Sunday, 21 September 2014

Isle of Wight holiday, part 2

'Twas a day that started off warm and got steadily hotter. 

One of my favourite villages on the island is Brighstone, and it may be reached by a very pleasant cliff-top walk. We parked the car at Hanover Point, a little to the east of Freshwater and set off, the sun's heat steadily increasing. Fields were well fenced to prevent livestock from approaching the sea and a pair of birds flitted ahead of us from post to post. None of us had binoculars but it was clear that they were Wheatears, easily recognised by the flash of white rump as they took to the wing. This rump gives this bird its name, as wheatear seems to be a corruption of 'white arse' (but I bet St Mildred never called them that).

The main season for flowers was over of course, but here and there a splash of colour indicated a tardy bloom.

This tiny thistle was in flower in parched limy soil on the cliff top. I casually thought it was Dwarf Thistle, Cirsium acaulon but failed to examine it properly, so now I have my doubts. It looks more like a stunted knapweed. A lone bee had no misgivings and was happy to take the nectar and move on.

Restharrow on a chalky cliff-top near Brighstone,
Isle of Wight. 16 September, 2014

This plant of Restharrow, Ononis repens, was less problematical, its hairy stems emitting an odd, rather unpleasant smell when rubbed. Its long, tough roots and stems would arrest a harrow in its progress, hence the odd name.

An old Northamptonshire  name for this plant was Fin-weed. John Clare, as a ploughman, was familiar with it and referred to it in his writings:

      Where the blushing Fin-weeds flower,
      Closes up at even's hour.

                                      Clare's Solitude, p.77 

Common Centaury on a cliff-top west of
Brighstone, Isle of Wight. 16 September, 2014

A pink-purple hue is clearly fashionable on the island with Common Centaury, Centaurium erythraea, happy to follow the trend. This pretty relative of the gentians would not look out of place in a rock garden.

George Claridge Druce, in his "Flora of Northamptonshire" uses the now-obsolete word 'pascual' to describe its habitat. It means 'growing on pasture land'.  Centaury does require fairly short turf to flourish and will die out if overgrown by rank herbs.

The erosion along this stretch of coast is severe and in places there were alarming crevices opening up, presaging falls. I felt safe, since these incidents are more likely when the ground is sodden by heavy rain. The island is famous for its fossils and no doubt enthusiastic collectors make for areas where slippage has been reported. The constant exposure of new habitat by these episodes leads to the development of a very interesting flora and fauna and I would have liked a little more time to poke around. However, by this time we were getting peckish. Time for a picnic.

The island is famous for its fossils.

Fortunately all the ground was bone-dry and we had no trouble in finding a thistle-free patch of turf. We lingered perhaps a little longer than we ought, for a little later we began to worry about missing the bus back to the car park - but it was a tasty picnic and for once I completed my snack without butter dripping on to my clothes (picnics often lead to a heavily-laden washing machine once home).

Rebelling against the lilacs and purples, Common Fleabane, Pulicaria dysenterica, still flaunted its canary-yellow flowers although the main season was almost over. As the name suggests, the plant was once regarded as a deterrent to fleas, but I know of no evidence to suggest that it was at all effective.

Hops clamber through a hedge near
Brighstone. 16 September, 2014

As we approached Brighstone the hedgerows were garlanded with Hops, Humulus lupulus. It is an escape from cultivation in many areas but it is a British native and there was no reason to suggest that these specimens were not the genuine wild plant.

The female flower heads, forming short, plump catkins, are well-known for their use in the brewing industry but a pillow filled with hops is considered good for inducing a restful sleep.

We reached Brighstone and were relieved to find that the last bus had not gone.

"Come in and see our fossil dinosaur footprint" trumpeted the local cafe.  Well, we had coffees and then, quivering with anticipation, had a look at the footprint. Hmmm, not terribly exciting.

I recall as a 7-8 year-old, leafing through the pages of an encyclopaedia and being fascinated by an artist's drawing of a small dinosaur, Hypsilophodon foxii. I may have thought that the animal must be fox-like but the name was in fact patronymic, being named after the Rev. William Fox. I mention this because Fox was the curate at St Helen's Church in Brighstone, and it seems likely that he collected the cafe's specimen. He was quite famous in mid-Victorian times and several other extinct creatures bear his name in some form.

Any road, we duly caught the bus and made it safely back to our "home", where Ann and Chris conjured up a delicious curry to crown a very good day.

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