Topi In Oat Grass

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After yesterday’s view of Mrs MacMoo’s lackadaisical look on the Cutlins, I’ve shifted continents for a different kind of ‘herbivore in hay’ shot. The topi is a large African antelope, much like a Coke’s Hartebeest, but with a darker chestnut coat and fetching plum coloured flushes on its haunches. It is also much given to posing on ant hills, a habit which endears it to wildlife snappers.

Males form temporary territories and in the rutting season they joust with rivals by dropping to their knees and locking horns. Groups of females then move in to mate with the males who hold the most central (and thus safest) territories within the herd’s grazing ground. It seems likely, then, that the male topi’s ‘king of the castle’ act is as much about ‘don’t I look big on this hillock’ as keeping an eye out for predatory lions, hyenas and wild dogs.

The photos were taken on the plains of a Maasai group-owned ranch outside the Maasai Mara National Park.

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Spiky Squares Join Becky here for this year’s March Squares challenge.

February’s Changing Seasons: All Catkin Gold In Wenlock

The last day of February, and we had been promised a change in the weather, an elemental side-swipe from the Atlantic bringing an end to our surprise spring fling and our ‘nearly 10 degrees warmer than usual’. So I thought I’d better get this written yesterday as a small celebration of a final perfect day (cue Lou Reed). At lunchtime the errand of posting a letter turned into a full-scale ramble around the town. It had to be done. The sun was hot, the air still, and the lane to Downs Mill beckoned. But first there were the highland cattle to commune with, and bees and tortoiseshell butterflies in the Cutlins cherry blossom, and on the lane past the priory ruins there were sunny banks of violets and celandines, while in the parkland fields on either hand, sheep-mothers-to-be were quietly grazing, waiting for lambs to happen.

Here, then, are some scenes from my perfect Much Wenlock day. Thank you, beneficent nature entities, and especially for all those happy humming bees in the cherry tree.

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And now for the ‘aaah’ moment:

 

 

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P.S. The weather people were right. We woke to rain on the skylight and grey skies and February more as we know it.

 

Changing Seasons: February 2019

 

Strange Cloud Over The Edge And Other Isolated ‘Objects’

The Allotment Power Line. I take many photos of this particular pole:

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Ash Tree in Townsend Meadow and sun setting over Wenlock Edge:

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A mysterious item found on my way to the allotment. It might just be a dinosaur egg about to hatch. It has anyway disappeared since I took this photo:

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My summer path to the allotment – a throng of Queen Anne’s Lace:

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Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Isolated Objects

Today In The Garden: Close Up

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Sun in the hellebores, and a forget-me-not sky. Not a cloud in sight, only a passing aircraft unzipping the blue. And, for heaven’s sake,  it was warm enough to sit outside for morning coffee; nor did we need coats when we walked into town at lunch time. Along the verges the celandines were as wide as wide; birds twittering; butterflies flitting.  In the Cutlins field we found there had been a multiplication of highland cattle: parents and calf have joined the three teens. They were all quietly grazing and munching out in the sun. At the foot of the path by the priory ruins the air was drenched with mahonia scent, and around the town there was a dreamy sense of the world just waking up, tree buds swelling and crocus out on parade.

But then as the countryman poet John Clare warns, February can be a treacherous month. Out of the blue comes blissful weather and everyone is out and about and thinking of summer. And then…and then…

Here’s an extract from the poem, for though rather florid for my taste it captures the day so perfectly, and tonight there may indeed be frost:

The sunbeams on the hedges lie,
The south wind murmurs summer-soft;
The maids hang out white clothes to dry
Around the elder-skirted croft:
A calm of pleasure listens round,
And almost whispers winter by;
While Fancy dreams of summer’s sound,
And quiet rapture fills the eye.

Thus Nature of the spring will dream
While south winds thaw; but soon again
Frost breathes upon the stiffening stream,
And numbs it into ice: the plain
Soon wears its mourning garb of white;
And icicles, that fret at noon,
Will eke their icy tails at night
Beneath the chilly stars and moon.

Excerpt of February from The Shepherd’s Calendar  by John Clare (1793-1864)

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So as I said to Graham as we drowsed happily on the garden bench, staring at the cloudless sky, coffee mugs in hand: better soak up the bliss while we can then. Carpe diem, says Graham.

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And I suppose now I’ve mentioned the Highland calf I’d better show him to you, not at all close up, but the sun on his nose and hints of green in the willow behind:

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copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

Lens-Artists: Close up This week Ann-Christine set the challenge. Please also pay the other Lens Artists a visit:

Lens-Artist Photo Challenge Patti: Close-Up

Lens-Artist Photo Challenge Amy: Close-Up

Lens-Artist Photo Challenge Tina: Close-Up

On The Path To The Allotment: A Retrospective

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I usually do have a camera in my pocket when I go to the allotment, although gardening and snapping are not ideal co-activities given the photographer’s general grubbiness. Anyway, here are some of my favourite shots from the past few years: nature small but beautiful, and in no particular seasonal order. I especially love the header photo though – the winter sun caught in a windfall apple that has been hollowed out by blackbirds, so many natural forces at play here.

Also the fact that I caught a Common Blue butterfly, wings open and with a one-handed click and it turned out to be pretty much in focus, is hugely pleasing. These little butterflies flit about at high speed, and seem especially nervous if you point a camera at them.

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Most perversely too, while my gardener self fumes at finding dandelions, thistles and bindweed in the garden, since they are the most difficult weeds to oust, I still admire their beauty, and in all their phases. And the bees clearly love thistle flowers too.

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So much to see all around us. We only have to look.

Lens-Artists: Nature

This week Patti at Lens-Artists gives us nature as her theme. Please call in to see her and the other Lens-Artists’ work.

All Man-Made At Derbyshire’s Middleton Top

It was a gloomy September afternoon when we visited these relics of the Cromford and High Peak Railway just outside Wirksworth in Derbyshire. It is a truly remarkable piece of early railway engineering. The challenge was to make a viable transport route over the High Peak in Derbyshire to Manchester: Derbyshire coal and finished manufactured goods to go to the city, raw cotton for the East Midlands textile factories to come the other way. The line of rail was surveyed by Josias Jessop in the late 1820s, and his solution to surmounting the seemingly impossible limestone uplands involved the construction of 9 inclined planes (5 up and 4 down).

The 33 miles of line was the first long distance railway to be built anywhere. It also preceded the introduction of steam locomotives, which had not quite been invented in 1825 when the original Act of Parliament was drafted, though the Act did make provision for their presumed arrival. Instead, stationary steam engines, housed in august ecclesiastical looking buildings like the one seen here, provided the power to haul the goods wagons up and down the inclined planes. On the flat stretches, and until the arrival of the expected steam locomotives, horses and donkeys pulled the wagons. In 1831 it took two days to travel from one end of the line to the other.

The steepest stretch was up to Middleton Top from Cromford Canal. Within the short distance of 5 miles the railway had to climb over 1,200 feet, requiring five inclined planes with stationary steam engines to do the job. The Middleton Top engine house (below) still has its fully operational Butterley beam engine, which is shown off from time to time during open days, but not on the day when we were there. (Sorry, engine enthusiasts – no hiss of steam or magic whiffs of burning coke and hot grease).

Middleton Top steam engine house

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These days most of the line has gone and the old track bed provides 17 miles of fine walking and cycling on the High Peak Trail which in turn joins up with other walking routes that cover 120 miles of the magnificent Peak District. The men who toiled on this line, or in the quarries and mines whose produce it carried, or the women and children who worked in the textile factories served by it, would not have believed this transformation – from the mass-production-imperative of the Industrial Revolution that gave workers little respite from their heavy labours or work-induced diseases, to a mass health and leisure facility for the citizens of several nearby conurbations. No smoke or chemical fumes or mine dust or cotton lint to inhale day in and day out, just the wide open country and the time and space to breathe and simply be. Freedoms and landscapes to treasure then.

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Redhill limestone quarry at Middleton Top, opened in the early 1900s to take advantage of the nearby Cromford and High Peak Railway.

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This happy chap has just wheeled his bike up 700 metres of the very steep Middleton Incline, and presumably the inclines before it. The trackway varies in steepness between 1 in 8 and 1 in 14. In its working days, there were up and down rails side by side, the trucks raised and lowered on heavy steel cables.

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Cee’s Black & White Challenge things made by humans

Six Word Saturday

 

Crocus Love

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Up at the allotment this morning it was full throttle crocus, and also this year’s first sighting of a honey bee which was paying them a visit. Sadly the bee is missing from this photo due to the malfunctioning state of the camera wielder who was in a bit of a dream due to the astonishing arrival of warm and dazzling sunshine.

In fact the day remained so perfect I returned to the allotment late this afternoon to do some actual work. Nothing like a bit of twilight gardening with only foraging blackbirds for company. The sky over the town was rose pink, and all was quiet on the allotment plots. When I opened up the polytunnel it was pleasantly warm inside. I sowed some spinach seeds in one of the corner beds, broad beans in modular trays (Super Aquadulce, and Masterpiece Green Longpod) and a few handfuls of Early Onward peas in two metre lengths of plastic guttering (a method that makes for speedy transplanting).

And then as the fine weather had done a good job drying up the allotment’s general sogginess, I thought it would be a good moment to fetch some soil from the old compost heap which some of us have been recycling over the last three years. In the last of the daylight I managed two barrow loads of nice crumbly soil, just enough to top dress a raised bed. And then, as it really was growing dark, I put away grandfather’s spade and walked home across Townsend Meadow under a bright half moon, serenaded by blackbirds singing their evening songs.

Happy Valentine’s Day

Love Not War

copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

Crown Prince Finally Gets The Chop

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He’s been sitting on the kitchen cupboard all winter, and I’d grown used to his being there; rather forgotten that he might be eaten. Then last week I did remember. Soup. We need more soup! It was quite a tussle breaking into him, and then I found a quarter of him was more than enough for a big pan of spicy squash and onion concoction with added tub of  tomato ‘stock’ from the freezer. The soup did us for two lunches, the first day topped with plain yogurt and rye bread croutons, the next with homemade walnut-parsley-garlic pesto and toast.

The rest of the squash has been consigned to the fridge, there awaiting more souping and roasting (perhaps with dates, soy sauce, lime juice and onions). All hearty winter food.

But then, the thing is, when I first broke into him after much battling with my largest knife, and the two halves finally fell apart on the counter top, out whooshed the scent of summer. And I was transported, and all without the need for white mice magicked into coach horses by passing fairy godmothers. I was back. Those weeks and weeks of long hot days (with all that hauling of water about the allotment and (not the least of it) tending to his highness). And then I thought, well now, it will soon be time to sow more Crown Princes, seeds kept and dried from a princeling eaten back in December. And finally I thought so this is the essence of things, the cycle of sowing, growing and harvesting, of being nourished and the pleasure of simply being. And that made me feel very happy. It’s amazing how much mileage there is in a pumpkin. Thank you, Crown Prince, for your great beneficence.

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copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

Six Word Saturday