2014 in Review: the first six months

So another year is almost over and it certainly has been a busy one for me.  Living and working in the spectacular Cotswold countryside, a classified area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is a great treat and one of which I never tire.  It’s also nice to go off exploring other places so 2014 found me in other parts of the UK and  Ireland too.  One of the first places I visited, however, was only twenty miles down the road but light years apart in reality!

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typical Cotswold countryside

Like many people that live close to tourist attractions I don’t often visit the ones on my doorstep but last January found me walking the streets of Oxford.  I hadn’t come to explore the colleges but the covered market which dates back more than two hundred years.   The history of the market and the building is fascinating and is well worth making the time to visit – especially if you like a bargain.  To read more about it and to see other photos click here.

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One of the fathers of ecological writing died tragically young and in February I matched quotations from his work to images I had taken (to see them, click here).  My favourite was noticed by the Society that bears his name and reprinted in their journal.  I felt very honoured!

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Wild and rugged scenery is often best appreciated over cake and coffee and at Watersmeet in Exmoor National Park you can do just that.  Two rivers collide spectacularly besides the Victorian fishing lodge that is now owned by the National Trust and run as a café. March found me walking through beautiful scenery as well as indulging myself and the link to this remote but very accessible place is here.

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Dublin, the capital city of Ireland is a favourite place of mine and in April I visited the Casino Marino, one of the most impressive and perfect neo-classical buildings in Europe.  Everything about it was designed to deceive so although you only see one window on each side you actually have – well, click here to find out what plus all the other deceptions the Georgian architect managed to fit in.

Casino Marino

Planting trees is a long term project for they rarely mature during the life of the planter.  Of all the hundreds I have done in my professional life none has given me as much pleasure as this particular one.  I have waited for years for it to flower and in May it did so for the first time.  I felt quite emotional – it was a case of finding a handkerchief.  Take a look by clicking the link here.

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The Cotswolds are world renowned for their ‘chocolate box’ village scenes and Lower Slaughter must be one of the contenders.  Despite its name it is a beautiful and tranquil place to visit for it has everything from crystal clear trout streams to olde-world stone cottages to a mill complete with working water wheel. If you choose the right time to explore you can have the place to yourself.  To learn more click the June link here.

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Casino Marino

Gambling isn’t one of my vices and so when it was suggested that a visit to the Casino at Marino was a ‘must’ when staying in Dublin, I really wasn’t that keen.  Grudgingly I agreed little realising what a treat was to be in store for me.  The Casino was completed in 1775 and just like gambling dens its purpose was to entertain, impress and amuse its guests – but on a very different level.

When James Caulfeild, Ist Earl of Charlemont completed anine year Grand Tour of Italy, Greece, Turkey and Egypt he brought back to Ireland a great hoard of treasures.  He also returned with a loveand deep knowledge of the classics and he used this to create a grand neo-classical building to house them.  Neither a folly nor a house to be lived in (the main dwelling, Marino House, half a mile away and linked by a tunnel, was demolished in the 1920’s) the Casino was built purely to show off his collections.  Caulfeild employed Sir William Chambers as the architect who, busy with Royal clients in London, never visited the site before, during or after completion; most of the work was carried out by the stonemason and sculptor Simon Vierpyl.  Chambers was, however, reputed to be immensely proud of his work and justly so.
Everything about Casino Marino was designed to impress and it still does albeit that the contents of the building have long been lost.  It stands alone and, nowadays, rather out of context for its landscape of far reaching sea views and open countryside are hidden by the city.  It was also built to deceive and it still does this too: what appears to be a square, single storey building is actually one built on a cross over three floors.  The huge oak doors are also a deceit for they open to reveal a small entrance, the remainder hidden from the inside by ornate plasterwork.  The blacked out single windows are neither  of these things for the glass has been bevelled to reflect light making it difficult to see in from outside yet flooding not one but three or more rooms with natural light.  The urns sitting high above the pediments are, in fact, cunningly disguised chimneys.  Four of the solid looking columns are hollow and channel rainwater from the roof.
The building of the Casino (its name derives from the Italian meaning ‘little house’) was all consuming both in effort and money and the building very quickly fell into disrepair, its art sold to settle debt.  By the 1930’s the building was in danger of collapse.  Now carefully restored it is possile to explore its sixteen rooms, some of which are reached by ‘secret’ doors.  Some of the original parquet wooden flooring survives and one small room has a delightful alcove, its wallpaper still looking fresh.  Interestingly, the printing technology of the time prevented continuous rolls being produced and it is possible to see the joints where several large sheets of paper were hung.

 
Casino Marino is open from March to October.  A very knowledgable guide escorts you around the building bringing it back to life with information sprinkled with more than a touch of Irish humour.  It is well worth making a special trip to see this very rare example of neo-classical architecture, considered to be the finest in Ireland and just one of three such buildings in Europe.
 

Links:
How to find the Casino Marino

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Modern Stained Glass at Glasnevin

Plans are afoot to visit Dublin in Ireland once again this Spring. I went last April and the weather was glorious – it is a nice thought anticipating some spring warmth. The highlight then was the day spent at Glasnevin, the city’s botanic gardens.
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Like many events in life, it is often the unexpected that remain at the forefront of the mind and so it was at Glasnevin. The glasshouses and plants were, without saying, spectacular but a complete surprise was a small exhibition of modern stained glass work.
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This first piece of five panels is the work of Mary Mackey, based in County Cork. I love the colours and mix – to me it is a blend found in mountains in the fall (odd how, for an Englishman, ‘mountains in the autumn’, doesn’t sound as expressive or as romantic!). However, much of Mary’s work is inspired by the sea and this particular piece is titled ‘Sea-shushed Secret Places’. Painted and sandblasted, the strong colours used still have a swirling, dream like quality about them. Perhaps it is the light coming through the piece that allows this contradiction. Mary, in her own description of her work, tells of how she sees a flash of landscape: “…. fleeting images in real time, but in my memory the image is sharply focused, connected witha particular place, a particular time…..stored and enriched by treasuring it…..until at least something of that essence is achieved“.
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Debbie Dawson’s tryptich is totally different. Bold, square panels, they convey great strength and depth. Also based in County Cork, Debbie’s work is entitled ‘Like a Door Opening’.
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I also loved the strength of Emma O’Toole’sArchitectural Element’. Made from sheet glass, cast glass and concrete, it was unique at this exibition, with the feel and look of a sculpture. It brought back happy memories of a winter in Canada, years ago, exploring an ice ‘castle’, each battlement carved with its individual decoration of a native animal. Coming from relatively mild England, I had never seen anything like it before – it was a surreal experience. And that is the joy of art, it can transport you to places or events long forgotten or, perhaps, even not yet happened. . . .
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Chinks Grylls ‘Highlight Red‘ is an etched mouth blown glass piece. Four individually hinged panels remind me, depending on my mood – or perhaps how hungry I am – of Saharan sand dunes or rashers of bacon waiting to be cooked…. Chinks Grylls works from south west England, an area which is rapidly becoming a centre for modern glass work.

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I know that when I return to Glasnevin it won’t be the glasshouses that I shall visit first. I will make a beeline for their exhibition hall in the hope that some other equally pleasurable experience awaits me.

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Blogging One Year On….

Greetings from the secret valley! Today is a special day for it is exactly one year since my very first post.
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the secret valley
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When I began blogging, it occurred to me that, as what I was writing would be in the ‘public domain’, that someone might read it. However, deep down, I didn’t think that anyone would. It is a constant surprise that it is read and that the number of viewings is in the thousands rather than just half a dozen or so. Thank you so much.
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Like many of you, I write for my own pleasure but, knowing that the words are read, I do make some effort to write coherently and, hopefully, interestingly – not always, I fear, with success. The secret valley is always a source of inspiration and, sitting at my computer, I look out across the fields to the trees and the little, winding river. The photo below is what I see every day and never forget just how lucky I am.
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view of the secret valley from my desk
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And so, one year on, you have followed me through the seasons:
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in the cold

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and as the weather warms
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You have followed me on my travels:
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Grafton Street, Dublin, Ireland

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Lee Bay, Exmoor

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You have met my family:

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The old nags

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and the very special She-dog

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And you have witnessed my gardening:

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my successes….
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….and my failures
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But best of all, through blogging, I have met interesting people from all over the world, from all walks of life and I am all the richer for it.
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and sometimes I still can’t get the spacing right between paragraphs – is it me or is it Blogger?!

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Sunshine and Laughter

I always feel better when the sun is shining. I have more energy and achieve far more, whether working in the garden or even doing indoor chores. And sitting outside feeling the warmth on bare bits of body (not much on show these days after a bout of skin cancer), preferably with a glass of a good, chilled, white wine, makes me feel that all is right with the world.

And when I was in Grafton Street, the main ‘drag’ in Dublin, Ireland on a glorious spring day, I found that it wasn’t only me revelling in the long awaited heat. The road filled with people all intent on rushing at speed but instead ending up relaxing and enjoying themselves. It was good to see.

Magicians and entertainers did what they said: not only did they entertain but they worked their magic on the crowds and the street came to a standstill. All around people stood and laughed and clapped and cheered. A picture, so the saying goes, is worth a thousand words. These photos speak for themselves.

Musicians played and, quite spontaneously, there was dancing.

And if the heat became too much, continue laughing in Bewley’s cafe…..

…..or just bask in the sun down a side street….


I love these photographs for the warmth that radiates from them – and I don’t mean sunshine. Having just been fortunate enough to hear Archbishop Desmond Tutu speak in Oxford, for me, these are confirmation of his viewpoint that, if you look for it, you will find that the natural goodness in people shines out.

Let’s hope we all have a warm, happy and laughter filled summer.

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Glasnevin: Beyond the Glasshouses

There is a lot more to explore in Dublin’s Botanic Gardens at Glasnevin than just the glasshouses which have been described in an earlier post. As expected, it’s 27 acres boast a wide array of plants and at this time of year the bright colours of the spring bedding and rhododendrons are a welcome sight after the long, grey winter we have all suffered.

Beyond this glare of colour and at the highest point of the garden is the pinetum, where sunlight is filtered through the dark, pendulous branches of this conifer, whose name I have already forgotten.

A multi stemmed Thuya would be an asset in any garden but few could cope with the size of this one. It is surprising when seeing a tree of this stature, to think that when clipped, Thuya make a fine hedge.

But perhaps the most outstanding tree at Glasnevin is the Montezuma Pine. Originating from Mexico (hence it’s name), it stands at the very brow of the hill, shining in the sunshine like a beacon. Seen close to, the irridescent, radiating needles give the branches the appearance of chimney sweeps brushes.


Never very far away from the magnificence of the ironwork glasshouses (upper photograph), it was a surprise to find this abandoned range of timber glasshouses (lower photograph). Awaiting funding for restoration, the faded, peeling paintwork and decaying architecture had a quiet dignity of its own. I loved it.



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Glasnevin: Dublin’s Botanic Garden

No horticulturist or lover of gardens and plants should miss visiting the botanic gardens at Glasnevin, situated not far from the heart of the city of Dublin, southern Ireland. The 27 acre garden is also a quiet, green refuge for those just seeking beauty and peace away from the bustle of city life.


One of its greatest attractions has to be the magnificent ironwork of the glasshouses. The Palm House, built in 1884, dominates the garden yet it is the Curvilinear Range that was pioneering in its structure having been built almost 40 years earlier in 1848.




The smallest insectivorous plants to the mighty palms themselves find a home within these buildings. A walk through the houses is one of contrast, not just in leaf texture and flower colour, but also in temperature and humidity.


insect catching sundews

an insectivorous pitcher plant

Perhaps one of the finest flowering plants was this pale pink Protea, so typical of its type, although I was rather taken by this relatively tiny, deep pink version too, with which I was quite unfamiliar.




The Jade Vine, Strongylodon macrobotrys, was another plant that was totally unknown to me. It’s luminous, turquoise, metre long pendants of flowers looked quite eerie hanging high in the canopy – if it had not been for the fallen petals glowing on the floor they would have gone unnoticed. The plant, which naturally grows in the forests of the Phillipines, rarely sets seed when grown in these conditions as it has to be physically damaged by a large pollinator (what, I don’t know).



The sunniest day of the year so far ensured that light falling onto the plants revealed them at their finest, especially when the leaves were backlit – every photographer’s dream!


The gardens, themselves are deserving of attention and exploration and these will be featured shortly.

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