Fish and Ships!

Newlyn is our favourite harbour. It may be an Icelandic gull or a black redstart that draws us, but it is the turnstones at the harbourmaster’s office that enchant us, dashing about avoiding the comings and goings of vehicles instead of waves, as they monitor the sandwich situation within and without the office.

Seems to me that in recent years the fishing fleet is looking smarter and younger. But then, I find that’s true of most things!

But there are still old friends —

and ropes to trip over

potentially propelling me into the green depths and alarming the old seal lolling in the harbour waiting for the tide to rise high enough for him to snatch the discarded crabs.

The bright young boats are hung with clusters of fenders like boat-eggs, tended by fishermen.

Notice the threatening weather which reminds us of the rigours of their chosen occupation.

The best thing about visiting an active fishing port is the evening meal.

Brill for dinner — filleted, this monster landed the night before, just fitted into the largest available pan. Fried in butter… delicious!
But there are two fishmongers behind the fish market at Newlyn and others in the town — it is impossible to pass without buying in both so there will be a starter of crab!

Large, detached family home!

One careful resident, since refurbishment in 1603 — the Sackville family, who still live there though it is now owned by the nation and managed by the National Trust. Literary note: yes, Vita Sackville-West lived here for a time and was visited by her lover, Virginia Woolf, who wrote about the house in Orlando (1928).

NT Information board picture displayed by the cafe.

It was always said to be a Calendar House, with 365 rooms, 52 staircases, 12 entrances and 7 courtyards, P G Wodehouse added that it also had [only] 20 bathrooms! Modernisation has removed some staircases and added some yards, but it is certainly substantial — the footprint is 4 acres!

Before the dissolution of the monasteries, it was home to a series of archbishops of Canterbury, here is the tithe barn. Henry VIII put pressure on the last one, Archbishop Cranmer, to swap his splendid archbishop’s palace at Knole for various abbeys and monasteries between Canterbury and Dover. One wonders if the fine deer park was a factor — they say not.
A survivor of the hunting, but still uneasy.

Some of you know my preoccupation with drains and plumbing generally. One of the things that impressed me at Knole was the Jacobean leadwork — the magnificent ornamental rainwater heads with turrets and fretwork. Other examples have initials, dates, chequers, stars, chevrons and bartizans.

Lead Cistern in one of the courtyards. Initials LD, the arms of the order of the garter and half a date 17… Lionel Sackville received his in 1714. Became 1st Duke of Dorset in 1720…

But wait — I’ve found another photo.

1749 — what happened then? Can’t find out — maybe they just renovated the plumbing! Does anybody know?

History, Rememberance

For the Fallen

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun

and in the morning

We will remember them. extract from For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon

And today we think of all those who have perished in Ukraine and will die tomorrow and in the days to come — another wasted generation, their families and their unborn children.



Ideal gift for a football crazy grandchild.

A charming story written by Shaun McMahon, a Northamptonshire school teacher, suitable from about 6 years of age, younger if read to, and an equally good read for the adult reader. Suspend your preconceptions and go with the flow as Bert, a likeable young chicken follows his dream to be a footballer, aided and abetted by an eccentric farmer and his good mate Harry, a Shetland pony. Lots of challenges along the way with each chapter just right for a bedtime story. Made me think that we might have found the successor to Dick King-Smith.

Well written and deserves to do well — can’t wait for the film!

Fowl by Shaun McMahon, published by Matador ISBN 9 781838 595166 £7.99

Ecology, Wales

Special trees!

Encountered by chance at Plas Newydd in Anglesey — reminded me of the power of rain and light.

Monterey Cypresses — native to California but thriving in Anglesey. Bill for scale!

These specimens seem so much more robust that the ones in pictures from California but I suspect this has to do with the wonderfully consistent rainfall in North Wales and careful arboriculture since they were planted in the 1950s — just look at the carbon they have sequested in my lifetime!

When we planted our 7000 trees in 2006 we didn’t really realise we were replanting a rainforest — but all the clues were there.

Here is some of the evidence of the rain forest potential of one of the wet western parts of Britain in which we live:

Trees dripping with mosses.
Mosses and ferns blanket the moist peat of the woodland floor.
Rainfall of up to a couple of metres per year — I stopped measuring it because, until this year, it really didn’t vary much.

Ferns and lichens and mosses taking advantage of every surface.

Forest floor before the explosion of all the other plants in the spring.
And a few weeks later.

Shamrocks, violets, wood anemones and blue bells scrambling to catch the light before it is stolen by the bracken or the tree canopy.

This cool, damp, verdant place bursts with life — these boletus fungi appeared all along the path between aspen and oak in the few days we were away, does anyone know what sort they are?



‘Twill all be over by Halloween — we will have a new leader and the doors to the underworld will swing closed again, though maybe not in Ukraine, or Pakistan, or Sri Lanka, or the Horn of Africa, or Nigeria or any of the other disaster areas that our mainstream media choses to ignore this week (and most other weeks). I don’t talk politics — I’m the silent majority.

But I’ve discussed it with my daughter’s dog who is visiting — he is practicing his ghastly howl just in case. Myself, having observed British politics for a long time and the habit, when in doubt, of electing rank outsiders — I’m off out first thing in the morning to put ten quid on Kemi Badenoch, who actually appears to be made of the right stuff — so who knows?


Island Sanctuary

We didn’t actually fly in to Brownsea Island in our sea plane.

Aerial photograph displayed in NT Visitor Centre

We arrived by boat, crossing Poole Harbour which is a large natural inlet on England’s south coast. Brownsea Island sits in the middle and affords unique protection to the species that live there.

Arriving at Brownsea quay.

This is what we came to see.

Red Squirrel at British Wildlife Centre by Cameraman (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Disgorged from the first boat of the day, almost immediately we are aware of frenetic activity — in the treetops, up and down the trunks and bounding across the grass — foraging red squirrels.

Small and very lively — difficult to catch. Thriving, away from predators and disease, in this more bio-secure environment.

At the north-east corner of the island is a large brackish lagoon, built in the mid 19th century as a polder to reclaim land from shallow sea for agriculture — it was flooded in the 1930 and has remained flooded since. Though the water is shallow, suitable for dabblers rather than divers, it is sheltered and protected and has a colony up to 72 spoonbills which now breed on the island.

Distant view of spoonbills on the far side of the lagoon.

Spoonbills disappeared from the UK in the 1600s with the loss of their habitat, due to draining of wetlands for agriculture, and because of hunting. They have only recently returned and are still rare but are breeding in several locations helped by various schemes to recreate the sort of conditions that they find at Brownsea.


That’s Me — Before

The innocent girl on the cover, bewildered by the strangeness of post-war Britain.

And After

Read the events that changed the way I see the world. You don’t have to be a genius... published by Clinical Press, available on-line and as a Kindle book. Would make a good Christmas present!


A Living Flash of Light

On a bright, clear morning the slow-witted naturalist has a chance at a half-decent photograph because the temperature is dropping.

Southern Hawker at Rutland Water last week.

As the year progresses, the remaining dragonflies are slowing up, getting up later, flying less frenetically and sitting around more — low in a bush in the morning sun, trying to warm up.

The only other chance is very early in the morning or shortly after they have emerged, as Tennyson wrote,

“…An inner impulse rent the veil

Of his old husk: from head to tail.

He dried his wings: like gauze they grew;”

Broad bodied chaser

The broad bodied chaser is common around our little pond in Mid-Wales — appearing early in the summer and active for a long time. The southern hawker is more dramatic and is aggressive, indulging in arial skirmishes with intruding males along the closely guarded stream-side territory along which he patrols. Passing by every few minutes, easily seen but almost impossible to photograph. “A living flash of light…”

I do my best!

The southern hawker (above) looks so alien with his “plates of sapphire mail” — it is only the fact of scale that prevents me running from this sci-fi inter-stellar gunship as he casts his sinister shadow then disappears in a flash to another dimension.

This pristine brown hawker was drying his wings at Woodwalton fen last summer.

Brown Hawker

Not to be confused with this rare bird!

The rare Norfolk hawker, with his green eyes and tell-tail little yellow triangle on the first abdominal segment, between his back wings.

We spotted him at Hickling broad this year while we were looking for swallowtail butterflies.

Ecology, Farm engineering, Health and safety

Llyn Meurig Lake

If you notice an ordnance survey plane making passes over our valley, I can tell you that they are checking on the previously overlooked body of water below the ancient earth works on the hill.

You might remember that we got our friend to dig us a pond at the suggestion of the ecologist who came last summer. It has an en-suite compost heap and wood pile.

Day one

Well, it filled up in no time from ground water during the driest period anyone remembers.

Raising many health and safety issues!
Some risks have been addressed.

The septuagenarian who ventures down the bank to plant water mint and forget-me-not and flounders in the slippery mud will now be rendered unconscious by a heavy and over-engineered life-buoy chucked in after him or her by an over-anxious grand-child. As the grand-parent is likely to be heavier than any number of grand-children, a winch may also have to be purchased!

For this reason God is going to do most of the planting.

As always though, I can’t help interfering, We have planted hornwort, water lilies, frogbit, yellow irises and bog bean, the latter primed to take over in no time, but it is beautiful. Already much of the pondweed escaped down the overflow and had to be rounded up and marched back — it should have been weighted which we realised when we found the little weights in the bottom of the bag!

Fishes, a mixed blessing, have been spotted, tiny and darting about with their shadows.

Purple loosestrife — as it will look.