"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour."

From "Auguries of Innocence"

by William Blake

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

RSPB Garden Birdwatch

As I am sure many of you will know and no doubt took part last weekend was the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. For the benefit of anyone who visits my blog from overseas the RSPB has been organising Garden Bird Counts since 1979 and many people count birds in their garden for an hour over the Birdwatch weekend. Once results have been submitted the RSPB use the data to monitor trends in birds so that action can be taken if a species is declining. Last year around half a million took part and counted more than 7 million birds.

I've been taking part in this survey for many years although I have to admit its not so much fun now D and E have grown up and I tend to watch the garden on my own! The count this year was really low - I usually see between 12 and 15 species but this year it was just 9. The number of birds and individual species visiting the garden this winter does seem to be low overall and I am just hoping its due to the fact that there is plenty of natural food available so birds don't need to visit feeders or gardens so often.

So what did I see?

House Sparrow x 4

Dunnock x 1

Robin x 1

Carrion Crow x 2

Wood Pigeon x 1

Blackbird x 1

Goldfinch x 5

Blue Tit x 2

Magpie x 1

I did spot my first wren of the year in the garden and a group of Long-tailed tits visited the feeders later in the day. I think many people discover that the special birds always appear just after the hour is up!

Friday, 23 January 2015

Baddesley Clinton, Blanket Progress Update, Books and Baking

We were in Dorridge last Tuesday running an errand for E and decided to stop off at Baddesley Clinton on the way home for a walk around the grounds. It was a beautiful sunny day but still freezing cold. The long entrance drive to the house itself passes through parkland and I saw my first Redwings of the year - dozens and dozens of them were foraging on the pasture. Sorry no photos I'd make the foolish mistake of leaving the Canon at home :(

Camelias were flowering - well in advance of ours at home that are only just developing buds.

The moat surrounding the house had a coating of ice.

The woodland walk was closed

so we walked round the lake.

Snowdrops were coming into flower.

Male and

female hazel catkins in the hazel grove.

I spotted a few Hellebores in one of the borders.

A nice selection of cakes in the cafe :)

We opted for Chocolate cake - although I have to say it wasn't as fresh as it could have been and I ended up wishing I had had the soup.

I am still plodding on with the blanket of squares I am knitting for D's bed - I am hoping to make it as big as the fleece he uses as a cover in winter which he's had for donkey's years. The good news is - I think I am just over half way there. Looks a bit rough and ready at the minute but once its eventually sewn together and all the loose ends tidied up, it should look a lot better. I doubt if it will be finished for this winter though but I'll post a photo in a few months when its finally finished.

Those who read my blog regularly may recall how I regretted not buying a jug from a stall in Ludlow when we visited early in December so I was thrilled to receive as a Christmas present from D one of the jugs. He had gone back and bought one whilst I was looking round the church. Its the larger of the two (the harebell design) in the photo below. Its an example of Heron Cross Pottery - the company was formed around 1876 and earthenware is still made today by traditional methods in Stoke on Trent. The other jug in the photo is also from Heron Cross pottery and is one I've had for years (I bought it from a local antiques fayre) and I call it my "Blue Lady" jug. The design is entitled "Walking Woods" and was designed to illustrate a poem entitled "Dreaming of Spring" by Jessie M E Saxby.

I've just finished reading the most beautiful book - "A Blackbird's Year - Mind in Nature" (for those of you with Kindles it is only £1.99 on Amazon at the moment). To quote the description on Amazon "A Blackbird's Year was written on foot while reading nature's story. Through rich and intense imagery, the writer dissolves into the local landscape with the writing itself shaping a creative consideration of the mind in nature. Bounded by the blackbird's song, this is a story unearthing a unity of life, mind and nature. For a journey of discovery is not just to wild landscapes but finding wilderness in simple places close to home". Miles Richardson, the author, uses quotes from Richard Jefferies (one of my favourite authors) at the start of each chapter.

I bought "Wolf Hall" a few years ago and have never got round to reading it. I started to read it about a week ago in a complete panic as I suddenly realised the tv series was about to start. I am quite happy to watch tv series and films after reading the book but I just loathe reading books once I've seen a dramatised version. Unfortunately, I haven't managed to finish reading the book (its around 650 pages) but at least I am keeping ahead of the tv series. I thought the first episode was excellent and Mark Rylance as Cromwell was just brilliant. I think the series will also include material from "Bringing up the Bodies" but I doubt if I will get that finished as well!! Silbury Hill was a Christmas present to myself and I can't wait to start this book.

E and I are having a little baking competition - she is working her way through the Rachel Allen book - she tends to start at the beginning of the cook book and religiously cook every recipe from start to end. I've been using the Mary Berry baking book and tend just to pick recipes at random. I've done about a dozen recipes so far and they have all been excellent - her traybakes are really delicious.

Today I made these Double Chocolate Cookies - the recipe made 36 (I think there are now about a dozen left and they were meant to fill the biscuit tin for a week!).

Monday, 19 January 2015

Anne Hathaway's Cottage - in search of Shakespeare and Snowdrops

D and I went to Stratford-upon-Avon yesterday to visit Anne Hathaway's cottage in Shottery - this is the farmhouse where William Shakespeare courted Anne Hathaway. The Hathaway family who were Yeoman farmers had lived in the cottage since the 1540's and Anne, born in 1556, was the third generation of the family to live in the farmhouse. William Shakespeare and Anne probably knew each other from when they were children as their fathers did business together. Anne was 8 years older than William and they were married in 1582 when William was 18 and Anne 26. Due to his age William was considered a minor and would have needed to get his father's consent to get married. It appears to have been a rather hasty wedding and Anne was already pregnant before the marriage. They had 3 children - Susannah was born in 1583 and twins, Judith and Hamnet, followed in 1585. After their marriage William and Anne probably lived initially with William's parents at the house in Stratford now known as Shakespeare's Birthplace.

It was a beautiful sunny day although really cold with the temperature only a few degrees above freezing.

The car park was very quiet and the cottage itself had few visitors - a pleasant surprise as if you visit any of the Shakespeare properties in the warmer months of the year they are heaving with visitors.

Anne Hathaway's cottage. The farmhouse when Anne was a girl was half the size of the current building. The lowest part of the cottage on the right of the photo existed when William used to visit Anne but the higher portion on the left was added by Bartholomew, Anne's brother, when he extended the house towards the orchards in the seventeenth century.

Shottery Brook flows opposite the cottage - you can follow a path from here to Stratford town centre about a mile away. Something to consider when the weather is warmer.

The gardens, orchards and woodlands surrounding the cottage extend over nine acres.

Its the first occasion this year that I have had the chance to look for snowdrops so I was thrilled to see my first this year.

Several of the trees in the orchard were covered in mistletoe.

It was too cold to linger long outside so we went into the cottage fairly quickly. Many thanks to the very knowledgeable guides who had some very interesting stories to tell about the history of the cottage and people who lived there.

The Parlour - this is an original room from Anne's time. The bench to the right of the fire became known as the "courting bench" as members of the Hathaway family would tell visitors that this was where William sat with Anne during their courtship. Chunks of wood were even removed from the bench and sold as souvenirs. Sadly, the settle has been dated to a much later date than the sixteenth century!

The Dairy and Store Room were the beginning of the extension added by Anne's brother.

The house contains four bedchambers. Beds were very expensive in Shakespeare's time and only used by adults. If a family could afford more than one bed the best one would be used only by important guests. Married couples made do with the second-best bed. When William left Anne the second-best bed in his will this was probably meant as a romantic gesture as it would have been their marital bed.

The kitchen is another original room from when Anne lived here. The floor is the eldest in the house and would have been the same floor that William and Anne walked across.

Leaving the cottage we visited a "Say it with flowers" exhibition which was really interesting containing information on the Victorian language of flowers and explaining flower symbolism during the Elizabethan period and ways in which Shakespeare used flowers in his writing.

Sorry - poor cropping of the photos (one of these days I'll familiarise with Photoshop which I am sure has much better cropping tools!) but it will give you an idea.

The actress photographed here played Ophelia in the production of Hamlet (with the delectable David Tennant!!) we saw at the RSC some years ago.

The Visitor Centre contained an excellent shop - I could have spent a fortune!

We had a late lunch at the newly opened Cottage Garden cafe across the road from the cottage. The wensleydale, apple, cranberry and rocket tudor knot rolls were delicious.

A few photos D took with the Canon bridge camera showing the usefulness of the zoom lens!

Has anyone got any idea what this is on the tree please?

The blackbird was pulling huge tufts of moss out of a roof - I assume it was looking for hibernating insects in the same way they turn over leaves in the flowerbeds in our garden.

A closer view of the mistletoe - still covered in berries.

I had hoped to visit some of the Shakespeare properties last year but never got round to it. Much as I like Stratford it does tend to get very busy but instead of just paying entrance to the one property yesterday we bought a Five House Pass (very good value for money) which means you can visit any of the Shakespeare houses as many times as you like over the course of the year. So we'll go back to Anne Hathaway's cottage as in the summer the beautiful cottage garden will be in flower and conservation beds have been planted to attract butterflies. There is also a woodland walk and sculpture trail which we didn't see yesterday. Hopefully, we'll also visit, Mary Arden's Farm, Shakespeare's Birthplace, New Place and Nash's House and Hall's Croft and Holy Trinity Church where William and Anne are buried.