Picture of the week: 25/01/21

OUR Picture of the Week normally focuses on artists inspired by the Chilterns landscape, but just occasionally it’s good to venture a little further afield.

Maybe lockdown restrictions make us only more aware of the vistas that we’re not allowed to visit for the moment, like the mountains, lakes, seaside and dales of the Lake District.

And no one captures those landscapes in quite such vibrant and vivid colour as our guest artist this week, Mark A Pearce, a painter and printmaker brought up in Cumbria.

Ringed Plovers over Ravenglass by Mark A Pearce

Mark pursued a successful career in London as an award-winning graphic designer and co-founded a design consultancy in the 1990s, which by the time it was bought had more than 30 employees around the world and had been involved in a number of famous brand overhauls.

Now 64, he returned to the Lake District in 2006, where he now works from a home studio with panoramic views over the Ravenglass estuary and Lakeland fells, producing a range of oils, watercolours, pastels, and limited-edition reduction wood and linocuts (like our featured picture choice, above).

Autumn Migration by Mark A Pearce

It’s an extraordinary landscape where the mountains almost reach the shore and three rivers meet to form a perfect estuary, allowing Mark freedom to explore his excitement in the light effects, striking compositions and eye-catching colour combinations that are literally on his doorstep.

“In this beautiful part of the lakes it’s the skies, colours and the effect of the changing light on the water, sky and mountains that are particularly inspiring,” he says.

He always goes out with a camera so he can capture what is about him in real time and take it back to the studio to get it down on paper to share his wonder in the natural world.

Sunlight Through Trees by Mark A Pearce

“I get outside whenever the weather and work allow, and often spend an entire day walking out on the fells alone with the camera,” he says. “It always lifts my mood.”

His galleries range from original reduction linocuts like Autumn Migration to fine-art prints and original oils.

While some landscapes look reassuringly familiar to Chilterns residents, others are strikingly different views of mountains and coastline, often featuring wildfowl in flight, like those at St Bees Head, the county’s most westerly point, where the RSPB has a reserve.

Geese St Bees Head by Mark A Pearce

His home studio was set up in 2010 with his sister and business partner Sarah Bell, who helps to promote and market his work, both locally and further afield.

LAKESIDE VIEWS: Mark Pearce in his home studio PICTURE: Alan Cleaver

He says he rediscovered his own love of creating art partly due to necessity and having to earn a living, and partly his desire to be able to share with other people his view of the natural world in terms of colour, light and composition.

His interest now lies particularly with the format of lino and woodcuts due to their graphic nature. But if his linocuts are attention-grabbing in their use of colour, his oils are equally interesting, perfectly capturing the atmosphere of a family beach walk, spring riverbank, pine forest or rocky outcrop.

Beach Walk by Mark A Pearce

“I absolutely loved living in London: the energy, the culture and the night life,” says Mark. “Although I don’t miss the stress of the constant deadlines or the staying up till 3am to get a client’s brief finished, I couldn’t do that now.

“Having no distractions here gives me time to think and create.  I paint/print what I see, out of the window, on the beach or on the fells. I feel inspired to capture that moment so I can share my excitement of the effects of the light and  shadows in the landscape.”

Visit Mark’s website for details of forthcoming events and exhibitions, opening times of the Estuary Views Tea Room & Gallery in Rosegarth, Ravenglass and details of his online shop.

Mystery of the ship among the trees

Guest writer Tim Pinks discovers how a Royal Navy vessel came to be transformed into an ancient woodland burial ground

SO how does, exactly, one of Her Majesty’s Royal Navy ships (originally one of His Majesty’s) become a beautiful burial ground in an ancient English woodland?

And how did a little piece of coincidence ensure my father, who was alive on the one…come to rest eternally in the other?

And one other question. How did something that was commissioned for war and destruction (but also for our defence and freedom), become something dedicated to nature and renewal, to our natural history, and rebirth?

Well, with a little bit of literary sleight of hand, an abracadabra and a touch of Tommy Cooper (one of dad’s favourites), just like this…

During World War Two (that’s the one after the one that ended all wars), Portsmouth was heavily bombed due to it being the Royal Navy’s biggest base. Among the many operations there was the Signal School. Communications, in other words. It was actually housed near HMS Victory.

So after heavy bombing in 1940 and ’41, it was decided that some of these services had to be moved, and hidden around the country. The signalling school was one of them.

On April 19, 1941, a place called Leydene House was approved to be requisitioned, and by August 16 it was commissioned as a land ship and the Signal School had a new home. They moved into the massive house, set within the lovely Hyden Wood, and the land ship HMS Mercury was launched. It was only a lucky 13 miles north from Portsmouth as the Solent seabird flies.

Leydene House was built for Viscount Robert and Lady Peel in the years after the Great War. Yes, that one, the war that ended all…anyway, once completed it was described by L.H Troyde thus: “No larger house has been built for at least half a century, or has been built since.” Over the years and decades, HMS Mercury was expanded until it was practically the size of a large village or small town.

Also over the years, King George VI (1943), Earl Mountbatten (1956 and ’58) and Queen Elizabeth II and Duke of Edinburgh (1991) visited, the latter on the occasion of its 50th birthday…along with the hundreds of thousands who had of course been piped aboard its woodland setting. Under such a canopy of trees with their resident birds, tweeted aboard, perhaps, would be more apt…

Up to half a million people passed through, it’s believed. Prince Charles was to visit too, in 2006, but by then, that whole little naval woodland world had changed.

Oh, and why ‘Mercury?’ Well, because, like many of the ancient Roman gods, Mercury was a god of many things…including messages and communication.

And then, in 1993…it closed down. Many, many of the old buildings were still there. There was even a cinema. So how did this ship (OK, yes, a land ship…well I did say there’d be a little bit of literary sleight of hand) turn into an ancient woodland? Well, it was already built in the woods, of course, to hide it from German bombing, so there were trees galore.

And so the great metamorphosis began. Most of the land was handed over to the Defence Land Registry and nearly all the buildings were demolished. Some 55 acres were gifted to a newly created Earthworks Trust to help set up The Sustainability Centre. Between then and now, all sorts of things would happen, all green, all good, and all sympathetic to the area.

The Sustainability Centre? Yes, and this is what they’re for, to quote from their own mission statement: “to demonstrate, develop and promote knowledge, skills, technologies and lifestyles that improve people’s quality of life without damaging the local and global environment.” 

There is a campsite which originally was just for ‘traditional camping’ but now has the added attraction of tipis and yurts to stay in.

If you’re an ageing crock like me and find getting up off the floor hard – funny, I find it easy enough to slide off my bar stool to get down there – then one of the few surviving buildings was converted into a green, eco-friendly hostel. So, happily, 2004 saw the opening of The Wetherdown Lodge.

And soon, very soon (work has gone on during the pandemic), the Longdown Wing of the lodge is due to be opened. I can’t wait.

There is more, so much more, to tell you about the old wood that became a ship. About how it is being reconverted into the ancient woodland it once was. About the surviving buildings that became the heart of a green revolution. And about the surrounding woodlands that became a natural burial site.

For this is the one thing I’ve kept secret up to now. As part of the re-rigging of the old boat, in 1997 the South Downs Natural Burial Site was set up and now trees, instead of crosses, stand in memorial over those who rest eternally there.

Among whom is my father, Alfred Herbert George Pinks. Known to everyone as ‘Bill’. You see, like his father before him, he joined the Royal Navy. And apparently, anyone who joined the navy who had the surname ‘Pinks’ was nicknamed ‘Bill.’ Anyway, Dad joined up towards the end of the war, 1944, and he ended up in communications…

… And here is where another twist of fate comes in. My father died rather too quickly, aged 81, in 2006, and it all happened too fast to ask him, if the worst came to the worst, where and how he’d like to be buried. But our mother – I have a brother, Mike – had picked up a couple of items about ‘natural burials’ and the one at HMS Mercury just grabbed us instantly.

It was only after he’d died and we were quickly arranging things and checking places out that we learnt it had been developed in the war for the signals section. And with goose pimples on the skin and shivers down the spine, the possibility that dad had served there was too big a coincidence to ignore.

Also, on a completely different note, the big motorbike I’d bought once I’d passed my test back in 1980 was a 650cc Norton. It was my dad the engineer who rebuilt the thing on his own into the beauty it became. The well-known version of the model was the twin carb ‘SS’ model – the super sports.

But when they took one of the carbs off to make it into a ‘touring’ model, they gave it another name – the Norton 650cc Mercury. Well, well. Sometimes you just can’t script it. I love a good coincidence, even though I do wonder sometimes if they really are coincidences…

One day, if they exist, I would like to view my dad’s service records, and see where he went. Was he, while he was based at Portsmouth, sent with others for a visit to the signal section up at HMS Mercury? Was he based there, but never mentioned it, even after I got a Norton Mercury? It’s of little matter. Dad loved the woods. He loved gardens and flowers and birds and animals, and always the woods.

And he loved walking among the trees. Before his knees got too bad he went on woodland walks with his friends (with a pub as an important part of the outing). After his knees were fixed he kept on going on woodland walks with his friends. Of course, still with a pub somewhere along the way too… So my brother and I have no doubt he’d have been very happy with the site we chose, among this island’s countryside he loved so much.

What else is there, near-abouts? Lots, actually. Apart from beautiful scenery of course, there’s Butser Ancient Farm and Old Winchester Hill, an area rich in Mesolithic archaeology, from those Stone Age hunter-gatherers from after the ice age. There are Bronze Age barrows and an Iron Age hillfort.

There are the remains of a Roman villa nearby at Bury Lodge, and perhaps best, for some, and most English of all, one of the two Hambledons in England. (The other is in Surrey, and there is a Hambleden in Buckinghamshire.) But this one is Hambledon, Hampshire, and it has an oh-so-typically-English claim to fame. It’s the birthplace of cricket.

Up the road, next to the Bat and Ball pub, is the delightfully named Broadhalfpenny Down, where England’s leading cricket club played their cricket from 1765 until the MCC formed in 1787. And the stumps are still standing as they still play cricket there…

But best of all, for my brother and I, a short distance over some fields and hedgerows, and some tracks and woods, is the old HMS Mercury, now the South Downs Natural Burial Site, where my once, always, and future father lies, among the tree-filled woods he loved to walk in so much.

My thanks to one Chris Rickard for his 50-page history of HMS Mercury, and to Christina Seaward at the Sustainability Centre for sending me the Sustainability Centre History booklet, and their permission to use any of their photos that don’t show individuals. Thanks too to Al Blake, the manager, for sending me a load of those photos. There will be more about the place and the people, and the flora and fauna, once we’re unlocked again and can wander, hither and thither, free and happy as clouds….

I shall leave you with a poem, which sums up the beauty of being buried in our beautiful woods. It’s becoming very popular at woodland funerals and it’s going to be read at mine too. Though hopefully not quite yet! I don’t care if it’s one day looked upon as being as common as Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way’ for a funeral…it’s a lovely poem.

It’s by the incomparable Pam Ayres, and combines not just her humour and heart, but her insightful sensitivity.

Woodland Burial, by Pam Ayres

Don’t lay me in some gloomy churchyard shaded by a wall
Where the dust of ancient bones has spread a dryness over all,
Lay me in some leafy loam where, sheltered from the cold
Little seeds investigate and tender leaves unfold.
There kindly and affectionately, plant a native tree
To grow resplendent before God and hold some part of me.
The roots will not disturb me as they wend their peaceful way
To build the fine and bountiful, from closure and decay.
To seek their small requirements so that when their work is done
I’ll be tall and standing strongly in the beauty of the sun.

Picture of the week: 17/01/21

THE stunning colours in this week’s picture choice capture the spirit of the extraordinary landscapes produced by Oxfordshire artist and art teacher Sue Side.

Sunningwell Field by Sue Side

Based in the village of Cumnor near Oxford, Sue uses graphite and ink to tell the stories hidden in the local environment of tree, copse, land and sky.

“My journey to saying ‘I am an artist’ has been a slow one,” says Sue. “I’ve had a pencil and sketchbook in my hand for as long as I can remember and despite choosing the teaching profession as a career, have never stopped creating, learning and creating.

“I’m head of art at a fantastic school [The Manor Preparatory School in Abingdon] and I focus on close looking with my young learners.

“We look – really look – at the world around us and then we interpret, through drawing, painting, sculpture. The aim is to encourage exploration and response – to not worry about finding the right word or the ‘correct answer’.

“Their ideas and responses always surprise and excite. These inspire me and feed back into my own thinking.”

Sharing Light by Sue Side

As an artist, Sue specialises in illustration and portraiture. She exhibits regularly as a member of The Oxford Art Society, takes part in Oxfordshire Artweeks annually and has been selected to exhibit with The Royal Society of Portrait Painters, Royal Watercolour Society and The Society of Graphic Fine Arts.

She also exhibits in local galleries and in 2013 completed the artist teacher scheme at Oxford Brookes.

“My art has evolved,” Sue admits. “It is good to be able to explore different elements of art practice. I never get bored! I am at my most comfortable with a pencil or pen – they feel like an extension of my hand. I like the direct connection created between me and the paper as well as the range of marks you gain from using them. It feels elemental, basic. No fuss, no disguise.”

Those Dreaming Spires by Sue Side

Sue finds herself particularly drawn to stories hidden in the local landscape.

“Here the human story seems insubstantial and fleeting against the vast stage of nature,” she explains. “I enjoy watching the slow interaction between trees and the way they settle in the landscape. From their mossy root systems to their light-seeking crowns, my work focuses on these incredible carbon storehouses and the symbiotic environment they are part of.”

Filmmaker Will Side produced a study of her artistic process filmed over a period of months and capturing the creation of an artwork from inception to completion.

Inklines, a video portrait of Sue at work by filmmaker Will Side

Her work includes portraits, etchings and drawings, but the past year has brought her into intimate contact with the woods and byways near her home.

“Wandering deep in Wytham Wood, which I am so lucky to live near, always brings a lift to the heart and peace to the soul,” says Sue. “The last year, for obvious pandemic reasons, has taken me down every path and byway of Oxfordshire, giving me a wealth of new material.

“Our local poet, Matthew Arnold, used to wander the fields near Oxford saying that it helped him escape the ‘repeated shocks’ and the ‘harsh, heart-wearying roar’ of the world (The Scholar-Gypsy). How true that has been for me this year! Walking our woods and gentle hills has brought me some solace, as well as lots of new ideas for artworks.”

Ridgeway + Copse by Sue Side

Using ink techniques, Sue explores the atmosphere of forest and tree in all their woody detail.

“I enjoy using ink – it can be both fluid and precise,” she says. “The clarity of inky colour is intense. It sits well in my illustrations; creating contrast between the inky depths of the deep woods and gentle translucent skies.

“It does have its own mind though. I like this – starting a work and not being absolutely sure how it will end up!

Midsummer by Sue Side

Sue is also fascinated by the behaviour of starling flocks as they settle in their treetop roosts at RSPB Otmoor Nature Reserve. She has a series of works capturing their amazing murmurations; thousands of individually ink-drawn birds overlapping one another again and again to create a quite remarkable fluidity of aerial display.

“It is only close up you see the pattern, the purpose and togetherness of these starling flocks,” she says. “A little like family, a starling murmuration is a story of protection, sharing, gossiping and the joy of homecoming on darker winter days.”

Winter roost by Sue Side

See Sue’s website , Instagram feed and Facebook page for details of her cards, prints and original works for sale, along with blog entries and news about forthcoming exhibitions.

Johnson’s cat casts a long shadow

FEW cats can boast such a lasting legacy as Samuel Johnson’s Hodge.

Immortalised in a statue, poetry and various literary references, Hodge was described by his owner as “a very fine cat indeed”, although relatively little is actually known about the favoured feline in question.

The most frequently quoted reference is from his friend James Boswell’s biography, The Life of Samuel Johnson, published in 1791 and unique for the period in that it directly incorporated conversations Boswell had noted down, along with far more personal and human details than contemporary readers were accustomed to reading.

Among such revelations was Boswell’s recollection of how Johnson treated his feline companions: “I shall never forget the indulgence with which he treated Hodge, his cat: for whom he himself used to go out and buy oysters.”

He goes on to explain that Johnson’s logic behind this was that if he got his servants to do this job, they would begin to hate the spoilt cat – a scene recreated with a bronze statue outside Johnson’s London home in Gough Square which was unveiled in 1997 and displays Hodge posing proudly on the famous dictionary next to a pair of empty oyster shells.

This is the charming 300-year-old townhouse, now a museum, where Dr Johnson lived and worked in the middle of the 18th century, compiling his great Dictionary of the English Language in the garret.

Although Hodge is undoubtedly the most famous of Johnson’s cats, the writer did have other four-legged friends, including Lily, a ‘white kitling’ who was ‘very well behaved’.

But it was Hodge who was so vividly described by Boswell: “I recollect [Hodge] one day scrambling up Dr Johnson’s breast, apparently with much satisfaction, while my friend smiling and half-whistling, rubbed down his back, and pulled him by the tail; and when I observed he was a fine cat, saying, ‘Why yes, Sir, but I have had cats whom I liked better than this,’ and then as if perceiving Hodge to be out of countenance, adding, ‘but he is a very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed’.”

Another friend of Johnson’s, the poet Percival Stockdale, wrote an ornate elegy in homage to Hodge in 1778:

Shall not his worth a poem fill,
Who never thought, nor uttered ill;
Who by his manner when caressed
Warmly his gratitude expressed;
And never failed his thanks to purr
Whene’er he stroaked his sable furr?

But that wasn’t the last time that Hodge would be remembered in print. Wood engraver and illustrator Yvonne Skargon wrote Lily & Hodge & Dr Johnson in 1991, juxtaposing a series of engravings of the two cats accompanied by quotations from Johnson.

And the writer William Boyd weaved an even more surreal reference into his 2002 novel Any Human Heart when his hedonistic protagonist, Logan Mountstuart, inadvertently sparks a furious argument in the Pyrenees through a chance reference to Hodge, who happens to bear the same name as his travelling companion.

More recently, Robin Saikia has paid his own tribute to Hodge through a dramatic monologue in which Samuel Johnson celebrates the life of his favourite cat and gives a spirited account of his adventures in London coffee houses.

Back in Gough Square, thanks to the sculptor Jon Bickley, Hodge (actually modelled on his own cat, Thomas Henry) is permanently ensconced with his oyster shells round the corner from Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, a pub renowned for its literary associations and maze of atmospherically gloomy bars.

Historically it’s always been a popular meeting place for writers and journalists, somehow epitomising the spirit of that most famous of all Johnson quotes: “Sir, when a man is tired of London he is tired of life: for there is in London all that life can afford.”

Arguably the most distinguished man of letters in English history, the poet, playwright, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer and editor found popularity and success when monumental dictionary was finally published in 1755 after nine years of work.

But for some, his fondness for animals was just another demonstration of his underlying compassion, or as Boswell put it, “the real humanity and gentleness of his disposition”.

Picture of the week: 11/01/21

FORTY years ago, as an eagle-eyed six-year-old, Graham Parkinson’s interest in wildlife was sparked by I-Spy books – and the fact his gran had a large garden with a field behind it to explore.

“She’s in her 90s now, and it’s lovely to be able to chat to her about the birds I’ve seen and the ones she has visit her garden,” he says. “I’m jealous of her daily bullfinches.”

Flash forward four decades and Graham’s fascination with what’s happening in his own backyard is undimmed but nowadays he is able to capture it on camera, as in this week’s picture choice, a remarkable if somewhat graphic encounter between a sparrowhawk and a goldfinch.

NATURE IN THE RAW: “This was such an amazing experience. I happened to be at my patio door photographing a woodpecker on a feeder. It disappeared, and as it did so this sparrowhawk flew in and caught a goldfinch less than two metres in front of me.”

“I’ve always had a lot of different birds that visit my garden in Marlow, and enjoyed lots of walks in the local countryside, but I was always keen to see more of the countryside and wildlife,” says Graham.

2020 proved the perfect opportunity to explore his longstanding interest in photography, and in the past few months his pictures have proved a big hit on local nature and wildlife forums.

FULL STRETCH: “This was in Little Marlow near to Spade Oak. I happened to turn round and it proceeded to stretch first this wing and then the other. I’d never seen this captured before.”

“I’ve been out of work, and my wife bought me a camera, a Canon 2000D (good beginner’s choice), and a friend lent me a good lens. I soon purchased a Canon 70-300mm lens, which was great, but even that wasn’t enough for wildlife.

“A kingfisher that came at the same time every day to Marlow Lock (for about two weeks) convinced me to upgrade the lens, so I now have a Sigma 150-600mm.

BEE’S KNEES: “This was by the riverbank in Pergola Field, Marlow. I love the pop of the flower’s colour and the fact you can clearly see the bee extracting nectar from the flower.”

“I still love taking photos of bird visitors to the garden, and all of the insects (hoverfies can be beautiful when you get to see them up close) and what can be seen around town (peregrine falcons, for example) and love going to Spade Oak.

“But what I really enjoy is going on local walks, typically 7-10 miles, and capturing what I can of the local wildlife, flora and the broader environment.”

ONE MOMENT IN TIME: “This was in Homefield Wood, a stunning place to visit, and I loved the light and the background behind the resting speckled wood butterfly.”

Using the Ordnance Survey OS Maps app to plan his own routes, he has visited many new locations, from local favourites like Homefield Wood, Farm Wood and the areas around Burnham Beeches to the many walks between Ibstone and Christmas Common.

“It’s been extremely rewarding, capturing wildlife I’ve never seen before. Also it’s great to take photos of great spotted woodpeckers in the garden, for example, but even more rewarding to spot one on a walk, to track it and then manage to get a good photo.

KITE FANTASTIC: “This is at Littleworth Common. It’s the shape it is forming, something I hadn’t seen a kite do before. I was at the end of a nine-mile walk and almost didn’t respond to the kite being there. I’m glad I stopped: you just never know when you might get a good photo.”

“I’m particularly interested in trying to capture a different pose or something that conveys the character or behaviour of the bird/animal I’m taking a photo of.

“The challenge with taking wildlife photos this way is that you are always on the move. I don’t wait long or have a hide set up at a particular spot where something is likely to come along. I do walk more slowly than I would normally, with all senses alert – it’s often movement that draws me to something.

ON THE MOVE: “This was Ockwells Park, Maidenhead. I love the colour of the light and the background and capturing the goldfinch feeding on the teasels.”

“The other challenge at this time of year is the short days make it more difficult to complete the walks in daylight. Though that has made me set off pre-dawn and led to some great photos in the dawn sunlight.

“At some point I’ll upgrade my camera and probably purchase a landscape-focused lens and take two cameras with me on my walks to more easily capture the landscape alongside the wildlife.”

Professionally, as a director of analytics, he senses that some people might find that quite far removed from something “creative” like photography.

But he adds: “Good analytics tells a story through data, insight, and visualisation; photography is a story of my walks and my garden and the wildlife, flora and environment I see.” Perhaps the two are not so very different after all.

LIGHT AND SHADE: “Homefield Wood again. It was a gorgeous hot day, the sun streaming down, but I got to a bit of the woods that was quite dark, with the sun just getting through to light this one fern frond. I love how it highlights the form of the fern.”

You can follow Graham’s photographs on his Instagram feed.

Rare attractions on the reserve

WEST of Marlow is prime walking country, with the Chiltern Way leading out through Bovingdon Green towards Rotten Row and picturesque Hambleden.

Enticing footpaths split off in every direction, and those favouring a circular loop can take a four-mile circuit from the Royal Oak that takes in both a section of the Chiltern Way and Marlow Common.

One highlight along the route is Homefield Wood, a site of special scientific interest owned by the Forestry Commission and managed by the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust.

LIGHT AND SHADE: fern fronds lit by the sun PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Here, the chalk grassland of the small but peaceful nature reserve makes it one of just three sites in the country where rare military orchids can be found – not to mention offering a perfect habitat for birds, butterflies, moths and other insects.

WELCOME GUEST: bees are vital for pollination PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

The nature reserve may be small, at about 15 acres, but the herb-rich grassland offers a chance to see Chiltern gentians and upright brome grass, as well as a variety of orchids, though visitors need to be careful to avoid trampling rare plants that may not yet be in flower when the reserve is at its busiest towards the end of May and in early June.

As reserves manager Mark Vallance explains, the military orchid is so called because its dense spikes of pinkish-violet flowers have petals and sepals folded in such a way that they resemble a knight’s helmet, with the lower petal shaped like a human form with ‘arms’ and ‘legs’, and spots which resemble buttons on a jacket.

IN THE PINK: foxgloves flourish in late spring, bringing a splash of colour to the woods

Ferns and foxgloves make Homefield a delight in the late spring, and the wood has a mixture of young beech plantations, with some conifers and many native trees.

Resident and visiting species of birds include chiffchaff, cuckoo and blackcap. Tawny owls can often be heard calling during the day.

PARTRIDGE FAMILY: a variety of birds can be found in the woods PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

It’s only a couple of miles west of Marlow but parking is very limited, so getting there on foot is an environmentally kinder and more enjoyable way to travel.

MORNING LIGHT: Homefield features a variety of different trees PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

There’s been woodland on this warm slope for at least 200 years, though forestry work has created many changes. Nowadays the reserve is made up of beech, ash, sycamore and whitebeam with glades and open grassland.

CAUGHT ON CAMERA: deer browse woodland shrubs and herbs PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

The rides and glades are home to a range of mammals too, from inquisitive squirrels to shy fallow and roe deer. But for sheer variety, the prize has to go to the huge population of butterflies and moths.

WOODLAND CHOIR: a robin strikes up a song PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Butterfly species range from the marbled white and white-letter hairstreak to the silver-washed fritillary and some 400 species of moth have been recorded, including blotched emerald and striped lychnis.

SUMMER DANCE: butterflies and moths flourish at Homefield PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Visit the BBOWT website for more information about Homefield Wood and how to get there.

Poignant foray down English country lanes

Guest reviewer Tim Pinks finds his spirits lifted by an entrancing but bittersweet rural adventure from a little over a century ago

AS he walked out one Good Friday morning…

Once upon a time one Easter morning, a man walked out of his house in Balham, grabbed his bicycle and set off to walk and cycle south and south-westwards, in search of spring.

It was a very early Easter, Friday March 21st, 1913, and the man’s name was Edward Thomas: a London Welshman born into a Welsh family who loved nature, especially that of his family’s adopted country.

My apologies for borrowing and twisting the title of Laurie Lee’s classic memoir, but the book Thomas wrote and published the following April, in glorious innocent springtime before the nightmare abyss of World War One, is as beautiful and poetic as Lee’s. More so, actually. Cycling With Teddie, perhaps.

In Pursuit Of Spring is not just an evocative journey back to times past, but a homage to England’s countryside, from the flowers and the birds to its villages and pubs. Wonderfully, he took a camera with him.

Somerset Landscape by Spencer Gore (1878-1914) PICTURE: University of Hull Art Collection

Although written in prose, it reads so much like a poem in places that the American poet Robert Frost encouraged Thomas to take up poetry. Which he did. Thank you, Mr Frost. The two became friends, until Thomas’s death.

Philip Edward Thomas was born in 1878 and died in 1917. Yes, just four years after he walked out to find life one Good Friday morning, he died one Easter Monday morning in Arras, France. From one Easter to another, four years later, the writer who became a poet was dead. It would be almost poetically beautiful if it wasn’t so sad.

Philip Edward Thomas died in 1917 one Easter morning in Arras

It’s said he took any opportunity while in the trenches to look for any sign of a bud or see a flower bloom, to see a bird or hear its song. One can only hope that his last sight and sound was of the nature that he loved.

He left behind a wife and three children, some books and many poems. His wife Helen also wrote about him, so there is plenty to read from him, about him and his circle.

Somerset Landscape by Spencer Gore (1878-1914) PICTURE: Government Art Collection

You see, for those who don’t know, he had become known. It is down to not just his poetry, but his books. I first came across him thanks to a second-hand copy of The South Country, about his ramblings in mostly the southern counties of England. These gentle meandering books bring back a not-too-recently lost past and are full of the flora and fauna that surrounded his wanderings.

In Pursuit Of Spring takes us from Balham (yes, ‘the Gateway to the South’!) in a roughly straight but intermittently twisting tour to the coast and the Quantocks. On the way he stays in inns and walks the roads, byways and tracks of the southern lands. The very occasional ‘motor car’ passes, but horses and carts are more likely to be seen.

The Cricket Match by Spencer Gore (1878-1914) PICTURE: The Hepworth, Wakefield

The journey actually begins at chapter two of the book, ‘The Start – London to Guildford’. There’s a lovely bit where he hides from the rain by a shop that sells chaffinches and linnets, and ‘little, bright foreign birds’. All sold because they sing. The less battered, the more expensive. I know, I know…horrible.

A man enters and buys something and takes it away in a little paper bag. Further down the road, Thomas sees him stop, take the bag, and open it. A chaffinch flies away. Lovely. Told you Thomas loved nature.

The book winds delightfully through the southwest until the sea at Bridgwater Bay, and the Quantocks. The first paragraph of the last chapter has this: “The end of the rain, as I hoped, was sung away by the missel (sic) thrushes in the roadside oaks, by a train of larks’ songs which must have reached all over England.” Told you it was poetic!

His wonderful book ends with a little recount of some of the signs of spring he saw on his journey, writing: “Thus I leapt over April and into May, as I sat in the sun on the north side of Cothelstone Hill on that 28th day of March, the last day of my journey westward to find the Spring.”

The poet W H ‘The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp’ Davies wrote this poem about his friend’s death:

Killed in action


Happy the man whose home is still
In Nature’s green and peaceful ways;
To wake and hear the birds so loud,
That scream for joy to see the sun
Is shouldering past a sullen cloud.

And we have known those days, when we
Would wait to hear the cuckoo first;
When you and I, with thoughtful mind,
Would help a bird to hide her nest,
For fear of other hands less kind.

But thou, my friend, art lying dead:
War, with its hell-born childishness,
Has claimed thy life, with many more:
The man that loved this England well,
And never left it once before.

It encompasses Thomas’s love of life and nature, and his death. I’ll leave the last words to Edward Thomas himself, from Light and Twilight: “And I rose up, and knew that I was tired, and continued my journey.”

Somewhere out there, I hope he wanders still, in this land he loved.

In Pursuit Of Spring by Edward Thomas is published by Little Toller Books and features nearly 40 photos Thomas took on the trip.

Ancient acres offer space to escape

EXPLORE the sprawling Ashridge Forest in the company of Chilterns travel writer Mary Tebje, whose blog sets out to capture the beauty in the mundane, the stuff “that the locals have stopped noticing but is the very essence of what makes this place special”.

Despite the continuing lockdown, Ashridge Forest offers plenty of space and the distance needed for enjoying the great outdoors, she writes in her most recent post.

BREATH OF FRESH AIR: the trails are quiet in winter PICTURE: Mary Tebje

“I am fortunate in having many outdoor options that are local to me, where I can walk and feel almost that life is ‘as usual’,” she writes.

Mary has written extensively about Ashridge Forest, Ashridge House and the surrounding countryside.

The monastery and monks are long gone, buildings destroyed, treasures looted and the monks banished on the orders of King Henry Vlll, but you can find out more about the history of the estate in: Ashridge: A Flourishing Trade and explore Ashridge House Gardens too.

Gruelling year ends with an icy blast

IT BEGAN with a dull, damp, grubby couple of weeks and ended with an icy blast as temperatures plummeted and snow fell across much of the country.

ICE CRYSTALS: temperatures plummeted as 2020 came to a close PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

After the murky start that left some areas hit hard by heavy flooding, it was a relatively unremarkable month in the Chilterns, but made a little bleaker as families prepared for a hug-less Christmas separated from loved ones amid growing fears of another surge in pandemic deaths. 

SPLASH OF COLOUR: mandarin ducks at Burnham Beeches PICTURE: Carlene O’Rourke

Despite the dismal weather, muddy paths and bleak headlines, local photographers were soon managing to capture some of the brighter colours on show across the country, from classy mandarin ducks to dramatic sunrises and sunsets.

CLEAR SKIES: Brill Windmill PICTURE: Siddharth Upadhya

While Carlene O’Rourke found the ducks at Burnham Beeches bringing a welcome splash of colour to the grey weather, windmill enthusiast Siddharth Upadhya managed to take advantage of clear skies to capture the beauty of the magnificent post mill at Brill, which has timbers dating from the 17th century.

MILLER’S TALE: the restored windmill at Great Haseley PICTURE: Siddharth Upadhya

The skies were equally obliging over in Oxfordshire at Great Haseley, where the restored stone tower mill has dominated the countryside since the middle of the 18th century but suffered years of deterioration and neglect before being fully restored to its original working order in 2014.

DELICATE PATTERNS: wintry colours near Amersham PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

Elsewhere bare branches and frozen berries provided some striking patterns for Sue Craigs Erwin’s early morning dog walks, with ice forming delicate filigree patterns on spiders’ webs – at least until temperatures started to climb again, much to the delight of four-legged explorers.

MORNING PADDLE: icy water is no deterrent to intrepid explorers PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

Meanwhile widllife photographers were looking to the trees – as in Glynn Walsh’s striking Christmas Day picture of a noisy robin. Bare branches provide a better chance to pick out our feathered friends, so it’s a good time of year for first-time birdwatchers to get their eye in.

ON SONG: a robin shares a little of the Christmas spirit PICTURE: Glynn Walsh

Others keeping their lenses focused on local hedgerows include Graham Parkinson, whose pictures have also featured in our recent Littleworth Common feature, and Nick Bell, who has provided an array of fantastic shots for our recent feature about garden birds and article about Mark Avery’s guides to different types of birdsong.

METALLIC SHEEN: a curious starling at Abbey Park Farm PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

With the month’s striking and appropriately named “cold moon” also grabbing people’s attention, some photographers had their lenses trained slightly further afield, as Phil Laybourne demonstrated.

MOON SHOT: December’s “cold moon” PICTURE: Phil Laybourne

Back on earth there was fog and mist to contend with, not to mention torrential downpours and muddy footpaths where it seemed impossible to find any glimpse of colour to lift the mood. But of course there is always that exceptional sunrise or sunset guaranteed to lift the spirits – and with the winter solstice behind us, the days start getting longer from here on.

RAY OF HOPE: days start getting longer after the winter solstice PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

After a year like 2020 and with so many families still ill, grieving or forced to stay apart, New Year celebrations around the country were muted, to say the least. And with another national lockdown looming, the first few weeks of 2021 will not be any easier.

OUT OF THE WOODS?: spring is just around the corner PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

But for those able to get out of the house and escape the grim headlines for a little, the mud, mist and chill in the air doesn’t matter too much. We may not be out of the woods yet, but as the days start getting longer and lighter it really does feel as if spring is just around the corner…

A big thank you to all the keen local photographers who have allowed us to use their work this month. If you would like to contribute any pictures, favourite moments or seasonal suggestions to our calendar entry for January, contact editor@thebeyonder.co.uk on email or via our Facebook group page.

Picture of the week: 04/01/21

OUR first picture highlight of 2021 is a quite remarkable wildlife shot captured by Phil Laybourne in the River Thames outside Marlow.

CHANCE ENCOUNTER: an otter pops up in the Thames PICTURE: Phil Laybourne

Phil recalls: “Standing in a freezing river early one morning with the cold water seeping into my boots, I was trying to photograph a kingfisher.

“The last thing on my mind was the Eurasian short-clawed otter that suddenly appeared behind me. I almost fell in. He stayed just long enough for me to get a couple of shots off before diving. That is still one of the best moments of my seven years in amateur photography.”

MORNING GLOW: a spectacular sunrise over Marlow PICTURE: Phil Laybourne

Based in Wooburn Green, Phil’s photographs range from stunning landscapes and sunsets to close studies of local wildlife, including swans and deer.

Favourite locations include Marlow, Bourne End, Bisham and Spade Oak and have extended to London and Ivinghoe Beacon – and since the sudden death of his wife Gail in May last year after a short illness, all of his prints have been on sale to raise money for Thames Hospice in Windsor, where she spent her last weeks.

INTO THE BLUE: the Compleat Angler at night PICTURE: Phil Laybourne

He says: “My late wife Gail was always my biggest critic and also my biggest fan. She would moan if i dared to wake her at 5am as I left for a photo shoot, yet would be really excited on my return to see what I had shot.”

In her memory he has set up a website of his pictures, where more than 250 are for sale at prices from £18 to £30, with all the proceeds going to the Thames Hospice.

“Sunrises and sunsets are my favourite medium,” says Phil. “I recently sold my starter camera and upgraded to a Nikon D850 with a Sigma 150-600mm for wildlife and a Sigma 14-24 f2.8 and Sigma 24-105mm for panoramics and day-to-day shooting.

DAWN DELIGHT: sunrise over Cock Marsh PICTURE: Phil Laybourne

“Walking along the Thames at dawn or dusk with the camera is a most rewarding experience. We are so lucky to have such a beautiful location on our doorstep.”

Walkers make tracks for the common

MAYBE it’s the proximity of a couple of welcoming pubs that has made Littleworth Common so popular with walkers.

The location beside Burnham Beeches helps too, not to mention its handy position on the 16-mile Beeches Way, which runs from the Thames at Cookham to the Grand Union Canal at West Drayton.

LONG-DISTANCE PATH: the Beeches Way runs across Littleworth Common

Whatever the reason, a host of ramblers find it a handy starting point for a walk, whether that means a leisurely stroll around the common itself or a more demanding circuit taking in some of the substantial areas of woodland that surround this spot.

QUIET REFLECTIONS: a pond on Littleworth Common PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

The 40-acre SSSI (site of special scientific interest) is common land owned by South Bucks District Council and comprises open heathland, most of which has developed into birch and oak woodland, although some remnants of acid heathland survive.

MORNING HAS BROKEN: dew drops lit by the rising sun PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

A network of paths criss-cross the common and the “muddy boots welcome” sign outside the Blackwood Arms says it all. Thirsty souls can choose between here and The Jolly Woodman when lockdown restrictions allow: both pubs have featured in the Midsomer Murders series and provide a perfect base for a wander.

LOOKOUT POST: a red kite with hunger pangs PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Fancy Free Walks, for example, suggest a three-mile circuit that takes in some of the less familiar parts of Burnham Beeches for those who fancy a day exploring the ancient woodlands. It’s one of more than 40 mapped routes contained on the not-for-profit website set up to introduce more people to the countryside and to connect with our historic land, towns and villages.

FOCAL POINT: various routes fan out from the common PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

The site has a 10-mile circuit too, taking in Stoke Common and Hedgerley, and for those wanting to ring the changes, permissive paths on the Portman Burtley Estate provide an opportunity to explore a range of mixed woodland habitats.

PERMISSIVE PATH: insect-hunting in Staplefurze Wood PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Burtley Farm boasts around 1,000 acres of mixed woodland ranging from conifer plantations from the 1920s and 1950s to older oaks planted following the Napoleonic wars when there was a perceived shortage of timber for ships.

The most ecologically important area of woodland is Egypt Wood, part of the Burnham Beeches National Nature Reserve complex and reached on a footpath from Abbey Park Farm.

MIXED WOODLAND: on the Portman Burtley estate PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

This is also part of a longer two- to five-and-a-half-mile signposted circular walk taking in a picturesque Buckinghamshire village of Hedgerley as well as an RSPB reserve and remnants of the once important local brick industry.

Many wanderers are happy to stay close to the common, but more ambitious ramblers can check out the long-distance route west to Hedsor and Cookham or east to Stoke Common, Black Park and Langley.

WATCHFUL EYES: starlings in Bristles Wood PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

For other ideas for local walks and places to visit, check out the highlighted pages.

Feathered friends flock to the feast

THE tiny square of pebble-covered ground outside our front door is a little humble to be classed as a front garden.

But a bird bath and feeding station have transformed it into a source of constant activity over the past three years.

DRESSED TO IMPRESS: an aristocratic-looking pheasant drops in for breakfast

Our smattering of largely unremarkable plants may be of only passing interest to wildlife, though our neighbour’s small pond is close enough to provide refuge for the occasional toad and the hibiscus hedge provides welcome cover for the dunnocks later in the year.

SHY VISITOR: dunnocks usually prefer to stay close to the ground PICTURE: Nick Bell

Around the country, millions of us have been relying on our feathered friends for company during the darkest days of the pandemic. And as a nation it seems we are now spending up to £300m feeding the birds in our garden each year.

GOOD COMPANY: UK bird lovers spend millions on garden visitors PICTURE: Angela Scott

Unsurprisingly, studies have shown that seeing and hearing birds in the garden has a direct link to lowering levels of stress, anxiety and depression – and that people who spend less time outside are more likely to feel depressed in their lifetime.

SPLASH OF COLOUR: jays have striking and distinctive plumage PICTURE: Nick Bell

Most of us probably don’t need any convincing that having trees, shrubs and birds close by makes a difference to how we feel – and the daily antics of our garden visitors are a source of delight to millions of us too, increasing our levels of happy hormones.

TASTY TREAT: a blackbird stops for a snack PICTURE: Angela Scott

Against a backdrop of unprecedented biodiversity loss, researchers have increasingly recognised the range of benefits provided to humankind by nature – and that became even more evident as people struggled to cope with lockdown pressures.

STANDING PROUD: a hungry heron stakes out its next meal PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Research by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has shown our growing love affair with feeding the birds has significantly altered the composition of our garden bird communities over the past 40 years, helping the populations of some species grow and increasing the variety of birds visiting feeders.

In the 1970s, feeders were dominated by house sparrows and starlings. Today, a much broader range is commonly seen taking advantage of the growing variety of supplementary foods on offer, with population growth across some 30 species, particularly those like goldfinches and woodpigeons.

SUCCESS STORY: goldfinch numbers have grown in recent years PICTURE: Neil Richards

The former were in long-term decline but with the introduction of sunflower hearts and nyjer seed to bird feeders, the numbers have been steadily increasing.

There are dangers too, of course, not least the possibility of disease transmission at feeders, but those following BTO tips to avoid such worries have delighted in the huge range of species appearing in our gardens – up from around 18 in 1987 to some 130 today.

OCCASIONAL GUEST: a stunning green woodpecker PICTURE: Nick Bell

Looking back over 2020 in our own small patch, there have been around two dozen different bird species dropping in to visit.

ENTERTAINING: squirrels are agile and cheeky visitors PICTURE: Angela Scott

Much of the time it’s the squirrels, pigeons, tits and robin providing the daily entertainment, and what delightful and uplifting visitors they are.

SONG OF JOY: the unmistakable sound of a thrush PICTURE: Nick Bell

As well as the blackbirds, there are plump thrushes and occasional magpies too. Living close to water means that ducks are daily visitors, with the occasional moorhen, pheasant or partridge showing up for breakfast.

Long-tailed tits are among the regulars, darting about in the bushes along with the other tits and dunnocks so that the undergrowth sometimes seems alive with movement.

RARE DELIGHT: the great spotted woodpecker PICTURE: Angela Scott

Rarer visitors have included woodpeckers, jays, starlings and even a ring-necked parakeet, currently in the firing line for a government cull because they have been spreading around the country so quickly.

Recent favourites have included goldfinches and a nuthatch, the distinctive black eye strip making him look like a cheeky bandit.

BANDIT COUNTRY: the nuthatch has a distinctive appearance PICTURE: Nick Bell

There was even a tawny owl audacious enought to turn up on the roof on the very night we had been unsuccessfully scouring the local woods for hooting owls – a delicious irony.

Living beside a small nature reserve means that we don’t have to travel far to encounter a wider range of birds – an egret, heron, mandarin duck or kingfisher along the river, perhaps – and Kevin the red kite has been a long-standing resident of the Cedar of Lebanon that towers above the houses here.

POETRY IN MOTION: a red kite captured in flight PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

But we are the lucky ones. An RSPB study a few years ago suggested that only one in five children are connected to nature and wildlife. Successive surveys by different bodies keep confirming what we might already guess – that youngsters spend about half as much time outdoors as their parents did, and twice as much time looking at screens than playing outside.

Perhaps lockdown will change that a little. It may be a pretty chilly January day but there are couples and families out in the woods walking everywhere. Yes, the novelty may wear off, but these cold family days out might just be sowing the seeds for a new generation to show more interest in the natural world around them…and that could only be a good thing, not only for everyone’s mental health, but for future of our troubled planet too.

WOODLAND WONDERLAND: hunting for insects PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Back at the feeders, there’s a final flurry of activity from the robin, tits and dunnocks which the cat pretends not to notice, assuming an air of benign innocence.

Lockdown may have stopped us going out and seeing all the people we would love to spend time with, but it’s surprising how much pleasure these small creatures have brought us during these most difficult days – and hopefully their winter food gathering has been a little easier too.

Sincere thanks to Nick Bell, Graham Parkinson, Neil Richards and Angela Scott for their wonderful illustrations for this article.

Get up early to catch the choir

JANUARY brings the first signs of spring – and along with the early snowdrops and primroses, that also means the first echoes of the dawn chorus.

You have to be up early to catch it, but from now until July, the volume is steadily growing, from those first wintry warbles early in the New Year to the most spectacular natural orchestra on earth.

EARLY BIRD: robins are among the first to be heard PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

As the first snowdrops start to peek through the frosty January soil and the birds swarm to the birdtable to squabble over scraps of food, the slow increase in daylight means that love will soon be in the air, which means staking out your territory and trying to attract a mate.

During the dark days of winter, life has been all about survival, trying to find enough food during those bleak chilly days to get through the long night to come.

But as the days start to slowly lengthen, songbirds start to switch into breeding mode, timed to coincide with the warmest part of the year when food is plentiful and days are long.

SMALL WONDER: the goldcrest is the UK’s tiniest bird PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

The first songsters of the season are residents such as robins and great tits, joined later on by migrants like chiffchaffs and blackcaps to make May and June the peak time to enjoy the chorus.

But listen out early in January and you can already hear them, with the noise growing day by day and more than an hour of daylight being added between New Year and the end of the month.

FULL VOLUME: sound levels grow as the year progresses PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

The collective chirps and tweetings start to grow in volume as the year progresses, starting about an hour before dawn with a few songs from the robins, blackbirds and thrushes before the rest of the gang join in and the chorus gets into full swing.

As with an orchestra, there’s a set sequence. Skylarks, song thrushes, robins and blackbirds are among the earliest risers and their songs are complex and detailed, full of meaning and uttered from high perches.

Then the pre-dawn singers are joined by woodpigeons, wrens and warblers, while great tits, blue tits, sparrows and finches only add their voices when it’s light enough for them to see.

NOISY THRONG: blue tits and finches join the chorus PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

The most formidable defenders of territory, the robin and wren, are well into their flow by the turn of the year, soon to be joined by the blue, great and coal tits, dunnocks and chattering starlings.

Stars of the show are the loquacious song thrushes and glorious blackbirds, their music a clear signal that winter is giving way to spring.

If you’re prepared to get up early and head into the woods with a picnic, the singing lasts right through until July, but reaches its peak during May and June.

SOUND OF SUMMER: May and June are peak months for song PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Early mornings are too dark to search for food, and too dark to be spotted by predators. That makes it the perfect time to sing, and because there’s less background noise and the air is still, sound carries around 20 times further than it would later in the day – an important consideration when you are looking for a mate.

Singing is hard work on an empty stomach and after a chilly night, so it will be the strongest, best-fed males who will produce the loudest songs. As the light strengthens food becomes easier to find, so hungry birds begin to move off and the chorus gradually diminishes.

There is another chorus at dusk, which is considered quieter, though some birds – like tree sparrows and blue tits – seem to prefer to sing at this time of day.

DAWN CHORUS: sound travels furthest on a still clear morning PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

The best days to listen are fine, clear mornings with little wind. Dawn chorus peaks half-an-hour before to half-an-hour after sunrise, but the variety of song can be confusing by then so why not get into position early to savour the arrival of the performers as each takes their turn on stage…

Sunday May 2 is International Dawn Chorus Day 2021. Many thanks to local photographer Graham Parkinson for permission to use his photographs with this article.

Lost world yields a rich harvest

ATTEMPTING to capture the atmosphere of rural England in the 1930s must have been as tricky as trying to tiptoe across a swampy field after a downpour trying to keep the water out of your boots.

How do you pick your way between gushing pastoral sentimentality and brutal mud-soaked realism?

Somehow Melissa Harrison manages to avoid those pitfalls in All Among The Barley, her third novel, a subtle and haunting tale published in 2018 that avoids becoming a cloying tribute to times past and instead explores timely and trenchant themes that resonate down the decades.

The story takes us back to the glorious autumn of 1933, when 13-year-old Edie Mather introduces us to the realities of life on the 60-acre Suffolk farm that has always been her home.

Like all good narrators, Edie is on a journey of discovery herself, particularly once the flamboyant Constance FitzAllen freewheels into her life on a bright red bicycle.

TOUGH TIMES: Landscape: Arable and Pasture Land, Claughton Pellew-Harvey, c1925
PICTURE: Manchester Art Gallery

But where so many nature writers would have found it hard not to get totally bogged down in pedantic intricacies, Harrison manages to weave her descriptions seamlessly into the unfolding plot, so that the series of vivid snapshots builds into an unflinchingly frank but never depressing portrait that is as poetic as it is nuanced.

There’s a heady cocktail of different influences and echoes here, from Cider With Rosie and HE Bates to Thomas Hardy and Lewis Grassic Gibbon. But Harrison’s prose lacks the tragic inevitability of Hardy or the brutality and brooding menace of Sunset Song, for example, despite capturing the timeless connection between farm workers and their land with a similar intensity at times.

Connie’s curiosity about the old ways of farming provides a perfect opportunity for us to find out more about the impact of the Great War on the local community and the financial and family pressures which emanate from eking out a living so dependent on the vagaries of the weather.

HARVEST HOME: Haytime in the Cotswolds, James Bateman, before 1939
PICTURE: Southampton City Art Gallery

Bookish loner Evie may be well read, but she is confused about a lot of things – witchcraft and superstition, her dislike of Alf Rose’s kisses, her embarrassment about her father’s drinking; yet for all her day-dreaming, she is a sharp-eyed observer of the human condition, capturing the rhythms and traditions of rural life in a fresh and vibrant way.

The folk song from which the book takes its title is a glorious evocation of harvest time:

The wheat is like a rich man, it’s sleek and well-to-do;
The oats are like a pack of girls, they’re thin and dancing too;
The rye is like a miser, both sulky, lean and small,
Whilst the ripe and bearded barley is the monarch of them all.

All among the barley, who would not be blithe,
While the ripe and bearded barley is smiling on the scythe.

But against the backdrop of this high point of the farming year are unnerving glimpses of more sinister influences too, not just of the reality of rural poverty and the gruelling oppression of the menial household tasks undertaken by womenfolk like Edie’s mother, but the conflicting social pressures between those calling for progress and others resistant to change.

PRIZED CROPS: Cornfield at Wiston-by-Nayland, Suffolk, c1932 by John Northcote Nash

At one level we have a lyrical coming-of-age story, but at such an uncertain time in human history, a wave of nationalism, xenophobia and anti-semitism is sweeping Europe, and Edie’s world is not immune to the political reverberations shaking wider society.

She is also not quite sure what to make of the stylish, pushy, disarming and persistent Connie – and nor are we, or the other bemused locals.

One may not have to look too hard to find parallels between that troubled decade of the Great Depression and our current era, as we emerge from 2020 battered by the coronavirus pandemic, political upheaval and Brexit fatigue.

It wouldn’t do to give too much away about the plot, but although the pace is a gentle one, this is a powerful and unsettling tale, and none the less so for being steeped so convincingly in the quotidian routines of a different age.

All Among the Barley by Melissa Harrison is available from Bloomsbury in hardback or paperback, and through her website.

Art inspired by Chilterns landscapes

NO ‘picture of the week’ this week – just a sincere Christmas “thank you” to all those local artists whose talent has been in the spotlight in our weekly feature during the past few months.

Summer Stroll by Sabbi Gavrailov

Since August we’ve been able to focus on the work of a dozen different creative folk working in a variety of different formats, from oils and watercolours to photography, linocuts and textiles.

Whipsnade by Anna Dillon

From the Oxfordshire studio of Anna Dillon to the Hertfordshire home of Sabbi Gavrailov, we have met creative folk of all ages and backgrounds.

Mill End, River Thames by Katie Cannon

The formats and materials may vary enormously, but what all our guest artists have in common is a love of local landscapes and wildlife, which frequently provide them with sources of inspiration.

Sue Graham in her Buckinghamshire studio

In some cases that inspiration has proved a life-changing experience, as for Sue Graham, whose reflections on the disappearing dawn chorus ended up with her family buying a croft and planting hundreds of trees on a remote Scottish island.

Red Woods, a reduction linocut by Rosie Fairfax-Cholmeley

Other artists whose work is inextricably bound up in local landscapes include Jane Duff, a volunteer for The Earth Trust and an avid supporter of their efforts to create new wetlands and improve water ecosystems, and Rosie Fairfax-Cholmeley, who with colleague Robin Wilson has a permanent base among the trees of Wytham Woods in Oxfordshire.

A Walk in the Woods by Rachel Wright

From windmills to bluebell woods, local landscapes provide a visual escape for many artists, whether working in textiles like Rachel Wright or acrylics like Christine Bass, who spends many hours outside among the whistling red kites before developing paintings from her drawings back in the studio.

Pulpit Wood by Christine Bass

If Chilterns landscapes from Ivinghoe Beacon and Pulpit Wood to Hertfordshire parks have provided many of the settings featured in the weekly articles, there have been occasional forays further afield too, with Tim Baynes providing an online escape from lockdown restrictions with his portraits of Kent marshlands and West Wales shorelines.

Dungeness Afternoon by Tim Baynes

There has even been a chance to learn the secrets of fairground art in the company of Joby Carter from Carters Steam Fair, whose family were the subject of a recent profile feature on our People & Places page.

Hand-painted steam gallopers at Carters Steam Fair

We’ve already had plenty of nominations of artists across the Chilterns whose works should feature in future instalments of the series, but keep them coming.

Times are tough for artists in the current climate and we’re eager to do all we can to help promote such a vast array of local talent – particularly in a year when so many of the local open studios events have had to be cancelled.

Thank you to all those who have supported the feature and especially to those talented individuals whose art gives so much pleasure to so many.

To nominate an artist or painting we might feature in the future, simply drop a line to editor@thebeyonder.co.uk with a link to the work and the reason for your choice.

Picture of the week: 21/12/20

THIS week’s picture choice is an extraordinary portrait of a hungry kingfisher by local wildlife photographer Will Brown.

The 19-year-old spends as much time as he can outdoors with his camera photographing wildlife in their natural habitats around his home in Hertfordshire.

TASTY TREAT: a hungry kingfisher by Will Brown

He recalls taking his first picture using his dad’s camera at RSPB Rye Meads, a local wetland reserve beside the River Lee which is a firm favourite with walkers, birdwatchers and photographers thanks to its many trails and hides.

That picture was a kingfisher, and these birds remain his favourite subjects, even though his growing portfolio includes owls, kestrels and small garden birds, as well as foxes and other mammals.

“Kingfishers have always been and always will be my favourite subject to photograph,” he says.

His striking shot was taken in October this year in Hemel Hempstead, when the bird was particularly obliging.

“Hemel has the canal, rivers and lakes with lots of access so it is ideal,” says Will. “It was posing beautifully for me on the bridge, hardly disturbed by people which is very unusual for kingfishers as they are usually quite nervous birds.

LATE BREAKFAST: a short-eared owl hunting by Will Brown

“Owls are my rarest and most challenging subject, and another one of my favourites,” says Will.

His striking owl pictures here were both taken on the same evening in November this year.

“By far the best owl experience I have ever had. Quite amazing,” he recalls. “The type of owl is a short-eared owl. They only stay here during winter months. In the summer they migrate to colder climates, such as Scandinavia.”

Still photography remains his main love at the moment, although he has experimented with video footage of owls and kingfishers. “I’m sure in the future I will do this more often,” he adds.

And to answer some of those technical questions about equipment, he explains: “When I first started getting into photography I used the Canon SX50 for the first couple of years. Then I moved on to the Canon 7D Mark II with a Canon 100-400mm Mark II. However, occasionally, depending on the situation I am in I sometimes use the Sony RX10.”

FAMILY PORTRAIT: fox cubs in Hemel Hempstead by Will Brown

Foxes are the main mammals to feature in his portfolio, including an eye-catching picture of cubs taken in Hemel Hempstead back in August 2018. “It is very rare to have them all out at once in the right place!” he says.

Clearly patience is a virtue when it comes to widlife, and that hasn’t always been easy to cultivate, he admits.

“Patience is a skill which has taken me years to develop. When I was about 10, I used to sit around in a bird hide with my dad, bored and uninterested as to what was going on with the wildlife. I use to drag myself along with him because we would always go and get a KFC after.

“After a while, I started to become more and more interested. Patience is a skill which requires the right mindset as well. These days, I am more than happy to wait around all day for a particular bird or animal to show and would not feel fustrated at the end of the day if I produced no results.

“I just enjoy being out and around nature. I never thought all those years ago I would be where I am now, sitting in a hide waiting for my dad to leave and get me a KFC!”

ON THE WING: another shot of a short-eared owl by Will Brown

When lockdown restrictions allow, he hopes to take a part-time photography course at college to help improve his skills and learn more about the industry.

For the moment, his main plans are to keep working on building his portfolio and continuing to sell his photos and reach as many people as he can.

“When someone buys some prints from me, I don’t get a buzz from the fact that I might be making money, I get a buzz from the fact that my photo is in someone else’s house,” he says. “That’s what I love about what I do.”

Framed copies of Will’s prints can be obtained from his website or follow him on his Instagram account.

Picture of the week: 14/12/20

THIS week’s picture is a stunning Chilterns landscape taken from a winter exhibition organised by Herts Visual Arts featuring the work of more than 40 artists from across Hertfordshire.

The hand-signed oil painting is by self-taught artist Sabbi Gavrailov, who lives with his wife and two sons in Hemel Hempstead and only fully rediscovered his love of art earlier this year.

Over the Chiltern Hills by Sabbi Gavrailov

A keen photographer and cyclist, Sabbi is originally from Bulgaria, where he studied architecture and civil engineering before settling in the UK in 2003 to pursue a career in luxury hotels and hospitality.

A fascination with digital photography over the past decade has helped to encourage his love of local landscapes, but despite always wanting to become an artist one day, the opportunity had never really presented itself.

One of Sabbi’s extraordinary high-definition photographs

“When I was young, art was everything to me,” he says. Then in April, when his father died from cancer back home in Bulgaria, it seemed to unleash a creative outpouring of emotion.

“I must have produced about 50 paintings in the past five months,” he admits with a smile, having startled friends with the ease with which he began producing everything from classic portraits to eye-catching landscapes, using single strokes of a palette knife with feeling and precision.

Sabbi Gavrailov in his studio

Often using his own high-definition photographs as a source, he was soon hard at work, putting down some of the roots of his inspiration to the fact he spent his childhood and teenage years in a small town which has extraordinary artistic connections.

Brezovo is the birthplace of two iconic Bulgarian artists: Zlatyu Boyadzhiev, who died in 1976 and is known for his portraits and landscapes depicting the Old Town of Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second largest city, and village life in the region, and Mincho Katsarov, an artist celebrated in France but virtually unknown in his home country.

Whether or not there is anything in the Brezovo water to explain Sabbi’s artistic endeavours, there’s been no stopping him this year.

Bluebells by Sabbi Gavrailov

“The devastating event of my Dad’s death has triggered an overwhelming desire to paint again,” he confesses. “It’s like something I have never known or done before in my life.”

As well as using his digital photographs and cycling trips into the Chilterns countryside as a starting point for his art, he has produced still lifes, portraits and seascapes too.

Autumn scene by Sabbi Gavrailov

“I see no sign of stopping, quite the opposite,” he says. Spurred on by his friends’ enthusiasm for his work, he has become an active member of Herts Visual Arts, where he now has a gallery in addition to his own art website and social media links on Facebook and Instagram.

With some of his paintings available as originals and others as high-res prints, he has also been undertaking commissions.

Campfire at dawn by Sabbi Gavrailov

“My college years gave me a different perspective on art while I studied architecture. Then I got drawn to digital photography very quickly and I felt the need to educate myself further to get the most out of it.

“I got my diploma in digital photography and this opened a different world, through the lens.  Now inevitably the painting and photography for me go hand in hand,” he says.

Summer stroll by Sabbi Gavrailov

“I constantly experiment with different styles of painting and push myself to learn new techniques. I love to paint portraits, seascapes and landscapes. I feel the power of nature and human expression around me: it is the greatest inspiration one can find and I express it through my paintings.”

Picture of the week: 07/12/20

ANCIENT landscapes provide the inspiration for many of our favourite artists, and Anna Dillon is no exception.

“As someone who enjoys long-distance walks, travel and exploration I am determined to visit and paint as many landscapes as possible within my life,” she says.

Whipsnade by Anna Dillon

That sense of exploration is reflected in her output, which includes collections ranging from First World War battlefields in France to Irish coastlines, and encompasses dozens of vibrant paintings portraying half a dozen different English counties from Cornwall to the Cotswolds.

But our choice for this week’s featured picture takes us to a painting entitled Whipsnade, showing the view from Ivinghoe Beacon looking out towards the famous chalk lion which has overlooked the Dunstable Downs in Bedfordshire since 1933 and was restored in 2018.

Born in Wallingford, Anna trained as an illustrator at Falmouth School of Art in Cornwall and ditched her job as a graphic designer in 2009 when she decided to paint for a living. “It was the best thing I have ever done,” she says. “I feel lucky and my passion for the landscape gets deeper each year as I learn.”

From her Oxfordshire studio she shows off some of the works which have been taking shape during months of lockdown, including a new series of Chilterns landscapes and aerial views for a collaboration with drone pilot Hedley Thorne.

The locations of each painting and photo connect with local history to provide a narrative which the pair hope will give valuable insights at their Airscapes exhibition planned for 2021, providing a ‘birds-eye’ view of the Oxfordshire and Berkshire countryside.

Lockdown has also provided opportunities to explore the local landscape on foot, and Anna incorporates notes from her walking diary to accompany some of the paintings, like that from Lodge Hill, north of Bledlow Ridge in Buckinghamshire.

View from Lodge Hill by Anna Dillon

It’s October and the elements are against her, she recalls, with strong winds and flurries of rain.

“Walking through the outskirts of Chinnor, the track becomes lined with beech trees in wonderful colours of yellow and orange. As I shuffle through the fallen leaves The Ridgeway takes a sharp turn right into a large, expansive and attractive piece of downland called Wain Hill as I cross into Buckinghamshire,” she writes.

“The track steadily climbs on to Lodge Hill where the grass on the track is like a green, velvet covering. The views from up here are spectacular with a 360 degree panoramic of the Chilterns.”

Frequently Tweeting about her enjoyment of the local countryside, from frosty walks by the Thames to visits to the “mother of all hillforts” at Maiden Castle, she has developed her style using bold and strong colour which reflect the form, contours and light of the land, using thin layers of oil paints built up gradually and slowly.

Original paintings might sell for up to £2,500 but many of her original paintings are also available as limited-edition Giclee prints and greetings cards.

Inchombe Hole, Buckinghamshire by Anna Dillon

One suitable seasonal walk portrays Incombe Hole at the end of December and forms part of her extraordinary Ridgeway series of oil on board paintings, of which prints are available.

“To my right I can see Dunstable Downs and behind me is the famous Whipsnade Lion,” she writes. “I bought my first house not far from here in a village called Slip End on the edge of Bedfordshire. The sun sets on an inspiring walk and the last day of a brilliant year.”

Further afield, her Battlelines Redrawn project started as a study of how some of the wartorn battlefields of the First World War in France and Belgium have regenerated over the last century and exploring poetic connections with the chalk landscapes of the North Wessex and Berkshire downs.

She also cites war artist Paul Nash as a particular inspiration and his special affinity for the wooded hills in South Oxfordshire called The Wittenham Clumps has been reflected in many of her own paintings.

Discover the best of the Chilterns

Bourne End Community Association kindly carried this feature about The Beyonder in the Christmas 2020 edition of their Target magazine

IT’S a glorious November day at Burnham Beeches and journalism lecturer Andrew Knight is enjoying a morning walk in the woods.

The yellows and golds of the falling leaves provide a colourful backdrop that’s perfect for photography and he’s on the lookout for anything that could make an interesting feature for his website.

Recent posts have focused on the extraordinary range of fungi on display this year or unusual wildlife – like the busy wood ants in these woods or an adder stumbled across by chance at Stoke Common.

As well as listing dozens of ideas for things to do across the Chilterns, the website explores local history and folklore, colourful characters living in the area and local businesses and artists who share a fascination for the great outdoors.

The magazine stemmed from a conversation on a journey to the Lake District in 2017, a couple of years after Andrew moved from London to Buckinghamshire to be closer to fiancée Olivia, who grew up in Gerrards Cross.

“I had spent a lot of time in the Chilterns over the years but it was really starting to feel like home,” Andrew explains. “As we explored all over the region, we became more and more fascinated with the history, the landscape and the people.”

The pair returned from their holiday with a firm idea of the shape of the magazine, but there was a lot of work to do – and over the past couple of years more than 200 articles have been added to the website.

“As a journalist, I know only too well that you need to have some good quality content to make it worthwhile for people to come back again and again,” says Andrew.

“We wanted to share our love of the outdoors and encourage families to venture outside, to fall in love with the landscape we call home, and in turn, to take responsibility for their patch in whatever way they feel inspired – big or small.”

Earlier this year, the magazine was looking ahead to launch a comprehensive What’s On listings service for families looking for ideas of where to go for a great day out, designed to tie in with all the events and openings in April. But within days, the country was in lockdown.

“Suddenly everyone was very limited in where they could go and what they could do, with all the attractions, pubs and hotels shut. But it was encouraging to see an enormous upsurge of interest in the natural world, with more families than ever out and about together walking, rambling or cycling,” Andrew recalls.

“We may be in lockdown again but we can’t wait to see those places reopening in 2021. It’s been an incredibly difficult time for everyone, but so many people have spoken about nature and wildlife helping them cope.

“Since launching the magazine we’ve met some wonderful people, all passionate about the local area, and it’s allowed us to write about everything from highwaymen to hillforts and find out more about the natural world.”

The What’s On pages contain dozens of ideas about where to go when everything reopens in 2021, as well as lots of ideas for walks other free activities.

Andrew admits he gets upset by the huge amount of litter scattered along local roadsides, as well as the amount of fly-tipping in local woodland, the decline of wildlife species and the impact of HS2 building work.

“It’s very upsetting to see beautiful places under threat, but people need to know what’s out there in order to enjoy it and become enchanted by it. Education is the key. Once young people in particular are out there enjoying the outdoors, they are more likely to want to fight to protect it.”

Spiders’ webs and misty mornings

IT’S been a month of first frosts and misty mornings, fading fungi and the smell of fireworks.

WINTRY WEB: Willow Wood, Amersham PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

It began with a final blaze of autumn colour in the run-up to Bonfire Night and Armistice Day, and ended with an icy blast, a reminder that winter is definitely on the way.

BLAZE OF COLOUR: Burnham Beeches PICTURE: Olivia Rzadkiewicz

November is a ‘game of two halves’ in many respects, starting with a fortnight of burnished golds, yellows and russet hues before the trees get stripped bare by fierce winds and driving rain, and we enter an altogether bleaker period of the year.

BURNISHED GOLD: Burnham Beeches PICTURE: Andrew Knight

Wordsmith, author and friend Alan Cleaver, better known in his neck of the Lake District by his Twitter monicker @thelonningsguy and for writing about the “corpse roads” of Cumbria, reminds us that Cumbrian farmers identify a fifth season of the year covering the dull, drab fortnight or so before winter properly sets in.

INTO THE SUNSET: Willow Wood, Amersham PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

“Back End” is the term they use, and it somehow perfectly encapsulates this sullen no man’s land between autumn and winter, the ‘scrag end’ of the year.

Writing in his blog back in 2013, Alan wrote: “It’s such a blindingly obvious fact to most Cumbrians that you really do wonder how the rest of the world copes with a mere four seasons.

LOST SEASON: ‘Back End’ sees the last of the leaves falling PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

“We’ve just entered the ‘lost’ season of Back End. It comes between autumn and winter when autumn’s lost its glory but winter is yet to bite. There’s some dispute but most people will place it around the first two weeks in December.”

No one is quite sure of the precise timing of this season, he concedes: “But we want to keep the rest of the world guessing. We’ve revealed there’s a fifth season – now let them work out when it is!”

INTO THE WOODS: misty walks mark the end of November PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

As literary translator Antoinette Fawcett put it a couple of years later, “backend” is a “blunt-sounding word, plain and to the point. and…firmly associated with the northern counties of England”.

Northern roots or not, it’s perfect for summing up the dank, drab, lifeless feeling of some days in late November, when the light feels bleached and the undergrowth sodden. But not all days are like that – and chilly glimpses of winter sunshine uncover some hidden attractions.

FROZEN IN TIME: morning frost reveals some stunning patterns PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

For a start, those crisper, clearer mornings reveal some stunning cloud patterns, glorious sunrises and mist-coated fields.

MORNING MIST: sunrise in Amersham PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

Evergreen trees and bushes provide a pleasant colour contrast and the array of berries provide rich pickings for native birds and migrants alike, like the wintering redwings arriving from Scandinavia, Russia and Iceland, or this tiny goldcrest, pictured at Burnham Beeches.

SMALL WONDER: a goldcrest at Burnham Beeches PICTURE: Nick Bell

Hawthorn, holly and mountain ash all provide valuable food sources for birds and small mammals during the winter months, along with blackthorn, juniper and dog rose.

TWISTED TREES: walking in Amersham PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

It’s that time of year when ladybirds huddle together in large groups and start looking for suitable sites to hibernate, sheltering under tree bark or leaf litter perhaps. Hedgehogs are seeking out a comfortable den after escaping the perils of bonfire night and badgers are pulling moss, leaves and bracken into their underground setts where they spend so much time snoozing.

RED MIST: sunset at Whiteleaf Hill PICTURE: Anne Rixon

Out on the local lakes and quarries the wildfowl are squabbling, the migrants have arrived in force and under and around the feeders the usual array of tits, squirrels, pigeons and blackbirds have been boosted by the occasional less familiar markings of a magpie, nuthatch, pheasant or parakeet.

SURPRISE VISITOR: a parakeet drops in for a peanut Hill PICTURE: Andrew Knight

Out in the woods the fungi may have faded but the mosses and lichens are creating a colourful carpet over the roots and branches, with many trees looking as if they are boasting furry green pyjamas.

GREEN CARPET: mosses and lichens coat the tree roots PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

December is almost upon us, with the forecasters warning of icy blasts, though with no immediate threat of snow on the horizon, here in the south at any rate. Does that mean we are still in the “backend” season, then? I guess we need our farming friends in Cumbria to let us know about that.

A big thank you to all the keen local photographers who have allowed us to use their work this month. If you would like to contribute any pictures, favourite moments or seasonal suggestions to our calendar entry for December, contact editor@thebeyonder.co.uk on email or via our Facebook group page.

Top tips for a contented canine

Guest writer Lucy Parks continues her occasional blog about how Cypriot rescue dog Yella has adjusted to life in the Chilterns

YELLA will be three at the end of this year, which means I’ve had her in my life for 2.5 years. And what a learning curve it’s been!

I thought I was prepared: I’d done a lot of research before I got her, I’d asked my dog-owning Facebook friends to give me their best advice, I’d booked her in for training, I’d bought what I understood I needed… but reality is often a surprise.

What I offer here, based purely on my own experiences, through trial and error, are my top tips for happy dogs and happy owners. 

Training: as a first-time dog owner, I had both a one-to-one session with a dog trainer and took Yella to puppy classes. They gave me huge confidence and helped me to understand how best to train her, but two commands have proved invaluable: “wait” and “this way”.

“Wait” works in so many situations, whether it’s stopping her from running to the front door when someone rings the bell, to crossing the road safely or keeping her out of danger when it’s time to go back on the lead after a good run. 

“This way” is a great alternative to saying “no” when encouraging her to go in a certain direction. It’s a simple distraction in a positive way rather than shouting “no!” to stop her running off – and I’m convinced Yella even knows her left from right because of this.

Visibility: as regular blog readers will know, Yella loves to go exploring in the woods. Because of her colour, it can be tricky to spot her, especially among autumn leaves, but I invested in some dog bells, which fit on her harness and it means I can always hear her, even if I can’t actually see her. They’re a cheap lifesaver from constant worry about where she’s gone.

In the winter, I add a dog light to her harness for extra visibility. One early evening last year we managed to startle some walkers in the woods when they saw just a jangling red light belting towards them. It took them a moment to realise it was only a friendly little dog, rushing up in the dark to say hello.

Toys and beds: It’s easy to spend a fortune on dog toys. One friend gave me a great piece of advice: buy children’s toys from a charity shop, wash them, remove any choke hazards, and you’ve got a new toy at a snip of the price. Yella doesn’t really much care for playing with toys, but she loves to play tug and, for that, her “toy” of choice is the leg of an old pair of tracksuit trousers…

Dog beds can be equally expensive. I bought a cheap child’s bean bag chair from Amazon (cost about a tenner), cover it with a £2 washable fleece from Ikea and she’s sorted. In fact, Yella and Nancy the cat have a bean bag chair bed each and Yella likes to spend her time between both of them.

Winter extras: I’ve found winter to be a more accessory-heavy time as a dog owner, a constant battle against the mud and wet. Early on I discovered Equafleece coats (above). They’re not cheap but they keep Yella warm, wick away moisture from her body and keep off the worse of the mud – plus she looks darn cute in it! She also has a stash of microfibre towels, which are great for towelling her down because they dry really quickly so there aren’t wet dog towels hanging around the house. A pack of (cheap) wet wipes by the front door also help to get muck off her paws when we’re back from a walk.

For me, Acai thermal, waterproof skinny trousers are a top find. They look good, dry fast, mud wipes off and they keep me toasty on winter walks. I could wear them all day, they’re so comfortable. Again, not cheap but worth every penny. The same goes for good walking boots and wellies. It’s worth spending a bit more (I know – I’ve tried the cheap ones and it’s a false economy). I favour Merrell walking boots and Hunter Balmoral wellies.

Practical tips: Yella is a shit-roller. Fox poo, badger doo-doo, bird mess, cow pats, even human excrement (I know: vile)… Yella has rolled in it all. I don’t like to bathe her too often but sometimes there’s no option and Animology dog shampoos do the trick for me. They get rid of the stink and she smells like biscuits afterwards. She hasn’t yet worked out the correlation between rolling in poo and having a bath, but she accepts her fate and quite enjoys having a good rub down.

Arden Grange liver paste is the answer when giving Yella meds. Simply wrap any tablet in a bit of paste and she’s mad for it. Nancy the cat has it, too, with her meds – it’s a winner in our house.

And, finally, if you allow your dog on the bed (Yella’s allowed only by invitation and usually only at weekends for a lie-in), a handheld vacuum cleaner is perfect to get rid of the dog hairs. It takes only a moment for a quick whizz over the duvet and saves finding dog hairs in your mouth at bedtime. And no-one wants that, right?

Next time: Some of our other favourite walks in the Chilterns.

Lucy Parks lives in Amersham, in the glorious Chiltern Hills. She adopted Cypriot rescue Yella in July 2018, her first dog. A journalist by trade, Lucy left corporate life in 2018 and set up her business, Parkslife, as a freelance journalist and artist. She’s also a veterinary receptionist, allowing her to indulge in her love of animals. Click on these links to see her earlier posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6.

Picture of the week: 30/11/20

OUR picture choice this week takes us on our final foray into the Moleskine sketchbooks of Beaconsfield artist Tim Baynes, who has been painting and print-making for more than 30 years.

For the past fortnight Tim has taken us on a lockdown journey to some of his favourite painting locations around the country, from the distinctive shorelines of Kent and Sussex which have featured in his Curious Coast adventures to the somewhat wilder coast of West Wales.

Flowers of the Ridgeway by Tim Baynes

Having spent years travelling the world working for Microsoft and the BBC, Tim’s sketches cover a plethora of destinations from New York to Japan and have been seen by millions on the BBC’s Passport travel blog and in Wanderlust magazine.

But much as he loves capturing the atmosphere of exotic places, there’s no place like home, and many of the almost 4,000 sketches in his notebooks are based on his wanderings around Chilterns villages and local churches – with wife Sian and Shih Tzu-Bichon Frise cross Rosie often coming along too.

James the Less, Stubbings, Berkshire by Tim Baynes

“Rosie especially loves churches, where she can investigate the sniffs and smells and perhaps a crumb dropped by the ladies when they are on their break from cleaning,” says Tim, whose fascination with church architecture even led to a book in 2016 chronicling his affectionate voyage in drawings around the Cathedrals of England.

Tim studied at the Colchester, Slade and Central Saint Martins schools of art and works in line and wash, watercolours and acrylics, as well as oils.

St Mary the Virgin at Radnage, by Tim Baynes

Since 2010 he has also been making regular blog entries chronicling some of his travels, and after 20 years exploring churches across the centuries up to 1900, has spent time in recent months exploring those around High Wycombe built since World War II, uncovering an intriguing hotch-potch of designs in all shapes and sizes, and wide range of materials.

“Anything goes,” says Tim, as characterised in the writings of his favourite polemicist, Jonathan Meades in Museum Without Walls (Unbound Books 2013): “Churches started to come in all shapes. There were bunkers and ships. There were churches that looked like silos… churches with swervy roofs and hyperbolic paraboloid roofs. The faithful must have had to work hard to convince themselves they were attending church at all.”

The Pastures Church in High Wycombe by Tim Baynes

But that’s not to say modern is bad. Tim’s burgeoning fascination with modern architecture from 1900 to the present has allowed him to embark on a new voyage of discovery

“My education is taking me to all kinds of wonderful places,” he says. “Touring and drawing what I call ‘the modern church’ – those places put up for God after 1945, some of which look like Scout Huts, others like office blocks. Huge fun. 

“I have been ‘churching’ locally or pretty locally. It’s been a time of frustration because they are closed and anger, because with thought they should be open. Nonetheless, rain or shine, the church is always there for us even though we cannot step inside; we can hunker down outside and enjoy each one.”

St Andrew’s, Sonning, Berkshire by Tim Baynes

His blog entries capture his passion for churching, from the discovery of an open church in Berkshire in July to his emotions at finally being able to take Holy Communion again in October.

Old or new, Tim’s drawings bring the churches to life in the same way that his landscapes capture the contours of the countryside, at home and abroad – and while his lockdown “stocktake” has provided an opportunity to sort out old photographs and revisit some favourite destinations in the studio, hopefully it won’t be too long before he can get back on the road, sketchbook in hand, adding some more churches, beaches and landscapes to his formidable portfolio.

Tim Baynes’ website features a variety of galleries of his work, downloadable minibooks and work for sale. His blog can be found here.

From Whiteleaf Hill, Monks Risborough by Tim Baynes

Seek out the best of Chilterns art

OXFORDSHIRE artist Anna Dillon has become the latest local painter to take the spotlight in our regular Picture of the Week feature.

Whipsnade by Anna Dillon

Since August we’ve been able to focus on the work of a dozen different creative folk working in a variety of different formats, from oils and watercolours to photography, linocuts and textiles.

Mill End, River Thames by Katie Cannon

The formats and materials may vary enormously, but what all our guest artists have in common is a love of local landscapes and wildlife, which frequently provide them with sources of inspiration.

Sue Graham in her Buckinghamshire studio

In some cases that inspiration has proved a life-changing experience, as for Sue Graham, whose reflections on the disappearing dawn chorus ended up with her family buying a croft and planting hundreds of trees on a remote Scottish island.

Red Woods, a reduction linocut by Rosie Fairfax-Cholmeley

Other artists whose work is inextricably bound up in local landscapes include Jane Duff, a volunteer for The Earth Trust and an avid supporter of their efforts to create new wetlands and improve water ecosystems, and Rosie Fairfax-Cholmeley, who with colleague Robin Wilson has a permanent base among the trees of Wytham Woods in Oxfordshire.

A Walk in the Woods by Rachel Wright

From windmills to bluebell woods, local landscapes provide a visual escape for many artists, whether working in textiles like Rachel Wright or acrylics like Christine Bass, who spends many hours outside among the whistling red kites before developing paintings from her drawings back in the studio.

Pulpit Wood by Christine Bass

If Chilterns landscapes from Ivinghoe Beacon and Pulpit Wood to Hertfordshire parks have provided many of the settings featured in the weekly articles, there have been occasional forays further afield too, with Tim Baynes providing our most recent online escape from lockdown restrictions with his portraits of Kent marshlands and West Wales shorelines.

Dungeness Afternoon by Tim Baynes

There has even been a chance to learn the secrets of fairground art in the company of Joby Carter from Carters Steam Fair, whose family were the subject of a recent profile feature on our People & Places page.

Hand-painted steam gallopers at Carters Steam Fair

We’ve already had plenty of nominations of artists across the Chilterns whose works should feature in future instalments of the series, but keep them coming.

Times are tough for artists in the current climate and we’re eager to do all we can to help promote such a vast array of local talent – particularly in a year when so many of the local open studios events have had to be cancelled.

To nominate an artist or painting we might feature in the future, simply drop a line to editor@thebeyonder.co.uk with a link to the work and the reason for your choice.

Picture of the week: 23/11/20

OUR picture this week allows us to continue our lockdown ‘travels’ with Beaconsfield artist Tim Baynes, who has been painting and print-making for more than 30 years.

Married to a gardener and with two grown-up daughters who live in London, his inspiration comes from both landscapes and urban life.

Towards Mathry, Pembrokeshire by Tim Baynes

Much of his work is drawn from his travelling when working for Microsoft and the BBC, and last week we focused on his Curious Coast collaboration with architect photographer Trevor Clapp exploring the shorelines of Kent and Essex.

This week the spotlight is on West Wales, and that part of Tim’s website focused on more recent visits to Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire – “a landscape, coastline and places that really inspire”, as he puts it.

From Dryslwyn Castle by Tim Baynes

Tim studied at the Colchester, Slade and Central Saint Martins schools of art and works in line and wash, watercolours and acrylics, as well as oils.

He aims to make one drawing every day and has amassed nearly 4,000 drawings in his meticulous Moleskine notebooks.

Since 2010 he has also been making regular blog entries chronicling some of his travels, which have taken him from Bombay to New York, Peru to Japan and all points in between, including regular perambulations round Chilterns villages and a host of local churches.

Croes-goch by Tim Baynes

But this year has seen a new focus for his art. He says: “I have fallen hopelessly in love with West Wales. I seem to spend all of my artistic waking moments thinking about painting this wonderful part of the world: the counties of Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire.”

Some of the Welsh trips have been more memorable than others, meriting special mention in Tim’s blog. “Croes-goch lies on one of the pilgrimage routes to St David’s cathedral,” he explains. “Nearby, at Mesur y Dorth, a specially carved stone indicates a spot where people shared their bread before the last stage of their journey. The stone is still clearly visible just to the north of the crossroads. 

“The leading painter John Knapp Fisher lived and worked here in Trevigan Cottage until his death in 2015. The cottage gallery is often open selling prints of his work.  I am greatly inspired by his work, paintings that capture the skies and seas and villages of this remarkable country – characteristic are a tiny collection of cottages, perhaps a chapel, crouched together under a dark sky.”

Abereiddy Beach, by Tim Baynes

Another discovery was a Pembrokeshire beach which boasts extraordinary colours. “It was one of those days in winter when it never seems to get light,” Tim recalls. “We pulled up at Abereiddy beach. Close by, its small hamlet of houses and cottages huddled together for warmth.

“We walked down to the water’s edge and back, across lots and lots and lots of lovely pebbles and extraordinarily dark sand made of pounded grey slate. Slate mining was once a big business on this part of the coast.

“Ruins of a small group of slate houses known as The Street remain near the beach, their stones peering across at you through the headland grass. These were built for the quarry workers of the ‘Blue Lagoon’ only abandoned after a flood in the early 1900s.

“The ‘Blue Lagoon’ itself is a beautiful little harbour – the hamlet’s breached quarry – round the corner just to the north. Its name ‘blue’ because when the sun does shine the slate under the sea causes it to shimmer all shades of turquoise.”

Garn Fawr from John Piper’s cottage by Tim Baynes

This month’s second national lockdown provided a perfect chance for Tim to trawl through old photographs in search of artistic inspiration.

“It has been and remains a distressing time for so many. Yet for some people it has presented the chance for more recreation,” he says. “There have been unprecedented levels of walking and cycling during the pandemic.”

It has also been a surprisingly productive time creatively, he admits. During the first lockdown in March he started to reach back into old experiences to generate new work, both in his mind and his studio, working through precious photographs and setting time aside to produce new works.

It has proved an invaluable “stocktake”, a chance to revisit some favourite destinations and pore over past blog entries, focusing on architecture and his fascination with churches, as well as landscapes.

Tim Baynes’ website features a variety of galleries of his work, downloadable minibooks and work for sale. His blog can be found here.

Next week: In our final glimpse into Tim’s notebooks, he explores the familiar landscapes of the Chilterns – and a new fascination with modern church architecture.


Taking it easy on the towpath

THERE’S something immensely satisfying about watching a canal boat negotiating a lock.

Whether that’s because of our fascination with water or the step-by-step ritual of filling the lock chamber and opening sluice gates to raise or lower a vessel, we’ve enjoyed studying the process for centuries.

“Gongoozlers” is what canal folk call those of us who idle on the towpath watching others do all the hard work in this way – but if it was used derisively in the past, nowadays there’s no shame attached to the curious spectators intrigued by the graceful art of lock navigation.

And so it is with a mixture of curiosity and admiration that we are on the towpath on a murky day at Denham Deep Lock watching the owners of The Hatch Shop showing just how to do it in style.

This is the deepest lock on the Grand Union Canal, bringing the canal down by a whisker over 11 feet – nothing dramatic by national standards, perhaps, given that those in Bath and at Sowerby Bridge in West Yorkshire are almost 20ft, but a decent drop nonetheless.

(If you really want to see a lock with a formidable drop, take a glance at the Ardnacrusha Lock on the River Shannon near Limerick, whose two chambers offer a total rise of 100ft, or the world record-breaking 138ft Oskemen lock in Kazakhstan.)

Anyway, Denham Deep Lock may not be able to compete with those figures, but it still offers plenty to distract the casual observer wandering along this section of the Grand Union Canal as it passes through Denham Country Park.

The original Grand Junction Canal, constructed more than 200 years ago, ran from Birmingham to London, some 137 miles and with 166 locks. Nowadays known as the Grand Union Canal, this is the trunk route of the canal system, passing through rolling countryside, industrial towns and peaceful villages as it gives voyagers access to Milton Keynes, Northampton and beyond.

TRUNK ROUTE: the Grand Union Canal PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

Back in Denham, The Hatch Shop is making light work of the lock on its way to Uxbridge. Officially opened back in July but hampered by lockdown restrictions, the pop-up narrowboat shop – complete with Vietnamese rescue dog Sidney – has been moored in London and Oxford, selling a bohemian collection of trinkets and mementoes, from dream catchers and incense burners to cute signs and candles.

With the rear lock gates shut, it’s time to open the sluice gates and allow the boat to slowly slip down to the level of the canal on the other side of the chamber.

That means a little bubbling and boiling as the excess water slips through those atmospheric lock gates, coated with lichen and ferns.

Once the water level inside the chamber has subsided, it’s time to push open the heavy lock gates and move out into the lower level, ready for the onward journey.

With over 1500 locks on the canals, building new lock gates is a year-round job for the Canal and River Trust. Each one is unique, and made to measure by a team of carpenters.

An average lock gate lasts for about 25 years and it could take anything from a fornight to a month to build, using green, sustainably grown oak with steel fitted to strengthen the joints.

Safely out of the chamber, it’s time for The Hatch Shop to resume its journey to Uxbridge, leaving the country park behind.

On a drizzly day in November, it has to be said that this is not the most prepossessing section of the Grand Union, particularly with the roar of traffic from the nearby motorway and a motley collection of vessels in various states of repair dotted along the banks.

The park opens out to the north, towards Denham Quarry and a succession of other attractions in the Colne Valley Regional Park, but the mosaic of rivers, lakes and farmland is not looking at its best at this time of year, and HS2 construction work has left heavy scars on the local landscape too.

Walkers still flock here all year round, but we may have to wait until the spring until the place perks up again and the crowds return to Frans Tea Gardens for a welcoming cuppa by the side of the lock.

Dogs help beat the lockdown blues

Guest writer Lucy Parks continues her occasional blog about how Cypriot rescue dog Yella has adjusted to life in the Chilterns

DOG owners have their walking habits – Yella gets a short walk in the morning, before work, to the poo bin at the top of the road and back, and a longer, off-lead walk in the afternoon – but everything changed during lockdown in 2020.

With fine weather, a huge change to routine and little else to do, we suddenly started meeting many, many more dog owners on our daily walks: neighbours that we’d never spoken to before, neighbours who we didn’t even know had a dog, new friends for Yella to meet out in the fields and woods. It really was a warm, friendly and, well, community-bonding experience.

I missed bumping into Alfie and his human dad in the alleyway at 6.30am every morning to exchange a few pleasantries but relished the lie-in that lockdown brought and the expansion of our dog social(ly-distanced, of course) group.

Yella’s new BFF is Arthur, whose lovely human owners were shielding but walking round and round our small estate every day for exercise. We’d wave out the window or stop for a short chat.

Everyone we met on our walks, whether they had dogs or not, just seemed happier, more friendly and yet mindful of the strange situation we found ourselves in and the rules we had to follow.

We kept an eye out for Maggie, the octogenarian who lives across the road with her 12-year-old rescue dog Hector, and made sure she was getting the support she needed. Yella tried to run around with Hector but, frankly, he’s an old boy who’s landed on his feet with Maggie and he was happy to just have a head-scratch.

Yes, there were awful things going on around the world, but Yella and I will always look back with fondest at that spring and summer as a happy time of long walks, long lie-ins and new friends.

Next time: Lucy’s top tips for happy dogs and happy owners

Lucy Parks lives in Amersham, in the glorious Chiltern Hills. She adopted Cypriot rescue Yella in July 2018, her first dog. A journalist by trade, Lucy left corporate life in 2018 and set up her business, Parkslife, as a freelance journalist and artist. She’s also a veterinary receptionist, allowing her to indulge in her love of animals. Click on these links to see her earlier posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5.

Duke looks out over his domain

AS VIEWS go, few outlooks are quite as spectacular as that enjoyed by the late Duke of Sutherland from his lofty perch among the trees at Cliveden.

From here, the 2nd Duke can stare perpetually out over the elegant house he and his wife had built here after their newly purchased home burned down in 1849.

The man in charge of the project was Charles Barry, the architect responsible for the Houses of Parliament, who had rebuilt the Duke’s other homes at Trentham Hall in Staffordshire and Dunrobin Castle in Scotland.

Harriet, Duchess of Sutherland, wanted a retreat from London that was close to her friend Queen Victoria at Windsor, and by 1852 the three-storey Italianate villa was complete and able to host a ball for 200 people.

“Just, compassionate and good” is how the Duke was remembered by his son in the inscription on the rear of the larger-than-life Grade II listed marble statue that stares out across the Cliveden estate, with an equally impressive panorama over the Thames on the other side.

The Duke died in 1861 and the statue was erected at Cliveden at Christmas 1866, but it wasn’t always in this location, being moved from the Grand Avenue in 1896 to make way for Lord Astor’s new acquisition, the Fountain of Love.

But the Duke’s commanding position is an apt choice, offering such an unequalled view of the house which has witnessed so much history.

If only trees could talk, what a tale they could tell – of parties and politics, scandal and intrigue.

The estate has been here from more than three centuries, successive owners sparing no expense in their efforts to create a magnificent summer retreat.

Within 20 years of buying Cliveden in 1849, both the Duke and Duchess had died. They were not to know just how famous their house would become for its lavish hospitality and glamorous guests when Nancy and Waldorf Astor lived here during the first half of the 20th century.

Nor could they have foreseen how a chance meeting at the newly installed swimming pool in the 1960s would ignite one of the biggest scandals in British political history when John Profumo, Secretary of State for War, met model and showgirl Christine Keeler there.

The “sex and spying” scandal marked the end of Profumo’s career and nearly brought down the government.

Nonetheless, the estate survived the Profumo scandal and the Sutherland legacy lives on – not just in their beautiful mansion, but through no fewer than 11 children, whose descendants read like a who’s who of the British aristocracy.

Picture of the week: 16/11/20

OUR picture choice this week gives us the opportunity to escape lockdown restrictions in the company of Beaconsfield artist Tim Baynes.

And where could provide a bigger contrast with the rolling countryside of the Chilterns than the flatlands of the Kent coast and marshes?

The unique offbeat “kiss-me-quick” atmosphere of the East Anglian and Kent seaside and coast have fascinated Tim and his architect and photographer friend Trevor Clapp for the past decade.

Dungeness Afternoon by Tim Baynes

So much so that their Curious Coast project has taken on a life of its own: there’s even a free downloadable collection of some of Tim’s early sketches from the project, chronicling their visits to Canvey Island, Jaywick and Dungeness.

Tim’s travels working for Microsoft and the BBC gave him the opportunity to build up a formidable library of thousands of sketches, all meticulously chronicled in more than 30 Moleskine notebooks, the same kind favoured by painters and writers from Van Gogh to Picasso and Hemingway.

Millions have seen his work over the years – on the weekly Passport travel blog on the BBC.com website, as well as in Wanderlust magazine and major newspapers in America and the Far East.

Dungeness Boats by Tim Baynes

But away from the world’s major capitals, his day trips with Trevor have provided an intimate record of a rather different world – of oil and gas silos, beach cafes and wind-blown beaches, of passing barges, trailer homes and down-at-heel ports and military installations.

Nowhere is that sense of being on the edge of the world more dramatic than in Dungeness, a desolate headland on the Kent coast which boasts one of the largest expanses of shingle in Europe and an extraordinarily diverse plant, bird and insect population.

In this flat and isolated landscape, fishermen’s huts lie in the shadow of a nuclear power station, joined in more recent years by a series of striking architect-designed homes.

Two Huts, Two Boats by Tim Baynes

It’s a strange and sometimes eerie landscape that has attracted artists and film-makers, music producers and fashion photographers – and this year saw a huge charity crowdfunding campaign designed to save the cottage home of artist and filmmaker Derek Jarman.

Jarman moved to Prospect Cottage in 1986 after being diagnosed as HIV positive. He passed away from the illness in 1994 and bequeathed the cottage to Keith Collins, his close companion, who died in 2018.

Now the house will be taken care of by arts organisation Creative Folkestone, which will organise a permanent public programme and conserve the building including its renowned wild garden sown on the beach shingles.

Littlestone Beach by Tim Baynes

His former home continues to be a site of pilgrimage for people from all over the world, who come to be inspired by the stark beauty of the landscape and by Jarman’s legacy.

Here, as always on his travels, Tim is busy capturing the scene, just one of a formidable collection of almost 4,000 sketches.

“During each trip I have recorded my observations in spare moments,” Tim told Wanderlust in a 2011 interview. “At the beginning of a new day, an evening alone in a restaurant, in a bar waiting for colleagues, or in a few minutes stolen between meetings.

The Lady Rebecca by Tim Baynes

“I have this compulsion to capture a moment, getting it down on paper. My art is about the ephemeral impressions of time and place. I am searching for what is special about each place.

“The narrative that accompanies some of the drawings is an immediate response to the highs and lows, joys and wretchedness of travel; as a result, my comments are often emotionally charged and always direct.”

During the initial March lockdown, Tim found he was able to establish a routine that devoted three hours each day to painting and drawing and took him on a journey to all those places he had visited over the years.

“I have in my mind and in my studio been to New York, Tokyo and spent (figuratively) massive amounts of time in Kent,” he says.

From West Wales to his beloved Essex, that journey of rediscovery has focused on architecture as well as landscapes. Working oils and acrylics as well as watercolours, his work has been snapped up by private collectors around the world.

Tim Baynes’ website features a variety of galleries of his work, downloadable minibooks and work for sale. His blog can be found here.

Next week: Tim’s lockdown ‘travels’ take him to West Wales

New friends and fresh perpectives

IT’S BEEN a month of meeting new friends and embarking on fresh adventures, despite the restrictions of a second national lockdown.

Competition solving can be thirsty work – so we were delighted to be able to offer a tasty tipple as our first ever picture quiz prize.

The quiz has been running for over a year now but our friends Kate and Ben Marston at Puddingstone Distillery near Tring kindly stepped in to make the contest a little more enticing by offering a 10cl bottle of artisan gin worth £10 to the winner of our November quiz.

The story behind the success of the couple’s small Hertfordshire distillery was the subject of a feature on our Rearing & Growing page, where we would like to feature more stories about local growers, smallholders, farm shops and food producers in the future.

Previous articles included an item on Cornish forager Rachel Lambert, while Olivia’s hunt for rosehips and subsequent rosehip syrup recipe featured in another post.

Roaming a little further afield, we were delighted to be able to write about Adam McCulloch’s website featuring walks across Kent, although our most popular recent posts have been those focusing on local adventures, hunting down fungi in local woods and enjoying the spectacular colours of the fall.

Meanwhile guest writer Lucy Parks has continued to entertain readers with her adventures with Cypriot rescue dog Yella over in Amersham. Lucy and other members of the 50-strong Beyonder Facebook group have also been sharing pictures from their autumn rambles.

It has also been a real delight this month to expand our range of local artists featured in our Picture of the Week series.

Hot on the heels of the local landscapes of painters and printmakers like Jane Duff, Christine Bass and Rosie Fairfax-Cholmeley, it was a pleasure to be able to feature the photography of Anne Rixon and the extraordinarily intricate embroidery of textile artist Rachel Wright.

Apart from giving us a chance to support local artists during this difficult time, it has been fascinating to find out all the different ways in which they respond to local landscapes and wildlife in their art.

Watch this space for some more treats over the next three weeks as we embark on a lockdown adventure with Beaconsfield artist Tim Baynes.

In the meantime, our interest in the history under our feet was piqued by earthworks in a corner of Burnham Beeches which hark back to medieval times.

Following similar journeys into the past in search of highwaymen and the heyday of stagecoach travel, our latest trip back in time explored the story of Hartley Court, a medieval moated farmhouse buried deep in the woods.

There’s still time to enter the November competition if you fancy a sparkling G&T – and if you have any time to spare, our features archive now includes dozens of articles about some of the people and places we’ve had the honour to during the past couple of years preparing for the formal launch of the website.

Picture of the week: 09/11/20

THE incredible thing about this week’s Picture of the Week is that it is not a painting but a work of intricate embroidery, created by textile artist Rachel Wright.

“Embroideries enable me to draw and paint through the medium of fabric and stitch,” says Rachel. “My embroideries stand out because of the striking use of rich colour, which captivates and draws the viewer in. My aim is simply to delight the eye.”

Brill Windmill by Rachel Wright

Her Brill Windmill piece was part of a commission completed during lockdown earlier this year which also incorporated seven miniature pieces of the churches that form the Bernwode Benefice.

“The windmill part of the brief didn’t bother me at all as the subject matter was right up my street,” she says. “I loved creating the sky, giving a sense of drama with the feeling of wind and movement. The little churches were a much greater challenge. Working at such a small scale was new to me and trying to put in enough detail at that scale was tricky.”

Churches of the Bernwode Benifice by Rachel Wright

Rachel studied fashion and textiles at Birmingham City University and set up her own business in 1994, selling her work through various galleries and shops and exhibiting regularly.

“I grew up with art all around me because my father is a fine artist,” she says. “He paints in oil and watercolour and does wonderful wood engravings. We used to spend lots of weekends in galleries and museums.  My dad was a huge influence on me. He taught me so much about drawing and especially how to observe. I think that’s why I have an eye for detail.”

Her particular love of textiles stemmed from sitting at her grandmother’s knee as a child. “She was always stitching or mending something and she had an old sewing box full of sewing curiosities, which I found endlessly fascinating and just loved to root through,” Rachel recalls.

Flour Power by Rachel Wright

“I loved to draw and paint when I was young but I wasn’t very good at mixing up paint colours. Fabrics are like a ready-made paint-box full of glorious colours, textures, patterns etc. I realised that I could paint with the fabrics, using them as my palette of colour and the stitching like the stroke of a fine brush to add in details.”

She takes her inspiration from landscapes and cityscapes and has a particular love of the sea, harbour towns, boats and lighthouses. But Chilterns landscapes have featured in her work too.

She explains: “I am inspired by the beauty we find all around us, by the forces of nature which shape our surroundings, carving out our coastlines, sculpting landscapes and twisting mighty trees and painting wondrous sunsets in the expansive skies above our heads.”

A Blustery Day by Rachel Wright

One particular picture was inspired by a walk with her son. “It was one of those blustery days in March when the clouds were racing across the sky urged on by the wind and the light on the landscape was changing second by second.

“We were on the Waddesdon estate and I noticed a clump of trees with a stripy ploughed field in front of them. Something about the light and the feel of the day made me give my phone to my son and ask him to try to capture what I’d seen. I knew I wanted to make a piece based on that day and this was the result.”

She works a lot from photographs – “often taken by my family because they are better with a camera than I am” – and sketches directly onto her base fabric, which is cotton calico.

“Once I have a basic sketch I begin to gather together a palette of fabrics, which offer me the colours, markings, textures etc that I will need. I start to cut tiny pieces of fabric, choosing them very carefully and begin to lay them down, painting with them in small areas.

“Sometimes I use pins to hold them in place and then I begin to free motion stitch on my machine, a beloved old Bernina from the 80s.”

Dozens of works in her portfolio focus on animals and birds, as well as seascapes and landscapes – like one archetypal Chilterns view of bluebell woods near Christmas Common.

A Walk in the Woods by Rachel Wright

“This piece was also inspired by a family walk and I worked from photographs taken by my son on my phone again,” says Rachel.

“Apart from the obvious glory of the carpets of bluebells in the woods up by Christmas Common, I was drawn again to the light, dappled and soft as it filters through the bright spring green leaves on the branches. 

“It is both exciting and terrifying to see a piece of work emerging, battling through the tricky stages when it really isn’t working until at some point it turns a corner and everything comes together and finally you have the piece that you imagined in your mind’s eye at the start of the whole process.”

Exploring a land that time forgot

STARE at these reflections in the woods at Burnham Beeches for a bit and it’s hard not to be swamped by images of the past.

For this water surrounds Hartley Court, a medieval moated farmhouse built here at some time between 1250 and 1350 (in other words, after the signing of the Magna Carta and before the Black Death ravaged the land).

Buried deep in the woods near the north-western corner of Burnham Beeches and one of three ancient monuments on the national nature reserve, the site is sufficiently distant from the main car parks to be largely overlooked by visitors, although it lies just off the Beeches Way footpath.

And on a glorious November morning with the leaves on the ancient oaks and beeches an exotic array of golds, yellows and browns, it’s easy to feel like a traveller back in time.

What would this part of Buckinghamshire have looked like in the Middle Ages? Not so very different, perhaps. The people who lived here made a living from the land, with cattle, sheep and pigs grazing and foraging in the surrounding woodland.

Some of the oldest oaks could even have been here when those settlers from Hartley Court ventured out to get firewood for heat and cooking.

The monument itself takes the form of a roughly rectangular central island surrounded by a moat, broad ditch and an outer bank which might once have been topped by a wooden palisade fence.

The moated central island was situated inside a larger diamond-shaped enclosure and was surrounded by a ditch which retains water for much of the year, supplied by rainfall and the natural water table.

Moated houses were popular during this period, more for fashionable reasons than for defence, and there are other examples across Buckinghamshire. No buildings remain at Hartley Court today, but the archaeologists believe there is evidence of a principal dwelling, a well and possible other outbuildings which might have included kitchens, stores, brew and bake houses.

Cultivated land inside the enclosure would provide produce for the homestead, while the boundary earthworks may have been designed to keep out livestock, and other animals grazing the surrounding woodpasture like pigs and deer.

Many settlements in the Chilterns had been recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086, but populations were generally small, so that much of the area would have been characterised by scattered hamlets and isolated farms during the Middle Ages, with the Thames providing the easiest transport route for heavy materials.

Powerful lords of the manor became an established part of the feudal system introduced by the Normans following their victory at the Battle of Hastings, when William the Conqueror distributed land as a reward for loyalty – typically between 1200 and 1800 acres, which would support farming land, forests, common pasture land, a village, a mill, a church and a manor house.

The English landscape of the Middle Ages would have included numerous impressive manor houses, from where the lord of the manor would rule over the lives of their subjects, holding numerous privileges including hunting and judicial rights, presiding over the complaints of those working on the manor – from bailiffs and reeves to serfs, cottagers and servants – and overseeing the running of farm lands and collection of income and taxes.

Deer parks were common all over medieval England too, particularly in woodland areas, forming part of the lord of the manor’s demesne lands and providing an opportunity for sport, as well as the ready supply of venison.

There would have been castles around this area too – Windsor, of course, but Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire, Chalgrave and Totternhoe in Bedfordshire, Donnington in Berkshire, Boarstall and Oxford in Oxfordshire.

Woodlands were the biggest natural resource of the Chilterns during the Middle Ages, providing construction materials for houses, carts and fences, as well as all the fuel and heating needed by peasants and their feudal lords – not to mention providing clay for bricks and tiles, and food for livestock.

But the area around Burnham parish was always remarkably well wooded – woodland enough to feed 600 swine, according to the Domesday Survey – and Hartley Court may have been included in land bestowed with Burnham Manor in 1266 as part of the foundation charter for Burnham Abbey by Richard, Earl of Cornwall – or retained by Richard as part of his manor at Cippenham, which he had bought in 1252.

Richard is known to have maintained his land there as a deer park for hunting and was close to his brother Henry III, who lived at Windsor Castle.

You can imagine the pigs snuffling for acorns under these trees as the residents of Hartley Court went about their daily business on this smallholding, a rather more humble existence than the feasting of the royal hunting parties, but not an uncomfortable one, especially with such a ready supply of top-quality timber (and widespread carpentry skills).

It may be impossible to tell what life was like here all those centuries ago – and before the plague would devastate English populations in the 1340s. But staring into the still waters of the moat on a tranquil day, it’s only too easy to be transported back in time…

Grouse beater in the doghouse

Guest writer Lucy Parks continues her occasional blog about how Cypriot rescue dog Yella has adjusted to life in the Chilterns

IT WAS a beautiful summer afternoon and we’d taken the dogs – Yella and her daughter, Lumi – to what was one of our favourite spots: Shardeloes in Amersham.

As Lumi’s human mum and I sat on a bench, enjoying the view across Shardeloes lake and on to the Chilterns, we saw Yella belting across the field below us, having the time of her life.

WHO, ME?: Yella tries the cute and innocent look

And then realised that she was in hot pursuit of a brace of grouse. With equal horror and admiration we watched in almost slow motion as the birds flew away… apart from one, which decided to run rather than fly… and Yella caught it.

This was not Yella’s first rodeo. Although she now had all the home comforts she needed, Yella was still at heart a street dog. The first time this showed itself was when she was (unbeknownst to me) pregnant and obviously craving food. One of the cats caught and brought me a pigeon. Yella spotted it, grabbed it, rushed into the garden and ate the whole thing – feathers, bones, beak and feet. I could only watch in astonishment and Nancy, the cat, was furious.

A couple of days later on a walk down a wooded alleyway and Yella caught her own pigeon. In fairness, it must have been pretty dozey to have not flown off, but Yella had her prey. She ran off with it into the garden of a nearby large and rather fancy house and emerged without it only a few minutes later. From the mud on her nose and paws, I reckon she buried that one in someone’s garden…

PRIZE CATCH: Yella’s prey was shocked but unhurt

That afternoon in Shardeloes, Yella proudly brought us her catch. She growled when Lumi went near it but allowed me to see her wondrous prize: it was still alive and didn’t seem hurt (apart from being in the jaws of a small dog).

After some deliberation, we decided to seize a moment when Yella had dropped the poor bird to pop her lead on, drag her away from it and briskly leave the area. She wasn’t happy, though, and she never forgets.

Subsequent visits to Shardoes resulted in Yella returning to the scene of her crime in search of grouse – to the point that we can no longer go back there because, so single-minded she is in her determination, she’ll go missing for 20 minutes at a time exploring any faint sounds of rustling.

It’s a shame because it’s a lovely walk but, while the squirrels and deer she chases will always out-pace her, Yella the Street Dog just can’t be trusted when it comes to dopey game birds.

Lucy Parks lives in Amersham, in the glorious Chiltern Hills. She adopted Cypriot rescue Yella in July 2018, her first dog. A journalist by trade, Lucy left corporate life in 2018 and set up her business, Parkslife, as a freelance journalist and artist. She’s also a veterinary receptionist, allowing her to indulge in her love of animals. Click on these links to see her earlier posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

Next time: How lockdown brought the dog-walking fraternity closer

Couple capture that campfire spirit

FOR many of us, a summer’s day in the garden might sound the ideal setting to enjoy a gin and tonic: clinking ice cubes, a generous slice of lemon or lime, beads of condensation forming on the glass…

Not so Kate and Ben Marston. For these Hertfordshire gin enthusiasts, the perfect place to savour the eager anticipation of that first sparkling sip would be with friends round a roaring campfire.

And what if it wasn’t just a case of pouring your favourite tipple, but actually distilling the whole drink, mixing your own botanicals, coming up with the perfect recipe?

Ben and Kate decided to set up the distillery after buying two books: Difford’s Guide to Gin and Niki Segnit’s The Flavour Thesaurus. A holiday in Kenya sipping a sundowner cocktail round the fire and swapping tales with fellow travellers helped to cement their plans.

Back home, Ben had worked in a variety of creative design and marketing roles, including working at a brewery, and he saw the perfect opportunity to combine his own interests in exploring and creating too.

What better way for the couple to put their professional skills to good use than by producing an artisan gin of their own, blending unique botanicals to produce the perfect “spirit of the outdoors” that could be enjoyed with friends round that campfire?

Kate recalls: “It was a big step out into the unknown to establish the region’s first small batch gin distillery.”

It was 2014 that the idea started to take shape and the couple toured distilleries around the country to research the process and establish relationships with industry professionals.

As they finalised their distillery name and logo, it was a chance for Kate to put her marketing and graphic design skills to the test in the careful branding that epitomises Puddingstone Distillery and its products.

Puddingstone takes its name from a rare rock formation found in Hertfordshire and historically used in churches to ward off evil spirits, while Campfire gin, with its unique blend of ten botanicals, summed up the spirit of outdoor adventure which Ben was so keen to create.

“After 18 months of premises hunting across the beautiful Chiltern Hills, a chance meeting with a local farm owner who shared our vision of a destination for local food and drink producers took the distillery one step closer to becoming a reality,” Kate recalls.

Gin derives its predominant flavour from juniper berries and the name gin is a shortened form of the older English word genever, related to the French word genièvre and the Dutch jenever. All ultimately derive from juniperus, the Latin for juniper.

Once a medicinal liquor made by monks and alchemists across Europe, gin emerged in England after the introduction of the Dutch and Belgian jenever liquor, which was originally a medicine.

Its popularity exploded in the late 17th century after William of Orange came to the throne, when gin was actively promoted as an alternative to French brandy at a time of political and religious conflict with France. But the resulting “gin craze” of the early 18th century let to a succession of acts of parliament trying to control consumption.

Hogarth depicted a world of poverty and misery in his “drunk for a penny” Gin Lane portrait of 1851, and by the 19th century the gin shops had been replaced by thousands of glittering gin “palaces” where, despite the ornate fittings and gleaming mirrors, customers were expected to down cheap shots and leave pretty quickly, rather than lingering over a drink as they might do in a public house.

Nowadays gin is a much more sophisticated libation produced in different ways from a wide range of herbal ingredients, giving rise to a number of distinct styles and brands. After juniper, gin can be flavoured with a combination of botanical, herbal, spice, floral or fruit flavours.

The hipster tipple of choice, in the 21st century gin shrugged off both its grim “mother’s ruin” image and any stuffy colonial connections. A staggering increase in the emergence of artisan gins saw sales almost doubling between 2016 and 2018, with hundreds of different brands being launched by dozens of new distilleries.

That put Kate and Ben well ahead of the curve. After acquiring their licence to distil and launching a crowdfunding campaign to help finance their venture, the doors to their distillery opened in November 2016, the PE Mead & Sons farm shop at Wilstone Green, Tring, providing the perfect base.

The pair hit the ground running with their first delivery selling out in less than a week and a variety of awards following, their original Campfire creation being praised for its classic dry character: juniper, angelica root and coriander seeds being “elevated with subtle notes of florals, nuts and fruits”.

Situated next to Wilstone Reservoir, just five minutes from Tring, Kate and Ben were determined to create drinks of an “exceptional and inspirational nature, created with a mindfulness of community and environment”.

The success of that mission was reflected in awards, sales growth and the increasing popularity of tours and tastings – prior to the nightmare of lockdown restrictions, of course.

The distillery’s location also allowed it to team up with the neighbouring Hertfordshire and Middlesex Wildlife Trust for a rather special project involving an invasive plant which has proliferated in the area: Himalayan balsam.

Introduced to the UK during the Victorian era and notable for its pink orchid-like petals, Himalayan balsam has done rather too well at taking hold along the banks of local lakes, ponds and streams.

Nowadays wildlife trusts, backed by the support of volunteers, are setting about uprooting the plant to clear space for native species to grow – which seemed a perfect opportunity for Kate and Ben to step in to help, creating a rather special edition gin in the process, with money from the sales being donated to the Wildlife Trust.

So what does the future hold for the Puddingstone pair? Like all businesses, coping with lockdown restrictions has posed plenty of challenges, but while we may need to wait a little for the tours and tastings to restart, we can expect plenty of campfire cocktails and Christmas gift ideas in the meantime.

“We’ve been overwhelmed by the local support from everyone who is shopping locally supporting us and other independent retailers. It’s been disappointing to have to postpone tours and events but our fingers are crossed for 2021,” says Kate.

“We’ve plans for a new gin in collaboration with the Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust and will continue to head out and about to markets and events where we are able to and to welcome customers to the distillery shop on Fridays and Saturdays.”

Check out the Puddingstone Distillery website for news, events, gift ideas and to sign up for their newsletter.

Picture of the week: 02/11/20

THE stunning colours of this week’s Picture of the Week reflect Katie Cannon’s fascination with water, and the strong contrast in light between water and sky.

Her picture of Mill End between Marlow and Henley was painted a while before lockdown, when she says it became a little harder to paint with three children to entertain.

Mill End, River Thames by Katie Cannon

“I grew up by the sea so I love being near water,” says Katie. “The River Thames offers up some great picturesque spots and, after visiting, I always feel inspired to paint.

“There are many places along the River Thames where I can observe its tranquil beauty. I mostly paint locations that are a pleasure to spend time in and are good for the soul.”

Mullion Cove by Katie Cannon

Though now living and working in Oxfordshire, she admits to being heavily inspired by her seaside roots in Cornwall, which has provided the setting for many of her paintings in the past – like Mullion Cove (above), “a place I have painted a thousand times!”

“I particularly like painting water that has reflections,” she says. “I paint with acrylics and use quite vibrant colours in most of my artwork.”

Though pictures of boats and fishing villages have dominated much of her art, lockdown restrictions gave her an opportunity to spend more time enjoying local landscapes.

The White Mark, by Katie Cannon

“Whilst I usually concentrate on painting the sea or rivers, I have more recently started painting the woodlands and views from the Chilterns as well,” she says.

“I’m so grateful to have open countryside on my doorstep, especially now during these troubled times.”

Turville Windmill by Katie Cannon

Falling leaves and mushroom magic

OCTOBER has been a spectacular month in the Chilterns – and you have been sharing some of your favourite images of local landscapes and wildlife during that time.

With Autumnwatch back on our screens and the woods ablaze with colour, families across the area have been getting outdoors at every opportunity to make the most of the seasonal spectacle.

FALLING LEAVES: a bench in Penn Wood PICTURE: Andrew Knight

And with half the country under strict lockdown restrictions, the natural world continues to provide a vital escape from the stresses and strains of mask wearing and social distancing – and for many, an absolutely essential boost to mental health.

WOODLAND WANDER: Hervines Park in Amersham PICTURE: Lucy Parks
COLOUR CONTRASTS: a footpath in Amersham PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

But which sights, sounds and smells best sum up the spirit of the month for you? We asked fellow Beyonders to help us expand our selection of favourite pictorial memories of the past month for our online Chilterns calendar and the response was rapid and generous, as you can see.

LIGHT AND SHADE: Brush Hill near Princes Risborough PICTURE: Anne Rixon

This October was perhaps most memorable for its astonishing array of fungi – like these colourful but toxic fly agaric toadstools in Penn Woods (above) – prompting our appeal for help in identifying some of the less obvious local species.

TOXIC TOADSTOOL: fly agarics in Penn Wood PICTURE: Andrew Knight
MUSHROOM MAGIC: fungi flourishing at Whiteleaf Woods PICTURE: Anne Rixon

It’s been a month of ripe berries and falling fruit, of eager foraging for humans and rich pickings for birds, insects and mammals, with trees and bushes bursting with tasty treats.

In kitchens across the Chilterns, pots and pans have been bubbling with jams and jellies, crumbles and preserves. Windows have been steamed up as cooks have dusted off their recipes for rosehip syrup, sweet chestnut stuffing or crab apple jelly.

RIPE FOR THE PICKING: rosehips can make tasty syrup PICTURE: Olivia Rzadkiewicz

The rich, rapidly-changing colours and glorious textures of October make it a favourite with photographers, especially deep in the woods where the green, yellow and russet hues contrast so beautifully with the rugged outlines of ancient bark.

COUNTRY CROSSROADS: footpaths meet at Latimer PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

If the feature proves popular, it could be a regular monthly item, building into a year-round collection of shots capturing some of the natural wonders of our amazing landscape, like this stunning shot highlighted in our Picture of the Week feature.

SUNSET SILHOUETTE: stags locking horns at Grangelands PICTURE: Anne Rixon

If you have a picture or two you would like us to feature, drop us a line by email to editor@thebeyonder.co.uk, join us in our Facebook group or contact us on Twitter @TheBeyonderUK.

Let us know a little bit about where the picture was taken and make sure you include your full name for the picture credit.

FUNGI IN FOCUS: mushrooms in Whiteleaf Woods PICTURE: Anne Rixon
WATERLOGGED: the River Thame flood plain at Aylesbury PICTURE: Ron Adams

Nature puts on a fireworks display

IT’S great to see so many families getting out into the great outdoors in search of autumn colour.

Ramblers, dog-walkers, cyclists, foragers and picnickers locals have been shrugging off the misery of face masks and social distancing by escaping into the woods at the first glimpse of sunshine, however unforgiving the October temperatures.

And what a spectacular show they have seen on those days when the sun breaks through the rainclouds and turns woods and parks into places of wonder and mystery.

Our earlier post about autumn colours took us to Burnham Beeches, Black Park, Langley Park and Cliveden – but it seemed remiss not to return to Penn Wood, given that our last proper sortie here was on such a monochrome February day.

How different the landscape looks now. The colours at this time of year are truly spectacular, the falling leaves forming a tapestry of different shapes and textures, and the trees themselves a glorious variegated backcloth of yellows and greens, russets and pinks.

It’s warm enough in the sun to linger over the array of different fungi peeking out from beneath the leaves, or pause a moment to study the cattle grazing their way incuriously around this remnant of Wycombe Heath, managed by the Woodland Trust.

Across the centuries, Penn and Tylers Green are villages that can boast a long and illustrious history and until the middle of the 19th century, this was a 4,000 acre common of heath and woodland stretching over seven parishes from Tyler End and Winchmore Hill in the south up to Great Kingshill in the north.

The landscape has changed a lot over the years, but you can sense history all around you here, and the evidence ranges from iron age earthworks and Roman pottery to written records of royal hunting parties in the 12th century or aristocratic shooting parties in the Victorian era.

Indeed, recent suggestions that an important Roman official was living in Tylers Green 1700 years ago might force historians to rethink the importance of this area during the Roman occupation.

The southern edge of Wycombe Heath consisted of Kings Wood, St John’s Wood, Common Wood and Penn Wood, where there would have been little if any settlement during the Saxon and early Norman period.

Back in the woods, the wild boar and wolves of the middle ages may have long disappeared but grazing cattle have returned, helping to maintain open pasture by trampling down thickets and fertilising the ground.

In the heyday of the furniture industry, wood-turners called bodgers worked in shacks in the woods here, while during the Second World War, Penn Wood was used as an army training camp, complete with an assault course and a rifle range. Later it became a prisoner-of-war reception centre and a holding base for Polish soldiers.

Today it’s a place to spot colourful fungi and keep an eye open for rare beetles, tiny mice, amd squirrels gathering their winter hoards. Or listening out for the sound of a red kite or buzzard overhead…or a tawny owl calling as dusk falls.

It’s not quite warm enough to linger under a maple with a book, but this seat under the trees looks so inviting it seems a shame not to be able to while away an hour or two watching the leaves falling and waiting for any woodland creatures to get sufficiently confident to venture out…

Picture of the week: 26/10/20

YOU dont have to be a professional photographer to take a stunning picture: sometimes it’s simply a case of being in the right place at just the right time.

At least, that’s the modest claim of Anne Rixon, whose recent photograph picked up hundreds of “likes” when she shared it on a local wildlife forum, and is our latest selection for Picture of the Week.

A keen walker, Anne took the picture beside the Grangelands nature reserve near her home in Princes Risborough.

“It is not often I get such a response to my photos. I am not a professional by any means but this was a perfect moment,” she says. “I was lucky that the sunset happened and shot these through a hole in a netting fence at the side of the bridleway.”

Photography is a relatively recent hobby for Anne, 64, who loves wildlife, sharing some of her shots with members of the Bucks Free Press and Oxford Mail camera clubs.

“I walk a lot and take the camera with me trying to capture the beauty of the Chilterns as I go,” she says. “I have been an avid photographer for about two years, more so since lockdown in March.

“I have updated a few months ago to a high zoom bridge camera, Nikon P900 83x zoom. I get a lot of advice from members of the camera club.

“I use no other special equipment. I edit slightly but no photoshopping, just basic windows 10. I try to capture life as I see it.”

Favourite local locations include Whiteleaf Hill and Pulpit Hill, the Wendover Arm of the Grand Union canal and the Tring reservoirs, along with Hughenden Park and Naphill Common.

She says: “During lockdown I discovered some lovely places to walk on my doorstep. I suffer from long-term health conditions and I have found walking and photography to be a wonderful therapy.”

Take a walk in Pooh’s paw prints

OUR local woods are a constant delight – and although Black Park Country Park is spread over 500 rather than 100 acres, it never feels as if Pooh, Piglet and Tigger are too far away.


If proof were needed that we are not alone in this sensation, you only have to go down to the entrance to the lake to find a new generation of children playing Pooh sticks over the small wooden bridge there.

Or snatch a glimpse through the trees of youngsters building a small den of the sort that Eeyore might well call home.


All of which makes it all the more pleasurable to be able to savour some of Pooh’s adventures – and his creator’s words of wisdom – via a daily Twitter feed.

Upbeat daily Tweets celebrate words written or inspired by the author and incorporate some of the exploits of Winnie the Pooh and his companions which generations of children have enjoyed.


Also included are quotes from Christopher Robin Milne, whose relationship with his father inspired the 2017 film Goodbye Christopher Robin.

The “real” stuffed toys owned by Christopher Robin may be a long way off – they have been on display in the New York public library since 1987 – but down among the trees it’s all too easy to hear the words of those childhood friends echoing among the autumn leaves, whether in search of a Heffalump, getting stuck in a rabbit hole or floating away on the string of a balloon.

It’s particularly easy to visualise those childhood friends at this time of the year, when the colours are so striking and the leaves are falling.

As C R Milne put it: “When a child plays with his bear the bear comes alive and there is at once a child-bear relationship. Then the child gets inside his bear and looks at it the other way round: that’s how BEAR feels about it… and sympathy is born.”

Perfect way to unwind with friends

Guest writer Lucy Parks continues her occasional blog about how Cypriot rescue dog Yella has adjusted to life in the Chilterns

top trails for tasty treats

AT THE weekends, Yella and I enjoy doing a longer walk – often with friends – that takes in a refreshment stop.

Okay, so maybe Yella (and canine companions) don’t enjoy the refreshment part quite as much as the humans, but it’s nice to reward yourself with a drink.

OPEN OUTLOOK: meet up with the Gruffalo and take in the views at Wendover Woods

Here are three of our favourites…

Wendover Woods is a well-managed woodland area on the side of the Chiltern Hills with ample car parking. Some fellow dog-walkers aren’t too keen on the structured approach, but I think it’s got a good variety of terrain and a lovely cafe that serves good coffee and homemade cake. Plus it’s high up and there are stunning views across the Chilterns.

There are a number of established routes around the woods and we particularly enjoy the Firecrest Trail, a five kilometre route along bridleways, through woodland and with the all-important open spaces for crazy running. It can get quite busy in the areas around the car park/cafe and presents a picnic hazard for inquisitive dogs on sunny days…

FAMILY FUN: Yella and daughter Lumi check out the Firecrest Trail
  • Wendover Woods can be found at HP22 5NQ. Parking is £2.50 for up to two hours.

Rickmansworth aquadrome is a popular public park and nature reserve that can become hideously busy on nice days… but hurry past the main areas near the car park and cafe and you’ll find a tranquil paradise, rich with wildlife.

There are lovely, level, paved walks around the main two lakes. If you’re feeling more adventurous (and your dog’s well-behaved), explore the more distant Stocker’s Lake Nature Reserve. Yella loves nosing around the water’s edge and then lets off steam in the wider open areas.

PAWS FOR THOUGHT: Yella takes a break from letting off steam

Again, there are picnickers on warmer days and lots of water birds – including swans that are quite happy to chase a small dog if it gets too close. And the cafe… oh, the cafe. The best meaty sausage rolls I’ve ever tasted, beautiful bacon sarnies and excellent coffee. It’s a hot-spot with yummy mummies during the week and with families at weekends, but it runs efficiently and is consistently good. Worth a trip for the cafe alone!

  • Rickmansworth Aquadrome is accessed via Frogmoor Lane, Rickmansworth WD3 1NB. Parking is free. More details on the cafe here: https://thecafeinthepark.com/

Penn Street woods is wet-weather favourite because of the thick tree cover. Park in the Holy Trinity Church car park (it’s free) and go where the mood takes you. There are clear paths, diversions down woody alleyways and an abundance of wildlife to chase (for the dogs). Penn Wood is one of the largest ancient woodlands in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and it can get quite busy on Sunday afternoons. After a lovely dog walk, arrange for your walk to end at The Squirrel pub – it has a fabulous selection of libations, a big outdoor area and cosy nooks inside. Cheers!

Lucy Parks lives in Amersham, in the glorious Chiltern Hills. She adopted Cypriot rescue Yella in July 2018, her first dog. A journalist by trade, Lucy left corporate life in 2018 and set up her business, Parkslife, as a freelance journalist and artist. She’s also a veterinary receptionist, allowing her to indulge in her love of animals. Click on these links to see her earlier posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Next time: Squirrels, pigeons, deer and grouse…Yella proves her street dog credentials

Where to find those secret gardens

A TIMELESS children’s story returns to the big screen in a new guise this week – featuring some spectacular locations around the UK.

Starring Colin Firth and Julie Walters, the retelling of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1911 novel The Secret Garden opens in the cinemas here on October 23, after the launch was delayed by the Covid-19 lockdown.

From the producer of Harry Potter and Paddington, the new version of the evergreen classic about an orphaned girl finding refuge in a neglected garden takes audiences to some extraordinary locations, including the flowering laburnum of the National Trust’s Bodnant Garden in North Wales (above).

Other scenes range from the twisted woodland of Puzzlewood in the Forest of Dean to Iford Manor in the Cotswolds, stopping off along the way at Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire and Trebah Gardens in Cornwall, where Mary is towered over by Triffid-like rhubarb.

The Secret Garden tells the story of Mary Lennox (Dixie Egerickx), a 10-year-old girl sent to live with her uncle Archibald Craven (Colin Firth), under the watchful eye of Mrs Medlock (Julie Walters) with only the household maid, Martha (Isis Davis) for company. The film is set in 1940s England at Misselthwaite Manor, a remote country estate deep in the Yorkshire moors. It opens in cinemas and on Sky Cinema from October 23.

Fans of the 1993 version can check it out on DVD.

Friends help solve our mushroom mystery

AFTER our recent post about toadstools and mushrooms flourishing in Burnham Beeches, we’ve been back out in the woods uncovering an even wider range of fascinating and beautiful fungi.

And what an amazing range of shapes and colours we found. The only problem is that we still couldn’t tell a tawny grisette from a glistening inkcap – not to mention a horn of plenty, velvet shank, parrot waxcap or weeping widow.

The names alone are enough to want to make you find out more – from the stinking dapperling to the charcoal burner, golden scalycap, grey knight or wrinkled peach.

But even armed with the Woodland Trust’s fungi identification guide and those of Wildfood UK and First Nature, the only mushrooms we could identify with any real confidence were the foul-smelling stinkhorn (Picture 15) and the beechwood sickener (Picture 11).

So we put out an appeal to our friends on Twitter and Facebook to help us complete our captions – and the response was terrific.

All 20 pictures were taken on a single afternoon on a short woodland walk at Burnham Beeches.

Within minutes our friends in the Wild Marlow facebook group were pointing us towards the Buckinghamshire Fungus Group – and overnight, group secretary Penny Cullington was able to fill in a lot of the gaps in our knowledge.

If you have similar problems in identifying specific species, check out the group’s detailed alphabetical picture guide – look up the name in the list to locate the photo, with helpful tips about identification.

‘Mushroom man’ John Harris from Leicestershire also has an incredibly useful blog that can help with all aspects of mushroom identification, not to mention a pocket guide for those wanting to investigate further.

And sincere thanks to all those who helped in our quest and commented in forums on Facebook or on Twitter.

PICTURE 1: just a rotting fungus past its sell-by date?
PICTURE 2: our friend @PipsticksWalks helped to pin this down as upright coral fungus (Ramaria stricta). Apparently there are an incredible number of species of coral fungi, but this one is pretty common in our Chilterns woods
PICTURE 3: too little detail to identify this one?
PICTURE 4: Penny from BFG pointed us towards Tricholoma sulphureum, the poisonous Sulphur Knight, once known as the gas works mushroom because of its pungent odour
PICTURE 5: Lycoperdon pyriforme, the stump puffball, says Penny from BFG
PICTURE 6: too many possibilities to choose from here?
PICTURE 7: a faded Amethyst deceiver, Laccaria amethystina, we are told
PICTURE 8: probably the common rustgill or Gymnopilus penetrans, we now believe
PICTURE 9: too far gone to identify?
PICTURE 10: Penny from BFG identifies this as the birch bracket or Fomitopsis betulina (formerly known as Piptoporus betulinus)
PICTURE 11: the poisonous beechwood sickener (Russula nobilis) is known for its bright colours and crumbly gills. It plays a vital role in the woodland ecosystem since beech trees rely on fungi in the soil to pass minerals to them in exchange for sugars from the tree
PICTURE 12: maybe a dappled webcap, but other angles needed for a confirmed identification
PICTURE 13: Penny from BFG suggests the bonnets in the foreground may be saffrondrop bonnets (Mycena crocata) with common stump brittlestem in the background (see below)
PICTURE 14: Psathyrella piluliformis or common stump brittlestem is common and widespread in woodlands, we discover
PICTURE 15: the stinkhorn (phallus impudicus) is recognisable by its foul odour and relies on flies and other insects to transport its spores
PICTURE 16: a species of webcap, we believe
PICTURE 17: clustered bonnet (Mycena inclinata), known by some as the oak bonnet
PICTURE 18: like Picture 4, Penny from BFG believes this is another Sulphur Knight
PICTURE 19: very old honey fungus (Armillaria mellea)
PICTURE 20: probably a shaggy parasol (Chlorophyllum rhacodes), says Penny from BFG, but hard to be sure without seeing the gills and stem

Hip hip hooray for rosehip syrup

By Olivia Rzadkiewicz

I FEEL very fortunate to have spent 2020 in relative freedom in the Buckinghamshire countryside. 

I’ve watched the seasons roll round with every daily walk showing a different detail in that annual cycle of change. 

On one walk a couple of weeks ago, I noticed gleaming red rosehips punctuating the greens of the hedgerows, and I was reminded of an impulsive foray into foraging that overtook me a few years ago.  In one go, I had made a batch of rosehip syrup and an elderberry cordial. 

Nostalgia swept over me and before I knew it, I had armed myself with a plastic bag and my sturdy walking boots. 

I have never really been good at remembering exact timings for seasonal fruits, and when I got up close to the hedgerow, I realised I had cut it very fine.  The rosehips were nearly all soft and all the best ones had already gone to the birds. 

Undeterred, I picked what I could – a mixture of hard and softening fruits – and zoomed off to another site where I vaguely remembered seeing dog rose blooms earlier in the year. Alas, my fears were confirmed – I was late to the party. 

What followed was a maniacal spree around the whole of south Bucks searching my favourite walking haunts for rosehips.  The actual picking of the hips is quite meditative – you can get lost in the repetitive action of twisting the fruits away from the stems but be warned that the thorns often snap you painfully back to reality! At the end of the day, I counted hips from ten separate locations, with a meagre 1.3kg to show for it. 

Making rosehip syrup is something of a labour of love.  When you have your harvest, you have to wash each hip carefully (to get rid of animal pee and car fumes), and then top and tail each hip.  This takes some time, and I managed to get through a whole radio comedy series in the process.  Make sure you have a sharp knife and a sturdy chopping board for this. 

Next, roughly chop the hips (some recipes suggest popping the fruit in a blender for a quick whizz but I did it by hand).  You’ll notice that the insides of the rosehips have little furry seeds stuck pretty firmly to the fruit wall.  These hairs are used to make itching powder, so be careful when handling them.  You can choose to remove the hairs and seeds at this point but I didn’t- it’s too fiddly and time-consuming and everything gets strained in the end.

Pop all your chopped hips (soft ones and hard ones alike) into a large saucepan and cover with water (1 litre per kg of fruit).  Let it boil for 15 minutes.  You’ll notice the most heavenly aroma coming off the water – it really is a happy and beautiful scent.  Somewhere between rhubarb and custard boiled sweets, candy floss and strawberries. 

Next, strain everything in the pan through a muslin cloth and set aside the clear liquid in a clean pan.  Take the pulp that you have already strained once and boil it in a fresh litre of water for another 15 minutes. 

Then strain everything in that pan through a muslin cloth, letting the liquid run into the pan containing the first batch of strained liquid.  Next, add a kilogram of sugar per kilo of fruit you started with, and stir while boiling until the syrup is at your desired viscosity.  Bottle it up and it will last for a few weeks in the fridge. 

Rosehips contain more vitamin C than oranges so don’t feel too guilty if you find yourself taking shots of the stuff – it’s irresistibly delicious.  Alternatively, it goes really well on pancakes, porridge or drizzled over fruit or ice cream – all the ways you’d use maple syrup. It’s also delicious as a hot or cold cordial, so take your pick and enjoy the fruits of your labour!

BREAKFAST FEAST: porridge with grated apple, cinnamon, blueberries and rosehip syrup

Picture of the week: 19/10/20

THIS week’s picture takes us deep into Wytham Woods in Oxfordshire and a print with a distinctly autumnal feel by Rosie Fairfax-Cholmeley, who with colleague Robin Wilson has a permanent base among these trees.

The pair are artists-in-residence at the University of Oxford, which has owned and maintained this ancient semi-natural woodland since 1942.

MYTHIC PAST: Red Woods, a reduction linocut by Rosie Fairfax-Cholmeley

Says Rosie: “Wytham Woods is a singular place, not because there is anything exceptional about the woods themselves but because of the intensity of the attention they receive as Oxford University’s research woodland.”

Pioneers of ecology envisioned the woods as a living laboratory and the data collected here, running back to the 1950s, is invaluable to environmental disciplines that depend on long-term study.

Its 1,000 acres are a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest and rich in flora and fauna, with over 500 species of plants, a wealth of woodland habitats, and 800 species of butterflies and moths.

“Ornithologists, zoologists and plant scientists – so many of them have passed through Wytham or are familiar with its research and I’ve met people in all kinds of places, from Welsh hillsides to the Isles of Scilly, who have fond memories of these woods,” Rosie reveals.

“And yet it is an amazing piece of woodland because all woods are, and this one is a small realm of wildness in the very tame landscape of Oxfordshire.

“We have been working at Wytham now since 2012 and our studio is right in the middle of the woods. In the winter we get the sun setting through the bare trees, sliding between the icy banks of clouds, and in the summer late-night printing will mean disturbing hare, badger and deer on the journey home.

“There is a great stability, if you open up your idea of time, to landscape: the land just is and will continue, in whatever form, round and over the trinketry lives of man. It’s got infinitely more time than us. But landscape without man doesn’t have any thought – or at least, not one I can access – and I find it difficult to have interest without thought.

“It’s history and myth and legend that puts a whole load of mental life back into the landscape. Among other places, I’ve worked in Romania where landed peasants have a very active and practical relationship with the land, and undertake fieldwork in Lycia, Turkey, where time is kaleidoscoped up into nothing by the fallen amphitheatres and tombs that litter the mountainsides and all of this has helped develop my ideas about landscape. Then I print-make, write and draw, and my ideas come out in one of other of these mediums.

Red Woods is taken from a drawing I made through the trees on the main track up into the Woods, about ten minutes walk from our studio. During WW1 the woods were taken over as a training ground for the front, and in the print you can see the undulation of old trenches.

“It’s an autumn print, hence the colours, and the dry stems of the dead bluebells litter the ground. The little row of mushrooms along the front is for Tolkien, who has a similar line of mushrooms along the front of one of his pen and ink drawings of Milkwood.

“The mythic past that Tolkien invented has seeped its way into the landscape of Britain and Europe for me in the same way the classical world still inhabits the mountains of Lycia, or WW1 still dominates the landscape of the Somme. The past hasn’t gone anywhere and the landscape gives it back all the time.”

Rosie Fairfax-Cholmeley runs The Wytham Studio with Dr Robin Wilson at Oxford University’s Wytham Woods. Among other things, they run printmaking workshops. Rosie can be contacted at rosie.fairfax-cholmeley@admin.ox.ac.uk. Follow the studio on Instagram.

Adam roams the Garden of England

A MAJOR problem with exploring unfamiliar territory is knowing where to find the most rewarding rambles.

Where does that footpath lead? How can you discover the best views, magical country lanes or historic villages? How do you find just the right spot for bluebells, butterflies, berries or birdsong, depending on the season?