canals countryside hedgerows pathways Powis Powys trees Uncategorized Wales wildlife

A spring time canal walk

We love to take gentle strolls along canal towpaths once stepped on by the large feet of horses pulling barges. At this time of year leaves are coming out from their buds, wildflowers are beginning to flower and birds are becoming more active.

We began just outside the Welsh market town of Welshpool and walked away from the town. As we moved further away more wildflowers were showing themselves, some plants of the hedgerow or woodland edge. They seemed happy living by a canal.


We walked past a swing bridge, a beautifully balanced piece of machinery. Later we found another which proved too much for Jude and Vicky to resist trying out.

Not long after we reached the point at which we planned to turn back, Pool Quay. We stopped for a coffee before making the return wander back along the towpath. We found a few surprises, an old door with no purpose and a beautiful nesting swan who gave us a hard stare as we walked past. Her partner hissed and flared his wings at us when we met him further along the canal.

We love canal side walks and often return to this path to stretch our legs.



bird watching birds canals climbing plants colours conservation countryside hedgerows landscapes nature reserves photography Shropshire Shropshire Wildlife Trust wildlife Wildlife Trusts

A return visit to the Prees Branch Line – a canal nature reserve.

My brother Graham and his wife Vicky came to stay with us in early September and we went for some good days out, one of which was to the Prees Branch Line, a disused canal branch that never actually opened but now is a rich nature reserve, the longest wildlife pond in Shropshire. We have visited several times in the past at different seasons and enjoyed every walk along the old abandoned canal, as there is always so much wildlife to observe, encounter and surprise.


The site sign hints strongly at its main wildlife star, the Water Vole with a lovely illustration, but this is a star who is a real secretive creature and visitors have to be very lucky to spot one. It is more likely to find stems of reeds nibbled down in the vole’s distinctive style, or hear the plop as it enters the water again a very distinctive sound. We have heard them plop and seen signs of their nibblings at this reserve but never as yet spotted one.


We began our walk enjoying a coffee as we put on our walking boots and luckily spotted some fruit trees close by, the native Shropshire Damson otherwise known as the Shropshire Prune. This tree is a feature of Shropshire’s hedgerows and we have enjoyed many while on walks. These however were the sweetest we have ever tasted, the nectar of the gods.

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On this latest visit we were lucky to spot and watch for a long while a rare bee, the Moss Carder Bee which was a first for us. It appeared right in front of me as I was taking a photograph of a plant so I had the rare chance of taking photographs so effortlessly. The bee really just posed for me. Graham and I watched it for a while and got very close, close enough to appreciate the beauty of its delicate colouring and the subtlety of its markings.

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Not so long after this a similar thing happened. Again I was taking a close up photograph of a plant when a hoverfly firstly came into view above the flower, then landed on it closely followed by a second identical one allowing me to get these shots. Twins! Identical twins!

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Berries were at various stages of ripeness from hard green to the darkest of ruby red.

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And wild flowers added spots of colour to the impressionist painting that is the bank of the canal.

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There was so much to see as we ambled along the narrow track along the towpath of the canal branch line that never opened to barges just to wildlife. Rather than narrow-boats plying the waters it is Swans, Mallards and Water Voles instead! We barely moved forward a few steps before something caught our eyes and stopped us in our tracks. I took so many photos that I thought I could invite you to join us as we followed our canal side path “there and back again”. Enjoy!

As usual just click on the first photo and then navigate with the arrows.









canals garden design garden furniture garden photography garden ponds garden pools garden wildlife gardening gardens gardens open to the public hardy perennials Hardy Plant Society HPS nurseries ornamental trees and shrubs outdoor sculpture sculpture trees water garden water in the garden wildlife

John’s Garden – Ashwood Nurseries.

We have wanted to visit John’s Garden for a long time but have never been able to attend on any of his open days, so when we noticed that a private visit was planned for the Shropshire Group of the Hardy Plant Society we were determined to go along. It is always worth going on these garden visits which give the chance to share the experience with your friends and also share their joint expertise and interest.

John Massey is well known for breeding his own strains of Hellebores and more recently Hepaticas too. He is also an excellent speaker and he has spoken to our Shropshire HPS group several times.

As we wandered down the drive to his bungalow we stopped to admire this imaginatively clipped hedge like billowing clouds. Opposite this was a lawned area with a small collection of interesting trees and some crazy sheep sculptures grazing the grass.

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As we entered the main garden there was more smart pruning deserving a closer look, including this Pyrus salicifolia shaped into an umbrella.

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Let us take a quick look at a few photos of garden vistas, views which tempted us onwards.

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Sculpture featured strongly in John’s garden and here is a selection for you to enjoy.

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Some well-chosen and carefully placed sculptures adorned the area around a beautiful pool. The planting was intriguing too and called out for closer examination.

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A second much smaller water feature was surrounded by a collection of beautiful plants. The little fountain raised the water just a few inches before it dropped back creating gentle ripples and a relaxing sound.


The area of garden around the back of the house was partly covered with a large pergola over paved areas. Imaginatively planted containers and plenty of seats made this a restful area inviting the visitor to sit and relax to enjoy the succulents and alpines. From the paved area a lawned areas sloped gently down to the canal, a lovely feature acting as the boundary to a garden.

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John and his garden team seem very good at putting plants together especially using foliage as the link pulling the design together.

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As in any good garden however good plant combinations and plant communities are, there are always individual specimens that draw the visiting gardener in for a closer look.

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We really enjoyed our leisurely walk around John’s Garden particularly  as we were accompanied by John himself, who was such a generous, knowledgeable and humorous guide. We were lucky to share this garden with the owner and chief gardener.

But I shall leave you with two surprises we had during our journey, a totally unexpected border, a newly built stumpery and a lovely close-up view of a frog on top of a topiary sphere!

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Gloucester Docks

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We had a weekend away recently and passing near to Gloucester on our way back decided to drop into the city and make a return visit to its historic docks. We had not been there for about 30 years and even then it was at the start of a rebirth. A few of the old dockside warehouses had been restored and given a new lease of life. We had gone specifically to see the “Opie Collection” which was an amazing collection of old packets and packaging. we were wondering how the development had fared and if it had an air of rebirth and vibrancy such as developments at Cardiff Dock and Merseyside’s Albert Dock had managed to achieve.

Trying to park was not easy – they hadn’t got that right! And the road signs all around were dreadful but we did manage to park and found our way to the dock area. It was definitely worth the effort. It seemed at first glance to be lively and well-used with little sign of the dereliction that curses most dock areas. On the walk from the car park to the docks I spotted these red poppies bursting with colour and energy through a crack in the pavement. They glowed against the black fence. I loved the image of nature breaking through the concrete and adding a touch of softness to the rigidity of man-made structures.

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As we entered the docks themselves after a short walk we were instantly amazed by the lively feel of the place. New life had been given to dereliction and what once were working docks and warehouses had been given a second chance to burgeon as leisure, retail and new homes.

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As usual in these reborn docks plenty of coffee shops beckoned. In the evening there are also plenty of restaurants to entice the evening visitors.

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While we turn to restaurant and cafe for refreshment today, in times gone by when the docks were places of strenuous often dangerous labours the dockworkers and bargemen would have turned to religion so all of the larger docks provided a chapel. Gloucester was no exception.

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The craft that moor here now are are barges converted for leisure and pleasure and the odd tourist boats offering regular trips. It was hard to imagine the noise and constant movement of barges and their cargoes that must have moved through here every moment of every day when the docks were fully working.

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A favourite building of us both is the new Gloucester College of Art which sat in its blue and white crispness as a compliment to the blue of the sky and the white of the slowly passing clouds. When seen through the original dockland warehouses the college presented hope for the future.

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Signs of its bustling past remained and had been lovingly restored as sculptural memorials to its past and to the men and women who toiled there. They have a beauty all of their own.

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New pieces of sculpture commissioned as tributes to the docks’ past sit alongside the remnants of its earlier industriousness. Some thrusting into the air indicating power while others subtly placed where feet trod and the occasional eyes fell to spot them.

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The lift bridge was still toiling away lifting the road to allow water craft to enter or exit the docks. Where once the bridge would have lifted to give passage to working barges now the vessels passing below are pleasure craft manned by weekend sailors or tourists on trips along the waterway.

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After dropping into a retail centre for coffee we wandered into an area of the docklands still undeveloped and this area presented a stark contrast to the newness we had been enjoying before. They seem to be patiently waiting their turn for fresh breath to be breathed into them them as thoughtless vandals paint graffiti on their doors and throw bricks through their windows.

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This final trio of photos illustrates the sharp division between the developed and the symbols of the past.

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As we took the path back to the car we stopped to get a close up look at this sculpture shooting skyward when we noticed a fingerpost directing us to the cathedral and, as we had never visited it, we naturally followed its invitation. We were impressed enough with a quick view of the outside to think we must come back for another visit.

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architecture buildings canals light light quality photography reflections

A Canalside Walk in the City Centre

A canalside walk in the city centre! It just has to be Birmingham. You may remember a recent post about the new library in the great city of Birmingham. To those of us who live in the centre of the UK and not in the South and who know the city well, then it is obvious that Birmingham should be the Capital of England and not London. Being in the middle of the country it could represent the whole nation properly without the dreadful North-south divide that having the capital in the south has created.

The first photo is a self portrait and also sets the scene. The following batch illustrates the quality of light available for me to use that day. All the photos were taken on my Galaxy Phone’s camera – great little camera to use on the streets when you don’t want to be noticed. People remain at ease if you have a phone in your hand rather than a camera.

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The new library proved what a vibrant, forward thinking city Birmingham is. This post will feature a part of the city’s past that has been brought back to life. Its canals. Here small business thrive, cafes and bars are full of life and people just wander looking contented.

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We soon discovered that there is such an array of buildings of all shapes, sizes, functions and ages to be viewed from the canal towpath.

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It was hard to imagine as we walked the towpaths that this thin strip of water was a hub of transport a few centuries ago, the equivalent of the clogged M6 motorway we had traveled on to get to it. This little tug barge was one of the few signs of the canal’s previous importance.

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Our usual coffee break was taken within the comfort of one the National Convention Centre cafes. One of our favourite concert venues, the Symphony Hall is integrated with this building. There are some wonderful features here both inside and out.

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As we progressed around our canal-side ramble we got occasional glimpses of the New Library. Can you spot it in the picture below?

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No canal wandering can be complete though without a few reflections to enjoy, and not forgetting a nice old curvy bridge!

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I keep trying to get a good picture of shadows created by benches and am never very pleased with the results. The one below I was actually quite pleased with. I then finish off with a pic of patterns found beneath our feet and my favourite photo of the day, the glass globe against a filigree of delicate branches.

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A Week of Culture – Part 4 – The Hepworth Wakefield Gallery

Part Four of our culture week sees us visiting the new Hepworth Wakefield Gallery within the city of Wakefield in Yorkshire. Wakefield has been graced with a new gallery partly dedicated to the work of Barbara Hepworth as it was the city of her birth.

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We had seen photographs of this newly constructed gallery and had wanteded to visit since its opening. The building itself is an imposing grey structure based on slightly irregular cubes and cuboids. A long dramatic walkway over the canal took us over moored barges with their wood fires adding the aroma of burning wood to the misty damp atmosphere.

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From the walkway we spied this character hanging from a crane in the metal reclamation yard alongside the canal. He is made up of all sorts of scrap materials and from a distance he looks as if he is made of huge sweets – liquorice allsorts.

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As we got close to the entrance we realised just how vast this gallery is with its grey slabbed sides rising up above us.

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Inside, the building is equally dramatic with deeper greys and black being the dominant colours in the spaces outside the gallery rooms themselves, which as expected are all of a stark white. The outside surfaces are matt in sharp contrast with the shining interiors.

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With all these straight lines and monochrome surfaces that constitute the fabric of the buiding the art work on show would need to be good and well displayed to brighten the visitors’ experience along with some comfortable seating on which to sit and appreciate the art works. People also make a difference and we received a warm welcome from the smiling face behind the reception desk.

The first gallery contained a couple of pieces by British sculptor Henry Moore – Reclining Figures. They looked good with plenty of space around them and with bright even lighting. But our warm welcome from the receptionist was somewhat negated by the steward in this room who called across at me “You are not allowed to touch them!” when I was pointing out a particularly nice curved line. Sadly because of this we didn’t stay so I failed to photograph Moore’s work. We put it down to bad training and moved on quickly to the next gallery where a delightful surprise awaited us.

We were taken aback as we were confronted by a crazily overcrowded room set. This was the collection of William Alfred Ismay. At first it looked a jumble of worthless pieces of junk thrown together in what is often put forward by some artists as sculpture. We once saw a garden shed in a gallery  full of old dusty tools looking as if it had been lifted from a vegetable patch and dropped in the gallery – it even had a radio playing. The gallery presented it as an important installation and went on to propound its value as a work of art. We didn’t buy into that and we had a feeling we might be in for a similar experience here. But no! Here was a collection accumulated over decades by a local Wakefield librarian who became an obsessive collector of quality ceramics. His home became filled to the brim with them covering every surface even the table at which he ate his meals, leaving a little gap just big enough for his plate! A close look among the jumble of items led us to discover pieces from potters whose work we recognised. Most of the well-known 20th century potters and ceramists were in fact represented. Wandering around the room set became a voyage of discovery picking out beautiful pieces from amongt the cheap white goods of his era. The pieces were displayed on pieces of Ismay’s furniture and the whole set up was like looking into his house with the walls stripped away.

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In the gallery where Ismays collection was displayed we were again made to feel uncomfortable. A black line surrounded the display and a sign asked visitors not to step over it. Sadly as we walked around the young room stewards followed our every move keeping a close eye on our feet. This must again reflect their training because when we engaged them in conversation they were very pleasant, knowledgeable and enthusiastic.

The third gallery we entered was spotlighting the work of American artist Dana Schutz. This is the New York based painter’s first UK exhibition. Her large extremely colourful work did not appeal to either myself or Jude as we found them disturbing in an unpleasant way. This gallery though did give them the space needed to appreciate them coupled with excellent lighting. If you were a Schulz fan you would have appreciated how good they looked in this setting. You can see the hard surface of the bench here. It didn’t invite you to sit and peruse the paintings and did nothing to soften the hard lines of the building and whiteness of the room. Comfortable benches which invite the visitor to sit and consider a piece in more depth are sadly lacking throughout the gallery.

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We moved through galleries displaying the work of Albert Wainwright whose work varied a great deal, from simple book and magazine illustrations to landscapes of Northern England and the occasional poster. Photography was not permitted in this room.

We moved on to Galleries 4,5 and 6 where the work of Barbara Hepworth was on show. Her work suited the style of gallery with their huge walls of glass which let the light stream in. The views out of these windows were out over the river towards the city.

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We were pleased to see a full sized prototype of the well known piece “Winged Figure” which was designed to grace the John Lewis store in Oxford Street. We think of Hepworth as being just a sculptor so it was interesting to see some of her 2-D graphic works. It was a great privilege to get really close to this iconic piece and see the variety of textured surfaces.

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It was strange to see some of her work in glass cases but I can appreciate that these particular pieces are delicate.

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Enjoy this set of photos showing the variety of Hepworth’s work.

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If we look at the following set of 5 photos we can see they feature a similar simple circle. The first photo is a close up of the last piece in the set of photos above, then we have a photo of the whole of a different piece of work followed by a close up of it. The final shot looks as if it fits with them but all it is is a shot I took accidentally as I walked through the gallery. I was carrying the phone set on camera mode facing down and inadvertently took a photo of the floor with a circle of an electric socket cover. Strangely in keeping!

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We finished our visit by going back outside to look at the rest of the building itself and a few pieces displayed on the grassed areas alongside, including more of the Barbara Hepworth “Family of Man” pieces some of which we had already enjoyed at the sculpture park.

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We were also able to view the old mill building, The Calder, which will hold exhibitions in conjunction with the Hepworth Wakefield. These old warehouses present a stark contrast to the modern geometric architecture of the new gallery close by.

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So that is two parts of the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle visited which just leaves the venues in Leeds, The Henry Moore Institute and the Leeds Art Gallery, to discover sometime in the future.

bird watching birds canals conservation countryside landscapes nature reserves Norfolk wildlife

The Wonders of Wicken

I am not a fan of flat land, I love hills and mountains and views. The fens are just too flat for me. But we discovered a wonderful wildlife reserve a few years ago run by the National Trust, Wicken Fen. We were in the area again this September so we couldn’t resist a return visit. Last time we were there it was warm but wet. This time it was cold and wet.

We followed the boardwalk out into the fen and were amazed by the variety of wildflowers we could spot from the walkway.

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We enjoyed a few moments watching this spider attempting to build its web in the wet weather. He was most persistent and crafted a fine web.

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Stopping off for a coffee in a hide overlooking a pool with a bird feeding station close to the viewing windows gave us opportunities to watch common and less common birds busily feeding. Tree Sparrows were a delight to spot as they are becoming very scarce now due to habitat degradation and loss, as were a pair of Turtle Doves which are real rarities now. The biggest surprise here though was the Muntjac Deer which crept through the shrubbery knocked the feeders with its head and then ate the spilled food off the ground. It then disappeared just as quickly and quietly as it has arrived. It skulked away very quietly.

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We moved on through the fens along damp pathways and boardwalks where the ground was even wetter. We enjoyed the variety of flora that need these unusual conditions to thrive. This little plant, possibly a Water Mint, crept across the boards themselves so we had to watch where we put our boots.

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The water levels in the fens here are carefully controlled to create and maintain the different habitat types. This increases the variety of plants, insects, invertebates, mammals, fish and birds that set up home here. Windmills power the pumps. They stand tall and rigid above the low level of the herbage below.

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To help manage some areas some unusual lawnmowers are being used, these handsome Highland Cattle.

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The two critters below, later identified as a Greenbench and a Mrs Greenbench, tried many ways of hiding from the photography!

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canals outdoor sculpture photography

A Canalside Walk in Leicestershire

When visiting Leicester recently for a few days, we passed a brown tourist sign to “Foxton Locks” and we both thought we knew the name. So when we had a morning to spare we found the sign again and followed it. We were so pleased we did. Here we found a series of locks which were a popular tourist attraction. The area was so picturesque.

The old lock keeper’s cottage was now a cafe, the seating area of which was adorned with this bronze figure and traditional “Roses Castles” narrowboat ware.

Artifacts decorated the grass slopes alongside the canal, and served to emphasise its past importance.

Beautiful and almost life-sized the sculpture of the canal worker and his horse provoked memories of the people who lived and worked the canal.