How rubbish was 2016 for you? According to most media it was filled with death, destruction and awful politics. Well, yes it was, but most of us still have some blessings to count. I’ve been lucky to have some real moments of delight in 2016, even though it started with health issues for me and ended with health issues for loved ones. That’s why this couple of dozen photos ended up in my own Advent Calendar this year.
Why is it that every time I type Advent Calendar I have to delete and re-type because I have written Advent Cakendar? Persistent Freudian slippage.
Anyway, here are the two dozen delightful moments collected together. I hope you have had some similar moments and will have lots more in 2017.
- The cat who OWNS a road. His “Don’t mess with me” attitude made me smile on one of my first solitary walks after a big op.
2. Bluebells at Bruern. Swathes of blue under fresh beech leaves. Just add bluebell fragrance and the sound of a cuckoo.
3. Islands. We were so lucky to get to the Scillies this year. So much pleasure to be had walking and boating around. This view is taken from just above a neolithic village on the coast of St Mary’s.
4. Boats. These are double parked in the harbour at Mallaig, Scotland. That trip didn’t involve any boat rides for us but I love their shapes and colours as much if not more than their function.
5. Zingy Zinnias at West Dean. The gardens at West Dean fill me with joy and admiration. Late summer in the walled garden there provides much-needed blasts of colour.
6. On another solitary walk, this time near Arisaig in Scotland, I spent a little while watching this fluffy ewe with her new lamb. The April wind was cold but lambsie was safe in maternal fleece.
7. Parks. London and our other towns and cities would be so much bleaker without public green spaces for a bit of contact with nature. This is the Round Pond at Hyde Park. Of course it isn’t round.
8. Gardens of Oxford and Cambridge colleges hardly ever have a hair out of place and can easily look a bit stuffy and sterile. Not so at Corpus Christi, Oxford, where David Leake’s anarchic style has unusual plants – from exotics to good-looking weeds – bursting out of every crevice. Completely joyous.
9. In All Saints Church, Brockhampton, there are charming hand-embroidered seat cushions and hymn book covers all done by the same lady, featuring wildflowers and wildlife. In these days of mass-produced impersonal rubbish proper crafters, stitchers, makers and artists spread delight and giant snails wherever they go.
10. Scilly seal. Encounters with wildlife bring home the magic of this planet. We snorkeled with seals off St Martin’s (they like to bite your flippers and ride on your legs) on a beautiful, flat calm day. This one watched us leave, I like to think she was sad to see us go.
11. In the 1970s my parents and I spent many a Sunday afternoon on the activity known to us as TGFAR. Taking Granny For A Ride. She particularly liked us to drive down lanes with trees which met overhead and would ALWAYS say “What a pretty bit of road!”. Decades later I still say it. This pretty bit of road is on St Mary’s, IoS, with arching elm trees on the left and Pittosporum crassifolium windbreak hedge on the right, all growing from granite boulder walls encrusted with moss, ferns and lichen. Hardly any traffic, such a pleasure to walk along.
12. An abundant, well-cared-for front garden is such a generous gesture. This one’s in Chipping Campden, Cotswolds. This year I intend to improve ours, which tends to be a bit forgotten as we don’t use our front door much.
13. I have a fondness for gargoyles and grotesques. There are quite a few of them in the Cotswolds, mostly made of stone… This is Sir Ralph Boteler of Sudeley, looking down from St Peter’s Church, Winchcombe and shouting “Huzzah!”
14. The merry, merry month of May is definitely my happiest month. This glowing moment happened in our own garden.
15. In the depths of winter the pleasures of bookshops, libraries and book-lined studies come into their own. This tiny room is at Athelhampton House in Dorset. So cosy!
16. Willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium) and a bumblebee. Two often overlooked but important components of our countryside. The willowherb was amazing this summer, it seemed even more vivid than usual.
17. You may have noticed that I do love to be beside the seaside. I can spend many happy hours rootling about in rockpools. This fantastic seaweed garden concealed a small but fierce and unusually agile crab, who neatly sliced the tip of my finger when I picked him up. He got put down again quite quickly…
18. Serendipity is a marvellous thing. Sometimes you can be in a fabulous garden (this one’s Coleton Fishacre), with a functioning camera, a break in the rain, and then to top it off you spot a visitor who has dressed to match the planting.
19. I’ve only ever glimpsed red squirrels in the tops of trees before our visit to Tresco Island. They have been reintroduced and are doing well enough to start being a bit of a nuisance in the Abbey gardens, but they are so pretty you can forgive them anything. Our old neighbour, Franz, used to pronounce them “squeedles”. I think it’s an improvement.
20. I still get excited when I find a fossil. This beach in Somerset constantly reveals massive ammonites as the sea wears the shale rocks away. You can’t take them away but you can admire them and imagine the wonders of those long-ago seas.
21. A fine sunset is a great end to a good day and a soothing end for a rubbish one. Especially if you can be with a loved one while you watch it.
22. As I write, the Cyclamen coum are just beginning to unfurl their little magenta umbrellas and snowdrops are poking through the soil. Gardens always keep you looking forward. This photo was taken at Colesbourne Park last February.
23. This picture represents a proper moment of happiness for me. A long walk through beautiful woodland near Rosemarkie in Scotland, lit by warm October sun, surrounded by plants and accompanied by my sister and my cousin (you can see them disappearing down the path, if you look closely). Birds are singing, the sea is beyond the trees, we don’t know it yet but it’ll get even better because we’ll see dolphins swimming past.
24. I’m not a religious person but I enjoy looking at places of worship and interesting buildings, I particularly like stained glass. This window in the Church of the Holy Cross at Owlpen Manor sums up my wishes for us all in 2017.