Walking in her footsteps

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The summer was too good to last and when rain broke through the gathering clouds last Saturday, the bees were spared their Apiguard treatment for another week.

Bank holiday Monday was a different story: blues skies, warm sunshine and a light breeze. As we were south-west, John and I decided to explore Carshalton, a sleepy suburban area in the borough of Sutton, Greater London.

Carshalton is situated in the valley of the River Wandle, which is the source of the village’s ponds and springs. Pretty parishes, country pubs and cottages populate this peaceful place.

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We planned to walk around a beautiful park spotted on the map, but when I saw the sign ‘Honeywood Museum’ and ‘Ecology Centre’ it was game over.

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Sutton Ecology Centre is a nature conservation area open to the public seven days a week. The grounds offer an educational wildlife trail to explore and learn about native habitats.

The centre is part of a fantastic project to encourage biodiversity gardens. Illustrated information signs were dotted along the trail to show people where to spot wildlife and how to create spaces for native habitats in their own gardens. Dragonflies flew over reeds, hoverflies dangled in the air and butterflies fluttered among trees. It was a pollinator paradise.

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We did eventually discover the park that we set out to find, populated by picnickers and squirrels, and also followed the streams and bridges across the River Wandle.

Later that day my mum sent a text that said: ‘Your ancestor called Sarah was born in Carshalton in 1848 and married William Parsons. Parsons was my grandmother’s maiden name.’

‘Emma’ and ‘Sarah’ are old family names, and as I reflected on the day having walked in the footsteps of my ancestor I wondered if Sarah Parsons had stopped beneath the same shady trees of the churchyard looking out across the ponds.

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Next week: as I’m still on the move – Bees in the Trees!

100th post: Fire mountains of Lanzarote

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Just a four-hour flight away from London lies Lanzarote and the promise of guaranteed sunshine that is too good to resist when the British winter has overstayed its welcome.

Lanzarote is the most easterly of the Canary Islands emerging about 15 million years ago after the break-up of the continental plates of Africa and America. The island was born through fiery volcanic activity and its most recent eruptions in the 18th and 19th centuries left behind a ravaged ‘Martian’ landscape of lava fields and dramatic rock formations.

A speck on the map in the Atlantic Ocean situated off the northwest coast of Africa, Lanzarote is the fourth largest of the Canary Islands, although locals say it is possible to drive from one end to the other in two hours. But who would want to do that when there is so much to see?

This is my 100th post and what better way to mark a blogging milestone than a visit to a volcano!

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The Canary Islands are a Spanish archipelago and each one blends Spanish influences with its own unique identity. Lanzarote is said to be the most visually striking – a scorched earth of volcanic ash, crumbling rocks, craters and caverns, and lava coastlines – perfect for artistic travel photography!

We stayed at one of the larger resorts at Puerto del Carmen. After a day spent at the poolside, we ventured out to explore the island’s famous Timanfaya National Park, which was established in 1974 to protect the volcanic landscape.

The Grand Tour started with a dromedary ride across the weird lunar desert. (The dromedary is the one-humped or Arabian camel and it gets the hump if you call it a camel, apparently. The term ‘camel’ usually means the two-humped Bactrian camel.)

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As our dromedary caravan set off we passed the point of no return – the devil’s sign. The devil is the symbol of Timanfaya where he still lives, of course. Devilish signs are found throughout Lanzarote because early settlers thought the volcanic eruptions were caused by a demon.

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Lanzarote is currently declared a world biosphere reserve by UNESCO and large regions of this adventure island are only accessible by coach. So after a fun ride on the dromedaries we took the Ruta de los Volcanes (Route of the Volcanoes) by coach to experience the Montanas del Fuego (Mountains of Fire) up close.

At Islote de Hilario, where the ground was warm beneath our feet, we witnessed ground tests of the volcano. Our guide told us to stand in a circle as hot gravel was dug up and poured into our hands. A burning brush thrust into a pit in the ground and water thrown into holes ejecting turbulently upwards was more evidence of geothermal activity.

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There was even a cooking demonstration at El Diablo restaurant where chickens and vegetable kebabs were slowly roasted over geothermal heat on a cast-iron grill. The restaurant was designed by celebrated artist and architect César Manrique (24 April 1919–25 September 1992) who was born in Arrecife, Lanzarote. His artistic influence is seen across the island.

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And while we couldn’t wander freely around the volcanoes, we were given short breaks to take in the hauntingly beautiful scenery. Here are a few pictures of me and John, a far more intrepid traveller, exploring the semi-active volcano of Timanfaya and the choppy coastline of Los Hervideros.

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As our coach continued to snake around the sleeping fire mountain of Timanfaya, we were treated to a movie-style commentary of Lanzarote ‘on location’. The island has provided the backdrop for a number of films, including One Million Years BC, Enemy Mine, Krull, Clash of the Titans (2010 remake) and Doctor Who: Planet of Fire.

I love this picture taken from inside the coach because the tint of the glass creates a ‘technicolor’ old Hollywood movie effect. I could imagine Raquel Welch running over the hill in her famous cave-girl bikini chased by a plasticine dinosaur.

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We winded through the famous wine region of La Gería where vineyards grow out of volcanic lapilli – little stones that fell out of the air and coated the ground during the volcanic eruptions. Single vines are grown in individual pits protected from the wind by low curved stone walls. This agricultural technique makes an attractive feature across the mountains and the vines are among the few plants to be seen other than cacti and hardy lichens.

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Our visit included a free wine tasting and more opportunity to indulge in arty photography!

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After a quick stop at Lanzarote’s famous cactus garden, Jardin de Cactus, which is home to the world’s spiniest plants and the most out-of-place windmill, our tour finished at Jameos del Agua – an underground volcanic passage formed at the foot of the volcano Monte de la Corona.

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Jameos del Agua is a place of incredible natural beauty enhanced by the artistic touches of César Manrique. The cave system is part of a volcanic tube where local people once hid from marauding pirates and I could imagine this as a scene out of Pirates of the Caribbean.

The underground lagoon is also home to a unique species of blind albino crabs, which can be seen everywhere in the black water like tiny white stars.

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The Grand Tour done, we hired a pedalo-style bike to explore the long beaches of Puerto del Carmen and discovered the flavours of the old town. There is a lot more to Lanzarote than volcanoes, there is also sun, sea and sand, spas, shops, bars, restaurants and a night life that was quite well hidden out-of-season!

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© John Maund

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© John Maund

I hope you’ve enjoyed my 100th post. And while it’s back to bees next time, here’s a little video of Lanzarote holiday memories.

This post is dedicated to my grandmother Antoiné Dees who was a talented photographer and adventurous traveller. I only hope that I can follow half as far in her footsteps.

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Too cold for a bee’s nose

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Another fine day of sunshine and showers in London and it is hard to remember that just over a week ago a blanket of snow had fallen and transformed the city into a winter wonderland. The weekend that it snowed I had been caught in a wintry blizzard when walking in Wimbledon woods and froze these scenes on camera.

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The woodlands were part of a nature reserve with signs to indicate local species, including the green woodpecker. This inquisitive bird can live in an apiary for years before, one day, it learns that tasty treats of bee larvae and honeycomb may be found inside the hives.

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More on woodpeckers later…

The snow had lasted after the weekend until Monday. Those who made it into work enjoyed a lunchtime walk around Regent’s Park as the afternoon sunshine took a sideways slant through the trees.

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There was more to see than just snow – this tree has eyes!

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And these pigeons huddled on top branches to keep warm.

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And spying through the bushes on the penguins at London Zoo!

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London has its own microclimate and by Tuesday the snow had left the inner city completely. In the meantime, a little visitor had landed at the apiary in search of food – woodpecker-bored holes were found on the side of one of the hives. Pat had found similar holes in his hives at Osterley a few weeks ago, so it appears that the woodpeckers are spreading the word.

While Pat and John had wrapped most of the hives in chicken wire, I paid an early morning visit before work to finish the job on our colony and the two that we are looking after for Clare and Charles. A few bees were curious to see what I was doing and poked their heads outside the entrance, but it was far too cold for their noses and they soon went back inside.

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Emily had spotted snowdrops trying their hardest to grow through the hard ground a few weeks back. Not long now till spring.

Related links

Snowmageddon
Winter watch for bees

You may also be interested to read this bittersweet post by Daniel J Marsh on Death of a colony – a beekeepers loss. A stark reminder that January to March is when colony losses are often reported. You can also follow Daniel on Twitter: @danieljmarsh

No incidental music please, say the squirrels

Before going on holiday to North Carolina, my options were to leave incidental music playing on my blog or a time-release post about squirrels. I chose squirrels.

So here’s an exposé of the infamous squirrel mafia at Regent’s Park. Enjoy!

A generous passerby looks for a biscuit in her bag to feed a hungry squirrel.

She is too slow for the squirrel who decides that he will do a better job of looking for himself.

Mission accomplished.

Here’s my beautiful, kind friend Helen. Also foolish and unsuspecting – not realising she is being set up…

…for a squirrel ambush!

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As naughty as they are, I was having a lot of fun taking pictures of squirrels until they called in the paparazzi police…

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This cheeky squirrel even had time to stick out his tongue before making a quick getaway.

Not all wildlife in Regent’s Park is shy about being papped. Apologies to my friend, Danielle, if she is reading this post, for the pigeon…

Magpie, squirrel and… ‘Don’t forget me!’, says the pigeon.

There were a lot more squirrel photos too, but I was feeling quite unwell at the time of preparing this incidental piece. So for more squirrel shenanigans do check out this fun post at Garden Walk, Garden Talk: Shock and Awe – Squirrel Style. And happily, as you read this, I’ll be curled in a comfy armchair beside a log fire in North Carolina, still sleeping off Thanksgiving Dinner!

A study of autumn colours and lights in Regent’s Park

The sun is playful in October. It races across the sky low and bright catching fire to vibrant colours, then hides behind mists and raindrops teasing the day with soft light and vivid tones.

Autumn is a fleeting time of year and so I have enjoyed lunch time walks in Regent’s Park, which has been the perfect canvas for the tantalising display of colour and light.

The days started with golden sunshine, leaves on fire and sparkling fountains…

Gloomy clouds arrived bringing overcast light and saturated autumn colours…

Then the mists fell upon wet leaves capturing spectacular hues, waterfalls and reflections…

Light played with raindrops in the dying rose garden and mists wreathed fading flowers…

I hope you are enjoying autumn as much as I have been!

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Related links

If you would like to visit or find out more about Regent’s Park, visit the website of the royal parks.

Autumn colour: The science of nature’s spectacle is a great video from the BBC that explains how the ‘elements have conspired to give us a particularly spectacular display of autumn colour’.

Check out this post of beautiful fall photos by Donna: Autumn Kalaidescope.