Footsteps were left in the morning dew plotting a route through the orchard. Thula climbed the old damson tree to be close to Iris, watching over her as she explored. Years of work from the Green Woodpecker has left a curious mix of textures, patterns and wildlife. I saw two souls happy to be together, there isn’t and hasn’t been any jealousy from Thula as she has witnessed Iris grow and make new friendships with the other animals. She takes a step back at times giving her space but then most days checks in with her buddy. A mirror, a shadow, a faithful companion and a friend like no other I have ever seen.
It has been a dream of mine to create beautiful silk scarves from Iris’s Paintings for a long time now and I’m very excited to announce finally it’s become a reality.
With the help from the Cotswold family-run company Beckford Silk with nearly half a century of silk printing expertise behind them we have created Iris’s first silk scarf.
Their designers worked with us to produce a scarf that is not only visually stunning but also feels exquisite. As many of you know Iris’s sensitivities to fabrics has been an issue in the past so she was our ultimate product tester. As she flew around the house and garden with the scarf around her I knew we were onto a winner.
Iris is in good company, Beckford Silk has an impressive client list, institutions, such as the National Trust, Highgrove, Westminster Abbey, the Tate and the Royal Academy.
The first painting to be printed onto silk is ‘Raining Cats’, I adore her gentle mix of blues and earthy tones, they shine brightly on the pure silk and I hope it will inspire, adding a little magic to those who wear it. Raining Cats Silk Scarf
‘Raining Cats’ features in the Sunday Times Bestseller ‘Iris Grace’ and here is an extract from the book about this extraordinary painting.
‘In the heart of the garden the three of them sit quietly together: Iris, Thula and Tree Stump. A place to think, to be still and to find peace in a busy and sometimes confusing world. With storm clouds fast approaching I call Iris indoors. Thula follows her best friend and gets into position on the painting table. She purrs as Iris starts to mix some colours on to the paper. The rain starts to fall heavily upon their kingdom out in the garden. They watch for a while from the window as the stump turns a darker shade, soaked from the raindrops. Back in the kitchen, the layers of paint deepen and delicate details immerge as Iris stamps, sponges and scrapes at the surface, uncovering bright colours beneath the dark blue. An image appears: a cat’s face in the shadows. This connection is so strong that it transmits through Iris’s art, a bond breaking through barriers, revealing the brilliance hidden within.’
Planning travel for Iris has always been about following her interests but also helping her develop skills that she will need for the future. Learning how to thrive without her team of animals has been one challenge that’s on my mind each time we leave our menagerie at home. What I don’t tend to dwell on in my blogs is the difficult days, those tough moments where I search in desperation, my brain spins trying to find answers to what has disturbed Iris’s world, what was it that upset her or how do I help. Sometimes her abilities to speak or to show me leave her in those desperate times. I have become, dare I say it dependent on a crutch that takes many forms. A cat, a rabbit, and a pony. I am lucky to be surrounded by a team of animal therapists that save the day so when it’s time to leave them at home I do wonder, what will happen? how will we manage?
So far, to my delight each destination Iris is surrounded with an abundance of wildlife and animals that come to our door. It helps her realise she can make new friendships and get to know other animals and the people that they live with. It opens up opportunities for learning too about the different environments and what animals are suited to where and why.
All sorts of conversations, questions and topics can be derived from the newbies.
They also seem to be there just at the right time to help when Iris needs some distraction or comfort.
I have always been an advocate for how animals can help our children but usually people associate this with Iris’s cat Thula and their extraordinary relationship that wowed us all. But there are so many ways in which animals can teach and support us on our adventures.
The pictures above are from our last trip to Wales during our travels for the Forests of The World Project.
Our ‘Forests of the World’ project continues with our latest trip to the beautiful ‘Artists Valley’ in Wales. Victorian painters fell in love with this part of the world and often came here to capture its beauty and I can understand why.
It’s a serene and quiet area, carved out in the Welsh Hills by Cwm Einion, which flows down the majestic slopes and into the River Dyfi.
The valley is a wonderful spot for picnics, or splashing about in the various waterfalls and pools. A perfect setting for Iris to learn and explore.
We stayed at Blaeneinion, an idyllic and secluded conservation project set in 75 acres of land at the head of the Valley. This inspiring place is a wonderful educational resource for us all. They have planted over 33,000 native saplings in the past 9 years. There is a young 2.5 acre Forest Garden with 100 fruit and nut cultivars and around 800 small soft fruit bushes.
Thankyou Sharon and all of your team and volunteers over the years for creating and preserving this special place for us to enjoy. I’m sure we will be back x
Storms have revealed a mysterious submerged forest off the west coast of Wales near the village of Borth. Iris navigated her way through the miniature mountains. She flew along weaving in and out until one particular stump tempted her to stop.
A greeting and further inspection was needed, for those new to how you greet a prehistoric tree stump here is Iris’s guide – carefully untangle some green seaweed, feel the curious textures, let it fall through your fingers then dip down and collect.
Flick the residue water up high in the air and admire the falling droplets. Smell the sea, taste the salt. Run your fingers down the side of the stump, feel its shape, its contours and appreciate it’s ancient beauty.
A bronze age oak is there at your fingertips, its skin slightly squishy from all of those years buried under peat. Thank those violent storms for uncovering a piece of pristine history preserved for us to see and feel. A historic treat for the senses.
Iris rowed on passed banks of reeds, dragonflies flew in the air like multicoloured dancing fairies. Thula called out ‘Have you seen a heron flying past here ?’
‘Heron, hmm, Heron, hmm, Heron’ buzzed each one to the other, soon the air was filled with a rainbow chorus of herons, until it changed to another word ‘Harnser, hmm, Harnser, hmm’
‘What does that mean?’ Iris asked Thula.
‘Not sure, maybe his name. Look they are flying off, let’s follow them.’
The dragonflies headed over to an island in the middle of the lake but they disappeared out of sight, too fast and small to see as the boat made steady progress. A mother duck with her ducklings swam beside the boat. Iris leaned over the edge and asked if she had seen a Heron called Harnser. Mother Duck had not but she asked her ducklings, a chain of messages in high pitched voices brought no joy until they reached the last little duckling at the end of the line called Duncan. ‘Yes, I saw Harnser and he had a stick in his beak’
‘thankyou, Duncan, I think that stick is what we are looking for, it’s my favourite paint brush. Did you see where he went?’
‘over there by the boat house on the island.’
As they got closer it looked less like a house and more like a frightening ruin, it slumped to one side, rotten timbers cloaked it’s skeletal frame in vain. There was an odd smell like rotting leaves. Iris and Thula scrunched up their noses.
But why, I hear you ask is there a place such as this in the Kingdom of Colours. I will tell you – where there is doubt, worry and fear there will always be places like this. Only courage can change that.
‘Thula, we need to go in, Harnser might be there.’ Thula looked at Iris, this time she didn’t know if she wanted to be the brave one, her body started to shake a little under her cloak and her soft fur seemed to have a mind of it’s own, doubling in size, every strand alive with fear. Iris stepped over and sat next to Thula on the bench putting her arm around her. ‘This time let me help you, we can do it together.’
‘Im not scared, think I’m coming down with something that’s all, a little cat flu, been a lot around lately you know.’
‘I know’ Iris said sweetly and she sat back down in her position to guide them into the old boat house. Storm clouds gathered overhead and once they were in it was dark and their hearts raced. There was nothing to see at first, an empty shack, certainly no sign of a giant bird. Up high above the sun burst through the clouds, shafts of the golden light reached their boat inside its shell. It lit up like a timber cathedral, the atmosphere changed immediately and Iris and Thula laughed in delight.
A voice croaked ‘What are doing in here?’ Iris jumped as she thought they were alone. But alone they certainly were not. Frogs and toads lined each beam with green.
‘My name is Preu, how do you do,’ ‘Hello, Im Iris and this is Thula’ Thula nodded to the frog, still a little suspicious.
‘you are in time for our rehearsal, stay if you like.’
‘that’s very kind of you but we need to find Harnser he has something of mine. Umm, stay for what ?
‘listen and I will tell you where ol Harnser is’
So they stayed for what turned out to be a Frog and Toad Band – drums, French horns, Trumpets, trombone and a Tuba.
Iris clapped her hands and Thula was much more relaxed after the music, she called out ‘Fantastic, Encore, Encore !’ and they played again once more before taking a break to tell them where Harnser had gone.
Part 3 of Arabella’s short story for Iris, more from this next time.
Iris carefully stepped in, she loved looking at water, studying it at times but the thought of falling in, well that was just horrible, she was frightened of it and even bath time filled her with worries. She placed her paintbrush next to Thula on the bench.
‘Keep an eye on it, if we loose the brush we wont be able to get back’
Thula put her nose up in the air and looked the other way, she didn’t like being told what to do even if it was by her favourite human in all of the worlds.
‘Oh come on Thulie Bulie’ she tickled her soft white fur under her chin and then picked up the oars and started to row the boat.
Off they went, Iris and Thula afloat in a purple boat. An idyllic scene but like every tale of adventure there is sure to be some trouble ahead or on this journey take a look behind them.
With every stroke in the water they could feel a heavy beat, a heron flew above, ginormous grey wings and yellow beak. As he flew down beside them his graceful neck was shaped like an ‘S’, so close Iris could almost touch the white feathers streaked with black.
Iris looked at Thula, her ears were flat back, she turned to see water skiing geese as they landed into the water one after another ‘whoosh’. Then it became clear why Thula was upset, the noise, the unbearable hinking and honking. ‘Row faster’ Thula called out. Iris couldn’t think straight, the noise seemed to cloud everything, ‘look at me, focus’ Iris looked into her green eyes outlined with black, her perfect patterned tabby coat shone in the light and she pulled at the oars. The geese became a distant sound and soon they couldn’t hear them at all.
‘Always at your service’ Thula said with a little bow. As both their heads lowered they noticed at once that something was missing.
‘The brush!’ they said in unison.
‘where has it gone, oh no Thula this is awful, what shall we do ?’
Thula looked up with a thoughtful look upon her face, ‘It can’t just vanish it’s never done that before. Someone must have taken it.’
‘but who, we are the only ones on the boat’
‘there was one other, he was flying right beside us, I always thought you can’t trust a heron, the way they stalk about, those legs, did you see those legs, scaly not like my beauties.’ Thula looked down at her legs and raised one up.
‘concentrate Thula, they are very beautiful, perfect but that’s not the point, the brush !’
‘Ah yes, the brush, we need to find the heron, then we will find the brush. Someone must have seen where he flew to.’
Part 2 of Arabella’s short story for Iris, more from this next time.
Are you sitting comfortably? ok, let’s begin…
Tip toe through the forest to hear the trees whisper. Walk over green hills wandering along with the early morning mist. Step over a stile into a meadow filled with wild flowers, bright butterflies and buzzing bees. You will see a tree stump and by that magical stump a little girl called Iris standing with her cat in front of a painting table.
Words have never come easily and she seems shy to most who don’t know her. Iris loves her books, music and her best friend Thula the cat. Through painting she finds her voice and more, it’s here among the flowers with paintbrush in hand and her faithful companion by her side we will be transported into their world. With a fresh sheet of paper, a flick of the brush and a swish of a tail the adventure begins.
Thula looked down at the paper, her unusually long ears with wispy bits at the tips pointed forwards, alert, ready for what was about to happen. Colours swirled, blue merged with yellow forming green pools, splashes of red touched blue creating purple. Iris looked at Thula knowing that she could feel it too, a sensation that started from their tummies and spread through their bodies. They shut their eyes, took a deep breath and counted ‘one, two, three’ then opened. They were no longer in the meadow. Iris’s eyes squinted in the bright golden sunlight, the water surrounding them shimmered like dancing stars. Her cape waved in the wind as she clutched hold of the paintbrush standing on the pontoon. Thula shook her mane with pride as saw she had her own cape but unlike Iris’s beautiful blue hers was a royal red.
‘Thula, where are we?’ Iris asked, feeling a little worried.
She looked up, her long white whiskers twitched ‘let’s find out’, she knew Iris was nervous, new places, sights, smells and characters were fine for cats but her Iris needed a helping paw. She trotted along the pontoon and jumped into a purple boat moored at the waters edge.
I know what you are thinking – a cat who can talk, have you ever heard a cat talk before ? but you see there is the magic, their minds are now one, a united duo here in the Kingdom of Colours.
The beginning of a short story written for Iris by Arabella
I had our plan, our maps, equipment, training for all of us (the horse, Iris & myself). We felt fully prepared and all ready to go on our next adventure but life had a few other ideas. If I have seemed rather quiet on social media over the last few weeks it’s because my attention has been firmly fixed on Tizon, the clubs wonderful horse. At the end of last month, Tizon was struggling to breathe and couldn’t stop coughing, he went through many tests, all came back clear and then a lung flush procedure showed that he has a very severe condition that is like Asthma, it’s called Recurrent Airway Obstruction (RAO) we were treating this condition prior to this as he has had a history of coughing ever since he moved to us but I had never seen him like this before. Weight dropped off him, it was like feeding a sieve and the muscles fell away leaving a sorry sight that broke our hearts. He went straight onto antibiotics, had a nasty allergic reaction to the first dose so we swapped him to another and then also he has been on steroids as well as pain relief and medication for his condition.
Our mighty black beauty with a brave heart turns out to be quite a difficult patient and getting his food to exactly the right combo has been a fine art to hide the tastes of all the powders but finally we are getting there. On the day that we were going to be leaving on our 50-mile ride he is in recovery, resting and on his last day of steroids. The cough thankfully seems to have stopped but now we wait and see if he can manage off the steroids and just on the other medication.
For his owner the news has been tough, a condition like this is second down on the unwanted list after lameness. For me, the thought of this horse no longer being with us if he can’t work is incredibly hard. We have trained together for 8 months and not only do I trust him to carry Iris on adventures he has been a faithful therapy horse for many children at the club and we share a close bond. Iris has been helping me make up his feed, carefully measuring out doses of medicine and taking his food to him. I have been particularly impressed with her abilities to follow instructions but aware that her latest sleep issues could be connected to the change of events.
So where does the plan go from here, we have to add another plan, think of it like a pre-plan. Tizon’s rehab, a chance to learn new things, how to build up a horses topline of muscles from scratch. Lots of fun exercises, obstacle courses and in hand work. My pre-plan will merge into everyday life, we can involve his work into our therapy sessions and Iris’s homeschooling. Projets designing games for him and the other ponies will be a fun challenge. I have discovered through being an autism parent you forge a new gift, turning disasters into opportunities – the art of flip thinking. Maybe my journey wasn’t meant to be 50 miles in May, but I will still walk by his side, Iris will still be there and we will look after each other on a different path.
From the moment I told my father he was going to be a grandfather there has been a longing for fishing trips with this new addition by his side. Iris’s diagnosis went hand in hand with new challenges, dreams were put away for a while but never forgotten. Nine years later his wish was granted, to spend happy times on the water with his granddaughter. So my message to you all today is don’t forget your dreams, no matter how hard it may seem in the moment when you put them away always know they are there and one day when the time is right you can make them come true.
‘If the plan doesn’t work change the plan but never the goal.’
A storm raged outside and in my head, planning adventures had always had their challenges & frustrations but my great plan for Iris to ride the Pennine Bridleway was going in completely the wrong direction. Block after block, I felt like we were going no where on this one. The distances between the night stays were too big and the National Park accommodation was expensive. On top of that the UK was in equine lockdown over outbreaks of Flu so options for Tizon was extremely limited. I was meant to be raising money for our Aquaponics Project not spending to the extreme. With costs skyrocketing I felt depressed. I needed to re think. What was I trying to achieve? What was my goal?
To spend quality time with Iris where she could thrive and expand on skills, building confidence and a sense of achievement.
To raise funds for our Project
To raise positive awareness of autism and inspire others to look beyond their child’s diagnosis, to see a bright future with endless possibilities.
I realised that I didn’t need to go up to The Pennine Way, I had my very own Midshires Way right on our doorstep. I would learn how to travel with Iris on a budget and see the positives in what I had overlooked. Travelling from home means that we will make connections locally, we will build our support network and spread the word about the work we do here at the club more effectively.
I started to plan, made calls and to my surprise within an hr I had an outline of our trip, within two hrs I had accommodation booked for our horse on all 4 nights. The kindness I felt from others lifted my spirits and I started to plot the journey in more detail.
the greatest adventure
is what lies ahead
I will keep you all updated on our progress, for now it’s time for preparations and to get fit so we can manage the 50 miles in May.