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.


Layers of leaves lie

Overwhelming the senses

Deep in the forest




Walk this Way

Walk this Way


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


And lastly,  a woodcarving

“O this learning, what a thing it is!”

In honour of Shakespeare I found appropriate quotes for my grandchildren.  They are my treasures, full of life, fun, personality and potential.  But what are their prospects?

Thankfully, they are too young for school yet.  They are busy enjoying whatever experiences their family can offer.  They are soaking up knowledge, developing skills, growing in understanding, and learning a rich vocabulary, as they play.  They don’t have a target in sight except to have as much fun as they can with people they love and trust.

“O this learning, what a thing it is!”

With all the furore in UK over proposals to turn all schools into academies over the next few years, I do worry for their future.

I am so concerned that I wrote to my MP and we continue to have a very rational debate about the issue.  But it is always on my mind.  That and the educational methods employed these days.

While wallowing in the peace of Kew gardens, I observed the various stages of development of the different trees and wished that one day we could have a Minister for Education who truly understands child development.

As the bard said~

“No profit grows where no pleasure is taken In brief, sir, study what you most affect”

But sadly we often seem to be saddled with pompous people who, as in the present case, have never studied either education or child development.  And, as the bard knew~

“A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool”

As Shakespeare knew, it is so much easier to tell teachers what to do, than to train, gain experience, develop your skills, complete further study and work night and day for the good of your pupils~

It is a good divine that follows his own instructions I can easier teach twenty what were good to be done, than be one of the twenty to follow mine own teaching.”

I believe that each and every person, of whatever age and ability, has the right to an education which equips them with the knowledge, skills and understanding they need, to discover and learn from the past, to experience, explore and enjoy the present fully, and to enrich the future.

For this they need stimulating experiences and active learning to trigger their interest;. They need a variety of ways to express themselves (poetry, art, music, drama). And they need enthusiastic, knowledgeable facilitators/teachers/mentors/carers to work alongside them, enabling their learning.

They do not need arbitrary targets to aim for, endless tick sheets and multiple choice questions to answer, and pointless tests at the end of every learning opportunity.  Having watched my older grandchildren doing homework I can say that these methods kill any potential excitement in learning and discovering.

What was, What is, and What will be!  3 Trees on the same day, all beautiful, all allowed to develop at their own pace.  Would that children were!  Shakespeare knew it, even Solomon knew it!  Pete Seeger, the influential folk singer and activist of the 60s paraphrased Solomon’s words from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 in his song released by the Byrds in 1965 ~ Turn, Turn, Turn.  You can hear the song by clicking on ‘when they are ready’ at the end of this post!

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven”


I believe children need to learn about the past, enjoy the present, and enrich the future and they will ~ given the opportunities ~ when they are ready!

Trees Haiku

A Handkerchief tree at Minterne Gardens in Dorset

I am fascinated by trees, not only for their beauty, but for the stories they could tell.  Some trees have lived through amazing times and been part of the lives of such interesting people.  If only they could talk!

This week I went to the city with a couple of friends. We visited two wonderful museums and wandered along the streets of London where the trees are at their glorious Autumn best.  We strolled along the Embankment beside the River Thames and marvelled at the changing skyline.  I was struck by the juxtaposition of old buildings and new, especially the magnificent Shard which is so close to the old St Thomas’s.  It is a breathtaking sight and a brilliant feat of engineering.  Yet even in front of this awesome glass building my eyes were drawn to a row of trees nearby.

Consumed by the clouds

Engineered to perfection

A giant in glass

The Shard with trees in the foreground

The enormous Shard disappearing into the clouds

Sheer face of the Shard

Glass monument to mammon

Shatters the skyline

View of the Shard from St Thomas’s

One amazing tree I have seen is an ancient olive tree at the site of St Francis of Assissi’s remote hermitage, the Eremo delle Carceri on Mount Subasio.   Olive trees are the longest living trees.  Indeed in good conditions some live to a thousand years old.  This tree is one of them.  It is protected and propped up by poles.  I find it breathtaking to think that St Francis actually touched this tree, walked by the stream and slept in the cave, all of which can still be seen.  I found it very moving when I visited in 2000 and I have to admit to picking some leaves from the tree.  I have pressed them and kept them in my travel journal from Rome and Assissi.  St Francis lived a simple life and slept in the cave on a bed of stone and a pillow of wood.  Some of his followers lived there as hermits too in prayer and meditation.  The warren of caves still exists in a clearing with a stream and lots of trees.

The ancient Olive Tree that St Francis would have seen

Birds stopped to listen

As the humble hermit preached

At one with the trees.

Leaves from the Olive Tree on Mount Subasio

An early picture of St Francis of Assissi

St Francis’s cell in the cave at Mount Subasio

Olive Trees in Italy

Another tree that inspires me is the Mulberry tree which was in the garden of St Thomas More’s home when he was Lord Chancellor in the time of King Henry V111.  Sir Thomas More, as he was then, bought some land in Chelsea and Kensington in 1524 in order to build his Great House.  Sadly his house is long gone, but the Mulberry tree he planted is still there.  On the site today is Allen Hall, the Seminary of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Westminster.  Visitors can visit the seminary by appointment and walk to the secluded walled garden where Thomas More’s Mulberry Tree still stands.  Outside and nearby is a beautiful statue of St Thomas More in a garden facing the river Thames.  In the grounds of Tewkesbury Abbey near where I live there is a Mulberry tree grown from a seed from St Thomas More’s tree.  I often visit this tree and sometimes pick the delicious fruit.

Mulberry Tree at Tewkesbury Abbey

Tewkesbury Abbey and Trees

Portrait of St Thomas More

He planted his tree

And dreamed of Utopia

In turbulent times

The Yew trees in the beautiful village of Painswick in the Cotswolds are also very interesting.  There are 99 of them in the grounds of St Mary’s Church and many of them are hundreds of years old.   They lived through the English Civil War (1642-1645).  There is evidence of Royalist cannonballs high up on the walls of the church to this day.  At times people have tried to establish more Yew Trees in the churchyard but a hundredth will never grow.  It seems as if 99 is the maximum for some reason.  There is an old story that if a hundredth tree ever grows, the devil would pull it out.  It is one of our old Cotswold mysteries!

Last but by no means least, is a historic small-leaved Lime tree at Westonbirt which is unbelievably ancient.  It is reputedly 2000 years old!  It is so big that it seems as if it is many trees.  However, it is actually a clump of around 60 trees all growing from one original.  This was the result of coppicing which was a way of managing woodland for fuel established in Anglo-Saxon times.  Over hundreds of years of repeated cutting, the stump gradually spreads outwards in a ring until it reaches enormous proportions.  My photo does not do it justice!

Ancient Lime tree at Westonbirt