Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Friday to Tuesday in freezing ice.........

An eclectic posting today. I've just returned from a weekend at WWT Welney in Norfolk where as part of a team we recorded an episode of Saving Species in front of a live audience. This was broadcast yesterday and if you would like to be interested in the finished result, have a listen on the i-player, here. And as we worked over the weekend we have 2 days of in lieu, so I had mine on Monday and Tuesday. Therefore as the excitement mounts, go on admit it, you're on the edge of your seats with this posting, I shall recall the last 5 days, mainly in photographs. That way you don't have to read any of my scribblings.

This posting should have happened on Friday. And why? Well on Thursday lunchtime I pootled out into the snow capped streets of Clifton to have some fresh air. Passing the Oxfam book shop, in the window, this book. In a moment of extreme rashness and hot headed direct action, something said to me - just buy this book. And I'm glad I did.

Because passing £2.99 to the man in a scarf, I took the book unopened out of the shop and it fell open at page 12. Page 12 being a poem about Loders (in Dorset). But it wasn't. It was a poem about my all time favourite location in the British Isles, Eggardon Hill. So I wonder. What made me walk out at lunchtime for the first time in months, what made me walk past the Oxfam window, and what made me buy this book unopened, only for the page to open at a poem about Eggardon Hill? Some may say it is coincidence, but I wonder, is there something else going on out there, we just don't understand what fate can send in our direction. Before I move onto the rest of the posting, herewith this poem (apologies about the formatting, it's gone a bit haywire)

When frost lies thick on Eggardon, And every pool begins to freeze, From Mickleford to Nettlecombe, And hills are hung with sparkling trees.

O, then, to loders we must go, Before the world is drowned in snow, When mists fall low on Eggardon, And morning reddens sea and sky.

From Vinney Cross to Powerstock, The flocks of silent starlings fly, O, then, as evening breathes farewell, We take the rutted road to Bell.

When stars shine clear on Eggardon, And field and fold are hushed with sleep, From Yondover to Askerswell, The lanterns burn for wandering sheep

O, then, for us those lanterns burn, And, one by one, we shall return.

So that's got us neatly to Friday afternoon. Off we went to Welney, and well I can't really say much of note here other than in the photo below there's a bit of an eejit in the back row, on the left. It was a good weekend, the show went well and the real stars of the show were the birds.

It's my first ever visit to Welney and I loved it. A bit touch and go with this wintry weather whether we'd go, or make it in the snow, but in the end we did, and the audience loved it. Quite strange to be there with hardly any snow, while 30 miles away there was quite a bit. I popped out early on Saturday morning with my boss to see if we could track down some of the 2,000 Bewick swans on the reserve, but they'd already gone off to their grazing fields. But we did see a stunning marsh harrier quartering past the hide, and of course hundreds of Whoopers from the observatory.

Including this family of 7 cygnets who are on site at the moment. Apparently this same pair raised 6 cygnets last year as well. Fabulous to think they were in Iceland just a few weeks ago and now made it intact to Britain.

So by Sunday morning we headed back to Bristol, and after unpacking the cars, I then drove over to Julie's, where by 4pm we were heading out for a wonderful evening walk in the fields around East Grafton.

With of course a sunset thrown in to add to the walk (above) and a wonderful sight of corvids going to roost too (below). What these 2 photos don't show you of course is that it was bitterly cold by the time we got back to the house. Just in time for mulled wine.

Monday dawned cold, bitterly cold. in fact the temperature stayed well below freezing all day. So after some excitement of taking Julie's car to have 4 tyres fitted and buying a fleece in the agricultural merchants, we hoofed it to Waitrose in Marlborough, purchased maltesers and mince pies and headed to Savernake Forest with some nicely warmed mulled wine.

I think the maltesers must have been alcoholic versions, as there is no reason why the above photo would have been taken unless warming intoxicating vapours had been inhaled in my direction. I just hope you don't come across a wood nymph like that in the dark woods.....

Boy was it cold though. That damp, clawing cold only freezing fog brings. Very photogenic mind you.

.....it was probably a mix of mulled wine and hypothermia which meant I caught Julie talking to a pile of logs. She said she was sniffing the resin as she loves the scent of pine. Apparently that's more acceptable than talking to logs. I shall say no more.

But we did find a funny fungi in the forest. Is it a fungi? I'm not entirely sure what it is. At first I thought it was snow, but then realised it wasn't. It was quite delicate and broke off the beech twig it had erupted from quite easily, but was quite soft and feather like to the touch. Does anyone know what this is?

Or maybe why does this tree have feet?.... I'm sure if we hadn't had that second mulled wine this tree would have looked normal. Unlike my impersonation of Julie Andrews below........

I apologise unreservedly for this photo. It was the only way to keep warm. This was yesterday, December 7th and we were out for a 3 hour, 6 mile or so walk to Great Bedwyn and back. Blimey it was cold, with the temperature never getting above minus 4 all day, Julie couldn't work in this weather, I had a day off, but above all it was absolutely stunning out there, so off we went.

Molly wasn't convinced going out was the best thing to do on a day like this, so she positioned herself down in front of the radiator for the day. Over night on Monday the freezing fog had become thicker, and with the temperature hovering around minus 5 or 6 everything was covered in a film of ice-white. The Wiltshire countryside was stunning, absolutely breathtaking. so after a few chores in Marlborough (and breakfast for yours truly in the Polly tea room), we donned 5 layers of clothing and set off.

The first part of the walk is along the field edges next to Julies house and towards Wilton about half a mile away. It was so cold, the bridge of my nose was in agony, like a knife being pushed through it. But the scenery, even though foggy was fantastic. Julie couldn't wait for me faffing about taking photos, so she walked on. I can't blame her.

Literally everything was covered in 3 or 4 mm of ice. It looked much more like a heavy snowfall, but I assure you this was all ice, coating every surface possible. And with no sun in the sky, it wasn't melting either.

After a mile or two of fabulous walking in the bitter cold, we eventually made it to Wilton Brail. This is becoming one of my bird watching sites, and I was last here on November 16th (below). On my last visit we had had the first frost of the autumn, little knowing what the next three weeks would bring. But like on my last visit, a marsh tit was calling.

But this time, instead of heading up over Wilton Brail, we turned right and headed over to Bedwyn Brail, across the valley and across some rock hard stubble. Concrete wouldn't be as hard as that field was which made walking a bit difficult, but in the gloom at the edge of the Brail we saw a small herd of roe deer a quarter of a mile away. A good use then of my zoom lens.

.......you can tell Julie is happy to see the deer!! Is she telling me they're "that big"? Or is she telling me she's just heard a crossbill, of which one or two flew over calling. We never saw them, but that's the advantage of calling birds. One doesn't need to see them to enjoy their company.

Now there's a sight you don't often see, a footpath sign decked in Christmas lights!!

But eventually we arrived on the ridge of Bedwyn Brail, where the ice forms on the trees continued to delight us. With this cold weather, most people were sensibly staying indoors, so the countryside was eerily and delightfully silent. Quite comforting. There is something wonderful about being in total silence in the English countryside. I find it very spiritual.

I took a lot of photographs of the ice on the trees, but the images obtained are always a disappointment. Being there was like being enveloped in a Narnia-eske magical wonderland, something the photographs don't do justice to.

And so after 2 hours walking we finally began to head into Great Bedwyn, where I tried to recreate a moment from the last time I mentioned this walk on the blog, back at the end of August. Sadly this time there were no blackberries on the leaves. Surprising that.

For the return journey to home, we decided to walk back along the Kennet and Avon canal. And what a treat we had in store for us. Presumably the water in the canal added to the moisture in the air, and everything was thick with ice. At this point the canal was still running water, but eventually upstream it was frozen. Just after taking this photo, we flushed out a woodcock, presumably desperate to find food anywhere it could in this wintry landscape.

Bridges, ivy, trees, everything was just an artists dream

About a mile from Great Bedwyn, one reaches the Crofton Pumping Station, and by here the canal was very much solid ice. Dark clouds added to the dramatic scenery, as well as adding to the cold as the wind started to pick up.

But the scenic photos just kept coming and coming. I keep looking at the one below and can not believe everything you see is just ice; you will have to take my word for it, there is absolutely no snow in this picture. what you can't see well in the picture were large flocks of fieldfares and redwings foraging the berried bushes. Sadly no waxwings. A waxwing on a day like this would have been the perfect finale to a long walk in sub zero temperatures.

Just past the Crofton Pumping Station we headed back home past wilton Water, which is one of the few open water areas in Wiltshire. it is a holding pond for the pumping station and has a few birds on there all year round. Yesterdays highlight was a kingfisher which we heard, before we saw, and 5 little grebes. A few wigeon, teal, tufted duck and gadwall made up the other numbers.

But the scenery kept on being the star of the show. I'm lost for words now.

So lets leave the last word to firstly the flock of Canada Geese in the fields by Wilton water, and then a shot of Julie walking the last few hundred yards back to the village, it was only 2pm but boy oh boy, doesn't that look perishngly cold.


  1. I wonder if your odd fungi might actually be the Mycelium of a some kind of fungi, more usually found under the bark. I can't get closer than this and can not find a picture of anything resembling that in your picture. It's just a guess, but I wonder too if the winter temperatures might have caused it to 'explode' like this.

  2. I wonder if your fungus could be a naturally freeze-dried white jelly fungus (Tremella fuciformis)?

  3. Hi Emma and Wilma, thanks for the suggestions re the fungi. And yes Emma, good point, Mycellium rather than fruiting bidy is a good point. And Wilma I'd not really thought about the severe cold temperatures causing abnormalities, great suggestion. I've popped the photo to a contact here who is a professor of mycology, maybe she can help.

  4. Those frosty photos are wonderful! Thank you for braving the extreme temperatures to bring us those images - no doubt the mulled wine helped prevent your blood freezing? ;-)

    re Arctic smoke - I have some more photos taken this week which I could send you if you're interested. Could you let me know your email address? (mine is sian.thomas@btinternet.com).

  5. Thanks for that Sian, indeed the mulled wine did help :-) Looking forward to seeing the Arctic smoke images.

  6. Hi again Andrew,
    I sent your picture to Dr. Gordon Beakes at Newcastle University, he's a fungi expert, and his reply seems to confirm my guess. This is what he said:

    It really is interesting - my first thought was that it was an condensed array of ice - but if it was light and feathery (and not cold!) then I guess it must be fungal mycelium - but it certainly doesn't ring any bells. Sometimes slime moulds produce similar sorts of structures - but I am not aware of a pure white one.

    A mysterious organism indeed!

  7. Hi Emma, thanks for sending this to Dr Beakes, my old Alumni college. It is intriguing. I've not heard back from Prof Lynne Boddy at Cardiff, butmaybe she can shed light on it. it was one of the strangest things I've seen I have to admit. We're pinning the result on mycelium here too.

  8. Sounds like you have had a great few days, Andrew. The Country Christmas looks a great read and the poem on Eggardon Hill is lovely.

    I must remember to take mulled wine on my next country walk - a brilliant idea. There are some great photos there especially like the one of the oorvids going to roost and the photo of the bridge over the canal is so atmospheric and beautiful.

    Hope you solve the fungi mystery - sounds intriguing.

    The Raven programme was great - I've left a comment on the original posting on Winter Visitors. Looking forward to the next series.

  9. Lovely photos, as always. I've been to Welney once, and we watched the swans flying in to be fed at twilight on a winter's evening ... a wonderful experience. Thank you for popping by my blog ......Cindy

  10. Thanks Cindy, it was my first visit there and I loved the night time feeding, very atmospheric in the snow and ice.

  11. Oh come on now, we all love your scribblings. Isn't it wonderful when something speaks to you ie: the book. Your pictures are just wonderful. The snow and frost pictures are marvelous. I think Molly had the right idea, lol.

  12. Molly did have the right idea Oldcrow... cats are a lot cleverer than us humans (I use the phrase human advisedly in my case)

  13. I came across this page, and your photo of the stick with an apparent white ostrich feather attached, when I was attempting to identify a similar thing we saw this morning in Scappoose, Oregon. I assumed, like you, that it was a fungus. But it had completely disappeared within a few hours. I now think it was a "frost flower" as described on this page: http://www.its.caltech.edu/~atomic/snowcrystals/frost/frost.htm