Back in the 1700s, Appuldurcombe House was once the grandest house on the Isle of Wight and even today it still looks an imposing building. One where you could imagine lords and ladies dancing in the ballroom or sipping tea in the drawing room.
It has even been described by English Heritage as an important example of English baroque architecture. But look in the window, venture round the back, enter a room and this magnificent mansion is but mostly an empty shell with only the east front having been restored and reroofed.
But it’s a fascinating shell nevertheless.
Like the front of the mansion, the landscaped grounds are also impressive. No wonder as they were designed by the famous landscape architect Capability Brown, back in the 1770s.
This house must have many a story to tell through the years. One colourful aristocrat was Sir Richard Worsley, the 7th baronet, who inherited the manor in 1768.
Sir Richard was an avid collector and at one time he was believed to have had the biggest collection of ancient Greek sculpture.
While he may have many beautiful, historical objects to admire, his marriage was unhappy. His wife Seymour eloped with Captain George Bisset and Sir Richard proceeded to sue George in return. In the 1782 court case Sir Richard’s wife admitted to having had 27 lovers and, considering that Sir Richard had previously helped George spy on Seymour while she was getting dressed, he was compensated a single shilling.
Appuldurcombe was damaged by a German landmine during the Second World War and is now owned by English Heritage. According to Wikipedia, Appuldurcombe is ‘one of the supposedly most haunted places on the island’. We didn’t see anything out of the ordinary on our daytime visit but I wouldn’t like to be there on my own at night…
On our week-long trip to the Isle of Wight last year, Simon and I went on a ramble and came across this impressive stone.
The 13ft Mottistone Long Stone has a colourful history, as, once upon a time, many years ago, the Devil and St Catherine held a contest to decide who would control the island. The larger, upright stone behind me was thrown by St Catherine from the Down (now St Catherine’s Down). The Devil’s stone – the smaller one lying prostrate next to it – fell short and he lost, leaving St Catherine to gain power of the Isle of Wight. A classic tale of good triumphing over evil, and the location of the stones, St Catherine’s towering over the Devil’s, symbolises this.
Except, okay, maybe that didn’t actually happen – but it’s still a great legend though.
In my view, the real history is just as intriguing.
The Mottistone Long Stone is made of greensand sandstone and is believed to date from Neolithic times. Six thousand years ago it was part of a communal long barrow for burying the dead.
Later on, in Saxon times (about 4,000 years later, around 410AD), the Longstone is thought to have been used as a meeting place to discuss matters of the law and other important issues.
According to the Isle of Wight official tourism website, “‘Moot’ is Saxon for meeting place and it is possible that the name of the village – Mottistone – is a corruption of ‘moot stone’.”
In September last year, Simon and I spent a week away in the Peak District, Derbyshire. We stayed in an old toll booth, now refurbished as a cottage. And, apart from a cafe next door, run by the cottage’s owners, and a large house (former hotel?) across the road, there was a lack of neighbours. Or so we thought…
First thing one morning, we heard a thud downstairs. Was this 1800s building actually haunted and was there a ghoul floating around the kitchen, staring mournfully at the chocolate it was unable to enjoy, or was there a possible burglar at the door or window? Neither prospect was particularly palatable.
Was it an intruder trying to get in?
It was. Not just one, but several. It was a gang of girls who meant no harm but were intrigued by our cottage. They could see in through the large windows and watch us sitting in front of the television. We were their very own version of TV. It must get a tad dull being a sheep so who needs Netflix or the BBC when you can watch humans sit on a settee watching TV, reading, eating and drinking?
Top quality entertainment. But it turned out we were so popular as TV stars they wanted to meet us and ask for our autographs.
Over the years I have tried various fitness projects, some with more success than others, but if I could give myself two pieces of advice (and maybe they might work for you too?), they are these:
Firstly, a regular programme otherwise known as commitment. There’s no point doing yoga one week and missing out the following two. Or being committed during January and losing interest in February. I’ve learnt this the hard way.
Commitment, commitment, commitment. The more you put in ON A REGULAR BASIS, the more you get out.
Too often I have whims – I start a blog, lose interest for a month or so, go back to it; lose interest in reading, but get back into my novel that has been waiting patiently for me over the previous two months; my scarf I am knitting is still waiting patiently for me to finish it a year after starting. The blog, the novel, the knitting project – these are patient and loyal.
They say to me: “Something else has piqued your interest, that’s very well. We will wait until you come back to us.” They don’t throw a tantrum because I neglect them.
But fitness is not a loyal servant. Fitness demands commitment. When I lose momentum, fitness deserts me and when I return I find I have to work harder to regain what I have now lost. And my body seems to put on weight! (Strangely while I have a wandering eye when it comes to keeping fit, noticing other more enticing hobbies and pastimes, I have always remained 100% faithful to chocolate and cake.)
But adventures are calling me again and when I am unfit, these are not so enjoyable.
Here’s what I said about the 46-mile Cuckoo Way. This was the second and last day of the trek:
Could I get up this morning after a gruelling 26-mile canal walk? Well, with the help of plasters (three) over blisters on my left foot and a bandage over another foot (the blister was too big for a plaster), it was possible to gingerly climb down the stairs to the breakfast room of our b&b.
And I was blunt in my blog post about my hike up Skiddaw.
Skiddaw – and Little Man, a cruel juxtaposition if ever I saw one – was a trudge.
At Skiddaw, true to its name, I skidded and ended up with a sprained ankle for two weeks.
Both Skiddaw and The Cuckoo Way I didn’t train for, complacently assuming a canal walk was easy and that I was fit enough for Skiddaw.
Yet when I embarked on a three-month swim and walk plan, Scafell Pike was nowhere near as difficult as I thought it would be (although it is still challenging, my fitness levels made it feel less so). There is so much more pleasure of a challenge when one is half-way fit rather than zero fit.
My second rule is have a goal in place. Some people love exercise for the endorphins, for the fun of it. Good for them. But I tend to lose interest (and as I’ve just said, commitment is vital) so I need a goal to aim for. I like to make it an adventure, so I’ve done Hadrian’s Wall and the Cuckoo Way (long distance walks) and Scafell Pike and Snowdon (mountain hikes). With the uncertainty of the last few years I lost interest in escapades as it felt like they could get cancelled but now I feel that yes, maybe this is a year for another venture.
So now all I need is a regular commitment to get fit and a goal to aspire towards…
It’s another cold, blustery winter day so, yet again, a day for indoors. The more mature ladies Ava and Mabel remember the good old days when they would gather round with Dottie and Florence to listen to their wise matriarch, Jemima, reciting a yarn. Ava has resumed the storytelling sessions on these chilly, wintry days but today she has taken a back seat for Mabel to tell a tale. Alas, nobody’s attention is on Mabel, whose anecdotes lack the wisdom of Jemima and the warmth of Ava. Eliza has found a curious spot on the ground to peer at and Victoria and Matilda are wondering what it could possibly be. Ava, behind Mabel, has noticed that everyone has stopped listening to Mabel’s, rather tedious, long-running saga, titled When I Laid the Best Egg in the World. She ponders whether it is time for her to step back in as storyteller? We can’t all be good at everything and while Mabel can indeed pride herself on her tasty and prolific egg-laying skills, when it comes to constructing a good story, she’s well behind the egg-less Ava.
What are you currently reading? What did you recently finish reading? What do you think you’ll read next, and/or what are you eagerly awaiting?
What I’m Currently Reading
I’m reading Lorna Byrne’s Angels at my Fingertips at the moment. It’s the sequel to Angels in my Hair which I read a few years ago and continues the true-life story of an Irish mum and gran who sees angels in her everyday life. It’s an amazing tale. As well as telling us about her life, the angels she encounters (such as Archangel Michael who would sometimes dress as a fisherman, her guardian angel and Angel Hosus) and the people she meets, this modern mystic gives tips on how we can communicate with our own guardian angels and what’s truly important to the spiritual world. Can she really see angels? Do angels really exist? I couldn’t tell you for sure but I would love the answer to be ‘yes’ to both questions. I find when I feel particularly jaded or despondent about what’s happening in the world, reading about angels is a comforting read.
What did you recently finish reading?
David Baldacci’s Dream Town was given to me as a Christmas present. I read it over Christmas and the New Year period and found it an enjoyable albeit a little convoluted private detective tale. Set in early 1950s Hollywood, gumshoe Aloysius Archer is searching for a missing screenwriter. The dead body that turns up in her house is an added complication… It’s a thrilling ride from the glamour of Bel Air and Beverly Hills to the seedier side of Los Angeles. An easy read but I did find I had to pay attention as it was fast-paced with many characters and plot twists. It’s an agreeable escapist read, giving an insight into what Glamorous Hollywood and the more seedy elements of LA may have been like back in the 50s.
The second literary Christmas present I received was a mystery drama called The Winter Children, written by Lulu Taylor. I absolutely loved this story with its strong sense of place and well-rounded, flawed characters with their foibles. It focuses on a couple in their late 30s/early 40s who are desperate for children and, after failed IVF attempts, are now considering the egg donor route. Secrets and mysteries kept me spellbound and, as the title suggests, it is a great novel for a winter’s read.
What do you think you’ll read next, and/or what are you eagerly awaiting?
I have a massive to-be-read pile of mostly non-fiction and classics which I pick up in second hand book shops and charity shops so I want to start ploughing through them. One is Antimatter by Frank Close, a book I started a few years ago but never finished. It’s about antimatter – the counterparts to protons, electrons etc. I find a lot about physics fascinating, not the dry subject I assumed it to be at school, but it’s not a topic that I find particularly easy to read about.
Happy New Year to all Cosy Cottage readers! One of my resolutions for 2023 is to write more, both for the blog and in terms of a novel/short stories. I can be lazy and also have an inner critic who keeps a close eye on what I write and whispers maliciously in my ear, ‘that’s not very original, is it?’ or ‘why would anyone be interested in what you’ve just written there?’ Sometimes this nit-picker can give good advice among the put-me-downs such as ‘oh, repetition there, watch out!’ And to which, I have learnt to gracefully respond, ‘thank you, I’ll use a different word instead’.
But I need to defy this way of thinking which makes me lazy about writing and self-conscious thinking about who may come across my words. My Inner Motivator comes into play here. Unlike the critic, Ms Motivator insists that without practice, there will be no perfect. In fact, there will never be perfect regardless unless one is Shakespeare. (And maybe he spent many an hour rewriting his plays?) So what tips does my Inner Motivator give for writing (and yes, inner critic, these aren’t original but taken from various books, articles, features, websites etc):
Stop Procrastinating and Start Writing.
Don’t worry about it being perfect. Or what people think. Just write. If you don’t start in the first place, you won’t improve.
My second resolution is to decide on a fitness goal and aim towards it. Over the years I have trekked Hadrian’s Wall, climbed Snowdon and walked along Chesterfield Canal among other endeavours. They tend to be difficult but there’s a tremendous sense of achievement at the end.
Decluttering my house is the third goal for the year. My wardrobes are full with clothes that date back years, some of which don’t fit anymore. If I could give away some (a third?) to charity that would clear space – and also my head. It makes my head hurt looking in my wardrobe and drawers!
I have various other goals – do more crafts, cook more, bake more – but I’ll stick with these three main ones for the official resolutions. I tend to have a mixed response with New Year Goals, sometimes they are kept but more often they are forgotten. We’ll see how this year goes. Good luck with yours!
Working in an insecure and sadly dying industry, I have often mused on the question: ‘if I was made redundant, what else could I do?’ When I was young I liked the idea of being a vet. Unfortunately I did not like the idea of science (although I love reading scientific books now, usually bamboozling topics such as blackholes and wormholes) and then there was the little matter of being squeamish. Roll on a couple of decades and I remembered this desire to work with animals. At the same time I was thinking of starting up a mini business, run on a very low scale to coexist with my current job.
So I joined a dog walking online platform, thinking nothing would come of it. I was wrong and by the end of 2022, I had six clients (canine) and four human ones. One of these canine clients was a British bulldog called Danny. His pet mum was worried that two-year-old Danny wouldn’t settle if his family went on holiday as he was adopted during lockdown and had never been left before. We arranged for Danny to have an overnight stay, a weekend stay and, if those went okay, a week-long stay while his family went on a long-awaited holiday.
He was a perfect gentleman on the first stay. He was a bulky, strong fellow with a naturally grumpy appearance (he was a bulldog after all) but when he ‘smiled’ he looked so happy and friendly. He wouldn’t go into my garden unless I went in too and he wanted to go into the bathroom when I did. He also insisted in sleeping in my room (albeit in his bed although he would have demanded to sleep in my bed had I been a total pushover). Otherwise on his first stay, as I said, a perfect gentleman.
I looked forward to his second stay as he had been such a good boy the previous time. But Good Danny was replaced by Naughty Danny without my prior knowledge. He chewed a old lampshade that had been stored under my bed and pulled me down while I was walking him because he saw a man with a dog and, for some reason, this was highly exciting to Danny. Oh, and then there was the incident when I was talking on the phone and he took umbrage at this (why was I not looking at him and paying him attention?) and he decided the best way to get attention was to hump my leg. Not a laughing matter when it’s a heavy bulldog who is bruising your leg.
I told his pet mum Amanda about the lampshade but didn’t mention the other matters. She had already booked him in for a week and it was too late to back out now.
It was with trepidation that I greeted Danny for his week holiday. I had only looked after dogs for three or four nights maximum up to this time and eight days felt an awfully long time. And then this was a dog who followed me to the bathroom, chewed my belongings and humped my leg when he wanted attention. Eight days, at least it wasn’t longer. At least, if you halved it, it was only four days and then another four…
On the Wednesday, Amanda arrived with Danny. I smiled and pretended I was delighted to see him. Danny seemed to forget our previous little disagreements and appeared happy to come back to his guesthouse. His pet mum showed me his toys, chews (don’t leave him alone with the chew, she warned. I was thinking, not something else to worry about…), dog food (ironically for active dogs), his bed and blankets. I wished her a happy journey and then she left.
I had the agency’s emergency phone number if anything went wrong, I told myself. I was nervous on two counts.
One, it was just over a week. Other dogs had been looked after for shorter periods, this was eight days, anything could go wrong, what if, what if… (I had been having sleepless nights prior to this week, worrying about what could go wrong).
Two, it was Danny. If it was Good Danny, all well and good. But what if it was Naughty Danny? Here to hump my leg, pull me over, and eat his way through my property?
I had to take my elderly parents’ dogs to the vet that Wednesday, a necessary trip that meant Danny would have to be left for two to three hours. I avoided leaving dogs on their own unless necessary and usually only for one or two hours but needs must. I left him on my settee in my living room after taking all my knick-knacks out. I hoped he wouldn’t chew my wooden coffee table, although the guinea pigs had been making a good job of it without Danny’s help.
Within three hours I arrived home. I prepared for the worst. Scratched door, pees and poos on the rugs, broken ornaments I hadn’t removed… I held my breath and opened the living room door.
All was well. Danny was at the door, waiting to greet me, wagging his almost non-existent tail (bulldogs have tiny tails). No damage whatsoever.
That night I expected him to bark as I had left in his bed downstairs. I was ready to take his bed upstairs in my room again but if he could relax in my living room, I’d leave him there. Not a sound was heard and the next morning, Danny was, again, happy to see me, wagging his tail and rear end.
I was also able to go to my bathroom without anyone following me or srcatching the door.
This was Independent Danny. I thought he was enjoying my company while I worked in my upstairs study and he slept on the settee up there. But I found that even when I was downstairs, he was still up there, snoozing away. We started trusting each other. I left him to his own devices when I left the house for a couple of hours. He happily napped upstairs. He took a liking to that study, whether I was there or not.
At first I took offence, did he not like my company? But we sat next to each other on my living room sofa that Saturday night, me watching The Deer Hunter, Danny snoring away. It wasn’t me, it was the room I realised. It was the sunniest and warmest room of the house and Danny had carefully selected the best room of his guesthouse for his daytime sleeping. Maybe he knew he was here for a week so he might as well make the most of it and treat himself to the warmest, sunniest spot. He couldn’t demand the landlady’s attention 24/7 so he may as well make the most of the facilities, which he did.
I found Danny’s company relaxing although when I took photos of him to send to Amanda, he would make the most grumpiest face. He had a dislike to being photographed so many of his pictures were of his dozing on the settee.
The week came and went and soon it was pick-up time the following Thursday. Amanda arrived and Danny ambled downstairs, nonchalantly. He didn’t seem particularly bothered that he was going home. Whether he was sulking because he had been left behind while his family had gone abroad on holiday or simply irritated that he had been disturbed during a lovely napping session, I do not know. But I was happy that nothing bad had happened and that he was healthy and reasonably happy. I thought, yes, Danny, at least Independent Danny, can certainly come back again to stay at Cosy Cottage’s Exclusive Guesthouse.
What big events are happening right now in a global sense? Well, for many of us we’re in the season of Advent, leading up to Christmas, and there is the football World Cup, for once held in winter this year. But have you heard of the COP15 UN Biodiversity Conference taking place in Montreal, Canada? I hadn’t until I came across it by accident on the internet. Unlike the Cop27 Climate Change conference (where VIPs attended on their private jets), I have not heard very much about this one.
When Extinction Rebellion first protested, I grew hopeful that, finally, people may wake up to all the problems facing nature. But their focus is on humans and climate change, not the ongoing destruction of wildlife and natural habitat. I believe the two are actually connected and it is only by working alongside nature, rather than against it, that we will live in a more sustainable world.
Without a doubt, there is a nature emergency. A study by conservation charity WWF revealed that the world had lost 69 per cent of its animal populations between 1970 and 2018. Losing wildlife habitat has been one of the biggest causes… and it has an impact on the climate too.
Here’s what the WWF says: “Forests are crucial as they are home to over 80% of the world’s land-based species of animals, plants and insects. Millions of people and species depend on forests, and they play a crucial role in helping to regulate the world’s climate. Yet deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has just hit an all-time high and if we lose the Amazon, we lose the fight to limit climate change – it’s that simple.”
“According to the UN, we lose 100,000 sq. km of natural forest globally every year – that’s an area of forest the size of London lost every week, or roughly one football pitch every 2 seconds. Only 17% of what’s left has any kind of proper protection.”
The biodiversity conference, which will run until December 19, will involve nearly 200 countries aiming to reach an agreement on stopping and reversing the decline of nature by 2030. At the opening, UN Secretary-General António Guterres gave a stark message, saying: “Deforestation and desertification are creating wastelands of once-thriving ecosystems, our land, water and air are poisoned by chemicals and pesticides, and choked with plastics.”
Words I agree with but will this be another case of a conference full of ‘blah, blah, blah’ (as Greta Grunberg once said)? Regrettably, I have no expectations from this Biodiversity Conference. Targets will be set and, more than likely, ignored. I wish, like Elvis Presley sang, there would be: “A little less conversation, a little more action please.”
I don’t like leaving things on a negative note so, although I don’t trust governments or big corporations to do the right thing, and the nature crisis can seem overwhelming, we can take little steps to alleviate the issue. Think globally, act locally is one phrase I’ve heard. If you have a garden, you could plant various flowers, trees and shrubs to create havens for insects and birds, join wildlife charities, volunteer at conservation groups… Be a nature ally (although we are all part of nature whether we realise it or not). By supporting wildlife, we help ourselves as well, both in terms of the climate issue but also our mental wellbeing.