Where the Wild Things Are

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Nothing to do with Maurice Sendak’s evocative book I’m afraid, apart from the fact that I’ve appropriated his title. I have been thinking of launching into another of my occasional polemics, but I’ve decided that I enjoyed this walk too much to turn the account of it into an intemperate rant. So lets suffice to say that ‘where the wild things are’ is not in some distant, untouched, inviolate wilderness, but is on our doorstep, all around us. Nature lives cheek by jowl with manunkind: it doesn’t have much choice.

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Leaving aside the downsides of that fact – since I’ve decided not to rant – one happy consequence is that the wildness and wet, the weeds and the wilderness, can still be appreciated by anybody prepared to step outside their doors.

All through the winter months the fields around the village are full of birds probing the soil for food. Rooks and jackdaws, sometimes curlews, but most noticeably flocks of oystercatchers.

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My attempts to take photographs of them have not generally been very successful, and once again, the presence of me and my camera spooked the oystercatchers, along with a couple of stray black-headed gulls, but at least I caught them sweeping away this time.

It was E.E.Cummings again who provoked my pondering the relationship between man and nature:

when serpents bargain for the right to squirm
and the sun strikes to gain a living wage -
when thorns regard their roses with alarm
and rainbows are insured against old age

when every thrush may sing no new moon in
if all screech-owls have not okayed his voice
- and any wave signs on the dotted line
or else an ocean is compelled to close

when the oak begs permission of the birch
to make an acorn – valleys accuse their
mountains of having altitude – and march
denounces april as a saboteur

then we’ll believe in that incredible
unanimal mankind (and not until)

Not the hymn to spring I keep promising I know, but it’s another new addition to my growing list of favourites.

Anyway, this was half-term’s final Saturday afternoon and a meandering beating of the bounds, a glorious final fling for the holiday. (I did briefly get out on Sunday, but it was drizzling when I set-off and it went downhill weatherwise from there, so we’ll draw a veil over that.) The rest of the crew were furiously stitching Little S’s new teddy bear so I was once again on my own.

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Looking into Lambert’s Meadow.

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In Burtonwell Wood there were more snowdrops to enjoy and a shy pair of roe deer who escaped through the trees long before I could even retrieve my camera from its case.

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Larches and beeches. The right-most of the two beeches has a holly growing out of a hollow in its trunk. (The holly doesn’t have too many leaves though – I wonder whether it is struggling.)

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New leaves! Honeysuckle always makes an early showing.

I was improvising a trajectory which busily went nowhere. On Heald Brow, which I haven’t visited for a while, there’s a loop of permission path which perfectly suited the circuitous curlicues of my route. Whilst wandering I encountered…

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…what I assume is another of the village’s many wells.

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Heald Brow is dimpled with meadow ant mounds.

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Some of which have been got at….

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…I presume either by badgers or by green woodpeckers.

A supermoon had brought unusually high tides which had left the salt marshes flooded…

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This departure from the norm was too much to resist and so I took the steep path which headed down in that direction.

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The raised bank which has held back the flooding here is Quaker’s Stang – an old sea defence.

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This darksome burn, horseback brown,
His rollrock highroad roaring down,

Generally there’s a small trickle of water here, a tributary of Quicksand Pool, which drains Leighton Moss. On this occasion it was flowing with quite some volume, power and noise.

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This ash tree was still carrying buds -  I suspect it was left here by the receding waters and I think the same probably applies to the shingle ‘beach’ beneath it.

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I’m pretty shaky when identifying wading birds, but I’m hoping that the new camera will help with that. This is a redshank.

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Quicksand Pool.

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The old quay at Jenny Brown’s Point.

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I had intended to head up onto Jack Scout, but rounding the corner I found that the sand was firm and decided to continue round back to the village. ( It wouldn’t have worked without wellies; I had to wade an ankle deep channel.)

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The sun was heading towards the horizon; the wind was blowing cold and fresh; the views were expansive. Sometimes the ‘wildness and wet’ are not too hard to find.

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Arnside Knott.

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Noisy creatures gulls, but I’ve often noticed that, around sunset, they can been observed ghosting silently out into The Bay, drifting by overhead.

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Fish eggs.

Once again I was stalking oystercatchers. This time they let me get a bit closer.

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I took a few pictures of the birds. Then a picture of the sunset, or two. Then moved slowly a little closer to the oystercatchers.

Finally, the birds patience with me ran out and I almost got the birds and the sunset together….

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This was only an afternoon stroll….

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…but it was a real corker!

Roll on the next staycation.

Posted in Birds, Heald Brow, Jenny Brown's Point, Poetry, Sunset, Walking | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Trowbarrow and Back – Glorious Mud

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Thursday’s wander. We gave the kids two options: Haweswater or Trowbarrow and they chose the latter.

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This is another part of the trough, a natural feature which runs across the area. That’s B demonstrating his climbing skills.

We were intrigued by this tree….

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…which has a huge area on its trunk completely free of bark. According to the boys this is because it has been struck by lightning; I’m not sure why they concluded that, or if they may be right or not.

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At Trowbarrow (a former limestone quarry) we discovered that two ponies have been enlisted to keep the vegetation in check. It was A’s idea to pet the larger of the two, but the small one was clearly jealous and insisted on our attention.

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We’d had some rain overnight with the result that some of the paths were very muddy.

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The boys were delighted.

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I had a really great view of a nuthatch on a tree-trunk right by the path. Sadly the photos have not turned out as sharp as I had hoped.

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In the woods it’s common to hear a bird tapping a tree-trunk. Nuthatches do it. I think that great tits do too. This one was. You can see that it has something in its beak here, a seed perhaps? There are several more seeds jammed into the crack in the bark; I have a feeling that the nuthatch was using the tree like a workbench – the seeds are held in a vice and can be conveniently worked on.

As well as stopping to photograph the nuthatch, I was also having to pause to indulge a particularly vociferous cough which insisted on being heard. The others left me behind. Not to worry: I didn’t want for company. If you look very closely, on the left-hand side of the photo.

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You might just about pick out….

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…a robin!

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Which was singing very sweetly. Hence the slightly ruffled throat feathers.

Posted in Birds, Trowbarrow, Walking | 8 Comments

Into The Woods

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A couple of times last week we had open house, with the kids inviting various friends around. Thursday was one of those days. I got out quite late and had another short zig-zag around a few local spots. The aim had been to arrive at or near the Lots in time to see the sunset, and although I did just about make it, I could really have done with being there about 15 minutes sooner. Whilst I was still in the woods, I caught glimpses of the western sky through the trees, which suggested that the sun was suffusing it with a warm glow of oranges, yellows, pinks and purples. By the time I had a clear view I felt that I was only seeing the final fling of the show.

Not to worry: any disappointment I might have felt was more than compensated by the fact that I bumped into two of the most talented and creative people I know*: the Painter and the Glass Artist and it was lovely to catch up with them both.

(*Not that I keep a league table of talented and creative acquaintances and friends. That would be weird.)

You’ll have noticed that I’ve skirted around Wednesday: on Wednesday we had Our Grand Day Out – a trip to Lancaster. Ta-dah! Not that there is anything wrong with Lancaster, in fact, it’s really worth a visit, but it’s our local town, so not much of a departure for us. However, we took a tour of the castle which was excellent: highly recommended. In the past, lots of castles have featured on this blog – they’re one of the things we all really enjoy – but Lancaster will have to wait; next time I shall take my camera. Whilst we were there, I bumped into another old friend and colleague, now working at the castle, and discovered that he also ranks highly in the ‘talented and creative’ stakes, what with having become a playwright.

After a very pleasant lunch at Molly’s, we went to the cinema to see ‘Into The Woods’. Did I ought to offer a review? I’ll give it 4 out of 5, because 4 (out of 5) of the family enjoyed it. My appreciation was somewhat marred by the fact that A kept elbowing me awake. That’s a couple of hours of my life I shall never get back.

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We had one errand to run in Lancaster too: a trip to the draper and haberdasher. Little S had hit upon the notion that he wanted to make himself a Teddy Bear. As you can see – he has. Well, it was a joint effort really, in which everybody had a hand (except me – I was out with my camera, but that’s another story). I suppose this means that TBH and the kids all get promotions into the top tier of the creativity league too. A and S have jumped on the bandwagon and both have materials for their own Teddy Bears.

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I mentioned the possibility of branching out into recipes: here’s a very simple soup one (to go with the bread from earlier in the week). It’s so simple, I think the only reason it works is because it’s based on homemade stock. None of the quantities are precise, because they don’t need to be.

Into a big stock pan chuck:

  • A chicken carcass, stripped of any useable meat.
  • A carrot
  • An onion, halved. Don’t bother to remove the skin it gives the stock a nice colour.
  • The leafy bits from a bunch of celery.
  • Half a dozen peppercorns.
  • Any other tired vegetables from the fridge, or vegetable trimmings, parings etc.
  • Enough water to cover that lot.

Put it on a low heat and leave it for an age. (You want it to simmer gently for a few hours).

For the soup:

  • on a low heat, sweat some veg – I used onions, leeks and carrots – in your fat of choice (mine’s currently ghee, but I think I might have used rapeseed oil this time). For soups or stews I put the lid on the pan and leave the veg until it’s properly softened (stirring it now and again).
  • Add enough stock to give the sort of consistency of soup you fancy. Chuck in some left-over cooked chicken if you have some. Simmer for say 20 minutes. (But 10 would do I think.

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How did it go down? I’ll give it 3 out of 5, because B and TBH and I all liked it. S and A weren’t so unreservedly enthusiastic, but then they’re fussy.

Posted in Craft, Friends, Recipe, Sunset, Walking | 4 Comments

hungry and fearless and thirsty and supple

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Monday’s child is fair of face. Monday’s meander was similarly presentable. I took my mind for a stroll. A stroll of the aimless, meandering sort.

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You’ll have gathered, if you’ve dropped by before, that I’m inordinately fond of trees, spring, summer, autumn, winter. At the moment, I’m particularly admiring the splendid architecture of the branches as they stand revealed.

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I fully expected to find snowdrops at every turn around the village and its environs, but I was surprised by these….

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…which have found a home in a small pocket of soil on a limestone pavement.

They’re right by the Primrose Garden, a sizeable, sheltered cleft in the pavement where every spring brings a stunning display of massed primroses. I was bit early though…

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…just one flower leading the way at present.

The sunshine and the snowdrops and the primroses all conspire to lift my spirits and make me anticipate the imminent arrival of spring. Another early warning sign are the hazel catkins. Some are still resolutely, tightly furled…

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But others are unspringing….

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And still others are banners, bright and yellow proclaiming a change in the air.

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They aren’t the only ones with something to shout about either…

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may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living
whatever they sing is better than to know
and if men should not hear them men are old

may my mind stroll about hungry
and fearless and thirsty and supple
and even if it’s sunday may i be wrong
for whenever men are right they are not young

and may myself do nothing usefully
and love yourself so more than truly
there’s never been quite such a fool who could fail
pulling all the sky over him with one smile

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I warned you that all this early season sunshine would have me quoting ee cummings.

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Not a very original observation I know: that Robin’s put their heads on one side when they give you a quizzical look. Very endearing though. This one clearly decided that I was nothing to worry about…

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…the robin’s song is worth attention: he sings more than any of our birds; he may be heard in every month in the year, even in July and August, if we listen for him: and, though he may not open the Great Chorus at Dawn in May, he is the last to cease in the evening, outstaying even the thrush.

from The Charm of Birds by Viscount Grey of Falladon.

I should perhaps say that prior to this passage Viscount Grey states that the female robin also sings from time to time. Since I first read The Charm of Birds, in a recently reprinted edition from the library, I’ve picked up my own copy. The book was first published in 1927. I have a 1931 copy, with woodcuts by Robert Gibbings.

I’ve written about both Gibbings and Grey before, and don’t intend to repeat myself (for once), but I do intend to read Gibbings’ ‘Coming Down the Seine’ sometime soon, so there may be more to follow on him.

Is there anything more enticing in life than a prohibition? A sign which says….

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…KEEP OUT?

My random walk had brought me to Burtonwell Wood, one edge of which is bounded by Burtonwell Cliff. I’ve walked along this path countless times and I’ve never felt the need to clamber up the slope to the base of the cliffs before. But this time I noticed neat little rectangles affixed to several yews – the camera’s little zoom soon relayed their message and….well, then I had to find out: what would I be keeping out of? And what attraction was it that might have tempted me up there in the first place, so that I would need to be warned off?

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I know that this area is peppered with small caves, but I’ve never had any success in finding any of them. Warton Crag alone has Dog Holes, Badger Hole, Fairy Hole and Harry Hest Hole; there are also caves at Hale Moss (an SSSI no less). In addition, Haverbrack, as Conrad recently pointed out to me, has yet another Dog Hole Cave.

But it transpires that Burtonwell Cliff also has a cave.

Burton Well Cliff Cave is a 20 m long rift varying between crawling and walking size parallel to a cliff face.

from Mass Movement Caves In Northern England

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I wasn’t tempted to enter. But it appears that somebody has been:

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There seemed to be a number of openings, all looking a bit on the tight side.

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The path, when I returned to it, brought me to Lambert’s Meadow…

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…where I watched a corvid, not sure if it was a crow or a raven, strafing a buzzard.

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No recipes or card games or even sunsets to finish this post, I seem to have waffled on more than enough already.

Posted in Birds, Books, Cave, Poetry, Walking, Wildflowers | Tagged | 8 Comments

Homework

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Along with other small songbirds, robins are relatively short-lived. They live, on average, only a couple of years, but a few reach quite an advanced age. The oldest known wild individual was 11 years 5 months.

from the RSPB website.

Is that why some of them are grey at the temple?

Tuesday’s walk was part of A’s homework. This was a project set for Religious Studies and essentially required them to perform some sort of act of generosity. What a fabulous homework! She has chosen to help with our village Field Day’s fund-raising coffee morning. To that end she wrote a piece for the Parish Magazine; will help on the day and has also designed a poster which we were now distributing around the village.

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Now Silverdale isn’t a huge village – I found something on t’interweb which claims that the electoral ward had a population of 2,035 according to the 2011 census – but it is quite sprawling; there are odd bits here, there and everywhere, so a walk taking in the various potential sites for posters was quite a good one.

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And we detoured to some favourite spots too. Like Woodwell again…

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Despite the improved weather, compared to the previous day’s walk, I still didn’t take all that many photos. I think that was because I was too busy chatting to the kids about this and that. TBH wasn’t with us because she was decorating our downstairs bathroom. She already decorated it a while ago, having chosen a paint which I would describe as ‘Submarine Grey’. The rest of the family expressed dismay at her choice, but when it was finished we decided that we liked it. TBH didn’t. So now she has painted it a different grey, with yet another hue for the ceiling. A has dubbed the room ‘50 shades’.

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There were a few birding opportunities during the walk…

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Goldfinch.

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Greenfinch.

We’ve been teasing A because she made the mistake of telling us that one of her peers has elected, for their charitable homework, to cook a family meal once a week. Why couldn’t she choose that? – we wanted to know.

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To be fair to her, she does chip in. When she saw that I was making bread for instance, she immediately wanted to help. That’s one advantage of being at home and not rushing around to visit places etc – there’s time for card games and baking.

Not that this bread takes much making. I used a very simple recipe taken from the flour packet. I shall summarise, otherwise it will take longer to type (and to read) than it does to make:

  • 15oz bread flour*
  • 2 teaspoons dried yeast (recipe says 1, I used two)
  • pinch of salt
  • 9 fl oz warm water
  1. Chuck it all in a bowl, in that order, mix it with a fork (you can use your fingers, but it sticks and you end up with huge dough mittens).
  2. Knead briefly until it comes away from the sides into a ball.
  3. Leave it for 10-20 minutes.
  4. Knead it again, just a few seconds.
  5. Flour a surface, squash the dough out into a rectangle then roll it up. Turn 90 degrees, repeat twice more.
  6. Put it in a greased (actually I cheat and use those paper liners) bread tin.
  7. Leave it to rise in a warm, draught free place. Might take two hours.
  8. Put it in the the oven, 200 degrees C, 25 minutes.

Butter it whilst it’s still warm. Enjoy. We all love it, and it’s really simple to do.

*There is a secret, however. This isn’t any old bread flour. Oh no. We made this using Granarius flour from Little Salkeld Watermill. I suspect another high quality, stone ground flour would do. We like their flour particularly, because we’ve been there, watched it being ground and had the whole process very thoroughly explained to us.

Their website has a slightly more complicated ‘simple’ bread recipe which I might give a try. If you want to buy their flour I suspect you might need to live in the North, preferably close to a Booths, although they don’t always seem to stock it. Or you could visit the mill, and their wonderful cafe, and try the lovely walk along the River Eden there.

And here I’ve been worrying about making individual posts for several short walks. Back in 2011 I made five posts just for one short walk.

Posted in Birds, Food, Recipe, Walking | 7 Comments

Clobiosh

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This post could have been ‘Half-Term at Home’, because, well, half-term is all but spent, and we’ve been spending it here in sunny Silverdale. And the curious thing is, it being February and this being the North-Wet of England, that it has often been quite sunny. It’s chucking it down now, but this has been the exception rather than the rule.

So, I’ve been getting out for a local stroll every day (except Wednesday), sometimes with company, sometimes without. Mostly they’ve been short strolls – I think my Valentine’s Day bird-ramble which featured in the last post was probably the longest. Now that gives me a bit of a dilemma – do I roll them all together into one portmanteau post, or grant each little meander the dignity of it’s own write-up?

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I’m currently part way through reading Mark Kurlansky’s ‘Salt’, and am really enjoying it. I read his ‘Cod’ and ‘A Basque History of the World’ quite some time ago, and thought that those were magnificent too. I think it was my brother who first put me on to ‘Cod’. I’ve been trying to put my finger on just why it is I find his books so engaging: I’m not entirely sure to be honest. I think part of it is the fact that there’s a mixture of history, both political and social, some science, recipes, some etymology and a fair dollop of odd and surprising facts in a kind of QI sort of a way. Oh – and there are pictures and maps too which always goes down well with me.

Alice

I’m with Alice on that one:

‘what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice, ‘without pictures or conversations?’

So, luxuriating in the unfamiliar feeling of being almost up to date, I’m in the mood to be expansive and throw in some extra odds and ends. Which seems appropriate, since the walks have only occupied part of each day and there has consequently been time to slot in some other activities as well.

Swiss playing cards

Traditional Swiss cards. I don’t have a set. Not that I’m hinting.

Clobiosh – bet you were wondering when I was going to get to that – is one of the many names given to a card game which I taught A to play this week. She trounced me. And then took to playing B instead, probably seeking sterner competition.

Clob, Clobiosh or Klaberjass, a two-hander of widespread popularity, is probably the best known member of a family of games originating in the Netherlands and most highly developed in Switzerland…..The games are all much alike….Belote is the national game of France, Klaverjass of the Netherlands, and Jass of Switzerland. (It is) typically played with cards bearing the traditional Swiss suit symbols of acorns, flowers, shields and bells.

This from David Parlett’s ‘Penguin Book of Card Games’. As you can see above, my copy is a bit dog-eared, although it’s not as well-used as ‘Card Games Properly Explained’ by Arnold Marks which is a similar book and which I’ve owned for even longer. I know that my brother was responsible for that one because it has a ‘Happy Birthday’ message inside. He’s very good at presents is our kid. He lives in Switzerland……

Given how much I enjoy card games it’s a wonder I haven’t mentioned them here much before. There have been odd references – to the fact that A and B and I carried and played cards whilst we were walking a part of Hadrian’s Wall, to a 1676 pack of cards that I covet which has maps of the then 52 English and Welsh counties on them (a facsimile set is available I believe)….

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…and to a Greenlandic card game called Kapaka which I read about.

Still, not a great deal over 700 odd rambling posts. (You can take that either way, or both, obviously). When I was young I associated card games particularly with family get-togethers, especially trips to my grandparents where we would play Jack Draws The Well Dry a very simple game, or Stop The Bus or Knock-Out Whist. I think my cousins taught me Crazy Eights which somebody has cleverly reinvented and marketed as Uno, and which our kids love. At home, my mum and dad played Cribbage every weekend with an elderly neighbour. Inevitably we would want to learn to play too, although we were never allowed to stay up for Mr Martin’s visits.

At school, card games filled spare moments – Chase the Ace for waiting in corridors, three card Brag for lunchtimes when football or bulldog were rained off. In the sixth-form we seemed to find an inordinate amount of time to play protracted games of Solo, Cheat and eventually Bridge, not that I ever really mastered that.

When walking holidays with friends became the norm every Easter, Summer and New Year, cards featured strongly then too. We played an excellent variant of Whist in which each player had to nominate how many tricks they would win; I can’t quite recall all of the rules; I shall have to ask the Ginger Whinger, I think he introduced it. Michigan Rum was another regular. But our favourite game, however, was Black Maria. The Adopted Yorkshire Woman would unfailingly win that, but then disconcertingly ask “What’s that thing about Hearts again?”, thus confirming that she didn’t actually know the rules and was unwittingly cheating us. Or maybe it was an elaborate hustle, although to what possible end I can’t discern . Old Father Sheffield, meanwhile, could be relied upon, at some point in the proceedings, to throw in his hand and declare, in a huff, “It’s all luck!”

Which brings me neatly back to Sunday’s walk, from which was garnered the obligatory robin which headed the post. Sunday was another glorious day, almost as pleasant as Saturday, but for a niggly wind. B played rugby in the morning, but in the afternoon little S was very keen to visit Gibraltar Farm; this was because the previous day TBH and A had been there and A had had the opportunity to bottle feed a newly born lamb. It was quite late when we eventually set off and, as luck would have it, (It’s all luck!) the weather had turned a bit dour by then. We saw some lambs, but S didn’t get his hands on one, much to his disappointment. We returned via Woodwell, where A conducted a very thorough survey of the depth of the pond using a makeshift dipping stick.

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Posted in Birds, Books, Card Games, Walking | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Bad Bird-Watching

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At the tail-end of every winter comes at least one day when the sun shines, the wind drops, the temperature is mild, and it feels as if spring is approaching. A day like that has a few predictable effects on me – one of them is that I get over excited and write a post declaring the arrival of spring. Another is that I dig out my copy of e.e.cummings selected poems, start reading them again, and then quoting them, usually in the very blog-post which is prematurely heralding the onset of spring. Valentine’s day here was just such a day and this post was originally destined to be another of those mistimed fanfares.

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But then Chrissie posted a comment on a previous post:

I wish I could do birds. Love watching and spotting them, but can’t remember them at all. :( Well, other than things like Robins and Blackbirds….

And I decided that maybe I would write about bird-watching instead. Except, now I feel a digression or two coming on. Firstly: poetry. I know not everybody reads or likes poetry. Personally, I don’t get it. Or quite often I don’t. But then, somehow, seemingly by accident, I’ve acquired quite a collection of poetry books. And paradoxically it’s the poets I find most impenetrable to whom I keep returning. Cummings particularly, but also Eliot and Dylan Thomas. (This isn’t entirely accurate, I like Robert Frost too, and his oeuvre doesn’t quite fit my argument, so let’s skate over that point!)

In Cumming’s ‘Selected Poems’ there are certain favourites I read and reread. Most of them I’ve already quoted in full on the blog over the years – ‘nobody loses all the time’, ‘etcetera’, and the one which begins ‘I thank you God for this most amazing..’ which I think of as ‘Illimitably Earth’. Then there are others which have small parts or phrases which I really like. For example, ‘mud-luscious’ and ‘puddle-wonderful’ from the first poem in the book which features a ‘little lame balloonman’ and which I still can’t make head or tail of. And then there are lots of others which leave me…well, bemused, befuddled and confused. But here’s the thing: I’m continually drawn back to the book, and my little collection of favourites keeps growing. I was, of course, tempted to quote another, perhaps ‘Anyone lived in a pretty how town’, but had to restrain myself – after all this is a post about bird-watching. So I’ll content myself with a scrap:

o to be in finland / now that russia’s here)

Which I’m guessing was written in 1939 when Russia invaded Finland. (Some things hardly change).

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Silverdale has many small orchards. But only one of them has a resident plastic cow.

Digression alert: secondly – football. (Pay attention, stop groaning at the back). That Saturday, as most Saturdays, had started for little S and I, with a trip to his football training. Now, I shall have to be careful here, because S may one day read this, but, well, suffice it to say that it seems unlikely that S will ever set the football world alight. But he loves his football, and since he started attending training, and playing regular matches, he has come on leaps and bounds. At the end of each session, the coaches always ask ‘What have you learned today’. The answers are usually the same – passing, tackling, marking, shooting, dribbling, etc. But this week, for some reason, there weren’t many kids there, perhaps because it’s half-term, and by the end of a three-a-side match, those that were there were more than usually exhausted. Here’s the final exchange, as best as I can remember it:

“So, what have you learned today?”

“Passing.”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing! Thanks for coming. What about you S, what have you learned?”

S didn’t reply, but was clearly racking his brains, trying to find a sensible answer. His coach had a suggestion:

“Alright, I’ve got one for you: Never giving up. You never give up, you always keep chasing.”

I was really chuffed with that. For me that’s the principal way in which S has improved – he’s dogged. I don’t play much football anymore. (I’m almost ready to concede that I may never be called upon to pull on the number 7 shirt for Leicester City.) But when I did play a lot, I always thought that whilst I lacked any great talent for passing, tackling, marking, shooting, dribbling, etc., I did at least run around a great deal. I know – it’s not the most flattering thing you can say about a footballer ‘He runs around a lot’ (although it didn’t seem to stand in the way of Robbie Savage’s career), but the thing is, I loved playing football anyway, and S does too.

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No, don’t ask: I don’t why either.

Now, where was I? – bird-watching!

I don’t tend to think of myself as a bird-watcher. I’m a walker who likes to spot birds whilst I’m walking and likes, generally, to know a bit about the things I see when I’m out and about. My friend and colleague The Proper Birder; now she’s the genuine article. A dyed-in-the-wool fanatic. Her planner is plastered with beautiful photographs of birds, beautiful photographs which, I should add, she has taken herself. Her holidays are bird-watching holidays. She knows everything about birds. All of my queries are referred to her and sometimes I think she knows the answer long before I’ve finished asking the question. Recently I came in from a lunchtime stroll, a little excited because I had seen ‘a wagtail, like a pied-wagtail, but not black and white enough. More grey.’ I thought maybe I’d stumbled upon an off-course migrant, a rare visitor which would set the twitchers’ jungle-drums rumbling. But no: it was a pied-wagtail after all – a juvenile.

During another recent lunchtime we were discussing those lucky few who manage to make a living from their knowledge of birds – working for conservation bodies, ringing, estimating populations etc. I put it to her that she had all the skills and knowledge herself to make the transition to that kind of work, but she said that no, that isn’t the case.

So, if even The Proper Birder doesn’t think she’s qualified to be, well, a proper birder – what chance do the rest of us have? You can probably see where I’m going with this – it doesn’t matter whether you ‘get’ all poems or any particular poem; it doesn’t matter whether you can mesmerise like a Weller or a Worthington; it doesn’t matter whether you know all of the names of birds – just so long as you’re enjoying yourself!

But – yes, there is a but – I do know what Chrissie means. Not long after I started this blog I decided I would try to learn to recognise some birdsongs. Progress has been incredibly slow, although at least there has been some progress. But then again, it often feels like I take two steps forward and one step back. I have the same frustration with clouds and rocks. Ask Andy. I repeatedly quiz him about geology and nephology (the study of clouds!), but for some reason the answers, fascinating though they are, just won’t stick. Maybe I gave up to easily. I think we’ve got a book somewhere of ‘geological walks’ around the Lake District, but if we have, we’ve never tried any of the walks. And, although I was enjoying reading Gavin Pretor-Pinney’s ‘Cloudspotter’s Guide’, I was distracted by something else I wanted to read (which often happens) and I never finished it – I shall have to dig it out and try it again. When I think about it, I also bought a book, with an accompanying CD on birdsong. And a DVD on British birds. (Not that I’m a birdwatcher, you understand.)

So, some February resolutions (bit late for New Year’s)

  • Try some ‘geological walks’ (presuming I’m right about that book).
  • Read The Cloudspotter’s Guide
  • Redouble my efforts with birdsong.

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Every year I admire a superb display of snowdrops and crocuses under a Copper Beech in a garden on The Row, but, for some reason, I’ve never taken photographs before. Now I have.

So, Chrissie, with the caveat that I am very far from being expert: this time of year is fabulous for getting to know some of our small, resident woodland species of birds: the birds are very active, but there are no leaves on the trees, so they’re a bit easier to see than they will be in late spring or summer. A bright sunny day is best, if luck is on your side, if only because it’s easier to see clearly what you’re looking at. A woodland is good, I find the edges are often the most rewarding, but a hedge which has been left alone for a while is maybe as good or better. Even a garden can be good, if there are trees nearby.

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One of my favourites are long-tailed tits. They’re tiny, one of our smallest, although the tail makes them more conspicuous than they might otherwise be. The tail is distinctive. Also look for a hint of pastel pink. They’re always in flocks, moving together, and always on the move, bobbing and flitting about, hanging quite acrobatically from twigs and branches. Which makes them very difficult to photograph. I’ve tried no end of times and this is the best to date. I’ve never seen them on a feeder before. Their nests are amazing. Appropriately, sort of egg-shaped, with a small opening. Made from moss and spiders’ webs, lined with thousands of feathers and disguised with a coating of lichen. I’ve only seen one just the once. Both parents feed the young and other adult males will also help, brothers, apparently, of the male bird.

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I’m not very good at this myself, but it helps if you have the patience to keep still. Because it was warm, and because I’m full of cold and finding walking a bit of a challenge at the moment, I sat under these trees for a bit. Once I’d been there for a while the birds started to appear amongst the branches. None of my photographs were very spectacular, but there were chaffinches, blue tits, great tits, wood pigeon, and a solitary song thrush.

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Oh…and not forgetting thumper.

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Challan Hall.

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Haweswater.

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This is a marsh tit. This is another bird I’ve usually struggled to photograph, so again, I was quite pleased to get this. Willow tits look exactly the same (this probably isn’t true, but it’s close enough for me). How do I know which it is then? Because The Proper Birder once told me that Willow Tits don’t live in this part of Lancashire. One way to tell them apart is by their songs. This is a case in point for my lack of progress with birdsong – I’ve previously announced on the blog that I have learned to recognise a marsh tit’s song, but I’ve subsequently lost that ability again. You might mistake a coal tit for a marsh tit, but they’re only superficially similar. A coal tit has more black on its head, with white cheeks and a white stripe up the back of its head.

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Forgive me yet another digression – I always enjoy snowdrop season. My favourite spot is in the woods by Haweswater. It seems to me that the snow-piercers there have spread and are now making an even better display than before. This photo only shows a part of that display.

One frustration with my new camera is that it doesn’t have a similar macro facility to the Olympus and I haven’t fully mastered yet how to photograph small flowers to best advantage.

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Sometimes, you just need to get lucky. I was watching a small bird flying around in the lowest branches of a yew tree. I thought it was a goldcrest, but it was so dark under the dense yew that I couldn’t really be sure. Which was a shame, because I haven’t seen a goldcrest for ages. But then on a adjacent trunk – a treecreeper! Because of their superb camouflage, I don’t see these too often. They tend to spiral their way around a tree trunk and so often disappear and reappear from view. I’ve never successfully photographed one before. This one stayed frozen on the spot for a while. Apparently that’s quite characteristic behaviour – they rely on their disguise to protect them. Look at those huge rear toes, adapted for clinging to a trunk.

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A great tit. Here’s a first birdsong to learn Chrissie, listen for them calling you by name (sort of) teecher, teecher, teecher. Confusingly, great tits have a wealth of other calls and are also good mimics. I tend to assume that anything I can’t recognise is a great tit being awkward. Which will be right at least once in a while. Learning birdsongs, even if it has been painfully slow, has helped – as I’ve got to grips with a few I’ve also begun to get a grasp of where different kinds of birds are likely to be calling from and also, of course, if you recognise the call (which is satisfying in itself) you have an idea what it is you’re looking for.

I don’t have any photographs of the group of four jays which I watched for a while amongst the trees. Jays are very shy, and although I was initially very close to them when I saw them, I never got a complete view without an intervening branch spoiling the shot.

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I spent a while watching and trying to photograph another group of long-tailed tits. With familiar results. This is still probably my second sharpest photo of one. It does at least show the pink flush, and the ‘ball and stick’ shape they have.

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The light as I crossed the boardwalks by the lake was lovely.

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Blue tits are noted for their rudeness, and just won’t turn to face the camera.

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This is a bit of The Trough – an unusual local feature. Limestone bedding planes have turned through 90 degrees and softer rock (I think mudstone: there’s that lack of geological confidence again) has eroded away leaving a natural lane – straight and high-walled. I followed the trough (a little bit off-piste here, shall we say, don’t tell anyone will you?) to Trowbarrow quarry.

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I knew I was arriving before I could see the quarry, because of the bird calls overhead. At Trowbarrow there are always, and I mean always, jackdaws.

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Once upon a time I didn’t know a jackdaw from a crow. Seems astonishing now. They’re sociable – crows aren’t. They make a din, shouting ‘jack-daw’ the whole time. And they don’t look like crows, they’re much more natty and neat, smaller and not half so black.

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No real sunset to end this post – I must be slacking. There was a nice bit of colour in the sky as I crossed the golf course though.

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I know that I’ve already tried your patience, by waffling on at ridiculous length (I hope you made a cup of tea at the outset), but even without a sunset, I feel like I need some kind of conclusion. This is probably some kind of blogging cardinal sin, but I’m going to quote myself, from one of the first posts I wrote on the blog, back in 2008, because this neatly sums up why I think it’s worth while being dogged, persevering, making an effort to know a little bit about the things you see when you’re out for a wander:

This book, then – apart from being meant for amusement – is merely intended to illustrate how much free enjoyment anyone can derive from simply keeping his or her eyes open in going about normal daily affairs.

Richard Adams – from the Introduction to A Nature Diary

How’s that for a manifesto?

He goes on to mention stars, birds and wildflowers as things that anyone could spot and identify with the aid of a suitable field guide. You might add clouds, fungi, trees…… Or even shopping trolleys and city-limit signs.

To be honest, even with the aid of a field guide I’m a pretty limited amateur naturalist. But I don’t mind. The thing is that it’s not the identifying that’s important, but the close attention required in order to make an attempt. By being aware of our environment we allow the possibility for the familiar to surprise us, for the local to become exotic.

A little bit more about ‘A Nature Diary’ on an even earlier post here.

I can also strongly recommend Simon Barnes’ book ‘How to be a Bad Birdwatcher’ from which I sort of stole the post title.

Posted in Birds, Haweswater, Trowbarrow, Walking, Wildflowers | Tagged | 9 Comments

Arnside Knott with the Boys

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So, lets get the obligatory photo of a robin out of the way first. Did you know that a robin’s heart beats something like a 1000 times a second? I can tell that you’re impressed. I intend to store up a lot more trivia about robins and then drip-feed it onto the blog, because robins are so obliging when it comes to posing for photos.

Other birds are available, but they will insist on keeping their distance.

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I don’t know how fast a blue tit’s heart beats. I’ll look in to it and get back to you. Don’t hold your breath.

This was another Saturday afternoon, post-child-to-sport-ferrying stroll. I persuaded both boys to join me. Actually, if I remember correctly, TBH and A had gone off shopping together (a mother daughter bonding ritual) so the persuading went something like: “You’re coming for a walk.”

Not that they were particularly upset by the idea. You can see…

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…that they were entirely inappropriately dressed for a walk in early February. But the sun was shining and although the wind was cool, it didn’t feel too bad, so long as we kept moving. And the boys did keep moving. By the time we reached Arnside Tower we’d already had a wander around Eaves Wood, visiting and clambering up some favourite trees, and crossed Middlebarrow where the boys startled a rabbit and then cornered it under a fallen tree trunk – they were fascinated and wanted me to take a photo. The rabbit was understandably shy.

In the woods on Arnside Knott we found a huge den…

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….which the boys thoroughly approved of. They also found several new climbing frames on which to practice their gymnastic routines.

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As B explored another tree I was astonished to hear S imploring him to come down. Since S doesn’t generally seem to have much of a radar for danger, I hate to think what B was doing to bring this on. I didn’t look: I daren’t. Fortunately, just as there had been on the rest of the walk, there were numerous small birds darting about in the trees to divert me.

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I took a close interest in this nuthatch, and pretty soon B was running up behind me and telling me it was time to move on.

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Only as far as the next enticing tree obviously.

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From the top of the Knott the views were not what they might have been. Although the skies were clear, there was a murky haze, of a sort which I generally associate with warm spring days when, it seems to me, the landscape is drying out after the winter and creating a sort of warm fug.

At the bench near to the top of the Knott, I finally gave in to S’s demands and we stopped for a snack. Now that we’d stopped, the wind put paid to any notion we might have harboured about spring having arrived. We piled on all of our spare clothes, but we were soon chilled to the marrow regardless.

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S was all for phoning home and begging a lift from his mum. But since there were several flaws in that plan, we just got on the move again.

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S didn’t believe that would be effective, but it soon was, and the boys drifted into one of their endless discussions about Minecraft or Lego Batman 3 or some such.

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I think if we could have waited another 15 minutes or so, the sunset would have been really spectacular, but S had only just warmed up again, and it didn’t seem wise to wait in those circumstances.

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There’ll be other sunsets.

Posted in Arnside Knot, Birds, Sunset, Trees, Walking | Tagged | 4 Comments

A Stannel and a Ruddock

The day after my Wansfell jaunt, brought another peerless, cloud-free sky. I persuaded B to join me for an afternoon stroll to Haweswater, ostensibly to see whether the snowdrops in the woods there were flowering (which seemed likely, since the ones in our garden were). In fact they were and we’d already found lots of snowdrops in Eaves Wood, long before we reached Haweswater.

As we dropped down along the permission path in this field…

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…I encouraged B to drag his heels for a moment or two. “This is usually a good place to see…”

“Green woodpeckers”, he jumped in, finishing my sentence for me. He was right, although, I had just been going to say ‘birds’. It’s probably something to do with the network of ecotones here – the stand of tall trees on the right, the open meadow, the scrubby hedgerows, the reed beds around the lake and the lake itself, but over the years I’ve encountered quite a diversity of birds here. Green woodpeckers, and greater spotted ones too, small flocks of mistle thrushes, a startled heron, buzzards, jays, marsh harriers, and many small birds in the trees, especially nuthatches.

You can see from the photo above that a major feature of the field are the numerous mole hills, not that I’ve ever seen any moles here. Perhaps the neatly turned earth is an attraction to opportunist crows…

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…or robins, who I suppose are direct competitors with the moles for worms and grubs etc.

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We spied a couple of spotted woodpeckers too, slaloming through the tree-tops. And then, high in a very tall tree, what’s that? In silhouette it looks like a raptor of some sort. The camera might help, but surely, the distance is too great…

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….no! A female kestrel. The male has a grey head and is less heavily barred.

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On the far side of the lake, we paused to watch the antics of an even more then usually tame robin. It flitted from fence post to branch and then bobbed around the floor near our feet. If anything, it seemed to be as interested in us as we were in it.

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If we’d had something suitable to offer as a snack, who knows? – we may even have been able to hand feed it.

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B is keen to try that. We thought we might take a cereal bar with us in future, but, on reflection, mealworms would be a much better idea. In ‘The Charm of Birds’ Viscount Grey describes feeding a robin regularly from, I think it was a tobacco tin, filled with mealworms. He used a lengthy habituation process however which I’m not sure I have the patience for.

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Full marks, by the way, if you knew that stannel and ruddock are old names for, respectively, a kestrel and a robin. Ruddock, originally rudduc, refers to the “deep, rusty-orange” of robins, whereas stannel derives from stangella which “meant ‘stone yeller’ in Old English”. (Both quotes from Cocker and Mabey’s Birds Britannica)

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Posted in Birds, Haweswater, Walking | Tagged , | 11 Comments

Wansfell in the Snow

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B was invited to spend a day as a guest of Morecambe FC. Training in the morning, watching the match (against AFC Wimbledon) in the afternoon. I was tempted to join him in the afternoon, I haven’t been to watch Morecambe since they moved into their new ground, which was quite some time ago. But then, the forecast was for sunshine. There was snow on the hills. The temptation was too much.

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It’s just recently dawned on me that, in the same way that I used to manage to fit a pretty good walk in by setting off ridiculously early and then aiming to be home for lunch, now that weekend mornings are dominated by sporting fixtures and/or training for the boys, I can still accommodate a half decent stroll by setting off at lunchtime.

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So that’s what I did. It was around one o’clock when I parked in a little pull-off by Trout Beck (the stream) and set-off up into Troutbeck (the village).

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I like Troutbeck, it’s a handsome place, especially when the sun shines and there’s some white stuff about to enhance the views.

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Nanny Lane climbs out of the village towards Wansfell and Baystones. It was quite busy, although most people seemed to be heading the other way – back down into the valley.

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I kept right, sticking with the lane rather then making a bee-line for Wansfell Pike and when the lane ended and the right-of-way heads up-hill via a stile, I stuck with the wall – just to ring the changes really.

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Red Screes, Broad End, Stony Cove Pike.

On Baystones I was finally exposed to the full force of the wind. It was fairly fierce. So much so that taking photos was quite challenging. I put my rucksack down, and even though it was encumbered with a full load of extra clothing, a virtually full water bottle, ice-axe (unnecessary), micro-spikes (uncalled for) etc, it blew away and I had to chase after it.

Looking at the map I realise that, so tempting is it to climb Stony Cove Pike from the top of the Kirkstone Pass, that I’ve never explored the ridges it throws down into the Troutbeck valley. Broad End – prominent in this picture – is a continuation of the St. Raven’s Edge ridge which I’ve climbed many times from the Kirkstone and I suppose that Baystones and Wansfell Pike are the further continuation of that ridge. There’s definitely scope here for a Troutbeck horseshoe, maybe starting and finishing at Troutbeck Bridge. Hmmmm. If I ever have both the time and the energy…..

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Froswick, Ill Bell, Yoke.

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Looking along the ridge towards Wansfell Pike it was clear that the slopes were being regularly scoured by spindrift. So having had a free, outdoor-gym work-out courtesy of the ascent, I know enjoyed a complementary exfoliating face wash. It was a bit rough going, but still on the enjoyable side of invigorating.

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And the views were pretty good. Especially of the Fairfield Horseshoe which was catching the sun to good advantage.

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Looking back to Baystones.

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Like Black Fell, Wansfell Pike has something of a grandstand view of Windermere. My first walks in the Lake District were somewhere above Windermere, when we were holidaying in Garange-Over-Sands – in about 1978 I think. Wonder if we came up here?

It had been my intention to loop back to Nanny Lane and hence return to the car. But, fortuitously, when I came across a signpost indicating a permission path not shown on my 1:25000, a couple with a newer map showed me that it linked up to another lane, the Hundreds Road, which would take me down to Robin Lane and give a more satisfying circuit. So naturally, I took that.

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The light, and the views across Windermere to the Coniston Fells were lovely.

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Down at the southern end of Windermere, Gummer How was catching the last of the sunshine. But I was using my new camera’s powerful zoom to take a closer look at the islands in the middle of the lake – we’re hoping to be back to explore some of the islands in our inflatable canoes this summer, hopefully on a less windy day than last time.

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Of course, one advantage of a late start is that you inevitably have a late finish too. I think if I’d been half an hour later it would have been really spectacular.

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But I’m not complaining.

Wansfell and Baystones

Posted in Birketts, Snow, Walking | Tagged , | 8 Comments