Digitally Enhanced

In the absence of any new photos to post, I’ve been playing with Picnik on flickr, cropping and enhancing some of my photos from earlier in the year. The results are not perfect, but none the less I’m quite pleased with some of them.

I saw this heron in April, near to Jenny Brown’s Point.

And this robin the same day at Jack Scout.

These cormorants were sunning themselves early one July morning at the base of cliffs near to Towyn on the Llyn Peninsula.

As was this seal (my favourite of the enhanced pictures).

Digitally Enhanced

Books and the Net

Not a short story By Edgar Alan Poe, but some thoughts about some books I have read recently, or am currently reading, and how I acquired them.

…at a time when so many of us are concerned about our carbon footprint, they have no need to travel to the other side of the world to understand more about themselves and their relation to the world they inhabit. In this sense, many of the stories in this issue are studies in the local or the parochial: they are about the discovery of exoticism in the familiar, the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Jason Cowley in the Editor’s Letter from Granta 102 ‘The New Nature Writing’


Every so often I stumble across something which resonates, feeling like a call to arms or a manifesto for my blogging. Clearly, I wouldn’t make any grand claims to be a ‘new nature writer’, but: ‘exoticism in the familiar, the extraordinary in the ordinary’ – whether I succeed or not, that’s what I’m after.

I don’t ordinarily read Granta, but at the moment I have two issues by my bedside. The other is 90 : ‘Country life: dispatches from what’s left of it’.

I decided that I needed to lay hands on a copy of 102, after reading about it over at Walking and Writing and then watching an interview with Robert Macfarlane on the Granta website. I then managed to swap ‘The Book of Evidence’ by John Banville for it, through Readitswapit. I only recently discovered this site and have subsequently swapped about a dozen books, including the other issue of Granta. If, like I did, you grew up watching Saturday Morning Swap Shop then you will immediately appreciate the concept. I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve been able to get hold of recent novels by writers that I like – ‘Beyond Black’ by Hilary Mantel for instance. But better yet, it can be a little like browsing in a second hand book shop and discovering a real gem that you have never previously encountered: I swapped have just finished reading  ‘Corduroy’ by Adrian Bell, an account of farming in Suffolk between the wars which is by turns interesting, comic and lyrical.

Before that I read ‘I Bought A Mountain’ by Thomas Firbank another account of farming, this time from just prior to WWII. It is very different from Corduroy, but equally enchanting. And for mountain lovers, it includes an account of a record breaking traverse of the Welsh Threes. I had heard of this book many years ago, but had forgotten, when I read about it at Walkabout in the UK (where there is an excellent article about Firbank’s life and other books – I shall have to look out for those). Shortly afterwards I found ‘I Bought A Mountain’ whilst browsing in a charity bookshop – as John says: ‘All very karmic’.

Then there are recommendations on Amazon. Whilst looking at recent paperbacks that I covet (Beechcombings by Richard Mabey, Wildwood by Roger Deakin and Great British Journeys by Nicholas Crane) I checked out one of the ‘customers who bought this book also bought’ links and have now added ‘Findings’ by Kathleen Jamie to my wishlist. I’m hoping that Readitswapit will provide all four eventually.

I suppose the point is that my blog reading and surfing compliments and prompts my more traditional reading.

Finally a short quote from another Readitswapit acquisition, ‘The Book of Dave’ by Will Self:

The warm air was fruitylicious and butterfly rustled.

Wonderfully evocative. I’ve only read the opening chapter, but it’s so reminiscent of Russell Hoban’s ‘Riddley Walker’ that I can only imagine that the very clever Mr Self is deliberately making an homage.

Books and the Net

Don’t Say Tomorrow

Another brief, rainy plash today, this time round the lanes with a sleeping baby in a pushchair. He was catching up on a very ropey night last night. I should probably be doing the same now. Once again the seasonal colour provided some compensation for the downpour.

I clearly haven’t been getting out often enough recently. Under the Horse Chestnuts on Stankelt Lane it took some time to find even one conker.

Apparently a moth from the Balkans (where the trees themselves were imported from in the sixteenth century)  is blighting British Horse Chestnuts and reducing the number of conkers available in some areas, but I think that I just left it too late to look.

The outer shell has lost its soft pale green colour and the small spikes have also gone. (How does that happen?)

Meanwhile the tree has lost most of its leaves and the rest look ready to drop soon.

I was working up to some kind of homily about not putting off till tomorrow the walk that you might do today – but really that was just going to be an excuse to use another Prisonaires song as a title for a post. (If you like that then check out their original ‘Walking in the Rain’ – less familiar than the Johnnie Ray version but well worth a listen.)

Don’t Say Tomorrow

Just A Walkin’ In The Rain

Today started very wet, but it did brighten up very briefly in the afternoon. Tempted by the patches of blue and the moments of sunshine we kitted up and headed out. Unfortunately, we weren’t too quick about it and by the time we set off it had already begun to rain again.

Our walk took us through Eaves Wood to the Pepper Pot – B was determined to go whatever the weather threw at him. The sunny colours of the leaves on the trees and carpeting the woodland floor compensated for the lack of actual sunshine.

You can hardly tell that it was chucking it down when I took these photos, although a bit of digital trickery was required to bring out the colours due to the very low light under the clouds and the tree canopy.

I enjoy the way the light shines through the leaves and the areas of shadow created by the overlapping leaves.

Just A Walkin’ In The Rain

Sparrows, Fungi and Squiggley Honeysuckle Leaves

Managed to get out again today for a short ramble around Eaves Wood. On the way to the wood I passed a garden where there always seems to be a healthy collection of birds. Always a robin and usually a noisy flock of house sparrows. Today the sparrows were in the hedge, perhaps thirty of them bickering, hopping, generally very busy. Because they were inside the hedge I couldn’t get a clear photo of any of them, but a few minutes waiting paid dividends when this fellow emerged to sit in full view.

I’ve been pretty disappointed with my many attempts to photograph birds with my new camera, but I’ve recently realised that with a little cropping and creative editing I can get better results than I had thought.

I know that the house sparrow is ‘only’ a common species of bird, but I love their ebullience, and aren’t the markings on his back and his wing feathers rather fine?

Yesterday climbing through the trees on Whitbarrow (where incidentally a huge clearance of non-native tree plantations has been very tidily carried out) and on the stag weekend on Muncaster Fell (another Wainwright!?) I passed over several good opportunities to take photos of fungi. The fact is that when I am in company I feel a little self-conscious groveling on the woodland floor peering at toadstools. Today in Eaves Wood I had no such qualms.


I’ve had a play with this photo too, using Picnik on flickr to increase the saturation of the colours. I’m quite pleased with the result except for the ridiculously orange slug.

This one is unadulterated:

Last time I was in Eaves Wood I noticed several honeysuckle leaves with unusual patterns on them. It was pouring with rain and my attempts to photograph the leaves were entirely unsuccessful. I found similar leaves today and unfortunately didn’t fare much better with the camera.


It looks like somebody has used a blotchy etch-a-sketch to produce some modern art. Is it part of the decaying process or the tracks left by some kind of insect?

I was on the look out for a suitable crooked tree in order to respond to the CTC – Crooked Tree Challenge – over on WalkingFortBragg. (Look for the seventh photo down) It wasn’t as easy to find a candidate as I had supposed. Never mind – I enjoyed the hunt.

Sparrows, Fungi and Squiggley Honeysuckle Leaves

Whitbarrow Scar

My friend X-Ray confided in me a while ago in the pub.

“I’ve bought a set of the Wainwright guides and I intend to climb all of the Wainwrights.”

I volunteered myself as a suitable companion and than waited for him to invite me out for some child-free days in the Lakes. When the call never came, I reminded him of his resolution and we arranged to bag our first Wainwright this Saturday. Thanks to the out-laws excellent baby-sitting service A was able to join us too.

It transpires that X-Ray has climbed many of the Wainwrights before, but has decided to start again. I’ve don’t own a set of the books – when all my friends were buying them I was too contrary to join in – so although I know that I must have climbed many of them, I have no idea how many. But having stalled with the Munros ten years ago at about 184, (Well…ok, exactly 184 not that I adopt a train-spotterish approach to ticking off mountains on lists….honest!) I could do with a new and more manageable challenge.

I had seen a forecast of dire conditions earlier in the week, but in the event the cloud broke up and cleared and we even had a little sunshine. There was quite a sharp breeze on the plateau, but after the steep pull up through the woods that came as a welcome relief.

Like Scout Scar – which I climbed with the kids a few weeks ago – Whitbarrow Scar is the result of the Limestone bedding planes having tilted over so that on the eastern side the ground rises gently and on the west there are cliffs. Whitbarrow Scar covers a larger area and has higher cliffs than Scout Scar though.

The limestone of Whitbarrow Scar sits on a bed of slate. Water percolates down through the porous limestone and then when it hits the slate is forced back out onto the surface in many springs and streams, most dramatically at Beck Head, where the stream, significantly swollen by Friday’s rain, emerges directly from under a small crag.

The stone garden shed which can just be seen on the right of the pictures has two frogs surmounting either gable end.

Some local citizen has been designing their own roadsigns to safeguard the beck’s other denizens.

Whitbarrow Scar

Farleton Fell

On Sunday afternoon, Sam and I took advantage of the glorious weather and got out for another walk, this time on Farleton Fell. Well…I went for a walk, and Sam came along for a carry. We have a good view of Farleton Fell from our house, but I haven’t climbed it for ages. Seeing it everyday, I’ve been wanting to revisit for some time.

It’s a small hill, and with places to park on the verges of the narrow road that crosses over from Clawthorpe to Hutton Roof it can be climbed in just over an hour, even at my pace.

Like our walk of the morning, this route is dominated by limestone pavement.

There are far fewer trees growing out of the grykes, presumably because of the sheep. Farleton Fell’s higher but less conspicuous neighbour, Hutton Roof Crag is thoroughly overgrown with thickets of small trees, thorny shrubs and brambles. Since the topography of Hutton Roof Crag is also quite complex it makes for interesting navigation. I was talking to my old friend The Adopted Yorkshireman, when we walked in the White Peak recently, about wooded hills. In the UK the hills are generally pretty bare of trees. I was contending that this is because the woods were cleared for timber, charcoal and to make way for sheep – which may not be right but sounds plausible. The Adopted Yorkshireman opined that this is something we should be thankful for, because it means that we always have a clear view. Now normally, there’s nothing I like more than to pick a fight, especially with The Adopted Yorkshireman who always has an opinion and a cogent argument to back it up. But on this occasion I didn’t rise to the bait. Personally, I’d settle for occasional and partial views if those views were of wide stretches of woodland. Years ago I was walking near Kirby Lonsdale with my friend Valerie. We were ostensibly there to see some of Andy Goldsworthy’s sheep bields, but I was more impressed with the view. Valerie is French, and grew up near to the Pyrenees. When I asked her what she thought of the view, she replied simply: “Where are the trees?”

There are other things growing in the grykes, like this Hart’s Tongue Fern:

Without trees there aren’t so many birds either, but we were taken with this wheatear.

Apparently the name has nothing to do with either wheat or ears, but is actually from old Norse and translates as white-arse.

A board near to the top of Farleton Fell informed that it now belongs to the National Trust and that they call it Holme Park Fell. But I know that on maps dating back as far as the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries it appeared as Farleton Fell or Farleton Knot, so I’ll stick with the old name. On those same maps the hills are shown pictorially as rounded lumps and Farleton Fell is often shown disproportionately large, presumably because it rose so precipitately above the old coach road through Burton, just as it does now above junction 36 on the modern M6. Ironically, from the top there are views in almost every direction to much higher hills – the Lakeland Fells…

…the Forest of Bowland; over Scout Hill to the Howgills…

…and the hills above Barbon and Kirby Lonsdale. Perhaps the best view is of Ingleborough…

…which was also oversized on old maps because for a long time it was thought to be the highest hill in England.

Why am I so well informed about old maps? Because last week I went to a fascinating talk on the subject by Doctor Ian Saunders, who collects antique maps. Most old maps were bound into Atlases or printed on huge unfolded sheets. The first folding maps, recognisably like our modern walking maps, backed onto linen, were produced in 1644 for the parliamentarian forces in the civil war – Dr Saunders had one of those maps with him. The first UK maps to show roads were printed in 1676 on playing cards – because there were 52 counties in England and Wales – each card showed a county. As a lover of both card games and maps – I want a set! Sadly, even single original cards are very expensive.

Hmmm…through the wonders of Google I’ve discovered that I can buy a facsimile set for £10…..

The talk was in the village hall at Yealand, which is practically on the doorstep, but I only found out about it two days before. Dr Saunders is a physicist and the tutor of a friend who told me about the talk whilst accompanying A and I to yet another talk, this time about Einstein, particle physics and the Large Hadron Collider. The talk, given by Professor Brian Foster of Oxford university, was very engaging and was punctuated by astonishing violin playing from Jack Liebeck and the professor himself – the connection being that Einstein was a very keen violinist. They also do a talk with music on Superstrings – if they come to a venue near you I strongly recommend it. Professor Foster has the rare gift of making complex ideas accessible to a lay audience.

Farleton Fell

Gait Barrows in Autumn Sunshine

My daughter gets homework from school, 10 spellings per week and a series of books to read. This morning she was reading ‘The Flying Elephant’ to me and her brother.

“It rained, and rained, and rained.” She read. “That means it rained three times as much,” she added as an aside.

By that token, yesterday it rained, and rained, and rained, and rained, and rained, and rained, and rained, and rained, and rained. And then rained some more for good measure. At least ten times as much. In the afternoon we were in Kendal, and the river Kent was running very high. This morning I heard that the A6 was closed at Buxton due to flooding. It’s a good job that the wedding we went to there was last weekend and not this.

I saw the BBC forecast last night and it was suggested that the bad weather would be heading south, and that northern England could expect some brighter weather, but where the dividing line might be was entirely unclear. When we got up this morning, it seemed possible that we were right on that line. To the north the sky was blue and cloudless, to the south, completely overcast. As the morning went on the sky slowly cleared and a lovely morning developed.

The latest edition of Broadleaf has a stunning cover showing limestone pavement at Gait Barrows nature reserve. Inside they’ve asked ten people to chose two places each to make ’20 Woods to See Before You Die’. Some of the contributors you may have heard of: Robert Macfarlane, Richard Mabey, Thomas Pakenham. Gait Barrows is the choice of writer and photographer Archie Miles and it’s his photo on the cover.

We frequently visit Gait Barrows, but usually to walk around Haweswater. We haven’t visited the large open area of limestone pavement for quite some time. So this morning we did.

The sun was really shining and these Guelder Rose berries were basking in it, glowing almost with their own inner light.

I’m sure that they weren’t quite this pink though.

There were a few butterflies about. And some wildflowers to see:

We examined a few spider’s webs. As ever, B found a worm to play with:

Last weekend, whilst the wedding ceremony was drawing to a close, he caught a worm and pulled it in two. He was delighted when the two halves sped off in opposite directions.

The real star of the show, however, was the limestone pavement. You can clamber on it:

Have a wander around:

Fish for pond weed in small puddles on its surface:

Or just take photos of it:

The very modest hill is marked with a small commemorative cairn.

In this bright light it was hard not to take photos of everything. Well, I wasn’t trying very hard to resist the temptation.

Yew Berries

The dragonflies I’m sure were enjoying the unaccustomed warmth, basking on the limestone pavement:

Or a drystone wall:

The Bryony berries are now all ripe and looking like they ought to be brimming with delicious juice, rather then poison:


Gait Barrows in Autumn Sunshine