Walk on the cliffs of Dorset or on the Purbeck Ridge in mid to late summer and you will almost certainly see a good number of these curious thistles. They may look they are the dying flowers of a daisy or a thistle going to seed but these are, in fact, how they look when in full flower.
The carline thistle (Carlina vulgaris) is quite common on chalk grassland everywhere in the southern half of Britain from July through until September but it can be overlooked because it just looks dead! On closer examination, especially in bright sunshine, the flower glistens in silver and gold and is very attractive.
Now here is a gem of information I discovered in researching this plant and it explains why it is called the carline thistle. Apparently, during the middle ages the Emperor Charlemagne (Carl the great to his friends) was losing soldiers to a dreadful plague. However, an angel came to his aid and introduced him to this herb to stem the spread of the epidemic. This flower was named after Carl in his honour. It seems to me it would have been fairer to have named it after the angel perhaps? I suppose the angel may not have left his name when he departed.
Identifying thistles is not easy! But out of the fifteen or so species you may encounter this one, at least, is quite distinctive.