Reach for the Sky

 

I have written before about the beauty of the Cotswolds but, I simply have to revel again in the variety of things to do and see here this July.  I have had such an interesting week! 

I went up to the Lavender fields at Snowshill to catch a glimpse of the crop before it is picked for processing.  The fields high up in the Cotswolds are baked dry from the relentless heat this summer, but the  lavender can cope with dry conditions so it looked perfect.  I haven’t seen many poppies this year but there are a few scattered about.

 

 

I was thoroughly spoiled by my daughter who took me to Cowley Manor Hotel for a luxurious Spa followed by a scrumptious afternoon tea.  This 19th century manor house has a fascinating history and has had some interesting residents.   In medieval times the manor belonged to Pershore Abbey.  But following the dissolution of the monasteries, it passed to a Royalist supporter, Henry Brett, who built himself a grand house on the land in 1674.   By the 1850’s the land was owned by a London Stockbroker, who built a huge house in the Italianate style on the site of Brett’s house.  This house had fabulous gardens with cascades and lakes running along the River Churn.  Then, in 1895 the manor was bought by James Horlick, the inventor of Horlick’s Malted Milk.  He made lots of changes to the house and extended it greatly.  He added a ballroom and a huge stable block to house his grand coaches and horses.  He also built many of the cottages in the village and planted thousands of trees.  Today he is remembered at the hotel where the restaurant is named Malt in his honour.

 

In the 20th century Cowley Manor had a very chequered history.  For a time during the second world war it was leased to Cheltenham ladies College, presumably for the safety of the ‘gals’!  At the end of the war it was sold to Gloucestershire County Council as offices and an education centre.  I remember going to conferences there as a young teacher in the 1970’s.   But, in the early 1990s there was a macabre twist to the tale of Cowley Manor, when the children of Fred and Rosemary West were placed there by the council’s child protection officers.  It was there that the children kept mentioning their sister Heather being buried under the patio.  But, it would be a year later before the true extent of the infamous couple’s crimes were uncovered.  There was a brief spell when the Manor was used as a nursing home, but by the start of the new millennium it was being converted into the hotel we enjoy today.

Of course, I have been back to my regular haunt of Cotswold Wildlife Park with my little granddaughter.  We made a special trip to see the 3-day old zebra.  We were amazed to see such a young animal frolicking around beside its parents.

 

 

Lastly, at the weekend, I went to celebrate the centenary of the Royal Air Force at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) in Fairford.  The sheer excitement of this annual event is hard to describe.  There are single aircraft and whole teams from all over the world on display.  But this year seemed extra special.  For a start we are in the middle of a heatwave so the sky was a perfectly blue backdrop to the aerobatics.  There was very little wind so the pilots were able to perform all their spectacular manoeuvres.  And, because it is the centenary year, there were some unique line-ups commemorating planes through the ages, from the Lancaster Bomber, the Spitfire, and the Tornado through to the Typhoon and the new F35.

It is hard to imagine that the RAF was formed just over 10 years after the very  first powered and controlled flight.  The bravery of the pilots and crew of those early planes is impossible to exaggerate.  At Fairford, we saw a military plane of the future ~ the amazing unmanned MQ-9B SkyGuardian.  It took 24 hours to fly the 3760 miles from North Dakota in the USA to Fairford in the UK.  It was entirely remotely piloted.  I can appreciate the technical genius involved, but I do feel deeply uneasy about the ability to cause death and destruction with clinical precision, remotely! 

Apart from that I found the whole event breathtaking.  I love the deafening roar of the F16s, the glamour of the Red Arrows’ Hawk T1 fast jets, the practical beauty of the new Juno and Jupiter helicopters, the dignity and history of the Avro Lancaster 1, Douglas Dakota 111, Hawker Hurricane 11c, and the Supermarine Spitfire.  We owe them our gratitude.  But for sheer entertainment I really enjoyed the Spanish Airforce acrobatic team, Patrulla Aguila.  They were just amazing and all 7 Aviojets landed together in their signature move.  The Italian Frecce Tricolori were just as spectacular.  All I could do was watch and gasp as they mocked gravity and played with the sky.    I am sure that the routines these display crews perform should be impossible but they do them anyway.  And I loved every minute of it.

Of course my photos are pathetic as everything moved so fast, but I will add a small selection to give you a flavour of the day:

 

 

 

 

 

Cotswold Wildlife Park

 

Thea loves taking photos

One of my favourite places in the Cotswolds is the wildlife park at Burford. It is a very special place to me as the birth and development of the zoo and gardens has run parallel to that of my family.

I dread to think how much money I have spent here over the years, on entry fees, snacks in the café, whippy ice creams, train rides, and the dreaded gift shop! But I believe every penny was well spent for the pleasure it has brought to me and my family.  Not only that, but the money funds lots of conservation work here and abroad.

The wildlife park was opened by John Heyworth during the Easter holidays in 1970, which is just after my first child was born. It is set in the grounds of a beautiful house, Bradwell Grove, which was his childhood home.  In 1970 it cost five shillings (25p) for entry in pre-decimal currency.  These days it costs me £10 as I am officially ancient.  However, as I go so often, I buy a season ticket for £50, which means I can go whenever I like.

Normally the park is open every day except Christmas day. But this year the winter has been so atrocious that the park has been closed on several days due to snow or waterlogged grounds.

Originally there were lots of animals to see including wallabies, tapirs, llamas, hornbills and flamingos. Soon a reptile house was developed.   Then, rhinos and zebras arrived in 1972 when my second child was born.  And, the very popular little railway was opened in 1975 when my third child arrived.  That was followed by insects which I have never been very keen on, and butterflies in glass houses.  Following on from the birth of my fourth and final child, leopards, tigers and bats arrived at the park.

By the time my grandchildren arrived there were lions, giraffes, owls, different types of monkeys, wolves, camels, meerkats and adorable penguins. One of the great attractions these days is the petting area where children can play with goats, sheep, donkeys, pigs and rabbits.  There is also a super adventure playground, which, being an over-anxious granny, I try to steer clear of.

Sadly, John Heyworth died some years ago. He must have been a fascinating man with a great love for animals and plants.  Apparently as a child he kept many pets, including rabbits, grass snakes, slow worms and a toad that he found in the garden.  Over the years, as a schoolboy, he added terrapins, tortoises and newts to his menagerie of birds, ducks and slowworms.

This reminds me of my dear friend and roommate at college, Pat, who kept her own menagerie of assorted hamsters, gerbils and guinea pigs in our tiny room.  She also had a tiny Shetland pony who lived nearby and travelled with us everywhere in the back of a mini with the seats removed!  When we moved to a marginally bigger flat after college, she added snakes, which she kept in the bath!

Nowadays I look after my gorgeous 3-year-old granddaughter, Thea, every Tuesday, and we make a beeline for the wildlife park. Thea’s favourite animal is the white rhino.  This year she was thrilled to meet Belle the little baby rhino.  Belle was born with a leg problem which meant she had to be hand reared and fed from birth.  Thea is very family oriented so she loves to see the mummy and daddy animals with their babies.  I have to say there is something very appealing about seeing large wild animals like rhino, giraffe and zebra breast feeding their small offspring.

I believe our wildlife park visits have nurtured a great love and respect for animals in all of my children and grandchildren.  Here are some of our photos taken over the years and as recently as this week.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Layers of Leaves

Layers of Leaves

I can’t resist the photos of my grandchildren, layered in clothes, playing in layers of leaves in the woodland.  Autumn has arrived in the Cotswolds, and it is certainly a magical time of year.

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Layers of leaves lie

Overwhelming the senses

Deep in the forest

 

 

 

Walk this Way

Walk this Way

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Almost the end of the summer here in the UK and Autumn is definitely in the air.  So, I went with the grandchildren to Westonbirt Arboretum.  The arboretum is so popular that the car park was overflowing, but once inside the woodland is so vast that it didn’t seem crowded at all.   The aim of the visit was to go on the Gruffalo trail but we found that a bit disappointing.

However, a new experience for us was the bridge-like structure which takes visitors right up into the canopy of the trees.  The bridge is very cleverly built with angled slats on the sides so that even the smallest children or wheelchair users can see the trees every step of the way.  At intervals, there are viewpoints like ‘crow’s nests’ with information and pictures of the wildlife you can find.  Some of the wildlife was a bit too realistic as there were swarms of bees building hives in some trees!

Up there on the walkway you get a totally different view of, and perspective on the 15,000 trees from all around the world which thrive there.

All around the arboretum there are woodcarvings and buildings created from the trees in the woods.  They are magnificent.  But the grandchildren’s favourite was in the adventure play area.  There was a sea theme with a huge pirate ship, small canoes, sharks and fish, all carved from the wood.   The grandchildren loved it and I can’t wait to go back in Autumn when the trees have turned golden and red.

Wooden Walkway and other structures at Westonbirt

Trees are structures just made for climbing up and over, or jumping off!

The Western Red cedar is a spectacular structure

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And lastly,  a woodcarving