Thursday, 29 October 2009

Amber and gold - an old quince tree

This beautiful old quince tree stands in a meadow out in Avebury village. On my meanderings I think I have seen quince growing in hedgerows but this is the only solitary quince tree I know of. There was much to enjoy yesterday in Avebury as everything, including the ancient stones, seemed to be bathed in golden light ... almost Samhain when winter starts to close in, daylight diminishes and the branches have yet to be laid bare by a sudden storm - golden afternoons (it is an afternoon light) in late October seem like a gift from the universe.

Kestrel over a long barrow

West Kennet Long Barrow is my bolt hole; its the place my feet take me to when there isn't another plan. The walk from Avebury via Waden Hill and Silbury never fails to recharge my batteries whatever else may be going in 'life'. I always without fail encounter a bird or birds that somehow seem special to the occasion; once a wren flew out of the barrow, perching for a bit on one of the entrance stones. Summer brings skylarks, goldfinches and the swallows swooping over the river Kennet. Buzzards can often be seen hovering high in the sky over Waden Hill.

Visiting yesterday with a few friends, we had walked to the end of the barrow when we saw what we thought was a sparrowhawk hovering over the entrance of the barrow. One of our small group quickly named it the barrowhawk as apparently it makes a regular appearance. I have since been told it is a kestrel as sparrowhawks favour wooded areas whilst the kestrel always hunt over open farm or heathland. This kestrel seemed to track us as it moved from its position at the front of the barrow to where we were standing at other end. I had put my camera away and was reluctant spoil the moment of the kestrel hovering in the sunlight ... as you can see my photo doesn't do the moment justice. More and more I find nature is best observed fleetingly and captured in the mind's eye.
Note: Kestrels belong to the falcon family of birds.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Geese in flight

It was late afternoon today, I was returning home from running a few errands in the town centre, it was still light though with a with sense of evening drawing in. I was thinking how disconnected I had felt from the town today, everyone seemed to be pointlessly rushing around. Then, just a couple of streets from where I live I saw them ... a flock of geese flying in formation towards the western sky. Some of them were calling, that unique call of wide-open-spaces-and-freedom. Transfixed, I stopped in my tracks and watched them in wonder, expecting one or two others to do the same ... no one seemed to notice. For me though, in a few fleeting seconds it was an experience of connection with nature. Nature's song can never be completely muffled, even in a town it can still be heard if you listen to the sky.

Saturday, 10 October 2009


I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
(from the poem 'Do not stand at my grave and weep' - author unknown)

The King's Quoit - Manorbier
Just returned from a week in Pembrokeshire - arrived by train then relied on feet and the small buses that ran to most places at hourly intervals. The coastal path walks were spectacular, a pair of ravens spotted on one occasion; the tiny city of St David's and a visit to St Non's healing well -another coastal walk before going to look at the beautiful 'hidden' cathedral; a ferry across to Caldey Island, one of the Celtic holy islands. Such a lovely week, out of season in Tenby, itself built on and around a medieval castle. The place that moved me most though was Manorbier and the Neolithic burial chamber of King's Quoit on the coastal path up from the white sand cove.

This was the first ancient burial site I encountered in Pembrokeshire; it drew me back to Manorbier for a second visit. King's Quoit is made from red sandstone and sits in a sheltered spot just before the brow of the cliff. Directly behind it there were five or six large sandstones set into the bracken covered cliff. Apart from the path up from the beach there is a second cliff path that runs from the quoit directly to the village's Norman Church of St James the Great - a leaflet about the church says "The foundation date of the church is unknown. However, the oval shape of the churchyard suggests a religious site of great antiquity". It is not hard to imagine that in times when people believed we are spirit as well as flesh, this was a place to set the spirit free - into the wind, sky and sea. We cannot know anything about the prehistory of these British Isles, we can only look for clues at the ancient burial sites and stone circles. Only imagine that the four elements of wind, water, fire and earth were all important; this poem from the Book of Leinster (compiled 1160 but thought to be a collection of the oral tradition and far older manuscripts) reflects this.
I am the stag of seven tines
I am the wide flood on the plain
I am the wind on deep waters
I am the shining tear of the sun
I am a hawk on the cliff
I am fair among flowers
I am a god who sets the head afire with smoke
I am a battle-waging spear
I am a salmon in the pool
I am the hill of poetry
I am a ruthless boar
I am a threatening noise
I am a wave of the sea
Who but I knows the secrets of the unhewn dolmen?
(This version of the ' Song of Amergin' was taken from White Goddess by Robert Graves)
To reinforce the sentiment that life goes on and is all around us, on the second occasion of visiting Manorbier, while waiting for one of the small buses in the village centre, a flock of goldfinches appeared on the railings and grass verge. Completely unfazed by human presence, I believe these foraging flocks are called 'charms' and charming they were.