My neighbours and I have been enjoying the company of ‘our’ swallows all through the summer. The always-on-the-go swallow parents have successfully raised six members of the next generation, and now we are watching sadly as they start making preparations to leave our shores for the milder climes of Africa, with the parents feeding up their offspring for the long flight. Soon we will be seeing swallows starting to flock nearby, and our little family will be joining in. These two young ones look a bit apprehensive, don’t they?
The sight of a swallow’s acrobatic flight as it swoops and dives through our skies is both heartwarming and exhilarating. It is also a marker of change. First, as spring spreads through the country, the swallows arrive and are generally seen first in southern counties, including Cornwall. Then, in the autumn, the familiar sight of swallows flocking before migrating south confirms the turning of the seasons as temperatures cool and the leaves turn gold.
As well as getting pleasure from watching them, we can help swallows, too. Historically, swallows would have nested in caves, but have now almost completely adapted to using the eaves of buildings. Cornwall County Council has produced a useful leaflet for anyone undertaking development work, such as planning an extension or property conversion, with some simple steps you can take to ensure swallows have somewhere to nest and raise young, with little if any inconvenience to you, and much pleasure to be had from watching them nearby.
Swallows migrate south again in the early autumn, making that long long journey, because they cannot cope with our harsher winters. However, in the winter of 2008/9, a single swallow stayed behind at Marazion RSPB reserve, and was seen by staff and visitors flying around the reserve well into the coldest months. I couldn’t find anything online to tell me if the brave little bird made it all the way to spring – do any readers know? I’m hoping it did. The story reminded me of Oscar Wilde’s flighty but ultimately generous-spirited swallow of ‘The Happy Prince’ fame (if you haven’t already read this delightful fable about a swallow that stayed behind through winter to help his prince, then you really should, though it might bring a tear – or several – to the eye…).
But, the odd fictitious or hardy swallow apart, our swallows will be leaving us soon. We will miss them once they finally depart, but they’ll be back next year for me, my neighbours and all of us to enjoy once more.
Earlier this week I was going a bit stir crazy cooped up working in the house. I love being freelance, but boundaries can get blurred between work and play, so I took myself off into the fresh air to clear away the dross and breathe deeply for a few hours.
For ages, I’ve been meaning to spend a bit more time on Bodmin Moor, so off I went with a few possible destinations in mind.
First of all, I went to Golitha Falls, a National Nature Reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), the name of which alone is enough to stir the imagination. Park your car in the car park at SX 228692, and then step across the road to enter a delightful steep valley retreat that follows the path of the River Fowey as it drops in altitude, forming a gorge amidst the ancient oaks of the woodland. Golitha Falls is known in particular for bryophytes and lichens, but there are also dormice, otters and kingfishers here. I didn’t knowingly see any of the rare bryophytes, nor, unsurprisingly, the otters or the dormice, but I did see two kingfishers whizzing down the river in a flash of colour so fast I had to think twice about whether I had really seen what I thought I had just seen. Pretty amazing!
What is fantastic about Golitha Falls is that, even though there were a few cars parked, the place felt empty and peaceful. Although there is sort of a main path wending its way through the woods, there are many twists and side turnings, some ending in crumbling stone walls, some disappearing beyond the overhanging branches and going to who knows where…a place to come and explore again, I think…
I did pause as I walked through the woods (down one of those side turnings) to enjoy watching a couple of hoverflies doing their thing.
My next destination was Dozmary Pool, a bit further north. You can pull your car off the road at SX 190743, and follow a public right of way down to the pool…or, at least, you can if your way isn’t barred by a crowd of stern looking cows protecting their calves. Now, those who know me are well aware that, while I like cows in principle, I am actually quite scared of them. Don’t ask me why – I will happily deal with fierce-looking dogs and stare out buffalo – but that’s the way it is. So that day wasn’t the day I was going to squeeze past the cows in the narrow lane to get to the pool. But I took a few photos at a safe distance, and determined to visit again.
Dozmary Pool is one of the sites reputed to be where Sir Bedivere threw King Arthur’s sword Excalibur to be reclaimed by the Lady of the Lake. Loe Pool is another contender for the honour, but I think I prefer Dozmary. This ancient place, the largest inland freshwater lake in Cornwall, carried an air of hush, of wistfulness, of patient expectancy. One could almost find oneself believing or, at least, wishing to believe, that somewhere close by the once and future King slept, waiting for his call.
From an ancient pool to a modern lake…next I headed off to Colliford Reservoir, owned by South West Water and managed for conservation by South West Lakes Trust. There are a few spots to park round this lake, but I stopped at SX 164730 and pottered about for a few minutes. I had been hoping to see a few birds on the water, but I wasn’t in luck. This will be a great place to come when our feathered visitors arrive to spend the cold winter months with us.
There were some horses grazing round the lake (I’m not scared of horses, so that was fine…), including this delightful foal. And here he is with his mum…
After that, I intended to head off home but, as I motored down the A30, I saw a sign to Blisland. ‘Ah, Blisland!’ I cried. Well, actually, my thought process was, ‘Hey, I’ve got time and I’ve heard it’s pretty, so let’s go!’ So I did, and very lovely it was, too. Blisland is a delightfully charming village, with a good pub and an interesting church.
I found my feet drawn towards the churchyard, presumably because churchyards are often home to butterflies and bees and flowers. But, in hindsight, I wonder if I was subconsciously drawn by the lure of a footpath leading away beyond the old gravestones. I ignored it for a bit, and detoured into the church building itself. I love simple architecture, so I enjoyed this stone window framing the greenery beyond.
When I left the church, I really meant to find my car and continue home, but that footpath would not let me go. Like the Secret Garden or Narnia, it pulled at my feet until I found myself descending some steps, walking down a slope and along a grassy path, until…
…I found myself in the middle of the most wonderful meadow, full of knapweed, grasses, crickets chirping, bees buzzing, birds singing and butterflies bobbing about from flower to flower. I saw my first Small Copper of the year…
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