France – Monet’s Garden

It seems a long time ago since my old friend Rosie suggested that I accompany her on a voyage of discovery around the British Isles. A chance to see new places and to re-discover my penchant for travel. We were to embark on an eight night cruise starting from Tilbury in Essex (London International Cruise Terminal)


Leaving Tilbury

travelling in an anti-clockwise direction around the British Isles and stopping in Northern Scotland, the Isle of Lewis, the Isle of Mull, Ireland, the Scilly Isles and across the English Channel to Honfleur in France. The circle would be complete on our return to Tilbury. It was to be my first holiday for a long time and my very first cruise.

You need a ship to cruise and I was very pleased to find that this one met my perception of a traditional cruise ship. Small by modern standards but perfectly formed. This view was taken from the tender on our return from a day trip to the Scilly Isles.



From there, we crossed the Channel overnight to France  and docked, on the last day of April, in the small port of Honfleur which is on the southern bank of the River Seine in Normandy. The large commercial port of Le Havre is across the estuary on the north bank of the river.



We boarded a coach at the dockside for our journey to Monet’s Garden but the route did not take us past the old picturesque 16th- to 18th-century townhouses which feature in some artists work, including Monet, so the above was the best view I could get.

It is about 85 miles, and took less than 2 hours to get to Giverny, where Claude Monet and his family settled in 1883. He set about creating a walled garden in front of his house which would be full of perspectives, symmetries and colours and became Clos Normand. He became a bit of a botanist, spending a lot of money collecting plants and after 10 years set about acquiring more land adjacent to his, but across a road and railway and which, importantly,  contained a brook. He used this to create a pond and water garden full of asymmetries and curves. It is inspired by the Japanese gardens that Monet knew from the prints he collected avidly. So, that’s the background and now my attempt to show you what there is to see.

From the coach park we entered through the water garden following the brook meandearing through bamboo and clumps of pastel hued plants.

You are required to keep to the paths and as you make your way through the aspect opens up and you get first sight of the placid, still, pool.


Finding reflections

The biggest problem with trying to get some of these photos is the number of visitors in the garden (getting in the way 😉 ) and deciding how much time you can spend in any spot as there is so much to see and at this point you don’t really know the extent of the gardens.

Then you just know that you have come across the famous Japanese bridge covered with wisterias, which you cannot see as it is too early in the year.


That bridge


Reflection of the Japanese bridge

I did my best to capture the view but have not really done it justice.

From here you have to cross road and rail to get to the walled garden using an underpass. Emerging out into the open you get your first glimpse. The house can just be seen at the top of the photos.

We are now in the original garden which is laid out more formally than the water garden and has a number of avenues enclosing beds with clumps of flowers with co-ordinating colours. Fruit trees and climbing plants add height and structure.


A riot of colour – tulips and wallflowers

It was spring time so flowering bulbs were everywhere.

I was very impressed to see these Crown Imperials standing high above the tulips and wallflowers and will have a go at growing some for next spring.

The main alley below, closed to public access, is covered by arches for climbing roses and provides a perspective to and from the main house.


Avenue de la Maison

I made up that title by the way, but would love to see it when the roses are in flower.


Tulips and tulips

A view across the garden, which I hope shows the extent of planting. I haven’t really shown any of the flowering trees, but this one caught my eye also while looking  across


View through fruit tree blossom

Moving rapidly on we went into the house to have a look around and see how the master painter turned gardener lived, in some style.


Monet’s house

The house and garden fell into disrepair after the Second World War and it was only about 1970 that work began on restoration.

“Almost ten years were necessary to restore the garden and the house to their former magnificence. Not much was left. The greenhouse panes and the windows in the house were reduced to shards after the bombings. Floors and ceiling beams had rotted away,  a staircase had collapsed. Three trees were even growing in the big studio.

The pond had to be dug again. In the Clos normand soil was removed to find the original ground level. Then the same flower species as those discovered by Monet in his time were planted.

Thanks to generous donors, mostly from the USA ,the house was given a facelift. The ancient furniture and the Japanese prints were restored. Then the visitor areas were fitted out.

The property has been open to the public since September 1980.”  – courtesy of 


Interior of Monet’s House

The view from upstairs.


A wider perspective

and the view down the central alley from the house


Reverse Avenue de la Maison

I will finish with my personal favourite, a view through the window across the flower bed


View from inside

which I think, looks great full screen.

I hope there were not too many photos for one post, that i have given you an idea of the marvel of Monet’s vision and that you have enjoyed your visit almost as much as the half a million visitors who pass through the garden each year.

Thanks for your time.



Boro Garden Birds


Finches convention

The year is progressing, the weeks are passing very quickly and although we are still in winter, spring is getting closer. I have been busy taking photographs and not getting out much as I should. The cold does not agree with me. Never mind beyond the bird table, through the kitchen window, more like.

So, here is a selection of the birds that visit the bird table in Boro garden. Firstly, the blackcap who is still putting in an appearance most days.

I always assumed that I had only one blackcap visiting, but seeing these photos together makes me wonder if there are two. Of course it could just be different light levels.

Next a trio of goldfinches –

I think my favourite bird in the garden is the robin. There are two of them about but I have not managed to capture both together.

The dominant birds at the moment (apart from the occasional visits by a marauding gang of starlings) are the greenfinches who hog the feeders and will chase off any one else who dares approach.

With all the arguing going on, it was a greenfinch that provided my first flying bird.


Feuding finches

Ok, it’s not a very good photo but he did pose well 😉

The most common visitors to the garden are blue tits accompanied by great and coal tits. The problem is they tend to flit about without staying in any one place for more than a few seconds so by the time I have lined up on them, they have turned away or flown away! So here is a coal tit and a blue tit, but I have no great tit to show.

Chaffinches are normally around when the greenfinches arrive and here is a couple of them.

The greenfinches chase them off the feeders, so they normally have to resort to pecking around on the ground.

I will keep practising with the camera but that’s it for now. Thanks for looking in and don’t forget to check the Bird Table tab for live updates from the garden.

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch

This weekend in the UK is when the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch takes place. They encourage everyone to sit and record the type and number of birds that visit their garden during a one hour period on one of the two days. This has been happening each year for the past 30 years and is reckoned to be the largest survey of its kind in the world. The survey provides important information about the changes in numbers of birds using our gardens in the winter, and helps alert conservationists to species in decline like house sparrows, greenfinches and starlings.

I thought this would be a good reason to post some photos (some good, some bad) of some of the birds that visit my garden. Most of the pictures have been taken over the last couple of weeks with my new camera, but there are a few taken with the old one. My last post was a moan about the new camera changing my settings to get the right exposure at the expense of blurry photos, hence the references to cameras.

The first bird featured is a newcomer to the garden, but seems to have taken a liking as he has returned most days for the last week or so. I was very pleased to welcome a blackcap. He appears to be on his own and stands his own ground when others approach.

This woodpigeon is always about and tries, with all his mates, to eat all the food I put out.

Wood pigeon

Wood Pigeon

Spring is on the way because these next two have started fighting (well perhaps not these exact two) and I mean mid air fighting, real fisticuffs. So there is a female about, territory to be won.

The same thing is happening with the blackbirds. There is a continual chase through the garden, over the fence and back again with some raucous squawking at times.

Blackbird - Canon


Blue tits are probably the most frequent visitors and usually arrive in a flock with great tits, coal tits and the blackbirds. The one on the left was taken with the Canon (down in the shade) and the other the Nikon (up in the light).

This is from last year as I didn’t see the greenfinches or goldfinches today although they appear almost every other day. I had a play with frames as well.


Greenfinch framed

Here are some goldfinches, taken with the Nikon bridge camera.

The next birds are both types of crow and are rather larger than most birds that visit the garden.

The magpie was taken with the new Canon camera and the jay with the old Nikon. I think the Canon takes better photos, but I struggled last week in the dull overcast weather to get sharp pictures. The magpie is down on the ground where the light is poorest and the jay was up in the air on a brighter day. In the dull weather, whatever mode I used, the camera would insist on turning down the shutter speed.

One bird I was delighted to see in the garden a few times at the beginning of winter was a nuthatch.


Nuthatch feeding

Of course, it did not show it’s face during this weekend, so will miss out on the counting game. I hope all who took part enjoyed their birdwatch.

Well that’s a selection of the birds that visit Boro Garden (see tab above – The Bird Table) and brings me to the conclusion that for me a bright sunny day is the better requirement for a decent photo. The Nikon has no manual controls so the shutter speed is governed by the light available and can only be influenced by changing the ISO setting or scene mode. The Canon has manual controls in addition to auto, but in poor light I still find the camera sets the shutter speed.

I will persevere.

That’s enough for this post. Thanks for your visit which I hope you enjoy.

Help – No pictures!

I’m getting a bit frustrated now. I bought the new camera because it has manual controls with a high zoom lens. I need the zoom lens to get close to my subject (birds in the garden) because I cannot get physically closer. Having tried it for a couple of weeks, I find that everything about the camera does work faster and more crisply. It starts up quickly, zooms quickly, smoothly and almost silently. It focuses quickly. It’s a small camera with little in the way of thumb and finger grips, so in my big hands, not so easy to handle, but overall, it is a fine compact camera and I am pleased with it.

However, my big problem is that the camera keeps turning down the shutter speed and I end up with a blurred subject. When I try to use the options for controlling the aperture or the speed everything looks good until I depress the shutter button to focus and then the camera decides what speed it will shoot at and I end up with such a slow speed that a clear picture is impossible. If I try in full manual mode, the screen stays dark because I am obviously not getting the right exposure. I have to turn the speed down to below 1/50 just to get minimum exposure. I can set a higher ISO but it doesn’t seem to make much difference to the shutter speed.

The best results are still in Auto mode where I let the camera decide everything, but the shutter speed is still too slow to stop motion blur. The exposure is ok and sometimes the bird stays still but it only has to move it’s head and the body looks fine but the head is blurred.

I have now realised that the problem is compounded by using the zoom lens. As you zoom in on the subject, the aperture gets smaller and the shutter speed is slowed.  The annoying thing is that no matter what I set the controls at, the camera changes them to try and get the exposure right and ignores my moving subject (and my shaky hands lol).

Is it really so dark at this time of year that even at midday, I cannot get a decent shutter speed with a decent exposure?

Have I wasted my time buying a camera with manual controls? Is a compact camera only good in sunny weather?

Am I doing something basically wrong,  or perhaps I am just having a moan when I should be practicing?

I know this isn’t a camera forum, but if anyone has the time or inclination to comment, you may just save my sanity 🙂

Ingleby Incline

Ingleby Incline

The North York Moors are a National park, an area of outstanding natural beauty, wild and sparsely populated. There was a time however, long before the Park was set up when some areas were  industrial sites. Iron ore, the catalyst for the iron and steel revolution had been discovered in the hills around Middlesbrough at the turn of the nineteenth century and in order to extract it, railway lines were laid up into the moors. Much of the area is defined by a steep escarpment so it was not easy to get railway wagons up to the plateau.

One way in was the valley extending from Ingleby Greenhow into the escarpment and the north-east side of the valley was used to build the Ingleby Incline. Started around 1850, this standard gauge track worked on the principle of descending wagons, full of iron-ore, hauling empties up the 1430yd, steep 1 in 5 gradient, attached to long steel ropes revolving in opposite directions around a huge drum and controlled by a brake.   It was used to bring out iron ore from workings in Rosedale in the heart of the moors.

The ore ran out and the inclined railway was closed in 1929. The surrounding slopes were subsequently planted with coniferous trees and they are now being harvested. The old track bed remains today as a straight line route up to the moors.

Start of the incline

Start of the incline

This is how it looked with railway tracks and few trees!

Old postcard photo

Old postcard photo

You can see this track from a car-park way across the valley and I have often thought that I must walk that one day. So, here I am having parked the car on a warm sunny day in May looking forward to a couple of hours walking.

Start here

Start here

To the right of the path is farmland, mostly pasture and to the left is forest. In places the early coniferous trees have been felled and mixed woodland planted in its place.

May blossom among the pines

May blossom among the pines

The verges are a great habitat for wild flowers.

The track runs straight and level along past some old railway cottages that have been modernised and now used by forest employees. There are still some logs remaining from the felling which mostly took place a few years ago.

Log pile

Log pile

About a mile and a half brought me to the beginning of the incline.

Making progress

Making progress

This led through an area with old conifers on the right and mixed planting on the left. The stroll was getting to be a bit more like hard work, but the views were getting more extensive.

View north-west towards Teesside

View north-west towards Teesside

The local inhabitants wanted to know what I was doing in their territory

What do you want?

What do you want?

Closer to the summit you could see the work that had gone into making the track. They had to cut through here.

Looking up

Looking up

Near the top, looking back

Looking down

Looking down

New growth on the blueberry bushes across the hillside made a splash of colour on the grey rocks.



At the incline top, the land levels out across the plateau of the moors and you could see the few remains of the winding house and other railway buildings.

Industrial debris

Industrial debris

While taking this photo, I thought I could hear my mobile phone beeping, quietly as if the battery warning was on, but when I took it out of my pocket and listened to it, I realised it wasn’t the phone. Casting around, the only bird I could see, that might be making the noise was this one, sitting on a post some hundred yards away.

Unknown bird

Unknown bird

Sorry it is such a poor shot, I had to use most of the zoom on the camera. I had to put it in though, because I don’t think I have seen one before, possibly a golden plover? Beep……… Beep

They had been felling trees more recently across the valley on the north-east facing escarpment.

The debris from felling operations

The debris from felling operations

The other notable thing I came across at the top was this colourful moss, which when I went to stand near it, I realised was more or less floating on water.

Time was now getting on and I had to retrace my steps. This time, I hoped gravity would greatly assist my passage. Indeed, as I started down the path it felt as though I was in an airplane about to start its descent to land

Coming in to land

Coming in to land

You may just be able to make out the cyclist walking his bike down this stretch. It was much easier going and I was soon well on the way to the car. Facing the other direction I was able to see this other local landmark along the way. Again I had to use the zoom on the camera to pick it out.

Roseberry Topping

Roseberry Topping

At just over a thousand feet high the distinctive shape was caused by the combination of a geological fault and a mining collapse in 1912. It has made the hill the most beloved landmark in the Tees Valley area. With its half-cone summit and jagged cliff, some say it reminds them of the Matterhorn in Switzerland.

I made it back to the car ok, but by then I was certainly ready for a sit down and a cup of tea. A great walk in great Spring sunshine.

I hope you enjoy.










Helmsley Walled Garden – a return visit

Helmsley Walled Garden – a return visit

The improvement in the weather is stirring the need to get out and about, so last week, I paid another visit to the Helmsley Walled Garden  to see what changes have occurred since my previous visit at Easter.

The garden, built in 1759, sits beneath the impassive gaze of the ruins of Helmsley Castle, at the southern edge of the North York Moors. It’s five acres are small enough to get round, but large enough to lose that plant you wanted to go back and see again.

The laburnum is in flower and the plants draped across a pergola, appear to be dripping with bright yellow drops and now frame a view to the castle

Laburnum framing a view to the castle

Laburnum framing a view to the castle

Lush Laburnum

Lush Laburnum

It is the pergola that looked lush, not the occupant!

The other common colour in evidence was shades of purple and the upstanding spheres of allium were all around.

Double border

Double border

Some more purple; Irises this time, with big bold flowers and some a really dark purple.

There was a big patch of cornflowers and hidden around them these big showy flowers, which I think are specialised cornflowers, but I couldn’t find a name, so if anyone can help?

This poppy looked quite decadent and reminded me of Victorian draperies –

Large poppy

Large poppy

Pink poppy

Pink poppy

I have an idea that this overgrown giant is some form of gunnera and would not want to pick a fight with it!

Unknown plant

Unknown plant

And now we move onto the white gallery

Hidden behind the Physic garden was this wonderful stone water feature

Water stone and moss

Water stone and moss

I started this post with the castle and thought this view would be a fitting finale.

New life, old walls

New life, old walls

I am sorry the narrative is a bit sketchy. I am getting behind with recounting my life beyond the bird table. I find it is easy taking the photographs but much harder going through them afterwards and deciding whether you have anything worth sharing. I have a couple more excursions already stacked up on the memory card and must press on.

I hope you find these images of interest.



Raby Castle

Raby Castle

It was Monday, a holiday, the May Day bank holiday, so the housemate and I needed to go out somewhere. We tried locally, at a gardening event at a local park, Preston Park, Stockton, but there wasn’t much of interest to see and I left there with only a vague idea of where I was going next.

After consulting the map in my head and with a recently retired person’s desire to see beyond the bird table, we ended up at Raby Castle in County Durham, which dates back to the 14th century and was the ancestral home of the Nevills. The estate is run by Lord Barnard who, through his grandmother, is a direct descendant of the Nevills of Raby. For anyone interested in the full story try here –

The castle stands in a 200-acre deer park surrounded by some very English countryside and has a walled garden, carriage house and a tea house which utilises the old stables

Great use for the old stables

Great use for the old stables

where we fortified ourselves with lunch before venturing out to the walled garden :-

The walled garden from the deer park

The walled garden from the deer park

The greenhouse in front of the wall protects just one tree – a 200 year old fig tree. You can only view it from outside and I couldn’t get a reasonable shot through the glass with my camera to give you an idea of the size of the thing. There is just one trunk in the middle and the branches are trained out along the wall in both directions to fill that glass house, which is heated in winter.

Theses incredible hedges are also over 200 years old and have acquired the most amazing shapes. They run down across the garden enclosing the more formal area and the housemate gives an idea of the scale. This area contains a pool and small fountain –

Pool and hedge

Pool and hedge

and has views over to the castle

Castle from garden fountain

Castle from garden fountain

I got fed up of washed out sky, so tried turning it blue. I suppose it now looks artificial.

There were far too many plants to show in this post and I am no expert, but here are some that I really liked –

Contrasting to the free flowing form of the yew hedges were these geometric shaped low box hedges. There were 5 of these altogether, but I couldn’t get all of them in one shot.

Geometric box hedges

Geometric box hedges

Of course, no walled garden would be complete without a summer house, this one just happens to have a great view –

This led us on closer to the castle and the wider parkland.

with so much space, a tree can really get going –

Parkland tree

Parkland tree

So we went on, to looking for the animals that give this deer park it’s name. There are two species of deer, Red deer, the largest British wild land mammal, and the smaller Fallow deer. Apparently, both herds contain the descendants of deer preserved in this area since Norman times. With so many visitors on a holiday weekend, the deer had hidden themselves, despite their numbers and were eventually found in the farthest corner of the park. You couldn’t get close to them, but I was surprised at the size of the herds, they seemed to stretch out in a never ending line.

As they were so far away, I had to use the maximum zoom on my camera and came to realise how hard it is to hold a steady shot at high magnification and even to see clearly what you are focusing on! I couldn’t for instance find the stag with his antlers on show, but there was one.

Leaving the estate, we had a only a quick look, as they were getting ready to close, into the carriage house . They certainly liked to use bright colours –

Carriage House

Carriage House

So, that was another day out in the country, beyond the bird table, I hope you enjoy.