An absence of birds and rain

It has been a slow and boring March for us here, with painting, painting – and it seemed – yet more painting …We had a new porch built outside our front door last December.¬† It’s on the colder, north side of the building, so gives us extra protection with a double entrance as well as accommodating all our muddy, messy outdoor wear.All sorts of things had to be done to make it a useful part of the building …And it is finally just about there …But the painting – the oh, so very¬†boring painting – dragged on and on.¬† Little bits all over the house and garden also appeared in need of a paint in the fresh clean light of spring days …We are now making up for lost time, and outside as much as possible, catching up on the garden.Stephen’s potting up of seeds and young plants includes making these nifty little newspaper pots – so ingenious!Sometimes he has a not-so-helpful helper with him …The salad greens in the greenhouse are feeding us comfortably …But it looks like we will have a while to wait for any crops from our raised beds.¬† The problem isn’t just the very cold nights we are still getting (although our days are blessed with sun a plenty).¬† No, it’s the absence of rain …Our water butts are empty.¬† We have light rain showers occasionally, but they are so very light as to make little or no difference.¬† I can’t remember when we last had a decent downpour. ¬†The water butts remain almost empty. So most reluctantly, we have got out the hose …It’s easy for us – but not so easy for the local farmers.¬† At the beginning of April, there were still ponds on the local fields.¬† We watched these with great¬†interest as they provide home and sustenance to the local gulls.This is what they look like now … parched …Walking around the local farms, there is evidence aplenty of parched fields.¬† This is an interesting spot because it is at the bottom of fields that run down to the sea on the right.¬† In other years – in wetter winters – there has not been the same marked run off as we are seeing this year. You can’t really tell from these pictures, but this winter wheat crop has barely grown at all.It’s easy for us to water our slow-growing raspberries plants, but quite a different matter for a farmer with huge grain fields …Elsewhere, the monopoly of bright yellow early spring flowers is over.¬† Those daffodil heads are in the compost heap, contributions to another year …There are flash-coloured tulips about now and lots of forget-me-nots … oh dear, I see something else that¬†needs a fresh coat of paint! The forget-me-nots really come into their own on the other side of our garden fence … this year they are tiny plants … usually double the height …I always think the very best thing about gardening is the surprises, the things you have forgotten you planted.¬† These entirely white narcissi are exactly such a case in point.¬† I have absolutely no recollection of planting them, but I think they are just exquisite, fragile and elegant … Ghost flowers …Another delight this year is the japonica flowering for the first time.¬† Usually in the autumn I collect japonica fruit from my friend in Devon to make quince jelly.¬† Perhaps this year, I’ll have a couple of my own fruit to add to this year’s jelly …There are disappointments too.¬† The rosemary bush has died – and just look at the scorch marks from salty easterly blasts on the snapdragon plant in the foreground …The other big disappointment for us is the absence of birds.¬†It’s true that there are pigeons¬†… hours of entertainment for Eggy (hunched in the foreground)¬†…But there have been no ordinary birds like sparrows and blackbirds for weeks. In February, Ilsa brought a song thrush in to Stephen.¬† He was able to rescue it, and as it seemed fine, we hoped it¬†would survive. However,¬†we later¬†found it dead in the field.¬† RIP beautiful bird.So now the cats wear collars …They don’t seem to be very perturbed by the collars, and are out and about enjoying themselves as usual …But have they frightened the birds away for good? We take heart from a new young blackbird who¬†has been seen around,¬†and a sparrow was sighted on the bird feeders today.

There are still larks. On my knees, as I weeded the flowerbeds, with the sea on the horizon, the sun on my back, my head was full of the sound of the song of the larks – singing their hearts out in this glorious place. Rain and birds …. please come back!

Our local beach walk

I found myself reflecting the other day how long it is since I wrote on this blog about our walks.¬† It is not that we have not been out and about, but with the windier and wintrier weather¬†our walks have been concentrated in the locality. I guess I’ve felt a bit dismissive about these, but I’ve now¬†realised how silly this is.¬† After all, the walks that you do regularly and repetitively right through the seasons, in all weather – those are in fact probably the more fascinating. You see a place through all its changes.

So, let me take you with me on our local Spittal beach walk which we did the other day Рand I will show you why we love it so much!

The walk starts with a rough track from our cottage down to the railway line¬†… and the sea …If you are lucky, you will get to see a train …I still find the passing trains¬†enormously exciting … for extra drama you can, of course, stand under the bridge as the train passes …Today I didn’t manage that, which is perhaps just as well because passing under the bridge with the bright blue of the sea calling you is a pleasure in itself …We turn to the left when through the bridge. You can see the old concrete bases¬†of the beach huts ahead.¬† The beach huts were scrapped long ago, and recently¬†planning permission has been lodged to build modern luxury homes on this land.¬† It will change the atmosphere of the place but I guess they will be lovely homes for some. For now the gorse is just out, it’s a beautiful day – and the beach is calling …Our route takes us over a small green park.¬† There are football posts here now but in the old days, there were all sorts of¬†high jinks here … funfairs,¬†paddling pools , together with an elaborate layout of seating and benches … all gone now …In the summer, this area is used for the Spittal Seaside Festival and on a fine summer’s evening it is pleasant indeed to walk down to the pavilions they put up …And partake of a beer or two while listening to the local talent …There’s nothing going on here today … not many people walking along the promenade either.Peering¬†¬†over the railings (and with tide permitting), you can see some of the interesting rock formations that are to be found on this coastline …But today, we’re going to walk along the promenade for a while and descend to the beach later. This railing was repainted last summer and still looks nice and shiny and blue, in keeping with the blueness of today’s sky and sea …The promenade stretches on right up to the end of the houses (just before that old factory chimney you can see in the centre distance), and then the walk continues on a rougher track right to Spittal point where you face Berwick on the other side of the Tweed river.¬†This beach¬†is much loved by dog walkers …The painter, L.S. Lowry, loved it too, and several of his paintings have been reproduced at relevant points to make connections between¬†the pictures and the landscape.¬† I so love this little red-capped lady standing in front of the blue railings!In mid-summer the promenade is full of folk having fun at the Spittal Seaside festival … Not a lot of people on the beach though …But then this is the very most northern part of Northumberland and it is not a beach for softies … Here are the stoical good people of Spittal rushing into the sea on Boxing Day!¬† This is the North Sea remember, and we are almost in Scotland …I have only ever known Stephen paddle here the once (and this was taken mid-summer) …I’m much more confident!Our first winter here we had serious snow. It was stunningly beautiful and we have longed for its return ever since …And oh, how these little dogs are enjoying themselves!Seriously angry wind and waves like this storm in January last year are – thank goodness – a rarity…A white beach – but it’s not snow …But back to the present: half way along the promenade, we walk down to the beach, and on to the sand …It’s just heavenly walking along this large sandy expanse … the weather is perfect today … just a light wind … shingle and shells and seaweed …Up on the promenade, there’s the play park and the amusement arcade (wouldn’t be a proper beach without fun and games and icecream, would it?) ….Down on the sand, there’s lots of interest. If you like collecting things and the weird and the wonderful like me, you’d love it.¬† There are always interesting things to find … bits of sea-glass, shells, pebbles …Parts of old bottles …Bicycle tyres reconfigured by Mother Nature into interesting beach sculptures …A rattan bench, so conveniently placed for beach viewing …Sometimes interesting graffiti …Sea-foam monsters …And did I tell you that we collect lettered bricks …?Sometimes you find things you would rather not find … (this was in January last year after the very heavy storms washed livestock ….err, dead stock …. down the Tweed on to Spittal beach) …Today Stephen’s found me some treasures …Three golf balls!And a lovely bit of china … (with writing on, always the best) …We’ve had stormy weather recently, and that’s reflected in the state of the beach today.¬† There’s lots of seaweed and leaves that have been swept down the river Tweed …As we approach the Point, we pass the old groins,¬†half buried¬†in this leafy seaweed mess.¬† There on the bank you can see the last of the old Spittal factory chimneys.¬† This area was once full of factories making chemicals and fertiliser.¬† It is reputed to have smelt very bad, greatly to the displeasure of the boarding-house ladies in the posher parts of Spittal …From a distance these piles appear to be all organic matter – leaves and seaweed and branches – but sadly that’s not the case.¬† There is disgusting very human rubbish amid the natural waste …And there is a horribly large amount of plastic bottles.¬† Sometimes I’m organised enough to bring bags for rubbish but I hadn’t expected it to be so bad today.Actually, it isn’t the worst that we’ve ever seen the beach.¬† One December, after serious storms, the piles on the beach were so large they almost came up to Stephen’s shoulder.Of course, these sea-gifts have their advantages …¬† this is fodder from the sea for our compost heap …The birds too love these leafy treasures which bring fine¬†dining …Spittal Point at the end of the beach is where the sea meets the river Tweed …On the other side of the Tweed river is the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed with its fine Elizabethan fortifications … (here caught in a magically wintry sun-setting moment) …And there are the¬†pier and the lighthouse. At times it can appear to be a tiny waterway over to the pier, but it is not …Very large boats like the Marinda here go up the Tweed to Tweedmouth harbour …Just as in Lowry’s day … (sadly this other sign in the Lowry trail on Spittal beach has been horribly defaced by the elements) …The channel is so tricky to navigate that large boats must use the local pilot.¬† Here is the pilot boat edgily leading the way …There is¬†the Marinda turning and straightening into port. It’s always dramatic when a big boat arrives, but these fishermen don’t look that bothered …The Spit – as we call this land where the sea meets the river – is endlessly fascinating.¬† It is a land of shape-shifting, of soft sands and the intriguing patterns of nature. Sometimes there are islands …Sometimes there are ridges and mounds¬†and small pools …Patterns and new colours …An ethereal world when caught in the mist …You never know what colours you may find here …Occasionally we walk down here at night … it is truly magical to watch the sun set behind Berwick¬† and the Tweed …Today we turn back from the Tweed to the Spittal chimney and a mirrored sun …It is here that we see our favourite beach birds, the sanderlings. They are winter visitors from the high Arctic.¬†You can read more about these so-called Keystone Cops of the British seaside in an earlier blogpost of mine Time now to turn back.¬† Sometimes the beach is so perfect that we cannot resist retracing our steps along the beach and up¬†to home on the hill¬†… On other occasions we’ll walk back along the promenade. It has been known to be as sandy as this after the winter storms …They have to call out the diggers before the season starts to clean it all up …Today we’re walking back through Spittal. This is Spittal’s industrial quarter and has a fascination of its own. First we go through the scruffy lands where you can see the last remaining¬†Spittal chimney in its native habitat …On the other side of the road are the¬†old fish-gutting sheds, now part of Berwick Sailing Club.¬† In the old days, these large wooden shutters were drawn back to the walls on either side, and buckets of freshly caught fish delivered for processing …Not far away is the old salmon fishing shiel.¬† Here fishermen would pass the time, eating and sleeping, while waiting for the right tides for their salmon nets …We turn down into Spittal’s Main Street.¬† It is handsome and well-cared for – and unusually wide for a village street. This is because once an old railway track ran through the middle of the street, bringing building stone and coal to the river from where it could be transported down¬†the coast¬†…There is a handsome Victorian school …And church …The houses at this end of Spittal are solidly-built of the local stone. Many of these were boarding houses where visitors from the nearby Scottish Borders stayed for seaside holidays … But the old signs hint at an older history¬†to this place.¬† Surely with a name such as Cow Road¬†at some time people drove their cattle down this¬†lane …?We are now climbing the hill … and we are looking down on the lighthouse and pier … and Spittal chimney … and the funfair … and Spittal’s Main street … and all those nicely roofed houses …Where earlier in our walk we walked under the railway line, here we cross it …The railway crossing manager is to be found in a little hut to the side, and should you wish to drive over the line, you must seek permission …If you’re just walking over, you can just go – but, of course, you take your life in your hands …This pic really doesn’t convey how scarily fast these trains can move¬†… !Now we’re walking parallel to the railway line … still on the lookout for trains … and looking back at the lighthouse and beach …With just our muddy rutted track ahead … This is our private lane, shared with our neighbours, and lovingly repaired by us ….Over the brow of the hill …And a pause to enjoy it all … before we head home for tea.

A London walk

I found myself in London last Sunday and at a loose end.¬† “A loose end, in London?!”¬†I hear you say. Well, yes.¬† All my family and friends were otherwise engaged, and it was far too nice a day to be inside a museum or art gallery. An exceptionally beautiful day with piercing low winter sun, perfect for a walk – ¬†just icy, icy cold!

There is no doubt that London is a fabulous place to walk.  Everywhere, at every spot, every corner, there is something or other interesting, if not beautiful, to see.

I caught a bus from Mornington Crescent (the 88, should you ask – that which remarkably my very proper grandmother would call the Bastard since it was always a tardy bus) and alighted at Westminster Abbey.westminster-abbeyFar too busy and crowded (and expensive – ¬£20 to go in!!!) for me, so I walked on to Victoria Tower Gardens on the Embankment, through the respectable streets around the Abbey.¬† They speak of another age.¬† Ordinand House with its wonderful plaque of sheaves and fruit trees above the old entrance – perhaps speaking of the spiritual bounty the ordinands were expected to glean, or possibly marrying in with the road name, Abbey Orchard Street …ordinand-houseRemembering my late mother-in-law, Betty, who was a¬†strong supporter¬†of the Mother’s Union as I walked past Mary Sumner Housemary-sumner-houseThe plaque marking Westminster Public Baths and Wash-houses is a memory of a far-forgotten time when people in¬†this now-affluent part of Westminster did not all have their own proper washing facilities.westminster-public-baths-plaqueA marvellously vivid¬†illustration above this building of athletic swimmers and lithe divers¬†promotes the facilities.detail-of-public-bathsI came out into the sunshine and trees of Victoria Tower Gardens, a small patch of green, right beside the Houses of Parliament and running along the Embankment and the River Thames. A freezing, freezing cold day, but this couple were taking their wedding photos here … interestingly, not with the Houses of Parliament or the Thames as their backdrop.wedding-photos-in-front-of-parliamentNo, this was their backdrop, looking further down the gardens to the Buxton memorial. Magical light and shade.victoria-gardensBefore I walked on to the Buxton statue, I had to pay proper respect to the wonderful Rodin sculpture of the Burghers of Calais which most appropriately sits right under the Houses of Parliament – a constant reminder to our politicians of Mercy, Courage, Dignity, Generosity, Altruism.

The original of this statue is, of course, in Calais. It marks the deliverance of the 6 Burghers of Calais from the rage of the English King Edward III (a ruthless king, if ever there was one).  In 1347, his siege of Calais continued to the point where the citizens were starving.  In desperation the Burghers offered their own lives to Edward, if he would spare the rest of the citizens of Calais.  He agreed, and here are the noble and immensely courageous 6 Burghers.  They are weary, beaten, hungry Рstarving actually.  They have nooses round their necks, and the one on the right carries the enormous key to the town of Calais.

However, Edward’s Queen Philippa heard of their action and asked her husband to show mercy and spare these men.¬† And he did!

These statues¬†never fail to move me.rodins-burghers-of-calaisTurning my back on Rodin’s statue, I walked along the embankment to another powerful landmark: the Buxton memorial. This little tower marks a defining point in history – the emanicipation of slaves in the British Empire in 1834.¬† It was commissioned by Charles Buxton in memory of his father, Thomas Fowell Buxton, who along with Wilberforce, Macaulay, Brougham and Lushington fought for the abolition of slavery.

But this memorial means so much more to me than just historical interest – it takes me straight back to my childhood, when we would come and play here. Later on I used to bring my own children to come and play in this park. There are drinking fountains inside (or used to be – they don’t seem to work now), and we children had a lovely time running around and splashing here.buxton-memorialTime to say goodbye to the beautiful beautiful Thames …view-over-the-thamesAnd Lambeth bridge glimpsed through the trees before I turned down Horseferry Road to our little family home – of many, many years – in Maunsel Street …horseferry-bridgeMy father was a diplomat so he travelled all his working life, and, of course, his family travelled with him. But very early in my life, back from a stint abroad, ¬†they moved to a small house in a quiet little Westminster Street. In the ups and downs, and moves and travels, nothing is quite so evocatively stable in our family as this house. Maunsel Street.london-home-maunsel-stWe arrived when I was eighteen months old, and before long I had a little sister.marian-in-pram-1957And in another couple of years, a little brother too. Although I love this picture of my mother looking through the front window at her chubby baby, I find it quite extraordinary that my mother would park the baby outside the house!henry-in-pram-1959Perhaps it was because there was no room inside? The house was teeny tiny for our growing family, and doubtless we all got on each other’s nerves at times. Probably best when we children played our games in the little garden at the back.playing-in-maunsel-st-garden-1962There were family gatherings in the garden too.¬† Here we all are, smartly turned out with the grandparents, for my brother’s christening in 1958.henrys-christening-party-1958We were still there in 1962, in the freezing cold of the winter of the Big Freeze.snow-in-maunsel-st-1962Inside it was very cold too – no central heating, of course.¬† My mother would turn the cooker on and leave the cooker door open to get heat into the icy little kitchen.¬† They made us an indoor play space by covering over part of the outside yard.¬† There was even a sandpit under that playpen. Judging by this photo, we appear to have played there happily¬†and biddably, even though it was always cold.¬† I remember that heater so well – indeed, I think it was only thrown out a few years ago.¬† And those are my father’s geranium plants on the shelf.playing-in-conservatory-early-spring-1959In later years my parents travelled abroad again for my father’s work and eventually settled in Kent.¬† Our last time staying in the Maunsel street house as a family was when I was about 14, and it was a real squash with 4 big children. However, my step-grandfather’s early death meant¬†my grandmother was looking for a smaller home so she¬†came to live here when we left for Kent. She was a great gardener, and that is reflected in the photographs of her time there. No room for perambulators here now!!Dordy wearing batik dress 1971Through my teenage years and early twenties, I often stayed here with my grandmother. I look very smart, don’t I?! But, after all, I was staying with my grandmother …katherine-outside-maunsel-st-1973Other family members passed through¬†– here are my father and brother en route for a French bicycling holiday in the 1970s …rhe-henry-1975After my grandmother’s death in 1980, my youngest sister moved in and lived here for quite a long time.¬† I would visit regularly from Devon with my two young children.november-1991-half-term-visitThere were children playing in the freezing cold conservatory sandpit again…katherine-james-helen-in-conservatory-1986Eventually she married and moved out, and another sister and her baby daughter moved in.marian-louisas-first-birthday-1995Another child playing in the conservatory and garden – looks a bit warmer here, thank goodness!louisa-playing-in-maunsel-st-conservatory-1996The garden is¬†abundant and lush, quite¬†different¬†from what it was when we first lived there …louisa-playing-in-garden-1996And – suddenly – that was it.¬† This little house had been a wonderful central London home for so many members of the family for so long, but there came a time when nobody wanted to live in it.¬† So, with not a little sadness, in 1996, my father decided to sell it. Happy memories – ups and downs, of course.¬† But happy memories.

Keeping us quiet as small children meant lots of walks.¬† When we weren’t walking to Victoria Tower Gardens, we visited St James’ Park, so that is where I went next on my walk,¬†rendezvousing with¬†my sister.meeting-my-sister-in-st-james-parkThe park was absolutely at it’s best, looking magically beautiful. Icy, icy cold – if you look carefully you will see the birds are standing on the frozen lake.icy-waters-at-st-james-parkbrids-at-st-james-parkThe highlight of our walk was the pelicans. Pelicans have been here since 1664, apparently a gift from a Russian Ambassador!¬†They are very friendly, probably because they are also very greedy, and with lots of tourists about hope to get lovely treats. ¬†Which I expect they do – even though there are plenty of signs forbidding the¬†feeding of them.pelicans-in-st-james-parkFamily photos record trips to the park in the 1950s. No London Eye in this photograph.st-james-park-1957In 1959 we visited the park with our fascinating and very dashing American uncle.¬† He had a Rolls Royce – oh, we thought him so cool (not, of course, the phrase we would have used then).¬† Did he drive us all to the park in the car?¬† I don’t remember, but I guess he must have.¬† What amazes me is the casual way he has left the car in Birdcage Walk.bow-with-his-rolls-royce-1959 We all crowded round to be part of the next photo., but judging by the expressions on our childish faces, we were a bit fed-up.family-with-bow-rolls-royce-1959Then we went off to feed the birds – looking a bit cheerier now …feeding-the-birds-st-james-park-1959In later years, when staying with my younger sister with my small children, we would also come to St James’ Park to feed the birds …feeding-the-birds-1986I walked on from the park up Clive Steps.¬† Nothing says Empire like this. There is Robert Clive, commonly known as Clive of India,¬†imposingly placed between these magnificent buildings of colonial rule.clive-of-india-statueBut stop – there’s something new here that I haven’t seen before.¬† Justifiably surrounded by young tourists – because it’s a most touching and beautiful memorial, is this wonderful globe covered all over with doves of peace.birds-of-peace-on-terrorism-memorialThe script on the circular stone behind explains. In memory of the 202 innocent people killed by an act of terrorism in Kuta on the Island of Bali, Indonesia on the 12th October 2002.terrorism-monumentThen on, ¬†up the Clive Steps, through King Charles Street.¬† Here’s the entrance to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office where my father once worked.foreign-commonwealth-officeIt’s not the same entrance, but here are my sister and I, having accompanied him one Saturday for some reason I forget, sitting outside the Foreign Office (as it was called in 1959).K & M FCO 1959Farewell ancient memories, distant times! “The past is a foreign country.” The present beckons.¬†Time to return to¬†reality and walk on to Whitehall where I can¬†catch a bus back to Mornington Crescent!

Goodbye 2016!

So many ups and downs in 2016! It’s been a topsy turvy year – a year of sadness and upsets for my family and a deeply shocking year in global politics. I have travelled through the year with a pervading sense of loss.

But, in the last few days I’ve been indulging myself drawing up a #bestofnine2016 for my Instagram feed. I’ve looked through all the pictures I’ve posted online, and selected the nine pictures that most capture 2016¬†for me.¬† It has taken me quite a time to finally make a selection, but it was a good exercise because after that, I didn’t feel so bad. So many little ordinary happinesses and pleasures that I have taken for granted!¬† Here are my chosen nine:bestofnine2016Top left: That’s my dearest husband Stephen and our lovely cat, Poe, who passed away in her 20th year, this August. This photograph was taken on her last night of life, when we knew she was extremely ill and would have to visit the vet next day, probably to be put down.¬†She is curled up asleep, comfy and trusting, next to Stephen, on the sofa, as she regularly did. RIP Poe, faithful friend.stephen-and-poeTop middle: Lots of little pleasures here. My knitting, my nails – and my travel knitting bag! Those of you who¬†know me well¬†will know I almost always have my nails painted – and doesn’t this colour match the knitting so well! The Solace bag was a generous gift from Rebecca of Needle & Spindle¬†and symbolises to me the constant comfort of knitting, and the friendliness of the wonderful online community of knitters and makers.solace-bag-and-knittingTop right: This is our lovely local beach, just five minutes away from our home, and my very grown-up children, visiting from London, on a beautiful blustery day.¬†¬†Stephen and I¬†walk here several times a week, and watch the tides and waves and sands move, the holiday visitors with their families come and go.¬† To share this with my own family is the greatest of all pleasures.j-h-on-spittal-beachMiddle right: A golden GiveWrap, made with the Japanese and Indian silk scraps I was given for my birthday, and mixed up with some very¬†treasured pieces of old¬†clothing.¬† It’s been another year of GiveWrap making, sharing the ideas with my cousin Polly, and spreading the word about sustainable wraps.golden-givewrapBottom right: I wrote about the poppies that we grow here in a recent blogpost.¬†They are the best of our gardening in this wonderful place, right up on the north Northumbrian border, exposed to all the elements.¬† Lots of plants won’t grow here – it’s too salty, too windy, too cold.¬† But poppies flourish, and best of all, they self-seed.¬† They grow where they will, not just where I choose.¬† Don’t they adorn the view so very well …poppies in laneBottom middle: In the turmoil of family events earlier this year, two little cats, Eggy and Ilsa,¬†found themselves needing a new home – so they came to Seaview!¬† And look how these little smilers love it here!¬†These little London softies have become Northumbrian toughies.¬† They’re good at mousing, chasing the neighbours’ cats, exploring their territory, and finding the comfiest places in the house to sleep (usually some special fabrics I have carefully laid out).eggy-and-ilsaBottom left: Nothing says Seaview to me as much as the big skies with their endlessly-changing weather stories.¬† Through the winter months, we are privileged to watch the sunrise as it moves over the south-eastern horizon. So often it is explosively dramatic and exciting. Perhaps best of all, the sun doesn’t rise until a decent time (8.38 as I write on 31st December), so I don’t sleep through it … You never tire of these skies.seaview-sunriseMiddle right: On the 23rd June 2016, Great Britain voted in a referendum on their European Union membership – and we all now¬†know the result.¬† In the days leading up to this¬†referendum, those of us who hoped to stay in the European Union became increasingly worried about the result – as indeed there was good cause – and I was inspired to stitch my Love letter to Europe,¬†incorporating some lines from John Donne’s poem No man is an¬†island.¬† Embroidery isn’t really my thing, so this was a textile experiment for me.¬†It wasn’t, of course,¬†an earth-shaking contribution – really rather feeble – but it was very comforting to stitch at the time.¬† Now it hangs up our stairs, and it speaks to me of our continuing membership of Europe, even if we lose the membership of the European Union.love-letter-to-europeCentre: We saw this little 18th century ladies patch box on display at Traquair House – a very happy daytrip to a most interesting place to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. So there are lots of things bound up in this picture for me: my very happy marriage to Stephen, the pleasures we have out and about exploring this beautiful part of the world, and above all else it speaks of¬†hope.¬† More than anything else in these unsettled times, the message of this little box comes back to me, and I find in it great, great comfort.¬† At some time in its history, it must have given hope to another person.¬† Now again, it is holding a hand out to¬†a dodgy future.patch-box-from-traquairGoodness knows what I will be writing at the end of 2017.¬† But hope isn’t a bad travelling companion.¬† So thank you for your company on the¬†journey through 2016, and may you all be sustained by hope in whatever comes your way through the next year.¬† Happy New Year!

A Paxton walk

The meteorologists warned us last week of horrible cold wet windy weather to come, so we seized the opportunity to get out on Friday. Thank goodness we did. We had a truly golden day.

It was cold – look how wrapped up I am! The first time this winter that I’ve had all my winter woollies out and on.We decided to park our car on the English side of the Union Chain Bridge, walk over the bridge to Scotland, up along the Tweed to Paxton House, through the grounds and onto Paxton village where we could get lunch at the newly-refurbished Cross Inn.¬† Then retrace our steps.¬† Not a big walk at all – more of an amble really.¬† mapThe Union Chain Bridge is one of our very favourite places in the locality – (you can read my paean to this fine bridge here.)beatiful-union-chain-bridge-bannerIt sits across the magnificent river Tweed, and for much of its way separates the countries of England and Scotland.walking-over-union-chain-bridge-to-scotlandSomebody had put/left/forgotten a little clown vase near the centre of the bridge.¬† An appeasement to the gods of the river?small-clown-vase-on-bridgeAt the far side, we followed a path to the river bank just below these enormous suspension cables.suspension-cables-of-union-chain-bridgeLooking back up from the path at the enormous stone pillars supporting the suspension cables, you can’t help but be impressed.looking-up-at-the-union-chain-bridgeThe walk along the river embankment was very muddy – it’s obviously a heavily-walked route. But no¬†matter –¬†so much to see, so much to enjoy.¬† How clear the water is!¬† Autumn leaves being carried along with the water.¬† Perhaps we will meet these same leaves again when walking on our local beach at Spittal¬†where the Tweed meets the sea?water-so-clear-leaves-drifitng-down-streamThere were birds getting on with their own¬†lives. We glimpsed a heron fishing through the trees.glimpse-of-a-heron-through-the-treesOur walk took us past small private and secretive doors …past-little-private-doorsThen, in the distance, ¬†we caught our first glimpse of the rosy stone wall surrounding the Paxton estate …glimpse-of-paxtons-wall-up-the-riverNot far to go now …approaching-paxtons-groundsCloser, the door¬†was a magical invitation to a private world …through-a-hole-in-the-wall-into-paxtons-groundsInside the estate, the walk¬†was as golden as ever …a-golden-walkThere¬†were fine trees – and a little teddy bear trail ….childrens-find-the-teddy-bear-game-in-evidenceLooking up we¬†were able to catch¬†a glimpse of Paxton House through the trees.¬† Paxton House was built in the 1760s to be a fine mansion looking out on the river Tweed – but alas, they have allowed the trees to grow so tall that there is almost no view of the Tweed from Paxton House any longer – such a pity.paxton-house-glimpsed-through-the-treesBefore long we reached Paxton’s fish and boat houses.paxtons-fish-house-and-boat-houseThey run boat trips from here – something we’ve never done, but definitely plan to do one day.boat-trips-run-from-paxtonNow it was¬†time to climb up from the banks of the river Tweed and through the Paxton estate …walk-takes-us-up-hill-to-housePast the children’s play area – it looked a most imaginatively designed place for children to enjoy!wonderful-childrens-play-areaAnd a brief glimpse once more of Paxton House …finally-get-to-paxton-housePast their masonry treasures/leftovers/rejects sitting casually on the lawns …casual-masonry-piecesPast the apple trees so skilfully espaliered on the red brick wall of the walled garden …walled-garden-wallOver the Linn Burn … aaaah the tree colour!over-bridge-in-paxton-groundsAnd on to the main Paxton entrance gates, guarded by some fine stone lions (and a modern touch: matching grey wheelie bins).entrance-guarded-by-lions-wheelie-binsOur walk to Paxton village only took twenty minutes or so further, but still more of interest¬†to see.¬† A stylish teal bench – in the middle of nowhere, should you need a rest.¬† No, I don’t think it’s a bus stop.teal-bench-in-the-middle-of-nowhereWe met an engineer working outside the old telephone exchange to¬†connect somebody up to broadband and had an engrossing conversation, though I must confess much of the technicalities of multi-coloured cables passed me by.arriving-at-paxton-villageThen we turned down a long slicket at the backs of peoples’ houses …walk-down-slicket-to-paxton-villageMuch more fun when you can see the fronts!¬†¬† These folk have got a rather nice mini- Paxton lion …mini-paxton-lion-outside-this-houseAnd look at these fuchsia cushions outside on the teal bench! – but, oh dear, it’s going to rain!!fetching-fuchsia-pink-cushionsAll right for us luckily – we got to the pub, the Cross Inn, before any showers started.paxtons-cross-innIt’s been pleasantly refurbished and looked welcoming – and indeed was so, with tasty food, and perhaps more importantly for Stephen, tasty beer.newly-refurbished-pub-is-welcoming-insideThen we retraced out steps. I much prefer circular walks, but our return walk was so different that it didn’t matter that we were going over the same ground. The light was completely different – and spectacular – on return.¬† No longer so gold and so friendly – more stark and much more exciting.

We approached Paxton House the proper way (as it were) on return. paxton-house-bannerBack¬†along the¬†fine avenue of trees …wlaking-back-through-paxton-groundsDown the leafy banks to the river Tweed …walking-through-fallen-leaves-down-to-the-tweedAt first, the Tweed glimpsed through the trees appeared with the gentleness of a John Nash painting upturned-boats-by-the-tweedBut then we veered¬†downstream into the light …river-tweed-glimpsed-through-the-treesMirrored perfection …fantastic-light-walking-back-along-river-tweedDark clouds overhead, rain threatening … but a¬†reassuringly golden sign¬†that we were on the way home …reassuring-way-markerAnd some dappled green ambling …dappled-green-return-walkBefore we had the Union Chain Bridge once more in our sights …first-sight-of-the-bridge-on-our-return-walkDistinctly dark clouds hovering over the bridge now …dark-clouds-over-bridgeThe mighty stone supports of the suspension bridge …stephen-walking-over-the-bridgeBack over the bridge to England …walking-back-over-the-union-chain-bridge-to-englandWhere the bridge supports are cut into the soft local red rock. Back in England just before the rain!back-in-england

Border Union Show

The Border Union Show is traditionally held on the last weekend of July, at Springwood park, just south of the river Tweed and the Scottish Border town of Kelso.  If you look carefully at the banner picture above this post, you will see Kelso’s historic Abbey looming dramatically over the glitzy showground site.

It’s primarily an agricultural show – a chance for the farmers of the locality to meet, greet and compare. But lots of other bodies join in the fun – and I was there as a member of the Tweed Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers to demonstrate with my little Innerleithen spinning wheel.

I’ve been going to the show as a demonstrator for several years.  We’ve had scorchingly hot years, and a thoroughly miserable wet year (last year – see my 2015 blog post for the Tweed Guild for how we survived the rain), but this year was proper traditional Scottish weather with sunshine and showers.  The plastic covers went on, and the plastic covers went off.  We ran inside with spinning wheels and our knitted displays – and then they all came out again!  It was hard work, and a long, tiring day, – but great fun too.  Not just for me – everybody everywhere seemed to be having a blast.Kelso Abbey watching over fieldThis year we found ourselves in the best of company.  We were sharing a tent with the Dunse flock of rare breed sheep!Rare Breed flockThey are lovely – but at close quarters, in a tent all day – yes, they do pong a bit (especially when their fruity fleeces come inside to avoid the rain).Rare Breed fleeces I did not envy those members of the guild who spent the day based inside the tent. But they put up magnificent displays of felting and basketry, and demonstrated their skills with energy and enthusiasm right through the day.demonstrators inside Tweed Guild tentThere was lots of interest.inside Tweed Guild tentThe Tweed Guild also had an interesting display of some of the different breeds of sheep and their fleeces.different fleece displaysAnd next to it, a beautiful display of natural-dyed materials.  (I’ve been really naughty here and snuck my acid-dyed royal blue Fika shawl into the display ūüė¶ )Tweed Guild displayOutside there was a group of spinners.  This worked very well, as we attracted a lot of interest from passers by.Tweed guild spinners outside tentAnd there were spinning lessons!  Lots of youngsters were fascinated by the spinning wheels. Such a great pleasure to show them exactly what spinning entailed.giving spinning lessonsBut we were only a teeny tiny part of an enormous enterprise occupying 46 acres of parkland. I cannot do justice to it all because I only took short walks around, but let’s make a start with the animals as they were after all the raison d’etre for the show.

As we walked around, an enormous bull lumbered out of the showground.  It looked docile enough, but we were stopped well away to allow it to pass a safe distance from the public.getting the bull over the public pathThe other bulls were waiting inside looking remarkably peaceful and calm.bull waiting area - CopyFurther on, we came to the sheep. I love to see farming folk studying the sheep, leaning into the caging – as they have done since time immemorial (check out this fine Ravilious picture in the Beaford archive).sheep in pensThere were even some Blue-face Leicester sheep – highly prized by spinners!blue-faced leicesterCanny sheep were taking advantage of all the food on offer.sheep feedingIn a nearby tent, there were goats – interesting to see what a lot of young people seemed to be involved with them.goatsNot all animals were flesh and blood.fanciful creaturesI was particularly intrigued by the egg judging in the poultry tent.  For some reason, I had not thought that eggs would be judged – only the birds. Clearly the quality of the yolk is an important part of the judging criteria.  Not Stephen’s favourite spot (he doesn’t like eggs).judging eggsI’ll finish the livestock pics with some of rabbits because Stephen took an enormously large amount of photos of them.  Aren’t these little cuties?!rabbitsIn the main ring, meanwhile, young motorcyclists were entertaining the crowds with terrifying daredevil feats.Daredevil motorcyclistsOh my goodness!oh my goodnessThere’s definitely a macho feel to this place. There are big boys’ toys (photograph kindly contributed by Stephen).boys' toysWe are never allowed to forget that there is serious money behind all of this.  There were more spanking new four-wheel drives on this showground than I have ever seen before in my life.  The big landowners are in evidence – not just in their tweeds and their cavalry twills, but at the stalls.

This is the Roxburghe Estates tent.  Roxburghe Estates are based at the magnificent nearby Floors Castle (home of the Duke of Roxburghe) and from there they run a large and diverse local business empire.Serious land ownersThere are plenty of expensive shops around.expensive shopsThank goodness for cheaper treats that we can all enjoy on a sunny day out.hot enough for ice creamsWhat fascinated me most was the Industrial Section.  Inside were competition entries for jam-making, flower-arranging, children’s pictures, knitted garments, cake baking etc etc.  I’ve never heard it referred to as Industrial before – it’s more what I would have expected to be the province of the local Women’s Institute.jams and jellies behind wireWhat really shocked me about the displays was the wire fence caging them in. To stop passers-by handling the goods, or worse, perhaps to prevent theft?!  Either way it looks dreadful.  Particularly in the case of the children’s competitions.children's art workI’ll be the first to admit that my taste is never the same as the judges.  Here’s a prize-winning floral arrangement.First prize flower arrangingAnd here’s the one I would have chosen – the honeysuckle arrangement on the left.My preferred flower arrangementPerhaps there is a bit of an old-fashioned look to some of the competitions?  Hard to say really because nothing is shown to best effect behind chicken wire…baby wear in the industrial sectionLastly, just time to show you one of my favourite parts of the showground.  Small demonstration beds where they were growing sample plants for fallow ground – linseed, red clover, marigolds and cornflowers etc.  How wonderful it would be to see more of these grown over our landscape!test plantsAll in all: a grand day out ūüôā

Flotsam and Jetsam

beach after a stormOne of the great, great pleasures of living by the sea are the treasures you find  on all those everyday beach walks.

All sorts of things get washed up on the beach.¬† It¬†doesn’t necessarily take a storm out at sea for us to find intriguing objects on the beach – ¬†but it helps.blue glove on beachWe find so¬†many¬†odd shoes!washed up trainerslost flipflopAnd bare legs too!washed up doll's legYou can’t help wondering about the stories behind these finds.¬† Were there hysterics when the doll’s leg got washed away?¬† Furious parents because a teenager had lost one of a new pair of trainers? Was this vegetable meant for Sunday lunch?washed up vegetablesWe couldn’t believe it when we found false teeth on the beach!¬† – how on earth?!!! But were somewhat shamefaced when we recounted this story to my aunt, only to be told it had happened to her once…. oh dear.¬†teeth on beachSome finds are more disturbing. ¬†After the terrible floods last winter, we¬†found several dead sheep on the beach, washed down the river Tweed.dead sheep on the beachA pushchair – was this a terrible accident, or just lazy parents who wanted to dispose of an old broken one?washed up push chairSome things come back with us, and we have a “nature table” display on one of the window sills in our kitchen specially dedicated to these finds.Yes, those are the teeth! ¬†Three baby dummies, would you believe it? And all sorts of children’s toys.¬†I love Dumbo – we have garlanded her with a child’s bracelet which happened to come home with us on the same day as we found her.garlanded dumbo It has metamorphosed with sea growth¬†into something rich and strange. Remember¬†Ariel’s song in Shakespeare’s Tempest?

“Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade.
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.”
dumbo's necklaceThere are sea potatoes and sea urchins … and plastic too. I thought this was a beautiful sea-blue¬† jellyfish when I found it -but it is actually the bottom of a water bottle and only mimics¬†a living creature. ¬†How deadly – for all those lost pieces of plastic bottle are being eroded into pellets that sea-creatures ingest.plastic jellyfishOne special Christmas, we found this small china face. It has pride of place now on the window display.china faceTwo other special things share the¬†pride of place spot: our house mouse and the fish skeleton.

The mouse is not, of course, a sea find.¬† It was brought into our house alive by our elderly cat, Poe, when we first arrived here – and she promptly lost it.¬† Many months later, when moving furniture, we found its desiccated body (why hadn’t it smelt?). Presumably, it had hidden from Poe for so long that it had died of starvation. We placed it here on the window ledge, a small furry creature – and then the moths came by and ate its fur.¬† No respecters of death, they!¬† So here it is, just papery skin, and presumably all internal organs intact.mouse and fishThe fish skeleton is such¬†a beauty!¬† Picked clean by bird or fish or the elements, and just look at the curve of that spine!fish bone as foundYou’ll have realised that all sorts finds their place here. In a humble way, it is our own “cabinet of curiosities”.

Robert Macfarlane writing in Landmarks, tells us of “the ‘wonder-rooms’ of the Renaissance and the Baroque, in which examples of natural history (naturalia), precious artefacts (arteficialia), scientific instruments (scientifica), findings from distant realms (exotica) and items of inexplicable origin and form (miribilia) were gathered and displayed.”

So here are: a pigeon’s claw (still bearing its number), seaglass, feathers, butterflies, shells, cuddy beads (on which more later), glass stoppers, feathers, the pincer of a small crab and fossilised coral. Have you ever played¬†memory games as a child or at a party? These items would be good for that: I packed my portmanteau and in it I put … racing pigeon clawThe trouble is our sea-treasures have spread¬†around the house. ¬†The kitchen table doesn’t only have place mats, conserves and fruit – it’s been taken over with¬†broken china and seaglass. Oh goodness – four bowls of broken China and seaglass!sea treasures on the kitchen tableAnd in the sitting-room, there’s a small oblong tray with a particularly¬†intriguing treasure. We think its the contents of a ready-to-hatch gull’s egg.¬† It would appear that some predator ate the good stuff and left the soft feathery scalp.oblong tray of treasuresThe cats love it!Ilsa with treasureAnd¬†then in the conservatory – why there are more bowls of sea-treasure! Fossils, toys, old bits of china and seaglass.¬† I particularly love anything we find that has writing on it.¬†¬†More bowls of sea treasureEvery now and then, it’s fun to play with the finds.blue and white china (mostly)¬† To pick out the finely patterned¬†pieces and the lettered ones too.playing with lettered chinaTo sort by colour.playing with green and redI love the mixture of red-hot geraniums and bowls of old blue and white china.conservatory bowls of blue and white chinaWe find a lot of fossils on the beach round here. Apparently, there is a fossilised coral reef on these shores and the large streaky stone is a piece from that, nicely rounded by the waves.¬† The other pieces are bits we have picked up on nearby Cocklawburn Beach where we find many crinoid fossils.fossils in the conservatoryCrinoids (or sea-lilies) were plant-liked animals which inhabited these shores thousands of years ago. Locally, we often find them as ring-shaped segments.¬†They are known as Cuddy Beads after St Cuthbert who lived on the nearby Holy Island of Lindisfarne (Cuddy is the Northumbrian name for Cuthbert). According to legend, Cuthbert himself used these segments to construct rosaries – and others say that later folk around would also use them as rosary beads.

Here are some of our Cuddy Beads – some are fat, some thin, some squashed, some already come with holes punched, and some are still in the their stone casing.¬† I particularly love the ones that have starry holes. You can see particularly fine examples of branching Crinoid fossils on Palaeontologist fiann_smithwick’s Instagram feed.some of our cuddy beadsWhen my daughter Helen last visited she put together this wonderful composite picture of fossils we found on the local beaches.fossilsIn the garden, there are yet more piles of seaside treasure – old toys, shoes, a doll’s leg, interesting stones.sea treasures amid the garden flowersThere are interesting bits of wood too.sea woodpoppies and seawoodTruly the seaside is a magic place.¬† You can lose yourself for hours there, searching for treasure.absorbed in searching for sea treasureI¬†think e.e.cummings puts it best:

maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach (to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles, and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles: and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea.bottom of a glass jar