Friday, 24 June 2011

THE DOG WHICH SAT AT MY FEET

As I’ve mentioned before, many of the plants and bushes and trees on this blog have been photographed alongside what used to be a railway line. In some places it is now earth, or grass or stony ground. In others it has been tarmacked and turned into a comfortable footpath and cycleway. More and more people are travelling along it; in and out of town; or taking it in as part of the Southwest Coast Path which runs the 630 miles from Poole in Dorset to Minehead in Somerset. This is good. Of course it is; except I preferred it when hardly anyone went that way.

Last Saturday, I was walking along this section with a couple of friends when we found ourselves almost in step a few yards behind a man with a small, brown, broad shouldered, fighty-type of dog.

I went back to take this photo today. (June 24th 2011)
It began to rain so you'll have to imagine the sun is
blazing down and caterpillars are sun-bathing on the path.
Apologies for that.
None the less, you can see,among other plants,
Elder, Buddliea,Bramble
Holm Oak,Viper's Bugloss,
Alexanders,
Gorse, Hawthorn and Blackthorn
- all in just this one glimpse.

I don’t usually like this kind of dog. Their owners generally insist they are friendly; but, if they bite, their jaws lock and they don’t let go. Sometimes they are lethal. Sometimes they frighten me. Always I am wary.

This dog was a sort of exception. Whereas most dogs like this charge along on a long leash or run anxiously loose, this was well trained. It was not on a lead but when any other dog came by, the owner called to it and it walked by him on the side away from potential friendliness or confrontation until the passing dog had walked on to a safe distance. There was no barking, no chasing and sniffing. It was all very orderly.

It was also funny. Once the command had run out of purpose, the dog would trot round behind its owner in a kind of peep-o game.

“Where have you gone?” the man would ask, looking about - but the dog was always somewhere in the near circumference of his heels.

After a while, we were distracted by caterpillars - bright green and yellow ones - and lots.

When I am out with family or friends, they get annoyed if I spend too much time taking photographs of leaves and trees and tiny, familiar-but-interesting-to-me plants. The camera has only to appear and groaning begins.

In a post called 'One thing I have realised ', Jen at Muddy Boot Dreams amplifies on a comment I'd made after reading a post called 'What to do with all those pictures?'. I'd admitted that I don’t pay enough attention to snap-style photos . . . people, places, events; when I am old, they are the pictures I will treasure - not twigs here and pebbles there. None the less, I find it hard to take pictures of people. For one thing, I am not very good at it. For another, I shy away from taking portraits without permission. And I don’t like forced smiles, funny faces or set expressions either - so pictures for posterity are neglected . . . 

So, there we were, looking down at the ground in a communal kind of way. “Here’s a caterpillar. Here’s one. Here’s one. And another!” Until, in the end, I could bear it no longer. Out came my camera.

We’d forgotten the dog. The call of its owner to step aside from the path only gelled into sense when the dog trotted up and sat very goodly at my feet, right between my toes, right on top of the caterpillar I was focusing on.

I don’t know why he had chosen that moment to switch allegiance, or put himself in my confidence. But, there he was, happily sitting on ‘my’ caterpillar. I gave him a stroke (I think he was a he) called a friendly remark to the owner - and put my camera back in its bag.

* * *



Yesterday, I went for a walk on a track which leads off the old railway line - where there is nothing between it and the sea except eroded cliff.

(Today's photo shows a white, cloud filled sky and drizzle. The path looks a lot more tempting when the sun shines on it! Keep imagining blue sky and sunshine!)

See what I mean about yesterday's blueness?
But even then it was raining from time to time.
Surprising drops falling from an apparently cloudy sky.

The playground noise of happy children floated across the water. A flotilla of training boats was speeding towards the sailing club; experts leading the way, novices in the middle - and extra adults following for safety behind them.

But there were no green and yellow caterpillars.

Two other kinds though. They seemed to be sun-bathing on the parched, hard and cracked earth.

Here they are.

Oak Eggars - Lasiocampa quercus

Oak Eggar (Lasiocampa quercus) Caterpillar
23rd June 2011


Oak Eggar -
Lasiocampa quercus

23rd June 2011.
This was a bit shorter than the one in the first picture
and looked like a bit that had come off
an old doormat.

Here's a link to see an Oak Eggar Moth

There was also a caterpillar of the Lackey Moth - Malocosoma neustia

Caterpillar of the Lackey Moth  (Malocosoma neustia)

A few weeks ago, they looked like this


(This is a link to the post where I show their tent-nursery.)

* * *
A short while back Laura at Patio Patch (in relation to the post about a walk to the sea and back) asked what we would have come across if we had gone further. What’s there depends on the tide so I’m beginning a series of posts about what you would see if you went to a higher path (parallel to the rocks and little coves) so you can look down without getting your feet wet.

This is the first of these posts.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

AND AUTUMN ARRIVES

Towards the end of summer, from late August on, hedgerows grow weary. Leaves hang limp and dusty from sycamore trees; grass wilts, pales and yellows; the air hangs heavy. Everything longs for the freshening winds of autumn, for showers and release.

It's generally a time of excitement. We'll miss the old but welcome the new.

It's the middle of June - and summer is already tired, even before it's properly begun.


Buddleia stutters open


from thin buds.

* *

Viper's Bugloss


is small and weak and falls over easily if knocked.

* *


Sloes seem to have stopped swelling


and haws are reddening before they have got to any size.

* *

It seems rainlessness has propelled the season forward and some plants are suffering for it


. . . but blackberry blossom reminds us autumn is a long way off because little of it has yet opened.

* *
Gorse is gorse.


It flowers all year and smells of coconuts when the weather is hot. There are always seed pods. When the sun comes out they pop - you can hear them. It burns easily too. Its volatility may make us extra glad for late rain. Meanwhile, it's a good symbol for autumn in the middle of summer.


Tuesday, 7 June 2011

SEA AND SEA AND ROCKS AND STONE AND SEA - THE NEXT CONTEXT POST FOR PORTLAND

There’s a lot of sea around Portland. Lots and lots of sea and lots of sky and lots of light - and I can never get it right when it comes to photographs. Detail is often blurred out and I rarely get things perfectly in focus.

But then . . . maybe this is precisely how the photos should turn out. Because this is how we do (or, rather don’t!) see here. We nearly always have to squint. The light is bright and stark and white - except on the days when it is dull and misty. It swings between the two.

Portland has its own weather system. You can see it from miles away in each direction - sitting in the sea with clouds making a bee-line for it. Often its top wears them like a hat.

This contrast of light is echoed in the landscape. The Grove (the Young Offender’s Prison I mentioned in my last post) is on the Eastern Cliffs. Just around the corner, you come to this 

on your left


straight ahead - this

(If you peer into the picture, you will see, in the straight-ahead distance, one of the lighthouses I showed in a previous post.)


and, on your right - is this.

Fishing and quarrying have been the main industries on Portland for centuries. The sea remains the sea but the quarries have changed and defined the landscape. Some are still working. Still they churn up and dig out - and magnify the glare which comes down from the sun (and the mist!) and the sea.


Portland is shrinking, cutting bits off itself and sending them away. It’s been doing this for a long time!

When London had to be re-built after the Great Fire in 1666, stone quarried on Portland went to re-build St Paul’s Cathedral and many other grand buildings which are still there today. (Christopher Wren was the local MP!) London wouldn’t be the same without them. One almost might say London wouldn’t be London if it weren’t for Portland.

It is a particular feature of Portland stone that it works well in big blocks but not so much in small ones. The hacking and lowering and transporting of these huge rocks was a time consuming business - expensive too!


Looking over the edge of the cliff . . . this is where the stone went from, lowered by crane into barges. This kind of crane was used for boats as well as stone - and there's one down there still. (Though not left over from the seventeenth century!) In an earlier post, I published a photo of one at Portland Bill. Taking a look at that might be easier than peering into this picture but there are other things of interest down there too - a ‘pillbox’ from World War Two (a concrete hut with slit windows to see through when guarding the coast) and great hunks of abandoned stone. These hunks add to the lunar nature of some of the landscape. On the western side of the island, so much un-needed, waste stone was tipped over the cliffs, it has accumulated into a great slope which looks almost as if it is a natural feature of the scenery. (I know I am building a great list of items for future posts - but this will feature in one.)

There’s an old quarry railway down there too - at least, you can see the long, straight, white line where it used to be.

To give an idea of scale -
there are two people standing on the track.

It was not easy to construct this railway - one of the great challenges being to build a cutting (now filled in) on a gradient gentle enough that engines could climb to the little town of Easton - but it opened in 1901 and for fifty years the trains transported passengers as well as stone. Freight trains continued until 1965. The rails have gone now and it has become a good flat track for walking. (Once you get down to it!)

There are wild goats here; and fulmars were swooping around their nests while I was taking these pictures. (They build them in the vertical faces of the cliffs, inaccessible to humans.)

And as for plants - they get everywhere!

Whether to the right

or to the left
People come in coaches to see the lighthouses of Portland but there are few visitors along here. There are enough walkers (mainly local with dogs) to make you feel safe - you are not too remote. Sometimes they will stop to talk (one told me there are sometimes ravens in these cliffs . . . ) but, mostly, people will smile, call a short, quiet greeting and continue on their way. It’s a good place to think. There will be a long gap before the next passer by.


Sometime, when the weather is sunny and warm, I’ll take you down to the old railway track and we’ll look up - and probably say ‘Surely this can’t be England?!’.

* * *

Special thanks to Stuart Morris for the friendly way he helped with information about the railway. He is the author of


(You can buy this through Amazon. Here is the link.)

For a Link Page to lots of Portland Material - Click HERE
For Photographs of Stone Quarries on Portland - Click HERE

If you’d like to find tourist information or where to stay on Portland - Click HERE

To see where Portland is on a Google Map - Click HERE


* * *

All these pictures were taken within a twenty minute span on 27th May 2011.