I cannot believe it will have been two years since M and I visited Croatia at the end of July.
I’ve been enjoying Luke Bather’s recent Instagram posts of some (film) shots he took on a recent trip to Croatia – he captures elements of the light and the building materials in a way that makes it feel like just yesterday that we visited. But it’s basically two years ago now, and that makes me long to visit again.
Before I get too wrapped up in Spring and completely forget about our winter adventures, I must mention our trip last December to Switzerland.
We had booked ourselves in for a week at a mountainside spa resort. The Rigi is ‘the Queen of the mountains’, and has a surprising number of rail connections up and down its flanks. What’s more, the region is carless, so folk can walk around untroubled by traffic.
It was, as we’d hoped it would be, staggering beautiful. Although we didn’t get the dreamed-for snowfall, the views of the Swiss Alps in the distance were breathtaking, and we were blessed with mostly clear weather.
Actually, I should qualify that statement by saying that our resort and surrounding area was blessed with clear weather. We were at sufficient altitude to be above the clouds. The Rigi is famous for sitting atop a ‘sea of fog’.
We learned about this ‘sea of fog’ on our first evening. We took the train from Lucerne, followed by a local bus, and then one more, until finally our last connection was a cable car up the mountain.
A kind local fellow showed us the way to the station – the luftseilbahn – and explained the mysterious ‘sea’. As our car rose swiftly up the hillside in darkness, we soon left the modest lights of the town of Weggis behind.
At one point on the way up – to our surprise at 8pm on a dark winter’s evening – the car’s lights were dimmed completely, and so we rose silently, through thick fog, in complete darkness. It was one of the eeriest moments I’ve ever experienced, particularly when travelling somewhere new.
Thankfully we could tell from the demeanour of our fellow travellers that this occurrence was entirely normal, and before long we had reached the top station and our final destination.
A recent, spontaneous daytrip took the three of us to Thorp Perrow Arboretum at Bedale, somewhere off the A1, nestled between Yorkshire’s Dales and Moors.
It was a marvellous time to visit; not only were the leaves starting to change colour, but many of the park’s trees were bedecked with rather humorous Hallowe’en characters.
The arboretum is laid out as a series of tree-lined paths, with many straight lines providing a view from one landmark to another – from a mock bandstand to a grand house, for example.
The scale of the place was hard to grasp at first. We had been provided with a simple map, detailing areas with names like Milbank Pinetum and Spring Wood. But as we walked the leafy lanes, it was easy to feel lost and enveloped by the trees, seemingly in their natural home.
The park was also home to a nice selection of falcons and mammals. It was lovely to see some rather majestic birds up close, but I must sheepishly admit to spending a good ten minutes or so shrieking with joy at the capering meerkats.
I thought at the time that an arboretum is a sort of zoo for flora; wandering in wild woodland is the preferred activity, but such a cultivated, manicured place as an arboretum has rather a different feel to it. It’s no less beautiful of course. Further, the rough, organic nature of the set-pieces combines beautifully with the subtle yet well-thought-out placement and alignment, creating a wonderfully pleasant world in which to get lost.
With the leaves on the turn, and being blessed with the appearance of bright sunshine, the place was awash with colour. With nothing yet looking as though it was dying, it was all reds and yellows, and deep oranges and golds. It’s hard not to fall in love with nature this time of year, with everything seemingly putting on such a wonderful show.
The hokey Hallowe’en ornaments we found dangling from one tree or another were an amusing aside. They were occasionally creepy in the traditional way, while others were rather more hammy: a sinister pair of upturned legs emerging from the shallow waters of one of the park’s ponds featured not far from an impossibly skeletal plastic spider.
It being half term, it was a cheering sight to see small children in their own Hallowe’en costumes running up to investigate the spooky displays – getting just close enough to spy their general outline, but not so close as to risk some unknown fate.
The spooky air of the ornaments was detracted from somewhat by the dazzlingly bright sunshine, but I still felt it was a joy to see such a display in such unlikely surroundings.
In a world of supermarkets selling plastic masks and garish accessories, this simple combination of scary symbols strung from trees recalled a more traditional Hallowe’en celebration. Even despite the sunshine, it wasn’t hard to imagine the likes of Irving’s headless horseman galloping between the ancient oaks. I secretly wished I could revisit the park after dark on a cold, misty night – until I remembered that my imagination wouldn’t bear such a thing.
Overall, though, Thorp Perrow Arboretum has such a magical air to it that I would love to revisit it in any season or weather. I imagine the park and surrounding fields would look terrific all covered in snow, and I can barely conceive of how refreshing it must be to see the place spring back into life again after months of hibernation.
“We come over the hills to Taupo — Before us the lake — in the foreground blue, then purple — then silver — on this side the pines — the gum trees — the clustering houses — and a fringed yellow meadow — In the lake the little Motutaiko — and beyond that clear water mountains until at last Ruapehu snow covered majestic — lord of it all — towers against the steel sky clearly.”