I had a email yesterday from somebody who has recently moved into an ancient house in the tiny hamlet of Higher Chalmington, a few miles north of me. She is troubled by bees coming down the chimney into the living room and her partner has managed to get himself stung. Of course I have offered to pop over and take a look but we haven’t arranged a time yet and I don’t know which of the half dozen houses is theirs.
I took a look at the map to remind me where it is and, surprise, surprise, I find that it’s on the long ley line of feral bees, some of which have been in place for decades. I have just got streetmap on the screen and laid a ruler along the line. It measures over 20 km.
The line isn’t exactly straight as bees are unaware of the distortions caused by drawing a spherical planet on a plane surface; the changes to the magnetic field and orbital changes. Also, of course, if a suitable hollow isn’t directly on line, they’ll choose the nearest that they can find. I’ve only just noticed, looking at an old OS map to get the place names in order, that the line is very close to the magnetic North/South line in 1960. Now I’ve found a 1927 Bartholomew’s Map when magnetic N was 14.5 degrees W.
At the northern end (possibly it extends further, but I don’t know) bees fly from the mouth of a gargoyle on Evershot Church. Then comes the ancient manor house at Chantmarle where, in 1992, I had a call from the head gardener who told me that a swarm had come from a chimney and that, by banging on a sheet of galvanised iron, he had managed to get them to settle in an apple tree in the smaller kitchen garden. The late bee scientist, John Atkinson, told me that there had been bees in the chimney at Chantmarle up until he left the area in 1948. I did visit Chantmarle back in the mid/late 60s as I had a girl friend (Wendy) living there but I wasn’t into bees then and was more interested in the newts in the moat and Wendy’s Mum’s strawberry teas!
Next comes Holway Farm where, fading memory tells me, the bees were in a wall cavity. Chalmington is close by. Continuing southish, we come to a line of bee-occupied churches: Cattistock, Chilfrome, and Maiden Newton, 100 yards from where I’m sat. There are also bees again, I’m told, in the former Methodist Church, a furlong away.
The next beed Church in the line is a few miles away at Martinstown, but, in between, is a lodge cottage where I was called to a swarm in a chimney last year. They had just arrived so I suggested lighting a smoky fire. I passed by that way in the Autumn and there was no sign of the bees so it must have worked.
Last (so far!) on the list is St Laurence’s Church at Upwey. I was taking a short cut between apiaries last year, hoping to avoid the main road traffic. I turned off too early and found myself in the cul de sac where sits the Church. ‘Why have I been brought here?’ I thought, so got out of the car and walked towards the Church. The first thing I saw was bees flying from the tower!
I shall try to make the time (somebody remind me please!) when the year is more advanced to do some exploration along the line to see whether there are other established feral colonies to be found.