Friday, 29 November 2013

The Vanity Of The Bonfires

I don't think I've ever taken so many pictures of bonfires as I have done since starting my course and going out volunteering this Autumn. They are a staple part of conservation work at this time of the year which is a Real Treat because I love them.

Magdalen Big Bonfire

On Wednesday, college was out in the woods coppicing and we had a bonfire. Towards the end of the session virtually everyone was standing in a silent circle staring into it. 

College Bonfire (it got bigger)

There is something about a real fire; it draws people, mesmerises them. Perhaps it calls to something ancient and primeval buried deep within us. I love all the vibrant energy in and around the burning logs and the pictures you can see in the flames if you look long enough.

The word bonfire originates from the bone fires the ancient Celts held to burn the bones of animals slaughtered to see the tribes through the winter. In England bonfires are also a compulsory part of Guy Fawkes Night, which is held on 5th November to commemorate the failure of the Catholic Gunpowder Plot which aimed to blow up the Protestant King James I. They were compulsory by an Act of Law until 1859.

Tempting thought it is (because I am fascinated by him), I won't go off on a tangent about Guido Fawkes. Except to draw your attention to his signature, post torture, in case you haven't seen it before. The man withstood two days of torture only to be hung, drawn and quartered at the end of it. You can tell from his signature how badly hurt he was by the time he wrote it and I have always found it a very affecting and poignant thing to look at. It's an eloquent testimony to what he had endured. Fawkes wasn't the ringleader of the plot, that was Robert Catesby, but Catesby eluded capture and was killed in the process without trial and Fawkes was publicly held accountable. James I is said to have admired his fortitude during torture. Sadly not enough to spare his life.

Back to bonfires in general...

Coppicing was Great Fun (if initially chilly). Everyone worked hard and we cleared a reasonable area of the SSSI site we were working in.

Ayla demonstrating the correct use of loppers

Harvey stacking hazel poles ready for use in hedge laying

Matthew frightening me with the billhook

I've also been out with Butterfly Conservation this week working at Magdalen. It has to be one of the most beautiful places to spend a day. I know many of the people involved with this ancient Chalk Downland feel the same - it calls to something in the soul. It's a favourite haunt of the Chalkhill Blue butterfly, so if you're interested, pop along in the summer and you'll see tens of them flitting about on the hillside (alternatively, have a look at this post from back in the summer). The Chalkhills are doing really well at Magdalen (better, in fact, than they are doing nationally, which is Great News).

Can you think of anywhere more beautiful to spend a few hours working?

We had two bonfires going, burning all the scrub that was starting to dominate in certain areas.

Small Bonfire (the use of metal hurdles and a sheet of corrugated iron keeps the fire off the ground, protecting it from damage. It also means you can have a fire almost anywhere on the reserve, unlike other sites where there is usually only one particular site earmarked for the fire- which is a pain if you are working some distance from it!).

Everyone Hard At Work

Jayne, who is Reserves Officer and a Mine Of Useful Information, Hard At Work

John, the Resident Stag

Poles trimmed and stacked, ready to be used for Other Purposes

Me! (just to prove I do actually do something...)

The other place I've been volunteering this week is Danebury, which is another Hard To Beat In The Beauty Stakes place to work. Danebury is an ancient Hill Fort and important Chalk Downland, and being the two together presents unique challenges in terms of management. We were scrub clearing, which is essentially chopping down scrub and burning it...

Bonfire No. 4 of my week
There was a HUGE flock of fieldfares on the side of the hill and out into the fields. A passing helicopter disturbed them and I reckon there were about a hundred as they flew overhead. The first I've seen this year. Fantastic! (sadly no pics- I only had the small point-and-press camera with me: it doesn't cope very well with being asked to do more than record simple-close-to-subjects. If you tentatively suggest something more complex it has a fit and passes out).

Pops and Ted continue well. Poppy managed to get her paw stuck under the door at the exact moment M was closing it earlier this week. As a result the pad was cut, poured with blood, and some Extremely Upsetting Wounded Puppy Noises were produced which brought Protective Big Brother Ted running. He was a picture of Absolute Concern, sniffing her anxiously. It was Very Sweet to witness.

That night (doubtless as a result), Poppy was allowed to sleep in his bed by the fire, which is Unheard Of In The History Of Ted (prepare yourselves for the inevitable "ahhhhhh"moment when you see the pics.....)

Not bad considering two weeks ago he was grumbling and snapping at her like she was the worst thing that had ever happened to him. Now the two of them are Inseparable and I think he would really miss her if she wasn't there (as would we).

There has also been Improvement In Blanket Sharing In General. I discovered this when I came downstairs this morning. The three of them were happily sharing the heat of Ted's fire before school....

 I'll leave you with another "ahhhhh" moment. This is how I left the dogs this morning.....(and luckily, it is much how I found them when I returned....)

Bit gorgeous, no?

Wishing you all a Merry Weekend, and Hello to Emily, Sasha and Fiona. CT xx


  1. I'm with you about bonfires, I love them, the smell is so nice. (or am I strange...don't answer that, lol ). Absolutely adore the pix of the dogs, how gorgeous are they :)

    1. I love the smell too- it sticks to you regardless of whether you wash or change I find! Doggies are getting on so much better thank goodness :-)

  2. Great to see the bonfires - yes, I love them too :)

    Seems to be a good year for Fieldfares :)

    Wonderful photos of Ted and Poppy - so cute :) Great to see them getting on so well too :)

    1. I've heard that Fieldfares have been spotted in large numbers all round the country- nice to know they are doing well :-)

      Yes, Pops and Ted are now Best Friends. I think he is very patient to put up with all the bouncing!

  3. I love a fire outside on a cold day or evening - we have plenty of bonfires here because of our wood work. I agree - there is something ancient and mesmerising about them, isn't there?
    Lucky you to be outside working in those beautiful places and how wonderful to see all those Fieldfares.
    It's lovely to see the dogs together. They really seem to be looking out for each other.

    1. It's been a really lovely off-shoot of all the volunteering, the regular contact with bonfires. We have a wood burner at home which is lovely, but there is still nothing quite like a proper bonfire.

      BIG relief T and P are getting on so well- I was a bit worried we'd ruined Ted's life initially, as he's generally the happiest and most laid back of dogs!!

  4. Is it me, or is Poppy looking bigger already? Glad that she and Teddy are growing into pals. And those bonfires looked great - we certainly need them now the Winter is a-coming in!

    1. She's grown MASSIVELY this week. Weighing on Tues at the V.E.Ts.... Last time she sat on my lap and growled at everyone who walked through the door! x

  5. Love bonfires too, it's got to be a natural desire from our ancestors that we keep hold of. Nowadays more and more people are opting for open wood fires and stoves and I'm sure it's not just to cut down of the gas bill!
    Poppy and Ted pictures- a true ahhh moment

    1. I think it's an ancient response too. We used to have an open fire but the wood burner is definitely more economical and heats the entire house (almost).

      V pleased the dogs are getting on so well. I think the real breakthrough was when Pop's hurt her paw- T was so concerned about her. Very sweet :-)

  6. They look so sweet together! So glad you're enjoying your course so much. Gorgeous bonfires and I've always loved the idea of burning all those bones. I kind of wish I hadn't written that - it sounds a bit weird!

    1. It is lovely seeing the dogs becoming best friends. I guess burning the bones was better than burying them when they could get dug up again :-)

  7. It's so good to see Ted and Poppy together like that. Blanket sharing... who'd a thought it.

  8. You were right about the ahh it was out of my mouth before you mentioned it! The picture before school was lovely too. You were busy last week with all those bonfires.
    Sarah x

    1. It's one of my favourite times of the day in winter, the before school in front of the fire moment- they do it most days and it always make me smile :-)

  9. Awww CT they look gorgeous together! Teddy's ear looks like a blanket for little pops! It's great you've been able to get involved in so many conservation projects! We had a really good bonfire the other day - a real model "boyscout" fire. The fieldfares are having a lovely time in the nearby orchards here - enough apples to last the whole winter for them!

    1. Ted is such a kind boy it would have been out of character if he hadn't settled down with her, but I am relieved nonetheless!

      Outdoor bonfires are fab aren't they? Really energising x


Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them and will try my best to reply to every one. CT x