A Walk On Midsummer’s Day

This morning we set out, my faithful companion and I, to wander the woods on Midsummer Day. The paths were cool and shaded green, sun glimmering through the leaves to create patterns of light and dark. In short, it was a pretty magical way to start the day.

I have a long tradition of going to the woods on Midsummer. When I was small, my grandmother used to take me there to look for fairies – whether we found any or not I can’t say, but it always seemed a magical time to me. My grandmother knew the name of every flower and taught it to me, as well as phrases of her native Welsh. We would pick snowdrops in springtime, wandering through the village with our large basket overflowing with tiny white bells and green leaves, which we then parcelled into posies for gifts.

When I lived in Australia, the summer solstice occured just before Christmas, so it was a slightly different celebration. Still, I always tried to surround myself with green leaves, whether walking by the Yarra or driving through the Mornington Peninsula hinterland, where twisted pines reached for the sky and once, magically, kangaroos bounded across the road as dusk was falling, their fur grey as shadow.

Today, however, my canine companion and I took the winding streets and backways until we reached the Little Wood, as it’s called, a small patch of wilderness leading to a green and pleasant meadow, one of doggo’s favourite places to run and play.

The grass was tall, starred with dandelions and buttercups, deep blue speedwell and pink campion, butterflies fluttering here and there. The trees were bursting with green, as though decorated to celebrate the turning of nature’s wheel, the blue sky festooned with clouds.

I threw doggo’s ball for her and she chased it, disappearing into the long grass and emerging decorated with dandelion seeds, lying down to have a rest every once in a while. We saw one of her doggy friends from puppy training and they had a play, then we wandered back past the broken tree, while ravens danced in the high branches.

We left the meadow, taking the main road back home, entering the world of men once more. But I carried a little piece of forest magic with me…

Happy solstice, everyone – may your light shine bright 🙂


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Birthday Bug

I haven’t blogged for about a week, probably the longest break I’ve had since I started blogging just over three years ago. We’ve had a bit of a sickness bug in the house this past week, plus the gorgeous girl had a birthday with various celebrations to plan and enjoy, so it’s been a very busy time.

I even missed my Wednesday Wander last week – I had all good intentions of writing one, but the day just ran away with me. However, I have one planned for tomorrow so will be back to it again.

I haven’t even been able to get out for my usual walks – and I love this time of year. I love the way the sun slants low in the sky, the colours in the clouds and the trees, the last remnants of colour before the starkness of winter arrives. My apple tree still has a few forlorn apples left on it, and there are berries on the bushes – early Christmas decorations, perhaps?

I’ve also been flat out finishing some editing work – Ambeth is getting another instalment soon, as well as some different reading options, so watch this space (or sign up for my newsletter!) for more details.

Hoping to be back to a regular blogging schedule again soon. How is everyone out there? Wishing you all a good week 🙂

 

Saturday Reflections

I’ve written before about how I live close to a stretch of the Grand Union Canal, and how I often walk to work along the canal path (a rather splendid way to start the day, if I’m honest).

The walk takes me past modern developments and old lock cottages, passing by an ancient pub and under several bridges, though I’ve found no trolls to date, thank goodness!

There are boats I see regularly moored, people with whom I exchange greetings and conversation, such as the man who discussed collecting autumn leaves with me, peering out from the low door of his picturesque narrow boat. He felt the red ones were the most special of all, and would preserve them between plastic laminate.

The canal changes with the days, sometimes alive with ripples, or flecked with gossamer seed from the overhanging trees. I’ve seen silver fish jumping, kingfishers and herons, watched swans grow from egg to chick to graceful grey birds, following their snowy parents along the dark water.

At times the water is as smooth and flat as glass, an illusion so perfect you almost feel you could step on it and it would hold your weight, so solid does it seem. On these days it perfectly reflects; as above, so below.

And so it was the other morning when I walked to work. I couldn’t linger too long, as I had somewhere to be, but I couldn’t resist taking these shots. And I thought I would share them with you.

Happy weekend, everyone!


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Wednesday Wander – Highgate Cemetery, London

It’s Wednesday, and it’s time to wander once more. This week I’m heading to a rather unusual attraction in London, a place one could describe as the ‘dead centre’ of town. This is Highgate Cemetery.

Up until the 1830’s, burial in London was a somewhat haphazard affair, with burial grounds crammed into small spaces, highly unsanitary in a large city with a growing population. In 1836, in response to the growing health crisis, Parliament passed an act creating the London Cemetery Company. Land was set aside to create seven new cemeteries, one of which was Highgate.

Opened in 1839, Highgate Cemetery was created after the acquisition of seventeen acres of private land, set on a steep hillside overlooking the city. Its elevated position encouraged the wealthy to invest, as did the effort expended on exotic formal planting and Gothic architecture. Burial rights were granted for either a limited period or in perpetuity, and the first burial there was of Elizabeth Jackson, aged 36.

The cemetery became so popular that a second site across the road from the original, known as the East Cemetery, was opened in 1860. Many famous people chose to spend their eternity among the trees, including writers, musicians and political figures.

However, after the Second World War the cemetery’s fortunes began to wane and in 1960 the London Cemetery Company was declared bankrupt. The cemetery closed and its future was uncertain, with vandalism and desecration damaging some of the graves. In 1975 The Friends of Highgate Cemetery was formed, work began on repairing and restoring the cemetery, and it was opened to the public once more.

Nowadays you can take tours of the West Cemetery, wandering among the Victorian graves. I went this summer past, and could have spend literally hours there just reading the inscriptions, stories told of lives lived and families intertwined.

However, the West Cemetery can only be viewed by taking a tour, so we booked in and were taken around by an affable and entertaining volunteer, who clearly loved his job. The tour took just over an hour and included the Egyptian Avenue, a passageway containing sixteen vaults accessed by an imposing Egyptian style entrance.

We also visited the Circle of Lebanon, a circular structure of thirty-two vaults created by excavating earth around an ancient Cedar of Lebanon, which had been planted when the grounds belonged to a private house.

The tree towers above the vaults and is a fantastic sight to see, testament to the imagination of the cemetery designers.

Once the tour was finished we went across to the East Cemetery, where you can, for a small entrance fee, wander freely among the graves. (If you take the tour of the West Cemetery, entrance to the East Cemetery is included). There are many famous names there, including George Eliot, Malcolm Maclaren and Douglas Adams. One of the fascinating things about the cemetery is the sheer creative range of funerary architecture, said to be some of the finest in the country. There are graves with faithful hounds, lions, movie reels and even a grand piano, all final statements of those they memorialise, set forever in stone. And each grave holds a story, a life lived.

The cemetery now faces a new threat. Its romantic overgrown look is wonderful for photographs and meandering walks, but the trees and ivy that have sprung up on and around the tombstones are threatening to clog the cemetery entirely, blocking the once fantastic views of the city skyline and damaging some of the graves. There are discussions underway of how best to manage this without losing the atmosphere of the place. For Highgate is still a working cemetery, and burials still take place there. One of the more recent high profile ones is that of the late, wonderful George Michael, who lived only a short walk away. After our tour we ventured up into Highgate village and stood in front of his house, marvelling at the makeshift memorial that had sprung up to the much-loved singer after his untimely death. The photo below is only a fraction of what’s there – as his grave is in a private part of the cemetery, it was to his house that fans came to pay their last respects.

I realise we are only a day out from Halloween, and so perhaps this was an appropriate wander for this week. However, Highgate is not a spooky place – at least, not during the daytime. It is atmospheric, a little melancholy, and certainly peaceful – I enjoyed my visit there immensely.

Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

 

 

#Monday Motivations – The Bench

Esther Newton does a great writing prompt series called Monday Motivations, and her latest prompt is this lovely photograph. When I saw it a little story came to me, and so here it is:

She remembered when he’d put the bench there. He’d been young then, and strong, muscles firm against his skin, his flesh sweet against hers in the night.

Together they would sit, gazing through the trees, dreaming into the darkness, her head on his shoulder. Sometimes they would bring the radio and dance, holding each other close and swaying like the treetops above. Other times they would talk, making plans of family and home and love so strong it still left her breathless at his loss.

She still went to sit there every day, leaving the house they had built together, her old knees creaking as she negotiated the steps from the back porch. Sometimes she would take a handful of nuts for the squirrels or seed for the birds, especially when winter held the land in an iron grip, her breath misting the air.

Through the seasons she sat, as leaves turned and the evergreens dropped green needles that turned slippery brown under foot. And she would talk to him. ‘Come back to me,’ she would say, tears cool on warm cheeks, or hot against frozen skin. She would tell him her plans, tell him of the family, of all that had passed since the dark day he had left. Eventually, she would stop talking, and lose herself in a dream of summer darkness, of his arm strong around her. She would return to the house and sleep well that night, as though all the hard years since his passing had never been.

There was joy still, in her life. She brought their first grandchild down to meet him, small hand waving from the warm bundle in her arms. Then the second, and the third, speaking their names so he would know them, and they him.

Her family had tried to get her to sell up, to move on. To a place further south where the sun shone all the time, where old joints could feel young again. But she couldn’t leave their special place and, in the end, they came to understand.

And so it was, on a night toward summer’s end, while fireflies danced and the air still held the warmth of the day, that she made her way down to the bench once more, her breath catching as she negotiated the slope. It was silent under the branches, twilight sweeping the sky like soft wings.

She sat down. ‘Come back to me,’ she said, half smiling at her fantasy, dreaming of his touch.

‘I have never left you,’ she heard him say. She looked up, tears in her eyes, to see him standing just a little way down the slope. All at once lights were strewn through the branches, as though the fireflies had been bottled and shaken out along the leaves, glimmers of gold lighting his face, his dark hair, as he smiled at her, holding out his hand.

She stood, and it was as though she shed her skin, all the things that had weighed her down leaving her, so she was light as a soap bubble, rising through the air. She half ran to him, not slipping on the dry needles, her footing sure. She took his hand. ‘Oh!’ Her exclamation was soft, a whisper in the night, as she felt his warm fingers around hers once more.

‘I have missed you,’ she said.

‘And I you,’ he replied. ‘Even though I could see you, and hear you, it wasn’t the same. But now…’

‘Now?’

He said nothing, just looked past her, back to the bench. She turned and, when she saw the slumped body there, like a pile of old clothes, discarded, she understood.

And there was lightness all through her and around her, a thousand fireflies in the night, as she danced with her love once more.


If you enjoyed this post and want to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJ,  Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon.

#writephoto – Day 22 – We Dance

anglesey-bryn-holy-island-wales-001Sue Vincent’s #writephoto image this week is a gorgeous shot of mist and trees, and as soon as I saw it these words came to me:

We are mist, smoke, hidden things. We dance along branches and through the hedgerows, down chimneys and across the floorboards before slipping out into dusk once more.

You may see us, sometimes. A glimpse on a frosty morning, a flicker of light in shimmering twilight, a cool whisper in an ancient place. We are always here, though we are forgotten now.

Yet if you seek us you will find us, and we will welcome you. For we are part of you, despite the things people say. Despite the years of turning away, of relegating us to fairy mounds and haunted tales, we are still here.

And we dance, pale pinpricks of light in the gathering dark, a warm glow in a cold world. Mist and wood, ash and stone. You are never alone.

We are the old ones, and we dance.

To read more responses to the image, or to add one of your own, head over to Sue’s Blog. And yes, my response also covers today’s prompt for the 30 Day Writing Challenge, which is: Things People Say.


If you enjoyed this post, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJ,  Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon.

30 Day Writing Challenge – Day Seventeen – Early Morning

img_4673Earlier this week I shared this image on my Instagram account. It was taken one early morning as I walked past the park. Mist hung low beneath the trees, the light behind turning them to silhouettes and it seemed so serene to me, the mist like a blanket on the grass, that I had to stop and take a photo. It also reminded me a little of my first Ambeth book, Oak and Mist. Perhaps if I’d stepped between the trees I would have found myself… somewhere else.

I usually wake up early. I am a morning person – once I’m awake it’s very tough for me to go back to sleep again. However, I don’t like to feel rushed in the morning. I’d much prefer to wake a half hour earlier and breakfast leisurely, rather than running around in a panic to leave the house on time.

img_3684While away with The Silent Eye on a magical weekend, we watched the sun rise. It was bitterly cold but clear, ancient rock formations wreathed with mist like dragon’s breath, golden light turning small graven pools to mirrors. It was utterly beautiful. I do believe there is magic in the  turn from night to day, and day to night – they are moments of power, of possibility.

img_3702And so early morning, like early evening, is one of my favourite times of day.

This was my response to Day 17 of the 30 Day Writing Challenge – today’s prompt is: Early Morning


If you enjoyed this post, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJ,  Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon.