A host of golden dandelions


Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

William Wordsworth: I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud

I NEED to check our wardrobe as I am convinced we have wandered into Narnia, where it is always winter but never Christmas. I wrote a while ago about the Year Without a Summer (1816, after a gigantic volcanic eruption), and this is surely the Year Without a Spring, here in Lancashire at least.

Although we are in the last third of April, daytime temperatures have remained stubbornly in single figures and there is often frost at night. The rain has been endless, sometimes falling as hail. Many leaves are still cowering in their buds and I don’t blame them.

However there is one plant which is flowering for all its worth and raising our chilly spirits: the dandelion. Every road verge, for miles and miles, is covered in the cheerful golden flowers. It isn’t easy taking a picture on a main road with no footpath so this is the best I could do on Friday.

Never mind ‘ten thousand saw I at a glance’, there must be millions of them.

Regular readers will know that I am constantly surprised by the number of species of any given plant or creature. In the case of dandelions (Taraxacum) my astonishometer went off the scale. I had noticed that some leaves were more serrated than others, that some are flat to the ground while others are more upright, and that they vary in size. At a generous estimate I thought there might be a dozen types. The actual figure for Britain and Ireland is 250-plus. The Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland comments: ‘Taraxacum is probably the most challenging genus that British and Irish botanists encounter . . . Taxonomists argue over which species is which.’ I bet they do. The society says that a thorough study of one’s local ‘patch’ might yield 80-100 species, and to make matters worse, casual introductions from elsewhere in Europe are always a possibility.

 There is a lot more information on the society website here


Another plant that has shrugged off the awful weather is the native bluebell, Hyacinthoides non-scripta. While I was out on Friday I passed a wood carpeted with them. Again, it’s not easy to get a picture from a main road and at a distance, but I hope you can see the blue haze of thousands of massed flowers.

As I wrote here, I beg you not to plant the similar but larger Spanish bluebell (H hispanica) in your garden. It is a rapacious monster and will oust our delicate natives given half a chance. In that article last year I used a picture of a native taken by a friend and I think it is worth repeating.


Sheep of the Week

These lovely creatures are Devon Closewools. The breed arose around the mid-1800s when Exmoor Horn sheep (which I wrote about here) were crossed with the Devon Longwools (which I wrote about here). The oldest known flock dates from 1894. The intermediate-sized sheep proved very popular and by 1950 there were around 229,000 Closewools, almost all in Devon where they were the most numerous breed. Numbers were drastically reduced in the 1960s but with the trend to a more environmentally friendly, less intensive style of farming there has been a resurgence of interest. In 2009 total breed numbers were estimated to be 5,000, nearly all in a relatively small area of North Devon on Exmoor. Because of this geographical concentration they are classified as endangered, and in 2015, the Rare Breeds Survival Trust helped establish a new flock at Jimmy’s Farm and Wildlife Park near Ipswich, Suffolk, to spread the risk.

The Devon Closewool Sheep Breeders’ Society says: ‘The Devon Closewool is a very hardy sheep with a docile temperament making it an ideal sheep for the first time flockmaster or the commercial farmer looking for an easy care, low input sheep who survives and thrives on a purely grass based diet. Ewes remain prolific and productive for up to seven crops and hold their teeth well. Rams are fertile over a long working life (6-7 years).’

The breed is reared for meat, which the society says is ‘sweet and beautifully marbled as a native breed should be’. It has a heavy, dense fleece which keeps it dry and enables the sheep to thrive in wet, cold conditions. It is mainly used for carpet making.

You can find out more at the Devon Closewool Sheep Breeders’ Society website

I could find only one video about Devon Closewools on YouTube, and here it is:


Wheels of the Week

ALTHOUGH many in the West had not heard of the Trabant until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, it was for 30 years the most common car in East German. It was produced by VEB Sachsenring Automobilwerke Zwickau in Saxony from 1957 until 1991, and a total of 3,096,999 were made. It featured a two-stroke engine as used in motorcycles and a body made of Duroplast, a composite using recycled materials: cotton waste from Russia and phenol resins from the East German dye industry. (Not cardboard, as the myth had it.) The manufacturer was a state monopoly and demand exceeded supply by a factor of 43. The waiting list for a new car was up to 15 years and so there was a brisk trade in second-hand models, which would sell for more than twice the price of a new one. I can’t find out what the new price was but I think it may have been around £3,000. Because of the scarcity owners took care of their cars and became skilful in maintaining them. The average lifespan of a Trabant was 28 years, so despite all the mockery they can’t have been that bad.

The first version was the Trabant 500 or P50, produced from 1957 to 1962.


 The Trabant 600 or P60 was made between 1962 and 1965. Here is the estate version,


and this is the engine.


The Trabant 601, produced from 1964 to 1990, was the most numerous, with 2,818,547 coming off the line. This one was made in 1977 and registered in Britain in 1993. It is evidently still on the road.


The final version was the Trabant 1.1, of which 39,474 were produced from 1988 to 1991, making it the rarest model. Unlike its predecessor, this had a four-stroke engine.


Many Trabis were scrapped or abandoned when German was reunified and cheap second-hand cars from West Germany became freely available. This was the fate of one 600.


Most Trabants for sale are in Europe, but here is a 600 in Banbury on eBay for £7k. 

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