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Posts tagged ‘Rural’

London, Rediscovering My City: Into the Wimbledon Wilderness

It’s been well over a year since I first discovered Wimbledon Common, despite its location but a few tube stops down from my humble abode. But even then, our walk straight through the wilderness did not betray the full extent of rurality (is that a word?!) which is retained in this mid-urban idyll. A recent revisit changed all that. Dragging my visiting mother in turn, we wandered back into Wimbledon Common to discover anew a bucolic enclave mere miles from one of the world’s most developed capital cities.

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Taking random turnings off the horse-beaten paths, we found ourselves delving deeper into denser forest, whose clearings became scarcer as bounteous ferns filled the forest floor, and nettles and wild berries crept up in between them. It was one of those late summer days that dreams are made of… The sun was tempered by a honeycomb filter and tree trunks were spattered intermittently with the resultant golden light.

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We got ourselves lost quite successfully and could have imagined that London was another country away were it not for our sudden emergence onto a neatly trimmed golf course in the middle of all this beauty. While not exactly detracting from the aesthetics, angry pompous golf fanatics did not take kindly to our pausing on their path to take photos and admire the scenery. The photos in this post are thus a fingers-up to their absurd pomposity, and a nod to the nature which, after all, dominates their frolics and makes them a mere oddity, secondary to the glory of the landscape.

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Eventually we found our way out and back into Wimbledon Village where afternoon tea awaited. We may have loved the hours we spent disconnected from all civilisation, but were nonetheless grateful that urbanity never lay too far from reach… were it not for mobile phone connectivity, we may well have never found our way out of that forest jungle!

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

An Extraordinary British Summer, Part 2: Provençal luncheon, Sussex setting

Everyone dreams of those typical Provençal scenes – the rustic wooden table, set out under the dappled shade of a bounteous fig tree, chairs collected from all over the house set around the table as a miscellaneous collective of dissonant styles, and upon the table pitchers of wine, large bowls of salads and platters loaded with fruits and meats set down in waiting for a large family gathering…Such was the idyll we created last weekend, but not in Provence. In England, where the country’s best summer in decades continues to bring smiles of sun-inspired joy across all four corners of the Kingdom.

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For me, the heady mix of sunshine and a lush flower-filled English country garden, is one of the very best ways to enjoy the summer. My childhood memories are full of nostalgic reflections on summer picnics on the lawn, the feel of grass between my toes, the smell of lavender wafting in the wind, the sensation of stone paths baked by the sun (I think I must have deleted the memories of the rainfall which inevitably dogged other days – who needs to remember those?). So on those occasions when the English summer bears fruit, I head to my childhood garden where the flowers still grow abundantly, and the family can still gather despite the many years that have gone by.

So all things combined, and with my family now double the size what it was in my childhood, my homage to the English summer was a table laid under an iris tree, freshly cut flowers hung overhead so their perfume imbued the air during a lunch of barbecued meats and elaborate Mediterranean style salads. The wine, of course, was flowing, and as my birthday fast approaches, a first cake and early presents were enjoyed to mark an occasion perfectly fitting for this fine English summer. And as befits a luncheon more Mediterranean than British, our afternoon was spent at the seaside, where the waters of the South Coast are easily as warm as Spain’s.

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Vive the English summer! Long may it continue.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

An Extraordinary British Summer, Part 1: Glyndebourne

I have been to Glyndebourne, the wonderfully bucolic Sussex opera house, many times. Yet I have never, ever enjoyed the kind of idyllic summer weather which is promised by all the archetypal postcard shots. Many a year I have struggled to pin down a picnic blanket in ferocious blustery winds, cowered in marquees to avoid sudden rain showers, or taken refuse in the covered balconies of thered-bricked opera house building. This year couldn’t have been more different. For we are enjoying an exceptional summer in England, with a sustained period of heat the likes of which has not been seen for decades. Just reward, one might say, for a hellish winter that saw snow storms in March and a cancellation of Spring, but another sign that the world’s weather has all gone a bit mad.

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So finally this was the year for the sunny Glyndebourne picnic which I have long been pursuing like a Templar Knight seeking out the Holy Grail. While the concept of donning a dinner jacket in 30 degrees was far from pleasant, we were at least able to benefit from the shade of drooping willows and the light breeze rolling off green Sussex hillsides. In fact the weather was easily good enough to picnic in style, and we went all out – gone was the bobbled blanket in favour of foldable furniture, a Mallorquín tablecloth and fine china tea cups, all setting the scene for a lakeside picnic which beat the very best of Glyndebourne idylls.

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As for the opera – Pelleas et Mélisande by Debussy – it offered a suitably dreamlike fantasy whose imagery could have come straight out of a painting by the Pre-Raphaelites. Known for its highly symbolic qualities, the narrative was not always one which could be easily followed, but Debussy’s score – at times elegantly impressionistic and at others dramatically Wagnerian – was so exquisitely moving that all one had to do was sit back and enjoy the waves of rousing orchestral crescendo wash over you like water crashing over the eager Sussex shoreline.

Best of all was the the moment when the curtain fell, and we wandered out into gardens still lit by a sky tinged pink from a recently departed sunset. The heat of the sun was now dissipated and a fresher yet balmy breeze enticing us to enjoy the Sussex landscape in this most pleasant of summer hours. If only the British summer was always like this.

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

London, Rediscovering My City: Eltham Palace

Of all London’s historical palaces, rich in Medieval armour, Tudor ceilings, Stuart art and lavish Georgian interiors, there is one which is a little more unique in its ability to showcase a chapter in England’s history. For Eltham Palace, located just a few miles away from Greenwich, was not just the childhood home of Henry VIII. It was also later the jazz-age cocktail-swilling party palace of Stephen and Virginia Courtauld who found the Tudor palace in a stage of complete ruins. Therein began an ambitious architectural project which not only undertook to restore the Great Hall of the Tudor age, but to create a brand new palace alongside it which would turn out to be the very celebration of the Art Deco age.

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Looking at its heavy stone exterior, created to intone with the Great Hall, only the addition of some curving but unmistakeably 1930s nudes in the stone work betray the modern masterpiece within. Step through the doors and you enter a modern, minimalistic space where decadence and luxury are founded in a perfect, uncluttered line, curved white spaces inlaid with gold and aluminium leaf, and a complete dedication to perfecting the design fashions of the era.

The result is a true wonder of Art Deco, and as historical houses go, this is one that truly comes alive as you imagine the endless society receptions which went on there. The character of the hosts is evident wherever you look, from the lavish gold-mosaic bathroom of Virginia (I want one of those) to the centrally heated suite created solely for use by the eccentric couple’s ring-tailed lemur.

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But as ever, half the joy of visiting a great house is to enjoy its great gardens, and we cannot have picked a better time of the year to go. For the grounds of Eltham Palace were alive with the most lavish display of multi-coloured tulips and fragrant blossom which wafted gently in the breeze, settling upon the sparkling pond which, like a castle moat, encircles the palace like a silk scarf from a 1930s couturier.

Eltham Palace is a true example of how the ancient and modern can partner one another with spectacular results. And while the Art Deco house is now itself something of a historical artefact, it feels as modern and liveable today as it would have done 90 years ago. So if English Heritage ever feel like giving it up, send me the keys… I’m moving in!

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

London, Rediscovering My City: Hampstead Heath

There are a surprising number of places in London that I have never visited. Before moving to Mallorca, I lived in London for 12 years, and yet the closest I have ever come to Notting Hill was the image of Hugh Grant’s droopy eyes in a book shop and his scantily clad lodger jumping around in front of a widely grinning Julia Roberts. I’m determined to explore the whole city, when time allows, and one place that I can now cross off the list is Hampstead Heath.

London viewed from Parliament Hill

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Located in the far North of London, the Heath is famous for many things, amongst them its bathing pools (men’s, women’s and mixed), sprawling countryside, the setting for Kenwood House, and fantastic views of London from Parliament Hill. Hampstead Heath has been the setting for various outdoor pursuits, water-sports and bucolic perambulations for years, and I’m not just referring to the less salubrious kind. It’s not difficult to see why the 700 acres of greenery are one of Londoners’ favourite places to spend recreational time: the sprawling landscape is so diverse and verdant, including vast forests, open heathland, rolling hills and various ponds, that a stroll within the park feels like a weekend away to the far reaches of the Kingdom.

Rolling countryside minutes from London

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But Hampstead Heath is not just a pasture of green and plenty. For the North-most extent hosts a grand and lavish manor house whose pearly white stucco and delicately embellished facade glimmers against its verdant surroundings. This is Kenwood House, once seat of the Earl and Countess of Mansfield, and today home to one of the UK’s best kept art collection secrets. Including one of Rembrandt’s most striking self-portraits, light-infused works by Vermeer, rococo masterpieces by Gainsborough and moody weather scenes by Turner, it is a veritable treasure-trove of art history’s greatest stars. And what’s more, the collection can be seen for free.

Kenwood House

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Less easy on the wallet perhaps are the homes which surround the Heath. Palatial, detached properties overflowing with rose-bordered gardens adjoin this leafy landscape, and are undoubtedly some of the most desirable homes in all of London. While my back pocked literally ached at the thought of what they must be worth, I dreamed myself a little dream that one day such a property could be mine. In the meantime I spent a little more within my means: on coffee in Hampstead’s other great treasure: it’s chic village High Street. One day…

Hampstead Village

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

London, Rediscovering My City: Wimbledon Common

Knowing that the first weekend of Spring was going to be gloriously sunny, we had one objective in mind: to get outside. After living two years in Mallorca, London can feel claustrophobic by comparison. Life here is more geared up to the inside – cosy corners, candlelight, cushions – and yet ironically it’s one of the world’s greenest cities, so much so that a map of the city remains recognisable, even when the roads are taken away. This past weekend, we were determined to enjoy some of those green swards, and enjoy them we did. After agonising over Wimbledon or Richmond as potential locations, we actually ended up doing both in one. But the photos which resulted from that extensive walk are so ravishing that frankly I’ve felt compelled to split this post in two. Both green gems need their place in the sun!

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A renewed enthusiasm for the great British outdoors definitely comes of my Mallorcan experience. I spent so much time taking inspiration from the island’s impressive landscape that I realised how little I had devoted myself to the equally beautiful countryside back at home. And the English landscape really is beautiful, a point made no better than by artist David Hockney, whose vast multi-coloured canvases pay homage to the Yorkshire countryside in all its wild beauty, a selection of which can currently be enjoyed in a show of his work at London’s Tate Britain.

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It was to Hockney’s ravishing landscapes that my mind turned this weekend as we set out on our outdoors trek across Wimbledon Common. Within metres of entering the Common from the bustle of Wimbledon Village, we felt as though we had been plunged into the middle of the countryside. Here there were no cars, no litter, few people… you could barely even hear planes. But what could be heard was a relentless chorus of chirping birds awoken by the promise of Spring. The further we walked, the deeper the wooded landscape became, and as the trees leaned inwards over a path made from the footsteps of many, the tunnel effect brought to my mind the works of Hockney, as did the twisting complex maze of branches over head, which looked all the more beautiful for the lack of leaves, which, in mere weeks time, will be covered.

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These photos capture, I think, the very elegant beauty which can be found in the simplest patch of the British outdoors. Here there is no topiary, no control. The flowers are far and few between. Instead the trees, wild and tall had been allowed to dominate, and in the twisting unplanned trajectory of their growth, they had created an architectural marvel which is every inch as impressive as the sea of glittering glass skyscrapers comprising the centre of London, mere miles away.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Sheepish Easter Greetings from Mallorca

I feel rather sheepish as I creep quietly back into the editing space of The Daily Norm. For such has been the period of grievous separation between myself and my blog that I feel that we are almost like strangers. It may only have been something like two weeks, but for a regular blogger, that period has left me vacant, like a person devoid of a sixth sense. The cause was the run up to the tourist high season, which out here in Mallorca leaves few people with time to breathe the fresh air of Spring, thus leaving me with few opportunities to write, nor indeed anything of interest to share. But now mercifully the Easter is upon us – a time of rest, and of Spring-like hope.

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In that vein I wanted to take this opportunity to wish all readers of The Daily Norm a very happy Easter period with a selection of photos I took the other day deep in the midsts of the Mallorca countryside. They are ostensibly simple photos of local sheep, grazing in the grassy pastures close to the Cala Sant Vicenç. But what makes these shots more remarkable to me is the complex layering of the backdrop. In just one photo, you can gaze at blue skies, a stark greyish lilac mountain strata punctuated by dots of planting, a field of golden yellow and a further strata of green before it. Intermingled with everything are dainty white and mauve flowers, and of course the pearly white sheep who are the protagonists of the piece.

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For me these photos express a bucolic ideal and are the perfect way with which to wish you a Happy Easter. I hope you all enjoy the season, and indeed the very welcome entrance of Spring!

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2016 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Rural idyll in Mountainous Mallorca

It is sometimes difficult to remember, when passing most of one’s time in the bustling city centre of Palma de Mallorca, that mere miles outside of the city lies some of the most stunning natural scenery in all of the Mediterranean. From wide planes peppered with ancient windmills and sprawling olive and citrus groves, to incredibly vast vertiginous mountain scenery, Mallorca is an island rich in stunning vistas and bucolic idylls, and when I got myself a set of wheels last week, I enjoyed my first samplings of the island at its very best.

The car took us deep within the vast Serra de Tramuntana, a stretch of mountains which forms the backbone of the island sprawling from South West to North East, and which was awarded UNESCO world heritage status in 2011. Reaching the village from Palma involves an easy motorway drive East to Alaró from where the road turns inwards into the heart of the mountains.

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While the meandering mountainside road can be a little nail-biting at times, the accompanying views and sensationally untouched countryside are amongst the most stunning I have ever seen. Beneath towering mountains, terraced planes filled with olive trees and red stony terrain play host to mountain-hardy sheep and goats who totter around with iconic bells hanging around their necks. The result is a soporific melody of soft bells jangling in the still mountain air, a soundtrack which mesmerises me into an other-worldly state of epiphany. 

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Meanwhile through the delicate olive branches, soft warming sun rays bounce and scatter light across a crumbling dry soil, and all around insects stir against their beds of rustic tree bark and rocky-bound plant life. The landscape is almost biblical in its magnificence, and of course it lends itself to photography like none other.

So let me leave you to enjoy the fruits of my first visit inland. I can assure you now that there will be many more new mountain adventures to come.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2015 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.