in the church yard. This research was left out for all to see and filled in the details behind the names, turning them into real people not just ciphers. The project was at the back of the church for anyone to leaf through, with an invitation to contact the authors if any information is incorrect or if the reader had more up to date details to include.

There was a small piano alongside the ancient organ, and really old prayer books, Bibles, registers in full view, not locked away or removed for fear of vandalism, as in many churches these days. This added to the welcoming atmosphere of this beautiful church.

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I was reluctant to leave, but we had been out all afternoon and now it was approaching evening and the gardens where we had parked the car would soon be closing. If you click on the link in my first paragraph, you can read about this magnificent estate, one of the most stunning and unspoiled places I’ve visited.

A final look up towards the church from the entrance to the Hall:

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Copyright: Chris McGowan

 

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Monday Meditation: Cleaning Up the Neighbourhood

Last week, in my post Monday Meditation: My Walk Around the *Neigh*bourhood, I wrote about my walk up to the horses’ field and shared some happy memories of times past: spending time with them, taking treats and sharing precious moments. I wanted to keep the tone of that post positive, so I didn’t go into detail about the less pleasant aspect of the walk. This week, I shall elaborate on what made me so frustrated and angry.

This is what greeted me when I arrived at the field:

I was aghast at how much rubbish there was, just around the gate. I began to look up and down the grass verge along the busy road, and in the hedges.

So many plastic bottles, drinks cans, crisp packets and wrappers, whisky bottles, takeaway cartons. There was even a carrier bag full of takeaway cartons thrown into the hedge. My thought was: the clue is in the name, it’s called ‘takeaway’, ie you take it away! Some of it could have been blown there after a refuse collection: bits of cardboard, crips packets etc, but it was obvious much of it had either been thrown from passing cars or dropped by people congregating or walking past. (There is a waste bin a few yards away).

As I looked, I wished I had brought a bag with me, but then realised one bag wasn’t going to do it anyway and I couldn’t have picked up all the litter and carried it by myself.

I walked home, slowly, subdued, pondering on why people would have so little regard for their environment, and the amount of damage to wildlife.

39DF2B78-A987-4713-BBEC-A8B5823CDBC5This field and verge is the first thing you see when entering our small country town, and it doesn’t exactly make you want to stop and support local businesses or visit local tourist attractions. Our town has a long history and still has some Tudor buildings, a canal, a lake, lots of Blue Plaques detailing where famous people lived or visited, old pubs and so on.

B22E4613-CE66-44EB-9FF8-0DA7489D089DIt used to be on the route taken by the Royal Court on its way north, and provided fish for royal banquets. Charles Dickens stayed here, it’s rumoured he got his inspiration for Miss Haversham during that visit. Princess (later Queen) Victoria stayed at a local inn which was later renamed in her honour. We still have cobblestones, an annual carnival, Old Tyme Market, a nocturnal bike race.

On my way home, I began to notice all the litter under the hedgerows, and flattened cans and bottles in the gutter at the roadside. There was even a plastic wheel hub on the pavement.

This is a rural area, not an inner city. I couldn’t understand it. I realised as I walked, eyes down, how much litter we walk past every day, we have become innured to it. We live in an area surrounded by several schools, and a lot of the rubbish is from the school kids on their way home. Other things, takeaway cartons, beer cans, for instance, is what is discarded on the way home from a night out at the weekend. Some is discarded by parents parked outside schools waiting for their children, or dropped by the children getting into the cars: hairbands, hairslides, bits of paper, sweet wrappers, cigarette ends.

I told my husband when I got home, hoping but not daring to ask that he would say what he did: I’ll help you.

Next day, in cold but fine weather, we set off with large recycled charity bin-bags (the ones that regularly get pushed through our letterbox and collect in the cupboard of our utility room), disposable gloves and two grab sticks.

This was our haul:

We gathered all this from about a hundred and fifty yard stretch by the field and then another 2 bags on the way home, including the wheel hub that was still lying on the path. It was pretty hair-raising at times with traffic hurtling past as they came off the by-pass onto the residential area.

It took about 2 hours and at one point the first bag split, but some gardeners working on a new housing development nearby let us empty it into their skip. They told us, if we needed to do it again another day, just to go around the corner and use the builders’ skip. They appreciated what we were doing.

Just as we neared home and were pretty tired, a local authority highway maintenance truck driver nodded to me and gave me the thumbs up, which made me smile. I found myself humming Lonnie Donnegan’s ‘My Old Man’s a Dustman’ as we headed for home! (See video link below*)

It had been an exhausting – and cold! – couple of hours’ work, I hurt all over and wanted a hot shower, but I felt so much better about this day’s walk than the previous one, I was no longer angry.

I felt proud that I had actually been able to do something for the community.  We must have walked and driven past all this litter so many times, I don’t why it had such an effect on me this time, but I’m glad I noticed and that I was able – with my husband’s help – to take some action, and not just send off an irate email to the Refuse Department of the Local Authority!

We became even more determined to ditch as much plastic as we could from our regular shopping. I regularly support campaigns and sign petitions calling for a ban on single-use plastic items: straws, bottles, takeaway cutlery etc. but I realise, that’s not enough.

Sitting at a keyboard is easy, actions are what count.

Related posts:

Let’s Ditch the Plastic

Earth Day: Microbeads – What Are They Good For…?

* A fun video: My Old Man’s A Dustman by Lonnie Donnegan

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Monday Meditation: Relax with these Raw Tiger Nut, Cacao & Coconut Treats

9D53B3F2-CD26-408F-8731-EA58B260A9E2When life is relatively calm, ie no family crises, and I find myself alone with no urgent tasks, I like to sit down and just let my mind wander where it will. I might close my eyes and just wait for my breathing to slow, or I watch the birds, or just take in my surroundings: the paintings, the family photos, the gentle flames of the woodburner.

When I am completely relaxed, I might get the urge to be creative. This can mean painting rocks, making cards, or even writing a letter – the old-fashioned way! But often, I like to bake or cook. It needs to be simple, quick, and not require that I keep several plates spinning at once, and definitely no interference.

Cooking on my own at leisure is a different experience from the pressure cooking of doing a meal with other bodies around and people requiring my attention or getting in my way. I like to be free to select whatever appeals, create something for my own pleasure and not have to be mindful of others’ pernickety tastes!

B2D4B8E0-1499-443E-962E-920F164433FEI rarely follow a recipe, or if I do, it’s more of a starting point that inspires a variation of the original, as with these no-added sugar energy balls. I fancied a little something with my cup of tea and didn’t really know what the result would be, but on looking in the cupboards I found some Tiger Nut Powder that needed using and remembered a recipe on The Tiger Nut Company Instagram page for Tiger Nut Macaroons by Eve Kalanik.

I used the general measurements, but made some substitutions: almond butter for the cashew, cacao nibs for the coconut chips and coconut water for the plain water in the original recipe. I also added some wild berry-flavoured supergreen powder.

These take literally seconds to make in the food processor and once in the fridge, by the time you’ve cleared up and put on the kettle, they are ready to eat.

It’s easy to make your own substitions so long as they’re like for like, but the texture or flavour will be different.

These easy raw treats are Vegan, Gluten-free and can be made Nut-free if you use Seed Butter. 

Please note: Tiger Nuts are Tubers, Not Nuts.

Ingredients

100g Tiger Nut Powder

45g Desiccated Coconut 

1 Tbsp Raw Cacao Nibs, for a bit of crunch

2 Tbsps Almond Butter 

A pinch of Pink Himalayan Salt

4g Vivolife ‘Thrive for Her’, Raw Green Superfood Powder, Wild Berry flavour

Approx. 4 Tbsps Coconut Water (or water or apple juice)

Pulse all ingredients except water for a few seconds. Add water and process for a couple of seconds to mix.

Scoop spoonfuls of the mix and roll into balls.

Makes about 10.

Place in the fridge to set.

Keep for days in an airtight container in the fridge and for a long time in the freezer if you can resist!

So much healthier and satisfying than a shop-bought biscuit or pastry to have with your afternoon cup of tea, and will give you a lift, making you more alert and energised without the inevitable slump afterwards.

The tea, by the way, is Pukka Herbs’ Licorice and Cinnamon. A perfect relaxing combination on your own or to share with a friend.

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Copyright: Chris McGowan

Monday Meditation: A January Day in the English Countryside Part II

Last year at this time, I posted photographs of a walk along the local lanes on a clear, warm January day in what turned out to be another mild winter.* This year, the weather couldn’t be more different. We had 7” of snow before Christmas, sub-zero temperatures and cowered under numerous storms as we shivered by the woodburner and gradually desiccated in the central heating. This past week has again been freezing and wet, and we’ve just had another two days of sleet and snow.

This particular afternoon, however, the wind abated, the rain stopped and the sun peeped out for a look-see, so we took the chance for some fresh air and exercise and decided to retrace our steps from the previous year.

There was so much mud, debris (squashed plastic water bottles and other litter blown hither and thither by the gales) – and horse manure – on the lanes and verges! But I spared you all that detritus and picked out as much green as I could. We didn’t see the animals on the smallholding, which seemed abandoned, but we did see some sheep. Here are the photos I took this time around:

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This proud wood pigeon wasn’t at all camera-shy, he posed for a very long time, allowing me to get the perfect picture, making sure I only caught his good side, though!

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If you zoom right in on the next photo, you should be able to see a flash of orange just a little left of the tree trunk in the middle. This robin flitted about the whole length of the lane but was always in too much of a hurry to get a decent shot.

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This squirrel on the other hand sat motionless for so long he could have been an ornament. He was so well camouflaged, much darker than all the other grey squirrels, it was a while before I realised he was there. We had met a friend of my husband’s and they stood chatting under this tree. I had my eyes skyward, looking for birds when I spotted him.

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Do you remember the odd long pods that looked like suspended grey broad beans from last year’s post? This year, there were hardly any, those that were in evidence were shrivelled and black and much smaller, but there were many more of these pink, blossom-like flowers on the twigs. I still don’t know what it is.

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From the colour of this sky, you wouldn’t believe we have had endless days of heavy dark cloud, rainstorms and winds strong enough to blow you along the street. My mum’s fence was blown down last week! It was so calm this afternoon, but cold enough to freeze your breath.

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I think this is my favourite photograph from today. 

It was such a refreshing break to be outside amongst the nature we are so privileged to have all around us. It is threatened, sadly, by endless new housing developments which have taken up all the open fields around the schools here. These views are on opposite sides of the lane we walked. The view on the right used to be the same as that on the left.

 

 

We make the most of it and appreciate it while we can.

*Monday Meditation: A January Day in the English Countryside

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Monday Meditation: A January Day in the English Countryside

Originally published in January 2017, now updated.

A few pics from our impromptu afternoon out when we were in need of fresh air and space after being cooped up for some time. It was a grey but fine day with no icy winds to sting our faces and make our eyes water, unlike the storms currently battering the UK a whole year later. We did the same walk this week and when I compare the views, it is noticeable how much greener, calmer and more fertile-looking the land was last year. This year there is a lot of mud and debris from all the winds and rain. I’ll be posting the latest photographs in a companion piece later.

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Lots of crab apples!

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A gnarly old tree, one of many!

Does anyone know what plant these grey pods belong to?

 

They look like they are from a climbing plant, they were growing next to some lovely yellow winter jasmine overhanging a garden wall and had a few small pink flowers like blossom on their branches. They look like grey broad beans! (A year later, there were hardly any pods, and what there were looked black and shrivelled from the frost).

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An English country lane. We saw a fat grey squirrel leap from the bare twigs of a tree on the right hand side of the road into the large pine tree opposite, very athletic! Such a contrast between the lush green conifers on the left and the bare-twigged hawthorns on the right. We were accompanied by a robin we saw a few times down this lane, but he was a little camera-shy, he kept flying off before I could take his photo.

Some farm animals on a smallholding, the grey goose did not like our presence one little bit!

 

This poor goat was looking at us and bleating the whole time, both when we passed the first time and again an hour later. Then we realised it was in exactly the same position. It was clearly quite distressed and we realised it was tethered so tightly it could neither turn around, lie down or move in anyway from this position. I can’t stop thinking about how disstressed it was and how much stress there must be on its joints etc. having to remain in that position. There was no-one around to do anything about it.

When we retraced our steps exactly 12 months later, there was no sign of any of the animals, the land looked abandoned; they could have been in the out-buildings, but we heard no sound.

27536816_unknownMore crab apples! This time in a small woodland.

(None at all 12 months later).

 A lonely glove. This one’s for the Tom Hanks’ collection! Did you know he collects photos of discarded/lost gloves?

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Copyright: Chris McGowan

Monday Meditation: Our Family Christmas, Festive Food & Veganuary Links

  We are still in the middle of family visits, but I wanted to say I hope you all had the Christmas break you wanted and to share some photos of our family Christmas, which is still going on a week later as my daughter’s family descended en masse to celebrate New Year with us.

Family is very important to me and I love this time of year when I get to see everyone in the one place, not all together nowadays as Mum needs the downstairs room that the children use, but in stages. Mum had lunch with our daughter on the 23rd (see Monday Meditation: Mothers and Daughters at Christmas), and with our son’s family before she went home on the 27th, which meant so much to her. Because she lives ‘up North’ and her grandchildren and great-grandchildren too far south to visit her, the only time she can see them is when everyone meets in the middle at our house, which is usually at Christmas. I have a lot to be grateful for, not least that everyone can and does travel quite a distance to spend time together when health and other commitments allow.

Here are a few shots from this week – my husband is holding some homegrown potatoes he’d just dug up for lunch, and a potato bag I had bought him in which to store them. I am holding a beautifully soft wrap from him, and Mum is approving the perfume of the gorgeous handwash given to her by her grand-daughter.

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My son won £20 on his lottery ticket! His son was very pleased to be given a small share of the winnings, he was very ill and it cheered him up. 

 

 

 

 

 

Mum and I received some beautiful flowers.

Christmas food:

We made a nut roast from a Vegetarian Society recipe for Christmas lunch, which was excellent. We couldn’t find any vegan gluten-free ‘sausage’ rolls – apparently they don’t exist – so we made our own from Jusrol vegan gluten-free pastry and Dees Wholefoods vegan, gluten-free sausages. The Waitrose own vegan, gluten-free Christmas pudding was excellent and my husband and mum couldn’t tell the difference. In fact, my husband said it was the best Christmas pud he’d tasted!

 

 

The soup is carrot and sweet potato before it was blended, ready for the family visit. I made some Christmas granola for gifts (it had goji berries, apple-infused cranberries and pumpkin seeds in it for the Christmas colours, and was finished off with a red ribbon) plus some mango chutney; my grandson made us some German cinnamon biscuits and my son made us raw chocolate truffles (mine have gone already, I forgot to photograph them! They were delicious peanut butter chocolate fudge with a little rum). The bottom left picture is of the truffles I was making for the teenagers about to invade this weekend. They had marzipan centres, one batch was covered in chopped almonds and Pitch Dark raw chocolate, melted with cacao butter, the other in Mint – from The Raw Chocolate Company. The stir-fry yesterday was a welcome change from so much rich food!

On New Year’s Eve, we played a killer game of Monopoly (no prisoners taken, I was the first into bankruptcy!), and watched Star Wars: Rogue One, the teenage boys hoovering up copious amounts of (non-vegan) pizza and snacks! Here are the beautiful presents they made at school, the pouch and the sunset scene were made from hand felted wool, the candle holders are ceramic:

 

 

I always look forward to their handmade gifts. The dog was the only one oblivious to the wind and rain!

This is currently the vegan fridge:

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…and this is the non-vegan fridge:

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…because The Boys are Back in Town!

Don’t forget Veganuary begins on Monday 1st January.

Over 100,000 people have signed up this year at Veganuary.com to commit to trying to be vegan for a month. There are many health and environmental benefits to changing to a more sustainable plantbased diet. See my posts below which explain the scheme and help you find the information you need to be a healthy vegan.

Have a lovely weekend and I wish you and your families a happy and healthy 2018.

Veganuary

Veganuary – results

Environmental Benefits of Adopting a Vegan/Vegetarian Diet

Where Do I Get My Protein on a Vegan Diet?

Where Do I Get My Calcium On A Vegan Diet?

Where Do I Get Iron on a Vegan Diet?

Where to Get Nutritional Advice for Young Vegans and Newbies

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Monday Meditation: Mothers and Daughters at Christmas

IMG_4331As I write, it is 2 am on Christmas Eve. I can’t sleep. It’s been a busy and quite an emotional day and I have too many thoughts going around in my head. For the first time in many years, I got to spend a few hours alone with my daughter, whom I miss more than she can understand, and later my elderly mum arrived for a few days with us. We three generations of women chatted and laughed and had our photos taken – although I doubt any of them will see the light of day since we couldn’t get it together long enough for all of us to stop laughing at the same time! The photographer – my husband – wasn’t any better, he was laughing so much at us, his hands were shaking so most of them are out of focus anyway.

But although it’s lovely to have photos to look back on, I don’t need them to remind me of today, I will always remember it. 

I will remember sitting outside in the winter sun having a cup of licorice tea as I waited for R to arrive. I’d had a busy morning making sure everything was ready for Mum, even down to sweeping the moss from the paths so she wouldn’t slip; I was over-excited about seeing my daughter, who works so hard and has such a busy time with three teenagers that I only see her three times a year, but never on her own. I took a few minutes out of my busy schedule to breathe and enjoy the warmth and brilliance of the sun in a cloudless blue sky, which had been absent for so long. It was a welcome sight and it made me smile.

I laugh as I recall how I had planned to meet her on the drive as she pulled in and give her a big hug as soon as she got out of the car, only to have her rush past me calling ‘I need a wee!’ and dash off to the bathroom. (She would not be impressed if she knew I had included that gem, but she doesn’t have time to read my blog so I’m safe). As soon as she returned, she said, ‘Shall we do that again?’ and I got my hug before she emptied the car of all the items she was returning from her brother or donating to our household in yet another clear-out of her home. She is very much the minimalist and nothing outstays its welcome.

We sat outside and she told me all about the party they’d had the previous evening, laughing at the compliments she’d received from her guests for all the food she must have spent hours cooking, which was actually delivered to her door by the very nice man from Waitrose!

After a while, I took her to look at the sheltered housing community where we are hoping to get Mum settled sometime in the next year – I need constant reassurance from my family that I am doing the right thing and she gave it the thumbs up. A man was walking his little dog, which wanted to say hello, and he told us his mum lived there and how it was a close-knit, friendly community and that his mum was really happy there. I was heartened by his comments.

We then went round the corner to Waitrose – how did we manage without them? – to choose some flowers for Mum, momentarily shocked to see that all the beautiful  Christmas bouquets from the day before had disappeared,  but we found one bunch of creamy-white roses in bud that did the job. We returned home for lunch of homemade carrot and sweet potato soup and waited for Mum to arrive.

I will never forget the look of sheer joy on my mother’s face when she greeted her grand-daughter, whom she hadn’t seen for two years. Or the long hug, and the giggling, girlish chatter of my daughter, taking me back to before she became a wife and mum, a coper in difficult circumstances, a hardworking exams officer and foster mother. Watching my mum and my daughter teasing and joking, my daughter laughing so much she had tears in her eyes, was present enough for me.

My mum is very deaf and very stubborn, she refuses to wear hearing aids and misses a lot or mishears, which can lead to some amusing conversations at times, she forgets easily and becomes confused, but today seeing her laugh so much and enjoy my daughter’s company took years off her and it was a sight to behold. I smile at the memory.

We had dinner together, a vegetarian curry cooked by my husband, took our photos and then it was goodbye to my daughter as she returned home to discover what havoc her boys had wreaked while she was away. I am sure there would have been nothing left in the fridge had there not been a Waitrose delivery that afternoon! (I’m really not getting any commission for this extended advert!)

Mum and I spent the rest of the evening watching first a Michael Ball concert – not my cup of tea, but she really likes him – and then an André Rieu concert, both at ear-bursting decibels (‘it wasn’t that loud’) before we called it a day.

And this day would have made Christmas for me, except I get to do it all over again on Wednesday with my son and his family and then my daughter’s family will be descending en masse for New Year’s weekend. A week of musical beds ensues!

I am very fortunate to have family willing to travel distances to spend special occasions with us, and that my husband is willing and able to make the long journey to pick up Mum and take her home again. I know there are many who aren’t able to be with those they care about or who are isolated for whatever reason, and I never take my family for granted.

However you spend Christmas, I wish you peace and good health. And thank you for all the support you have given me this year, I appreciate all your comments and encouragement.

From our family to yours, Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year!

And now I’m off back to bed!

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Copyright: Chris McGowan

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

Monday Meditation: Mango Chia Pudding or Sunshine in a Jar – no blender required (plus hidden smoothie recipe)

81E39081-4E5E-4799-9FDD-F06C804F0520(I apologise to those of you experiencing snow and freezing temperatures while reading this, I wrote this post only 3 weeks before and now there are 3″ of snow on the ground and more promised next day! I feel like I should be posting about a bowl of piping hot porridge!)

The previous day had been soul-sapping: it was one of those depressingly endless steel-grey November days with rain, biting chilly wind and a need for continuous artificial light; one of those days where you feel yourself slowly desiccating in the central heating. I find it hard to motivate myself on these days, no energy whatsoever, I just want to stay under the duvet or sit in front of the tv wrapped in a shawl with chocolate and licorice tea for company!

This particular day, however, was its polar opposite and I was up with the lark: endless blue skies and bright sunshine greeted me when I woke up. I had my early Morning Glory juice (see 7 Juice Recipes) and went for a walk. I love being out in the fresh air with the warmth of the sun on my face, I feel I am a completely different person and I can do anything I put my mind to. I am full of gratitude for my surroundings: for the proximity of parks, fields, woodland, the creatures that inhabit them, and I greet everyone I meet with a cheery smile.

45EE5A14-5195-457D-A60E-D9FDE8B83B40I passed a garden being landscaped and found some small smooth pebbles in the pile of earth that I could use for painting. I saw a couple of squirrels running rings around a tree and digging up hidden larders of acorns. I stood and admired a soaring buzzard before leaving a painted rock on a war grave in our nearby cemetery.

I came home invigorated and ready to be creative with my rocks. First, though, I made breakfast: Mango Chia Pudding, the bright orange fruit reflecting the weather and my mood.

Before I left for my walk, I had put some chia seeds to soak with some homemade Tiger Nut Milk in a jar, and removed some chopped mango from the freezer. It was just a matter of layering my chosen ingredients in the jar, quick and easy. It looks and tastes yum! A nutritious jar of autumn sunshine.

Recipe

(vegan, gluten-free, organic where possible)

In a jar, tall glass or glass dish, mix 1 Tbsp Chia Seeds in 4 Tbsps Tiger Nut Milk (or any other plant milk) and stir vigorously (I get my organic, peeled tiger nuts from The Tiger Nut Company)

Leave in the fridge until the seeds have swelled.

Layer cashew pieces, live coconut yogurt (or any other kind) and mango pieces, until the jar is full.

Add your favourite toppings. I used goji berries, raw dried mulberries, cacao nibs, raw chocolate covered mulberry chips* and more mango. You can use seeds, coconut, blueberries, grated raw chocolate.

Order up some sun and some birdsong, relax and enjoy.

30200944_UnknownI sat outside on this early November morning to eat my breakfast pudding and it could have been Spring. The hanging baskets were still showing off, if a little windswept, the nemesia was still in full delicate bloom and I had seen daisies growing in someone’s lawn on my walk. The robin was hopping about, busying himself collecting insects where my husband had edged the garden path. What a contrast to the day before. I felt so much better. (The picture here shows the nemesia and the smoothie I had the following morning: banana, mango, blueberries, romaine, walnuts, golden linseeds, chia seeds, coconut water, live soya yogurt. There, two recipes for the price of one!).

(PS We now have 6″ of snow, it’s magical, like a winter wonderland from the old black and white Christmas films).

*I buy mine from The Raw Chocolate Company

Three Cheers for Chias! What Are Chia Seeds & How Do I Use Them? Recipes included

Painted Christmas Card Rocks & Taking A Break

Monday Meditation: Mindfulness and Rock Painting

Copyright: Chris McGowan

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