• November Woods

Three photographs from a short walk in the wood late this afternoon, plus Bax’s tone poem, with the Ulster Orchestra conducted by the masterly Bryden ‘Jack’ Thomson 30 years ago.  Not that Bax and Elliott Carter had anything in common, but as I’ve just heard that Carter died earlier today, this comes also as a small tribute and farewell.


• Turning Trees

I’m never quite sure what to make of autumn.  Part of my spirit sinks, but another part is captivated by its combination of desolation and beauty.  This afternoon, I went for a walk in the wood, brushing against bracken that is now a dirty brown.  It’s a plant which my neighbours sometimes cut back during the summer or spray to kill it off.  I don’t like it much either, but even in its current state – flattened by the wind, broken-backed, fawning over the paths – it has its own qualities.  In sunlight, after rain, it can glow like amber.  Not today though.

Here are a few photos.  First – the chestnuts have lost most of their foliage, leaving a mix of green and orange to dapple the skyline.

On one edge of the wood there’s this multi-stemmed sallow, its feet planted firmly in a pond that disappears from time to time.  The rocks around are always covered in moss.  Mysterious…

The ash trees are the last to leaf in the late Spring, and the last to turn in the autumn.  Not yet, though.

The paths are unkempt.  The wind-driven yet stalwart hawthorn on the right has lost its leaves, its few remaining berries an important food source for the birds.  It is clothed in a variety of lichens, testament to the clear air.

Here’s more or less the same shot (but zoomed), taken at the end of May.

But close up, there is still colour now.  This dogwood clump is a riot of white berries with leaves which range from vivid green to a deep burgundy.  This year, four years after it was planted, I must cut it down almost to ground level so that when it regrows next year its stems will shine an even brighter red.

There are a few ornamental crab apples, but the crop of fruit here as elsewhere has been very poor.  The birds will need extra help this winter.

And, finally, this beech tree still glows, even against the grey sky.  All is not yet lost.  I can return indoors with my spirit refreshed.

• Spotted on Dinas Head

On our coastal walk yesterday, we came across a flurry of mothy activity: dozens of the day-flying Six-Spot Burnet. They’re very distinctive in their red-on-black colouring.  They were feeding on betony flowers like there was no tomorrow, sometimes four or five to a stem.  Here is a handful of shots taken, as usual, with my little Ixus camera. They’re a bit rough and ready, but you can clearly see the moths’ huge antennae with strangely-shaped tips, their long proboscises and legs and their shiny blue-black bodies.

• A Few Seaside Snaps

On the one dry day of this Bank Holiday weekend, when otherwise it was a case of hunkering down around a log fire indoors while the rain lashed outside (aaah), I took my friends Rolf and Chris to Dinas Head and Trevose Head, west of Padstow.  I love this walk, for its panoramic views west, north and east, for its geological formations, for its range of lichens, and for its changeable weather.  Yesterday, there was a mild breeze blowing in from the west.  On another occasion, I had to crawl on hands and knees at the top of Dinas Head, so strong was the gale. This time, we relaxed in the company of place-names such as Booby’s Bay, Round Hole, Quies, Stinking Cove and Mother Ivey’s Cottage.

A few seascapes, the first two at Booby’s Bay:

This one has the strangely named ‘Quies’ in the distance:

And a few close-ups:

Quies again:

Last, but not least, to my favourite outcrop at Dinas Head – The Bull – this time with fading vapour trails and a dramatic weather front.

• A Bird on the Hand

Just heard a noise in the guest bedroom.  A Great Tit had flown in.  It escaped down the corridor, pointedly ignoring a beady-eyed onlooker and knocking over another.  It then flew up and landed on my left hand while I was still holding the camera.  Very slowly, I walked back into the room, the wee mite looking straight at me, unperturbed, until I reached the open window.  St Francis, eat your heart out!

• Thrush, Rabbit, Chair

This morning in Cornwall.

Young thrush suns itself.

 Rabbit on the patio.

Garden chair unmoved.

• Woodland Paths

It’s the most joyful time of year in the wood: translucent greens and piercing blues (no Photoshop here!), plus the heady scent of hawthorn and bluebells.

• Why Duty Free Is Crap

Simon Hoggart’s column in today’s Saturday Guardian is as amusing and to the point as usual.  He gives a withering dismissal of Eurovision, there are more Barry Cryer jokes and a priceless toilet warning from Bristol airport (which I can’t resist reproducing at the bottom).  But it was the following story which really caught my eye.  I’m a huge fan of Camel Valley, whose mid-Cornwall vineyard is barely 30 minutes away and whose stock of award-winning Brut has been drastically reduced by my regular visits.

Simon Hoggart’s week (26 May 2012)

• My friend Bob Lindo, former RAF pilot, now world-renowned winemaker, staged an angry protest of his own the other day. Bob makes Camel Valley, which along with some other wines has made British sparkling wine among the very best in the world – some say close to being the best. He was at the duty-free in Gatwick when he saw a display of sparkling wine labelled “Best of British”. It was for Lanson champagne, which is of course made in France. The bottles were wrapped in Union Flag jackets. He was furious, and refused to leave the store until they took down the display, following up with a letter to Theresa May. As he points out, in a recent blind tasting Lanson came 87th, behind no fewer than 83 British sparklers. I wonder how the French would feel if Bob sold his Cornish wine at Charles de Gaulle under a label, “Gloire de France”.


• Margaret Crisell and John Post spotted this warning sign outside the Ladies at Bristol airport: “During a terminal evacuation, red lights will flash … “

• Vers la flamme

Well, ‘The Flame’ has come in and gone out.  Liskeard hasn’t seen so much excitement for years.  By all accounts, the morning and afternoon in Liskeard were great fun.  There was an open stage with all sorts of entertainment, the main street was closed off to traffic and there was an air of unforced anticipation.  At 17.30, way too soon, with friends from Cardiff and from here, I positioned myself on the steps of The Book Shop.

An hour before ETA, the official cheerleaders were handing out sponsor-branded beat-boxes and trying to whip the large crowds lining Barras Street into a state of pre-arrival frenzy.  But Liskeardians see through the artificiality of such tactics and remained cheerfully indifferent, despite darkening skies and the odd drop of rain.

We are made to wait.  20 minutes to go.  Distant cheering.  Could this be the runner with the flame already?

Oh joy, just what we’ve been waiting for – a Royal Navy Bomb Disposal Unit.  A fat lot of use it’ll be if anything goes off during the main event.  Then an ambulance.  They must be a couple of miles ahead of the runners.  Off they go, and we all wish that they’d not been there in the first place.

Police vans, cars and outriders come and go, long pauses in between.  Who had come to see police drive past?  The coppers on the ground were more than capable, unobtrusively, of ensuring law and order in this Wild West town. Besides, the parading police contingent went through long before the runner appeared and would have been useless in an emergency.

Virtually empty Olympic buses trundle past.  This is so exciting.  Three separate cyclists, long black pouches on their backs, race through.  I swear it was the same guy each time doing a quick round-the-back-of the houses circuit.  The pouches were just the right size for a rifle or a spare torch.  More police outriders lead to nothing.

Faint cheers from around the corner.  Could this be it?

I’m not being a G.O.M. – my friends, aged 19 upwards, all said the same: who wants to see overbearing sponsors’ floats muscling in and trying their commercial best to steal the limelight?

All we wanted were a few police motorcycles ahead of the runner with a back-up ambulance behind.  These other vehicles could have continued along the bypass and met up with the torch after the in-town leg.  Scale it back, guys; you’re a dampener on the festivity.

We were waiting to see 81-year-old Frances, who’d been given the honour of walking the flame through Liskeard’s main street.  Incidentally, there were five ‘runners’ in the Liskeard part of the day’s Cornish relay, and not one of them was from the Liskeard area.  So, 15 minutes late, and 35 minutes after the Bomb Disposal Unit had come through, here came the diminutive Frances, in white and grey, flanked by six watchful minders in case anyone made a dash for the flame.

These few seconds were all very good-natured.  A few steps further on, and the shop logo opposite seemed pale and wan.  But then Santander’s got other things on its mind.

For my money, the best Olympic display was in the window of Liskeard’s book shop behind me: an imaginative selection of topical titles and an exuberantly fiery torch made of paper.

Five minutes after the Olympic torch and everyone else had disappeared, The Book Shop‘s window display was still there, its flame still glowing.

• An Old Drovers’ Road

An old drovers’ road passes close to my house.  Its lower and middle reaches, rising up sharply from the Lynher river at Berriowbridge and evening out at Kingbeare, are now metalled but still in places display the variable widths characteristic of such ancient ways.  The road rises up as it passes the track up to Bearah Tor and then splits when it levels out again, the metalled road leading to Henwood.  To the right, by a smallholding, a metal five-bar gate has been loosely slung across a muddy, scrubby and overhung track.  This is the continuation of the old drovers’ road and leads uphill to the shoulder between Langstone Downs and Stowe’s Hill, where it meets another gate and the lane to Wardbrook Farm.  After that, all trace disappears.

Today I scrambled through the scrub and fallen branches in the lower sections of the track, glimpsing Sharp Tor to the right and eventually reaching more open ground.  Here, the grey-green beards of usnea articulata were in plentiful supply on their favourite tree, the hawthorn.  Spring lambs showed curiosity and highland cattle idle disdain where once there were whole flocks and herds cramming the bulging pathway as shepherds and cattlemen drove them back and forth from Liskeard.

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