Brittany rocks!

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Excuse the pun. There are a lot of rocks and boulders in northern Brittany and I saw some of them on my recent visit there. The lush green valley with moss-covered boulders is at Huelgoat (pronounced Hwelgwa, according to the French branch of the family I was holidaying with).

We took a walk in the Argent Valley, where these huge mossy boulders tumble down into the river, and are invitingly easy to clamber on and explore. The surrounding forest is a peaceful, shady place and the star feature is the Trembling Rock, which is said to move. One of the teenagers in our party tried to get some movement out of it by leaning on it and pushing. I have to be honest and say it didn’t appear to move to me….

The pink rocks of the Cote de Granit Rose stretch way along Brittany’s northern coast, near Ploumanac’h, and their formations are weird and fascinating. The sea has shaped them such that it’s possible to see (with a little imagination) recognisable objects – is that  tortoise? Or a lizard? Or an elephant? – were some of the suggestions we came up with.

We were following part of the sentier des douaniers – a path by the coast used by smugglers and strewn with these fantastically shaped rocks.

Market at Plestin-les-Greves

There’s nothing like a bustling French market to awaken the senses after a long….very long in this case….journey to Brittany.  UK roads to Plymouth were beset with detours, a hefty storm delayed our ferry crossing to Roscoff by 12 hours, and the sea was full of heaving white horses when we sailed. The Kwells worked; I didn’t throw up, but the voyage is best glossed over.

So a trip next morning to Plestin-les-Greves to browse in the market and pick up the ambience made for a good start to the week. There were flowers, fruit, veg, and food of all kinds to please both eyes and nose. We shuffled along in the crowd of locals and tourists, enjoying the atmosphere and feeling glad we’d finally arrived.

Granddaughter cajoled her parents into buying her a watch from one stall, we each bought ourselves stylish belts from another and husband resisted the temptation to get himself yet another small change purse (he seems to get one whenever we visit France!).

Then we headed for the remains of a Roman villa and ran and played with the children on a nearby stunning beach before returning to the 16th century manor house where we were staying.

Our group of seven was due to expand to fourteen next day with the arrival of another branch of the French side of the family. More on that later.

Skipper – Small or Essex?

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This Skipper butterfly was posing obligingly on a thistle in Tatton Park last week, but what with grandchildren staying, I’ve only now got around to having a close look at the quick photo I took of it en route to Home Farm for a hands-on visit for the children.

My first thought was “Small Skipper”, but then I looked it up in the excellent Butterflies of Britain & Ireland by Jeremy Thomas and Richard Lewington and was immediately torn between it being a Small Skipper or an Essex Skipper. Oh they are so similar!

The distribution of the Small Skipper covers much of the UK; the Essex Skipper is more confined to the south and east…BUT… it’s described as “expanding west and north”, so it could be from Essex, maybe visiting its cousins in Cheshire?!

The crunch comes with the description for making an ID of this butterfly: “…examine the curved tips of the anntennae in order to see the colour of their undersurfaces.This is best done in early evening….creep up on them on all fours until you are head-on and can look upwards at the anntennae….the Small Skipper has antennae that are dull orange or brown underneath the tips, whereas those of the Essex Skipper are glossy black….”

Having examined the ilustrations in the book very carefully, I’m taking a punt on it being a Small Skipper. There’s no way I could home in any futher on an enlargement to see more antennae detail, but I’ve learned something new about this butterfly – and – I was amused to read “…many experienced lepidopterists are unable to distinguish between Essex and Small Skippers.”!

That’s music to the ears of this relative novice.

The Smallest House in Great Britain

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This tiny, quirky, bright red house is wedged into the walls of Conwy in North Wales. It’s been a tourist attraction for as long as I can remember and I went into it many years ago when my children were small. On this occasion, I was there with grandchildren who decided they didn’t want to go in (there was a queue) but went up to inspect it so they could see just how small it is.

I have vague recollections of how poky and gloomy it was inside the two small rooms – one up, one down. It was built in the 16th century. In 1900 it was occupied by a tenant, a 6ft. 3in, tall fisherman, who eventually had to move out ( perhaps he kept banging his head on the ceiling?!). It’s still owned by the same family and is open in the summer season as a tourist attraction.

There is always a lady in traditional Welsh costume on duty to take the entry fee and sell a small selection of souvenirs.

The Steepest Street in the World

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Recently on holiday in North Wales with visiting grandchildren, we took them to Harlech to explore the castle, perched high above the surrounding area. A very successful visit it was, and they enjoyed the ins and outs of this part-ruined but interesting and historic national monument.

After we’d seen the castle we found the recently announced steepest street in the world – Fford Pen Llech –  and walked first down, then back up up it. I can vouch for it’s gradient – my legs really felt the stretch walking back up and I couldn’t stand up straight. The grandchildren, they of the young legs and mobile knees, took it literally in their stride and once back up, went straight to the children’s play area by the castle for more activity.

I went for a sit down!

Crocosmia Lucifer

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There it was, flowering in the garden. Familiar-looking and vermilion, but I couldn’t remember what it was called and ended up asking my far more knowledgeable neighbour. “Crocosmia” she said. I was none the wiser.

But I took a photo of one virile, prehistoric-looking budding stem because of reminded me of a dinosaur’s head – maybe a pterodactyl?

Fast forward a few days and we were talking again, me and Mrs Greenfingers next door, and she dropped into the conversation the other name for this flower, which I remembered right away. Montbretia.

I couldn’t help thinking that naming this version of the flower Lucifer was rather appropriate. It’s light and bright, and has a devilish look to it when seen from the angle  photographed.

Magical flower of the night

We’ve had this Evening Primrose in the garden for a couple of years but I’ve never taken much notice of it, probably because I’ve tended to think it’s flowering was either over, or that it was on the way out because of the shrivelled brownish dead heads of flowers on view.

Liking the colour of those flowers still blooming, I took a photo of them a week or so ago and thought no more about it.

We went away for a few days and when we came back I noticed there were more brownish dead flower heads. But later that evening, during the recent heatwave, I went into the garden and saw that the plant was covered in freshly opened yellow flowers…but it was almost dark.

The light dawned – Evening Primrose – it comes into flower at night! The second photo was taken in very faded light, yet the flower seemed to glow in the dark. It was quite magical. I looked it up in our flower ID book, which explained that the flowers are a source of nectar for moths.

Sure enough, the next night, when I took visiting granddaughter out into the warm darkness to show her this magical night-flowering plant, there were a few large moths in the vicinity, coming to visit the flowers. This reminded me of the French word for moth – papillon de nuit – literally butterfly of the night.

We love to see butterflies, but moths are sometimes regarded as less popular and not as attractive (but they are!).