Girl Power and The Great Crested Grebes!

Wednesday, 11th March 2015 (Day 3, Week 10)

Hello everyone,

I hope you’re all having a productive week.  Its been busy in this neck of the woods, but I’ve recovered my mojo and Mr RR and I managed to fit in a walk around Loe Pool this morning before returning to Porthleven in time for a lovely lunch with our good friends Mr and Mrs S, who are down from Suffolk on holiday (Happy Birthday Mr S!!).

Its been a murky, grey day though – not so good for photographs, so I’ve included lots of fascinating facts to keep you going.

Enjoy reading

Ricketyrambler xx

Target: 1000 miles in one year (20 miles per week)

Achieved so far: 207.7 miles (target 200)

Achieved this week: 7 miles

Porthleven circular via Penrose Estate, Loe Pool and Loe Bar (7 miles)

We begin by taking the familiar walk up the hill through the housing estate and past the building site, along the road and down over the hill to the Penrose Estate.  It’s murky and grey but not cold or windy. As we walk down towards the Helston path which will take us around the lake, we see a ‘train of jackdaws’ (why a train? no idea!) most of them with their heads down staring at the ground.  It looks a little odd really, as if they’re staring at their feet, willing them to move.  A flick through my RSPB book doesn’t help, except to say that Jackdaws find most of their food on the ground, so these were just probably looking for insects in the grass.

Our aim today is to walk around Loe Pool, so we keep on the Helston track until we reach the turning on the right which leads us through the ancient lichen lined woodland to the steps and up to the concrete path which leads to farmland and the path around the Pool.  We take a quick look to our left at the ivy covered ruins which were once the Castle Wary silver and lead mine engine and boiler houses. This 18th century building, more recently known as Wheal Pool closed in the 1880s but still stands here in the Loe Valley as a reminder of Helston’s industrial past.

Castle Wary ruins
Castle Wary ruins

Moving on, we cross the stream and head into the mud (more mud!) which is the path around the lake. We’re followed along the way by robins and, out on the lake, an abundance of mallards and gulls.  I am, of course hoping to spot some herons, as I can often see them around here from the other side of the water.  Alas, today, they’re not to be seen at all.

Speaking of herons, I have an apology to make to the egrets for casting aspersions on their collective character when I accused them of plagiarism for stealing the word ‘heronry’ for their collective selves.  In fact, a collection of herons is named a ‘posse’ according to my compendium, though whoever thought of that I really don’t know!

Anyway, onwards to exciting sights.  Out on the lake, too far out for my camera to capture, Mr RR has spotted a ‘waterdance’ of Great Crested Grebe!  At least a dozen of these lovely birds swimming and diving in the grey waters.  Interestingly I had a conversation with the young Mr RR last weekend to the effect that the collective name for these creatures must originate from their behaviour, as they dance in the water with their mates.  And then, as so often happens, the very next day a fascinating piece about the Great Crested Grebe appeared on Countryfile.  It showed film of the strange mating rituals of these birds, with head shaking displays and the weed dance – where the pair rise up out of the water each clutching clumps of weed in their beaks. Very interesting and entertaining.

Of more interest to me however, was the fact that it was women who saved the Great Crested Grebe from extinction in this country and in the process founded the RSPB.  I’m always interested in the many accomplishments of women and so I was riveted at this point and I lay the facts out here so that you too, can leap up in praise of Girl Power!

Apparently in the 1860s it was noted that the population of Great Crested Grebe in this country had declined to a total of 42 breeding pairs. Their demise was caused by the mass slaughter of these birds in order that Victorian hat designers could make use of their exotic plumage.

The salvation of the Great Crested Grebe came in the form Emily Williamson, a Victorian lady who was horrified to hear of the plight of these birds and immediately formed the wonderfully named ‘Plumage League’ in 1889, campaigning against the use of feathers in hats.  She was successful and her group – all women – went on to form what we now know as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. There were two rules: discourage the destruction of birds and don’t wear feathers (except Ostrich feathers!!) Go Girls I say!!

More interesting facts: until the end of the 19th century birdlife was only studied in museums – nobody apparently thinking to look at the living as opposed to the stuffed!  Anyway, one Julian Huxley studied zoology at university and spent his summer holidays making a study of the Great Crested Grebe in it’s natural habitat and even produced a book on the subject. He was one of the first people to study what is now known as ‘ethology’ – animal behaviour.  Good for him!  But women are the real heroes of the hour.  Without the ‘Plumage League’ the Great Crested Grebe would have died out and Mr Huxley would not have been able to produce his book and we wouldn’t have the 5000 breeding pairs that we now have in the UK.  Go Girls!!

I hope you haven’t all given up all hope of me finishing this walk and gone away!  I’ll get on with it now. One of the strange things about walking around Loe Pool is that just when you think you’re almost done you find you have another few miles to go.  So, very soon we see, just across the water, Loe Beach, looking just as if in another few minutes we’ll be there:

Loe Pool with Loe Beach in the background

But you soon realise that you still have a ways to go.  Along the track:DSCF1075Across the meadow:


Through the woods:


and around Carminoe Creek:

Carminoe Creek, Loe Pool Mixed Media on Canvas

And then alongside the reed beds through more mud.  Last time we walked this way we were ankle deep in flood water so I little mud is an improvement.

We’re nearing the end of this poolside ramble when out on the water Mr RR spots an unusual sight.  Mr RR is doing very well with his binoculars today isn’t he?  I’m quite jealous.   It’s a Goosander – or I should say – a ‘dopping’ of Goosanders, as there are three of them, one male and two females.  These ducks are not usually found around here, according to the RSPB bible, but a check of the website tells us that, yes indeed, Goosander have been spotted in Loe Pool.  These diving ducks belong to a group known as the sawbills their slender red hooked bills having serrated edges.  They need this adaptation because their diet consists of a wide range of fish including eels and also small mammals.

We spend a while hoping that the group will move closer for photos, but no luck, so we move on and are shortly on the beach at Loe Bar and trudging through the sand and shingle to the coast path.  Loe Bar has an interesting history dating back five or six thousand years and it’s still growing as the huge waves caused by the Atlantic weather systems deposit hundreds of tonnes of new material onto the bar every year.  In times gone by, the bar was sometimes artificially cut in order to allow the water collecting in the lake from the River Cober out into the sea, thus averting disastrous floods from happening upriver in Helston.  This was known as ‘breaking the bar’ and doesn’t happen anymore due to the installation of drainage and sluice systems.  An excellent website – gives loads of information about the geological history of the site.

Loe Bar (detail from): Between the Pool and the Sea Acrylic on canvas
Loe Bar (detail from):
Between the Pool and the Sea
Acrylic on canvas

For us, its a quick tramp along the familiar coast path into Porthleven, reaching the harbour just as rain starts to fall.

On Pilgrim's Way
On Pilgrim’s Way

Associated artwork for Ricketyrambler by Andrew Major:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s