Friday, 23 May 2008

A Welsh wild flower walk

I was staying at a fabulous Bed & Breakfast near Caernarfon:

and I went for a walk before breakfast, as it was a beautiful day. Fifty yards from the front entrance to the B & B, I came across this inviting gateway:

which led to a path alongside a small river, where there were masses of wild flowers. I only walked for 15 minutes, but saw and photographed 15 varieties of wild flowers.

This is stitchwort, which is common in hedgerows in country lanes

the small river was burbling and beautifully clear

Ivy Leaved Toadflax, the Welsh name for which is - wait for it - 'Trwyn y llo dial iorwg', which means 'Ivy leafed calf's nose'. The plant was introduced to Britain in the early 1600s.

Dog Violet. The word 'dog' means that it is a smaller variety than a cultivated variety. There are several varieties of violet, some are beautifully scented. Sadly, this one had no discernable scent. I love this pretty little flower with its heart shaped leaves. it likes to hide in slightly shadier hedgerows and woodlands.

The Welsh name for this plant is 'sanau'r gwcw', which means 'Cuckoo's socks' - and this name is obviously associated with the fact that violets flower at the time that cuckoos are first heard. In the language of flowers, the mauve violet means 'faithful love'. Medicinally, the leaves are supposed to help cure cancer, strengthen the heart and calm the nerves. In Wales, a treacle was made from the flowers, which was considered unrivalled at curing colds, coughs and chest complaints.

Ox-Eye daisy, which was called 'dog daisy' or 'moon daisy' until the 1500s. It was also called 'thunder daisy', as people believed that if they hung some of these flowers onto their thatched roofs, the roof would be protected from lightning strike and consequent fire. This plant was also used medicinally, to treat breathing problems such as asthma or 'consumption' (tuberculosis). Stalks, leaves and flowers were boiled up together, made into a posset, and drunk. It was also supposed to help heal wounds and ulcers, whether inside the body or on the skin, and cure wind.

Herb Robert, also called Cranesbill (because of the shape of the seed heads). This is a useful herb, being used as an eye lotion, a mouthwash to treat sore throats and mouth ulcers, as an aid to wound healing, and to treat bladder and kidney stones, and apparently if you crush the leaves and rub them on your skin, it acts as an insect repellent. It has been used as a cancer cure, and the Scottish name for the herb - cancer weed - reflects that usage. The whole plant has a lovely smell, and looks pretty!

Red Campion, a common and pretty wildflower. The name campion has French and Latin origins, and means 'field'. The modern word 'champion' comes from the name of the plant, as in the middle ages, people used to make wreaths of chaplets to put on the heads of winners of public games on village greens.

Greater Celandine. This looks completely different to the common Lesser Celandine which tries to take over my garden every spring! The leaves and flowers are different, the only commonality is that they both have yellow flowers. This plant is harder to spot, and seems to flower for a shorter period.

Cow parsley - this plant is quite tall at 2-3 feet, and often grows in drifts, but each individual flower head is delicate and individual flowers are tiny. It looks pretty when you see a whole verge filled with drifts of white, waving in the breeze.

Field forget-me-not. This flower was used as a symbol of great affection. Women used to wear a corsage or posy pinned to their bodice, and if it contained a forget-me-not, they would not be forgotten by their lover. It was also used to treat dog and snake bites, and steel tempered with its juice was supposed to be able to cut through stone.

Foxglove. The name is probably a corruption of the Swedish 'folk's glove', meaning fairy folk's gloves. There are many folk names for this plant across Britain but a couple of nice Welsh ones are - 'gwyniadur Mair' (Mary's thimble) and 'menig Mair' (Mary's gloves). From the 1500s, foxgloves were used to treat sores, ulcers and flesh wounds. In the late 1700s it was discovered that a susbstance in the plant - digitalin - now called digitoxin - was an excellent treatment for heart problems. In 1962 further research into digitalin showed that it is also a good treatment for glaucoma and muscular dystrophy. Today, foxgloves are farmed in large quantities (mainly in the US) for medicinal use.

Hawthorn blossom, also known as 'May flower'. This thorny tree, often used as stock proof hedging in Wales, has leaves which can be eaten when young, beautiful flowers in May, and red berries in autumn. When you look across some Welsh valleys in May, the hedges all look white as the whole hedge seems to be covered with blossoms. Some blossoms are tinged with pink, and hawthorn has been selectively bred to produce varieties with deep pink flowers. I prefer the simple pale coloured variety!

Bird's Foot Trefoil. This low growing plant has around 70 different country names across the UK, some names refer to the flowers, some to the seed pods, which can look rather like bird or animal claws. Names vary from 'butter-and-eggs' & 'boots and shoes' (Somerset), 'boxing gloves', 'bread and cheese' & 'bunny rabbits ears' (Sussex), to 'bird'sclaws', 'bird's eye' & 'bird's foot' (Devon). The Welsh names 'basged bysgota' and 'pys y ceirw' mean 'fishing basket' and 'pea of the stag/deer'.

Closer view of a bird's foot trefoil flower

Bluebells. This isn't a very good picture, as the bluebells have almost finished flowering. They can look stunning in huge drifts under trees. The Welsh name, 'clychau'r gog' means cuckoo bells, as the flowers come out when cuckoos are heard in the countryside.

Meadow Buttercup. Children often pick this flower and hold it under their chins - if a yellow glow appears on the skin, the child is supposed to like butter!

The picturesque gate at the end of the walk. Walking here and back was a lovely way to spend half an hour early on a beautiful late spring morning.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Scotland's Parliament building

This is the Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh. It cost huge fortunes to build - somewhere in the region of £414 million - quite a difference between that cost and original estimates of between £10 million and £40 million. It also took 3 years longer to build than expected.

When you see the building, you can start to see why it cost so much - every element is different, so most of the elements must have been 'bespoke' with short repeat runs - no mass production or off the shelf elements of the building at all..

Even the fencing down the sides of the building is bespoke.
And there is a lot of it!

This is the front entrance. Inside it is very light and airy. Lots of glass, concrete, stainless steel and wood.

This is the debating chamber. All the wooden trusses holding the roof up are being supported by steel joists.

However, I can tell you that no woman would ever have designed a building like this. Much of the glass is inaccessible, and therefore difficult if not impossible to clean. Apparently, it is self cleaning, but I think that only works on vertical glass or glass which has a steep angle of pitch. The area above, with it's gentle slope, is not managing to clean itself at all - the pigeon excreta is building up nicely.
It looks very unappealing.

There is also lots of glass inside. Again, it is a nightmare to clean large sheets of glass, and this looks really streaky. In the stairwells, there was lots of wooden framing around the glass, with horizontal and sloping surfaces at least 4 inches wide. they were covered in dust, which you could see as you went up and down the stairs. The trouble is, the dusty areas were not accessible for daily cleaning - you would have to get ladders or scaffolds to get up to them.