Tag Archives: literature
December 13, 2016

A weekend of stargazing and winter joy in Exmoor

A weekend of stargazing and winter joy in Exmoor
Exmoor Blagdon_Cross_Startrails - image darkskytelescopehire.co.uk

Star Trails; Exmoor – image darkskytelescopehire.co.uk

“Starry, starry night …” Don McLean and Vincent Van Gogh would love Exmoor at night. I have NEVER seen such a star-studded sky in the UK, as the one I saw whilst staying at West Withy Farm Holiday Cottages. On arrival on the edge of Exmoor, the night sky took my breath away. Ablaze with a myriad of sparkling lights, it looked as if a child had thrown a huge bag of glitter up into the darkness.  It was almost impossible to make out familiar constellations such as The Plough and Orion because they were embedded within so many others. The Milky Way arched overhead in a whirling mass. With virtually 360° visibility in this area and very little human habitation, it’s not surprising that Exmoor was named Europe’s first Dark Sky Reserve.

Stargazing in Exmoor

Telescope in Upton Cottage - West Withy Farm Exmoor

Telescope in Upton Cottage

Ian, owner of West Withy Farm, showed me round Upton Cottage, a converted haybarn, which sleeps 5 in homely comfort. In the lounge a large telescope sat waiting to be used; you can hire it by the day here and the garden has a plinth on which to use it. On the second night, astronomer Seb Jay of Dark Sky Telescope Hire came over to give a talk on astronomy and the skies overhead. It was cloudy so we didn’t use the telescope, but he had a ‘live-sky’ programme on his laptop to show the constellations, asteroids and planets that had been so clear the night before. It was a fascinating evening and I learnt a great deal about our amazing universe …

Exmoor star gazing with Seb Jay

Astronomer Seb Jay

Over the weekend I visited a number of interesting places in Exmoor: here are a few highlights.

Dulverton, Exford and Simonsbath

Exmoor signpost in Exford - image zoedawes

Signpost in Exford

The pretty village of Dulverton has got a number of independent retailers, including boutiques and antique shops, plus a good variety of pubs, cafes and restaurants. I had dinner at Woods Bar and Restaurant; a warm ,welcoming place, combining a pub atmosphere with quality dining. Owner Paddy is passionate about seasonal local food, sourcing much of it off his own farm, and wine; he has over 400 to choose from. (It’s been National Wine Pub of the Year for 5 years running.) I can highly recommend the confit of lamb shoulder; meltingly delicious.

Dinner at Woods Dulverton Exmoor

Confit Shoulder of Northcombe Lamb

The next day I set off to explore more of Exmoor, going through a number of quaint villages with thatched roofs and attractive pubs. At the White Horse Inn by the bridge in Exford a horse and rider trotted by as Christmas decorations were being put up.

Exford and river Exe Exmoor


In Simonsbath, a tiny hamlet, the smell of sawdust filled the air as a young man cut up logs beside the River Barle. The moor spread out all around as I headed towards the coast and two of Exmoor’s most well-known towns.

Lynton and Lynmouth

Lynmouth Exmoor - photo zoedawes

Lynmouth and Cliff Railway

I remember visiting Lynmouth with family on a hot, sunny day a few years ago. It was really busy and delightful. In winter the museum, chippie and souvenir shops may be closed but you can wander along the jetty overlooking  the river mouth and get a real feel for its historic and literary past. In the early 19th C the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley stayed here briefly with his young wife, Harriet. The Rising Sun Hotel is a picturesque sight with its thatched roof and excellent position overlooking the boat-bobbing harbour. Above the excellent Exmoor National Park Visitor Centre is the Pavilion Dining Room with great views over the Bristol Channel.

Lyton Town Hall Exmoor

Lynton Town Hall

The Cliff Railway, open between February and mid-November, connects Lynmouth to Lynton. It fits the ‘eco-traveller’ remit as its two carriages use the weight of water to pull them up and down. Lynton has a genteel Victorian air with some decent touristy shops and a splendid Town Hall, somewhat larger and fancier than you’d expect in such a small town. Not far away is the Valley of Rocks, a fairy-tale collection of rocky towers and hillocks with a splendid cliff-walk. It’s exhilarating and uncrowded in the winter months.


Porlock Exmoor


Apparently Coleridge was interrupted in the composition of his epic opium-induced poem Kubla Khan, by a ‘person from Porlock‘. On the day I visited, the people of Porlock were more intent on getting ready for Christmas, than visiting poets. It’s the heart of Lorna Doone country, as the local hotel indicates, and Porlock Bay Oysters are in great demand. They are the first Pacific Oyster site in England & Wales to achieve the top A classification. Sadly none were available when I was there; a good reason to go back.


Dunster by Candlelight Exmoor - image zoedawes

Dunster by Candlelight

Possibly the most famous festival in Exmoor, Dunster by Candlelight is a glorious event held over two evenings in the run-up to Christmas. The medieval town opens its doors to visitors from around the world. The shops are brightly-lit, candles decorate the streets, performers entertain the crowds and a procession of costumed revellers carries a stag shoulder-high, accompanied by musicians and enthusiastic participants. I got the Park and Ride from nearby Minehead and spent a magical few hours watching the fun, wandering round the shops and enjoying carol-singing in Dunster Castle.

Read more about Dunster by Candlelight here

Exmoor Ponies

Exmoor ponies at Foreland Point - image zoedawes

Exmoor ponies

No visit to Exmoor would be complete without seeing the hardy Exmoor Ponies. Living all over Exmoor National Park, there are particular places you’re more likely to find them. I saw them on Haddon Hill, overlooking Wimbleball Lake and also at National Trust Foreland Point, on the rolling moorland road between Lynmouth and Porlock. They roam freely across the moors, but are not truly wild, being owned and looked after by various people. You can get fairly close but don’t try to touch them. In winter their thick coats give them extra protection against all weathers. Exmoor also has herds of wild red deer and plenty more interesting wildlife.

Exmoor National Park Visitor Centre

Exmoor National Park

Many thanks to Visit Exmoor for hosting my weekend, and to Ian and Lorena of West Withy Farm for their warm welcome, hospitality and invaluable advice on what to see in this beautiful area in south west England. Check out their website for details of stargazing weekends – a whole new world could open up for you …

Quirky Travel Guide to West Withy Farm 

July 13, 2016

‘Oh, the places you’ll go!’ Life’s adventure with Dr Seuss

‘Oh, the places you’ll go!’ Life’s adventure with Dr Seuss

Dr Seuss Oh the places you'll go

Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!

The opening words of ‘Oh, the places you’ll go’, a delightful little book by Dr Seuss, are positive and life-affirming. They also epitomize the philosophy of many of us who choose to set off to Great Places as often as we possibly can. These places may be real; a holiday on a sun-kissed island like Menorca, a trek through the Australian Bush, a train journey through the Swiss Alps, a boat trip to watch bears in Canada or a meander beside an English lake. But they could equally be places we go metaphorically. The word ‘journey’ is hugely overused these days, but life really is a journey, with all the attendant ups and downs that any literal journey brings …

‘Oh, the places you’ll go’ is advice to a young boy who leaves home to explore the world. He’s told that he’s in charge of his own life and can make his own decisions on what direction to his journey will take.

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You’re on your own.  And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.

The book, written as a poem, takes the lad through highs and lows, assuring him that, ‘You’ll be on your way up, You’ll be seeing great sights, You’ll join the high fliers who soar to the heights.’  But then there are the lows and attendant problems.

You can get so confused
that you’ll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…

We’re all familiar with the ‘Waiting Place’ where people are just,

Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or a No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting …

Escaping from this dreary place, the boy is told he’ll escape to find the, bright places where Boom Bands are playing’ and he’ll ride high. And so he will go on, becoming successful and seeming to have everything in life until one day, whether he likes it or not, ‘Alone will be something you’ll be quite a lot.’ It’s very unusual for a children’s book, for that is what ‘Oh, the places you’ll go’ was written as, to address loneliness. Yet that is something most of us will experience at some time in our lives, and some people are lonely a lot of the time.

All Alone from Oh the places you'll go by Dr Seuss

However, in the realistic but upbeat tone of the book, Dr Seuss says he will overcome the things that scare him right out of his pants, in spite of getting mixed up with ‘strange birds’ and the ‘frightening creek’. Through it all he’s counselled to, ‘Step with great care and great tact’, and to remember that ‘Life’s a Great Balancing Act’. The story ends with these positive words,


be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray

or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,

You’re off to Great Places!

Today is your day!

Your mountain is waiting.

So … get on your way!

Dr Seuss Oh the places you'll go - book

So, what are you waiting for? Today is YOUR day, your mountain is waiting … now get on your way 🙂

May 9, 2015

5 fascinating places in Northern France

5 fascinating places in Northern France

Often when taking the ferry from Dover to Calais, we’re on a mission to get to Paris, the Cote d’Azur or heading off across Europe. However, it can make a pleasant change to hop across the Channel and take time to explore nearby Nord-Pas de Calais.

Galerie du Temps Louvre Lens France - photo Zoe Dawes www.thequirkytraveller.com

Galerie du Temps – Louvre Lens

Here are 5 places that epitomise Northern France in its history, culture and food, all within about an hour’s drive from Calais.

Montreuil sur Mer

Montreuil sur Mer Citadel - image www.tourisme-montreuillois.com

Montreuil sur Mer Citadel – image www.tourisme-montreuillois.com

The name of this quaint little town is rather misleading as it is no longer ‘sur mer’, the sea having retreated some distance over the years. However, it retains strong reminders of its days as a significant medieval port. Montreuil Citadel walls still stand and within its fortified protection the pretty cobbled streets have many attractive big old houses, built in its sea-faring heyday. I went to Montreuil-sur-Mer because I’d read ‘Les Miserables’ and heard that Victor Hugo had visited briefly. It clearly made a big impact on him.

‘Montreuil is the setting for part of Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserables, where it is identified only as M____-sur-M__ in past translations. The protagonist, Jean Valjean (going by the name Father Madeleine), is for a few years the mayor of Montreuil, as well as owner of the local factory, and it is where the character Fantine lives, works, and later becomes a prostitute before dying in a local hospital. Hugo had spent several vacations in Montreuil.’ Wikipedia. Here’s a lovely description of Montreuil and Victor Hugo’s visit. There are excellent shops selling local produce including wonderful pastries, cheeses and divine chocolates.

Saint Omer

Saint-Omer Town Hall - image Paul Hermans

Saint-Omer Town Hall – image Paul Hermans

You may know the name Saint Omer from the little bottles of beer you get in some supermarkets; the Brasserie de Saint-Omer has been brewing beer here since 1866. I have vivid memories of a little restaurant in the back streets, a leisurely, deliciously simple lunch and a carafe of excellent wine – and not wanting to leave to get our ferry back from Calais. I also remember impressive Notre Dame Cathedral with a very ornate organ. The elegant domed Town Hall has a delightful Italian-style theatre (and some rather mediocre paintings).  There’s a small Archaeological Museum had some interesting artefacts. La Coupole, the Nazi War Bunker built to store V2 rockets during WWII is one of the town’s main attractions with an impressive 3D planetarium. Take time for a stroll along the banks of the attractive canal towards the Lys River.


Painting of Fat'h Ali Shah painting and sculpture Louvre Lens - photo Zoe Dawes

Painting of Fat’h Ali Shah and sculpture – Louvre Lens

For over 150 years Lens was the centre of coal-mining in this part of France. When the mines closed it looked like the town would lose its heart. In a radical act of creative imagination, it was decided to build Louvre-Lens, the little sister of the mighty Louvre Museum in Paris, on the site of an old mine. The Galerie du Temps, an airy space of great simplicity,  showcases over 200 artworks displayed in chronological order It gives a unique opportunity to see some of the best pieces from the Louvre in an exhibition that changes every few months. It’s a pleasure to be able to get up close to ancient sculptures, delicate pottery and superb paintings and have time to take it all in, rather than rushing about as you so often have to do in huge galleries.


Arras Bell Tower at night France - photo Zoe Dawes

Arras Bell Tower at night

The lovely town of Arras has an air of relaxed insouciance at odds with its tortured history as a battleground during the First and Second World Wars. Beneath the town lies a network of tunnels and Wellington Quarry, where thousands of Allied soldiers waited before emerging into the midst of enemy lines.  It has two impressive squares dating from the 17th and 18th centuries. In one, the Bell Tower of Arras is a UNESCO World Heritage site ‘part of the World Inheritance of Humanity’. The other has Flemish-style buildings, many of which house excellent shops, restaurants and bars, gathering a lively crowd of visitors day and night.

Vimy Ridge

Vimy Ridge Canadian monument - image Zoe Dawes

Vimy Ridge Canadian Monument

A sombre memorial stands guard over the scene of one of the worst battles in WWI. On April 9th 1917, Canadian soldiers stormed the Ridge held by German troops, and eventually, after three days of fighting alongside British soldiers, they captured this strategic position. The Vimy Ridge National Historic Site of Canada is a tribute to the many Canadians who fought and lost their lives in the First World War. The inscription on the monument, reads: To the valour of their countrymen in the Great War and in memory of their sixty thousand dead this monument is raised by the people of Canada.

The enormous white towers bear the maple leaves of Canada and the fleur-de-lys of France. At the top are figures representing Peace and Justice, below two more representing Truth and Knowledge. On either side of the steps are male and female mourning figures. The battlefield still bears the marks of shell holes. Large mine craters are now covered in grass. A few of the trenches, places of unimaginable horror in the past, are conserved; today kiddies race through them, blissfully unaware of that hard-won freedom!

P&O ferry Dover to Calais - image Zoe Dawes

I wrote this article about Northern France in collaboration with P&O Ferries

December 23, 2014

‘Twas the Night before Christmas …’ a magical festive poem

'The Night Before Christmas' Grandreams pop-up book
'The Night Before Christmas' Grandreams pop-up book

‘The Night Before Christmas’ Grandreams pop-up book

I can still remember the simple joy of reading ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’ to my six-month old son as he lay in his cot on Christmas Eve. His bedroom, decorated with ‘Winnie the Pooh’ and Beatrix Potter figures, was dimly lit and cosy. His Dad was downstairs wrapping presents and the smell of freshly baked mince pies drifted up the stairs. Alex was getting sleepy and had no idea what this time of year meant. But I did. We’d been given the greatest gift on earth; a baby to love and cherish. It was 1997 and I’d bought Grandreams Mini Pop-up Storybooks for his very first Christmas. There were six delightful little festive tales beautifully illustrated with cut-out pop-ups. One of them was the famous poem‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’.  

'Twas the night before Christmas'  poem by Clement C Moore 19th C image America

‘Twas the night before Christmas’

It was originally published anonymously in 1823 as ‘A Visit from St Nicholas’ and a number of people claimed authorship  but in 1837 it was attributed to American poet Clement Clarke Moore, though its author has never been definitively identified. According to legend,  the poem was composed by Moore on a snowy winter’s day during a shopping trip on a sleigh. His inspiration for the character of Saint Nicholas was a local Dutch handyman as well as the historical Saint Nicholas. Here we meet Father Christmas (St Nicholas) with his cheery face and portly figure, bag of toys and reindeer-drawn sleigh. Reindeer Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder and Blitzen – but no Rudolph yet.

It is now a Christmas classic and has been reprinted hundreds of times, set to music and recorded by many. It has become a tradition around the globe to read this poem on Christmas Eve, sending children to sleep with visions of toy-filled stockings and the exciting day to come.


by Clement Clarke Moore

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter’s nap,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”

Twas the night before Christmas - by Clement C Moore

‘Twas the Night before Christmas …’

My son is now a big teenager but at some point on Christmas Eve, we’ll find 5 minutes to read this poem from the same book, as we have done every year since 1997. Maybe one day he’ll have his own child to carry on this lovely tradition shared with children all over the world …

October 17, 2013

‘Days of Ukraine’ comes to the London

‘Days of Ukraine’ comes to the London
Musician Oleg Skrypka and artist Anatoliy Kryvolap at Days of Ukraine launch in Kiev

Musician Oleg Skrypka and artist Anatoliy Kryvolap at Days of Ukraine launch in Kiev

Having attended the Days of Ukraine press launch in Kiev, it’s very exciting to know that the festival starts today in London, showcasing the very best of Ukrainian culture including fashion, music, art and literature.  This intriguing country is a fascinating mixture of proud heritage and contemporary ideas with cutting edge musicians, artists, fashion designers and writers taking their rightful place on the world stage.  For three jam-packed days the UK has a wonderful opportunity to see what Ukraine has to offer.

Ukraine ballet dancer Tetiana Lyozova

Tetiana Lyozova

Days of Ukraine in the United Kingdom runs from Thursday October 17th to Saturday 19th, 2013.  On October 17th there is Gala opening and in the evening a series of evetns including ‘Autumn is so lovely’  by artist Zinaida Lihacheva, clasical music concert by Myroslav Skoryk with orchestra, Bass singer Serhiy Magera and ballet dancers Ivan Putrov and Tetiana Lyozova.  

Painting by Ukraine artist Vinny Reunov

Painting by Vinny Reunov

On October 18th the Ukrainian Art Exhibition opens at the Saatchi Gallery, curated by Igor Abramovitch featuring Anatoliy Kryvolap, Victor Sydorenko, Oleg Tistol and many others. It runs for 2 weeks and entry is free.  The programme culminates in an outdoor extravaganza in Potters Field Park where there will be plenty of fun for all the family. The Ethnic Festival and Concert starts at 1.30pm and runs until 8pm – free admission. There’ll be ethnic dancing, folk music, a classical concert, a dance class and one of Ukraine’s most famous rock stars, Oleg Skrypka who played a major role in setting up the ‘Days of Ukraine’.

Oleg Skrypka and Le Grand Orchestra

Oleg Skrypka and Le Grand Orchestra

You can have a taste of Ukrainian cuisine, try your hand at Cossack games and buy traditional Ukrainian crafts plus lots more to see, all celebrating the very best of Ukraine.

Days of Ukraine fashion designs

Days of Ukraine fashion designs


October 13, 2013

“Ode To Autumn” – in praise of a season of bountiful beauty

“Ode To Autumn” – in praise of a season of bountiful beauty
Autumn trees by Windermere in the Lake District - Zoe Dawes

Autumn trees in the Lake District

What’s your favourite season?  In Britain we still have quite clearly defined changes around the year, keeping us on our toes and providing endless conversation topics in lifts around the country. Winter gives us frosty mornings, skeletal trees and occasional snow falls carpeting the land in muffled beauty.  Spring bursts forth with its gambolling lambs, cheerful daffodils and the brightest green you’ve ever seen.  Summer brings the (often unfulfilled) promise of balmy evenings when swallows swoop, BBQs proliferate and we flock to the beaches like lemmings to a cliff edge.  And then there’s Autumn; my favourite season by a country mile …

Autumn produce at Helmsley Walled Garden, Yorkshire - by Zoe Dawes

Autumn produce at Helmsley Walled Garden

I love the fiery reds of Virginia Creeper rampaging across old houses, deep orange pumpkins and wobbly-skinned squashes, crinkly, crunchy falling leaves, misty, moisty mornings with dew-bejewelled spiders’ webs, peaty, damp walks through fading woods and the smell of bonfire smoke drifting into steepy grey skies.  John Keats sums up its appeal in his much-quoted ode ‘To Autumn’.  Here it is, with some photos that hopefully capture a little of Autumn’s spectacular performance heralding the end of Mother Nature’s Greatest Show On Earth.

Vines in Prague in Autumn - by Zoe Dawes

Vines in Prague

To Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun

Conspiring with him how to load and bless

With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;

To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,

And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;

To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells

With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,

And still more, later flowers for the bees,

Until they think warm days will never cease,

For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Apples at Helmsley Walled Garden, Yorkshire - by Zoe Dawes

Apples at Helmsley Walled Garden

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?

Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find

Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,

Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;

Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,

Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook

Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:

And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep

Steady thy laden head across a brook;

Or by a cider-press, with patient look,

Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Autumn trees in Cumbria - by Zoe Dawes

Autumn trees in Cumbria

Where are the songs of Spring?

Ay, where are they?

Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,

While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,

And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;

Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn

Among the river sallows, borne aloft

Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;

And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;

Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft

The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;

And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Windermere in Autumn - Lake District - by Zoe Dawes

Windermere in Autumn

The Lake District in Autumn is a great time to visit – so much colour and very often fine days. On a visit to North Yorkshire, I discovered Helmsley Walled Garden, which has 52 different varieties of apples, most of which are fruiting in October.

Helmsley orchard apples yorkshire - photo zoedawes

Helmsley orchard apples

The garden, overlooking Helmsley Castle has many other fruits, flowers, shrubs and tree and worth a visit if you’re in the area. (Check opening times.)

July 29, 2013

‘The Tyger’ by William Blake and International Tiger Day

‘The Tyger’ by William Blake and International Tiger Day

International Tiger DayJuly 29th, was founded at the Saint Petersburg Tiger Summit in 2010 to celebrate this majestic animal’s very existence but, more importantly, to try to prevent its total extinction. Many animal welfare organisations pledged to help these wonderful creatures and are still working hard to raise funds to reach this goal. The aim of Tiger Day is to “promote the protection and expansion of the wild tigers’ habitats and gain support through awareness for tiger conservation.”

Bengal Tiger India - photo c/o www.indusexperiences.co.uk

Bengal Tiger India – photo www.indusexperiences.co.uk

As an English Literature student many years ago, I had to learn “The Tyger”, a poem by the English poet William Blake. It was published as part of his collection Songs of Experience in 1794.

'The Tyger' original William Blake printed c 1795

‘The Tyger’ original William Blake printed c 1795

Most modern anthologies have kept Blake’s choice of the spelling “tyger”. It was a common spelling of the word at the time but already “slightly archaic” when he wrote the poem.  Therefore, his choice of “the tyger” is often interpreted as being for effect, perhaps to render an “exotic or alien quality of the beast”,  or because it’s not really about a tiger at all, but a metaphor for beauty in the beast.

The tiger (Panthera tigris) is the largest cat species and the world’s 3rd largest land carnivore Its most recognizable feature is a pattern of dark vertical stripes on reddish-orange fur with a lighter underside. In zoos, tigers live for 20 to 26 years, which also seems to be their longevity in the wild. They are territorial and generally solitary but social animals, often requiring large  areas of habitat to support their hunting needs.

Of the nine known tiger subspecies, only six now remain in the wild: the Bengal, Indochinese, Malayan, Amur (aka Siberian) Sumatran and South China tigers.

The Worldwide Fund For Nature (WWF) is one of the leading organisations working to protect and support the tiger.  They say, “The tiger is the biggest, the most iconic, and also one of the most endangered of all cats. Over the last century wild tiger numbers have fallen disastrously, by more than 95% – mainly due to poaching and the destruction of forests and other habitats they need for survival.”  There are only around 3,200 tigers left in the wild. With our help they aim to double that number by 2022.

There are many places you can see these beautiful animals including local zoos doing important conservation work, such as Cumbria’s South Lakes Wild Animal Park helping to save the Amur Tiger.  And of course there are Tiger Tours that bring much needed money to the poorer regions of the world struggling to maintain their own lifestyles whilst preserving the tiger’s habitat.

Bengal Tiger India lying down - photo c/o www.indusexperiences.co.uk

Bengal Tiger lying down – photo www.indusexperiences.co.uk

At the end of Yann Martel‘s magically moving story The Life of Pi the last we see of the tiger, Richard Parker, is him slowly disappearing into the jungle and the author writes,  “I wept like a child … I was weeping because Richard Parker had left me so uncermoniously. I wish I had said to him then, ‘Richard Parker, it is over. We have survived … And now go where you must. You will always be in my heart.'”

Tigers will always be in our heart – it is up to us to help them survive …

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