In Praise of Idleness*

Yellow Archangel

Yellow archangel.

There is, doubtless, much to be said for the virtues of walking such-and-such a distance over the hills in such-and-such a time, but I wish somebody could tell me what are these virtues, for, lazy fellow that I am, I have never been able to discern them.

Frank Smythe from The Spirit of the Hills 1933

Frank Smythe was a formidable climber, with numerous first ascents of big peaks to his name, and also a prolific author. It’s hard to imagine that he was in any genuine sense a ‘lazy fellow’. This declaration of idleness, for instance, opens an account of a fifty mile daunder across the hills of Surrey. Still, I like the sentiment, even if it may have been a little disingenuous.

I, on the other hand, am decidedly, and without any shadow of a doubt, a bona-fide dyed-in-the-wool bone-idle shirker. I haven’t, for example, actually read The Spirit of the Hills, barring a short extract which can be found in Roger Smith’s marvellous anthology The Winding Trail, which I’m gradually rereading for the umpteenth time. I recently picked-up a hardback edition second-hand, since my old paperback version is falling apart.

So, in the spirit of laziness, whilst TBH took the kids for their weekly swimming lesson I finished the working week with a short stroll in the woods. The forecast deterioration in the weather hadn’t fully materialised and the early cloud had cleared by the afternoon.



Botanical types like to quote from Gerard’s Herbal. I found an edited, 1994 edition in the Oxfam bookshop. So here goes…

We call this herb in English, Penny floure, or Mony-floure, Silver Plate, Pricksong-wort; in Norfolke, Sattin, and white Sattin; and among our women it is called Honestie.

The seed of Bulbonac is sharpe of taste: the roots likewise are somewhat of a biting qualitie, but not much: they are eaten with sallads as certaine other roots are.

The names he gives seem mostly to refer to the seeds (aside from the intriguing Pricksong-wort). I shall have to investigate the satiny interior of the large round seed cases, and the sharp taste, when the chance presents itself.

I didn’t know that any part of Honesty was edible, but since I bought Richard Mabey’s Food for Free, which was the first field guide in my collection, I’ve often eaten young hawthorn leaves, although I’ve never bothered to collect them for a spring salad as he suggests. He says that children call them Bread and Cheese, which I misremembered as ‘A Little Bit of Bread and No Cheese’, which is a birders mnemonic for the song of a yellow-hammer. My school friend Johnny Riley, a proper birder, told me that when he was trying to get me to learn some birdsongs one sunny summer morning in 1982 as we lay in a field full of strawberries enjoying some ‘food for free’ for breakfast. We’d cycled halfway across the county in response to an advert for fruit-pickers and were galled to be turned away when other people were still clearly being taken on.

A little bit of bread but no cheese! 

Haven’t seen a yellow-hammer for many years (or Johnny Riley for several decades). Great tits however, are ubiquitous, and with their strident songs, usually easy to spot. But not to photograph, since they never seem to sit still when my camera is pointing their way.

Great Tit 

This one was so intent on singing that I did manage to get a few pictures for a change.

Great tit again 

Big ol' beech 

This big old beech has appeared on this blog many times. I like it.

Marsh tit 

By contrast, this is the first time that a photo of a marsh tit has featured since they are even more elusive than their great tit cousins.

Scots pines 

There has been a fair bit of tree-felling in Eaves Wood in recent years. Some standards are always left, and where there are Scots pines they always seem to avoid the drop. Which is as it should be, because they are very handsome trees.

In part, at least, the trees are cleared to encourage the growth of violets, a very important food-plant for some species of butterflies. Gratifying then that the violets seem to be doing very well…

Pale violets 

Violets vary considerably when you come to look closely. The white flowered variety, which is quite common locally, has a dark purple spur. These pale, lilac flowers have a white spur. Whilst this one is more, well….

More purple violet 


I dropped out of the woods by the path junction near to Arnside Tower.

Arnside Tower 

My intention was to take the path to the west along the edge of the Caravan Park, where I expected to find green hellebore flowering in the scrubby woods along the boundary of the park. But, horrors…


…the edge of the woods have been bulldozed. Since it was only a strip of trees which had gone, I thought I would follow the edge of the trees which remained (rather than the right-of-way on the other side of the fence).

The first premium this delivered was this curious, almost hemispherical shiny white blob. When I poked it gingerly with a finger I was surprised to find that it was firm and that my finger didn’t slide into a gooey spongy substance.


I had a look through my mushroom books, but I’m still none the wiser. It’s on a fallen birch tree. I wondered whether it might be a birch polypore, but having looked it up I don’t think that it can be. I did meet and become acquainted with the word subglobose in the process however, so not a completely wasted effort. Anyone have any ideas as to what this strange blob might be?

I’d almost given up on finding any hellebores when, not in the trees, but thrusting through the broken ground which had been cleared…

Green hellebore leaves 

In fact there were loads of them, extending back under the trees too.

More hellebore leaves 

Some were flowering….

Green hellebore flower

They’re not the easiest flowers to photograph since they tend to hang downward facing the ground. That’s my excuse anyway.

I was, I need hardly add, extremely pleased to find them.

Coal tit

Coal tit.

*Yes, there’s a Bertrand Russell essay with this title. I stole it. (I don’t steal strawberries anymore however, in case you were wondering), The essay is eminently sensible, as you might expect. I’d read it if I were you. If you have the energy. It can be found here.

In Praise of Idleness*

16 thoughts on “In Praise of Idleness*

  1. I think the mystery blob is the sporing stage of the slime mould which I’ve always known as Reticuaria lycoperdon but has recently been renamed – see

    I’m most definitely a devotee of the relaxed stroll rather than the rigorous route march. Have just read Dominic Couzens’ A Patch Made in Heaven: a Year of Birdwatching in one Place, which extols the virtues of getting to know one patch really well rather than tramping all over the country – and which seems to fully justify my predilection for short, slow strolls!.

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      Thanks Phil, both for the suggestion about the slime mould and the reference to the book, which sounds like my kind of thing. I should have plenty of opportunity to go back and see how the potential slime mold develops. ‘Moon excrement’ – my kids will like that.

  2. My favourite Frank Smythe story from one of his books (can’t remember which one) described him and Shipton in the tent in the Himalayas somewhere after being together for weeks or possibly months, and Smythe says to Shipton, “don’t you think it’s time you started calling me Frank and me calling you Eric?”

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      I have the luxury of still having all of Shipton and Tillman and Smythe’s books to read. Many of my friends read and recommended the first two at least when we were at Uni, aeons ago, but some how I never got round to reading them. Looking forward to it now though.

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      No the changes on the campsite don’t have any apparent or at least obvious purpose. The fence has been replaced but the area cleared is too big to simply be to help with that. I wondered whether a space for new caravn pitches might be being cleared, but at present the cleared area doesn’t connect to any of the current roads around the site. Elsewhere within the site trees have been removed for butterfly conservation purposes, but this is too radical for that. Watch this space I suppose.

  3. Where the Fatdog Walks says:

    I’m becoming fascinated by the fungi you manage to discover on your travels Mark. I wander around the nearby country park in the hope that I’ll eventually find something worth photographing but other than the annual September flourish I have failed abyssmally.

    I therefore stand in awe of your prowess in this area of discovery of the natural world! 😀

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