Middleton Nature Reserve

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Migrant Hawker.

Being the continuing adventures of a taxi-driving Dad.

Last Saturday, B had a rugby match, playing hooker (he’s suitably bonkers) for his school team away at Morecambe High (where, many moons ago, I used to teach). Unlike some of his contemporaries, B doesn’t seem too concerned about whether his team win or lose, just so long as the result seems fair, and at the end of the game declared: “That was fun!”, despite his team having taken a bit of a hammering.

Afterwards, we dashed home, but, in my case, only for a quick turn around, as I took Little S to a nerf gun birthday party in – guess where – Morecambe. I realise that the rational thing to do would have been to take both boys to both events, but it seemed easier at the time to do it this way. With S dropped off, only a few minutes late for his war game, I had the best part of two hours to kill and decided to go hunting for one of the three Wildlife Trust reserves which I knew to be somewhere around Heysham. Idiotically, I hadn’t checked the exact locations in advance, so resorted to driving around, with more hope than confidence, until I spotted a likely looking car park and found that I had stumbled upon Middleton reserve.

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After a bite of lunch, and whilst walking around the reserve, I met a man who told me that he remembered when this was the site of a petrochemical plant. Now it has two large ponds and a mixture of meadows and scrub.

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Hoverfly, possibly Helophilus pendulus, on an Alder leaf.

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Fox and cubs.

This patch of waste ground maybe a tad unprepossessing at first glance, but look a little closer and there is a great deal to enjoy. I was very much put in mind of Richard Mabey’s marvellous book The Unofficial Countryside, which is about how nature, left to its own devices, can reclaim scraps of once industrialised land like this.

The sun was warm and there were no end of dragonflies about, although few of them would pose for a photo.

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Female Common Darter.

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Speckled Wood.

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Blackberries.

There were lots of flowers still in bloom and it was obvious that, had I had been here earlier, in the summer, there would have been even more to see.

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Wild Carrot, the ancestor of all domestic carrots.

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When the flowers turn into spiny seeds, the umbel curls in on itself.

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More hoverflies on what I assume are Michaelmas Daisies.

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A willowherb?

I could hear the contact calls of small birds from all sides and, with lots of teasels and other tall seed-heads about, I wondered whether they might be Goldfinches. Eventually, they flew across the path ahead of me, then settled above me, on teasels growing on a high bank. Here’s some of them…

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The photo didn’t come out brilliantly and only a small part of the charm are here, but the flocks of Goldfinches which gather at this time of year are delightful, so I wanted to include the photo anyway.

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Common Toadflax.

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Mute swans – could they still be nesting in mid-September?

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There were plenty of half-hidden reminders of the areas past – the remnants of tarmac covered surfaces, these huge tyres, odd bits of buildings here and there, but they mostly seem to be slowly disappearing.

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Abundant Haws.

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Crane Fly.

A blade of grass apparently dancing in a way completely contrary to the direction of the wind alerted me to this spider, which was busy constructing a web.

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Male Common Darter.

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As I came to the end of my walk and was running out of time before needing to head off to pick up Little S, I came to a really sheltered spot where, not only were there even more dragonflies, but, in addition, the Common Darters were sunning themselves in obvious spots, as seems to be their wont.

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Male Common Darter.

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Male Common Darter.

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Alder cones.

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Male Common Darter.

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Mating Common Darters. I’ve been confused in the past by the colour of females like this one, expecting the females to be yellow, but this pale blue colour is apparently typical of older females.

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Drone fly, or something similar, on Evening Primrose.

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Guelder Rose berries.

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Middleton Nature Reserve

Skelwith Bridge and Little Langdale Stroll

Skelwith Bridge – Skelwith Force – Elter Water – Elterwater – Little Langdale – Slater Bridge – Stang End – High Park – Colwith Force – Skelwith Bridge.

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The Langdale Pikes seen across Elter Water. 

How appropriate, after a post about favourite walks, that in my next bit of catching up from the summer hols, I’m recounting a walk which, in slight variations, I’ve walked many times, in all seasons, in all weathers, alone on occasions but often with big groups of friends and which definitely qualifies at least as one of my favourites, particularly for when time is short, or the forecast is a bit iffy.

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Skelwith Force.

A dodgy forecast was partly responsible for us choosing this route. We were going out with our friends Beaver B and G and their family again; the original plan had been to get the boats out on one of the lakes, but with showers, possibly prolonged, expected, we decided that a low level walk was a better option. We’d actually run through a number of alternatives the night before and it was eventually G who suggested something in this area.

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Black and Yellow Longhorn Beetle (Leptura quadrifasciata).

This was spotted by Little B pretty much at the top of the track between Langdale and Little Langdale and it led us both a merry dance as we tried to photograph it in damp and gloomy conditions. It’s led me on another merry dance as I’ve tried to identify it – I was struck by it’s superficial resemblance to the Sexton beetle which I photographed recently, which wasn’t helpful because this is not even a closely related species.

We’d had drizzle, then a bright spell as we lunched by Elter Water, then rain as we climbed up and over into Little Langdale. Now it began to brighten up.

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Little Langdale Tarn.

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Slater Bridge.

Over Slater’s bridge and heading along Little Langdale we paused a while to watch cyclists riding their bikes through a ford on the infant River Brathay and then, a little further along, spotted a Roe deer down by the stream.

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Little Langdale. Blake Rigg on Pike O’Blisco and Busk Pike on Lingmoor behind.

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Stang End.

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The barn at Stang End with it’s impressive tiers of stacked fire wood.

Our perseverance through the rain was paying off now with some beautiful warm, sunny weather. The garden at Stang End was busy with Red Admiral and Peacock butterflies sunning themselves.

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High Park.

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Colwith Force.

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Peacock butterfly.

We interrupted this large beetle, here already scuttling for cover, as it was preying on the earthworm seen in the top left of the picture.

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Here is the predator after I’d fetched him (or her) out of hiding…

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I’m reasonably sure that this is a Violet Ground Beetle, Carabus violaceus, although there are several very similar species of large, black beetles which also have that violet tint.

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I haven’t featured a Robin in the blog for an unusually long time. This one looks a bit tatty,  but juvenile Robins have speckled feathers, which are moulted at around two to three months, so could this be a juvenile, born in May or June, which has almost changed into adult plumage?

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Almost back, crossing the footbridge near Skelwith Bridge.

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We were quite late finishing, having not set-off particularly early, and had wondered whether the promised tea and cake at Chesters By The River would be thwarted, but the new take-away section (well, new since I was last there) was still serving, so a mutiny by the kids was averted. I had the beluga lentil dish, seen near the front of the counter above, as an alternative to cake, and very nice it was too. Chesters, both cafe and shop, had been very busy when we had passed earlier and their success seems well deserved. If only they would reinstate the missing apostrophe in their name, I could thoroughly recommend a visit.

Skelwith Bridge and Little Langdale Stroll

Tongue Pot

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The day after we got back from our Ullswater trip. TBH and A were off on a beano, at Wellies and Wristbands, a music festival for Girl Guides. I wanted to take the boys to Eskdale, and managed to persuade them that it was a good idea after showing them some  videos on Youtube of people swimming at Tongue Pot. We left home early, to ensure that we have no difficulty in getting a parking space at the bottom of the Hardknott pass, by Jubilee Bridge. The people (and dog) in front of the boys above had parked next to us and we were leapfrogging each other along the valley.

Bowfell was looking very imposing ahead and it probably would have been a good day to climb it, but we had other plans.

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This is Tongue Pot…

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It’s shallow at this end, but shelves steeply and is very deep in the middle.

The couple (and the dog) had reached the pool before us, but had similar plans. They were soon into their wetsuits, very quickly into the pool and then very soon out again. They weren’t very encouraging about the temperature of the water, very kindly offering me a loan of some goggles, but warning me that complete immersion would make my head hurt. They had a point: it was bitterly cold.

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The couple were soon on their way again, back down the valley for a hot chocolate in the pub. I’ve seen this before, wild-swimmers in wetsuits arriving at a well documented swimming hole, changing into wetsuits, swimming for two minutes and then heading back to their cars. Each to their own, obviously, but I don’t really understand – is it really worth the effort?

Once they were gone we had the river to ourselves for a while. Little S had a wetsuit, but is all skin and bone and struggled with the cold, he did manage a swim, but then opted to get out again. I think the time he’d spent half in the water dithering hadn’t helped. B and I, without wetsuits, were in and out of the water – jumping in, exploring a little upstream, swimming up to the waterfall etc  – for around an hour. Swimming against the current proved to be extremely hard work. B is a stronger swimmer than me, but he also struggled to get to the base of the fall.

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Once we were out, we put all of our spare gear on in an attempt to warm up (it took quite a long time) and ate our lunch.

A large commercially-led party, all kitted out in wetsuits, buoyancy aids, helmets and red jackets, came past us and jumped into the pot.

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Then they climbed out on the far side and jumped in from there, a much longer drop.

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I’ve written before about my frequent visits to Eskdale in the past. This jump, which we christened ‘The Megaleap’ was often a big part of those trips. B had been up to the top to take a look, but had decided not to jump. Now he was really keen to change back into his trunks and have a go, but this hardly seemed fair on Little S who had been very patient with us already.

So instead we did a little exploration upstream. There was another group swimming in what looked to be a good spot above the confluence with Lingcove Beck.

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River Esk.

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Lingcove Bridge.

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Lingcove Beck.

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Waterfall on Lingcove Beck.

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Red Admiral.

The boys are now both eager to return to Tongue Pot. Next time we need to visit after a spell of settled weather when the water might not be so icy and the current should be more manageable. It’s been many years since I last swam there; I’m pretty sure I shan’t be waiting so long until my next dip there.

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Tongue Pot

A Different World.

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Peacock Butterfly on Hemp Agrimony.

When I finished my last post by musing about the origins of the name of the Scotch Argus butterfly and a possible link to the mythical giant Argus, I didn’t anticipate that the first photo in the subsequent post would be of a Peacock, whose Latin name recalls the same story. The Peacock was known at one time as the Peacock’s Tail. It’s Latin name is Inachus Io, recalling the Greek nymph Io and her father (variously a King, a Giant or a River God depending on which version you read). I’ve referred to this myth before, but here’s a slightly different version taken from Robert Graves ‘The Greek Myths, Volume One’:

“Io, daughter of the River-god Inachus, was a priestess of Argive Hera. Zeus, over whom Iynx, daughter of Pan and Echo, had cast a spell, fell in love with Io, and when Hera charged him with infidelity and turned Iynx into a wryneck as punishment, lied: ‘I have never touched Io.’ He then turned her into a white cow, which Hera claimed as hers and handed over for safe keeping to Argus Panoptes, ordering him: ‘Tether this beast secretly to an olive-tree at Nemea.’ But Zeus sent Hermes to fetch her back, and himself led the way to Nemea – or, some say, to Mycenae – dressed in woodpecker disguise. Hermes, though the cleverest of thieves, knew he could not steal Io without being detected by one of Argus’s hundred eyes; he therefore charmed him asleep by playing the flute, crushed him with a boulder, cut off his head and released Io. Hera, having placed Argus’s eyes in the tail of a peacock, as a constant reminder of his foul murder, set a gadfly to sting Io and chase her all over the world.”

Trickery, lust, infidelity, duplicity, jealousy, deceit, murder, revenge – the Greek Gods seem all too human in this tale, as in many others.

Here’s Hermes slaying Argus, from an Athenian vase now held in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Argus seems quite awake in this pictorial version of the story. In some tellings, Io is irresistible even after her metamorphosis into bovine form, which is hard to imagine; her portrayal on this ancient pot doesn’t really help in that regard.

Panoptes, incidentally, means ‘all-seeing’, an attribute to which I can definitely not lay claim…

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Skullcap.

Skullcap is apparently a very common plant, but this is the first time I can recall spying it in flower. I found it in the increasingly wet meadow at the end of Hawes Water.

“Skullcap, Scutelleria galericulata, is a delicate species of fens and banks of ponds, canals and slow rivers, locally common throughout much of Britain. The plant’s English and Latin names both derive from the shape of the blue flowers, which reminded early botanists of the leather helmet or galerum worn by Roman soldiers.”

from Flora Britannica by Richard Mabey.

“Sufferers from nervous disorders might be advised to take skullcap in tablet form, for the plant produces a volatile oil, called scutellarin, which is one of the best treatments for such afflictions ever discovered. The plant is dried, powdered and infused in boiling water to make a strong tonic, which calms spasms and hysteria, and relieves epilepsy and St Vitus’s dance. However, care must be taken: it is a powerful drug, and an overdose might induce the very symptoms which, at correct dosages, it alleviates.”

from Reader’s Digest Field Guide to the Wild Flowers of Britain.

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I wondered whether the colours of Hemp Agrimony, often somewhat washed out and insipid in my photos, might show to better effect in shade: I think it worked?

I’ve certainly had a bumper year for spotting Common Lizards. The two I met basking in their usual spot, on the edging along the boardwalk by Hawes Water, were, once again, quite different from each other in their markings and colour…

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I particularly admired the go faster stripes on this specimen…

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I wondered whether the variation in colouring might reflect the gender of the lizards and have since discovered that you can sex lizards this way, but need to see their undersides in order to do so. I suspect that I’m never going to be quick enough to get my mitts on them to find out. Never mind, I’m happy just to see them.

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Hawes Water.

I presume that these alien monstrosities…

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…are the early stages, or small examples, of Robin’s Pincushion Gall, or are something similar. They’re nothing like as hairy as Pincushion Galls usually are though, and those generally develop on the stems. You can perhaps tell from the picture that each outlandish, starfish-like protuberance is mirrored on the reverse of the leaf. Quite astonishing, even before you know about the asexual lifestyle of the wasps which develop within.

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A male Small White, I think.

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Another Bull in a field with a footpath, in fact he was walking along the path, but I was turning off in another direction and, anyway, he didn’t seem remotely interested in me.

This walk was memorable for quite an abundance and variety of butterflies. Later on, I met a number of Lepidopterists, one of whom asked me if I’d seen any Brown Hairstreaks, which is what they were on the look-out for. I hadn’t. Not that I would have recognised one if I had. I did see lots of Brimstones though…

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Brimstone on Betony.

They seemed to be patronising the purple flowers by preference, which shows off their yellow to good effect. Is it vanity, do you think?

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Bumblebee on Knapweed.

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Painted Lady.

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Red Admiral.

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Another Peacock’s-tail.

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Eyebright.

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Scarlet Pimpernel.

Scarlet Pimpernel is tiny, but not really elusive at all, unlike the character named after the flower, scourge of the French Revolutionaries. Local names for the flower included ‘change-of-the-weather’, ‘poor man’s weatherglass’ and ‘shepherd’s sundial’, due to its habit of closing whenever the skies are dull and for large parts of the day, a property, it must be said, which it shares with many other flowers.

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The mystery plant – looking increasingly like some sort of Scabious, as Simon suggested.

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Grasshopper.

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I think this might be Orpine, or Sedum telephium, the same Sedum, or Ice Plant which we grow in our gardens.

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Speckled Wood.

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A Harvestman. Definitely not a spider or a daddy-longlegs.

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I was a bit surprised to see the orange berries on the Lily-of-the-valley; I’ve never seen them before. Apparently, they rarely develop, with the plant usually spreading by sending up new shoots.

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Female Common Darter.

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Another Brimstone.

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Male Common Darter.

A Different World.

The Benefits of Volunteering

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Having started with the title, I realised that other people might have had something to say on this topic and so, after a little lazy internet research, have discovered that volunteering will make me live longer, with more friends, less stubborn belly fat, better mental health and enhanced career prospects. Wow. And I was only thinking of the fact that volunteering had brought me out of an evening to Arnside Knott and put me in the right spot to witness a spectacular sunset. Although I should add that it had previously put me in the right spot to see the Scotch Argus* in the company of knowledgable people who recognised it as such and had also meant that I had been shown the Spiked Speedwell, another Arnside Knott rarity. Oh, and to being given a tip on where to find Lesser Butterfly Orchids next summer.

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This was the second of three sessions of flora surveying on Redhill Pasture, this time with just our team of three volunteers, without the expert guidance from the National Trust, who own the land, or Morecambe Bay Partnerships, who are coordinating various such surveys around the Bay. The surveying didn’t begin so auspiciously – I’d walked over from home and we’d met in the car park on the Knott before walking down to continue our survey. We soon discovered that the Meadow Ants were swarming. The air was full of winged ants and circling gulls, presumably taking advantage of a bonanza of insect prey. I was soon covered in ants, and then discovered that they were inside my shirt as well as all over the surface. I’ve read that meadow ants can’t bite or sting humans, but I can only report that the next morning I was covered in angry red lumps. Must have been psychosomatic. We were working on quadrats roughly two metres by two metres and by the third I was just about ready to give up, but fortunately, when we moved a little way uphill for the fourth, the number of ants about became bearable again. We found that, after our training sessions, we were able to work with reasonable speed and confidence and had soon progressed to the areas of Blue Moor Grass along the top edge of the pasture from where we witnessed the sunset.

*It only occurs to me now that, in Greek mythology, Argus is a one-hundred eyed giant. Since the Scotch Argus has several eyes around the rim of its wings perhaps this explains the name. Or it might do, except for the fact that the Brown Argus and the Northern Brown Argus (both unrelated to the Scotch Argus) don’t have the eyes. Oh well, nice theory, but more research needed perhaps.

The Benefits of Volunteering

Return to Crummack Dale

Austwick – Flascoe Bridge – Oxenber Wood – Wharfe Wood – Wharfe – Moughton Whetstone Hole – Moughton Scars – Beggar’s Stile – Crummack – Norber Sike – Austwick.

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Ingleborough and Moughton from Oxenber Wood.

A walk with our friends M and S (seniority has had to give way to propriety here). They live on the edge of the Lakes and haven’t explored the Dales much, I was anxious to take the rest of the family to see Crummack Dale, the forecast was good, so all-in-all, this walk seemed ideal.

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Heading down towards Higher Bark House (we would soon turn left). Moughton Scar and Pen-y-ghent beyond.

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Red Admiral.

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Waterfall on Wharfe Gill Sike (another Lune tributary).

The kids were chatting away, somewhat ahead of the adults – we were talking about Ash dieback, I’m not sure what was keeping them occupied – when I noticed that they’d all stopped and looked rather hesitant. Here’s why…

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….fortunately, he didn’t seem very bothered by our presence.

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Wharfe.

One reason for choosing to repeat a walk very similar to one I’d only recently done was my anticipation of plentiful Raspberries on the track out of Wharfe. Everyone tucked in, but nobody seemed to relish them quite as much as me, and I got left well behind.

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Bridge over Austwick Beck.

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A ford on the path. This small stream, between Studrigg and Hunterstye, unnamed on the OS map, is another Lune tributary.

After his foraging lesson in North Wales, Little S recognised the leaves of Sorrel on the path here and decided to educate the rest of the party.

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Knotgrass Caterpillar.

We weren’t the only one enjoying the Sorrel – almost inevitably it was B who spotted this colourful creepy-crawly.

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This stream flows from Moughton Whetstone Hole to join Austwick Beck and therefore is another source of the Lune. 

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Ingleborough from Moughton Scars.

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And again.

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Looking back along the scars, Pendle Hill in the distance.

Little S had bashed his leg against a bench by Austwick Beck and since then had been limping theatrically, whenever he remembered to, alternating legs from time to time. He loves hopping about on Limestone Pavements however and now underwent a remarkable recovery which enabled his foot-dragging pace to increase to a run.

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The view from just below Beggar’s Stile. Again, Pendle Hill on the horizon.

Although B is very adept at spotting wildlife, and his powers of observation are usually acute, they don’t always seem to function: when I pointed out Pendle Hill and asked him if he had noticed its bulk looming over the Scout Camp where he had spent the previous week he looked at me blankly.

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Roe Deer Buck – the sheep behind gives a good idea of their size: they aren’t very big.

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Heading back down to Austwick. The stream at the bottom is Norber Sike, you guessed it, another Lune Tributary! Obsessed? Who me?

Return to Crummack Dale

Scotch Argus Butterfly.

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Not my best butterfly photo I’ll admit, but very pleasing for me because this is my first Scotch Argus. Despite the name, this butterfly is found in two colonies in England – one at Smardale Gill and the other on Arnside Knott. This one was spotted at the latter – I was there with a small group doing some initial surveying of the flora of Redhill Pasture, the large open field on the north side of the Knott.

Scotch Argus Butterfly.