UK Travel Blog

Since my lecturing takes me all over the UK, it seems worthwhile to share some of my experiences, from the perspective of a botanist who also has inherited a little of his mother's fascination for history.  I do not drive, mostly take the train and walk a good deal, which permits a different perspective on our country.  It has to be said that journeys by train are a lot more crowded than when I began giving talks, 33 years ago. In those days lecture bookings in the north or Wales, involved relaxing afternoons travelling via London,  when at times I more or less had a whole train compartment to myself (free of mobile phone calls). Pleasant memories of a now lost past....  Nevertheless, the view from a train (often on an embankment) is still much better than from a car, where the driver should, anyhow, be concentrating on the road, not the view.  So I get to see things car drivers and their passengers often miss out on.

St. Paul's Church, Slough, Early May 2017

Whilst waiting to enter the building prior to delivering a digital presentation 'Wild flowers of the Slough Canal', to Friends of Slough Canal, I took the opportunity of snapping one or two of the flowers and weeds growing in the garden at the front of the church.  I wonder how many looking at this close-up can immediately recognise what this is?  At my lectures on British wild flowers I encourage audiences to examine plants more closely using a x10 or x20 hand lens and to record the native and garden plants they come across with the macro-facility on their digital cameras - such that you can study the images on a computer screen back home; there will be much you did not see at the time.  One misses out on so much fascinating and often beautiful detail if one fails to stop and look closely.  Sometimes, with distinctive plants one can tell what they are from tens of metres away (occasionally even further) but in many cases, if you want to be certain what you are admiring, only a close-up view will do - and, of course, knowing what it is you are looking at.  The web-sites I am developing on the wild flowers of Buckinghamshire and he North-West Himalaya, set an example (and the standard) of what a digital guide can offer, in terms of providing many quality close-up images of each species - which will greatly improve the reliability of plant identification of the floras of these places.

I think most of you will now be able to tell that this is a Spurge (Euphorbia) - presumably a EUPHORBIA  CHARACIAS  cultivar.

What many consider to be the 'flowers' are in fact colourful, flower-like bracts (in this case yellow-green). In the centres are hairy green immature capsules with the remains of the 3 styles.

Note the orangey horned glands.  This appears to have naturalised on a steep bank on the slip-road of Exit 5 of the M4 next to the Marriot Hotel - which just comes within the Langley Tetrad (2km x 2km) recording area, so represents an additional record towards the Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland's 2020 Atlas.  According to 'A Checklist of the Plants of Buckinghamshire' (Maycock & Woods, 2005) this 'Mediterranean Spurge' was previously recorded in Milton Keynes in 1997.  Given how readily this often grows when cultivated, it probably escapes elsewhere and is likely to be under-recorded.


Hawker Hill, Langley, Berkshire, Early April 2017

Tower-block of residential flats view from a ridge along from the miniature 'Hawker Hill' (commemorating the Hawker-Siddeley factory, long-since demolished, which built Hawker Hurricane fighter aircraft during WWII) which is a slow-worm reserve.  The developing trees in the middle ground were planted almost 20 years ago by local volunteers including myself and my eldest son - the tallest being a 'White Poplar'.  Just behind me when taking the photograph and to the right is the M4.

This BOMBUS SP, was struggling on its back on a slope, so helped it get the right way up on 2 occasions, until it finally got air-borne again, whilst I was photographing the trees and flowers.  Can anyone tell me which one?  Seems to be rather early for a 'Red-tailed Bumble-bee' Queen (BOMBUS LAPIDARIUS) - certainly was quite bulky.  I have never been one to trap insects but on my early expeditions to the Himalaya, I collected dead ones I came across, placing in glass jars, then sending to the Natural History Museum in London, as they had someone with specialist knowledge of the bees of that part of the world - which resulted in some fresh records for the regions I visited.

The same bee amongst 'Goosegrass' (GALIUM APARINE)

'Wild Cherry' (PRUNUS  AVIUM)

 Attractive cup-shaped white flowers in umbels

Bark characteristic with lenticels in prominent bands - young trees have grey-pink somewhat shiny bark

Upper trunk of the large 'White Poplar' (POPULUS  ALBA) pointed out in first image of this early April entry.

Closer view of the upper bark  (above 5-6m) are patches of white or grey, smooth but pitted with small black diamonds

The catkins (female pale green; males crimson & grey) of 'White Poplar' - these are typically out by late March before the leaves

Langley, Berkshire, end of March 2017

On the way to my bank on a bright sunny morning I came across the 'Cherry-Laurel' (PRUNUS LAUROCERASUS) in full flower, which had been planted as a hedge beside a small area of grass.

This evergreen shrub or small tree is commonly planted in gardens & churchyards; frequently self-sown and more or less naturalised.  I have observed it many times whilst waiting for trains to Paddington at Langley station.  Flowers numerous in more or less erect racemes.

Petals are white.  In this case they have started to go over and shrivel up, leaving the stamens prominent (about 20) and the central terminal style

On a shady bank by Langley Railway station was 'Greater Periwinkle' (VINCA  MAJOR), an introduced plant found in copses and hedgerows.

Flowers are blue-purple, rarely white, salver-shaped with 5 broad asymmetric lobes and an obconic tube fluted and hairy within (which I observed in more detail with a hand lens). This is a semi-procumbent shrub with trailing or somewhat ascending stems. It is uncommon in hedgebanks near habitation in the county of Buckinghamshire.

Flower in bud.  'Greater Periwinkle' is easily distinguished from 'Lesser Periwinkle' (VINCA MINOR) by its larger flowers, 4-5cm in diameter and the ciliate calyx lobes clearly visible above.

Beside Langley Station was a planted 'Horse-chestnut' (AESCULUS HIPPOCASTANUM) which despite its common planting for ornament, is not a native tree.  Here we have a brown bud (which begins being very sticky), starting to open with unfurled woolly tomentose leaves.

Brown bud scales with ciliate margins.

Undeveloped panicles of flowers - like the undeveloped leaves, with woolly tomentose.  The 'sticky' bud of Horse Chestnuts were when I was a child, often brought into primary schools, placed in a jar of water, so the pupils could observed its leaves unfurl.  Early primary aged children do genuinely find such things fascinating - though by the time they reach late primary and early secondary years, interest in such things has evaporated - except for such natural plant enthusiasts such as myself.

Sussex; 13th February 2017

I visited the South Coast to deliver a lecture on GROWING HIMALAYAN ALPINES to West Sussex Alpine Garden Society.  Was hosted overnight by the Peter & Mary Liverman).Always pleasing to find anything in flower this time of year.  In the morning I was able to quickly snap some images of plants in flower in their garden before catching the train back to Slough.  There is nothing in flower in my garden yet - except for a weedy naturalised Speedwell!

HAMAMELIS X INTERMEDIA 'Jelena' - apparently raised at Kalmthout by Kost and named by M.Robert de Belder for his wife, Jelena. A very vigorous variety, with orange-pink petals, darker at base.  The origin of this hybrid was not recorded but probably H.japonica x H.mollis.

'Snowdrops' (GALANTHUS)

'Stinking Hellebore' (HELLEBORUS  FOETIDUS) - a native of SW Europe growing on rocky slopes, roadside banks and open woods; for well-aerated soil in full sun or part shade, especially tolerant of dry shade.

Langley; 6th February 2017

On my way back from the bank I came across a lovely display of a winter-flowering shrub in a local garden.  This must surely be Viburnum x bodnatense 'Dawn' - widely grown for its flowers and scent.  Available at Garden Centres as well as nurseries.  Best in more shaded spots I should think - this small garden in a narrow street (some of the houses here were built by the family firm more than a century ago) was north-facing.  Understood to have been a cross between the Chinese V.farreri and Himalayan V.grandiflorum, raised for Lord Aberconway at Bodnant.  Reminds me a little of the form of V.grandiflorum I saw in flower in April 1987 whilst leading a botanical tour to Pakistan.

Viburnum x bodnatense 'Dawn'

In bud with flowers just opening

Windsor; 18th January 2017

My first lecture of the year took me to Twickenham involving a train journey via Windsor which requires a walk between the two stations. As I made my way through a park towards the Thames, an Iris was seen which is grown for its colourful seeds which are displayed during winter months. This was 'Stinking Iris' or 'Gladdon' (Iris foetidissima).  Certainly brightened up an exceedingly frosty morning. I did not have time to photograph the plants on the outward journey but light conditions were favourable as I returned having been treated to a fine lunch after delivering a digital presentation about Kashmir.

Windsor Castle from Windsor & Eton Central Station

'Stinking Iris' (IRIS  FOETIDISSIMA) in a garden in Windsor

Seeds of 'Stinking Iris' (IRIS  FOETIDISSIMA)

Hughenden Valley; 21st June 2016

I returned to Hughenden Valley, just beyond High Wycombe, to visit again a local grass specialist whom I had first met at the end of May prior to lecturing to a local society.  He had kindly agree to spend an afternoon demonstrating how he identified some of the local grasses.  Being very much a traditional, hands-on field botanist, like myself, I was delighted to have an expert on this difficult plant family to share some of his knowledge. On my previous I had been shown a delightful grassy slope amongst which I spotted the foliage of an orchid.  I was pleased to find this in full flower on my second visit, as I have only ever seen a small number of orchids in the UK - unless one specifically goes "orchid spotting", which has never had any great appeal for me, one is unlikely to encounter many by chance, as most are of restricted occurrence.  The only example of this family I have seen in Iver and district is the 'Bee Orchid' and this was only after a local resident told me about its colony (sadly long gone, as the site soon became overgrown with brambles and scrub).

The 'Common Spotted Orchid' (DACTYLORHIZA  FUCHSII) is locally common in chalk grassland, damp meadows and woods (Maycock & Woods, 2005)

Druce (1926) who knew this as the 'Spotted Orchid' (ORCHIS  FUCHSII) found this common and widely distributed in Buckinghamshire on the clay or impervious basic soils in woods, especially in damp ridings, thickets, meadows (perhaps a relic of woodland), marshes and sometimes on turf on the chalk; he observed a wide range of colouring from white with dark purple markings, to purple, and occasionally pure white - there was certainly plenty of variation within this Hughenden Valley colony

Crawley (2005) found it in similar habitats and to be much the commonest orchid of chalk grassland in Berkshire

The labella (the larger, lower part of the flower in this image) is distinctly and often deeply and narrowly divided into 3 subequal lobes, the middle lobe triangular and usually somewhat longer that the +/- rhomboidal laterals 

The labella are usually clearly marked with a symmetrical pattern of +/- continuous reddish lines on a paler pink or whitish background 

'Common Knapweed' (CENTAUREA  NIGRA) - common in grassy places with red-purple flower-heads

The eye-catching dark stamens of 'Crested Dog's Tail' (CYNOSURUS  CRISTATUS)

This grass is very common in old grassland

Wheathampstead, Hertfordshire; 4th May 2016

The booking to speak to Wheathampstead Horticultural Society brought back memories of my secondary schooling in Hertfordshire.  It had been agreed that I would be met at Harpenden Station but in the end I decided to have a look around the village of Wheathampstead prior to delivering my lecture, so I took a bus from Harpenden that afternoon. I had a 'Gap Year' in 1976/7 between finishing my 'A' levels and starting my botany degree at the University of Southampton. I had hoped I might work at the Rothamsted Experimental Station at Harpenden - the longest running agricultural research station in the world (see:  but there were no openings. However, I did secure employment as a laboratory assistant for the 'Chilled and Dairy Products' Division of Unilever Ltd, at the Frythe, Old Welwyn - this proved useful experience, confirming that I had no wish to have a career as a laboratory-based scientist (which did rather limit my options). I also recollect a cricket match against the local Licensed Victuallers' School when I was 15.  Having a number of county players in our team from The Barclay School Stevenage, I never got an opportunity to bowl and seldom to bat but was valued as I could catch to a high standard and was fearless (or was it foolish) enough to field close-in, in front of the wicket in one of the "silly" positions.  One of our 'county' bowlers let go an awful delivery which their batsman walloped straight at me, hitting me on my forehead before I could move; thankfully this is a hard part of the skull! I declared I was fine but a substantial lump appeared - so the anxious teacher sent me to the safety of the boundary for the rest of the innings.  My father told me of a class mate of his being killed after being hit by a cricket ball in a delicate part of his anatomy. 

St Helen's Churchyard - which has been in continuous use since at least 4000BC, containing six Grade II listed chest tombs

Thanks to the Horticultural Society's Committee I was sent a leaflet in advance which covered the Village Centre Heritage Trail, which I concentrated upon, along with a short detour along the River Lea.  Unfortunately, it was a bright sunny day, making photography difficult. By the time the sun started to go down, I needed to head quite quickly to the Memorial Hall, the venue of my talk, so could not take images of all the buildings I wished to under the better light conditions

St Helen's Church

Grade I listed St Helen's is the parish church of Wheathampstead. Originally a Saxon church, it fell into some disrepair and the present building was largely completed by the late 1300s.  Built of soft Tottenhoe clunch (a traditional building material of chalky limestone) with flint facings and limestone dressings. It is said that the bells are the most difficult to ring in Hertfordshire.

A pair of inquisitive mallards, no doubt eager to supplement their normal diet - these and other ducks are accustomed to wandering through the village.  Another pair were alarmingly close to the road when I was dropped off at the bus-stop. Such attention from friendly 'locals' helped create a relaxed atmosphere for me as a visitor and as someone who lives in a busy street, a pleasing escape from modern, urban life......

A charming display of  'Forget-me-nots' in a shady part of the churchyard

This is 'Wood Forget-me-not' (MYOSOTIS SYLVATICA) - locally abundant in damp woods now common in churchyards, though likely to be of cultivated origin in such locations

It has much larger flowers than 'Field Forget-me-not' (MYOSOTIS ARVENSIS) the other common species, which is also found in woods and cultivated land

Its bright blue flowers are a delight when viewed closely - the throats of all MYOSOTIS are closed by 5 short notched scales, which vary from white to yellow

The river Lea (a shallow, fast-flowing chalk stream, high in nutrients) - Leagrave being the source; it discharges into the Thames at Bow Creek

The spot I most enjoyed during my wanderings that afternoon were the remains of the old Station.  Opened in 1860 on the new line which ran between Hatfield and Dunstable as part of the Great Northern Railway, Wheathampstead Station was the lifeblood of the village for over 100 years.  Straw was sent here from Luton for the hat trade, water cress was despatched to London, washing arrived from London along with elephant dung from London Zoo for local vegetable-growers.  Live cattle were transported, pleasure trips to Norfolk started from here, fresh fish came from the coast whilst visitors arrived for the fishing and golf.  George Bernard Shaw, who lived in nearby Ayot St Lawrence, was the most famous passenger.

A wooden carving of George Bernard Shaw - who often walked or cycled to the station.  If running late, his chauffeur would drive ahead and alert the Station Master, who would hold the London train! 

Closed in 1965, the station remained forgotten for more than 40 years. In 2009 a group of volunteers decided to investigate. The site was overgrown with ivy and saplings. With the support of the Parish Council, the volunteers set about restoring the platform and site, so it could be used as a public amenity. Access to the site is difficult, so a great deal of "man-handling" of materials was required by a dedicated group of villagers.  The pleasing result is a restored section of platform and track, a goods wagon and shelter.  Reading through the informative, well-illustrated history of the station, I was transported back to the hey-day of this station.

'Cuckooflower' or 'Lady's Smock'  (CARDAMINE PRATENSIS) - was growing beside the river

Petals are described as lilac or rarely white - these were certainly the latter

Moulton, Northamptonshire; 27th April 2016

The Village Sign

Having been booked to speak to Moulton & District Gardeners Society, I planned to arrive in the village early to take a look around prior to my lecture. Thanks to members of the committee, I was provided with information and kindly picked up from Northampton Station a couple of hours early. This worked out well, enabling me to take photos of buildings which caught my eye, along with some wild flowers (albeit that they might be dismissed as weeds by many) and non-native species which had naturalised. Such opportunities are valuable, operating as I do, on such a shoe-string budget - some of the images will be added to my FLOWERS OF BUCKINGHAMSHIRE web-site (it is not essential that the photos were actually taken in Bucks) which is designed to encourage greater understanding and appreciation of local wild flowers, along with aiding reliable identification; see:

The Parish Church of St. Peter and St. Paul is, as one would expect, the oldest village building with parts dating from the 13th Century.  There are Saxon stones in the walls. The Church was completed in 1422 when the upper stage of the tower was built.  I must say that was disappointed in the churchyard, as such places are typically refuges for wild flowers but in this case it mostly consists of mown grass, so quickly moved on, though did notice a 'Monkey Puzzle' tree.   See:

The tower holds a fine set of twelve bells

Cottage with thatched roof in Church Hill

Next to 'The Telegraph' Inn and Restaurant is a cottage with a tablet high on its wall, remembering a famous Baptist missionary; see below:

Born in rural Northamptonshire, William Carey was apprenticed to a shoemaker ministered. He went on to become a schoolmaster and pastor at the Baptist Church from 1785 to 1789. After moving to Leicester he was instrumental in the formation of the Baptist Missionary Society in 1792, volunteering to become their first missionary, setting sail for India, from where he never returned.  Yes, he was primarily a missionary but gave much to India, becoming a professor of Bengali, Sanskrit and Marathi at the Fort William College in Calcutta, which trained young men for the Indian Civil Service.  His concerns about social justice led him to campaign against 'sati' (widow burning) and female infanticide. He translated the Bible into many Indian languages but his respect for local culture also led him to translate Indian classical literature and traditional stories as well as publishing, with the aid of a printing press, the first newspaper in Bengali.  He helped establish schools for boys and girls, along with Serampore College, the first in India to teach a wide range of subjects in vernacular languages and confer degrees.  His long-standing interest in botany led him to founding the Agri-Horticultural Society of India and to produce books on science and natural history.  See:

This Inn was formerly known as the Maycart Restaurant (the May Cart Procession with the May Queen is an old village tradition - see image of village sign at the start of this entry also:

The old Northamptonshire Institute of Agriculture building see:

Founded in 1921

A Corydalis naturalised on an old wall (with Virginia Creeper in the background) on West Street

'Yellow Corydalis' previously known as CORYDALIS  LUTEA, it is now classified as PSUEDOFUMARIA LUTEA  - this originates from the Southern Alps to Central Italy and Croatia but commonly cultivated and widely naturalised in Europe; in Buckinghamshire it was first recorded in 1864, considered rare in 1926 but common by 2005

'Honesty' (LUNARIA  ANNUA)

Growing beneath Hawthorn hedging beside a perimeter fence at Moulton School & Science College; much grown in gardens - it is common as an escape at roadsides and in hedgebanks in Buckinghamshire, especially near habitation; an alien species from SE Europe

'Red Dead-Nettle' (LAMIUM  PURPUREUM)

This is a partly good clump, making a fine display on a grassy bank beside the car-park of the Village Hall off Pound Lane, where I lectured

The robust and distinctive 'Beaked Hawk's-beard' (CREPIS VESICARIA) also on the bank of the Village Hall car-park

Un-opened flower buds - well worth a closer look with a x10 or x20 magnification hand lens

Eddington House Rare Plant Fair, Isle of Wight; 24th April 2016

Leaving Portsmouth Harbour en route to Ryde on the Isle of Wight

A deserted Slough Station on Sunday morning

It was an early start, with me catching a bus from outside my house shortly before 0600hrs.  I reached the train station in ample time to catch the 0650hrs service to Paddington, having to use a ticket machine as there was no sign of anyone in the ticket office (though there was certainly sufficient demand that morning).  Unfortunately, I could not travel the more direct route to Portsmouth via Reading and Basingstoke, as the first service available on a Sunday (leaving a hour later) would not have reached in time for me to catch the 1115hrs ferry, which I needed to.  The machine would not permit me to pay for a return via London, so the only choice was to purchase a travel card, which would get me as far as Victoria.  Having arrived early it was tiresome to discover (along with many other passengers heading up to run in the London Marathon - surely one member of staff could have volunteered to come a little earlier to be available for all those competing in the Marathon - not that such 'service' applies these days) that the service was delayed due to "over-running engineering work".  When is such work ever completed on time?  Numerous announcements giving delays of between 10-25 minutes were alarming, as I had minimal time to get the connection at Victoria (and would have to buy a ticket there).  In the end the delay was 15 minutes and I was saved by catching a Circle Line tube at Paddington within 2 minutes. 

On the upper deck of the Wight Link catamaran leaving Portsmouth Harbour

A catamaran beside the Wight Link terminal at Portsmouth Harbour with the impressive Emirates Spinnaker Tower see:

Looking back to Southsea en route to Ryde Pier; during my time studying botany at the University of Southampton, I was an acting midshipman in the Royal Naval Reserve; our training ship, an inshore minesweeper H.M.S. Isis, spent most of her time in Portsmouth harbour; on one occasion we escorted members of Southsea Rowing Club who were rowing across the English Channel to Cherbourg with me being navigator for the day

St. Helen's (situated opposite the nursery) was holding a FLOWER FESTIVAL see:

The display of primroses was lovely

The Lych gate erected to commemorate parishioners who fell during World War I

Hovercraft at Ryde viewed as I walked along the Pier, see:

Postcard of 'The Needles' purchased in a shop at Ryde Pier (published by W.J. Nigh & Sons Ltd, Shanklin, IOW see:; this reminded me of my first ever visit to the Isle of Wight, when I participated in a week long National Trust Acorn Camp (as a volunteer undertaking practical conservation tasks, staying in some cottages near to The Needles - though our main work was "scrub bashing" on Tennyson Down) back in 1975

My journey back home was not without incident.  Accustomed to purchasing tickets at my local stations to the west of London, which entitle me to catch any services around the country (the only consideration being timing, if I have bought a reduced-price off-peak ticket or route-wise via London or not), I did not think twice about boarding the first available train at Portsmouth Harbour (though aware I had to travel back the long-way via London not the quicker, more direct route via Reading).  I checked with a guard on a train about to depart (there was no sign of anyone to ask at the station itself), which of the first two services would get me to London the quickest, plumping for the one departing second, as this was the better bet.  Both were heading for Waterloo.  As I wished to reach Victoria, I was advised it would be better to change at Clapham Junction.  Then, the only time my ticket was checked the whole day it turned out I was on the wrong service - my return ticket bought at Victoria was only valid for Southern Trains, which I was blissfully unaware of!  Thankfully, the guard accepted my honest story and did not charge me any additional fare.  This was only fair, as the machine at Slough Station that morning had not permitted me to purchase a ticket to Portsmouth Harbour via London.  But that was not the end of my difficulties.  The Circle Line appeared to be suspended at Victoria, so I took a District Line to Ealing Broadway; during Rush Hour this is always a risk as one cannot guarantee getting a seat but being a Sunday Evening, I imagined the train would be largely empty.  In the end I was lucky to squeeze aboard (there being only two carriages), having to stand all the way to Slough under the tightest and most uncomfortable conditions I can recollect in 40 years of train travel, at times lucky not to fall when the crush improved marginally - much worse than being on the busiest underground trains during the height of the Rush Hour!  No matter how tired I am in the future and eager to get home, I shall, in the interest of safety, wait for the next service, if things are that dangerously crowded. 
The Savill Garden, Windsor Great Park, Berkshire; 17th April 2016

For once, I had an outing by car - being driven by Steve Marshall who had travelled across from Essex to drop off some excess Himalayan plants to help towards restoring the 'Himalayan' Garden at my home.  Although a sunny day overall, which had unfortunately brought out families with young children such that the entrance to The Savill Building had too many footballs and small scooters, not to mention a queue - which being early on a Sunday afternoon was to be expected I suppose, the light conditions were suitable for photography.  I have been spoilt being shown, as a special guest, "behind-the-scenes" at quite a number of gardens open to the public in recent years, particularly in the US, so am not accustomed to queuing, let alone paying to get in!  Some 25 years ago, John Bond kindly showed me and Barrie Porteous visiting from Canada around Savill, particularly their collection of Rhododendrons, treating us to lunch.  Many years later I got him to show members of The Bhutan Society of the UK around - before taking some of them to view the then Kohli Memorial Botanical Garden within my own garden- the day was advertised as 'Himalayan Plants in Berkshire Gardens', not that my own was in the same league as Savill - which is about a 20 minute drive, through Datchet and Old Windsor, from my house.  It is quite some years since I last visited, being quite a journey by public transport.

Entrance is £9.75 for adults, with parking costs refunded provided an entrance ticket is bought. Lunch or snacks are available in their terraced restaurant. For further details see:

Skunk-cabbages were putting on a fine display

'American Skunk-cabbage' (LYSICHITON  AMERICANUS) - I have seen this growing wild in the Pacific Northwest of Canada and the US

A spectacular alien plant with yellow spathes

Unfortunately, it has naturalised in muddy willow swamps, willow holts, alder carr and other wet woods along streams - plentifully in a few places down stream from water gardens - including local and uncommon on the southern shores of Viriginia Water (close to Savill Garden)

The white-spathed species is the 'Asian Skunk-cabbage' (LYSICHITON  CAMTSCHATCENSIS)

This is rarely naturalised and more light demanding than the American one - found in wet grass and muddy lakesides in Windsor Great Park

'Purple Toothwort' (LATHRAEA  CLANDESTINA) - a wonderfully bizarre garden plant, a root-parasite on CORYLUS AND SALIX in damp shady places

Corolla bright-purple; visited by humble bees; naturalised in a few locations; we have a white-flowered native species in the UK - LATHRAEA  SQUAMARIA

A fine Magnolia

I did not make a note of which hybrid/selection this was but Steve Marshall has come to the rescue, telling me it is 'Phelan Bright'

Apparently, Junkers Nursery consider this is probably from a Magnolia soulangeana x M.veitchii cross

Marlow, Buckinghamshire; 12th April 2016

This turned out to be the best short walk I have undertaken in many years.  I arrived at Marlow station two hours early to allow me to botanize and take photos prior to my lecture to Marlow Horticultural Society. In the end it was a mad rush to reach the hall in time, as I was spoilt choice as to plants, both wild and cultivated to check out, along with views worth snapping.  On previous visits, I had walked directly from the station to the High Street - clearly I had missed out by doing this. My decision to head directly to the Thames from the station rather than head for the main bridge, proved worthwhile, as it meant I was able to spot several wild species which I had not photographed before, so the images can contribute towards my WILD FLOWERS OF BUCKINGHAMSHIRE project and web-site, see: ; as an example of the content of this site, see the images I took of the 'Rue-leaved Saxifrage' found on an old wall beside a pub in the village along the Thames Path near Marlow Lock:

I noted from this sign that Marlow was the BEST KEPT VILLAGE in Buckinghamshire last year. It is certainly a more distinguished place than most, with NO take-aways or fast-food outlets along the High Street, just serious restaurants; the most down-market establishment being a Wimpy..  The plantings around the War Memorial were not to my taste (the same applies for those 'brightening' up Windsor for the hordes of tourists) but there was a charming simple wooden window box with pretty pansies.  Such things would not last long in Langley Village (where I live), let alone nearby Slough High Street - where they would surely be destroyed before a Friday or Saturday night were over!

Window-box of pansies in Marlow

Charming and tasteful - rather akin to a display of pelargoniums in a village in the Swiss alps

Though somewhat biased, as the early breeding of garden pansies took place in the village of Iver in south Buckinghamshire, not far from where I live, which for some two centuries had a number of Chadwells as prominent residents, these are appealing plants at different levels

'Greater Pond-sedge' (CAREX RIPARIA) growing on a bank by the river - first recorded here back in 1843; Druce (1926) noted it was a very conspicuous feature in the vegetation of the Thames, being frequently represented in pictures of the river with the contrast of its glaucous leaves and the glossy brown glumes and yellow anthers being particularly pleasing (in this specimen the male glumes are black); distinguished from the 'Lesser Pond Sedge' (CAREX ACUTIFORMIS) which has also been recorded from the Marlow area, by the longer female glumes (6-10mm), much longer than utricles; fatter black female spikes; male spikes 2 or more; sedges can be difficult to identify

'Ground Ivy' (GLECHOMA  HEDERACEA) - a conspicuous feature of spring flora in Buckinghamshire

Violet flowers with purple spots on lower lips

Marlow lock - just beside the lock stood Marlow Mills which they produced flour from local grain and paper from rags brought up by barge from London

View across the weir to the suspension bridge from near Marlow Lock - Marlow grew up where the road between Wycombe and Reading crossed the River Thames.  Goods were traded here and transported by barge from the riverside wharf. Successive wooden structures were replaced in 1831 by the suspension bridge designed by William Tierney Clark which provides such a striking entrance to the village

Drivers must take care not to take the wrong turn down a side-lane in Marlow!

Mind you, there would be a lovely view as your car floated down the Thames!


The Compleat Angler Hotel

A riverside property

An abundance of primroses - the most I have ever seen in a churchyard

'Early Dog Violet' (VIOLA REICHENBACHIANA) in the churchyard; this is locally common in woods in Buckinghamshire

It is similar to 'Common Dog Violet' (VIOLA RIVINIANA), being most easily distinguished by the darker spurs to the flowers without notches - I have been familiar with this plant for more than 40 years, as it grew in woodland near my then home in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, where I studied the flora of three woods for my 'A' level Biology project; I even took some seeds and sowed them when in my present garden when my parents moved to Langley - these grew and flowered periodically for 30 years, though have not seen it for some years now

The church by the bridge, has for two centuries been the iconic image of Marlow

All Saints Church

There has been a church on this site since 1070, the present one is a Victorian creation, built after the spire of the old church collapsed in 1831 (I wonder if it had anything to do with the construction of the suspension bridge around this time), using Bath stone, topped by a graceful spire

View of weir from suspension bridge


Ian Butterfield brought along a selection of his stunning Pleiones for members of Marlow Horticultural Society to saviour - he has been growing these epiphytic orchids for some 50 years and is recognised as the leading supplier and grower but has no web-site, so you must contact him by phone or visit his nursery at Harvest Hill, Bourne End, Buckinghamshire

A wonderful display

One cannot fail to be impressed

Ian mentioned that he had been on a botanical tour to Bhutan, allowing him to view some Himalayan species of Pleione

Bicester, Oxon; 19th March 2016

My first day-time lecture of the year took me to speak to a Hardy Plant Society group at Winslow.  I was met a Bicester Village station, having travelled there by train from Slough to Oxford, bus to Oxford Parkway, then train again - there will soon to a full train service from Oxford right through to London Marylebone (in addition to the existing service into London Paddington via Reading).  I understand there are also plans to restore the direct rail link from Oxford to Cambridge.  I set-off in ample time, keen to avoid a repetition of what had happened earlier in the month at Hanwell (see entry below), so had time to take a wander into the village of Bicester, so can share some snaps I took - no promising spots for wild flowers nearby, not that there is much to see in March anyhow.

The churchyard of St Mary Magdalen, Oxford - snapped from the 500 bus service which runs from outside Oxford Railway Station to Oxford Parkway

Always pleasing for me to see lots of bicycles - there are many close to the railway station (as is the case at Cambridge)

Oxford Parkway (provisionally 'Water Eaton Parkway')

The Oxford Parkway to Marylebone service

Whilst these planted cultivars, prominent as I walked from Bicester Village station to the 'village', are nice enough at a distance, on closer inspection they are nowhere near as attractive as wild primroses!  I find the 'unnatural' colours spoil them.....  though we all have different tastes...

A paler variant - the dark specks are on the flower itself (not my lens), presumably due to pollution from car exhausts?

Market Square, Bicester

A late 17th century house in Market Square

Narcissus cultivars brightening up a bed in sheep street

St Edburg's Church, Bicester - I'm afraid I did not find the church itself particularly photogenic

Whenever I photograph a gravestone, I am reminded of my late mother, Pamela Chadwell (nee Channon) who had a passion for family and local history - indeed all things historical; in her later years she was at her happiest exploring in churchyards, checking out gravestones, for the records/information they provided for her research (whilst her handwriting, like mine, left a lot to be desired and she was untidy, those who knew their stuff remarked as to the quality and reliability of her efforts); she was always saddened when the centuries of air pollution had taken their toll on stones, particularly made of sedimentary rock, meant the names or dates were no longer visible, so she ensured my father's headstone in Iver churchyard was of a lump of granite from Bodmin Moor, which will last longer than most (although the lettering has already become obscure)

A 19th Century gravestone

I always make a bee-line for churchyards, as these are often like mini-nature reserves in towns and villages, amongst the best places for wild plants and noteworthy escapes (a wide assortment of garden plants being planted around graves) - in the early 1980s I supervised two enthusiastic members of Iver & District Countryside Association who were undertaking a survey of plants in the St. Peter's churchyard as part of a Buckinghamshire wide survey of churchyard flowers;  the variety of stones provide substrates for both lichens and mosses.  The moss illustrated here is 'Silky Wall Feather Moss' (HOMALOTHECIUM SERICEUM) - very common on concrete and particularly limestone in churchyards.

I have not had the opportunity to take a serious look at mosses (bryophytes) since being team-leader of a survey of riverside vegetation in Wales in the early 1980s but they do still fascinate me; however John Norton (a fellow biology graduate from the University of Southampton) who is now a bryologist and recorder for South Hampshire for the British Bryological Society, easily named this prominent species and admonished me for not knowing it! Note the long, creeping stems, firmly attached and sending up regular tufted shoots. 

Most 'normal' people will pass through churchyards unaware of all this plant diversity they are missing and missing is definitely the case, as by taking your time to stop and look more closely (ideally with the aid of a x10 or x20 hand lens) a whole new world of mosses and lichens opens up.  Churchyards are peaceful, tranquil, very much modern-day sanctuaries from the traffic, so ideal to escape to pleasanter places in ones mind, enjoying the natural world on such a miniature scale, at the same time remembering in a positive way, those who went before us....  we in the UK are so fortunate to be living in a peaceful, relatively prosperous time - overall, we have never had it so good, even though we may think otherwise.  I live off a shoe-string budget, materially poor (no car, very modest house, in poor decorative order outside and in) yet because I live in this country, I get by and thanks to our National Health Service (imperfect it is, though still REMARKABLE), as otherwise your care would be SOLELY dictated by your financial position, despite my major health problems of late am muddling along.....

Hanwell, West London; 4th March 2016

I had some earlier lectures this year but as these were evening bookings, after dark - not much worth photographing.  So my first entry of the year (without images) concerns the WORST journey I have ever had to deliver a lecture in more than 30 years!  It was also the first time I have ever been late.... I left home just after 0800hrs, for what should have been an easy journey. The bus was late and traffic heavy, so missed the 0915hrs train I expected to comfortably catch at Slough station..  The 0930hrs got me to Hayes but upon arrival, there was no connecting service to Hanwell until 1033hrs.  Rather a problem since my lecture was due to start at 1015hrs!  The venue was only 5 minutes from Hanwell station.  So I decided (at my cost) to plump for a taxi - after all it was only 5 miles away.  Unfortunately, when I spoke to the driver, saying "Hanwell", his response was "Southall"?  I don't know how long he had been a taxi driver but his understanding of English was minimal - he came from Kandahar in Afghanistan.  I was reminded of a similar experience with a Pakistani taxi driver at Solihull station many years ago, on his first day, not having a clue where any place was but then I was prepared with detailed directions.  I do not drive and have never travelled from Hayes to Hanwell by road in my life!  He did not know where he was going but as we did need to go through Southall, once this was worked out, he was OK that far but took a strange route.  Eventually, we made it to Hanwell, I was after a small hall near the station (but this was far too difficult to introduce) and we asked a lady, who agreed the station was nearby, I got out of the taxi, paid the £15 (a significant amount for me), located the station, then walked to the venue, arriving 20 minutes late......  Not a good experience, as I am not in good health at present and have been under enormous pressure - my blood pressure is being monitored on a weekly basis at my local Health Centre.  So thanks to National Rail Inquiries, who did not alert me of problems with connections at Hayes.....

Carmarthen, Newcastle Emlyn and the river Teifi (West Wales) 1st/2nd September 2015

My first booking of the autumn (the new 'year' for the programmes of most clubs and societies) began with the West Wales Group of the Hardy Plant Society on 1st September.  Travelling via Reading and Swansea, I was quite taken aback by the truly invasive growth of 'Japanese Knotweed' (FALLOPIA  JAPONICA) as we left Swansea station on the Arriva Trains service towards Pembroke Dock. This rampant ALIEN plant occupied vast expanses of ground and was doing its utmost to take over the tracks! Though once closer to the coast it largely disappeared. One seldom comes across it where I live.

A clump of 'Japanese Knotweed' growing at Ditton Park on the outskirts of Slough

Arrival at Carmarthen station

Now very much the 'end' of this 'branch-line' - so no need for a footbridge!

The most note-worthy weed at the station was the 'Sticky Groundsel' (SENECIO VISCOSUS)

More attractive than many 'weeds' one finds.  It is in fact a native species.  According to Crawley (Flora of Berkshire, 2004) it has all the behavioural traits of an 'alien' - restriction to bare and disturbed ground and proximity to human activity; mostly found on railway ballast, cinder tracks and compacted waste ground in towns.

Another of its common names is 'Stinking Groundsel' as this annual is foetid - note the densely glandular bracts which surround the flower-heads

In wet ground beside the river Towy which runs close to the station, I came across the showy 'Fleabane' (PULICARIA  DYSENTERICA) - a common plant of marshes, wet meadows and ditches, which I was familiar with from beside the lake at what was the 'Old Slade Lane Nature Reserve', Richings Park, Buckinghamshire, not far from where I live.

The bright afternoon sunshine prevented me from taking any shots of the habit or habitat of 'Water Figwort' (SCROPHULARIA AQUATICA) which would have shown the river in the background. This specimen was well above the 1m maximum height it normally attains but did manage to photograph its massive thick stems (which are winged - though this feature is not visible in the image above).

It has small flowers but to me, upon close inspection, these are of an appealing shape and colouration, which 'Flora of the British Isles' describes as 'brownish-purple'

Note the scarious margins of the calyces and glandular-dotted hairs on the flower-stalks

Nearby grew the 'Marsh Ragwort' (SENECIO  AQUATICUS) - distinguished from other ragworts by its more open sprays of flower-heads but I could not find any undivided basal leaves, which it often has.

Quite attractive flower-heads....

Its lower stem leaves are stalked, +/- lyrate-pinnatifid

My hosts for my time in West Wales were the Forrests; Peter, the group's Programme Secretary, kindly met me at Carmarthen station and also provided transport to the venue at the Community Hall, Newcastle Emlyn, after a lovely home-made quiche prepared by his good wife. We arrived in time for me to set-up and pop out for a quick dash round the churchyard opposite, which had a charming display of 'Ivy-leaved Toadfax' (CYMBALARIA  MURALIS) on top of the boundary walls.  The evening light being much more conducive to photography than conditions had been earlier in the day at Carmarthen.

On the wall to the rear of the church was the 'Rusty-back Fern' (CETERACH  OFFICINARUM). I always enjoy locating them on inhabits limestone rocks or mortared walls.

It is a pleasure to turn over the leaves to reveal the lower surfaces entirely covered with light brown, ovate, overlapping scales.

On the side facing into the churchyard on the CETERACH grew but on the outer side was an ASPLENIUM

'The Maidenhair Spleenwort' (ASPLENIUM  TRICHOMANES) - its leaves simply pinnate. the rachis blackish

I arose at 0530hrs, so was able to make an early start to walk down to the river Teifi at Llanybydder.

To be honest, I was a bit disappointed in the rather limited range of riverside vegetation here but so close to a village and farmed fields, this is to be expected.  I was spoilt during my time surveying the upper stretches of the Wye and its tributaries in the 1980s, which generally had a rich array of aquatic vegetation

It came as no surprise that there were patches of 'Himalayan Balsam' (IMPATIENS GLANDULIFERA)

This was an especially rich, colourful variant - there is no doubting that it is an ornamental plant

I always hasten to add, that I am not responsible for either its introduction nor escape to become an invasive weed in too many countries.  It has even reached arctic Norway and Alaska!  It was first introduced in the 1830s (just a little before my time as a plant hunter in the Himalaya) and gradually naturalised.  We do not know whether all specimens naturalised in the UK (and beyond) stem from a single introduction, if all are the pure species (balsams can hybridise) or if all records of this plant are actually of IMPATIENS GLANDULIFERA)?  I suspect few (if any) of those providing the records look closely at this plant. As it is unlikely to be mistaken for other balsams known to be naturalised in the UK, an assumption is probably made as to it automatically being 'Himalayan' (or 'Indian' as it is often known).  Balsam.  Could some of the records be of hybrids or even other species?

It boasts prominent stipular glands on the leaf stalks and base of the leaves

When I first approached the colony of 'Himalayan Balsam' by the Teifi there were many insects searching for nectar including several with white backs that I did not immediately recognise.  Upon closer inspection these turned out to be ordinary honey-bees but with their backs coated in white pollen!  I dissected a flower (see image above) to expose the source of the pollen, which the bees rub past as they go deep into the flower.

I returned in time for breakfast at the home of my hosts, just as a shower had subsided, noticing a fine display of clematis on the side of their house.

There are differences of opinion as to the correct nomenclature of this cultivar - presumably

Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire (July 9th)

I was due to speak to the Welwyn & District Garden Club on Kashmir, which would normally have involved travel by train via Paddington and Kings Cross but a combination of strikes by Great Western Railway and underground drivers meant that the smartest move (since I do not drive) was to go by coach. I was able to book through National Express, though the service was actually provided by a bus company and there was no evening return available; thankfully I was offered overnight accommodation by the club members who had agreed to meet me outside the train station.  To be on the save side, I went for a mid-afternoon service, arriving with more than 2 hours to spare but this allowed me time for plant photography.  My first choice is for 'wild' flowers and even in towns or cities there are usually, at the very least, some interesting 'weeds' but hardly any were to be seen.  So I next thought of cultivated plants; given I was waiting in Welwyn GARDEN city, I was hopeful and there proved to be impressive displays in borders facing the exit from the train station.  Being a sunny summer's day, light conditions were not favourable - however, one side was in shade, allowing me to take some reasonable snaps, as you can see.


My lecture took place in the Civic Centre, Welwyn Village, Hertfordshire, not far from what was 'The Frythe', where I worked for 9 months during my 'gap' year between school and university as a laboratory assistant in the Chilled & Dairy Products Division for Unilever Research in 1976-77. I was delighted to discover that the buildings at The Frythe had been utilised by the SOE (Special Operations Executive) during World War II.  I was living in Stevenage at the time.  My father would give me a lift each morning, dropping me at the bottom of the drive-way, whilst he carried on to his Rank Xerox office in Welwyn Garden City.


The War Memorial

Unfortunately, there was very little space to stand next to the memorial to check the names honouring those who died during World War One without damaging a badly positioned hedge, so I was not able to perfectly centre up this or the shot below.  Whoever designed and planted this made a major error - memorials in the past always had plenty of space around them.......

Those who lost their lives in World War Two.


Just coming into fruit

Young green capsules

I read through some of the above book which was in the guest-bedroom where I was hosted overnight.  Early on, Seb wrote that he had commented when writing for the 'Daily Telegraph' that, "Seeds of Reincarnation often lie in adversity".  This got me thinking about the terrible time I had during my first expedition, when I got seriously ill and was forced, due to negligence on the part of those 'leading' the trip, to return home alone, abandoned, only just in one piece.  This reverse took some time for me to recover from and not just physical health-wise.....

Whist Sebastian Coe had been referring to his non-selection for the Seoul Olympics in 1988, it could equally have been about his 11+ 'failure' (for those unfamiliar with the British Grammar School system, children are tested at 11, with those scoring in the top 1/4 to 1/3rd being allocated a place at a 'Grammar School'.  Slough, where I live, currently still has this system in place but it actually is nowadays uncommon in the UK.  This reminded me of my schooldays in Stevenage.  The year I entered Secondary School, Hertfordshire turned "comprehensive" but they did it in a unusual way.  Pupils were still tested but "unofficially"; every school, including The Barclay School I attended (which had been built in the 1950s to celebrate the Festival of Britain) which had begun life as a Secondary Modern, placed, bang next to the long established grammar Alleyne's (founded in 1558 - nowadays the 'Thomas Alleyne Acadamy'), were allocated a class of pupils who would have secured a place at a grammar. I was one such pupil (just, as initially I was near the bottom of the "A1" class - though this was in part down to some strange ideology practised at my primary; myself and one other pupil were 'better' at maths and most other subjects than others at the school, so we sat and read in the corner, whilst the rest were taught Maths and most of the other subjects; we were still the 'best' at the end of my final year but had a lot to catch cup upon arrival at secondary....; I had "risen" to near the top by my the time of my 'A' levels, though not the very top in Maths at least, as we were blessed with several exceptional students in this subject, who went on to leading universities to study Statistics and Mathematics, a couple of them securing First Class Honours).

Windsor & Eton, Berkshire (June 16th)

View of Windsor Castle from the 'Eton' side of the Thames - being further away, better views are afforded than closer to the Castle in Windsor itself

The main tower

A full-size replica of a HAWKER HURRICANE - a long over-due tribute to Sir Sydney Camm; some authorities consider that hurricanes made as great, if not a greater contribution to the 'Battle of Britain' than the more famous Spitfires.

Many Hurricanes were built at the Hawker factory at Langley during the 1940s - not far from where I live; there was also an airfield at the time (during WWII 'Heathrow' was just as small airfield, indeed planning permission was only secured due to war-time considerations, as it was on what was prime agricultural and horticultural land). The factory became 'Hawker-Siddeley', then a Ford car-plant and now a Royal Mail sorting office. It may come as a shock, as it did to me, that there was even a small Jason-Argonaut Nuclear Reactor on the site operated by the Hawker-Siddely Power Corporation from the 1959; being transferred at the end of 1962 to the Royal Naval College at Greenwich (where it was used to educate and train military and civilian personnel in the Naval Nuclear Submarine Propulsion Programme).  If you would like to learn more, consult the 'Nuclear Slough' blog:

'Hemlock Water Dropwort' (OENANTHE CROCATA) beside the Thames (Eton side)

This robust umbellifer reaches 0.5-1.5m

'Lady's Bedstraw' (GALIUM VERUM) in a meadow near the railway viaduct at Eton

Found in grassland on all but the most acid soils; the flowers were used for coagulating milk, whilst the stolons yield a red dye

'Hedge Woundwort' (STACHYS SYLVATICA)

Common in woods, hedgebanks and shady waste places on richer soils

Weybridge, Surrey (June 9th)

View of footbridge linking Windsor to Eton viewed whilst walking along Thames from Windsor Central (from Slough) to Windsor & Eton Riverside stations (serving Staines and London Waterloo)

View of Windsor Castle and Windsor & Eton Riverside station from close to the Thames

Main Tower of Windsor Castle

South West Trains service to Staines

Burhill Golf Club - venue for my presentation to Weybridge Probus Club

The putting green - I certainly could not afford to be a member of this or indeed any other golf club, as my finances are tight.  A pity as I enjoy playing when I can - every few years on a local 9-hole course where one can just turn up and pay for a round.  I am in fact not a bad player and even won the first (and only tournament) I have ever entered.  Whilst team-leader of a survey of riverside vegetation of the Upper Wye, I lived in Llandrindod Wells, Central Wales for a year and fairly regularly played on their rather exposed course.  One especially blustery Wednesday afternoon, I joined a foursome with some of the clubs leading members.  Eager to impress them, I played erratically, not helped by the wind. Not having an official 'handicap', was entered with the full 28 in their opening 'Mad Hatters' competition, being teamed with a single-figure handicap player.  On the day I more or less matched him, allowing us to comfortably win.  When the trophy was awarded, someone commented that they understood it was the first competition I had won at their club; someone shouted out at the back, "And the LAST", thinking I had tricked them by 'pretending' to be a HIGH handicap player.  Most golfers have their good and bad days..

The 'Barnes Wallis Suite', in the Georgian Mansion Clubhouse, where we had a two-course lunch prior to my digital presentation.  Sir Barnes Wallace used Burhill as his base whilst inventing the 'bouncing bomb'.

For further details about Burhill - one of the finest golf courses in Surrey, see:


Little Kimble, Buckinghamshire (June 2nd)

The Stewart Hall, venue for my digital presentation on Kashmir to members of the Kimble and Ellesborough Horticultural Society - conveniently within sight of Little Kimble train station (the stop before Aylesbury via Princes Risborough (as we left this station and took the branch line, I spotted three kites above a trackside field; the kites have now reached Langley and there are some 200 pairs in Reading thanks to food being put out in gardens for them) when travelling from Marylebone mainline station, London.

If you would like to know more about the local station see:  The station even received the Royal Train in 1998 when the G8 Summit was held at Chequers; the wives of the world leaders including Cherie Blair and Hillary Clinton alighted at Little Kimble, the nearest station, to then be taken by limousine to the Prime Minister's country residence.

For more information on Little Kimble see:

I had arrived more than an hour early to allow me time to photograph wild flowers, following a footpath from the station entrance into a lovely field with many flowers including the yellow 'Bird's-foot Trefoil' [above]. To view images of some of the others found including vetches, red clover, speedwell and herb Bennett, see entries in my WILD FLOWERS OF BRITAIN section, see:

I also came across this colourful caterpillar; which Tristan Hatton-Ellis has kindly named for me - it is a DRINKER (Euthrix potaria) see:

I then "followed my nose" which took me to this footpath leading down to the railway

It was perfectly safe to cross this single track line

Just across the line was a patch of pretty forget-me-nots

With miniature pale blue flowers

I then followed the footpath beside a field of broad beans - which have flowers well worth taking a closer look at:

White flowers with a purplish-black blotch in axillary clusters, which has been cultivated in the Mediterranean region since prehistoric times

A century ago botanist Druce noted that the Broad Bean occurred casually in all districts of Buckinghamshire as a relic of cultivation, often in considerable quantity on the rubbish between Slough and Iver brought in with the street sweepings and other rubbish from the Metropolis in barges along the arm of the Grand Union Canal at Uxbridge, (supposedly as fuel for brick kilns - the bricks having been taken to London)

View across a field of broad beans on what was a blustery day

View of woodland on the lower slopes of Pulpit Hill which rises to 248m above the village

Little Kimble Free Church

Southend, Essex (May 28th)

Liverpool St. Station

Southend Victoria Station

The nearest station the venue for my talk to South Essex Natural History Society was Southend Victoria, which I reached via Liverpool Street. I arrived an hour early to allow me time to explore and photograph wild flowers.  First I checked out Southend Central Museum, where I had been scheduled to speak but the place was padlocked!  I was rather concerned there had been a mistake.

The entrance to the old Central Museum and Planetarium - the only occasion I have spoken in a planetarium is in Tromso, Northern Norway

Whilst scouting around for a side entrance or attached building I noticed a large colony of 'Alexanders' (SMRYNIUM  OLUSATRUM), which I had found a small patch of near my home - for detailed information see the APRIL entry of my mini-blog covering local 'wild' flowers:  Since I was close to the coast, its presence came as no surprise, though according to the natural history society members this plant only appeared after a small pond had been removed for 'safety' reasons.


Different stages of development of the fruits

Having no luck, I decided to head down the 'high street' in the direction of Marine Parade. 

A funfair - not my cup-of-tea

The Southend-on-Sea Pier Narrow Gauge Railway appealed but there was insufficient time

For further details see:

 'Wild Clary' (SALVIA VERBENACEA) grew abundantly in grasses places near the 'sea'

 I then plumped for an all-too-quickly-melting ice-cream on the 'beach'

Amongst some decidedly black sea-weed...

Whelks with bladder wrack

Presumably dried, blackened 'Bladderwrack' (FUCUS VESICULOSUS)

Most likely to be 'Dog Whelks' but do not match well the images I have accessed to-date and they even have barnacles growing on them, rather than them being on barnacles (which they eat)

I often 'paddle' at the sea-side but the waters at Southend were not 'appetising'

On the way back up from the 'shore' I walked through one of the gardens/parks, which often at seasides boast half-hardy exotic specimens that benefit from warm, south-facing aspects. I was in a hurry, the light for photography still too bright, so only managed a couple of quick snaps but consider them worth reproducing here.  I could easily have spent an honour obtaining better close-ups of this and several other showy species.  You never know what wild or cultivated plants you will come across; it is a pity to miss the opportunity to document than at their peak

This is a Giant Viper's Bugloss (ECHIUM SP.) - not familiar enough with these members of the Borage family to confirm which variety it is at this point (there are 2 native British species, neither of which I have come across yet, both of which are restricted to sea cliffs and dunes; ECHIUM VULGARE reaches a more modest 90cm at most)

I was given a copy of 'The South Essex Naturalist' (Edited by Mr R G Payne) after I completed my lecture 'PARADISE ON EARTH: The Beautiful WILD flowers of Kashmir'. This contains Botanical Reports, Bird Records, Lepidoptera reports, Insect reports, Amphibian and Reptile Reports plus Mammal Records along with a number of obituaries of stalwart members - all too common for many societies I speak to these days.  I especially enjoyed the account of the 'Swan Mussel', which as the author R G Payne pointed out, has a remarkable natural history.


Accident (Slough, 26th April)

I wondered about the appropriateness of 'sharing' this (not least in light of the enormity of what has just happened in Nepal), rather 'private' occurrence with the whole world but as I seem to be increasingly expounding my views on a wide variety of topics, being prepared to be "open and honest" about uncomfortable incidents, was the decisive consideration.  Whilst I am sure nobody would laugh at this, since I utilise humour during my lectures and there can be an element of cruelty in most humour, one must be prepared to "take it" as well as "dish it out".  One of the advantages of being British and living in Britain, is our relative (things are not perfect by any means) freedom to express ourselves (and travel to observe other peoples). If I take it upon myself to "pass judgement" on others, especially those in other countries,  I am DUTY BOUND to be prepared to criticise my own actions and those of my fellow countrymen and women.

These photos were taken by my youngest son (aged 17).  He did administer first-aid and then was rather taken aback at my insistence that he should record the incident photographically.  Luckily, considering he is a teenager, he was awake in his bedroom (having got up to do some exam revision prior to cycling off to Windsor to play rugby) at the front of the house and heard me fall.  I could not extricate myself from my bicycle and having had the "wind" knocked out of me, lying face-down on the on slightly downwards sloping ground, was unable call for help.  In such a situation best to "stay calm and collected" and as for any 'First Aider' who comes to your aid, the first stage is not to make the situation worse. Despite being a quiet Sunday morning, a lady did cross the road to check if we needed any help. The informal instruction Joseph has received from me over the years and recent First Aid training towards his 'Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award' proved useful in taking care of his 'Old Man'. 

Decided to spare you the close-up of the pool of blood (mostly from the nose-bleed).  This was NOT a clever thing to do!  Still, at least it did not happen on a road or up in the Himalaya.  The sloping drive-way was a contributory factor.  I have long used a single, sturdy walking-stick (not the 'ski-poles' some use) to help keen my balance on slippery paths and amongst boulders in the mountains, so to come to grief outside my house is embarrassing.

I did have a lecture booking the following afternoon, which I managed to honour (travelling by train); I don't like letting clubs or societies down.  Did feel like what I presume it is like after being "beaten-up" (not that this has ever happened to me).  I am a big 'lad', so the impact was heightened... I found my voice was not functioning well for the first 10 minutes of my digital presentation but recovered by the end, though my delivery was not at its best. I had avoided "blowing my nose" in light of the risk of triggering a further nose-bleed and it was rather painful.

A journey by public transport (there is a regular bus service, almost outside my door, to Slough and Heathrow) when one is "walking wounded" may seem daunting.  I must surely be one of the few lecturers who travel to talks around the UK by train. However, although the duration of journeys is often greater by train, particularly for destinations in Buckinghamshire/N.London which can take 3 times as long, it not as daft as it sounds.  I am sure tiredness (a factor in the accident above) plays a part in far more road collisions ('accident' is not an accurate description in most cases) than realised.  I know some speakers who drive hours to give a lecture and then drive back the same night.  This is a big risk.  If the 'last train' has left the nearest station to where I lecture, then I need to be hosted overnight - which is the sensible option.  When the internal adrenalin one uses when 'performing' during a lecture wears off, I can SAFELY 'wilt' in railway carriage....  I wonder how that would affect me if I was driving back home at night?

Hampshire (May)

Mortimer Station (viewed from the footbridge) notable for its well-preserved Brunel-designed Great Western Railway (GWR) buildings; the station was opened in 1848

John Norton (with whom I studied at the University of Southampton), presently an ecological consultant, met me at Mortimer Station. He had chosen Upper Inhams Copse, a Hants & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust site for us to explore. We had a most pleasant outing. I had enjoyed a good display of primroses on the banks of the railway between Reading West and Mortimer.  I have made a selection of my plant photos to share below.  The others, included some mosses can be seen in the WILD FLOWERS OF BRITAIN section of this web-site, see:


HYACINTHOIDES  NON-SCRIPTA (some may be more familiar with its old genus ENDYMION)

Violet-blue flowers are nodding when open

I wasn't expecting to come across this specimen, which John pointed out to me during lunch - the last time I saw it being near Juneau, Alaska; it is the 'North American Skunk Cabbage'

LYSICHITON AMERICANUS - very rare in Buckinghamshire in bogs and streams

Chris Chadwell photographing the skunk-cabbage; I am experimenting with using the collapsible 'chair', which allows me to keep steady when taking close-ups.  Digital cameras are remarkably good stability/camera-shake-wise.  In the past I would have used a tripod (and had the bother of changing lenses).  This 'chair' helps to take my time, relax and 'compose' shots better - though the chair was actually the cause of my accident (see above) as it caught on the handlebar the first time I tried to carry it on my bicycle!  So it had better prove its worth  (Photo: © John Norton - this was taken with his mobile phone; not bad for general shots but I shall stick with my camera)

One has to be dedicated as a field-botanist (or perhaps it is foolhardy).  I had not been satisfied with the photos I had managed earlier in the day of a certain yellow-flowered plant - which are very difficult in sunny conditions

So when I spotted a clump in full-flower, I had to "pay a price" - John had the good sense to leave me to it (he tells me that whilst I was wallowing in the mud, he found HYGROAMBLYSTEGIA TENAX - a semi-aquatic moss on a bridge, which has very few records for South Hants, in fact it represents the 6th record and first since 1994).  You can see John is a serious scientist, whilst I just like to get messy.... I am surprised I was allowed back in his car; he must be mellowing as her becomes a 'senior' botanist.

I was rewarded with some decent images of 'Marsh Marigold' or 'Kingcups'


John spent most of the day with his nose to the ground (or tree trunks) using a hand-lens to check out the mosses and liverworts.  He is now Bryological Recorder for Hampshire.

I managed to photograph a few of the larger, showier mosses which John was able to name for me, such as  -  the smallest species were beyond the capabilities of this camera.  Some would require examination of specimens under a microscope to identify.  Makes sense to start with those whose features can be seen with the naked eye or a hand lens.  See the section of this web-site on mosses and liverworts:  I have always been rather taken with mosses and wish to encourage others to enter this 'delightful' world.  It has been 30 years since I took a serious interest in bryophytes, when team-leader of a survey of riverside vegetation in Wales; these lower plants are a major component of the vegetation beside (and sometimes in) streams in the hills and mountains.  Fortunately, we had a talented young bryologist as part of the survey team, who went on to be appointed to one of the few full-time professional posts in bryology in the UK.  They are a neglected group, very much in need of enthusiasts.  The Bryological Society of the British Isles has a good site with close-up images of every species recorded but I can make a contribution with habitat and habit shots, within the limits of my camera - and time.  Macro-photography is time-consuming.

I noticed as we left the reserve the curious 'flowers' of 'Lords and Ladies' (ARUM MACULATUM)

Which has a dark purple 'spadix' (the foliage of this typically hedgerow plant can be viewed within my WILD FLOWERS OF IVER & DISTRICT mini-blog (scroll down to April)

* I returned to Mortimer a few weeks later to lecture to the local gardening club, affording me the opportunity to take the images below:

Field of buttercups with Mortimer church in the background

St.Mary the Virgin Church, Straffield Mortimer

London (April)

On the 20th I escorted my youngest son to attend a lecture for The Bhutan Society of the UK by Laurence Brahm entitled 'Bhutan in the Himalayan Consensus'.  This was held at the Polish Hearth Club, Prince's Gate, Exhibition Road - just down from the 'new' entrance to the Royal Geographical Society.  I attended two 'Endurance and Survival' Seminars at the RGS many years ago.   Brahm, a global activist, international lawyer and author of twenty books on Asia, proved to be an inspiring speaker; for further details see:;

Statue of explorer Shackleton outside the Royal Geographical Society

Reading, Berkshire (March)

Slough Railway Station dwarfed by new buildings