Monday, 30 November 2009

Winter Evening by John Clare

The crib stock fothered, horses suppered up,
And cows in sheds all littered down in straw,
The threshers gone, the owls are left to whoop,
The ducks go waddling with distended craw
Through little hole made in the hen-roost door,
And geese with idle gabble never o`er
Bait careless hog until he tumbles down,
Insult provoking spite to noise the more;
While fowl high-perched blink with contemptuous frown
On all the noise and bother heard below;
Over the stable-ridge in crowds,the crow,
With jackdaws intermixed, known by their noise,
To the warm woods behind the village go;
And whistling home for bed go weary boys.

John Clare (1793 - 1864)

Sunday, 29 November 2009

The Eco Houses at Anderwood

Yesterday, on our walk in Anderwood, we passed the new Sustainable Homes which have recently been built. This building comprises two semi detached houses which each have three bedrooms. Each home also includes a wooden barn and outbuildings.

These homes were designed to be built with the least possible impact on the New Forest environment. They are rented by practising New Forest commoners. There is a shortage of affordable homes to buy or rent in the New Forest. Many of the traditional cottages and farms would have been homes to commoners of past times. Today, those homes command high prices that may be beyond the means of a commoning farmer.

Many traditional homes have been bought by people moving into the Forest. This is a popular area for city people who retire to a New Forest cottage. A high proportion of Forest properties are second/weekend homes or holiday homes rented to tourists. Over 40% of the homes in a nearby village are second homes and are empty for most of the year. Not only does this impact upon the community of a village, but it means that the descendants of those earlier New Forest commoners struggle to find homes that they can afford , within the Forest where they keep their animals.

The Forestry Commission has built these sustainable homes at Anderwood in an attempt to meet the demand for homes for commoners. It is hoped that this project will be the first of many.

As explained on the poster photographed below, The wooden framed houses were built from Douglas Firs harvested from the Anderwood plantation.

The wooden houses have facilities for Grey Water Harvesting. Rainwater is collected, used, filtered and then re-used.

Geothermal Heating pipes have been installed, which heat the houses using heat from within the earth.

There are Solar Panels on the roof which produced solar energy.

More details about sustainable homes can be found on the Forestry Commission website.

Here is a traditional Victorian keeper`s cottage not far from the newer homes.

The view from the old keeper`s cottage, along the wooded lane towards Lyndhurst.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

An hour in Anderwood Inclosure

A late November Saturday of low light and grey skies. As I write this, heavy rain batters the roof tiles above my head and streams of water run out of leaf-clogged gutters. It is five pm . It has been dark for almost an hour.

Earlier today, we walked in the quiet of Anderwood; a seventy hectare inclosure where the Forestry Commission grows and harvests trees.

Anderwood was first enclosed and planted with oak in 1811. At that time, during the Napoleonic Wars against France, the New Forest had provided fine oak for the building of warships. Many of the wooden sailing ships of Nelson`s Navy were built at Bucklers Hard, on the Beaulieu River and not far from the English Channel and the Naval sea ports. It was important to replant young oaks to replace those felled in time of war, so Anderwood was one of the areas chosen for this purpose.

Beech and sweet chestnut are also grown here. The photograph above shows a small plantation of young beech trees, growing in the shadow of tall, mature trees.

Unpollarded beeches growing tall, straight trunks towards the sky. The rust brown of wet bracken underlies the trees.

This New Forest mare was standing on the woodland edge with her family, a small group of bay ponies who looked very much alike . Mother and daughter groups are common and the ponies will often pair-bond for life with a relative or friend.

Foraging for soft twigs in the browsing line of lower branches beneath the trees. The ponies have strong molar teeth which enable them to grind twigs, gorse and holly when winter grass is insufficient for their needs.

The pony on the right shows how efficient her long, thick coat has been in draining away the earlier rain. Her back was still damp, but the hairs on her abdomen and legs were dry, warm and fluffed up against the cold.

This well-covered old gelding dozed and slept on the edge of the family group. His left hind leg was bent and that hoof was resting, pointed to the ground. Inside the stifle (anatomical knee) joints of a horse, are a web of ligaments called the Stay Apparatus, which enables that leg to fix and form a prop for the animal so that it can sleep standing up.

In the 1940s, many of the New Forest inclosures were planted with conifers as a relatively short-term harvest crop. These conifers, mostly pine and Douglas Fir, are now mature and are gradually being harvested by the Forestry Commission. This area shows land which has recently been cleared. The land had been dug and turned over by heavy machinery and will need time to recover, although the green leaves of clumps of foxgloves were growing amidst the sodden wasteland. When new planting takes place, there may be Douglas Firs and Norway Spruces in this place.

Ponies graze the edge of an area of woodland clearance. In the chill November wood, no birds were singing.

Bunches of young silver birch twigs, harvested and ready for collection.

Taking the dogs home along the forestry track, beneath tall conifers on the edge of mixed woodland. Last night`s rain gave the woods a dank smell of wet leaves and rotting wood. Sometimes the soft underscent of pines came sweetly out of the spruce plantations beside the gravel lane.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Bitter for Sweet

Bitter for Sweet

Summer is gone with all its roses,
Its sun and perfumes and sweet flowers,
Its warm air and refreshing showers:
And even Autumn closes.

Yea, Autumn`s chilly self is going,
And winter comes which is yet colder;
Each day the hoar frost waxes bolder
And the last buds cease blowing.

Christina Rossetti

Rainclouds gather over the Bronze Age burial mounds on the plain below Beacon Hill.

The first photograph of a setting sun in a dark grey sky, was taken today just before 3.30 pm. It has been one of the shortest days and the daylight hours have been wet, dreary and increasingly cold.

Christina Rossetti`s poem is not one of her most memorable ones, but somehow it captures that lowering of the spirits that comes on an early winter`s day of sullen skies and chill rain.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

A corner of a country town

Late this morning, I drove up the Avon Valley to the pretty riverside town of Fordingbridge. I arrived twenty minutes early for my appointment, so I took the time to turn down a road that was new to me, just to see what was there. Church Street. A road of old and interesting houses, a little bridge over a stream rushing eastwards towards the river and then, in front of me, the beautiful old Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin. I parked and walked about for a few minutes. I soon had to go on my way, but was pleased to have made the diversion. A corner of this lovely town that needs time to explore another day.

Looking towards the little bridge and the centre of the town

This fine house was the former vicarage of the church, which is just across the road.

A memorial cross, dedicated to a former vicar who served the parish for thirty years, stands outside the main door to the church.

There were a few tombs left standing in the churchyard, but many of the original slab gravestones had been removed from their grass graves and lined up along the wall of the graveyard. I expect there was a good reason for this, but the result looked rather sad.

The Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin was originally built in 1086, ten years after the Norman Conquest. The Normans updated the church in 1150. The tower was built later and still houses eight bells plus the Sanctus bell, but the church has apparently changed little since the sixteenth century. There was a renovation by the Victorians in 1840, when the interior was changed. The flintwork of the church exterior would have originally been covered with a layer of plaster.

(Thanks to Wikipedia for information)

Sunday, 22 November 2009

An Hour of Blue Sky

A stormy Sunday of wild southerly winds that whipped sheets of rain across fields and Forest. I was drenched when I took my wheelbarrow of hay around to the field shelters and water flooded down the hill in streams.

At midday, the wind changed. Rain and clouds blew away and the expected south westerly arrived with blue sky and white scudding clouds. We took the dogs out into the woods while the fair weather lasted. Most trees are bare now, after a week of storms. No birds were singing and the only sounds were rising wind gusts, a creaking branch overhead and the squelch of our boots as we trod the sodden leaf mould under our feet.

On the edge of the heath, a gorse bush in glorious bloom providing nectar for late bees and other flying insects.

A silver birch, empty of leaves, whipped its fine branches in the wind.

Up the hill and into the woods.

These two mature oaks , their trunks and branches green with lichen, have old lower branches that are pock marked, rotting and waiting to drop to the woodland floor.

Beautiful pale fungi grow out of layers of fallen leaves beneath the oaks.

A secret dell where badgers have dug tunnels into the sandy banks.

On grass beside the wood, we found this soft pink toadstool. It is possibly Russula rosea.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

A Cross Dog Story!

I was driven indoors today by sheets of rain and wind, so I spent a while looking through some old family papers in one of the boxes of odds and ends in the attic. I found a yellowing copy of The Lincolnshire Times, dated Saturday 8th October, 1960. My Lincolnshire Granny had sent it to my mother, as it had a small report of my Grandad`s funeral. However, this story on the front page caught my eye. I hope it managed to cheer Mum up at what must have been a sad and difficult time for her. She had been very close to her father, who died suddenly at the age of sixty eight.

I have changed the name of the lady with the dog, in case she is still alive.....

Didn`t Know He Was a Policeman!

Defending a dog at Scunthorpe Magistrates Court, Mr H.M. Winocour said
"PC Cross was not in uniform, so the dog did not know he was a policeman. It would not have bitten him if it had known."

Mr Winocour was appearing on behalf of Mrs A... G........ of Scunthorpe, who was charged with keeping a dangerous dog. She was ordered to pay 6/6d costs and a dangerous dog order was brought against her.

Inspector H.A. Corney said that PC P. Cross saw two dogs barking at each other, but as he approached, one of the dogs ran onto the road. A bicycle was approaching, so the dog ran back on the pavement and bit the officer on the leg.

He saw Mrs G... and told her what had happened and asked her to keep her dog under control.

She replied "I do not know how to keep it under control. It is the first time it has ever done anything like this."

"PC Cross," went on Mr Wincour, "thinking that the dog was going to bite him, put his leg up to void it off. Then the dog, thinking that the policeman was going to kick it, bit him."

Friday, 20 November 2009

A Bunch of Holly

This morning, the rain slipped away towards the east and left a sky rinsed clean and pale blue. Underneath the tall holly hedge lay more ripe, red berries, loosened by the relentless rainfall and winds of recent days. Across the pasture, small flocks of mixed thrushes were arriving; song thrushes, mistle thrushes and a few rust-striped redwings joining our native birds from lands across the North Sea.

I decided to harvest a bundle of holly today, while the red berries remain. Out came the long handled pruner and down came short holly branches, enough to decorate the house in late December, in time for Christmas.

Now, the holly boughs are safe in a cool shed, lying across an old ladder to store and keep until nearer to Christmas Day.

Our share of the holly harvest. The birds can have the rest!

The pruner is over eight feet long and is able to reach and cut branches high up in the tree.

We planted this lovely holly in a garden border two years ago and will wait a few more years before we harvest foliage and berries from it.

The native holly has been cut and brought into homes in winter for thousands of years. It has a pagan significance as the evergreen leaves symbolise everlasting life . Bringing evergreens home in the depth of winter was a way of looking after the spirits of the woodland, or of "bringing home the ancestors".

Christianity took these ancient customs and added symbolism that reflects the life of Jesus. The sharp leaves reflect the crown of thorns while the bright red berries symbolise the blood of Christ.

I like to bring evergreens inside at Christmas as part of the continuity of ritual and custom that has been with us for centuries. The poorest cottager or the wealthiest lord might have decorated their homes with holly, taking enough for their wants but still leaving trees of red berries standing in the winter cold to feed the hungry birds.
Here is another Walter de la Mare poem:

The Holly

The sturdiest of forest trees
With acorns is inset;
Wan white blossoms the elder brings
To fruit as black as jet;
But O, in all green English woods
Is aught so fair to view
As the sleek, sharp, dark-leaved holly tree
And its berries burning through?

Towers the ash; and dazzling green
The larch her tassels wears;
Wondrous sweet are the clots of may
The tangled hawthorn bears;
But O, in heath, or meadow or wold
Springs aught beneath the blue
As brisk and trim as a holly-tree bole
With its berries burning through?

When hither, thither, falls the snow,
And blazes small the frost,
Naked amid the winter stars
The elm`s vast boughs are tossed;
But O, of all that summer showed
What now to winter`s true
As the prickle-beribbed dark holly tree,
With its berries burning through!

by Walter de la Mare

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

The Old Stone House by Walter de la Mare

The Old Stone House

Nothing on the grey roof, nothing on the brown,
Only a little greening where the rain drips down;
Nobody at the window, nobody at the door,
Only a little hollow which a foot once wore;
But still I tread on tiptoe, still tiptoe on I go,
Past nettle, porch and weedy well, for oh, I know
A friendless face is peering, and a clear still eye
Peeps closely through the casement as my step goes by.

Walter de la Mare

This is a poem that I learned by heart at school. I was probably aged nine or ten. That sense of the unknown, maybe the supernatural, is so powerful. I was reminded of it again tonight, as I read Bovey Belle`s short story, Little Llettygariad, on Codlins and Cream 2.

The line "Only a little hollow which a foot once wore;"
has always fascinated me. If I walk across an old doorstep, worn to a hollow by the feet of many years, there is a tangible link with other lives, lived long ago.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The storm that came to nothing

Blue sky inland towards the north.

Changing skies are a striking feature of New Forest landscapes. This morning I drove down towards the coast and was aware of bright blue sky behind me, but a dark grey, towering mass of stormy cloud ahead. Clouds were building on the Channel coast to the south. I pulled in and took some photographs from high land overlooking moor and woodland.

Looking to the south west, a tall cumulus rises up to form the anvil shape of a threatening storm cloud.

The sun rises behind a dark storm cloud. Rain could be seen falling over the distant sea.

Bubbling cumulus clouds to the east of the main storm.

All day, from my window looking south and not far from the coast, I watched the clouds threatening and rising over the coast, only to clear away inland to give a fine but breezy day. At home, I found an explanation in
Instant Weather Forecasting by Alan Watts . Here, he describes coastline clouds:

"Looking in the direction of the sea from a few miles inland, the observer sees an unstable airstream over the water only. This indicates that the sea is warmer than the land and is a phenomenon primarily of autumn and winter. "

He adds, for the benefit of sailors,

"Expect gusty showers if leaving harbour"!

Monday, 16 November 2009

Watermeadows in flood - Christchurch

Last Saturday, a leaden sky, waiting for new storms to fly in from the sea. The River Avon, swollen with flood water from its long, winding valley route through Wiltshire, Hampshire and Dorset. Across river and flood, a steeple, the Priory Church tower and rooftops in the town shine dark and wet from recent rain. A wind ruffles wavelets over fields of water.

Rushing, rolling grey water churning deep in the river channel. Rising, bursting water, flowing over soft river banks into the fields beyond. Grass and meadow flowers submerging ; air bubbling from the covered earth. Earthworms and scuttling insects drowning. Seagulls swimming on new fields of silver. A heron in the shallows, still, its beak poised, its black eye watching.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Something left....

After the storms of yesterday, a quiet peace. In the garden, an old cherry tree has lost its leaves overnight and the branches of horse chestnuts and the American oak are bare. Holly berries have fallen out of the hedgerows and are food for song thrushes and blackbirds. The grass is shining and wet, covered with leaves and sprouting small, rust-brown toadstools. There are still some trees in leaf and a few late flowers have survived the wind and rain.

Fatsia Japonica is in flower, with small ,round, composite blooms that resemble the flowers of our native ivy which is still attracting bees in the tall hedge.

A young acer shelters by the fence and has missed the full force of the wind.

The liquid amber has lost some leaves, but most still survive and they change colour by the day. This beautiful tree was planted by the family who previously lived here and is around twenty years old.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Wild Waves Across Poole Bay

On our way into Bournemouth today, we drove along the clifftop at Southbourne to see the sea at its wildest. The wind caught at our breath as we pushed through the huge gusts, across the green to the cliff top. The wind was gusting to 78 MPH in the Channel off Portland Bill today and at The Needles , on the western edge of the Isle of Wight, wind speeds of 100MPH were measured.

Views to the east, towards Hengistbury Head.On a clear day, the Needles can be seen in the distance, but today they were hidden by the grey storm clouds and the sea.

Looking westwards along the Bournemouth cliffs and beaches. No surfers on Boscombe beach today!

Boscombe Pier, where the surf roared in towards the new artificial reef that is making good waves for surfers on less angry days.

Wild waves foam and spray along Boscombe beach to the west of the pier.