Friday, 15 February 2019

Whale Watching on the River Severn

By late morning, the fog had burnt off and it was a beautiful day, so I wrangled the dog into the car and set off for Aust in the hopes of visiting the church there. 

Many churches on the flood plain of the River Severn/Bristol channel are built on what were once islands of higher ground, jutting out of marshland. The Ancient Chapelry of St John is one.  

When I saw the iron gates, my heart sank but they weren't locked, hooray! 

The church door, however, wouldn't budge and there was no notice indicating where a key might be held.

So we haunted the churchyard for a bit.

There was a gravestone which appeared to have been inscribed in moss. Maybe not quite as precisely as the one I saw at Tetbury some years ago, but intriguing all the same.
Feeling disconsolate, we decided to have a bit of wander and headed for Oldbury-on-Severn.

Another commanding church - St Arilda's - on its man-made tump atop a hill. But we weren't visiting it today.

Instead we walked out to the mouth of Oldbury Pill ... 
... and headed south-west along the top of the sheep-trodden flood defences ...

... towards the old Severn Bridge, all misty in the distance. 

Pillhead Gout

Our destination was Whale Wharf, at the point where Littleton Pill flows into the Severn and Cowhill Warth - this beautiful stretch of saltmarsh that is twice daily covered by the tide - becomes Littleton Warth. 

Whale Wharf is so called because, as Oldbury fisherman Hector Knapp wrote in January 1885, 'thear was a Whal cum ashore at Littleton Pill and bid thear a fortnight. He was sixty eaight feet long. His mouth was twelve feet.  
The queen claim it at last, and sould it for forty pound. Thear supposed to be forty thousen pepeal to se it from all parts of the country and from far and near'.   

I was going to have to make do with pretending that the substantial pieces of driftwood deposited along the high tideline were the skeletal remains of aquatic monsters. There'd be no whales today.

Or so I thought ... 

Can't make it out? It's the Airbus Beluga (A300-600 Super Transporter) en route from Toulouse to Hawarden in Flintshire, and fresh from a fly-past at my hometown of Filton, where its wings are made. 

Yeah, I know, crap photos. But if you look very closely, you can see some pissed off oystercatchers, flying about and meeping like mad.


Cowhill Rhine

Littleton Pill 

Excitement over and time to turn back. Now, instead of the Severn Bridges, we had the decommissioned Oldbury Nuclear Power Station in our sights. 

Proving a magnificent distraction all the way back were a pair of little egrets, who were acutely aware of Ted's and my presence, flying off whenever we got anywhere close enough to get a half decent photo. 

I was reminded of this lovely poem and painting by Dru Marland

No idea who owned these feathers. An owl, maybe? (There are short-eared owls below the old Severn bridge at Aust.) Anyhow, they have beautiful leaf shapes.

Back at Oldbury Pill ...

... and finally reaching the car, parked in the village.


Friday, 8 February 2019

Feathers from the Angel's Wing

When the archangel comes knocking, you should pay attention. 

So yesterday Dru and I found ourselves on our first proper jaunt of 2019. Our destination ... Dartmoor.

St Michael de Rupe, atop Brentor, to be precise. Here he is, in all his saturnine glory.

It's a hefty climb up to the church, but always worth it. Yesterday the view was like its angel, moody and magnificent.

Also, windswept and interesting.

Since I broke my leg a few years ago, descents are trickier than ascents because I don't trust my bones to hold me up anymore, but there were few pockets of ice left after last week's snow and it was mostly just squelchy.

Squelchy enough for frogs, in fact, but the croak overhead was the day's first raven.

We then headed for St Petroc's at Lydford. 

I like its setting best. Next door to the infamous Lydford gaol ... 'the most annoius, contagious and detestable place within this realm' ...

... in front of a small Norman hill fort ... 

... and with a fabulous, round churchyard, which suggests a religious site dating back to pre-Christian time.

Before this 13th century building, there was a wooden Saxon church which was attacked and burnt down in 997AD by the Vikings. 

A runic stone was set up in 1997 to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of the attack. A passing villager told us how he had seen silver coins minted at Lydford in a museum in Stockholm, and we took a moment to lament Brexit. 

Dru's snowdrop photo

The interior of the church is lovely, but possibly not as lovely as the interior of the Castle Inn, which is one of my favourites.  Dru was keen to see the modern stained glass of the three hares and the green man, so we popped in to have a coffee and avail ourselves of their facilities.
Next, we headed south to Tavistock and then up up up across the moor to Chagford, which always involves a stop at Bennett's Cross with its fabled view, which today was decidedly murky.

Here's St Michael again, this time in his church in Chagford. He's busy smiting the dragon, of course. Dru rather naughtily suggested that he might be using a flamingo to do it.  

Then it was off down some of Devon's rather hair-raising lanes to a meeting about putative involvment in a project combining art and poetry and walking on Dartmoor and archangels, with a possible side-order of local cider. More about tht n due corrse, perjsaps (fungrs crssde). 

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Spring is Coming

It looked like it was going to be a beautiful day. It was positively balmy when I opened the bedroom window to take a photo and I could almost see the rising sun, which means it's definitely on its return journey into summer. (Still had to lean a long way out, mind.) 

At Stapleton, the River Frome was much fuller and faster than it has been and looking decidedly mucky from all the snowmelt. Today the dog and I headed down the valley through Eastville Park.

This little waterway seems to go by the unromantic name of 'the second Fishponds brook'.

When we reached Eastville lake, my heart did a little jump. I don't think I've been there in fifty years. 

Not that we went there more than once or twice, for a picnic in the summer. 

I remember there being paddle boats for hire and a little cafe, and my father taught me about sticklebacks which we scooped up in a jam jar, brought with us for that purpose. 

It was very different today, but still familiar somehow. 

There were a couple of areas of thin ice on the lake, which were creating atmospheric patches of mist, but otherwise, it was springlike. 

Squirrels abounded in a literal sort of way. Ducks were frisking. And the trees and verges were full of long-tailed tits, blue tits, grey wagtails, pied wagtails, bullfinches, chaffinches ... and pigeons. 

Has she got any bread? ... Has she got any bread? ... Buggrit!

A heron turned up.

A cormorant shot up the lake and took off. Black-headed gulls made spectacular dives ...
... and then stood about on the ice a bit.

The lake is fed by the Frome and the two bodies of water are in close proximity

It's water bird heaven.

Back at the head of the lake, the heron was still in the same spot. Ted and I watched him gulp down a little fish - bet those stickles are uncomfortable! - and return to its perch ... 

... and then realised we'd spent far too long there and would be late picking up Son the Elder from his appointment. 

Cue a big fluster and hurry back through the woods ... 

... and across the bridge. 

But we won't leave it another fifty years to return.