Thursday, 5 April 2018

Winter Trees and Forest Ponies

We have had so many grey, dull days this winter. These photos were taken on a rare day of cold sunshine, before the snow and east winds came. A silver shine reflected on smooth beech trunks and a haze of young buds tipped twigs with light against the sky.

I caught the sparrow hawk on guard at the top of a horse chestnut. It often watches from this tree, in wait for unsuspecting small birds feeding on grass or at the garden bird table. I have seen it take a blackbird from the lawn in a wild, precise sweep down and across the grass. This week it has taken a wood pigeon in the field. A long stretch of grey feathers on the grass marks their passage and a pigeon`s last airborne fight for life.

Under the oaks and beeches, holly and ivy grow. Ivy flowers are heavy now with seed and provide welcome food for hungry birds, as well as dense, safe shelter in the worst days of winter, 

This holly on the heath was the last to lose its berries this year. Sweeter berries in the hedgerow hollies are cleared before Christmas, by blackbirds, the garden song thrushes and travelling flocks of mixed thrushes. Some hollies seem to bear more bitter fruit, which goes untouched until the birds are desperate with hunger. By the last days of our recent snow, this bitter holly had been stripped bare by redwings, fieldfares, mistle thrushes and song thrushes. Within days the berries were gone and the migrant birds had moved on. 

The old wilding apple trees survived another winter on the hill slopes, with their dense, gnarled branches showing silver green under years of lichen growth. 

Out in the lane, one Forest pony was happy to prune and eat the holly over a garden fence.  

Many of our village ponies were born in the gorse bushes on the hill, so we have known them since their earliest days. We are familiar to them as we walk and share the heathland spaces. This mare and her companion came over to me as I walked back from a walk around the hill. 

Back in the lane, a chestnut mare finished her drink and came across for a friendly word. 

A kind eye.....

In the old boundary hedge, oak and beech twisted and stretched their branches upwards under a cold, late winter sky.

Friday, 24 June 2016

A June Day at Cranborne

On a warm June Wednesday I drove across the Hampshire border with some friends, for a visit to Cranborne Manor Gardens, in Dorset`s Cranborne Chase. 
The Gardens are approached through a colourful and well stocked Garden Centre.We met for coffee and then made our way through rose-covered walled gardens, where beds of vegetables grow alongside drifts of wild flowers and sown cottage garden blooms.

Colours and scents tempt bees, butterflies and gardeners.

Climbing roses, underplanted with cranesbill geraniums.

Daisies, corncockles and splashes of scarlet poppies.

Vegetable beds in the kitchen garden, and a rustic "hut" of wood for sweet peas to climb.


Through a door in the garden wall, we walked along mown grass pathways, through meadows of wild flowers, towards the Manor House.

Yellow rattle, daisies, orchids and salad burnet, buttercups and clover grew among the grasses.

Down towards the Manor gates, where red brick walls and roses glowed in the sultry heat.

Cranborne Manor has been a family home for centuries and is not open to the public. Its current owner is Viscount Cranborne, eldest son of the seventh Marquis of Salisbury.

The original house was built in the twelfth century, as a hunting lodge for King John. The countryside of Cranborne Chase had been a Royal hunting ground since the Norman Conquest.

In 1604, the estate was given to Robert Cecil, Chief Minister to both Elizabeth I and James I, in thanks for overseeing a smooth transition between the Tudor and Stewart reigns.

Changes and additions to both house and gardens have taken place over the centuries. I was fascinated to discover that the early 17th century gardens were designed by Mounten Jenning and planted by the great plant hunter John Tradescant.

This and more information about the house, garden and the modern Estate can be found on

Through a wooden gate in the garden wall, we walked around to the back of the house, where the rear doorway gives a feeling of great antiquity and a sense of countless passing feet, over so many centuries.

From the back of the house, the view stretches down across the ha-ha and over a gate, into an avenue of green limes and lush pasture.

Walking on, we found an ornamental pond.......

......and free range chickens, contentedly foraging in the shelter of garden walls.

There are richly planted herbaceous borders in the walled area between the Manor House and Cranborne village. Early delphiniums promised a fine display, beside Church Walk that leads to the churchyard gate.

Masses of  pinks and old roses filled the warm air with summer scent.

An apple archway spans drifts of nepeta (catmint) and allium.

An ancient holm oak.........

...beside an avenue of limes.

We walked through their shade and back into wildflower meadows. 

Such an old and lovely place to walk, surrounded by birdsong and the sights and smells of summer. This is a garden to return to and enjoy again. 

Monday, 13 June 2016

At Bucklers Hard

On a warm, grey day last week, a group from our village met for lunch and our summer outing. This year we visited the hamlet of Bucklers Hard, which slopes down to the Beaulieu River and has long been a part of the Beaulieu Estate.
Bucklers Hard was a ship building community for centuries, using oak wood from the New Forest to fashion into ships. The skilled carpenters and shipwrights lived in cottages bordering a wide passageway, along which the timber could be brought down to dry docks at the edge of the water. Ships were built in wooden scaffolding frames for support and a small ship was often built beside a larger vessel, so that leftover small lengths of wood from the larger vessel could still be used.

Shipbuilding here was at its busiest during the eighteenth century, as the Royal Navy built its fleet to answer the threat posed by the French. Under the direction of Henry Adams, three "ships of the line", HMS Euryalus, HMS Swiftsure and HMS Agamemnon, were built here. They were part of Admiral Lord Nelson`s fleet that won the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Nelson`s own ship, HMS Victory, was built in the deeper waters of Chatham Dockyard in Kent.

The inlets below are the remains of the two docks where ships were built.

Today`s peaceful grassy sward was once a busy, bustling, noisy yard where the craftsmen plied their trades and where horses and carts came and went, delivering wood and supplies.

The rows of Georgian houses at Bucklers Hard were home to those who built the ships. From senior ships architects to the lowliest carpenters, they lived alongside each other in houses that reflected their status in both size and facilities.

Below is the reconstructed interior of a shipwright`s home in the late 1700s.

One of the cottages is a small chapel where the community worshipped. 

This plaque commemorates the life of a more modern sailor, Sir Francis Chichester, who kept his Gypsy Moth yachts in the marina that is now the mainstay of maritime life at Bucklers Hard. 
Chichester was the first yachtsman to sail solo around the world, and in both directions.

Today, the Beaulieu River at Bucklers Hard is crowded with yachts of all descriptions. A pleasure boat takes visitors for trips along the river.

Seventy years ago, this tranquil waterway was a hive of activity. Motor torpedo boats were built here during WWII and the river was an embarkation point as the Allies planned and launched Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Nazi Occupied France. Many troops embarked and sailed down the Beaulieu River to reach the Solent and the English Channel, before heading south for the Normandy coast and the D Day landings of early June, 1944.

Across the Beaulieu River are the marshes and woods of the Exbury Estate.
A great variety of seabirds and waders live and breed on the river.
Fenced off from the public are two areas of the Bucklers Hard quay, where oystercatchers have built their nests in shallow shingle scrapes.

Below, the female oystercatcher is sitting on her nest in full view of the world.

As we watched, her mate arrived, the chicks emerged from their mother`s feathers and ran to meet him, to be fed.

This gave the mother bird a chance to stretch her legs, so she walked along the water`s edge, partly hidden from our view by grass and oxeye daisies.