Need a pet in your life? Do your homework!

Guest writer Lucy Parks always wanted to own a four-legged friend, but it was only in 2018 that Cypriot rescue dog Yella flew into the country and changed her life forever. With pet ownership still on the rise, she offers some timely advice for those yearning to own a dog of their own

THE UK’s dog and cat population has risen by around 50% since the end of 2019 and the number of lockdown puppies continues to grow as more and more people seek a flexible working arrangement and have more time to be at home with their pets. 

SPECIAL DELIVERY: Yella flew into the UK in 2018 PICTURE: Lucy Parks

For those still considering getting their first puppies, I offer a few words of wisdom based both on my own experience as a first-time dog-owner and the insight I have gained from working as a veterinary receptionist… 

RESEARCH YOUR BREED 

It’s easy to be swayed by cute puppies but it’s really important to know what you’re letting yourself in for. It’s not possible to do too much research: do think carefully about how the chosen breed will fit into your lifestyle and home environment.

How much time do you have to devote to training and walking your new pet? Yes, working cocker spaniels are adorable and, yes, they’re a fairly small dog, but they need A LOT of mental and physical stimulation. A husky or akita may appeal to your machismo, but do you have the firm hand and the time needed to train him? And are you ready for the hair shedding?

Poodle mixes are popular because they’re low-shedding but a) be sure you know what mix you’re getting or you could end up with a 30kg dog when you’re expecting a 10kg one and b) poodles are a high-energy, intelligent breed so whatever the mix, they’re going to need a lot of work… Oh, and low-shedding means an extra cost in regular visits to the groomer: that fur’s got to come off somehow.

PERFECT CHOICE: kokonis are stubborn, playful and loyal PICTURE: Lucy Parks

If you’re going the rescue route, keep an open mind and listen to the advice given by the rescue centre. When a kokoni was suggested to me as a good first dog, I did my research. They’re loyal, low maintenance, stubborn and playful. Yella has totally lived up to this and she proved to be a perfect choice. 

WHAT’S YOUR BACK-UP?

No dog-owner is an island and there will be times when you need support to just live your life, whether that’s someone taking your dog for an hour’s walk or having them overnight. I have both supportive friends and a paid dog sitter that I turn to; other friends have had great success through Borrow My Doggy.

Dog walkers and dog boarders are massively over-subscribed at the moment with the sheer volume of new pets and they can afford to be picky about who they take: a well-trained, well-socialised pooch will always win over the high-maintenance chewer! 

GET A VET

With the surge in pet owners, and the double whammy of Covid and the impact of Brexit meaning fewer EU vets available in the UK, many vets are no longer taking new clients. We’ve had people register with us from 30 miles away, just because they couldn’t find a vet closer to get their puppy’s vital first vaccinations.

SOCIAL ANIMAL: Yella adores whippets and collies PICTURE: Lucy Parks

There’s some advice to get a vet before you even get a pet, but this may not always be possible. Either way, don’t forget to find your local vet for vaccinations, socialisation and, of course, should anything go drastically wrong… 

LEAVE IT ALONE

Lockdown puppies have rarely been left on their own, which has led to a rise in separation anxiety. This can result in destructive behaviour, howling and a generally miserable dog. Get your pup used to being on its own by leaving it alone, gradually building up the amount of time each day. It may seem cruel, but it gets them used to their own company. It may be your rose-tinted dream to have a dog you can take with you everywhere, but it’s simply not feasible and, if you can’t even step into another room without your dog missing you, you’re both going to be miserable.

LET YOUR DOG BE A DOG

Many people opt for a small breed dog, simply because they’re more manageable, but there’s a danger in not allowing your dog to be a dog. Don’t carry him everywhere: he needs to walk, and sniff, and experience life from the ground.

Dogs need to socialise with other dogs. Yes, not all dogs get on – as with humans – but they need to find their own way. They’ll tell each other off if they’re not happy and, while this can be scary for owners, it’s part of their development.

As your dog gets older, you’ll get to understand them. Yella doesn’t like bouncy puppies and flat-faced dogs (and I steer her clear when possible) but she absolutely loves whippets, greyhounds and collies… it’s just her preference, which I’ve learned over time.

Lucy Parks lives in Amersham, in the glorious Chiltern Hills. A journalist by trade, Lucy left corporate life in 2018 and set up her business, Parkslife, as a freelance journalist and artist. She’s also a veterinary receptionist, allowing her to indulge in her love of animals. Click on these links to see her earlier posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part and Part 7.

Tweet of the week: 28/11/21

OUR Sunday night Twitter foray this week takes us deep under London’s streets to a maze of tunnels containing clues to the hidden history of the capital.

The @HiddenLondon account has more than 600 followers despite sending out NO tweets during the past six years.

However it does provide an introduction to tours of London’s disused stations, organised through the London Transport Museum and a Hidden London Hangouts channel on Youtube containing 75 videos exploring the city’s underground history, from Highgate to Clapham South, Wood Green to Whitechapel.

The Twitter account may not be an active one, but the Youtube channel has attracted more than 30,000 visitors since it launched in April 2020.

Real-life tours give Londoners the chance to explore some of the stations and spaces that are normally off limits to the public, uncovering the fascinating stories of London’s transport history in the company of an expert guide.

During lockdown, many of the tours have taken place on Zoom, and the Youtube podcast series features the museum’s assistant director Chris Nix teaming up with Laura Hilton Brown, Siddy Holloway and self-confessed Tube geek Alex Grundon to explore closed stations and hidden tunnels from Aldwych to Metroland.

The team use photos, videos and never-before-seen footage from the museum’s collection to explore a station or area, with tickets for guided tours going on sale at regular times through the year.

Find out more about stations that never fulfilled their intended purpose, like Highgate in North London, which was set to become a bustling interchange as part of the Northern Heights project but which now lies in a secluded vale as an urban wilderness home to protected species.

Or disappear 11 stories underground to explore Clapham South deep-level shelter, which has over a mile of subterranean passageways revealing the extraordinary stories of those who sheltered here, from Londoners seeking refuge during the Second World War, to hopeful Caribbean migrants arriving on the Empire Windrush.

Aldwych station is one of London’s secret places, holding myths and memories of times gone by. Opened to the public in 1907, it was never as heavily used as originally intended and closed nearly 100 years later in 1994.

The station has had a varied history from providing shelter to Londoners during the Blitz to being used for film and TV shoots including The ABC Murders (2018), Darkest Hour (2017), Sherlock (2014), and Atonement (2007).

Other tours explore dusty stations and deserted platforms once used by the travelling public, including at Euston station a gallery of preserved vintage advertising poster fragments that have been concealed for over 50 years.

To keep up to date with Hidden London events, sign up to a free monthly newsletter from the main London Transport Museum website.

Tweet of the week: 07/11/21

WHEN is a tweet more than a tweet? When it’s a gateway inviting us into another world.

That’s the “through the looking glass” feel you encounter in the social media feed of novelist and nature writer Melissa Harrison, the latest in our Sunday night series focusing on Twitter accounts which help to inspire and brighten people’s lives.

Journal, diary, podcast, book – Melissa is a woman of many talents, but whichever means she uses to communicate, her writing is full of humour and kindness as well as delight and wonder at the natural world.

Of course her most memorable writing is reserved for her books and newspaper columns, and she clearly has something of a love-hate relationship with social media and the “grinding daily labour of trying to compose a tweet about some minor thing X in such a way that 26 ppl don’t reply advising you how to do thing X better, informing you that thing X doesn’t reflect their own lived experience or telling you that thing X is problematic, actually”.

But she has encountered much fun and friendship on social media too, which goes some way to counterbalancing the inevitable belligerent point-scoring and mansplaining likely to be encountered by any woman brave enough to openly express an opinion about anything in the twittersphere.

The great joy about Melissa’s feed is not so much to be found in the wit and wisdom of individual tweets, but from the introduction they offer to such a powerful voice in modern nature writing.

Her social media output is prolific, with some 178,000 Tweets since her account opened in 2010. But while much of this is standard author chat about book launches and new publications, or retweets from other nature lovers, writers and commentators, the feed is a very personal one too, with welcome occasional glimpses of Suffolk country life that echo familiar themes in her newspaper columns.

Throughout all her writing, including those latest nature novels for young people, By Ash, Oak and Thorn and By Rowan and Yew, any underlying environmental messages are not trying to engender guilt or fear, but tend to extol the power of noticing and being curious, and how that just might change the world.

For those delighted by the lyricism of her third novel, All Among The Barley – a subtle and haunting tale of the realities of country life in 1930s Suffolk – her 2020 “nature journal”, A Stubborn Light of Things, might have appeared a little more down-to-earth and prosaic, chronicling her relocation from London to rural Suffolk and compiled from entries from her Nature Notebook column in The Times.

But its publication at a time of pandemic makes the diary resonate more deeply than might otherwise have been the case, since the author’s joyful engagement with the natural world coincided with many families’ deeper exploration of the beauty on their doorstep – and a dawning recognition of the need to preserve it.

The diary is also something of an almanac that benefits from close re-reading, especially for anyone discovering the quiet richness of nature with similar wide-eyed wonder.

RURAL ESCAPE: walking the dog in Suffolk PICTURE: Melissa Harrison

As a Londoner for over 20 years, moving from flat to Tube to air-conditioned office, Melissa Harrison knew what it was to be insulated from the seasons, as so many of us are, despite growing up in a Surrey commuter village where a rambling garden and the local woods and common became a playground that fuelled her love of wildlife and fascination with creepy crawlies.

But if wildlife then was something of a refuge, as she explained in a recent newspaper interview, her relationship with nature persisted. Adopting a dog and going on daily walks helped reconnect her with the natural world, and moving to a quiet farm cottage in ancient, rural Suffolk allowed her to complete her transition from townie to true country dweller, lucky enough to be able to walk out of her cottage straight into open countryside.

Inspired by that new-found freedom, she added a new string to her bow during lockdown when she discovered the joy of podcasting, eventually producing a 28-part series that attracted thousands of listeners each week.

“It saved me through lockdown as much as it helped anyone else,” she says. “I didn’t have to feel so guilty about having fields and woods that I could walk into and not see anyone and be safe when lots of people I knew were stuck in flats in cities and couldn’t get out at all.

“It’s easy to forget how frightening it was at the beginning. The only thing I wanted to do was keep people connected to nature because I knew it was going to be important.”

A year on and her children’s books are helping to fulfil her desire to get young people outdoors and connecting with nature in much the same way that she herself was inspired by the writing of British naturalist and children’s author Denys Watkins-Pitchford.

His books, she explains, “helped me understand that the lives of birds and animals are just as real and important as our own”.

She continues, writing for Caught By The River: “It’s vital that today’s children grow up into custodians of nature, so I wanted to write something that might do the same.”

Do you have any nominations for favourite Twitter accounts which brighten your life? Let us know your favourites by writing to editor@thebeyonder.co.uk.

Twins tell the long story of the Thames

GORING and Streatley are twin villages which face each other across the Thames, nestled in the gap that the river has carved between two chalk hillsides.

And it’s here that Chilterns travel blogger Mary Tebje sets off on another of her local sojourns, this time exploring the picturesque countryside around the Goring Gap.

RIVERSIDE SETTING: this stretch of the Thames boasts spectacular views PICTURE: Mary Tebje

As glorious views go, the backdrop of the two villages clustered around the Goring weir is the stuff of jigsaws and chocolate boxes, and the perfect starting point for a ramble around a stretch of the Oxfordshire-Berkshire border which is sandwiched between two areas of outstanding natural beauty.

Mary explores the long history of the villages and how the river, along with turnpikes and railways, shaped their fortunes.

Whether by boat, foot or on horseback, it’s not hard to imagine the bustle of the boats, soldiers and drovers who once converged on this lovely spot, and even today the Thames Path, Ridgeway or Icknield Way can tempt visitors onto trails which have been trodden for centuries.

Famous faces associated with the area range from Oscar Wilde to Sir Arthur (Bomber) Harris, and George Michael fans still make a pilgrimage to leave flowers and light candles near his former home.

The article is one of the many 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 her adventures here.

Tweet of the week: 17/10/21

IT’S A small world, it seems.

Given that the whole thrust of our Tweet of the Week series has been to explore the positive benefits of social media, it seemed appropriate that our (belated) choice this week should be nominated by a follower we only know online.

Autumn Showers by @itsnotaboutwork

And yet Wendy Tobitt, who responded to our Sunday night Twitter challenge to nominate inspiring and uplifting social media accounts by suggesting the artist @itsnotaboutwork, is not a total “stranger”, it turns out.

Her nominated Twitter account is a self-confessed “incessant doodler” from the East Midlands whose drawings have been delighting followers for the past 10 years.

Lie back and stay cool by @itsnotaboutwork

“I love his random and usually joyous cartoons. A grasshopper in a waistcoat, for instance,” says Wendy, a Thames Path National Trail volunteer better known to us online as @12beesbuzzing.

She is clearly not alone – with almost 10,000 followers on Twitter and a healthy Instagram feed too, @itsnotaboutwork is a nature lover whose irreverent drawings have a broad appeal.

Autumn Toad by @itsnotaboutwork

Hedgehogs, newts and sparrows rub shoulders with tortoises, frogs and snails, all drawn with an irrepressible sense of fun. And cheeky jackdaws are a particular favourite.

Fun with a feather by @itsnotaboutwork

The birds come in all shapes and sizes, sometimes wearing hats and scarves, often playing among the leaves or having slightly surreal adventures, but always raising a smile.

Our doodling addict admits a certain fondness for autumn, as well as jackdaws, but the account includes few personal details otherwise, despite the regularity of the tweets, and the collection of more than 500 drawings on Instagram.

Worm that glows by @itsnotaboutwork

Not that it matters: the drawings speak for themselves, as Wendy points out. And this is someone who should know. Wendy, it transpires, is a friend of local artist Anna Dillon and landscape photorapher Hedley Thorne, and the cousin of artist Tim Baynes, formerly from Beaconsfield but now living and drawing in West Wales.

Not so much a stranger then, just a friend we haven’t yet met…

Do you have a favourite Twitter account which brightens your life? Let us know by writing to editor@thebeyonder.co.uk and we’ll see if they should feature in our Sunday night series.

Tweet of the week: 10/10/21

YOU don’t have to be an artist to keep a nature journal, but it’s always a delight to see a professional at work.

In her Drawn Into Nature blog, Bristol artist Jules Woolford explains how her love for the natural world led her to a career helping people to engage with nature and wildlife. And her @DrawnIntoNature Twitter account echoes that fascination.

ENGAGING WITH NATURE: Jules Woolford at work

“When I discovered the world of journaling, it was a natural progression to begin keeping a traditional nature journal, like my idols Edith Holden and Beatrix Potter,” she says.

Her beautifully illustrated journal is a personal, creative response to the natural world in which she shares stories of the flora and wildlife she encounters. But it’s more than that too, as we revealed in a feature earlier this year.

ON A MISSION: Jules encourages everyone to keep a nature journal

“My mission is to encourage as many people as possible to join me in creating their own journal,” she says. “I’m passionate about showing people the wonder of the natural world, literally ‘on the doorstep’. Gardens, local parks and green spaces, even roadside verges.

“You don’t have to live in an idyllic rural setting to engage with nature; part of my journaling patch is an ex-landfill site! My garden isn’t grand or landscaped, but it’s a wildlife friendly habitat full of native plants. We have a regular procession of daily visitors who keep us entertained….”

ATTENTION TO DETAIL: keeping a journal helps to fine-tune observation skills

And she is adamant that the life-changing benefits are not dependent on someone being a talented artist. “The good news is that it doesn’t matter,” she insists. “Improving your drawing comes over time, and keeping a journal is the ideal way to practise your skills.

“Looking deeply at nature helps you fine-tune your observation, and that helps you develop your drawing skills.”

Her blog came about through wanting to connect with others like herself who were interested in discovering the wonders of engaging more fully with the world around them.

She says: “Our lives are filled with noise, busy work, and negative stress. I’m on a journey to slow down and simplify; concentrate on experiences rather than things, try to worry less, be more grateful, and kind.

“Sometimes I take two (or three) steps backwards, but I keep going. Through my journals, I try to be an advocate for nature, caring for the planet and the life within it. I’m fascinated by the stories we’ve created about the natural world, and I love sharing these little tales from history, folklore and fable.”

TELLING TALES: Jules mixes stories from history, folklore and fable

If her mission sounds inspiring, take a moment to enjoy those wonderful pictures: in her occasional newsletters, Jules is frank about the fact that life can be an uphill struggle at times.

“I’ve been a bit lost with Notes from Nature in 2021,” she told her followers. “Life’s overtaken me, and I know from your kind messages and comments that many of you have felt the same this year.

“It’s been the kindness of friends and  the lovely folk who follow me online which has kept me going, so a huge thank you to you all.

UPHILL STRUGGLE: 2021 has posed unusual challenges for many

Back among the chittering grey squirrels scurrying to raid the hazel trees and cache their winter stores, Jules is only too well aware that this is the real world, where it is only too easy to overlook the important stuff: the autumn songs of blackbird and robin, the hedgerows decked in their autumn finery of deep red rose hips, crimson hawthorn and purple sloes.

She writes of her delight that a wonderful ‘ lost’ apple orchard on her patch has been brought back to life, full of old varieties with wonderful names such as Merton Charm, King of the Pippins, Gascoigne’s Scarlet, and Ashmeads Kernel.

But she’s conscious too that time spent on social media can be problematic, even when it brings so many positive benefits too.

AUTUMN SONG: portraits of some welcome garden visitors

“I learn something with every post I write and every drawing I do. That’s pretty amazing when you think about it,” she says.

“It’s easy to feel guilty, and forget about self-care when you seem to have so many responsibilities. I even begin to worry when I don’t post online – so this year I’ve tried to spend even spend more time than normal just being in nature; simply because that is the most important issue for me.

“I’ve not made as many journal pages as last year – but it’s fine.”

Do you have any nominations for favourite Twitter accounts which brighten your life? Let us know your favourites by writing to editor@thebeyonder.co.uk and we’ll see if they should be featured in our Sunday night series.

Tweet of the week: 03/10/21

SUNDAY night is the perfect time for a moment of quiet reflection about the week past and the week to come.

But if you like to start each day with a similarly peaceful few minutes of contemplation, one unlikely social media feed is worthy of a much wider audience.

SISTERS IN FAITH: Martha and Mary Magdalene by Caravaggio © Detroit Institute of Arts

@ChristianArtTod is the Twitter feed of art expert and seminarian Patrick van der Vorst, a Belgian-born auctioneer and industry expert who 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.

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.

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

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.

From Old Masters to street artists, the website features an extraordinary range of artworks spanning the centuries, allowing visitors to consider the daily gospel reading from a fresh perspective.

Characteristically, this takes the form of a mini-homily where Patrick’s expertise helps him to forge a better understanding of both the art work and the Bible story it might illustrate – and while his Twitter followers get a link to the website, subscribers get the daily reading delivered straight to their email inbox at 6am every day.

If the 200+ Twitter following sounds modest, the website claims to be sending out 800,000 emails a month, so the offering is not as low-key as it may first appear.

*In November 2021, the website posted Patrick’s is 1,000th Christian Art reflection spread over three years and boasted 26,516 daily subscribers. 

The time has come now to launch a new, updated version of our website. Over the past few months we have been working on redesigning the website and laying the foundation for more features that we may want to roll out in the future. Our new platform will launch soon, so stay tuned!

In case you missed them, here are some other favourite “Tweets of the week”:

@TheBeyonderUK: Our Chilterns online magazine may be small, but we do aim to brighten our followers’ week with features, interviews and interesting places to explore on our doorstep.

@A_AMilne: With 73,500 followers, this celebration of the wit and wisdom of the much-loved author and playwright taps into the timeless appeal of Pooh and his friends in Hundred Acre Wood.

@woolismybread: Solitude, sheep and collie dogs in the company of Yorkshire shepherdess Alison O’Neill, whose 38,000 followers appreciate her straight talking and love of life’s simple pleasures.

@fenifur: Dartmoor wanderings with “Sea Witch” Jenny, a pink-haired thirtysomething with a love of nature and the sea, as well as a fascination with foraging and wild swimming.

@HenryRothwell, whose morning and evening tweets pay tribute to artists like Eric Ravilious, and celebrate some stunning English landscapes.

@BooksAlbans and a string of other local independent bookshops whose tweets, podcasts, signings and author interviews delight book-lovers across the Chilterns.

Do you have any nominations for favourite Twitter accounts which brighten your life? Let us know your favourites by writing to editor@thebeyonder.co.uk and we’ll see if they should be featured in our Sunday night series.

Balmy month bows out with a bluster

SUDDENLY, it’s easy to forget that September heatwave that saw temperatures soaring around the country.

Overnight, it seems, there’s a chill in the air and blustery showers are setting the autumnal mood.

It’s the time of year we dust off our warmer coats and cardies, bemoan the loss of those long summer evenings and slowly begin to adjust to the idea that autumn is definitely upon us.

SIGN OF THE TIMES: following a footpath outside Amersham PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

Days have been shortening since the summer solstice but it’s now that we start muttering about the nights drawing in and winter being around the corner.

The children have settled into the new school year after the long holidays, universities are reopening their doors and dramatic skies are warning us of more changeable weather to come.

CHILL IN THE AIR: sunset over Chesham PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

The colour palette is subtly changing too, the greens gradually giving way to golds, russets and browns. Deep in the woods, it’s conker season for pupils wandering home from school and foragers are out looking for mushrooms, berries and other edible delicacies.

SHARP CONTRAST: thistles on the Misbourne PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

Not that that’s such a great idea for the uninitiated: start nibbling the fly agaric, destroying angel, death cap or white bryony and you could face vomiting and diarrhoea, stomach cramps, hallucinations and even death.

NATURAL PATTERNS: a study in textures PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

Although we have basked in some balmy weather this September – the month was the second-warmest on record in the UK and the warmest ever in Northern Ireland – it doesn’t take us long to forget those temperatures once the chillier nights set in, especially as we face soaring fuel bills and long waits at the petrol pumps if we can find a garage actually open.

WIND OF CHANGE: Pitstone Windmill PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

But aside from the moans and groans about fuel prices and petrol shortages, September was a spectacular month for getting out and about, especially now that so many local destinations have emerged from lockdown restrictions.

FRESH HORIZONS: the view from Pitstone Windmill PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

September is the month when thousands of volunteers across England organise events to celebrate the country’s history and culture for the Heritage Open Days Festival, opening hidden places to the public in thousands of events spread over 10 days.

For art lovers it’s the month of the Herts Open Studios event too, although this year there are more online galleries to view than ever before, and a chance to catch up with artists you may have missed from similar events in Bucks and Oxfordshire earlier in the year.

EVENING LIGHT: the sun casts a warm glow over farmland PICTURE: Sarah How

This Sunday is harvest festival time too, a thanksgiving ritual dating from pagan times and traditionally held on the Sunday nearest the Harvest Moon, the full moon closest to the autumn equinox.

As we mentioned last year, in days gone by the festival was a matter of life and death that would involve the whole community working together, including children. A prosperous harvest that would allow a community to be fed throughout the potentially barren winter months would be cause for much celebration.

LAND OF PLENTY: harvest was once a matter of life or death PICTURE: Sarah How

As an occasion steeped in superstition, it’s no surprise that so many ancient customs and folklore pre-date Christianity but still reflect the importance of crop gathering and the reverence in which the harvest was held.

Meanwhile it’s still getting light early enough to be woken by the reassuring honking of geese flying past in perfect formation – just one of some 4,000 species of birds around the world migrating in search of milder weather and more plentiful food.

NIGHT OWL: a little owl silhouetted against the moon PICTURE: Steve Gozdz

The geese aren’t the only ones of the wing. The skies are hectic with criss-crossing migrants and down at the local gravel pit the numbers of gulls and cormorants will be building.

Bats and owls are busy too, while baby birds like tits, robins, blackbirds and starlings are beginning to look a lot less scruffy as autumn approaches.

SHOWER TIME: baby blue tits get spruced up PICTURE: Nick Bell

Baby squirrels are dicing with death on the back roads, ants and hornets are busy building their nests in the woods, while the baby moorhens are skittering around on their lily pad rafts.

RICH PICKINGS: hedgerows are bursting with berries PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

Hedgerows, shrubs and trees are bursting with berries, fruits and nuts, providing a welcome feast for birds and small mammals and a welcome splash of colour in the woods.

INNOCENT LOOK: squirrels can appear disarming PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Some babies are still being looked after carefully by doting parents, while others are getting their first taste of independence ahead of the harder winter months.

MUM’S THE WORD: mother and fawn enjoy a family moment PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

Fungi are springing up on dead trees and fallen branches to the woodland floor and spiders are out in force, spinning their elaborate webs, intricate patterns glistening in the morning dew.

Some dragonflies are still on the wing too for those photographers with the patience, stealth and a zoom or macro lens for close-up shots.

ON THE WING: a migrant hawker dragonfly PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

But as September moves into October it’s the changing colours of our deciduous trees that provide one of the big natural spectacles of the year.

Coupled with the bright red flashes of the berries and fungi, the glow of those dramatic sunsets and the spectacular hues of our birds and insects, it’s the perfect time to venture back into the woods and soak up some of that autumnal sunshine before winter really takes a grip.

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 October, contact editor@thebeyonder.co.uk on email or via our Facebook group page.

Tweet of the week: 26/09/21

IT’S not a single Twitter account that’s in the spotlight this week, but a small supportive group of independent booksellers doing their bit to brighten the lives of avid readers across the Chilterns.

Books on the Hill in St Albans encourages younger readers

Booksellers have faced a rollercoaster ride over the past 18 months, but there’s no hiding their delight at seeing eager customers browsing the shelves again.

From Wallingford to St Albans, Thame to Tring, small shops across the region did their bit to boost people’s spirits during the long weeks of lockdown.

And they were only too keen to welcome the explosion of interest that marked their reopening last June, with almost four million books being sold in the first six days.

The Wallingford Bookshop boasts a lively Twitter feed

After so long having to rely on online or click-and-collect services, retailers were clearly relishing the chance to meet customers face to face again, in spite of all the social distancing and hand sanitising.

Chilterns Bookshops has outlets in Gerrards Cross and Chorleywood

While the amount of time people spent reading books almost doubled during lockdown, much of that custom was picked up by online retailing giant Amazon.

But independent bookshops have been flourishing in recent years and many took to Twitter to maintain that daily contact with customers during the darkest days of lockdown, including newcomers like Our Bookshop in Tring and Books On The Hill in St Albans.

The Tring bookshop opened in September 2019, initially as a way of supporting the town’s book festival in November, but becoming a permanent fixture, complete with online author interviews and even its own Youtube channel.

Our Bookshop in Tring hosts book launches and has its own Youtube channel

With more than 2,000 followers already on Twitter, the bookshop is also home to the Tring Comedy Festival and the town’s comedy club.

Another new arrival on the local bookshop scene is Books On The Hill in St Albans, a family-run shop which opened its doors in November 2019 with the dream of creating a “warm and inviting, old-fashioned bookshop” which would provide a haven for busy lives and a meeting place for readers, writers, poets, talkers, speakers, thinkers and dreamers. 

Books On The Hill in St Albans aims to create a warm and inviting atmosphere

Antonia Mason, who runs the shop with her mum, Clare Barrow, and saw the shop plunged into lockdown just months after opening, said they had been “overwhelmed with our community’s kind words and support”.

Antonia’s tweets have quickly won her more than 1,000 followers online, and the shop also hosts podcasts of author interviews, as well as recommendations and reviews.

Another local bookshop with a lively Twitter presence is Wallingford Bookshop, which has been active on social media since 2011 and boasts more than 6,800 followers.

First opened by Mary Ingrams in 1983 and now owned by Ali Jinks, the shop is an integral part of the the local community, with more than 6,000 books in stock and a website which claims: “The only thing we love more than helping you to find your perfect book is a challenge.

“So whether you’ve forgotten the name of a book, an author or both come and test us – we’ll do our darnedest to find the book for you!”

Staff at The Wallingford Bookshop relish a challenge

When bookshops reopened last year, books worth £33m were sold in England in the week to June 20, the best performance for that week of the year since the release of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix back in 2003.

The Booksellers Association’s managing director Meryl Halls described the increase as “heartening” and predicted bookshops would roar back once the coronavirus pandemic had passed.

The Book House in Thame dates from 1973

Speaker in a live Twitter chat hosted by The Bookseller, she said: “Book lovers will return from this crisis hungry for human connection, desperate for conversation, stimulation, inspiration. Booksellers will be there, arms open.”

Another Oxfordshire bookshop with a long history is The Book House in Thame, which dates from 1973 and is active on both Twitter and Facebook.

The bookshop was even mentioned by author Claire Fuller in a Penguin Books feature celebrating independent bookshops.

She recalled: “I lived in Thame when I was teenager, and The Book House (or The Red House Bookshop as it was called then) was a favourite place to visit. For many years in a row, I won the art prize at school, and the prize was a book token. I can still remember the shop’s newly printed books smell, the little corners to sit in (it is a beautifully higgledy-piggledy bookshop), and the amazing crazy fact that any of the books on any of the shelves could be mine.”

Outside seating at The Book House in Thame

The shop even boasts a small outside area where browsers can sit on a summer’s day.

Meryl Halls spoke of the profound emotional attachment which readers have for their local bookshops. Speaking about the impact of the pandemic, she responded: “We will return from this with a new appreciation for each other, for human endeavour, for writing, for community. There will be lots of hugging. Lots of tears. Some wine. Many parties.”

Back in April on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme Waterstones managing director James Daunt echoed Halls’ assertion about the importance of books and bookshops.

He said: “Books are important, they help people isolate, they help mental wellbeing and we are in fact experiencing huge numbers of sales, particularly of children’s books and educational books.”

The Marlow Bookshop

Since then bookshops around the country have shared their delight that “lovely customers” have come back in their droves, despite initial concerns about reduced opening hours, social distancing challenges.

In the meantime, many of them have also learned how to use social media to great effect, adding podcasts, author interviews and online shopping to the delight of actually being able to sit in the corner of a bookshop and turn the pages of a freshly published volume.

In case you missed them, here are some other favourite “Tweets of the week”:

@TheBeyonderUK: Our Chilterns online magazine may be small, but we do aim to brighten our followers’ week with features, interviews and interesting places to explore on our doorstep.

@A_AMilne: With 73,500 followers, this celebration of the wit and wisdom of the much-loved author and playwright taps into the timeless appeal of Pooh and his friends in Hundred Acre Wood.

@woolismybread: Solitude, sheep and collie dogs in the company of Yorkshire shepherdess Alison O’Neill, whose 38,000 followers appreciate her straight talking and love of life’s simple pleasures.

@fenifur: Dartmoor wanderings with “Sea Witch” Jenny, a pink-haired thirtysomething with a love of nature and the sea, as well as a fascination with foraging and wild swimming.

@HenryRothwell, whose morning and evening tweets pay tribute to artists like Eric Ravilious, and celebrate some stunning English landscapes.

Do you have any nominations for favourite Twitter accounts which brighten your life? Let us know your favourites by writing to editor@thebeyonder.co.uk and we’ll see if they should be featured in our Sunday night series.

Tweet of the week: 19/09/21

OUR Sunday night social media reflection this week plunges us into the art world, and particularly landscapes from the 1930s and 1940s.

Our host is @HenryRothwell, whose morning and evening tweets pay tribute to artists like Eric Ravilious, transporting us to that unsettling period between the wars when the outstanding British painter and designer, best known for his watercolours of the South Downs, was at the height of his creative powers.

Chalk Paths by Eric Ravilious, watercolour on paper, 1935

Rothwell’s favourite featured artists include John and Paul Nash, Stanley Spencer and George Clausen, but range from 19th-century works to contemporary artists like Anna Dillon, whose ongoing Wessex Airscapes exhibition at the Sewell Centre Gallery highlights her collaboration with aerial photographer Hedley Thorne based on their shared passion for the landscapes of Oxfordshire and Berkshire. 

The Dryers by Anna Dillon from her Wessex Airscapes exhibition at Radley College

Rothwell’s own Twitter identity is slightly cryptic, but the “recovering” archaeologist is based near Wells in Somerset and has a particular interest in using digital media in the presentation of archaeology, spending much of his time developing a digital map of the hillforts of Britain.

But it is his fascination with art which has won him more than 30,000 followers on Twitter over the past decade and which translated into a small family business in February 2021, when Rather Good Art was launched, offering postcards and greetings cards based on the work of those favourite artists.

From small beginnings the number of cards on offer is steadily increasing, with the range of featured artists now extending to Van Gogh and Klimt.

Piquet Hill by David Alderslade, watercolour and gouache

Back on his Twitter feed, Rothwell’s enthusiasm for English landscapes allows him to sweep around the country, from Norfolk to Cornwall, from Kent to the south-west of England, perhaps pausing for a moment to study a favourite work by the contemporary artist David Alderslade, for example, based in his caravan on the edge of Salisbury Plain.

He does stray further afield on occasion, to Scotland, France or even Canada, and to coast and city scenes too, but his roots are firmly in the English landscapes of Ravilious, Nash and contemporaries like Claughton Pellew.

The Train by Claughton Pellew, 1920

Away from social media, Rothwell reveals yet another range of interests on his Notes for the Curious website which, alongside book reviews and occasional essays, features a score of Grave Goods interviews with a range of writers, historians, musicians, comedians and others deciding which items they might like to accompany them to the afterlife on their final “great adventure”.

Highlights include interviews with mudlark Lara Maiklem, comedian Isy Suttie and nature writer Melissa Harrison.

Like our other Tweet of the Week selections, Henry Rothwell is able to lift our spirits and transport us into a different dimension – and who can ask for anything more from their social media friends?

In case you missed them, here are some other favourites:

@TheBeyonderUK: Our Chilterns online magazine may be small, but we do aim to brighten our followers’ week with features, interviews and interesting places to explore on our doorstep.

@A_AMilne: With 73,500 followers, this celebration of the wit and wisdom of the much-loved author and playwright taps into the timeless appeal of Pooh and his friends in Hundred Acre Wood.

@woolismybread: Solitude, sheep and collie dogs in the company of Yorkshire shepherdess Alison O’Neill, whose 38,000 followers appreciate her straight talking and love of life’s simple pleasures.

@fenifur: Dartmoor wanderings with “Sea Witch” Jenny, a pink-haired thirtysomething with a love of nature and the sea, as well as a fascination with foraging and wild swimming.

Do you have any nominations for favourite Twitter accounts which brighten your life? Let us know your favourites by writing to editor@thebeyonder.co.uk and we’ll see if they should be featured in our Sunday night series.

Tweet of the week: 12/09/21

AFTER last week’s trip to the Westmoreland fells, this week’s social media feed finds us at the opposite end of the country, exploring the wilds of Dartmoor.

And in the same way that shepherdess Alison O’Neill’s @woolismybread account offers followers a welcome escape from the pressures of city life, our social media host this week is equally rooted in the great outdoors.

Sea Witch is the Twitter monicker of @fenifur or Jenny, a pink-haired thirtysomething with a love of nature and the sea, as well as a fascination with foraging and wild swimming.

An able writer and photographer, she launched a modest blog in 2018 dedicated to encouraging people to make the most of nature – without feeling under any pressure to document it beautifully or do something unusual in order to really be experiencing it. 

“I spent the first half of my life almost permanently submerged in the sea or out on long walks on the South Downs, but even then I recently began to feel anxious that I wasn’t doing nature ‘right’,” she writes.

“I can only imagine how unsure some people who have grown up in urban places who have not had access to wild spaces for one reason or another may feel. Perhaps especially so when we are told that nature will ease our anxieties, yet taking part seems to involve additional uncertainties and planning.”

As somebody with ADHD, insomnia and chronic pain from hEDS and autoimmune conditions, Jenny understands that getting to grips with the natural world may not always be as easy as it sounds.

Yes, we know it can be beneficial for our mental health and how gardening or rambling can alleviate depression or anxiety. But what if you have a chronic pain condition that doesn’t mix with the bending and kneeling of gardening, or find it stressful trying to keep several things alive, or can’t afford compost and seeds?

If growing up in the south coast cathedral city of Chichester gave Jenny a lifelong love of the sea, it’s Dartmoor which has in recent years provided her and partner Pat with a place of respite and relaxation, as well as exploration and discovery.

When a serious illness left her with post-viral fatigue, exacerbating her joint pain and autoimmune problems, exploring the moor seemed to provide the perfect challenge to help her regain her strength, using John Hayward’s classic 1991 book Dartmoor 365 as an inspiration.

His book highlighted interesting features to be found in each of the 365 square miles of the park, prompting Jenny to follow in his footsteps, using a separate @DartmoorSquares account and her Instagram feed, @jennynaturewriter to build a photographic map of her walks.

“I put a pause on this during lockdown because Dartmoor was really suffering with an excess of visitors and it didn’t seem right to post walks to some of the less well trodden places,” she says. “Hopefully my posts will encourage people to appreciate and enjoy Dartmoor respectfully.”

Jenny’s explorations are about the simple pleasures in life, from picnics and river swims to foraging for mushrooms, elderberries, sloes or wild raspberries, following deer paths, watching the ponies or soaking up the last rays of a particularly spectacular sunset.

Her rambles also immerse her – and us – in the history of the place, and allow us to savour those discoveries too, from the abandoned villages and tin mines to remote “letterboxes” where visitors can still leave a calling card to show they have found the spot.

Back in Victorian times no one was better known to visitors to the district than James Perrott of Chagford, who for more than half a century acted as guide to tourists wanting to explore the wild landscape, and became known as the “father of letterboxing” – after setting up a cairn and bottle for calling cards at Cranmere Pool in 1854.

Here, luminaries of the day like Charles Dickens could leave proof that they had accompanied Perrott on the arduous 16-mile round trip from Chagford, and it remains one of two permanent letterboxes on the moor, though hundreds of others exist, hidden from view from all but the most determined explorers.

Those weekend “route marches” across the South Downs as a teenager may have given her a certain level of confidence about going out alone into spaces away from towns as she got older, but chronic joint pain and a year almost bed-bound with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome means she has a particular understanding of those who find such feats difficult or impossible.

Her six-part blog is a work in progress but provides a lively introduction to walking, wild swimming and foraging, with the promise of more posts to follow.

Her @DartmoorSquares and Instagram feed provide a pictorial record of rambles around bogs, tors, and ancient settlements, capturing some fascinating places of interest along the way, like Crockern Tor, where the ‘Great Parliament of the Tinners’ would meet from the early 14th century to legislate in relation to stannary law, regarding tin-mining.

But immersed as it is in the wonders of nature, there’s nothing cutesy about her personal Twitter account, which sometimes feels as wild and untamed as the landscape she loves so much.

“I would LIKE my Twitter feed to be a way for people to learn more about nature and the environment in general, Dartmoor, history, walking, maybe a place to inspire people to go out exploring,” she says. “However it is also my personal account so this can turn into vents now and then! Everyone who has met me in person knows that I rarely take myself seriously, though my humour is very dry and that doesn’t always come across online.”

Perhaps it’s the intensely personal nature of the account which makes it so appealing to her 2,800 followers. She has certainly proved to be no fair-weather friend, with more than 54,000 tweets since her account was launched in 2010 maintaining an almost daily presence, many clearly posts shaped by her health issues and her decision after a few years working in wildlife charity and university admin to retrain as a medical herbalist.

“Without trying to sound dramatic, Dartmoor literally saved my life,” she says. “I got sick all the way back in 2016. I’d been in hospital with liver adenomas and heart issues, and had been given four types of intravenous antibiotics, so my system was defenceless when I got a norovirus a week later.

“I had to go to part time, sleeping in my lunch break on working days. I had an eight-month wait to see a specialist, so spent that time researching on my own. I was eventually diagnosed with various things which the PVFS had exacerbated. Before the specialist I’d been seeing my GP who didn’t ‘believe in’ PVFS though, so I spent a lot of time worried I was dying with some kind of rare disease.”

Depressed and ill, daily visits to Dunsford nature reserve provided a change of scenery, but did not offer a linear recovery. “Some days I could only manage a mile, and that could take me two hours,” she recalls. But one day she made it the two miles to a meadow which was full of meadowsweet, a plant used by medical herbalists to treat stomach issues.

“I couldn’t tolerate omeprazole or ibuprofen and was desperate not to be on codeine or tramadol, so I tried meadowsweet tea twice a day and it changed everything! Suddenly I could eat without searing pain every time, it was the glimmer of hope I needed.”

More years of ups and downs were to follow, but the Dartmoor walking challenges would help immensely. “Having a challenge to complete helped motivate me to get up when it felt like the last thing my body wanted, and I had the privilege at the time of having savings in the bank to live on, which meant I could just do temp work and volunteering when I was able for a whole year,” she recalls.

That’s when she chose to qualify as a medical herbalist – although taking that leap in the dark with another two years to qualify has brought its own anxious moments.

“With 150 clinic hours under my belt I’m qualified to treat ‘self-limiting’ conditions under my own insurance, and any patient with supervision in my course’s clinic,” she says. “It’s evidence-based plant medicine, and for me the gentle, holistic approach is much more friendly towards bodies and systems that are in distress and attacking themselves.

“It’s my aim to help people with chronic illness live with less pain and if possible get back some if not all of their physical health (and therefore improving mental health).

“I live every day in pain and I have to watch out for flare-ups, but without Dartmoor and the plants I found there to help my body heal, I don’t know what would have happened to me.”

It’s doubtless that searing honesty, as well as her compassion, wit and irreverence, which makes Jenny a welcoming online presence.

In the same way that we know how much she hates drones, waste and noisy neighbours, we can also relate to those flashes of impatience over family expectations, gaslighting by doctors and her ferocious reaction to injustice or unfairness.

“Dartmoor saved my life” could be her mantra – and long may she continue tramping through the bogs, streams and prehistoric sites that make her beloved moor such a place of discovery and adventure.

Thanks to Jenny for permission to reuse pictures from her Twitter feed.

Do you have any nominations for favourite Twitter accounts which brighten your life? Let us know your favourites by writing to editor@thebeyonder.co.uk and we’ll see if they should be featured in our Sunday night series.

Rich pickings signal the end of summer

AUGUST is a time of plenty, when gardens are in full bloom and the combines are rolling across nearby farmland.

FRIENDLY FACES: sunflowers put on a show near Aylesbury PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

Ironically, Britain’s farmers may have an unlikely source to thank for thousands of us watching those crops being harvested with a new and more knowledgable eye this year.

For amid all the mysterious talk about spring beans, oilseed rape and winter wheats, moisture content and disappointing yields, it seems that the belligerent “petrolhead” Jeremy Clarkson was responsible for introducing a new generation of TV viewers to the trials and tribulations of farming life.

FARMING LIFE: harvest time at Amersham PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

The success of Clarkson’s Farm offered some unexpectedly revealing insights as our Jeremy took personal charge of the management of the 1,000-acre Cotswolds farm near Chipping Norton that he bought back in 2008.

And amid all the hapless bumbling and frustrated swearing at the continual setbacks, we were treated to a warm-hearted gem of a series that potentially taught us more about farming than any other agricultural programme on the box.

WINTER FEED: hay bales outside Amersham PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

Farmers are a notoriously tough audience, but many were won over by the TV star’s hard-hitting commentary about bureaucracy, pricing policies, Brexit challenges and bad weather.

“I think the show is absolutely brilliant,” Redditch-based farmer George Beach told Birmingham Live. “Clarkson isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but everyone seems to agree about what he’s done.”

Even Sutherland hill farmer Joyce Campbell, who proved such a popular character on BBC2’s This Farming Life that even her collies get fan mail, tweeted: “I love @JeremyClarkson on his farming. The best TV ever.”

SUNNY SIDE UP: a sunflower crop near Aylesbury PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

From cultivation to harvest, misty dawn starts to exhausted night shifts, this was Clarkson as we have never seen him before, in a world where failures have real emotional and financial consequences.

The whole experience also gave him a new respect for farmers, he confessed. He told monthly magazine Farmers Guide: “I get annoyed with what people think about farming. It’s either the huge barns in Texas where they brutally grow pigs or cows, or Kate Humble with a freshly scrubbed baby lamb on a clean bed of hay. Farming is somewhere in between.

A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT: overlooking the Misbourne PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

“Farmers are trying to fill the supermarket shelves with cheap good food, and at the same time look after the countryside. Every one of them I talk to is responsible and doing this all the time, despite what is going on with Covid, Brexit or idiotic political decisions.

“We should give farmers a lot more respect. We’re all eating what they produced.”

SPLASH OF COLOUR: heather in bloom on Stoke Common PICTURE: Andrew Knight

Away from the arable farms, it’s been a colourful month on local heathland like that at Stoke Common, where the heather and gorse are at their finest.

Pockets of heathland like this provide a marked contrast to the large ploughed fields of the scarp foothills where medieval open fields were divided into regular parcels through the process of enclosure. From the 1750s onwards, enclosure by parliamentary Act became the norm, affecting more than a fifth of the total land area of England by the First World War.

EVENING LIGHT: a Chesham sunset PICTURE: Leigh Richardson

The majority of Chilterns crops are cereal crops like wheat and barley, used in a variety of foodstuffs from bread, cakes and biscuits to beer and whisky. One of the most familiar crops is oilseed rape, with its distinctive yellow flowers and pungent aroma, the rapeseed being crushed and the oil used for cooking or food processing, or as an industrial lubricant.

But you can also find peas and beans, alternative crops such as linseed, borage and poppies, and of course thousands of cattle, sheep and pigs, not to mention the occasional less familiar livestock like red deer, emus or alpacas.

POLLEN COUNT: a bee gets busy PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

Parts of the Chilterns have a long history of orchards, particularly those growing cherries, while there are also several vineyards producing quality wines – and while the arable farmers are busy with haymaking and silage collection, insects, birds and baby mammals are abundant too, the annual wildlife population at its highest this month, even if the birds are too busy moulting to make much noise.

DISTINCTIVE CALL: the green woodpecker or “yaffle” PICTURE: Graham Parksinon

Lambs born in the spring are back out in the fields, reptiles can be spotted basking the sun and baby squirrels are beginning to put on weight and bully the young birds at garden feeders.

But according to meteorologists, August 31 marks the end of summer, and although it’s too early for the real golds, reds and browns of autumn, there’s a definitely chill in the morning and evening air that hints at the start of a new season, even if we are hoping there are plenty of sultry September days still to enjoy.

COLOURFUL CHARACTER: an Egyptian goose PICTURE: Graham Parksinon

September is a big month for bird migration, with the British Isles a crossroads for millions of arrivals and departures, but the first to head south are already on the move in August.

ON THE WING: a swallow skimming over the river PICTURE: Graham Parksinon

Swallows, house martins and swifts are all migratory birds that winter in Africa. Swallows and house martin arrive back in the UK in late March to early April and leave again in September to October, but the swifts are first to leave, and young swallows and house martins are honing their flying skills and enjoying the abundance of insects before joining the exodus.

Fruits, berries and nuts are plentiful, the game season is under way for meat eaters and the list of vegetables in season is quite overwhelming, from beetroot and broccoli to parsnips, peas and peppers.

TOUCHDOWN: Canada geese coming in to land PICTURE: Nick Bell

Home-grown herbs are also in plentiful supply, and from bilberries and crapapples to wild damsons and mushrooms, there’s plenty to keep foraging enthusiasts busy too, as well as ensuring a fertile feast for many species of birds, eager to gorge on berries before their long migration and helping plants propagate in the process.

Across the Chilterns, it still feels as if summer is with us, with warmer temperatures marking the opening weeks of September. But this is a time when the leaves are beginning to dry out on plants and trees, flowers are fading and days are becoming shorter.

Whisper it quietly, but autumn is sneaking quietly in. We haven’t had the dramatic drop in temperature yet, or the growing awareness that the leaves are beginning, ever so gradually, to change colour. But it won’t be long, so enjoy that September heatwave while you can, as temperatures briefly push close to 30 degrees centigrade before autumn finally makes its presence felt.

GROW WITH THE FLOW: the river Misbourne at Amersham 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 September, contact editor@thebeyonder.co.uk on email or via our Facebook group page.

Tweet of the week: 05/09/21

TWITTER accounts don’t come any more dramatic and enticing than that of Alison O’Neill, a shepherdess in the Yorkshire Dales whose @woolismybread account offers thousands a welcome escape from the pressures of city life.

Not that anyone would claim running a small hill farm in the Yorkshire Dales is an easy task, but living in nature amid the spectacular scenery of the majestic Howgill Fells in Westmoreland makes up for any harsher challenges life throws at her, she insists.

OPEN OUTLOOK: Alison’s pinned tweet features her beloved fells PICTURE: Alison O’Neill

“I am blessed with a rare freedom,” she writes. “I work quietly in the old way, woven to my landscape, betrothed to the life of a shepherdess.

“I don’t like sheep, I love them and I always have. I care for my flock and in turn they provide for me. I fashion their wool creating beautiful products, offering provenance and heritage as hallmarks for every item I produce.”

That love of nature shines through her posts from the fells, but it’s the lifestyle as much as the scenery which her followers find both restful and inspiring, from the homely sound of clucking hens around the farm to the sight of a bulging breakfast tray or the reassuring company of Shadow the sheepdog.

Alison enjoys sharing her world, guiding walks and holding talks about my life on the fells with her beloved sheep, amid the whirling swifts and restless winds.

HOME COMFORTS: Sunday breakfast on the farm PICTURE: Alison O’Neill

Born into a shepherding family, she recalls: “Life for me was practical and everyday, sometimes harsh in a northern way. I was lucky and thankful to be reared on fresh air and freedom, a country girl whom inherited an instinct to nurture and a desire to care.”

When in the late 1970s her grandparents and parents sold their farms, she vowed that one day she would have her own farm and follow in their footsteps, despite the warnings about the impossibility of making money from small-scale hill farming.

Come the run-up to the millennium, and she was taking on the tenancy of Shacklabank Farm, a 37-acre plot which would be home for the next 20 years: where her daughter Scarlett would be born and where unhappy memories of the 2001 foot-and-mouth epidemic and a divorce would be offset by the rewards of farming in one of the country’s most stunning landscapes.

Thanks to that “sheer Dales-woman grit and determination”, she has managed to remain at the farm on the hill, offering an antidote to fast fashion and intensive farming.

LABOUR OF LOVE: Alison has farmed at Shacklabank for 20 years PICTURE: Alison O’Neill

“Rather than selling my wool for next to nothing I found a way of turning it into highly desirable tweed clothing. And rather than pushing wildlife back on my farm, I have encouraged it to flourish. My labour of love is a way of life and one that I am most grateful to have,” she says.

Certainly her 38,000 Twitter followers appreciate her straight talking and love of simple pleasures, like the smell of autumn in the air, the company of the loyal Shadow or nurturing her beloved Rough fell, Swaledale and Herdwick flocks, using their wool to produce a range of natural tweeds that capture the “spirit of the place we all call home”.

It’s a lifestyle that has made the Yorkshire shepherdess something of a media star, but for her Twitter fans it’s her ability to “keep it real” that continues to delight and inspire.

Alison’s website, shop and media and video links can be found here.

Do you have any nominations for favourite Twitter accounts which brighten your life? Let us know your favourites by writing to editor@thebeyonder.co.uk and we’ll see if they should be featured in our Sunday night series.

Woodlands echo to hoots in the night

THERE’S no sound which better captures the atmosphere of the woods at night than the hoot of an owl.

NIGHT OWL: a little owl silhouetted against the moon PICTURE: Steve Gozdz

But even when they are at their loudest and most active, these nocturnal hunters are not always easy to spot – and there are even some popular misconceptions about the noises they make too.

LOCAL FAVOURITE: a little owl poses for the camera PICTURE: Steve Gozdz

Like that “twit – twoo” we so often mimic, for example, is not one owl, but two different owls calling – the high-pitched “kee-wick” of the female tawny owl, which is responded to by the “hoohoo” or “twoooo” note of the male.

Owls have evolved as specialised hunters with a wide range of skills to help them locate and catch their prey. Each species has a range of incredible “superpowers” that many other birds do not possess, but which give owls the ‘tools’ they need to survive.

Different species can see in almost total darkness, have soft feathers with a comb-like ‘fringe’ on the flight feathers which aids silent flight, have round facial discs with special feathers to ‘catch’ sound and a toe that swivels so talons can be used in different ways when squeezing prey or gripping a branch.

PERFECT CAMOUFLAGE: a tawny owl hides in the trees PICTURE: Andrew Knight

But for most of us, spotting any of the five species of UK owl can be tricky. They can be notoriously difficult to track down, are very well camouflaged and tend to set up home in some pretty hard-to-reach places.

The calls may echo around the woods on an autumn evening when pairs begin courting, ready for nesting around February, but can you tell your tawny owl from a barn owl or little owl?

DAYDREAMING: a little owl appears to yawn PICTURE: Steve Gozdz

For Steve Gozdz and partner Billie O’Connor, relocating to the Chilterns in 2019 to be closer to nature has sparked an ever-evolving fascination in the wildlife to be found near their home base where the ancient villages of Goring and Streatley straddle the Thames, the meeting point of two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (the Chilterns and North Wessex Downs).

From here, Steve’s Owl Walks over the past couple of summers have introduced locals and visitors alike to the range of owls to be found in nearby woods.

EVENING RAMBLE: owl walks have proved popular with locals PICTURE: Steve Gozdz

Says Steve: “We are really lucky to live in an area which has four different types of owls all sighted in a small radius. Whilst the short-eared owls and barn owls are a less common sight for most, it’s been delightful to show a number of local residents the families of little owls we have nesting and breeding here in Goring & Streatley, and to help them learn more about them and the tawny owls we so often hear and sometimes also get to see too.”

Steve’s business, GG Wildlife Experiences, was born out of lockdown and his long-standing interest in wildlife.

“I think there really is a growing interest in the countryside and appreciate of the wildlife within it,” he says. “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.”

FEATHERED FRIENDS: little owls nest and breed locally PICTURE: Steve Gozdz

Billie adds: “We already know we are incredibly lucky to live in such a beautiful location, of scenic countryside and amazing wildlife. Many of us might hear the evening and night-time calls of different evening creatures, the most recognisable for some being the tawny owl.”

Steve started Goring Gap Wildlife Walks back in 2019, but the broadening into a wider range of experiences was a natural step, says Billie. “We now offer guided wildlife spotting boat trips, and even nature breaks, so expanding the business and rebranding made sense, to show we now offer so much more.”

The pair believe that helping people understand local wildlife better will encourage them to want to look after it. “The more people understand, the greater their interes, and then a lot of people want to know about how to protect it, how to create good habitats in their garden or on their land to allow wildlife to flourish – which is a great way to protect and grow those species we really want to see thrive,” says Steve.

BIRD IN THE HAND: wildlife photographer Steve Gozdz

So much so, that last year Steve turned his woodwork skills to good use and began creating and installing custom handmade owl boxes for those in the local area.

“You can’t just put any box up and hope for the best. Different Owls require different habitats and very different homes; it also depends if you are creating just a roost, or are creating a nesting location,” he says.

Steve will check out the garden or land and advise on the most appropriate box for the owl type that is likely to frequent the area. And in some cases, he has advised against buying one, as the habitat just hasn’t been right. “The environment needs to be suitable for a long-term habitat in order for the wildlife to flourish, and so I want to ensure we give the right advice, and give the wildlife the best chance,” he explains.

HOME TO ROOST: owl and bat boxes have proved increasingly popular PICTURE: Steve Gozdz

A new request at the end of last year was bat boxes, and Steve began installing these for customers who enjoyed seeing bats in the garden and wanted to provide a safe haven for them.

As the guided owl walks season comes to an end, Steve is now busy with a series of owl box orders in the run-up to the roosting wintering period, ready for the next year’s mating period when new pairs will need to find new homes……

You can contact Steve at info@ggwildlifeexperiences.co.uk or visit his website for guidance or advice on your garden’s suitability for different wildlife. Guided Wildlife Experiences run all year round.

Village tales are stranger than fiction

WHAT connects the Wall Street Crash and Benjamin Franklin with Hollywood stars and an English rake with a reputation for arranging underground orgies?

The answer lies in a picturesque village of wobbly roofs and hidden passages where time seems to have be standing still for centuries.

FROZEN IN TIME: the picturesque village of West Wycombe PICTURE: Mary Tebje

And as Chilterns travel blogger and tourism marketing professional Mary Tebje discovers, the story behind the extraordinary village of West Wycombe really is stranger than fiction.

Today it looks like a film set, though it was once an important stop for stagecoach travellers heading to and from London, with more than a dozen public houses vying for the custom of weary passengers.

Yet this is a place of scandal and innuendo, thanks to the antics of an 18th-century politician whose Hellfire Club was notorious for orgies and black magic.

RUMOUR AND INTRIGUE: history comes alive in West Wycombe PICTURE: Mary Tebje

In the latest instalment of her “quiet exploration” of the Chilterns, Mary finds out more about Sir Francis Dashwood and the story behind his parties, his wonderful park and his imposing mausoleum, which still dominates the landscape after 250 years.

It’s just one of a continuing series of stories about the people and places that have shaped the region. See more of Mary’s adventures here.

Vivid memories of a year in pictures

IT’S been a year since we launched our Picture of the Week series – and what a year it’s been.

Inspired by the open studios events staged across Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire each year, the series was launched at a time when months of lockdown had prevented artists from getting out and meeting potential customers face to face.

Such events offer a great opportunity for artists and makers to throw open their doors and showcase their work, but if the lockdown put paid to such intimate contact, it certainly did not the cramp the enthusiasm and ingenuity of creative souls from all over the Chilterns.

MAUREEN GILLESPIE
LOCKDOWN WALK: Blenheim by Maureen Gillespie

Some turned to local walks near their homes for inspiration, while others took the opportunity to go back through old sketchbooks, sort out old photographs and revisit settings which had never quite made it on to canvas.

STOCKTAKE: Beaconsfield artist Tim Baynes searched old sketchbooks for inspiration

And many seized the chance to improve their virtual galleries and reach out to customers through blogs, instagram posts and online shops.

PERSONAL TOUCH: Dorset artist Sam Cannon launched a monthly newsletter

Of course that’s not quite the same as getting to meet your customers in person, but as lockdown restrictions started to ease, those exhibitions, pop-up displays and working studio visits soon began to emerge again.

PERSONAL TOUCH: self-taught artist Sabbi Gavrailov from Hemel Hempstead

For wildlife and nature lovers, highlights of the weekly series have included many works inspired by or reflecting the natural world, including animal portraits and sculptures, and paintings rooted in the local Chilterns landscape, from the Ridgeway views of Anna Dillon and Christine Bass to the colourful Oxfordshire scenes captured by Alice Walker, Jane Peart and Sue Side.

VALE VIEW: Inchombe Hole, Buckinghamshire by Anna Dillon

We have ventured out into the parks of Harpenden with Andrew Keenleyside, explored the wetlands of Oxfordshire with Jane Duff and delved deep into Wytham Woods with Rosie Fairfax-Cholmeley.

ROSIE FAIRFAX-CHOLMELEY
WOODLAND FORAY: a reduction linocut by Rosie Fairfax-Cholmeley

A score of those local artists can be accessed through our Local Landscapes page, and their subject matter ranges from portraits to seascapes and abstract works.

SUE GRAHAM
CORNISH VISIT: Sundown, St Ives by Sue Graham

Further afield, Chilterns artists have taken on us on journeys from Cornwall to West Wales, while guest artists have hailed from as far afield as Dorset and the Lake District.

Photographers have featured too, patiently waiting for the perfect wildlife shot, whether otter or kingfisher, red kite or dragonfly.

FAIRGROUND FUN: handpainted gallopers at Carters Steam Fair

Over 52 weeks, the collection has grown into a formidable showcase of local talent, punctuated by occasional more unusual contributions, ranging from the fairground art of Joby Carter and family to a step back in time to enjoy the 1930s art of Eric Ravilious, the “happy little trees” of TV art legend Bob Ross or the stunning works of Belgian artist Jean-Michel Folon.

Do you have a nomination for an artist who should be featured in our weekly series? Write to editor@thebeyonder.co.uk explaining the reasons behind your choice.

Tweet of the week: 29/08/21

IT’S hard to believe that Winnie the Pooh is almost a hundred years old – and yet the amiable, bumbling, honey-loving bear remains as popular as ever with children and adults alike.

And one Twitter account which taps into that rich seam of affection and timeless appeal of Pooh and his friends in Hundred Acre Wood is our Sunday evening Twitter choice of the week, @A_AMilne.

With more than 73,000 followers this account has been active since the summer of 2018, offering a daily Tweet taken from the famous children’s books or appropriate words of wisdom from the author and his son, on whom Christopher Robin was based.

While the famous wood was modelled on Ashdown Forest in East Sussex, a landscape itself facing numerous challenges at present, the spirit of Pooh seems alive and well in the Chilterns, where in woodland from Black Park to Burnham Beeches it never feels as if Pooh, Piglet and Tigger are too far away, as we wrote last October.

From den-building in the woods to a noisy game of Pooh sticks on a small wooden bridge over a stream, it’s clear that new generation of children has every bit as familiar with the adventures of the gloomy donkey Eeyore, meddlesome Rabbit and the rest of the gang as those first excited readers of almost a century ago.

The upbeat daily Tweets celebrate words written or inspired by the author and incorporate quotes from Christopher Robin Milne, whose relationship with his father inspired the 2017 film Goodbye Christopher Robin.

The “real” stuffed toys owned by Christopher Robin may be a long way off – they have been on display in the New York public library since 1987 – but this is one voice on Twitter that manages to capture some of the magic of those innocent adventures, whether in search of a Heffalump, getting stuck in a rabbit hole or floating away on the string of a balloon.

Do you have any nominations for favourite Twitter accounts which brighten your life? Let us know your favourites by writing to editor@thebeyonder.co.uk and we’ll see if they should be featured in our Sunday night series.

Tweet of the week: 22/08/21

SUNDAY night seems an appropriate time to enjoy a quiet moment of contemplation about the ups and downs of the past week, and to prepare to make the most of the week to come.

So what better time to launch a new regular feature highlighting some of the more stimulating, thoughtful and thought-provoking material to be found on Twitter?

Social media may not seem the natural place for a relaxing read, but perhaps that’s the point of taking time to focus on the best that it has to offer, rather than the worst.

We know that some people find Twitter a dangerous place, filled with harassment and abuse. The company has been roundly criticsed for failing to act quickly enough to remove rogue users and prevent menacing and threatening behaviour.

But the platform also provides an excellent opportunity to communicate with a worldwide audience of readers who share similar concerns and interests, so of course it makes perfect sense as a complementary platform that allows us to spread the word about our website’s content to a broader audience than our core Facebook membership group.

Reaching new audiences can be a mixed blessing, of course, as we discovered when Jeremy Clarkson responded to our recent Tweet about queues outside his Cotswold farm shop, prompting “likes” from more than 10,000 of his followers, not to mention a fair share of acerbic remarks.

But having been on the platform since June 2018, we have been protected from most of the worst aspects of online interaction, and instead have been able to savour the posts of the 1,000-odd people we have chosen to follow, from naturalists and wildlife enthusiasts to farmers, growers and local groups with a special interest in what the Chilterns has to offer.

Back in July 2018 we wrote about the benefits of positive thinking online, of attempting to surround yourself with engaging and upbeat company rather than become depressed by the unrelenting misery of negative news feeds and toxic exchanges which sap our energy and undermine our peace of mind.

With that in mind, our new feature is very much focused on finding the positive online and seeking out those voices that provide us with joy – particularly when that takes the form of accounts which celebrate wildlife and the great outdoors.

It might be a joke, cartoon or nature clip, or perhaps a thought-provoking commentary or personal experience that chimes with the magazine’s aims.

In our own posts we have attempted to be uplifting in output, deliberately restricting the number of weekly tweets and trying to provide our 450+ followers with pictures and links which brighten their day rather than the reverse, as well as linking to the content of our regular and one-off features.

Local photographers have been out and about capturing the magic of the Chilterns landscape for our monthly calendar feature, while artists across the region have featured in our Monday Picture of the Week series, which has been running for the past year.

The magazine’s Twitter feed is slightly more political than our Facebook group page, reflecting growing concerns about climate change and the state of the planet. But at the same time as highlighting unavoidable concerns, the mood of the feed has always tried to remain upbeat and positive.

Whether that means singing the praises of moths or slow worms, highlighting colourful characters who adore the Chilterns countryside, exploring our fascinating local heritage or spotlighting dozens of top local attractions for family days out, the focus has been on celebrating the very best our region has to offer, and hoping to encourage readers to spare a moment to peruse the magazine’s main website in a little more detail.

With almost 300 articles to choose from, we hope those who find their way to the website are able to find something to hold their interest, from characters with interesting stories to share to stories steeped in the history of the extraordinary Chilterns landscape.

So do join us over the coming weeks as we try to seek out some of the most inspiring, entertaining and informative Twitter users who prove social media can be a powerful force for good, and not just a place for division, gossip and abuse.

Do you have any nominations for favourite Twitter accounts which brighten your life? Let us know your favourites by writing to editor@thebeyonder.co.uk and we’ll see if they should be featured in our Sunday night series.

Hidden villages with surprising secrets

DAPPLED beechwoods and ancient churches dot the landscape around the Domesday Book villages of Great and Little Hampden, outside Princes Risborough.

In this tucked-away parish, travel blogger and tourism marketing professional Mary Tebje discovers classic Chilterns countryside where difficult geography has protected the landscape from the worst intrusions of road and rail.  

GOTHIC REVIVAL: Hammer horror films were set at Hampden House PICTURE: Mary Tebje

From ancient earthworks and picturesque churches to a manor house where Hammer horror films were set, there are some unexpected surprises to be unearthed in these quiet valleys and hilltop hamlets, as Mary discovers.

LIVING HISTORY: Little Hampden church PICTURE: Mary Tebje

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

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

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.

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.

“Many of them were taken on local walks at different times of year and conjure up other images of a particular day out – the colourful fungi in Penn Woods, the flooding by the Thames near Bourne End, an autumn day in Black Park or springtime coming to Spade Oak quarry.

“But Nick and Graham’s pictures are a reminder to visitors that there’s much more to the website than just people enjoying a ramble in the woods.

“We have a lot of articles about all sorts of things, from birds and insects to local history, interesting people with a story to tell, book reviews and places to visit once the lockdown restrictions allow.

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

“For anyone stumbling on the website for the first time, there are now more than 200 different articles to read, so hopefully there will be something that catches their eye.”

Have you a photograph which might be perfect for The Beyonder? Drop us a line at editor@thebeyonder.co.uk

Rare attractions on the reserve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ancient acres offer space to escape

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walkers make tracks for the common

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A network of paths criss-cross the common and the “muddy boots welcome” sign outside the Blackwood Arms says it all.

HOME COMFORTS: a duck house close to the Blackwood Arms

Thirsty souls can choose between here and The Jolly Woodman when lockdown restrictions allow: both pubs have featured in the Midsomer Murders series and provide a perfect base for a wander.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BRANCHING OUT: a footpath heads south towards Burnham

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

WATCHFUL EYES: starlings in Bristles Wood PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

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

Feathered friends flock to the feast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OCCASIONAL GUEST: a stunning green woodpecker PICTURE: Nick Bell

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

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

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

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

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

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

RARE DELIGHT: the great spotted woodpecker PICTURE: Angela Scott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WOODLAND WONDERLAND: hunting for insects PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

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

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

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

Top tips for a contented canine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taking it easy on the towpath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dogs help beat the lockdown blues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Duke looks out over his domain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grouse beater in the doghouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PRIZE CATCH: Yella’s prey was shocked but unhurt

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nature puts on a fireworks display

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take a walk in Pooh’s paw prints

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perfect way to unwind with friends

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

top trails for tasty treats

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

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

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

Here are three of our favourites…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crash course in puppy parenting

Guest writer Lucy Parks rises to the challenge of coping with two adorable puppies after rescue dog Yella delivers her biggest surprise

THE JOYS OF MOTHERHOOD

WE CALLED the puppies Eggy and Sock, a derivative of the Greek for “surprise” and “shock”. And I was in shock. With hindsight, we did everything wrong in those first few days.

SURPRISE DELIVERY: the new arrivals take a nap

I’d handled the pups within minutes of being born and, that weekend after they were born on the Friday, I had so many visitors to the house to see the new arrivals, all of them wanting to cuddle the little ones and Yella being hugely tolerant of the attention they were getting.

Not long after getting Yella I’d joined a Facebook group called Dogs of Amersham and Surrounding Villages, which proved to be a huge source of support in those first few days. Fellow dog owners donated a puppy crate, a video on how to raise puppies, puppy pads and emotional support.

The charity that had provided Yella was brilliant. They were as shocked as I was and gave immediate practical, emotional and financial help.

PROUD MUM: Yella and the pups in their makeshift whelping pen

I’d posted about the pups on Facebook the day they were born and, by that evening, I had five or six people who were interested in having one. First dibs went to my best friend, who’d wanted a dog for years, and Yella gave her the perfect opportunity.

They changed her name from Eggy to Lumi – short for “halloumi”, in a nod to her heritage – and Sock, the boy, was bagged by another friend. At least it took away one of the stresses, knowing that I had homes for them.

Yella’s timing could not have been more perfect: the fact she had the pups on a Friday afternoon, when I was at home; that I had the weekend to get my head around the new challenge I was facing; that I had started work at the vet’s that same week so had expert knowledge on tap. That Yella took to motherhood like a duck to water was an added bonus.

Oh goodness, I learned so much that first weekend. It was a true crash course in dog parenting and it passed in a blur. We made a make-shift whelping pen from Yella’s crate and cardboard. Later, we created a puppy pen in the hallway.

HOME COMFORTS: the pups move into the hallway

The eight weeks I had the puppies at home – incidentally, the same amount of time I’d had Yella before she gave birth – proved the hardest job I’ve ever done. These little eating, sleeping, shouting, pooing machines were relentless. Watching their development from tiny blind hamsters to cheeky, adventurous toddlers, though, was wonderful.

TIRED BUT HAPPY: Lumi and Sock sleep off another day of shouting and pooing

By the time they left for their new homes, we were all exhausted and relieved. Yella was ready to let them go and I was just happy to have my house back to normal.

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

NEXT TIME: Our favourite walks with refreshments

Who goes there, friend or foe?

OCTOBER has arrived with a vengeance, Storm Alex wreaking havoc across the country and depositing a month’s worth of rain in some areas over the weekend.

Those venturing out during gaps in the deluge have seen something of a transformation, with the storms stripping leaves off trees and the autumn colours of browns, reds and golden yellows replacing the green of late summer.

While the shops already gearing up for Halloween, the woods are awash with fallen acorns and apples, lichens, mushrooms and toadstools.

Amid the dripping leaves of Burnham Beeches, it’s suddenly a strange new world of unusual textures, shadows and colours.

The ferns are turning brown, along with the trees, an early hint of the glories to come later in the month as the autumnal colour palette really begins to explode.

Down at the ponds the stunning colours of the mandarin ducks stand out against the muddy browns, greys and blacks of tree roots and rain-spattered water.

But it’s at ground level that the real stars of the show can be found, with a small cross-section of the country’s 15,000-odd species of fungi providing an intriguing range of shapes and colours among the soaking foliage.

Not that the uninitiated will want to get too close to some of these amazing-looking fungi: some of them are deadly and boast spine-tingling names like the destroying angel, funeral bell and death cap.

Fungi live everywhere and vary in size from the microscopic to the largest organisms on earth. But perhaps we are most intrigued not just by their beauty, but the deadly consequences of dabbling with the most poisonous of them.

We instantly recognise the familiar scarlet cap of the fly agaric toadstool, which both attracts and kills flies, or the Scarlet elf cups or fairies’ baths, which make a tiny puffing sound when they release their spores into the air.

But on decaying branches and in damp spots scattered around the woodland floor there are an array of others whose offputting appearance may only be matched by their sinister names, like jelly ear fungus, foul-smelling stinkhorns or toxic beechwood sickener.

Or what about the gruesome beefsteak fungus, which looks like a raw cut of meat and even oozes a blood-like substance when cut…or the brown roll-rim, a common birch woodland fungus that looks benign, but is deadly poisonous.

Not that it’s all about innocent-looking killers. As well as many fungi being edible, some have medicinal properties, like the candlesnuff fungus, which is both anti-viral and active against tumours, or other uses like the common inkcap, once a source of ink for important documents.

Lichens play an important role in the ecology of woodlands too, offering valuable microhabitats, shelter and food for various small invertebrates which in turn are prey for larger insects and birds.

They can also be hosts for other species of parasitic fungi, as well as providing other ecosystem services such as carbon cycling and water retention.

Most organisms lack the ability to digest wood and return the nutrients to the soil, but fungi figured out the secret a few hundred million years ago. A good thing too, or otherwise dead trees would just pile up everywhere.

But down here among the lichens and leaf debris, could you spot the difference between a prized chef’s ingredient like a chanterelle or charcoal burner, and a deathcap, which has been used as a murder weapon for millenia?

Notable alleged victims of death cap poisoning range from Charles VI, ruler of the Austrian Habsburg Monarchy, to the Roman Emperor Claudius.

Voltaire even wrote that a dish of mushrooms had changed the destiny of Europe, since the death of Charles VI led to the War of the Austrian Secession from 1740.

The Woodland Trust does offer a handy guide to some of the most common fungi and lichens, coupled with some fascinating legends and facts – but even professionals can get things wrong, it seems: the distinguished German mycologist Julius Schaeffer died in 1944 after eating a succession of dishes containing brown roll-rim mushrooms.

In the ancient woodlands managed by the City of London Corporation, fungi have a vital role to play in the delicate balance of biodiversity, and in sites like Epping Forest commercial pickers – who can face prosecution – have been stripping the forest of wild mushrooms, depriving insects and animals of a valuable food source and threatening rare species.

Much maligned and mistrusted, toadstools and mushrooms are associated with ancient taboos, death and decomposition, but they have magical associations too and are nature’s natural recyclers, playing a vital role in the ecology of natural habitats like Burnham Beeches.

Down in the woods, hundreds of them are hard at work breaking down decaying organic matter and providing food for squirrels, deer and insects. It’s wonderful to see the fascinating shapes, forms and colours the fungi world has to offer – and yes, of course we want to leave them there for the next visitor to enjoy.

Prayers for a troubled planet

FOR millions of Christians around the world, a month-long season of prayer culminates this weekend with the feast day of St Francis of Assisi.

The idea of celebrating September 1 as a day of prayer for creation began in 1989 at the wish of the Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios, a leading figure in the Eastern Orthodox church whose successor Bartholomew I is also seen as something of a “green” source of spiritual inspiration.

In 2013 Pope Francis – formerly Jorge Mario Bergoglio – chose his papal name in honour of St Francis, reflecting both men’s concern for the world’s poor, as well as the future of the planet.

The Pope subsequently urged the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics and all people of good will to take urgent action against the injustice of climate change and the ecological crisis, to protect the poor and future generations.

The Season of Creation has become an annual celebration uniting Christians in prayer and action for the protection of the earth, with many viewing this year’s event as being of particular significance in light of the coronavirus pandemic and global climate concerns.

NEW LANDSCAPE: a street food market in Japan PICTURE: Jérémy Stenuit, Unsplash

In July a cross-section of faith leaders urged the UK government to develop a new shared vision for the future ahead of the UN climate change conference in Glasgow next year, when the UK has the COP26 presidency.

The faith leaders spoke of the need to “restore balance in the very systems of life, affirming the need for equality, justice and sustainability” in the sharing of the earth’s resources.

They pointed out how, amid the fear and the grief for loved ones lost, many had found consolation in the dramatic reduction of pollution and the restoration of nature.

BACK TO NATURE: our global ecosystem is under threat PICTURE: Kunal Shinde, Unsplash

“Renewed delight in and contact with the natural world has the capacity to reduce our mental stress and nourish us spiritually,” they wrote. “We have rediscovered our sense of how interconnected the world is. The very health and future of humanity depends on our ability to act together not only with respect to pandemics but also in protecting our global ecosystem.”

On the plus side, less travel and consumption and more kindness and neighbourliness have helped us appreciate what society can really mean, they pointed out. But in times of crisis injustice becomes more obvious, and it is the poor and vulnerable who suffer most, as the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development stresses in its climate campaign.

DIVIDED PLANET: children playing in New Delhi PICTURE: Atul Pandey, Unsplash

“All this shows us how precarious our previous ‘business as usual’ was, socially, economically, ecologically and spiritually,” the faith leaders wrote.

“Our faiths teach us that our planet, with its rich resources and inspiring diversity, is lent to us on trust only and we are accountable for how we treat it. We are urgently and inescapably responsible, not just before God but to our own children and the very future of humanity.”

The Season of Creation ends on October 4, the Feast of St Francis of Assisi, but the call to action looks beyond the annual event and focuses on protecting biodiversity, reducing the risk of catastrophic climate change and pushing sustainability to the forefront of government decision-making.

CRY OF THE POOR: a homeless man in Athens PICTURE: Jonathan Kho, Unsplash

Pope Francis phrased it as the need to “listen to the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor”, a message that resonates across the centuries from when Saint Francis chose to take the Gospel literally and lead a life of poverty in the name of the Lord.

“If God can work through me, he can work through anyone,” the saint said, yet on Sunday, almost 800 years after his death, his message about our intimate connection with God’s creation sounds more relevant and important than ever. 

GLOBAL OUTLOOK: a colourful view of the night sky PICTURE: Jeremy Thomas, Unsplash

Bus stop which brightens journeys

NOT many bus stops can boast their own Facebook page, or receive fan mail.

But then the Bradenham Road bus stop on the outskirts of West Wycombe is no ordinary bus stop.

With more than 550 followers on Facebook, the bus stop launched its social media presence a year ago when it was being relocated – so that the Essex contractors involved in the move could let their partners know what they were working on in darkest Buckinghamshire.

By October it was open again, complete with books, comfy cushions and even a dog bowl and bottled water for anyone out for a stroll.

The summer displays might have faded, but there were winter pansies in place and daffodil bulbs planted. By December it was time for festive lights and Christmas decorations to be attracting the attentions of passing commuters.

Over the months it’s been only too clear from online comments and handwritten letters just what a delight the bus stop has been for queueing motorists and those taking refuge from sun and rain.

In July 2019 a grateful cyclist wrote a letter of thanks after escaping from 34-degree sunshine to mend a puncture, while a passing walker described it as “an awesome place of rest, respite and peace”.

After the March lockdown, the bus stop geared up for Easter with a seasonal children’s drawing competition, with prizes of Easter eggs – not to mention a bottle of Prosecco and top-quality steaks for two provided by a local butcher.

Those artistic offerings were soon followed by posters thanking the NHS and key workers.

By May there were Union Jack flags on show to celebrate the 75th anniversary of VE Day and the summer saw a return of the dramatic floral displays for which the bus stop is best known.

It was quite a while before local resident Emma Copley admitted to being the driving force behind the clean-up, once neighbours started to spot her in action.

She says: “I’m a great believer in reclaiming space that’s been neglected … nice areas attract good behaviour and respect.

“It’s all made worthwhile by the lovely comments and people stopping to look. I even had a lady give me money (donated to charity ) and a coachload of Japanese tourists stop to take photos.”

Of course the concept of brightening up bus stops and providing reading material for weary commuters is not a new one, with experiments around the world from Singapore to Greek and Turkey.

Back in 2011, a pair of Israeli artists launched a project in Haifa which spread to a number of cities providing bookshelves at a number of stops to see if travellers would swap books and replenish the shelves.

Installation artist and lecturer Daniel Shoshan envisoned that the initiative could serve as a new way of connecting people and possibly even improve literacy rates. Might authors one day give public performances at bus stops?

A couple of years later, bus commuters in Sydney and Melbourne were pleasantly surprised by a Christmas campaign that set up bookshelves at various bus stops to encourage Australians to read and buy local books. The creative move, which enabled commuters to take home free books, enticed so many people that they often missed their bus in the process.

West Wycombe’s glorious community bus stop may not be quite on the same scale, but there’s no doubt of its popularity with passing motorists – and the idea is clearly contagious, as it has now “twinned” with another local bus stop boasting bookshelves, looked after by the Piddington & Wheeler End Parish Council.

Whether it’s the sense of community spirit that captures the imagination or the beauty of the floral displays, it’s clear that fans of the Bradenham Road bus stop enjoy the simple things in life – and if a humble bus stop can put a smile on the face as well as providing shelter from the storm, that sounds like a winning idea that deserves to succeed on a wider scale.

Express delivery proves a surprise

Guest writer Lucy Parks recalls the time rescue dog Yella began behaving oddly…

sudden arrivals spark a panic

I’D HAD Yella, my first dog, for a few weeks and we were both settling into our new routine. She was adjusting to life in the UK and I spent a lot of time on Google, checking that I was doing the right things, too.

Yella was six months old and in season when she came to me from Cyprus; she was growing nicely with good food, exercise and lots of love. We’d noticed that her teats had started to get bigger and, over the course of a few days, she started “nesting”, gathering all her toys into different places around the house. Google told me she was probably having a phantom pregnancy. I wasn’t overly concerned.

NESTING INSTINCT: Yella three days before the birth

I’d decided that I needed a local, part-time job and was delighted to secure a role as a veterinary receptionist at a practice just down the road. I started my new job on the Monday. By the Friday, I was getting worried about Yella.

She was getting fussy about eating, she didn’t want to go for walks and – when I got home from work on Friday lunchtime – she was clearly in distress, shaking and howling like a lamb being slaughtered.

I called the vet to make an appointment and tried to encourage Yella into the garden for a pee before we left. She wouldn’t pee, the howling got worse and, when she came back into the house, she started squatting on the carpet.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” I thought, “you poor thing – you must be in a bad way.” And then, before my very eyes, as she continued to squat, a tiny bag of puppy popped out of her. I uttered a profane expletive as I continued to stare at the small bag. What on earth to do?

DOUBLE TROUBLE: Yella becomes a mum

I called my partner, who was driving to my house at the time: “Yella’s just had a puppy and I’m not even effing joking,” I said. “But I think it’s dead… oh no! It’s not! Gotta go.”

Yella had broken through the sac the puppy was born in, bitten the umbilical cord, eaten the placenta and was licking the tiny, mewling creature, no bigger than a hamster.

Through the haze of astonishment, practical issues kicked in. Right, we had an appointment to make. I scoured the house for a suitable receptacle for the puppy: yes, the recycling bin. I lined it with a towel, picked up the puppy and popped it in. Yella went nuts, trying to get to her baby in a bin. How on earth was I going to get them into the car?

I called the vets to let them know that Yella had delivered a puppy and that we might be a bit late for our appointment. Two minutes later, Holly the vet nurse called back: “Would you like me to come over?” Yes, please. “One more thing, Lucy: there might be more than one puppy.” What? WHAT? “Keep Yella and the puppy calm, if another comes out, you can help her by breaking the sac. Make sure they’re comfortable and warm. I’ll be there in five minutes.”

UNEXPECTED ARRIVALS: the two puppies

By the time Holly and my partner arrived at the house, Yella had delivered, cleaned up and was suckling a total of two puppies. For a street dog who was abandoned by her own mother at birth, she was doing an amazing job. I was a mess.

I’d gone from having one dog to three in eight weeks and one day. I was a new dog parent and now grandparent. I had no idea what was going on, while Yella’s maternal instinct had kicked in and she seemed to know exactly what to do.

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

NEXT TIME: Yella and Lucy get to grips with motherhood.

Pet rescue is no walk in the park

Guest writer Lucy Parks recounts the pleasures and perils of adopting a rescue dog

A DOG CALLED YELLA

I CAN’T remember a time I didn’t want a dog.

My mother – who doesn’t like animals, hence no childhood dog – tells stories of me toddling up behind German Shepherds as a kid, just to give them a hug. To me, dogs were there to be loved and cuddled and I knew that, one day, I would fulfil my dream.

Cats filled the gap as I worked full-time and simply didn’t have room in my life for a dog.

FRESH START: redundancy prompted Lucy to consider the possibility of owning a dog

Everything changed when I hit 50. Made redundant, I took the opportunity to pare back my life, stay local, work less. The moment had come. I always knew I was going to go down the rescue route but, having two cats at the time, it proved difficult with the UK rescue charities. They, understandably, want to be sure that when they re-home a dog into a house with cats, the dog (and cats) will be comfortable.

FACEBOOK STAR: Yella and Lucy’s artwork on the Cyprus Dog Rescue page

After a few months of looking, a friend with a Cypriot rescue dog suggested a Facebook group I might be interested in. To cut a very long story short, in July 2018, Yella flew into the country and into my arms.

Yella (Greek for “laugh” because, in the first photo we saw of her, she had a big grin) is a Kokoni-cross, a small, domestic Greek terrier known as “the daughter’s dog” for their gentle and devoted nature.

WINNING SMILE: the first picture Lucy ever saw of Yella

She was six months old, scared stupid and didn’t speak any English. But from the first moment we saw each other, on a dark night in the car park at South Mimms service station, it was love.

SECOND THOUGHTS?

I’VE made a terrible mistake…

The first few days with Yella, my new rescue dog, were terrifying for both of us. She was away from everything she knew – albeit that she was only six months old – and not just in a strange home but in a strange country. She’d had an arduous plane and truck journey to the UK from Cyprus and, despite having wanted a dog forever, I had very little idea of what it actually entailed.

Yella wasn’t house-trained; she’d never worn a collar or harness or walked on a lead before; she’d not seen traffic before; she didn’t know how to play; wasn’t interested in sticks or balls. Oh and I discovered that she was in season, which is why she hadn’t been neutered before she came to me.

She followed me everywhere. Everywhere. I thought I’d never be able to leave the house again. I thought I’d made a terrible mistake.

HALFWAY HOUSE: Yella’s first night in the hallway

That first night, I’d slept in the hallway with her, next to her crate, waking up regularly to take her outside for a pee. She never really took to the crate, though, and it became a bit of a tussle every night. The sound of a puppy crying in her crate is just heartbreaking.

But as time went on, we both adapted as we got to know each other. Yella came to ParkRun with me at Rickmansworth Aquadrome, she came to the beer shop in Amersham and she revelled in the love and attention she got from my friends.

I guess I was hideously naive at the start. I was impatient to have the perfect pet but any dog, especially a rescue dog, needs time, understanding and patience.

Yella hadn’t had a bad start in life, she wasn’t abused or neglected, but she’d been brought up in shelter and her new life in the Chilterns could not have been more different.

discovering the chilterns

ONE of the very best things about getting a dog has been discovering the Chiltern Hills.

I’d lived in Amersham for 15 years when I got Yella and I was familiar with the well-trodden commuter route between home and the station but, admittedly, I’d explored very little further than that.

EAGER ANTICIPATION: Yella ready for walkies

Yes, I liked going out for walks but it always felt a bit, well, empty without a dog. Now I was forced to venture down footpaths and into new places in search of good walking routes.

As well as finding the stunning scenery that had been right on my doorstep all along, I was blown away by the dog-owning community.

In my first few weeks with Yella, I spoke to more people in my home town than I had in the previous 15 years. Dog owners are always ready to stop for a chat, exchange stories and coo as their pets sniff each other’s butts.

It’s provided a totally unexpected, if slightly unusual, social avenue. I know very few owners’ names, but I know Lily, Arthur, Hector, JJ, Buddy and Billy – and Yella greets them as old friends.

One of my first regular walks with Yella was to Hervines Park in Amersham, which has the winning combination of open parkland to run in and long, deep woods to explore (where squirrels might be found).

The first time I lost Yella

IT WAS at Hervines Park where I lost Yella for the first time.

She’d not long been off-lead and I was still a bit nervous, but she’d always stayed close… but she was getting braver. In the woods at the edge of the park, she suddenly bolted off, chasing a squirrel. I called and called – Yella’s recall has always been a bit selective – and after a few minutes I started to panic.

OFF THE LEAD: exploring Hervines Park in Amersham

Hours passed. Well, it was probably more like five minutes but felt like hours, and then I spotted two women and their dogs walking up through the woods. They hadn’t seen Yella, but they sympathised for a while. As we stood there, a man approached us from the woods with five dogs in tow.

It took me a moment to realise that one of them was Yella. My heart leapt and, boy, was she happy to see me. It transpired that only two of the dogs actually belonged to the man; the others had just joined his walk…

There are always lots of dogs to run around with at Hervines Park and it remains one of our favourites. It can be approached from many different directions, there’s parking at the end of Hervines Road and, if you feel inclined, can walk for miles.

stunning views on the doorstep

WITH hindsight, twilight wasn’t the best time to embark on the new walk that a local runner had told me about, especially one through woods.

I was a bit scared but Yella was oblivious, excited to find a whole new world of sniffs.

It was literally five minutes down the road from home on the Amersham/Chesham Bois border and yet – like many of the other walks I’ve found – I had no idea it was there.

At the end of the quiet but well-established wooded path, I could see daylight and we hurried towards it. We found ourselves crossing a railway bridge and then – oh goodness me, what a sight to behold: the Chilterns Hills, laid out before me like a landscape painting in the late afternoon sun. I could only stand and stare. It was simply stunning.

REGULAR WALK: the light at the end of the footpath that leads to the Big Field

The Big Field, now one of our staple walks, lay ahead, a popular area with dog walkers and kite fliers. It’s on the side of the Chess Valley, exposed, open and perfect for crazy running.

We headed across the field to the left, following the path down the big hill. Only the occasional passing train on the Chesham branch of the Metropolitan line, high above you, reminds you that you’re in the Home Counties.

OPEN ASPECT: Yella takes in views of the glorious Chilterns

The footpath cuts through the valley, under a railway bridge with fine graffiti to the left and up into Blackwell Stubbs, a small but well-maintained woodland. Back up another hill – well, this is the Chilterns – and take the left fork up into Stubbs Wood (that’s a road, not a wood).

This is a lovely circular walk that takes about 45 minutes. Yella loves the variety of woodland and open space, the potential for deer and squirrels, and the chance to meet canine friends.

In the same area of Amersham are Chesham Bois Common and Great Bois Wood, both firm favourites with many different routes to explore.

FIRM FRIENDS: Lucy and Yella in the Big Field

It’s but a tiny area of the Chilterns and it offers so much. Yella and I have loved witnessing the changes of the seasons here, from slipping through snow and slopping through mud to hot summer evenings in the shade of the ancient beech trees. We are truly blessed to live in such a wonderful place.

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

NEXT TIME: Yella delivers her biggest surprise

Has the sun really set on summer?

SEPTEMBER. Suddenly, there’s a chill in the morning air.

It’s as if nature knows you have just changed the month on the kitchen calendar and wants to tell you to forget all about those long humid dog days of summer – autumn is definitely on its way.

It’s not as if this should be a surprise. Days have been shortening since the summer solstice. But it’s the pace of change that suddenly seems to quicken.

From late May until near the end of July, sunset in the south-east is after 9pm. But we lose around three minutes of daylight every day from August through to late November…it just may take us a little time to notice.

That’s why, on a crisp morning in early September, we suddenly start muttering about the nights drawing in and winter being around the corner.

Dramatic skies foretell of more changeable weather to come. Even though in practice September is often a month of long hours of sunshine and relatively warmth, sunset is now before 8pm and will be almost an hour earlier by the end of the month. Psychologically, those long sunny summer evenings are already feeling like a distant memory, especially with the children back at school after the long holidays.

MORNING CALL: a small skein of pink-footed geese PICTURE: Tim Melling

It’s still getting light early, and we’re woken by the reassuring honking of geese flying past in perfect formation – just one of some 4,000 species of birds around the world migrating in search of milder weather and more plentiful food.

It’s a friendly sound, as if the family are having a lively conversation, although scientists speculate that it is actually a way of keeping the flock together on their long flights, with those behind honking encouragement to the ones in front.

The shape makes sense too, creating uplift for the bird immediately behind and adding much more flying range than if a bird flew on its own. They swap positions en route, so that when the lead goose gets tired, it rotates further back in the ‘V’ and another goose heads up front.

TEAM SPIRIT: wild Canada geese, pictured in North America PICTURE: Tim Melling

Even more amazingly (and much quoted on team-building courses around the world), when a goose gets sick or is wounded and falls out of formation, a couple of other geese obligingly fall out with their companion and follow it down to lend help and protection, staying with the fallen goose until it is able to fly or until it dies; only then do they set off to catch up with the rest of the group.

The geese aren’t the only ones of the wing. The skies are hectic with criss-crossing migrants and down at the local gravel pit the numbers of gulls and cormorants will be building.

Around the country from the Tweed estuary to Flamborough Head in Yorkshire and Spurn Head at the mouth of the Humber, birds are arriving in huge numbers, pausing before pushing on with their remarkable journeys.

KNOTS LANDING: a flock of knots and dunlins at the Humber Estuary PICTURE: Tim Melling

Meanwhile in the woods, it’s conker season for pupils wandering home from school and the acorns have been dropping like rainfall – or, as botanist and author @LeifBersweden puts it: “One of my favourite September activities is to sit in the sun near an oak tree, close my eyes and listen for the quiet plick-plock-thump of acorns pinballing between branches before falling to the ground. It might not sound like much, but that sound is just utterly wonderful.”

FUNGUS FORAY: many of the more colourful toadstools and berries are poisonous

The foragers are out looking for mushrooms and other edible delicacies, although many of the toadstools and berries are far from safe.

Start nibbling the fly agaric, destroying angel, death cap or white bryony and you could face vomiting and diarrhoea, stomach cramps, hallucinations and even death. Maybe not such a great idea for the uninitiated, then.

Ants and hornets are busy at work building their nests in the woods, bats are swarming and the baby moorhens are skittering around on their lily pad rafts.

Around the country, harvest has been under way for weeks, with early finishes in some areas where the weather has allowed, and heavy rain delaying the combines elsewhere.

Normally falling towards the end of September or early October, the harvest thanksgiving festival dates from pagan times, traditionally held on the Sunday nearest the Harvest Moon, the full moon closest to the autumn equinox (September 22 or 23).

Once Lammas Day at the beginning of the harvest season on August 1 was the time of celebration, when farmers made loaves of bread from the new wheat crop and gave them to their local church for ‘loaf Mass’ to be used as the Communion bread during a special mass thanking God for the harvest.

LAND OF PLENTY: harvest celebrations date from pagan times

The custom ended when Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church and nowadays we have harvest festivals at the end of the season which usually include singing hymns, praying, dancing and decorating churches with baskets of fruit and food.

Michaelmas Day is traditionally the last day of the harvest season: the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel on September 29. St. The patron saint of the sea, ships and boatmen, of horses and horsemen, he was the Angel who hurled Lucifer down from Heaven for his treachery.

HARVEST HOME: today, celebrations take place towards the end of September

In the past, the harvest festival differed, based on when all the crops had been brought in, and was a matter of life and death that would involve the whole community working together, including children.

A prosperous harvest would allow a community to be fed throughout the potentially barren winter months and would be cause for much celebration. As an occasion steeped in superstition, it’s no surprise that so many ancient customs and folklore pre-date Christianity but still reflect the importance of crop gathering and the reverence in which the harvest was held.

THANK THE LORD: a prosperous harvest was a time for prayer and thanksgiving

Even 150 years ago all the work was done by hand – including the cutting of cereal crops like wheat, barley and oats – and everyone was roped in to help out, including wives, children and roaming groups of migrant labourers who would seek employment from farms at the start of the season, especially in the eastern arable counties.

Gathering sheaves into stooks was back-breaking work too and days were long, from 5am till dusk, but the compensation was extra pay, a midday meal and often all the beer or cider needed to keep a labourer going through a hot day.

OPEN OUTLOOK: farmland in Bedfordshire

After the harvest came the celebration – one of the great village festivals shared by all the local community and culminating in an evening of dancing and merry-making.

We may not have reached Michaelmas Day yet, but many farmers in the south-east have already finished their harvest, despite concerns about crop quality and yields.

With daytime temperatures staying up in the 20s, it’s clear that summer’s not quite over – but for better or worse, around the Chilterns, this year’s harvest is almost gathered in…

Postcard from . . . Burnham Beeches

IF ONLY trees could talk, what secrets they could tell

The ancient oaks and beeches of Burnham Beeches have provided a place of solace and refuge during difficult times this year.

Through the long summer holidays that followed the easing of lockdown restrictions, the woods have been alive with the cries of children and lolloping spaniels, a safe place to socially distance away from the pressures of supermarket shopping and public transport.

Paths wending through overhanging branches have provided shade from the sweltering heat of early autumn and shelter from the rain, a place for bug hunts and Pooh sticks, of family adventures and solitary wanderings.

From hungry ducks and moorhens to foraging ponies and cattle, the woods are home to an array of wildlife, from the ubiquitous pigeons and squirrels to the industrious ants, colourful dragonflies and elusive reptiles.

Spread across more than 900 acres, Burnham Beeches soaks up visitors and provides a cross-section of different habitats, from heathland ferns and heather to lily-covered ponds and carefully grazed wood-pasture.

A national nature reserve for almost 30 years, it is an oasis of calm in a hurried world, and one which hundreds of local families will remember with affection for the part it played in making the long difficult summer of 2020 just a little easier to cope with.