Location:United Kingdom

An avid tea-drinker who likes nutmeg in her coffee and warm lavender-scented quilts. She knits, crochets and partakes in random acts of craftiness (and kindness). She likes obscure works of literature, philosophy and the idea that her mind exists separately from her body. She enjoys moving furniture around, literary criticism and baking bread. She writes haiku about nettles, would like to swim with seals and become completely self-sufficient. She writes as if her life depends on it, listens to beautiful music, and loves her darling husband Mr. VP.

Find out more.


recent | random





Friday 22 May 2015

A Trip Away to Melrose

For Mr VP’s birthday, we opted to go on a short holiday.  Things are quite busy here at Chez VP at the moment, so a full week away wasn’t really feasible.  To save us spending most of our short break on the road, we opted to stay reasonably local and visit the Borders; a region of Scotland that we hadn’t explored.  I’m so glad that we did, as we had such a nice – if brief – time there.  Our first (and main) port of call was a little town just north of Jedburgh called Melrose.  I had heard that it was a nice place to visit and had connections with St Cuthbert as he began his monastic life in the town.  Nowadays, it forms part of the famous St Cuthbert’s Way, a walk of just over 62 miles that traces his journey from Melrose to Holy Island, where he ended his days.

It seemed apt, then, that we began our trip with a little look around the mighty red sandstone abbey that is really Melrose’s centrepiece.  Whilst not on quite on the same scale as Fountains Abbey, it is quite a sight to behold, and I must admit I was awed by how well it has been preserved.  Vaulted ceilings remain intact, cornicings and intricate carvings, gargoyles and window tracery are all present and quite beautiful.

I found it easy to imagine how wonderful it would have been to walk through the huge aisles, coming across the monks at their daily prayers and ecclesiastical business.

Some ruined abbeys have quite a dark feeling about them.  Perhaps it is a leftover remnant of the dissolution and destruction of the monasteries and abbeys.  Perhaps it’s just the centuries of not being loved or used for their intended purposes.  However I didn’t get any bad feelings from Melrose.  It is a very pleasant place to walk around.

If you’re in the area, it’s definitely worth a visit.

Cross over the road and continue into the other part of what would have been the monastery and you can find the remnants of Medieval engineering – the great drain.  This would have provided water and flushings for the whole site.  Isn’t it impressively constructed?

A little further on and you will come across a Medieval canal, still in (some) use today.  On the day we visited it was full of cherry blossoms (it was quite windy) – even better!

My favourite photo of 2015?  I think so!

Walking on the grass was like walking on the softest Wilton carpet with a delicious pattern.  I wonder what this would look like as a carpet?  Hmmm…

Flippin’ heck – it doesn’t get any better!  Squee!  The best bit about travelling northwards at this time of year is that you can enjoy a second blossom season!  Love.

Melrose is all old, high brick walls covered in lichen and blossom.

It has its share of gardens to walk around, too.  This is the Harmony House garden, which is National Trust.

Obviously, I gravitated towards anything that was blossom-based.  It is so fleeting, after all, that one has to get one’s fill where and when one can!  We had such a nice time together and really enjoyed our time away.  Life has been quite busy of late, so having the chance to reconnect and enjoy one-another’s company is so important…  And where better to do it than somewhere beautiful, eh?

Peeping at the abbey from under a huge Cypress tree in the Harmony garden…

Melrose town is quite a looker, too.  Full of old industrial-age buildings, it is quite pretty and filled with nice shops to look around (particularly the book shop – love it!).  It is also full of good places to eat – we recommend Burt’s Hotel.  That big hill is one of two called the Eildon hills and the gap in the middle is where you walk if you follow St Cuthbert’s Way.

Another place worth a visit is the Priorwood garden which would once have been the abbey’s walled kitchen garden.  To this day it has ancient apple trees and houses Scotland’s only dedicated dried flower garden.  There is an exhibit and shop where you can see the drying room and buy some of the flowers.  It’s very interesting, but not half as interesting as the apple trees!

I don’t think it is possible to have visited at a better time!  Blossom.  Everywhere.  As well as a lot of lichen – no wonder it felt wonderful to breathe the air!

Apples from (almost) long-lost varieties as well as a few more modern standards.  Cider apples.  Donated apple trees.  I can imagine that come autumn it must be gloriously brimming with apples.

This is the Leaderfoot viaduct and provided too good a view not to stop and take a photo.  The river is the Tweed, apparently a very good place to go salmon fishing (though speaking to some fishermen it wasn’t a good time for it!) especially if you can find a knowledgeable Gillie to show you the best spots!  The bridge is now sadly disused.

On the way home, we had to stop at the border and take a photo looking back towards Scotland.  The drive was absolutely beautiful if a little windy (and windy!) and took virtually no time at all, so we have vowed that we must return for a longer break when we get the chance.

Bye Scotland!

Monday 30 June 2008

dans le cadre d’un ciel ecossais (Frenchy will correct me on the title, I’m sure)

[Beautiful old church in Luss, preparing for a wedding]

Saturday was a good day.  It was long, really long, but we were immensely happy.  It was one of those days which makes you smile from ear-to-ear.

[Pilgramage trail, Luss.  With non-denominational (yay!) cross]

A few weeks ago I decided that we would go on a roadtrip.  One day, 3 people, a dog and an awful lot of driving to get to Scotland.  It didn’t dawn on me quite how much driving it would entail, but thankfully even though it took us 4 hours to get there, we laughed the whole way through roadworks, traffic jams and the middle of Glasgow (someone please slap me if I decide to go against the road-signs.  I’ll be damned if I’m not taking the Erskine Bridge again!).  The views were worth it when we got there.

[Craigie Fort view]

The drive was made pleasurable by the 3 of us singing along to French songs, not entirely knowing what we were saying (except for En Apesanteur, which I have now memorised).  We had a mini picnic, eaten on the shores of Loch Lomond (in the rain, no less), having travelled to Luss and then Balloch and Balmaha.  We climbed to Craigie Fort and sat watching the mountainous peaks, with their caps of cloud, before heading back South (via the Erskine Bridge, hooray!).

430 miles isn’t that much when you spend most of the time laughing.  I didn’t even mind having to work a full day the next day.

Il était parfait (it was perfect).

Monday 21 May 2007

Wind Through the Trees

When it comes to trees, my motto is, you can never have enough. If I had my 5-acre smallholding it’d be populated with pockets of native trees, and a little arboretum (literally “arbor“, meaning tree and “etum“, meaning collection of) for the many trees that I love the most.

When we bought this house the garden was bare and empty, except for a bedraggled privet hedge, grasses up to your waist and the splendid hawthorn tree at the far end. Shortly after arriving the hawthorn came into flower and swept the area with great swathes of white blossom, whose smell was as intoxicating as any I’ve ever smelt. I’ve written briefly about my love of trees, and in my mind they are one of the most divine beings in the world. Each tree with its own unique characteristics, smells, flowers, foliage, personality and fruit.

When on our trip into Scotland, our first stop was to the Benmore Botanic Gardens. When entering this inconspicuous place I didn’t realise just what immense beauty lay beyond the fences and walls of the garden itself, but how wrong I was. Walking down the Sierra redwood [Sequoiadendron giganteum] avenue my jaw fell at being surrounded by the most enormous trees I’ve ever seen. Everywhere I cast my eyes, a different tree – trees I’d read about but didn’t think I’d ever see – especially in a beautiful valley in Scotland. I was in my element, taking photographs of trees left and right, making mental (and at one point, physical) notes of trees that I one day hope to acquire. My husband commented more than once that I was like a child in a sweetshop, and indeed I was.

The visit was made all the more pleasurable by the fact that it seemed we were the only people there – it’s so enormous we didn’t encounter more than a handful in any of the three times we visited. There are no “keep of the grass” signs either, it was free reign to go wherever we pleased, hug as many trees as we desired, and get to know every inch of them, from the lichen on the Chinese Ash [Fraxinus chinensis]…

and every little petal on every rhododendron (there are a lot!)…

To one of my favourite trees of all, the stunning fern-leaved beech [Fagus sylvatica ‘Asplenifolia’]

I think many people forget to look at trees – when was the last time you touched a tree, or felt a quiet calm befall you when you sat under one?

Our garden now contains a miniature flowering cherry, a snowy mespilus and an acer [Acer palmatum ‘Orange Dream’] – with more trees to come. I’m looking forward to sitting under their shade on a warm Summer’s afternoon whilst smelling the gorgeous escallonia and the honeysuckle on the breeze. The power of dappled shade on a hot day, or the gentle rustle of leaves should never be underestimated. They are balms for the soul.

But my love of trees has gone on much longer than that – I can remember playing in a lilac tree at the front of our house when I was very young, climbing into its web of branches and thinking what a lovely vantage point I had. Hiding behind trees to avoid something, or someone – undoubtedly playing hide and seek. Or taking refuge under the branches of an enormous Yew at one of the many National Trust properties I went to as a child. Trees are for me, a safe barrier – we can hide in them, touch them, use them and feel at peace near them. And they will remain here many thousands of years longer than us. I must seem awfully geeky, perhaps even a tad insane, but there is even beauty to be found on their name-plates  as their names slip off the tongue (and scarily enough, I’m remembering the names better than I remember what is to go on my shopping list!).

When walking through the botanic gardens, I was in awe as the clouds parted and the sun shone to reveal perfect, dappled shade as far as the eye could see. In that moment the words of Gerard Manly-Hopkins‘ “Glory be to god for dappled things…” came to mind, and not having a copy of the poem in front of me – I ad-libbed cheerfully.

And of course, the highlight of the whole visit, was being there to see the Handkerchief tree [Davidia involucrata] in full bloom. What a happy tree, and a marvellous sight to behold, for one very pleased tree-lover.

Wednesday 16 May 2007

Happiness, I found it

Amongst glades of pines and broadleaves, and in valleys of sheep, we both found our happiness. After a strangely peaceful journey through cities and towns we arrived at possibly the most beautiful place in Scotland, the Cowal peninsula. I didn’t expect it to be as beautiful as it turned out to be, and I certainly didn’t expect to feel the way I do about the place.

As soon as we got off the ferry and travelled along tiny single-track roads we found peace and a sense of home. It was a complete gamble choosing to go where we did – I literally picked a bit of the map and said “there”, not even knowing what “there” might be like. The B&B we stayed at was a gamble too, it could’ve been dire but it wasn’t – we had the most beautiful room possible, looking onto the Kyles of Bute, miles away from anyone else.

We watched the sun come and go out of clouds that held the lightest, warmest rain. For once in my life the rain wasn’t a hassle, it didn’t hold us back, it changed and became something that made the grass greener and the life around us lusher. The valley we stayed in was green and lush, like that of Dorset, which made us feel like we’d found the best of both worlds, isolation and beauty. It was far lusher than Mull, whose harsh landscape was dramatic but barren, this is a little lowland paradise amongst the highest hills.

The waters surrounding us on three sides were clear and clean, with life abounding from every crevice. I saw sea-urchins, mussels, crabs, Eider ducks, barnacles, whelks, limpets, starfish and pipefish. And although I spent the whole time itching, believe it or not, I didn’t get bitten once – purely psychosomatic. The midge population of Scotland held back for our trip, hardly a little black cloud was seen.

Although we were only there for 5 days, it felt as though we were there for weeks, we crammed our days full of scenery and walks through pure bluebell woods, the grey days only emphasizing all of the other bright, lush colours. I filled two memory cards, took hundreds of photographs and have been given so many brilliant memories.

I think you could call this trip a much-needed getaway, I learnt alot about many things, and had a truly wonderful time. I can safely say we’ll be going back soon, but however soon will be – it won’t quite be soon enough for either of us. We’re now back into the daily grind, but with a head full of ideas, even the daily grind seems nicer.

But what of the fate of little Nutmeg? It is amazing what a course of medicine will do for a chicken, it really is. When we got her she was quiet and always the underdog, even before she became ill – but now? There are no words to explain how much this little chicken has changed! She has gained her weight, and her voice, and one helluva character – I daren’t put my fingers near her now! She crows, at the top of her voice, if she wants something – and doesn’t let any of the other hens go near her food, not even Indy or Gooseberry! She’s now bigger than Marigold, and has a character to match, but they all seem much better and are back to laying 3 eggs a day – Nutmeg hasn’t quite caught up yet.  I present a fearless little chicken…

And as for the garden? That’ll be for next time :)