Endings and Beginnings

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The time between Christmas and New Year has always felt a bit odd to me; the main event has passed and now I feel I’m in limbo-land, waiting for everything to get back to normal again after New Year. I sometimes feel a little low as I reflect on another year passed and what I have yet to achieve in life, whilst at the same time feeling eager for the following year to begin so I can hopefully bring some more dreams to fruition.  2016 is certainly a year which many will be glad to see the back of, and for a number of reasons, both personal and global.  As mentioned in my previous post, 2017 is the first of the next nine-year cycle, and therefore it is vital that you get off to a good start.

Over the last few months, as 2016 has come to close, many feelings and situations in my life have also changed or ended. Maybe the same has happened for you.  I’ve already made plans for goals I wish to achieve next year, and am really looking forward to putting them into action.  Have you taken the time to reflect on what dreams you would like to see realised in 2017?  Try to get out and about in nature, especially if it is sunny, and use that as inspiration for your reflections.  I went to a lovely National Trust property today; Mottisfont in Hampshire, for a very cold but enjoyable walk around its house and grounds.  Having felt a little tired and down-hearted when I woke up this morning, I left feeling 100% better after strolling around, camera in hand, marvelling at the trees and winter light casting long shadows across the frost covered grass.  Seeing gardens in winter often makes you appreciate them all the more when you see them again in full summer colours.

It clearly had the desired effect as I’ve come home inspired to write a blog post, something I haven’t done in a while. I’m sure many of you who are reading this may be looking back on this past year with a mixture of emotions, so I suggest a dose of Mother Nature to ease any sadness or melancholy.  It has certainly helped me.

A word on Mottisfont; it became busy quite quickly, so I recommend getting there for when it opens. There are two cafes but they too filled up fast, so you may want to take your own lunch, although I can highly recommend the scones!  The grounds are lovely, even at this time of year.  However, the person who recommended Mottisfont to me said June is the best time to visit because the roses are in full bloom and smell wonderful; so a return trip is a must!  At this time of year, the house is only open on the ground floor but it had been beautifully decorated.  I look forward to seeing more of it on my next visit.

For more details, follow the link below. I visited Mottisfont at my own expense.

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/mottisfont

Photographs©VCUzzell2016

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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

 

Relaxation and Minions at Kingston Lacy

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I never tire of Kingston Lacy; in all seasons it has something for the visitor. Rich colours in the autumn, exposed structures of bare trees in the winter, flowers beginning to emerge in spring and the glorious greens of summer.  It was the last of those which I experienced yesterday, as myself and a friend strolled along the paths and through the gardens, welcoming the scent of rhododendrons and freshly cut grass as we waited for the sunlight to filter through the canopy above, to be (hopefully) caught in the lens of our cameras.  Many of the flowers had started to go over, but in the case of alliums, what remained was a beautiful exposed structure where the petals had been.

It was my companion’s first visit to Kingston Lacy and I had the honour of showing her around a place which has become quite familiar to me, and a welcome space to relax and recharge my batteries. The last time I had been there was the weekend after Christmas on a somewhat grey day with plenty of mud to squelch through, so the dry paths and array of colour yesterday was a welcome sight.  We stopped for a delicious slice of lemon drizzle cake in the kitchen garden, and admired the imaginative scarecrows protecting the precious produce growing in the allotments.

Despite having spent four hours strolling and snapping, we still hadn’t covered the whole estate, nor looked round the house. So a return visit is guaranteed!

Photographs©VCUzzell2016

For more information on Kingston Lacy, follow the link below:

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

I visited Kingston Lacy at my own expense.

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

 

Many Paths

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Many paths

I was honoured this week to take part in a Buddhist ceremony for a friend’s father, who passed away recently.  The proceedings were led by two monks, who had constructed a beautiful alter in my friend’s home, full of flowers, fruit, candles and chocolate cake.  That might sound like an odd combination but my friend told me the cake was to bring a smile to everyone’s face after the seriousness of the ceremony itself, and was to be shared among all those who took part.  I liked this idea and it reminded me of Professor Lupin offering Harry Potter some chocolate after the first Dementor attack, and I also recalled being given a small Kit-Kat by my swimming teacher as a child after I’d had to stay behind for extra lessons because I wasn’t a very good swimmer – I was terrified actually, but grateful for those tough lessons because now I love it and swim every week.  The sweetness to help the medicine go down as Mary Poppins would say, and she’d be right of course!

Yet, what struck me the most as I listened to the chanting around me, feeling the vibration of the deep voices of the monks and picking out the higher notes of the women in the room; was that my ears kept reaching out to the bird I could hear outside the window.  I like to think it was joining in with the music inside the house, but it also added to the moving scene before me, and made me think about my own spiritual beliefs.

I wasn’t raised with any religion at all, so have therefore been free to explore it on my own, and I have always been interested in the philosophies which underpin many faiths.  However, I have never felt any affinity to those religions I have read about and talked to those who have a faith over the years.  For me, my spirituality lies not in a church or temple, but among trees, walking through fields, with the sound of birds chattering away to each other in the hedgerows, a woodland stream tumbling over rocks, and the waves as I walk along the shore.

I’m not convinced there is anything else after this life and the only times I can come close to that sense of ‘something’ is when I am in such places of natural beauty, and also when I look up at the night sky and marvel at how the elements which created the universe, the planets and the stars, are also within you and me.  I’m amazed that this little human being, sat typing away at her little table, in her little flat, can be connected to an immense universe in such a way.

I look out the window now and admire the trees, tall and steady, bathed in evening sunlight; and I can hear a conversation going on between the birds in this garden and the next.  For me, this is all the sense of the spiritual I need.  I have also always loved H.H. the Dalai Lama’s description of his religion as that of ‘kindness’, which I’m sure most people try to embody every day, at least that’s what I like to believe, despite the stories I hear on the news.  Like many wise individuals, the Dalai Lama would say he is following one path to enlightenment/heaven, but that there are many.   My own path takes me through woodland, over hills and down to the sea.

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