Wheatear by Graham Parry
I’ve been noting all the various birds in and around the fields. We are placed higher up than on the cliff and lower fields and we tend not to have the bird song that you notice when you head down to the cliff. In the morning if you want to catch the snail mail before the collection you have to walk through the fields first thing to the postbox and you can catch the dawn chorus in the field which has many trees. Our field doesn’t have trees, only hedgerows and we get birds that are mainly ground dwellers including two Wheatears. We have been wondering what they were for a while; the binoculars came out and we filled in an RSPB identifier as best we could, but to no avail, until our neighbour told me they were Wheatears, and sure enough they tick all the boxes. The photo above is by Graham Parry I am afraid I couldn’t do justice.
Since the spring we’ve had a large amount of swallows around, they seem to spend their days sitting on the wires above the back lane side by side with the resident buzzard and their evenings swooping around the chalets. They are still here but will soon be gone. During the last month in the garden we’ve also seen eight house sparrows together in a row on the fence with three robins and a wren.
But the one thing I haven’t heard with such regularity this year is the skylark; when we moved here in 2011 we could hear them all through the summer and we played the game of who could spot it above us first. This year, apart from in early summer, their song has declined and I read in this week’s ‘State of Nature’ report that ‘41% of species have decreased in abundance,‘. Intensification of farming and pollution from fertiliser is one of the reasons but here, in these fields, in front of our chalet, the land is left for life stock to graze and so not overly farmed at all … which only makes it worse.
Photo by Theo Moye
Next Saturday I am heading down the road to Bodmin to perform The Secret Listener at the Regimental Museum in the afternoon and the Old Library in the evening. A show about a voluntary interceptor who listened in to German radio frequencies during WW2 and, at the Regimental Museum, there is a Spy HQ exhibition that tells you more about the secret world of morse code, so there’s an additional ‘extra’ if you like, alongside the performance.
The Secret Listener 2pm at Bodmin’s Regimental Museum and 7.30pm at the Old Library tickets from intoBodmin
The nights are drawing in, the sheep have left the field, the hedges are full of blackberries and the lifeguards will leave at the end of the holidays. There’s a mist around the fields in the morning and its best to take a jumper on evening walks. The harvest is in and the mushrooms are massive!
We’ve had a good summer, apart from ten days of extreme wind and rain but the sun returned for the August bank holiday. That weekend, after living in the field for over eighteen months, we did a forage feast for friends and served up a meal of Sri Lankan runner bean curry [allotment overload] plus a pie full of wild greens and mushrooms [see above]. Friends added marrow stews, tomato salads and apple cakes and it was good to use up some of the food we’ve all grown, foraged or been given. Since being cautious of the mushrooms last year, my neighbour has been picking them weekly as she walks home through the field and passes them onto me. She has grown up on the cliff and knows all the best places!
I’ve just returned from picking some blackberries and I reckon it’s time to make jam, and… just like that, the sheep have returned to the field.
My cabin envy this month is a typical Hawaiian island beach house. These can be built along the sea front but back from the beach and the overhang on the roofs help the cabins to blend in to the natural surroundings. Originally one storey, new owners these days rip off the roofs and add a level [for a better sea view], or worse still knock the whole thing down and re build large cube like monstrosities. There was a reason these houses were built into the landscape – to be at one with nature. Occasionally when you walk along the beach you can just glimpse the roof and then you know there’s a vintage Hawaiian cottage just beyond your gaze.
This one is a rental…on Maui I believe, but heh we can all dream.
The sun goes down on the Port Elliot Festival
Every July, the Port Elliot Festival occurs just down the road from the chalet and for the last three years I’ve mentioned in posts, [check out the category cloud to the right and click on Port Elliot festival] but this year, around two weeks before the celebrations were due to kick off, the festival released a press release saying this years would be the last one. Not giving away too much they went with the ‘come along and make it a great last blow out’ message rather than the depressing reasons why it was closing. Friends sent messages saying ‘have you heard?’ and there were shocked responses both personally and all over social media. So it felt that I should get along within the convenient window between finishing my own performance and heading to Copenhagen with, no longer teenage, son. We have been promising we would do this for three years so it has been a great feat to have done it, at last.
a mass dance off down by the river with the Mud Flappers
After two very soggy years at Port Elliot, which is not the best when you forget wellies, the sun remained out and not a drop was squeezed out of the sky. As usual there was too much to timetable so we prioritised but resolutely decided not to worry if some highlights didn’t come about, which did indeed happen with new poet laureate, Simon Armitage. We were the actual cut off point in the snake like queue but even then, when we got into the venue, we were so far from the door entrance to hear, never mind see said poet laureate we just thought ‘life is too short’ and left. Fortuitously we then bumped into friends on their way to their tent and we tagged along and opened a bottle of wine.
So it looks like it’s the end, even though many people are trying to keep it alive because they had such a good time but, like many holiday romances, that may all fizzle out once September comes around.
I took some days off before my new performance [on the pretext I needed to be somewhere to learn my lines] so we went to see friends in France, deep in the countryside without a phone signal, bliss. On one of our walks we came across a run down cabin, way too late to help it but would make a perfect cabin envy if you did.
Over the last week we have enjoyed the longer days and taken evening walks around the cliff and its been great to see all the flowers; from the camomile which has taken over the daffodil fields, the ox eyed daisies and wild flowers in the fields around the chalet and my neighbours incredible show of poppies. It seems like poppies have had a good season all round, I am seeing them all over the place and not just because they’re prolific self seeders but they’ve really flowered well this year.
camomile taking over the daffodil field
Just over a week ago on midsummers day him indoors and I went along to the Cornish vineyard Camel Valley, it’s only fifty minutes away from us and we’ve said for ages we wanted to go, when we drive past we always say ‘we should visit one day’. So, someone had a birthday and it felt like a perfect thing to do to celebrate. The weather was touch and go, as the days leading up had been wet and the vineyard tours happen whatever the weather. You want it to be fine though, especially when you’re sipping your ‘after tour’ glass of wine on the terrace overlooking the vines and these wines are awarding winning, the first English wines with a Royal warrant. We’ve bought the sparkling rose before,[clears her throat] when it was on special offer [usual ploy] so it was great to see where, and how, it is produced. I am not going to go through the ins and outs of the wine production now – you can take the tour yourselves, it takes place every day and Duncan is far better at doing it than I ever could be, plus …I may need a brief reminder to remember the finer points!!!
Later next month on the 24/25th July I will be performing my new show in the Lab at the Theatre Royal Plymouth. It is a black box of a space and very intimate, which is perfect for the show. The Secret Listener looks at the hidden work of voluntary interceptors during WW2 and in particular a woman called Olive Myler who lived in North Devon and was one of 1,500 voluntary interceptors during the war. She would listen in to specific German radio frequencies for coded messages and other sounds. She was a mysterious character and it is this aspect that the performance dwells on. The stories of Olive have been passed down aurally, so there’s a Chinese whisper effect in the telling, creating potential for drama. I have been developing a sound design to accompany the text with Ed Jobling from Forkbeard Fantasy and Derek Frood, my Plymouth based collaborator.
The Secret Listener Wednesday 24th & Thursday 25th at 8pm Theatre Royal Plymouth
Sometimes when I read back over the posts I’ve written and as I look out over the fields it feels like I am in the middle of a Guardian Country Diary post, my day to day chalet life seems to be fixated on the comings and goings of rural life. This month the house sparrows have suddenly been chirping away…they nest in the overhang of our roof and do so every year. They flit between the nest and our neighbour’s bird feeder and have lookouts on every available post. So as soon as I go into the garden a sparrow always appears on the fence, sometimes on the neighbour’s fence and always on the apex of the chalet roof; there they have vantage points to spy for various predators. When our cat ambles onto the deck outside, full of cat food, the sparrows chirping increases tenfold, but they are unaware that the cat, as much as he enjoys watching them coming and going, can’t be bothered to attempt anything that amounts to stalking and pouncing because that would require effort!!!
Mad friend came over for a dog walk and as we headed down the cliff we spied masses of Lackey moth caterpillar webs on the Blackthorn – lots of tiny webs, not the huge blanket like ones that have been shared online.
I have to say the blackthorn was pretty spectacular this Spring, here it is, below, on one of the paths down to the beach where we stop at a bench and look over to check the state of the tides.
The cliff paths are really changing now, the wild honeysuckle is starting to flower, which will scent the way down in the next coming weeks and the mint that was planted by a chalet owner beside the path has spread over a whole area and we’ve already had some amazing pots of mint tea from it.
Cabin Envy Old Settlers Hut
Since the weather got warmer there’s been a lot of DIY going on and rebuilds on the cliff and as much as I appreciate people re-building or adding on and generally trying to create a more modern way of living within a cabin, I always love seeing images of the more shabby chic ones or ones that have just been left alone. This image by Elise Hassey for Australian Traveller is of an old settlers hut in Australia and I know it wouldn’t work in our climate with all the rain on the corrugated roof but there’s something rather wonderful about not having the mod cons and living a more ‘natural’ existence. It always makes me smile when folk who hire out their chalets tell me that when people book onto the cliff they tend to be looking for bedrooms that have that boutique hotel vibe. You know the ones, with the crispest white sheets and the fluffiest of white towels and maybe a bottle of something sparkling waiting on the mega tog duvet, with the French windows open to reveal a sea of the bluest blue beyond a hot tub to drink the said sparkling wine in… and I think why don’t they just go to a boutique hotel and leave these chalets to be what they are…one of the most basic and therefore one of the most eco friendly ways to live.
Hope you are all having a great Bank Holiday weekend or Half term, or even if it was a weekend, whatever you are having – have a good one!
There’s an old saying that March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb, and here in Cornwall that was absolutely right, we had terrible storms at the beginning of the month and halfway through they passed over and left us with sun and warmth. I said in my last post that the sheep returned to the field and the lambs started appearing, as if on cue. On the last day of March, in the sunshine, the 50+ sheep started to move, as a group, towards one end of the field; the farmer had opened up the gate onto an adjacent field and they were all heading into pastures new. Except for one ewe, who watched the rest go but stood her ground, then she looked around as if she was scanning the field and I knew she was looking for her lamb. I could see indecision in that ewe, should I stay or should I follow the flock, she looked around again and then, having made her decision, she ran after the rest. Moments later the farmer’s land rover came into view and stopped, he got out and picked up the lifeless carcass of a lamb and put it into the back of the truck. I thought about that on and off for the rest of the day, not the lifeless lamb but the mother having to make the decision to leave her dead offspring and carry on, it was the 31st March, Mother’s Day here in the U.K.
April too has also been a mixture of weathers blowing hot and cold like a non committal lover. The daffodils have gone over [apart from one field which is mind blowingly full of creamy daffs] and made way for the bluebells.
Come Easter the weather was positively mediterranean and we were barbecuing on the beach yet a week later we are waiting for another named storm to land with an extra layer of clothing on.
a stone cairn on Rocky beach Trevone on Easter Sunday
I’ve been seeing a lot of posts about Shepherds Huts recently and so I thought I would return to one for Cabin Envy. Way back when I started this site I created a post about Shepherds Huts and it outdid all other posts for a number of years, so I make an assumption that many people have a soft spot for them. Most only have room for a double bed so it’s all about the outside here, this one is on it’s own little island!! Inspired by the Arthur Ransome books its called The Nancy Blackett and gives you a bed with a wood burner and when you want to cook something up you have to head over the bridge to the ‘mainland’ to a separate cabin. You can make use of the lake and fish or go out on a boat and re-create the Swallows and Amazons adventures if so inclined.
Sorry about the theatrical title but after the first half of the month being days and days of relentless rain and driving wind we have ended with warmth and sunshine so there is very much an awakening. Last weekend, a few days after the Spring equinox, we went down to the beach and were amazed to see the tide further out than we had seen for some time, in fact my neighbour tells us it was the lowest tide in thirty years. What this meant was you could walk the length of Whitsand Bay and back again which, normally, is difficult without getting your feet wet somewhere along the route.
On the cliff the flowers are waking up in the sun including the patch of mint that we normally grab a bunch of for a cuppa.
Half way though the month the sheep arrived back in the field and within 24 hours the first lambs were with us and again this all coincided with the official arrival of Spring. If you’re a procrastinator believe me there is nothing better than watching new lambs.
A big shout out the local school Fourlanesend in Cawsand where children decided to ban the single use plastic red noses for Comic Relief UK and made their own instead. Each nose cost £1.25 but only a percentage of that goes to the charity so, after a school project entitled ‘Do we need plastic’, the children decided to donate the price of a nose, of which 100% would go to Comic Relief, and make their own. You can see their video here https://www.fourlanesendprimary.co.uk/website/home/79018
It will be interesting to see how Comic Relief play it next year, the school got national coverage and a letter from Sir David Attenborough, so it was hard not to take notice.
Photo credits George Fielding
This is the Danish cabin in Kudhva, Cornwall, you can rent it through Canopy and Stars; it has folding walls so you can open up the cabin and let the outside in, and look at that outside! You are in a forest with waterfalls but there are other amenities as its part of a glamping experience including a hot tub with views to the sea, yet you can just hide away on the deck with a beer [supplied] and listen to the birds, come on you know you want to.