Week 4th April

Monday 4th April – Oh my goodness! So cold! Even though we had seen the forecast and knew the temperatures were going to drop this week, it was still a shock. Wind like a knife and even a flurry of snow. Pretty unusual for east Devon in April. So glad I didn’t plant anything out last week. We managed a walk on the beach but hadn’t realised how cold it was when we left the house. Down by the beach the wind was searing and I had not brought a hat. I came back with earache. Gulls huddled on the beach under the cliff looking very miserable. The sea silvery and grey, a few fishing boats just off-shore.

Tuesday 5th April – Even colder today. Top temperature meant to be 6 degrees and a stiff north-westerly wind. Another early walk to catch what bit of sun there is meant to be, more sensibly togged up in winter puffas, hat with ear covers, and a pair of gloves. We had a warming coffee in the shelter facing the east cliffs, a faint outline of Portland just visible in the distance. A pied wagtail joined us for a while, bobbing and flicking his tail, and dog walkers hurried past, heads down, hands in pockets, aiming straight for the part of the beach where dogs are allowed. The turnstones were running backwards and forwards across the Esplanade, hopeful of someone dropping a crumb or two. Counter-intuitive to the feel of the weather, the sea was flat calm, barely a ripple on the surface, the sun glinting in dazzling patches, the blue sky reflected like a summer’s day. As we were walking up the hill out of town it clouded over and a brief hail shower stung our faces. Enough. Time to go home!

Wednesday 7th April – About to go out this morning but affected once again by a bad attack of vertigo. Horrible. Horrible. Horrible.

Thursday 8th April – Resting today. So it’s nature through the bedroom window. Dunnocks and robins, goldfinches and blackbirds, a laughing green woodpecker are all out and about. Not only are the crows and magpies stripping the amelanchier of twigs but now the wood pigeons and the collared doves have joined in. To make matters worse the collared doves are building a nest in the abelia, right outside the bedroom window. Hoo-hoo, hoo-hoo. From about 6am. Clatter, clatter, clatter as the fly in and out of the shrub. Streptopelia Decaocto is their latin name. Sounds a bit like an infectious disease. Antidoveatics may be called for.

Friday 9th April – So sad this morning to hear of the death of Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh. My thoughts are with the Queen – a widow after 73 years of marriage. How hard that must be. Tomorrow I will have been married for 45 years – it’s a blink of an eye.

See you next week.

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Week 28th March

Monday 29th March – Great excitement this morning – a male bullfinch in the garden, briefly. It was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, (Mr OG did miss it), but that deep pink breast and black head was unmistakeable. I was trying to remember the last time I saw a bullfinch in any garden, and I would say it’s at least ten years. I hope we see him again! A lovely day too, with warm sunshine. We sat on the beach for an hour – the first time in eighteen months that we’ve actually sat down on the beach for any length of time. There were a few people but no group bigger than a couple and each couple well socially distanced, so we were happy. It was so good to feel the sun on face, arms and legs, and hopefully, a foretaste of warmer days to come.

Tuesday 30th March – Another lovely warm day. A drive to Honiton for eye tests shows east Devon on the brink of bursting into spring. Blackthorn in flower and hawthorn greening. Fat pheasants in the fields, rich, red plough and clouds of seagulls following the tractor. Celandines and primroses in the hedge banks lighting up the verge with their sun-shiny, happy faces. It has seemed such a long winter, and this bright burgeoning feels rather delicious and fresh. On the way home we bought ice cream – the first of this year.

Wednesday 31st March – Pleasant, but not so warm. Today’s exercise was a walk along the beach at Budleigh and a fresh crab sandwich from the hut. Sadly, the beach and the promenade were very busy so we didn’t stay too long. I sometimes wonder if the pandemic has actually made some people more inconsiderate than usual. There was a group of people on paddle-boards with a radio fixed to one board blaring away – why? Another group were having a barbecue – one of the ‘disposable’ ones – smell and smoke drifting all over the beach. In addition we counted the remains of some 20 barbecue fires along about a 500 yard stretch of beach, part-burnt debris, blackened and cracked stones, such a mess. It’s actually against the law to remove stones from Budleigh beach, but it seems that anyone can damage them with impunity. I sound like Mrs Angry of east Devon. I’ve always loved Budleigh, but today it was unpleasant to visit.

Thursday 1st April – Who remembers the afternoon part of 1st April being ‘Leggy-Peggy Day”? When I was at primary school (a very long time ago, I admit), once it got to lunch time then ghastly boys would trip up girls with glee – a dead-leg and a push, or a hooked foot around the lower leg and down you’d go. Anyway, enough reminiscing. The weather is really variable. This morning was cold; light cloud and a stiff wind. We walked along the seafront and wished we had put our winter coats back on, then drank coffee in an east-facing shelter where we could see the changing colours of the cliffs from deep red Sidmouth, through lighter Dunscombe and ochre-y Branscombe and along to the white of Beer heights. We could see someone walking along the beach as the tide went out from Sidmouth to Branscombe – not too far as the beach goes, but very round about inland. You’re not supposed to access the east beach at Sidmouth as the cliffs are soft and unstable and there are frequent landslips and rock falls, but it is the start of a nice beach walk if you know the tide times and keep well out towards the water.

Friday 2nd April – Here’s a favourite of mine. Read the whole poem, it’s so lovely and evocative of Spring. One of those sets of opening lines that everybody knows, but few can recall any further. It is, of course, the first stanza of ‘Home Thoughts from Abroad’ by Robert Browning.

‘Oh, to be in England 
Now that April’s there, 
And whoever wakes in England 
Sees, some morning, unaware, 
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf 
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf, 
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough 
In England—now!’ 

I hope the tiny leaves are showing where you are, and that you are safe and well and feeling the sun on your face.

June.

Week March 21st

Monday 22nd March – I shouldn’t let the week start without mention of the vernal equinox at the weekend. From now, in the northern hemisphere, we see a little more of the sun and we shall feel the warming and the lengthening days. It’s an important moment in the year. The festival of Ostara/Eostre is one of fertility, renewal and re-birth. It was overlapped by Christianity into Easter, and although ostensibly the most important Christian festival – redemption and resurrection – in our secular times we seem to see more of the symbols of Ostara at this time than anything else. Ostara’s symbols are the hare and the egg; the hare becomes the Easter bunny, and the egg the chocolate confections that fill the supermarket shelves. Ostara is often represented as the goddess with the head and shoulders of a hare – which is her sacred animal and represents the moon. Christian Easter is calculated by the moon, specifically, the Sunday after the first full moon following the equinox. So it all comes around and fits neatly together, the ancient and the Christian.

Thursday 25th March – Three days of vertigo and nausea. 🤢

Friday 26th March – Some improvement today, but feeling fragile. Stricken by some random virus I suppose. Heavy rain overnight but it’s bright and sunny now. It’s warm in the conservatory – pleasantly so. All the benefits of sitting in the garden without the cool breeze. Across the gardens there is a neighbour’s magnolia blooming a rich pink, and the horse chestnut tree is just bursting a vibrant green. Soon all the trees will be leafing up and it will really feel like the warmer season is with us. The heady, floral scent of the daphne odorata is wafting in through the open window; what could be more relaxing or more pleasant?

It seems I spoke too soon. A heavy hailstorm is now crashing through, the dots of ice ricocheting off the roof, covering the tops of plant pots with a fleeting, translucent film. British weather – no room for complacency!

Week 15th March

Monday 16th March – Plenty of sunshine but a bitingly cold wind. A decent walk today from the top of Peak Hill down through the western outskirts of the town. There are some lovely buildings on this side of town, from larger ‘gentleman’s residences’ to lovely Georgian terraces both stucco-grand and red-brick everyday. One of the houses on the hill was the home of RF Delderfield, prolific author ( A Horseman Riding By, Diana, To Serve Them All My Days are some of the better known titles) who lived here until he died in 1972. The town has a good local Blue Plaque system with information on a number of houses and other buildings of note throughout the town. We walk down past the church, a glimpse and a sigh at the closed shops, coffee and a rather perfect bacon sandwich on the beach, then back along the seafront and up the hill to where we left the car. Before leaving we find a sheltered spot and sit with our faces turned to the sun. A young female blackbird joined us, doing much the same thing.

Tuesday 16th March – Showery. Still a cool breeze but sunny in between showers. On a necessary drive to a neighbouring town (eye test and check on cataract for MrOG) the road banks are dotted with palest primroses and the egg-yellow of a few naturalised daffodils. So pretty, and so redolent of spring. A few cows are turned out, deep red and white, standing around in the fields looking very comfortable in spite of the cold. Hovering over the side of the valley is a chestnut and grey falcon, a kestrel. Wings working hard, tail spread and head peering down into the field. It’s quite common to see them like this, hunting over roadside verges, but their numbers dropped considerably in the ’70s and they are on the RSPB amber list.

Wednesday 17th March – Spring warmth! 15C today so a good long walk around Bicton – the gardens and arboretum. The magnolias are just beginning to split their furry bud covers – in a week or so they will be a myriad of large and small flowers and every colour from white through to deep purple – can’t wait to see it. It was lovely to walk without a hat and coat and feel warm and comfortable. The sky so blue and clear, the ducks and geese on the ponds paired and protective.

Thursday 18th March – Cold again. So up and down. Stay at home day. Spotted a green woodpecker a few times, in and out of the garden, laughing to itself.

Friday 19th March – The goldcrests are back in the fir tree; they are such busy little birds, dashing and fluttering, sometimes even hovering in their search for tiny insects. Sometimes called the ‘King of birds’ because of its splendid formal name – Regulus regulus. They are common all over the UK but so small they’re easily missed. Usually seen around conifers. The collared doves are back too, a pair appeared this morning and hung around the garden all day. The bird with the most monotonous and annoying call ‘coo, coo, coo,coo’…

Week 7th March

Monday 8th March – Thieving magpies are the order of the day. A pair of them are stealing twigs, small branches really, from the amelanchier tree. Twisting and pulling at them until they break off and then winding their way through the tree with the twig in their beak to fly off to a nest site in someone else’s garden. I wouldn’t mind, but the amelanchier is old and very twiggy, and may not stand up to too much theft. One side of it is already dead, or at least, it doesn’t look as though it has flower buds. Soon the rest of it will show it’s dainty white flowers and I hope they will be enough to put the magpies off their attempts to pull it to pieces.

Tuesday 9th March – A lovely bright day today, although the cold wind persists. We take binoculars and a flask of coffee and head to the Saltings at Budleigh Salterton, an area of salt marsh at the mouth of the River Otter. The mud is exposed and as soon as we arrive we see a curlew probing the soft ground with that unmistakeable curved beak. It is shadowed by a much smaller bird, red legs, straight beak and an olivey-brown back, pale speckled breast. It’s a redshank – Tringa totanus – and it follows the curlew doggedly, probing where it probes, keeping close beside it, almost like a chick with a parent. There is a quick movement at the edge of the mud, a greyish-brown bird with a pale breast spotted with black. It runs along under the edges of the salt marsh with a bounding movement. It takes me a minute or two to recognise it because it’s not in a ‘usual’ environment – it’s a Mistle Thrush. It’s listening and prodding the earth in the little banks of the marsh. Further upriver there is a clapping of wings and a shoosh – a small flock of widgeon pour off of the marsh grass and into the rising water. They paddle towards us, mostly in male/female pairs. A medium-sized duck, the male wigeon has a chestnut head and neck with a yellow stripe at the front above the beak. One of the few ducks I can readily recognise, I love the soft whistling call it makes in groups, and it has a name as attractive as itself – Anas penelope.

Wednesday 10th March – The magpies are here again. I wouldn’t call them elegant birds because they always seem to me to be rather clumsy – that bouncing hop on the ground, and the clattering wings and awkward tail when they are manoeuvring in the trees – a bit vulgar. To say nothing of that raucous, chattering call. Yet they have a certain style. I always imagine that if they morphed into human form they would become part of the Ascot scene in ‘My Fair Lady’, all stylish black and white and Cecil Beaton-ish. And they would, of course, join in when Eliza shouts: ‘Come on, Dover! Move yer bloomin’ arse!’

Thursday 10th March – Gale force winds and heavy showers. A staying at home day.

Friday 11th March – Heavy showers again today, squally and very windy at times. The ground is absolutely saturated with standing water everywhere. The fields are sodden, the roadsides run with water and the house gutters drip, drip, drip like ticking clocks. The lawn at the back of the house is spongy and muddy, the green blades yellowing with the amount of water. Around the edge the mowing strips are full, like tiny canals bordering the grass. Oh, for a spell of dry weather – more than a day or two anyway.

Week 28th February

Monday 1st March – A misty start but sunny by lunchtime. Most of the day spent in the garden doing some much needed cutting back and tidying. There is so much ivy taking hold under the shrubs, and although it’s dark-green, veined and triple-lobed leaves are coolly elegant, it’s a subtly rampaging monster and must be controlled. I have also cut down two very old fuchsia bushes to stumps – if they don’t restrike then they will be dug up and discarded leaving a lovely space for something new. Oh, and happy Saint David’s Day!

Tuesday 2nd March – So many little birds on the feeder outside the bedroom window – it makes getting out of bed quite difficult! We had our regular group of goldfinches – four or five – a female chaffinch (we rarely see the male), a pair of blue tits, a great tit, a coal tit, a single greenfinch, and a sweet pair of siskin. The siskin usually pass through very quickly but this morning they fed for quite a while. I used to often mistake them for greenfinches, but when you see them together the differences are obvious. The siskin is smaller and lighter and although the cheeks and throat are a yellowy green, the rest of the body is more a streaked brown and yellow-buff. The male has a black crown and was easily identifiable at our feeder. The greenfinch, in his mean-looking eye mask, is altogether bigger and more consistently olive green with a yellow wing bar rather than stripes. Siskins are not particularly common in gardens, so I’m rather pleased that they visit and feed here.

Wednesday 3rd March – Treat for today was a thrush singing for a good half hour this morning. I couldn’t see it, but that triple-repeat of each phrase was clear as a bell. It’s quite a while since I’ve heard a thrush sing. In our old house we hadn’t seen or heard one for some years, and this is the first one we’ve heard from the garden down here. Tennyson captures that rhythm in ‘The Throstle’. I’m not a big fan of Tennyson, but this ‘gets’ the thrush beautifully. Here is the last verse:

"'Here again, here, here, here, happy year!' 
O warble unchidden, unbidden! 
Summer is coming, is coming, my dear, 
And all the winters are hidden."

Thursday 4th March – A pair of blackbirds are building in the front hedge. I’ve seen them both taking nest material in. The male is smaller, black as coal, with a bright yellow beak and eye-ring; the female larger, plump and chestnut-feathered with a darkly speckled breast. They are a fine couple and I hope they build successfully. The hedge is griselinia, a light green evergreen, native to New Zealand, tolerant of whatever the weather throws at it, and nice and dense. I’m sure they’ll be safe and happy there.

Friday 5th March – After a week at home we go to Bicton for a walk. It’s cold, but sunny and there is bloom beginning to show. Mostly camellia and rhododendron, but also some lovely hellebores. The magnolia are showing fat, furry buds and in a week or two will be a splendour of huge, exotic blooms. The borders have been heavily mulched and there is that evocative, new-season smell of earth and well-rotted compost. It really feels as though spring is about to burst from it’s bud.

Week 21st February

Monday 22nd February – Beautiful day. Blue sky, warm sunshine. So many birds around the garden now, calling and chattering to each other. We took lunch outside and sat in the garden shed with the doors open – we often do this in the early part of the year, the doors face due south so when the sun is out it’s really warm and being just inside keeps us out of any cool breeze or draught. If it stays dry we should be able to do some gardening this week.

Tuesday 23rd February – The sky is light but grey and a stiff breeze makes it feel really cold. So much for the promise of yesterday. It’s too cold to work outside but we take a short walk locally. It’s just coming into camellia season here and there are lots in bloom. We have three reasonably sized bushes flowering in the garden at the moment – a lovely double pink, a double white, and a rather startling bright red with yellow stamens.

Wednesday 24th February – A hospital appointment took up much of the day. We felt pathetically excited about a twenty mile drive. Good to get it out of the way though.

Thursday 25th February – Blue sky and sunshine from early morning. A light breeze keeps the patches of thin cloud moving. Sat outside and watched the birds squabbling over the feeders. A pair of chaffinch have taken to the nyjer seed and often bomb in and displace the smaller goldfinches from the perches; quite the birdy bullies of the garden. The dunnocks still dominate the long feeder with the sunflower hearts and the tits seem to have adopted the feeder with a mix of seeds and whole peanuts. The dish of mealworms lasts no time at all with the robin and the blackbirds making short work of it. Even the bank vole ventured out from his (her?) hole in the wall to snack on the fallen seed. So lovely to feel the warmth of the sun.

Friday 26th February – Cloudless blue sky and the sun is lovely. A cool breeze, but in a sheltered spot it feels like spring. I heard the blackbird sing this afternoon for the first time – phrases and rippling notes cascading through the garden. Later in the season it may feel commonplace, but now, when we haven’t heard it for such a long time, it is so beautiful. It lifted my heart.

Week 14th February

Monday 15th February – A necessary trip into town this morning combined with a walk along the Esplanade. High tide and biggish waves. A number of foolish people not realising and walking too near the rail….soaked by the occasional wave being much bigger than others, and looking shocked that such a thing could happen. I half expected one woman to announce that ‘someone should do something about this sea’, she was so cross. Half-term visitors. Ah me. The gulls circling and mocking, stealing biscuits from unwary children, and chuckling away. We took our dose of sea air and hurried away before it got too busy.

Tuesday 16th February – Shrove Tuesday. A day of indulgence before the privations of Lent, the 40 days before Easter. For people of Christian faiths it’s a day to confess one’s sins and to be ‘shriven’ – absolved of them; also to prepare for the fasting, or at least, the giving up of rich food, through Lent. Pancakes are a way of using up the flour, butter, sugar and eggs. Maybe later. A walk to the beach today. It’s a little milder but the sea is rough and high. Tonnes of pebbles have been scooped off the western beach by the tide, and steps and railings that have been covered for more than twelve months, are exposed again. Gulls are bobbing beyond the breakers and the strandline is a mass of seaweed.

Wednesday 17th February – Covid vaccination today so a drive to the vaccine hub and back takes up the morning. There is a lot of water on the roads, fast-flowing streams of run-off down the hill into Newton Poppleford and standing water at the bottom. The River Otter is high but there is no overflowing. It’s lovely to be a little bit further from home, it’s such a long time since we have ventured more than a mile or two. The sun comes out to illuminate Exeter in the distance and it is just clear enough to see the misty hills below Dartmoor over to the south-east. Every so often clouds of rooks and crows strike up from the fields into the bare trees.

Thursday 18th February – Blue sky and sunshine for part of the day. I have a wander round the garden to check on developments. Lots of daffodils out and the tulip bulbs are showing shoots in their tubs. Muscari is beginning to flower under the hedges and there are primroses and early iris in flower. Tiny pale lavender crocus are up too, loving the sunshine and seem to have spread quite a lot since last year. The poor bergenia has been completely blasted by the earlier frosts, but it will perk up again. The roses have shoots and, as usual, sisyrinchium has self-seeded widely. We need a dry spell for working as the weeds (which I haven’t mentioned because there are far too many), will soon take over.

Friday 19th February – Rain all day. After-effects of vaccine keeps me indoors too. Terrific fatigue, but hopefully fine by tomorrow. MrOG completely unaffected fortunately, so I am being waited on.

Week 7th February

Monday 8th February – Bright and sunny this morning. Windy and very cold. Swaddled ourselves in woollens and went for a walk at Bicton gardens. Such a cold wind, I was glad I wore the hat with ear flaps. Mallard and Canada geese on the ornamental pond, honking for food; a pair of mute swans completely unperturbed by the noise, herring gull in the mêlée, and on the sidelines a Black-headed gull in winter plumage and a single crow looking out for leavings. As we walked back to the carpark the chestnut dart of a female sparrow hawk swooped into the tree boundary. We didn’t stay out long, too cold, but it was good to feel the air after so many days indoors.

Tuesday 9th February – Grey sky, grey sea, grey clouds. Bitter cold, with a wind chill of minus 3 degrees. No walking today. Goldfinches, tits and greenfinches come to the feeders. At least three male blackbirds are in and around the garden, and dunnock, robin, and chaffinch put in a brief appearance. A niggly headache develops into something more severe by late afternoon.

Wednesday 10th February – Delicate today. There is bright sunshine so we go for a quick walk in the cliff top gardens. There is a sunken walled garden which catches the sun and we sit and hold our faces to the warmth, sheltered from the wind by the high flint walls. Two wagtails and a robin appear expectantly and I find a packet of raisins to try them with. The wagtails aren’t impressed and run off in that ‘hurry-scurry’ way they have, legs a blur, and bob up and down as soon as they stop. The robin takes a raisin into the bushes. As soon as we move away the little pile of dried fruit is pounced upon by three blackbirds and quickly demolished. Lots of dog walkers on the beach, but not too many people up on the cliff top. Too cold.

Thursday 11th February – Occasional flurries of frozen snow, tiny, gritty little pieces swirling on the ground. There are 40 miles per hour gusts of wind and it really feels cold. Thursday is our supermarket shop and by the time we get back we have stinging faces and tingling fingertips from unloading the car. Warm indoors we watch a group of Long-tailed tits exploring the hedge and making a brief stop at the feeder. Constantly twittering to each other, they are soon away, their undulating flight making them seem so bright and busy.

Friday 12th February – The chilling wind gusts are still with us, but by lunchtime we have blue sky and sunshine. It looks great through the window but we’re not venturing out. The sea is gleaming silver and there are white wave-tops just visible. Earlier this morning there was a fine, fat pheasant on the lawn, calmly looking around, little scratch of the grass, then he clattered off over the fence. Looked good enough to eat. 😊

Week 31st January

Monday 1st February – Damp, drizzly and cold. A new month and a little bit closer to spring. Did you know that February has only been called February for about a hundred years? Me neither. In Shakespeare’s time it was called ‘Feverell’, about a hundred years later it became ‘Februeer’ and later still ‘February’. In spite of the drizzle and cold we walk along the beach, and spend a little while just watching the waves roll in and listening to the ‘shush’ of the shingle as they recede. I find a piece of sea glass – my first ever – white and translucent, we wonder what its story is. In the Celtic year, today starts the festival of Imbolc – lambing season and the start of new life, with a promise of renewal and potential. Also traditionally the time for honouring the Triple Goddess Brigid in her maiden aspect. When we get home we sit near the fire, warming ourselves. Brigid is goddess of the hearth as well as fire and the sun. Years ago we would have had a swan feather, a snowdrop or a green candle on the hearth to honour her.

Tuesday 2nd February – Candlemas. The Christian festival of the purification of Mary after the birth of Jesus, and the day Jesus was presented to elders at the temple. Some say that the weather on Candlemas will determine the weather for the rest of the spring – ‘If Candlemas day be fair and bright, Winter will have another fight. If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain, Winter will not come again.’ That’ll be Winter will not come again, then.

Wednesday 3rd February – Such frequent showers it’s practically constant rain. Confined to the house for another day, relieved only by the gas boiler service man. Such are our highlights right now.

Thursday 4th February – Briefly dry this morning before we get up. We have a bird feeder carefully sited outside the bedroom window and the early visitors are always a bank vole and a dunnock. The dunnock has discovered that he doesn’t have to accept the chaff that drops into the tray below the feeder, but has learned to balance on the hanging chains and take food directly from the feeder. He has become very adept at this and can be seen every morning obtaining his breakfast. We call him Derek. The bank vole is unnamed. It is raining heavily before we have our own breakfast and rains all day.

Friday 5th February – Sunshine. Proper sunshine and blue sky. Many light and heavy showers interrupt it. Nevertheless we make a foray to the sea front. The sea is a roiling, churning brown mass against the sea wall and the breeze is stiff and cold. Shingle is strewn across the Esplanade. It must have been a really high tide. No sooner have we started a brisk walk than the heavens open and we dash back to the car. Another day in the house.