Friday, December 23, 2016

Twelve days of Christmas children's trail at Mottisfont

Where is the partridge??? Higher . . 

onward to the house, which was originally a priory.

No photo of the two turtle doves, but below are three French hens - you can tell that they are French because they are made from Le Monde, le Figaro and l'Équipe.
Where's the next one?

We could hear the beat of drums and had to investigate - at this point any idea of following the numbers was abandoned. Hazel was unimpressed and took me for a quiet walk among the fallen sycamore and oak leaves. The huge sycamore leaf I found was dismissed as "not as big as my oak leaf".  This legendary object seems to have been hidden and can only be seen by Hazel!

We followed the trail into the house . . .

A cake to conjure with? 
One of the costumes for "nine ladies dancing" - Carabosse, the wicked fairy from Sleeping Beauty.
Outside once more and we find a mosaic angel, designed by Maud Russell's lover, Boris Anrep.
Plenty of space to run around.
Ah, eight maids a milking . . 
and a real swan
but we need to find six geese a-laying. Luckily they lay bouncy rubber eggs that we can throw into their nest baskets . . .

and finally, we find the seven swans a-swimming.

A full afternoon, on a fine day, and not cold either.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Our trip to Chile - some of the people

I've blogged a few experiences on the walking blog.

One of the many aspects I enjoyed about our trip was the people we met, and talked to in Spanish or English.

Firstly, on the plane a very pleasant couple who I spoke to as we were nearing Santiago. I wanted to know when we would see the Andes - we didn't want to be on the wrong side of the plane.  They found this amusing - in any case the plane will turn so that you're on the best side, they told me. Quite right too, and, you know what, the Andes are pretty well visible from almost everywhere in Chile . . . but we did get a great view of the dawn light on the mountains.

In the lift from the appartment in Santiago we met a New Zealander. He was certainly in his sixties, and travelling round parts of South America on his own, hiring motorbikes. He'd  spent some time in the deserts of Bolivia and Peru, and was about to head towards Valparaiso when we spoke to him.

On the second or third day we were there we were walking through the Parque Forestal, a lovely avenue of trees with play areas and walkways, which goes through the town parallel to the River Mapocho. The river itself is not very attractive, enclosed by concrete as it rushes its way through the city. Five young women stopped us, and asked if they might interview us, about ourselves, our impressions of Chile and Santiago, and also about involvement in the community and leadership. Most of this I managed in Spanish. For once, I asked to take a photograph of them as a souvenir.  I tried to keep up the habit!

The next long chat was with the lady in the Café del Pintor in Valparaíso, where we ate twice during the four days we were there. The food was delicious, and reasonably priced, and the restaurant was not busy at the time we were there. She took a photo of us and was happy to chat about the food, Chile in general, and what to see in Valparaiso, as well as being interested in what we were doing, where we were going and so on. 

At the end of our stay in Valparaiso we caught the early morning bus back to Santiago, and then a plane to Calama, a mining city in the Atacama desert. From there we travelled by car to Coyo, a small settlement near San Pedro de Atacama. A harsh, dry climate, with hot days and cold nights. We stayed in a house made of adobe, but tiled and provided with all mod cons, even if they didn't always work, or were subject to power cuts. The internet stayed on, and was excellent at all times!
Jany and husband, and their friendly dog

The family who looked after the house in the owner's absence were local people, living in a house without electricity, as we discovered when we phoned them to ask if theirs was on. They must have thought we were real first world wimps. We eventually had a long conversation with Jany on the day we were leaving. She was very knowledgeable about the history of the area, and the animals and plants and their uses. Her daughter would like to study art, but can't afford the fees.

In the Valle de la Luna we met a man from Leeds - he'd been to Bolivia and Peru as well, and had hired a bike to explore the valley. We saw him again as we scrambled up a rather uneven hillside to catch a good view of the local volcano - Licancabur.
There's no photo of him, but he did take one of us.
Later on that day, on top of the Duna Mayor, a lively Chilean family from Santiago were taking selfies, so I offered to take a photo of them. They proved to be very friendly - the father spoke good English too. The children were having fun taking silly videos of their dad. We all stayed on the Dune to watch the spectacular sunset colours.

We had to return the car to the airport in Calama, and ended up in the middle of Calama, unable to find any roadsigns to it. The first guy we asked seemed to find it incredible and actually quite funny, but was not a lot of use! But we did ask a woman, who was picking her daughter up from school. She was very helpful, and even drew a map for us.
We arrived in plenty of time to return the vehicle and catch our flight! 

A chance meeting in a restaurant in La Serena with two young women enlivened our evening. One of them spoke good English and said she would love to be an English teacher, but can't afford the fees. 

Finally, in Vicuña, a small town in the Elqui valley we stayed at the Solar de los Madariaga, a nineteenth century house built by the wealthy great grand-father of the present owner, Mitzi Sylvia Diaz Cortes. Harry gave the Mitzi and her husband Alberto a watercolour sketch of their garden before we left.

There were many more - almost everyone we spoke to, asking the way, or for some kind of information was friendly, patient and helpful.    In spite of the warnings about looking like tourists, not carrying valuables around, especially in a backpack, and not venturing into certain areas - we had no bad experiences. We did manage to lose three hats between us, and on one occasion I thought I'd lost my purse, but it was back at base.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A fabulous month

Fabulous - not in the sense that it was nothing but a story, a dream . . . but we both thoroughly enjoyed discovering something of South America, and Chile in particular. in spite of its troubled past, the people are friendly and helpful, the scenery is spectacular, and the view of the night sky and the Milky Way in the Atacama is out of this world!  Plus i had lots of chance to practise my Spanish.

We returned a week ago,  and the glow has not yet faded. I may copy some of my poedoodles and sketches to this blog, but otherwise some sketches are here and some words are here. And there's also Harry's lively blog which he kept while we were there.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

The Scottish play with added atmosphere

The wind has been strengthening all day, noticeable on the motorway drive, and more so as we picnic on the stately 'picnic slope' at  Tolethorpe Hall before the play.

We follow the sun, minor heliotropes, shifting our chairs, balancing our plates. We are not of those who dine on weighted down but flapping tablecloths.

"This evening's performance will begin in five minutes."

We take our seats and watch the branches dancing , and hear the leaves whooshing or soughing.  Better than a painted backcloth and a worthy background for the initial meeting of the weird sisters, and the general mood of the play.

Another thoroughly enjoyable production by the Stamford Shakespeare Company, with particularly strong performances in the roles of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.

Friday, July 22, 2016

A day at the seaside

an early start to drive east to the coast
the sun already high at seven
by eight outside Peterborough 
the rush hour is half-hearted
by nine we see the sea

Hunstanton's car parks offer loads of space
the sun shines hot, but coffee hits the spot
the tide is out, the beaches spread for miles
we stroll along the prom  
bathed by a sea breeze

the cliffs rise in broad colour bands
the greens and gardens lead upwards
to the bowling club and cafe with a view
benches along a wall, almost in shade

we walk, we look for hats and sandals
have lunch and wander to the beach
the tide's way way out, 
a long hike to the sea
we sport the trousers-rolled-to-paddle look

retreat with chairs and books to wait awhile
watching the crowds, all ages, sizes
by five the sea is close and deep enough to swim
and warm, no shivers today
though we have memories

two years since we've had a sea swim
this time no need to brace as 
the water licks my belly

when we emerge the breeze is welcome
not fierce and chill

a meal at Goblin Pantry fills the belly
we still seek shade and breeze

To end the day a pilgrimage to holdays past
we visit Heacham, locate the house called Shenstone

drive to the beach and watch the sun go down
from this westward facing beach in Eastern England
its golden orange red path on the waves
silhouettes walkers, a dog, an evening bather.

Turning round, we see the risen moon is full.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Day out at Clumber Park

We met Dan, with Isaac and Rose, for a day at Clumber Park, in Nottinghamshire. The drive up was one of the wettest ever, torrential rain and loads of surface water on the A1. The Park is a huge estate owned by the National Trust, and was once the seat of the Dukes of Newcastle.
A mansion stood near the lake, and this year there is a series of outdoor "rooms" on the site. 

Antlers and a moustache and picture frames in one room, dining furniture, which serves as picnic tables, sofas and armchairs, 
a free-standing freplace and a front door!  Scope for silly games and role plays.  
The mansion was demolished in the 1930s. 

The Park has loads of space to walk or cycle, as well as the lake and the longest double avenue of lime trees (tilia) in Europe.
The church of St Mary the Virgin is a rather blocky Gothic Revival chapel, dating from 1886.  Interior of Red Runcorn stone, exterior Steetly ashlar with Red Runcorn dressings. I had to look that up!  We took the opportunity to sketch the church after Dan had left, giving ourselves half an hour.
As I was packing up, these greylag geese thought the carrier bag must contain food. Sorry, guys, nothing doing.

Footnote: We were last here in June 2012. Four years pass in a flash.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes

From one book to another and another leads the trail.

After reading James Hogg's The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, I had already put Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde on my mental re-reading list.
Then a friend posted a link to a programme about Robert Louis Stevenson, and Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes. 

As an inveterate walker, though never with a donkey, and not for many years with camping gear or anything like, I had to read it again.  Sometimes he slept in inns, often sharing a room with others, sometimes he camped out under the stars. The book is a great mix of descriptions of scenery, reflections on the people he met, his own thoughts and feelings and the history of the region.  
The Cévennes area was the site of religious conflict between Protestant Camisards and Catholics at the beginning of the eighteenth century, and Stevenson met people from both faiths, leading him to make comparisons with the Covenanters in Scotland. 
And it leads me to reflect on the way religious differences divide communities and people even now.
But the lasting impression is of his appetite for adventure and discovery.
So onwards to Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. . . 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The View from Castle Rock, by Alice Munro

I was surprised and intrigued to discover that Alice Munro, the Canadian short story writer and Nobel prize winner had connections with James Hogg and the Ettrick Valley.
I read and enjoyed some of her work several years ago.  

Her writing has an understated precision, the stories set in rural and small town Canada, mostly in the mid-twentieth century.

The View from Castle Rock takes its title from the story that one of Munro's ancestors, James Laidlaw, pointed out to his son, Andrew, the Kingdom of Fife on the far side of the Forth, declaring that it was America.  An example of the Laidlaw love of stories, which runs through the generations from at least the time of Will o'Phaup, the last man in Scotland to speak with the fairies.

I was warned that Munro was not very flattering about the Ettrick valley - and indeed she is not, though her first visit involved walking around the graveyard in the rain, not the best way to see a place and very different from our first visit in glorious summer weather.

Ettrick church on a gloomy morning

Of course, I was fascinated, as I usually am, by the mention of places I had seen, near to the cottage where we were staying, and the way the history of the Laidlaws is woven into the fabric of the valley. Much of Munro's material here comes from Hogg's writings, in the Shepherd's Calendar in Blackwoods Magazine, brought back to life with her usual deft touch.

When it came to her ancestors' journey over the Atlantic and their first years in Canada, the book continued to hold my interest. She adds her imagination to the bare bones of a factual account, helped by the fact that "...every generation of our family seemed to produce somebody who went in for writing long, outspoken, sometimes outrageous letters, and detailed recollections."  She was lucky to have the material, but the treatment of it is very much her own, wonderful storyteller that she is.

I think anyone who has been caught up in an obsession with family history will recognise this sentence in her epilogue.
"We can't resist this rifling around in the past, sifting the untrustworthy evidence, linking stray names and questionable dates and anecdotes together, hanging on to threads, insisting on being joined to dead people and therefore to life."