Quirky archives

It’s strange what you find when you go through your old photos… as I found when I decided to get my photo collection in order. Here are a few ‘gems’…

First is a rare selfie… taken behind closed doors, in a bathroom… and I never told the owners, nor anybody else for that matter. It’s time to come clean.

The bathroom had a nice row of mirror tiles that went on both sides, so the geek in me wanted both to count the reflections and then photograph them.

What the guest did in the bathroom.

What the guest did in the bathroom.

I found that to get a good photo I needed to sacrifice the number of recorded reflections – and also realised that if I grinned at the camera, the result looked naff. So I didn’t. I must admit that one of my first thoughts on re-discovering this image from four years ago was , ‘much less grey hair in those days’!

Deep... very deep...

Deep… very deep…

A couple years later, while working in Cheltenham and doing the photographic project on the River Chelt during lunchtimes, I chanced upon a kid’s toy by the side of a road. I thought this had some potential, which could therefore reveal an artistic side to my photography. When I downloaded the images later, searching for something ‘deep’ in the photos, I realised that one message came out far louder than all the others clamouring for attention: “this is a kid’s toy found by the side of a road”.

Finally, I was reminded of the most educated graffitti I’ve ever seen, carefully laid out in stones on Leckhampton Hill, in the quarry workings between the Devil’s Chimney and the summit, about ten years ago.

Leckhampton Hill: date of manufacture

Leckhampton Hill: date of manufacture

Apart from the mock precision, the statement is reasonably accurate – but not one that would be known without at least some acquaintance with geology! The Cotswolds were formed in warm, shallow seas in the Jurassic era, in similar conditions to the Bahamas today – although probably ‘only’ 170 million years ago. (There’s a good summary of the geology here.)

Snow bunting on Leckhampton Hill

One of the reasons that birdwatching is addictive is that the lows and highs can follow in rapid succession. Yesterday I persuaded Dave Doughty and John Linney to join me on a trip to Lydney to see a cattle egret that has been hanging around the area for the last couple of weeks. We thought we were in luck when we arrived at the most accessible of the potential sites, and found a spry pensioner whose pager told him that the bird had been seen there that morning. Although he saw it fleetingly, it remained hidden from view – so we decided to look for a way to get to the other side of the lake for a better look.

While failing to find a route through a nearby industrial estate, we chatted with the elderly gentleman – and soon found ourselves listening to a remarkably intrepid character. It turns out that Edwin Shackleton holds the world record for flying in the most number of different types of aircraft as a passenger (241). This included a day trip to Cairo via Concorde (the cheapest way to fly on it): door-to-door from Filton, it took him 25 hours, with a trip to the Pyramids in the middle.

Dave and I eventually found a route to the far side of the lake – starting at the harbour, along a rather convoluted set of paths. A couple of locals directed us along the way; “follow the track to the buildings, take the path to the right, go across the marsh and you’ll get to the end of the lake”. We found the marsh – and it absolutely stank! But when we got to the lake, there was no sign of the egret. As we waited, a couple of men from the Wales & West Utilities company arrived, looking for a gas leak – so we directed them to the marsh.

Today I saw on the Gloster Birder forum that a couple of snow buntings had been seen on Leckhampton Hill this morning. As this was just a 40-minute walk away, I realised that I had to go – especially as the weather was good. I reached Hill Farm, and began to scan the area – seeing very little. I went round the outside of the farm buildings, hearing the occasional chirp and nothing else. A few skylarks flew up and trilled, and I told myself to be grateful to see their display.

Snow bunting on Leckhampton Hill

As I walked towards the car park, I was bemoaning my lack of luck in birdwatching over  the past ten days. I glanced down at the path and there, a few feet in front of me, was a snow bunting! It flitted off briefly when some dog walkers went past, but then for twenty minutes I watched it grazing along the side of the path. It was  untroubled by my lurking with a camera and allowed me to get some decent pictures. After the failed egret trip, this was a spectacularly good viewing of a lovely bird.

Snow bunting on Leckhampton Hill (2)

Thinking about discipleship

One of the key themes for me in this year is discipleship – what it looks like and how other churches do it. This has come about in a couple of ways.

In the last year or so Tim Grew at Trinity (Cheltenham) has been developing a discipleship course called Element, intended primarily as a follow-on to Alpha but also as a resource for exisiting churchgoers. I was very keen to be involved with this as its something that I’d want to use in future ministry, so I’ve ended up as one of the small group leaders this time round.

One of the key attributes of the course is the balance of teaching and life application. Last week we looked at “How do I trust God more?”, by focusing on the story of Jesus calming the storm in Mark 6. One of the interesting aspects to the story is that the disciples obeyed Jesus’ suggestion to get into a boat and go with him to the other side of the lake. Yet this did not prevent them getting into a situation of total panic, as the storm blew up, water came into the boat, and they feared that they were about to drawn. Their reaction is entirely understandable – would you or I have reacted any better? – except that they hadn’t fully recognised that, since it was the Son of God who was onboard, they were entirely safe. Thus he rebukes them for their lack of faith. Ease and comfort does not seem to be part of what Jesus offers his followers!

A few weeks ago I was chatting with John Witcombe, the training officer in the diocese, when he mentioned about wanting to find out about what discipleship takes place across the county. While working for Naturewatch some years ago I produced a survey of police wildlife crime officers, so jumped at the chance to apply what I’d learned to this new question.

One of the key issues is to design a survey that is effective across the wide variety of Anglican contexts. Thus, what does discipleship look like either in an AngloCatholic church, for which sacraments and pilgrimages may be an important part of the spiritual diet, or in a rural multi-parish benefice, which has to cater for diverse needs across many villages? I’ve been developing it with Brian Parfitt, a clergyman who works for the cathedral, and we’ve gained from trialling the survey with several who come from these different background. The survey will be released in the next couple of weeks, and after it’s completed I’ll write a report on it.

View of the Malverns from Leckhampton Hill

One of the advantages of being in Cheltenham is the nearness of the Cotswolds. Within about half an hour of leaving the house I can be on top of Leckhampton Hill. Yesterday when I was walking up, the low winter Sun caught the contours of a field along the way (see picture below), shaped by the strip farming of the Middle Ages – illustrating how the landscape can reveal local history.

The views from the top can be stunning as well. A few days ago the atmosphere was particularly clear so that one could see across to the Malverns and beyond. The interplay of sunlight and clouds also helped to highlight St. Peter’s church, Leckhampton, in the foreground.

Mediaeval strip farming: the low autumn Sun highlights the contours in this field on the side of Leckhampton Hill


Oxeye daisies on Leckhampton Hill

One of the delights of nature is its constant capacity to surprise – even with the apparently ordinary. I was walking on the top of Leckhampton Hill earlier this week when I saw a field covered in white flowers. I thought it must be something similar to oilseed rape, until I got closer and discovered that the flower was the oxeye daisy. I’ve never seen it in such profusion.

A couple of days later I went down to Slimbridge to see a red-necked phalarope, a rare wader that in the UK breeds only in the Shetlands. A female had dropped in – and it’s a spectacular bird to see. Nevertheless, at least as impressive were the massed ranks of over a hundred black-tailed godwits elsewhere on the reserve. Seeing them arrayed as they were, you could imagine you were somewhere tropical… (I’d encourage you to click to enlarge as the image below doesn’t really do them justice)

Black-tailed godwits at Slimbridge (click to enlarge)

Later in the week I had an abortive wild-duck chase down to Chew Valley Lake, and ended up sheltering in a bird hide while it poured with rain for the best part of two hours. Nevertheless on the way back I came across two roe deer and a hare – each of them magnificent sights in their own right.

Roe deer at Chew Valley

Hare at Chew Valley

A scarlet tiger

While doing some digging and weeding in my mother’s garden this week, I’ve come across a number of small, hairy black-and-yellow caterpillars. Last year when I stumbled across one for the first time, I did some sleuthing on the internet and discovered that they were likely to be from the scarlet tiger moth – a species I’d never heard of before, or so I thought. I then remembered seeing an unusual moth the previous summer which had eye-catching black, red and white patterning: you’ve guessed it, the scarlet tiger moth! Apparently they are quite common in the south west – the Severn Vale is a hotspot for them, and apparently like damp places, which my mother’s garden is definitely not! Now whenever I discover the caterpillars, I’m carefully moving them to the nearest alkanet plant, a deep-rooted semi-weed that the caterpillars seem to have a voracious appetite for.

Scarlet tiger caterpillar and moth

Earlier this week I went for a 10-mile walk with a good friend of mine, Jules Magovern. We started by going up Crickley Hill, passing through its famous beech wood, and then after a quick drink in the Air Balloon went over the back towards Coberley, passing several fields bright yellow with dandelions! Returning via Leckhampton Hill we watched the local paragliding club demonstrate their skills. The weather was spectacularly good and provided some great photo opportunities.

Crickley Hill beeches

A dandelion-scape

Paraglider on Leckhampton Hill, just after launch