Saturday, 18 September 2021

Cetti's Warbler in Autumn

Now I'm moored in yet another of my favourite spot, by the swingbridge at Sells Green. There are reed beds here where there's a small starling murmuration  in the winter; already there's a few around, and a group of 20 or so dropped into the reeds at 7:10 pm on Thursday. 

I've also been hearing something that sounded tantalisingly like a Cetti's Warbler. But their song (or rather, call; it's not exactly tuneful, as you can hear) is perfunctory and abrupt, and followed by silences that can stretch for some minutes.

Anyway, yesterday morning I heard it plain, as can you, gentle reader. It's that sharp, staccato burst you can hear about halfway through this recording, then again just before the end.

It's the first time I've heard one at Sells Green, and the first time I've heard one calling in autumn. 

Friday, 3 September 2021

Eve goes solar

The weather's been ideal for working on the boat; dry, but not so hot that it's painful to work outside. So it was time to get started on Eve's solar panels.

It's only taken seven years, after all. 

That's jobs for you, sometimes; if you don't get stuck straight into them, they can just fade into the background. But a few weeks ago, when I was moored up at Diggers, a chap kindly gave me a solar panel he was taking to the bins (the canal bins act as a sort of informal swap shop too; folk often leave stuff that's useful there, so that you can pick it up and reuse it). The panel is not working at full capacity, he explained, and he'd upgraded. But I put my meter across the terminals, and it was chucking out a healthy voltage. So...

Then on Sunday I rescued this timber from Bradford Wharf, and made a start on a combined roof box and panel holder.

The sides and lids are plywood, covered with pieces of old cratch cover and tarp. All recycled material.

Here's the panel in place. The wiring goes through a hole in the roof sheltered by the box, into the engine room.

I'll be tidying up that wiring. Sometime.

Down there it goes into an MPPT (maximum power point tracking) controller. Because solar panels chuck out a relatively high voltage, this device regulates the incoming electricity and presents it to the batteries in optimal form - lots when the battery's charge is low, and then just enough to keep it topped up when it's full.

oh dear, spaghetti...

This is the bank of four large leisure batteries, that provide the power for my domestic electrics - water pump, lights, 12V sockets. They can be charged from the engine's alternator, or a battery charger that runs off my suitcase generator (which I use for power tools, or when I want to use the desktop computer or printer.

The MPPT controller talks to my iPhone through Bluetooth, so I can see what's going on there. As you see, so far I've only harvested 2 kWh of electricity in total so far, but that's power that I didn't need to run the engine for, and it's early days yet; I shall be adding more panels.

Sunday, 29 August 2021

the Throwleigh Green Man

That's the last of the twelve churches on the Archangel's Way; St Mary the Virgin, Throwleigh. This is one of the Dartmoor churches with three hares in, but I've already put the three hares of South Tawton into a picture, so this one has Throwleigh's green man instead, even if he does look a bit menacing. 

Then again, why should a green man be cute and cuddly? 

He's nestled among Jack by the Hedge (otherwise garlic mustard), and white bryony, which shares some of that human/vegetation thing with him. And the hawthorn in the background has may blossom on it.

It is a lovely spot. I first went there on a damp and misty day in early spring, and it was one of those moments that I inconveniently would rather keep to myself. So you'll just have to imagine it or go there yourself. Sorry!

Thursday, 12 August 2021

glowworms everywhere

Since I moved up to Heron Tree on Tuesday everyone (well, several people) has (or have, as the case may be) been talking about glowworms, of which there is a plethora here, if plethora means quite a few. And I've not drawn a badger for a while, so there you go.

Before I moved onto the canal I had seen two glowworms in my life. One was in a hedge in Herefordshire, when we were walking back to our tents from the pub during a week spent strawberry picking after our O Levels. It was about the only time my red/green colour blindness manifested itself, as I thought it was a fag end and my friends said "But it's green!" 

And the other time it was on a lane in Devon. 

Since coming to the canal, I've seen 'em all over the place. The towpath resembles a flarepath with them sometimes, in fact, and you often have to jump out of the way as a Special Forces aircraft, on manoeuvres over Salisbury Plain, gets distracted and comes in to land and discharge commandos all over the place. Messy business, especially if they fall into the canal and have to be pulled out.

This little creature was walking along my arm as I sat outside chatting with my neighbour. Someone suggested it was a glowworm, but I really don't think it is*. It's quite similar to those ugly little ladybird larvae, though. Sorry, ladybirds, I'm no oil painting myself.

Canals are a valuable green corridor for wildlife. There has been criticism of the Canal and River Trust's mowing and hedge-cutting policy, the critics arguing that the CRT contractors cut swathes through rich habitats at entirely the wrong time, when a more sensitive and flexible approach would mean the plants could seed and the creatures mate undisturbed. They do seem to have taken this on board, and there are sections of the canal now flagged as glowworm habitats where mowing is limited or avoided.

*it has been identified as the larva of the common green lacewing, by a knowledgeable person in a Wiltshire wildlife group

Sunday, 8 August 2021

chasing hares all over the place

It's been a while since I got any giclee prints done, but I've finally got round to it. These were printed by Niche Frames in Bristol, my fave fine art printers. There's a couple of older ones, but this first one is a new reproduction of a pencil drawing I did, of a roof boss in South Tawton church.

This one is the first three hares picture I did. Look closely and you can see Uffington, Glastonbury Tor and Capel y Ffin, too.
And then this springy one with primroses.

They're all over in my Etsy shop. indeed is my three hares map, which includes an apposite quote from a poem by Deborah Harvey, who introduced me to the whole hares and Dartmoor thing. And indeed, whose guerilla distribution of the previous version of this map led to the connection with the Archangel's Way folk in the churches down there.

Sunday, 1 August 2021

on being a pilgrim

I went down to Belstone for the launch of the Archangel's Way. I arrived in time to see and hear the bellringers, who were spending the day ringing all the way along the Way, start up the peals in Belstone church, setting the little stone-coloured moths fluttering on the walls. Jim Causley sang a couple of special songs for the occasion and we all joined in with To Be A Pilgrim and Bread of Heaven. 

One of the church team recorded an interview with me and I said some blether or other that I felt daft about afterwards about pilgrimages. I do feel ambivalent about bandying the word around too freely. Like hygge and mindfulness. They should be just Things You Do without having to label them. And the adventures you have on the way make the arrival special and significant, like Cavafy's Ithaka

Jim Causley, and Paul Seaton-Burn Being a Pilgrim

My adventure started with fighting the inclination to bottle out of going at all. And then noticing that one of the car tyres was cracking because the rubber's perished, so I went on a side adventure to a tyre depot near Bruton, which was on a farm and had great piles of huge tractor tyres and, as it turned out, none that would fit Dilys. But seeing the piles of huge tyres like a rubber Stonehenge in the rain was memorable.

And then before I rejoined the A303 at Sparkford, home of the Haynes Manual, I stopped to refuel at a very busy petrol station, and I saw that the Macdonalds next to it was utterly rammed, a foretaste of what the road would be like all the way into Devon now. 

Passing Exeter, the voice of Satan, or, as I used to call it, the Sat Nav, helpfully whispered that it had found an alternative route that would save me 20 minutes. Fool that I was, I hearkened unto its words and went astray, up sunken lanes with no passing places in a convoy of other fools who'd listened to the same tempting advice.

We drove through picturesque villages where the natives scowled at us and I consoled myself with the thought that they were all retired civil servants from the Home Counties and serve 'em jolly well right. Which was probably entirely unjust. 

We drove past a couple of prangs. And a group of caravans that had given up the unequal struggle against this sudden jetstream of numpties and hauled up tight into a passing place, where they probably still are, brewing a consoling cup of tea and assuring each other that they mustn't grumble.

For the return journey, I used mindfulness and went across country to Crediton and Tiverton, and it was all very nice and hyggy. Except for Tiverton of course. So there. Who would true valour see, watch a good movie.

the morris team arriving

the sheep sang alto and very nice too

Sarah Cracknell and the Growing the Rural Church team 

Monday, 26 July 2021

Stella Maris

That morning we’d been anchored up, round in Mount’s Bay;
Fuel filters had been on the blink, and Knut and Ove looked none too bright
Hunched over coffee in the mess, after an all-nighter.
The forecast by now was looking grim, but we got under way;
Sheltering’s all very well, but you don’t get paid
For fannying around. Beyond Wolf Rock the swells
flung into scudding spindrift. By dusk the wind was off the scale
And us hove to against it. Boy never left the helm, and laid
The bows into the waves that boiled around us.
Below, the crash of crockery and crew came from the mess;
Up here, the groaning in the rigging was the only sound,
A crazy sort of calm in the storm's eye, but calm of sorts it was.
Crackling on Channel 16. Hans, his face lit by the radar
Murmured “Freighter. They're in trouble back there.”

I wrote this about my first trip at sea, on seismic survey vessel Karen Bravo. We were transiting from Germany to Fleetwood in Lancashire, and the evening of 19th December 1981 found us off Land's End in the ferocious storm that saw the destruction of freighter Union Star and the Penlee lifeboat Solomon Browne, and their crews and passengers.

I was thinking about that night, yesterday when I heard that RNLI crews have been attacked after being criticised by the likes of Nigel Farage for saving the lives of migrants rescued from the Channel. 

The painting at the top is a night view off Fraserburgh, from when we used to run in to shelter there during filthy weather in North Sea winters.