Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Shapes in the Woods

Down in the beech woods, trees that have grown for hundreds of years are reaching the end of life. Others are thriving still, but have formed strange shapes as scars, or as side branches twined into sculpture beneath the bark.

By the downhill path is a beech, where the figure of a man hugs the trunk and seems caught in a spell, growing into the living tree.

A rhino- like beast watches over the woodland.

In the crumbling base of a great branch, severed by age and the storms, a benign old face, like the Old Man of the Woods, peers down over a forest stream.

Ponies have chewed the bark of a younger tree, patterning and damaging.

The wounded tree will form scars and survive malformed, mapped by strange lumps and lines.

Old, dead trees might stand for years as rotting stumps. This one has marked the turning of the path for as long as we have walked here. Suddenly, this summer, it has fallen to the ground.

An ancient neighbour grows bracket fungi in its rotten core........

....while another dead tree is peppered with the holes of drilling woodpeckers. Inside its rotting hollows, insects thrive and will feed the woodland birds for years before the stump finally falls.

Out of the woods, where the air smelled damp and tinged with rotting wood, we walked away onto the hills where heather bloomed purple and fresh after the morning rain.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Late Summer Harvest in the Garden

The seasons have been strange and out of kilter this year. Summer days of warm sunshine came in April and May. By the end of July, summer seemed almost over. Now, as August limps out towards its last days, autumn is well and truly here. Trees are yellowing. Some of those most affected by the lack of early rain are dry, almost bare and may be dying. A huge old ash in our neighbour`s garden looks unlikely to survive.

Garden fruit is ripening early too. This week I have been picking pears before they drop. Today I harvested some apples from trees in the little wild orchard. I have cooked some and will give some away. The freezer is full.

These green dessert apples are crisp and juicy.

The first of the Bramley cookers.

I have been making jam in recent weeks. Small batches from fruit that needs using quickly. We have wholemeal toast and jam for breakfast, so this will be a good store for the months ahead.

Crab apples are falling fast, or being shaken from the tree by magpies and squirrels while rabbits and blackbirds feast on ripening fruit in the grass. There are plenty left on the tree, so I may try making crab apple and elderberry jelly this year.

Elderberry clusters are hanging heavy with their dark, jet-jewelled fruit.

There are still enough salad leaves for a fresh supply.

Runner beans....

...and broad beans are growing well..........

....but this is the only poor, sad little courgette of the summer!

Thursday, 25 August 2011

A Backward Glimpse at Jane Austen`s Home

Inside Jane Austen`s old home at Chawton, the rooms have been decorated and furnished to represent the homely but elegant interior that the Austen family knew so well. Many artifacts and pieces of furniture belonged to the Austens and were the intimate objects of everyday life.
On the range, above, a simmering copper kettle would have been ready to provide hot water for household tasks, as well as for a precious drink of tea.

Below, is a portrait of Edward Austen, Jane`s brother, who lived with his family at the nearby Chawton House Estate and who provided the village cottage as a home for Jane, Cassandra and their mother.

Here is the small, worn writing table where Jane sat to write some of her greatest novels. This little table has such significance, yet it remains a homely piece of furniture where one can imagine the seated figure of Jane, pausing to dip her pen into ink and to gaze out of the window while inspiration flows.

Upstairs, is the small bedroom shared by Jane and Cassandra. There is a view into the garden. There is a feeling of Jane`s hand upon the window catch as she lets in the scented air on a summer morning.

From a front bedroom, there is a view of the lane where thatched workers` cottages stand in small, flowering gardens.

From the landing, are outbuildings and the courtyard of the cottage.

A garden view.....

...and a posy of garden dahlias on the landing.

The stairs where Jane would have climbed her candlelit way to bed........

...and the beautiful, intricate patchwork quilt that Jane and Cassandra worked together.

After our visit to Chawton Cottage, we crossed the village street to have lunch in the pretty tea room opposite. Its name is Cassandra`s Cup. On the ceiling, hang a collection of old and dainty china cups. Survivors of treasured tea sets and silent witnesses to a thousand teatime conversations from years gone by.

Friday, 19 August 2011

In Jane Austen`s Garden on an August Morning

Last Monday, on a warm August morning, I joined friends from our village Book Group for a visit to Jane Austen`s former home in the quiet North Hampshire village of Chawton. We drove up from the New Forest and through the chalk downland to the east of Winchester. Chawton is a small and pretty village, surrounded by farmland and set back from the main road to Alton.

Jane Austen came to Chawton Cottage in 1809, following the death of her father, and she lived there with her mother and her sister, Cassandra, until the end of her life. She died , aged forty one, in Winchester in 1817. During her time at Chawton, Jane wrote some of her finest novels. Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park and Persuasion were written there, at her small wooden writing desk in a front parlour overlooking the village street.

Chawton Cottage , built in the late 1700s, was part of the nearby Chawton House Estate, which Jane`s brother Edward had inherited from a distant relation. He ensured that his widowed mother and his sisters were provided with a home for their lifetimes. The Austens were a large and close family, so Jane and Cassandra were favourite aunts to their nieces and nephews. They lived a quiet country life but Jane was a keen observer of the social hierarchies of eighteenth century rural England.

Today, Chawton Cottage is a museum , in which the comfortable but homely interior of Jane Austen`s home has been lovingly recreated. The house itself is charming. There is a feeling that Jane and her family are just in the next room. It still has the atmosphere of a much loved home.
Outside, the garden has been restored and planted to reflect the quiet spaces where Jane would have walked, or may have sat in the shade to read or write.

A side view of the cottage.

Billowing herbaceous borders with cosmos, phlox and yellow achillea......

The front door of the cottage is at the side. This is where Jane, Cassandra and Mrs Austen would have returned home after visiting their family at Chawton House, or after a walk in the lanes and green countryside around the village.

The wrought iron gate opens out onto the village`s main street....

...and still, there are roses growing around the door.