I’ve been muttering about a pond for some while (several years in fact) but I do not know why this summer was the summer when we actually started to make one …The first sod was dug in May – when the summer was ahead of us and the weather full of promise …It grew impressively quickly – but was hard work …Local walks brought treasures for the one-day-to-be-completed pond …The tadpoles were given a temporary home in cooler surroundings until the pond was ready for them …Meanwhile with the relaxation of the covid rules, Visitors arrived! A blessing in itself after all these many months of bans on travel and visiting, but perfectly timed to help with the pond too! It was all hands on deck …Elias proved to be a master digger!Felix was not to be outdone by his father’s prowess and joined in heroically …Soon we had a lovely dry pond …And Eggy loved it!Sunning herself on the side …And rolling appreciatively – and worse! – in the lovely muddy area which surely we’d prepared specially for her …?While Eggy was showing her appreciation in the way only a cat can, elaborate works were taking place to shore up the crumbling earth walls …And edge the pond with a level brick surround …Stephen spent long hot hours working on this. Ilsa – as you can see – scarpered when hard work was mentioned …Meanwhile more Visitors arrived. Here are Stephen and Lorna deep in pond party consultation …Finally it was time to prepare the pond for water. First some manky old carpets collected from local skips were laid on the base (to protect the expensive butyl liner from sharp stones) …Then the felt pond liner and final butyl liner were unwrapped …… And laid in the pond. Time to start filling the pond!Result! Here’s the butyl liner trimmed and held in place by more bricks and water …The next step was to acquire plants. Norjan Pond Aquatics of nearby Coldstream supplied us with some fine healthy native plants: Water Mint, Yellow Flag Iris, Giant Kingclip, Cypress Sedge, Hornwort and Milfoil. Just enough to get started …The June pond filled with water and planted up called for a celebration …We got seating! – even if the cats were a bit contrary when sitting on it …And the tadpoles moved into their forever home. Alas, it didn’t prove to be so for long …Because – to our intense excitement – the tadpoles turned into a frog. I say “a” frog because only one – or possible two – were ever sighted …So thrilling! You’d think we’d have learned many years ago at school that tadpoles turn into frogs …But the frog(s) and tadpoles just disappeared. It might be because of the birds. Or it might be because of Ilsa – who just loved the pond from the word go ..And spent hours studying it …Meanwhile the pond was acquiring an elegant edging from stones that we’d picked up in the locality …The completed stone edging looking so very “right” for this place …Visitors Jam and Nina arrived to admire the pond … But – oh, dear, Ilsa was nearly late for this party – just look at that wait-for-me tail!The grass seeded into the cracks round the stones began to grow – together with a few little Ajuga Reptans …And had to be carefully cut by hand …We watched the pond change as the seasons too changed. In June – as the wheat crop started to turn to gold – we caught the full moon …Come August those fields were seriously gold when Helen and Felix returned for another visit …Sunshine and shadows and colours of the plants and fields were strikingly beautiful …Hot hot colours in the ploughed field caught in September’s evening light …The gift of warm September days found me taking my breakfast by the pond …And when I wasn’t there, the cats were …Ilsa regularly drank there …Come the autumn Eggy finally made her peace with the pond. It had taken her several months to get over the loss of her beloved “dry” pond, and she approached warily, if at all. But one fine October day, I found her sitting in tranquil meditation, studying her reflection …She was taking an interest in the pond chores too. We had learned that ponds aren’t just pleasure – they require constant maintenance. Like removing the algae. A near-daily challenge …As I write in mid-October we are in the garden less but that doesn’t mean the pond parties have stopped. Oh no – just that there are other guests. Often pigeons …And delightfully, hordes of little sparrows. They’re too shy to be photographed close up, so I had to take this picture through the conservatory window. The pigeons are there, yes, and a crowd of sparrows on the lawn too. But there are also wee birds pecking and rooting around in the pond. Sometimes they bathe, sometimes they paddle – and sometimes they just drop by for a drink …The pond is still magical on darker early evening nights …And dawn from the pond (which we only see over the winter months) is promising to provide more stunners like this …We’d never planned for pond parties, but what an abiding joy they’ve proved to be. Long may they continue!
This last lockdown – a winter lockdown for those of us in the northern hemisphere – has been hard. I don’t know any that haven’t found it so. The cold weather, the limited activities feasible given the weather conditions, and, of course, the terrible loss of life and health as covid raged through our hospitals.
We were ready to welcome visitors at Christmas – and then disaster struck with a mutated and highly-infectious virus rampaging through London. Planned visits from London family were cancelled. There were still Christmas celebrations at Seaview – and nature was as glorious as ever – but it didn’t quite feel the same …However, there was time for lots of Christmas music …This year the Christmas decorations were a feast of felties … Family presence was distinctly modern …Like so many others, for us it was a Zoom Christmas …The toilet roll Holy Family joined with my father’s Buddha and the Iranian prayer clothes to keep watch over us all …There was a surfeit of Christmas goodies when we got to January since we had not had the expected visitors …Warming food …Which was a good thing as there were chilly wintry sunrises … Icy wet fields …Floods threatened in Berwick …But there were still good walks. The Covid restrictions have driven us to explore our locality as never before. One fascinating walk took us to the old Scremerston mine buildings. Our walk started in Scremerston where a fine Victorian bridge crosses the old wagonway ..Down along the track …Which has been imaginatively customised for children …Still a bit wet in places …To the old buildings of the Scremerston mine …The old water tower is a magnificent affair!The entrance bolted tight shut …Then we walked back via Scremerston church, warmly benign in the wintery sunlight …And paid our respects to one John Harbottle who was accidentally killed at Scremerston Colliery on 2nd November 1865 aged only 45 …We picnicked in the churchyard …
Our route home took us past the local rugby club. It has a couple of old coal wagons on show – a nice touch to remember how involved this area was with the colliery …And then we followed the wagonway back home down the Scremerston Incline. On a good day you can still make out the stones which would have supported the rails on which the coal wagons travelled down to Spittal docks …February brought me up with a jolt! We set out to walk down the track to explore Cargies limekilns, just north of Seahouse …The limekilns sit atop a ridge of rock right on the seashore …Magnificent buildings – still appearing to be in very good condition …But we hadn’t bargained on the low winter sun and the sliminess of the rocks we were clambering over. I slipped and fell, hitting the bridge of my nose hard on an upturned rock. A bloody nose and a real jarring shock to the system …Luckily we had cool bottles to help stem the nose bleed. (It’s always good to travel with a decent picnic) …Back at home, I surveyed the damage. Didn’t look too bad …But the next day I looked as though Stephen had beaten me up!Luckily I had no other injuries apart from a few bruises over the rest of my body. And the advantage of lockdown had to be that I wasn’t going anywhere – until the snow came …Hauntingly beautiful …
Lots of very hungry birds …My nose was healing, and I had new knits from my enforced days stuck inside …So we set out round the local fields …An extraordinarily fast-changing world …But I hadn’t reckoned on a loss of confidence from my fall. Just walking down the hill to the sea – a walk I do so often! – filled me with terror. So many people had walked down here in snowy lockdown, the snow had compacted and the track was icily treacherous …Later in February we walked from Norham churchyard and its enchanting snowdrops …Down to the very muddy Tweed – the river in spate …Walking these muddy banks – slippery where the river had overflowed – was almost as scary as negotiating the ice …My beginning of March birthday was a disappointingly quiet affair, but the cats made a party of breakfast for me … And Stephen made a delicious Ras El-Hanout cake with lemon and rose petal icing for my birthday tea – yum!March saw us walking the old railway tracks from Cornhill again – a very familiar walk now, and this March was full of spring promise with primroses …Purple violets …And masses and masses of white ones too …Just a couple of weeks later, in the garden, the yellow exploded! Daffodils (of course), primroses, cowslips, my yellow knits, some yellow very nice mice (an Ann Wood pattern) – and that’s our resident yellowhammer in the centre … March brought a different but very wonderful sign of hope with our first covid vaccinations …So although April’s Easter was again a visitor-free event for us – just cats! – life felt different, optimistic even …What a winter! what a difficult chilly spring! Through all the upsets – and alas, there have been those – we have been sustained by warm contacts with family and friends through social media, our cats, books, knits – and walks.
We invested in a groundsheet when winter set in …And through the season we have picnicked every week bar two when the weather was too foul to even contemplate a walk. On two occasions we went out, but it was too wet or cold to think of sitting outside. So we sat in the car and contemplated the Cheviots in a little warmth …But there were many many occasions when – like here on Holy Island in November – we sat outside in balmy sun. How glorious Northumberland is …Here’s to better times then!
Of course, although England starts to relax its lockdown today with the reopening of many shops and facilities, we are not out of the woods yet. But I fervently hope that we are drawing to the beginning of the end of this very difficult time. There is optimism in the spring air. But stay safe.
At the beginning of May I wrote about our life in Lockdown, here on the north-east English coast, starting with a glorious pic of the view from our home. Writing now – some four months later – I can’t help but reiterate “the banner pic really says it all – it is glorious as ever at our Seaview home, even in these Lockdown times. How very lucky we are.”
Looking back on what else I wrote in May, there was gardening, pottering round our home, sewing and knitting projects – and of course, walks! All of which have continued much the same.
But there have been the relaxation-of-lockdown treats. Going back to the hairdresser for one …Stephen opted to attend my Seaview barber shop (complete with cat comb and my best dressmaking scissors) in late May …And very best of all – visitors! The first lot came up from London, here socially-distanced on our lawn in early July …Followed by more family in August, this time travelling up from Devon and Cornwall. The weather started cruel (particularly considering it was August) …But then turned benign … And there was the first meal out at lovely Atelier’s in Berwick … That felt like a very big thing as Berwick and our local coast have been packed with visitors who – presumably – couldn’t get to their usual continental destinations for their holiday.
A repeat walk to Cocklawburn beach in August left us very taken aback! Look at all those cars – and revisit my May blog to see how empty this beach was in early Lockdown. Very good for local business, of course – but just a trifle discomforting for us locals …That lurch from cruel to benign and back again has been the story of the last few months’ weather (and perhaps other things in the national covid story).
The black poppies flowered exquisitely in July …And then the pots had to be brought into the house to protect the flowers from the powerful gusty – and unseasonal – winds. It has been so very windy this summer! I think the winds of summer 2020 will remain in my memory longer than the covid restrictions …There have been a awful lot of damp and foggy days – this was June … And even though the flower beds looked glorious with August colour, so many days have been overcast … Sometimes it’s been nastier than overcast – truly a miserable August day here, but, yes, there was light on the horizon …And, of course, when the weather’s gloomy, the beach empties – but it is still insanely beautiful … And fascinating to explore the seafoam – even us adults can’t resist …Despite some awful weather …We have been to the beach often enough to find some fascinating new beach treasures. I’ve never found old leather shoes before … This has to be one of the haggiest hagstones …Undeterred by the ups and downs of the weather, we have walked and walked, exploring inland Northumberland as perhaps never before. The countryside is so immensely varied round here – we have managed to find delightful places to explore for every sort of weather the gods have deigned to send us.
In late June’s scorching temperatures we headed for Hepburn woods to walk in the shade of the trees …It had a primeval feel to it …July saw us walking along the Tweed from Horncliffe – a day of sunshine and showers. Not my favourite walk – I can’t quite put my finger on why. Perhaps because it was overcast most of the way so the Tweed definitely wasn’t looking its best, and perhaps because this is all very much managed angler country. Still beautiful …Mown pathways – really to provide ease of access for anglers – make for easy walking …Interesting to see the weirs …July also saw us heading up Humbledon Hill on the edge of the Cheviots. This lingers in my memory as a star of a walk. For starters, the summer flowers were stunningly lovely. Whether it be banks of wild thyme …Or the intermingling of flowers and grasses and views …Or heavenly walking on soft springy grass up gentle gradients amid majestic surroundings …Or the view at the top – it was all just lovely. I dream of it still …But then July’s Cornhill walk was good too. This was along the old railway track that used to run from Berwick to Kelso. Wonderful wild flowers, easy level walking …And old bridges making such a powerful statement in the landscape … August saw us back in the Cheviot’s – this time walking up Great Hetha. We’ve climbed Great Hetha several times before, but never followed this particular route previously. Starting in the College Valley, we headed up through forestry plantations to little Trowupburn Farm, nestling in the folds of the hills …Then – on and up and up – To the glorious top – and the view …What a place for a picnic!We were back walking the old railway line again in September – these are great walks when the weather on the coast is just too windy for comfort. This time we followed a circular walk from Wark-on-Tweed …In the weeks since we last walked the old railway line, autumn has come …Fields have been harvested. So very beautiful …Last week we headed back to Hepburn woods, not to walk there but to use it as a base to climb up to Ros Castle Camp. Stunning views of the Cheviots and the Glen valley were the reward for this steep climb … Up and up through the heathery moorland …Then the next climb up to Ros Castle Camp itself …At the Sir Edward Grey memorial on the trig point at the top …With views over the moorland to the North Sea …And a brief stop at Chillingham Church on the way home – but alas, the church was still shut under Covid regulations … Back at home most of the fields have been harvested now …The last of the summer flowers are still hanging on as the golden field is ploughed brown …Our thoughts are turning – with the rest of the country – to winter and the fears of another Covid outbreak. At one time there were reports in the news of cats carrying the Covid virus …Are we bovvered? say Eggy and Ilsa – Naaaah!Alas, I cannot say with the cats that I am not “bovvered”. Our Seaview sanctuary has offered great solace through these summer months, but fear and worry are not far away. Some of the younger members of our family are looking for employment and some are travelling back to work again. Older folk have Covid in their care homes. Hearts for so very many are heavy. Stay safe.
Well, the banner pic really says it all – it is glorious as ever at our Seaview home, even in these Lockdown times. How very lucky we are.
We continue to potter round in our garden with the help of our funny feline friends, Eggy and Ilsa …Who are eager to help with almost everything …Especially anything wheelbarrow …And of course the planting out of sweet-pea seedlings …In the greenhouse there has been sowing and growing of seeds …Which has necessitated some energetic digging to prepare veg beds for the new seedlings …Stephen has got the once-weekly shop down to a fine art, no longer arriving to find a long queue …Being second in the queue is much more manageable …We celebrated Easter with tradition. I found this enchanting tablecloth in a local second hand shop, and it is my special Easter treat. I don’t allow it to be used for long less somebody spill something on it … And I have been busy making Face Masks for family and friends …I was given this fabulous butterfly fabric by an internet friend, and thought it just right for a Face Mask – but on second thoughts, perhaps it’s a little too extreme Silence of the Lambs for me … I’ve sent it to my daughter in London and she loves it …Still making more …We have the local beach in Spittal almost to ourselves …As the car parks are closed off …But very best of all are our weekly walks along the sea cliffs to the limekilns on Cocklawburn beach …On some trips the weather has been just a little challenging ..Especially if – like me – you wear glasses …But, even in the damp sea mist, Cocklawburn is very very lovely …No problems with social distancing here! Just the odd ghost train …Cattle huddled together …Most of our trips to Cocklawburn are more promising …The sea cliffs along the way are at their very best right now, sprinkled with tiny primroses and heavily scented with gorse …You can barely make out that powdering of primroses as you look down to the sea …But if you climb down a bit, why – that’s heaven on a plate! Primroses interspersed with violets …The cattle are a lot more friendly these days …We were amused to see on our return walk that this nursery encourages a post-prandial nap for the young!There is so much of fascination on this beach – never a dull moment. Sometimes visitors leave their own marks …Sometimes there are sad reminders of the harsh world outside …Always there are miracles in the sand like these beautiful ephemeral sandtrees …Often we find Cuddy Bead (those little circular crinoid fossils) treasure …And there is ancient as well as relatively modern history at the limekilns sitting above the prehistoric stone formations …An occasion for a birthday drink (we walked down here on Stephen’s birthday) before setting home … More likely a drink to the end of Lockdown …Like most of you, we miss our friends and family so very much, and the hardship and sadness of this difficult time is creeping ever closer to our Seaview sanctuary with loss and separation. Beautiful it may be, but the heart can be very heavy. Stay safe.
I find one of the greatest ordinary pleasures in life is to be doing the same walk through the months, and over the years. Many might find this boring, but the opportunity to see small changes in places you know very well is – to me – a great delight.
Last year I wrote about our local beach walk in just such a manner, and in this blog I’m going to explore another favourite local walk of ours that takes us in a circle from our home at Seaview up the hill, along the ridge, and down the old railway track, coming back along the sea and the modern eastcoast railway line.The most challenging part of the walk is the very first part as you walk up the long hill behind Seaview. But there’s always something of interest. Some wet winters the old duckpond reappears behind the farm buildings …Then there is nothing for it but you must turn your attention to the hill … up and up it goes, – a gentle incline, but a long one. It’s always me struggling just this distance behind Stephen …Even on lush summer days it is an effort …So before long you can allow yourself to look back to enjoy the view (and catch your breath) …The view is always different, depending on the time of the year …Finally – oh glorious moment – you reach the top, and can pass through the gate and out on to the ridge. There’s a better track here because it is used by all the farm traffic …Looking down from this height on Seaview with the sea behind is uplifting. The field is full of stubble here, glowing in the half-light of a late December afternoon … In February the winter-sown crops are small (and you can just make out that puddle) …By June the green is lush and has intensified …And by August it’s golden …Earlier this year, the walk along the ridgeway was quite different from how we have ever known it before. The evil Beast from the East had blown straight off from the sea, creating the most curious drifting snow shapes. Conditions were so unpleasant that we didn’t get out for several weeks, but when we finally did in mid-March, the remaining snow was sculpted and very dirty. Meringue-like, I thought …Thank goodness, it is more often like it was yesterday – blue and green …This part of the walk takes us past the old radar station . And yesterday we stopped off to investigate …This is one of a series of radar stations operating up the entire east coast during WW2 (known as Chain Home Radar). And what a fine view of the North Sea this position commanded!There are two buildings here …A smaller one at the back which Stephen thought might have been an old engine room …And the larger one at the front which consists of several rooms – clearly now a good place for the local young to party …Such a change in mindset over the generations! How differently the men working here in the 1940s must have felt to the people who visit nowadays – and that includes us …
The same generational change applies to the stone wall along this part of the route. It’s crumbling badly. Sadly it seems modern farmers often don’t rebuild walls, they just chuck away – or if pushed replace with fencing …Back to the next part of our route, walking along the road. Here it is several weeks ago when it was wet and watery as well as snowy …What a miserable grey day for a walk! But fascinating too. We never know what we will find as we turn into the old railway track. Sometimes there are huge muddy puddles here …On other occasions, we’ve been amazed and delighted by the ice patterns …Apparently this lovely phenomenon is known as cat ice …But when the Beast from the East visited, it left muddy puddles and deep snowdrifts in its wake …Looked almost impassable …No! He’s made it – so can I!This old railway track (known as the Scremerston Incline) was laid down about 1815, and ran from the Scremerston colliery, carrying coal across the land down to the coast, where it met the public carriage way (as you can see in this 1844 plan by engineering surveyors, Martin Johnsons and Fox). From there coal was transported to the nearby river Tweed and could be shipped off to purchasers in Europe and the south. What exactly is the magic of walking down old railway tracks?The history of the place, I wonder? Here you can still see – just! – the old stone sleeper blocks where the rails rested …Or is it the pleasure of walking old level paths that remain even when tractors have churned up the mud … This photograph taken on our warm walk yesterday shows just how inviting it can be, with that blue blue sea calling you down …There is so often something special to see here, from a small clump of determined snowdrops on a cold winter’s day …To vibrant gorse in the early spring …And fragile harebells in late summer …I think I love it best in the autumn …When we walk down here to pick blackberries …And enjoy other fruits abundant in the old hedgerows …The track ends abruptly with our way blocked by a pile of stones …At this point we turn to the left and walk along the edge of the field with the old trackway running parallel to us (clearly marked in March this year by the snow drifts) …But at other times, you find yourself looking down into deep wild secret places …Not far on from here, the old railway track was subsumed into the main eastcoast railway line, as you can see in this 1922 Ordinance Survey map (actually surveyed 1856-60 not that long after the opening of the Newcastle and Berwick Railway in 1847).Now our walk us takes along the main eastcoast railway line with the North Sea just beyond …And if you’re lucky, you’ll get a modern train blasting its way past you!Our walk passes very close indeed to the main eastcoast railway line …Nothing sparks up a cold January walk like a speeding train!But there are other pleasures to this part of the route: playing silly games in the wintry light of a November’s day …And at the end of summer, there’s the willowherb looking amazing …And there’s scrumpying too …This solitary apple tree sits so close to the railway line! We think it must be the result of casual flick of a discarded apple core as perhaps the Flying Scotsman sped past …We always inspect with interest the area round this drain. It passes under the main eastcoast line, and was installed the spring after we arrived …The field drainage here can be very bad in winter (even now), with the water funnelling down the hill and reviving ancient waterways …In the spring of 2011, after heavy snows, so much water collected here with the snow melt that it threatened to wash away the eastcoast mainline train track. So Network Rail arrived in force to construct a new drainage pipe under the railway line.So muddy was it, they constructed a roadway – with of course road traffic signs!All long gone now, of course, and on an ordinary wintry day, it looks like this as Berwick appears in the distance … We’re coming to the end of our walk now …At the end of this field, we’ll turn up the hill and are on our way home …This muddy patch was the site of the old rubbish tip, and sometimes we find interesting bits and pieces in the mud here. So on good day we’ll come home with treasure …But it’s a good walk, even without treasure!
With grateful thanks to:
- Northern Northumberland’s Minor Railways: Volume Two. Colliery and Associated Lines by Roger Jermy
- Relics of War. A Guide to the 20th Century Military Remains in the Northumberlan Landscape by Ian Hall
Alas, our sweet little kits have turned into ruthless killers …When Eggy and Ilsa arrived here some two years ago, they were completely unused to country ways – and pretty useless at birding. They didn’t quite get the concept of self-concealment …But, with practice, they got better at it …Our old cat, Poe, had never been very interesting in birding – she was a serious mouser, and would go out in all weathers …Bringing back special mouse gifts …When Eggy and Ilsa arrived, she even gave a masterclass in the catching of small furry animals. I think this was the first time Ilsa (on the right) had ever seen a shrew, and she was absolutely fascinated …And Eggy and Ilsa learned to become dedicated mousers, proudly …leaving appreciative gifts …And tackling their mousing with enthusiasm, even in tight corners …Because Poe had shown such lack of interest in the birds, we’d always felt free to put food on the path as well as the hanging feeders on the house wall. This meant we got a range of birds into the garden who could only feed at ground level. Through winter …spring …and summer …we continued to feed the birds on the ground. Eggy and Ilsa watched from various vantage points. Upstairs windows …And the conservatory offered particularly good view points …But alas, last year they shocked us out of our naïveté, making us realise how stupid we were to think they were too slow and silly to catch birds. They brought in a beautiful song thrush. We managed to get it away from them, and set it loose in a safe place, only to come upon it dead later on.We were deeply upset – particularly (and irrationally I admit) because it was such a beautiful bird. We’d seen it feeding on the path, and had taken great pleasure in its presence in our garden.
So Eggy and Ilsa got collars with bells on them – and not just standard bell-collars. I added extra bells. They were very good about them, submitting to having them put on every morning before they went out. And – by and large – the bells worked.Eggy and Ilsa seemed content to get their kicks from bird tv …So this spring we expected to do the same. But, of course, it’s been horrible weather, what with the Beast from the East and its vicious relatives. The cottage has been truly snowed under …And some days it was nigh impossible to even see out …The cats really didn’t want to go out at all …And we were able to feed the birds lavishly – after all never had they needed food the more than in these horrible recent snows …We could tell from the footprints that we were hosting a great company – and some rather large birds …During all this cold and wintry period, we were delighted to have a family of four yellowhammers visiting us regularly – we’d never had yellowhammers here before, but how pleasing that we were to be able to sustain them through this harsh spring … (this photo below actually taken in the sun on Easter Day) …But one day, we came back from a long day out in Edinburgh to find this horribly unwanted gift. Aaaagh – such a little beauty, such a loss, especially as we know that yellowhammers are on the RSPB Red list of dangerously declining populations …Time to face the facts: our little cats are actually very clever killers – that is what they are programmed to be, and we were being very stupid in ignoring it. Just look at Eggy hiding in wait for birds to feed on the path …Can’t see her? Well, come along the path with me, and you can see how perfectly she is placed to pounce on any unwitting bird …So we’ve put planks in place to make it harder for the cats to spring onto the path …And we’ve moved the bird food, no longer spreading it on the path, but rather along the edge of the flower bed, which with a small shrubbery nearby is much more in the birds’ natural comfort zone anyhow …These are very poor pictures, taken on a miserably cold Easter Monday through upstairs windows, when snow and sleet were tipping down, but there are our little yellowhammers feasting away in their new feeding ground. If you enlarge the pics you will be able to see how many of these little birds there are. The young are far less yellow than the parent birds …The amazing thing is that in the few nice days midweek, the yellowhammers started to appear in abundance in our garden …At one time we counted 17 yellowhammers feeding there!Could it be, could it just be, that during that first vicious attack from the Beast from the East, when we’d just noticed the yellowhammer presence in our garden, they were nesting in the locality, and it is those young we are seeing in the garden now? I haven’t yet been able to find out dates for yellowhammer first spring nests, so I just don’t know.
So, wish us luck – it isn’t easy accommodating cats and birds, and nurturing both. We now shut the cats in when we go off on long days out – they don’t like it at all, but if it will help keep a few more of our little yellowhammers alive, it’s definitely worth it!
It’s a strange time of year, no doubt about it. So many signs of summer lingering and not really proper autumn …
Over the last few weeks, we’ve had days when the garden bench is still inviting …When it is good to sit and smile at the sun …Or find a quiet sunny spot for a bit of punch-card preparation …The cats are still in playful summer mode …There is still plenty of colour to be enjoyed …Still flashes of intense green …Lots of red fruits and red flowers …The rose is having a wonderful second flowering …And there are still butterflies about, enjoying the flowers …The sweet peas continue to amaze …! why only yesterday I picked a bunch as good as this!So I’m still deadheading like mad …But the shadows are long …And I’m beginning to clear up and cut back …The compost heap is filling up. The compost on the right will be going out on the flower beds soon (when I’ve hardened my heart and uprooted that fine poppy).Our big beds show well the mix of the seasons: summer flowers jostle next to autumnal seedheads …There are days of weird and beautiful light …Sparkling sunny days …But we’re starting to get proper misty-moisty days as well …Which throws everything into a strange new perspective …Not that a bit of mist could dim the glorious oranges here …I love the fabulous new silhouettes the misty garden is throwing up …Spiders’ webs everywhere!But we’ve had the first of the autumnal gales blowing the pots around …Some days it’s better to be inside …Where we are putting on extra layers of cardigan …Time to put away the summer duvet cover …And get out the quilt …Or perhaps Stephen’s knitted blanket … ?Yes, I think Ilsa prefers the blanket!And over these last couple of weeks, the fields have changed from brown, brown, brown …To green again!Weird and wonderful …
I am constantly drawn to the view here. It is like a drug, a fix, a yearning, a longing. Wherever I’m at home, I find myself coming back to the windows and looking out.This summer – perhaps because of the less-than-perfect weather we’ve had? – I have been particularly fascinated by the interplays of light and shade on land and sea …The colour changes, sometimes in the sky …But also over the land …And of course over the sea …Almost all of these photographs were taken from our bedroom window, looking south-east over the fields of north Northumberland to the North Sea. You may be able to make out the gantreys of the main eastcoast railway line and beyond them the castles of the Holy Island of Lindisfarne and Bamburgh in the very distance …. oh, and that’s our always-wonky washing line, keen to be part of the view too …Let me a bit more orderly, and look back through the months to the green fields of June. Here’s a classic early June day and it’s all green and white and blue …Some days are cloudy, but they have a different sort of fascination …Nights too have colour shifts and amazing tones ….This photograph was taken about the summer solstice, when the nights are long and light and full of promise. 9.30 in the evening – the one above of the moon taken at 10.42 pm.But then we’re in July – the summer galloping away; a classic British summer day with the clouds scudding about …July 3rd I was up very early indeed for me – 5.35 am. It was worth it to see this beauty of a day starting – and oh, those long shadows on the green! Sunrise (to the far left of the picture) was almost exactly an hour earlier. A couple of days later (July 6th) illustrates so well the quick changes in this place …This photo was taken 3 minutes later than the one above, at 9.26 pm. I found this so extraordinary that I had to check it out – but it’s true, the camera and the very helpful EXIF data recorded with each image don’t lie.The next day (July 7th), at roughly the same time of the evening, the light from the setting sun is far more intense. It creeps through holes in the fence to highlight the odd old coping stone. My July 8th photograph captures an almost full moon a couple of minutes after sunset. The colours are muted, but magical in their own way – especially that faint pink hovering over the horizon …You can see in this day time pic of July 11 that the field colours are still green, but I think they’re just edging to that acid-green that heralds the change to harvest gold …July 15th – and a run of fascinating evening photos, starting at 7.33 pm. It looks interesting in the sky, but not particularly dramatic …Followed by some sharper light at 9.04 pm …9.17 pm … it definitely dramatic! – and yes, that’s a rainbow creeping in on the right!9.32 pm … calming down a bit …Lastly – 10.18 pm …. things are beginning to settle down for the night …The next day – a sparkling day at 10.27 am …And something very unusual happening amid these intense evening colours at 8.02 pm. There’s a rookery in the group of trees on the horizon – and something has set the crows off – I wonder what on earth it is?The evening of the 17th of July – cloudless, but oh that gentle pink haze on the horizon …By complete contrast, July 22nd is misty and mysterious!July 24th is in many ways unremarkable – but it’s still misty (you can’t make out Holy Island) and look at those angry white waves crashing on the coast!We’re drawing on to the end of July with this picture of the 27th. It was actually taken at 9.26 in the morning, but is so dark that it could well be later in the day – until you look at those extraordinary light patches on the sea and on the horizon … Now we’re into August – and if you’re still with me, you’ve certainly got staying power! I have to warn you that there are more pictures of August views than any of the other months put together. Why? Well, I think it has to do with the colour change. The growing gold of the fields, and the interplay of the light on and around them is just irresistible …
This picture of August 2nd is my earliest picture of the day. It was taken at 4.25 am. Sunrise followed in nearly an hour (at 5.17), but the light is already twitching over the sea …I was up a little later on August 5th. You can see so clearly the way the sunlight is streaming in from the left of the picture. This was taken at 6.37 am (sunrise at 5.23, nearly an hour earlier). And you can see what I mean about those golden fields, can’t you?This photo below – one of the most dramatic in the whole set, I think – was taken in late afternoon – 5.09 pm … it’s raining heavily over the sea …. and it looks as though the pot of gold at the foot of that rainbow is on the beach just below us …But by 8.50 pm, everything’s calmed down, and there is just this intense pink glow behind the farm on the horizon ….9.05 pm – and the pink has moved over the sea …9.21 pm …cloudy ….21.43 pm … a clear moonlit night …Angry skies on the night of August 6th – the first photo taken just before 9pm and the second a few minutes after …By contrast the evening of August 8th (at almost the same time of day) was magical. Sunset is to the right of this picture, but here the sun’s rays are catching the light clouds in such soft pinky golden tones …August 9th was a special day here because it’s the day the combine harvester arrived to start work on the fields around us.We both get excited when this happens … vying with each other to get the better picture ….Clouding over a bit as the tractor arrives ….This is dawn on August 11th – 4.58 am. Well, it’s actually pre-dawn (often the time for the best sunrises) at 5.34 am …Sunrises (this at 5.22 am) speak for themselves. As the earth tilts on its journey from the summer solstice to the autumn equinox, sunrise appears at more and more southerly points of the horizon. So this is a view we would never see in May or June – but it is full of promise for us as we progress into winter, because then the sunrise will appear clearly on our southern horizons. Check it out here in my very first ever blogpost!August 20th is overcast and dramatic (but it’s 5.34 pm) and the combine harvester is in our field! It arrives in a great dust cloud of chaff and the greedy young house martens swirling around. The bugs stirred up by this great monster provide the most fantastic feast for the birds. They are about to set out on their migration travels and need to bank up their bodily food stores.So dark the tractor’s actually got its lights on!It’s a very exciting moment as the combine harvester powers past right in front of the house …As they come to the end of their work for the day, a golden cast falls over the field from the setting sun, but the lowering grey clouds are deeper and darker …The next day it’s an odd feeling to wake up to the partially shorn field … and in sympathy (as it were) there is this curious light over the sea …Unusually the harvester left the field unfinished for several days. However the balers moved in and dealt with the part of the field that had been cropped. One bale, right outside our house, split. It remains – a strange marker under this misty sky …But the next day (the 23rd) they started ploughing the lower field – look how red that soil is! a whole new colour added to the palette …He’s back finishing off the ploughing the next day. This is one of my favourite pictures of this summer – I both love the silhouette of the tractor against the sea, and the scudding blue/grey skies. And I also love the astonishing gleam on that freshly-ploughed earth!Time to feature the clouds alone. Everything else is low key – the light is elsewhere, but the clouds know this is their turn to shine …A slight variant of our view here because this photograph, taken earlyish in the morning (at 8.22 am) shows the flowers in our garden, standing proud with the sea behind.And that’s it folks. The last day of August, and the farmer and his men are sorting out the broken drains in the field before they plough (which, as I write on September 4th, they still haven’t done). That’s a little strange, but not unpleasant as this lingering gold with that fast-changing sky is very beautiful indeed.If I were to meet that wish-granting Genie of the bottle, I would wish to be a painter …
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!
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:Top 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.Top 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.Top 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.Middle 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.Bottom 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 …Bottom 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).Bottom 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.Middle 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.Centre: 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.Goodness 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!