Explorer and Independent Biologist

Monday, 31 January 2011

Imbolc, Askam and Badger

Imbolc is the festival that falls half-way between the Winter Solstice (Yule) and the Spring Equinox (Ostara). Imbolc has existed for centuries until it was renamed Candlemas by the Christians. Traditionally it is celebrated on 1-2 February but, as usual with these festivals, nobody minds if the celebrations are extended a few days on either side.

Imbolc is not Spring, but it may be the herald of Spring. We may expect to see the first catkins dangling in thin sunshine, and the first snowdrops in bloom. 

Above all, it marks a noticeable lengthening of the daylight, the time when thoughts turn to cleaning agricultural tools, sewing early seeds and checking if the pregnant ewes are safely through the worst of winter.

This year I was honoured to have my Australian 
friend and fellow blogger Badger*
(who presently lives in Vienna)
visit me in Maalie Court, Askam-in-Furness,
to share the Imbolc Festivities.

One of our Imbolc celebratory suppers.
Badger is speechless with amazement that an Englishman
can cook such an appetising looking pike pie

The foreshore of Askam-in-Furness is dominated by
salt marsh, where boats are hauled up 
into the creeks for the winter;
Or simply left to die.

Badger takes a stroll around the salt-marsh...

 ...and takes some 'arty-farty' pictures
of decaying boats

 Badger steers us into the Queens Arms pub
for an Imbolc pint of Cumbria Ale.
Or was it two?

I find the first Snowdrops of the year in to time
to mark the Festival of Imbolc

A Very Happy Imbolc
to all my Readers
You may light any candle stubs left over from Yuletide 
to keep the Ghosties away

*You may discover more about Badger and his blog here

Friday, 21 January 2011

The Piel Triangle

The stretch of water between Walney Island and the Furness Peninsula of the Cumbria Mainland is subject to fast-flowing tidal currents as the huge volume of water from Morecambe Bay surges through it during the flood and ebb tides. There is one particular area at the mouth of the channel, known as the Piel Triangle, where the currents and tide rips can be particularly ferocious during the highest tides and is referred to by some locals as the Devil's Cauldron.

Morecambe bay and the Furness Peninsula showing the location of the 
Piel Triangle at the mouth of the Walney Channel

The dreaded Piel Triangle lies at the mouth of the Walney Channel 
and encloses the water between three islands. 

 Piel Island from Foulney Island. 
The channel looks benign enough at low tide. 
Piel Castle (at the left end) was built in 1212 when King John allowed 
the monks to store provisions there (including gunpowder, it is said).

Roa Island from Foulney Island. 
The lifeboat station is testimony to the 
reputation of the Piel Triangle. 
Coastguard cottages catch the afternoon winter sunlight. 

During a fine settled (though cold) period of weather I
was tempted to paddle out into the Piel Triangle in my FeelFree Nomad Kayak 
and pit my skills against whatever the dreaded Cauldron could throw at me.

Ready to launch from the slipway on Roa Island

Venturing out into the centre of the Piel Triangle, 
the sea seems calm enough during slack water at high tide.

Nudging closer to a channel marker buoy, 
with Piel Castle in the background, 
the ebb flow started almost without warning.
I found myself having to paddle vigorously to make small headway

Eventually I found refuge in the stiller backwater 
towards the old coastguard station 
and coastguard cottages on Roa island

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Vaga Luna - Lovely Moon

Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto and moon
Illmitz, Burgenland
At the Summer Solstice 2010

Click on the arrow to hear Cecilia Bartoli singing Vaga Luna by Bellini

Vaga luna, che inargenti
queste rive e questi fiori
ed inspiri agli elementi
il linguaggio dell'amor;
testimonio or sei tu sola
del mio fervido desir,
ed a lei che m'innamora
conta i palpiti e i sospir.
Lovely moon, you who shed silver light
On these shores and on these flowers
And breathe the language
Of love to the elements,
You are now the sole witness
Of my ardent longing,
And can recount my throbs and sighs
To her who fills me with love.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Mereside Chronicle

A tribute to Charles F Tunnicliffe (1901 - 1979)

When I was a very small Maalie, my sister gave me a book that had a life-changing influence on me: Mereside Chronicle by C F Tunnicliffe, naturalist and artist. His book records his observations and sketches through the year at various meres and water bodies around his home near Macclesfield, Cheshire.

Even at the tender age at which I read the book, its impact was to impress on me the discipline of making regular observations, and recording them. The book was published in 1948 and therefore the pictures show scenes as they existed at least 63 years ago. My aim on this rather misty-murky New Year's Eve was to try to locate and photograph some of the scenes depicted by Tunnicliffe.

Capesthorne Pools 
Capethorne Pools are old fish ponds associated with Capesthorne Hall

There can be no doubt about which tree Tunnicliffe was depicting in his drawing (above): although the tree has grown thicker in the ensuing 65 years, the individual branches can be recognised.

The arches of the bridge across these old fish ponds appear through the fog

My sister Jill sits on the parapet of the bridge 
once again holding the book she gave me so many years ago

 Redesmere is a reservoir that was clearly one of Tunnicliffe's favourite places. Unfortunately the foggy whether did not permit some of the scenic views but nevertheless some features were clearly recognisable.

The road has been widened and a car park constructed, but the Henbury Road leading down to Redesmere 
can be recognised from Tunnicliffe's drawing

Despite the fog concealing the mere, Tunnicliffe's white railings remain.
However the un-eroded state of the concrete posts 
suggest the fence has been replaced

 Further along we find an old dilapidated, eroded  section of fence 
which no doubt dates back to Tunnicliffe's era

 Gawsworth Pools
The Gawsworth Pools are old fish ponds associated with Gawsworth Hall. With the church and buildings still present, it was easy to relocate the scenes of Tunnicliffe's sketches
 The growth of vegetation around the church has changed, but the view is clear

 At the Upper Pool the sign has changed and the square building has an extension

North Rode Pool
 North Rode Pool seems to have changed very little since Tunnicliffe's day.
The outlet shaft and white house at the far end of the pool are still present

 To find out more about the life and work of this remarkable birdwatcher and artist, 
you can visit the website of the Charles Tunnicliffe Society