Leaning on Gates

I like space.
Space to think, space to breath, space to enjoy life and space to take in the view.
I’ve never been a town or city person, those built-up places make me feel closed in, trapped, suffocated; yes I know that some people thrive on “City Life,” but it’s not for me.

Dookes H.Q. is in the middle of North Cornwall nowhere and recently I’ve begun to appreciate my local field gates.

I lean on them….quite a lot!

The roads and lanes of North Cornwall are delightful, often narrow, frequently bumpy and normally bounded by high banks and hedges. Gates give a glimpse from those roads across wonderful countryside and tantalising views of the sea. The trouble is that when I’m travelling on either two or four wheels I never seem to stop, but when I’m walking things take on a totally different perspective.

Life at Dookes H.Q. is often dictated by Working Cocker Spaniels, wonderfully busy little dogs who live life to their fullest and effervesce with boundless energy….which means walks, lots of walks!

Smudge

That’s where gates come in handy.

They have become places to pause.
Places to welcome the dawn.
Places to see the Moon rise.
Places to contemplate.
Places to be thankful.
Places to feel renewed.

….and also just somewhere for an old geezer to lean on and get his breath back after keeping pace with his four legged friend.

I love gates.

Catch you soon,
Dookes

Ring Out Solstice Bells 2021

Best wishes to you all on this Winter Solstice Day!

At exactly 15:59 GMT today the polar axis of our Planet Earth will have be tilted at its farthest away from the Sun in the Northern Hemisphere, giving us our shortest day of the year and marking the beginning of astronomical winter. This makes me a very happy Dookes, for though the days will be colder, they will also start to get longer!

Of course if you live South of the equator the reverse applies.

For my previous posts about the Dookes take on the Solstice please click here.

This year we have been doubly treated as there was a full “Winter Moon” last weekend.
For us Celts, with a feeling for the natural cycle of life, it doesn’t get much better than that!

The Winter Moon rising over a cold Cornish landscape.

In accordance with the old ways and as a Druid, I’m off to garland Dookes H.Q. now…and raise a glass to the setting sun.

In the meantime, however and whatever you are celebrating have a really good one!

“Ring out these bells,
Ring out,
Ring solstice bells”

Catch you soon,
Dookes

Remember Penlee, 40 Years Ago.

Jutting out into the wild North Atlantic Ocean the County of Cornwall is indelibly linked to the sea. 

Nowhere in Cornwall are you more than 20 miles from the coast and on the edge of the Ocean lie numerous villages whose existence is based on either fishing or trade.

Strong amongst those villages is the tradition of saving lives at sea.

Around the Cornish coast can be found lifeboat stations where, crewed by volunteers, stand tough vessels ready to be launched at a moments notice to assist those in distress on the Sea. Lifeboats at Bude, Padstow, Falmouth, Fowey, Lizard, Sennen Cove, St Ives all have distinguished histories and can list many brave and tragic events in their roll of honour; but in Cornwall the most revered name is Penlee.

Forty years ago today, 19th December 1981, the crew of the Penlee Lifeboat answered a call to a vessel in distress.

The brand new MV Union Star on passage to Ireland from Holland with a cargo of fertiliser was in difficulties. She carried a crew of four, plus her Captain Henry Moreton, his wife and two teenage daughters.

At 18:00hrs Falmouth Coastguard received a distress call from the Union Star; her engines had failed and would not restart. Hurricane force winds were blowing the disabled vessel towards the treacherous and unforgiving South Coast of Cornwall.

In the small and picturesque fishing village of Mousehole, (pronounced Mowzull), population 600, the crew of the Penlee Lifeboat were put on standby; twelve men volunteered and eight were selected by Coxswain William Trevelyan Richards.

A Royal Navy helicopter was scrambled to assist the drifting merchant ship, but so strong were the winds, over 90 knots, and so violent the sea at 18m metre waves that it was unable to undertake any rescue operation.

At 20:00hrs the Penlee lifeboat was launched, the Union Star was now just two miles from the treacherous coast.

The lifeboat was named “Soloman Browne” and was a 14 metre long “Watson Class” with two powerful diesel engines giving a top speed of 9 knots.

The Soloman Browne

For 30 minutes the helicopter crew watched as the Soloman Browne made numerous attempts to get alongside the stricken merchant ship.

“We’ve got four off.” Radioed the lifeboat to Falmouth Coast Guard.

Ten minutes later, the lights of the Soloman Brown disappeared and nothing more was heard.

The helicopter returned to base to refuel and took off again, whilst lifeboats from Sennen Cove, Lizard and St Mary’s were launched to help their colleagues.

At dawn the Union Star was seen capsized and on the rocks at Tater Du, just a few miles from Mousehole and debris from the Soloman Browne began to wash ashore.

The wreck of the Union Star

Within 24 hours the small and stunned community formed another volunteer lifeboat crew.

Coxswain Trevelyan Richards was posthumously awarded the Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s Gold Medal for Gallantry and the rest of the crew were awarded Bronze Medals. 

Lieutenant Commander Russell Smith, the pilot of the Sea King helicopter, said:

‘The greatest act of courage that I have ever seen, and am ever likely to see, was the penultimate courage and dedication shown by the Penlee crew.They were truly the bravest eight men I’ve ever seen, who were also totally dedicated to upholding the highest standards of the RNLI.’

Every year on 19 December, the Christmas lights at Mousehole are dimmed between 8 and 9pm in memory of the 16 people who lost their lives, leaving just an illuminated Cross and two Angels shining down across the village and out to sea.

Remember them with pride and gratitude that volunteers like them still go down to the sea in boats to save lives:

  Coxswain William Trevelyan Richards

  Second Coxswain and Mechanic James Madron

  Assistant Mechanic Nigel Brockman

  Emergency Mechanic John Blewett

  Crew Member Charles Greenhaugh

  Crew Member Kevin Smith

  Crew Member Barrie Torrie

  Crew Member Gary Wallis.

Autumn Musing

There’s an Autumn storm brewing.

The wind is rising and the barometer pressure falling. Leaves are whipping from the trees and swirling like a murmuration of starlings.

Heavy rain is forecast and localised flooding predicted.

I thought it was a good idea to get out for a walk with one of my canine pals before things got really wet and wild. Not a day for heroics on a motorcycle at all.

I feel that one of the nice things that stems from living in the cuds (middle of nowhere) is that it gives me space to think, drink in the silence and concentrate on the joy of life.

Autumn is definitely my favourite season, as the poet John Keats wrote “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun.”

Yes, Autumn sees the shortening of days, cooling of temperatures, the first frosts and heavy water-soaked soils. I find beauty everywhere, the colours of the season prevail. The last fruits of the year are gathered. Summer blooms begin to die, but bravely brighten grey days.

Still stubble fields, that only recently stood proud with wheat or barley, now feed wild birds with fallen seed. Cattle savour the last good grass before Spring and on leaden skies the migratory Woodcock returns to the British countryside for Winter.

Eurasian Woodcock (Scolopax rusticola). JJ Harrison

There’s a sweet smell of decay in the air and the tang of beechwood smoke drifts from cottage chimneys.

It all lifts my spirits and I feel like the luckiest man alive.

“Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.” Emily Brontë

Catch you soon,

Dookes

Summer Draws Away

Theres a chill beginning to creep into the air at Dookes H.Q..

Mornings are starting to get a bit misty, shadows are longer and heavy dew sparkles on the myriad hedgerow cobwebs.

Autumn is on its way.

Butterflies and bees are grabbing nectar from late flowering plants as the garden produces a last flush of colour before the short winter days ahead.

Small Tortoiseshell, Aglais urticae on Sedum in Dookes H.Q.

I love the changing seasons. In my lifetime I’ve seen how the normality of the weather is changing, so I appreciate even more those precious moments that nature gifts us. I never need much encouragement to get out in the open air and enjoy it!

Early Autumn also brings the bounty of wild food and never let it be said that Dookes turns down the chance to gather free food! What could be better than an afternoon spent foraging the hedgerows and woods for tasty seasonal treats?

Blackberries

The humble blackberry is probably the most popular amongst country folk, easy to find, simple to gather and makes delicious jam, jelly and deserts.

My favourite is the Sloe, the fruit of the Blackthorn, Prunus spinosa. Now finding Sloes is not always easy, despite the blackthorn being widespread in woodlands and hedgerows throughout the British Isles the trees fruit unpredictably. One year they will be groaning with the weight of fruit, the next almost barren. This irregularity is mainly due to the blackthorn’s habit of flowering very early in the year, before that leaves appear and always vulnerable to late frosts…just like we had this year!

But if you know where to look….!

Sloes, Prunus spinosa.

The only other problem with Sloes is hinted at in the tree’s name, Blackthorn. It is covered on thick sharp spiky thorns and a harvesting foray frequently results in various wounds to your hands! The gathered fruit though has various uses, yes it makes a wonderful jelly, but by far he best thing to do with you hard won spoils is to make Sloe Gin, a warming tot on cold winter nights or a refreshing aperitif on a warm summer, or Autumnal, evening.

Sloe Gin and Clementine tonic; Cheers!

Catch you soon, I’m off for some more foraging!

Dookes

PS Whilst I encourage anyone to look out for wild food, be careful, don’t eat something if you don’t know what it is!

These are Better Days….. Maybe.

Spring has been slow to arrive this year here in North Cornwall. Its early May and by midday the temperature is only just nudging 8º Celsius, that’s a chilly 46º Fahrenheit. True it’s been occasionally sunny but often with a cool North wind.

I’m not complaining though; life is beginning to take on some sort of normality. The U.K.’s Covod Vaccine programme is progressing well and infection cases are falling dramatically. Lockdown measures are easing and at the moment things have an optimistic feel.

Maybe, just maybe we are moving into better days and as if proof is needed I recently took each of my two beloved Harley Davidson motorcycles out for a short ride to get some local shopping.

To be honest, it seemed a bit weird to be back on the road with a large Vee twin engine rumbling away underneath me. Weird, but in a very nice way.

On each ride I wanted to stop and take some photos of my machines, yet at the same time I didn’t want the moment to be interrupted by messing around with a camera…so I just carried on riding and soaking up the experience.

I took it steady, it had been some time since I had ridden any motorcycles, best to ease in gradually and let the road come back to me. There wasn’t any rush to get the ride over and living in such a lovely part of the world there was plenty to enjoy…trust me I was really enjoying these rides!

I did about 50 miles in total on each bike, on two separate days, and I was mentally worn out in a nice refreshed way. Motorcycles really do move the soul!

Despite thoroughly pre-ride checking each bike, on my return home I needed to make small adjustments and tighten up a few things on each of them; nothing major, just getting them back how I like them.

It felt good to be motorcycling again….and just to celebrate I smashed out a 28 miler on the man-powered bike afterwards!

Now all we need is for the weather to get warmer and say a prayer for the pandemic to recede all around the world!

“These are better days baby 
Yeah there’s better days shining through” 

Catch you soon,

Dookes

A Little Green Cross

It occurred to me that recently I have been singularly bad at posting anything on this blog.

In a way that isn’t very surprising, after all this originally started out as a motorcycle based platform with some other thoughts and interesting stuff thrown in on the side.

With everything that has been going on in the world over the past year, you’ll excuse me if motorcycling has been quite a long way from my mind.

A quick look at my logbooks shows that since January 2020 my two lovely Harley Davidson motorcycles have done just 378 and 513 miles respectively…

Harls

The only plus side is that they both are sitting in the Dookes H.Q. workshop looking extremely clean and shiny!

Hettie

With the terrible global pandemic it just doesn’t seem right to go motorcycling. Pleasure rides are certainly a no go and even though I am a volunteer rider for medication deliveries, it’s just too risky to use the bikes…Our hospitals have enough sick people, without having to deal with some motorcyclist who has had an “off!”

Looking around for something to lift my spirits I found that today is Imbolc.

Imbolc in the traditional Celtic calendar marks the beginning of Spring and a celebration of new life with the Earth waking from the depths of winter. It’s the halfway point between the Winter Solstice and the Equinox. It’s also the time to start your Spring-cleaning!

In the ways of all good Celtic/Pagan festivals it spreads over two days and is very conveniently encompassed in the Christian Candlemas, also known as the Feast of the Presentation of Christ, which lands on February 2nd.

Imbolc traditionally honours the Pagan Goddess of fertility, Brigid, who was also intertwined in the Christian Church as St Bridget. 

February 1st is also St Bridget’s day.

Over the Centuries Imbolc has been celebrated in many different ways. Altars were set in homes and adorned with the earliest flowers and breaking buds of the season.

In Ireland, Brigid Crosses were traditionally made. These are formed from reeds, woven into a four armed equilateral cross and hung from doorways and windows too welcome Brigid and for protection from fire, evil spirits and illness. The crosses are generally left until the next Imbolc.

There are various thoughts about the origin of these crosses, but consensus seems to be that they pre-date Christianity, even though they have been widely adopted by Christians in Ireland.

With the current state of the world and in need of a little cheer I sat down today and made my own Brigid Cross for Dookes H.Q..

My Brigid Cross, not bad for a first attempt!!

I’m hoping some of the old ways and protection rub off with this little symbol.

Now all I have to do is hang it over a door and let Brigid do her stuff for the coming year! 

Happy Imbolc!

Catch you soon, stay safe!

Dookes

PS …Brigid, can I ride my motorbikes soon please?

Winter Solstice – Looking For Brighter Days Ahead

Today, is the Winter Solstice, and probably my favourite day of the year; yes that includes Birthdays, Anniversaries and Christmas!

Living in the Northern Hemisphere it marks the turn of the seasons when the days begin to grow longer and the warmth of Summer is beginning its long return journey, true it’s also the real beginning of Winter, but hey you can’t have everything and thats only for a few months!

I spare a thought for my friends South of the Equator for whom the opposite is true, your days will now start to shorten towards Autumn.

In this craziest of crazy years it does occur to me that we, the human race, have drifted away from that fundamental link and understanding of nature. One could argue that we actively turned our back on the natural world to our great peril and it is now biting back. The World’s climate is changing and now the globe is under the grip of a pandemic that appears to be mutating and growing in ferocity.

Is our planet telling us something?

Perhaps it is saying “There’s too many of you, this cannot go on!”

In response to the pandemic the UK Government has just introduced restrictions on the number of people who can meet and socialise over the Christmas period.

Unsurprisingly, there has been a great outpouring of angst. I do wonder though exactly what these people will be celebrating, current surveys show that only a tad over 50% of UK citizens identify as ‘Christian” and staggeringly only around 10% attend church! I suspect the principle “God” figures are a turkey, alcohol and something called “Me, me, me”!

As I age, for me the relevance of the Solstice turning point has grown stronger. I understand the thoughts of ancient people who venerated the turning seasons, the Celestial calendar and more importantly the natural world which gave them everything they needed. Come to think of it the natural world still does, it’s just that we as a human race seem to have ignored it for too long.

In Pagan tradition it was customary to place holly leaves and branches in and around dwellings during winter. It was believed that the good spirits who inhabited forests could come into their homes and use the holly as shelter against the cold; whilst at the same time malevolent forces and spells would be repelled.

Scan 20

It’s interesting to reflect that the origins of many common Christmas decorations such as the Yule Log and Wreath trace back to pre-Christian times.

Wreaths are traditionally made from evergreen symbolising strength and endurance as the evergreen lasts throughout even the hardest winter. The ring is also immortal, never-ending or beginning. I am pleased to report that, as is tradition, Dookes H.Q. is currently displaying a splendid Wreath made by Mrs Dookes.

image

Familiar decorations of green, red and white cast back to the Wiccan traditions and the Druids. The old Pagan Mid-Winter Festival of Yule also included feasting and gift giving, doesn’t it all sound very familiar?

When I was younger we always did the usual Christmas decoration stuff, including a highly non-authentic plastic and metal artificial tree! My late father did little to dress the tree, but had his own take on the whole decoration thing that he insisted on doing himself; every year he would garland the house with boughs of green holly and evergreen, it was only then that I truly used to feel that things were being done properly. I suspect that my Celtic blood has a lot to do with this and I still carry on that tradition today in Dookes H.Q., I adore the house smelling of pine and other evergreens!

It won’t be long before I have to pop outside into the rain to grab Holly and Evergreen to decorate Dookes H.Q.!

Whether you are celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Yule, The Solstice, Dongzhi, Yalda, Saturnalia, Malkh, any other festival that I may have missed, or just looking forward to having a restful holiday, have a truly wonderful time and maybe spare a thought, or penny, for those less fortunate.

Lets hope that there are brighter days ahead and that we will all get to ride together again in 2021 with Harls, Hetty and I for more two-wheeled adventure and opinion!

“Praise be to the distant sister sun,
joyful as the silver planets run.
Ring out, ring solstice bells.”

Catch you soon,

Dookes

Long Nights, Short Days

It strikes me that just about the one thing that is “normal” about this crazy world just at the moment is the seasons.

I’m very glad about that.

To me one of life’s simple and indeed greatest pleasures is watching the seasons change. Not that I sit wishing my life to run away like grains of sand in an egg timer, no it’s just the way each season ticks over bringing fresh, yet reassuringly constant, vistas, smells and colours.

I’ve said before that the Autumn and Winter are probably my favourite times of year, which is probably linked to me being born in deepest Autumn. OK I could do without so much rain and wind, but a starkly freezing day with gin clear skies and iron hard ground takes some beating!

Then there’s that low lazy sun that can hardly be bothered to climb much above the horizon, the long shadows that it casts and the gaunt starkly bare leafless trees. I love to watch the last light of day disappear on the Western sky and the stars appear through those naked branches.
It’s all magical stuff to me.

Living in Cornwall, and sticking out into the North East Atlantic, we are never far from the influence of the sea. Dookes H.Q. is now only five miles from the coast and when there is a big storm blowing you can taste the salt in the air.

The sea, it is often said, defines Cornwall and standing near the shore facing a force nine gale, it’s hard to argue with that!.

Catch you soon,
Dookes

Better Days

The Great Weather Clerk must have been reading my post last week; minor grumbles about the damp, grey misty days were answered with bright blue skies, sunshine and crisp dry air. Oh yes, I almost forgot, freezing temperatures as well.

…and that suits me just fine.

You see I had a few “errands to run,” as my dear late Grandmother was want to say and what better spirit lifting way to do it than on two wheels of course!

First up I needed to take my laptop into the Apple Store for a memory upgrade. I really love my Mac computer, but one thing that bugs me about Apple is the way they bombard users with operating system upgrades. Yeah I know that this includes security improvements, allegedly, but each upgrade inevitably makes the computer run a little bit slower until, eventually, the thing becomes a dithering, if somewhat expensive desk lamp! There are two Apple stores near Dookes H.Q., one in Plymouth, 25 miles, and one in Truro, 45 miles away. Better go to Truro then and take the longer route too!

Truro is the County town of Cornwall, actually it’s a city, though quite small as cities go, with a population of only 18,750 people. It’s also the only city in Cornwall. Until politicians started handing out “city” status to all comers, a City in the UK could only lay claim to the title if it had a Cathedral and Truro has a gem.

The Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or just Truro Cathedral to most people, was built between 1880 and 1910 in the Gothic Revival style. It’s also one of only two Cathedrals in England to possess three spires; the other being Litchfield in Staffordshire. Nestling amongst a rabbit warren of narrow streets it’s quite difficult to get a decent photograph of this delightful building, but the West facade shows itself nicely! image Annoyingly the Christmas lights were being taken down so hence the “cherry picker,” but I don’t think that it spoils the view too much.

Just around the corner from the Cathedral is Coinage Hall Street, still covered in wonderful granite setts, which are a bit tricky on a motorbike especially in the wet, but look lovely!image The Coinage Hall at the end of the square was built as the Cornish Bank in 1848 on the site of the old Coinage Hall where twice yearly tin was brought to be assayed and taxed.

I really like Truro and one day I’ll do a proper post about the city when the sun is a bit higher in the sky, but for now I hope that this little taster will whet your appetite.

As is usual when I have time on my hands I took the even longer way home, after all better days like this are to be savoured and enjoyed. Once back at Dookes H.Q. I even had time to walk the dogs and take in some more of the lovely county in which we live.

Blue sky, crisp clean air and right on my doorstep!

Blue sky, crisp clean air and right on my doorstep!

“These are better days
Better days are shining through”

Catch you soon.

Dookes