The Old Quay Jenny Brown’s Point

Later, on the day of my early wander around Leighton Moss, Trowbarrow and Haweswater, TBH joined me for another stroll as the shadows lengthened. We crossed the fields to the Green, cut through Sharp’s Lot to Hollins Lane and and then walked down through Fleagarth Wood to the salt-marsh. We found that, unusually, the banks of Quicksand Pool, the stream which drains Leighton Moss, were firm and sandy, so rather than taking to the road at Jenny Brown’s Cottages we continued by the stream. I’ve been wanting to come this way for quite some time, because I’ve never had a proper gander at the old quay at Jenny Brown’s Point.

The old quay, Jenny Brown's Point

The quay was associated with a copper smelting works, the chimney of which can still be seen a little way back upstream. The works, and presumably the quay, were built in the 1790’s when copper was in demand to make bronze to be cast as cannons (to be fired at ol’ Boney Part) . The quay is looking pretty worse for wear these days.

The old quay again 

By the end of the quay is the foot of this rubble embankment.

The land reclamation scheme wall

This slice of local history was hidden for many years, until a storm in 1977 cleared the obscuring sands. It’s the initial stage of a land reclamation scheme begun in 1874 and abandoned in 1885 due to financial difficulties. The shifting channels and banks have recently concealed much of what had been visible.

Morecambe Bay sands 

Bowland hills across Morecambe Bay.

I checked the tide tables before we set-off (cheers Danny!), and we were roughly halfway between low tide and high tide, although these must have been close to neap tides and the expected high tide was a relatively small one. The sands were very dry and we were able to walk almost back to the village before we had to leave the beach for the shore.

Walking past Cow's Mouth 

Passing Cow’s Mouth (a cove). Coniston fells in the distance.

A fluke 

I think that this dried-up fish must be a flounder, known locally as a fluke. In the summer at Arnside, when the tide’s out, you might witness an unusual method of fishing for flukes: walking barefoot in the Kent channel and catching flukes by standing on them – I’ve seen a lot of fish taken very quickly in this fashion. I’ve also watched cormorants swallowing flukes whole, with some difficulty, on the Kent at low tide.

Arnside Knott

Arnside Knott.

Once again there were great crowds of wading birds on the fringes of the water by Silverdale Beach. Too far away for my camera on this occasion sadly.

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The Old Quay Jenny Brown’s Point

The Early Birder and the British Bird of Paradise

An early start 

“Enjoy your lie in on Sunday morning”, my mother-in-law suggested as we left our kids with her in Crook and set-off for Wakefield. (The kids would be returned on Monday: don’t worry, we weren’t dumping them for good!) But here we were, on Sunday morning, the final fling of the Easter break, back from Wakefield, at home in Silverdale, and I was up and out with the first of the light. Not wasting a moment. The forecast was for cold, but clear and dry weather, and I wanted to savour the arrival of spring before returning to work the following day.

Back in the dark days of winter, when we planned our trips to York and Wakefield, they were something to look forward to, an incentive to get us through the winter gloom. But, in the event, with the sun shining and the advent of spring, I didn’t want to go. I wanted to stay at home. I was keen to explore, but what I really wanted to explore was my own backyard. Of course, despite my reservations,I did enjoy both trips, but now that we were home again, I was glad of an opportunity for a bit of a leg-stretcher on the home-patch.

I must have missed the start of the dawn-chorus, early though I was, but the birds were still singing with gusto as I walked across the fields and down through the golf course, where the fairway was silvered with frost.

I was heading for Leighton Moss. From Lillian’s hide the cacophony of the black-headed gulls, screeching and squabbling, put an abrupt end to the early morning peace.

I walked across the causeway to the public hide, where I was expecting to hear the same row from black-headed gulls; but whilst there were a few about – I watched three perched on posts in front of the hide having a proper ding-dong argument – they weren’t present in anything like the numbers I had expected. It looked like there was a pair of black-backed gulls on the small island in the mere and I wondered if that was why the black-headed gulls were concentrated around Lillian’s. A couple of lapwings were wheeling and stunting over the mere. I watched them for a while before sauntering around to Lower Hide.

Reflected sky 

There’s a viewpoint on the causeway where a low bridge crosses a channel. There’s often things to see here – deer, stoats, water-rails, fish leaping, once, perhaps almost an otter. The view east from here has become a firm favourite of mine, but with the sun beginning to climb into the sky, the better view on this occasion was to be had looking west.

Bullrushes 

Bulrushes catch the sunrise.

Frosted alder leaf 

Frosted alder leaf.

Great crested grebe 

I sat in lower hide for quite some time, drinking tea and taking things in. When I arrived, a great crested grebe was showing directly in front of the hide, but frustratingly, by the time I had my camera ready, it had disappeared into a clump of reeds. From there it made occasional sallies into the emerging horsetails around the fringes of the mere. I took loads of photos, but despite its relative proximity, none of them were as good as I had hoped. This is probably the best, in part because the grebe has something in its beak, almost certainly a small fish.

Whilst I waited for the grebe, I watched geese and black-headed gulls fly-over. There were pochard swimming out on the mere and blue-tits clinging acrobatically to reed-heads. The principle entertainment was provided by an extremely determined and aggressive coot defending its territory. It tolerated the grebe, but mallards were pursued and dismissed. And this pair of gadwalls…

Gadwalls 

…made a sharp exit…

A sharp exit 

…when the coot challenged them.

A determined coot 

Eventually a second grebe emerged from the reeds – I hadn’t realised that there was a pair there. Perhaps I’d unknowingly watched them taking it in turns to come out and fish. I remember, years ago, watching grebes dancing their amazing mating ritual on a lake in northern Germany, something I’d love to see again. I wonder whether I’m too late this year? I suppose I might have sat and watched a while longer, in the hope that these grebes might feel inclined to dance, but the cold was really getting to me, despite the fact that I’d brought several layers of clothing for exactly this eventuality. It was bitter.

Stepping out of the hide and into the sunshine made an immediate difference however. The frost was gone. These cowslips were still looking a little sad and droopy,…

Cowslips 

…but not half as bad as they had when I’d passed them earlier.

Willow catkins

Willow catkins.

An unopened catkin? 

Could this be an unopened catkin? Rather handsome I thought.

It was breakfast time. Time to head home. Or, at least, that had been my original plan. But, the sun was shining. What little cloud there had been, had completely disappeared. The trees and birds and stones and streams were revelling in the spring. What was the hurry? Time, then, to go a little further. To take a circuitous route home. I walked around the ‘back’ of the reserve. The trees were awash with bird-song, and I stopped frequently to try to check my tentative identifications.

Blue tit amongst ash flowers 

Blue tit amongst ash flowers.

I took a lot of photos too. Most of them came out a little like this…

The one that got away. 

..where the poor old autofocus thought I wanted a photo of branches, rather then the chiff-chaff….

Ah...a chiffchaff 

…which was chiffchaffing away in the background.

I have a few favourite trees, old friends whom I like to drop in on from time to time: the climbing-beech in Eaves Wood, the coppiced willow on another path in Leighton Moss, the cloven ash by Silverdale Moss. This huge gnarly horse chestnut is a fairly recent addition to the circle.

The huge, gnarly horse chestnut 

I wonder whether it was pollarded when the Moss was farmland, perhaps a century ago? Anyway, it’s coming into leaf right now, just as it will have done at this sort of time over the course of that century….

Coming into leaf 

On this sort of day, I find the light and the colours irresistible.

P4152576 

P4152577 

Storrs Lane follows the edge of the reserve. From there I had a great view of a male marsh harrier quartering the reedbeds, occasionally dropping out of sight. It was close enough for me to see his pale beige on his head and the leading edge of his wings, but not close enough to get a really sharp photo.

A path from Storrs Lane leads into Trowbarrow Quarry…

Trowbarrow quarry 

In the woods on the edge of the quarry I had a stunning view of a pair of nuthatches – I got a photo, but only of a behind – the nuthatch turned away at the crucial moment.

I watched two marsh harriers fly high overhead. They are, I now realise, quite distinctive from below, particularly the males, with a pale body and the undersides to the wings chiefly white, but tipped with black. Later, I would see them again, this time from quite a distance, flying over Haweswater Moss.

The birches in the quarry were coming into leaf, and the leaves were catching the light superbly.

Birch leaves 

As I faffed about, trying to capture the effect….

More birch leaves 

…..a shadow passing close to my feet had me glancing up to catch a glimpse of a jay. Jays are relatively common birds in the woods around home. But glimpses are mostly all that I catch. I frequently hear jays and quite often see jays, but I’ve rarely ever had a chance to actually look at a jay. They are extremely shy and secretive birds. But this jay landed in a tree quite close by. I could see it, and even got photos – although there were a few twigs partially obscuring the view. When it shifted it’s weight and then took to the wing I fully expected that it would be away, but to my amazement, it flew down to the ground…

Jay 

Here’s a cropped version.

Jay

It’s a stunning bird, not at all like any of it’s corvid cousins to look at (at least not the British ones). Usually it’s the white rump and the grey-pink colouring which stands out, but with a chance to see a stationary bird, the other distinctive features are the black moustache, the freckled head and the blue and white striped covert feathers.

The jay hopped out of sight behind a rock, but then posed in a nearby tree. Like the grebe it has something in its beak – I think nesting materials.

Jay 

“…not altogether unworthy of being called the British Bird of Paradise”

W.H.Hudson

Jay

Eventually, the jay hopped back down to the ground, flew somewhere out of sight in the trees to my right and then flew back overhead and away, soon followed by three more jays.

Jay 

I hadn’t exactly been holding my breath, but I had that feeling, of tension released, of a spell broken.

A track from Trowbarrow leads down to Moss Lane, and where Moss Lane ends, a path around Haweswater begins. My fingers had finally defrosted. The day was even beginning to feel a little warm. From the duckboards by the lake I watched the marsh harriers and, high above them, a pair of buzzards.

Near to where the toothwort grows (now looking quite desiccated and past their best) a strikingly musical song caught my attention. I’m making glacial progress with my project to learn birdsong, but although it’s slow, it is progress, and I knew this song wasn’t one of my limited repertoire. Scanning the branches overhead I spotted the minstrel – a blackcap. The blackcap soon departed, sadly, but beneath the tree it had perched in there was a a sheltered spot, out of the wind, but in the sunshine, where I settled down to finish my mammoth flask of tea. I chatted to a couple of other walkers who passed. Buzzards flew overhead. There was a symphony of birdsong all around.

Blackcap 

In an article in the Independent, Michael McCarthy identified the date of this walk, April the 15th, as the start of spring in the South.

This is the date when conventionally, the cuckoo could first be heard in the Thames valley, and it also works, more or less, for first hearing a nightingale (if you’re in the right place) and first seeing a swallow.

I’ve never heard a cuckoo in this area, although I often hear them in the Lakes, nightingales don’t venture this far north and I didn’t see any swallows during this walk, despite having seen them the day before at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. But I had to smile later on when I found that someone had arrived at this blog after searching for ‘Gaitbarrows Nightingale’ and finding a previous walk during which I was regaled by a blackcap – sometimes known as the northern nightingale.

Walking past a small copse en route to Eaves Wood I heard another song which I couldn’t be absolutely sure I recognised, but I thought it might be a another nuthatch. And….

Nuthatch 

…it was!

Several things I’ve read recently have reminded me of the value of stillness and connectedness – of getting to know one area intimately.

My vicinity affords many good walks; and though for so many years I have walked almost every day, and sometimes for several days together, I have not yet exhausted them. An absolutely new prospect is a great happiness, and I can still get this any afternoon. Two or three hours’ walking will carry me to as strange a country as I expect ever to see. A single farmhouse which I had not seen before is sometimes as good as the dominions of the King of Dahomey. There is in fact a sort of harmony discoverable between the capabilities of the landscape within a circle of ten miles’ radius, or the limits of an afternoon walk, and the threescore years and ten of human life. It will never become quite familiar to you.

from Walking Henry David Thoreau

If you feel inspired to explore this vicinity, you might be interested in these guided walks…

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Click on the photo to go to the flickr page where larger versions are available. This should work with all of the photos.

The Early Birder and the British Bird of Paradise

Bretton Hall Park

The Yorkshire Sculpture Park occupies the grounds of Bretton Hall once a stately home, then a college, now……I’m not sure what. Aside from the sculptures there is some pleasant walking to be had, and a few odd structures dating back to the days of Lord and Lady Muck. A very pleasant walk can be had around the park.

Miro crow

This crow was hopping about scavenging around the Miro sculptures, rivalling them for sleek blackness, but, truth be told, much more handsome.

We dropped down the hill and wandered around the far bank of the reservoir. There were spots of rain in the cold breeze, and the water was black and forbidding, taking it’s lead from the sky, but swallows were skimming the surface, the first I’d seen this year. By an inlet a pair of Canada geese were building a downy nest…

Nest making 

…and testing it for comfort.

And testing 

A sign pointed out an alternative route avoiding a field grazed by highland cattle. But, we’re not scared of them. Are we?

Angry local... 

This cow seemed a bit agitated, but was heading in the opposite direction to us. At least, I thought it was, but something made me look behind a few moments later, to find it cantering towards us, head down, on a collision course for TBH. I yanked her aside and we made a swift exit. Made the pulse raise a tad, I don’t mind admitting.

TBH spotted a stoat (or a weasel) close by and we were able to watch it bouncing in and out of the longer grass for a few moments. Couldn’t get a photo though. Later, on the journey home, when we were driving along the road which crosses Warton Crag, a rabbit was movingly rather oddly in the middle of the road. It transpired that it was being carried by a stoat. I pulled over and we watched in the rear-view mirrors as the stoat at first abandoned the rabbit and then returned to retrieve it.

In the woods by the lake there was a fine display of bluebells, and, in the damper spots, of shiny marsh marigolds. Some birch leaves had emerged, limp and pale.

I thought these fungi, growing from a substantial log, were highly attractive. They look like a Pholiota species, perhaps Pholiota aurivella, but that and other Pholiotas are listed as being late summer or autumn fruiting, so…..probably not. Any suggestions?

Pholiota...? 

The path around the lake has a rather sad shell grotto (although I suspect that the kids would love it), a boathouse now marooned in dry land, an obelisk marking the site of an older hall building. Also, a rather fancy well or spring…

Lady Eglinton's Well 

…and a Greek Temple folly…

'Greek Temple' Folly

Bretton Hall Park

Wakefield Sculpture Tour

Hepworth Gallery

Our trip to Barnard Castle was the precursor to another raid in our guerrilla campaign to explore the UK a weekend at a time. Leaving the kids at the in-laws in Crook (Pieland!), we took the Great North Road down to Wakefield for two days and one night of culture.

First stop: the new Hepworth Gallery. Ol’ big-ears would probably think the boxy, grey building a carbuncle, but I liked it. The full length windows give great views out onto the river Calder, the Calder and Hebble navigation, and the weir between them, where a couple of herons were patiently fishing.

Heron in the weir

The gallery itself is well worth a visit. It has lots of Barbara Hepworth stuff, as you might expect – sculpture, working models, tools; also art by many of her friends and contemporaries from her time in St. Ives, including work by both of her husbands – John Skeaping and Ben Nicholson; exhibitions of more recent works; the Gott collection of Yorkshire paintings; and a set of sketches of Stonehenge by Henry Moore, who, like Hepworth, was born locally.

I love Hepworth’s hollowed forms and they were the draw which brought us here, but it’s this painting from the Gott collection which I think will stay with me from this visit. It was painted in 1793 by Philip Reinagle. This reproduction really doesn’t do it justice.

Wakefield Bridge

The bridge, and the chancery chapel, are still there, right outside the gallery, although of course everything else has changed. A busy road crosses a functional modern bridge adjacent to this one, and the cows are gone, replaced by industrial estates and retail outlets (nothing you might call a shop). We popped into the chapel and found four women working on large mosaics which “have to be finished for tomorrow”.

To be honest, modern Wakefield is not pretty, but the Travelodge was spruce, smart and cheap and we ate really well – an evening meal at an Italian restaurant called Rustico and breakfast at Cafe 19, which was decorated with balloons, smelled of fresh paint, and where we were the first customers of their very first day. (If you happen to be in Wakefield it’s very close to the Travelodge, the breakfast is excellent, and ridiculously cheap. TBH tells me that the cakes are good too.)

From Wakefield it’s only a few miles to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park….

Yorkshire Sculpture Park

…we’ve been here a few times now. The park covers a sweep of hillside with reservoirs below, galleries and sculptures dotted about and another gallery on the far hillside opposite. We’ve never made it to the Longside Gallery which is the building in the centre of the picture above, and one thing I was looking forward to was being able to walk there and back without having to worry whether it was too far for the kids. Sadly, we still haven’t been over there, since the gallery was closed. We’ll just have to go back for the Anish Kapoor exhibition which opens in June.

We did have a good walk around the reservoirs (of which more in the next post).

The principal exhibition at the moment is of Joan Miro sculptures and lithographs. There’s a lot of works by other artists in the park, including many by Moore. I took lots of photos. Here’s a slideshow for those who are interested.

I’ve added details of artists to each photo (where I know). You might have to go to the flickr page and click on the relevant photo to see that.

What will really stick in my mind from this visit is the installation ‘Still’ in the chapel in the park, by the artist Jem Finer. He can tell you about it much better than I can…

Jem Finer: Still from Yorkshire Sculpture Park on Vimeo.

When we saw some details about ‘Still’ in the visitor’s centre, I said to TBH: “Wasn’t Jem Finer one of The Pogues?”. I’m not sure that she was convinced, and was inordinately pleased to find that I was right. He’s come through the experience in much better shape than Shane McGowan. I realised later that I’d previously read about his subsequent career, and in particular about Long Player, a one thousand year composition. Without doubt my happiest memory of a gig is of The Pogues at Slosky’s in Manchester in the mid-eighties. A rare night.

Wakefield Sculpture Tour

Barnard Castle

Barnard Castle

We’ve been castle bagging again. At Barnard Castle castle, if you see what I mean (the castle after which the town is named, if you don’t).

The best view of the castle is from down by the Tees, over which it towers, being built on a small bluff above the river. We see that view every time we cross this bridge…

Bridge over the Tees

Over the years, we’ve crossed this bridge many times, since it lies on the route from home in Lancashire to TBH’s ancestral pile in County Durham. But we’ve never been to the castle together (I had a look around many moons again, a lazy interlude on a long walk from Ravenglass to Lindisfarne). We did try once, but despite the fact that the castle was officially open, it was locked up and there was nobody around. “Don’t worry, he’ll have popped out for a moment”, we were told when we asked at the local Tourist Information office. No such difficulty this time.

The castle is Norman of course (aren’t they all?). It feature’s in the opening canto of Sir Walter Scott’s poem Rokeby.

The moon is in her summer glow,

But hoarse and high the breezes blow,

And, racking o’er her face, the cloud,

Varies the tincture of her shroud;

On Barnard’s towers, and Tees’s stream,

She changes as a guilty dream,

When Conscience, with remorse and fear,

Goads sleeping Fancy’s wild career.

Which was highly appropriate to our visit. West of the Pennines the weather had been fresh, but bright, sunny and spring like. As we climbed on the A66 the temperature plummeted, clouds massed ahead, and soon it was first sleeting and then snowing heavily with snow settling on the road. Invisible snow apparently. The sort which it’s quite safe to ignore when driving at 80 miles an hour: or so some people clearly thought. One or two had learned the error of their ways the hard way. When we reached Barnard Castle the sleet had become pouring rain. We took refuge in a splendid little cafe (just off the Morrison’s car-park) for lunch, and by the time we’d finished it had brightened considerably again.

Such varied hues the warder sees,

Reflected from the woodland Tees,

Then from old Baliol’s tower looks forth,

Sees the cloud mustering in the north,

Hears, upon turret-roof and wall,

By fits the plashing rain-drop fall,

Lists to the breeze’s boding sound,

And wraps his shaggy mantle round.

Baliol is presumably Bernard de Balliol after whom the castle, and hence the town is named. He built the castle, or part of the castle, or owned it during it’s heyday depending on which internet source you choose to believe. From him it eventually passed down to Richard III. If I’d done some research prior to our visit, I might have looked up above this high window and seen his boar emblem carved there. I don’t know whether it was Richard who had this window added, but if he did he knew a fine view when he saw it.

Window with a view

We could see a few patches of snow in the hills beyond the Tees. The riverside paths here look very inviting on the map – one for another journey.

The view upriver

The castle is clearly a shadow of it’s former self. When it’s decline began is another issue on which the sources I read failed to agree. What’s clear on the ground however, is that it once covered a very large area. It’s split into four sections: Inner Ward, Town Ward, Middle Ward and Outer Ward. There’s an internal moat between the Inner Ward and the rest of the castle, which I thought was rather unusual.

A small slideshow:

All good fun, and we still have Brough Castle, Bowes Castle and Raby Castle either on or close to the route, for future journeys.

Barnard Castle

Slime Mould

Big skies

We’ve been having big sky weather – the forecast has been showing a black cloud with blue tears dropping from it and a spiky yellow sun poking out from behind – this has translated as large rolling clouds, white from a distance but black beneath, heavy showers, sometimes of hail, but also bright sunny spells. Proper April weather in fact.

This afternoon I proffered a late afternoon invitation for a walk and A accepted. She suggested the Pepper Pot and I asked if she minded if we dropped down on the Arnside Knott side afterwards…

Arnside Knott 

…which gave us another chance to take a look at the…

Green hellebore 

…green hellebore.

Green hellebore flower 

We also found a wonderful patch starred with wood anemones…

Windflower 

But the real star of the show was the blob I spotted on a birch log on my last visit.

This is what it looked like then…

Fungus? 

…pure white, smooth, shiny and slightly uncanny.

Slime mould 

I wondered whether it might be fungi, but couldn’t find anything like it in any of my mushroom field guides. Phil suggested that it might be a slime mould, Enteridium lycoperdon, and naturally he’s quite right.

Here’s how it looked today.

Slime mould

A gentle touch sent small puffs of brown spores floating in the breeze.

Slime mould’s were once considered to be fungi, but they are far more weird and wonderful than that. They move. Like amoeba. Then they enter a sporangial phase, as above.

Further reading: (yes, yes, I pilfered this idea from Alen. Steal from the best, that’s my motto)

Here’s a link to four fascinating posts of Phil’s about various slime moulds. Well worth a read.

http://cabinetofcuriosities-greenfingers.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/Slime%20mould

This is the wikipedia entry on this particular type:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enteridium_lycoperdon

And here is an excellent article from the Grauniad online, about experiments involving slime moulds and their apparent ability to solve problems without the aid of a nervous system.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2010/sep/08/slime-mould-physarum

Slime Mould

Woodwell and Jack Scout – slight return

Crow

Another sunny day for an amble. A was keen to get in on the foraging act, and to walk round the shore from Jack Scout so we decided to visit Woodwell and Jack Scout as I had done a few days before, although in the event, the routes we took were almost entirely different from the paths which I had followed.

Some snow in the Howgills 

We started across the fields towards the Green, in part because that gave us a view of the snow still clinging to some slopes in the Howgill Fells.

Blackthorn 

Because the hawthorns are coming into leaf and everything is arriving so early this spring, I’d been thinking that somehow I’d managed to miss the blackthorn flowering. Fortunately, I was wrong.

Ash buds - a bit further down the line. 

The ash flowers near Woodwell are just that little bit further along. I think that these might be male flowers, but I shall have to go back again to be sure. Ash trees are sometimes male, and sometimes female and sometimes have flowers of both types.

A pointy pond snail 

Another pond snail. A ‘pointy shelled one’.

Ash flowers 

These are definitely female ash flowers.

Near Woodwell we watched a pair of buzzards circling overhead. The smaller of the pair (and therefore probably the male) repeatedly pulled in his wings and went into little dives and swoops. I asked A what she thought he was up to. “He’s trying to impress the female isn’t he?” Even at her tender age she probably recognises this sort of behaviour from the playground!

Cow's Mouth 

Cow’s Mouth with Grange-over-Sands in the distance.

At Jack Scout we discovered that the tide was in and so we couldn’t return by the beach.

Song thrush 

Song thrush again.

A in Bottom's Wood

We went back through Bottom’s Wood instead. Here’s A surrounded by the lush carpet of ramsons. We’d already collected some young leaves to add to sandwiches and salads and to chop into mayonnaise to give a garlicky relish to accompany or Good Friday fish.

Woodwell and Jack Scout – slight return