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Winter Garden

From the upper lawn the view across the valley looked very green. A small patch of the Helford River was just visible beyond the specimen trees and the lower ponds, the woodland on the far hillside seeming an extension of the garden’s greenery. The water too was green, a deep teal, too far to see any movement, the day too dull for reflection or sparkle. But this is what Cornwall does best, nurtures its sheltered hollows of sub-tropical escape from the dull reality of the British weather so that even when a bright sunny day turns overcast you can walk beneath treeferns and bamboo stands green as ever – green as summer – and escape the grey. Continue reading

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Proper Cornish Bird Ar’ee?

chough3

(c) Nigel Blake

Up and out of the shelter of the dunes at Holywell the wind was sweeping Kelsey Head under a pearly sky. But when is it ever not windy in Cornwall?
Windswept, rugged, remote… words of such over-applied cliché that almost cease to have any significance either inland or on the coast in this neck of the woods. Cee and I were talking about ravens as we walked. They like that sort of thing – windswept, rugged, remote – last time we’d seen one had been at the top of a Cumbrian mountain. We wondered if we’d see any here, tumbling and cronking over the cliff-tops.
“What I’d really like to see is a chough”.
I pointed out that we’d come to the wrong side of the coast: since their self-initiated reintroduction to Cornwall in 2001 the iconic birds had taken up residence on the Lizard peninsula, which is as far south as you’ll get either in Cornwall or mainland Britain. Next time, we decided, we’d head over that way and see if we could spot any.

We walked into the wind and around the headland, the sea churning below us. Ahead was a smattering of jackdaws picking about in the grass. Two of them were larger than the rest of the group.
“What are those bigger ones there – could they be ravens?”
“No they’re not” I replied, “but look what they are…”
It was like we’d conjured them up, these two magical birds trying to disguise themselves amongst their smaller corvid cousins, unmistakable in their red stockings like they’d just stepped out of our imaginations or a book of heraldic beasts. We watched in near-disbelief until, aware of our scrutiny, or bored with their pickings, they flew off, flicking their fingered wings, a strange cazooing call that neither Cee nor I were expecting them to utter. Continue reading


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The Values of Desolation

 desolateadj. giving an impression of bleak and dismal emptiness from Latin ‘desolare’ meaning abandon and ‘solus’ alone >> v. to desolate ; n. desolation

A wide expanse of sandflats riddled with tidal streams, deserted in the early morning. A wedge-shaped tidal island at the end of a concrete road: blown dunes empty of human life, the air above the sifting marram sliced about by swallows and martins and pierced by the lonesome shrill of a curlew.

A moorland scene drained of colour under an overcast sky. so cold in summer I wore two coats, a scarf and a pair of gloves to brave the path. A large landscape focusing in the eye on the tapestry of life below knee-level. A loud dam at the head of a reservoir hiding a spectacular waterfall descending through towering crags to the unpopulated landscape below.

Wild winds and the remains of a Roman stone carving depicting three or four sentinels at the Milecastle, hooded and cloaked with only their miserable faces exposed. No wonder the Romans didn’t want to go any further north than this forsaken place. Continue reading


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So, Christmas Tree: How Green Are Your Branches?

The tree is easily my favourite part of Christmas, and has been since childhood. Since I left home I’ve always had a small one in a pot, the second of which, having already done two Christmases, was doing really well up until about three weeks ago when two-thirds of it started to go brown. The time had come to replace it if I were to have a tree at all in my own home this year.

I’ve always preferred real trees to the artificial alternatives, partly because we always had a floor-to-ceiling Norway Spruce in our lounge when I was little. It smelled delicious and shed characteristically all over the presents every year. However a friend of mine suggested the better option for me now might be an artificial one, as I wouldn’t have to worry about nursing it through to next year, they never drop needles, and they are much better for the world than real ones (that aren’t in pots) as you keep re-using the same one instead of cutting down and disposing of a new tree every year.

I did feel a pang of guilt: Christmas is an incredibly wasteful time with 3 million extra tonnes of rubbish produced every year in the UK. Continue reading


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Deciduous Coniferous

2012.11.09 Coniferous vs. broadleaf

Idless Wood, Truro

As we stepped out of the car Annie and I were greeted by at least five dogs of varying shapes, sizes, ages and muddiness who were making their way from the gateway into Idless Wood across the car park. Two women followed behind, calling them to their car which was parked next to ours. While they attempted to bundle their entire pack into the boot of a single (Fiesta-ish sized) car, we released Luna from her puppy pen on the back seat. At thirteen weeks old she was tiny in comparison to the aged and well-fed beasts that came enthusiastically to sniff her face (the women were not succeeding in getting them car-bound), but being a whippet she looked extra waif-like next to them. Don’t worry said one of the women as Luna quivered on her skinny legs and tried to get back in the car, when you’re grown up you’ll be able to outrun all of them in a flash.

Idless Wood or St Clement’s Wood, is a Forestry Commission managed patch of broadleaved woodland and larch plantation. On entering by the main path we were met with Forestry Commission signs advising us of their usual tree cutting practices; along another posing the question Why are all the trees dying? Continue reading

An ArboreAlbum (for National Tree Week)

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A Little Lesson from the Ash Crisis

Yesterday at work I informed a customer that by not taking a plastic bag they were doubly aiding the natural environment as in addition to reducing plastic waste they were contributing to the enhancement of the great British outdoors through the company’s policy of donating a penny for every bag Not used to the Woodland Trust. Does that mean one more ash tree gets saved then? Quipped the customer in question. Let’s hope so, I replied, though it occurred to me as I said it that even though I am familiar with the species as being one of the more common trees of British woodland I wasn’t entirely sure what one looked like. I love trees, but will shamelessly own up to being woefully under-informed when it comes to matters of dendrology.

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