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Picture this. Autumn colours at Arlington Court…

This weekend I’ve once again been playing host to my old friend Ho, who has been taking a well earned break from a frantic work schedule to join me for a spot of relaxation in the beautiful autumnal Devon countryside.
This time we decided to take a stroll around the extensive grounds of Arlington Court, ancestral home of the Chichester family for over 500 years.

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The house itself is an imposing stone built mansion, surrounded by rolling lawns, lakes, and woodlands, criss-crossed with pathways that lead you to various viewpoints overlooking not only the gloriously varied vistas of the estate but also the picturesque church of St James (not owned by the Trust, but adjacent to the house) which just happened to be staging a flower festival at the time of our visit.

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We began our tour on the front lawn of the house, heading down to the ornamental lake, stocked with lazily cruising carp and topped with a proliferation of water lilies, pausing on the way to admire the splendor of an ancient oak tree that has stood on the site since well before the house or grounds existed.
The tree is preserved primarily for the scientifically important and internationally recognised variety of lichen, moss and fungi that festoon its gnarled and twisted trunk.

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The church is just visible through the trees that overlook the lake, providing a focal point for visitors, an invitation to investigate the hidden beauty of the peaceful sanctuary as you make your way round the estate.

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But before we headed into the cool vaulted space of the flower-strewn chapel we made our way down the shady path amongst the trees to discover what the woods had to offer.

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Before too long we came upon a small camp in a clearing, complete with a traditional clay oven beneath the billowing folds of a parachute canopy, along with rustic huts constructed from sticks salvaged from the woodland floor.

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The woods have the quiet atmosphere of a primeval forest, rotting trees left where they fell, allowing the verdant moss to take hold and making perfect burrows for small animals and insects, creating shapes that look for all the world like the backbones of long-dead dinosaurs or mythical dragons.

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Occasionally a gate or stile will allow a view across the cattle grazing fields of the deer park, to the densely wooded slopes of the valley, the trees starting to display the muted tones of autumn foliage.

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We retraced the path back to the lake and made for the tower of the church, immediately seeing signs of the floral attraction within…
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…already catching the scent of the expertly designed bouquets before we even entered the light and airy space of St James’s, the vibrant colours of hundreds of flowers perfectly complimenting the stained glass windows and ornamental carvings on the walls.
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Our final two stops were at the formal and walled kitchen gardens, the latter of which provides fresh produce for the house and its cafe.
There was even an imperious peacock to welcome us to his domain, although he didn’t seem keen on me taking his picture and I required several stealthy attempts to capture him in all his iridescent glory.
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There is even an “insect hotel” high-rise apartment block for bees and other pollinators…
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…and there is always something intriguing around the next corner or through the next inviting door.
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…and of course the Chichester family symbol, a heron grappling with an eel, is in evidence everywhere.
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All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable visit to a place that I’m sure I’ll visit again and again, because there is always something new to discover.

Arlington Court house and gardens are open until the end of October, I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys relaxing amidst spectacular scenery, basking in the more genteel atmosphere of days gone by and leaving the stresses and strains of modern life behind for a few hours.

 

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Monday walk…

As I mentioned in one of my recent Picture this… articles, fellow writer Johanna Bradley, (restlessJo) invites bloggers like myself to contribute to her Monday Walks thread, by publishing photo-blogs on the theme of – you guessed it – going for a walk on a Monday.

As I’ve been having a bit of a photography frenzy recently (what with our dog-sitting binge and the glorious spring weather) and despite the fact the only walk I did on Monday was to take Roo up to the fields above our house in Barnstaple, I did of course have my trusty phone, so as usual I took some photos.

At the time I wasn’t aware that I’d be posting these anywhere, so I didn’t take many and I was mucking about, ill-advisedly shooting into the sun and trying to make something “artistic” for my own entertainment.
But then hey, why not…?

The view from the top of the hill looks down from the centre of the V-shaped valley that comes together at the mouth of the Taw estuary in one direction…

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…and inland, towards Exmoor, in the other..

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Looking down into town, the new bridge, spanning the Taw as it flows out to sea is just visible against the low shimmering waters of the tidal river.

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And the sinking sun proved too much of a temptation for me, unable as I am to resist the chance at a little photographic experimentation.

A geometric antenna provides some structure to one shot.

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…and a tree (a favourite subject that I’ve used in photos before) gives natural perspective in another, including a lens-flare that JJ Abrams would be proud of.

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After that beautiful display of solar activity, there could only be one way to finish the day and that was yet another spectacular Devon sunset to end my Monday evening walk.
Thank you for joining me.

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Posted by on April 22, 2014 in Arts, Blogging, Photography

 

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Picture this. Raleigh meadow / Yeo river valley…

As I’ve had so many appreciative comments on my recent local photo-blogs, I thought I’d finish off the weekend with a selection of pictures taken at another of our favourite spots for an afternoon stroll, and somewhere that Karla absolutely loved to go chasing sticks and swimming.

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I have no particular facts to impart about the area, other than to say that the area known as Raleigh Meadow nestles in the valley of the River Yeo, a tributary of the River Taw, and is where Barnstaple and Pilton Cricket Club is based.

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It’s in the woods, along the river at the bottom of the cricket pitch, that we have taken so many cool shady walks.

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The variety of colours in the foliage of the trees over the year is striking, the pink berries of the spindle tree and fiery orange of the beech’s autumn cloak being two of Elaine’s favorites.

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Me, I like a good silhouette..

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… and I’m a sucker for a nice tree stump too, and this fine specimen has been relocated by the recent flooding from it’s original position…

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…to its new resting place, resident vegetation intact, about twenty yards downstream..

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..along with a few other casualties.

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Today however, the banks of the river were buzzing with life.

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Posted by on June 23, 2013 in Photography, Picture this.

 

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The road most travelled…

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I realised quite a while ago that I often find myself looking for an excuse to write something, anything, just for the pleasure of writing something.
This search for short-notice inspiration is usually dependant on finding a “hook”, not to draw in readers, but to allow me to fish for any random ideas that may float past in the synaptic soup.

They come in all forms, these mental grappling irons, and sometimes they’re just too subtle for me to notice their existence. But even when I am aware of being hooked, it’s not always by what I expect.

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The other night I watched the film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s book The Road.
Now, you wouldn’t think that the post-apocalyptic tale of a man and his son travelling through a world on the edge of extinction, plagued by violent gangs and the ever present possibility of death by starvation would lead to a very positive creative frame of mind.
However, it seems as if “road” must have been the hook that my brain got snagged on this time, possibly due to some imminent changes to my daily routine.

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I work about twenty minutes drive from where we live, a journey I have made nearly every week for the last seven years or so.
For most of that time I have driven down the A361 North Devon Link Road, in one direction or another, depending on what shift I’m working, between 5.30 and 6.00 in the morning.
But due to a reduction in hours at work all that is soon to change, and I will be starting work at 8.00 along with the majority of the working population.

Obviously this is of some concern financially, as we will be losing a considerable number of hours pay each week, but I’m not here to complain about my wages.
It’s something more ephemeral that I’m going to miss.

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At this time of year the Devon countryside is especially beautiful at sunrise, with the wild flowers in bloom and all the trees resplendent with lush greenery, and I have always considered it a bit of a bonus, even a privilege, to be able to witness the landscape at it’s peaceful best, before the dawn mists disperse and the rest of the world wakes up and people, traffic, and noise break the spell.

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Over the years that we’ve lived down here I’ve had a few jobs requiring early starts, and many of them have taken me down the A361 to one destination or another, whether it was for my current job, or as a double glazing rep (don’t ask), or my all time favourite job as a market/County Show trader in high quality garden furniture (who wouldn’t love a job that was essentially driving to various attractive parts of the countryside early in the morning, setting up a furniture display, then sitting around looking as comfortable as possible whilst bantering with holiday-makers and taking advantage of their good humour by convincing them to part with their hard earned cash?)

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And on these journeys there have been opportunities to see not only the scenery along the road at it’s best, but also the many types of wildlife that flourish in the area.

Whether it’s the many buzzards circling over the fields, the small,  timid Muntjac Deer, badgers, rabbits, or the large number of pheasants in the surrounding fields, there is always something to make the trip interesting.
I have even been lucky enough to catch sight of that most majestic of birds, the Barn Owl on more than one occasion, swooping noiselessly down across the road like a white phantom.
A friend has even had the good fortune to have had one of these ghostly hunters fly alongside his car for some distance, silently shadowing his progress before vanishing into the trees.

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So I shall miss the quiet, unspoiled morning scenery when I have to join the commuting conveyor belt in a week or so, but no doubt I’ll still catch the odd glimpse of the inhabitants of this road-bisected landscape.

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And, failing that, there is always the small enclave of semi-tame pheasants –  descendants of escapees from a nearby country estate that runs a shoot – which I have been feeding, along with the many other species of birds, on site at work for the last few years.

Here is 2Watt the pheasant (he was christened for his apparent lack of brightness) and friends, a couple of years ago,  taking advantage of the free food.

Please ignore any off-camera bad language and chattering from me and the others in the now defunct smoking shed.

It just goes to show, in the early hours of the morning when the world is still half asleep, even an industrial park can look reasonably attractive.

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(Incidentally, I should just like to say that despite my expectation that The Road would be somewhere between downbeat and downright depressing, I thought that not only was it a great film but that it was also genuinely touching and uplifting in many respects, and I would highly recommend it.)

 

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