From Prince’s Feathers to Goosewort may seem a large step to take but if you’re Silverweed you can take it in your stride. How would you, for instance, feel about being called More Grass. No, I haven’t misspelled “More” and I haven’t misspelt “More” either. Spelt, of course, is that ancient grain that has a moderate amount of gluten in so it is possible to use it to make bread, or beer in Bavaria, or vodka in Poland.
But I digress. Silverweed grows along our verges in profusion and it is starting to flower. Just in case you like to be sure of these things – no, this is definitely not a buttercup, I especially selected this one as there are no buttercups nearby. You can see how easy it would be to think it was though and where they grow in close proximity, without following every flower stem back to its base, The Dog and I certainly can’t be sure. The other problem I have is that once I start investigating a plant too closely The Dog feels that digging the thing up will resolve the issue so, in the interest of the environment, I can’t give any one plant too much attention.
Early on in the year the leaves were, as its name suggests, a striking silvery colour. As the seasons have progressed, the leaves have lost their silver sheen and have become a similar, boring green to all the other plants nearby.
I guess the Silverweed has bowed to peer pressure.
We were plodding purposefully along the other day when we noticed something strange about the sky. No it wasn’t that it had changed colour and now had a large number of blue bits in it. In fact we’ve had quite a few days with periods of blue skies and other indications of – dare I say it – ‘summer’. We’ve also had a good few days when the shape of individual clouds was discernible, even though they overlapped to produce a generally grey sky most of the time. I think that most of these clouds were amateurs, though and perhaps in training for the Olympics Opening Ceremony. There were occasions when their timing slipped and they let a patch of blue show through – I hope they got it right on the night.
No, the interesting thing about this sky was that the thin patchy clouds that look a bit like a watermark were travelling in exactly the opposite direction to the larger cottonwooly puffy ones, and both doing so at a good lick. I stopped and watched for quite a while because I wasn’t sure if it was just an optical illusion and the top clouds just seemed to be moving – but no, they were both moving across the sky.
Imagine if you were floating along in the bottom lot and you decided to go just a bit higher – it would be like sticking your head out of an express train.
“I’M THE BIG BAD TROLL AND I’M COMING TO EAT YOU ALL UP!
“At least I think that’s what it says, I haven’t left my glasses up there on the bridge by any chance have I? Oh. Drat! I’ve lost my place now. I don’t suppose you can remember what comes next can you?”
“I seem to remember that I had to butt you over the bridge and I ended up with a headache for three days afterwards.”
“Oh, yes. I remember that bit too, a most unpleasant ending if you ask me. Shall I put the kettle on and make a nice cup of tea?”
“That would be lovely. I’ve got a cheese sandwich and a banana in my lunch box. Would you like to share it?”
“Mmm, half a banana would just hit that empty spot. I think I’ve a packet of biscuits somewhere too. I was saving them until someone came to have tea with me, but you don’t see many people crossing this bridge since they built the motorway. Ah, here they are. As I’m a kind of HobGoblin I always buy Chocolate Hobnobs, you know. Milk and sugar? You don’t mind it in a mug do you?”
“Thank you very much! I know you complain about being bypassed now they’ve built the motorway, but it does mean we can sit on the bridge and watch the river without having to worry about all that traffic!”
We complain a lot here – and elsewhere too, of course. In fact, if the truth be known, complaining is something we do well. As with anything you do well – we enjoy doing it.
One of the things we like to complain about most is the way plants are named. The trouble is that people who give plants their common names don’t really care that the stalk has a line of hairs down the back. They look at the flowers and the leaves and they call everything that looks roughly like that by the same name or to be more accurate the same names as it isn’t often that a plant doesn’t have at least three or four different common names.
The Latin ‘scientific’ names live in a different world from the rest of us normal people. For instance (as we’ve mentioned earlier) there are five different Latin names for what are really just Wild Roses or Dog Roses or more-and-more-common-names-as-required. Then there’s fourteen different ‘scientific’ plants that are actually just Thistles. Most of the differences that make it possible to separate one from the other are only visible on detailed examination.
Here then we come to Hog Weed. This picture is of one with pink flowers. There are other similar plants with white flowers along our verges. So, do these two quite different plants have different names?
Grasses are a real challenge to us (The Dog, Google and I). The problem is that there is just so much of the stuff to start with and then to make things worse it habitually grows all jumbled up together. This means that without getting down on your hands and knees in the mud and slush it is quite difficult to separate out exactly which leaf goes with which flower or seed stalk. Then on top of this the leaves all tend to be – sort of grass shaped and sort of grass colour.
It may be politically correct to be green but, in my opinion grass goes a bit over the top.
This one was quite distinctive so we hoped that it would be easy to find out what it was. As a general rule when you ask Google about plants it makes two assumptions. First that you want to buy seeds and second that if you don’t want seeds then you know the Latin name of this bunch of green stuff you hold in your hand.
Wrong Google – and wrong Google. Think a bit. If I knew what it was I wouldn’t be typing “identify grasses” in, now would I?
But here we have success at last – this is Dactylis glomerata. Does that clear things up for you? No, nor me, but it’s also called Cocksfoot because of the second sprig which looks like the spur on a hens foot.
And it does best when grown in dry conditions. I feel a bit sorry for it really.
Goose grass, you might think would be the preserve of geese and I’m sure that your average goose would be pleased if you chose to present it with a handful. But it’s not just geese that enjoy this tasty morsel, most poultry, and horses pigs and sheep find it to their liking too. So why blame the geese?
This wretched plant sticks to anything and everything and now the seeds are starting to form, The Dog gets covered in small green baubles that are almost impossible to untangle from her fur.
Bedstraw it is and Cleavers and so on and so on, a great many names are recorded and it gets called a great many other things too when it winds itself round my legs if I should happen to venture onto the verge to look at something or other. Mrs Grieve (A Modern Herbal) says that many of its local names are derived from the Anglo Saxon ‘hedge rife’ – a robber or tax collector.
They had a problem telling the difference even in those days apparently.
When we get to the T junction, as you might expect, we have the opportunity to turn either to the right or left. To turn left is a bit of a cop-out as it takes us round the block and home. We only do this if we are in a hurry, as for instance if we slept late, the day has got into its stride without us and we need to take some executive decisions (short cuts) in order to get caught up.
If we turn right this takes us up to another T junction where it’s normal for us to turn back. Halfway along this stretch are a row of cherry trees of various ages, some fairly mature and starting to get a bit chunky, some still fit enough to go to the gym and keep young and spindly. In the spring, young and old alike, they all gave us a great show of cherry blossom. Now you’d think, cherry blossom – cherries, wouldn’t you?
In that whole row of perhaps a dozen trees, these are the only cherries I could see.
Three cherries, from all that blossom? It just doesn’t seem worth the effort.
We’re considering moving house – and not with any relish. All that packing and folding and huffing and puffing and lifting and pulling really just does not do it for us! At this time we are considering the advantages of giving away all our worldly belongings and going out into the world with just a change of underwear and a begging bowl.
I’m not sure if I want to carry my home round on my back though, I’m sure if we had that much storage space we’d manage to fill it up with something – and then it would have to be unpacked and dusted and put away every time we popped to the shops.
No I think a large hat and a violin, maybe a harmonica would be better – you could put the hat on your head and the harmonica in your pocket.
How this butterfly survived to pollinate another flower let alone live to see another day, I’ll never know. Admittedly, it gave a superb display of butterfly aerobatic ability but it displayed a complete inability to grasp the dangers of the situation.
In her youth The Dog developed a taste for bees. The large bumbling bumble bees preferably. She would dive and leap around until she managed to catch one, then she would shake her head and gasp and cough as it inevitably stung her. I imagine it must have been a bit like eating a very hot curry – spicy to the point of being painful, but very tasty!
As she has matured, she has diverted her hunting instincts towards butterflies and moths. These are more of a challenge. They are faster for one and they are also more – well, sort of fluttery.
This guy flipped and flapped along, inches ahead of her snapping jaws, almost seeming to relish the excitement of its dice with death, making no attempt to do anything except stay fractionally out of reach for almost five minutes. Then with a couple of flaps he soared off to a buttercup, low in the grass, a few yards ahead, he then doubled back high over her head and settled on a leaf a couple of yards behind her. She dived for the buttercup and started rooting around in the grass trying to find the butterfly.
I tippy-toed over to where it had landed and took this photo – once again we are pleased to report that no butterflies were hurt in this exercise.
Here’s a perfect example of the sort of plant name debacle that we complain about here as often as we can. Here we have a perfectly good thistle that any Scottish king would be proud to have as his emblem but if you look up thistles on Google all you get is a load of wittering about which variety of thistle is the ‘true’ thistle – there’s fourteen or so to choose from.
So, the story goes like this – the Vikings (or Norwegians, or someone like that) were creeping up on a Scottish camp in the middle of the night, possibly hoping to jump into the middle of the camp, switch all the lights on and shout “Surprise! Surprise!” or something along those lines.
In order to do the creeping up in a professional manner – as befits a Viking war band, the attackers had removed their shoes and socks, tucked each sock into its appropriate shoe and left them in a neat line on the beach near their ships. All went well until, nearing the Scottish encampment one of the Vikings stood on a thistle and said “Ow!” – In Norwegian or Danish of course.
This woke the Scots in the camp who all got up and came running over to see what variety of thistle had saved them from being slaughtered in their beds.
Yes I know we’ve done it all before but there is something about a sweet scent on the evening breeze and the splash of colour in the hedgerow that brings out the romantic in us all. And besides, I have a really good picture I want to show you.
Fats Waller wrote the tune, way back in 1928, and Andy Razaf wrote the words. Honeysuckle Rose became one of their biggest hits – up there with Ain’t Misbehaving.
As an aside: Fats was the guy who was kidnapped, on his way home from a performance, by Al Capone’s thugs. He was taken to a hotel where Al’s birthday party was in full swing. With a gun in his back he was pushed towards a piano and told to “Play.” He left the hotel three days later, exhausted, very drunk and richer by thousands of dollars in tips from Al and his guests.
P. G. Wodehouse wrote a short story about ‘Honeysuckle Cottage‘ in 1925 – often mentioned as ‘the funniest short story ever’.
Although now you know that, I wouldn’t bother to read it as I’ve probably completely spoilt it for you.
Nothing’s as simple as it seems. The grass will grow under your feet whether you like it or not. Grass grows by inches and dies by feet just isn’t true – grass needs cows as much as cows need grass.
Along the verges of our morning meander are countless different grasses and when the sun is at the right angle the colours can be quite eye-catching – particularly where there are large clumps of one variety.
Trying to identify the flowers that we find on our walk is challenging enough for both Google and I, trying to identify the various grasses pushes us both to the limit. We have managed to find a few web sites that offer a catalogue of British plants, but they tend to be indexes of Latin names – not a lot of good to us as we haven’t a clue where to start. With flowers we can at least start with the colour and move on to things like leaf shape etc. With grass – where do you start? Well, it is green I suppose.
Actually it’s funny old stuff, grass is. It’s been around for millennia – the dinosaurs were eating it long before Eve O’Lution had even thought of sheep. It actually grows at the base of the leaf, so as it gets munched it doesn’t get damaged.
If the world was left to itself, an open space would get covered with grass – then the trees would move in and the grass wouldn’t be able to grow under the trees. Cue sheep and cows. The large grass eaters trample the tree seedlings while they are browsing on the green stuff. This kills off the forests and maintains the grasslands.
Being eaten is a small price to pay for the service – I suppose.
Don’t Panic. It’s still there! Not Lost, Strayed or Stolen – Our Faith Was Strong! Doom-mongers and Naysayers Trounced! It was not the Beginning of The End! It was just . . . well, weather, really.
Yes, here we have the proof that the blue sky was there all the time. It may have gone off to the Med. for its summer break for these last few weeks – but it is back now and although it may need to do a bit of housekeeping to clean out all those old grey clouds and call the plumber in to get the dripping shower fixed, we needn’t think that we will never see it again.
We, of course, don’t do Bluebirds in the UK – they’re not our sort of thing, but Blue Skies have been around since at least 1926 and we constantly reinvent them to suit our need and our mood.
Flower finds fires fortunate. Self-seeds in seconds across soured cityscapes. Bombed buildings become blooming beautiful. Plug in the samovar and let’s have a nice cup of tea.
This is RoseBay WillowHerb and it’s there up at the front whenever there’s colonisation or pioneering needed. In America it is called Fireweed because it is always the first thing to appear after a fire. It just loves wide open spaces, you see. Once other plants get the idea and the neighbourhood becomes a little crowded, Fireweed’s seeds just lie around and don’t bother to germinate – just waiting for the next forest or prairie fire to clear the air.
After World War II it became Bombweed in Britain, as its habit of appearing out of nowhere, filled bombed out buildings and bomb craters. Any land left derelict is fair game and its seeds can even find their way into the middle of our concrete jungles – if we leave them an unused building site for a year or two.
In Russia they used to make a tea from its leaves – maybe they still do, they even used to export it to Europe. Those were the days when most of our tea came on a camel caravan across Siberia from China, so I suppose their locally grown RoseBay Willow-Herb worked out a bit cheaper.
Water, water everywhere and surely there must be something to drink somewhere. It’s hard to believe that you can’t even drink a drop of this stuff when there is so much of it just lying around – all over the place.
Let me see now. It’s one and a half miles long, that’s roughly eight thousand feet. Can you imagine having eight thousand feet? It would take you all day just to put your shoes on – even if they were just slip-ons. You’d have to have a least velcro ones – all those laces would just never get done up. Then it’s three quarters of a mile wide so that’s about four thousand feet, well I suppose four thousand feet is more manageable but it’s still a lot of laces. We’re looking at thirty two thousand square feet and there is no way are you going to get shoes on square feet. Then it’s an average of seventy five feet deep, seventy five is three quarters of a hundred so add two noughts and take three quarters of thirty two, that’s, say twenty four so we’re close to two and a half million cubic feet – I suppose most feet are cubic if you think about it, so I suppose shoes must be cubic too so that you can get the cubic feet inside them.
If we say about six gallons in a cubic foot of water that’s forty eight pints which is nine sixty fluid ounces so divide by seven gives about a hundred and forty cups of tea in each of the two and a half million cubic feet, let me see, hmm. . . there’s all these stones . . . and all that water. . .
Prosit! Chin. Chin! Salute! It’s been going on for years. In and out of fashion and legality. Sometimes religiously acceptable and sometimes not. It’s definitely making a come-back at the moment.
What are we talking about? What has that got to do with the picture of Meadow Sweet we’ve added to this post? You may well ask.
We’re talking about mead and Meadow Sweet corrupted from the Anglo-Saxon or Old English for Mead Sweetener, was a herb used to flavour mead. They’ve found the dregs of mead in the remains of pots dated over seven thousand years old. Because mead is made from honey and water – i.e. no agriculture necessary – some people who like to think that they are experts, see the start of mead brewing as the thin end of the wedge as far as civilisation was concerned and the lever that lead us to be more sociable.
Well, there’s nothing like a good party to get things going, is there?
We went for a walk the other day. This is the sort of thing you do if you come to The Lake District – you know, fresh air, healthy exercise, even if it kills you. Measured horizontally we didn’t really walk very far but it was quite far enough measured vertically.
From the car park, we first climbed up to the Osprey View Point. The Ospreys have not been terribly cooperative this year. They have ignored all the artefacts, carefully created according to the latest analysis of osprey psychology, which hopefully would have led them to select the prepared nesting site (convenient to the viewing platform). They took one look at all that phaff and palaver, shook their heads in bewilderment – and went off and built their nests somewhere else. Ah well. Back to the drawing board.
Leaving the Osprey-less View Point we climbed on – making for the summit, Dodd Summit to be precise, with its views of Derwent Water and Keswick one way and Bassenthwaite Lake if you look the other way.
It’s a long way up – it took us a couple of hours to get to the top of the 1612 feet (someone work that out in metres – it does sound higher in feet though).
It then took us another couple of hours to get back down again – there’s always something isn’t there?
Yellow peril socks obnoxious oxen for six. Gnats fly. Flies flee. Fights and fisticuffs floored by flower. The Yellow Pimpernel strikes again – up The Primrose Path.
OK. It isn’t really called Yellow LooseLife – it’s actually Yellow Loosestrife and it’s another one of those plants that are one variety if it has spots on the leaves and a different one if it has minute bunches of hairs – and loads of other stuff that only a pedant or a botanist could really care about. It has probably escaped from somebody’s garden recently (speaking geologically) and naturalised itself in the ditch along the top road.
Mrs. Grieve in her Modern Herbal  notes that it belongs to the same family as the primrose and the pimpernel. She also says the the name Loosestrife is a very old name and that it used to be believed that it would quieten fighting or restless oxen. She notes that the plant appears to be obnoxious to flies and gnats and, no doubt, placing some under their yokes would reduce that irritation. Burning the dried herb in houses would drive out all the flies and gnats too, so it was very useful in marshy areas.
So, as you plough life’s furrow, if your team of oxen become restless, Yellow Loosestrife might just do the trick – it’s worth a try.