Two Updates……..

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First Update – Ancestors!
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Regular readers of this blog may recall my post about discovering not only my great (and also great-great) grandparents graves but also finding that the church that they had been instrumental in building still there and thriving. Great-great grandpa Wright had also been Deacon at one time.
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To recap, I did not have time to visit the interior of the church and vowed to return. How pleased I was that I did. Members of the congregation were so friendly and welcoming and interested in my connection. It was Harvest Festival, always a joyful time and the service was delightful. How surreal it was to sit there – in a church interior that, miraculously, had remained virtually unaltered since the day it was built in the mid 1800’s, worshipping in the place of my ancestors. Their presence felt very strong and I think they would have approved that I, not a very religious man (although I like to think quite a spiritual and good one) and now the ‘elder’ of the family, had returned. I was so pleased that my first steps inside the building had been to join others in prayer.

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Since then, I have returned once again, this time with a friend, to hear an organ recital. It was a joy to see the church filled with so many people. As a cousin, who works with the poor in Afghanistan, said “God is holding you in the palm of His hand, you never know when He will release you”. By coincidence – or perhaps not – the opening hymn was ‘To God Be The Glory’, a hymn sung a few weeks earlier at the last of my aunt’s funeral. A deeply religious woman, her greatest wish was that I might have the same depth of faith as she. How heartly I sang although I doubt if my aunt would consider me yet saved!
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On my last visit, I also found the house where my grandmother had been raised. Overlooking the River Thames, our great river that runs, 30 miles downstream, through London it was just a few yards from the paper mill that my ancestors owned before the Second World War. All was sold long before I was born – a pity, it would be amazing to live there now!
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Second Update: She-Dog!
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After delays for one reason and another, the precious She-Dog may be in pup. She has met a handsome lurcher of similar colouring – not the original choice but just as dashing – and spent a few days away on extended honeymoon. Fingers crossed, I may finally become a father. Watch this space!
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Snowdonia: Through The Enchanted Forest

The tiny road that passes the converted chapel that we have been staying in once again for a late holiday continues to climb further into the mountains. The grassy areas, cropped short by sheep, give way to bracken, heather and stunted gorse, also shortened by the harsh climate. And an hours walk along this road – now little more than a stone track – brings you to the Enchanted Forest. At first, it is barely noticed: a tongue of dark green that appears to be sliding down the mountain as if desperate to reach the richer soil of the valley below.
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But suddenly, as you walk round a bend in the path, there it is in front of you. The trees look inviting; beckoning you to shelter from the cold north-easterly wind that cuts through to your bones. Yet, as you approach, the gate barring your way makes you hesitate, for the first

view into the depths of the forest is a menacing combination of dark and light. All those childhood images from the Brothers Grimm come to mind for there are the conflicting emotions: is this a sinister or a kind place to be and where will the path lead?
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Walking further into the forest, it proves to be a fascinating place, with sight after sight more enchanting than the previous one. The damp mists and rain have turned the ground into a mossy wonderland with great mounds of it creating a weird, almost surrealistic, landscape. Surely, Goblins or Hobbitts live here? They do, for every so often the moss builds up to make a hooded entrance and some even have – if you look carefully enough (like in the photo below) – a wrinkly face staring out at you.
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It is just not the light and the shadows that play tricks with you, for nothing is quite as you expect it to be. Some of the conifers branches grow upright instead of horizontally so that their silvery underside is facing you, disorienting your vision.
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Even the toadstools are rarely toadstool shaped – here these look like pieces of discarded orange peel rotting in the leaf litter.
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It is not especially surprising that ice forms on the puddles at this altitude and time of year but even this is different. They have the appearance of stained glass windows, but strangely drained of all their colour…..
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And just as suddenly as you entered it, the forest gives way again to mountain. But what a mountain! It is as if it has been dropped from a great height and smashed to millions of pieces, some just lying around and others piled up one on top of the other, regardless of size or shape. And why, several hundred years ago, did they build the dry stone walls that travel up and over them for mile after mile?
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The sun had been shining brightly when we had stepped into the trees. Now, in an instant, the weather has turned and we are being threatened by snow flurries. She-dog, our lurcher, who recognises these problems better than we do, had been wandering on far ahead. Now, knowing that danger could be approaching, she hurtles down the track back towards us, agitated, beckoning us to return home.
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How glad we were we heeded She-dog’s warning! By the time we were within sight of home the landscape was changing to white. And the snow continued to fall for days…..
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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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Mad Dogs and Englishman…

…go out in the midday sun, according to the song sung by Noel Coward. But I don’t think it was the noon heat that made She-Dog behave more like a deranged She-Devil, I think it was an extremely herb scented and squelchy bog that got her all worked up. Although she does certainly looks completely mad in this photo!

I had gone to investigate the wetland that is below the fields where we keep the horses. The horses have access to this area too and, like She-Dog, become totally hyper when they have been grazing it. It is necessary to keep your wits, as well as your nerve, when Henry, Barney and Rambo come galloping and bucking and rearing their way up to you after they have spent time in there. The overwhelming scent is of water mint but meadowsweet is also very dominant – perhaps it is one of these that gives them all this burst of energy. If so, I should try eating some too.
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The purpose of the visit was to photograph dragonflies but, needless to say, thanks to She-Dog, it proved virtually impossible. She turned what is usually a peaceful, rarely visited by humans, wildlife haven into a race track. However, I did manage to get this photo of the Common Blue Damselfly, Enallagma cyathigerum. It is found near water everywhere. In fact, it is one of those few species in the animal kingdom that is found virtually throughout the northern hemisphere.

A lurcher and part whippet, She-Dog can run pretty fast but I have never seen her move so rapidly and for as long as this day. Back and forth, round and round – even when we came to the river she couldn’t stop galloping through it. It reminded me of when we had deep snow, the first she had ever seen, earlier this year.
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A fallen tree brough about another burst of energy, just when I thought she had settled down. Ignoring her as she investigated the bridge that it had created, I was surprised and somewhat alarmed to discover her seven foot up in the canopy. Before she could be rescued she took a flying leap to the ground below, landing in a heap, before accelerating into the distance.

She-Dog’s madness meant that very little in the way of wildlife was seen. I had to content myself with being in peaceful surroundings on a warm summer’s day, listening to the brown trout rising for mayfly. I spent some time trying to catch both trout and fly on camera and just about managed to get a trout breaking the surface of the water.

It was only when I returned to the car I was able to get a picture of the elusive mayfly – there was one resting on the door. The vagaries and frustrations of being a wildlfe photographer, I suppose. I think I shall stick to gardening for a living!

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Coronation Chicken, Anyone?

According to one tradition, the first Pekins were smuggled out of China and presented to Queen Victoria in 1837, the year of her coronation. Whether this is true or not is immaterial – it just makes for a nice story. The first Pekins (I have read that in the States and Canada the breed is known as Cochins) presented to me were a gift from a friend several years ago and we have been breeding them ever since, concentrating on the more unusual lavender coloured variety.

Pekins are a breed that is only found as bantams – which is fairly unusual in itself – the majority of bantam breeds have a ‘full size’ chicken version as well. Recognised most easily by their feathered feet they are friendly, almost cuddly, as the hens especially are rounded and dumpy, another recognisable feature.

The cockerels, too, are reasonably lacking aggression (some bantam breeds I have kept in the past would attack at every opportunity). They do, however, have their moments, especially at this time of year. I have found that the way to deal with this is to arm yourself with thick gloves and ‘teach’ the cockerel that you are not intimidated. As he attacks, I catch and pin him to the ground, holding him there for a few seconds: he soon learns that he is second in the pecking order to me and the only thing to be hurt is the cockerel’s pride. We have a number of cockerels (too many) and, surprisingly, they show no aggression to each other.

Penned away safely at night, during the daytime we release them when they have the freedom to roam the fields of the secret valley. It is extraordinary the distance they travel in the course of the day as they cross back and forth. With the odd handful of corn to entice them back, I try to keep them reasonably close to the house for safety but, even then, the fox takes them from time to time.

Ramblers dogs are also a threat – it is amazing the number of people that seem to think it is acceptable for their animals to chase livestock when they are in the country. She-dog, our lurcher, a type of dog specifically bred for hunting, had to be taught that chasing certain animals was unacceptable if she wished to remain living on a farm. From the earliest age she was made to sit amongst sheep and also the bantams, which made useful training aids, with the consequence that now she totally ignores them. It didn’t stop her stalking them when a puppy if she thought we wouldn’t notice!

Would I recommend Pekins? Only with reservations. If it’s egg production you want, they are fairly useless although they lay enough for our requirements and the eggs are full of flavour with rich yolks. If it’s meat, then there isn’t much food on a bantam! If it’s just the lovely sight of a group wandering about the open fields, scratching in the hedgerows and dust bathing in the sunshine then yes, they win hands – or even feathered feet – down every time.

Coronation chicken? We don’t eat our bantams but I bet they would taste good and coronation chicken has to be one of my favourite dishes. If you want the recipe you will have to ask……

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Hare Today – Still Here Tomorrow?

We had seen an adult hare in the garden a couple of times and with some misgiving, having read that they do a lot of damage. What we hadn’t anticipated was having a family of them.

Over the weeks, the leverets – as young hares are called – have become remarkably tame, quite unlike the normal flighty and timid creatures of the fields. The photo below was taken just three feet away and they hop about the garden as we work amongst the borders. So far, no damage….

According to legend, witches take the form of hares and the Cotswolds are a very witchy area. Village names such as Whichford and the Wychwood Forest, which lends its name to places such as Ascott-under-Wychwood, Milton-under-Wychwood and others, testify to this. Perhaps our hares are not all they seem which is why they aren’t nervous of us. Most likely, they just feel safe in a peaceful garden environment. Lurchers like our She-dog were bred for hunting, hares especially so, but so far she hasn’t bothered with them. And if they are witches they are obviously ‘nice’ ones!

There are still packs of beagles in existence despite the hunting ban. A couple of years ago we ‘puppy walked’ Daring and Darkness, the object of which is to get them used to humans and everyday life before they return as young adults to their kennels. We kept them for several months and it was a difficult day when the time came for them to leave us. The photo below shows Daring being excercised and only feet away from a hare – although she barely noticed and the hare too wily to give her presence away by moving. You will have to take my word for it as you won’t be able to see the hare either! The other photo is of them both in the process of making their first ‘kill’ – my bootlaces!


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Contentment

Life is always so hectic – rushing here, there and everywhere – that it is all too easy to forget to take time out, do nothing but contemplate …..

So sit back, enjoy the summer warmth while you can and relax……

Or find a place in the shade….
Or lie amongst the corn and gaze at the sky…..

Just my luck! I really tried to relax in my van whilst waiting for the rain to stop – again – it wasn’t easy but at least I had time to take a photo through the windscreen ……

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Stll Waters Run Deep

A little, winding river flows through the heart of our secret valley. As far as rivers go it isn’t still, it isn’t deep and it certainly isn’t wide – you can jump across it in places. But it is important: in its very short journey of 15 miles from start to finish it passes through several historic country estates where it has been broadened to form ornamental lakes for fishing and pleasure. The photograph on the header of this page shows the river just above our home.

You wouldn’t believe

there was our valley in this photograph. It’s just the other side of this hedge – no wonder no-one knows it’s there! It’s also time to meet She-dog, our lurcher, who insisted in being included in the photograph.


Outside our cottage

and just downstream, the river has formed ‘our’ lake (really only a little larger than a pond, but that description doesn’t seem to give it enough dignity) where, today, I watched a kingfisher perched on a low bough of a willow. A flash of iridescent blue and orange and it was gone, its shrill call giving warning to all around.

Pretty as they are, the lakes were built for a purpose. In winters past, their frozen water would be carried to specially built ice houses: pits made from brick or stone, deep underground. When full they would be sealed making ice available throughout the summer months. Of course, this was only available for the wealthiest few and it was in the kitchens of the gentry that ice cream recipes were devised – a luxury unimagineable to the poor cottagers. They often struggled to feed themselves the most basic diet.
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Many of these ice houses still remain, usually derelict and unsafe, but sometimes restored and open to the public to view.

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