So much texture and nature to devour and fill the senses with, here in the Lake District. I can happily spend the whole day investigating lichen the way it is spattered across rocks, trees, and walls, like organic and earthy paint palettes. My son wants to take me up Hellvelyn. Sounds good. I need some leg stretching. How long will it take, envisaging a couple of hours hard walking? Looking back I suppose I didn`t process the reply.
I pack the camera in my rucksack hoping for some more lichen moments and yell a breezy goodbye . There are eight of us in assorted jackets and hiking boots. Who`s got the whistle and compass, the water proof trousers? I`m looking forward to this - getting out in the fresh air. Replaying it from the comfort of my pillow I feel quite nauseous to think I had considered my Spanish riding boots - with the slippery soles. When we pile out of the cars at Glenridding I ask where we`re heading and am pointed in the direction of distant snow laced peaks. The penny drops. My stomach does a vigorous revolution . How am I going to get up THERE? The first vertical ten minutes up a winding track are excruciating. Will I simply pass out and die, here- at the beginning? `You all right mum?` `Yes, fine I just need a couple of biscuits and a defibrillator.` By the time we`re up on Birkhouse Moor which is relatively flat, by hill standards, the summit disappears in an assault of angry cloud hail and sleet. We take shelter behind a wall and I`m not the only one who`s probably hoping that it will get so bad we`ll have to turn back. But no, it`s clearing and the sun`s coming out. Already reeling at the thought that this is a seven hour-all-in excursion, I`m not prepared for the next bit of news. That knife edge ridge with the plummeting sides, looks hairy. Glad we`re not going in that direction. ` Mum thats Striding Edge and the way to the top`. I lose all sense of time, climbing and clinging to the rocky and sometimes snowy ridge which falls away to sheer slopes hundreds of metres below. Panic, vertigo ,quivering hands and legs have to be supressed. Or....... What am I doing here? "Living in the moment Mum, look at the view, this is amazing` `When will we get to the top`? I whine parent child roles reversed. I can`t look anywhere but the rock face. To cut a long and dry mouthed story short- we all make it to the summit - all 950 metres (3,117 ft) above sea level, and the third highest peak in England. The prizes: a sense of acheivement, elation, wonder at being out in a wild and beautiful environment and, very Pure Style , jamon and rocket sandwiches. PS the descent at Swirral Edge is not particularly pleasant either, but afterwards it`s a walk in the park all the long and windy knee- assaulting way to the bottom. Very large glasses of chardonnay finally still my shaky legs. If you want to put life into perspective - have a go at Hellvelyn
We have fled the urban beat to Wordsworthian daffs, wide skies and contours of the lake district. A buffeting wind and skylarks twittering above the bleak brown fells are mental liberation . We walk the limestone `pavements` , strange grey layers of rock gratin ( `O` level geog` textbook stuff) and trace the course of glassy streams, low for this time of year. Marked by classic drystone walls ,and decorated with lichen and moss the texture of soft buns, fields of spring onion green roll up and down, over and over. Ewes and lambs are the only crowds here. Bleating and baaing as sheep do.
The Easter Egg hunt is a mad dash by adults and under fifteens alike. Even the dog spots a shiny foil wrapped egg and gulps it down in one.
So good to spend long hours with book: Jeanette Winterson`s Why be happy when you could be normal ? and Julian Barnes` A sense of an Ending keep me engrossed by the fire .
I`m happy that bank holiday Monday is sodden because it means a trip to Blackwell by Lake Windermere . This An Arts and crafts feast, especially the tiled fireplaces .
Mopping up a trail of the teenager`s false tan splodges (the new floors really are tough) is my friday night treat, this, and finally putting the house back together again after it`s paint and brush up. There`s time to post these shots from my short break to Olhao a couple of weeks ago. Spring is springing here on the Algarve. The fizz of candy floss almond blossom, flapping storks and grilled sardine smells are my kind of exotica. The house is stone cold but a small discomfort when you can step out first thing into the street all sunny and blue. My thoughts are ferry and beach and this is where we head to sprawl on the sand and, even swim. I skip like a child in the shallows. It is bliss, like an icy rinsing and sloughing-off of winter.
We eat one of our typical Olhao beach picnics: crusty buns filled with chicken and coriander. Handfuls of dried figs and almonds are also perfect picnic finger food.
Waiting by the pier for the ferry home I watch seagulls bob around looking for an opportunity, and fisherman swill out their boats and grease engines. Their ropes and nets are organised in artful heaps. Old ways can survive in the age of plastic.
The Saturday market is also a stylist`s dream, so vibrant and rich in its everydayness. See below bunches of herbs tied with string, bundles of wild asparagus, clementines, and thick wedges of pumpkin laid out like a Melendez still life. This bustling outdoor visual and edible feast is so much a part of Olhao`s heart and soul.
I wake early with the encouraging limpid blue of an English Spring sky. Since I`ve been away in Olhao the apple tree has blossomed in a candy floss of fluffy pale pink petals.
The morning sun warms the worn red brick paving tiles and spills across the newly opened array of tulips. I can`t remember planting quite so many gorgeous varieties. (Not that surprising because when I did so, the garden was coated in a thick white icy coat of snow and it was all I could do to force the bulbs randomly into snow rimmed earth holes before it all became too cold and unpleasant and I had to scurry inside, toes and fingers numb.) It is so exciting to watch this blast of petally colour unfold.
See above from left to right: Spring Green; Black Parrot ( a straggler from bulbs that I planted three years ago ); Lilac Perfection.
The purple and white striped `Triumph` tulip reminds me of the purple and white colourings of red onions; it has to be the most stylish of my tulip flock.
Hardly have the bags been unpacked and the weeds attended to, then our spring jaunt continues with a large family get together in Suffolk. By now the air feels midsummer balmy and the weather people are in high excitement about the early heatwave that is hitting northern Europe. Whilst I am ambling along dewy lanes, alive with cuckoo song , lilac, and wild asparagus (see above), a subdued text from our tenant in Olhao describes great winds and rains and a request for wet day activities in the area. Wow, we had a narrow climatic escape.
We visit Walberswick, rather like an English east coat version of the Hamptons, on Long Island, all beautiful picturebook, wisteria-clad houses and cottages with immaculate picket fences. There is a village green with swings, well behaved children and a horizon with simple beach huts. We crunch along the pebbly beach and some of the party, plus the dog, embrace the unseasonal warmth and swim. Of course, the sea is still winter cold and we drive home with the heater full on to keep hypothermia at bay. I negociate a detour to Wootton`s nursery which has everything from agapanthus to old fashioned cottage garden plants, and the most amazing selection of auriculas (see above) all massed together in a light white greenhouse. I come away with a box of cat mint and lavender for the potager beds, blue geraniums for ground cover, and an exquisite lemon secented old perlagonium called Mabel Grey which I shall keep in a pot to sit on my desk through the winter.
Sufffolk (and going over into Norfolk) is also very blissful with its wide flat watermeadows around Harleston and Beccles, where cows swish their tails in the shade of ancient willows and the river Waveney is cool and meandering. We bike past hawthorn hedges frothing with white blossom and look over to into fields where hares leap across the furrows. The county`s vast field aspect can be overwhelming, as are the electric yellow swathes of rapeseed. Sometimes I catch the whiff of a more industrial and stinky smell than anything with more rural connections. There are clues in the anonymous green lorries thundering past gnarled greening oaks to what is probably hidden away landfill. We eat well on Suffolk honey, the new season`s asparagus, cod landed at Lowestoft and rhubarb for pudding. The Ship inn at Dunwich serves the best fish and chips of the week, and is also a only a few minutes walk to the beach , where it is said that divers can hear the ghostly clang of church bells that succumbed to the sea.
Arriving back in London through steamy streets where the thermometer is hitting 27C, I am almost bowled over by the riot of colour (see above and below) that that has taken over the garden. All the tulips are now full and voluptuous on leggy stems. I watch their cups open up lazily in the sunshine and close in the shade as as if to keep warm.
New this year to my bulb order are `Silver ` parrot tulips (see below right) which when they first came out weren`t in the least bit silver, more bright raspberry ripple. Now that they`ve matured, the pink has faded a little and is rather fabulous.
I wake to the mass twittering of sparrows and a distant bell. The air is sea salty, the breeze warm and the sky is bright morning blue. Olhao. We’re here again for the spring holiday with a case full of books for revision and fabric to make cushions for summer. Breakfast is toast with soft springy sourdough-like bread which they slice for you from the café on the corner. I have a jar of orange flower honey from which I spread a thick coating onto a slice along with curls of butter. We eat outside in the quintal and squint at the sun which is glowing with promise for the day ahead. Oranges are so good and fresh here; so much sweeter and more intensely orange flavoured because they`re not long picked from a tree. We squeeze juice with the 13 euro juicer - a definite qualifier for what I think is a `best buy`- and pour it into small glass tumblers. So much more of an enjoyable experience than opening up a carton.
I throw black jeans, sweater and thick socks to the back of the wardrobe and feeling expectant for a first of the season session at the beach pull out last summer`s floaty cotton dress, sandals in which to brave winter feet, and straw hat. I’ve been through quite a few hats here, one or two have blown into the sea whilst on a boat of some sort; one was washed away by a rogue wave, and another met its end with an uncontrolled puppy. The fading terracottas, yellows, and greens of Olhao’s crumbling façades are balm to my tired city eyes. Most luminous are the pale cobalt blue lime washed walls that give the buildings a mediterranean seaside flavour. My friend Piers mixes blue pigment with white cal (lime) to create this timeless effect.
At the Saturday market the senses are hit with the aromatic smell of mint and the fragant childhood summer smell of strawberries. Wrinkled men with flat caps look after stalls groaning with oranges, pumpkins, broad beans, and peas. Cages with live rabbits and uncomfortable looking hens are clustered by the sea wall. I want to take to take it all home, all of this colour, and sensation. We settle for eggs, a bag of plump peas shelled by the vendor, a bunch of radishes with pink roots slashed rather stylishly with white, more sweet oranges and a kg of plump and richly coloured strawberries for the picnic.
I’m in Olhao. Bliss. It’s winter, but the sun is blazing and I am blinking like a mole. The house has the heavy cold and dampness that comes from being not only just about at sea level, but also having been shut up for weeks. I sleep the first night, socks on and hugging a hot water bottle. First thing, after watching the slow red sunrise over towards the fishing port, I hang the musty bedclothes outside to air.
Other signs of the Algarve in winter are women chatting on their doorsteps in thick dressing gowns. And grass growing between the cobbles which are opaque and clean after months of rain. They have been stripped of the smooth, high shine that comes with the heat and dust and grease of summer. It’s a dry day and fleets of washing flap in the breeze on the white azoteca roof top terraces. From our flat roof I can see the white curved bell tower, and a pink fizz of almond blossom in a secret courtyard below. The blue as-far-as-you-can-see sky is filling with voluptuous and towering cumulus clouds. From all around my panoramic view comes a chorus of dog barks, the trilling of sparrows, and odd, but so completely right because it’s Olhao, the clanging squealing and wheezing of the coastal train, that sounds more like a New York Subway service.
With basket in hand and my thick fisherman’s sweater for insulation, I walk seawards. The gorgeous peeling paint in so many shades of faded green, and rose and cobalt blue is as much a part of Olhao as the sardines, but it is also a sign of neglect and decay. I do hope that architectural types will come to rescue more of the crumbling facades so much in need of love and attention. There aren’t so many people about now. I like it. The old men by the fish market still play dominoes in a thick huddle and there are the usual weather beaten yaghties` in fleeces who drink long into the afternoon sunshine, but generally the streets are quiet. At six they are almost deserted as everyone goes home, to keep warm I should think.
In the market there are fat leafy cabbages, bursting it seems with iron and goodness, and plump oranges with a flat matt finish that is so much earthier and more appealing than the spray shined ones in the supermarket. With few tourists about, a necklace of red piri piri peppers is only a euro. And similarly pleasing, because the fish market is less frenzied than during the summer, there is more time to admire the simple yet beautiful displays of rigid mackerel, tuna, octopus and so on, all laid out on the gleaming and utilitarian flat stainless steel counters.
My mission is to sweep and refresh the house and to plan new awnings in heavy calico for the summer. At Pagapoco in the Avenida there’s fabric for a few euros a metre that will do very well. Some good news on the marvellous iPhone, which allows me to escape from a desktop HQ yet still keep operations ticking far away. It is Pete from Thames Water who is not only going to pay me the subsidy for repairing it, but almost as an afterthought he tells me that the wretched leak is officially noted as fixed. (Yes, their man with the special water leak detecting device, has obviously been loitering by the gate again.). Relief. One domestic drama that can leave my brain space and be forgotten about.