Wednesday, 25 June 2014

The Highland Show

Not having attended The Highland Show for many years, I was greatly surprised at the wide variety of interest now offered by this celebration of country life. I could not list half of the crafts and skills on show, but some of the things that caught my attention were:

An informative lecture / demonstration on fly fishing that renewed my conviction that an expert in anything who possesses good communication skills is always worth listening to.  I could easily have been persuaded to become an angler.

The birds of prey were most impressive.  We are accustomed to see hawks and falcons, but here were eagles and vultures.  These are seriously  large birds and very beautiful in close up.

Seventeen heavy horse pairs drawing drays provided a picturesque spectacle in the main arena in the morning.  What a great thing it is that so many firms and individuals are willing to put the required effort into the preservation of a glorious piece of our heritage; one that still offers environmental and commercial benefits today.

I was also very taken with the private driving classes.  This is something that I really should like to try, though it is an area of horsemanship of which I know very little.  I hope I am not too old to learn something new!

Both the working hunter class and the Grand Prix showjumping offered spectacular opportunities for the aspiring photographer possessed of a decent long lens.  I quite surprised myself with the quality of image that my old Minolta 75-300 AF would produce at 1/500th of a second, even under slightly overcast skies through part of the afternoon.

And I have yet to mention the displays of farriery, sheep-shearing, willow weaving, dog agility, pole climbing and who knows what else.  I was impressed by the singing of the Farmers' and Farmers' Wives' Choirs, who seem to have reached a high standard in a very short period of existence.

Of course the show classes themselves are the heart of the whole thing.  I saw breeds of sheep that I had never even heard of and watched the parade of class winners for cattle and horses.

The whole event was well organised and informative commentaries were provided throughout.  I greatly enjoyed my day.

Monday, 23 June 2014

British Orchids

Once upon a time I thought that orchids were tender tropical plants with exotic flowers; the sort of thing that you could see in hothouses or in that beautiful collection in Jersey. Then a few years ago, much to my surprise, I found the permanent meadowland around my home in Sliabh Mannan full of strange plants.

I tentatively identified the more common of these (left), from a guide book, as the common spotted orchid (dactylorhiza fuchsii), though to my way of thinking that was a serious misnomer since I had never spotted it before.  It  turned out that the name signified the presence of dark spots on the leaves and spotted patterns on the mauve flowers.

Considerably less common was a much darker purple flower (right) that I thought was probably the early marsh orchid (dactylorhiza incarnata).  I claim no great conviction behind these identifications, so if you know better please feel free to let me know. There is a variety known as heath spotted and another called northern marsh that look superficially very similar.

The new flowers were attended by a locally new species of butterfly, the common blue, as reported in an earlier post (28 October 2013) of this blog.

For the next few years a few stunted specimens appeared erratically. This month however the meadows are once again full of these beautiful wild flowers. I suspect the mild winter has encouraged them, as it has so many tender plants.

Remarkably the magnolia in my garden flowered this year for the first time since I planted it, although I bought it years ago as a sapling already in flower.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Scotland and self-determination

If you confuse nationalism with patriotism, you are also likely to confuse self-determination with separation. Scotland was not conquered; a bankrupt country chose voluntary union because it desperately needed access to the financial resources of its more prosperous neighbour.

Those resources again rescued the country from bankruptcy as recently as 2008, when the UK raised £46 billion to save RBS.

That UK government was led by a Scottish Prime Minister and a Scottish Chancellor. Far from failing Scotland, it enlarged the national debt on Scotland's behalf. SNP leaders now threaten not to pay our share.

The sum needed to bail out a single Scottish bank contrasts with the half billion a year transaction costs the UK may suffer should it decline to share its currency.

It seems that, unlike the separatists, the UK government can do sums.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Coblenz (Koblenz)

Coblenz is located at the confluence of the Rhine and the Moselle, to which its original Latin name refers. It is also the northern end of the Rhine Gorge and draws many tourists to visit the nearby castles and the legendary Lorelei Rock. Like many border cities it has been repeatedly fought over.

The most prominent fortification in Coblenz itself is Ehrenbreitstein on the east bank of the Rhine opposite the confluence on the west. The current fortress is 19th century and it is possible to visit it by cable car from the city. The immense flat interior of the fort also provides Coblenz with a grand venue for open air exhibitions.

The gathering place for tourists on the west bank is the narrow strip of land to the south of the confluence. This is known as Deutsches Eck (German Corner) and features an enormous equestrian statue of Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse. The statue was destroyed in the Second World War and only certain recovered pieces are incorporated into the modern restored version.

The most prominent of the city's churches is the Basilica of St Castor, a Romanesque structure completed in 1208. In front of the basilica is a fountain dedicated to Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812 and two years later re-dedicated by the city's Russian occupiers.

The Electoral Palace is a baroque building, now a museum, featuring a view  across the Rhine.