Gonville and Caius College is one of the oldest colleges of Cambridge University. It was founded in 1348 by Edmund Gonville, who has suffered the cruel fate of rarely being mentioned nowadays; the college is almost invariably referred to simply as ‘Caius’, after John Caius, the man who re-founded the college in 1557 at a time when it had fallen on hard times.

The college has 3 fine gates that represent the stages of academic life: matriculation, with entrance through the Gate of Humility; undergraduate life, with regular passage through the Gate of Virtue during a student’s career; and finally graduation,with students passing through the Gate of Honour to the Senate House to receive their degrees.

The lower part of the Gate of Honourcaius-college-cambridge-sundial-gate-of-honour5

The middle section of the Gate of Honourcaius-college-cambridge-sundial-gate-of-honour4

The handsome modern sundial was installed in 1963 as part of the 400th anniversary celebration of the college’s re-foundation by Caius. There are in fact 6 vertical sundials, arranged in 3 pairs placed round the hexagonal tower. They were designed by an astronomer and fellow Dr Message, and the Junior Bursar Dr Powell. The bronze dial faces are painted with vitreous enamel. Of the original set of sundials dating from 1557, only traces remained.


There is something very satisfying about this set of dials. The symmetry, the proportions, the materials and the design all seem to work in harmony. Cambridge colleges have many sundials between them, many original and ancient. Of the modern dials, the Caius Gate of Honour is adorned by, arguably, the finest.** 


** The principal sundial of my own college is dignified but… somewhat undistinguished in comparison!

Photo credit: All photos Mrs RH during a recent academic festivity

For further reading, track down a copy of “Cambridge Sundials” by Alexis Brookes and Margaret Stanier (available from the British Sundial Society). It can also be found as a downloadable pdf. There is an equivalent book by Margaret Stanier covering Oxford


Jersey Tiger Moths  Euplagia quadripunctaria, are widely distributed throughout Europe. Once rare in Britain, they are now increasingly found in the South of England. Recently we spotted one in the eastern Pyrenees one evening. It wasn’t very close and I had only a small camera with me so the results aren’t startling. However, the photos give a fair idea of this very pretty moth. 

Jersey Tiger Moth, Ceret, FranceJersey Tiger Moth, Ceret, France

I knew at once what sort of moth this was, because we had found one – the only one I’ve ever seen before – in our garden in Dorset last year, and I to go through the usual online process to ID it.


A more professional photo… (Wiki)ecaille_chinee_-_euplagia_quadripunctaria_havre_begique_3

The Wrong Sort of Tiger Moth… “CHOCKS AWAY”tiger-moth-1-copy



We were sitting having a picnic on the low wall surrounding a small hilltop church in the eastern Pyrenees, when I caught sight of this wonderful creature. A marital ‘no computer’ pact and limited wifi possibilities for a phone meant that ID was frustratingly delayed.


This butterfly turns out to have the wonderful names Two-tailed Pasha or Foxy Emperor (Charaxes jasius).  Frankly either name is exotic enough to stick in the mind, but I think I prefer the Pasha. Because the creature was on a tree beyond the parapet, there was no chance I could get near enough for a close-up, so I had to resort to zooming in at various angles and magnifications, and hoping for the best.


I kept hoping the butterfly would move without going to the extreme of flying away. An open wing shot would have been great to get, but it was not to be. Here’s what the upper wings look like. Having found the image, I realised at once that we saw one or two of the same species on the wing elsewhere, but they were too busy to pause for a photograph.


These are butterflies of Africa, but they are also found on the southern fringes of mediterranean Europe. Apparently they like maquis-type scrub country or (clearly) the similar garrigue terrain where we were. They also like some height, although we were only about 1500 ft ASL.



Darcy & Buttercups 3Darcy & Buttercups 2Darcy & Buttercups 1Darcy & Buttercups-1Darcy & Buttercups-2


Bee box on a wall, Dorset

This is the first year that leaf-cutter bees have discovered the bee box placed invitingly on a south-facing wall – and only in the last month. Or maybe they had and didn’t like the box. Or the other occupants. Anyway, quite soon they had tenanted the remaining holes in the prestige penthouse log. Bee box with leaf-cutter bees, Dorset

Last week, the LCBs were quite active, so from time to time I watched them. The first one was completing its work in the top-right log on the lower storey. Having packed in the leaves, it spent quite some time perfecting the job, leaving a smooth end to the bright green plug.

Bee box with leaf-cutter bees, DorsetBee box with leaf-cutter bees, Dorset

Bee box with leaf-cutter bees, DorsetBee box with leaf-cutter bees, Dorset

Later on I saw a bee engaged in an earlier stage of construction. It chose the same log, and initially went for the middle hole, disappearing with a strip of leaf. It then revised its accommodation plans, reversed out with the leaf and took it to the adjacent hole.

Bee box with leaf-cutter bees, DorsetBee box with leaf-cutter bees, Dorset

Bee box with leaf-cutter bees, DorsetBee box with leaf-cutter bees, Dorset

I found the bees surprisingly difficult to photograph. I had to change cameras to a ‘faster’ one, because a bee would zoom back to the hole with its leaf and dive straight in, dragging the leaf behind it; and emerge suddenly and fly off at speed. Sometimes there was a struggle to get the leaf into the hole, which helped take a shot; or I could see the bee pause in the dark but quite close to the entrance before flying off. But mostly, the comings and goings took me by surprise every time, even though I was ready for them…

Bee box with leaf-cutter bees, DorsetBee box with leaf-cutter bees, Dorset

I checked the plants in the vicinity for the tell-tale semi-circles cut out of the leaves. They seem to have liked a nearby rose and another plant whose name I forget (if I ever knew). They use saliva to glue the cuttings together to build the cells for their larvae. The larvae have a safe place to hatch and develop. They pupate in the autumn and hibernate during the winter. Now that the leaf-cutters have found the box, we are hoping that next year the new generation will go through the whole process again. And that I will be more handy with the camera.

NOTE: I see that these bees are often called Leafcutter bees, or Leaf Cutter bees, whereas I have plumped for a hyphen. I’m going (having retrospectively checked) with the Natural History Museum’s version…



This sundial is something rather special. This decorative dial is both elegant and very complex. It must have taken a long time to devise and lay out accurately. It stands in the extensive grounds of the elegant Abbey Church of St Georges de Boscherville in Normandy. I managed to get hold of a small pamphlet in the Abbey bookshop – it wasn’t on display, and I had to go back to collect it once they found one. Even then I failed to understand the sundial properly, and not simply because of my rusty but workable French. I’m not even going to attempt to describe it, but it photographs well in its picturesque setting, and I have included a shot of the explanatory plaque at the end for the science-minded.

One fact I learnt is that until WWII, France was on Greenwich Meantime. During the occupation, the Germans changed the time zone to Central European time, a practice that has remained ever since.

St Martin de Boscherville Sundial 1.1 1St Georges de Boscherville Sundial 1St Georges de Boscherville Sundial 1.1. 1St Georges de Boscherville Sundial 1.1. 2

St Georges de Boscherville Sundial 1.1. 3St Martin de Boscherville Sundial 1. 1 St Georges de Boscherville Sundial 1.1. 4 St Georges de Boscherville Sundial 1.1. 5 St Georges de Boscherville Sundial 1.1. 6 St Georges de Boscherville Sundial 1.1. 7

Does this help?St Georges de Boscherville Sundial 1.1. 8

HOVERFLY IN DORSET (Helophilus trivittatus)

Hoverfly (Helophilus trivittatus) Dorset 15

While photographing bees last week I encountered a smartly marked hoverfly.  I was particularly impressed by its striped head. I have to admit that until I looked into it, I has assumed that there were maybe half a dozen different species in the UK. I’ve never really examined them closely until this one flew into my lens range.

Hoverfly (Helophilus trivittatus) Dorset 13

How wrong I was. Fortunately by googling ‘hoverfly ID’ my first hit was a wonderful site about the natural history of Rutland and Leicestershire called NATURESPOT.  The link will take you to their hoverfly page, from which you will learn that “There are over 280 species of hoverflies in Britain and around 140 of these have been recorded in Leicestershire and Rutland”.

Hoverfly (Helophilus trivittatus) Dorset 14

Additional useful information includes this lightly edited précis:

  • Many have black and yellow markings and are often confused with bees and wasps
  • Hoverflies are totally harmless and are definitely a gardener’s friend
  • The larvae of several common species have a voracious appetite for aphids
  • Very few hoverflies have common names
  • Those that exist (e.g. “The Footballer”) are not always widely known or agreed
  • However the Latin names of all the species are accepted

Hoverfly (Helophilus trivittatus) Dorset 18

This is the best (though somewhat average) in-flight shot, included to show the trailing back legsHoverfly (Helophilus trivittatus) Dorset 03

I had to scroll quite far down the hoverfly page to reach the striped-headed ones. Here’s a clip of the part that I used for a clear ID as Helophilus trivittatus. I highly recommend Naturespot not just for hoverflies, but for many different species. It may be local to a specific area, but it is a mine of information for the UK generally, and very well organised.


Hoverfly weblink:


Shap Abbey, Cumbria

Even on a wet day, the ruins of the remote Premonstratensian Abbey of Shap in Cumbria are impressive. Although not much that is vertical remains, the layout of the extensive Abbey buildings can clearly be seen, with clarification from the helpful information boards. There was one particular puzzle that we encountered: a number of neatly incised circles on the floor of the nave, on both sides.

Nave Floor Circles, Shap Abbey, Cumbria Nave Floor Circles, Shap Abbey, Cumbria Nave Floor Circles, Shap Abbey, Cumbria

The purpose of the two lines of circles – we found 5 very clear ones – turns out to be quite straightforward. The nave floor dates from the c15. At that time, each Sunday there would be a procession involving the senior clergy. They entered the Abbey through the now-ruined west door. The circles marked the positions to be taken by the Canons, who then stood in two files before the nave altar.  So the circles are in fact place-markers.

Nave Floor Circles, Shap Abbey, Cumbria Nave Floor Circles, Shap Abbey, Cumbria

Shap Abbey, Cumbria



Midsummer’s Day is usually the first day I begin to notice painted lady butterflies in our Dorset garden. They have probably been around for a few days before then without my noticing them. So when I actually start to look out for them to test the robustness of my ‘Midsummer’s Day’ theory for the ‘first’ ones, I am in fact working with a flawed self-fulfilling hypothesis. It worked again this year, as usual… And as so often these days I only had an iPh@ne with me to record the success, with unspectacular but tolerable results.


I was hoping to get an underwing shot, but no luck. So I have plundered Wiki to get one

Painted Lady Butterfly underwings (wiki)

All photo except the last, RH with an iPhone


Our house provides nesting opportunities for sparrows on all sides. Somewhat ramshackle, with plenty of holes in the thick walls and under the eaves, it is perfect for the communal sparrow lifestyle. Every year we think of filling the holes, and then to decide not to. The sparrows do no harm. We’d miss them. Here are some chicks in the most easily accessible hole for photography. It is used every year, usually twice. An iPhone is best for the purpose because the flash is right next to the lens.

Sparrow Chicks, Dorset 01 Sparrow Chicks, Dorset 02 Sparrow Chicks, Dorset 03 Sparrow Chicks, Dorset 04 Sparrow Chicks, Dorset 05 Sparrow Chicks, Dorset 06 Sparrow Chicks, Dorset 07 Sparrow Chicks, Dorset 10

Gable End Wall 2
Gable End date