Transformational Magic Too

Since Sunday morning was another fine, sunny winter morning, I looked out for, and found, more backlit leaves.

Oak leaves like this one always seem to show small yellow spots amongst the ochre. What I don’t seem to have appreciated when I got excited about this effect before is that surrounding shade is as important as the low-angled light. In full sunshine the impact is diminished.

Although I must confess that I’m quite addicted to the resulting colours…

image

Some might say obsessed…

Lest you think that I spent all of my time in the woods photographing leaf-litter and tiny birds, I should say that I also find a nice wood pile…

with fungi…

…of various kinds…

A dead tree, bereft of branches, stripped of bark and pocked with woodpecker holes exerts a totemic fascination…

I noticed that leaves were spilling from a large cleft at the top of the trunk – can there have been a nest up there last year?

Until relatively recently, I have used an entirely manual SLR and the switch to digital can have its frustrations. Autofocus at times drives me mad. I couldn’t, for instance, persuade the camera to focus on the tree in the background.

But now I’ve realised that I rather like the fine tracery of twigs against the blue sky, something that I hope to capture intentionally at some point.

Transformational Magic Too

Celandines, Snowdrops and Goldcrests

After two trips out on Saturday, to Kirkby Lonsdale and Leighton Moss, on Sunday morning S and I were bound for more familiar territory in Eaves Wood. He was walking again and decided on a diversion to the George Whittaker memorial park, which we usually refer to as ‘the swings’. Whilst pushing S on the swing I watched a mixed flock of rooks and jackdaws flying high above Eaves Wood. Judging by the way they stalled, swooped, soared and side-slipped, they were playing in the stiff wind for the sheer joy of it. It took me a moment to notice a single larger bird amongst…no, above and behind the wheeling corvids. By holding its wings at exactly the right angle it was able to hold against the wind, not motionless, but presumably gliding precisely counter to the wind-speed and therefore able to remain geostationary. Although the sun was shining, the wind was cold which made standing around anxiously watching S clamber confidently all over equipment designed for older children a fairly chilly activity. After a brief discussion about the merits of staying put or continuing into the wood, we continued with S now in the backpack.

On Elmslack Lane we found some portents of spring…

….a couple of celandine and some snowdrops…

…although these particular snowdrops were photographed on Saturday and are on the verge of the bridleway that runs past our house, where they have been flowering for at least a week.

By the time we were amongst the trees S was asleep…

…and I slowed down to enjoy the songs and the sights of a wood seemingly full of birds. A tree-creeper alighted on the sunlight trunk of a Scots pine and looked stunning. I fumbled with my camera, but was too slow and although I had a few more brief glimpses of the bird, I didn’t manage to catch it in my lens. This chaffinch was slightly more obliging…

…but as ever my attempts to photograph birds seemed doomed to failure. This is par for the course, the day before I had been reeling around trying to photograph geese, and catching blurred images of tree-tops instead, and struggling with the light when trying to photograph teal, egrets and starlings. How satisfying then when later in this walk, returning to almost the same part of the wood, a movement in nearby branches drew my attention to tiny spherical blobs of feathers – a pair of goldcrests. I lost one of them, but a thin reedy piping, entirely appropriate for Britain’s smallest bird, helped to locate the other in a tree, where it sat very patiently whilst I took loads of photos.

 

Celandines, Snowdrops and Goldcrests

Starling Roost

To the reed beds of Leighton Moss…

…in the final embers of a glowing winter afternoon…

…we took our brood, with the addition of one of A’s friends. They enjoyed playing hide and seek, climbing in a willow…

…sitting on a soggy log…

…and counting the ducks in the meres.

Small skeins of geese wheeled around overhead, but when they weren’t honking there was only really us to spoil the peace…

From Grisedale Hide we watched little egrets, mallards and geese. And a pair of swans deigned to grace us with their presence:

Teal were feeding in the water just below the hide. In the low light only a stationary subject would do…

Better luck next time!

The kids were of the opinion that the chief reason for our visit was tea and cake in the cafe, but in fact it was to witness the starling roost. The show wasn’t as spectacular and didn’t last as long as it did on our visit of a year ago (shortly after the inception of this blog), but none the less it was fabulous to see.

Quite difficult to photograph a great mass of tiny birds in low winter evening light.

This is merely one small fragment of the swarm. Without seeing the living puddles of birds, meeting, coalescing, pulsing, stretching, pouring across the sky – you can’t really get a flavour of the experience. Unfortunately, they didn’t come directly overhead when the accumulated noise of thousands of wings and calls more than off-sets the dangers of the peculiar hail that accompanies this cloud. In fact, almost as soon as we had noticed the flocks beginning to assemble they were dropping out of the sky to roost at the far end of the moss…

(Another image which doesn’t quite cut the mustard, but which will have to do for now.)

Starling Roost

Devil’s Bridge Butty Stop

Being excited by things that don’t cost money – that’s the key

Evan Davis

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.

Albert Einstein

These quotes – the latest additions to an occasional series of quotes which strike me as excerpts from a notional manifesto for this blog – were both gleaned from the Guardian: the Einstein quote from a book review, and the other from advice about how to cope with the economic downturn given in an interview.

Lots of free fun today. With the in-laws stopping over TBH and I were able to head of for a stroll together. We needed to visit Kirkby Lonsdale to check out an item being offered on Freecycle, so killing two birds with one stone we found ourselves beginning our walk by the 14th Century Devil’s Bridge….

  

…and the river Lune…

We crossed the bridge…

…and then followed a narrow bridleway intriguingly named Laitha Lane. A series of field paths climbed up through High Casterton, under a dismantled railway, across a road following the course of a Roman road, and eventually onto another bridleway called Fellfoot Lane. The view ahead was dominated by Brownthwaite Pike…

…which for all its prominence is not actually the top of the hill – there’s a higher point with a trig pillar just behind and that in turn is dwarfed by Crag Hill further back still. Fellfoot Lane follows the obvious line where the comparatively level fields steepen into a hillside. It was pleasantly quiet and green, but pretty wet and muddy underfoot – the morning’s frost having melted away. Aside from the extensive views looking homewards towards Scout Hill, Hutton Roof and Farleton Fell, the track is enlivened by a series of sculptures by Andy Goldsworthy: sheepfolds with boulders in them. We passed three…

The first sheepfold.

Looking across the first sheepfold to Bindloss Farm

Each sheepfold has through-stones jutting out of the wall to act as steps. The second sheepfold presented something of a challenge because the area by the wall was overgrown with brambles…

…but a little effort revealed…

In all honesty we were bemused by these art works. I was more taken by the wall alongside the track which at one point was built on top of a wider wall or embankment…

Our final sheepfold was on a corner where Fellfoot Lane crosses the minor road which climbs up to Bullpot Farm. It was shaded by a holly tree, and we decided that it was our favourite, perhaps because of the moss…

In all there are sixteen of these folds along this lane, and lots more spread around Cumbria. Presumably there are Goldsworthy sheepfold baggers out there somewhere. Hmmm…could be another blog project….

Minor lanes brought us down the hill and back to Laitha Lane. Back at Devil’s Bridge, with the sky brightening, we rounded off our outing with a cup of tea, an egg and bacon bap and a chocolate brownie from the butty wagon.

Addendum – The Legend of Devil’s Bridge

In common with many bridges of the same name, legend holds that the Devil appeared to an old woman, promising to build a bridge in exchange for the first soul to cross over it. When the bridge was finished the woman threw bread over the bridge and her dog chased after it, thereby outwitting the Devil.

Found here

Devil’s Bridge Butty Stop

A Sedgwick Circuit

On weekend mornings TBH and I often take it in turns to have a lie in, to snuggle back down under a duvet recently occupied by five and doze off, enjoying the muffled sounds of mayhem from downstairs. This weekend, after her extra duvet time on Saturday morning, TBH was reminding me that in the years BC (before children, before chaos – take your pick) I didn’t really approve of late rising, I generally wanted to be up and about. This germinated a seed of thought that resulted in an early start on Sunday, breakfasting with the kids and then heading off for a short walk on my own in lieu of forty winks.

Whilst we were tucking in to our chocolate wheetos the kitchen windows were reverberating with the impact of a heavy hail shower – which didn’t bode well, but when I parked the car by Force Bridge, where we had crossed the Kent on Saturday, the lightening sky was clear and gradually becoming blue. The ground was still seasoned with a peppering of hail stones as I set off once more along the Kent – for the first time picking up where I had left off on our previous walk. I followed a minor lane beside the Kent and was surprised to find a footpath sign pointing directly into the river. A study of the map revealed a tiny section of dotted green line connecting the lanes on either bank – presumably marking the site of an old ford.

Shortly beyond the lane end a footbridge crosses the Kent.

The sky had just about lightened sufficiently to make photography without flash feasible.

I always feel compelled to have a wander across bridges so that I can stand in the middle and admire the views up and down stream, and down into the water. The bridge swayed slightly with my movements. I wondered when there might ever be more than 25 people wanting to cross together…

Like most sections of the Kent I have walked this way before, but unlike the very familiar stretches downstream, probably only on two or three occasions. I remember on an ill-fated backpacking trip, which began from my home in Silverdale and ended ignominiously two days later in Sedbergh with one foot very badly blistered, I stopped for a brew hereabouts and watched a mixed flock of thrushes, including numerous fieldfares. Ever the optimist, I hoped that I might see some again. I didn’t, but the birds that I saw and heard were one of the highlights of the walk. The handful of bird calls and songs that I managed to learn to recognise last year are rewarding me with satisfaction out of all proportion to the effort I put in. Fishing around in my bag to dig out my camera, I was aware, and very pleased to be aware, that there were a handful of jackdaws in the treetops on the far bank. Jackdaws and ….yes, rooks with them. When I turned to continue along the bank I could see the birds and also a small rookery – would the nests be new ones or is it still a little early for that?

My walk along the river to Hawes Bridge was immensely enjoyable. The path follows the field edges but the river banks themselves are wooded and the trees were full of twittering blue tits and tee-chooing great tits. A cormorant flew along the river heading downstream – quite unusual to see a normally low flying bird from below. A grey wagtail hopped about on a large limestone island which split the river.

Hawes bridge takes advantage of the river narrowing through the limestone. I headed right up the road and then joined a path which immediately went under another bridge, Crowpark Bridge…

Which was the first of several now redundant bridges I would encounter on my return to the car. Including Larkrigg Hall Bridge…

…which had a fine stand of larches alongside it, and Horse Park Bridge…

I was following the route of the Lancaster Canal, opened in 1797, which ran from Preston to Kendal. This northern section was cut-off when the M6 was built and as you can see is now dry in parts. It has fetching new sign posts however which declare that it is part of the Lancaster Canal Trail.

Near Larkrigg farm a buzzard lifted out of a tree and flew close overhead. Momentarily, I had a wonderful view, but by the time I had faffed about with my camera and located the raptor in the viewfinder, it was well gone…

Long-tailed tits chattered to one another as they passed from hedgerow shrubs to a tall tree.

In Larkrigg Spring woods the bird call rose to a bewildering din and I was once again lost and unable to discern what I was hearing. More effort required!

As I approached the village of Sedgwick the clouds which had appeared in the eastern sky began to glow, then the sun finally made an appearance…

To the west, little Sizergh Fell was picked out in the sunshine, contrasting with the black clouds massing behind it. The canal passes through Sedgwick rather aloofly, crossing the main road over a small aqueduct and is quickly out the other side.

Another missed photographic opportunity when the camera decided to play up again just as Sedgwick Hall and the snow covered Lakeland Fells in the distance behind it were bathed in sunshine. By the time my camera agreed to behave, the sunshine was gone….

And shortly afterwards I was beating a hasty retreat to the nearby car as hailstones once again rained down from the sky.

A Sedgwick Circuit

Meandering

My idiosyncratic progress up the Kent got off to a contrary start on New Year’s Day when we walked downstream rather than up. On our second visit, we recommenced from a point slightly further up river than our previous highest point, leaving out a short section between New Barns and just short of Arnside Coast Guard station. Today we further sabotaged the integrity of the project by walking from Levens Bridge…

…thus neglecting a substantial section of the river from Arnside Promenade. The thing is, we hadn’t originally intended to walk by the river at all. We were headed for Scout Scar, but when I realised how cold the wind was, and with stronger winds forecast, I made a snap decision to stop short and stay lower down. As it transpires, last night’s BBC forecast was very accurate – it was chucking it down at six when S woke up. By the time it was light the rain had stopped and the sky was clearing and when we started our walk the sun was beaming down from a clear blue sky.

On Monday the Kent flooded and there was plenty of evidence of that inundation here – a tide line of leaves, grass and rubbish running through a field perhaps 100 yards from the usual course of the river and a similar draping of detritus on all trees and fences close to the river. You can see some of that debris on this tree trunk – whether it was itself left by the river I don’t know.

Inevitably, we had to stop for a while to throw stones into the swiftly flowing Kent…

I watched jackdaws in the tall trees nearby and then the tiniest notion of red in a tree top drew my attention to a woodpecker – my first of the year.

This was to be a retread of a walk that the boys and I did last May and having discussed that walk, we were all on the look out for the goats and deer that reside here in Levens Park. All that we encountered however was a convention of Barbour jacket wearers who were out shooting pheasant. Once upon a time, this might have got my goat, but since I’m happy to eat pheasant I can’t really object anymore.

After leaving the deer park the field paths stray a little way from the river, but then a minor lane, now a dead end, brings you to a path beside the river which passes beneath the dual carriageway of the A590 – the main road into the South Lakes. Under the bridge we marvelled at the loud hum of the speeding traffic and the rhythm of the thuds as tyres bumped over the expansion joints in the bridge. Music of road bridges anyone? (Perhaps best left to avant garde nutcases like Einsturzende Neubauten)

Just beyond the bridge, the lane passes Force Falls…

The river was still running very high and the falls were very impressive today. The white water on the left obscures a man made fish ladder, although the lowest step still stands out as very straight and concrete. On a couple of occasions I have seen salmon leaping here – mainly in the main stream and not the ladder.

This view is from the parking space of some cottages which are right by the falls.

‘How exciting for the people who live here’ was A’s view.

Beyond the falls, the Kent flows in a shallow ravine and there are more small falls. Very noisy and impressive, but difficult to photograph. A road bridge enabled us to cross the river and as we crossed a dipper flew past heading down into the roaring spume.

TBH was very impressed with this elegant iron railing alongside the lane. It seems a trifle grand for a stock fence…

…but the top of the tower that can just be made out in the background gives the game away. It’s part of Sedgwick House, presumably once the country residence of some landed pheasant shooter, but now I believe, divided into flats.

We recrossed the A590 – this time above it on a road bridge, before reentering the deer park.

From here the path follows an avenue of tall trees. The hollow tree which B clambered inside last time was eagerly anticipated, but when we got there we discovered that having grown since then he can no longer get in!

We had to settle for the nearby tree stump remnants of a former hollow tree, with a new tree growing Phoenix like in its centre.

We had just about given up on the idea of encountering the deer when…

B in particular was entranced and was desperate to get closer for a better view of antlers. TBH managed to partially placate him by finding sticks to use so that he could have his own antlers.

A meanwhile found this little limestone seat to take a rest…

I was fascinated by the bark on some of the trees, like this Green Man we passed:

 

A little hide and seek was in order…

Several of the trees have trunks which bristle with branches above a certain height like this – I have a feeling that it might be characteristic of lime trees, but I shall have to do some research to confirm that.

A enjoyed the odd bulges in this tree trunk, as I did last spring.

I have no idea about what causes them.

From the high bank here we watched a pair of dippers in and out of the shallow water which flowed over shingle near the far bank.

As we arrived back at Levens Bridge and the end of our walk, we finally sighted the Bagot goats…

Although the river is only a few miles from its source in the hills in the Lake District, and is very fast flowing, it does manage to squeeze in a few gentle meanders as it nears the sea…

Meandering

Weather Music

On Sunday the warm front had moved in, occupied the comfiest armchair – the one that the cat is always eyeing up, taken charge of the remote control and eaten all of the chocolate digestives. We all suffer from unwelcome house guests of this sort from time to time – dropping hints of the ‘Oh is that the time? I have so much to do!’ variety are to no avail.

In between exciting things like catching up on the ironing and failing to stop the smoke alarm from beeping at the ear-piercing limit of human hearing every two minutes, I escaped for half an hour for a brisk outing to the Pepper Pot. Faced with louring grey skies and persistent drizzle, I decided to leave the camera at home, put my hood up, my hands deep into my pockets and enjoy a head-down stomp. Perhaps it was because I wasn’t engrossed in looking for photo opportunities, but it was the sounds of the walk that I enjoyed. A gusting wind was shaking the trees and it was the music of that wind in the trees that first struck me. A blanket sussuration provided the undertone, it’s probably a cliche to say that it sounded like waves on a shingle beach, but whilst it shared the timbre of that familiar sound it didn’t have the rhythm, the ebb and flow of waves – perhaps what those sounds have in common is the music of friction, the accumulation of thousands of individual pebbles rattling or branches shaking. Every so often a gust would tear through the tree-tops overhead producing a sudden crescendo, a roar, a note of elemental power. And on the downside of those breakers, the squeak and grind of tree-trunks dragged across each other.

Loving being out in this wild weather, I was also enjoying my own internal weather music. Taking the most direct route up the hill, my pulse quickening, breathing hard, but without my breath become ragged or laboured, without needing to stop for rests. This short walk to the Pepper Pot has become something of a test piece for me. This time I reached the top of the hill 15 minutes from the house. Whilst not particularly, fast this is good for me – just long enough after an iron infusion to really feel the benefit, it was good to feel, if not exactly fit, then at least fitter than usual.

Taking a more circuitous route home again, I flicked off my hood at the unmistakable ronk of a raven. Glancing upwards it took me a few seconds to find it – already in a different part of the sky than its cry had led me to expect. It skated sideways with the wind, crossing the grey sky at great speed and almost immediately disappearing again. But my spirits were lifted and soared with that bird. What a privilege to be here, in these woods, in this wild wind, sharing this moment with this the wildest of birds.

A real escape from the quotidian.


I (re)read a few poems by Robert Frost today, and reading this poem was taken back to that moment on Sunday.

Happiness Makes Up in Height What it Lacks in Length

O stormy, stormy world,
The days you were not swirled
Around with mist and cloud,
Or wrapped as in a shroud,
And the sun’s brilliant ball
Was not in part or all
Obscured from mortal view—
Were days so very few
I can but wonder whence
I get the lasting sense
Of so much warmth and light.
If my mistrust is right
It may be altogether
From one day’s perfect weather,
When starting clear at dawn
The day swept clearly on
To finish clear at eve.
I verily believe
My fair impression may
Be all from that one day
No shadow crossed but ours
As through its blazing flowers
We went from house to wood
For change of solitude. setstats 1

(I realise that storm and wild weather is standing in here for the very opposite of happiness, but it’s the fleeting nature but long lasting impression of that happiness which struck a chord – to be honest, the title alone makes me smile.)

Weather Music