Songs can bring our landscape to life

 A “SONIC postcard” celebrating the landscape of the Chilterns has been released by a young singer-songwriter from High Wycombe.

The music video features an original song from local artist Jazz Dylan celebrating what makes the Chilterns special to her.

It forms part of the ongoing Echoed Locations project highlighted in The Beyonder last February, which has already seen students from Bucks New University using simple recording skills to bring the local countryside to life.

Now other musicians are being encouraged to follow Jazz’s example and produce some more original tracks.

Says Jazz: “I am a bit of a hippie. I’m an over-thinker and for me getting out into nature lets me just be myself. I feel very lucky to have the Chilterns on my doorstep and spend a lot of time there. I still come across things I’ve never seen before.”

She says the song is a condensed portrait of her experience of the Chilterns.

“There is so much I could say about this gorgeous place that I call home,” she adds. “One of my favourite things about the Chilterns is the amount of sky we have and getting to see all the birds flying. I don’t know what it is about red kites that I love so much, I just think they are awesome.”

Jazz says that during lockdown, she came to fully appreciate how close she was to nature and the huge impact it can have on one’s mental wellbeing – and of course her video is not all about sunny days and soaring red kites: “Keeping with true British style, I had to include the rain,” she says. “Being drenched in rain then having a hot chocolate. That’s perfection isn’t it?”

Get On Your Boots is the first of what the Chalk, Cherries and Chairs project hopes to be many original songs that will be added to Echoed Locations, and the team is calling for more artists and musicians to fcontribute with their own songs, poems or sounds that will help people connect to the Chilterns landscape.

Chalk streams get timely cash boost

THE Chilterns’ precious chalk streams are to benefit from a £294,000 grant from the government’s Green Recovery Challenge fund.

The money will pay for an important initiative balancing practical restoration work with education and engagement projects.

The Chiltern Society and Chilterns Conservation Board are partners in the project, entitled: “Chalk stream and wetland meadows: guarding the irreplaceable for people and nature.”

RARE HABITAT: the River Chess at Latimer Park

Schemes developed by the Chilterns Chalk Streams Project focus on wetland habitats across the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The globally rare habitat supports a wide diversity of plants and animals and offers opportunities for recreation and relaxation as well as providing fresh water to local communities. Yet chalk streams are under threat from pollution, urban development, invasive species and climate change.

The grant will enable the creation of two jobs with the Chiltern Society and will indirectly benefit other NGOs and voluntary groups, including Revive the Wye, Benson Environment Group and Chiltern Rangers CIC.

Elaine King, chief executive officer of The Chilterns Conservation Board, said: “We are delighted to be awarded this funding. By connecting nature and people, we aim to secure a healthy future for chalk streams and for the people, communities and businesses of both the Chilterns AONB, and nearby urban areas.”

Tom Beeston, Chiltern Society chief executive, said: “It provides a much-needed and immediate boost in activity of works to protect our internationally rare and endangered chalk stream habitats. Longer term, it facilitates the building of volunteer capacity to continue that much-needed protection and awareness building for chalk streams and wetlands over the coming decades.”

In the first phase of the Green Recovery Challenge Fund, the government announced grants between £62,000 and £3.8 million to help create and retain thousands of green jobs. The projects, spread across England, will see trees planted and protected landscapes and damaged habitats such as moorlands, wetlands and forests restored, alongside wider conservation work. The projects will also support environmental education and connecting people with green spaces.

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said: “The sheer breadth and potential of these projects to restore and transform our landscapes, boost nature and create employment is tremendously exciting.”

Picture of the week: 26/07/21

SOME art works are guaranteed to make you smile.

Jo Grundy’s stylised, whimsical paintings have just such an effect – as those buying her works are quick to testify.

MOONLIT BAY: a print on paper of the sea at night from an original acrylic by Jo Grundy

Jo says that being born and brought up on a farm in West Berkshire gave her a love of nature and the English landscape which she tries to capture in her vibrant, colourful paintings.

“I have always been creative and it was inevitable that I would choose a career based around art so I trained as a graphic designer which was an easier option to earn a living from, at that time, than a fine artist,” she says.

DOWN SUMMER LANE: a print from an original acrylic by Jo Grundy

Working in graphics for the next 14 years clearly influenced her use of colour and composition and after taking time out to have her two children, she initially began creating home-made greetings cards.

“As this brought in only a small income, I started to work on developing my painting style,” she says. “To begin with all my paintings were in mixed media and I used everything from paint and paper to stitching and beads to create highly textured and ornate pieces.”

WINTER AT KINGFISHER COTTAGE: a print from an acrylic original by Jo Grundy

Nowadays she uses mainly acrylics, in particular a brand of decorative paint which boasts a vivid and distinctive palette designed for use on a variety of surfaces including wood and glass as well as paper and canvas.

“My main inspiration comes from the ever-changing seasons of the English landscape, with my favourite season being winter as I love to see the structure and detail of trees and hedgerows,” she explains. “My winter scenes are very popular with many selling before they are even finished.”

SNOWY LANDSCAPE: a print on paper from an original acrylic painting by Jo Grundy

Many of her striking originals are on sale as prints in her Etsy shop, and buyers have been enthusiastic in their praise.

“Beautiful, and hanging in my home office where I can see the “countryside” every day. LOVE it!” said one. “It is truly beautiful, and brings me so much joy,” said another.

WESTBURY HORSES: a print on paper from an original acrylic painting by Jo Grundy

Says Jo: “I have been selling my work, mainly online for over seven years and have many of my images licensed for greetings cards, prints and more recently cross-stitch kits.

“I never initially thought about licensing but it is a direction that found me and it’s lovely to see my work as cards and other products.”

Jo’s portfolio, including original paintings and a range of prints and other products can be found on her website.

Writer picks out his Sunday best

WILDLIFE author, campaigner and blogger Mark Avery may have scaled back the frequency of his blog posts, but thankfully his weekly book reviews are still offering a helpful snapshot of the latest nature book releases.

If you’ve missed his words of wisdom over the past couple of months, he’s been reviewing books about swifts, more swifts, grouse shooting, and an exploration of ecological principles illustrated by UK natural history.

Back in previous weeks there were reviews of books dealing with everything from hummingbirds, our relationship with nature, the Lake District and rewilding to Britain’s insects, an anthology of women writing about nature and volumes about moths and butterflies.

With so many titles weighing down the nature shelves, it’s helpful to have an old friend casting an experienced eye over the latest releases, and in the meantime Mark assures us he has been making excellent progress with his next book since he stopped his daily blog posts.

“If I have written 1000 words by breakfast around 0830 then it’s a good day. If I am still writing by 1030 then it’s a really good day,” he says.

Visitors to his blog can sign up for his monthly “news blast”, which includes links to his latest Sunday book reviews.

How fossil secrets sparked a mining boom

SCRATCH beneath the surface of a pictureque Chilterns village and you’re never quite sure what secrets you might discover.

That’s certainly the experience of local travel blogger and tourism marketing professional Mary Tebje as she ventures into Shillington village, just north of the Barton Hills in Bedfordshire.

LOCAL LANDMARK: All Saints Church in Shillington PICTURE: Mary Tebje

The ancient village church is such a prominent landmark that it’s perhaps predictable that a visitor’s thoughts turn to the past, and how this former Saxon monastery has survived the weather, natural disasters, war, decay, plague and pollution for so long.

Perhaps more surprising is how this village, along with many others spread in a line towards the Suffolk coast, grew rich through the unexpected mining and selling of coprolite: the fossilised remains of land animals caught as sea levels rose 90 million years ago.

Why get so excited about dinosaur poo? These droppings of bear, lizard, wildebeest, fish or dinosaur contain the fossilised teeth, claws, scales and bones of all sorts of dinosaurs, marine lizards and other animals, not just filling the shelves of excited 19th-century geologists but spawning something of a mini-gold rush once the phosphate content was fully appreciated as an important fertiliser.

THIRSTY WORK: Shillington no longer boasts a dozen pubs PICTURE: Mary Tebje

Mary discovers how Shillington’s population exploded as locals cashed in on the lucrative trade, with weary workers packing the village’s dozen pubs.

The article is one of numerous entries in Mary’s “quiet exploration” of the Chilterns which shares the stories of the people and places that have shaped the region. See more of Mary’s adventures here.

Clappers command an impressive outlook

BACK in the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age, defence was a big issue for early settlers in the Chilterns.

And as hill fort locations go, few can boast quite such a commanding position over the local landscape as the wonderfully named Sharpenhoe Clappers, a scheduled ancient monument in Bedfordshire, part of a wildlife oasis sandwiched between the urban sprawls of Bedford, Dunstable and Luton.

BIG SKIES: the view towards London from Sharpenhoe Clappers PICTURE: Mary Tebje

Chilterns travel blogger and tourism marketing professional Mary Tebje sets out to explore Sharpenhoe, and discovers an ancient chalk escarpment that nowadays is a place of big skies, wildflowers and a sense of calm, criss-crossed by waymarked trails and looking spectacular against a foreground of rape fields.

It is one of a quartet of National Trust properties lying adjacent to each other, with the Sundon, Moleskin and Markham Hills to the west and Smithcombe Hills to the east. Reputedly haunted by a Celtic tribal chief, these days the hills are frequented by ramblers and picnickers, butterflies and red kites.

The article is one of numerous entries in Mary’s “quiet exploration” of the Chilterns which shares the stories of the people and places that have shaped the region. See more of Mary’s adventures here.

Lofty view of Bedfordshire at its best

RARE plants, precious downland and spectacular views single out Barton Hills as a popular destination for walkers and wildlife enthusiasts.

And yet this national nature reserve in the northern Chilterns north of Luton is often overlooked by tourists, as Chilterns travel blogger and tourism marketing professional Mary Tebje explains when she embarks on a ranger-led walk to find out more about the area’s heritage and habitat.

WORTH THE CLIMB: the outlook from Barton Hills PICTURE: Mary Tebje

Steep paths may make the going hard in places, but the rewards include spectacular views over the Bedfordshire hills and valleys and a chance to reflect on the dramatic climate events that shaped this landscape millions of years before early settlers arrived.

Fuelled with artisan cheese and the chance to sample a “Bedfordshire clanger” – the county’s answer to the Cornish pasty which was once baked for consumption by field workers – Mary discovers an extraordinary habitat of chalk grassland with a rich history.

The article is one of numerous entries in Mary’s “quiet exploration” of the Chilterns which shares the stories of the people and places that have shaped the region. See more of Mary’s adventures here.

HOMEWARD BOUND: a rainbow brightens weary walkers PICTURE: Mary Tebje

Sculptures lure art lovers to the lakeside

IT’S ONE of the hottest days of the year and Bournemouth beach is buried under an ant’s nest of sunburnt tourists. The A31 is tailed back for miles and everyone is heading for the sea.

Well, almost everyone. Just a few miles away down a Dorset country lane is a perfect oasis of tranquillity, and one of the county’s most unexpected and delightful tourist attractions.

Here, at a seat overlooking a beautiful stream or shimmering lake, you can enjoy a picnic with friends in glorious countryside and enjoy an extraordinary exhibition of modern sculpture set against the most spectacular of backdrops.

True, if you fancy snapping up one of the sculptures on display for your own backyard it could set you back anything from £15,000 to a quarter of a million pounds or more – but if you’re content just to chill out by the lake and enjoy the show, this is the perfect place.

Swans, cranes, pelicans and even a stray polar bear spring out of the water, though it can sometimes be hard to spot which ones are real and which are man-made.

But then the 26 acres that provide the setting for Sculpture by the Lakes have allowed sculptor Simon Gudgeon and wife Monique to create an environment for enthusiasts that blends nature’s beauty with inspiring works of art, free from the space constraints of a traditional gallery.

Carefully landscaped and curated with the aim of enhancing the aesthetic qualities of each sculpture, the park has deep running water, which means children under 14 and dogs are not allowed on site: a disappointment for some families, no doubt, but for other couples it contributes to the overall tranquillity of the place.

Paths meander round the lakes, each turn revealing a different vista and new work of art, many by Simon and some by guest exhibitors.

Born in Yorkshire in 1958, Simon “lived deep in the countryside on the family farm, learning the essential arts of observation, evaluation and interpretation of how animals and birds behave, both with each other and man”.

He studied law at Reading University and practised as a solicitor, starting painting only in his thirties and first exhibiting at London’s Battersea Exhibition Centre in 1992. An impulse purchase of artist’s clay at the age of 40 led into his new career as a sculptor, responding to what lay closest to his heart: the natural world.

He went on to gain global recognition for his sculpture, with exhibitions around the world and his works featuring in numerous important private collections and art museums abroad and in the UK.

The park at Pallington opened in 2011 and is home to some of his monumental finished pieces, as well as housing studio workshops. He sculpts primarily in bronze, and occasionally in marble, granite, glass or stainless steel.

He is particularly known for his sculptures of birds in flight, often with ingeniously engineered bases that seem to launch them into the air rather than anchor them to the ground.

His pared-down approach allows the smallest of details, such as the arching of a neck, to suggest rather than depict a bird or mammal.

The work of a dozen or more guest sculptors adds to the variety, with materials ranging from marble and limestone to forged metal, and subjects from wildfowl and wildlife to abstracts, kinetic wind sculptures or figurative works inspired by the masks of the Venice Carnival.

The park provides an array of benches, tables and other suitable spots to relax and take in the view, with visitors being actively encouraged to bring a picnic and spend the day. As Simon says: “We like to give our guests the space and time to fully absorb and appreciate the sculpture park.”

Scattered around are a number of more exclusive private spots too, which can be hired for £50 – £100 a day and accommodate families or small groups who really want to chill out in style.

There’s even a larger double-storey timber retreat with a roof terrace offering spectacular views over the entire park and situated in its own exclusive area, with room for 60 for lunch or 100 for a drinks, wedding or anniversary reception.

Three gallery spaces exhibit sculptures, paintings and prints by a collection of talented artists, while the cafe offers coffee and cakes, not to mention picnic ingredients sourced from the nearby kitchen garden.

“These are gardens designed to be savoured,” says Simon – and a glance at some of the enthusiastic feedback online suggests there are plenty of visitors who find the tranquil setting a refreshing alternative to those hectic beaches a little further along the Dorset coast.

Day ticket prices cost £12.50 a head and the park is open from Wednesday to Sunday, 10am-5pm. See the website for details, upcoming exhibitions and other news.

Shy lizard enjoys life in the slow lane

IT’S not a worm, it’s not a snake – and to be fair, it’s not particularly slow, either.

So what exactly IS the amiable slow worm, the glossy wriggler cheerfully slipping across a path at Littleworth Common and quickly disappearing into the undergrowth?

It’s actually a legless lizard, it turns out, this shy, elusive burrowing reptile (Anguis fragilis) also known as a deaf adder or blindworm (because of its small eyes), which spends much of its time hiding underneath things.

It has smooth skin, is marked out as a lizard by its ability to shed its tail and blink with its eyelids, and hibernates from October to March.

Found in heathland, gardens, allotments and on woodland edges where they can find pests to eat and a sunny spot where they can bask in the sun, slow worms are much smaller than snakes and come in a range of polished silvers, golds and browns depending on age and gender.

Amazingly, they can live up to 30 years and feast on slugs, snails and insects, though in turn they are preyed on by various birds, as well as badgers, hedgehogs and, in suburban areas, domestic cats.

All six of the UK’s native reptile species – the others are the common European adder (Vipera berus), grass snake (Natrix natrix), smooth snake (Coronella austriaca), common lizard (Lacerta vivipara) and sand lizard (Lacerta agilis) – slow worms are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

They have a number of ways of escaping predators. Sometimes they freeze, while at other times they will flee. moving pretty quickly when they want to, in spite of their name. But if they can’t get away easily, defecation could be the answer: their poo smells nasty enough to deter some predators.

The mating season kicks off in May and is quite a serious business, it seems. Males become aggressive towards each other and, during courtship, the male takes hold of the female by biting her head or neck, and they intertwine their bodies.

Courtship may last for as long as 10 hours, with females incubating the eggs internally and “giving birth” to live young in late summer.

For more information, see the Wildlife Trusts, Woodland Trust, Natural History Museum and the Guardian.

Living in a land of impossible greens

Beaconsfield artist Tim Baynes always found West Wales a place of inspiration – and now he lives there. Today he shares some initial impressions about his new life in Carmarthenshire

WE HAVE moved to Laugharne, a town on the south coast of Carmarthenshire lying on the estuary of the River Tâf. Population 1,222.

It is like standing on the edge of a new life, when somebody is saying to you: “Hey, would you like a new life?” And you say: “Yes please, that would be nice, thank you.”

I think I really know the difference between living in a place and loving a place. There is so much ahead of us, probably most of it will be strange. Yet there is so much to see, enjoy and stub one’s toe on. Every nook and cranny seem to have a story.

I am making a drawing or two most days in Laugharne. I make notes each day about what we do all day here.

Our town squats at the end of an estuary. Here the Afon Taf flows into Carmarthen Bay and eventually the Bristol Channel. On the other side of this estuary are deserted churches, small farm fields and narrow roads draped in flowers. Cow parsley, red campion, buttercups, bluebells and hawthorn compete for room to flourish. Hedges are high. In the shade, hart’s-tongue ferns glow in a green haze.

These roads are like some helter-skelter rising up to the sun and plunging down to shady bridges and crumbling cottages. Up, up again, to a field of views across a hundred fields. A line of pylons march across this land.

There is so much green, from darkest viridian to almost lemon. Gates are held together by rust and blue bailer twine. Red rust and turquoise blue the complement to green on the colour wheel.

As we make our way to Llansteffan (St Stephen – often these saints were from ruling families who invaded Wales in the Middle Ages), the land seems to pant in the high sun. We meet villages along the way. Llan-this, Llan-that. There are 630 “llans” in Wales: it means Christian settlement, often a church, conjoined with a local saint.

Llan y bri, through which we pass, has two chapels: Capel Newydd, new chapel, is home now to most of Dylan Thomas’ maternal relatives. Hen Gapel was the only medieval church in Wales to be converted to a non-conformist chapel. Now it is without a roof and God has an uninterrupted view on the congregation.

In November 2020, a series of Tim’s paintings featured in our Picture of the Week feature.

Part 1 focused on the flatlands of the Kent coast and marshes, Part 2 threw the spotlight on West Wales – “a landscape, coastline and places that really inspire” – and Part 3 homed in on church architecture across the Chilterns.

Tim Baynes’ website features a variety of galleries of his work, downloadable minibooks and work for sale. His blog, which includes more detail about his adventures in Laugharne, can be found here.

Picture of the week: 19/07/21

EVERY picture tells a story – and for art expert Patrick van der Vorst, the best paintings can speak volumes.

STAR SEEDER: graffiti art by Morfai in Kaunas, Lithuania

As a senior director at Sotheby’s in London, the Belgian-born auctioneer and dealer had become an industry expert with a huge accumulated knowledge about the world of art, antiques and collectibles.

He even featured as a winner on the TV programme Dragons’ Den when his antiques-valuing website Value My Stuff was backed by both Deborah Meaden and Theo Paphitis.

EARLY MARTYRS: St Peter and St Paul as depicted by Cavarozzi © Galerie G Sarti, Paris

But the entrepreneur’s life took a new twist in 2019 when he enrolled as a seminarian with the Diocese of Westminster, studying at the Pontifical Beda College in Rome to become a priest.

And it’s now a couple of years since he launched a new website linking daily Gospel readings with poignant and reflective works of art, accompanied by a short personal commentary.

“FOLLOW ME”: The Calling of Saint Matthew by Panini (1752) © Museo Poldi Pezzoli

From Old Masters to street artists like Morfai, whose work is our picture choice this week, the website features an extraordinary range of artworks spanning the centuries, allowing visitors to consider the daily reading from a new perspective.

The French impressionist painting Picking Peas by Camille Pissarro, for example, was looted by the Nazis during World War Two when France was under German occupation, and was only returned to its rightful Jewish owners in 2017.

RICH HARVEST: La Ceuillette des Pois, painted by Camille Pissarro in 1887 © Sotheby’s Paris

It sold at auction for €3.3 million in March this year, and Patrick uses it to reflect on the spiritual harvest referred to in Matthew Ch 9, when “the harvest is rich but the labourers are few”.

Likewise his choice of Star Seeder, a piece of graffiti art which went viral after it appeared on a wall in Lithuania’s second-largest city, ties in with Luke’s explanation of how, with the crowds gathering around him, Jesus recounts the parable of the sower spreading his seed on different types of land, to see much of it trampled on, eaten by birds, withered or choked. Only the seed falling into rich soil grows to produce a successful crop.

Patrick explains: “At first there was simply the bronze statue created by Bernardas Bučas (1903–1979) in Kaunas, the art deco capital of Lithuania. The sculpture embodies the interwar period where the peasant is sowing grains, working for his country.

HIDDEN MESSAGE: Morfai‘s street art only makes sense at night

“Fast forward to 2008. Street artist Morfai sprayed the wall behind the sculpture with stars. The composition works only at night, as then with the light which is shining upon the monument, a shadow of the sculpture is cast onto the wall, which then corresponds with the stars being sown by the shadow silhouette of the sower… The grains have become stars…”

During the day, the street artwork makes no sense – and likewise with parables it may be that they make little sense at first sight, Patrick suggests. “It is only at certain times, or when our own personal circumstances change, or a certain light is shining upon a certain aspect of our lives that the parables make sense,” he writes.

Ironically, the original artwork was overpainted and it was only eight years later that Morfai was invited to restore it, this time incorporated black granite stars onto the wall behind the statue.

Patrick’s website offers a daily news letter by email with the Gospel reading of the day, alongside an appropriate work of art and short reflection.

Where chalk streams tumble below the ridge

FOR thousands of years, drovers, traders and invaders have walked or ridden the prehistoric trails which stretch for hundreds of miles from the Dorset coast to the Wash.

High in the Chilterns at Bledlow Ridge, the route offers a drier and less wooded journey for travellers than the spring line settelements below – and it’s amid this ancient landscape that Chilterns travel blogger and tourism marketing professional Mary Tebje ventures off the beaten track to explore the picturesque village of Bledlow.

TO THE MANOR BORN: a water feature at Manor House Gardens PICTURE: Mary Tebje

Lying just outside Princes Risborough on the western edge of Buckinghamshire, this is a village of wobbly brick and flint cottages where signs for the long-distance trails invite you “up and away over the hills”.

“It would be no coincidence that the communities who lived here either welcomed visitors, or had to defend themselves at the sound of soldiers boots on the chalk,” writes Mary. “Not hard to imagine as there’s something refreshingly untamed about the place.”

Here, she discovers a ‘fabulously wild’ parish church, a manor house with a secret water garden and a ravine of noisy tumbling streams.

The article is one of numerous entries in Mary’s “quiet exploration” of the Chilterns in which she shares the stories of the people and places that have shaped the region and attempts to “capture the beauty in the mundane”. See more of Mary’s adventures here.

Picture of the week: 12/07/21

THE insects in today’s picture choice are so vivid and lifelike that it’s hard to believe they were painted more than 350 years ago.

But the painting on copper panel actually dates from 1657 and is the work of Jan van Kessel the Elder, a versatile Flemish artist known for his meticulous studes of insects and flowers (along with marine and river landscapes).

METICULOUS DETAIL: van Kessel’s extraordinary painting from 1657

Born in Antwerp in 1626, van Kessel belonged to a dynasty of famous painters and a couple of his works are in the National Gallery.

But despite the vivid realism of the colours in his sprig of redcurrants lying alongside an elephant hawk moth, ladybird, millipede and other insects, to modern eyes the study may feel uncomfortably lifeless.

But of course that stems from our ability to capture the natural world in all its splendour without trapping, killing and impaling them in cabinets of curiosities, as early natural history enthusiasts were prone to do.

NATURAL WONDER: the spectacular peacock butterfly PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Ironically van Kessel – a keen observer praised in his day for his precision and attention to detail – was perhaps more radical in his artistic approach than we might initially appreciate as 21st-century observers of his work.

“Cabinets of wonder”, as they were also known, were early forerunners of museums – private collections of notable objects which emerged during the 16th century and helped to establish the socioeconomic status of their curators.

Filled with all kinds of disparate objects, from preserved animals, horns, tusks and skeletons to minerals, sculptures or clockwork automata, such collections often helped to promote scientific advancement when their contents were publicised and discussed, and the desire to collect and categorise the natural world inspired artists to achieve the same in painted form.

POLLEN COUNT: an industrious bee PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

By the Victorian era, the pursuit of collecting was held in high esteem and formal parlours functioned as private museums with which to impress and amaze guests, the age of scientific exploration and discovery fuelling the popularity of taxidermy as an all-consuming obsession.

But for van Kessel way back in the 17th century, a collection of studies of flowers and insects engraved and published in 1592 in Frankfurt was to influence his work, and his studies differ from the dispassionate approach of predecessors who arranged flora and fauna in rows, as if they were specimens in a collector’s cabinet.

UNDER COVER: a ladybird potentially unaware of its prey PICTURE: Nick Bell

Van Kessel created a more dynamic arrangement of insects, where his message of nature as a mirror of God’s power would not have been lost on contemporary audiences.

As art expert and seminarian Patrick van der Vorst wrote in a recent reflection on the work: “The juxtaposition of Van Kessel’s animated painted insects with the redcurrants and two moths delights the viewer. There is a certain cheerfulness that emanates from these paintings.”

WILD ENCOUNTERS: nature comes alive in words and pictures @DrawnIntoNature

Perhaps that means van Kessel’s painting from 1657 has more in common with the vibrant portraits in modern nature journals than the grim drawers favoured by Victorian collectors, who kept their insects and butterflies so neatly and systematically arranged and ordered.

Picture of the week: 05/07/21

ARTISTS and makers across Buckinghamshire throw open their doors in June to showcase their work.

But even when the event is over, online galleries give visitors the chance to explore the work of dozens of creative souls from all over the Chilterns throughout the year.

MINDFUL MOMENTS: Sharon Bailey draws inspiration from the Chilterns landscape

The Bucks Arts Weeks project – which follows similar events across Oxfordshire in May – allows the public a unique opportunity to hear artists, sculptors, printmakers, photographers and jewellery makers talk about their work and see them in action.

The open studios scheme has been running in Buckinghamshire since 1985 and all the events are free to the public – including exhibitions, pop-up displays and dozens of working studios.

From calligraphy to ceramics and sculpture to digital art, the skills on display include printmaking, jewellery, drawing and painting, metalwork and photography.

For wildlife and nature lovers, highlights include many works inspired by or reflecting the natural world, including animal portraits and sculptures, and paintings rooted in the local Chilterns landscape.

Many of the local artists, from Anna Dillon and Jane Duff to Sue Graham and Christine Bass, have featured in The Beyonder’s Picture of the Week series and can be accessed through out Local Landscapes page.

ANIMAL MAGIC: Highland Moo visits Pitstone Windmill by Katie Nathan

Geographically the open studios and exhibitions stretch from Milton Keynes and Buckingham in the north to Aylesbury, Chesham, High Wycombe, Chorleywood, Henley and Maidenhead, on the southern edge of the county.

Some towns like Princes Risborough, Amersham and Chesham organise their own trail maps during the live event and exhibitors are grouped geographically to make it possible to visit a number at a time.

And while many artists draw inspiration from the Chilterns countryside, subject matter ranges from portraits to seascapes and abstract works.

LIGHT AND DARK: oils provide a favourite medium for Joe Little

During the fortnight of displays and demonstrations, visitors can buy or commission work – or even try their hand at some of the skills or sign up for classes. Prices range from postcards and small gifts costing a few pounds to major pieces of original artwork or sculpture costing hundreds.

Any artist or maker interested in taking part next year should contact the organisers on admin@bucksartweeks.org.uk.

Picture of the week: 28/06/21

ARTISTS and makers across Buckinghamshire throw open their doors in June to showcase their work.

But even when the event is over, online galleries give visitors the chance to explore the work of dozens of creative souls from all over the Chilterns throughout the year.

MINDFUL MOMENTS: Sharon Bailey draws inspiration from the Chilterns landscape

The Bucks Arts Weeks project – which follows similar events across Oxfordshire in May – allows the public a unique opportunity to hear artists, sculptors, printmakers, photographers and jewellery makers talk about their work and see them in action.

The open studios scheme has been running in Buckinghamshire since 1985 and all the events are free to the public – including exhibitions, pop-up displays and dozens of working studios.

From calligraphy to ceramics and sculpture to digital art, the skills on display include printmaking, jewellery, drawing and painting, metalwork and photography.

For wildlife and nature lovers, highlights include many works inspired by or reflecting the natural world, including animal portraits and sculptures, and paintings rooted in the local Chilterns landscape.

Many of the local artists, from Anna Dillon and Jane Duff to Sue Graham and Christine Bass, have featured in The Beyonder’s Picture of the Week series and can be accessed through out Local Landscapes page.

ANIMAL MAGIC: Highland Moo visits Pitstone Windmill by Katie Nathan

Geographically the open studios and exhibitions stretch from Milton Keynes and Buckingham in the north to Aylesbury, Chesham, High Wycombe, Chorleywood, Henley and Maidenhead, on the southern edge of the county.

Some towns like Princes Risborough, Amersham and Chesham organise their own trail maps during the live event and exhibitors are grouped geographically to make it possible to visit a number at a time.

And while many artists draw inspiration from the Chilterns countryside, subject matter ranges from portraits to seascapes and abstract works.

LIGHT AND DARK: oils provide a favourite medium for Joe Little

During the fortnight of displays and demonstrations, visitors can buy or commission work – or even try their hand at some of the skills or sign up for classes. Prices range from postcards and small gifts costing a few pounds to major pieces of original artwork or sculpture costing hundreds.

Any artist or maker interested in taking part next year should contact the organisers on admin@bucksartweeks.org.uk.

Picture of the week: 21/06/21

ARTISTS and makers across Buckinghamshire throw open their doors in June to showcase their work.

But even when the event is over, online galleries give visitors the chance to explore the work of dozens of creative souls from all over the Chilterns throughout the year.

MINDFUL MOMENTS: Sharon Bailey draws inspiration from the Chilterns landscape

The Bucks Arts Weeks project – which follows similar events across Oxfordshire in May – allows the public a unique opportunity to hear artists, sculptors, printmakers, photographers and jewellery makers talk about their work and see them in action.

The open studios scheme has been running in Buckinghamshire since 1985 and all the events are free to the public – including exhibitions, pop-up displays and dozens of working studios.

From calligraphy to ceramics and sculpture to digital art, the skills on display include printmaking, jewellery, drawing and painting, metalwork and photography.

For wildlife and nature lovers, highlights include many works inspired by or reflecting the natural world, including animal portraits and sculptures, and paintings rooted in the local Chilterns landscape.

Many of the local artists, from Anna Dillon and Jane Duff to Sue Graham and Christine Bass, have featured in The Beyonder’s Picture of the Week series and can be accessed through out Local Landscapes page.

ANIMAL MAGIC: Highland Moo visits Pitstone Windmill by Katie Nathan

Geographically the open studios and exhibitions stretch from Milton Keynes and Buckingham in the north to Aylesbury, Chesham, High Wycombe, Chorleywood, Henley and Maidenhead, on the southern edge of the county.

Some towns like Princes Risborough, Amersham and Chesham organise their own trail maps during the live event and exhibitors are grouped geographically to make it possible to visit a number at a time.

And while many artists draw inspiration from the Chilterns countryside, subject matter ranges from portraits to seascapes and abstract works.

LIGHT AND DARK: oils provide a favourite medium for Joe Little

During the fortnight of displays and demonstrations, visitors can buy or commission work – or even try their hand at some of the skills or sign up for classes. Prices range from postcards and small gifts costing a few pounds to major pieces of original artwork or sculpture costing hundreds.

Any artist or maker interested in taking part next year should contact the organisers on admin@bucksartweeks.org.uk.

Nature rolls out the red carpet for summer

POPPIES. If there’s one iconic image of what the Chilterns landscape should look like in June, it’s that vibrant splash of colour we see when the corn poppies come into bloom.

STUDY IN SCARLET: a deer hides among the poppies PICTURE: Carlene O’Rourke

Of course, those scarlet fields herald the coming of summer across western Europe and have long been associated with the terrible sacrifices made by the millions who fought in past wars.

SPLASH OF COLOUR: a poppy among linseed flowers PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

The poppies – papaver rhoeas – spring up naturally in conditions where soil has been disturbed, and just as the destruction brought by the Napoleonic wars of the early 19th century transformed bare land into fields of blood-red poppies growing around the bodies of the fallen soldiers, the fields of Northern France and Flanders were ripped open again in late 1914.

SUMMER BLOOMS: an array of wild flowers at Amersham PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

During the war they bloomed between the trench lines on the Western Front and after the war ended, they were one of the few plants to flourish on the barren battlefields of the Somme where so many men had died in one of the bloodiest battles in human history.

POETIC INSPIRATION: John McCrae wrote In Flanders Fields PICTURE: Leigh Richardson

As Mary Tebje recalls in her 2017 Chilterns blog post, the sight of those poppies inspired Canadian surgeon John McCrae to write In Flanders Fields, a poem which would come to cement the poppy as a potent symbol of remembrance:

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

POTENT SYMBOL: poppies are associated with remembrance PICTURE: Leigh Richardson

The poppy quickly became a lasting memorial to those who died in World War One and later conflicts. It was adopted by The Royal British Legion as the symbol for their Poppy Appeal, in aid of those serving in the British Armed Forces.

RIPENING CROPS: fields of barley outside Amersham PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

This distinctive red flower is not the only June highlight in the great outdoors, though. Along with poppies, this is the month of the intense blue of linseed, of brambles and bee orchids, dog and field roses, towering woodland ferns and ripening crops.

Hans Christian Andersen wrote in his fairy tale The Flax: “The flax was in full bloom; it had pretty little blue flowers as delicate as the wings of a moth, or even more so.”  Certainly the striking blue of a field of flax in full flower is a remarkable sight – and the stem of the linseed yields one of the oldest fibre crops in the world: linen.

ANCIENT CROP: linseed flowers near Chesham PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

Like wheat and barley, the crop is believed to have originated in the fertile valleys of west Asia, including Jordan, Syria and Iraq, and was certainly being made in ancient Egypt, with drawings on tombs and temples on the River Nile showing flax plants flowering.

Linseed oil is also traditionally used in putty, paints and for oiling wood, especially cricket bats, and the flower even features in the emblem of the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court in Parliament Square, representing Northern Ireland, in recognition of the fact that Belfast was the linen capital of the world by the end of the 19th century.

PUTTING ON A SHOW: daisies at Amersham PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

And yet one of the strangest features of flax is the fact the flowers open only in full sunlight and usually close shortly after noon, the petals normally dropping off the same day if there is the slightest breeze.

PURPLE PYRAMIDS: orchids at Great Missenden PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

It’s not just the floral displays grabbing our attention in June, though, as Laurie Lee recalled in Cider With Rosie. We may live at a faster pace today, but we can still relate to many of his images of rural life from almost a century ago, even if the wildlife is less plentiful and chance of hearing a cuckoo much more remote.

SUNSET SILHOUETTE: dusk outside Chesham PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

Summer, June summer, with the green back on earth and the whole world unlocked and seething,” he wrote, “with cuckoos and pigeons hollowing the woods since daylight and the chipping of the tits in the pear-blossom.”

FEATHERED FRIEND: a long-tailed tit PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

From baby birds leaving their nests for the first time to millions of tiny baby frogs and toads emerging from lakes, ponds and ditches, this is the month when the countryside really springs to life, from baby bunnies lolloping around the fields in the warmer evenings, fox and badger cubs play-fighting in the woods and some dramatic-looking moths on the wing, like the large pink elephant hawk moth.

TINY TERROR: a bunny at Little Marlow PICTURE: Carlene O’Rourke

Colourful damselflies are flitting over the ponds and baby bats the size of 50p pieces can be spotted in the warm evening air over the river. Early risers can watch the mist rise over the water at Spade Oak, or down by the Thames.

DAWN CALL: an early morning study at Spade Oak PICTURE: Nick Bell

There may not be the same plethora of natural life Laurie Lee wrote about, but at times you may still have that peculiar sensation of which Melisssa Harrison writes: “…of the past coexisting with the present, the England that existed for so long and exists no longer haunting the modern landscape, almost close enough to touch”.

SWAN SONG: on the water at Spade Oak quarry PICTURE: Nick Bell

As always, we’d like to give a very 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 August, contact editor@thebeyonder.co.uk on email or via our Facebook group page.

Stolen snapshots in a drab, damp landscape

MAY may have ended in a bank holiday heatwave, but for most in the Chilterns it was a damp, drab and chilly month, with intermittent downpours and lower-than-average temperatures.

SPLASH OF COLOUR: buttercups brighten the Amersham landscape PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

Gardeners, growers and farmers were glad to see the rain after the drier weather earlier in the spring, but the late cold caused other problems, with late-season frosts, chilly nights and thunderstorms contributing to the impression that summer was being temporarily put on hold.

CHILL IN THE AIR: rainclouds gather over Stoke Common PICTURE: Andrew Knight

As walkers and riders found the dry earth of April transformed into muddy slippery morasses once more, fledging and flowering patterns were delayed compared with previous years.

SUNSET SONG: startling skies over Chesham PICTURE: Leigh Richardson

Photographers up and about early and later were still able to capture spectacular backdrops, but the delay in budding had a knock-on effect on the hatching of caterpillars, impacting on early brooding blue tit families, for example – though some bird species flourished despite the rain.

INTO THE BLUE: the colour palette changes over Chesham PICTURE: Leigh Richardson

As our April pictures showed, spring brought an explosion of life and colour into the Chilterns countryside, with swathes of bluebells from Ashridge to Cliveden surviving well into May, while the hedgerows and woods from Hedsor to Penn were awash with purple rhododendron flowers.

BLUEBELL WOODS: a dramatic display in the woods at Henley PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

Back in May last year our slow emergence from lockdown at last allowed walkers to stray a little further along local byways at a time when interest in the natural world was at its height.

SPRING BLOSSOM: horse chestnut candles in Wooburn PICTURE: Andrew Knight

These were the weeks where the slower pace of lockdown life allowed many families extra time to savour those small precious sights around us that we so often overlook, from eye-catching hedgerow blossoms to unfamiliar wildflowers or insects emerging from winter hibernation.

NATURAL GLOW: wild clover is known for its medicinal properties PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

From the white surf of hawthorn to the pinks, whites and reds of the horse chestnut trees, there’s a welcome explosion of life in the meadows and woods alike, and the insects are making the most of the array of food on offer.

HAPPY FAMILIES: greylag goslings on the march PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

From fox cubs and goslings to woodpeckers and treecreepers, fresh life is emerging all around us, even if much of the fledging and migration is taking place a little later than in previous years.

GRUB’S UP: a treecreeper on chick-feeding duties PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Last year the timing of the crisis, coupled with some unseasonally warm spring weather, meant that the limited allowance of daily exercise was a perfect opportunity for many to watch the natural world unfolding outside.

FEEDING TIME: a hungry young starling asks for more PICTURE: Nick Bell

This May may have been colder and less welcoming for family rambles, but nature lovers on local wildlife forums have been sharing their queries and pictures again, and savouring the growing intensity of the dawn chorus as it reaches its seasonal peak.

CAUGHT ON CAMERA: a common whitethroat PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Wildlife photographers have been out early and late, some covering impressive distances in their search for an unusual subject: the chance sighting of an adder or water vole, perhaps, or an opportunity to capture the exotic colours of a green orb weaver spider or fast-moving damselfly.

RIVER DANCE: a female azure damselfly at Dorney Wetlands PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Much of our wildlife can be quite elusive, making it hard to spot during a normal daytime walk in the woods but as always, our contributors have often managed to find the ideal spot to capture that perfect picture of an elusive butterfly, rare flower or striking sunset.

FLOWER POWER: a meadow by the River Misbourne PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

Their pictures capture some of the brighter moments amid the May monsoon, but by the Spring Bank Holiday temperatures were rising again and families flocking to the seaside to take advantage of the sunshine.

PERFECT TIMING: another stunning sunset over Chesham PICTURE: Leigh Richardson

Back home the Chilterns basked in the warmer weather too, with the weather forecasters promising dryer and sunnier weeks to come.

As always, we’d like to give a very 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 July, contact editor@thebeyonder.co.uk on email or via our Facebook group page.

Picture of the week: 14/06/21

ONE OF the great delights of art is its capacity to transport us to different landscapes.

And while so many of the images featured on this site capture the familiar surroundings of the Chilterns, today’s choice takes us to the south of France and the extraordinarily beautiful French hilltop village of Saint-Paul de Vence.

Hidden down a backstreet here is an unassuming chapel which was once the home of a brotherhood of pious laymen who did good works to earn forgiveness for their sins. 

Today it houses some remarkable works created by the Belgian artist Jean-Michel Folon, who was commissioned by the town’s mayor to renovate the building.

It was to be the artist’s final commission before his death in 2005 at the age of 71, and it turned into a sanctuary of light and serenity encapsulating the work of the Pénitents Blancs while at the same time immortalising Folon’s love for the village.

Known for his illustrations and posters for Unesco and Amnesty International as well as large-scale sculptures in Brussels and Lisbon, Folon’s vision was completed posthumously by a select group of artisans and master glassmakers.

One wall is dominated by an immense mosaic of the village (above), while other murals and stained-glass windows evoke the theme of giving, in keeping with the vocation of the Penitents.

The first traces of the brotherhood in Saint-Paul date from 1581 and they existed in the village until the 1920s. Their charity work with the underprivileged included caring for the sick, handing out clothing and food, and giving grain to farmers in trouble. They would also offer food and shelter to lost travellers and penniless pilgrims. Similar religious congregations of penitents are known by the different colours of their habits – white, black, blue, grey, red, violet and green.

Formally opened in 2008, the chapel is a light-filled joyous place, from the stunning baptismal font (below) to the pastel walls and striking sculptures – but these works also hark back to earlier themes about the preservation of the environment, which is why his work seemed so well suited to being featured in the pages of The Beyonder.

It’s almost 30 years since Folon brought together a series of engravings and posters in an exhibition called Notre Terre which ran in several small towns in France, followed by a collaboration in Italy addressing the same subject – and leaving a legacy of large posters covering the walls of Italian cities for several years afterwards.

Today, the artworks in the Folon Chapel provide a welcome oasis of peace in the heart of the village, which became such a focus for artistic endeavour almost exactly a century ago.

Artists first started frequenting Saint-Paul at the beginning of the 1920s. The trail blazers – Paul Signac, Raoul Dufy and Chaïm Soutine – set up their easels attracted by the colours and rich, intense light, and were soon followed by visitors like Matisse and Picasso.

The artists enjoyed the company of Paul Roux – a painter, art collector and the owner of the famous Colombe d’Or restaurant, whose walls are still adorned with their paintings today.

By the 1950s and 1960s, the village had become a melting pot of talent, with poets, artists and writers rubbing shoulders with the movie stars drawn to the French Riviera by the Victorine film studios in Nice and the Cannes Film Festival.

Find out more about the Folon Chapel on the village website.

Picture of the week: 07/06/21

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STUNNING. That’s the word which springs to mind when you first glance through Paul Mitchell’s amazing portfolio of pictures chronicling the different seasons in one of Britain’s most famous woodlands.

It’s a magical world which is constantly changing through the year, as Paul demonstrates in his startling shots of Burnham Beeches – that tiny remnant of the ancient woodlands which once covered so much of the country.

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Paul’s ‘album’ contains dozens of uncaptioned photographs of the woods throughout the year – draped in snow, dappled by sunlight, looking mystical and enchanting, sometimes intriguing and welcoming, sometimes otherworldly and even scary.

He explains: “The portfolio is my response to this world of wonder and features images made in the icy grip of winter, the vibrancy of springtime, the green canopy of summer, through to the richness of autumn.”

Burnham Beeches was bought by the City of London Corporation in the latter part of the 19th century to safeguard the area from property developers and to protect its future for generations to come.

As Paul explains, the landscape of the Site of Special Scientific Interest was created by human management going back many centuries and has provided grazing land for livestock and fuel via the pollarding of beech and oak trees which has not only helped to prolong the lives of the trees, but help to give them their characteristic gnarled appearance.

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Born in East Yorkshire, Paul studied graphic design at art college and soon after began his design career in London. He now lives in East Dorset as a professional landscape photographer and specialist book designer.

A respected photographic judge and lecturer, he has staged numerous exhibitions and has had articles and images published in many photographic magazines. His website can be found here.

Picture of the week: 31/05/21

bob ross 1
HAPPY LITTLE TREES: American TV art legend Bob Ross inspires a new generation of artists

THERE could hardly be a painter whose geographical sources of inspiration are further removed from the gentle landscapes of the Chilterns than the soft-spoken American cult art legend Bob Ross.

But budding artists don’t need to focus on the mountains and log cabins in Ross’s pictures to pick up some handy technical tips from the inspiring host of the US TV program The Joy of Painting, which aired from 1983 to 1994 and still enthrals millions today on Youtube, as well as being screened on the BBC.

There are plenty of “happy little trees” in Black Park, after all, and dozens of Ross’s video tutorials to choose from for anyone tempted to crack out the titanium white and give his trademark wet-on-wet technique a shot.

Perhaps part of Ross’s timeless appeal is the fact he was himself a convert to art after attending a painting class in Anchorage during his 20 years in the US Air Force and honed his own techniques at the feet of another TV artist, the German painter Bill Alexander.

Ross’s enduring popularity stems in part from his distinctive laid-back style, quaint catchphrases and eternal upbeat positivity, and in part from the sheer speed and ease of his quick-painting technique. If you’re ever tempted by the idea of painting but never got round to giving it a try, check out Ross’s official Youtube channel, which has around four million subscribers, or the current BBC4 season of repeats.

Picture of the week: 24/05/21

THOSE who love an early morning walk in Slough’s Langley Park or Black Park may already be familiar with the work of landscape photographer Kevin Day.

PERFECT SYMMETRY: Love Swans by Kevin Day

The Slough-based photographer has contributed a number of pictures to a gallery linked to the Friends of Langley Park website – and the story of one major photography project is told in an old profile article in Amateur Photographer.

NEW DAWN: the gnarled tree in Langley Park by Kevin Day

“I often get up at five or six in the morning and go to the park, which is a ten-minute walk away,” says Kevin in the article. “It’s the light that interests me, and the way it affects the landscape. It’s constantly changing, at different times of the day, different times of year.”

His studies of a gnarled tree in Langley Park showed how you can return to the same subject again and again and get a different picture every time. But Kevin goes on to explain how the tree was also a symbol of his photographic renaissance.

Today, his personal work continues to complement his professional output and a selection of his nature pictures reflect this. “It’s more of a little hidden gallery occasionally people stumble across!” he says.

For those who share Kevin’s love of those two local parks, it’s a real treat – with dozens of pictures to choose from – and the option to purchase copies too.

Picture of the week: 17/05/21

OUR picture choice this week doesn’t focus on an individual artist or photographer, but a place – Temple Gardens in Langley Park, in fact, where May sees the rhododendrons back in full glorious bloom.

This is the month when visitors are guaranteed a spectacular fireworks display of colour, and it’s these pathways which provided the image that has graced the home page of The Beyonder for the past three years.

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In mid- to late May it’s a startling spectacle, and you arrive early enough in the morning or on a weekday, you may have those winding paths pretty much to yourself, apart from the odd jogger or dog walker.

It’s one of many local walks featured in the drop-down menu on our What’s On pages, and the park itself is one of more than 50 destinations for family days out in our at-a-glance guide, as well as being the subject of a longer article in the Our Visits section.

Picture of the week: 10/05/21

OXFORDSHIRE remains in the spotlight for our picture choice this week as the UK’s biggest open studios event continues across the county until May 23.

Ultramarine Flock by Alice Walker

Ultramarine Flock is one of more than two dozen recent works featuring in this year’s Oxfordshire Artweeks festival programme by Eynsham artist Alice Walker.

“This past year my inspiration has been found very close at home in the hedgerows and woods, fields and skies of Eynsham,” says Alice. “Daily dog walks have provided me with the opportunity to watch the seasons unfurl and glow.”

Alongside oils, monotypes, collage and pencil work she has been experimenting with applying watercolour with a calligraphy nib.

Silver Ghosts by Alice Walker

“It has proved an ideal technique for capturing the dancing light and canopy of leaves,” adds Alice, who studied at Edinburgh College of Art and has been teaching all kinds of art to adults and children for almost 20 years.

She says: “Many themes inspire me both from the human and natural world; plants and architecture, landscapes and rooftops. I see patterns everywhere and light and colour in their infinite combinations are an endless source of inspiration and challenge.”

Having lived and exhibited in Oxfordshire for more than two decades, Alice says she likes to approach the same subject in multiple ways, playing with different combinations of colour and composition.

“Like most artists I make art about the things I love,” she says. “As I find peace and healing when out in nature I try to create art on that theme in ways that will uplift and inspire.”

The 2021 Oxfordshire Artweeks festival runs until May 23, featuring dozens of covid-secure venues and hundreds of virtual exhibitions and studios on more than 20 themed art trails.

Hedgerows are rustling with new life

LAST April our wonderful bluebell woods provided one enduring positive image of life during 40 days of lockdown.

LIFE DURING LOCKDOWN: bluebells in a Chilterns wood PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

As the pandemic swept the country and travel restrictions limited our movements to the byways around our homes, it was an emotional and confusing month for many.

OPEN ASPECT: walking near Coleshill PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

Thankfully one year on, those glorious vistas of dancing bluebells are not the only symbol of hope to cling onto.

GO WITH THE FLOW: the River Chess near Scotsbridge PICTURE: Debbie Chapman

They still may be the ultimate symbol of the Chilterns countryside, but other colours are also fighting for our attention: the swathes of cherry and apple blossom, the cowslips dotting local fields or wild garlic springing up by a country roadside.

SCENT OF SPRING: wild garlic PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

Oil seed rape is beginning to flower, the creamy coloured leaves of the blackthorn have been joined by hawthorn blossom, and there’s a positive frenzy of activity among those colourful hedgerows.

TINY TITBITS: a mouse forages for food PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Between nest-building and feeding new families, our garden birds are frantically busy with their household chores.

HOME COMFORTS: a jay searches for nesting materials PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

There are all those young mouths to feed, tasty morsels to discover and take back home to deliver.

MOUTHS TO FEED: a robin picks up a tasty snack PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

It’s not just the birds who are on the lookout for food either: our resident mammals can also sometimes be spotted out and about on breakfast duty.

ON THE PROWL: a fox heads home with food for the family PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Living close to water we’re lucky enough to be treated to an array of delightful wildfowl too, all very individual characters.

DRESSED TO IMPRESS: a mandarin duck PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

But the circle of life can be cruel at this time of year. One day a proud mother duck appears at the door with 15 delightful fluffy chicks waddling in her wake.

FLUFFY BROOD: greylag goslings PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

But then we have to watch and wait as the family gradually gets whittled down in size by hungry herons and other local predators.

FISHING EXPEDITION: a pair of egrets PICTURE: Nick Bell

Soon there and nine…and then six…and then five. A week or two later and there are still a trio healthy looking ducklings snapping at insects on the pond, though their small size still makes them look a little too much like tasty snacks for mum to relax entirely.

CHEEKY CHARACTER: an inquisitive starling PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Close by, a cheeky starling has set up home in a neighbour’s eaves and has become a colourful and precocious addition to the characters round the feeders.

SMART PLUMAGE: a starling proves a confident new arrival PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Prone to strut about in his smart distinctive plumage like a Cockney costermonger donning their Pearly King outfit for the first time, he is disproportionately cocky for his size, elbowing the bulkier ducks and pigeons aside as if it is they who are intruding on his patch.

THRIVING: the speckled wood butterfly PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

April sees the emergence of a whole array of insects, reptiles and butterflies, like the striking orange tip butterflies which have spent the winter months as a chrysalis hidden among last year’s vegetation, or the speckled wood, which seem to have been thriving in both numbers and distribution over the past 40 years as a result of climate change.

DISTINCTIVE WINGS: the orange-tip butterfly PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Now they’re on the wing, feeding on spring flower nectar and looking for a mate, another welcome splash of colour in a landscape that has fully awoken from the drab, dreary days of winter.

FLORAL DISPLAY: the landscape wakes up after winter PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

If the colours provide splashes of detail worthy of close inspection on those backroad rambles and woodland wanders, they also provide a striking backdrop of hues for distant vistas too, the green shoots and bursting buds a welcome reminder that spring has once again returned with a vengeance.

SPRING IN THE AIR: the view near Coleshill PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

There may still be a chill in the morning air, but the morning dog walk is no longer a battle against the elements, and now there’s something new and exciting to discover at every turn in the path.

INTO THE WOODS: an early morning walk PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

For the earliest risers there are sneaky glimpses of the natural world preparing to meet the day…deer browsing in the woods or a fox returning proudly back to its den with its prey.

STRANGER DANGER: a muntjac senses an intruder PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

In April 2020 Melissa Harrison wrote movingly of the bittersweet emotions associated with witnessing spring at the height of lockdown, a theme echoed in her podcast of the same name.

COLOUR CONTRASTS: a peacock butterfly PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

“For some, spring is making confinement feel worse,” she wrote. “But I find it immensely comforting to sense the seasons’ ancient rhythms, altered but as yet uininterrupted, pulsing slow beneath our human lives.

SWEET MELODY: linnets need seeds throughout the year PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

“Onwards spring romps, as miraculous and dizzying as ever, whether humans are there to witness it or not.”

SNAPPY DRESSER: the colourful goldfinch PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Luckily, this year it is indeed possible to witness it again at close hand, not just in our own immediate corner of the woods, but with the freedom to travel a little further afield, even if our awareness of the pandemic dangers is as real as ever.

LITTLE BEAUTY: the holly blue butterfly PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Last year we could not stray far, and it helped to focus our minds on the beauty of the natural world that we so often take for granted.

LOCKDOWN LIMITS: the pandemic cast long shadows PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Once more offered the freedom to travel a little further in search of the natural wonders around us, it’s a time to appreciate the true wonder of that annual “miraculous” reawakening.

SPRING AWAKENING: the green-veined white butterfly PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

“There is a silent eloquence/In every wild bluebell,” wrote a 20-year-old Anne Bronte all those years ago – and from Ashridge to Cliveden, Hodgemoor woods to Watlington Hill, those vivid symbols of nature’s beauty that were so very precious 12 months ago remain as eloquent as ever, carpeting woodland floors across the Chilterns.

ELOQUENT SYMBOL: Chilterns bluebells PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

As always, we’d like to give a very 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 May, contact editor@thebeyonder.co.uk on email or via our Facebook group page.

Step this way for outdoor adventures

THE Chilterns Walking Festival returns this month with a programme of more than 80 walks and outdoor events.

Running from May 22 until June 6, the walks help people explore the landscape, villages, nature and heritage of the Chilterns. 

The activities and events are designed to appeal to different age groups, interests and levels of fitness, from those wanting to sample local drinks and produce to families finding out more about local heritage or explore nature reserves, churches or film locations.

All walks must be pre-booked at www.visitchilterns.co.uk/walkingfest and numbers are limited to make them Covid-safe.

Highlights include bushcraft events and nature-spotting walks, a chance to step back in time on a Hedgerley Deep Time Walk or costumed Tudor walk and opportunities to explore some old drovers routes, enjoy a George Orwell or Charles Dickens literary tour or some local produce tasting.

Whether it’s mastering tree identification, practising map and compass navigation, or having a go at Nordic walk, while healthy options include mindfulness walks, gentle Nature Connectedness sessions, a challenging trail run or a beautiful 25-mile walk around the Chess Valley.

Chilterns Conservation Board People & Society Officer Annette Venters said: “After months of lockdown we are delighted to be offering such a full programme of events. It will be a chance to explore and enjoy the beautiful landscape of the Chilterns in small groups, led by experienced guides.”

Details of all guided walks, events and activities available in the spring programme can be found at www.visitchilterns.co.uk/walkingfest. Most are free, though some require a small fee.

The festival is being sponsored by Brakspear, a family owned and run Henley brewer and award-winning pub company which has been at the heart of British life for over 200 years. Many of the company’s 132 pubs are located in picturesque rural and town centre settings across The Chilterns. www.brakspear.co.uk.

Picture of the week: 03/05/21

A PASSION for plants has driven the art career of Julia Loken, a watercolour artist based in Eynsham outside Oxford.

Without any formal training, Julia worked for 20 years as a freelance botanical illustrator, preparing pen and ink drawings for botanical textbooks. Then, in 1980, she began to paint seriously, when her love of plants naturally led her to choose them as her favourite subjects.

Woodland Path by Julia Loken

Living with her husband in a 220-year-old cottage with beautiful flower and vegetable gardens, she also enjoys painting a variety of country landscapes, both at home and abroad.

This weekend she is one of hundreds of local artists featured in the annual May festival organised by Oxfordshire Artweeks, where artists across Oxfordshire throw open their doors to the public.

Many of those exhibiting have had their work featured in past Beyonder features, including Katie Cannon, Jane Duff, Maureen Gillespie and Sue Side.

Julia’s exhibition of around 40 watercolour paintings is spread across four well-ventilated adjoining rooms in her house.

Bismarck Palm by Julia Loken

A fellow of the Society of Botanical Artists, Julia participates regularly in their annual exhibitions in London and, having lived in Eynsham for over 50 years, has hosted Artweeks exhibitions since 1985.

“I am very fortunate in having a large garden, where I can indulge my passion for plant collecting, and cultivate many of the plants that I wish to paint,” she says. “I also enjoy painting local landscapes.”

First Snow, Eynsham, by Julia Loken

For more than 35 years Julia has volunteered to spend one morning each week teaching plant drawing to young children at her local village school. She has also tried to instil in them a sense of wonder at the beauty of the natural world in our increasingly technological age.

“I am endlessly fascinated by the beauty and diversity of plant forms,” she says. Her exhibition runs from 11am-6pm on May 7 until May 9.

Picture of the week: 26/04/21

OXFORDSHIRE comes to life in intricate detail through the paintings of Jill Smith, our latest featured artist.

Born in London but living and painting in Oxfordshire, her “traditional” style makes her landscape paintings instantly recognisable – often the epitome of English life so often popularised through jigsaws and biscuit tins.

Childrey Pond by Jill Smith

But if her portrait of Childrey Pond in the Vale of Oxford looks as quintessentially English as you could get – and a flashback in time to a past century – all is perhaps not quite as it seems.

Although the Downland village close to Wantage has been known for its pond for centuries, by 2005 all was not well, with the village website describing it as a “smelly, muddy puddle with green weed and slime, which even the ducks shunned”.

A major restoration project was needed to restore the pond – and Jill’s portrait certainly portrays the village in all its glory and in the sort of fine detail for which she is perhaps best known.

Iffley Lock by Jill Smith

As an industrial chemist who later moved into IT, she says: “I think my ordered scientific background bleeds through in that my landscapes, flower studies and pet portraits are mostly realistic in style and quite detailed but from time to time I rebel from the traditional to let rip, splash paint about, see what happens and take it from there.”

Only too happy to try new techniques, Jill works in a variety of media from acrylics and oils to watercolours and linocuts and is largely self-taught – supported by attending various evening classes, painting workshops and the membership of local art societies.

Round the Bend at Buscot by Jill Smith

“When painting I aim to capture those fleeting light effects on the landscape or colour combinations that transform a scene and make it special,” she says. Frequently inspired by local landscapes, Jill is one of hundreds of local artists featured in the forthcoming May festival organised by Oxfordshire Artweeks.

Traditionally May is the month when hundreds of artists across Oxfordshire open their doors to the public and many of those exhibiting have had their work featured in past Beyonder features, including Katie Cannon, Jane Duff, Maureen Gillespie and Sue Side.

This year her collection captures landscapes encountered out walking during lockdown, plus scenes from further afield, with a particular focus on her oil and acrylic paintings.

There is the added bonus of a ‘two-for-one’ visit with fellow artist Patsy Jones exhibiting her paintings and prints at the same COVID-secure sheltered outside venue in Patsy’s garden in Wantage.

“I’m lucky to be able to work in a spare bedroom that started out being organised but over time the flotsam and jetsam has spread to cover everywhere except the small desk where I sit to paint unless I’m working at an easel,” says Jill. “I’d love to invite you to view my ‘open studio’ but you’d hardly be able to sidle through the door.”

See the Oxfordshire Artweeks site for details of the venue, days and other artists. Jill’s work is featured on her website and instagram feed. The Wantage venue is open on May 14-16 and 21-23.

Picture of the week: 19/04/21

OUR picture choice this week takes us back to Oxfordshire and the striking work of artist and printmaker Jane Peart.

Jane is one of dozens of local artists whose work features in an online spring show organised by Oxfordshire Artweeks, a sneak preview of work available to buy during the forthcoming May festival.

Mist on the river, Waterperry by Jane Peart

Born in London, Jane graduated from the Ealing School of Art and worked in a design studio before moving to Oxford in 1978.

An avid printmaker, her work ranges from colourful acrylics to stunning etchings of birds and animals.

She has been exhibited all over the country and is a member of the Oxford Printmaker’s Cooperative and Oxford Art Society.

She says: “After many years of devoting my time to pencil and pen and ink drawings, I took up etching, which I love, although it is a very challenging and demanding medium. I now devote most of my creative energies to printmaking.”

Evening Light, Tuscany by Jane Peart

However her online exhibition this year shows off some of the paintings she has completed during lockdown.

“I have found it difficult this last year to produce any new etchings but I’ve enjoyed doing some different work,” she says. “Some of the paintings are from walks I’ve been on during lockdown. It’s opened my eyes to the beautiful scenery walking through the woods or by the river.”

Her pictures stray much further afield too, from the Pyrenees to Tuscany and even China. A flipbook accessible online contains more than 50 examples of her work.

Evening Light, Tuscany by Jane Peart

“For as long as I can remember I have always loved drawing,” she says. “My etchings have always been about trying to evoke the feel and atmosphere of the place that inspires me. When drawing animals and birds I strive to capture their character, endeavouring to show the texture of their fur, feathers and other aspects which make them unique.

“In recent times I have taken up painting in acrylics. One good thing about the lockdown has been the opportunity to work in another medium and discover new exciting things to do and I really love it!”

Many of the other artists exhibitiing at this year’s festival have had their work featured in past Beyonder features, including Katie Cannon, Jane Duff, Maureen Gillespie and Sue Side, with local landscapes proving perennially popular subjects.

Traditionally May is the month that artists across Oxfordshire open their doors to the public.

The Spring Show is a seasonal collection celebrating the natural world as it awakens, awash with vivid greens, blues and golden yellows, hares and songbirds, blooms and blossom. It offers a sneak preview of what’s on offer through May, when more than 650 artists show off their creative talents.

Despite lockdown restrictions, this year there will still be dozens of secure pop-up galleries and studio exhibitions to visit across the county, with another 500 available online.

Finally, nature explodes into colour

AFTER those dull, muddy early weeks of the year, the world suddenly seems to explode into life in March.

Suddenly – and only after long grey days of eager anticipation – the natural world is alive with activity, with something new to spot every day.

CHILLY PROSPECT: wintry skies in Chesham PICTURE: Leigh Richardson

And with many families still finding their movements limited by lockdown restrictions, perhaps more of us than ever have been aware of those daily changes in the fortunes of our local flora and fauna, and have been watching them with fascination.

First it was the daffodils and primroses replacing the snowdrops and blackthorn hedges suddenly awash with abundant small white flowers.

EARLY PROMISE: a long-tailed tit at Dorney Wetlands PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

But while the earliest hedgerow shrub to flower may herald the onset of spring, country folk warn of the so-called ‘Blackthorn Winter’, when the white blossoms can be matched in colour by frost-covered grass, icy temperatures and even late snow flurries.

EARLY RISER: a muntjac deer appears out of the mist PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Although depicted in fairy tales throughout Europe as a tree of ill omen, blackthorn is given a rather magical reputational makeover by Dutch storyteller Els Baars, who suggests the “innocent” white flowers are the Lord’s way of telling the world that the blackthorn bush was not to blame for its twigs being used to make Christ’s crown of thorns.

And it’s far from being the only colour to catch the eye. Plumes of fragrant apple and cherry blossom appear all around too, a delight to bees and other pollinators before they start to shower to the ground like pink, white and red confetti.

SPECTACULAR SHOW: March blossoms in Willow Wood, Amersham PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

Wonderful magnolia trees and glossy everygreen camellias and mahonias are fighting for attention in local gardens, while yellow gorse flowers have opened up across the heathland at Stoke Common and Black Park.

PRICKLY CUSTOMER: gorse flowers on Stoke Common PICTURE: Andrew Knight

The air is thick with birdsong in morning and early evening, robins, blackbirds and wrens shouting about territory while the local wood pigeons strut and coo. There’s frogspawn aplenty in local ponds and nest-building is under way in earnest.

FRIENDLY FACE: a fluffy garden favourite PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Sometimes even the most familiar local residents are worth a much closer look. Living close to a river, we tend to take for granted the birds and animals we see every day: the squirrels, pigeons and the ducks who amiably wander through the garden or quack for food at the front door.

DRESSED TO IMPRESS: the distinctive green head of a drake PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

But as Graham Parkinson’s remarkable portraits show, even the ubiquitous mallard is a remarkably handsome fellow, and while the female lacks such dramatic colours, she has a remarkable depth and subtlety to her plumage that is equally striking.

SAFETY FIRST: nesting female ducks blend into their surroundings PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

There’s an important advantage to not being so dramatically dressed, though – camouflage. Nesting alone means female ducks suffer a higher mortality rate than males, so it makes perfect sense to blend into the vegetation on their nesting areas.

UP FOR A FLUTTER: a peacock butterfly on the Thames Path PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Warmer days are encouraging the first butterflies out for a flutter, like the bright yellow brimstone, peacock, small tortoiseshell or red admiral.

Many beetles have been waking up after their winter hibernation too, most noticeably the bright red seven-spot ladybirds, glistening like little red jewels as they warm their bodies in the morning sunshine.

The warmer daytime temperatures also lure adders out of hibernation, but they can hard to spot, even when sitting motionless in the sun. 

ON THE MOVE: clouds scudding across the sky in Chesham PICTURE: Leigh Richardson

Early morning is the best time to see them while they’re still cold from the previous night and a little slower on the move – once warmed up they can wriggle with remarkable alacrity.

Those early mornings and sunny evenings are the best time for photography, as well as catching the sounds of woodland creatures stirring – the yaffle of a woodpecker, perhaps, or the agitated chittering of argumentative squirrels.

ROAD LESS TRAVELLED: on the Berkshire Loop of the Chiltern Way PICTURE: Andrew Knight

Country lanes are beginning to look a little more welcoming, with splashes of colour to offset the brown: the cowslips and coltsfoot, dandelions and winter aconites providing welcome dots of yellow against an increasingly green backcloth.

Although many think of wild flowers like dandelions as a nuisance, Brtiain’s wild flowers are increasingly being recognised as a valuable asset, with people rediscovering their ancient medicinal properties and old recipes being dusted off for salads, wines and health tonics.

OLD FAVOURITE: the common cowslip PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Spring lambs are gambolling in the fields and local farms are a hive of activity too, with chicks hatching, vegetables to plant and spring cleaning to organise as the earth begins to warm – even if there are still plenty of frosty mornings and chill clear nights to freeze the bones.

MOTHER’S DAY: sheep at Great Missenden PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

Whichever aspect of spring gives you most enjoyment – those insects emerging from hibernation, early blooms, noisy rooks or natterjacks, frosty morning walks or the antics of playful baby goats, squirrels and lambs, it’s an extraordinary time of year.

As Melissa Harrison says in her nature diary The Stubborn Light of Things: “It’s the oldest story: the earth coming back to life after its long winter sleep. Yet spring always feels like a miracle when at last it arrives.”

MORNING CALL: a barn owl hunting at dawn PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

As always, we’d like to give a very 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 April, contact editor@thebeyonder.co.uk on email or via our Facebook group page.

Picture of the week: 12/04/21

OUR picture choice this week takes us to Abingdon in Oxfordshire and the work of artist Dougie Simpson, which features as part of the UK’s oldest and biggest open studio event next month.

An online spring show organised by Oxfordshire Artweeks offers a sneak preview of work by more than 200 local artists which will be available to buy during the organisation’s forthcoming May festival.

Thames Street, Abingdon by Dougie Simpson

Dougie, who comes originally from Scotland, was relocated to work in Wallingford in 2005, retiring 10 years later.

During a year-long period of rest and recuperation in Venice, he started attending drawing classes and art workshops held at the Bottega del Tinteretto.

“I’m very keen on attending art courses and workshops both here and in Europe,” he says. “Since I started exhibiting four years ago, my work and range of subject matter has developed and increased in popularity.

“Several of my pictures have be found in the USA. Understandably I use the opportunities when I travel to paint outside. So you will find a selection of landscapes and cityscapes amongst my paintings.”

Abingdon Bridge by Dougie Simpson

Dougie will be exhibiting with alongside a quartet of other artists known as the Abbey Group in St Nicolas’ Church in the centre of Abingdon, showing a selection of watercolours and pen-and-wash paintings.

The Abbey Group exhibition runs from May 17-22 from 10am-5pm.

Many of the other artists exhibitiing at this year’s festival have had their work featured in past Beyonder features, including Katie Cannon, Jane Duff, Maureen Gillespie and Sue Side, with local landscapes proving perennially popular subjects.

Traditionally May is the month that artists across Oxfordshire open their doors to the public.

The Spring Show is a seasonal collection celebrating the natural world as it awakens, awash with vivid greens, blues and golden yellows, hares and songbirds, blooms and blossom. It offers a sneak preview of what’s on offer through May, when more than 650 artists show off their creative talents.

Despite lockdown restrictions, this year there will still be dozens of secure pop-up galleries and studio exhibitions to visit across the county, with another 500 available online.

TV detectives return to The Lee

THERE were more dark deeds afoot on the village green on Sunday night when the Midsomer Murders team returned to the Buckinghamshire village where the whole grisly detective series began.

GRISLY PAST: The Lee has featured in several episodes of the crime series

There could hardly be a more picturesque setting that The Lee near Wendover, and 24 years ago it was transformed into Badger’s Drift for the pilot episode of what would become the UK’s longest-running crime drama and most popular drama export.

Followers of the series might recall how the atmospheric Cock & Rabbit pub on the green because the Rose & Chalice for DCI Barnaby’s first outing back in 1997.

This week the pub was back at the heart of the action as a line-up of guest stars joined the regular cast for the second of six feature-length episodes making up Season 22 of the drama, with Neil Dudgeon enjoying his tenth year in the starring role.

CRIME SCENE: Neil Dudgeon and Nick Hendrix investigate PICTURE: ITV/Mark Bourdillon

Tension mounts after a local outcast controversially acquitted of a brutal murder years previously returns to the area – and a death on the village green means Barnaby and sidekick DS Jamie Winter (Nick Hendrix) are called in to investigate.

Prime suspects include John Thomson as Cooper Steinem (best known as Pete from Cold Feet) pulling pints behind the bar, Lily Allen’s dad Keith Allen as Harry Marx and The Queen’s Gambit star Jacob Fortune-Lloyd as the ambitious Gideon Tooms.

Welsh actor Allen has played a variety of “baddie” roles in the past, with a CV that ranges from Shallow Grave and Trainspotting to Kingsman and Marcella.

But undisputed star of Sunday’s instalment, filmed in 2020, was Hannah Waddingham from Game of Thrones in a bravura performance as larger-than-life Mimi Dagmar, Midsomer’s most flirtatious estate agent, whose suggestive asides left even DCI Barnaby looking a little uncomfortable.

ON THE CASE: DCI Barnaby and DS Jamie Winter PICTURE: ITV/Mark Bourdillon

Chilterns residents get an additional delight from spotting local venues used as a backdrop for the series, as Joan Street can testify – over the past 20 years she has chronicled more than 120 locations on her Midsomer Murders website.

Says Joan, who lives in London: “I was inspired to start the site having recognised some of the locations in a very early episode called Written in Blood.  Initially it was only going to be a website for the locations but somehow or other it grew and grew! 

“I launched the first pages way back in 1999, never envisaging the series would still be going on in 2021.  It was a bit of fun but gradually almost became like a second job.  Midsomer’s popularity increased every year with more and more locations being used; something that fascinated many viewers.”

LOCAL LANDMARKS: historic pubs across the Chilterns have featured in the series

It wasn’t long before the site had more than a million hits, with more than 2,300 members joining a forum linked to it.

“A friend and I used to go out on weekends trying to track down some of the locations used,” Joan recalls. “We were very naive at first but soon learnt that a lot of detective work needed to be done in advance to find them.  The quirkiness of Midsomer was also a huge appeal.  We became totally addicted.”

The series became such a worldwide success that a series of guided and self-guided tours have been launched across the region showing tourists favourite locations, from Henley and Marlow to Thame and the Hambleden Valley.

WINNING FORMULA: Season 22 launched on April 4 PICTURE: ITV/Mark Bourdillon

Joan admits: “Prior to Midsomer I’d never visited any of the places used in the Chilterns.  It was a voyage of discovery.  I now know almost every town and village and we both ended up loving the area.”

The Lee has featured in at least four other Midsomer episodes, and Sunday night saw its picturesque cottages back in the public eye, this time as Tamworth Springs, home to an ill-fated social and health club for recovering heart bypass patients.

POPULAR SPOT: the picturesque village green at The Lee has been a favourite TV location

The Stitcher Society was broadcast on Sunday April 11 on ITV and is still available to watch on ITV Hub. Midsomer Murders is made by Bentley Productions, part of ALL3Media.

Young and old join the big clean-up

VILLAGERS across the Chilterns turned out in force to fight back against litter louts and fly-tippers this weekend.

Volunteers of all ages turned out to clean up hedgerows, streets and paths around Cookham, Wooburn Green and Fulmer, with many other communities planning similar spring clean-ups.

In Cookham and Cookham Dean some 80 villagers came together to clean up across four locations, aged from three to 75+.

Organiser Jus Moody said the clean-up included a “disgusting fly tip” on Cookham Dean Common comprising whole car panels, wheel trims and even an entire lamppost.

She said: “We have no explanation for this or the hundreds of coffee cups, pieces of food packaging or other weird items that folks think they’re entitled to dispose of in our village hedgerows.”

In nearby Wooburn Green, Karen Savage Townsend praised the efforts of more than 140 litter pickers who managed to fill some 87 bags of rubbish during a day-long community clean-up.

And in Fulmer village, another village team of conservation volunteers were busy clearing rubbish off Stoke Common Road, Fulmer Road and part of Fulmer Common Road, their haul ranging from discarded face marks, alcohol bottles and cans to car parts.

The clean-ups came as Iceland supermarket boss Sir Malcolm Walker said the rise in litter was making Britain look ‘like an impoverished Third World country’, where thoughtless drivers tossing litter out of windows were among the worst culprits.

The 75-year-old was quoted in the Daily Mail in the run-up to a nationwide litter-picking event organised by Keep Britain Tidy, which starts on May 28.

But local campaigners want to see more done to tackle the upsurge in littering, from tougher punishments to launching a nationwide deposite return scheme and insisting on fast food retailers printing car registration numbers on packaging.

Enforcement officers like David Rounding have had considerable success in ensuring Buckinghamshire has a zero-tolerance approach to illegal waste dumping, but the scale of the problem can sometimes seem relentless and some local farmers feel under siege.

Long-time campaigners like Peter Silverman, John Read and Danny Lucas have repeatedly called on individual councils and bodies like Highways England to do more to fulfil their legal responsibilities, a view echoed by Sir Malcolm Walker, who urged the public to put pressure on elected officials to clean up roadsides, and backed tough action against countryside litterers. 

More than 6,000 members have signed up to a Facebook group representing litterpicking groups across the UK, but while many remain upbeat and determined, others have confessed to feelinhg“disheartened, dispirited and disgusted” after seeing crowds trash popular parks and beaches during rare breaks between lockdowns.

Deadly locations lure the tourists

THERE are more dark deeds afoot this weekend in Britain’s deadliest county when Midsomer DCI John Barnaby is back on the murder trail.

The Stitcher Society is the second of six feature-length episodes making up Season 22 of the popular crime drama, with Neil Dudgeon enjoying his tenth year in the starring role.

CRIME SCENE: Neil Dudgeon and Nick Hendrix investigate PICTURE: ITV/Mark Bourdillon

Tension mounts after a local outcast controversially acquitted of a brutal murder years previously returns to the area – and a death on the village green means Barnaby and sidekick DS Jamie Winter (Nick Hendrix) are called in to investigate before the body count starts to rise.

Locals may not be expecting an early solution to the mystery – since the show launched 24 years ago the area has witnessed more than 400 deaths.

Renowned for its dark humour, stunning scenery and high-profile guest stars, the show is not only the country’s longest-running crime drama but also its most popular drama export.

ON THE CASE: DCI Barnaby and DS Jamie Winter PICTURE: ITV/Mark Bourdillon

Chilterns residents get an additional delight from spotting local venues used as a backdrop for the series, as Joan Street can testify – over the past 20 years she has chronicled more than 120 locations on her Midsomer Murders website.

Says Joan, who lives in London: “I was inspired to start the site having recognised some of the locations in a very early episode called Written in Blood.  Initially it was only going to be a website for the locations but somehow or other it grew and grew! 

“I launched the first pages way back in 1999, never envisaging the series would still be going on in 2021.  It was a bit of fun but gradually almost became like a second job.  Midsomer’s popularity increased every year with more and more locations being used; something that fascinated many viewers.”

LOCAL LANDMARKS: historic pubs across the Chilterns have featured in the series

It wasn’t long before the site had more than a million hits, with more than 2,300 members joining a forum linked to it.

“A friend and I used to go out on weekends trying to track down some of the locations used,” Joan recalls. “We were very naive at first but soon learnt that a lot of detective work needed to be done in advance to find them.  The quirkiness of Midsomer was also a huge appeal.  We became totally addicted.”

The series became such a worldwide success that a series of guided and self-guided tours have been launched across the region showing tourists favourite locations, from Henley and Marlow to Thame and the Hambleden Valley.

WINNING FORMULA: Season 22 launched on April 4 PICTURE: ITV/Mark Bourdillon

Joan admits: “Prior to Midsomer I’d never visited any of the places used in the Chilterns.  It was a voyage of discovery.  I now know almost every town and village and we both ended up loving the area.”

The latest episode sees the detectives return to The Lee near Wendover, scene of numerous earlier investigations over the show’s 24-year history.

The picturesque village was Badger’s Drift in the very first pilot episode back in 1997, when the Cock & Rabbit village pub was rebranded the Rose and Chalice.

This week the famous village green was the location for more murder and mayhem, this time as Tamworth Springs, home to an ill-fated social and health club for recovering heart bypass patients.

The Stitcher Society is broadcast on Sunday at 8pm on ITV. Midsomer Murders is made by Bentley Productions, part of ALL3Media.

Picture of the week: 05/04/21

THIS week’s picture choice takes us north to Milton Keynes and a quite extraordinary rewilding success story we first featured back in 2018.

Gazing out over a bare field in 1990 it would have been hard to believe that a humble couple of acres of cow pasture could become a veritable wildlife haven.

But Roy and Marie Battell’s transformation of the two acres has been inspiring. Today there are hundreds of trees – plus four ponds and meadows attracting a huge cross-section of wildlife.

Over the years the couple’s website depicting life in the nature reserve has developed something an international reputation.

The woods provide a home for all types of birds, insects and mammals with various trail cameras monitoring the movements of visitors ranging from sparrowhawks and kestrels to foxes, badgers and deer.

Dozens of loyal followers sign up for Roy’s weekly newsletter, which chronicles the changing landscape through the seasons, and his carefully chronicled pictures have appeared in a many wildlife textbooks.

His latest weekly selection is a fairly representative snapshot of life with the “Moorhens”, capturing everything from rooks and magpies gathering nesting materials to hungry squirrels, strutting pheasants and hunting owls.

It’s the quality of Roy’s photographs, coupled with his painstaking attention to detail in chronicling and recording the animals’ movements, which has attracted the interest of enthusiasts and academics around the world.

He sends these out every week to around 100 subscribers, while the archives provide an invaluable day-by-day record of the the extraordinary transformation they have achieved on their doorstep. To sign up for the weekly email, visit their website.

Rewilding one of London’s lost railways

IT’S more than half a century since a train last ran through Crouch End railway station in north London.

But there are probably more people wandering along its platforms today than at the height of the steam railway era.

That’s partly because this line never really enjoyed a true “heyday” and partly because the route has been a parkland walk for more than 35 years.

It may be only a few miles from the modern transport hub of Finsbury Park, but the line through here to Highgate and the branch from there to Alexandra Palace never really took off in the way the developers had hoped.

It was built by the Edgware, Highgate and London Railway and opened on 22 August 1867, running from Finsbury Park to Edgware via Highgate.

Branches would follow to Alexandra Palace and High Barnet. Swallowed up by the Great Northern Railway and later the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER), part of the route would become the High Barnet branch of the Northern Line, but ambitious Tube expansion plans in the 1930s were thwarted by the Second World War.

In some ways Alexandra Palace was doomed from the start. The branch was constructed by the Muswell Hill Railway Company and opened on 24 May 1873 along with the palace. However, when the palace burned down only two weeks after opening, the service was considerably reduced and then closed for almost two years while the palace was rebuilt.

There were other periods of temporary closure too due to insufficient demand, though in 1935 it looked as if it would get a new lease of life when London Underground revealed plans to electrify the branch.

Works to modernise the track were well advanced when they were halted by the war, services reduced to rush hours only as a result of wartime economy measures.

After the war, dwindling passenger numbers and a shortage of funds led to the cancellation of the unfinished works in 1950 and British Railways withdrew passenger services to Alexandra Palace on 3 July 1954 along with the rest of the route from Finsbury Park.

After the track was lifted, most of the platforms and station buildings were demolished but two sections from Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace, excluding the tunnels and station at Highgate, were converted into the Parkland Walk, which was officially opened in 1984.

Stroud Green station consisted of two wooden side platforms which were gutted by fire in 1967 and demolished shortly afterwards, but Crouch End was more substantial and both platforms survive.

The line continued to be used for goods into the 1960s and by London Underground for train stock movements until 1970 when it was completely closed. The track was lifted a couple of years later, by which time it was already being used as an unofficial walkway.

A hundred years ago the steam train took just six minutes to get here from Finsbury Park, and another 10 or 11 to chug all the way round to Alexandra Palace.

Today the journey takes a little longer but the 3.9-mile route is designated a local nature reserve, part of the 78-mile Capital Ring Walk round Inner London, and reveals a glimpse of north London life that motorists never see.

From here a glance back at the city skyline reminds you just how far this feels from the hubbub of central London – a green corridor of trees and birdsong providing 21st-century Londoners with a welcome respite from the concrete jungle and rumble of city traffic.

Woodland wander back in time

HOGBACK Wood is one of Beaconsfield’s hidden secrets.

An attractive area of old, mainly deciduous woodland on the western edge of the Seeleys housing estate, it’s owned by the National Trust but not mentioned on their website.

LOCAL SECRET: Hogback Woods in Beaconsfield PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Indeed online references are rare, thought it’s one of a number of local woods mentioned by the Woodland Trust and is very popular with dog walkers and joggers, as well as boasting a plentiful cross-section of birdlife, including jays, goldcrests and firecrests.

Back in the 18th century there were some 30 farms and smallholdings around Beaconsfield, boasting a mixture of arable and pastoral farming, with wheat growing and the rearing of cows, pigs and sheep being the main activities.

Seeley’s farm was swallowed up and the land developed between the late 1940s and early 1970s, though the name lives on in local street names on the estate.

By 1881 the farm covered more than 200 acres and employed nine labourers. Like so many other local places, the land was well suited to growing cherry trees and in 1892 Job Wooster planted a huge 18-acre orchard of cherries.

HOME SWEET HOME: a nuthatch nest building at Hogback PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Cherry trees are still abundant in the area today – but back then there were up to 60 people employed at the height of the picking season, when trainloads of fruit would leave Beaconsfield by rail for the Midlands.

Since the housing development of the 1960s, Hogback today is a natural playground for local youngsters, a perfect place for den-building or playing hide and seek.

The 22.5 acres form a narrow patch of wooded paths linking the village of Forty Green with the outskirts of Holtspur. Usually accessed from Woodside Road, the woods are also perfectly situated for a wander over to the Royal Standard of England for a welcoming pint or meal, when lockdown restrictions permit.

The pub itself is steeped in centuries of history, predating the 16th-century farmhouse at Seeleys, which was originally part of the Gregories Estate, probably taking its name from the Cely family who lived in Beaconsfield in that period.

BUSY BIRDLIFE: a green woodpecker in Hogback Woods PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Researchers from the Beaconsfield & District Historical Society explain how the artist Sir Joshua Reynolds stayed at the farm in the 1780s and while in Beaconsfield fulfilled a commission from Catherine II, Empress of Russia, to paint an historical picture.

He chose as his subject The Infant Hercules Strangling the Serpents and the model he used was William Rolfe, the six-month-old son of a local family. Today the original painting still hangs in the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.

Farming days at Seeleys may be a distant memory, but the woods provide a perfect base for a circular ramble to Holtspur and beyond, picking up the Berkshire Loop of the Chilterns Way to head towards Wooburn Green, or returning along Riding Lane to Forty Green and that welcoming pint.

Barnaby’s back on the murder trail

FANS of the ITV detective drama Midsomer Murders can anticipate another spate of bizarre deaths across Middle England this weekend when the show returns to the small screen for its 22nd series.

The Wolf Hunter Of Little Worthy will premiere on Sunday April 4 at 8pm as Neil Dudgeon returns as DCI John Barnaby is his 10th year in the role.

MURDER MOST FOUL: Neil Dudgeon and Nick Hendrix PICTURE: ITV/Mark Bourdillon

Chilterns residents get an extra frisson of anticipation from spotting local venues used as a backdrop for the series, which is now in its 24th year and is both the country’s longest-running crime drama and top-rated drama export.

More than 40 towns and villages across the Chilterns, Thames Valley and Vale of Aylesbury have featured in the series and over the past 20 years Joan Street has chronicled more than 120 locations on her Midsomer Murders website.

Renowned for its high body count, dark humour, stunning scenery and a plethora of high-profile guest stars, the show launched with a pilot in 1997, with seasoned TV detective John Nettles in the starring role.

Nettles had been a household name in the 1980s during his 10 years as the fictional Jersey detective Jim Bergerac, but his first outing in Midsomer, probing a murder in the sleepy village of Badger’s Drift, proved such a hit that would go on to play Barnaby in another 81 episodes spanning 14 years.

WINNING FORMULA: Season 22 launches on Sunday April 4 PICTURE: ITV/Mark Bourdillon

By the time Neil Dudgeon took over (ostensibly as Tom Barnaby’s younger cousin John), original sidekick DS Gavin Troy (Daniel Casey) had been replaced after six seasons by DS Ben Jones (Jason Hughes). For the past three series the role of DS Jamie Winter has been played by Nick Hendrix.

Filming on series 21 was halted mid-season by the coronavirus pandemic, but Sunday’s show is the first of six feature-length episodes, also featuring Annette Badland in her role as pathologist Dr Fleur Perkins.

Midsomer Murders is made by Bentley Productions, part of ALL3Media.

Picture of the week: 29/03/21

“I CAN barely remember a time when I didn’t paint, or wasn’t thinking about painting,” says Sue Graham.

Last week the Chilterns artist took us to the west coast of Scotland as she reflected on the challenges of a year like no other, and the need to put a remarkable family rewilding adventure on hold because of the pandemic and ongoing hospital treatment for cancer.

But this week’s picture choice takes us to the other end of the country and a hamlet on the edge of Dartmoor called Water.

BABBLING BROOK: Water, Dartmoor, oil on canvas board by Sue Graham

“Some of my favourite paths wind through it, crunching along stream beds, splashing through rivulets,” says Sue. “And everywhere there’s the music of water, gurgling, burbling, dripping. Such a life-affirming place.

“Parts of the trail are not quite stream, not quite path: my walking boots make a resonant crunching splash. There’s a half-derelict cottage on the edge of the path. It has the best location.”

Closer to home, another location with a story to tell is Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire.

“This painting marked a bit of a stylistic turning point for me in that it was my first mixed-media piece: I used spray paint, paint diffuser (that’s like a right-angled straw with a hole that you blow into), acrylic ink and acrylic paint,” says Sue.

SOUNDS OF SUMMER: Henley on Thames, Swifts by Sue Graham

Known for her colourful, expressive and atmospheric paintings in acrylics and oils, Sue frequently finds inspiration in natural landscapes and soundscapes.

“There is nothing (other than blackbird song, maybe) that brings me into a state of summery bliss than the screaming sounds of swifts. It’s the sound of childhood summers, of long evenings, of softness in the air, of possibilities as yet undreamed of.

“In this painting I tried to evoke that sense of ethereal joy: to honour the beauty of the bridge at Henley, without being over-literal in its depiction – photographs can do that better. I wanted to convey the the flow of the Thames and capture the sweetness of an early morning in summer, with the human world not yet making its presence felt, just the flow of water below with swifts wheeling overhead.”

Picture of the week: 22/03/21

IT’S BEEN an extraordinary year in which countless people’s hopes and dreams have been frustrated, shattered or put on hold.

No one knows that better than Chilterns artist Sue Graham, whose family rewilding adventure featured on these pages last spring, when she explained how a series of paintings inspired by her love of the dawn chorus prompted her family to buy a croft and start planting hundreds of trees on a remote Scottish island.

FOND MEMORIES: Argyll Dreaming by Sue Graham, acrylic on poster board

Her painting Argyll Dreaming is our picture choice this week, taking us on a particularly poignant virtual journey back to the beautiful lochside roads that lead from Glasgow to Tayinloan, from where you can catch the 20-minute ferry to the Isle of Gigha in the Inner Hebrides.

It’s the first of two instalments looking at Sue’s most recent work and follows an article in September last year focused on her landscapes from the other end of the country, in Cornwall.

Says Sue: “The painting came to me during Lockdown 2, when (like everybody else) I was longing to get away somewhere. I missed the lochs and the empty spaces of Scotland’s wild west coast. 

“When our family planted a native woodland at the croft back in November 2019, we had no idea what challenges lay ahead; for us, for everyone.”

HOPE FOR THE FUTURE: the first wave of planting, back in 2019

Back in those innocent days the worst of their worries was the possibility of voles damaging the tiny saplings – and competition from grass.

Sue recalls: “We planned a schedule of regular island visits to remove grass, check the vole guards, erect perch poles for birds of prey and keep an eye on our nascent Atlantic rainforest. And then two unexpected things happened: serious health challenges for me and a global pandemic.”

Covid restrictions and cancer treatment through the spring and summer of 2020 made it impossible to travel, although a friend on the island – the local ferryman – reported that the trees were ‘growing well’ – but so was the grass.

“Once the first lockdown eased our two sons, Tom and JP, travelled from Glasgow to Gigha and made a valiant start on the great grass cut-back, sowing grass-parasitic yellow rattle in the hope that this will help keep the grass under control in future years,” Sue explains.

OPEN OUTLOOK: the spectacular Gigha coastline

“When Gabriel and I finally got to Gigha in early October 2020 – almost one full year since planting the woodland – the grass was thigh-high in places, with some feisty trees waist-high, and some less rugged species struggling to breathe in vole guards full of grass.”

Despite days of back-breaking work to clear the saplings of grass, the project has been a resounding success, with the young trees enjoying a 95% survival rate to date.

Having added a small orchard and ‘edible hedge’ to the croft, with a view to encouraging pollinators, the family also made two new native tree additions.

Says Sue: “Gabriel and JP joined the Woodland Trust back in 2016 and were sent a native tree each: an oak and a rowan, all of 25cm tall when they came in the post. Now 7ft tall and repeatedly outgrowing their pots, it was high time for them to move north.

TREES IN TRANSIT: an oak and rowan head north

“So while they were dormant we packed them up, just about fitting them in the car (though the rowan was stroking our cheeks as we drove).

Rowans have a long tradition in European folklore – especially for warding off witches. An islander suggested we plant one so it seemed the perfect fit to situate this lovely young tree near the mill leat at the entrance to the croft. No witch infestation here!”

WARDING OFF WITCHES: the rowan in its new position at the croft

Gigha was set to be a bold new chapter in the family story – but of course that was before the coronavirus crisis and personal health setbacks forced Sue to remain in Buckinghamshire for another year.

Working from the top of their home in Long Crendon near Thame, she has missed exhibiting during the pandemic and her ongoing cancer treatment has posed its own challenges.

But those happy thoughts of the west coast of Scotland have provided one source of inspiration and comfort.

HOME FROM HOME: using compression stockings from surgery to secure the oak

“We’ll get back to Gigha to check on everything as soon as we can,” she says. “We can’t wait to see the trees in leaf and see how much they grow this year.

“Whatever considerable difficulties have come our way recently there is an overwhelming positive sense that we are leaving something potentially beautiful behind for the future in this extraordinary place, a good feeling that we’re trying to give something back to the earth.”

Next week: Sue “escapes” to Dartmoor and Henley-on-Thames

Lockdown puts Steve’s life in sharper focus

SOMETIMES it takes a crisis to make you look at the world in a different way.

That was certainly true for Steve Gozdz. He and his partner Billie O’Connor relocated from Surbiton to the Chilterns in 2019 to be closer to nature, but he was due to head back into corporate life when Covid-19 struck.

BIRD IN THE HAND: wildlife photographer Steve Gozdz

Despite years working as a contracts manager, Steve had always had a keen interest in wildlife, especially birds.

And as he explored the local countryside during the initial lockdown taking pictures of the wildlife he saw and sharing them with others on social media, he was taken aback by the level of appreciation of his photographs – and later, by requests from people to join him on his walks.

OUT AND ABOUT: Steve’s guided walks proved increasingly popular

After setting up a Facebook page encouraging local people to engage with nature, as lockdown restrictions bit hundreds of followers starting to share their own photographs from their walks.

Could wildlife tour guiding provide a new career for the 46-year-old entrepreneur? Goring Gap Wildlife Walks was born.

GAP IN THE MARKET: Steve realised his hobby could provide the basis for a new business

“We agreed now was the time to swap that corporate lifestyle for my passion,” says Steve, whose friends dubbed him ‘The Bird Whisperer’ for his ability to help them seek out and enjoy the local wildlife.

On holidays abroad, the couple would often pay a guide to show them the sights and wildlife of different countries, from Gambia and Senegal to Portugal. Why not try running similar guided walks closer to home?

SNAP HAPPY: a pair of pheasants put on a show PICTURE: Steve Gozdz

Says Steve: “I have always been fascinated by wildlife and having moved to the Chilterns, I was able to really indulge in my “serious hobby” of wildlife photography and walking in our amazing countryside.”

Part of his mission is open people’s eyes to the area’s natural wonders, and the couple could hardly be better placed, given the unique Thameside location of the ancient villages of Goring and Streatley, the meeting point of two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (the Chilterns and North Wessex Downs).

RIVERSIDE RAMBLE: Goring and Streatley straddle the Thames PICTURE: Steve Gozdz

Here two national trails intersect (the Ridgeway and Thames Path), making the villages a popular stopping-off point for those on long-distance walks, with ready access to both Oxfordshire and Berkshire.

While the immediate surroundings were ideal for guided tours, the area covered by his walks was soon rapidly expanding over neighbouring counties, with options ranging from short family walks geared towards children to private tailored walks for those interested in more specific “sightings”.

BALL OF FLUFF: a tawny owlet PICTURE: Steve Gozdz

“I think there really is a growing interest in the countryside and appreciate of the wildlife within it,” says Steve. “The difficulties of Covid-19 have been numerous, but during these hard times we have seen a positive by-product – the growing love and appreciation of our countryside and wildlife.

“I spend most of my time outdoors. I really believe in the power of nature as a healing agent and to bring about calm and balance. Scientific studies have certainly proven the power of fresh-air therapy – being in the outdoors, walking, and taking in nature.”

FRESH-AIR THERAPY: a firecrest poses for the camera PICTURE: Steve Gozdz

Current lockdown restrictions may have prevented Steve from running walks for customers, but he has kept up his daily exercise walks and has been taking plenty of photographs to share across Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

“Winter brings a number of birds only seen this time of year such as fieldfare and redwing; both quite shy but beautiful birds, they winter here to escape the harsher climate of their mostly Scandinavian homes,” he says.

“We have also seen small groups of lesser redpoll feeding in the silver birches and alder, and flocks of goldfinch have made their way into our gardens to feast on feeders of nyger and sunflower hearts.”

WINTER VISITOR: a redwing among the rosehips PICTURE: Steve Gozdz

With kingfishers posing obligingly at various places along the river and the signs of spring all around, there’s certainly no shortage of sightings to write about, much to the delight of his social media followers.

“The birds are now more vocal, especially at dawn as they re-establish existing pair bonds and last year’s young are ready to become parents themselves,” says Steve. “We are fortunate in this area of the UK to have four types of owls we could see, especially during the stage of post-fledgling until the end of the summer; my owl walks prove extremely popular from June to August.”

LOCKDOWN ALBUM: a nuthatch PICTURE: Steve Gozdz

Steve’s clearly itching to get back out and about as soon as the restrictions allow, having organised walks for more than 200 people since starting the business in July 2020.

Future events include the Chilterns Walking Festival, more family-friendly wildlife walks with spotting guides, and partnerships with local hotels who want to offer wildlife tours and photography sessions for their guests.

FROZEN IN FLIGHT: the barn owl is one of four species of owls found locally PICTURE: Steve Gozdz

Many walks take place on private land, allowing the small groups to be genuinely alone with the wildlife they come across.

“The children really love it and you never know whether you might be inspiring the next Chris Packham,” says Steve.

“I started out thinking this would be a temporary business to see me through lockdown but now I’m hoping to earn a permanent living from my passion. I feel very lucky with the success I’ve had so far.”

For more details see Steve’s website and follow him on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.

Immerse yourself in the sensory magic of nature

YOU don’t need perfect vision to enjoy a deep and sustaining relationship with nature.

No one knows that better than Andy Shipley, who has been visually impaired for much of his life but whose love of the natural world is matched by his belief in an inclusive society – and his absolute determination to bring those two passions together.   

Over the years he has channelled his experience into his work as a facilitator, campaigner, speaker and coach – and he has even developed a fortnight-long sensory odyssey designed to deepen everyone’s relationship with nature.

“I believe our future depends on people acquiring a deeper relationship with those around them, and with the natural world,” says Andy. “To achieve this, we need to open people’s hearts to the value of nature and awaken their sense of belonging.”

The multi-sensory nature immersion experiences he has developed enable people to start to fully notice the textures under their toes, the breath of the breeze and the banter of the birds.

“They help reconfigure and rebalance your sensory relationship with nature, and shift your perspectives in everyday life,” says Andy.

“Nature is our life-support system.  As well as providing us with the air, water and food vital to keep us alive and breathing, time spent connecting with the natural world sustains our physical and mental health.

“By spending time experiencing nature’s diversity more deeply, we have the opportunity to propagate a life-sustaining relationship that will support us from here on.”

His sensory odyssey was all the more relevant with so many people in isolation because of coronavirus or finding more time to explore nature on their own or as a family.

The programme involves a series of daily audio messages lasting a few minutes which encourage participants to develop a more intimate relationship with the natural world.

​Each sensory exercise includes a link to “little nuggets of inspiration and revelation” – about how plants communicate, for example, or how the human nose can detect a trillion smells, along with other audio stimuli ranging from wind in the trees to the dawn chorus – or even the sound of rhubarb growing.

Participants can do the sensory exercises standing, seated or lying down, outdoors or even in the living room with the windows open wide.

And the resource allows visitors to repeat the odyssey, spending more time on the detail, changing the sequence, or repeating the exercises they enjoyed the most.

“Like any exercise, the more you flex your sensory muscles the richer your experience will become,” says Andy, an experienced campaigner and project leader whose activities have ranged from blindfolded team-building exercises, adventure activities and dining experiences to workshops exploring how natural heritage sites could become more inclusive for the visually impaired.

He explains: “Healthy habitats are those which are abundant with diverse species occupying all strata of the web of life, filling their particular niche, but also contributing to the health and well-being of the whole.

“It seems to me therefore, that for our own human communities to become healthy, we need to work to create the conditions for all, whatever their background and circumstances, to find their niche, flourish and contribute to the well-being of our world.”

Visit Andys sensory odyssey and find details of other events on his website. He has also launched a new podcast called Seasonal Sensations.

Picture of the week: 15/03/21

OUR picture choice this week takes us to West Oxfordshire and the work of Eynsham artist Eric White.

Morning Frost is one of a number of striking images depicting landscapes within a mile or so of Eric’s home in the small historic village some six miles north-west of Oxford.

Morning Frost by Eric White

Like many of his recent pictures, it was created with an initial foundation in acrylic inks and subsequently built up with layers of soft pastel, reflecting a love affair with pastels dating back decades.

Eric recalls: “Having initially worked in watercolour and oils, my focus changed when I was given an expensive boxed set of 72 pastels. Initially daunted by such a gift I took my first tentative steps into the medium and was immediately hooked.

“That was some thirty years ago and since then the majority of my output has been in pastel in one form or another, from pure pastel to pastels worked over watercolour or acrylics and pastel screen prints.”

By The Evenlode by Eric White

Although entirely self-taught, painting and drawing was to become his lifelong interest and passion, endless experimentation and decades of practice helping him to evolve a flexible and personal style.

His galleries range from Cotswolds villages and Oxford townscapes to local landscapes and paintings taken much further afield, from France and Italy to Iceland, Morocco and America.

The locations may vary but his chief goals remain the same, he explains: “to capture the moment and to endow the image with a sense of place and atmosphere”.

Woodpile by Eric White

“Although I work from sketches and photos the challenge is always holding that sense of place and of the moment to capture the essence of the scene. I go out in all weathers – sometimes holding a pencil in the cold can be the biggest challenge of them all.”

Commissions have resulted in paintings of houses and gardens, from the humble to the grand, cricket club grounds and sporting scenes, along with more abstract work for business premises, and he even tackled a portrait as part of the NHS Portrait for Heroes project during the first lockdown.

Travel opportunities may have been limited this year – some coastal views from north Devon before movement restrictions were in place – but that hasn’t dampened his enthusiasm for the great outdoors.

“There’s beauty to be found everywhere in your local area if you look for it and I always try to make the most of the changing seasons,” he says. “Out walking during the various lockdowns my wife and I have spotted woodpeckers feeding their young, boxing hares and countless varieties of bird including our local abundance of yellowhammers. You can always count on the song of the skylarks to lift your spirits.”

Eric’s work can be found on his website and Instagram account.

Picture of the week: 08/03/21

IT’S not every day you come face to face with a weasel.

But that’s certainly one of the most memorable wildlife encounters enjoyed by Nick Bell, the Maidenhead photographer whose pictures have been in the spotlight on this page for the past couple of weeks.

CAUGHT ON CAMERA: a weasel pauses long enough to be pictured PICTURE: Nick Bell

Stoats and weasels aren’t that unusual in the British countryside, but you don’t get to see them very often other than a quick flash as they streak for cover.

Nick recalls: “I was walking along a path in Ockwells Park, early on a crisp, beautiful March day, when the weasel ran across the path right in front of me.

“It jumped up onto the bottom rail of the fence and, when it came to a break in the undergrowth, stopped and looked at me, no doubt wondering if it could make it past me with no undergrowth to hide it, just long enough for me to get its photo.

“I wasn’t sure if it was a stoat or a weasel, so I did some research. I discovered that a stoat is the size of a cucumber and a weasel the size of a sausage. Stoats also have longer tails than weasels.”

HIDE AND SEEK: a grey squirrel appears to be in playful mood PICTURE: Nick Bell

Some animals are more obliging when it comes to posing for the camera, like the inquisitive grey squirrel which looks as if it’s playing a game of hide and seek.

Mustelids like stoats, weasels, badgers and otters all pose more of a challenge because they generally tend to be active at night, which makes them elusive.

Foxes and deer are timid too, but a little easier to stumble across if you are light on your feet and approach quite cautiously.

FUN AND GAMES: young foxes at play PICTURE: Nick Bell

“I get to see occasional foxes during my walks,” says Nick. “The day that I saw two was unusual, though. They were a couple of young foxes. I watched them play fighting for fifteen or twenty minutes. It was a complete delight. They were at the far end of a field, so I couldn’t get the best photos of them, but it was still a great experience.”

WATCHFUL EYE: a fox appears to be staring straight at the camera PICTURE: Nick Bell

Our previous selections have focused on Nick’s pictures of insects and birds, taken in a variety of locations near his home patch in Maidenhead. He was born in Cookham and moved back to the area after taking early retirement at the age of 61.

But mammals pose their own challenges – and rewards.

SPRING SETTING: a roe deer in the woods among the bluebells PICTURE: Nick Bell

Says Nick: “There are some spots in and around Ockwells Park where I know you are likely to see deer. The great thing about photographing them is that they usually stand absolutely still, no doubt thinking that that will prevent you from seeing them.

“My favourite time to photograph them is when the bluebells are out in the woods. Sometimes, they decide to run for it, and leap in the air as they run, which is great for photos.

ON THE RUN: a deer scampers for cover PICTURE: Nick Bell

“One of my most disappointing ‘near misses’ in a photo was when I spotted a very young roe deer kid standing in front of its mother in the woods. I had time for one photo only before they were gone. The photo was, sadly, not in focus. Oh well; you win some and you lose some.”

BALL OF FLUFF: a gosling among the daisies PICTURE: Nick Bell

From cute goslings to fast-moving dragonflies, Nick’s broad range of subjects have provided a lot of pleasure on local wildlife forums.

“I have heard it said many times during the coronavirus pandemic that many of us are using nature for relaxation during lockdowns. That is certainly true of me,” says Nick.

“Wildlife photography has undoubtedly helped with my mental health during these difficult times. Being outside with nature helps to ground me and to relieve stress. I usually get home with a great sense of well-being.”

NATURAL CURE: an early morning walk provides great stress relief PICTURE: Nick Bell

After the chill, a first hint of spring

FLOODS, snow and sub-zero temperatures all helped to make February a month of contrasts in the Chilterns, but a welcome flurry of warmer days finally helped to herald the first true signs of spring.

HAZY DAYS: the view from West Wycombe Hill PICTURE: Siddharth Upadhya

With the country still in lockdown and wintry walks the only escape for many, footpaths that were not totally submerged soon became muddy quadmires.

BRIGHTER OUTLOOK: West Wycombe wakes up PICTURE: Siddharth Upadhya

But with tree branches bare and vegetation withered, it’s a good time of year to pick out birds as the dawn chorus begins to pick up volume – and equally good for that infuriating task of litter picking before the foliage really begins its resurgence.

MORNING CALL: birdsong is becoming gradually louder PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

As the first flowers poke through the soil crust, weekend wanderers are on the lookout for snowdrop displays and on crisper mornings there are some spectacular sunrises to capture, perhaps made all the more dramatic thanks to sand storms in the Sahara.

SKY HIGH: stunning cloud patterns outside Amersham PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

Photographers across the Chilterns were up with the lark, the woods echoing to the rat-a-tat of wookpeckers and whistling of red kites, the mornings getting brighter after Candlemas Day and the dull greys and browns of winter beginning to be offset with hazel catkins twitching like lambs’ tails, and even the odd crocus or daffodil.

ON THE LOOKOUT: a kestrel hunts for food PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Ducks and wildfowl may have been enjoying the wet weather but as the big freeze arrived, the number of birds on the feeders dramatically increased and hungry badgers and foxes also got a little braver in their search for an easy snack.

WATERLOGGED: dusk falls on Stoke Common PICTURE: Andrew Knight

Over on the heathland at Stoke Common, the gorse has begun to provide a profuse and colourful backdrop of yellow flowers (recalling those glorious foraging recipes of Rachel Lambert), but elsewhere colours are still muted, at least until the last few days of the month.

SPLASH OF COLOUR: gorse flowers on Stoke Common PICTURE: Andrew Knight

February is the shortest month, when hibernation is coming to an end and spring slowly starts to assert itself as insects start to emerge from their slumbers and the early shoots of crocuses and daffodils spring up to join the snowdrops.

POLLEN COUNT: bees are up and about again PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Young bees are spiralling around on orientation flights, while older bees are busy bringing in the nectar, their legs pleasantly dusted with pollen.

HERE COMES THE SUN: clouds over Cookham PICTURE: Nick Bell

Other insects, birds and mammals are active too, and our Picture of the Week has reflected the skills of a couple of local Beyonder stalwarts, Nick Bell and Graham Parkinson, whose photographs have brought so much variety to the website in recent months.

CLEVER CORVID: crows are known for their intelligence PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

From curious crows to grazing deer and rasping stonechats, the pictures help to bring local wildlife a little closer to us all, while the broader range of visitors to garden feeders provides another opportunity to study colourful plumage in more detail.

STUDY IN SCARLET: pheasants are dressed to impress PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Take a deep breath and head off to the woods to revive body and soul: without their summer coats, the trees are a study in themselves, fluffy lichen and moss coating the bark and new growth beginning to bud and bulge everywhere. 

FRESH SHOOTS: the signs of spring are impossible to ignore PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

On dreary days the landscape may appear dull and bleak, but what an extraordinary rainbow of colours are out there for those prepared to get up early and venture off the beaten track, or wait patiently for the light to be just right.

FIERY GLOW: more startling skies around Amersham PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

Those noisy birds are getting their breeding plumage and nest building will soon start in earnest. For anyone tempted by the prospect of nettle soup, tea or even beer, now’s the time they are said to be at their best: young, tender and ripe for the picking.

SPRING IN THE AIR: on the hunt for nectar PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Dandelions are a vital source of nectar for bees and early insects out of hibernation, while daffodils are starting to provide that dramatic show of colour, “fluttering and dancing in the breeze” as Wordsworth put it.

FRESH START: familiar paths start to look more appealing PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Butterfly fans might even spot their first yellow brimstone, one of the first to fly in the spring, stealing a march on other species by over-wintering as an adult, often perfectly camouflaged among clusters of ivy leaves.

Almost a year after the first dramatic lockdown, it’s been a tough time for many and we’re not out of the woods yet. But nature has a way of keeping our spirits high – and thanks to our snap-happy band of explorers, we’re delighted to be able to share so many uplifting images of the glorious Chilterns landscape.

GOING GREEN: new growth can be seen everywhere PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

As always, we’d like to give a very 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 March, contact editor@thebeyonder.co.uk on email or via our Facebook group page.

Coins have strange stories to tell

FIFTY years ago, decimalisation radically changed the way that the British understood money.

And as people marked the anniversary, looking back over half a century to that day in February 1971 when we exchanged pounds, shillings and pence for our new decimal currency, it encouraged a lot of them to think a little more deeply about the coins in their pocket.

The timing could hardly have been more significant, given the impact of coronavirus on our lives. While some cafes and other outlets had already gone cashless before the pandemic, the practicalities of lockdown meant people turning away from cash transactions entirely, in favour of online shopping.

For many, that meant giving up hard cash altogether, touch-card payments providing a potentially more hygienic way of buying goods rather than having to handle grubby coins and notes.

But as older people recalled the mathematical challenge of going decimal and the archive footage flashed us back to the arguments of the 1970s, the anniversary prompted a nostalgic outpouring of memories that reflect the profound importance of coins as part of our social history – and perhaps even our identity as a country.

Humans have been trading and exchanging goods for tens of thousands of years, as anthropology professor Chapurukha Kusimba explains in an article for The Conversation – whether in the form of beads, precious stones or even live cattle.

The Mesopotamian shekel emerged some 5,000 years ago and, several centuries before the birth of Christ, coins were in widespread use in Asia Minor.

Expert numismatist Lawrence Chard takes up the story in a fascinating explanation of the use of coins by Celtic tribes and the impact of the Roman invasion. The Romans even struck a coin to celebrate their conquest of Britain, although it probably never circulated here.

Flash forward to 1971 and you might be left wondering how the UK ended up with a system as complicated as pounds, shillings and pence in the first place. Blame the Franks, it seems.

Our trade links with Charlemagne’s Frankish Empire encouraged the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms to copy their system of currency, which consisted of 12 deniers (pennies) to the sou (shilling) and 240 deniers or 20 sous to the libra (pound).

Our pennies and pounds were based on the fact that 240 pennyweights weighed, at least in theory, a ‘tower pound’ of sterling silver. The English penny first appeared in Anglo-Saxon times as a silver coin, and the silver penny remained the primary unit of coinage for some 500 years.

MEDIEVAL MEMENTO: an Edward I silver penny PICTURE: Lara Maiklem

Down on the Thames foreshore, London mudlark Lara Maiklem has uncovered numerous coins and tokens spanning the centuries – like an Edward I silver penny harking back 700 years to the days of that true medieval king, famous for his feats in hunting, falconry and jousting, and best known for crusades, military conquest and extravagant living.

Another silver penny popped up last year in a farmer’s field in Wallingford, this time issued by Henry of Anjou during a time of civil war in the 12th century.

That’s why instead of there being 100 pennies in the pound there were 240: because pre-decimal money was based on multiples of twelve, as the Royal Mint Museum explains in its story of decimalisation.

Oddly enough Dominic Sandbrook in the Mail Online seems to blame the French for the decimal system, in an article entitled The day Britain lost its soul: How decimalisation signalled the demise of a proudly independent nation.

It was, he says, a “profoundly symbolic moment, marking the end of a proud history of defiant insularity and the beginning of the creeping ­Europeanisation of ­Britain’s institutions”.

The pound sterling, half-crown, shilling and sixpence were all, he insists, symbols of a country set apart, proud of its island status – and on that grey, drizzly day 40 years ago we lost “a little bit of our national soul”.

Hmm. Maybe not. But there’s undoubtedly a recognition that coins link us to the politics, rulers and religions of the past, providing a snapshot of the triumphs and aspirations of ancient kings and insights into the social history of different societies.

The Queen once recalled how Winston Churchill described the Thames to her as the “silver thread which runs through the history of Britain”, and down on the river’s mudbanks, Lara Maiklem has discovered more than her fair share of mementoes of Her Majesty’s predecessors.

TIME MACHINE: a selection of coins and tokens found by the river PICTURE: Lara Maiklem

Some were big silver coins dating from the reign of Mary I (c1557) to George V (1925). Others were of Roman or foreign origin, originating from “all over the Empire and brought to our cold, wet little island by soldiers and traders”.

In a recent Behind the Spine podcast she said: “The foreshore is the closest thing to a time machine: it is like reaching back, physically, with your hand, through the past and touching history and it’s magical.”

So much for ancient history. But if we have long forgotten how much a sceat or groat was worth, what about those coins that filled our pockets half a century ago – the tanners and florins, half-crowns, bobs and thruppenny bits?

All coins since the 17th century have featured a profile of the current monarch’s head. But did you know the direction in which they face changes with each successive monarch?

So the Queen faces to the right and her father George VI to the left. And so on, all the way back to Charles II and Cromwell. Except for a tiny glitch in 1936….

As tradition dictated, Victoria faced left, Edward VII right, George V left…which successfully takes us from 1837 to 1936.

But in 2016 a rare Edward VIII gold sovereign went on display which showed how the monarch broke with tradition – by demanding his profile faced in the “wrong” direction.

THE FACE FITS: Edward VIII is depicted facing to the left PICTURE: Royal Mint

Edward thought his left side, showing the side parting in his hair, was better than his right, which featured a solid fringe, and insisted this was used – although because of his abdication, the coins featuring his image never went into public circulation.

The Royal Mint was due to start striking the coins on 1 January, 1937, but production was stopped when the King stood down after less than a year on the throne in order to marry the American divorcee Wallis Simpson.

When the Queen’s father Bertie – formally known as George VI – came to the throne in 1936, he was portrayed facing left, the same as his father, George V – as if Edward VIII’s coins had faced right, as they should have done according to tradition.

So what of those tanners, florins and other coins? For anyone old enough to remember pre-decimal currency, here’s a mathematical poser for you. (The answer can be found here.)

It’s 1960 and a man goes into a shop to buy a treasured old book, a collector’s item which the old-fashioned shopkeeper has priced at one guinea. The man puts down a ten-bob note and rakes in his pockets for loose change. He comes up with two half-crowns, a florin, a bob, a tanner, two thruppenny bits, 11 pennies, a ha’penny and two farthings. How much more does he need to buy the book?

Mudlarking by Lara Maiklem

Picture of the week: 01/03/21

THE great thing about wildlife photography is the extent to which it immerses you in the landscape.

Capturing the perfect shot means being in just the right place at the right time – and no one knows that better than Nick Bell, whose stunning insect photographs were in the spotlight last week.

BIRD ON THE WIRE: birds silhouetted against a huge sun PICTURE: Nick Bell

This week the focus is on Nick’s bird photographs, starting with a quite extraordinary silhouette taken on one of his forays into the countryside around his Maidenhead home.

The picture was taken at dawn in Ockwells Park, part of which is a local nature reserve.

“I think of each trip out as an opportunity to relax with nature, but also as an opportunity for exercise, so I tend to walk two to four miles on every trip out,” says Nick.

MOUTHS TO FEED: a pair of young kestrels PICTURE: Nick Bell

“This means that I move through different types of habitat – eg by water or through woods – and so see different types of wildlife. Get out there early, ideally for sunrise, when there are fewer people around and the wildlife is most active.”

Although Nick is a relative newcomer to wildlife photography, he has thrown himself wholeheartedly into it since his retirement a couple of years ago and has been a prolific contributor to online nature groups like Wild Maidenhead, Wild Marlow and Wild Cookham.

EYE FOR DETAIL: Cliveden House viewed through a water drop PICTURE: Nick Bell

He has also quickly demonstrated his extraordinary eye for detail and for pictures with dramatically different perspectives, like his unusual portrait of Cliveden House in a water drop or of his own reflection in a horse’s eye.

“Look for slight movements or variations in colour, constantly,” he advises like-minded enthusiasts wanting to capture the natural world on camera.

SELF-PORTRAIT: the photographer reflected in a horse’s eye PICTURE: Nick Bell

“Look up, look down, look to both sides. Look in the distance and also look nearby. You can so easily miss a photo opportunity if you’re not constantly alert,” he says. “Don’t be disheartened if you don’t seem to be seeing much. I can walk for two miles without seeing anything. Then, there’ll suddenly be a flurry of activity.

“In time, you’ll get to know where you’re most likely to see wildlife. In these areas, move slowly and quietly. In the best areas, stand still for five or ten minutes or so. The wildlife will come to you. Always creep round corners, in case there’s something just round the other side. Have your camera ready, just in case.

FLYING HIGH: a Canada goose in transit PICTURE: Nick Bell

“When you see something, photograph it immediately, even if it’s far away. Then gradually creep closer, taking more photographs every few steps.

“Photos are more interesting if the subject is doing something. So, for example, when I photograph a robin, I wait for it to start singing before I press the shutter button. A singing robin makes a better photo than a silent one.”

VALENTINE’S DAY: a robin in the snow PICTURE: Nick Bell

It helps if your subject is prepared to pose in just the right place long enough to provide you with the perfect Valentine’s Day portrait too!

But a closer look at some of Nick’s most striking pictures shows that there always seems to be something happening to capture our attention, whether that means a bird gobbling a tasty treat or red kites swooping and tumbling against a clear blue sky.

CHILTERNS FAVOURITE: red kites at play PICTURE: Nick Bell

“Eyes are everything!” Nick is keen to emphasise. “I rarely keep a photo of any animal if I don’t have its eye clearly visible or well illuminated.

“Goldfinches can be quite a challenge, as their eyes often don’t show up well. The same goes for blackbirds and crows. Try to photograph them with their eyes in sunlight. When focusing the camera, try to focus specifically on the subject’s eye.”

THE EYES HAVE IT: a little owl perches among the branches PICTURE: Nick Bell

A zoom lens makes all the difference, he admits: “I started with a 16-300mm lens, then moved onto am 18-400mm lens, then onto a 150-600mm lens. Each lens change resulted in great improvements in my photos.

“I now use the 18-400mm lens for subjects that are close to me, like insects, and the 150-600mm lens for anything further away. 600mm lenses are heavy! I bought a dual camera harness that puts all of the weight on my shoulders, rather than on my neck. It makes carrying two big lenses (one on each side) relatively easy.”

ON SONG: a yellowhammer provides a rousing chorus PICTURE: Nick Bell

The pictures are taken in a variety of locations near Nick’s home patch in Maidenhead. He was born in Cookham, but lived in Gloucestershire and Wiltshire from 1994, until moving back to Maidenhead and taking early retirement at the age of 61.

An active marathon runner, he took up modern jive dancing in 2009. “I have been hooked on it ever since, competing in national competitions the last eight years or so,” he reveals. “I’ve been lucky enough to compete at Blackpool Tower Ballroom several times.”

KNOCK, KNOCK: a green woodpecker searches for food PICTURE: Nick Bell

In comparison, wildlife photography must seem positively sedentary, though Nick will happily roam a few miles in search of the perfect subject.

“Every day out gives me great pleasure,” he confirms. Thanks to his photographs, those are special moments we can all get a chance to share.

TASTY TREAT: a song thrush rustles up breakfast PICTURE: Nick Bell

And that is particularly valuable when such snapshots frozen in time are often hard to capture on family rambles, when our conversation may scare wildlife away, or a sudden rustle in the bushes is the only evidence that an insect, bird or tiny mammal is close at hand.

Depending on the available light, Nick will use a high aperture or fast shutter speed to freeze a movement, especially when dealing with fast-moving insects or birds like goldcrests, which never stop moving.

COLOUR CONTRASTS: starlings stand out against bright red berries PICTURE: Nick Bell

Insects and mammals feature just as frequently in his pictures, but sometimes it can be the early morning sky or the shadows in the woods at dusk that catch his eye.

“Those are the best times,” he says. “When you can stand silently, enjoying warm early morning sunshine, and being alone with nature, with no other people around.”

EARLY BIRDS: geese at sunrise PICTURE: Nick Bell

Next week: Our final selection of Nick’s pictures turns the spotlight on mammals

What’s new at the back of Beyonder?

SOME stunning new pictures have been added to the header pages of The Beyonder – thanks to the generosity of local photographers Nick Bell and Graham Parkinson.

FROZEN IN FLIGHT: a southern hawker dragonfly PICTURE: Nick Bell

The pictures form part of a carousel of around 30 images which appear as a background on the site whenever someone opens a new page.

LIGHT AND SHADE: a hot day in Homefield Wood PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Until now the images used on the site have almost all been taken by Beyonder editor Andrew Knight, supplemented with occasional free photographs shared by photographers on the Unsplash photo-sharing website and credited on the magazine’s Support Us page.

SHADOWLANDS: local woodland provides an atmospheric backdrop PICTURE: Nick Bell

Says Andrew: “We have always wanted to feature local photographs on our pages, but in the early days of the site my cheap point-and-shoot digital camera simply wasn’t good enough to produce top-quality images.

AUTUMN COLOURS: fallen leaves in Staplefurze Wood PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

“We were grateful to the photographers on Unsplash who share their work in return for a credit, but we also wanted to ensure that all our pictures are local ones and feature a cross-section of wildlife as well as landscapes.”

READY TO DROP: a bee captured over a poppy PICTURE: Nick Bell

Original Beyonder display pictures featured a range of destinations pictured through the changing seasons, from Langley and Black Park to Burnham Beeches, Cliveden, Marlow and Penn.

MORNING GLORY: rays of sunshine in Homefield Wood PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Several of the new pictures featured in the first part of a profile of Nick Bell featuring his insect pictures.

UNDER COVER: a ladybird potentially unaware of its prey PICTURE: Nick Bell

“Nick’s photographs are stunning and they help us to reflect the breadth of content on the site,” says Andrew. “Capturing fast-moving insects and birds is a very specialist skill, and it’s very exciting to be able to use images of this quality in this way.”

BIRD ON THE WIRE: birds silhouetted against a huge sun PICTURE: Nick Bell

As well as a quartet of insect photographs, other shots show sunbeams in woodland and a dramatic picture of clouds at sunrise. Additional pictures featured in a second article spotlighting Nick’s bird photographs.

MORNING GLORY: a dramatic sunrise PICTURE: Nick Bell

Other pictures taken by Graham Parkinson have featured in an article about his hobby and in local walks featuring a cross-section of his portraits of locations like Homefield Wood and Littleworth Common.

DAWN LIGHT: ominous shadows in Homefield Wood PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

“Not all pictures are suitable for these background displays because of having to be able to read type over them,” Andrew explains. “But we are looking forward to including more pictures when we can find just the right ones.”

TINY TERRORS: aphids on a rose PICTURE: Nick Bell

The random nature of the header selections means there’s no way of selecting which one will appear on any particular page – so anyone looking for a particular image may find they need to refresh the page quite a few times before it appears.

“It can be quite hard to replace images because some of the older ones have so many happy associations,” says Andrew.