30 November 2017

Tree Flowers: November 2017: Lime (Tilia Species)

Pollen deposits found from pre-historic lime blossom has revealed that the small-leaved lime was once the most common tree in lowland England. However this wasn't the case for long as the tree cannot produce fertile fruit below a mean average summer temperature of around 20 degree Celsius. This drop happened around 3000BC in England meaning that the lime tree was stuck wherever it had already occupied. These places became fewer as woodland was cleared and the lime was then used for coppicing.

Species of Tilia remain popular amenity trees, planted in many communal places, such as parks and tow roadside verges. We even have a circle of lime trees in a nearby housing estate.

There are three lime trees in Britain (often called Linden trees in other parts of the world), with the small-leaved and large-leaved lime being the parents of the fertile common lime. The large-leave lime remains quite a rarity, with the other two being much more common.

Lime trees can persist almost indefinitely via the wonders of coppicing, via which the tree provides 'bast' (the origin of names such as Bastwick in Norfolk), which is the inner bark from young poles for making rope and fabric fibres. But historically, the lime has also been used for wood carving.

Westonbirt Arboretum in England has a coppice of limes that has been estimated to be around 2000 years old and can be seen in the photo below.

But what I really like of the lime is the bract that hovers over the flowers making it clear to the world that it is, indeed, a lime tree.

The flowers mature at different times, so you'll be able to see buds as well as fully open flowers.

Each flower contains both the male and female parts, with the petals being a greeny-yellow colour. The flowers hang in clusters ranging in number from around 4 to 10. The pale filament provides a good contrast to the bright yellow anther, all of which surround a robust stigma.

Because the bract is so easy to see, even from a moving car, I enjoy looking for the flowers each year, which tend to arrive by mid-summer. I'm very much looking forward to observing the flowers again next year.

Mabey, R. (1996) Flora Britannica. 1st edition. London: Chatto & Windus / Sinclair Stevenson.
More, D. and White, J. (2012) Illustrated Trees of Britain and Northern Europe. London, UK: A&C Black.

24 November 2017

Book Review: Plants From Roots to Riches by Kathy Willis and Carolyn Fry

The book and accompanying radio series were produced at a time when funding was in doubt for Kew Gardens and this book serves as a reminder of, not only the deep history, but also the ongoing services that Kew provides in the realm of botany.

Some of the most important giants of British botany have been part of Kew, from Joseph Banks to the father and son, Hooker. The history of Kew is not just stored in the herbarium or in dusty books, but also in the form of Encephalartos altensteinii, the oldest pot plants in the world - arriving at Kew in 1775. This is important. This plant has been potted up and at Kew for around 20 years: making it a year older than the United States of America.

But Kew doesn't rely on history to keep its place. The scientific study of plants for economic reasons seems to have been a foundation stone. Kew, thoughout its history, has attracted the best scientists and plant hunters, and this has enabled Kew to be relevant not just today, but for an unlimited time in the future.

However, this isn't just a book about Kew. It is a book that delves into the worldwide history of botany. We read of heroic people starving to death in the Siege of Leningrad so that Hitler couldn't plunder the seed bank there. We read of the wonderful Beatrix Potter and her diagrams of fungi and of De Barry and his study of potato pathology. We hear of people that travelled the globe in search of plants that would not just provide a welcome sight and beauty for the eyes, but that would heal us (such as Cinchona), that would feed us (such as yams), and that would help us make products to enrich our lives (such as rubber).

Wonderfully written and well illustrated, this book was a joy to read. Broken down into bite size chapters that match the radio series, the rich content of this book does not overwhelm. I restricted myself to two chapters per day, so I'd have time to digest what I was reading - but could have easily read more!

I was hoping that the hardback version would be a lavish glossy book with all of those illustrations placed on the relevant page, but sadly, this doesn't seem to be the case. However, some illustrations are provided on the standard pages,but there appears to be no difference betweek hard and paperback versions.

The radio series is available for download from the BBC here both as individual episodes and 5 omnibus downloads. I read the paper copy that has 4 sections of plates for illustrations and photographs.

Well worth a read.

23 October 2017

Tree Flowers: October 2017: Silver Birch

There are a lot of birches around, but I think this is a fairly young silver birch (Betula pendula). Young because the trunk hasn't yet developed the cracks that either (to my mind) either look wonderful, or make the tree look awful.

When I first got into bushcraft, this was the most interesting tree to me. Strands of trunk can be peeled off for tinder, without harming the tree. Around March the trunk can be tapped for sap, which can be used for wine or birch beer (although I've never made these). Also, it stands well when dead, making a good tree for harvesting when it came time to make a fire for cooking.

Being monoecious, both male and female flowers adorn the same individual. The catkins are present between April and May, with the green females are erect to collect pollen that blows in the wind. The male catkins are longer and hang in groups ready for gusts of wind to take the pollen from them.

Male and female catkins.
A closer look at a male catkin.

The wood of the silver birch is often used for internal joinery. With the tree itself providing food and shelter to many invertebrates and a few fungi, including the iconic fly agaric. Although they only survive for around 80 years, this is one of those poineer species that are the first to grow in barren areas, making the area more attractive to other species that can often take over the area as the birch reaches the end of its life.

There are many, many cultivars of the silver birch. Some with purpleish leaves, 'Purpurea'; some with deeply cut leaves, 'Dalecarlica'; and some with grow at columns, while others have a weeping growth. There is surely a silver birch for every garden!

16 October 2017

Book Review: Urban Botanics by Maaike Koster and Emma Sibley

This beautifully minimalist book is aimed at people wanting to add plants to their urban environments, such as living and work spaces.

After the brief introduction, the book has 4 chapters: Succulents, Cacti, Flowering Plants, and Foliage Plants. Each plant gets a double page spread, the left contains the simple and easy to follow growing instructions, which vary in length, written by Emma Sibley. On the right page, each plant is treated to a wonderful illustration from the paintbrush of Maaike Koster.

While I do like the minimalist nature of this book, I do feel that a bit more information could have been added to enrich the readers relationship to each plant. However, I liked seeing the native location information for each plant and the use of metric and imperial measurments, which is sure to keep everyone happy.

An example of the book layout.

The section on Cacti is very loose with the term, including cactus-like plants such as Euphorbias in the curated list. While some old common names are mentioned, there is nothing mentioned of the scientific name of the plant - something that can often arouse deeper interest in plants.

The book is great to look at and has been well written to be easy to follow. A wide selection of plants has been chosen from both hemispheres and I feel that there's a plant for most situations here. Cetainly a nice and brief read to feel closer to plants, either those you already have, or those you soon will!

09 October 2017

Book Review: Gardening on Clay by Peter Jones

This is an excellent beginner's guide to the plants that will perform well and reliably on clay.

The author not only trained at RHS Wisley, but was a head gardener in places such as Sudeley Castle in the Cotswolds; so the man knows his stuff. However he is modest enough that for Roses, he sought advice from David Austin roses.

He writes in a readable and approachable style - even the always dreaded chapter on lawns wasn't as bad as expected (I love grass, but not lawns!). Illustrations are provided when necessary and the book provides many colour photographs.

The advice is basic, but purposely so. I imagine the author could have written an epic on gardening in and managing the joys of clay. I read this book because I have a clay garden (accurate at the time, see note below) and was happy to see that the majority of the plants I grow are listed in this book.

The book has chapters including trees, herbaceous plants, annuals, and roses. It would have been easy to list off many long lists just to show the extent of his knowledge, but the author restricts plant lists for each chapter to around 20 and provides advice for each.

The only thing that would have made the book better, personally speaking, would have been a more encyclopaedic layout of the plant lists with photographs for each plant - which would have saved me time searching on the Internet for examples of plants I didn't know. However, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to anyone struggling to plant up a clay garden.

(Note: I seem to have a few posts that were still in draft after being written a while ago. This post was written in November 2015 - about time I posted it!)

06 October 2017

Friday Five: Signs of a good book (non-fiction)

One more page, becomes one more chapter. Repeatedly. 
This often happens to me. I get to where I want to stop and then 'sneakily' check where the chapter ends or how long the next chapter is. I put sneakily in inverted commas, because it's only myself that I'm trying to hide this from - and I fall for it every time!

Dozens of tabs and/or notes
For me, a good book will intrigue you about a topic - or often a particular plant - that you just need to find out more. This might be just to look at a photo, or it might be to consume whole Wikipedia pages about this new awesome thing. I tend to leave this until I've finished the book, so I don't disrupt the flow of the book and this tends to lead to dozens of sticky tabs littering the edges of the book pages.

You Tell Everyone
You just have to tell everyone about it. Even if you're not even half way through! I rate books on Goodreads and write reviews here to temper my enthusiasm - otherwise people would think I'm more of a pain than they do already!

The best books lead to other books.
As a reader of a lot of non-fiction, I'm always on the look out for new and awesome books (for me, primarily, about plants). So, I keep an eye out for the names of books in the main text, but also the references or recommended reading at the end of the chapter or book. I've found that this has led to many new great books.

You have to OWN the book!
The best books consume my mind throughout the reading process to the point that I need to have the book (or at the very least know that there are multiple copies available at the library). I envision where it will live on the shelf and how it will be used for blog posts or general reference.
I often pull out good books from my shelves just to flick through or to rediscover a piece of forgotten knowledge. A good day is on spent with a bunch of books circled around me.

This is normally where I embed a video that adds a bit extra to the topic at hand. I couldn't think of a video for this, so instead, I'm going to give you my 10 favourite non-fiction books according to the star rating I've given on Goodreads (descending from 5 stars):
  1. Tracing Your Ancestors Using the Census by Emma Jolly
  2. Seeing Seeds by Teri Dunn Chace (Author) and Robert Llewellyn (Photographer)
  3. The Cabaret of Plants by Richard Mabey
  4. Botany by James D Mauseth (the only book I regret selling)
  5. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
  6. James Wong's Homegrown Revolution by James Wong
  7. Wiltshire Folk Tales by Kirsty Hartsiotis
  8. What a Plant Knows by Daniel Chamivitz
  9. Foundation: The History of England by Peter Ackroyd
  10. Solving Genealogy Problems by Graeme Davis
So, that's my list and the ways I know I'm reading a good book. What about you? What books are your favourites?

(Note: I wrote this post during January 2016, but it's been sat in my drafts. Finally got around to posting it!)

29 September 2017

Tree Flowers: September 2017: Red Horse Chestnut

Ths is a very variable hybrid between Common Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) and Red Buckeye (Aesculus pavia). It varies in the quality of the flowers, but more importantly can suffer from a genetic abnormality that can cause the branches to swell create far too many buds and can lead to the death of the tree.

The one photographed has been in place for many years in between a main road and a road that leads to the driveways of the houses on the left. Apart from keeping it away from the telephone wires, I doubt much attention has been paid to it since planting.

The flowers are interesting, but they don't last long. While they are around, they appear on upright panicales that grow up to 20cm in length. The flowers vary between pink to deep red.

There are a few cultivars around, such as the French 'Briotti', a compact, but strong growing tree, and 'Plantierensis' which is similar to the common horse chestnut. I'm unaware of any real use for these trees, after the flowers are gone there's not much interest. Before I sign off, let's have a look at the flowers:

Flowers on the panicle.

A group of stacked photos to show an individual flower.

25 September 2017

Book Review: Exploring Avebury by Steve Marshall

I've always wanted to learn more about Avebury stone circle, a site that I've visited a few times and these days is less than 20 minutes away by car. However, until now I hadn't found a book that made learning about the more than 200 stones accessible and enjoyable. Now, I've found that book!

This book is packed full with photographs and importantly maps - lots of lovely maps - that are the key to making such an impressive site accessible on the written page. Many books rely on description, but unless you're as familiar with a site as the author, this often doesn't work.

Sites like Avebury are complex and seem to be a piece of a greater whole, also they were made within the environment of the group of people that lived in the area over the time it took to create these impressive wonders. It's all about connection. Connection to place and people.

With that said, I think someone who has never visited the site could read this book and walk away passionate about all the information learned about the stone circle and the 10 square miles around this site. That's the genius of this book, the words provide the detail while the amazing photographs, diagrams and maps help provide the context, put together this package creates an immersive book.

Other sites include West Kennet Long Barrow, which has a diagram numbering each stone and then numbered photographs of most of the stones. Also, Silbury Hill receives a detailed account including construction and why it is the shape it is, along with, of course, illuminating photographs throughout the seasons.

I am very taken with this book (if you hadn't guessed), but it doesn't end here. The author's years of research were too much to contained within a book and has provided a website for anyone to use: Exploring Avebury - this is a sensible move as there is still much research in and around Avebury, so additional information will be added by the author as it comes available.

I wish more books were as detailed, yet as accessible as this book. For anyone interested in Avebury or this exciting period of time, then it won't disappoint.

18 September 2017

Alton Barnes White Horse

LocationAlton Barnes, Wiltshire, UK
OS Grid RefSU10676373
CoordinatesLatitude: 51.372529N Longitude: 1.848101W

Alton Barnes White Horse was cut in 1812 on Milk Hill, which beats Tan Hill by one metre to be the highest point in Wiltshire at 294 metres above sea level.

The hill figure was designed by John Thorne, who was an inn sign painter, under commission of Robert Pike, a local farmer. John Thorne was supposed to cut the horse too, but ran off with his advance money (£20) and left John Harvey, a local resident, to cut the horse. Thorne was later hanged for a series of crimes.

This must be one of the best known white horse's of Wiltshire, not only because it is easily seen from the Devizes Road, but also because the fields below often feature crop circles, which bring in people from around the world. The horse is often featured in the photographs and documentaries about crop circles.
The white horse with the Milk Hill Bowl Barrow at the top of the hill above the horse.
As a side note: In nearby Alton Priors is a stone that has been carved with a replica of the Alton Barnes white horse, signed PRS 1995.

The horse is quite a way from the car park (detail below). It can be reached over the downs and through some gates. I don't think it would be suitable for push chairs or standard wheelchairs.

There is a small car park up the hill and to the right of the horse, called Pewsey Downs Car Park, then cross the road andfollow the trail. I haven't been able to find the name of this road, the OS Grid reference is SU11586380. The satellite view below shows the car park:

Street View

See my Alton Barnes White Horse page on Megalithic.com for lots of links and maps and nearby sites, click here.

15 September 2017

Book Review: Red Squirrels by Tom Tew and Niall Benvie

I first read this a few years ago, but it's been sat, unloved, on the book shelf ever since. As we were going to Brownsea Island (one of the few places to see red squirrels in Britain these days), I packed it in the car.

I didn't actually expect to read it, perhaps just thumb through it if I had the time. But as I began to thumb through it, I started to be pulled into the book and read it properly.

I'm really glad I did. The book is aimed at a general reader that's interested in the red squirrel. There are lots of great photographs and quite simple text - but this works to the book's advantage. Being only 48 pages long, the text is well written and at the right level.

The book provides an Introduction to Red Squirrels, followed by Historical Distribution and Abundance, Biology and Ecology, Conservation, and Red Squirrel Facts.

Without this book I would never have thought of looking for squirrel dreys (a nest for squirrels) and therefore wouldn't have enjoyed spending time photographing them.

The photographs show squirrels throughout the year in wild and domestic environments - like the photo of the squirrel sharing a bowl of food with a pheasant!

If you have any interest in the red squirrel, then this is the book to start with. It certainly provided me with enough information to be going on with and some enthusiasm to look further into red squirrels when I have the time.

11 September 2017

Box Rock Circus

LocationBox, Wiltshire, UK
OS Grid RefST823687
Coordinates51.417036N Longitude: 2.255916W

This modern stone circle, completed in 2012 and officially opened by Prof. Iain Stewart in May 2013, is an installation of different rock types and sculptures. It was built as a learning tool to tell the story of the ancient stories of the rocks, minerals, and fossils.

To this end, there is an information board (below), a stone that provides opportunities for fossil rubbings (casts of real fossils), and two sets of dinosaur footprints that allow the visitor to decide if the big dinosaur was chasing the little dinosaur, or just had a baby in tow.

This site is a wonderful addition to the stone circles of Wiltshire, and this must have been in mind when a circle was decided upon.

A closer look at the stones and sculptures.

For more information see the following website.
There is also an Earth Geocache at the site, information here.

Google Map

There is very good access to this site. A car park is on site, near the end of Valens Terrace (off the High Street), and the grass is flat and level. Between the car park and the stone circle is a picnic bench.

See my Box Rock Circus page on Megalithic.com for lots of links and maps and nearby sites, click here.

08 September 2017


For quite a few years now I've used a site called Megalithic.co.uk. It is a website that crowdsources (although it was around before the term was coined in 2005) information about ancient sites around the world. The aim of the site is to document these sites in the hope that this will provide publicity and protection from development and agriculture, especially for little known sites.
I really liked the stamp Andy (Founder and Editor-in-Chief) had put on the envelope:
Maiden Castle hillfort, Dorset, 400BC
The site types range from ancient crosses and artificial mounds to burial chambers and hill figures to marker stones and stone circles.

While I've been using the site for years to find sites and learn about them, I didn't start contributing my images and adding sites to the website until June this year. That's when I decided to become a member.

For my £10 a year I get:

  • full length Satnav / GPS downloads for the sites, 
  • 20% discount at their online shop, 
  • full voting rights as a member of the society, import/export of logs, 
  • removal of ads (I have to admit, I never knew there were ads on the site due to Adblock) 
  • access to a members' only discussion forum
  • a free download on the iPhone / Android app. I tried this on Android and it's pretty pants and crashes a lot. (No development has been done to the Android app for nearly a year at this point and, sadly, the developer didn't seem interested when I emailed him.)
  • a very cool pack of Megalith Playing Cards. Which I think are really interesting and a great addition to the membership pack.

I really enjoy reading the entries on the site and checking out all parts of the forum. You don't need to become a paying member to use the site - or even need to create a free account. There's also a free newsletter that you can sign up to.

It's certainly a site I use when looking for day trip material and has introduced me to a whole host of new places that I never knew existed.

You may have seen a few posts that I've published to this blog, which are versions of the pages I've uploaded to the Megalithic site, these are tagged with the 'Megalithic' label, if you wanted to check them out. It's worth checking out this site as there are bound to be entries in your country - and if not, please start adding them!

04 September 2017

Langford, Brough and Glebe Farm sites on the A46

LocationBrough, Nottinghamshire, UK
OS Grid RefSK833584
CoordinatesLatitude: 53.116285N Longitude: 0.756878W

This is a collection of previously unknown sites that were discovered during construction work along the A46 for the Newark to Lincoln Improvement Scheme, Nottinghamshire. The excavations were sponsored by the Highways Agency and after work completed an information board was sited at the northbound Brough Bypass layby, which I have used for the OS grid reference.

A summary of the information board:

At Langford, pits and gullies were found that contained Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age pottery (2400 - 2000 BC). Additionally a ring ditch cemetery was found near Langford Hall. This contained cremation burials of Middle Bronze Age (c. 1700 - 1500 BC). 8 cremation urns were found, 3 enclosed by the ring ditch and 5 outside of the enclosure.

The line of the bypass at Brough was marked out around 100 BC by fields that were defined by ditches. These were laid out following a east-west/north-south alignment. It is thought that the larger ring gullies may represent roundhouse foundations, while the smaller rung gullies may have provided drainage for haystack stands. The pottery here shows that this site was in use until 1 AD, but was then abandoned.

Glebe Farm
An Early Bronze Age cremation cemetery aged between 2000 - 1700 BC was found to comprise of cremation burials in urns which were set inside an oval ditched enclosure.

Further south on the A46 similar excavations were completed during construction work near Stragglethorpe. You may wish you view/read about that site too.

At the site of the information board are 2 benches to sit at. There is a slight incline to the board, which may not be accessible for wheelchair users, especially in summer when the grass is long. The street view will give you a better idea of accessibility.

Street View

The wild flowers seem to be left alone at the site with some ragwort and lots of mallow, as seen below:

See my Langford, Brough and Glebe Farm sites on the A46 page on Megalithic.com for lots of links and maps and nearby sites, click here.

01 September 2017

10 Years in Wiltshire

Today marks the 10th anniversary of me moving to Wiltshire. It all began when I was studying online for an AS in Business Studies and asked on the forum for a study buddy. A certain lass from Wiltshire, who goes by the name of Lucy, replied and we started emailing each other.
Lucy and myself in Bruges, 2012.

At first it was just a study relationship, but this became friendship and we'd video chat on MSN Messenger (remember that!?). March 2007 was my first visit to Wiltshire and after a few visits of me to Lucy and Lucy to me in North Lincolnshire, we decided it was time to move things along. On the 1st September 2007, I made the 200 mile trip from North Lincolnshire to Wiltshire to move in with Lucy at her parent's house.

We found our first place in Chippenham and moved there in October that year. Such a short time of chatting via email to living with each other made for a steep learning curve and the first year of living together was pretty tough. But so are we! After 2 years we moved to Melksham, which we bought with a mortgage and then last year we moved to Calne.

For me, the move to Wiltshire was difficult and it's only in the last year that I've felt that Wiltshire is now my home.

In some ways the last 10 years has gone by so quickly. But in others, I can feel the passage of time.

My son investigating a bee orchid, 2017.
Now that Wiltshire lass is my wife and we have a son who's now over 2 years old and, even with my chronic illness, life is great. I'm really happy I made such a life changing decision and get to spend every day with my best friend, the love of my life. Who knew that first email, that first phone call, that first visit, would lead to a totally different life than I had lived previously.

Here are some of the photos I took on my first visit to Wiltshire:
Silbury Hill, 2007

Cherhill, White Horse and Monument, 2007

West Kennet Long Barrow, 2007

Stonehenge, 2007

28 August 2017

Westbury White Horse / Bratton White Horse

LocationBratton, Wiltshire, UK
OS Grid RefST898516
CoordinatesLat: 51.263464N Long: 2.147571W

Tradition has it that the original white horse on this site was cut to commemorate King Alfred's defeat of Guthrun in 879. However, the earliest mention seems to be by the Reverend Wise in his 1742 book "Further Observations on the White Horse and other Antiquities in Berkshire".[1]

The present version of this hill figure was cut in 1778 by the steward of Lord Abingdon [2]. With concrete added to hold the edging stones in place during the early twentieth centure, the horse was finally totally covered in concrete in the 1950s and again in 1990s. In 2012 the horse was steam cleaned and repainted for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee [3].

I feel that the ambience at this well used site is wonderful. There often tend to be families enjoying the white horse and the field opposite the car park. It seems to be a good site for hang gliders and there's often the chance for an ice cream too!

[1] https://www.wiltshirewhitehorses.org.uk/westbury.html
[2] https://history.wiltshire.gov.uk/community/gettimeline.php?community=Wiltshire
[3] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-wiltshire-17714006

The viewpoint.

A typical scene for this well used site.

Access is via the car park. There is a stile to get over and the ground can be uneven. Not suitable for pushchairs or wheelchairs. There is a bench close to the horse.

Additionally there is a viewpoint of the horse at the car park located on the B3098 between Westbury and Bratton (ST884516). If you turn to the left on the Street View, you will be able to see the car park.

Street View (View of the horse from the B3098 viewpoint car park)

Street View (View of access to the horse from the car park at the White Horse location)

See my Westbury White Horse page on Megalithic.com for lots of links and maps and nearby sites, click here.

21 August 2017

Kilburn White Horse

LocationKilburn, North Yorkshire, UK
OS Grid RefSE516813
CoordinatesLatitude: 54.224828N Longitude: 1.210053W

Kilburn White Horse.
In 1857 this hill figure was cut into the hillside on the initiative of Thomas Taylor, who had found inspiration from the white horses of Wiltshire and Uffington. It was completed in November 1857 by Taylor's friend, school master John Hodgson, his pupils and local volunteers.

The horse was created by removing topsoil to get to the underlying rock and then covering it with limestone chips. There was no endowment to scour the horse and it has nearly been lost many times. In 1925 there was a campaign in the Yorkshire Evening Standard which allowed the renewal of the horse. A memorial in the car park says: "The Kilburn "White Horse" This figure was cut in 1857 on the initiative of Thomas Taylor, a native of Kilburn in 1925 a restoration fund was subscribed by the readers of the Yorkshire Evening Post and the residue of £100 was invested to provide for the triennial grooming of the figure"

These days the restoration of the horse is managed by the White Horse Association charity and local farmers.

Memorial to the 1925 restoration of the white horse.

A view from the horse.

A closer look at the material used to fill the horse.

Google Street View

For more information check out the Hows website Here
See Kilburn White Horse page on Megalithic.com for lots of links and maps, click here.