Deepest, Darkest Dorset

Let me introduce a little ‘pet’ I found in deepest, darkest Dorset. I’m sure he’ll make the perfect guard dog; he’ll even deal with troublesome neighbours. I may name him Fido.

We’ve only visited Dorset once before and now, living far closer, we explored more of the area. We stayed in lovely accommodation, sharing the use of the owners’ wonderful garden. So wonderful, it rather inspired me so that I brought several plants home from garden centres in the area. It’s official — I cannot add another plant to the garden from here on. It’s simply jampacked. I’ve also got a clear idea of what I’ll do with our next garden should we get the chance to make another move. This garden is far too established to change now.

We kept things simple for me as I find going out and about currently difficult for health reasons, choosing to visit gardens, houses, maybe a beach, starting with a day out, in and around Abbotsbury, which is an attractive village built in bluff stone. We visiting Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens and the Abbotsbury Swannery. They’re separate but close by and you can save by purchasing a ticket for both at either attraction without having to go to each on the same day. All the birds are free, but as they’re fed twice a day and provided with appropriate pens and nesting material, they choose to nest here. At the time we went, the cygnets were hatching, and it was full on cuteness overload.

Cerne Abbas is worth visiting for a short while, though there’s not much there. We did a circular walk along the river into the village, around the buildings on the oldest street (much my favourite), and to the abbey. Reviews complain about the price to enter the abbey grounds, and I see the point. At £2.50 a head (paid via honesty box), it’s pricey for what’s there.

The Oldest Street

From the grounds of the old cemetery, one can head into the woods and even up to and around the Cerne Giant, though it’s now fenced off to protect it. We headed further out and then made our way back, at last heading down on what to me felt like an almost vertical descent. The so-called ‘steps’ on the left side of the giant are hardly that.

Visions of ‘As You Wish’ tumbling down the hillside for those of who you’ve seen The Princess Bride

We looked at the giant from the viewpoint (best way to see it, anyway, so unless you love walking save yourself the trek), and had a much needed cream tea in the garden of the local tearoom.

Cerne Giant

Nearby, though going over the border into Somerset, are the National Trust properties of Montacute House, and Tintinhull Gardens. Back into Dorest, there’s Kingston Lacy and, though not National Trust there’s Thorncroft Woods, which contains Thomas Hardy’s cottage, which is. We also explored Minterne Gardens and made our way over to Weymouth, though I found that to be a little too quintessential ‘British beach holiday’ material for me. I far prefer less crowded long winding beaches, or small secret coves.

Husky Sledding

This week I thought I’d focus on ‘out and about’ with a flashback of a fabulous holiday we took a few years ago. One of the treats on that excursion was to go husky sledding.

Alaskan huskies differ from the Siberian huskies we’re more used to seeing. Alaskans are more of a mixed dog—some look similar to the Siberian but most are very different, almost a blended breed.

Don’t know what I expected, and the animals were definitely friendly and happy, and they certainly wanted to do nothing but run, but it surprised me they live in outside kennels all their lives. I asked someone about this when we returned and was told, “They’re happiest with what they know and are accustomed to.” Apparently, on one run we didn’t go on when they stopped for a break and a hot drink round a fire, one dog slipped her harness and ran ‘home’ — something she likely wouldn’t have done were she miserable.

We saw huskies in two places—both had excellent facilities in terms of veterinary care. I was also worried about their old age, so was happy to hear they have ‘retirement plans’. In Tromso, we were told this starts with the owner asking the staff if they will take a dog coming up for retirement, but as we were also told, you’re talking about a dog that’s been outside all its life—it doesn’t know warmth and it doesn’t know your sofa isn’t for chewing—and in the morning when you let it out for its morning toilet it’s going to want to go for a run… for, oh about ten miles over the nearest mountain. In short, it’s not a thing to do lightly, but someone also assured me they can make excellent house dogs and can adapt.

They also assured us they have wonderful lives. For all I know they do—that’s a matter of opinion and some people will struggle with working dogs and the Norwegian way of life. I can only say the dogs seemed happy, were in good condition, and were definitely friendly.

Of the nine puppies we got to play with three were very interested in my boots. They ganged up on my boot ribbons (as opposed to laces) and feathers, and all I could do was laugh. If we never get another chance we’re glad we went sledding once. Just a word of warning though—you take some hard jolts and as my other half found out, when the snow is soft the sledge can take an unexpected tilt and you can get attacked by twigs and trees. Joking aside, he took a whack to the shoulder and a clip to the ear. He’s lucky it wasn’t worse, but we’ll certainly never forget playing in the snow.

Getting Lost in Cornwall

As we head into winter, there surely cannot be a better time to reflect on a little summer sunshine. Earlier in the year, we were lucky enough to visit the Lost Gardens of Heligan, near Mevagissey in Cornwall. Some say they’re the most beautiful gardens in the UK. Though I wouldn’t go that far — there are many gardens which all have their own character and beauty — the Lost Gardens have long been a favourite of ours. Created by the Cornish family, Tremayne, the over 200 acres of garden was restored in the 1990s having suffered neglect following the First World War. One of the most notable areas is that of The Jungle, a wild area filled with subtropical ferns including a boardwalk and rope bridge, but there are also many other parts, including vegetable gardens, and animal enclosures.

A Walk around Siblyback Lake

I’ve not been able to share much in the way of days out for some time owing to the Covid situation and a few ailments, but with the lifting of restrictions and a little perseverance, I’ve managed to get out and about lately. Here’s one of my recent days out, walking around Siblyback Lake. We went on quite a cloudy day, but the sun showed itself enough to make for a pleasent visit.

Part of the S.W. Lakes Trust, Siblyback Lake sits within the stunning landscape of Bodmin Moor in Cornwall. Offering numerous recreational pursuits from a simple walk around the supposedly 3 mile circumference of the lake, which also provides an Activity Centre for those who wish to hire equipment for water sports.

Note: I say supposedly because many of these distances seem to be measured ‘as the crow flies’ and we measured with the aid of my pedometer and our judgement more at four to four and a half miles, but the path is well-laid out and the walk enjoyable lasting a comfortable time at a steady pace.

If you can believe anyone with half a brain cell would want to try it, there are signs instructing visitors not to dive from Siblyback Dam, or to cycle or skateboard down the steps.

There is a cafe which has a great reputation; unfortunately, the day we visited, although we arrived before 11am, they’d already run out of most supplies, and it was a 25 minute wait for anyone wanting cooked food brought to a table. I’m assuming this was something to do with misjudging the demand, a problem with the supply chain, and possibly staff storages owing to the Covid situation. If this was normal service, I don’t see how they would keep their high rating. We could only buy a single sausage roll and a brownie which we shared. Both were nice (brownie better than the sausage roll), though came at a price.

The way in isn’t too bad with only a small stretch being a single track road where you might meet oncoming cars, and there’s additional parking before you reach the Activity Centre which is where the main parking is situated.

Update Sept 2020

Hi Everyone!

AT HOME:

We got out for two walks and spent some time planning others where we can keep to ourselves as much as possible. The garden earned a little attention, even though spider season started, and I’m still dabbling with artwork with lots of ideas. And we learned they’re getting round to at long last laying tarmac on some local roads, but apparently with no regard to waste collection getting through. Oh joy!

FILM/TV:

We finished Season 1 and 2 of Star Trek Discovery with mixed emotions. I liked some characters, but after season 2, I’m torn whether to bother when season 3 arrives. I felt quite satisfied with a partial open-ended storyline, especially as this should fit into earlier events around the time of the original series. I’m unsure where it’s going interests me all that much. May well shelve it until/unless there’s little else to watch.

Like many others we tuned into Ratched, the Netflix series based on Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The series didn’t have quite the punch I expected, but I like how the line between good and bad blurred and they gave the storylines deeper consideration than they might have. And, although they directly took one element from Stephen King’s ‘The Green Mile’, they used it to startling effect. Not for anyone squeamish.

READING:

Darkness Comes (aka Darkfall), Dean Koontz

Very much a mixed offering, and even though this is an early example in this author’s career, it feels weaker than some others that came before. There was as much I liked about it as I disliked. I wanted to care about the characters more. It’s fun in a B-Movie way. The monsters of the story come straight out of Lovecraft. Whether this is a bad thing it’s hard to say. There are a few creepy moments but not as many as in other novels and the threat seemed diminished by introducing the antagonist who seemed rather cartoon-like to me. Still, I’m not knocking a novel that was perfectly acceptable at the time it released, but I reread this as part of a book clearance and have no problems letting go of it.

Lost Innocents (ebook), Jacquelynn Luben

This reads at first like a well-plotted standard detective story, but I especially liked that a journalist undertakes the detecting. The stories don’t at first appear to connect, but, of course, they do. Also, it’s towards the end of the book the subtext truly comes to light.

The Witcher: The Tower of the Swallow, Andrzej Sapkowski

This series reads as a set of three, and a set of five. The first three have an entertaining, jumpy, short story feel, with the following five more serious books making up a set of novels. The first three are much more fun. Book four of that five is the best yet with Ciri coming into her own and going through the worse trials, Gerait and Yennifer pursuing her for the right reasons with plenty of villains snapping at all their heels. Though the way the author writes and presents these stories receives mixed reactions, I like the non-chronological story telling. There were a few slower sequences that felt like a bit of an info dump, but otherwise I loved all the story elements.

Revival, Stephen King

This is one example of an author choosing a perfect title. The theme resonates throughout the book. Scary? Overall, I would say no, though the payoff is potentially terrifying. I found the story absorbing and well written.

Sophie’s World, Jostein Gaarder

A magical, mystical blend of fact and fiction that makes for an excellent teaching aid for anyone wanting to learn about philosophy. I felt a little disconnected with the book at first — as though the letters to Sophie were a bit too much like sitting in a classroom, but as it progressed, I became swiftly hooked. The ending also felt a little too long, but overall the experience is not unlike falling down the rabbit hole, and I wish I had read this many years ago. Though I knew some facts, I didn’t know them all. The book even touches on the subject of natural selection, and implications of more artificial selections/mutations caused by pesticides and disease control. The book is just as relevant today as when first written. It’s a lot to take in, but if you want a whirlwind tour of history and how philosophy has helped to shape our lives, this is an amazing book.

WRITING:

I must begin by saying that I heard at the beginning of September of the sad, sudden death of Celina Summers. She was a strong and talented woman. She, and the people she introduced me to when she ran Musa Publishing, taught me so much, and she was inspirational. She spoke up for others and I recall her work came close to attracting the attention of one of the Big Six publishers on two occasions, rejected once because they had recently published something similar. Having read her work, I can honestly state she was an excellent and imaginative writer who deserved recognition. I was disheartened by her near miss and am truly choked by her passing.

I’m reaching the end of the third quarter of my first draft of my first horror novel. I stress draft, purely because my novels to date haven’t had to joggle the cast in quite this fashion. I will shelve this for a while when complete before I rewrite some passages and edit. And as I stated last month, Night to Dawn magazine releasing in October will feature reprints of my short story The Wolf Moon, and my poem, Ichabod, Ichabod, Ichabod.

Stay happy and healthy!

Sharon x

Update March 2020

Hi Everyone!

OUT AND ABOUT:
Well, without the need of hindsight, we’d have preferred not to have gone away. Alas, rules stated that holiday companies have the right to insist you go so at the time of travelling we had little choice other than to lose a lot of long-saved money for a holiday we’ve been planning over several years and trying to take for the last three. The first year we couldn’t get a flight, the second I was too unwell, and, this time, though I’ve issues I now have to deal with the rest of my life, I struggled through and reached the Caribbean…only to have our holiday cancelled mid-trip. The good news is they brought us home on time and no one became ill. I still didn’t reach the islands I hoped to and now don’t know if I ever will.

On that note, and in this bleak time, I’ll leave you a view of what certainly looks like paradise.

FILM/TV:
As we’ve been away, we’ve not done much viewing but as we’re spending a great deal more time inside we quickly caught up with The Outside, Avenue 5, and Locke & Key. I enjoyed Locke & Key but had to cringe a little in episode 9 over several characters’ stupidity, and in episode 10 I guessed the outcome and all the ‘surprises’. Maybe it comes from being a writer, although I think I’ve always been a little like this.

READING:
Lanny, Max Porter
While it may not be for everyone, there’s no denying Max Porter has his own style. Written in an abstract, patchy way, Lanny reveals the story of a child gone missing, throwing an ugly light on the duplicities of human emotion and reaction. Though I found this style of storytelling a little too fragmentary, the book’s ultimately unsettling and effective in parts. Yet I can see how the style will frustrate many rather than seem artistic. Either creative or pretentious and difficult to choose which. Good for those who don’t mind the surreal, a departure from traditional narrative, though I would urge reading a sample before purchasing.

I’ve Got Your Number, Sophie Kinsella
My first read by this author, though it may not be my last. I’ve seen some reviews about the implausibility of the plot, but with this style of book I’m happy to hang up any sense of disbelief at the door. It’s light, fun, well plotted with characters well developed enough for the story. I found the footnotes annoying at first, but soon got used to them. I’d happily pick up another book, though this isn’t the type of story I often read.

Don’t Point That Thing at Me, Kyril Bonfiglioli
The first of the Mortdecai novels, though fun, was a little slower in pace than I expected and with sidetracks and wanderings as without restraint as Mordecai himself. I’ve never read what someone ate or the copious amounts someone drank (made my liver wince) to such a degree in a novel. Still, this is undeniably classic and I couldn’t help warming to Charlie Mortdecai and loving his thug of a servant, Jock.

WRITING:
None to report though now I’m back I’m diving into several projects. And don’t forget my short story, Bead Trickling Laughter, is in April’s edition of Night to Dawn, available from Amazon (print), search Night to Dawn 37, or directly from the publisher (print or pdf) https://bloodredshadow.com/ . “Carol Ann never expected to return to Aunt Margaret’s old house on Church Hill, but when her adopted sister, Cheryl, dies upon the stairs outside, a greater mystery than death calls her home.”

Happy Reading!
Sharon x

Update Dec 2019

Hi Everyone!

OUT AND ABOUT:
Aside from visiting family over Christmas time seemed to get away from us, though we managed our annual trip to Killerton House, a National Trust Property, to see the themed decorations. This year was The Night Before Christmas but we were a little disappointed when comparing with the previous years. Still, the day we went was perfect with crisp sunny weather, particularly when in the days after much of the UK would see nothing but rain.

FILM/TV:
Have started Daredevil having watched the other Marvel series and so far find this to be my favourite, though I have one pet hate that seems to run through many television shows. There’s not a second to spare but the characters have time for a long heart-felt discussion.

Also spent time with our favourite Christmas films which invariably includes two black and white originals, It’s a Wonderful Life, and The Bishop’s Wife. Both have several messages as appropriate today as they’ve always been.

Though we enjoyed the BBC adaptations of His Dark Materials, and The War of the Worlds to various degrees and though I freely admit to only seeing the second part, I disliked their updated version of A Christmas Carol which I found distasteful and boring.

READING:
The Salmon of Doubt, Douglas Adams
A collection of essays and a well put-together but incomplete last Dirk Gently novel, I can see how this will always garner mixed reviews. Overall, I enjoyed this book as there’s something poignant about reading Adams’ words one last time that makes this a fond farewell, but the lack of an end to the Dirk Gently book left me disappointed and wistful, but the story was shaping up so well I’m glad to know as little as I now do. Maybe one for true aficionados but a touching book to add to a collection.

The Cabin at the End of the World, Paul Trembley
My first read by this author but not my last. I wasn’t sure about the style at first but that made it different and I was so quickly drawn in and almost instantly riveted. A cabin in the woods, end of the world, hostage situational horror story with a twist and real uncertainty that digs into surprisingly emotional depths, and an end I found satisfying. If this is indicative of this author’s work, I’m in for a treat with his other titles.

The Reddening, Adam L.G. Nevill
The Reddening paints a highly descriptive portrait of the South Devon coastline unlike any I’ve read before, bringing the setting to life and creating a realistic landscape in which anything, even the horrors of the book, seem possible. Nevill’s way of writing horror through not only what is said, but also what’s not said, and left to the imagination, is perhaps worse than the words on the page. Several scenes had me so engrossed I even jumped once when I lost track of time disturbed by someone coming home and opening the front door. Nevill writes intellectual horror enhanced with a rich vocabulary.

The Bishop’s Wife, Robert Nathan
As a fan of the original black & white film, I was curious to read the story. Only able to find this as a 99p download, I took the opportunity. Though the basis of the plot are present in both, they are very different expressing both similar and yet varying philosophies. I have to accept I prefer the film which injects humour and perhaps a greater depth to the story.

I’m reading two other works I’ll review in the new year.

WRITING:
My short story, Remnant of a Haunting, a follow-up to my novel, A Very Private Haunting, is now available as an exclusive edition anthology, Loose Ends, from Candy Jar Books.

A re-write and extended edition of a work I’m editing seems to want to change tense on me. I’ll be annoyed if I change my mind and have to set it back but it is tightening the story.

Happy Reading!
Sharon x