Never So Fair

Come a Thursday night and thoughts turn to the possibilities for getting out and about over the forthcoming weekend. Forecasts are checked, maps mental and actual are perused, plans are hatched. Last week, the local forecast for Sunday looked particularly promising and my half-baked plans centred around a Sunday morning jaunt.

On the day, I was awake fairly early, and might, I suppose, have made an early start in the car and headed off to do a bit of exploring, within the limits of what my dodgy ankle would allow. But no, after a quick internal consultation, I discovered that a local walk was unanimously favoured. In fact, ‘a local walk’ eventually became three very short excursions interspersed with brief breaks at home to rest the ankle, pick-up batteries for the camera, brew-up, eat lunch etc. All very civilized actually.

Hazel catkins

Every year, when a sunny early-spring opportunity presents itself, I like to take a photo of hazel catkins, now long and yellow and opened and presumably spreading pollen with abandon, and post the photo here. In my mind it means: the fuse of spring has been lit. But on this occasion, whilst I was taking the photo, I found that I was distracted by misplaced sea anemones, waving their tiny tentacles in search of hedgerow minnows.

Hazel flower - female

How have I taken so many catkin photos in the last few years and always missed these? In my defence, they are very small, but once I noticed one, it was like the scales had been lifted – they were everywhere. These are the Hazel’s female flowers, whilst the catkins are male flowers. Next spring expect more lamb’s-tail catkins, but also more waving red tentacles.

Robin 

It wasn’t just me enjoying a taste of spring, whilst the curlews and oyster-catchers in the fields were working diligently, the smaller birds in the wood and the hedges were singing and hopping about and generally strutting their funky stuff. With no leaves on the trees this is a brilliant time to watch those birds. Over the three trips I saw robins, great tits, blue tits, marsh tits, long-tailed tits, a nuthatch, bullfinches, chaffinches, thrushes and blackbirds. Nothing out of the ordinary, but marvellous none-the-less.

Backlit beech leaf 

My first stroll took me into Eaves Wood. I’d thought: “Winter sun = backlit leaves”, but actually few opportunities presented themselves. Fortunately, there were many more things to point my camera at.

Snowdrops 

Including this crow, rather brazenly sunning itself over our neighbours chicken-coop.

Crow

My second stroll, a lollipop route up across the fields to Stanklet Lane, into Pointer Wood, along Hollins Lane to the cliff-top path, which took me back to Stankelt Lane and the path across the fields to home. A hollow in the limestone pavement in Pointer Wood seems to provide a perfect environment for primroses, which thrive there. Later in the spring there will be a stunning display, but already a few flowers are showing…

First roses 

Primroses.

Hazel flowers 

Male and female Hazel flowers.

Blue tit investigates nesting hole. 

I stood for a while and watched and listened to the birds. I particularly enjoyed a nuthatch edging down a branch head first, bullfinches very high in the trees, and a pair of blue tits exploring a promising hole in a tree trunk.

The third time I went out the kids tagged along. Well, there may actually have been an element of me dragging them along. But once we were out they were more than happy. They have their own agenda of course: I tinkered with our route to it, but inevitably we had to incorporate a visit to the many-limbed ‘climbing tree’ early in the walk. This time nobody fell out of it, which was a relief.

Posing in the 'climbing tree'. 

Castlebarrow was busy, with various groups assembled by the Pepper Pot enjoying the sunshine and the view. The kids had more trees to climb and a complicated game to play in which they were shape-shifters metamorphosing into myriad animal forms. I left them flapping and crawling and roaring their way around the hill and found a sheltered grassy spot, out of the niggley wind, where I could indulge in a little cloud watching.

Cloud watching 

Or to put it another way: lying down. The cloud had been building through the day. Until I lay down and observed for a while, I had it down as archetypal fluffy cumulus. Maybe it was cumulus, but on a fairly still day it moved quite quickly, rolling and tearing – fascinating to watch and decidedly not cotton wool white lumps. The sky directly overhead cleared completely and was then divided by the contrail of a transatlantic jet. I was surprised how quickly that contrail dispersed. My eyes may even have closed for a moment or two. Then I watched, high above, a large bird of prey effortlessly circling, probably a buzzard.

 Backlit birch bark

Backlit, peeling, papery birch bark.

Running in the woods 

Running in the woods.

Eaves Wood

Bare trees.

Unfurling cuckoo pint leaf

And a final photo of the day – I’d come looking for backlit leaf-litter, but much more appropriately, was presented with this glowing, unfurling cuckoo pint leaf, Arum maculatum, another symbol of early spring.

And the evenings are lengthening. Magic.

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Another effect that bright fresh spring days have on me, is to send me back to the poetry of e.e. cummings, and on this occasion I found this…

The Eagle

1

It was one of those clear,sharp.mustless days
        That summer and man delight in.
Never had Heaven seemed quite so high,
Never had earth seemed quite so green,
Never had the world seemed quite so clean
Or sky so nigh.
        And I heard the Deity’s voice in
            The sun’s warm rays,
        And the white cloud’s intricate maze,
And the blue sky’s beautiful sheen. 
2

I looked to the heavens and saw him there,–
        A black speck downward drifting,
Nearer and nearer he steadily sailed,
Nearer and nearer he slid through space,
In an unending aerial race,
       This sailor who hailed
       From the Clime of the Clouds.–Ever shifting,
            On billows of air
        And the blue sky seemed never so fair,
And the rest of the world kept pace. 
3

On the white of his head the sun flashed bright;
        And he battled the wind with wide pinions,
Clearer and clearer the gale whistled loud,
Clearer and clearer he came into view,–
Bigger and blacker against the blue.
        Then a dragon of cloud
        Gathering all its minions
            Rushed to the fight,
        And swallowed him up in a bite;
And the sky lay empty clear through.
4

Long I watched.   And at last afar
        Caught sight of a speck in the vastness;
Ever smaller,ever decreasing,
Ever drifting,drifting awayInto the endless realms of day;
        Finally ceasing.
        So into Heaven’s vast fastness
           Vanished that bar
Of black,as a fluttering star
Goes out while still on its way.
5

So I lost him.   But I shall always see
            In my mind
The warm,yellow sun,and the ether free;
The vista’s sky,and the white cloud trailing,
        Trailing behind,–
And below the young earth’s summer-green arbors,
And on high the eagle,–sailing,sailing
        Into far skies and unknown harbors

Which, if not a perfect fit, chimed with my day sufficiently to make it glow again in retrospect.

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Never So Fair

Conwy

Conwy quay and castle

So – as advertised we’re exploring Britain a couple of days at a time.

After our weekend at Elterwater we had a day at home, washed a load of clothes, re-packed the car and off we went again. This time we were taking advantage of the YHA’s Winter Feast offer – a family room and an evening meal for thirty quid at selected hostels. From the ones on offer, we chose Conwy: every summer we drive past this area on our way down to Tudweiliog and I’ve long fancied having a bit of a poke around. The hostel was comfortable and friendly. It sits on a little hill at the back of the town and the dining room has stunning views of the the castle and the estuary.

Conwy Castle 

The castle – well there had to be a castle involved somewhere didn’t there? When I started this little blog, just over 4 years ago, it was my intention to keep a record of my local walks on our home patch. I suppose if anybody could be arsed to analyse the content they would find that most posts have done exactly that; but some other themes have emerged, one of which is a bit of an obsession with castles, particularly Welsh ones. I make no apologies – castles are great fun.

Conwy’s castle is very fine. It has eight towers, most of which can be climbed, and it has many rooms and battlements to wander around. For the kids Cadw have created a sort of detective puzzle to solve – in the course of which they learn the story of the 1401 capture of the castle by a small Welsh band led by the Tudur brothers (yes, relatives of those Tudors) who held the castle for three months before their demands were met by the English on the condition that they surrendered nine of their own to be executed by hanging. I can see it now: “Listen lads, I’ve got some good news and some bad news…”

The layout of the castle seems to me to be very similar to those of Caernarvon and Chepstow (though it’s many years since I was there). Caernarvon and Conwy castles were both built by Edward Longshanks in his efforts to conquer Wales.

Conwy Castle and Telford's Bridge 

After lunch in one of the town’s many cafes, our party split into two factions – whilst TBH and the boys opted for the warm and dry environs of the hostel, A wanted to tour the castle again. So we did. Twice. We also had a gander at Thomas Telford’s suspension bridge, had a wander along the quay…

Interesting ship in the harbour 

…posed for photos outside Britain’s smallest house…

Britain's smallest house.

…and did a complete circuit of the town walls. Oh, did I forget to mention the walls? Conwy, a World Heritage Site, has remarkably complete walls with a battlement walkway along the top. Superb if you like that kind of thing. And we do. By the time we walked back up to the hostel at the end of the afternoon, A was exhausted.

Herring gulls

The following day we sampled the delights of Llandudno. It was mostly closed, but we found things to keep us occupied – a walk along the pier and a cup of tea in the cafe at its end, a picnic with a grand view, a bit of beachcombing, and a happy hour with the tuppeny cascades in an amusement arcade. It was too cold and damp for a stroll on the Great Orme, so we shall have to come back another time to try that. It’s actually less far away than I would have guessed, so a return visit at some point is a strong possibility – we only scratched the surface this time.

Conwy

Elterwater Weekend

Greater Langdale Beck

Doctor R had a birthday and decided to book Elterwater youth hostel for a weekend to celebrate. A sleepover for families. Marvellous.

The weekend was principally about celebrating then – catching-up with old friends, meeting new friends, eating fine food, a quick pint in the Britannia etc. But we did get outside too. On Saturday we followed one of my favourite short, low-level routes in the Lake District. In brief: from Elterwater village follow Greater Langdale Beck past Elterwater itself and then to Skelwith Force, on to Colwith Force and into Little Langdale from where there are several return options. I’ve walked it many, many times with lots of different friends. I don’t think that I’ve walked it in snow and fog before however. Or with quite such a large and diverse group.

At home, our snow had melted, although before we set off there had been flurries of new snow, so we’d packed sledges just in case, at the kids insistence. A few miles from home, up in Langdale, we found plenty of snow; old snow, partly consolidated – as much ice as snow in fact. The sledges got plenty of use.

A picnic! 

A stop for lunch and snowballs fights.

After lunch, the kids discovered the simple pleasure…

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….of running downhill on firm but yielding snow.

P2111170

From this point on, numbers slowly dwindled: the kids were offered, and mostly accepted, a lift back to the hostel. (Adults went with them – we aren’t completely irresponsible.) Others took a short-cut along a minor road. And after…

Colwith Force 

Colwith Force, most of the remnants of the party headed back leaving only three of us going on to seek out…

Cathedral Quarry 

…Cathedral Quarry (and, due to an unfortunate display of muppetry by er, the navigator, an unscheduled visit to Hodge Close Quarry. Whoops – must at least glance at the map in future.) (Photos of Hodge Close and more about Cathedral Quarry from a previous visit here. PhilW’s comment has useful info and an informative link.)

Little Langdale Tarn 

Little Langdale Tarn

On Sunday, having vacated the hostel, we moved on to Grizedale where many of the adults and the older children indulged in some high ropes course fun at Go Ape.

Sadly, somebody had to stay on terra firma and mind the kids who were too small for the ropes course. Since TBH was very keen to have a go, and only the zip-wires appeal to me (the rest seems to require a degree of agility and a desire to balance on wobbly bits of plank high above the ground, neither of which I have) I volunteered to supervise snowman-building..

P2121184 

…snowball fights around the playground…

P2121186

…and tea and cake in the cafe. It’s a hard life.

Elterwater Weekend

Only Weather

P2041108

So, after some bright and spring-like weekends in January, February’s first weekend heralded a return to more wintery fare. On Saturday it snowed. I dropped A off for an overnight stay with friends who live in a cottage on a hillside with a grandstand view of the Lyth Valley. Well, normally it does – on this occasion, with snow falling thickly – we couldn’t see further than a couple of field-lengths away.

By the time I arrived home, the snow had turned to rain and a rapid thaw was underway. This didn’t happen further north however, and that evening, we later found out, A was sledging by moonlight.

Sunday morning brought a dense blanket of fog. The fields were still white over, but what looked from a distance like snow, turned-out, on closer acquaintance, to be wet slush.

The boys wanted to sledge however, and grey, wet and dispiriting though it was, the slush was at least slippy – so sledging it was.

At the Cove a couple of fishermen sat in deckchairs looking out into horizon-less grey.

P2051112 

We met numerous friends on the Lots – sledging seemed to be the order of the day. The forecast had suggested that things would brighten up, but although the sun kept appearing as a white disc through the murk and threatening to break through, the promised improvements never materialised.

Sledging on the Lots

The boys were shown (by our friend E) a run which had a small jump in the middle. Here’s a ropey film of B sledging down it:

Eventually, after a snowball fight and lots more sledging, the boys were ready for some warm, dry clothes and some lunch.

I decided I could wait a little longer for those pleasures and went for a bit of a longer stroll through Eaves Wood and down to Haweswater. The photos I took were of exactly those things I like to photograph at this time of year, in these conditions…..

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Bare trees through fog.

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Refracted trees through water-droplets.

Snowdrop from below

The secret hearts of snowdrops…..

Snowdrops near Haweswater

…otherwise known as snow-piercers.

Later in the week (Wednesday?) I arrived home form work just as the moon was rising. Full moons generally rise at around the time of sunset. This was a little after sunset, and rising in the eastern sky, I presume that the moon was bathed in light which had passed through the earth’s atmosphere? Certainly the moon was noticeably red. I fiddled with the settings on my camera, but still ended up with a collection of blurred and useless shots. This one does at least give an idea of the colour:

Blood moon

Today, despite sub-zero temperatures, it rained. Not surprisingly, the rain froze as it landed. It was lethal – I passed the immediate aftermath of a multiple vehicle pile-up on the motorway on my way to work. The A590 in Cumbria was apparently very badly effected.

What next?

Only Weather

Chucking Stones

Chucking stones

We were out again on Sunday. It was overcast and gloomy. We were joined by some friends for a potter around to the Cove, where we bumped into some more friends. Rocks were scaled, the smelly cave was visited and many, many stones were thrown: some were slender, smooth and rounded, perfect for skimming elegantly across the pond-calm surface of the water, but most were great lumps of rock lobbed high to provide maximum splash. Beached detritus, flotsam and jetsam, was refloated and comprehensively bombed.

A couple of herons remained primed on the rocks nearby, despite the hullabaloo. A trio of red-breasted mergansers rowed serenely past, understandably steering a course that kept them well off-shore.

A welcome return of the photo project series of posts over on must be this way, has seen Andy discussing the merits of figures in (mountain) landscapes. Clearly, this isn’t a mountain scene, and I make no claims for it as a photo, but it will serve to remind me of a cold and potentially dreary couple of hours which the kids enjoyed enormously.

Chucking Stones