Saturday, January 28, 2006

Walking the hills of Church Stretton

We've been walking around the local footpaths this week. Starting to explore the territory right near the house a little bit.

The weather has been kind - mostly dry and even sunny on some days. However, it's quite cold for here with temperatures dipping just below freezing at night and only climbing a few degrees during the day.

The local big hotel (The Longmynd Hotel) has built a walking trail zigzagging up the side of the hill and we found some lovely carvings along it. I took some pictures today but I'm only showing you a few. You'll have to come and see the rest of the carvings for yourself! You can click on them to load them full size and get more of the detail.

The Longmynd Hotel is where John and the rest of his group stayed on their first year geology field trip from Swansea. I gather they were asked not to return.

But I think they've forgotten about that by now and today we stopped in for morning coffee in the middle of our walk. It was lovely. They have a great long bar with picture windows looking out to the south and west over the rural part of the Stretton Valley

The LongMynd hotel was originally built as a hydro spa in the late 19th century. This was during the time when Church Stretton was setting itself up as a spa town and trying to attract tourists to take the waters and enjoy the pleasures of "Little Switzerland". It's a massive pile at the top of the hill to the south of town. As you come north from Ludlow along the A49 you can see its white walls gleaming in the sun. At night it's floodlit and quite a sight.

The amazing thing about all this is that it's only about a mile away from our house - and that's going the long way round! Right in the middle of town is a patch of land called Rectory Woods. You access it from the town center and can walk up to the Hotel or on up to the Long Mynd itself. So you can get onto the moorland and be striding amongst the gorse and heather without having to cross a busy road.

Now I'm not saying you don't meet anyone. There are lots of walkers in the hills and you see them about whatever the day and whatever the weather, but unless you go to the most touristy parts at the weekend or during the summer holidays it's never crowded. I always think it's nice to meet a few people on a ramble, specially when they have a friendly dog with them - and most of them do.

What I like about these local walks is that there's a variety of habitat to wander through. Although the tops are covered in grass, gorse, bracken and heather, the steep sided valleys are sometimes wooded and have little streams flowing through them. Today the ravine we walked through had oak, beech, and holly trees (lots more I don't know yet, too) and there was the usual undergrowth of bracken and blackberry. Lots of birds were about - robins, wrens, tits, blackbirds, crows, etc. Nothing rare, but it was nice to see and hear them all.

As usual, your comments and messages are welcomed at:

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Bits and Pieces


John's off on a birding trip today and I decided to stay and catch up with various bits and pieces at home. The posting just below this one will give you a bit more info on the progress of our garden, but this one deals with other little bits of news.

First: I went to see the surgeon yesterday for a regular checkup and everything with my cancer continues to be OK. The only problems I am having are side-effects of the arimidex treatment, so they should go away when I stop that in 4.5 years. These side-effects are rather nasty. It's mostly joint and bone pain, so I come downstairs one stair at a time in the mornings and sometimes I go up the stairs on on all fours like a monkey (no rude comments please!). The most disconcerting thing is the "trigger-finger" phenomenon where my knuckles lock up and I have to work hard to get my fingers to bend. The other bad thing is the pain and/or numbness in my feet which make me feel quite unsteady when we're walking on uneven ground. Still, it could be a lot worse - I could be very sick or even dying of cancer - and I'm very grateful to be as healthy as I am. I have to remember that this time last year I was housebound for two of every three weeks and couldn't walk more than a few hundred yards at a time. Now I can do several miles, especially when there's a nice pub at the end of the walk!

Second: We now have a new pair of birds at one of our feeders - bullfinches. They are lovely birds and they're a joy to watch. Over Chrismas our bird feeder collection increased and now we have them all round the house. Different birds seem to favor different locations, but there's plenty of life and activity around them all. Our most frequent visitors are: pheasant (we still have 4 males and goodness knows how many females), wood pigeons, blackbirds, robins, dunnocks, coal tits, great tits, blue tits, chaffinches and bull-finches. If we put out bread we also get crows, jackdaws and magpies.

Third: Just had a terrific trip up to see Dolly (my old Mac. flat-mate) and Jane who was at Mac with us all and who is here from Canada visiting her Mum and Dad. Needless to say, much wine was drunk and there was lots of talking, shouting and laughter into the wee small hours of the morning.

Now I'm supposed to be preparing for a day visit tomorrow. Joy (John's sister) and her husband, John, are bringing his mum and brother to visit us. If the weather is nice we'll be able to take them up to the top of the Mynd and show them the lovely countryside around here. If not - we'll have to go to a pub and have a drink around a roaring fire - what a shame! I'm plannning a Sunday dinner of roast gammon ham with roast potatoes and parsnips and other veg followed by apple crumble ... mmmmmm....!

Think I'll go and have a cup of tea while I avoid doing any more work.

Stay in touch ..... e-mail when you can.

Sunshine and snowdrops!

Hurray! Yesterday for the first time since early November a few rays of sunshine made it over the hill and into the house! It's going to be a while yet till we have a lot of sunshine, but the promise is there and I'm full of hope!

Another sign that spring isn't far away is the (are the?) snowdrops. I'm beginning to see little patches of them in several places in the garden. They're not quite out yet, but the flower buds are white and it won't be long. In addition, there are clumps of leaves coming out of the ground from other bulbs. Most of them look like daffodils, but who knows? This is all so exiting.

I'm slowly working through the beds now, clearing out the dead stuff and old leaves so that the bulbs don't have so much rubbish to grow through. I'm taking my time and trying to document the stuff I find as I go. This afternoon I'm going out with the camera to take more pictures and try to map the beds that I've cleaned up. Maybe if I do it slowly I can sort it out as I go along. There's so many shrubs I don't know yet and think I'll loose track completely when the stuff that's died back comes up.

I got fed up with some bushes in front of the downstairs windows last Sunday and went out and really pruned them back. One was a Lavatera and I don't care if it dies, to be honest. It's a scruffy thing and nowhere near as beautiful as some of its other malvacea relatives. There was a heritage rose (Roseraie de l'Hay) which was threatening visitors to our front door and a Ceanothus which was overgrown and straggly. I have the plant labels for each of these and they all say allow about 6 feet of space around each shrub. So why were they planted close together and against the house wall? I realise it's a south facing wall and therefore might be construed to be warm and sunny, but since we have a 100 foot bank in front of that wall, the sun doesn't actually shine there much. It was more important to clear the shrubs from the windows so that what light there is penetrates into the house. It looks a bit bare now, but I've now exposed some wrought iron hooks for hanging baskets and I think we can really liven up the color for the front and make it look more homey and inviting with some really colorful annuals.

On the subject of light and positioning, our compost heap is tucked out of site behind the shed, but it's in the darkest, coldest, dampest spot of the garden. Things are getting a bit slimy back there, so we may have to re-think its position - maybe continue to use it to store the raw stuff and then get one of those "quick-cook" rotating compost barrels which we can place in the sun to process things.

For a while there I was leery of changing things in the garden. I think I still couldn't believe it was mine. Now, though, I'm beginning to realise that I can do what I like. If I get it wrong, it doesn't matter - I'll just have to do it again. So now I'm putting on my wellies and work gloves and moving in with the loppers, secateurs and leaf rake!

I must be luckiest person in the world .

Monday, January 16, 2006

Catching up with the news

As promised last night, here is another post. This time I thought I'd let you know what we've been up to during Bill's visit. I've included links to more information and photo sites so you can get a better feel for what we did and saw.

We really had a great time! One of the highlights was a trip to the "Panto" on John's birthday (Jan 2nd). Panto is short for "Pantomime" and it's an old traditional theatrical event usually staged around Christmas/New Year. For our American friends it has nothing to do with mime. It's a musical play based on a fairy story or a nursery rhyme or something similar. It could be Cinderella, Puss-In-Boots, Peter Pan, Sinbad the Sailor, Old King Cole, etc., etc. In the old days the principal boy would be played by a woman and the dame would be played by a man. There is lots of slapstick, glitzy costumes, singing and dancing and (best of all) tremendous audience participation.

Pantos are put on by professional theatres, amateur dramatic groups, women's guilds, church groups, everyone! The one we went to had professionals in the main roles and drama/dance school pupils in the "chorus". It was loosely based on the story of Dick Whittington and his Cat. Dick Whittington was played by a soap star from Neighbours and the chief "baddy" -King Rat - was played by the guy who is Percy Weasley in the Harry Potter movies. There was lots of hissing and booing everytime he came on.

Dame Kitty Crumpet had a different costume everytime he/she came on and we all had to yell "Hello Kitty"! There were several times when he/she and other members of the cast completely lost the plot and dissolved into fits of laughter, at which point they would turn and talk to the audience and crack a few more corny off-the-cuff jokes. Needless to say there was much groaning and booing!

In addition to the slapstick, crude sexual inuendo and groan jokes, the audience got to do the old "Oh no it isn't"/"Oh yes it is" routines, shouted "It's behind yer" whenever the baddy crept up on someone and generally got into the act with rude comments shouted at people on the stage and other fun stuff.

As Bill said - it was a real hoot!

Jan 4th was our 37th anniversary. During the day we took a drive down to Hay-On-Wye, a town full of bookshops. Anyone who likes browsing through bookshops should plan to spend a few days there! We were only able to cope with a few. The three of us came back loaded with MORE reading materials - Goodness knows why, our house is overflowing with books now! The drive down and back was nice too and gave Bill a chance to see some of the lovely rolling, green, bucolic Shropshire and Herefordshire scenery. In the evening we had a delicious meal at our smashing local restaurant - The Studio. We really like it there. The food is wonderful, the atmosphere cosy and comfortable and the proprietors are friendly and interesting to talk to.

Jan 5th was a day of driving lessons, shopping and exploring around Shrewsbury. We ate lunch at our favorite Shrewsbury pub - The Three Fishes. This is a SMOKEFREE pub which serves nice traditional English food and very good, well kept beer.

Friday Jan 6th was the day Bill was supposed to leave for Manchester airport. So we left in the morning and went to Manchester via North Wales!!!!! It's a bit of a long way around but it was worth it. Drove up the Roman Road (A5 - Watling Street) from Shrewsbury through Llangollen, stopping at Pontcysyllte to take a walk by the canal and look at the terrifying canal aquaduct over the Dee Valley.

After coffee in Llangollen (a very picturesque market town and home to the International Eisteddfod) we carried on into Snowdownia National Park. The mountains were sheathed in cloud, but we could see the tops of some of them and they were snow covered - it was very impressive. I had forgotten what rugged mountain scenery there is in North Wales, and it's only a couple of hours drive from here.

We decided to pull over and eat cream doughnuts while viewing Llyn Ogwen when we were treated to the sight of a goat with the biggest horns I've ever seen running down the road. Shortly after we were able to watch as a panting and perspiring park ranger chased the goat back down the road and with the help of a co-worker shooed him through a gate in the dry stone wall and back onto the mountain!

From Snowdonia we headed to the coast and Llandudno. This is a lovely old seaside resort. The hotels on the front are all painted in pastel "icing sugar" colours and there's still a covered shopping street running parallel to the front. The pier seems to be functional and there's good walking along the promenade complete with views of oyster catchers, red shanks and lots of gulls. We took a drive around The Great Orme, walked along the front and then had the traditional supper of fish and chips before taking Bill on to his hotel in Manchester.

I had a great time with our first U.S. visitor and I'm very thankful to Bill for coming over. We hope to see lots more visitors in the months to come.

lots of blossoms .....

Hey .... it's been a while since I last wrote and there's lots to tell you, so please come back again in the next few days as I have a few other posts to make.

Meanwhile I want to show you some of the things that are in bloom around the garden right now! Yes, it's early January and lots of stuff is out!

Does anyone out there know what this is? It's on a shrub, but I haven't a clue and I haven't found it in any of my books yet. I'll keep looking, but in the meantime, if you have any idea, please e-mail me with guesses, information or whatever!

This is a closeup of the flowers of the Wych Hazel (Hammemelis) and the following picture is a shot of the little tree. As you can see, it's covered in blossom.

We also have heathers, viburnums and a huge Mahonia japonica in bloom. Some of them have lovely scent, and of course there are insects around to smell that scent and pollinate the flowers. It's so mild here. Last night we had a frost for a few hours and the car was covered in ice, but by morning it had all melted away and I was able to work in the garden all day.

Lucky white heather
This picture's for you!
It didn't cost nothin'
So I'm lucky too!!!!!

This is the Mahonia - it's about 12 ft high and must have a canopy diameter of at least 10 feet. The beech in the background is in my neighbour's garden. It's still holding onto its leaves for some reason. Most beeches dumped their leaves a couple of months ago.

Stay tuned for more posts (if I can fit them into my busy social life!).....

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year!

Hi there you all!

Just thought it was time to say "Hello" to everyone out there and to let you know that we are thriving!

Had a wonderful Christmas in Nuneaton with John's family and am now spending New Year with Bill Fenner from Columbus and Barry and Sheila from Lancaster (England).

This is a picture of the snow we had over Christmas, taken on a walk at Coombe Abbey in Warwickshire.

It wasn't anywhere near as bad as this picture looked ... here is another scene taken on the same day.

The snow has all melted now and it's back in the 40s (around 8 or 9C). Today we did a 6 mile walk and climbed one of the local "mountains" - Caer Caradoc. It was beautiful and sunny and we had stunning views from the top. When I got home I collapsed in a heap and Bill is making dinner. Thank God I have lots of friends who can cook!!!!!

Will write more when all the company has gone home! E-mail me when you can: