Oxhill News

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South Warwickshire, England.

The Oxhill News

October 2007

This months News



Nature Notes

October marks the end of summer and the beginning of autumn.  Very soon the leaves of deciduous trees will begin to change colour.  For the farming community harvesting is complete and is the culmination of the farming year.  In the past, the very survival of rural communities like Oxhill hung upon its success.  Naturally, therefore, harvest celebrations have characterised the season of autumn throughout history.  The Harvest Supper (or Harvest Home or Mell Supper) was a celebration feast given by the farmer to his workers in gratitude for their efforts and achievement in bringing in the harvest.  The suppers were inevitably joyous celebrations, accompanied by feats of excessive drinking, dancing, games and songs.

At the end of the harvest the cutting of the last sheaf was heralded by a triumphant shout, know as “Crying the Neck”.  This was taken a stage further by forming the last sheaf into a figure and taunting neighbouring farmers who had not yet finished harvest.  This was then paraded down the lanes with a doll made from corn, variously called a Kern doll, Kern baby, or Harvest Queen, which is the origin of the Corn Dolly.

I have noticed an abundance of horse chestnuts or conkers this year.  Did you know the game of conkers evolved from a game called “conquerors” that was originally played with snail shells?  Later hazelnuts were used on strings, and by the late 19th century these earlier games had been replaced by what we know as “conkers”.  In some areas it was known as “oblionker” and accompanied by a rhyme “Obli, obli, onker, my nut will conquer”.  Folklore also has it that if you carry a conker in your pocket it will help prevent piles and rheumatism!

Mike Collins emailed me some fabulous photographs of Elephant hawk moth caterpillars the other day.  The caterpillar is seen more often that the moth and it gets its name from its reaction if threatened of retracting its head into its body, causing the front of the body to swell up like an elephant’s head.  The coloured false eyes on the head expand to produce what looks like a very menacing creature to any predator.  The moth is night flying and feeds on willowherb or bedstraw.  It is certainly one of Britain’s prettiest moths – medium sized with beautiful pink wings, body and antennae.  The wings are also flashed with lime green and it has snowy white legs.  It is fairly common, but rarely seen.

We have recently returned from Islay in the Hebrides where we spent a lot of our time looking for Golden eagles and otters.  We saw Red deer (ten a penny!) and hen harriers, buzzards by the score, but not one eagle or otter.  I was chatting to a local lady who looked after some holiday cottages on the island.  She said that the previous week a chap had stayed in one of the cottages specifically to see otters.  He spent virtually the whole week down on the shoreline watching the kelp sway to and fro with the swell of the tide (the otter’s favourite hunting ground) and had not a single sighting and went home disappointed.  On the Saturday he left she wandered down to clean the cottage and what should be ambling up the lane towards her – yes, an otter.  As all the locals say, “right place, right time, and luck”.  I think that pretty well sums up most of nature – and life!

Take a glass of wine on October 11th; in ancient Rome this was the day of the Meditrinalia when the new season’s wines were tasted and libations were offered to the Gods.  It was the custom to drink both old and new wines together, purely for healing purposes, while reciting the following: Novum vetus vinum bibo, novo vetem morbo medeor – “I drink old and new wine to cure old and new disease” – I’ll drink to that.

And take great care on October 31 ……

                Hey bow for Hallows E’en
                A’ the witches tae be seen
                Some in black and some in green
                Hey bow for Hallow E’en               

Grenville Moore

Footnote:  I have just come back from my early morning walk having seen a pair of Ravens fly low over Mrs Rodwell’s fields.

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Last modified: October 02, 2007