The Natural World

The story of Glenarm Castle begins with a murder. In 1242, John Bisset, a hot-headed young Scot of Norman origin, was implicated in the murder of Padraig, Earl of Atholl, after a tournament in Haddington, where John’s uncle Walter was beaten by the earl. In revenge, John murdered the earl, set fire to his house to conceal the crime, and fled to Ireland.

It was John Bisset who built the first castle at Glenarm on the Antrim coast, facing his old homeland. Bisset then fades from the castle’s history. But every castle worthy of the name needs a good murder in its founding story.

Glenarm Castle

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The Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland is something I’ve long wanted to visit and last week my wish was granted. Geologically, it comprises over 40,000 interlocking basalt columns of different sizes created over 60 million years ago as a result of intense volcanic activity (the temperature needed to create them is between 840ºC and 890ºC). As the molten basalt cool, pseudo-crystals form creating the mainly hexagonal columns we see today. It was granted World Heritage Site status by UNESCO in 1986.

The Giant’s Causeway from the east side

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Yesterday, on a freezing December day, I visited the RHS gardens at Wisley for the first time. I’d been longing to go there for years. It was not, perhaps, the best time to see the gardens but, on the other hand, it wasn’t too crowded, there was still plenty to see, and the Coffee Shop and the Glasshouse Café were both very welcoming when our fingers got numb and coffee – or lunch – called.

Lake with Laboratory in the background

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There’s something very serene about the combination of birds, particularly swans, and water. Sometimes, waterfowl can be aggressive towards each other birds, or squabble about food, but, generally speaking, they move gently but purposefully, and I find looking at them very calming. I was brought up in the country and trees, water, birds and wildlife generally is something I miss.

Leeds Castle and waterfowl

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Lambeth Palace, situated on the south bank of the Thames, more or less opposite Westminster Abbey, has been the official London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury for over 500 years. Its garden is one of the oldest in the country, though it has, of course, undergone numerous transformations as times and garden fashions changed. The garden is open to the public on the first Friday of the month from April to September. And I’ve just been to the last open day of 2017.

The Gatehouse, Morton’s Tower, c.1495. This is the imposing entrance – you can see people queuing

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On a chilly Sunday back in March, I wrote about the Culpeper Community Garden. This weekend, I decided to revisit it. It’s still the same peaceful place it was, with people sitting under trees or on the benches enjoying the sunshine. But, in late August, the general impression is that the flowers are past their best and many of the forty allotments need an end of summer clear out.

View from east to west

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This week, I’m celebrating the Large-Flowered Evening Primrose, oenothera erythrosepala (Onagraceae), to give its formal name. It’s a cousin of the smaller Common Evening Primrose, (O. biennis) but mine are larger. Once fully grown, they can easily top 6ft (well over 180 cms.).

Looking down on my garden from my study window, June 26th, 2017. The evening primroses haven’t yet reached their full height.

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One of the very real – and unexpected – pleasures of travelling to out of the way archaeological sites is that I come across some wonderful trees. I’ve particularly enjoy discovering trees which have historical or literary associations.

A Judas tree in Sicily

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‘Ightham Mote, wrote Nigel Nicolson (son of Vita Sackville West), is one of the oldest and loveliest medieval manor houses to survive in England. It has stood here for over 650 years, immune to fire, tempest, war and riot.’ And he’s right. It nestles in the Kentish Weald almost as if it’s grown organically. Even today, it’s not easy to find. Legend has it that, during the Civil War, Cromwellian soldiers arrived in the area intent on looting it, but got lost in the twisty country lanes, gave up, and ransacked somewhere else instead.

 Ightham Mote: the east side

The photo above shows Ightham Mote (pronounced Item Moat) as the visitor coming down a steep wooded hill first sees it.

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No matter how frazzled I’m feeling, a visit to Kew Gardens with a friend always sorts me out. It’s impossible to feel anything but a sort of peaceful joy when faced with trees in their new spring green, the bluebell woods, tree reflections in the lakes, and the variety of colours of the flowers in the Broad Walk. So, if you, too, feel in need of some soothing nature, here is what you can see in Kew Gardens in early May.

The bluebell woods

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