The Wrekin stands alone, rising imposingly out of nothing, giving amazing views over a seemingly vast area. It was great to be there with Andy, who reeled off the names of all of the distant hills we could see, an enviable party trick, which he seems to be able to perform almost regardless of location.
This was the last hurrah of our short trip to Shropshire and a fitting end to a brilliant long-weekend.
Back in July, when we were still allowed to travel, stay overnight, and meet friends, and the sun still remembered how to shine, we had a wander into the very quaint Shropshire village of Much Wenlock.
I’d never been there before, but felt like it was a place I’d been waiting to visit for some time, although I’ve no idea why – I certainly didn’t know it would be this lovely.
Wenlock’s Priory was closed due to COVID restrictions; from what little we could see, it looked well worth a visit. We shall have to go back – which is just dandy as far as I’m concerned.
So, back to Shropshire in July – we walked from Much Wenlock to Ironbridge and back again.
Little S was hugely impressed by just about everything about Shropshire, including the fact that the houses were built from brick. Having grown up in the midlands, that seems perfectly normal to me, but up here in the north-wet I suppose red brick buildings are a rarity.
As you can see, the weather was glorious.
As we approached the edge of the Severn Gorge, we entered woodland. The woods were full of hollows like this one…
…some of one much deeper than this one. This is one of the many places in the UK which claims to have been the seat of the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, and there were certainly many coal and mineral deposits here. Perhaps these hollows, which seemed like they could be railway cuttings, were once part of the local mining industry.
I thought I vaguely remembered a school trip to Ironbridge when I was ‘knee-high to a grasshopper’, (as my grandad used to say), but I remembered the bridge being black. Apparently, it was grey until quite recently, but I can’t find any record of it’s having been black. Having said that, four of the adults in our party had grown up in the midlands and we all thought we could remember it as black, so maybe I’m not making it up?
The bridge was built between 1779 and 1780, opening on New Year’s Day 1781. It seems to have lasted pretty well!
We took a similar, but slightly shorter route back to the campsite. It had been a very pleasant walk, in great company and superb weather.
The summer holidays arrived and, unfortunately, Wales was still closed to visitors so we couldn’t make our usual pilgrimage to the Llyn Peninsula. Happily, TBF came to our rescue and booked us all places on Sytche Campsite on the outskirts of Much Wenlock in Shropshire.
We arrived late on the Saturday night, having missed the bad weather which the others had endured. After that the sun shone and we took the opportunity to laze around the campsite and play Mölky and a never-ending game of Kubb, which had to be abandoned from time to time to make time for inconvenient things like eating and sleeping. TJS, a physicist, seems to have adopted a probabilistic, Quantum Mechanics philosophy of playing in which there is no skill involved and Schrödinger’s block only gets knocked over if the thrower of the stick is ‘lucky’. I shall just say that some players seem to be a lot luckier than others.
Before we set off, I’d looked at an OS map of the area and noticed, with some alarm, the many contour lines sweeping across the campsite. In the event, the field had been very cleverly terraced so that the pitches were level despite the slope. We were at the top, with a pleasant view.
In between the terraces the steep banks had been sown with wildflowers and were busy with butterflies, bees and other insects, so I was in my element.
After so long confined to barracks, it was great to see our old friends again, catch-up and chill-out. We managed a couple of excursions too, of which more to follow.
After the sad demise of Toots Hibbert I wanted to post a Maytals song. But which one? ‘Funky Kingston’ is one of my favourite songs, in any genre, so that would be the obvious choice. But then ‘Pressure Drop’, ’54-46′, ‘Monkey Man’, ‘Time Tough’, so many to choose. And then there’s their great covers, of which ‘Country Roads’ is my favourite. In the end, I’ve plumped for this…
…because I’ve recently been listening to Chaka Demus and Pliers brilliant 1993 album ‘Tease Me’ which has some brilliant covers including this…
In an effort to start catching-up, I’ve shoved photos from at least three different walks into this post.
If you click on the photo and zoom in to enlarge on flickr, you will see that, unbeknown to me when I took the photo, two of the flower heads are home to ladybird larvae, of which more later in this post.
I was very chuffed to spot this rather small, straggly Helleborine – at least, that’s what I think it is – by the path into Eaves Wood from the Jubilee Wood car-park, because although I know of a spot where Broad-leaved Helleborines grow every year, by the track into Trowbarrow Quarry, I’ve never seen one growing in Eaves Wood before.
Dewberries are fantastic, smaller, juicier and generally earlier than blackberries, every walk at this time offered an opportunity at some point to sample a few.
These are some of the afore-mentioned Helleborines, not quite in flower at this point, in fact I missed them this summer altogether.
I missed the Lady’s-slipper Orchids too. Some leaves appeared belatedly, after the rains returned, long after they would usually have flowered. I don’t know whether they did eventually flower or not.
And I kept checking on the few suspected Dark Red Helleborines I’d found at Gait Barrows, but they seemed reluctant to flower too.
As well as the Dewberries, I continued to enjoy the odd savoury mushroom snack.
I thought that this might be Yellow Slime Mold, otherwise know as Scrambled Egg Slime or, rather unpleasantly, Dog Vomit Slime, but I’m not really sure.
Spying this Honey-bee on Ragwort flowers, I was wondering whether honey containing pollen from a highly poisonous plant might, in turn, be toxic. Then I began to wonder about the many insects, especially bees, which were feeding on the Ragwort: are they, like the Cinnabar Caterpillars, impervious to the alkaloids in the Ragwort.
It seemed perhaps not; although there were many apparently healthy insects on the flowers, now that I started to look, I could also many more which had sunk down between the blooms. Some were evidently dead…
Whilst others were still moving, but only slowly and in an apparently drugged, drowsy way.
If the Ragwort is dangerous to insects it seems surprising that they haven’t evolved an instinct to stay away from it.
The leaves of single sapling by the roadside were home to several Harlequin Ladybirds in various stages of their lifecycle. Unfortunately, the leaves were swaying in a fairly heavy breeze, so I struggled to get sharp images.
Fascinating to see, but the Harlequin is an invasive species from Asia, so worrying for the health of our native ladybirds.
Another collection of photos from several local walks. The weather, at this point, was very mixed and there were several days when I didn’t take any photos at all.
A visit to Woodwell yielded lots more photos of newts, although the light was poor and the photos are all decidedly murky.
This newt seemed much paler than any of the others. I also thought it looked bloated – a female with eggs to lay?
It certainly was of great interest to other newts. I watched some of them follow it around the pond. Eventually three gathered around it and all of them seemed to be nudging its belly. Just after I took this photo…
…there was some sort of excitement and the newts all seemed to thrash about and then disperse rapidly.
Here’s another newt which looks very swollen in its midriff, as does the lefthand one of this pair…
Mallows are often quite big plants, but this was low growing and I can’t find anything which comes even close to matching it in ‘The Wildflower Key’.
My obsessive compulsive photography of butterflies, even common and rather dull species like Meadow Browns, sometimes pays dividends. This brown butterfly…
…turned out to be a kind I had never seen before. That’s not entirely surprising since hairstreak species generally live up in the treetops. I wonder if it’s significant that the photograph of this species in the little pamphlet guide to the butterflies of this area also depicts a White-letter Hairstreak feeding on Ragwort?
This Ragwort was in the shade and although the butterfly stayed fairly still and I was able to take lots of photos, I was struggling to get a sharp shot.
Two walkers approached, I assumed, from their respective ages, a father and son. The Dad observed my antics with an arched eyebrow and observed:
“It’s not going to open its wings is it? Not to worry, there’s another one behind you, and it does have its wings on show.”
I turned around to see…
…a Small Skipper. Lovely, but not the once in a blue moon opportunity I had been enjoying. I did find the hairstreak again. It even moved into the sunshine, but then insisted on perching in awkward spots where I couldn’t get a clear view…
Another walk during which I took more than two hundred photos. This was a longer walk than the last one I posted about, taking in Lambert’s Meadow and parts of Gait Barrows. It was still only around five miles, which, in ‘butterfly mode’ kept me occupied for three hours.
I was looking at something else altogether, when I noticed that a patch of nettles on the perimeter of lambert’s Meadow were surprisingly busy with snails.
Whilst most snails in the UK live for only a year or two, apparently Copse Snails can live for up to seventeen, which seems pretty extraordinary.
There were some Comma butterflies about too, but they were more elusive and my photos didn’t come out too well.
I suspect that this Bumblebee was once partly yellow, but has faded with age. A bit like my powers of recall.
Lambert’s Meadow was superb this summer. It felt like every visit brought something new to see. I can’t remember ever having seen a Brown Hawker before, so was excited to see this one. In flight it looked surprisingly red.
Later I saw another…
…this time high on a tree trunk. I’ve read that they usually hunt in the canopy, so I was very lucky to get so close to the first that I saw. The fact that they generally haunt the treetops probably explains why I haven’t spotted one before.
I love the way the light is passing through dragonfly’s wings and casting those strange shadows on the tree trunk.
As I made my way slowly around the meadow, I noticed that a group of four walkers had stopped by some tall vegetation, mostly Figwort and Great Willowherb, at the edge of the field and were enthusiastically brandishing their phones to take pictures of something in amongst the plants. I had a fair idea what they might have seen.
There were a number of Broad-bodied Chasers there and, after the walkers had moved on, I took my own turn to marvel at their colours and snap lots of pictures. They’re surprisingly sanguine about you getting close to them with a camera.
This Sawfly was another first for me. I’ve spent a while trying to identify which species it belongs to, but have reluctantly admitted defeat. Depending on which source you believe, there are 400 to 500 different species of sawfly in Britain. They belong to the same order as bees, wasps and ants. If you’re wondering about the name, apparently female sawflies have a saw-like ovipositor with which they cut plants to create somewhere to lay their eggs.
There were Soldier Beetles everywhere, doing what Soldier Beetles do in the middle of summer. This one was highly unusual, because it was alone.
Creeping Thistle is easy to distinguish from other thistles because of its mauve flowers. The fields near Challan Hall had several large patches dominated by it.
I was watching a pair of Wrens which had a nest very close to the bridge over the stream which flows from Little Haweswater to Haweswater, and also watching the sticklebacks in the stream itself, when I noticed a strange black twig floating downstream. But then the ‘twig’ began to undulate and apparently alternately stretch and contract and move against the flow of the water. Soon I realised that there were several black, worm-like creatures in the water. Leeches. The UK has several species of leech, although many are very small, which narrows down what these might have been. I suspect that they are not Medicinal Leeches – the kind which might suck your blood, but the truth is I don’t know one way or the other.
A wet spell after a long dry spell always seems to provoke a bumper crop of Field Mushrooms. This summer that happened much earlier than in 2018, when the fields were briefly full of mushrooms, and in not quite the same profusion, but for a few days every walk was enlivened by a few fungal snacks.
I only eat the smaller mushrooms raw, before the cup has opened and whilst the gills are still pink. The bigger examples are very tasty fried and served on toast, but they need to be examined at home for any lurking, unwanted, extra sources of protein.
Common Centuary was growing all over the Gait Barrows meadows in a way I’ve never noticed before. I made numerous return visits, hoping to catch the flowers open, but unfortunately never saw them that way
I think that this is Wild Onion, also known as Crow garlic. A lengthy section of the hedge-bottom along Moss Lane was full of it. These odd looking things are bulbils – which is how the plant spreads. Whilst trying to identify this plant, I came across photos of another native allium – Sand Leek – growing on the coast near Arnside. It’s very striking, but I’ve never spotted it. A target for next summer.
Our friends from Herefordshire needed to drop their son back at Lancaster Uni and suggested meeting up for a walk, but the weekend they were travelling coincided with the government relaxing their rules on having guests in your house, so we invited them to stay instead.
It was so great to see them and enjoy something approaching normality after the strange experience of lockdown.
The weather on the Saturday was atrocious, but we made do with copious cups of tea, catching up and played some board games.
The Sunday was much nicer, even sunny for a while, so we compensated for the Saturday by going out twice, before and after lunch.
First up was a wander around Gait Barrows, specifically to see the extensive lowland limestone pavements there.
They really are amazing and visiting them with friends who hadn’t seen them before was liking seeing them afresh.
THB and B decided that it was appropriate to lie down and ‘sunbathe’ although they were both still wearing coats.
By the afternoon, it had clouded up quite a bit. I remember that it was very windy too.
But it was still nice enough for us to enjoy a stroll to Jenny Brown’s Point, Jack Scout and Woodwell, where the newts didn’t disappoint and put in an appearance for our guests.
As often seems to be the case now, I was too busy nattering to take many photos, which is perhaps how it should be, but is a bit frustrating in retrospect.
Still, a brilliant weekend, but not one we shall be repeating any time soon, in light of today’s retightening of the rules. Of course, if we registered as a B’n’B, they could probably pay to visit – the virus doesn’t infect paying customers as we all know.
A short walk from home on a dull, overcast day, but somehow I still managed to take over two hundred photographs. I was in what my family and friends have started to refer to as ‘Butterfly Mode’ although, on this occasion, there weren’t many butterflies amongst that legion of pictures.
The first pit-stop, where walking turned to gawking, was occasioned by a long stand of Ragwort on the verge of Elmslack.
As is so often the case, many of the plants were occupied by numerous Cinnabar caterpillars.
Given how striking they are, it’s surprisingly easy to breeze past and miss them.
A few days later, somebody removed all of this Ragwort which ignited a heated debate online, part of an ongoing argument between those who favour neatly trimmed roadside verges and the wildflower enthusiasts who would prefer wild plants to be fostered to aid our pollinators and other wildlife.
Unwisely, I plunged into said debate, but soon wished I hadn’t. The crux here is that Ragwort is poisonous to Horses and Cattle and the field next to Elmslack has horses on it. Having said that, the British Horse Society doesn’t recommend ‘the blanket removal of Ragwort’, due to its contribution to biodiversity so….I’ll leave that one to wiser heads.
From Elmslack I took the path along the bottom edge of Eaves Wood, then along The Row. A path loops off The Row and visits Dogslack Well, where there’s still an old hand-pump in situ. There was more Ragwort there, and because I was looking to find more Cinnabar caterpillars, I spotted this…
In my quest to identify the local flora, I’ve largely ignored thistles, because, well…thistles are thistles: prickly and uninteresting and frankly a bit of a nuisance where they grow across paths..
I’ve been revising my opinion of late. This spring, the Marsh Thistles on Lambert’s Meadow and their popularity with insects, have prompted a defrosting in relations. The UK has numerous species of thistles. And when you start to look properly, they’re quite endearing…
Well, I think so at least.
The path deposited me back on The Row, by Bank Well, from where another path drops steeply down to Lambert’s Meadow.
There always seems to be something to see at Lambert’s Meadow. On this occasion it was a tiny drama I spotted when I was looking at orchids…
It was hard to see exactly what was going on and, as you can see, my camera struggled to focus where I wanted it to, but I think the spider had bitten off more than it could chew.
Certainly, the fly eventually emerged alone…
From Lambert’s Meadow I took a circuit around Burtonwell Wood, then along Bottom’s Lane to Hagg Wood and across the fields home.
There seemed to be lots of ladybirds about.
The dog walker in the field is a neighbour who I often say hello to on my walks. She was with her grandson and they’d been looking at the ladybirds on the thistle in the foreground of this shot. She spotted me photographing the same ladybirds and since then our conversations have been enlivened by a shared interest in entomology. She tells me that she and her grandson keep caterpillars and watch them go through their various metamorphoses. Marvellous.
Incidentally, the thistle had done well to survive – mostly where they’d emerged in the fields around home they had been very aggressively treated with weedkiller, so that in some cases the grass around the thistle was also killed off over quite a large radius.
I’ve spotted White Stonecrop in a few places around the village this summer, growing on walls. Apparently, it’s native to the Southwest, but introduced elsewhere.
Speaking of introduced plants: a host of plants have appeared on a patch of disturbed ground by the track which runs past our house. I wondered whether somebody had scattered a packet of wildflower seeds there?
Pineapple Weed is not a native plant, but is throughly naturalised. Walk through it, where it has colonised a muddy gateway, and the distinctive aroma of pineapples it emits will reveal the reason for the seemingly incongruous name.
Putting together this post has taken longer than the walk it records, but since I’m stuck at home and it’s raining, that’s a good thing!
Another lesson for A and another short window of opportunity for a walk for me. I parked this time by Jubilee Tower, which for some reason I didn’t photograph. It’s a squat little tower, built as a Queen Victoria monument. There are steps up the outside, so I did clamber to the top to take these first couple of photographs.
Due to the time constraints, I simply went straight up Grit Fell by the fence and straight back down the same way.
These Ravens will have to stand in for the birds I enjoyed watching and listening to during my walk: the Meadow Pipits, Wheatears, and Stonechats were harder to catch on camera. I love watching Ravens in flight; they seem to relish being in their element so much, their apparent enthusiasm is infectious.