Saturday, 27 February 2010

A Snowdrop Walk at Kingston Lacy

A grey Saturday when the rain clouds moved away. We drove across country to the Dorset country town of Wimborne Minster and then travelled a few miles further west to the country estate of Kingston Lacy.

Kingston Lacy House was built in 1663 , during the Restoration monarchy, by Sir Ralph Bankes. It has been changed by subsequent members of the Bankes family, and in the 1830s it was re-designed as a Venetian Renaissance palazzo, which gives it the European elegance that survives in its appearance today. The Bankes family enlarged the estate to over 8000 acres. There are twelve working farms, parkland designed in the 1780s by Henry Bankes and areas of wild wood and more formal gardens.

In 1981, the Kingston Lacy Estate was bequeathed to the National Trust by Ralph Bankes. Today, the house and its magnificent collections of art and artifacts are open to visitors during the summer months. In the winter, the estate closes to the public, but reopens during early spring weekends as the woods and gardens bloom in a profusion of snowdrops.

In the walled garden, cyclamen and snowdrops flower in the shade of trees. The snowdrop collection contains many species of snowdrop, including the wild snowdrop of English woodlands.

Walking out of the walled garden, the rear of the house can be seen across well-tended box hedging.
Looking back along a wet parkland path towards the house. The parkland retains many fine old trees, both evergreen and deciduous. There is continuous care of the old trees and the careful planting of new, young trees which will eventually replace them.

Along one of the snowdrop avenues.

Snowdrops in the woodland.

Along the tree lined avenues, snowdrops bloom like drifts of snow. Amongst the flowers are the spears of bluebells and young daffodils which will blossom under the trees in later spring.

Splashing in the puddles left by overnight rain.

Another woodland walk with newer plantings of snowdrops.There were people of all ages here today, walking and enjoying the peace of the woods, but there is space enough sometimes to find an empty pathway ahead.

Young bamboo grows out of a cloud of snowdrops near the Japanese Garden

Snowdrops beneath flowering Mahonia japonica.

In the wild wood, moss covered tree trunks and fallen branches lie amid a carpet of snowdrops. Old wood remains here to provide food for invertebrates as it rots away.

A quiet place to rest in a wild woodland glade.

Across the woodland edge where majestic old Cedars of Lebanon stand in the parkland beyond.

A gate into the park and a grassy way across to the house.

A dense and beautiful carpet of flowers stretching into the woods as far as the eye could see. A reminder that the seasons are turning and that the end of this long and dreary winter cannot be too far away.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Dog Fox is Hungry

It has rained all day. A wide band of rain has settled over Southern England. Surface water is gathering on the fields and ditches in the lanes are full to the brim. Just after midday, the Dog Fox arrived outside our window.

He and the Vixen live in underground earths on the edge of the heath and they visit the fields and village gardens every evening as dusk falls. They feed on small mammals, insects, worms and any berries or fruit that they can find. Two summers ago, our young plum tree was stripped of fruit one night. We found fox cub droppings underneath and all the plum stones, which the foxes had cleverly spat out.

This has been a long, hard winter for birds and mammals in the Forest. The braver Dog Fox has begun to visit gardens during daylight hours. There was a plentiful supply of grain beneath our bird table today, so this made a good light lunch for a hungry animal.

Our two Border Collie dogs go frantic if they see the foxes outside in "their" garden. They will leap and bark at the window, with tails wagging. The fox usually looks at them disdainfully and carries on eating. Dog will chase fox if they meet in the garden, but it seems as much in a spirit of play as a real conflict over territory.

Today, the cat watched from the warm, dry sitting room as Dog Fox fed outside.

My camera flash reflected on fox retinas. Dog Fox was not trying to look fierce. I just caught him with his mouth open!

Fluffed up with cold and bedraggled from the rain, the fox carried on with his meal, watched by a silent Ginger One, until little of the grain was left. I kept the dogs away while he ate in peace.

Monday, 22 February 2010

A Fuzzy Buzzard......

This evening, driving home along our lane, I was surprised to see a buzzard hunched on a birch branch, just a few metres away. I stopped the car and turned off the engine. These three rather fuzzy photos were taken through the closed window, not long before dusk, but I was thrilled to be so close to this beautiful bird of prey as it waited for a chance to hunt on the Forest green.

Buzzards are not elegant movers on the ground, but watching them soar upwards in a clear sky, with wings outspread , is a thrilling sight. As spring comes, pairs of buzzards will circle over field and heath , making their plaintive mewing calls.

This photograph was taken yesterday. A pile of old hedge cuttings is waiting to become a bonfire, but has become a temporary shelter for young rabbits venturing out of the nearby hedge and into the grass. The buzzard was watching, still as a post, for a heedless rabbit to hop out into the open.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

From the Passenger Seat

An everyday journey, but today I am the passenger. A cold day of storm clouds rolling in from the west. Today I do not need to watch for traffic. I open the side window and snap photographs from the moving car. Nothing is composed. These are just the images that flash through the mind as we travel on. Out of the Forest, across the River Avon where water meadows are losing their floods but swans and geese still feed in the wet gulleys draining fields of grass.

The main roads to Bournemouth will be heaving with Saturday traffic. We choose the way across the top of the town. Past the airport and down along the valley of the River Stour.

Over the Stour . A flash of willow and silver water through girders of the old iron bridge.

A tall, mature pine beside the road.

Everywhere in this seaside town there are green corridors. Hedges and gardens, pine plantations and copses of riverside alder , white willow and birch. Roadside verges link into woodland. A slope of pine leads up to heathland and gorse between areas of streets and houses. This is a town patched with green between rows of Edwardian and 1930`s homes. 1950`s bungalows line roads in tidy ribbons. New estates encroach the green land acre by acre, but in amongst the modern there are farmhouses and elegant villas from the days before Bournemouth was a sprawling town.

Almost at our destination. The last flash of the camera as we enter the northern edge of town. Right down to the sea there will be gardens and tall pines.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

A Few Hours in Fritham

Today I arranged to meet an old friend. Sarah is an equine trainer who uses non-violent methods to help horses, ponies and their owners. She initially trained with Kelly Marks and Monty Roberts, but she also uses the methods of other natural horsemanship trainers and has, over the years, developed skills and expertise of her own. She is especially keen to promote gentler and more humane ways to handle the many wild foals who are born on the New Forest, Exmoor and Dartmoor every year.

Here are some of Sarah`s New Forest ponies ( plus a white grey Welsh pony who lives with them). Sarah has commoning rights and keeps these ponies on the open Forest, but they stay near to home and come in for a feed of hay on most days in the winter. They look well and it was good to hear that the mares are not in foal this year. The recession has meant that good homes for foals are becoming harder to find, so the mares were kept away from the stallion last summer.

Sarah`s stable and barn is a World War Two Nissan hut which was rescued from one of the local airfields at the end of the war. Many local farms have restored wartime huts which are still doing stirling service as store rooms or shelters for animals.

Here is T, Sarah`s new horse. She started his ridden training last year and has recently bought him. He is Quarter Horse x New Forest . He seems a kind, sensible sort and has a summer of further training in front of him.
Sarah seems to be collecting chestnut horses! This is C, a former racehorse. When he arrived, he needed complex dentistry to sort out his teeth before his rehabilitation could begin. Now he is a lovely, increasingly confident horse who is beginning to enjoy life again.

A year ago, this photograph would have seemed an impossibility. J is a larger type of New Forest pony. He spent years running wild on nearby marshland. No one could get near him, let alone handle him. He came to Sarah as his last chance. Here she is, putting ointment into his eye which was sore but is now healing well. He can be handled and led out for walks on the Forest and it is clear that he adores Sarah. We had hoped to take him out for a walk, but the rain kept on falling today, so we abandoned that idea.

Instead, we drove along the village lanes to the Royal Oak, which is the smallest pub in the New Forest and was the best possible place to warm up in front of a log fire. We had thick, spicy home made soup and bread for lunch. Perfect food for a wet, grey day of penetrating cold rain.

An elegant village house across the lane from the Royal Oak.

On the top of a hill, with views of rolling green farm land all around, the Royal Oak has been a meeting place for Forest people for centuries.

A peep through the front door. The bar is on the left, while a good log fire burns in welcome. Through the door is another small room where visitors can eat, drink and catch up with news in a warm and friendly atmosphere.
Beside the pub are three coralls, where horses can be left when their riders or handlers need to stop for refreshment.

Farmland and grazing ponies next to the gardens of the Royal Oak.

An ancient oak tree , its branches green with lichen, has stood by the green at Fritham for several hundred years.

On my way home again, I passed a herd of commoners` Shetland ponies, grazing near Janesmoor pond.

The old runway. The road heading westwards from Fritham is a runway left over from World War Two. Fighter squadrons were based on the wartime airfield here and were a vital part of the war effort towards D Day and beyond. As you drive along the straight, empty runway, it is easy to imagine being in a Spitfire and getting ready for take off!

A rainswept view across the north of the Forest, towards the distant hills of Wiltshire.

On a wet day, shades of rust, deep brown and green have a rich beauty of their own on the slopes of Rockford Common.

Birch trees, wet bracken and the lane going westwards, towards home.

More day to day stories of Sarah`s horse training can be found on her journal blog