The Language of Leaves

Leaves are of more various forms than the alphabets of all languages put together

Henry David Thoreau A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers

Another bright sunny afternoon in the woods. S and I are out on a spree. Actually, we are only in the woods briefly due to our very slow pace. Our stats are:

Distance: Less than a mile

Time: An hour and a half, including stops.

(There walk stats = a proper walking blog. Just need to review a few stoves now!)

Although, our pace is so slow that sometimes I’m not sure whether we have stopped or not. We do sit down at one point for a drink and a snack. S is very excited about a very voluble Robin’s song. Also, he has a stick of course.

Meanwhile, I’m entranced by the leaves, and the dappled light, and the way the leaves fill with light and glow.

Be they dried husks on the floor, or green thoughts in a green shade…


Isn’t that green tree-mendous? (Sorry)

Now that I know where to look for it, I can usually find thin curls of papery bark catching the sun on days like this too…

In all, a wonderful rest cure from Doctor Sun. And the best part is – it wasn’t even my idea to head this way – S was insistent.


The Language of Leaves

Silvery Y

…which sounds like the title of a notional Sonic Youth tune, maybe an out-take from Daydream Nation, but which is in fact a moth…

This one was trapped in S’s bedroom for a while and became “my moth”.

It transpires that there are several British species of moth named for a y on their wings. I wonder if they all have those odd protuberances too.

Here’s a bit of Sonic Youth (from Daydream Nation)…just in case you’re curious. Give it a minute and a half – then it kicks off…

The original youtube page is here.

Silvery Y


A lovely weekend with a house full of guests. A house so full in fact that some were sleeping in the drive in their Dormobile. On Saturday we climbed to the Pepper Pot via the favourite yew and the fallen beeches. On the beech roots the mass of Inkcaps had all but disappeared, but these Earthballs were thrusting up through the leaf-litter nearby. It was a dull day with occasional short-lived showers. We walked through Eaves Wood to Water Slack then round Haweswater and back via Bank Well and Lambert’s Meadow. Oddly, there are goldfish in Bank Well. Baby S will probably remember it best for the large cold drops of rain which began to fall at a most inopportune moment whilst I was changing his nappy – apparently the rain was cold.

Saturday was grand despite the weather, but Sunday was fantastic with clear skies and bright sunshine as well as the fabulous company. We were back in Eaves Wood but this time heading for Far Arnside and a coastal route to Arnside. In the woods there were lots of Speckled Wood butterflies about again. Near Far Arnside this Red Admiral was basking on a wall…

Ivy growing on the wall here was loud with bees, many of them clearly already heavily laden with pollen…

We stopped by the shore while baby S had a nap. The adults enjoyed the sunshine the kids dashed about on the rocks and collected tiny crabs. The tide was right in, scuppering our envisaged play on the beach, but it didn’t seem to matter. The walk around the cliff path to White Creek was unusually busy. With the tide in we took the most direct route to New Barns and stopped again for a late lunch in Grubbins Wood…

The small meadow in the wood was well stocked with late summer flowers, the names of which elude me at present…

S decided to walk from this point which slowed our already very moderate pace to a crawl. Particularly when he and his brother decided to try to climb into some rabbit holes…


In the shingle of the river’s edge nearby some large herbaceous shrubs…


…covered in berries with an attractive purple ruff..

These berries are apparently sweet, or so I read, which is unfortunate since they are Deadly Nightshade, or Belladonna, ‘the most poisonous plant in the Western Hemisphere’. I’ve seen them flowering near here before, but not the berries. Apparently a single leave or about 20 berries can be fatal to an adult, and the roots are more toxic still.

We opted for ice creams in Arnside instead to round off an excellent day.


Grubbing Around

Out again in the sunshine with the boys. Their avowed intent – to walk to the Pepperpot, a 15 minute walk at a brisk adult pace. We spent a couple of hours not quite getting there. There was just too much to see and do on route.

The first distraction was the presence of a number of Speckled Wood butterflies, although to be honest I was more interested than the boys. They were more engaged with the tiny frog that S found in the grass by the path…

Both boys have quite an eye for small creatures in the undergrowth so having them along is a real advantage. Unfortunately they have an atavistic response to the wildlife they find. S was determined to stamp on this poor froglet, and when I persuaded him to stop that, his instinct was still to poke and squeeze. The next frog S spotted was already beyond harm – dead and dried out. B was fascinated and picked it up to take home to show his mum – eventually giving up on that idea when the frog hampered his climbing in a favourite yew.

Close to the yew, a couple of large fallen beeches beckoned – B remembered them from previous visits and was keen to clamber over them again. I was interested to see how their decay had progressed. They were covered in fungi. The soil is thin here and the roots spread wide, hewing out a large but shallow shave of soil and rocks when they fall. On both trees, both sides of this root island were hidden by an outburst of some kind of inkcap.

In different areas the toadstools were in different stages of their fruiting…

…nubs of newly emerging mushrooms….

…more mature specimens…

…beginning to fray and deliquesce at the margins…

…and twisted, blackened cups near the end of their lifetimes.

Elsewhere there were slick and shiny jellyfish marooned in a woodland wreck…

Around these coral forms, and all over the tree, the bark was covered in tiny nodules…

…I’m not sure whether of fungi emerging or having dried up and finished.

There was Jew’s Ear fungus…

…and these tiny but startling alien forms nestling in a crack in the bark…

It was another gloriously sunny day. We were screened from direct sunlight by the trees, but there’s a dappled quality of light in woods in sunshine that I love.

It’s hard to know how to capture that quality except in the strong contrast between the deep shadows and the bright pools of light. This time I was struck by sharp shadows on the trunk of a beech…

Something I think I will pursue when the opportunity arises again.

The boys had other interests to pursue….

…scratching around after a centipede in the dirt.

Grubbing Around

Great North Swim

A rare treat – a sunny weekend in the North West. It was the Great North Swim in Windermere on Sunday. Some of our friends took part – I’m not sure how they did, but they had a good day for it. Meanwhile on Saturday we were on a beano – the church picnic. (I haven’t had a road to Damascus moment as yet, though it has been suggested that I might take advantage of a forth-coming ‘return to church’ promotion.) There was no charabanc sadly, but double parking at Brown Howe car park and a barbecue with terrific views of Coniston Water and the surrounding hills. The water was pretty bracing, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to have a swim, and it wasn’t so bad after a while, particularly away from the shade of the lakeside trees. Could I manage a mile in a wetsuit for the Great North Swim next September?

‘Wild-swimming’ seems to have become a bit of a phenomena of late with books and magazine articles devoted to it. Are more people swimming in open water or is it just that more fuss is being made? I notice that ‘coasteering’ is offered these days as a ‘life-style choice’. We used to call it coastal plonking and combined it with ‘wild-swimming’, often involuntarily or some times with a bit of ‘tomb-stoning’ thrown in. (Perhaps that’s what the church needs – a spot of rebranding, a more macho sounding name?)

Great North Swim


It was the village show on Saturday so Friday night found the children in very competitive spirit, baking jam tarts, making models and a display of grasses. A’s jam tarts were winners, as were B’s marigolds. Neither won for there ‘Plate of wild fruit and berries – to be named.’ We had a short walk in the nearby fields to collect said fruit and berries. I thought we did quite well with rowan berries, elderberries, haws, rosehips, sloes and blackberries (although in Ben’s case it was blackberry singular because he couldn’t resist eating the rest). We overlooked yew and cuckoo pint berries with them being poisonous. Whilst I was collecting haws from a hedge B found this hairy monster on a Dock leaf. I’m pretty confident that it’s a Knotgrass caterpillar.

The alternating white and brick-coloured triangular patches below the spiracles distinguish this from all other caterpillars. There is also a line of white blotches above the spiracles, and a line of red spots along the back. FP: docks and many other low growing herbs and shrubs, May to October.

I hope that the ‘low growing herbs and shrubs’ includes some of things growing in our garden since B was not going to be deterred in his ambition to bring the caterpillar home to show to his mum. It’s much smaller than the Elephant hawk Moth caterpillar we saw recently but pretty striking none the less.


Earlier in the week I was out for another short walk, a post-work trip to the Cove and the Lots.

As you can probably tell the light was low, but I never tire of this view. As I left the Lot the lights were coming on in Grange and beyond.


Piel Island


Waiting on the jetty, the Roa Island Lifeboat station to the left and Piel castle just visible on the right of the picture.

We continued our exploration of the north side of the bay with a first ever trip to Piel Island. An interesting drive along the coast from Ulverston brought us to Roa Island – a tidal island connected to the mainland by a short causeway. From there we had the excitement of a brief boat trip across the channel on the Piel Ferry. After becoming frightened on a dinghy on Coniston Water earlier in the summer,A became quite hysterical about this trip, but the ferryman was very sympathetic and although she didn’t enjoy the journey, she was much more confident when it came time for our return trip.

The island has a ruined castle, a pub and a row of cottages.

The castle was clearly once very extensive. Built by the monks of Furness Abbey it protected their harbour here and their lucrative trade particularly with Ireland. It’s big moment in history came during the reign of Henry VII when Lambert Simnel, a pretender to the thrown supported by the Yorkist party, landed here from Ireland. The uprising was soundly defeated, but unusually the story has a happy ending for the puppet figurehead of the coup who was pardoned by Henry and given a job as spit turner in the royal kitchens.

The castle has both outer and inner walls, the latter quite well preserved except on the seaward side where the action of tide and waves has undermined and destroyed them. The keep is quite large and it looks as though it should be possible to explore the battlements, but sadly at present the access to those are barred by a locked grille.


The keep.

The wall corners and the edges of windows and doorways are all in the same red sandstone as Furness Abbey, but otherwise the walls are built of a more rough and ready rubble and mortar construction.

The sandstone was everywhere pocked and creased by erosion into fabulous miniature landscapes. The walls on close inspection turned out to be a haven for a wide variety of mini beasts. One wall of the keep was festooned with snails, at least until the boys pulled them all off.

More mobile and therefore not so easy to photograph were a tiny black and white wasp hauling the carcass of a pale spider up a wall, and the odd earwig like creature which B coaxed out of a narrow fissure and onto his coat. There were inevitably plenty of spiders taking advantage of the rich pickings.

With the white cross on its abdomen I think that this is our Garden Spider, Araneus diadematus. A little surfing leads me to believe the diadematus means crowned or wearing a diadem, perhaps a reference to that rather spectacular pattern. A more successful resident of the castle than old Lambert Simnel then (and isn’t that a name to conjure with?).

The island has a wild and stark beauty of its own. The beaches are shingle…

With stones of many hues, textures and types.

This was a feature of the beaches on the Baltic too, indeed the holiday home which we stopped in (a house swap – thoroughly recommended if you haven’t tried it) had copies of two colourful guide books – Strandsteine and Noch Mehr Strandsteine with identifying pictures of the geological treasures to be found.

I found a fossil here on the beach…

It’s the one on the right, on a desk at home. The circular striated pattern runs through to the other side of the stone. The fossil on the left I found in Germany. I think that it’s something like a Sea Urchin, it’s not really seen to best advantage here, but has a five neat lines of dots like a thin starfish on the bottom.

The top edge of the shingle was colonised by specialists like this Horned Poppy

All parts of which are apparently poisonous.

Or this Sea Campion with its gorgeous veined pattern…

Scarlet Pimpernel is rather less specialised and much more widespread, but as some common names imply – ‘change-of-the-weather’, ‘poor-man’s-weatherglass’, ‘shepherd’s-sundial’ – it closes in dull weather and so I offer this photo as evidence that despite the cloudy views on show we did have some sunshine!

At present camping on the island is free and a number of groups were taking advantage of that opportunity. There is a toilet block by the pub with a couple of showers. The pub is being refurbished but drinks and food can still be had. The publican is traditionally ‘King of Piel Island’ and I suspect that the pub will be well worth visiting when the new incumbents have restored the seat of their fiefdom.

We rounded of our day with a visit to the Lifeboat station on Roa Island…

…and an ice-cream in the cafe.

These handsome Starlings were feeding in the road by our car. I presume that the beige heads are because they are juveniles?

Piel Island