Paddling the Periphery*: Harrow Slack, Lilies of the Valley, Belle Isle.

Once we’d decided that we would spend some time at home together over the summer, we resolved to try to get out and be active, turn our hands to something new from time to time, generally make the most of what’s on offer on our doorstep. We tried archery, not once but twice. We cycled along the shore of Windermere, and would have cycled again, but for difficulties with a defective cycle carrier. The boys and I dabbled in gill-scrambling. All good. But top of our wish list of things-to-do was a spot of canoeing. Attentive readers will be aware that as long ago as last New Year I expressed a yen to go “messing about in boats: to do some sailing; to buy, beg, borrow, blag, build a Canadian Canoe”.

Well we sailed on the Kent Estuary back in May – I don’t think that ever made it on to the blog – but it was terrific fun. And now we have some Canadian canoes, inflatable ones, having decided to take the prosaic approach of buying them.

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We’ve two canoes, a two man and a three man. I don’t intend to review them, we’re very happy with them, but I don’t really have anything to compare them too or sufficient knowledge to to give an objective assessment. However, there do seem to be some real bargains out there and if you’re interested in some details leave a comment and I’ll get in touch.

We’ve had them out three times so far; twice at Fell Foot Park and, sandwiched between those outings, another trip on Windermere, but this time starting on the Western Bank from Harrow Slack car park. We travelled across to it on the Bowness Car Ferry (above).

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These photos are from that second trip. It was pleasantly sunny, but very windy.

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We paddled along the shore with the wind behind us, took a tour around two small islands called Lilies of the Valley and then landed back on the lake shore….

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…to stretch our legs, climb trees….

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…and photograph the local fungi….

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Back in the boats we cruised past the two small islands again and then followed the western shore of Belle Isle, keeping out of the wind which was funnelling down the lake.

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Belle Isle is comparatively large and is privately owned, with a house on it. Here we are (some of us anyway) hugging its sheltering bank. The two islands behind are the Lilies of the Valley.

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This photo…

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…is from our third trip. The people in the boat in front are our friends B and M. (Tempting now to add ‘Bargains’ to that, but if instead, I call them M and B I shall only think of Mitchells and Butlers – I dread to think what these low rent free associations say about my character and misspent middle-age?) Anyway, that’s our friends B and M, M and B. We’re canoeing on the River Leven. We did that the first time we launched the boats from Fell Foot Park too. Then, the water levels were much higher and there was quite a strong current. We managed okay, but we met others who were struggling. B, who had two kids in an inflatable dinghy which was rapidly deflating, was making no headway at all, and in the end we gave him a bit of a tow to the shore.

I’ve since found a copy, stashed away sometime ago, just in case I ever got around to buying a canoe, of John Wilson Parker’s ‘Atlas of the English Lakes’.

An Atlas of the English Lakes

This clip of the front cover pretty much sums it up. It’s a lovely book, a sort of ‘Wainwright for the Lakes’ with hand drawn maps, handwritten text and lots of detail about access, boat launching etc. All that, and it’s published by Milnthorpe’s Cicerone Press.

Anyway, he warns against paddling downstream in the rivers flowing out of the Lakes in general, and down the Leven in particular, precisely because there can be a strong current and you’re then faced with paddling back against it. It is a pleasant trip down to Newby Bridge, and just about the right distance for us at the moment, but perhaps we shall have to be a little more circumspect in future.

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Fell Foot Park has the advantage over Harrow Slack of other facilities besides somewhere to launch – toilets, a play area, a cafe, an ice cream shop, room to throw a Frisbee, picnic tables etc. We try to not be in a position to need the cafe however – brewing the tea is part of the experience.

*So will the blog now have a sub-title “Paddling the Periphery?” Credit where credit’s due – this suggestion is from Alan Sloman’s comment on my January 2013 post about wanting to do some sailing and canoeing. Hopefully, there will be many more  ‘Paddling the Periphery’ posts to come.(Probably only when the weather is kind though).

Posted in Canoeing, Fell Foot Park, Paddling the periphery, River Leven | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

The English Civil War, and Other Days Out

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Although we stayed at home for much of this year’s summer break, we did get away to the Seventeenth Century for a couple of days.

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Some time ago, my Mum and Dad very generously bought us a family membership to the National Trust. It came in very handy over the summer – not only were we covered for many of the Lake District’s (very expensive) car parks, but we made repeated visits to some local properties too.

For one long weekend, Sizergh Castle had an encampment of Sealed Knot enthusiasts. I took A and B for a day out there, whilst S was attending a friend’s Birthday party. They enjoyed it so much they insisted that we go back the following day so that S and TBH wouldn’t miss out.

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The chap on the left is using a Civil War era microphone, attached to a Civil War era PA system. To be fair, his talk was very entertaining. In fact, I found the whole thing very interesting and gruesomely informative. Notice his hat: you’ll see it, and him, again.

S was hobbling around on crutches, a legacy of his fall at Fell Foot Park, and when the desk staff saw him, they offered him the use of a wheelchair. Never one to miss an opportunity to be pampered, S jumped at the chance. Well actually…not jumped, but you see what I mean. In those circumstances we felt justified in not climbing the steep bank where the rest of the spectators were standing, but took a ringside spot right on top of the action.

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What I remember about the muskets is that they came in two flavours – matchlocks and flintlocks, that they took an age to load, were extremely inaccurate, prone to misfire and were almost as much of a danger to the soldiers using them as to their opponents. The huge, and far as I could gather, only, advantage of the musket over the the longbow – which is much quicker to fire, less likely to injure it’s user and has a longer range – is an economic one – it takes only twenty minutes to train someone how to use the musket and not the lifetime of practice needed for the bow.*

Which brings me seamlessly onto….

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One of our trips to Wray Castle, where, on Wednesdays, volunteers from Kendal Bowmen are on hand to coach anyone who fancies themselves as an archer and has £1 for a few shots. (I think it was advertised as 3 or possibly 4, but they were very generous with their counting.)

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The archery was in the old walled garden.

We’d intended to try archery the week before, and had parked further down the shore of Windermere at Harrowslack car park, had a picnic there, and then, whilst the others cycled from there up to Wray Castle, I moved the car and cycled back to meet them. The National Trust have upgraded the lake shore path to make it suitable for cyclists. I was a bit concerned when, after cycling for quite some time, I still hadn’t met the others. When I arrived back at Harrowslack, without seeing them at all I was perplexed: the route between Wray Castle and Harrowslack is entirely beside the lake – how could we have missed each other? Because, it turned out, TBH had mysteriously diverted uphill away from the lake – when we eventually found each other we were too late for archery.

Wray Castle isn’t really a castle at all – it’s a Victorian house with mock turrets and battlements, built by Liverpudlian surgeon James Dawson and his wife (an heiress). The house was donated to the National Trust as far back as 1929, but was used as a Naval Communications Training College and also as the headquarters of the Freshwater Biological Association. Although some of its former grandeur is in evidence, it’s generally a bit shabby inside. It’s only been open to the public for a while and the Trust have done their best to make it inviting for families. In the grounds there’s an adventure play area, a volley ball net, croquet equipment and an area in the woods where den building is encouraged. Inside there was all sorts for the kids to do – huge soft bricks to build with, an enormous Jenga set, table tennis, snooker, fancy dress, etc etc…..

Anyway, back at Sizergh, there were also numerous entertainments on offer – for some reason B was keen to have wet sponges thrown at him in the stocks. Disappointingly, A and I were shockingly poor shots and I don’t think we managed to make him even mildly damp.

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There were talks and demonstrations on throughout the day. The field surgeon’s talk was a highlight: grisly but good. A hurdy-gurdy player popped up before many of the talks – his explanation of how the instrument is played and how it functions was almost as enjoyable as the music itself. (I did overhear somebody claim that the tunes ‘all sound the same’, but he must have had cloth ears. They didn’t.) He did tell us that the instrument wasn’t called a hurdy-gurdy in the seventeenth century, but I can’t recall the contemporary name.

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Here’s the green hat and its owner again.

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After another hair-raising talk about the development of sword designs and fighting styles through history, these two gents put on a demonstration duel.

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It was evidently a rigorous aerobic workout.

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Cloaks and hats were employed in a vigorous dirty-tricks campaign.

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I wasn’t clear on who was for the King and who for Parliament, or whether that really mattered. Either way, both combatants looked to be having a whale of a time. Me too: I like a bit of swashbuckling, when observed from a safe distance!

Posted in Castles | Tagged , | 8 Comments

Fell Ten Foot Park

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I found some more pictures from A’s birthday outing, as related in the previous post. These were on TBH’s camera, although I took quite a few of them.

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These show our makeshift tarp lean-to. You can see it was pretty marginal. Subsequently I bought some more guys, taught myself some knots (with a little online tuition) and, on another trip to Fell Foot Park we built something much more sturdy.

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The kids took great delight in building themselves a mock campfire.

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So much so that A tried again when we got to Aldingham, but she struggled with the wind.

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More photos from Roa Island….

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A Butterfish and a Shanny.

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Broad-clawed porcelain crab. Apparently those long whip-like antennae are indicative of the fact that this is not a true crab, but is in fact more closely related to lobsters. It’s very flattened body and claws are an adaptation for living under rocks .

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The ‘porcelain’ refers to the texture of the exoskeleton. It’s a very hairy crab, but this one was so coated in mud that we couldn’t really tell.

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A spider crab. They attach weed and pieces of sponge to themselves as camouflage.

So, why ‘Fell Ten Foot Park’? (Those of a nervous disposition might not want to read this part, it involves the clumsiest of the Dangerous Brothers and a trip to A&E).

Cutting a long story short, we’ve been to Fell Foot Park, and indeed several other local National Trust properties, several times this summer. We’d bought some inflatable canoes (of which more anon) and were there to try them out for the first time. We were later arriving than we had planned and decided to have lunch before taking the boats out.

‘Can we go to the park Dad, while you get lunch out?’

Fell Foot has a children’s play area. But they didn’t go to the children’s play area. Oh no. They went and climbed a tree. It had only just stopped raining. The tree was slippery. You can guess the rest. The ‘ten foot’ part is based on B’s estimate as recounted first to the paramedics and then to the A&E doctor. As he fell Little S hit a branch with his chin. I don’t know how the branch came out of it, but it made a bit of a mess of his chin. All fixed now however, although he still has a fairly livid scar, but it’s under his chin and isn’t too obvious.

The National Trust staff, the paramedics, the nurses and the doctor at the hospital, and the people who witnessed his fall and went to help him were all brilliant.

We joked with S that he was banned from any more tree climbing, but we were back at Fell Foot Park before he had his stitches out and what did he do there? Climbed trees of course.

Posted in Crab, Roa Island, Rock-pooling | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Roa Island Rock-Pooling Again

A’s birthday. We went to Fell Foot Park for a picnic lunch. This was the first of many visits over the last couple of months. Actually, we’re now calling it ‘Fell Ten Foot Park’, but that followed a later visit, and that story will have to wait.

On this occasion we tried to make a shelter with some trekking poles, a couple of tarps that somebody gave us, we can’t agree on who it was that donated them, and a few odd tent pegs and guy lines which were knocking about in a box in our garage. Unfortunately, it turned out that there was only one guy and a piece of very stretchy, thin bungee cord, the original purpose of which completely eludes me. Quite surprisingly, despite the strong swirling winds, we eventually managed to erect a reasonably durable structure. The kids were disproportionally excited by the whole palaver and I’ve subsequently picked up some more guys in a sale and am even contemplating buying a larger tarp – anything which keeps the kids entertained in the outdoors is worth considering.

Later, we met some friends on the beach at Aldingham for a very windy and therefore quite fierce Birthday barbecue. I managed not to singe the meat too much I think, although the same can’t be said for the flimsy beach tent I put up to try to provide a bit of a wind-break, and which now has a few prominent scorch marks.

Birthday girl with crab 

After that, we were back to Roa Island to gate-crash a meeting of a local Marine Conservation group. We’ve done this before: some of our friends are members and they tip us the wink as to when rock-pooling events are planned. I have to say that the group are exceptionally friendly and it’s great to be there in numbers, partly because between a few of you more things are spotted and also because some of the group members are very knowledgeable and happily identify finds and share their knowledge.

A has always been a bit wary of crabs. No – that’s an understatement: she’s always been inclined to squealing and running away whenever crabs are present. But today she suddenly discovered her inner crab-fiend. There were several other children there who were also a bit reluctant to handle the abundant crustaceans – A became crab ambassador, coaxing them to hold steadily larger crabs as their confidence increased.

B with shore crab 

The dangerous brothers, meanwhile, have never really had any such qualms, although S looks quite pensive here, I’m not sure why.

S with crab, looking slightly pensive. 

Shore crab 

Long-suffering readers will know that we’ve been to Roa Island a few times before. There are always reliably huge numbers of shore crabs and edible crabs, but I was thrilled to find, under some weed by the jetty….

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….a Broad-clawed Porcelain Crab. (The light wasn’t great, so the photos are generally not up to much, but I haven’t seen one of these before and was very happy to now.)

We arrived a couple of hours before low tide, and the water was already as low as I have seen it before. When low tide came around, we were able to explore much further into the channel then we ever have before. Down on the edge of the water every small pool or over-turned bit of seaweed was teeming with life.

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We found no end of these tiny spider crabs. There are at least three species found in UK waters and I wouldn’t like to say which of those these are.

Another weed covered spider crab 

They adorn themselves with weed, or sponge – we found one covered in sponge but my photos are just too blurred to use.

Another tiny spider crab 

This one doesn’t have the weed clothing and the slightly thicker front legs make me think that it might be a Scorpion Spider Crab, but I wouldn’t take my word for it if I were you.

Brittle star 

By this time A had switched her focus to Starfish and Brittlestars, which were equally abundant and wonderfully varied.

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We also spotted a Lion’s-Mane Jellyfish again, although this was much smaller than the one we saw before, and indisputably dead.

A few fish were found, including several Butterfish. I got better photos last time….

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….but I do like the way that this conveys the fish’s ability to squirm and slide around dry parts of the beach.

This one…

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…is a Shanny, I think, and they too can survive out of the water, at least for a while.

With the tide being so far out, we saw lots of sponge too. I’m going to tentatively say that this….

Sponge covered rock

…is Estuary Sponge, but as always, I stand ready to be corrected.

Posted in Crab, Fish, Roa Island, Rock-pooling | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Interlude – Garden Entomology

Remember the potter’s wheel? I do which is a bit odd, since when I looked it up, I found that it was shown on the BBC in the 1950s and I’m not old enough to remember that far back.

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This post is the blog equivalent of those short interlude films – a bit of filler before another proper post comes along. I think the beeb could bring their interludes back – couldn’t be any worse than half of what’s on telly already.

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If they did, mind, it would be The Great British Pot Throw-Off or some such. Like the Generation Game, but po-faced. Instead of five minutes of images with some light classical music, we’d get an hour of tedium, probably with an over-the-top voice-over in an attempt to rack-up the non-existent tension.

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It could be presented and judged by a ‘national treasure’ -  Grayson Perry seems ideally qualified.

Enough of that – I’ve never watched those competition programmes – baking, dancing, skating, tumbling, diving etc – so my rant is based entirely on supposition about just how dreadful they might be, if they’re at all like I imagine them to be. 

Having holidayed at home this summer, we had the chance to spend a fair bit of time in the garden. Often I was cooking on the barbecue when I was out there, but one particularly warm, sunny day, I had a happy half hour photographing butterflies and other bugs which were on and around a buddleia bush.

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Apparently, the name of the red admiral may refer to the butterflies resemblance to an ensign or naval flag, raised when an admiral is aboard a ship.

The Red Admiral’s scientific name Vanessa is one of science’s in-jokes. The original Vanessa was the nickname of a teenage girl tutored by Jonathon Swift and was based on her real name of Hester Vanhombrugh, that is, ‘Van-ester’. It seems that she and Swift had an affair and that he celebrated her ‘bright looks’ in his poem ‘Cadmus and Vanessa’.

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I assume that this is a large white. Although I often see white butterflies skittering about, they seem reluctant to pose for photos and they are one of my numerous blind-spots when it comes to identifying the various species.

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Apparently, in Lincolnshire, during the Napoleonic wars, they were known as Frenchmen, presumably lumped in with the enemy due to the damage their caterpillars do to cabbages and other brassicas.

Peacock I 

The peacock used to be know as the peacock’s tail.

The Peacock’s scientific name, Inachis io, alludes to an ancient myth which explains the origin of the peacock’s tail. Io was a seduced nymph, the daughter of King Inachus. In order to disguise Io from his wife’s prying eyes, Jupiter turned her into a heifer. Io, still helplessly lovely and desirable even in the form of a cow, was given to the care of Argus, a heavenly herdsman whose hundred eyes made escape impossible. At length, her father discovered Io grazing in a field. The winged god Mercury helped her to escape by telling Argus a long and immensely boring story that resulted in every one of his eyes closing in sleep. Then, rather unsportingly, Mercury got out his sword and cut his head off. This displeased Jupiter’s wife, but she managed to collect all of Argus’s eyes and attached them to her favourite bird, the peacock, ‘covering its tail with jewelled stars’.

Peacock II

Comma

The lovely comma, with it’s raggedy edged wings, is named for that small white punctuation mark on the underside of its wings. In France it’s called Robert le Diable because of the shape of its wings. It’s something of a success story, which makes a nice change: it’s spreading northwards at a rate of ten kilometres a year.

That’s it – interlude over for now. Are any of your one hundred eyes still open, Argus?

The quotations above, and much of the other information, come from Bugs Britannica by Richard Marren and Richard Mabey. I haven’t delved into that as often as I have into its companion volumes Flora Britannica and Birds Britannica, but I can see that I need to rectify that error.

I read that the Northen Lights may possibly be visible unusually far south tomorrow night. Keep your eyes peeled.

Posted in Butterflies, Garden | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Mostly Concerning Food

Mixing cookie dough

Some time ago I wrote about hearing Michael Pollan on Radio 4’s Food Programme, and how interesting I found what he had to say. One of the things he was talking about, was the importance of involving children in the kitchen and the process of producing family meals.

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Our kids don’t regularly cook, but they help out now and again, and from time to time they are quite keen to have a go. On this occasion, S had won a Cookie Dough kit at the first Silverdale Food Fair and, naturally, wanted to use it to make some cookies. The cookie dough mix included was a year past it’s use by date, as it turned out (some prize!), but we could manage a biscuit recipe and the necessary ingredients, surely? We could.

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By the time the boys had reached the stage of decorating the biscuits with icing pens their sister was back at home and was keen to join in.

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This all happened during the World Cup. Perhaps inevitably, this cookie….

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….a Little S creation, was christened Lionel Messi.

Since hearing Michael Pollan on the radio, I’ve read ‘In Defence of Food’, the source of his oft quoted maxim ‘Eat food, not too much, mostly plants’. I was quite surprised by how gripping I found it. Since then I keep periodically returning to books about food and its production. I read ‘Animal, Mineral, Vegetable’ which is a mixture of memoir, polemic and recipe book and tells the story of how novelist Barbara Kingsolver (and her family – who also contributed to the book) attempted to eat locally produced food for a year, much of that food grown or reared on their own Virginia small-holding.

At the moment, I’m part-way through Raj Patel’s ‘Stuffed and Starved’ which covers global food production and distribution, farming, GM crops and such like. He argues that the mechanisms which produce the burgeoning problem with obesity are exactly the same as the causes of global hunger.

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You’ve already seen S’s birthday cake, eaten on Carn Fadryn. This is another one, which TBH made for his party at home. It was a Cowboy Party. No difficulty with getting the candles to stay lit on this occasion!

Has all of this food for thought (sorry!) had an impact on the way I shop and eat? Well, yes, up to a point. I haven’t started to keep turkeys or chickens like Barbara Kingsolver did, and we still don’t grow many of our own veg, but I have been trying to eat seasonal, local produce as much as possible. In the summer, and with several Booth’s supermarkets nearby, that’s been relatively easy to do – I can generally buy English grown, or in fact, for the most part, Lancashire grown veg and have a fairly good choice of fruit too.

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Some things, obviously, don’t grow in Lancashire. When the English asparagus season finished, I stopped eating asparagus, which wasn’t a great hardship because I don’t think the Peruvian stuff is as nice anyway. I’m not eating as many avocados as I did, though I haven’t stopped altogether. I’m still drinking tea and eating chocolate, although Stuffed and Starved’s revelations (to me anyway) about child slavery in the cocoa industry in Ivory Coast has me thinking again about that.

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Hmmm, seems slightly inappropriate to accompany text about child slavery with photos of my daughter cooking. Not that there’s any coercion involved: she’s become quite keen. Baking cakes and making soup have been part of her repertoire for a while now. She’s recently turned her hand to sweets, making peppermint creams and cinder toffee. I told her that bread-making was surprisingly easy, and she proceeded to dent my ego by proving me right and turning-out a near perfect loaf at her first attempt.

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I’ve been thinking of veering off topic and posting something about food for while, but this post was finally precipitated by another Radio 4 programme. I thought I’d get something out there whilst that programme was still available on the iplayer. This week’s ‘Book of the Week’ is Yuval Noah Harari’s ‘Sapiens’. The third programme, ‘The Agricultural Revolution’ suggests that wheat wasn’t domesticated by mankind, but rather the reverse, and that wheat (and other food plants) have duped us into accepting a fairly raw deal in order to provide the conditions in which they can flourish. This is pretty much the case that Michael Pollan was making in the TED talk I embedded in my earlier post.

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I was also taken by the idea, from the first programme, that mankind’s original niche might have been as a sort of lower-class scavenger, waiting for the food-chain topping predators, and then other pack animals, hyenas and such like, to finish with a carcass before using tools to break the bones and eat the marrow, food which other creatures couldn’t generally access. I’m sure that would go down well with the ‘Paleo Diet’ people who seem to regard bone marrow broth as some kind of panacea.

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So: not about walking then, or even about ‘thinking about walking’, but more ‘other stuff’ for a change. It’s not a recent development for me to be thinking about food when I’m not ‘thinking about walking’, but I haven’t always considered in the past the processes by which our food reaches our fridge. The food choices we make have a profound effect not only on our own health, but also on the state of the planet, and the health and well-being of all of it’s inhabitants. It seems to me that an interest and concern for those issues dovetails quite neatly with an interest in the natural world, but I suppose I should leave you to decide on that one.

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I’m sure that I’ve only scratched the surface in my reading, and I don’t feel like I have all, or indeed, any of The Answers, but I know that its something I shall continue to mull over.

Happy eating!

Posted in Food | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Crinkle Crags with the Boys, via Crinkle Gill

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In previous years we’ve usually had another foray to look forward to after our camping trip to Wales, but after our family centred holidays in Switzerland this winter and Virginia last summer, we felt that a little belt-tightening might not go amiss. Also – there’s lots of good stuff on our doorstep, so why not enjoy it?

To that end, not long after we were back from Wales I took the boys to Langdale for the day. (Originally A had intended to be with us too, but she wasn’t feeling too well unfortunately.)

We parked in the National Trust car park by the New Dungeon Ghyll pub, being far too late to get into the smaller car park more conveniently situated a little further up the valley. This meant that we started our route with a walk through the meadows beside Great Langdale Beck, with the unexpected consequence that Little S was attacked by a cow. Well menaced anyway – I suppose we were probably being quite loud, and we were in the middle of the herd – cows and their calves. One of them charged at S, there’s not really any other way of describing it. S fell backwards and screamed and the cow stopped. When I got between S and the cow she feinted at me too – I’d thought at first that she was trying to get past us, and that the ‘threat’ to S had been unintentional, but now I was convinced of quite the opposite.

I picked S up and dusted him down – he was shaken but unhurt. He was also a lot braver than I would have been in the same circumstances and agreed that we would continue past the herd again, this time staying closer together. The couple behind us, who had a small dog with them, decided to turn back. The cows had moved a little further away from the path and this time we were quickly through the gate without further incident.

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The kids were all keen to go Gill Scrambling –although their concept of that sport seems to involve total immersion in the water, which is not quite what I had in mind. I thought we would follow Crinkle Gill up onto Crinkle Crags – a quiet and very interesting way up to the top, which I’ve done three of four times before.

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As we’d driven through Langdale, I’d already had a presentiment that all might not go exactly according to plan – the weather had been reasonably settled I’d thought, so I was surprised to see that Stickle Ghyll was a white ribbon across the hillside. All went well initially however, as we followed Oxendale Beck to the second footbridge and then diverted from the footpath into Crinkle Gill.

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The boys were very excited, couldn’t wait to get their hands on the rock and their feet in the beck, and we were soon boulder-hopping our way upstream.

The slopes to either side steepened and the banks closed in…

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This rather innocuous looking little fall proved to be a bit of a crux…

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It maybe doesn’t look like it here, but there really was quite a bit of water coming down it, the noise was, I think, a bit intimidating, and for those with short legs it was a challenging little problem. We managed to negotiate a way past it, but B and I both got quite wet in the process. S kept dry by the simple expedient of throwing himself at slimy, unpromising holds and relying on me to catch him. Faced with several more small falls the boys both decided that discretion was the better part of valour and we retreated.

We found a rather delicate little traverse out of the ravine and then climbed steep slopes to some slabs on the shoulder where we stopped to survey the damage, change our socks and eat some lunch.

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Crinkle Gill

At this point, S would happily have returned to the car, and perhaps, in retrospect, we should have done that. He found the ascent heavy-going. I initiated the boys into the cult of ‘step-counting’ -  something I’ve been meaning to post about for an age, and perhaps will get round to sometime soon (when I’ve caught up) – and that helped for a while (Briefly – paused for a breather every 100 steps and for a longer rest every 500 steps) . He perked up too when we managed to string some crags together and make a bit of a scramble out of the route, but it wasn’t really until we had another lunch stop that he finally got his second-wind.

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Pike O’Blisco.

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Look at that view!’ 

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‘It’s steep!’

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Looking to Bowfell.

Eventually though, we arrived on Gunson Knott…

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And then reached the top of Crinkle Crags….

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We’d started late and then made fairly slow progress – it was five o’clock by this time. At least that meant that it was quiet. There was one other party on the top – coincidentally, another chap with two boys.

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Coniston Fells

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Langdale Pikes

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Great Langdale.

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It’s a long old way via Three Tarns and down The Band, and really, the boys did very well, spurred on by the promise of ‘another ginger nut when we reach’…whatever prominent landmark I could see below us.

We passed back through the same cow field on the way back to the car, but they paid us no mind this time.

Stopping on the way home to stock up on victuals, we were thwarted again: the chip shop we tried was closed and we had to settle for petrol-station bought snacks.

I’m hoping to try something like this with the kids again, but feel that there’s a steep learning curve here: I remembered this route as a remote and picturesque way up Crinkle Crags with a modicum of very easy scrambling, but for the boys it was much more challenging than I had anticipated. The unexpectedly high water levels didn’t help. Back to the drawing board!

Anyway, I shall remember the day, with it’s steadily improving weather and air-clarity as one of the high-points of the summer, and I hope that the boys won’t be too scarred by their experience!

Posted in Birketts, Wainwright bagging, Walking | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Harlech Castle

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The size of our party fell from sixteen to three; from four families to just part of ours. The boys had very firm theories about what we should do with our days. We went to the circus in Pwllheli (they twisted my arm). And we must do a castle, they said. I’m was much happier with that idea. We’ve done both Beaumaris and Criccieth on recent visits, and Caernafon several times in the past. Andy suggested Harlech for a change of scene – which was a great idea.

This must be my third visit, I think. In my teens I had a holiday in Harlech, coincidentally just with my dad and my brother. I don’t remember coming to the castle, but we were camped on the links between the town and the huge sand dunes, right beneath the imposing castle, so surely we must have done? I’ve certainly been here with Andy, long before we had any kids and when there was no real excuse for us to charge around the battlements pretending to be knights. But we did exactly that.

The castle sits on a large dome of rock in a really commanding position. It’s another of Edward I Welsh fortifications.

Harlech Castle 

The views from the top, of the coast and the mountains of Snowdonia, are magnificent.

View from Harlech Catle 

The castle was taken by Owain Glyndwr during his war with the English, and was his residence and headquarters for a few years. His second Welsh parliament was held here apparently.

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The song ‘Men of Harlech’ was apparently inspired by a lengthy siege during the Wars of the Roses, when Lancastrian forces held on much longer here than they did elsewhere.

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It’s almost like they knew we were coming!

Touring castles with the boys is great fun; their enthusiasm for exploring every nook and cranny is infectious.

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Although I sometimes worry that they’ve overstepped the bounds of what is acceptable visitor behaviour, when they start crawling around in some dusty hole.

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We wandered around both the inner and outer wards at ground level.

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Climbed the only tower still open to visitors, which has an awful lot of steps!

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And also toured the battlements, where the relatively low wall made me feel slightly nervous.

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In common with just about every castle we’ve visited, Harlech was slighted after holding out against the Parliamentarians during the Civil War. Fortunately the ordered destruction wasn’t very thoroughly carried out and although materials were later taken from the castle to provide stone for buildings in the town, there’s still plenty here to see and enjoy.

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After the castle, we picnicked on a nearby sports field and then walked down towards the sea. We never really made it to the beach, because the boys…

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…were captivated by the dunes of Morfa Harlech and ran around exploring those, whilst I ‘looked after our stuff’ and settled down out of the wind to do some serious reading.

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They claim that I dozed off, but I maintain that I was just resting my eyes.

Posted in Camping, Castles | Tagged | 2 Comments

Towyn Farm – A Coastal Stroll

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And then, almost everybody went home. Even TBH and A left, since they were booked into a Guide Jamboree camp. Originally, the boys and I were planning to head home too, but then it dawned on us that we might as well have a little more time by the coast. (Okay – we live by the coast, but a little more time by the Welsh coast, were there’s sand and cliffs etc. rather than an endless expanse of mud.)

Three of our friends stayed for one more day, but then they were due for a few days in the Lakes.

After the fine weather we’d been having, the day began rather cool, with a strong, blustery wind. We opted for a short excursion along the coast path.

The gorse along the cliff-tops here, and the gorse which covers the lower slopes of Caryn Fadryn, are covered with large, elaborate webs. The centre of each has a opening leading into a webbed tunnel…

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You can see that this one has snared a couple of ladybirds, a smattering of dewdrops and also a litter of flotsam, I can’t decide what it all is. This is the home of a labyrinth spider, agelena labyrinthica. B and I had seen several on Carn Fadryn a couple of days before, they lurk in the entranceways of their lairs, but tend to scuttle away when you peer in at them.

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I’m puzzled by these photos. I think that there are two spiders here, both of them agelena labyrinthica, locked in an embrace or a macabre dance of death? I’m only speculating.

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The coastal walking is lovely here. We should enjoy it more often. On this occasion, with the strong wind, there were waves crashing onto the rocks and beaches, which is unusual: this stretch of coast is often sheltered from the prevailing winds.

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I’m always intrigued by this small building, half built into the cliff-top, and by the ramshackle collection of huts which back this natural harbour, unnamed on the OS map.

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Nearby, there’s also the remnants of what must have been a very exposed house.

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And just across the headland, another natural harbour, Porth Ysgaden.

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We stopped here for drinks and snacks and to explore the rocks and tide-pools, which were large and full of small fish.

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With the weather brightening the majority vote was that would should head back for lunch and then the beach. I was outvoted, but have to confess that the beach was enjoyable – the waves were big enough the make bodysurfing viable, which is not normally the case. The kids also played a warped version of boules in which they kept reinventing the rules and adding water hazards, and which they seemed to find endlessly amusing.

Posted in Friends, Spiders, Walking | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Carn Fadryn – Birthday Hill

Male gatekeeper

Gatekeeper (male).

It’s a long old drive from North Lancs down to Tudweiliog. The children are much more patient* than I ever was in these circumstances and it’s actually fairly rare to hear a plaintive ‘Are we nearly there yet?’

Still, they can get a little restive at times. This year, as we crested the pass which takes us through the hills and onto the peninsula, we had a beautiful view along the coast and they were asking where the campsite was in relation to what we could see. As I tried to explain, little S cut in:

“Is that Birthday Hill Dad?”

It was.

Grasshopper 

He was referring to Carn Fadryn (or I notice, Garn Fadryn on new information boards which have been erected), which we do generally climb every year, and often on his birthday. This year he was adamant when we asked how he wanted to spend his day: climb Carn Fadryn and then go to the beach. Perfect day.

Spider 

I’ve written about Carn Fadryn often: the butterflies and labyrinth spiders, the amazing views, the bilberries, the iron age fort. It’s a small hill, but it punches well above it’s weight.

The horde on the summit 

The ‘camping friends’. Well, most of them.

Actually, this year the weather was a little murky and the views weren’t all they might have been. (Fortunately it rapidly cleared and by the time we got back to the cars it was scorching again, so S got his beach fix.)

I think we all enjoyed the climb none the less. TBH had brought cakes, and even candles to the summit, although the strong breeze meant that it was pretty much impossible to get all of the candles lit simultaneously.

Trying to light the candles 

S didn’t seem to mind.

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Male Wall Brown 

Wall Brown (male).

The birthday boy - laden with loom bands 

Our little crowd have been captivated by the loom band craze just like the rest of the world’s children apparently have+. Here Little S is modelling the look, with, I think, everybody’s loom band bracelets.

The 'naughty nine' - well seven of them.

The kids have taken to calling themselves ‘The Naughty Nine’, which, since they aren’t at all, is very sweet. I realise that there are only seven of them here. I suppose the other two must have been getting into mischief. Putting rocks into Andy’s rucksack hopefully.**

*Audio books on the CD player are largely to thank for that I think. At the moment, the whole family is gripped by the chronicles of Skulduggery Pleasant, especially when read by Rupert Degas, who produces an astonishing range of different accents and voices. Michael Morpurgo stories are a firm favourite too, although I struggle with how decimatingly sad they often are.

“This one’s OK Dad”, they’ll tell me, and then, half-way through, when the central character dies of a brain tumour having suffered being orphaned, deported, enslaved, brutally beaten and alcoholic,  on top of losing his best friend and his adopted mother, they have to reassure me that it isn’t going to get any worse.

+Their enthusiasm may just be beginning to wane.

**An ignoble thought. He made me a cup of tea at the top with his very expensive whizz-bang stove.

Posted in Butterflies, Friends, Grasshopper, Spiders, Walking | Tagged , | 6 Comments