Friday, 6 January 2017

New Year Sunrise - Hadleigh Castle

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas. Mine seemed to pass very quickly as we were busy with family and friends visiting. It was lovely to see people and spend time with them.

But I also went out walking when I could on some bright, frosty mornings. I can't stay indoors for very long! On the day after New Year, just as the sun was coming up, David and I decided to get plenty of fresh air by visiting Hadleigh Castle, once a medieval stronghold, and now a ruin high up on a hill with stunning views of the Thames estuary.

As it was a bank holiday, it was very quiet and still, with no traffic on the nearby roads, and no other visitors. It was the perfect time to wander around the site and make the most of those views.

Hadleigh Castle was built by Hubert de Burgh after King John granted him the land here in 1215. Hubert de Burgh was a military hero who became a powerful baron. He fell out of favour in the 1230s and the castle was seized by the king. It wasn't really occupied again, though, until the 1300s. Edward II started to take an interest in it, but it was Edward III who really made improvements here. Below is a sketch (from one of the display boards) of how the castle probably looked in 1370.

After Edward III, the castle wasn't used very much. It's built on London clay and suffers from subsidence (the castle itself is made from Kentish ragstone with mortar containing cockleshells from the estuary). The Tudor noble Richard Rich acquired the castle in the mid 1500s and after he began to rob it for its stone, it fell into disrepair. It was later used by Georgian revenue men to watch for smugglers on the estuary, but was never lived in again, It had become a romantic ruin, and as such, was famously painted by Constable in 1829.

Image result for constable hadleigh castle images
There is the sound of starlings everywhere here, so I wonder if they roost in the ruins. Below the castle, in the estuary, is Two Tree Island, a nature reserve. I've not visited there yet, but it's supposed to be a good site for butterflies. It's on my list to visit this summer.

Back home, I feed the animals around dawn, and as we've had some frosty mornings recently, the sheep have been given extra food.  They come up to be fed with frost on their thick coats...

All the water troughs freeze overnight, and so the ice has to be broken...

The wild birds are ready for food. David made a new bird table (it attaches to an existing pole) over the holidays, and the birds found it at once...

I'm always hoping to see some rarer birds here, such as a brambling. I keep checking the little flocks of finches for them.

Spring seems a long way off on mornings like these, although I have noticed a little extra daylight in the afternoons this week. It's great to see the change, isn't it?

Happy New Year!

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Autumn into Winter

These are my last images of this year's glorious autumn, which definitely feels over now. In the young wood, close to the smallholding, the colours were beautiful;

The sheep were out grazing quite happily; there has been little rain to drive them into the shelter;

But in the late summer/autumn drought caused the water level to drop in the local reservoir and it's been a surprise to see the tree stumps of the old farmland revealed once again (this land was flooded by the new reservoir in the 1950s)

This autumn/winter I love that I'm on a commuter route - a geese commuter route. Every morning they fly over in great skeins;

And then at sunset they fly back again to their roost;

My own geese are never interested in the wild geese flying low overhead. They have their own preoccupations - such as the return of Cador. This is my 'young' gander who had to be re-homed on the farm next door because he kept picking a fight with his father. Well - he's now back, in disgrace, because of his bad behaviour there, too. So I have to make sure that I separate the two males on the smallholding, which is giving me extra work (and a large headache...) It's like taking back a difficult teenager into the home...

Meanwhile here's something I've found a lot more soothing than squabbling geese - discovering a foxglove in my garden that flowered in October and throughout November;

I love the striking sunrises and sunsets of this time of year. This sunset blazed behind a large bonfire David and I had just lit. We could feel the frost in the air, and see the lights of the house across the dark field;

Now it's definitely not my favourite season, but I have to admit that winter has its moments, too.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Autumn (and a Hermit) in an Old Forest

Mother and fawn
I like November. I like the beautiful, bright days of this month, sometimes with a frosty start, where the sun catches the red, copper and gold of the leaves. I always think that the beginning and middle of November are autumn while the end of the month is winter. And I don't mind early winter, because it's still a bit of a novelty (although this feeling doesn't last long - by mid December I'm looking forward to spring!)

On sunny days in November, I'm usually in a 'make the most of the outdoors' mood. I like to enjoy the autumn colours while they last - and so when I can, I squeeze in a woodland walk. I did this recently when I walked through Writtle Forest, which isn't far from where I live. Writtle forest is made up of different areas of ancient woodland - and a good description of it comes from the late academic and writer on the British countryside, Oliver Rackham:

' Writtle Forest is a wild and lovely place. Nearly everything one sees there is of the fourteenth century or earlier: the great assart surrounded by hornbeam springs and alder slades: the heathland. Pollard oaks, and woodbanks.'

I'd also add to this description the lovely sight of fallow deer because there are so many here, and it's wonderful coming across them...

In the Middle Ages, Writtle Forest had its own hermit. This was actually a job created for someone by the king; it seems it was the 'fashion' (so to speak) to place a hermit in a forest in this part of the country (Hainault Forest had one as well). In Writtle, Henry II (1133-1189) gave the job to a solitary Cluniac monk - later increased to two monks. Their main purpose was to pray for the soul of the king and for the souls of departed kings, and they were given a small farm (a hermitage), and an income.

I looked for a trace of the hermitage, but I couldn't see anything. From the maps, it appears it stood where there is now a small meadow. There's another 'lost' building around here, too - King John's hunting lodge. Sadly, there's also little trace of this here today.

Writtle Forest has a claim to fame as the birthplace of Robert the Bruce....but which Robert the Bruce remains a dispute among historians. Some maintain it was the famous King of Scotland, while others believe it was his father (Robert the Bruce or Robert de Brus, sixth lord of Annandale, born 1243) who had an estate here.

I love walking through all woodland in November, but there is something special about walking through an ancient forest. The old trees, with their thick, gnarled trunks, have so much character.

And I don't suppose it was a bad job being a hermit here either, all those years ago.