First Spring projects in the new garden.

We’ve been living in this flat for almost exactly a year, so now is when we can see the results of all the work we did last summer and autumn.

The purple bugle we brought with us from the last garden is spreading nicely; the ferns are doing very well, as are the herb beds and our collection of clematis.

Then there’s the fantasy section; the gnome house and garden with it’s “cartoon pond”, complete with rocks painted as fish, frogs and a turtle by Rhonda and Audrey, witha clump of chives in place of reeds.

Plus our old friends, the gargoyles, are settling in quite happily, along with the watchful owl in the candlelight.

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Snowy tree kaleidoscope.

As part of tomorrow’s K’lee and Dale’s Cosmic Photo Challenge, over at Return of the Internet Nobody, I created some abstract images using the bare, snow covered trees at the bottom of our garden, with the odd daffodil thrown in for a splash of colour.

Then I decided to carry on mucking about and made quite a few extra.

Here’s a preview of the full collection.

Rooms and pathways: An Autumn walk at RHS Rosemoor.

Having a week off work in October and a sunny day at the same time, well that was too good an opportunity to pass up; so today Rhonda and I took advantage of a free entry offer at RHS Rosemoor and, of course, I took plenty of photos.

The large, sprawling gardens are cleverly laid out in a series of themed spaces, obscured from each other by the use of hedges, trees and hard landscaping, using the curves and perspective of connecting paths to draw your eye onward to the next horticultural treat.

There’s something for every gardening taste; formal rose gardens and the geometric precision of tightly clipped fir hedges; vibrant colours of the hot garden and a glorious mixture of textures in the foliage garden; the walled kitchen garden and fragrant delights of the herb garden and, my personal favourite, the lush and beautiful lake area, with its giant gunnera plants adding a primeval feel to the series of waterfalls that drop down to the sparkling, lily-covered waters below.

Transitions between the different areas are so subtle, though, that they feel like unforced progressions from one “garden room” to the next, especially as there are vegetables and herbs mixed together with decorative planting (including a superb pergola in the kitchen garden, with melons growing over it) making for a very pleasant couple of hours in the sunshine.

Picture this: In the misty morning…

First posted February 2015

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There are many beauty spots in North Devon that I’ve visited again and again to take photos, but it occurred to me today that I’ve taken more pictures in one place than almost any other.
Although it isn’t, strictly speaking, one place.

About eighteen months ago I posted a photo-blog based around my journey to work, along the A361 North Devon Link Road from Barnstaple to South Molton, on the edge of Exmoor National Park.
Since then I’ve taken dozens of photos of the sunsets, sunrises, landscapes and trees on and around the twisty, undulating ribbon of tarmac that winds through the wooded and field-checkered countryside.
Happily, they have proved very popular, both here on the blog and on Facebook, (where I have recently set up my very own public photography group to showcase any and all types of photographic art) but most of these shots are captured whilst making a hurried stop at the side of the road or a quick detour on the way home in the evening.
So today, having awoken at the unreasonable hour of 7.30, I took a traffic-free trip into the misty, frost-sparkly morning and went exploring.

Here’s one of two tunes I’ve picked to soundtrack my journey:

My first stop found me on the hills above the A361, looking down from the road to West Buckland

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…from whence I made my way towards Exmoor and my main objective for the morning’s adventure, the viaduct that spans the spectacular Castle Hill Estate at Filleigh.

I travel over the viaduct nearly every day and yet, apart from the time I had a job driving a large van, I’ve never been able to take advantage of the views afforded by its lofty elevation.

Until today, that is.

I parked in a lay-by just uphill from where the viaduct spans the steep-sided valley and walked back along the hedgerow, finally reaching the point where I could look over the parapet, onto the misty landscape below and across the treetops of the wooded hills that stretch off into the hazy distance.

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But I wasn’t satisfied with that.
What I wanted to do was to get some shots from under the viaduct itself.
Which brings me to the second tune with which to accompany this photographic odyssey:

Clambering over the crash barrier and down through the tangled undergrowth, I eventually came to a farm track that led me under the towering stone supports, into the dappled pine forest and fields that border the road.

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I climbed back up the steep slope of the valley to the road, sounds of traffic just beginning to disturb the peace of morning, heading home with the usual feeling of privilege I get when I’ve had a chance to witness the world as only the early bird sees it.

Picture this: Tapeley Park…

First posted January 2013

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Tapeley Park house and gardens is a unique and fascinating place, on the road between Barnstaple and Bideford.

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Tapeley Park house, seen from the Italian terrace garden.

The estate has been in the same family since the 1700’s, and is now owned by local anti-corporate campaigner and political activist, Hector Christie, who runs it on a sustainable basis, and he is proud of his Green credentials, supplying the local community – as well as the estate cafe – with organic vegetables, and using recycled materials wherever possible.

The house has it’s own claim to fame – the fact that it has an important collection of William Morris furniture – ironically preserved over the years, due to the house being unheated and mainly closed up for years, as revealed on a C4 documentary.

But it has always been the grounds – which include a Victorian kitchen garden and experimental permaculture garden – that make us go back time and again.

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The lake is a beautiful place for a picnic.

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Many exotic plants grow in the mild, sheltered climate.

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Neatly trimmed arbours lead you on…

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…to surprises around each corner.

There are animals too. Apart from the wildlife scurrying in the undergrowth, the estate keeps rare breed pigs, sheep, and highland cattle.

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Three little pigs.

The hard landscaping has been lovingly restored, most notably on the steps leading down to the Italian terrace garden…

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…and yet, there are still echoes of the past, lending a eerie calm to quiet, reflective corners.

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There is even a labyrinth, made from the stone shards of an exploded obelisk, victim of a 1931 lightning strike.

A fascinating and, in some indefinable way, enchanted place, it’s somewhere to return to again and again, always discovering something new.

If you’re ever down this way, why not go and see for yourself, you never know what you might find…

Picture this: Summer’s end at Broomhill…

First posted September 2014

With the days becoming noticeably shorter and meteorologists once again reach for descriptions like “autumnal” to make “cold and wet” seem more acceptable, I took the opportunity to visit Broomhill Sculpture Gardens again before the summer came to an end.

Plenty of the sculptures that I photographed in my previous post were still on display here and I knew from several other visits to Broomhill that many of these are semi-permanent installations, giving them the feel of familiar old friends, aging gracefully amongst the trees and lush foliage of the beautiful woodland valley setting.
But there is always something new to see here and the gardens were at the time playing host to the National Sculpture Prize, displaying work by the 2014 finalists in the woods and wildflower meadow down by the river.

Walking up the winding drive from the visitors parking area, the entrance flanked by sleek curving steel forms…

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…you encounter all manner of surprises, rearing above you from the steeply sloping banks or tucked away within the green alcove of a hedge.

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Reaching the top of the hill, your first view as you round the final curve in the drive is this impressive gryphon, towering over the terrace in front of the hotel…

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…where I sat for a few minutes, looking down over the valley, reading about the sculpture prize and enjoying a refreshing local cider in the late afternoon sun.

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Making my way down the zig-zagging path through the wooded garden, I first encountered sharply stylised African influenced stone figures…

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…juxtaposed with more abstract, modernist pieces, both on the ground and suspended in the branches overhead.

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The path eventually leads down to the lake, the area around it dotted with more sculptures, peering out from the surrounding trees and the still water itself.

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Following the meandering track back up through the woods, I couldn’t resist dropping in on the strange, post-apocalyptic world of the abandoned tennis court, an exhibit I am always drawn to when I come here and one that never fails to provide some striking images.

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Then I made my way to the main display area for the prize finalists, on the way passing what looked like a yoga lesson, frozen in time.

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Details of all the 2014 NSP finalists are included in the links at the top of this post, but here are a selection of some of my favourite pieces, starting with an oversized piece that reminded me of Alice in Wonderland, I can’t think why…

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And I had to get one final shot of this piece, another of my personal favourites, the atmospheric Watchers, frozen in enigmatic contemplation amongst the dappled shade by the riverbank.

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If you can get down there, I recommend that you visit the National Sculpture Prize exhibit at Broomhill, the voting ends soon and the winner will be announced in October.

Picture this: Autumn colours at Arlington Court…

First published in October 2014.

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This weekend I’ve once again been playing host to my old friend Ho, who has been taking a well earned break from a frantic work schedule to join me for a spot of relaxation in the beautiful autumnal Devon countryside.
This time we decided to take a stroll around the extensive grounds of Arlington Court, ancestral home of the Chichester family for over 500 years.

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The house itself is an imposing stone built mansion, surrounded by rolling lawns, lakes, and woodlands, criss-crossed with pathways that lead you to various viewpoints overlooking not only the gloriously varied vistas of the estate but also the picturesque church of St James (not owned by the Trust, but adjacent to the house) which just happened to be staging a flower festival at the time of our visit.

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We began our tour on the front lawn of the house, heading down to the ornamental lake, stocked with lazily cruising carp and topped with a proliferation of water lilies, pausing on the way to admire the splendor of an ancient oak tree that has stood on the site since well before the house or grounds existed.
The tree is preserved primarily for the scientifically important and internationally recognised variety of lichen, moss and fungi that festoon its gnarled and twisted trunk.

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The church is just visible through the trees that overlook the lake, providing a focal point for visitors, an invitation to investigate the hidden beauty of the peaceful sanctuary as you make your way round the estate.

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But before we headed into the cool vaulted space of the flower-strewn chapel we made our way down the shady path amongst the trees to discover what the woods had to offer.

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Before too long we came upon a small camp in a clearing, complete with a traditional clay oven beneath the billowing folds of a parachute canopy, along with rustic huts constructed from sticks salvaged from the woodland floor.

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The woods have the quiet atmosphere of a primeval forest, rotting trees left where they fell, allowing the verdant moss to take hold and making perfect burrows for small animals and insects, creating shapes that look for all the world like the backbones of long-dead dinosaurs or mythical dragons.

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Occasionally a gate or stile will allow a view across the cattle grazing fields of the deer park, to the densely wooded slopes of the valley, the trees starting to display the muted tones of autumn foliage.

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We retraced the path back to the lake and made for the tower of the church, immediately seeing signs of the floral attraction within…
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…already catching the scent of the expertly designed bouquets before we even entered the light and airy space of St James’s, the vibrant colours of hundreds of flowers perfectly complimenting the stained glass windows and ornamental carvings on the walls.
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Our final two stops were at the formal and walled kitchen gardens, the latter of which provides fresh produce for the house and its cafe.
There was even an imperious peacock to welcome us to his domain, although he didn’t seem keen on me taking his picture and I required several stealthy attempts to capture him in all his iridescent glory.
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There is even an “insect hotel” high-rise apartment block for bees and other pollinators…
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…and there is always something intriguing around the next corner or through the next inviting door.
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…and of course the Chichester family symbol, a heron grappling with an eel, is in evidence everywhere.
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All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable visit to a place that I’m sure I’ll visit again and again, because there is always something new to discover.

Arlington Court house and gardens are open until the end of October, I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys relaxing amidst spectacular scenery, basking in the more genteel atmosphere of days gone by and leaving the stresses and strains of modern life behind for a few hours.