Posted in Blogging, Writing

Blog anniversary – four years old!

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Back in 2017, I started my blog – and now it’s 2021! I deem it highly successful, not because it makes me any money (it doesn’t) or because I have thousands of followers (I don’t) but because I enjoy it.

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It’s reopened my creative side which has laid dormant since I was a teenager. I enjoy thinking up ideas, writing my blog posts, taking photos and merging pictures and words together. I love the fact that my blog helps me to learn, that whenever I include facts for readers to (hopefully!) enjoy, I’m enjoying learning those facts too. Maybe it’s trees or history, chickens or guinea pigs, it’s all a learning curve. On a subtle level, I would love it if my writing inspired a love of nature and an understanding of why it’s important.

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This year I have tried to branch out by creating a new podcast channel! Some of my posts are more picture-led than others but others are wordy enough for a podcast. An issue I had was the sound of my voice. Do others dislike the sound of their own voice or is it just me? But I found Anchor had its own audio voice I could use as a substitute so no embarrassment there.

This is more of a creative adventure rather than a money-making one. It was interesting to see how easy it was to do via Anchor and WordPress but I admit I get more enjoyment of putting a blog post together rather than a podcast of my blog posts. Still, it’s always interesting to learn new things. The web address is https://open.spotify.com/show/4p3kPV2T20jcPTErXoj2WI

To mark this ‘blogiversary’, later today I’m going to revisit two posts I wrote about this time four years ago. They were two of my very earliest posts. Happy memories of Llandudno…

Posted in Chickens, Pets

The broody season

Mabel with her friends

It’s broody time again and, like last year, Mabel is the lone candidate for ‘Mother of the Year’ at Cosy Cottage Coop.

To be fair, she deserves a rest after a hard-working spring and summer, supplying delicious eggs nearly every day.

But head girl Jemima does not approve (despite going through the same process herself a couple of years ago).

When I take Mabel out, Jemima saunters over to give her a sharp peck to tell her off or maybe it’s to try and snap her out of her grumpy dreaminess.

“Cluck, cluck, cluck,” responds Mabel.

Back in the coop, she is accompanied by Ava and Dottie, two ladies who have never felt maternal in this way. They have sympathy for her plight though.

Not so Jemima, who keeps a beady eye on proceedings. She does not want the rest of her flock to go the same way…

Jemima keeps an eye on the situation
Posted in Environment, Nature

Caring for a hedgehog

Snuffling around

“I heard a growling outside my kitchen window…”

So started Simon’s encounter with a rather spiky garden visitor. Unfortunately this particular creature seemed to be rather poorly, it was wheezing and wasn’t moving much.

Simon put the prickly creature in a cardboard box containing water, and rang up several wildlife rescues. Nobody answered but then again it was after 10pm. Hedgehogs may have been up and about but many humans were heading to the Land of Slumber.

Understandable maybe, but it still left a dilemma for Simon. What to do now? Was the hog hungry? Thirsty? Should he keep Mr/Mrs Tiggywinkle overnight in his house? Should he try and feed the hedgehog?

He decided on the latter, buying dog food at a late night supermarket. Surprisingly, when he got home, the hedgehog was trying to climb out of the box. So Simon found a bigger box and, along with the water and now dog food, back in popped the rather large Mr or Mrs Tiggywinkle.

The following morning, the hedgehog kept escaping.

Simon told me: “It broke out of the cardboard box and hid under the bookcase in the spare room. I found it a couple of hours ago. So I put it in a plastic box. It’s done the same thing again.”

It ate some of the meat so that was one good thing, although food and animals can have consequences. Especially escaping ones.

Meal time

“I don’t mind the hedgehog on the floor,” continued Simon, “although I’d prefer it didn’t poo on the carpet.

“It went exploring in the night. I found poo in front of the TV. I thought I could smell something but presumed that it was just the dog food I’d left out.”

The hedgehog turned out to be an avid reader with a great love of books – or at least that was the way it seemed considering how often he/she headed towards the bookcase. Unfortunately hedgehogs are quite tricky to free from hiding spots under bookcases.

Checking out the book collection

That morning Simon got through to a nearby rescue sanctuary. Taking the hog for a check-up, the hog expert told Simon he had done the right thing by keeping the creature in overnight and recommended he released it that evening as it may have a litter nearby. There was no way of finding out if Spike was male or female as he/she had rolled into a ball when being examined.

The hedgehog slept that afternoon, tucked up in Simon’s fleece. In the meantime, Simon was busy constructing a new home for his house guest. He made the hedgehog house out of wood and stuffed dried grass into the sleeping area. To keep cats and other potential predators at bay, he covered the house with raspberry canes.

Creating a hedgehog home
The finished house
A house for hogs
Fast asleep

By evening, the hog’s breathing was less laboured and noisy. Simon released the still-sleeping hog into its new home, along with food and water. In the morning, the hedgehog had upped and left, back on his or her rounds once more. If you would like to build a hedgehog home for your garden, visit https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/nature-on-your-doorstep/garden-activities/giveahogahome/

Posted in Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures

The Bonny Banks of Loch Lomond – a wee Scottish break: Part Three

Loch Lomond

Loch Lomond was the highlight of our short break and on Sunday we had the full day to discover Luss and Balloch, which sit next to the lake. Loch Lomond is the entry point to The Trossochs National Park and not that far from the urban metropolis of Glasgow (roughly one hour and 20 minutes by car). Saying that, when you’re at Loch Lomond, thoughts of city life are very far away indeed.

And if you’re ever asked what’s the largest loch in Scotland, Great Britain even, the answer is Loch Lomond (27.5 square miles). This is handy to know if you’re taking part in a pub quiz. It also crosses the Highland Boundary Fault, a geological zone which divides Scotland into the lowlands and the highlands. So many interesting facts about such a beautiful lake!

The village of Luss was simply idyllic with old fashioned cottages, cafes and shops. These cosy little homes were actually built for slate quarry and cotton mill workers of the 1700s and 1800s.

Our path from the large car park outside the village took us to the water’s edge where we could see the pier. The views of Loch Lomond were absolutely stunning, the mountain of Ben Lomond can be seen from the shore.

Judging by the numbers of people enjoying the loch, it’s a popular place and no surprise.

We had a delicious cream scone and pot of tea at a lovely little cafe, served by a waiter wearing a kilt, and explored the little parish church.

One fact I didn’t know until later was that the Scottish soap Take the High Road was filmed here in the 1980s and 1990s. I used to watch it as a teenager with my parents many years ago. I’m happy to find that episodes are now on YouTube so I can rewatch episodes when I feel nostalgic.

River Luss

We strolled along the beautiful river and came across a charming faery trail for children. Luss is home to faeries and their homes can be seen here. I didn’t come across any faeries today but maybe given more time, who knows? 🙂

The Faery Trail

I was asked by blogger The Electric Contrarian if Loch Lomond had its own distinctive critter living in the waters? Nessie of Loch Ness is famous but she’s not the only unusual inhabitant possibly living in Scotland. According to Wikipedia, there are possible monsters lurking in several of these lochs. The website https://livedinopedia.fandom.com/wiki/Loch_Lomond_Monster says: “Two descriptions exist, one of a plesiosaur, the other of a large crocodilian, unique of Scottish lake monsters.” Is there a large crocodile living in Loch Lomond? Or an ancient plesiosaur (a large extinct marine reptile with a long neck and small head, a bit like how we imagine Nessie!) Whatever the case, on this occasion I’m afraid I didn’t see Lomo the Loch Lomond Monster, but again, maybe next time? 🙂

Balloch is a recreational wonderland for families with a Sea Life Aquarium, boat trips, stalls, a shopping complex, among other facilities. There were plenty of woodland trails dotted around and an aerial Go Ape type adventure which my godchildren may have loved but wasn’t really my thing, or my mum’s for that matter. Sculptures were placed around the trails too.

Maid of the Loch

We saw the Maid of the Loch, the Clyde-built steamship my mum went on a school trip many years ago. It’s actually open to visitors to look around but looked closed when we were there, maybe because of Covid. The Maid was built in 1953 and was the last paddle steamer built in the United Kingdom.

That was our last excursion and the following day, after our little three-day trip, we headed home. After the last year, I feel less like taking little breaks for granted. We don’t know what’s around the corner and so, when the little things feel good in life, I like to make the most of it.

Posted in Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures

The Bonny Banks of Loch Lomond – a wee Scottish break: Part Two

The view from Ayr

Thanks to two previous holidays – one with the school and another with my family, both times at a Butlins Holiday Camp – I tend to associate Ayr with seaside fun. But because of the Covid restrictions only recently lifting, there felt a sense of shops, cafes and restaurants in the town centre just starting to reopen again. A sense of emerging from a spell of hibernation.

Ayr is not just about sea, sand and shops though. There’s a lot of history here too. The Scottish Bard Rabbie Burns was born in nearby Alloway in the 1700s. And the story of Ayr itself stretches back to 1197, when the Scottish king, King William the Lion, demanded a new castle should be built between the Rivers Ayr and Doon. Eight years later in 1205, the same king established Ayr as a royal burgh and market town.

Ayr

There were a lot of curious heritage signs which illustrated Ayr’s long history. One such noted the oldest house in Ayr, an early town house, tucked away off a side street. It was called Loudoun Hall and dated from the 1500s. A plaque said Mary Queen of Scots stayed here in the 1560s.

Loudoun Hall
Loudoun Hall history
Loudoun Hall
The oldest pub in Ayr

Unlike Loudoun Hall, the thatched-roofed Tam O’Shanter Inn is situated prominently on the High Street. It’s the oldest pub in Ayr, dating from 1749, and could well have been frequented by Rabbie Burns himself. (One of his poems is actually called Tam O’Shanter, was his eponymous character drinking here?)

An old passageway takes the visitor from the main street to the 1650s Auld Kirk (parish church). Before one enters the churchyard, there is a lychgate with iron grave-covers. A sign explains that these were to deter body snatchers which were common in the 1800s. Why would anyone want to steal bodies of all things? Well, these grave robbers wanted to sell them to medical schools. More grisly horror than Butlins fun but fascinating to discover.

There’s a lot more to see in Ayr, we only had a quick preview over a couple of hours, but we still managed to fit in a wander along the wide esplanade, enjoying the scenic sea views. After all, this is why tourists come to Ayr in the first place.

Ayr

Our next stop was a little seaside town called Troon, famous for its golf course. We didn’t have loads of time so the choice was explore or have a bite to eat. But it was lunchtime and our stomachs won the battle – it was time for food. We ate at the popular Swan Restaurant where we had a very reasonably priced lunch and dessert. The potato soup was nice but a little too spicy for me personally. The apple pie was scrumptious. Mum was rather startled to see the rather large size of her trifle dessert! My stomach was pleased but I will have to venture back to Troon to explore the town in more detail.

Loch Lomond was the highlight of our short break and the next day we would have the full day to discover Luss and Balloch, situated on the shores.

To be continued…

Posted in Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures

The Bonny Banks of Loch Lomond – a wee Scottish break: Part One

Loch Lomond

Originally my trip to Bonny Scotland was going to take place at Easter, but the holiday was delayed to the end of July thanks to the coronavirus restrictions at the time. With all the uncertainty going on, I wasn’t sure if the Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon would even let us through the border from England to Scotland! But a confirmation letter from National Holidays arrived 10 days before our leaving date and it looked like there would be no further rules during that time that would stop us from going.

I had a conversation with a friend beforehand and she agreed that before her ‘staycation’ holidays to Bath and Glasgow, it was difficult to get excited too far in advance just in case rules changed. But the week before my trip, I started to look forward to it more, even more so as I hadn’t been away since September last year.

Gretna Green piper

We stopped off at Gretna Green, just over the Scottish border and off the M74. And who did we see but a tartan-clad bagpiper serenading a wedding party celebrating their happy day. He then played a celtic tune for us coach trippers and other travellers.

It was no surprise to see a wedding taking place as Gretna Green is famous for being a venue for the Big Day. It was the go-to place for young eloping couples. Back in 1754, the 1754 Marriage Act came into being and this banned couples under 21 marrying in England or Wales without the consent of their parents. However, in Scotland no consent was needed to marry so it became quite the location for ‘runaway weddings’. The couple we saw getting their photograph taken looked older than 21, and as they had a happy gathering surrounding them, I suspect this was no traditional Gretna Green wedding of the olden days.

I have fond memories of Gretna Green from my childhood when my family would stop off en route to caravan holidays at Wemyss Bay and Edinburgh. True, the most vivid memory I have of this famous and historic location is of cuddly soft toy haggises (and yes, my parents did buy me one, a small slate-grey hairy round blob with stuck-on pretend eyes, it’s probably still lurking somewhere in my parents’ house). I also remember the tartan-costumed dolls with glassy eyes in plastic cubes, I had one of those too. Alas, there were neither of these to be found on this occasion. (We only had time to visit one store so maybe the iconic haggises and dolls were somewhere else?)

The Museum

The old blacksmith’s shop museum was still there, albeit closed, as were various eateries and shops. The museum houses the oldest wedding anvil in the world. According to the museum’s website: “It is protected by a glass case near to the original marriage room. View this precious historic artefact that is now legendary: legend has it that if you touch the Gretna Green anvil it brings you good fortune in affairs of the heart”. The Blacksmith’s Shop was the first venue couples would come to in Scotland and the blacksmiths (or ‘anvil priests’) would conduct the marriage ceremony.

The Sculpture Garden opened in 1994 and was opened by Britt Eckland. The most notable and impressive is The Big Dance. The weathering steel structure shows two hands clasping and stands at 13 feet tall.

One of the sculptures at Gretna Green
Our hotel

Our hotel, Adamton Country House Hotel, was located near Prestwick. It was an unusual mixture of grand and historic – a late 1800s sandstone red mansion built for an industrial magnate – and a plainer grey-white 1980s extension.

Adamton Country House Hotel

The hotel has a lot of history packed in its 100-plus years and the grounds – which go back even further back in time – even more so. The land belonged to the Monastery of Paisley and, according to a sign in the hotel, a house has been on the site since the 1100s. It seems one of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s children was hidden in this location (not sure of the circumstances) and apparently the mansion even has two ghosts called The White Lady and Old Tam! During the mid 20th century, American servicemen stayed at the venue when they were stationed at Prestwick, one of these men was called Clark Gable.

Despite the grandness of the old section, the hotel isn’t posh inside but is more functional and practical. But our holiday was very, very reasonable so I am certainly not complaining about a lack of super deluxe facilities! It was just wonderful to get away. The hotel is set in a beautiful remote setting. On the one hand, this meant fewer options of an evening (although the hotel did have a bar). On the other, it was very peaceful which I appreciated. We also had two friendly neighbours nearby, one of whom I have taken a photo of.

One of our friendly neighbours

And now we could look forward to our day trips, including one to the Bonny Banks of Loch Lomond.

Posted in Environment, Environmental issues, Nature, Thoughts on life and spirituality

Our World: The Other Environmental Crisis

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Increasingly there has been more and more talk from politicians about climate change. There has been widescale protests from groups such as Extinction Rebellion and the young activist Greta Thurnberg has spoken out against the climate changing. Personally I believe there has always been climate change taking place over a gradual basis for millions of years – but the meddling with nature by humans over the past couple of hundred years has damaged the balance and has exacerbated and quickened the changes.

When the powers-that-be focused on the climate, I was glad that finally people at the top seemed to start caring about nature. But I then started to feel that the focus seemed very much on ‘green technology’. Is this type of technology really green? For example, where do the batteries for electric cars come from? I don’t know but I don’t believe technology is the be-all and end-all. If I were in politics, I would also opt for more incentives to use public transport; safer, more attractive and convenient paths to walk on; better cycle routes…

Behind all the talk about climate change, there is another emergency going on that is closely connected to the issue. This is the biodiversity emergency.

According to the WWF: “Biodiversity is all the different kinds of life you’ll find in one area—the variety of animals, plants, fungi, and even microorganisms like bacteria that make up our natural world. Each of these species and organisms work together in ecosystems, like an intricate web, to maintain balance and support life. Biodiversity supports everything in nature that we need to survive: food, clean water, medicine, and shelter.”

WWF


But the WWF adds: “As humans put increasing pressure on the planet, using and consuming more resources than ever before, we risk upsetting the balance of ecosystems and losing biodiversity.”

The wildlife charity’s https://www.worldwildlife.org/pages/living-planet-report-2018 found the global populations of mammals, fish, birds, reptiles, and amphibians had declined by 60 per cent (on average) since 1970. 

Borneo’s forests are vital for biodiversity – but too often attracts humans wanting to plunder it for natural resources such as trees, coal, metals, minerals and rubber. Depressingly, the WWF says 30 per cent of Borneo’s forests have been destroyed in only 40 years. Of course this will have an impact on its wildlife. Half of all critically endangered Bornean orangutans have been lost in the past 20 years. 

The decline of biodiversity is happening in Britain too. In a recent RSPB magazine, it stated that the latest State of Nature reports that the abundance and distribution of nature in the UK has declined by 13 and five per cent respectively since the 1970s. Since the 1950s, the UK has lost roughly one wildflower species per county, per year – these are vital for moths, butterflies and other insects. Indeed, the abundance of butterflies has decreased by 16 per cent. Insects, as well as being important for pollination, are important food for birds.

What happens to one species affects another, such is the way of ecosystems. According to State of Nature report, the causes are “agricultural management, climate change, urbanisation, pollution, woodland management and invasive non-native species.”

Climate change harms nature, but so too does pollution. So too does habitat loss and urbanisation. If wildlife has no home, how can it exist? Thank goodness for environmental charities such as the Woodland Trust and the RSPB. They buy land and maintain it as nature reserves and woodland.

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Climate change has a negative impact on wildlife but if we work with nature – not against it as we have done in the past and present day – we can, I believe, help to combat climate change, or at least reduce its most harmful effects. And at the same time, we will help the planet get back into its rightful balance. But humans have to realise that we are part of the natural world. In a religious, spiritual and ecological sense, I suspect we are meant to be the caretakers of the planet – not the lords and masters.

The hypocrisy of the world’s politicians strikes me. The UK’s Prime Minister is good at talking the talk, not so good when it comes to actually genuinely caring about the environment. He and his party want another runway at Heathrow Airport; they wanted to plough on with HS2, a very expensive and unnecessary high speed train that will destroy ancient woodlands; they are seemingly intent on destroying wildlife habitat for often unnecessary office and home developments – even though there are many empty and derelict buildings in urban and suburban landscapes that could and should be used. Now he will proclaim how Britain will be carbon neutral. You want to be carbon neutral? Why not put nature first – protect our wildlife habitats, leave our green spaces alone, create more nature reserves. Look after nature and we will find nature will more than likely return the favour.

WWF – Endangered Species Conservation | World Wildlife Fund

rspb_state-of-nature_summary-report_uk.pdf

What is biodiversity? | Pages | WWF (worldwildlife.org)

Posted in Reblog, Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures

When in St Albans… Do what the Romans do

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Back in 2017, a friend and I enjoyed a trip to the historic and fascinating city of St Albans. Like many of us, I haven’t been away much this past year so thought I’d revisit the places I’ve been to, at least in a virtual way!

For the weekend, my friend and I were ladies of leisure… with a hefty dose of culture, history, luxury and relaxation.

It’s rather apt that the Romans enjoyed their Baths, St Albans is synonymous with that era and we stayed at Sopwell House, a spa hotel on the outskirts of the city.

The hotel obviously wasn’t around in that era (although it’s fun to think of the Romans in their togas mulling around, eating grapes in the spa area), but it still has a fascinating history.

Dating from the 1600s (the earliest reference is 1603 in the deeds as a newly built house), it was later leased and developed in the 1700s by a master mason who worked on St Paul’s Cathedral. Two centuries later, in 1901, Prince Louis of Battenberg leased the country home – his daughter Alice later became mother to Prince Philip.

Fast forward to present day where it is now a hotel.

We travelled by train from Preston, changing at London Euston. One stop on the tube from Euston took us to London St Pancras and our third and final train to St Albans City.

There are two train stations in St Albans. City is a 10 minutes walk from the city centre. St Albans Abbey is situated between our hotel and the city centre, about 15 minutes each way.

We had a pleasant wander into town, stopping for lunch at Gail’s Bakery (lovely soup, very busy) and passing through the bustling street market, and then to our hotel. The route from City station to city centre to residential suburbs to countryside takes about 45 minutes altogether. But to drive or take a taxi will only take 15 minutes or so.

The country road took us to a sweeping driveway and a grand white building. We had arrived. Even as we walked into reception, our senses were captivated by aromatherapy aromas from the spa. A doorman politely greeted us as he held the door open, the ladies at reception were very helpful and attentive, and our first floor room was easy to find.

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And oh the room! What a room. It was a twin room, beds were spacious and comfy and there were the usual TV, wardrobe, bedside tables…

… And a settee, two armchairs and a table with a plate of two slices of marzipan cake, a bowl of strawberries and a bottle of water with two glasses. This was the life for us!

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Overlooking this scene was a window facing a picturesque country scene of fields and a large house.

The bathroom was clean and modern. To remind us we were in a spa hotel was, hanging up in the bathroom, a robe and slippers.

Our dinner that evening was in The Restaurant (no, I haven’t forgotten the title, that’s its name 🙂). When a pianist is playing, you know you’re in a classy venue. We had two waiters, a sommelier (wine) and food waiter. Both were very attentive and we didn’t have to wait too long for food. 🍷

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We had delightful little canapés and a cheese mousse with a French name I cannot remember. I had a white onion and thyme veloute (a little like a soup). My main course – Gloucester Old Spot pork slow cooked belly, cider jus, mousseline potato and glazed parsnips was delicious. C had pan fried halibut, broccoli puree, tender stem broccoli, nori gnocchi and herb emulsion. To finish off, I chose homemade ice cream while C opted for warm almond and pear tart.

The following morning’s breakfast was one of many choices – cereals, cold meats and salmon, toast, rolls, fruit, cooked breakfast buffet… (I chose melon and a small cooked breakfast while C had a cooked breakfast).

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After breakfast, we ventured out, walking to the city centre, past the intriguing remains of an old nunnery. Sopwell Nunnery is believed to have been where Anne Boleyn secretly got married to Henry VIII.

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The cathedral had a service on so we only saw part of it, namely the 85 metre nave (the longest one in England according to the cathedral website), the nave statues and the medieval wall paintings dating from the 1100s to 1500s. The cathedral dates from 1077 and you can see the Norman influence with the archways. Alas, we missed out seeing the shrine of St Albans.

There was a Christmas Market outside with wooden stalls, fairly small but very seasonal and cosy with festive tunes in the air. On our way back we each drank a mulled wine – the first of the year!

Now let’s head to Verulamium. A trip back in time, even further back than the cathedral. Our route took us past some of St Albans’ olde Tudoresque black and white houses, the pretty village of St Michael’s, complete with former water mill and parish church. The Verulamium museum in the village looked promising but alas, closed on a Sunday – or certainly this particular Sunday. The nearby park and the museum is actually situated on the site of the ancient Roman town of Verulamium – one of the first Romano-British towns to be built and, by AD250, the third largest in the country (London and Cirencester being larger) but we decided to go to the theatre instead.

We crossed a main road, entering the rural estate of Gorhambury. At the ticket booth, it cost £2.50 to enter what was an intriguing archaeological site. The path to the theatre – the only example of its kind in Britain – follows the edge of Watling Street, the main road built by the Roman army joining London to Chester. We could see the foundations of the dressing room (AD160), a town house, the base of a pier from an arch, the shops (the Romans enjoyed a bargain too), the stage… With the mind’s eye we could conjure up the sights of the Greek plays and pantomimes (actors dancing and miming rather than Cinderella and Aladdin) and, less charmingly, fights of the gladiators.

Our minds crammed with this new-found knowledge, we ventured back to 21st century luxury and enjoyed a pot of tea and sandwich at the hotel’s comfortable cocktail lounge. By the looks of it, it’s a popular venue for afternoon tea.  I thought the price for a sandwich looked a little expensive (£9) but what a sandwich. We chose salmon and cheese and they were on ‘doorstopper’ chunks of bread. And so tasty… And the crisps were not the standard potato crisps but vegetable ones. Crisp, crunchy, red-tinted beetroot varieties. Yum.

Later in the afternoon (after a rest from our massive sandwiches and our culture-packed time-travelling morning), we tried out the spa. Two warm, bubbly Jacuzzis, a hot dry sauna and steamroom and a swim in the pool (Sunday afternoon was a good time for us to come as it was relatively quiet so plenty of space to swim)… Bliss.

It was cocktail time, again in the, now candlelit, cocktail lounge. My Candlemaker was a Sopwell Signature and was ‘in memory of Sopwell Cotton Mills’, with brandy, port, cinnamon stick and caramel. C opted for a strawberry mojito. Both were delightful. By 8pm we were ready to eat in the Brasserie which is the same venue where breakfast was held. Two courses later of, yet again, sumptuous food, we simply had no room for dessert.

Unfortunately, the next morning our weekend as ladies of luxurious leisure came to an end and it was back to work and the real world. It was delightful while it lasted!

So long Sopwell House, St Albans and Verulamium! Until next time!

Visit http://www.sopwellhouse.co.uk for latest prices and deals.

Thanks to Sopwell House for our little taste of luxury, The Roman Theatre of Verulamium by Dr Rosalind Nibley for being so informative and St Albans for being a fascinating city.

I’ll be back – I haven’t explored the cathedral properly so a good reason to come back! 🙂

Facts of the Day – St Alban

1. St Albans is venerated as the first recorded British Christian martyr.

2. It is traditionally believed he gave shelter to a priest fleeing persecution.

3. He was beheaded in the Roman city of Verulamium in the third or fourth century.

Historical information also from St Albans Cathedral and Sopwell House websites

Posted in Environment, Gardens, Nature

Learning about Trees – the Rowan Tree

My rowan tree, photographed in July

I have written previously about my goal to be able to recognise and name trees. So I thought I would start close to home, from my driveway to be precise. My driveway was once a barren spot, fit only to park a car, but over the last few years it has become a mini wild area. And one of the residents of my ‘wild driveway’ is a rowan tree. Back in 2014 or thereabouts, I joined the Woodland Trust for the first time. I kept seeing their sign whenever I walked in one of their woods and I realised that it was thanks to The Woodland Trust that there were so many beautiful and accessible woodlands near me (and possibly near you too if you live in Britain).

My rowan tree, planted in my ‘wild driveway’

And yes, the thought of a free gift also enticed me. This free gift was a rowan tree sapling. Rowan trees, also know as the mountain ash, are slender, with silver-brown bark. They’re excellent for wildlife as they have white spring flowers and red berries in autumn. So win-win for insects and birds alike. They are deciduous so lost their leaves in winter.

The Woodland Trust says the rowan tree – which can grow to an average height of 8 to 15 metres – can live for 200 years so hopefully my tree will long outlast me, providing pollen and nectar for pollinating insects (including bees) and berry food for birds such as song thrushes and waxwings. Of course, like all trees, my rowan also absorbs carbon and purifies the air. So even my tiny driveway is doing its bit for climate change too.

And as an added extra, it looks great too!

Red berries in autumn Picture courtesy of The Woodland Trust

In the wild the rowan grows higher (1,000m) than any other tree hence its other name, the mountain ash. There’s a lot of folklore connected to the rowan – it was seen as a magical protector and planted outside houses to keep witches away.

The Woodland Trust
Posted in Nature

A love of bite-size facts

Factfiles about mute swans and macaw parrots

Recently I wrote a post about planets and a reader’s comment about bite-size facts reminded me of how much I too love quirky and fascinating, interesting and informative facts. I was further reminded when I met my friend and godchildren. Noah, eight, presented me with various factsheets about swans, parrots and peregrine falcons. It turned out to be a very educational weekend – for me!

So here are some facts, courtesy of Noah…

Photo by Anthony on Pexels.com
  1. All the swans in Britain belong to the Queen.
  2. Swans can live for 25 years.
  3. It is illegal to kill swans in Britain.
  4. Peregrine falcons can reach up to 200mph when diving – they are the fastest animals.
  5. There are only 10,000 blue and gold macaw parrots left in the wild and 1,500 scarlet macaws left. This is due to the pet industry and loss of habitat because of deforestation.
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com

And here are some extra facts, courtesy of me (and The Miles Kelly Book of Life):

  1. There are at least 360,000 types of beetle – they make up about one-third of all animal species.
  2. Most spiders have six or eight eyes.
  3. Spiders sometimes run fast but it won’t be for very long. The Miles Kelly Book of Life states: ‘Their breathing system is not good enough for sustained exertion’. So don’t worry, spiders can’t catch you!
  4. What is the simplest animal? It is the sponge, which has no proper brain, muscles, nerves – or even eyes.
  5. What mysterious animal that’s rarely seen alive and lives in the deep ocean? Answer? The giant squid.

If I am ever stranded on a desert island, please supply me with a good book of facts and I will be quite content!