dandelion clock

Grail Quest

Friday 22nd December 2000, West Yorkshire
little owl THERE'S SOMETHING about the winter solstice landscape that sets me thinking of Arthurian legend. It's quiet and misty. Once I've left the road behind, the ambient sound is of the river, which is down and now ripples and murmurs again, as it did before the floods. By the sand martins' river cliff, there's a long low island covered in tall dead grasses. It was marked only by the tops of its willow saplings a few weeks ago but is now showing like the dun pelt of a slaughtered animal, stretched out along the river channel.

little owl It would great to see Merlin, the bird that is, not the wizard from Camelot, but I do notice a hunched streaky brown bird of prey sitting on the branch of an Ash that overhangs the river. When I walk to the other side of the tree I discover that it's a Little Owl. It frowns at me then flies off over the river to another tree.

wall tieThere's a heraldic-looking cross set on the wall of the old woollen mill nearby; it's a wall-tie, designed to stop the wall bowing out over the riverside path. You could make a study of the local wall-ties. I suspect some of them are more than a hundred years old. They're quite varied in design; they can also be target-shaped. I suspect that a wall-tie was something that was made-to-measure in the mill's workshop, rather than bought off-the-peg from an ironmongers. Some of them may have been made as a wooden patten which would be pressed into a bed of sand, then cast in iron.

cable drum To complete the Arthurian feel of the afternoon there's a small Round Table set against a background of crouched Elders and dark pines; an abandoned cable drum that has rolled down to the moody, misty edge of the water. You could almost imagine Excalibur being thrust up through the still surface of the canal.

kestrels Two Kestrels sit together in the top of a Larch tree.

dandelion clock One final heraldic touch is this star-shape. The parachute seeds of a Dandelion clock have mostly dispersed leaving the dimpled round receptable surrounded by pointed bracts. The botanical name for the tuft of hairs that acts as the parachute for the fruit is Pappus. Apparently the other evening that came up as a question on the television quiz Who Want's to be a Millionaire. If the contestant had been up to speed on his botanical terms he would have won an additional £125,000!next page

Richard Bell
Richard Bell,
wildlife illustrator

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