Slow and steady

Moving slowly through the UK countryside


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Beautiful Bath

We visited Bath this weekend, and it was gorgeous.  Sunny and autumnal – my favourite weather.

The weir below Pulteney Bridge is mesmering, with the water above it like an infinity pool.

Pulteney Bridge over the River Avon

Pulteney Bridge over the River Avon

The tiny shops (not much more than a metre from front to back) on Pulteney Bridge have wonderful views out over the river. This photograph was taken right through the shop from outside.

The view through a shop window on Pulteney Bridge

The view through a shop window on Pulteney Bridge

This medlar tree was laden with fruit – we were looking down onto it from above.  They are very strange-looking – rather like gigantic hawthorn fruits.  I haven’t ever eaten one – you have to leave them to ‘blet’, which effectively means, to rot.  Which sounds rather dubious.

Medlar tree

A medlar tree

On Friday night we had an excellent meal at the Circus restaurant (spiced pumpkin soup followed by lemon sole – mmmmmm).  On Saturday morning, I was determined to go for a pre-breakfast run (ok, walk/jog) which was a bit of a challenge as I’d not slept too well from eating so much.  However, it was a beautiful sunny morning, and I ran a little way alongside the River Avon.

I found a lovely paved labyrinth to jog round.

Labyrinth

I didn’t quite complete the labyrinth, as I was distracted by the sight of this fine gentleman.

Centurion

Roman centurion in Bath – not sure where he was heading, but he was happy to have his photo taken.

After Bath, we stopped off at Westonbirt Arboretum to see the autumn foliage display.  The Acers (Japanese maples) were lovely, even though it wasn’t sunny when we were there.

Japanese maples

Japanese maples

Japanese maple

Japanese maple

It was £9 per person to get into the arboretum, but I think we had our money’s worth for the wonderful colours. I have seen reviews on Trip Advisor saying that it was expensive, and more or less complaining that an arboretum only had trees in, which seemed a bit unreasonable. Though, admittedly, when we visited Westonbirt once before, many years ago, there were sculptures in amongst the trees, and it did add to the interest.


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Upton House gardens

Sunday afternoon stroll in the sun round Upton House gardens. More Michaelmas daisies – and this time I didn’t resist buying the bright magenta one, “Andenken an Alma Potschke”


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A sea of Asters

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We visited Old Court Nurseries and The Picton Garden today, in Colwall, Herefordshire, where they have the national collection of Michaelmas Daisies.  Michaelmas is the Feast of Saint Michael the Archangel, on 29th September, which is close to the autumn equinox (today) and so associated with the beginning of autumn.

It was sunny and warm, so the butterflies were out too – Red Admiral, Comma and Small Tortoiseshell, and bees were buzzing busily.

What an amazing display of colour.  Most of the plants were Michaelmas daisies, but there were a few others mixed in too – some Golden Rod, Heleniums and Rudbeckias – plenty of saturated colours.  I couldn’t help but be drawn to the vivid magenta, just like the ones I had in my hair when we were married, over 30 years ago.  It was a low-key wedding even for those days, photos taken by friends, catering by Mum (I had no idea what an undertaking I’d asked for there – thanks, Mum!) and flowers from the garden – such happy memories.  But my goodness, we look so young!

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All rather glorious.  As if that wasn’t enough for one day, on the way home we passed a flower lorry, delivering to the village garden shop – another feast for the eyes. Flowers in transit. (I have to confess though, that I get almost as excited by shelves of stationary – Rymans and Staples, mmmm! – but flowers, sun and bees do have the edge.)

Flower van delivering to the garden shop

Flower van delivering to the garden shop


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Talk of the Devil

Bit of a gap over the summer. Like Red Hen here: http://redhenrun.wordpress.com/2014/08/30/so-many-blog-posts-so-little-time/#comments (links don’t seem to be working properly for me at the moment), I’ve been writing blog posts in my head, but haven’t quite got round to getting them online.

My themes included butterflies, running on a beach, Welsh gardens (including a labyrinth), dolphins, seals, jellyfish, cliff top walks, Henry Moore and Rodin. I’ve got all the pictures sorted out (good ones too!), it’s just a matter of putting it all together.

Anyway. Maybe I’ll get round to it next week.

Meanwhile, I got up early this morning and went out for a walk/run (more walk than run, but better some than none). The fields had been ploughed, so I kept my eyes peeled (weird phrase) for fossils, as this area was once a huge Jurassic lake.

Edge Hill

View towards Edge Hill where the first battle of the English Civil War took place in 1642

I found this Gryphaea, aka Devil’s toe-nail.

Devil's toe-nail

Jurassic fossil oyster – Gryphaea

Mind-boggling to think about when it lived – more than a hundred million years ago. Some nice folklore about them here: http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nature-online/earth/fossils/fossil-folklore/fossil_types/bivalves.htm

I can’t resist picking up smooth stones. As far as I can remember, we get all sorts of different stones round here because they were brought in by the glaciers way back when. It’s a lovely colour, and feels good too.

Heart-shaped stone

Heart-shaped stone (if you’re imaginative)

There are still some wild flowers around. Hogweed has an unattractive name, rather ugly leaves and it doesn’t smell too good, but the flowers are really very pretty.  Usually they are white, but this one had a pink tinge on the outer petals.

Hogweed - Heracleum sphondylium

Hogweed – Heracleum sphondylium

As I’d got out early, the sun was still quite low in the sky, and I liked the way the light caught on the trees and sheep.

Sheep grazing

Sheep grazing in early morning light

So – which of my missed posts should I aim for first?


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Insect antics

Well, the Green Tortoise Beetle eggs hatched after 12 days (indoors – the outside ones haven’t hatched yet), and they are now almost two weeks old. But they have very strange ways…  Do not read on if you are of a sensitive disposition.  You have been warned.

This is one that was only just hatched, in side view.  It was all of about 2mm long, so getting things in focus was tricky.  The leaf hairs of the woundwort leaf look like a forest.

At the rear end of the larva, there are four dark spines.  In between the spines is the anus, which is extensible and can be  directed towards the upper two spines.  The big brown blob is excrement, which they use as a disguise.  Delightful.

Green Tortoise Beetle larva

Green Tortoise Beetle larva (Cassida viridis) on Hedge Woundwort (Stachys arvensis)

These next ones were probably the first to hatch, as they have had time to accumulate quite a decoration. It’s a slow process – about twenty minutes to produce each of those little brown sticks (maybe they have to let it dry gradually – ugh!)

Green Tortoise Beetle larvae (Cassida viridis) on Hedge Woundwort (Stachys arvensis)

Green Tortoise Beetle larvae (Cassida viridis) on Hedge Woundwort (Stachys arvensis)

This is how they looked a few days later, after giving them some fresh woundwort leaves:

Green Tortoise Beetle larva

Green Tortoise Beetle larva about five days old

And here’s how they look now, looking nothing like beetles at all, but about 5 mm long, and carrying a huge load. It includes cast larval skins as well as more excrement.

Green Tortoise Beetle larva

Green Tortoise Beetle, two week old larva

While I was checking the woundwort, to see if the outdoors ones had hatched, I came across another woundwort specialist. I would have missed it, thinking it was just a bit of dead leaf, if I hadn’t seen something very similar on the ispot wildlife identification website. The woundwort was a big clue for identifying it, and a bit of googling led me to the Woundwort Case-bearer moth. It’s also described on the UKmoths site – but it’s hardly an exciting looking moth.

The hairs on the casing come from the woundwort leaf – I think it cuts bits of leaf to make a cover like a tea-cosy. (Do you remember those? My aunt made one – it was thickly padded and had a clip at the top like a handbag – I’ve never seen another one like it.)

I assumed it was a pupa, and put it in the bottom of the box with the Green Tortoise Beetles, hoping that it might eventually hatch out. However, the next day, I realised it had moved, and that there was other evidence that it was a larva.

Woundwort Case-bearer moth's larval case

Woundwort Case-bearer moth’s larval case

It has been in there for several days, moving around when I wasn’t looking, but today I found it on the bottom of the box, looking dried out and dead.

Woundwort Case-bearer moth's larval case

Woundwort Case-bearer moth’s larval case

However, when I looked again, it had moved itself back onto a dried-up leaf, so I put it onto the fresh leaves.

It came out to say hello!

Woundwort case-bearer moth larva

Woundwort case-bearer moth larva

It clearly didn’t like being exposed on the top of the leaf, and within a few minutes it had crawled over the edge to the underside – very hazardous when all it has to hang on with are tiny little feet, amongst all those long hairs, and dragging round its huge case.

Woundwort case-bearer moth larva

Woundwort case-bearer moth larva looking over the edge

Woundwort case-bearer moth larva

Woundwort case-bearer moth larva – let’s see what it’s like down here

Well, that’s turned into rather a long post. I also have loads of photos of colourful bugs from last weekend, when I repeated the Garden Bioblitz that I did a year ago. I was surprised to find quite a lot more different species – but I think I’ll save that for another day.


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Tai Chi and gardens

I started learning Tai Chi last year, and really enjoy it. It’s calm and gentle, but it really helps to loosen up my neck and shoulders after too much computer slumping.

Apparently, it is World Tai Chi Day, where people all round the world are taking part in Tai Chi sessions at 10 am, sending a wave of peace and calmness round the world’s time zones.  I rather liked that idea, so I joined in a lovely session this morning in a village garden, along with bees, birds and flowers.  Beautiful!

If you’ve never tried Tai Chi, and get a chance, do try it.

The green and purple border is at Coton Manor garden, near Northampton, which we visited a few days ago.  That would be a lovely place to do Tai Chi too.  Those purple tulips have amazing fringes along the edges of the petals – very strange.

The flamingoes are free-range, and they move as though they are doing Tai Chi, placing their feet oh-so-carefully.

Image

Image


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Potato planting and a frogspawn update

I planted my birthday potatoes today.  The potato bag is a natty design with flaps (it reminds me of old-fashioned flap-bottomed pyjamas) so you can extract a few potatoes without digging up the whole plant.  Not sure it’s really all that useful (I’ve always dug several plants up at once anyway, as they keep) but fun anyway.

Potato bag

Flapped potato bag (flap at bottom left, velcroed shut)

The potatoes had already chitted (sprouted) themselves in the packaging. Nice strong shoots.

Potatoes

Chitting potatoes variety ‘Apache’ which are red and white in patches.

The frogs have been very busy all week, and the pond has masses of spawn. Last week’s spawn is already showing signs of developing heads and bodies – the newer batch is still small and spherical.

Frogspawn

Week old spawn on the left, fresh spawn on the right

And these are just because they’re cute and pretty.

Goldfinch and Greenfinch

Goldfinch and male Greenfinch eating sunflower seeds

Long-tailed Tits

Long-tailed Tits