Easier, better or both?


Walk from Great Comberton to Nafford Lock

We made the most of a gap in the weather today to explore a beautiful section of the Avon valley.

Our walk began in Great Comberton, crossed a gentle valley and a couple of brooks, then headed up the hill, along the ridge above the river towards Nafford.

The views were gorgeous – birds bobbed  on the river, the spire of Pershore Abbey could be seen in the distance, Bredon Hill rose up behind us and the Malvern Hills were spread across the horizon in front of us.

The wind on the ridge was a chilly, so it was good to head down to the sheltered area near the river bank when we reached Nafford. We crossed an impressive little steel weir, stopping to admire the wheels and gates that controlled the water rushing down the river after the recent storms. Then we headed for the relative calm of the lock where we sat for a while enjoying a warming cup of coffee and the sight of a canal boat heading gently down river.

Nafford Lock

Nafford Lock

The return leg to Great Comberton was a lot faster due to the strong tailwind provided by the approaching storm. It was a wonderfully refreshing walk, that certainly blew away the winter cobwebs.

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Frosty Morning Walk

We had a stunning walk on the hill this morning. The air was crisp and clear. The hills were dusted with frost and there was mist in the valleys. Tree skeletons stood out clearly against a pale grey background. The sky was filled with blue, lilac and orange-tinged clouds. Beautiful day.


Springtime in the Costwolds – A Feast for the Senses

We have been enjoying a springtime sensory extravaganza.

Sounds

Each morning we are woken early by the incredibly beautiful the dawn chorus. The birdsong gets more complex over the first few weeks of the spring as a mixture of migrant birds arrive for their summer holidays.

Soon the air is filled with the sound of cheeping chicks, when food is delivered to nests by hard-working parents.

Spring days are punctuated by high-pitched bleats from little lambs, answered by deeper baas from watchful mothers.

Smells

The air smells fresh and is filled with wonderful fragrances.

We pop into Broadway to check on the gnarled old wisterias in the high street every few days, so that we don’t miss the wonderful smell of their divine pastel flowers when they emerge.

Hubby’s favourite is the aroma that wafts over the fence from the buds on the neighbour’s poplar trees.

I love to sink my nose into the blossoms on lilac trees dotted around the village.

Woodland walks are rewarded with the sweet smell of violets – best appreciated by getting a nose close to the ground – well worth the muddy knees.

Sights

It’s wonderful when colour returns to the village after the drab, grey winter.

Snowdrops appear first, followed by bright yellow daffodils.

Then the world erupts into colour as blossoms appear on cherry, plum, apple and pear trees.

Clematis flowers cascade over walls and fences. Wildflowers pop up on verges and across the meadows. Bluebells form a brilliant carpet in the woods.

Birds fly sorties collecting moss and twigs for their nests.

Male birds  flirt with females by puffing up to make themselves look more eligible.

Touch

A mild, warm breeze replaces the winter’s icy blasts.

Nettles along paths need to be given a wide berth, otherwise they sting like crazy leaving an area of skin that buzzes for 24 hours afterwards.

The ground is soft and warm and yields gently when turned to plant soft, new seedlings.

Tastes

In April we start to prowl the farm shops in the area looking for the divine local asparagus – so wonderful that an Asparafest is held in its honour. It’s absolutely delicious and for the next few months is a reliable and consistent fixture on menus at home and in local eateries.

Wild garlic pops up on woodland floors. The leaves add a subtle, interesting flavour to frittatas, omelettes, salads and a host of other dishes.

Fresh chives, mint, nasturtium flowers and the first crop of lettuces form a base for spring salads, accompanied by garlic mustard (Jack by the Hedge), which is foraged by hubby.

We love springtime in the Costwolds – it makes us feel alive again.


Nirvana at the Clover Mill

The Clover MillWorcestershire has a wonderful new spa, which nestles in an idyllic setting between Cradley and Suckley.  The Clover Mill is a very special spa. Arrive stressed and tense and leave feeling relaxed and wanting to learn a whole lot more about Ayurveda.

I approached the Mill along a little track then rounded a bend to find a Tudor cottage and a stunning Cotswold stone mill.  The grounds are beautiful – wild flowers, fruit trees and a lake.  There are three eco-lodges for those lucky enough to be able stay for one of the Clover Mill’s speciality ayurvedic, yoga or meditation retreats. Alpacas, bunnies and birds completed the picture.

IMG_0081The treatment rooms are in the lovingly restored water mill. The millstone, water wheel and mill workings are displayed behind glass panels en route to the steam room.  A biomass boiler supplies under floor heating. Once I entered the serene treatment room, the eco credentials of the spa became apparent. I was surrounded by natural materials; wood, cotton and linen.

Before the treatment began, a questionnaire and chat allowed the therapist to assess my “Dosha”. The questions were interesting and I was amazed at how well the assessment characterised me. The choice of oil and nature of the massage was tailored to my Dosha. I placed my clothes in a grass basket and popped on a crisply ironed sarong.  There was even a little box in which I could store my jewellery – a lovely touch.

Cotswold Stone WallThe massage was blissful. The oil was gently warmed and had the most divine, subtle aroma. A warm pad on the couch ensured that I remained toasty throughout. It was one of the best massages I’ve ever had – the therapist has been doing massage for many years and it showed. She was technically superb, intuitive and passionate about ayurveda and it’s the focus on wellness.  Stress drifted away and muscles that had been stiff for months melted. At the end of the massage there was a warming cup of herbal tea.

After the massage I had a light, healthy lunch made by the spa owner, Julie, who is a passionate cook. Most of the ingredients for the meal were harvested from the garden. Julie had even gone to the trouble of whipping up some gluten-free courgette and pinenut muffins to accompany the delicious beetroot and elderberry soup. There was a divine lemon polenta cake to follow.

I left The Clover Mill in a warm glow, skin soft and lustrous, feeling relaxed, nurtured, happy and planning the next visit.


Red

Hawthorn berriesIsn’t it fascinating how individual colour palettes predominate at various times of the year?

This week in the gardens, lanes and on the hillside near our home we have seen:

Deep crimson Discovery apples. Their red colour leaks into the white flesh when you take a bite.

Squashy, matt, light red yew berry cups, which stand out against a background of dark green leaves.

Hawthorn trees weighted down by lavish clusters of bright red berries

Columns of opaque, red spheres hanging amongst heart-shaped leaves on bryony vines.

Delicate deep red, translucent bunches of guelder rose berries.

Light red upright clusters of rose hips covering wild rose bushes.

Luscious, tiny, shiny, ruby red elderberry clusters.

Spikes of closely packed orangey-red balls on Lords & Ladies (Cuckoo pint)

Red and purple ripening blackberries

Looks like it’s the Red Season in Worcestershire!


Asparagus

AsparagusThe Vale of Evesham is the place to be this month if you’re a fan of asparagus. The 2013 season started slowly, but it’s been worth the wait.  We are taking every opportunity to eat these delicious, crisp, tender spears at the moment.  Our favourite sources for this luscious luxury are Reville’s Farm Shop in Defford and Collis’ Farm shop on the A44 near Broadway.  Both sell wonderfully fresh asparagus, straight from their own fields. Wayside Farm Shop sell local asparagus, asparagus quiche and even asparagus scones! In fact, everyone goes a little aspara-crazy around here at this time of year at the annual Asparagus Festival.


Spring in Worcestershire

Spring is our favourite season, and it’s particularly lovely here in rural Worcestershire.Spring lamb

Each year our spring starts with the first glimpse of snowy newborn lambs. It’s also fun to spot the single black lamb, a standard occurrence in many of our local flocks. Our walks at this time of year are accompanied by little bleats and answering baas from each lamb’s mother. Over the next few months we watch the bouncy, mischievous, skinny babies grow into stocky, woolly, (much less interesting) adolescents.

Malvern Spring Show garden The Malvern Spring Garden Show is another highlight of our spring. This precedes the bigger and grander Chelsea Flower Show. However the Malvern show is friendlier, less crowded and more accessible.  It’s possible to get close-up views of all the show gardens, there are loads of plants for sale and plenty of parking a short stroll across the road from the show grounds. We still love Chelsea, but prefer to see those gardens with our feet up in front of the TV.

It’s the blossoms thApple Blossomat make spring so special in the Vale of Evesham. Blackthorn and plum start the ball rolling, followed by fluffy pink cherry blossom. The apple blossom has been quite spectacular this year – one benefit of the slow, cold start to spring.  May (Hawthorne) trees, lilac and clematis are now providing swathes of colour.  The wildflowers have also been stunning this year – carpets of deep blue bluebells in Dumbleton and Ashton woods, bright yellow buttercups in the meadow behind St Barbara’s in Ashton and pink campion along the paths and hedgerows. The fat, furry bumblebees seem to be enjoying them too!