Looking up in Lockdown

A year ago today the UK went into its first Lockdown. We were told to #stayathome #protecttheNHS #savelives. None of us could have imagined then the impact Covid-19 would have, and is still having, on our lives.

It is a sombre day when we mourn and remember the people who have lost their lives to the virus and give thanks for those who have worked so tirelessly to keep the rest of us safe.

For me, it has also been an opportunity to reflect on the positives of a year close to home, of looking up during Lockdown and discovering what has been in walking distance of my front door.

First local walk in Lockdown 1.0
24 March 2020: the first of many strolls along the Basingstoke canal with my new walking companion Meg

Within a 5-mile radius of my house, I discovered grassy footpaths …

Footpath at end of wood

woods filled with foxgloves …

Woodland foxgloves

and tranquil ponds.

Tranquil pond

As the year progressed, I marvelled at the change in the agricultural landscape.

Field of ploughed soil
Field of oilseed rape
Field of poppies
Field of barley

I looked up into the trees.

Horse chestnut blooms
Horse chestnut conkers

And down at the ground.


I became so much more aware of the changing seasons (my walking boots have never seen so much mud!) and, of course, the local wildlife.

Female sparrowhawk

And, as I have actually spent time relaxing in my garden, looking and listening (not just gardening), I have got to know it better too. I have delved into the detail of my plants …

Inside tulips

found what works for pollinators …

Plants for pollinators

and tried growing different vegetables …

Acorn squash

It has not been an easy year, but I am thankful for the time it has given me to appreciate what has always been right in front of me waiting to be discovered, and I am the better for it.

Odiham ChristmasCrows

The villagers of Odiham and North Warnborough in North East Hampshire (where I am fortunate to live) raised spirits this festive season with a ChristmasCrow competition. Over 70 Christmas-themed creations popped up in all sorts of locations around the two villages – elves on doorsteps, fairies in trees and Santas on window ledges.

It’s been a pretty grim year, so it was a real treat to see so much good humour and creativity on display.

Elf and safety

Elves were particularly popular, appearing in doorways and trees, outside the pub and even at the cricket club.

Christmas elf scarecrows
Have your-elf a very Merry Christmas

An elf even popped up in someone’s window, playing a piano and winning the ‘Most imaginative’ award.

Sir Elfton John
Sir Elfton John

Be an angel …

It was lovely to see the nativity represented.

Angel and shepherd scarecrows
(Top left) the Angel Gabriel came down to earth after a storm, while (top right) the Angel of the Wharf won ‘Best in Show’. I particularly loved the smiley nativity shepherd

Rebels without a Claus

A sleigh-load of Santas graced us with their presents (sorry, the puns are getting worse!).

Santa scarecrows
Santas appeared in all sorts of compromising positions: stuck in chimneys, astride porches, perched on window ledges, hovering in yoga positions and hanging from tinsel swings. ‘Twas a Bum Year 2020’ won the ‘Funniest’ category.

The Santa perched on the window ledge above even provided us with this year’s naughty-or-nice list.

Naughty or nice list 2020
No surprises who made the naughty list in 2020

Cool dudes

None of these snowmen got a frosty reception.

Snowmen scarecrows

And snow much more

There were gingerbread families …

Gingerbread family

… and gingerbread men.

Gingerbread man

Grinches …

Grinch scarecrows

… and fairies and soldiers and Christmas tree elves and … dinosaurs??

Even Boris and The Queen got a look in.

Boris Johnson and The Queen scarecrows

My top 3

To be honest, they were all brilliant, but I thought the following entries were particularly creative/clever.

My Number 3

Strictly Santa
Strictly Santa – well done Bill !!

My Number 2

Covid Santa
Covid Santa -– a bit scary at first, but as with his namesake we got used to him hanging around.

And my winner …

Rudolph scarecrow
Rudolph in a tux – the ultimate cool ChristmasCrow

Thank you to everyone in Odiham and North Warnborough who put a smile on our faces this month!

Happy (soggy) new year!

Happy new year everyone, and what a strange start to 2016 it is; certainly a lot wetter, windier and milder than we’re used to. Who thought we’d still be in double figures degrees centigrade in January, with daffodils and irises already in flower?!

Today I travelled back from my Christmas break in North Cornwall on flooded but passable debris-strewn roads with overflowing gutters, alongside lakes that used to be fields. Not that I’m complaining. I know that some of you have had a lot worse to contend with up North, and my deepest sympathies to all of you who have water where it shouldn’t be!

Although we had a wet and windy time of it in the South West over the past week, with the right gear (new waterproof trousers for Christmas), we still managed to get out and explore.

Our highlights included:

Rocky Valley amble

Welcome to Rocky Valley

Welcome to Rocky Valley

Just East of Tintagel we strolled alongside the gushing Trevillet river, down through an ivy-clad valley …

Trevillet river

The swollen Trevillet river

… towards the bracken-strewn slopes of a rocky inlet …

Rocky Valley - North Cornwall

Heading towards the coast in Rocky Valley

… emerging above a stunningly stark black slate gorge where waves pounded the steep walls. At their highest point, the slate canyon walls tower over 70 feet above the river below.

Black slate gorge, Rocky Valley

The Trevillet river runs through a dramatic black slate gorge to the sea

From here, we climbed up onto a windswept headland …

Rocky viewpoint, North Cornwall

Rocky point of view

… for views along the rugged Cornish coast, across gorse bushes heavy with blooms …

Views of the North Cornish Coast from Rocky Valley headland

Views of the North Cornish Coast from Rocky Valley headland

… before heading back along the swollen river, where we found Bronze Age labyrinth rock carvings.

Labyrinth rock carving

Labyrinth rock carving

Camel Trail bike ride

The Camel Trail at Wadebridge

The Camel Trail at Wadebridge

Starting roughly in the middle of the Camel Trail at Wadebridge, we cycled along the river and under the trees to Bodmin, then to Wenfordbridge and back to Wadebridge, then along the Camel estuary to Padstow.

Camel river, Wadebridge

The sun made an appearance by the Camel River in Wadebridge

31 miles along a disused railway, and the rediscovery of my quad muscles, were enough for me, but while I relaxed with a coffee in Padstow, watching the evening Christmas lights flicker on around the harbour, my husband went into battle against storm Frank, cycling back to Wadebridge to pick up the car (my hero!).

Portquin to Port Isaac

Portquin, North Devon

All the gear, no idea … how muddy I was going to get!

This stretch of clifftop path squeezes in all the best attributes of the Cornish coast. It is unpredictable, wild and rugged, and on this occasion extremely windy and very muddy.

Wind and waves overlooking Portquin

Wind and waves overlooking Portquin

We slipped up muddy paths to watch gannets soaring over frothy waves off the headland. Then slithered down muddy paths to watch a lone grey seal ‘seabathing’ just off the rocks …

Grey seal

Grey seal

… before sliding over more muddy terrain for traditional Cornish pasties and hot chocolate (with marshmallows and cream!) in Port Isaac.

Port Isaac

Port Isaac

Given the pretty atrocious weather, we did have a few indoor highlights on this trip as well, namely:

  • Cornish real ales
  • A 5-star 5-course New Year’s Eve dinner in the St Kew Inn
  • Evenings at ‘The Beech Hut’ with a log burner and Netflix
  • A packed-out matinee showing of Star Wars at The Regal cinema in Wadebridge.

Although it has been a grey start to the year, there are always ways to make it greener.

Don’t forget: 15 minutes of green in 2016! cropped-15-logo-no-url-for-web.jpg


Bluebells, bikes and Hockney

This time last week I was travelling back from Yorkshire, after a fabulous bank holiday weekend catching up with ‘old’ friends. The ‘green’ highlight of the weekend was a walk on the Bolton Abbey estate, starting at the Bolton Priory ruins, a 12th century Augustinian monastery overlooking the River Wharfe.

Bolton priory ruins on the edge of the River Wharfe, Yorkshire Dales

Starting point: Bolton priory ruins

At this point, not being the most sure-footed of individuals, I opted for taking the bridge over the river. For those less concerned about getting their feet wet (aka, my husband!) the alternative is to hop across 57 stepping stones (some, a little wobbly!).

Bolton Abbey stepping stones on River Wharfe

Stepping stone route for the more sure-footed walker

From the other side of the river, we followed an uneven path up into Strid wood, a site of special scientific interest and one of the largest areas of acidic oak woodland in the Yorkshire Dales. At this time of year, it is still carpeted with bluebells, and the trees and river banks were alive with birds.

A carpet of bluebells, in Strid Wood, Bolton Abbey

A carpet of bluebells in Strid Wood

At river level we spotted a dipper bobbing up and down in its search for food among the rocks, while pied flycatchers and grey wagtails skimmed the surface of the fast-flowing waters in their quest for insects.

Dipper and pied flycatcher

Down by the river: dipper (top) and pied flycatcher (bottom)

Further along the path, someone had left several piles of seed out next to a bench, and we reaped the benefit of their thoughtfulness with an impromptu photography session, as nuthatches, coal tits, blue tits, great tits, robins – and even mallards – swarmed over the easy pickings. And we didn’t get much further down the path before we glimpsed a treecreeper inching its way up a rough-barked oak.

Woodland birds (from top left clockwise): nuthatch; coal tit; great tit; treecreeper

Woodland birds (from top left clockwise): nuthatch; coal tit; treecreeper; great tit

We passed the ‘Strid’ itself, a narrow section of the River Wharfe where the water gushes with extreme force through a deep chasm of rock. The strid gets its name from the Anglo Saxon ‘Stryth’, meaning tumult or turmoil.

The frothing waters of the Strid at Bolton Abbey

The frothing waters of the Strid at Bolton Abbey

After a brief (uncomfortable!) rest further upstream, we crossed the river at the turreted aqueduct. The impressive castellations of this elaborate bridge hide the pipe that carries water from reservoirs in the Dales to the conurbations of West Yorkshire.

Rest stop by the river, Bolton Abbey

I could do with a cushion!

We then headed back downstream along the opposite bank, back to the start of our walk, where we tucked into hot chocolates and fudge cake. Yum!

‘The arrival of spring’

As for the rest of the weekend, given how close we were to Saltaire, it would have been rude not to check out the work of local artist David Hockney. His only permanent collection in the UK is exhibited at Salts Mill, a former textiles factory built by Sir Titus Salt in 1853. It is now a complex of art galleries, bookshops, shopping outlets and cafes across several floors.

Road across the Wolds, 1997, by David Hockney

Road across the Wolds, 1997, by David Hockney

The star attraction at present, rather apt for the time of year, is David Hockney’s collection of 49 five-foot framed pictures, all drawn on an iPad, entitled ‘The arrival of Spring’. Each picture depicts a specific day between 1st January and 31st May, 2011, and are a detailed study of the change in scene on Woldgate, near Bridlington, East Yorkshire, during that period.

The Arrival of Spring by David Hockney

The Arrival of Spring by David Hockney

The introduction to the exhibition summed up how I feel about 15minutesofgreen and the time I spend in the natural world:

These pictures depict fleeting moments of intense beauty, reminding us of the importance of – and the joy we can get from – looking very closely!

My Hockney favourites

My Hockney favourites

Saltaire village

Titus Salt also built housing, a church, schools and almshouses for his work force, and we enjoyed a meander around the fascinating Victorian industrial village of Saltaire, which is now designated a world heritage site and well worth a visit.

I loved the Saltaire lions: ‘Determination’ and ‘Vigilance’ are positioned outside the former factory school, while on the opposite side of the road ‘War’ and ‘Peace’ watch over the Mechanics’ Institute (Victoria Hall).

'Determination' Saltaire lion. Originally designed by the sculptor Thomas Milnes of London for the base of Nelson's column in Trafalgar Square. After he had completed the models the commission was taken out of his hands and Sir Titus Salt snapped them up instead

‘Determination’ Saltaire lion. Originally designed by the sculptor Thomas Milnes of London for the base of Nelson’s column in Trafalgar Square. After he had completed the models the commission was taken out of his hands and Sir Titus Salt snapped them up instead

Lots of lycra

So we’d experienced the nature, wallowed in the art, and nearly come to blows over politics at the dinner table (but that’s another story). And so to the sport, as our visit just happened to coincide with the Tour de Yorkshire, one of the biggest cycling events in the UK this year. We positioned ourselves along the high street in Ilkley, where an over-excited crowd had gathered.

The anticipation of the crowd, high street, Ilkley

The anticipation of the crowd, high street, Ilkley

After a lot of waiting, we saw … a lot of bikes … going very fast! Blink and you missed them.

A blur of lycra

A blur of lycra

I didn’t manage to get a glimpse of Bradley Wiggins (the only cyclist I stood a chance of recognizing), but I cheered on the rest of the peloton, and clapped extra hard for the stragglers further back (I know that feeling!).

Riders in the Tour de Yorkshire, Ilkley

Riders in the Tour de Yorkshire, Ilkley

Within a couple of minutes, they’d all gone past and I reverted to the serious business of admiring the town’s flower displays, which were simply stunning.

Ilkley flower display

Ilkley flower display

The flower beds of Ilkley were bursting with colour

All in all, an excellent bank holiday. Thanks to Steve G for organizing!

Mud and Tundry Pond

Everyone talks about January being the bleakest of months, and for the most part it is pretty grey and dreary. So when the sun emerges and the sky turns blue … get out there! Last Sunday, the wind dropped and the sun shone over Hampshire, so we laced up our walking boots and set off – with friends – along a (very) muddy footpath out of Odiham.

Friends on walk, Tundry Pond

Friends, sunshine … and muddy boots (not shown)

After our  new year Exmoor exploits, the beauty of this walk was …. no hills! We tramped over squelchy fields and through waterlogged woodland up to the Farnham road (A287), crossing over the busy thoroughfare to pass between two lodges, which were previously the gatehouses to the Dogmersfield Park Estate. From here, we followed the driveway up past a redbrick lakeside mansion, before continuing on a grassy track through picturesque farmland (complete with Highland cattle) towards Tundry pond.

Dogmersfield Park Estate walk to Tundry Pond

First glimpse of Tundry Pond

A few more fields and a lot more mud later, we emerged on the Basingstoke canal towpath, which we followed back to Odiham.

2 hours well spent!

Basingstoke canal

Basingstoke canal

The Exe Valley

Exford is almost the geographical centre of Exmoor, and it is from this attractive village that we started our new year’s eve walk. At the far end of the village car park is the first of three kissing gates. Now, kissing gates are so called because the gate merely ‘kisses’ (brushes) the enclosure on either side, rather than needing to be securely latched, but I prefer the romantic notion that the first person to pass through has to close the gate to the next person and demand a kiss in return for entry. It was a good way to secure lots of kissing on the last day of 2014.

After the gates, it was time to head uphill again – well, a walk in Exmoor wouldn’t be a walk in Exmoor without a hill!

Exford walk, heading uphill again

The start of another uphill walk onto the moors

Lots of mud and a couple of fields later, and once again we were enjoying those undulating Exmoor views – a patchwork of fields, hedges and woodland on the slopes of the Exe valley.

Exe valley view

Exe valley view

In a land where we we seem to have to fight for personal space, here is a corner of England where you can truly get ‘far from the madding crowd’ (well, in the depths of winter, at least). We only met two other people in 4 hours of walking. There must have been others up here recently though, as, bizarrely, someone had decorated a hawthorn bush with several strands of tinsel and a bauble, an incongruous sight so far from the bustle of civilization.

Decorated hawthorn bush, Exe valley

Wild ‘Christmas tree’

As we passed from field to field, down towards the Exe river, I was particularly struck by one of the boundary hedges, a gothic-looking line of dark beech trees, bereft of their leaves, growing tall out of a mossy bank and disappearing over the horizon of the field.

Beech tree boundary, near Exford

Beech tree boundary

We continued down to the Exe river, where we stopped for a very quick lunch. It was a rather bleak scene at the bottom of the valley. Grey clouds loomed and there were a few spots of rain, but that didn’t spoil our riverside walk, slopping around in mud.

The bubbling river Exe on a cold winter's day

The bubbling river Exe on a cold winter’s day


We climbed a few more fields, away from the river, which thankfully were frozen over or would have been pretty boggy. Nearly back at Exford, that just left three kissing gates to negotiate – a good end to the year!!

Selworthy beacon

Dunkery Beacon one day, Selworthy Beacon the next. 30th December 2014 dawned clear and bright over Exmoor, so we figured we might as well head high again, only this time on foot.

We walked from Porlock down to the bottom of quiet leafy Bossington Lane, where Bossington Hill loomed ahead of us. From Bossington car park we crossed over a stream and into woodland at the foot of the hill.

Bossington Hill

Bossington Hill

We climbed gradually, first through the trees and then past tufty grass and bracken around the side of Bossington Hill. Even at this height, we had fabulous views across the calm sparkling waters of Porlock Bay. Straight ahead of us was Hurlstone Point, but instead we began the ridiculously steep climb up the cleft between Hurlstone Point and Bossington Hill. The path had been churned up by cattle, so it was hard-going in areas, but soon we could see the signpost at the head of the combe and made the final push for the top. It was then only a short walk further along the grassy top to Selworthy Beacon.

Selworthy Beacon

Goal achieved: Selworthy Beacon (308 m, 1012 ft)

We paused at the beacon for a quick bite of lunch, surrounded by huge gorse bushes in full winter bloom and fabulous panoramic views across the Vale of Porlock to the thickly wooded valleys and the moors beyond. The sound of galloping hooves alerted us to a small band of wild Exmoor ponies just down the path from us.

The gorse bushes of Exmoor (in winter bloom)

The gorse bushes of Exmoor (in winter bloom)

Next, we crossed over the top of the combe and into woodland, following well-sign-posted tracks on a steep descent into Allerford. The woods were pretty devoid of bird life at this time of year, but we did enjoy watching a flock of long-tailed tits (Aegithalos caudatus) as they passed excitedly through the trees.

We came out of the woods at Allerford, over the much-photographed packhorse bridge next to a pretty cottage. Built as a crossing over the River Aller (from which the village gets its name), the bridge is thought to be of Medieval origin. We were rapidly losing the light, as the sun had already disappeared behind the hills.

Allerford packhorse bridge

Allerford packhorse bridge

From Allerford, it was a relatively short walk down to the 16th Century unaltered Lynch Chapel and back along the roads to Porlock, where we stopped at the Top Ship Inn for an early evening drink.

Lofty pruning


Abbey Meadows poplars

Abbey Meadows poplars

Walking along the Thames path in Abingdon, heading from Abingdon bridge towards Abingdon lock,  you can’t help but notice the striking lines of lofty poplars in Abbey Meadows park. But this week, some of them were going topless! The distinct sound of a chain saw, a shout and a crash, and the tree surgeons’ work in progress became apparent.

Tree topping, Abbey Meadows, November 2014

Topp[l]ing from right to left

All trees need to be pruned from time to time to maintain the desired size and/or shape and to keep them in a safe condition. Pruning also promotes growth and improves the quality of flowers, fruit or timber. These poplars were getting a bit more than a short back and sides.

I think the tree surgeons deserve the award for the highest 15 minutes of green this week!

Tree surgeon, Abbey Meadows, Abingdon, Nov 2014

Human woodpecker

Tree surgeon, Abbey Meadows, Abingdon, Nov 2014

What a view!

Tranquil waters at Abingdon bridge

Tranquil waters at Abingdon bridge

I’m sure they had amazing views from up there, but I was content at ground level, with the tranquil reflections on the water and dappled light amongst the trees. Another stunning lunchtime walk.


View from the Thames footpath, Abingdon

View from the Thames footpath, Abingdon

Abbey Meadows park, Nov 2014

And back through Abbey Meadows park



Lunchtime mill stream meander

It’s been drizzling with rain pretty much all day, which makes 15 minutes of green a bit tricky. But, no excuses. At lunchtime, I donned my waterproof coat and headed out into Abingdon, through the Abbey Gardens and up the footpath that borders the old mill stream to Abingdon lock.

Abingdon millstream footpath
Mill stream footpath, Abingdon

Note: you can make this a longer circular walk by crossing the river Thames at Abingdon lock and heading back to the town along the main river bank  … but not today!

As you can see, there wasn’t a lot of ‘traffic’ along the footpath. It was wonderfully peaceful. I passed a couple of dog walkers (with very muddy dogs!), one runner, a fisherman (can you spot him under his green brolly in the photo below?).

Abingdon mill stream
A peaceful spot (for fishing): Abingdon mill stream

Plus the usual entourage of mallards. If you stop for more than 5 seconds at the side of the stream the ducks come a-paddling and a-quacking on the assumption that you are toting vast quantities of stale bread.

This brisk 20-minute walk ticked all sorts of green-therapy boxes: lungfuls of fresh air, entertaining grey squirrels in the canopy overhanging the stream (who needs Cirque du Soleil?!), an enjoyable and impromptu workout, and another chance to soak up that amazing autumnal colour palette.

Make sure you get your fix, while there are are still some leaves on the trees. Judging by the amount of leaf litter around, our autumnal days are numbered.

First tweet

So, we’re up and running on twitter, and – as my first tweet announces – my 15 minutes of green today was a stroll through Abingdon Abbey Gardens.

First, through the formal garden area of flower beds and herbaceous borders (polyanthus and pansies being the current planting scheme).

Abingdon Abbey Gardens

Then into a parkland area bordered by mature trees, including a magnificent European copper beech (Fagus sylvatica), resplendent in its autumn glory and a giant redwood that more than lived up to its name.

Copper beech

I carried on along the leaf-littered path, past the ornamental lake, where water voles are reputed to thrive. There were no water voles today (I’ll be sure to let you know if I ever see one!), but a rustling in the leaves above me revealed a grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) tucking into something tasty.

Grey squirrel

I finally came to the Mill Stream that borders Abbey Meadows, where mallards, moorhens and mute swans were making the most of a half-term bread-feeding frenzy.

Cygnet on the Mill Stream, Abingdon

By 4.30pm I was losing the light, signalling that it was time to return to my desk – refreshed, of course, by my 15+ minutes of green.