My Fens

I grew up in the city of Lincoln, and was aware that much of the surrounding county of Lincolnshire was flat. And I sort of knew about The Fens, the drained area of farmland around and between the huge estuaries of the Humber and the Wash, that comprised much of the county – ‘the sticks’ we townies used to call it. The Fens also extend down to Cambridgeshire, as shown in this rough map.

Rough Map of The Fens

My family was involved in The Fens. My father worked as a designer of pumps. Now why was there such a company in Lincoln? For drainage. Uncle Bob managed drainage in The Fens. Uncle Charles worked in the engineering teams ensuring continued flow in the drainage waterways, which passed through much of the surrounding farmland, draining water into the River Witham which ran down to Boston. My great grandma lived in Bardney, where we went for walks around yet more drainage channels. My country family, with their broad flat accents, seemed to live in a different world away from the city.

There was even the Sincil Drain running past the Lincoln City football ground, where I went every Saturday. The ground is known as Sincil Bank.

Yet despite all this, and cycling around much of the countryside, I never learned much about the history and geography of the area. My technical education was more oriented to learning about the new and upcoming technologies rather than all this old stuff, and history and geography were soon dropped in favour of maths and science.

So then I went to university at Cambridge, to discover that I was still in an area of flat fields, which were also fens. I even got an evening bar job serving at a country pub in Fen Ditton, and great fun it was too.

I cycled to Cambridge from Lincoln, to move my bicycle from one place to the other. It was flat most of the way. You might think that made the riding easy; on the contrary, strong winds coming across flat fens meant a rather more extended journey than anticipated. I stopped for a rest at Crowland Abbey near Spalding, not realising what a significant place it was in the area’s history. Why was there a large abbey in the middle of this flat farmland?

Cambridge was even more fen country than Lincoln. Regular fog in winter, bitter cold when the east wind blew across from the Urals. This would have been a hard environment before the coming of the cities and farms. In fact, The Fens would have been one big bog.

While I was at Cambridge, my father’s pump company was taken over by another one in Bedford, which lay at the southern edge of The Fens. They moved to Bedford, but hadn’t quite escaped The Fens.

After I married we moved west, to Cheshire, and I forgot about my origins in The Fens, until I was given a book telling the history of this area, which is quite fascinating, as I will describe in a future post.

Featured image shows the channelled River Nene, near where it runs into The Wash at Sutton Bridge (2020).
The rough map of The Fens is by Jb?, CC BY-SA 2.5 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

Lesser black backed gull

There are lots of gulls on Knutsford’s Moor at the moment, almost all black-headed gulls, as on the featured image. Then there is a single larger gull, which stands out from the rest, does its own thing, and is treated with some suspicion by them. It is not one of the gang.

This is a lesser black-backed gull, featured in the following images, standing on the ice. The excellent information given by the RSPB shows that this particular bird is in its second winter

Click to see as slideshow.

The lesser black-backed is typically half as big again as the black-headed variety, but significantly smaller again than the great black-backed gull. See also Cornell Lab info.

Not the yellow headlights

The first time we took the car to France was in the early 70s. There was a bureaucratic routine you had to go through before we could cross the channel: get travel insurance, get car insurance, GB sticker and a green card for the car, pay the Automobile Association a fiver for an International Driving Permit, purchase beam benders and yellow transparent paint to be applied at the port.

Then we joined the EEC in 1973, which eventually became the EU. The French stopped insisting on yellow headlights, car insurers tended to include Europe cover, there was no need for green card or IDP. We still needed beam benders – some things never change. We got a dog and the pet passport scheme eventually made that easy. Mobile phones became ubiquitous and the EU eventually forced an end to yellow headlights and outrageous roaming charges. GB stickers bacame unnecessary.

And we never had to worry about how long our trip would be, we could stay as long as we wanted.

But today we’re finally out of the EU. All that bureaucracy is coming back, the pet passport is gone, there may be new roaming charges. We can only stay for 3 months out of six. We’re effectively excluded from free travel in ‘our’ Europe, the Europe that is our history.

These freedoms have been taken from us in the name of an abstraction called ‘sovereignty’, an anachronism in the modern interconnected world. They’re intended to ‘make Britain great again’, harking back to the days when renegade Britons roamed the world, stole land and riches from indigenous peoples, eliminating them or turning them into slaves, and made an inglorious ‘Empire’.

Fortunately, the law of unintended consequences means that unexpected benefits will turn up, and needed change may eventually be forced on the EU itself.

But at least we won’t need the yellow headlights again. Unless there is a Frexit.

Featured image shows one of the first optic headlamp lenses, the Corning Conaphore made of selective yellow “Noviol” glass (public domain via Wikipedia). So-called ‘selective yellow’ gives better visibility than white light in poor conditions and is still permitted in fog lights.

Middle of the pier

The central section of Southport’s pier offers photogenic opportunities, such as this one set against a bright late afternoon December sky. Clumps of marram grass and reflections in foreground puddles complete the picture.

The view in the opposite direction (northwards) can also be of interest. Here the low sun catches the normally unremarkable buildings of Lytham St Annes on the Fylde coast, 5 miles away as the crow flies (or 34 miles by road, skirting around the Ribble estuary).

Lichen

It’s easy to ignore lichen, those vaguely mossy patches on twigs, branches, stones, walls,… Yet lit up by a low November sun they prove to be rather attractive.

Now don’t they look like some sort of vegetation? Certainly the following looks rather akin to a moss.

But they are not. Moss is a plant; lichen is not. Lichen is actually type of fungus, but one that can only exist in symbiotic relationship with algae or cyanobacteria. The algae/cynobacteria provide the lichen with photosynthetic energy, while the lichen provides a protective environment.

According to Wiki, there are over 20,000 species of lichen, covering 6-8% of the surface of the earth. How easily we ignore such an incredibly successful life form.

Crab Apple

Branches are mostly bare now at Anderton Country Park, although the younger and more sheltered oaks and beeches still sport plenty of brown and yellow. But here in a Hawthorn hedge is a mass of colour, which on closer inspection turns out to be not haws, but some sort of Malus / Crab Apple, embedded in the hedge. A wonderful sight on a sunny day!

Featured image is a close-up of the fruit.

Black Fungi

I seem to have come across a few black fungi recently, so tried to identify them.

This one was in grassland on a cliff in Devon in the summer, 1-2 inches across. I’m not sure about this, but it could be indigo pinkgill.

This one was on a dead birch log in the autumn in Cheshire, a few centimetres across, part of a group of varying sizes. I think this is King Alfred’s Cake fungus, so named because it looks like burnt cake. Surprisingly, it can be used as tinder.

The final one is a much larger bracket fungus (6-8 inches) in Derbyshire in the autumn, on a dead beech stump. A common name is willow bracket, but it is found on other broad leaved trees. This is another fungus that was used for kindling.

Glistening inkcap

These glistening inkcap mushrooms were at Goyt’s Valley, Derbyshire, on rotting tree stumps. Identification of these things seems to be rather difficult, despite having to hand a ‘fungi guide’.

According to Wikipedia, these delicate mushrooms are edible for an hour or two, when they begin to slowly dissolve into a black, inky liquid. No thank you.

Fly Agaric

Fly agaric is a remarkably striking bright coloured toadstool, of which we’ve seen several specimens in this damp English autumn.

Young specimen in Calke Estate, Derbyshire
Older and much larger specimen on a grass verge in Cheshire

According to Wikipedia this fungus is not edible unless suitably treated. It also contains psychoactive substances, historically used for this effect in some cultures.

It is said that this fungus was used, mixed with milk, for getting rid of flies, which were attracted to the psychoactive chemicals, hence the name. Or alternatively the ‘fly’ came from the psychedelic effects of eating it.

An agaric is a type of fungus characterized by a cap that is clearly differentiated from the stalk, with gills on the underside of the cap.

The Old Man of Calke

It was salutary recently to visit the National Trust’s Calke Abbey in Derbyshire and come across the Old Man of Calke, an oak tree believed to be over 1000 years old – indeed there are two such oaks in the grounds. This tree was well established by the time of the great Norman conquering of England in 1066 and has ‘seen’ times of nearly a millennium since then, while living its majestic existence in the peace of the Derbyshire countryside.

Now that puts quite a context on the relative sound and fury of the affairs of the English since then. So many kings and queens, wars and revolts, comings to agreement and falling out with European neighbours, so little effect on this majestic being. Until the modern days, when who knows what threats climate change might mean for its continuation.

Politics as my Footnote

In this reblogged post, Matt Tevebaugh expresses clearly something many of us have thought. The values of what I would call the ‘celebrity culture’ are what led to the election of a president like Donald Trump, the ultimate empty ‘celebrity’.
The politicians we elect reflect our values. What does this say about the Western world, and particularly US and UK? Too many have lost or ignored their depth of soul and meaning, and settled for the surface attraction of the celebrity culture and the sports star. When we regain some depth, we will elect politicians of genuine depth and substance.
Great post by Matt:

Matt's Notes

We are in the middle of a contentious election. And that is perhaps an understatement. There’s lots of opinions flying around, and even some violent displays of opinions. So this is a serious conversation. I don’t want to come off like I am taking the reality lightly. But I am doing my best to treat politics as a footnote for myself and other people.

I realize that statement can come across as a lot of things. Blind. Ignorant. Perhaps demeaning and even racist. It’s perhaps easy to say I am going to reducing a system that is oppressing people to a footnote because I am not part of the group being oppressed. But let me explain a little further.

My hope for the future does not rest in politics. Whether he actually said it or not, Albert Einstein is often quoted as saying some version of the phrase “We can’t…

View original post 846 more words

Brent geese galore

Another mass of migrated birds we recently found at Cley and Salthouse Marshes in Norfolk was these Brent Geese. The white patch on the neck is distinctive of this bird.

These appear to be dark-bellied Brent Geese, which migrate back to their breeding grounds in the tundra of northern Siberia via the Baltic in April. The other sort are light-bellied, and these migrate the other way, to Iceland and then Canada.

According to Wikipedia these are also known as Brant Geese, after the genus Branta. Apparently, the Brent Oilfield, off the Shetland Isles, is named after these geese.

Whilst we were watching, these geese stuck together, occasionally flying off in unison to a nearby field, almost taking turns with a herd of cows to feed on a particular area. Maybe there is some synergy there.