Oh what a lovely day we had yesterday! It was obviously the perfect kind of day to find onesself sat in a hide in the middle of Northumberland with a long lens! Within the space of half an hour, and despite some rather noisy people coming and going, we managed to capture red squirrels, woodpeckers, bank voles (I finally got one on camera, though it’s blurry), chaffinches and baby robins amongst others. This little squirrel is my first red that I have seen since we left Northumberland and I have missed seeing them terribly. I can’t wait to get back into our house and (hopefully) be able to see them in the garden again – we both hope that they’re still there. It was a really lovely sunny (and quite warm) Sunday and spending a little bit of it watching some of our favourite wildlife was really magical.
Monday 28 July 2014
Saturday 26 July 2014
Last Friday, Mr VP took some time off work and we packed a picnic and headed for a day spent together in a place that we both love very, very much. Allen Banks and Staward Gorge is a place that we haven’t visited since a very snowy February 2009, though little has changed in the five years we’ve been absent. Except the weather – that was very different to our last visit! This time we were sweltering and sweating in the heat of the midday sun rather than shivering in the cold. The last time we came here, it was so cold that parts of the river were frozen over. It seems hard to believe it possible when visiting on a day like this.
Allen Banks is teeming with wildlife and wilflowers. The birds were singing; cheeky robins darting just ahead of us, leading us on, and wagtails whisking up and down the river. The slightly fuzzy picture of the bird on a rock is a dipper and this is the only place I’ve ever seen them. I also saw my first grey wagtail here. We saw (but I was absolutely unable to capture on camera) the bank voles, of which there were hundreds, running around the trees and banks of the river. We could mostly hear them and then would catch one running past us at such a speed that even with the best reflexes in the world, I don’t think I could’ve kept up with them. I’m also fairly sure that if one was to stay still enough here, you would become covered in moss, as almost all the trees, logs, walls, fences and semi-permanent structures are covered in a thick, green coat. Wildflowers grow in abundance and orchids, horsetails, nettles, bracken, ramsons and brambles cover every inch of space that isn’t full already of trees, both living and dead.
We picnicked on the bend in the river, where there is a little section of dry riverbed in summer that you can get down onto. We had sandwiches and cake and coffee, though I didn’t feel much like eating because of the heat. I walked across flat river-stones into the middle of the river and watched the fish swimming, the baby salmon and trout (we think). I saw one, much bigger, fish swoop out of the deep and into the shallows to pluck off one of the unlucky fry, before returning to the depths. This is why all of the young hide in the shallows, in less than an inch of water, so as to avoid the same fate. It is a magical place, this river and these banks, imbued with peace and plenty. It is one of those places that you continue to think about long after you have gone home and returned to your daily life. I can’t wait to go back on an autumn morning, crisp with cool, damp air, wearing wellies and a coat rather than plimsoles and a light top.
Thursday 24 July 2014
Do you know that it had been almost a month since Mr VP and I had visited a beach. That is far too long for either of us and we were both getting a little antsy. As the weather has been so hot and humid recently, I knew that the only place we’d get real relief was at the beach. It seems obvious, but it felt like both of us were recharging something that we hadn’t known was missing, just by being there. After a little while, we noticed a small flock of these little clockwork-legged birds running in and out of the tide. I thought they were plovers from a distance, as I’ve seen quite a few of those around before, but when I went to the bird identifier they look far more like sanderlings (in their breeding plumage) to me, though technically sanderlings only visit in the winter (?). Who knows. They were very sweet though and eventually I got close enough to take some really nice photos. We found this enormous clam shell while walking on the beach, too. It was almost big enough to be a soap dish and judging by the number of rings on its shell, it must’ve been pretty old, too! However, the best bit of the whole walk had to be the emptiness of the beach at sunset. The sky was on fire; salty sea air was forming rolls of foggy-fret and best of all, it was cool and glorious to feel the sand between our toes after the heat and mugginess of the day.
Tuesday 22 July 2014
A few weeks ago, I bought a little Collins book entitled Short Walks In Northumberland, which I knew we’d make use of in the coming months. Inside are a set of twenty curated, circular walks around various different places in Northumberland, and luckily, almost all of them are unknown to us, which meant we’d meet our goal of visiting one new place a week! So we packed a picnic (ewe’s milk and lavender cheese sandwiches, with home-grown lettuce, flask of proper coffee and blueberry cake) and headed out for a walk around Wylam, on what turned out to be a very hot and humid day indeed.
On the way, we came across George Stephenson‘s house, the man known as the “Father of the Railways” and whose engineering prowess not only brought the Industrial Revolution into being, but also gave us lasting inventions like our railways, bridges and locomotives (like Stephenson’s Rocket). The Stephenson family were poor, living in just one room of this house, all seven of them sharing one small box-bed. It was George’s desire to better himself, and an almost innate ability to engineer things, that set him on the course to glory. The house is now looked after by the National Trust and the one room that the Stephensons lived in has been faithfully restored to its original glory. The outside also houses a nice rest-stop for the walk, with a tea-room and pretty (but very small) garden.
We stopped for a cup of tea and were ‘found’ by this very tame baby robin. Can you see, he/she’s still all spots and freckles? We stopped for a cup of tea on the way out and a sneaky ice cream (Beckleberry’s raspberry – how I have missed you!) on the way back. All the time, we were aware of the robin (and other birds) scampering around us.
Sweet peas! I haven’t grown these for years (not since we left Northumberland) but plan to have lots of them next year, as they remind me of so many good things. These were growing in the cottage garden of Stephenson’s cottage and though they weren’t scented, they were stunningly beautiful.
Once we’d made our way onto the walk, we began to come across such lovely things. This view of the river really is stunning. What you can’t see from the photo alone is the darting birds, swallows and swifts, diving over the river and the sound of the moorhens and coots, the cawing of crows and calling of seagulls (and also the swarming of thrips and midges!). It was alive and very fast-flowing indeed.
Another thing to keep your eyes out for, should you ever visit Northumberland, are the harebells. Most of the time, I associate them with Scotland, but as I was explaining to a friend of mine the other day, we are almost in Scotland (indeed, anything North of the Wall!) which is why we get such a proliferation of different species here from the rest of the UK. Aren’t they beautiful, though? I think I’d rather see these than bluebells, you know.
At the sight of elderberries, I always recount the tale of my mother’s foray into wine-making, which somehow went a little awry, producing something more akin to 40% loo cleaner than drinkable wine (someone who enjoyed a regular drink, upon drinking my mother’s wine coughed and proclaimed with watering eyes “It burns!”). It makes us laugh now. As someone who doesn’t drink, the need for wine making has kind of passed me by, but I can imagine that making your own wines from hedgerow ingredients must be very satisfying indeed (I will try nettle beer for Mr VP next year!).
Of course, one of the best bits of the walk was finding ourselves in amongst the pines and the larches again. I can’t wait until I can look out at the pine trees at the bottom of our garden once more and hear them sing in the winds.
Paths, literally and metaphorically speaking, are something that hold a lot of importance for me now. Choices we make at forks in the road; how we interpret our situations and how we come to decisions are all interesting and important now. The more I think about it, the more I think that our paths are an exceptionally complex system of ring-roads and straight lines, u-turns and unforseen bends. Sometimes we can’t see the path for the weeds and sometimes we’re not sure of the course we should take. But I don’t think there’s a bad path, there are just detours until we get back on track. But we never can see what’s round the next corner, however much we crane our necks.
This stretch of the Tyne is much-loved by canoeists and fishermen and is much cleaner than it used to be, though due to previous workings on the banks of the river, it now has its own ecosystem distinct from the rest of Northumberland’s flora and fauna. Species that can only otherwise grow in very specialised settings, like chalk downs, can be found here and nowhere else in Northumberland.
Seeing the red berries of the Mountain Ash / Rowan tree, reminded us both that we sat in the garden the other day and watched blackbirds vigorously eating the berries, plucking and wrenching them off in big beakfulls. We have had a lot of birds in the garden this year and some of the loveliest to watch are the baby hedge sparrows and blackbirds as they fumble their way around, begging food off their parents and looking very sweet in their speckled plumage.
This photo was taken about two miles into our walk and at the point where we decided to head back to the car as it was very hot indeed (and we’d almost done the whole circular 4 1/2 mile walk). This view of steeple, cows and hedgerow was well worth the walk.
Wild raspberries! Oodles of them covering a whole bank. Lovely!
Sunday 20 July 2014
I decided to begin going to an acupuncturist when we moved up here. Or rather, I had decided I’d do it in Cambridge and then we decided to move! You see, medically speaking, I am not only a conundrum wrapped in an enigma that is coddled in a riddle, but I am simply too complicated for doctors to sort out. It’s not a good place to be, I’ll admit, knowing that doctors are playing whack-a-mole with a list of ever-increasing symptoms but not getting to the root cause of any of them. One doctor, a supposedly learned fellow, actually scratched his head in puzzlement at me and suggested the only thing he could think of, which was akin to using
a hammer Mjolnir to crack a walnut (and he was the best the NHS had to offer!). Some doctors suggested my genetic, physical complaint was merely a ‘lifestyle issue’ and one GP didn’t even know what it was. Given this lacksadaisical and somewhat random approach (one GP was great) that most GPs and consultants had, I decided to eschew doctors and began to do research into slightly more crunchy-granola territory, though obviously still keeping to things that have clinical trials and published research to back them up (not like, say, homeopathy). Acupuncture seemed to have a lot of positive scientific and anecdotal reviews and since booking myself in to see my acupuncturist I haven’t looked back.
I did a lot of research (I used the BAcC website) before settling on someone I thought had the qualifications and the drive to make change happen. I must admit, while I was aware that acupuncture gets rave reviews from people who’ve had it done, at the back of my mind I was immensely sceptical about the treatment’s efficacy. I told my acupuncturist that I was there because this was the Last Chance Saloon and that the medical establishment, such as it is, had all but washed its hands of me unless I wanted to be well and truly Mjolnir’d. We went through my complete medical history, including odd questions that I would ordinarily have thought would make no real sense to anyone, I had my pulses taken and my tongue inspected and then began treatment. My acupuncturist is actually, it turns out, very good. Within 24 hours of being (painlessly) needled, I notice huge effects on a whole gaggle of problems that had been weighing me down for years.
Knowing that my acupuncturist is really open to learning new things, I did some research and found a really high-quality, randomised double-blind study done in Sweden on the use of acupuncture, which would address a good deal of my problems. I showed my acupuncturist the protocols and we’re now giving them a go, with the hope that I’ll be able to repeat the high success rate of the Swedish study. Already, I see huge improvements in my quality of life and, unlike the medicines that I keep getting schilled at the GP, these don’t have endless side-effects or limitations. Am I cured? No, but I am certainly a whole heck of a lot better than I was. This is a process and it takes time, something that our ailing (and about-to-be-privatised, thanks to this lovely government of ours) NHS can’t or won’t admit or make concessions to remedy.
What is the problem with modern (Western) medicine? If your medical file is beginning to resemble War and Peace, ten minutes in a GP’s surgery isn’t going to cut it and being handed a prescription for a never-ending supply of medication that never helps isn’t either. I want answers and medical help to get well again. Western medicine as a whole, fails to address the fact that a person is a holistic being and that illnesses take time to resolve. It fails to recognise that one event (a traumatic injury, an illness etc) can affect the whole way that your body, a structure that has thousands of different parts all working in concert with one another, works. Knock one thing out and you begin to notice everything around it struggling to compensate, which then gives you symptoms of something else. The Chinese have known this for thousands of years and in hospitals there, you will receive treatment both using Western medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine as well. In certain places, such as the US, ‘functional medicine’ seems to be bridging the gap between the two, by using Western doctors who also accept that symptoms of B, C, D and E can be a result of something happening to system A.
To play the devil’s advocate in the matter, even if the symptom changes that I have noticed are nothing but the result of placebo (and some of them have been so physically extreme and unexpected that I cannot imagine how I could ‘placebo’ them into being), it has worked – because things are better than when I started the appointments. After all, if I am feeling better and my body is acting better, then isn’t that a good thing? It might not be for you, indeed, there are things that acupuncture isn’t as adept at (don’t look at its Wiki page, as it is so very poorly written and curated), but any acupuncturist worth their salt will tell you on first meeting what they can and can’t treat. Do give it a go, though, because if you have chronic pain or migraines or horrible PMS or IBS, this might be the thing to change all of that for you. After all, isn’t anything worth giving a go if it makes you feel better?
Saturday 19 July 2014
I await the moment that someone creates pictures with smell-o-vision, because walking around this old walled garden was a cacophony of scent, sound and colour. From the moss roses to the proliferation of philadelphus (mock orange, to you and me), the heady smell of flowers on the breeze was everywhere, captured by the very old brick walls that encase this south-facing idyll. To me, this walled garden (if it wasn’t quite as well-known-about) is as close as I can get to the garden I read about as a child in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Secret Garden. It is full of hidden areas and quiet spots that one can sequester onesself away in and read a book, or doze, or simply take in the scenery.
I am always reassured by coming here, to this place that Mr VP and I have visited hundreds of times, because with the exception of new planting schemes in some of the annual beds and the odd new addition, it stays the same, year after year. Even after some four years of absence, it is still reassuringly the same and unchanging. In winter, we walk around in thick coats and wellies, taking a flask of coffee and some cake to eat in our favourite seat that overlooks the pond. In summer we swelter under the sun, admiring the colour and the smell. In spring I fall in love with the blossom all over again. And in autumn I see the hydrangea leaves and swoon at their glossy red colour. I love it here, when it’s quiet, before the hoards of tourists come. I like it to myself. I like to be alone with the day and the busy-ness of the garden and my love.
When I visit somewhere like this, I always come home with lots of inspiration for plants that I would like in our own garden. So far, my notepad is full of plants I would love to include in our garden: variegated weigela, acer purpureum, moss roses, astrantias, cranesbills (the double blue one above!), lavenders, a smoke bush (Cotinus), a cherry tree, a Paulownia tree (I’m going to give it a go from seed!) to name but a few.
Now that summer is properly here and is beginning to get hot, too hot to be outdoors in, my thoughts have turned to the ever-so-slightly earlier nights that we have now (but summer is the briefest of flings). It is hard to escape the fact that within a month, summer will be coming to a close and we will begin to notice the cooler evenings and that autumn smell on the air. This year, however, I won’t complain that we’ve not had enough time to enjoy it all, because it has been a majestic summer. Though I do not want to wish time away, I must admit I am a wee bit excited to get back into jumpers, cardigans and long boots again (oh my!). Until then, you can find me occasionally revelling in that garden and making the most of the summer.
Thursday 17 July 2014
There is nothing better than spending your Sunday morning in the woods. Mr VP and I got up early and headed off to a local place that we both love, and even though it was a weekend and is usually heaving, we were some of the only souls around. The birds were singing in the trees, the sun was shining (though it was broken and softened by the pine trees and beeches that fill the place) and I began to wander around, filling my heart up to the brim with this place, a place Mr VP and I know like the backs of our hands.
Ahh, that view, with its flat-bottomed trees and much gazed-upon vista of blue-grey hills and rolling countryside. The woods, deep and dark and damp; full of life, full of insects and birds and squirrels. Full of the pine trees that I have longed for, longed to walk amongst; for I must be, somewhere in my long-lost lineage, a person who once lived amongst them. I imagine the woods unfolding as I wander amongst them, opening their arms and giving up some of their secrets; telling me what the beech tree feels like to be nibbled upon by the caterpillars who a then work to spin themselves the most intricate tents of silk on the branches, so that they might better nibble undisturbed. The woods are singing their songs, the needles whistling and swirling, whilst the rest of the forest sings a song of endeavour and business.
I stopped to watch this solitary female bumble bee (colloquially ‘bumbla‘) crawl around looking for either her nest or a good place to site one. All the while, she was absolutely uninterested in our fascination with her as she simply carried on her business. Likewise, though the birds acknowledged our presence, they were not fussed at us being there. We watched as the diminuitive (yet lovely) nuthatch vied for space on the feeder, sharing her space with baby blue tits and a blackcap (one of the sweetest of the garden warblers), while the pheasant (poor thing, in mid-moult) wandered to the bottom of the feeders, looking for scraps.
We were there in time to capture the last of the rhododendrons in full bloom and, for a second, it felt for all the world as if we were back in late May and summer was just around the corner. The heat and the sun told us otherwise, though. The birdsong, not as vibrant as in May; the woodland more dense and green than May, too. Everything was in its peak, flowering, growing, blooming. The ferns and the mosses that line the banks of the streams are at their loveliest point right now too, green and lush. Too soon the babbling brook will become quiet, as August will dry it out, making it muddy and empty until the rains of October fill it up again.