Sunday, November 20

Autumn woodland beauty

I've been itching to get out for a good autumn woodland walk for ages, and last Friday the planets were all in the right aspect as my friend Gareth and I set out for an 8-mile leg-stretch in the Surrey countryside.

The weather met the expectations of the forecast (dry, sunny with cloudy spells); the trains were all running well; we both managed to get out of bed on time and make it to Waterloo station at 10am, and any physical niggles were put aside for a day.

We're not normally so well-organised, but I think it was a sign of how determined I was to get my woodland fix that by Wednesday I'd already picked out a walk (from the copious range published by Southwest Trains which are perfect because they all start from railway stations) and by 10.15 we were on our way to Godalming.

The walk did not disappoint; probably about 95% of it was through woodlands on footpaths ankle deep in crunchy beech, oak and chestnut leaves. The changing light as the canopy opened up or closed in, the colours of the beech leaves still on the trees, which ranged from bright yellow through orange to brown, and the huge ancient trunks around us were memorable.

The woods were awash with fungi, if only we'd had an expert with us we could perhaps have come home with a basketful for dinner.

The walk has the benefit of Winkworth Arboretum halfway round; the teashop supplied soup, sandwiches, cake and tea and it was warm enough to sit outside at the picnic tables. The walk goes right through the grounds on a public footpath, so you get to see the boathouse and lake as you pass by.

Gareth has some lovely pictures here.

Thursday, November 17

Famous in Russia!

This morning I noticed that my blog seemed to be getting a lot of attention from Russia, the Ukraine, Bulgaria, Latvia, Estonia, Belarus and Lithuania - not my normal visitors! And they were all looking at my Green Dragon Socks!

With my investigator's hat on I went to the website where everyone seemed to be coming from, and discovered that they had used one of my photos to illustrate what seems to be a piece about dragon-inspired crafty items (anyone who can read Russian out there?). The site seems to be some kind of crafting website, as far as I can work out from the pictures.

Добро пожаловать to all my Russian readers! (note: I cut and pasted this from Wiki Answers, I do hope it does actually mean 'welcome' and not some awful insult that someone has posted as a laugh...!)

Monday, November 14

Autumnal colours

Leaving London early Saturday morning, heading for the west country, did not start off too well - the train trundled through thick fog and gloom for what seemed like forever, robbing me of the usual soothing views of urban sprawl giving way to rolling hills.

Luckily the fog lifted just past Newbury and the stage was set for two glorious days of autumnal sunshine in Somerset and surrounds. This time of year is the season for the illuminated carnivals in the west country, and although we didn't attend the Glastonbury parade on Saturday night, preparations were evident as we passed through. It seemed like every burger van in the west country was setting up along the route!

I've been to the Glastonbury carnival in the past, it's an amazing spectacle which consists of a huge parade of illuminated carts each of which can be up to 30m long. The carts - which are designed and created over the preceding year by local carnival clubs - are usually themed and carry dancers dressed in elaborate costumes, speakers blaring out very loud music, and literally hundreds of light bulbs. The carts that you see at Glastonbury also visit other towns in the area during a two-week carnival circuit, with Bridgwater being the biggest and most famous - and the town where the tradition originates.

Apparently the origin of the west country carnivals was as a celebration of the failure of the gunpowder plot - it's a kind of alternative and much more elaborate Guy Fawkes night! The instigator of the plot was a Jesuit priest named Robert Parsons who came from Nether Stowey, a short distance from Bridgwater. Towns in the south west of England were predominantly Protestant, which is why the failure of this Catholic plot was so enthusiastically celebrated in the area. These days you'd be very hard pushed to work that out - same for bonfire night I guess! And it's all in the name of charity anyway, with the carnivals these days being a way of raising money for local charities.

Sunday was a glorious sunny day so we, along with what seemed like most of the rest of the west country population, headed over the county border to Stourhead in Wiltshire.

It was a perfect day for a walk around the lake - the autumnal colours were glorious and the size of the estate does at least make it possible to escape the madding crowds from time to time when you step off the beaten track.

Friday, November 11

Guerrilla gardening: autumn planting

You may recall my first adventures in guerrilla gardening some months ago, which resulted in a lovely crop of sunflowers which made me smile every time I went past on my way to work.

They are still flowering now - one sunflower in particular is like a huge sunflower tree - not just one tall stem with a single flower on the top, this plant is pushing out flowers like there's no tomorrow!

When I went down to tidy them up a few weeks ago, I realised that quite a few of the flowers had been picked during the time they were there (or rather there was evidence that people had torn off the flowers rather than cutting them). But because there were so many of them the loss of some didn't seem to matter - although I was a bit annoyed that some cack-handedness on behalf of the pickers had damaged one of the plants so that it was laying along the ground rather trampled.

I did have interest and vague offers of help from a few individuals over the summer, but nothing has come of it so I'm fairly resolved to the fact that it's my patch to look after and any contributions - whether in person or anonymously - will be a welcome addition.

I got a nice surprise a couple of weeks ago when I noticed that the wall around the bed had been repaired - finally!

A few of the slabs had been missing for a long time, but it was way back one February morning that I witnessed an idiot lorry driver demolishing one side of the flower bed with his appalling driving. Being the neighbourhood busybody I did take his numberplate and lorry details and report the damage to our local authority - I have no idea whether they bother to follow these kind of things up or not - but it's great to see that the wall was finally repaired.

I'm leaving the last couple of sunflower plants there for a little bit longer, they are a welcome bit of colour in this rather humdrum corner, but I've also planted a few clusters of bulbs which I'm chuffed to notice are now coming out of the ground!

I also collected a few hollyhock seeds which I've planted on the balcony and in the flower bed - the ones on the balcony have already popped their heads out so things are looking good for next year!