Thursday, 30 June 2016

Cornwall, Devon, Somerset: Historic Houses, Abbeys & Gardens, Tin Mines and Choughs

Medieval Graffiti of a Monk

13th C floor tiles at Cleeve Abbey

Surround of a mirror, all hand-stitched

6-spot Burnett moth (they contain hydrogen cyanide)

Sea Campion


Old doorways and windows. In-between places. I am drawn to photographing them and often return from an old house to discover that's mostly what I've recorded. 

Our trip down to the West Country earlier this week was no exception. But then there were lots of lovely old doorways and windows to admire at Cotehele, Lytes Carey and Cleeve Abbey. 

We stayed the first night in a cottage perched too close to the edge of a cliff at the bottom of a very long, narrow, steep trackway. The North Atlantic pounded the restless shore of the cove below where a fair share of wrecks had been claimed over the centuries and where pilchards had once been collected. To access the deserted cove we scrambled down the pathless cliff which was hairy, but exhilarating. M went swimming while I wandered over the white sand and took pictures of muscles (the sea kind). We scrambled back up as the tide was turning and starting to reach the bottom of the rocks.

The following morning we were up early and out on the South West Coast path. When we returned to the cottage a little past half seven, four Choughs were sitting on the roof, talking. Members of the crow family distinctive for their bright red beaks and legs, Choughs are rare creatures these days and I'd never seen one before. They returned to breed on the Lizard a few years ago and have since spread up the coast. I was thrilled to see them, and even more thrilled when another four turned up later that morning, wheeling across the storm-tossed skies of the local tin mines (Poldark, anyone?).

We went to St Ives and got well and truly soaked at Godrevy (hoping to see Leanne but just missing her. Hoping to see seals too, but they had more sense than to sit on the beach in a wet gale waiting for me), then went inland and on up to Devon. By the time we arrived at the B&B the sun had come out so we got out the map and found a two mile run across the local countryside which shook out the stale car sensation but which for some reason perplexed the lady who ran the B&B.

The following morning we were up at 6 (which also perplexed her) and headed up the coast to Blue Anchor Bay which has a lovely sea-front cafe where we sat and ate a full English breakfast with steaming mugs of tea and hot chocolate while looking out across the bay through the drizzle to Wales. 

Cleeve Abbey is only a short drive from there and it is well worth a visit. There was no one else there when we arrived so we had the place to ourselves. It is tranquil, soothing and peaceful and has some of the best preserved medieval floor tiles and wall paintings in the country. While I sat in the window of an upstairs room soaking up the atmosphere and feeling rather like I didn't ever want to leave, a Pippistrelle flew out of the fireplace, circled the room and me once, and flew back up the chimney. If it weren't for the distinctly batty smell in the fireplace when I went to investigate I might have believed it was the old building teasing my senses.

The rain easing, we drove to Lytes Cary Manor in Somerset, a 14th Century manor house with lovely gardens which was the birthplace of the Elizabethan herbalist Henry Lyte. It's now run by the National Trust. We wandered through the beautiful gardens which, being billowy and wild rather than clipped and formal were right up my street and then went to the tea rooms for a cream tea while I contemplated how to best recreate the garden at home. In the plant shop, I managed to smuggle home a Tom Thumb fuchsia and a pale lilac Clary Sage, salvia turkestanica, which is going in the second new bed my husband has just finished for me this morning. It was completed with the immortal words: you do know we've no more room now for any more new beds, don't you? So I'm not allowed to buy any more plants....for a while :o)

Hope all are well?

CT :o)

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Not Our Finest Hour

Southern Hawker Dragonfly

Eclosing from the nymph case

Tree Bee On Astrantia with rather full pollen basket

Hummingbird Hawk Moth!

Salvia Hot Lips

Clover, with Small Magpie moth hiding under its leaf :o)

Part of our garden

Pop, Cat Watching

Flowers from the garden in a vase


Canterbury Bell

Soggy Starling in the rain

The New Bed :o)

Brand New Cygnet

Reed Warbler

Home grown broad beans

Black Forest Gateau. Comfort Food.

It's not been a great few days. Our referendum on EU membership has split the country. Whatever Boris and co say, it is not a ringing endorsement for the out vote. Over 48% of us wanted to stay in and now over 3 million of us have signed a petition demanding a second referendum because the result was so close. 

I've written before about what Europe does for our wildlife and the environment so I won't repeat myself too much. Suffice to say successive UK Govts have displayed a complete lack of interest and concern for both in the 35 years since the last piece of home-grown wildlife legislation (1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act, hard fought for by wildlife lobbyists in the face of strong opposition from both the NFU and the Govt of the time), and have instead demonstrated an eagerness to shove wildlife off the agenda altogether in the ruthless pursuit of power and money. Think Boris Johnson stating that you can cut down an ancient woodland and plant a new one in its place, replacing like for like with no problems, or Eric Pickles giving the go ahead to houses being built on a piece of protected woodland where nightingales nested, stating that the birds could just be moved elsewhere. Conservationists will tell you that relocations do not have a high success rate and the animals concerned often die or disperse.

Perhaps the most alarming aspect of all of this is that, without the protection the EU gave to our wild places and wild creatures, there will be no deterrent to people who don't care about them not to misuse them. Protection under law means law breakers face criminal proceedings. If that disappears from the statute books (and what's to stop Boris and friends repealing the European Habitats Directive, or the Birds Directive, or even our own 1981 Act now?) then there will be nothing left in law to prevent them chopping up woods and building on sites that are home to rare and endangered species, or to species that aren't yet rare or endangered, but who soon could be.

I find this so unbearable and so frustratingly short-sighted, because we are completely reliant on our wildlife for the provision of the soil we grow our food in, the water we drink, the air we breath, the food we eat, the regulation of temperature we rely on not to boil or freeze to death. Simply put, if we keep losing habitats and species at the rate we're going we won't survive ourselves. 

Where was information about what the EU does for our wildlife in all the campaigning? One reason the Conservatives didn't champion it was because it would have thrown their own shameful lack of legislation in that area into sharp relief.

Beside wildlife, we've also lost all the EU funding that has gone into our universities and scientific and medical research projects in recent years, the free movement of people, including scientists, medics and academics and all their expertise (reported in the papers as one-way immigration when in reality we have all had free movement to 27 countries which we will now lose), human rights, climate change legislation, farming subsidies, trading rights. The list goes on.

I know our association with the EU wasn't perfect and there were things that needed changing, but this total severance feels like cutting off your nose to spite your face. Our young people feel utterly betrayed by the older generation; the country has no leadership and the squabbling over who steps into the vacuum left by David Cameron's resignation will tear us further apart; the shadow cabinet is in tatters, with Hilary Benn being sacked this morning and half the shadow cabinet expected to resign today, and now it looks like Scotland will seek independence too, and quite frankly who can blame them?

It would be easy to despair, but we won't. We'll keep fighting :o)

The garden and the land hereabouts has been keeping me going in the face of this needless mess. The Southern Hawker in the top pic took all day to get out of its nymph case; a Stag Beetle dropped (out of the sky?) at my feet on the path and required moving onto the log pile; crickets have been jumping onto my fingers and showing little inclination to move off; honey bees have detached themselves from the swarm which we think is living in the chimney pot and found their way into the house so have required rescuing, as did the Tree Bee in the photo. And then, cause of much excitement a Hummingbird Hawk Moth turned up on the small Daphne. 

I took Ma for a walk along the river and we saw a baby Little Grebe sitting in his nest, a vole which ran over to my feet and seemed totally unconcerned to find us on his path, and the Reed Warbler in the pic. Hard to photograph because they are usually seen and not heard so we were thrilled. No watervoles sadly, but we did hear a Cettis Warbler :o)

Anyway, dark days here at present, but hopefully things will settle. I'm not a pessimist by nature and I refuse to be beaten by politicians who have no principles. 

I hope everyone is well and recovering from the shock a little?


Wednesday, 22 June 2016

How To Survive Workmen In The House

The house has been through an assortment of workmen this Spring. First, way back in April there was the new kitchen (despite a team of lovely fellas promising a four-day-fit it still isn't finished), then, there were new blinds (also hit by delays) and now, there is The Bath Man. I expect it will be Quite Some Time before I let any other work people come in. Possibly, this will be after I have completed a fairly extensive and lengthy course of therapy.

The Bath Man was meant to come two weeks ago, but owing to the sudden and unexpected need to replace what were, quite possibly, the world's mankiest taps (a realisation brought on by showing them to someone who isn't family and despite that couldn't quite hide his shock at the condition they were in) he has, instead, arrived this morning. 

He is here Now.

And he is singing.

While wearing headphones. 

Possibly, owing to the fact that the singing coincides with the wearing of headphones, he has never actually heard himself sing with his own ears. Let me tell you, it is an experience that, once subjected to, remains forever seared on the consciousness (and quite possibly the subconscious too. I am expecting it to pop up in dreams).

He attempts all the notes, especially the high ones which he falls off.

Poppy has been sitting at the foot of the stairs staring up in the direction of the bathroom uncertainly wagging her tail and cocking her head from side to side as if she's never heard a noise like it and is struggling to place it. Ted has given in to barking, which is more mellifluous on the ears than the singing.

L (who is home today revising for mocks) and I initially exchanged humourous expressions when the caterwauling first began. After half an hour of being relentlessly subjected to it (the man does't pause for breath I swear), the amusement had worn off to be replaced with a definite edge of grimness. After an hour they were distinctly pained and half an hour after that there was a definite hint of murderous intent about them.

A brief respite was had when it ceased altogether for about fifteen whole minutes. Foolishly I allowed myself the indulgence of thinking we'd get away with the next four hours in blissful silence. But oh no, not so fast: it started again and this time there are fewer words and more warbles. Warbles up and down the scales (or what would be scales in someone who could actually sing)

L, seeing my face taughten says: Don't worry mum, he'll have to wear a mask to do the bath.

I reply that I think I will probably be permanently deaf long before he comes close to actually doing the bath.

At the moment he is in the cladding the entire house with dustsheets phase, which alarms me because I thought it was just the bathroom he was doing, and also words like fumes and extractor out the window although it is a bit small which isn't ideal but it'll probably work don't worry have been spoken.

To exact a small revenge for being forced to endure the noise, I stood at the foot of the stairs and recorded it. I asked L whether it would be cruel to upload it so you could hear it too and offer informed sympathy (or have a good giggle). He tells me it would be, so I shall have to content myself with playing it for M when he gets back from work. I am also considering offering it to the security services, for use in persuading criminals to fess up. Believe me, White Noise has nothing on The Bath Man Singing.

In order to soothe my frazzled nerves, I am doing a spot of sewing (applique) while watching The Sewing Bee, which always inspires me. Last year I was not a sewer and was in awe of the easy, devil-may-care way they all chopped up and re-stitched bits of fabric and changed old things into brand spanking sparkly new ones. This year, with the improved credentials of a bona fide sewer, I find I am watching it through different eyes. It is no less inspiring, but instead of awe I cast a more critical eye and wonder whether I would have attempted the various projects differently. I can also appreciate the really good ones properly.

It is perhaps no coincidence that my applique for today (making a bag for daughter J who is now back from her first successful year at uni) spells out the word LOVE. I shall be thinking that for the duration of The Bath Man's visit, albeit it with grim determination and through gritted teeth. He should be finished by 2. Which seems a good deal further away than it actually is.

Hope all are well and peaceful?

CT :o)

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Moth Post June 2016

It's not been a great year for moths so far. The cold, uncertain weather has meant numbers and species are down comparative to previous years. This is good news for a friend of mine, who is writing his dissertation on moths (looking at whether different species have different optimal flight heights) and is yet to start recording them, but not so great for the moths. 

All lepidoptera are down. There have been few butterflies in the garden here. I'm up to ten species but have seen few individuals, and the Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary recording project I'm part of in the New Forest this year has so far failed to record a single individual. It's all rather worrying, especially for those species that have relatively short flight seasons. But then Nature will always balance herself (if we get out of her way sufficiently to let her do so).

Here is the moth list for the photos, starting at top left and going clockwise. I've added info about each species, including when and where to see them and what you need to have nearby or in your garden to attract them food-plant wise. There is often a difference between the food plant (which refers to what the larvae or caterpillars need to survive) and the nectar source (which is what the adult moth needs). 

First Photo Collection:
1. Elephant Hawk. Needs willowherbs (food plant) and honeysuckle (nectar source) so leave a few in your garden and you'll get these moths coming in as they have a wide distribution across England and Wales and fly from May to August).

2. White Ermine. These need nettle and dock to breed in and are found all round the UK, they fly May to July abnd are wizards at playing dead when disturbed.

3. Many Plumed and Friend. Technically listed as a micro moth, the Many Plumed feeds and breeds in honeysuckle, flies every month of the year and is widespread. We often get them coming in to the house in winter. They seem drawn to sit on the TV!).

4. Ingrailed Clay. Is on the wing in June-July in the south and July-August in the north and need a wide range of herbaceous and woody plants including primrose, violet, bramble, heather, sallow and hawthorn. Widespread so you'll more than likely have these in UK gardens).

Second Photo Collection: 
1. Buff Tip. The master of camouflage, adapted to look exactly like a silver birch twig. When L was little he wouldn't believe me that these were moths, until one moved, so the camo really is perfect. These moths fly from late May to July and over-winter a pupa in an earth chamber the caterpillar makes underground. We dig them up sometimes and raise them indoors as you should never rebury a pupa because it will suffocate. They need sallow, birch, oak, hawthorn, rowan, beech, alder, lime, sycamore or elm and exist all round the UK where they are common so many UK gardens will have them if there are trees nearby.

2. Privet Hawkmoth. There are 1050 species of Hawkmoth worldwide with the majority of these large, impressive moths found in the tropics. We have nine resident species here in the UK and eight others who come in as migrants. The Privet has one generation which flies June-July and requires privet, ash, lilac or guelder rose. It has also been reported on snowberry and honeysuckle. This is also a widespread species and if you want to see one you can try shining a torch on a white sheet in the garden- we had one visit this way last year.

Third Photo set:
1 Cinnabar. Flies mid May to early August and the foodplant is ragwort, which makes the larvae toxic and safe from birds.

2. Treble Lines. May to early July, this moths likes knapweeds, greater plantain and dandelion and is widespread through the UK. It comes to light so try the torch trick :o)

3. Elephawk Hawk.

4. Poplar Hawkmoth. May to August, common across the UK and the larvae feed on poplars, aspen, goat and grey willow.

Fourth Photo Set.
1. Nematopogon swammerdamella. What a mouthful for a moth who only measures a few mm in length! One of 15 UK species of Longhorn moth, this little fellow is common all round the UK and breeds on dead leaves on the ground.

2. Cinnabar.

3. Buff Tip.

4. Spectacle. Possibly the most aptly named moth ever, this is another moth who needs nettles to breed. It nectars on flowers (red valerian and sage are favourites) and is common throughout most of the UK.

Fifth photo set.
1. Orange Footman. On the wing late May to June and overwinters as a pupae in a cocoon among lichens. Tends to live among mature oaks, blackthorn and beech. Evidence suggests they've recently started breeding in gardens. Since the 1990s has extended its range across the UK upt. o Yorks and Lancs.

2. Pale Tussock. Flies May to June and needs a wide variety of broadleaved trees and shrubs, including hops which gives it its country name of Hop Dog. Frequent in gardens up to Cumbria.

Sixth photo set.
1. Silver Ground Carpet. Flies mid-May to late July and feeds on herbaceous plants including goose grass. Common throughout the UK.

2. Peppered Moth.  Early May to late August, requires trees to breed and is found all round the UK. A rarer melanistic (black) form was once ubiquitous when pollution was as its height. It was used to demonstrate Darwin's theory of evolution as a response to coal-dust darkening conditions.

Hope you've enjoyed those and that the info was useful.

Hope all are well?

CT :o)