30 Jan 2014


January has been a challenging month for so many of us because of the extreme weather.  It seems ages since I took the above photo when we went out to High Bradfield and even then the blue skies were intermittent and ever since it has been wet and windy or dry and dull.

If you're a rambler this is the way to get over those high walls when using an official footpath across country.

For us the country lane is the only way - driving and stopping, exploring for a while, reflecting on the rural landscape not far from the outskirts of the city.

As well as waiting for better weather, I'm waiting for better health.  I've been staying indoors in the warm, resting and taking the prescribed antibiotics for the head cold etc. that has been recurring since the beginning of the month.  The rest is also helping the swollen knee joint problem.  Being unable to meet up with friends, participate in my daytime interest groups and my monthly reading group evening hasn't been so good, but I have been doing quite a lot of reading of some very good novels from my pile of owned books or library reservations. I'm planning to read the Brother Cadfael Chronicles in order over the year, some of which I read long before the film drama series was made. (I've since seen one or two of the dramas - very good - although I do enjoy the detail of the original novels). I've been reading another series of mystery fiction set in the present day with a monk investigator written by William Brodrick. Then I've the last in the series of the C.J. Sansom Tudor series (Heartstone) to read.  Some time soon I hope to be doing a post about visiting the places of the period C.J. Sansom mentions in  'Sovereign', which features the city of York, using photos from my archive.

Looking out of the window it has started to snow!  Let's hope it will be a light sprinkling.
I hope all is going well wherever you are and especially send Happy Chinese New Year greetings to all my Chinese friends!

25 Jan 2014

Loxley to High Bradfield, South Yorkshire

There are some steep hills in our area with views across the Loxley Valley. The last time I walked here was on a sunny day before Christmas.  It's easy enough to stroll down, but harder to climb back up!
At the top of the hill is the primary school, an interesting old house with stables and Loxley Common or Chase.
There's a local legend that 'Robin Hood', (Earl of Loxley), who is said to have been based on a real person, originally came from the Loxley area.  Although he's more associated with Sherwood Forest it's a possibility since Loxley Chase now called Loxley Common was part of a wooded area used by the nobility for hunting and covered a distance as far as Nottinghamshire.

The school

The stables

A mounting block on the village green
An old water trough
The horses are well wrapped up for the Winter

We took a drive along the Loxley Valley last Sunday, which turned out to be the best day of the week with the weather.  It started out quite dull, but dry and then we had a few hours of sunshine.

We drove up onto higher ground passed Damflask Reservoir which has a water outlet into the River Loxley.

Some farmland looked relatively dry in sheltered areas, but on exposed, higher areas the land looked
waterlogged.  Looking in the opposite direction towards the moors the blue skies and sunshine gave a different impression.  We continue to hope for better weather and the farmland to dry out.

St. Nicholas' Church, High Bradfield

17 Jan 2014

Pangbourne-on-Thames, Berkshire

Taken last year when we visited Mapledurham Mill and House by the River Thames, the photo above shows the weir looking upstream.  The nearest bank is in Oxfordshire whilst the far side is in west Berkshire. Beyond is the little hamlet of Purley.
I had hoped to go down to the weir on the Berkshire side when we were staying in Reading at the beginning of this month, but it wasn't possible because Purley was flooded out.  In fact the river levels along some vulnerable stretches of the waterways in the area are still high.  Hopefully the waters will recede if the weather improves.

However, we did visit the village of Pangbourne when we went out to lunch with our daughter and grandson. The hotel was a favourite one for special celebrations when we lived in Berkshire and in recent years has been refurbished by a different management so it was interesting to see the new decor when we were given a tour after our meal. I wanted to know more about the history of the building and learnt that the original name of the hotel had been the Elephant and Castle which reflects the present one, The Elephant Hotel.
Lord Nelson's favourite boatswain, Thomas Carter, who lived in Pangbourne, is buried in the church of St. James the Less next to the hotel.  After he was paid off in 1815 Thomas hired two post chaises and treated his friends to a ride from Portsmouth to Pangbourne where he kept open house at the Elephant and Castle for several days.  He continued to be regarded with respect in his native village for the remainder of his life.

Much of the present parish church of St. James the Less was built in 1866 but the brick bell tower is older and was constructed in 1718 with a peal of six bells that were cast in 1720.  Each has an interesting inscription on it, for example - 1st  When we ring I sweetly sing,  2nd  God preserve the church. Amen,  3rd  Peace and good neighbourhood. 

It was raining heavily so I didn't stay long in the churchyard or find Thomas Carter's grave, but I noticed this memorial with the anchor engraved on it.  The anchor is often used to represent Hope in Christian symbolism and also is, of course, connected with seafaring. Pangbourne (Nautical) College is also located in the area.

The churchyard and Church Cottage in the background 

Kenneth Grahame, author of The Wind in the Willows lived in 'Church Cottage' on Pangbourne Hill (on the extreme left in the above photo).  He died in 1932 in Pangbourne-on-Thames and is buried in Holywell Cemetery in Oxford.

Opposite the church is a row of 16th and 17th century cottages.

The church was still decorated for the season of Epiphany. The memorial stained glass window in the east end was designed by Karl Parsons, part of which (an angel) was used as a 2nd class Royal Mail postage stamp in December 1992. It was commissioned by Sir George and Lady Armstrong after the 1914-18 war in memory of their son.

St James the Less and St Cecilia (stained glass designed by Francis Skeet)

In a very dark corner behind the organ is a 17th century chalk monument in memory of Sir John Davis and his two wives.  He lived at Bere Court, Pangbourne and his son's father-in-law is said to have invented the card game of cribbage.

There are also a number of wooden painted hatchments high up on the wall with the coat of arms of members of a prominent family who lived at the local manor house.

Even though the bad weather prevented us from taking a longer walk around the rest of the village I'm sure we'll return again at another time when we're visiting Berkshire.  My two great grandmothers Anne (maternal) and Mary (paternal) on my father's side were born in nearby villages although Anne's husband's family came from Wiltshire  and Mary's husband was from Hampshire.

13 Jan 2014

A neighbourhood tree story

Early Saturday morning we opened our curtains to this beautiful sky with the winter trees silhouetted
against it.
With so much uncultivated land at the back of our house I enjoy the view throughout the seasons, especially the mature deciduous trees.  However, when I chose my last header (above) I had no thoughts about the fact that this familiar skyline would change.  It's difficult to tell from my photograph, but there's now a big gap between the fir trees on the left and the first deciduous tree on the right and the loss of what was a beautiful horse chestnut was so swift I was not able to capture the procedure to cut it down.
It happened last week.  As you know, we've been experiencing extreme weather in the UK.  We live
three quarters of the way up a hill before it levels out onto the common land at the top and we're sheltered in the lee of the land.  The trees at the back of our house are more exposed, although they do give us extra shelter.
We were having our breakfast one morning and could here the noise of an electric saw.  On looking out of the kitchen window I noticed that the crown of the horse chestnut tree had disappeared and it seemed as if the truck was also being felled.  In a matter of an hour the tree had completely gone from our view.


When all was clear and the weather had improved I went down the narrow lane by our house to see
what was left of the tree which had been growing by the original wall of the old estate. (The above photos were taken in the Autumn and the one below was taken last week).  It's possible to see the old lodge house more clearly.
It's a shame that the tree had to be felled, possibly because it was a safety hazard on a bend in the very narrow lane or because there were signs of a disease which had weakened it. Then it would have been a danger to those who use the no-through thoroughfare.
Apparently half the horse chestnut trees in Britain are showing signs of a disease called bleeding canker and this is beginning to threaten our beautiful mature trees.  Like other native and European deciduous trees it's possible that many mature horse chestnut trees will succumb to the disease in time especially as there's no known treatment for it, which is thought-provoking.  The horse chestnut tree has been part of our heritage and childhood experiences i.e. 'under the spreading chestnut tree' song, making doll's house furniture, kicking the leaves about on autumn days looking for those conkers and using them for playground conker games - although such games have been banned in some primary schools for health and safety reasons!! - leaving it to the adults to participate in 'conker battles'.

Above is what's left of the tree which has been cut down as close as possible it seems to the path.
Can you see the heart shape in the stump?  I love trees and I'm sorry to see the loss of this one for whatever reason.
We did find a good space to plant our Christmas tree in the corner of the new vegetable patch in the back garden, but although it's a token gesture for the environment it's not quite the same as planting a deciduous or fruit tree for future generations to enjoy to replace those that have to be felled, which we would do if we had more room. 


8 Jan 2014

Looking forward

I've been away in my home county over the New Year holiday period visiting family and friends and now back I would like to thank you all for your greetings and good wishes for 2014.

Most of our time over the holidays has been spent indoors due to the bad weather, but now back home and with the glimmer of improved weather I've managed to get out for a walk in the local park and visited the library despite a painful knee joint which has slowed me down in recent days. Hopefully the knee problem will settle down and I'll be able to take up my love of walking again and share some of the beauty of our surroundings with you during the coming months.

In many parts of the UK we've been battered by storms and there are drastic changes to our landscapes and coastal shoreline as trees have crashed to the ground and familiar rocky outcrops, cliffs and sea roads have taken a pounding and disintegrated, whole acres of countryside look like vast lakes and lanes are like rivers, but we've been more fortunate where we live.  The pink roses from our garden (above) together with some white ones from the supermarket looked fresh and pretty indoors over the Christmas period and other plants that usually appear in a month or two are shooting up already.
Here are some of the sights I saw yesterday on my short walk by the library in the park - a place I'm never tired of visiting.

Seeing the different aspects of new life in the walled garden next to the library filled me with hope for the coming days in the new year.  The garden is tended by community volunteers and although I'm not one of them I do appreciate all the hard work that goes on behind the scenes to maintain the flower beds and other areas so that others can enjoy this public facility.  We have plans for travel in the first quarter of 2014 which we're looking forward to, but it's also good to know that there are places on our doorstep that provide pleasurable experiences. I hope that this is the same for you. 

However, the last days of 2013 were overshadowed by news from Italy that my husband's oldest sister had fallen and damaged her lower back. We were thankful to hear that she came through an operation and she's now recovering in a local clinic near her home. As you can imagine, we're very much looking forward to a time in Italy with the family in the Spring.