Westonbirt Arboretum

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Highlights: Away Day Outing to Westonbirt Arboretum

Autumn is a time to admire the changing colours of our countryside and after a short 40 minute coach ride the Away Days group had arrived at the Forestry Commission’s Westonbirt Arboretum for their visit, chosen at just the time of year to admire the trees in their vibrant colours.
On arrival there was a variety of walks through two woodland plantings - either the Old Arboretum or Silk Wood. Some walks were quite short for a stroll, whilst others took us through all of the hidden delights that had been devised in the 180 years since Robert Holford began this grade 1 listed arboretum.
In the morning we set off for the Old Arboretum to see the magnificent displays of the Acer trees. Their colours....fiery reds, and bright oranges really lit up the Acer Glade. On our walk we came across delicate young trees, scattered with informality among the oaks and maples, showing off their lime and golden colours. Each was a picture and afforded plenty of opportunity for us to capture that ’marvellous’ photo which might be stunning.
In the design of the arboretum, wonderful ‘rides’ had been planned so that when we were walking along an avenue of huge trees, like the Norfolk Island Pines, we could see a vista of Westonbirt House, which the Holfords had built, in the distance. Then, just off to the side, we would come across a surprise in a small glade, showcasing several small trees burnished in autumn colours.
Very soon it was time for some lunch and we strolled to the arboretum’s cafes and restaurant, joining up with many other visitors to this popular attraction.
We had just enough time in the afternoon to explore Silk Wood. Here there were the giant Sequoias and the amazing tuber like leaves of Wollemi Pine, among many other strange trees from distant lands that there is little space to describe. It was quite a different experience to take the elevated Treetop Walkway in this part of the arboretum ascending some way up into the tree canopy. There was plenty of information on how trees can grow and support themselves by drawing water and nutrients up to their topmost branches upwards of a hundred feet above ground level.
We ended our visit in the arboretum shop with the chance to buy an early Christmas present.
After 40 minutes we were back in Chepstow. Everything had been timed well for an enjoyable Away Day.

Wilf Summerbell

Highlights: A Guide Dog Puppy at Westonbirt Arboretum.

Gwalia, the Guide Dog Puppy

The visit to Westonbirt was an experience in more than one way. The mass of colours, the intensity and the spectrum of the autumn palette was over- whelming. Thank you to The Away Day Team who organised the trip.

Gwalia, our Guide Dog Puppy, came with us. It was a good exercise for her to travel in a coach. She has been on buses and trains, but the movement on a coach is a bit different. She settled down nicely both ways and my mopping-up towels were not needed.

When walking around with a Guide Dog Puppy we meet lots of people, we get lots of questions and lots of people telling us about their connections with Guide Dogs. Some sponsor Guide Dogs for the Blind, others have family or friends who have a working Guide Dog or they are familiar with Puppy Walking that we do.

On this occasion we met a gentleman with a long white stick with a ball on the end. His wife relayed our approach to him; it was easy to strike up a conversation with them. The gentleman explained he had been totally blind since his early twenties. His work had been milling machine components for the military, and he was now retired. We asked if he had considered having a guide dog. He had investigated the possibility, but he was not suitable because he lived in the countryside; there were no pavements. Wow, another factor in the wonders of Guide Dog work.

Talking to him, he looked us straight in the eyes (seeking the source of our voices) and I forgot he was blind. He had lived his adult life with a serious disability yet he had learnt to live with the white stick and he was content. Content how? I do not know. Both Derek and I perceived him as a very proud man.

It makes me admire the athletes in the Invictus Games (Australia 2018) from a different platform. The disabled service men and women are on a journey, their lives have been changed after being injured either physically, mentally or emotionally. They meet as a big family at the Games and each one competes with a conviction which comes as a power-ball from within. They are all so proud, just like the gentleman we met.

For us, this encounter generated a sequence of reflections which will be crowned by the 100th Anniversary of the WW1 Armistice on the 11th November.

Ingrid Arntzen

Alistair's photos:

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