Sunday, May 26, 2013

52 Weeks of Happy - Week Twenty One

If it's Sunday it must be 52 Weeks of Happy time.  I've struggled a bit this week as so many negative things have happened including a quite unexpected tax bill from four years ago because they didn't use the right tax code (why on earth didn't they find this in the same financial year?  It would have saved us lots of distress this year) a broken camera lens worth £200ish which fell out of the back of the car on Wednesday evening, an expensive visit to the vets with one of our cats on Friday and a leaking washing machine yesterday! Anyway we've said goodbye to the holiday money we had put aside.  Oh, well!  At least the cat is getting better which is cause for happiness.

1.  A Well Cat - Chloe had to be taken to the vets on Friday morning, she had two injections, four extra syringes to administer orally at home and some capsules.  We dread capsules as she will not swallow them but we've been putting them in with her cat food and so far so good.  For the ripe old age of seventeen she is, according to the vet, in good condition and her kidneys, which are usually the first things to cause problems in a cat of her age, are healthy.

2.  A Day Out - On Wednesday we visited friends in Nottingham (see my last post) we had lunch at Relish in Beeston and then went to see a wonderful exhibition at the Djanogly Art Gallery on the campus at Nottingham University.  It was a fabulous exhibition called 'The First Cut' and was full of the most remarkable things all created from paper.  I was particularly taken with the enchanted forest by Manabu Hangai and the dresses and shoes made by Susan Cutts.  I also liked 'The Map of my Entire Life' by Rob Ryan who was the only one of the artists I knew of  as we'd seen one of his exhibitions at the Shire Hall Gallery in Stafford a couple of years ago.  The First Cut has already been seen at the Manchester Art Gallery and is apparently moving to Southampton later this year.  Apologies for the poor quality of the photo above but the sunlight was so bright outside and photography wasn't allowed inside.

3.  Aquilegias - opening up in the garden.  I always moan about them as they have spread so much over the last year or two and have completely taken over some of the flower beds, they pop up everywhere and are so hard to get out of our heavy clay soil which they seem to grow quite easily in.  When they are in flower though they are just so pretty.  I love the colour of the one above and we also have dark pink, pale pink and white ones.  I've no idea where they all came from because when we first came here 16 years ago there were just a few dark pink ones.

4. Heron and Geese -  I was rather pleased with the photos above and below which I took on the Lakeside Walk around Trentham.  We waited ages for the heron to take off so we could photograph it in flight but for some reason it was happy to linger - not something they normally do when humans are around! On the other hand the two greylag geese below were quite happy to pose for photos.


Link to  Little Birdie  where  '52 weeks of Happy' started. Each week you find just four things that have made you happy to share. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Under My Umbrella

No, not me but two dear friends, Robert and Susan, under my umbrella!  It wasn't raining but there was a special reason for them wanting their photo taken in this way.  I took the photo on Wednesday near the Lakeside Pavillion on the Nottingham University Campus where we'd gone to look at a wonderful exhibition in the Djanogly Art Gallery.

It was our friend Robert's birthday recently and we'd sent him a birthday card which I'd spotted at Bridgemere and which I thought he would like.  Inside the card as well as the normal greetings I wrote - 'I'm sure you can weave a magical story around the picture on the front and the little poem on the back of this card.  I look forward to reading it' - Robert has been attending a creative writing class over the last year or two and has written some super stories and poems.  When we visited on Wednesday, he asked if we could take a photograph of him and Susan which would recreate the scene on the birthday card as he wanted to put the story on his blog but couldn't use the illustration on the card for copyright reasons.  I was the only one with an umbrella so that was the reason mine was used.   

Here is a  link  to Robert's blog where the story he wrote can be found - it is different to what I had expected but quite poignantly atmospheric.  I was moved by it.

Here is a  link  to the original print by Gary Bunt that the card was taken from.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

52 Weeks of Happy - Week Twenty

Week twenty already?   Here are four simple things that have made me smile this week.........

1. Colours! We've been on a couple of walks this week and after the days and more days of waiting suddenly everywhere there is colour.  In the bright acid green of the beech trees, in the fleeting, hard to capture blue of the bluebells, in the delicate yellow of the cowslips and the deep purple of hedgerow honesty.

2. Birdsong!  We still have so many lovely birds in the garden.  They seem to have stayed with us beyond winter and spring and we now regularly see goldfinch, greenfinch and chaffinch on the feeders as well as the  sparrows and blackbirds.  I usually wake at 4a.m. on at least a couple of mornings each week and if I can't get back to sleep I get up and make a mug of tea.  On Friday morning I was awake at four so I got up and watched the sunrise whilst I listened to the birds.  First to start was the blackbird who went through his melodic repertoire, then the others gradually joined in.  When the world was finally awake I went back to bed and slept for a couple more hours.

3. Growth!  In the garden are many things to look forward to including chives, strawberries, gooseberries and wild garlic.  Plants in the garden with flowers getting ready to open are peonies, aquilegia, perennial cornflower and rhododendrons.

4. Wickerwork bees!  We found some new wickerwork bees in one of the show gardens at Trentham Estates, I call it the 'lift and sniff' garden as there are several boxes where you can do just that.  I expect it is really called the scented or plants for bees garden or something like that - anyway, they made me smile.

Link to  Little Birdie  where  '52 weeks of Happy' started. Each week you find just four things that have made you happy to share. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

A Bluebell Walk in the City

A few days ago, when it was sunny - it was sunny wasn't it?  I didn't dream it, did I?  Well, the photos below tell me the sun did shine for a short while at least so we went for a walk at a local nature reserve, another one owned by the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust.  This reserve is right in the city just off the main road between Longton and Trentham. 

Hem Heath Woods are bounded on one side by an industrial estate and on the other by the railway line which carries the Virgin West Coast trains.  Across the road where you can see the Aldi sign is the site of the former Hem Heath colliery.

Once you are in the woods the sounds from the main road, the railway and the industrial units seem to dissipate leaving only the sound of birdsong of which there was quite a chorus.  Happy birds to have found such an oasis in the city.

We last walked here a few weeks ago when the trees were bare but now they were a beautiful acid green in the dappled sunlight.  Although the trees were lovely we had come seeking blue not green and further into the woods, past the clearing, we found what we were looking for.

 Carpets of blue

 shimmering in the sunlight

Precious, delicate, ephemeral bluebells.  Their beauty almost takes your breath away.

We lingered for ages before moving on to complete the walk which ends

just here - a newly created pathway to

The site of the Wedgwood Factory, Museum and Visitor Centre at Barlaston where you can linger a while

amongst the visitors from overseas, leaving their swish, air conditioned coaches behind, dashing towards the entrance, some stopping to take photos as they rush headlong into the next phase of their whistle stop tour.

 You can linger for a coffee in The Ivy House Restaurant, perhaps visit the museum,

wander through the main shop

and the factory seconds shop or you can just make your way back  through the woods . 

Or you could, if you want to extend your walk, pick up the canal towpath on the other side of the factory and walk back to the bridge on Longton Road and then turn back down to the Hem Heath woods car park.

It would double the length of your walk but on a lovely day it is a beautiful stretch of the canal to walk along.
Hope you all have a lovely weekend.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

52 Weeks of Happy - Week Nineteen

Four simple things that have made me smile this week...........

1.  Greylag geese with their goslings by the lakeside at Trentham Gardens, they were so protective of their little ones.  I assume it is dad standing protectively whilst mum hovers over her little ones attentively, it could, of course, be the other way round.  Either way it was a delightful scene.

2.  Spring Flowers in the Italian Gardens and along the terrace at Trentham Gardens - I'm not usually particularly enamoured with orange flowers leaning more towards pinks, blues and lavenders or pure white flowers but somehow these tulips were so bright and cheerful in the sunlight I thought they looked stunning.

3.  A White Peacock at Wingfield Manor - as we stood waiting at the farm gate for our guides (see my last post) I heard a cry and said to Paul - 'that sounds like a peacock!'  When we got into the ruins there it was, I hadn't expected it to be white though.

4.  Hedgerow Blossom. I think this is Blackthorn or perhaps May blossom - of the saying 'Ne'er cast a clout 'till May is out' - well the blossom is out but after a sunny weekend last week, once again it is cold and wet, the heating  has been turned up and the jumpers are back on.  The gardens need the rain but I could do without it!  Still these photos remind me of how happy we were to be out and about walking in warm sunshine last weekend.

Link to  Little Birdie  where  '52 weeks of Happy' started. Each week you find just four things that have made you happy to share. 

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Wingfield Manor

I first visited Wingfield Manor with a group of friends in 1976 - thirty seven years ago!   In those days it was one of those casual affairs where you knocked at the farmhouse door and asked to look around.  There may have been an honesty box to leave donations, I can't quite remember but all was relaxed and we could wander at will.  I visited again a couple of years later with Paul as I wanted to show him how interesting it was.  In those days we caught a bus from Mansfield to Alfreton and walked to the village of South Wingfield.  Much later we'd visited the church at South Wingfield looking for some of Paul's ancestors but had never been back to the Manor.  It was high time for a return visit.

Wingfield Manor is now looked after by English Heritage but it still belongs to the farmer and there are certain areas where photography isn't allowed as there is a private house and gardens in the middle. Apparently the residents of the house get very irate if cameras are pointed at their private area which is quite understandable.  We booked on a tour and received instructions through the post on where to park and where to meet.  There is an off road lay by a few hundred yards up the road and you walk down to the farm gate and wait for the guides, there are wonderful views of the Manor on the way down.  It is then quite a walk up from the road to the ruins themselves.

As we stood in the meeting place one of the guides described for us a scene of the arrival of a body of people to view the Manor as it was in the 1430s when an earlier twelfth century castle was being reconstructed as a 'palace' by one of the most powerful men in England.  Ralph, Lord Cromwell was Treasurer in the court of King Henry VI and we were asked to imagine his arrival at his hill top residence with an entourage of family, friends and servants almost his whole household moving around the country from residence to residence.

When Lord Cromwell died in 1456 he left no heirs so the property passed into the hands of the Earls of Shrewsbury prominent landowners in the area.

The Great Chambers

One of the windows of the Great Hall
Views over the surrounding countryside

Tantalising peeks at what lies beyond
The Barn

The Undercroft

In the Inner Courtyard we stood as our guide told us of the times Mary, Queen of Scots was confined at the Manor under the keeping of the sixth Earl of Shrewsbury who was the fourth husband of the famous Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury, daughter of John and Elizabeth Hardwick and known as Bess of Hardwick.  The guide read a passage from Phillipa Gregory's book  The Other Queen  which described a meeting in the courtyard between the Earl of Shrewsbury and Mary, Queen of Scots although of course a purely fictional encounter the writing brought the whole place to life.

At the outbreak of the English Civil War Wingfield Manor was owned by William Cavendish, Earl of  Newcastle who was the grandson of Bess of Hardwick from her second marriage to Sir William Cavendish.  In 1644 the Manor came under siege by Parliamentarian forces under the Earl of Pembroke, the guides pointed out some of the areas where the walls had been hit by  cannonballs.  The royalist troops surrendered and the manor was captured for Parliament.  After its capture the building, like so many others during the war, was 'slighted' which means it was semi-demolished.  

You can still climb to the top of the tower from which there is a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside.

 We took it in turns to go to the top as only about four people at a time can get up there safely.

In 1976 when I first went up this tower with a couple of friends I had a strange thing happen to me.  Given that my birthday is at the end of August and my friends and I visited the day after my birthday and that there were apples on the trees in the courtyard and several windfalls on the floor, when I looked down at two of my friends who were standing under a tree, for a split second I saw white blossom on the trees and their clothes were no longer white and denim blue but deep russet red and mustard yellow.  I've often wondered what would have caused this mirage, probably I was still in haze after the birthday party of the evening before but I've never been able to explain it and often feel rather silly telling the tale but there I've told it anyway.  On our recent visit I went up the tower and looked down at the trees, still bare and blossom-less after the harsh winter and late spring and saw only the rest of the party wandering around under the trees and the guides waiting for us last few stragglers to come down.

The guided tours, which happen only one day each month, last for just over two hours.  There are no facilities on the site and it is wise to take a bottle of water and to wear sturdy shoes. The two hours pass quickly because the guides are so informative and enthusiastic and have such a lot of history to impart and tales to tell.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

52 Weeks of Happy - Week Eighteen

Just four simple things from around the house and garden that have made me smile this week.........

1.  Blossom -  at last some blossom on the plum tree at the top of the garden, there isn't as much as in previous years but at least it is there.  Next to it the bridal wreath has come into flower and nearby the wild garlic growing under the hazel tree is bright and green and will surely flower soon.  I will take more photos for a garden post later.

2. Tadpoles - they seem to have survived that second lot of cold weather, the pond is heaving with them and the local cats are fascinated with the wriggling and twitching in the water. On the other hand our cats aren't in the least interested - they've seen it all before!

3. Jam Buns - from a recipe in an old BeRo book.  No raspberry jam so I used apple and strawberry instead. They look a bit 'rough and ready' but they tasted fine.  Half of them went to my neighbour and we finished the last two as part of our picnic on our day out yesterday to a place I first visited thirty-seven years ago, again a post will follow. I always think of my Mum when I use the BeRo book as it was her baking book of choice and I can see her in the kitchen of my childhood  in her flowery, big skirted frock covered with a frilly apron as she baked a cake for Sunday tea.

4. Sparrows -  with bits of pampas grass from a neighbour's plant which they have almost stripped bare in their quest for soft nesting material.  They have been very amusing to watch struggling to take off with the long, soft fronds dangling from their beaks. They looked like some exotic foreign bird with flowing beards - and for a short while they were 'bearded' sparrows.

Link to  Little Birdie  where  '52 weeks of Happy' started. Each week you find just four things that have made you happy to share. 

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

At the Follies

Our anniversary outing, mentioned in my last post, was our second visit to Hawkstone Park Follies which has, as their leaflet suggests, 'a powerful and timeless landscape'.  This landscape was created in the 18th century by the Hill family when the fashionable themes of the day were the 'Romantic' 'Picturesque' and 'Gothic' movements in art, architecture, literature and landscape gardening.  This place is overflowing with them all.   The leaflet also suggests that to manage the strenuous walk, which can take over 3 hours, you need sturdy shoes and a torch for the caves - we forgot about the torch and left it in the car but most of the caves we entered had some sort of lighting.  Of course I took far too many photos so I've made a few collages of the key areas to help you can get an idea of what the place is like.

The Urn and Reynard's Banqueting House - I included the urn in this set of photos because of  Reynard the fox at its side.
The Red Tower - inside are models of General Lord Hill and  the Duke of Wellington.  General Hill was second in command to the Duke of Wellington at the battle of Waterloo.

The Hermitage

The Swiss Bridge - yes we did cross it at a sideways angle - it is very narrow!

The Gothic Arch and the Grotto

The Cleft

The Monument, Raven's Shelf and along Reynard's Walk - which is the strenuous return to the entrance!
Hawkstone Park Follies can be found at Weston-under-Redcastle which is between Shrewsbury and Whitchurch in Shropshire.

Edit with additional information 2nd May - One or two people have wondered about the length of the walk and the height/width of the Swiss bridge at Hawkstone Follies - there is an alternative route to avoid it so you don't have to tackle it if you don't want too - also there is an easier option to return if the longer and more strenuous walk doesn't appeal.  You can return via the bridge avoidance route and back the way you came in. There is also what they call  'silver safari' transport which has to be pre-booked,  there are two shorter routes too.  Here is a link to a map which gives you some idea -  map