Forde Abbey is a former Cistercian monastery dating from the c12. Grade 1 listed, it is now privately owned. The gardens and parts of the house are open to the public, and in Michelin guide speak Forde undoubtedly Mérite le détour and is Vaut le Voyage. In spring, the gardens are filled with thousands of tulips. Here is a small collection.
Danebury (or ‘Danebury Rings’) is an Iron Age hill fort in Hampshire. The hill is 143 m (469 ft) in height, not spectacular in itself but its prominence in the landscape gives clear, distant views in all directions over the county and beyond. The fort itself covers around 12 acres, and was extensively excavated in the 1970s. The evidence suggests it was built in the c6 BC, and was used for some 500 years.
We hadn’t walked on Danebury for many years, though we drive past it frequently. When we set off for a walk there, I didn’t even know about the trig point – though the location makes perfect sense for one. I had no camera with me, just an iPhone. On a chilly, cloudy May day, these photos will at least give some idea of the extensive views from the Trig Point across the patchwork of fields. Next time, we’ll choose a clear sunny day for a walk there…
Closworth, a small village on the Somerset / Dorset border, has a fine church with c13 origins. The village itself is best known for its historical importance as a bell-foundry between the c16 and c18, originating with the Purdue family. Few traces of the foundry remain, but some notable bells survive from its earliest days, for example in Wells Cathedral.
A quick visit to the church revealed two items of interest for this blog: a fine early c17 tomb; and an agreeable but gnomon-less sundial of uncertain date.
TOMB OF WILLIAM COLLINS, 1609
HERE . LYETH . THE . BODIE .
OF . WILLIAM . COLLINS . THE .
SONNE . OF . ELLIS . COLLINS . WHO
DIED . THE . XXIX . OF . IAN
ANO . DOMI . 1609
The inscription on this lichened hamstone tomb is in leaded letters set into the stone and fixed. Not all have survived the intervening centuries. I have no idea how this was achieved, but presumably the lettering was first cut into the stone; and with the stone on a horizontal surface the lead was then added to fit the incisions, and pinned in place. The result is pleasingly rustic, with some ornamentation of the As and Hs. This type of inscription-work may not be particularly unusual, but seeing this ancient tomb dappled by sunlight on a spring day made it seem special. And I always enjoy ornamental dates.
SUNDIAL: ALL SANTS CHURCH, CLOSWORTH
We didn’t notice the sundial on the way into the churchyard. Our attention had been drawn to a tall memorial to the other side of the path. On the way out, it was of course obvious – as was the lack of a gnomon. Like the tomb and the gateposts, the pillar appears to be made from the local hamstone. There isn’t much information to be gleaned from the dial itself. There’s no maker’s mark (though sometimes those are hidden on the underside of the plate). At a guess, it is c19, but any comments would be welcome.
In the leafy inner ‘burbs of the big city, fewer than 5 miles from Hyde Park Corner, foxes are now commonplace. No longer are they lone scavengers skulking down the road at dawn and dusk and lying low during the day. Now they treat gardens as their own, fences as their walkways, and flowerbeds as their… well, let’s not go there.
We generally see foxes several times a week, singly or a pair sauntering down the street, in transit along the fences, or resting in the sun at the end of our garden.
They are not particularly bothered by us unless we make a noise. At this time of year, their nocturnal yowling can be astonishingly loud – a reminder that these are wild creatures that have made themselves at home in the city – and indeed in our garden – for their mating rituals.
We were abroad for a couple of weeks last month. The day we got back, this fine fox was in our garden. These photos were all taken through the kitchen window. The fox knew perfectly well that I was there, but I couldn’t risk the noise of opening the French windows into the garden for a clear shot.
While we were away, a child from a neighbouring garden must have thrown or hit a ball over the fence. The fox had it by him. I watched for at least 20 minutes as he played with it, patted it, chewed it, chucked it in the air, and rolled over on his back pushing it through the grass with his nose with all 4 legs in the air. He behaved in fact just like a dog. A dog fox.
By coincidence, an article about urban foxes (and fox merchandise) was published in the Guardian online yesterday. It’s a good read, and contains the fact – which I did not know – that foxes are one of the few species that will hold eye contact with a human. You can read the article HERE.
A flash of sunlight across the lake, and suddenly assorted wildfowl emerged from the half-gloom and showed their true colours. This pochard was closest so I seized the moment…
MEA MAXIMA CULPA
My attention levels to this blog have dropped from the insouciant to the negligent, and right down to the culpably neglectful. A prosecution for recklessly wasting precious space in the diminishing capacity of world’s supply of ether must surely be close. I have considered closing it down, but somewhere in the mix there are a few things that people obviously find interesting or useful; things I have researched and photographed in detail. Followers may be comparatively few, but the daily hit tally remain surprisingly high – whether I post anything or not. So for now, I’ll keep this running… But there’s only so much time in the day, and this blog is one project that takes a hit.
Shepherd’s huts are very vogue. For the price of a small- to medium-sized car you could have your own bespoke hut. For rather less, you could build one from a kit. If you had the time and patience. Then you could go glamping, even if only in your own garden. Or you could search online for a ‘pre-loved hut’, with the reassurance that apparently almost no hut, however dead, defunct or derelict, is beyond restoration. Even if what you end up with is, to all intents and purposes a new hut with couple of original parts (de-rusted).
For as long as anyone living remembers – and it’s at least 65 years – the hut featured here has been in situ by a gate in one of our fields. There’s some evidence that it may even have been brought over from Ireland sometime after my wife’s grandparents came to Dorset a hundred years ago. I first met the hut more than 40 years ago, when its condition seemed to be much as it is now. Over the passing years, until this winter, it had gradually become entirely concealed. First, there was luxuriant undergrowth. By the end, there was luxuriant overgrowth as well: you could have walked straight past without knowing there was anything under the thick tangle of bramble, hawthorn, old man’s beard and the like. Recently the area was cleared of much of the vegetation, and the hut stands revealed.
As far as I know, no one has been inside – or even tried to open the door – for decades. The family that farms the fields is into its 3rd generation of pastoral care. They haven’t needed the hut. A bit more clearing of undergrowth will be needed before we try to get in. It may prove interesting. During WWII some shepherd’s huts were used to house prisoners of war who had opted to work on the land in preference to captivity. In one I know of, their graffiti is still visible inside.
On the hub of the wheel is the maker’s name: Pierce Wexford Ireland – the Irish link. The company was established in 1839 and continued in operation until 2002. At one time, Pierce was the largest manufacturer of engineering and agricultural machinery in Ireland. Pierce stoves are still made, though elsewhere.
The enormous former Pierce foundry is now mainly occupied by a huge Tesco supermarket, their largest store outside Dublin. A memorial to the historic usage, made from machinery parts, is all that remains there of Pierce of Wexford. However, the name lives on, stamped on machinery and other manufactured items from the past. I find there is quite a trade in Ireland for Pierceiana, as no doubt it is known.
We have no plans for the hut, apart from having a look inside to see what (if anything) is there. A rattery, maybe. Its work is done, and it can continue to watch over the fields for many more years to come.
Credits: Pierce’s info & images from random online sources, in particular Emma Stafford (Observations from Daily Life), who hasn’t posted anything for 2 years and who I hope will not mind a credited use of the Pierce tractor seat & drain cover if she comes across this post; Photopol for the Tesco / statue image; National Inventory of Architectural Heritage (gateway); History Ireland Magazine (foundry image); and adverts.ie for the other Pierce items
The ring-necked parakeet (rose-ringed parakeet) Psittacula krameri
These pretty, noisy, gregarious birds, originating from the Indian subcontinent and (as a subspecies) the central Africa belt, are survivors and prolific breeders. Feral colonies, often expanding from a handful of escapees or released birds, are now found in many regions throughout the world. They are very adaptable, and populations spread rapidly. There are many thousands of them in south-east England, from the very heart of London to the outer reaches of the Home Counties to the south and west.
It comes as a surprise to learn that the UK population has only become established in the last 60 years or so. Some colonies are several thousand strong. We have a smallish colony in our part of west London. I can only imagine the noise (and mess…) emanating from a huge population of many hundreds as they swarm in to roost at night.
We get the parakeets passing through our garden most days, mainly in small groups of about half-a-dozen. After pausing to make the most of any filled bird feeders – from which they swing upside down – they head to the park at the top of the road, where they roost. That’s where I took these photos a couple of days ago.
We get pleasure from these green exotics, with their long tails and beady eyes. Elsewhere, they have undoubtedly become a nuisance. In places there are far, far too many of them and there is talk of culling. I don’t think anyone suggests complete removal; and by now it’s probably too late for eradication. But I do see that there is need for control where populations are out of control and breeding exponentially. I hope ours will stay around. I also hope the numbers stay much as they are now.
Snowdrops. Tiny harbingers of spring. An eerie barking and screeching in the night – another sure sign, even in West London. It’s been building up over the past couple of weeks. The scrabbling sound as large creatures scale garden fences. The noisy stand-offs, the come-ons, and the face-downs as the vulpine sap rises. Listening at night, I reckon there are 4 foxes involved. I’ve often seen a single animal in the garden lying in a warm patch of sunlight, or sneaking behind the shrubs, or loping down the street in broad daylight. I’ve watched a small cat in our garden stand its ground and then chase away a fox with a clatter over the fence. But until today, I’d never seen a pair comfortably settled on the edge of the lawn.
These photos were all taken through glass. By the time I’d managed to open the French windows (silently, I thought) to get a better shot, they were off. Until tonight, no doubt.
The Pyrénées-Orientales department is rich in early medieval religious foundations. One of the most striking is the abbey of Saint-Martin-du-Canigou, a Benedictine monastery founded in 1009 on the flanks of The Canigou. This high mountain (2,784 m /9137 ft) – once thought to be the highest in the Pyrenees – is of particular symbolic significance in this Catalan region, one that has changed ownership and allegiances many times over the centuries. Even now the Catalan flag predominates in public places.
The Abbey is pleasingly inaccessible. Leaving aside a precipitous donkey track down a cliff, there is an easier track that leads up from the little village of Casteil. On certain days, at certain times, this can be negotiated by going in a small trailer drawn by a kind of skinny quadbike. Or else, it’s shanks’s pony. The steep walk is said to take 30 – 50 minutes. You’d have to be fit to reach the abbey in less than half an hour. We took 45 minutes, overtaken at intervals by serious walkers with kit to match. And gratifyingly, we overtook several puffing, wheezing and (frankly) sweaty pilgrims in our turn.
Much of the trek is through woodland, with encounters with red squirrels, nuthatches, black redstarts and a surprising variety of butterfly species. The vertical rise from the village to the Abbey is well over 1000 feet, and the mountain air is sweet and clear. Apart from a small chapel on the way and the visitor centre, there are no buildings apart from the Abbey. Those with the energy left can climb higher to a promontory overlooking the Abbey, from which the postcard and guidebook view can be replicated (header image). However there is the added advantage of being able to take zoom photos.
Over the centuries, the Abbey has suffered earthquake damage, secularisation in the c18, and consequent abandonment by the monks. Thereafter, it fell into disrepair, then ruin. Most of the contents were dispersed. The buildings were then treated as a quarry. The wonderful and important capitals of the cloister were looted, as were the remaining sculptures.
And so the ruins were left for well over 100 years until, in 1902, a local Bishop of Catalan origin began the massive task of restoration. Thirty years later, the work was complete. The lower church – basically the crypt – was found to be largely undamaged, and is substantially as it was in the c11. Much of the upper church and the cloister was able to be reconstructed. The rest of the monastery buildings are early c20.
The Abbey is currently occupied by the Catholic Community of the Beatitudes. This is a remarkable charismatic order, not least because both consecrated men and women can be members, as can priests. Furthermore, it is inclusive of unconsecrated people – even families – who share the broad beliefs and aims of the community and their missionary activities in parishes and hospitals. We were shown around by a remarkably spritely and down-to-earth young nun (at one stage she high-fived me!).
The cloister deserves separate consideration, not least because of the wonderful capitals, some of which were, amazingly, recovered as the result of a diligent search for dispersed original material during the restoration.
If you want to find out more about this remarkable place, it has its own website with plenty of information HERE
Florence in January. -8°C at night, zero during the day – but sunny enough in the middle of the day to be able to have coffee or even lunch outside. Apart from the Uffizi, no queues for anywhere. Most significant places on the tourist trail almost to oneself. Despite the cold, there is no frost: the air is so dry that the pavements, piazzas and even the cars are quite clear of frozen white crystals. By the river I caught the electric flash of a male kingfisher flying up from the water to an overhanging bush, his hunting perch. I watched him as he scanned the water below, occasionally diving down and returning to the same branch. Twice, I could see the glint of a tiny fish in his beak.
Since I was 17 I have been lucky enough to visit Florence quite often, not least because Mrs RH regularly goes there on business, and I am a keen ‘trailing spouse’. Over the years I don’t know how often I have crossed the Ponte Vecchio – or even simply walked to the mid-point to admire the views up and down river from the open areas between the pricey shops. This time I was walking the length of the Vasari corridor that connects the Palazzo Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti on the other side of the Arno. A section runs straight over the bridge and then passes across the facade of Santa Felicita, into which the Medici family could sneak from the corridor to a large private balcony for spiritual refreshment. Passing the middle of the west side of the bridge, in the ‘tourist photo opp’ gap where Cellini’s bust adds to the photogenic view, I have never before looked upwards.
Here, on the roof of a shop, is an ancient sundial, supported by a white marble pillar. An eroded and almost illegible engraving below the pillar records that in 1333, floods caused the bridge to collapse and that “twelve years later, as pleased the Commune, it was rebuilt with this ornamentation”. The sundial itself, with its columnar divisions reminiscent of a rose window, marks the CANONICAL HOURS. The gnomon’s shadow indicates the hour of the day. If the sundial is the ‘ornamentation’ to which the inscription refers, then it is around 650 years old.
Seeing the sundial for the first time ever, yet in such a familiar place was a reminder that Florence is a city that demands great attention as one walks through the streets. Many buildings, even unassuming ones, have fine adornments high up that will catch the eye… but only if you are looking out for them.