Gentian Boot

I’ve generally tried to resist the temptation to post photos of flowers from the garden, but these gentians are short-lived and I’m very fond of them – a photo here will extend their season a little. Besides, I didn’t get out for a walk today. I took this picture in a brief lull between the showers. We’ve had a lot of those this week, the odd rumble of thunder and rainbows as well.

This is one of my old boots, long since retired from walking. When, many years ago, my Mum brought me some gentians from her garden, it seemed appropriate to give these mountain flowers a new home in my malodorous footwear.

Gentian Boot

Evening Saunter

Another fairly late evening walk. A wet morning had been followed by an intermittently sunny afternoon, but by eight this evening the sky was full of clouds swollen and purple like bruises and as I set off I wondered whether I ought to go back for my coat. A small bird of prey – I think a sparrow hawk – took wing as I entered the field. The western flanks of the distant Howgill Fells were bathed in sunlight even though their heads were hidden in the clouds.

Deliberating whilst tying my shoes I had decided to head for Pointer Wood, Sharp’s Lot and Clark’s Lot for no other reason than that I haven’t been that way for a while. When I got there I realised that the unconscious reason for my decision must have been that the woods and the meadow would have some of the flowers that I saw on Saturday but didn’t stop to photograph.

I noticed in Pointer Wood that the horse chestnuts are about to flower and that the beech leaves are emerging, although not as fully as the ones I saw on Saturday.

The meadow here is a good place for early purple orchids, but there are none out yet. There were, however, lots of cowslips:

The light was very poor now – I shall have to go back in better light. I eventually worked out how to use the fill in flash but the results make it look like I was walking in the dark – which isn’t unheard of, but I wasn’t on this occasion. A rowan in the woods was almost in bloom….

…and this wild cherry (or gean) was flowering:

A woodcock croaked and wheezed overheard. Through the trees I could see enough colour in the sky to suggest a half decent sunset. If I were Robert Macfarlane then I would have scaled a tree for a better vantage point. As it was, it wasn’t until I was out of the wood that I could see a patch of red, the final remnants of the sunset:

I forgot to mention on Saturday that a wood near Dallam Deer Park was completely carpeted in white blossoms of Ramsons. Nearer home only a few individual plants are fully flowering.

Almost back home and a hedgehog scurried across my path, his little legs going ten to the dozen. He was quite a small specimen, not like the monster hedgehog that regularly visited our patio last summer.

Evening Saunter

Duke of Edinburgh

Out at eight this morning heading for Milnthorpe. In Eaves Wood the birdsong was constant and bewildering in its variety. I heard the distinctive liquid croaks of a raven and looking up saw two birds flying very close together. Although my first thought was that it was a pair of ravens I quickly realised that in fact it was a raven being harassed by a crow. Later in the day I saw a crow doing the same thing to a buzzard which I’ve often seen before, but I can’t recall seeing a raven receive this treatment. I kept hearing a two note song which seemed familiar, but which I couldn’t place. It was only five minutes later, as I crossed the railway line at Waterslack, that I realised that I had been listening to chiff-chaffs and that it sounded familiar precisely because I have been watching the warblers section of my British Birds DVD in an attempt to learn the chiff-chaff’s song. On the path near Haweswater I heard them again and finally tracked the singing down to an LBJ in a small tree beside the path. It’s hardly a spectacular bird, but the satisfaction I felt was considerable none the less. A nuthatch perched on the edge of a hole in a tree trunk and dipped its head inside, presumably to feed young in an unseen nest.

A while back, by Silverdale Moss, I noticed a large tree split in two by a fissure through its trunk. It’s a huge Ash and it’s still standing and flowering in profusion. With little wind this morning the two halves of the tree weren’t beating together like last time.

On Beetham Fell I came past a stand of beech all in leaf. I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t noticed that the beech leaves had emerged in Eaves Wood, but as the day progressed it transpired that most other beeches were still bare. Why then were several trees ‘out’ here? Because they share the same favourable conditions? Or does one tree come into leaf and then release a ‘tree hormone’ which encourages the others to follow suit?

Whatever the reason, the season of new beech leaves is a magical time. Bright sunshine to illuminate the leaves was the missing ingredient today, but I still enjoyed their arrival. In the first few days the leaves are pale and limp and hang overlapping to produce a full palette of lemon greens.

In Dallam Deer Park most of the deer were out of sight, probably down by the river Bela which seems to be a favourite haunt. This group were available for photos though:

Very considerate of them to pose. They are part of a large herd of tame fallow deer.

I had seriously underestimated how long it would take me to get to Milnthorpe and I was half an hour late arriving. Fortunately, nobody seemed to mind  and the D of E group that I was joining to supervise for part of their practice expedition weren’t ready to set off anyway.

We walked back through the deer park.

Back through the hamlet of Haverbrack, where I couldn’t resist this huge barn (surely ripe for convertion):

And back to Beetham Fell and the Fairy Steps. At the Fairy Steps the path passes through a narrow chimney in a small cliff. Getting the large packs full of camping gear down the tight squeeze proved to be quite a challenge for the girls. Fortunately the view kept me occupied whist they were hard at work (I was only there to observe and advise – it is meant to be a challenge!)

The hill on the left is Arnside Knot and the river is the Kent.

After lunch near Hazelslack farm it began to spit with rain. The group decided to don cagoules, overtrousers and rucksack covers and so the rest of the walk was accompanied by waterproof rustle. I opted to bide my time and despite occasional flurries the rain mostly held off until after I got home. A field near Hazelslack had been cleared of gorse and was resplendent with cherry blossom, marsh marigolds, violets, cowslips, bluebells, anemones, speedwell, daises etc. My young charges were too busy gossiping to notice but when we passed an early purple orchid I felt compelled to point it out to them. They are such nice kids that they humoured me and contrived to convey genuine interest for at least 30 seconds.

Unusually, a field on Arnside Moss had been ploughed. The shiny black soil looked like peat and was liberally covered in silver limestone boulders.

We followed Black Dyke beside the Railway Line and the edge of Middlebarrow Wood to Arnside Tower, then crossed Holgates Caravan Park into Eaves Wood. At the top of Elmslack Lane we parted company – they had a tour around Silverdale left to complete before they reached their campsite, I was five minutes from home.

Duke of Edinburgh

Roding in the Gloaming

A gloriously sunny day and I was in Ambleside, but sadly stuck inside for a course. On the drive up I stopped in the car park of Sizergh Castle because a friend had suggested that I might see hawfinches there. I didn’t, but there were lots of song thrushes and blackbirds catching worms or singing gleefully. And both a kestrel and a pair of jays graced me with fly-pasts.

The course was in a place called Kelsick Hall on the outskirts of Ambleside on the lower slopes of Wansfell Pike, of which we had tantalising views from the windows. When I arrived this morning two roe deer were crossing the field just beyond the perimeter of the car park.


Made the most of the lengthening evenings tonight with a walk in the owl-light. Parked at Woodwell after eight.

And set off for Heald Brow.

From Heald Brow the path drops down a steep bank densely overgrown with hawthorn, gorse, brambles and ash.

This is the view form the top of the bank looking across the saltmarsh to Warton Crag. In the centre of the picture you can just about follow the sinuous curve of Quaker’s Stang a raised bank that protects the fields behind it from the tide.

The Ash flowers have now fully emerged:

A few weeks ago these were red and purple globes that I assumed were emerging leaves. You live and learn.

The saltmarsh is occasionally inundated by the tide, but sheep are still grazed here. The fences have bits of dried grass and seaweed hung from them by the sea:

Towards Jenny Brown’s Point, near to the old copper smelting works chimney, the bank of Quicksand Pool is eroding rapidly.

At this rate this walk will require Wellies soon.

Turning the corner at Jenny Brown’s Point and entering the scrub at Jack Scout, I was suddenly out of the cold easterly wind for a moment. The air was full of small flies and a bat scuttled across the sky before I lost it in the bushes. The light was fading fast now and in this photo the camera seems somehow to have been able to exaggerate the light levels:

I sat and watched the bay for a while and thought about how lonely it would be out there as darkness descended.

As I was heading back to the car a woodcock flew overhead alternately issuing sharp whistles and a strange low noise which is difficult to describe. This is the woodcock’s display or roding flight and it’s the only time I ever see woodcock.

Apparently when it isn’t almost dark they look like this:

Roding in the Gloaming


Home again for the weekend after a pleasant few days in Lincolnshire helping my Dad to celebrate his 70th birthday.

On Saturday I took the kids out for a brief walk. Where did they want to go? Woodwell of course.

For the usual sport with sticks and the pond.

Sam slept, for a while at least. I listened to two birds singing call and response from opposite sides of the clearing. I eventually located one of the birds and I think that it was a wren – it was certainly very small – but it was constantly on the move, and silhouetted against the sky . Grey has high praise for the Wren’s song in The Charm of Birds.

Today it was cold and overcast, but we managed a happy hour at the local playing field even though it was raining by the time that we left.

Amy and Ben played happily together whilst I pushed Sam on the swing and then in his pushchair. I took him for a tour around the small field whilst he was dropping off for his afternoon nap. Beneath a wall at the top of the field were several vigorous clumps of a hairy plant with small blue flowers.

It’s quite common in the area, but always in the lea of a wall or otherwise close to habitation. My Reader’s Digest Field Guide to the Wild Flowers of Britain tells me that it was probably introduced from France or Spain in the Middle Ages and that it is often found near the sites of Medieval Abbeys, where it was grown as a source of red dye. Apparently the name comes from the Arabic al-henna for the henna shrub the roots of which also produce red dye.


It’s A Bug’s Life

A delightfully sunny walk up Arnside Knot with Amy and Ben.

This is the view northwards over the Kent towards the Cumbrian fells.

This is looking south-west over the Bay.

We saw this little creature on the path.

When Ben (inevitably) prodded him with stick he curled up in a ball. His body seemed to be in segments and he had lots of legs like a woodlouse or a centipede. I have no idea what it is.

There were lots of busy ants and ants nests too. On one section of path we passed three nests in as many yards.

This is the view eastwards form the top of the very steep south side of the hill.

On the horizon you might be able to make out Ingleborough:

From here you look down on Arnside Tower:

Here’s Amy at the trig pillar:

By now the wind had turned very cold and on Helvellyn and Coniston Old Man we could see a touch of snow:

The kids weren’t deterred. There was a bench to balance on:

And the remnants of two knotted larches to investigate:

It’s A Bug’s Life

Sumer Is Icumen In

After spending the last couple of months searching for signs of Spring, I’m now beginning to think that I’m noticing hints of the impending arrival of summer. At Jack Scout yesterday I noticed these leaves which I’m pretty sure are Early Purple Orchid:

Today I was out with Sam for his mid-morning nap again and the sunshine was warm enough for me to shed my coat and walk in my shirt-sleeves. Do two swallows make a Summer?

Of course Spring is still in full-swing.

Willow catkins, or pussy willow, is not as often seen as you might expect given all of the damp mosses in the area:

I was struck by these opening buds (sycamore?):


We walked with the kids to the Wolfhouse Gallery this afternoon. They were on their bikes:

They enjoy looking at the art in the gallery, but cakes from the cafe and the small playground are the real draw.


Here’s something else that I see all the time, but have never thought to mention – Dog’s Mercury:

The flowers are very inconspicuous. I think that ‘Dog’s’ in the name refers to the fact that the plant is poisonous and therefore useless to the herbalist.


Sneaked out of the house and across the road whilst doing the dishes tonight to capture the sunset:

Sumer Is Icumen In

Notes and Evasions

A while ago in Lancaster’s Oxfam bookshop, I picked up a sumptuous edition of A Natural History of Selborne edited by Richard Mabey with engravings from several previous editions. I’ve coveted a copy since I borrowed the same edition from the library last year. Leafing through it again the epigraph caught my eye:

Men that undertake only one district are much more likely to advance natural knowledge than those that grasp at more then they can possibly be acquainted with: every kingdom, every province, should have its own monographer.

Gilbert White

Not because I have any pretensions to ‘advance natural knowledge’, or that I’m deluding myself by thinking that I’m well qualified to be the monographer for this province or this parish, but because it chimes with the very limited, localised brief that I generally stick to in my blog, and in my outings.

I’ve also been dipping into Birders by Mark Cocker and found this passage about note-taking:

…I think that note-taking has a number of major benefits. First, it gives you an opportunity as you formulate the narrative, however rudimentary, to reflect on what you’re seeing. More importantly, it often makes you reflect, as you scribble something down, on what you omitted to see. This resulting sense of failure eventually works through to affect the moment of observation itself. Since you know you’re going to write it later, it concentrates the mind to observe the details you’ll want to recall. In short, it makes you observe more closely.

A continuous feedback loop: recording informs observation and vice-versa. For me that’s a key thing, perhaps the key thing, about Blogging. I’ve been thinking about those the many things that I see whilst I’m out that I don’t record in any way – if I started a list now I might be here all night. The most obvious thing that springs to mind is road traffic and all the associated paraphernalia of signs, lights, road-markings, parking etc. Also – it’s a rare walk when I don’t see either rabbits, squirrels or both, but I don’t think that I’ve ever mentioned them. What else – buildings, people, litter – essentially all human traces in the landscape.

Early on Friday morning I took Ben and Sam out in the double-buggy for a pre-breakfast amble and for once, Amy decided to come with us. We were pushed for time because Sam had an appointment with the Health Visitor for his eight month check and because I was taking the other two to the Grand Theatre in Lancaster to see an adaptation of on of their favourite books – The Gruffalo. We went ’round the block’: up Spring Bank and down Bottoms Lane. On Bottoms Lane Amy took great interest in the old Lime Kiln:

Lime Kilns are common in this area. The kiln would be filled with limestone from above and a charcoal fire was built at the bottom (behind where Amy is standing). The end product is an alkaline crystal known as quicklime or burnt lime. It was slaked (water added I think) and then used in mortar and plaster, but chiefly to ‘sweeten’ unproductive land – apparently it helps to release nitrates form manure.

When I had a chance to get out again yesterday morning for Sam’s mid-morning nap, I made a bee-line for Jack Scout, where there is another well preserved kiln:

And then for today’s mid-morning nap, without making a conscious decision to follow up on the production of lime, I took Sam to Trowbarrow an old quarry which also used to have a limeworks. (There’s little sign of its existence now.)

The quarry is now a nature reserve, much frequented by climbers.

The huge boulder is known as the Shelter Stone because it was used by the quarrymen to shield themselves from blasting.

Notes and Evasions

Reflected Sky

After our day out today (see previous post), I managed to find time for a late short walk to the Cove.

I’ve posted another photo of this view before, but it was taken in very different conditions. I was interested in the different textures of the mud and the water and the ways in which they both reflected the light.

I also held back some photos from earlier in the week, specially for Skywatch Friday.

This is the sky reflected in the River Lune from our visit on Wednesday.

And this is Cirrus cloud taken by the Kent estuary on Tuesday.

Reflected Sky

You Can Come Too Too Too

Visited a top location for wildlife today. There were the ubiquitous bullying Mallards:

Tufted Ducks, female…

…and male:





..and Red-crested:

Marbled Teal:

Nesting Storks:

Preening Geese:



OK…so I’m off topic. I wasn’t on one of my local walks – we drove round to the north of the Bay to the South Lakes Wildlife Park near Dalton. The ducks at the top of the post are local species but we don’t have Storks or Rhinoceros (or sadly Marbled Teal).

We all love this zoo. Part of the pleasure of the experience for Angela and I is in watching the excitement and wonder of the kids. We began our visit in the Giraffe house, because visitors can hand feed them at 11.30. There was a slight delay because the Ring-tailed Lemurs, who have the run of the zoo, were riding on the Giraffe’s backs – which they weren’t supposed to be. To feed the Giraffes you hold your hand out flat with a vegetable on it and the Giraffes remove it with their long and dexterous tongues.

We finished or day hand-feeding Herrings to Penguins. There were many highlights in between. The Storks were nesting in an area where the animals wander freely and the visitors are inside the same enclosure. You are allowed to feed some of the animals in this particular enclosure. Two Storks on a nest were upset by a Wallaby which was fiddling with the twigs on one side of the nest. One of the Storks gave the Wallaby a sharp peck and then both birds threw back their heads, with their beaks pointing skywards, and clacked their beaks like castanets.

Amy and Ben enjoyed the train:

We regularly visit, and my favourite past of any visit is watching the Tigers feeding in the afternoon.

They retrieve their meat from tall poles (which I totally failed to capture). And then retire to a high platform to enjoy the spoils of their efforts:

You can find more animal pictures on my flickr site (if you’ve managed to stick with me so far), but I wanted to share this sequence of a Lion because I know exactly how he feels:

He was asleep. My kids – in their excitement – started to shout:


Ok – I’m awake, but only under protest.

Finally – whilst I am perhaps ‘off message’, I can’t help thinking that this Blog is often as much about family as it is about walking.

You Can Come Too Too Too