Wednesday 3 May 2023

Old Rocks and Old Rockers


This week finds us across the other side of the north of England in the Cathedral city of Durham. Building of the magnificent cathedral started in 1093, on a sandstone outcrop in a loop of the river Wear, which rises some miles to the west at Wearhead and flows into the North Sea at Sunderland. The sandstone on which it is built is a sedimentary deposit, laid down in the carboniferous period, about 310 million years ago. The river began cutting its way around this promontory when the ice sheets melted at the end of the last glacial period, about 11,000 years ago.

On the opposite bank, there are large swathes of Common Butterbur, just coming into flower now. Butterbur is a dioecious plant, there are male plants and female plants. Strangely, male plants are common throught the UK (they have squat, densely packed racemes of flowers), whereas female plants (with long, lanky racemes like these) are rarer and confined to certain sites, primarily in the north of England. [As far as I can make out. Information is a bit sketchy].

Ushaw House

We are in a campervan, in the grounds of Ushaw House, which is on loan to us while Elvis is being repaired (see Long Meg and her Daughters). It's an early 19th century pile with extensive grounds and a lake in dire need of attention. We took Mattie for a walk around it, and it was absolutely clogged with Water Horsetail. The stems of this plant are packed full of silica, which makes it very useful for scouring pots and pans when you're camping. It has been used for millenia as a natural abrasive.

The reason we are camped out here is not for old rocks, but old rockers. This is the site of the Northern Kin festival. My sister and I were lucky enough to be growing up in the early seventies. We had folk rock, glam rock, prog rock as well as soft and hard rock. There is something surreal about watching The Sweet, belting out the Ballroom Blitz, fifty years after you last watched them together on Top of the Pops. It was a great festival but the conditions were, to say the least, somewhat muddy. We all had to be pulled out by tractors. The exit will always stick in mind as The Crawl of the House of Ushaw.

Of wildlife we saw almost none. A grey festival drizzle didn't give many opportunities, but we did spot a grey squirrel on the way home. We also crossed the Cumbrian moors. When you think of moorland, the north Yorkshire moors spring readily to mind, but Cumbria has some magnificent moorland too. Definitely somewhere to spend some time when Elvis is back on the road.

And finally, back in Lowca, and I've found my first beetle of the year in the back yard. It has never taken me until the first of May to spot a beetle. This is a little Rove Beetle, and my Cassell's Natural History from 1881 has this to say about the times of their appearance: “They shun the daylight, and in the height of summer are scarcely ever seen abroad; but in early spring, and in warm evenings after sunset, they fly abroad in great numbers..” Early spring is the second half of March. 140 years later and they're some six weeks behind.

Steve's Vintage Collectables. (click to visit)

Rumour has it that there is a coronation this weeekend. Collecting Royal Memorabilia has been going on since Victorian times (see Steve's History of Things 8 – Royal Memorabilia). If you're thinking of buying a bit of Charles III memorabilia then a set of coronation mugs looks a lot better than a lonely mug on a shelf.

Steve's Books (click to visit)

All the best,


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Steve Daniels Cumbria

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