Thursday, September 29, 2022

So Long September

So the heady days of summer seem to be well and truly behind us.  We're layering up and stepping away from the thermostat, consuming damsons and apples in abundance and on our walks, observing distinctly autumnal landscapes as slowly, but surely, the trees reveal their skeletal frames.  Things are getting twisted.  Spooky season is almost upon us!

Born from the charcoal remains of one of the woodland casualties of the summer fires...

...this dragon emerges from his slumber.

After another manic week, I can confirm that the woodland elopement shoot went very well, but I'm afraid that's all I can say for now, as the shoot is scheduled to be featured in an industry blog next month, so for now, my lips are sealed, although there are a few permitted sneak peaks on my Instagram accounts.  

So what else have I been up to, other than editing photos and touting them around town?  Here's a brief rundown of people, places and consumption of media.

A couple of weeks ago, in the dying days of summer, I had a lovely visit from my oldest friend, Sarah.  We met at primary school, but don't get to see each other so often these days as Sarah lives in London and is a busy working actress/writer/mother to two young boys.  Shortly after her visit, my Mom discovered some old photos of the two of us.  

Here we are, having a Hot Fuzz moment in a model village somewhere in the Cotswolds.

And now.  Sadly, I can't share the photo of the two of us, as I was doing a slow blink and I don't want to scare you.  Mercifully, Sarah and my Mom are way more photogenic.


I've finished reading "And Away" Bob Mortimer's amusing and highly digestible autobiography. I'll shortly be moving on to either Victoria Hislop's Cartes Postales from Greece or My Uncle Oswald by Roald Dahl (two more differing reads you would struggle to find...the joy of charity shops!)

TV we've watched and enjoyed:

Trainwreck:  Woodstock '99, the Netflix documentary of the ill-fated 90s revival of the original peace and love festival of 1969.  

Bloodlands (BBC)

The first series of this crime drama set in Northern Ireland, contained one of the best plot twists I've seen and the second series is certainly living up to expectations and cranking up the tension.

Cunk on Earth (BBC)

For light relief, look no further.  Her spoof presenter is totally ill equipped to take on the hefty topics assigned to her and her interviews with various academics are priceless.  The writing is sharp and infinitely quotable.

Ka-De-Ve (BBC4) The German subtitled period drama about 4 friends coming of age in 1920s Berlin, centred around the luxury department store.  So far, so brilliant.


The Electrical World of Louis Wain a delightful, bittersweet film about the eccentric artist Louis Wain starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Claire Foy.  

I confess I was unfamiliar with his work prior to watching, but now a convert to his psychedelic cat paintings.  It's a real must-watch for cat lovers with a cameo from Nick Cave too!

As for the places we've visited.  Last weekend we headed to the attractive Warwickshire town of Bideford-on-Avon for the RSVP VW BBQ - a meet for uber cool "rad ride" owners.  Oh my, there were some beauties.

This rare Brasilia, for example with its beautiful patina.

The editor of Hayburner Magazine (a bible for many VW owners) was hanging around this gorgeous Karmann Ghia, which is unsurprising.  What a beauty!

Not a VW, but how cute is this little Renault/caravan combo?

As for this splitscreen, the owner explained to me that it was rescued from New Mexico, where it had languished for years, in use only as target practise.  Its bullet hole scars have now been soldered up and embraced as part of the van's history.

After years of photographing VWs at festivals, nowadays, I tend to zoom in on the details.  I spotted a few familiar stickers...

and...rusty roof tops.

More rear windows, the latter containing some pretty bold statements and life advice.

I loved the contrast between the ageing paintwork and shiny new Porsche wheels on this old bus.

This windscreen was not an easy fit...third time lucky.

However, I have a tendency to glaze over when people take more than a cursory glance inside an engine or begin to discuss at length their restoration jobs.

I moved on and discovered this couple and their feathered friends.  I'm terrible with names, but what I can recall is that one was 6 years old and the other 22!  They "tolerate" each other apparently.

On Sunday, we headed to Harvington Hall with our friends Neil and Laura.

It's some months since our last visit to the grounds of the house (read about it here 
Winter Peach Photography: Horticulture, History and a Hint of Intrigue).  This time we headed inside to locate the seven priest holes hidden within its walls.  Harvington is known as an Elizabethan manor house and for its role during the period of catholic persecution, although its moat and artificial island date back to the 13th century.

We opted for free flow tickets and wafted through the atmospheric house, picking up little nuggets of information from the enthusiastic volunteers along the way.

The kitchen contained a well, which was extremely rare for this period.  The water was taken directly from the moat (certainly not safe to drink), but is given a clean bill of health once it reaches the well, courtesy of natural sandstone filtration. 

The stained glass on the ground floor depicts Sir (and Saint) Thomas More, English lawyer, judge, social philosopher, statesman and Lord High Chancellor for Henry VIII, who later executed him after he refused to take the Oath of Supremacy.  His parting words were:  "I die the King's good servant and God's first."

The custodians of the house had clearly heard I was visiting, as they had kindly laid out my big dress in readiness.

Framing Laura.

Under a layer of whitewash in 1936, this Elizabethan arabesque style two tailed mermaid wall painting was uncovered.  It has been speculated that this may have been the work of a Flemish artist brought to the Hall from London.

Many of the walls were decorated...

...including the impressive Nine Worthies Passage, decorated with almost life size paintings of nine famous men (the nine worthies).  In Elizabethan and Jacobean houses, this was a favourite decorative theme and the figures were characters that were considered important ideals of chivalry at the time.  The only other surviving depictions of the Nine Worthies still surviving are at Montacute House in Wiltshire (carvings over the main gate) and in Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost.  Only six of the nine remain at Harvington.  I managed to capture two with some clarity.


Julius Caesar

As for the priest holes, we found them all, but some are so cleverly concealed, accessed through attic space, reached via a fireplace for example, that they are impossible to photograph.

This one, hidden in plain view in the library, has to be my favourite.  At the top of the steps, you can see a dislodged timber (top right).  This is the opening to the priest hole.

Even more ingenious, is this hole, hidden beneath the staircase. The family would hide jewellery just inside the priest hole, so that if and when it was discovered by a soldier, the soldier would hastily pocket the jewels, assuming this to be nothing other than a clever hiding place for valuables.  He would then guard the hole (and unbeknownst to the soldier, the priests lurking way down inside) with his life to ensure his precious bounty remained a secret from the others.

In other news, I've bought some tulip bulbs and potted a few hyacinth bulbs in my newly acquired £5.00 charity shop find - a vintage 50s Sylvac clam shell planter.  

The waiting begins.  

That's all for now.  On Saturday, I'm off to Birmingham for a fix of Peaky Blinders; this time courtesy of the Rambert Dance ballet entitled "The Redemption of Thomas Shelby."

See you soon!

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Farewell Summer, Hello Autumn


Long time no speak!  It feels particularly autumnal here right now.  I've already consumed the lion's share or not one, but two, crumbles (an apple and blackberry and a cherry), have had hairy encounters with a couple of muscle-bound spiders and the nights are most definitely drawing in. 

Betws-y-Coed, "False Autumn", August 2022

Events have conspired in recent weeks to keep me from the keyboard.  I'm now pretty familiar with the labyrinth of corridors and departments that is our local hospital after accompanying Mom to various appointments and also suddenly being called in myself for a minor op I had been waiting almost a year for.  

I went in bright and early a couple of Sundays ago and almost had the ward to myself.  The staff were attentive and thorough and by lunchtime, I was done.  So far so simple I thought.  Not so.  I was prescribed a course of antibiotics - a belt and braces approach to infection avoidance, which I started taking later that day.  But on Wednesday morning, I noticed I had what appeared to be a black eye.  As I examined my reflection in a mirror, the area around my eye was swelling before my eyes (well my good eye), transforming me into the Phantom of the Opera.  

I hurriedly arranged an appointment with my GP and was told to stop taking the antibiotics and immediately start taking antihistamines, as there was no infection in my wound.  I had a tense 7 days, waking each morning and wondering where the swelling would be that day or if it would worsen.  It seemed to move around my face each morning until eventually, it dissipated.  I was told that it could possibly have been a reaction to the antibiotics, but that such swelling is also a very common reaction to illnesses such as flu (I have had a sniffle).  Who knew?

My latest look was born of necessity until my stitches were removed.  

I have also been busy organising my forthcoming photoshoot, which, now falls on a designated UK Bank Holiday, courtesy of Queen Elizabeth II's funeral.  Mercifully, not one member of our little team of suppliers has backed out.  We've all invested far too much time and effort to abandon our plans at this late stage.

Consequently - and with our first Autumn ground frost this morning - it seems like an age ago that we were basking in the balmy Welsh sunshine.

I'm going to rewind to the final couple of days of our getaway and our pilgrimage, on foot from the village, to one of the most remote churches in the UK, Llangelynnin Old Church.  Positioned high on the hills above the Conwy Valley, some 900 feet above sea level, the church is dedicated to a local Saint, St Celynnin who lived in the 6th Century and probably established the first religious settlement on this site.  

The views on the ascent were stunning.

It's hard to convey the isolation, but I did my best with some wide angle shots and a short video.

Within the church grounds, lies the Holy Well.  It's possible that this was used by the Saint in the 6th century as a water supply or to baptise those who converted to Christianity.  As time passed, locals believed the water to have magical healing properties, particularly for sick children.  Clothing belonging to the sick children would be tossed into the water.  If they floated, it was assumed that the child would recover.

People lived in the uplands before the wooded lowlands were cleared and the present hill tracks would have been the main routes in Celynnin's time.  The church as it stands today dates from the 12th century and was in regular use for worship until 1840 when a new church was built down in the valley.  In 1932 and 1987 major restorations of the church were carried out and now services are held here during the summer months and on special occasions.

The porch is 15th century with an unusual squint window in the east wall.  The porch roof was repaired with purlins of yew, which may have grown in the now almost tree-less graveyard.

The threshold and hinges of the door are believed to be 14th century, although the door itself is a later addition.

The nave is the oldest part of the present church, dating back to the 12th century.  The benches are 19th century.  Hanging on the wall of the nave there is a bier that was used to carry the remains of the dead to their final resting place.

The chancel is probably 14th century.  You can just glimpse the remains of a boarded barrel roof in the photo above.

This fascinating skull and crossbones detail was discovered a when layers of time and whitewash were removed, revealing the Ten Commandments in Welsh.

Back outside, the clouds were playing to the camera...

...and I managed to capture a beautiful sunburst.

The North Wales Pilgrims' Way framed by the churchyard entrance.

A special place indeed...and for the record, after this particularly energetic workout, I should have doused myself in water from that Holy Well to ease my aching thighs for the next few days.  For more on St Celynnin's, here's a short video.

Wild, Windy Worship. - YouTube

Of course, we couldn't leave this part of Wales without paying a visit to Bodnant Garden, an NT managed, Grade I listed horticultural gem comprising 80 acres, just 10 minutes' drive from our cottage.

It was founded in 1874, developed by five generations of one family and given to the National Trust in 1949.  The garden's founder was Henry David Pochin, a Leicestershire-born Victorian industrial chemist credited with inventing white soap.  He became a successful businessman, mayor and JP.  His wife, Agnes, was from a wealthy Scottish family of ship builders.  

Originally just lawns and pasture, Pochin and his employee Edward Milner redesigned the land around the Georgian manor house, relandscaping the hillside and valley, planting American and Asian conifers on the banks of the River Hiraethlyn to create a Pinetum and reinforcing stream banks to create a woodland and water garden in the valley.  

It was here we encountered this fallen giant (originally planted in 1887 and standing over 50 metres tall), one of 50 lost in Storm Arwen back in November 2021.  

The enormous team of 20 full time gardeners were hard at it, burning rubbish just out of sight from visitors.

In the upper garden, a Laburnum Arch was created and glasshouses to house exotics.  

From 1905 to 1914, five terraces were completed; an enormous undertaking of manual labour involving the levelling of hillsides, movement of earth and the construction of granite buttress walls to protect the tender plants being introduced from overseas.

The much photographed Pin Mill building on the Canal Terrace was added in 1938.  Originally built as a garden house in 1739 in Gloucestershire and later used as a pin factory and then a hide store for a tannery, it was rescued from decay by Henry's grandson - Henry McLaren, who dismantled it, brought it to Bodnant and rebuilt it brick by brick.  

As you might expect, there was a fountain or a statue at every turn.

Situated on a steeply winding path running from the valley to the terraces, was the family Mausoleum. Sadly it was closed to visitors on the day of our visit....  

....but I did manage to get a glimpse inside through the impressive entrance door panel grills.

Throughout the 1900s the continued development of the garden was a partnership between three generations of the McLaren family - Henry, Charles and Michael.  Charles' sister, Dr Anne McLaren, was one of Britain's leading scientists.  She pioneered techniques of reproductive biology, which led to IVF and cancer research.  The current owner is Michael McLaren, who inherited in 2003.  He is a practising Barrister, working in London, but continues to act as garden manager.  A family of high achievers for sure, but also philanthropists.  It's not lost on the volunteers and locals just how much they are indebted to the McLaren family, who have saved huge swathes of the Conwy valley from development.  

Bodnant is hands down the best National Trust garden we've visited to date, but one visit just isn't enough to grasp the scale, detail and myriad plant species on display.  We shall return.

I'll leave you with a few random photos from the past couple of weeks.  First up, a photo I am calling "Portrait of a Stall Holder" captured at an Antiques Fair at Hartlebury Castle in neighbouring Worcestershire. I loved her vintage style, which was well suited to her life as an antiques trader. 

She is also the proud owner of this cool ride, a 1959 Edsen Villager Cruiser.

I helped fund her expensive running costs by purchasing some vintage decorative green glass tableware for the boudoir.

Also green - and I suppose quite decorative - is this punk amongst caterpillars.  Feast your eyes on this fuzzy noodle of fun!  It's a Pale Tussock caterpillar and the first I've ever seen!  Spotted outside our 

Take care, stay warm and I'll see you soon. 

North Country Girl

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