The Great Stone and the River Wenning

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Tufted Vetch.

A warm and rather sultry mid-week evening. I parked near to the Punch Bowl in Low Bentham and have to admit that the tables lavishing in the sunshine outside the pub looked very tempting. But I had miles to go and photos to take, so – another time. Some of the first part of the climb out of the valley was on minor roads, which weren’t busy at all and anyway had the compensation of the diverse flora and fauna of the average untrimmed roadside verge.

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Tree Bumblebee.

This Bumblebee, unusually, didn’t seem to be intent on doing anything purposeful at all, just exploring this small bark-free area of a tree trunk and soaking up some rays. I wondered if the communal nest was somewhere nearby.

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Dog Rose.

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Beyond this hedgerow you can see Ingleborough, which was to dominate the view throughout almost the entire walk, but the reason I took the photo was the fact that the hedge here was draped in more webs.

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Tent moths again, I suspect, but I couldn’t see any caterpillars this time.

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Volucella Pellucens on Ground Elder.

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Drone Fly (or something similar).

I left Mill Lane, embarking on a section of the walk which passed through a series of pastures, some with stock, some without, some which had been grazed, some which hadn’t, at home the silage cut had begun, but not here.

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The White Clover in this field was thronged with bumblebees which seemed to favour it over the even more prolific buttercups.

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Bumblebee on White Clover.

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Painted lady.

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Gragareth, Whernside, Ingleborough.

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I’m reading John Wright’s book ‘A Natural History of the Hedgerow’ at present, and it is making me scrutinise hedges even more thoroughly then I generally would. On thhis walk, many of the ‘internal’ hedges I passed (i.e. between two fields rather than bordering a road) had grown out into separate shrubs and trees and were no longer stock-proof, requiring an accompanying fence. The one above however had recently been laid.

The building at the end of the hedge is Willow Tree, where I would cross a minor road and Eskew Beck in quick succession.

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This hillside above the Weening is criss-crossed by a multitude of both paths and small streams and there’s plenty of scope for return visits with substantially different routes. Beyond the farm of Oakhead, I climbed beside the County Beck and then turned right onto an abrupt change of terrain. Suddenly I was on undrained moorland, wet underfoot and heavily populated with burbling Curlews…

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It was slightly odd, because uphill of the access area the land reverted to farmland – I wondered why this area had never been ‘improved’. Whatever the reason, I was glad it hadn’t.

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Gragareth, Whernside, Ingleborough. Again.

A short stroll across the moor brought me to…

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…the Great Stone, a glacial erratic, or, alternatively, a bit of debris dropped by Old Nick when he was building Devil’s Bridge at nearby Kirkby Lonsdale. Incidentally, both the route, and that bit of local folklore are lifted from Graham Dugdale’s book ‘Curious Lancashire Walks’.

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Somebody has carved steps in the boulder to give easy access to the top, so, having clambered up to admire the view, I settled down to get the stove on to make a brew, something I do far too infrequently on these evening rambles.

This has to be one of the best places from which to view all three of the Three Peaks…

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Whernside.

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Ingleborough.

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From there, I dropped down across more open moorland, crossing Burbles Gill…

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Small Heath.

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I don’t think I’ve seen quite such a concentration of Curlews in one place before – even when I walked around Roeburndale earlier this year, they weren’t this numerous.

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The walk along the wooded Branstone Beck was very pleasant. At one point I disturbed a whole family of Wrens. They all came streaming out of a small shrub, each little red-brown ball heading in a slightly different direction, it was like watching one of those cute fireworks which get set off in-between the really impressive ones. One of the Wrens, I presume a juvenile, didn’t go very far and sat in plain view for a while, whilst a parent sat on a nearby branch presumably exhorting her offspring to move away from the nasty man.

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In amongst the trees, in the wet ground here, there were quite a few orchids. This one…

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…with a single lower lip to the flower looks to me like Heath Spotted-orchid, but this one growing nearby…

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…with the lower part of the flower more obviously divided into three is more like Common Spotted-orchid. Of course, just to add to the confusion, orchids are well known for hybridising.

The remainder of the walk was along the Wenning, although frustratingly it wasn’t always clearly in view, because of the trees growing on the bank, and beyond High Bentham it passed through a large, manicured and rather dispiriting caravan park.

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I actually have two John Wright books on the go at the moment, I’ve also been dipping in to ‘Hedgerow: River Cottage Handbook Number 7’. Whilst the titles might sound similar, this book is more straightforwardly a book for prospective foragers. In it Wright opines that Sweet Cicely can be as dominant on roadside verges in the North as Cow Parsley is in the South. I must be looking in the wrong places, because I don’t find it very often. Some umbelliferae are poisonous, so I suppose caution should be exercised, but if the leaves smell of aniseed and the seeds are relatively large then you probably have Sweet Cicely.

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Sweet Cicely.

Sweet Cicely has traditionally been used, as the name implies, as a sweetener, with tart fruit like gooseberries and rhubarb and it genuinely is surprisingly sweet. I took one to chew on and then, when I’d finished, was very tempted to go back for more. I should probably issue the additional caution that my diet doesn’t include anything remotely sugary, so that most vegetables taste sweet to me, and that I really love aniseed. I’m attracted by the idea of adding some of these to steep in White Rum for a homemade pastis. (Wright is also the author of the River Cottage Handbook on Booze.)

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The Wenning.

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Chimney Sweeper.

One of the things I like about ‘A Natural History of Hedgerows’ is the way it has got across to me the web of symbiotic relationships between plants, fungi and insects. I now know that the huge fungi we saw near Sizergh Castle are Britain’s largest fungi and that they only grow on Beech trees and that the Toothwort which I so obsessively seek out each year will only attack Hazel or Elm. Likewise, this tiny moth, which I remember seeing in great numbers last summer in Kentmere, feeds exclusively on Pignut (another forager’s favourite).

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River Wenning.

I’ve been meaning to take a visit to the Great Stone ever since I was first given ‘Curious Lancashire Walks’, which was a while ago: it seems the ‘Lune Catchment’ project has given me new impetus and encouraged me to try pastures new rather then sticking exclusively to tried and tested favourites.

 

The Great Stone and the River Wenning

All we have to do is look.

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How is it that we can have Roe Deer in our garden, even up near to the house, but I still get excited when I see one across a field, partially obscured by reeds? This one, incidentally, is male, unlike the two which were recently in our garden and seems to have lost it’s winter coat completely.

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How is it that I feel drawn to return to Gait Barrows every year to see the reintroduced Lady’s-slipper Orchids and photograph them yet again, even though it’s overcast and the photos won’t be as good as those I’ve taken before?

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Not that I’m complaining.

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I’m very lucky I suppose, that I never tire of the views over the Gait Barrows limestone pavements. Or of our ever changing skies.

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Or Rowan flowers.

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‘You can’t see Venice twice for the first time,’ Mirabel said. After the first excitement of newness, will there always be the same enchantment every year, watching the rose buds open, the irises unfurl? It’s the challenge that faces us all at some point, and which faces me now, twenty years on from the beginning of the garden. And it’s true: you can change the colour of your tulips, you can forswear roses in favour of dahlias, you can even move house and make a new garden, but you can never leave yourself behind. For it is the eye which becomes jaded – the mind, not its object. Even for Traherne it was a struggle to retain that freshness of vision, to protect it from the eroding sea of experience. As he constantly reminded himself, ‘I must become a child again.’ But even if we cannot see all anew each year, we can each time strive to see it deeper, differently: the experience can be enriched not impoverished. A rose at forty or at eighty means something different from a rose at twenty; we naturally bring to it more associations, whether personal or literary or historical, more ‘back story’. And if we can’t see Venice twice for the first time, neither can we step into the same river twice – the world is perpetually changing, renewing itself. See how different a single rose, a single petal can be, not only every year, but every day, and every hour of every day, as the world turns around it – in all weathers, in every season, bud and bloom, calyx and corolla. All we have to do is look.”

Katherine Swift The Morville Hours.

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Traherne is Thomas the seventeenth century poet, Mirabel is Mirabel Osler who writes, like Swift, about gardening. I’ll probably have more to say about ‘The Morville Hours’ at some point, but for now, suffice to say that it is an excellent read, and I’m not an enthusiastic gardener.

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Ear Fungus.

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And all we need to do is look.

That being said, I’m happy to stick with just looking. Any additional interaction is generally unwelcome.

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I wasn’t overly struck with the attentions of these six ponies. Admittedly, they were pretty docile, just following me across the field.

But the calves in the next field ran after me. Now, of course, here in front of my computer I can see that they were inquisitive, gambolling playfully perhaps, and not ravening beasts braying for blood after all.

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Anyway, there were only five of them. And I reached the stile before they made it across the field.

In the next field, there were more like thirty. It was a large field and I felt quite uncomfortable walking across it with all of them behind me. Could they tell that I’d had roast beef for my tea? I only stopped to take a photo once there was a wall between them and me.

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Since this is not something which usually happens to me, four times in one week seems like more than just a coincidence. I shall have to assume that either I have suddenly started to emit some sort of ‘hunter-gatherer’ pheromone which is inducing this behaviour, or that it’s a spring-time, fading-light instinct particular to this season in herding animals. The latter seems more plausible.

All we have to do is look.

Another Morecambe Bay Sunset

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Title says it all really. The familiar late walk around the The Cove and The Lots. Only unusual because I’d already been this way earlier with our friend The Painter when he dropped by for a visit.

I occasionally threaten to broaden the scope of this blog with recipes and posts about card games etc. Since I don’t have much to say about my walk, I decided to enliven this post with some book recommendations:

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These books qualified because I’ve read them reasonably recently, they make a representative, heterogenous sample of my reading fodder, I really enjoyed them and I could lay my hands on them to take a photo, so, for example, the excellent history of piracy I read in February isn’t here because I don’t know where I’ve put it. Most of these were second-hand purchases, although I should say that ‘H is for Hawk’ was a present from TBH and ‘1927’ was loaned to me by some-time star of this blog X-Ray.

With regard to the books: if you’ve read Ronald Turnbull’s ‘Book of the Bivvy’ you’ll know what to expect from him; this is a book both about John Muir and about following in his footsteps. ‘H is for Hawk’ deserved all of the critical acclaim it garnered and also encouraged me to finally get around to reading T.H.White’s ‘The Goshawk’, which I also enjoyed. ‘1927’ is fascinating, full of surprising things I didn’t know about. I’ve been meaning to mention ‘Don’t Point That Thing at Me’ for some time, not only because I enjoyed it, but because the final section of the book is set in and around Silverdale, so it seems very pertinent to this blog. ‘How to Live’ is a great read, and had me digging out my two volume translation of Montaigne’s ‘Essays’, although I haven’t made huge progress with them. I believe the BBC are making an adaption of ‘The City and The City’; it will be interesting to see how they deal with the central conceit of two contiguous but mutually disregarding cities – this was good enough to have me seeking out more novels by Mieville. I haven’t finished ‘A Radical History of Britain’ or ‘The Nautical Chart’, but I’m enjoying them both enormously. I’ve read the Perez-Reverte before, it was the first of his novels I read, but then I lent it to somebody, forgot who I’d lent it to and never got it back. I picked up a new copy for a few pence at the village coffee morning and started reading it on Wednesday when I had some time on my hands waiting to go in to theatre for a minor op, and then waiting to be discharged afterwards*. Don’t read ‘Swallow This’ if you ever intend to eat processed food again. Otherwise, it’s highly illuminating journalism about the food industry, and somewhat alarming. ‘The Buried Giant’ is quite an odd novel, I thought, but I like odd novels, so that’s alright.

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These were behind the benches above the Cove. Is this ‘yarn-bombing’?

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It was a bit too dark for photos of birds really. Best to stick to the sunset…

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*It went very well, better than expected in fact. Thanks for asking.

Another Morecambe Bay Sunset

Weiditz

Hagg Wood – The Row – Eaves Wood

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Toothwort (and photobombing Wood Anemone)

A short walk this one, after a morning of rugby and an afternoon of tidying up in the garden – cutting the grass for the first time, pruning an unruly shrub – that sort of thing. A few days before, I’d noticed the nubs of newly emerging spears of Toothwort in Eaves Wood and wanted to see how they had progressed.

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I notice that this year it can be seen flowering on both sides of the lower path through Eaves Wood. I also know of one spot in the woods by Hawes Water where it grows, and I noticed a couple of days ago that it is growing along the path which links The Cove and The Lots.

It’s a curious plant, which I seek out every year; one of several local specialities which merit their own trip in the appropriate season – the snowdrops by Hawes Water, the Early Purple and Green-veined Orchids on the Lots, the Lily-of-the-Valley and Lady’s-slipper Orchids at Gait Barrows, the Bird’s-eye Primrose and Grass of Parnassus on the grassland of the Hawes Water shore, the Burnett Rose on the coastal cliffs; just compiling the list is making me smile. This year I’ve already added the Snowdrops in the woods above Beetham and I intend to seek out again the Twayblade on the ‘Orchid Triangle’ at Sandside and the Bee Orchids in Trowbarrow Quarry.

Earlier this winter I resolved to extend both the range and variety of my flower pilgrimages after reading ‘Wild Flowers in Danger’ by John Fisher. I have a bit of a second-hand book habit – I buy musty old books at a rate greater than I can read them. When I purchased ‘Wildflowers In Danger’, I thought that it would be a good book to dip into from time to time. Then when I got it home, I was chiding myself that it was just a bit too specialised and that I would never read it, but I did eventually begin, early in the winter, and soon found myself hooked and reading it from cover to cover. It’s an unashamedly partial compendium of photographs and short articles about some of Britain’s rarer flowering plants; full of interesting natural history, but also biographical details about botanists.

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When I picked it up again recently, to research a possible ‘new pilgrimage’ (post to follow), I decided to also look up an old favourite, which I’d recently spotted again at Far Arnside: Green Hellebore.

“The Green Hellebore was one of the plants to appear in that revolutionary work Herbarum Vivae Eicones – Living Images of Plants, published in Strasbourg in 1530. It was written by Otto Brunfels of the same city but the illustrations by Hans Weiditz were amongst the first to show drawings made from real plants with all their imperfections in place of the conventional mediaeval devices as remote from the truth as the diamonds in a pack of playing cards.”

But hang on, Weiditz? Didn’t I recognise that name? Surely, I’d read it recently in Neil MacGregor’s ‘A History of the World in 100 Objects’?

So I checked. This…

…is “Christoph Weiditz’s drawing of Central American ballplayers at the court of Emperor Charles V.”

“In 1528 the Spanish brought two Aztec players to Europe, and a German artist painted them in mid game, back to back, virtually naked, wearing what look like specially reinforced briefs with the ball in flight between them.”

This from chapter 38, which is about this ceremonial stone version of the ‘specially reinforced briefs’.

Hans and Christoph were, some lazy internet research reveals,  brothers and, like their father, Renaissance artists.

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Incidentally, ‘A History of the World in 100 Objects’, another second-hand bargain – of course – is a brilliant book to dip into. I missed the Radio 4 series of the same name, but the British Museum is my favourite place in London, and this book, featuring 100 of its countless treasures, is almost as good as a visit.

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Books, birds and more strolls.

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Sunday was a bit of a gloomy day. I was out early-ish again, the most memorable aspect of that walk being the thrush which was adding it’s voice to the gathering chorus in Eaves Wood.

The boys had rugby matches in Kirkby Lonsdale and towards the end of the matches the cloud began to break up and we even had a few brief moments of sunshine, giving me high hopes for the afternoon. However, by the time TBH and I had set out for a tour of Hawes Water the leaden skies had returned. It was a fine walk none-the-less.

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But since I don’t have all that much to say about Sunday, I thought I’d mention this:

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…which is Mercury Fountain by Alexander Calder. We saw it at the Miro Foundation last summer, but in the photo at the back you can see it at the 1937 Paris Exposition, with Picasso’s Guernica behind.

Like Guernica its a war memorial of sorts, commemorating the Spanish Civil War:

“The mobile sculpture consists of a series of three metal plates arranged above a large pool of mercury. Mercury is pumped up so that a fine stream trickles on to the top plate. It quickens in droplets and rivulets across the plates in turn while they gyre and bow under the weight of the metal, before it vanishes quietly into the pool below. The mercury is the key to the meaning of the work. It came, like the majority of the world’s mercury at that time, from the cinnabar deposits at Almaden in Ciudad Real south-west of Madrid. This strategically important location was to be repeatedly besieged by Franco’s insurgents, and Calder’s work commemorates the miners who had successfully held off the first nationalist onslaught a few months earlier.”

I wish I’d known all that when I saw it in the flesh. This passage comes from Hugh Aldersley-Williams “Periodic Tales”, which I’m currently reading. The title suggests a book on Chemistry, but whilst there is a great deal of Chemistry, there are also great anecdotes, a deal of history, and all round a very entertaining read. Highly recommended.

Books, birds and more strolls.

Toxoplasma Gondii – a mystery solved?

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“Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite found in more than one billion people worldwide, has been shown to inspire neurotic, self-destructive behaviour in rats. The protozoa’s reproductive cycle depends on infecting cats, which it does by getting them to eat rats and mice in whose brains the parasite commonly resides. When the parasite infects a rat or mouse, it increases dopamine levels in its host, inspiring it to wander around recklessly in a way more likely to attract the attention of cats; the mice and rats also become attracted to the small of cat urine an odor that, under normal circumstances, causes them to flee or freeze. “Fatal feline attraction” is the name for this phenomenon. In people, the presence of toxoplasma gondii has been linked to schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder, poor attention and reaction times, and greater likelihood of car accidents.”

From ‘Cooked’ by Michael Pollan

All of which might explain the behaviour of this vole, which TBH and I encountered back in June, and which had us puzzled and enchanted in equal measure because of its apparent lack of fear of our presence.

The quote might seem like an odd paragraph to find in a book ostensibly about food, but it’s from a footnote and is backing up the assertion that it’s possible that the microbiota in our bodies might influence our moods and even our mental health. The book is absolutely fascinating and I heartily recommend it anyone with an interest in food (i.e. everyone,surely?) – bit late for your Christmas lists I know.

Toxoplasma Gondii – a mystery solved?

Black Combe

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Painted Lady.

A hot and slightly sticky evening, after a hot and slightly sticky day at work. The forecast was for the weather to deteriorate, but not out in the Western lakes, so I’d driven round for an evening ascent of Black Combe. There’s a spot to pull off the main road just by Beckside (see map at the bottom of the post) and from there I’d followed the path to Fox and Goose Cottages and then uphill on a path between two hedgerows which seemed in danger of disappearing under the greenery; I wondered whether I might end up regretting the fact that I was wearing shorts and not armed with a machete, but I managed to emerge relatively unscathed. (It’s not just nettles that I need to avoid – I tend to react quite badly even to grass seed-heads).

A surprisingly broad track curls up around the hillside and I was very glad of it’s reasonably gentle gradient. The bracken was busy with insects, among them many small butterflies or moths, but none were obliging when my camera was in hand. Not, that is, until I reached more open ground close to the ‘summit’ of White Hall Knott (spot height 311m on the map). In that area a couple of Painted Ladies were displaying quite cooperatively.

White Hall Knott is one of those Birketts which, with only a single, solitary contour to call its own, looks, on the map, like a rather arbitrary choice. In the flesh, it’s quite appealing…

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White Hall Knott.

And, even on a hazy evening, it has a pretty admirable view down the Whicham Valley…

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…and across to the Duddon Estuary…

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Some aspects of the ascent had put me in mind of another hill, a firm favourite of mine, Carn Fadryn on the Llyn Peninsula – a broad and gentle path, bracken busy with orange butterflies and day flying moths, some hints of bilberries (although not nearly as abundant as on Carn Fadryn), views to the sea and Painted Ladies at the top.

As I plodded up White Combe…

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…I was wondering about Painted Ladies. These were the first I’d seen this year. Although we get them in our garden at times, in previous years my first sightings have often been on top of Carn Fadryn. Painted Ladies, like Monarch butterflies in North America, migrate over several generations. Although the migration of Monarchs is more famous, Painted Ladies migration is much further, beginning in Africa and ending north of the Arctic Circle. The existence of a return migration was only confirmed in 2012, it had been missed because the butterflies can fly quite high, at an average altitude of over 500m on their southbound trip. This made me wonder whether they use coastal hills, or maybe just hill-tops generally, as navigational aids, or maybe just as staging-posts on their mammoth journeys?

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Looking back to White Hall Knott.

As well as the butterflies, the hillsides and skies around were busy with birds – Wheatears, Meadow Pipits and Skylarks. I think that this…

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…was the latter. Not a very sharp photo I know, but it does demonstrate their steep, singing, display flight which is so characteristic of the hills at this time of year.

White Combe is not really a summit at all, just the end of a long broad shoulder, but it does have a substantial cairn…

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And guess what, at least two resident Painted Ladies…

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The Red Admiral is another migratory butterfly, a close relative of the Painted Lady.

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They don’t seem to share any familial affection however: every time the Red Admiral landed, one of the Painted Ladies would fly at it and drive it off. Which is something else I’ve previously observed on Carn Fadryn.

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There were quite a number of hoverflies about too. This one might be Sericomyia Selintis. But, then again, it might not.

From White Combe a longish and levelish and very enjoyable plod followed, heading for Stoupdale Crags.

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Thin, but pronounced, paths made the going easier than it might otherwise have been…

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Stoupdale Crags turned out to have one of those plateaued tops where every knoll looks slightly higher than the one you are currently occupying.

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Buck Barrow and Whitfell from Stoupdale Crags.

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Meadow Pipit (I think) amongst Cotton Grass.

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For another Day: Stoneside Hill, Kinmont Buck Barrow, Buck Barrow, Whitfell, Plough Fell.

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The way ahead: Whitecombe Screes, Blackcombe Screes and Black Combe from Whitecombe Head. The left-hand skyline would be my descent route.

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A shiny ground beetle (which I can’t find in my field guide).

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Looking back to Stoupdale Crags.

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Black Combe summit.

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Black Combe South Summit.

I’m pretty sure that the last time I was up here, I camped by this little tarn. That was another summer-evening, post-work outing, but on that occasion a Friday night and hence the freedom to camp out and stop to have breakfast on Black Combe.

Tonight, I still had tea in my bag – a humongous pasty I’d bought, on the drive over, from the excellent bakers in Broughton-in-Furness. (A Community not a Shortcut say the signs on the edge of the village).

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I sat by this enormous and slightly ramshackle cairn to eat it, with a view of the blanket of low stratus stretching away over the Irish Sea and sending a finger of cloud up over the River Duddon.

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Sadly, it was much too murky to really appreciate what would have otherwise, I suspect, been a pretty spectacular sight.

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I know that this is already a relatively long post, by my modest standards, but I’m going to digress slightly to recommend another book which seems to me at least tangentially relevant to a blog about walking; I recently read ‘The Invention of Clouds’ by Richard Hamblyn; it’s ostensibly a biography of Luke Howard the amateur scientist who devised the familiar nomenclature used for clouds, but it digresses into the previous and subsequent history of nephology – the science of clouds – the status of the great Nineteenth Century populisers of science, like Humphrey Davy, the early history of ballooning and much more. I found it absolutely fascinating.

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Looking back to Stoupdale Crags and White Combe.

On my descent I initially followed the edge of the crags heading almost due East, but then found quite a good track, I would guess quite an old one, which made for easier walking, but which took me further south, down towards Hallbeck Gill (a tautological name). Eventually I had to contour round the hillside to get back on course for Whitecombe Gill. Next time I come this way, I’d like to try the ridge between Blackcombe Screes and Whitecombe Screes, which according to the OS 1:25000 is called Horse Back. (And incidentally, I wonder what kind of feature is Eller Peatpot, also named on the OS map?)

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As yet unidentified moth.

Black Combe

Black Combe