Monday, 29 May 2017

Bloomin' Things

(The cows would need a stronger adjective)

The dreaded 'Rhodies' are now out, feeling about as unwelcome as the white Zimbabweans who share the nickname. The flowers provide another excuse for those who know a little to feel patronising about those who know even less. It's even common to hear people who only rarely step into semi-natural sites to condemn the Rhododendrum ponticum snobbishly as something only ignorant people of the lower orders could possibly enjoy looking at. Its 'blowsy' flowers are only fit for, well, the assorted terrain in parts of Asia. And various mythological horrors have been associated with it to discourage planting and cultivating. We've been told that it is poisonous to insects, or its pollen is poisonous. There is some evidence that honey made by bees from its flowers can be toxic in various degrees to humans. And there are many people who consider that it should have no place in this country - as an alien invader. Certainly not much grow under it and it's pretty persistent when it gets established. But the idea that it damages biodiversity because insects keep away from it may be exaggerated.

The gorgeous hybrid dwarf Rhododendron in my garden is actually the single favourite of all the visiting bumble bees (and the competion is rather fierce).

Another plant now at its best is one of my favourites, the Cow Parsley.

Given only a slightly more prepossessing name it would surely have figured in many classic lyric poems in English anthologies. Its habit of white-lining the edges of paths and tracks shows an endearing regard for the needs of walkers in gloomy conditions.

Golden Host

Wandering along the other day, pretty lonely, lonely as a cloud as it happens, I saw this.

Now it's not yet been finally established but the evidence is growing, literally, that when Wordsworth wrote Daffodils he actually meant Buttercups. After all they are much more golden than the larger flowers and in some people's view, mine anyway, the flowers are more beautifully formed. All it needs is an EngLit student looking for a PhD subject a guaranteed slot on the Today programme on Radio 4 etc.

Even so the Meadow Buttercup is a lovely flower another specimen unfairly tainted by its association as a garden weed.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Now Down Here - Aren't We So Lucky?

Up there it's not enough to be sheepwrecked; for the last week or so the agri-environment regime in the grassy wasteland has had to be supplemented with a strong dose of cow-blighting. Now the crop&crappers have come down to the so-called "heathland" partition  of what the managers choose to call a 'nature reserve'. As we all know by now,  the site is only dressed up with that and other imaginative designations to help it qualify for the aforementioned agri-environment schemes and their handsome fundings. What they call it with the miserable beasts that have to accompany it serve no useful purpose not even achieving what was originally claimed. I remember a poor effort being made at a meeting trying to persuade us apparently ignorant townies why it was so important for the land to have cows on it (otherwise they implied it would self-destruct). A slide was projected showing a cow chewing on some birch leaves. What heroes.

The facts do not need presentation. We can see for ourselves. Sheep and cows are boring and dirty and they turn natural beauty into something unnattractive and often insalubrious. Only those who cannot see will dispute that. The wilful blindness is evident in various strenuous efforts made and occasionally seen on BBC programmes. Sponsored by farming and game industry organisations people travel the usual talks circuits to promote the view that a landscape without sheep and cattle would be an utter disaster. The same happens with grouse and other game birds. Pheasants are aliens and Grouse another boring birds carrying a heavy responsibility for the scenic tedium of our uplands.

Meanwhile, as the bovine visitors take over, heads down cropping and crapping the grass, our natural wild deer are browsing among the fresh leaves of Birch and Rowan.

They are beautifully clean, unintrusive and they have a lively alert air not seen on farm animals. One young stag is particularly frisky. And their coats have shed the excess winter layers revealing why they are called red deer.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Back Again

Each day there's new evidence that Spring races ahead, measured by wayside flowers coming into bloom. In the sweeter ground near the noisy road it's like welcoming returning old friends:

Crosswort seems everywhere.

Unwelcome in the garden but here in freedom it is allowed to be stately, the common Plantain.

Sanicle is growing low here. Used to be prescribed infused in a glass of wine as a cure for the runs.

Searching for Tranquillity

Many years ago when quietness and tranquillity were commonplace we didn't think to put a great value on it. It was simply the norm. Only when you lose something do you realise what a treasure it was. People growing up today and even those who were children 30 years ago have no expectation of tranquillity except perhaps to know that the surrounding environmental noise gets more pronounced each year.

Tranquillity accepts only natural sounds which includes wind and water, birdsong and other wildlife calls but excludes all man-made sound so it's absolutely not pure silence; that would be eerie. To experience something like genuine tranquillity I sometimes walk before dawn and these short clips were recorded on Blacka about 4.40 am. (The vision is completely incidental.)

  • In fact what we hear is a dawn chorus, one of the most fascinating wildlife experiences of the year. Trying to pick out the individual bird species can be teasing.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017


A 900th anniversary is as good an excuse for a visit as any especially as it concerns the single most worthwhile feature to look out for in the views from Blacka.

Every so often the lighting is just what we need for a view of Lincoln and its amazing cathedral. My visit yesterday was partly motivated by a desire to find out more about what happened in 1217 but who needs a reason to go again to one of the greatest buildings in the country?

The Battle of Lincoln is rarely heard of but it could hardly have been more important in the history of England and its monarchy coming at a time when the barons were all for ditching English kings after the dreadful King John. His child king successor Henry III was threatened with being overthrown by the barons' choice Louis of France. In stepped Henry's remarkable 70 year old knight-champion William Marshal who saved the day. The picture above shows the space before the cathedral between it and the castle gate, where the fighting took place, before the losing side were driven unceremoniously down Steep Hill. More information here and elsewhere when searched for online.

A recent Radio 4 programme in the In Our Time series tells you all most people might want to know.

The coming weekend and during the summer there are special events in the town and its castle close by the cathedral.

Last time I visited the west facade of the cathedral was under wraps and scaffolding so it's good to see it cleaned and uncluttered. And the interior is a wonder with arches and pillars creating intricate patterns along with fan vaults an angel gallery and much more.

It's also a reminder of how much the stonemasons and wood carvers of those days were influenced by natural forms. You can't look far before coming across foliage and animal inspired items. The choir stalls with their misericords are especially fine. And the east window is stunning.


The Cuckoo on Blacka has always been one of the easiest birds to find. He gives away his presence in his own way and can usually be found flying from tree to tree. But this year he's playing hard to get.

The recording below is of a rather nice Blackbird and the Cuckoo can just be heard at the start.