The Cloven Ash: a Retrospective

For many years, every walk along the path which skirts the edge of Silverdale Moss has been enlivened by an encounter with an old friend – The Cloven Ash.

June 2010.

Seen from its northern side it looked like a typical mature ash – magnificent, but nothing out of the ordinary.

But from the South, it was more obviously remarkable…

March 2009

…because of the cleft running through its middle.

March 2009.

These last two photos are from the first reference I can find to this tree on my blog, but even then I was making an intentional visit to it to see how it was getting on. I suspect that if I tried harder I could probably find earlier photos which document my relationship with this ash, but those pictures, if they exist, are harder to find because it was only in March 2009 that I started to think of it as ‘The Cloven Ash’, and call it that on the blog, which makes it easy to search for. The name in itself is probably part of the reason that the tree occupies a place in my affections – it always reminds me of Italo Calvino’s novella ‘The Cloven Viscount’ (which I probably had in mind when I coined the soubriquet). It’s a book that I love, and that I’ve read many times, along with its companions ‘The Baron In The Trees’ and ‘The Non-Existent Knight’ which form Calvino’s ‘Our Ancestors’ trilogy.

January 2010.

Every time I walked past the Ash I would convince myself that the cleft had grown slightly, and then decide that perhaps it hadn’t. I could never make up my mind.

June 2010.

February 2011. New fence!

Looking at the photos now: it was growing wasn’t it, a least a little?

On windy days, the two halves of the tree would sway slightly together and apart in a steady rhythm. I suppose I was rubber-necking really: continually revisiting the site of a potential accident.

And then this October just gone, on the way back from Beetham Fell with Our Camping Friends I was shocked to discover not only that…


October 2014.

…half of the tree had gone…


…but also that the fallen wood had been cut down in size a little and tidied up and that the sawn logs were covered in moss, suggesting that it had been down for quite some time. I suppose the fact that I’d missed that reflects the relative infrequency of my local walks of late.

And then, as I returned home from our lunch at The Ship in Sandside, a further outrage…


…the other half had also toppled. The Cloven Ash is no-more!


The dry-stone wall hadn’t come very well out of the disagreement.


Although, I have, in a way, been gleefully anticipating the collapse of this tree and all of the destructive potential that implied, since I first noticed the fault line which ran through it, I am now, of course, very sad to see its demise.

I suppose I should greet the oyster mushrooms which had already sprouted from the base of the exposed trunk as cheerful messengers of regeneration and rebirth, like fungal Hare Krishnas . Only more grey.


You can find references, and/or photographs of or about the Cloven Ash on older posts here.

The Cloven Ash: a Retrospective

Beating The Bounds

Every Wednesday a Silverdale Events Update lands in my inbox, a listing of what’s on offer each week  in our little community, which since there is often a lot going on is an excellent thing to have. Especially if what’s on offer is:

Saturday 21 May                                                                                                   9.30am Jenny Brown’s Point
Beating of the Bounds
Join the public party on this historic walk around the boundary of Silverdale village.
Wear suitable clothing, bring a packed lunch and drinks.
Return to Gaskell Hall at approx. 4pm for refreshments

As you can imagine, I’ve been looking forward to this for quite some time. A was keen too and can be seen here with the gathering crowd, waiting for the off, not at Jenny Brown’s Point in fact but by the chimney which is all that’s left of a former copper smelting works.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. A and I had already had a bit of a walk by this point having come down by Woodwell and through Jack Scout. In A’s little rucksack she had a mountain of sugary snacks, a drink, a small picnic rug and a camera. When we stopped to find the source of a very musical serenade….

…,a song thrush atop a telegraph pole, I think that she may have reached for her camera even before I started snapping away with mine. With a school project on ‘minibeasts’ to complete she spent much of the day looking for creepy crawlies to photograph. Like a chip of the old block!

By the time we were passing through Jack Scout I was concerned that we might be late arriving at the start, but then we saw…

…the flag party arriving from their earlier start at Bard’s Well.

In the end, the start wasn’t quite 9.30, but we eventually set-off across Quaker’s Stang…

When we reached the road, the flag party left us, as they would often do through the day, to follow the parish boundary as closely as possible across private land…

…sending as they did so a large flock of geese wheeling into the air in alarm.

The rest of, meanwhile, had a police escort along the road…

…to Leighton Moss for a first rest stop, tea and snacks in the cafe, or on the benches in the car park. If you know the area you will know that we hadn’t walked very far at this point. This was going to be a leisurely affair. Still, I have nothing against plentiful and lengthy stops on my walks. I drank some tea and enjoyed the antics on the birdfeeders of a woodpecker and a squirrel.

We walked a little further along the road to a boundary stone…

Apparently it’s traditional to beat the boundary markers with sticks, or possibly to beat small boys with sticks near the boundary markers (perhaps that’s why only one small boy was brave enough to accompany us). There was none of that. Nor any poles decorated with milkwort, but there were some appropriate prayers said hear by the stone. I have no idea what the symbol on the stone signifies.

Shortly after we stopped at Trowbarrow Quarry for an early lunch break. A and I watched a jackdaw squeezing in and out of a narrow fissure in the quarry wall, presumably to and from a nest.

Walking along Moss Lane, to meet the flag party who have taken a more direct line along the boundary towards Haweswater, my eye was caught by a flash of brightness in the hedge.

A yellow-tail moth caterpillar. We once hosted a shoebox home for a group of these little wrigglers. I’m not sure that I ever told the sequel to that tale: when we returned the box to the kids school it was one short of occupants and a few weeks later our kitchen cupboards were graced by an adult moth. Not sure where it pupated.

Walkers and cow parsley on Moss Lane.

On the boardwalks by Haweswater I was dragged from another conversation by this amazing gold bug…

which is a leaf beetle, Donacia Vulgaris. There’s a goldbug in an Edgar Alan Poe story is there not? Fortunately this one didn’t bite me, although I reserve the right to obsessively search for hidden treasures. Like these….

…bird’s-eye primroses.

We passed the cloven ash and walked alongside Silverdale Moss. We waited a while for the flag party….

I kept busy photographing the flowers in the meadow. This rather fine display is from…

…mouse-ear-hawkweed. I usually throw my hands up in despair when faced with yellow daisies to identify, but I thought the very distinctive silvered and hairy leaves…

…might prove to be a good clue – and they were.

When I tried to photograph some yellow rattle…

I was interrupted when this…

…alderfly landed on my camera’s strap.

With still no sign of the flag party, we decided to detour slightly to visit Coldwell Limeworks…

This area too was full of distractions…


Pyrochroa serraticcornis.

Gall on lime leaf.

When the flag party emerged form the trees, looking a little bedraggled, we set off again. Once again, the boundary doesn’t have a path, but permission must have been granted for the entire party to stick to the proper route here and we followed the edge of Silverdale Moss.

There were lots of yellow flag, but whilst I was trying to get close enough for a photo, without being close enough to get wet, I was distracted by….

…a much less spectacular but distinctive plant, with a very stout stem and thick fleshy leaves…

….which is celery-leaved buttercup. And now I’m feeling very pleased with myself because I’ve identified both a yellow daisy and a buttercup. I’m still fighting shy of the speedwells I know, but the flower key is definitely working for me.

Arnside Tower.

Silverdale Moss.

And another chance to press Fitter, Fitter and Farrer into service with marsh horsetail.

At Middlebarrow quarry the kids briefly got their hands on the flag…

A and her friend B (our B was at a Birthday party).

We entered Eaves Wood – passing the patch of lily-of-the-valley which I mentioned in my last post – and then climbed to cross the high part of the hill. B pointed out some roe deer to us, but as usual they were long go before I had my camera ready.

When we reached the Cove the bad weather which had been forecast finally began to make an appearance with a few spots of rain. In the Lots the early purple orchids were finished the flowers looking blackened and burned. The green-winged orchids weren’t so advanced however…

The flag party had taken a longer route and we waited for them at the Gaskell Hall (named for the writer Elizabeth Gaskell) and enjoyed a slideshow and a cup of tea…

By the time the flag party arrived the rain had begun in earnest and they looked very wet.

Silverdale Beating the Bounds Walk

I heard various distances bandied about during the walk, but the consensus of opinions seemed to plump for about 11 miles. My pedometer gave just under 10 miles, but that included walking to the start and finish. Bing maps gave just over 7 miles for the route shown above. Take your pick, it’s a nice walk however long it is.

Beating The Bounds


An early evening walk from last Friday (I’m almost as behind with my blogging as I am with my work – the two are not entirely unrelated), from the bridge over Quicksand Pool, around Jenny Brown’s point and back along the Woodwell cliff. There were many shelduck on the mud of the bay and I wondered whether a number of large burrows along the edge of the foreshore where home to shelduck nests.

At Jack Scout I noticed these tiny flowers down amongst the grass. The blue parts (which I’m sure were a deeper blue and less purple in the flesh) are sepals and the white parts are the actual flowers. There are several milkworts but I’m reasonably sure that this is common milkwort, polygala vulgaris.

I think that I saw milkwort on the hillsides when I was walking from Cockley Beck last year, and perhaps again on walk around Mosedale a few days ago. That may have been heath milkwort. Before that however, I have to confess to having been completely ignorant of its existence. It is small and, I suppose, relatively easy to miss, but not without some interest. Polygala is ‘much milk’ apparently and as a herb it has been thought to assist in the production of breast milk.


In the north of England, milkwort is called ‘gang flower’ and was a favourite plant for Rogation Week, a festivity also known as Gang Week, from the Saxon word gang, ‘to go’. The purpose of Rogation Week was to give a blessing to surrounding fields and livestock, and often involved a day when parishioners would walk (‘go’) around the edge of the parish, confirming the boundaries. This of course was in the days before maps. As part of the procession, children would carry a long pole decked with a profusion of flowers, among which milkwort was especially prominent. Records of these Rogation processions occur as early as AD 550 and the practice continued until the eighteenth century.

from Hatfield’s Herbal

Rogation Sunday is the fifth Sunday after Easter, so coming up soon. And another name for these parish boundary walks would be ‘beating the bounds’. I’m half tempted to adopt this little flower as the emblem of this blog, both because of its connection to beating the bounds and because I will associate it from now on with my growing awareness of what is around me as I walk.

For quantity and variety of birdsong Jack Scout is hard to beat. I tried and failed to get a photo of any one of several marsh tits which were buzzing busily about. Two song thrushes were having a duelling banjos moment; one was particularly loud and voluble and impressive. Perhaps it was the same feathered Paganini whom I’ve been beguiled by here before.