Sunday, 4 October 2015

Launching "Sussex Field Notes", a new quarterly celebration of seasonal Sussex

Several times over recent months I have had discussions with certain followers of my social media or blogs, urging me to 'get published'. Well, it seems that this is, naturally, easier said than done and so I have decided to take a step toward self-publishing....

Launching the new quarterly newsletter from SophiEcoWild: 
"Sussex Field Notes"

Sussex Field Notes is designed to be a celebration of seasonal Sussex, and features content from my blogs plus exclusive new material. Prose and poetry sits alongside photographs, all aiming to capture the beauty of our precious landscape, nature and rural heritage.  

Available as a PDF via email, the newsletter is perfect for busy people who haven't the time to keep checking blogs or scrolling through social media. It can be read on your tablet snuggled in bed on a dark evening, or perused over Sunday morning coffee at the breakfast table on your laptop. Read just a section, or immerse yourself in the whole publication. 

I plan to release four seasonal editions of "Sussex Field Notes" initially. If interest and uptake is high, I am investigating the possibility of producing a "Sussex Field Notes" annual, in print, in Autumn 2016. This would include each of the four newsletters, plus extended and exclusive new material. There would obviously be a cost involved in publishing the print 'book', and so I would need prior registration of interest if this was to go ahead. That tricky christmas gift problem solved perhaps?

In the meantime...

The first edition 'Autumn' is available now, looking at the joys of September, October and November. 
(Yes, I know it's a bit late... technical issues. Don't worry though, that just means there's less time to wait for the next issue!) 
The Winter edition is due to be released on December 1st. 

To receive your copy of "Sussex Field Notes"  
please let me know your preferred email address. The contact email for the newsletter is:

As ever, you can also contact me via social media, on Twitter @SophiEcoWild or @OakByTheRife or via my SophiEcoWild Facebook page

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Harvesting the delight of Parham

"Welcome to the true heart of England, and of Sussex." The voices of the land seemed to speak to me, "Take your time, linger, let us ensnare you. Perhaps you'll never leave." 

As a child, I read many a fairy story (perhaps too many), and arriving at Parham early on a stunning September morning, I could almost believe them. It was one of those perfect mornings, a precious morning, all light and fresh chill, pastels and gold. I have become accustomed to holding my breath as I make my slow way along the winding drive, awaiting and expecting the sense of enchantment that falls, as I take that final bend and the landscape unfolds below to gather me in.

On a September morning such as this, the Downs are silvered, defined by light and shadow, flowing and enveloping; a natural screen that hides all that doesn't matter, allowing one to forget the rest of the world outside. 

On a dew drenched lawn, between trees showing the first autumnal hints of copper and gold, a group of fallow deer graze, picking their way across the timeless vista. Veteran trees sigh under their history, dreaming stories of old, whilst a scattering of saplings, younger than my own score-and-three years, harvest the morning light. In the grasslands and under the trees, strange and varied fungi have appeared overnight.


The Harvest Fair has drawn a crowd. Cars glint in the sunshine as they line up on the green, each following my own slow progression of before, in a broken line down the drive. Visitors stroll from produce stand to produce stand, pausing to perch on straw-bales to watch displays in the arena, and they admire apples, cider, game cookery, plants, and farm animals, or they wander away into the walled gardens. They slow with every step as Parham's spell works its magic. 

Over the garden wall, gnarled and lichen-encrusted apple trees are heavy with fruit. A red admiral butterfly seeks the windfalls. The borders of the gardens are as rich as high summer, a tapestry of deep autumnal colours; fennel seed heads tower over swathes of sedum, a late-flowering clematis scrambles through the fading buddleia. The thick sweet scent of asters fills the air, followed by the hum of bees. That red admiral appears again, or another of his kind, to make the most of the nectar buffet the colourful flowers advertise. 

By mid-afternoon the ephemeral, charmed light of the earlier hours has lifted, and the day has taken on a brighter, yellower light. The flowers are heavy with bees, visitors are warm and content, the parkland is quiet.  A robin twitters. I'd imagine that later, when the crowds have dispersed and long fingers of shadow push the last visitors out of the gates, the robin will replace the chatter of the people with his own song. Perhaps the notes will drift through a window left open in the house; I wonder who will listen. Undisturbed once again, the deer will warm their backs in the low evening sun, picking fallen acorns from the fungi-studded grass beneath the venerable oaks. 

Monday, 21 September 2015

Oh what a delight!

Spend a gloriously sunny afternoon, sipping lemon squash under the shade of a large and leafy tree, on the village green where bunting blows? Don't mind if I do!

This Saturday afternoon I pottered out for a short drive, following handmade signs off the main road and into the enchanting, quintessentially Sussex, village of Stedham. 
Here, overlooked by pretty cottages, the village green was decked out for a village fete. 
The Stedham Womans' Institute had organised the event as part of the nationwide celebration of the WI's centenary and their hard work was evident in all the wonderful details.

The village hall was a buzz of joyful chatter and filled with book stalls, bric-a-brac, and of course the traditional table of WI cakes, jams and other home produce. 
Ladies, gents and families enjoyed tea and cake, or wandered back out onto the village green for hotdogs and glasses of lemon squash. 
Here children played games and races whilst the adults browsed the selection of stands and stalls positioned around the edge of the field. The ladies of the WI mingled amongst the visitors ensuring all ran smoothly, looking fabulous in authentic costumes of a time 100years past. 

 Dogs, Ducks and Dahlias;
all the delights of a fete!

A beautiful bunch of dahlias from one produce stand found their way into my basket, and I simply couldn't resist a dainty cake stand. 

The smell of freshly mown grass, the drifting notes of vintage music, wonderfully warm sunshine and the billowing of triangular bunting completed the delightful scene. A large bumblebee was drawn like a magnet to the bright colour of the dahlias in my basket, diving in for a quick pitstop before flying off on her journey. 
And of course, there was always chance for a girl to relive her childhood and play on the swings...

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Going west

My bags are packed and plans are made. I have dug out the maps and printed out the family tree. I have already been heard to mutter the words "Are we nearly there yet?".
I am off on my holidays the first week of September, going west to Cornwall!

I have many fond memories of childhood holidays in the far south western tip of the country; Marking the passage of the days by the height of the tide along the river channels where bright white little egrets stalked the shadows beneath over hanging oaks and grey herons flapped slowly upstream. Eating pasties, so hot they burn our mouths, hunkered down out of the wind behind a lichen encrusted wall, where Shetland ponies graze the serpentine headland. I followed the call of a cuckoo around the Cheesering, counted the Merry Maidens more than once in both directions, and planted my feet in centuries of history at Chyauster whilst watching the weather pass over Mounts bay. I used the last photo on the roll of film in my camera for yet another shot of St Michaels Mount. Sunshine streamed through stain glass windows, making rainbow patterns on the stonework of Truro cathedral. 

This year's visit is a chance to pursue a deeper connection with the land beyond the Tamar, and research my family's ancestry. 

Whilst I am away, Autumn will settle in here in Sussex. I look forward to discovering all it's beauties and delights on my return home. 

Friday, 21 August 2015

Nature: My cup of tea

There is a great English tradition, of turning to the tea pot at the slightest requirement for calming, comforting or celebrating. 
It has been a long week. I am clutching a mug and gazing contemplatively out onto a rain-damp, increasingly autumnal garden, and considering going for a walk.
Getting outside and in contact with nature is my go-to-therapy, especially after a stressful day, or when I need to think, or when I simply need to remind myself to breathe. 

The red admiral butterfly that has been visiting the buddleia bush all week must have been tucked safely away out of the rain last night, because it is already back flitting around the fading blooms. Below the butterfly bush, water droplets in the grass sparkle in the sunshine and a single self-seeded nasturtium is flowering from a crack in the paving. The cool, fresh air feels more like autumn than august but the house martins are still twittering in frenzied parties overhead and the sun still retains some fiery warmth. 

I was taking the rubbish out yesterday evening when I had an unexpected encounter. I was tiptoeing up the garden path one way (you have to tiptoe, to step around and over the plants that overflow and pop up across the path at both head and foot height, and avoid squishing the slugs or scrunching the snails!) and met a small but determined toad making its way down the garden path in the opposite direction. I was afraid it would get squashed so (with the aid of the nearest container to hand which happened to be the currently unrequired dog bowl) I moved it gently from danger in the path to the dampest corner of the garden, the undergrowth near to the pond, which was the direction it seemed to be heading in anyway. 
It crept under a fern, nudged beneath the leaf of the marsh marigold and launched itself into the pond.

Thrilling and wonderful, this visit from Tiny Toad made my whole day significantly better, helped put life into perspective, and more than made up for my week of  feeling rotten and being laid low by a 'bug'.

Contact with nature is vital to my every day life, it is both restorative and inspiring; it is my 'cup of tea'. 

Monday, 13 July 2015

The Parham Effect

I've been at it again - spending my free day off work meandering around gardens.
Yesterday, it was the turn of Parham House and Gardens between Pulborough and Storrington in West Sussex. This was my third visit to the gardens, although both my previous two visits were a year ago now.

As I turned into the white gated driveway and passed the gatehouse that sits at the entrance, the track began to feed between lines of ancient trees and swathes of ripe hay-grasses, gently dropping downhill and winding, teasing with glimpses of a view until suddenly the landscape opens out and the house is revealed at the central axis of a secluded bowl, lined with quintessential parkland, meadows and distant woods, held softly in the circling arms of the South Downs. I felt the familiar skip of excitement, anticipation and pleasure that always welcomes me over the threshold from the busy rush of normal everyday life to the magical world where Parham seems to exist slightly apart. I have never quite understood quite why or how that first view provokes such a feeling, almost akin to homecoming. Today the Downs were shrouded in drizzle, which the breeze was sending in drifts across the valley to mist across the windscreen and awaken the nerves in my skin with cold touches. The yellow-grey sandstone of the walls however, common across house, courtyard and even that initial gatehouse now behind me along the elongated drive, retained a glow of sun-kissed warmth, whilst the white clock-tower contrasted starkly with the grey massing of clouds. From the rooftop, a union flag fluttered proudly in the breeze, as if inspired by the music of the marching band, formed by musicians of a variety of ages from a local scout group, which were playing in the courtyard of the house. Last year a twittering congregation of house martins swirled around the eaves, nesting on the eastern side of the building. I did not notice them there today.

A step through a gateway led visitors into the bustle of this weekend’s main attraction, the Parham House and Garden’s Annual Open Garden Weekend, ‘always the second weekend in July’.  I joined the throng and wandered happily from stand to stand, distracted by the multitude of flowers of all shapes, colours and forms that jostled for attention and suggested themselves eagerly as candidates to be taken home and introduced into my own garden.


The dampening of the rain was becoming a little wearing on the spirit, so I retreated indoors to the calm, sanctuary like rooms of Parham House, with their whispering echoes of the past. Sometimes it feels, as you step softly around the bend in the stairs, that you have just disturbed a conversation on the landing, the participants melting back into their frames on the walls when you look over your shoulder. Light is diffused through tall windows that long-gaze over a view of countryside, a tiny church, a cricket pitch, rolling downs. A window-seat makes me wonder why I didn’t bring a book, so I could be tempted to sit awhile, and lose myself within the pages whilst waiting for the warmth of the sun to find me through the aged glass.


Outside a strengthening wind was blowing the damp morning away to the northeast. A blackbird sang, signalling a change in the weather. On first glance, the wide borders of the gardens, with its mix of herbs and edibles with herbaceous and annual flowers and formal structure with natural wild areas, may seem chaotic, random and undisciplined, but look closely and there is detail and interest in every corner. 

The dark flower stems of marjoram picked out the matching stamens of the hardy geranium that joined it in its efforts to spill across the path. The crimson centres of each flower on the spires of verbascum co-ordinated with the reclining petals of the bold helenium. Flat splays of yellow fennel and dill opposed purple sprays of buddleia. The prettiest of pink sweet-peas paired with white lace umbellifers like scented frilly knickers. Subtle, soft roses billowed around benches and blushed beside sculptures of the human form, drawing me in to see how, when observed up close, their delicate petals were adorned with raindrops. 



Bees clung to the shelter of the underside of flowers, but as the afternoon warmed, they became more active, drifting from flower to flower and bringing life to the borders. Over the long grasses that formed a three dimensional tapestry beneath the fruit trees in the orchard, brown butterflies began to dance.
Occasional glimpses over flowers or through archways to the house, and beyond to the veiled Downs reminded me that I would, at some approaching hour, have to return from my indulgent wanderings.

I made that return an hour or two later, following the signs that directed me out onto a lane past another gatehouse. A bright blue flash of a kingfisher bolted across the road as I paused and waited for oncoming traffic at a narrow bridge, and over the main road closer to home a red kite hung directly above the central white line, waiting its chance to collect any road-kill that might provide it with today’s meal. And I carried with me a sense of the uplifting of spirit from that first view of Parham, and the playful exuberance of the gardens that were such a delight.