Thursday, 30 June 2011

Cambridge Street-Music

I love live entertainment. I don't care how rough'n'ready it is as long as it's live and it's got life. And when it's an unexpected treat then so much the better. There I am wandering through the city streets when gradually I become aware of the sound of a distant fiddle seeping through the sounds of the crowd. As I walk it becomes louder until I'm standing listening to.....well, if I'm in Cambridge then it could be anything...

An unlikely place for a jig.

Folk duo Pennyless

The music of Africa comes to town...

...dancers too!

The Spanish guitar of Michael Gowland.

Jazz on the corner with
Django's Tiger

An inventive guitar duo.

The eccentric Karmadillo

The blues with nobody listening.
He was actually rather good.

If you can make it to Cambridge tomorrow or Saturday then the 4th Annual Buskers And Street-Performers Festival is taking place with lots more good music to enjoy. (Some of the musicians pictured above may not be at the festival but many, many more will be.)

Take care.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

A Duff'uss And Some Do'cots

"Duff'uss" and "do'cot" are the old local words for "dove-house" and "dovecot". The doves in question were probably Stock Doves and were kept for their meat. The usual practice on farms before the advent of fodder crops was to kill off many of the livestock before the winter. The meat was then salted to last through till the next year. The doves or pigeons would have provided a welcome source of fresh meat. But only the lord of the manor was allowed to keep them, though he could grant permission for others to do so if he wished. The doves must have been a great irritation to the general population as they would, of course, feed wherever they liked, ruining the crops; but you'd be in big trouble if you killed them. Most villages in southern England would have had a dovecot and some still remain, if you know what to look for.

The dovecot tucked away at Chiswick End in Meldreth is fairly typical.  The gable ends would have had an entrance for the doves to gain access. Inside wooden nest-boxes were arranged all around the walls and a ladder was used to collect the "squabs" as the young were called - they were the choicest meat.

At Trumpington there is a dovecot included in a range of other farm buildings. It's thought to date from the eighteenth century and may have included a granary in the lower part of the building. The saddleback roof is a fairly common feature of dovecotes with the entrance holes being in the gablets (the little triangular wooden bit at the top). A book published over thirty years ago said this dovecot was in very poor condition; it probably owes its survival to the fact that it still serves some purpose on the farm though it no longer houses birds.

Others have survived because it has been possible to convert them into houses like this rather grand structure at Haslingfield. The birds entered through the "lantern" at the top. The circular structure allowed a ladder to revolve around a "king-post" in the centre of the building so that all the nest-holes could easily be visited and squabs collected.

In a field in Foxton stands a dovecot that was once fairly ruinous but has now been restored to something like its former glory, using old pictures as a guide. A plaque on the side gives the date of its construction....

1706, in case you can't work it out. I promised you a Duff'us too and here it is....

Standing on the site of The Great Duff'uss of 1436 is this eighteenth century building, now known as Dove Cottage. It was said to have had 3000 pigeon holes. Poultry were also kept at ground level. It says much about the way that farm labourers were treated that it was later converted to three dwellings which housed 18 people. It is now the home of the manager of a large farm company.

Take care.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

A Ramble With Aunt Rose

Aunt Rose used to come in summer. Dressed in a floral dress and a straw hat. She would sit drinking tea and eating sweet biscuits while we played with our cars on the floor.

She spoke in an old country accent with a soft and slightly quavering voice, telling the latest news of various relations unknown to me, of her husband Uncle Charlie's garden and the terrible price of things in the village shop. It was the straw hat that impressed me most; I'd only ever seen straw used for bedding for pigs and couldn't work out how you might go about making hats out of it.

Sometimes we would go to visit Aunt Rose too. Her house smelled strange, as all houses seem to when you're young. She would ply us with home-made cake and glasses of lemonade. There were no toys in Aunt Roses house as she had no children, but soon Uncle Charlie would come in and fill the room with gentle good-humour. He'd always contrive to find something to amuse us - making paper aeroplanes out of last year's Christmas cards, showing us his collection of foreign coins and old military buttons, telling unlikely and often hilarious tales.

And then Aunt Rose might suggest "a nice walk". She led us slowly through the lanes and along secret paths pausing every few yards to point out some favourite wildflower that, "I used to pick when I was a little girl".

 I was cycling through the by-roads of Cambridgeshire recently and couldn't help thinking about Aunt Rose as the waysides are once again filled with wild flowers as the council have resisted the urge to mow everything into oblivion.

Meadow Brown on Knapweed

A lot of the flowers seen then are no longer common, not because we picked them all but due to modern farming practices. Some flowers would have been dismissed by Aunt Rose as "nothing but old weeds"......


....but Ox-Eye Daisies would certainly have met with her approval....

.....a simple enough shot to take; just set the self-timer device and lay the camera on the ground. She would also have been delighted at the profusion of flowers which sometimes appears after the earth-moving associated with modern road-works.....


....and just occasionally, if you keep looking at the side of the road, you'll get a pleasant surprise...

Some sort of orchid.

(Any help with more accurate identification of the broomrape and orchid would be much appreciated.)

Take care.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Byron's Pool

Byron's Pool, near Cambridge, is named after the poet, Lord Byron, who is believed to have enjoyed swimming here while studying at Trinity College. The area is marked on old maps as "Old Mills" and may well have been the site of the mill mentioned in Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales". More recently it was where we rode our bicycles as children and  as teenagers ventured on our punt.

The pool where Byron swam

Nowadays it's managed as a local nature reserve and has recently undergone a major make-over. Since I've known and loved the area for so long I was concerned at what might have been done; I've seen lots of good habitat destroyed in attempts to make reserves more user-friendly - where the "user" is the human visitor rather than the wildlife.

I needn't have worried. Given that the purpose of a local nature reserve is to serve many different requirements there seems to be an admirable balance achieved. Picnic tables are situated in a flowery meadow near to the entrance to the woodland which runs alongside the River Cam.

Platforms have been built for the anglers but they also make excellent vantage points to view the river - dragonflies were in abundance and a kingfisher flashed by.

The fish-run

A fish-run has been constructed so that fish can by-pass the weir which used to block their way upstream, it already has produced an increase in fish in the upper river and despite the amount of earth-moving that was required the vegetation is rapidly returning.

The path, once uneven and muddy enough to make an exciting track for our bikes, is now accessible to wheelchair-users but elsewhere the woodland retains its wild nature. You could still make a bit of a bike track and it looks as though some of the local lads have done just that!

The wildlife doesn't seem to have been frightened away by the work that's been going on and I was pleased to come across the nest of wild honeybees in a fallen tree. 

Take care.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

A Postcard From Far Away

Just one last photograph from my recent visit to Wells-Next-The-Sea. While I was prowling around taking the photos which featured in the posts published on the 2nd and 3rd of this month I noticed a small art exhibition. When I'd taken all the photos I wanted, I couldn't resist poking my head around the door to see what was on show. Lots of bright cheery images of the coast - waves, boats, beaches, harbours.

When I got back I tried to manipulate one of my photos into something like their paintings. Don't ask me how I arrived at this effect, I just tinkered with it till it looked right to me.

I don't usually like to overdo the special effects but just once in a while it is rather fun. Just for a bit more fun here's another colourful coastal image.

Take care.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Meldreth Motorbike Show

The annual bike show, organised by The Royston And District Motorcycle Club, was held at the Riding School at Meldreth this week. Last year it raised over £10,000 for Meldreth Manor, a school and home for young people with severe physical and learning difficulties (and the place where I work). It also raised a similar amount for the East Anglian Air Ambulance service.

The weather was not so kind this year - a grey, drizzly evening - but that didn't stop bikers turning up in numbers. Just a few photos to give you a taste of the event.

A motorbike built for two....

All rather distant from my usual subject matter, I know, but the motorbiking community do a lot of good work at the school - bringing Easter eggs and Christmas goodies to our young people as well as raising this huge amount of money for charity every year.

Take care, whether on bikes or not.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Notes From "Another Country"

The past - another country where we did things differently. I was sorting through some old photos recently and lingered long on this picture:

Evening at "Ashlyn"

I took it when I was nine or ten years old, in the little bungalow we lived in then. The airing hangs on a line across the room with tea towels drying over the fireplace. My mother is looking at the Kays mail order catalogue and seems to be dreaming of things she can't afford to buy. My father and brother are playing draughts and Dad is wearing his farming clothes - I remember showing them this photo years later and none of us could quite believe that he was in the house dressed in his dirty overalls - we did things differently in those days. The clock on the mantlepiece shows twenty-past-seven and nobody's watching TV,  because we didn't have one.

Dad feeding the pigs

I like the unselfconcious way that children take pictures. All children should be given cameras when they're as young as possible and we should keep the pictures they take. You can never get back to that country again.

Take care.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Run Of The Mill

You may be wondering what happened to those cygnets that hatched out at Grantchester Mill a week or two ago - well, so am I. They've disappeared, as they do every year at this time, probably to a quieter stretch of the river. But they'll be back I'm sure.

Grantchester Mill

I couldn't help having a look at the millpond as I was passing. The mill house reminded me of my grandmother and a visit we made to this spot about twenty-five years ago. We sat pretty much where the above photo was taken, "I've been here before, haven't I ", she said. I confessed that I hadn't a clue but she went on to explain that when she was a little girl she had come here, on top of a cart, with her father. That must have been just after 1900. There had been no real wind for weeks so the windmill at Bourn, which usually ground their wheat, had not been able to operate and they had to take the grain to Grantchester watermill. She had waited in that very spot till it was time to return home. 

She also recalled that the mill was much larger then. That was because the old mill had burned down in 1929 and only the miller's house was able to be saved, the rest of the mill, a wooden structure, was burned down. The mill had been owned by the Nutter family and as a result my mother now lives at the unfortunate address of "Nutters Close".

The windmill at Cley

Windmills and watermills were for centuries the backbone of the farming economy of Britain. Without mills to grind the wheat and barley  there would be no bread and, just as importantly, no beer. The two types of mill complemented each other in the way described; if there was no wind you used water power and equally when the streams were low people turned to windmills. On the coast the wind is more reliable and many mills like the one at Cley still remain though most are converted to rather idiosyncratic holiday homes.

The Mill at Cambridge

Other mills have all but disappeared though often the evidence is still there for those who care to look. How many people, I wonder have sat drinking a pint on the bridge outside The Mill pub in Cambridge without realising that they are sitting on the foundations of the old King's Mill. If you peer closely at the brickwork in the photo above you can see the mark made by the rotation of the water-wheel.

Wicken wind-pump

But on the Fens many of the windmills aren't mills at all, but, like the one at Wicken Fen, pumps to drain the land, . This building still retains its internal workings even though it's no longer in use.

The workings

I hope that in a future blog I'll be able to show the inside of a working grain mill; there are a number still in existence. I'm also trying to find out the truth or otherwise of a snippet of information which I have in a very dusty and little visited part of my mind. From somewhere I have the idea that all the terms in the children's rhyme "The Cat And The Fiddle" relate to parts of the machinery involved in milling. All I've found so far is that there are several pubs called The Cat And Fiddle near the sites of windmills, but no one else seems to have heard the rumour which I dimly recollect.

Take care.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Botanic Gardens, Cambridge

I'm told that "botanical gardens" was a phrase I mastered at a very early age. It was a place my mother often took my brother and I when we were little; to feed the ducks rather than to study botany, it must be said.

You used to be able to walk around for free, but now you have to pay. It's worth it though.

I still like to have a wander around from time to time and enjoy the flowers. If I go with the children from school I get to feed the ducks as well!

I last visited on Saturday morning before taking myself off to Strawberry Fair, so I had a colourful day, though the gardens were a good deal quieter.

Thank goodness for digital photography; I used to shoot ridiculous amounts of film here!

The glasshouses are spectacular and a welcome refuge if it rains.

And there's a nice cafe where you can sit outside and enjoy this view:

Take care.