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.