Dear Readers, today I went to Milborne St Andrew to tidy up Mum and Dad’s grave, and the weather was way more beautiful than I had any right to expect at the beginning of December. The mist was just clearing, and the view over the fields behind the graveyard was serene.
There’s a little crab apple tree behind the gravestone, and a cherry tree overhead, so there’s always something lovely to keep them company.
I’d brought a couple of winter hellebores and some cyclamen, but the rosemary and Achillea that I brought last time were still doing well, in spite of the flowering being finished. As usual, I tidied up a bit and then sat next to the grave for a while with my back against the tree. Fortunately I’d brought a ‘bag-for-life’ with me to sit on, as it was a bit on the damp side.
It is so peaceful. I am always sad when I’m here, but it’s tinged with gratitude that Mum and Dad are no longer in pain, and that they are in such a lovely spot. The church dates back to Norman times, so probably people have been being buried here for a thousand years or more, and there’s something about that long history that keeps me company and makes me aware of how universal my experience is.
As I sit, I hear the heavy drone of a bumblebee, who makes a ‘bee-line’ for the hellebore. Something else to be grateful for.
The blue tits and great tits are busy working the shrubs and trees for food, and the jackdaws clack away as they fly over.
The trees here have become as familiar as old friends. The Scots Pine looks particularly magnificent.
The avenue of yew trees frames the view of the fields.
And the beech trees are magnificent this year. I have never seen such colour.
But I can’t leave without saying hello to my favourite Cedar of Lebanon. It towers over the Rectory, which is a very impressive building, though no longer inhabited by the Rector who lives in a much more modest home.
And finally, here’s the stump of the lime tree that came down in the storms earlier this year, but which is clearly determined to survive and even thrive.
As I turn for home, I pass a blackbird looking for worms. Usually they fly off when I get too close, but this one just carried on regardless. I love the way that they just throw the leaves around.
I love Milborne St Andrew. It’s a working village rather than one that would feature on a calendar, or the top of a biscuit box, and it’s all the better for it. Mum and Dad had excellent medical care here, and good friends who would run out in the middle of the night if Mum fell out of bed, and who helped me sort out Mum and Dad’s bungalow when I needed to sell it to pay for Dad’s care. There are painful memories here, but they are outweighed by the happy ones. Coming here keeps me in touch with Mum and Dad and the place they loved. I always feel calmer when I leave, more integrated somehow. Mum and Dad were never ones for grave visiting, but it works for me.
Dear Readers, it will come as no surprise to regular followers that I love London – I was born and bred in this city, and yet even after 62 years my heart still races when I walk its streets. It’s the sudden and unexpected views that always get me, such as spotting the new Tate Modern extension appearing alongside the old power station tower as I turn a corner. Today I was even helped by one of the top-hatted concierges outside the Bankside Hilton, who pointed me in the direction of this unexpected view of the Shard. The Shard seems to have replaced the Post Office Tower as the building that pops up everywhere, though it looks rather like some evil triangular god peering over his realm and deciding what to blast with a thunderbolt next.
I am going to Tate Modern to see their ‘Surrealism Beyond Borders’ exhibition, which closes at the end of the week. Time was I tried to see everything at both Tate galleries, but now that I’m working it’s a bit trickier. I will write more about the exhibition tomorrow, as I think it deserves a post of its own, but to be honest it was a treat just to catch a tube ‘south of the river’, wander around with the camera and then catch the 17 bus back to Archway.
I have gotten a bit ahead of myself, though, because I arrived at Southwark station on the Jubilee line, which is up there with my favourite stations. It always reminds me of a cruise ship, for some reason (though I have never been on a cruise ship so who knows?)
It’s certainly got that brutal concrete thing going on, but I love it nonetheless. The blue glass wall shown below was apparently influenced by the work of 19th century Prussian architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel, and I can certainly see where the idea might have come from. When you take the escalator up from the platforms you are suddenly surrounded by this amazing blue dome, as if you have ascended into some kind of transport heaven.
Schinkel’s stage set for Mozart’s The Magic Flute (1815) (Public Domain)
Anyhow, back to Tate Modern. I was a bit alarmed to see that there’s some renovation going on at the top of the power station tower.
Apart from the fact that the structure looks a bit on the flimsy side, my additional worry was for the peregrine falcons who have nested here for many years. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds used to have telescopes outside so that you could watch the birds, and they were famous for hunting at night because of the floodlights on the building. Many a local pigeon met a spectacular end at the talons of the birds, but sadly this renovation, which has taken more time than expected and more money than budgeted, has rendered the birds homeless. There are at least twenty pairs of peregrines in London, and apparently the Tate Modern birds had a quick look at St Pauls as an alternative home, but decided it didn’t quite meet their demanding criteria. I hope they found somewhere else to raise their young.
After the exhibition I took a leisurely walk back over the Millenium Bridge, which always provides plenty of photo opportunities…
A whole range of skyscrapers….
View towards the Globe Theatre with pigeons who are delighted that the peregrines have moved on….
The Shard glowering under a storm cloud….
A contented gull….
Canary Wharf and Tower Bridge
And then I catch a number 17 bus almost immediately, which is a minor miracle as I usually have to wait for at least twenty minutes. Clearly, the Bus Fairy must be keeping an eye on me.
On arrival in Archway, I saw this.
It’s an old-fashioned phone box, and someone has planted it with a jasmine which is doing very nicely, thank you! It did cheer me up. Someone is obviously taking the time to water it and look after it.
And finally, here’s a random cat, sitting in a sunny spot on the High Road and refusing to respond to my entreaties. Oh well, you can’t win them all.
Dear Readers, the Capital Ring is a circular walking route 78 miles long that meanders around London, mostly in Transport for London zones 3 to 4. I have actually done it before (and have the certificate to prove it 🙂 ), but after nearly two years of stop-start lockdowns and general confusion, it felt like a good time to do it again. Plus I have been growing increasingly sedentary, so it seemed like a good time to gently get active again.
The Capital Ring actually runs right through Cherry Tree Wood, which is a mere quarter of a mile from our front door so on Saturday, after a long-postponed visit to the dental hygienist (clearly I know how to enjoy myself at the weekend) we set off. Everywhere on the walk is looking extremely parched, but in the early morning it was pleasantly cool. The new café was doing a roaring trade, and rightly so – the food is delicious. I stopped briefly to see if I could get a copy of a new history of the park by our very own Roger Chapman, but it had been so popular that it was briefly out of stock. Clearly there is a renewed interest in our local green spaces, which is very encouraging.
Cherry Tree Wood in the Sunshine
View back to the new cafe
The fenced off area was being used to grow a meadow. Interestingly, it seemed to have the finest crop of greater plantain (Plantago major) that I think I’ve ever seen – meadows often throw up surprises in their first few years, depending on what has been hiding in the seed bank and what the conditions are. The young fruit trees look to be doing very well, though, and the wild service tree has lots of berries this year.
A fine crop of greater plantain
Berries on the wild service tree
I also really liked these mosaics on the side of the Ladies Toilet – very pretty, and very unexpected. I’m wondering if some more are planned, to fill the gaps.
Then it’s out of the gate, along Fordington Road, and off to Highgate Wood. We look back to see the tiny ‘village green’ with its mature trees.
And we pause briefly to consider these bollard-y things, which look as if they’ve been freshly-painted, probably to make them more obvious to drivers. I always thought that they marked the boundary of a parish or somesuch, but the company that makes them, Furnitubes, describes them as a Bell Bollard. Their role seems to be to “deflect the wheels of heavy vehicles protecting pedestrians, people and buildings in busy public realm environments.” These were on the corner of a mini roundabout, so maybe some vehicles take the corner too quickly.
Maybe we should have them on the corner of Leicester Road in East Finchley rather than the concrete bollard which is almost always in a horizontal position.
Horizontal bollard on Leicester Road
Then it’s up a steep hill and into Highgate Wood. This is part of the same great wood as Cherry Tree Wood and my beloved Coldfall Wood, the whole lot originally being owned by the Bishop of London and used as his hunting ground. Highgate Wood used to be known as Gravel Pit Wood, and is the same mix of oak and hornbeam as the other woods.
I note a lot of use of dead hedges to try to protect the understorey areas, and there are some places with actual fences. It’s very hard to try to persuade people not to let their children and dogs trample through places where the young plants are struggling to survive, and most folk don’t seem to even notice them unless they’re higher than usual. Still, they do provide habitat for all manner of small animals and for fungi.
A dead hedge
It is so deliciously cool under the trees at this time of year, but the spider webs give an indication that the year is moving on. How can it be August already?
Then it’s out of Highgate Wood, across the busy road to Muswell Hill, and into Queen’s Wood. There is a delightful cafe here in what looks almost like a hobbit house, with much of the produce grown in the kitchen garden at the back. It used to be known as Churchyard Bottom Wood until it was acquired by Hornsey Borough Council in the 19th century, and named for Queen Victoria. I love the old-fashioned signposts.
This is a much shadier and hillier wood than Highgate Wood, with the amenities all clustered close to the entrance, and the rest of the wood feeling wild and rather mysterious. It’s usually much quieter than Highgate Wood, and none the worse for it. During lockdown both woods were used to within an inch of their lives, with some areas a sea of mud. Now, they have a chance to recover, though the current drought is leaving things dangerously dry. The photo below, for example, shows what is usually a pool full of frogs and dragonflies.
I do wonder what the water companies think they’re doing. Our local company, Affinity Water, actually sent us an email telling us that they have no plans to impose a hosepipe ban, even after the driest few months in living memory. They are, however, dependent on rainfall this autumn and winter to help them to maintain supplies. Surely it would be prudent to conserve water now in case this doesn’t happen? The reasons for not imposing a ban are apparently
“But other companies, even in drier areas, have held firm. Those involved in drought discussions say companies would rather wait until the last minute, when rivers are running dry, rather than irritate customers by putting bans in place early” (The Guardian, 3rd August 2022)
In the meantime, river levels are dropping, with the subsequent danger to wildlife. Honestly, ‘irritate customers?’ There’s a lot to how a message is put across, and I’m sure most reasonable people would understand the need to be sensible after the weather this year. In the meantime, fish are gasping in the rivers and the invertebrate life is being wiped out.
Anyhow, at this point we leave Queen’s Wood and walk up Priory Road, passing the most beautiful dark maroon-coloured rose in the front garden of a house which is undergoing a thorough refurbishment. I’m so glad that it was left.
And on the other side of the road there’s a very fine Victorian terrace. These look like very upscale houses for the time, with decorative green tiles outside and all sorts of little plaster details. On the other hand, this is a very hilly spot, and we passed the poor postman who has to tackle some of the steepest external staircases I’ve ever seen.
“It keeps me fit”, he said as he rocketed past us as we huffed and puffed up the hill. Clearly we need to do more of this walking stuff.
Victorian houses on Priory Road – note the ground level green tiles, the double bay windows and the decorative plaster on the top floor.
Then we pass through a very steep path between number 63 and number 65 Priory Gardens and head up to the Archway Road. We pause at the traffic lights to gaze at Jackson’s Lane Community Centre. This used to be a Methodist church, but these days showcases all kinds of innovative performance art of all kinds, with a particular emphasis on shows for young people.
Jackson’s Lane Community Centre
And now, we’re about to walk the second part of the route, along the Parkland Walk. But to hear about that, lovelies, you’ll have to wait until tomorrow…..
Dear Readers, you might remember that in April last year I reviewed ‘Minding the Garden – Lilactree Farm’ by Brian Bixley, a fascinating book about a year in the life of a garden in Ontario, and lots of other things besides. This year, the stars aligned so that, on an exceptionally sunny day, we were able to visit Brian and his wife Maureen at Lilactree Farm, to see the garden in its spring glory. I should say that my photos don’t do the garden justice, but hopefully you’ll get an idea of what a delight it is.
I have noted how splendid the scilla was in Collingwood, but it really comes into its own here, along with the chionodoxa: the shrubs stand ankle-deep in different shades of blue and pale pink, with hellebores, winter aconite and summer snowflake marking the changes.
On a sunny bank outside the house there was a fine selection of fumitory – I’m familiar with yellow corydalis, which grows like a weed in London, but these were a rainbow of lilac and pink. Known as ‘bird-in-a-bush’, the wild type of the plant (Corydalis solida) is a pale lavender, but there are several varieties in pink and coral. They looked spectacular growing amongst the chionodoxa, and were very popular with the bees – the bumblebee in the second photo is, I think, a Common Eastern Bumblebee (Bombus impatiens), but as it was the first one I’d ever seen I was enchanted by its completely black, furry abdomen. Bumblebees are important pollinators of long-throated flowers such as fumitories, and the bees certainly need the early nectar and pollen, so everyone is happy. In fact, I have never seen a bank of flowers so abuzz with bees and hoverflies – I even asked Brian if he was keeping bees but no, these are travelling to enjoy his largesse.
There was a row of daphne just coming into flower, and a tricolour bumblebee(Bombus ternarius) was foraging – again, a new species for me, and surely one of the most handsome bumblebees anywhere.
The garden has what I always think of as ‘good bones’ – the structural elements, such as the sculpture and the blue posts below, will look different throughout the year, as they are enhanced and supported by what is happening botanically. The sculpture below twinkles in the sun, reflecting aspects of the landscape.
And when you reach the top of the path, you have a wonderful view over the hills and woods beyond.
The blue posts below provide a strong linear element in a garden of many curves. In the spring they pick up the colour of the scylla. I would love to see them later in the year as other plants come into flower.
Blue posts with scilla
It was wonderful to see Lilactree Farm after falling in love with it through Brian’s book. It seems to me that it’s a prime example of gardening with passion – Brian grows what he loves, and is constantly experimenting to see what will work in the temperamental Canadian climate. He is not a ‘wildlife gardener’, and yet his garden is absolutely full of life. By growing a variety of plants with a long flowering season, Brian has created a place which is welcoming to pollinators as it is to people. It was an Open Day for the garden, and there was a constant stream of people coming to see it, many of them repeat visitors who obviously love it. It made me yearn to see what it’s like in the summer, or in autumn. But in spring, when we have been so deprived of colour and scent, it is a real treasure. I could imagine myself sitting under a tree with a book in a pool of scilla and feeling very content with life.
You can buy Brian’s book ‘Minding the Garden – Lilactree Farm’ here.
Dear Readers, Canada is blessed with the usual feral pigeons and (increasingly) the Eurasian Collared Dove (which looks set to be as successful in North America as it has been in the UK). However, the Mourning Dove is the bird that always typifies Canada to me. It’s a small, bright-eyed bird with a distinctively doleful call.
Interestingly, the wings also make a strange whistling sound, which you can hear at the end of the clip below – it sounds almost like the call of a different bird, or maybe a very tiny horse whinnying. Like most pigeons, the Mourning Dove is an excellent flyer, being able to reach speeds of over 55 mph.
The bird is a popular game bird in the USA, with up to 20 million of these small birds shot every year, but it maintains its population by being able to have up to six broods every year, each with two chicks. Both parents feed the squabs with crop milk, a secretion unique to the pigeon family which enables the birds to breed more or less all year round, especially as the adults eat seeds and so are not dependent on the insect population.
Mourning Dove parent with two chicks (Photo One)
Mourning Doves are not showy birds, but their feathers have a delicate, misty beauty. A legend of the Huron/Wyandot people of North America tells how a Mourning Dove was the favourite bird of a maiden, Ay’ura, who died. Her spirit travelled towards the entrance of the underworld but all the Mourning Doves followed, and wanted to go with her. The Sky Deity, who guards the gate to the underworld, lit torches so that the smoke would obscure the entrance, and so Ay’ura went on to the spirit world, but the feathers of the Mourning Doves were smudged with the smoke. Their cry is said to resemble the chant that used to be said over the dead.
Mourning Dove (Photo Two)
The birds that I saw in Canada are probably recent arrivals – Ontario is towards the northern range of the Mourning Dove, which can be found throughout the US and down into Mexico. The Canadian birds tend to migrate south every year, returning into Canada between March and May. On arrival, the males court the females with graceful, circular glides, followed by the usual pigeon-y bobbing dance. The male then leads the female to some potential nest sites, and she chooses one. The male then finds the nesting material while the female builds the nest, no doubt being extremely picky about the male’s offerings. Both parents incubate the eggs, and both feed the young. They seem to be devoted parents, which is probably another reason for their success – they are considered of ‘Least Concern’ as far as conservation goes.
And while this is not directly related to the Mourning Dove, I am in the mood to share this poem with you. It has been such a hard two years, and yet the birds are still singing, and the sun is shining outside my hotel window. If nothing else, so many of us have learned to look at familiar things in a new way. The Mourning Dove is one of Canada’s commonest birds, and yet I’d never really considered it before. There is always something new to learn, and to admire.
“Hope is the thing with feathers” by Emily Dickinson
Hope is the thing with feathers That perches in the soul, And sings the tune without the words, And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard; And sore must be the storm That could abash the little bird That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chillest land, And on the strangest sea; Yet, never, in extremity, It asked a crumb of me.
Dear Readers, one of my first treats when I arrive in Toronto is to follow the underground PATH system from our hotel to Pusateri’s at Saks Fifth Avenue, which used to be the food hall to end all food halls. Fancy a salad, made up before your very eyes? Or Icelandic Skyr yoghurt with raspberries and melted chocolate? Or fresh bread, straight from the oven? Admittedly, you needed deep pockets to shop regularly at Pusateri’s, but as an occasional treat, you couldn’t beat it.
Today, the only outlets open in the whole food hall were one selling pizza (admittedly delicious), and one selling the most ornate eclairs you’ve ever seen. Everything else was silent and fenced off. Black boxes with the word ‘Pusateri’s’ were on all the shelves instead of artisanal pasta and fancy chocolate. An occasional member of staff drifted past to clear up the detritus from someone’s pizza meal. Before the pandemic, you could queue for twenty minutes for your salad. Today, there is no salad at all.
Pusateri’s didn’t cover itself in glory early in the pandemic, when it was charging $30 for a tin of hand wipes, and was called out for price-gouging by the Ontario premier Doug Ford. But I suspect that the problem with Pusateri’s is much more to do with the way that many workers have voted to stay at home rather than coming back into the office. And of course, this is what’s happened all over the world. People are working from home (me included) because it feels safer, less stressful and more efficient, but the sandwich shops, the shoe repairers, the greeting card shops and the purveyors of office clothing are all going to the dogs. It’s been a massive shake up of our urban ecology, and I suspect that, much as Jacob Rees-Mogg might leave little passive-aggressive notes on the desks of civil servants who aren’t in the office, working from home, at least for some of the time, is here to stay.
Of course, this is a massive opportunity for local shops and businesses. People who work from home still need a break, and maybe they will pop out to a local newsagent for a magazine, go to the neighbourhood coffee shop and get their groceries from the place around the corner. What a good thing that could be! In many communities there was a coming-together during the pandemic, and there’s plenty of scope for that to continue. Many of us fail to see the appeal of getting up at 5.30 in the morning to be in the office for 7.30 so that they can leave by 4.30 and miss the worst of the rush hour, especially when compared with the 30 second commute from the bedroom to the office that many of us currently have.
I wonder what happened to all the staff who used to work here, chopping and packaging, taking cash, adding toppings to yoghurt and dressings to salad? There are other Pusateri’s outlets in the city, so I’d like to think that some people have moved to them, but nonetheless I wonder about the bulk of the employees. Canada had a pretty generous furlough scheme, but even so, jobs must have been lost here. It might be that the food hall will be reopened gradually, but I wonder if it will ever have as much custom as it did before the pandemic.
I have only been in Toronto for a couple of hours, so no doubt there are lots of other changes, some for the good, some not. But my initial feeling is that the centre of the city has been somehow hollowed out by the pandemic and its aftermath. I wonder if I will still feel the same at the end of the holiday? Let’s see.
Dear Readers, after two years in the UK, with nothing more exciting than occasional visits to Dorset and Somerset, we are off on an adventure for the next couple of weeks, to catch up with some people that we love, and haven’t seen since 2019.
I must admit that it’s a bit daunting – my travel muscles, which used to be up for any destination, seem to have atrophied, and the new covid regulations are an extra layer of anxiety-provoking paperwork. However, I think that we have all our ducks in a row, and we will be going first to Collingwood to see my two favourite aunties, and then on to Toronto to spend time with family and friends. I am hoping to get some walking in as well, and there are a few things that I especially want to share with you, including a dog fountain and a dawn redwood, so let’s see how we get on.
So, for the next few weeks there will be a mixture of new posts and old favourites, depending on a) my energy levels, b) what’s going on, c) how well the technology is working and d) how inspired I feel. Also the time zone change might throw things a bit out of whack, so if you don’t see a post when you expect to, it will just be the gremlins.
I’m looking forward to sharing this amazing country with you all, so I’ll see you on the other side of the Atlantic!
Dear Readers, this week I have been in Dorchester, visiting Mum and Dad’s grave out in Milborne St Andrew. And when I came back, I needed to walk, but the night draws in so quickly now that it’s December. I looked up the time for sunset, and it was 16.07, so I had just about an hour for my expedition. The ducks were starting to settle down for the night….
and I noticed all the molehills for the first time. Someone has been very busy…
Then it’s across the blue bridge…
And I’m sure I saw a kingfisher flying like an arrow up the stream, but it was too quick for me to photograph.
And then I look back to see the sun beginning to go down.
How often do we get a chance to really savour a sunset? We should do it more often, I think. I cross the field that was full of sweetcorn last time I was here, in September, and the crows and gulls and pheasants are gleaning the fallen seeds.
The field where the birds are feeding has some magnificent trees. I love that they remain although they must make it awkward to plough. I admire the farmer who recognises that some things are more important than convenience.
And around every corner there’s a new view of the sunset.
And here is a sheep wearing a bemused expression.
There’s a family of swans out on the meadow, and the old, rusty machinery that used to be used to direct the water and flood the fields. By now it’s getting cold, and dark, and so I head back towards the guest house. But as I walk up the hill, the sky blushes and changes until I can do is gawp and take photos. Let’s take some time to watch this twice-daily miracle, friends. Although watching it made me sad, because my parents are no longer here to see it, it also made me feel alive, and that is a very important thing.
View of the sunset from our window at the Shrubbery Hotel
Dear Readers, I have already said goodbye to Somerset once, but here we are again, still sorting out my Aunt H’s house. A lifetime of 93 years gives ample opportunity to accumulate ‘stuff’, especially when you are interested in family history and local history and all matters church-related. And so we headed down to Broadway this morning to sort out the kitchen and to prepare for all the paperwork that will need to be signed tomorrow. While John went off to collect the keys, I had a chance for a walk around the garden. I would say a ‘final’ walk around the garden, but clearly that would leave a hostage to fortune.
The foliage on the shrub below is gradually turning scarlet, and there is a fine crop of berries, but what on earth is it? I would have said some kind of berberis, but those long fruits are confusing me somewhat. Let me know what you think, gardening people!
There has been a lot of judicious pruning in the garden and it’s looking in much better shape than it was.This Viburnum is in full flower and I could smell its sweet scent from ten feet away. What a boon to a winter garden this plant is! I wonder if I could squeeze one in.
The white periwinkles have come back, having been strangled by the bramble. I love their pale, star-like flowers.
There is a fine Hawkshead fuchsia, another plant that I’ve been thinking about trying – in fact I might nick a cutting and see how it does. I’m sure Aunt H would have approved.
And the cyclamen are in flower. I love the way that they carpet the ground under the shrubs, to be replaced by the snowdrops and primroses and crocuses in the spring.
Whatever happens to the house, I doubt that the garden will be a priority for anyone – the garden is large, the cottage is small, and at the very least I imagine someone will want to extend. Even if they don’t they will probably want to change the garden into something else, as people always do. I hope that they give it a year so that they can see what’s already there, but folk are in such a hurry these days. It makes me think of what might happen to my resolutely idiosyncratic garden when we move, or when I die – no one with small children will want a massive pond, and I suspect that the days of the inconvenient whitebeam and the prickly hawthorn will be numbered too. But if this year has taught us anything it’s that the future is out of our control. Who knows what will happen? It’s certainly not worth worrying about.
As I go through Aunt H’s belongings I am struck by her frugality, and how much it chimes with the mood today – the desire to recycle, to reuse, to save things ‘for a rainy day’. There’s a jar full of bottle tops. There are plastic Stork margarine containers, used and reused over and over again to store soup and stews for freezing. I find jars of chutney from ten years ago, and boxes full of buttons. There’s much to learn from a generation that had to make things last and was reluctant to waste things. If we were all a bit more like Aunt H our beaches might not be full of plastic bottles and crisp packets and wet wipes. I’m pretty sure that Aunt H never utilised a wet wipe in her life, and if she had I have a suspicion that she’d have washed it and hung it out to dry somewhere.
Back in our hotel room, I watch the sun go down, and realise how rarely I allow myself to do such a thing. Tonight, the sun is painting the edge of the clouds with a light as sharp as one of Aunt H’s knives. She had knives for everything, most of them past their best, all of them kept in case they’d be needed again. It is hard, putting aside the remnants of a life. But our things are not us, though they sometimes tell our stories. Aunt H trod more gently on the earth than most of us, though she also trod on the toes of those who didn’t adhere to her standards of behaviour. Like all of us, she was complicated. She drove me to distraction on occasion, but I miss her, and so do many other people. She has left a hole in the village and church community that it will be very hard to fill.
Dear Readers, last time I was here with my friend S, the site was closed due to flooding, so it was a relief to actually be able to see the reservoirs and lakes this time. The whole place was full of dragonflies, not one of which sat still long enough for me to get a photo. Still, they are such a delight, zipping about like those toy planes powered by elastic bands that you used to get for about a shilling when I was a girl.
They currently have a Moomin trail for the children. I was never a great fan of the little critters, but my lovely friend Susie, who died much too young, was an avid collector of all things Moomin, so I had to take a few photos for her.
On the ‘real’ wildlife trail, though, my Birdnet app proved its worth again. I heard some calls coming from what I thought were small birds in one of the goat willows. Well, I was half-right – they were small birds, but they were Little Grebes, or Dabchicks (Tachybaptus ruficollis). According to my Crossley Bird Guide, their ‘very well-known call is like whinny of tiny horse or slightly insane giggle’. I love this book!
The young birds can apparently retain the stripes on their head through their first winter, which I think is what is going on with this bird. It has a fluffy tail too, which leads Crossley to describe the bird as a ‘floating rabbit’. All in all it’s a slightly bedraggled-looking little bird, but it bobs under the water with all the efficiency of its larger relatives and then bounces back up like a cork. Dabchicks eat insects and larvae, so any baby dragonflies had better watch out.
On one of the other lakes, I spotted an adult bird, looking a bit more dapper. That splendid chestnut neck is diagnostic for the species, and I’d have though that the white mark below the bill was a good indicator too.
Adult Little Grebe
What’s going on with the water, though? Although in some places it looks like one of those Venetian marbled papers, it does look a little alarming. It’s not duckweed, and it doesn’t seem to be chemical pollution, so I’m assuming that it’s algae.
And how about this fabulous spider, who was floating in mid-air half way across the path and wasn’t best pleased when we accidentally undid all his/her hard work by walking right through the web…
There’s also some flowering Japanese knotweed (though as we know there are only female plants in the UK so it’s not the seeds that are the problem, but the roots) and! apparently some Giant Hogweed though I couldn’t see it. For those of you who don’t know, the sap of this plant can cause blisters, and it also makes the skin photosensitive so that it becomes red and sore on exposure to sunlight, sometimes for years afterwards.
There are lots of rosehips about too, including this sweetbriar( Rosa rubiginosa) – the hips have much longer sepals than on a dog rose.
A lot of the paths are out of action at the Wetlands at the moment – when ducks moult they lose all their flight feathers at once, and so are extremely vulnerable and need places to hide without disturbance. It’s always a great place to wander around, though, with lots to see if you’re patient. Today felt like summer’s last gasp, with temperatures in the high twenties, and so it was good to make the most of it. Plus, the cafe does the most delicious sandwiches and cakes, so it makes it easy to just ‘hang out’. What a great addition Walthamstow Wetlands is to the green spaces of London!