Prospect Cottage – An unexpected day out

Over Christmas 2022, I read ‘Derek Jarman’s Garden’, as a result of an unexpected visit to Prospect Cottage earlier in the year. One of the best things about staying in a holiday cottage is ploughing through the leaflets left behind by former occupants. You make interesting discoveries, which may not always be on the general radar of ‘things to do.’ One such leaflet led to an unexpected adventure across Romney Marshes in search of St Thomas à Becket Church in Fairfield. I was drawn to the unusual church exterior in a remote location, intrigued that the village it served, no longer existed. I imagined it shrouded in mist, with grazing sheep on nearby pastures leaping across the watercourses – perhaps an ideal photo opportunity?

St Thomas à Becket Church

The leaflet led to other churches, one of those being St Clement in Old Romney. The interior was not your standard church – for a start it had box pews painted pink. This was due to a Walt Disney film – ‘Dr. Syn, Alias the Scarecrow,’ which was filmed here in 1964. It starred the actors Patrick McGoohan (of ‘The Prisoner’ fame) and George Cole (of ‘Arthur Daley – Minder’ fame).

Following a brief wander around the graveyard, I noticed a rather unmissable grave – that of Derek Jarman. Very simply, his signature was scrawled across a very large headstone. It was decorated with shells and pebbles, then I realised that Dungeness was nearby and therefore Derek Jarman’s garden and cottage, which I’d heard of, but knew nothing about. I decided it was perhaps worth a visit.

The pink pews of St Clement

Derek Jarman’s gravestone

Prospect Cottage

The location of Prospect cottage in Dungeness is otherworldly. The landscape, like the marshes is flat, bleak and remote. It is exposed to the elements – the ‘easterlies bring salt spray which burns everything.’ It is an unusual place. Chugging behind the cottage are trains from the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway. Then there is the ominous silhouette of the (decommissioned) Magnox nuclear reactor. In the book Derek Jarman’s Garden, the power station is described as being akin to an ‘ocean liner at night, or a small Manhattan ablaze with a thousand lights of different colours.’ Jarman talks about ‘the mysterious shadow that surrounds it, making it possible for the stars still to glow in a clear summer sky.’ It is somewhat a surreal place, but unforgettable, as is Prospect Cottage and its garden.

 The Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway and Dungeness B nuclear power station

A bleak landscape illuminated by a Broom plant

The book by Jarman is interesting. It explains how he found the cottage on a bluebell hunt with Tilda Swinton. He discusses the challenges of growing plants in such a difficult area – shingle with no soil, local flora and fauna, the changing weather and how it affects the landscape, as well as poetry and his battle with HIV.

Beachcombing collections by Jarman

Flowerbed plantingIn his book, Jarman mentions Sea Kale as being the most prevalent plant in the area, in fact more grows here than anywhere else in England.

Jarman’s circle of stones

The Sunne Rising – John Donne

Wallflowers

Jarman paid a remarkable price for his property and the surrounding land with no walls or boundaries. You’ll have to read the book to find out much!

View from the back garden

The black and yellow colour scheme with daffodils in the foreground.

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A visit to Kew Gardens

Intro

The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London is a spectacular place. It is the largest botanical garden in the world – 300 acres of it to be precise. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and houses some 50,000 plants. It is a beautiful oasis of calm in a busy city and is also home to a lot of wildlife. There are many attractions and you can never see it all in a day. We decided just to go with the flow and wander, taking in a few ‘must sees.’

We started with the Rhododendron Walk or Dell. There are colours of rhododendrons in every conceivable colour and size, but interspersed along the walk are all manner of plants. Here the soft light emerges through the canopy of a large acer tree.

Among the damp, coolness of the dell were these beautiful yellow irises.

What I really like are the little paths leading off the main one, where you can have an adventure and make new discoveries. It is like a giant secret garden. There are many areas that have wildflowers too. Such as this cow parsley meadow.

The Giant Pagoda was built for the founder of the gardens – Princess Augusta and was completed in 1762.

In the Japanese Garden, there was a Peacock strutting about enjoying the attention.

I think my favourite place has to be the Temperate House. There are all kind of beautiful plants inside. We didn’t go into the Palm House on this visit, but that too is an amazing place if you can stand the heat!

The Temperate House was looking more established than our last visit. Here is a view of part of the giant glass house from the inside.

Did you know that ferns appeared on earth over 360 million years ago? Long before the dinosaurs...

A beautiful Bird of Paradise flower.

Back in the garden, a Eucalyptus tree grows lazily across a path at a 45 degree angle.

More cow parsley.

The tulips were still out at the end of May, following the coldest May in 25 years.

One of two lions overlooking a lake.

A view of the lake.

Wildlife.

The Waterlily House contains the giant Amazon waterlily. In Victorian times, children were photographed sitting on them.

Finally, this sculpture caught my eye. It is called Leaf Spirit by Simon Gudgeon. It almost seems to merge with the trees when the light shines.

We walked almost 6 miles. If you are a keen garden enthusiast or botanist and want to look in detail at everything, you probably need to spend a few days there!

Experimenting with photography

I have a new lens. It is a manual one but attaches to my normal, automated camera. I am still figuring it out… It does not record normal camera data, such as aperture etc, which feels strange, because unless you write it down, you will never know what combination of settings you used for a particular shot! However, you do have to set the ISO on the camera beforehand. I experimented with it yesterday in the countryside after a rain storm and also in a garden. I think it helps you to visualise using manual settings and what they can do, more so than just moving a small dial on the camera, it is more clunky and solid.

I have an old camera which uses film and I am hoping that it will improve my understanding of that. I must also remember to use my tripod with it for extra sharpness! How funny that photography is taking me in a backward direction with old technology.

In terms of post-processing, there was very little to do, other than perhaps resize images.

Cow parsley.
Pink campions in the evening sunlight.
A leaning tree with young leaves.
Pink geraniums
White lilac
Pale purple lilac

February

In early February, the ‘Beast from the Baltic’ roared in and we had a lot of snow and cold temperatures, so much so, that the snow lay on the ground for 7 days. After the rain washed the snow away, it felt like Spring was finally here. That dismal, grey cloud that just seems to hang around this time of year was suddenly replaced by bright, sunny days and warmer temperatures.

Nature is emerging. In gardens, there are daffodils, crocuses, hyacinths and primroses. Carpets of snowdrops have appeared in woodland and next to the roadside. Buttercup yellow celandines are growing, as are little green shoots of cow parsley on the verge of the roads.

Daffodils – taken with a zoom lens
A bird of prey
Catkins dancing in the wind – almost translucent, when lit by the sun.
Winter wheat beginning to grow in fields.
A robin enjoying the sunshine.

Petrified

The petrified oaks of Mundon on the Dengie Peninsular are not actually fossilised, but are dead. They are thought to have died as a result of salt water breaching the water table.

The oaks exist in strange shapes, some almost look half human. Can you see an eye, nose and beard?

Some look like they are twisted and screaming. They have been linked to witches ….

Indeed, the puritanical Witchfinder-General, Matthew Hopkins resided in Essex. He sought out those practising ‘the dark arts.’ Nineteen were convicted and hung. Four died in prison.

Others think that the oaks may have once been part of an ancient woodland. These oaks began life around 1100 when Henry I was crowned King of England.

They are certainly intriguing.

Probably best viewed on a day shrouded in fog from the North Sea, to capture that eerie feeling!

High Summer

Another heatwave and 6 days of high temperatures and an opportunity to capture an unnatural evening glow in the still heat.

Sweltering Summer days are sometimes referred to as the ‘dog days of Summer.’ This comes from the Roman phrase ‘dies caniculares.’ It was noted by the Romans, that the star Sirius (also called the Dog Star) began to rise in the sky before the sun towards the end of July. The star was so bright that they believed it gave extra heat to the sun and was responsible for the hot days of Summer.

The rising hot air and moisture provide perfect conditions for thunder and lightning. At 30,000 degrees celsius, lightning is five times hotter than the surface of the sun.

A single thundercloud is more powerful than any nuclear power plant on earth. It has been calculated at approximately 1 billion volts.

Isn’t nature amazing?

Heatwave

The intense heat appears to give an eerie golden glow in the evening.

Barley field.
Tall grasses illuminated by the evening sun.
Gold.
Wild flowers.
Cobwebs elegantly draped over a nettle.
Backlit wildflowers.
Blinding sun.
Fading sun.

Ancient woodland

The term ‘ancient woodland’ in itself conjures up something magical and mystical. It describes an area of woodland that has been in existence since the 1600’s. It has developed naturally with unique ecosystems and the woodland has not been disturbed by mankind. Sadly, these special places only account for 2.4% of the UK.

All the leaves on the trees were out in full – brand new, perfect leaves in that fresh shade of almost luminous green. They always look at their peak in May, before the colour slightly fades and the leaves get their lived-in appearance and become tatty looking as the Summer goes on.

The light was perfect, weaving its way through small patches and lighting up the ground where the leaves had not yet formed a complete canopy. It provided that beautiful dappled appearance, great for photography.

Ferns growing tall.
Red Campion
New leaves.
Light reaching a solitary blade of grass on the woodland floor.

Frothy white bubbles of cow parsley

It’s everywhere at the moment, lining shady stretches of country lanes and stretches of woodland. It has lots of alternative names including fairy lace. Some think it looks like drifts of snow. It is of course, a popular plant with pollinators.

Cow parsley is a member of the carrot family. It can be confused with hemlock and hogweed, one of which is poisonous and the other which has sap that can burn the skin.

Natural Seasonal Decorations

The diffused light made the water droplets on the cobwebs and cow parsley seed heads appear like twinkling lights.
Although the macro lens would have been infinitely better to use for definition, the telephoto still managed to produce some pretty images from a short distance.
A haphazard spider web on an old stinging nettle plant.
A cobweb lit up like Christmas lights!

Burg Eltz

This is the Eltz Forest in Southern Germany. Nothing special I hear you say, just a bit of woodland. But wait a minute …
Take a 25 minute walk down through the Mosel valley.
You won’t be disappointed with the view.
Burg Eltz, possibly one of the most beautiful fairytale castles I have ever seen. The Eltz family have been in residence there for 33 generations since the 12th Century. It is one of few remaining castles of the Rhineland-Palatinate state. The rest were destroyed in The Thirty Years’ War – one of the most destructive wars of the 17th Century resulting in 8 million deaths.
It perches precariously over the Elzbach River, with its towers and turrets. A real medieval castle. Built and extended over hundreds of years.
There are lots of interesting exterior features.
Hidden behind the shutters, is a world even more fascinating. Yet unfortunately, no visitor is permitted to photograph the interior. But if you look at this link and click on the photos, you will have a better idea and can see that the interior is equally as impressive as the exterior. https://burg-eltz.de/en/eltz-castle-the-attractions/castle-tour.html
It is said to rival Neuschwanstein Castle, which is found at the end of Germany’s ‘Romantic Road.’ I will have to find out for myself another time I visit Germany!
We had a tour in German, but they do English speaking tours too.