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

 

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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

A Nursery, a Ruin and a Baby Cow

This is a bit of a mish-mash of a post resulting from a spur-of-the-moment decision to take advantage of a sunny (but chilly) afternoon to buy some plants from the local nursery. On the way back we did a little detour (of course!) to look at the ruins of an Augustinian abbey, the idea being to see if Mum would at least be able to make it inside the site, if only to sit on a chair rather than walking around. The sky was stunningly blue and so clear, the moon was easily visible. You can just about see the white dot in the top left and bottom right photos. The photos are a little deceptive as there was a fairly strong cold wind blowing when you were out in the open, but a couple of hours in the sun and fresh air was just what I needed after a difficult few weeks (see here). I took deep breaths and absorbed the tranquility of the place in its wide open spaces. We were the only ones there, apart from the cows, and even they were still and silent.

The shapes in the bottom right photo are the graves of the abbots. The right column of the entrance in the first photo used to be higher and there are spiral steps up to it where my husband and young grandsons once climbed up and had their photos taken right at the top. Sadly, the entrance is now fenced off and it looks like the tower has crumbled somewhat.

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The abbey is surrounded by farmland and these very young calves were in the field by the lane. I thought this one was an unusual colour, it was nervous and very wary.

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The others couldn’t care less!

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Here are the some of the plants we bought, still waiting to be homed:

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Just don’t ask me what they’re called!

Ps You can read about our other detours here: An Impromptu Mother’s Day Adventure or How We Survived the Vortex that is Our Local Bermuda Triangle … & Ducks, Daves and Detours

PPS Unfortunately, the entrance to the site is through an awkward swing gate with such a narrow opening so no, Mum wouldn’t be able to get through.

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Ducks, Daves and Detours

Some of you may have read my post An Impromptu Mother’s Day Adventure or How We Survived the Vortex that is Our Local Bermuda Triangle …, and were kind enough to say you found it amusing, well, here’s a little sequel for you…

But first, I must tell you that the other day someone used the search phrase ‘how far away from Fiji is the Bermuda Triangle?’ and guess where they were directed? Yep, my Mother’s Day post! If you’re reading this too, I am so sorry I couldn’t be more helpful answering your question.

On with the sequel: we have established that my husband has a reputation for going off road, or at least off the road he’s meant to be travelling, and ending up somewhere else. What you may not know, is that he’s also terrible with names, and since he knows an incomprehensible number of Daves, he tends to use this generic name whenever he gets stuck. This is relevant later on.

IMG_1448After the earlier post, he invited me to accompany him to his bike-fit session at a bike shop called Bicycles By Design. The shop is 15 miles away – more or less, depending on whether or not HB is doing the navigating: when we did our recon last week, it was 30 miles away because we made several unplanned detours! As you may recall from the earlier post, a bike fit involves setting up your bike to fit your particular physical quirks so that you can ride in comfort and avoid those niggling aches and pains from riding in the wrong position.

As exciting as that prospect was, I politely declined, citing hair washing and nail filing, and I looked forward to having a few hours on my own playing indie (or Indian as hb insists on calling it) music very loud, while eating raw chocolate almonds* and bantering on social media. No car keys to find, no bike parts to admire, no iPad problems to sort out (despite spending years working with computers, he just can’t fathom how to tweet or message on Instagram).

Friday morning came and all went according to plan. Hb left early for his bike-fit. It was a lovely morning and I had breakfast outside, while listening to the birds and watching the bees. Bliss.

He arrived home, happy with his bike adjustments and no impromptu sightseeing – or so he reckoned. However, on putting his bike away, he noticed Dave, the bike-fit guy, had left a shop quick-release on the back wheel instead of replacing his own. He had to take it back. He was going to have a quick bite to eat and set off. The sun was out, the bike shop is on the river, it was going to be a quick in and out, so I decided I would go with him.

Surprisingly, we had an uneventful drive and pulled up outside the bike shop. It was in a lovely setting, part of an old building that used to be the china works but is now a Youth Hostel, café and the bike store. The cherry blossom was breathtaking, the sun was shining and it was so quiet. Just the river flowing behind us and the occasional whoosh of beating duck wings flying by.

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Hb went in and returned the quick-release to Dave, then we spent some time by the river and the canal which runs alongside it which used to serve the china works with its bottle kilns, tar tunnel and tracks, but is now home to a large colony of mallard ducks.

 Bottoms up!

We realised it was getting late and we needed to set off home before the rush hour.

First, though, we had to find our way out of the vortex of these 4 small towns!

I don’t really need to say it do I? We got lost. Again. No, we still don’t have a Sat Nav. In all fairness, the signage in this area is woeful, and that’s putting it mildly. Several times, you arrive at a junction and the sign will indicate that the town you are aiming for is in fact in both directions at once! So you ‘discuss’ the alternatives and whichever you choose, inevitably end up having to go back on yourself, spinning round and round the local plughole until it finally spits you out, dizzy and exhausted, and barely speaking to each other, as both are adamant their way was the right way!

On the way there, we had passed what looked like some lovely public gardens and I suggested that on the way back we take a look to see if Mum would be able to manage a visit – she is coming to stay for a few days soon. Needless to say, we couldn’t find them. They just disappeared. I had made a mental note of whereabouts they were, I could describe the row of cottages nearby, the railway bridge and so on, all of which we found, but no gardens. Apparently sucked into the vortex.

By this time, we were both tired and hungry so we agreed to give in and made it home without further issues.

Apart from the energy-sapping journey home, it was a lovely afternoon. Next time though, can we just borrow the Tardis?

Oh, and Dave the bike man? His name was Rob!

*Highly recommended, but be warned, very moreish!

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The Raw Chocolate Company

Copyright: Chris McGowan

An Impromptu Mother’s Day Adventure or How We Survived the Vortex that is Our Local Bermuda Triangle …

28064096_Unknown… Actually, the fact that it was Mother’s Day was almost incidental. The adventure wasn’t planned because it was a special day. It just happened to coincide with the clocks going forward, Spring conjuring up a spectacularly sunny day, and Hb wanting to scout out a bike place some distance away for a bike fit session the following week. (For those of you who are not members of a family whose lives revolve entirely around bikes and their mechanical whatnots, this does not mean getting sweaty in a large room on a stationary bike, but having your bike adjusted to give you the optimum fit, thereby (hopefully) avoiding any aches and pains in neck, back, hips or knees).

28063888_UnknownI don’t know about you, but I always feel discombobulated when the clocks go forward, it takes me ages to adjust. I got up at my usual hour which was now halfway-through-everyone-else’s-morning time, but before I could reach the shower, my favourite Daughter phoned me for a Mother’s Day chat. (I have only one really). Having been given a cup of tea in bed, she was instantly abandoned by her boys in favour of a Minecraft game and as I was in the role of bike widow, we were able to have a rare, uninterrupted natter until eventually son number two demanded she put the phone down as he’d brought her breakfast in bed. It would be some time before I got mine.

28063760_UnknownI had my shower, then tried to phone my mum, but someone else had got in first, she was busy throughout 20 minutes of trying. I knew she could be in for the long haul and I was starving. A Papaya & Pear Smoothie* beckoned. My whole morning was already awry, when Hb announced his plan for a quick drive to the bike place and asked if I’d like to come. Normally, I would politely decline on the basis that I planned to spend the day watching paint dry or filing my nails, but it was a lovely day, I was going stir-crazy and there was a possibility of seeing water, flowers, trees and birds along the way, so I decided to take the smoothie and go.

Now, normally when we go off in the car I make sure we have plenty of food and drink, a chair, cushions, jigsaw (well, maybe not), because inevitably a ‘short drive’, or a ‘quick there and back’, turns into a ‘why don’t we take the most circuitous scenic route and get lost again’ trip! We have no Sat Nav. We got lost in this same vortex last summer and I should have known better when Hb’s response to taking food was ‘we won’t need it, it’s just a quick-there-and-back.’ Famous last words.

There are four towns popular with tourists that form our local Bermuda Triangle. (I know, but you know what I mean). We can never go straight to the one we want without going round and through the others first, then having found it, we can’t find our way out of it again! Last time, we pirouetted in so many concentric circles, we resembled water going down a plughole and I thought we might end up Down Under.

This morning, or rather lunchtime as it now was, we set off, only to put in some early practice by instantly returning home via a circuit of our block. Hb didn’t feel confident without a map. He had one on his iPad. We came back to get it. It made no difference. The other towns were well signposted, but we couldn’t find our destination for love nor money. I kept saying helpful things like ‘we’ve been past this already’ and ‘I remember seeing this earlier…’

Beeeep. What’s that? Some gauge or microchip had registered a drop in tyre pressure. We needed to look for a garage. Great. Now two things we needed to look for. I, and three dogs, spent 20 minutes in the sun in cars with windows ineffectively cracked open for non-existent air but plenty of petrol fumes, while our drivers checked oil, tyre pressure or bought armfuls of snacks. None of us was in a chatty mood when they finished. The car still noted a drop in tyre pressure.

We were just about ready to turn around and head for home when I got very over-excited at a small signpost indicating left down a narrow road, and I couldn’t get the words out quickly enough as I realised Hb hadn’t noticed. Too late. The local cycle club, of which he is a member, will never appreciate his decision to carry on to the next layby to turn around, rather than mow them down like skittles, as would have happened if he’d responded to my hysterical navigation!

Having arrived in the town, and successfully winning a game of chicken over a single lane ‘Weak Bridge’ to reach a car park, I was so glad we’d persisted as I then spent a peaceful hour sitting outside a lovely old pub on the river in the sunshine, watching the water and the world go by.

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The Weak Bridge, a single-lane iron structure that was just the width of a medium-sized car. BMWs were a bit of a push and their drivers – young and male – extremely rude and impatient! 

 

 

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The water was flowing quite fast, I almost missed this shot of the canoeist 

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After trying to convince me a floating log was Nessie’s cousin shimmying by, Hb strolled off to recce the town for the bike shop. This is always a mistake. He always gets lost. He found his way back just before I sent out the St Bernards, by which time my stomach was telling me I had missed one or other, if not several, of the various meals/snacks/juices it was used to, and a bottle of fizzy water was not going to cut it. I knew we should’ve packed proper sustenance. Being vegan and gluten-free makes it extremely difficult to find emergency rations when your blood sugar starts diving. And now we had to navigate the Triangle again and avoid being sucked into its vortex.

First, though, I had a lovely if somewhat frustrating not-Mother’s Day chat with my son (the signal kept disappearing). He always calls on Mother’s Day but pretends it’s just a normal everyday call because I’ve spent decades telling them I don’t need over-priced cards and flowers to make me feel special. He was just back from a 110 km ride in wind, sun and dust – see what I mean about my family of bike enthusiasts, he does this for fun!  (See the link below to read more about his Mother’s Day surprises).

After a couple of wrong turns, we made it home unscathed. I had my juice, phoned my mum, everything returned to normal.

Hb plans to do this 30 miles-each-way journey next week on his bike. I’ll put the St Bernards on standby.

The car has an appointment with its mechanic.

For those of you who may not have seen it, here’s a link to last year’s light-hearted Mother’s Day post  A Tribute to My Children

*See my Instagram feed for the ingredients @pearsnotparsnips

And here for your delectation and amusement is The Pushbike Song!

Copyright: Chris McGowan

I swear I saw Spring creeping around the corner all cloaked in purple and gold …

Storm Doris seems to have abated at last. She blew in, shook things about a bit, knocked over a few fences and pieces of garden furniture, flattened the more delicate bulbs that were just opening up and then blew out again, but not before treating us to a deluge of rain and bone-chilling temperatures. But there was a spectacular double rainbow two days in the last week. Excuse the terrible photos, I had to take them through the window when it was pouring down and very, very dark.

The sun shone today and there are many more bulbs in bloom. It’s so uplifting to see some colour back in the garden.

There’s a bit of tidying up been done, paths weeded and repaired, trees pruned, lawns cut; husband’s busy painting new edging for the borders (he doesn’t like the colour, ‘Wild Thyme’ a light green, he wants ‘Somerset Green’ which is more like an army barracks, but he’s in bad books because he dug up much-nurtured plants along with the weeds, so he doesn’t get to choose!)

The garden isn’t in its full spring glory yet, but here are a few early snaps:

The delicate mauve crocuses on the left have been Doris-ed, as have some of the older and taller cousins of these dwarf narcissi, but there are more waiting to show off when it’s safe to come out.

PS After I wrote this, husband was pacing around constantly looking out the window pondering over what the weather was going to do and if he could go on a bike ride. I was trying to concentrate and in the end I said he should go, it was overcast but he’d be fine…

Oops…

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Copyright: Chris McGowan