Kennack Sands, a winter BBQ and cuddly ponies…

Kennack Sands

Earlier this week, I joined my chums from Natural England’s Lizard team for a Christmas Barbecue at Kennack Sands (a popular surfing spot), near the village of Kuggar on the Lizard’s east coast.

There are two beaches at Kennack Sands: the eastern beach and surrounding area is part of the Lizard National Nature Reserve. This is a great place to go rock pooling, to search for Basking Sharks in the summer months, or to admire the geology of the exposed gneiss.

Scrub bashing at Kennack Sands: the Natural England volunteers in action (photo: Amanda Scott)
Scrub bashing at Kennack Sands: the Natural England volunteers in action (photo: Amanda Scott)

It was good to see the team working while they ate their BBQ grub! The sand dunes and cliffs on the nature reserve are home to some of the beautiful coastal plants of The Lizard, but these can be crowded out by encroaching more vigorous scrub and taller grasses. Originally, this would have been prevented when the land was used for low intensity cattle grazing. Now, cattle grazing has to be replicated by keeping the scrub down by other means. The Natural England staff and volunteer team are cutting back the vigorous gorse and grasses on a rotational basis, giving breathing space to more delicate plants.

Ponies doing their bit for conservation at Kennack Sands (photo: Amanda Scott)
Ponies doing their bit for conservation at Kennack Sands (photo: Amanda Scott)

Also working hard were the Natural England ponies. Well, they wouldn’t call it working hard…they would call it eating! But their grazing also helps in the conservation management of the site by keeping the grass height down. Cattle would have been grazing the site regularly until the 1930s. The old farmhouse, now a guesthouse, is visible from the beach and, apparently, the farmer used to come to his door at milking time, call to his herd, and the cows would obediently return home. They were fed at the same time, so that was why they were happy to leave the pastures at the end of the day: nonetheless, it’s a lovely nostalgic image. Now it’s the job of the ponies to eat those grasses.

Butcher's Broom fruit (photo: Amanda Scott)
Butcher’s Broom fruit (photo: Amanda Scott)

If you visit Kennack Sands yourself, watch out for Butcher’s Broom (Ruscus aculeatus), a member of the Lily family and a native of Southern England, Scilly, South Wales and East Anglia. In the winter, you can’t miss its large, bright red berry fruit. The plant gets its common name from the fact that butchers once used the spiny branches to scour their chopping boards. The spiny leaves aren’t in fact leaves at all, but flattened portions of stem: the real leaves are reduced to tiny scales on the stems: you’ll need a hand lens to see them.

All in all, it was a lovely day for a barbecue and to enjoy winter sunshine and good food together at a beautiful spot. I have met so many wonderful people and had such good times in my first full year living in Cornwall. I’m looking forward to next year already!

Gazing to the horizon…I wonder what the future holds! (photo: Amanda Scott)
Gazing at the horizon…I wonder what the future holds! (photo: Amanda Scott)

An apology, and a beautiful Lizard Point sunset

First of all, many many apologies to readers of this blog for the length of time since I last posted. I hadn’t realised it was quite so long as it was. The reasons are a mixture of a heavy workload and being away, meaning I had very little time to go walking and seeking Cornwall wildlife and nature. But now I am back!

This is a short post, to share a lovely amble down to Lizard Point yesterday afternoon. I was looking for seals, so had gone down as close to low tide as I could (a good time to spot seals). I didn’t see any in the end, despite much scanning with binoculars, but, because low tide was a little after sunset, I was able to sit and lose myself in some very beautiful skies.

Golden skies over The Lizard
Golden skies over The Lizard (photo: Amanda Scott)

The sea was comparatively quiet, the air was crisply cold and still, shags and cormorants and gulls were perched on the rocks, and a kestrel flew by, its feathers catching the golden light. The seals were missing a great evening!

Sunset over The Lizard (photo: Amanda Scott)
Sunset over The Lizard (photo: Amanda Scott)

There’s a few more photos on the What’s Wild in Cornwall Facebook Page.

Maernporth to Bream Cove: a short early autumn walk

Knapweed seedheads, coastal path

Earlier this week I was passing through Maernporth on a cool, somewhat damp, early autumn day. On a whim, I decided to park and have a short walk along the coastal path, southwards towards Bream Cove.

Maernporth Beach (photo: Amanda Scott)
Maernporth Beach (photo: Amanda Scott)

I wasn’t expecting to see much, but wanted to get some sea air into my lungs.

I was surprised! There were quite a few plants blooming – Yarrow, Betony, Rock Samphire, and Scentless Mayweed peeking out from among the grasses – and some gorgeous seedheads, including the Knapweed in the photograph at the top of this post and fluffy Hemp Agrimony.

Scentless Mayweed (photo: Amanda Scott)
Scentless Mayweed (photo: Amanda Scott)

There were also insects out and about, despite the grey coolness of the day.

Fox Moth caterpillar (photo: Amanda Scott). This furry chappy ambled to and fro across the path, and ended up pretty much where he started! Thanks to Sally Luker for identifying the species for me.
Fox Moth caterpillar. This furry chappy ambled to and fro across the path, and ended up pretty much where it started! Thanks to Sally Luker for identifying the species for me (photo: Amanda Scott).
Speckled Wood butterfly perching (photo: Amanda Scott). Presumably a male
Speckled Wood butterfly perching. Second brood individuals of this species can be seen into October. They prefer to feed on aphid honeydew, but later in the year can often be seen nectaring on brambles, when the honeydew is more scarce (photo: Amanda Scott).

There were also some great rock formations to be seen, both on the macro scale in the cliff faces, and closer up as the eye followed quartz intrusions snaking their way through the layers in rock pools.

Rocks, Maernporth Beach (photo: Amanda Scott)
Rocks, Maernporth Beach (photo: Amanda Scott)
Quartz intrusions at Bream Cove (photo: Amanda Scott)
Quartz intrusions at Bream Cove (photo: Amanda Scott)

I did spend a while ambling about through the rock pools and sands of Bream Cove. This is quite a wide cove – I walked down to it opposite the National Trust’s land at Nansidwell, onto a small beach called Woodlands Beach (also called Nansidwell Beach). It was amazingly quiet, with only another couple of people. I didn’t find anything spectacular in the rock pools, though there were quite a few small splashes and mad dashes into the seaweed, so something was there!

All in all, a lovely short walk, and I’m glad I made the effort. There are longer walks incorporating this stretch, including this circular route, for example. It just goes to show, it’s worth getting out, even on a greyish mizzly day.

Maernporth Beach

A Red Admiral weekend

Friday just gone was a day of Small Tortoiseshells. My garden in West Cornwall was visited by tens of them enjoying a late summer feast on the buddleia – I was glad I hadn’t pruned it back already.

But then Saturday and today, Sunday, there was barely a Small Tortoiseshell in sight. Instead the garden was full of the striking beauty of several Red Admirals, again nectaring on the buddleia, but also seeking out ivy flowers and late summer bramble.

Red Admiral (photo: Amanda Scott)
Red Admiral (photo: Amanda Scott)

Butterflies seem so delicate, it is easy to forget that several species accomplish great feats of migration. The strong-flying Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) may have a small resident population in the south of the UK, but most of those we see each year have arrived from Europe and North Africa. The females lay eggs (usually on common nettle (Urtica dioica)) and UK-bred butterflies emerge from about July, but their numbers are swelled by several further waves of immigration during the summer. You can see them as late as October, occasionally later.

Our winters are generally too cold for this species to survive overwintering, possibly apart from the warmer south of the country (including Cornwall). Many adults will therefore attempt a southward migration as the weather cools. On a wildlife boat cruise out of Falmouth recently, while I was of course thrilled by the sunfish and porpoises, I was also delighted to see two Red Admirals a fair way out from shore, determinedly heading south away from the coast.

I hope they made it.

English: Red Admiral Butterfly (Vanessa atalan...
Red Admiral Butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) feeding on Buddleia davidii (photo: Wikipedia)

Swallows – it’s almost time to say farewell

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?

These young swallows look a bit apprehensive about their long journey...or maybe they're just worrying who's going to get the next insect meal (photo: Amanda Scott)
These young swallows look a bit apprehensive about their long journey…or maybe they’re just worrying who’s going to get the next insect meal from Mum or Dad (photo: Amanda Scott)

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.

Cover photo

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.

Two lakes, a wood and a meadow…a day out on Bodmin Moor

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.

Colliford Lake

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.

The River Fowey as it passes through Golitha Falls
The River Fowey as it passes through Golitha Falls (photo: Amanda Scott)

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!

Golitha Falls

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.

Episyrphus balteatus (photo
Episyrphus balteatus (photo Amanda Scott)
Sericomyia silentis (photo: Amanda Scott)
Sericomyia silentis (photo: Amanda Scott)

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

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.

Foal, Colliford Lake (photo: Amanda Scott)
Foal, Colliford Lake (photo: Amanda Scott)

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…

'Keep up, junior'. (Photo: Amanda Scott)
‘Keep up, junior’ (photo: Amanda Scott)

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.

Blisland 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.

Blisland Church

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…

Flower meadow, Public footpath from Blisland Churchyard

…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…

Small Copper, Public footpath from Blisland Churchyard

I also saw this Red Admiral…

Red Admiral, Public footpath from Blisland Churchyard

…and this Small White nectaring on the knapweed.

Small White, Public footpath from Blisland Churchyard

Magic! A perfect end to a lovely relaxing day.

In search of the Grayling: a visit to Bissoe Downs

Carnon Viaduct, nr. Bissoe

Last weekend I went to visit Bissoe Downs, a little west of Truro, with a group of like-minded people from Cornwall Butterfly Conservation in search of Graylings (the butterflies, not the fish…).

Leaving your vehicle in a small car park (SW 783408), there are various well-made paths you can take. Dodging cyclists and joggers and enjoying the warmth of the day, we headed towards the nine arches of the Carnon Viaduct, which carries the Falmouth−Truro trains, opened in 1933 to replace an earlier mixed masonry and timber construction designed by Brunel. Take a look at the picture at the top of this post: the topless masonry piers below the arches are the remains of the previous viaduct, which once supported a timber frame along which the trains ran, and which are referred to as ‘Brunel’s stumps’ – there are several across Cornwall.

Bissoe Downs (photo: Amanda Scott)
Bissoe Downs (photo: Amanda Scott)

The area around the paths is in fact a previous arsenic mining site. Just up the road, Bissoe Valley Nature Reserve, owned and managed by the Cornwall Wildlife Trust, is an excellent example of how these previously mined sites can be restored, providing a haven for wildlife and recreation for us humans. Here, on Bissoe Downs, to either side of the path the land is naturally regenerating, with a succession of heathland scrub and trees such as birch.

Contaminated old metalliferous mining sites can, perhaps surprisingly, be more ecologically rich than you might think. This short report from Cornish Mining World Heritage makes interesting reading. These sites can even provide homes for species that are otherwise nationally rare but are tolerant of heavy metals, such as Cornish Path Moss (Ditrichum cornubicum), now found in only two copper-contaminated locations in Cornwall.

Can you spot the Grayling? (Photo: Amanda Scott)
Can you spot the Grayling? (Photo: Amanda Scott)

Here at Bissoe, the case in point is that of the Grayling (Hipparchia semele), a butterfly that likes to bask on patches of rocks or dry bare earth, of which there are plenty of the latter on the thin soils of this site. The colouring of the undersides of its wings, which it holds closed  when at rest, with hind wings covering the forewings, also camouflages it well in this habitat. You’ll spot it quite quickly in the photograph to the left, but imagine trying to find it in the middle of an entire heathland!

Here it is a bit closer…

Grayling (photo: Amanda Scott)
Grayling (photo: Amanda Scott)

This photograph was taken almost directly from above the butterfly, so notice how it has tilted its wings at an angle away from the vertical. The sun was behind me and to the right – perfect for the photograph, and perfect for the Grayling which has exposed as much surface area of its wing as possible to the sunlight. Not only is this good for basking but it also means that this cryptic butterfly casts hardly any shadow – excellent for camouflage. It is not often one gets to see the more orange coloured upper side of its wings.

Graylings have in fact only recently been discovered at this site (by Phillip Harris, a committee member and previous Chairman of Cornwall Butterfly Conservation, as well as all-round expert naturalist). Graylings are now most often found on coastal sites in Cornwall, with only a small handful of inland locations to their name, so this site was an exciting find.

There was a time when Graylings would have been much more widely distributed.  I’ve mentioned before on this blog my butterfly book from 1968. There it says that the Grayling is “widely distributed all over the British Isles, usually in dry, exposed places. Colonies may be found on steep granite cliffs above the sea, on rough moorland and commons, stony hillsides and chalk downs” (Mansell, E. and Newman, L.H., 1968. The Complete British Butterflies in Colour. Ebury Press, London).

State of the UK's Butterflies coverToday, the picture is very different. Butterfly Conservation’s 2011 report on The State of the UK’s Butterflies cites the Grayling as one of the many British butterflies that have been suffering in terms of both overall population numbers and distribution. A recent paper (Fox et al., 2010) places Graylings as being nationally vulnerable on the basis of their reducing 25-year trends for both population numbers and distribution. This is probably mainly due to the loss of suitable habitat.

The Grayling is the largest of our ‘brown’ butterflies. It exhibits variation between populations across the country, with six subspecies in the UK. The main food plants of its caterpillars are grasses such as Bristle Bent, Red Fescue and Sheep’s Fescue, and the adults like to nectar on plants such as Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Heather and Red Clover. It is a priority species under the UK’s Biodiversity Action Plan.

The Grayling, and other butterflies, are of course not just important for their own sake (which they are) but because they are sensitive indicators of climate and habitat change. With annual broods and specific habitat requirements they are often amongst the first species to respond to changes in the environment. If we want to continue to enjoy the sight of butterflies in Cornwall and the wider UK, we all need to take note and support those, such as Butterfly Conservation and its local branch, and the RSPB’s Give Nature a Home campaign, as well as our own Cornwall Wildlife Trust, who are all working to preserve habitats and species.

Did we find Graylings at Bissoe? Actually, yes…well over 30! Which just goes to show there is always hope.


A walk on The Lizard: Grochall to Lower Predannack

I’ve been visiting family away from Cornwall for a while, so first of all apologies for not having posted for three weeks. But I’m back now, and I’ve been enjoying getting out and about in all this glorious sunshine. A little earlier this week, I went to visit some old haunts of mine on The Lizard – read on to discover what I found.

Chamomile, Kynance

Scented carpets, ancient homes, flying boats and crackling gorse…a walk from Grochall to Lower Predannack, and back again

Over the summer of of 2010 I had the blissful task of surveying for rare plants on some of the trackways on The Lizard. The plants I was looking for were mainly opportunistic annuals that spring into action when conditions are right and competition from other plants is limited, and I was researching into how they were faring. It was interesting to study (as well as fairly idyllic spending so much time in beautiful surroundings in the name of work!), and I ought to explain more about it in a future post.

Yellow Centaury (Cicendia filiformis) on the Lizard Downs in 2010 (photo: Amanda Scott)
Yellow Centaury (Cicendia filiformis) on the Lizard Downs in 2010 (photo: Amanda Scott)

In the meantime, this week I thought I would pay a visit to a couple of the tracks I surveyed back in 2010 to see if I could spot one particular plant – Yellow Centaury – in locations where I know it appears. You can see this delightful, tiny plant, with its yellow flower that only opens in the sunshine, as early as the beginning of June on The Lizard in good years, but the bad weather earlier in 2013 put paid to that timing. However, with the complete turnaround in the weather, I thought I might be in luck. In the end, I only found two individual plants in separate places (hopefully the first of more), but I’ve given you a photograph from 2010 so you can admire its delicate beauty.

The gate to the Grochall Track (photo: Amanda Scott)
The gate to the Grochall Track (photo: Amanda Scott)

But even though I didn’t find much Yellow Centaury, there was plenty else to keep me interested on my way through the heathland. This is a nice walk, so I’ve tried to explain my route so you can follow it on a map if you’d like to try it yourselves.

I set off on my walk on the Grochall Track. This old trackway begins immediately to the south of the Kynance Garage (on the A3083 to Lizard Village). Walk a few metres along the public footpath, and you come to a gate that tells you that you have arrived at The Lizard National Nature Reserve. Enter, close the gate behind you, and start your journey…

The Grochall Track - the older way to Kynance Cove (photo: Amanda Scott)
The Grochall Track – the older way to Kynance Cove (photo: Amanda Scott)

The Grochall Track has a long history. Until the early part of the twentieth century it was the main transport route to Kynance, crossing in a straight path across the Lizard Downs until it reaches the Cove itself. Now it is a sandy, rocky and sometimes grassy footpath, pretty boggy in the wetter months but dry and dusty in this hot weather. The track itself can seem a little bleak and dull at first glance, even on a sunny day: it is almost entirely straight, surrounded by flat heathland landscape, with the drone of cars passing on the A3083 behind you. The sea only appears on the horizon from about three-quarters of the way along the path. But it isn’t only interesting because of where it is leading…just look and listen…!

Cornish Heath (Erica vagans) by the Grochall Track (photo: Amanda Scott)
Cornish Heath (Erica vagans) by the Grochall Track (photo: Amanda Scott)

Ahead of me a solitary crow sat on a shrub, standing sentinel over the way to the west. Birds chattered in the gorse, making mad dashes across the path ahead of me. Butterflies (Small Heaths, Common Blues in hundreds) danced with each other through the bracken and grasses and across the heather. Ah yes – the heather! It was at the start of its season of glory, just beginning to bloom: Bell Heather (Erica cinerea), Cross-leaved Heath (E. tetralix), and the lovely Cornish Heath (E. vagans). I also found Lesser Water-plantain (Baldellia ranunculoides), another of the plants I surveyed for in 2010. This plant of water’s edges and boggy places has a fairly stable foothold in the west of Britain, but is declining elsewhere due to habit loss and eutrophication. Its species name of ranunculoides derives from the fact that its seedhead appears very similar to that of a buttercup (Buttercup family=Ranunculus), but it is in fact in a different family altogether.

Lesser Water-plantain (Baldellia ranunculoides) (photo: Amanda Scott)
Lesser Water-plantain (Baldellia ranunculoides) (photo: Amanda Scott)
Sailing through Kynance (photo: Amanda Scott)
Sailing through Kynance (photo: Amanda Scott)

I didn’t go all the way to Kynance Cove, but instead turned right (north) to head towards the prehistoric village at Kynance Gate. Before I did so, I watched a yacht with one red and one white sail move across the Cove. In the heat haze it was hard to distinguish sea from sky at the horizon, and the boat could almost have been flying through the air, companion to the gulls of Asparagus Island.

I followed a rough stony track downhill until I reached the small wooden bridge across a stream at the entrance to the Kynance Farm, still part of the National Nature Reserve. Here I marvelled at dragonflies and damselflies, including a Broad-bodied Chaser and the quick weaving azure flight of two Beautiful Demoiselles.

Roundhouse at Kynance Gate prehistoric village (photo: Amanda Scott)
Roundhouse at Kynance Gate prehistoric village (photo: Amanda Scott)

Go through the gate and the path bends to the left and upwards, but you can first detour here on to the much vaguer path to the right and head up the hill until you find the roundhouses of Kynance Gate prehistoric village. Occupied on and off between 1200BC and Roman times, the site was probably only used in the summer for grazing. They reminded me of those I visited at Bodrifty in my last post: quiet and empty of human life, but teeming with the hum of life that bees, butterflies and plants bring.

Returning to the main path at the gate to Kynance Farm, I made my way uphill until the path forks. The arrow points you to the right-hand fork so, of course, I went left (the paths rejoin each other in any case). Eventually you arrive at a large farm gate. To follow my route you need to go through the gate and turn right up a gravelled straight track, but first it’s important to take a moment (or several) to enjoy the view to the left, back to Kynance Cove across a field of low grass and wild flowers. At this time of year, the wild Chamomile is beginning to carpet the field and the apple-scent as you walk through the grass is uplifting.

Chamomile field (photo: Amanda Scott)
Chamomile field above Kynance (photo: Amanda Scott)

Back on the path and I was heading north towards Lower Predannack and Jolly Town Farm. A stream runs across the path just below Jolly Town, heading downhill towards Soapy Cove to the west, but here it pauses for a moment, forming a shallow pool even in the heatwave conditions, home to surface hopping insects and tadpoles.

Tadpoles below Jolly Town (photo: Amanda Scott)
Tadpoles below Jolly Town (photo: Amanda Scott)
Entrance to the bridleway within the perimeter of Predannack Airfield. Turn  right - don't go straight on! (Photo: Amanda Scott)
Entrance to the bridleway within the perimeter of Predannack Airfield. Turn right – don’t go straight on! (Photo: Amanda Scott)

Just beyond here, the track goes through a gate and becomes grassy, and you walk, still heading north, with the heathland to your right and a hedge to your left until you reach another gate and turn right up a surfaced path. A couple of hundred metres further and you meet a sturdy metal gate and this scary sign at the entrance to Predannack Airfield, linked to RNAS Culdrose. Never fear! – there is a public right of way (bridleway) within the perimeter of the airfield. Go right here and follow the path (another site for Yellow Centaury), which eventually turns left until you meet an equally scary sign and exit from the bridleway back on to the heath.

From here, it is a little difficult to explain, so please please please come armed with decent map and compass if you are following this route for the first time! On the OS map it looks easy – a clear path from the SE corner of the airfield, heading south-east past Die’s Pool (non-existent in the dry weather) until rejoining the Grochall Track and heading back to your starting point. On the ground…..well. That clear south-east track is very faint and overgrown over the heathland, and you end up in a hollow with a fence to your left, going through a gate into a wooded area, taking stepping stones over a small stream, out the other side through another gate, across a boggy patch (muddy even in this weather!), until thankfully picking up a clearer path back to the Grochall Track.

A Gorse pod - just popped! (Photo: Amanda Scott)
A Gorse pod – just popped! (Photo: Amanda Scott)

I’m less fond of this part of the route, I have to admit, probably because it’s at the end and I’m tired (I should try the walk the other way round, maybe!). This time, though, I was surprised by something unexpected. Just before going through that first gate to the wooded area, pausing to catch my breath and grumble at the bramble trailing across the path, I became aware of a constant crackling and popping from all around me. My first thought was wildfire…but suddenly there was a loud crack only inches away from me, making me jump! I realised I’d heard of this before but never experienced it – hundreds of Gorse pods popping open in the heat to display their shiny black fruit. It definitely made this ‘grumpier’ part of the walk worth the effort.

This walk is a good one if you want a mix of heathland, grassland and sea views, with a bit of archaeology thrown in for good measure. If you want to make it longer, you can head further north and go all the way up to Predannack and Mullion before heading south again, either inland or on the coastal path, or you can divert to Kynance or Soapy Cove. Definitely have a good OS map, though, not just to show you all the trackways: if it gets misty (as it might in less clement weather), it’s easier than you think to get disorientated. Enjoy!

Erica cinerea, Grochall Track

Bodrifty…past and present together


Back in the early nineteenth century, Thomas Hood wrote the sonnet Silence, in which he compared silence in its more literal definition:

There is a silence where hath been no sound,
There is a silence where no sound may be,
…clouds and cloudy shadows wander free,
That never spoke….

with a different kind of silence, a silence of loss and passing that attaches itself to places where humans have worked and lived out their days, but which are now deserted:

…in green ruins…where Man hath been,
Though the dun fox, or wild hyena, calls,
And owls, that flit continually between,
Shriek to the echo, and the low winds moan,
There the true Silence is, self-conscious and alone.


Before you start wondering if you’ve strayed into the wrong blog, I do have a point here.

Roundhouse at Bodrifty, Penwith (photo: Amanda Scott)
Roundhouse at Bodrifty, Penwith (photo: Amanda Scott)

I went to visit Bodrifty, an ancient, and well-known, Iron Age village on the Penwith Moors in the west of Cornwall. Excavated in the 1950s, all that remains now are the low rocky walls, overgrown by grasses and heathland plants, of eight roundhouses that once would have been thatched, inhabited by families who farmed the surrounding land. If you passed it by without straying from the track, you would only see a rock-strewn heath landscape. But stop and walk through it, and the circles of the houses take shape.

The lives of these people, over two thousand years ago, would have been very different from our own. Both simpler and much, very much, harder. Even so, although they might not have had our knowledge or technology, they had the same intelligence, the same ability to observe and interpret and appreciate their world. And now they are gone. What would once have been a lively, active settlement is deserted, and all that is left is stones, and some pottery shards in the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro.

Heath-spotted Orchid (photo: Amanda Scott)
Heath-spotted Orchid (photo: Amanda Scott)

So I do understand, and indeed feel myself, that there can be a kind of wistfulness, even a sadness, to the places that we humans have left behind. And yet…

…I’m not sure that, in my heart, I completely agree with Thomas Hood. As I walked through the remains of these people’s homes, I found myself enjoying the march of nature. Foxgloves, stitchwort, heath-spotted orchids, clovers, trefoils, tormentil, heathers, pignut and bedstraw, the call of a cuckoo in the distance, a kestrel hovering overhead, black crows soaring across the fields, wrens chattering in the gorse bushes, scurryings in the undergrowth (a lizard, a vole?)…

What I did not find in this place was any separation from the people that lived here, no loss of impact of lives once lived, whether endured or enjoyed. Not because my life is like theirs, nor because I recognise them as my ancestors (I’m a northerner by descent, so my own roots will more likely be Norse), but because what I found here, at Bodrifty, was continuity. Because this place was teeming with life. Not human life but, nonetheless, life in all its messy, vibrant, glorious existence.

Bedstraw (photo: Amanda Scott)
Bedstraw (photo: Amanda Scott)

I think that one of our problems, as humans, is that all too often we perceive ourselves as separate from the world of nature. This is the blessing, but also the curse, of self-consciousness. We obsess about our own immediate past, when we should be relishing the present and mindful of the future.

Bodrifty is alive and breathing, not  a dead or historic place. So, humans may not be in charge of Bodrifty any more, but we can still be visitors who can enjoy, watch and appreciate and, indeed, be part of the pageant of life that struts its course through this particular corner of our beloved Cornwall.

If you would like to visit, and live for a while, this corner of Cornwall yourselves, I’d encourage you to do so. The map reference is SW 445354 – find out more here. And let me know what you think of it.


Basking Sharks

Ever since moving to Cornwall, I’ve been itching to see a Basking Shark. I even fell over and hurt myself on the coast path once because I was concentrating more on hopefully gazing out to sea than on where my feet were going. Basking Sharks are in My Cornish Ark (see my earlier post), and deservedly so for such an amazing big fish.

basking sharks at porthcurno
Basking Sharks at Porthcurno (Photo: Candiche)

And now, at long last, I’ve seen one! And not from the top of the cliff, but from a boat, really close. I was with a group of students from Exeter University’s Cornwall Campus – they’d been working on an end-of-term project considering the challenges in balancing growth and conservation – and we were all really excited, as none of us had seen one of these magnificent creatures ‘in the flesh’ before. At one point the shark was swimming slowly towards us giving us a clear view of its wide-open plankton-filtering mouth. Incredible!

A basking shark filter feeding.
A Basking Shark filter feeding (photo: Wikipedia)

Basking Sharks (Cetorhinus maximus) are the largest fish in the seas round our coastline, visiting us in spring and summer, and can reach up to 12 m in length. They might be big, but they are harmless, feeding as they do on plankton. They are also still somewhat mysterious, and we are only just beginning to understand their life history better. A protected species since the late 1990s, this would appear to have resulted in an increase in numbers compared to when they were hunted commercially for meat and oil in the twentieth century. Recent research confirms this, highlighting the seas of the South West coast of Britain as one of three Basking Shark ‘hotspots’.

Taking a wildlife boat trip out of either Penzance or Falmouth will give you a reasonable chance of seeing one at the right time of year. I took my trip with AK Wildlife Cruises from Falmouth Docks – you can follow them on Facebook for lots of information on sightings and comments from the knowledgeable team.

You can find out more about Basking Shark biology and conservation from The Shark Trust or the Marine Conservation Society. But do get on a boat and go looking!