Monthly Archives: May 2018

RTY: The Wood (The Life & Times of Cockshutt Wood) – John Lewis Stempel

Hello Lovelies!!

Today I want to share with you my review of my book choice for Penguin’s Read The Year Challenge. The topic for May was use a book to get closer to nature. I chose to read The Wood – The Life and Times of Cockshutt Wood. This book was a perfect choice for me because I’ve been wanting to branch out into reading more non fiction.

The novel, told in diary format by John Lewis-Stempel, focuses on his final year of working at Cockshutt Wood and tending to the three and a half acres of woodland. After four years, Stempel coppiced the trees, raised cows and pigs who roamed there. He knows the land like the back of his hand, it is a part of him. It’s a blissful sanctuary.

“Cockshutt was a sanctuary for me too; a place of ceaseless seasonal wonder where I withdrew into tranquility. No one comes looking for you in a wood.”

What’s it all about?

Following the last twelve months, we see Cockshutt Wood change through the seasons. The novel starts in December where we read vivid descriptions of the robin singing, the trees standing naked and the snow gently falling. It’s picturesque, peaceful, beautiful. Man and nature becoming one.

“There is always the sense of the unexpected in a wood, a constant feeling that, around the next bend in the path, behind the bole of the next tree, there will be a surprise.”

As a reader, we are invited into Stempel’s life during December’s chapter. We learn about his background in this profession, stemming from his grandfather, the farm animals they had and how traditions have continued, such as holly. Yet, what I have never given thought to before is how on the surface, winter seems to signal the end. It’s a time when plants wither, the weather drops and it becomes a chore to be outside. Nevertheless, nature is working hard behind the scenes to look after us. Mother Nature is waiting for a sign just like we do, for that moment when we all wake up ready to face the world; to start again.

“Oddly aware, walking through the wood this afternoon, that it is dormant rather than dead. How the seeds, the trees and hibernating animals…are locked in a safe sleep against the cold and wet.”

January’s entries provide something I get quite excited about: snowdrops. The description of the weather is still cold, crisp and glittered with snow. The songs of robins sing through the wood. I personally always admire the snowdrop. I feel a thrill of excitement whenever I see them. Every year I look for them, for the sign. They are so delicate and beautiful, yet the survive the harshest of conditions in winter. They represent that spring will come, we’ve nearly made it.

“If snowdrops are appearing, then the earth must be wakening. Of all our wild flowers the white bells are the purest, the most ethereal, the most chaste… Whatever; the snowdrop says that winter is not forever.”

Spring has sprung in the wood and we hear the songs of the birds and the plants are all starting to wake. Spring also provides a sense of renewal in Stempel as he feels he has a spring in his step. The wood continues to create a sense of awe and amazement. References to different poems by John Clare, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning and Edward Thomas embody this sense of new life that spring brings. This lyrical way of writing means that the wood appears to be magical. For Stempel, it enables him to feel like he is a child again. I completely relate to this, being outside in the lush greenery makes me feel quite at peace. There’s a feeling that absolutely nobody can get to you.

“…the possibility of adventure in its secluded spaces. I’m still that boy. I cannot walk through a wood without a sense of wonder. And there is a relaxing privacy to a wood… A wood is an escape.”

Now we are in May, we have beautiful flowers, birdsong in abundance and longer, lighter evenings. It is the same for the wood. There’s a ‘blizzard of blossom’ and everything is growing at an enormous rate, a rate which Stempel (and every gardener too) only just about manages to keep a hold on. The new animals are appearing and finding their feet. It’s the best time of year and this lyrical narrative made me so excited and blissfully happy. If you close your eyes, you can imagine it, with the whole of your being.

“Dawn chorus II: starts with robin, then blackbird, song thrush, chiffchaff, willow warbler, wood warbler. They merge into a stream of song; I cannot distinguish their individual voices. They sing as one.”

Time rolls by and the summer months are passing like the gentle breeze being described. Trees are standing proud and tall, providing a home for a variety of insects and birds. The bees are working hard to provide for their own hive as well as us humans. Their buzz hums in the air. The does walk around the walk, their home with calm ease. Yet there is a sense of time passing, of seasons changing. The apples are swelling, nearly ready for picking. The fox cubs are sent into the wild to fend and find the way for themselves. Autumn is approaching.

“Colour change escalation, for the worse; most trees have lost vibrant hues in favour of a muddy brown mixed by a toddler let loose on a paintbox of watercolours.”

The novel ends by going full circle. We see the trees loose their leaves, squirrels nut collecting ready for hibernation, animals fighting one another for the berries on the bushes. It is inevitable; time moves on and seasons work together to change and nurture. This also means the end of Stempel’s time at Cockshutt Wood. During his four years here, he has become at one with the wood and the wood is at one with him.

“I thought the trees and the birds belonged to me. But now I realize that I belonged to them.”

Overview

This book is beautiful in its purest form. It’s lyrical, it oozes soul and it was a massive surprise for me. I am the first to admit I am not a great lover of non fiction. However, this has changed me. I went on a three mile walk with my dad and this book was all I could think about. It provides descriptions, poetry, recipes and tales of the inhabitants of the wood. It’s profound and I felt genuinely moved. I recommend it to anyone who wants to feel closer to nature, to have a moment of peace and tranquility. I’m off to find more of Stempel’s books.

If anyone has any suggestions for the next few months, please let me know! Topics can be found here.

Big love all! Enjoy the last day of May. Summer is approaching. Xx

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Filed under Book review, Read The Year Challenge

Happy 3rd Birthday!

Hey Everyone!

Hope you’re all doing really well and enjoying the best that May has to offer. I’ve reached half term! What a massive relief.

Anyway, today I received a really exciting notification.

I can’t believe my little blog is three years old! I’m quite shocked at how my little space on the web has evolved over the last three years. It’s something I’m incredibly proud of and I’m proud of being a part of this amazing community.

There’s so many bloggers I’d like to thank but I hope you know how important you are to me. We’re like a family on here and the support is overwhelming. Some of you have been with me since my first day and I’ll never forget that. To my newer followers, I can’t wait to get to know you better and join in with your journey too.

To mark the three years, I thought I would share three facts about me and blogging with you all.

  1. I’ve only ever reviewed about books I’ve bought myself. I take great enjoyment from visiting bookshops, feeling the books in my hand and buying them. There’s nothing better!
  2. I never follow a blogging schedule. I blog when I can and when I feel like it. There’s been times when life gets in the way and I just don’t seem to have the ability to find the words I need, so I’ve left it. That’s completely normal.
  3. I will always aspire to do better: to see more, to read more, to do something outside of my ordinary world. That’s why I started to blog about different places I’ve visited. I really enjoyed seeing beautiful photos from all around the world from many blogs on here. There isn’t enough time to see everything so I really appreciate those posts. I hope my posts about little visits give you an opportunity to see somewhere new. Just think about the beauty we can share together.

Lastly, my heartfelt thanks. Thank you for accepting me and my little space on the internet with open arms. You’re all wonderful.

Big love xxx

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Filed under Birthday, Blog

The Storyteller Speaks – Annika Perry

Hello lovelies!

Sorry for the absence but we are in the thick of exam season and I’ve not been very well. My apologies. I do hope you’re all well and enjoying May. Time really is running away with us! It’s lovely to have such light evenings though.

Today I want to share with you a special book. My fellow blogger and friend Annika Perry published her first book, The Storyteller Speaks, and I’ve recently had the joy of reading it. I absolutely had to share it with you.

 

What’s it all about?

The Storyteller Speaks is a collection of short stories and poetry covering a wide range of such as love, loss and new beginnings. If you’re familiar with my reviews you’d know that I would review the whole plot. However, this being a collection of short stories has given me an opportunity to focus on my two favourites, the ones that have stayed with me. It’s also my first ever review of short stories. I hope I do this justice.

My first favourite is actually the first short story of the collection: Biding Her Time. This is such a sweet, innocent story with a fairytale ending. What’s not to like?

This piece of writing centres around Queenie and Thomas who meet as children at school. They’re quite competitive in the classroom; one being good at maths, the other producing an excellent critical essay. Everyone knew and waited to see who would be on top the next day. However, there wasn’t any animosity, quite the opposite in fact. They’re gentle and kind towards one another.

‘The infamous tales of Thomas and Queenie quickly spread across the small fishing island as the academic rivalled for first place in every subject.’

The two are rather smitten with each other, Queenie more so at first. She knew aged seven that she was in love. Thomas seems completely unaware of this. But, there are gestures from Thomas that are sweet and endearing. Every girl wants a boy to behave like a gentleman towards them, so I found this part really rather lovely. They’re childhood sweethearts, but Thomas doesn’t see it yet. On a cold day, Thomas gives her his gloves and walks her home, sharing with her his passion for fishing. She knew she liked him, we all can feel it.

‘She could bide her time.’

What I love about this story is the complete innocence surrounding it. Heartache appears when Thomas does not return to school because of the death of his father. Queenie is devastated and the tone of this story changes to grip our own hearts at his absence.

‘Without warning Queenie stood up. The chair screeched against the floor, and as silently as she arrived that morning she left, heading out into the warm sunshine. A warmth that failed to reach the chill in her heart.’

Life continues as it does for everyone but there is a change in Queenie. A spark from within her has diminished to an ember, only to be reignited on Thomas’s return. She waits patiently for him, watching, listening for him. Finally! At last! He returns and this rather marvellous short story, goes full circle, ending just as we want it to.

‘At that moment Thomas realised that this woman was destined to be his wife. She just didn’t know it yet.’

 

The second short piece which I really enjoyed was A Bouquet of White. I could personally relate to this story, arguably why I remember it and like it so much.

The story focuses on Ollie and begins with every day reminders of his Grandad. The reader doesn’t know quite what he’s done until we see his Grandmother’s (Margaret) reaction.

‘Get them out of here! Now, Ollie!… how dare you bring death into this house?’

Ollie is confused. In his eyes, he’s made a grand gesture to his Grandmother, showed her how much he cares and yet she reacts vehemently. Granted the gift, a bouquet of white lilies, weren’t honestly gained. Nevertheless, he had done it for her. However, to his Grandmother, she had been shocked to the core.

‘Margaret stood still for a long while, her breathing fast and shallow. Knees buckling, she pulled out a chair and sat by the table, by the discarded flowers.’

What is most endearing is the root cause of this reaction: her beloved late husband Dennis. The narrative moves to inform the reader of how Dennis used to bring these very flowers every Friday to her. Even after a stroke, he pushed himself to get his flowers for his wife. Only one time he didn’t make it and return to her.

‘…then glanced down the road. To Dennis, lying on the pavement, a jumper scrunched up under his head for a pillow, placed there by a kind passer by. Resting on his blazer were the lilies, the blasted lilies…’

Sadly albeit beautifully, we see a vivid description of the lilies at his funeral, the fact that they are so full of life when he was not. This flashback brought mixed feelings for Margaret. Led by the voice of Dennis in her head, she knew what she needed to do with her grandson.

‘With the tip of her fingers she lowered down the lid and shuffled indoors. Defeated.’

Whenever we miss someone or do something we regret, we turn to our friends which is exactly what happens with Ollie. By bumping into Allie, it helps him realise what he needs to do. Rather cleverly, the split narrative shows us Ollie and his Grandmother’s inner most thoughts and feelings. Ollie’s sweetness and naivety melted my heart a little. I could just about look past the fact that he’d stolen the flowers.

“He’d only thought the lilies would help fix her a bit. Fill the hole and bring some life into her. He’d messed up big time.”

When Ollie returned to his grandmother’s house, arms full of colourful flowers, they were both eager with their explanations and apologies. Together they devise a plan and the story ends with that plan being fulfilled. Ollie promises to work at the florist to pay back the cost of the flowers he stole and they put all the flowers up on Dennis’s grave. There is a real sense of everything falling into place, of wrong doing being fixed and love shining through. After all, it is only love that lasts. The most important lesson from this is they learn to understand each other.

‘She felt like a character from a black and white movie stepping into the technicolour of life.’

 

Overview

As I say, these are just two of my personal favourites from this collection as they cover two things that we shall all experience in life: love and death. They’re so well written that the voices stay with you. Across the whole book there are characters you feel you could know; they’re just so relatable. The variety of topics means that it appeals to everyone and I learnt about real life events I wasn’t aware of. A helpful touch is included at the back where we are able to read what inspired some of the pieces. It breaks down the wall of reader/writer because you become a part of it.

Annika, massive congratulations on your first book being published. It has a beautiful cover to match the beautifully crafted words inside. I urge you all to support a fellow blogger and read this eclectic array of delights.

Big love all!! Enjoy the Royal Wedding today! Xx

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Bank Holiday! A visit to Rievaulx Terrace

Hello lovely people!

It’s May! The sun is shining, the skies are the clearest blue and we have a three day weekend. What could be better? I hope you’re all soaking up the sunshine and enjoying this little break.

For me, I’m playing host to my lovely family who have come to stay. My parents are so important to me so I wanted to make sure they had a lovely time.

Yesterday, we had a little trip to Nunnington Hall which was just as beautiful as ever. I’ve visited here before – see here for more!

What came next was really rather special. We decided to continue driving for 8 miles to find Rievaulx Terrace. None of us had been before so we were really excited to be outside, exploring in the beautiful sunshine.

The Rievaulx Terrance was created by Thomas Duncombe II between 1749-57. It took one hundred men, eight years to finish. Incredible! He wanted it to be a place where he and his guests could see a distant view of the medieval abbey ruins in the valley below. He also placed two classical temples at either end of the terrace. This terrace was one of the earliest triumphs of the Picturesque movement for landscape gardening.

We walked through the woodland forest which was so tranquil. You could only hear the birds and the wind. There is something quite beautiful about that and the feeling it creates. Along the woodland are different sculptures as part of an exhibition. My favourites were the little owls in the tree and the hedgehogs.

When you come to the end of the woodland, you walk out onto a lush, green terrace. Just hiding at the bottom is the first of the classical temples: The Tuscan Temple.

The temple is closed to visitors, however the windows and mirrors provide you with view points. There is rich plasterwork inside, a painted roundel of a winged goddess. The tiles are 13th century from nearby Byland Abbey.

Arthur Young who visited in 1770 said: “Ruins generally appear best from a distance.” I have to say, I completely agree with him. I didn’t know what I expected from this place, but I was completely overwhelmed and in awe.

Every step you take reveals more of the ruins from below. It completely took my breath away. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve seen.

Photographs will never be able to do it justice. A photo can’t capture a feeling. Yet, I do hope it shows some sense of the wonder that this place creates and embodies.

Continuing the walk along the terrace brings you to the second temple: the Ionic Temple. Just when I thought this trip couldn’t get any better, we went inside.

Here the Duncombe family would have fed and entertained their guests. The interior is lavish and oozes elegance. I honestly have never seen anything like it in my life. I probably will never see anything like it again.

The frescoes show mythological scenes and are the creative work of Italian painter Giuseppe Mattia Borgnis, dated around 1753. The centre of the ceiling shows Aurora, Apollo and the Muses. It is beauty defined.

This day meant so much more than seeing beautiful places. It was time for my family and I to relax, breathe and restore and value our time together. The view and the temples were an added bonus. It was exceptional.

I wish you all a wonderful bank holiday. Enjoy the sunshine, you all deserve it!

Big love all xxx

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Filed under Days Out, National Trust, Photography, Places, UK