Wild West Yorkshire nature diary
common sealblack dog

Haddocks' Eyes

Friday 30th June 2000
next day nature diary previous day back
Nature Diary     Rocks     History     Workshop     Links     Home Page    
WHEN WE REACH a bench on the old railway walk between Runswick Bay and Kettleness we're surprised when the lambs resting alongside it don't run off. The one sitting behind us nudges and nuzzles us as we drink our flask of Earl Grey. It jumps up between us and gets stuck with its front legs hanging over the front of the bench and its hind legs dangling behind.

We're telling the story to a man in the village who has just been calling back his runnaway dog. He tells us that he was once out on the beach with his two dogs and they raced on ahead up the cliff path, over a style and, by the time he'd caught up with them, they'd got into a field of sheep and rounded them all up into a corner.

lamb-like dogblack dog He gave the dogs a good telling off and put them on their leads. But, as he walked them across the field, three of the lambs ran up to them, as if to say 'aren't you going to play with us?'

Suddenly his dog is off again. This time it's going after a hiker's dog. It soon has it rounded up. The little dog it has cornered looks remarkably like a lamb.

duck and toddlerOn the beach at Sandsend a Mallard duck approaches a picnicking toddler.

Whitby's White Rabbit Trail

common seal In Whitby harbour, a stone's throw from the fish and chip shops, the amusement arcades and the Dracula Experience, there's a seal resting, floating with just its head above water in the middle of the river. It dives under and a minute or so later surfaces with a silvery fish in its mouth. Soon Herring Gulls swoop down at it and it dives again. Although we wait and watch for a few minutes, we don't see it emerge again. It has a round head and, what seems to me a smaller snout than the grey seals I sketched on Skokholm Island last month. I don't notice much in the way of spots and streaks on its head. I guess that it is a Common or Harbour Seal, which is smaller than the grey.

wild cabbage Wild Cabbage grows at the foot of the rockface at the Khyber Pass, the hairpin bend by the harbour. Some of the leaf stems are tinged with red, the seedpods look like curly beanpods (I wonder if they might have caught a little overspray from weedkiller used on the pavements?) and there are still one or two four-petalled yellow flowers. The stem bears a series of leaf scars, so it looks like the trunk of a palm tree. This plant may have originated as a garden plant and reverted to its original form when it escaped into the wild, via a seed spread by a bird.

We take a look at some of the Carrollian connections along Whitby's White Rabbit Trail, devised by the local Civic Society. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898), better known as Lewis Carroll certainly knew Whitby well, but did the town provide any of the inspiration for the Alice books?
There are certainly a few griffins in the town in decorative sculpture, on a coat of arms and on in the name of a pub. The trail points out that;
'Lewis Carroll wrote to his sister about a school feast held in the Abbey grounds. A heavy shower of rain soaked everyone so the children ran races to dry out. Did this give him the idea for the Caucus-race in 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland'? ('Everybody has won and all must have prizes')'

His first published work, The Lady of the Ladle, a satirical poem set in Whitby, appeared in the Whitby Gazette in August, 1854.

I expect it would be possible to read any number of Whitby connections into the surreal world of the Alice. Here's one that occurs to me;

Haddocks' Eyes and Whitby Jet?

There's a close proximity of fishing port and moorland at Whitby. In the Victorian period the town was famous for Whitby Jet. Pieces of fossilised Jurassic wood, of a similar species to the Monkey Puzzle, were mined from local cliffs or picked up on the shore to be cut and polished to make black, shiny jewellery. Perhaps the town provided some of the inspiration for Haddocks' Eyes, Carroll's parody of the Wordsworth poem Resolution and Independence;

'He said 'I hunt for haddocks' eyes
Among the heather bright,
And work them into waistcoat-buttons
In the silent night.'
Although Through the Looking Glass was published in 1871, this verse was published anonymously in 1856, just two years after Carroll's first visit to Whitby.
There are certainly a lot of fish in Carroll's work and fish continued to figure in the work of the Surrealists and in comedy such as Monty Python. Who knows, the surrealist fish, rather than Dracula, might be Whitby's greatest contribution to literature and the arts.

Whitby's White Rabbit Trail, a walk and quiz devised by Whitby Civic Society is available from the Tourist Information Office in Whitby.

Richard Bell
Richard Bell,
wildlife illustrator

E-mail; 'richard@daelnet.co.uk'

Next day    Previous day   Nature Diary   Wild West Yorkshire home page