Monday, 17 February 2014

Raindrops and Snowdrops

Greetings from Atlantis!  Ok we may not quite be a lost city beneath the waves but we are damned close.  It seems incredible that, after the last few months of blog posts where I have mentioned the weather, there are STILL more dramatic scenes of wind and water to record – but there it is. 
 Here we are, mid Feb and the River Test which has held its own for so long has finally burst its banks and flooded into Mottisfont.  The fields surrounding our visitor carpark and the entrance are now a rippling lake which is creeping ever further into the road – much more and it will be cut off.  We have spent the week sandbagging tenant cottages, visitor reception and Lower Lodge house, not to mention the endless clearing up of fallen trees on roads, in rivers and over fence lines.  However, whilst I am heartily sick of spending my working hours soaking wet, filthy and run ragged I do totally appreciate the fact I am one of the lucky ones who can go home to a dry, warm house with power – unlike so many people in the UK right now who have had their homes flooded out and their possessions ruined. 
A large Oak came down across Bengers Lane, the main road at Mottisfont, which took 3 chainsaws and a tractor to clear.

The view from the bridge of the River Test outside Mottisfont - the true river channel should only be on the far right.

Full moon over our flooded fields - scenic but soggy!

I read a very interesting article the other day about the whole flooding issue and the use of river catchments.  A lot of it was to me, a student of geography, common sense, but it is amazing how this sense has not been integral to the decisions and plans drawn up with regards to how we manage river catchments – especially the bit about land clearing grants being increased, whilst tree planting grants are going...give the article a read and see what you think.  I’ve not read the book by the same author, and I have heard he is rather opinionated but I do think this article is a very worthwhile and fascinating read (especially when you have an idiotic UKIP councillor blaming the floods on ‘God’s opposition to gay marriage!’ And I thought we were in the 21st century!).


Anyway I have another reason not to be too downhearted by the weather – I skived off to Egypt for 6 days last week to escape the threat of trench foot and be enveloped by the Saharan sun and the balmy azure waters of the Red sea.  Flying out of Gatwick (luckily between storms) we ascended through the grey fleecy cloud up, up, up and suddenly....ahhhhh...sunlight burst through, rapidly constricting our pupils which were unused to such golden light.  The sky was as beautiful a blue as I remembered and the sun seemed to shine all the brighter and clearer for us not having seen it for so long.  I mashed my face against the little porthole window through which I could feel the warmth that was previously only a summer seemed so uncanny and strange that above those storms and gales this idyllic scene of gold and blue lay calmly waiting – even though you know it’s there, when you are down in the endless rain and gloom it just doesn’t seem believable.
A distant memory - blue sky and the saharan desert.

Then followed 6 days of Egyptian sun during which we snorkelled some of the most vibrant and colourful coral reefs I’ve ever seen; every centimetre was humming and throbbing with life, shoals of neon coloured fish, turquoise lipped giant clams, corals of purple and gold and patrolling triggerfish and parrot fish lit up the sea like a rainbow in a raindrop.  Amongst my favourite were the puffer fish that blew themselves up when you got close and the box fish – a cute, slightly baffled looking fish who seems permanently confused as to why it is shaped like a cube.

However, I must not let the reader dwell on such visions of paradise – back to the flooded isle of Mottisfont.  Half term is now upon us and we kicked off the weekend with our Wild snowdrop walks.  These took people out across our parklands and into a private woodland on the estate within which lies a beautiful display of snowdrops.  I created these walks with the enthusiastic dedication of our Outdoor Guide Team, a large group of volunteers who run daily tours around the gardens and the Duck grounds for members of the public.  The Outdoor Guides were keen to do more tours and so we started the Wild snowdrop walks last year and, due to the huge success and high demand we have continued them this year.  Planning countryside events are always a bit of a hit and miss affair as we are always so reliant on the weather and the seasons. 

Our Snowdrop woodlands
For advertising purposes, dates have to be set 6 months or so in advance which of course makes it hard to predict if the seasons will play ball.  Last year everything came out late due to the ongoing cold winter and as a result I had to cancel a bluebell walk we had planned – as there were no bluebells out in time.  This year I was concerned that with the warm winter things might start to bloom early – indeed there are bluebell leaves already emerging – and that the tours may miss the peak of the snowdrops. 
However despite my fears, the snowdrops have pulled it out the bag and are at their peak across the gardens and the estate looking fantastic in rain or shine.  The Outdoor Guides are doing a fantastic job of leading the walks and we have another weekend of wild snowdrop walks next weekend so do come along to Mottisfont and join a tour – but be warned; wear wellies!

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