Well what a disappointment!  Right up until last night the forecast was for sunny periods today but we woke up to the familiar cloudy skies.  It was very cold last night and we should perhaps have put up the special thermal blanket over the windows.  We will tonight!

However, never to be put off by a few clouds, we headed off to the Wetlands centre at Slimbridge but decided to go via St Mary’s church at Berkeley – just a few miles away.  12th century Berkeley Castle is an enormous great pile but closed for the winter now except on Sundays and Thursdays.  Edward II was apparently murdered there in a particularly nasty way and it has remained in the same family all its life – quite remarkable.  The small town of Berkeley contains many shops and businesses, most of which have Berkeley in their name.  One of the few that hasn’t is the local Chinese take-away – no doffing of the metaphorical cap there.

Its other claim to fame is its connection to Dr Edward Jenner who, in 1798, pioneered a successful vaccination against smallpox – the scourge of England at the time.  He had long suspected that the more common cowpox prevented a person from contracting smallpox.  In 1796 when a local dairymaid was diagnosed with cowpox after one of her cows had contracted it, Jenner conducted an experiment by scratching the arm of his gardener’s eight-year old son, James Phipps, and rubbing it with some of the material from the dairymaid’s pocks.  James became mildly ill a few days later but it soon passed.  Jenner then injected him with smallpox virus and much to everyone’s relief discovered, as he expected, that the boy was immune.  This was a turning point in the history of vaccination.

Jenner’s house contains a museum dedicated to his important work and in the lane that leads up to the church there is a small house which has a plaque saying that the house was given to James Phipps in return for being the human guinea-pig in Dr Jenner’s experiment.  No  more than he deserved I think.

St Mary’s church has an imposing separate bell tower and contains, as one would expect, many memorials to the Berkeley family and, of course, to Dr Jenner.








The present church was built in the 13t century on the site of an earlier Saxon and then Norman church.  The door has evidence of axe marks where it was battered in the Civil War when it formed part of the defences of the Castle.






It has an impressive interior in the Early English tradition with an amazing rood screen and later reredos.

There are effigies to early Berkeleys:







and wonderful stained glass windows:






A colourful memorial to those who died in the Great War:



There were a couple of electricians taking down the 1930’s lanterns – which seemed a shame really but no doubt the the wiring might need a bit of updating!


From Berkeley we drove back to Slimbridge and I took the opportunity of photographing the painting by Sir Peter Scott which hangs above the staircase – Nenes on Mauna Loa, Hawaii (pictured above as the featured image).  According to one of the volunteers, there were 40 new Nenes born at Slimbridge this year.  They are usually the first birds you encounter on your visit – friendly and inquisitive as ever.

We headed off to the hides that we didn’t get to visit last month.  Opening the windows to photograph in the first one nearly blew our heads off – there was a vicious gale blowing through that made it impossible to concentrate!  We quickly decided to move on to the southerly facing ones.

By this time, there was a pale sun over the river Severn and it looked brighter than it had for days.  Pity it was so cold.

No particular surprises but there were plenty of geese, including these Greylag:

and this Canada Goose stretching his wings:






A flock of Golden Plovers suddenly took off:





Peter spotted this pair of Northern Pintails

and this gorgeous Lapwing and Green-winged Teal:

Over at the bird feeders we just missed seeing a Redpoll, according to a chap with a giant lens on his camera.  We had to make do with these less than rare, but just as cute, Chaffinches, Great Tits and Goldfinches:

Note the fact this Great Tit is ringed!


By this time we were fairly frozen, especially our hands (no gloves!) so headed back to Bessie for some lovely hot soup and pork pies.  But not before we passed by this flock of Caribbean flamingoes looking ridiculously exotic on this coldest of autumnal days.

After the soup we couldn’t face going back out so decided to call it a day.  Tomorrow is expected to be bright and sunny – we’re keeping everything crossed!