Nature home and away

THE Happy Moonraker is more than happy to stay in the same small corner of the country surrounded by birdsong and spring flowers, but sometimes circumstances dictate a trip further afield.

I’ve just been to London. To say it was bustling would be an understatement. Interesting things spotted between a number of destinations included this delightful garden on the site of a bombed church.

A volunteer-run garden on a bomb site in the City of London.

The information board in the photo states that it is run by volunteers, and they clearly do a wonderful job. As well as providing a peaceful and colourful little oasis for City workers to sit in, it supplies an unexpected area of biodiversity in what is otherwise a traffic-filled concrete jungle.

Also spotted was a blue plaque to the artist and First World War poet Isaac Rosenberg. This was on the wall of the Whitechapel Gallery, formerly the Whitechapel Library where he had studied.

Rosenberg, who was killed aged 27 on the Somme on 1st April 1918, had studied at the Slade School of Art with such great names as Paul Nash, Stanley Spencer and David Bomberg.

The bus jerked into life so I didn’t have time to take a photo of the plaque.

Star of Bethlehem found growing in a South Wiltshire wood.

Back in my comfort zone in the woods, it was a surprise to see these flowers which I have never seen before. I knew what they weren’t: they were not snowdrops, stitchwort, wild garlic, white bluebells, and so on, but what were they? It turned out they were Star of Bethlehem (scientific name: Ornithogalum). I’ll know next time.

Apparently Star of Bethlehem is native to the Mediterranean region so who knows what it is doing in a South Wiltshire wood.


Violets for Easter

THE bluebells are not fully out quite yet, in spite of the wonderfully warm weather. Instead, though, the violets are out in force in the woods.

Tilly joins The Happy Moonraker in wishing everyone a happy Easter. She couldn’t hear any squirrels so was quite content to sit when asked while her photo was taken.

Weather beaten!

Tilly after a good clean-up following a very muddy walk.

THAT old aphorism “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothing” is all very well but some wet and windy days are just not designed for dog owners.

Tilly the terrier has a wonderfully thick natural coat and I doubt that any amount of rain could penetrate it. The Happy Moonraker, however, is not so fortunate. In spite of wearing good wellies and a fairly long mac over a fleece, plus a waterproof hood, the result after an hour of walking in the wet woods and fields was that my jeans were soaked between knees and the hem of the mac.

When you can see great clouds of rain being blown across in front of you there is no chance of staying dry. I should obviously have been wearing waterproof trousers.

There are Herdwick sheep grazing at Old Sarum these days. They are bred to withstand all the wild weather that the Lake District can throw at them, so they must be quite pleased to be in South Wiltshire’s relatively mild and dry climate, even if today was an exception to the rule.

Herdwick sheep at Old Sarum under a glowering sky.


Spring in all its glory

A brave early bumble bee settles on the handle of a basket of pansies at the back door.

IT may just be my imagination, but spring seems be better every year. The intensity of colour after another long, grey winter and the piercing clarity of birdsong can be almost overwhelming.

There are new bright green bluebell leaves in the woods, as well as daffodils, hellebores, japonica, forsythia and grape hyacinths in gardens.

A magnificent magnolia in the centre of Salisbury.

Salisbury’s magnolias are magnificent too. There is an especially stunning pink one in Harcourt Terrace, and the flowers on the white ones nearby in Mill Road are a wonderful sight. Could this be their best year ever?

Male pheasants strutting across the grass in their handsome plumage, the sound of woodpeckers doing their thing, and tiny blue tits inspecting the nest boxes add up to spring in all its glory. Even the sky larks have joined in.

Tilly and her shadow on a footpath lined with a sprinkling of celandines.

Lentil & walnut loaf

The Happy Moonraker loves good food and this vegan recipe ticks the boxes for lots of people, whatever their fads and fancies. As with most foods, seasoning is important so don’t hold back.

Lentil & walnut loaf


1 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, approx. 150g

1 clove garlic

2 celery sticks, sliced

175g brown lentils

450 ml water

125g walnuts, finely chopped

50g wholemeal breadcrumbs

2 tbsps chopped parsley

1 tsp mixed herbs

1 tbsp shoyu

1 egg, beaten

Salt & pepper

5 cherry tomatoes, halved


Heat oil in a pan, add chopped onion and fry gently until soft. Add garlic, celery, lentils and water and bring to boil. Cover and simmer gently for 50 to 60 minutes, until lentils are tender. Stir occasionally and remove lid for last 10 minutes to allow excess liquid to evaporate.

Carefully stir in walnuts, breadcrumbs, parsley, mixed herbs, shoyu, egg and seasoning to taste.

Line a 500g loaf tin with baking paper, brush with oil, and spoon mixture in. Cover with baking paper and bake in centre of pre-heated oven at 190º C, gas mark 5, for 45 to 50 minutes. Leave to cool for two minutes and then remove from tin. For an extra health kick, serve with lightly steamed kale. (See photo.)


A matter of black and white

The albino blackbird that is a regular visitor to a friend’s garden.

ISN’T he handsome? This rare albino blackbird is a native of South Wiltshire and lives in a village a few miles from Salisbury.

My friend, who took this photo, says the bird is in his third mating season so he has done exceptionally well not to have been killed by a passing car.

After all, blackbirds are notorious for diving across the road as cars approach.

It is not known so far whether he has fathered any more albinos but time will tell.

UFO mystery soon solved

THE Happy Moonraker always likes to share a good sunset, with power cables present or otherwise. This time, though, the shot looks as though the scene has been invaded by a UFO.

It wasn’t until I turned around that I realised that my UFO, albeit motionless, was actually a reflection of a metal mobile hanging from the kitchen ceiling.

Technically it became a USO, or Unidentified Stationary Object.

A shiny mobile reflected in the glass door masquerades as a UFO.