Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Insects of the Summer

The hot, dry summer has been good for butterflies and other insects in the New Forest. This beautiful Comma butterfly was sunning itself on the leaves of runner beans in the vegetable garden.

Last Saturday, on a grey, warm and humid afternoon, we walked for several hours through the grassy rides and pathways of Wootton Coppice. We saw so many butterflies, hover flies, bumble bees and other insects, but few of them stayed still for long enough to be photographed with my basic camera. Wootton Coppice is an inclosure of mixed coniferous and broadleafed woodland areas. Forestry clearance has left wide, grassy glades where wild flowers grow in abundance and where the butterflies thrive.

A Silver Washed Fritillary alights on a bramble flower and opens its wings.

Below is one of the small, pretty Gatekeeper butterflies that flit across the woodland pathways. We also have Gatekeepers among the meadow grasses at home.

A Small Heath butterfly that moved very quickly and would not stay still long enough for a photo with open wings.

This small butterfly looks almost like a biplane with its upper and lower sets of wings. It is one of the Skippers. Initially we thought it was a Lulworth Skipper, but it could be a Small or a Large....?

The woodland edges were whirring and churring with insect sounds. Several varieties of grasshoppers were around, but this Common Green Grasshopper was the only one to keep still!

This beautiful hoverfly, Vollucella pullecens, is one that mimics the appearance of a bumble bee. It is often found in wooded areas and loves to feed on the nectar of bramble blossoms.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Memories in Coloured Glass

Last week, I left my job. "Early retirement", although I have a feeling that there will be nothing retiring about it! After thirteen good and productive years, the prospect of another year of metaphorically juggling too many balls gave me pause for thought. I have always loved teaching and may do some more one day, but I admit to finding it increasingly hard to combine a demanding, if part time, job with running what is effectively a small holding here in the Forest.

At home there are animals, garden, home and family commitments. Last winter was particularly difficult, when I was out caring for the animals in snow, ice and rain, morning and evening, and trying to fit in a full teaching day in the middle of it all. So, after suffering my second heavy cold of the winter, I made a decision. This summer would be the time to leave, so that I could rethink priorities, downshift a little and maybe find some time along the way to enjoy being more creative again. There is nothing like the prospect of writing structured reports and teaching targets to make one realise how the creative use of language can be pruned and snipped away at by years of working to a formula.

When the time came to leave, a sense of relief was mixed with sadness at leaving good friends behind. I shall stay in contact with close colleagues and I hope to watch from afar as my pupils of recent years continue to grow, learn and follow whatever path they choose. On my last working day, I walked around the school with my camera, capturing images of the building that has been a part of my life for so long.

My teaching rooms have always been in the oldest part of the school, which was once a quite grand country house built in late Victorian times. The family who built the old house had eclectic tastes and there are features of interior design from the Arts and Crafts movement, through to Art Nouveau and the early twentieth century. All around the house are fine old windows, where the stained glass designs still remain. There are large, heavy wooden doors, fireplaces with the original tiles and unusual features such as the round radiator at the bottom of the stairs. I have never seen another one like it.

A window of frosted glass with decorative borders. Now in part of a corridor, I wonder if this was once the window of a bathroom?

Outside, the original cast iron downpipes of the late nineteenth century guttering.

A Neo -Classical door wooden frame around one of the heavy doors into a downstairs room. The area around the entrance hall is decorative and rather grand. Obviously designed to impress visitors to the family.

Here is the round Victorian radiator at the foot of the stairs.

Looking down on the radiator from the first landing.

The old newel post where hundreds of children have started on the climb upstairs to their classrooms. This was my way up to work every day.

The landing, with windows of frosted glass. Secondary double glazing has been installed, both to keep in the heat and to protect the windows.

Decorative panelling under the staircase.

The original copper enamelled door furniture is still in place

In the old dining room is a large fireplace........

.....complete with original tiles.

Through the door into a beautiful room. When I first joined the school, this was the Headmaster`s Study. Staff meetings were held in here, at first break-time on a Monday. It was a formal affair, very different from the more democratic atmosphere of a present day meeting. This was once the library of the old house and the great, carved book case seen behind the door was apparently built to order for this room. It has been here ever since, and the room has recently been returned to its original use as a library.

The Arts and Crafts fireplace in the Library. The William Morris tiles and the wooden panelling are original.

Details of the tiles above the fire.............

.....and of the finely carved wooden panels.

The great bay window of the Library, with original leaded windows and stained glass, looks out onto a terraced garden and the playing fields.

Once a Victorian conservatory, the library extension has retained the stained glass of the original but has been converted into a beautiful room for quiet work and study.

The little attic room where I taught in recent years has, no doubt, a history of its own. It was once a bedroom where the house maids would have lived and slept. Under the eaves of the slate tiled roof, I have often imagined the young servant girls waking up in that room, exhausted from long hours of scrubbing, cleaning and polishing and having to face another long day keeping a large country house clean and serviced.

The small, cast iron fireplace is still there and the view from the window is still the same. Hot in the summer and cold in the winter, the room has an atmosphere of its own. Now my boxes of books and files have gone and my colleague and friend, who also retired this term, has left. The little attic room is empty once again and awaits September, when new teachers and other children will give it a purpose as another school year begins.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Heath Spotted-Orchid

In a secret dip in the heath, where an old drainage ditch was once dug out of the sandy hillside and where water still runs after heavy rain, I found the orchids once again. Sheltered from walkers, from grazing ponies and from prying eyes, they grow out of the bank between grass and bracken stems. They are here for just a few weeks every summer. Last week we took photographs. Even in a month of drought, this quiet place has enough moisture to make grass green where the orchids grow.

The Collins Book of Complete British Wildlife - Photoguide - by Paul Sterry (1997)
describes the Heath Spotted-Orchid, Dactylorhiza maculata :

" Height up to 50cm.
Superficially rather similar to the common spotted-orchid but restricted to damp, mostly acid soils on heaths and moors. The leaves are lanceolate and dark spotted, those at the base of the plant being largest and broadest; narrower leaves sheathe the lower parts of the stalk. The flowers are usually very pale, sometimes almost white, but have darker streaks and spots; the lower lip is broad and 3-lobed but unlike the common spotted orchid, the central lobe is smaller than the outer two.Flowers borne in open, spikes, May - August."

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

"You Love the Roses..."


You love the roses-so do I. I wish
The sky would rain down roses, as they rain
From off the shaken bush. Why will it not?
Then all the valley would be pink and white
And soft to tread on. They would fall as light
As feathers, smelling sweet: and it would be
Like sleeping and yet waking, all at once.

by George Eliot

In the last two weeks of June, the roses were at their best. Here are some of the loveliest from our garden. Some of them have finished flowering now and those still in bloom are struggling against the drought. It is good to have their brightest days preserved in photographs.

Rosa Helena

The beautiful old rose Rosa Mundi - Rose of the World.

The original Rosa Gallica from which Rosa Mundi was bred.

Some years ago, an old conifer was felled by a gale one night. It left the bare trunk of its partner tree looking open and ugly, so we planted a climbing white rose, Seagull, to hide the damage as it grew. Now, the conifer has sprouted new, dark green branches and the Seagull roses weave amongst them in bright contrast. At first glance, each spray of roses looks like a flock of white birds in flight.

Below are the two climbing rose plants of Paul`s Himalayan Musk, which pour themselves up and over an old wooden pergola. This years flowers have been so plentiful and exuberant. Their sweet musk rose scent filled the garden and the rooms of the house. Now, in early July, their show is over and drying petals litter the garden beneath.

This lovely apricot rose started life as a small patio rose. Now it has grown and mingled with the heady scented white philadelphus beside it.

In an island border where the colours are those of flame, smoke and fire, a Lady Penelope rose climbs up the trunk of an old, pruned cherry and then shoots bright coral sprays of flowers out like showers of sparks.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

The Ponies on Stanpit Marsh

A hot, breezy Saturday afternoon in late June. On Stanpit Marsh, the saltwater, marshland nature reserve on the eastern edge of Christchurch Harbour, a herd of New Forest mares live with their foals and a stallion. All summer long, they will graze the lush marshland grass and herbage, growing sleek and round. The foals, still less than three months old, are sturdy and tall. Safe in the disciplined herd environment, they begin to leave their mother`s sides, to find friends to play with.

As we walked down the gravel track, the mares and foals were stirring from a mid afternoon sleep by the water side. The stallion, not a New Forest Pony, is a sturdy little horse of around 15hh. He is a spotted Appaloosa horse, chosen to sire these foals because his progeny should produce New Forest Cross horses with spotted coats, who may grow slightly larger than the average New Forest pony. In these times of recession, the commoner owners have decided to breed animals more likely to make the size of adult riding horses. If the young horses also have Appaloosa or coloured markings, they will be deemed even more desirable and should sell more favourably.

Here is the stallion, who left his flirtations with a bay mare to come and meet one of his foals. I loved the way the youngsters walked along the wooden bridge, which raised their height and made it easier to have a mutual grooming session with their sire. Three foals lined up for a turn to bond with the stallion. To each of them in turn, he gently gave his time and attention. A good father to his foals.

Some of the sleepier foals and their mothers still rested or grazed out on the waterfront, until they realised that their little herd was moving on without them. It was time to catch up and join the others.

Past the salt water inlets where young fish hatch in the shelter of the reeds.

Past the wide marshes where reeds, lush grass and wild flowers grow.

Sometimes venturing ahead of Mum.

Following the lead mare and her foal, down to the edge of Priory Marsh, to drink.

Mares and foals begin to gather. Wading into cool water. Pawing and splashing, and then settling down to drink their fill.The little beach on Priory Marsh is just downstream from the confluence of two rivers. The River Stour drains down from Dorset to meet the Wiltshire and Hampshire River Avon in Christchurch Harbour, just south of the Priory Church and the town. The Saxon name for Christchurch was Twyneham, which means " the place where two rivers meet". As the two river currents flow south towards the sea, they wash the shores with fresh water, diluting the saline of the harbour enough for horses to safely drink.

One of the stragglers, not wanting to be left behind, this bay foal was careful to avoid the gravelly path and to walk on easier grass.

Slaking the thirst of a hot day.....

...and then moving on to graze beside the path.

The herd seemed to settle after their drink. We left them grazing, with the stallion cropping grass just a little way apart. It was time for the mares to eat companionably together while the foals found a friend to groom amongst flower studded grasses. Behind these two, a flock of starlings whirled and landed to feed on the insect-rich marsh.