Saturday, 19 July 2014

… Into The Wild …

“So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more dangerous to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future.  The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure.  The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”  - John Krakauer, Into the Wild.

The morning air was cool after a night of storms … perfect weather for our adventure. Our destination … the Watermead Country Park in unknown territory at the other end of the county.  An hours journey across the city and there it was … completely deserted.

In the background there was the constant noise and hum of the traffic speeding by … but here we were in an oasis of calm on the outskirts of the city … surrounded by acres of trees, wild flowers and lakes … dragonflies, bees and butterflies our only companions.

Isn’t it always the way that you never actually visit places that are right on your doorstep.

Today we were changing that.

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We started walking along a footpath and immediately came across a botanists dream … wild flowers in such abundance that I stopped counting the varieties after  a few minutes.  I was in paradise.  Pea vetch … Meadow Cranesbill … Devil’s Bit Scabious … Cornflower … Meadow Vetchling … Evening Primrose … Great Mullein … Ragwort ..  Knapweed … Teasel … Welted Thistle … Corn Marigold … Meadowsweet … Hedge Bindweed … Dock … Horseradish … the list goes on. 

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There were hides situated around small ponds … each one was visited in turn.  The first was the Sand Martin Hide.  A wall had been built for the Sand Martins to nest in … we watched in awe as the birds flew back and forth to feed their young … they flew at speed with perfect accuracy aiming at the holes where hungry little mouths opened to receive the insect delicacies.

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If you look closely you can see three little chicks in one of the holes waiting to be fed.

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The next hide was in a woodland clearing where a squirrels antics kept us amused whilst various birds came down to eat the seed left out for them.  But we hadn’t reckoned for the next hide which was elevated and gave a panoramic view of a lagoon where Herons stood on one leg waiting to pounce on unsuspecting fish, gulls and wading birds aplenty … horses grazed the short grass at the side of the lagoon … totally unaware of our presence – in the distance you could see the haze over the city as the sun rose higher in the sky.

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Initially the park was used as farmland and then used for gravel extraction. In 1989 the park was developed from these disused gravel pits.    In 2005 it was designated by English Nature as a local Nature Reserve, this provides the site with further protection from potential development.

To have this gem on the outskirts of a big city is a huge bonus for city folk and country lovers alike – to think we have lived in this county for all these years and never thought to visit before.  You can be sure that this will be the first of many more visits.

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We have no real wilderness around where we live … but going back to the wild for just a day nourishes the soul and feeds the heart … I am so glad we made the effort to get out of our comfort zone and see nature in the raw.

‘Til next time – stay cool!

Sunday, 13 July 2014

… A River Runs Through It …

We drove down the narrow lane with trepidation … what would we find when we reached our destination.  The sign, half hidden by roadside grass and nettles, pointed us in the direction of Sculthorpe Mill … we were hungry … looking for somewhere to eat … what harm would it do to go and have a look … I felt sure we would be disappointed and the only lunch would be a stale sandwich in a rundown pub that no one ever visited because they didn’t even know it was there.

How wrong could I be.  At the end of the lane … there it was … in all its glory … an old water mill.  A beautiful 18th century napped flint building …

Sculthorpe Mill

We smiled at one another  knowing that our original thoughts had been a little misguided.  Most of the pub-turned-‘eatery’  places  that we had visited had been   modernised to within an inch of their lives – all very pleasant with scrubbed pine tables and floors, lots of artwork on the walls etc. but not a lot left of the original building.  But the mill was like stepping back into another century … heavy oak beams, soft leather sofas, thick carpets and a congenial host. 

The old fashioned dining area was a series of small intimate rooms, two or three tables in each with just the gentle background noise of  diners chatting whilst enjoying their food.  After a delicious lunch of sea food we left to go and explore the surroundings.

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There were only one or two buildings in this little hamlet, both of which had once belonged to the mill, but were now private residences … there was nothing else but water, the mill race going under the mill building and the beautiful River Wensum, clear, shallow and fast flowing.

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“A river seems a magic thing. A magic, moving, living part of the very earth itself.”
Laura Gilpin

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Seeing all this lovely clear water really made me want to go wild swimming – see this quote I posted on one of my now defunct blogs

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At the time of  Domesday, three watermills were listed in Sculthorpe. By 1225 the mills belonged to Richard Botte and the de Hasseneye or de Hasseneia family with the latterday Sculthorpe watermill, along with ten acres of land becoming known as Hasseneia Mill.
The final structure of Hasseneia mill was built on a large strip of gravel and silt above an ancient ford that was once the river crossing point for the Romans. The building was made up of flint rubble with brick dressings that probably came from an earlier mill with a new Norfolk pantiled roof. According to a plaque on its rear wall, this new mill was built in 1757, possibly just after alterations of the river course.

Having ground corn for many years, the mill probably ceased working c.1947 and was becoming derelict by the 1950s.

labrador dog enjoying a swim

“The Carmel is a lovely little river. It isn't very long but in its course it has everything a river should have. It ... tumbles down a while, runs through shallows, ... crackles among round boulders, wanders lazily under sycamores, spills into pools where trout live ... In the winter, it becomes a torrent, ... and in the summer it is a place for children to wade in and for fishermen to wander in.”
John Steinbeck

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It certainly has had a chequered history according to the website see here – but to me it was just an idyllic setting, a lovely old building and with a surprisingly beautiful garden.

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“The river itself portrays humanity precisely, with its tortuous windings, its accumulation of driftwood, its unsuspected depths, and its crystalline shallows, singing in the Summer sun.” Myrtle Reed

I have to say that writing this post has brought back happy childhood memories of Dad taking us to the mill in the village where we used to live, on Sunday mornings, jam jar and fishing net in hand, to catch sticklebacks and minnows, whilst poor old Mum was left behind to cook the Sunday lunch – aah happy memories indeed.

So, if ever you are travelling on the Fakenham Road near Sculthorpe – look out for the sign, keep your eyes peeled, you might miss it – then see for yourself this delightful place.

“ Never in his life had he seen a river before – this sleek, sinuous, full-bodied animal, chasing and chuckling, gripping things with a gurgle and leaving them with a laugh, to fling itself on fresh playmates that shook themselves free, and were caught and held again.  All was a-shake and a-shiver – glints and gleams and sparkles, rustle and swirl, chatter and bubble.  The Mole was bewitched, entranced, fascinated.” – The Wind in the Willows.

‘Til next time – take off your shoes, sit on the bank and dangle your feet in the water – I can’t think of anything better on a hot summers’ day. p.s. this is not a sponsored post.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

summer lovin’ … the week in pictures

After all the excitement of getting up very early on Monday to make sure we got to our Highgrove appointment on time, the rest of the week has been  pretty calm, with lovely weather … just right for a little pottering here and there … making jam … cooking summer foods … and enjoying afternoon tea in the shade with a good book for company … for isn’t this what summer is all about … enjoying every little bit of it.

“Summer afternoon – summer afternoon; to me those have always been the most beautiful words in the English language.” – Henry James

Mixed red berry jelly 

Summer seems to last for such a short time, even though it is not my favourite season, I relish throwing open windows and doors, putting washing on the line and it being dry in record time, eating fresh salads straight from the garden with home-baked bread – simple foods that make the mouth water in anticipation.

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”summer, after all, is a time when wonderful things can happen to quiet people. For those few months, you’re not required to be who everyone thinks you are, and that cut-grass smell in the air and the chance to dive into the deep end of a pool give you a courage you don’t have the rest of the year. You can be grateful and easy, with no eyes on you, and no past. Summer just opens the door and lets you out.” – Deb Caletti.

typical summer scene

“Bees do have a smell you know, and if they don’t they should, for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers” – Ray Bradbury

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baby robin

“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.” – John Lubbock

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“One of my favourite things about dining outdoors in a warmer season is that it frees hands and bares skin … When we don’t need to wear or carry heavy clothing, our bodies feel lighter and our hand are freed for other things.  Like carrying bottles of  wine, bags of stone fruit, fish, and clams; and a simple kettle and a tiny grill for a quiet, all-day beach excursion.  Then we can eat well.” – Kirstin Jackson

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If you could epitomise an English summer maybe it would include watching a game of cricket on the green … Or baby birds standing patiently waiting to be fed by an overworked mother … Or the bright blue of Cornflowers in amongst the weedy borders … The vibrant green of fresh lettuce …  Posies of flowers fresh from the garden… Stunning sunsets … And moonlit nights … Bees lazily resting on the flowers of the Cosmos … Eating an unhurried breakfast whilst reading the morning papers … Looking out across the fields where the cows have their afternoon siesta … Watching the petals unfold on a pure white dahlia … And marvelling at the beauties of nature left to run riot

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view from the snug

cows taking their afternoon siesta

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california poppies and parsley gone to seed

These are just some of the glories of summer for me. Of course there is also the vegetable harvest – although I love the flower garden, when it comes to where my heart lies it has to be the kitchen garden. Even after many years of growing vegetables I still get a thrill from pulling a few carrots, digging up potatoes and cooking them within a few minutes.  You can’t get any fresher than that. Inbetween times there has been some successional seed sowing going on – french beans, pak choi, oriental mustard leaves, choi sum, broccoli raab – in an attempt to keep the food supply going as long as possible into the autumn.

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“The first gatherings of the garden in May of salads, radishes and herbs made me feel like a mother about her baby – how could anything so beautiful be mine.  And this emotion of wonder filled me for each vegetable as it was gathered every year.  There is nothing that is comparable to it, as satisfactory or as thrilling, as gathering the vegetables one has grown” – Alice B. Toklas

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  Ripe vegetables were magic to me.  Unharvested, the garden bristled with possibility.  I would quicken at the sight of a ripe tomato, sounding its redness from deep amidst the undifferentiated green.  To lift a bean plant’s hood of heartshaped leaves and discover a clutch of long slender pods underneath could make me catch my breath.” – Michael Pollen

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“The smell of manure, of sun on foliage, of evaporating water, rose to my head; two steps farther, and I could look down into the vegetable garden enclosed within its tall pale of reeds – rich chocolate earth studded emerald green, frothed with the white of cauliflowers, jewelled with the purple globes of eggplant and the scarlet wealth of tomatoes.” – Doris Lessing

I hope you have enjoyed a look at my week in pictures, sorry that it became rather a long post, but there is so much to share at this time of year.

‘Til next time …

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