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Monday, 18 February 2019


Lydbrook Valley, Gloucestershire looking north towards Courtfield
I left Lin asleep upstairs. With old Oscar I walked out of Rock Cottage, along the familiar path by the small iron gate of Plum House, which has a new resident. With my hazel stick and walking boots I clambered, sharp left, up the random stepping stones of a ladder-length gully to a familiar path that runs through the woods to a lych-gate opening onto a sheep mown pasture filling the foreground of the Lydbrook valley, coated on either slope with trees in wintry brown, yellow and fading green. At the head of the sloping meadow there’s a break between hanger woods leading via a steepening track to an edge. Along this runs a staked barbed wire fence with large mesh chicken wire, to keep in lambs. There's a stile. 

It’s a boundary that recurs in the paintings of our friend Steven Outram, who works in an old church hall on the opposite side of the valley. 
'It seems like forever' Steven Outram
Oscar and I climb slowly, pacing ourselves, towards the stile. Beyond it, the landscape opens to a panorama; nearly twenty miles away I can often see the grey outline of the Brecon Beacons; in the middle ground, the tower of English Bicknor church, amid fields of cattle and sheep. Earlier clouds had thinned. We had sun for our walk. Over the wet turf of Lydbrook’s small airfield, there are two runways mown flatter, surfaces fancied by Oscar who not so long ago would scout through deep tangled bracken and bramble. 
A family was walking the same field.  I heard the chatter of happy children. Oscar and I strolled slightly askance towards the same field gate, letting the band of ramblers and their dog advance and disappear. 
Herefordshire towards the Brecon Beacons

We descend from the larger landscape to the combe, edged by the road past Eastbach Court. I enjoy this Queen Anne house, slightly grudging the investment apparent in its excellent maintenance, walled garden, out-lying barns, stables, Dower House and steward’s cottage - each address indicated by push-bells next to a bright red post box with the initials VR - with the time of daily collection - embedded in the stonework of the modest gates. But here’s no local farming squire embroidered into the landscape and lives of an ageless community. We’ve walked Bell Hill over thirty years and seen this house change owners three times. 

The morning is beautiful. Occasional cars slow for us, as I walk upwards; Oscar on a lead until we’ve ascended to the forest’s plateau. What may have been Eastbach Court’s home farm marches beside a rough track back into the woods above Lydbrook. I follow it into the trees, bright sun beams sliced by tall spruce, signs of leaf mould turfed over by foraging wild boar. 

Passing Nigel Aston’s old car yard – hulks of many models rusting on a bulldozed track just above our path, we arrive on the steep path down Bell Hill between the beech wood above Rock Cottage, at one point sliding on my bottom over leaves, mast and twigs. 
The slope down Bell Hill through the slender beech

At home again. Lin has fed the wood stove more of our well seasoned ash, cut four years ago, sawn and split in the summer.

A day later the rest of the family arrived. Linda and I become 'Nan' and 'Grandpa', 'Mum' and 'Dad'. The cottage becomes turbulent. To let grown-ups stay in bed, I'm steward - for drinks, cereals, toast, getting dressed and resisting the spreading disorder of objects that accompanies the activities of children. 
"Right everyone, A walk! Coats and boots"
With the two dogs, Oscar and Cookie, and three children we set off up Bell Hill inventing the ten foot rabbit that lives here. 
"Keep your eyes peeled. Listen carefully. Be not afeard. Bell Hill and the woods are full of noises, 
They know we're making things up. The sky is cloudless. 
Hannah, Oliver and Sophia on the way to Eastbach

"You know that on the other side of this hill there's an enormous bison"
We retrace the walk I made, walking along a sloping track beside heifers and a placid Black Angus bull, the dogs on leads. 
"There's the bison!" I show them a construction placed on a rise across a field.

"Do you want to see it close?"
"No, no, no!" in chorus. I knew we'd be trespassing.
Along the Eastbach road we troop north along Probert's Barn Lane, the narrow road - in places grass along its centre - that crosses back into the Lydbrook Valley.
Probert's Barn Lane
I'm trudging, glad of my stick. The children's energy is boundless. We've further to go. Back briefly to the cottage across a long sloping meadow, then down the path to the main road. Hannah and Oliver talk to one another through 100 feet of plumbing of the galvanised hand rail - mouth and ear; childish teasing back and forth along the pipe.
We stop to post a card the children have written to Sophia's dad...

... cross the dangerous road through the village, with tremendous care, and ascend the opposite hill on a narrow path to where the railway ran in and out of the Forest of Dean.
"There's a ghost train runs along here! Can you hear a train?"
Waiting for the ghost train that runs through the Lydbrook Valley

"What about the ten foot rabbit?"
"It's scared of the train. It lives over the way where we walked before"
"It's coming" shouts Oliver "Get on the train. Quick"
Safe on the train, we head toward the river. We descend by many steps to the Wye, collecting interesting fruit and seeds and leaves.

Beside the river there are ducks and a pair of swans scavenging, neck dipping for seconds at a time, by the opposite bank.
So home on the pavement up to the centre of the village, up the Bell Hill path.
"Have you seen the mess the wild boar have made of our lawn"
"It's the ten foot rabbit"
"No! Wild boar rooting"
Indoors the grown ups are about, well fuelled wood fire warming the room.

"Where are we going today?"
Making decisions about this will go on a while. I sit back with a mug of tea. The children lay out their samples, examining what they've collected.

*** *** ***
Εορτή Αγίου Ισιδώρου 
Παρά το δυνατό νοτιά, ο κόσμος γέμισε απόψε το εκκλησάκι του Αγίου Ισιδώρου πάνω από τη Βενετιά, για να παρακολουθήσει το Μεγάλο Εσπερινό, παραμονή της εορτής του Αγίου. Το ψαλτήρι, όπως πάντα πλήρες, με ανάμικτο «τοπικό» και «βυζαντινό» ιδίωμα, με τον Γεώργιο Κένταρχο και το Σπύρο Τσιριγώτη στο Ανάγνωσμα της «Σοφίας Σολομώντος».
agiosisidoros022012.jpgΑύριο, Δευτέρα 4 Φεβρουαρίου 2019, ανήμερα της εορτής του Αγίου Ισιδώρου του Πηλουσιώτου, στις 8.00 το πρωί θα ξεκινήσει η ακολουθία του Όρθρου και στην συνέχεια, κατά τις 9.00 η Πανηγυρική Θεία Λειτουργία, μετ’ αρτοκλασίας. Στις δε 5.30 το απόγευμα θα ψαλθεί η Ιερά Παράκλησις προς τον Άγιο.
Above Ano Korakiana tonight, in spite of the strong south wind, people filled the little church of St. Isidoros of Pelousios above Venetià, in order to attend the Great Vespers service, on the eve, of the celebration of the Day of the Saint. As always, the list of  hymns and chants, was full of mixed local and Byzantine pieces. George Kentarhos and Spyros Tsirigotis read from the Wisdom of Solomon. (Part translation: Thanks to Maria Strani-Potts)

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Memo to myself re Birmingham City Council's plans to decommission Walsall Road Allotments - a petition. It was started by my friend Betty Farrugia, Secretary, for many years, of WRA - probably the best allotment site in the West Midlands. She it was who persuaded me to have an allotment myself, after we'd saved the Victoria Jubilee Allotments near my home in Birmingham. [By 21.00 on Tue 19th Feb 6.700 signatures had been attached to the petition: 8006 by 01.00 22/2/19]; 10274 signatures by 15.30 on 28th Feb 2019.

Walsall Road Allotments threatened by plans for Birmingham's 2022 Commonwealth Games

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Simon Baddeley