Saturday, 20 September 2014

Isle of Wight holiday, part 1

Cowes, Gateway to the south

We are taking a shortish break of five days, welcome after the hard work of moving home. And over the last few days I have completed the removal of ten Leyland's Cypress - so the holiday is doubly welcome.

As usual we are going with our very good friends Ann and John Pimm. Chris and I are weary and Ann is still recovering from a serious illness, so the accent will be on leisure and ice-creams. I nevertheless hope to find the strength to take a few wildlife photographs.

The flora and fauna of the island is of considerable interest. Romans called the island Vectis Insula and in various forms this word is a basis for several plant and animal names. There is an orchid, Epipactis phyllanthes var. vectensis; a sea anemone, Nematostella vectensis; a ground beetle, Philorhizus vectensis and an extinct sea urchin, Catopygus vectensis. All completely irrelevant I know, but...

So we set off, hearts aglow. A break at a motorway service station was interesting in one respect. Tree trunks in the car park bore quite a rich assortment of lichens. A few "toughies" have always been able to survive in polluted environments, but the number of species I noted seems testament to the improvement in air quality over recent decades.

Lecanora chlarotera at Rownhams Services beside the M27
14 September, 2014

I counted eight lichens including this attractive Lecanora chlarotera on the bark of a cherry tree. Like several of its relatives the ascocarps (fruiting bodies) look like little jam tarts.

With this in mind, I know all my readers will experience an extra frisson of excitement as they approach motorway service areas. 

It was early evening before we arrived at our destination - a lovely property overlooking the Solent - so, following an excellent meal we simply relaxed and did a bit of chin-wagging (as my grandmother poetically put it).

The following day we made our way over to Haven Street, home of the Isle of Wight Steam Railway. The workshops there are currently working on a number of locomotives and have, I suspect, a better "stable" of engines than most preserved railways.

Calbourne, an 0-4-4 loco at Haven Street
Isle of Wight 15 September 2014

Calbourne was in a sidings, looking very smart. Built to a design by Adams, sixty of these locomotives were built from 1889 onwards; this is the only survivor of the class although at one time 19 of them operated on the Isle of Wight.

W11 is a Stroudley "Terrier", built in 1878. After a long working life the engine was bought by Billy Butlin and spent some years at his holiday camp at Pwllheli. He was eventually persuaded to return it to the south coast and it became part of the stock of the I.O.W. Steam Railway. Restoration took thirteen years!

This less satisfactory photograph shows Freshwater, another "Terrier" with a chequered history. Restoration was a considerable task, with a new boiler alone costing around £35,000. It now apparently performs very well but I suspect that neither this nor its companion Terrier are over-used. When I am 136 years old I intend to take it easy too.

Being a bit of a steam enthusiast I could ramble on about the rolling stock for some time. "But," I hear you ask, "what about the wildlife?" 

Pantilus tunicatus at Haven Street, Isle of Wight
15 September, 2014

Of course I couldn't resist surveying the odd shrub or herb and my efforts were rewarded by finding the rather smart mirid bug, Pantilus tunicatus. It isn't rare, and a check of my records showed that I had found it in Byfield Pocket Park some years previously. With its chestnut-red coloration it is quite a handsome insect.

After a very acceptable pub lunch in Haven Street we went to see St Mildred's Church, in Whippingham, but not before being stopped in my tracks and photographing this striking specimen of Fascicularia bicolor (=F. pitcairniifolia) in the pub's car park! 

Fascicularia bicolor in the car park of a pub
in Broad Street, Isle of Wight.15 September, 2014

Hailing from southern Chile this member of the Pineapple Family, Bromeliaceae, is rarely seen (I saw it in southern Italy about five years ago) but appeared to be quite happy in a terracotta pot. It is moderately hardy, tolerating about ten degrees of frost for short periods. Dare I gamble with it in Daventry?

So, what of St Mildred? She came from good stock: Dad was King Merewald of Magonset, Mum was St Ermenburga, a Kentish princess, and her sisters were both saints - Sts Milburga and Milgith! The tiniest fart in that household and you were in trouble, big time!
St. Mildred's Church, Whippingham

The church is oddly impressive. Victorian architecture can be a hotch-potch of styles but this example, though ornate, is nicely balanced and in harmony with the surroundings. Prince Louis of Battenberg, who made a fortune in cakes, is buried in the churchyard. 

Speaking of burials, this large block of stone, possibly covering some sort of tomb, bears the lettering ENTRANCE; rather disturbingly (or perhaps reassuringly) there is no inscription showing EXIT.

The stained-glass windows were striking, but the colours were too garish for my taste. I didn't linger long in the church itself but strolled around the churchyard, which was disappointingly free of obvious insect life.

So, a good and memorable day, every minute packed with seconds. 

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