Sunday, 20 October 2019

October's Garden

A walk around the Botanic Garden's little lake on a drizzly morning:

I'm not sure if this one's a photo or not.....

Take care.

Saturday, 19 October 2019

Ragged Miles

Here's a walk I do many times, but this is the first time I've taken you along with me. On a morning like this, when rain is forecast by lunchtime, it has the advantage of starting from my kitchen door. So we'll leave the breakfast dishes in the sink and stride off into the dawn.

This walk can be anything between 7 and 10 miles, depending on exactly which variations I include. But this morning we'll avoid the bit that crosses a newly ploughed field and just head straight down the road. There's a grass verge we can walk on when the occasional car comes past on their way to work.

The sun is just coming up and we can watch the darkness evolving into a bright autumn morning as we proceed. Watch out for the footpath heading off on the left as we enter the village of Whaddon.

Here we are following a track between fields under a marbled sky. Just a few months ago I heard, and briefly saw, a bird I'd never encountered in the wild before. A migrating Quail. These tiny game birds are extremely elusive and usually hide deep in the growing crops. I'll probably never see one again.

Further along we come to a working farm where the path goes straight through the farmyard.

We're now in among the handful of houses that make up the hamlet of Dyer's Green, which always sounds more like an artist's pigment than a place name. We can pick another field path up here which will take us towards the edge of Kneeswoth.

On the way we'll pass this little square reservoir, built by the farm to irrigate the fields during summer. The surrounding earth banks are thick with rare wild orchids during June.

When I set out on this walk I promised myself I wouldn't get "all arty" but would just show the countryside as it is, but I couldn't resist the contrast between the yellow leaves and the green-blue waters of the reservoir.

Our path leads on through the fields to the outskirts of Kneesworth, where a couple of hundred yards (or metres if you like) of road-walking leads to a path leading beside Hill View Farm Shop and out into the fields again.

This is always the saddest part of the walk as we skirt around behind Kneesworth House Hospital, a facility for mental health patients. You hardly ever see anyone but the high security fences tell you what some of those troubled patients must be like. On a morning like this when I can wander happily through the countryside one can't help but feel sorry for those shut inside. And I include the hard-working people who do their best to care for them too. 

A little further along there's a free-range chicken farm. They're also fenced in too, though they have a larger area to roam.

We'll turn on to a farm track that gives far-reaching views towards the low hills of Hertfordshire. But this is not just any old farm track.

When you find a track like this, which maintains a basically straight course across the map, but on the ground has many minor kinks and diversions, you can be pretty sure it's an old route. The little deviations have come about as travellers through the centuries have avoided patches of wet ground or other hindrances to progress. And that's the case here, because we're on Ashwell Street, an alternative branch of the Icknield Way, Britain's oldest road.

We'll duck under the bridge that carries the Cambridge-King's Cross railway line on its way to London.

Oh dear, we're getting "arty" again with the sunlight illuminating the autumn grasses! There's a sudden movement from the top of the bushes as a few dark shapes take flight against the bright sky. A scattering of scratchy notes rain down, criticising and scolding me for interrupting their feast. Familiar voices that I've not heard for a while: the first arrival of wintering Fieldfares.

Another brief roadside walk takes us through to the turn-off for Bury Lane, leading us back to the village. On the left are a row of poplar trees planted as a windbreak.

Another windbreak. There are several of these near here which I'm guessing were planted to protect the fruit orchards that once thrived in the area.

Here's Bury Lane, an old track that was once a road, but is now a leafy by-way that was thick with blackberries a week or two ago. Some of them will be making me an apple and blackberry crumble or two later in the year. Which reminds me...

I need to call in to Fieldgate Farm Shop to buy some vegetables and half-a-dozen eggs as we're passing. "Get Fresh, Get Fruity, Get It Here"......hmm.

I've noticed a few little clumps of fungi along the route today and these are happily growing right beside the village street.

A little autumn colour beside the Village Hall where the pre-school children are this morning. My littlest next-door neighbour is there, while his big brother has just started at the primary school opposite.

So that's the end of our stroll for today. Aren't you coming in to help me wash up those breakfast things?

Take care.

Thursday, 17 October 2019

October Flower, October Tree

A couple of difficult choices for me when I visited the Cambridge University's Botanic Garden this month. Flowers are not plentiful in October and some of those that are still blooming look a bit sad after all the rain we've been having in the last week or two. Trees, on the other hand, gave me the opposite problem: lots of them are now beginning to get autumn colour.

Cornish Lily, Guernsey Lily or Cape Flower - Nerine bowdenii

These lovely flowers brought a small explosion of colour at the entrance to the Glasshouse Range. The names are misleading; it doesn't come from Cornwall, or Guernsey, and it's not a lily. Cape flower is a better name as it is a native of southern Africa.

The bulbs were first sent back to the UK by Athelstan Cornish-Bowden, so that's where the Cornish bit comes from, though the scientific name comes from the other element of his double-barrelled name. Bowden Lily is also sometimes used. 

It's actually a member of the Amaryllis family (Amaryllidaceae), which also includes, along with Amaryllis of course, daffodils, alliums, agapanthus and a whole host of what seem like very different plants.

Like the familiar Amaryllis it grows from a huge bulb, though it's much more reluctant to flower, needing ideally to be left undisturbed for a few years. I presume these are stored away somewhere in the Botanic Garden and just brought out when they are about to flower.

According to Wikipedia the bulbs contain chemicals which may prove useful in the treatment of Altzheimer's disease. Lets hope it does.

Transcaucasian Birch - Betula medwediewii

At first I thought I'd choose one of the spectacular autumn trees growing around the lake (we'll save them for another post). Then I remembered the birch grove which always has the look of a pointillist painting, dotted with golden leaves, at this season. But when I got there I saw the tree in the photo above, which piqued my curiosity.

"What the hell is that?" said my curiosity. Birch trees don't grow like that, do they? Well, most of the hundred-odd species of them don't. They grow like regular trees, like this....

The Transcaucasian Birch is a rare and endangered tree. There is a cultivar of it which is grown in gardens, but the original, sprawling growth-habit is rarely seen. It's an uncommon tree throughout its natural range in Georgia, Armenia and Iran. It's slow growing and of little economic value. It's not much grown in gardens, though apparently it can be trained to grow like a normal tree - but why not grow one of the other birches which do so naturally?

I rather like the way that it tries to go in several unexpected directions at once and almost ties itself in knots in doing so - but then, I've spent my life doing that!

Take care.

Monday, 14 October 2019

Fragments Of Our Past

When I'm out for a walk I find it difficult to pass by a country church without having a look inside. More than any other places they preserve our ancient past. Elsewhere whole buildings get destroyed and rebuilt, but there is a great reluctance to change anything to do with churches so layer upon layer of history is allowed to accumulate here. A lot of photographs accumulate on my hard-drive too, so here are just a few of them from various churches I've peeped into.

High up in the chancel of St Mary's church in Guilden Morden I spied this fine angel, which may be medieval but is more likely a more modern replacement as the medieval ones don't usually look very much like our modern idea of angels. It's a fine piece of carving whenever it was done.

The Cambridgeshire fenlands are dotted with little churches that are superficially like this one at Chettisham. They were just big enough to serve the sparse population and rarely have towers or stone spires. Most of them date from the nineteenth century, but not this one! The clue is in the very narrow windows that let very little light in, these indicate a much earlier date.

Go into any church in England and you'll almost certainly find some sort of organ. It may be like this one at Pirton, or they can be huge monsters with multiple keyboards or tiny harmoniums. And you might find them in any part of the church - in the chancel, at either end of the nave or filling a side chapel. For, even though they seem so much part of the church, they are a Victorian innovation and had to be fitted in whatever space was available. Before that music was provided by a band of musicians sitting in a gallery at the west end of the church. Occasionally the gallery still exists, but the days of singing along to fiddles, cellos, serpents and other curious instruments have gone forever.

(It's actually a lot more complicated than I thought. See the comment from Billy Blue Eyes below).

"In memory of Polly and Cornelius Smith, the beloved parents of Gipsy Smith". Rodney "Gipsy" Smith was born in a "bender" (a tent) in a Romani encampment in Epping Forest in 1860. While he was still a child, his mother Polly died of smallpox near the village of Norton in Hertfordshire and was buried in the churchyard. Her husband Cornelius became a practising Christian after listening to a prison chaplain on one of his many spells in jail. At the age of 16 Rodney also converted and spent his life being an evangelist in both Britain and the USA. Presumably he paid for this gravestone to his parents. Gipsy Smith's ashes were scattered at his birthplace in Epping Forest where there is a memorial stone.

In Wiggenhall St Mary stands this old collection box adorned with graffiti dating from 1779 and 1796.

ing of a somewhat more artistic order was on display in Cockayne Hatley church which we visited a couple of years ago. Henry Cockayne Cust became the vicar there in 1806 and decided to renovate the building. I think it's safe to say he got a bit carried away with the project and bought so much carved wood that he could scarcely fit it all in!

This more modern piece of art was in St Margaret's, Kings Lynn. A steel globe is suspended on thin wires and bears little holders where you can light a candle for world peace.

Up in the gaudily painted rafters of St Edmundsbury Cathedral in Bury St Edmunds is a carved wooden angel that gives some idea of what our churches may have looked like in the Middle Ages. It is, of course, fairly recent, carried out by the architect Stephen Dykes Bower who was determined to continue the Gothic Revival into the twentieth century despite a good deal of criticism from his contemporaries.

This unusual building is a church too, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens for the town of Knebworth in Hertfordshire. He was married to Lady Emily Bulwer-Lytton whose father owned nearby Knebworth House and was a former viceroy of India. Sir Edwin also designed much of New Delhi. Sometimes it not what you know but...…..

The above tranquil scene is in the village of Magdalen. The brick enclosure in the foreground is really nothing to do with the church at all, but nonetheless shows how central the church was to everything that went on in English villages. It's actually a cattle pound where stray animals would be kept ("impounded") till their owners paid a small fee to retrieve them. Often things which have little to do with religion are preserved simply because they are connected in people's minds with the church.

If you were wealthy in medieval times you might be buried in a stone coffin and they often come to light when building work has to be done around churchyards. It puzzles me how such a heavy casket could be manhandled into position and lowered into the grave. This one was standing outside Crowland Abbey.

And sometimes our ancestors motives are simply beyond our imaginations. Carvings like this are usually called grotesques and always seem to be high up on the walls, either inside or outside. They are usually explained as being representations of evil, but this one just looks plain silly!

Take care.