A Weekend at Ours I – Golden Time

Steep shingle beach, Far Arnside

Our year revolves around a cycle of regular get-togethers with a group of old friends. A relatively recent addition to the programme is a family weekend in the autumn at our house.

Last year, the weekend was a complete wash-out, with wall-to-wall cloud and rain. So it was pleasing last week to look at the forecast and see, sandwiched between two bouts of foul wet weather, a fine weekend predicted, cold but dry.

In the event, after a hard frost early on, Saturday wasn’t cold at all. We opted for a walk to Arnside. Our daughter A asked for, and received (thanks G!), a local OS map for her birthday and happily took charge of the route planning and navigation. She managed to find a circuit which incorporated four playgrounds, so very child friendly.

How many on the zip wire? 

Here are some of the assembled ankle-biters, stress-testing the zip-wire at the first of those parks, which is just a few hundred yards from home.

From there we ambled through Holgates Caravan Park to the coast at Far Arnside (see the top photo). There are many fossilised corals on display in the rocks there.

Far Arnside Coral Fossil I 

I always forget to put something in the shot to give scale. This one above is quite large, perhaps almost a foot long. This…

Far Arnside Coral Fossil II 

…is a roughly football sized patch of these…

Far Arnside Coral Fossil III - detail 

This tessellation of irregular polygons…

Far Arnside Coral Fossil IV 

…was tiny.

(There’s a bit more about the fossils in this post.)

We took an early, and leisurely lunch on the rocks here, chiefly because it looked such an inviting place to sit in the sun.

Lunch Stop 

At Far Arnside we’d passed ivy absolutely thronging with bees. On the cliff path the scabious flowers were attracting hover-flies…

Hoverfly on Scabious 

A convenient rocky ramp….

Down to the beach 

…leads down from the cliff-top to…


…the wide open spaces of the sands. This has long been a favourite spot of mine and I was pleased that our friend D, the Junior Sherpa, was impressed. He isn’t easily impressed. The playgrounds were ‘mundane’. And I think he found our general lack of pace and ambition frustrating. After-all, he’s a seasoned mountain man these days. He was also keen to get back to the house for some ‘Golden Time’ with his friends. (No, I’m not sure what he meant either).

I couldn’t persuade D, or indeed anybody else, to taste the samphire which was thrusting up through the beach. I was pretty tentative myself, bit I did nibble a small piece. Salty. And reminiscent of something……,which I couldn’t quite put my finger on.


The first part of the river-bank walk into Arnside, on estuarine mud, was a sloppy, slip-sliding affair. Some of the children, well principally my boys, were coated, seemingly from head to foot.

There’s a spot on the bank where deadly night-shade grows every year, and we admired the smooth, shiny black berries from a respectful distance.

The tide warning siren at the Coastguard station was sounded a couple of times. We enjoyed an ice-cream on the promenade and watched the tidal bore shoot down past the viaduct.

From there, after a brief visit to another playground, we climbed up on to Arnside Knott.

Arnside Knott panorama 

The air was very clear and the views were stunning. A high-effort-to-view-ratio according to the Shandy Sherpa and the Adopted Yorkshireman.

A spot of tree climbing 

The kids were more interested in a bit of tree climbing.

Group photo 

The Next Generation.

I’d been boasting that the hills of North Wales could be seen from the Knott in the right conditions. It was certainly a clear day. We could see Skiddaw over Dunmail Raise, a ferry arriving from Ireland at Heysham, and Blackpool Tower down the coast. And also, apparently, the afore-mentioned hills of North Wales, which I missed, being too busy gabbing.

Our route home took us past Arnside Tower…

Arnside Tower

…and through Eaves Wood.

With sixteen to serve for tea, we settled on two sittings: simple pasta based fare for the kids and a fabulous take-away from our local Indian Restaurant, Cinnamon Spice, for the greying brigade. Heartily recommended by the way. I always go for the mixed kebab and Chicken Handi Achar. Everybody else seemed to enjoy their meals too. The onion bahjis were superb.

A lazy walk. Sunshine. Good company. Curry. A few beers. Loads of blather.

Doesn’t get any better than that, does it?

A Weekend at Ours I – Golden Time

Dollywagon and Nethermost – a Circumnavigation of Ruthwaite Cove

Or: How to Enjoy Helvellyn whilst avoiding all the crowds (mostly) 

1. Start Early (or late).

Actually, I didn’t start that early, but I was parked up and walking by 9, and in the Lakes that generally means before most other people are out and about.

2. Start on the west side.

Helvellyn presents huge scooped corries, shattered crags, tarns and narrow ridges on its eastern approaches. On the west, there are mainly featureless convex slopes. For obvious reasons then, everyone starts in Patterdale. Start on the other side and you at least have the advantage of quieter footpaths. I’d driven up through alternate patches of mist, fog and sunshine, and then parked in the lay-by near the top of Dunmail Raise, where there was, at nine, one other car. I climbed beside Raise Beck….

Raise Beck

…in the shade. As I climbed the shadow retreated down the hill-side towards me, so that as the gradient eased and I approached Grizedale Tarn, I also emerged into the sunshine.

Grizedale Tarn 

3. Stay away from the beaten track. 

My hastily conceived plan was to drop down the other side from Grizedale, so that I could head up into Ruthwaite Cove from…well, that part of my plan wasn’t at all clear. Probably a bit of contouring, or something, I’d vaguely thought. Now that I was at the pass, the idea of descending again didn’t seem so attractive. Far better, I reasoned, to climb Dollywagon first and then head down from there, before reascending. But not by the dull path which I could see zig-zagging up the steep slope to my left. Instead I took a rising line up and across to meet the edge of Tarn Crag and then followed the edge, admiring the views down Grizedale to Ullswater and Place Fell and the intimate glimpses into the impressive gullies on St. Sunday Crag. Pretty soon I was above Falcon Crag….

Looking down Grizedale from Falcon Crag 

..from where I could look across to see three ridges extending eastward: the Tongue, Nethermost Pike’s east ridge and Striding Edge.

3 ridges 

I turned to follow the rim of Cock Cove to the summit of Dollywagon Pike and then headed down the Tongue…

The tongue 

It’s not an narrow ridge, but its a good walk. The descent off to the left into Ruthwaite Cove was steep and loose and required a bit of care.

I was heading for Hard Tarn. It’s a small tarn which sits on a rocky bench beneath Nethermost Pike. This is Ruthwaite Cove…

High Crag and Nethermost Pike from Ruthwaite Cove 

…Hard Tarn is above the lower of the two sweeps of slab which are just to the right of centre in this photo. And just to the right of centre in this photo too….

Approaching Hard Tarn 

The tarn isn’t deep enough to swim in, but hardy types will take a dip anyway. I wasn’t feeling quite that hardy on this occasion. I wasn’t feeling quite that hardy last time I came this way either. Frankly, I may never feel quite that hardy. I’ve discovered that I’m comfortable with my inner wimp.

Hard Tarn 

My original idea had been to traverse out from the tarn, round to the foot, or thereabouts, of Nethermost Pike’s east ridge. But whilst that looks fine on the map, I could now see that would entail crossing a seemingly endless boulder-field. Going straight up looked to necessitate picking my way through some crags, but it didn’t look too challenging so I opted for that.

In the event, it was even easier than I had anticipated and could probably have all been done with hands in pockets. The only difficulty I did have was when I made the mistake of venturing onto a patch of scree rather than going down and looking for a way around. As soon as I committed my weight on to it, it all started to slither downhill. A boulder which was about the size of a breeze block, but I suspect much heavier, surfed down over the smaller ball-bearing sized scree and came to rest against my shin and I had an awkward moment whilst I tried to figure out how to extricate myself without sending the whole lot flying.

High Crag and Hard Tarn 

From that point, it was a steep but comfortable climb up to the top of the ridge. Once up I watched the queue of tiny figures tottering along Striding Edge….

Striding Edge and Catstye Cam 

…before walking the short distance to the cairn which marks the top of the huge plateau of Nethermost Pike.

4. Don’t go to the summit (and stay off Striding Edge).

On Nethermost you’re in easy striking distance of the top of Helvellyn. But up until now I’d met two other walkers on the summit of Dollywagon and two walkers sweating their way up the Tongue. And that was it. I had the summit of Nethermost to myself since the main path bypasses all these glorious edges as it makes a bee-line between Grizedale Tarn and Helvellyn summit. Predictably, the summit of Helvellyn looked to be the venue for one of the lesser late summer festivals. I couldn’t actually see any burger vans, but…

I chose to turn the other way and complete a circuit of Ruthwaite Cove, following the edge over High Crag back to Dollywagon Pike. I probably met a dozen or so other walkers coming the other way on this section.

Dollywagon Pike and High Crag 

Dollywagon Pike and High Crag.

Hard Tarn from above 

Looking down on Hard Tarn.

Dollywagon Pike 

Dollywagon Pike again.

High Crag and Nethermost Pike 

Back along the edge – High Crag and Nethermost Pike.

From Dollywagon Pike I went off piste again – cutting down across the curiously named Willie Wife Moor, which, yes, was tussocky and a bit damp, to follow a small stream which brought me neatly back to Raise Beck…

Raise Beck again.

…and then the car. Predictably, I didn’t see anybody else between the summit of Dollywagon and the busy main road over Dunmail Raise.

Hike Stats:

Distance: not much. Say…five miles..ish.

Up: 3200 feet. Or thereabouts.

Down: about the same, makes life awkward otherwise.

Walkers encountered: less then 20.

Dogs encountered: 2. Dog walkers generally hang out in the the Northern Fells, obviously.

Time according to Naismith: 3 hours ish.

Actual time: 5½ hours (I didn’t want to walk with Naismith anyway – he’s always in such a dreadful hurry.)

I felt in very fine fettle. I haven’t managed to squeeze in as much hill-walking this year as I did last, but I felt fitter than I have for quite some time. Perhaps I have a modicum of haemoglobin coursing through the old veins for once.

Dollywagon and Nethermost – a Circumnavigation of Ruthwaite Cove

Roa Island Rock-Pooling

Roa Island lifeboat station and Piel Island

Britain is rich in grain and timber; it has good pasturage for cattle and draught animals, and vines are cultivated in various localities. There are many land and sea birds of various species, and it is well known for its plentiful springs and rivers abounding in fish. Salmon and eels are especially plentiful, while seals, dolphins, and sometimes whales are caught. There are also many varieties of shell-fish, such as mussels, in which are often found excellent pearls of several colours, red, purple, violet, green but mainly white. Whelks are abundant, and a beautiful scarlet dye is extracted from them which remains unfaded by sunshine or rain; indeed, the older the cloth, the more beautiful its colour.

I love this picture of plenty from the opening to Bede’s History of the English Church and People. Read eighteenth or early nineteenth century naturalists like Richard Jefferies or W.H. Hudson with their depiction of fields thronged with skylarks, or histories like Mark Kurlansky’s Cod, and you get a feel for an abundance which we have lost. But head to the low-tide line when the moon is full and you can still catch at least a glimpse of teeming fecundity.

We’ve been to Roa island once before, on that occasion as a stepping off point for a trip to explore Piel Island.

Piel Island

That’s a great day out, but this time we would stay on the north side of the channel. Roa island is the closest place to home with a rocky beach, complete with a few pools behind the stanchions of the Life-Boat station. We were guests of Arnside Natural History Society, we were armed with nets and plastic tubs, and we were seeking out the denizens of the sea-edge.

The sun shone. It seemed that every rock turned over sheltered half a dozen crabs, and often something else of interest. Children of all ages were absolutely thrilled.

Here then are some photos of some of what we found, haphazardly presented in the order in which they were taken…

Brittle star

Brittle star.

Shore crab

Shore crab.

Sea weed

Sea weed.

Barnacle Bill

A barnacled shore crab.

What you looking at?

Between us we found five different kinds of crab in all. Shore crabs and hermit crabs were ten a penny. We also caught one each of an edible crab, a spider crab (see below) and a porcelain crab (although I managed to miss that one). Apparently this is also a good place to find squat lobster, if the tide is low enough.

Bootlace seaworm

This large jumble of intestinal tubing is actually a bootlace seaworm. These things can grow to great lengths.



Mating shore crabs

Mating shore crabs.

Big starfish

A large starfish.


A smaller starfish, christened Betty by the girl who found ‘her’.

Fish eggs

Fish eggs.

Trivia monacha - European cowrie

European cowries.


Another sponge.


And another.

Spider crab

Spider crab.

At first I thought that this must be a tiny juvenile example of the large spiny crabs we sometimes see off the rocks which lie slightly below the low-tide line at Porth Towyn, but now I’m pretty sure that it’s actually of an entirely different species, and although small, may well be adult.

Box full of goodies

Catch of the day.

Glass prawn?

I was inclined to think that the creature in the centre of this photo was a shrimp, but the closest match I can find in our ‘Sea Shore’ field guide is a ‘glass prawn’, so perhaps that’s what it is.

Our friend BB found this…


…huge barnacled bivalve, I presume an oyster. In addition to the barnacles it had another passenger….

A green beadlet anemone?

…a green anemone.

Some of the kids stumbled across this…

Lion's mane jellyfish

…lion’s mane jellyfish in the shallows. It seemed to me to be upside down, and I thought it was dead, although this was hotly disputed by the kids. I’ve since discovered that the lion’s mane is the world’s largest species of jellyfish, and that these can deliver quite a nasty sting.

These tube worms…

Tube worm

..were entertaining. I think that they are peacock worms. The dull brown tubes, apparently empty, would suddenly shoot out brightly coloured tentacles, which would just as abruptly disappear again.

Hermit crab

A largish hermit crab.

Roa Island Lifeboat Station

The lifeboat station.

B investigates

A very happy customer.

Roa Island Rock-Pooling

Conishead Priory

Conishead Priory

There is no house in England like Conishead. The priory has long gone. What we see today is a fantasy originally created by Colonel Thomas Richmond-Gale-Braddyll to a Gothick design by the little known Philip Wyatt in 1821. The house is an exercise in pure show, set in a splendid park on the Furness peninsular.

More stained glass 

The house changed hands many times. In the 1880s it became a luxurious ‘hydropathic hotel’ with resident orchestra and thousand-volume library. In the 1920s it was converted into a miners’ convalescent home. By the 1970s it faced demolition.

Salvation came in the unusual form of a Mahayana Buddhist community from Tibet, who bought the building in 1976.

Conishead Priory II 

The quotes are from Simon Jenkins’ ‘England’s Thousand Best Houses’, which along with its companion volume on Churches make an indispensible reference guide to where to go and what to see.

Conishead Priory III 

It’s a bizarre gothic confection of a building, a crazy hotch-potch of styles and materials.

Wyatt designed, apparently at random, a chaotic series of gables, turrets and facades, some in brick, some in render.

Conishead Priory IV 

The Buddhist community welcome visitors. They even have a cafe and a shop. We were on a flying visit, an appetiser for an afternoon expedition to Roa Island (of which, more to follow!) and shall have to return for a wander around the grounds and a walk down to the beach.

Temple of World Peace

We did find time, however, to have a look inside the Kadampa Temple for World Peace, which houses the largest bronze statue of Buddha cast in the West.

Conishead Priory

Shoe Review – Hi-Tec TT Pursuit WP from Outdoor Look*

Hi-Tec TT Pursuit WP

Back in April, the good people at Outdoor Look asked me whether I would like to review a pair of boots or shoes. It was almost as if they could read my mind: just what I needed! After perusing the options available I decided to go for shoes, and after much deliberation decided to give Hi-Tec footwear another go. (Regular readers will have endured several rants about my old leaked-like-a-sieve-and- fell-to-pieces-after-five-minutes Hi-Tec boots, so I’ll spare you anymore of that.) So I asked for a pair of TT Pursuit WP shoes.

The first time I wore them was when we climbed Pillar back at the start of May. I was slightly concerned about the fact that I’d done nothing to wear them in, but I needn’t have worried – they were really comfortable from the off.

Hi-Tec TT Pursuit WP 

Here they are, on my feet, when were sat having a brew by Robinson’s cairn. And held aloft in front of Pillar Rock….

Product Placement

Since then I’ve worn them just about every time I’ve been out.

So how have they performed?

Well – perhaps first I should just point out the limitations of this review: I can’t compare these shoes to anything similar from other manufacturers, and I have limited experience of other trail shoes. My technical knowledge of fabrics and construction techniques is non-existent. I have no idea where these shoes were made and whether their manufacture was environmentally friendly or ethically sound.

What I can tell you is that these shoes are very comfortable to wear. On the whole I am very happy with them. They aren’t really waterproof, I didn’t expect that they would be, and I think that in the future I would try to find un-lined shoes. That said, my feet have felt comfortable in them even when they’ve been wet. The grip is good and I feel confident in them on all but the slipperiest surfaces. Time will tell, but so far they have stood up well to the abuse that has been thrown at them. When contouring or descending on very steep ground I don’t feel that the heel cups give as much support as I would like, but this may be an issue with trail shoes in general rather than these particular shoes. It seems to me that they’re quite competitively priced, but you can judge that one for yourself.

With the shoes, Outdoor Look sent me a catalogue. Some of the things on offer seemed to me to be at bargain prices and I shall certainly be purchasing stuff from them in future. Ironically, it looks like they aren’t stocking Hi-Tec footwear anymore, but they do have a wide range of boots and shoes from other brands.

*Other brands and other retailers are available.

Shoe Review – Hi-Tec TT Pursuit WP from Outdoor Look*

The Caldbeck Fells

Carrock Pike

The approach to the foot of the mountain resembled the approaches to the feet of most other mountains. The cultivation gradually ceased, the trees grew gradually rare, the road became gradually rougher, and the sides of the mountain looked gradually more and more lofty, and more and more difficult to get up.

from The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices

That’s from 1857, but it’s still a pretty fair description of my drive to the foot of Carrock Fell. When I climbed out of the car I was surprised by the cold slap of the wind. My ascent would take a rising line under the right-hand corner of those broken crags and then into and up a grassy gulley to the skyline, where the gradient eases. But first, I paused a while to watch a buzzard’s slow trawl along the top edge of the crag and then a a kestrel poised above a lone tree silhouetted against the sky.

One way and another, my scramble to bag the Birketts has stumbled this year. First my damaged ankle kept me off the hills and since then I’ve climbed hills on the edge of the Pennines, in the Forest of Bowland and in North Wales, but the only times I’ve been out in the Lakes I either haven’t climbed any hills or I’ve re-ascended tops which I’ve already ticked off. So for this away-day I’d chosen something to give the whole thing a bit of a kick-start: unfamiliar territory with nine relatively easy ‘summits’ to be bagged.

Of course, nothing’s ever easy: although my parking spot near Stone Ends Farm gave me a pleasingly high start, the first part of the climb was fairly steep. In the event, despite the need for windscreen-wipers on my eyes as perspiration gushed down my forehead, I found a nice steady rhythm and enjoyed the challenge.

At the top edge of the crags, I paused again as three ravens repeatedly sailed past, gurgling their lovely catarrhal croaks. I didn’t get much further up the path before my progress was halted again: a grouse stood proud on the hillside just ahead. I expected that it would whirr noisily away, but instead it just ducked down behind some heather so that only it’s head was showing…

Solitary grouse 

I waited with my camera, hoping that it would show itself more fully. A kestrel swooped by; maybe it was the kestrel I had seen from below. If it was a kestrel: it was surprisingly pale, but the right sort of size and shape.

Eventually, my patience paid off: the grouse trundled across the heather onto a prominent perch on a rock and then a second popped-up from a hiding place…

Two grouse 

…and then a third…

Three grouse 

…and a fourth. The three ravens made a reappearance and all five grouse launched themselves onto the wind. Even when they took off, they were eerily quiet, none loosed that abrupt rattling ‘here I am, shoot me’ call. I wondered whether they were a family group. None had the red wattle which distinguishes the male.

Up and up and up again, till a ridge is reached and the outer edge of the mist on the summit of Carrock is darkly and drizzingly near. Is this the top? No, nothing like the top. It is an aggravating peculiarity of all mountains, that, although they have only one top when they are seen (as they ought always to be seen) from below, they turn out to have a perfect eruption of false tops whenever the traveller is sufficiently ill-advised to go out of his way for the purpose of ascending them. Carrock is but a trumpery little mountain of fifteen hundred feet, and it presumes to have false tops, and even precipices, as if it were Mont Blanc. No matter; Goodchild enjoys it, and will go on: and Idle, who is afraid of being left behind by himself, must follow.

from The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices

In fact, Carrock Fell is not a serious offender in this regard, at least not from the direction from which I climbed it, and I was soon on the top. What’s more, unlike the maniacally energetic Goodchild and the indolent Thomas Idle, I had a view, even if it was “like a feeble water-colour drawing half sponged out”. Goodchild and Idle are the alter-egos of the close friends Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins. They took a tour of Cumberland together and then satirised themselves in Dickens’ Household Words.

I must confess that I’d never heard of their tour, or their report of it, until I bought this book…

A real find

…from the Oxfam bookshop in Lancaster this week. It’s from 1954 and looks like marvellous stuff, starting with early travellers like William Camden, Daniel Defoe and Celia Fiennes, taking in the writers of Tour Guides like Pennant and West, the Romantic Poets (Wordsworth fits both of the last two categories), and finishing with more recent Lakeland luminaries like Ruskin, Beatrix Potter, Cannon Rawnsley, W.G.Collingwood, Walpole and W. Heaton Cooper, who also provides illustrations and the jacket painting.

Only now, as I flick through it again, have I discovered a neat, typed name and address label, dated “Aug ‘75”,  which shows that a previous owner of the book lived in a house just across the road from home.

Anyway, back to my walk: Dickens makes no mention of the remains of an iron-age hill-fort on the summit of Carrock Fell. After the grandeur of Tre’r Ceiri earlier this summer, I found it distinctly underwhelming by comparison.

Carrock Fell hill-fort 

My next target would be High Pike, seen here on the right…

Carrock Fell cairn and onward route 

…although there were a couple of minor bumps on the soggy ridge inbetween which I would slalom to incorporate, because of their Birkett status.

At first I mistook this huge fly, mesembrina meridiana, for a substantial bumble bee, purely because of its size.

Huge mesembrina meridiana 

Diverting to Round Knott at least took me wide of the most egregious bog.

Carrock Fell 

Looking back to Carrock Fell.

Round Knott cairn. Blencathra and Skiddaw behind. 

Round Knott Cairn. Blencathra and Skiddaw behind.

High Pike 

High Pike

So far I’d had the hills to myself. On the boggy ridge I saw a walker with a collie heading the other way, but we didn’t meet since I’d left the main path to take in Round Knott. Now as I approached the final climb to High Pike I met another single walker, with two collies. Neither were on leads. Both were very friendly. One much too friendly. After it had put its paws on my chest, sniffed my privates and nestled it’s snout in my bum, I pushed it away with a trekking pole, on which I then skewered it’s owner, explaining, as he breathed his last, that not everyone likes dogs and that if he’d been a little more considerate he could have avoided being  kebabed.

No I didn’t. I smiled weakly and said something innocuous like, “Nice day for it.”

“I thought I’d got the hills all to myself,” with a grin.

A fellow misanthrope; I warmed to him. Maybe I won’t garrotte him on this occasion.

He strode away, unaware of his narrow escape.

Looking back to Carrock Fell 

Carrock Fell again.

The next walker I met also had a collie, or perhaps I should say that the next collie I met also had a walker in tow? I began to worry that I’d stumbled into some strange convention for lone walkers with collies, like something from Sherlock Holmes, but the next walkers I met were a couple with a boxer and something like a lurcher.

High Pike summit 

High pike has a fair accumulation of summit furniture: a trig pillar, an untidy, sprawling cairn and a stone bench. Squadrons of wasps flying in formation low to the turf were everywhere. They didn’t bother me whilst I ate some lunch, and I wondered what they were doing in such an apparently unpromising spot if they weren’t there to mug walkers and steal their sandwiches.

High Pike, and the Caldbeck Fells in general, are renowned for their mineral wealth and geological interest. I didn’t spot much, but I did pass a bright, white rock with an intricate crystalline structure embedded in the path…

High Pike geology 

Three more minor bumps to negotiate on route to Knott: Hare Stones, Great Lingy Hill and Little Lingy Hill. All three have cairns optimistically plonked close to where it’s almost possible to imagine that there might be a highest point. They give pleasant, rough, almost pathless walking.

Knott from Great Lingy Hill 

Wainwright says of Great Lingy Hill: “Acres of dense fragrant heather make this the most delectable top in Lakeland for a summer day’s siesta.” I thought it seemed a bit wet for that, but when the sun almost shone on Little Lingy Hill, I did spread my cag on the sward, stretch out and shut my eyes for a while.

Knott from Little Lingy Hill 

The crossing from Little Lingy Hill was wetter and rougher then anything I had yet encountered. That didn’t seem to perturb this….

Wary common lizard 

common lizard, which squirmed through the grass and disappeared before I could get a better picture.

Despite the fact that when I’d last seen them they’d been heading in the opposite direction, the misanthrope and his dogs had some how made it to the top of Knott before me. Maybe they’d made the unfortunate decision not to have a wee snooze. They strode away when they saw me coming to mar their splendid isolation.

The air had cleared a little and the hills across the Solway Firth had become more than the vague hint of landscape which they’d been up to that point. From my grandstand seat I watched showers tracking across the plains which flank the estuary.

A heavy shower 

Skiddaw seen over Great and Little Calva 

Skiddaw seen above Great and Little Calva.

Threatening clouds 

Threatening clouds.

High Pike and Carrock Fell from Knott 

High Pike and Carrock Fell from Knott.

Another boggy ridge took me Coomb Height, the final Birkett of the day. I descended by Grainsgill Beck and then followed the unfenced road by the River Caldew to Mosedale, where I was surprised to find a cafe operating in the local Friends Meeting House.

Mosedale Friends Meeting House 

The cakes looked nice and the tea was hot and wet and reasonably priced.


Next door, in the barn attached to the Meeting House, was an Aladdin’s cave come charity shop.

An unusual charity shop 

In the meeting house was a display of rubbings of dates and initials taken from local houses and associated with the Quaker community. This area is one of the birthplaces of Quakerism; George Fox is another of the early writers anthologised in Prose of Lakeland. Walking through Mosedale I noticed a couple of houses with initials and eighteenth century dates. This one…

A Quaker home 

…a large double fronted house with an air of shabby gentility and an unkempt garden looked particularly romantic and worthy of exploration.

Date and initials

The Caldbeck Fells

Garden Wildlife

People keep telling me that we haven’t had a summer this year. (They also often ask about where I’ve been to get my tan and seem rather incredulous when I say North Wales.)

But we seem to have spent quite a lot of time recently sitting in our garden in the sunshine. We haven’t been the only one enjoying our garden. One morning we opened our curtains to see a roe deer sat beside the kids’ swing. That evening it was back. And the following morning. We thought we had a new neighbour. The kids were excited. To be honest, I was excited too. I was reminded of the wonderful story of John Wyatt’s relationship with a young roe deer told in his book ‘The Shining Levels’.

 Roe deer in the garden

But sadly, that was the last we saw of it.

Never mind, plenty more to see. Recently, there always seem to be 4 or 5 dragonflies quartering the space above the garden, and sometimes perching in the borders.

Migrant hawker 

Migrant Hawker

Southern Hawker 

Southern Hawker

Lots of bees about too. This one seemed to like the montbretia every bit as much as I do.

Bee in montbretia 

This one stood out because of its gorgeous orange fur.

Lovely bumble on buddleia 

Because it’s dark, and because I’ve been reading about these things, I think that this is a native British honey bee rather than an imported New Zealand or Italian bee.

Honey bee? 

This is not a bee at all, but a hoverfly pretending to be a bumble.

Hoverfly on scabious 

Lots of spiders about too.  I think that this is probably a garden spider, Araneus diadematus.

Garden spider 

And this another one. Looks like it’s eating, or at least wrapping-up for the larder, another spider. Is it a female preying on a would-be suitor?

Packed lunch 

I suppose that this could be another garden spider, although the colours are very different.

Orange spider 

Little S found this small shield bug and was thrilled with it.

Small shield bug

Of course, it has been very wet this summer, and butterflies have not been anything like as plentiful in our garden as they usually are. I was very pleased then, when some sort of parliament of Lepidoptera seemed to be taking place.

Peacock, Painted Lady, Small Tortoiseshell 

Peacock, painted lady and small tortoiseshell butterflies.

Initially the peacock was very aggressive and kept driving off the larger painted lady, but eventually they all seemed to decide to tolerate each other.

This comma refused to join the conflab however, choosing to occupy an entirely different buddleia.


Back at work now. No more lazing around in the garden for me (sigh!).

Garden Wildlife

A Walk to Beetham

A couple of weeks back, finding ourselves child-free for the day (the children were persecuting their doting grandparents) TBH and I decided to stroll to Beetham and back.

We walked from home, meeting the coffin route from Arnside at Hazelslack Tower. The coffin route goes over Beetham Fell, passing through one set of crags through a fault in the cliff…

The first set of steps

And the second crag via the Fairy Steps, where coffins would have to be hauled up using ropes. Allegedly if you can climb the Fairy Steps without touching the sides they you are granted a wish. I didn’t touch the sides so much as become wedged between them.

Fairy steps 

The Tea Room in Beetham, which is above the village shop, was closed, but when they heard that we fancied a cuppa and a slice of cake, they served us anyway. Very nice too.

The tea shop 

The denizens of Beetham are well-served since they can also eat at the excellent Wheatsheaf, a former coaching inn, just off the A6.

The Wheatsheaf 

We regularly drive through Beetham and I’ve long wanted to have a proper look at the imposing church, St. Michael and All Angels.

St Michael and All Angels 

St Michael and All Angels 

St. Michael and All Angels 

As always in a church, I was drawn to the stained glass windows.

Stained glass 

This is an old church, and although most of the windows were apparently smashed by over-zealous roundheads, there are still some remnants of very old windows…

Old stained glass

It struck me that these look like the Legs of Mann, then I read…

Stained glass notice 

…that in fact it’s the coat of arms of Thomas Stanley who was a major player in the War of the Roses, a force to be reckoned with in the North West and also the titular King of Mann.


Henry of Bolingbroke 

…must be Henry Bolingbroke, or Henry IV, and this…

A saint 

…the unnamed saint. It would be fascinating to know why they’re all here.

The more modern windows have an interesting cast of characters too. I’m always pleased to find St. George (looking uncompromisingly English and martial) ….

St George, St Martin 

But was really surprised to come across Charles I.

St Oswald, King Charles I, St Alban 

I wonder how many village churches have two English Kings in their windows?

St, Osyth, Ethelberga, St Lioba 

I was very pleased to find, on the right here, St. Lioba. There’s a little shrine to her in a wall up the road from this church in Slackhead which has always intrigued me. I’ve always assumed that there must be some connection to this church, and there is…

There was a church on this site in Saxon Times.It was dedicated to a little known Saxon saint,St.Lioba. She was born in Wessex in 710 A.D. and was a cousin of St.Boniface. After a convent education she accompanied Boniface on many of his journeys. She died in 780 A.D. and was buried next to Boniface in Fulda Cathedral in West Germany. It is supposed that the marks on the top of the pillar in the nave may indicate where a chapel dedicated to her once stood. In 1982 a statue was erected in a cell a little way up the hill, towards Slackhead, of St.Lioba holding a bell.

There’s also one of those large tombs with a lord and lady laying atop it, but the iconoclasts have been at it and loped off their heads.

Tomb with headless effigies

Ruined house

A ruined house in the woods on Beetham Fell.

A Walk to Beetham

Wild Swimming

River Kent

Spot the difference.

The Kent 

So, the difference is in the addition of a couple of figures to the scene. They don’t exactly stand-out, because they’re immersed in the river….

A and B 

A very pleasant sunny afternoon. TBH read her book. A, B and I swam. S, who is a  fairly confident swimmer, contended himself with wading on this occasion…

S wading

We had a dip in another local river over the summer too, but I wanted to mention this one in particular here because, as long-standing readers will know, I’ve been exploring the river Kent from source to sea, and so it seems appropriate to report that I’ve taken that exploration one step further by plunging into its waters. .

How were they? Cool, clear and refreshing.

Wild Swimming

Hadrian’s Wall Day V – Brocolitia to Chesters

Limestone Corner

Our final day on Hadrian’s Wall. We caught the early bus from outside the hostel. The sunshine had returned and picking up from Brocolitia the landscape felt more welcoming with the sun on it. Our steady ascent continued until we reached Limestone Corner, where the ditch which accompanied the Wall is very evident, and also a jumble of large limestone boulders. Shortly beyond the boulders there’s a trig pillar….

Trig pillar, Limestone Corner 

The Wall had been noticeable by its absence for a while, but as you drop away from Limestone Corner there’s a couple of lengthy, impressive sections.

Following the Wall again 

At Black Carts turret we stopped briefly for a drink and a snack.

Turret and Wall at Black Carts 

Dropping down into the valley of the North Tyne we found ourselves in a new environment; for much of the last three days we had walked over rough moorland and sheep cropped turf; we were now passing through hedged fields, some of them full of vegetables. We watched four buzzards circling above a small copse. The national trail diverted considerably from what my book and map led me to expect, but fortunately it was well sign-posted.

We’d only a short walk to reach the fort at Chesters and with our early start we were there soon after it opened. My original plan would have had us arriving at Chesters the previous afternoon and starting again from there rather than Brocolitia. Because we hadn’t, my intention to walk out to Hexham was now a little in doubt. Already slightly leaky, my plan now foundered on the children’s activities on offer at Chesters. For two hours the kids were royally entertained by three young English Heritage employees. They were encouraged to think like archaeologists. They examined replica Roman household objects and guessed their purpose. They participated in a mock dig and then tried to decide from the odds and ends they had found what kind of person had owned them.

Roman Legionary A 

They dressed as Roman soldiers…

Roman Legionary B 

And although B looks very serious here, they were both thrilled. Finally, they acted out some tales of Roman life.

By the time they’d finished, we were ready for some lunch, which we bought from the little cafe on the site, and ate at the picnic tables outside. The sun was still shining, but it was extremely sticky and to west the sky  was black. Sure enough, our meal was seasoned by a dash of lightening and a soupcon of thunder. I thought we would have a sprinkling of rain too, but it never really materialised.

I’d already had a swift tour of the fort whilst the kids were archaeologising, but naturally, they wanted to have a gander themselves. The forts on the Wall all seem to have a similar layout. A perimeter wall with gates at each point of the compass. And within: some barracks…


A principia or headquarters, the administrative and religious centre of the fort. At Chesters this contains an underground strong-room…

The strongroom 

…currently flooded. This is where the payroll would be stored, When this was excavated a studded oak door was still in place and some denarii were found on the floor.

Next to the principia: the commandant’s house. At Chesters this building was refurbished at some point, with the insertion of hypocausts for under-floor heating, and the addition of a small bath-house.

Personal bath-house at Chesters 

Usually there are granaries too, but at Chesters there’s just a grassy space where you might expect to see those.

Just outside the fort, where the Romans bridged the River North Tyne (you can just about make out the Wall and the hint of a bridge abutment on the far bank)….

River Tyne - Roman bridge abutment and continuing Wall just visible 

…is another bath-house. This is so well preserved that, for once, it’s relatively easy to imagine the building in use, and to understand what those uses were.

Chesters Bath-house and River Tyne 

I could picture Romans undressing for their baths and dumping their togas in these alcoves…

Changing room in the bath-house? 

…washing away the cares of the day in a hot bath…

Enjoying a hot bath 

…and relaxing in a hot room….

In the bath-house - a hot room 

The gaps between these flags reveal a fairly substantial space below: the stoke hole…

Stoke hole 

Of course, A and B just had to have a crawl in there. B emerged with a handful of small bones and the conviction that no archaeologist had ever ventured into the hole, “Because they are all too frightened.” (If anybody from English Heritage wants any of those rodent bones, B has them all in his bedroom.)

There’s something about squeezing into a cramped spot which appeals when you’re young. Here’s A in a water channel beneath the North gate…

A water channel 

We caught the AD122 for the last time, just outside the entrance to Chesters. Clearly not everywhere had avoided the rain like we had. The bus was awash both inside and out. Our luck continued to hold-out whilst we had drinks and an ice-cream outside the cafe by Hexham bus station, and long enough for us to be inside Hexham Abbey when the heavens finally opened.

Hexham abbey 

On the left of this picture the large stone in the even larger alcove is the tomb-stone…

Memorial to Flavinus, Roman standard bearer. 

…of Flavinus, a Roman standard bearer, who is depicted riding his horse over a cowering Britain. Since the rain showed no signs of slackening, we repaired to yet another cafe. Cake for the kids, endless cups of tea for me and a quick lesson in Pontoon. (They both had a flair for going bust.)

A well-earned slice of pie

We’d arranged to meet TBH ‘somewhere near the Abbey’ so were delighted to see her pull-up right outside our cafe. She’d come through flash floods on the A69, it seemed we’d had a very lucky escape. Which seems like an appropriate note on which to end, since that’s how I shall remember the whole trip: a very lucky escape.

Now, let’s start planning our next escape….

Hadrian’s Wall Day V – Brocolitia to Chesters