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copyright 1999, Lois Wickstrom
by Lois Wickstrom
My daughter thinks every thing I do is left over from what she calls my hippy days. So, she was not surprised when I wrote her from Cornwall that our bed and breakfast place was inhabited by bats.
Risa, Madge, my husband, and I were in England for the World Science Fiction convention. But since we had to pay all that air fare to get there, we decided to arrive three weeks early, rent a car and go touring. Madge, being a librarian, picked our route. And being a practicing Catholic, she planned our route to include a great many old churches. The one we liked best was one we found by accident. It wasnt in any of the guidebooks, and it isnt famous for its architecture.
Risa didnt have any particular agenda. She just likes being in England (she had been there many times before with her mother, and once with a boyfriend). I wanted to see old stone rings and caves. My husband wanted to be with me.
We soon learned that British roads come in four categories: highway, picturesque, quaint, and charming. (what about rustic?) One evening when we were in Cornwall, hunting for Glendurgan Gardens so we could get lost in their maze, we decided to pull off a picturesque road onto a quaint one which had barely enough room for two tiny British cars to pass each other between the hedges, in search of a Bed and Breakfast home to spend the night. We stopped at the first white-painted B&B sign, and stopped.
The gang voted me the most walflike of the four of us, so I had to get out of the car and ask the lady at the Bed & Breakfast house if she had a double room and a room with twin beds. She only had one room, so I used my waiflike powers and asked if she knew somewhere else we could spend the night. The lady thought a while, looked me up and down while my husband played with her dog and my girlfriends chatted in the back seat of our rented car. I knew they were making jokes about what this lady must think of a man who would go travelling with three women.
Finally the woman dialed her phone. Yes, her neighbor, Mrs. Tregonna, who lived only a mile and a half away, at Creed Farm had room for us. Did I want it?
How much? I asked.
How much? asked the lady into the phone.
She turned to me, Seven pounds each.
Yes, I said, without consulting my gang. That was the lowest price wed paid on the entire trip. £10 was more common. I thought perhaps this farm would be more rustic than we were used to, but they had room and we were tired.
The roads to Creed Farm led us even deeper off the main roads, onto a charming lane lined with stone walls concealed by hedges. After we met the Tregonnas, unloaded our luggage into what appeared to be recently vacated childrens rooms, we decided to explore the neighborhood. To please Madge, who had been acting grumpy, we asked about nearby old churches. Mr. Tregonna aimed us next door, where they said wed find a church made partly in the 12th century and partly in the 16th century (almost modern by British standards). It was dusk, but wed been riding in the car for hours and wanted the exercise. Madge berated me on the way over for not finding a place to stay at 3 in the afternoon. Finding a place this late in the day made her nervous.
After we found the electric switch (definitely not 12th or 16th century) and turned on the church lights, we found an autograph book on the table just inside the door. One guest had commented, Interesting Bats. Madge read the comment out loud and signed the book. The four of us traipsed on to admire the carved wood, the stained glass windows and the general oldness of the place. We didnt see any bats.
The church has a belfry. Maybe theyre in there, said Madge.
We climbed around a tiny curving stairwell, peeked behind curtains and admired the craftsmanship of both parts of the church -- the nave made in the 12th century and the main body of the church which was made in two parallel designs during the 16th century.
This church was a ways off the main roads in a farming area, and it wasnt famous for anything. It wasnt mentioned in any of the guide books. We were only visiting it because it was next door to the Bed and Breakfast farmhouse where we were spending the night. Yet, as we were leaving, four more people entered the church. We asked each other -- had we started a tourist invasion at night in this remote part of Cornwall?
Outside the gate that surrounds the churchyard, we saw a VW bug that we concluded must have brought the other tourists. On the rear window of the bug was a bumper strip with a bell and the slogan, BATS Let Them Hang Free! Bat Protection Society.
I ran back and asked the other tourists -- Are you really from the Bat Protection Society? A young man, who turned out to be a student at Oxford, said, Yes. And that house over there (he pointed to our B & B) has the largest bat colony in all of Cornwall. This church has another smaller one.
Are the bats in the belfry? I asked.
The young man laughed, and said, No. Then he led me to one end of the church and showed me a missing pane at the top of one of the leaded glass windows. The bats come out here, he said. They live in the attic.
Another car pulled up with half a dozen more members of the Bat Protection Society. These members were carrying Bat Detectors, which are something like Fuzz Busters, but designed to pick up bat-frequency radar. A bat flew out of the church and the detector made a loud whump whump sound. The bats were smaller than I had expected, maybe two inches from head to tail, with a wing spread of no more than seven inches. For bats, these were actually quite normal. But every Halloween I see the large paper bats that childen who have never seen bats make and I forget how small they really are.
Madge stayed to watch the church. The rest of us went back to the B&B where 162 bats flew out of the attic. The three of us personally only saw about 20 bats, but the Bat Protection Society had the official count with their Bat Detectors. As soon as the bats were all out, the society members went into the attic of the B&B to collect dead bats from the guano. They found three different kinds of bats. A professorial older man, named John, showed us how you can tell the bats apart by the whistles on their bottoms and the bristles in their ears. (When I tried to tell my daughter about this, she didnt want to hear it. Normal people dont go looking at the bottoms and bristles of bats.) John also said that British bats dont all hang together like American bats. They hang sometimes in ones and twos so they have room to stretch and flap around.
John told us that he cleans the guano out of the attic every year and takes it to a lab where researchers weigh it, look for dead and miscarried bats, and then he returns the empty guano to
Creed farm for fertilizer. The Bat Protection Society even took care of the bats the year before while a new roof was put on the cottage. John informed us that there were 17 miscarriages found in Creed guano this year. Thats quite a few for 162 bats, and the Society is worried about the health of bats in Cornwall.
After counting all the bats, the Bat Protection Society came into the kitchen of the B&B and Mrs. Tregonna served us all coffee and tea. Then, she timidly asked our gang of Americans if we minded the bats. We assured her that we like bats, and she looked relieved. We were their first B&Bers and she was afraid we might leave because of the bats. The Tregonnas said they had moved to the country to have privacy, but this kind of company was okay.
Mrs. Tregonna, still not believing that the bats wouldnt scare us away, said her family doesnt really notice the bats unless they are outside when the bats are leaving at night or returning in the morning. The bats make no noise and have no odor. They just eat the bugs and live in the attic. John said there are bats all over England but that people usually dont tell the tourists because they think the tourists might go away.
Madge planned to get up early enough to see the bats arrive in the morning, but she overslept. The next day we found Glendurgan Gardens and got lost in the maze. A few days later, at the Avebury Information Office, we were happy to see signs of more bats. The saleslady was sweeping bat guano off her displays as her first chore of the morning. My daughter thought that was even more disgusting than the bats in the attic.