During a recent stay in Cambridge for an academic hooley, Mrs RH visited the University Library. She came across this wonderful multi-locked portable chest (above), and the University’s copy of the Gutenberg Bible. There are only about 40 complete Bibles extant in the world, plus some that are incomplete. I am lucky enough to have seen 3 of them, all in the US (Bienecke Library, Yale; Morgan Library NYC and New York Public Library). However to my retrospective shame, I never once in 3 years of golden opportunities took the trouble to go to the University Library in Cambridge (probably all of 15 minutes walk from my College). Seeing the photograph below made me ponder on youthful time that could (un)arguably have been better spent…
VILLEFRANCHE-DE-CONFLENT is a small medieval walled town in Catalan country. It is watched over by Fort Liberia, one of VAUBAN‘s massive defensive constructions in this historically strategic area. The town is charming, and additionally famous for being the start of the ‘Train Jaune’, a picturesque narrow-gauge railway that climbs high into the Pyrénées. The amazing altitude rise is from 1250 ft at Villefranche to 5000 ft at the track’s summit just above the village of Mont Louis (which has its own Vauban fort)
The sundial above is high up on a house in the church square. It doesn’t exactly draw the eye, and would be very easy to miss. It’s on the house next to the Mairie (right, with the Catalan flag), below the small top windows.
TWO DIALS IN ONE
The main dial is etched and painted on cement, with roman numerals and showing hours, halves and quarters. The long gnomon is attached beneath a small sculpted head from which sun rays radiate – a simple representation of a solar deity. Above the head can be seen numbers, of which only 11 and 8 at the start, and 3 at the end can be made out with any certainty. Possibly, it is a date: the dial (which is not ancient) is otherwise undated and it is very hard to guess its age. I can find no explanation for the initials DS (top left, Gothic font) and ER (top right, normal font).
The small dial-within-a-dial shows the hours only, with arabic numerals. The gnomon points straight down. I am unsure of its purpose as a supplementary dial on the same plane, but I hope to find out.
The words “COM MES SOL FA MES BE ESCRIC” are Catalan and mean roughly “When it is sunny, I write (show the time) well”. This rather charming inscription was apparently added around 2000 by the village pastor.
Credit: for information, Michel Lalos, who has compiled a comprehensive illustrated record of the sundials of the Pyrénées-Orientales.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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”.
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
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: http://www.naturespot.org.uk/taxonomy/term/19415