A Different World.

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Peacock Butterfly on Hemp Agrimony.

When I finished my last post by musing about the origins of the name of the Scotch Argus butterfly and a possible link to the mythical giant Argus, I didn’t anticipate that the first photo in the subsequent post would be of a Peacock, whose Latin name recalls the same story. The Peacock was known at one time as the Peacock’s Tail. It’s Latin name is Inachus Io, recalling the Greek nymph Io and her father (variously a King, a Giant or a River God depending on which version you read). I’ve referred to this myth before, but here’s a slightly different version taken from Robert Graves ‘The Greek Myths, Volume One’:

“Io, daughter of the River-god Inachus, was a priestess of Argive Hera. Zeus, over whom Iynx, daughter of Pan and Echo, had cast a spell, fell in love with Io, and when Hera charged him with infidelity and turned Iynx into a wryneck as punishment, lied: ‘I have never touched Io.’ He then turned her into a white cow, which Hera claimed as hers and handed over for safe keeping to Argus Panoptes, ordering him: ‘Tether this beast secretly to an olive-tree at Nemea.’ But Zeus sent Hermes to fetch her back, and himself led the way to Nemea – or, some say, to Mycenae – dressed in woodpecker disguise. Hermes, though the cleverest of thieves, knew he could not steal Io without being detected by one of Argus’s hundred eyes; he therefore charmed him asleep by playing the flute, crushed him with a boulder, cut off his head and released Io. Hera, having placed Argus’s eyes in the tail of a peacock, as a constant reminder of his foul murder, set a gadfly to sting Io and chase her all over the world.”

Trickery, lust, infidelity, duplicity, jealousy, deceit, murder, revenge – the Greek Gods seem all too human in this tale, as in many others.

Here’s Hermes slaying Argus, from an Athenian vase now held in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Argus seems quite awake in this pictorial version of the story. In some tellings, Io is irresistible even after her metamorphosis into bovine form, which is hard to imagine; her portrayal on this ancient pot doesn’t really help in that regard.

Panoptes, incidentally, means ‘all-seeing’, an attribute to which I can definitely not lay claim…

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Skullcap.

Skullcap is apparently a very common plant, but this is the first time I can recall spying it in flower. I found it in the increasingly wet meadow at the end of Hawes Water.

“Skullcap, Scutelleria galericulata, is a delicate species of fens and banks of ponds, canals and slow rivers, locally common throughout much of Britain. The plant’s English and Latin names both derive from the shape of the blue flowers, which reminded early botanists of the leather helmet or galerum worn by Roman soldiers.”

from Flora Britannica by Richard Mabey.

“Sufferers from nervous disorders might be advised to take skullcap in tablet form, for the plant produces a volatile oil, called scutellarin, which is one of the best treatments for such afflictions ever discovered. The plant is dried, powdered and infused in boiling water to make a strong tonic, which calms spasms and hysteria, and relieves epilepsy and St Vitus’s dance. However, care must be taken: it is a powerful drug, and an overdose might induce the very symptoms which, at correct dosages, it alleviates.”

from Reader’s Digest Field Guide to the Wild Flowers of Britain.

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I wondered whether the colours of Hemp Agrimony, often somewhat washed out and insipid in my photos, might show to better effect in shade: I think it worked?

I’ve certainly had a bumper year for spotting Common Lizards. The two I met basking in their usual spot, on the edging along the boardwalk by Hawes Water, were, once again, quite different from each other in their markings and colour…

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I particularly admired the go faster stripes on this specimen…

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I wondered whether the variation in colouring might reflect the gender of the lizards and have since discovered that you can sex lizards this way, but need to see their undersides in order to do so. I suspect that I’m never going to be quick enough to get my mitts on them to find out. Never mind, I’m happy just to see them.

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Hawes Water.

I presume that these alien monstrosities…

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…are the early stages, or small examples, of Robin’s Pincushion Gall, or are something similar. They’re nothing like as hairy as Pincushion Galls usually are though, and those generally develop on the stems. You can perhaps tell from the picture that each outlandish, starfish-like protuberance is mirrored on the reverse of the leaf. Quite astonishing, even before you know about the asexual lifestyle of the wasps which develop within.

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A male Small White, I think.

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Another Bull in a field with a footpath, in fact he was walking along the path, but I was turning off in another direction and, anyway, he didn’t seem remotely interested in me.

This walk was memorable for quite an abundance and variety of butterflies. Later on, I met a number of Lepidopterists, one of whom asked me if I’d seen any Brown Hairstreaks, which is what they were on the look-out for. I hadn’t. Not that I would have recognised one if I had. I did see lots of Brimstones though…

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Brimstone on Betony.

They seemed to be patronising the purple flowers by preference, which shows off their yellow to good effect. Is it vanity, do you think?

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Bumblebee on Knapweed.

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Painted Lady.

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Red Admiral.

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Another Peacock’s-tail.

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Eyebright.

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Scarlet Pimpernel.

Scarlet Pimpernel is tiny, but not really elusive at all, unlike the character named after the flower, scourge of the French Revolutionaries. Local names for the flower included ‘change-of-the-weather’, ‘poor man’s weatherglass’ and ‘shepherd’s sundial’, due to its habit of closing whenever the skies are dull and for large parts of the day, a property, it must be said, which it shares with many other flowers.

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The mystery plant – looking increasingly like some sort of Scabious, as Simon suggested.

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Grasshopper.

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I think this might be Orpine, or Sedum telephium, the same Sedum, or Ice Plant which we grow in our gardens.

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Speckled Wood.

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A Harvestman. Definitely not a spider or a daddy-longlegs.

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I was a bit surprised to see the orange berries on the Lily-of-the-valley; I’ve never seen them before. Apparently, they rarely develop, with the plant usually spreading by sending up new shoots.

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Female Common Darter.

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Another Brimstone.

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Male Common Darter.

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A Different World.

Castle Acre

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More Norfolk adventures, to wit Castle bagging, a favourite pastime of ours. The small village of Castle Acre still has some of its village walls, and is flanked by the remnants of a castle and the more substantial remains of an abbey.

Although there’s not all that much of the castle left to see – no winding staircases to clamber, no battlements to charge around – even what remains of the huge moat and earthworks are very evocative. What’s more, on an afternoon which had, slightly unexpectedly, turned sunny and warm, the castle grounds, a haven for wildflowers – were full of butterflies and bees; a great place to explore.

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Whilst the kids were running around being knights of old (or somesuch) I was revelling in the abundance and variety of the flowers on offer – particularly those which I haven’t encountered close to home.

I think that this,…

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…which was ubiquitous, is Common Calamint.

This enormous plant…

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…is a Mullein. We do see Mulleins at home, we’ve even had them appear as ‘weeds’ in our garden, but I’m pretty sure that this particular specimen is a Hoary Mullein which is an East Anglian speciality.

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The castle itself is very interesting (and free to boot). It was built by William de Warenne a Norman baron who fought alongside William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings and subsequently became a very wealthy landowner with properties across thirteen counties.

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It’s all built, perhaps not surprisingly, of the local flint.

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The kids charged around. TBH found a spot out of the wind to sun herself, and naturally I took photos.

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A mallow.

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A (large) white on Calamint.

The butterflies led me a very merry dance. There were lots about – chiefly Whites, often in groups of two or three, but also Meadow Browns and some Small Blues. To my great delight, I also spotted a Hummingbird Hawkmoth, only the second one I’ve ever seen, but I wasn’t anywhere near like fast enough to catch it’s darting flight on camera.

Whilst I was pursuing a trio of amorous Whites, I encountered this long-legged beastie…

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…which I’m pretty sure is not a spider, but rather a Harvestmen (Harvestman?).

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Castle Acre village.

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Meadow Brown.

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I could have happily stayed at the castle photographing plants and insects etc, but we had other fish to fry. We had a wander through the village, through the Bailey Gate…

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…to the church of St. James the Great….

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…(wasn’t it enough that he was a Saint, doesn’t that imply that he was Great? Or was there another St. James…St James the Slightly Cheesy?)

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The Church of St. James.

A bit of internet research reveals that I should have ventured further in – the pulpit on the right has some paintings of saints which I wish now I’d taken a closer look at.

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Impressive medieval font cover.

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Ornately armoured stained-glass knight.

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In this huge Norfolk church I was transported back to the area close to home by this painted panel. I’ve seen very similar, but much smaller, panels in modest Furness churches. (See them here and here.) Those were both dedicated to Queen Anne, but this one, dated 1748, is too late for her: it’s from the reign of George II – which explains the G II above the Lion’s crown.

On to the Priory next…

Castle Acre

Another Interlude

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“I like work: it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours.”

Jerome K. Jerome

Another instance of the boys finding something fascinating in the garden and fetching me and my camera to enjoy it.

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Watching this spider deftly spin this wasp, well half of a wasp I think, and neatly wrap it in silk was really something.

Here’s one which was already hanging in the larder to season….

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Of course, once one thing has attracted my attention and has me gleefully snapping away, I’m inclined to start to look to see what else I can find. There were lots of hoverflies about, but I was more interested in this harvestman….

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…mainly because, until quite recently, I didn’t know that they existed. Not a spider, but related, it doesn’t produce silk, so can’t spin a web, nor does it have fangs, but it catches small prey using hooks on its long legs.

This forest bug, photographed on a different day, had a lucky escape – I was pruning a hazel which grows a good deal faster than the beech hedge it has invaded and so can often look a bit like a straggly cuckoo-in-the-nest when I spotted this bug on the underside of a leaf, just as I was about to shove it into the shredder.

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Another Interlude