Walking in the World

Essex

Spring Buzz

We’ve been enjoying some lovely weather this week, and I thought you might like a little glimpse of southern England’s springtime glory. Our insects are beginning to buzz about amongst the early blossoms; this rather awesome bumblebee was enjoying the flowering cherry plum trees out at Maylandsea on the Essex coast today where Jeff was leading a geology field trip.

19 Mar 2017

A Taste of Italy

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We couldn’t resist. The Italian Food Market came back to Rayleigh yesterday, and we wanted to soak up the feast of food, accents, and conviviality. We’ll be back in Italy in a few weeks, so we saw this as an appetizer, a little sampling to whet our appetites for the real thing.

A calzone for Jeff’s lunch, some salami and olives for our pre-pizza nibbling, and some longing glances at the torrone and pastries… Maybe I should move to Italy…

20 Nov 2016

We Will Remember

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The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. We will remember.

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(Button memorial in St. Martin’s Church, Little Waltham, Essex)

11 Nov 2016

Raiders of the Lost Carp

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He sits in the tree at the bottom of the garden like an angel on top of a Christmas tree, right at the top, watching. His prey is our neighbour’s koi carp, so his menace is real – but it’s still kind of exciting to see this huge Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) fly in every morning. He’s only a youngster, but he’s clearly already learnt where to find an easy breakfast.

Jeff calls him Jones.

10 Nov 2016

Southend After Dark

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The nights are drawing in but the weather has been dry, so we’ve wanted to be out and about. Last night we had a wander along Southend seafront to enjoy the lights without the crowds.

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Never Never Land was a popular children’s park back when Jeff was a child – he remembers going with his parents some 50 years ago. People tell me about the model train and the animated characters that were as scary as they were fascinating, especially to young children.

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It’s been closed for some years now, but it’s never been forgotten – the only part that remains is the fairy castle.

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Still, it was fun to see it standing humbly in the moonlight, below the Royal Terrace where Princess Caroline visited in 1803, and just along from the modern arcades and attractions, a faded memory caught between the pages of time.

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If you’d like to see some vintage footage of the seafront as it was in the late 1950’s, this video is worth watching. Never Never Land appears at the 20 minute mark.

 

04 Nov 2016

Assandun

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Leaving Paglesham the other day, we were happy and full, but we still didn’t feel quite done with our day. Not far away is St. Andrews church in Ashingdon, set up on a hill overlooking the fields and marshes – the best vantage point for miles around. We had to drive all the way around the hill and into the village itself to get to the road leading up to the church, which added to the anticipation.

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Built in 1020, the church is one of the oldest in the area. Originally called Assandun, the village is the likely site of the Battle of Ashingdon where the English fought the Danes in October 1016, and the church was then built on the site where King Edmund’s camp was believed to have been situated. Seriously old!

The church wasn’t open that afternoon, so we spent some time walking around it to see the walls and the surrounding graveyard(s). Jeff is always particularly interested in the walls of the these old churches as their contents give a good indication of where the building materials came from. As a geologist, this is one of the ways he makes sense of both community and culture.

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Can you see the little triangular flint embedded here (bottom left)?  And the dark brown cement stones? These tell him, for instance, that the materials probably came from Butts Cliff, four miles away, on the banks of the adjacent River Crouch. The red rectangle is most likely a slab of Roman brick also found in the area.

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We soon spotted two Mass dials, simple sundials marked with the hours of the masses, embedded in the wall, one at the front of the church where it would probably have been easily seen and used, and one at the base of the back (north) wall where it was probably part of an earlier wall that was later re-purposed:

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And just as Jeff looks to the land for his stories, I look to the people. As we walked around to the back of the church, we met a couple sitting hand in hand on the bench looking out over the landscape. They had been married in the church exactly 60 years before, and had come to reminisce before heading home to celebrate with a bottle of champagne. The husband, they told me, isn’t well, so coming back here was how they were choosing to celebrate. I found their story incredibly poignant, and was deeply moved as I later watched them help each other back down the path to their car. For me, this is the peopled meaning of these village churches, and the reason I am drawn to explore both the buildings and the graveyards.

 

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29 Oct 2016

On the Road to Paglesham

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The Essex estuaries are not just about riverways and coastal walks… it’s an interesting area dotted with villages that sometimes merge into urban sprawl. It’s an ideal landscape for us labyrinthine personalities as the roads (which are often straight due to their Roman origins) still manage to meander around the rivers and marshes. In other words, the roads you drive might be straight, but getting from one place to another is rarely straightforward.

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After leaving Wallasea Island yesterday, we wound through the back roads to the villages of Paglesham and Ashingdon to visit their churches and waterways. Dedicated to St Peter, the fisherman, the church at Paglesham is tiny but rich in history, having most likely been built over an older Saxon church during Norman times. nearly a thousand years ago, thus accounting for its short square tower.

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The carvings on the wall as well as on the gravestones laid into the floor are both interesting and impressive.

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I always find myself inventing stories to go with the imagery, and I have always had a strange habit of mentally calculating the age of the people buried beneath the headstones – some of them hint at heartbreaking lives, others at complicated relationships. The ones in the church are in remarkable condition.  Just look at the mix of imagery here:

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Next door is Church Hall farm, gifted to Westminster Abbey by Edward the Confessor in 1065.

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And a little further up the road? The Plough and Sail, which smelled too good to pass by, despite the fact that we had already had a picnic lunch out at Wallasea.

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So, we did the only thing we could…. we ordered dessert!

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And ate it under the watchful eye of their Halloween witch:

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28 Oct 2016

Autumn on Wallasea

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Sometimes we don’t have to wander far to find lovely and unusual landscapes. We have been watching the the transformation of Wallasea Island for the past several years as the sea has been allowed to breach the sea defenses in a carefully orchestrated and managed conservation project. As wetlands and lagoons are created, birds and wildlife are finding it a welcome place, as are the human visitors who enjoy seeing them while breathing in the fresh sea air. With new paths opening, we have more to explore each time we visit.

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The peace is profound. The tide moves in and out quietly, and the wide lagoons and mud flats give plenty of space for birds, insects, critters, and human daydreams. And yet, as this sign far out on the sea wall reminds us, the reserve really is a crossroads, not actually all that far away away from civilization, at least as the crow flies.

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The construction of the nature reserve was made possible by bringing in 3 million tonnes of spoil from the huge crossrail project deep underneath London. In recognition of this, a section of the cutter head from one of the tunneling machines has been installed alongside the Jubilee Marsh trail.

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Its enormity bears tribute to the magnitude of the project, and stands in contrast to the tiny lifeforms that are settling into their new home, like this late season Clouded Yellow butterfly (Colias croceus).

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27 Oct 2016

Macmillan Night

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Britain has the most wonderful cancer support charity imaginable, and every year they urge us to hold “coffee mornings” to raise money to keep the charity running. In this day and age, everyone one of us knows someone who has received a cancer diagnosis, and of course, we know that it could happen to any of us at any time. Sobering.

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Macmillan Cancer Support has the lofty ambition is to reach and improve the lives of everyone living with cancer and to inspire millions of others to do the same. They say this about themselves:

 We are millions of supporters, professionals, volunteers, campaigners and people affected by cancer. Together we make sure there’s always someone here for you, to give you the support, energy and inspiration you need to help you feel more like yourself again. We are all Macmillan.

macmillan_cakes2 photo Annie Roberts

The Bitter Knitters left our usual pub venue and had a coffee evening last week – and wouldn’t ya know, every special diet was provided for and we all celebrated our growing knitting community in style, eating amazing cake and donating money for Macmillan. According to our hostess/chief baker, Annie Roberts, the combined total for her coffee events this year came to an impressive £350!

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14 Oct 2016

A Ton of Wood

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We’re getting ready for winter. We’ve converted the old WW2 brick bomb shelter in our back garden into a woodshed and stacked it to the ceiling with fire supplies to keep us warm whatever comes. Some years are mild, others more cruel, but either way, we rank staying cosy as a high priority. We’ve got kindling, coal, and logs…. all we need now is a bowl of chestnuts for roasting!

woodshed

12 Oct 2016

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