Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Comma Two

So today I decide to take my macro lens off the camera and leave it at home because it's too late in the season for butterflies.

As a result I am obliged to try and photograph this Comma from about fifteen feet away with a 400mm manual lens.

See what happens when you take nature for granted?

It's surprising to have two sightings of this species  in what has been a very poor summer and autumn for even slightly exotic butterflies on Sliabh Mannan.

I don't recall seeing a Red Admiral this year. Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells have been infrequent too.

On the other hand, the very rarity of brightly-coloured species this year has made the ones that do appear easier to spot.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

The passing of summer

On Sliabh Mannan the turning of the seasons is marked by the the arrivals and departures of migratory species of bird.

In particular we recognise the onset of autumn not just by the yellowing of horse chestnut leaves and the shortening of the hours of daylight, both now very obvious, but by the arrival of the geese and the departure of the swallows.

Interestingly, the first (and so far only) geese that I have seen this year were a skein of Canadas (below right) that arrived on 16th September. In the high moors around here Bean and Pink-Footed geese are usually considerably more common, but these species have yet to put in an appearance.

Meanwhile the hirundine population is thinning. The house martins (top left) seem to be hanging on longest this year but the remaining swallows are almost certainly juveniles (below left) who will wait to gather their full adult strength before departure.

I am never quite certain whether two separate broods can be raised by our feathered visitors during Sliabh Mannan's short summer. Certainly the numbers of sub-tenants that the horses are obliged to tolerate in their stables are now somewhat reduced and temperatures are lower after dark, but there are as yet no frosts and the supply of midges still seems endless.

Just as we welcome the swallows' arrival as a sign of spring, so we are saddened as their departure reminds us that the long and dark winter months will sound be returning.

But nature's cycle is unceasing and the autumn still has much to offer. So out with the new camera and off to search the skies for the arrival of the main geese flocks.

This year I'm looking forward to winter photography armed with 16 MP instead of 6, so I shall be interested to see  the results of what I hope will be significantly improved resolution.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

The ruins of Cluny

What is left of Cluny is worth seeing, if only for the formidable effort of imagination that it demands of you.

Until the construction of the new St Peter's, Rome, during the Renaissance, Cluny Abbey was the world's largest church. It is believed that the Pope sent a delegation with specific instructions to measure the length of Cluny's nave so that St Peter's could be larger, since that was only appropriate for the premier church of Christendom.

Mind you this was presumably the same Pope who also authorised the demolition of parts of the Colosseum to provide a source of cheap marble for St Peter's.

In its heyday Cluny was the mother house of monastic institutions all over Europe. These Cluniac houses were mostly priories, not abbeys, because they owed allegiance to their Abbot in Burgundy and the priors of the satellite houses travelled once a year to confer at the gigantic centre of the monastic world.

After the French Revolution, Cluny suffered an even worse fate than Vespasian's grand arena. Sold to a stone mason it was almost completely razed to the ground; only the tower adjacent to the cloister was saved, and that not from any sense of the building's historic significance. Merchants who had turned the cloister (left) into a shopping mall were concerned that any attempt to demolish the final tower would risk the destruction of their business premises along with it.

In a year when we mourn the devastation of remnants of ancient civilisations in the Middle Eastern war zone, it is as well to remember that the urge to do away with monuments to a culture with which we have no sympathy is a recurring blight on the human race and no new invention.

The blowing up of the Parthenon in 1687 and the careless burning of Linlithgow Palace (close to Sliabh Mannan) in 1746 are two more examples. 

And in case we think we in the civilsed West are now immune to the Vandal mentality, perhaps we should consider why it was only this year, seventy years after the end of the Second World War, that a decision could be taken about what to do with the remains of Speer's Nazi rally arena at Nuremburg.

We do not have to agree with the religious or political philosophy that underpinned a historic monument in order to wish to preserve it. We learn about ourselves by learning about our ancestors and there are few better ways than having the opportunity to consider what they built and what marks they left upon the physical world.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Pérouges - a living film set

Pérouges is a small, walled medieval town in Ain, France.

A century or so ago it almost died after the re-routing of road and rail connections left it isolated from the currents of modern life. It seemed that fortified hilltops were no longer required in the twentieth century.

Depending on your source you may find that the population, never much greater than 1,500, had declined either to 90 persons or to a single family.

I am not sure whether these two statistics are mutually exclusive; I suppose it might depend on how you define family.

In its heyday Pérouges was known for hemp weaving. The name suggests that it was founded by Gallic colonists returning from Perugia in Italy, but the name is older than the town, since it applied to a noble's home which was successfully defended against the local bishop in the early middle ages.

The town was later successfully defended against a French siege, not ultimately becoming part of France until 1601.

It is so well preserved that it is used for shooting period films such as The Three Musketeers. However it is really only the fabric that is medieval. There are no chickens or pigs in the streets, no sewage runs down the middle of the roads and the unwary photographer may even find the odd motor car sneaking into his pictures on the outskirts of the town.

But if you want to see a beautifully kept set of medieval buildings, give or take the odd relatively modern window, there can be few better places to go. Even the church is built into the fortifications and the central square with its beautiful inn is a good place to purchase a restorative after a walking tour.