Wednesday, 11 April 2018

April showers

If April showers do indeed bring May flowers, the west country should resemble a flower farm come next month. So far April has been a soggy wash out, which feels doubly unfair seeing as March was punctuated by unseasonably cold temperatures and multiple snowfalls.


Despite a slow start, my garden is finally blooming with life. The daffodils and narcissus are opening their cheery smiling faces. An overgrown forsythia has burst with bright sunshine yellow blossom. The flowering currant is heavy with flowers as well as raindrops. And my tulips are not far behind.


But the mud!!! The mud is never ending. Oh, what i'd give for a lovely boot room to contain wet coats and muddy wellies in...

Even a porch would suffice. Unfortunately for my floors, we step straight from outdoors into the kitchen in our home. With no where dry or covered to remove shoes and coats other than the kitchen, it has been quite a long winter trying to keep the floors clean. I shouldn't moan. I wouldn't swap countryside living for (almost) anything. I adore being able to pull on wellies and seconds later be stomping through the woodland or splashing up the lane to get eggs at the farm gate. 

Mud is simply a close companion to country life. 
I know this very well. 
Now. 

But the first time after we moved here and my new friend asked if I wanted to go for a walk, I stupidly pulled on my active wear and laced up my trainers. I really did think she would be similarly attired. Moments before she arrived at my front door I came to my senses and changed into jeans & wellies. Context is everything. I wasn't going for walks around the leafy suburban streets of the lower north shore in Sydney anymore. No! The paths I now walked were made entirely of mud. A couple of minutes later she knocked on my front door wearing Le Cheameau's and I knew I'd come very close to looking like a clueless townie playing at country pursuits.

Jeans + wool jumper + wellies. 
That's my uniform now. Such is living in the English countryside.

Kate  x

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

The beast from the east

On Thursday of last week it began to snow. It was bitterly cold (the air temperature felt like -14 according to the weather report) and the snow kept falling. By Thursday night the roads were becoming icy and dangerous. And still the snow kept coming, blown in by a freezing and relentless wind from the east. The fountain outside the manor house froze, and ice clumps began to form on the branches of willow trees as they trailed in the swirling sub-zero water of the brook.


Heaven knows what happened in the darkness of Thursday night, because by Friday morning England was buried in snow drifts and the whole country stopped. 

We have two ways in and out of our village, one was utterly impassable, the snow had gathered between the hedges and buried the lane in snow drifts. The other steep road out was blanketed in snow and ice that only 4x4 cars could manage to get up. And so, we were snowed in for over 24 hours. Snowed in, but happy.














It was magical, even if we were trapped for a period of time, but now our thoughts are firmly on springtime warmth and the coming blossom.

Kate  x






{Images are mine, please do not share without permission}.




Thursday, 1 March 2018

Spring?

Currently, the village looks like this. 


We're expecting a top day-time temperature of -2 today. And snow. Lots of snow. It seems strange that as the daffodils emerge with their bright yellow trumpet faces, snow will sweep in, bringing a Siberian wind chill with it. 

Much of the UK is being battered by blizzards and freezing temperatures. Poor Scotland has been placed on a 'red weather alert'. Here in the Cotswolds the snow flurries have been coming and going for much of the week, never lasting long, but sending fat flakes swirling through the village just to remind us that it is in fact still winter for a couple of weeks yet.


To counter the frigid temperatures outside, indoors vases are filled with any and all spring flowers I can get my hands on. Now that the snowdrops in the garden have finished flowering and flopped over there is a lull before the next spring bulbs will bloom. Cheap and cheerful supermarket flowers fill the temporary void quite nicely.


How severe this cold snap will be, and how long it will last is anyones guess. I hope it's not too long though, I'm starting to need to ration the firewood.

Stay warm,

Kate  x

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Muddy wellies and lent lilies

My wellies might be the muddiest they've been since first treading on English soil, 
but yesterday I spotted daffodils in the dappled light of School Lane.


The European wild daffodil is also called the lent lily as it blooms concurrently with the lenten season. The smiling yellow faces of daffodils are such a welcome sight each year. Here in our village they cling to the damp banks of the brook, tall and proud, gazing at their reflection in the swirling water below them. I remember when we first moved here I really appreciated the great number of daffodils planted throughout this corner of Wiltshire. In just about every village we drove through, dense clumps of daffodils greeted us along the roadsides. To have the bright canary yellow colour spreading their cheer after a winter devoid of colour was such a joy to see. 

Spring is starting to creep in, tinging the air with warmth and sunshine, unhurried, but growing in strength with each passing week. Even the chickens agree.


More and more often my wanders up the lane to the farm gate are rewarded with fresh speckled eggs. Never uniform, but always eliciting a smile from me.


Kate  x


Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Yew trees and snowdrops


Painswick had been on my 'to visit' list for well over a year. I'd been patiently waiting for snowdrop season to come around again before making the trip up into Cotswold heartland. Painswick is a handsome village, beautifully situated in the verdant Cotswold Hills, with renowned walking routes on the doorstep and stunning countryside views. She is the undisputed 'Queen of the Cotswolds'. 




Our main focus on this trip was seeing the famous snowdrop display at Painswick Rococo Garden. An impressive carpet comprised of millions & millions of tiny white blooms cascaded down slopes and spread through the wooded undergrowth of the garden. But unexpectedly, it was the yew trees in the churchyard of St Mary's that emerged as the highlight of our visit.






For a long time, 99 yew trees grew in this churchyard, and according to legend if a hundredth tree was to be planted the devil would destroy it. At the turn of the new millennium every parish in the diocese of Gloucester was presented with a yew tree to plant to mark the occasion. Parish officials faced a dilemma... 
Painswick was chosen to host the blessing of these trees as they were handed out to the various parishes. The 100th tree was planted at the start of the new millennium and, contrary to the often cited legend, is growing well. 

The trees are clipped every September, producing in excess of 2 tonnes of yew clippings. These clippings are actually used in the manufacture of an anti-cancer drug, specialist contractors are employed to process the clippings.



I look forward to a return visit one day, hopefully in late spring when the Cotswold Way is lush and overgrown with wildflowers and the day light stretches late into the evening. 

Kate  x



Friday, 9 February 2018

A secret garden

A garden unfurls its secrets month by month, 
as the seasons blossom, then ebb away.


“And the secret garden bloomed and bloomed 
and every morning revealed new miracles.” 
 Frances Hodgson Burnett


February is the last unknown month in our little patch of earth- a courtyard garden enclosed by a Cotswold stone wall, nestled deep within the By Brook Valley, and overlooked by soaring beech trees. From March, we'll start to cycle through the seasons again, this time with a year of knowledge behind us.

So, what has appeared this month?


Hundreds and hundreds of snowdrops. 

Defying the freezing nights and harsh frosts, they began to emerge before the new year had even begun. Now, with a touch of weak winter sun on their pure white faces, they sit gently nodding in unison in the frigid breeze. All around them signs of spring are following suit- the tips of bluebells, daffodils, narcissus and tulips are likewise pushing up through frozen ground and decaying leaf litter to greet the sunshine. A few aconites have popped their canary-yellow heads up amongst the bare branches of a fuchsia bush. Buds are appearing on the rose bushes and the snowball viburnum. Leaves are tentatively unfurling, slowly, but they're definitely there.


Next month I know the garden and the countryside will become a riot of bright yellows. Daffodils, forsythia, primrose and gorse will take centre stage, and the agricultural land around us will be awash with sunshine-yellow rapeseed. For now though, the snowdrops sit in their thousands, bobbing in the breeze.


Kate  x

  







Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Winter snowdrops

After two weeks away from England, 
we've swapped the actual snowflakes of Japan 
for the first snowdrops of the season in our garden.

It is so good to be home.


Of course I had to snip some to bring indoors. 
I admire snowdrops so much. 
Always the first sign of the coming spring 
(even when it is still quite far off), 
they never fail to push up through frosty days and nights. 
So delicate, yet how tough they are to endure gloomy January and frozen February.



Kate  x




Monday, 1 January 2018

2018

Yesterday, the eve of the new year, Alex and I went for a walk along the road to see the swollen brook and consider how likely it might be to flood- it is looking alarmingly high! 

What I was not expecting to see was our neighbours farm-gate stall stocked with eggs! I haven't been able to buy their eggs since August. And yet, here in the bleak midwinter on the cusp of a new year, sat a dozen brown speckled eggs for purchase. 


Not much is growing in the hedgerows at the moment, as you'd expect, so I snapped this pic with a piece of broken pottery that I unearthed in our garden when I was planting out bulbs in the autumn. 

You can see the farm fresh eggs I've managed to buy throughout 2017 HERE and HERE. They became a sort of seasonal study as the months went by and the seasons unfurled all their treasures.

Happy and bountiful New Year blessings.

Kate  x

Saturday, 23 December 2017

An English Christmas

For many people, Christmas begins on Christmas Eve when a single clear-voiced treble from the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, sings the first verse of “Once in Royal David’s City”, a heart-wrenching moment, audible via the BBC World Service to a potential listenership of 40 million.



Our own Christmas Carol service in the village church, St Andrew's in the Parish of Castle Combe, began in very much the same way. It is a stirring and beautiful tradition, sung for us by a sublime soprano voice standing at the west door of the church. By the time the rest of the congregation had finished the second verse in unison, the church was filled with visible breath and a familiar warm & merry energy that belongs exclusively to Christmas gatherings.  

Our 6pm Carol service began without a vicar. He'd been told that the service began at 7pm. When he did arrive, at around 6.10pm, he emphasised how early he was. Taking over the service part way in, it took him a moment to find his place.

Vicar: Have you had the Bidding Prayer?
Congregation: Yes!
Vicar: Good, I don't need to do that. Have you blessed the crib?
Congregation: Yes!
Vicar: Very good. I can tick that off. Right, 
then you can all sing Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!

At one point he was heard in the aisle asking himself, "Okay, what happens now?" Before remembering to light the Advent Crown.

We were sat in a pew next to the organist's wife who we briefly chatted to after the service. After asking us if we lived in the village she told us she lived nearby and was there because she's married to the organist; who the parish had found on lastminutemusicians.com two days prior to the carol service! Apart from it being an amusing story, it was another little jolt of festive spirit.

However you spend Christmas,
have a very merry one!


Kate  x


Thursday, 14 December 2017

The prettiest village in England

Castle Combe is often referred to as The Prettiest Village in England, owing to winning the title in, oh, 1961. Once labelled the prettiest village in England, you don't relinquish that particular title freely it seems. Even after 56 short years.

Half a century later, I think Castle Combe really does continue to live up to its reputation. Heritage protection means that even in the 21st Century the village looks almost exactly as it would have 100, 200, 300 years ago. A ready-made film set, a tourist hot spot, it is the Mecca of quintessential English villages. Anglophiles must visit at least once in their lifetime. 

So, what makes The Prettiest Village in England, even prettier?
Why the answer is, of course, snow. The best snowfall the Cotswolds have seen in 5+ years to be exact. A beautiful dusting of snow on a Sunday, just before Christmas, turning the village into a real life Christmas snow globe. These ingredients resulted in a magical winter day that I could never adequately put into words.

So here are the pictures.


















On my final wander through the village at dusk I couldn't quite believe the perfect Christmas-time winter wonderland I was experiencing. The snow was still gently falling, the Yuletide fairy light crucifix on top of the church tower was aglow, and several chimneys sent steady trails of smoke into the quiet of the late afternoon. As darkness descended and we were cosy and warm inside next to our own fire, an owl began to hoot in the branches of a tree outside our living room window. It was the stuff of fairytales.



Bitterly cold temperatures and an overnight frost snap froze the remaining snow in place for a couple of days, extending the winter wonderland for us to soak up. 24 hours after the snow finished falling I drove over to my friend's house, marvelling at the spectacle. I turned down the icy and narrow country lane leading to her stunning 18th century farmhouse as the afternoon sky surrendered to nightfall. The hedgerows were bare, silhouetted against the darkening candy pink sky, the orange glow of the sun just about to dip below the horizon, the surrounding countryside still blanketed by snow. To many west country folk, farmers included i'm sure, this was a harsh wintry scene and an indication of a hard winter season to endure. I was only in awe. The stark beauty was breathtaking. Infused with magic.


I can't properly convey the beauty of the English countryside covered by a December snowfall. Dare we begin to hope for a white Christmas?

Seasons best,


Kate  x

P.S. A reflection on life in the village in other seasons can be read, here.