Friday, 17 January 2020

A Cambridge Alphabet

I've been trying to sort out some of my photos lately and came across several of Cambridge which I rather liked. Many of these appeared in the early days of this blog and won't have been seen before by many of you. So here's the Cambridge Alphabet...

C is for Colleges...

The University has to be included but there's no U in the word C-A-M-B-R-I-D-G-E so "Colleges" it is. Not the most obvious one to show, but this is Peterhouse which is the oldest of them all, founded in 1284. 

A is for Antiquities...

There are also all sorts of old buildings in Cambridge which are nothing to do with the University. The little church of St Peter's is not the oldest church in the city, but it must be one of the prettiest.

M is for Market...

Right in the centre of Cambridge there's a daily market where you can buy all sorts of things, though the prices might have gone up a bit since I took this shot!

B is for Bikes...

It seems that everyone in Cambridge has a bike. It's not a fitness thing, or an environmental consideration - it's just the easiest way to get around.

R is for River...

The River Cam gives Cambridge its name - and that bridge gives Bridge Street its name! Punting on the river was a big part of my teenage years as I lived then at Grantchester, a couple of miles upstream.

I is for Innovation...

I could have shown you Independent shops or Inns as there are plenty of those (though not so many as there used to be). But it would be wrong to ignore the innovative hi-tech scientific work that is carried out by the University and many modern companies that have grown up around it. These are some of the buildings on the Biomedical Campus which stands next to Addenbrooke's Hospital.

D is for Diversity...

All kinds of diverse communities intermingle in various parts of Cambridge. This is the poorer part of town, around Mill Road, where just about every religion and nation of the world must be represented. The University of course also attracts scholars of all kinds and there are also many language schools dotted around.

G is for Gardens...

As well as the Botanic Gardens, that feature regularly on this blog, there are also beautiful gardens belonging to most of the colleges and many public parks. No doubt we'll be visiting some of them during 2020.

E is for Entertainers...

Cambridge has a tolerant attitude towards buskers and during summer some very skilled musicians can be seen playing for passing change. These are Fernando's Kitchen who were a regular fixture a few years back.

Of course it's not all perfect by any means. I could have included Congestion (as in the gridlocked streets during the evening rush-hour), Expensive housing and, most shamefully, Rough sleeping as there are many homeless people on the streets in recent years. But it's still my home city and somewhere that we'll dip into from time to time during the coming year; there's a lot of things I've never shown on the blog and some that are well-worth having another look at.

Take care.

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Stealing Out For Walks

The year 2020 has kicked off with several days of drab, grey weather that hasn't produced many photos at all, though every now a then a little watery sun drips through the blanket of cloud and entices me out.

The little area known as Shepreth L-Moor has become a very boggy place indeed as the fluctuating water-levels in Guilden Brook spill over on to the land. The other tiny rivers near here just rise slowly and gently, but the Brook has been modified in times past to drain the fields more efficiently and therefore fills up more rapidly. I'm increasingly convinced that the farmers quite deliberately left the Moor to flood, so as to prevent flooding elsewhere. Yet another indication of how intimately people knew and understood their land.

As a result these fields, which are only a foot or two higher, are dry enough to work on, though more rainclouds are gathering to the south-west.

A little of the day's meagre supply of light fell on this old pipe which crosses Guilden Brook, right beside the road bridge. I noticed the other week how plant life was tenaciously colonising this unpromising site, so I took the opportunity to steal just a smidgen of the reflected light to make another picture. And speaking of "stealing".....

This naughty individual recently paid a visit to my neighbour's bird-feeders.

I'll be back with more posts as and when the weather improves and I have something to blog about.

Take care.

Saturday, 11 January 2020

The Moon In January

This was the moon as she appeared last night from my backyard. That darkening on the lower right edge is a penumbral eclipse, caused by the edge of the earth's shadow creeping onto the surface of the moon. I was alerted to this event by a phone call from my brother and the weather was unusually co-operative, with crystal-clear skies.

The news media would have you know that January's full-moon is known as a Wolf Moon, being so called by the First Nations peoples of North America. I'd often wondered whether there was any real justification for these names, but never bothered to find out. The nature writer, Jim Crumley, is more tenacious than me and researched the names given by the various peoples in his book The Nature Of Winter. He found that every tribe had a different name for January's full-moon and only one of these had any connection with wolves.

There were certainly no wolves around as I shivered in my back yard last night.

Friday's Music arrives on Saturday this week. John Field was an Irish composer who found fame in Russia. It was he who devised and named the musical form, the Nocturne, which Chopin later developed further. Here is just one of his short, but perfectly formed, compositions played by fellow Irishman, John O'Conor.

If that video won't play try this version of the same piece:

If you enjoyed that then you'll find the entire album an absolute delight.

Take care.

Friday, 3 January 2020

Wake Up To 2020

Time to shake off this post-Christmas lethargy and return to my neglected little blog. Here's my go-to wake-up music:

Six million hits on YouTube and quite a few of them must have been me! Just a little reminder, if any were needed, that music is supposed to be fun.

Now what have I been up to? Nothing as raucous as the music suggests, merely a few walks in the countryside....

That photo might make you think that we're suffering severe flooding on the flat lands of East Anglia, but that's how it's supposed to be at this time of year. Those are the "washes" alongside the river at Lakenheath Fen - land left to flood during the winter, which prevents flooding further downstream. I was standing on the floodbank, built to protect the land behind me. 

It's a winter wonderland for birds and, though you can see only a couple of Mute Swans and some loitering gulls, there were also Marsh Harriers, Great White Egrets, Little Egrets and several cheeky little Stonechats in attendance. But no Whooper Swans; they were all off feeding on the fields.

The same was true at Welney the following day: almost all of the winter swans were out gorging themselves on the waste from the potato harvest and didn't even bother to return for the 3:30 swan feed which the wildlife wardens carry out to entertain the paying customers.

Despite the relative lack of swans and the height of the floodwaters on the Ouse Washes, the warden carried out his duty. Those swans around the floating wheelbarrow are our resident Mute Swans, while just one Whooper Swan watches from behind. Mallards are willing volunteers to clear up any grain that hasn't yet sunk to the bottom and, when it does, the Pochards, a little diving duck, will plunge down and feed underwater.

As daylight failed the ghostly shapes of the Whoopers flew in to roost on the water. Just about impossible to photograph conventionally, though I managed to rescue the image above from some muddy-looking pixels. The trouble is the swans look black and, in this hemisphere at least, they should be dazzling white. Ah, an idea!

Mess about with a negative picture and you get the above image: the ghost-swans of Welney!

Flying swans like an artist's sketch.

Let's not get too carried away with photo-manipulation though, the natural scene had its charms too, even if that dark bank of cloud hid the expected sunset.

Then the bird-observatory's floodlights came on, illuminating the birds in the foreground. As darkness fell we made our way back across the bridge to the Visitor Centre.

I hope you like the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust's reserve at Welney, because my brother and I have taken out an annual membership, which almost certainly means we'll be back during the year.

When I recently published my calendar selection of the year's photographs, I received comments about the appearance of snowdrops in February. Here's what I saw in Melwood yesterday:

Yes, indeed. Snowdrops on the second of January. Not many, but snowdrops nevertheless. Not only that, but at Lakenheath Fen on December 23rd a Brimstone butterfly fluttered by. Presumably something had roused him from his winter hibernation. I wondered whether it would survive this unseasonal awakening, but, according our local butterfly correspondent, Brimstones can wake up and go back into hibernation several times during a winter.

Take care.

Friday, 27 December 2019

A Flower Let Fall

Very few people knew her name.
She played her songs to her friends and small audiences in the back rooms of pubs.
She was the woman in faded jeans holding an acoustic guitar.
She made just one album that sold a few copies and disappeared, though somehow one found its way to me. I missed the only chance I had to see her perform live.
She died in 2009 and never knew how good she was.

Luckily, although the vinyl album and the eventual CD re-issue were short-lived affairs, there are a few videos on YouTube:
In the first I'll include here she sings her version of Dylan's Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues, which is enhanced by Simon Prager's slide guitar and the stunning sax of Barbara Thompson.

But over it all is that great voice....

On the other side of our imaginary 7 inch vinyl double A-side we find her own composition Closing Time, accompanied, confusingly, by illustrations of other LPs on the tiny Mother Earth label

Shoulda been a star.

Take care.

(For more interesting music see Robin Andrea's Music On Friday. I will continue to post some music next year though it may not always be on Friday!)

Tuesday, 24 December 2019

Seasonal Greetings

To all those who travel
by Stargoose and Hanglands

Take care

(of yourselves,
 each other 
this battered old planet).

Monday, 23 December 2019

Feet Wet And Lunch Forgot - That's The Way To Travel

Does anything look sadder than a wet horse in December? Perhaps only two wet horses.....

…..with wet walkers and photographers not being far behind! The truth is that since I wrote on this blog that our rainfall totals here are very low compared to other places, it has contrived to rain pretty much every day. At least it should have restored the water levels in our little rivers and maybe even returned Shepreth Moor to its proper soggy state. Lets go and see if I can get a few photos.

There's still plenty of puddles on the village street as I set out early on Sunday morning.

A few hardy souls have turned out for the eight o'clock Holy Communion service. In every village there's a small group who turn out in the darkness of winter mornings, or amid the early-morning birdsong of summer, and seem to almost worship a different God to the normal run of churchgoers. There'll be a lot more people at the Christmas Carol Service in the afternoon.

Sloshing across waterlogged Shepreth Moor in the murky half-light of a gloomy dawn has a certain wild charm, though it's not one that translates easily into photographs. By nine o'clock it had started getting darker again with fine drizzle blowing in the breeze.

Ain't it good to be out and about on a morning like this? Well, yes, it is actually. Lonely and forlorn as it may look, the path at this point is busy and cheerful with a flock of Blue Tits. They are probably attracted by bird-feeders in a nearby garden, for there is a handful of houses whose land backs on to footpath. There's no way I could photograph these active bundles of energy for you - though I can show you some I came across just last week.....

The birds on the right are all Blue Tits, familiar in almost any garden where food is provided. Perched on the left feeder is the less common Coal Tit. Great Tits and Long-Tailed Tits usually complete these mixed flocks, but there's always a chance of a rarer bird turning up amongst them, like the Pallas's Warbler that was associating with the Long-Tailed Tits on the edge of Cambridge recently. Incidentally I think you can see how the seemingly colourful plumage still manages to camouflage them among the remaining leaves.

There's always a little colour on the banks of the Shep too if you look for it, and the water levels seem to be back to normal having been low since the Spring. Sometimes you have to slow down, move quietly and notice where you are. Then, with luck and persistence, little details show up and bring pleasure.

It may lack the grandeur of big mountains or the exotic charms of distant lands, but on this damp, chilly morning it's all mine and I don't have to travel far to enjoy it. 

Against all expectations the clouds are slowly tearing themselves apart. A pale, watery sunlight begins to creep across the fields. Maybe I'll go back the way I came and see if I can get some photos of the waterlogged Shepreth Moor so that I can show you what it should be like at this time of year.                                                                                                          

Though in the past, before the chaotic shifts in the seasons that we've been experiencing in recent years, it might well have been frozen over or even under snow by mid-December. Perhaps I should publicly state here that we don't get proper winters any more, then maybe the Law of Natural Perversity will provide us with a little snowfall - not too much though!

This is just a fragment of undrained pastureland that's managed as a nature reserve. Wild Orchids are slowly returning to the grassland in summer, along with other plant and insect life. I showed you some of the flowers last summer and hope to wander about and photograph more next year.

I'm wearing my waterproof rubber boots, but of course I keep jumping from tussock to tussock till I finally get a boot full of water. I'm all for immersing myself in the landscape though not as literally as that. Not to worry, at least I got lucky with the weather and got some of the photos I was hoping for. And speaking of good luck....

…..look who crossed my path on the way home!

Take care.

* the "feet wet and lunch forgot" quote that is the title of this post comes from a little notebook of quotations that I kept when I used to do a lot of backpacking. I have it attributed to the poet Gary Snyder, but whether it's from one of his poems or whether it was said by the character based on Snyder in a book by Jack Kerouac, I can't recall.