Tuesday, 31 July 2012


Today, I thought we would have something to brighten up an otherwise, dull day.  On our recent walks around Shipley Park, we have been fortunate to find some rather beautiful flowers.  Among these, two stand out, not because they have particularly large or showy flowers, but because they have a gorgeous pink colour - not a colour we see too much of around here with the majority of yellows and whites.
First, a diminutive flower blooming in open clusters on top of bright green stems in dry grassland and woodland rides hereabouts.  The Common Centaury (Centaurium erythraea).
This little plant is part of the Gentian family and has various medicinal uses.  There are a couple of useful Sterols (a sub-group of Steroids) present, including brassicasterol and stigmasterol.  The latter of these has been sited as being useful in the treatment of various cancers such as breast, colon and prostate.
It has also been used in treating various gastric and liver diseases.
Next, a member of the Pea family, the Broad-leaved Everlasting Pea (Lathyrus latifolius).
There is just one patch of this plant growing by the footpath near Head House Farm, in the shade of a Hawthorn bush.  But what a glorious sight it makes.  A scrambling plant as most peas are, we have tried in past years to collect a few seeds and grow some in the garden.  This year, we have been successful (so far) and have five, small but healthy seedlings in a pot on our patio.  Lets hope they come to be as lovely as these.

Saturday, 28 July 2012


A little cooler this morning, but still dry and sunny, so we tried to stay of the main footpaths as much as possible so as to avoid the bad-mannered cyclists.  To this end, we took to the fields and then through the old West Hallam Colliery site before returning via Head House Farm.  It was there that we were given some 'old-fashioned' looks from a small herd of White Park cattle.  One in particular took a good deal of interest in us as we passed.
This gorgeous old lady looked formidable with her pointed head-gear and seemed to know how good she looked.  Judging by the haughty looks we got, she was clearly unimpressed by Malcolm and I.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Watery View

A Few more pictures from yesterday's walk around Osbourne's Pond.  Having walked over grassland and across Shipley Park, it was good to find a seat where we could pour a coffee from the flask and enjoy the view in the shade of a tree.
Small fish were jumping in the shallows and chasing after pieces of bread which had escaped the bills of ducks and coots.  From a lower vantage point, the distant trees reflected on the lake were complimented by those of closer reeds.
The whole view was glorious in the sunshine and deserved a 'panorama' picture.  Coffee drunk, it was time to turn our feet homeward again.

Thursday, 26 July 2012


Another beautiful day for a long walk, so we took ourselves off for a wander around Shipley Hill, over to the visitors' centre and then on to Osbourne's Pond.  It was while we were walking around Cinder Hill, on the way to the visitors' centre, that a tall, blue-flowered plant caught our eye.
I thought it was Chicory, but having never seen it before, I wasn't sure.  But, getting home and consulting the books, I was right.  Chicory (Cichorium intybus), usually grows to about 3-4ft tall, but these specimens were reaching 6ft or more in some cases.
There were certainly plenty of them.  The bitter-tasting leaves are used in cookery in various parts of the world, especially some of the Mediterranean countries.  The root of this plant, in it's cultivated form, is often baked, ground and used as a substitute for and additive to coffee.  The root is also very toxic to intestinal parasites and has been used as a means of purging the system of intestinal worms.  For this reason it is also sometimes used as an additive to animal feeds.
A very useful plant and when seen growing in such numbers, it's a very handsome one too.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Fish and....

More from yesterday's sunny walk.  as we crossed over the footbridge which spans part of the old Nutbrook Canal, we were surprised to see a shoal of small fish swimming about in the - now rather deeper than usual - water.  The bridge is marked on an old map of 1919 as 'Parker's Bridge'.  We have seen small fish here before, but never so many and recently, there have been none at all.  So to see so many was quite a treat.  Two or three small Perch were easily identified among the shoal, but as for the rest, I'm not sure...
Growing in the wet canal-side ground were lots of Meadowsweet plants (Filipendula ulmaria).  Their white, frothy flowers are a joy to behold, but it is the rich, sweet fragrance emanating from them which first catches the senses.  On a hot day like this, it fills the air beautifully.
Meadowsweet is an interesting plant.  Used in medieval times as a 'strewing herb', it was spread on the floor to sweeten the aroma of one's hovel - or in the case of Queen Elizabeth I (who preferred it to any other herb), one's palace.  It has been used to flavour wine and beer and it is supposed to add an 'almond' hint to stews and jams.  The plant provides ingredients in a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug - or Aspirin.  For this property, it is very useful for those asthmatics who cannot take regular 'aspirin' for fear of inducing an asthma attack.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Blue Skies

After a few days of not getting out for a walk, it was nice to once more be able to walk out in the beautiful sunshine for a walk around Shipley Park and the Reservoir at Mapperley.  Most unusually for this Summer, there wasn't a cloud in the sky and the temperatures were climbing into the high 20's.  Despite the few warm and dry days, it was surprising how wet some of the paths were.  Walking through Mapperley Wood, we wondered if we should have worn wellingtons, out in the open the scene was just glorious.
The grasses, which in previous years would have been mown by this time, have been allowed to ripen and set seed along with all the wild flowers growing among them.  The result is a wonderful meadow, turning golden like a field of ripening wheat.  Oh, and just as I snapped the next shot, a brown butterfly wanted to get in on the action too!
The reservoir too was peaceful and beautiful.  It was quiet too - surprising for the school holidays!  Even the lone Mallard - a male in eclipse plumage - was floating around at peace with the world, seemingly enjoying the reflections.  More tomorrow I think.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Well done!

Just a couple more pictures today, from our walk around West Hallam.  The Well Dressings were holding up very well despite the bad weather.  The West Hallam Readers' Group had a mobile library with The Queen stepping on board, leaving her Corgi behind the van.
The 'dog' motif was stronger in a nearby, small Dressing of a Fox at sunset.
A Large, round Well Dressing took on the theme of John Scargill again.
All those Well Dressings but, we thought, just one problem.  Not an actual Well in site!

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Well Dressing

The weather held for us this morning and despite a few threatening clouds, it stayed dry for our 8 mile round-trip walk to the village of West Hallam.  We went to look at the Well Dressings which decorate the centre of the old village at this time of year.
Well Dressings in Derbyshire have been popular for centuries and are said to have Pagan origins in making sacrifices to the Gods of wells and springs.  The Christian church has adopted this tradition (doesn't it always?) and have turned it to their favour by giving thanks to God for safe, fresh water - and as a means of tapping the onlooker for money!
Whatever the true meaning and whatever the origin, they brighten up many towns and villages all over Derbyshire each Summer.  The themes this year in West Hallam, seem to be the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics.  Certainly crowns and Olympic symbols proliferate.

The other theme to feature often this year is the life of the Rev. John Scargill.  The local Rector died in 1662, aged 72, leaving money to fund the Scargill School and Scargill Trust.
Maybe more to come..!

Monday, 16 July 2012

Still Flooded

Yesterday's walk took us round the lakes of Straw's Bridge once more.  With the the flood waters receding somewhat, we thought we would safe to walk round the lakes, but how wrong we were.  We made it round the largest lake - just!  The lake was still doing it's best to encroach on the paths and to that end, was keeping the lakeside trees standing in water.
At the end of the lake, we would normally have taken the path under the old railway bridge and on to Swan Lake, but as you can see from the next picture, that was not possible without wellington boots.  But, the two Coots swimming about under the bridge where the path should have been, seemed happy with things.

Friday, 13 July 2012


No walk in the park this morning, so a couple of pictures from a few days ago - both of yellow flowers found growing about the area.  Firstly, a small and rather pale member of the pea family.  Hop Trefoil (Trifolium campestre) is an important fodder plant and also - as with most of the pea family - they help to 'fix' nitrogen in the soil.  They get their name by virtue of the fact that the flower heads look like small Hops as they lose their pale, yellow colouring and dry out.
Secondly, a member of the Daisy family.  Commonly known as Goat's-beard, this plant is closely related to the well-known Salsify and indeed is also known as Meadow Salsify (Tragopogon pratensis).
The roots are edible, as are the flower buds and it is to be found almost all over Britain, except the coastal fringes.  When the flower sets seed, it forms a 'clock' rather like the more familiar Dandelion, but the clocks of Goat's-beard are much larger and more open in structure.  Apparently, the sticky, white latex which exudes from the cut stems, is collected and dried and then used by children in Armenia, as bubble-gum.  I'll not be trying that one!

Wednesday, 11 July 2012


With all the recent rain, it's not surprising that the ground is saturated and the ditches around Shipley Park are all running with water.  The open ground is a bit 'squelchy' too, but not everything is fed up with it.  The Marsh Thistles (Cirsium palustre), growing in one of the path-side ditches are looking very happy indeed.  these were playing host to several 5-Spot Burnet Moths.
Marsh Thistles are rather formidable to look at, covered as they are with thousands of spines, but the clusters of purple flowers which top the tall stems make them among the most colourful of our wild flowers at this time.  and the insects love them too.
Much smaller, but showing flowers of a similar colour, are those of the Seafheal (Prunella Vulgaris).  Growing only a few inches high, they are rather common and often cause gardeners some trouble when they take over your lawn, but the 17th century herbalist, Nicholas Culpepper has it as a very useful herb.  Also known as All-heal, it was used as general cure-all and as a means of hastening the healing of wounds, both inward and outward.  Mixed into a tincture and applied to the temples, it was also said to cure headache.  He also said that Selffheal "cleanses and heals all ulcers, in the mouth, and throat, and those also in the secret parts!"  Very useful!

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Wet, Wet, Wet

Despite the doom-laden forecast for this morning, the promise of yet more heavy rain and the 'amber' flood warnings in force, Malcolm and I were not in fact 'confined to barracks' today, but managed to get a short, dry walk around Straw's Bridge once again.  Following the flooding at the weekend, we wondered if we would be able to walk around Swan Lake today and were delighted to see that the water level had dropped to a more normal state.  But, the sight of such huge quantities of water last Saturday was so jaw-dropping that I thought we might have a few more pictures.  Firstly, the path we took this morning, which was about a foot under water on Saturday morning.
Another of the lakes had out-grown its boundaries and was encroaching upon the woodland surrounding it, making it impossible to walk through the trees to get a better view.
One more result of all this wetness, is the proliferation of slugs and snails.  Our garden, like many others, seems to have been taken over by these slimy little devils.  Now, I quite like slugs and snails (except when they're eating our beans, basil and peppers), so here is a close-up of the face of a garden snail (Helix aspersa).  A face only a mother could love...!

Monday, 9 July 2012


Following on from our aborted walk around 'Swan Lake' the other day, here is a picture of a nasty-looking creature which we found struggling along a dry part of the path.  at the time, I thought it was a Dragonfly nymph of some sort, but on closer inspection, it turns out to be the nymph of a Great Diving Beetle (Dytiscus marginalis).
At about three inches long and sporting an enormous pair of jaws, it made a formidable image as it inched its way along. Not wanting to risk a nip from those jaws, I picked it up on a large leaf and transported it back to the water where I managed to take its picture before it swam into the vegetation. The jaws are used to great effect when it hunts its prey. They are sunk into the unfortunate prey item like hypodermic needles, while it injects a digestive enzyme. The resulting 'soup' is then sucked up by the nymph. They will eat anything they can get their jaws into. Tadpoles are their favourites, but they will tackle small fish and even turn to cannibalism. They breathe through a spiracle (or air hole) at the end of the tail as can be seen from the photo above and will often be seen with the tail breaking the surface of the water, taking the air.
We will have to keep a look-out for the stunning adult beetle in the lake when the water has gone down a bit.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Water, Water Everywhere

Following yesterday's deluge, Malcolm and I set out to have a look at the lakes of Straw's Bridge this morning.  We were expecting the Brook and old Canal to be rather full, but we were not expecting quite as much water as we found there.  Here, where there is usually just a placid flow of water, a gushing torrent was spilling over onto the banks and into the storm drain.
Further along, we got to 'Swan Lake' to find that our usual walk around the lake was impossible this morning.  Where the footpath was, now coots and ducks swam and the trees which normally stand up on the banks, were standing several feet deep in the water.
Odd to think that just a few weeks ago, the water level in this lake was becoming so low that we were beginning to think it dry up altogether.  Now it is spilling over the banks and well into the surrounding grassland.  Judging by the mud clinging to branches and trees around Peewit Carr, the water level there had been at least two feet higher than it was this morning and everywhere the reed beds were battered flat where flood water had forced through.  Here, two swans were enjoying their extra swimming space and feeding among the vegetation which was, until yesterday, growing well up the bank of this lake.
No shortage of water here!

Friday, 6 July 2012

Very Wet

At about 4.45 this morning, I was woken by the sound of torrential rain hammering on the roof.  At the time of writing this (about 1.45 pm), it's still raining - although not so hard.  Reports of localised flooding have started to appear on the news channels and the view from our front windows is of water flowing like a river off the playing fields opposite, onto the footpaths and then pouring into the drains.  Thankfully, no damage has been caused around here (as far as I know), but a walk was definitely out of the question this morning.
So, here is just one picture from our walk yesterday.  From the old car parks near Shipley Lake, you get a good view towards the Power Station at Ratcliffe-on-Soar, some 9 miles away.  Malcolm commented that wherever you are or wherever you have been, the sight of this power station always reminds you that you are near home.  Belching smoke and steam and supplying electricity for more than 2,000,000 homes, it is quite something to look at.  But when you hear people complaining bitterly about new wind turbines going up near their homes, we always ask "What would they prefer to see?"

Thursday, 5 July 2012


Turning our attention away from our break in Cornwall, we return to more local things.  Our walk this morning took us around Shipley Lake.  Warm, partly sunny and very humid, it made a nice change to be able to get out and about without getting soaked.  The walk was rewarded with some beautiful flowers, not least of which were the few Bee Orchids which are still blooming around the parkland.
On the old 'overspill' car-parks where the bulk of the Bee Orchids were, we saw large patches of English Stonecrop (Sedum anglicum).
This succulent plant is more usually found growing in coastal areas - particularly in the west, but the dry, gravel surface of these old car-parks does just as well.
Close by, a small Dog Rose bush had been attacked by an even smaller gall wasp known as Diplolepis rosae producing a red-tinged and rather attractive gall on the rose's stem, known as a Robin's Pincushion.  The gall will probably house more than one of these wasp larvae, feeding on the stems of the young Rose which continually produces and replaces the 'nutritive' cells by a process still not fully understood.
Lastly, Malcolm spotted a Moth feeding on the flowers of a Lucerne or Alfalfa plant (Medicago sativa).  It turned out to be a 5-Spot Burnet Moth (Zygaena trifolii).  The larvae of these moths feed on Birds-foot Trefoil plants - another member of the Pea family, while the adults get most of their sustenance from all of the Pea family's flowers, including Clovers, Melilots and these Lucerne.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012


Newquay is of course, surrounded by wide, golden and very famous beaches.  Many are particularly good for surfing and even on calm days, many surfers can be found splashing about in the waves.  Here is the most popular surfers beach, Fistral.
To the south of Fistral Beach a quieter stretch of sand awaits those who like a more peaceful way of life.  The Crantock beach lies at the head of the river Gannel.
At the other end, North of Newquay, Porth Beach is popular with Gulls and also marks the outfall of a trout stream, which originates in Porth Reservoir a few miles inland.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Gulls and Seals

As always, the skies above Newquay were filled with circling Gulls - particularly so when we were attempting to eat our fish and chips!  Signs everywhere, try to prevent people feeding the gulls and thus stop them becoming a problem.  Most common seemed to be the Herring Gulls.
Looking spectacular in their pure-white plumage, they glow in the sunshine like fresh snow.  Always with one eye on the opportunistic attack on someone's chips or ice-cream, they have a formidable reputation.
More formidable than even the Herring Gulls, were the Great Black-backed Gulls.  Plenty of these huge birds were in evidence too with a wingspan up to 7ft and a ferocious beak and an appetite to match, they will  happily take other birds, mammals - up to the size of rabbits - and almost anything edible.  This gathering of Black-backs and Herring Gulls all seem to be youngsters, but they can look forward to a long life (for a bird).  The oldest wild Great Black-backed Gull was said to be over 27 years old.
Scavenging for scraps at the other end of the resort were a small group of Grey Seals which have learned to beg for food in the harbour whenever a boat pulls in.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Wild Flowers

The cliff-tops and footpaths around the Newquay area are sprinkled with wild flowers of all kinds.  among the most common on the grassy slopes are the Sea Campion and Thrift which usually carpet the tops with white and pink flowers at this time of year.  However, the very wet weather this year has meant that the thrift has been 'hammered' and as a result, the pink is less obvious.  There are plenty more flowers to take their place.  I mentioned the Wild Thyme yesterday but there is another diminutive plant equally as gorgeous, known as Eyebright (Euphrasia nemorosa).  The common name derives from its use in the middle ages as a universal cure-all for eye infections and "all evils of the eye".
Another low-growing plant around the area is a little yellow stunner called Tormentil (Potentilla erecta).  A member of the rose family, the roots of this plant have been used to dye leather red.
Much taller and more stately than either of these is the Tree Mallow (Lavatera arborea).  Purple flowers appear up the tall, woody stems of this plant as it clings to the cliff edges, but it does mean that this plant gets a fine view of the beach!
It wasn't just the plants which caught my eye.  On one particular pink-and-whire, candy-striped, Sea Bindweed flower, a bright, green, shiny little beetle called Oedemera nobilis - a catchy name, but what a gorgeous insect!  This is a male as indicated by the swollen 'thighs' or femora.  While the adults feed on pollen and nectar, their larvae develop on the stems of various types of Broom and Thistle plants.