From wood to water

Yesterday, cycling down a section of Woodwater Lane, I noticed a corn cockle in the bank. It struck me that I have cycled down the lane many a time, walked down it occasionally, picked blackberries at that time of year, but I have never really paid attention to it. So today I chose to walk to the Love Local Food van in Pynes Hill, and had a bit of a closer look.

Of course, I forgot to take my camera, so here is a Google Streetview image. The banks are a mix of native trees and wildflowers, and garden escapees. Among the trees are alder buckthorn (I think), ash, birch, fruiting cherry, hawthorn, hazel, holly with and without berries, and wych elm. There are plenty of brambles, nettles and dogrose. As well as the corn cockle, I could make out cuckoo pint, dead nettle, garlic mustard seed pods, hawkweed,herb robert, another cranesbill with smaller pink flower and less-cut leaves, ragwort, some sort of comfrey / forget-me-not / borage / lungwort that I should know, and a capsule fruit with four lobes that I feel I should know too.

2012 Google streetview Woodwater LaneOne thing led to another, as tends to happen on the interweb-thingy. The Vision of Britain website has loads of old maps, and I found the map covering Exeter in the Ordnance Survey First Series 1805-69, scale 1:63360. It shows a lane running from Salter’s Road to Old Rydon Lane, highlighted it in yellow below. I don’t know whether Woodwater was the whole lane, but it’s a reasonable conjecture until I have more time to research.

1805-69 OS First Series Woodwater LaneThe name of the lane reflects the rural nature of the area in times past, and even today under tarmac it looks like an old holloway. The ‘water’ is probably the Ludwell, which it crosses at the northwest end. The map from Vision of Britain of the Land Utilisation Survey of Britain 1925-48 shows how the railway cut off the southeastern end of the lane – the original route in blue and altered route in pink below – but also a small patch of green woodland where it originally joined Old Rydon Lane. Wood at one end, water at the other.

1925-48 GPL Land Woodwater LaneNowadays, the expansion of Exeter has changed the lane even more. At the far northwest, it no longer joins Salter’s Road, but a new crescent. The section to the left of the Rydon Lane ring road still exists, but has been blocked to cars at the beginning of the green section. The green is where I walked today, and the Streetview is from the northwest. Beyond that, the red sections still exist as roads, lanes, footpaths or bridges. But the blue sections have been obliterated: the first is now a retail park, and the southeast section a hedge.

2012 Google map Woodwater LaneI now feel the inclination to walk the whole 1800s route, maybe with a wildflower expert, and research a bit more of the history of the place I inhabit.


Ludwell life

It was a happy accident that the house I bought when I moved to Exeter is very close to Ludwell Valley Park. It is my slice of countryside in the city, where I can wander down enclosed lanes, through fields of nodding purple grasses. Where people can walk their dogs, and occasionally grass board down the precipitous bowl edges, or toboggan if there’s the right sort of snow. Where I can pretend for a few minutes that there isn’t a business park just over the brow of the hill and the M5 isn’t a few hundred metres beyond.

Ludwell is one of five Valley Parks within Exeter. It’s a working farm, so from spring to autumn there are cows grazing, churned up mud around the gates, and cowpats a-plenty. A couple of fields are ploughed each year, by shire horses, and sown with barley and linseed to provide food for birds such as the rare cirl bunting. Other fields are maintained as wildflower meadows or scrub, or left as rough grassland. There are two cherry orchards, one new, where traditional varieties of trees are planted each year, and one Georgian, where the old trees are gradually being renewed. The plantation woodlands from the 1980s are being thinned and replaced with native species, and new woodlands planted. The hedges are full of ash, elder, hazel, blackthorn, hawthorn, dog rose and bramble, a real Devon mix allowing wildlife to move around safely.

Yesterday evening, under the sunshine and gentle cumulus, the Park was thrumming with life: luminous fragrant sprays of elderflower; bramble and dog rose bursting with pale pink and the promise of future fruit; hazelnuts and cherries swelling to maturity; rabbits flitting in the edges of the new orchard; a buzzard hunting on the thermals. But in the midst of life, a white calf dead, lying on its side with legs outstretched, eyes half open and swollen tongue lolling from its mouth. And, strangely, not another soul to be seen.


Dear Reader

I find writing a blog slightly weird. Well, not so much writing it, as thinking about who’s reading it. Something strikes me, I write a post and publish it. It gets picked up by Networked Blogs and gets pushed to my Facebook profile. Tweeting could be automated, but I prefer to do this manually. Some readers might come across it via these routes. Others might have added my blog to their RSS feed, and ping! there’s another post to read. So the number of post views goes up, and the website stats tells me where my audience lives, what browsers and operating systems they’re using, and how they got to my post. I presume that the post views are not just robots and crawlers, and there are some humans out there opening my posts and reading them with the attention they deserve (that cuts both ways!).

I’m just writing about stuff that interests me. It’s weird to think that this might interest other people as well. And weirdest of all is that most of you live in the US, and that I’ve had a fair few readers from Russia, Slovenia, Germany, France, Australia, South Korea and Japan. I’m very much writing from my culture here in southwest England, and am not planning to make any concessions to your understanding or otherwise of that culture (‘football’ not ‘soccer’). But I suppose it goes to show how universal my main interests in faith/theology and the environment/sustainability truly are… or perhaps it’s the CS Lewis effect! Whichever it is, thanks for reading!


Sonic branding and the Daily Office

I’ve been watching some of the highlights of the Euro2012 football tournament. The online clips, at least on the BBC website, all start with the flowery Euro2012 logo and a burst of five notes ba-da-ba-bup-ba. Earwigo earworms, also known as sonic branding, “building a relationship between the product and its target market through the latter’s ears”, or “How … advertisers capture your soul with just five musical notes”. Sonic branding is traced back through the advertising jingle to Richard Wagner’s leitmotifs. I expect he’d be delighted to have that legacy.

For my own soul music I go back even further, to the psalm tones of Gregorian chant, the five (or so) musical notes of the intonation, mediation and ending. I was missing the psalms, so in the last few weeks I’ve started saying a daily Office again. It’s a very short Office, that I know I will find manageable. I have based it on Saint Benedict’s Prayer Book for Beginners, but using inclusive language (publishers take note), changing some of the psalms and collects and adding a bit of topping and tailing. It’s very flexible. I can change it if something isn’t working properly or I find a better way of doing it, or a change is otherwise needed. For example, the psalms need a bit more rejigging. And not least, it started life as being words only, but I’m planning to add the psalm tones and antiphons. Having them in front of me would be easier than making them up as I go along, as I find myself doing now.

As Augustine said, “those who sing, pray twice”. This is the relationship that matters.


The migrants’ return

This week I am happy because “my” house martins have returned. It happened on Tuesday. As I was sitting at my desk, suddenly there was a rush of gurgling and chuckling, and I looked out of my window to see madcap aerobatics. According to the RSPB website, they usually return to the UK in April. So 29 May is really late, and I had given up hope of seeing them this year.

I was at Mucknell this time last year, enjoying the swallows. I thought it possible that the martins had given up the neighbourhood, including the nesting site in the eaves over my bedroom window. But it turns out that they had merely been delayed; the weather being so appalling in April and the first half of May, I suppose they holed up in Africa for a bit longer.

So now I can look forward to a summer of lying in bed listening to the chuckling chatter, looking for the tiny heads poking out of the mud nest, and standing vacantly at the window watching the aerobatics.