Archive | March 2016

The allure of islands

I love exploring new places, and I particularly love islands. If I see an offshore island I like to find out about it – is it privately owned, is it inhabited, and most importantly, can one go there?

 

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So I am always surprised when we talk to local folk about Lundy, and they say that they have never been, or maybe visited once on a school trip as a child. You can see it easily on a clear day from the entire Devon coastline from Hartland point to Morte Point. With binoculars you can even see the church tower, and the lighthouses, of which there are three. So that adds to the level of interest. The passenger ferry runs three times a week throughout the summer for day trips, from either Ilfracombe or Bideford, so it is easy to get there. Yes, it costs, and yes, it is a two hour ferry crossing. But you get good views of the coastline, and a chance of seeing porpoises, dolphins, or minke whales, as well as the seabirds. And there are an assortment of cosy cottages to stay in if you want to make a holiday of it. Seals, puffins, deer, goats, soay sheep, lambs, ponies, peace and quiet, and an excellent tavern…

So why don’t the locals all flock to the island? We have visited every year for many years, all the way from Hertfordshire, and know plenty of others who make similar or longer journeys. I can only assume that not everyone shares my love of islands.

 

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Ah well, all the more peace and quiet for us when we go in April. I can’t wait!

Happy Easter from Devon!

Today has been a typical Spring day of sunshine and showers. Ok, so the showers were hail, but the wind was from the South, and it wasn’t too cold. This morning I treated myself to a ride on the beach on my latest riding school horse, Bernadette, AKA Bernie, who is a 16hh ish coloured cob, all hair and mud stains, but with a heart of gold. There were eight of us on the ride, and we all had a fab time with several really fast gallops along the beach. Shame about the hail stinging on our faces!!

This afternoon we gardened in between the showers. The shed is now finished, and looking very smart.

 

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We also finished digging out the Rosa rugosa roots, and raked over the big bare patch. Now to wait for it to regrow from all the bits of broken root…

The garden is still full of daffodils and other Spring bulbs

 

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The woodland path is just stunning, and I really need to plant some colour for later in the year, as it is going to look quite plain once these are gone. I have relocated our new birdbath to the front of our main flowerbed, and it looks great there. The robins have been bathing regularly. They seem to like to bathe in the nesting season, possibly to help control the parasites that can be a problem in their nests.

 

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We have a very special flower coming up in the front lawn

 

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See all the little nodding purple flowers? They are snake’s head fritillaries, and the lawn is covered with them.

 

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They come in a white form too, but I like the purple, with it’s fancy chequerboard pattern. Along with the blue anemones, the daffs and the hundreds of primroses, the front is quite a picture!

 

 

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A walk along the East Lyn River

This week I had my second outing with the Lady Walkers, who are a very active and friendly bunch. Being a small village, most of them also volunteer in the shop and attend the garden club, so I am beginning to remember names at last! We parked in Lynmouth, and walked up the East Lyn, which is a lovely fast-flowing, rocky river.

 

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We were blessed with a mild, still, dry day, and the footpaths were all bone dry, which made a pleasant change from a month ago, when we ploughed through mud. We had good views of dippers and grey wagtails sitting on the rocks.

 

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After a mile and a half we reached the lovely National Trust café at Watersmeet, where we refreshed ourselves with hot drinks, and resisted the delicious cakes!

 

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The path led up ( and I mean UP) out of the valley, and back through the wooded slopes.

 

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We ended up back in Lynmouth, where we retired to a very accommodating pub for lunch. Avery pleasant way to spend a day.

Plenty to do!

This morning dawned bright and sunny, so I took a walk up the hill beyond the garden. I was only out half an hour, and that included five minutes reflection on the bench at the top, overlooking the valley. I saw our little herd of 7 deer again, and was amazed to see a tawny owl fly right past me only a few feet away, then down the lane before disappearing into the wood. What a treat!

I have an ever increasing list of jobs to do in the garden, and many of them get started, but not finished, which is frustrating. This is not because I give up, or get distracted. Below is the ‘black hole’ where we removed a thicket of Rosa rugosa. I have started raking it over to remove all the twigs and roots that are scattered all over, which also then reveals any roots that have not been dug up. These are then pulled out. This makes it a back-breaking job.

 

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You may be able to see (if you are looking at this on a proper screen rather than a piddly phone screen) the difference between the smoother top half and the rubbish strewn lower half. I can only do a couple of hours work at this, as it is just so hard on my back. So that is still to be finished.

 

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This was a shrubby honeysuckle, a messy evergreen that doesn’t flower, which was just spoiling the shrubs around it and blocking our views of the garden. So it was cut down, but now the roots need digging out – another job needing a strong back. I am quite capable of doing these jobs, but I just have to pace myself. If my back starts to hurt, these jobs have to wait until it feels better.

In between digging jobs, we have been getting on with the Spring pruning, and the buddleias and hydrangeas are now all done. But I still have a few dogwoods to tackle.

 

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This one looks like it has never been pruned, so rather than lots of thick strong attractive red shoots, it has a brown trunk and some thin red twigs. I hope I can improve it.But pruning has been shunted aside as I have bought rather a lot of plants lately, so have been planting instead. It is all about priorities, and they are constantly changing.

We have had a tree surgeon round to deal with our storm damaged tree, and he did a neat job of trimming the snags. And now I have a heap of branches of assorted sizes to sort into logs to be sawn up for the woodburner, branches to use as kindling, and the rest for the bonfire.

 

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And then there is the shed…

 

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When it rains, there is a puddle on the roof where the roof is so bowed. That then leaks through the flimsy roof, soaking one corner so that it is rotten and horrid. It had to go. So we have a lovely new shed!

 

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Isn’t it nice?? Ok, well it will be.

This job is actually nearly finished. We dismantled the old shed yesterday morning, and saved the sides to make a compost bin out of. Then we assembled the new one, all but the roof. This morning the roof went on, but it still need the roofing felt. It has been hard work, especially carrying all the pieces up the steps to the garden, but the end result is worth it. You will have to wait until it is completed , then I will show you a photo.

 

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A garden of surprises

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Our garden is full of surprises at the moment, delighting us with something new every week. We still have masses of daffodils of many types, and they are standing up to the weather now, so I don’t have to go round and rescue the flattened ones. I am still picking a bunch for the kitchen though, as there are just so many that the garden won’t miss them. I have found a clump of pretty peachy trumpets.

 

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And on the front lawn is one clump of double daffs – not my favourite type, but it is good to have the variety

 

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The crocuses are also doing really well with the improvement in the weather.

 

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Some of our mystery deciduous shrubs have burst into bloom. One small shrub with a very elegant, delicate shape has shown itself to be a Corylopsis, and is covered in creamy bells. Beautiful!

 

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Another large shrub has revealed itself as a flowering currant, which is a shrub that I always like to have in a garden, so that is great news. The flowers are still not fully open, but are a superb colour.

 

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We have added yet another mammal to our garden list, as a badger ran across in front of the car the other evening, and up our steps into the garden. It was exciting, as I can count on one hand the number of badgers I have ever seen, but it is a mixed blessing as they can be destructive, and I don’t really need anything else digging holes in the garden! The rabbits are bad enough – this is supposed to be my herb bed, right  by the kitchen door, and a big fat doe dug a massive burrow before we could stop her…

 

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We have filled it in. Grrr. There is also signs of nibbling on one of my new plants, so I have caged it with twigs, and will see if that deters them.

 

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I have finally seen the deer in the garden during daylight, with a herd of seven grazing on the lawn late one afternoon. I have excellent views, but by the time I had fetched the camera they had boinged over the fence and were staring at me from next doors field.

 

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I still have many bulbs yet to flower, and shrubs whose identities I cannot decipher from their twigs, so the garden has plenty more surprises for us to discover. What will tomorrow bring?

 

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Sitting by the sea , thinking sad thoughts.

Today friends back in Hertfordshire were having to say goodbye to a husband, father, friend, taken unexpectedly and far too soon. My thoughts were with them, and I wanted time to reflect, so I took myself off to a magical little piece of the coast for a wander, and a ponder.

 

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I see humanity as a network of people, all connected to other people by bonds, some strong, some more tenuous. When someone dies, it tears a hole in people’s lives.

 

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The loved ones left behind are teetering on the brink of a massive rip in their network, and that rip is filled with grief, sadness, sorrow.

 

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One can only hope that their family and friends will strengthen those remaining bonds, to make the bereaved feel needed, wanted, cherished and loved. To support them while they grieve.

 

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Hopefully then over time the grief will be softened by remembering all the happy times and past experiences.

 

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I found myself a rock to sit on, down by the water, where I could listen to the gentle waves and watch the birds as they soared past.

 

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Looking at my own life, I am doubly glad that my husband and I have made this life-changing move to the Devon coast. None of us know what is around the next corner for us and our loved ones, but we are happier and more relaxed here. We are spending quality time together, and creating happy memories, and that has to be the right thing to do.

 

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There is a risk to this move though. It is not that we might change our minds about living here, or that we may not be able to cope with the garden, or that it may get too busy in the summer. The risk is that my network of people has shrunk. My husband is my best friend, and my holiday companion, always has been, but now he is also my day-to-day company, my lunch date, my coffee-and-a-chat friend, my weekend walking buddy.

 

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What would I do without him? I would be so alone. I know I will make new friends here, and have already started to, but it takes time to build up the sort of network I had after 30 years in Hertfordshire.

Apologies for the sad nature of this post, but it is a sad day.

 

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Spring comes to Ilfracombe

The first really nice day of Spring always used to happen on or around my friend’s daughter’s birthday, the 8th March (Happy Birthday Alex!). This year it is two days late, as we had rain on the 8th, and gales on the 9th. But today, the 10th March, has been perfectly calm, with clear skies and buckets of fairly warm sunshine. At last!!

To celebrate, we took a stroll up Hillsborough, which is the headland to the East of Ilfracombe, and which gives stunning views down over the harbour and town.

 

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Ilfracombe town is not a particularly special place, but the harbour is a delight. With its two little hills sheltering it from the Bristol Channel, it is a naturally sheltered harbour, with a sandy beach at the end.

The hill we walked up has a prehistoric hill fort on it, with two very obvious earthworks to protect it.

 

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It is a fairly steep climb up to the top, but then the path descends down the far side, then loops round to return, taking only an hour or so. A lovely stroll .

 

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The views from the top are worth the climb.

 

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The air was clear enough to give a reasonable view of the Welsh coast, although it doesn’t really show in the photo!

 

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Walking down and around, there are also great views over Hele Bay, the next bay around the coast to the East.

 

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On our return to the car we passed a superb Spring sight – a patch of lesser celandines in full flower.

 

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Much less commented on than snowdrops, or bluebells, they are nevertheless a lovely Spring treat.

 

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Come for a walk at Braunton Burrows

Braunton Burrows is a large area of undulating dunes behind Saunton Sands beach. It is a mile wide by several miles long, and is criss-crossed by a network of paths and tracks. We park at the aptly-named Sandy Lane car park, and the main track sets off broad and straight, to cope with the large number of summer visitors.

 

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But soon it starts to split, with paths heading off in several directions, and the other couples and families we can see ahead and behind us all peel off, leaving us to enjoy the Burrows in peace.

This is the first ridge of high dunes, still quite some distance from the sea. At some point in the past, the wind has eroded the top of the dune enough to expose the sand, and over time the sand has blown inland in a massive swathe. The notice boards tell us that this is encouraged, as it prevents the central part of the Burrows from becoming too overgrown, and creates more varied habitats for the vast array of plants and insects which live here.

 

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In the valleys between the ridges of high dunes the ground dips below the water table, creating shallow pools. These are apparently fantastic for dragonflies in summer, so I look forward to seeing  that.

 

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From the top of the next dune ridge, we get our first glimpse of the sea in the distance.

 

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In the next valley, a large pond complex. It will be really interesting to come here through the seasons and see what we see. There is also a lovely view of our favourite little island, Lundy.

 

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Finally we wend our way through the last ridge of dunes, and down onto the beach. Now where is my costume…

 

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It is low tide, so there is quite a lot of beach…

 

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The wind has blown the sand up against all the little protrusions from the flat beach, making interesting shapes round these shells.

 

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This plank of well-rounded driftwood is irresistible, as it will make a great house name or garden sign-post, once it has dried out and been cleaned up a bit. Lets carry it home!

 

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Soon it is time to head back inland and try and find our way back to the car.

 

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The wind blows the sand on the tops of the dunes into fascinating shapes.

 

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This central part of the Burrows is used for military manoeuvres – looks like the boys (and girls) have fun with their toys!

 

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Looks like we are heading in the right direction – this is the seaward side of that blown-out dune ridge.

 

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Last stretch of path through the sand before we reach the more mature, flatter land below, then soon we will be back at Sandy Lane.  Then it’s home for lunch!

 

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I hope you enjoyed the walk.

 

Early Spring tasks

The far end of the garden is mainly just grass, and that area is going to become our wildlife garden, where we plant lots of berrying shrubs, and plants that are good for insects. As the shrubs will take a few years to get established, we wanted to start as soon as possible. So we have managed to get an order of bare-rooted native shrubs delivered, just before they stop selling them until next autumn. These are the sorts of shrubs one would plant in a native hedge, but we are planting them far enough apart that they can reach their full size, and provide plenty of food and cover for birds.

They have to be planted immediately on arrival, as they are bare-rooted, so we have been out in the hail and the cold North wind, lifting squares of turf, digging holes, removing stones, and planting these little twigs. We have also had to protect them from our red deer, and the tree guards and stakes have cost significantly more than the shrubs! But we are pleased with the result, and can imagine our little spinney in a few years time.

 

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We have planted guelder rose, wayfaring tree, alder buckthorn, elder, dog rose, and wild service tree.

We have also put up 5 home-made bird boxes, one on a beech tree just by the house, two more in the garden, and two along the private lane (with permission). I hope they all get resident families of blue tits or great tits.

 

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The weather is more spring-like today, with some glorious sunshine – shame about the cold wind!

 

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Time now to go out and collect up all the fallen daffodils to fill my vases. I don’t know if it is just the weather that flattens them, or if it is wildlife, but I get quite a lot that are just horizontal, and sometimes completely snapped off. They look much prettier in the house than flat on the ground.

 

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A silly Friday video!

A week or so ago we had a massive bonfire, to burn all the Rosa rugosa plants that we had had removed, as well as other prunings. The heap was huge…

What we didn’t realise is that the trail cam was pointing in that direction, and merrily took a photo every minute or so for the two hours or more that we were tending the fire. Squidge all the photos together at speed, and we have a stop-motion film of our bonfire, all compressed to about a minute! A bit daft, but hey, why not??