Nature knows when it is Summer

IMGP3459We have folklore, meteorological calendars and goodness knows what else to tell when the official start of Summer is. Fortunately Mother Nature does not read these things and tells us in her own way when Summer has arrived.

Last week was one such time. Hedgerows already green with growing grass suddenly showed signs of seasonal activity when the tiny white buds of the Cow Parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris) started to appear. Within days this plant unfolds a myriad of tiny and delicate, but perfectly formed petals. It also puts on a spurt of accelerated growth as stems suddenly grow inches thrusting its blossom skywards to attract pollenating bees. Cow Parsley suddenly appears in such profusion it looks like the hedgerows have been given a dusting of snow.

IMGP3461Leaves on trees that up until now have been gently swelling green buds all seem to burst open on the same day covering the countryside in a swathe of blinding green brilliance that radiates its colour. The lofty boughs of the trees so prominent in winter, are suddenly shrouded from view once more until the autumn.

Grass lawns put on a additional spurt of growth too as ants attempt to build their secretive nests hidden by the lofty green blades.

The whole feel of the arrival of Summer is to create an urge to get out and about even more, particularly into the countryside. Already we are planning simple outdoor trips like picnics in remote grassy fields where one can while away the time not doing nothing, but feeling one with nature.

Yes let’s all give out a almighty cheer for Yes Summer at long last is finally here.

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April 2016

Stonebarrow

Spring has sprung and the grass has ‘riz’, I wonder where the fairies is?, as my dear old mother used to say.

Well Spring is certainly now here, and the daffodils brought on a month early by a mild winter are still in bloom. I like daffodils and after a drab winter even if it was mild, they do add a welcoming touch of colourful freshness to the environment. The fields that abut our home are also full of new born lambs at the moment. It is amazing to watch how such creatures so frail at birth, have found their legs within minutes as they first suckle from their mothers. It only takes about two weeks for these new born lambs to “gang up” together with other lambs and go chasing around the fields in groups. The moment one of their mothers moves though, the group breaks up as they go scurrying back.

Easter, now already come and gone was not particularly welcoming to those seeking a long break away after the long indoor months. Rain and wind just about sums Easter up and true to form, as soon as the holidaymakers had returned home, the winds abated and the sun came out spreading its first noticeable but much looked forward to warmth of the year.

Fortunately I am now retired and as such,my wife and I are no longer tied to routines governed by early morning alarm clocks, commuter rush hours or daily routines. It is nice when the weather suddenly turns into a fine day to be able to say on the spur of the moment, “Let’s Go”. We tend to avoid going out much during Bank Holidays as we tend to find everything is a bit of a crush when millions of other people are intent on doing the same thing during their brief public holiday break. But then being retired, in it’s own way, every day is now something of a holiday break providing good use is made of it.

One such day occurred last week and on the spur of the moment we decided to go on a picnic. Out chosen destination was Stonebarrow Hill on Dorset’s Jurassic Coast which is about a 50 minute drive from our home.. Stonebarrow as everyone refers to it locally is open countryside owned by the National Trust of which we are members. It consists of a 148 high metre hill with fields rolling down to the sea. It is also adjacent to the renowned flat plateaued Golden Cap Hill which is the highest point of the large bight of coastline that forms the extensive and sweeping Lyme Bay. Stonebarrow is something of one of the National Trusts “hidden in plain view” gems.

Stonebarrow Hill is accessed by the aptly named Stonebarrow Lane which starts just before entering the small coastal town of Charmouth. Motoring skills come very much to the fore when driving up Stonebarrow Lane. It is very steep, Normally first or second gear only.for a considerable distance. The lane is narrow with insufficient room for two vehicles to pass, so a bit of give and take using depressions in the hedgerow is essential when encountering oncoming traffic. The upper sections of the lane fall away to a deep ravine type hill as well. The effort is well worth it for the spectacular view from the top. Although National Trust property, there is no charge for access or parking.If you have a pair of binoculars or even a telescope, they are well worth bringing.

The lower half of the land is part of the Coastal Path between Golden Cap and Charmouth and occasional hardy walkers can be seen traversing it. It is also a very dog friendly area and our Labrador “pup” Lou Lou now 18 months old and fully grown enjoyed racing up and down the slopes as she stretched her youthful limbs letting of steam in the process.

The drive to Stonebarrow is quite pleasant too. Either via the A3066 from Crewkerne through the charming small town of Beaminster nestled in the northern Dorset hills, and with its narrow roads and market place, or back via the B3165 north of Lyme Regis towards Crewkerne once again..

In all it was a sudden and unexpected day out but one that holds the promise of many more such days in the forthcoming months.

Armistice Day

Poppy WreathOn each 11th November at 11 am, every city, town, borough and village across the UK, falls silent for 2 minutes in remembrance of all those who fell in the two Great World Wars and later conflicts. The time and date are very significant as it was at 11am on of the  11th day of the 11th month in 1918 that the guns fell silent to bring and end to World War 1,

The village of Yeovilton in Somerset where I live was no different. For a small village of only 50 properties, Yeovilton attracts more than its fair share of royalty and dignitaries. This even included the the Head of the Anglican Church,Archbishop of Canterbury to conduct one Remembrance Day service.

The prime reason is the Church of St Bartholomew located in the village and which was unused when I first moved here. Adjoining the village is the Royal Naval Air Station, RNAS Yeovilton which established at the start of WW2 and which also has a military naval cemetery at the rear of the church.

The Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) purchased and restored the church for it to become the church for Naval Air Seamen.

At  this years Remembrance Parade at St Bartholomew’s, the worlds last surviving Swordfish plane based at  RNAS Yeovilton took part in a flypast dropping 25,000 remembrance poppies as it flew over.

The current building of St Bartholomew’s dates back to about the 1540’s but still contains elements of a Norman church which predated it and which in turn was built on an even earlier Saxon church.

The pictures below show a number of the poppies that drifted into my garden and the Swordfish flying over RNAS Yeovilton and Yeovilton Village.

Also the Photosphere at the bottom shows the military cemetery at Yeovilton with St Bartholomew’s in the background.

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November 2015

SDC10327Today the countryside lost what remained of its lush coat of green summer foliage as strong winds and  rain blew in from the Atlantic. Yesterday the golden brown hues of autumn lingered on, but alas in the space of a few hours trees were striped bare to be left forlorn looking until next spring. Although still very mild at the moment,, this sudden tree stripping act does seem to me, to be natures way of heralding the tail end of autumn and giving advance notice of the rapidly approaching winter.

Pavements and roads have been carpeted with a layer of brown wet leafy mush, and it is not surprising it is a time of years that accident rates from slips and falls sharply increase, especially for the elderly. One thing I do appreciate about Mother Nature is that the local fields and hills in the distance remain green except for times when there is snow around.

I suppose it is to also be expected at this time of year when weather gurus start to predict how harsh or not the winter ahead will be. I am however not that strong believer in local weather folklore and simply accept what will be will be.

A few weeks ago we had the natural phenomena of what is know as a “Super Moon” in conjunction with a eclipse of the Moon by the Earth. Although tis must have occurred millions of times before on the celestial time scale, on the human time scale it is a somewhat unique event with the next one not due to take place for another 18 years in 2033. I did manage to take a number of photographs of the event throughout the evening, some of which I have placed below.

 

Yeoman WardersToday being November 5th, is the UK’s historical anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament by Guy Fawkes and his villainous associates,  always reminds me of a travelling companion of mine. He was a Yeoman of the Guard which is the smallest regiment in the British Army. The Yeoman are a small group of ex-servicemen with long years of service. They carry out their mainly civilian occupations but assemble as Yeomen when ceremonial occasions require them.

One such occasion is the 5th November when the cellars of the House of Parliament are searched by the Yeomen which is how Guy Fawkes was originally discovered and caught. Effigies of Guy Fawkes are also burned on large bonfires in the evening at fireworks parties. Children also used to sing a song around the bonfire which started:

Remember, Remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder, Treason and Plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

Well the UK has never forgotten the Gunpowder Plot which occurred in 1605 and we have been celebration Guy Fawkes going up in smoke ever since.

 

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Super Moon

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Super Moon

 

 

 

 

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Prior to Eclipse

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Earth’s shadow across the Moon

September 2015

IMGP3111We are currently about midway between Summer and Autumn as gradually the warmth from the sun becomes a little less each day, and increasingly chillier nights start to make their presence known. Living in an area where there are no gas supplies and with no prospect of ever having such luxuries, most county dwellers have to be like good boy scouts in terms of being prepared for winter. This entails having oil boilers serviced and oil tanks replenished. Unlike most urban areas where gas is readily available, many country folk are heavily reliant on oil for heating. It is not possible with oil to just turn the tap on demand in the event of a cold snap as oil has to be purchased, delivered and stored in advance. It also means that unlike gas where the price for the winter ahead is usually known in advance, the cost of oil can be unpredictable.

Domestic oil prices are subject to wild day to day fluctuations dependent on the world oil markets. Fortunately a combination of economic depression in China and the USA once again having oil surpluses due to increased shale oil production, the price of oil has been dropping like the proverbial stone.Oil users do have at least one silver lining over gas users in that there is never a worry about foreign countries having the power to turn of the UK’s supplies in the event of a international spat, as the UK’s gas now originates or passes through pipelines that we have no control over. I always though the UK’s policy of abandoning our own gas industry in favour of foreign supplies very unwise for this very reason.

IMGP3115During the Summer I had one of my Australian nephews and his partner staying with me for a few days. The were on a around-the-world holiday visiting the US, UK and Europe. One thing they had asked to see during their stay with us was the City of Bath some 35 miles from where I live. They had read so much about it in advance and for them it had become a must. They were particularly keen to see the Roman Baths something I had not seen before myself. On my previous visits to Bath, the Roman Baths had been closed due to on-going excavation and construction work. The closest we had been was in the delightful restaurant known as the Pump Room which has windows that overlook the Roman Pool. Whenever I had seen news items on the baths be it television of newspapers, they had always been set against the almost obligatory background of the pool itself.

I was pleasantly surprised during our visit to discover that not is there only the famous pool but also a large underground complex covering a Roman Temple and the spring that feeds the baths much of it still well preserved. The route through the complex is reminiscent to a slowly descending helter-skelter as the path slowly meanders around the top of the baths down through various rooms to the temple complex before eventually emerging by the pool itself. I could thoroughly recommend anyone who has not had the opportunity to make a visit to add it to their wish list.

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Maiden Castle

Maiden CastleOn one of our recent trips to Dorchester Market, my wife and I planned to follow our shopping spree on a trip to nearby Maiden Castle. My wife and I first fortified ourselves with a delicious real Cornish Pasty from the Celtic Kitchen in Antelope Walk. The pasties from this shop are made in Helston, Cornwall and shipped fresh to Dorchester on a daily basis. They are amongst the best and tastiest pasties I have come across. A visit to the Celtic Kitchen is one treat my wife look forward to with great relish.

Maiden Castle now owned by English Heritage is free to visit. It is one the largest Iron Age hillforts in Europe and the largest in the U.K.. Evidence of human activity on the site has been found dating back to about 1,800 BC during the Bronze Age with defensive landscaping beginning about 600 BC in the Iron Age, Work continued on and off landscaping the embankments during the following centuries.

In keeping with many hillforts which were built in good defensive position, the Romans during their occupation evicted the inhabitants and used them to aid their own governance of the country. The Romans also founded nearby Durnovaria which later evolved into modern Dorchester, the County Town of Dorset.

The enclosed area at the top is some 19 hectares in size which is more than enough space to house a large army and accompanying settlement. Dorchester is steeped with the history of Thomas Hardy and readers may recall the 1967 film adaption of his novel “Far from the Madding Crowd” in which Maiden Castle was used as a film location. The film starred Julie Christie, Alan Bates and Terence Stamp in the leading roles.

I can well recommend a visit to Maiden Castle even if to soak up the atmosphere of the place and with Summer holidays fast approaching, it is well worth any holiday maker in the area placing this on their itinerary.

I have added some view of Maiden Castle and its fortified embankments below.

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Wells Cathedral

DSCF1424Recently my wife and I paid a visit to Britain’s smallest and I think most pleasant city of Wells in Somerset. Although deemed a city, Wells is about the size of a small market town and indeed still has a thriving outdoor market held in the shadow of Wells Cathedral.

The city is nestled in the foothills of the Mendips close to Cheddar Gorge and derives its name from three freshwater wells. One is located in the market place and is dedicated to St Andrew, the other two are within the adjacent Bishops Palace the traditional home of the Bishop of Bath and Wells.

Wells was originally a Roman settlement but started to rise in prominence when the Saxon King Ine of Wessex built a minster church there in A.D. 704. In A.D. 909 Wells became the seat of the newly formed Bishopric of Wells. The Cathedral and Bishops Palace were built between 1175 and 1490 with the original Saxon minster church being replaced.

One item that Wells Cathedral is renown for is the 14th century astronomical clock built about 1390. The clock which does not have the traditional hands displays the time. date and moon phase on a series of dials. The clock is the second oldest in the UK, Salisbury Cathedral possessing one that was built a few years earlier. On the hour, a seated man to the top right of the clock rings the hours out on a bell and a series of jousting knights facing each other revolve on two turntables above the clock.

I created a Photosphere of the High Altar to allow viewers a 360 panorama of this part of the building.

The exterior facade of the cathedral consists of numerous alcoves containing some 300 statues all surmounted by Christ and his disciples.

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.I have also added below a series of photographs showing others aspects of the interior including the ornate ceilings.

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