Falling for Foulshaw Figwort

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A juvenile Great Tit and a Blue Tit share a moment.

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Male Scorpion Fly – rubbish picture, but you can see the appendage which earns its name.

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Lots of these at Foulshaw at the moment, under the trees at the edge of the reserve.

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Meadow Vetchling, perhaps?

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Reading John Wright has made me think about the ways in which insects and fungi are often adapted to exploit particular plants. I saw wasps feeding on Figwort a few times on this visit. A Figwort flower and the head of a wasp seem to be a perfect fit.

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The dark wings here make me think that this could be a Cuckoo Bumblebee, on a thistle obviously, Marsh Thistle probably.

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Male Reed Bunting – seems almost obligatory now.

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After the diverse, but elusive, moths and butterflies of my last visit, this time these small pale moths were to be seen all around the boardwalks in the more open, heathland areas. It’s a ‘wave’. But there are lots of those to choose from: Common Wave, White Wave, Small White Wave, Cream Wave, Small Cream Wave, Silky Wave, Grass Wave – and that’s just the ones which are pale with brownish stripes. Some of these species live in woodland, some have marginal black dots on their wings, or more prominent dark spots in the centre of their hind-wings, or on both wings, none seemed to fit the bill perfectly, but I’m going to tentatively plump for Common Wave, as it’s the best fit as far as I can tell.

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An Alderfly. Perhaps.

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Another Cuckoo Bumblebee? On Cross-leaved Heath.

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I spoke to somebody, who told me they had spoken to somebody else earlier, who had photographed six Adders that day at the reserve, one of them basking on a boardwalk. I didn’t see any snakes at all, but I did spot this Common Lizard.

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The ‘cotton’ from the Bog Cotton has completely coated some areas.

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Bog Asphodel.

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Bog Myrtle catkins.

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Green Lacewing. There are 18 British species and this is one of those, I’m fairly sure.

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Foxglove seed-heads. Handsome aren’t they.

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It’s been interesting to visit three weeks running and see how things have progressed. The Meadowsweet is flowering now. Here’s some with Tufted Vetch…

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I’m sure that I’ve read somewhere that blue and white flowers in a garden together traditionally signify The Virgin Mary, but I can’t remember where I read that, so I may be wrong. It is, however, the kind of useless detail which I tend to remember, unlike, for instance, important things like people’s names.

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Soft Rush.

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See: wasp, Figwort – made for each other. Britain has nine species of Social Wasp, but I’m going to tentatively identify this as a Tree Wasp – Dolichovespula sylvestris.

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I’m quite chuffed with this photo, even though it’s clearly rubbish. I’ve been seeing these birds at Foulshaw and listening to their chatter, and thinking that they were Linnets, but not being sure. I’ve taken lots of photos, but only ever getting silhouettes, which looked right, but hardly proved conclusive. This one is only a slight improvement, but does show a bit of red and confirms that they are Linnets after all.

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A Saint John’s-wort. There are several different Saint John’s-worts. If I’d taken clear photos of the leaves and the stem, then maybe, just maybe, I would know which this was. But I didn’t; so I don’t.

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Blue Tit.

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Common Valerian.

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Meadowsweet. A powerful analgesic apparently.

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Figwort and Bindweed.

Figwort grows at Lambert’s Meadow and also in Middlebarrow Wood and probably in lots of other places locally, but it’s not a very inspiring plant where I’ve seen it. At Foulshaw, however, it really seems to thrive – it’s always tall, but here it has huge thick stems and masses of flowers and is generally more impressive and imposing than it is elsewhere that I’ve seen it.

Having been impressed, I decided to look Figwort up in ‘Hatfield’s Herbal’. Apparently Figwort, like Meadowsweet, had a widespread reputation as a painkiller. Mothers used it to quiet teething children. It was renowned as a treatment for piles, once known as ‘figs’ and hence the name. And it was also known as a treatment for Scrofula, now called Glandular Tuberculosis, but once called The King’s Evil, because the touch of a monarch was supposed to cure the disease. Figwort was apparently regarded as the next best thing.

Now this put me in mind of John Graunt and his ground-breaking 1663 book Natural and Political Observations Made upon the Bills of Mortality, which I like to use when I’m teaching Statistics. Graunt carried out an analysis of the causes of death recorded in London Parishes over several years.

I don’t particularly enjoy teaching Statistics, but lists like the one above never fail to get students engaged. Both the figures and the causes of death are eye-opening. Simply being a child (a Chrisome is a child less than one month old) is the most common cause of death. ‘Kild by feveral accidents’, “Bit with a mad dogge’ and ‘Suddenly’ usually illicit comment, as does the fact that 454 people have died by ‘Teeth’, 28 by “Wormes’, 114 by ‘Surfet’ (which, yes, is eating too much) and 6 by ‘Murtherd’. Another similar page has ‘Wolfe’ as a cause of death. What are we to make of ‘Rising of the Lights’ or ‘Plannet’ or indeed ‘King’s Evil’? You can find suggestions on this fascinating website. Timpany, disappointingly, is not death by Kettle Drum.

Falling for Foulshaw Figwort

Historia Normannis at Lancaster Castle

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Historia Normannis, the twelfth century reenactment group, came to Lancaster Castle for the easter Weekend and we decided to go and have a look see.

We arrived just in time for a potted history of Henry II and his sons. It was necessarily brief, with no mention, for example, of Thomas Becket or of John’s treatment of his nephew Arthur. Still, it gave an entertaining picture of the infighting and back-stabbing ways of the Plantagenet Kings and their Barons. (And of Philip II of France come to that).

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After that little history lesson, we strolled the short distance into the city centre…

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…where the usual Saturday market was in full swing.

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Including musical entertainment…

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There were plenty of stalls serving food, and after making various choices, we plonked ourselves on the steps of the former Town Hall (built 1781-1783), now the City Museum (free and well worth a look).

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Back to the castle then for an exposition on how to dress a twelfth century knight in his armour.

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…which seems to be quite a long-winded affair!

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And which ended with a demonstration of combat in which, it seemed at least, not much quarter was given.

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The stalls on period food, and leather-working…

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…herbs and medicines…

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Were fascinating, but for some reason the boys seemed particularly drawn to the area where the replica weapons, shields and armour were on display…

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The next display was a tournament…

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…in which it once again seemed to me that the combatants were giving each other pretty hefty whacks.

Time to head home, but not before making one more stop at our favourite stall…

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B and his friend E. Captions anyone?

Historia Normannis at Lancaster Castle

Barrow Dock Museum

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We’ve been intending to check out the Dock Museum in Barrow for quite some time and, last week, finally got around to it.

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It’s a small museum, but it has model boats, which are pretty irresistible,

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…and The Furness Hoard, found locally in 2011 and including Viking, Saxon and Arab coins plus fragments of arm-rings and bracelets, not dissimilar in fact from The Silverdale Hoard.

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Having examined the area’s Viking treasures, you may want to dress the part…

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There are also axe-heads and arrowheads of Langdale stone which were apparently brought to the Barrow area for finishing and polishing.

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A big surprise for me, and a great discovery, was this furniture by the late Tim Stead.

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I’ve not been aware of his work before, but shall be looking out for it in the future. He was one of the artists who built the Millennium Clock, now housed by the National Museum of Scotland, and definitely added to my ‘too see’ list.

Whilst the boys hared around the playground in the museum grounds, I took a quick look at the docks themselves.

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Our trip to the museum was intended to be a precursor to a trip to the Wildlife Trust reserve at the southern end of Walney Island, somewhere I’ve long wanted to visit, much like Foulney Island in fact. But, having had my sutures removed early that morning, I now discovered that everything was not quite going to plan, and we spent the next three hours, or thereabouts, sitting around in A&E at Barrow Infirmary waiting to see what was to be done. Not much, it eventually transpired. Patience is the order of the day apparently. Ho-hum.

Barrow Dock Museum

Warton Crag Hill Fort

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Another Heritage Open Day, and another guided walk organised by Morecambe Bay Partnership. I hadn’t booked this one, but having enjoyed the previous day’s outing on and around Piel Island, and having always been intrigued by the presence of a hill-fort practically on our doorstep on Warton Crag, decided that it would be a shame to miss this opportunity to find out more.

Apparently, until relatively recently, the ruins on the crag were obvious on even quite impressive, but….

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….since most of the crag came into public ownership as nature reserves, it has become heavily wooded, and I’ve never been able to find any tangible sign of former occupation. The walk, and the talks which accompanied it, were fascinating. Finding out about this artist’s impression of what the Crag may have looked like…

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…was worth the entrance fee alone. (Not that there was an entrance fee.) The painting is by John Hodgson, and I’d love to have a framed print of it on my wall.

A group from an archaeology evening class in Lancaster have been carrying out what has clearly been a pain-staking and very thorough survey of the remains on the hill. With the help of one member of the class we toured the area and looked for some of those ruins. 

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The walls are extremely difficult to spot, even when you are almost standing on top of them. Apparently, they are a bit easier to find in the winter months when some of the undergrowth dies back. We saw some photos taken after an area of trees had been felled and one section of wall there was quite clear and easy to see.

On our trip, this…

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…was about the clearest view we had. The wall was a bit more obvious than the photo suggests, but it would still have been very easy to walk past it without noticing.

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Bright and sunny like the previous day, it was also reasonably warm, so that bees and butterflies were out and about.

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Warton Crag Hill Fort

Jersey – The Channel Island Way I

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I’d arrived in Jersey mid-afternoon the day before to louring skies, having departed from a very sunny Manchester just over an hour before. (Sunny Manchester, cloudy Jersey – surely some mistake?) I’d had a bit of a look around St. Helier, been treated to a sumptuous evening meal at our hotel and had met, and been royally entertained by two masters of the anecdote, blue badge guide Arthur Lamy and fellow blogger Alan Sloman. All we needed now was a change in the weather so that we could see the coastal path at it’s best and have the light for some decent photos. And fortunately that’s exactly what happened.

Our first walk quickly brought us to a headland from where we could see beautiful coastline, azure seas, the French coast and oodles of history…

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The boulders in the foreground are Le Dolmen du Couperon. A late Neolithic gallery grave built around 5000 years ago….

I could go on, but:

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If you want to read the small print, click on the photo to see a larger version on flickr. (The same applies to all of the pictures in recent posts – technical wizardry which I picked up after a not very technical ‘technical discussion’ with my friend the Shandy Sherpa.)

The building behind is a Victorian public convenience, or in the local patios – Jèrriais – known as a kharzi….

Alternatively…

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The bit about Jèrriais is true though – it is a Jersey patois, although apparently not many people speak it today.

There didn’t seem to be much, well anything really, that Arthur didn’t know about Jersey, but if you were walking the route without a guide, the historic sites are well supplied with information boards and it’s all in Arthur’s excellent guidebook too. You wouldn’t get the more recent gossip however, or be introduced to Arthur’s friends and relations who seemed to be everywhere (Jersey is a small place after all), but were particularly thick on the ground here in the parish of St. Martin, Arthur’s home patch.

It was apparent why this headland would be chosen to site a battery since it has commanding views of the Normandy coast, just 14 miles away, and the reefs and low islands in the intervening straits.

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Which of course, for the walker, makes it an ideal place to pause for a gander.

On the next section of the walk, on minor roads, the verges were decorated with these….

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..cyclamen. I was confused at first by the lack of leaves and because I thought that cyclamen were spring flowering, but apparently cyclamen are hysteranthous, which means that the leaves appear after the flowers, and different species of cyclamen can be found flowering all through the year. Cyclamen are not native to Britain, or to the Channel Isles, but they have naturalised and are clearly thriving here. The English name, which I didn’t know, is sowbread, because pigs like to eat the tubers.

Many of the fields we walked past had produced their crop of Jersey Royals earlier in the year and were now planted with barley, but full of wildflowers too.

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As Alan pointed out, there was a distinctive earthy tang in the air which instantly brought to mind fresh new season potatoes – maybe it’s something in the sandy Jersey soil.

At…

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…we passed the first of numerous round towers we would see during our stay.

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The white paint is there to provide a landmark for seafarers.

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Looking back to Fliquet.

Over coffees and tea at the cafe at St. Catherine’s, Arthur told us the history of the breakwater here – part of an abortive attempt to build a huge harbour here, ostensibly for the fishing fleet, but actually intended for the British Navy to deter French aggression. Topically, Alan recalled working on the construction of a similarly over-large ‘fishing’ harbour in Libya.

Our route then shadowed the coast on the sea wall…

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The house on the right was a hospital built to treat the many men, and their families, who worked on the breakwater. I think. Like the rest my attempts to recall Jersey history – if it’s accurate then the credit is entirely Arthur’s, and if it’s not then the fault lies solely with my dodgy memory. In my defence – there was an awful lot of history to soak up!

I’m going to stop here, despite the fact that I haven’t even managed to get Alan and myself to our (delectable) lunch on our first day’s walking. More to follow….

Jersey – The Channel Island Way I