Electric canal barge holidays

The Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal threads through some of the most beautiful scenery in South Wales. With it’s industrial life is over, it offers the opportunity to see the Welsh countryside from your very own self-drive diseal or electric narrow boat. The canal covers 33 navigable miles from Brecon to Pontypool. Average cruising speed is 2-3 miles per hour so you will need at least a week to enjoy the canal.
More from Castle Narrowboats. castlenarrowboats.co.uk

Guardian review “The owners of Castle Narrowboats, Nick and Sharon Mills, patiently briefed us on the workings of what is one of only two electric narrowboats for hire in Britain – the other one is theirs too – and answered our landlubber questions with admirable patience.”

Whale hunting could hit whale watching in Scotland

According to the World Society for the Protection of Animals, Norway’s annual hunt of minke whales could cost the Scottish economy up to £15m, and threaten the viability of the whale-watching industry there. The last report on whale-watching in Scotland published in 2001 estimated the industry was worth £7.8m a year, but tour operators have doubled since then from 80 to 165.

Folklore about adders

The Herpetological Conservation Trust has this excellent page on the etymology and folklore of adders, including:

“Old natural history books often tell how female Adders swallow their young to protect them from danger. This myth is even perpetuated by some countrymen who have spent their lives amongst Adders. This story suggests a degree of parental care which is sadly lacking in Adders. If she did attempt to swallow her own young the strong stomach acids would digest them. In all probability, this story originated when a gravid female Adder was killed with well developed young inside her.”  Read

Also I’ve added some statistics on adder bites here. Read

In defence of Botany in the UK

Michael McCarthy has written this excellent defence of wild botany in the UK in the Independent. He compares the fewer than 10,000 members of Plantlife, to the love of cultivated plants with the 360,000 members of the Royal Horticultural Society, and the more than one million members of the RSPB. “In 2007/8, 18,405 students were accepted to read biology in British universities, while just 195 for botany.

A history of pike

File:Pike caught frog.jpg

Pike were sometimes in the back of my mind when I swam in rivers and lakes as a child, my imagination fed by terrible tales told by other children and myself of their bite. Britain and Ireland, the latter where it was probably introduced by the English in the 17c, are home to one species of pike: the northern pike (Esox lucius).

The English common name “pike” is an apparent shortening of “pike-fish”, in reference to its pointed head, Old English píc originally referring to a pickaxe. The generic name Esox derives from the Greek for a kind of fish, itself a word of Celtic origin related to the Welsh eog and Irish Gaelic iach (salmon) Wikipedia

Izzac Walton, who published the famous The Compleat Angler in 1653, said of the pike

” The mighty luce or pike is taken to be the tyrant, as the salmon is the king of the fresh waters” from here.

Pike will aggressively strike at any animal in the vicinity, even at other pike. Young pike have been found dead from choking on a pike of a similar size, an observation referred to by the renowned English poet Ted Hughes in his poem ‘Pike’. The poem begins:

Pike, three inches long, perfect
Pike in all parts, green tigering the gold
Killers from the egg, the malevolent aged grin
They dance on the surface among the flies
Read and listen to introduction and complete poem here read by Ted Huges

Although generally known as a “sporting” quarry, most anglers release pike they have caught because the flesh is considered bony, especially due to the substantial (epipleural) “Y-bones”. However, the larger fish are more easily filleted, and pike have a long and distinguished history in cuisine and are popular fare in Europe. Historical references to cooking pike go as far back as the Romans. The flesh is white and mild-tasting. Fishing for pike is said to be very exciting with their aggressive hits and aerial acrobatics. Wikiepdia

Danger of being bitten by a pike

  • River Swimming Water Safety mentions Pike attack as a risk of open water swimming “You can get a good bite from a pike. This seems to happen when people simulate the movements of a fish.”
  • Why nobody is safe when the pike are biting (The Times) Lots of tales of the amazing exploits of pike “In 1922, The Field carried a report about a 14lb pike caught at Newbury on February 19 that year. The fish had an entire newborn pig in its stomach.”

Climbing a redwood

BBC Radio 4 Nature on tree climber James Aldred climbing and sleeping in one of Britain’s tallest trees, a giant redwood, at a secret location. Lots on the natural history of the giant redwoodwhich was introduced into the UK in the 18th century.

  • Read and Listen (BBC)
  • See also Giant Redwoods, Coast Redwoods and Dawn Redwoods in the UK Read

Bluebells and folklore


A new page added to the landscape glossary “Bluebell woods” including

  • In Elizabethan times bluebell bulbs were crushed to provide starch for the ruffs of collars and sleeves.”
  • The sticky sap from the bluebell leaves was used for attaching feathers to arrows.
  • If you are unlucky enough to hear the bluebells ringing then you will die within a year.

Read bluebell woods

Snowdonia by Sidney Richard Percy


Sidney Richard Percy (1821 – 1886) is one of my favourite 19th century landscape painters. He had a particular love of the Welsh landscape of Snowdonia and the Merioneth region around the village of Llanbedr. These peaks shrouded in clouds draw me in and make me want to climb them.

The right to roam

Guardian editorial on the the right to roam. “Like the minimum wage, the right to roam was bitterly opposed in advance but has since caused barely a murmur of dissent….there are worrying signs that people who live in towns now feel divorced from rural life, uncertain what to do and where to go. The danger is that it is a short step from losing interest to losing the countryside itself.”
The Guardian

Golden eagle poisoned

Police investigating the death of a golden eagle found in the Glen Orchy area of Argyll, say the bird was poisoned by a toxic insecticide.

Bob Elliot, head of investigations with RSPB Scotland, said: “As ever, we’re shocked and saddened that there are still people out there placing poisoned baits in the countryside, which often result in the deaths of some of our magnificent birds of prey.”Scottish Natural Heritage’s recently published golden eagle framework report showed that this iconic bird is being held back in parts of the country due to illegal persecution, which simply shouldn’t happen in the 21st century.”
The Independent

Raining fish and frogs in Britain

There are a number of well-documented cases of raining animals in modern British history. Such occurrences are not as uncommon as they may sound. With strong winds (thunderstorms for example) small whirlwinds and mini-tornadoes may form. Over the sea these are known as waterspouts, which trawl up water and any fish near the surface. When the tornado touches the land it loses energy and its contents are thrown to the ground. When these tornadoes travel over water any small items of debris in their path, such as fish or frogs, may be picked up and carried for up to several miles.  BBC


  • BBC Overview As recently as August 8, 2000 a shower of dead but still fresh sprats rained down on the fishing port of Great Yarmouth, in Norfolk, England, after a thunderstorm. The fish shower would have been caused by a small tornado out to sea, known as a waterspout, which trawls up water and any fish near the surface. When the tornado touches the land it begins to lose energy and its contents are thrown to the ground.
  • Raining animals in the British Isles Excellent “A torrential downpour of goldfish and Koi carp amazed golfers on a Wiltshire golf course. Four golfers, playing on the Netherampton course, took cover in a shelter when it started raining. When they came out, the fairway was strewn with fish”
  • BBC report on raining fish “Heavens above – it rained fish in Norfolk on Sunday. Yet for all the biblical resonance of the tale, there is a rational explanation for this rare phenomenon
  • 1841: Live fish fell from the sky in Aberdare
  • At least four  fish-falls in Scotland recorded in the past 20 years in Fife, Rossshire, Perthshire and Argyll
  • Indeterminate creatures fell from the sky in Bath, England, in 1894 ” a storm of glutinous drops neither jellyfish nor masses of frog spawn, but something of a [line missing here in original text. Ed.] railroad station, at Bath. “Many soon developed into a wormlike chrysalis, about an inch in length.” The account of this occurrence in the Zoologist, 2-6-2686, is more like the Eton-datum: of minute forms, said to have been infusoria; not forms about an inch in length”. more here

Martin Parr on secret Britain

I found this recent article by photographer Martin Parr in The Guardian fascinating and inspiring. He reminds us to look at the beauty in the banal, stressing that even mundane objects have charm – you only have to notice them. Above photo, part of a series by Parr on the humble postbox, is an example of what he means by this.

Parr has spent a number of years trying to locate the postboxes with the most stunning backdrops, particularly in the Scottish islands. “Here you can find postboxes literally on the beach and at remote and beautiful crossroads. I have also looked for remote phoneboxes, but I believe the postbox has the edge, as it is smaller and visually stronger.”

As we travel around Britain, I am convinced most of us cannot really appreciate what we are seeing. We take too much for granted, because it is all so familiar.We float through our cities and countryside with our eyes half closed. However if we go abroad, especially to countries which are very different to our own, our sensibilities are awakened; everything is fresh and exciting. I am proposing that same approach should be rekindled when we look at our own environment. Read in the Guardian

Martin Parr is a Magnum photographer; martinparr.com

Nature and wildlife of Britain