The Joy of English Woodlands

The Spinney, Warwick

At this time of year in England, there is something healing about walking in the woodlands. I always feel that some of the loveliest flowers of all are cow parsley and bluebells.

I am also lucky enough to be a member of Songlines, a local community choir, and as the pandemic lockdown rules have been eased, we have been singing in Foundry Wood, Leamington Spa.

There are few things more beautiful than singing in a clearing in the middle of a woodland rich with fresh spring greenery. Of course, the birds do sometimes compete with us – not to mention the sound of the trains going past on the nearby railway line! Best of all is when a friendly and curious robin redbreast alights in the middle of our circle.

Perhaps I might capture a picture of him to include in a future post!

Perfect Cottage Retreat in the Surrey Hills

Hello – I write on the first day of the relaxation of the lockdown here in the UK and we have travelled from Warwick in the Midlands to the lovely Surrey Hills, close to Leith Hill Tower with its wonderful views.

 

This early 18th century cottage was originally a gamekeeper’s cottage and is hidden amongst dense woodland down steep, narrow winding lanes and is like a storybook dwelling. It stands beside a beautiful sparkling pond which often attracts swans, geese and ducks and other wildlife.

It is so peaceful here, with a sense of stillness and tranquility, a gentle subdued light lending a dreamlike quality to the scene as we move towards the end of the day.

Only the delicious sounds of a bubbling brook, an enchanting variety of birdsong, buzzing insects and the numerous calls of other wildlife can be heard. The cool breeze and the receding golden glow of the sun highlights the long shadows across the grass. This is indeed the perfect place for a retreat, in the heart of nature.

Warwickshire Lockdown Walks

Curious how when we are instructed by the government to stay at home and only venture out for a very few clearly defined purposes, those of us who didn’t do enough walking prior to the pandemic suddenly find ourselves seizing the opportunity to get out every day.

And I am one of those. Living in Warwick we have several lovely walks not far from our home. We can head for Leamington Spa, and Jephson Gardens; or to Abbey Fields in Kenilworth. Both are very special places and water is in abundance there and in many other local places – either the River Leam or the River Avon or the Finham Brook or the Grand Union Canal….

Views of Jephson Gardens Leamington Spa, and Abbey Fields, Kenilworth.

Do you have lovely places to walk, close to your home? I’d love to hear about them! Do share in the comments below.

Cornwall Mini Series Part 15: Lanhydrock National Trust

A vast parkland, a major historical house which has so many associated buildings clustered around it, alongside its own church, it seems like a village in itself – and a garden of ingenuity, beauty and variety, which surprises and delights you as you explore its paths, its structure and colourful planting: this is Lanhydrock.

Closer to the house and church, on our July 2020 visit, we could see that the gardeners have been hard at work during the UK Covid19 lockdown, preparing the beds for new planting, which shows us the perfect symmetrical layout waiting for the lines to be softened with a kaleidoscope of colours and shapes and textures.

garden ready new planting Lanhydrock National Trust Cornwall SC Skillman
views Lanhydrock House National Trust Cornwall SC Skillman

With every bend of the path we come upon new vistas which satisfy our innate sense of proportion and design, please the eye and fill us with a sense of peace and harmony.

Explore the thoughts and feelings of other bloggers who have been inspired by the gardens at Lanhydrock: Shoffmire, roadeveron and ilovecornwall8.

And do check out the previous posts in my Cornwall mini series.

Part 1 Mawgan Porth

Part 2 Watergate Bay

Part 3 The Eden Project

Part 4 The Lost Gardens of Heligan

Part 5 Port Isaac

Part 6 Truro

Part 7 Trerice

Part 8 The Screech Owl Sanctuary

Part 9 St Michael’s Mount

Part 10 Tintagel

Part 11 Falmouth Discovery Quay and Pendennis Castle

Part 12 Trellisick National Trust

Part 13 St Mawes and Gorran Haven

Part 14 Trebah Garden

Angel Encounters Mini series Part 4. Unusual Angels – Bikers in Leathers

What do you think modern angels might look like?

Like this?

angel sculpture Lucia Zahara pixabay SC Skillman post Modern Angels
Angel sculpture Brasilia Cathedral courtesy of Lucia Zahara Pixabay free images

Since my last post in this series a reader has given me the story of a modern day angel encounter.

man on motorbike dust whirling up behind him SC Skillman Unusual Angels Bikers in Leathers
Photo by Daniel on Pexels.com

I’m grateful to my author friend Anna Hopkins for giving me this story, passed onto her by the lady vicar who experienced it.

This story took place in the days before mobile phones (rather like my story here in my previous post in this series!)

The lady, whom we shall call Audrey, had accepted two teaching engagements on either side of the Pennines, one for Saturday afternoon and one for Sunday morning.  She was offered accommodation in both places, and decided she’d rather get to her Sunday place on Saturday night, than have to get up early.

So off she set. It was quite late, on a winter day, after a thick snowfall. Then disaster struck. She skidded into a snowdrift.  It was dark and cold and she realised she had no emergency kit. She’d forgotten to bring a blanket, or a hot drink, or anything.

She knew there was no way she could move her car. It looked like she was in for a long, cold, dangerous night up in the hills, with all the possibilities of freezing to death – even if she ran the car heater as long as possible. All she could hope for was that someone would come along.  So she shut her eyes and prayed, hard.

Then she heard engine noise behind her, and two great motorbikes drew up.  On those motorbikes were two men, dressed in leathers.  They seemed so big and tall.

Her first thought was, ‘Oh no, now on top of all this I’m going to be mugged!’

They knocked on her window and spoke to her. They never removed their helmets, just got her out of the fix. 

Throughout this incident, she just thought they were bikers.  Once they set her going on the road, she obviously couldn’t stop, so she looked in her rear view mirror to wave at them. But they were gone.  They had come from the same direction as her, and so should have overtaken her. 

They would not have had time to have roared off back the way they came in the few moments it took her to look in her mirror.  Even then she didn’t think anything other than, ‘that’s odd’.  It was only when she arrived at her destination, and recounted the story, that her host said, ‘They must have been angels.’

At which point Audrey put it all together – the size of them, their sudden disappearance – and realised she’d been saved by angels.

I’ve written about angels and supernatural experiences before on this blog. Check out these posts:

Angels and Supernatural Experiences

The Brightest Heaven of Invention

The first three parts of this Angel Encounters series:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Also you may like to visit some of the following bloggers to learn more of what different people believe about modern angel encounters:

Modern Day Angels and Miracles

The Angelic Realm

Modern Miracles That Science Can’t Explain

And here is a blog post about an angel who appeared in the Apocrypha:

Tobias and the Angel

What do you think? Do you believe in angels? Do you have a story to tell of an angel encounter? Please share in the comments below!

#SocialDistancing #Walks in Enchanted Woodlands

I admit I rather like taking nature walks where everyone we meet is social distancing… with a polite smile, other walkers withdraw into the shrubbery or the bracken and we pass each other by at a safe distance, or with jokes about whether we are on the right route and whether we’re going round in circles and have seen each other before.

So it was in Thickthorn Wood, Kenilworth. Only the sound of cars rushing past on the A46 between Warwick and Coventry in a newly-loosened lockdown slightly detracted from the exquisite melody of the birdsong.

Glorious rhododendrums and bluebells gave this woodland the feeling of an enchanted forest. I could almost imagine Merlin and Arthur making their way along the track on white horses, searching for Nimue to try and persuade her to cancel one of her magical conspiracies against the inhabitants of Camelot….

Enchantment in the Natural World in this Time of Lockdown

As the days of the lockdown pass, I’m becoming more aware of a new and powerful sense of renewal in the natural world.

Not only have I noticed this on my daily walks but I am hearing it from other people too.

“It’s like going back 50 years. Everyone is so much more ‘together’ and more friendly.”

“The sky is much bluer, the water in the River Avon is much clearer. The birdsong is outstanding.”

“Air quality has improved. There are no longer any chem-trails from planes flying over.”

I myself on my walks feel that nature is much brighter and more intense and more abundant than I have ever known before.

The light keeps shining on delicate buds and new baby leaf sprays about to burst open. The green is rich, the white is intense. It is all very spiritual.

I find myself being constantly ‘surprised.’ As I returned home from one walk, everything became more golden and more green until it was almost overwhelming.

Nature has flourished because human activity has been subdued.

This isn’t just the open countryside, it’s the pockets of green and the pathways and small areas of parkland nestled in between and alongside houses and canal and roads.

This is how it appears to me because we are all slowing down, the streets are quiet, we are not all engaging in frenzied activity and chasing achievement and Doing and Aquiring Things as we normally do.

“May this heal us from the sickness that brings death to the body; may this heal us from the sickness that brings death to the soul.”

#covid19walks #socialdistancing – A Strange New Name for Local Walks in the Springtime

A strange new title for local walks in the springtime has emerged. Steering clear of other walkers, whilst wandering along in the balmy spring afternoon, seems dreamlike…

Paranormal Warwickshire Cover Reveal Coming Soon

I hope you are all well, and staying home, except for your one-daily-piece-of-exercise here in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis.

I must admit I’m finding plenty to do as a writer. ‘Paranormal Warwickshire’ has a new publication date: 15 Nov 2020. I’ve just returned the corrected proofs to my publisher, Amberley. Meanwhile I’m working on another novel and researching a new non-fiction book (more details in a few months’ time).

As for my daily exercise… what better location than one of those featured in my upcoming book ‘Paranormal Warwickshire’: The Saxon Mill, on the Guy’s Cliffe estate, Warwick; just 10 minutes walk from my home.

The Saxon Mill, on the River Avon, Warwick.

‘Paranormal Warwickshire’ can be pre-ordered here.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 19: North Island, New Zealand: Enchantment and Delight for ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ Fans: Matamata and Hobbiton

This is the nineteenth in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, as experienced during my November 2019 visit. Today is the third of my posts on New Zealand’s North Island.

map of New Zealand
map of New Zealand
Map of Australia and New Zealand

In my last post I wrote about Paihia and the Bay of Islands.

We set off from Paihia early in the morning and drove south through a landscape of velvety green hills uninterrupted by hedges or fences, dotted with a wide variety of trees, and occasionally by pretty white bargeboard houses in gardens. It felt as if we were surrounded by JRR Tolkien‘s hobbit country all the time: The Shire, that pastoral idyll which the hobbits called home. No wonder the makers of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films settled upon this landscape as the ideal location for Hobbiton.

Further along in our journey we entered a region of verdant forest packed with trees so diverse and so attractively interspersed with giant tree ferns that they seemed planted by design.

arriving in Matamata close to the Hobbiton film set

When we arrived in Matamata we immediately saw the welcoming sign and those of us who have loved the world of Middle Earth for so long at once felt a sense of high excitement.

excitement at arriving in Matamata

Even the local visitor information centre has been turned into a nostalgic homestead reminiscent of the hobbits’ innocent world.

The visitor information centre in Matamata

And yet, as we were to discover again and again throughout our stay in Matamata and our visit to Hobbiton, you don’t even need to have read the books or have seen the films to be thrilled by what has been done here to recreate this romantic vision of pre-industrial rural England.

This of course was what inspired JRR Tolkien. The irony is that he was influenced by the countryside between Birmingham and Warwick, in the UK, and by Sarehole Mill – and his vision of Mordor came from the industrial wastes he found. So Tolkien’s inspiration is very close to where I live. But I went halfway across the world to find it recreated here in New Zealand!

Upon entering the visitor information centre we found a sculpture of Tolkien’s most insightful creation: the tragic and chilling figure of Gollum, who had, long before, been known as Smeagol, one of the river folk, until he came into possession of the One Ring, and had been enslaved and possessed by his lust for ‘the Precious’. The One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

The sculpture of Gollum in the visitor information centre at Matamata

I can imagine Matamata itself was an unassuming little ‘one-horse settlement’ before Peter Jackson found his ideal location for the Hobbiton film set nearby. It is astonishing to reflect upon the power of an iconic fantasy epic to catch the imagination of millions and transform the fortunes of one small town.

We had dinner at a restaurant called The Redoubt which had, along with the town of Matamata, ‘fully embraced its Middle Earth credentials’! (a phrase borrowed from the Matamata section in the Lonely Planet Guide for New Zealand).

The Redoubt bar and eatery in Matamata

The menu and decor were based around characters from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

“Sneaky little hobbitses” – Gollum’s well-known catchphrase, up on the wall of The Redoubt bar and eatery in Matamata (photo credit Abigail Robinson)

We had a delightful meal in The Redoubt and it built up our excitement at the prospect of visiting Hobbiton the next day. It was also an opportunity to sample a range of New Zealand red wines!

Inside the Redoubt Bar and Eatery in Hobbiton

Early the next morning we arrived at The Shires Rest, a short distance outside Matamata, to join our tour of Hobbiton, led by a young man called James, who was, appropriately enough, English.

The tour bus took us through the rolling hills of the Alexander Farm, a vision of the undulating landscape of young children’s picture books, a perfect setting for the small, round, cheerful hobbits.

On the way James showed video clips of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings films, and also gave us plenty of fascinating facts about the making of the films, how this area came to be chosen as the site for the Hobbiton film-set, and why indeed there now exists here a perfect, robust and well-built rendition of hobbit country, for the delight of many thousands of visitors each year.

AS for Hobbiton itself, we all found it beyond our expectations, so perfectly realised, with exquisite attention to every detail: Bilbo’s sign on the gate announcing ‘No admittance except on party business’; the oak tree above Bag End, the line of washing, the wheelbarrows full of freshly harvested vegetables, the mill and bridge, the party field, Bilbo’s eleventy first birthday cake, the Green Dragon Inn and the tankards of beer.

Throughout Hobbiton we found exquisite English flower varieties, all in top condition. In fact, being here was indeed like being transported into JRR Tolkien’s original vision. It has been said that he wouldn’t have liked the idea of his books being turned into films, as he believed that the power of the imagination must determine how people see the world he created. Nevertheless I feel that he would have been awed by what has been achieved here. Hobbiton lacked only one thing: real life hobbits!

SC Skillman, psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction. My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire, will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020 and is available to pre-order now either online, or from the publisher’s website, or from your local bookshop.