The Lots and Jack Scout – A Birding Walk


Black-headed gull.

It’s not that I went out specifically looking for birds. As usual I had my camera with me, but no binoculars*. It’s just that birds are relatively easily identified and so easily seen, at the moment particularly so, when they’re very busy and there are no leaves on the trees obscuring all of their activity.

*(Although I often think that I ought to start carrying a pair. And a magnifying glass and/or perhaps one of those insect specimen jars with a magnifying lid. And a kettle and stove, matches, water, teabags, milk. A snack perhaps. Maybe a tripod. A scope for more distant birds. A notebook and pen. Field guides. And presumably a mule with saddle bags laden with all of this paraphernalia.)

In the trees above the Cove there were blue tits and great tits. I think I was most pleased to see these…


…starlings. Not everybody likes them I know, although I’m not really sure why not. I suppose they can be bullies on a bird table. Near where I photographed these birds, I once found a pair nesting in a hollow in a tree trunk and watched for a while as they flew back and forth in relay to feed their ravenous brood.

The woods have been busy with the chatter of birds of late. The fields are often busy too, but usually with gulls, jackdaws, oystercatchers – generally larger birds. I was a bit taken aback when, as I walked across the Lots and left the trees behind me, I could still hear the chirp of small birds.


A small flock of pied wagtails, maybe about a dozen in total were busily picking over the field. This was probably the highlight of the walk – slowly making my way across the field, pausing now and then to have another go at photographing the constantly moving wagtails, who receded away from me just as fast as I advanced toward them.


There was nobody about at Jack Scout, but some evidence of previous visitors on the limestone seat which overlooks the bay.


I watched the sun setting and listened to the blackbirds and song-thrushes in the shrubs behind me adding musical accompaniment to the show.


Out over the bay, I could hear the honking of geese. I looked in vain for a while, but then….


Amazing how fluid the formation is….


…these three shots taken in quick succession each showing a different pattern.


Once the sun had dipped out of sight I was left with a wander home in the dying light.

I’ve finished reading Patrick Barkham’s ‘Badgerlands’ and I can recommend it. It’s more about the relationship between people and badgers than it is a straight study of badgers. If you read it, you will learn a great deal about badgers, and their role in the spread of bovine TB, but you’ll also meet scientists who study badgers, enthusiasts who feed badgers and watch badgers, conservationists who vaccinate badgers, farmers who support a cull of badgers and activists who aim to disrupt the cull, even a man who will eat badgers when they have been roadkilled. I think it’s fair to say that Barkham does his best to give an even-handed account.


Haven’t had a robin picture for a while. This one was singing fiercely despite, or perhaps because of, the gathering gloom.

This is from the very last paragraph of the book…

Badger watching, dusk watching, was where beings of the day met beings of the dark and both types of creatures were transformed. Shadows lengthened, sounds sharpened and memories were awakened. It could be a golden time, a gloomy time or a drowsy time and yet it was as vital as listening to music through headphones with your eyes closed in the hot sun; it was a warm bath, a wet run, a cold swim; all those greedily taken sensory pleasures.

Good isn’t it?

I’m not always managing to find time for longer walks in the mountains at the moment, but I’m making an effort to get out in the evenings – not all of those walks will make it on to the blog, sometimes the weather hasn’t been kind for taking photos, a couple of the walks have been in near darkness in their entirety, but it’s enough to be getting out there and greedily enjoying some sensory pleasures!

The Lots and Jack Scout – A Birding Walk

Along the Margin of a Bay – to Far Arnside for the Daffodils


A lot of words and/or worms in recent posts. Less of each of those in this one. Simply put, this was a family Sunday afternoon stroll, with the added company of our friend L at least until her knees were bothering her too much and she turned back, which was a shame because that meant she missed Far Arnside, which is the best place within walking distance for wild daffodils.


I tend to think of fungi as principally an autumnal delight, but there are plenty of spring fruiting types too and we found quite a few on this short wander.




Arnside Tower


B has a real genius for finding small creatures. This handsome spider…


…was inside a hollow plant stem.




Crepuscular rays over the Bay.


I wasn’t particularly confident that the daffs would be flowering. But some of them were.

In the caravan park by the woods the zoom on the camera helped to confirm that a tiny bird in a hedge was a goldcrest, the first I’d seen for a while, or at least the first I could be certain of. By coincidence, I’ve seen one again today – I watched it through a window at work for a while.


Along the Margin of a Bay – to Far Arnside for the Daffodils

Pottering in the Garden


‘Other stuff’ again. Now I’m not much of a gardener; I have occasional bursts of enthusiasm, but I don’t generally have enough patience , and anyway, I’d rather be out and about walking and gawking. These days, however, we have a magic box at the bottom of our garden, which has, much to my surprise, quite captivated me. It’s ‘magic’ because you put stuff in it and, miraculously, said stuff is totally transformed. You can see the box above: it’s quite a simple machine, given that it can bring about metamorphoses. TBH bought the kit it was built from, and my Dad put it together – I think I may have helped him a bit. I made the lid though, from a large sheet of marine ply we had lying about, the end of a roll of roofing felt and a few off-cuts of wood. (I’m very far from being ‘handy’ and am therefore disproportionately proud of that improvised lid, even though I’m not convinced of its merits in use.)


Here it is with the lid-off. This compartment’s contents are still undergoing the transformative process., whereas the other side…


…still has a little of the finished article from last year. I’ve been sieving it – I’m not really sure if that’s necessary – and then trying to find places to use it, principally so that I can have this bin back to fill again.

The ‘active’ side is gratifyingly full of life; particularly these wriggly red worms. I was a bit surprised to find that we have several species of earthworm in the UK. These might be brandling worms, but then again, they might not be. The differences seem quite subtle to me.



There’s lots of other life here too: woodlice, centipedes and in the summer months, far too many diptera. (Diptera = two wings: flies – I thought if I gave them a Latin name I might feel more charitable toward them. It didn’t work.) B and I have both seen a vole in and around the compost. Once, when I was turning the pile, the vole jumped up on to the edge of the box and then sat and looked at me for a while, before languidly leaping down and disappearing into the adjacent hedgebottom.


All around the compost bins this plant sends up flower-stalks first, then leaves which will eventually become quite large. It’s a very vigorous plant, but I don’t know what it is.


Any thoughts?

Nearby there’s also a patch of comfrey, which is just beginning to flower. It’s extremely invasive, but according to Dave Goulson the flowers are loaded with lots of nectar, which explains their popularity with bees and more than justifies their place. I’ve read that comfrey is ideal for making liquid fertiliser too, but haven’t tried that yet.


The garden is a bit ahead of surrounding woods and hedgerows, with lots of things coming into bloom: snowdrops and crocuses and daffs obviously, pansies and spring-flowering heathers, hellebores…


..and the yellow buds on the forsythia are just beginning to open…


I did know what this bush…


…is called too I’m sure, but the name has escaped me.

There’s usually a few birds about in the garden. We often have pigeons, although, sadly, they seem to be particularly vulnerable to our cats


This one was photographed during a short late-afternoon stroll down to The Cove and across the Lots.

Pottering in the Garden

Where The Wild Things Were.


The clocks go forward the clocks go back: a flurry of posts and momentarily I’m almost up to date, but then, wham – all of a sudden I’m miles behind again. How did that happen? It’s not all bad – partly it’s because I’ve been managing to get out quite a bit, even if only for a few snatched moments here and there. So – lots of catching up to do and how am I going to begin? With a digression of course!


Library – a building or room containing collections of books, periodicals, and sometimes films and recorded music for use or borrowing by the public or the members of an institution

(You knew that obviously, I seemed to have strayed into the beginning of a round from The Unbelievable Truth there.)

A while back, I took the kids to the village library – which is small but perfectly formed, as they say – so that they could return some books. Now I don’t often use the library these days, or the larger library in Lancaster either. I have a bit of a second-hand book buying habit, to the point where the house is slowly silting-up with the accumulated piles of as-yet-unread, but never-the-less highly desirable old books I’ve smuggled in. But whilst I was at the library I thought to check the non-fiction shelf for a recently published book about the history of Leighton Moss I’ve been wanting to read. Rather surprisingly, it wasn’t there. But what I did find….



…encouraged me to rediscover the library habit.

Once upon a time, the local library was pretty much the centre of my universe. It wasn’t the same village library – this was on Paget Street in Kibworth, where I grew up. A slightly bigger library in a slightly bigger village. We visited often, and I can remember the layout well. One end of the building was dedicated to children’s books. I can even remember reading Where The Wild Things Are there, although it was the terrific pictures of the wild things which stuck with me rather than any details of the story. I also vividly recall getting my own library tickets and being trusted to walk the half-mile into the village on my own to choose books. And then greedily devouring those books and taking them back almost immediately after borrowing them. I often read surreptitiously into the night, long after I was supposed to be asleep. Later, I can remember deciding that I had outgrown the children’s section and making what felt like a huge journey across to the other side of the room to try the books for grown-ups.

Anyway, talking of books for grown-ups, here’s a recommendation: the first of the library books I read was ‘A Buzz in the Meadow’ by Dave Goulson. I’ve been on the look out for his ‘A Sting in the Tale’ since, Emily reviewed it on her Adventures in Beeland blog. If you believe the blurb on ‘A Buzz in the Meadow’, it’s about a meadow in France that Goulson owns and the insects which live there. But that’s very far from all of the story. The meadow and farm house which he bought form a convenient frame for a whole load of other stuff.


Not unlike the way in which I’m going to attempt to string a series of digressions around these pictures from a post-work walk. It was a fairly digressive walk in itself: I was tempted away from the main path around Haweswater by primroses, up a narrow trod which climbs through what I think an Orienteer might class as a slight reentrant. Because the boys and I have previously found badger trails in this area, I’ve often assumed that this path is another of those, but the shotgun casings, oddly out-of-place in a National Nature Reserve, had me reconsidering. The woods are wonderfully unkempt hereabouts, with fallen branches and fungi-decked trunks on every side.



And some curious odds and ends of human detritus lying about too..


I followed a very faint path, losing it and then regaining it from time to time. This is it…


…it wasn’t especially obvious. Not like these…


…Scarlet Elf Cup.

Their parabolic surfaces, as vivid as a guardsman’s regimental tunic, focus the feeble heat of the winter sun on thousands of minute, flask-shaped sporangia embedded in their surface, which respond by discharging a silent fusillade of invisible spores.

from The Guardian Country Diary

‘A Buzz in the Meadow’ has a section about the way that some flowers can generate heat. Parts of cuckoo pint flowers can feel quite warm to the touch apparently, a fact that I look forward to checking soon. In fact the book is full of really surprising and fascinating facts about the kinds of flora and fauna you might easily overlook.


Found sculpture: a tangle of twigs – some fallen, some live – suspended like a natural mobile.

In a second section, Goulson moves on to the web of interconnections, not all of them perfectly understood, between the many denizens of his land.


A query: at the base of tree – some….foam? What could have caused it?


I was still clinging to the notion that I might be following a badger highway. But there was a high deer fence around an area of coppicing to my left. And bird-boxes liberally distributed around this part of the wood…


So I was probably deluding myself. But then we’re good at that aren’t we? The last section of Goulson’s book is about the alarming rate at which the world is losing entire species: how we’ve almost entirely eradicated megafauna, how new pesticides are are scandalously harming our bees…..


According to last Friday’s paper 10 percent of European bee species are threatened, but it’s worse for bumble bees, with the figure rising to 25 percent. In China bees are already so scarce that children are employed in orchards to climb the trees and pollinate blossoms using brushes. We’re depressingly adept at thinking of ourselves as somehow apart from nature; that the natural world is either something to be exploited or something to be managed and preserved. But we are part of those webs of interconnectedness, whether we acknowledge that fact or not and it must be in our own self-interest to modify our behaviour before it’s too late.


It was getting quite late on my walk and a bit gloomy in the woods. I’ve been enjoying the way the birdsong is gradually swelling, with more birds adding their voices each week. The song thrushes are very vocal in the evenings at present. I was impressed with the way the camera caught this one, despite the low light and the tangle of surrounding branches.

But then equally frustrated by my inability to get it to focus properly on the small nubs appearing at the base of this tree, as they do every year.


They were the emerging spears of another spring curiosity – toothwort – a parasitic flower without leaves, which gathers nourishment from the roots of the tree below.



I finished my wander with a view of Haweswater and back to the car.


There used to be a path across this meadow….


…but something has changed and now it doesn’t drain as it did, and even in wellies I found I had to go around.

I should at this point have gone home for my tea, since I was needed quite soon for a football-training-taxi-run. But I decided I just about had time to catch the sunset over The Bay…


Meanwhile my Mum tells me that the library in her village is scheduled to shut soon. Not an uncommon occurrence I know, in these straitened times. But this is a particularly crazy plan, since this library has hardly been there for long, a brand-spanking new facility was only recently built. Now it will shut.


I hope we won’t wait to find that miss what we had when it’s gone.

Where The Wild Things Were.

Nature Cure


We have photovoltaic panels on our roof. Yesterday they generated 6 kilowatt hours of electricity. Today they did the same. Not bad for this time of year, so the sun must have been shining. Sadly I was working too long and too late to enjoy it. What I needed was a nature cure. An apple a day is a very fine thing, but what I think my GP should prescribe is a daily dose of fresh air, a leg stretcher and an encounter with nature. I’m trying to fit one in when I can.

One evening last week, on a child’s-music-lesson-parental-taxi trip to Arnside, I used a half hour window to have a wander up the Knott. The sun had already set, but there was still some pastel shades in the western sky. I’d come out in a hurry, as usual, and was inappropriately attired for the surprisingly cold wind blowing – the difference a little elevation can make often catches me out.


A familiar and very welcome ronk alerted me to the presence of a raven – in fact three when I turned to look. For five magical minutes I watched them sweeping and tumbling above the hillside. The apparent glee with which ravens fly in turbulent blustery conditions is a wonder to behold.


When I lost sight of the ravens a buzzard skimmed into view as a second act. The effortless speed of the buzzard in the low light conditions defeated me and my camera. Not to worry, it all made for a very enjoyable interlude.

What do you say? A new direction for the NHS – a Natural Health Service?

Nature Cure

Fortunately the Milk


A Saturday afternoon stroll. Somehow we managed to set-off very late in the afternoon. We had an errand to run: some milk to collect, which TBH needed for an experiment with some A-level classes.


Incidentally, for those who don’t have small children, or who haven’t come across it, ‘Fortunately the Milk’ is a brilliant children’s book written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Chris Riddell. Highly recommended.

We arrived at Gibraltar Farm as James, the farmer, needed to milk one of his ewes. One of her lambs was doing well, but the other was weak and floppy and hadn’t been feeding. He used a tube to get some milk into it, hoping that would rescue it.


These much happier looking lambs were springing and bouncing just like lambs are supposed to do.


You have to like the one with the lazy ear.


We went home via Woodwell, where the low sun was lighting the cliff.


TBH and A needed to head directly home, but the boys and I took a more circuitous route over The Lots.




We met some friends on the cliff-path, who were interested in my camera and then another friend, a neighbour of ours, was sat on one of the benches which have a ringside view of the sunset over The Bay.


Whilst the boys wandered down to The Cove, we had a wide-ranging discussion, touching on many things, but amongst them how lucky we are to have these wonderful views on our doorstep.


In retrospect, I hope I wasn’t destroying a moment of peace and tranquillity with my chatter!


Fortunately the Milk

Happy Hour Again


I’m trying my level best to get home in the daylight to get out for a wander as often as I can. I’ve managed now and again.


These photos, including the inevitable robin, are from a short stroll up to Clarke’s Lot and back last Wednesday.


I’m wanting to play with the theme I use on the blog, so that I can incorporate larger photos. Therefore this will be a mercifully short post in order that I can see what different themes will look like with larger photos.

Happy Hour Again

Sunshine and Spite on Ben Ledi


Strathyre and Loch Lubnaig.

Our weekend in the Highlands ended with a day which promised little, but delivered in fine style. The forecast was awful: strong winds and heavy precipitation. We set off in full waterproofs and heavy rain, and although the rain stopped briefly to reveal blue skies above Strathyre and then even a rainbow moment…


…it was soon raining again and it became a heads-down, plodding onward climb. At least we were soon high enough for the rain to turn to snow.


A cold lunch stop.


When we hit the ridge it was extremely windy, but at least some views began to appear again.


You had to time your pauses for a view though – here’s a lovely view in the general direction of Stirling which is disappearing behind a squally snow shower…


And then, for half an hour or so, we had a sunny spell as we completed the climb and crested the ridge.




The sinuous cornice curling away on the continuing ridge was a delight.


As were the views to Ben Vorlich and Stuc a Chroin.



I think that this must be Glen Finglas.

Shortly after we began our descent the weather deteriorated again, turning really wild. The wind howled, the snow was driven horizontally and briefly it was very difficult to see the rest of the group ahead. Dropping down into Stank Glen we encountered deep drifted snow and for a while the descent was almost as much hard work as the ascent had been. Somewhere on the way down Grandfather Sheffield and I lost the others. Inexplicably, we ended up ahead of them rather then behind, but met them again just below these impressive waterfalls on Stank Burn.



Garbh Uisge.


Our route.


One last blather before heading off for our respective homes.

Sometimes there can be a fine line between a great day and a poor day. The forecast hadn’t been good, and in the end it wasn’t far wrong, but that half an hour on the ridge made the day. One to treasure.

Sunshine and Spite on Ben Ledi

Interlude: Waiting for My Man


Sleep was hard to come by on the Saturday night what with the wind outside seemingly intent on taking us all clean out of Kansas. Something of a surprise then, on the Sunday morning, to find that there were patches of blue sky above the valley awash with the swollen River Dochart.

Do you remember at school that child who was always last in line? The last one ready for P.E., (or as I seem to recall Games and Apparatus?). The one still lingering in the changing rooms when everyone else has gone off for lunch? Then still at the dining hall table when playmates have scrapped their plates clean and disappeared outside? The last back from lunch because some distraction diverted their attention when the bell rang? I do. Very vividly. At my school, it was me. I’m still late for everything. I don’t entirely know why, and it’s a character trait I find annoying and sometimes quite stress inducing. What a happy situation then, that amongst the group of old hill-walking friends I regularly get together with, there are not one, but several others who are equally hopeless when it comes to getting ready to doing anything. The Adopted Yorkshireman has always stood-out for his ability to find some last minute piece of kit-readjustment, or to recall some forgotten item which eluded packing etc. But this weekend he was incontrovertibly surpassed by the Tower Captain, now crowned King Dilly Dally, the Faffmeister, the Duke of Delay, Baron Behindhand.


Great tit and coal tit.

Whilst a a slightly disgruntled crowd gathered in the hallway, I was outside where there’s a really impressive collection of bird-feeders. At breakfast we’d been admiring through the window a woodpecker on one of them. That had gone, but still plenty of entertainment to be had.


Blue tits.


Siskin and chaffinch.

Every year I’m impressed by the number and variety of birds on the feeders, and by the presence of so many siskins, which we don’t often see at home in our own garden. I would have happily waited out quite a bit more procrastination, although it’s a good job we did get going because the day ahead turned out to be a fine one…..

Interlude: Waiting for My Man

Gleann Dubh: On Not Climbing Hills


Suie Lodge Hotel

An annual get-together of old friends, a winter weekend in the Highlands, once again at the inestimable Suie Lodge Hotel in Glen Dochart, between Crianlarich and Killin.

There were fifteen of us this year. On the Saturday morning the party divided into walkers and skiers, plodders and sliders, with the latter heading off to accompany the Madman in his bid to add Meall Ghaordaidh to his Munro tally (a report will soon appear – ‘soon’ may need flexible interpretation – over on Andy’s blog).


Now, I’ve enjoyed a fair bit of sliding in years gone by, even last year in fact, but lacking the necessary polished planks of wood I joined the pedestrians. More in hope than expectation if I’m honest: I was concerned about the lingering effects of the chewy cough which has been plaguing me, after my shambling, slope-averse performances over half-term. I’d already planned an alternative for my day which involved wandering around the forestry plantations not too far above the valley. But to my considerable surprise, as we began our long, steady ascent, I didn’t seem to be any less fit, or drag behind any more than is usually the case.

So when we crossed the abandoned railway line….


Oban and Callander Railway

I decided I would continue onward, at least for a while.


Ardchyle Burn

A pleasantly graded track wends it’s way up Glenn Dubh with numerous impressive falls in Ardchyle Burn providing entertainment.


As is the norm on these occasions, the group gradually scattered out along the trail before me, pulling ahead at varying rates and then occasionally coming together to patiently wait. At one such coming together, I informed everyone else that they may as well push on, since, given the dreadful forecast, I had no intention of climbing any hills and would see them later in the comfort of the Suie Lodge lounge. Grandfather Sheffield immediately declared that he had come to the same conclusion, so we joined forces.


Creag Mac Ranaich

Actually, I don’t think that we were all that far behind the others when we eventually arrived at the pass between Creag Mac Ranaich, sporting a stylish ice-fall and Meall an t-Seallaidh with its head lost in the cloud…


Meall an t-Seallaidh

Creag Mac Ranaich was really the obvious one to head for with deteriorating weather forecast: slightly lower, less distance involved a more obvious return route to the valley, but having failed to reach the summit of Meall an t-Seallaidh on two previous occasions the remainder of the party were firmly set on that as their objective.

Meanwhile, we settled down, in the artic-wind, to make a brew.


I’ve bought a new stove – an MSR Pocket Rocket. This first attempt to use it wasn’t highly successful. I’m not sure whether it was the gusting wind, the freezing temperatures, the virtually empty gas canister, or more than likely, a combination of all three which conspired to leave me with a lukewarm mug of tea.

Once we were both thoroughly chilled to the bone, we set-off back down to the valley for a long walk along the old railway line to the hotel in increasingly spiteful rain.


We did managed to get quite excited about a line of paw prints which had appeared along the track since we ascended it. I have a Field Guide to animal tracks and signs. It has a page on which you can compare the prints of wolverine and bears and such like. This print, it transpires, is a bit like a fox paw, but even more like that of a dog. Ho-hum.

We made it back to the hotel in time to catch Italy’s winning penalty try against Scotland and then to watch Wales grind out a result against France.

Later, after tea (a lovely venison casserole in my case) and over a few convivial scoops, as well as the usual anecdote bingo, the planning of future get-togethers and pointless conversations about A roads, Service Stations and football etc somebody raised the question of just how many times have we met for this weekend do?

The back of beermats were called into service…

Weekends at Suie

It seems that the answer is 10 years (there must have been another beermat). Now we rarely, if ever, walk as a single group, so this is just one person’s memories of the weekends (The Tower Captain’s I think, though he has now been rebranded The Faffmeister).

Looking back over the weekends: in 2010 I did climb Meall nan Tarmachan, but didn’t make the top of Croaky Old Drain; in 2011 I had a bumper year and summited on both days; in 2012 a dodgy ankle confined me to valley walks; in 2013 I was on the Stob, which we climbed when we decided that the wind precluded an attempt on Meall an t-Seallaidh, but like most, turned back on Beinn an Lochain because of steep snow and ice; last year’s Saturday was another aborted attempt on Meall an t-Seallaidh but I did climb Ben Venue (in pouring rain).

I’m inclined to think of myself as A Hill-Walker, but as often as not, on these trips at least, I don’t get to the top of the hills. And the odd thing is, when I think about it, that I have very fond memories of the two walks I did in 2012, even though at the time I was extremely frustrated by the injury and it’s apparent unwillingness to heal quickly.

Maybe there’s a moral in that somewhere……

Gleann Dubh: On Not Climbing Hills