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Thursday, 23 June 2016

The rest of our time in England

This year I finally managed to cross something off my bucket list. After years of talking about it and never getting around to it, usually being in England at the wrong time of year anyway, we made it to RHS Rosemoor gardens in Devon. That will be a whole post in itself as I have loads of photos, as you can probably imagine!

Our first few days staying at my Mum's in Somerset were quite warm and sunny - now that made a nice change as it usually rains when I'm in England! Of course the weather did turn, and it did rain, but overall it wasn't too bad. I made the most of taking photos in Mum's garden whilst it was nice and sunny. However I was most disappointed at the lack of butterflies, even when the sun was shining. I saw one Peacock in Mum's garden and hardly saw anything anywhere else, only a few Small Whites. 

One big difference between home and this part of England is the sheep everywhere - at home it is cattle and hardly any sheep farms, just smallholders keeping their own few sheep for personal consumption. Another thing I really noticed were the amount of Hawthorn bushes due to all the blossom - the countryside seemed absolutely covered in it. We have Hawthorn at home but only here and there, which is a shame as it looks so wonderful en masse. And the third big difference is the beautiful wildflower Red Campion - it was everywhere, yet I've never noticed it here in Brittany. We only have the white variety which isn't very exciting and I think of it as an irritating weed when it appears in my flower beds!

Down the road from Mum's house - this is Dorset. She lives in the corner where Somerset, Devon and Dorset converge. We managed a few walks in the lovely countryside.

Looking towards the back of Mum's cottage.

Clockwise from top left: Japanese Maple, the pond and my brother, Geraniums that we potted up for Mum, Brunnera and low growing Phlox. We helped Mum in the garden as she can't do much any more, weeding and potting up geraniums and summer annuals.

Camassia flowers.

Aquilegia taken using the in camera effects, this is High Key.

The Judas Tree (Cercis siliquastrum) in flower, although this isn't the most amount of blossom it has had before. High Key again, because the blooms are pinker than this.

A Common Red Damselfly came to say hello when we were sitting at the garden table and seemed quite settled on my fleece.

A slow worm living in the compost bin. It has what looks like an old injury, a chunk taken out of it which looks healed up. The gardener was by at the time doing some preliminary work prior to replacing a rotten fence, and he said it was probably rat damage as there was a rat living round there. Fascinating to see as I have never seen one so close up before.

We got out for an afternoon birding at the Seaton wetlands on the Axe estuary. It was only half an hour from Mum's house and a good place for birding, with many hides, and good marked tracks and signposts, so easy to find. However the weather left a lot to be desired and by the end of the afternoon it had started to drizzle so we got fed up and called it a day. It wasn't the best birding day I've ever had out but was nice to go somewhere different, and what birds you see is usually luck anyway.

Clockwise: A friendly Robin, think that's a Curlew (or a Whimbrel?), a Greenfinch on a feeder right next to a hide, and a Pheasant underneath the feeders.

A Reed Bunting was singing on a cable in front of the hide.

It's really true what they say about British Robins being more friendly than their European counterparts. I have never got a photo of a Robin before, other than distant blurs. Yet I had about five Robins coming close enough whilst we were in England to get reasonable photos of them!

Even the Mallards are tamer.....

Swans with cygnets at the Borrow Pit, a freshwater pond near the estuary.

A view of the estuary later on when the tide was coming in.

At the other end of the scale we did things like this - went shopping! This was in John Lewis at Cribbs Causeway near Bristol - but we both decided that apart from John Lewis there wasn't anything here that there wasn't in Taunton, so not worth the extra travelling time. However I do like a wander around department stores as there are none in north west France (unless they have any in Nantes). Rennes has a small Galeries Lafayette in the centre of town but we'd have to go to Paris for a proper department store fix.

I got to eat at the all you can eat buffet at Pizza Hut. How I miss deep pan pizza!

Finally it was time to head home - driving into the bowels of the ship (Bretagne), behind a classic car of some sort? No I don't know what it is!

There was a delay leaving Portsmouth so I was able to get this sunset shot over the harbour.

And to finish off, a meal in the 'posh' restaurant of the Bretagne. Nice food but I'm not happy with the silly face I am pulling!

So that was Angleterre 2016. Soooo much better than going in the autumn! We really had a great time and staying put in one place for two weeks made a difference too, as we had time to do more things with less of a rush. I plan to go back in the autumn to see Mum as she is not well (breast cancer), but I'll go on my own and fly over. 

Saturday, 18 June 2016

The Devon County Show

I've wanted to go to a British agricultural show for years as I have seen snippets of them on the TV and they look so interesting. So I was really pleased when my brother told me that the Devon County Show in Exeter was on during the time that we would be in England. Apparently this is only a small show compared to the more famous large ones like the Bath and West, but they must be enormous because I thought the showground at Exeter was huge! 

There was so much to see and do here that two days would have been better. One day to walk around all the stalls, exhibits and animals, and another to watch the displays in the various show rings. Even so, one would miss things as there were about four different events going on at any one time in various different rings!

We caught up with some friends who now live in Devon when we first arrived, which was great. After that we mooched around all day trying to fit in as much as possible. 

I only took photos with my phone as I wasn't going to lug a camera around with me all day.

First, before I show you the many photos that I took, I want to tell you about something very brave that I did. At this showground is the new Devon Eye. It cost more than £1 million pounds to build and erect! However I am scared of heights and get vertigo so I look at these things and say "never in a million years!". And that is how I felt until we were close up to it and I watched some people going round, then thought that maybe it wasn't really so scary after all. I half jokingly said to my OH and bro "Who fancies going on the Eye then?" to which their responses were a firm "No way". Well after a while of looking at it and umming and ahhing, I thought that really I could cope if I had family to hold my hand, so asked them to come with me. My brother said "These things aren't safe" and my hubby just said "Waste of money". So in a complete moment of madness I decided to go up there ON MY OWN!!! My heart was pounding as I walked up to buy a ticket; when the man asked me if it was just the one ticket I started babbling incoherently about how I was terrified of heights and none of my family would come with me and because I was terrified of heights and suffer from vertigo that's exactly WHY I was going on it. He smiled and said the ride was gentle! And so I got on.....

...... and had an absolute ball! It was amazing, I felt totally safe and secure and loved seeing the views over the showgrounds and the countryside beyond. Halfway up I remembered to take some photos then remembered my phone has a selfie function so struggled with that (hence the squinting serious look on my face), then we were back round to the bottom all too soon. Luckily we got two revolutions for our money (£5) so the second time I could just enjoy the views. I got off absolutely exhilarated and could happily have gone up there again. I now feel that I could do the London Eye and every time I feel fearful of something I tell myself "Mandy, you CAN do it". That's not going to work for everything but it has given me an enormous boost and I still feel really chuffed about it. :-)

Back to the show - there were many horsey events going on in various rings, from in hand showing to heavy horses to show jumping.

I think this was the ridden Mountain and Moorland ponies class.

The tent with poultry and rabbits - I took these photos because they are Randy, Dirk and Rachel!

The tent with locally produced products:

Oh My. Flapjacks. And there was Cake galore too. Yes I did partake. :-)

Amazing cheese in perfect blocks. One of those blocks of cheddar would have been good to bring home to France - could have lasted a while!

This was amazing - a cheese 'wedding cake'. Available to buy at an exhorbitant price.

Locally produced cider.

Yummy bread.

There was a tent full of alpacas.

I wanted to watch the heavy horse show but it was sad that there were not many entrants so in some of the classes there were only two competitors! But at least that meant the loser actually got a 2nd class rosette.

This next huge marquee contained the floral art exhibition/competition down one end. I absolutely adored the floral art - there were themes and it was so interesting to see how the exhibitors interpreted these themes. My OH found it extremely boring though but luckily for him there was a cafe in the middle of the marquee so he spent his time there!

The theme for this next one was something like the bottom of the sea. I really like this one.

This was my overall favourite - I forget what the theme was and it only won 2nd prize, but I loved the textures and the amazing bright flowers which contrast against the bark.

All the while we were serenaded by gentle music - if you look hard you can see a very bored tall man in sunglasses standing at the back in the middle. I however had only just started looking at the florals... :-)

There were a few plant displays too but the cacti caught my eye as they are so stunning in bloom. 

This was labelled as a Shepherd's Hut and a little garden had been made all around it - I thought it was all delightful.

Finally we found the cattle - here are some bulls awaiting their wash and brush up. We didn't see any cattle or agricultural animals on show though. I would have liked that but with one day you can't see it all!

In the giant hall where the cows were resting before or after their showing event. These are Guernseys. I always get annoyed at how bony the poor milking cows are, but my brother who has a farming background says it's normal. Hmmmmm. I don't like to see it.  Look at the difference between the bulls' rumps and theirs.

We watched a display of motorcycle acrobatics; this was after the Shetland Grand National. Both were great fun but the ponies were so fast I didn't bother trying to take photos of them. I have however managed to get a man and motorbike flying through the air here!

The final event of the day in the main ring was the top class of show jumping. The horse flesh here was of the rather expensive top class kind.  In the foreground is the practice ring and the jumps were very high!

We never did find the real ale tent which didn't appear to be where it was marked on the map, unless it had a hidden entrance somewhere. A bit disappointing for the boys. We also completely missed the Bees and Honey tent, having meant to go back and visit later! We didn't see the displays of Falconry although I did pass the birds, and I'd have liked to see the Police Dog display too. We missed the pigs too, shame as I love pigs. Oh so much to see and do!  I did have fun mooching about the stalls selling crafts and the like though, and bought myself a little sort of stained glass butterfly ornament, which you put a tea light behind to show off the pretty glass.

I hope I get a chance to go back one day. This was really the highlight of my trip to England and the best fun I've had in years! 

Monday, 13 June 2016

First time pond dipping

Recently we were walking through Decathlon, a large sports store, when I spotted a display in the central aisle with a load of nets in it. That reminded me that I had been meaning to have a go at pond dipping for absolutely ages. It actually said on the display that the nets were for children to use in order to learn about aquatic life, whether in ponds or rock pools. I got all excited and my OH turned to me and said in a scathing voice, "How old are you?". "Twelve" I replied, poking my tongue out when he wasn't looking. I bought the net. :-)

And so I had a go yesterday. Luckily we have an old shallow cat litter tray that is perfect for putting the things caught in the net into as it's a pale cream colour. I'd had a read on a website about pond dipping, and the best places around a pond to do so (amongst pond plants, under overhanging vegetation and around the sticks and bits that cover the bottom of the pond).

I was a bit disapppointed as I'd hoped to find some caddis fly larvae and all sorts of large and interesting things. However I found that what I collected, and the pond water I'd already put in the bowl, was actually teeming in tiny aquatic life. We have a large pond fed by a stream which contains quite a number of fish, and it's never covered in any duck weed or blanket weed, so I reckon it's pretty healthy. There must be plenty there for the fish to eat as they reproduce every year and I have seen caddis flies and mayflies and I think most of the damselflies here reproduce and lay in the pond. However amongst the dragonflies I see here I've only seen Common Darters actually mating and ovipositing in the pond. 

I'd come across this website which gives beginner info about pond dipping and photos of all the creatures you may find which aids IDing. 

Water Boatman - the kind that swim on their backs. This is an excerpt from the above website about different kinds of Water Boatmen:

"To make life simpler, many biologists now call greater water boatmen ‘backswimmers’ because this is the most obvious difference between the two groups, and saves confusion. Lesser water boatmen swim on their fronts, and greater water boatmen – backswimmers – swim on their backs. Added to this the tiny Lesser Backswimmer Plea leachii is smaller than virtually all other ‘lesser’ water boatmen. Lesser Water Boatmen, which all look rather like each other, are technically members of just one family of animals, the Corixidae. The backswimmers comprise two families in Britain, the Notonectidae and, for the Lesser Backswimmers, the Pleidae."

A really small damselfly larva.

Much larger damselfly larva.

Tiny red wormy thing.

Blurred photo of a pond skater of some sort - they were quite tiny and moved about a lot.

These specks were tiny creatures moving around - no idea what they are! But I then discovered slightly bigger creatures amongst them - enlarged photo below this one.

Can you see, top middle and centre middle, there are two creatures larger than the tiny specks? I've no idea what they are and I only saw them when looking at my photo! 

As well as the above there were tiny black 'fleas' - like flea beetles which jumped about onto the edge of the container and leaped when I put my finger near them. So I'm guessing some kind of aquatic flea (which was also too hard to photograph!).

All in all a fun experiment and I will certainly have another bash in other areas of the pond and at different times of the year, to see what else I might find. I'd urge you to find your inner kid and have a go!