‘TWIXT THE CUP AND THE LIP *

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Sometimes we don’t need to travel far to journey a long way.

With a publication agreed weeks ago it was with a song in my heart and a dance in my step that I prepared for this major event in my life.

My first book was due out in the world!!

A wonderful celebratory party away was planned…local to us all but a special place to be spoilt and dine in style!

As the date for publication drew closer, delay followed delay and to my shame, lowered my spirits. Worst of all was the lack of communication from the producer and broken promises. In my naive trust, I waited and believed. Until now. At last, our cooperation had to be terminated.

As for the celebratory weekend – I was all set to cancel. My family refused to accept this, insisting that after all the book is ready; apart from the elusive cover! (And final proofread before publication!)

So we set out to celebrate life and what has been achieved – I hope you’ll join me in reliving the wonderful weekend.

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It’s not easy to get anywhere high up in Essex…it’s a pretty flat county but Wivenhoe Park is situated on top of a hill and it is here that Wivenhoe House was built. Wivenhoe House’s fascinating history stretches back to 1759 when Isaac Rebow asked Thomas Reynolds to build the mansion house, which is now Grade II listed.

Stepping out of the car we admired the same landscape painted by the English Romantic artist John Constable in 1816.

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The building escaped mostly unscathed apart from a few broken chimney pots following the country’s worst earthquake in 1884, was requisitioned by troops during WWII before becoming the original home to Essex University in 1964. It is now a hotel.

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The university campus is close by in the park, the tall 1960s tower blocks iconic and for the first time ever I wander amongst them, past a delightful library full (!) of students, past a modern theatre, into the main campus site.

 

Lakes and fountains adorned the area; ducks and coots pecking amiably on the cold ground. A stunning sunset greeted us and we paused to let the peace and beauty sink in – not too long though as the bitter chill bit through our coats.

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Heading round we realised how hungry we were on seeing this unusual cafe…a Routemaster double-decker bus cafe – closed alas but probably just as well as dinner was soon.

The hotel was impeccable with friendly staff who were eager to help. The bedrooms were superb.

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The balcony overlooking the park was a bonus – even if it was too cold to use the welcoming table and chairs.

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The brassiere dining room was delightful and we were welcomed by the sommelier who recommended his original cocktails. How could we refuse! By the end of the evening, my spirits rose even further when presented with the ‘Congratulations’ platter.

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The next morning we just had time for another walk around the grounds; this time to hunt out the two famous cork oak saplings which had been smuggled into the country in the boots of General Redbow following the Peninsular War. What had they witnessed in their two hundred year existence, I wondered?

These impressive trees were both enthralling and majestic; languidly they grew along the ground as well as upwards, their trunks dramatically pock-marked and small leaves reaching in bunches for the sky.

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Gazing at the trees I felt a certain sense of calm for the first time in weeks…their strength and timeless aura transcended my worries and concerns. During this trip, I once again became re-aligned, my inner journey to renewed energy and belief reignited during our short sojourn.

Finally, my deepest apologies to you all…your warm, generous and enthusiastic support for the publication of my short story collection has been overwhelming and it has been hardest to let you down. I hope you will bear with me and kindly ask for your patience until the launch of my book.

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Supermoon photo taken through the trees in the evening.

‘Painting is but another word for feeling.’ John Constable.

I would just substitute the word painting with writing in this case!

Photo ©Annika Perry, except the Constable painting of course!!

*There’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip is a very old proverb, similar in meaning to “don’t count your chickens before they hatch”. It implies that even when a good outcome or conclusion seems certain, things can still go wrong. (Wikipedia)

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Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives – Gothic Enlightenment by Annika Perry

Once again it’s a pleasure to take part in Sally Cronin’s ‘Posts from Your Archives’ and in this second of four instalments I revisit the mystical Whitby Abbey and join some monks on the Path to Paradise.

Smorgasbord - Variety is the spice of life

Welcome to the second post from the archives of Annika Perry who shares an atmospheric visit to Whitby Abbey in North Yorkshire.

The purpose of this series is to encourage you to head over and follow Annika’s blog and check out her more recent posts.. I hope you will do so.

Gothic Enlightenment by Annika Perry

Self-consciously I traced my way around the grassy labyrinth. Glancing up I caught the eye of a fellow pilgrim and sheepishly we exchanged wry smiles as I wondered, “Does he think I look ridiculous? Do I?”. The answer was an emphatic no, as I took a deep breath and continued on my way.

Arriving earlier at Whitby Abbey the cement bunker where we bought our tickets had been gloomy and disappointing, however on walking around the corner and up we were transported in time as chanting Benedict monks beckoned us forward across the sunny…

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AN ENCHANTED HAVEN

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Last weekend I fell a little bit more in love with life.

Every journey I set off on, I feel a flutter of excitement, a bundle of palpable nervous energy, never quite knowing what to expect.  A short weekend break booked on the spur of the moment a few days ago was no exception! For our first trip away on our own in fourteen years, my husband and I decided our anniversary was a perfect opportunity for some time-out; June had been, for various reasons, a hectic stressful month with little opportunity to just stop and be together.

North Norfolk proved the perfect haven; a blissful retreat from our busy schedules and our brief sojourn there seemed to last a week as the peace and tranquility washed over us, tension headaches easing, laughter and lightness returning.

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How could this vast empty beach fail to soothe? Trudging through the slip-sliding shingle, the bracing wind playing havoc with my hair, my brain cells vibrating under the onslaught  – I felt alive!

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Hints of fishing were evident from the odd boat pulled up far on the beach, however, it is hard to believe that this was busy port until it silted up in the 19th Century.

20170701_111833Nowadays tourism is the biggest industry in the area – although Cley proved to be quiet, with visitors dotted around the town, coast and visitor’s centre.

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Isn’t nature our greatest artist, I wonder, standing for the longest of time looking at the waves crashing on the shore, hypnotised by the wondrous displays with each roll.  I’m mesmerised.

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Cley-next-the-Sea is protected from the vast and powerful waves of the North Sea by a steep shingle bank, behind which there is saltwater marshland separated by the narrow New Cut; on the south side of this is a huge expanse of freshwater marsh.

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Both areas are alive with the flurry of unusual bird life and it was a joy to celebrate the natural environment; a bird-hide providing helpful reminders of the names and characteristics of the avian visitors.

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Here though we were the outsiders, the intruders. We stepped with ease, avoiding the fenced off nesting area and viewed in awe the terns and skuas as they majestically claimed the skies; the egrets reminding me of my trip to Florida, the geese almost hidden in a patch of distant marshland.

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Pausing by the reed beds I close my eyes and just listen…the music of the wind drifting into my soul, the rustle of the leaves creating their own rhythmic sound, soothing, in harmony with the bird calls.

20170702_103741Whilst others muttered at the lack of mobile signal I celebrated the return to ‘olden’ days and scouring my purse for coins I headed to the red phone box to call home. Memories of university days flooded my thoughts, my whirlwind of emotions as I recall hours spent calling from these tardis-style contraptions!

The village has a lovely quaint feel to it; many buildings are reminiscent of its former Flemish trading partner with gabled roof lines and many built using the local Norfolk flint. The main road, although narrow, winds its way through the centre of the town with lots of mysterious alleyways leading around the back of the village, often into people’s gardens!

Gourmet meals punctuated the end of our days and at one restaurant we were welcomed on our special day with complimentary champagne, a strawberry slice resting at the bottom of each flute. The food was sublime, an ecstasy of tastes and occasions that will long live with me!

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As always I admire the strength and vitality of the flora as even in these somewhat inauspicious conditions flowers flourish; particularly striking is the yellow horned-poppy, native to the area.

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It’s been a long while since it’s been this hard to leave a place – one of those times when all elements of a trip conspired to offer us an exquisite time filled with joy every moment. On the car drive home, I sit in silence, savouring the sense of contentment and resolve to carry this harmony forward into the everyday, letting the lightness shine brightly into the days and months ahead.

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Finally, many thanks to Klausbernd and Dina (Hanne) at The World According to Dina for inspiring me to visit Cley-next-the-Sea – their photos and description of the village and surrounding area caught my imagination a while ago. Alas, we didn’t have time to arrange to meet up…next time hopefully!

Season of Mists *

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As Autumn steadily sweeps across us, the temperatures dipping further down with each day, nature’s exhibition of its colourful canvases growing ever more spectacular, we slowly ready ourselves for the winter. 

Winter coats, gloves, hats and scarves are made ready.  The radiators clatter to the sensation of heat coursing through the pipes for the first time in months. 

So off to Sweden I head for a few days to help prepare the summer houses for oncoming winter, when ice can reach a metre or two below the ground, when snow can pile metres high up against the walls. Minus twenty (centigrade) is not unusual. This is the final sorting before the dark days descend, radiators will be left on and this year to ensure there is no repetition of last Easter’s indoor flood following burst pipes, a heated lead has been placed in the water pipes between the houses to stop them freezing. Fingers crossed. 

I can’t wait to see the bountiful beauty the trees will offer – although even as we left in August the birch leaves were already tinged ochre and cracking at the tips. The ocean adorns itself with a wintry gown, the light flickering across the silver shimmery sea, the crispness of the air snapping at my lungs. 

This is my last escapade abroad this year; I will catch up with you all on my return until then I wish you a lovely final few days in October, a fun Halloween if celebrating and for those participating in NaNoWriMo best of luck! May stamina, perseverance and snacks carry you through until the end of 50,000 words. 

‘There are moments in our lives, there are moments in a day, when we seem to see beyond the usual. Such are the moments of our greatest happiness. Such are the moments of our greatest wisdom. If one could but recall this vision by some sort of sign. It was in this hope that the arts were invented. Sign-posts on the way to what may be. Sign-posts toward greater knowledge.’

Robert Henri (1865-1929), American artist & teacher

* From ‘Ode to Autumn’ by John Keats

WELCOME TO SUNSHINE STATE CITIES

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Thank you for joining me on my posts about my recent trip to Florida. I’ll finish off this short series by sharing some photos and information about our visits to the two closest cities; New Smyrna Beach and St. Augustine.

St. Augustine was one city we couldn’t wait to visit. It lies in North-East Florida and is known as the oldest city in America. Its Spanish roots are evident from the buildings in the town; at times I felt I’d been transported in time and location to 16th Century Spain. It was founded on 8th September (my birthday!) in 1565 by Spanish admiral and Florida’s first governor, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés. He named it San Augustin as the land was first spotted on that Saint’s day eleven days earlier.

I’d read about the trolley buses in St. Augustine before we arrived – such a perfect mode of transport to the main attractions. They were handy to take either as a long tour or as a  hop-on hop-off trip as well as being so colourful, open to the air and having friendly informative drivers. However there was one moot point. No one had warned us about the hard and extremely uncomfortable hard seats! Heck! My mother’s ribs are only just recovering from the plastic moulded atrocities! Luckily I remained unscathed by leaning forward and clinging for dear life to the pole by the open doorway – precariously at times. Also suspension is NOT an added extra and one piece of sage advice I wish we’d been given is not consume food before embarking on the buses. It’s a rough ride and doubly so on the cobblestones!

On arrival we first chose to absorb the city’s atmosphere by enjoying a stroll down the pedestrianised St. George Street. We revelled in the beautiful architecture all around us, eyes glancing back and forth and then up to the wooden balustrades of the first floor verandahs adorned with flowers. At any moment I imagined a cowboy shoot-out up above and with a crack, the balustrade breaking and a man falling down below. (You can visualise my misspent youth here!)

We had fun browsing the quaint tourist shops and other endless array of shops, however I was all too conscious of my already burgeoning suitcase and kept purchases to a minimum! Restaurants too were plentiful along the street and they all looked so tempting!

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This delightful building, The  School House, is the oldest wood frame building still in existence in St. Augustine today. It was built over 250 years ago whilst Florida was under the rule of Imperial Spain and was constructed of red cedar and cypress and put together with wooden pegs and handmade nails. Classes were held in the front room while the schoolmaster and his family lived upstairs.

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Two famous landmarks that symbolise St. Augustine are the San Marcos fortress and the imposing and impressive Bridge of Lions. The original wooden bridge of the nineteenth century was replaced in 1927 and then this was further renovated this century with the lions again reigning supreme.

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Image from Google

The Castillo de San Marcos is the only remaining 17th-century military stone fortress still in existence in the US. It was built out of the local coquina stone –  a soft limestone composed of broken shells which took up to three years to dry before being ready to use. During the centuries San Marcos has had four flags flown over it: the original Spanish builders and rulers, then British, for a brief while the Confederate States of America  flag during the Civil War before finally coming under the United States flag.

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Image from Google

The recent history of St. Augustine seems to be centred around the colourful character of Henry Flagler.  As the trolley tour wound its way through the idyllic streets his power and money is evident all around from the buildings he helped finance.

His former Alcazar Hotel is now the Lightner Museum, which considers itself Florida’s Smithsonian and houses artefacts from the natural world, to Tiffany glass and a Victorian village.

After hours of sightseeing we sought refuge from the busy bustle of town and happily discovered the serenity of St. Photios Greek Shrine. The shrine and the museum are dedicated to the first Greek colony in the US.

With all this sightseeing another break was required and our thirst was quenched by the delicious cooling, fruity taste of a Sangria. What could be more perfect? Our only regret was that we had too little time in this wonderful city to do it justice – we so wished we could have stayed longer!

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On our first visit to New Smyrna Beach (it soon became our regular haunt!) I felt I’d stepped into a movie set. The main street seemed to consist of front facades of shops and restaurants! The heat was unbelievable, stifling; the sunlight diffused in the warmth; the air echoed with the sounds of cicadas, otherwise silence. Silence as there was no one around! A few 4x4s parked along the road, an odd car driving past, otherwise the main street – Flagler Avenue (see how he got everywhere!) was quiet. We tried a shop; empty apart from the friendly sales assistant. We passed a couple of restaurants, with only a couple of diners. I tried but failed to turn off the theme music from ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ playing in my head.

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The more I got my brain round this wonderful town the more I came to enjoy it. The art shops were a delight, particularly the aptly named Ta’Da’ shop which had many unique finds within. Only later did I learn that New Smyrna Beach is recognised as on of the Top 100 Art Towns in US, selling locally produced art, imported wares from Colombia amongst other countries, framed paintings and pictures. Of course, there was the odd tourist shop as well…always a must for us…hmmm…tourists!

There were restaurants galore and the quiet of the daytime was replaced by a lively night scene.  We visited one particular restaurant three times – after all how could we resist Norwoods Tree House restaurant.  What a fantastical concept with superb food, great service and live music.

Mexican is not a type of restaurant found often in the UK so it was a joy to visit one in New Smyrna Beach and after having some friendly help deciphering the menu we ordered and soon tucked into a delicious meal.

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Not to be out done the Italians were represented en masse too and one place we visited had the most unusual textured ceiling covered with corks!

Each step outside on the pavements along the avenue brought a moment of reflection as we gazed down at the names inscribed upon the red brick path. Instead of those of famous celebrities that I’ve seen elsewhere I was touched to see a local sway to these dedicated memorials and celebrations.

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At last I complete my trio of posts about my Florida break and I hope you’ve enjoyed them. May they have brought you some of those wonderful  restorative, exciting and blissful feelings that engulfed me. There is one fact that I’m glad I was unaware of though: that this area has the dubious distinction of being knows as the world’s shark bite capital!

Photos copyright ©Annika Perry unless otherwise specified.

STRIKE DAY

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Remember that childhood feeling of anticipation, of adventure? Of a day of freedom waiting to be explored? Often those days seem faraway in adult life but last week I was lucky enough to experience a few hours of such bliss.

As a strike by teachers closed half the schools around the country we decided to use this day for relaxation and fun.

The sunlight glows in the bedroom, gentle golden hues blending with the soft lilac of the flowers on the curtains. Yes! Already a flutter in my tummy. A few minutes to just lie and savour the minutes unencumbered by alarm clocks, free from the usual morning rush. A bumble bee buzzes its way in through the open windows, ambling around the windowsill, I imagine it bumping along the ornaments. My normal irritated reaction is replaced by one of quiet musings, the soft hum calming my incessantly busy mind. As the room warms from the morning sun I rise, open the curtains and gently edge the bumble bee out.

An hour later my husband, son, his two friends and I are heading towards the coast and the town of Clacton-on-Sea – an old seaside resort popular with London day-trippers in the late 1800s/early 1900s who arrived by steam boat. Today the pier on which the passengers disembarked is still standing and is one of the town’s main features. 

‘Urgh,’ exclaims one of the friends. ‘The sea is a really weird colour.’ I look again as we drive along the sea front. Knowing not to expect the brilliant aquamarine of the Mediterranean I expected at least a dark green shade. Not the sludge brown water moving laboriously up and down in shallow waves, the sand that had been stirred upon during the stormy night gradually sinking to the bottom but as if exhausted barely shifts at all.

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We park up and the youngsters are off and away with just a hasty meet up time arranged. We head to the beach, the soft sand giving way beneath each step and with effort we walk on. Distance – I relish the long distance views, the beach stretching for miles ahead of us, the sky a wondrous mix of clouds, rain threatening then the sun peaking through the brightest of blue respite.

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Its glare a sign of hope, the possibility of summer warmth. By the end of the day, we swelter in the heat, the cute little palm trees along one beach section providing scant protection. I lie underneath the fronds of leaves, close my eyes and imagine myself far far away. 

Ahead we spy some buildings and coming closer the most delightful beach huts have me smiling. Pastel coloured, they look incongruous on their own on the sand but they are so sweet. Ready for the doors to be flung open and for children to exit in a gaggle of laughter and swimming aids. As it is the beach is quiet on this an otherwise normal working & school day. We march on for a few miles, then turn and head back. 20160705_122336

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The serenity of the slow turning blades of the numerous windmills out to sea captivates me. The silent motion mesmerising. I stare on and only now realise that they are placed in long rows and that here, in one spot I see blades upon blades, overlapping as I’m standing directly in front of one row. Resembling a cactus. Like an open swiss army knife. What do you see?

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Ahead is the pier, the popular amusement arcade finally gearing itself up for the day’s activities. The view from the end of the pier back to town is fascinating – after all how often do you see the mainland apart from on boat trips?  

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To the side I suddenly stop and gawp. The unexpected murals a joy to behold; cheeky, bold and full of mischief. I spot the website and later discover this is one of many professional pieces of art created by The Silent Hobo. I love the unexpected, to be surprised, so much the better if on my doorstep.   

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By the pier the famous (really?!) Pirate Radio Station Museum is closed. My husband sighs but I emit a silent cheer. Then I begin to wonder, what would be on display inside. What kind of memorabilia would be on display to  celebrate the 1960s, when ships would be anchored in international waters just off the coast, the illegal radio stations sending the popular hits out to the east coast – songs not sanctioned by the mainstream radio stations. Later many of the DJs would become household names working for the establishment of the BBC.

The south end of the beach is marked by the Martello tower, built in the 19th Century by a country fearing the might of Napoleon and possible invasion. The small defensive fort towers are to this day scattered along this stretch of coast line, their rotund shape visible from miles away.20160705_142550

The only sadness to tinge this day is the sight of an injured seagull on the beach. Whilst a flock loudly squawk and fly around, one seagull struggles its way along the beach, one of its wings dragging uselessly in the sand. Almost torn off, it is held on by a sliver. As one the whole flock lifts, frightened by the arrival of two football playing children. The seagulls swoop gracefully in the air, their white grey feathers shimmering in the sunlight. All but one. The damaged bird looks on, mournfully I feel. Alone and stranded. I couldn’t take a photo of it, it just felt wrong – but here is one of just some of its friends. Can you spot the sleepy one?

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Finally our legs moan in rebellion and our stomachs grumble with hunger; obediently we enter the pub we’d seen earlier. By now heaving with visitors we exit and search out a quieter location and happily come across an Asian restaurant. The vegetarian spring rolls are the best ever and quickly I devour the four. The pièce de résistance is the main course. 

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Satiated we head back to the car, via the previously unseen beauty of the local gardens, packed with people enjoying a bench picnic.  

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PROMISED PICTURE POSTCARDS

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What do Ingrid Bergman and Camilla Läckberg have in common? Fjällbacka! This is a beautiful town on the west coast of Sweden about two hours north from Gothenburg. Ingrid  Bergman spent every summer here with her third husband and Camilla Läckberg was not only born in Fjällbacka but also set nine of her hugely successful novels in the town. It is one of my favourite places to visit with spectacular views from the huge rocks of Vetteberget. Below it are nestled the houses, shops and restaurants. It has over 100 steps to the top and en route courage is required to traverse under Kungsklyftan –  the three gigantic rocks trapped in the chasm above ones head.

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It was renamed the ‘King’s Cleft’ following a visit by King Oscar II in 1887.

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After the long walk a relax by the harbour front cafe is a must – even on a chilly sunny Spring day! Ah…perfect serenity.

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Forests! Years ago travelling by car across Sweden I felt the landscape was mainly the green corridors of forests.

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Only later did I discover I was not far off the mark with nearly 70% of the land being forested.

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Where we live is no exception; forest views all around as well as stunning walks amongst the trees; birches and firs growing side by side as well as the odd hunting tower!

Believe it or not, this photo is the genuine article. Sunset on a glorious evening as seen in reality. No photoshopping required!

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Mystery is embedded in the very heart of all forests and this one is no different. During one walk we came across this unusual stone built rectangular wall. Low in height, with no obvious entry point. We are still musing over its possible usage / meaning. Any ideas would be very welcome.

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This is view of the nearest lake to where we stay whilst in Sweden and this particular lake is one of over 95,000 lakes across the whole of the country. 

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I hope you have enjoyed my snippets of information and photographs from my latest trip to Sweden this Easter – posted by popular demand!! Thank you for all your interest.

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PS. This is my 100th post – Yippee!!

For among elk, we dwell. *

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This wasn’t the first time we had to brake suddenly. Not the noisy tyre screeching stop; rather a quiet sedate halt before a hushed ‘ahh’ filled the car. We all leaned forward. I glanced back and forth, desperately seeking out the cause for this joyful expression.

‘There, just there. Amongst the trees. Do you see them?’

Them? I had been looking for perhaps one deer, camouflaged amongst the dark brown tree trunks, the green of the forest sucking the clarity of shapes into itself.

‘There.’

Abruptly I sit back into my seat. A young elk calf had just skittered its way across the road directly in front of the car. By the tree line it turned around and looked back to the other side. Just then I saw ‘them’. Another calf, hidden deeper amongst the trees, then Mother Elk stepped forward towards the road.

photo 3-3This was my ‘Northern Exposure’ moment! For years I’ve watched the starting credits of this show, always amazed as the elk nonchalantly wandered through the town. Here I saw the giant beast close up. Totally still as it weighed up the situation; its two off spring trapped on opposite sides of the road. We didn’t move. No one said a word. Feelings of awe and majesty flowing over us.

Then with a few wide strides the elk passed in front of us – to the lone calf.

photo 2I’ve never seen such a sad forlorn expression as that on the remaining calf. Its bewilderment and fear complete. We waited for the scenario to play out –  it was obviously the language of stares. Which luckily went on for minutes so we could relax in the close proximity of these animals.

photo 2-5 (1)As suddenly as Mother Elk had crossed the road, so it did again – back to the shyer, more fearful calf. Rejoined they looked back at the original calf. One minute. Two minute. The game of dare. One, two careful steps and then it walked, sauntered across. The Brave. The Fearless. The Adventurous. A hushed cheer in the car and the animals scarpered into the forest, the cowardly one turning away from the others before bolting back to them in a hurry.

photo 3So many lovely bloggers have asked about my trip to Sweden and for some photos and so I am only too happy to oblige. I will return to the book reviews in my next post. However, I will be posting more photos about my Sweden trip during the next couple of months.

* Copyright A. Kathy Moss

CRYSTAL GROTTO

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“Two contrary emotions arose in me, fear and desire – fear of the threatening grotto, desire to see whether there are marvellous things in it.”    Leonardo Da Vinci

The same contradiction of feelings rose in me as I studied the noticeboard outside the grotto at Painshill Park, Surrey. Here, outside the bright sunlight sparkled across the lake and immaculately white swans swam in a disjointed line. Inside beckoned darkness and the unknown.

‘We are going to the park for a picnic,’ my friends had said. In my mind I pictured swings and slides interspersed with the occasional thwack of a football.

I never imagined this wondrous landscaped garden created over two hundred and fifty years previously. The perfect landscape of green grass, trees, vineyard and a lake with a variety of bridges. The park teemed with formidable follies such as a Turkish Tent perched on a hill, a Gothic Temple tucked away in the trees  and nestling away by the water’s edge the frontage of an abbey ruin.

For the creator of Painshill Park, Hon. Charles Hamilton (1704- 1786), the folly par excellence was this grotto, the largest and rarest of its kind in the country. Hamilton owned Painshill and as a landscape gardener with experience to rival Capability Brown, he designed the garden, including the grotto, which alone cost over £ 8,000 (now £600,000). He then commissioned the premier grotto maker of the era, Joseph Lane to carry the project to completion.

I had heard murmurings from my friends about the grotto as we walked. ‘Recently restored grotto.’ ‘Took over 15 years to repair.’ ‘The whole roof had caved in.’ I paid scant attention to their words, allowing the briefest image of dark dank caves dripping with water to flash before my eyes before quickly banishing the images.

‘Can we go in?’ exclaimed my son as he rushed back from his ventures around the park. ‘It’s just around the corner,’ he added, knowing us too well.  Us lazy adults had enjoyed the unseasonal warmth and sunshine to rest on the blankets after a hearty lunch (thank you Waitrose!).

Who was I to say no? I’m glad I didn’t!

We ducked into the darkness and slowly our eyes adjusted to the dim light coming in slithers of beams from small openings in the corridor. In front of me unfolded the shimmering crystal display. If ever there was a ‘wow’ moment, this was it. In awe our small group were silenced and as one we twirled  around, appreciating the grotto entrance.

This was just a taster of what was to come, as we ambled carefully through the 60 ft long corridor to the main chamber. I stopped and gasped. My heart leapt with joy at the extraordinary vision surrounding me. A cavern of stalactites glittered from the roof of the cavern, water flowed gently to a pool and water dripped gently down the walls. Light filled the chamber, with beams of sunlight coming through the wall openings as well as light reflected from the serpentine lake. The largest opening was built to allow the light from the setting sun to shine into the chamber. The magical aura was all pervasive.

The stalactites are giant inverted wooden cones placed onto the main wooden superstructure which is the main chamber. The interior was covered in lime plaster, a task that alone took four months.

Hundreds of thousands of crystals were subsequently glued onto the coned stalactites and surrounding walls. The crystals were made from calcite, gypsum, quartz and fluorite and the restorers were lucky enough to be able to use some of the original crystals. Most had to be hand-cut however, this task taking over 9,000 man hours as well as eight months to glue into place. 

The vision for the completed restored grotto relied heavily on a 1776  painting of the grotto by Swedish artist and garden designer (Frederik Magnus Piper) to the King Gustav III of Sweden.  Alas google searches of the painting fell foul of European Data Protection laws.

The grotto is a peaceful haven with the sound of the rippling water an aural delight allowing meditative thoughts to flow. ‘The acoustics were amazing,’ my friends said, as if reading my thoughts. They had attended a violin concert in the grotto chamber last Christmas and couldn’t believe the magical quality of sound.

The one real stalactite

The one real stalactite

Visually alluring was the pool of water into which the water flowed. If relatively calm it became ‘nature’s mirror’ and staring into its shallow depths I was overwhelmed with a deep sense of infinity.

In silent harmony we headed one by one to the dazzling blinding light outside, the peace and quiet remaining within us for a long time after our visit.

Thank you to my friends, I thoroughly enjoyed our day ‘in the park’!

SUBMERGED FORESTS

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Whilst reading My Sister’s Sister by Tracy Buchanan I was taken with her wondrous descriptions of the submerged forests her characters visit and not knowing anything about them I wanted to learn more. Join me as I travel (virtually of course, it’s free!) to seven of the submerged forests around the globe.

The forests are created either as a result of deliberate flooding by man whilst building dams or caused by natural catastrophes, such as earthquakes resulting in landslides. More rarely there are the submerged forests that appear and then disappear according to the seasons. I have written about all three variations in this post.

GREEN LAKE, STYRIA, AUSTRIA

Green Lake

This ethereal submerged forest is a natural phenomena formed every Spring as snow melts from the surrounding mountains. The name comes from the emerald-green of the water which raises by 10 m and floods the forest. Beneath in the crystal clear cold waters divers flock to witness the mysterious underwater trees, park benches, footbridges and footpaths. The park itself begins to be restored in July as the waters recede.

Green Lake

LAKE KAINDY, KAZAKHSTAN

Lake Kaindy

This ghostly haunting submerged forest contains huge spruce trees which still retain their pines in the cold water. The imposing trunks rise like supernatural apparitions out of the water, as if still grasping for life.

Lake Kaindy

This 400 m long lake was created following an earthquake in 1911 when a landslide formed a natural dam which filled with rainwater in the valley. Again because of the excellent visibility this lake has become highly popular with divers and unlike Green Lake there are no seasonal restrictions.

Lake Kaindy

LAKE VOLTA, GHANA

Lake Volta

This lake is the opposite of the two previous ones which showed so much life.  Here huge trunks of dead hardwood trees stick straight out of the water in an eerie atmosphere of decay and destruction.

It was formed when the Akosombo Dam was built in the 1960s creating the world’s largest reservoir. Altogether 3,000 square miles was flooded. Following the building of the dam hundreds of people have been killed in collisions with the tree stumps in the water as the lake is a busy waterway for fishermen and travellers.

Lake Volta

Recently it has become part of a massive commercial operation as underwater logging has begun and it is estimated that the total value of the tropical hardwood recovered can be in excess of $ 3 million.

DOGGERLAND, NORFOLK

Dogger land Submerged Forest

Closer to home there is the submerged ancient forest off the coast of Norfolk. The age of the forest is estimated to be over 10,000 years old and it had been part of the Doggerland region which at one time allowed hunter-gatherers to travel across the land mass to Germany.

The lost forest was only uncovered following the storm of December 2013 when tens of thousands of tons of sand and gravel from the buried forest shifted under the power of the waves. Although in more obscured sea conditions this is still a significant find.

Dogger land Submerged Forest

It is believed that the oak forest was knocked flat by glaciers and the compressed ginormous solid lumps of wood are visible. Divers are not only treated to the visual delights of the re-emergence of this ancient forest but also to the array of sea-life, such as star-fish and crabs, that have made a home for themselves in the knotholes of the trees.

LAKE PERIYAR, KERALA, INDIA

Lake Periyari

Enclosed within the Periyar National Park this lake was created in 1895 upon the building of the Mullaperiyar Dam. The alluring apocalyptic scene consists of lake punctuated  with a graveyard of dead tree stumps situated in the midst of the stunning beauty of hills. The park itself boasts a large variety birds and mammals as well as being a famous tiger and elephant reserve.

Lake Periyari

LAKE BEZID, ROMANIA

Lake Bezid

Situated in Transylvania this haunting (and perhaps haunted?) lake was formed during the building the of the dam which resulted in the flooding of an entire village. The villagers were displaced in 1977 to make way for the dam.

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Eerily the former Roman Catholic Church tower dominates the centre of the lake. The dichotomy of the normal in such an abnormal situation lends the area an aura of otherworldliness. The church itself was visible until its recent collapse. Dead tree stumps are dotted around the lake.

LAKE CADDO, TEXAS-LOUISIANA BORDER, USA

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It was a delight to read about Lake Caddo on the Texas-Louisiana border. It is the world’s largest cypress forest and is home to living trees that are growing in their semi-submerged state. The sense of magic and mystic is palpable from the photos alone.

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The lake is named after the Native Americans – Caddons or Caddo – who lived on the land until expelled during the 19th Century. Local legend tells of an earthquake in 1812 leading to the formation of the lake. Besides being a place of great natural beauty it is also renowned for the hundreds of sightings of Bigfoot in the area!

Lake Caddo

I hope you have enjoyed the tour of only a few of the world’s submerged forests. Have you visited any of these? Or perhaps even dived in the lakes? It would be interesting to hear from you. All comments are very welcome.