The Long and Winding Road

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I chose this title from the song by the Beatles because I do find myself very drawn to taking meandering pathways through the countryside these days.  Paul McCartney sounds incredibly melancholy, as he sings it, and I know there was a lot of sadness in his life when he wrote it.

The long and winding road is a great metaphor for life actually.  In fact, I am reading a memoir with this title by Alan Johnson, who was a member of Parliament in the UK.  He wrote in his first book, The Boy, about his harrowing childhood but in The Long and Winding Road he writes about his meteoric rise in the labour party to become Home Secretary in 2009.  With his ‘upbringing’, it is astonishing that he enjoyed such success in politics, which nowadays seems to be dominated by Old Etonians.   Like most people, the road through my life has been been very varied.  There have been some very rocky bits where I stumbled and fell with a bump.  There have been icy cold patches when I felt abandoned and alone.  There have been muddy bits where I got bogged down in troubles and cares.  There have been dark stretches where I was afraid.  There have been forks in the road where I sometimes made what turned out to be the wrong choice.  And, just once, the road was blocked altogether and I was unable to carry on.  But mostly, the road has just been long and gently winding, so even though I couldn’t see where I was going, I knew I had to keep moving forward.

These days I look on long and winding roads purely for pleasure.

I dream of walking along a coast road, like those in Cornwall or Dorset, with the sun on my back.  Or rambling through the villages and farmland along the Cotswold Way when the rapeseed is in its golden glory.  But a jaunt through parkland and woods with my dog and the grandchildren will do just as well.  In fact, now that I’m retired and my children are happy, independent adults, I don’t mind where the long and winding road takes me.

The photo is of my daughter with her dog walking through the woods near her home in California.   I expect, like all of us, she is just a face in the crowd to passers by when she strays from her corner of the world.  But of course, to me, it matters not where she is; we will always be connected by our great loves ~ of dogs, of being in nature ~ and of each other.

Enjoy some long and winding road photos.

 

 

 

 

 

Hot Chocolate

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It was half term in the UK this week so I’ve been on grandparent duty.  This truly is one of the best things about reaching retirement.  I get to spend time with the children, doing what I want, and behaving as if I were a child again myself.  And this includes drinking hot chocolate covered in cream and marshmallows.  It was very sweet and utterly delicious!

Mainly what I want to do these days is walk by the sea, but sadly that is not an option when you live in the Cotswolds.  So, the next best thing is to wander among the fields and streams, or the woods and hills, near my home.  I am convinced that there has never been invented a toy or electronic gadget that can rival the outdoors for entertainment value.  Of course, it helps if the weather is good, but even in a cold, wet February, there is fun to be had indoors and out.

I feel quite sorry for parents these days as their lives are ridiculously busy and they don’t often have the chance to just be with their children.  I expect it was ever thus, but happily I choose to forget the hard times I had, and just remember the fun my children had.

As W H Davies pointed out in his wonderful poem

What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare? –

No time to stand beneath the boughs,

And stare as long as sheep and cows:

No time to see, when woods we pass,

Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:

No time to see, in broad daylight,

Streams full of stars, like skies at night:

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,

And watch her feet, how they can dance:

No time to wait til her mouth can

Enrich that smile her eyes began?

A poor life this if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

So here are more pictures from my fun week with children for you to enjoy.

 

 

 

 

These are the days of our lives

 

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I went to the funeral of a dear man this week who was my next-door neighbour for many years, and, as these occasions are wont to do, it made me rethink the value and purpose of our lives and what we leave behind.

Listening to the heartfelt words of his children and grandchildren I was reminded of the saying, “people may not remember what you did or said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”

Not one of them mentioned a gift he had bought them or how much pocket money they had received if any.  They didn’t mention his house or his décor, his car or his clothes.  They didn’t mention his looks or his job.  What they all mentioned was that he was kind; always there for them, would do anything for them, and that they had fun with him.

He was an ‘ordinary’ man, one of 9 children in the 1940s, when large families were more common.  He was a happy rascal as a little boy, playing truant from school to hunt for rabbits in the countryside.  He met his wife to be when he was 15 and she was 14.  They married at 19 and have been happy together ever since.

He grew up at a time when it was possible to get a job for life in a large, local company.  He worked hard, enjoyed the job, was on friendly terms with all his fellow workers, and stayed there for 40 years.

Apart from his family, the love of his life was his garden.  We always used to look after and water each other’s gardens whenever either of us was away.   His garden was a delight but his passion was such that he eventually took on 2 allotments as well.  There he grew all the fruit and vegetables you can imagine, for eating, and to brew his home-made beer, wine and cordial.

Gardening was so important to him that this lovely poem was recited at his funeral.

The Glory of the Garden by Rudyard Kipling

Our England is a garden that is full of stately views,
Of borders, beds and shrubberies and lawns and avenues,
With statues on the terraces and peacocks strutting by;
But the Glory of the Garden lies in more than meets the eye.

For where the old thick laurels grow, along the thin red wall,
You will find the tool- and potting-sheds which are the heart of all ;
The cold-frames and the hot-houses, the dungpits and the tanks:
The rollers, carts and drain-pipes, with the barrows and the planks.

And there you’ll see the gardeners, the men and ‘prentice boys
Told off to do as they are bid and do it without noise;
For, except when seeds are planted and we shout to scare the birds,
The Glory of the Garden it abideth not in words.

And some can pot begonias and some can bud a rose,
And some are hardly fit to trust with anything that grows;
But they can roll and trim the lawns and sift the sand and loam,
For the Glory of the Garden occupieth all who come.

Our England is a garden, and such gardens are not made
By singing: – “Oh, how beautiful!” and sitting in the shade,
While better men than we go out and start their working lives
At grubbing weeds from gravel-paths with broken dinner-knives

There’s not a pair of legs so thin, there’s not a head so thick,
There’s not a hand so weak and white, nor yet a heart so sick.
But it can find some needful job that’s crying to be done,
For the Glory of the Garden glorifieth every one.

Then seek your job with thankfulness and work till further orders,
If it’s only netting strawberries or killing slugs on borders;
And when your back stops aching and your hands begin to harden,
You will find yourself a partner in the Glory of the Garden.

Oh, Adam was a gardener, and God who made him sees
That half a proper gardener’s work is done upon his knees,
So when your work is finished, you can wash your hand and pray
For the Glory of the Garden, that it may not pass away!
And the Glory of the Garden it shall never pass away!

And it reaffirmed in me the knowledge that wealth, position and possessions, ultimately mean nothing to the people who truly love you.  They remember your smile, your kindness, and how you made them feel.

Although the funeral made me sad and thoughtful, this poem comforted me.  For, like the glory of the garden, this dear man’s goodness will live on, in his widow, his children and grandchildren.  His life had inestimable value to them and to all who knew him.

In memory of my neighbour I will give you a photographic guided tour of the Rococo Gardens in Painswick which at the moment is aglow with snowdrops and hellebores.

 

 

 

A City in a Forest

Souls entwined at the Peace Pagoda

This weekend I visited relatives who live in Willen, very close to the North Lake.  Willen is one of the dozen or so ancient villages that were absorbed when the new town of Milton Keynes was built 50 years ago.  I remember driving through the area with my father when the town was being built.  I was fascinated by the ‘grid system’ of the roads, horrified by the number of roundabouts and underpasses, and amazed by the number of tree-lined cycle paths.  Driving through the city again this weekend, I was amused by the street names, delighted by the beauty of the trees and parks, and relieved to see that some of the old villages have still retained their individual identity and historic buildings.

My dream house

There are two lakes in Willen, North and South and both are beautiful in very different ways.   South Lake, and the park it is set in, is a hive of activity.  On the lake there are facilities for water sports like canoeing, sailing, windsurfing, and paddle sports, as well as an area for fishing.  In the park there are areas for golfing, cycling, football, table tennis, aerial adventures, jogging and gymnastics; as well as a wonderful children’s adventure playground.

In total contrast, North Lake is set in the most serene park I have ever visited.  It is a designated and protected wildlife and nature reserve and there are waders and waterfowl galore.  There is also a Peace Pagoda, the first ever built in Western Europe.   It was built by monks and nuns of the Nipponzan Myoholi as a symbol of world peace and is meant to promote unity among all the peoples of the world regardless of race, creed, or border.   It opened in September 1980.   In front of the pagoda stand two creatures from Japanese legend.   Shishi, the paired lion-dogs are said to have magical powers that repel evil.

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Near the pagoda is the Buddhist Temple as well as Japanese and Zen gardens.   There is such an air of serenity around the pagoda and the Temple.  It draws me to it.

Near the temple is a medicine wheel of stones, which looks a bit like the ancient stone circle at Avebury.   It is said that a ley line passes through this area and close by is a single ‘needle’ stone that catches the rising midsummer sun.  There certainly are a lot of mystical and spiritual influences in the area of Willen and Milton Keynes.  If you are interested you can read more at this link.

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There is so much to see on and around the lake.  I was very impressed by all the artwork.  There is a fascinating Labyrinth and a beautiful pure white memorial statue named ‘Souls in Love’.  The sight of this statue aligned with a pure white swan and the white peace pagoda gleaming in the setting sun was totally stunning.  Of course my photos, taken with my phone, don’t do it justice; but I hope you enjoy them anyway.

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While I was at the lakeside I saw waders and waterfowl galore, as well as the most spectacular murmuration of starlings as dusk fell.  A group of ‘twitchers’ with very impressive cameras was gathered at the edge of the lake to watch the amazing aerial display.  There must have been thousands of birds flying so close together that they seem to move as one.  I watched them swoop and soar as they selected just the right spot to roost for the night.  As they got closer and the sky got darker, the sound of their wings was deafening, then silence fell as they all settled.  The whole spectacle was breathtaking, a beautiful ballet.  Do watch this video if you have never witnessed a murmuration or check out these fabulous photos from the Guardian.

All in all a very enjoyable weekend.

Transformation

It is truly amazing what a transformation takes place when a mural is added to a boring wall.

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On the rare occasions when I travel, I put my little dog, Toffee, into kennels.  The facilities for the dogs are great and no expense was spared when they were built.  The owner of the kennel used to be a RSPCA inspector so his standards were always high.  The kennels were sited near our small local airport.   As the airport got busier and the planes got bigger, it became necessary to extend the runway.  As the kennels were right in the way the owner was made a very generous offer to move.

This was a once in a lifetime opportunity for him to build a state of the art facility.  He travelled the country researching the best kennels and what they offered.  he then had his new kennels built to the highest standards.  Each kennel has its own  little exercise area.  There is underfloor heating.  The walls and floors are finished in hospital quality anti bacterial finishes that can be easily washed down.  There are open fields behind with country walks, and enclosed exercise areas for play.  There is even an agility course and grooming salon!

Altogether, this makes for a beautiful environment for the lucky pets who spend any time there.  The staff are also first rate.  They treat every visiting dog as if it were their own and give lots of love, care and attention as well as exercise.

However, the outside walls, which faced the carpark, were a bit boring to say the least.  But on a recent visit, I was delighted to see murals by a local artist had been painted on the outside walls.

One was based on the film 101 Dalmations.  The other reminds me of the stage musical, Cats.

BJ Kennels

I absolutely love them.  I took my puppy-loving granddaughter along to see them and she loved them too.  They have even continued the theme along the fences with puppies here and there.  It is adorable.  Enjoy my photos of this very special place.

 

 

Remembrance Sunday

Back of hotel

Following last week’s exciting trip to Spain, I had a marvellously luxurious weekend at the local Tewkesbury Park Hotel to celebrate a family birthday.  All of this travel and excitement is experimental for me as I have been a bit housebound over the last few years for various reasons.

While some of our group played golf and some had spa treatments or relaxed, I went for a stroll around the grounds with my camera.  Being set high on a hill there are amazing views, towards the Malvern Hills, Brecon Beacons, River Severn and Tewkesbury itself.

There is so much to see in Tewkesbury with its medieval buildings and alleys, and two powerful rivers, the Severn and the Avon, that meet there.  There is always lots of activity around the river, whether it be pleasure-boating or fishing.  Occasionally of course the rivers flood the town, but the locals are so used to it that they are very well prepared and cope brilliantly.

At the heart of the town is Tewkesbury Abbey.  There is so much history surrounding this abbey that it is worth visiting over and over again.  I used to take school groups there when I was teaching, or foreign visitors when I was involved in Global Footsteps.

There is also a fascinating history in the hotel site too.  I am one of those people who has to find out as much as I can about everywhere I go, so I started to delve.  I was thrilled to discover that recorded history goes back to when the park was enclosed between 1185 and 1187.  The park covered 200 acres then and was stocked with deer.  By the late 14th century there was a large medieval timber and stone manor house on the site, which was called Tewkesbury Lodge.  By 1540 records taken after the dissolution of the Monasteries showed that the deer park covered 80 acres with the rest being agricultural.  There are no records of deer at the park after that.

The original manor house was at times owned by the crown or by the abbey as well as private individuals including the Clare family who used it as a hunting lodge.

kneeling knight

But, one of the most fascinating owners for me was Edward, Baron Le Despenser, who died in his 30’s in 1375.  He has a beautiful monument known as ‘The Kneeling Knight’, in Tewkesbury Abbey, which I have often admired.  It seems unusual for a knight to be depicted kneeling above a chapel.

At some point the medieval house was demolished, and the present building was built in the 18th century by the Wall family.   The last private owner was Violet Sargeaunt who lived there from 1933 until her death in 1973.  Finally, a superb golf course was developed, which opened in 1976 and the hotel prospered alongside it.

I walked down to the heart-wrenching field that lies at the foot of the hotel’s driveway.  It is called Bloody Meadow and it recalls The Battle of Tewkesbury which brought to an end the Wars of the Roses between the house of York (white rose symbol) and the house of Lancaster (red rose symbol).  The Yorkist King Edward 1V was victorious, while Edward, Prince of Wales, son of Henry V1 and last Lancastrian heir to the throne, was killed, aged just 17.  His burial place lies in Tewkesbury Abbey with a Latin inscription which translates as,

“Here lies Edward, Prince of Wales, cruelly slain whilst but a youth, Anno Domine 1471, May fourth. Alas the savagery of men. Thou art the soul light of thy Mother, and the last hope of thy race.”

Grave of Edward, the Lancastrian Prince of Wales

Also in Tewkesbury Abbey high up on the ceiling there is a spectacular carving which shows the badge of Edward 1V, the ‘sunne in splendour’.   It is admirable on the one hand that both winner and loser are remembered in the Abbey, but I find it rather gloating that the massive ‘sunne in splendour’ dominates the roofspace and ‘lords it’ forever over the poor defeated young prince.

medieval sunne in splendour

At the entrance to the ‘Bloody Meadow’, a commemorative plaque on the fence reads,

The field has been called the bloody meadow for more than 500 years, and tradition says that it is the meadow where so many were taken and slain.  This is possibly where Edward, Prince of Wales, met his death.  Other Lancastrians killed in the field almost certainly in the rout, include the Earl of Devonshire, The Marquis of Dorset and Sir William Rous.

The field is long and constricted, a death trap for men who are edging backwards whilst trying to avoid lethal blows.  How many fell is not recorded. Only important people were named.  Those who escaped the Bloody Meadow were faced with crossing the Mill Avon, and many drowned.

I took photos here but felt incredibly sad for the common soldiers who were buried in this meadow in anonymous pits while the nobles were interred in the Abbey and its graveyard.

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When I left the hotel, I stopped at the roundabout on the outskirts of Tewkesbury to marvel at the commemorative sculptures officially called the Arrivall.  I like to call them Victor and Vanquished.  This is a high vantage point from where the army of King Edward 1V could have seen the Duke of Somerset leading King Henry V1’s ill-fated army.

I have written about this sculpture before but on this day, being Remembrance Sunday, it was embellished with a ‘Lest we forget flag’, which somehow just reinforced the ongoing inevitability, futility, and tragedy of war for me.

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Victor represents the Yorkist army under Edward IV and is located on the roundabout itself. This part of the sculpture shows a horse and rider, the rider has a traditional lance with a pennant on top.

Vanquished, that represents the defeated Lancastrian army. This army was led by the Duke of Somerset, supporting Henry VI. Vanquished is a riderless horse, with its head bowed and a lance leaning on its back.

Here is a link for anyone seriously interested in the history of this fascinating area.

Take a peek at my week

Blue Skies over Madrid

My photos will give you a peek into the variety of exciting places I’ve been to recently.  It has been a most unusual time.

Over the course of 7 days I got in or on 2 planes, 4 underground trains, 4 taxis and countless lifts.  Anyone who knows me well or has read my post about my attempted trip to the USA, will know that I find travelling challenging to say the least!

I used to travel all over the world for work, twinning, conferences, pilgrimages, or just pleasure and you can read some of my travel blogs on these links Russia, USA , Lourdes, Kenya , Poland.

But, this time I was heading to Spain for my grandson’s christening.  And, with a trusted friend for company, I made it.

We breakfasted in London, spent 3 nights in a gorgeous apartment in the beautiful town of Tres Cantos, attended the Christening in the ancient town of Manzanares el Real, and celebrated with a wonderful family lunch in Madrid.

We managed to do a bit of sight-seeing in each of these very different places, then returned to London and reality.

Tres Cantos is a beautiful ‘new town’, which has been really well planned.  The wonderful weather and seemingly perpetual blue sky helps of course.  But everywhere was spotless with parks, fountains, and lots of pedestrianised areas.   It has the advantage of being close enough to Madrid for commuting too.

Central Madrid, or the small area that we saw, is exquisite.  The impressive white buildings gleam in the sunshine and the roads seemed incredibly wide.  Here too we found beautiful tree-lined pavements with water features, fountains and statues.  Since we were in the city, coincidentally, during the demonstrations in support of a unified Spain, there were Spanish flags flying from many buildings.  We were told that one of the flags is the biggest in the world!

We were very impressed to see a huge banner across the front of the Palacio de Communicaciones, which has got to be the most impressive ‘Post Office’ in the world.  The banner reads, “Refugees Welcome”.

A little further on and we saw the National Museum of Prado.  For almost 200 years this world-famous art gallery has given visitors the opportunity to see the best of the best in painting and sculpture.  I would love to go back to spend whole days in there.

So, we relaxed in Tres Cantos, were blown away by the culture of the city of Madrid and its people; but what of Manzanares el Real?  Well, 20 plus years ago I visited Yellowstone National Park in America and literally could not believe my eyes.  The geology of that place seemed totally other-worldly with its extraordinary geysers, hot springs, mudpots, steam vents, and bubbling rivers.   The wildlife too was totally alien to me.  I saw bears, bison, moose, elk, antelope, marmots, chipmunks, and even a mountain lion!  So I didn’t expect this relatively small and ancient town to surprise me as much as it did.  It is truly unusual and spectacularly scenic.  I believe the name means ‘Royal Apple Orchard’, and it gives its name to the River Manzanares which flows from the Sierra de Guadarrama, on through Madrid.  The ‘royal’ bit comes from the fabulous restored castle which we visited.

The town is set at the foot of a spectacular mountain range called La Pedriza.  The whole area is dotted with huge granite boulders which are unusually rounded and smoothed.  They are everywhere to the extent that the houses in the area that I visited are just plonked on, in, or around the boulders.  This makes for very unusual gardens, and brings a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘man-cave’, as there really are caves in some of the gardens!  The whole area is a dream for rock climbers and nature lovers.  There are also spectacular views of the huge Santillana reservoir, which attracts large colonies of water birds as well as birds of prey.  Higher up among the boulders; I was informed by my son who runs there daily with his dogs; there are red deer, wild cats, wild boar and wolves.

And he wonders why I worry!

Photos from Madrid

Photos from Manzanares el Real