Until July 2017, documenting the seasons of coastal Dorset. I'm a complete amateur so don't trust I'm always right. If ever you see I'm wrong - whether with identifications or in anything else - do say! Meanwhile . . . I've now moved to Halifax in West Yorkshire. Click on the link below to collect the new URL. Don't forget to follow there!

Saturday, 23 April 2011


This is a mixed post to match a mixed season.

The month began grey and cold. We'd missed out on March winds - but having grown up with the idea that 'rain' is almost a synonym for England and Wales it never struck me that April might be without showers, let alone that the blazing summer weather of June should be relocated to spring.

This is the lighthouse at The Bill (the tip of land at the end of the 'Island' of Portland) as it was in cold and hazy weather at the beginning of April.
The lighthouse in the picture was built at the beginning of the twentieth century
but its history goes much further back. You can read about it
This picture also shows how strip farming (elsewhere more associated with the middle ages) is still practised.

So, here we are in the third week of April, smothered in suncream and wearing shorts (well, not me personally - at least, not the shorts). Hawthorn bushes are only just coming into flower (the blackthorn being mostly over) - and it's quite disconcerting. This isn't how it's 'meant to be'. The season seems all 'wrong'.

There's a common saying

'Ne're cast a clout till May is out'

and, at this time of year, it seems to be discussed almost as much as the weather and probably more than who hears a cuckoo first (which is another tradition). Is the saying referring to May the month or May the blossom?  ('May' is another word for Hawthorn.)

You'd have thought we would have decided by now! It's a bit like the commercialisation of Christmas - an issue that is never settled and which gets re-chewed each year.

May Blossom - the flowers of hawthorn trees and bushes.
(Sometimes it is deep pink.)

The 'clouts' are the cloths we wear as clothes - which, in the 'old days' were much harder to take off and on. Some people would be sewn into them for the winter.

And those 'old days' lasted until not very long ago.Take a look at this page of the Ambleside Aural History Project.

This is the Higher Lighthouse - Marie Stopes (famous for promoting birth control) lived here in the 1920s. One of the buildings in this little group can be rented to stay in for a holiday.

My mother (who was born in 1920 and grew up in London) told me newspapers were sometimes stuffed  between layers of winter clothing to provide extra warmth.

Nowadays, of course, most of us are able to fling clothes off and on again with each passing cloud!

* * *

Even when the seasons flow according to plan, this part of South Dorset has its own range of surprisingly different climates. Portland Bill, exposed to cold winds and salt spray, is a harsh environment. A few miles to the west, there are Sub-tropical Gardens at Abbotsbury. The spring flowers in this post are located somewhere in-between!

The lighthouse pictures were taken on April 5th. 

The flowers yesterday (April 22nd).

The Lower Lighthouse, like the Upper Lighthouse, has its roots in the eighteenth century. It is now a bird observatory where a track is kept of birds returning from their winter migration.  There is a bookshop, field courses and day events too. (It's run by the RSPB.)

Here you get a glimpse of why lighthouses were built here!

Close up of the
Black Backed Gulls
on the stack.

Throughout the centuries, Portland has been a tough place to live. Even now, those prepared to go onto its seas have to be skilled and brave and know the waters well. Boats like the one in the photo below have to be lowered by cranes.

The obelisk in the background warns that there is a low shelf of rock extending thirty metres into the sea.

As you can see from this photo, plants in the immediate, rough and rocky, area above the water are not bluebells! Here is another highly specialised context to bear in mind!

So, swinging between the beginning and end of the month, switching seasons in the way the weather is itself switching back and forth, flitting between the sheltered areas with dips and bushes - and the exposed land jutting south . . . we go from the harsh to the flowery and end with . . . this . . . there are lots of them . . .

Toffee AppleRob and Michael Peverett have identified
this plant as Green Alkanet - thanks folks!

I don't like this plant (others do; I've even seen it in gardens) but, since this is a blog to document what's here not what I'd like to be here, . . . well, here it is!


Toffeeapple said...

Another very interesting post Lucy, with lots of interesting links. The last flower is Green Alkanet isn't it?

Happy St George's Day and Happy Easter too.

Mark Willis said...

Love the seascape / cliff pictures - very atmospheric. The weather has certainly not been typical of April. It has lulled my plants into a false sense of security. We could still get frosts, I know.

Rob said...

Yes, the last photo looks like green alkanet to me too.

PatioPatch said...

Hi Anna - a mixed post indeed to match the topsy turvy weather. Love the Hawthorn blossom - my tree disappointingly short of the white stuff this year for some reason. Clicked on the link - yes I rememeber nappy buckets. And most poignantly, holidayed in one of the lighthouse cottages about 5 years ago. Thanks for the reviving so many memories

Damo said...

Lovely photos. we were thinking of going to Abbotsbury in a couple of weeks - not sure when the signets hatch - and combine the swannery and gardens. Talking of cuckoos Downton Cuckoo fair is well worth a visit, one of the Salisbury area's Spring events.

Angie said...

Great set of photos - I thought the last one was Borage.

Pat Tillett said...

Great photos and information. what a great looking place! I love photo-tours! May be someday...

Janet/Plantaliscious said...

I had no idea that they still practiced strip farming in Dorset - or that the "may" in the saying might be the plant, rather than the month. In many ways it makes more sense if it is the plant, at least that responds to the conditions rather than some arbitrary fixed timetable. But I won't be putting my tomatoes and Dahlias out just yet...

Thank you for the view of Portland Bill Lighthouse, I have spent many moment on a heaving deck taking a fix on it to plot our course. Happy days.

Bridget said...

Really love your pics especially the seashore and wild flower ones.

Dee/reddirtramblings said...

Lucy, when I stop by, I learn so much. Imagine being sewn into clothes. No wonder we had fleas and stuff back then. Ugh. What is that last flower? I've never seen it.~~Dee

Lucy said...

Hello Toffee Apple - thanks for the ID. I'm wondering - do you have a blog or a site yourself?

Hello Mark. This sea and those cliffs are pretty incredible. It's good to go to Portland Bill in the winter. In the summer holiday season it gets very busy - though the area along this stretch is quite large so it never gets crowded.

Hello Rob - thanks to you too for the Green Alkanet ID.

Hello Patio Patch - it must have been amazing to stay at the Upper Lighthouse.

Hello Damo - I think it is still a bit early for sygnets.(And I don't suppose you will want to go until there are lots to see.) Best to check up with the Swannery before setting out.

Hello Angie. Green Alkanet, I learn, is part of the Borage family but, if you saw it, you wouldn't confuse them. Borage leaves are a lighter green, larger in size, the flowers are bigger too, with long stamens - and their heads hang down.

Wouldn't that be interesting Pat - if ever you were to visit Dorset and we were to meet. I'm thinking your personality is so big our borders might have to stretch!

Hello Janet. There are quite a lot of strips in that area. I think (I think - but am not absolutely certain) their are strips on Purbeck too. May - I still don't know whether, if the 'May' in the saying refers to the tree, whether the 'out' refers to the opening of the blossom or its ending.

Hello Bridget - it would be hard not to like this seashore. It would be hard not to get cold there in the winter too!

Hello Dee. I think we in England (maybe you will think this of America) are living in the best place at the best time in history. We are very fortunate. (Having said that, there are also many people in both our countries who don't have it as good as we do.) About the flower - Toffee Apple, Rob and Michael have identified the plant as Green Alkanet - and, to them, many thanks!


Lucy said...

Everyone - you might like to know the new Loose and Leafy post is posted.

It's about Horsetails.



Susannah (Wanderin' Weeta) said...

I love that second-to-the-last photo. I saw it on the other blog, just before Blogger went down and lost it. I'm glad you posted the link to it here; I keep going back to look at it.

Cindy said...

I just love love love lighthouses!! Your photos are fantastic and I really enjoyed reading this post. I look forward to visiting again.