Mowing Past

As the grass cutting season picks up pace, I’ve found myself contemplating my relationship with lawn-grass, and after spending so many days of my life being paid to cut it, I have to say I’m quite torn – maybe I’ve had my fill. In fact, if I had a delete button for the lawn in my back garden, despite the beautiful green look it presents, I might well choose to press it and do away with the lawn completely. For me then, might my home lawn mowing days be nearing their end?

Perfect Partners

Being around the middle of May, the grass growing season is racing away with itself, and so grass cutting of course is quite topical. Verges along roads and garden lawns have moved in just a few short weeks from being chilled-out to a state of relentless growth, and the variable buzz of mowers has once again returned to our gardens. Duty-bound folks with various contraptions are busying themselves mowing and chopping grass in order to keep up with the flow.

On mowing itself, I’d be fascinated to know how many miles I’ve travelled in the last few decades sitting on, pushing or being pulled along by mowers, thousands I expect. Valuable time spent calmly and methodically working my way around shapes and spaces, cutting and re-cutting areas repeatedly until the desired look was achieved.

Across differing lawns in various gardens I’ve plied my trade, working calmly and methodically, often knowing that all would need cutting again the next week, also knowing how important each lawn was to the accepted aesthetic of the garden. I’d try my best not to hit any exposed tree roots, or leave mohawk strips of tufty grass where I hadn’t sufficiently overlapped, and on countless occasions I’ve abruptly stopped on a sixpence due to a bee not taking its leave from a daisy or clover flower. In fact, I’ve also lived with the guilt of mowing the daisies themselves – although that may account for me loving and embracing wild flower lawn areas throughout my gardening years.

Now, to write about a mowing past without mentioning the mowers themselves, would be akin to referring to a formula one race winner without mentioning their car, and if you’ll pardon the pun; without a mower most gardeners just wouldn’t cut it. I can therefore claim to have played with, sorry, used a good few of the darn things over the years.

The most memorable mowing machines have for me been ride-on types. Top ranking models with cylinder cutters and three fast spinning sets of scissor sharp blades – ‘triples’ as we used to call them. They were usually a dream to use and easy to manoeuvre, turning on the spot with their rear wheel steering, although in contrast, it was very easy to scuff the grass ‘doughnut-style’ if care wasn’t taken. These machines were brilliant to use until, as often happened, a stone or random piece of metal jammed and chipped a blade – or possibly worse, when their heady diesel fumes were overtaken by the smell of dog dirt whirring through the cylinders – not pleasant at all.

Other ride-on machines featured cutting decks beneath the driver with rotary blades. I must say, these have been the most versatile machines in practice, being able to sort out grass should it ever get out of reach for the cylinder mower, which happens sometimes. I’ve bounced and bobbed along on a good few of these mowers and spent many an hour on the ground scraping sodden grass from blades and jammed belts, and by the way, if I do have green fingers, this is probably where they came from.

Many golden moments were enjoyed gliding smoothly across lawns whilst towed by heavy, wide and close-cutting cylinder mowers; machines built only for the purpose of shaving grass to within an inch of its life. Think sports pitches and large lawns with precise stripes, and quietly purring engines ticking over whilst big ‘buckets’ of powder-like grass is regularly upturned onto tarpaulin sheets.

Naturally, with all my words about mowers, it may sound like I’m obsessed with the machines themselves, but really I’m not. It is just that in most places, especially larger gardens where space is needed for recreation and play, expansive lawns often come as standard. To this end, mowers and mowing in the places I’ve worked have been integral to my life in gardening. At home though, things are slightly different.

It is slightly weird that in all of my home gardens, I’ve needed for practical reasons to adopt more humble methods to keep the lawns looking neat – it may well be the same for you. No ride-on mowers, I could barely afford them let alone get one through the gate. No four-stroke fossil fuelled strimmers or pedestrian mowers, they would be a little over the top. No, my home mowing machines are a little Webb push mower and a battery powered strimmer that serves a need over at the allotment garden too. The setup is simple and small scale, but serves perfectly for the few compact areas of lawn that I have.

But as fiddly as my home mowing goes compared to my professional mowing days, would I really go so far as to remove the lawn entirely? Could I genuinely give up the green that I look upon most every day? You bet I could!

Even though my back lawn is embraced and nurtured for the green and pleasing picture it provides, it can sit entirely wet all winter and bake concrete hard through summer, although those attributes certainly don’t stop me using the space. I do though repeatedly consider the options open to me, and never more so than when, like now, the grass just keeps on growing.

Maybe a mini beach of compacted stone and gravel chip from one herbaceous planted shore to another would be nice, with the odd Miscanthus or Verbscum here and there, that would certainly be useful and picturesque. Potentially, even a few interlocking paved sections with some planting pockets, or maybe even some decking, but definitely no fake grass. There are numerous options for surfacing that could still incorporate some greenery, and each of them could crack the drainage problems whilst reducing the mowing input necessary.

I think the starlings might have something to say though, foraging for cutworms as they do across the lawn each day, and their feathered friends who rely on the springy floor to cushion their landings. For me, the space might also lose a softness which despite the mowing, reliably soothes my view of the garden almost each and every day, and really helps toward my own green oasis.

No, I think that for better or worse, my wet-n-dry lawn is here for the foreseeable future whilst I continue to think on the pros and cons of digging it all up. Maybe after all, I shall continue to push my mower this way and that for the thirty minutes it takes and enjoy the exercise, whilst day-dreaming of the days when I swooshed across acres of well-drained, well-fed lawns. Maybe my humble lawn is safe, for the time being.

Buds to Berries – A Handsome Hawthorn

Fresh new year shoots.

Out of cold grey metal-hardened bark, the softest greenest shoots miraculously appear each spring. Keen new growth for a new season appears from tangled stand alone trees, or from individuals intertwined within field hedgerow communities.

Wire thin, pliable and verdant stems along with tiny fan shaped leaves build and stretch themselves towards the light. As growing days pass, the monotone branch network becomes gradually dressed in green, a true green screen that closes the world to all but the smallest of creatures, who then sing safely from within.

May blossom weeks before bud burst.

From April onwards this new year softness reigns and fills us with hope, but nature’s offer is more than skin deep, as whilst leaves flicker playfully in the breeze, tiny buds busy themselves growing the season’s prettiest white flowers. Yet, despite appearances, a harshness remains hidden, concealed beneath a canopy of hope.

Beyond the pretty facade you see, strong needle sharp thorns grow here and there, awaiting a poorly placed hand. Tiny spears ready to stab with ease and pierce the soft flesh of any man, woman or child who dares to get up too close and personal. Make no mistake, the handsome hawthorn is very capable of defending itself.

The Handsome Hawthorn itself.

Despite the points that get us cussing, treasure this characterful tree we must as spring days pass: for the protection they bring to our gardens, fields and woodland margins, for the flowers that delight our eyes and bees, and for their berries loved by our blackbirds. See the hawthorn tree, enjoy it for all that it is, but beware those thorns!

Written by Gary Webb.

An Old Magnolia Flower

It was an arboretum day filled with the brightest sunshine that beamed down between dense, top-lit clouds. To my foreground amongst grassy blades clothing two falling lawns, dozens of grape hyacinths were enjoying their moment, each with clusters of flowers no bigger than my thumb nail and shaded top to bottom with the lightest powder blue almost to black.

The Japanese style resting house under whose roof I sat, looked out over those flowers and a larger expanse of mown lawn that continued to fall gently away, eventually connecting to a wide and spectacular Cotswold green valley in the distance. Aside from the impressive skies above, the staged scene was completed with tiered tree-like curtains growing in each of the wings.

Batsford Arboretum, Japanese Resting House, Gloucestershire
Japanese Resting House, Batsford Arboretum, Gloucestershire. Gary Webb

Being an arboretum, a place for trees that is, my eyes for all the day were filled with so many treasures that speak of a long history of selection, nurturing, protection and care. From my chosen bench, itself made from time-served polished grain timber, my eyes were spoiled for choice by a living theatre of plants, a stage set just for me.

Lodged in the middle of April, many trees featured bare branches still, although others were bravely beginning to introduce their foliage to the world – bringing acid yellow and minty green highlights to the margins. Others, choosing an altogether different dress for this seasonal stage show, offered crowns filled to the brim with hundreds of the daintiest and most resilient petals I know – each cherry flower joining the next to perform in the sun’s spotlight.

That view….

Winds up high showed their commitment to spring by continually moving those full clouds eastward, but occasionally they’d wend their breezy way down between the conifer spires, and over, around and through the canopies of other trees to stroke some leafy foliage closer to earth. Evergreen tips up high would be the first to sway followed by slender branches of deciduous trees down below, and below that again, daffodils would lean this way and that en-masse. As quick as the wind came though, it would go, leaving nothing but calmness, and one or two more fallen petals from the oldest magnolia flowers.

Sat for a change with nothing on my mind but absorption, this gardener just wished to soak up the scene. It did matter that the location was meant for this activity, the rest house and its orientation chosen very carefully, and it did matter that the trees had been carefully selected too, placed and grown to embellish the entire landscape around this chosen spot.

Buddha at Batsford Arboretum
A flowery offering for Buddha. Image by Gary Webb.

As I pondered, it also became clear that decades, even centuries had been devoted to the creation, tending and presentation of this calming and very special place – a place that otherwise might have very different ideas about its own content and makeup. Variation in the ornamental planting was evident with ages of trees differing widely, and with specimen trees placed to create a scene Mother Nature herself might have set out, given access to such a palette of plants, and with a simple brief of creating a place for the nourishment of human souls.

Despite the calm, noise was everywhere, and there wasn’t a true moment of silence to be had – if indeed that was ever desired. Birds in variety filled that wooded hillside, and to my left and right pheasants barked – if pheasants can be said to bark that is. Beyond nature’s callers, a far away ride-on mower buzzed with its first cut of the year, humming loud and quiet as it turned to and fro, and two chainsaws up-over the hill revved their fossil fueled engines in competing rhythms as they ripped through some wood.

That wind though shushed it all away every now and again, reminding me to stay focussed and to pay attention, and so I did. After much prior strolling I sat, I watched, I listened and explored the place around me from that very seat, and I considered my lot. Whilst looking and moving nothing but my pen, I floated to each and every element in view, and a few more besides, and traded on a million experiences of a valued life spent in such rich environments. 

Prunus ‘Shirotae’. Gary Webb.

Just a few drifting moments away, I felt the smooth sawn bamboo stakes that lined an approach to the rest house steps, and ran my fingers along the rough rope intended to keep unknowing Easter trailers away from the flowers. I sensed the rubbery old magnolia petals placed in the hand of a cold bronze Buddha, and I could hear the sound of long grass whipping shoes that would later carry me home. 

I sniffed the delicious sweet scent from my favourite ’Shirotae’ cherry blossom, and felt the cool waft of spray on my face as I rushed past a fast flowing waterfall below the house. I knew that sticky resin would persist in the folds of my fingers after picking up a pine cone, and I imagined with awe the ghostly block and tackle work that would have been needed to lift the incredibly heavy boulders in to place alongside the craggy stream sides, many moons ago.

Holford Pine Cone
Holford Pine Cone, Batsford Arboretum. Gary Webb.

As people came and went, exploring the resting house inside whilst I sat out, I continued to write and float around that fascinating place, trying not to think but to experience and feel. That whole place, like so many other historic and new gardens and landscapes, was there not only to collect plants, but to bring people together, by creating a range of experiences that moved people. Judging by the reactions of others here and there, it was certainly working.

On arrival, even with a hidden sense of expectation, I felt a bit like a brown edged wrinkled old magnolia flower, whose key task going forward was to feed the roots of the trees that should live on. Now however, after just a short day in a place filled with cherry blossom promises, I feel renewed. I’ve filled my eyes and recharged my soul with colour, grandeur and industry, and I’ve topped up my springtime tank for the days ahead – which are now loooking much brighter. Might you need to do the same?

Written by Gary Webb.

The last difficult “goodbye”.

Describe the last difficult “goodbye” you said.

The last difficult goodbye was just like the one before, and the one before that: quick, cheery, almost effortless. Words spoken at my last goodbye rolled off my tongue because they had to, and that’s taken years of practice.

Going back a few years, I would most often whisper the words “bye for now,” which somehow seemed softer and less permanent, but I really knew that anything I said wouldn’t erase the twelve sleeps that would pass before we could be together again. So with a sinking chest and through tight lips I would attempt a smile, not wanting in any way to appear happy that we were parting. I dread to think how it must have looked to her.

I recall those bright eyes looking back whenever we separated and trying to hold them in mine for as long as I could. We’d hug, and again I’d hold her for as long as possible, not wanting to let go. In some way I hoped that my embrace would reinforce the love and affection I held for her, and I could only hope that it worked.

If those goodbyes ever got easier, it was certainly not from the occasions becoming agreeable, more likely it was repetition. It was a necessary evil we learned to accommodate over years, and only after many lost tears and intense, repeated heartache. The parting still hits me these days of course, but today my bruises, if not my heart, have hardened somewhat.

At the end of every drop-off, in those old days I would wait. I’d busy myself sorting items in the boot or re-tuning the radio or something, whilst really just waiting to see if she was safely seated in her car, and in case she needed to lock eyes one more time. I’d always leave the car park last, having watched as she was driven away from me and that car park. I hated that car park on a Sunday evening, I never wanted to arrive, and always found it hard to leave there too.

Even as she drove away, I would mentally send her encouragement as I began to process another treasured weekend coming to an end. ‘Be strong, be brave’ I would think. “Take care… I love you… sorry…” might also have left my lips as I drove myself slowly away, often squinting to see the road through tear filled eyes.

Jumping back to the present, and my last, most recent goodbye, it was in many ways every part as difficult as the old days. The difference now though is that today my daughter doesn’t climb into her mum’s car, she steps into her own car, and drives away under her own steam.

During the last goodbye random thoughts still filled my head just like they always did. A key difference now is that I willed her to not look back, and to watch the road, take it steady and drive carefully. I usually speak at least two out loud before she’s even fastened her seatbelt.

Since the early days she has grown of course, and my kneeling down dad and daughter hugs have grown up too. Last time, we’d been out for lunch, chatting like proper grown ups at a restaurant but still, inevitably, the time came to leave each other. Before she drove away we hugged, as always, and I tried, as always, to convey in that restricted moment my feelings of affection, comfort, reassurance, support, love and much more. So that last difficult goodbye flew in the face of guilt, it blocked out thoughts of regret, and it focused most genuinely on my feelings of love, the latter element being the one that has bound us together throughout.


It was the beach that drew us on a particular Thursday, whilst staying at Grandma’s house during school’s half term break. A trip out to keep two energetic boys occupied, to busy their minds, to stretch their legs, and to offer respite. Just a week before their Granda had passed away, an immense loss that they, all of us in fact, were still processing. Yet there they were, immersed in a week which on the surface looked like just another holiday week staying over at their grandparent’s house. Except that it wasn’t a normal week at all.

In the background adults were grieving, tearing up at the oddest of moments, and pausing mid conversation, falling deep into thought. We were being especially strong for the boys though, and their Grandma too. Whether it was working none of us knew, but on the surface we were all doing okay, and we moved through the week with the minimum of fuss towards a weekend departure; knowing we’d be back again for the day of all days, less than a week later.

Roker Lighthouse.

On that day though, not for aforementioned reasons, it wasn’t a typical beach day. Their Mam was to stay behind to work from Grandma’s dining room table, as I had done the day before. Beyond that, it was the weather that could and did challenge our trip out to see the sea. Cloudy, possible sun, and a strong possibility of rain later on was the outlook. The offer though to tempt us out was pebble speckled golden sand, lots of it, a harbour with a petite lighthouse, and a modest sea front selection of cafes.

Heading across the road after parking, our fists were already clenched in our pockets and eyes squinting, as the cool coastal wind made its presence felt. Along the promenade we ventured with a handful of the hardiest dog walkers, each with at least one hound in need of a stretch. Down on the shore itself, a terrier like specimen shocked us as it played vigorously in the cold sea, rocking back and forth as it scampered to chase and escape the fast rolling waves.

Tracking along in search of a lunch stop, the marina to the south stopped us in our tracks, forcing an about turn. Previously going with the flow, we then faced into the wind and walked on in search of lunch; a necessary element to ensure the afternoon would have any longevity at all. Passing a meagre cafe offering, it soon became clear that we’d have to adopt the traditional sea side fish and chip format for our food stop, although on that day and in that weather, even that would be something of a challenge.

Eventually we found ourselves sat in a beach hut eating our tasty scran, as I think they say in those parts, each with a single hand buried still in a pocket to keep it warm, the other used of course to wield the chip stabbing wooden forks. If only those huts hadn’t faced north I thought, exactly where the wind was coming from. Still, after a belly full of grub we were fuelled and cooled and ready to take on the beach, regardless of the weather. (So long as it didn’t rain!) So along the front we ventured and down onto the stoney sands, to enjoy the intermittent sunshine.

A smile that says it all.

In no time at all, shouts from the boys were the only thing that surpassed the volume of the wind, as they looked to experience everything that beach had to offer. Rock climbing was first on their agenda, and who could blame them, clambering up huge boulders stacked haphazardly against the sea wall. Smooth, dark stone surfaces facing this way and that, hiding black holes large enough to swallow an unsuspecting leg whole.

Down on the flats, damp and firm underfoot from the morning’s high tide, the golden sand made its presence felt. Desiccating winds coursing left to right across the beach front were constantly drying and lifting the grains, sending them airborne in dreamy ribbons that created streamlined fins on the leeward side of every stone, shell or sea worn stick. As the boys played I walked on a while into the wind, enjoying the sun’s warmth on my face that somehow made its way through, until I reached the pier wall that offered itself up as a shield. There I stayed awhile, leant against the wall watching passers by, my boys in the sandy distance playing happily together for a change.

On my return I realised the youngest of my lads had created some kind of desert scenario for himself, although he was in live-time crawling and dragging himself across the beach using sticks for climbing hooks. His whole face was covered by a neck scarf like some kind of adventurer up against the weather, but it wasn’t to stop his hair, shoes and most of his clothes filling up with sand, as I later discovered. I could see he was getting in a messy state of course, but in the moments I drew near I could picture the play he was making, dragging himself most likely up a Sahara sand dune in a raging storm. So I let him be, not wanting to break that magic.

Adventure is in the mind and heart.

Although chilled, we rattled around that beach for a good while, not knowing when we’d next get an opportunity. I also knew that every moment out in the salty fresh air where worries could blow themselves away, and where innocent fun could still be enjoyed, were our moments to have and to treasure. So we played and spent time together yes, but also had time to ourselves throwing stones into the sea, digging holes, searching for sea glass or just staring at the sea spray flying up behind the pier’s lighthouse.

Now, as I record those moments on the sand, I see smiles and hear shouts as the boys wrestled and experienced some of nature’s seaside elements. Real grins appear as I remember asking them to pose before a seaward rainbow, a rainbow that heralded the shower that would send us packing to the car.

Above all, in a time underpinned with grief and sadness, I know that we all captured an afternoon in time that, despite the wider picture, was unique, irreplaceable, happy, thought provoking and priceless. A valuable moment of respite.

Gary Webb. February 2023.

Just a Park?

A little while ago whilst staying away from home, and with a need for some fresh air, I carried myself and the little ones off to Herrington Park, Sunderland. On the surface, I simply wanted to experience some of the bracing wind, some casual walking and, I hoped, some late February sunshine. There was also an ulterior motive to get the kids away from their screens and outdoors for a while.

Landscaped over twenty years ago, Herrington Park features machine-sculpted hills and hollows and is dressed with hedgerows, trees and shrub-filled thickets. These plantations are busy and mature, now bringing life to the park with significant opportunity for nesting and foraging birds. Additionally, the planting doubles up to control views and create wonderful characterful areas too, where cleverly a path appears to loop behind every shrubbery to draw you always onward. Any Georgian landscape garden worth its salt could hardly have bettered this achievement – if I dare to draw a comparison that is.

New year foliage off and away…

As we walked, I couldn’t help but notice that buds had begun bursting on some of the thorn shrubs – somewhat early I thought. Tiny fresh leaves in patches had unfurled, boldly opening to soak up some of that same winter sun that I sought, appearing from a distance as green confetti caught in thorny twigs. Mind you, with February temperatures hitting double figures of late and hazel catkins visibly shrivelling as their work neared its end, I shouldn’t have been surprised to witness such eagerness for spring.

Aside from the thickly planted, wilder and open pool spaces though, the expansive park is largely mown grass. To this I can’t help but think that its summer cutting offers a monotonous task each week for someone, not least for the extra challenge of trimming a large grass amphitheater, with its many steps and angles. All that cut grass though, aside from creating acres of playing space does assist appreciation of the sculpted ground forms, and when scanning the landscape, those smoothly contoured and mown slopes often encouraged my eyes, if not my feet, to fly out across and into the view.

Layer upon layer of goodness…

There are curvy peaks and troughs across much of the park, but its success for me is the balance struck between detailed, more intimate spaces and wide open ones. On that blustery day, those thoughtfully composed areas worked perfectly to shield us from the weather’s worst, allowing us to sit calmly on a sculpture bench and watch the world go by in one spot, whilst also giving opportunity to connect with the more distant views in another, most notably the impressive Penshaw Monument, an awe inspiring Greek style structure just across the way.

Another strong and evocative presence in this park is the rows of terraced houses nestled towards the perimeter. I took them for miner’s housing from yesteryear, on the basis that this whole expanse of land was once a colliery from the 1880s, through to the 1980s. Green and pleasant it might now be and a space for people to roam free, but once upon a time it were a working mine, where hard physical inputs had to be matched with revenue building outputs – or else! These time-served houses connected visually and mentally with countless others in nearby estates, and quite appropriately stood as living mirrors to the history of this place.

Look no hands!

Today, Herrington Park is an exemplar venue for rebirth and recreation. Ponds and streams, trees and tussocky grass, pitches and play grounds, ice cream vans and interactive sculpture now populate and heal a place once plundered for its mineral assets.

Artistic and landscape considerations aside, I was drawn whilst walking on that windswept day to consider the park’s impact on us. At one point, after a mini rock climbing moment, my kids were perched on a huge boulder that in turn was perched atop a hill we’d zig-zagged up. They both stood up momentarily in defiance of the wind that threatened to lift them clean off, but on hearing their shouts of pure joy and raucous laughter proved to me that every step of the walk had been worthwhile, and to feel the exhilarating wind that screwed their eyes and chilled their cheeks, was priceless. Talk about being in the moment…

Daring to face the wind!

A football might have been kicked along and carried as we walked but it was landscape, nature and fresh air that lifted our spirits in that park, on that day. People walked dogs, pushed chairs and fed waterfowl, kids played on equipment and wheeled around the skatepark. Birds chased others through branches, a duck danced above the water to stretch its wings and people queued for snacks at the park hub. Everywhere we looked, folks were actively enjoying and drinking it all in.

Herrington Park is, like all other parks I suppose, an engineered and reworked landscape; a re-dressed piece of earth if you will. As I reflect now, understanding more of its past than before, I realise there is so much more to that park with a history deeply imbedded beneath its smooth mown grass. As we walked and talked, observed and experienced during our February visit, what I felt then and what still resonates as the days pass, is that Herrington Park is as rich a resource now as a public park, as ever it were as a colliery; and long may it remain so.

Gary Webb. February 2023. My writing journey continues…

A Boathouse at Belton

©️Gary Webb 2023

Stepping carefully through frozen leaves so not to squish snowdrops, I ventured through vegetation to the river’s edge until it appeared – a view of a boathouse from across the water. I merely sought another perspective and to understand why there, and why built in such an unusual way?

Visible mostly by the crisp outlines of a tiled roof perched upon hefty, stripped bark tree trunk pillars, the recently restored boathouse was a subtle, historic and hidden gem. Indeed, in such a vast landscape dressed with attention seeking sculptures, formal gardens, ancient trees and deer herd, you would be forgiven for passing by this rustic shaded beauty unawares.

As it would have been inside the mind of its Georgian creator, this boathouse was a dream-like work of art. Rising from the four corners of its roof were precisely cut tiles that climbed towards flag and globe finials, rendered gold yet largely unseen from this angle, and mostly cast in shade. Between the ridges, scalloped, hand crafted slates added even more character to the already pretty house. There was something more to this structure though, as it felt like a part of something else, something bigger.

This new vista had proved a success, gifting me a hoped for view of the boat house from across the river. At this point along its route the water was a cloudy, gracefully passing mass, and just a few paces downstream, a portion would soon be scooped away for a special purpose. Through a picturesque stone arch and in contrast to the calming river, the stolen water raced and fell rapidly, flooding the area in atmospheric sound worthy of the wildest wilderness.

My gaze was held by the primary river though, patterned with a scene of shadows, trees and sky, even the crazy stick work of the boathouse itself was reflected in crisp perfection. Inverted, towering plane trees reached down into an alternate world of hope, holding a mirrored sun firmly between their branches. This long natural river scene however, with its stone arches and composed cascades, with its lofty trees and view framed by outgrown evergreen yew clumps – was a complete fabrication.

The boathouse – bespoke, the river – carved, the landform – manipulated, the archway stones – stacked, and the trees – very carefully selected, located, and pruned; the entire space originally created over two centuries ago had been designed. Yet the scene, aside from its exquisite boathouse and unusual stonework nearby, appeared so correct as could easily be mistaken for the work of nature itself.

©️ Gary Webb 2023

Just a few moments on that river bank, and a few moments earlier touching the timber knots of the boathouse itself, was enough. Enough to feel the energy that flowed relentlessly from the sun, through every cell of those tall trees, along each grassy blade and inside the river itself. Enough to sense the respect, passion and dedication given by countless people in times past. Moments enough to comprehend and consider the broader creation.

So, to the spirit and creators and carers of that boathouse and its wider, wilder home, your thoughtful work and passion continues, living in the folks who patiently try to see, to understand and appreciate what went before. We can only imagine how it must have been, how it must have felt back in its prime. Of the modern day efforts though, we most earnestly hope you approve, whoever, or whatever you are.

An experience of a boathouse at Belton, Lincolnshire, by Gary Webb.

To the Park

It was good to be there, enjoying the winter glow, and to be amongst the cooing, spilling, driving noise. Refreshing it was to be on my time and be out amongst people who also chose that park, that day. I drew comfort from seeing folks like me, and not like me, strolling and wheeling between the trees, benches, bins.

Cold may have tickled my exposed neck but the sun’s glow washed my face with warmth, and the chilly metal park bench grounded me to that place. Under the lumpy holly oak I sat with the brightest sun blaring through its low swaying branches, light flashing across waves of that choppy pond, transforming waterfowl into silhouettes.

Geese honked and gulls flapped wildly into the air towards anyone likely to scatter food, hoping morsels would fall within striking distance. At my feet speculative pigeons trod a winding route, also hoping for free food to arrive, styling it away when nothing appeared.

Noise from bustling nearby traffic was drowned, literally, by thick ribbons of water rising and falling from six fountains in the pond, each descending stream creating a disk of white water turbulence birds wisely avoided. Sights, smells, sounds; the whole embracing scene wrapped around me.

As I record those moments to read again, I know that I can be carried there again quicker than a glint on that water. When days to come grip me indoors or in traffic, these memories will loosen the grasp and revive me. ‘Twas a rest day, a peace day, a sit in the sun and take it all in day and you, like I can hold days like those in your heart.

Frozen Hedgerows

Frozen bay leaves in my home garden 🪴

Today, I embarked on an early morning school run thanks to a school bus that didn’t arrive. Despite the bright sunshine, temperatures were sub-zero, which encouraged a hasty car window de-icing session, followed by the hurried delivery of two youngsters, so Dad’s taxi could save the day. Thankfully, the frantic one way dash was followed by a steadier return trip across the hills as I headed back home, when I could at least have more time to take in the frozen panoramic landscape.

Descending the hill from the Fosseway in a car which had finally warmed, I emerged from a heavily wooded hillside to reveal a familiar view of my home village spread left to right, across a flat and very cold land. It was almost a scene from a Victorian Christmas card, where everyone was awakening from another chilly December night; icy rooftops and chimney stacks faced this way and that, occasional trees peeked above, and all was shrouded in the finest mist that faded as it rose high to a wide pastel blue sky.

Also, sat in the sky above the village, I was delighted to see December’s Cold Moon, which held a full and dominant if subtle position up high. I’m fascinated by the moon, and have been frustrated not to have spent more time across the last few nights taking in its full glory, especially as it’s the last full moon of the year. I was glad then, on this frosty morn, to still see my old friend who had hung around for breakfast before bidding farewell.

This cold snap, I might as well add, is all down to the moon, although I have little scientific evidence to prove it. Indeed I’d convinced myself as the moon waxed across the last few days, that the climate had gradually settled and calmed; at least it had across my locality. The depth and sharpness of the frost had increased, yes, but aside from that, the soothing effects were to be seen around as the moon made its presence felt.

Could I be imagining the moon’s impact, am I way off the mark, I ask myself? I’m not sure, but it often pays to keep an open mind I find. It’s just I seem to notice that whenever the full moon arrives and departs, the weather often seems to change. I really should start recording to test it out.

If you know me, you’ll know that I try hard in every situation to connect with the environment around me, although when I’m at home, in my ‘sanctuary’ as it were, I admit that my outlook is somewhat curtailed. There are no distance views from my windows to leafy landscapes or rolling hills, there are no woodlands or mountains, and I could hardly be more land-locked in this country if I tried – so sea views are way out of bounds. Not to be outdone however, when I am at home, I’m drawn, beyond the detail of my own garden to look up. I look up to the sky, and the perplexing universe beyond; up there has become the go-to place for my mind and curiosity to wander free.

Up there of course, beyond those cloud formations and viewed amongst the stars, the moon and its cycle never fails to draw my focus, not just for its scale, but for its impact on the earth and ourselves. It definitely affects my sleep although I’m not sure why, and is known to impact the environment too, something I’m attempting to get to grips with and understand. All things considered therefore, I confess here to being completely under the moon’s spell, and I’m happy, rightly or wrongly, to put the cool brilliance of the last few days firmly down to the moon.

Whatever the weather, and whatever the cause, this morning’s rushed road trip turned out to have a silvery lining after all. For one, it put me out amongst that village view, even if it were in a toasty car, and for two, it pushed me to consider more carefully the sugared fields and frozen hedgerows, the tufty roadside grass and even an obelisk’s bay leaves beside my parking space at home, which were frosted perfectly around their margins. Indeed, I was conjuring up words even before I sat down to write.

After all is said and done, the youngsters made their first lessons, the moon bid its goodbye, I paused to notice, and this little piece appeared to sit as a memory on my blog. Thanks for reading. Regards, Gary