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Tuesday, 31 July 2018

The Cotswolds: A Postcard from Oddington

My destination for the first couple of nights of my road trip was the village of Oddington, Gloucestershire, not far from Stow on the Wold. It is in fact two villages: Lower and Upper Oddington, strung out along a quiet road.

This was my first experience of an Airbnb and it was very positive. The little place I stayed in was a charming, stone-built annexe in the corner of a garden, quite private from the house it belonged to. It was a scorching hot weekend, but happily there was a lovely pub next door to my hideaway, which furnished ice-cold drinks and the opportunity to watch the England World Cup quarter final on a big screen TV! Hooray!

In the late evening, when it had cooled down a bit, I explored the village, which is obviously now a dormitory village but has a history of sheep and corn farming. Some of the buildings looked to be very old, judging by the wonky walls and roofs, though there were various small developments of housing that appeared much more recent.  Most of the properties are built of the local Cotswold stone, a warm yellow oolitic limestone.  JB Priestley wrote, poetically: “The truth is that it has no colour that can be described. Even when the sun is obscured and the light is cold, these walls are still faintly warm and luminous, as if they knew the trick of keeping the lost sunlight of centuries glimmering about them.” Isn't that lovely? 

I was rather touched by the little cluster of amenities: the postbox, the village noticeboard, the litter bin and the old telephone box repurposed as a store for a defibrillator. A handy defibrillator is a good thing, I suppose, though I'm not sure how these are meant to be used or by whom. 

Monday, 30 July 2018

The Cotswolds: Hidcote Manor Garden

I've recently returned from a holiday in the South West of England. It was envisaged as a grand road trip including places that have either long been on my bucket list or were places I haven't visited for many years. When I planned it some months ago, I didn't factor in a heatwave! As I don't really cope well with heat, I had to amend my plans: fewer long walks and many more café and ice cream stops! I had a great time though, and will share some of my photos so that you also can enjoy some of the most picturesque and interesting places that part of England has to offer. 

My first stop was Hidcote, in Gloucestershire, a National Trust garden that was originally created by an American horticulturist, Major Lawrence Johnston. He and his mother bought the 17th century farmhouse in 1907. They adapted and extended the house and began to create intimate 'garden rooms' around it, in the Arts and Crafts style that was current at the time. Its 'glory days' were in the 1930s and 40s, when it attracted many well-connected people with an interest in gardening. It was taken over by the National Trust in 1948. They strive to preserve it as it was intended and some 175,000 visitors are able to enjoy it every year. 

It was blazing hot and for much of the afternoon I had to seek shelter in the shade of trees, enjoying a beautiful view across the surrounding Vale of Evesham. The gardens were, I would say, a bit past their best, given the hot, dry weather. The borders are packed with plants, influenced by the style of Gertrude Jekyll and the Arts and Crafts movement. Each 'room' is separated by a wall, hedge or topiary boundary, with connecting paths and vistas through. There's a kitchen garden, greenhouses, ponds and some wide lawns.

I felt I should be strolling around in a long, diaphanous skirt, trailing my fingers through the lavender and breathing in the scents or lazily lying in a deckchair listening to the buzzing insects. As it was, my ramblings were somewhat curtailed by the need for shade. Happily, most NT properties have good tea rooms!

The NT website has a wealth of information and you can enjoy wonderful 'virtual tours' through the gardens. I especially recommend the 'Old Garden' tour with the sound effects switched on. You can hear a wood pigeon's characteristic call; folks in Yorkshire reckon it keeps saying "My toe hurts, Betty." Once you've heard that, you can't unhear it, be warned!  Click HERE.

Sunday, 29 July 2018

The mystery of grace

There was a graceful young swan on the river in Saltaire, watching me warily. At least it didn't turn its back on me like they usually do. It looked rather attractive, gliding leisurely through the summery greens and golds reflected in the water. The young mute swans have much paler beaks than the adults, whose beaks are quite a bright orange. This one still had some buff coloured feathers among the white as well. It is probably one of last year's brood. I'd be surprised if this year's cygnets have reached this size yet. An 'ugly duckling' gradually growing into a swan... as perhaps we all are.

'I do not at all understand the mystery of grace. Only that it meets us where we are 
and does not leave us where it found us.' 
Anne Lamott

Saturday, 28 July 2018

Kildwick's poppies

The main reason for my flying visit to Kildwick (see yesterday) was to see the poppy cascade that had been constructed on St. Andrew's church tower to commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War. It was inspired by the poppies displayed at the Tower of London in 2014 (see here), part of which was a 'weeping window' with poppies cascading down. The poppies at the Tower were made of ceramic, whereas the Kildwick poppies (1599 of them!) had been knitted, crocheted or fashioned from fabric and sewn onto a 17m long base structure by church members, villagers, children and members of a local knitting group. It was a very impressive sight.

Friday, 27 July 2018

A flying visit

Before my holiday, I paid a flying visit to the village of Kildwick, a few miles up the valley from Saltaire. It was a roasting hot, sunny day so I only took a short walk. The village hugs the banks of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, although higher up the hill is a fine Jacobean manor house called Kildwick Hall, built in 1642 and in private ownership.

It is a nice little village, mostly residential properties, with a good pub and a large church. The village has historic links to the priory at Bolton Abbey. Below the village, in the valley bottom, the main road from Keighley to Skipton crosses the River Aire and in the 1300s Bolton Priory paid for a stone bridge to be constructed here, the oldest stone bridge in Airedale. (It's not the one in my photo, which is a canal bridge.) The bridge still stands at the entrance to the village, though the main road has since been diverted onto a bypass to avoid the bottleneck that the village became.

This stretch of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal from Bingley to Skipton was the first section to be completed, in 1773.

Thursday, 26 July 2018


A few 'mare's tails' - cirrus clouds - that seemed to echo the shapes of the trees.

Wednesday, 25 July 2018


It seems so normal to call these 'selfies' now, doesn't it? Funny how a new word can become so quickly accepted as common parlance. This is me, my hat (my trusty Tilley hat, such a good investment) and my camera, getting up close and personal with a dry stone wall!

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Kisdon Force

Towards evening, we left Muker's glorious meadows and walked down into the gorge that holds Kisdon Force, near the hamlet of Keld. The light was beginning to drop but we had tripods. Lizzie was showing me how to use Lee Filters to slow down the shutter speed on my camera in order to blur the water and reduce the tonal difference between the sunlit trees and the shadowed waterfall. I'm not sure I can justify buying filters or carrying them around, but they do make a clear difference to the end result and I think the photo looks crisper overall too.

This is the lower falls and there is another big cascade a few hundred yards upstream. There wasn't much water coming over the falls really. It has been a very dry couple of months here. It won't be long, I fear, before we're being told it's a drought and being asked to conserve water! It's been a few years since that happened.

What you can't see are the thousands of midges: nasty little biting creatures that are extremely irritating! I've a stretchy buff that I wear around my neck when I'm out walking, to cushion my camera strap and prevent sunburn. It came in very useful to pull up over my hair to keep the midges off, even if it looked a bit stupid. Believe me, you don't care a fig about glamour when there are midges around!!

Monday, 23 July 2018

Evening light

As we were preparing to leave Muker's wildflower meadows, the evening light raking through the trees was very atmospheric.

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Barns and wildflowers

I took loads of photos in Muker's wildflower meadows, but this one perhaps sums up as well as any the experience of being there on a wonderfully sunny day. It's a barn reflected in the cobweb strewn window of another barn. I spent ages lying on my stomach on the edge of the path too, trying to capture the feel of the flowers. You'll have to imagine the warmth of the sun and the gentle hum of insects.

All the world encapsulated in a drop of spittlebug foam, under a buttercup!

Saturday, 21 July 2018

Muker's meadows

As well as the stone field barns, Swaledale's hay meadows around Muker are of international importance for their wildflowers. They are now protected and farmers receive grants that allow them to farm using traditional methods, without using artificial fertilisers. I don't know how I've never visited before when the flowers are blooming. They really are exceptionally stunning. 

Friday, 20 July 2018


The village of Muker in Swaledale was our next stop, and a pretty little place it is, too. The area has been inhabited since the Bronze Age. Agriculture has always been its basic driver, although in the late 18th/early19th century lead mining was an important source of employment. Nowadays, tourism helps and the village has a couple of teashops, craft shops and a pub. And how do you pronounce its name? I'm fairly sure it's 'Mooka'. There is a very strong, historic dialect in the area, still spoken by some older residents. Swaledale is locally pronounced 'Swardle' and the local dialect uses many specific local words, especially farming-related terms, and ancient words like 'thee' and 'thou'. There is concern that the dialect is dying out and I believe recordings have been made in an attempt to preserve it.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Swaledale's stone barns

From Wensleydale we drove north and over into the next valley, Swaledale, which is famed for its many limestone field barns. They were originally built to overwinter cattle and store their feed. Many are in disrepair, though some have been restored. Swaledale is a beautiful valley, harder to reach than some and with fewer obvious tourist attractions and few large settlements. Unlike Wensleydale it never had a railway, and to some extent that has preserved its mystery. It has some amazing wildflower meadows, thanks to the practice of letting the flowers bloom and seed before cutting the grass for hay or sileage. These photos were taken in Yellands Meadow Nature Reserve.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Wensleydale walls

The Yorkshire Dales are famed for their drystone walls. We spent some time on the photography workshop trying out different compositions at a spot in Wensleydale where the walls followed the curving slopes of the terrain. It was very pretty with all the buttercups and cow parsley in bloom.

Some of the walls are obviously functional, whereas others leave you wondering... In fact, one of them seemed to form its own question mark. Often you marvel that anyone could be bothered to build a wall in such a spot. Some of them are so high up on the hillsides and built on precipitous slopes, though these particular meadows near the bottom of the valley were quite gently rolling.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

That chicken question...

Why did the chicken cross the road?
To join in our photography workshop, of course. We were having such a good time.

Monday, 16 July 2018


I met Lizzie Shepherd and the other workshop participants in Hawes, and took the opportunity to have a little wander around the town. Hawes sits at the head of Wensleydale, beside the River Ure. Though fairly remote, it is a tourist hotspot and an important town for the local communities. It has a market and a livestock auction. The largest business is the Wensleydale Creamery, which produces the renowned Wensleydale cheese and has an interesting visitor centre. Hawes' petrol station was, apparently, reopened by the community in 2017, in order to save them a 36 mile round trip to the next refuelling stop! 

The parish church of St Margaret sits above the town centre. Many of the graves date back to the 1800s.

The market is colourful and busy. I imagine it is quite necessary in a town sited so far from major supermarkets and with few 'ordinary' local shops. Many of the shops are aimed at tourists and visitors: antique centres, art and craft galleries, gift shops and suppliers of walking and country clothes and accessories. (The Pennine Way long distance footpath passes through the town.) There are lots of nice cafés and pubs too.

The River Ure is the main river in Wensleydale. Strangely, unlike all the other Yorkshire Dales, the valley isn't named after its river but after the village of Wensley. It was once, however, known as Yoredale. The Ure flows just north of Hawes and the stream cascading down through the town is Gayle Beck.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Over the hills

Over the hills and far away... 
June was my birthday month and I treated myself to a one day photography workshop, run by one of my favourite photographers, Lizzie Shepherd. We met in the market town of Hawes, one of the most important settlements in Wensleydale. It's a fair drive from here, but a beautiful route north, up past Skipton, right up through Upper Wharfedale and along the pretty Langstrothdale. Then it's over the hills, finally dropping down steeply into Wensleydale. These photos were taken as the road started to drop towards Gayle and Hawes. This little valley is known as Sleddale. As you can see, it started off a misty, hazy morning but, as the day wore on, the mist lifted and it was gloriously sunny. It was a wonderful day to be out in the Yorkshire Dales.

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Potty about plants 6

Shipley Open Gardens - I make no apology for showing so many Open Garden posts. I know there are many gardeners and plant lovers out there who, like me, find the wonderful range of garden plants both beguiling and uplifting.

Here are some of the individual plants I noticed and liked. The sweet peas above were such a vibrant colour and looked so pretty tumbling around a tree trunk.

Poppies tend to be short-lived but provide a gorgeous splash of colour.

I'm not sure what the shrub below is. The flowers were so neat and almost waxy looking.

Two yellow and white flag iris... I wish there had been three, but never mind!

And two pink clematis too.

I'm not sure what these are either but I loved the juxtaposition of different shapes and similar colours.