Just becoming a teenager, I remember the fuss in the papers about some professor who was wasting taxpayers’ money on a new-fangled radio telescope in Cheshire. It was late and well over budget. Then in October 1957, the USSR launched Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite. It became apparent that the near-complete telescope at Jodrell Bank was the only instrument in the world capable of locating and tracking Sputnik and its carrier rocket. Overnight the fortunes of the telescope changed, and within weeks it was fully operational.
Bernard Lovell, whose baby it was, went from zero to hero almost overnight. He had successfully created the largest radio telescope on earth at 250m diameter, fully steerable so could be pointed in any upward direction.
You can investigate the story and exploits of this wonderful piece of technology at the Jodrell Bank Visitor Centre in Cheshire. You’ll find out, for example, that the technology emerged from wartime research into radar, and Lovell scrounged parts from the armed forces for his early experiments.
It’s also quite beautiful, and awe-inspiring when the wheels are set in motion and the disc slowly rotates in two dimensions.
The telescope is still operational today and an integral part of world radio telescope networks, still the third largest. In 2019 Jodrell Bank was recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
One story from the exhibition sticks in my mind. Lovell visited fellow scientists in the USSR to discuss the technology. During the visit he was asked to set up a radio telescope in Russia, which would have meant defecting. After Lovell refused, he believed members of the KGB tried to wipe his memories of the visit using some sort of radiation, he was very sick for a brief period on his return. Le plus ça change….
Chester is one of England’s most historic cities, established as a Roman port on the Dee Estuary in the 1st century AD, and very prosperous in the Middle Ages. The Roman walls have been largely maintained over the centuries, providing a scenic walk around the central city and its modern shopping centre although the port silted up many years ago now. The large number of historic buildings makes for a fine High Street, photographed here from the central pedestrian bridge on the wall walk.
The 11C Chester cathedral has a chequered history as Saxon Minster and Benedictine Abbey. The sandstone used in its construction is characteristic of many religious buildings in the area.
I just rediscovered photos from May of this large moth on the drive, maybe 1-2in long.
I think it is probably a lime hawk moth. The colouring, shape, time of year and location near a birch tree are all right. although the markings are not quite as in the examples on the web. Attractive pattern anyway!
The rambling roses on the arch in our garden are now in their glorious second blooming of the summer. The individual flowers show a beautiful but subtle range of colours from pink/apricot/yellow through to pink tinged white and finally faded white – all in view at the same time.
Those ducks looked oh so familiar, lurking under weeping willow trees by Knutsford’s Moor Pool. But something felt wrong. Then I realised. These were black bellied whistling ducks, very familiar from our visits to Houston, Texas. And this was Knutsford, Cheshire, far away from the homelands of these American sub/tropical birds (see Wikipedia entry).
How did they find their way to Knutsford? A mistaken migration across the Atlantic? Unlikely, as this is not a migratory species. More likely, they are escapees from somewhere like WWT Martin Mere? Anybody know?
The next day after the previous post, another dragonfly appears in the vicinity of the garden pond, and stays still on the crocosmia, presumably waiting for its wings to develop after emerging. This was maybe between one inch and an inch and a half long.
It seems to me that this demonstrates one of the many benefits of a garden pond in providing for a diversity of wildlife. Unfortunately, garden ponds are no longer as popular in UK as they were in my memory, probably due to the work involved in maintaining them. It’s so much easier to mow a lawn, put down plastic grass, or tarmac it over.
You know how dragonflies are always on the move, usually continuously patrolling their territory. So it was a surpise to see this large one just basking on a loganberry stem in the garden. The insect was probably a couple of inches long.
The British Dragonfly Identification Guide suggests that this is a common hawker. We realised that this was probably newly emerged, maybe from our garden pond, waiting for its wings to fully develop.
Another revelation was the following zoom closeup taken with my Samsung Galaxy S22 smartphone, confirming that high-end modern smartphone cameras have caught up with many of the capabilities of my previously favoured compact superzooms Panasonic TZ80/TZ200. And this shot has been reduced to 2500px width.
This evening primrose seems to like our garden, having transplanted itself several times to give miltiple sources of beautiful yellow flowers that seem to glow at evening time. The flowers soon die, but more appear continuously for months on end through the summer.
After a winter and spring of neglect, the back garden was looking decidedly untidy. More to the point, I could not effectively feed fruit bushes or plant new flowers in that tangle. So it had to be made more neat and tidy, like traditional gardening. Days and hours later, there is much more to do. Some plant feeding has taken place, albeit far too late in the season, and I’m looking forward to at least some berries off the fruit bushes, roses and flowers in the patio planter.
Here’s the transformation of some fruit bushes. I’ve left some of the weeds and the rampantly spreading Spanish bluebells.
My dreams are now a tangle of pulled up dandelions, buttercups, clumps of grass, goose grass, baby’s tears, bluebells and much more – now considered weeds, where days before I admired their beauty. And the horror of those forced to flee my predations as their damp hidy-holes are uncovered – the scuttling woodlice, centipedes and millipedes, various beetles and spiders, fast- and slow-moving worms – and the discovered slugs and snails consigned to a gluttonous paradise in the compost heap. And the thought that there will be less food and cover for the newts in the pond, and for any visiting frogs. So there are patches of tangle left in messy confusion, providing sanctuary for these friends.
I realise that I am repeating the age-old conflict between the agriculturalist who tills the land for food and flowers, and wild nature living in its own glorious profusion. Maybe Buddha would agree with my solution – a balanced ‘middle path’ between the neat and tidy ‘productive’ soil and nature’s gloriously diverse tangle.
Blue flowers en masse are popular in spring on both sides of the pond – bluebells in England, blue bonnets in Texas – and in many English gardens there is lots of blue muscari, or the similar blue lyriope in Texas.
The heavy rains of recent week gave the opportunity for unusual photographs on Knutsford Heath. Normally it’s just green grass.
In the background to the right, behind the woman in red, is the Longview Hotel, now closed down. It was in this hotel that the white-suited journalist Martin Bell initially stayed during the election campaign of 1997. Running on an anti-corruption campaign with cross-party (and my) support, Bell displaced the previous sitting MP Neil Hamilton. Hamilton famously confronted Bell on the heath at the time, in what became known as the Battle of Knutsford Heath (see video). It’s difficult to believe that was now 25 years ago.
Also relevant to the theme of this blog, the Longview was where, in 1993, we hosted Lord David Ennals, once UK Secretary of State for Social Services, when he came to give the first of the Knutsford Lecture series of ‘Visions of a New Renaissance’, under his title ‘Practical Non-violence’. The gracious elder statesman gave us insight into the the resolution of then-world conflicts, including those in former Yugoslavia and Georgia. Le plus ça change…
Eurasian Jays are said to be shy woodland birds rarely moving far from cover. But in winter there’s a much better chance of seeing them. This one was in the old apple tree in our garden, staying for a while to be surreptitiously photographed through the window.
Prettier than the much more visible crows and magpies, to which they are related.