Sunday 3 December 2023

Blue sky Bruges

As our little getaway was fastly approaching, we were keeping a close watch on the weather forecast. Surely, after all those weeks of endless rain, a change for the better must have been on the horizon? 

By then, the Westhoek region in Flanders - where we've been spending our September holidays since 2012 - had been tormented by heavy rain for 10 days, causing unprecedented floods, so that we could only thank our lucky stars that wasn't where we were going.

Instead we would be staying even closer to home, at our favourite B&B Het Soetewater in Beernem near Bruges, involving a drive of roughly one hour. 

Still, there were one or two hiccups in the week leading up to our long weekend away, with Jos having a case of the sniffles the previous weekend and me pulling a muscle in my back while putting on my boots on Wednesday morning.


I'd taken Thursday afternoon off to pack and get into holiday mode, and it was nothing short of a relief that we were both virtually free of symptoms by Friday morning. Not to mention the fact that the sun had decided to keep us company for a change. According to the weather forecast it wouldn't last, but why not make the most of it while it did?

We said our goodbyes to a by then quite suspicious Bess, loaded our car and were off just after 10.30 am.  After meeting a succession of sunshine and showers along the way as well as a lengthy queue due to roadworks about half-way, we arrived at our home away from home for two nights around noon.

It would be our seventh stay at Het Soetewater - and our second one this year! - although we'd never been here at this time of year. It looked every bit as inviting as always, though, perhaps even more so surrounded by the last of the Autumnal splendour. But look at that angry sky!

We were welcomed by our lovely host, Veronique, with cappuccinos, mini brownies and chocolates printed with the B&B's name, and then made our way to our room in the annex.

After unpacking and reacquainting ourselves with our room - noting that Veronique had made a couple of changes to the layout - we made ourselves cups of coffee and tea and lunched on the sandwiches we'd brought with us, while dolefully watching the rain which had inevitably started falling from that angry sky.

At that moment, it would have been tempting to stay put and make ourselves comfortable in those easy chairs, reading the papers or a book, with one eye longingly on that whirlpool bath we had been daydreaming about for weeks.

But soon the angry sky departed elsewhere and we could even spot a patch or two of blue and the odd ray of sunshine piercing the grey. 

So, off we went, making sure to dress warmly and instructing our Satnav to take us to Bruges via secondary roads. If left to her own devices, she would surely have made us drive along the motorway we'd only just gladly left behind.

But not before having a quick peek at my outfit, which that day consisted of a mix of retail, vintage and new-to-me finds. 

I picked up the cord midi skirt - which is from the Belgian Green Ice label - in an outlet shop back in September. The blue flower-pattered jumper is vintage and an old Think Twice find, while my burgundy cardigan is one of my charity shopped King Louies. My belt, necklace and ring were all charity shop finds too, while the faux-Lea Stein cat brooch followed me home from a flea market in December 2018.

Yet another short-lived shower materialized just minutes after we'd driven off, its interplay with the sun leaving a rainbow in its wake. We were able to stop the car and take a photo of it just before it faded away completely.

It was only when I uploaded the photos back at home that I noticed the location. We'd driven past the wooded knoll with its tower many times before, but so far I hadn't been able to find out its identity. 

This time I decided to dig a bit further, so that I can now reveal this is the Galgetoren (Gallows tower) in the village of Hertsberge. The knoll it stands on, and which is about 15 metres high, was built around 800 AD by the Normans as a lookout. The tower itself was added many centuries later, and served as a gallows during the Spanish Occupation.  Apparently, it is possible to visit the tower, which we will definitely attempt to do some time.

Soon, our Satnav was trying to misdirect us to the large multi-storey car park under the 't Zand Square, wanting us to keep to the right instead of entering the tunnel which gives access to the entrance. It's a good thing that after all those years we know our way around a bit!

We emerged from the minus 4 depths onto the square, which is dominated by the Concert Hall (above, top left), completed in 2002. We then walked the length of the square, opting to walk to Bruges' beating heart, the Market Square, via the Noordzandstraat, the poshest and lesser of the two evils being Bruges' main shopping thoroughfares.

We were both craving waffles, and had already passed a recommended tearoom but, finding it a bit too early after our late lunch, we decided to walk to the Market Square first and return later.

The square has long been dominated by the Belfry, at 83 metres high one of the city’s most prominent buildings. Those who climb to the top are rewarded with a breath-taking panorama, but there's always a queue, and its € 15 ticket price rather puts us off. Particularly because I can never be sure whether my vertigo will allow me to continue all the way up. 

Winter Glow, Bruges' Christmas market, was still under construction at the time of our visit, but was already greatly marring the view of the square, with the imposing Provincial Court (above, top centre) peeking out between the branches of the ubiquitous Christmas trees. The sky, by then, was on its best behaviour, coloured a striking, brilliant blue.

As the weather forecast for Saturday was looking pretty dire, we checked out the possibilities of the Historium (above, bottom left, centre and right), a popular museum in which fictional characters tell the story of medieval Bruges enhance by virtual reality. 

The thought of those waffles lured us back into the direction of the tearoom, Café au Lait, who'd celebrated their 25th anniversary earlier that week. We passed the recently opened new Think Twice (T2) shop along the way and I went in for a quick browse but left empty-handed. Those waffles were clearly calling my name!

Then we continued with our plans for the afternoon, which was visiting Bladelin Court, a medieval city palace in nearby Naaldenstraat. We'd passed the palace on our wanderings back in February but, as it is only open on Monday and Friday afternoons, we hadn't been able to go inside.

The palace was built by Pieter Bladelin, treasurer of the order of the Golden Fleece, around 1440, during the Burgundian Golden Age of Duke Philip the Good.

After paying for our - at € 10 quite overpriced - tickets, we were told by the lady at the till that we might be able to tag along with a guide and two other visitors in the chapel. However, at that moment, the small group was just exiting the chapel and walking towards the final room, where we briefly joined them.

In the early 19th century, the Reverend Leon de Foere established his lace-making school here and it was he who added the neo-Classical chapel we would be visiting - with great difficulty - later. 

In the final room we were now in, he installed giant replica paintings of frescoes created by Raphael for the papal reception rooms in the Vatican, which the elderly guide waxed quite lyrical about (above, top left). 

We then returned to the first room, which was the beginning of the tour, where we admired - amongst other things - the 17th Century Descent from the Cross from the art collection of Leon de Foere, an extremely fine and elaborated miniaturistic marble sculpture (above, bottom left).

As directed, we opened the door which we thought would lead us to the next room, only to find ourselves in a beautifully enclosed cobbled courtyard with geometric boxwood hedges under a stately tower. 

In the late 15th century, a branch of the Florentine de Medici Bank was housed here, which the property still bears witness to today with its early Renaissance medallion sculptures of Lorenzo de Medici and his wife, Clarice Orsini, who look down on the Italian-inspired garden.

Several rooms seemed to be leading off from the courtyard, all of them apparently locked. As there was no indication where we should go next, we kept wandering around, wondering what to do until, finally, we we found an open door, beyond which lay a staircase with an arrow pointing upstairs to the chapel.

We breathed sighs of relief, only to find our way barred again at the end of the gallery from which we could therefore only look down into the darkened chapel and return the way we'd come.

Grumbling, we made our way back inside, where we found ourselves back in the final room with its replica Raphael frescoes. But then Jos noticed the small door the guide and visitors had emerged from earlier. We ignored its no-entry sign and had a sneaky peek, finding ourselves in the chapel proper which, after locating a light switch, we proceeded to have a mooch around.

Leon de Foere's neo-Classical chapel is said to be a copy of Sant'Agnese Fuori le Mura in Rome, built outside the Roman Aurelian city walls.

In hindsight, we would have been better off giving Bladelin Court a miss, roaming the streets of picturesque Bruges instead. We were fully aware that only a handful of rooms of the complex, which has belonged to the Sisters of Our Lady of  the Seven Sorrows since 1964, were open to the public, but we were quite disappointed with the confusing layout and lack of proper information. Perhaps it would have been an altogether more enjoyable experience if we'd booked a guide ...

By the time we were back on the streets, the light was starting to fade, the setting sun providing a grand finale for this unexpectedly sunny November afternoon. 

We took our time returning to 't Zand and our car, then drove back to our B&B, where one of Veronique's delicious tapas boards was waiting for us in the fridge! 

We ended our day with a relaxing soak in the whirlpool bath before letting our heads hit the pillows in our most comfortable yet far too large King Size bed.

Please do join me again for the second and final installment of my mini travelogue, which I'm hoping to regale you with soon!

Monday 27 November 2023

Life is better when you're laughing!

Here I was, at the end of my previous post, hoping - perhaps somewhat against hope - to be back before the week was over. Well, what can I say but that I'm glad I didn't actually make a solemn promise which it turned out I couldn't keep!  

Let's just say that I was otherwise occupied. 

Firstly, last week was quite an exhausting one at the office, which left me with barely enough energy to read and comment on your blog posts. Then, when the weekend finally rolled along, we caught up on some sleep, booked our Shropshire cottage for next June and answered the siren call of the charity shops. And finally, there was my latest read, Sarah Waters' Fingersmith which, being quite unputdownable, has made whole chunks of time disappear into thin air!

But time and tide wait for no man - or in my case, woman - as they say, so let's cast our minds back to November's second weekend, starting with what I was wearing on Friday the 10th.

The weather gods had a mix of dry spells and showers in store for us and the day's highs would remain stuck just under the double-figure mark at 9°C.

Apart from my boots, long-sleeved t-shirt used for layering and my hidden yet matching opaques, everything I was wearing was obtained second-hand from various sources.

My vintage chevron patterned skirt, in grey, black, white and shades of brown, was a Think Twice find back in October 2020. 

Both the blouse and the tank top were supplied by the charity shops, but while the King Louie blouse was snapped up in Poperinge while on our September holiday in 2021, the cable-knit chocolate brown tank top was a lunch-time find last December. 

I added a touch of orange with my accessories in the form of a beaded necklace from New Road Antiques in Newcastle Emlyn, Wales, and a chunky plastic ring and cameo brooch, both of which were flea market finds.

Armed with two bags of donations to woo the charity shop goddesses, we drove down to the charity shop in the nearby town of Mortsel. The contents of the bags, which included the cardigans I recently weeded out, as well as Jos's old Winter coat, amongst other things, must have greatly pleased them, as we were more than rewarded for our generosity.

Before I show you what I ended up taking home, here's a € 4 sales bargain from Think Twice snapped up earlier that week. I'd dithered over this multi-coloured dress with its side bow and shoulder buttons on Wednesday, but couldn't face the queues at the fitting rooms. When, oh miracle of miracles, it was still on the rails on Thursday when I went for a quick rummage with my friend Inez, I took it as a sign that it was meant to be.

Now, without further ado, let's have a look at Friday's charity shop finds! 

I'd been on the lookout for a (faux) leather skirt for absolutely ages, but so far my search had been fruitless. If there was anything at all on the charity shop rails, it was the wrong size, length or model, and often all three at the same time.

I'm sure you can imagine my excitement when I spotted this snake patterned faux leather midi one! I mean, it's even got pockets! Admittedly, it was a size too large, but nothing even my limited sewing skills couldn't fix. From the posh Belgian Caroline Biss label, it must have retailed in the region of € 189. As luck would have it, it wasn't on the posh labels rail, so that it was mine for just € 5,90!

The green needlecord blouse is from yet another Belgian designer label, Gigue. The label's roots are in Antwerp, and its designer, Jo Wyckmans, was one of the first graduates from the world-renowned Antwerp fashion academy. He founded the Gigue brand in 1991. According to their website, the style of the label is characterized by pure silhouettes with a sporty and androgynous twist in a mix of Anglo-Saxon influences and French flair. 

You might remember me mentioning the Belgian designer Nathalie Vleeschouwer before. Her eponymous high end label, which was launched in 2011, has its headquarters in Antwerp too. This funkily patterned frock wasn't my first charity shopped item from the label, and once more one that had escaped the attention of the shop's employees. Plucked from the regular rail of dresses instead of the posh label one, it cost me all of € 6,90. I must add that the quality isn't that great and doesn't justify its astronomical retail price of around € 150.

No charity shopping on Saturday! It was the 11th of November, and Armistice Day, which is a public holiday here in Belgium, so that most shops remained firmly closed.

The weather, which was another dismal grey-skied one accompanied by a fine drizzle, ruled out going for a walk, so that ticking off a couple of tasks off my to-do list were the only things on the menu that day.

That night, we were invited for a family dinner at a local restaurant by Jos's son Kris, who celebrated his 50th birthday back in October. No photos were taken, but let's just say that the star of the evening was grandson Cas, at not yet two and a half years old the best behaved toddler in a restaurant ever!

I was wearing one of my Diolen delights that day, a faux-patchwork patterned brown on black button through dress. Yet again from Think Twice, it seems to have been in my wardrobe forever. 

As usual, I combined it with blue, this time adding a cardigan with diamond ajour pattern by Sweet Soda and a wide leather belt with self buckle, both of which were charity shopped. My marbled blue and white beaded necklace came from a long-gone vintage shop and, if I remember correctly, both brooches were flea market finds. 

Sunday was mainly dry, but quite chilly at 8°C. I actually wore a woollen jumper for the first time this season, which you'll get to see  at the end of this post.

Wanting to make the most of the frankly speaking exceptional weather conditions, we wasted no time in getting ourselves ready and go for a walk. 

As by now we'd lost all faith in the weather forecast, we didn't want to venture too far and drove down to the park in Boom again.

This time, we parked further along the main road skirting the park, as we wanted to walk to the modernist water gardens at its tapered end.

We made a shortcut through a carpet piled high with russet leaves among which a colony of fungi had settled around the remains of an ancient fallen tree.

Then we followed a muddy track which lead us into what could very well have been the heart of a forest if it weren't for the occasional glimpses of the houses lining the adjacent street.

In spite of the weather, there weren't too many people, apart from the odd dog walker, about, so that it wasn't hard to imagine being somewhere away from humanity, with only the trees in their Autumnal splendour, and a pair of bickering ducks for company.

But then the spell was broken by the cheering and shouting emanating from one of the sports grounds which have their homes in the park.

A splash of colours of a different kind was supplied by a graffiti covered building next to a set of steps climbing out of the park. There was some excellent advice among them: I guess they've got a point that life is better when you're laughing!

The Art-Deco tower glimpsed between the trees belongs to Jos's old school, which was built between 1926 and 1930. Together with the park and the adjacent garden district, it was part of the same post-war urban planning project.

The water garden is enhanced by several bronze sculptures, the most prominent being Solidarity (above) by the Belgian sculptor, draughtsman and graphic designer George Minne (1866-1941), famous for his idealized depictions of man's inner spiritual conflicts. 

Like all the sculptures here, they were cleaned and restored as recently as 2020, although it seems that the local populations of pigeons couldn't care less. A contemporary of Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, Minne's work shows many similarities in both form and subject matter to the Viennese Secessionists, considered to be the fathers of Art Nouveau.

The water garden's main entrance is guarded by three winged sculptures on a brick plinth (see here).

Called Victory (above, bottom left and right), Advancement (above, top left and right) and Reflection, they are by the sculptor and painter Ernest Wijnants (1878-1964). 

And here's me in my jumper! The yellow textured knit is an old sales bargain, while the white, blue and  yellow tartan skirt came from Think Twice. 

I found the peacock feather brooch in a charity shop on a whirlwind visit to Llangollen, Wales, in June 2019.

The translucent faceted navy beads were charity shopped locally, and both the ring and the stretchy belt with its Celtic knot style buckle were found on the high street.

My boots are the tan ones I was seduced into buying by Jos back in October and, echoing my jumper,  I was wearing a pair of yellow opaques.

I won't be making any promises but I'll be back soon-ish with tales of our wet weekend away!

Wednesday 22 November 2023

Down in the park

Hello friends and readers! 

We've been back from our very short - and very wet! - weekend break since Sunday. However, before I can make a start with the pleasurable task of telling you all about it, there's yet more catching up to do!

You'll be relieved to read that my blog has finally reached November, so why not begin at the month's very beginning? 

The First of November, All Saints' Day, is a public holiday here in Belgium. This year, it was on a Wednesday, splitting the working week neatly into two halves. What's more, a bright and sunny morning was hiding behind our bedroom curtains when we got up that morning.

If the weather forecast was to be believed - and funnily enough they are usually spot on when bad weather is in the offing - the sun would soon be hiding behind a layer of grey again, and a smattering of showers was expected from mid-afternoon onwards.

In anticipation of Storm Ciarán, which would be reaching our shores overnight, there was the proverbial calm before the storm which offered the perfect conditions for a walk in the park. 

Once again, we opted for the park on the edge of the nearby town of Boom, which is only a 15-minute drive from Dove Cottage. 

The weather was in total contrast to our last visit here a couple of weeks ago, when we sheltered from the rain under the awning of the visitor centre, so that we were able to enjoy the scintillating sights and scents of Autumn to the full.

The non-stop rain of the last couple of weeks had filled the brooks and ponds to the brim and plenty of water - rather than the usual tiny trickle - was cascading down the weirs into the brook. 

At 15°C, it was mild enough to wear my burgundy vintage Tweed jacket with knitted sleeves and yoke, supplied by the goddesses of the charity shops in October 2019. My tan beret is from Burberry, found at Think Twice back in the mists of time.

The triangular and elongated park, which covers all of 27 hectares, used to be part of a larger wood. The leafy area was turned into a park in 1925, established along the banks of the brook which meanders through it and which ends in a series of pools. 

In the not all too distant past, the water used to be quite murky and green with algae, particularly in the brook where it was almost opaque at times, giving off an unpleasant musty smell.

In recent years, however, there has been an overhaul of the park, which involved cleaning the ponds and restoring them to their former glory.

The temperatures we were blessed with that day allowed me to remove my jacket and introduce you to one of the latest additions to my Winter wardrobe. In fact, it was a tad too warm for this wool and polyester mix vintage dress. Picked up at Think Twice a couple of days previously, when another one of their sales campaigns had kicked off at minus 30%, I was nevertheless adamant to give it its first outing.

I picked up the burgundy squiggles in its pattern with one of my King Louie cardigans and the tiny ruby dots with my opaques, while my big vintage poodle brooch echoed the off-white buttons and belt buckle.

My outfit was bookended with my beret and a pair of tan boots which might have seen better days but are just perfect for muddy walks. More tan was added with my scarf of many colours, an old favourite from H&M, which has been going strong for well over 10 years.

Jos was showcasing his new C&A coat again, which he wore combined with a blue flat cap, also from C&A. He shopped his wardrobe, as they say, opting for a yellow cord shirt, blue zip-up cardigan and dark blue jeans. His shoes are Clarks, obviously, bought in the sales during our Shropshire holiday back in June. 

It was back to work on Thursday the 2nd of November, which brought us Storm Ciarán with hurricane-force winds accompanied by an incongruous 15°C. As I had to brave the elements to go to my hairdresser during lunch break, I was glad I'd had the forethought to bring my special storm umbrella. 

No damages were sustained, apart from my coiffure being a bit skew-whiff by the time I arrived back at the office. 

I noted in my journal that I was asked by a guy on the tram whether I was English. Being an Anglophile, I was quite chuffed to be asked that question, but when I asked him why he'd got the impression, he told me it was the checked coat I was wearing (this one).

Although the storm had upped and left by Friday, it was still windy and quite chilly, with a drop in temperature to 10°C.

Due to our mid-week holiday, I'd decided to forgo my usual Friday off, although I did feel the need to indulge in some second-hand shopping therapy to tide me over.

With sales prices at Think Twice down to € 6 per item, I snapped up a rose-patterned needlecord skirt
and a vintage light green Courtelle dress with top-stitched placket, collar and pockets.

Saturday saw a return of the rain and highs of 12°C. 

I'd woken up during the night feeling a bit nauseous and although I seemed to be back to normal by morning, we decided to stay at home instead of going gallivanting around the charity shops.

That didn't mean I was completely idle though: I'm glad to report that I finally finished my seasonal wardrobe exchange and tackled a couple of small sewing jobs.

My outfit was built around another one of my wool-blend dresses, a dark green vintage Trevira one patterned with orange and sage green swirls.

Although I was in socks and slippers for most of the day, I changed into a pair of matching green suede boots bought brand new from an actual shop last Winter.

A sage green long-sleeved t-shirt was layered underneath my dress, which I accessorized with my recently charity shopped Massimo Dutti belt and an enamelled orange flower brooch, which was a gift from the lovely Kezzie when we met up earlier this year. A brown fused glass ring (retail buy) and orange beaded necklace (vintage shop find) completed my outfit.

Sunday the 5th of November was yet another rainy day, this time brightened by a midday rendez-vous with Inneke and Maurice. 

We'd invited them for lunch at 't Kasteeltje (transl. Little Castle) in nearby Boechout as a thank you for looking after Bess during our week away in September.

Only a handful of photos were taken, as obviously we were far too busy chatting. And eating, of course! While the boys opted for a seasonal special - pheasant with chicory, quince and some fancy potatoes called "pomme Anna" - the girls both enjoyed fettuccini with marinated chicken, spinach, mushrooms and candied tomatoes in a mild curry sauce. Yum!

The pinkish-red skirt I was wearing, in a deliciously strokable blend of polyester and mohair, must be one of my favourite Winter skirts ever. It was an old Think Twice find, as was the blouse with its little shawl collar and sprinkling of red, pink, orange and tan flowers.

It boggles my mind that I hadn't worn the blouse since January 2018. According to my blog, that is. Too many clothes, too little time! I'm the first to admit that even some maximalists might have a fit at the sight of my wardrobes. And yes, that's plural!

Both my ring - which had been lost for a while - and the brooch were picked up at the indoor flea market, while the necklace and belt were among my recent charity shop hauls. The watch with its leopard strap was a cheapo from a high street shop.

The rest of the day was spent finishing the epic 700+ page blockbuster called Atlas, and selecting Emma Donoghue's The Wonder from my reading pile for my next read. Set in 1859 in the Irish Midlands, it tells the story of a young girl who has supposedly lived without food for months, claiming that she is living off "manna from heaven", and an English nurse who has been sent over to watch her to make sure the girl's claim is valid. I've finished it while we were away and it is one of the best novels I have read so far this year. 

So, that's another catch-up done and dusted. I'm hoping to be back with more before the week is over.

See you soon!

Thursday 16 November 2023

Forsaken fortress

What with the never-ending rain card we have been dealt of late, throwing a spanner or two in the works on most weekends, there really hasn't been a lot going on in my life.

So, our hearts were making little leaps of joy when, quite unexpectedly, it was mostly dry on Saturday the 28th of October. The sun even got the odd look-in throughout the day and the mercury climbed to a more than reasonable 15°C. Never mind that, as a rehearsal for Storm Ciarán which would pay us an unwanted visit later that week, we had to contend with gusts of blustery wind from mid-afternoon onwards.

But whatever the weather, it's always a joy to play dress-up, and especially so during the weekend, when I've got time on my hands to play around with my wardrobe.

I had been looking forward to wearing this green zig-zaggy acrylic and polyester blend skirt, which was a present from Vix when we met up back in June. It's vintage St. Michael, the label narrowing it down to the 1970s according to this recently discovered and very helpful website.

The skirt is the only vintage item in this outfit, which does, however, include another gift: the chunky green ring, which I got from Claire during the same meet-up. 

My necklace with its mix of wooden and raffia beads was a charity shop find, as were the dark green textured leather belt and the red ankle boots. The green beaded brooch was picked up from the indoor flea market in Mechelen in January.

Finally, my blouse was a bargainous retail buy from an outlet shop in November 2022. It's from the funky Belgian Who's That Girl label. 

After our usual fruit & yoghurt breakfast, I culled my collection of cardigans, only leaving the King Louie, Zoë Loveborn and any other similar quality ones, which I then reorganized by colour so that I can see what I've got at a glance.

Then, after lunch, we drove to the local branch of C&A as Jos was in need of a Winter coat. Keeping an open mind, his only requirement had been a decent number of inside pockets. As luck would have it, we soon found the perfect one: a black knee-length wool coat, which you'll get to see him wearing soon. While we were there, I also talked him into buying two pairs of slim fit trousers and a belt.

Afterwards, we continued to the edge-of-town charity shop for my rummaging fix. Here, my first find was a blue, psychedelically patterned, handmade cotton midi skirt, which is currently hibernating until Spring.

I also added to my burgeoning collection of belts with a brown pleated leather one, which turned out to be by Spanish label Massimo Dutti, and which originally retailed at just under € 50. Another stretchy belt, with a rectangular wooden buckle, ended up in my basket as well. I paid the fixed price for belts - which is € 2,50 in this particular chain of shops - for both!

Finally, I caught sight of this gorgeous cobalt blue cotton maxi dress with crocheted insets, which was among the rail of leftovers from the infamous Day of the Charity Shops which had taken place the previous week. I did a double-take when I saw lingerie mentioned on the label. Surely this is too good to be a used as a nightdress?

After a night of  torrential rain accompanied by another round of blustery wind, we woke up to a dry, bright and sunny morning on Sunday. Again, highs of about 15°C had been forecasted, but yet more rain was expected in the afternoon.

Layering weather! My wardrobe contains a handful or two of short-sleeved knit dresses which come into their own at this time of year, so out came this bottle green one sprinkled with hundreds-and-thousands in a multitude of colours.

I'm in two minds about whether it was a charity shop or Think Twice find, but whatever the case, it came without a label, so that I had no idea of its origins. That is, until I came across the exact same dress a couple of years later, this time bearing a Wow To Go label. Wow To Go, by the way, is owned by the same company as the previously mentioned Who's That Girl, supposedly aimed at a slightly older audience. Not that I care one jot!

Its companions that day were a teal long-sleeved t-shirt and ditto opaques, while I piled on fuchsia accessories in the form of a chunky leather belt (retail), perspex ring (flea market) and recently charity shopped necklace. 

My embroidered brooch was part of a haul from an antiques emporium in Carmarthen, found on a rainy June day in 2017. 

The burgundy boots are vintage and came from Think Twice.

We'd changed to Winter Time overnight, which had made us feel a bit out of sorts that day. What we needed was a good old head-clearing walk so, with one eye on our phone's weather app, we drove down to Fort 5 in the neighbouring village of Edegem for an Autumnal ramble.

Fort 5 is part of a ring of 8 almost identical forts surrounding the city of Antwerp, built in the 1860s to protect the city from enemy fire. These forts, given the unimaginative names of Fort 1 up until Fort 8, were built about 2,5 km outside the city and about 2 km apart. Each of these was about 30 hectares and consisted of a central reduit, caponiers, platforms and earthen walls for artillery, all surrounded by a wide moat. Most of these have long ago been converted into nature reserves and recreational spaces. 

Not all that far from a busy road, it is a haven of peace and quiet - that is, if you disregard the playground, which on this late October Sunday was deserted - and a habitat for plenty of wildlife.

A blanket of green algae was covering the moat as far as the eye could see, but it didn't seem to bother the heron perched on a branch which had toppled into the water. 

There's a narrow footpath which circumnavigates the moat, but we veered off to the left instead, walking past the playground where we briefly stopped to show you my outerwear.

This consisted of the rather fabulous Desigual coat I found at Oxfam last Winter, my pink beret and a frilly pink scarf charity shopped in October 2019.

Continuing our walk, we soon came across a part of the old fort: a long row of low brick and sandstone buildings half-hidden among the undergrowth, its woodwork in various stages of dereliction.

We passed but ignored the fort's main entrance which leads you inside its creepily atmospheric inner sanctum, opting for a slightly longer walk instead.

Walking past the row of buildings and rounding a corner, we eventually re-joined the path running along the moat. 

The water was clearer here, with just the odd patch of green, and it seemed to be the place to be for the resident waterbirds of various plumage, including several prehistoric-looking cormorants and a magnificent blue heron.

The narrow winding path eventually takes you through a low tunnel where the fort bridges the moat. Here, even vertically challenged yours truly had to duck her head at one point.

At the end of the tunnel lies a series of heavily graffitied rooms where daylight slants through paneless windows, some of them still holding on to their weathered wooden frames or shutters. 

There are the remains of a fireplace in some of them, and time-battered electrical fittings. The eerie light in the room on the bottom left was courtesy of some translucent green foil which had been fixed to the ancient fluorescent tube. Would this be the scene of a spooky party, I wonder. We were, after all, just a couple of days short of Hallowe'en ...

Haphazard heaps of wind-blown leaves were gathered in corners and a not entirely unpleasant smell of dampness and decay was lingering in the air.

Another tunnel, with light at its end, leads off from the final room, emerging onto the moat side path once more.

As always when we walk here, my thoughts go out to my Dad, part of whose playground this was when he grew up in the village. It's also where his ashes have been laid to rest seven years ago on All Saints' Day, the First of November 2016.

We had come full circle by now, and about time too, as the sky was turning granite grey and it looked as if yet more showers were waiting in the wings.

And now, friends and readers, I'll be off the radar for a couple of days, as we are preparing for a long weekend away. I'm not holding out too much hope that it'll be a dry one, but who knows, once in a while miracles do happen.

See you on the other side!