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More Than a Battlefield

Canada #36 Québec

On 13 September 1759, two opposing armies met on the grassy plains above the St Lawrence River in a battle which lasted less than an hour. The area known as the Plains of Abraham was named after Abraham Martin, a fisherman and river pilot who had farmed the land a century before. French troops, under the command of Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, were overwhelmed by British Army and Royal Navy forces, led by General James Wolfe. Five days later, the city of Québec surrendered to Britain.

More than 250 years later, the Plains of Abraham National Battlefields Park is a place of peace, remembrance and contemplation. Markers commemorating the battle are placed throughout the gardens, detailing important moments and the people who took part.

After overnight showers the morning air is cool and damp and raindrops hang heavy on flowers in the gardens.

It’s a quiet weekday morning and the only creatures we meet are hungry squirrels foraging for breakfast…

and these quirky musical penguins.

Water plays in the centennial fountain, constructed in 1967 to celebrate 100 years since the colonies of Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick united to form one independent nation.

Beyond the manicured lawns and neatly kept gardens, the grass is longer and the path, now just a narrow dirt track, leads to the top of Cap Diamant. We come to a Martello tower, strategically placed high above the St Lawrence River. Once a defensive fort housing a garrison of soldiers, the tower is now a small museum.

Following the path along the edge of the ridge, we arrive at Terrasse Pierre Dugua-De Mons. From this elevated vantage point, we admire again the wide expanse of Dufferin Terrace, the elegance of Château Frontenac and the St Lawrence River, silvery under the overcast sky.

Later, on our way home, we come across memorials to the two leaders of that long ago battle on the Plains of Abraham. Both died after being wounded by musket balls; General Wolfe not long after the battle began and the Marquis de Montcalm the following day.

They may have been on opposing sides in 1759 but today they are equally remembered for the roles they played in Québec’s colourful history.

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A Day of Learning

Canada #34 Musée huron-wendat, Wendake

After exploring the banks of the Akiawenrahk River and wandering through the First Nations reserve of Wendake, we were curious about the history of the Huron-Wendat Nation. The Musée huron-wendat was the perfect place for us to learn about this matriarchal society.

The museum, opened in 2008, showcases the history and culture of the Huron-Wendat people. Exhibitions of indigenous arts and crafts, beautifully decorated with beads and feathers, tell stories of the ancestors. Clothing and jewellery, household items and hunting tools explain traditional ways of life. They are displayed with photographs and explanations in the words of the people who made and used them.

The Ekionkiestha’ longhouse, where as many as 60 people from one clan would have lived, stands behind a tall protective palisade. The longhouse is made from white birch and alder trees; the lengths of timber and wide strips of bark would all have been gathered when the site was first cleared.

While the men were builders, hunters and fishers, the women of the clan tended abundant gardens, providing up to 80% of their food supply.

The garden beds surrounding the longhouse were filled with crops. The “Three Sisters” combination of corn, beans and squash grew together, companion planting at its best. The corn stalks provided support for the climbing beans, the beans renewed nitrogen in the soil and the large leaves of the squash plants shaded the soil, keeping weeds to a minimum. Jerusalem artichokes and sunflowers also flourished in the garden.

Inside the longhouse it was cool and dim, with light only entering through the narrow doorway. Platform beds lined the walls, furs piled high ready for sleeping. Cooking fires glowed as tendrils of smoke drifted up to the high domed roof.

Standing in the longhouse, it was easy to imagine families gathering together at the end of the day, children playing while the evening meal was prepared. The Musée huron-wendat brought the culture of the Huron-Wendat Nation to life for us in a way that reading never could.

 

Island Life

Canada #31 Toronto Island Park

In the summer months, crowded ferries travel back and forth all day long from their terminal in downtown Toronto to Toronto Island Park. The curving beaches, wide flat cycle paths and walking tracks on the islands are busy, and the amusement park and children’s farm are popular attractions.

Even though the 15 islands which make up the park cover an area of just 330 hectares, it’s not difficult to leave the crowds behind and spend time in more peaceful surroundings. There are 262 private homes and more than 600 permanent residents on the islands, and a guided walking tour is the perfect way to learn about their relaxed island lifestyle.

On a warm summer’s day we join long term residents Susan and Linda for a 90 minute exploration of the residential communities on Ward’s Island and Algonquin Island. We learn that the islands were not always islands; they were once joined to the shore of Lake Ontario by a sandbank. Wild storms in 1852 and 1858 washed away the sand, creating a wide channel linking Toronto’s inner harbour and Lake Ontario.

No cars are allowed on the islands and most people travel on foot or by bicycle. Six bridges connect the islands and shaded footpaths meander through the quiet neighbourhoods.

With warm humid weather in summer, most homes are surrounded by lush green gardens overflowing with flowers. We pause often to admire the  beautiful gardens and the wildlife they attract. Houses on the city side of the island also have enviable views across the water to Toronto’s CBD.

When our walk with Susan and Linda is finished, we say farewell and continue along a broad timber boardwalk. Beginning at Ward’s Island Beach, it follows the curves of the shoreline to the pier at Centreville.

On this sunny day the calm water of Lake Ontario gently laps the sandy shores of the island beaches. Watersports enthusiasts as well as the local wildlife take advantage of the glorious conditions.

As we come closer to Centreville, we hear once more the sounds of daytrippers enjoying themselves. It might only be a 13 minute ferry ride from the city, but they must all feel like they’re on an island holiday.

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Pink!

Canada #5 Pink Blooms at Butchart Gardens

The pink theme of Becky’s Square in September Photo Challenge fits perfectly with our day at Butchart Gardens and matches all three interpretations:

  • I was “tickled pink” to visit this beautiful garden.
  • The plants were “all in the pink” – well cared for and in excellent condition.
  • While there was no particular colour scheme in the gardens, we saw many beautiful pink flowers.

Mother Nature must really love pink!

For the Love of Flowers

Canada #4 Butchart Gardens

I wonder if, when Jennie Butchart first began designing her garden in 1906, she imagined how many people would come to visit in the future. Her work was the start of what would become the famous Butchart Gardens, 22 hectares of floral beauty visited by one million people every year.

Jennie’s first project was the Japanese Garden, complete with a red torii gate and traditional stone lanterns. Arched bridges span a series of ornamental lakes, and Japanese maples provide shade for beds of delicate Himalayan blue poppies.

The Sunken Garden was designed to fill the abandoned quarry which had once provided limestone to the family’s cement factory. A switchback path leads down into the garden, continuing on between raised beds of seasonal blooms, flowering trees and neatly manicured lawns.

At the furthest end of the Sunken Garden, the Ross Fountain performs a dazzling display of dancing water, at times reaching a height of 21 metres.

In contrast to the order of the Sunken Garden, the Rose Garden is almost riotous in its abundance. Fragrant blooms in every colour fill archways and spill out onto the paths. Arbors draped with climbing roses and oversized hanging baskets beckon visitors, who stop time and again to take more photos.

The Italian Garden and Star Pond are more formal in style, with trimmed hedges, waterlily ponds and ornamental fountains. Fuschias, clustered like ballerinas waiting in the wings, dangle from more hanging baskets.

Shaded seats with beautiful views are provided here for those enjoying a treat from the Gelataria.

In any season, the gardens are busy with people who’ve come to marvel at the beauty created by Jennie Butchart.

I think she’d be pleased to know how much joy her vision still brings, more than 100 years after she planted her first roses.

 

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Abundance

Kevtoberfest #16 Blue Mountains

In late September the Blue Mountains were in full bloom, with flowering natives and exotic blossoms competing for our attention at every stop.

At Jenolan Caves, spring flowers and magnolias filled every available space.

On the Federal Pass track to Scenic World, tiny native blossoms glowed in jewel-like colours.

In Leura, cherry trees laden with delicate blossoms attracted photographers and bees alike.

Waratahs grew wild beside the road to Anvil Rock

and at the Botanic Gardens alongside rhododendrons, proteas and camellias.

Clusters of golden flowers glowed beside blackened seed pods on banksias at Gordon Falls Reserve.

Springtime in the Blue Mountains is blooming beautiful!

Roaming in Roma

Close to home #14 Roma

It’s always lovely to go on a long holiday to a far flung destination. There are times, however, when it’s not convenient or cost effective and a staycation closer to home is the way to go. The destinations in this series of posts are all just a few hours’ drive from our home. They’re easy to get to, there’s plenty to see and do and at the end of the holiday we’re home again in no time.

The western Queensland town of Roma is located more than 500 kilometres from the ocean and the landscape is often parched from lack of rain. But at Bungil Creek and the Railway Dams there are gentle walkways with water views and, after good spring rainfall, the area is beautifully green. In both locations, it’s all about the trees.

A huge bottle tree marks the start of the Adungadoo Pathway, which follows the course of Bungil Creek. Said to be the largest in the district, the tree measures more than nine metres around the trunk and is thought to be at least 100 years old.

Even older are the river red gums on the creek bank. Some have been dated to 400 years and, along with tall coolabah trees, provide shade for walkers and cyclists. In spring, birds are attracted to the golden flowers of the silky oaks.

There are places to rest along the pathway, but there’s also the chance to be more active.  The frisbee course, similar to a golf course, has baskets instead of holes and a par for each round. A gym circuit has exercise equipment suitable for all abilities.

In the past, there was also a lot of activity at the Railway Dams. Originally built in the 19th century to supply water for passing steam trains, the dams are now surrounded by the Roma Bush Gardens. Eleven distinct areas are planted with native trees and flowering plants found in the surrounding Maranoa region.

A circular walkway passes through all the gardens, past more river red gums and coolabah, brigalow and belah trees. Bottlebrush shrubs laden with red blossoms grow at the water’s edge.

Walkers aren’t the only ones attracted to Bungil Creek and the Bush Garden. Rainbow lorikeets and kookaburras perch high in the river red gums and blue-faced honeyeaters dart around the flowering bushes. Pacific black ducks and swamp hens forage at water level.

 Even on the hottest and driest of days in Roma, the walking paths beside Bungil Creek and the Railway Dams are cool and shaded.
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The Last Afternoon

Exploring England #45

The last day of a holiday often seems a little flat. All the planning, the sense of anticipation and the days of nothing but enjoyment are over and the only thing left before arriving home is a very long flight.

Not for us! Our last day was as exciting as the first day. After spending a thrilling morning with Harry Potter at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour we had one last lovely afternoon. My friend Elaine, author of I Used to be Indecisive, took us for a walk around the park which so often features in her beautiful photos.

Cassiobury Park is a peaceful green space encompassing 77 hectares of woods and public amenities. We entered through Langley Way, one of many entrances with enticing glimpses of the woodlands beyond. In early October, the first touches of Autumn were already beginning to transform the trees.

We wandered along the wide path beside the Grand Junction canal, a branch of the larger Grand Union canal, stopping to admire Iron Bridge lock and the narrow boats moored by the bank.

There was no sign of inhabitants on the boats or at the lock keeper’s cottage, and the only wildlife we saw were curious moorhens who came up close, perhaps hoping for a few crumbs of bread.

A notice jokingly warned of the presence of other wildlife, more familiar to us than to Elaine!

Outside the cottage I spied some pretty hanging baskets, and I was inspired yet again to create some of my own at home.

As we turned back we spotted another path leading up into Whippendell Wood, where Elaine often sees drifts of bluebells in spring.

It was tempting to discover what was round the bend, but there was no time to explore further – we had a plane to catch. Like all good things, our explorations in England had come to an end.

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Out the Window

Exploring England #40

Even with careful research and diligent attention to the details on booking websites, there’s no guarantee that what you see is what you will get when it comes to accommodation. On our journey around England, we stayed in eight different places and fortunately all were exactly what we expected. What we usually didn’t expect was the wonderful view we had out the windows of our vacation homes.

Our first night in England was spent in a small family-run guest house in Cranford, a few kilometres from Heathrow. The building was surrounded by a pretty cottage garden, filled with late summer flowers and apple trees laden with ripening fruit.

The only hotel we stayed in was in Portsmouth. As its name implies, the Royal Beach Hotel is located on the seafront. From the top of the shingle beach we could see across the Solent to the Isle of Wight.

Our Airbnb studio near Bridport was the top floor of a converted barn, on farmland owned by the same family for more than a century. The walk up Colmer’s Hill was tempting, but we couldn’t fit it in this time.

We knew from the photos on the website this Airbnb apartment in Falmouth had wonderful views. That was partly why we chose it and we weren’t disappointed. Looking out over the waters of Carrick Roads to the village of Flushing, we were intrigued by the constantly changing colours before us. We weren’t the only ones enjoying the view one morning!

We knew our Airbnb apartment in Manchester would have neither rural nor ocean views, but we weren’t expecting to see a worksite. From our living room we looked into the backyards of the Victorian terraces in the next street. We were fascinated by the renovations over the fence and wondered what the final outcome would be.

Every morning we watched the antics of this hungry little fellow, who helped himself to breakfast from a bird feeder in a tree.

Our next Airbnb home was in Holme Mills, just outside the Lake District. Once again we had beautiful rural views, this time accompanied by the rich rural aroma only cows can provide. The millpond lay behind our cottage and, at the top of the hill, was Lancaster Canal.

On the outskirts of York, our Airbnb cottage was a one in a modern complex located in the grounds of a plant nursery, so it wasn’t a surprise to find a beautifully landscaped formal garden on our doorstep.

While we admired the carefully tended garden beds, it was the local birds who kept us entertained every morning.

In London, we were back in familiar territory. From our studio in Cartwright Gardens, we could see the top of BT Tower above the neighbouring apartment block and, if we looked down, the tiny patch of lawn behind our building.

It would have been tempting to stay home all day in every place we stayed, but after travelling more than 15,000 km to get there we had more to do than look out the window!

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Hidden Treasures

Exploring England #37

London is full of historic sites commemorating people and events from the past. Many are famous and teeming with visitors, while some are almost unknown. On our way to the Museum of London, we discovered a small green square containing two hidden treasures.

The dilapidated ruins of a medieval gate, built on top of the original Roman city wall, fill the front of the square.  Even when dwarfed by  the surrounding modern buildings, the 13th century bastion is imposing. The Roman wall, constructed in the 2nd century AD, was fortified with 21 bastions added in medieval times.

Behind the bastion are more remnants of the city wall and, tucked into a space between the wall and the Barber-Surgeons’ Hall, is the Barbers’ Physic Garden. Created in 1978, the plants are representative of those used for medicinal purposes from medieval times to the present; they were all listed in a botanical book published in 1597 by John Gerard, Master Barber-Surgeon.

Each plant is accompanied by an explanation of its medicinal benefits. Some have been in use for centuries but, with modern research methods,  others have been found to have unhealthy side effects.

Many of the plants are familiar to us. They grow just as happily in Australian gardens as in this hidden garden in the centre of London.