Archives for posts with tag: Anna Wilson

Why do you swim in cold water? Do you really do it every day? Doesn’t it give you a shock? Isn’t it dangerous?

You may as well ask me, Why do you write? And people have done this. They have also said, You must have to be very disciplined – do you really do it every day? And: Isn’t it hard?

Neither swimming in cold water nor writing come easily. Both require a certain amount of discipline; if you give up regular practice you lose your edge. This is true for many things in life. I know from bitter experience, having played musical instruments every day for years until I was pretty good, then once working life intruded, letting the daily practice slip, and finding that, years later, I was not so very good at playing any more.

Yes, I get a shock when I plunge into cold water. I am acclimatised now to the point that I can stay in for a lot longer than I used to and I don’t get the chills afterwards, but that doesn’t diminish the sharp seize that grips my heart when I lower myself in. And, yes, there are days when I get to the water’s edge thinking, ‘I am too tired today/too cold/not in the mood.’ Just as there are days when I look at a blank page and think, ‘I have nothing to say/don’t know what to write/am too tired/too cold/not in the mood.’

Yesterday I ran down to the cove and heard the sea’s loud whispers long before I could see its peaks and troughs. I told myself that a swim would not be on the cards today, and that in any case I didn’t feel like it. I had slept badly and was feeling melancholy, yet I kept on following the path, telling myself I would ‘just sit and look’. I pushed through the blackthorn and gorse and saw that, yes, the sea was choppy and, yes, the sky was dark grey and threatening rain. But there was not so much of a swell and the rain wasn’t likely to fall right overhead for a good ten minutes or more. Before I could talk myself out of it, I was throwing off my clothes, pulling my costume from my bag and heading to the edge of the rocks.

The cold made me shout and I paddled furiously towards my destination – a large rock about 25 metres away that my kids call Island Tosh. Once there, I was already grasped by the tingling sensation that is the addiction I crave, and the journey back to shore was blissful. I had stopped shouting and was swimming at a normal pace, enjoying the dark green glass of the water sliding over my hands, the feeling of warmth moving through my core, the mixture of greys and blues swirling in the sky overhead. I swam back out to Tosh one more time, grinning like an idiot, feeling the push and the pull of the sea as it played with me, making it harder to swim the closer I got to Tosh, but giving me a gentle shove back to the rocks as I turned around for the last time.

I pushed myself up and out, buzzing, talking to myself about how it felt to have swum a hundred metres in the sea in the second week in December. My dog watched me from a distance, disapproval written loud on her soft, loyal face. Why do you do this? she was asking, as so many people do.

The answer is the same as the reason I return to the page every day, however I am feeling: because I have to, because there is no other way to feel that I am truly alive. Writing, like swimming, is my own personal factory reset. The minute I plunge in – be it into cold water or a fresh new page – I am switching myself off and on again. Music used to do this to me. As a teen, if I were in a filthy hormonal mood I would run to the piano. An hour or so of crashing chords and tumbling scales and arpeggios, and I would re-emerge; washed clean, purified, my anger lost somewhere in those black and white keys.

Now it is the black and white of the words on the page. Or the black, blue and grey of the sea. The two things are so intertwined that I can hardly see the seams. When I am swimming, I am writing in my head. And often, like today, when I am writing, I am swimming in my head too.

Taking the plunge sometimes brings a shock, yes, but it always brings rewards.

This morning I woke to the news that, thanks to a National Trust project, beavers have built a dam on Exmoor for the first time in 400 years. The timing is perfect as tonight is a full moon, which is sometimes known as a Beaver Moon. This is because First Nations in America knew that beavers built their dams at this time of the year.

Image from Nature Month-by-Month, illustrated by Elly Jahnz

Beavers have had a hard time in this country – they were hunted to extinction in the 16th century because people used to take their fur to make hats and other clothing. Also an oil called ‘castoreum’ which beavers secrete from glands in their body was believed to be good for humans, so it was put in medicines and perfumes.

The beavers on Exmoor have been reintroduced in a controlled way, under a special licence, to help prevent flooding and restore streams that had dried up.

Image from Nature Month-by-Month, illustrated by Elly Jahnz

This new beaver dam on Exmoor is very special as it is the first one to be seen in the UK for almost half a millennium. As well as being a superb natural way of managing the flow of the river, the dam creates a wetland for other species. This means that creatures such as my favourite bird, the kingfisher, are likely to be seen there and it will become a breeding ground for lots of other wildlife.

So three cheers for the beavers on this, the night of the Beaver Moon!

All of a sudden I am noticing a lot more butterflies while I am out taking my daily exercise. Yesterday I saw orange tips, a large white, two speckled woods (who seemed to want to follow me!) and a common blue. We are also noticing caterpillars on the nettles. They are most probably the caterpillar of the red admiral or the tortoiseshell as those are the butterflies that like to lay their eggs on nettles.

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I have written about nettles before on this blog and also in my nature almanac – so many people hate them because they sting and also because they grow fast and clog up flower beds. But if you can leave a patch of your garden or allotment for nettles, you’ll be helping the butterflies, which has to be a good thing. (And don’t forget that in early spring you can make delicious nettle soup and pesto from the early shoots too!)

Why not take your nature notebook out on a walk and note down how many different types of butterfly you see – and where you see them too? If you go to the Butterfly Conservation website you can find out how to send them the information you have gathered. You’ll be doing a fantastically helpful job!


Nature Month-by-Month – a children’s almanac by Anna Wilson, illustrated by Elly Jahnz is published by Nosy Crow and The National Trust and is available to order online.

Your independent bookshop can take orders over the phone and post books out to you, too. Give them a call!

NB The author of this blog accepts no responsibility for the content from links added to this page.

Last night we helped to carry out a bat survey on our house. This is because our roof is leaking and we need to fix it, but we had seen some bats flying around at dusk and we were worried about disturbing any that might be living in our roof space.

The “bat woman” came round and gave us this “bat phone”! We had to open a window and put the phone on the sill and then… wait!

The red bat detector, which is plugged into the phone, picks up the bats’ calls and then a little message comes up on the screen, telling you what type of bat has been spotted.

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We discovered that there are pipistrelle bats, brown long-eared bats and noctule bats in our garden. So far, it doesn’t seem as though the bats are living in our roof space, but we will do a second survey in a couple of weeks’ time to double check.

Bats are a protected species, so it is important for us humans to make sure that we do not disturb their nesting sites. If you want to help look after bats, ask if you can put up a bat box in your garden or get involved with the Bat Conservation Trust.


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Nature Month-by-Month – a children’s almanac by Anna Wilson, illustrated by Elly Jahnz is published by Nosy Crow and The National Trust and is available to order online.

At last! We can all go for longer walks and even meet a friend with whom to share the beautiful spring weather. Now that we are allowed to drive further to go for walks, there will be many of us who have been shut up in towns and cities who are desperate to visit the countryside. Most people in this country now live in urban settings, so even before the coronavirus kept us in our homes, a trip to the countryside was a treat rather than a normal part of daily life. This means that a lot of us don’t perhaps know that there are some helpful things we can do while we are walking to make sure that we don’t make life difficult for farmers and the animals and crops that they are taking care of.

When I was at school (a long time ago…) more people lived in or near the open countryside, so as well as learning about how to be safe in the town, we also learnt something called The Countryside Code. When I was researching things to put in the next Nature Month-by-Month book for 2021, I was surprised to find that this code still exists in exactly the same way that it did fifty years ago. When I mentioned it to my children, I discovered that they had not heard of it, so I thought it would be a good idea to put it in my next book. So here is a sneak peek of that page which will appear in next year’s book:

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I hope that you do manage to get out into the countryside this week and that you enjoy birdwatching and looking at all the beautiful wildflowers and the new leaves on the trees. If you do, remember to follow the simple code above as it will make your walk more enjoyable and you’ll be helping the wildlife and farmers too.

Stay safe and keep well.


Nature Month-by-Month – a children’s almanac by Anna Wilson, illustrated by Elly Jahnz is published by Nosy Crow and The National Trust and is available to order online.


When I went out into the garden with my dog this morning, I saw two goldfinches on the grass! I very rarely see them so close up, so I stopped and made the dog sit quietly so that I could watch them.

It’s a good time of year to spot goldfinches, because they love the seeds that are around right now. They particularly love dandelions.

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Thinking of the goldfinches’ favourite food got me thinking about the sort of plants people call “weeds”. I am actually a big fan of weeds! My grandmother always used to say that “A weed is simply the name for a plant in the wrong place.” In other words, a plant is only a weed if you are a gardener who prefers a tidy garden – and I am certainly not that! My favourite places are wild patches of land where “weeds” come and go, depending on the season. And it seems that the birds agree.

Not only the birds, in fact. I read last week of a woman called Sophie Leguil who is going around London chalking the names of weeds on to the pavement next to where they are sprouting! She is taking photos of them and putting them on Instagram, too. Her idea is to teach people to look more closely at pavements, walls and building sites to appreciate the little bursts of beauty that Nature offers us in the most unexpected places. You can follow her at @more_than_weeds. Here is one of her recent posts:

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Wherever you go today on your walk, I hope that you spot something beautiful like a goldfinch or an unexpected “weed” to lift your spirits – a little flash of gold in the gloom.


Nature Month-by-Month – a children’s almanac by Anna Wilson, illustrated by Elly Jahnz is published by Nosy Crow and The National Trust and is available to order online.

Today is May Day – or Beltane. Both are festivals which celebrate the fact that summer is around the corner and the darkness of winter is finally past. We are now at the halfway mark between the spring and summer solstice: the evenings are longer and lighter and we are no longer waking up in the dark – so lots to be thankful for.

It might seem odd to be thinking of festivals during lockdown, but festivals are a good way of marking changes in the seasons. They give us pause to stop and take stock of where we are in our lives. It can be helpful to look outside, go for a walk and take time to notice how the trees and flowers are blooming, especially if you’ve been feeling low. 

Where I live, the bluebells are an intense blue now, the red campion has gone crazy and there are ox-eye daisies sprouting on the cliffs in places where you would not think a flower would be able to grow. I walked this way in the winter and had to hunch my shoulders against the howling wind and roaring sea and driving rain. It was a bleak and unforgiving place in winter. Today, it is warm and gentle and everything seems to be smiling down on me. I sat on the cliff this morning to write in my diary and thought how impossible that would have been in winter.

So, however bleak and unforgiving lockdown may be feeling for you right now (and believe me, it has done for me at times) try to take hope and comfort from the way Nature is celebrating the light and warmth. Nothing ever stays the same – there is always hope and new life around the corner. Nature knows this, and she’d like to show us if only we’d take a moment to stop, look and listen. Why not try doing that, this May Day?


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Nature Month-by-Month – a children’s almanac by Anna Wilson, illustrated by Elly Jahnz is published by Nosy Crow and The National Trust and is available to order online.


Today, 22nd April, is Earth Day. This is a day to focus on what we can do to help the environment and protect our planet.

The first Earth Day was in 1970 – fifty years ago! It was set up by an American politician called Senator Gaylord Nelson because he thought it was important for children to be taught about the environment in schools. On this day (in “normal life” when schools are open and we don’t have to observe social distancing…) many schools get involved in local clean-ups in their streets, parks and along their rivers and coasts.


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Here are some things you could do to celebrate Earth Day:

1 Walk or cycle to get your daily exercise.

3 Turn off lights when you leave the room.

4 Turn off electrical appliances such as the TV, kettle and computer at the wall when you are not using them.

5 Try not to use a computer or the TV at all for just one day! (Difficult at the moment, perhaps, but what else could you find to do – it’s only one day…)

6 Take time to look at the trees, plants, birds and insects – you could do this from your window or doorstep. Make notes or drawings of what you see.

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7 Ask your parents if you can swap from chemical cleaning products to more environmentally friendly options. Did you know that you can do a lot of cleaning using natural things such as vinegar water and lemon juice?

8 Remember to take a cloth bag or a ‘bag for life’ when you go shopping to avoid using a plastic bag.

9 Did you know that meat production uses much more energy than plants? Try eating vegetarian food for one day. There are lots of delicious recipes to try – some are on this blog!

10 Take a refillable drink bottle out with you instead of buying water or juice in plastic bottles.


“…Sugar is sweet – and so are you!” So the traditional rhyme goes. I had no idea until last week, however, that you can actually make sugary sweets from these beautiful flowers…

I was shouting over a two-metre distance to my neighbour the other day – not because I was angry, but because that’s the only way to have a neighbourly chat right now! We were commenting on how beautiful the wildflowers are at this time of year. He told me that when he was a boy, his mum used to make sweets from the Common Dog Violet.

“What, like Parma Violets?” I said. “I don’t really like those.”

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“No, the homemade ones are much nicer!” he assured me. “They are like crystallised fruit, only made with petals instead.”

He then went on to tell me how to make them, so I did! And I am hoping that I might be able to include this recipe in the next edition of my nature almanac, Nature Month-by-Month which I will be starting on quite soon.

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In the meantime, here is what you need for the recipe:

One egg white

A plate of caster sugar

A small bunch of washed Common Dog Violets

A pair of tweezers or tongs

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And here’s what you do:

  1. Take the stalks off the flowers, leaving a small bit so you can grip it for the next step:
  2. Using the tweezers or tongs, dip a flower into the egg white
  3. Next, dip the flower in the caster sugar, taking care to cover it all over with sugar
  4. Set the flower on another plate
  5. Keep going until the plate is full
  6. Put the sugar-coated flowers in the fridge for a couple of days
  7. Use as decorations for cup cakes – or eat as sweets!
  8. Can be kept in a jar for a couple of weeks

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You can crystallise rose petals in the same way when the summer comes. Until then, keep safe and well and enjoy your homemade crystallised violets!



Nature Month-by-Month – a children’s almanac by Anna Wilson, illustrated by Elly Jahnz is published by Nosy Crow and The National Trust and is available to order online.

Tonight is the start of the Jewish festival of Passover. I was just listening to a woman on the radio talking about the preparations her family normally make for the festival – cleaning the whole house from top to bottom, clearing out the fridge and freezer, getting rid of any food that has yeast in it… This year she said she felt strange celebrating a Festival of Freedom when she currently felt like a prisoner in her own home.

To all of you celebrating Passover, I wish you a Happy Pesach and am thinking of you as you are separated from family and loved ones at this difficult time.

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Tonight is also a beautiful Full Moon. It is a also a Pink Supermoon, and seeing as the night skies are so clear at the moment, we should all get a good view of it!

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Whatever you do this evening, I wish you well. Stay safe.


Nature Month-by-Month – a children’s almanac by Anna Wilson, illustrated by Elly Jahnz is published by Nosy Crow and The National Trust and is available to order online.