All good things come to an end, and eventually we had to move on from the Dordogne. Fortunately, we were only moving on to the Tarn Gorge, just as we did on our previous trip. This time, as you can see, Andy had booked plots with a direct view of the river, which was rather magnificent.
Sitting around the campsite chilling out is surely a key ingredient of any camping trip and I certainly did a lot of that on this trip. I got through a lot of reading material. I didn’t use our hammocks, but the rest of the family all loved them and there was often keen competition to secure a berth, since we only had two between us.
Regular swims in the river were also key. I’d bought a full-face mask with integrated snorkel from Aldi before the trip and it might just be the best eighteen quid I ever spent. The fish here were plentiful, varied and absolutely fascinating. I only wish I had photos to share.
The Dangerous Brothers, including Andy, an honorary DB, (ODB ?), spent much of their time climbing the cliffs to find ridiculously high spots from which to launch themselves, sometimes with a large inflatable shark in tow, which they christened DB Aquatic. I don’t have any photos of them jumping (I preferred not to watch), but there’s some slo-mo footage of their antics on Andy’s blog here.
By contrast with our last visit, I don’t seem to have taken many photos around the campsite, which is odd because the views are amazing. The cliffs up the valley were lit at night (B was convinced it was the sunset, bless him) and although they looked huge from below, we realised, later in the week when we went up to the rim of the gorge to watch the sunset, that they were actually only a tiny portion of the entire valley side.
I suppose wasps are always a feature of camping in the summer. This trip was no exception, but this year we had the added joy of regular visits from hornets. I can’t decide if these two photos show hornets or not. I’m not sure they’re big enough – certainly, when they were buzzing around our tent they seemed much bigger than this – about the size of Jack Russel at least.
On the drive between the two campsites, at an Aire, we even spotted a Hornet’s nest, a football sized paper sphere hidden away in amongst some brambles.
We did quite a bit of walking whilst we were in the Tarn Gorge, so lots more wildlife and scenery photos to come, and I’m getting ahead of myself a bit, but when we were travelling back to the UK we witnessed a rather sobering event, when French customs officers found a man stashed away in a fellow holiday-maker’s Trailer Tent. I assume that the contents of the trailer had been jettisoned to make room for the man – presumably an asylum seeker trying to get to the UK. Frankly, it was all pretty alarming. We’d never been out of sight of our own trailers, and hadn’t stopped near the port, so when they were searched we didn’t have any stow-aways.
When we finally got back, after two solid days of driving and an overnight ferry, we did find one unscheduled passenger though, a shield bug…
I don’t know if this is a species found in the UK or not, but it did demonstrate how easily you could inadvertently import a non-native species. I don’t think we’d brought any hornets back with us, fortunately.
So, once again, we rented canoes and kayaks and paddled down the Dordogne. It’s the obvious thing to do frankly, and it’s hard to think of a finer way to spend a day.
We stopped for a swim in this spot last time we visited the Dordogne, and I was very much looking forward to doing the same again. I’d brought goggles because I was confident that there would plenty of fish to see in this stretch of water, and I wasn’t disappointed. As on our previous visit, I followed a large fish which had barbels around it’s mouth (a Barbel then?) which was also being followed by around a dozen smaller, stripy fish, possibly Perch?
Most of the party opted for solo kayaks, but our friend J-Dawg (who has been burdened, by her daughters, with a whole host of nicknames) was concerned that she would find herself continually going around in circles and getting left behind, so I joined her in a larger canoe. Now, I’m hardly an expert paddler, but I can generally get a boat to travel in something approaching a straight line, ironically using something called a J-stroke, or my inexpert approximation to same. To be honest, the canoe was very comfortable and an excellent choice.
But one result of this arrangement is that I have a lot of photos of the view downriver which feature J-Dawg’s life-jacket and fetching pink bucket-hat in the foreground.
Conspicuous by their absence from my last post – I know, my last epistle was quite some time ago, suffice to say that online teaching is, despite what the gutter press seem to think, pretty all-consuming and involves spending most of the day stuck in front of a screen, so blogging has dropped out of favour as a spare-time activity – anyway, as I was saying, notably missing – notable, that is, to long-suffering followers at least – notably missing from my account of our trip to the Dordogne last summer were the plethora of wildlife photos which usually occupy around nine tenths of most of my posts. Fear not, that’s because I’ve saved them all up for one gargantuan holiday-snap snore-fest, with no people or views at all! (You can’t say you weren’t warned.)
This first photo neatly epitomises one of my favourite things about our trips to France – the sheer abundance and variety of the flora and fauna, well – particularly the insects.
Although there’s a lot of photos here – some might say too many – it’s a tiny sample of the many I took. Whilst my family and friends were floating down the river on rubber rings, or reading their books, or swinging through the trees doing their best Tarzan impressions, I wandered around the local woods and fields, camera in hand. Sorting through the vast assortment of resulting shots, choosing some favourites, and then trying, with varying degrees of success, to identify some of the more exotic species has been a highly enjoyable but fairly lengthy process. Not that I’ve restricted myself to the more exotic species here, I’m almost as happy to be photographing things which are very common at home…
I generally consider my memory to be atrocious, but weirdly, I’m confident that I can remember where each of these photos were taken. This Horse Mint, for example, grows behind the wall which runs alongside the road into the village. Whereas this thistle..
…was growing in a field next to the river, upstream of the campsite, a particularly happy hunting ground.
Every trip seems to bring something new. I didn’t know, for example, that there was such a thing as a Pale Clouded Yellow.
Ordinary, bog-standard Clouded Yellows sometimes appear in Britain as migrants. I saw one near Arnside once, a couple of miles from home, which really confused me at the time, because I knew what it was, but really didn’t expect to see it flying in a field in Cumbria, having only previously spotted them in France.
I don’t think that Cleopatra’s occur in the UK, I’ve certainly never seen them before.
They proved to be quite elusive, so I was quite chuffed to catch this one on my phone, although, with its wings closed, it looks very like a common-or-garden Brimstone. When they open their wings however….
…they’re quite different.
We were a few days later into the summer this trip. It’s amazing what a difference those few days made. Some butterflies have a brief lifespan in their adult phase. On our last trip we saw quite a few Swallowtails and Scarce Swallowtails, as well as numerous Silver-washed Fritillaries. Not this time.
But I did see lots of fritillaries. At the time, I was convinced that there were two different species, but looking at the photos now, it seems to me that they are probably all Knapweed Fritillaries.
I usually saw them in pairs, and often with one of the pair raising the back of its abdomen in what I took to be part of some sort of wooing process.
This little chap was compensation for a long and fruitless chase of a much larger butterfly, which may or may not have been my first, and so far only, sighting of a Camberwell Beauty.
I’d already had an uncommonly good summer for spotting and photographing Common Blues around home, and they were abundant again both in the Dordogne and then, after we moved on, in the Tarn Gorge. Somehow their blue seemed even more vivid in the French sunshine.
If anything, grasshoppers were even more abundant, more elusive, more variable and more difficult to identify than the butterflies.
Some of the larger ones have very striking red or blue wings, sadly only visible in flight.
There are thousands of species of Assassin Bug apparently, of which this may be one.
My first thought was that this was a Carder Bee, but it has no pollen baskets, so now I’m wondering if it’s even a bumblebee at all. I’ve concluded that, not very confident at identifying bees on my home patch, I shan’t even attempt to do so with these French bees.
I will say that this isn’t a bee, but something imitating a bee’s markings. I’m not sure whether it’s a bee-fly or a hoverfly, although I’m inclined to the latter.
I saw a few of these large and strikingly ugly black and orange flies.
As with the bees, I saw a number of wasps, or wasp like creatures, which don’t seem to be in my ‘Complete Mediterranean Wildlife’ guide. There were some very thin waisted black and orange bugs which I think were ichneumon wasps of some kind. But I’m not sure whether the black and white creature below, sharing a flower with a burnet moth, is a wasp or a sawfly…
…with a fritillary. And something similar, but yellow and black…
Last time I took lots of photos of damselflies, dragonflies and demoiselles. Not so much this time, although the demoiselles were still present in large numbers by the river. Here’s a solitary damselfly…
And what I thought was an unusually hairy, stunted and unglamorous dragonfly…
…but which I’m now pretty sure is a species of Robber Fly. Having said all those uncharitable things, I should say I’m actually quite chuffed to have spotted this, if only because I’ve never seen anything quite like it before. That short, stout proboscis is for piercing prey and injecting venom. And the stiff hairs on its face, visible here, are called the mystax, from the Greek mystakos, also the origin of our ‘moustache’, via Latin, Italian and French. Which is the kind of trivia I find very satisfying.
All of which brings me to the last section of my insect photos, the moths.
One of the wildlife highlights of our last trip had been the almost daily sightings of Hummingbird Hawkmoths, This time, the Meadow Clary which they seemed to favour had mostly finished flowering and to begin with I saw far fewer. Then, after my pursuit of the suspected Camberwell Beauty, I wandered into a part of the campsite I hadn’t previously ventured into. Having said there would be no views, here it is…
It was unmown, full of wildflowers and a haven for butterflies. And in one corner, there was lots of Meadow Clary still in bloom, and loads of Hummingbird Hawkmoths too..
I have to confess that I was fascinated by them.
An example, I believe, of convergent evolution, Hummingbird Hawkmoths have evolved in a similar way to hummingbirds in order to occupy a similar ecological niche. Like hummingbirds, they use very rapid wingbeats to hover close to species of tubular flowers and use their long tongues to reach the otherwise inaccessible nectar.
I guess they must land and rest sometimes? But those legs don’t look particularly practical.
Whilst the insects sometimes left me bewildered, the flora is even more diverse and confusing. I think I would have to move to France, massively improve by rusty schoolboy French, buy a comprehensive local field guide, live in the Dordogne for a decade or two, and then I might muster the same semi-confident familiarity that I’ve grasped with the plants around home.
A couple of very distinctive species did stand out however…
This one, it turns out, is no more at home in the region than me, being native to North America.
I was struck by the way the seedpods form in the nodes, where the stems branched, which seems unusual.
Don’t be fooled by the presence of the word ‘apple’ in its name, because apparently the whole plant is poisonous.
They were growing in amongst the sunflowers and where the height of the sunflowers had forced them, they had grown to around two metres high.
Although I think this is Field Eryngo, I actually saw it, not in the fields, but growing in clearings in the woods. It looks like a thistle but is actually related to our own Sea Holly.
Unfortunately, I have no idea what this plant is, with its striking red stems, tiny white flowers and colourful berries.
It was growing by the cycle path at the edge of the village, and I suppose might have been introduced.
These four photos are all, I think, of the same lizard, which was basking on the wall one morning when I walked past on the way to the bakery and still in the same spot when I came back.
This last is on the wall of the Chateau we visited, so definitely a different lizard!
And finally, this toad had apparently been our lodger and was revealed as such only when we took the tent down in preparation to move on the Tarn Gorge.
Long-suffering readers of this blog may remember that in 2018 we holidayed in the Dordogne and Tarn valleys in France with some old friends. This summer, we repeated the trip. Once again, the whole thing was meticulously planned and booked by The Shandy Sherpa, whose attention to detail is staggering. For example: scoping all of the Aires on the drive down, in advance, using Google Maps to see whether they had large enough parking spaces for cars towing trailer-tents. As they say, the devil is in the detail, and Andy’s careful planning ensured that the whole trip went smoothly in potentially trying circumstances. Awesome.
This trip is a very laidback affair with certain key elements – a morning walk to the bakers; plenty of reading; meals together, often revolving around a barbecue; games of Kubb and Mölkky, usually continuing when darkness made accurate throwing next to impossible; lots of swimming, canoeing and floating down the river on inflatable rings; and short, steep walks up to the limestone cliffs above the campsite.
TBF had a potentially nasty fall in one of the caves, but, sensibly, used Little S to break her fall. Fortunately, neither were hurt badly, just somewhat shaken.
We’d brought three different hammocks with us, which all got a lot of use. They all belong to TBH, presents I’ve bought her over the years. Why does she need three? Because that way, there’s at least a chance that the kids will leave her in peace in one of them, whilst they argue over the remaining two. We probably need another one!
Upstream of the campsite, there’s an excellent swimming hole; downstream there’s a bridge over another deep spot – perfect for jumping in. Trips, with or without inflatables, between either of those pools and the one by the campsite were a significant feature of the trip. Of course, we could and did do the whole trip from the upstream pool to the downstream bridge, but the Céou is surprisingly cold, so that trip was a bit long for comfort.
GR64, one of the amazing network of long-distance paths in France, passes close to the campsite. On a couple of occasions when the others were floating downstream, I took off for an out and back wander along the route. It was pleasant woodland walking, with occasional tantalising views of the Dordogne valley…
We did occasionally stray a little further afield, including a trip out to this magnificent castle. It had drawbridges, towers, winding staircases, caves below, lizards on the walls and even a bat hanging from the ceiling in one of the rooms.
I didn’t see the montgolfières as often this trip as I did last time, but I did frequently hear them flying overhead early in the mornings whilst I was still tucked up in bed. This photo shows the beginning of an afternoon flight which was very dramatic since the balloons flew very low and continually flirted with a collision with a tree, without ever quite hitting one.
We have New Neighbours. Well, not that new – they moved in, most of them at least, last winter, just before the lockdown started. Happily, our New Neighbours are also Old Friends, G and BB and their kids, who have appeared on this blog from time to time. It has been a hard year for them. Aside from the stress of moving house, getting lots of work done on the house, the lockdown etc – during which one member of the family was ‘stranded’ at her Grandparents (and spoiled rotten, no doubt), they’ve had the virus, twice in some cases, and had to postpone their wedding.
Sitting around a blazing fire in one of our respective gardens, with our neighbours and another family from across the road, has often been the sum total of our social life this year. And thank goodness we’ve had that at least.
Anyway, in the summer, they modified their holiday plans and booked a long weekend at Silver Sapling, the local Girl Guide campsite, which is about half a mile from home (G is on the management committee) and invited us to join them.
It probably sounds like a crazy idea, to camp just down the road from home, but, well, it was a fantastic weekend. The weather was scorching. Our neighbours had bought a paddling pool especially and sitting in the freezing water and chinwagging seemed to keep the teenage faction happy for hours on end, even in the evenings when it turned very cool. I remember doing a fair bit of reading, some walks with TBH, and a lot of nattering.
Somebody had been hacking back the brambles and there were piles of dried briars heaped up in various places around the site. BB and I gathered them all up – prickly work – and then lit them, they took a little while to catch, but then flared up into a towering conflagration which was highly entertaining, if a little alarming.
My mum and dad spent a week at Thurnham Hall, on the other side of Lancaster. Very generously, they booked us a few nights there too. Little did we realise then that it would be the last time we would see them this year.
How nice then, to get to spend some time together. Most days we managed a bit of a walk, aiming for somewhere without contours, by the Lune Estuary near Glasson, across the Lots at home, or along the prom at Morecambe for example.
We did embark on one overly ambitious walk, from Thurnham Hall to Wallings Ice-Cream Parlour on the other side of Cockerham. The long-grass in the fields and the surprisingly sodden tracks which followed were energy sapping for all concerned. Fortunately, once we’d sampled the ice-creams, we arranged a taxi for a couple of drivers to collect our cars and then return for the rest of the party.
We played ‘Ticket to Ride’ and no doubt other games, and ate out a few times, now that ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ was in full swing. After a curry in Lancaster I had a brainwave about walking back to Thurnham Hall, basing my intended route on a hazy memory of the map. It was much further than I had thought, and it was pitch black by the time I reached Galgate. Fortunately, TBH was happy to come out and pick me up.
Now, though we won’t see them over Christmas as we usually would, with the vaccines being rolled out, we have the real prospect of safely meeting with my mum and dad again to look forward to. Bring it on!
Back in the summer, when the sun was shining, and the rules changed (how many times have they changed since then?), so that we were allowed to meet five friends outdoors, all B seemed to want to do was meet his school friends in Heysham and swim with them in the Bay. Personally, I wouldn’t choose to swim in the Bay, and particularly not right next to a Nuclear Power Plant, but B is old enough and daft enough to make his own choices these days, and my own squeamishness is probably not well-founded.
Since public transport was still frowned upon, I found myself with time to kill between dropping him off and meeting him for the return journey.
I first visited St. Peter’s church in Heysham village, the picturesque part of Heysham, hoping to look inside and see the Viking hog’s-back graves there, but that will have to wait, since the church was locked up.
From Heysham headland, I drove a short hop to visit Heysham Moss. It’s a Wildlife Trust reserve which has been on my radar for a while. Last time I came looking for it, I took a wrong turn, but, fortuitously, stumbled upon Middleton Nature Reserve. This time I had satnav and a postcode. Sadly, whilst these got me to the right neck of the woods, I couldn’t see the entrance – it’s just away from the road on a right-of-way – although I was parked really close to it. I spent a frustrating half-an-hour venturing along narrow, slippery, nettle-fringed paths, which I presume are the preserve of local kids and/or dog-walkers, but none of which got me into the reserve. Having returned to the car and decided to ‘have one more go’, I quickly found the entrance. I’m glad I tried again.
The reserve is very wet in places, as the name Moss implies, but it also has a large area of raised peat, quite rare I think in lowland areas.
There were lots of butterflies and dragonflies about, not all of them very cooperative when I wanted to take photos. Also, a few Silvery Y Moths, a day-flying summer immigrant.
I had great fun taking numerous photos of what I now think is a male Ichneumon extensorius. Apparently, this is a dimorphic species, in that the male and the female are very different. Ichneumon wasps are parasites, laying their eggs in the bodies of moth and butterfly caterpillars. But the adults eat nectar, which fits with the behaviour of this male, which was feasting on the angelica and seemed quite oblivious of my attention.
I just about had time for a circuit of the reserve – I shall definitely be back for another look.
The Wrekin stands alone, rising imposingly out of nothing, giving amazing views over a seemingly vast area. It was great to be there with Andy, who reeled off the names of all of the distant hills we could see, an enviable party trick, which he seems to be able to perform almost regardless of location.
This was the last hurrah of our short trip to Shropshire and a fitting end to a brilliant long-weekend.
Back in July, when we were still allowed to travel, stay overnight, and meet friends, and the sun still remembered how to shine, we had a wander into the very quaint Shropshire village of Much Wenlock.
I’d never been there before, but felt like it was a place I’d been waiting to visit for some time, although I’ve no idea why – I certainly didn’t know it would be this lovely.
Wenlock’s Priory was closed due to COVID restrictions; from what little we could see, it looked well worth a visit. We shall have to go back – which is just dandy as far as I’m concerned.