Birds from the Train

Yesterday I took the train to Manchester. I chose to take the slow train from Mouldsworth, our local station. It’s a long, meandering journey through the Cheshire countryside, calling at Delamere Forest, Plumley and Knutsford before finally reaching the suburbs of Manchester. I like this route, you can always get a seat and there are plenty of opportunities for wildlife watching.

Soon after we passed Delamere, I spotted a heron flying over the mere. They have such a wide wingspan and long, long legs. I often wonder how they stay balanced in the water. During the rest of the journey I ticked off: jackdaws, a lone pheasant, the sudden blue flash of a jay as we passed through Mobberley and the usual assortment of crows, blackbirds and watched a pair of rabbits running through the allotments at Northwich.

But, it was the journey home where I really struck gold. It was just after four o’clock and we were approaching Northwich. I like this bit of the route, which passes the river Weaver and the Trent and Mersey canal. I spotted a large, inky black gathering of birds, forming and reforming in the grey black sky. Starlings. A few hundred – not a huge gathering – but the biggest I’ve seen for a while. A few other passengers had noticed too, and as the train slowed and then stopped to let a fast train pass by, we sat mesmerised as the starlings played out their formation dancing for us. A little girl asked her Mum what they were “I don’t know sweetie, blackbirds maybe”.

I couldn’t help myself, “They’re starlings”, I told her. “It’s called a Murmuration, we’re lucky to see it”. The mother replied that she’d never seen one before and reached for her phone to take a picture. The little girl sat, playing with her thumbs, repeating over and over to herself “Murmination, murmination”, enjoying the sound of the word and spellbound by the birds. I didn’t have the heart to correct her.

It may only have been a couple of minutes, maybe less before the train moved off again, but I tucked away the memory. It’s almost a year since I last saw a murmuration, I always think of them as precious gifts. Any grumbles about the wet weather, the crowds of Manchester were forgotten. Despite the fact that it rained all day, my jeans were wet and I needed of a strong mug of tea to revive me and take the edge off a busy day, the sight of the starlings, dancing and cavorting with such precision and grace was quite magical.

When I was home, I saw a couple of people had photographed the siting from near the canal and posted them on Twitter, apparently sightings are common there. I found this video on Youtube taken by a man called Ian Coventry in 2016 at Neumann’s Flash, which is close to where I spotted my starlings. Our sighting was much, much smaller.

These small glimpses of the natural world, of birds and animals oblivious to humans fill me with joy, whether it’s the chattering delight of the chaffinches in my garden or a lamb calling for its mother. They remind me there is beauty in the ordinary.

What I’m Reading

We’re in full holiday prep mode this week and  I’ve just got back from Woolfest (an annual celebration of wool, natural fibre and British sheep breeds). The house is piled up with samples, swatches and notes for my new book and so I have barely found time to write a blog post!

Instead, here’s a round up of what I’ve been  reading (and watching) this week.

On the blogs, Regula Ysewijn has been articulating the unease lots of us are feeling about the rise of what I call “big organic”, with Amazon’s recent bid to acquire US company Wholefoods, is it time we reconnected with the local? Read Regula’s piece here. I definitely believe life is better when we buy good food, from local people.

While I was at Woolfest, the team behind Murmurations organised an truly inspiring event at Storyhouse in Chester. Thanks to social media, I have managed to follow much of the conversation. Check out their feed on Instagram or twitter for a taste of the inspiring stories. With speakers including Sheila Dillon, Charlie Gladstone and many more. It’s certainly true we get the communities we deserve, so if you want to see real change, you have to contribute!

Slightly different, (but still resonating with my journey to slow) have any of you been watching BBC’s Handmade in Japan series? It’s still available on iplayer, where you can watch this fascinating insight into the traditional Japanese Kimono

On my bedside table you’ll find “The Man Who made Things Out of Trees”. Written by by Robert Penn, this  is a truly fascinating insight into the crafts people who make beautiful things from wood. Definitely worth a read if you appreciate hand made, small scale production.  There’s a review in the Guardian, and if you’re intrigued find it in your local independent book shop or library.

Finally, I’m reading issue 2 of Tortoise Chester. This new independent magazine is a celebration of creativity and “slow” in the broadest sense. I didn’t manage to track down a copy of issue 1 as we were on holiday when it came out and my trawl of Chester’s independent shops failed to turn up a copy (pleased it was so popular, but gutted). So, when I heard issue 2 would be available at Murmurations I managed to persuade a friend to drop a copy through my letterbox on her way home.

For the next two weeks, Mr T and I will be in France. I’m hoping to watch a little bit (a lot) of the Tour de France, explore French markets, boulangerie and wine producers. There will be plenty of lazy mornings, long warm evenings and I hope to come back refreshed and full of enthusiasm for my next book and finally able to share with you some new clients I’m writing for.

Have a sunny July xx