Northern Lights

The Northern Lights (aka the aurora borealis) were visible in much of the United Kingdom on Friday 10th and Saturday 11th May 2024. Of course, a clear dark sky and minimal light pollution were necessary for a good display. Our son sent this photograph from near Bicester ...

Photo 1: Northern Lights from near Bicester (10/5/24)

... while our daughter-in-law sent this picture from Leek, Derbyshire ...

Photo 2: Northern Lights from Leek, Derbyshire (10/5/24)

See here for an explanation of the different colours (tl;dr ionization of gas molecules by solar particles).

Sod's Law (aka Murphy' Law) states that if something can go wrong, it will. Its corollary (Finagles' Law) states that if something is going to go wrong, it will happen at the worst possible time. Sure enough, in spite of clear skies during the day in Hereford, the clouds gathered during the evening. Consequently, the Northern Lights were a no show from our Hereford home (light pollution may have played a part too). 

I did manage to create our own version of the Northern Lights using a conveniently situated street lamp ...

Photo 3: "Aurora Borealis" Hereford-style

We may have a repeat performance in about two weeks. This BBC article gives a good simplified explanation of the aurora phenomenon and also explains some of the downsides (e.g. its effect on global communications, internet, GPS, etc).


Cider is one of Herefordshire's best known exports and is rightly celebrated in the county. The two main events of 2024, organised by The Big Apple Association, are Blossomtime (5th & 6th May 2024) and Harvestime (12th & 13th October 2024). The titles are fairly self-explanatory!

Figure 1: Flyer for Blossomtime 2024

We attended Blossomtime on the Sunday - fortunately, the rain we were promised never appeared and we enjoyed a warm sunny Spring day. The Spring and Autumn events used to be small parochial affairs based around Putley Village Hall. The Big Apple Association has clearly upped their game by adding more events and using three different venues.

Activities included walks and talks, demonstrations, singing, music, arts & crafts, Morris dancing and (of course) cider tasting and sales. All for £5 per person.

Photo 1: Apple Blossom, Dragon Orchard (6th May 2024)

The apple blossom was a little sparse in some orchards compared with previous years. These apple trees (Photo 1, Photo 2) were at Dragon Orchard, the venue for music, dancing and drinking!

Photo 2: Apple Blossom, Dragon Orchard (May 6th 2024)

Photo 3: Leominster Morris (6/5/24)

Photo 4: Leominster Morris (6/5/24)

Of course, no English country occasion would be complete without Morris Dancers; we were treated to performances by both men's (Leominster Morris, Photo 3 & Photo 4, Video 1) and women's (Pinsley Mill Clog Dancers, Photo 5 & Photo 6, Video 2) teams.

Photo 5: Pinsley Mill Clog Dancers (6/5/24)

Photo 6: Pinsley Mill Clog Dancers (6/5/24)

Video 1: Leominster Morris in Action (6/5/24)

Video 2: Pinsley Mill Clog Dancers

To finish off the day, there was a short walk through fields and orchards for me (Mary took the tractor-pulled trailer option) to visit the recently restored 16th Century cruck-framed tithe barn at Court Farm, Aylton (Photo 7). Tree-ring analysis (dendrochronology) of the barn indicates a build date of around 1503. The barn housed a number of exhibitors; Mary made a blossom flower and we bought a couple of wildflower plants.

Photo 7: Court Farm Barn, Aylton (6/5/24)

Fortunately, the forecast rain did not appear and we could enjoy the warm late Spring sunshine along with a taste of Old England.

The Elusive Hare


Photo 1: The Elusive Hare (7th May 2024, Herefordshire)

On previous expeditions to see hares, we have been less than successful; in fact totally unsuccessful. Today (7/5/24) while Mary (with my assistance) was doing a bird survey for the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) we saw three! It was an early start getting up at 6am and arriving at the survey site to the north east of Hereford just after 7am. Mary soon spotted two hares running up and down alongside a field hedge about 100-150 metres away.

Later on, around 8am, I spotted the specimen above about 50 metres away. Fortunately, it remained stationary long enough to take a picture (Photo 1).

Although the day had started a little dull, it soon brightened up into a warm sunny morning requiring the removal of some clothing layers.

Photo 2: Mary walking down cowslip lane

We saw an inordinately large number of wood pigeons and there were also mallards aplenty. A single magpie but multiples of wrens, blackbirds, robins, chaffinches, crows and pheasants. On a previous reconnoitre visit we had seen goldfinch, buzzard and red kite - but alas not this time.

We need to pay this site another visit in about 6 weeks time to complete this year's survey. If the weather and company are similarly pleasant, it will be another thoroughly enjoyable morning.

Photo 3: Hare in the Meadow (enlarged)

Photo 4: Hare in the Meadow (enlarged)

Hereford May Fair (2024)

 By my reckoning, this year is the 903rd anniversary of the Hereford May Fair. The first fair was in 1121 AD (or CE) and, according to the charter, is to be held on the Feast of Saint Ethelbert and the two following days. Hereford Cathedral, which can be seen in the background of Photo 1, is dedicated to St Ethelbert

Photo 1: Part of the Hereford May Fair (2024)

Clearly, some time-warping has occurred because the May Fair is always held on the Tuesday to Thursday after the early May Bank Holiday whereas the Feast of St Ethelbert is the 20th May. Hereford's St Ethelbert is this one, and not this one. Leominster's and Ludlow's May Fairs take place a few days earlier; I think I'm correct in describing these two May Fairs as smaller occasions that ultimately combine to provide the larger Hereford version. The Ludlow version can trace its history back to 1461 but I cannot find a definitive start date for Leominster - I suspect it might be a relatively new addition to the calendar.

Photo 2: Hereford May Fair (2024)

As Photo 2 shows, the modern May Fair is basically funfair rides with hoopla stalls. Unfortunately, the prizes are the usual tat; likely to be reclassified as rubbish within a few weeks. It has probably always been like this, in recent memory anyway.

There are usually lots of complaints from the older generations and those inconvenienced by the May Fair as it takes over the City Centre and a number of streets and roads are temporarily closed. In the past, there have been rumours of an increase in shoplifting and petty crime during the May Fair. Some businesses have complained of poor footfall and sales for the duration of the Fair; it must be especially difficult for hot food providers because of the competition from the Fair's food & drink stalls. When we were trying to rent accommodation for our move to Hereford twenty years ago, I recall the estate agent rescheduling our phone call because the noise from the Fair was too loud!

 A few years ago, there were discussions about moving it out of the City Centre but it looks like it is here to stay. Generally, we avoid the City Centre while the Fair is on but we have no desire to see it curtailed or moved. It is only for three days of the year and a good deal of people find it  entertaining. On the day I took these photographs, I was in town for a doctor's appointment and a visit to our favourite cheese shop, The Mousetrap.

Broxwood Court Spring Plant Fair in aid of The Cart Shed

 This is an annual event held at Broxwood Court in aid of a local charity, The Cart Shed. We last visited in 2022, two years ago. We know a number of people who have availed themselves of its services and have volunteered their own. We arrived around 1 pm (about halfway through the event) and there were a number of plant stalls that had nearly sold out. The entry fee was £7.50 per person which Mary thought was a little steep but it was all in a good cause.

Photo 1: Rhododendrons at Broxwood Court (24th April 2024)

We headed for the tea tent first where Mary had possibly the worst piece of banana cake she'd ever tasted but my scone/cream/jam combo was fine. The things we do for charity!

We had a look around the gardens and bought a few plants. While the sun was out it was pleasantly warm but around 3.30 pm, the temperature started to drop and it was time to head home. We'd seen some wood anemone plants for sale (a tad expensive) and promised ourselves to find some for our mini wood back home.

Photo 2: Mary (on the left) with Peacock (blue is a popular colour)

Photo 3: The Long Avenue of Cedars and Scots Pines

Photo 4: Bluebells and Dandelion Clocks against the Rhododendron Background 

Too Cold or Too Wet for Butterflies?


Photo 1: Orange-Tip (female) in the Secret Garden (2nd May 2024)

We have seen the odd butterfly in the garden - holly blue, small white, red admiral, peacock - but sightings have been few and far between. This female orange-tip butterfly appeared on a rather cold dank day at the beginning of May. A recently emerged specimen, it remained on the poppy flower bud for at least 15 minutes trying to dry out ready for flight.

Photo 2: Orange-Tip (side-view) in the Secret Garden (2/5/24)

Just a few feet away, one of the orange-tip's food plants - cuckoo flower (Photo 3) - is growing. Coincidence or not?!

Photo 3: Cuckoo Flower in the Secret Garden (6/3/24)

We have seen orange-tip butterflies away from the garden - notably in Lea & Paget's Wood.

Holly Blue butterflies were first spotted in the garden in late March but didn't hang around long enough for the photo shoot. On the 11th April, I managed to photograph and video this recently emerged example.

Photo 4: Holly Blue Butterfly on the Potato Patch (11/4/24)

Video 1: Holly Blue Butterfly Takes Its First Steps

Video 2: Holly Blue drying out its wings in the cold April wind

Why are the garden butterflies so late this year? Higher spring temperatures encourage earlier emergence. This spring (March & April) has, on average, been on the warm side - about 2 ℃ above the 1961-1990 CET mean - though mean daily temperatures have oscillated between hot and cold spells. Figure 1 compares the average monthly temperatures in Hereford for March and April, covering the years 2020 to 2024. So nothing is obviously untoward about 2024 - not the warmest (2020) or the coldest (2021).

Figure 1: March and April Monthly Mean Temperatures (2020 - 2024)

Another weather factor that could impact the number of butterflies is rain. Once the butterfly emerges from the chrysalis, it needs to let its wings dry out so it can fly. It needs to fly to feed and find a mate. And, of course, it cannot fly in heavy rain or strong winds for that matter. Figure 2 shows the March and April rainfall values in Hereford for the past five years, along with the sum of both months.  

Figure 2: Hereford Rainfall in March, April and Combined Months (2020 - 2024)

This year, 2024, has been the wettest by some margin of the last five years. This may have had a dampening effect (pun intended) on the butterfly population.

There are other factors to consider such as wind speeds, frequency and duration of storms, availability of food plants, cold/wet winter conditions affecting butterflies that overwintered as adults, and whether the previous breeding season was successful.

For the moment, let's just be thankful we can still enjoy these magnificent creatures and help their conservation by gardening naturally with nectar-rich plants.

Church Stretton and the Shropshire Hills - DAY 3 (Carding Mill Valley & Much Wenlock)

 The first two days of our short break in the Shropshire Hills are described here, here and here. Day 3 was a packing up and heading home day but would include visits to the National Trust's Carding Mill Valley and the nearby town of Much Wenlock.

After another super breakfast, we set off for our first stop just a mile or so away - Carding Mill Valley - arriving just after 10 am. The car park was already quite full but it was a Saturday and the sky was clear, bright and blue (Photo 1). We unloaded ourselves, boots, rucksacks and walking poles from the campervan and joined the myriad of adults, children and dogs making their way up to the Visitors Centre/Cafe/Toilets and beyond.

Photo 1: Mary Following the Ashbrooke up the Valley

A big thank you to the vast majority of dog owners who kept their canine friends on a lead during lambing season. I only saw one clueless selfish couple who ignored all the signs asking dogs to be leashed.

Mary didn't feel strong enough to make the trek up to Lightspout Waterfall - the path is uphill, sometimes rocky and does require some effort. I left her seated comfortably on a grassy slope watching the wildlife including the visiting grey wagtails. Meanwhile, I set off at pace to make the trip in as short a time as possible. The Ashbrooke is a typical mountain stream, tumbling and cascading its way down to the quieter, more gentle flows through Church Stretton (Photo 2).

Photo 2: The Ashbrooke Cascading Down Carding Mill Valley

There is a nice energetic circular walk that includes the waterfall but I was only planning a quick visit and photo shoot. The waterfall looks very dramatic in black and white ...

Photo 3: Lightspout Waterfall (20/4/24)
... less so in glorious Technicolor ...

Photo 4: Lightspout Waterfall (20/4/24)

The waterfall is only about 4 metres high and we did meet a couple who thought it was somewhat underwhelming. You just cannot please everyone.

Video 1: Lightspout Waterfall, Carding Mill Valley (20/4/24

Retracing my steps back to Mary, we headed back to the car pack via a short detour to the reservoir. Along the way we passed several man-made pools that I assume were leftovers from the now-long-gone clothing mill(s) from which the valley gets its name.

Photo 5: Millpond (?), Carding Mill Valley

Even a man-made waterfall ...

Video 2: Man-made Waterfall, Carding Mill Valley

At the end of this small valley, up a steep grassy bank, is the reservoir (built 19020). The reservoir is a popular spot for wild swimming which is why my picture (Photo 6) cuts off the right hand side of the reservoir (to spare any blushes or potential lawsuits!)

Photo 6: Carding Mill Valley Reservoir (20/4/24)

We returned to the campervan around 1 pm and decided, on the spur of the moment, to return home via Much Wenlock. Our stop in the town was necessarily time-constrained with time just to walk through the centre and grab a bite to eat after visiting Wenlock Priory

Photo 7: Bijou Residence with His & Hers Balconies (High St, Much Wenlock)

Photo 8: Another Attractive Property on the High Street, Much Wenlock

As English Heritage members, entrance to Wenlock Priory was free. Originally, an Anglo-Saxon monastery (680 AD), it was re-purposed as a Cluniac Priory by the Normans around 1080 AD. The dissolution of the Priory in 1540 was part of the English Reformation. Here are a few photos to give a flavour of the Priory ruins ...

Photo 9: Mary amongst the Topiary

Photo 10: Mary on the march

Photo 11: Mary still managing to get in the picture

Photo 12: Still in the picture
Photo 13: Mary-free Zone

Photo 14: Impressive Ruins

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