Monday Meditation: My Walk Around the *Neigh*bourhood

A9782E54-B393-4A09-B173-2A2C704B7C59As I write, it’s midday on Sunday, the sky is a clear blue as far as the eye can see and the sun is bringing out the crocuses and daffodils in the front garden. A perfect time to go for a walk. Except it’s 2 degrees C out there with an icy wind. My crazy husband is out on a bike ride with the club, but I’m waiting a couple of hours for those predicted extra couple of degrees! So, I’ve put on the Prime Chill album, made a cup of 3 Mint tea and thought I would show you some pictures of last week’s walk on a similar day, when I went up to what used to be the horses’ field.

Not that long ago, I used to go regularly to see the permanent residents of this field, Dolly and Annie, two working carriage horses. Dolly was a black heavy, plodding mare who was so quiet and friendly. Annie was a tall chestnut and very temperamental. She was a bully and any other temporary residents were given short shrift, including the foals, often receiving a nip or a kick to let them know their place in the scheme of things. She was quite haughty, looking and behaving more like a thoroughbred. She would always push herself forward for any treats and I often had to distract her so that I could sneak some apple or carrot to Dolly or the foals. But they both allowed me to befriend them and would make their way over from the far corner of the field as soon as I approached, Dolly plodding over in her slow, lumbering fashion, Annie skittish and tossing her tail.

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I was privileged to witness one of Dolly’s foals being born, a really ugly little thing with a huge head, but he was so friendly and funny. Annie had a much more elegant-looking long-legged foal not long after and some months later, on a beautiful summer evening, I stood and watched as first Dolly’s foal started racing around the perimeter of the field, then Annie’s foal joined in. Annie was not impressed and tried to put a stop to it, but then Dolly got the itch and began charging around after the excited foals, pounding the ground with her heavy feet, and before long, Annie had to join in the fun. I’ve never witnessed anything like it. Four horses careering around the field at full gallop, round and round, uninhibited, kicking up their legs every so often with the sheer freedom and fun of it all. Oh, to move with such joyful abandon in the fresh summer air under an endlessly clear sky!

 

Now, sadly, the field lies abandoned. The local authority wants to build a supermarket, petrol station and housing, by a busy roundabout in a residential area at the entrance to the town. Of course there has been a huge outcry and everything has been up in the air for a few years.

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This gnarly old tree used to be the only shade for up to 6 horses, next to a pond that gradually shrank over the years. Now the tree has apparently been struck by lightning, cleaved in two. It wasn’t an ideal situation for the horses: in summer it was completely overgrown with tall thistles and nettles, in Spring and Autumn, it was a boggy quagmire around the perimeter with all the rain. But it was a large space, with a right of way for walkers, who would bring treats as they passed through. I loved taking my young grandchildren there: they, too, saw the baby foal within minutes of its birth. It was a special time. We were on a nature walk at the time, I had given them a list of things to look out for. We had spotted guard-dog geese, a pair of swans with their cygnets, collected feathers, but this was truly a gem.

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Annie’s foal with my grandson

On my most recent walk, I spotted these gates further up the road on the opposite side to the field:

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I don’t know how many hundreds of times we have driven past, or the dozens of times I’ve walked past, but I have never noticed them before. I was always looking over the road for the horses. They are beautiful iron gates with metal flower ornamentation.

When I arrived home, a little sad and angry at what I had found by the field (see next Monday), I came through our gate and smiled. I saw the first real signs of Spring:

 

The daffodil had been proudly standing in bud since early January, the only one to be in such a hurry, and I thought it would be sure to get caught by the frosts, but has withstood everything the elements have thrown at it: frost, hail, rain, snow and icy winds, and now it was fully open. And there, too, was the first forsythia flower, a sign I always look for tell me that Spring is really very close.

And now the outdoors calls again, the sun couldn’t be brighter: it’s bouncing off windows and cars. Incredibly, we are forecast snow on Tuesday! Have a wonderful week, we are confined to barracks having the parquet flooring in the hallway refurbished, pictures soon.

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Copyright: Chris McGowan

 

Monday Meditation: In Search of The Gruffalo on Haughmond Hill

29668880_UnknownMy husband has oftened mentioned Haughmond Hill as a place we might visit, since it’s one of the (many!) café stops his local cycling club makes when out on long rides. I wasn’t at all sure about this proposed adventure as the mere fact that it was called a hill rendered it on a par with Everest as far as my hiking abilities go.

We have often driven past on our way to or from Shrewsbury and had visited the nearby Haughmond Abbey the previous summer, and every time we did he told me there was a café there and suggested maybe I’d like to go. Now, as much as my husband loves stopping for a cup of tea at the drop of a hat, I’m not a sitter and drinker, I like to be doing and the thought of just driving all the way there to sit and watch him drinking tea wasn’t exactly appealing (I don’t drink tea or coffee).

However, this particular morning, I weakened and agreed to go and see what all the fuss was about. It was only when we arrived at the bottom of the hill that Husband admitted he didn’t actually know where to park or what the terrain was like as they only ever cycled straight to the café!

29668736_UnknownWe sorted out the parking (you have to pay) and wandered over to some signs with maps on. Haughmond Hill is managed and maintained by the Forestry Commission. It is a working forest and covers a vast area of dense woodland containing ancient oaks and younger varieties of trees with 4 walking trails of differing lengths and difficulty mapped out. Apart from a few benches and the café area by the car park, the whole place is natural, with minimal human interference.

Three of the trails are named after famous people with ties to the area: Wilfred Owen, the War Poet; Henry lV, who massed his armies there before one of the biggest battles in Britain, the Battle of Shrewsbury, fought around Haughmond Hill (there was a spectacular performance of Shakespeare’s Henry lV Part One in the nearby abbey in 2003). The third trail is a tibute to the Corbet family who previously owned the estate, including the Abbey, whilst the fourth, the Geo Trail is so named because it takes in the view of the quarry below. The Hill is a geologically renowned site as it is made of precambrian stone and affords one of the best views across Shrewsbury.

We chose the easiest, the Corbet Easy Access Trail, which has a surfaced route, is mostly flat and accessible to wheelchairs, buggies and mobility scooters. There are also benches along the way. The trails are well-signed and inter-connect at various points, so if you’re feeling more adventurous you can switch to a longer route or rougher terrain.

It was a mild, sunny day and the woods were very peaceful. We met the occasional dog-walker but for the most part we felt like we were the only ones there.

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There was the occasional muddy patch or pond next to the trail and I kept thinking of my 2 year old grandson whom we would probably have to keep rescuing if he came along too! We took our time and had a gentle stroll, breathing in the fresh air and soaking up the vastness of the place and the overwhelming majesty of these ancient sky-scraping giants.

And then we started coming across signs with pictures of characters from the Julia Donaldson story book The Gruffalo!

 

I had forgotten, but a friend had told us a while back that there is an app you can download to accompany the walk that allows you to scan the signs and is interactive. Children can look through the holes in the signs and see other characters to spot along the way. Some time later, I was telling my neighbour’s girls about it and they had the app and had followed the trail, having a lot of fun doing so.

Near the café area, there is another character from a Julia Donaldson story, The Stick Man, as well as several sculptures, one of them a magnificent owl carved by chainsaw sculptor, Paul Catling.

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There were several young families enjoying playing around them. The Hill seemed to appeal to people of all ages, and I noticed signs for a bike trail and orienteering route as well.

We sat to have the inevitable cuppa outside. I had taken a juice with me but to my surprise they sold herbal tea. We watched a couple of toddlers walking along the spiral sculpture, and we were joined for a while by a robin.

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The young guys in the cafe cabin allowed us to borrow a chair to take outside as I can’t manage picnic benches and for once I was quite happy to sit and just be. I didn’t want to leave.

Oh, but before we did, I hid one of my painted rocks* in the claws of the owl and a couple of days later, it appeared on Facebook in the hand of a smiling, happy child.

*Monday Meditation: Mindfullness and Rock Painting

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Monday Meditation: Osteopathy, Rest & Recuperation in Nature

 I recently took an ebreak to have osteopathy and give my long-suffering body a welcome rest – see Taking a Break to Rest My Broken Body + Tips to Cope with Chronic Pain 

My wonderful osteopath treats me at home. In my case, she uses cranio-sacral osteopathy which is such a gentle therapy, not the bone-crunching type you see on tv! It not only realigns everything and increases the flow of blood and spinal fluid, it helps my sinus problems and blocked ear. We have become good friends. We have a catch-up chat, a laugh, and exchange book titles. I give her some of our tomatoes or apples and she brings me Scottish oatcakes from her holiday on Arran. Then I fall asleep! I spend the next two days in and out of bed, relaxing with audiobooks and this time an occasional look at The Vuelta (I can’t not watch the cycling, it’s taken over my life, I think I need a support group!)

I originally chose complementary therapies on the advice of my orthopaedic surgeon because nothing else worked; they are non-invasive and they allow me an opportunity to completely switch off and focus on myself and my health. There are no prescriptions, no potentially toxic chemicals involved, no equipment, just hands-on care and compassion. 

Sooner or later, I have enough of lying down and need to be outside. I enjoy sitting quietly in the garden, or sauntering around, absorbing the colourful surprises that have occurred while I’ve been otherwise engaged – this time, the rudbekia was positively glowing in its burnished yellow, standing to attention, facing skywards to soak up any spare rays that happened to be around that day (left of picture).

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I love the crossover of late summer and early autumn colours in our garden: all shades of yellow, orange, red and green. In September, it is warm enough to sit out but not so hot you get burned in our suntrap of a garden. The birds always treat me to some delicate twittering and whistling at this time of year, they are not showing off quite so much. It is a tranquil place, where I can sit and contemplate, take time to close my eyes and absorb the gentle sounds (having made sure my husband is not going to be tinkering away on bike repairs or talking bottom brackets and derailleurs with customers!)

Later in the week, we took a drive to the canal, we parked in a different place and walked over the small hump-backed bridge. My husband suggested we take a photo to send to our young Australian friend who had her own photo taken 23 (!) years ago (aged 18) when the two of them cycled there together.

 

It really is a beautiful place, full of trees and flowers, well-kept gardens (there is a plaque proudly pronouncing Best Kept Village 2015), and of course the boats moored alongside. They look so modern nowadays, they even have solar panels!

(I hid one of my stones by the canal – see photo of the mooring – but more about my painted rocks in another post).

The large grey geese kept their eyes on us, honking every now and then if they felt we overstepped our boundaries. I felt a little sorry for them, penned in a patch of nettles while the hens, roosters and bantams sauntered around at will, pecking at anything interesting, not paying us any mind. They lead such an uncomplicated life.

It was a cooler day and the increasingly dramatic clouds were threatening rain, I was still quite stiff and sore so we kept it a short visit. Short as the trip was, I could quickly feel my shoulders relax, my lungs fill with cool fresh air and the pain-strained muscles of my face form a beatific smile! We are so fortunate to live in a place where plants and trees grow so bountifully, in hundreds of shades of green, where we can roam at will and experience a calming freedom just a few minutes from our doorstep. If it weren’t for the rain about which so many complain, we wouldn’t have such an abundance of greenery and autumnal colours to enjoy.

In another post, I’ll share my therapeutic efforts with brush and paint, goo and glitter!

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