Archive for October, 2019

A motorway service station is not the subject I would normally post on, but Gloucester on the M5 is different from every other service station I have ever visited. No fast food, no chain restaurants or coffee shops. It originated as a small cafe built by a local farmer on his land through which the new motorway passed. The cafe served local food, much coming from the farm itself.

The new service station opened in 2014 as a partnership between the farm and a local community trust. It has a farm shop selling local produce, a butchery selling local meat and a cafe serving homemade food. Part of the profit is fed back into local community projects. It is also light and airy and has a very different atmosphere to the usual service station.

If passing that way I would encourage you to stop and support this community-based project, have a drink, something to eat and relax before continuing on your journey.

From here it was back to London via Oxford due to the closure of the M4. Our 2019 journey through the West Country at an end. But a great final breakfast at Gloucester Services to send us on our way.

On our way back from Devon and Cornwall, we stayed overnight in Gloucestershire and visited the WWT reserve at Slimbridge on the Bristol Channel.

The highlight was a Black Tern, but otherwise, it was very quiet with just the common resident birds being present

Black Tern
Photo by Paul Hurtado ( )

The River Camel is the predominant River in this area and we encountered it many times during our visit from its beginnings as a small river to the estuary at Padstow.

Our final day before we head back towards London. So we head off towards Exeter and Bowling Green Marsh RSPB reserve in search of a Long-billed Dowitcher, a wader that is at home in the USA.

Our first stop is the hide but apart from some ducks there is little else to see and we are told that the Dowitcher is on the estuary, so we head down the lane and, together with a number of other birders, began to scan the waders on the mud. Unfortunately, most of the birds are on the far side of the estuary makes identification more difficult.

Eventually, Sue and I decided to go and check the other wader roost on the River Clyst, which joins the Exe here. There are lots of Redshank and we get some very good views of a Kingfisher fishing in the channel and later perched on a post. I also saw a Greenshank fly out from a creek.

But still no sign of the Dowitcher, so we make our way back to Bowling Green Marsh where we did find a Common Sandpiper and some Black-tailed Godwits.

Another wet day and a visit to the Steam Railway at Bodmin.

Due to geographical nature of Devon and Cornwall, the two main lines passed to the North (London and South Western Railway) and to the South of Bodmin (Great Western Railway). So it was connected by a number of branch lines, the first of which connected it to Wadebridge via Wenford in 1834, giving it access to the sea. The second joined it to the line from Plymouth to Falmouth (now the mainline) at Bodmin Road (now Bodmin Parkway) in 1859 and a third which linked the town to Boscarne Junction in1888.

Passenger services to Bodmin Town were halted in 1967, although freight services continued until 1983. There was an immediate movement to restore the line as a heritage railway and the first open day was held in June 1986. the line to Bodmin Parkway was opened in 1990 and extended to Boscarne Junction in 1996.

The current church dates from 1511-1524, although the tower is older and dates from the 12th century. Originally it was part of Launceston Priory, but after the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 it became the parish church of St Mary Magdalene. It was extensively restored in 1894 when a new side chapel was also added.

The two striking features about this church for me were the amazing carvings which cover the outside of the church and the stained glass windows.

Celtic Cross

West Country 2019 (16): Launceston

Posted: October 23, 2019 in cornwall, History, UK

Another wet day and so we made our way to Launceston.

Launceston was regarded as the Gateway to Cornwall, being not far from the border with Devon. This came to be regarded as being due to the major roads into the county that passed close by. However it may have had an earlier meaning as in the middle ages it was recorded as being the farthest into the county that justices and other royal officials would go, fearing that the lands beyond were unsafe. It may also have been a reflection of the poor road network that existed in the county. Thus Launceston became the de facto County town of Cornwall, although it was never officially declared as such.

The presence of the castle, dating from 1070 and was built by Robert, Count of Mortain, who had been granted control of most of Cornwall. Robert was the half-brother of William the Conqueror and had been one of the King’s companions during the battle of Hastings in 1066. He returned to Normandy around 1088 and died there in 1095.

Launceston ceased to be regarded as the county town in 1835 when the County Courts moved to Bodmin.

West Country 2019 (15):Padstow

Posted: October 22, 2019 in cornwall, UK

On Sue’s birthday, we visited the town of Padstow on the estuary of the River Camel. It was made famous by the chef Rick Stein, but today we are having lunch at No6, run by chef Paul Ainsworth. Amazing food, probably one of the best meals I have ever eaten. Shame he doesn’t have a restaurant outside Cornwall.

Before and after the meal we went for a walk around the Harbour. We were very lucky with the weather as it was bright and sunny during the day and wet and windy either side.

Another day of heavy rain forced us to look for somewhere indoor to visit and so we decided to visit the Arthurian centre at Slaughterbridge on the banks of the River Camel. Slaughterbridge stood at an important ford across the river and therefore was an important strategic site. The name of the village gives a good indication that this is the site of a battle, in fact, its two battles. The first was the battle between Arthur, King of Cornwall and Mordred his nephew, who was in rebellion and took place according to records in 537. The second was in 823 when the Anglo-Saxons under Egbert of Wessex defeated the army of Cornwall and Wessex took control of Cornwall. Numerous artefacts of dark-age weapons have been found on the site, showing this certainly was a battlefield.

On the site, there has also been the discovery of a 13th-century village and an 18th-century garden, but perhaps the most controversial finding is a dark-age stone (c540) found by the river which has both Latin and Ogham (ancient Irish language) inscriptions. The latter is almost unreadable due to erosion, but the Latin inscription has been interpreted by some as reading ‘Here lies Latin(us) the son of Arthur the Great’. An alternative translation and interpretation have read as ‘ Here lies Latinus, the son of Macarius’. Neither the less it is an interesting artefact as it is one of the few gravestones found in Britain that have both Latin and Ogham inscriptions together.

The exhibition and information are very good as they do not seek to verify the legends of King Arthur, merely to present what is known from historical and other sources and to let the visitor make up their own minds about what they believe is true and what is fantasy. My personal conclusion, Arthur was a Celtic War-leader, in the period when the Anglo-Saxons began to enter Britain. He fought to protect the western lands of the British Celts and was to a large degree successful as the Anglo-Saxons didn’t finally gain control of Cornwall till many years after his death.

Kingfisher Home

Posted: October 18, 2019 in Birds, Natural History

A fascinating video about building a Kingfisher nesting box and the Kingfishers that came to stay.