Enchanter’s Nightshade

A walk from home around Haweswater. We used to live nearer to Haweswater and often walked around it. Now, although I still walk that way from time to time, I tend to think of it as a bit far for an evening, when time is often limited. TBH tells me that I should be able to walk it in an hour, but I’ve never been a quick walker and then, of course I stop so often to listen or watch or photograph etc. And then there are digressions or sometimes I turn back thinking that I have missed something. Still, even I can manage it in an hour and a quarter, so although it was quite late I decided to head that way.

I started by climbing into Eaves Wood along the edge of Potter’s Field. There is usually a bull and his harem in this field at this time of year. I’m not sure whether this is the same bull as last year, but if it is he is not as camera shy as he was.

This plant is abundant in Eaves Wood. Through the spring and early summer it is flowerless, and the leaves have always troubled me because I have never been able to work out what it is.

In the summer, when the shade is at it’s deepest, tiny white flowers appear when almost nothing else is flowering below the tall trees in the wood.

And I’ve finally managed to work out what it is: Enchanter’s Nightshade. A very evocative name for a fairly insignificant plant. It has an interesting story:

In the 16th century, a Flemish botanist named Mathias De l’Obel tried to identify a magical plant which the early Greek physician Dioscorides had named after the mythical sorceress Circe. His first choice was bittersweet, which supposedly acted as a good luck charm. But his choice later fell on the enchanter’s nightshade, which still bears the botanical name of Circaea lutetiana – lutetia being the Roman name for Paris, where De l’Obel and other botanists worked. Before that the Anglo-Saxons had used the plant – which they called aelfthone – as a protection against spells cast by elves.*

This, I think, is limestone woundwort. The more widespread and less spectacular hedge woundwort has been flowering for a while and I had wondered why I hadn’t seen any of these, but they obviously flower later.

The year is marching on and I noticed this sloe with the dusky purple of autumn, although most of the other sloes are still an unripe green…

I’ve photographed this dead tree many times – this time it was the way the sun was catching some of the uppermost branches which struck me. Haweswater is visible beyond the tree.

In the same field I found eyebright…

…and lady’s mantle. Whilst I faffed about photographing them, I could hear quite a cacophony from the woods around Haweswater. Two birds, the culprits of all of the noise, flew over and landed in the dead tree. Everything about their outline, their movements their flight, the way they clung to the tree made me think that they were green woodpeckers, but against the sky i couldn’t see any colours. However, having listened online to the call of a green woodpecker, I am now absolutely confident that I was right. I walked back to the tree hoping to see them better and to perhaps get a photograph, but they were soon away again to another tree further away.

The small open field at the end of Haweswater is dominated by hemp agrimony…

…, but there are flashes of yellow from ragwort and this flower…

…which grows very vigorously in many local gardens, and which I have yet to identify. Earlier in the year there would have been many yellow flags too, but they are done flowering now and where the flowers were there are now huge green pods which look like they ought to be a tasty addition to a stir-fry.

There are also a huge variety of umbellifers. I really must make a start at  distinguishing hogweed from cow parsley etc.

One fluffy pink and white creation played host to these black-winged yellow-bellied bugs which sadly I also haven’t found in any guide books.

Whilst I was in the field, I heard the noisy calls again and one of the woodpeckers flew directly overhead before landing in a tree across the field.

On this walk, and during my longer walk back from Nether Kellet last week, I found and munched on some very juicy dewberries. The plant looks like a bramble, but seems to be more low-growing than blackberries and as you can see the fruit has fewer segments. They are also so juicy and delicate that they really have to be eaten immediately – even between hedgerow and mouth they can disintegrate leaving you with purple fingers.

It took me a while to find some ripe blackberries for comparisons sake, and when I did it was too dark by the hedgerow to get anything other than a very shaky picture – so, in the interests of my readers I picked a few, and then ate them to dispose of them responsibly. Very nice they were too.

By the time I was crossing the fields towards home, the sun had long since set and darkness was fast descending. The walk had taken me an hour and three-quarters. But…


What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?—

No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows:

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.


I was reintroduced to this gem by an old poetry anthology which I picked up, with several others, at ‘a book fair’ – or a charity second-hand bookstall at Leeds Childrens’ Holiday Camp at the weekend.

* from ‘The Reader’s Digest Field Guide to the Wildflowers of Britian’

Enchanter’s Nightshade

Bittersweet and Bartsia

Another short walk with TBH. (Children once again tearing lumps out of their Grandparents.) We went to the Wolfhouse Gallery and didn’t find what we were looking for, but the walk was very fine. On the way back we went via Heald Brow.

Hedgerow bittersweet.

We seem to be having a bumper summer for fungi. Near to this specimen were a couple of smaller more orange ones.

I didn’t know what this was when I took the photo. Rather eerily, I’ve just opened one of my flower books on an arbitrary page and found the same plant looking back at me. It’s red bartsia, which Linnaeus named after his friend Dr. Bartoch.

Bittersweet and Bartsia

Rainbow over the Bela

TBH and I had been in Kendal (looking at oak flooring if you must know) and had intended to squeeze a short walk in on the way home. The weather was very changeable – sunshine and showers – a rainbow day. We were in two minds, but eventually opted for a little trip along the Bela. We started our trip accompanied by a full double rainbow. (Admittedly it’s a bit hard to see the second one in the photo above.)

Large fish were leaping from the river making impressive splashes.

A good example here…

…of how the sky inside the rainbow appears paler than the sky outside.

This little walk punches well above its weight. We were soon on the pancake flat land leading out to the Kent estuary and the eye is led by the high ground either side of the Kent valley to the distant hills of the Lake District.

Rainbow over the Bela

Dad, Dad, Come Outside Quick

And why am I needed so urgently in the garden? Because there is a red admiral on one of our buddleia! My kids know what makes me happy.

And then, whilst I’m still battling the autofocus, the red admiral is gone.

But a peacock arrives to replace it…


And then there are honey bees…

…and a big hairy bumble-bee…

…and hover-flies…

…of several kinds….

Look at that huge….tongue, proboscis, what?…hoovering up the sweet nectar from the flowers. Look at how those legs are so well adapted for balancing on the delicate surface of the flower. Amazing.

Insects love buddleia and so do I.

Dad, Dad, Come Outside Quick

A Sharp Shower

A late evening walk – I had to be in Arnside so walked over via Eaves Wood and Arnside Knott. As I entered Eaves Wood I was greeted by the disappearing behind of a roe deer, bobbing away in that graceful fluid way that they do, which has as much of flight in it as running. That aside the drama was all in the sky.

I arrived on the top of the Knott with the last of the light. Across the estuary the Lyth valley was obscured by a shower…

…which was all well and good until I realised that the wind was blowing from the North and the shower was heading my way.

The views from here are always great, but in near darkness and a stiff wind this little hill takes on a surprisingly wild and elemental character.

I didn’t get too wet and my camera seems to have survived the damp (I was ill-prepared for bad weather).

The lights of Grange across the Kent.

A Sharp Shower

Delight: Bubbles

Whilst we were away last week I was thinking about how having kids opens the door to all sorts of pleasures on the beach which might seem a bit like childish pursuits otherwise – digging, damming, rock-pooling, collecting shells and stones or driftwood for a beach fire, drawing in the sand, building sandcastles etc.

All undeniably fun and free to boot.

But of course it’s not just on the beach that that applies. I might still fly a kite without kids to do it with, maybe I would even plodge in puddles if I thought that no-one was watching. But I don’t think that I would blow bubbles – and that would be my loss.

Not that any blowing is necessarily involved….

Nor does the fun stop there. The bubbles can be chased, and caught…

or popped…

….or perhaps just watched and photographed.

Delight: Bubbles

More Close Encounters

Meadow Brown

The ‘buzzard attack’ incident happened on a walk from the village of Nether Kellet back home to Silverdale. The walk was packed with incident, but otherwise of a low key nature and not offering any threat to life and limb, apart from the frequent nettle stings.

Nether Kellet was selected as a start point from convenience – the kids were there for a birthday party so a lift was on offer. (TBH was driving, even on the quieter country lanes it’s considered bad form to let children under seven drive). The journey home began inauspiciously in a shower – it was that sort of day: lot’s of cloud, some sunny spells, some showers – of which the first was the worst. As soon as it stopped and I pulled down my hood there were plenty of things to see. Whilst I was trying to find the best position to capture this obliging meadow brown, a day-flying micro-moth decided to muscle in on the action, landing on an adjacent grass-stem.

I have no idea what it is – my ‘Complete British Insects’ has only two pages to cover micro moths. I need a moth guide.

Can’t find these little critters in my book either. I saw no end of them, mostly on umbellifers and mostly multiplying with gusto. Do they like damp days or is it just a coincidence that that’s when I seem to notice them?

Slugs and snails certainly like damp days and both were out in force on paths and plants.

Between Nether Kellet and Over Kellet my map (an old green pathfinder 1:25000) showed the path toeing a delicate line between two large quarries. The path doesn’t actually do that anymore, but sadly I didn’t realise that at first and spent a good deal of time wandering backwards and forwards wondering where I was. Probably I was distracted by a fine collection of fungi by the car-park of the quarry companies offices (that’s my excuse anyway).

Eventually, when I realised what had happened I decided to follow the road into Over Kellet.

It was on the rather fine path heading from Over Kellet towards Capenwray (which I’m pretty sure I’ve never walked before) that I had my one-sided altercation with an aggressive buzzard.

This is the view from the top of the rise just beyond the copse where I assume the buzzards were nesting. The woodland on the right is a mixture of native species and seemingly several types of conifers – it looked almost like an arboretum, it would be interesting to know it’s history. The valley behind that wood is presumably where the Keer rises, behind that the western edge of the Pennines lurk. On the left the noticeable edge is the steep western face of Farleton Fell.

I passed Capenwray Old Hall Farm, crossed a bridge over the Lancaster Canal, then under a viaduct which I don’t remember from my previous trip this way….

….and then turned left to follow the Keer. The Keer is a very small river – really just a stream with an over grown sense of it’s own importance. At first I was in the fields alongside the river – there are stiles over the fence giving access to the riverbank but there was no real evidence of a path. Where the river flowed under a road bridge the right-of-way crossed from one bank to the other and now I was right on the bank. Which was very overgrown. There was a path but nobody had told the nettles and grasses and brambles etc and they were doing their best to obliterate it. My calves and shins are beginning to itch just with the memory of the nettle rash inflicted on them.

There were compensations however. The air around me seemed to be constantly full of electric blue damselflies.

They wouldn’t sit still for long and the autofocus on my camera doesn’t cope well with a complex background, but I’m reasonably happy with this photo at least.

Having moaned about the nettles, I’m actually thinking that I’d like to go back to this stretch of the Keer in sunnier weather and in stout trousers rather than shorts, because there was a wealth of plant and insect life.

I think that this is a Red-tailed Bumble-bee, Bombus Lapidarius, a male because they have the ‘dirty white collar’. (Which makes him a white collar worker?)

And I think that this…

…is common hemp-nettle. Having stopped to photograph the flower, as is so often the case I then noticed something else of interest.

It seems to me that this tiny chap must be a froghopper – he does have a coiled and ready to spring look don’t you think?

The same plant was also host to…

….this tiny but stunning bug. Chrysolina Menthastri I believe – “found mainly in waterside habitats”, “feeding on mint and other labiates”.



1. Having lips or liplike parts.

2. Botany

a. Having or characterizing flowers with the corolla divided into two liplike parts, as in the snapdragon.

b. Of or belonging to the mint family Labiatae.

Aren’t search engines wonderful? I think that Common Hemp Nettle is a labiate plant, so if I’m right about that and if I’m right about the plant being Common Hemp Nettle then I may have correctly identified the bug.

Whatever, there was another of the plants along the riverbank and once again closer inspection revealed…

They’re amazing whether they are Chrysolina Menthastri or not. It’s surprising that such striking insects don’t have a common name, or maybe that’s just my book – a quick search gives ‘Mint Leaf Beetle’ on several websites.

Sadly the ‘path’ beside the Keer got slowly worse. To add insult to injury I didn’t see any kingfishers where I’ve seen them before – where the river flows under the motorway.

By now I was well behind schedule and should have been at home roasting a chicken for the family tea. The walk became a bit of a route march in an attempt to get home reasonably quickly. From the A6 a track took me to Borwick Lane, I was quickly through Warton on the Coach Road and then over the shoulder of Warton Crag on the bridleway.

At the start of Quaker’s Stang I was surprised by the farmer and his collie who had somehow managed to sneak up behind me on a quad-bike. I opened the gate for them and received a cheery “Same time t’mora” by way of thanks before they whizzed off across the Stang.

Another Buzzard was perched in the last of the hawthorns on the Stang, although I didn’t see it until it took off. I watched it land in an ash by a tall dead tree, knowing that my path would take me right under that tree. When I got there, the bird was still there. It released an impressive volley of droppings and then, calling stridently, flew off back over the salt-marsh. It landed on some trees below. I had to climb a little higher to get a vantage point from which I could see it, but I could hear it calling all the time. Alternating with the kew of the buzzard was a slightly higher, harsher sound which I assumed was the farmer whistling to his collie.

She was a long way away (I decided that it was a female bird but without any justification for that assumption) so I tried using the digital zoom.

Frankly, I’m surprised that the photo is even recognisable – with the maximum zoom I was finding it difficult to keep the bird in the viewfinder. She continued calling for quite some time – long after I had moved on I could still hear her, and was obviously agitated, but didn’t try to steal my hat for which I am very grateful – twice in one day and I might not have wanted to venture out again.

More Close Encounters