Yesterday was glorious – a brilliant, sunshiney spring day when all’s right with the world. We headed north for our day out, first to Great Chalfield Manor near Melksham in Wiltshire, an amazing Tudor manor house owned by the National Trust and most recently seen in the BBC’s wonderful Wolf Hall, doubling as Sir Thomas Cromwell’s home, Austin Friars. I’ll write about this in more detail another time; we went on from Great Chalfield for a walk around the By Brook in Box, Wiltshire. It turned out to be quite a special walk, for quite a few reasons.
Detail from OS 1:25,000 Explorer Map 156 for Chippenham and Bradford-on-Avon. The squares are 1 km x 1 km.
Google Earth view with our path marked out in a rather wobbly white line. We travelled in a clockwise direction. The red dot marks the western portal of the Box Tunnel.
We parked up near the railway bridge and walked past some old mill buildings with a funky lead-clad modern extension which only today (Monday) I have found out were Peter Gabriel‘s Real World Studios, where such luminaries as Gabriel himself, Beyoncé, Björk, Pixies, Kanye West, Robert Plant, Amy Winehouse, Brian Eno, Jay-Z, Coldplay, Deep Purple and New Order have recorded. Had I realised at the time I would have taken some photos! Anyhow, no celebs were spotted, just a lad with a skateboard and other locals. We followed the footpath heading north-east along the western side of the brook, which in places was quite wide and deep: deep enough for skateboard lad and his friend to be swimming in it. Brave for this time of year, despite the sunshine.
Swan on the By Brook, Box, Wiltshire. The brook had narrowed by this point: further south it was wider and deep enough for swimming.
Unexpected moment number one came when Chap saw what he thought was a cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)perched in the windy tops of a tree over the brook. Not the sort of bird you expect to encounter on a country walk through pasture land. But sure enough, a cormorant it was.
That dark speck at the top of the trees is a cormorant. Chap has decidedly better eyesight (and bird recognition skills) than me.
Closing in on the cormorant.
He or she didn’t seem at all bothered as we passed by.
A swan nesting on an island.
Beautiful orchard in blossom.
In the distance is the village of Colerne with its prominent church tower.
Unexpected moment number two: a fairy circle of St George’s mushrooms (Calocybe gambosa). These are traditionally found round about St George’s Day (23 April), hence the name: mine are a bit early, I guess brought on by the wonderful weather. I picked some (Chap’s sandwich bag made a handy receptacle). They are good to eat, fried with butter and garlic.
St George’s mushrooms. Yummy fried with butter and garlic.
Unexpected moment number three: Box Tunnel. I knew of Isambard Kindom Brunel‘s magnificent engineering endeavour, but had never seen it. Our footpath and then a small road led us out on to the main road, the A4, and there it was! Built between 1838 and 1841 for the Great Western Railway (GWR), it was a considerable engineering feat, at 2.95 km (1.83 miles) long, and dug through difficult and challenging strata. It’s sobering to learn that around 100 labourers died during the tunnel’s construction.
The west portal of Box Tunnel.
Commemorative plaque for the restoration of the portal in 1986. The tunnel was constructed between 1838 and 1841; surveying (including the sinking of eight shafts to ascertain the geology) took place in 1836 and 1837.
The west portal of Box Tunnel: I don’t think many civil engineering projects nowadays would decorate their structures with carved stone balustrading.
Unexpected moment number four: as we walked back in to Box we passed a B&B with a blue plaque on the wall: the author of the Thomas the Tank Engine books, Reverend W V Awdry, had lived here as a child.
Blue plaque at Lorne House B&B for Reverend W V Awdry, of Thomas the Tank Engine books fame.
Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about his time in the house, then known as Lorne Villa, and its influence on his future career as an author:
“[Awdry’s house] was only 200 yards (180 m) from the western end of Box Tunnel. There the Great Western Railway main line climbs at a gradient of 1 in 100 for two miles. A banking engine was kept there to assist freight trains up the hill. These trains usually ran at night and the young Awdry could hear them from his bed, listening to the coded whistle signals between the train engine and the banker as well as the sharp bark from the locomotive exhausts as they fought their way up the incline. Awdry related: “There was no doubt in my mind that steam engines all had definite personalities. I would hear them snorting up the grade and little imagination was needed to hear in the puffings and pantings of the two engines the conversation they were having with one another.“ Here was the inspiration for the story of Edward helping Gordon‘s train up the hill, a story that Awdry first told his son Christopher some 25 years later, and which appeared in the first of the Railway Series books.”
Now I have a small but particular connection to Rev. Awdry. He was born in 1911 in Ampfield Vicarage near Romsey in Hampshire, and lived there until 1917. My mother lived in Ampfield Vicarage from September 1942 until some time in 1946: the vicar and his wife were the legal guardians of my mother and her brother while my grandparents were living in Borneo (and later held in a Japanese internment camp there). So this little blue plaque brought up all sorts of memories.
And then, across the road from Lorne Villa, came unexpected moment number five: a ruddy great steam thingamybob parked in someone’s front garden:
“the boiler for a portable steam engine of the type used for powering belt-driven machinery, typically threshing machines used in separating grain from straw and chaff. The wheels indicate that it was pulled from place to place by horses, and not self-propelled. The engine is gone, too; all that remains is the boiler that generated steam to drive the engine.”
At 18.04 pm on 6 April I can see there are still two eggs on the nest. I do hope she lays more. Last year’s brood had four eggs. (By the way, do use the ‘full screen’ facility for the webcam: it’s a tiny screen otherwise and the details will be barely visible if you don’t enlarge.)
A peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) on the beautiful stonework of Salisbury Cathedral.
Also great to learn is that one and possibly two other peregrines have been spotted around the Cathedral. These might be the juveniles from last year’s brood.
Five eggs. The webcam view on (a wet) 16 May 2017.
Apparently three or four eggs are the norm in the wild, but in urban areas where there is plentiful prey (read: pigeons) clutches can number as many as six.
UPDATE 22 May 2017: I’m not sure when it was born, but there’s a chick in the nest now:
The first hatchling!
UPDATE 30 May 2017: Great excitement while watching the wonderful BBC Springwatch programme last night as they are featuring the Salisbury Cathedral peregrines. The first part is here, starting at 49:25. They are doing a follow-up part tonight. I hope it’s good news: every time I have looked at the the webcam the adult is sitting on the nest, so I have no idea how many chicks there are. I guess I’ll find out tonight.
Beautiful shot of one of the peregrines from the BBC Springwatch footage.
Peregrine on the spire of Salisbury Cathedral, from the BBC Springwatch footage.
UPDATE 31 May 2017: Well, the BBC is keeping us hanging on … another wonderfully-shot update last night on Springwatch, full of beautiful images, but so far no news of any chicks. The second instalment is here, from 24:26. One thing I did learn is that the peregrines are feeding on kingfishers (Alcedo atthis) and greater spotted woodpeckers (Dendrocopos major), among other prey. I guess the kingfishers come from the nearby River Avon with its watermeadows. One of my few ever kingfisher sightings was one darting across the road that enters the central car park by Sainsbury’s in Salisbury: a small tributary of the river runs alongside it.
UPDATE 1 June 2017: Finally we learn from Springwatch that a lone chick hatched, out of the five eggs laid – talk abut stringing it out! This is in contrast to four chicks (only two of which survived to fledge) out of four eggs last year. The non-hatched eggs have been removed from the nest for health reasons, because if the spoiled eggs break the chick could be affected by the rotten contents. The eggs will be analysed to see why they failed: worryingly the spectre of insecticides causing thin shells was raised as a possible cause. The upside is that the lone chick is getting all its parents’ attention and is being fed like a king, with consequent fast growth. The third instalment is here, starting at 49:41.
1 June 2017: the lone chick in its salubrious nest, surrounded by carcasses, shit and flies!
1 June 2017.
UPDATE 2 June: Just a brief update in last night’s Springwatch, with a live web cam view of the satellite-tagged female on the nest and film of the male eating a hapless green woodpecker (Picus viridis). The segment is here, starting at 8:13; it’s followed by a longer segment on some cliff-nesting peregrines.
UPDATE 8 June: Well, what a difference a few hours make! I checked on the webcam yesterday morning and it was down; I didn’t check back so got the surprise via Springwatch last night: a second peregrine chick has been successfully introduced to the nest and is already being happily fostered by the adults.
The new chick on the right; the original, Cathedral chick on the left. 7 June 2017.
The foster chick was one of three chicks in a nest in Shropshire; tragically last weekend the parents were found dead, cause as yet unknown, on the ground below the cliff along with a dead pigeon. Toxicology tests are being undertaken, but poisoning is suspected. Utterly shameful if that is the case. Luckily the chicks were unaffected. They were removed from the nest by RSPB experts, checked over by a vet, and rehomed in the wild: the other two have been fostered to another nest in the Midlands. The segment on last night’s Springwatch starts at 10:51. The male, 25-day-old foster chick was put in the nest at around 8.30 yesterday morning, and was accepted immediately by both the parents and the original Cathedral chick. He’s a bit bigger than the Cathedral chick, as he’s six days older.
Just after introduction. 7 June 2017.
The female (with her satellite tag) feeding the new foster chick. 7 June 2017.
Grumpy! Why aren’t you feeding me, mum? 7 June 2017.
7 June 2017.
7 June 2017.
7 June 2017.
Not long and the chicks were snuggled together, and being fed by both parents. 7 June 2017.
The new family. 7 June 2017.
Such a beautiful sight. The new family. 7 June 2017.
More food. 7 June 2017.
The new siblings snuggled together with mum. 7 June 2017.
Castle Ditches is an Iron Age hillfort. The Victoria County History of Wiltshire says of the site: ‘An Iron-Age hill fort was called Oakley Castle in the 14th century and later, its ditches and banks, enclosing 25 acres, were called Castle ditches in the 16th century, and the whole earthwork afterwards took the name Castle Ditches.’
A view from the public footpath of the boardwalk through the boggy gardens of Spilsbury Farm, complete with grab posts and marsh marigolds (Caltha palustris).
One of several man-made ponds in the area exploiting the stream and springs. You can just make out two swans, one of which (on the left) is bottoms-up, and the other (on the right) we think was nesting on the island.
We saw some brimstone and tortoisehell butterflies and heard a raven cronking in the distance. It was a joy to be out and about in the spring lusciousness and to see the sun again after such a drab winter.
I have been a subscriber to Gardens Illustrated since it launched in spring 1993, and have kept every single issue. However, it’s time to part with my collection – our tiny cottage is barely able to hold it now. So with a heavy heart I am selling the complete set of 244 issues.
My full set of Gardens Illustrated issues, Issues 1 (April/May 1993) to 244 (February 2017).
In 1993 I was already a member of the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), and received their monthly journal, The Garden, and took other gardening magazines as well, and I remember when Gardens Illustrated launched what a sensation it was. It was unlike any other gardening publication, with its large format, amazing photography, glossy production, and articles by the greatest gardeners and garden writers of our time: Penelope Hobhouse, Arne Maynard, Anna Pavord, the late Christopher Lloyd, Beth Chatto, Piet Oudolf and Dan Pearson to name a few.
Gardens Illustrated has been described as ‘the Vogue of gardening media’ and ‘the world’s most beautiful gardening magazine’. It’s a stunning magazine, full of inspiring gardens and informative articles.
The set includes eleven slipcases (some of which have seen better days). Gardens Illustratedstill sells these slipcases (£7.50 each to subscribers; £9.50 each to non-subscribers), if you want to complete the set. The set also includes an index of the first 50 issues, and most of the additional supplements that came with the magazine in the early years. The one missing one that I know of is a map of the gardens of Scotland, which I lent to a friend and never got back 🙁
The magazines are in good condition, generally. The very earliest ones are a bit raggedy (Issue 1 in particular, as it was against a rather damp wall for a while before I realised it was damp), and over the years the tops of the pages have browned a bit.
The back of issue 1, with damp damage.
I am selling the complete set of 244 issues, the eleven slipcases and the additional supplements for £600. This is a bit of a snip considering that individual issues are on sale on eBay at £3.00 to £3.25 an issue, with the rarer, older issues going for £3.90 or more each. I haven’t seen an Issue 1 for sale but no doubt it would go for a lot more than that! Gardens Illustratedsells back issues going back to Issue 145 (January 2009) for £4.40 an issue to subscribers and £5.50 to non-subscribers. Earlier issues than Issue 145 are not available from Gardens Illustrated.
The buyer will have to collect. I am in south-west Wiltshire, about halfway between Shaftesbury and Warminster. Be warned that the set is both bulky and heavy!
If you are interested in buying this set, please contact me through the comments section below.
Last night was very cold, and we woke to a heavy frost, the fiercest yet this winter. In the secret garden next door we were treated to the lovely sight of our first fieldfare (Turdus pilaris) of the winter, a new arrival from Scandinavia or points further east. He was flying between the tall beeches that surround the garden and the central, old apple tree, with its spread of windfall apples on the ground beneath, chasing off any blackbirds (Turdus merula) that got too close to his stash.
The secret garden, surrounded by tall beech trees and with its old apple tree in the centre. The fieldfare was in one the beeches when I took this, not that you’ll be able to spot it.
Our visitor two years ago finally left us when our neighbours on the other side of the secret garden started having lots of treework done, involving noisy chainsaws. The day that started, he left. We didn’t see him last year. It’s lovely to have him (or one like him) back.
And as a double bonus, this morning I heard the first song thrush (Turdus philomelos) singing. They sing through the spring and early summer, and then stop, starting up again in winter. It’s wonderful to hear.
Update: 24 January 2017: We have had several days of very hard frosts and sub-zero temperatures at night. Two days ago our lone fieldfare was joined by four others, and the blackbirds were down feeding on the apples too. It seems the greater number meant that the original fieldfare gave up on chasing everyone else off. Yesterday we counted ten fieldfare. We have been supplementing the apples with oatmeal, suet, sultanas, sunflower seeds, chopped up dates and figs: I think the birds eat better than we do!
Update 27 January 2017: The apples are now gone, and so too are the fieldfare: we started putting out extra apples just too late to keep them around (they didn’t eat any of the other offerings). Oh well. It was lovely having our loner and latterly his friends for as long as we did.
I have a few pieces of British Arts and Crafts jewellery in my shop right now. When I started selling jewellery I had hoped to sell nothing but Arts and Crafts jewellery, but it proved far harder to come by than I had naïvely thought – it is very collectable and so pieces get snapped up quickly and often at prices that are beyond me. I have been lucky to get my hands on a few pieces, though.
Some of the British Arts and Crafts pieces in my Etsy shop, Inglenookery. Click on photo for further details of Arts and Crafts (and Arts and Crafts style or inspired) pieces I have for sale.
Arts and Crafts amethyst ring. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details. (NOW SOLD).
Lovely Arts and Crafts ring, for sale in my Etsy shop. Click on photo for details. (NOW SOLD).
Zoltan White & Co. Arts and Crafts bloodstone ring. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details.
Arts and Crafts Liberty or Liberty-style blister pearl brooch. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photos for details.
Huge seven stone amethyst Late Arts and Crafts ring. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details.
Arts and Crafts blister pearl and sterling silver necklace. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details. (NOW SOLD).
Late Arts and Crafts sterling silver brooch in a letter P, by William Hair Haseler, and hallmarked in 1930. (NOW SOLD).
Late Arts and Crafts art glass and sterling silver floral ring. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details. (NOW SOLD).
I was in Salisbury this morning for a dental appointment, and was very excited to notice the unusual skies: the high-altitude small cobbler-like clouds (I know they have a name but I don’t know it) had four or five oval ‘gashes’ in them, each of which was filled with a fluffier, whiter cloud. These are called fallstreak holes.
Not one of my fallstreak holes from this morning – this one was over Oklahoma City in the US in January 2010. It is very similar to what mine looked like though. Photo by Paul Franson.
‘A fallstreak hole (also known as a hole punch cloud, punch hole cloud, skypunch, cloud canal or cloud hole) is a large gap, usually circular or elliptical, that can appear in cirrocumulus or altocumulusclouds. Such holes are formed when the water temperature in the clouds is below freezing but the water, in a supercooled state, has not frozen yet due to the lack of ice nucleation. When ice crystals do form, a domino effect is set off due to the Bergeron process, causing the water droplets around the crystals to evaporate: this leaves a large, often circular, hole in the cloud.
It is believed that the introduction of large numbers of tiny ice crystals into the cloud layer sets off this domino effect of evaporation which creates the hole. The ice crystals can be formed by passing aircraft which often have a large reduction in pressure behind the wing- or propeller-tips. This cools the air very quickly, and can produce a ribbon of ice crystals trailing in the aircraft’s wake. These ice crystals find themselves surrounded by droplets, grow quickly by the Bergeron process, causing the droplets to evaporate and creating a hole with brush-like streaks of ice crystals below it. Such clouds are not unique to any one geographic area and have been photographed from many places.’
But sadly not in Salisbury this morning by me, because I didn’t have my camera with me. Buggeration. At one point I could see five holes. When I came out of my dental appointment 45 minutes later they had gone, and in their place were fluffy cumulus clouds.
I love Strange Weather Days. I still remember the excitement when Chap and I saw our first (and still only) ever mammatus clouds, in New Zealand in 2008. Well, we have to get our jollies somehow, don’t we?
Blackbirds (Turdus merula) are one of my favourite birds. So any time they are celebrated, I’m happy. Here’s a brief look at three very different groups of musicians from the UK who have been inspired by one of our loveliest native songbirds.
A male blackbird, Turdus merula. Photo by Sannse.
In early May this year Radiohead released ‘Burn the Witch‘, the much-anticipated first single off their first album in five years, A Moon Shaped Pool. The song was teased by the band with a short, enigmatic snippet of footage, of a stop-motion bird singing to the sound of a blackbird’s song.
When ‘Burn the Witch’ was released, we could hear that the blackbird’s song was the introduction and the coda to the song, and that the lyrics ‘Sing a song on the jukebox that goes / Burn the witch’ and ‘Sing the song of sixpence that goes / Burn the witch’ referenced the traditional British children’s rhyme, ‘Sing a Song of Sixpence‘, a rhyme that refers to four and twenty blackbirds being baked in a pie, and later to a blackbird pecking off a maid’s nose. Jolly stuff, these traditional rhymes, but aptly fitting with the grim subject matter of Radiohead’s song.
Just the other day I discovered that what I had long-thought to be an image of a range of evening sunlit limestone peaks reflected in still waters of the Thai coast on the cover of Kate Bush‘s double album Aerial is in fact a waveform of a blackbird’s song. (Observation was never my strong point).
The cover of Aerial by Kate bush, featuring the waveform of a blackbird’s song.
And birdsong, predominantly blackbird song, is featured throughout the album. ‘Prelude’, the first track of A Sky of Honey, the second disc of the album, starts with a male blackbird singing, followed by a wood pigeon‘s call which Bush then mimics; the track ‘Sunset’ refers to blackbirds singing at dusk, and features the song of a blackbird at the very end of the track and merging into the next track, ‘Aerial Tal’, where Bush mimics the call of one in the style of an Indian taal; and the final track, ‘Aerial’ features more blackbird song (and a blackbird alarm call) while Bush laughs.
And of course the most famous use of a blackbird’s song in modern music is in ‘Blackbird‘ by the Beatles: in the latter part of the song a male blackbird can be heard singing.
Here they are, without accompaniment. In all cases, this is the spring song of the blackbird. They do sing later on in the year, but the spring song is the best.