At Swim Two Becks

Skelwith Bridge – Elter Water – Elterwater – Little Langdale – Slater Bridge – Stang End – Skelwith Bridge.

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Continuing the theme of my last post – novelty versus familiarity – this is a route I’ve walked countless times over the years, but this iteration was unlike any previous version. It was late afternoon, after work, but still very hot. Skelwith Force was a bit of a misnomer for the normally thunderous waterfall, now relatively tame. I was heading for this large pool in the River Brathay.

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Purple Loosestrife.

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Purple Loosestrife – Emily – is this what’s in your garden?

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Before I got to this point in the river, I was examining another clump of Purple Loosestrife when this Shield Bug landed on my hand and then on the path. I think it’s a Bronze Shieldbug, but I’m not entirely confident.

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Harebell.

Anyway, the reason I’d strayed slightly from the path and stuck to the riverbank, was that I was looking for a place for a swim. This looked perfect…

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And it was! The water was deep and quite warm, but cool enough to be refreshing. It was almost immediately deep, straight from the bank, but I found a place where I thought I could ease myself in, except that the riverbed was so slippery that I lost my footing, both feet sliding out from under me, and fell in anyway. It was a beautiful spot for a swim, with stunning views and a host of damselflies and dragonflies keeping me company.

A short walk upstream, past what looked like another ideal place for swimming, brought me to Elter Water…

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The lake, not the village. I’d had an idea that I might swim here too, but, as you can see, the water was very shallow close in and further out I thought I could see a great deal of weed, which I found a bit off-putting; I decided to bide my time.

If I wasn’t swimming, there were plenty of fish that were…

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I still had my wet-shoes on and paddled into the water to take some photos. The fish weren’t very frightened of me…

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I changed back into shoes more suited for walking, but retained my rapidly drying trunks; I had plans for more swimming.

In fact, before I’d left for this part of the Lakes, I’d been poring over the map, looking at blue bits which promised the possibility of a swim. As is often the case, I’d got carried away and had identified numerous potential spots and was toying with the idea of linking them together in an extended walking and swimming journey reminiscent of the central character’s trip in the film and John Cheever short-story ‘The Swimmer’, with your’s truly in the muscular Burt Lancaster role, obviously.

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Small Tortoiseshell butterflies. I saw, and photographed, loads of them.

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Silver-Y Moth. I saw lots of these too, but they were very elusive to photograph.

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Lots of Harebells too!

The short climb from the village of Elterwater over to Little Langdale was hot and sticky work, but brought the reward of views of Little Langdale Tarn and the Coniston Fells…

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This…

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…is the River Brathay again, flowing out of Little Langdale Tarn.

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Slater Bridge.

I thought that this pool…

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…just downstream of Slater Bridge, might have swimming potential, but couldn’t be sure that it was deep enough, so wanted to check the pool I’d seen before, back toward Little Langdale Tarn.

The ground beside the river, even after our long dry spell, was still quite spongy and full of typical wet, heathland vegetation, including lots of Heath Spotted-orchids.

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Good to have an opportunity to compare these with its close relative Common Spotted-orchid which I’ve photographed around home recently.

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This pool turned out to be ideal again. I dug my stove out of my bag, to make a cup of tea ready for when I’d had a swim. Whilst I was busy, a dragonfly landed on a nearby boulder. I grabbed my camera, but the photograph came out horribly blurred.  It does show a dragonfly which is exactly the same pale blue as a male Broad-bodied Chaser, but with a much narrower abdomen, making it either a male Black-tailed Skimmer or a male Keeled Skimmer, probably the latter, based on the distribution maps in my Field Guide, which makes it a first for me.

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White Water-lily – the largest flower indigenous to Britain, but it closes and slowly withdraws into the water each day after midday.

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Yellow Water-lily.

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Once again, the water was deep right to the bank, but somebody had piled up rocks under the water to make it easier to get in and out. The water here was colder than it had been further downstream, quite bracing even, somewhat to my surprise. I enjoyed this swim even more than the first. The low sun was catching the Bog Cotton on the bank…

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…and was also making reflected ripple patterns on the peaty exposed bank, which were stunning, but which I can’t show you because they were only visible from the water. In addition, the Bog Myrtle bushes growing along the bank were giving off a lovely earthy, musky fragrance.

It was eight o’clock by now, and I expected to have the river to myself, but a couple arrived for a swim and once they were changed and in the water, I got out to enjoy my cup of tea.

Returning to Slater Bridge…

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I watched two large dragonflies rapidly touring the area. They were so fast that my efforts to take photographs were doomed to failure. I thought that they were Golden-ringed Dragonflies, like the ones I saw mating near to Fox’s Pulpit last summer. At one point, one of them repeatedly landed momentarily on the surface of the water, or rather splashed onto the surface, making a ripple, and then instantly flew on again, only to almost immediately repeat the procedure. I have no idea what purpose this behaviour served. It was very odd.

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I still had a fair way to go to get back to the car, but also the last of the light to enjoy whilst I walked it.

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The post’s title is meant to be a punning reference to ‘At Swim Two Birds’, Flann O’Brien’s wonderfully nutty book, which some people claim is even better than his ‘The Third Policeman’. I probably should reread them both to see what I think now, after a break of a few years; if the house weren’t stuffed to the rafters with books I haven’t ever read, I would set about that task tomorrow. ‘At Swim Two Becks’ seemed appropriate when I thought I had swum in Great Langdale Beck and Greenburn Beck and before I had examined the map again and realised that in fact I’d swum in two different stretches of the River Brathay.

Of course, Heraclitus, whom I am fond of quoting, tells us that you can never step into the same river twice. You can, however, walk the same route twice, but it will never be the same each time. Previous blog-posts of much the same route, none of which involve swimming, Burt Lancaster, John Cheever or the novels of Flann O’Brien:

A walk with my Mum and Dad.

A walk with TBH.

A snowy walk with friends

A more recent walk with different friends.

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At Swim Two Becks

Returns Policy

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“I try not to repeat previous routes.”

Fellow blogger, and almost neighbour Conrad, is of an adventurous bent, a novelty seeker, a risk taker. I only know Conrad online, so I shouldn’t really presume to know, but I imagine that his ‘never go back’ approach is driven by the impulse which once made him a climber and which has seen him set-out on some truly mammoth walks (of which I am very jealous).

I understand this school of thought: there are so many places to visit, even locally, and so little time in which to visit them all: why repeat yourself? But, at the same time, I love the comfort of the familiar: places I’ve visited time and again, in every season, every hour of the day and every kind of weather.

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As Conrad pointed out, in a comment on a recent post, there are advantages to this repetitious beating of the bounds – knowledge accumulates and you begin to know what there is to see, and when and where it can be seen. For example, when I started this blog, just over 10 years ago, I don’t think I’d ever encountered Cinnabar Moth caterpillars; now I expect to find them every summer. Last week they were out in numbers, seemingly stripping every available Ragwort plant in Redhill Pastures on Arnside Knott.

I was there to help again with the Limestone Grassland monitoring project I signed up for last year. The pasture was absolutely parched and it was very difficult to identify the herbs we were looking for. As is my wont, I was crawling around on hands and knees looking for some of the tiny flowers which are important indicator species, when I discovered that both of my forearms were covered in minute specks of pollen. Except the ‘pollen’ was moving. It wasn’t pollen; they were ticks. Hundreds of the them. Since we live in an area where deer are quite common, I’m used to finding the odd tick, but I’ve never seen them in this kind of profusion. It was a bit disconcerting, and I had to excuse myself to go home for a shower.

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This final photo was taken the day before my tick-infestation and is off an altogether happier occasion and another slight return – we went back to High Dam for a swim. This time all five of us went and the sun shone and there were no midges. We were there for a couple of hours and it was very refreshing.

Who knows – we may be back there soon? We’ll certainly return at some point – we like to go back.

Returns Policy

Skiddaw Bivvy

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Keswick and Derwentwater – it was quite a bit darker than this photo suggests.

Friday evening. S has a class on the climbing wall in the Sports Centre at Lancaster University. It had been a busy week: S had been the Artful Dodger in his school’s production of Oliver (which was brilliant, although I may be a little biased). I’d also had a late evening at work, so hadn’t managed my usual evening walk(s). What’s-more, the nights had been hot and sticky, at least by local standards, and I’d been finding it hard to sleep. Driving home with S I had an inspiration – a way to get out for a walk and get a cooler night. Back at home I hurriedly grabbed something to eat, threw some things into my rucksack and set-off for Keswick.

I parked in the high car-park behind Latrigg, which was quite full. There were several occupied campervans which I guessed were staying the night, but numerous cars also. A couple approached me and asked about potential wild-camping spots. They’d ended up here by default after having problems with closed roads. It occurred to me afterwards that they may have been heading for the end of Haweswater, because when we were there a few weeks ago, somebody had been larking about with road-closed signs and diversion signs even though there was actually little or no work going on. Anyway, I wasn’t much use to them; I haven’t camped in this part of the Lakes before and haven’t climbed Skiddaw in an absolute age. They decided to try Latrigg, but soon overtook me on the broad path up Skiddaw, looking for a spot on Jenkin Hill, where I saw them again with their tent just about pitched.

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The moon rising over the Dodds.

It was already after sunset when I started my walk and I was surprised by the freshness of the breeze, so much so that I hastily stuffed an extra jumper into my bag which I happened to have in the boot of the car. TBH and I had noticed that the moon was full when we went out for a short stroll after Little S’s theatric triumph, so I was anticipating a light night and that’s how it turned out – I only used my headtorch close to the top of Skiddaw when the ground was rocky and I wanted to avoid a trip.

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I arrived on the top at around half twelve. Even then the sky to the north still held a good deal of light. There were a few people about – I suppose that this is a traditional weekend for fell-runners completing the Bob Graham Round.

I was after something much more modest – a place to kip-down for a few hours. I’d remembered that the highest parts of Skiddaw are very rocky – like a slag heap, one friend has subsequently described it – but felt confident that I would find somewhere. Ironically, given my enthusiasm for wild-flowers, it was the sight of tiny white stars of the flowers of a bedstraw – there are many species – which stood out in the darkness and led me to a spot with at least a thin covering of soil. It’s wasn’t a spot I could recommend – sloping, uneven, hard, stony and not entirely out of the, by now, pretty fierce wind, but, somewhat to my surprise, I not only slept, but slept quite well. It was cold though – I discovered that when needs must I can get right down inside my sleeping bag and close it over my head. Between my sleeping bag, the thin pertex bivvy bag I have and the extra jumper I’d brought I just about stayed on the right side of comfortable.

I woke at around three, momentarily panicking a little because it was so light that I was worried that I’d missed the sunrise, despite the fact that I’d set an alarm for 4.20am, precisely to avoid that eventuality. I should have taken a photograph at three – the colours in the northern sky were superb, but I’m afraid my head was soon down again for a little more shut-eye.

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In the event, I didn’t need the alarm: two groups of people walked past my little hollow about 10 minutes before it was due to go off, timing their arrival on the top just about perfectly for the sunrise.

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It’s a while since I’ve watched a sunrise from a mountain. Perhaps I won’t wait so long this time to repeat the experience.

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There was evidently a layer of cloud hanging low over the Solway Firth to the north and the Eden Valley to the east and odd wisps of mist closer to hand.

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Bassenthwaite Lake.

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An early party on the summit.

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Derwentwater and the surrounding hills.

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Derwentwater and the Fells pano.

For reasons which now escape me, I climbed Skiddaw Little Man in the dark on the Friday night, but I’d stuck to the main path which omits the top of Jenkin Hill, and avoids Lonscale Fell and Lonscale Pike altogether, so on my way back to the car I diverted slightly to take them all in.

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Jenkin Hill, Lonscale Fell and Blencathra behind.

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Looking back to Skiddaw Little Man and Skiddaw. 

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Derwentwater and the Fells from Jenkin Hill.

From Lonscale Pike, I found a slight path, which followed the wall down close to the edge of Lonscale Crags. Part way down, I realised that the weather had already warmed up considerably and decided to sit down to admire the view with a bit of porridge and a cup of tea.

Nearby, I spotted this large caterpillar…

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…which I think is of the Hairy Oak Eggar Moth. B and I saw some similar caterpillars on Haystacks two summers ago.

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Foxglove.

As I got close to the car park again, and was down amongst the bracken covered hillsides, there were numerous moths and some Small Heath butterflies and a host of small birds about. Sadly none of my photos turned out very well.

Back at the car, I dumped my rucksack and set-out to tick-off Latrigg, it being so close by and the weather so favourable. Incidentally, the car park was already full, at 9 in the morning, breaking the usually reliable rule that car-parks in the Lakes are almost empty before 10, I presume because people were seeking an early start to escape the heat of the day. There’s a direct path to the top, not shown on OS maps, but also a more circuitous one, which I chose, partly because I wasn’t in a hurry and partly because I thought it would give better views.

Latrigg was busy with walkers, runners and Skylarks.

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I watched this Skylark in flight and then, after it had landed on a small mound, walked slowly toward it, taking photos as I approached.

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This Skylark…

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…didn’t require the same effort. It landed quite close to the path and then flew just a short distance further on, before having a ‘dust bath’ on the path. Although it was much closer than the first bird, it wouldn’t pose and look at the camera in such an obliging way.

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Keswick from Latrigg.

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Keswick from Latrigg pano.

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Skiddaw massif from Latrigg.

Highly enjoyable, although it did leave me a bit wiped out for the rest of the weekend. Hopefully, I’ll try another summit bivvy, if the opportunity arises – without a tent I can manage with my small rucksack, which wasn’t too heavy, aside from the two litres of water I was carrying.

Skiddaw Bivvy

Art Trail at Ashmeadow

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This is the yacht ‘Severn’. Recently bought by Arnside sailing club, thanks to a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. It was built in Arnside in 1912 at the Crossfields boat-builders, who also made Arthur Ransome’s ‘Swallow’.

What with the bread course on the Saturday, I didn’t see quite as much of the Art Trail this year as I usually do. (You can find statements here from many (all?) of the artists taking part) I still managed to get to the Silverdale Art Group exhibition in the Gaskell Hall and to the Church Rooms and the Methodist Church, both of which are close to home. On the Sunday, TBH and J were keen to get to Arnside. We had a look in a couple of the galleries there, and also in the Educational Institute and W.I. Hall, but we spent most time exploring the Ashmeadow Estate.

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Part of the estate was left to the village. I’ve wandered around it before, but found that it is a little bigger than I realised. It has a small orchard, an enchanting walled garden and woodland stretching along the riverside. Artwork was dotted around the gardens, but my photos of it are very disappointing. I am going to include this…

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…out of focus failure, because we were all very taken by these characterful alien creatures – there were nine of them literally hanging around in the orchard, although we only managed to find eight. They’re made by Simon Hutchinson who calls them junkpunk.

As if to prove that it can take close-ups when the mood suits, my camera-phone cooperated when I wanted a shot of these particularly large Common-spotted Orchids in the walled garden…

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…much of which is now given over to a grassy meadow.

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The house just visible above is Ashmeadow House, built apparently in 1819, but for much of it’s past, the home of Earnseat School. A former colleague of mine was a pupil at the school, in what must have been its last years, since it closed in 1979. These days the house  contains retirement properties.

Formerly, the grounds of Ashmeadow were even more extensive than they are now. This house…

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…where there was more Art on display, was once the Coach House and Stables for the estate.

Art Trail at Ashmeadow

Yarn-Bombing on the Art Trail

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Last year, I think for the first time, a band of Guerrilla knitters decorated the village centre for the Art Trail weekend.

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This time, they did it again, but in even more spectacular fashion.

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I suppose it might divide opinion…

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…but for me it’s colourful, cheerful and definitely to be welcomed.

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Sadly, after the event the Octopus and the Jellyfish from the first photo were removed by person or persons unknown.

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They were eventually found again, but in the meantime the rest of the decoration, which it had been intended to leave in situ for a while, was removed, lest it suffer a similar fate.

 

Yarn-Bombing on the Art Trail

Bread Making at Heron Corn Mill

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For my Birthday present TBH booked me onto a bread-making course. That’s some of my bread in the foreground of the photo above. My rolls were misshapen and looked a bit ‘rustic’ compared to everybody else’s – insufficient kneading was to blame apparently – but they tasted great anyway.

The course was held in a ‘Shepherd’s Hut’…

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These things seem to be all the rage these days, but were they ever actually used by genuine shepherds? They seem a bit cumbersome and impractical. I’ve just been reading about the annual transhumance which was traditional in the hillier parts of these isles, but the women involved – and apparently it was mostly women – lived in Shielings which were temporary structures made of wood and sticks not fancy-Dan cottages on wheels. The women were with the dairy herd and making butter and cheese, the shepherds meanwhile, out with their flocks, surely didn’t have anything like this.

Anyway, the ‘shepherd’s hut’ is situated by Heron Corn Mill near Beetham…

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…where some of the flours we were using were stoneground. I bought Wholemeal, Spelt and Rye flour whilst I was there so that I could practice at home.

The corn mill has a state-of-the-art hydroelectricity generator which usually provides all of their power and also much of their income since any excess power is sold to the paper mill which you can see across the river here…

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You can also see that the water levels are exceptionally low – so low in fact that the generator isn’t working at all. (You can see more usual summer levels over the weir in this post from June last year.)

Anyway, the course was huge fun. I’ve posted in the past about making bread, but whilst my previous bread making attempts have generally produced something tasty, the bread has always been a bit brick like in texture. This time the bread was delicious and well….bread like – light and not too chewy.

The course was on the same weekend as Silverdale’s annual Art Trail weekend. When I got home it was to find that TBH and our guest J were still out and about so I decided to stretch my legs and get some fresh air with a wander through Eaves Wood to Castlebarrow…

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…and the Pepper Pot and then a walk down to the Cove, across the Lots and back through the village (of which more later).

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Rather predictably, I managed to leave the recipes we were given behind at the end of the course, but my subsequent attempts to make bread have still managed to be less dense than your average blackhole.

This was Sunday’s family lunch, open-sandwiches on homemade bread…

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Bread Making at Heron Corn Mill

Kaleidoscope Moon

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I decided to take an evening stroll down to Leighton Moss, thinking that on previous summer-evenings I’d seen Red Deer swimming in the meres near to Grizedale Hide and that maybe I would see them again.

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Dryad’s Saddle.

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Distant Great Spotted Woodpecker.

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In the event, whilst I did spot a couple of deer, they were partially hidden in amongst the reeds. Fortunately, there was plenty more to see.

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I particularly enjoyed the antics of this Little Egret. Unlike Herons – patient hunters which don’t generally move very much or very quickly, Little Egrets wander about, stirring up the mud at the bottom of the pond hoping to dislodge likely prey.

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A nearby tree had seven Cormorants perched in it…

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I knew that Herons and Egrets like to congregate to roost in the evenings, but perhaps Cormorants do too.

There were some Proper Birders in the hide, nice chaps, who told me that there were both Marsh Harriers and Bitterns nesting nearby. They were hoping for a sight of the Bitterns, which didn’t materialise, but we did see both adult Harriers, although somewhat distantly…

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I find that I can only sit in a hide for so long before I start to get itchy feet and when the sun disappeared, perhaps for the last time that day I thought, it was time to move on.

Anyway, I wanted to get home before it got too late. On my way back around the reserve, I diverted slightly to take in the view from the Sky Tower…

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From there I watched a pair of Swans and their large family of cygnets swim across the mere in a stately line and then, reaching their nest, enter into a noisy dispute with some Coots, who obviously felt that they had squatters’ rights.

Then I noticed some sort of commotion in the water, between the two islands of reeds in the photograph above. Fish were jumping out of the water, but not the odd fish rising for a fly, this was lots of fish and the fish were seemingly leaping in groups, with the activity moving around the small area as if something were pursuing the fish beneath the water. I’ve seen this sort of thing once before and that was just after I thought I’d seen an Otter dive into the water from the Causeway which crosses the reserve. In the middle of the area where the commotion was taking place the RSPB have built a small wooden platform. There were numerous birds on that platform and they were all obviously aware of what was going on too. The ducks all took to the water and headed swiftly away. The heron peered at the fish momentarily before unfurling its wings and also departing. Only the small white birds, which looked to be terns of some sort, didn’t seem to be bothered. Meanwhile a second area, along the edge of the mere, had also started to liven up with fish jumping this way and that. Perhaps there were a pair of Otters down there, doing a spot of fishing.

The area where this was all happening was right in front of Lillian’s Hide, so I thought I would head down there to see what I could see. When I got there, the fish were no longer leaping, but a disturbance in the reeds alerted me and there was my Otter, swimming along the channel in front of the hide. I lost sight of it, but there was another chap in the hide and, when I told him there was an otter nearby, he came up trumps by spotting it swimming away.

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Not as good as my photos from this winter, but it’s not often that I get to see an Otter after work, so I was very happy.

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The heron returned and I could see now why the terns were so unperturbed – they weren’t real – I suppose that this is an attempt to attract actual terns to nest on this faux island?

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Buzzard.

By the time I was walking back across the fields towards home, I’d missed the sunset, but there was still lots of colour in the sky.

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The moon was half hidden by this great swathe of pink clouds. Using the zoom on my camera I watched the moon as it was repeatedly veiled and unveiled by the clouds.

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Searching for a title for the post, and reverting, as I often do, to songs titles half-remembered from my youth, I thought I could recall a song called Kaleidoscope Moon.

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A bit of googling however, reminded me that the song I was thinking of was actually ‘Kaleidoscope World’ from the album of the same name by Kiwi band The Chills.

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Other songs on the album were called ‘Rolling Moon’ and my own favourite ‘Pink Frost’, so maybe I had dimly muddled these three and somehow got ‘pink’, ‘moon’ and ‘kaleidoscope’ from the three songs. I’m surprised that I seem to have managed to almost completely forget this band, although some fragment of a memory was clearly lurking in the recesses of my mind, and I’m very happy to have been serendipitously jolted into recollection.

 

Kaleidoscope Moon