Friday, 23 June 2017

A walk around the village on the summer solstice

It was a relatively hot summer solstice on Wednesday. As an Aussie, I can't in all honesty say 32 degrees is very hot, because memories of 40+ degree summer days are burnt (pun very much intended) into my memory. That horrific day a few January's ago, where I walked out of work and into a 45 degree day to catch a non air-conditioned train home, will stay in my memory forever... That was a stifling summer all over Australia. If you're a weather enthusiast, stats can be seen HERE.

Nevertheless, I'll jump on board the Brits-moaning-about-the-weather bandwagon and concede it was quite a warm, sunny spell for England. Still, I wasn't going to let the glorious, albeit sweaty, solstice sunshine keep me indoors. I slipped into a linen sun dress, grabbed my camera and took a late evening wander around the village to capture some photographic memories of my first summer solstice in Britain.

June has been all about roses in the village. In just about every direction you look, you will see a rose. Climber, rambler, shrub, David Austin, they're blooming and beautiful.

This vivid pink rose is such a vibrant burst of colour on an otherwise uniform honey-stone coloured canvas. That is the Norman church tower of St Andrew's, Castle Combe. Often when I'm outside in the garden, and the breeze is blowing in the right direction I can hear it chime out at 3 minutes past the hour. I'm not sure if it's late, or my clock is running fast. It is a lovely sound no matter, a constant reminder of this rural village idyll I've somehow found myself living amongst.

This farm building at Upper Castle Combe was bathed in the most golden light. It is currently dripping with summer roses. It seemed so apt that on the summer solstice, it was in full flush and aglow with golden hour light. A fertile and abundant representation of the summer season.

I was sticky by the end of my walk, but frankly it was so nice to be able to be outside in the late evening air in just a sun dress and sandals, even if it did mean a cool shower for the third time that day. 

I know the passing of the solstice signals a slow slide back towards shorter days, but there is still so much summer to enjoy. The brambles are just emerging in the hedgerows, apple trees are beginning to fruit, the trout in the brook are fattening, and the fields are abuzz with the predictable seasonal rhythm of farm machinery as it frenetically slashes, harvests, bales and ploughs the countryside before the inevitable rains return .

Kate  x

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Dyrham Park

We first went to Dyrham Park in Gloucestershire last November when we were in the area looking at the cottage we now live in. I remember thinking then that it would be a great estate to come back to when the weather was warmer. And it was. On our recent return visit we managed a long walk around the extensive parkland to see the fallow deer herd and soak in the views. We also spent a lot of time in the gardens full and bursting with summer border flowers. It is a grand and handsome estate worth seeing, if only for that sweeping vista of the house as you come down the driveway.

The views over the countryside are beautiful. The estate seems so well positioned. The parkland is high and exposed, seemingly commanding absolute authority over the surrounding farmland. Views are endless, stretching into Wales on a clear day. But the house itself is nestled comfortably down in a small sheltered valley. 

The gardens were brimming with all the best early summer border flowers- delphinium, foxgloves, lupins, roses...

I think it is an estate worth seeing in most seasons. I think we'll return for deer rutting season, and wander the parkland in the fluttering autumn leaves.

Kate  x

Friday, 16 June 2017

June garden

Summer is almost here. There's no mistaking that wet grass scent or the slightly heavier humid air that so distinctly belongs to early summer mornings. The village gets busier as the summer crops inch closer to harvest. Just today I've watched a ride on mower, two oversized John Deere tractors, 2 or 3 smaller tractors, and some sort of intricate looking ploughing(?) contraption thunder past the cottage. For a teeny, tiny village hamlet, the roads are getting quite backed up with farm vehicles and the like.

Everywhere I look signs of summer are making themselves known. Sweet peas, barley, elderflowers, delphinium, and roses. There is so much colour and life.
In my garden I am clipping roses and larkspur. As well as eyeing-off the elderflower blossoms for cordial making. But back to the roses...

This powdery pink beauty is David Austin's The Ancient Mariner. Named after Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem The Rime of The Ancient Mariner, it is a large and impressive rose in all senses of the word. A prolific repeat flowering rose, it can grow up to 5ft tall by 3ft wide. It has a lovely scent- like most DA roses- and its beauty is evident from bright pink bud through to faded fully reflexed blooms. This is a relatively new Austin rose, released in the last couple of years here in the UK, and only now becoming available in the US and Canada. She should flower abundantly until the first frost in November.

The slightly more apricot pink rose is another DA, The Queen of Sweden. She begins as a very peachy-apricot, almost orange bud, opening to that iconic cup shape associated with Austin roses with a faded apricot-blush hue. The mature blooms fade even further, just before they finish and shatter, to an almost pale tea-stained hue. I favour her scent and shape, and I think she has much better 'staying power' when clipped for a vase.

The larkspur has been so welcome for the bees. I've left these tall flowering spires well alone except for the two stems I cut for a little garden posy gift to take to a new friend. It paired so beautifully with the pink of the roses.

 Also left well alone as much as possible has been the robin nest in our garden wall. I have been watching our resident robin pair building and fussing over their nest for a few weeks now, and noticed in the last week Mrs Robin has been diligently sitting on eggs. Today she was flitting around the garden and beyond for an extended amount of time (feeding perhaps?), so I took the opportunity to peer into the nest to count the eggs. I think there are three, it is difficult to see all the way into her delicate and cosy nest because it is in quite a tight nook in the dry-stone wall. My phone camera could just about capture one little speckled egg. The sweetest thing I've seen this week I think.

Hopefully she can manage to hatch her entire clutch! The weather is certainly very nice for her. Seven new tiny ducklings have also appeared on the brook. I spotted them from a window last night, so I rushed outside to the brook, barefoot, to count them. 

Kate  x

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Lacock village and abbey

Lacock is renowned for its quintessentially english village streets. It is a Cotswold tourist highlight, but the National Trust owned abbey is the real must see here in my opinion.

We wandered around the village on a drizzly Monday afternoon, so the streets were relatively quiet for June. It is easy to see how Lacock got its reputation as a village that seems to have paused in the 18th Century, the cars being the only indication of modern life.

Spot the dog!

There are a few different places to have lunch, a cream tea, or an ice cream. Of course, the National Trust tea rooms are always a nice place to get a cuppa, sandwich, or something sweet. 

In the abbey grounds there is so much to see. A walled garden, green house, rose garden, orchard, as well as the extensive park. Last week the early summer blooms were at their peak. Allium, delphinium, roses, etc. there was so much colour and life.

I love to see summer grass left to grow with wildflowers dotted through it. There is something so lovely about over grown lawn with a mowed pathway through it. This is the orchard, overlooking the church.

The abbey itself dates from the 13th Century, and for three centuries belonged to an Augustinian order of nuns before it was bought and transformed into a private home. The cloisters are one of the oldest parts of the building, and the monastic rooms attached to these stunning hallways are largely unchanged since the 13th Century.

The cloisters have been used for backdrops in Harry Potter films as well as the 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice. They're beautiful and atmospheric, and so fascinating.

It is quite an imposing building, standing tall and rigid in the landscape. Handsome and grandiose from the outside, it is quite a layered patchwork of styles and eras. One half is even Tudor era, with a classic Tudor layout and inner quadrangle.

Climbing and rambling roses softened the gothic features and added a feminine touch to the abbey facade. The whole structure has a very masculine feel and energy even though it began its life as the spiritual home of nuns.

Inside, the abbey is showing its age. The rooms are grandiose and were once richly furnished. A lot of the contents are beginning to deteriorate, which is such a shame, but the National Trust are doing their utmost to preserve things as much as possible. 

The hand painted wallpaper in one of the rooms of the residential wing is illustrative of how the interior and furnishings of a 13th Century building are inevitably the victims of relentless damp, dust, light and temperature fluctuations. 

Lacock Abbey is famously the birthplace of photography. William Henry Fox Talbot created the oldest still surviving photographic negative in the abbey, his family home. Today visitors can stand at the window that his original negative captured in 1835. 

It is an incredibly diverse building with an equally diverse history to match.

Kate  x

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Speckled eggs

After a half day of sunshine (albeit accompanied by some less than June like temperatures) we are back to dreary autumnal like weather today.

Nice weather for ducks, as they say. We have a rather large family of ducks living near us on the brook, and I'd heard whispers of ducklings, but until yesterday hadn't seen them myself. Three ducklings swam past, stopping to forage round the tree branches the wind has blown into the brook in the last few days.

I've become slightly preoccupied with birdlife of late. I think the British DNA is part Twitcher, so it was only a matter of time. Mr & Mrs Robin are officially nesting in our garden wall. He's always so busy; gathering nesting material, bringing food home, and chasing away sparrows. And he is always, always singing. I was told they do that to deter other birds as they're very territorial. On a couple of occasions i've gotten a little too close to the wall and some very worried robin eyes have peered back at me.
I've also finally been able to entice more birds to the garden by hanging a bird feeder. It took a while, but a group of blue tits now feed from it each afternoon around 4.30pm. They're quite noisy, never hold still for long, but they are my favourite British bird.

It has become habit to embrace what sunny moments we have and walk up the road to our neighbour's farm to buy eggs. I particularly love doing this for the views of the countryside, and to see what is blooming in the hedgerows.

Of course the roads are brimming with cow parsley, and buttercups.
There are blackberry flowers. And daisies.

It is becoming a bit of a seasonal nature study. And quite lovely to document. I think i'll continue through the seasons- soon i'll be able to include actual blackberries, then autumn leaves and so on.

These wild violets threw me yesterday. Just a small patch. I can't work out if they're confused by the weather like the rest of us? I thought wild violets were finished for the spring, but perhaps in shady spots they will keep blooming.

And the eggs, the eggs are a thing of beauty themselves. Never uniform in colour, shape, or size. I love them so much more for their nuances. 

Kate  x

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Bibury in bloom

Last Friday we met up with my cousin and her family in Bibury for lunch and a stroll around the village. We had been to Bibury before, but it looked a little different when we were there in the depths of winter compared to last week. You can see the iconic cottages of Arlington Row covered in frost HERE. 

The promise of summer was heavy in the air last week, even with the grey sky threatening us with rain. The cottages were awash with rambling roses, gardens were filled with foxgloves, and the River Coln featured a family of swans.

I did lean down to the water to gauge its temperature... still chilly. I am sure the cygnets didn't mind too much, those fluffy down feathers looked quite cosy.

You can get a sense of how popular this walk is by the number of people strolling past the cottages at any given time. It is one of the most iconic places of rural Britain, touted to be one of the most photographed streets in England. Arlington Row even features inside the British passport.

The foxgloves are currently at their peak, growing prolifically in cottage gardens and wild along roadsides alike. I love them and wish some had appeared in our new garden this spring.

This is Matilda. Matilda looooves flowers. That little purse strung over her shoulder was filled with flowers by the time our stroll ended. Roadside weeds, elderflowers from over-hanging trees, valerian sprouting out of walls, foxgloves on cottage doorsteps, Matilda didn't discriminate. Any attempt to teach her that we don't pick flowers from just anywhere was frankly futile. If only I was as brazen as this little five year old. 

I had such a fun time hanging out with my littlest cousins, and they made me laugh so much. Matilda asked me how old I was ("that's so old" she replied), if I liked Harry Styles, and then invited me for a sleepover in her bunkbeds. At one point three-year old Esme was asked to share her pasta with her big sister, to which she replied, "If she wanted pasta she should have ordered it." We couldn't fault her logic, but a conversation about the virtues of sharing was had anyway.

An afternoon with little kids is sometimes the perfect antidote to all the trauma and suffering in this world.

Kate  x

Saturday, 3 June 2017

William Morris's country retreat

A couple of weeks ago when we were in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds for a wedding, we stopped by Kelmscott Manor on the drive home. Kelmscott village is a lovely, quiet village surrounded by far-reaching and lush agricultural land. But visitors come to Kelmscott primarily to see the country home of William Morris and his family.

It was such a beautiful late spring day- rain showers and bright sunshine- with a hint of early summer in the air. The manor house is handsome and some of the furnishings are very beautiful (large hangings depicting Morris's much loved Strawberry Thief chintz amongst them), but I really loved the garden the most. Iris, peonies, delphiniums and roses were blooming, showcasing the best that an English cottage garden boasts in early summer.

This is a portrait of Mrs Morris- painted in 1868 by Dante Gabriel Rosetti. It hangs above the family's ornate piano in a downstairs family room. It is much admired for the way the blue silk of her dress catches the light, giving it a luminous quality.

One of the very best items in the home are the bed curtains and pelmet embroidered lovingly by Jane Morris for one of her husband's birthdays. Helped by their daughter Jane, and Lily, the sister of poet W.B Yeats, it is an intricate and beautifully personalised gift. The bed is draped in a delicately embroidered quilt, done after William's death. In the corner of the quilt is a motif you would miss if it wasn't pointed out- Kelmscott Manor itself depicted in embroidery thread. The pelmet is stitched with the words of a poem that William himself wrote called, 'Inscription for an Old Bed.'

More details and image HERE.

The gardens were incredibly lush and full of new season growth. It was easy to get a sense of why the family cherished the property and surrounding countryside so very much.

Kate  x