Thursday 12 December 2013

Trouble in Spades and a Trip to the Blacksmith

My spade has snapped in half.

I've done lots of digging over the past couple of weeks and I've enjoyed it - the weather has been fairly mild and the ground is quite soft. There's also been plenty to do - firstly, putting in a new fence as some of our original fencing needs replacing (and here is the old fence being tested out and found wanting, I think!)

Next, we've planted a Hornbeam hedge around the (new) beehive area - and to make sure it actually gets established, it has to be protected from rabbits (so I've used some spirals) and the sheep (so a temporary fence has been put in).

Finally, I've been moving some rose bushes. Years ago I decided to change an area of perennials to a rose patch, but as I never managed to change it completely, it's remained half and half.  This hasn't really worked (for a start, I get ripped to shreds by thorns every time I'm gardening around the perennials) and I've now decided to move the rose bushes to a separate area.  And it was while I was digging up roses that my spade snapped.

With all the recent digging, I felt as though I'd worn the spade out - and the final straw was the deep and tangled root ball of the largest rose bush.

The spade was now useless, but I don't like to just throw things away and buy new if something can be fixed.  So I took it to the Blacksmith...

I must admit I'm fascinated by a forge; I love to see the fire and the old tools and the traditional way of working. The forge I visited probably isn't my nearest one - but it's my first choice. I get such friendly and good service there. The building is also centuries old, and it's amazing to think of the changes that have taken place in a smithy over that time - from shoeing horses to modern welding...

A couple of days later - my spade is ready and it looks gleaming and brand new.  Here I've propped it up against our mistletoe so that it looks a bit festive...

And now it's back to more digging, under the eye of the local wildlife...

Hope all your preparations for Christmas are going well!


Monday 2 December 2013

The Snow Goose, Winter Swans and Darwin's Lost Ship

Whooper Swan at Welney

The other day, I was reminded of the story of 'The Snow Goose'.  I was at Welney (The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust Centre) watching dozens of pure-white Whooper Swans flying in to be fed at sunset. Whooper Swans migrate from Iceland to Britain every autumn to spend the winter here.  Watching these beautiful birds fly in against a fiery, Fenland sky is an amazing sight, and so atmospheric - even if I did watch them from the warmth of the observation room (and my photos of Welney are all through-the-glass shots)

Welney Sunset

Also flying in for food were dozens of ducks and geese. Now I've mentioned many times before that I love geese (having some of my own), so I was in heaven at Welney watching all this wonderful wildfowl, knowing that a fair proportion of these birds have flown across oceans and seas battling harsh weather to reach here. And it was the thought of the birds flying through storms that reminded me of Paul Gallico's 'The Snow Goose'...

I'm sure you know the story (it's a children's classic) but here's my brief summary. The Snow Goose, a young bird migrating across the North American continent, has been blown off course in a terrible storm to the wild and isolated Essex marshes (so the setting of this story is actually more my back yard than the Fens). There, when she comes to rest at last, she is shot by wildfowlers (and you can imagine my feelings about these...) The injured bird is found by a girl, half-wild herself, who takes it to a local man to be healed.

The man, Philip Rhayadar, who is disabled - lives a lonely life in an abandoned lighthouse, painting, sailing his boat and caring for wildfowl. He is isolated from the local community because of his appearance and the fact that the wildfowlers resent his protection of the birds. Together the man and the girl, Frith, heal the Snow Goose, and although she leaves in the spring with other migratory birds, she returns to them every winter. Then, many years later, in 1940, Philip sets out in his 'little ship' to rescue soldiers from Dunkirk, and on one of these trips he is killed. The Snow Goose has flown with him on these rescue missions and stays with him until he dies. She then returns to Frith, 'a wild spirit', flying over her as she waits for Philip, before she disappears for good.

It's an unashamedly sentimental story, of course - and it has a very old fashioned feel about it.  But it's also very descriptive and haunting. Although it was written over 70 years ago, the landscape where it is set still has that sense of wildness and remoteness about it today (and at this time of year, it's the perfect antidote to Christmas shopping crowds...)

Darwin's Lost Ship

The marshes at Paglesham
 Just a note on my last visit to the Essex marshes. I was visiting Paglesham, a village right on the coast. Buried in the mudflats beyond the village lies the wreck of  HMS Beagle - Charles Darwin's ship. No one knows for sure where it is, but it does seem incredible that this famous vessel, where Darwin made his notes and drawings and came up with his theories, is now lost under the mud. The ship is in this part of the country because it finished its life as a coast-guard vessel chasing local smugglers.

After a quick search on the internet, I've discovered that there is at least one project where a replica of the Beagle is being built - and I'm sure this ship will look amazing. But it just won't be a preserved original.

I don't know whether the ship will ever be found - I don't suppose there is much of it left.  It was sold for scrap in 1870, and a large part of it was probably broken up.

But it is fascinating to think that this ship - with all that history - is out there somewhere...

Well, I don't believe I'll have time for anymore birdwatching or visits to the coast for the rest of this month...

It's December already....and I can't put off that Christmas shopping any longer...