A redemptive bus ride to the supermarket

This campsite in Pembrokeshire has the huge advantage of being about a quarter of a mile from a bus stop that’s part of a circular route around the local coastline. It’s called the Celtic Coaster and for £4 you can buy a day ticket that allows you to get on and off as many times as you like and at any of the stops. It’s ideal for walking and also ideal for shopping in St Davids because it runs every half an hour so if you get your skates on you can catch the bus to the centre, do a lively run around the shops and be back on the City Hall bus stop in time to catch the same bus back to the campsite. The lanes here are really narrow and often congested and parking in St Davids is as far from the shops as we are from the bus stop so it’s an environmental no-brainer to leave the campervan behind. Another plus is that the drivers are so cheerful and obliging that we usually get dropped off at the campsite entrance and yesterday we were such a merry bunch of passengers I thought we might even start singing. To be honest, the thought of that kind of atmosphere on one of our local city buses is a faraway dream; but a sense of community, shared values and belonging will have to be a part of any emergent culture to replace the hostile and suspicious communities of one that constitute the smouldering remains of culture wars.

But aside from that little redemptive challenge to the status quo, there was something else on my mind as we cut through Gospel Lane and down New Street towards the supermarket, because this wasn’t just about shopping but is also the scene of my ecological idiocy in 2019 when I uprooted a chunk of the plant which I subsequently discovered was the second of only two previous sightings. I’ve never shared the photos I took back in the van because I knew that the obvious question would be “why did you take this away to photograph it?” But I think I dare show one of them today because I found redemption on the car park wall! It’s not even a very good photograph – the lighting’s rubbish and it really doesn’t show enough of the key features, but that’s something you learn as you go along. Any way, if you scroll up to the top of this piece you’ll find what we found yesterday. That little solitary plant has now grown into the handsome stand we found yesterday. I could have done a celebratory jig but I lacked the nerve.

Rough Chervil seeds

Photographing plants is a skill that takes a while to develop and I’m only just getting a grip on it. The Catch 22 is that you never know what the important features are until you know what the plant is. As some wag once said – the keys in the floras are only any use if you already know what you’ve got. So not being an expert I just take lots of photos from different angles, using a macro lens to capture fine detail and using a small ruler to measure some of the parts that I know will be important. With the Carrot family, for instance, the exact shape and dimensions of the seeds are crucial to getting an ID. The payback is that the closer you look, the more intensely beautiful the seeds become. You could spend a lifetime making handbuilt pots based on them and you’d never run out of inspiration. This is the point where science and art overlap. Here, for example, are the seeds of Rough Chervil that I photographed this week on the campsite. These days all my photos are taken on a Pixel 6a phone with an add on macro lens that costs less than £50. It’s a joy not having to lug a huge bag of kit around and all my stuff for an excursion fits into a small shoulder bag.

As we walked down to the bus stop I also caught sight of what turned out (after a lot of head scratching) to be Black Spleenwort. I really wanted it to be Lanceolate Spleenwort which would be a first record, but my selfish desires were trumped by good science. With ferns you really need to look at the shapes but also in microscopic detail at the way the spores are carried at the back of the leaves. If you’re at all interested in ferns – and I think they’re addictive – the little green swellings called “indusia” contain the “sori” the almost microscopic bundles of spores called sporangia, and which contain the spores themselves – millions of them! Here’s a selection of photos I took near the bus stop. It’s not all about glamorous adventures in the jungle!

Author: Dave Pole

I've spent my life doing a lot of things, all of them interesting and many of them great fun. When most people see my CV they probably think I'm making things up because it includes being a rather bad welder and engineering dogsbody, a potter, a groundsman and bus driver. I taught in a prison and in one of those ghastly old mental institutions as an art therapist and I spent ten years as a community artist. I was one of the founding members of Spike Island, which began life as Artspace Bristol. ! wrote a column for Bristol Evening Post (I got sacked three times, in which I take some pride) and I worked in local and network radio and then finally became an Anglican parish priest for 25 years, retiring at 68 when I realised that the institutional church and me were on different paths. What interests me? It would be easier to list what doesn't, but I love cooking and baking with our home grown ingredients. I'm fascinated by botany and wildlife in general, and botanical illustration. We have a camper van that takes us to the wild places, we love walking, especially in the hills, and we take too many photographs. But what really animates me is the question "what does it mean to be human?". I've spent my life exploring it in every possible way and the answer is ..... well, today it's sitting in the van in the rain and looking across Ramsey Sound towards Ramsey Island. But it might as easily be digging potatoes or making pickle, singing or finding an orchid or just sitting. But it sure as hell doesn't mean getting a promotion, beasting your co-workers or being obsequious to power, which ensured that my rise to greatness in the Church of England flatlined 30 years ago after about 2 days. But I'm still here and still searching for that elusive sweet spot, and I don't have to please anyone any more. Over the last 50 or so years we've had a succession of gardens, some more like wildernesses when we were both working full-time, but now we're back in the game with our two allotments in Bath.

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