Midsummer greetings

The sun apparently set half an hour ago on this longest day of the year. I am sitting in my still-light garden, tired after a hard day’s weeding and getting cold but don’t want to go inside just yet.

I can hear a train going past in the distance – last one of the evening I think. The garden is full of birdsong, just amazing. There are blackbirds – one of my favourites – I think there are some nesting behind a huge honeysuckle by the pond – and there are the budgies in an aviary at the hairdressers round the corner, and the rooks still cawing now and then as they settle for the night (see Rooks at bedtime). Behind me, in the house, Italy are playing Ghana in Brazil.

Happy solstice and midsummer to you all. I hope there are birds singing where you are.

All getting quieter now, as the light fades. Bedtime for birds – maybe for me too.

Not-so-wild swimming

I love swimming outdoors. I am a bit of a wimp though, about the fish, weed, mud that may lurk in rivers and lakes – not a wild swimmer at all. So what I really, really love is an outdoor pool. Through many years of family holidays in France, I always found us a campsite with a pool. Every morning I would be there, ploughing up and down in the water, amid birdsong, pine trees, scents of rosemary and lavender.

So imagine my delight when I found found that Heckington has its own tiny, outdoor, community swimming pool. At the Ladies Swim yesterday evening I watched rays of the setting sun fall on tree tops and the church tower; I heard birds singing and was transported back to a favourite Provençal hillside with lavender and views of vineyards.

Walking home in the twilight I felt contented beyond measure. Today I have been thinking about moments of joy in my old life back in Manchester, moments of sunlight through trees and the company of lovely friends. I used to feel anxious even as I felt happy, afraid of the joy passing and the gloom returning.

Here in this new life, in this still-new-to-us village, there is plenty to worry about (money, work, family… all the usual things), but something else is different. When a brilliant moment comes, I no longer fear its passing; I know another one will be along in a while.

Last Ladies Swim of the season next Monday. Looking forward to it already. I like it here.

Beauty, peace and engineering

Here are some more pictures from our recent trip along the beautiful Shropshire Union and Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canals. I resisted the temptation to post another video, this time of the boat slowly catching up with some pedestrians on the towpath.

Canal trips have some of the things I like most about England: lovely countryside, birds and waterside plants and amazing engineering. Locks are wonderful pieces of work. Some stretches of the northern canals are particularly amazing: I can never get my head round why anyone thought of taking boats and water over the Pennines.

There is something exciting, as in a children’s story, about seeing the world from a different angle, as you do from the water. A different pace, a different perspective: I come home refreshed.

A swallow summer

Swallows are flying all round the station as I wait in the sunshine for the train this morning.

I’ve been having mysterious problems with my blog this week, unable to post a gallery of photos and sometimes unable to do anything at all. Very frustrating.

The photos I wanted to show you (and hope to put up soon) were from a lovely kitchen garden at Houghton Hall, seen as part of a trip with my mum to houses and gardens in Norfolk.

The night before the visits, our bed and breakfast place was a large, old farm. We looked out on green Norfolk fields, the garden was full of swallows and one pair had their nest under the eaves at my mother’s window.

As she looked out of the window in the morning she said, ‘this is what England used to be like.’ She could have meant the green and the quiet, but she was speaking of all the birds.

Watching this morning’s swallows took me back to that moment, the close-up of swallows at their nest. I love seeing so many of them in this, my first Heckington summer.

The bells, the bells…

A bit of an experiment this, as flagged up in my last post: here is a minute of so of bell-ringing as heard from my garden on Tuesday evening just after I got home from the train.

The weekly bell-ringing session is from 7 to 9pm. Church bells, like crowing cockerels, often give rise to stories of townies moving to the country and not liking the noise. But I spent my childhood in a village: bells, chickens, cows, bring them on, I say.

These are accompanied by evening birdsong and some flowers for you to look at. Definitely not an attempt at video art; just a chance for you to drop into my garden for a moment.

I can’t help wondering if the birds take any notice of the bells or not. In the background, at the end of the clip, you can just hear the rooks cawing from their home a few gardens away (see Rooks at bedtime). Now they really are noisy neighbours.

Bumpy way home

Peak District

I’ve mentioned before (Heckington, Grantham, Doncaster, Manchester) how the train from Manchester to Sheffield passes through lovely Derbyshire scenery. I captured a swift peek (no pun intended…) through the train window on my way home from sweet day with daughter and grandbabies. More rural England, but with bumps.

I’ve lost what little tolerance I once had for Manchester traffic. Out on a walk I was so happy once off the streets of Gorton and onto the Fallowfield Loop cycle track, surrounded by trees and birdsong instead of cars. It’s a pity there are so many disused railway lines, but lovely when, as with this one, they have become peaceful green corridors for bikes, dogs, grandmothers and toddlers.

And now I’m at Nottingham, safely on the little train to Heckington. Feels like home already; even though part of my heart is left behind, over the Pennines, in the smoke.

On the beach

Artist Pat van Boeckel, in his brilliant installations in St Andrews, Heckington (see More art + church) used a soundtrack of waves breaking because, he said, of churches and the sea both being places where people go to think, in search of space and a kind of silence.

The soundtracks for the beaches here would be birds crying more than waves pounding. The pictures, taken mainly by partner, not me, are from low-tide beaches in Cornwall, Le Touquet, Skegness and Saltfleetby-Theddlethorpe, wide-open spaces where water, sand and sky stretch out for miles to merge in the distant horizon.

[Saltfleetby-Theddlethorpe is a bit of a cheat as it is mudflats more than beach, but never mind…]

Like the fenland landscape round my village, these are places where the sky dominates, where we feel small in all the emptiness and / but there is space to think.

Flat vs bumpy

Road to Walcot

A friend says she likes my blog but so much open space and sky (in the photos) makes her feel dizzy. She comes from West Yorkshire, an up and down sort of place.

A woman at my pottery class speaks of growing up near Skegness, in a place so flat and open you could see people coming from miles away. She says hills make her feel trapped and closed in.

The grandeur, the silence, of hills and mountains inspire me with awe; as in a forest or cathedral, I have that sense of the whirling, busy world stopping for a moment on its axis.

But here, in these flatlands, there is another kind of awe, a sense of huge freedom and fresh wind blowing away the cobwebs of the mind. I love the way the sky is always a big part of the picture (as in this photo taken on the road between Newton and Walcot). And against this emptiness, under the great bowl of sky, people, animals, birds busy themselves with all the tiny, important details of daily life.

What is it that connects us to a particular landscape? Is it early home or later love? Whatever place does it for you, whether flat or bumpy, one thing I’m sure of: a little bit of what you fancy does you good.

As always, tap or click on the photo to get a bigger, maybe better version.

Rooks at bedtime

Rooks at bedtime

The estate agent’s details for the house we have moved to showed a picture of the garden looking lovely with a rainbow over the garage (an older and more picturesque building than the house itself). This prompted many quips by friends along the lines of did the rainbow come with the house.

Tonight I was just sitting down to eat my supper when I saw a perfect rainbow over the garden and the garage roof, just like in the agent’s photo. I rushed out with my iPad in camera mode to take a picture for the blog.

Then I stood outside for a few more moments as the sky darkened (and my soup cooled sadly in the conservatory). There is a rookery not far from us, a noisy place during the daytime. As I stood watching the lovely sky, a group of rooks flew over from their main hangout to roost in a tall tree in the garden next to us.

The rainbow came out a bit faint in the photos. And I like this picture better, even though I know it’s a fairly rubbish portrayal of rooks in a tree. I hope you can use your imagination and share a little of the magic of my garden at twilight tonight, with the rooks, silent for once, falling through a violet sky on their way to bed

Star Fen, with birds

Star Fen Road

I like birds, but I’m very short-sighted and so miss a lot. Herons and owls are excellent – I can see them – along with other water birds, pheasants and indeed chickens (of which more in another post).

But smaller garden and farmland birds are a bit more challenging; so it’s always a treat, a different kind of walk, when I go out with my friend who is into birds and bird-watching. She has been visiting for a couple of days and yesterday we walked, in sun and a very strong wind, on Star Fen (see A Walk on Star Fen and Waiting for Spring). My friend spotted all the birds and then I got to see them through the binoculars (when the wind didn’t blow tears and eyelashes in the way).

We saw: a Reed Bunting, Swallows, a Skylark, Yellow Wagtails, a Yellowhammer and a Wren or two, plus lots of crows and pigeons and the odd gull. I’ve heard Yellowhammers before (the ones that are supposed to sing little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheese) but not knowingly seen one, so that was the most exciting, along with a weasel running over a field very near us.

A few years ago, in one of the very, very cold winters, an escaped ferret or polecat lived at our allotments in Manchester for a while. It killed one of our chickens and several others belonging to friends of ours. I saw it close up more than once in the course of our battle to keep it out of the chicken run (people complain about foxes – huh!) and became briefly fascinated by this family (Mustelidae: including weasels, stoats, ferrets, otters) of small, carnivorous mammals. They have pretty little furry faces and their ability to kill things much bigger than themselves is impressive – though to be discouraged!

In the course of my research I found out how you tell the difference between a stoat and a weasel, so here it is:

A weasel is weasily wecognised, while a stoat is stoatally different – of course.

I hear my readers groan! Time to go.

[Really the stoat is bigger and has a black tip to its tail]