Oak Apple Day

As you grow older you begin to appreciate how difficult it is to provide any continuity in life; from employment, to lifestyle, to environment – all becomes a fluid landscape of change. This is why it is, to me, so remarkable that a day like Oak Apple Day in the Wiltshire village of Great Wishford continues to thrive. Oak Apple Day begins at four am with a clamouring throughout the village to wake up villagers and encourage them all to rise and come outside and assert their ancient rights to raise cattle and collect wood from nearby Grovelly Woods. There follows much processing, dancing and beer drinking. It is rather charming and uplifting to see a community coming together in this way and this years World War 1 theme was embraced with gusto by participants in the annual Oak Apple Procession – the country spirit of earthy, wry humour never more apparent than in the smoking gun on one of the floats. A few years back someone wanted to build houses on the Oak Apple Field and there was uproar. It all serves to remind me that though it may be a slog sometimes to keep up community traditions, if we don’t, we risk losing not only the history behind those traditions but our rights, the village greens and the open spaces that are the living breathing arteries of rural communities. There also is another danger, we also risk lose the communities themselves. The suited and booted politicians in their dirty, over-crowded cities and greedy bankers wedged behind their desks, rarely appreciate that progress isn’t measured in pounds and pence but in the hearts and souls of people who thrive and people blossom with light and space and freedom.

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Somewhere to land…

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The New Forest holds many delights which I’m sure anyone who has been can tell you about  but just ten minutes on from Beaulieu is Buckler’s Hard and if you haven’t been already it’s not too late.   

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It costs (at the time of writing)  £52 for a family ticket to Beaulieu, which translates as ‘beautiful place’ and that is no word of a lie.  It is. The house, abbey, museum and village all have plenty to offer  www.beaulieu.co.uk and  nearby Exbury Gardens and Steam Railway also has plenty of family appeal www.exbury.co.uk  lying  across the river as it does,  from Buckler’s Hard www.bucklershard.co.uk  


Buckler’s Hard (or landing place) is one of three settlements along the Beaulieu River, and should be on the ‘must visit list’ of nature and wildlife lovers, history buffs and sea-faring  romantics.  People still live and work there, which gives it a vibrancy and demands respect of its visitors as a consequence. Appealing  to young and old, the drama of a riverside idyll, where such giants of the sea were built and launched,  still  haunts this sleepy rural hamlet, crafted by the skilled hands of master shipbuilders and shipwrights who built the likes of Agamemnon, Vigilant, Indefatigable and the Brilliant.

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In 2011 the Maritime Museum at Buckler’s Hard was refurbished and re-opened.  It costs just over £20 for a family ticket (and a glossy brochure) and whilst, hand on heart I couldn’t say it is, or should be, the ideal destination for a trip with hyper-active children (or adults),  it is the perfect place for a romantic  rendezvous or for less frenetic family excursions. Arriving by car, you enter via the tea rooms  which serve appetizing fare and have a great shop stocked with goodies, beyond the shop lies the orchard and the museum; a wonderful step back in time to the eighteenth century.  Between you and me, Buckler’s Hard is breathtakingly lovely, preserved so well by the Montague family. But for me the real gem of Buckler’s Hard is the Master Builders Hotel, I knew that the bar is a favourite for river tourists and the sailing community but until this weekend I didn’t know there was also a riverside restaurant and now I’m wondering why ever not. www.themasterbuilders.co.uk

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The hotel itself is beautifully presented and I am now firmly set upon a short stay (take note Mr. B!) The staff were so helpful in dealing with our last minute decision to reserve a table for dinner which we then changed to lunch,  there was no hint of irritation at our vacillation and the meal itself was sublime from start to finish. From local bread and freshly made olive pate, to a delicious terrine and a sea bass cooked to perfection, to a heavenly chocolate and bread and butter pudding, all tasting delicious and not looking overly fussy on the plate or slate (my only gripe – slate’s or plates? Plates any day!) The service was friendly and helpful and we couldn’t have hoped for a better dining  experience, our ten year old wasn’t bored and nearly…nearly  managed the whole of her  succulent cod in a golden batter (just how she likes it), she also loved the pea mash and even tried the freshly made tartar sauce. The Hotel supports local produce so perhaps that is why everything tasted so fresh and flavoursome.

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We left the hotel in the warm glow of a very pleasant, happy few hours well spent but feeling the need for a brisk walk. The river path to Beaulieu was calling, on the first warm sunny day after a week of grey grizzle, it was so enjoyable we didn’t make it all the way to Beaulieu, we were distracted by the bird hide at Keeping Marsh and views of the river kept inviting us to stop and stare. Another day, another adventure, we will be back .


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Deeply Scored

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A walk from Ford to Hurdcott and back in February 2014. The bridle way has become a river, wellie deep in places and the flow of water escaping the banks of the River Bourne is quite strong as it rushes across fields, path, road, ditches and field drains in search of itself. Long stretches of water burbling and bubbling along new routes, deep then shallow and almost tidal.  We have become so careless with our countryside, it is seen as nothing more than commodity; a currency to be exploited without the care and attention we once gave it – when we understood its purpose and respected its presence. Now men in cities (yes, mostly men) and greedy new farmers who think  tinkering technology and machines are more important than understanding the land, or have become too embittered to care anymore, plunder our countryside unabashed by the scars they leave. Our land is deeply scored, Housing estates thrown up in cheap haste, without craftmanship, carp their rights and unsettle the natural order of the landscape, Scatterings of monstrous metal sheds thunder their enlarged existence as hour by hour they process human necessities: fuel, food, the mysterious ‘generic’ goods that all too soon create waste mountains of the unwanted, the discarded, the ‘convenient’. This we are told we must have, this is forced upon us by ‘mythical market forces’ that we are told we created. Our demand, our need. ‘Look to America!’ these suited crows of commerce cry, those men who think we asked them to lead us into a brave, new world, and when we question, with a zealots shout they answer ‘look at what they’ve done’. We look and wonder why anyone would want that, why that is such a desirable example of how to live. What have we done? What can we do?  I see the terrible drama playing out  on our TV screens, as in the Ukraine people cry out with frustration at injustice. We are told that all protestors are terrorists and  yet we know in our hearts they are just like us, the unhappy people, wanting change, wanting to be heard,

Gold, Frankincense and Mryhh…

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There are such riches in our English woodlands. This is such a wonderful time of year to go to the woods, with a good pair of wellies and a warm waterproof coat, you can walk the way of Kings and discover such treasure.   Standing under a shower of falling leaves as the wind shakes the branches, watching them swirl and flutter to the woodland floor is a delight.  Catching that moment in a photo is quite another story, so you’ll have to put up with these images instead, or you might want to visit the Woodland Trust web page here and see how our woodlands are threatened by disease and what you can do to help!