One morning, in Waitrose, I had one of those conversations that makes you think. Not that I spend a great deal of time in Waitrose, you understand, it is far too rich for my blood. In mitigation, however, I would say it is virtually on my doorstep and I needed something quickly. I am definitely more of a Tesco and Morrison girl really. However, my conversation with the lovely checkout lady made me think.

We were discussing the Marlborough Mop, a fair which stretches over two weekends a year, takes up all of the main street and whose currently 809 year existence is enshrined in the Town Charter of 1204.

She was saying that as a local Marlborough girl, born and bred, she is very fond of the Mop. She enjoyed it growing up and her grandchildren now enjoy it, although she bemoaned the fact that it would no doubt cost her a small fortune to keep them happy whilst visiting it. However, there are, she murmured darkly, over my soya milk, those who want to stop the Mop, who speak out against it each year and wish to see it banished as a tradition and they are all mostly ‘newcomers’ to the town. She was adamant they should not prevail!

I am sure that newcomers are not the only people who moan about the disruption to the town when the Mop arrives. It does means, after all, the closure of the central parking area of Marlborough over two weekends and doubtless many wish it would go away simply so they can avoid any upheaval to their lives and businesses. Making a living in this economic climate is not easy at the best of times for any of us.

I suppose my brief conversation with the checkout lady raised questions in my mind. Why do people move to an area, a small country town or a village and then try to change it? Invariably, in some way, they seem to want to recreate the very place they have just left. Why?

I have witnessed this phenomenon before having lived in two different places in Cornwall which I fell in love with initially for their quirky haphazardness and the spirited rebelliousness and friendliness of the locals. Cornwall really is another country.

The first was Looe. This is a quaint and ancient part of South Eastern Cornwall made up of East and West Looe or the sunny side and the money side, as those who are Looe born and bred put it. It has a working harbour and a fish market much beloved of a certain Mr Stein. It moves very much at its own pace which is summed up in a phrase much used by Cornishmen….. ‘dreckly’.

This word is open to wide interpretation and can, and does in my experience, mean almost anything. What it definitely doesn’t mean is that whatever you want done will be done straight away. It means ‘it will get done eventually, now take the weight of your feet, sit down here and tell me your story.’ It reflects the laid back, hospitable, almost horizontal nature of those folk who live by the sea.

I can understand it getting irksome when, having moved in from up country where you are used to having things done before you have even thought of them, you find yourself tackling ‘dreckly’ head on. You should know in advance that you’re never going to win because this is the way it has always been. The sooner you accept this, the sooner you will find your shoulders dropping, the tensions ebbing away, and you becoming as laid back and generous as the lovely place you have made your home.

It is, when all’s said and done, a totally different pace of life, unwilling to be rushed and governed by the tides and surely this is what you loved about the place so much it bounced you out of your comfortable, well-catered for, everything available 24/7 urban life. Now, if you understand the connection you’ll be fine. If you don’t and all you want to do is change this, stop that and remove whatever, you will be doomed to failure. There were a few in my time in Looe who came, full of bravado, cooking up plans for making Looe a hip and happening place, all to no avail. They upset people along the way and were eventually thwarted. Looe is as Looe was and I, for one, hope it will remain so.

My second encounter with this phenomenon is a prime example of adapting to the tide of life in a coastal village. This stems from my time as a resident of Kingsand Cawsand in Cornwall’s forgotten corner, the Rame Peninsula.

Cornwall, Kingsand in particular, is my spiritual home and the place My Other Half (MOH) and I constantly long to return to. This is my fantasy euro-millions lottery winners destination. I am just a temporary exile in Wiltshire and know that we will find our way back to Kingsand one day.

MOH and I found it easy to fit in in Kingsand. It was truly what we had always wanted and a magical place. The natives were lovely and we made excellent friends. We loved the pubs, the wild gig club dances, the beach and the woodland round about. We loved the isolated, ever so slightly lawless nature of the place. We loved watching holiday makers arrive whey-faced, stressed and beleaguered, towing children, dogs and kayaks, bemoaning the lack of a ‘proper’ supermarket. A few days later we would see them wandering, transformed amongst the listed buildings and narrow lanes of Kingsand Cawsand, having ‘learned the ways’ of the excellent local shop and, unable to get a decent mobile signal, almost totally and therapeutically cut off from the cares and worries of their other lives. They felt and responded to the magic.

However, there were a few souls who came to the village, drawn initially by its unspoiled streets and timeless nature, who felt unable to embrace it or live with it as it was and immediately sought to change it.

The characterful cottages they purchased had beautiful, uneven wooden floors, which had felt the passing of generation upon generations of feet, original sash windows and shutters, all the things people ordinarily seek out. But it was not for them. They decided to straighten the wobbly floors, strip out the old floorboards, change the windows and shutters, add large extensions where possible, thereby creating square, modern boxes which could have been found almost anywhere.

I know…I know… people have a perfect right to do what they want with the homes they own but they caused such distress, mess and chaos to those around them. Those locals who call Kingsand Cawsand their permanent homes pulled in their horns and made their disapproval known in the subtle ways of the Cornish. Ultimately, people dislike change. It is understandable in such a beautiful place. It chips away at the magic you see and, if you truly love a place, you really don’t want that.

Traditions, be they the local Mop Fair or the ethos of a particular place are extremely important. They are vital to the people who already live there and need to be understood and embraced by those who move into an area.

We have all read, I’m sure, the newspaper stories of people moving from town to country and immediately calling for the Church bells, local cockerel and/or sheep to be silenced.

I was recently astonished to read somewhere about a chap who moved into a village and quite soon after complained about a local farmer’s cockerel. The farmer was told that his cockerel crowed too loudly, thus exceeding some ridiculous environmental noise law or other, and he was taken to court. The farmer had an Order made against him under the terms of which his cockerel was to be put down. The appalled people of the village came down heavily in favour of the cockerel. The gentleman concerned was firmly ‘sent to Coventry’ by the village inhabitants, and eventually, ignored and defeated, sold up and left, hopefully a wiser man. Thankfully the cockerel was spared to crow another day.

I suppose people need to tread softly rather than rushing in like a bull in a china shop. Then, maybe, change can come about organically whilst traditions continue to flourish and the special magic of a place prevails to everyone’s mutual satisfaction.

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I like walking. My dogs, Daisy and Wilf, also appreciate a good ramble. I am lucky enough to live in rural Wiltshire in the middle of a World Heritage Site. It is a place crossed with old ways, barrows, earthworks, henges and circles.

Daisy, Wilf and I often go up to the Ridgeway, a long and ancient pathway near our home. There is a lot to see and appreciate from such a high vantage point. I can look down on to the great avenue of stones which runs from East Kennet into Avebury to joint with its stone circle. Looking out across the landscape I can see the Long Barrow at West Kennet and just the tip of Silbury Hill. I walk here often. Even with two hyperactive dogs it is usually a serenely calm and peaceful place.

It is also a fine place to observe the changing wheel of the seasons. I have watched the surrounding farm land morph from the rich brown of freshly ploughed earth; to yellow and red, from the bloom of a poor oil seed rape crop and its ensuing and unwelcome, for the farmers at least, invasion of field poppies, although they did look very lovely; to the green of the rippling wheat fields and the ripened gold of the harvest. Now the fields are full of tall towers of hay and others of round baled hay for silage. It is also a great place to blow away the cobwebs on a windy day.

I rarely walk my dogs through my local village mainly because Wilf has a bit of an attitude problem when it comes to meeting other dogs and tends to make a very loud fuss. Far easier for me to drag them both away from the leafy lanes of my village and off up to the anonymity and solitude of the Ridgeway. Here Wilf can be psycho dog if he wants and no-one amongst those rare travellers I come across seems to mind. Daisy, I have to say, has impeccable manners and an endearing nature so even if she barks her head off most people just declare her to be very sweet which, of course, she is. Walkers are very laid back people on the whole and a good judge of doggy character.

If you have ever thought of visiting Avebury and its surrounding archaeological wonders don’t hesitate. There is a excellent pub in the middle of the village and within the stone circle actually, which serves good food and the Henge Shop is packed with lots of interesting stuff.

Long Barrow West Kennet

Long Barrow West Kennet


The Long Barrow at West Kennet is also grand if you can get there on a quiet day. It extremely peaceful and its fantastic to be able to get inside and see how skilfully it was constructed by people for whom the advent of the JCB couldn’t even begin to be imagined.

The weather goes from bad to worse and although we have not had snow Daisy and I braved the rain to take our walk this morning.  We wandered along one of the back lanes of the village we have lived in now since December 2012. 

As I stood looking out over the vast expanse of fields that make up the Marlborough Downs, out of the corner of my eye I caught a sudden movement.  It was a hare running here and there almost imperceptible against the soft brown background of the field.  

I stood and watched it running across the field and thought back to the time, many years ago now, when I was a child living in a third floor flat overlooking an ancient stretch of woodland.  From the window of the flat I remember watching hares boxing it was a thrilling experience for a wide-eyed five year old.  Sadly, it was the first and only time I have ever seen this happen.  Since that day though, I have always thought of hares as special and rather magical creatures.  It is such a secretive and illusive animal.   And sure enough this morning, the hare was there and then gone, its colouring providing perfect camouflage.

I have been spurred on recently by a couple of hare sightings to re-read a brilliant book by Wendy Andrew, an artist living in Warminster, who not only beautifully illustrated the book but also conjured up the wonderful tale.   It is called Luna Moon Hare.   It is a delightful story of the wheel of the year experienced through the eyes and actions of Luna Moon Hare.  Those of you who are interested in pagan matters may already know Wendy from the Goddess Conference and Witchfest but if you are unaware of her work please go to her website, www.paintingdreams.co.uk for not only the book but also amazing original paintings, prints, cards and wall hangings  Well worth a visit. 

 

New Beginnings

New Beginnings

It has been almost a year since I last blogged. A lot has happened since then but I have decided that I want to give it another try. We will see how it goes.

Daisy and I have walked out daily since my last post.    The year is turning so quickly and spring is here.      Although the snowdrops are strewn across the woodland floor like spent butterflies and similarly the winter aconites, those little sunbursts of yellow that so often grow in tandem with snowdrops, are passing over here now the woods are bursting with new life. 

Today as we wandered through the woods we found celandines, cowslips and what I think were heartsease, small purple pansy like flowers growing at the foot of the hedgerow.   The bluebells are making masses of leaf and it wont be long before the floor of the woodland lies beneath a misty blue haze and that unmistakeable bluebell scent that shifts me straight back to my childhood hangs in the air.     There are also bright yellow daffodils everywhere, planted out across the estate to naturalise beneath the trees which are also all firmly in bud.  

I love this time of year.   It is a period of hopeful growth each plant knowing that a single viscious frost could cut it down.   Even so, the woodland is a mass of energy.   If you sit down amongst it you can feel it.   Everything positively crackles with it.    For me every new small discovery is a wonder and evidence of the tenancious nature of the living year. 

The moon has been gloriously full for two nights now, lighting up our little piece of Wiltshire to such an extent I’ve not needed a torch when walking Daisy at night.    The stars have been exceptionally bright and beautiful with Orion taking centre stage.     I would love to know more about the stars, I should like to know more about so many things, trees, wild flowers, birds, everything!

I have been woken up early over the past couple of mornings by bird song  loud and joyous, the dawn chorus has been practising outside my window.    I would love to know which particular bird it is who sings so loudly.   My husband thinks it may be a blackbird or a thrush.   All I know is that each time it sings, somewhere in the distance another bird answers.   Even as I write this I can hear the sound of some unknown and hidden bird singing outside.    It’s all new to me.   When we lived in Cornwall bird song, if it can be called song, was exclusively the remit of jackdaws and seagulls!

I used to love watching the seagulls climbing on the thermals around the bay, swooping and rising, resting on the air, wings outstretched.   Then they had such a plaintive cry.   I dont think I will find anything here to equal that sound.   I still miss it though well over half a year has passed since we were last there.

I have come to love this part of Wiltshire and although part of me still pines for Cornwall, I have learned such a great deal since I came here and have seen so many things, birds and plants, that I have not seen before I am heartfeltly grateful for the experience.

Visiting Green Woodpecker
Long Tailed Tit

Snow day

SnowdropsThe wrap around squirrel

It has been such a long time and many weeks have passed since I last turned my attention to this journal.    I have been unable to find the time to sit and think and record what I have seen.    Since my last post there has been snow and snowdrops.   The weather has been ice cold and unseasonably warm.   There has been sunshine and snow storm.   There have been some beautiful sunsets.   It has been a period of contradictions.    

It was lovely to see the snow.  I felt as though I was experiencing winter for the first time in ages.   It was heavy enough to cause some chaos although not enough to stop everyone from going about their business, atleast such was the case here in Wiltshire.   

The snowdrops came as a lovely surprise.   I walked out with Daisy and suddenly I was confronted with a sea of these beautiful and indomitable little flowers, their bell like heads ringing through the woodland.

The squirrels came and commandered the peanut feeder much to the annoyance of the small birds who seem to prefer the peanuts to the bird seed.    Squirrels have two methods of approach, some will climb on to the feeder completely and wrap themselves greedily around it.   Others will hang by their back legs from the feeder handle and dangle upside down in order to get at the food.     They are great acrobats.

I have seen birds in the garden I have never seen before.    I have had a visit from some long tailed tits which are the most beautifully marked little birds and also a beautiful green woodpecker, although my photograph of this lovely bird isnt the best I have ever taken.      Apparently they like lawns and will happily feed on any ants they find.   I have also seen lesser spotted woodpeckers and heard their incessant tapping in the wood when I take Daisy for her walk.   
 
I do love living here and enjoy the freedom to wander around and watch what my environment has to offer.    Spring is very definitely on its way and I look forward to further revelations.  

 

 
 

Well, goodbye 2011, welcome 2012 and a Happy New Year!   I hope it will be a wonderful new year, full of opportunity. 

It is a process, I am sure, that is totally age related but 2011 passed so quickly it barely registered with me.      I found myself arrived at Christmas with absolutely no preparation.  

My state of readiness for this particular seasonal celebration has always fluctuated fairly spectactularly.    I have been triumpantly ready for the coming of Christmas in the past with presents bought and wrapped before October has been and gone.   Alternatively, I have been found painting my dining room on Christmas Eve and putting up the tree on Christmas Day morning.     It is a time of year I have always loved and I am, therefore, amazed at my almost constant inability to see it coming!

You see, I believe in Christmas!   I believe in it as a time for tradition, I believe in it absolutely and, ordinarily, I am overwhelmed with the desire to recreate the nostalgic christmases of my past.    A fools errand you may say and, with hindsight, I suppose it is totally impossible to create such a time of happiness with all the pivitol players gone.    My parents have passed on to the blessed summerlands as have the other major participants of my childhood christmases, aunts, uncles, grandparents.   This year old friends were missing, happily such friends are still alive and kicking,  just many miles away.   

Unable to resurrect the actual Christmas of my past I have always tried to aim at a close proximity of it.    Buying cards, wrapping paper, selecting presents, getting down the baubles, putting up the tree, picking the turkey all these things have helped me to create the feel, the warmth of Christmas past.    It has always been a welcome ghost, the nostaglic embrace of a simpler, happy time.   Sadly, inexplicably, the ghost walked elsewhere this year and was missing from our celebrations.    

Living in Cornwall for the past few Christmases, Lee and I found ourselves living in a community that celebrated Christmas with great gusto.     The village came together to put up the Christmas lights, festooned along the main street and the sea front.  There would be a carol service with mulled wine and mince pies and the lights would be ceremoniously switched on.   Kingsand Cawsand glittered throughout Christmas and the New Year.   

On Christmas Day we would meet our friends in the local pub to wish them seasons greetings over many an excellent pint of Doombar and then make our way home to a late Christmas lunch.    Last year we had goose, locally raised.     

New Year in Kingsand was spent in fancy dress roaming between the various public houses.    There were fireworks and a New Years Day charity swim in Cawsand Bay.   

If I had known in 2010 it would be our last such Christmas on the Rame Peninsula, I would have made more of it.     Silly to look back now, I know, but I loved living in Cornwall and miss it so much, the friends we made, the place, everything about it.

This year Christmas was a quite different, quiet and frugal affair.    We decided against a turkey and had instead a leek, broccoli and cheese tart which really didnt cut the mustard.     New Year involved a bit of a walk and then flopping in front of the television.     It all came and went in a flash.    

I never take my tree down before twelfth night, Mum always said it was unlucky to do so, but now I keep looking at it with growing irritation and wonder when I can finally get it all put away.   It is so unlike me.   This year’s festivities have been swamped by a layer of disappointment.      Perhaps I have grown up at last, grown old even, and the magic of Christmas has finally deserted me.      I do hope not.  

Next year I will try again to find the spirit of Christmas.   I hope the ghost of  christmases past will walk again in friendship and visit us.    Where ever we may be, we will do it properly next year.

It is snowing!     What was a grey, rainy day has morphed into a heavy fall of snow out of a yellow tinged sky.      It has been raining and so I wonder if  this first flurry of snow will be able to rest here.    

There is something captivating about snow which I think is a hangover from my childhood.   I loved it when I awoke to deep drifts of snow which  happened regularly in my early years.   I particularly remember the winter of 1961 and finding Jack Frost patterns, his fine tracery, on the inside of my bedroom window.   

We did not have central heating in those days and so, unhindered, in the deepest depths of night that elvish creature, Jack Frost had crept into my bedroom and decorated the windows with his intricate artwork.      Delicate filigree patterns, perfect and symmetrical  filled the glass.        They thrilled me and I was always sorry to see them melt away.                                                                                             

Snow is something I have lived removed from, to a degree, for the last three years.   If anything, it has been a guilty, second hand pleasure which has happened mostly to other people if that doesnt sound too bizarre.     Living by the sea, snow does not really settle, the salt air keeps it at bay, except in the worst years of snowy excess, of course, when nothing can hold back a determined fall of snow.     

Strangely, and despite its proximity to the sea, in Plymouth, where I worked, snow would fill up the roads very quickly and prevent people with cars setting off for work and children from going to school.   Bus services would quickly be suspended and I, having trugged into work from Kingsand, where no snow had fallen at all, only a few miles away as the crow flies, by boat and then on foot, would find myself making the hour long journey home again, as those with such arduous journeys were inevitably sent home in case matters became worse.     Needing absolutely no second bidding I would depart with unseemly haste.   

If I am honest, since we moved here, I have secretly longed for this day when, sitting at home, I would watch the world turn to white outside my window, or wake to find the world encased in a deep white blanket and cocooned in that hushed and muffled silence a snow covered countryside wears.    It is a romanticised view of snow I know.   I am guilty.   It is, in reality, inconvenient and wet, pretty when white and new fallen, but quickly turning to a seedy brown slush.

As I write, the snow has stopped, it has settled a little on my neighbour’s lawn but the sky is now light and patchily blue.    What rests will fade as quickly as it came beneath watery winter sunshine.   I hope it comes again.  I must wait, it seems, for that thick blanket of snow.    Yule is just around the corner.   A white festival would be lovely.

Daisy and I, having traversed the meadow, sit on our beech tree root and survey the hedgerow.    All around us the bare forms of the trees stand out against the sullen skyline in magnificient detail.     Salome has now cast her final veil and stands uninhibitedly naked at the extreme edge of the tree line.   

The weather vane fox runs to the west into black rain clouds which move towards us in an unbreaking wave.   Despite the damp weather it is not cold.    There is a very slight chill in the air which prompts a longing for the fire smouldering in the grate at home, but the first day of December is surprisingly mild.

Daisy sniffs the air.   Somewhere there is squirrel.    She is impatient to be gone and, forsaking my usual quiet moments of contemplation, we walk homewards through the woodland, taking the lower path.     

The lure of squirrel is extremely strong this morning and all the way through the woods Daisy pulls me along.   She is surprisingly solid and strong for a small dog, tugging furiously at the end of her long lead, and I find it hard to keep my feet as the ground beneath me is treacherous, wet and slippery.  

The fallen leaves have formed a mouldering mass which covers the pathway lying inches deep in some places.   It feeds the forest, I know, but will see the unwary flat on their backs if they are not careful.     I have fallen once before in these woods and am determined to watch my footing even if it means spoiling Daisy’s chase. 

For the most part, falling face down in a pile of leaf mould excluded, I love taking Daisy for walks.   She is happy and enthusiatic about everything and everyone she meets.     She stands on her hind legs the better to take things in and skips along, front paws tucked to her chest, ears cocked.     

Daisy relishes the smells, dirt and damp of the countryside and is never happier than when covered in mud.    She is less keen on being unceremoniously dumped in the bath, a last resort as she hates water, when we return home from a walk and she is covered in something disgusting and gooey!     She is also a mouser par excellence and has dispatched a number of that invading bretheren cleanly but without mercy.    

She is still fascinated by the sheep in the first field.    They have worked hard at their task of ‘mowing’ the grass and a field that was once knee deep in grass in places is now clipped to within an inch or so of the ground.     She surveys the sheep keenly on our way home through the field, but her nose is easily distracted by other smells and soon she is working her way back and forth across the path chasing another scent and oblivious to them.   They watch us for a while and then turn their minds to the rather more serious task of grazing.

When we get home I wipe Daisy down, she takes a deep drink of water and then retires to the front room where she takes her ease in front of the fire.  She loves to warm her belly.   I feed her toast as she cannot be asked to move from her warm and comfortable spot.     She chews happily at the buttery toast and then lets out a small gurgle of contentment.   I think all is very well in Daisy’s world.    I am glad.

I wake this morning to clear blue skies and sunshine.   Such a contrast to yesterday which was smothered in a damp mist containing pockets of rain.

Yesterday as Daisy and I walked across the fields our boundaries were muted and constrained.     The known horizon was lost somewhere behind the layers of mist and our world shrank to fit what we could see.    

There was a butterfly on the lichen tree yesterday, and I found brambles flowering.   It is the middle of November and today it is as if a stray and capricious spring day has arrived to confuse us all.    

Daisy and I walk out across the meadow towards the woodland paths.   We take the easy path across the field.   The sun is high and travelling and there is real heat in it.   It is casting strong shadows across the grassland. 

Daisy and I take our usual rest at the beech tree.   I look back across the meadow.     The sky is the colour of cornflowers.      The weather vane fox, running eastwards yesterday, has turned on her heels and now pursues the west.      She is running the sun to ground.

Everything is backlit with warm sunshine.     The trees, now so free of leaf, show their skeletal forms in stark relief.     Even at the furthest extent of the tree line, the limbs of the trees show clear and black against the horizon.     The light is so intense, so clear, that everything stands out in extraordinary definition.   The burnished leaves that remain on the trees glow in the sunshine.    They are almost translucent with light.   

The silver birches standing to the south of the meadow shine in the sunlight.   Behind them stand beech, oak and ash trees.   They are bathed in filtered, secondhand sunshine.   They are softly blurred at the edges, embracing in to each other, they remind me of an impressionist painting.  

There is a breeze, it is warm and shimmers through the beech canopy above us.   I close my eyes and listen to the sound.     It could be the sea I hear, the drawing of the water from the gravelly beach of my cornish fishing village.     

The canopy of the beech tree above me is a mosaic of yellow, green and amber.   Yesterday, where it has been so thinned by the onset of autumn, we sat and felt rain for the first time.   Normally the density of the leaves has kept us dry in the most torrential downpours of rain.       

Yesterday, Daisy, scenting a mouse, dug down beneath the root of the beech and the disturbed earth smelled moist, pungent and rich.     Yesterday, it was autumn, the season of wood fires and chill mornings, early darkness and cold in the bones.

Today, if it was not for the deep leaf litter beneath my feet and the burnished autumn colours of the hedgerows and trees it could be any spring day.

As Daisy and I make our way home, the pale and waning moon is clearly visible in the morning sky.

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