Furness Abbey

It’s fairly astonishing that a man could travel half way round the world to visit the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu, but never get round to seeing even older ruins virtually on his own doorstep. I put that right on Tuesday with a visit to Furness Abbey, accompanied by TBH and the boys.

The remains are so large that no vantage point within the grounds offered an opportunity to really do them justice with a photo.

The abbey was built with local sandstone which has a lovely warm colour. Sadly, it seems in some places to be disintegrating – the stone is covered in a fine red powder – like the scales on a butterflies wing. S pronounced the abbey – “broken down” – a pretty fair assessment

A stream runs through, underneath the abbey – it looks as though culverts where cleverly used to convey water to the many buildings around the abbey.


Furness Abbey


We’ve been exploring South Cumbria this week. On Monday the boys and I took one of our favourite trips, to Grange over Sands.

We fed the ducks, a surprisingly energetic activity. Fortunately neither of the boys managed to throw themselves in. The boys cycled on the prom. We picnicked. We enjoyed the excellent playground on the promenade.

I even managed to read a little of Thoreau’s essay ‘Walking’ whilst the boys played. We didn’t get all that far along the prom, so it wasn’t a long walk for me – but I suppose that I could include it as a tiny part of my ongoing exploration of the river Kent.

Arnside Knot seen across the estuary.

When the tide came in it completely covered the salt marsh to the depth of a few inches. The boys wondered whether I had brought their swimming costumes.


Elephant Hawk Moth Caterpillar

This monster was crawling across a tarmaced path in the village. It’s an Elephant Hawk Moth caterpillar, so called because the caterpillar has a trunk like proboscis. You can’t see it well here because when threatened it withdraws it’s head back into its body to enlarge those ‘eyes’ and scare away any predators. This one must have felt very threatened with our boys desperate to poke, squeeze and generally interfere with it. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so vociferous in getting them to hold off, because a few inquisitive fingers would give some scale to this really quite large caterpillar. What a great start to our walk.

Update: find out more about Elephant Hawkmoth caterpillars here.

We were heading for Woodwell although we were slightly held up on route by wayside feasting…

In the pond, the mint is in full flower…

…and buzzing with bees and hoverflies…

B and I also spotted a large metallic green dragonfly but it was gone before I managed to get a picture.

Normally at Woodwell the ankle-biters like to ‘fish’ in the pond with large sticks. On this occasion they were more interested in swapping their assorted plastic tat for other assorted plastic tat from the geocache, and then exploring the area at the base of the cliff, which is a shame since our friend R had found himself a suitable stick…

On the way home they entertained themselves by extracting imaginary tolls form us at every gateway. The price escalated us we progressed so that as we neared home we were expected to pay £20 each for the final kissing gate. And where there was no gate they became quite creative in their robbery…

Our tribe and their pal S

Elephant Hawk Moth Caterpillar

Thistledown Days

…or A Touch of Autumn

Dr Tim Entwisle, executive director of the Botanic Gardens Trust in Sydney, says there should be at least five seasons rather than four.

And maybe he has a point – can’t see it catching on though. Four three month seasons are, as he points out, rather arbitrary and it doesn’t take much looking to find signs and foretastes of the coming season at any time of year. So here in our English summer we are indeed experiencing ‘a touch of autumn’.

I’ve been out a couple of times recently, once on my own and once with family and friends*. To be scrupulously honest, I set off on the first walk without much enthusiasm, really from a sense of duty – the sun was shining, I was home alone, and if I didn’t drag my carcass out I knew that I would be kicking myself later. I hadn’t got more than fifty yards from the door however before a sizeable patch of tall thistles attracted my attention and I was back in the swing of things. There was a great deal of thistledown, something the kids enjoyed when we passed that same patch on the second walk – throwing it, chasing it and catching it again, even stuffing it in their pockets for later. Not all of the flowers had gone to seed yet though, a fact clearly appreciated by both this bee…


… and the photographer.

I’m getting a little ahead of myself though, my first insect encounter took place before I had even left the house…


This moth is a Garden Carpet** which had been trapped in the porch for a couple of days. Attempts to release it by leaving the door open had failed. It’s amazing how the brain stores things away – I knew that this was a … erm… something Carpet, presumably after A and I had our ‘moth breakfast’ earlier this year, because before then I was totally clueless. Now I’m just almost totally clueless.

It was only a short walk, but as ever there was plenty to see. I could select summery images of flowers like this Ragwort…

…or this tiny Selfheal…

Or if I intended to emphasise the imminence of autumn, I might draw your attention to fallen Hazelnuts…

…or Cuckoo Pint berries…

But I’m happy to enjoy the transition from summer to autumn, and the changing scenes and seasons: I don’t feel the need to coin a new term to cover the period when summer and autumn coexist cheek by jowl.

Whilst we away in Germany, TBH and I were both impressed by the volume of the evening chorus of crickets (or grasshoppers? or….who makes all the noise?). We never saw the culprits though. I heard a few grasshoppers on this walk too. They weren’t so loud and generally, even where the grass was short, I could only see a brief glimpse as they sprang away from my clodhoppers and disappeared in the vegetation again. But, on the limestone pavement in Pointer Wood, this fellow not only showed himself, he also agreed to pose for photos….

I’ve had a look at my field guide, but apart from the fact that this is a grasshopper and not a cricket, I’m none the wiser. I think that grasshoppers vary quite a lot in colouration even within a single species. His camouflage is first rate though isn’t it? Small wonder that they’re more often heard than seen.

*I was intending to cover both walks here, but I’ve run out off steam.

**As ever, I stand ready to be corrected on any and all of my identifications – my moth has now escaped, in case you were worried.

Thistledown Days

One Day Like This…

Windermere from Holme Fell

Another Lakes bimble for TBH and myself with the in-laws once again looking after the ankle-biters. We weren’t too far from our last outing, parking at Tilberthwaite and starting our walk by climbing  Holme Fell, just over a thousand feet, a Wainwright and a Birkett, and an excellent viewpoint, although a higher cloudbase would have enabled us see the higher fells to the north and west. We found eyebright again on the lower slopes of the hill, and higher up flowering heather carpeted the slopes.

Holme Fell summit.

Our descent route took us past Holme Ground tarns (very boggy going) and then past the enormous Hodge Close quarry.

The quarry is full of deep water, but it’s possible to walk down an old incline into Parrock Quarry and then enter Hodge Close through a double archway.

There were sub-aqua divers in the water and we had seen somebody climbing the quarry wall to jump into the water (tombstoning?) – judging by the rubbish lying around this is also a popular location for barbecues and drinking cans of Foster’s and the like.

Beyond Hodge Close we briefly watched two birds of prey, of different species, apparently quarrelling. One bird was keening, not unlike a seagull. The smaller of the two was very trim with a narrow tail and I thought that it might be a Peregrine, but I’m not at all sure, and as to the other….

Time is marching on, and on the blackthorn the sloes have gone from green to plum…

Time was marching on for us too, we crossed the route of our last walk at Stang End and headed across the valley hoping to lunch at the Three Shires Inn. TBH declared that her blood sugar had deserted her and that she was very concerned that the pub may have closed, been quarantined due to a swine flu outbreak, subject to a terrorist outrage or perhaps, more prosaically, had simply stopped serving lunch at two.

Here is the Three Shires Inn, shortly after 2 o’clock….when they stopped serving lunch. We had missed the deadline by a few minutes, but they did offer to serve us some soup – and very nice it was too.

Perhaps we would have made it by two if I hadn’t stopped to photograph this Robin’s Pincushion Gall…

…or Bedeguar Gall. It was on a rose, high above us in the hedge, and even with TBH helping by holding the thorny stem against the wind, it has still come out a little blurred. Apparently under those red and green hairs is a woody gall full of small chambers each with a resident grub. Almost all of them are female and in the spring they will leave the gall as tiny wasps and lay their eggs in rose buds without mating. So…what is the function of the male wasp? (Yes – I can see that this question invites some rather obvious quips)

Our return route took us over the elegant Slater’s bridge…

…from where we diverted to explore another quarry. This one entered by a low tunnel…

..which opens out into a substantial cavern, called Cathedral Quarry…

The pool has small fish in it and I was wondering how they could have got there, but it fed by a small stream so perhaps that provides the answer.

From the quarry faint paths took us up through the woods and out onto the open fell which was again very boggy. We joined a better path for our descent back to Tilberthwaite, with good views of Holme Fell.


So throw those curtains wide, one day like this a year’d see me right…

…but can I have one a month?

Rowan berries – ubiquitous on this walk.

One Day Like This…

Home Again, Home Again

Just back from an extended trip to Germany for a family get together. I took hundreds of photos, but mostly family groups and blurred shots of children on swings. Far too much to tell about a three week trip so just some impressions of our trip. We were in Schleswig-Holstein in the north. Lots of wheat fields, sometimes with poppies.

Lots of Jelly-fish, particularly in the harbours, which is something I remember from previous trips.

Less familiar were the huge numbers of Hover flies and Ladybirds. The latter due to a bumper year for aphids apparently.

The strangest sight was of seaweed washed up on the beach, red with a covering of Ladybirds. Apparently the wind had carried huge numbers out into the Baltic, but some how they survived.

Insect life in general seemed to be thriving. I’ve never seen so many Painted Ladies (although I must confess that I took this photo in the village just before we left)

We saw lots of these colourful little chaps, but I have no idea (yet) what it is.

We had a lovely time, eating and chatting with aunts, uncles, cousins and their kids. My brother and his kids were there for a few days from Zurich, and my Mum and Dad. We spent a lot of time on beaches. It’s nice to be abroad – different weather, different food (TBH is now addicted to Pork in a paprika marinade), different architecture even – brick and timber-framed buildings are common…


With huge roofs extending down to the ground floor, quite often thatched…

I highlight for me was swimming – I love swimming in the sea and our kids are of an age when even modest waves are a great excitement. We swam in a lake a few times too. It was great to see how confident A and B were in the water. It was a lake that I’ve swum in on a few occasions over the years, and the rather wonderful smell of the water was instantly familiar. Perhaps other lakes smell the same way – I wouldn’t know, it was only when I was fully immersed in the water that I was aware of it. Perhaps I should take a leaf out of Roger Deakin’s book and join the trend for ‘wild-swimming’. More anon. Perhaps.

Home Again, Home Again