Yellow fields

I don’t have an image which truly expresses the parched yellowness of the French countryside I travelled through recently.

France, in September when I was there, was dry, dusty and gasping for rain. I travelled through part of eastern France to Burgundy, the Dordogne and then northwards, on the western side on my way back to the UK.

In the eastern, near-empty areas, the fields were yellow, some admittedly because crops had been harvested, their stubble like a blonde buzz cut. This mainly agricultural area is one of lakes and big open fields, the yellowness unbroken apart from a few small woods and very few hedgerows.

France doImage result for north by northwestesn’t do hedgerows nowadays;¬† parts of it look like large prairies. The roads running through areas like this remind me of the scene from the classic thriller North by North West, where Cary Grant, standing at a bus stop in the US prairies¬† is attacked by a crop-spraying plane.

It’s a depressing fact that in France, shooters will take pops at birds and wildlife…but then what chance do birds and wildlife have to breed and prosper in an environment almost devoid of naural features like hedgerows?

The journey was made in warm sunshine. A clear blue sky with a few perfect cotton-wool clouds provided a stunning contrast to the yellow countryside. It wasn’t just harvested fields which were yellow; grass had turned to straw in meadows, and where the soil had been ploughed or tilled, the earth was varying shades of burnt umber, sienna and ochre.

France had had a summer of intense heat, which is why these yellow fields were in evidence pretty much everywhere I travelled. It was still very hot in the Dordogne, with July/August temperatures, making it the hottest I’ve experienced in this area in September. Not quite like usual. Not normal.

This is the new “normal” we have to get used to as climate breakdown sets in and time begins to run out to restrain or halt it. We’ll be having extremes of heat and wet, bringing flooding, disruption and danger to life (just as intense heat does).

This is just one of the concerns of Extinction Rebellion, who are bringing the breakdown of the web of life to public attention with peaceful demos and non-violent activities. Like it or not, environmental concerns are real and breakdown is happening now. Just keep an eye on the global weather and you’ll get the picture.

Image courtesy of no6cinema.co.uk

In the land of height barriers

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We went into North Wales in our motorvan one day last week when the sun shone and temps got up to an unseasonable-for-February 16 or 17c.  We were aiming for a walk on a beach, but as we’d never been to the town of Holywell – home of St. Winefride’s well and the pilgrimage shrine to this early martyr – we stopped there first. We were very disappointed.

Signs saying that Holywell is The Lourdes of Wales  had greeted us and  we wanted to see the holy well, but access is nigh on impossible if you’re in a motorvan. There’s a small car park (with maybe 12 max parking slots) opposite the church & well, but it has a height barrier. Height barriers are the bane of the motorhomer’s life – it’s impossible to get in and they are usually erected to keep out travellers.

There was nowhere else to park. We went back into the town, found another very small car park we could get into (no height barrier), decided not to walk along the busy major through road to the church and explored the town instead. Disappointing, dead and depressing. Shut up shops, cheapo pound shops, 2 betting shops, a couple of cafes. It was dreary, crummy, downtrodden. The people didn’t too happy either. How sad. Holywell, according to info boards in the main street, appears to originally have been a thriving market town. Not any more.

Surprised that a town calling itself the Lourdes of Wales hadn’t provided better parking for the visitors it hoped to attract, we went on to find the nearby Greenfield Valley Heritage Park which claims to be worth a visit. It boasts 5 ponds, water birds, wooded walks etc. Guess what? More height barriers.

We drove on, aiming for the Point of Ayr RSPB reserve, passing more car parks with height barriers along the way. Turning off towards Point of Ayr we were soon engulfed in a horrible pong. A farmer was muck spreading in an adjacent field and it wasn’t nice. We carried on a bit and as the pong receded,  another nastier, more evil smell emerged. It was from the chemical works at Point of Ayr. No way were we going to go anywhere near that, it was vile.

Feeling sorry for any birds who were breathing it in we turned round and headed towards Prestatyn. Looking for somewhere to park near the beach, or with a sea view, we were foiled yet again by another series of height barriers on car parks, and decided that this neck of North Wales must have had some pretty bad experiences with travellers taking over their car parks to have gone so heavily down the height barrier route.

We pressed on, still looking for somewhere to stop and have lunch, preferably with a sea view. Rhyl, not the most enticing of seaside towns, loomed close by, but we hit the jackpot without having to go into the town. On the outskirts there was a stretch of seafront prom, with a large grass verge, and unrestricted parking. So we had lunch in our van, in the sun, overlooking the beach and sea and then took our dog for a very long walk on the sands, enjoying distant views of the Snowdonia mountains.

Snowy avian activity

Snow. Quietness reigns. Manchester airport is closed. Choir rehearsal is cancelled because of bad weather. A bit of a disappointment as it’s Queen week (“come along in moustaches and curly wigs for a bit of fun to rehearse Don’t Stop Me Now“). My Freddie Merury outfit lies dormant. Out come the binoculars and camera.

We don’t often get much snow here so it’s a bit of an event. I hear on the weather forecast that the Cheshire Gap and North Wales are affected. The garden, nearby woods and field look like fairyland. The dog – now one year old – explores his whitened environment and with snowy muzzle, eventually comes back into the house to find the nearest radiator.

Meanwhile I’m scanning higher levels, following the avian antics of a gang of goldfinches as they fly from treetops to garden feeders. A lone buzzard suddenly swoops down on to the field, scattering snow from the branch it’s perched on; I wonder what small mammal it’s spotted. A shy female bullfinch lurks in the hedge then takes off the very second I reach for my camera. Likewise the three siskins who pause together on the topmost branches of the bare apple tree. I wish for an extra pair of hands so I can hold binoculars and camera at the same time.

The same happens when I see a reed bunting perched on a snow-laden conifer in next door’s garden. But the pair of magpies on a distant treetop stay still, only coming to visit after some food has been put out by husband, clearing paths and making sure there’s fresh, unfrozen water in the bird bath.

The blackbirds are busy at ground level, pigeons descend from their treetop roosts to see what’s going on, the nuthatch commandeers one feeder and the blue, great and coal tits get active on the other. The robin, ever-present, puts in an appearance. The garden looks like a belated Christmas card.

The last time I saw Paris

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Photo by Barry Hopewell

I’ve not been to Paris for a while, and some of my visits there have been in winter when it can be excruciatingly cold, but if it’s dry, bright and sunny, it’s nigh on perfect. It’s preferable to being there in the heat of summer, when it can be unpleasantly sticky and heaving with tourists.

I came across this shot of Notre Dame taken several years ago. Tinged with wintry sunshine, it is seen through a tangle of bare branches. The bookseller’s stalls – always worth a browse – were open for business, but it wasn’t a day to loiter too long before finding a warm cafe and some chocolat chaud.