The delight of friends coming to stay is that one sees La Chaise through fresh eyes, especially if those friends' eyes have not visited for some time. All of a sudden one forgets leaking roofs, thistles, sulking pumps and the lack of follow through on the assumed sale of lambs. The beauty of the place returns.
Thus it was that I went with Caroline (and my stick) to 'Greece', the hilly part of our fields at the end of the property, an area officially known as 'Fontenelles' otherwise 'Little Springs'. The 'Little Springs' were turned into a large pond, with pump, in the hollow of the valley some 20 years ago in the course of which the caterpillar digger nearly drowned and had to be towed out by two tractors. (Another story, another time.) We called the hillside 'Greece' because of its rough grass, visible chalk stones, evil thistles, juniper bushes and rampant herb plants. It was also a hillside that ( before sheep ) showed a large variety of wild orchids when climatic conditions were propitious.
The herb plants, mostly wild majoram and ground creeping thyme ( serpolet), still flourish though the junipers are beginning to die. Caroline and I went down there because the herbs attract almost as many butterflies as the Buddleia by the kitchen door. The difference between the two is that the Buddleia predominantly attracts Fritillaries, the day-time flying Humming Bird and Hawk moths. 'Greece' has the Blues, the Adonis, the Common, probably the Short-Tailed and the Large, never mind the commoner butterflies, white or yellow. In fact, on a visit in 1990, Eric Rudge – who knows his butterflies – catalogued eight different types of Blue. Dave, from York (where are you Dave?) photographed one by means only known to him and other butterfly photography experts.
We wandered up the hill-side to Green 5 from which we had a wonderful view back to the Farmhouse buildings. The Blues were busily everywhere, dipping on the ground spreading thyme, on the higher majoram flowers, ignoring the vetch and the clover. Around us the age old junipers were dying with a high rise form of thistle threatening to take its place. Possibly the carduus nutans, which is hairy,though the picture in my wild flower book shows something more like eryngium maritimum, which is a more naked plant, both described as rare-ish and the latter preferring sandy soil to the chalk which we have which suits the former. Whichever – it cannot be swiped dead by a walking stick.
Then Caroline pointed: amongst the Blues there was a totally black butterfly, only one, and sooty black. We hurried back to consult my butterfly bible and Caroline decided that what we had seen was a variation of the very common White Admiral – ab.obliterata, a White with all its white obliterated by black. We were very impressed with ourselves (and the Collins butterfly book*) so had a few more glasses of wine than normal, on holiday, that is.
It was only a day later, when Caroline and family had headed safely off towards the Channel coast, that I discovered I had come back with another, better known, insect from 'Greece'. A few aoutat - harvest mites in English or chiggers in American - had hitched a lift on my skin and were busy feasting on my blood. Ironic, given that I always warn our holiday tenants to wear shoes and socks when walking in the fields because of these beastly little mites which are the larvae of microscopic acariens. I was wearing espadrilles but a skirt and no socks, silly me. As a consequence I was itching for days until I realised what had bitten me. The little xxxxx always bite where clothes are tight, e.g. under bra,belt and knicker lines. At first, before one knows what they are, the horrid possibility of fleas occurs. The only remedy is a long, hot bath, an anti-histamine, and a glass of wine – this last for the morale.
Dear Caroline, if you read this, and you have suffered from bites – it was not the bedding, it was the bugs......
*Butterflies and Day flying Moths, of Britain and Europe, Collins 1989