Saturday, August 15, 2020

Who's lost their marbles?

You might find them here!
Running by the upper reaches of the River Bovey proved to be quite an alternate experience to our previous week's gallop on Dartmoor. Skip and I had trotted from tor to tor admiring the views over the surrounding countryside. Today there was a thick clag covering the tops and we decided to take a lower level approach through ancient woodland along old stony track and paths. There was no shortage of interest and tracking along a deserted trail we came across this stone monument at the entrance to a grassy field - The Lost Marbles Dept - No Entry! We carried on no wiser as to what happens to people's marbles in this curious corner of Devon

No swans on this river!
My OS map showed that there was a clear crossing of the Rivey Bovey further up the valley and a fairly new footpath sign pointed straight across the boulders in the middle of the river here behind me. Skip didn't look very interested in climbing over these so we waded through the pools below and got our feet thoroughly wet. The path on the opposite side wasn't at all clear and we found ourselves following a faint trail back downstream on the other side which regularly seemed to fade from view appearing again after a few minutes of floundering through rocks and bracken. We were making painfully slow progress until after about 20 minutes we found a wide easy path which took us straight down to the Old Clam Bridge.

Nothing to worry about!
This has nothing to do with collecting clamshells or anything like that and the word clam refers to a particular style of bridge which at one time was a relatively common feature of the Dartmoor area. In this case an oak tree trunk has been felled across the river and a sturdy hand rail is attached to its upper side, it seems that there were at one time dozens of clam bridges crossing streams and rivers along the steep valleys that criss cross Dartmoor - this is one of the last survivors. For those travellers who prefer to take a less risky line there is a stouter wooden footbridge built more recently alongside this ancient relic.

By the way, en route we called by at Posh and Beck's place!
 En route we called by at Posh and Beck's place!

If we'd made a slight detour we'd have found ourselves at Becky Falls which is a bit of a tourist attraction. For some reason the adjacent farmhouse is called Beckhams - we couldn't see any goalposts though!

Saturday, July 25, 2020

The Spa Town Tour

Yummy ale!
Up north on a sad mission unfortunately. We did however manage to book a lovely apartment in Buxton one of our old stomping grounds. In the days when we were there the choice of beer was OK and there were some pleasant hostelries but the big change has been the Buxton Brewery. We were in town Monday and Tuesday and the Buxton Brewery Tap is closed on those nights - however the local supermarket stocked the local produce (well done Morrison's) and we were able to sample an aromatic Moor Top ale and a hoppy Lupulus X Simcoe. And I managed to get slightly lost on Comb's Moss. Setting off to attempt a run I'd done many times I realised once I was on the tops that it was going to take longer than I had first imagined.

Try again another day!
I had originally thought I could run round the good path on the edges of this big brown shape in an hour or so. But the good path was not so good and I thought I'd cut across the bog and cover a shorter distance. That's the top right section of my figure of eight however most of the brown bit consists of thigh high heather with an understorey of thick peat bog and my speed diminished dramatically. Deciding to cut my losses I headed home. Next time I shall start out earlier and stick to the perimeter path in order to get back in good time and enable us to have some more of that marvellous Buxton beer.

Some contours there!
Leaving Buxton we headed south to another splendid spa town. The lucky people of Great Malvern have a wonderful playground on their doorstep. And we could step straight out of our hotel over the road and onto the hillside. I took Skip for a gallop up North Hill and then to the summit of the Worcestershire Beacon, poor fellow Skip wasn't coping very well with the heat so we were lucky to find a stream on the side of this otherwise very dry range of hills. Our favourite dog friendly pub, the Nag's Head was open and we found more excellent beer in tip top condition and some good pub grub - I thought I'd found a small piece of bone in my cottage pie but - oops - it was a filling out of my tooth! Thanks goodness I already had a dentist's appointment booked two days later.

Here's Skip contemplating the descent!

All downhill from here!

Monday, June 29, 2020

The Battle of Bovey Heath

Gosh they were hard at it!
June has been mostly warm and sunny, but on one unusually grey day we took a hike up to Bovey Heath, the site of a battle between Royalists and Parliamentarians in 1646. The Royalists didn't do too well against Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army as they were take by surprise. Their officers were playing cards upstairs in an inn and managed to escape by throwing their stakes out of the window and leaving by the back door, the roundhead soldiers were so busy gathering up the money that the Royalists got away - not so the rest of their force who were routed at their encampment on the heath. This patch of land was neglected for many years and was used as an off-road vehicle runaround course, the value of the heath both as a historical site and a nature reserve was eventually recognised and appropriate conservation measures were taken.

Where's my yellow hammer?
And just before we reached the display which told us the history of the Battle of Bovey Heath at the top of the heath, we spotted a flash of yellow in the gorse. A Yellowhammer - first I've seen for years was dashing from bush to bush. Another display described some of the other fauna to be found there - this included Tree Pipits, Dartford Warblers and deadly poisonous Adders. We didn't see the latter thankfully, Skip would have been quite inquisitive and maybe come to grief. Incidentally 1975 was the last time a person in the UK died from an Adder's bite!

Not far up the road is the small town of Bovey Tracey and in the centre sits one of our locals, if it was around all those years ago I can just imagine the chief Roundhead going up to the bar. "Whisky for my men, and beer for my horses!"  And then the Cavaliers (and their spaniels) looking down from their card games from that upstairs room. Might not have been called the Cromwell at that time though!

Horses round the back!

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Not far from our house

Maybe if I close my eyes he can't see me?
Just outside our back door - I looked outside to see what the commotion was about, Skip was circling our cherry tree looking very excited and I spotted this terrified looking squirrel rigid with fear in the upper branches. Or perhaps it was quietly relaxing thinking that the silly dog that it had just baited would sooner or later go away - and indeed he did and next time we looked up the squirrel had disappeared.

Follow the brown granite road.
Took a run up to Yarner Wood which is a nature reserve a few miles from us on the edge of Dartmoor. Part of my route went along the Haytor Granite Tramway which transported high quality granite from Dartmoor to the Stover Canal and thence to Teignmouth docks. This was built 200 years ago and the rails were made of that local hard wearing product.....granite. The empty wagons were towed ten miles up to the quarry by trains of 18 horses, on the return journey the horses were turned round and stayed at what was now the rear of the wagon train - their job was now to stop the trucks from gathering speed and flying off into the distance on the downward slope (1300 feet or 400 metres of descent). Some of the huge granite setts still remain as can be seen in my photo. The row of huge trees on the right may well have been the line of an old hedge which, once the tramway was abandoned, was no longer maintained and carried on growing upwards!

Replaced with a stamp machine.
Here's a fine building in London, actually what I should be saying is that here was a fine building in London. This was the General Post Office in St Martins le Grand, proudly built in the early 19th century from Dartmoor granite but demolished in 1912 after less than 100 years. Now why would they knock down a beautiful building like that - they must have needed the granite for something else more important!

Our cherry tree has been a haven for various assorted creatures including this regular visitor which is one of our large local population of greenfinches. Every morning I hear their unmistakeable wheezing as they sit strategically not too far above my head. They're well camouflaged so it's not easy to spot them. However on this day I heard a trilling and whistling from this bold greenfinch in plain sight at the top of the tree singing loudly all about the glories of spring.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Time for Doodlebugs

A nice place to rest!
One of these came into the house last night. Well it probably made its way in stealthily during the day with us having the doors open in this unseasonably hot weather. These creatures are much more active at night - and so, when we'd gone to bed and turned the lights out it woke up to the fact that it was in a rather strange environment and, starting up its noisy engines, it began to fly in circles in our hallway thumping into walls and doors. Satisfying myself that this was not the noise a burglar would make I sallied forth with a rolled up newspaper and was confronted by what appeared to be a six inch long helicopter whirring around my head. I managed to heroically open the front door and usher it out into the night. It then sat down on the doorstep looking rather puzzled and smaller than I'd first perceived it to be.

Cockchafer Two coming in to land - do you read me?
These are not my pictures as I had neglected to carry my Canon around with me at the time but in the morning I identified this rather disconcerting insect as a Cockchafer and it's not quite as big as Britain's largest beetle, the Stag Beetle. Nevertheless it's still getting on for around a couple of inches long. If you think cockchafer is a dodgy name it's also referred to as a doodlebug and, according to Wikipedia it's also been called brazen clock, bumper, chivvy, cob-worm, doors, dumbledarey, humbug, June bug, kitty witch, billy witch, may-bittle, midsummer for, mitchamador, oak-wib, bookworm, snartlegog, spang beetle, tom needle and chwillen y bwm, the latter being the Welsh for a cockchafer. We do have some interesting and sinister names for beetles in Britain, you might have heard about the Death Watch Beetle but what about the Devil's Coach Horse Beetle, the Hogweed Bonking Beetle and, my favourite, the Whirligig Beetle. I did see one author describing beetles as the vultures of the insect world!

An early cruise missile.
The more I researched cockchafers the less terrified I was and I began to feel sorry for the poor blighters as they only live for a few weeks, their beetle stage is actually the culmination of a four year life cycle which is mostly spent in the larvae stage underground - their emergence to the surface of the soil takes place in late April and early May and, even more curious, they are all synchronised to appear in the same year. In other words you might go three years without seeing any at all. And once every 30 years or so there's plague of them where thousands appear all at the same time, wow! In case you've been wondering why I've included a schematic drawing of a V1 rocket it's because these German world war 2 rockets were known as Doodlebugs as they made a similar sound to the whirring of cockchafers as they cruised over the streets of London during the war. The time to hide under the table was when the sound stopped and the flying bombs headed down.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Birding by the Ponds

Hey Taff, in Wales I'm a Siff Saff! 
Amazing that these tiny birds, marginally bigger than a wren, have just flown in from Africa. Every year millions of Chiffchaffs fly north at the end of March and beginning of April. My early morning walks with Skip often include a circuit of Little Bradley Ponds, a Woodland Trust reserve which was formerly a series of clay pits now fully treed up and wilded. About a week ago I heard their unmistakeable 'chiff chaff' call and a couple of days ago I spotted several of these brave little birds flitting around. The photo is appropriately from the Woodland Trust website. Close to the reserve is a large pond known as the Bradley Fisheries, another favourite walking spot of ours. On an summer morning it's a peaceful scene, not quite deserted normally as occasional anglers sit on the bank rod in hand and lunch in basket.

It's a traditional ethnic hairstyle?
The fishing is unfortunately shut down for now due to social distancing so there's  been no one around just lately. Normally I'd just see a few Mallards and the odd Moorhen but the regular residents have now been joined by some pretty little Goosanders. I've seen three females, at least I think they're all ladies as the male birds have green heads - a bit more like Mallards. This photo is of a female and if somehow a male has managed to find his way here when I've not been looking perhaps there will be chicks in the near future - this should be interesting because the chicks, when they're young, go for rides on their mother's backs. Goosanders are not popular with anglers as they have quite an appetite and a bird like this can easily put away a carp of half a pound or more in weight!

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Before the big lockdown!

No bull!
No it's not my photo but I spotted a couple of bullfinches this morning caught in the early morning sunlight and they were just stunning - I've seen bullfinches before but they always seemed to be a rather pinkish colour but maybe at the height of breeding season they are a fair bit brighter. Which didn't half brighten up the morning! This was the reddest bullfinch I could find online but this morning's birds seemed to be even more scarlet.

Still got a sprint finish!
Not knowing that this would be the last weekend for parkruns for a while we headed for Falmouth for a couple of days and zipped down to Helston for the beautiful Penrose parkrun. This heads out and back along a fairly flat trail up to the Penrose Estate which is a National Trust property and we both achieved pretty quick times, in fact at 32:20 Vicky got her best time since last July. We followed this up with breakfast at the Penrose House cafe. We were especially impressed with the camellias in bloom in the Falmouth area, the climate here seems to suit them down to the ground. Overall it's a pleasant town, perhaps it might be a bit overloaded with tourists in summer but at this time of year it was very relaxed. Falmouth was the scene of the Great Gold Dust Robbery of 1839, £47,000 worth of gold dust had been offloaded from a ship from Brazil and was bound for London. A young shipping clerk named Lewin Casper misappropriated the bullion but was quickly apprehended. Together with his father and accomplice he was transported to Tasmania and the unfortunate lad, despite being commended for good behaviour whilst in prison, died there of Scarlet fever after a couple of years. His father on the other hand was released after serving his time and built a successful business in Australia as a clockmaker.

Here we go, steady at the start!
I'd spotted a few days before that the Falmouth Half Marathon was due to take place on the Sunday.Rather optimistically I looked to see if there were any entries left and was surprised to find that I was able to get a place - perhaps runners had pulled out in anticipation of a crackdown on travel, etc. And as it turned out this was my last run for a while. Starting at the impressive Pendennnis Castle the race looped round the headland and snaked off into the countryside on some very undulating backroads. I stuck at it and was happy to find that I'd finished first V65 (beating all the V60 runners as well) and came away with a nice bottle of wine for my efforts. And so we're all locked down for some time now, parkruns were very quickly suspended and other races that I've been interested in are in abeyance.