Saturday 27 October 2018

The Season Of Change

Tonight we change the clocks back one hour, but it's not just the time that's a-changing. After loitering around for so long, summer has finally taken its leave. The weather is suddenly very changeable with heavy showers chasing across the green land. The summer birds have all departed and the winter thrushes are just beginning to arrive. And of course the trees are changing colour and then shedding their leaves. Here's a selection of photos recording the changes, taken on recent walks around my home locality, including the compulsory thatched cottage and patient old horse.

Take care.

Thursday 25 October 2018

A Snaggle Of Snippets

Time for another random picking from the hedgerows of curiosity. As I travel around I find lots of little items that don't really fit into any particular post, so from time to time I gather them all together for your entertainment and education. We'll start off in a car park....


In a car park in Hunstanton you'll come across this unlikely interloper - a railway signal, and behind it an old railway building. They are all that remains of Hunstanton Railway Station which was closed down in the 1960s. And if such items should be preserved it's surely in this little seaside town. You see, Hunstanton owes its existence to the railways. In the nineteenth century it suddenly became fashionable to visit the coast. The landowner here, the magnificently named Henry L'Estrange Styleman Le Strange, foresaw that if he were to build a new town on his land and connect it with a railway to the centres of population, then he might bring prosperity to the area. All this came to pass, though unfortunately for Le Strange he died of a heart attack in the very week that the railway was opened.


At first glance, as you approach along the footpath, this looks like a very old church. The tower has that squat gnarled look of something that may date from Saxon or Norman times. Closer acquaintance however reveals that the body of Shepreth church is solidly Victorian and the tower includes many modern concrete blocks, especially in its buttresses. My theory is that the building was almost ruinous in the nineteenth century and most of it was rebuilt, but enough remained of the tower that it was patched up using some of the old stone and in its original style.

It even includes this fragment of an early gravestone. All we can read today is "Here lyeth ye Body of Elizabeth ye Da-----r of Fr-----???" The skulls are a common feature of old memorials - they didn't mess about in those days with any fancy words or symbols but told it like it is.


Just down the road

… this showy display of potted plants in front of an otherwise unremarkable house.


This crudely carved stone is on display inside Moulton church is thought to date from the eleventh century. It's probably some sort of Sheela-Na-Gig, a phenomenon which has been defined thus: a carving of a woman with exposed and/or exaggerated genitalia, usually found on religious buildings. The female figure is the one on the left and, as you can see, is not very clear. The other figure is a man, though again much damaged. These images usually just consist of the female figure and are found on churches throughout Britain and Ireland and indeed elsewhere in western Europe. They are not common around here though there is one particularly shocking one at Whittlesford. But what are such things doing in church? There are many theories - a Celtic pagan survival, a Goddess, a fertility figure, a warning against lust, a protection against evil - none of which is at all conclusive.

A Dog's Life

Two little signs for our canine friends:


I'm not sure what I can say about either.


And finally a nice sunset taken from just outside my front door a few evenings ago.

Take care.

Saturday 20 October 2018

Slow Reveal

I awoke this morning to thick fog clamped down upon the land. But early on patches of watery sunlight started to break up the greyness. Down by the River Ouse in Little Paxton though the fog lingered on deep into the morning.

It's pleasant enough walking here even with reduced visibility. There's a lot of birds out there somewhere and maybe we'll see some later, but at present we'll have to make do with the honks of the geese filtering through the gloom.

If this looks like a natural landscape then think again: the ground here has been browsed, plundered, dug over, built upon and burrowed into by the busiest little animal ever to walk the earth - that endlessly destructive and infinitely creative creature, the human being. Search England all over and you won't find any areas that are untouched by human presence or past endeavour.

The ponds and lakes here all result from the excavation of gravel and sand to be used for building. But now it's returned to nature, a state of affairs for which many human agencies like to take credit but which could not have been attained without the co-operation and resilience of Nature herself.

There's nothing exceptional in this; in England we even have a National Park that has been formed by mankind's digging and delving - the Norfolk Broads are entirely the result of peat-digging during the medieval period. Well, medieval peat-digging and six-hundred years of natural re-colonisation.

Maybe this is the way we should be thinking these days. It's all very laudable to set aside wilderness areas, but that shouldn't give us licence to then destroy everything else with impunity. Maybe we should be declaring the whole nation as a national park and take care of it all. Why not? As I mentioned earlier we are not only the most destructive species ever, we are also the most creative. We are responsible for symphonies, great art, temples, cathedrals, worldwide charities, digital technology......

Surely it should be possible to live alongside nature without destroying it. All the arguments seem to have been made, now it remains to be seen whether we do anything about it.

There was a time when I used to travel all over Europe and even into North Africa in search of beautiful photographs. It wasn't difficult to find them, but in the process I was leaving a dirty great carbon footprint, though no one spoke in those terms back then. Nowadays I'm content to wander around in the fog peering at spiders' webs - now, they must be there all the time but, until the fog highlights them, they go unnoticed.

So for now we'll wander on in the foggy, foggy dew, noticing the little details and doing my best not to tread on too many while taking my photos. 

But slowly it seems to be brightening up with occasional sunbeams breaking through. This area is also slowly becoming a better place to be a bird-watcher - and of course a bird! These old gravel pits in the Ouse valley are but a part of the jigsaw. 

The Great Fen Project based around Holme Fen is attempting to return 9,000 acres (3,700 hectares) back to its natural state.  The National Trust has plans to create an reserve of 13,000 acres (5,300 hectares) to the NE of Cambridge by 2099. The RSPB has created a reedbed of 740 acres at Lakenheath which has already attracted breeding Bitterns and Cranes. Then there's the Ouse Washes and Grafham Water reservoir, both of which attract birdlife even if not specifically designed for that purpose. There are also several farms in the area which are working on more eco-friendly ways to farm.

In the interest of fairness and balance I should also say that contractors are making an incredible mess while widening the A14 road, there are big building projects at Eddington and Northstowe, and Cambridge is growing rapidly itself. So not everything is rosy by a long way.

So what birds are here today now that the mists have cleared? 
Grey Heron, Little Egret, Great White Egret, Cormorant, Great Crested Grebe, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Shoveler, Wigeon, Gadwall, Black-Headed Gull, Green Sandpiper, Moorhen, Great Tit, Chaffinch, Wren, Dunnock, Blackbird, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Pheasant, Chaffinch, Long-Tailed Tit, Jay, Magpie, Rook, Greylag Goose, Canada Goose.

Take care.

Wednesday 17 October 2018

A Garden In October

Of all the monthly visits I planned to make to the University Botanic Garden in Cambridge it was the Autumn season that I most eagerly anticipated. It's true that most of the flowers are past their best, but that's more than made up for by the glory of the trees. Even if the golds, reds and browns haven't yet painted the woods and hedgerows of the countryside with their outrageous palette, you can always guarantee that the species selected in the garden will be riotously colourful. As always the American Sweetgum beside the lake was star of the show - you'll know when we get to it even if  I don't say another word.

Take care.

Monday 15 October 2018

Old Ways Of Working

A few more photographs from the Working Steam Weekend at Stotfold Mill last Saturday:

A threshing machine in operation, separating the grain from the chaff and straw. The earliest of these machines were powered by a horse-gin - a horse was harnessed to a wheel and walked in circles to turn the thresher. Later steam-power was employed, making the process even more efficient. It was these early forms of mechanisation that were smashed by the farm workers during what were known as the Swing Riots - not because the men were inordinately fond of threshing by hand but because their livelihoods were threatened by the new innovations.


Steam was also used to power saw-mills. Lining up this apparatus correctly seemed to take a long time, but once in action sawed through huge logs with ease.

This magnificently rusty contraption is what's known as a "portable engine" of the kind used to power all kinds of equipment. It would however require a team of horses to move it any distance.

The machine above was being used for splitting firewood. It looked highly dangerous but as far as I could see the operator had a full compliment of fingers!

The owners of the various machines camp on site for the weekend in all manner of carts and caravans.

Apple pressing taking place prior to making cider.

This huge steamroller was formerly used on the roads of Cambridge. I think I might have seen this one in operation when I was a child; steamrollers were certainly used into the 1960s by many local authorities, their huge weight being an obvious advantage for road building. It seems to have a very little buddy alongside!

There were many tractors in all sorts of condition, some awaiting their turn to go ploughing.

Tractors in a wide variety of colours too.

The watermill was also open and making flour. A mill has stood here in one form or another for over a thousand years, but in 1992 there was a huge fire which destroyed most of the mill. However local volunteers decided that it could, and should, be rebuilt. It was reopened in 2006. Though it lacks some of the antique atmosphere of older mills it shows what these buildings must have been like in their heyday. 

Take care.