The Alternative Bucket List

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Don’t you just love those ‘bucket lists’ and ‘things to do before you’re insert age of choice here’ articles? No, me neither.  Who thought that was a good idea?  Did someone think ‘Oh I know, let’s make people feel more inadequate by telling them they should have snorkelled off some far-flung beach, sky-dived and got hideously drunk in a famous club, and all before they’re 20’?

How about putting this on your bucket list? Go for a walk among nature on a sunny day with your loved ones.  Sit outside and enjoy the peace and quiet of your surroundings while eating a rather delicious scone, then go for a leisurely stroll, admire the view, take a few photographs and breathe in the fresh air; simple and achievable, with no need for specialist equipment other than a bottle of water and sun protection.

That’s on my list, and it’s a goal I’ve been able to achieve time and time again. I wonder if all these ‘must do’ lists only add to our anxiety about ageing and do little to make us feel we’ve actually lived well and to the full.  What consists of a fully-lived life is very personal to you and what you take pleasure from; that might be bungee-jumping in New Zealand, or spending the day walking round a stately home and gardens, or it might not.

In a bid to appear to be living our lives to the full (and putting it on social media) have we lost sight of (apologies for the cliché) the simple things; just being with those we love and admiring the world around us.

So what would be on your alternative bucket list? Think of the little things; a meal with your family in your favourite local restaurant, going to the cinema with your brother/sister, having coffee and a laugh with friends; life isn’t all about the big moments, it’s about the small ones too.  Don’t take them for granted, for they too will pass.

This post was inspired by a walk around the RSPB’s Arne Reserve in Dorset. It has a lovely café, where they serve delicious scones, and you can choose from several walks around the reserve.  The views over Poole Bay are wonderful and the walks take you through beautiful oak woodland, past purple heather and of course there’s plenty for bird watchers all year round.  Despite being a native of Dorset, this was my first visit to Arne, but I hope to make it a regular haunt in order to see the reserve in all seasons.

For more information, follow the link below:

http://www.rspb.org.uk/discoverandenjoynature/seenature/reserves/guide/a/arne/

Photographs©VCUzzell2016

 

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Minterne Gardens: a piece of paradise in Dorset

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Mother Nature has been kind to me in many ways; one of which is the fact that I was born on the beautiful South Coast of England, in the equally lovely county of Dorset, which is where I still live. Although I’m based by the sea (couldn’t live any further inland; I tried that when I went to university, and hated it) there is so much countryside to explore, most of which is only thirty minutes to an hour away.  There is also so much of my own fair county which I have yet to explore, and I’m constantly surprised by how much wonder there is in one place.

Yesterday was another of these discoveries as I set out early with my family to visit Minterne Gardens, near Dorchester. It was still quite hazy when we left the, but as we drove deeper into the Dorset countryside, the sun was beginning to break through and the temperature was warming up quite nicely.  As we made our way to our destination we passed fields of green and yellow, pretty villages and inviting tea rooms.  It was quite easy to find Minterne Gardens and free parking is opposite St Andrews Church, which is next to the entrance to the gardens.  It’s quite a small parking area, so I imagine it would get full quite quickly at the height of summer, especially because Minterne Magna is also the starting point for those who wish to view the Cerne Abbas Giant.

It only costs £5 to enter, which is an absolute bargain, considering the amount of flora on display, and the birdsong which accompanies your stroll through the Capability Brown inspired landscape, taking in the array of colour and the fragrance all around you. On your way to the start of the gardens you will pass the ideally situated Minterne House, which is not open to the public, but on Spring Bank holidays you can have tea and cake on the terrace.  There are public toilets towards the beginning of the route through the gardens, but wheelchair access around the grounds would be quite difficult as many of the paths are uneven.

What struck me most about the 1.5 miles of paths through the Himalayan landscape were the vibrant pinks, reds, yellows, purples and whites which greeted you around every corner, especially at the moment as the Rhododendrons are still in bloom, although starting to go over. I hope to go back in October and admire the trees in their autumnal glory as well, which will involve a lot of stopping and snapping with my camera; it could take a while to get round that day.  You could easily spend several hours pootling along the paths, marvelling at the variety of plants and the consideration taken in their arrangement, enabling every species to thrive and shine.

As I said, nature has been kind to me in many ways, and being able to walk around such gorgeous scenery on a summer’s day with family, taking photos and listening to birds singing all around me, was just about perfect and a few hours I’m very grateful for.

Photographs©VCUzzell2016

 

May Day Visit to Kingston Maurward

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As a Dorset native, I like to think I have visited most places of interest in the lovely county I am fortunate enough to live in, but I had never visited Kingston Maurward House and Gardens until yesterday. Despite it being May Day, spring wasn’t much in evidence as the sky remained cloudy and grey throughout most of the couple of hours my family and I spent there.  However, it was still a pleasant stroll around the 35 acre gardens, which form part of the 750 acre estate and also contain a land-based college, working farm and dairy, equestrian centre and animal park.

As we walked beside the lake and through the many different types of garden; including Japanese, secret, terraced and Elizabethan walled gardens among many others, the sound which could be heard above all others was that of birdsong and running water from the stream. As it was quite a dull day, I don’t think we saw the gardens at their best, so a return journey is definitely on the cards.  We didn’t walk round the animal park but many people, families especially, were doing so.  There’s a shop and café at the entrance, but they are very small, so I recommend taking a packed lunch.  There is a second café, which looked bigger, but is closed at the weekends.

If you’re in Dorset on a sunny day, pack a sandwich and go!

There’s a rich history to the estate, which you can read more of below:

http://www.kmc.ac.uk/gardens/

Photographs©VCUzzell2016

 

Kingston Lacy – a winter walk

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Summer is probably one of the most popular seasons to visit the countryside, but its opposite on the wheel of the year can also be just as rewarding. Winter reveals the structural beauty of woods, with patterns; shapes and forms of the trees come to the fore.  They are also less busy, and you can almost have a place like Kingston Lacy, which is just outside Wimborne in Dorset, all to yourself.

It certainly felt that way as myself and my family arrived there this morning in light drizzle, wondering if we’d done the right thing in venturing out, but decided we might as well make the most of it, and we were glad we had because the grounds were much quieter than in the height of tourist season; and although the house itself was only open on the ground floor due to the time of year, it was the woodland around it which most interested us, so we didn’t mind.

If you’re going to visit during the winter months, or even after plenty of rain, beware as the paths through the woods can be very muddy in places, making accessibility for some difficult. However, the walk around the grounds, which include the woods, Japanese garden and Kitchen garden, is generally level and easy going.  It took us about an hour and a half, but we didn’t rush and took photos along the way.

There’s a good café and toilets at the start, in addition to a kiosk and more facilities for a comfort break near the Kitchen garden and allotments. There’s also a National Trust shop and a few further buildings to explore, which have changing displays according to the season.  The house itself is lovely, and well worth taking your time over.  As it was low season, it had been shuttered-up, and the statues which surround it were also covered.  So if you want to appreciate the building at its best, then wait for the spring.

Being among the various browns and deep greens this morning, with leaves mulching under foot; the damp smell of the earth filling the air, was just what I needed to continue re-charging my batteries ahead of the coming year.

For more information follow the link below:

http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/kingston-lacy

Photographs©VCUzzell2015

 

Nature Calls

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Old Harry Rocks, Dorset  Swanage, Dorset

I am extremely lucky to live in the beautiful county of Dorset, with The New Forest National Park just over the border in Hampshire too.  This weekend I went for a walk in the spring sunshine up to Old Harry Rocks with my family and many other walkers and tourists.  There was a slight chill to the breeze, but otherwise it was a lovely sunny day to walk and take photos.  Luckily, it was a clear day too, so we could appreciate the expanse of ocean that stretched out ahead of us, as boats, both fast and slow, went back and forth across the relatively calm waves.

The water at the base of the rocks was clear and inviting, although it would have been freezing cold.  My brother and I snapped away as our mum stood a little further back; she’s not keen on heights, and we probably worried her a bit as we looked down from the edge to get the best shots.  The rocks were quite busy with visitors but we all took turns to stand or crouch down at the best spots to get the photo we wanted.

Once we’d had our fill of Old Harry, we walked up the hill towards Ballard Down, greeting fellow walkers and grazing cows on our way.  The cows were predictably indifferent to us, and seemed to offer a withering glance at a tourist as he photographed them.  Further on up the climb, we began to observe the bright colours of hang-gliders silently drifting through the blue sky above.

The view down into Swanage Bay was wonderful; as was the sight of Poole Harbour on the other side.  No camera could really do them justice, but we tried; if nothing else, but to record the moment and remember being there on that day.  To recall the sights, the birdsong all around us, the waves below and the smell of cows (maybe not that last one so much).

Just a simple walk like this, to be out within nature and away from the four walls of our homes, laptop screens, phones and traffic flow was healing and rejuvenating.  There are times when I long to immerse myself within woodland, to feel small in a vast landscape and be reminded not just of the beauty nature provides but connection it offers us with our true selves, away from the ever-powerful call of the virtual world we increasingly live in.  We need a break sometimes, to re-charge with the earth.

We planned the next walk on the way home.  I’m already looking forward to it.

Photographs©vcuzzell2015

Writing 101 Day 1: 20 minutes free writing inspired by a visit to Lulworth Castle in Dorset

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Lulworth Castle, Dorset

The dew shimmers beneath our feet as my family and I walk towards the castle, Lulworth Castle, in Dorset.  Families converse in various languages all around us and pose for photos on the castle steps.  We enter and climb to the top of one of the towers.  Fortunately, the early morning mist has lifted enough to give us a view for miles around.  Mum is especially happy that she has made the climb and looks forward to telling her sisters next week.  We descend and wander around the restored remains.  The castle was almost destroyed by fire in the early twentieth century, and now fireplaces and doorways appear halfway up the walls, and archways lead into thin air.  The windows reveal the once magnificent interior, with perfectly framed views of the grounds outside.  We walk out into the warm sunshine, and stroll through the parkland, admiring the trees.

I am aware of how precious these moments are; with my mum and brother.  Each second we spend here, every damp footstep, is one that will not come again.  Maybe it’s my age, I’m getting to one of those birthdays, but I feel time more keenly than I used to, especially when I’m with my family.  I cannot bear to think that one day we will be separated forever.  That’s always been my gripe with God, if it exists; to give us time with those we love, and then take it away far more quickly than we had expected.

I have been thinking recently of how I can have a positive influence on the world.  I guess I want to help people to realise just how much they should value those simple moments of walking through a park, around a castle, by the sea, even going to the shops!  Those moments won’t come again, and they should be treasured, and documented, if possible, in words or images, or only in our minds.  To commit the sight of a tree, my mum and brother walking ahead of me as I’ve stopped to take a photo, and I can see them discussing something as I catch up to them; we stop to listen to a bird singing in the hedgerow, which we try to see, but it’s well hidden, deep within the branches.  So instead, we pause for a moment to listen to its song.  I breathe in the fresh smell of cut grass, the spring air that whispers of warmer days to come after the cold of winter, which my brother hates.  As we walk uphill to admire the landscape, I want to commit these moments to memory, to carry them home with me and recall them as I sip tea from the same cup my grandmother once did, while I sit in my flat, the late afternoon sun illuminating the walls of my home, and feel grateful to have this time.

Photograph©vcuzzell2015