spring

The magic of bluebells: exploring Arlington Bluebell Walk

The Magic of Bluebells: Exploring Arlington Bluebell Walk1.jpg

It's become an annual tradition to visit the Arlington Bluebell Walk in East Sussex in late April / early May - springtime would not be the same without it. Luckily for me, it's only a short drive away - but I think it's well worth a longer trek. It has the most beautiful and concentrated display of bluebells I've ever seen, and most of them can be viewed from wide accessible paths. There is a small entrance fee (£6 in 2017) which goes to a group of local charities - and it's worth every penny! 

There are 7 different walks you can take through beautiful woodland and farmland with lots of different vistas. My favourite is the short loop through Beatons Wood where most of the bluebells can be found (this is accessible to wheelchair users). There are some ponds (great for reflections) and lots of tree stumps and of course endless trees to provide interesting focal points for your photographs. Plus there are lots of seats scattered throughout the woodland for when your feet get too weary. The birdsong is so beautiful!

As you would expect, the bluebell walk gets very popular and busy at peak season with families and photographers alike. You can track the progress of the bluebells on the Arlington Bluebell Walk website, which is so helpful for planning your visit. The white wood anenomes appear first, followed by the bluebells - I love to try and capture a mix of both. It's definitely worth getting there as early as you can to beat the crowds, although there is so much space, it's very easy to wander away and find some peace and quiet.

The bluebell woods make the perfect backdrop for some portrait photography. We had some fun trying to get our little dog Misty to pose for the camera. With the help of some treats, we sort of managed it!

I've experimented with lots of different lenses over the years, but have settled on my 85mm f1.8 prime lens as my favourite lens to capture the magic of bluebells (paired with a full frame DSLR, the Canon 6D). I'm not one for wide angle shots, with lots of detail and everything in focus. Instead, I prefer to blur out the foreground and part of the background to try and capture the great swathes of purple and provide a dreamy, gentle feeling. It's not the best lens - and tends to be very soft when you are shooting with it wide open (a small number aperture), so most of these shots were taken somewhere around the f2.2 mark. They're not as sharp as I would like, so I will continue experimenting....

To get the blurry soft foreground, I crouched down low so that I had several rows of bluebells in front of me, and then focussed on a point roughly in the middle of the scene, using an aperture around f1.8-2.2 to create a shallow depth of field. This meant that the bluebells directly in front of me would be out of focus, as would the trees in the very far background, but the section in the middle that I focussed on, would be nice and sharp, drawing the eye there.

If you'd like to understand more about aperture and shallow depth of field, you might want to look at my post on How to get background blur in your photographs.

If you'd like to see more photos, I've collected my images from the last 3 years into an album on Flickr: Arlington Bluebell Walk - or you can click through the embedded slideshow below.

Arlington Bluebell Walk, East Sussex

I hope you enjoyed a wander through the Arlington Bluebell Walk. Do let me know if you have any questions in the comments below and I will do my best to answer them.


Monk's House: the home of Virginia and Leonard Woolf

Monk's House, the home (and garden) of Virginia and Leonard Woolf is located in the small and very picturesque village of Rodmell in East Sussex. I feel extremely fortunate to have this gem of a place not far from where I live - and I have no idea why it took me so long to visit. Virginia Woolf was the subject of my final year dissertation at University (a couple of decades ago!) so it felt extremely special and slightly unreal to be able to literally tread in her footsteps and imagine her living there.

Monk's House: The Home of Virginia & Leonard Woolf

I was equally enchanted by the garden as well as the 17th century cottage. It was clear that this was a very important space for the Woolfs and a source of inspiration for Virginia's writing. We visited at the beginning of May and I plan to return many times to see it bloom throughout the seasons.

I loved the colour scheme running through the garden - the pinks, purples and whites of the elegant tulips worked so beautifully with the Magnolia, which we were lucky to catch in bloom.

Monk's House: The Home of Virginia & Leonard Woolf

It was fascinating to visit the writing lodge in the garden and look out over the views of the South Downs that Virginia would have stared at, whilst she wrote. The garden is such a tranquil space in a perfect location - very easy to see why the Woolfs fell so much in love with it. It was grey and wet when we visited, but still so very beautiful.

The house is full of books and artwork and many other collections owned by the Woolfs. It has a very relaxed and lived in feel. It was a pleasure to chat to the very knowledgeable staff, who had many interesting tales to tell. You are also allowed to take photographs, which was very welcome indeed. I'll only share a few snippets, as I don't want to spoil it all for you.

I loved seeing vases full of fresh flowers from the garden all around the house.

I really enjoyed tiptoeing around Virginia's bedroom, the lightest room of the house, with the most amazing views of the garden.

Talking of the garden, let's return for a little more spring colour - very welcome on this grey summer's day in the UK!

And just to prove it wasn't all about the pinks, purples and whites, here is a little more vibrant colour. I just adore the shape of these tulips - so elegant. I used a combination of my 100mm f2.8 macro lens and my 50mm f1.4 lens to capture these photos.

If you ever have the opportunity to visit when in Sussex, I highly recommend it. It's just a short drive from Lewes, another wonderful place to explore. There are lots of events at Monk's House too, including some photography workshops - I hope I get the chance to attend some of these.

I'll leave you with a few shots from the pretty village of Rodmell - so many beautiful cottages - well worth a wander whilst you are there.


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Monk's House: The Home of Virginia & Leonard Woolf

Pashley Manor Gardens Tulip Festival

I know summer is blooming all around us, but I would love to take you back to springtime for just a little while.... If you're a fan of tulips, then you would love the Tulip Festival at Pashley Manor Gardens - imagine 30,000 tulips (with over 100 different varieties) set in a beautiful garden on the border of East Sussex and Kent.

The festival ran from 22 April - 07 May this year (2016) and cost £10.50. This time I visited on a weekend and it was very busy, which made photography a little more challenging, as it was almost impossible to get a shot without someone in it! If you can, I would strongly recommend visiting on a week day - we visited the day before it opened last year as part of a staycation, and it was much more relaxed. But still 100% worth a visit, busyness and all.

The tulips are planted/arranged by colour and the complementary planting was just as beautiful. I'm a big fan of pink (no surprises there!), so let's start with those.

The tulips are all really clearly labelled, which is brilliant if you are looking for some inspiration for which tulips to plant in your garden - just remember to bring a notebook - or photograph the labels, as there are far too many to remember. You can even order the bulbs at the festival, whilst admiring a beautiful cut flower display (wish I'd left enough time to photograph this!).

If I had to pick a favourite, I think it would have to be Tulipa Angelique, which reminded me of peonies, but the tall slender West Point tulips (further below, in yellow) came a very close second.

Whilst the tulips were mostly planted in colour blocks, I loved the subtle combinations and two tone varieties, especially these ones.

I had the pleasure of visiting with my sister this year, another avid photographer, so we happily pottered around at snail's pace. We managed at least two circuits of most of the garden - one with my 100mm macro lens (my floral photography lens of choice) and the other with my 50mm f1.4 lens, to capture a few wider shots. Happily there are plenty of places to sit and rest your weary legs along the way - all very pretty too, so the perfect place for a few portraits. And I must just mention the cake! Food and drink are served on the verandah by the manor house and I was very impressed to see a selection of gluten free cakes.

Another beautiful place to sit is by the pool. You could be forgiven for thinking you were somewhere in the mediterranean (except perhaps for the temperatures!). Throughout the garden you will find lots of perfectly placed sculptures, all leading the eye to lovely viewpoints or planting. I think my favourites were the ones by the pool.

I loved this sculpture too - looking out to a beautiful Magnolia on one side, with the most amazing Wisteria behind it. I would love to have returned a bit later to see it in bloom - it looked like it had been trained in beautiful loops all up the wall of the house.

Although we were there to see the tulips, one of my favourite places was the glass house (of my dreams!). I'm currently rather obsessed with Geraniums and succulents, so this was heaven for me :)

And finally, we should return to the tulips! Let's finish with a little more colour for good measure.

A familiar sight, amongst the tulips - you'll spend much of your time avoiding all the other photographers and visitors, so using a shallow depth of field can be very helpful to blur out distractions. This is my sister, though, so this one was intentional (and I'll forgive her for getting in the way!).

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and would love to return next year. There are also several other events throughout the summer - the special rose week is on this week - so hopefully I'll manage to return. You can read about my visit last year or see more photos on Flickr below if you fancy.

Pashley Manor Gardens

Do you have a favourite spot to visit for tulips or spring flowers? I'd love to hear - I'm always on the look out for lovely new places to visit.

Arlington Bluebell Walk

Well, hello there folks. My apologies for a rather unplanned blogging break - the result of lots of DIY and garden projects whilst trying to balance things with my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I'm learning to be kinder to myself and to go gently when I need to, and to ask less of myself when things are challenging - so I hope you understand. I've got lots of photos and places to share with you, so hopefully I'll be back in my stride (in a gentle way) soon.

First up, is the very beautiful Arlington Bluebell Walk. If you live anywhere near East Sussex, I highly recommend a visit during late April/early May. They have a website www.bluebellwalk.co.uk with helpful updates on the current state of the bluebells, so you can plan your visit when they are at their peak. There is an entrance charge (£5 in 2016) which is donated to several charities each year. I was a little sceptical at first about paying to see a bluebell wood, when there are many places you can visit for free, but this place is very special indeed and well worth every penny - I have never seen a carpet of bluebells quite like it. Magical is the only word for it.

It's a huge site, with wide paths accessible to wheelchairs around the parts where the bluebell planting is at its densest. There are lots of other walks on narrower tracks around the surrounding farmland as well, if you fancy going further afield. You will also find refreshments, toilet facilities and some farm animals to meet before you enter the woods.

There are lots of places to sit and admire the views and listen to the beautiful birdsong as you wander along. But if you're anything like me, you might get a bit twitchy with a camera in your hand and so many beautiful photographs waiting to be taken. Literally every few steps is a new picture and a new delight.

This year was my second visit and I enjoyed pottering around with my 85mm f1.8 lens on my camera. I love to shoot wide open for maximum background blur to try and capture a little something of that bluebell magic. Bluebells can be a really tough subject to photograph as it can be tricky to get the colour balance right, and if you are lucky enough to visit on a sunny day, you will find the conditions very contrasty. My style is light and bright so many of my shots are intentionally overexposed and shadows brightened just enough to try and represent that magical light and experience.

Before the bluebells emerge, the woodlands are carpeted in white wood anemones - a beautiful sight in their own right - but the combination is really delightful.

The woodlands are full of interesting tree stumps, piles of logs and bendy branches to add interest and focal points for your photos - and they can provide a perfect setting for some portraiture photos.

One of my favourite things to do is to try and capture the sweeps of light through the trees, creating beautiful sparkling highlights and interesting shadows. I was lucky enough to visit on a gorgeous sunny day, so there was plenty of magical light.

Have you visited before? What are your favourite bluebell haunts? I'd love to hear.

More photos can be found on Flickr below, if you'd like to see more :)

Bluebell magic

Pashley Manor Gardens

I hope you will excuse a little flashback to spring, even though summer is blooming all around us. I had the pleasure of visiting the stunning Pashley Manor Gardens back in April, the day before their tulip festival started. Now I'm not usually one for formal gardens (I prefer mine wild and rambling) but I was bowled over by the beauty of the gardens and grounds. Pashley Manor Gardens are located on the border between East Sussex and Kent and are in the middle of the most beautiful countryside.

I don't think I've ever seen a more impressive display of tulips - every colour and variety you could imagine (100 different varieties in fact and 25,000 blooms in total). And everything was so amazingly neat and tidy - we saw lots of gardeners trimming and tidying everywhere, making sure everything was perfect for opening day.

My absolute favourite area, that I returned to many times over our visit, was the pool. Hard to believe this is in the UK! If I ever had the good fortune to stay in a place like this, I don't think I would ever leave the poolside. That blue looked so inviting.....

There were lots of beautiful statues dotted around the grounds, carefully placed to relate to one another, their surroundings and to lead the eye to the most impressive views.

I think my absolute favourites were the pool ladies...although the deer came a close second....

The Manor House is pretty impressive too. They serve drinks and food from the verandah, allowing you to enjoy a very beautiful view. The house is cloaked in wisteria - I bet it's looking amazing now!

I think I did quite a few circuits of the gardens, trying to drink everything in. Luckily there are lots of very well placed seats for you to rest, accompanied by the most beautiful birdsong. It really is a most relaxing place.

I think it's definitely worth a return visit - it must be looking completely different already. I believe the roses are now the stars of the show. For more information, please visit the Pashley Manor Gardens website.

Why I photograph & the magic of bluebells

The lovely Melanie of Geoffery and Grace asked me a little while ago why I photograph? A wonderful question. You can read Melanie's answer in her why I take photographs blog post. For my part, I think these beautiful bluebells do a good job of answering the question.

Quite simply, I love to capture and share the beauty around me. I think our world is pretty amazing. The strapline of my blog is "beautiful simplicity" and I think that sums up my photographic style nicely. I love to seek out special places and try and capture some essence of their magic and beauty to inspire and uplift. I'm not one for darkness and gritty reality (I think we all deal with enough of that in our day to day lives!), so many of my photos will be light and bright, full of space, with a soft, dreamy quality. I love to shoot wide open with a very shallow depth of field and often intentionally blow the highlights to try and recreate the same quality of light that only our eyes can see. A friend once said the sun always shines on Zoë's side of the beach :)

Photography is a compulsion for me. I have a strong urge to create and photography is one of my favourite outlets. I get twitchy if I haven't taken a photo for a while! I'm constantly seeing photo opportunities wherever I go. I don't think it stops me being present, in some ways I think it enhances my senses, as I try and take in and feel all that is around me. I totally lose myself in it. I guess it's that feeling that I try to capture in my photos, not a realistic copy of what was there, but my impression of what I saw and felt. The world through Zoë's rose tinted, dreamy spectacles.

I also think that capturing memories is a big part of why I photograph. I have a terrible memory and find so much slips away from me so easily. I love to look back through photo albums and remember happy times - often it's a small detail that sparks something off. I've been making a huge effort recently to organise my photos and my memories (whilst I still have them!) into some yearly photobooks. I've just completed the 2014 version and will share more about it in another post.

The photos above were taken on the Arlington Bluebell Walk on Bank Holiday Monday. It was my first visit and SUCH a magical place. I wish you could hear the birds singing and feel the sun on your face. The sight of those bluebell carpets, dotted with white wood anemones, glistening in the sunshine really does lift the spirits. The woodland was so well cared for and surrounded by countryside and it was so lovely to see so many people out and about enjoying our wonderful world (although I'm glad we got there early when the paths were quieter!).

Why do YOU photograph?

Spring spectacular at Merriments Garden

Since we left Oxford at the end of last year I've been on the hunt for some new gardens to frequent - I need a regular dose of beautiful blooms! I'd been totally spoiled in the past by having the University of Oxford Botanic Garden on my doorstep. So I was very happy indeed to discover the beautiful Merriments Garden, near Hawkhurst and Ticehurst.

We visited twice last week and ended up joining their garden club so we can visit as many times as we like over the year - hurrah! I'm so glad we made it in time to see the blossom in all its glory. There is the most amazing cherry blossom tree over-hanging the Monet pond with a beautiful blue bridge. The petals were falling like confetti and floating in the water - it reminded me of a pointillist painting. I feel privileged to have seen it - a week later it was all gone - so precious and so fleeting...

We also timed it perfectly to see their beautiful and very colourful display of tulips, part of their "Spring Spectacular". The garden isn't huge, about 4 acres - but it's jam packed with flowers, just the way I like it. It's beautifully designed too, with so many different viewpoints and gardens within gardens, places to sit and ponder, and lots of curves. It gets a big thumbs-up from me!

There were so many different kinds of tulips and every colour imaginable - it really was a feast for the eyes. I loved the combinations - lots of ideas to take away for my garden at home...

These ones reminded me of raspberry ripple ice-cream!

But it's not just tulips - there were so many other flowers out too, including the most delicate fritillaries. And lots of blossom. Please excuse the gratuitous photos - I just adore blossom and can't get enough of it! We sat and picnicked under the beautiful pink number below in the car park field. Is there anything finer then picnicking under blossom filled blue skies? I really don't think so!

Oh and I mustn't forget the Magnolias, looking glorious in the sunshine.

My apologies for such a picture-heavy post - and believe me, there are many more! If you are anywhere near this beautiful garden, I highly recommend a visit - I can't wait to go back in a month or so. If you are in the area, there is another lovely garden nearby in Ticehurst you must see, which also has a tulip festival on at the moment and is looking rather spectacular: Pashley Manor Gardens. But I'll save those photos for another day and another post!

Shades of spring blossom

Nothing makes me happier than the sight of those first spring flowers poking through. Except perhaps the blossom that follows. All that perfect, pastel froth and loveliness displayed for free, lining our streets and filling our parks. I adore spring!

I'm currently loving variations on the blush pink colour palette and various shades of dove grey. So much inspiration to be taken from the spring colours outside.

I'm pondering using some such combination to paint our living room, to complement our new charcoal sofas. But I suspect the pondering might continue some time as I'm desperate to get outside and enjoy our beautiful world now that we are finally unpacked and have completed the essential DIY. All the same, I'm collecting some favourite shades on my Pinterest Colour Palette board.

I'm on the hunt for the perfect location for spring blossom near me. All these trees were found nearby and are very beautiful, but I'd love to see more froth! In Oxford, I knew exactly where to go, but I'm starting afresh here in East Sussex. I'm planning to visit some gardens on our holiday next week, so finger's crossed the blossom will hang around a while longer. But if you have any top tips for beautiful blossom in East Sussex, I'd love to hear them!

I may be feeling a little blossom poor, but I'm loving these beautiful Summer Snowflakes that have popped up all over the neighbourhood and even in my garden. Aren't they beautiful? I hope you're enjoying the beautiful spring flowers near you. Expect more from me soon! And in the meantime feel free to have a browse through my Spring Bling set on Flickr if you're in need of some spring colour.

A bluebell wander

Well, hello there! I'm sorry it's been a while - I've been busy painting and decorating our house....lots and lots of white walls and doors and skirting! I've taken a short break from painting in order to keep my sanity, so I'm very pleased to finally be able to share some photos from a wander in some very beautiful bluebell woods back in April....

There really is something magical about a carpet of bluebells in pretty woodland with the sun streaming through the trees. This year we thought we would explore somewhere new and tried our luck with the Aston Rowant National Nature Reserve on the Oxfordshire/Buckinghamshire border - we weren't disappointed!

We stumbled across some fabulous twig wig wams - such a great idea! They proved very popular and of course we had to have a play too :) Photo of me taken by my lovely husband.

I took a Blythe with me for a little photoshoot too. We got a few strange looks, but escaped relatively unscathed, apart from some very sticky tree sap!! Her outfit was knitted by my lovely sister (her Etsy shop is On Blythe Street).

I really do think this is a pretty incredible sight - and what's so wonderful is that it is free for everyone to enjoy. I do so love living somewhere I can enjoy the seasons and the amazing shows that nature puts on - it has been a most fabulous and floral spring :)

I hope you all have a lovely week ahead - and hope to see you again soon :)

It's the simple things

For me, there really is so much joy to be found in the simple things in life. Like a glorious sunny spring walk around the grounds of Magdalen College, Oxford. Last Sunday Al and I packed up a picnic and headed out on foot with our cameras in search of spring. I'm pleased to say we found it in abundance, looking most glorious, basking in the beautiful sunshine.

There is a beautiful circular walk around the College grounds, with paths lined with daffodils and clusters of beautiful crocuses. I don't think anything lifts the spirits quite as much as golden daffodils aglow in the sunshine - yellow for me is the colour of happy. The perfect tonic after a winter of cold and grey.

We even found a Fritillary or two, which had popped up early, encouraged by all the lovely sunshine and warmth.

I love the randomness of where the crocuses pop up - little clusters of happiness all lit up, nestling amongst the daffodils and the pretty purple Scilla Siberica flowers. Of course it meant getting low down with my camera to get the best angles - I'm very good at getting in the zone when I have a vision of what I want to capture - but unfortunately this often means that I'm not really thinking about what I'm asking my poor body to do to capture said shot. I was limping around for a few days after this beautiful walk - a mild case of spring flower strain ;)

The beautiful sunshine created some beautiful shadows and patterns with the Magdalen College architecture too.

A day of warmth and joy. It really is the simple things :)