Sunday 31 July 2022

Passage To Green Island

Green Island is not an island at all; not in the sense of being surrounded by water anyway. It is confined by a triangle of roads, but it's not a traffic island either; these are minor country roads and the "island" is just one of the millions of little blank spaces on the road map of Britain. 

In 1996 this twenty acre site (about 8 hectares) came up for sale and was bought by the garden designer, Fiona Edmond, and her husband. Up to this time Fiona had been running her garden design business, playing golf up to international level and raising two children - but all that came to an end when she contracted ME.

The site was overgrown with brambles, young sycamores and fallen trees. Somehow clearing up the mess and designing the garden helped her overcome her debilitating condition. It's such a tranquil space that I can believe it would have a healing quality. Green Island Gardens is now open to the public and you can wander around with me if you like.

There are lots of places for children to play. (I've never understood why Garden Centres don't have swings and trampolines for sale - that's how a lot of gardens are used).

There are many flower beds whose colour attracted my camera, though a lot of the garden is given over to grassy paths and woodland walks too.

It's high time that I just shut up and let the garden work its magic.

Fancy a cup of tea and a slice of cake? Here's the tea room...

A hidden fairy house!

As you can undoubtedly see in the photo above it's been brutally hot (40C) and dry here recently and the woodlands in particular seem to have suffered. Some leaves have just turned brown and fallen, some have changed to autumn colours, and some have fallen while still green. Surprisingly this made a satisfying picture, along with the Sweet Chestnut catkins. 

It somehow reminds me of an old jewellery box, with brooches and earrings all tangled up with strings of pearls.

Take care.

(Green Island Gardens is only a short drive from the more famous Beth Chatto Garden, which we didn't visit this time, and the two are often combined for a splendid day out - or you could visit Copford Church, of course!).

Thursday 28 July 2022

First Stop: Copford

Heading down the M11 motorway, turn on to the A120, and then (because many of the best things in life lie hidden off the main thoroughfares) take to the minor roads and byways.

In Copford Green you might come across this seventeenth-century "cart lodge". Carts and equipment could be kept underneath, right next to the road, and hay was stored in the loft above.

And you might meet the Copford Green Giant, which is what someone has created from hay bales much more recently. The signs on his left leg tell that there's been a Scarecrow Festival in the village recently. Things always get more interesting away from the main roads.

Down a narrow track, turning right at the cricket ground, then down a road marked "private", brings us to a gravel parking area beneath the trees. Suddenly we've disappeared down a rabbit-hole and into the depths of rural England - and all just over a mile from roar of the A12 road with its heavy lorries, heading to and from the container port of Harwich. Lets explore a little.

The proper way to explore a church is to have a look around the outside before going in, though I don't think I've ever done it that way round. I mean, you always try the door to see if it's open and if it is....But, with a quick shuffle of the pictures I took, we can do things the right way round. You can see it's got a charming little porch and one of those tiny wooden belfries that are a feature of many churches across Essex and Hertfordshire.

Round the back, on the north side, there's a door with a semi-circular arch; a sure sign that this is a Norman church, built about 1130 AD - though it's been altered and repaired over the centuries, but nevertheless some of the frailest features have survived for centuries, as we shall see.

At the east end there's a curving apse, an unusual survival on a Norman church. Notice also that there's lop-sided extension on the left of the building as we see it here. Lets wander round to that porch now and take a look inside.

Instead of the austere, white-washed interior you may have been expecting we find a building aglow with rich colour. This is how our churches looked back in the medieval period before the puritans decreed that all should be lime-washed over and hidden from view. Lets travel back through time to when the church was built in about 1130.

Shortly after the building's completion the whole church - all its walls and its stone-vaulted ceiling as well - were covered with bright frescoes. The section seen above has been cleaned, but has had little else done to it since it was first painted back in the twelfth century. It is therefore the purest example of medieval art in the church.

Now, you remember that rather lop-sided extension we saw from outside? That was begun in 1190 and a hole was knocked through to create an arch to give access: the size of the church was increased but a substantial area of painting was lost. Two further arches were made later, losing more artwork and also weakening the south wall to some extent. By 1400 the stone-vaulted ceiling either collapsed or was demolished, having become unsafe. If you look at the photo above you can see the "stumps" of two of the great stone arches of the original vaulted ceiling.

In 1547 the paintings which remained, disappeared under a coat of lime-wash, only seeing the light of day very briefly in 1690, when a workman preparing the surface for a fresh coat of lime-wash, uncovered them.

They then remained hidden until 1871 when changing fashions within the church allowed them to be revealed and restored by Daniel Bell. Bell couldn't resist some re-painting and additions of his own invention.

Whatever criticism may be made of the details, it seems to me that that overall impression would have been much the same if we were entering the church back in 1200.

The area beneath the arch bears the signs of the zodiac. The quality and extent of these murals suggests that this must have been more than a normal small parish church - though that's exactly what it serves as nowadays. The Bishops of London once owned much of the surrounding area and it seems that this may have once been their private chapel.

The stained glass windows are more recent than the painted walls, dating from the Victorian era.

There's a rather magnificent George I (ruled from 1714 -1727) coat of arms.

And a very cute modern carving of a Koala on one of the bench ends.

(If you want to know more about the church visit the Copford Church website)

Outside we met another refugee from the Scarecrow Festival - the Happy Chorister, complete with bottle of Communion wine!

We're on our way to see something much more recent, but equally colourful. See you next time.

Take care.

Sunday 10 July 2022

Delights And Delays

A number of scenes to delight and delay the early morning cyclist in the month of July. Mostly taken in and around the village of Harlton, a few miles from home.

Crimson clouds on the horizon half an hour before sunrise

But looking rather washed out by the time I reached Chapel Hill

Towards Harlton.

Sun breaking through and backlighting the fields

Cows in a field. An uncommon sight in most of the county, which is strictly arable.

A closer look. Leaning on the gate, just like an old farmer!

Down the lane.

Low sun over the cattle pasture.

A hill! There aren't many of those in Cambridgeshire.

Chicory flowering on one of the field margins.

Looking back down an ancient road known as "Whole Way".
That cloud was not as threatening as it looked.

View from the chalk ridge over the flat country to the north.

That "corduroy" look of the fields on the chalk lands.

Heading back home before a predicted warm and humid day;
 that's one of the reasons I was out so early.

Time for a little more YouTube guitar music, this time from one of the acoustic guitar heroes of my youth. Bert Jansch was an unpolished but hypotic performer of traditional songs, self-penned numbers and dazzling instrumentals. His vocals often trailed off into mumbles or even silence and gave rise to lots of imitators singing the wrong words to the tunes. The guitar part of this particular song, "Blackwater Side", was stolen by Led Zeppelin who called it "Black Mountain Side" - but that didn't fool anyone.

Take care.