Ifield Millpond in Winter

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I walked round Ifield Millpond yesterday. It was a beautiful, cold, crisp, winter morning. The sky was clear and blue, and the sun hung low, so that blinding sunlight bounced off the frozen surface of the millpond, making photography difficult. The grass and undergrowth were rimed with frost, and ice scrunched underfoot. A heron who habitually sits at the waters’ edge, was perched on the branch of a tree. The water birds, usually seen swimming happily, were today skidding and skating precariously on the ice. Three Canada geese one behind the other slowly and carefully plodded towards a patch of open water near the bridge. The first two held their footing reasonable well, but the last one slipped drunkenly on every step – two steps forward and one slip-step backwards. Seagulls coming to land, ran a few slippery steps, wings flapping wildly to keep their balance before coming to a standstill. A solitary duck padded across the ice, webbed feet flapping, but the rest of the ducks seemed to be crowded into a narrow stretch of water between the bank and the boardwalk.
The funniest of all had to be the coots. They looked rather like misshapen, feathered rugby-balls, with ungainly legs and long flat toes that are usually hidden under the water. No doubt the toes with flabby flaps of skin that act rather like webbed feet are ideal for paddling through water, but they are not really designed for walking on ice! The faster the coots tried to go, the more they slipped and slithered. But however much difficulty the birds had staying upright on the ice, I didn’t see any actually fall over; and thankfully neither did I!

 

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Looking up again!

I had to look upwards again today when I heard a familiar tap-tap-tap high up in next-doors old oak tree. I’d noticed it first a couple of weeks ago, but until this morning the culprit had eluded me. I was just leaving the house with my dog Charlie for his daily walk, when I heard the tapping again, a hollow vibration echoing through the clear morning air. I stopped and gazed upwards into the oak tree, scanning up and down the trunk and branches, and listening out for the sound again. Finally I saw him – a greater-spotted woodpecker – perched high up on a branch. I watched for a brief moment, then there was a flash of red under-belly and he was off, swooping across the pale blue sky, and leaving me with the feeling that spring is just around the corner.

woodpecker April 14The woodpecker was too fast and too far away to get a photo this time, so here’s a photo from a couple of years ago instead.

I’m back again

I’m back again; not that I’ve truly been away, but ‘life’ has happened, as it so often does, and I’ve been away from my blog for far too long. Now I’m back again, no doubt over the next few posts I’ll put into words some of the things that have happened over the last couple of months.

In the meantime, autumn has come and gone. Winter is here, and what a strange winter it has been so far. Over shadowing, depressing greyness, rain by the sky-full, very wet, very muddy, and unseasonably warm. Before Christmas I spotted an urban roundabout completely covered with confused daffodils that usually don’t flower until well into February; had anyone told them they were a full two months early? I’ve spotted snowdrops and hellebores – not quite so seasonally out of kilter. And I have a sprinkling of pale purple anemones splattered across the sunnier borders in my garden.
Last week we had hail, like ice marbles, clattering and bouncing on roofs and pathways, enough to almost bury the patio. Then we had a couple of mild frosts, that have taken us by surprise, and unaccustomed as we are to the cold this year, made us feel that we’d been dropped into the Arctic! Then finally this morning, we awoke to a world dusted with an inch or so of snow – the first snow of a very peculiar winter. It’s almost completely gone now, and who knows if there will be any more.
At this time of year I would usually be looking forward to spring, and eagerly watching out for signs of growth, but this year I really feel that we haven’t truly had any winter yet. So over the next few days I’m hoping for some cold, frosty mornings, with a crackle underfoot, a bite and a sparkle in the air, and with bright clear blue skies; then I can start looking forward to spring properly. Anemones

Katakolon and Olympia

In the early hours of the morning, our cruise ship MSC Magnifica began to sail along the coast of Greece, arriving at Katakolon at about eight o’clock. Katakolon is 250 nautical miles from Brindisi, and is a village on a peninsula in western Ilia in the municipality of Pyrgos. From Katakolon we were able to take a taxi ride to Olympia, once a major religious, cultural and sporting centre. For over a thousand years, the ancient Greeks travelled every four years to celebrate the games in honour of Zeus. The sanctuary at Olympia gradually evolved on the southern slopes of Kronos Hill, and began to take shape from the 10th century BC, with the first monumental buildings being erected in the 7th and 6th centuries BC. New buildings were gradually added until it reached its peak during the 4th century BC, although some additions and alterations were made after that date. The sanctuary, or Altis was separated by a wall that surrounded the temple areas, and three main gates led out to buildings that served the needs of visitors to the sanctuary, and participating athletes during the games. In the 8th century BC a ‘sacred truce’ was instituted, to be observed every four years so the games could take place peacefully. In order to participate in the games, the athletes had to be ‘true-born, free Greek men’; and women were not even permitted to watch the games. Victors in the games were crowned with a branch of wild olive from the tree that stood near the Temple of Zeus, and gained great honour and status for himself, his family, and his home city. The Temple of Zeus was the most important building at Olympia, built with six rows of thirteen columns. Inside the temple was the 13 metre high, gold and ivory seated statue of Zeus, which was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was said that if he stood up he’d take the roof off! The gymnasium was a large rectangular building of 120 x 220 metres, and was used for running, discus and javelin practise. The stadium was 212 metres long, and had no seats, however, the embankment could easily accommodate 45,000 spectators!
We arrived at Olympia around ten o’clock, and it was already getting hot. We had an hour to walk around the complex – not enough time to really view the extensive ruins.

It was quite amazing. There were fallen colonnades, broken walls, tumbled finials; ruins for as far as the eye could see. We followed the path as it wound past porticoes and foundations, between grassy pavements and untidy heaps of boulders. When you got closer you realised that what might appear to be a useless chunk of rock was in fact worked stone; each piece once part of a massive structure. A huge disk, like a giant cog-wheel, broken from a pillar; a gigantic shaped block from a wall, smooth paving, bricks from the baths or the gymnasium, and of course, each apparently discarded rock had once been an intricate part of a temple, a colonnade, a residence or a courtyard.

Nymphaion - monumental fountain and aqueduct built by Herodes Atticus in AD160

Nymphaion – monumental fountain and aqueduct built by Herodes Atticus in AD160

Philippeion - a circular building begun in 4th century BC originally housing five statues, completed by Alexander the Great

Philippeion – circular building begun in 4th century BC originally housing five statues, completed by Alexander the Great

My visit to Olympia was an amazing experience – not one to be missed!

Well-rooted

I visited Wakehurst Gardens a little while ago, and took a wander through the sheltered ravines of the Rock Walk. Sand rock outcrops are a valuable landscape feature of the High Weald areas of Sussex, where cryptogam plants, many extremely rare, enjoy the moist, shady conditions. Wakehurst and Chiddingly Woods has been designated a site of Special Scientific Interest in order to conserve these special plants. I always stand awhile, amazed, and wonder how these plants and trees can hold onto the rock so securely, and I am astounded that somehow they obtain enough moisture and nutrients to survive. It reminds me too, how tightly I need to cling to God, and how tightly He holds on to me, so that I am secure through the storms of life. And it shows me how even when the going is tough He sustains me and feeds me with the water of life, and I am able to endure.

Shoreham Beach Local Nature Reserve

I visited Shoreham-on-Sea last Saturday, situated on the Sussex coast, and had a lovely walk along the Shoreham Beach Nature Reserve. It is a shingle spit naturally created over many hundreds of years, that runs adjacent to the River Adur estuary. It consists of mainly flint pebbles, washed down after the last ice age. The pebbles were moved along the coast by long-shore drift, and then combined with the action of the river at its mouth, piled up to form the shingle spit.
In among the pebbles grow surprisingly large clumps of vegetation, creating a striking display of shape and colour. On our visit we saw purple Mallow, bright pink Valerian, little spiky balls of pale pink Thrift, and white Sea Kale, with foliage that looks just like cabbage. Almost 90 different plant species have been recorded on the beach. In 2006, Shoreham Beach was unsurprisingly designated a nature reserve, in order to help preserve and protect this area of unique vegetated shingle, and the wildlife it encourages.
Unfortunately Saturday was very windy, and we didn’t see the variety of birds and butterflies that frequent the area, although there were plenty of seagulls overhead, and a few bees buzzing around the flowers. Despite the wind that made my ears ache, it was an interesting and enjoyable visit, and to be thoroughly recommended.

Shoreham Nature Reserve