Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Goodbye, 2014

Well, here were are on the very last day of 2014.

It's been more difficult than I expected to choose just a few photos to remind me of some of the lovely moments of this year, but I did enjoy looking back over them - it's surprising what you forget!

I hope you enjoy the reminder too!

Around Winwick


In the kitchen

Out and about

In the garden

Thank you so much to everyone who's found my blog - I'm very grateful for all the visits and the comments.  Thank you.  It's been nice to have you around.

I wish you a very happy and peaceful New Year xx

Monday, 29 December 2014

Deep frost

Another day and another post about one of our favourite British discussion subjects - the weather! What I like best about the weather in winter - and particularly the frost - is the definition that it brings to everything.  Spring is a time for flowers, summer is a time for blue skies and sunshine, autumn is the time for leaves - but winter is about sparkles and frosty outlines.  It's about hearing the ground crunching under your feet, seeing your breath steam out in front of you and wrapping up toasty warm.  More than any other time of year, it's about treating the weather with respect and remembering that it can be fierce and harsh, and not to be taken for granted.

We still have a little bit of the Boxing Day snow on the ground but last night there was a heavy frost which turned everything to white again.  I decided to make the most of the hazy sunshine and headed out into the garden.  Are you coming?  You'll need your coat on - it's cold!

This is our twisted hazel tree.  It's quite close to the front door and every year I hang baubles in it. It's not the most attractive tree during the summer as it's just a mass of green leaves, but it really comes into it's own at this time of the year.

This oak-leaved Hydrangea is one of my favourite plants in the garden, and I think it looks especially beautiful with it's frosty coating.

It's not until the leaves have gone from the trees that you realise just how much this Clematis armandii has grown over the year - it's wrapped itself around the witch hazel ...

and here's the first very brave little flower.

This is Lonicera nitida, a type of non-flowering honeysuckle which usually has bright yellow leaves.  It's got a bit shaded under the apple tree so I might have to move it next year, although I am toying with the idea of pruning the tree as it's got a bit overgrown.  Apple trees can be a bit temperamental, though, so I've been toying with the idea for a few years now and still haven't plucked up the courage to do anything!

Even the dead heads of the Hydrangea look wonderful in the frost.

The Viburnum bodnantense "Dawn" usually flowers at this time of year - it's one of the few plants that do - but even these tiny flowers near to the house haven't escaped the frost.

Brr, it's cold!  Time to go back inside now, but not before I've stopped to admire the Heuchera by the front door.  It's called "Marmalade" and even with it's white edges you can see how it got it's name.

It's so close to the end of the year now, and there's always that feeling of one thing stopping and another thing starting, but the garden just goes on regardless of the dates on the calendar. Gardening is good for impatient people like me; it makes us wait and watch the seasons and reminds us that everything happens in it's own time.  I need to remember that a bit more sometimes.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Another walk on another beach

The dog and I took the opportunity to escape the house for a while today and meet up with some of the other dog owners that we know through Cheshire Dog School for a walk on Formby beach.  We meet up every now and again for a big group walk, and the dog loves the company of all the other dogs.  It's good for him too, it reminds him to be sociable and makes a change from the dogs that we meet on our usual walks.  It's good for me too - it's always nice to spend time chatting to people who I don't see on a regular basis.

The last few times we've been out as a group we've gone to Delamere Forest but this time we fancied a change (and also because my dog disgraced himself chasing rabbits onto a railway line the last time we were there - luckily there were no trains!) so we headed for the beach instead.

Formby Point has a large car park which was an easy place for us to meet.  I expected the place to be deserted and was surprised to see the car park almost full.  However, once we set off and reached the beach there was more than enough space for everyone - including our group of about nineteen dogs!  This beach is very different to the one in Seaford where I was before Christmas. The area is owned by the National Trust and stretches for miles along the Sefton Coast.  It's a sandy beach - totally different from the pebbles at Seaford - although it was definitely a welly walk today and not for bare feet!  It always feels a little strange to be walking on a beach in wellies (although I spent my childhood summer holidays in Wales and have fond memories of paddling in the sea in my wellies because the weather was too wet and cold for swimsuits!) but I was glad that I had them on as other owners in walking boots soon had wet feet.

 The dogs had a wonderful time.  They immediately made a beeline for this small pool ...

barking and playing as they raced across the sand ...

which turned to wet ripples as it got closer to the water's edge.

My dog just loves the water.  He dances with joy in and out of the waves every time we take him to the beach and it makes my heart full of happiness to watch him.  He's like a big hairy toddler, brimming with delight at every new experience.

The day was bright, clear and calm.  I'd put on plenty of layers but it was actually quite warm  - nobody would ever have believed that we'd been building a snowman at home only two days earlier!  The waves lapped gently and the dogs splashed in them, soaking anybody foolish enough to get too close.

We walked a long way across the sand, heading for the dunes and the circular route back towards the car park.

I've never taken the dog to Formby beach before but it's a great place for walkies.   There are no seasonal restrictions on dog-walking and the sand is a wide, flat, safe place for them to run.  Good for children, too!  

We came off the beach and took a small path which led us through pine woods.  The sand underfoot gave way to a carpet of pine needles and it felt as if we were a long way from the beach we had just left!

And then suddenly we were out in the dunes and the sand was under our feet again.  We'd gone from the forest to the desert!

Over to our right we could see the sea again, but we stayed on the dunes path which took us back round to the car park.  I wished we'd had a bit longer to stand and look out at the sea, but when you're in a big group you tend to keep moving and besides, my dog always likes to be at the front of any group so I needed to keep up with him!

I'll definitely be taking the dog back to Formby for walkies.  There's a red squirrel walk from the same car park that I know the girls would enjoy - it's the only place around here where red squirrels live in the wild (did you know that a group of squirrels is called a scurry?  Isn't that just a perfect description for them?) and although there was a serious outbreak of squirrel pox here in 2008, the population at Formby is recovering well.

It'll be the perfect place for a dog-friendly day out - and of course, I just want to see the dog dancing in the waves again!

Saturday, 27 December 2014


It snowed last night.  Huge, beautiful, fat flakes which landed silently and turned our little corner of the world white.  Only half and hour earlier it had been raining heavily, so I was more than a little surprised when big daughter asked me if I'd looked out of the window recently.  I love snow.  I really really love snow.  Ahh, happy sigh.

Small daughter went straight out to play, hurtling around the garden with the dog, shrieking and laughing as he tried to catch the flakes as they fell.  She decided to build a snowman (got that song in your head?  Yep, me too!) and amazingly, the snow was perfect for her to be able to roll it.

Naturally, I couldn't leave her to struggle on her own as her snowball got bigger, so I went out to help.  It wasn't long before the snowman was built and we were throwing snowballs at each other. The dog went inside in disgust, having been been on the receiving end of snowballs more times than he liked.  After a while, with freezing fingers and tingling faces, went inside too for hot chocolate and a warm bath.

This morning, the snow had mostly turned to rain and although there's some left, it's too wet to do anything with.

Small daughter's snowman looks rather sorry for himself now.

Many people will be glad the snow only lasted an evening, and I can understand that, but a little part of me is secretly hoping that it snows again this winter!

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Christmas Eve traditions

However you celebrate, I hope you have a wonderful time.

Merry Christmas! xx

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Silence course - outside

Yesterday I showed you the house and grounds where I stayed for my silence course.  Today, I thought you might like to see a bit more of the surrounding area - it's certainly worth a look!

Out of the main gate of Florence House and up the road towards the golf course is the footpath that takes you to either the beach or the cliffs.  It's only a short climb up the hill to the point where the path splits to go up or down, but even from there the view is enough to make me smile.

Let's go down to the beach first.  It's a beautiful sunny morning, only just around nine o'clock.  I've had breakfast and am feeling content with the world.  

One of the things about being in silence is that you notice what's going on around you more.  As your mind quietens down, you find yourself seeing things that might never have paid too much attention to before.  Take the beach, for example.  It's a shingle beach and the stones crunch satisfying under my feet.  Up at the top of the beach, the stones are small and quite gritty ...

but further down they're proper pebbles.    

We can buy stones like these in bags from the garden centre, but they're not stones that we have on the beaches at home.  It reminds me how the geology of the country changes from one place to another.  I love how they shine when they're wet.  I want to take pocketfuls of them away with me, but I know they wouldn't look the same once I got them home and they belong on the beach.  It's nice to feel the weight of them in my hand, though.

Today the sky is clear blue and the sea is calm.  I like the noise it makes as the waves crash against the pebbles, swirling them around as the waves go in and out.  There's a type of yoga breathing that we do on the course called Ujjayi breathing, and a room full of people breathing together in this way sounds just like the waves on the beach.  It's very calming.

I get to walk to the beach every day if I want to during the course.  Sometimes the weather is not so calm; although the sun is shining the sea is a churning grey colour and hurls the waves against the jetty.  I never get tired of watching the sea and how it changes from day to day and even moment to moment.

And then the weather brightens again and the sun breaks through the clouds ...

lighting up the row of colourful beach huts ...

and turning the stones red as the water makes lacy patterns on the beach.  I've got to move my feet smart-ish a few times as I'm so busy watching the water that I'm in danger of getting wet!

I could walk for miles along this beach, but it's almost time to turn back.

Past the boats pulled up high against the winter tides and we've just got time to head for the cliffs.  

The cliffs are at the other end of the beach.  The golf course is built next to the cliff path - if I were a golfer I'm not sure I would enjoy the climb after my ball!  We're going up to the top.  Up, up, up ... the path is slippery at this time of year and I wish I'd brought my walking boots instead of scrambling in my trainers.  Half way up, I stop to admire the cliffs.  We could only be in the south of England with cliffs that colour.

This is looking back down towards the beach.  We were down there just a few minutes ago, can you see where we walked along the pebbles?

The sun is low at this time of year.  It looks like a huge ball rising out of the water.

And here we are at the top.  It's a dizzying drop to the bottom, and apart from a few "cliff edge" notices, there's nothing to stop a golf ball (or you) going over the edge.  I certainly wouldn't want to let my dog off his lead up here, he's daft enough to take a flying leap!

The course session will be starting again soon so it's time to make our way back to the house.  A last look along the horizon to see yet more white cliffs.  Seaford Head is part of the Vanguard Way, a 66 mile route from Croydon to Newhaven following the path in front of us.

It's been so nice to be able to spend so much time out of doors.  I always maintain that fresh air has a magic all of it's own, but a combination of fresh air and such beautiful scenery is something very special indeed.

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