Friday 26 June 2020

Flowers Among The Rubble

Over the barley field, just before the footpath crosses the railway line, there's an untidy piece of ground which is home to an old trailer and a heap of builders' rubble which varies in its size and constitution; sometimes it's mostly soil dug out from footings, at other times it's home to old bricks from demolished walls. And unbelievably perhaps, it's frequently ablaze with flowers.

I pass by here often and usually make at least one circuit of the rubble heap to see what's on show. I was planning for a blogpost at the end of summer to show the variety of blooms as they progressed, but I already have a large folder of pictures so I thought I'd share some now.

In Spring there was a good crop of oil-seed rape or Canola as it's known in some parts of the world, a few sprigs of White Campion and the first leaves of Cow Parsley. All sorts of plants arrive here - wild flowers, garden flowers and agricultural crops - depending, I suppose, on where the builders have most recently been digging their trenches.

Early morning, when I usually pass by, is great for against-the-light shots as the sun peeps over the heap and illuminates the flowers against a dark background, like the White Campion above.

And always there are plenty of poppies, both the wild and garden varieties. The biology of the poppy is a mystery to me: how is it that simply disturbing the soil can yield such a wealth of blooms? How come that even on land that's been subjected to weed-killing sprays for years there's always seed left to germinate whenever the farmer fails to maintain his campaign of extermination? Just how much poppy seed is there in the soil?

Various thistles thrive here too, their prickliness preventing us from appreciating their full beauty. Ah, I've known a few folks like that!

Last time I visited and made my erratic and unhurried way around, a word popped into my head, a word my father had in his vocabulary, the verb to "soodle". "No use you soodling up here when all the hard work's done", he used to tease me and anyone else who was more than a minute or two late for work!

I wondered if "soodle" was a real word so I looked it up and found my dad was in good company. The only reference I could find to it was in a poem by the great peasant poet John Clare:

And as I soodled on and on,
The ground was warm to look upon,
it e'en invited one to rest,
And have a nap upon its breast 

Thus spake the poet in his verse "Holywell", written in about 1820. (W H Auden used the word too, but he probably filched it from Clare's work). John Clare came from Helpston in Northamptonshire, just thirty miles from where we lived.

The Cow Parsley (or Queen Anne's Lace, as it's sometimes called in England - the name refers to a different plant in some other countries) soon comes into flower for a brief but glorious period.

...and it's leaves can even look attractive when they are dying off.

Oh, and more poppies!

Someone has seen fit to dump an old bicycle here and the Ox-eye Daisies are trying to beautify even that. I suppose if you must litter then better to choose a piece of waste ground like this. Though I'm not sure the workmen will see it like that when they come with their excavator and lorry to take a load hard-core for their latest job.

Common Mallow flowers throughout June. As its name suggests it's a common wayside weed in this part of the world, but no less pretty for that. Yes, there is a plant called Marsh Mallow too and a sweet used to be made from its roots. Over time that evolved into the modern-day confection, though there's no trace of the plant in the modern treat.

If the builders don't come and clear everything - as sometimes happens - we may be back here again, later in the year. But before I soodle off....


This being a Friday (or as near as I can tell in these confusing times) I should include a musical selection, as first suggested by Robin Andrea and Roger over at The New Dharma Bums blog. A while ago I included a piece of music that featured the West African harp or Kora, played by Seckou Keita, in duet with the standard harp of Catrin Finch. Someone said they couldn't hear the Kora very well so here are two Koras played together by the father and son, Toumani and Sidike Diabate. As it should be the weekend of Glastonbury Festival I give you this lovely instrumental recorded there....

Both Toumani (the father, seated left) and Sidike often collaborate with musicians from other genres, but this is their own heritage. To continue the theme from the earlier part of the post you might call it "hardcore Malian".

Take care.

Tuesday 23 June 2020

A Visit To The Clappers

A little way west of the hills we visited last week is an attractive area with the unlikely name of Sharpenhoe Clappers.

The name refers specifically to a steep, wooded hill just south of the village of Sharpenhoe. It's not an isolated feature but one of a large number of fingers of higher land jutting out from the main ridge of the Chiltern Hills, separated by steep short valleys. The surrounding country is criss-crossed with footpaths, some marked on the map but many unmarked, making every walk an adventure.

The Sharpenhoe Road climbs over the escarpment and there's a car park at the highest point, so you can enjoy a variety of routes and views without any significant climbing having to be done. 

Needless to say this makes the area very popular, which is why my brother and I got there as early as we could and walked the most obvious paths first.

The "bird of the day" must have been the Skylark, as there were dozens of them singing high in the sky over the meadows.

Also fluttering over the grassland were many butterflies, including this Marbled White.

There were plenty of these about too: Common Spotted Orchids.

Sunshine blazing through woodlands is one of those glorious sights which doesn't take easily to being transferred to a photographic image; there's always too much contrast between sunlight and shadow. But it's fun to try anyway!

I'm trying to make a date in my mental diary to return here when Autumn colour visits this beech woodland.

And that's the village of Sharpenhoe resting down there among its green fields.

There's more walking to be had by just toddling across the road and investigating the meadows and woods leading towards the Sundon Hills.

A large bracket fungus that must have measured more than a foot (more than 30cm) across.

The woodland path eventually led out to more meadows rich with wildflowers.

This though is just common Knapweed growing beside one of the arable fields as we looped around back to the car.

Someone's bound to ask:

Sharpenhoe just means " a steep hill". The "hoe" part of it derives from the same word as "how", "haugh" and "hough" which turn up in the name of hills in various parts of Britain. It actually means a "heel" and to understand it you have to picture someone lying on their front, the heel of the foot then sticks up steeply with the foot sloping gently down towards the toes. Many hills with one of those elements in its name will be found to have that shape. I think I remember reading that the same word also lives on in a "hock" of bacon.

Clappers, on the other hand occurs in very few place names, which is surprising because it's an old word for a rabbit-warren. "Warren" occurs in lots of places, but as far as I know this is the only "clappers". Rabbit farming was once very important with both the meat and the fur being much prized. Special banks of loose earth were raised up to encourage the rabbits to burrow and these can still be seen in some locations and often have names like "Giant's Pillow" or "Giant's Grave". Their official name is still pillow mounds, but that's what they are: bedrooms for bunnies.

Take care.

Sunday 21 June 2020

Morning And Evening

The weather forecast was for high cloud and a few sunny periods; ideal, I thought, for a bike ride to a couple of nearby villages, take some photos and head back home for lunch.

By the time I'd pedalled half-a-mile down the road I realised that it was going to be a lot brighter and sunnier than expected which, though no bad thing, makes taking photos among buildings very tricky, with inky black shadows and glaring white cottage walls. The photo above, in Fowlmere village, was the only "village-scape" I took.

In Thriplow I encountered this glamorous scarecrow and her friend, clearly indicating that they were the required two metres apart, or maybe they're just desperate for a cuddle!

More glamour was provided nearby by a small herd of pigs. These, as some readers of this blog have been told before, are Berkshires - mostly black but with white "points" - feet, face and tails. I'm very fond of Berkshires - and not just in sausages!

Now, how can I explain this, in all this lovely English scenery that I cycled through, most of my pictures ended up being of rather weathered agricultural buildings? 

You see, I spent many years working in farming, it was healthy outdoor work, but "pretty" it was not. And every so often I have to return to the realities of this hard-working landscape.

Here though back in 1985, according to the signature bottom-right, someone decided to brighten up these premises with a mural of the agricultural machines of the time. It's a bit battered now, but I saw it many years ago when it was very fine and colourful. 

Around the corner are further murals, perhaps depicting some of the men who worked here back then.

The old grain-store also boasted some interesting abstract patterns courtesy of the weathering it's been subjected to.

I could show you more of this sort of thing, but I realise it's a rather niche interest, so we'll move on to the evening when I went out for a stroll hoping to see a rich sunset.

We're not quite done with farming though, as the sheep and lambs came to watch my progress along the path towards Shepreth.

Although the clouds were doing unexpected contortions they never quite arranged themselves into a pleasing composition and they soon contrived to block the very bit of sky where the sun was due to set.

And all that mattered not a jot as I nevertheless enjoyed my excursion. A few bats were flitting about in the dusk as I made my way home.

Take care.

Wednesday 17 June 2020

Head For The Hills

The recent changes in the rules for social contact regarding Coronavirus allow my brother and I, as single person households, to now visit each other and travel together to take exercise. So we headed off a few miles to the Pegsdon Hills, the most easterly part of the Chilterns.

There were few people around as we climbed up the steadily rising lane, eventually reaching the top of the scarp slope, overlooking the plains of Bedfordshire. These deep valleys were cut at the end of the last Ice Age by the meltwater.

Chalk hills like this form the basis of "England's green and pleasant land" - nothing too spectacular and dramatic, but all gently rolling grasslands studded with a few trees.

Benches wait at the top of almost every slope to reward the walker with wide-ranging views to the north.

Or down into the vales where the sheep graze. I'm always fascinated by the tracks that sheep make across the land and one day I shall manage to photograph some sheep actually using them!

Hoo Bit is a small meadow surrounded by woodland and maintained by the Wildlife Trusts for wildflowers like this Common Spotted Orchid.

Sunlight came and went as we turned back towards Deacon Hill. Can you see that suggestion of red on the field in the middle distance?

From the top of Deacon Hill we could see it was a field of poppies. I got out my map and could see that, while it was not exactly on our intended route, it could nevertheless be reached by a reasonably short diversion.

But first we could enjoy the view down into the valley of Knocking Hoe, another spot renowned for its orchids and which I visited last year. This time I decided to concentrate on flowers that were much more plentiful and showy...


Although poppies grow wild and sometimes appear in huge numbers where wheat fields are left unsprayed, these seemed to be a commercial crop, but were no less striking for that.

There were a few people there taking photographs, including one family with a small daughter who was not performing for the camera as she should - and her name, believe it or not was Poppy. 

I spent rather longer than I intended taking photos too, but it was the sunlight and cloud shadows that I wanted to co-operate rather than small children.  

We completed our walk, but alas we can't have our customary pub lunch just yet. 

Take care.