Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Breakfast with Colts.

Another beautiful day for a walk. This morning we decided we would treat ourselves and take a long walk through Shipley Park and on to Heanor for breakfast at Tesco before doing some shopping and returning home. An eight mile round trip with a slap-up cooked breakfast in the middle seems like a good idea to me!
Walking through the woodland surrounding Shipley Hill there were many clumps of a small, yellow plants which many would overlook or dismiss as Dandelions. Take a closer look however and you can see that these particular plants are quite different to that, more familiar 'weed'. These are called Colt's-foot Tussilago farfara.
Firstly, the flowers of this particular plant appear long before the leaves. Like most other members of the Aster family, or Asteraceae they consist of a central disc of actual flowers surrounded by rays of petal-like structures or 'ray florets'. It has been used medicinally as a cough suppressant. The name "tussilago" itself means "cough suppressant." The plant has been used since at least historical times to treat lung ailments such as asthma as well as various coughs by way of smoking. Crushed flowers supposedly cured skin conditions, and the plant has been consumed as a food item.

Monday, 30 March 2009


Swans sailing around a lake are, surely, one of Britain's most beautiful sights. Most children are fascinated by the idea that a swan can break your leg with a swipe from it's wings. This is probably not true but they could do you some damage nonetheless.
The Mute Swan Cygnus olor, is one of the world's heaviest flying birds. Male birds (known as cobs), average about 27lbs in weight but a particularly large one from Poland weighed nearly 50lbs!
Surprisingly, Mute Swans are more closely related to the Black Swan of Australia and the Black-Necked Swan of South America than the white swans found in the northern hemisphere.
Britain has about 22,000 individual swans including around 5,300 breeding pairs. Today, the British Monarch retains the right to ownership of all unmarked mute swans in open water, but the Queen only exercises her ownership on certain stretches of the Thames and its surrounding tributaries. This ownership is shared with the Vintners' and Dyers' Companies, who were granted rights of ownership by the Crown in the fifteenth century. The Mute Swans in the moat at the Bishops Palace at Wells Cathedral in Wells, England have for centuries been trained to ring bells via strings attached to them to beg for food. Two swans are still able to ring for lunch!

Friday, 27 March 2009

Roses are red.....

...but are violets really blue?
Malcolm and I had an interesting walk this morning along the Nutbrook Trail and were greeted by the sight of more and more spring flowers. Daffodils of several sizes and colours were in abundance, but a little further along, we came across several patches of wild violets, in this case Hairy Violets Viola hirta.
Close up these beautiful little flowers are indeed very blue.
But, continuing along the trail, we soon came across a patch of flowers which poured doubt upon the well-known rhyme.
These little flowers are still violets, but in this case Sweet Violets Viola odorata. Sweet violets are Britain's only fragrant violets - not that I was about to get on my hands and knees to confirm that!
Turning homeward and dodging the light hail showers which had begun, we found another denizen of springtime, the Lesser Celandine Ranunculus ficaria.
Lesser Celandine used to be known as 'Pilewort' and, as the name suggests, they were used to treat haemorrhoids. It was thought that their knobbly tuberous root system resembled 'piles' and therefore could cure them! The Germans had a much more scientific approach and found that the young leaves were high in vitamin C. Because of this, they found it helped to cure scurvy - leading to another old name for the plant, Scurvywort.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Blustery day.

Well, it's been a blustery few days actually. Again I was reminded of Winnie the Pooh as I lay in bed listening to the wind outside. Pooh has a wonderful way of turning any situation into an excuse for a 'smackerel of something' to eat.
Even on a stormy day when he and Piglet visit Owl and Owl's tree-house blows down,Pooh's first thought as he pulls pieces of himself back together again, is "...we were just going to have tea and we hadn't had it".
Pooh's love of poetry never fails him and even in the depths of a gale-induced calamity, he manages this little gem...

I lay on my chest
and I thought it best
to pretend I was having an evening rest.
I lay on my tum
and tried to hum
but nothing particular seemed to come.
My face was flat
On the floor, and that
is all very well for an acrobat;
But it doesn't seem fair
to a friendly bear
to stiffen him out with a basket-chair.
And a sort of sqoze
which grows and grows
is not too nice for his poor old nose,
and a sort of squch
is much too much
for his neck and his mouth and his ears and such.

Forget Shakespeare, lets have Winnie the Pooh on the school national curriculum!

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

More Spring Flowers

Another lovely day saw Malcolm and I walking around Straw's Bridge pond, along Derby Road into Ilkeston and through town before returning home. On our way we passed the lake known as the Manners Floods around which several willow trees were in full flower. These trees are actually Goat Willows, Salix caprea, also known as Pussy Willow or Great Sallow.
A closer look reveals the flowers in all their glory. Looking like small brushes they are yet another indication of spring.
Willows such as these contain, within their bark, the chemical Salicin which has an anti-inflammatory action and is synthesised to make aspirin.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Mother's Day

We had a nice day yesterday. Rather than buying our mothers flowers (which will die in a couple of days), or chocolates (which is too obvious), we decided to take Malcolm's Mum over to King's Lynn, to my Mum's and take them out for lunch. In the afternoon we went for a short drive to Sandringham, had a wander around the visitors centre, enjoying the fine weather and then 'tea and stickies' at a nearby garden centre and cafe - know to the family as 'Fiddler's Corner' (a long story which I believe originates from my Grandfather).
I was wondering about the origins of Mother's Day and it appears to have several different starting points. It comes from a mixture of mother worship in ancient Greece, the ancient Roman holiday, Matronalia, which was dedicated to Juno and a number of other factors. Mother's Day is celebrated on different days depending on where you live. In Britain it is celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Lent, a day shared only with Ireland and, believe it or not, Nigeria!
Whatever the origins, it's not a bad idea is it?

From Stephen's Views
Dear old souls!!!!!

Friday, 20 March 2009

When it's Spring again.....

A beautiful walk this morning around Shipley Hill in the sunshine.

From Uploaded

Where, just a few days ago, a carpet of snowdrops greeted the eye, now it is the turn of the daffodils.
From Uploaded

From Uploaded

The sun was glinting off the wonderful yellow of the daffodil petals which almost glowed in the dappled shade of the woodland. It put me in mind of a poem from that most erudite word-smith, Winnie-the-Pooh!

Noise, By Pooh.

Oh, the butterflies are flying,
now the winter days are dying
and the primroses are trying
to be seen.
And the turtle doves are cooing,
and the woods are up and doing,
for the violets are blue-ing
in the green.

Oh, the honey-bees are gumming
on their little wings and humming,
that the summer which is coming
will be fun.
And the cows are almost cooing, and the turtle doves are mooing,
which is why a Pooh is Poohing
in the sun.

For the spring is really springing;
you can see a skylark singing
and the bluebells, which are ringing,
can be heard.
And the cuckoo isn't cooing, but he's cucking and he's ooing.
And a Pooh is simply Poohing
like a bird.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Curbar & Froggatt

Strange sounding title today, but it refers to our walk today. Waking up to a lovely sunny morning, we decided to make the most of it and take our walk along Curbar and Froggatt edges. This panorama picture taken from where we parked the car, looking up towards the edge.
Froggatt Edge is a gritstone escarpment in the Dark Peak area of the Peak District national park, in Derbyshire, England and situated in close proximity to the villages of Calver, Curbar and Baslow. Map HERE.
At the top of the escarpment is a part-managed heather moor, purple in summer and periodically set alight to alter the characteristics of the heather. Below the escarpment is a forest of birch trees which is purple in winter. The edge is a place of outstanding natural beauty and offers excellent views across both moorland and valley. On the paths that run along both the top and bottom of the escarpment, the underlying gritstone is often exposed and subsequently worn by the passage of many feet, creating a warm-coloured sand that is characteristic of this part of the Peak District. The edge itself stands around 1000ft above sea level and normally affords magnificent views of the Derwent Valley and over towards Chatsworth House. Today however, the mist was swirling around and almost robbed us of the views.As with many of the gritstone edges in the Peak District, Froggatt was used as a source of millstones. A number of half-completed millstones can still be found at the bottom of the edge.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

More decoration

Continuing our walk around Barcelona, we came across this wonderfully decorated building, quite by accident. What an fortunate accident it turned out to be. The external decoration was wonderful. The Palau de la Musica.Built between 1905 and 1908 by the architect, Lluís Domènech i Montaner, as a headquarters for the Orfeó Català and funded by popular donations. The Concert Hall has been the stage for the national and international concert life of the city of Barcelona for one hundred years.Another building, close by (I have not yet been able to positively identify it, but I think it has something to do with the Palau de la Musica), was covered in cameo-style reliefs.Turning back to Las Ramblas before heading off to the station, we came across another church, this time the Iglesia de Nostra Senyora de Betlem. The church was finished in 1553 in the late-Gothic architectural period. However, after it was damaged by fire in 1671, Josep Luli restored the building using the Roman Gesú (the first Jesuit church in Barcelona) as a model. The main portal includes two sculptures of the founders of the Jesuit movement, San Ignacio de Loyola and San Francisco Javier, alongside Solomonic columns, moldings and baroque ornamentation. The splendid baroque interior was destroyed by fire and vandalism during the civil war in 1936.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Triumphal Arch.

Like Paris, Barcelona has it's own Arc de Triomf. Built in 1888 for the Universal exhibition as its main access gate by architect Josep Vilaseca i Casanovas.The arch is located between Passeig de Lluís Companys and Passeig de Sant Joan, at the end of a wide promenade connecting with the Park of the Ciutadella.The arch is built in reddish brickwork in the Moorish Revival style. The front frieze contains the stone sculpture "Barcelona rep les nacions" (Catalan for "Barcelona welcomes the nations") by Josep Reynés. The opposite frieze contains a stone carving named "Recompense", a work from the earliest period of Josep Llimona. The top of the arch is decorated with the Barcelona coat of arms as well as a representation of all 49 other Spanish provinces. More information and more photos Here.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Floral tribute

Walking around the highways and byways of the Costa Brava, we were presented with a lovely display of spring flowers. Many of which can be found in Britain but which are a little more advanced this far south. Among the most abundant are these delicate little white flowers called Ramping fumitory Fumaria capreolata.Despite the appearance of this flower, its scrambling habit and leaf-shape, it is actually closely related to poppies. Another familiar flower growing wild around the area was one which will be well known to gardeners in Britain - the Grape Hyacinth Muscari neglectum.

The uppermost flowers of the spike in this species are, in fact sterile and restricted to a few small violet-blue 'blobs' and appear to be unopened flowers. The true flowers are the dark blue ones at the bottom of the spike with a ring of white teeth around them. Among the common summer bedding plants to be found in British gardens, one can often find Snapdragons - every child's favourites - Antirrhinum majus. These too could be found all around the countryside of the Costa Brava.

Next time you tuck in to your dinner and struggle to keep your peas on your fork, imagine, if you will, that these small, sweet vegetables are derived from the Wild Pea Pisum sativum. These too can be found growing wild in the area.Perhaps it should also be remembered that there is evidence from China and India that oil from the seeds of these wild plants have a contraceptive effect in both men and women!

Stately and architectural in nature the last flower for now has to be the Verbascum - Verbascum Sinuatum. Standing up to 5ft high and with brilliantly yellow flowers clinging to the upright stems covered in greyish woolly hairs, they almost glow in the sunshine.

Close up, the flowers are quite gorgeous!The leaves of these plants have soothing and expectorant properties and are used to treat rasping coughs. They were also used in herbal tobacco.

Sunday, 15 March 2009


Calella is a fine town to the north of Barcelona. The old part of the town consists of a long, straight shopping street with a number of small squares along it's length and, of course, a church at it's heart. According to the official Calella website, the first mention of the name Calella was in the 12th century as the town grew up from a few fishermen's houses built close to the mouth of the river. It continued as a small settlement of fishermen for some hundreds of years.There was a long period of stagnation due to the wars and plagues of the 17th century. In 1714, after the war of Succession, the town began a long period of sustained growth, going from 768 inhabitants in 1718 to 2,637 in 1787. At the same time the traditional activities of agriculture and fishing were complemented with the construction of ships and needlework. Thanks to the new trade routes with the American colonies and the growth of the fishing industry, the region benefited enormously. Emigration to these new markets and the success of many traders, who returned years later, helped the economic development of the town.
According to the traveller Francisco de Zamora, who visited the region in 1790, Calella had some 550 houses, a fleet of 5 ships weighing four tons and 60 fishing boats; there were 370 men registered as fishermen and needlework occupied almost a thousand women. The traditional industry of knitwear was also developed in that period. In 1767 the first loom had arrived and by 1790 there were already more than 200, devoted to the manufacture of silk and cotton stockings.
The 18th century baroque parish church of Saint Maria and Saint Nicolau, preserves the magnificent reliefs of Jean de Tours at the front door, originally from the altar of the 16th century primitive temple.

The railways arrived in Calella in 1861 and this aided the town's commercial side. There are still some fantastic old properties along the railway line which separates the town from the seafront and the beautiful promenades. Historical notes taken from HERE.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

More war-like times.

Just to the south of Calella there is a lovely walk through the pines and up a small hill taking you to a couple of ruins called 'Les Torretes'.Built in 1849 they were used for only a very short period of time as a means of signalling during the years of the bitter Carlist wars.
The wars were fought between supporters of Isabell ll and her uncle Charles V of the Bourbon Dynasty. During this time, the Catalans rose up against the moderate forces, the Isabelinas, in the second Carlist war (1846 - 1849), known as the war of the Matiners (early risers).
The system of signalling towers was built in order to improve communications between the moderate military leaders.'Les Torretes', set on the hill 118m high, were part of the communications network on the Madrid - Valencia - Barcelona - Gerona - La Jonquera signalling line. These particular towers communicated directly with others in the towns of Caldes d’Estrac to the south and Blanes to the north.
The lower of the two towers, built with more loopholes or vertical openings in the walls and sited closer to the sea was used for military communications and was guarded by a garrison of 15 men. The other tower, with two floors and fewer defences, was used for civil communications.
The view to the north and towards Blanes is still impressive.

Friday, 13 March 2009


Turning away from the Sagrada Familia for a moment, we found a wealth of other beautiful, architectural works of art as we walked around the city of Barcelona. As we walked down the avenue of shops, offices, stalls and street performers known as Las Ramblas, we encountered one of Barcelona's most photographed objects. It's a dragon that was once the sign for an umbrella ship. The building is now a bank, but the original wall decorations still survive.At the Sea-end of Las Ramblas, there is a most fantastic confection of an edifice called the Port of Barcelona Building.
Across the road from the Port of Barcelona is the famous column of Christopher Columbus. It is a huge monument to commemorate Columbus' return to Barcelona after his historic trip to North America. Visitors can climb to the top of the monument to enjoy a spectacular view of Barcelona - we didn't bother!
Around the base are many sculptures of angels, lions, fantastic animals of all sorts and religious icons.
Zooming in on the image of Columbus himself, you can't help wondering if the pigeons might have a little more respect for such a national treasure!

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Back home.

Well, we returned home yesterday after a week in Calella, just north of Barcelona. Last Thursday, Malcolm and I took the train from Calella to Barcelona. It was a very enjoyable trip which took us right along the sea-front all the way on a clean, comfortable train and all for about £6 each return. If we had a similar public transport system in Britain, you can't help thinking the roads would be a little less congested!
Back to Barcelona - What a wonderful city it is! I was prepared to be impressed with the architecture having seen pictures of places like the 'Sagrada Familia' and various other fabulous buildings. I was not prepared however, for the amount of beautiful, richly decorated and, frankly, artistic buildings which made our necks ache from looking up at them.
Of course the highlight for any rubber-necked tourist is the unfinished cathedral 'Sagrada Familia'.

In parts it is a building site with cranes towering above the massive edifice. Construction started in 1882, the vision of artist and architect Antoni Gaudi. It is anticipated that it will be finished in 2026 to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's death. This is thought by many to be wildly optimistic and some expect construction to continue for many years yet. The main entrance is dominated by a cubist, modernist depiction of the Passion of Christ.

The Nativity facade is rather more elaborate and traditional in style. It is only when you see the detail in the carvings, that you realise why the construction has taken so long.Far more information to be found HERE and the official site (in English) HERE.