Suffolk churches 74: Nowton and Ousden (April 2018)

St Peter’s, Nowton
Outdoor temperature: 16.9˚C; indoor temperature: 14.8˚C, humidity 66%
Nowton
It is rare that a church visit makes me cross – at least, if I manage to get inside. Nowton did, however. It reminded me of my potential for extreme irritability with both locked churches and stained glass.

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Spring treasure 8: What’s soft, furry and nearly as sweet as ducklings?

14/5/2018 You would probably never guess that I wasn’t referring to an animal if I asked you this question. You might also legitimately reply, ‘nothing is nearly as sweet as ducklings’. You’d be nearly right. But not quite.

Beech leaves 1I’m referring to the best of all new spring leaves: beech leaves. If horse chestnut leaves are difficult to resist touching, these are impossible. I’m afraid that I might be diagnosed as insane if anyone caught me unawares in their presence; but as long as I was left to enjoy my insanity in peace, I wouldn’t mind too much.

I treat them pretty much the same way I treat my animals. As you may have deduced by now, they have a similar effect on me as ducklings. I can understand the evolutionary advantage in baby animals being sweet – assuming humans aren’t the only species capable of recognising this quality – but what possible advantage can there be for a tree to have adorable baby leaves? Surely they’d just get eaten more often.

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Spring treasure 7: New Horse Chestnut Leaves

chestnut leaves7/5/2018 This highlight should really have appeared two weeks ago, but due to the arrival of ducklings and swallows it had to be postponed. There was no question of leaving it out, however: new horse chestnut leaves are my second favourite spring leaf behind the one I hope will be featured next week, if nothing unexpected happens to delay it once more.

In contrast to the weeping willow, whose early spring glow I enjoy best from a distance, I have to get up close to appreciate the horse chestnut’s new leaves. I love seeing the sticky buds burst open and the leaves slowly break free of their spider’s-web-like covering; but my favourite stage is when the leaves are larger and have become more recognisably those of the horse chestnut. They point downwards like drooping hands. They are light green, almost translucent and oh-so-soft: touching and stroking them is impossible to resist. I can feel my heart leap when I do so.

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Spring treasure 3: The Weeping Willow

Willow12/4/2018 Just as blackthorn is one of the first spring blossoms to burst its buds, weeping willows are one of the first trees to break dormancy. Rather than losing their orange glow in spring like the crack willow in my garden, the emerging translucent green leaves increase the radiance of their flowing branches, and from a distance the two colours blend into gold. Add sunshine into the mix, and Rapunzel could barely compete.

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Spring treasure 2: Blackthorn

blackthorn 2

7/4/2018 My belief that spring might have arrived was premature. More than a week later, there is still barely a green leaf to be seen, barely a ray of sunshine to be felt. The meadows along the Brett Valley are flooded, and my garden pond is encroaching on the lawn. It hardly seems feasible that exactly a year ago I saw my first swallows of the season: I expect I will be waiting a good few weeks longer this year.

Perhaps the feeling of extended winter has been partially responsible for my slowness in choosing a second spring treasure. Busyness over Easter accounts for another part of the delay, and the remainder – the biggest obstacle – has been caused by at least five changes of mind over which particular spring wonder to settle on. The unusually slow progress of the season means that many delights of early spring, which usually take place consecutively, are coinciding this year, and choosing between them is nearly impossible. I feel like a bumblebee buzzing from flower to flower, too excited about the appearance of so many different food sources at once, and unable to decide which nectar I like best.

Last week I opted out, but I feel it is high time to commit myself. A sunny day finally arrived a few days ago – the first since I last wrote – and sitting on the terrace in the sun was more conducive to forcing myself into a decision.

I chose blackthorn. A blossom that I was half expecting to include in my late winter treasures, and the first to put some colour back in the hedgerows.

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Crossways Farm Winter Update

Fluffy chicken5/3/2018 The creatures and I are happy to report that, after an uncertain start, this winter has been a vast improvement on last year’s, despite several spells of icy and snowy weather which at times has dissuaded even the chickens from going in the garden – but they have gradually got braver!

Since welcoming friends from Spain on Christmas Eve, the season has been, on the whole, a positive one. It got off to a good start: we, the humans, had our first experience of a Boxing Day picnic. Dexter the rabbit had his first experience of an open fire, and soon made it clear that he didn’t see any sense in ever leaving the fireside. Winston the wood pigeon looked on jealously through the sitting room window, so I relented and gave him his own short spell of indoor warmth-bathing…

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Suffolk churches 56: Letheringham and Framsden (January 2018)

St Mary’s, Letheringham
Outdoor temperature: 6.5˚C; Indoor temperature: 7.4˚C, humidity: 63%
My obligatory return trip to Monewden to take photos had an unexpectedly beneficial side effect: it provided the impetus to go out with my cello. If it hadn’t been for that semi-reluctant, semi-long-distance drive, I might not have discovered that playing in churches in January can be enjoyable, despite the cold.

Letheringham

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Winter treasure 6: Hazel Catkins

28/1/2018 I think my eyes are slowly becoming more attuned to winter goings on. I noticed catkins on the hazels before the end of December, and early in January I went up to examine them at close quarters. They were brown, small and hard. Only a few days later, however, amongst the hard catkins I started to see just as many long, floppy, yellow-green ones, which caught the sunlight and lit up the hedgerows better than any Christmas lights. I didn’t remember hazels flowering in the middle of winter, and I wondered briefly if they were a different species of hazel, or perhaps not hazel at all. Apparently, a tree that I took for granted around my garden and in the hedgerows was a mystery to me as far as its flowering habits were concerned. Research was clearly required.

catkins

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Winter treasure 4: The Willow Tree

Willow tree13/1/2018 By the front pond is a giant crack willow. The tree is magnificent; and its magnificence is greatest in winter. The twigs turn bright orange and its luminous canopy is the highlight of my garden on a sunny winter’s day. I watch it with curiosity every spring, thinking, surely its twigs can’t actually change colour; it must be an illusion created by the branches becoming gradually invisible beneath the growing leaves. But I swear that as soon as the buds start to break, the twigs lose their glow.

Friends and tree surgeons have all expressed their concerns about this tree and have urged me to either have it cut down completely, or pollarded. One large branch has already snapped off, a few years ago in a gale, and every time a new storm arrives I go outside the next morning to check it is still in one piece. Pollarding is a more acceptable option to me (in any case, cutting it down ‘completely’ would only turn it into a labour-intensive coppice), but despite the perennial anxiety it causes me, I cannot yet bring myself to lay a hand on its splendour.

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Winter treasure 3: Staverton Thicks – a Boxing Day picnic

Oak vines6/1/2018 Staverton Thicks is one of two places in Suffolk that I like best in winter. Part of the reason may be that my first visit was in December, and the memory of that exhilarating discovery will always stay with me. But there is also a stillness about it in winter. It is not just that fewer people walk there, as I have barely ever encountered anyone in Staverton Thicks, at any time of year. Rather, the stillness is of a wood in hibernation.

The main reason for my preference, however, is that its beauty lies greatly in its quality as a quite extraordinary, walk-in, living sculpture. Its shapes can be appreciated better in winter when the ground and the branches (apart from holly) are bare: more light reaches the woodland floor, and the tall, dense bracken has died back, allowing a clear view of the weird and wonderful forms to be found everywhere in this truly unique woodland.

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