open the curtains

and take a look out the window if you want to know what the weather's like


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Proper Cornish Bird Ar’ee?

chough3

(c) Nigel Blake

Up and out of the shelter of the dunes at Holywell the wind was sweeping Kelsey Head under a pearly sky. But when is it ever not windy in Cornwall?
Windswept, rugged, remote… words of such over-applied cliché that almost cease to have any significance either inland or on the coast in this neck of the woods. Cee and I were talking about ravens as we walked. They like that sort of thing – windswept, rugged, remote – last time we’d seen one had been at the top of a Cumbrian mountain. We wondered if we’d see any here, tumbling and cronking over the cliff-tops.
“What I’d really like to see is a chough”.
I pointed out that we’d come to the wrong side of the coast: since their self-initiated reintroduction to Cornwall in 2001 the iconic birds had taken up residence on the Lizard peninsula, which is as far south as you’ll get either in Cornwall or mainland Britain. Next time, we decided, we’d head over that way and see if we could spot any.

We walked into the wind and around the headland, the sea churning below us. Ahead was a smattering of jackdaws picking about in the grass. Two of them were larger than the rest of the group.
“What are those bigger ones there – could they be ravens?”
“No they’re not” I replied, “but look what they are…”
It was like we’d conjured them up, these two magical birds trying to disguise themselves amongst their smaller corvid cousins, unmistakable in their red stockings like they’d just stepped out of our imaginations or a book of heraldic beasts. We watched in near-disbelief until, aware of our scrutiny, or bored with their pickings, they flew off, flicking their fingered wings, a strange cazooing call that neither Cee nor I were expecting them to utter. Continue reading

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Mermaid’s Purse

I didn’t mug a mermaid. It was already empty when I found it discarded amongst a tangle of seaweed on the river beach looking more like a fishing float than anything of value. Algal blotches spotted its sides like a paving slab in need of a power hose and a couple of strands of sea lettuce hung limply off its broken purse strings. But I still picked it up. After all, any purse, lost, stolen, wilfully abandoned, might still be identifiable. Even a mermaid’s purse. Continue reading


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Phycophilia

“Phycophily ~ phycophilic, phycophile
:: In biology, thriving in algae-rich habitats or living on algae”

— from Greek (φῦκος) phykos, “seaweed”; and (φιλία) -philia  “love”

— ‘Phycology’ is a branch of life science and often is regarded as a subdiscipline of botany

It is low tide. The upper beach is slimed with green algae, slick to the rocks and slippery, after ten rainy days in a row. Enteromorpha, I note in my book, reassured at the ease with which I can recall names I’d thought I’d forgotten. I’m attempting to map the shoreline by tracing the less definable perimeter where  the sea and land meet ecologically.

Anywhere that two different habitats converge is marked by changes in flora and fauna. Often a transitional area will include elements of both habitats, intermingling in subtly increasing and decreasing abundances. On rocky shorelines like this one, this ecological zonation is clearest in the seaweed populations. Continue reading


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So, Christmas Tree: How Green Are Your Branches?

The tree is easily my favourite part of Christmas, and has been since childhood. Since I left home I’ve always had a small one in a pot, the second of which, having already done two Christmases, was doing really well up until about three weeks ago when two-thirds of it started to go brown. The time had come to replace it if I were to have a tree at all in my own home this year.

I’ve always preferred real trees to the artificial alternatives, partly because we always had a floor-to-ceiling Norway Spruce in our lounge when I was little. It smelled delicious and shed characteristically all over the presents every year. However a friend of mine suggested the better option for me now might be an artificial one, as I wouldn’t have to worry about nursing it through to next year, they never drop needles, and they are much better for the world than real ones (that aren’t in pots) as you keep re-using the same one instead of cutting down and disposing of a new tree every year.

I did feel a pang of guilt: Christmas is an incredibly wasteful time with 3 million extra tonnes of rubbish produced every year in the UK. Continue reading


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A Little Lesson from the Ash Crisis

Yesterday at work I informed a customer that by not taking a plastic bag they were doubly aiding the natural environment as in addition to reducing plastic waste they were contributing to the enhancement of the great British outdoors through the company’s policy of donating a penny for every bag Not used to the Woodland Trust. Does that mean one more ash tree gets saved then? Quipped the customer in question. Let’s hope so, I replied, though it occurred to me as I said it that even though I am familiar with the species as being one of the more common trees of British woodland I wasn’t entirely sure what one looked like. I love trees, but will shamelessly own up to being woefully under-informed when it comes to matters of dendrology.

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River Fal 5: The Questionable Colour of Water

– Restronguet Point (where?)

Out in the middle of the Carrick Roads Mylor Church Haven’s hidden behind the marina’s white coppice of masts. The rotating arms of the Roscrow wind turbines can be seen waving in the distance between the dip of two headlands, and the Fal really does feel like sea not river. The water is wide and the land skirts round as though the coast is folding in on itself and we’re floating in a bay that might gradually be enclosed completely by land. There’s a salt tang on the lips. A seal’s back surfaces and sinks with the roll of a submerging rubber tyre. The shorelines are beaches not river banks, lined with strands of seaweed and scattered with the pale specks of gulls. A breeze is blowing, and for the moment it’s chilly as a cloud shifts across the sun. The shade turns a patch of  water deep indigo, looking like the shape and shadow of a reef beneath the surface as the sunlit section is turquoise green. Then the cloud shifts in the brisk coastal wind and so does the illusionary peril of underwater rocks.

Heraclitus said that nobody steps into the same river twice. Continue reading


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River Fal 4: Mylor Church Haven

Trefusis to Mylor (where?)

Rounding the bend past Trefusis Point the water is momentarily hidden behind a thick border of trees and I’m startled by a sharp snap followed by voices seemingly close by. A handful of yachts are passing, the wind catching the slack in the sails and rolling through them like stage thunder with the crew hurrying to pull them taught again as they go about. One boat seems blown so far over in the water it looks like it might be about to capsize, but its handlers clearly know what they’re doing and are just making the most of a choppy wind to make a sharp turn. It’s Falmouth Week, and the daily regattas mean there are more sailing craft on the water than usual: over 450 yachts, dinghies, keelboats and traditional vessels racing over eight days in the Carrick Roads and Falmouth harbour. It’s the biggest regatta in the south west and lands over 80,000 extra visitors on Falmouth and the surrounding area during this week compared to the rest of August.

The Restronguet Sailing Club at Mylor is predictably packed with well-funded holiday makers looking like walking-talking adverts for Musto and Joules in their co-coordinated his-and-hers clothing ranges. The marina circling around in this sheltered bay off the Carrick Roads has over 400 moorings, and it will be used as the practice site for the Olympic sailing later this year. Known as Mylor Yacht Haven, but labelled Mylor Churchtown on the map, the two are fairly accurate pointers to the main attractions of this village. I find the dense concentration here of all things yachting a little daunting, so I head for sanctuary in the churchyard.

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