Tanks a Million!

The rehabilitation of my mate G continues at an almost frightening pace, particularly as he is now able to ride his motorcycle again. By that I don’t mean that he is riding his bike at a frightening pace! The great thing is that he has regained his zest for life again and two wheels are largely responsible for that.

We seem to have slipped into a weekly routine of having a worthwhile ride to somewhere specific and take in some good riding roads along the way.

Last week’s excursion saw us on another great “Boys Day Out” as Mrs Dookes is now calling them. Where previously we visited an aviation museum, this time we kept our feet firmly on the ground and set our destination as The Tank Museum in Bovington, Dorset.

The museum traces the history of armoured fighting vehicles and particularly tanks, from their invention over 100 years ago right through to the present day. There are over 300 vehicles on display and it is the largest collection of tanks in the world.

First though we had to get there.

I met G in Exeter at his favourite motorcycle dealership and after a good double espresso we hit the road. I took Baby Blue, partly because she is so comfortable on a transit run, but also because I’m back in love with riding her after some months of mixed emotions, but more of that in another post…

The road east out of Exeter, the A30, is largely fast dual carriageway and although it runs through pleasant enough country it’s pretty boring. At Honiton, once famous for its lace making, we turned onto the A35 and followed it for about 40 miles to Dorchester. Now I always get frustrated with the ’35; it runs through lovely scenery, has enough bends to make it interesting on a bike, but it’s always snarled up with traffic and this morning was situation normal!

On a bike it’s true that you can usually make progress where other vehicles struggle, but even so it becomes hard work and if you are constantly looking for the next overtake opportunity it’s a tad difficult to also look at the scenery!

By Dorchester I was ready for a change and taking a more looping route away from traffic we soon arrived at Bovington.

The museum is located ay Bovington Camp, home of the British Army’s Tank Corps and the place where most tracked vehicle training and repair is carried out by the Army. It’s a busy place and you are just as likely to find a tank scurrying along the surrounding roads as a mail delivery van.

A tank in the car park!

In other words this is big-boys-toys country!

There are seven display halls in the museum. The first, called “The Tank Story Hall,” has a collection of key vehicles displayed in chronological order to show the evolution of tanks through the last 100 years. I found it fascinating and dallied so much that G soon wandered on ahead of me!

“Little Willie” the very first tank.

Incidentally, do you know that the name “Tank” stems from when the British Army were building the first vehicles in 1915? At the time, fearful of espionage, the prefered name of “Armoured Landship” was replaced with “tank” as a subterfuge to explain why vast amounts of boiler plate steel was being built onto track laying chassis….and the name has stuck ever since.

Another hall is dedicated to showing the very first tanks in the context to which they saw action, on the battlefields of France in World War One. This part of the collection struck particular resonance with me after tracing the footsteps and experiences of both my Grandfathers during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. If you missed those posts then please click here to read more. One of the tanks here, which actually saw action during those grim days, is posed in a particularly striking way, as if crossing No-Mans Land and attacking enemy trenches.

Across No-Man’s Land in WW1

As World War 1 tank as seen from the receiving end!

Looking at some of these early tanks, I was struck by their primitive nature and even though they were clad in boiler-plate they were not at all impervious to penetration by anything but the lightest bullet.

Bullet hole in WW1 tank.

They were brave men who took these machines into battle.

I went a bit crazy with my camera, but after a while realised that apart from colour difference one tank begins to look pretty much like any other after a while….I hear sighs from Mrs Dookes in the background! So I resorted to up close and personal stuff, just for entertainment!

Prize exhibit at the museum is Tiger 131, the only original working German Second World War Tiger Tank in the world; incidentally, the majority of the tanks here all still work, how brilliant is that! The added bonus with these being working machines is that they not only look great, but they smell good too…yeah, I know, it’s a bloke thing; axle grease, diesel fuel and gear oil, magic!

Tiger 131, 63tonnes of trouble.

Amongst all this engineering and heavy plant, it’s important not to forget that these are killing machines; they bristle with guns, armour and missiles. Amongst the machismo of ever bigger and more deadly machines there a quiet corners where extraordinary, often tragic tales of bravery and sacrifice are recounted and give the chance for remembrance and contemplation.

Finally, for those of you that are either film or Brad Pitt fans, the tank “Fury” from the 2014 film of the same name is also on display in “as filmed condition, along with some interesting props from the film. The Tiger also appeared in the film unsurprisingly playing the part of one of the bad guys, such is Hollywood!

Fury

Anyway, top marks to the Tank Museum, not only is it a great day out and I highly recommend it, but your admission ticket can be used again as much as you like for up to 12 months; I think that G and I will be back!

Any great day out deserves a great ride home, so once again we struck out to the Jurassic Coast, grabbed an ice-cream in Bridport and just rode the twisties back West. 250miles all in when I got back to Dookes H.Q..

Here’s to the next time.

“I put a Tiger in your tank.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

The Galibier

Yesterday, my good blogging friend AGMA published a post about her love of the Tour de France cycle race. Please pop over to her blog by clicking here and check it out.

Regular blogonaughts may remember that Hogrider Dookes is also rather partial to the “Le Tour” and it is certainly one of my guilty pleasures to sit inside on a bright summer day watching the action on television. My excuse is that live Tour action simply did not exist when Dookes was a lad!

Chris Froome attacks in the mountains.

Today the weather outside is OK, but not great, so not too much guilt is involved…but today is a very special day for “Le Tour,” today the race crosses the iconic Col du Galibier!

Col du Galibier

This was a mountain that I always dreamed of climbing. The domain of Merckx, Zoetemelk, Coppi and Jiméez, it stands at 2645metres, 8678ft, above sea level and has featured in the tour since 1911.

This year “Le Tour” is crossing Galibier from the North side, 18km of climbing at an average gradient of 6.9%….that’s bloody tough! Oh yes, I nearly forgot, they also had to climb Col du Télégraph first, 11.8km at 7.3%!

Galibier is to me the home of “Le Tour” in the high Alps and also for me a place of great spiritual significance. The first time I rode up her glorious majestic slopes I had serious tears running down my cheeks and to be honest it’s not changed much since! I love the place.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go watch a cycle race!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Two Up – Again!

In my last post I said how I’m not wild about having a pillion ride with me on my bikes.

Well, just like waiting for a bus, nothing for ages then two come along almost at once!

First it was G, to go collect his new bike and then last weekend nephew Chris twisted my arm to take him for a ride on Baby Blue. I’ve introduced Chris previously, but if you want to read a bit more about him and his back story then click here.

For the non-riders amongst you let me try to explain…

When I ride a motorcycle solo, it’s just me, the machine and the road.

I suppose it’s a bit elemental, but I definitely get “in tune” with the bike and can “read” the feedback it’s giving me as we progress along our way. Little signals from the bike give me an indication as to how much grip the tyres have, what the road camber is doing as well as how gradients are affecting things. Because I spend so much time riding solo, all this information goes haywire as soon as someone else climbs on the back and the bike feels….weird!

The most obvious thing is the extra weight, even on a big touring bike such as the Harley Davidson Ultra Limited it’s very noticeable. Sometimes there have been pillions trying to ride the bike for me and leaning this way and that, usually at the wrong time. Then there’s that other matter that I call “Wriggle Bum” and that’s basically when the pillion just won’t sit still, particularly at critical moments, such at junctions and intersections; it can quite easily lead to “interesting” domestic conversations!

When I agreed to give Chris a ride, I must admit that lots of thoughts about the above went through my mind.

Chris usually rides a Yamaha 125 on the road and a various trials bikes off it, so he’s well used to the niceties of motorcycling, but this would be his first time as a pillion.

Last Saturday morning we set off from Dookes H.Q. and had a nicely varied ride-out covering around 55 miles of beautiful North Cornwall countryside. We Stopped for petrol and collected some Cornish Pasties for lunch from Aunt Avis at St Kew Highway, before a spirited, though sensible, loop back home.

All smiles, Chris tries out the front seat….
Hands off nephew!


Well I needn’t have worried, Chris was a dream to have sitting on the back!

All the time he sat perfectly still, allowed the motion of the bike to flow under him and basically trusted me to get on with my job of piloting the beast!

Chris, you can ride pillion on Baby Blue anytime!

“I’m cruising fast on a motorcycle down this winding country road.”

Catch you soon

Dookes

Supersonic

Last Wednesday was a day that a few months ago I thought would never come.

Rewind to mid-February.

G had just indulged in his mega horror crash and was propped up in his hospital bed. Tubes came out of him from various places, some of which make my eyes water just thinking about. His wrists were literally held together by bits of metal that poked out through his skin in a crazy lattice of stainless steel and titanium, whilst his leg and knee was supported by a black Kevlar and nylon brace. His bruised face and body gave him the look of a multicoloured Giant Panda… Things, and indeed G, didn’t look great!

Certainly, in those first dark days the last thing on G’s mind was riding a motorbike again….though even on that first morning he still had the need for excitement running deep in him and mused that maybe a sports-car was his way forward.

The days inevitably turned to weeks and the weeks to months. Along the way, he had further operations and procedures, then he got referred to an absolutely brilliant physiotherapist who doesn’t take no for an answer….then the world changed!

Oh wow, has it changed!

Last week I took G for a short ride on the back of Harls, that was a bit weird for both of us really, he doesn’t ride pillion and I’m not over wild about having a passenger on the back either; but it was in a good cause, he was going to collect his new bike!

His brand new Yamaha Super Tenere 1200 has been given a few little tweaks by those nice people at Yamaha UK and the engineers at Bridge Motorcycles in Exeter; little things to make it easier for G to use the controls and a factory Cruise Control system to give him a breather on longer trips.

Best of all though, it put a serious smile back onto my friend’s face and a glint in his eyes that had been missing for too long.

Dull day, shiny new bike!


Unfortunately the day was dull and grey, with intermittent rain showers; not at all the best for getting to know a new machine, let alone on fresh and very slippery tyres. Nonetheless, we looped North West from Exeter and chalked off about 70 leisurely miles before returning safely to G’s castle.

This week though, things were different.

I rode East from Dookes H.Q., filled up Baby Blue in Crediton and met up with G just outside his house, high above the Exe valley. Our destination was the Fleet Air Arm Museum at Yeovilton, about 50 miles away.

I’d be lying to say it was a thoroughly enjoyable ride to the museum; challenging and frustrating would be more like it. The roads were busy and a tad hectic; the A303 in Somerset is notorious for its congestion, but where we were going we really couldn’t avoid it. On the plus side, it didn’t take us very long as our two blue machines ate up the miles in the early morning sunshine.

The Fleet Air Arm is the aviation arm of Britain’s Royal Navy and the Museum is Europe’s largest collection of naval aircraft with helicopters and fixed wing machines. It lies alongside an active Naval Air Station, so there’s always lots of action!

Lynx helicopters on duty on the active Air Station.

The collection tells the complete story of naval aviation from its embryonic beginnings to the present day. The museum is also the final resting place of supersonic transport prototype Concorde 002, so definitely worth a visit.

Yes this really was going to be a great boys day out!

On arrival at the museum we quickly got changed out of our riding gear, it was far to hot to be in that all day!

The museum is split into four different halls, each presenting a different facet of Naval Aviation, though not really in a cohesive chronological order.

There were examples of many famous naval aircraft on display and a few old favourites of mine such as this dinky little Dragonfly helicopter; I can remember these as a lad and I had a really nice push along toy of one too!

Another favourite, a Chance Vought F4U Corsair.


One of the display halls is set out as a mocked up deck of an aircraft carrier, which is great and the special effects of aircraft landing and taking off are impressive. The subdued lighting though made it quite difficult to actually see much of the assembled aircraft as their dark grey camouflage colour made them almost disappear into the darkness! The accompanying tour around the various operations rooms of “the carrier” was interesting, though one had to remember that this portrayed a vessel operating in the late 1970’s.

The “Carrier” operations room at action stations.

Things have moved on massively since then!

The final hall was, for me, the highlight of our visit.

Dominating all around is the imposing Concorde 002 prototype G-BSST. As a lad I well remember the first flight of this stunning aircraft, way back in April 1969, just three months before the first Apollo moon landing…what exciting times they were!
A joint Anglo-French project, Concorde would go on to be the first and to date, only, successful supersonic airliner. The tragic events of July 2000 in Paris when an Air France Concorde was damaged by debris on take off and subsequently crashed would eventually lead to the types withdrawal from service, but for decades Concorde represented the very pinnacle of commercial aviation.

Concorde 002 was the aircraft that proved all the theoretical mathematics correct and the data it collected as it smashed through the sound barrier at Mach 2.0 at an altitude of 60,000ft paved the way for the pre-production aircraft that were to follow.

Concorde, sexy from any angle!

Visitors are allowed to pass through and inspect this iconic aircraft up close. Inside most of the original test equipment is still in place, itself quite an eye-opener as this was well before the age of miniaturised electronics! The flight deck is just as it was left after the last flight in 1976, what a wonderful place to go to work!

The pilots control in Concorde 002.

Alongside the supersonic marvel are a number of other interesting experimental aircraft. Some, such as the Fairey Delta Two and the Handley Page 115, played a part in the development of Concorde.

Handley Page 115

The Hawker P1127 was the forerunner of the incredible BAC Harrier, the worlds first vertical takeoff and landing fixed-wing aircraft, it could not only hover, but could fly backwards too!

Hawker P1127

I could have spent hours in this one hall alone.

In due course and after lunch it was time to move on. In scorching sunshine we pulled on our riding gear and hit the road.

As it was too nice to just turn West towards home, we headed South to Weymouth and followed the lovely Jurassic Coast through Abbotsbury, West Bay and Lyme Regis.

The Jurassic Coast at West Bay, what a lovely day!

As yet the peak visitor numbers haven’t been reached, but the coast road was definitely busier than normal and slowed up by motor-homes and caravans, not too much of a problem for a couple of motorbikes though!

Following on behind G as we roared out of Lyme Regis, I mused how things could have turned out so differently, yet here I was riding with my mate again, life can be good sometimes!

“On a summers day, when thoughts are drifting far away
And life is good and real to see…”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Trip Planning

Regular visitors my blog, The “Blogonaughts,” may probably be wondering why I haven’t been hitting the road for another epic type trip.

The months of June and July have, sort of, become my default time for going off exploring, with long hours of Northern Hemisphere sunshine and school holidays still a month or more away. Yes, I avoid school holidays!

So why am I not heading out exploring?

Well, there are a number of different reasons…

First up, I’ve just been crazy busy over the past few months. The maintenance of Dookes H.Q and various bits of charity work that I do have certainly kept me off the streets, literally.

Then there was G’s crash and injury, which has seen me zipping back and forth to support him and has left me feeling a bit flat about the whole business of riding motorcycles.

It wasn’t just G.

My oldest mate “Vifferman” took a tumble and wrote off his Honda, in atrocious wet conditions, just before Christmas and recently nephew Chris had a crazy woman step out in front of his trials bike one evening after dark; fortunately no-one was seriously hurt in either case, however as a result, I’ve been feeling a little like “the last man standing!”

Viff’s second-hand Honda.


It’s all OK though, having freed myself up from over commitments I can see the light at the end of the tunnel; G is on the mend, Chris is young and unshaken, Viff is, well, just Viff!

Which is why my thoughts have been turning towards trip planning!

At this moment I can hear Mrs Dookes sighing. You see I’m a bit of a map nerd; I’d rather spend an hour poring over a map than reading a magazine or newspaper…it’s the Navigator in me! As a result I’ve always got inspiration for future trips running through my head and embryonic plans just waiting to be developed, cunning eh?

Where are you thinking of going, then Dookes? I hear you say.

Well the list isn’t as long as you’d think…

Home Nations wise I’ve long harboured a wish to do a tour of the UK taking in Wales (naturally), Scotland, England and Ireland.
I always seem to have some unfinished business somewhere and the Alps and Dolomites are in my mind on that score.
I’d quite like to take a gentle foodie trundle around Spain and Portugal’s non-touristy areas.
Parts of Eastern Europe have always appealed to me, such as Hungary and Romania, so I’d throw in some of the Balkans there as well.
Finally, I really want to go explore Scandinavia, especially North of the Arctic Circle.
Needless to say, my beloved France would almost certainly be included in most of the above!

That’s about it really…for now.

Now, where to????


I did ponder whether I should have called this post “Route Dreaming,” but a dream stays that, just a dream – an abstract swirl of misty ideas. No my friends, these are places that I will really ride to and as such I have the plans to prove it.

So how do I go about putting together a route plan?

Well, I start with the basic target of somewhere to go, the final destination. Taking Dookes H.Q. as the starting point, that gives me the beginning and end. Next I do some research on interesting or historic places to visit along the way, like the Chapel at Ronchamp, Aigues Mortes or Pont du Gard.

Aigues Mortes

Then its just a matter of finding interesting twisty roads and joining up the dots; simple really. If any of this comes across as ‘teaching Grandma how to suck eggs,’ then I apologise, but I really get lots of people asking how I do my route planning.

Pont du Gard, It’s Roman and very old!


Oh yes, factoring in accommodation is pretty important too and detours have been known to sample particular food delicacies; as my late mate Floyd once said, “To know a country, you must eat a country!”

Only the French serve food like this…


So there you are, the Dookes route-planning machine is alive, well and currently very active.

The question is:
Which one of the destinations on the list above will I attack first?

Well I’m not going to give anything away at this stage, build the suspense and keep you all guessing eh?

I’m thinking that 2600 miles and six countries should do it…

In September.

Now if you’ll excuse me I’m off to do a spot of map reading!

“I just know where I want to be,
Forever wandering, forever travelling.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Ride a White Swan

Ten years ago I sat on an East-bound Boeing watching the bright stars shining high above the Atlantic before the speeding sun brought an early dawn. Our contrails pointed back towards Chicago. I was heading home after visiting family in the Windy City; family who mean so much to me as the years pass by.

I love flying, but that short night I was troubled.

Just prior to leaving for the USA I had almost concluded a deal to purchase a motorbike, a lovely Pearlescent White Harley Davidson Centenary Softail, but there I was sitting in a 400 tonne cigar tube questioning whether I was doing the right thing….it was a lot of money!

The hostess invited me to close the window blind, I always get amused by that…do they think that someone is looking in from the outside at 30,000 feet altitude at night? I politely declined and explained that I was Astro-navigating, I was left alone, probably classed as a nut case…and back to my pondering.

In due course the wheels touched down at London Heathrow and we were launched into the machine that all long-haul travellers have to endure; emigration, customs, bureaucracy and of course queuing and standing in line…then it’s off to baggage reclaim.

At London Paddington station we gratefully sank into out First Class seats on the Westbound high-speed train back to Cornwall and relaxed. Mrs Dookes drifted off to sleep as I tackled a bacon sandwich and a cup of black coffee whilst admiring the pleasant English countryside speeding by at 125mph.

Mrs D’s phone buzzed with a text message; I picked it up and glanced at the words on the screen. I gently nudged my wife awake, “Message, not good.”

The text message was to tell us that one of Mrs D’s dearest and oldest friends had died.

Trudie was just 35 when she was taken by cervical cancer.

We knew that she was seriously ill before we flew out to the USA some weeks previously and had spent a beautiful day in her company; but it still came as a shock. No, it was shit….

Trudie; beautiful, delicate, lovely, wonderful, happy, loving Trudie….gone.

I wanted to scream, cry, sob and I host of other things…instead I stared out of the window and saw Trudie’s face in the clouds above the ripening wheat fields speeding past our carriage.

The rest of the journey passed in a blur; then the next two days merged into a mess of jet-lag and grief.

A few days later I was back in my office. The phone rang, it was 09:15.

Mrs Dookes was calling. She cut straight to the chase, “Dad had just called me, my cousin Andy has been found dead!”

It turned out that Andy had suffered a major heart attack in the middle of the night and had been found by his father, collapsed in the bathroom at his home.

Andy had not long turned 40.

I liked Andy, he was a bit of an odd-ball, but we shared many common interests like old machinery and trains; he was a nice bloke.

I put the phone down and stared out of the window. Life is too bloody short and at times bloody unfair.

I picked up the telephone again and dialled the motorcycle dealership.

“About that bike…I’ll pick it up on Friday!”

Ten years later I’m still riding that beautiful white Harley Davidson, that you folks know as “Harls.”

I’m just sorry that Andy never got to hear the rasp of her engine through those shot-gun pipes; and I’m desperately sad that Trudie never got to ride pillion behind me, I’m sure that Mrs Dookes wouldn’t have minded…!

…but you know sometimes I see a shadow in the workshop when I’m working on that bike and start the engine….and on other occasions when I’m riding I could swear that I get a hug, like someone is sitting behind me and has their arms around my waist.

Ten years on, I’ve ridden just about everywhere I’ve ever wanted to on that wonderful bike. I’ve also got a powerful bunch of very special memories forged on that lovely machine, but most of all I still feel that connection with two very special people taken too soon and for them I ride in their memory.

Andy. Trudie. I miss you both and love you still.

Catch the two of you one day.

“Ride it on out like a bird in the sky way
Ride it on out like you were a bird.
Ride a White Swan like the people of the Beltane.”

Dookes

Bees Above My Head.

A long time ago I concluded that the world was a wonderful place and that mankind was truly crazy.

Recent events have served to further cement my viewpoint. A cowardly bombing in Manchester, indiscriminate stabbings in London, hammer attacks in Paris, countless strange decisions by the President of the United States of America and political turmoil in the UK….

It all seems to suggest that by and large our planet would be a whole lot better off without it’s most successfully evolved mammals – us!

Then there are the Bees.

Now, I don’t really need to explain what a Bee is do I? Flying insects known the world over for their role in the pollination of many plant species, making them incredibly important ecologically and commercially.

It is estimated that Bees are worth over £400 million per year to the UK and €14.2 billion to the combined EU economy through the pollination of crops such as apples, tomatoes, peas, beans and soft fruit.

Bees range in size from less than two millimetres to over 39 millimetres long. There are some solitary species of Bee, but most live in ordered social colonies…a bit like humans really!

Bees have been around for millions of years, but in many parts of the world they are in trouble and their numbers are declining.

In some cases this is due to changes in agricultural techniques, which leads in turn to fewer wild flowers. Look at a field of wheat theses days and I bet that you won’t see many wild flowers growing amongst the cereal plants. It’s like a green desert. In the UK it is estimated that we have also lost around 97% of wildflower grassland since 1930, so as Bees rely entirely on flowers for their food, it’s not good news if you are a Bee!

In the last 77 years two native species of Bumble Bee have become extinct here in the UK, it is believed that this is due entirely to loss of habitat. The Honey Bees are having it tough as well; their numbers are struggling against disease and parasites.

At Dookes H.Q. I try to work alongside nature in our garden. I don’t use pesticides or chemical fertilisers and in the sixteen years that we have lived here I have planted literally hundreds of trees and shrubs. In addition, because I am an inherently lazy gardener, things are left a little on the wild side, which has the benefit of providing habitat to a whole host of different wildlife… well that’s my excuse anyway!

Anyway, back to the Bees!

For me, one of life’s simple pleasures is to sit out in the garden on a sunny day and quietly watch the wild world pass by. Top performer is always the humble little Bumble Bee as she busily buzzes from flower to flower-collecting pollen and nectar, humming to herself as she goes by.

One night, a few weeks ago, I was just starting to drift off to sleep when I was sure I could hear a faint humming noise. To start with I thought that Mrs Dookes had left the washing machine switched on downstairs in the kitchen, but no it didn’t sound like that.

Was this some new variation in my ever-present tinnitus? It didn’t seem to be; in fact it seemed to be coming from above me. Oh well, time for sleep!

A few nights later I could hear it again, but maybe a bit louder so time to investigate. Moving around the bedroom it seemed to be coming from near a small hatch to the loft space; I rattled the wooden hatch and was rewarded by an increase in the humming, actually it became a slightly agitated buzz. Hmm!

My initial thought was that Wasps had invaded us, so next morning I set out to investigate and climbed into the loft space via a different hatchway. The loft space in a 300-year-old house is not the nicest of places to craw around, but after a few minutes of attic contortions I arrived above our bedroom and cautiously peeled back the rockwool insulation layers that lie between the ceiling joists.

A Tree Bumble Bee nest, just like the one in our loft!
Photo RM Kelly

The familiar buzzing noise was revealed as about eight bumble bees emerged and started to angrily fly around my hand-held floodlight. There fixed firmly to the top of the hatch was a small cluster of around ten small waxy pots about 25mm tall and 10mm across; this was good news, no annoying Wasps, but busy active Bumble Bees! I quickly replaced the insulation, turned off the floodlight and sat still in the dark for a few minutes. Once the angry buzzing subsided I made my way back out of the loft space and informed Mrs Dookes about our new tenants.[

Further investigation of our new visitors has been quite interesting. It looks like we have a colony of Tree Bumble Bees, Bombus hypnorum, under our roof. This is a relatively new species to the UK, being normally native to Continental Europe, it was first noticed on our shores in 2001 and has been spreading around ever since. Unusually for a newly arrived species, it isn’t harmful to our native flora and best of all is a fantastically hard-working pollinator – which sounds like good news to me!

One of “Our Bees” pollinating chives.

It’s a few weeks now since my initial look at the nest and I estimate that the colony is probably peaking now at around 250-300 Bees, they’ve built quite a few little nest pots now and are happily raising their young. Sadly in a few short months they will start to die out and a new Virgin Queen will emerge, fly the nest, mate and hibernate until she starts her own new colony next Spring.

Chives are very popular!

In the evenings the buzzing of “our bees” is now quite pronounced up in the loft space above our heads; it’s quite restful really. They have distinct conversation patterns and it really is fascinating to listen to them chattering to each other. Fortunately, they are quite considerate and seem to go to sleep at the same time as us too, so no late night ‘Bee Parties’ either!

Outside in the garden we have definitely noticed an increase in the number of bees around our plants and flowers, the black currants are looking particularly good for the extra pollination and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a good crop.

Here’s to you the humble and delightful little Bumble Bee, thank you for gently invading our life and taking my mind off the troubles of our mad world!

“Sail on, sail on my little honey bee, sail on.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes