WoodpeckerJackie’s patience in watching the bird table from her kitchen hide has paid off.  The two most timid feeders are the woodpecker and the blackbird.  BlackbirdThrough the glass of the French windows she managed to photograph each of them this morning.

It was a much cooler and duller day today.  This afternoon we motored out to Burley to buy birthday presents which cannot yet be revealed in this forum.

Depending on how one defines the term grockle, we, once arch grockles, may no longer warrant this disparaging local term.  A grockle, especially in the SW of England, is a tourist or an incomer.  It was Hugh Lowther, sometime in the 1970s or ’80s, in Cumbria who first introduced me to the term.  Although he had spent much of his life outside the area, he, as the eldest son of the Earl of Lonsdale, could definitely consider himself beyond that epithet.

As we drove into the grocklesville that is the New Forest village of Burley, we speculated that the tourists who swarmed around may be thinking that the forest was a wonderful place and they wanted to live there.  And we did live there.  We felt sad for them that, as we wandered into the main street with its gift and tea shops, the rain set in.  On our way back it was windscreen wipers all the way.


Nevertheless, the brave were tucking into New Forest ice cream.

Burley has a reputation for the occult.  Dragons and witches and everything to do with them fill the gift shops.  Indeed, when our granddaughter was younger, Jackie bought many a dragon here for Flo, who, at the age of twelve, created her own dragonology website, such was her fascination with the mythical creatures.

The legend of the dragon originated in olden times.  There was said to be one living in a lair just outside the village.  One local tale is that the monster flew every morning three miles away to Bisterne, where it would be supplied with milk.  It was slain by a man who lay in wait for it and administered the decisive thrust whilst the victim was diverted by his two dogs.  A pedigree roll preserved at Berkeley Castle contains marginalia relating the story and naming the hero as Sir Maurice Berkeley, lord of the manor of Bisterne in the 15th century.

WitchcraftLegends should be age-old.  One could therefore feel a little cheated to learn that the witches of Burley, who one may be forgiven for imagining cast their spells at least as long ago as the seventeenth century, were only one person, and she lived there in the late 1950s, when I was in my teens.  To my younger readers this may seem historic, but only if I do.  Sybil Leek, a self-styled white witch, lived then in the village, around which she walked with her pet jackdaw, or familiar, on her shoulder, before she moved to America.  There are a couple of antique shops selling jewellery among other things.  Did the jackdaw, a member of a race of notorious thieves, I wonder, leave a hoard for these shopkeepers to discover and market?  And does Sybil retain the power to look down on her one-time home and see the industry she has spawned?

Unable to resist the temptation to serve up my third roast pork dinner in four days, Jackie did so.  Rice pudding and custard was to follow. Only I had the custard.  It was worth being called a philistine for.  I drank some of Terres de Galets cote du Rhone 2012, bottle number 012919.  Jackie’s choice was Prestige de Calvet semillon chardonay 2011.


  1. For all Sir Birkeley’s lustre I don’t think he would muster enough courage with just two dogs to face the Beast. What a delightful story. I had not read this one before.

      1. I am always interested by what you have to say historically. I find it has the right balance between the anecdote and the interesting historical fact. You would do well as a tourist guide 🙂

  2. Sir Maurice should have been reported to the RSPCA! Nasty man.
    When we were there, it seemed a thriving new colony of witches was following Sibyl Leek’s tradition.

Leave a Reply