Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Shirley Moor, Kent.

Today I explored Shirley Moor via Moor Lane (OS grid ref: TQ9382432035). A thin post-heatwave mist dulled the early summer air on either side of the scything tarmac fringed with cow parsley, buttercups and the rising wands of false oat-grass. There were little clumps of trees dotted about: oak with an understorey of blackthorn, ivy and sallow, sheltering a myriad of noisy birds undeterred from their spring business by the coolness of the day.

20120530 Shirley Moor (9)

At one point the ground rose as the lane ascended the small hill on which Glover Farm and Shirley Farm are situated. Once this was probably an island in the marshy water world of the Moor, like Red Hill and Chapel Bank to the south. A red-legged partridge ran across the road and, from a gateway, I could see over the green barley to the rolling fleeces, darker green, of the distant Heron Woods. It was so still there was no shaking of the barley by the wind.

Yellow remnants of oil-seed rape blossomed round the edges of fields. An old blue pickup vehicle full of men appeared and bumped slowly away down an unmade, arrow-straight farm road. After it had gone I moved on to New Bridge that carries Moor Lane across the Cradlebridge Sewer (the small streams that meander across the flat lands around Romney Marsh and the lower parts of the Wealden river systems are widely named ‘sewers’ though they are no more polluted than any other English river. The word is ultimately descended, via Norman French from Vulgar Latin exaquāria meaning simply a drain for carrying water off).

20120530 Shirley Moor New Bridge (20)

The views from this spot could hardly have been more variable. To the north the lane ran straight as an arrow towards my newly discovered ‘island’. Southward a curving screen of tall white willow above a band of lacy cow parsley followed the line of the lane which was of two-tone grey asphalt, darker in the centre where wheels did not run, verged by bright green grass – a five-banded landscape.

20120530 Shirley Moor New Bridge (19)

To the west were bare, flat fields ultimately broken by a line of dead and dying trees bordering a distant dyke.

20120530 Shirley Moor New Bridge (17)

To the east, in total contrast, was a magical composition of England in early summer. A swan, a haughty swan, rested on its reflection in the black and silver water of the Cradlebridge Sewer, just in front of a thick pollarded willow and between banks whitened by billowing stands of hemlock water-dropwort with, at one place, a cluster of the flowers of yellow flag caught in the sallow and reed. The only sound was from the small birds in the bushes and the endless lark song embroidering the upper air; the only smell that of fading, falling hawthorn blossom, the small petals turning from white to pink when their work was done.

20120530 Shirley Moor Cradlebridge Sewer (15a)

I found a feather here, of a partridge I think, beautifully and strikingly patterned with at least six shades of brown, the darkest making tiger stripes along the central rachis. I wished I had had a Tyrolean hat to put it in.

Somewhere towards the Isle of Oxney a cuckoo called.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The bird on the wall

I was in Waterworks Road, Hastings and I noticed this mural phenomenon.

20120522 Cymbalaria & graffiti Hastings (44)

The plant is a rather fine example of ivy-leaved toadflax (Cymbalaria muralis) but I thought the splash of white paint was also very striking, looking rather like the head of a slavering wolf.

It was only after I got home that I noticed the black bird in the position of the wolf's eye.  Quite plainly this has been drawn here as it is not the same colour as the bricks (you can also see the 'wolf's head' on Google's Street View and the bird is not there).

I suspect it has something to do with the Hastings & Bexhill Wood Recycling Project which has a workshop a few yards up the road where they make, among other things, nest boxes and wooden seagulls.  Or maybe it is a Banksy miniature: he has, after all, worked in the Hastings area.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A circumnavigation

There is something grand and philosophical about a circumnavigation. It suggests that, via a certain trajectory to a farthest point, a wanderer can return through different ways to a place that is by definition where she started from.

There are heroic orbits around the earth, the solar system, the British Isles and modest ones around the park or the boot fair or, though not usually classified as species of circumnavigation, a passage through a selected tangle of streets on a local perambulation. I once took a circuitous route along lanes encompassing numerous Gloucestershire farms in the Forest of Dean by walking from Coleford through Millend and Clearwell and Newland and Lower Cross back to Coleford.

The conquest of a supermarket car park may be classified as a collection of one of the rarer taxa in the circumnavigation genus since, perhaps, it is not perceived as terribly interesting. Nevertheless it was my project for the day and one that could make a modest but valuable contribution to psychogeography. And one never knows what any circumambulation might reveal.

Today my field of study was Morrison’s car park adjacent to Queens Road in Hastings. I set off from the main entrance heading north and immediately my eye was caught by a baby’s dummy in colourless plastic lying on the ground. It evoked an image of an obstreperous infant propelling the article over the side of the pram like a trainee hammer thrower.

Around the corner I could see the embankment where the trains ran, their engines sending an echoing Whee–e-e in crescendo or decrescendo as they left or approached the station. Underneath the trains a red banner on the wall proclaimed “We buy direct from 5,000 British livestock farmers.” Takes a lot of farms to feed Hastings.

Semi-mature trees were growing from gravelly, brick-edged rectangles of the car park leafing in reddish or green ochre while in the corners of this area there were dense billows of clipped, evergreen laurustinus with some groundsel and annual meadow grass flowering hopefully underneath. On the other side of the main entrance road was an ancient, low sandstone wall adjacent to a small lawn with a whitebeam tree. The wall must be a survivor from a time when this area was completely different. Part of a house perhaps along the Old Roar stream now safely culverted below the modern town. Elder was growing by the wall and on the opposite side of the lawn questing trails of goosegrass pushed through dense cotoneaster bushes.

There was a large buddleia by the recycling point: huge metal boxes for glass, shoes, plastic bottles, newspapers, electrical items. Behind a curious, almost secret, concrete path led in a curve to a closed brown door. There was ivy on the ground, under the bushes, climbing the walls. The plant evidently likes it here and tries to escape the ivy police who are forever pulling it down.

In the north east corner by Queens Road a lonely birch spreads its elegant figure above a chewed up mat of shredded bark and wood, perhaps the start of a shrubbery reconstruction. There was more cotoneaster by the parking bays: undulating cushions of dark green foliage spattered with pinkish white flowers aiming to greet a spring that hadn’t really arrived.

At the garage the ground changed. Red brick paviors for the pedestrian areas, brown with white speckles in the area intended for refuelling cars. By the entry sign to this refuelling area a large gorse bush was in flower. Difficult to believe this was planted, especially as it seemed to be a one off, so it must have found its way in as a seed on a car or a bird and now tries to hide among the alien ornamentals. On the south garage corner a hybrid whitebeam, a few shoots of travellers joy and two herring gulls with a wary look that said “is he a threat or a food provider.” Beyond this were extensive low-growing beds of grey-leaved brachyglottis shrubs extending like urban chaparral through a gap between buildings to Brook Street and the Prince Albert pub, though one would have had to walk round through the car park pedestrian entrance to reach either of these two places.

By the far wall Prunus laurocerasus ‘Otto Luyken’ was already in flower below a brick wall and a fine complex of moss-covered roofs sloping at different angles. Above these windblown muddled clouds in infinite shades of grey sweeping eastwards. May is the season of white petals: their falling can be mistaken for snow when the weather is cold.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Squirrel in the houseleeks

It has been cold so far this May, but yesterday the sun shone for a while and the grey squirrel that skitters round our garden took a sunbathing nap on a wooden shelf where I keep some of my houseleeks.  I see squirrels every day, but this is the first time I have seen one basking.

20120514 sleeping squirrel

The Sempervivums behind are, from right to left, Black Mountain, Green Ice, Blood Tip and S. atlanticum.  The plant in the pot at the rear is a Deptford pink, Dianthus armeria, put on the shelf to stop the rabbits eating it.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Hastings steps

Hastings in East Sussex UK has many flights of steps ascending the various hills around the town.

Noonan’s Steps climbs like a waterless cascade up the flank of the West Hill.

20120508 Noonan's Steps Hastings (2)

The walls and crevices support many different plants, wet and shiny after the overnight rain. There are ivy-leaved toadflax and trailing bellflower; elder and sycamore bushes; shepherd's purse, goosegrass and clumps of moss casually thrown off neighbouring roofs by insect hunting birds.  The photo below is of some alexanders, Smyrnium olusatrum, hanging over a wall:

20120508 Alexanders Noonan's Steps (5)

At one spot there was a battered typewriter lying in a doorway next to an empty can of Red Bull. Maybe an aspiring writer had thrown it and the empty can from an upper window in frustration when the muse would not visit. Whatever the case, no novels, or poems, or letters were going to emerge from its keys again. It seemed strange though that it had survived for so long in this computer age.

20120508 Old typewriter Noonan's Steps (4)

For typewriter aficionados it is a Commodore, probably made in Canada.  Taxonomy has got me!

I walked back down Gas Works Steps and up Stonefield Road. 

20120508 Gas Works Steps hastings (9)

Here, as in lots of other place, were some good examples of a sprawling  Cerastium.  It is, I think, sea mouse-ear, C. diffusum but I will have to do a bit more work on that as it a difficult genus.

20120508 Cerastium Hastings (10)

I also found a spray of oak-leaved honeysuckle, I think just a juvenile form of our ordinary wild honeysuckle, Lonicera periclymenum.

20120508 Oak leaved honeysuckle Noonan's Steps (6)

Monday, May 07, 2012

By the Tesco superstore, Hollington, Hastings.

On the eastern side of Tescos superstore there is an asphalt path running uphill over mown grass to the streets and houses on the Tilekiln estate. To the west is ancient woodland, a northern extension of Church Wood still with yellow archangel peeping under the chestnut post and rail fence and with plenty of bluebells beneath the leafing hornbeams and other trees.

On the other side of the path it is mostly mown grass up to the fence round the Tesco buildings, but in the middle of this is a deep gully that was once the bed of a stream running into the lower part of Church Wood but now culverted for much of its length (Grid Ref. TQ7861311733). It is rather encouragingly full of a very varied scrub and I imagine the species count would be high if an extended ecological survey were undertaken.

20120505 (19)

There were fresh green brambles, white ball-bearing buds of hawthorn, oak and ash entwined with honeysuckle and flowering sedge while, in the distance, a woodpigeon was cooing persistently.

On the edge of the gully I found a fine plant of spotted medick (Medicago arabica) with tiny, yellow flowers.  I is native in southern Britain that is said to be expanding its range for reasons that are not entirely clear. It seems to be widespread in Sussex.

20120505 (20) 

In several other places were plants of ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata) with their rough, pod-like flower heads already developed (see behind the medick above). I saw some being used in a masterchef salad on television the other day and the authors of the Walk around Britain website say “The fresh seeds of both species make a very good protein nibble, tasting rather like mushrooms.” I tried a flower head. It didn’t taste bad, but had a rough, chaff-like quality making it difficult to swallow.

Two teenage girls and a boy were wandering about clearly trying to think of something to do. They chattered loudly and talked a bit about me, a stranger, but were good humoured and cheerful when I made some irrelevant reply. They made no further remarks after they had seen me eating ribwort plantain flowers – I can’t think why.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

St George's mushrooms

Driving round our lane I noticed a couple of flashes of white in the grass verge and, upon investigation, discovered they were St George's mushrooms, Calocybe gambosa.

20120505 (13)

Interesting to see toadstools among anemone and wild strawberry leaves.

This is an edible species that regularly appears along these lane verges and named after St George because it is a spring fruiting fungus that often appears around St George's day, 23 April.

I have eaten them in the past and they are quite popular in many parts of mainland Europe, but I don't really care for them.  Maybe I'll see what flies I can breed out and whether they differ from those that burrow about in our autumn fungi.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Beware Ceanothuses crossing!

This photo of a lonely flowering Ceanothus bush escaping from Tescos in St. Leonard's-on-Sea came out of my camera today.

20120505 (18a)

Ceanothus is a North American plant belonging to the family Rhamnaceae.  The buckthorns, the only foodplants of our British brimstone butterfly larvae, also belong to this plant family.  The adult butterflies are known to visit Ceanothus flowers in this country and I wonder if anyone has looked for caterpillars on this plant, or tried to feed them on the leaves.