Dryads, Wryms and Damsel Flies

It’s sad when the wind brings down trees in the woods. Of course the result can be a sunny glade where woodland flowers will flourish, or an opportunity for new saplings to establish themselves without the tree canopy blocking out the light. The fallen tree can provide homes and nourishment for an entire ecosystem.

Where would Dryad’s Saddle be without dead trees?

We found these today in the woods near Haweswater. I’ve read that this is the biggest natural lake in Lancashire, although it’s fairly small.

I think that I’ve mentioned before that the Lake is allegedly inhabited by a Wyrm, but I haven’t seen it, or the Dryads or the Otters that are also rumoured to be here.

We did see today the electric blue of damsel flies enjoying the sunshine:

And many flowers that appreciate the boggy margins of the Lake, like Guelder Rose:

And Irises:

There are more Irises and also Ragged Robin fringing the nearby pond, Bank Well:

And in Lambert’s Meadow we found a single Orchid which I think might be a Heath Spotted Orchid:

Dryads, Wryms and Damsel Flies

If You Go Down to the Woods Today….

I never was lost in the woods in my whole life, though once I was confused for three days.

Daniel Boone quoted in ‘A Field Guide to Getting Lost’ by Rebecca Solnit

I’ve ben a bit confused with my blogging these last few days, but I hope to get back on track with a visit to the woods. On Friday we drove to Grizedale Forest in the Lake District. Much of Grizedale is commercial plantations, but it has become a very popular destination because there is so much to do there.

There’s a playground where you can find out what it feels like to be a spider (or a fly?):

The woods themselves are dotted with sculptures:

Some of which are also musical instruments:

Or shelters to play in:

The meadows are full of flowers:

Like Water Avens:

And Lady’s Mantle:

Generally a great place for a day out.

If You Go Down to the Woods Today….

Nature’s Playground

Took the kids into Eaves Wood today. They balanced on fallen tree trunks, climbed in a favourite yew, played in a hollow behind the yew – which Amy christened Macca Pacca’s house – waved sticks about, drummed with their hands and feet on the fallen beeches I found last night, and stopped for a snack in the in the root hollow left by those beeches.

Ben is surprisingly fond of woodlice and so was thrilled when we managed to pull some bark off one of the trunks:

At the edge of the new clearing created by the demise of these beeches are two more beeches which I imagine must look pretty similar to the way that the pair that fell must have looked:

I was standing close to an ash tree on the edge of the clearing when the earth moved. Angela says that she saw me jump. It was another bright but very windy day, although here in the woods we could hardly feel the wind. Standing back a little we watched as the movement of the upper part of the tree made the ground around the roots gently rise and fall as if the earth were breathing. One of the roots of was lifting clear of the ground and a crack appeared alongside the trunk. The soil here is very thin and the wood is full of large trees that have fallen.

Sycamore’s seemed to be my favourite trees today. Firstly we saw leaves spotted with tiny red lumps:

I think that these are the eggs of some insect, and I remember that when we were kids we used to call them spangles, but I don’t suppose that’s a proper name.

Many of the sycamores in the wood have this bright orange lichen on their trunks:

The seeds of the sycamore are hidden away under the leaves and could easily be missed:

Having said that, my favourite trees in Eaves Wood are really the mature beeches (even better standing up then lying down!):

At Cynthesis you can find posts enlivened by photos of heart-shaped leaves, stones, shadows…etc. I’ve been on the look out for hearts in our woods and beginning to think that either the woods are deficient in hearts, or that I’m just not looking in the right way. Finally, today I came across a heart-shaped tree-stump. Unfortunately, the photo I took was a bit of a dead loss. But shortly after the tree stump I noticed this ivy leaf on a dry-stone wall:

What do you think? Almost there?

Nature’s Playground

A Time of Gifts

A bright and sunny day today, but very windy. I took a late stroll this evening into Eaves Wood. The woodland floor was littered with leaves and the occasional branch. In a new clearing close to the path lay two large fallen beeches. The trees must have been virtually twins and now lay away from each other but with their roots making two walls sheltering the single hollow that their fall had left.

I thought that perhaps the trees had fallen today, but then realised that the branches carried leaves, but that those leaves were brown and dried, suggesting that the trees have been down for some time. Also someone had used logs and large flakes of bark to build a crude roof to finish off the natural shelter between the roots.

The bark was cracked, like flesh wounds…

,,,and had lifted slightly away from the trunk so that when I tried drumming on it I found that it made a wonderful drum.

I couldn’t see the sunset – surrounded by trees as I was – but the colours in the sky indicated that it must have been stunning.

On my way home through the dark woods I heard an owl or probably a couple of owls calling, it seemed from somewhere very close by, but try as I might, I couldn’t find them in the trees.

The dark shape of a roe deer skittered across the path in front of me.


Amy has a few days of school, so what does she want to do? Recreate school here at home. This afternoon she made us all sit down for an Assembly and proceeded to give out certificates to each of us for achieving our Next Step. Mine was for learning to use my new camera. Unfortunately, Amy has difficulty with b’s and d’s so I appeared on my certificate as ‘Mark – bad’. When Angela noticed this she got a bad case of the giggles, which started me off and I ended up spilling half of a cup of tea down my shirt.

I also discovered today that Tom of Wigger’s World had chosen to award me this:

Thanks Tom!

Apparently these are the rules:

1) Award and Link to 5 blogs that make you think and/or make your day.
2) Acknowledge the post of the award giver: Tom’s Make My Day Award Post

3) Tell the award winners that they have won by commenting on their blogs with the news!

In thinking about which Blogs to pass on an award to (a pretty tricky decision), I thought about when I open google reader and which Blogs I look for new posts on first.

One of those is most definitely Wigger’s World, where the award came from in the first place! A link from Tom’s site, whether it be a recommendation or participation in Skywatch always guarantees a significant increase in traffic to my blog. This is a testament to the popularity of Tom’s blog and the camaraderie of the community of bloggers that gather there. It’s fair to say that Tom regularly makes several peoples’ days, because of his posts and his generous and thoughtful comments on other blogs.

My friend Andy has a theory that as soon as he has discovered a product that he really likes, then it is discontinued and disappears from the supermarket shelves. He could undoubtedly give lots of examples, but the only one that I can recall is individual rhubarb pies with a layer of custard inside them. He seems to think that there is a link between his patronage of a product and its almost immediate disappearance. As paranoid conspiracy theories go, it seems both unusually trivial and personal.

However, I’m beginning to see how he feels because it seems that many of my favourite bloggers are taking (hopefully) temporary breaks. So I make these awards in the hope that each of then will soon once again be making my day. In no particular order they are:

A Time of Gifts

Fairy Steps

This morning we drove to Cockshot Lane for a walk on Beetham Fell. We were into the woods straight away and came across these Aqualigea’s.

It’s quite a way from any gardens so they’ve done well to seed themselves here.

After climbing a very awkward leaning style we were in fields and lush long grass. We played follow-the-leader so that the kids wouldn’t mind walking in single file. Ben found a pheasant feather, which is almost as good to wield as a stick. He had been carrying a stick I but I took it off him after a couple of accidental whacks. Amy decided to eat some clover. She seems to be none the worse for the experience.

Near Hazelslack Farm, the grass was shorter and there were Rock Rose:

In the garden at the farm this peacock was calling loudly…

…but his two female companions seemed completely impervious to his strutting and shouting.

Nearby a pair of Guineafowl fussed and pecked:

The day had started bright, but by now a few dark clouds had appeared and we felt the odd spot of rain. Fortunately, the weather recovered from this point and the rest of the day was sunny, although the wind was quite cold.

From the farm the path is rocky and arrow straight. It climbs steadily until a blue rock face apparently bars any further progress:

But the path seeks out a fault in the rock…

And we pass through with ease:

Remarkably, before Arnside had its own Church, this was the coffin route over which the dead were carried to be interred in Beetham. The rock wall on the right has a rusted hinge fixed to it as if this passage were once gated.

Ahead a second band of rock once again blocks the route. This time the way ahead is more obvious, but more tricky:


Ben on the Fairy Steps

Local legend has it that if you can climb to the top without touching the sides then you are granted a wish. Amy assures me that she made it, and that from now on all of our rain will fall between Monday and Wednesday, guaranteeing dry weekends.

I know that I certainly can’t climb up there without being squeezed between the sides, and with Sam asleep in the back carrier I didn’t think that I could make it at all. I took a path which skirted below the cliff, intending to meet the others in a large clearing where a number of paths meet. When they didn’t initially show up I followed their route back towards them. I was struck by the light on this tree and the dappled light on the path:

I was surprised not to have come across them and so headed back the way I had come, only to find that they were just moments behind me:

On the way back down through the woods to the car, Ben waged war on the many wood ants criss-crossing the path. I was more interested in this low shrub..

…which I thought might be another garden escapee like the Aqualigea, but I find in my books that it is actually Tutsan, from the French toute-saine meaning all healthy. Herbalists laid the leaves over wounds and it does have antiseptic properties. In contrast to the amorous associations that every plant I came across a couple of weeks ago seemed to possess, Tutsan has a reputation for inducing chastity. Apparently, men should drink infusions made from the plant, and women should spread its twigs below their beds.

The leaves when dried are reputed to smell like Ambergris and so it is also called Sweet Amber.

These flowers are not quite open. I wonder if I can get back this way to see them when they are?

Fairy Steps

Head In The Sand

News on the radio this morning that this year’s ‘Good Beach Guide’ has just been published. We don’t really have any beaches here, at least not the sort that you might sit and sunbathe on, they are too muddy. But the cleanliness or otherwise of one of our ‘beaches’ – Cow’s Mouth just to the south of the village – is regularly a newsworthy item, since it has often been reported as the dirtiest beach in Britain. The litter there is flotsam and is due to the vagaries of the tide and the slovenliness of sailors rather than any local lack of civic pride. Thinking about it reminded me that our little kingdom between the Motorway and Morecambe Bay is only ever the focus of wider attention for all of the wrong reasons: Chinese cockle-pickers drowned in the Bay, a court case over a house crammed with neglected pets. I suppose that it is in the nature of news reporting to focus on the negative. The news is so shocking these days. The BBC news tonight was reporting not just on natural disasters, but on the rapid break up of the Arctic Ice-Cap. I know that I shouldn’t simply look away, but I think that I might grind to a halt if I actually properly absorbed the enormity of disasters current and imminent.

I set out tonight in search of particular flowers, but it was already late and since the sun was setting almost as soon as I set-off …

…I knew that I was likely to struggle for light.

Never-the-less, in a wet meadow there were Bugle, Marsh Marigolds, Cuckoo Flowers, Stitchwort, Buttercups, Ragged Robin:

and Yellow Rattle:

In the woods, Water Avens:

And this shrub, which I know has yellow flowers which I’m afraid I  might have missed this year:

Finally, this is Lady’s Slipper Orchid and is the flower that I came out to see.

A couple of years ago this very rare plant hit the national headlines when it was apparently  dug up during the night. Fortunately, as you can see, it’s still there, still flowering.

Head In The Sand

We’re Going On a Bear Hunt

Walked the same route again today, for the third time this week, but this time in reverse and with the whole family and Amy’s friend Sarah. The kids raced across the lots. The starlings weren’t so busy today. I did briefly see a head in the hole in the tree, but the children didn’t get to witness the birds feeding the chicks.

However, they were more than happy to get down to the Cove and plodge in the mud:

Then scramble up the rocks to the small cave here:

This little cave mouth always makes me think of one of the children’s favourite books ‘We’re Going On a Bear Hunt’ and the cave in which they eventually find a bear. Ben was clearly making the same association because he was expecting to find a bear too. He seems to have lost his fear of caves: back in January he became convinced that all caves were infested with Dragons and could rarely be induced to enter. He’s now keen to come back with a torch to explore further (he won’t get very far because they isn’t much to this particular cave.)

I explored the high-tide line at the back of the shingle.

I found a couple of pieces of this rusted, curiously light material. Could this be almost heart-shaped if you squint a bit and stand on your head to look at it? Cynthia over on Cynthesis finds hearts seemingly everywhere.

Silverweed, which thrives in the marginal spaces between land and strand, has now come into flower:

This plant also seems abundant and vigorous in these same unpromising spots:

Anybody know what it is?

I like the way the wind has given the cliff-top trees here a perfect manicured trim:

On the way home we found that Oxeye daisy flowers are finally opening up and showing off:

(See the previous post for more about the mathematical properties of this flower.)

We’re Going On a Bear Hunt

Spira Mirabilis

After the snail shells I photographed on Tuesday night started me thinking about spirals and the geometry of nature, I noticed, on the shelves of Lancaster Library, a book called ‘Patterns of the Earth’.

It is a collection of (mostly) aerial photograph categorised into Bands, Stripes, Ripples, Circles, Spots, Grains, Forks, Branches, Webs, Curves, Ribbons, Swirls, Spikes, Grids and Cracks.

It shows how the same patterns emerge in widely disparate locales and hugely different terrains.

Because the photos are mainly aerial, the patterns seen are on a geological scale.

To me a more interesting book would seek out those same patterns from microscopic  to galactic scales.


Just along the shelf I spotted ‘What Shape is a Snowflake?’ by Ian Stewart.

This explains the mathematics behind how the same basic patterns and shapes recur frequently in nature.

Then Ron from Walking Fort Bragg left a link in a comment to photographs on Astronomy Photo of the Day of a typhoon and a nebula, both of which are logarithmic spirals.


These equiangular spirals crop up in all sorts of places. They can be generated in a most elegant way using the Fibonacci sequence.

(The squares have sides 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21 and 34)

So with all this running around my head, imagine how thrilled I was today when Amy picked an Oxeye daisy and presented it to me:

And I discovered that it too had logarithmic spirals to display.

Spira Mirabilis

A Walk Rehearsed

Last night it was already late when I set out for a walk. With overcast skies, even the astonishing capability of my new camera to conjure light out of the gloom was defeated. But there were so many images that I wanted to record.

In Townsfield, across the road, there were cows and calves and a muscular bull. In the hedge here I was struck by the multi-coloured hues of the new oak leaves. Down at the Cove the silvery leaves of a Whitebeam growing out of the cliff face demanded attention, and the Lots were a pointillist masterpiece of many coloured meadow flowers including another fine collection of Orchid spikes.

So when I arrived home in bright sunshine to find that Angela had taken the children to a friends for their tea I decided to retrace my steps. It even occurred to me that I might attempt to recreate the journey by taking exactly the same photos again, although hard on the heels of that thought came the realisation that I was destined to fail in that task, since on of the photos I took last night, of a flickering light out in the Bay which was presumably the flare from an oil platform, needed the darkness that otherwise frustrated my efforts.

And anyway, the Bull and his harem were lying down today. In this position he looked affable and benign, not at all the epitome of brute force and muscular power that he appeared to be last night.

And of course, this being a new day and not some sort of Groundhog Day rerun, I was always likely to notice different things, like these Elderflowers which must have just recently opened:

The oak leaves were still there in the hedge:

After the grandeur of the huge trees at Levens Park, and its large mammalian inhabitants, today’s photography was mostly More Fun with a Macro Lens.

The hedge along the far side of Townsfield is a very young hedge, planted with a selection of shrubs and trees. Walking beside it I was struck by the incredible variety of forms and textures of the different leaves.

The Lime leaves and the Hazel leaves are similar in size and shape, and yet the downy, fractal bordered Hazel leaves are quite distinctively different from the Limes.

New Hawthorn leaves are apple red/green, and new Ash leaves almost purple:

But soon turning green:

Naturally, there were many flowers along the path too. I think that this might be some sort of Dock, but in my books none of the Docks look this ethereal and pretty:

This is Ivy-Leaved Toadflax, a naturalised species with tiny flowers which covers many of the garden walls in the village:

This Bumble Bee was clearly keen on vetch nectar:

The back of the cove was decked out with what I think might be Sea Radish, although I’m not at all sure:

Stooping to photograph the deeply-lobed leaves,for identification purposes, I noticed that the plant was liberally festooned with small snails:

There’s something deeply appealing about spirals and their occurrence in nature. And they are everywhere. In Pineapples and Seashells, distant nebulae, DNA.

Our house is slowly filling up with unread books that I have picked up, often for a few pence at the weekly Coffee Morning in the village. On top of these physical piles of books are the mental lists of Books To Read. A long standing obligation on that list is ‘On Growth and Form’ by D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson. Published in 1917 it was ahead of its time in attempting to examine the geometry of nature before the invention (or discovery) of fractals.

My attempt to photograph the Whitebeam leaves was partially foiled…

by the light behind:

Once again my camera was more observant than me and noticed the tiny fly on these Herb Robert flowers:

If I ever tire of flower photos, I could always switch over to seed heads…

… like this Honesty.

Or grasses:

Although curiously, my camera seems to be temperamental when it comes to grasses and for the most part refused to focus on the seed heads.

A repeated trilling form the trees beside me had me looking up for its source and when I heard a squawk, saw a flicker of wings and then found this perfect hole in a tree trunk…

…my first thought was of Woodpeckers. Probably because I had a fantastic view of a male Great Spotted Woodpecker through a window during a meeting yesterday. I wasn’t daydreaming whilst the meeting carried on without my attention – I interrupted the conversation and made everyone else watch too.

I assume that this was at one time a Woodpecker nesting site, but it is now occupied by a family of Starlings. Whilst I stood beneath the tree, both parents flew back and forth across the Lots, calling to their brood as the neared the nest.





It was constant work and looked exhausting. Perhaps they are rewarded with the same irrational pride as us: first primaries, first faltering flight…

Having stopped to watch the Starlings, I also noticed these keys on the Ash tree that was their home:

It seems astonishing that the recent delicate flowers can have so quickly become such abundant seeds.

The Lots were Pollocked with colour:


Chiefly from Buttercups:

But I was most drawn by the Orchids.

This is National Trust land, and somebody had helpfully erected an information sign about the Orchids. Apparently they are a mixture of Early Purple Orchids and Green Winged Orchids. I found it very difficult to distinguish between the two. I’m sure that this is an Early Purple:

And I think that these might be Green Winged:

But if anybody can confirm or deny please do.

In amongst the Orchids were some Bird’s-Foot Trefoil:

And in the next field some neatly symmetrical flowers of the parsley family that I will try to identify at some point:

And the end of the Lots I turned to look back at the views:

Before heading for home.


Angela tells me that she and Amy watched a Blue Tit today as it repeatedly returned to a spider’s web to filch flies. She also directed me back into the shady part of the lane to find this Dryad’s Saddle, which I must have walked past a couple of times without noticing.

A Walk Rehearsed

Levens Park

Brighter weather today, but with a fresh wind.

This morning I took Ben and Sam for a short drive to Levens Park. It’s part of the grounds of Levens Hall, originally a medieval pele tower but converted into an Elizabethan ‘gentleman’s residence’. It’s probably most famous now for it’s topiary gardens. The park was laid out at the same time as the gardens – between 1694 and 1710 –  designed by a Monsieur Guillaume Beaumont. It’s an open Deer Park with huge Oaks, Beeches, Sweet Chestnuts and Limes – presumably 300 years old.

What caught my attention at first though was a much smaller tree, another Hawthorn, but with red flowers:

They could almost be Roses, couldn’t they? But they are much smaller, and are apparently a cultivar of Midland Hawthorn (as opposed to Common Hawthorn).

The river Kent flows through the park, and having left the path to take this photograph I was in a position to look down on the river. A flash of metallic blue was a Kingfisher crossing low over the water. It was a brief and distant view, but the first time that I have seen a Kingfisher for some time. Can any other British bird rival the colours of a Kingfisher?

I had promised Ben deer and so was relieved when a herd appeared on on the hillside.

These are rather unusual Fallow Deer, imported from somewhere to add exotic colour to this manicured simulation of wilderness. They are much darker than other Fallow Deer. At the moment they seem to have odd dark spots and I suspect that they are shedding a darker thicker winter coat.

Ben was captivated and insisted that we stalk as close to the Deer as possible.

I was thrilled that Ben enjoyed the Deer, but he soon put me in my place: when we left the park and crossed a field he was even more impressed by the huge sloppy cowpats that made the path into a scatological maze.

The route follows a very quiet lane beside the river for awhile. The lane is bisected by the dual carriageway of the A590 and becomes two cul-de-sacs joined by a concrete walkway under the main road. This Heron seemed unperturbed by the traffic noise:

We finally reached a road bridge and crossed the river to make our return. Ben was beginning to flag, but was revived by the excitement of crossing over the A590 on a bridge. Speeding traffic may also be more exciting then Deer when you are three.

We were soon back in the Park and stopped for a snack. We were joined by a Hen, most definitely free range:

And not remotely shy:

Our walk now followed an avenue…

of huge Oaks:

Along which we soon encountered a herd of Bagot goats:

Like the Deer, I think that these are pretty much unique to this park.

Ben preferred the Goats to the Deer, I think because they allowed him to approach without running away.

The next cause for excitement was a hollow oak.

Which naturally required close inspection:

Via the back door:

I think that this is an Oak Apple. I remember reading about the life-cycle of the wasps that live in these galls, because I was fascinated by the fact that the generations alternate living in the tree and then on the roots.

Ben had completely recovered his energy and enthusiasm by now and was climbing on the trunk of a felled oak:

(The other child is a stranger who was keen to join in but understandably nervous about the idea.)

And whizzing off on his bike to find a hiding place in the base of another giant oak:

This oak…

…was probably the biggest that we saw all day. The photo doesn’t begin to convey its majesty. I couldn’t persuade Ben to pose against it to give a scale by which to judge it.

This tree demanded attention because of these bulbous growths on its trunk:

You can see the Kent in the background.

The walk was intrinsically enjoyable, but I also enjoyed it because Ben was having such a good time. It made me recall days out from my own childhood, when we regularly visited Bradgate Park in Leicestershire. There were both Fallow and Red Deer there which was fantastic, especially during the rut. Clambering in and on hollow oaks was another common feature, as was hiding from my Dad. I often think that it was the freedom to charge around, to climb, to explore the open spaces there that first fostered my love of the outdoors. I hope that I can give the same gift to my kids.

Levens Park