More Quick Fixes

Or: Driving Miss A

Scenes from the life of a taxi-driving Dad.

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Guides have a Thursday evening outing to ‘Pets At Home’? Perfect, I’ll nip up Scout Scar to take in the wide-open views.

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Consecutive dance lessons for an hour and a quarter in Milnthorpe on a Monday evening? No worries – a circuit from Sandside Back Lane through the woods to Storth, up to Cockshot Lane and then to the diminutive summit of Haverbrack – another Small Hill with a Disproportionately Good View.

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Panorama from Haverbrack – Kent Estuary, Whitbarrow Scar and the distant Cumbrian Fells.

This photo is from a fortnight ago. I’d also walked the same circuit a couple of weeks before that, under gloomy skies, when I didn’t take any photos.

I walked it again tonight. It had been sunny all day (whilst I was stuck at work waiting for a session of ‘Wellbeing’ training*) but whilst we ate tea the eastern sky had turned an impressively thunderous black.

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I did get rained on a bit, but the dramatic dark skies and fast-moving strips of sunlight were more than sufficient compensation.

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On a whim, I diverted slightly to visit Sandside’s infamous ‘Orchid Triangle’. Somebody (I’m not being secretive, I can’t remember who) told me about this unprepossessing spot years ago, but I misunderstood their directions and could never find any orchids. Then somebody else (again – it’s a mystery who it was) corrected my mistake, but somehow I’ve never gotten around to checking for orchids at an appropriate season.

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But today – what a stroke of luck: lots of orchids. At first I thought that they’d finished flowering, what with the lack of colour in the flowers, but now I can see that in fact many of the flowers have yet to open.

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This is Common Twayblade (I’m pretty sure of that, although I’ve never seen it before) and the flowers are a yellowy-green. Not the most spectacular orchid perhaps, and apparently ‘quite common’, but it made me very happy none-the-less.

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Not so happy with the photos, but that just gives me a reason to go back soon to have another go.

Flowers didn’t feature in the ‘7 secrets of happiness’ talk at work today, although we were exhorted to ‘be mindful’ which seemed to entail noticing changes in the weather and the seasons. (I think there might be a bit more too it than that). Music was missing too. Literature, drama, art – not mentioned. Exercise was advocated, but not fresh air, sunshine, great views…

Maybe I should deliver the training next time?

Oh, and finally…

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…another book recommendation.

Imagine this: a young man goes to University, joins a Hiking Club, becomes a bit obsessed with walking and list-ticking, gets into a few scrapes, garners an assortment of amusing anecdotes. Sound familiar to anyone? Craig Weldon has woven a very readable book out of those youthful exploits. He really does become a bit list obsessed, somewhat of a monomaniac, and it doesn’t always seem to make him happy (the part where he moves to England and seems grimly determined to drive as close as he can to the top of Marilyn’s and then bag them with the minimum of effort or enjoyment is a bit hard to fathom, but mercifully short). On the whole it’s life-affirming stuff, and made me smirk knowingly in several places. Besides which, anyone who singles out Ben Mor Coigach and Ben a’Chrulaiste for praise can’t be all bad. I’m even feeling almost inspired by his determination to go walking in foul weather. Almost.

(Available for loan – first shout).

Oh – of course – Craig Weldon has a blog, so you can sample his writing for free: Love of Scotland.

*Rant edited out. Don’t get me started.

More Quick Fixes

Annual Outing to Nether Wasdale

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Little to report from the annual camping trip to Nether Wasdale. The company was excellent, the weather was the usual mixed bag with a hard frost on the Friday night, beautiful sunny weather on Saturday and then a continuous downpour on Sunday, brightening again eventually on the Monday.

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Full of cold, I opted to take the easy way out on the Saturday and hang around the campsite with those of the children who had decided not to join either of the walking parties. (Scafell Pike and the hills above the Screes respectively). It was slightly frustrating, but I had a good book, a kettle almost constantly on the boil and a seat out in the sun where I could listen to the birdsong in the adjacent woods, so no complaints really.

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The rain on the Sunday was convenient for the kids, who were adamant that we should return to Mawson’s Ice-Cream Parlour in Seascale, which we duly did, receiving a fabulous welcome once again.

On the Monday the traditional massed football match was hard fought as ever. We also got out for a short walk, although I don’t seem to have taken any photos (probably too busy gassing). Finally, I should mention the campsite, which is a great place to stay, always very accommodating (and with extra showers now).

Annual Outing to Nether Wasdale

Quick Fixes

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I got behind again, these photos are a month old now. This first one is from a flying visit to Arnside Knott during A’s weekly piano lesson.

Later that same evening, TBH and I took a turn around the village, taking in The Cove and The Lots. On The Lots the Early Purple Orchids were just beginning to emerge. I walked round that way again last night, too late for any photo opportunities, but even in the last of the gloaming the orchids looked spectacular. I’m sure that they have spread; they seem to be thriving.

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Anyway, back to April –  the following evening I was out again, this time visiting Sharp’s Lot, Pointer Wood and Clark’s Lot.

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Many of the trees were coming into leaf.

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The sheltered spot in the limestone pavement where the primroses flourish was finally looking resplendent. The primroses too seem to be spreading and thriving.

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I’d completely forgotten taking this photo…

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In the late winter and early spring the sound of woodpeckers drumming is almost a constant soundtrack in this area. I often see them when I’m out and about too, but they are incredibly elusive whenever a camera is aimed in their direction. This is hardly the best ever photograph of a woodpecker, but at least it’s recognisable.

Not much else to say about these brief outings so I thought I would mention again Claxton by Mark Cocker, who manages to always have something interesting to say about his wildlife observations in and around his home patch in Norfolk.

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Highly recommended.

Quick Fixes

Tiny Winging Darting Floating

Townsfield – The Cove – The Lots – The Shore – Cow’s Mouth – Jack Scout – Jenny Brown’s Point – Heald Brow – The Cliff Path

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A local, post-work stroll in glorious sunshine, remarkable for its bird-spotting opportunities right from the off. The hedgerow along Townsfield was seemingly full of birds.

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Great Tit.

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Blue Tit.

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House Sparrows.

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I wasn’t the only one taking an interest…

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Nor was it only the hedgerow which was busy: overhead a couple of Corvids were harassing a Buzzard…

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Usually, I have to crop my bird photos. This Chaffinch was sitting in such a prominent spot, just above the path by The Cove, that it hasn’t been necessary on this occasion.

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Chaffinch song is one of the few which I can reliably recognise, which means that when I hear it I always feel profoundly pleased with myself, Chaffinches and life in general.

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Just beyond this Chaffinch’s perch, stands a much larger Ash tree. I once saw a Tawny Owl sat in its branches and now habitually glance over just in case. It’s nearly six years since I saw the owl and I don’t think I’ve seen anything in the same spot since, so my optimism is perhaps misplaced. Except…There was something in the same tree again. The owl was back! But…wait, it wasn’t right for an owl somehow. I fumbled for my camera, but too late, the raptor opened it’s wings and glided effortlessly away. I managed to take one photo, but only of a space between the trees which the bird had just vacated. So, what was it? I’m pretty confident that it wasn’t a Buzzard, and also that I spotted dark wing-tips as it flew, so I suspect that it was one of the local Marsh Harriers – although that would put it some way off their usual patch.

On the Lots, a dozen or so Starlings were picking-over the sward…

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I wanted to go back to Jack Scout again, and fancied a different route, so went down Shore Road to The Beach (as it’s known locally – there’s no sign of any sand) and from there around the shore to Cow’s Mouth (another cove) and Jack Scout.

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It was a clear evening and the camera’s zoom reveals the profile of the Coniston Fells…

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One advantage of knowing a few birdsongs is that from time to time I realise that I’m hearing something different and start looking for the culprit. I’m not always successful, but occasionally that tactic can pay dividends…

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Blackcaps aren’t necessarily migrants. Three of them, two females and a male, overwintered in and around our garden many years ago, when we lived on The Row. But despite that fact, I only generally see them at this time of year, when the males are busying singing to establish and protect a territory. And even in Spring I don’t see them often, so when I do spy one I’m always thrilled. Getting a photo too was a real bonus.

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From Jack Scout I headed around Jenny Brown’s Point towards the chimney. I’m not very confident with wading birds, but I guess that these are Redshank…

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I can’t decide whether this rather rough wall…

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…is an archaeological remnant of the buildings which once accompanied the chimney here, and which has been revealed by the action of the tides on the foreshore; or whether it has been more recently constructed for some reason.

I was very taken by the red hue in the tips of the branches of these trees…

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There’s a David Hockney painting ‘Bigger Trees Nearer Warter’ which I’m sure has almost exactly the same hue.

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My route had taken onto the south side of higher ground and therefore into the shade, a mistake which needed rectifying. Fortunately, there’s a path which climbs steeply up to Heald Brow which would take me back into the sunshine. As I climbed the birds singing from all of the nearby trees gave me plenty of excuses to pause and scan the trees for the musician’s. Two Chiff-chaffs were competing, one at the bottom of the slope, the other at the top. In a line of trees several Robins were duelling hard. But loudest of all, ringing out over all of them, was a solitary Song Thrush…

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Not the best photo of a Song Thrush I know, but what surprised me about this photo was the wildlife I didn’t expect to capture in it: the shoals of insects which were flying all around the Thrush. It’s this bonanza which drives so much of the birdsong, brings the migrants, fuels the nesting season. I wasn’t thinking that at the time, I must confess; I was more concerned about climbing the hill with my jaws firmly closed so as to not find myself with a mouthful of unwanted protein.

Time for one more bird on this walk, in a tall Ash on the edge of Pointer Wood. Not the sharpest photo, but more evidence of my occasional success with birdsong, which is how I located this Nuthatch…

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Tiny Winging Darting Floating

Myer’s Allotment Again

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The sun was shining again, my Mum and Dad were visiting, I couldn’t resist dragging everyone out for a quick turn around Myer’s Allotment to see my new favourite local view. (Almost everyone, A had hurt her knee the day before and is temporarily out of action).

Once again I saw a Chiff-chaff singing from a low branch, just overhead in fact, as if to make a mockery of my idea that they confine themselves to the treetops and are hard to see.

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This eggshell was quite large, and suspiciously like one of the ones from the nest by the pond-dipping boardwalk at Leighton Moss. Is it possible that it was stolen and then brought this far by the thief to be consumed?

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Here is the aforementioned view…

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And a pano version (click on any of the pictures to go to flickr where larger versions are available)

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Everything is moving on, seemingly day by day, at the moment. Here the Cowslips were flowering…

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It was a short little tour…

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…but a very good one…

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…enjoyed by one and all…

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Myer’s Allotment Again

Winging in the Blossoming

Clark’s Lot – Woodwell – Jack Scout.

If you go down to Woodwell today be sure of a big surprise. The pond has silted up quite considerably, and at one end the water is very shallow, and in that shallow water there must be thousands of tiny fish…

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Every attempted photo of a fish was later revealed to be a group shot. It was teeming. My best guess is that these are Three-Spined Sticklebacks, like the ones I used to catch in the brook with a bucket when I was a boy.

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Great tit (and emerging ash flowers).

The wind was in the North, and pretty icy, but the sun was shining and if you could find a sheltered spot it actually felt warm for a change.

– it’s april(yes, april;my darling)it’s spring!
yes the pretty birds frolic as spry as can fly
yes the little fish gambol as glad as can be

The agility of Blue Tits never ceases to amaze; this one…

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…was acrobatically hanging upside down whilst worrying the edge of a decaying piece of bark. Apparently they eat mostly caterpillars. I don’t know whether there were any beneath that flake of bark. I hope so.

Chiff-chaffs are generally much easier to hear than to see, as they often sing their distinctive song from the very tops of tall trees. But Jack Scout doesn’t have many tall trees, specialising instead in thickets of prickly things like gorse, brambles, holly, hawthorn and blackthorn. So this chap was chanting his name from a prominent, but relatively low, branch…

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…before dropping down into the brambles…

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…to play hide-and-seek in the way that two-year-old children do: ‘I can’t see you therefore I’m hidden’.

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This Bullfinch looks like it’s escaped from the set of the Angry Birds movie.

A brief glimpse of two butterflies circling, spiralling, dancing together, took me over towards the boundary wall, away from the cliff, the bay and the cold wind. Of course, when I reached the spot where the butterflies had been, they were long gone. I did eventually see one again…

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But here beneath the wall it was like I’d walked in from a winter’s day to a centrally-heated room. The contrast in temperature was quite astonishing. And, almost immediately, there were other things to look at.

I’ve been puzzled this spring by the behaviour of Bumblebees. There are lots of them about and they are all very busy, but none of them seem ever to be feeding. What are they up to?

This one…

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…buzzed over, landed on some moss, and then apparently did nothing.

I was photographing the Primroses, when I became peripherally aware of something strange flying across the clump.

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It was a tawny orange and looked something like a bee, but clearly wasn’t a bee. What’s more, it had thin, black, scalloped-edge wings which were perpetually in rapid motion, flickering back and forth and giving the impression of some bizarre bee/bat hybrid hovering over the primroses.

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Some moths imitate bees in appearance. So do many hoverflies. Even some bees impersonate other bee species. But this didn’t look even remotely like a hoverfly. Nor particularly like a moth. A second appeared…

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The curious, black, improbably thin, bat-like wings were revealed to be actually just the top edge of larger wings. And the hovering was an illusion created by the constant trembling palpitation of those wings.

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These are Bee-Flies.

The furry brown body and the long proboscis, together with the dark brown front edges of the wings make this fly very easy to recognise…Although appearing to hover while feeding, it usually clings to the flowers with its spindly legs. The larvae live as parasitoids in the nests of mining bees.

from Collins Complete British Insects by Michael Chinery

A parasitoid, I learn, differs from a parasite in that it will eventually kill or paralyse its host and then eat it. A slightly gruesome creature then, but fascinating just the same. What’s more, the presence of these flies surely indicates that their hosts can’t be too far away, and after being captivated by a Tawny Mining Bee last year, I’d love to find them closer to home. Actually, I have seen one closer to home, feeding on Blackthorn blossom…

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last spring.

My attempts to get to grips with birdsong have not been a massive success, but sometimes knowing that you don’t know can even pay dividends. (I’m in danger of slipping into Rumsfeldisms here if I’m not careful.) I could hear a bird singing from a very tall ash. I was fairly confident that it wasn’t a Robin, or any kind of Tit or Finch, and obviously not a Thrush or a Blackbird, nor a Nuthatch, which I seem to have recently become reasonably confident about picking out. Quite a musical song, I thought…

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…and there it was, way up in the blue, a Dunnock! I had no idea that they could sing like that.

(The RSPB page on Dunnocks has a handy sound file.)

So, alright, it’s a Dunnock. We get them in the garden, mostly on the ground under the hedges. You could maybe accuse it of being a bit drab. But I was thrilled to spy it way up there in the very tallest tree, proclaiming it’s territory.

(all the merry little birds are
flying in the floating in the
very spirits singing in
are winging in the blossoming)

All of the unattributed quotes are from e.e.cummings. Inevitably. Illimitably.

Winging in the Blossoming

Entertaining Mister B

After my turn around Myer’s Allotment and Leighton Moss I came home in time for a quick bite of lunch (homemade burger and coleslaw which the Dangerous Brothers and I had knocked-up for tea the previous evening, very nice too) and then collected the chefs from school (TBH and A were away visiting friends).

The sun was shining and B was anxious to drag me to the park to throw a ball around. Before we could do that, however, he needed to pack for his first Scout camp. This was a protracted and painfully slow process. I gave him the packing list, he went off to pack. When I subsequently went through the list with him it transpired that he had omitted more items than he had packed. He went away and tried again, with similar results. Eventually, I stood over him and watched him put all of the things he needed into my voluminous, and venerable, Karrimor Jaguar 6 (which dwarfed him when packed).

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B, living up to his billing as a Dangerous Brother, was still recovering from a sprained ankle and whilst he was keen not to miss out, was not fit to join the rest of the Scouts on a scheduled long walk. So an early start for me – I picked him up from Sykeside Campsite by Brother’s Water at 9am. Well, I was there to pick him up, but he was still eating his breakfast. It had been wet in the night, and also very, very cold, but now the weather was apparently set fair and the views were rather splendid.

The rest of the Scouts would be returning to camp at around five in the afternoon. So; how does one entertain a boy who can’t walk too far on a sunny day in April in the North-Eastern Lakes?

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First-off: a short walk along a delectable bit of path along the western shore of Brother’s Water.

This…

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…is typical of the kind of the remnants of the winter flooding which A and I noticed on our walk through the Lakes the week before. It’s hard to see it here, but a tiny dribble of water was flowing down this small bed, but as you can see, a layer of topsoil has been scoured away for a few yards either side of the rivulet. Where it met the right-of-way, a large mound of boulders was humped across the path.

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It was a slow meander, with lots of pauses to try to take photos of small birds. B was a patient companion, actually a willing accomplice: we watched a pair of nuthatches seemingly taking it in turns to fly back and forth between the trunk of a tall tree and the base of small sapling nearby. As I tried to keep up with their antics through the lens of my camera, B kept up a running commentary in an attempt to help me find them as they moved.

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We had arranged to meet the rest of the family at Aira Force at 11. We were a little early, and we knew that the others would almost certainly be late (they were), so decided to wait for them outside the little cafe there, at a table from which we could watch the road and wave at the others to join us when they arrived.

B and I had been listening to Chaffinches and Robins as we walked beside Brother’s Water. We’d seen a few of the songsters but always at quite a distance. Now, as we sat outside, tamer cousins came looking for crumbs on the wall by our table…

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Or even onto the table itself…

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Marvellous.

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Naturally, we were then duty bound to have a wander up to view Aira Force itself.

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There’s a bridge at the top, from which you can stare into the chasm…

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And another at the bottom…

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Which is a great vantage point to view the falls…

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Last time I was here there was a lot more water coming over the falls. I was quite surprised, when I checked, to discover that it was more than 5 years ago.

Less surprising to find that it is also almost 5 years since we previously visited Brougham Hall…

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…and Brougham Castle…

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…because I remember how much smaller the kids were at the time.

Both are well worth a visit. The castle is built on the remains of a Roman Fort. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say: built with the remains of a Roman Fort. Inside the keep, one ceiling was clearly made using a Roman headstone…

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The River Eamont runs past the castle, and the town of Penrith is nearby.

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One of the surprising things about the castle is that, on both of our visits, there were hardly any other visitors.

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And we even found a bench that was out of the wind and so pleasantly warm to sit on as the children played hide and seek in the ruins.

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They may be much bigger than they were, but happily, they still enjoy simple pleasures.

There are lots more pictures here, from our last visit, including some of swash being buckled.

Not far from the castle, a bridge over the Eamont, currently closed, showed more evidence of the winter flooding…

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Entertaining Mister B