Saturday, July 23, 2011

Invictus

The sun came out on Friday morning. It was quite a shock to see blue sky, so I headed off to Potton Wood to make the most of it. By the time I'd got there it was already clouding over and the wind was picking up. Sigh.
 Cockayne Hatley Church over the wheat fields
Before heading into the woods I took a stroll around the wheat fields near Cockayne Hatley to see if any interesting arable weeds had managed to avoid the herbicide on the field margins. 

That proved a forlorn hope, but whilst trying unsuccessfully to photograph butterflies feeding on bramble flowers I noticed this tiny (body about 6mm long) spider on an elder leaf. 
Pretty distinctive little creature, which I found easily enough on Google when I got home. It's a comb-footed spider Enoplognatha ovata. Also called the 'candy stripe' spider, much easier to say than Enoplog...thingy. It's in the family Theridiidae, which consists of spiders who are 3D web-builders (clearly these are IT literate arachnids) and according to Wikipedia have a 'comb of serrated bristles' on their hind legs.

These little spiders are apparently quite common and come in 3 colour variations, of which I saw 2 on my walk. The red stripe one above, an red abdomen variety and a green one. I am pretty sure this is the greeny colour variation below.

The thing that amazed me about this wee spider was the huge waspy head next to it, which dwarfed it in size. It must make an efficient web to catch and subdue a wasp. 
Then, just as I was heading back to the road I found another candy stripe spider tucking into a whole bee. This one had set up camp on a bristly oxtongue (Picris echioides).
Clearly size isn't everything and this spider is undefeated by larger prey.

Cockayne Hatley church is only a few minutes walk from Potton Wood so I decided to take a turn about the church yard.

St John's church dates from the 13th century. For such a small parish church it is surprising to find a couple of very interesting memorials in the churchyard. The most imposing, is the gravestone of William Ernest Henley (1849–1903), the Victorian poet, who wrote the immortal words;

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishment the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.



On the other side of the monument to Henley and his wife, is an inscription for their daughter Margaret (1888-1894). 
A few years ago we went to a second-hand booksale in the church and we were told that Henley was friends with JM Barrie, of Peter Pan fame. Oddly enough I bought a copy of Peter Pan at that same book-sale. Now, little Margaret Henley used to call JM Barrie her fwendy-wendy. Legend has it, that this is where Barrie got the name Wendy, which he used in Peter Pan. Henley, who'd had his left leg amputated below the knee due to tuberculosis as a teenager, was also a friend of Robert Louis Stephenson. Stephenson's letters indicate that Henley was the model on which he based the character Long John Silver.

The other notable memorial is to 4 men from the crew of a B24 Liberator bomber KN736 which crashed into Potton Wood on 18th September 1945. 
The British and Australian crew were on a training flight, along with a Scottish terrier called Bitsa. The plane crashed into Potton Wood (the whole story is here). Bitsa played a key role in the rescue; her barking alerted rescuers to the position of one the injured men, who had managed, somehow, to get to a field just outside the woods. 

1 comment:

  1. Wow, great pictures of those spiders! What tenacious (and fierce) creatures, to take on such big prey! Very cool!

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