Sundown over Clwyd

The Marina lake at West Kirby was mirror-like as people walked around its edge on a fine January afternoon (featured image).

As sundown approached, it was impossible to look directly at the twin suns, but somehow the camera made some sense of the scene, making it appear already dark.

Walking along the beach towards Hoylake and Red Rocks, there was promise of a good sunset over the wet sand as cloud welled up and sun slipped down.

With the sun gone, the colours of the sky began to deepen.

And finally, the coup de grace, layers viewed over sand, sea and mountains at Hoylake.

It didn’t last long. But what magic. Not bad for telephoto lens, hand held in low light.

Red sentinel

A group of red deer are grazing or just enjoying the low January sunshine under the oaks in Tatton Park. Just one magnificent specimen keeps an eye on us, as we walk by with the dog.

Taken with zoom lens to retain respectful distance.

Lake, oak, puddle

A crisp, sunny January afternoon in Tatton Park. A glorious day to raise the spirits.

One of Tatton’s lesser lakes. The featured image shows another one.
Mature oak tree

Don’t just look up and around, look down when snow is melting.

Puddle with oak.

Lake, oak, puddle.

Brimstone

Here’s a picture from springtime in Devon to light up these wintry days – a brimstone butterfly on a dandelion flower.

It’s a fairly shaggy individual with weak markings bleached out by strong sunshine, probably over-wintered. The distinctive green colouring suggests it’s probably a male.

Feeding from the dandelion.

At first I thought it was a clouded yellow, but the markings and time of year suggest brimstone.

Beauty and the Beast

From the promenade at Southport, the sun goes down over Liverpool Bay. At a wide angle, great brush strokes of cloud over the setting ball.

Zooming in gives a different riot of colour.

In a detailed crop (featured image), the setting dome highlights the oil and gas rigs of Liverpool Bay.

Beauty and the beast!

Amid the mêlée

In autumn and winter huge numbers of birds gather together at WWT Martin Mere ready for feeding time. When the warden scatters seed on the ground, the great rush and natural spectacle begins. Particularly prominent are the shelducks, greylag geese, mallards and Icelandic whooper swans. But there are quite a few species there in the mêlée. The challenge is to make any sense of it all photographically.

Here are just a few individuals I managed to isolate with a reasonable shot, albeit in rather poor light.

The Lovell Telescope

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….

At Lincoln Cathedral

I never cease to be inspired by Lincoln Cathedral. Growing up in Lincoln, it was always there, dominating the city and visible across the fens for miles around. On our recent visit we caught the afternoon sun full onto the stunning and newly cleaned West Front.

Our purpose was to attend the candlelit Christmas Carol Service, enjoy listening to the sublime singing of the choir, and join in with the well known Christmas carols, all the while inspired by that superb gothic interior.

Afterwards, purple lighting on the cathedral towers gave some magical effects. I particularly liked this one.

God’s own cathedral, I call it. But then, I am a bit biased!

Featured image is a part of the West Front.

At Chester

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.

Chester – one of our favourite days out.

Prize parasol

The featured image above illustrates the size of this magnificent parasol mushroom recently spotted in Knutsford’s Tatton Park.

The dog refused to stand by said mushroom and pointedly looked the other way. Using him as a measure, the height and diameter must be something like 10 inches.

They’re said to be edible and make a good pizza base, but you’d have to really know what you’re doing, as similar fungi are poisonous.

Bracket fungi

This rather striking bracket fungus is, I think, a giant polypore, found recently in a wood in Surrey.

Giant polypore

Here are a few more brackets seen recently. Identification is difficult, despite having the Collins Fungi Guide!

Any ideas?

The Elizabethan TV Age

My early childhood in the postwar years was in audio. We listened to the radio or read the newspapers for entertainment and news. The visual age began in 1953. I can date it precisely because that’s when, like many others in Britain, we got our first television set, to see the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. To my childhood eyes, the coronation only came second for excitement to the preceding Stanley Matthews Cup Final, on 2nd May when Blackpool thrillingly came from behind to beat Bolton 4-3 thanks to Stanley’s magical dribbling and Stan Mortensen’s hattrick.

The coronation on June 2nd was the only occasion I can remember my grandma coming over to our house from the nearby village where she lived – her induction into the television age. I remember the stunning opulence of the occasion on that small black-and-white screen, and the sonorous tones of Richard Dimbleby’s commentary, which set the benchmark for the BBC forever more. After the main event we walked into the centre of Lincoln along by the River Witham. At the Brayford pool I remember all the boats bedecked with celebratory flags.

After that, the TV became the focus for national events but otherwise life continued much as before, but with the added promise of new technologies. The second Elizabethan age had begun.

Most of my experience of Queen Elizabeth II was via the TV, but I did physically see her twice, once at a Royal Tournament on a school trip, and more memorably in 1957 when she was driven round Lincoln City’s football ground at Sincil Bank, packed with all the city’s schoolchildren. I was 12. It was quite exciting seeing the queen. Perhaps it’s significant that I remember her dressed as a princess, when the reality is revealed by the website of Lincolnshire Live (featured image) – she circled the playing area in a Landrover with Prince Philip on a rainy day. Funny thing, memory. 

Now, I am naturally inclined to be republican, as opposed to royalist. Elizabeth was around for most of my life and was clearly dedicated to doing her duty, but also to retaining the privileged position of ‘the firm’. She was probably the best monarch one could have wished for, and only put a few feet wrong, many of which were related to Princess Diana. But was all that killing of dumb animals for sport really necessary, setting the aspiration for generations of well-off wannabees. And did she really need all those palaces, riches and hangers-on – setting the example for the rich and powerful all over the world.

So it’s a mixed legacy, as it is for all of us. She’s part of our mental furniture, so it is taking a while getting used to “God Save the King”.

It really is a new age, dominated by the internet, smartphones, streaming, podcasts… rather than the TV. My grandma, a life lived in a rural village, would be a fish out of water.

We just have to make the best of it, and hope that King Charles III and the current alarming Conservative government do not damage the country too much along the way.

Fens 4 Ely

We continue our Fens exploration after Fens 3.

It is Sunday and we again circle Ely to the south, this time to to the small village of Prickwillow and its Engine Museum. With a small group of visitors we learn more about the history the Fens and specifically the engines used to pump water, from an enthusiastic volunteer and video. It is remarkable that the whole area of he Fens would be inundated regularly by the sea without regular pumping. A marker at the museum shows that the high tide water level would be above our heads.

After the Fens were drained, the land gradually sank due to contraction of peat, so that the fields are now lower than the rivers that drain them – another incredible feature of this area.

The village of Prickwillow was established in 1830 as a tolling station on the River Lark. When steam power came along in 1860 a pumping station was established for drainage. The old pumping station has now become a museum, containing a number of old diesel pumps on display from around 1970s. Sadly there are no remaining steam pumps.

I note that several of the pumps on display are manufactured by the company WH Allen, for whom my father worked designing pumps. Maybe he had a hand in some of these!

After this education, we visit and savour the magnificent Ely cathedral, one of England’s great religious buildings. The medieval octagon tower is quite remarkable. Ely’s position as an island in the original Fens made it a natural focus for travel and trade.

Featured image shows Ely cathedral from nearby meadow.

Fens 2 Wicken Fen

Our exploration of the Fens continues from Fens 1.

Next day we drive south, circle around Ely, and across to Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve – the National Trust’s first nature reserve, established in 1899. With some of the largest unspoilt areas of Fenland, this seems a good place to begin our explorations. The site is well marked, with a good range of information boards on wildlife and Fen history.

Unspoilt fen

We learn a lot about fen life – the great abundance of eels as a staple food, the techniques of mass murder used to capture much of the then-abundant birdlife; plover netting and a huge shotgun called a punt gun, both of which could kill or capture many birds in one go. They must have seemed wonderful wheezes, but of course this was never going to be sustainable.

The edge-of-fen area around Wicken is criss crossed by manmade watercourses called lodes, created during the Middle Ages primarily to prevent flooding, all draining into the River Cam.

Fen Cottage, a pretty, historic cottage and garden, suggest a glamour to the Fen life that I’m sure wasn’t always there. Information boards are more realistic about what life was really like in the Fens. After all, they were living in a large bog. But there was always lots of wildlife providing free food to those who could catch it.

The boardwalk (featured image) around the large reedbed is not accessible to dogs, so we take turns. But there are miles of other walks for dogs on stone tracks. Immersed in nature, we see a dragonflies, damselflies, butterflies and birds, and listen to invisible warblers.

In the 18C the Fens were for some years drained by windpumps, inspired by Dutch experience; one of the few remaining specimens is here at Wicken Fen.

Back at base, the greylag family has enlarged, and the dog enjoys trying to chase geese, goslings and ducks, prevented by a short leash.

Finally, another fen sunset.

Lime Hawk Moth

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!

Rambling roses

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.

This excellent variety came originally from David Austin Roses.

Photographs by Panasonic FZ1000, reduced to width 2500px.

At West Kirby

These hot days it’s cooler near the sea. These pics were taken during a walk around the marina at West Kirby. The featured image shows a pastel view across the Dee estuary to Point of Ayr on the North Wales coast.

Meanwhile, the sun was gradually setting over to the west.

Cognitive dissonance – whistling ducks

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?