Saturday, 17 February 2018

Muddy wellies and lent lilies

My wellies might be the muddiest they've been since first treading on English soil, 
but yesterday I spotted daffodils in the dappled light of School Lane.

The European wild daffodil is also called the lent lily as it blooms concurrently with the lenten season. The smiling yellow faces of daffodils are such a welcome sight each year. Here in our village they cling to the damp banks of the brook, tall and proud, gazing at their reflection in the swirling water below them. I remember when we first moved here I really appreciated the great number of daffodils planted throughout this corner of Wiltshire. In just about every village we drove through, dense clumps of daffodils greeted us along the roadsides. To have the bright canary yellow colour spreading their cheer after a winter devoid of colour was such a joy to see. 

Spring is starting to creep in, tinging the air with warmth and sunshine, unhurried, but growing in strength with each passing week. Even the chickens agree.

More and more often my wanders up the lane to the farm gate are rewarded with fresh speckled eggs. Never uniform, but always eliciting a smile from me.

Kate  x

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Yew trees and snowdrops

Painswick had been on my 'to visit' list for well over a year. I'd been patiently waiting for snowdrop season to come around again before making the trip up into Cotswold heartland. Painswick is a handsome village, beautifully situated in the verdant Cotswold Hills, with renowned walking routes on the doorstep and stunning countryside views. She is the undisputed 'Queen of the Cotswolds'. 

Our main focus on this trip was seeing the famous snowdrop display at Painswick Rococo Garden. An impressive carpet comprised of millions & millions of tiny white blooms cascaded down slopes and spread through the wooded undergrowth of the garden. But unexpectedly, it was the yew trees in the churchyard of St Mary's that emerged as the highlight of our visit.

For a long time, 99 yew trees grew in this churchyard, and according to legend if a hundredth tree was to be planted the devil would destroy it. At the turn of the new millennium every parish in the diocese of Gloucester was presented with a yew tree to plant to mark the occasion. Parish officials faced a dilemma... 
Painswick was chosen to host the blessing of these trees as they were handed out to the various parishes. The 100th tree was planted at the start of the new millennium and, contrary to the often cited legend, is growing well. 

The trees are clipped every September, producing in excess of 2 tonnes of yew clippings. These clippings are actually used in the manufacture of an anti-cancer drug, specialist contractors are employed to process the clippings.

I look forward to a return visit one day, hopefully in late spring when the Cotswold Way is lush and overgrown with wildflowers and the day light stretches late into the evening. 

Kate  x

Friday, 9 February 2018

A secret garden

A garden unfurls its secrets month by month, 
as the seasons blossom, then ebb away.

“And the secret garden bloomed and bloomed 
and every morning revealed new miracles.” 
 Frances Hodgson Burnett

February is the last unknown month in our little patch of earth- a courtyard garden enclosed by a Cotswold stone wall, nestled deep within the By Brook Valley, and overlooked by soaring beech trees. From March, we'll start to cycle through the seasons again, this time with a year of knowledge behind us.

So, what has appeared this month?

Hundreds and hundreds of snowdrops. 

Defying the freezing nights and harsh frosts, they began to emerge before the new year had even begun. Now, with a touch of weak winter sun on their pure white faces, they sit gently nodding in unison in the frigid breeze. All around them signs of spring are following suit- the tips of bluebells, daffodils, narcissus and tulips are likewise pushing up through frozen ground and decaying leaf litter to greet the sunshine. A few aconites have popped their canary-yellow heads up amongst the bare branches of a fuchsia bush. Buds are appearing on the rose bushes and the snowball viburnum. Leaves are tentatively unfurling, slowly, but they're definitely there.

Next month I know the garden and the countryside will become a riot of bright yellows. Daffodils, forsythia, primrose and gorse will take centre stage, and the agricultural land around us will be awash with sunshine-yellow rapeseed. For now though, the snowdrops sit in their thousands, bobbing in the breeze.

Kate  x


Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Winter snowdrops

After two weeks away from England, 
we've swapped the actual snowflakes of Japan 
for the first snowdrops of the season in our garden.

It is so good to be home.

Of course I had to snip some to bring indoors. 
I admire snowdrops so much. 
Always the first sign of the coming spring 
(even when it is still quite far off), 
they never fail to push up through frosty days and nights. 
So delicate, yet how tough they are to endure gloomy January and frozen February.

Kate  x

Monday, 1 January 2018


Yesterday, the eve of the new year, Alex and I went for a walk along the road to see the swollen brook and consider how likely it might be to flood- it is looking alarmingly high! 

What I was not expecting to see was our neighbours farm-gate stall stocked with eggs! I haven't been able to buy their eggs since August. And yet, here in the bleak midwinter on the cusp of a new year, sat a dozen brown speckled eggs for purchase. 

Not much is growing in the hedgerows at the moment, as you'd expect, so I snapped this pic with a piece of broken pottery that I unearthed in our garden when I was planting out bulbs in the autumn. 

You can see the farm fresh eggs I've managed to buy throughout 2017 HERE and HERE. They became a sort of seasonal study as the months went by and the seasons unfurled all their treasures.

Happy and bountiful New Year blessings.

Kate  x

Saturday, 23 December 2017

An English Christmas

For many people, Christmas begins on Christmas Eve when a single clear-voiced treble from the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, sings the first verse of “Once in Royal David’s City”, a heart-wrenching moment, audible via the BBC World Service to a potential listenership of 40 million.

Our own Christmas Carol service in the village church, St Andrew's in the Parish of Castle Combe, began in very much the same way. It is a stirring and beautiful tradition, sung for us by a sublime soprano voice standing at the west door of the church. By the time the rest of the congregation had finished the second verse in unison, the church was filled with visible breath and a familiar warm & merry energy that belongs exclusively to Christmas gatherings.  

Our 6pm Carol service began without a vicar. He'd been told that the service began at 7pm. When he did arrive, at around 6.10pm, he emphasised how early he was. Taking over the service part way in, it took him a moment to find his place.

Vicar: Have you had the Bidding Prayer?
Congregation: Yes!
Vicar: Good, I don't need to do that. Have you blessed the crib?
Congregation: Yes!
Vicar: Very good. I can tick that off. Right, 
then you can all sing Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!

At one point he was heard in the aisle asking himself, "Okay, what happens now?" Before remembering to light the Advent Crown.

We were sat in a pew next to the organist's wife who we briefly chatted to after the service. After asking us if we lived in the village she told us she lived nearby and was there because she's married to the organist; who the parish had found on two days prior to the carol service! Apart from it being an amusing story, it was another little jolt of festive spirit.

However you spend Christmas,
have a very merry one!

Kate  x

Thursday, 14 December 2017

The prettiest village in England

Castle Combe is often referred to as The Prettiest Village in England, owing to winning the title in, oh, 1961. Once labelled the prettiest village in England, you don't relinquish that particular title freely it seems. Even after 56 short years.

Half a century later, I think Castle Combe really does continue to live up to its reputation. Heritage protection means that even in the 21st Century the village looks almost exactly as it would have 100, 200, 300 years ago. A ready-made film set, a tourist hot spot, it is the Mecca of quintessential English villages. Anglophiles must visit at least once in their lifetime. 

So, what makes The Prettiest Village in England, even prettier?
Why the answer is, of course, snow. The best snowfall the Cotswolds have seen in 5+ years to be exact. A beautiful dusting of snow on a Sunday, just before Christmas, turning the village into a real life Christmas snow globe. These ingredients resulted in a magical winter day that I could never adequately put into words.

So here are the pictures.

On my final wander through the village at dusk I couldn't quite believe the perfect Christmas-time winter wonderland I was experiencing. The snow was still gently falling, the Yuletide fairy light crucifix on top of the church tower was aglow, and several chimneys sent steady trails of smoke into the quiet of the late afternoon. As darkness descended and we were cosy and warm inside next to our own fire, an owl began to hoot in the branches of a tree outside our living room window. It was the stuff of fairytales.

Bitterly cold temperatures and an overnight frost snap froze the remaining snow in place for a couple of days, extending the winter wonderland for us to soak up. 24 hours after the snow finished falling I drove over to my friend's house, marvelling at the spectacle. I turned down the icy and narrow country lane leading to her stunning 18th century farmhouse as the afternoon sky surrendered to nightfall. The hedgerows were bare, silhouetted against the darkening candy pink sky, the orange glow of the sun just about to dip below the horizon, the surrounding countryside still blanketed by snow. To many west country folk, farmers included i'm sure, this was a harsh wintry scene and an indication of a hard winter season to endure. I was only in awe. The stark beauty was breathtaking. Infused with magic.

I can't properly convey the beauty of the English countryside covered by a December snowfall. Dare we begin to hope for a white Christmas?

Seasons best,

Kate  x

P.S. A reflection on life in the village in other seasons can be read, here.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Northern Eire

Here I am sitting on the Giant's Causeway, blown away (almost literally) by this natural phenomenon. I wasn't expecting this site to be so beautiful. Rugged it is, but just instantly and utterly breathtaking. 

The views are even more spectacular from up high on the nearby cliff-top walks.

This is the Carrick-A-Rede bridge, once just a single hand rope used by salmon fishermen to cross (over a 100 foot drop to the crashing ocean below) to a tiny sheer faced island where they caught salmon.

You can just catch a glimpse of the single fisherman hut on the island, below it an old wooden boat balances on the rocks.

Dunluce Castle sits on another section of coastline close by, similarly built on top of sheer cliff faces. Its now crumbling ruins are an evocative sight against the expanse of churning ocean.

Northern Ireland is windswept and at the absolute mercy of the wild weather coming in from the North Atlantic ocean, but this just adds to its rugged and weather-worn beauty. A spectacular part of the world. 

Kate  x