30 Days Wild – Day 8 – Back To My Roots

It’s day 8 of 30 Days Wild and today I managed to combine my two favourite pastimes – looking for wildlife and family history.  Since we moved back down south from Scotland 10 years ago, I’ve been meaning to go and visit the village of Thornbury in Herefordshire, where my Rowberrys started out in the 16th century.  My 9xgreat grandfather Richard Rowberry married Izott Smyth there in 1575! If you’re good at reading old handwriting, you can just about make it out in the extract from the parish register below.

Since I’ve been working in Clee Hill I’ve been driving past the turn for Thornbury twice a week. So today I decided take a detour to the church and have a look round.

Interestingly they were talking on Springwatch tonight about how much wildlife you find in older villages. Thornbury is in the middle of nowhere and very old (part of the church dates back to the 13th century), so it should be rich in wildlife. It was probably  a bit late in the day for my visit and it wasn’t the sunniest, so the wildlife maybe wasn’t as evident as it might be at other times. But just looking around you can see the potential alright. The village has scattered houses and the church is just on the edge of the fields in rolling countryside.

You can tell the churchyard was old by the size of the trees, including a massive Yew tree in the middle and even bigger pines (I think) at the edge. One of the pines was so big I had to photograph it in 3 sections and paste the photos together to get the whole thing in.

The branches of some of the older trees were twisted and gnarled like something out of Lord of the Rings. They must be great habitats for all kinds of animals to live in.

The Yew is of course a classic tree of churchyards. Close up this year’s new growth was visible as vibrant paler green at the end of each twig.

Of course you can’t go to a churchyard and not look at gravestones. Unfortunately my old Rowberrys haven’t left any stones (it was too long ago and they were probably too poor anyway). But there were plenty of other old stones covered in beautiful black, grey and orange lichens.

Other stones had a gothic looking covering of ivy.

It was a bit too dark and cool, for many insects to be out. It was nice to see though, that although the churchyard was recently mown and generally well kept, the gardeners had left areas of wilderness around the edges, which I bet in the sunshine would have been buzzing with insects.

I did see a few bees – mainly Tree bumblebees, which are rapidly becoming one of the most common bumblebee species I see (especially in our own garden). So it was nice to also spot this Common Carder on some white dead nettle.

While I was there, a big flock of large black birds (crows maybe) took off from the churchyard trees and all flew out over the countryside. Five minutes later they all flew back again, cawing loudly as they settled back in the trees. Hard to count them on the move, but there must have been at least 40 or 50 individuals. (Hitchcock’s The Birds sprang to mind!)

All in all it was a lovely peaceful end to my working day and Thornbury is a beautiful village in unspoilt Herefordshire countryside. My family lived there and would have walked around that same church over 400 years ago. Rural churchyards are often great places for wildlife and today’s didn’t disappoint. The only other thing that would have made it any better was if I’d seen some hop poles – as my 8xgreat grandfather Humphrey Rowberry was a hop-planter (one of the early ones in the area probably). Hope he approved of my visit all the same.

30 Days Wild – Day 7 – Birdwatching Surprise

Day 7 of 30 Days Wild and I was at my Dad’s house in rural Herefordshire. I spent the morning doing a bit of cleaning in his kitchen and while doing so, observed that his garden was full of birds (clearly I wasn’t 100% focussed on my cleaning duties!) Since I’d got the camera with me it seemed the ideal thing for today’s bit of wildness – a spot of birdwatching in his garden. First of course we had to have our pub lunch – there are certain priorities in life after all! Needless to say by the time we got back and I got myself set up in the garden, all the birds had decided they’d got better places to be!

In the morning there had been several large black birds (too far away to see if they were crows or jackdaws) going in and out of this hole in an old apple tree. They must have been too smart to do so while I was watching, as not one appeared while I waited, although I could hear them in the trees nearby. I might take my trail cam down and leave it pointed at the tree sometime, but in the meantime I drew a blank.

In the morning I had also seen magpies, wrens, robins, blue tits and pigeons – in the afternoon – zilch, zippo, nada! Then just as I was about to give up on them all –  a total surprise. I was leaning against another old apple tree (Dad’s house was built in an old orchard) when a Gold Crest suddenly appeared just a few feet in front of me. By the time my brain registered what it was, it had already spotted me and started to move, so I only managed this one rubbish shot. You’ll probably have to take my word for it that he was indeed a gold crest, since the key bit – i.e. his crest, is hidden by a twig. Still his appearance made up for the absence of everything else. I grew up in that garden and don’t ever remember seeing a gold crest before, so it was a real treat.

Loitering under various trees did have the unplanned benefit of letting me admire the tree canopies. There is a beautiful large copper beech tree overhanging Dad’s garden and the leaves were stunning from below (or indeed from any angle).

The birds may have been a bit contrary today, but fortunately a few insects were a bit more obliging. I spotted several pairs of these adorable little Woundwort Shieldbugs, all feeling the love in one of Dad’s flower beds. Not a species I’d come across before and smaller than other species I’ve seen.

A rather striking fly – the grandly named Pellucid Fly (Volucella pellucens) is one of Britain’s largest flies, but was a welcome sight given the lack of birds to photograph.

Although the garden was once part of an orchard, most of the apple trees have got too old and fallen. Those that are still there are covered in ivy and mistletoe. The hedges are full of hawthorn and other native plants, notably elderflower. All great habitats for wildlife. Seeing the elderflower in bloom reminds me of my childhood and the smell takes me right back.

I think I’ve seen a few other people on 30 Days Wild making elderflower champagne. We used to make this as children too, so I picked a load and took them home. This is as far as they’ve got at the moment. I’ll have to dig out a recipe and hopefully turn  them into something drinkable over the next few days – fingers crossed.

So as is so often the case with my 30 Days Wild acts, things didn’t go quite as planned. But who cares – a pub lunch and an enjoyable hour or so spent in Dad’s garden, listening to, if not seeing a lot of birds. There are worse ways to spend your day!

Apple Tree Life Cycle

I haven’t managed to blog much lately – the tail end of 2016 seems to have been way to busy (social whirl darhhhlings!) As the year draws to a close though, I feel a few reviewing posts coming on. One little project I started back at the beginning of the year was to try and document the life and times of our garden apple tree. I had originally planned to take a photo of the tree once a week throughout the year, but a) I kept forgetting and b) no-one would really want to look at 52 photos of the same tree! So although this post is full of photos, there’s hopefully a bit more variety.

Our apple tree is a medium sized, but fairly productive one, that gives us loads of delicious Discovery apples most years. At the beginning of the year though the tree was of course completely bare and remained so right up until the end of March.


A couple of weeks later in mid April and the leaf buds were just about visible and starting to open up.


Two more weeks and the leaves were filling out. I much prefer it when the tree is in leaf as it provides more privacy in the garden (not that our neighbours I’m sure have any interest in what we get up to in our garden!)


A mere 8 days later still and not only was the tree almost completely greened out, but the blossom was open too. The blossom seems to go on a two yearly cycle – one year it will completely cover the tree, the next year we don’t get very much – this year was one of the not very much years. It still looked beautiful though and was buzzing with bees for the short time it was out. The blossom never lasts long and this year it all got knocked off by a torrential downpour just a couple of days after this photo was taken.


Two weeks later at the end of May and the blossom was gone and the tree was fully green. The birds appreciate the cover provided by the leaves, although they never seem to actually nest in it.


By mid June small apples were visible. Although there hadn’t seemed like there was much blossom, we still had a lot of apples, so I guess the bees did a good job on what was there. On years where there is a huge amount of blossom, there can actually be too many apples. They crowd together on the branches, with not enough room to grow properly and many end up dropping off, so we don’t really get any more apples than on a poor blossom year.


By August the apples had turned the characteristic shiny red of the Discovery. The ones that get most sun turn the brightest red – they always remind me of the apple the witch uses to tempt Snow White!


We always end up with far too many apples for our own use, but Chris has a friend at work who makes cider, so he comes and clears the tree for us. Not only do the apples get put to good use, but it saves us having to pick up loads of rotting ones off the grass. So by September the apples were all gone and just a few of the leaves were starting to turn yellow.


By October the leaves were still all there but were definitely wearing their autumnal colours


A few windy days at the end of October and most of the leaves had gone by November.


And by yesterday the tree was back to square one – the only green left a few clumps of mistletoe that has recently colonised it.


As well as taking general shots of the whole tree, I tried to capture close ups of some of the individual parts. The leaf buds at the beginning of the year were brown and tightly furled but by mid April the young leaves had emerged, looking lovely and fresh green.



The blossom is of course effortlessly photogenic. It starts of a gorgeous deep pink before the flowers unfurl to almost pure white with just a hint of a blush. We’re very lucky to live in the Herefordshire/Worcestershire area, where in the spring there are orchards all around filled with apple blossom. It looks great on just our single tree, but when you see whole orchards in bloom it really is stunning.




The whole point of an apple tree (from a human point of view at least) is of course the apples.  The  young apples were green and had a downy fuzz (I’d never noticed the fuzziness before until I took these photos!) In May as the apples first form you could still see the remnants of the blossom flowers sticking out at the top.


As the apples matured they lost their fuzziness and turned shiny and red; the upper sides almost always turning red first as they got the most sunshine.


Most of the apples were of course turned into cider. They didn’t all get picked though and the few remaining ended up as food for wasps on the ground.


Every year I do pick a few for our own use before the cider makers take the main crop.


Discovery apples aren’t particularly good for storage, so you either have to eat them quickly or find some other use for them. Fortunately I’ve found they make very good mincemeat, courtesy of an excellent Delia (who else) recipe.


So the final stage in the life of our apples – jars of homemade mincemeat. It is nearly Christmas after all!


30 Days Wild – Day 22

TWT 30 Days Wild_countdown_22Day 22 of 30 Days Wild and it’s Wednesday, which means pub lunch with my Dad – today it was the delightful little town of Presteigne just over the Welsh border. It always feels like we’ve stepped back in time when we go there – Presteigne seems to run at a gentler, slower pace of life than anywhere else.

Anyway, don’t know if it was the Presteigne effect or what, but I decided to go back in time and explore Dad’s garden looking at things like I did when we were kids. My sister and I spent an awful lot of our childhood knee deep in mud and water in the stream that ran alongside our garden or just generally mucking about outside. The joys of a 1970s childhood!

We grew up in Herefordshire in a small village in a house that had been built on an old orchard. Our garden still retained quite a few apple trees which, when we were kids, were still quite productive – we even earned money occasionally picking the apples and selling them to a local farmer; we probably only got a few quid, but as children it seemed like we’d made a fortune! Now (more years later than I care to calculate) most of the trees have gone – mainly fallen in high winds as they got too old and brittle. There are a few left, like this cider apple one, which is still fairly sound and producing apples.

Apple tree


Several of the others though are little more than tall hollow stumps. This one had bits of wool around the hole, so unless the local sheep have started climbing, I think the hollow trunks are being used for bird nests, which is great.

Hollow apple tree

Several of the trees have clearly been choked by ivy growing up them. It’s probably a good job they weren’t like this when we were kids, or we’d have tried to climb them. (I’m old enough and heavy enough now not to consider this today!)

Ivy on tree

All the apple trees are covered in mistletoe. It is a little family ritual still that every year we pick big bunches of mistletoe from the apple trees for Christmas – there’s something lovely about growing your own Christmas decorations!


I was really pleased that the elderflower was in bloom in the garden. This too brought back childhood memories. We used to fill buckets with the flowers then turn them into “Elderflower Champagne”. No idea whether it was actually alcoholic, but we drank it as children (may explain a lot about my later life!) It was quite explosive – I seem to remember being woken in the night by bottles exploding in the kitchen on a fairly regular basis. As smaller children we used to make elderberry “pies” – basically a bowl of mushed up elderberries that no-one would eat.


The bottom of the garden is a bit overgrown (just how I like my gardens). One plant that is doing particularly well is Cleavers – or as we called them as kids – sticky buds. Childhood days in the garden always ended up with both us and the cats coming back inside covered in these.

Sticky Buds

Dad’s garden is always full of birds and today was no exception. As I walked down to the bottom, a buzzard flew out of a tree – he’d clearly spotted me before I spotted him. Needless to say he was too quick for me to get a photo. I had more luck with a pheasant that was wandering by the stream, but they don’t feel like much of a challenge.


I could hear lots of the birds this afternoon in the garden, but there’s one that really evokes childhood for me. It’s nothing fancy or rare – just the sound of pigeons cooing at each other.  You can hear them on and off all day. Even now if I hear them in my own garden and close my eyes I am transported back to my parents’ house – for me it’s always been a very comforting sound.  One thing I noticed while trying to get a recording of them today, was that there’s a lot more traffic going past Dad’s house than there was in the 1970s – I suppose that’s inevitable, even though his house is pretty much out in the sticks. So it took several goes to record them without too much traffic noise in the background.


They say smell is a very evocative sense when it comes to recalling memories. Dad’s garden has a lot of old fashioned roses – ones that are actually scented and smell like roses should. They are big, blousy varieties – one of which Dad took from his mother’s garden back in the 1960s! Sniffing them today reminded me of the garden in summer’s past. Roses today from shops just don’t smell like this.


Roses 2

The stream that runs alongside the garden was one of the main sources of entertainment for us as children. The stream is still there, although it’s a bit harder to get to now. Of course it could just be that the middle-aged me is less flexible climbing through fences than the childhood me was! It is only a small stream that feeds into the River Lugg and it’s possibly not the most picturesque (the various deposits from the farm next door add to the ambience shall we say!), but for me it will always be a special place.


We used to spend endless hours fishing for minnows and sticklebacks, which we’d then keep in an old paddling pool. With hindsight the poor things probably didn’t enjoy the experience very much, but we (and the cats) were enthralled by them. So in honour of my childhood I borrowed a kid’s fishing net from my sister (who also kindly took a photo of it when I realised I’d forgotten to do so). It was quite a deluxe model compared to the ones we had as kids, which just had plain canes and nets that were always getting torn and having to be repaired!


Grabbing the net, I scrambled through the fence and down to the stream. Standing there, net in hand, peering into the water I was 10 years old again. Happy Days. And much to my surprise (and his) I caught a stickleback. A Spineless Si of my very own (if you didn’t watch Springwatch last year you won’t know what I’m on about here), except this one did indeed have spines. He didn’t look very impressed by the experience though.


Stickleback 2

This Spined Si was of course released back into the stream as soon as I’d photographed him (no overheated paddling pool for him!) and I hope the whole experience wasn’t too traumatic for him.

Of all the things I’ve done on 30 Days Wild – I think fishing in the stream today, with a cheap plastic net, catching a stickleback, is probably the best. It’s easy to view your childhood with rose tinted spectacles, but I do truly think we were very lucky to grow up where we did and how we did. It was things like this, that left me with a lifelong love of nature and set me on the path I’ve taken for the rest of my life – all thanks perhaps to a few small fish.

Bramble 30 WEEDSAnd to finish as always the latest weed in my 30 Lazy Garden Weeds – the Bramble, seen here with a Honey Bee making the most of it. We have a dense thicket of brambles at the end of our garden, separating us from the neighbours. When the brambles are in flower they are abuzz with bees. And of course in the late summer we are rewarded with a plentiful supply of blackberries – the beauty of organic gardening is we don’t need to worry about there being any chemicals on these – although I do make sure we only pick those out of reach of cat’s scent marking the garden!









30 Days Wild – Day 1

30 days forget me nots

TWT 30 Days Wild_countdown_01Today is the first day of the “30 Days Wild” challenge, the idea being to do something WILD every day during June. Fortunately they don’t have to be big “somethings” – so I don’t have to climb a mountain or swim the channel each day. Just incorporate something that connects me to nature every day for a month.

How hard can that be? Guess I’ll find out by the end of the month! 30 Days Wild is organised by the Wildlife Trusts and they’ve set up a page with links to lots of other bloggers doing the challenge. So if reading my ramblings isn’t enough, then check out the others at http://www.mywildlife.org.uk/30dayswild/30-days-wild-bloggers/

For Day 1, I thought I’d go and look at the oldest living thing I’m likely to find anywhere in Herefordshire or Worcestershire – actually it’s pretty much the oldest living thing I’m likely to see anywhere! Peterchurch in Herefordshire’s Golden Valley boasts a Yew Tree that is reputed to be about 3000 years old. I’ve never got up close and personal with a Yew Tree, let alone one that old, so the 30 Days Wild challenge seemed the ideal opportunity to do so.

General View

The Yew Tree was pretty easy to spot in the churchyard, which was itself conveniently located next to a pub. As Day 1 coincided with my weekly Wednesday outings for a pub lunch with my 84 year old Dad, my venerable parent got dragged round too – the aged meeting the aged! Here he is looking slightly bemused next to the tree.

Dad & Yew

The tree stands in Peterchurch’s churchyard and was previously thought to be only about 750 years old, but recent studies by tree experts have determined that it is probably at least 3000 years old. This means it dates back to Neolithic times and due to the Yew’s supposed association with religious sites might suggest that the Norman church could have been built on the site of a much earlier ceremonial place.

The tree is hollow and seems to be growing out the way from its centre, presumably expanding its girth each year (aren’t we all!) There is a lot of charring on the inside of the tree which, while terribly sad that anyone would want to set fire to such an amazing thing, in a way adds to the mystique and atmosphere.

Burnt Bark

I did something I’ve certainly never done before – stood in the centre of a tree and looked up its trunk to the sky! It didn’t feel at all like I was in a tree or a living thing, more like a beautiful vaulted cave.

View Inside

The bark alone was a work of art,  like a gnarly sculpture or a giant piece of driftwood, beautiful and very tactile.

Bark 2

Bark 1

New shootAlthough the bark looked like tough, old (and to be honest) dead wood, incredibly there were new shoots growing out of it.

It was amazing to see a tree like this, knowing it has been on this spot for 3000 years. I can trace my family back over 500 years in Herefordshire, but to think that this tree had already been standing here for 2500 years before the earliest known Rowberry trod the Shire is quite incredible.

While there I had this “brilliant” idea to  video the tree as I walked around it – thought it would give more of a feel of this ancient being. Turns out this is not as easy as it sounds! Cue shaky footage while I stumble round the tree trying not to trip over gravestones, with my Dad talking in the background (my fault – I should have made it clear to him beforehand that the video would record sound too!)

ThrushesThe video makes it sound as if the churchyard was a lot noisier than it actually was. It was really very peaceful and full of birds (including this pair of thrushes that were doing their best to pretend we weren’t there). Just realised something as I write this – I forgot to hug the tree. If there was ever a tree that deserved to be hugged, Peterchurch’s Yew Tree must surely be it.

It wasn’t exactly a day basked in sunshine today (it had been chucking it down in Malvern earlier), but I think it would be lovely to go back to Peterchurch on a really nice hot day and just sit and contemplate life under the Yew Tree for a while. I’m hoping 30 Days Wild will bring more such revelations – finding things, places, activities that I enjoy this June, then mentally bookmarking them for future enjoyment too.

I’d originally got the idea of visiting the Yew Tree from Herefordshire Wildlife Trust’s suggestions for 30 days wild. What a great suggestion it was – if anyone else is looking for inspiration go to: http://www.herefordshirewt.org/30-days-wild

Forget me not 30 WEEDSAs a bit of a side-line to 30 days wild, I thought I’d showcase some of the “weeds” that flourish under the Too Lazy To Weed regime (assuming a regime can be a system of having basically no system). So a different weed every day for 30 days. First up the Forget-Me-Not – I’m not sure which species we get in the garden – possibly a hybrid. Whichever they are, I’ve always loved their bright blue cheery little flowers. They’ve been a favourite since I saw a whole meadow of them on a childhood holiday. They flourish in our garden and have seeded themselves pretty much everywhere. They are quite delicate though and after flourishing in a patch one year will easily be superseded by some of the tougher bigger weeds. Why anyone would want to weed these out of their garden is a mystery to me – they are so much prettier than any cultivated exotic plant. And of course the insects love them – pretty and functional – a Win-Win Weed!