The Newt in Somerset – May 2023


I popped into The Newt in Somerset yesterday for a couple of hours. It was lunchtime when I arrived so I had a cup of their freshly made soup, despite the heat, and, since none of their elderflower drink was available (‘It’s all at Chelsea’),I partook of their own apple juice, a sure favourite. Then I explored.

When I take friends there for the first time, I tend to follow the same route, but this time I just wandered round somewhat haphazardly, which gave me angles for photos that I have not taken before. Here are those photos, without commentary, and in a slideshow this time. Just press the little arrows right and left to see next/previous image. (Sorry about the fourth from the end. I was using my phone, not my camera, and my finger seems to have slipped…)

Forest Lodge Gardens


, , ,

I visited two gardens under the National Garden Scheme last weekend. To quote from the website of the first, near Wincanton, SE Somerset:

“Forest Lodge didn’t really have a garden when [the owners] bought the house in 1996. They set about deer fencing and digging a lake and then tackled the difficult and expensive business of creating terraces on the south west facing slope which look towards the Blackmore Vale.

“The feature that sets the garden apart is the amphitheatre effect of the concentric circles of terracing towards the south west. The other exceptional feature is the acid soil – a similar pH to Stourhead Gardens down the road. This means they can grow so many more rare and lovely plants all around the year, such as camellias, hammamelis, rhododendrons, cornus and davidia.”

Here is a selection of the photos I took at one of the most beautiful gardens I have ever visited. Starting with a view from the terrace of the house, essentially I walked round the garden twice anticlockwise, once roughly following the outer perimeter, looking outwards from time to time, and then round a more central route, the two coinciding at one point.

I shall hope to return…

Lesvos 9 – second Wednesday and Thursday


, ,

I was feeling somewhat better the next day, but the day’s walking promised to be quite long, with no chance to rest in the bus, so I decided to stay behind. As on the previous Monday, I had a very pleasant day in Molyvos, which this time did not involve going up and down the main slope.

The church was a stone’s throw from the hotel.
From behind the church

From there I took a road behind the hotel which I knew from a map could in due course get me, rightwards, to the town centre, but which would, leftwards, give me access through a field to the far coastline.

It was two fields in fact. This is the first.

This circular ruin was five or six metres wide. There was no clue as to what it had been. Given its position, it could well have been defensive.

This map, at the car park where the coach had dropped us on Sunday, shows that, while Molyvos is at the north of the island, it is also on a headland pointing westwards, the location of the hotel. I was exploring that very tip. (Cycling friends may be turning green, sorry.)

This video therefore starts with part of Lesvos in the background, and ends with part of Turkey in the background. (Sound on.)

I sat on this bench for quite a while.

I moved on to another bench, even further west by a few meters. It even had plastic-covered cushions. But it was really windy and chilly there – I didn’t stay.

I wandered on round the further field, looking this way and that.
No-one around to identify the flowers for me…
An observation post? From what era? This is all there is to it, with space for just one person.
James later identified this for me as a black and white chafer in the genus Oxythyrea. David Re and Felicity visited this field an hour or so later and likewise had taken a photo of itthough I can’t guarantee it was this very specimen…

I made my way back to the road, and turned leftwards towards the town centre.

I came out at a favourable part of the double slope.

I kept meaning to find out what this chimney was/had been for, and kept forgetting.

By the time I got back to the hotel, it was past coffee time, so I treated myself to a cake as well. (I put on 4 lb, 1.9 kg, in the week.)

Dimitris, our host, came by and asked if I wanted another, saying I could have a third free if so. He knew he risked nothing! But I engaged him in conversation about these, hanging by his boat, which I suspected were octopus legs.

I was right, and yes he had caught the animal himself. It had been a big one, with a body about the size of a football, as he indicated with his hands. In response to my questions he explained that there were only seven legs because octopuses, when hungry, will eat their own limbs, which will grow back. He would be grilling the legs. No, not for us, he would be selling the dish. (My inference from his tone was that he would make more profit that way.)

I was most relieved that we would not be invited to eat them, and I ventured on to more sensitive ground. What did he think of the proposal to farm octopuses? (I had recently signed a petition against such treatment of such a sentient being, one of the most intelligent creatures with which we share the earth.) Given, he said, that the population was declining, he thought is was OK. I dropped the subject.

In part 3 of this account I mentioned the cats seen everywhere, and have there corrected the wrong impression that it was the Greek government which helped keep stray cats healthy. I asked Dimitris to whom did all these cats belong. He said, “No-one, they are harbour cats. Someone comes to feed them and we all toss them the fish we catch that are too small. I once counted 35 cats around my boat!” My maximum had been twelve seen at once from my balcony. They had been hanging around those eating at the next-door restaurant, with no-one apparently objecting.

After eating my lunch on my balcony, I wandered along to the end of the roadway, without going on to the harbour wall.

Clambering up here (there were a few steps) would have been another way to the fields I had been exploring in the morning.
The coastguard boat is back.

The rest of the afternoon was spent in my room and on my balcony, pottering again – reading, thinning photos, contacts with friends via email and Facebook, and – I know, it’s pathetic – ordering a new suitcase! I was rather worried that the zip the one I had with me would not survive the journey home, and certainly I wouldn’t risk it on another holiday. (It did just last, and then finally gave up the ghost.)

The main news from the others when they came back was that Philip had been stung by a scorpion! It had settled on his bag when he had put it down, and he hadn’t seen it when picking it up again. No ill effects, but it had hurt a great deal and his hand still felt numb at dinner. (Spoiler alert – he was still alive the next day.) That dinner was interrupted very briefly by a power cut, due to a very fierce thunderstorm and very heavy rain. How lucky we had been throughout the week, with very pleasant spring weather, and never too hot.

The next – our last – morning dawned chilly and gloomy, and I was definitely on the mend. Which was as well, given the day’s travel ahead. This time I was not staying anywhere overnight, and should just be home by a ‘felt-like’ midnight, 10.00 BST.

Prue and Nick take a final walk along the harbour wall.

Luggage on a truck, we had the up and down kilometre to walk to the coach which would take us, past the Killoni salt pans, to Mytilene airport. I took a few photos on the way, observing the sky clearing.

Arrived at the small airport, we checked in our luggage and then sought places to eat our packed lunch. Along with a handful of others, I followed Philip and James. They had hoped to be able just to cross the road to the beach, but there were roadworks in the way. We had to go a few hundred yards to avoid them.

Glaucium flavum, yellow-horned poppy

Then, again, the interminable wait to get through passport control, so long that I was concerned that those behind me night not make the plane, since they called boarding while I was still some way back in the queue. They did, and then the flight was 20 minutes late taking off.

My journey from there should have been smooth: Stansted Express to Liverpool Street station, tube round to Hammersmith and a dreary 3.5 hour bus ride back to Glastonbury, where I would have taken a taxi, if available, to avoid my own up-and-down slope (not nearly as long or high as Molyvos’s!) to my house. Forgetting that Stansted serves other places than just London, and a little concerned about time, I leapt onto the first train I saw, which was very packed and, I assumed, near leaving. I looked up and saw the destination panel. ‘Norwich’. Something made me remark on this out loud, which caused fellow passengers to tell me that all Stansted Expresses were cancelled for the foreseeable, because of a fatality on the line at Harlow, that I need to stay on this train to go to Cambridge, and there take a train to King’s Cross. Help! I would never get to Hammersmith in time, and that bus home was the only one until the sane time next day.

Calm down. Think. King’s Cross to Paddington, train to Castle Cary, and taxi home from there. Which is what happened, with chaotic scenes at Cambridge. At Paddington it occurred to me that perhaps there would be no taxis at Castle Cary at that time of night. Fortunately the second company I had found on line was able to respond. All went smoothly from then on, and, because the train was so much faster than the bus, I got home at pretty well the same time I would have done, though £73 the poorer.

Friends have since said ‘Oh, you should have called me’, but it was late and home is far from Castle Cary. Greater Anglia have reimbursed the full cost of my return ticket, Liverpool Street to Stansted, but their small print means that I am still £50 out of pocket. Ho hum.

But neither that nor my cold spoilt what was a really lovely holiday on a beautiful island. Thank you Philip and James, and all my companions for being so lovely, and knowledgeable, and … companionable. I imagine that some of you, like me (with my new suitcase) are already looking forward to your next holiday. Mine is in June, a week on a barge going down the Caledonian canal for a week, on a cruise with a wildlife theme…

Felicity, Ruth, me, Andrew, Alison, Helen, Sally, James, Maureen, David Ra, Philip (top of head), Jane, Prue, Nick, David Re

Lesvos 8 – Tuesday


, , , , , , , , , , , ,

In terms of how my cold was treating me, this was probably my worst day, but I really, really wanted to participate in one particular element of the holiday, and also the prospects of being able to sit down from time to time were good. So heavy-duty masked up in the bus, I joined my companions for a trip to the west of the island, furthest point Sigri. Here’s a reminder of the map of the island.

S = Sigri, My = Mytilene, SK = Skala Kalloni, Mo = Molyvos. Map by  Vetta Kelepouris-Agnos

On the way, we stopped near Andissa, and were dropped by the bus such that we just walked just the final kilometre or so, on a fairly gentle slope, towards the Ipsilou Monastery, which stands on the highest peak of the Ordimnos mountain range.

[A large] thistle
Black-eared wheatear
Female black-eared wheatear
An alternative way up to the monastery – not much used!
Violet carpenter bee
Northern wheatear
They said it was a Short-toed eagle, and I was determined to get a picture…
The monastery comes into view
Philip thought I should appear in my own blog.
So I return the compliment. He’s off checking where the bus might be – it went up by a different route

We continued the last few yards/meters to the monastery.

Snake-eyed lacertid

It wasn’t intended that we should eat our packed lunch there, but we were invited in, and facilities were opened up to us. It was lovely to sit in the cool of the chapel’s porch.

This slope was steeper than the whole of the previous climb – or did it just seem so?

Like the others, I wandered around after eating. I did not go into the museum.

Two-headed eagle – explanation

We moved on to Sigri, to visit the Natural History Museum of the Petrified Forest. This is at one of the four sites on Lesvos, all in this region, where trees fossilised 20 (as we were told) million years ago by volcanic activity may be seen. This was the reason I had particularly wanted to go out with the group that day, but had also been very happy with my morning.

Beside the entrance steps

A few minutes after our arrival we were given a short talk, then invited to go round the small geological museum, and the garden.

Those teeth were in the museum. They were e-nor-mous. Sadly photography was not allowed inside but it was in the garden.

I was very pleased to sit down for a while in the café there, feeling done in by now.

The day was still quite young, so Philip decided to add an hour or so to the programme, a naturalist walk in olive groves nearby, where lots of good things were seen. I stayed in the bus, where the sleep I craved eluded me.

Lesvos 7 – Monday


, , , , , , , ,

Throughout Sunday I had been trying to convince myself that, despite a few sneezes and lots of sniffles, I had not got a cold coming. But by bedtime I had to admit the truth to myself. Despite having worn a heavy-duty mask all day Wednesday, except at Liverpool Street station and at the hotel, then on Thursday in airports, aeroplane and minibus, I had somehow picked up a cold en route. (Only now, as I write these words, am I thinking that the incipient cold perhaps explains my fatigue in the couple of days preceding.)

I had a very restless and broken Sunday night, and around 1 o’clock got up and stood on my balcony.

The morning dawned beautiful.

There was no question of my going out with the group. I was very concerned not to spread my bug, so sat outside during breakfast, our host Dimitris kindly bringing me all the necessary (and, I suspect, a little more – feed a cold), and Nick kindly came out to keep me company.

I watched my companions gather to leave for the day.

And noticed a pair of collared doves in their nest by the awning. He (I presume) had just flown in with some nesting material. It is from this region that the pretty species spread across Europe, arriving in the UK just a few decades ago.

The ‘wildlife’ that was going to impinge most on me during the day were the many delightful cats around.

When the group had left, I firstly amused myself trying to capture the many swifts screaming about, but they lived too much up to their name for my skills.

I took a walk around the harbour walls.

The up and down of the incline we had walked from the coach the previous day can be seen.
A boat patrol. We saw evidence that the Lesvians are maintaining strict vigilance against potential refugees. I saw a helicopter patrolling later in the day.
My second floor room top right

But I had to find a large supply of tissues. This meant going back nearly to where the coach had dropped us the previous day, to a supermarket there.

That shopping done, I turned back, but was soon glad that I had had to go so far for my purchases (which included some Greek nuts, and some honey for a friend back home). A steep road of steps tempted me inland a few meters into the village centre, and I found myself in a delightful and near deserted set of roads that were not much more than alleyways, that no doubt in the tourist season are packed. I was not surprised to find that a restaurant was named after Molyvos’s cats.

I stopped for a coffee, and found myself for a few minutes talking with a young Dutch woman who served me and a bronzed English woman customer of a certain age, both of whom lived in Molyvos.

I sat outside to drink my coffee.

Spot the three cats
Not a bad place to rest awhile!

I moved on upwards.

A revered doctor? I can find nothing about him online (in Roman lettering anyway).

I was intending to find a way back to the up-and-down road, hoping I might find myself at its crest. But instead I kept seeing this sign, which tempted me further upwards, by relatively easy steps.

And in what seemed no time at all, I found myself near the top.

I walked round the outer walls, as far as possible, and back again to the entrance.

There I paid the entrance fee of €3, and spent the next half hour or so wandering around, referring to the leaflet I had been given. The monument’s history reflects the chequered history of the island itself. Originally a Byzantine castle, it was taken by the Venetians early in the 13th century. It was captured by Baldwin of Flanders (on his way to the Crusades, if my ‘A’ level history serves me correctly). Late in that same century it passed into the control of the Catalans, and less than 100 years later to a Genoan dynasty, the Gattelusi. (Anything to do with cats?) The Turks occupied Lesvos in 1462, and the Ottomans repaired and added to the castle in the 15th and 17th centuries. It is the second-largest castle on Lesvos, after that of Mytilene.

I was surprised to find how green it was inside.

On my way down (still hoping to find myself at the crest of the coastal double slope, not the wrong side of it), I was excited to see what I thought might be a moth we hadn’t yet seen. But scrutiny of my photo once back revealed it to be a very, very worn, so near defunct, butterfly. James identified it as a swallowtail.

I did indeed emerge from the village centre where I had hoped, and made my way back to the Sea Horse hotel, (includes good video of Molyvos) where Dimitris’s wife Stella was out front.

I ate my packed lunch in my room, then went down to have a coffee, and a bit of a chat with Dimitris. This was his boat, the St Nicholas, and (as I learned later) he had indeed caught the bream we would have at dinner that evening. Now he was removing all the stones he had picked up at the same time.

Young grey mullet

I hoped to sleep that afternoon. I didn’t manage to, but just did some restful pottering in my room. At dinner, I learned that the group also had been to the castle – though not all went in – having been dropped off, at the end of their day’s wildlife discoveries at Kavaki and Petri, at the top (!) of Molyvos by the minibus. So we’d all had a lovely day.

Lesvos 6 – Sunday (part 2)


, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This was a last sortie from Skala Kalloni, as we would be moving on to our second hotel later in the day. We went inland to Metochi Lake, where we saw water creatures and then wandered along a couple of tracks within olive groves. (Just remembered – many decades ago, I had a singing teacher called Olive Groves, right towards the end of her life!)

Caspian terrapins in bulk
Little grebe

The land surrounding the olive trees varied somewhat.

Cockchafer on Anchusa undulata
Masked shrike

Once at the rocky hill appearing three pictures back, the fauna changed somewhat.

Starred agama (lizard)
I didn’t get this dragonfly’s name. (Ha, ha, that’s an old one.)
Common blue butterflies

On the way back to the bus we came across dung beetles,

and sheep – again.

We returned to our hotel at Skala Kalloni, to collect our luggage and to change on to a coach big enough to take both humans and it.

Our route to Molyvos was directly due north. I snatched a few photos through the tinted windows on the way.

(Did our phones all sound the test alert at 5 pm local time, 3 pm, BST, this 23rd April? No, since we weren’t in Britain.)

As we approached the small town, we could see a castle on its hill, which sent me straight back to our trip to Morocco, that is to our hotel on the hill, the Atlas Kasbah.

The coach could not get all the way to our hotel on the harbour front, so we had to walk a kilometre up an incline and down the other side, our luggage fortunately being taken on a truck.

On the way, birdwatching continued.

Eastern Black-eared wheatear

This is the downhill part. (The photo is darkened by camera because it was directly facing the sun.)

The obligatory photos from my second floor balcony. Dinner was served under the canopy to the right a couple of hours later.

Lesvos 5 – Sunday (part 1)


, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Today we started at the Kalloni salt pans, just east of the Tsiknias river. We dawdled south and then eastwards. At point 2 I left the party to sit in the bus, which had followed us by then, since my hips were telling me to stop. They just don’t like going slowly. Most of the rest of the group went on down to the gulf’s edge.

Black-winged stilts
Echium plantagineum
James’s first description: ‘Scary, bitey, poisonous centipede. Do. Not. Touch’ . Proper name: Scolopendra. About 4 in/10 cm long.
Flamingos and avocets a long way away
Drinker moth caterpillar
Purple toadflax (?)

I’d been aware of this vast ‘tent’ in the distance over the previous days. I now realised that of course it was a vast pile of salt!

Wood sandpiper. Incredibly difficult to see unless zoomed in like this. Thank goodness for the expert eyes with us.
No apologies for all the pictures of wildflowers. They were just breathtaking.
Temminck’s stints
Black stork
Wood sandpiper
Swallowtail butterfly
Black stork
In James’s hand this looked just like a worm. But here you can see its scales. It’s a worm snake.

Time for lunch, which we ate in the shade at our hotel.

Lesvos 4 – Saturday


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Today we piled into the minibus to go further east and southeast, stopping after a short while at a marshy area, with a rocky bank beside it.

Tongue orchid, serapias bergonii, the first of many orchids we were to see that day.
I didn’t get the name of this damselfly
Red-backed shrike
Eastern tree frog. It was thanks to James that we had such a clear view.
Bee orchid

We drove on to a pine forest, at Achladeri. The hope was to see a Krüper’s Nuthatch. Lesvos is the only place in Europe (reminder, Lesvos is geographically part of Asia Minor!) where this can be found. Almost immediately we arrived, James received a tip as to where one had been seen, though it would involve a steady climb of about a mile. Initially the group split into people who would go with him, and others who would stay with Philip, botanising. Although I puff on the slightest incline, and have done all my life, I opted to pretend I was an ornithologist.

I have to say, I really, really enjoyed that walk though the pine trees.

It was good to have patches of shade where we could rest.

A ‘small’ fritillary
A large grasshopper, about 2 in/5 cm long.
Violet limidore orchid

Most of the botanist group joined us in due course. We didn’t find the nuthatch.

A ‘Beautiful demoiselle’, female

Back in the minibus, we went up, up, up, up to a chestnut tree slope on the side of Mount Olympos, the highest peak on Lesvos. But before we got there, there was a clamour to stop in order to take a picture of a field of poppies.

We ate our packed lunch on a slope which I found a little difficult to navigate, so I didn’t join others clambering over it afterwards looking for some wonderful flowers, but stayed on on the path below. Nevertheless I did get a couple of (badly-focussed) pictures.

Green-winged orchid
Provence orchid

The bus took us down again, and dropped us off on a gently descending roadway, which we were invited to walk down for a kilometre or so.

Star of Bethlehem
Naked man orchid
Green-winged orchid
Yellow bee orchid
Upright myrtle spurge, Euphorbia rigida

What a very pleasant day. A fair chance of rain had been forecast, but it held off until we were back in the bus for a final time – and then it teemed down, but kindly stopped before we got back to our hotel.

Lesvos 3 – Friday (part2)


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Suitably refreshed, we continued eastwards to the Tsiknias River. There we sheltered from the sun and a stiff breeze in a hide to eat our packed lunches, then walked northwards along the river.

Little owl on the edge of the village
I just love grasses and sedges
Great tit with juicy green bug
Anchusa undulata, an alkanet
Silybum marianum, milk thistle
Two kinds of verbascum
Lamium moschatum, a deadnettle
Some are ahead of me and some, these, behind.
Corn bunting

The next photo, a ridiculous one, is here just for the record. It is the best I could do of an entertaining bunch of European bee eaters – a very long way off!

Caspian terrapins
Wood sandpiper

By the turn round point, my hips were telling me they wanted to stop dawdling and to start walking properly so I did so, though quite slowly.

(Dung?) beetle. The body was about an inch long.

I crossed the village of Skala Kalloni again. There were many cats, healthy-looking ones, everywhere there was habitation. Many of them were ginger. I have learnt since my return that the Greek government pays people to look after stray cats, and I am aware of someone on Crete who receives such a subsidy. Later edit: Correction. Not the Greek government, who ‘couldn’t care less’, but an association.

I spent a pleasant half-hour just sitting on a bench a few minutes away from our hotel, watching the waves on the gulf. I thought the party might catch up, but heard later that the walk back had had many stops to see interesting things, and that a final stop had been made at the place we had taken refreshment in the morning!

Coot spotted on the lake-that-(almost)-no-longer-was

Lesvos 2 – Friday (part 1)


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Friday, April 21st was the only day when we did not use the minibus. 8 km of walking was anticipated. In the morning we dawdled westwards along the shore past where Andrew and I had found ourselves the previous afternoon, and then back eastwards, past part of the lake-that-no-longer-was, as far as Skala Kalloni’s village centre, where we stopped for drinks and ice-creams (mine being a delicious and very generous chocolate one containing large chunks of chocolate).

Judas tree
Tragopogon sinuatus
Swallows gathering mud for their nests
Avocets, way beyond the flamingos. I took photos of the latter on the way back.
Black-winged stilts
Purple toadflax, I think
People were very excited to see this, a log way away – a spur-winged plover.
Crested lark

Turning back from our furthest point west, we spend a long time admiring the flamingos, many of which flew in while we were there.

Pallid harrier
Skala Kalloni harbour

Throughout the week, I amused myself trying to familiarise with the modern Greek letters, based on two terms of Russian learnt at school when the Cyrillic alphabet sunk in a little, though nothing else did, and some internet research at night. I make this ‘Aristotle Square’ or ‘Place’. It was where we had our refreshments.

Here is a wonderfully evocative and fascinating hour-long BBC Four documentary, presented by Armand Marie Leroi, lamenting that Aristotle is forgotten as the father of biology. He did his work, in the 4th century BCE, ‘the foundation of the modern classification of animals’ on Lesvos, around the Gulf of Kalloni, which Leroi calls ‘Aristotle’s Lagoon’.

(By the way, ‘Lesvos’ because that is the correct transliteration of the modern Greek, not ‘Lesbos’…)

Alison, Philip (in green), Nick and the rest of us await our drinks and ice creams.

The rest of Friday next time.