Walking the Coast and the WWT

Having advertised the fact that my next post would be about my weekend walk in Swindale I’ve decided to delay that just a little longer to gently push you in the direction of a couple of things which might interest you.

Firstly, today as I was driving home from work I passed…

…this gentleman, who is walking around the coast of Britain and raising money for the Alzheimer’s Society. I stopped to chat with him very briefly, feeling more than a little jealous. You can follow him on Twitter (I don’t do Twitter – Andy perhaps this is your chance to investigate ‘social media’?) or find out about his walk on his website.

Talking of social media – it seems that more and more people are switching on to the opportunities it provides. I’ve had an interesting couple of offers recently – of which more eventually hopefully. I was also asked to promote:

WWT logo thing.

The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust’s competition and event which you can find out more about here.

I can remember visiting Slimbridge when I was a kid. I haven’t yet been to Martin Mere which isn’t too far from here, but I’m hoping that I can fit in a trip this month, so expect more if I do manage it.

Walking the Coast and the WWT

Life’s Rich Pageant

Thursday afternoon – blue skies and sunshine naturally.  Once again I was walking home from Carnforth. This time I decided to stop to look at the churchyard at Saint Oswald’s in Warton, inspired by Francesca Greenoak and the flower dappled  churchyard at Holy Trinity in Seathwaite. Sadly at Saint Oswald’s all is carefully manicured lawns – not much scope for wildflowers here. The churchyard is very large – not too surprising when you realise that historically Warton was a huge parish incorporating Silverdale, the Yealands and several other villages. Since the grounds were a little disappointing I popped into the church itself…

Apparently there may have been a church here since before the Norman conquest and the oldest part of the current building is 14th Century. The Stars and Stripes hangs alongside the Union Jack inside the church, sent by American servicemen after WW2 due to Warton’s connection to the ancestors of George Washington, also celebrated in the name of one of the village’s pubs…

On this occasion I wasn’t tarrying for a pint however: too much to see. Behind the pub the crag road climbs steeply and a little way up that road is a small car park, the back wall of which is liberally festooned with red valerian…

..which confusingly, can also be white…

..an introduced species from the Mediterranean which is obviously very happy on these limestone cliffs.

I feel like I’ve turned something of a corner when it comes to identifying flowers – although I haven’t entirely got the hang of using the keys I have at least learned to look at the entire plant and I’m beginning to pick up on familial traits which give useful clues. I’m far from expert, but I’m getting better.

With grasses etc. I’m not even sure that I’ve made it to square one yet.

Could this be red fescue? Gettin to grips with grasses, sedges and ferns etc. is bound to be a steep learning curve, but I know that I shall enjoy looking. Already I’m quite taken aback by the huge variety I’ve discovered since I began to take more careful note.

Meanwhile the large clumps of biting stonecrop which I noticed on a previous Thursday afternoon’s Shank’s Pony commute…

…have begun to flower…

 Across Carnforth to Clougha Pike – must get back there sometime.

When I found these…

….before on Heald Brow, I tentatively identified them as quaking grass. I’m feeling much more confident now. After all the inflorescence (ooh I know – get me) is…

Inflorescence a pyramidal panicle, with very distinctive ovoid to broadly triangular spikelets 4 – 12mm, usually purplish, shaking in the wind on slender stalks *

They’re certainly very distinctive and rather handsome too.

Here on the crag they were plentiful too and since I first saw them they have grown and spread out like a child’s mobile so that they really do quake in the breeze. Quite hard to catch on camera the overall effect…

Of course, having boasted about my abilities as a plant identifier, I can’t trace this large and very vigorous one…

…which looks like it may be about to flower…


…so hopefully I can come back again soon and get some more clues. (The keys led me to a couple of plants neither of which quite seemed to match, but we shall see…)

No keys needed for red clover…


….I just enjoyed these three flowers, all on the same plant and seeming to offer an opportunity for a sort of faked time-lapse sequence.

I saw a number of butterflies and some damselflies but none would cooperate by sitting still for a photo. I chased one orange butterfly – some sort of fritillary I hoped, and when I lost it, noticed this large egg-shell down in the grass.

I thought that this might be flea sedge….

…but I searched for images and now I’m not at all convinced.

These tiny flowers are a bedstraw, but hard to decide which one. Heath bedstraw looks favourite except that it favours acid soils.

This had been one of my slower ascents of Warton Crag. Once over the top I was into the woods and the vegetation changed.

In the shade under the canopy, there’s lots of this…

..which I think is male fern…

This is black bryony…

…which is dioecious  (ie male and female flowers on different plants) , apparently related to the yam, although you wouldn’t want to eat it – the berries it produces are poisonous (other parts of the plant can apparently be safely eaten after cooking but would you want to risk it?) According to Gabrielle Hatfield** it has several uses in folk medicine including the treatment of bruises, hence the French name ‘herbe aux femmes battues’ – the plant for battered wives.

 Lakeland hills from Summer House Hill.

Walking down past Leighton Hall I was struck by a meadow blushed white by oxeye daisies….

On the opposite side of the driveway a similar effect was achieved by more daisies..

…a mayweed or a chamomile, but I couldn’t get the closer look needed to try what looks like the tricky task of deciding which this is.

Meadow vetchling. 

So confident am I feeling, in fact, in my ability to chase down the identity of flowers that I thought I might even take on an umbellifer. How difficult could it be? The flowers seem quite distinctive…

And the pinnate leaves….

The stem is grooved. It’s growing in a damp spot on the edge of the causeway path across Leighton Moss. Easy surely?

Well…I’ve tussled with it for ages. It looks like wild celery. I quite like this idea – it would give me an opportunity to tell the story of the ‘ancient Incan’ herbal tea I was given in Peru when I went down with Cuzco tummy, which it transpired was made by steeping celery leaves in hot water. Made me feel much better though. But…if this is wild celery then why can’t I find a picture of wild celery anywhere which shows these striking red stamens?

Because it isn’t wild celery at all, it’s Hemlock Water-dropwort. You wouldn’t be well advised to be drinking  a tea made by steeping these leaves in hot water. You might find yourself with a ‘dead tongue’ which is an old Cumbrian name for this plant. Or you might just find yourself dead, since this is one of Britain’s most poisonous plants.


There were several of these along the causeway too. If I had needed any convincing about ‘The Wild Flower Key’ after Sheila’s recommendation, I need only have flicked through the few pages on orchids, which I have just done – and now I can pronounce with confidence, rather than my usual bemused confusion, that these are common spotted orchid.

Reed-bed view.

I listened for quite some time to a warbler (I like to think sedge warbler but I know I’m only kidding myself when I think that I can tell the difference.) and was charmed again by a family of long-tailed tits chattering and hopping about in the alders on either side of the path. One of the marsh harrier was circling overhead. Generally they fly quite low over the reed-beds, but this was much higher than usual. Also it was calling, which I’ve never heard before, a rather plaintive cry.

I’ve written before about the wonderful spiral patterns in the centre of oxeye daisies.  On this occasion paying attention to the daisies yielded additional rewards…

I think that this is a honey bee. If you look at the wings you can see a long thin cell on the outside edge, a marginal cell, which almost extends as far as the wing-tip and then three sub-marginal cells next to that which apparently is characteristic of honey bees.

Frustratingly, I can’t find this natty pin-striped hover fly in my book. Ferdinandea cuprea has grey and black stripes on the thorax but a bronze abdomen whereas through the wings this seems to have stripes. Another hover fly rhingia campestris has a prominent snout, which this seems to have, but also a very striking orange abdomen. No mention is made in the description of either of banded legs. I shall call him Malvolio, for now at least, because he is cross-gartered and yellow-stockinged.

Where the causeway crosses a bridge and the view opens-out because there’s a gap in the reed-bed, I’ve learned to approach slowly and cautiously because that way there is often something interesting to see.

There were three red deer hinds in all. Unlike last time that I saw deer at close range here, the deer soon turned and disappeared into the reeds.

Even if there’s no wildlife to see, the view is special in itself.


This tall plant with flowers hidden behind it’s own long and abundant stamens is common meadow-rue.

I’ve drawn a blank with this too. It’s quite small, sitting on an alder leaf. I thought maybe a wasp, but I’ve got no further than that.


Pleasantly red – no idea what it is.

Bittersweet flowers are tiny but very striking. This plant is related to the potato and the aubergine, but again the berries it produces are best avoided. They cause sickness rather than death.

The plant’s species name dulcamara, is derived from two Latin words meaning sweet and bitter.

Because of the presence of the toxic alkaloid solanine in the stem, leaves and berries, they taste bitter at first and then sweet.#



Could this be star sedge?

In the hedgerow, a vigorous climber covered in lots of unopened flowers like the one above, and some open flowers….

 Tufted vetch.


..another purple vetch which I think is wood-bitter vetch.


This fern has grey-green patches where the leaves attach to the stem. Any ideas?


this apparently unperturbable bunny let me walk right up to it,

..and past…

..without ever being too distracted from the golf-course grass.

I noticed that many of the oxeye daisies I passed were infested with what I presume are aphids. Apparently there are around 550 British species, so I shall just content myself with ‘aphid’.

Whilst I was meandering home taking frivolous photos, the fields around the village were busy with the making of sileage…

* Guide to the Grasses, Sedges, Rushes and Ferns of Britain and Northern Europe by Fitter, Fitter and Farrer

**Hatfield’s Herbal                   by Gabrielle Hatfield

# Reader’s Digest  Field Guide to the Wild Flowers of Britain


It’s  all Andy’s fault.

He set me a quiz question and I enjoyed both answering it (even if I did have to cheat) and the discussion which followed.

So (and also by way of a trailer for the next post) how well do you know your Lake District?

Which valley are you in if you can see: Truss Gap, Seat Robert, Mosedale Beck Forces, Gouthercrag and Hobgrumble Gill?

Life’s Rich Pageant

Cricket Practice

Meadow crane’s-bill.

On Monday nights A and B have cricket practice. The pitch is just outside the village so we cycle there. Having dropped them off I then go of on my bike before returning to pick them up. A fortnight ago I cycled around to Arnside. Last week I went to Gait Barrows, parked the bike and went for a bit of a walk. Sadly the lady’s-slipper orchids and the lily-of-the-valley are finished for this year. I spent quite some time taking photos of a plant (and the many tiny insects which covered it) which I’ve photographed before, but never managed to identify. The photos are all pretty useless however – it was too dark under the trees.

The plant has masses of creamy white flowers and tight little white buds with a blush of pink. The leaves are thin and deeply divided, almost feathery. A little like a stunted meadowsweet I thought – and when I consulted my books that’s exactly what it was – dropwort. It’s fairly common in this area, I shall endeavour to get a better picture.


Cricket Practice

Small Cow-Wheat

An Addendum to our Duddon Valley Walk (see previous post)

I was tying my shoelaces and preparing to head back to the car when I noticed a single small plant with paired, opposite long and narrow leaves and highly distinctive egg-yolk flowers, also in pairs. I didn’t recognise it, but it seemed so unusual I felt sure that I would be able to identify it when I got home.

It seems that this is small cow-wheat and that small cow-wheat is quiet rare.

Small cow-wheat is an annual hemiparasitic herb found on ledges, grassy hollows and banks in woodland with a fairly open canopy in northern Britain and Northern Ireland. It also grows in tree-lined ravines, stream valleys, and, occasionally, on sloping lake shores with light tree cover. Most sites are flushed and distinctly humid, and usually are near waterfalls, burns or lochs. At higher altitudes it sometimes occurs on corrie ledges. It has a relatively restricted distribution, and a habitat preference which is vulnerable to changing land management. The species is a European endemic which is most widespread in Scandinavia and through the Alps and Balkans.

Small cow-wheat occurs locally in Scotland, northern England and Northern Ireland, with herbarium records from the last century in Wales (see 3.2). The latest data indicate that this species has only been confirmed from 25 ten km squares, so that it appears to have been lost from 70% of its former range in the British Isles, especially in the lowlands around the margins of its distribution.

In Great Britain small cow-wheat is classified as Nationally Scarce and is protected under Schedule 8 of the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985, but receives no special protection elsewhere in the UK.

I found this in the National Archive, it seems to be part of the UK’s Biodiversity Plan.  And this:

Small Cow-wheat (Melampyrum sylvaticum) is a small (5-18 cms high), deep-yellow flowered, annual plant of broadleaved, humid, ravine-type woodlands, where it is semi-parasitic on a wide range of plants. It has large seeds that have poor dispersal ability and are susceptible to predation.

Once widespread in Britain and Ireland (over 200 sites) it is now a very rare plant in Britain, restricted to only 22 sites, 19 of which are in Scotland north of the Highland Boundary fault. A genetic study revealed that there is low genetic diversity both within and between the populations. Small cow-wheat would appear to be very vulnerable to the effects of climate change through climate envelope shifts and habitat loss.

…on a Forestry commission site.

The location is right – tree lined ravine with waterfalls nearby. So did I stumble upon one of the three sites south of the Highland Boundary fault or has the species been reintroduced here?

I’ve also been wondering – is there some authority to whom I should report the fact that I found it?

Small Cow-Wheat

The Duddon Valley and Wallowbarrow Gorge

Whilst all the London based news outlets were busy telling us that we had just experienced one of the warmest, driest springs on record, we had the coldest May that I can remember. Sometimes it rained and sometimes it didn’t, but the cold winds persisted. The 1st of June was no different – cold again. But then (briefly at least) summer arrived – an amazing reversal, one day it was bitterly cold and then a mixed day, and then baking hot.

Good weather had been forecast, so we had planned a day out in the Lake District. We’d discussed several options the night before, but settled on Wallowbarrow Gorge in the Duddon Valley. We parked at High Wallowbarrow Farm, where there is a small area set aside for parking and an honesty box for donations to the local Mountain Rescue team. From the farm it’s just across a couple of fields and then into the woods and soon we were on the banks of the River Duddon. We didn’t need to cross the stepping stones, but they were far too exciting to miss as far as the kids were concerned. I can remember what a highlight the stepping stones in Dovedale were when my parents took me there as a kid.

Just beyond the stepping stones there is an arched stone footbridge – we didn’t need to cross that either, but it gave a good vantage point from which to enjoy the view upstream:

The walk along the gorge from here is top-notch – I’m surprised that it never seems to be busy (unlike Dovedale).  There are a series of little cascades and falls with deep green pools between them…

Equally as important, as far as the kids were concerned, was the fact that there were lots of huge boulders to clamber over, round and even under. We didn’t get far before we had found an idyllic spot and stopped for a picnic.

That done, we continued up the gorge. On either side the slopes are steep and wooded, with a number of crags – I think that this is Pen:

On the west bank, where the path is, there are also great jumbles of large boulders:

Eventually the path climbs up and away from the river. The path does get quite boggy in places here and the duckboards placed to alleviate the problem are often stranded themselves amidst a morass. One compensation is that bog myrtle grows here in profusion – not very striking to look at, but it makes a wonderful smell if you rub your fingers across a leaf to bruise it.

Eventually we dropped back down to the river, which we crossed at another set of stepping stones, the Fickle Steps, where there is a cable handrail to help one across.

We left the Duddon here and the kids began to feel the effects of the heat – they were tired and thirsty and was I sure that this was really a short walk?

The path took us down to an extensive bog by Tarn Beck.

A set of duck boards took us dry shod around the bog and then we crossed the beck.

 Harter Fell.

We detoured ever so slightly into Turner Hall Farm’s campsite to get some drinking water. The eaves of the barn here were plastered with house martin nests.

 Holy Trinity Church, Seathwaite.

We didn’t pop into the church, as I would like to have done, because the kids were expecting ice cream and would brook no delays. The lovely display of wild flowers in the church yard has inspired me to finally get round to reading ‘God’s Acre’ by Francesca Greenoak which I bought second-hand a while ago. It’s a description and a celebration of the flora and fauna to be found in British churchyards.

Wallowbarrow Crag

Ice-cream, lemonade and a pint of Dickie Doodle were taken at the Newfield Inn and from there we were very shortly back at the stepping stones near the start of our walk…

This wasn’t the end of our day however. We returned to the car to grab some towels and swimming trunks/cossies and then returned to the pool by where we had had lunch….

This is where we walked, this is where we swam,                                      Take a picture here, take a souvenir*

The swimming was great – cold, but not too bad – nothing like as cold as Coniston Water has been when I’ve swum in it in September in the last couple of years.

Wallowbarrow Gorge held one final surprise, but I’m leaving that for the next post….. (what a cliff-hanger!)

*from Cuyahoga by REM. Between that song and Nightswimming I always associate riverswimming and skinnydipping with REM.

The Duddon Valley and Wallowbarrow Gorge

Woodpeckers and a Lantern Window

An evening stroll. The light down at the Cove was wonderfully warm on the normally grey limestone cliffs.

But not so good when I was up in the woods on top of the cliffs….

…listening to the racket produced by a nest full of woodpeckers in one of these holes and trying to photograph the adult…

…which was equally noisy in its too-ing and fro-ing, but then clearly put off by my presence quietened down and hung about in the branches near to the nest without actually visiting. When I retreated a few steps it finally flew to the nest, but from my new vantage point I couldn’t see the assertive brood being fed. We have a woodpecker regularly visiting our garden at the moment. Last week the kids found a dead woodpecker in the lane by the house. I think it was a lesser spotted one, the first I’ve seen, but we went back to the house to get the rest of the family, a camera, a field guide and when we returned the bird had gone. The children decided that it hadn’t been dead after all, but I don’t think it flew away with a large and gaping wound in its neck.

This is Bank House Farm:

…and this is the lantern window

…from which in times past a light was shown to warn off ships (or at least that’s what I’ve heard).

If my attempts to photograph the woodpeckers had been less than satisfactory, then at least the faffing involved had delayed me long enough to give me a view of the sunset from the Lots.

Woodpeckers and a Lantern Window

An Eaves Wood Stroll

We were all off last week and holidayed at home. We managed to fit in some kite flying, some beach cricket, quite a bit of cycling, some lounging in the garden and one trip to the Duddon valley of which more later. We didn’t do a great deal of walking, but we did take one stroll in Eaves Wood. Before we even really set-off I was distracted – on the glorious lupins which TBH has planted by our garage a bumblebee caught my attention, or rather the very bright pollen basket by its hind legs caught my attention.

Before we reached Eaves Wood we had called on a couple of friends, who joined us, and walked past the garden of another friend who also decided to come along so that when we entered the woods we were eight in number, three adults and five children. The children were very happy and soon disappeared, exploring and playing imaginative games.

Meanwhile I’m taking my first faltering steps in trying to identify grasses etc. I think that this might be the female flowers…

…and the male flowers…

..of glaucous sedge, which is apparently very common, and likes calcareous soils, which is generally what we have, although confusingly, it was growing close to…

…bell heather which needs acid soil so make of that what you will.

We paused for quite some time on Castlebarrow, the adults sitting, chatting and taking in the view, the children running around and generally expending some energy in a healthy way.

On the way down, almost inevitably, we stopped at the big coppiced beech, officially Eaves Wood’s second best climbing tree, for some clambering and swinging etc.

Great fun was had by all.

An Eaves Wood Stroll

Home from Lancaster


As the train is nearing Silverdale station from the South it passes Barrow Scout Fields on the right and the pools by Morecambe and Allen hides on the left. Briefly it is a fantastic slow-moving hide. On Wednesday I watched a marsh harrier flying low over the reed beds in one of Barrow Scout Fields. On Thursday I was surprised to see a stag’s head appear above the reeds. Perhaps six point antlers.

On Friday I didn’t take the train, because I’d decided to walk home from Lancaster. It’s something I’ve been thinking of doing for a while and with the longer evenings and a half-term break just beginning this seemed like the perfect time. Initially my route took me up past the Castle, which until March this year was still functioning as a prison. Parts of the castle have been open for tours however, but I must admit that somehow I’ve never got around to taking a tour. Next year is the 400th anniversary of the notorious Lancashire Witch Trials, which took place here at the castle, and perhaps when there are commemorative events on we might finally get round to it.

The castle sits on a hill above the River Lune and there are often great views of the Lakeland hills from there, but it was hazy and so I had to make do with the more immediate views of the castle itself and of the Priory Church which is adjacent to it.

From here a path drops down a steep hillside, with an open field on either side, towards the river. A slight diversion brings another piece of Lancaster’s history into sight – the remains of a Roman bath house…

It was after I took this photo that I realised that I had once again come out without a memory card in my camera and was therefore relying on the cameras limited (but very handy) internal memory. It was almost like using a film camera, except that I could of course still take pictures and then delete them. So, if you are restricted to just a handful of photos, which ones do you keep?

Well certainly a family of ‘ugly ducklings’ which I saw on the Lancaster Canal.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Last year I followed the Lune out of Lancaster to Caton, but I found the Lady’s Walk path – tightly hemmed in on both sides by dense trees – a little oppressive. This time I crossed the river and followed the opposite bank. This turned out to be a much better bet with many more views of the river and of the aqueduct which takes the canal over the river.

The Russian comfrey I saw on the bank of the canal and the many mallard families didn’t, I decided, merit precious space on my camera. I don’t suppose that I would have been fast enough anyway to get decent shots of the many herons I saw along the canal. But the three geese I saw on the far bank had to be photographed, partly because I didn’t know what they were, but mainly because they looked so odd.

When I got home and looked them up I was surprised that they didn’t seem to be in my RSPB field guide. Or evident anywhere on a website Google found for me called ‘Geese of the World’. But a little more digging revealed that a domesticated species called Chinese geese can have this orange protuberance and will also, when feral, cross-breed with greylag geese.

I  passed a lone fisherman. Looking into the murky water of the canal I thought he must be overly optimistic, but a little further on, and several times after that, I saw small fish swimming near the bank, so perhaps not.

At Hest Bank I left the canal and walked by the coast and the Lancashire Coastal Way. This gave several miles of pleasant level walking (only one slight rise over Red Bank). The grassy foreshore was speckled with tiny red flowers which I now know to be Sea Milkwort.

On a few occasions I have reported in this blog my fruitless pursuit of blue butterflies. This…

…common blue clung to a plantain head by the path and sat quite patiently whilst I got a close-up.

There was a cold wind blowing, and as I rounded a turn inland to follow the banks of the River Keer the sun disappeared and I realised that my hands were beginning to feel quite numb. I pulled my work shirt over my t-shirt and that seemed to be sufficient extra insulation to do the trick. I stuck hard by the bank of the Keer until the path petered out, and then carried on anyway. Eventually I had to climb a fence and a locked gate to get onto the road but not before I had seen a striking magenta flower of what I believe to be common vetch – although if that’s what it was, I’m not sure that it is particularly common in this area.

I left the Coastal Way from the Crag Road on Warton Crag, taking a path which I don’t think I’ve followed before up onto the crag. As usual on Warton Crag I passed through open areas and some scrub. Where the path passed through a sort of tunnel in a hawthorn thicket I paused, listening to an unfamiliar bird chatter. As I waited a party of long-tailed tits bobbed overhead in the branches of the hawthorn, closely followed by a group of blue tits. Further up the hill I found a patch of hillside completely colonised by mint and ran my hands through it to release the aroma.

I had a sandwich and some fruit left over from lunch and stopped here, with a great view out over the bay, for some tea.

From the top of the crag, my route took me down to, and across, Quaker’s Stang, then up to Heald Brow – where what I thought was Quaking Grass still hasn’t opened to look like it does in the field guide – so perhaps I was wrong. As I crossed Heald Brow I saw two roe deer bucks. The first made me chortle as it was hard on the heels, seemingly with, a rabbit which made me think of Bambi and Thumper.

The whole journey took around six and a half hours. My pedometer gave the route as just a little shy of 15 miles, which I suppose is probably not too wide of the mark.

Home from Lancaster