January catch up post

Spiller Millenium Mill viewed from ExCel London

I have not posted for a few weeks so I thought I would do a catch up post. Last weekend I went on what seems to have become an annual trip to the Outdoor, Bike and Boat show at ExCel exhibition center in east London. I am interested in all three so it is really good value for money, three exhibitions at one venue all on one £20 ticket. You can save money by booking online early but although they advertise a £4 saving it turns out that there is a £2 booking fee.

It had snowed recently so I was not sure whether I could get there so I did not bother with the paltry £2 saving. As it happened the roads were clear once I got to the A41, and the roads were quiet I think the snow had scared everyone off. I got to the venue by 11am and parked up which cost me £20 for the day, quite steep if you are the only person attending.

Snow Wendover Woods in Black and White

The halls were quite quiet whilst I was there I think most people waited to see what the weather and road reports had to say before heading out. However by the end of the day it was very busy. The exhibition was not quite as good as last year where I enjoyed the cycle polo, which this year had been replaced with an evening criterium race. The highlights of the day were a talk by Charley Boorman about his new vehicular adventure, and the launch of the Madison cycle team, who were all going to use steel bikes!

This weekend started with a film, Django Unchained on Friday evening. Helen and I really do like to start the weekend with a film. I gave the film a 4/5 but Helen gave it 4/5 for the first two hours but only 1/5 for he last hour, which I have to admit was a bit violent. It was classic Tarantino, and one I enjoyed especially the first 2 hours.

On Saturday Helen was busy with her visiting sister, so I took the opportunity to head to the hills with my camera, it was probably the first opportunity to get pictures of the snow without it either snowing or there being a grey sky. I parked up at Dancersend, and headed up to the Ridgeway above Tring park, then across to the Cafe in the Woods in Wendover Woods. The sun shone the whole time and it was great to be back out in the fresh air after having spent the past two weeks cooped up either in the office or at home.

Snowy view from Dancersend

Saturday evening was a real treat we went to a talk at the local church in Aston Clinton, St Michael and all Angels, for a talk by one of the curates Carole Peters. Carole had in a previous life been an investigative journalist starting off in newspapers then progressing into television. She told us about her adventures in Africa investigating war lords, and in Haiti too. It was very interesting. Everyone bought finger food and there were drinks for sale. I was quite unusual to be drinking beer and wine in a Church, without the vicar handing it to you in a silver chalice with a dry wafer.

On Sunday we went to see another film, Hero Dark Thirty, about the hunt for Osama Bin laden. It was a well made film which confused me at first. I give it 4/5. That was the end of an action packed weekend.

Keeping it local

Green and verdant view of Dancersend NR

After a very busy weekend last weekend we are having a quiet one. The plan get up not too early have some breakfast (reading the paper?), a bit of a tinker with the blog, a short local walk, then see if we can catch the Queens Jubilee fly past over Halton, finally cook pasta for Helen’s parents, and watch the Chelsea v Munich match.

Things got off to a great start, Helen was up first and then as I came down stairs at about 08:00 she was walking in the door with the papers. I usually have toast and expresso for breakfast at the weekend, and save my home made muesli for weekdays. Today was not exception I finished off the Bonne Maman cherry jam I have been working my way through for some weeks.

The record shot of the fly pass

I have tweaked the blog a bit, by moving all the panoramas about as the menu they were on is getting a bit long. I also noticed that http://neilbaldwin.com was getting more Google juice than the blog, even though it is more or less just a holding page for a Drupal site. So I fixed it once and for all, it now redirects to the blog address at http://neilbaldwin.net so that will fix that small issue. I think as the blog is the site than changes the most  will not keep the two domains separate, and if I do want a content sites then I will just create sub-domains for them which should keep things much simpler.

The fly past was due soon after 12:30 so we headed about of the house at about 10:30, and drove up to the BBOWT reserve at Dancersend which is in the hills sort of between Tring and Aston Clinton. It is between two valleys and can be a really nice place to just sit, relax and take everything in, as the hills shelter it from noise apart from the odd aircraft.

The local squirrel

There were plenty of birds singing when we got there, the usual suspects Tits and Chaffinch but also a couple of Warblers we thought most likely Blackcaps from the song. It was a bit early for orchids but there were a few early Butterfly Orchids just starting to bloom, and the usual Pyramid orchids could be identified by their black spotted leaves. We wandered around and Helen took control of the camera with the big lens and I scouted round from some bugs and plants to photo with the LX3. We heard some tawny owl calls in the distance.

WARNING RANT — As we entered the reserve from the “pond on the bend entrance” we noticed that there was a lot of dog shit on the path in, it was pretty obvious that one dog was regularly walked up the path and the owner could not be bothered to clear up after their dog or make sure the dog did it business away from the path. Helen described it as “playing dog shit hopscotch”. Helen and discussed putting up a “there is not such thing as a dog poo fairy poster” next time we go up there. — RANT OVER

At about 12:10 we headed back down to the village park to watch the fly past. Basically as part of the Queen’s Jubilee celebration today was the armed forces day to show off, and a fly past of about 60 aircraft had been arranged to fly over Windsor park and as is usual when these things happen many of the aircraft get routed to and from the event over RAF airfields. Halton being fairly close to London often gets a fly past, today was no exception.

Max the cat from next door

Down at the park there were other people who had obviously come to see the spectacle, as well as Helen’s uncle who turned up soon after we did. We did not have to wait long after 12:30 for the flypast, in all probably about 15-20 planes passed over. At first we thought we were at the wrong end of the air field as we say some jets pass over the other end in the distance, but they were followed by three groups of fight looking jets, blue in colour. I had the setting on my lens not quite appropriate for the shot so did not get any decent pictures but I have included the one you can see here, as you can tell the light was pretty crap and it was very hazy.

After it was obvious that the rest of the fly past was not coming we wished Helen’s uncle farewell and headed home for a light lunch. I spent the rest of the after noon tinkering with Bigshot VR which I have not given up on yet, but which I sill can’t get to the panorama thing. I can get it to display basic Deep Zoom format pictures, but that is about it. I also took some pictures of the wildlife in the garden.

Later on we will be preparing pasta and garlic bread to eat before the football. I’ll spare you the details and end the blog post here.



Signs of spring in the air

What lovely weather we are having this weekend. After spending most of Saturday tinkering with and Arduino circuit trying to collect reading  from my weather sensors, we decided we should get out into the fresh air.

We parked up near Dancersend Manor and walked to the base of the big will to the south, then along the base of the hill till we popped out at the water works the other side of Dancersend NNR. Then we walked up the hill through the reserve and out the other side back towards the Manor house. Here are some pictures of the spring flowers.

Tree bud
Winter aconites

Dancersend NR more butterflies

Common Blue

Thought I would try out my newly found butterfly id skills, so Helen and I took her mum up to Dancersend NR, to see what we could find. We parked up at the pumping complex car park, and headed into the reserve. Dancersend is notorious for Duke of Burgundy butterflies so there was the potential to see a very rare one.

We headed round the reserve taking our usual route along the field to the bottom of the hill with steps, then turn left at the top[ and come down into the reserve via the foot path and over the large log. We stopped to take some pictures of some of the wild flowers for later identification, although I think Nancy had already figured out what most of them were. We did not see too many butterflies but I spotted a Cardinal Beetle. There were lots of Blackcaps or Garden Warblers singing.

Cardinal Beetle

There were some volunteers working in one of the paddocks, it looked like they were chopping the young hawthorns back to stop them taking over. We then headed back up hill back toward the car and got a few of the butterflies I learnt about yesterday. We sat for a wile on the Susan Cowdy bench, she was obviously an important person in BBOWT as there is a hide at Weston Turville reservoir. We then headed back, but on the way there was a spot that seemed protected, we could see two types Orchid growing, one was Fly Orchid.

Fly Orchid

We were soon back at the car, the weekend almost over, although I had one last appointment with my camera and the church, I needed to get a complete 360 degree panorama of the church, watch this space for the results. The final tally of butterflies was Common Copper, Common White, Orange Tip, Green Veined White, Brimstone, Peacock, Blue something, Grizzled Skipper, Speckled Wood, and finally Red Admiral.

Ice Mushrooms

Ice Mushroom

Very cold this morning but Helen managed to drag me outside by 10am, for what turned out to be a brisk, short sharp walk round Dancersend. We parked up where Dancersend lane flattens out next to some houses and marked past the manor then licked up the footpath that heads across the corn field towards to the hills on the horizon.

It was absolutely freezing and even after 20 minutes walking in thermals we were still cold. Once we hit the hills we turned right towards the old victorian pump house that feed the hidden reservoir. Along the foot path we saw those ice extrusions I have mentioned in the past. I think they might be caused by the really wet ground pushing the water up by capilliary action with then freezes when it hits the cold. Some we saw were several centimetres long, Helen called them Ice Mushrooms and I think that is a good name for them.

At the pump house we crossed the road to enter Dancersend nature reserve, we came across a couple each with a child in rucksack on their back, and a very boisterous large puppy, looked a bit like and Irish Wolfhound it was bounding around all over the place. We headed clockwise round the reserve up the hill and then through the woods to the bottom of the reserve. There was a lot a shooting going on around the valley it it a really shame as the blasts really spoil the tranquillity of the place.

Victorian pump house

We headed out of the reserve and joined the road at the pond on the bend below the manor. So we were soon up the road and back to the car it had been a short walk but we were glad that we made the effort. Not much bird life other than Tits, Goldfinch and a couple of Jays. We decided we would have a go at a recipe I found on the internet for Cannellini Beans in tomato sauce, that meant a trip to Tesco for some beans and a visit to the cinema to watch Black Swan with Natalie Portman.

I have since found out the ice extrusions are probably ice needles as per the Wikipedia article