Thursday, June 23, 2016

After the rain

The weather has been rather challenging of late, one minute baking hot, the next torrential rain and we Brits, me included, have been whingeing about it as usual!

There is however a good side to a rainy day in that it makes you look at things differently and that's exactly what happened the other day after I'd checked on the horses first thing. I was struck with how beautiful everywhere looked, with colours intensified, raindrops on petals and leaves so I thought I'd share some of the photos that made my heart sing:


Beautiful Rose Veilchenblau climbing around our front porch

The colours were so intense and the scent was sublime!

Seen next to a golden Jasmine

Reds, yellows & silvers really shone in the dreary light


The deep red leaves of this Cotinus seemed even darker than usual


It's common name is the 'smoke bush' because of the froth of flowers it produces (seen here bejewelled with water droplets)


Luminous, heart-shaped leaves of Catalpa biginoides aurea glowed and the wet leaves seemed to reflect the light.

The leaves of Melianthus major look as of they are studded with diamonds



The strappy leaves of Leymus (which will take over the world if you let it!)

Beautiful ridged leaves of this hosta, 'blue boy' I think (with a few nibbles by slugs!)


Euphorbia 'Humpty dumpty'

Dark red Sedum (I think it's 'Matronalis'?)

The ubiquitous Alchemilla Mollis, beloved by flower-arrangers




The fluffy leaves of Stachys byzantina aka 'Lambs Ears' contrasted with the deep red leaves of Acaena 'Purpurea' (one of my favourite ground-cover plants) and a bronze-leaved Ajuga.

Raindrops on a spiders web

The intense mauve of this geranium stopped me in my tracks - wow!

I was fascinated by how the raindrops dissipated on the needles of this pine

Although the raindrops were pretty, it was the gorgeous new leaves of this Corylopsis pauciflora that caught my eye!

Whilst I was out there I spotted some seeds forming on my beautiful Tragopogon (aka Salsify) so I was quick to capture them in  a paper bag and took them indoors to save them for sowing later:


The seeds each have a parachute attached to them and are carried away by the wind (collectively they look rather like a Dandelion clock but I forgot to take a photo)

Seeds, cleaned and ready to be sown asap to get some plants for free

Ladybird, ladybird.......


A few days ago I spotted this little ladybird larvae on my variegated pineapple mint, which I use for pot pourri. When he was still there a day later I decided to document his transformation as best I could:


Day 1. The grub prepares for the transformation.

Day 3 - starting to shed his old skin

The rest were all taken on day 5 over a period of just over 1.5 hours before he made his first flight. I was pootling back and forth from my potting shed so each time I passed I took a photo and it was fascinating to see the changes:













As I type this there is a massive thunderstorm raging across the UK. On the day in which we are voting to either stay or leave the European Union it feels rather like a portent. Whichever way the vote goes I hope that the hatred which has been generated doesn't flare up again. Yet again I am reminded of John Lennon's words in 'Imagine' - "Imagine all the people living life in peace". If only!

Time for a bit of therapeutic crochet to calm my nerves (which of course reminds me that I must take some photos of what I'm working on at the moment).
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Friday, June 17, 2016

If you go down to the woods today - marathons 82 & 83

I'm lumping these 2 marathons together because they were held on consecutive days in King's Wood, near Challock in Kent and using the same route each day (but thankfully not the same weather!). I'd never heard of the wood before but I am very glad that Traviss and Rachel found it and gained permission to use it as a venue for marathons as it is stunning.

The woodland covers an area of about 2 square miles, or 1500 acres, and is a mix of broadleaved and coniferous trees which was once a Royal hunting forest, their quarry being deer (although I didn't spot any whilst we were there). It is now managed by the Forestry Commission and there was lots of coppicing and felling going. There was a sign at the entrance announcing a sculpture trail and I did spot a few pieces en-route, which you'll see later, but part of it seems to have been closed off for health and safety reasons. I found this information on a web-page but I couldn't find the map that's mentioned:

Artists who are particularly responsive to the history and character of this working forest are invited to spend long periods here. As a consequence of their close and sympathetic involvement with the forest, they use natural materials found in the immediate area. This use of natural materials means that the sculptures in King's Wood gradually change and will all, eventually, become part of the natural forest cycle of decay and regeneration. Day to day, they are transformed by light, weather and seasonal occurrences. As well as sculptures marked on the map, visitors may see the 'ghosts' of previous sculptures now being reclaimed by nature. You might also spot experimental pieces made during Stour Valley Art's education workshops.

Anyway, back to the running bit.

Marathon 82 - the Cookiethon


Can you guess the theme?! I had intended to bake cookies for this but the day before was a sad one in which we learnt that another dear friend had lost their battle with cancer and I really didn't feel like baking. Plenty of other people had been busy baking though so there was a wonderful spread of cookies at the aid station!

Another good thing about this event was that it was just under an hour's drive from home which made a very pleasant change. Although there was a decent sized car park there weren't any visitor facilities and so Traviss organised a couple of portaloos at the start. The beauty of that was you could easily nip along for a quick toilet break at the end of a lap - you could complete as many laps as you liked within the 8 hour time limit but needed 5 laps for a marathon.





Looking towards the start area


Traviss and Rachel preparing for the pre-race briefing and other announcements

We're all looking a bit serious aren't we!


Bryan being presented with his badges and medals for having completed 200 marathons (that day was his 212th!)

Then we headed off to the start which we'd been warned was a bit tricksy 'cos of the flints underfoot. We were each given a lap-counting card which we had to get punched at the end of each lap.




The weather forecast for our area was OK, supposedly with no rain so guess what happened? Yep the sky went grey and it rained intermittently throughout until my last lap when I managed to get a few snaps!

I started near the back as I'd decided not to push hard because I didn't want to fall over, as is my wont, and I needed to save something for the next day. As it happened, Bryan and I were trundling along at about the same pace, running the downhills and flat bits and walking the uphill sections and so we chatted away throughout about anything and everything which really helped the miles pass pleasantly - except for the bit when the rain was torrential and we got soaked to the skin then a few hundred metres later emerged into brilliant sunshine.

Most of the route was on wide gravelly paths known as 'estate' tracks used by large machinery such as tractors so they were very pleasant. Some other bits were rather rutted interspersed with tree roots/slippery mud and puddles to dodge around so you had to take extra care there. In the last 2 laps I stumbled a few times on the flinty bits but thankfully managed to remain upright!


These paths were very comfortable to run on - look, blue sky!




We both agreed that it was a beautiful place and even though we were doing loops we kept noticing different things on each lap. On lap 3 I suddenly spotted these strange-looking structures within a section of woodland and Bryan went to investigate.

The entrance, the metal structure on the bottom left, was a bit creepy though as it reminded us of the entrance to Auswitz but read "Super Kingdom".


Bryan inspecting the sign which advised that the trail was closed

After much searching I've learned that the structures in the trees are fantastical animal houses modelled on the palaces of Stalin, Ceauscescu and Mussolini. You can read more about them here. It intrigued me so I was sad that we couldn't go and explore it more. Presumably the structures have become unsound over the years as it was commissioned in 2008.




Beautiful Agrimony on the edge of the woods.


I took this for Bryan as he liked the one tree standing high above the rest!

On our last lap we passed a young woman walking who announced she was 3 miles from finishing her 1st ever marathon. Excellent! We walked with her for a few minutes before heading off and I asked her name so that we could let Rachel know so she could make a big fuss of her when she finished.

We managed to finish feeling fresh and strong in 6:06:24 for the 26.85 miles but the best bit was that Bryan's cookies (which were scrummy) had won a prize!


Another outstanding event and medal from Traviss and Rachel


Marathon 83 - the Fudgeathon  Challenge


What's that saying - SSDD? Well it was certainly the same route but an entirely different day as it was hot and the sun shone throughout which was appropriate as it was my birthday.

I'd been busy making fudge the evening before. Chocolate with roasted almonds.


I had to chop 2.5 large bars of dark chocolate quite finely!


Butter, sugar and cream bubbling away

When it had cooled completely I melted some milk chocolate and poured it over the top then made some ridges with a fork. Of course, Mike and I had to sample it beforehand for quality control purposes. I did my best to chop it into equally sized pieces but didn't really manage it! I left some for Mike and took the rest with me.






Gemma and Jackie at the aid station Jackie is the queen of fudge and has made gallons of it for us hungry runners. Most of what you see in this photo has been made by her and tastes amazing (I know, I tried most if it!)




We had another race briefing as not everyone had done the day before. I was delighted when Traviss called Jackie up to the podium and presented her with a big box of choccies. Very well deserved!



I had to wear a different cap as my other one was still wet from the previous day

As we were heading off to the start Traviss announced it was my birthday so everyone was wishing me Happy Birthday which was nice.  Then I found out that it was Claire's birthday too so I passed the news on to Rachel so she got a mention too and each time we passed eachother we said "Happy Birthday" to oneanother (simple things like that keep you going during a marathon!).

Everywhere looked even more beautiful with the sunlight through the trees


Experienced marathon/ultra runners know that running up all the hills just saps your strength so most people walked the uphill sections to conserve energy



I had the company of Andy (husband of Elaine who's just passed 200 marathon, 90 of which within 12 months!) for 2 laps and our chatter helped pass the miles. He was recovering from a chest infection so was sensible and didn't carry on after lap 2. I chatted with lots of other people at different stages in the race. It's always nice to have a chat, even if it's just for a couple of minutes before one of you pulls ahead or slows down.

After lap 2, I headed off for a sugary fudge hit only to find that my choccy fudge had won a prize!

The next few photos just give a feel for the route we took:








There's that tree again!








I was mesmerised by the light shining through the coppices (mostly Sweet Chestnut which is used for fencing):




 




The ferns under the canopy of deciduous trees, took on a silvery glow in the sunlight.


Magnificent fir trees



Looks as if someone had been practsing their woodcraft/survival skills

On my last lap I realised I hadn't seen Maryanne for a while and I wasn't sure if she was ahead or behind me. I found out later that she was behind me and had taken a nasty tumble on the flinty bit after lap 5 and had face-planted, damaging one of her teeth and landing badly on her knees, poor love. A lot of people would have packed after that but not Maryanne, she cleaned herself up and headed out for her final lap. What a trooper. 

I finished in 6:06:58 almost the same time as the day before.






I can't finish without giving young James a mention here - he's training really hard for the Samphire 100 in a few weeks and as this was a timed event he decided to just 'go for it' and ran 48.35 miles in 8:41:59 on what was a rather challenging course - what a star!