Thursday, 19 August 2010

A Rainy Hour in Romsey

On a showery Thursday afternoon, we stopped in Romsey on our way home. This small Hampshire market town has a network of narrow streets, imposing Georgian buildings and rows of smaller cottages not far from the centre. The town is dominated by Romsey Abbey. The original Abbey was built in Saxon times but the present building dates from the time of the Normans. It was an important Abbey until the dissolution of the Monastries by Henry VIII in 1539. At this time, the community of the Abbey was dispersed and the building itself was saved as a church for the people of the town. Inside the Abbey is a list of names of the Abbesses who governed the community of nuns from Saxon times until 1539.

We arrived just before the shops closed, and my camera battery was running low, so these are just snapshots of our walk around the town as we dodged the showers, spending half an hour inside the beautiful old Abbey as we passed.

My friend Bovey Belle`s late Mother was born in Romsey and was married in the Abbey. I thought of her as we walked the wet pavements and imagined her there as a young girl in the 1920s. I stood in the aisle of the Abbey and thought of her as a young bride, facing the great clear glassed window as she walked away from the altar with her young husband. There are so many layers of history in that ancient place, and now she has become a part of it.

A rather magnificent Georgian facade for Barclays Bank.

Lord Palmerston on his plinth in the main square.

The Town Hall.

King John`s House is a half timbered mediaeval house which was once thought to be the hunting lodge of King John. However, it has since been found that the house dates from the mid thirteenth century, while King John died in 1216. It is an interesting old building , which now houses the town museum, which we hope to visit again. We managed to walk through the garden just before the doors were locked for the night.

The mediaeval herb garden smelled fresh and sweet after the rain.

A little bridge leads out of the garden and across a stream.

After some time in the Abey, we walked around through a back lane and found a terrace of beautiful white Georgian houses, which had rear gardens backing on to the Abbey grounds. Each house had a different character and a pretty front garden. One of the houses was for sale. I would have loved to have looked inside.

Monday, 16 August 2010

The Heather Blooms on Cranesmoor

In the middle of August, the New Forest heathland breaks into bloom and the landscape glows in shades of soft pink and purple. After long weeks of drought, the rain has come again. Burning blue skies have given way to softer greys and sometimes the bubbling clouds of incoming showers, but the sun shines through enough to catch the heather and brighten the new greens of grass refreshed by rain.

One recent evening, we followed unfamiliar footpaths, southwards across Cranesmoor to find the resting places of Bronze Age chieftans among the soft, low hills. Through tall, rough and flowerless bushes of gorse and out onto a track that bordered marshy Strodgemoor, we walked in the footsteps of the smugglers who once used these quiet pathways to bring contraband up from the coast.

On the footpath verges, bright Tormentil flowered in the undergrowth.

Across heather and marsh, we saw the raised mound of the pine covered Butt. Butt is a local name for a Barrow, or burial mound.

Gentle, rounded hillocks undulated to the left of our path, growing purple ling and gorse, with sometimes a young Scots Pine emerging from a wind-blown seed.

Below is the green, damp Strodgemoor, where rain drains from the hills. There may be an underlying layer of clay beneath this area, which encourages water to stay and peat bog to form.

I heard footsteps behind me. Two round and shining New Forest mares walked with determination along our path.

We stopped to let them pass.

In amongst the heather, low bushes of deep yellow Dwarf Gorse were in flower.

Bell heather grew in clumps along the edges of the path. Its flowers are larger and a deeper pink than those of the shrubby ling. In the soft, warm evening air, the sound of a thousand bees droned across the hills.

The pathway lead to a crossroads of sandy tracks, so we followed the route that lead towards the pine covered barrow.

In the distance, a Forestry plantation of conifers broke the skyline with a darker green......

...and then we came across the two ponies who had passed us on the track. They had known just where to find pools of water in the marshy grass.

Up on the hill beside us, the rounded top assumed a distinctive shape beneath its covering of heather. This was the tumulus we had found on the map. A Bowl Barrow, with its rounded top shaped like an upturned bowl, here was the final resting place of the nobility of a local Bronze Age community, buried here maybe 3,500 years ago. From their fortified settlement on a nearby high hill, the Bronze Age people could have looked down across the moorland valley to these graves. Around the barrow, we found a shallow ditch. This can be seen, faintly, in the photograph. In the soil of the ancient ditch, heather plants grew stunted and short.

From the top of the Barrow, we watched the ponies setting out for better grazing across the marshy land. They picked their way safely, across sedge and bog, towards the woodland edge.

We walked on, to the pine covered barrow, which appeared to have been used as a rifle range in the recent past. Maybe a remnant of the days in World War II , when troops used the New Forest as a place to train for the fighting they would face after the D Day Landings in Normandy.

Between the woody plants of flowering heather, mosses and lichens flourished. Here is Cladonia impexa, soft and pale green , which thrives on the acid soils of sandy heathland. There were few birds on the heath that evening. A pair of Stonechat chit-chitted at us from some gorse. Later, across the heather, a woodlark flew up, alarmed. I just caught sight of the raised crest on its head as it perched on a dead gorse branch and then flew away.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Snapshots from a Village Fete

The day of the village fete is an important one in the life of a New Forest village. Weeks of planning and preparation go into making the event a success. In the days before the fete, cakes are baked, books and bric a brac are sorted, plants are potted up and dogs are bathed. Everyone hopes for good weather. Putting up the tents and marquees is a major job for volunteers, whose lives are made easier if the wind does not blow too hard.

On a weekend when rain came at last to the dry heath and woodland of the Forest, this year`s fete took place. Under lowering grey skies, villagers and visitors from the nearby towns came out in force. One thousand people bought entrance tickets in the first hour alone. Everyone wandered around the field, usually a grazing ground for deer, and looked for bargains and fun amongst the stalls and attractions. Neighbours met to chat and greetings were heard as familiar faces emerged from the crowd.

The music of an old fairground Carrilon drifted across the field. Nostalgic melodies of long ago rural fairs brought back the days of our great grand parents. The Carillon played away all afternoon.

Visitors were encouraged to have a go at turning the wheel that made the music play.

A brief history of this interesting old machine, which was built in Antwerp in 1920......

...and a photograph of the same machine, with its proud , sepia-tinted owners in its heyday in the 1920`s.

There were representatives from a local Alpaca herd, waiting to meet visitors. A nearby stall sold scarves and soft garments made from their beautiful, fine wool.

The rain clouds came and went. As curtains of rain swept down into the valley, everyone dashed for shelter into tents and under awnings, until the showers passed and business resumed again in the warm, steaming summer air.

Two friendly goats advertised the dairy produce of a local goat farm, and they proved popular with everyone.

At the Punch and Judy Show, children watched fascinated as the age-old show of extreme domestic violence was played out once again by the battered puppets of Punch, Judy and the Policeman.

There were swing boats.....

..and ferrets. These sleek animals waited for their turn to race.

The Ferret Racing pipes where bets would be taken and the ferrets encouraged to run their fastest from one end to the other!

The Dog Show was popular again. Most Handsome Dog, Prettiest Bitch, The Dog Most Like its Owner, Best Rescue Dog and the Dog with the Waggiest Tail won prizes and rosettes.

This young rough collie was there to meet crowds of people and dogs. His owner was very pleased with his calm behaviour . A lovely dog and one I could have taken home.....

Behind the stalls and marquees was the Classic Car Show. A line of much loved and restored old cars waited with their admiring owners.

This old Ford Popular was the same model and colour as the first family car that I remember. I was seven years old before we had a car. Before that, a weekly bus ride to the nearest market town, or a long walk to the next village, was the only way to get around.

Last but not least, the magnificent old Steam Roller that drew young and old for a closer look. I remember steam rollers working on the roads of rural Hampshire. This one will soon be on its way to the Great Steam Fair at Tarrant Hinton in Dorset, where Steam enthusiasts gather every September to look, listen and smell these mechanical reminders of the not-so-distant past.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Flowers in a Parched July Garden

As the lush green of June gave way to July, high summer this year brought days of hot sunshine and very little rain. Roses and delphiniums finished their displays and the brightest flowers were often those of self-set annuals, or of wild flowers allowed to stay where they had grown.

Scarlet flashes of poppy petals ......

...and the soft, pale mauve of a mallow that no one has planted.

As the month passed, we left a patch of lawn to grow unmowed. A sea of white clover blossomed first, and was alive with honey bees and bumble bees. Later came the butter yellow Birds Foot Trefoil......

..a patch of purple Self Heal.....

.....and the tall white discs of Yarrow flowers stood out above the drying grass and clover,

....while Scarlet Pimpernel opened its flowers to the sun.

Down in the vegetable garden, the green of plants watered each evening contrasted with baked , brown pasture in the fields beyond. In among the beans and the courgettes , beautiful poppies had seeded themselves and enticed the bees to pollinate the plants.

A single Love in a Mist plant appeared with its delicate leaf fronds and deep blue flowers beside shining green leaves of spinach and Swiss Chard.

More poppies among the beans, with single petals.....

....and some with ruffled pom pom flowers like layers of crinoline on a long-ago dancing dress.

In a border where the roses were almost over, a tall pink lily blossomed for days in the heat of the sun. The bulb was a birthday present from an old friend. Three years on, it still blooms throughout July.

Rosa Kiftsgate has finished flowering now. For less than two weeks, it flourished and tumbled over an old wooden fence and was humming with bees through all the daylight hours.

A new plant, brought back from a June visit to the wonderful gardens at Sissinghurst Castle in the Weald of Kent. Nicandra physalodes alba flowers in Vita Sackville-West`s White Garden there. An annual that grows from tiny seedling to a lush plant over a metre high, its pure white flowers last for just one day and then form seed pods to harvest and keep safe, to plant again in spring.

As the month passed by, we noticed more and more young rabbits venturing into the garden. As the field grasses withered and died, they needed garden grass and water. I watched this one feeding on the lawn before it hopped into a border to sample more interesting leaves and flowers.