Friday, 23 August 2013

...and on a lighter note

The mouse is finished.

Nature red in tooth and claw...or in this case talon and beak

Apologies if you are tender hearted or sensitive; the following post has pictures of dead things in it.

We think there is a peregrine hunting over our house and local park.  It is more than likely as we have our (famous) peregrines on the Newton Building and another breeding pair on the Gedling Church spire.  Evidence for this?

Tim and the boys were sat at the table when this magpie came crashing past the window and into the woodpile.  On going out to investigate, Tim noticed that the whole area was silent, not a birdsong to be heard anywhere.  This happens when the sparrowhawk is out and about, unless the crows are mobbing it.  When he went to look at the magpie it was quite obviously dead.

Being me, I grabbed the camera, a pair of gloves and headed out to photograph it.  The wound under it's wing was extensive and torn; you can see the the stain on the wing from it's bleeding.  Whatever hit it was strong and with ripping gear attached.  As a sparrowhawk is generally equal to a magpie in size and unlikely to have the strength for this size of bird we dismissed it as an unlikely suspect.  A peregrine however, is just the right size, speed and agility to aim for a prize of this size.

We have since scanned the sky but have not seen the culprit since.  I am afraid the magpie went to join the wildlife cemetery at the bottom of the garden.  But not before I took a range of photos.  They have the most beautiful plumage and delicate lines.  The iridescence of the purple and blue is stunning.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

There's a mouse in the library

okay, he doesn't have his tail yet and his hands and feet are not fixed.  But he is nearly finished.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Travellers tales part two: of castles and kittens.

The part of Normandy we were in is significant for the connection with Guillame, or William the Conqueror as we are taught to know him.  As you leave England, you pass by Leeds Castle and remember the impact this ambitious man had on England.  As you travel through Normandy, following the road map and struggling with road numbers, you realise there is a trail dedicated to Guillame.  One such (marked) spot is Bataille d'Arque and the presence of the Chateau d'Arque-de-Bataille.

From the road the castle looms above the valley, high up and commanding.  It makes a romantic silhouette in the darkening sky or early morning sun; add the touch of sea mist and it appears to float just above the town. However, during the warmth of a summer afternoon the ruin begins to reveal it's nooks and crannies.

Sadly the building itself is far too unstable for visitors to explore within.  On the walk up to the mound there is the remains of a wall; the mortar crumbles away at the lightest touch and serves warning for the those who don't consider the danger signs to be serious.  Like many of the churches in the area the building has evolved as a mixture of chalky stone, flint and brick.  The imposing moat remains and the body of the gate house and the body of the  tourelle (turrets) on the far side.
As you amble along the outer edge of the moat, circumnavigating, you come upon the ruin of the bridge that allowed ingress to the main body of the castle.  Time has brought it to it's knees now, and the size of the supports brings home to you how deep the moat must have been.
As you stand on the edge of the castle mound and look down the valley you realise just how powerful the positioning of this castille is.  It commands a view of the surrounding area that would afford fair warning of enemy or friend approaching.  The valley nestles in rich farm land, close to the sea and near to beech forest; food and raw materials in abundance as well as the wealth this must have afforded.  History tells us this was the stronghold of Williams uncle, William himself besieged and captured the castle from his uncle. It was fought over during the 100 years war, possessed by the English (through capture) and liberated by the French in 1449; Jeanne d'Arc is said to have been imprisoned there before her trial at Rouen.  It's history carried on at the centre of battle and siege until the 1600's, after which it began to be abandoned and left to become the ruin we now see.

The castle sits above the most delightful town.  A place where you find yourself wandering narrow streets only to find them opening out onto a neat town square below the Marie.  The architecture of the building runs from Northern European (almost Flemish) to classic French Baroque.  

It was very pleasant to sit in the square, sharing ice-cream with the boys and their aunt, picturing the history of this little town and it's guardian.

However this is a tale of [not only] castles but also of kittens.

In the previous post I mentioned the delightful lane, that ran up the hill behind the house.  One afternoon I took a stroll along the lane, camera in hand, looking for whatever I might find.  As I neared the trees, just before the turn, I heard the most peculiar squeak.  Then again, and again, so I looked around and found...
The moment it realised I had noticed it, the kitten clambered down from the hollow and climbed onto my foot, all the time giving out his plaintive mew.  I looked around for it's mother, assuming she was moving her family and had left him whilst carrying others.  No sign of other cats, or people, to be seen.

I started to walk back towards the house, kitten came with me.  He weaved in and out of my feet, talking all the time.  As the village bread van came past he needed whisking up out the way-clearly not road savvy then.  I had walked a good 1/4 of a mile up to this point, I walked the same 1/4 mile back but this time I had my new companion in tow.

Needless to say the children fell in love.

Having a much needed drink of water, he was a thirsty boy.
Dilemma ensues. This is a French farm kitten, we are English visitors; this is a rural area people by farmers or 2nd home owners (mostly English).  Our host could not keep it, he only lives here for part of the year and they have a dog in England (even if he wanted to keep our feisty new friend).  Unfortunately dilemmas like this require hard decisions and an unsentimental head.  Much as I hated the idea the only thing to do was return the kitten to his hollow and hope that Mum returned to find him.  
There was a somewhat sad farewell, then John and I walked back up to the spot where I found him.  Kitten protested most of the way and he did try to follow us back again; we had to run back to the cottage.  Not surprisingly both boys and aunt Ellie were sad and occasionally tearful.  When we went out later there was a swift search by the adults in case our kitten had ended up under the wheels of a car.  However there was no sign of him.

This story has a happy ending.  Not long after leaving the kitten where we found him our next door neighbour took the same stroll up the lane.  One very determined little scrap followed Xavier back to the cottage, wound his way around ankles and into a new home.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Traveller's Tales

I think I have stopped moving now.  Having been on the road for most of yesterday, returning from Maintru, Normandy, I feel like I have not stopped moving whilst sitting still.  Such is the price of driving to France.
One of the privileges of modern life is the accessibility of places far distant.  Do we appreciate this?  I am not sure, but it is amazing to think that we can get into a car, drive for less than a day then disembark in another country, on the other side of a large body of water.

For the last 10 days we have been staying in the small hamlet of Maintru, near to Neufchatel du Bray.  It has been a holiday of family, friends and relaxation.  We have been gifted with perfect holiday weather; of balmy days and warm evenings.  The children have played tennis, croquet and cricket on the lawn; the adults have walked, photographed and fallen in love with places.
Part the first:
I know that many people have visited Normandy, know of it's gentle countryside and farming communities, however it was very new to me.  One of the first things that occurs is that we live on a very crowded island (in the UK); whereas, in France, there is a sense of  space, not of crammed together people.  Empty roads and lack of traffic is very evident outside the metropolis of the bigger cities.

Walking out on the lanes is a pleasure, meeting mainly with farm vehicles and insects along with the occasional tourist.  Roads like these invite you to walk along them, just to find out what is around the next corner...
... over the hill...
...or down in the valleys.

The village, where we were staying, had long given up it's church.  Now de-consecrated, it was running to ruin and being swallowed up by nature.  One section of the roof had collapsed and the bones of the roof jut out into the air.  Looking up you can catch a glimpse of the bell, still hanging but now silent.

The current inhabitants of the space? Spiders, insects, mice and a barn owl.  I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse, as it headed out to hunt, as the sky darkened and revealed the milky way in all it's glory.  One of the other pleasures of rurality is the lack of light pollution.  The owl left a range of evidence of it's presence, small bones all neatly packaged up and feathers groomed and dropped.

The warmth of the summer has encouraged the growth of plants and the proliferation of insects.  I spent many happy hours wandering, snapping pictures and trying to identify different flora and fauna.  From being very young I have had a fondness for grasshoppers and Normandy didn't disappoint.  Moths and butterflies were to be found in abundance and the range and number within half a mile of the house was incredible.

 I am not bad at identification, but not confident enough for everything here.  On a final note, the grasshopper immediately above here decided it wanted a new life as a hair ornament.  It jumped into my hair seconds after I took this picture and, whilst I like grasshoppers, I decided it was not going to catch on as a fashion statement.

Thanks to Tim for his pictures of the house and the chapel.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Treasure found when you follow your nose

The heat of recent days has made it nearly impossible to be out midday; however, in the cooler evenings, our local park has been a treasure trove of flowers, insects and the sounds of children playing.  My eldest and I took a wander through the other evening.  I walked barefoot, much to the embarrassment of the boy.  There is nothing to beat feeling the world through your feet as well.   Once we were there we found some absolute treasures
Taking a wander through the park we found this burnet feeding.
Most mysterious of all were these:


There was no indication who made these watchers of the wood.  They were just a little spooky, leaving a feeling of eyes following after us.

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