Monday, 25 August 2008

Bicycling Swallows by Candlelight......

Sunday dawned bright and sunny; so the boy Reiver after a full English decided to have a nature ramble on a bicycle. But where to go? Didn't want to drive anywhere, so why not cycle from home. Wick St Lawrence in the fair county of Somerset is found on the North Somerset Levels. Many do not realise that the Somerset Levels are in 2 parts, the northern part is not that well known, but of equal importance, and gloriously undisturbed by tourism.

So chain oiled, saddle polished and I was off (as ever click on images for a better view). No plan, just see what happens. Heading off across the River Banwell at Ebdon Bow Farm, which is just a few yards from my house, great spot for Kingfisher, and a Grey Heron is usually here. Not today though. This is also an old orchard area, and remnant trees are now heavy with apples, a sure sign Autumn is around the corner. Autumn is my favourite time of the year and as I cycled that wonderfully atmospheric sound of wind through the leaves and reeds really makes me think of calm Autumn days, heat in the sun, and glorious colours.

All this was brought to an abrupt end as I crossed the M5, a road I'd be on in less than 5 hours myself. Legs like egg whisks I pushed on to my first stop, Puxton and St Saviour's church. The church, no longer used for services is maintained by the Church Conservation Society, and the grounds managed for wildlife. Not much around the site today as for the first time ever I wasn't there on my own. A few people were taking the air and I had a nice chat to a couple from Bristol who'd come out especially to see the........ leaning tower.

This tower is a local landmark, and I can't help thinking if this were Pisa crowds would be having their photographs taken. Not here though. This is backwater land, quiet as a church mouse, yet only 15 miles from the centre of Bristol.

Autumn, is however advancing. This Rose Gall was particularly splendid (not entirely which waspie caused it), and everywhere the red berries of Hawthorn can be seen. A lot of Purple Loostrife in flower too (I nearly went bustle over apex trying to photograph a bee on some, only to fall into an overgrown rhyne (ditch). Needless to say, the bee had gone by the time I'd extracted myself from the undergrowth. Good job no one was watching!!

Back on the bike, I was pootling along, happy as a freewheeling Reiver on a bike can be. A thought. Why not cycle part of the Strawberry Line. This cycleway has recently opened and follows the old railway line which ran from Cheddar (home of not only a hard full fat cheese, but very early and delicious strawberry's) to Yatton Junction. From there the strawberry's of Cheddar were whisked to London and eaten a day later, with West Country cream.... yum! Sadly this romantic transportation of produce to the Capital is no more.

The section I was to cycle was the 4 miles from near Sandford to Congresbury. And I'm glad I did for 2 reasons. Along the route are "narrows" to deter cars, motorbikes etc. Dismounting to go through one, a woman and her 3 children having a picnic alongside this gave me a 7 out of 10 for style. Apparently I could have got 10 out of 10 if I'd cycled through. No doubt they wanted to see me cannoning through and off the gate to arrive at the other side sideways and on the ground. We had a good laugh though.

The other reason I was glad to have cycled this was the photo above. A little difficult to see but this shows Swallows feeding on Hawthorn berries. Now I've heard of this phenomenon before where Hirundines, preparing for the long migration will change feeding habits from the usual insects to fruit, but this is something I've never seen before. At one spot the air was alive with Swallows as they swooped then landed, fed then flew off. I watched this for about 10 minutes, sadly they were just a bit too far away to get a decent photo, but this at least shows what's quite an unusual behaviour.

Eventualy making it to Congresbury, I realised I'd cycled 12 miles. Which brought me a shiver of realisation, I'd cycled 12 miles, so to get home, that was another 12. I took this photo to remind me of the "Long Way Home". I have to admit by the time I did get home at 3.30pm, I was a shadow of my former self. It'll do me good though.


But nothing holds me back. Fed and watered on an overly large pasta meal, at 5.30pm I waddled out the door and headed to Lyme Regis for this years Candles on the Cobb. The last CotC was in 2005. It should happen every 2 years but that winter the pleasure gardens, obviously not having a good time, slipped into the sea in January 06. It took 2 years to rebuild the sea front, import thousands of tonnes of French sand, and English gravel to rebuild the beach and underpin the Gardens. And I have to say the Gardens are wonderful. now.

The whole event is to raise funds for local and national charities, including both Devon and the Somerset & Dorset Air Ambulances, a very very worthwhile cause. 5000 candles are lit on the Cobb (number 3505 was my candle - at the top of this curving wall by the canons).

Getting there early, I got my spot on a wall. By 8pm the Mayor was lighting the first candles. Many are bought to remember lost loved ones and the atmosphere while happy, is also very reflective as all around people are in thought, later there is a 2 minute silence for quiet reflection. I just wish though we could just have the silence and not Elton John's Candle in the Wind. I know it brings comfort to people, but why can't we just have the waves and the seagulls as we remember loved ones.

The volunteers this year managed to light all the candles in record time, and with near perfect conditions, the candles remained lit for over an hour. A special message was lit in the sand this year for Phil Street, the co-organiser of this event, who due to work commitments was in America and could only watch on the Webcam.

Even the canons had candles, and by 9pm the crowds showed no sign of leaving, which was good as finally a laser shone from the Cobb into the night sky. If you wish to see more, Lyme Regis Radio have produced a video of last night, at the moment it's a rough cut film, but will be edited and on-line soon.


  1. I enjoyed your bike ride. I must admit the candle pictures are quite impressive. Imagine, all those candles going at once.

  2. not a church I know and i've visited well over 800 over the past few years.

    The swallows were fascinating. never seen that

  3. Thanks Oldcrow. I have just had an e-mail from the organisers, they want to use my photos. Just goes to show!

    Hi Pete, it is am magnificent church inside, very plain, but if you're coming this way drop me and line and I'll send you instructions.

  4. Lovely post, Reiver. and great pics.
    In Holland the whole country reflects their lost ones on the 5th of May, when at 8pm everyone stops for two minutes and keeps quiet, every 5 years since 1940.

    Like the bike, my wheels are powered, yet you can go further and to more places too.

    we have a Hawthorn behind the gardenwall {fully fruited} and Swallows here too, using the garden as a fly-through. Yet I've never made the connection between these two. Other birds too switch their diet this time of year, like Swans.

  5. Thanks for dropping by Yoke, had a squint at your blog too, very good. Hope to see you back here soon. BR

  6. Thanks for taking us on a great bike ride. I've never heard of swallows doing that... great to see the picture. I agree about "Elton"... they played that song everywhere nowadays (at completely the wrong occassions). Silence would have let people REALLY think...

  7. I'm glad you agree Jane, I did worry I was being an old cumudgon re elton.