Where Are the Dragons?

Rewilding vast landscapes may bring wolves to restore balance to the natural world.

But rewilding the child will bring dragons to help fight for it.

Yesterday, we visited The Vyne, a National Trust location in Hampshire. I’d love to say that we’d gone to dig into the history of the area but, really, we went to catch-up with family and enjoy a mini break away from everything else (Saturday had been hectic for a whole other reason).

It marked the first time in months that I picked up my big camera, expecting to get lost in the treasures, tapestries and architecture of the big house. What actually happened was that, just before our timed entry started, I realised my audio recorder had fallen off my bag and disappeared, lost forever (despite some frantic searching). That left me a little lacking in inspiration, so whilst the house was extremely interesting, I’m afraid that I barely took a single shot before lunch.

Once we’d eaten, we decided to explore the wider grounds and get away from the manicured lawns and beautifully arranged vegetable beds. The grounds at The Vyne are dominated by water, with a series of man made lakes and rivers running down the centre, captured and diverted from naturally occurring wetlands ‘upstream’. Near the main house, the lakeshore is dominated by viewing spots and feels artifical, though pleasant. As you get further away, though, the wild creeps back in and starts to dominate the senses.

Huge banks of rosebay willowherb, thistle and willow rise up to meet deciduous forest. I was immediately struck by the wealth of butterflies surrounding us. The water was alive with movement from the fish beneath and the calm (at times) paddling of mallard, coot, moorhen, swan and tufted duck above. Squirrels chattered through the trees, momentarily disrupting bird song. And everywhere – everywhere! – that you looked,  bright blue damselflies darted through the air, never breaking their restless patrol of the waterways.

It was fantastic! I routinely trailed the group, pausing to watch a hoverfly balance precariously on the breeze or male beautiful demoiselles fighting over a patch of stream. It re-energised me, and whilst I doubt I got a single “keeper” of a shot I had a lot of fun trying. It made me realise how little time I’ve had with nature over the past 12 months.

Since moving to London in March (what?! yes, this has happened but more to come on that later) I haven’t felt disconnected from the wild. We live near both a large park and the Thames, we have parakeets routinely flying overhead and we even have a small roof ‘garden’ which is becoming increasingly green. Comparing day-to-day sightings, I probably see more large mammals and garden birds then we ever did in Taunton or even Devon.

But there is something different about truly wild places. Something that’s hard to pin down, to formalise or describe as a tick list. The areas around The Vyne aren’t necessarily “wild” in the true sense; after all, they form part of a heavily managed and well funded estate and are based on a Tudor-through-Victorian notion of upper class land management, not natural forces. But they reward and, crucially, encourage exploration – they have  secrets!

The quote at the top of this article is from a post on Rewilding Britain by Gill Lewis, which neatly puts into words some of my instinctive feelings about the nature in London. It’s not that it doesn’t exist, and I am joining hundreds of others in trying to create a fragmented network of wild(er) spaces across the capital, but there’s something that still feels lacking.

Perhaps it’s the never ceasing background hum of traffic and Heathrow, or perhaps it’s that even the least manicured space still feels somehow ‘allowed’ to exist, as if its fate is very much in the hands of the people around it. But something imperceptible was different when I walked around the man-made lakes at The Vyne compared to the man-made gardens at Kew. Somehow, there were just fewer dragons…

 

Willow, Wetlands & Nostell Priory [#11]

Nostell Estate & Wetlands Centre

Edit (21/05/18): Due to an issue with Yahoo, I no longer have access to the Flickr account linked below. If you’re interested in my photography, check me out at theAdhocracyUK instead.


Well, despite my best intentions, it has been almost a year since I last finished and uploaded a Flickr album. There are many, many albums at 90% complete or over, but I tend to find that I lose interest right at the final hurdle. It’s something I’m working on, much like my writing (speaking of, we’re at #10 and counting!), so hopefully there will be plenty more posts like this in 2017.

The first half of the pictures were taken in the grounds of Nostell Priory, a National Trust property located near Doncaster which we dropped into on our way back from visiting friends in Durham. It was a flying visit, really just allowing us to break the trip and stretch our legs, so I’d say Nostell has a lot more to offer than what we experienced, but what we did see was rather charming. I’m not sure if it was the Spring flowers coming into bloom or the rarely nice weather, but the grounds had a slightly enchanted feel to them. The various follies, Medieval quarry and distinctly Victorian concept of the Menagerie Garden combined to imbue certain areas with a quality reminiscent of Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series. It felt like the house and grounds had been built on top of a more fantastical, ancient and much more secretive estate. I imagine it would have been an amazing place to grow up in and would definitely recommend it, whether for a full day out with the whole family or just an idle wander.

The second half of the album is comprised of a small number of shots from another brief outing, this time to the Willows & Wetlands Visitor Centre. Run by Coates English Willow, the centre is really just a shop and small (but very pleasant) café that allows access down onto a part of the Somerset Levels. There is a small museum and plenty of information displays, but we didn’t spend too much time with either. Instead, we spent our time exploring the various trails through the surrounding farmland, woods and down onto the flats themselves. Various willow animals have been scattered amongst the paths, all of which were wonderfully well set (I was particularly fond of the swooping eagle). Again, we didn’t spend a huge amount of time at the centre but I would definitely say it was worthwhile. Seeing an area of Somerset which still actively pumps the fens and plants up the willow beds was really interesting and, in its own way, quite beautiful.