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

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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

A Visit to Dad’s Tree

I have been in reflective mood this week. This month is full of birthdays – not just my husband and daughter’s, but so many of the people I was close to who are no longer here: my brother, father, grandfather, 2 uncles, they all had birthdays this week.

img_3815Thinking of them, of their combined love of the outdoors, of wildlife, plants, walking, creativity through music, writing, upholstery, gardening, reminds me of our interconnection. I like to think of their spirit living on in me.

I am also reminded that things can change in a split second. It can be a heart attack or a devastating diagnosis. But it can also be an unexplained remission or what seemed an unbearable situation can turn around on the words or actions of a stranger.

These thoughts reawaken my own spirit, remotivating me when I am beginning to feel overwhelmed by pain or by circumstances, either personal or global. Being outdoors, filling my lungs with fresh air, listening to birdsong and the rustling of the trees, re-energises me and helps me square up to my recurrent pain and look it right in the eyes. It feeds my creative urge and I want to pick up my pen, my paintbrush, my camera.

Last weekend, I visited the tree I had planted for my dad and brother, about 11 years ago, a cherry tree. I hadn’t been there for a long time, but felt drawn there on a particularly difficult day. I could see scratches on the lower part of the trunk where the squirrels ran up and this made me smile. Dad used to like feeding the squirrels. I stood with my hands on this now sturdy trunk, closing my eyes and silently talking to my dad and brother, thanking them for helping me through difficult times and asking for them to be with me as I faced another physical setback. I drew strength from the tree, from the warmth of the sun which had broken through the clouds, brightening what had started as a gloomy day. I bade them farewell until the next time.

IMG_4058I slowly opened my eyes and prepared to step away from the tree and make my way home. As I did so, I wondered if the crocuses I had planted all those years ago still flowered in the Spring? While thinking this, I involuntarily looked down at the base of the tree and saw two white feathers beside my feet.

Today is my dad’s birthday. I shall celebrate by watching one of his favourite John Wayne films, which also happens to be a favourite of my husband: The Quiet Man, set in Ireland, and I will set aside my feminist sensibilities and laugh. A lot.

Happy Birthday, Dad.

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Copyright: Chris McGowan

Monday Meditation – A Stroll Around Hodnet Hall Gardens

On the recommendation of 29400512_Unknowna new friend, we recently visited the beautiful gardens at Hodnet Hall, a sprawling, centuries-old estate in Shropshire. It has so many trails, gardens, lakes, magnificent trees, waterfalls – there is always something else to discover around the corner.

It is such a tranquil place, we went on a fine though at times overcast August Sunday and often felt like we were the only people there. It is not a flashy place at all, no amusements, almost no signage (you are handed a map of the trails on arrival), no ice cream vans, no litter, no overhyped overtired children, no gift shop. Instead, young children were happily roaming about, enjoying the freedom and fresh air, often accompanied by grandparents, sometimes extended families; there were young couples, elderly couples and those who were obviously regular visitors to historic houses and/or serious walkers. But as you can see in the photos, we were barely aware of anyone else, such is the design of the estate.

The grounds are structured so that there are many separate parts to the whole, where you can sit or walk through areas of parkland or woodland, waterways or flower gardens and barely hear a sound but for the birds, ducks or swans and the gentle lapping of water. There are wooded glens, wooden bridges and walkways over the water – one looked decidedly like the hangout of the local troll!

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There is a sixteenth century timbered building that has become the tearooms but used to be the stable block of the original mansion. Its interior is not for the faint-hearted i.e. me! The walls are covered in the heads of African game, including a huge water buffalo, and there is even a fully stuffed lion and tiger, just standing there to left and right of the entrance! No vegan food here!

But back to the start:

The small pay booth by the entrance gates is manned by a lovely elderly gentleman called Tony, who is so welcoming and knowledgeable, and always happy to chat.

The driveway into the gardens is flanked by beautiful multihued hydrangeas, they grow throughout the grounds in indivdual gardens and along the paths: blue, purple, all shades of pink, white, so many I could have spent all visit just photographing hydrangeas and little else!

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The current house is Victorian and was built when the family decided to move across the grounds to a higher, less damp position, but it was renovated in the 1960s. These steps lead down to one of the lakes:

The middle photo is of the other side of the house to where the main drive leads. Unfortunately the house is roped off, only the gardens are open to the public.

The bottom picture is the stone garden, a separate circular and sheltered spot where you can sit and just listen to birdsong.

The lakes are stunning. There are 5 of them, in varying sizes and settings. Some are quite wild and dark, set in almost rainforest-like conditions, one has pike, one has waterfalls, some more restful with swans and lily pads.

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There are some interesting structures and sculptures too. 

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The structure top left is the old smoke house – it has a seat in it these days.  The building below it is a 16th Century dovecote, a symbol of financial and social success. Pigeons would nest there and the young squabs taken before they could fly, destined for the dining table and regarded as a rich man’s delicacy. Below is the tithebarn or threshing barn from the same period:

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But this was my favourite view, we sat here for a very long time in quiet contemplation – my camera had given up when the battery died so I had to take this with my iPhone and it turned out to be my favourite. I leave it here for you to enjoy:

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Note there are no photos of big game!

(See also my post on the beautiful St Luke’s Village Church next door to the Hall).

Copyright: Chris McGowan

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

We had been cooped up for so long with all the work being done in the house and having the drive resurfaced: the parquet floor* took 9 days instead of 4, the drive had been delayed and went from taking 5 days to 11 days due to the rainy weather and we were also decorating the kitchen and lounge! The middle Sunday, however, turned into a fine day and I was feeling like a caged animal, so we took a short drive to one of my favourite places: Lilleshall National Sports Centre, where the  gardens and magnificent trees never cease to uplift and inspire.

Here are some photos from that afternoon’s breath of fresh air:

 

 Then, on the way out, along the long drive with its line of conifers, old farmhouse cottages and where we often see squirrels, a badger, pheasant and rabbits, here was a flock of ducks waiting to cross the road. We slowed to a stop so I could take a photo, and waited as they regarded us, assessed the situation and eventually decided it was safe to cross. Tentatively, the first one stepped out, looked at us then carried on, while the others had a little huddle to discuss whether he was wise or insane and then slowly followed his lead in a long line.

 

 Three cars were stopped either side of the road until they reached safety and proceded on to the lake a few hundred metres away. It made my day.

See also: Magnificent Trees, Olympic Medallists, A Czar & Some Sheep! for the history and more beautiful photos of Lilleshall

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If you like country estates, you’ll love this! for a different seasonal view.

*The Tour de France & A Parquet Tour de Force!

Copyright: Chris McGowan

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

Last summer, in Magnificent Trees, Olympic Medallists, A Czar & Some Sheep! I took you on a tour of our National Sports Centre at Lilleshall and gave you a potted history in among the photos of the beautiful grounds. Many of you have liked this post and those of a similar ilk, and I am so thankful to be living in the vicinity of these grounds, I thought I’d share these photos of Lilleshall in Spring. Unfortunately, we only had an iPhone, so some of the ones taken at a distance are out of focus, the zoom is really bad. I hope it doesn’t spoil your enjoyment.

These were taken on a gorgeous sunny midweek afternoon – these gardens really are breathtakingly beautiful and the trees are just overwhelming in their majestic beauty. Whatever season you visit, the colours are just stunning. The amazing thing is that it is always quiet and peaceful. During this visit, there were people from Rugby England (the sport not the town) on some sort of course; the England gymnasts and archers train here as well as the footballers, but local people can visit and use facilities, my husband has sports massage there and benefitted from their treatment when he had his bike accidents.

Get ready to be in awe! The rhododendrons take your breath away, there are at least five different colours, as well as yellow honeysuckle and bluebells.

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These wrought-iron gates are generally locked and the trail inaccessible, but this time they were left open invitingly. It led through a cool woodland with bluebells and yellow honeysuckle.

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When you come out of the woodland and back onto the trail, you’re confronted by this striking maple tree which stops you in your tracks. It reflects the light and displays so many shades of red, brown, orange, russet, burgundy .

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There was a lot of clearing going on near the mansion house too (which is a hotel, restaurant and wedding venue). I don’t know if it was all the result of Storm Doris or if they’re planning another structure:

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 While driving down the long, tree-lined drive on the way out, we saw a pair of pheasant, just I pressed the shutter the female flew off, again the zoom spoiled the photo:

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We are so lucky to have this wonderful playground on our doorstep. The young grandchildren love the freedom and space, we collect giant fir cones and spot rabbits, squirrels and pheasant.

It’s a wonderful place to recharge your batteries for an hour or two.

And all for free.

(Also posted on Haddon Musings 52 Weeks of Thankfulness)

Copyright: Chris McGowan