Saturday, 26 March 2011

Starlings, a hen harrier and fish and chips

Every time David and I go to Shapwick we find ourselves asking the same question ‘Why don’t we come more often?’

We were invited to a meeting about the Avalon Marshes Landscape Project and had decided to go early in the hope that the starlings were still roosting in the area.  The idea was to find the starlings, eat in local pub and get to the meeting at 8pm.

It started well.  We parked at the visitor centre to check where the starlings had roosted the previous night.  We followed the canal on the Natural England reserve to the viewing point and arrived just in time to see countless starlings streaming across the horizon and dropping into their roost in the reeds.  No aerial ballet this time, but impressive nonetheless.
As the flocks descended a large, striking, bird flapped lazily into view.  Our attention was temporarily diverted from the starlings as we realised it was a hen harrier, only the second I have seen.  It would have been worth making the journey for that alone.

As the light faded we made our way back to the car and set off to find a pub.  This is where things started to go awry.  The first establishment we visited looked promising, but was almost empty.  We walked in and realised why.  It would be an exaggeration to say you needed a second mortgage to eat there, but we weren't about to pay £10.95 for the cheapest thing on the menu.

Undeterred we set off to a pub we had often driven past in a little village nearby. This time it was like turning back the clock 30 years.  We entered a small sparsely furnished public bar with two customers hunkered down over a table with pints.  David and I looked at each other, and then at the barman, who was regarding us quizzically.  He told us that, apart from the one we had already visited, none of the pubs in the area sold food.  We were advised to go to Glastonbury for fish and chips.  We were running short of time so, resigning ourselves to the prospect of sitting in the car eating soggy chips from greasy paper, we carried on.

We had never heard of Knights Fish and Chip Shop.  Behind the take away was a restaurant with marble tables, a wood burner and a stone spiral staircase leading up to the loos.  Gratefully we sat down and ordered.  It was then we recognised Michael Eavis, of festival fame, sitting at the table across the aisle from us.  After that it came as no surprise that the food, when it arrived a few minutes later, was exceptionally good.

We got to our meeting with two minutes to spare.  

I have a feeling that the Avalon Marshes are going to be playing a major part in our lives from now on, and that this won’t be the only time we go to Glastonbury for fish and chips.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Spring in my Garden

Yesterday I saw my first Brimstone, an unmistakable flash of sulphur yellow. I have never managed to photograph one, so when it settled briefly on a log I grabbed my camera and dashed out.  Needless to say just as I was about to press the shutter it flew off over the hedge.  Having gone outside into the sunshine I decided to 'seize the day'.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

How to lay a hedge in four, not so easy, lessons

I can now lay a hedge, it's official.  Not a particularly useful skill for a modern CV maybe, but it was something I had wanted to learn for a long time, so last month I took the plunge and signed up for a course that took place over four consecutive Sundays on a beautiful organic farm near Bristol.

 It was hard work, after the first day every muscle in my body felt as if it was on fire, but it was great fun, very rewarding, and definitely worth a few aches and pains.

The hedge we were working on was mostly hazel with some blackthorn.  This is how it looked when we started.

The first task was to clear away all the material that wasn't needed for laying which, given the thickness of the hedge, was a challenge in itself.  We were told to put anything suitable for stakes or binding to one side for later use.

Once all the excess vegetation and debris had been moved away we had the task of deciding which stems to lay, which to use as living stakes, and which to remove. Gaps were filled by hammering in stakes made from  hazel stems that had been removed from other parts of the hedge

Next we were shown how to cut into the stems with a bill hook so that they could be bent and woven between the stakes.  This wasn't as easy as the instructor made it look, and took a fair bit of practice.

The final touches were to weave long hazel binders into the top of the hedge to hold it down, and saw off the stakes to a uniform height.  

As we progressed our instructor gave us less and less help, and on the final session I teamed up with my husband to clear and lay our own section of hedge from start to finish.  The final result is pictured below.

It may not be the most expertly laid section or hedge you will ever see, and we certainly weren't speedy, but we both thought it was a job well done...  Does anyone need a husband and wife hedge laying team?