Brigsteer Woods Revisited

Helsington Church - St. John's

In the afternoon of my morning stroll around Eaves Wood and Haweswater, I was operating a Dad’s taxi service, dropping A off with our friends who live near Crossthwaite at the head of the Lyth valley. I managed to persuade the boys to join us, so that we could visit Brigsteer Woods on the way home. After a slight navigational error, I opted to take them to the little fell church, St. John’s at Helsington, first. The church is not particularly old and has little to recommend it, except for it’s splendid situation, with open hillside all around and a great view of the Lyth valley (when it isn’t hazy due to an unseasonal heatwave). The churchyard is a pleasant and peaceful spot however,

At Brigsteer Woods, we did almost exactly the same walk as the one we did here twelve months ago. Once again, the principle reason for visiting is the fabulous carpet of wild daffs.

Brigsteer Woods 


But this year, other flowers were ahead of where they’d been last time. Wood anemones were flowering…

Wood anemone 

And whereas last year we found just one bluebell with a flower spike which had evidently almost opened, this year lots of the bluebells were in full flower.


There were chiff-chaffs singing in the trees again – another sure-fire indication of the arrival of spring. I even managed to get a photo of one, but from such a great distance that it isn’t much use.

The boys were on great form and charged around playing imaginative games and finding things to climb over, under and all about.

Tree-trunk balancing 

Hopefully, they’ll never feel that they are suffering from Nature Deficit Disorder.

They were very excited when they found large blotches of scarlet elf cup on a mossy fallen tree trunk – probably the same spot where we saw it last year.

Scarlet elf cup 

I brushed this chap out of my hair…

Crane fly? 

…is it a crane fly?


I’d originally planned a shorter walk, but got carried away by the boys enthusiasm. Besides which they’d run all the way down to the bottom of the hill (the half-way point) without giving me much chance to make alternative suggestions. The low sun didn’t bode well for the barbecue we had planned however…


Brigsteer Woods Revisited

The Wise Thrush

Eaves Wood primroses

Spring has arrived, hand-in-hand with a heatwave and drought conditions in many parts of England (not here however). I woke up early on Saturday morning, and peering out of the bedroom window found a bleary-eyed sun rising behind trees and and a low layer of mist, but cloudless skies overhead. Too good to waste. I dressed, tiptoed downstairs, drank a glass of water and left the rest of the household asleep as I set-off for the Pepper Pot. On the ginnel path down to Cove Road I passed a blackbird making small, soft sounds somewhere between a pop and a caw. Each vocalisation was proceeded by a rising lump, like an Adam’s-apple, in his throat. Strangely, he seemed quite unfazed by my scrutiny. Sparrows in the same hedgerow were quite tolerant of my presence too, and once I was in the wood, the same could be said of the many chaffinches, great tits, robins, marsh tits, blue tits and coal tits which were singing and bouncing in the trees and clearings. The roe deer I startled was less sanguine and shot away before I even had my camera in my hand.

My original intention had been a quick, pre-breakfast blast to the Pepper Pot and then home again, but now that I was out I was in no hurry to return. I wandered along the broad back of the hill on which Eaves Wood stands, with no clear destination in mind, but with a plan coalescing: I would head to Haweswater. In Sixteen Buoys Field I encountered another roe deer. This one a buck. He was too quick for me and my camera, but I was so close when he bolted that I could see the fur on his antlers.





Song thrush 

I’d heard and seen a few song thrushes by the time I encountered this one down by Haweswater, but none of the others were as loud or as eloquent as this one.

That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,

Lest you should think he never could recapture

The first fine careless rapture!

There were chiff-chaffs singing here too – returning visitors whose distinctive song is a sure sign that spring has truly begun. I also watched a tiny bird hopping about shyly on a tree, always just out of sight, but eventually had a good enough view to see that it was a goldcrest, the first I’d seen for quite some time.


Toothwort grows in two spots that I know of locally. I usually look to find it flowering in early April, but this year, like last, it’s been a little earlier.

Toothwort too 

It’s an entirely parasitical plant with no leaves and it’s hairy pale pinky-white flowers look….well, a bit creepy.

White violet 

White violet.


Whilst I was priding myself on having snuck in a good stroll before breakfast, other villagers were up and about and going about their business – feeding the ponies and such like.


This year’s lambs have been with us for a while now.



Cheeky blackbird

My walk ended, as it had begun – with a meeting with a blackbird. Like the first, and unlike the thrushes I had seen, it wasn’t singing, just muttering quietly to itself. Probably had garden furniture to paint…..

The Wise Thrush

Sunbiggin Tarn

Upper Eden valley, and the northern pennines

Despite my best efforts to drag it out with endless lengthy brew stops, picnics, constant pauses to take photos and peer at information boards and dry-stone walls etc, my Smardale walk was only about 7 miles and even I struggled to make a day of that. So with the sun still shining I decided to take the scenic route home. Rather then returning the way I’d come, I drove on into Crosby Garrett (through a ford of Scandal Beck – perhaps I should have looked at the map more closely!) and then took the fell road over by Sunbiggin Tarn. Near the high point of the road, I pulled onto the car onto the verge and set-off up an inviting looking path up onto Grange Scar.

Cross Fell, Little Dun Fell, Great Dun Fell 

Not much else to say really.

Limestone moors, Mallerstang edges and Wildboar Fell on the horizon 

The views were terrific.

Northern Howgills 

There’s a whole area here, around Great Asby Scar which I think I must come back to explore more thoroughly.

Sunbiggin Tarn

Sunbiggin Tarn

A Walk Along the Tracks

Smardale Hall

Smardale Hall.

With an opportunity to get out for a day’s  walking and a very promising forecast too boot, I decided to make a virtue of a necessity and tackle an easy, level route which I’ve been wanting to try for a while. Actually, when planning my jaunt, I’d first turned to the internet for inspiration – looking for walks along, or at least mostly along, disused railway lines. I came across the website of the Northern Viaduct Trust, which has details of two railway walks in the Kirkby Stephen area. One of those, over Podgill viaduct, I walked a few years ago when we were staying in Kirkby Stephen Youth Hostel for one of our annual pre-Christmas get-togethers. The other was one which I hadn’t walked before, but which I’ve been aware of for awhile. Where did I first read about it? I’m not sure – I’ve certainly looked it up on the Cumbria Wildlife Trust website before, and Mike Knipe posted about the same route early last year. It’s also mentioned by Patrick Barkham in his ‘The Butterfly Isles’ – he made a mad dash there from London to find Scotch Argus butterflies at the southern extreme of their range. He saw Dark Green Fritillaries and Small Skippers too.

So it was that just after eight thirty on a perfect sunny morning I pulled into a small car-park in the tiny hamlet of Smardale. I wondered whether Smardale Hall, with it’s smart symmetrical towers might be faux and Victorian, but apparently it’s 15th and 16th Century in construction, with evidence of older medieval buildings on the site.

A walk along the tracks. 

Just as I’d hoped, the track gave very gentle walking.

The birds in the trees on either side were enjoying the sunshine and singing enthusiastically. Mainly cheerful sounding chaffinches, but sadly they were a moody bunch, with a habit of turning away just as you lined-up a shot…

Churlish chaffinch 

Robin’s, on the other-hand, can usually be relied upon to cooperate…


I’m most pleased with this one however: at least, if my assumption is correct and this is a wren. Whenever I’ve tried to photograph wrens before, they’ve never sat still long enough for me to get even a huffy, cold-shoulder photo.


It seems that a Forth-bridge-painting style rolling programme of coppicing and scrub clearance is carried out in the nature reserve which runs along the valley here. One newly cleared embankment was sunny with primroses…

As I passed the primroses, three roe deer bounced across the track ahead. In the strong sunlight, their white rump patches were startlingly bright.


Not far beyond the car-park, the old line passes beneath the Smardale Viaduct on the Settle-Carlisle line.

Smardale viaduct 

The next section of the line took me into the shade of Demesne Wood. I’d been intending to stop for some late breakfast, but decided to defer until I was out into the sunshine again.

A chorus of harsh caws and soft-quacking alerted me to the nests of a rookery in the tree-tops overhead. Rooks nest early I believe, and I thought that perhaps there would already be eggs in the nests, but I saw one rook carrying a substantial twig towards the rookery, so maybe I was wrong.

Across the valley I watched two large, dark birds wheeling and flirting. They were a way off, but when one perched prominently on a dry-stone wall, the super-zoom Olympus produced pictures with enough definition to confirm that they were ravens. A little further down I watched a raven which was being mobbed by jackdaws. The raven would alight in the top-most branches of a hawthorn tree, but then, apparently exasperated by their attentions, would half-heartedly swoop at the jackdaws. This taunting and chasing continued for some time. Ravens will take eggs from nests – perhaps the jackdaws were defending theirs?

When I did emerge into sunshine again, it was on the day’s second viaduct: the Smardalegill viaduct. From which there was a lovely view along Scandal Beck (I know – it ought to be Smardale Gill surely?) to Green Bell and Knoutberry on the north-western edge of the Howgills.

Scandal Beck, Green Bell in the distance. 

Just beyond the viaduct I stopped for that breakfast and the first of several brews.

The shadow of the viaduct. 

The shadow of the viaduct.

Smardale Lime Kilns 

A little farther still down the line and there are limestone quarries and these large lime-kilns.

Railwayman's cottage 

My first thought when I saw the railwayman’s cottage was that it would make a great bothy. (A reflection on my recent blog-reading) It’s all boarded up however, but with careful small entrances with perches let into the boards over the upstairs windows. For jackdaws?


Where the line entered this cutting, I noticed that the shaded wall on the left was covered in verdant shaggy mosses, whereas the right-hand wall was much clearer, with the odd neat pin-cushion…


As I got close to Newbiggin-on-Lune I started to meet other walkers. Mike mentioned that Newbiggin has a cafe, but with the sun still shining I decided that I was content with outdoor refreshments. On the outskirts of Newbiggin there are a number of impressive old houses, but none of the others caught my imagination to the same extent as the Tower House…

Tower House

..with it’s castellated gable-ends and it’s, erm, tower…

The Tower House - tower.

I followed a little bridleway now which took me past a small barn…

A charming barn 

…past Friar’s Bottom Farm…

Green Bell again 

Northern Howgills. Green Bell left of centre.

and over Sandy Bank, where I stopped for another brew.

View from a brew-stop. 

Brew with a view.

I didn’t do as well as Patrick Barkham, but I did see a single solitary butterfly here. It was some distance away, but I would guess that it was a small tortoiseshell.

Dropping down into the valley I crossed Smardale bridge and realised that I was fulfilling a promise I made myself over 20 years ago, when I walked the Coast to Coast, to come back to explore this valley.

The eastern side of the valley has old sandstone quarries and the wall here was an engaging mixture of red sandstone and grey limestone. The bright green lichen on some of the stones in the wall added to the colourful pageant. (Although the camera doesn’t seem to have captured the intensity of the green.)


Now that I had begun to inspect the wall a little closer, I noticed that some of the stones…


…had fossils embedded in them.


More fossils…

More fossils? 

..and a close-up…



Scandal beck 

Scandal Beck and Smardalegill viaduct.

Railwayman's cottage again 

The railwayman’s cottage again.

Smardalegill viaduct 

I stopped for lunch (and another brew of course) with a view of Smardalegill viaduct. Whilst I ate, I watched a raven swooping through the arches of the viaduct. Then it settled in a small tree below the viaduct. I tried, without success, to get a clear photo. When the raven finally flew out of sight, I gave up and began to ready myself to move on – it was then that I noticed that a raven was making repeated low, fast passes across the hillside above me. They are breathtaking fliers.


From there it was a short stroll back along the tracks…

Back along the tracks 

..towards the car.

Hazel catkins

Hazel Catkins again.

I did incorporate a short diversion down to the banks of the beck, where I watched the antics of a pair of pied-wagtails.

Scandal beck, smardale viaduct. 

Scandal Beck.

Smardale viaduct

Smardale Viaduct again.



On the last section, amongst the trees, where the chaffinches had played hard to get earlier, there was less bird-song than before. This time it was a nuthatch which led me on a tantalisingly elusive chase from tree to tree.



A Walk Along the Tracks

The Three Lochs Way

A' Chrois 

Loch Lomond, A’ Chrois on the Beinn Narnain ridge and the hydro power station.

The second day of our Scottish getaway began with a great deal more promise than the first had. To my great surprise, Geordie Munro had somehow been persuaded to drop his plan to bag the Corbett Beinn an Lochain from the Rest and be Thankful pass, and he and the rest of the party had all decided to head for Ben Vane, thus fitting in with JB’s desire to grab one of the few remaining missing summits on his second round of the Munros. The rest of the party that is, excepting S and myself who were once again looking for a gentler alternative. We had a cunning plan: join the others on the track up from Loch Lomond towards Loch Sloy, but then divert southwards over a pass and into Glen Loin which would take us down to Arrochar on the shores of Loch Long and a pub which S seemed to be quite excited about visiting. At the Inveruglas car park we discovered that this is the first leg of the Three Lochs Way, and according to the information board, about 10km in length.

Ben Vane 

Views on much of the walk were impeded by Pylons, sub-stations and other power station paraphernalia. This shot was a rare opportunity to get a photo without them intruding. With that caveat, this was a nice little walk and judging from the number of people we met coming the other way, quite popular.


At the top of the pass we stopped for another brew and had just finished savouring it when the sleet arrived. It continued to rain on and off as we walked down Glen Loin. Another rainbow day.

Loin Water and Loch Long

By the time we reached Arrochar, it was brightening up again and I really enjoyed the walk through the village. We didn’t see the sea eagles which apparently can occasionally be spotted here, but there were cormorants sitting proudly on buoys and several pairs of eider ducks, which I’ve rarely seen before and which are very handsome. (No decent photos, sadly.)

Loch Long and a delapidated pier 

A return visit to this area is definitely on the cards, partly because…

The Cobbler 

…I’ve never climbed Ben Arthur (an unfortunate oversight which clearly needs to be put right)..

Loch Long 

Loch Long View

Bonnie N'Bitter 

…and because S was quite right to be excited about the Village Inn in Arrochar. We grabbed the prime spot by an open fire again and enjoyed a few pints and the Ireland versus France six-nations match on the telly. I was going to order something healthy to eat too, maybe soup, perhaps the Cullen Skink from the Special’s Board, but as you can probably tell from his impish grin in the photo above, S had other plans and when the waitress took our order he used hypnotism to force me to plump for the mixed grill. Nasty trick that. He almost bamboozled me into ordering a ginormous sundae too, but I resisted that temptation. See, I’m strong-willed me.

Another Loch Long view 

It had turned into a cracking afternoon and I couldn’t help but feeling a little jealous of the others and the views they must have been enjoying, especially since, unlike the Tarmachan ridge which I’d missed out on the day before, I’ve never been up Ben Vane. (Andy’s posts of the weekend, when he gets round to them will be well worth a read I suspect.)

The Village Inn Arrochar

Still, it was a great weekend, the sun shined (at times), the same old, old stories were polished, rehashed and giggled at all over again, old friends were caught-up with, I rediscovered my inner beer-monster (who very rarely makes an appearance these days) , and I very much enjoyed my two low-level walks with S. Fine times!

The Three Lochs Way

Loch Tay, Falls of Dochart, Callander and Oban Railway

“I’m going to the highlands at the weekend.”

“Lovely. You’ll be looking for a nice loch shore walk then.”

I went to see a physiotherapist last week. He tells me that I’ve done some damage to my Achilles. No hill-climbing until the summer. In the meantime, I have to stand on one foot with my eyes closed. Not all of the time, fortunately.

So – whilst most members of our annual Highland get-together were braving what looked to be fairly tempestuous conditions on the Tarmachan ridge, I was heading for a ‘nice loch shore’ path. I had good company in my infirmity: S was struggling with a dodgy knee and appreciated an opportunity to share a gentle stroll (and also, perhaps, the chance to hit the bar a little earlier than the others).


Having been dropped off in Killin, we followed an abandoned railway line down to the loch. In the trees beside it we saw tree-creepers, and in the leaf-litter a solitary toad.

Loch Tay 

The morning had begun very wet, and it still looked very black over the hills to the North, but directly overhead there were gaps in the cloud and blue sky beyond. We were even blessed with a little sunshine. We sat for almost an hour over a brew, sharing our passion for accumulating books, putting the world to rights and watching a cormorant, curlews and golden-eye.


The path back towards Killin, boggy in places, followed the river. Downstream of the confluence of the Dochart and the Lochay I’m not sure whether it retains one of those names or if it has already become the Tay, which it will be when it flows from the far end of the Loch at Kenmore.


With the sun shining and dark skies behind, the bare trees were looking very fine, and we paused awhile to take lots of photos.


Situated in Killin village, the falls of Dochart are well worth a look. From the road bridge I found that I couldn’t really do justice to the falls, even with my camera’s widest zoom, and wondered how a pancake lens would have coped.

Falls of Dochart

From Killin we walked back to our accommodation at Suie Lodge in Luib, via the old Oban to Callander railway line. The first section has been converted into a footpath, part of the Rob Roy way, but even after that had turned to head into Glen Ogle, the disused railway bed made for easy walking with fine views and gentle slopes and just the odd fence to be straddled.

Last of the blue sky. 

Sadly this was the last of the blue sky for quite some time. Rainbows and heavy showers were now the order of the day. We kept hoping that a long enough gap between showers would allow us to get another brew on the boil, but the chance never materialised.

Killin Junction

Platform at Killin Junction.

Eventually, thwarted by a missing bridge over Luib Burn, we diverted down to the road for the last kilometre or so. As we arrived back the weather began to brighten again, but we opted to sit by the log fire in the hotel bar and steam gently whilst sampling some of the hotel’s selection of bottled real ales. It’s hard work this convalescence malarkey!

Loch Tay, Falls of Dochart, Callander and Oban Railway