A Trip to Calke Abbey

24 September 2020

After renewing my National Trust membership recently, I decided to take a trip back to one of my favourite National Trust locations, Calke Abbey. It's named as the un-stately home and country estate, although some parts such as the house and stables have been restored. Follow along its paths and you will walk through the beautiful walled gardens, the orangery, auricula theatre and the kitchen gardens with so much colour to see throughout all of the seasons. Walk out of the gardens and into the house and you will find not your average grand building, but walls with peeling paint and collections of belongings all left as they were found. And then step into nature as you wander the pleasure grounds, you'll find the red and fallow deer and acres of greenery thriving with wildlife. 

During these difficult times, Calke Abbey, like many other National Trust locations, are open for pre-booked tickets only. I decided to get an early ticket so I could spend some quiet time wandering around the gardens which I've never visited before. I enjoyed every moment walking around the gardens which I almost had all to myself! It was ever so peaceful and enjoyed walking along the path amongst the trees to get to the gardens and had a robin serenading me as I set off towards the gardens. I walked through an archway into the main part of the garden and was blown away by just how brilliantly looked after all the flowers were that surrounded the whole of the garden. I've been to quite a few gardens over the past few years and I've never seen one in such perfect condition. I saw so many of my favourite blooms as I walked amongst the flowers such as helenium, anemone, cosmos, rudbeckia and many more. I then set off through another archway and followed a path of wildflowers into the kitchen garden. I've never really walked around a kitchen garden before but I was just taken away by how beautiful it was. It was the highlight of my day and I could have spent the whole day walking around looking at all the fruits and vegetables and other beautiful flowers. My mind went straight into autumn harvest mode when I saw the gourds and pumpkins! 

After spending a while walking around the gardens I looked at the time and saw that it was nearly coming up to 11 o'clock which was when the house would open up. At the moment due to the restrictions only a small number of people are allowed in the house at a time. When I got into the house there was a short video explaining the changes that have been made due to the current pandemic situation and what rules needed to followed when walking around the house. Unfortunately there were parts of the house you couldn't walk into, but this was for our own safety and they had done so well to create a one way system to walk around most parts of the house. I'm not a big fan of taxidermy and so I quickly made my way out of one room! But my favourite room of all was full of old books, the walls were covered in books top to bottom, I've never seen anything like it before. I carried on through the house and then made my way out of the exit and back out of the house. 

I decided to go and visit Calke Explore, which is separate area away from the house and gardens which is situated in a more wooded section of the grounds. On my way I decided to stop for a while to have my lunch and sat amongst the trees. I could see birds flying in and out of this tree in front of me and I was trying to identify what birds they were. After having my lunch I crept up to the tree and zoomed in with my camera, I saw the loveliest little long-tailed tit sat on a branch and I managed to get a photo. I then heard the call of a chiffchaff and also managed to get a photo of one in the tree. I set off towards the Calke Explore section and decided to grab a cup of coffee and sat beside one of the little ponds where I watched dragonflies dart across the water. I spent some time walking amongst the pine trees and taking in the atmosphere surrounding the trees. There's always been something so calming about walking through a woodlands and so I enjoyed a peaceful moment walking amongst its paths. 

I noticed autumnal changes as I was walking around Calke Explore. Seeing the copper tones of the ferns beginning to change, acorns growing on the trees and orange leaves on the horse chestnut trees. I look forward to coming back again when autumn is thriving. After wandering around Calke Explore for a while, I decided to head off back to the car, but before leaving I decided to say goodbye to the deer who were up and about in the deer park. With my legs feeling tired, I set off back out into the countryside to drive back home. 

A Walk Around Attenborough Nature Reserve

8 September 2020

A few weeks back I hopped on the train and spent the day at Attenborough Nature Reserve. With my walking boots back on and camera bag all packed, I set off to the reserve to see what wildlife I could find. From the train station I wandered through a village, following sign posts for the reserve. It look me along a long footpath amongst the trees and beside the waters edge and straight away I could already see plenty of wetland wildlife right in front of me. Mute swans with their young who came to greet me, a tufted duck who kept dipping it's head into the water and an egret in the distance sat upon a tree branch. 

I carried along the path until I reached the nature reserve centre which was surrounded by Canada geese, Egyptian geese, mute swans and greylag geese. I followed the path to the right with the Coneries Pond to my left. I stopped for a moment as just below some steps, stood at the edge of the water, just metres away from me was a grey heron. I couldn't believe it! A grey heron right there in front of me, the closest I had ever been to one. It spotted me instantly and flew up into the tree with it's branches hanging over the water. I slowly walked down the steps and sat by the water, admiring the grey heron who was watching me from the tree. They're such beautiful birds, almost prehistoric looking and you'll mostly find them beside any kind of water such as lakes, ponds and rivers. They stand as still as a statue with their neck stretched out looking for food, which will mostly be fish but they're also known for eating small birds and mammals. I sat there for a while, taking photos of the beautiful bird that stood in the tree right beside me until it stretched out its wings and made flight across the pond. 

I set off across a bridge and into the heart of the nature reserve. I lost my bearings most of the time, but I loved wandering off through different pathways, and making up my own little route. You can follow trails throughout the reserve though! I set off along a long path towards one of the hides, which was unfortunately closed (for safety reasons of course!) but I managed to see two horses in the field beside me and a heron who was sat in a boggy part of the field waiting for his next catch. I turned around and set off along another path to walk a circuit around the main pond. Walking alongside the pond I could just about spot a few sedge warblers amongst the reeds, who were too quick and too well hidden for me to get a good shot! I came across a small wooden jetty at one of the ponds I was walking beside and caught a glimpse of a dragonfly darting across the water. I got my camera ready and followed it along, flying so fast back and forth across the water. I managed to capture a few shots of it in flight and turns out it was a migrant hawker dragonfly, I could have stood there for ages watching it zoom up and down and across the water. I carried along the path until I reached another small wooden platform next to the pond. I sat here for a while, taking photos of the damselflies that flew across the pond and two swans came up to greet me. I looked up and all of a sudden a grey heron appeared, soaring in the sky above my head. I was too slow to get a capture but it was fantastic to see one fly so close to me. 

I continued along the long path, which took me right back to the start again. Before leaving the reserve I decided to go back to the place where I saw the grey heron and sat on the steps again taking in the views across the pond. I watched as the swans gracefully swam across the pond and watched as cormorants dipped their whole body into the water and popped up again moments later. I took a slow stroll back to the train station and set off back home on a peaceful journey on the train. 

Morning Coffee and Birdsong

17 August 2020

I've tried my best over the past few years to spend some time practicing mindfulness. However suggestions such as meditating and breathing exercises have never worked for me, I'm not sure why but I seem to struggle to concentrate. But over the years I've realised that it's being out in nature that have given me those mindful moments. Whether it be walking through a woodland and taking a moment just to watch the branches sway in the wind, or being sat beside a lake and watching the ripples in the water, I've been able to find mindfulness when spending time in nature.
One of my favourite things to do, especially throughout the summer when it's much warmer in the mornings, is to sit outside in the garden with my morning cup of coffee and watch the birds visit the garden for their morning breakfast. On a non work day, I like to get up before everyone else and go out to sit in the garden. I enjoy just how quiet it is, all I can hear is the sound of bird song and the gentle hum of cars on the road in the distance and that there is my mindful moment. 

I've recently just purchased a bird feeding station to go at the bottom of the garden as we're running out of space on the buddleja branches. I set it up last Sunday and I was thinking it might take a while for the birds to get used to a new feeding location, however an hour or so after setting up the station, they started to swoop down and test it out! I've been watching them from the kitchen window (also known as the bird hide) and in the mornings there will be around 10 or more house sparrows swooping in towards the feeders. Not to mention the starlings too, who have absolutely demolished the coconut feeder I bought for them not long ago!

Not only do I enjoy these quiet moments in the morning, but in the evening too when the sun is setting and the swifts are soaring in the sky above the garden. I thought I had said goodbye to the swifts for this year a few weeks ago, but then as I was walking across the field back home, I saw them dancing in the sky again. They should now be off on their autumn migration, heading off towards Africa in the winter, where they will take advantage of the rise in insect populations. 

As we slowly begin to transition into autumn, my favourite season of all, I will be still making the most of summer mornings sat outside with my coffee and watching the birds on the feeders.

Butterflies and Buddleja

4 August 2020

Over the past two weeks I've been getting involved with the Big Butterfly Count, spending 15 minutes in the garden to record how many different species of butterfly visit the garden. I've always had such a big love for butterflies and moths, but I can't help but notice how over the years there has been a massive decline in these beautiful insects. They are important parts for the ecosystem but unfortunately the numbers have decreased since the 1970s due to pollution, change of weather patterns and loss of their habitats. Tracking numbers of butterflies is crucial for conserving the natural world and that's why the Butterfly Conservations needs our help to count species that visit our gardens and many other spaces around us.
I've spotted a lot more butterflies than usual in the garden this year. One a bright sunny day I'll spot red admirals, peacocks, large whites and holly blues fluttering around the buddleja tree. The other day I even spotted a comma butterfly, one which I don't think I've ever seen before in the garden. There's plenty of things you can do to attract more butterflies in your garden such as planting nectar-rich flowers, these could be lavender, red campion, primrose, bluebells etc. You could also make a butterfly feeder by placing a saucer in a sunny, warm spot with overripe fruits. Or adding a quarter cup of sugar to two cups of water and dissolve in a pan, leave it to cool for 30 minutes and soak bright cloth in the mixture and hang outside next to flowers. 

It's the last week of the Big Butterfly Count and so I will be spending some more time outside seeing what butterflies flutter my way!

More information on butterflies:

A Day at Chatsworth

29 July 2020

Last weekend my lovely friend and her boyfriend took me to visit Chatsworth grounds for a walk beside the river and a picnic. It's been a while since I last visited Chatsworth, I've been inside the gardens a few times but had never been walking around the grounds beside the river. It's free of entry to walk around the grounds and only £4 for parking when you book online in advance. It's been while since I last ventured futher away from home and oh how I needed it. On the way to Chatsworth it was so nice to see the little stone cottages amongst the villages in the Peak District and to see the rolling hills painted in a luscious green. 

When we reached Chatsworth, we could see the house looking grand as always in the distance over the river. We took a walk towards the house, following the river on our right hand side. There were sheep everywhere, enjoying the sunshine after a downpour of rain and in the distance on the other side of the river you could see a herd of female deer with their young. Walking beside the water I could see what I think were sand martins, swooping overhead and down towards the water. We watched them swoop in and out of the holes made in the sand of the bank and fly down towards the rippling water. 

We spotted a heron standing proud in the water and looking out for fish. Little did we know that there was a kingfisher perched on a broken tree branch behind the heron. It wasn't until the next day when I was editing my photos, when I spotted the kingfisher in the photo I had taken of the heron. After eating our lunch in the sunshine, we walked down to the river where foxgloves and thistles swayed in the gentle breeze and sat down to watch the ducks swimming in the water. We spotted a grey and yellow bird beside the water that we couldn't identify at the time, but I searched it on the RSPB bird finder and turns out it was a grey wagtail.

I couldn't believe how much wildlife we saw whilst walking around the grounds of Chatsworth. I never knew it would be bursting with so much wildlife. It's amazing what you might come across when out in nature. I'm looking forward to getting back to Chatsworth again to visit the house and gardens too and who knows, we might just spot that kingfisher again!

A Visitor at the Pond

20 July 2020

Throughout this spring and summer I have been finding many different ways to attract more wildlife in the garden and to do my part for nature. I've always enjoyed helping wildlife, since I was young, always looking out for different species of wildlife that came into the garden. I had always wanted to build a mini pond in the garden and so after seeing plenty of ideas on BBC Spring Watch and Gardener's World, I decided to have a go at building one myself.

As we have quite a small garden my mum suggested that instead of digging a pond into the ground, I make a mini pond to sit in the border amongst the plants. So I purchased a half barrel planter online which turned out to be the perfect size to sit in the border. Next up on my to-do list was to gather my pond plants. I bought an oxygenating plant called a red stemmed parrot feather, which sits at the bottom of the barrel submerged under the water and two plants that aren't completely under water, a water iris, a mini reed plant and not to mention a water lettuce which is by far my favourite!

After gathering all the plants I needed to start with, I then placed two bricks inside the barrel to create a ledge for my reed and iris. I placed another brick with a large rock placed on top, should any wildlife need to climb out and then placed some smaller stones at the bottom of the barrel around the bricks. Once I was happy with where everything was placed, I filled up the barrel with water from the tap outside. I've heard that it's best to fill up with rain water but our water butt seems to have a hole in it so I stuck with water from the outside tap. Once filled up I then placed the pond lettuce on top to float around the barrel. Around the outside of the barrel I made stepping stones up towards the barrel for wildlife and planted some flowers around the side of the barrel for more cover. 

Each day I've been checking the pond to see if any wildlife has visited and last weekend, after planting some new flowers around the pond for extra cover, I spotted something behind the reed plant. I looked closely and to my surprise there was a common frog! I've only had my pond for a week and never would I ever had thought I'd see a frog in my pond so quickly. I stayed outside in the garden for most of the day, watching the frog as it swam around the pond and rest upon the rocks that I built up in the pond. It's warmed my heart knowing that something I've built has made wildlife happy.

If you'd like to have a go at making your own mini wildlife pond you can check out these sites I found very helpful when creating my pond:

The Wildlife Trust
Gardener's World

Words & Wildflowers

7 June 2020

*Trigger warning* - Before reading, I wanted to just note that in this post I talk about the pandemic, how anxiety and depression have affected me over the past few months along with the mention of medication and therapy.

I've been contemplating what to do with this little blog of mine over the past couple of weeks. It's been a big part of my photography journey over the years and has helped me grow my passion. I've seen this blog change so much, right from the beginning, turning from sharing my day to day lifestyle favourites and slow living moments to sharing my love for the great outdoors, photographing the seasons as they go by. And most recently in the past year I've documented adventures from across the UK, sharing a new found love for following hiking trails and nature reserves from across the Peak District, Lake District and more. But since my last post, a lot has changed. This has probably been one of the most difficult posts I've written so far. The past two months have seen some of the most toughest days I've had to endure. Anxious during the difficulties and uncertainty of the pandemic and lockdown, starting a new job amongst many changes, family woes and finding myself falling into a dark place again.

I've struggled to accept what's happened in the world, struggled to accept how this could have happened. How one moment life was bursting with plans and new beginnings and then suddenly it all gets turned upside down. I've had days of not eating, coming home from work with headaches, falling asleep early but waking up feeling like I haven't slept at all, and times of suddenly overcoming this feeling of dread and panic when my mind starts to think too deeply into what is going on in the world. I've tried medication recently but I didn't think they were right for me and so my therapist and I have been working on coming to terms with everything and finding ways to control my anxiety. It's going to be a long and tough process but I'm trying my hardest to get through it all. The pandemic has affected us all in some way and with our own personal struggles added on top of that can add extra to what we're going through already.

Nature has always been my way of escape. It's always been my way of finding inner peace again after going through struggles with my anxiety. Even through the most difficult days, I've got myself outdoors and surrounded myself by nature and wildlife. I've been walking through my local nature trail and beside the canal and I've surprised myself with so many things I haven't noticed before around the area that's so close to home. I've noticed so many birds that I didn't realise were living in the trees such as goldfinches, long tailed tits, chiffchaffs, nuthatches and treecreepers. I've always enjoyed seeing the bright and colourful display of wildflowers in the spring and summer months, but I never noticed the way the evening golden hour sunlight shone upon the flowers and trees. I've had some amazing encounters with wildlife lately, watching a nuthatch swoop in and out of a bird box, held out my hand to allow a damselfly onto my hand and saw little blue tit chicks inside a nest in an open tree trunk.

I've been trying to find good moments amongst the difficult days and it's been moments in nature where most of the good has come from. I've been watching Spring Watch over the past two weeks and there's been many mentions about how being outdoors can help your wellbeing and I really do believe it to be true. And so I bring myself back to making a decision about the blog. I've had ideas about deleting certain posts and starting over again and even deleting the whole blog entirely. But alongside getting outdoors in nature, writing has always been something that has been helpful for me. I've talked about my struggles with anxiety in the past on the blog and I connected with others who had been going through similar difficulties with their own mental health. After writing this post I thought I would take things one step at a time and maybe begin sharing more about nature and wildlife.

I'll leave this post here and I'll be back sometime soon.

Back to Buttermere

2 April 2020

It's a difficult time for us all right now, but throughout these tough times, all we can do is hold on, try our hardest to stay positive and know that we will get through this. My anxiety has been up and down over these past few weeks, but I've been trying my hardest to do things to help me keep calm and relaxed and also get myself back into therapy sessions. I've been getting out to my local nature trail a few times in the week, just to get some fresh air and listen to the birds sing in the trees. It's been nice to see more of spring coming to life, with flowers popping up everywhere and green starting to appear on the trees. I've been getting back into writing again and I thought I would still continue to share previous adventures and nature pieces on the blog. I thought I would start by sharing a few photos from a trip to Buttermere in the Lake District a few weeks back.

I visited Buttermere in the Lake District for the first time last year in spring and absolutely fell in love with the place. The lake itself is surrounded by mountains and if on a clear day where the water is still, you'll be able to see the reflections of the tall mountains upon the water. There's a path that takes you around the whole of Buttermere lake and there's just so much to see along this circular trail. I didn't complete the circular trail the first time I visited, but I'm glad I did this time as I didn't realise that there are Highland cows halfway along the trail!

The water seemed to be a lot higher than the first time I visited as the large rocks I saw in the water had now been covered. It was a rather moody, cloudy day but the mountains looked spectacular and I spotted a dusting of snow on top of them.

Once I'd taken a few shots of the mountains across the lake, I set off for the walk around the lake. Although it's a circular walk around the lake, it had varied terrain and parts where you could wander off through the trees, beside babbling brooks and along the pebbles at the edge of the lake. I was very happy to see the Highland cows towards the bottom of the walk, who were sat lying on the grass enjoying the views surrounding them. The other side of the walk took me up some rocks and through a tunnel and I could see the dramatic mountains on the other side with a rushing waterfall and patches of snow.

Buttermere Valley