Sunday 31 December 2023

Let there be light in 2024........

.....and banish the darkness of 2023.

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness" 

"Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."  
Martin Luther King jnr.

Realising that this post is rather negative I have decided that my new year's resolution is to be more positive. It may not always feel like things are getting better but there are plenty of good happenings that have made our world a far better place during 2023.
1. A baby beaver was spotted in London for the first time in 400 years during summer 2023, just 18 months after an initiative began to reintroduce them to the capital.
2. The demilitarised zone between North and South Korea has emerged as an unlikely wildlife sanctuary. It is now home to 6,200 species, including 38% of the endangered birds and animals on the Korean peninsula, such as golden eagles, musk deer, and mountain goats.
3. A 20 year project in Uganda has now resulted in their mountain gorilla population being brought back from the brink of extinction.
4. Deforestation across the 9 Amazonian countries is down 55.8% on the same period a year ago - a turn around in a region we call "the lungs of the Earth".
5. There have been huge breakthroughs in treating cancer, and two new drugs developed in 2023 have been shown to slow down the pace of Alzheimer's.
6. The hole in the ozone layer is on track to be healed over by 2040, according to a UN-backed assessment. The hole was discovered in 1985, but since then countries have phased out 99% of ozone depleting chemicals under the Montreal Protocol.
This is just a handful of the many positive events and happenings that have taken place during 2023
Wishing you all a very Happy New Year

Wednesday 20 December 2023

Peace & Goodwill

Seasonal greetings to all

"Peace cannot exist without justice, justice cannot exist without fairness, fairness cannot exist without development, development cannot exist without democracy, democracy cannot exist without respect for the identity and worth of cultures and peoples."
Rigoberta Menchu, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

Saturday 2 December 2023

The Short-eared Owl

An influx of Short-eared owls - Asio flammeus along the eastern coastline of Britain has sparked huge interest amongst bird-watchers across the UK eager to see these special visitors.  In recent weeks a large number of these owls have been increasingly spotted from as far north as Aberdeen down to Northumberland, along the banks of the Humber estuary, and further south into Norfolk. It is quite normal for several to arrive here every Autumn but not in such large numbers. It is thought that a shortage of food in several regions of Scandinavia, Russia, and Iceland is responsible for the owls travelling further afield, and British voles appear to be on their menu.  Apparently there are plenty of voles around this year. 
The Short-eared Owl is unusual as it prefers to be out and about in the daytime. It is easily spotted during the winter months when the birds are joined by other migrants over moorlands and salt mashes. Short-eared Owls rarely display their "ear" tufts, unlike the Long-eared Owls. Their eye colour is a piercing yellow and framed by sooty dark feathers. They have a pale trailing edge to their wing, visible in flight, and a distinct contrast between their dark head and pale belly. 
Also unlike other owls Short-ears nest on the ground in scrapped-out hollows which they line with dried grasses and downy feathers.  
Should you spot them - lucky you.
images courtesy RSPB

Friday 24 November 2023

A Break in the Forest of Dean.... enjoy Autumn's colours.
The Forest of Dean is an ancient landscape once used by the late Anglo Saxon kings, and after 1066, by the Normans, as their personal hunting ground.

The River Wye meanders through this beautiful landscape on its long journey from the mountains tops of Wales to its final destination in the Atlantic ocean. There are castles and abbeys to explore, and a huge variety of pathways for walkers - through the forest, besides the river, or high up on the hilltops.

View across the Forest of Dean to the Malvern Hills, and the Brecon Beacons.

Our journey there took us passed the Dutch Water Garden laid out in 1696 - 1705. The entrance gates have pineapple finials which in architectural terms have been a symbol of hospitality and welcome for centuries. 

Although closed until next Spring it is possible to still view part of the garden through the ornamental railings - all was looking peaceful, and serene. 

All of the berries this year are very prolific but I have never witnessed such large clusters of holly berries before. Old wives tales say that we are in for a hard winter. However, there is no clear logic to that story - it is the Spring weather that determines whether there are sufficient insects around for the flowers to be pollinated, plus sun and warmth in early autumn to help the berries ripen.     

Friday 10 November 2023

The Quantock Hills........

......... nestle between the Somerset Levels and the Bristol Channel offering walkers and nature lovers a dramatic landscape of deeply wooded combes (valleys) and open heathland. The area is bounded by a coastline whose rocks reveal the geological story of the environmental changes that have taken place; from a desert-like environment 23o million years ago, to warm, tropical seas 200 million years ago, to near Ice Age glacial conditions roughly 10,000 years ago. For hundreds of years this stretch of coast has relinquished a large variety of spectacular fossils which continue to be found today.
Limestone ridges form terraces on the beach which alternate between limestone and shale, the latter being responsible for yielding the fossils.
Between 1797 and 1800 the Quantocks were home to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, one of the founders of the Romantic Movement. His friend William Wordsworth along with William's sister Dorothy also moved into the area to benefit from Coleridge's company. 
"My walks were almost daily on the top of Quantock, and among its sloping combes. With my pencil and memorandum-book in my hand, I was....moulding my thoughts into verse, with the objects and imagery immediately before my senses." 
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, 1817 
Coleridge and Wordsworth were out walking down from the Quantocks to the small coastal harbour town of Watchet. As they walked Wordsworth discussed a book that he had been reading concerning Captain Snelvocke's dramatic sea exploits 70 years previously. In it he describes an account of his second captain shooting an albatross whilst they attempted to round Cape Horn in severe storms. The captain had taken the giant sea bird as a bad omen, and hoped that by killing it he might bring about a break in the weather.  
By the time the pair arrived in Watchet, Coleridge was already well on the way to composing thoughts for his most haunting and famous poem "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner". 
Commemorative statue at Watchet.

Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the albatross
About my neck was hung. 
Many once believed that albatrosses embodied the souls of lost sailors possessing magical qualities that could be harnessed to aid healing. To kill an albatross was a harbinger of the sea's wrath. The mariner's fellow sailors force him to wear the remains of the bird around his neck as a form of penance.

Friday 3 November 2023

Fickle Weather

Earlier this week we walked around the harbour walls at Watchet in Somerset, and I took the photo below of the lighthouse. We both felt fortunate to be out walking in such an interesting area on a glorious Autumn day. 

Back home again, and we have just seen the same lighthouse on the TV news. It showed fearsome waves breaking all around and even over it with a thunderous sky above as it confronted Storm Ciarán. Although the storm swirled around many parts of Britain, and we live less than 70miles from Somerset, Storm Ciarán completely passed us by.        With these huge changes in weather patterns around the world, we have decided that in this country, it is far better to make your home well away from costal and riverside locations, glorious as it might be to have them on your doorstep.

The port at Watchet is subject to a very large tidal range courtesy the Bristol Channel so the harbour has double entry high substantial walls. 
This the inner harbour, and below is the outer harbour.
The red arrows point to a couple that we spoke to before they walked back to their yacht. They told us that they spend the winter in Watchet harbour and travel the high seas during the summer. The wooden walkways rise to the top of the mooring poles as the tide comes in. We are now left wondering what has happened to their beautiful boat and whether or not it managed to weather the storm intact.
Principally we came to Watchet to walk in the footsteps of two of our most distinguished poets. A sculpture by the harbour wall is a reminder of their association with the town. The visit gave rise to a poem by one of the poets that is now celebrated throughout the world. But more of that next time.
There are several interesting little boutique shops in Watchet so we treated ourselves to a small white china pumpkin in celebration of Halloween. It was carefully wrapped in tissue paper and popped into a small white carrier paper bag. Before leaving we enjoyed a flask of coffee on a seat overlooking the harbour, but immediately were totally surrounded by Herring Gulls looking for food. But having already eaten a full English breakfast at our hotel, food was the last thing on our mind. 
However, this cheeky young juvenile Herring Gull would not leave us alone, he talked to us, and moved his head from side to side - seemingly he was convinced that our pumpkin bag held something good to eat.

Saturday 21 October 2023

Belton House

Built between 1685 and 1687 by Sir John Brownlow, 3rd Baronet, Belton House in Lincolnshire is one of the finest examples of Carolean (Restoration) architecture. Carolean being considered the only truly vernacular style of architecture that England has produced since the Tudor period. 

The house was fitted with the most upto date innovations, such as sash windows for the principal rooms, and the layout followed the latest thinking on house planning. Successive generations have altered the interior of the house reflecting their changing social position and tastes, yet the fabric and design of the house have changed little. I no longer take interior shots of houses visited, but the following two items in particular caught my eye in Belton House.
This lovely painting of Adelaide, wife of the 3rd Earl Brownlow, which was painted by Frederick Lord Leighton, and below a delightful
enamel on metal plaque showing Nina Cust by Alex Fisher.
Emmeline "Nina
" Cust was herself an artist, and a very skilled Sculptor. She was married to Henry John Cockayne-Cust whom she adored and loved dearly, but her enduring love and the early demise of her philandering husband wove emotional sadness throughout her married life.  

This exquisitely carved tomb was sculptured by Nina for her husband when he died in 1917. It resides in the church of St. Peter & St. Paul which overlooks the gardens at Belton House. He had been the heir apparent to the barony of Brownlow, the Cust baronetcy and to the extensive Cust estates centred on Belton House. However, having predeceased the 3rd Earl by three years, the inheritance fell to his surviving younger brother. Nina too was finally laid to rest besides her husband when she died 38 years later in 1955 at the age of 88 years.

Belton's Conservatory was crafted around a cast-iron sub-frame, making it the first garden building of its type in England.

Time to head off now to the NT Stables cafe for a bowl of their delicious homemade soup and a freshly baked cheese scone to sustain us on our journey back home following our few days away.

Monday 16 October 2023

The World Changed Here......

In a quiet Lincolnshire hamlet on Christmas Day 1642 Sir Isaac Newton was born. 
Born sickly and premature, two servant women were hastened from the household to collect urgently needed items for the new child, but they sat down on a stile and said there was no need to hurry for they were sure the boy would have died before their return. But baby Isaac beat the odds and lived on for 84 more years.
An English polymath active as a mathematician, physicist, astronomer, alchemist, theologian, and author who was described in his time as a natural philosopher. He was a key figure in the Scientific Revolution and the Age of Enlightenment that followed. 
His mother described him as different from other boys saying "he could not bring himself to concentrate on the rural affairs of the farm - set to watch the cattle, he would curl up under a tree with a book."
"I know not what I appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me".
At the age of 12 he attended The King's School in Grantham, where he was taught Latin, Ancient Greek, and mathematics. He was unmoved by literature and poetry but loved inventing, and made an elaborate system of sundials which was accurate to the minute. His mother had hoped he would run the family farm, but his uncle and his headmaster realised that he was destined for an intellectual life. Newton was admitted to Trinity College at the University of Cambridge in 1661. Soon after he obtained his BA degree at Cambridge in August 1665 the university had to close temporarily as a precaution against the spreading outbreak of the Great Plague. 
Newton returned home to Woolsthorpe Manor to escape the plague, and whilst there he wrote "I was in the prime of my age for invention."
He tried to solve the system of the universe whilst musing in the orchard about the power of gravity causing an apple to fall down from a tree to the ground. This could not be limited to a certain distance from the earth, but he reasoned that the same power must extend far further than was commonly thought. Why not as high as the moon? This led him to consider what influenced the moon's motion.
This is the Flower of Kent apple tree behind the inspiration for Newton's theory of gravity. Dendrochronology done by the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art at the University of Oxford, confirms this tree to be over 400 years old, having regrown from roots surviving from a tree which was blown over by a storm in 1816.
Paper was expensive, but as the walls of the manor would have been lime washed regularly, using his bedroom walls as a sketchpad as he explored the world around him made sense. 
The coloured lights from a prism on his bedroom wall has been achieved using Newton's very own original prism. It was recently discovered in a box at Trinity College, Cambridge and given to Woolsthorpe Manor. There is a YouTube explanation showing Newton's prism experiment here.
Newton became Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, an MP, Master of the Mint, and President of the Royal Society. He was the author of Principia, one of the most important books in the history of science, was fascinated by calculus, the planets and the 'laws of motion', and, in keeping with his age, blurred the borders between natural philosophy and speculation: he was as passionate about astrology as astronomy and dabbled in alchemy, while his religious faith was never undermined by his scientific reasoning.

Friday 6 October 2023

Norman Treasurers

A fine Norman gateway leads to an architectural gem.

Peterborough Cathedral is one of the finest Norman cathedrals in England. Founded as a monastic community in 654 AD, it was to become one of the most significant medieval abbeys in the country, the burial place of two queens and the scene of Civil War upheavals. The catheral has a really dramatic West Front exterior, an extraordinary creation of medieval architecture. It would be easy for the interior to be an anticlimax, but it is not.

The dramatic Romanesque interior is little altered since its completion, but arguably the painted wooden nave ceiling is the jewel in the crown being the only one of its type surviving in Britain. It is the largest of only four wooden ceilings still in existence from the same period in the whole of Europe. It is known from dendrochronology that the construction of the ceiling took place in the late 1230s and 1240s.

The clock without a face
The monks of Peterborough Abbey had to keep track of time in order to observe the eight daily services set by the Rule of St Benedict. For centuries they did this with the help of sundials and by ringing bells. Timekeeping was helped with this early clock. It has no face, but strikes every half hour so that the monks knew when to pray.
The wooden frame and earliest parts of the mechanism date from 1450 and are painted black. In 1687 local clockmaker John Watts added a more accurate pendulum and other parts (painted green). In 1836 a new mechanism (painted blue) was installed on top of the frame with a three-meter pendulum. This clock was in use in the bell tower until 1950 when it was replaced by an electronic device. It was restored and relocated within the cathedral in 1984, but it still works. 

Katharine of Aragon's tomb

The pomegranates are left by well wishes sometimes tied up with scarlet and gold ribbon, colours which represent the Spainish flag. Ever since her early childhood, Katherine wore a pomegranate brooch, and as Queen she had a pomegranate emblazoned on her shield.

Robert Scarlett, known locally as 'Old Scarlett" was born in 1496 and died on the 2nd July 1594 at the remarkable age of 98. His life spanned the reigns of Henry V11, Henry V111, Edward V1, Mary 1 and Elizabeth 1. His longevity is thought to be due to his physical fitness as, even into his eighties, he was still digging graves in Peterborough. He has the distinction of having interred two queens in the Peterborough Cathedral - Katherine of Aragon and Mary Queen of Scots, and after he buried his first wife Margaret he claimed he had buried three queens! Scarlett then went on to marry his second wife, Maud, by this time well into his eighties. 

These are just a few of the treasures that took my interest.


Since I have been away, I have been unable to comment on any blogs or reply to comments on my own blog. I have tried everything I can to rectify the situation but all to no avail. If anyone is able to help I would really appreciate it.

* I have just discovered that if I use a different browser I am able to comment*