Friday 31 March 2023

Moody March

I'm shaking my head in disbelief at the fact that we've come to the end of the moody month of March. And moody she was, as well as very, very wet. It's all very well that you English-speaking folks talk about April showers, we Dutch-speaking people actually have Maartse buien, so March showers instead of April ones. 

That doesn't mean April is in the clear though, as we've got what we call Aprilse grillen, meanings April whims, an idiom which I think has the nature of the whimsical month of April down to a T. 

They usually come as a pair, those two, as more often than not they are mentioned in the same breath: Maartse buien en Aprilse grillen.

There was most certainly no lack of Maartse buien in the month's final weekend which, as it often does, already made a start on Friday for me.

During one of Friday's short-lived dry and sunny spells, we stepped outside and into the passageway, which lately has become our go-to space for outfit photos.

My caramel button-through cord skirt was a cheeky high street buy in October 2021, but no regrets there: instead of fast fashion, it has fast become on of my favourite skirts.

Incidentally, the groovilicious blouse I'm wearing started its life in the same shop as the skirt, but followed me home from a flea market in October 2016.

My red glass beaded necklace and ring were both charity shop finds, as were the cardigan and my recently found belt. The yellow cat brooch came from a delightful shop in Antwerp called Katshop (linking 'cause I love, as Sheila would say) which caters for cats and their personnel.

Oh, no, there's that blasted rain again. Quick, let's go inside!

This offered me the perfect opportunity to show you my latest Think Twice finds. I bought them for € 4 a piece during Thursday's lunch break, when I walked down to the recently opened 5th shop, which also happens to be the nearest one to my office. 

Admittedly, it has been quite a while since I found anything half decent in any of their shops. Clearly, the days of my regular and plentiful Think Twice hauls seem to be well and truly over. Is it the pandemic, or the fact that 1990s fashion seems to be the latest vintage craze?

Anyway, I found two dresses and two skirts, so I couldn't have been happier! 

The white and blue dotted one, with its cleverly camouflaged buttons, is Diolen. Hadn't found one of those in a long, long time. Can't wait to give it its first outing when the weather finally cottons on that it's supposed to be Spring!

I can't wait to give the pleated skirt of this flower and foliage patterned blue Summer dress a whirl either. Its lightweight, semi-sheer chiffon fabric comes with a solid blue lining. The presence of belt loops give away the fact that once upon a time the dress must have had a belt, but knowing me I probably wouldn't have made use of it anyway. Instead, I picked up the lilac in its pattern with a 1980s belt in the same colour, one which is in desperate need of another outing.

Riffling through the full to bursting rail of skirts, there were quite a few which caught my eye, most of them, alas, either teeny tiny or way too big. 

I ended up spending my money on a white cotton flower infused skirt, with a veritable Summer flower border blooming near its black hem, and a red polyester one patterned with blowsy indigo and white flowers. 

Friday morning was spent at the optician's in the nearby town of Mortsel, where I had my eyes tested and then splurged on a spanking new pair of varifocals, which I can't wait to show you once they're ready!

Yet another shower accompanied us on our way home but there was a dry intermezzo after lunch which lasted long enough to check on our garden's progress. The threesome of snakeshead fritillaries are coming along nicely (top left) and look at how lush and green some of our perennials are already!  There's a healthy clump of Geranium phaeum a.k.a. dusky crane's-bill (bottom left) and even our Oriental poppy (top right) is showing great promise, even if at this very moment it's hard to imagine it bearing flowers before too long.

It's hard to imagine a Friday without a visit to the charity shops either, so that's what we did in the afternoon, even if we only limited ourselves to one shop.

The skirt fairies were very generous here as well, and magicked another two into my basket. The photo doesn't do the first one justice, as rather than grey, the maxi skirt with its Paisley-esque pattern is more of an olive green. It's from the Belgian Terra di Siena label.

The horizontally striped black, grey and red button-through midi skirt is label-less, and I expect it's somebody's handiwork. With no contents label, it's a bit of a guess, but it does feel like wool or at least a wool blend.

The thin knit green patterned jumper - which I already wore in the meantime - is from the Dutch high street label WE Fashion.

Finally I fell for this wide semi-stretchy burgundy red belt with its unusual metal buckle. This too has already been part of one of my outfits.

Saturday's weather was even worse than Friday's, with almost non-stop rain from the moment we got up, the overall dampness making it feel quite a bit colder than the 13°C offered by the thermometer.

The perfect weather to tackle a couple more chores, this time of the sewing variety. I also got it into my head to make a start with my wardrobe changeover, exchanging my warmest Winter frocks for some of my short-sleeved ones. That way, I'll be ready if/when Spring decides to make an appearance overnight.

When eventually it stopped raining in the early afternoon, we grabbed our coats and walked to our garage to pick up our car, only for it to start pelting down again shortly after we left the house.

Thankfully, we'd had the presence of mind to bring an umbrella! Of course, the minute we'd made it inside the building the rain stopped as abruptly as it had started. There were even some gloating rays of sunshine to be spied through the skylights. Perfect for highlighting my charity shopped Desigual coat ...

... and what I was wearing underneath. 

Surprisingly, it was the season's first - and probably only - outing for this Finnish made 1970s does 1930s dress picked up from Think Twice many moons ago. Too many clothes, too little time, but I am absolutely fine with wearing things only once a year. 

The brooch I pinned to my dress, featuring a mottled green stone set within a crown of tiny pearls, was bought from the Brooch Lady at an antiques fair in April 2017. 

My orange King Louie cardigan, necklace and ring were charity shop finds. I'm fairly certain that the white felted flower corsage was a retail buy, as I've got it in several other colours as well. They possibly came from haberdashery and accessories chain Veritas. The latter also provided the belt, which is the latest one to join my collection. It was winking at me when I dashed into the shop for a sewing essential the other week.

I'm leaving you now with some garden wildlife. This is one of our resident wood pigeons sunning itself on our garden wall after gorging on the bird seeds the gang of picky blue tits had carelessly thrown out of the feeder. It seemed to be quite oblivious of the fact that it was being watched from the kitchen window by a certain furry creature!

Sunday 26 March 2023

A spot of Spring cleaning

In sharp contrast to the gorgeous Spring weather we experienced on Friday before last, the rest of the weekend was a bit of a letdown. 

Saturday made a promising start, as the sun was out in full force when we drew our curtains, which, with highs of 16°C forecasted, tricked us into thinking we'd get a repeat of Friday'glorious weather.  

But no. If we needed proof that the month of March can be just as fickle as her sister, April, she certainly delivered. More and more clouds started gathering while we were having breakfast, until soon it was completely overcast. We would get one or two short-lived sunny spells throughout the day, but rain was waiting in the wings, and the first drops could be heard tickling our skylight in the early evening.

What with the reasonable temperatures, I wore this long-sleeved yet lightweight vintage Venetia dress, bought from a long-gone vintage shop about 12 years ago.

Although living in the black section of my dresses wardrobe, its eye-catching pattern of white stripes, tiny white dots and garlands of frothy pink flowers makes one almost forget there's any black in it at all.

I opted for burgundy for some of its companions, notably my large buckled lacquered leather belt and one of my heart-shaped ajour patterned King Louie cardigans, both of which were charity shop finds. I wore burgundy opaques as well, but you'll have to take my word for it as you can hardly make out their colour in the photos. 

Shades of green were added for contrast with my beaded necklace, ring, flower corsage and ankle boots, all of which were provided by the charity shop goddesses at one time or another.

Lastly, let's have a look at my brooch, which consists of multi-coloured frosted berries on a gold-tone leaf. I bought it from the Brooch Lady at a flea market several years ago. As the berries had become detached from the leaf, which we knew was nothing Jos's repair shop couldn't deal with, she knocked quite a bit of the price. 

We were at a loose end that day, as the weather wasn't inviting us to engage in any outdoor activities. Wistfully looking out of the backdoor window, trying to decide if there were any garden jobs that suited my mood, I noticed how grimy the window and the smaller one above the sink were. Admittedly, cleaning windows is not my favourite job, and we do have a window cleaner who comes around at regular times to do the windows at the front of the house, which saves us from being considered total slobs as well as weirdos!

Anyway, I felt obliged to get out the cleaning stuff, so that the two windows are now squeaky clean. I also cleaned the door and window frames, both inside and out, as well as the window ledge. 

Baby Gargoyle was given some flowers to look after. They are yellow Primulas left over from last year, which I planted in a mosaic glass pot, originally the home of a solar light which has stopped working.

Ambling around the garden, I saw some grape Hyacinths popping their heads above the rim of one of the garden waste bags at the back. I duly admired their tenacity for flowering against all odds but to give them the best chance at shining, I cut off the flower stalks and put them in the tiniest receptacle I could find: a vintage ink pot. They still last one week later, having been properly looked after by Dutch kissing boy and girl on one of the kitchen shelves. 

I was pottering upstairs after lunch, when it suddenly dawned on me that I still had to show you the tantalizing tartan garment I charity shopped on Friday.

Ta-da, here it is! It was only when I was in the process of trying it on in the shop's fitting rooms that I noticed that it wasn't a skirt but a pair of cleverly constructed culottes! 

They are Scottish, from The House of Bruar, a shop which started out by selling a range of quality country clothing, but has now diversified into what has been described as the "Harrods of the Highlands". 

The groovilicious pussy-bow blouse is by River Woods, charity shopped in July 2020. I had both the blouse and the belt hanging ready to be incorporated in other outfits, but thought they didn't look out of place at all with the culottes.

Window cleaning and engaging in silly poses are exhausting pastimes, so I spent the rest of the afternoon on the sofa with my latest read, which so far I'm liking very much indeed.

While Jos had to get up early on Sunday to take his youngest daughter to the railway station in nearby Mechelen - she was off for a week in Edinburgh and Glasgow - I slept in and then stayed in bed reading for another half hour. 

We had breakfast when Jos came back, then, as the weather was still of the wishy-washy kind, I decided to proceed with a job that had been on my list for a while.

There's a vintage Tomado shelving unit in our bedroom on which we have been displaying charity shop and flea market treasures for years. The top shelf was completely devoted to Lourdes souvenirs - don't ask, it's one of those accidentally started collections - which we had decided to whittle down. Well, now was as good a time as any! 

We only kept some glass Lourdes water bottles and a Lourdes grotto ornament (top shelf, left and right) and a kitschy but fun snow globe doubling as a perpetual calendar (bottom shelf, and detail below, top centre).

Oh, how I love my treasures, each of which has a story to tell. 

The heavy brass Art Nouveau style family tree picture frames have my maternal great-grandmother Aloysia at the very top, followed by my maternal grandparents, Alphonse and Bertha and, finally my parents, Alphonse and Alice.

The monkey riding an elephant is actually a piggy bank and, having belonged to the above-mentioned Alphonse and Bertha, is a beloved family heirloom.

Here's the rest of the Lourdes gang praying for a miracle! They have been relegated to the basement until we've decided whether they are worth keeping for this Summer's flea market.

As I was on a roll, I dusted the rest of the bedroom and reorganized the bookshelves on the tiny landing between our bedroom and the spare room.

Here's a view of our bedroom's mantelpiece, which is ruled by one of my favourite objects, the green frocked Art Deco lady with her pet birds. Oh, and I've added some more of my baskets to the coat stand!

The afternoon was spent catching up with blogland, and playing around with my wardrobe, yet again assembling some outfits for the week ahead.  

I also made some flatlays, as there will be no after work outfit photos as long as the weather keeps playing spoilsport. This is the only one of the prepared outfits I actually wore, combining a vintage mustard yellow shift dress patterned with scrolls and giant flowers, and a sky blue charity shopped Zoë Loveborn cardigan with red buttons and trim.

Finally, here is Sunday's outfit of the day. 

The ochre and brown tartan circle skirt was charity shopped last Summer, and in spite of my best intentions it hadn't made it out of my wardrobe yet. Together with the blue vintage blouse with its pattern of stripes and naive flowers, it was one of the outfits I'd prepared for the previous week but which had remained unworn. 

This was the outfit for which the massive woven belt - last seen with the culottes - had been put aside.

My other accessories consisted of an ochre yellow beaded necklace (a present from my friend Inneke), a blue glass ring and a vintage gold-tone brooch with a posy of mother of pearl flowers.

I wore this again in its entirety the next day, but exchanged my ankle boots for tall ones. I am actually sick and tired of the latter, and can't wait for Spring to arrive in earnest so that I can wear more frivolous footwear! And my Spring/Summer wardrobe, for that matter!

See you next time!

Wednesday 22 March 2023

And still the pensive Spring returns

I was feeling somewhat lightheaded from the overdose of fresh Spring air when we returned from our waterlogged walk on Saturday before last. In fact, I kept nodding off in the car on our way back, so Jos dropped me off at Dove Cottage and, while he ran an errand and returned the car to the garage, I had forty winks on the sofa. Bess wasted no time in joining me and, struck by the perfect harmony of her eyes and my tights, I quickly grabbed my phone and snapped this picture.

The remainder of the day was spent reading, catching up with blogland and, after our evening meal - Dove Cottage's version of Chili con Carne, if you're wondering - watching an old episode of Midsomer Murders. 

On Sunday - we noted the 12th of March by then - Saturday's blue skies had reverted to grey again. Nevertheless, the mercury eventually climbed into the double digits, although the rain which followed in the afternoon soon made us forget the previous day's attempt at Springtime.

Browns and blues were the main ingredients of the day's outfit, which consisted of a mix of vintage, charity shopped and the odd high street purchase.

My skirt, with its brown, black, grey and white chevron pattern, was a Think Twice find back in October 2020, while the chocolate brown blouse with its crazy multi-coloured print was an earlier purchase from one of their shops. 

The charity shop goddesses recently provided the two-tone blue and tan diamond patterned Zoë Loveborn cardigan and the No Stress caramel suede lace-up ankle boots. The blue beaded necklace and flower corsage were charity shopped as well.

The high street ingredients of my outfit are the turquoise plastic ring, and the stretchy belt with its massive wooden buckle. Oh, and my blue tights, which were a sales bargain from Inno, a chain of Belgian department stores founded in 1897 in Brussels as A l'Innovation

The gloomy, ill-tempered weather kept us inside for the day, but as usual, I had no problem keeping myself occupied. My journal tells me that I washed my hair, assembled some possible outfits for the week ahead, did a minor repair on a dress and continued my wardrobe purge by filling another bag for charity and putting aside a pile of items to be sold at this year's flea market. 

Assisted by the ever helpful Bess, we changed the bed sheets, using the William Morris-style duvet cover and pillow cases which ended up in our IKEA shopping bag for the first time.

After a thorough quality check, it seemed to meet our funny feline's approval.

I also finished my latest read, Alice Hoffman's The Third Angel, which I picked up from a second hand book shop during lunch break the other week.

So far, I've read a dozen or more books by her, loving the elements of magic realism which are such an integral part of her novels. However, I'm still on the fence about this one. Somehow, it didn't grip me as much as some of her earlier works, such as her well-known 1995 novel Practical Magic, Second Nature (1998), Blue Diary (2001), The Probable Future (2004) and Blackbird House (2005).

And so another weekend had come and gone, with another working week waiting in the wings. But even those tend to pass by in a blur, the days akin to the wagons of a high speed train. I don't know what's happening to the passing of time lately, but I wouldn't at all be surprised if someone has been fiddling with the hands of the universal clock. I'm waking up, bleary-eyed, on Monday, and then - woosh! - it's Thursday again, and time to wave the office goodbye for another 3-day weekend.

It had been a week of ups and downs in terms of weather, the days only having had a chilly start in common, but varying from sunny, with highs effortlessly reaching the mid-teens, to grey and rainy, with the mercury not even climbing into the double digits.

Thursday the 16th of March fell into the former category, with glorious all-day sunshine, and it's on days like these that the light noticeably lingers longer.  Cue the first of the after-work outfit photos of the year!

Apart from my necklace and brooch, which were a charity shop and a flea market find respectively, all I was wearing that day was bought brand new. 

The rust coloured faux-suede paperbag waist skirt was a sales bargain, bought at 70% off in January 2022, while the blue blouse with its purple stripy print, from the defunct Belgian Wow To Go label, was snapped up from an outlet shop back in November. Finally, the zebra striped belt was a cheeky retail buy a couple of years ago. One of my favourites, it has definitely earned its place in my wardrobe by now!

I was happy to see that several of the dwarf Irises (Iris reticulata) whose bulbs I tucked into the kitchen window box at the end of December had decided to show their pretty little faces. I swear that only days ago, there wasn't even a flower bud to be spied. Aren't they absolutely gorgeous?

Friday saw a repeat of Thursday's gorgeous weather, and in spite of the fact that a light layer of cloud briefly obscured the sun once or twice, the mercury effortlessly climbed to 17°C.

I was raring to go outside and into the garden to make a start with the gargantuan task of spring-cleaning our little plot. So far, the weather and my mood - but mostly the weather! - had conspired against doing anything but the very bare necessities. It hasn't really helped that the little paved courtyard at the back of our garden is looking like a junkyard of garden waste bags and discarded pots, hastily moved there when our neighbour started work on the infamous wall. 

I chose to ignore the latter for now, and cut back, pruned and filled up our compost bin with garden waste for the better part of two hours.

In spite of the self-confessed neglect, our garden is slowly but surely coming to life, with new green shoots seemingly appearing overnight. Our ancient Spirea shrub, planted in our first Spring at Dove Cottage, is full of tiny flower buds (above, top right). And I couldn't believe my eyes when I spotted several Snakeshead Fritillaries (Fritillaria meleagris, bottom left) about to burst into flower. Only one Daffodil though ...

Task finished, I changed out of my gardening gear and into this dotty Diolen delight. An old Think Twice bargain, I was surprised to find I hadn't worn it at all last year. A big mistake, surely, as with its joyous multi-coloured dots it's the perfect mood booster on the gloomiest of days!

I paid tribute to the green dots with my opaques, ring and carved heart brooch, the latter bought in Cardigan on one of our last Welsh holidays. My pink, charity shopped, beaded necklace matched the pink dots exactly.

Of course, no Friday would be complete without a rummage at the charity shops, so that was our afternoon sorted.

Our first stop was at the Oxfam shop in Wilrijk, which isn't on one of our regular charity shop itineraries, and therefore often forgotten about. In fact, our last visit dated from October.

I ummed and ahed about a chambray skirt and a chunky aqua long-line cardigan, both of which were put back on the rails.

But then I spotted this coat! And no, I definitely don't need another coat, nor do I usually like Desigual very much. But what can I say? I fell head over heels and even more so when I tried it on and it turned out to be a perfect fit. What's more, it was on the half-price rail, so I couldn't hand over its € 15 asking price fast enough. 

Next, I took pity on this snakeskin bag. It's not in the best of conditions, but it's the real thing, and I couldn't bear thinking of what would happen to it if I didn't take it home. I happily paid € 8 for this.

At our most local charity shop, I purchased this handmade fluted navy and green pin-striped midi skirt. I couldn't get it to look right in my photos, as neither my phone's camera nor my Sony Cybershot seemed to be up to the job, particularly on the gloomy Saturday morning I tackled the task. It does look quite a bit greener in real life.

A dark red belt, Gustav Klimt spectacles case and gold-tone and faux tortoiseshell chain belt landed in my trolley as well. They are displayed on a tartan garment, which I couldn't get Angelica to pose for you. No fear, though, I will do the job myself in my next post ...

My final purchase was plucked from the bookshelves: The Gardens of Emily Dickinson by Judith Farr.
The book highlights the poet's passion for gardening. As I love both her poetry and gardening, this will be a book to regularly dip into.

* Post title taken from Emily's Dickinson's poem Snowdrops in Spring

Friday 17 March 2023

Walking on water

Remember the wicker basket that followed me home from the last flea market? I am truly a sucker for them as, in spite of the not insignificant number already cluttering up Dove Cottage's spare room, I cannot seem to stop picking them up whenever the opportunity presents itself.

The largest of my baskets are true workhorses and have been roped in as storage for belts, scarves and holiday brochures, to name but a few. In fact, my latest buy has already been put to work and is currently holding my stash of long-sleeved t-shirts. The others, unfortunately, were crammed into every available nook and cranny, so that sadly enough it was a case of out of sight, out of mind! 

Note my use of the past tense, though, as on Friday last week - we were the 10th of March by then - I woke up with a fully formed idea: what if I displayed them on a coat stand? Not wanting to be left deflated by a long-winded and possibly fruitless search in the charity shops, I went online and searched IKEA's website. And hey presto, there it was: I instantly fell for its classic design and, what's more, I knew that the sturdy steel it was made of would most definitely be up to the job.


So, right after lunch that day, we did something we hadn't done in well over ten years. We went to our nearest IKEA store. We expected it to be a lot busier, but apparently we'd picked the right time of day, as it was actually quite alright. 

By the time we'd paid for our purchases (almost inevitably, we also ended up buying a couple of smaller things, such as some laundry bags and a new laundry basket) the weather, which had been reasonably sunny, with 10°C, had changed for the worse. Strong gusts of wind were rattling the IKEA flag poles in the parking lot, and I had to hold on to my beret and scarf to keep them from making their escape. The temperature had dropped several degrees as well, and would be more than halved by the end of the afternoon. 

But we made it home in one piece and, after Jos had put the thing together and we'd done a reshuffle in our bedroom to make space, I had fun collecting all my baskets and arranging an eye-pleasing display.

As a bonus, here are some of the baskets in my collection. All but one in the above collage were charity shop finds - the one on the top left was picked up in Bridgnorth, Shropshire in 2018 - but I bought the green-striped and raffia embellished beauty from a vintage shop which unfortunately is no longer trading.

Both the crab basket on the top right and the tourist souvenir basket which probably started its life in Menorca (bottom left) were charity shopped as well, the latter quite recently last November. I'm in a quandary about the origins of the other two, though. I seem to remember that one of them - I think the blue one - came from Think Twice, but my mind draws a blank for the yellow one.

By now, the weather had deteriorated even further, the temperature slowly but surely making its way towards freezing point and with rain followed by sleet and hail lashing our windows.

As weather conditions prevented us from taking outfit photos, I decided to follow in Vix's footsteps, and try my hand at a flatlay, for which I used the only uncluttered bit of floor space in our bedroom.

The dress, which is a rich chocolate brown rather than black, is vintage and another Think Twice purchase. The label reads Ralph dress, and proclaims it was made in West Germany. The three buttons at the cuffs echo those decorating each shoulder. 

Picking up the colours of the floral pattern, I added a turquoise belt and orange beaded necklace, then layered it with a blue, charity shopped Zoë Loveborn cardigan with orange buttons, to which I pinned the orange flower brooch which was a gift from Kezzie.

Saturday's weather was the complete opposite of Friday's, having a frosty start but, courtesy of the delicious all-day sunshine, warming up to a reasonable 7°C during the day.

It was still chilly enough to wear this as yet unworn pink and green patterned wool-blend dress. Charity shopped back in October, it's from the French Le Gaillard label, its shoulder pads a testimony to the 80s. 

I enhanced the green bits in the dress's pattern by adding a stretchy belt, ring, necklace and huge bird-on-a-branch brooch in shades of my favourite colour. 

Note that, in anticipation of the afternoon's adventure, I was already wearing my chocolate brown, fleece lined walking boots. Although, in hindsight, I would have been better off wearing a pair of wellies!

The weather gods having conspired against us somewhat lately, we hadn't ventured any further than the cluster of city parks in the last couple of months. This time, however, the capricious deities were kind enough to treat us to a sky painted the most delicate of blues rippled with whirls of white cloud.

Our destination for the afternoon, a leisurely drive of about half an hour from home, were the enchanting wetlands known as Blaasveldbroek. 

Regular readers of my blog are well acquainted with this magical place, as they've tagged along on my walks here at least a dozen of times in the past 7 years. It's an all-seasons favourite whenever the weather allows, but my blog tells me we hadn't been here since November. 

The relentless rainfall of the intervening months had turned this watery paradise, most of which is a mere two to three metres above sea level, into a half-drowned landscape. The jetty I am standing on was almost level with the mirror-like water of the pond so that it felt as if I was walking on water.

Creatures of habit, we almost always do the same circuit, skirting the big pond the jetty juts out into, and then taking a left turn towards the heart of the domain. 

Imagine our dismay when we found the path partly submerged by floodwater (below, top left). We briefly considered trying to navigate the puddles by walking on the grass edges, but these turned out to be saturated by flood water as well. Not surprisingly, as the path is hemmed in by swollen brooks on both sides. 

There was nothing for it but to continue walking straight on along a winding path which would eventually take us to Hazewinkel, a 2000 meter rowing and regatta course. In order to re-enter the domain without retracing one's steps, there's a rather boring walk on a long and straight concrete path along the water's edge, which is why we tend to avoid taking this route at all. 

It's a shame, really, as before reaching the course, the woodland path meanders through an otherworldly, almost primordial landscape, eerily quiet in spite of the fact that it isn't all that far from what we call, for want of a better word, civilization. There's an orchestra of birdsong, and a frog chorus in season, the rhythm section supplied by the resident woodpeckers.

The woodland floor was submerged here, some of the trees left stranded on islands in an impenetrable swamp. And no, there was no need for the No Entrance sign at the bottom left, as we would have been rooted to the spot by tangles of brambles, if the marshy underground hadn't got to us first. The No Entrance signs, by the way, are placed at regular intervals to protect the kingdom of fauna and flora, which are the true rulers here.

Eventually, the course, and its boring concrete path was reached. Apart from a single rower, the expanse of water was empty, just the sky reflected in the water which was gaily festooned with the red and yellow buoys marking the lanes. 

When the exit into the domain beckoned, we walked along a broad semi-surfaced woodland path which took us to the heart of the domain, the delightfully named otter and beaver island.

Here we sat ourselves down on one of the available picnic benches for a breather, just sitting and staring and eating the waffles we'd brought with us, before continuing our journey.

On the final stretch of our walk, before we rejoined our car, we passed a large expanse of meadowland which was completely waterlogged except for the narrow path bisecting it. 

It looked for all the world as if the cotton wool clouds were caught in the grasses and reeds which were desperately trying to keep their heads above water.

And I think I finally caught one of those elusive marsh spirits on camera ...