Oh my goodness I know I should be writing a learned and worthy post on the theme of remembrance for this week’s victory prompt, but I just have to diverge.  I beg your forgiveness for the poor quality of my photos but I was laughing so much as I took them.

This sequence took place on Tuesday morning as I looked after my adorable one year old granddaughter.   The lounge, hall and bedrooms were filled with toys for her to play with, but now that she can walk the kitchen is her favourite place.   For the kitchen is where my little dog hides in her bed when grandchildren appear.

There truly can be nothing more amusing than watching a one year old negotiate with a dachsund.  It was clear the poor dog had no chance of winning and eventually she had to give up her bed, which she did very reluctantly.  Then it was blankets out as soft toys and granddaughter moved in.

If there is such a thing as a saintly dog, my little dachsund truly is one!  She is so good natured and patient under severe provocation.



A fruitful season

A fruitful season

My apple and pear harvest 2015

My apple and pear harvest 2015

In the UK Autumn is well underway.  The trees have been turning all shades of gold, orange, amber and red for some time.  But now that the rain and wind has come, the leaves are blowing horizontally off their branches to cover the pavements, fields and gardens.

My precious Japanese maple tree, sheltered from the weather between the wall and the fence outside my window, is absolutely aflame with red leaves. While those at Westonbirt Arboretum are sensational as always.

But my fruit trees are now just skeletons of their former selves.  The apple trees look so ordinary and drab there is no hint that 2015 was the best apple season for 20 years or more!  We had perfect conditions for them due to the mild winter and warm spring.  Spring was followed by gentle rains then a gorgeous hot early summer.  This weather combination produced masses of blossom very early and with plenty of bees around to pollinate the seeds, an abundance of fruits developed.

In my garden the apple trees are trained in the ancient way, horizontally along wires beside a fence.  It’s called Espalier and makes picking the fruit very easy.  It also helps with pruning which I do quite drastically each year because the best fruit grows on the older branches.

I think these apple trees must be over 40 years old.  The thick trunks are gnarled and misshapen, but the fruit is fabulous.  One of the trees is a local early eating variety called Worcester Pearmain.  The apples are small, crisp and wonderfully juicy.   They taste sweet but not cloying, almost with a strawberry flavour.   I haven’t managed to store them well so I use them all up in desserts, cakes and picnic boxes.  The grandchildren love them and eat them straight from the tree.  When I have a glut of apples, like this year, I put a big basket outside on the garden wall with a sign saying ‘help yourself’.   It would grieve me if any were truly wasted, but of course there are always damaged windfalls.  The birds and squirrels love those and feast on them.

My other tree is a Bramley apple tree.  This is by far the best cooking apple around.  It has been grown commercially in the UK for over 200 years but probably a lot longer in orchards and country gardens.  The fruits grow really big, firm and juicy.  They are tart to taste but when cooked they have a sensational flavour.  I make lots of Dorset Apple Cakes, Blackberry and Apple Crumbles and Apple Charlotte.  For my Charlotte I just slice up the apples then drizzle them with lemon and lay them in a deep ovenproof dish.  I then melt some butter, and whizz up some breadcrumbs in my grinder.  I mix brown sugar into the breadcrumbs and maybe a bit of cinnamon or nutmeg.  Then I just sprinkle the breadcrumbs and sugar over the lemony apples, and drizzle them with melted butter (quite generously!)  I repeat these layers a couple of times and finish by sprinkling lemon rind and brown sugar on top of the last layer of breadcrumbs.   Pop this in the oven until it looks golden brown and the smell is mouth-watering.   Then eat it with loads of cream or custard or icecream.  That’s a real treat!

The apples that are left over, I cook down and freeze for apple pies or apple sauce, which will keep us healthy over the winter.  Enjoy the life cycle of my apple trees through my photos ~

Happy with History and Heritage

In previous blogposts I’ve described my love of water and written about days at the seaside, by rivers, or admiring springs and waterfalls  and lakes that are special to me.  I could be happy near any of them.  Beside water I can relax and be at peace.  I am often inspired to write by the sheer beauty and elemental power of water.  But today I would like to bring canals and docks into the mix.

Being born near the great River Tyne, I have been fascinated from the earliest age by ships, bridges, and the industrial buildings that line the banks around docks, ports and quaysides.  Of course many have now been lost to us through disrepair.  Others have been restored as wonderful museums, like the Gloucester Waterways Museum, or art galleries like the Baltic Mill in Gateshead.  Many have been converted into luxury homes and offices like Butler’s Wharf on the River Thames in London.  But some have just aged gracefully, and stand majestically observing the changing world around them.

One such building, close to where I live, is the old ‘Llanthony Provender Mill’ or ‘Foster Brothers’ Oil and Cake Mill’ on Baker’s Quay.  It faces the Gloucester and Sharpness canal, which is served by Gloucester Docks.

Opening in 1862, the 6 storey warehouse played an important role in the industrial development at the docks in the late 19th century.  In fact it is listed by English Heritage because of its important place in Gloucester’s history.  Originally, the mill crushed linseed and cottonseed, extracting the oil from the seeds and then forming the remainder into seed cakes for cattle feed.  According to the civic society, the business remained in the hands of the Foster family for 4 generations, until 1945, when it was sold to West Midland Farmers as a storage and distribution depot.  In the last two decades much of the area has been bought up by developers and some areas have been dramatically changed by the building of the shopping centre and the College on opposite sides of the canal.  However, so much is unchanged, that the area has become a magnet for film makers who use Baker’s Quay as a film set.

Last year Tim Burton’s film, ‘Through the Looking Glass’, was filmed there.  It starred Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway and Helena Bonham-Carter.  It was an amazing sight with Tall Ships in the misty docks ~ very atmospheric.  Sadly I was not invited to be an extra on this occasion, disappointing as they filmed on my birthday!

The warehouses at the docks are all built of red brick several storeys high.  Inside there are wooden beams and cast iron pillars.  Outside they look very impressive with lots of small windows covered with metal bars.  Many of the warehouses still have faint painted signs showing their original dates, names and uses.  They were mainly for storing grain or salt and had wooden loading bays facing the quay.  Some have very impressive covered areas supported by pillars jutting out to the canal or quayside.

The docks area, the bridges, and the warehouses are utterly fascinating to me.  I have delighted in taking my grandchildren over there by car, bus or train over the years, then going on boat trips down the canal to Sharpness.  Thankfully I have taken lots of photos too as last weekend (3rd October) there was a dreadful fire which partially destroyed this wonderful historic building.   The local people are devastated by the loss of this much loved building, and local photographers and artists have been sharing their thoughts and feelings.

One local artist, Claudia Araceli was drawn to go over to the docks and paint that very building on the day that it was destroyed.  She was there until early evening completing a beautiful painting before leaving at 6.45pm.  The fire caught hold at 9pm and took fire crews all night to extinguish.

The photos at the top of this post show before and after the fire.  One was taken a couple of years ago when I took my grandchildren on a boat trip along the canal.  The other was taken this week after the fire.  Here is Claudia’s stupendous and serendipitous  painting IMG_8623

The gallery below is a general view of the Gloucester Docks area and some of the boats and buildings there.

Rhyme first published in 1844

Doctor Foster went to Gloucester,

In a shower of rain;

He stepped in a puddle,

Right up to his middle,

And never went there again.

Thomas the Tank Engine ~ Boundaries



The word Boundaries conjures up all sorts of ideas in my head.  The obvious are fences, hedgerows and walls round private property or land, to define ownership and maintain privacy.  Then there are those railings around parks and public buildings to regulate or restrict access.  Some boundaries are essential for security such as round airports, government or military buildings.  Then there are the barriers around areas of danger, like deep water, rock falls or steep cliffs.  These would all provide super subjects for this week’s photo challenge.

But, having looked through my photos I selected an emotive photo of my little grandson standing by the boundary fence at a recent steam railway event.  He could easily squeeze through the gap provided by the missing paling, but of course he doesn’t, because, at the age of 2, he already setting himself personal boundaries.

The object of his interest is Thomas the tank Engine, which, although it is incredibly old fashioned, seems to appeal to most children, and especially little boys or children on the autistic spectrum.

The stories of Thomas and his friends were actually published 70 years ago in 1945 under the title of The Three Railway Engines, and Thomas wasn’t even in the first book.    It was about Edward, Henry and Gordon.  Thomas didn’t come in until the end of book two.  If you are really interested in  the history of Thomas I recommend this site, pegnsean

I spend a great deal of time with my grandchildren and I have been through the Thomas phase a couple of times.  Personally, as an adult, I prefer Chuggington with its exciting storylines and more contemporary language.  But I can see the appeal of Thomas for very young children.  The island of Sodor, where Thomas lives and works, is an idyllic setting, safe and stable, where nothing much changes.  Whenever problems arise the little engines sort everything out slowly and surely with hard work and co-operation.  This is reassuring for children making them feel safe and comfortable.

There is something about Thomas as a character too that is deeply comfortable.  It could be the chubby cheeks or the big eyes.  He just looks like the archetypical train engine.

Children when asked to draw a house will draw a rather square box with a chimney, windows and a door, whether they live in a semi or a flat.  I read that a recent survey found when children were asked to draw a train, 95 per cent of them drew a steam train!  This is surprising when trains these days are so different.  Virgin Trains are running a competition at the moment to design a Christmas Train.  I do wonder how many of the entries will feature a steam chimney or funnel!

Sea Fever and Moon Madness

There was not a cloud in the sky on Sunday evening.  As I stood gazing upward the only sound I heard was the plaintive hooting of an owl in the woods opposite my house.  It seemed to me that every star was visible in the blackness, and I was mesmerised as the shadow of the earth started to creep over the moon, gradually changing its shape.  I watched and waited and tried to take photographs but soon abandoned that and just enjoyed the spectacle.  This was the perfect end to a wonderful, and surprising, spontaneous day out.

I often get the urge to be near a river, a lake, a waterfall, or the sea.  Any body of water will do.  I assume this attraction is because I grew up by the River Tyne.  I have the North Sea in my blood.  Although I love the rolling hills, golden fields and honeyed stonework in the ancient villages of the Cotswolds, which is now my home, I do miss the coast.

One of my favourite poems remembered from schooldays is Sea Fever by John Masefield (1878–1967) and it sums up my feelings perfectly:

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;

And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,

And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide

Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;

And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,

And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,

To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;

And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,

And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

This particular Sunday the pull of the sea was stronger than usual so my husband and I set off for our nearest quiet coastline, which is at Burnham on Sea.

 I love this little town so much; the wide sandy beaches, the working boatyard, the Victorian parks, the holiday camps,  the seaside cafes and ice-cream sellers, the long flat promenade, the shortest pier in the country ~ and the Rivers Brue and Parrett that meet the Severn in the estuary that stretches between England and Wales.  When we arrived it was lunchtime and the tide was out, so the beaches were almost deserted.  But there was plenty to do.  Apart from the usual things to see, there were assorted cowboys and cowgirls to be seen.  Luckily for us it was Country and Western weekend in nearby Brean and you simply can not imagine how seriously the fans take this event unless you have seen it.

It is literally like walking through a goldrush town in the wild west of the 1850s.  The men all look like cowboys, prospectors or sheriffs, wearing the regulation jeans, boots, fringed jackets and hats while toting holsters and pistols.  The women are something else!  Many were wearing very beautiful long dresses of the sort well to do wives of the wealthier businessmen or successful prospectors would wear I guess.  They carried parasols and wore shawls.  It was amazing ~ like walking into a Disney set, or being transported back to a totally different place and time.

The afternoon raced by, helped by fish and chips on the shortest pier in the country and a whippy ice cream by the slipway.  The town started to get really busy and there was an air of expectation.  I noticed that there were lots of jet skis down on the beach and a convoy of boats on trailers pulled by tractors heading for the boatyard.  The coastguard was around and there was a lifeboat ready prepared for action.  I was walking my little dog on the sea wall when I noticed the tide was coming in rather quickly.

The River Severn has the second highest tidal range in the world and I am used to seeing very high tides in Spring.  But little did I know that this weekend was expected to be even higher due to a rare set of astronomical events happening together.  Everyone knows that the tides are caused by the gravitational pull of the moon.  And this weekend there was an extremely rare ‘super blood moon’ eclipse.   The tide on the Severn was expected to be about 12 metres and it was coming in fast.

So after taking a few more photos, we reluctantly headed for home determining to set an alarm for 2.30 in the morning to watch the total eclipse of the moon.  I noticed on the way home that the tidal River Avon, which meets the Severn at Avonmouth, was almost up to the top of the banks under the Clifton suspension bridge.  I have never seen it so high.  And the moon seemed much larger than usual.  It looked golden and reddish at sunset, like a huge 3D ball suspended in the sky.

It reminded me of the paintings my pupils used to do to illustrate the C S Lewis story of The Magician’s Nephew.  They used to put a plastic circle on their art paper and paint a colour wash all over the page.  When the circle was removed it left a beautiful full moon that stood out from the background in 3D.  Simple but effective!

My photos aren’t brilliant as I took them with my phone but they do show the changes that occurred during the day due to the tide.

Empuriabrava on the grid

Well September, always my favourite month, has been particularly exciting this year.  I was lucky enough to take a trip to Empuriabrava in Spain with some of my family, to celebrate my daughter’s 40th birthday.  My photos come from there.   Thanks to WPC, I became obsessed with grids and spotted them everywhere in the old town!

Empuriabrava is a wonderful place, especially in Autumn, when the vast majority of foreign tourists have gone home.  It is built around national parks ~ lush and green thanks to the fresh water springs, and there are magnificent views of the Pyrenees in the distance.  The beautiful beaches are deserted except for fearless young windsurfers.  The parks are left to local children and older folk who make good use of the play and exercise equipment freely provided.  The seemingly endless footpaths are given over to dog walkers, runners and cyclists.   While walking along the footpath, I was surprised and delighted by a herd of extremely well-behaved goats following a farmer.  They stopped occasionally to feed or explore the hedgerow, but were easily coaxed onward by the goat at the rear with a bell round his neck.  They seemed happy and even managed what looked like a smile for the camera.   The wide river Muga flows along one side of the footpath on its journey from the Alberes mountains of the eastern Pyrenees to the Mediterranean Sea at the beautifully named Gulf of Roses.  The bamboo, rushes and trees beside it were filled with birds and butterflies while the steps leading up to the path were dotted  with sunbathing lizards.   Nearer the town, the fig trees were filled with the sound of squabbling parakeets.  There seemed to be masses of these bright green birds with grey breasts nesting in every palm tree, which delighted my little grandson.   They are feral monk parakeets apparently and they are quite common.

The new part of Empuriabrava is often referred to as the Venice of Spain.  However, it reminded me strongly of St Petersburg.  There is no Hermitage, and no Palace or fort, but the whole town is criss-crossed by canals, just like St Petersburg.  Many of the luxurious white houses, villas and apartments back onto the canal and have their own moorings.  Sleek boats of all shapes and sizes can be seen everywhere and they can be hired quite cheaply.  It is such a leisurely way to get around.

The old town of Castello d’Empuries is only about 4km from the new town and is connected to it by the footpath that we walked each day.  It is so quaint that if it were possible to remove the occasional car and delivery lorry, it would be easy to imagine yourself back in the Middle Ages.  There are unspoilt historical monuments, including roman baths, and a fascinating Jewish Quarter.  But the most exciting place for me was the restaurant in the Gothic Portal de la Gallarda.   It is sited over the Gallard gate, which was the fortified entrance to the old town.  There is an ancient moat around the wonderfully conserved walls, which extend to the Basilica of Santa Maria.  We had a superb meal there, contrary to negative TripAdvisors’ reviews ~ and lots of lovely Cava!

My trip was the perfect restorative holiday, and it was rounded off at the airport in Girona when the Spanish ‘Red Arrows’, known as the Patrulla Aguila (Eagle Patrol), flew in.  They had been performing a display in Mataro near Barcelona at the Festa al Cel.  The display team is normally based at San Javier in the Murcia region so we were very lucky to see them. This was a week earlier than usual to avoid the regional elections for the government of Catalunya which take place this Sunday.  These elections are hotly contested and there were flags on many of the houses displaying their allegiances.

Below you can see some of my photos.  They are all connected with my trip and some are in monochrome.

Summer surrenders

Fruit falls from burdened branches

September sweeps by

Steam train from every angle

Steam train from every angle

Well it is Bank Holiday Monday in the UK so as usual the weather is atrocious.  The rain is pouring down.  I have a sweater on as it is cool to say the least.  I feel so sorry for all the residents of local North Cotswold villages and towns who had planned fetes, festivals, open gardens and the like.  Their long planned for events will all be a washout.

I had planned to go to Childswickham for the ‘retro’ English Village Fete on the village green.  There was to be a flower festival in the church too.  After this I had planned to go to Dumbleton, which is a quintessential English village.  It has a pretty church, a well-used cricket club and a picturesque 19th century Hall which is now a hotel.  There are magnificent trees around beautiful parkland all set off by pretty little cottages and some rather grand houses.  Later I would have gone along the road to my favourite village of Broadway for good food and live music on the green.

I imagined I would get some good shots with my new digital camera (Panasonic Lumix TZ70) that I could take from every angle for this week’s photo challenge.  But it is not to be.  Instead I will use some shots I took some time ago at Toddington Railway Station.

This wonderful old steam railway takes me back to my childhood when we would take day trips by steam train from the grime of Gateshead to the fresh air and fun of the seaside at Whitley bay or South Shields.   It is beautifully restored, maintained and run by dedicated volunteers of the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway.  The route it takes gives wonderful views of the Cotswolds, and the towns and villages it passes through.

It is so beautiful that it is sometimes used as a film set and that is how I got my shots.  Alex Sibo, who was studying at our local university, wrote, directed and produced a short documentary film about his family history.  It follows the story of his grandfather, Bruno Siba, as he managed to escape WW11 Czechoslovakia.  He had to hide his identity and change his name in order to escape.  I played a minor part in his film, which was great fun.  You can watch a bit of the film here.

Here are my rather atmospheric shots of Toddington railway station early on a damp morning.  There are more recent shots on a previous blog.