So where have I been this last fortnight? Away in Copenhagen visiting our friend Sonja at the Distortion Festival, and it’s taken me about the same amount of time to recover. R and I decided a while ago that if we were going to do any short haul European travel we wouldn’t fly. It’s not just for environmental reasons either – making the travel part of the fun is a huge reason too. Ferries and trains in Europe are a lovely way to travel. Hint: always carry a bit of root ginger, crystallised ginger, ginger ale or whatnot, as ginger calms travel sickness like nothing else can and makes a rough voyage as comfy as can be. Anyway, our love of slow travel is what enabled me to get this picture of a stormy evening sky over the North Sea. You can’t see it in the picture but there was quite a swell already; by nightfall it was raining and there were huge waves too.
The ferry was vast and incredibly comfortable, so much nicer than being cramped in an aeroplane. However the bar was terrifyingly expensive; we got some beer anyway and sat watching the “floorshow” – a hard bitten Glasgwegian wedding singer who plainly had cabin fever and couldn’t wait for his last show to end. His jokes probably hadn’t been funny when he began his tour and he wasn’t even pretending any more – at one point he walked off mid song and disappeared for about five minutes, presumably to take a big slug of Dutch Courage. Seriously, I could write a novel about this guy, but before I am tempted to do so I should describe the rest of the journey. The waves were pretty huge by the time we went back to our cabin, but thanks to my root ginger habit (see above) I was not feeling in the least seasick. However I was disconcerted when, once in bed, the ship was lurching and swaying so much that my head was hitting the headboard and I was sliding up and down the bed at irregular intervals. Luckily I was tired enough to sleep well once accustomed to the movement.
The train Journey across Denmark to Copenhagen was breathtaking – the countryside in gloriously sunny early summer (just a couple of weeks behind GB) was mesmerising and I longed to walk in the meadows and woods I saw speeding by. The huge bridge and tunnel that takes you across to the island of Zealand is an extra excitement. And the train its-self was comfortable, spacious, and fast. I love train travel – it accustoms you a little to the new place you are in. So much better than having to fly.
For more beautiful and fascinating images of the sky around the world, visit Skywatch Friday!
For May eve we camped out in a little East Sussex wood; we wanted to be out in the fresh new green and jump over our own mini Beltane fire to bring in summer. Also, the area is renowned for its bluebells, of which I am something of a connoisseur.
The weather was cool and damp, the humidity intensifying the depth of the colours and general sense of lushness and rampant growth. Birdsong seemed astonishingly loud, the only other sounds a constant dripping and the babble of running water. I felt I could almost be in a high altitude cloud forest anywhere in the world if it were not for the familiarity of the trees and vegetation around me.
There are so many wildflowers all blooming together right now, the harsh winter having telescoped the seasons down until the first late winter flowers stand shoulder to shoulder with summer blooms. And everything is giving it’s best after that winter, including the bluebells.
If you are lucky enough to have been in a bluebell wood in full flower you will know well the extraordinary sensual overload that this can provoke. You walk along thinking that you’ve already seen it all, it couldn’t possibly get any bluer. Then the trees open out a little more and they are swimming in an astonishing violet mist of overwhelming voluptuousness. This, I can tell you, you have to experience for yourself.
It’s not just the colour, the scent is vivid too – heady and exotic for something so British, but with a coolness that makes it bearable, like lilies crossed with violets. Sometimes you can smell the flowers long before you see them.
I remember my first sighting of bluebells as a child, and the wonder I felt at their unexpected beauty. My mother wisely told me not to pick a single one, they could never look better in my hand than standing exactly where they were and I understood and did as I was told. Coming back from our walk we saw a family who had not been so wise; they had greedily picked as many as they could carry and were already making disappointed sounds at how swiftly they had wilted. They bore my mothers rage with baffled indifference, but if they learned nothing that day, I had learned plenty.
To read more Nature Notes, why not visit Rambling Woods – in fact, why not write a Nature Notes post of your own?
It’s been so busy here with orders and commissions, and as a result I know I’ve been neglectful of my blogging friends – taking an age to reply to comments and not keeping up with my blog reading. I wish I could say this slovenly state of affairs will improve but in fact they’ll be taking a nosedive as of tomorrow – because I’m going away for three weeks and will have absolutely no internet access in that time. I can’t deny it, I’m thrilled skinny!
First off R and I will be going to Cornwall, camping near St Just on the Land’s End Peninsula. There are many rare wild flowers and insects to be found in the area as well as some great walking and beaches as good as you’ll find anywhere.
After a couple of days exploring this lovely place we’ll be catching the Scillonian III from Penzance to The Isles of Scilly (pronounced “silly”) where we’ll be camping on the beautiful Island of St Agnes, by far and away my favourite of these enchanted islands. A haunt of rare migratory birds (though we’ll be too early for most of those) and carpeted with wildflowers, St Agnes also has the best snorkelling and rockpooling I’ve ever done in the UK – here’s hoping that the sea will be calm and the water clear! And not least because that ferry journey is never anything less than rough… although it’s worth it for the sightings of dolphins, basking sharks and the heart stopping flight of hunting gannets. You can fly across to the islands, but watching dolphins play on the bow wave of the ship and rare birds gliding alongside it is a lot more fun.
So I’m dragging out the field guides, polishing up the binoculars and getting all nerdy at the thought of all that wildlife. I need to take a notebook too, because there will be a lot to remember. And a lot of shells to collect for jewellery making purposes. Oh, and there will be a lot of cream teas to eat, but that’s another story.
Then it’s back home on the ferry and the sleeper train – arriving in London at 7.00 am – and a day in which to unpack, do laundry and make a fancy dress astronaut costume, repack and then catch another train and another ferry to Bestival on the Isle Of Wight! I have to admit I’m a little bit daunted by that bit, but I’ve never failed to have fun at Bestival so it has got to be worth it.
For the Cornish part of my travels I might be able to Twitter, but as we get further from the mainland on the ferry journey to Scilly the phone signal will start to fade out and I probably won’t have any reception at all once we reach the islands. So it will be a genuine break for me – in a place where technology cannot follow. I can hardly wait.
PS:- It’s possible that if you leave comments after Friday morning they will not show up for a very long time, as I will not have a chance to moderate them. I do love geting comments though, so if you leave some for me anyway it will be a lovely thing for me to come home to.
Whilst doing the seed bomb workshop a couple of weeks ago I discovered a delightful fact – allegedly there are Bee Orchids growing on Tottenham Marshes about a mile and a half from my home, and they are due to start blooming right now. How could I resist such a lure? I’ve been neglecting the marshes lately, so I got on my bike and went to see what I could see.
What I saw, alas, was not Bee Orchids. It hardly mattered though, since I was out and about on the last glorious sunny day of this summer so far, and what I did find was rather wonderful in it’s own right.
Zooming down Coppermill Lane through a dense tunnel of rank vegetation, assaulted by the shrill voices of wrens and the scree of nestlings in every tall shrub I wondered why I don’t do this every day. When I got to the drainage ditches at Springfield marina the air was filled with zipping electric blue sparks of Enallagma Cyathigerum – the Common Blue Damselfly. I sat down beside the water and watched their nuptial dances, and was lucky enough to find these two in their extraordinary lovers embrace. If you view mating damselflies from the right angle their joined bodies make a perfect heart shape. Most bodies of water on a still sunny day will yield views of these lovely creatures right now in the UK, and they are well worth looking for. I also saw a glorious Libellula Depressa – or Broad-bodied Chaser, a male dragonfly with a body the colour of powdered and bottled summer skies. Naturally he teased me by flying from his territorial perch every time I got him into focus but I don’t go on these adventures just for photographic trophies and it’s just as well – I would have been deeply frustrated that day!
After half an hour of happy damselfly and tadpole watching I got back on the bike and rode along the River Lea navigation towpath. Shoals of small fish swarmed in the still water and mute swans fussed over their huge nests, and overhead swallows chattered. I was at Tottenham marshes at last.
It’s not much to look at, perhaps, to some people. A swathe of rank long vegetation sandwiched between a busy road, allotments and a canal and with pylons, gasometers, bus depots and factories looming at it’s edges, it’s not many peoples idea of a wildlife paradise. But it’s truly wild, and this liminal post industrial landscape is where the revolution starts, you mark my words. It’s places like these that are home to undiscovered beauty, the covert reclamation of land by all the other living things besides the human. Of course it’s managed to some extent, but the beauty of places like these is that things slip in under the radar – this kind of land is the sort that will suddenly sprout, unexpectedly, a beautiful flower from seeds or rhizomes that have slept in the earth for years.
The air was thick with the scent of elderflower and pollen tickled my eyes and dusted my feet. The voices of many warblers made one territorial claim after another, each responding to the last in a singing chain, a necklace of song. I wheeled the bike along and searched in vain through the long, tangled vegetation.
Was I sad that I didn’t find any Bee Orchids? Not at all, not when so many other beautiful things crossed my path. The bee orchids got me out of the house and may have been my stated aim, but their coy refusal to show themselves led me to other secrets every bit as marvellous.
…to the woman behind the curtain, she doesn’t know what she’s doing! Like Dorothy here I’ve been wondering lately what direction I’m supposed to be going in. And just as it is with the Wizard himself it’s all getting pretty flaky behind the curtain, no matter how impressively overblown my last appearence here was. If you’ve never seen or read The Wizard of Oz you won’t have a clue what I’m talking about but that doesn’t matter, all you need to know is that I’m going to have to make some changes to the site. One of the reasons I’ve been so quiet is because I’ve been wrestling behind that stupid curtain trying to find a layout and navigation that suits.
I’m hoping to roll out the changes gradually and with any luck you’ll like them! I’m hoping the site will become more welcoming to people who land here looking for my shop, while at the same time not making the nature blog become too commercial looking. I’ve been agonising over this since ooohhh, forever, and I wish sometimes that I wasn’t so damn fastidious about the whole thing. By the way, I’m going to start making an effort with replying to your comments again, and I’ve already made a start on the previous post.
So, what can you look forward to on the nature blog? Well, there are still some more tales to come from Wales and the Isle of Skye, and then there’s my more recent visit to the glorious but not-so-sunny Isles of Scilly. As we move on into Autumn and winter I’ll be writing about the changing seasons closer to home. Beyond that, who knows? It’s time to lace up my hiking boots and find a new adventure.