Sunday, 29 May 2011

Hoary

An unexpectedly nice walk this morning.  It looked as if we were not going to get a walk at all as we ate breakfast.  The clouds gathered and the rain started to fall and things didn't look promising, but then it began to brighten, so we sallied forth.  Off around Shipley Park, across to Head House Farm and back via the old West Hallam Colliery site.  One thing caught my eye more than anything else this morning.  A large, very green, white-flowered plant.
Having consulted my books, I think it's called Hoary Cress (Lepidium draba), a member of the Crucifer - or cabbage - family.
It is a Southern European species and was first introduced to this country in about 1809 having come in among the hay-filled mattresses of soldiers returning from the 'Walcheren Campaign' when Britain was at war with France and Holland.  

Friday, 27 May 2011

Ox-Eye

Another walk around the lakes of Straw's Bridge this morning as there were a few spots of rain in the air and it didn't look very 'promising'.  The family of 10 ducklings are still in fine fettle on Swan Lake, but today, my eye was taken by the crop of Ox-eye Daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare).
Nodding in the wind, these delightfully colourful flowers are very common in Britain, but no less worthy of comment for that.
From a walk a couple of days ago, we also saw a beautiful Peacock Butterfly (Inachis io) on a Red Clover flower.
The name, Io comes from Greek Mythology.  Io was a Priestess of Hera in Argos.  Strangely enough, the first part of the butterfly's name, 'Inachis' is derived from the name of Io's father, Inachus, a river god.  Io was turned into a heifer by Zeus after he raped her.  Delightful!

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Cheep

Looking out of the window yesterday, I was delighted to see a young Blue Tit hopping around in the Hawthorn.  With lots of wing fluttering and cheeping and an almost constantly open beak, it was being fed by its parent and looked gorgeous.
Sadly, it was dull at the time and so the pictures are not the best, but even in the half light of a Hawthorn in full bloom, this little sweetheart was adorable.  Still demanding food from it's overworked parent, it proceeded to hop onto the fat balls and help itself.  The poor parent bird looked a little ticked off at this as if it suddenly realised it was being 'taken for a ride' and it might be time for the kid to leave home...!

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Windy

Much less windy this morning, so we set out for longer walk around the countryside.  Small branches and twigs had falling from the trees as we walked along and the footpaths and the roads were strewn with the leafy debris of the past few days.  A couple of photos today, taken a few days ago.  I was curious to find out what this little moth was, sitting on a Lime leaf and looking very shiny.
It shone a brilliant, bronze colour in the sunshine, looking almost metallic.  At about half an inch long, it was fairly inconspicuous despite it's colour.  Turns out, it is called Adela reaumurella, one of many Horned Moths found in Britain - but you have to look carefully.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Flag

It has become even more windy this morning, so it was only a short walk along the Nottingham Canal, being careful not to be blown into the water.  Despite the wind, the Coots were swimming around, closely followed by their squeaking chicks, demanding food.  The Moorhens were similarly preoccupied and a Mallard was also being motherly.  Along the canal, the Yellow Irises (Iris pseudacorus) are in full bloom.
These pictures were taken at Mapperley Reservoir a couple of days ago.  Yellow Irises are also known as Yellow Flags.  This name comes from a 'mix-up' with the scientific name 'pseudacorus', which means 'false Acorus', relating to a similar-looking waterside plant, the Sweet Flag (Acorus calamus), an unrelated species more akin to reeds.  But, whatever their name, the Yellow Flags are very bright and showy on a windy day and add a nice bit of colour to the waters edge.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Wind

A shorter walk this morning in the very blustery winds and occasional spots of rain.  We too a walk around the lakes of Straw's Bridge to 'check on' the ducklings.  Remember the family of ten ducklings I mentioned on 27th April?
Well, the mothering skills of this particular duck have been well learned and, surprisingly, the whole family is still together and still numbering all ten youngsters.
There really are still ten of the little darlings huddled together, before one of them decided to strike out for a swim on his own.
Now reaching a size where they should be more able to look after themselves, they are nevertheless, still being looked after by mum who keeps a constant, watchful eye on her brood and on any passers-by.  including us.
Goodness!  How quickly they've grown.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Rhododendron

We will leave Madeira for now and return to the delights to be found around our local environs.  At this time of year, we are always treated to a spectacular display of Rhododendrons and Azaleas around Shipley Hill.  This year is no exception, as a walk up the hill last week, soon proved.
Almost every colour you can think of is 'well catered-for'.  Pink..
Orange...
Red...
And white...
And in some places, several colours intermingle making the shrubbery look a bit like an explosion in a paint factory.  Glorious!

Friday, 20 May 2011

Round Funchal

A walk around Funchal reveals all sorts of good-looking architecture.  The town centre contains buildings such as the Bank of Portugal...
Close by is one of the municipal squares, surrounded by fine buildings.  Firstly the building of the church college..
On another side of the square is one of the buildings belonging to the Madeiran University.  Here, seen as two pictures stitched together - hence the strange perspective.
Lastly for today is the building of the Hospice of Princeza Dona Maria Amelia.  Set at one side of a beautiful, shady park, it was a delightful place.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Floral Display

I mentioned the other day that we were a little disappointed with the amount of flowers to be seen in Madeira, having had our expectations heightened before arriving.  Having said that, while we were there, Funchal had it's annual flower festival and, although not the most colourful event I have ever seen, it was, nevertheless rather colourful.  Flat, linear floral displays were made along the some of the roads and they looked rather nice.
The crowds made it a little tricky to get near some of the floral displays, but all the pushing and jostling was worth it.
At the end of these displays, a pair of large, white floral parrots stood guard, again, surrounded by people having their photos taken while posing beneath them.  You had to be quick to snap them in between posers.
As well as the floral displays, several wooden huts had been erected along the roadside, from which traders sold their flowers, plants, packets of seeds, etc.  These were rather attractive too.
There was a 'children's pageant' on one of the days, described as a procession of 'thousands of children carrying flowers' which they then put together to build a 'floral wall of peace'.  Anyone who knows me will know that the mention of children (let alone 'thousands' of them) was enough to send me in totally the opposite direction!

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Cruise

While in Madeira, we were treated to the sight of several large cruise ships, docking in the harbour.  The first to catch our eyes was the Costa Mediterranea, a 1,057 cabin holiday cruise ship with 4 restaurants, 12 bars, 4 pools and 4 jacuzzis - among other things.  With a gross tonnage of 85,700t, it cut an impressive sight at the harbour side.
We thought the Costa Mediterranea was big enough, but then it was replaced by the Independence of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean cruise ship.  This one weighed in at nearly twice as much as the Costa Mediterranea at some 157,407 tons.  Absolutely massive!  So big in fact that I had to take two pictures and stitch them together in order to get it all in.  Capable of carrying 4,370 passengers and 1,360 crew, it almost filled the whole dock.
On a smaller scale, but no less impressive, was the private yacht 'Happy Days'.  This is the biggest composite yacht ever built in the Americas and is usually available to be rented out for private holidays.  There is certainly plenty of space on board with 7,500 sq ft of living space including sun decks, a jacuzzi and bar.  There's some money about!
Lastly was the Ruby Princess.  Launched in 2008, it weighs in at 116,000 tons, has 19 decks and carries 3,080 passengers looked after by a crew of 1,200.  Impressive all round.
Nice as these ships are to look at, the thought of being locked up with thousands of others in a floating hotel for a couple of weeks, fills me with absolute fear and dread.  And, as none of these ships stayed in harbour more than a few hours (only about 2 hours in the case of the Independence of the Seas), there would be precious little time to see - let alone enjoy - the delights of one's destinations.  Not my cup of tea at all.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Flowers

We were expecting to see the island of Madeira, covered with flowers.  Indeed anyone you speak to seems to have the same opinion, that it is the 'garden of the Atlantic' and flowers abound.  But, although there were a lot of flowers to be seen, it was not the floral explosion we had been led to expect.  Having said that, the flowers we did see, were both exotic and impressive.  Here, a pink Bottle Brush plant was attracting a lot of attention from the bees.
In the many municipal parks around Funchal, a common plant was the Canna Lily (not a true lily), also called Indian Shot.  That name comes from the seeds being hard and round enough to have been used as rifle shot in the many Indian campaigns, when more conventional bullets were running out.
The genus of plants known as Erythrina is wide and varied.  Belonging to the Pea family, they encompass all sorts of different flower shapes.  From these large trees bearing 'fluffy' flowers, called Erythrina abyssinica, from Africa...
... To the, more Pea-shaped flowers of the Erythrina crista-galli, a smaller tree from South America.
and to the medium-sized tree with flowers like a red-hot Poker and leaves like a Poinsettia, called Erythina speciosa, from Brazil.
The streets too were lined with the fragrant Jacaranda trees, also from South America, which dropped their bright blue flowers all over the roads and paths.  Beautiful!

Monday, 16 May 2011

Last of Monte

Leaving the church behind, we walked around the side and through the gardens to look over the village square.  Beautifully situated with views over the valley and sweeping down to Funchal.
Cool and shady under the trees, there was another shrine set into the side of the cliff to our Lady of Monte and a spring issuing water, lit by candles.
Time to start heading back down the hill.  But first, there was time to walk through the gardens and admire the  greenery and the flowers.
Bridges and walls crossed the valley, seemingly holding up the village above.
Out of the trees and off down the streets again for our 4 mile trudge home.  Easier going downhill, but harder on the knees and feet.  By the way, I'm told by Malcolm that the priest I referred to yesterday, was not singing the German National Anthem, but a well-known hymn (in German) with the same tune.  So it would seem that  Deutschland was not ├╝ber alles after all.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Monte again

Arriving puffing and panting finally at the little village of Monte, we made straight for the nearest coffee shop and had a well-earned rest and a caffeine hit.  The Church of Our Lady of Monte sits atop this hill, facing out over the countryside about 1,700ft below.  But, there was still a climb to be made before we got to it... The steps seemed to be the 'icing on the cake' after the climb up the hill, but up we went.
The present church was rebuilt after an earthquake had demolished the old building in December 1818 and was re-consecrated to the original patron saint whose veneration dates back to the 15th century.  It is a well-used church at all times, but particularly on 15th August, the feast of the Assumption.  It was in use the day we were there too.
Beautifully decorated inside, as many catholic churches are, the chandeliers were particularly impressive as the priest conducted a mass in German which for some reason, required him singing the German National Anthem in a rather flat and unmusical tone.  At least there was plenty to look at while he 'warbled'.  I took the pictures by the way, from the porch and without flash, so as not to disturb those inside - which by this time included Malcolm.
Leaving this rich sight behind, we turned and enjoyed the extensive views before looking round the village square and gardens.  More of them next time.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Monte

On the Wednesday of our holiday, we thought we would take a walk up to the town of Monte.  We had been told, by a local Rep' that it was not possible to walk as it was too steep a climb up the roads.  But, not to be deterred, we set out.  It soon became clear that it was to be quite a slog.  It was about 4 miles up the hill and it got steeper and steeper as we climbed.  The views were good...

... and they got better the higher we climbed.  As we neared Monte, we were being approached by taxi drivers offering to take us in their taxis, explaining that it was still good way to climb.  Some of them looked concerned, making me think we must have looked about ready to expire.  Still the views got better...
Closer still to Monte and we not only had to struggle against the incline, but we also had to keep stopping and pressing ourselves against the walls, to avoid the famous 'sledges' which give mad tourists a white-knuckle ride down the hill on upholstered, wicker baskets, steered by white-trousered men sporting straw boaters, scars and cauliflower ears!
The sledges, travelling at frightening speed on wooden runners down the roads seemed to be out of control despite the best efforts of the 'drivers' and the smell of burning wood hung in the air.  It was popular with some of the tourists, but not with us.  Stopping for the sledges to pass, gave us more chance to take in the view.  Malcolm seemed impressed as we looked down on Funchal...
More from Monte tomorrow, as we have to catch our breath first....