An Excursion to the Jonte Valley.

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We didn’t travel away from the campsite often when we were in the Cévennes, but we did have one grand day out. The journey itself was interesting, giving us another opportunity to look down into the Tarn Gorge.

And also to enjoy some more roadside entomology.

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It seems that as well as a bewildering variety of Grayling butterflies, the Continent is also home to several similar species of Ringlets. This is one of those. It looks very like a Marbled Ringlet, but online sources refer to that as an Alpine species. I remember seeing something similar when we visited the Vosges, although revisiting my post from the time I can see that it was perhaps slightly different. And also, to my surprise, a photo of what looks very like a Silver-washed Fritillary, so that I may have been wrong about never having seen one before.

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I can’t find this tiny moth, either in my field guide or online, so I don’t know what it’s called, but I do know that it’s stunningly patterned.

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This is a Red-winged Grasshopper, similar to the Blue-winged variety which featured in a recent post. You can’t see the bright red flashes which appear, to startling affect, when the insect hops into flight, but you can see the red hind-legs…

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Marbled Ringlet?

The drive over the higher ground was pleasant without being spectacular. It brought us to Meyrueis…

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In the valley of the Jonte, a tributary of the Tarn.

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Above Meyrueis, we stopped again briefly at a small hillside chapel – Notre-Dame du-Rocher…

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I enjoyed the contrasting colours of these flowers…

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And have included this second photo because of the tiny, pale Ladybird in the top left corner of the white flower.

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Gatekeeper.

We were soon underway again, heading for the excellent Grotte de Dargilan, of which more to follow…(eventually).

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An Excursion to the Jonte Valley.

Cirque des Baumes.

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Whilst we were camping in the Tarn Gorge, I’d mooted the idea of a walk from the rim of the gorge back down to the campsite, hopefully, by walking downhill, mitigating the worst effects of the heat; but when most of our party completed a walk, TBH and I had driven B to the hospital in the town of Millau instead, to get a painful ear checked out. (He’s okay now, although the problems continued for quite some time after our holiday ended.) That trip was not without it’s own interest – when we drove out of the town, onto the hillside above, we saw a great host of circling Red Kites – but I was extremely disappointed to have missed out on the walk, and so was very pleased when TBH and J agreed to an early morning foray, in J’s case for a second time.

We parked at Point Sublime, with fine views into a misty gorge.

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There were plenty of distractions on hand too, with both butterflies and Wall Lizards about to keep me and my camera occupied.

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Wall Brown.

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I think that this is a Silver-washed Fritillary, you can perhaps see why its called that in the photo below.

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Five-spot Burnet Moth.

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We passed no end of these silken tents, apparently constructed by the caterpillars of the Pine Processionary Moth.

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Another Blue-winged Grasshopper. I think.

The path was steep and narrow, but well worth the effort as it descended past a series of huge rock towers and cliffs.

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J, you will notice, is wearing a shocking pink hat. She has pink Crocs too. Her children are appalled by both, which is, of course, entirely the point. She is making up for the sobriety of her youth. I’m sure she completely sympathises with Jenny Joseph’s poem ‘Warning’ which begins…

“When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.”

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Wall Lizard.

I thought I saw a bird of prey alight on top of a distant tower and the amazing zoom on my camera helped to confirm that fact.

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It was exhilarating to watch the raptor soaring above the hillside, in and out between the karst features, eventually landing not too far above us…

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I have quite a few photos of the bird in flight, none, sadly, very sharp, but I think they show enough detail to suggest that it was a Rough-legged Buzzard, not something that I’ve seen before.

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Wall Lizard.

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Karst scenery.

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This was a terrific walk for butterfly spotting and on this steep hillside section there were a great deal of quite dark butterflies flitting through the trees. They were hard to catch in repose and generally, I think, belonged to species not found in Britain. Frankly, I’m not sure what this is; continental Europe seems to have numerous types of Grayling – I wonder whether this is one of those?

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It was J’s turn to pick out a large bird on a distant rock tower – this time on the one seen ahead in the photo above.

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A Griffon Vulture; soon joined by a companion….

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They didn’t seem to be very busy and I continued to take occasional photos as we descended past the tower.

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A Dusky Heath?

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Another Grayling of some description?

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Looking back up into the Cirque des Baumes.

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Striped Shield Bug – less prevalent , it seemed, than in the Dordogne, but still around.

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The Dryad? Love the eye-spot.

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This small butterfly led me a merry dance and I only managed to photograph it from some considerable distance. Could it be a Glanville Fritillary?

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Having reached the bottom of the valley, we climbed a little way back up to a point under the cliffs…

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Wall Lizard.

Where there was a tiny chapel…

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La Chapelle Saint-Hillaire.

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Sadly, the chapel was locked, but I managed to get an image of the interior through a small hole in the door…

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One final look back up into Cirque des Baumes.

We were down in the valley now and walking along the road, which for me was saved by the butterflies and flowers along the roadside. We passed a garden where a Buddleia was festooned with butterflies and moths, particularly fritillaries which I took to be more Silver-washed.

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Clouded Yellow.

When we were almost back at the campsite we paused by the ‘Mushroom Rock’ to take in the view and wave to friends and family below, then J and TBH rushed ahead to get out of the full glare of the sun and to get a cool drink, but I was distracted again by more butterflies and moths…

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This is a new species to me, a Jersey Tiger Moth, there had been several on the Buddleia earlier, but they were a bit too far away to be photographed very successfully. Unfortunately, you can’t see the stunning red underwings in this photo.

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When I took this shot of another Five-spot Burnet Moth I didn’t even see the two rather striking shield bugs nearby. I wish I had; the purple one in particular looks like it was stunningly patterned.

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Small Skipper.

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Perhaps not surprisingly, this striking insect is not in my ‘Complete Mediterranean Wildlife’. It will have remain a mystery.

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The underside of a Jersey Tiger Moth.

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Small Skipper and Silver-washed Fritillary.

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Jersey Tiger Moth.

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When we’d been kayaking on the Tarn and had pulled our boats onto a shingle beach to jump into the river and swim, a Scarce Swallowtail landed on the end of one of the kayaks. I managed to get very close to it with my phone, but none of my photos came out well. I was really pleased, then, to get another chance for some photos.

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Large Skipper.

Only a mornings stroll, but the views and the wildlife will stick with me for a long time I suspect.

Cirque des Baumes.

The Kleiner Schillerfalter and Other Beautiful Bugs.

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One of the things which I really enjoyed in France was the abundance and variety of the butterflies. They were everywhere; although, often quite difficult to photograph. Whilst the Dordogne had been impressive in that regard, the Tarn Gorge area was better yet. What follows then is a collection of photographs of some of the butterflies, and other insects, which I saw in and around the campsite. (There will be even more butterflies to come, from various days out.)

First up, the Lesser Purple Emperor, in German the Kleiner Schillerfalter, or Smaller Shimmer Butterfly. Like many of the other insects here, I spotted this during a short afternoon wander a little way upriver. Here are the underside of the wings…

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And here when they are slightly open…

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Brown, orange and white you’ll notice, but when opened a fraction more…

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Bright, iridescent blue! Absolutely stunning. I’ve been wondering how the wings could  change colour like that and eventually tracked down an explanation: apparently the scales on the wings have tiny structures on them which diffract light waves and subsequently cause interference which gives the iridescent colour.

That was the first and, so far at least, only Lesser Purple Emperor I’ve ever seen; but there were some more familiar species about too.

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Large Skipper.

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A very tatty Peacock.

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Common Blue(?)

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Comma (Robert le Diable to the French).

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This is another species which was new to me, although they can be found in England. It’s a Marbled White.

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Dragonflies like this one…

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…were extremely common along the river’s edge. I’m pretty confident that it’s Onychogomphus uncatus, the Large Pincertail Dragonfly.

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There were more Beautiful Demoiselles…

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Although the related Banded Demoiselle…

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…seemed to be more prevalent. I think that this…

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…female is a Banded Demoiselle, because they are apparently brighter than female Beautiful Demoiselles.

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A Blue-winged Grasshopper. I wish I could show you what it looked like in flight, when those blue wings were on show. It’s not only Schillerfalters which can undergo a startling transformation of colour.

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Another female Great Green Bush-cricket, this time in our Kubb set.

Finally, back to butterflies and one that got away, just about. I saw lots of Swallowtails during our trip, but this is the only one I managed to photograph*.

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This was in the village of Les Vignes and taken from a considerable distance. Oh well, you can’t win them all.

(*The photograph in a previous post was of a Scarce Swallowtail, a similar and related species.)

The Kleiner Schillerfalter and Other Beautiful Bugs.

Les Jardins de Marqueyssac

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Whilst the rest of the party, including our own kids, were off swinging from trees and performing similar acts of derring-do, TBH and I were left with time on our hands. How delightful! As parents of three very active children, to have an entire day to ourselves was beyond a novelty, almost unprecedented in fact. We had threatened to have a lazy day at the camp-site, reading our books. I had made a good start on Hilary Mantel’s ‘A Place of Greater Safety’, her account of some of the key figures of the French Revolution. It’s a huge and magnificent book, so a day luxuriating in its company was very tempting, but in the end we decided that a day out together was too good an opportunity to miss. We flicked through some brochures and leaflets which J had picked up about various local attractions, but in the end settled on Les Jardins de Marqueyssac both because they looked attractive and because they were within walking distance.

Our walk took us across a bridge over the Dordogne…

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Where many parties of canoeists were enjoying the same sort of trip which we had undertaken just a couple of days before.

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Chateau de Castelnaud.

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Clouded Yellow butterfly.

That’s Marqueyssac…

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…at the top of the hill. It was a short but very hot and sticky climb up a road so minor that no traffic passed us at all. As we walked, we had both the views and some sun-warmed and very sweet blackberries in the hedgerows to reward us.

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Arriving at Marqueyssac, we discovered that picnics are forbidden in the grounds, but that picnic tables were provided on a terrace by the entrance which had a lovely view over the valley below.

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Once inside the gardens, we popped into a small building which housed a curious display of stuffed animals in which the creatures had been arranged into dioramas so that predator and prey were locked eternally in pursuit. Nearby, another building had a full skeleton and also another skull of an Allosaurus. The fossils were found in Arizona and bought at auction, at great expense, by the owner of the gardens. Allosaurus are from the Jurassic period and have mostly been found in the US, although the information boards seemed to be saying that there had also been recent findings in France.

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We hadn’t explore far, but felt the need for something cooling, so sat on another terrace with a great view, where customers were sprayed with a fine mist to cool them! TBH had a glace whilst I drank a glass of beer.

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The gardens were quite unlike any I’d visited before. Long and narrow, they sit atop a limestone ridge and are mostly woodland with paths bordered with neat boxwood hedges.

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Three different paths run the length of the garden and we did our best to contrive a route which took in all three as much as possible, without doing the entire length twice. At the far end of the garden from the entrance you are close to Roque Gageac…

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This photo…

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…gives a good view of the ridge which the garden occupies.

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During the entire walk we saw butterflies galore, but very few would pose for a photo. This Wall Brown being an exception…

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Roque Gageac again…

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….on the left you can see people on the belvedere from which I took the previous views.

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This little chapel…

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…was, annoyingly, locked-up and my attempts to take a photo through the slits in the door weren’t entirely successful…

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It was possible to take a short tour of part of the Chateau…

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But I found that oddly uninspiring without some context or understanding of what I was seeing.

One final view…

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…I think that’s the Chateau de Beynac on the right in the distance. This area seems particularly rich in castles and gardens and caves and other interesting places to visit. We’ll have to go back!

On the way back to the campsite, suffering from the heat, TBH decided to dive into one of the shops set-back from the road. It was in a large building divided into two – one half selling soap and the other half, full of mannequins, was supposedly a soap museum. One mannequin was shaving another. A female mannequin was washing clothes. There was a donkey, for reasons which weren’t clear to me. Photos weren’t allowed in this amazing place – it must be seen to be believed! You’ll have to go!

But prepare to be underwhelmed.

Les Jardins de Marqueyssac

To the Bakery and Back

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Each morning I walked into the village to buy the day’s bread, sometimes with Andy, but usually on my own. The bread was delicious, but I enjoyed the walk too. These photos are from those walks and also from other times when we had occasion to walk into Castelnaud-la-Chapelle. That first photo is looking back towards the campsite from a very misty morning, although the mist was rapidly clearing.

This is the same view…

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…on a relatively cloudy day and this…

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…is a panoramic view from a little further along the road, in more typical weather conditions.

The view in the other direction was very much dominated by the village and the Chateau towering above it, and often, in the mornings, montgolfières rising above that.

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Here’s part of the village…

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…when the mist had just about dissipated.

Not only were the views excellent, but the meadows along the route held lots of interest too.  These blue flowers dominated…

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I think that the flowers are Meadow Clary, a relative of Sage, which has a very limited distribution in Britain, but seems to be abundant in France. The insect is a Hummingbird Hawkmoth which is only seen as a migrant in Britain, although by coincidence I saw one today whilst out for a local wander. I also often saw Hummingbird Hawkmoths flying along a wall which bounded part of the road, seemingly investigating nooks and crevices, although I’m not sure why they would do that.

This…

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…is a Broad-bordered Bee Hawkmoth, which can, apparently, also be found in Britain, but not in our area and I’ve certainly never seen one before.

One of the things I loved about our visit to France was the profusion of butterflies, although they weren’t always cooperative in posing for photos.

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This Scarce Swallowtail was kind however, and moved a little closer after I took that first photo…

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Wild Carrot flowers were also very common in the meadows and where the flowerheads had curled in on themselves and gone to seed there was a very good chance that you could see Striped Shield Bugs…

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…they were hard to miss!

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Spider’s webs, on the other hand, only became obvious when the mist washed them with silver droplets.

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The wall alongside the road was home, appropriately enough, to Wall Lizards.

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These two are my favourites from the many photos I took.

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The area around the wall also seemed to be the territory of some small orange butterflies which eluded my camera at first, but then turned out to be Gatekeepers which we see at home.

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I think that this first one is on a Hemp Agrimony flower and that this one…

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…is on Horse Mint.

The road crossed a bridge over the Céou which was a good place for spotting fish and also more Beautiful Demoiselles…

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Male.

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Female.

Right at the end of our stay, we came down to the bridge because some of the party wanted to emulate some swimmers we had seen by leaping from a high branch into the water.

In the event, only E managed it, not because of the height of the jump, but because of the difficulty of climbing the tree – there was a crude ladder of planks nailed to the tree-trunk, but one of the rungs was missing. Here’s E just before she jumped…

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The rest of us had to content ourselves with jumping from the bridge itself or from a small wall beside it…

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Which, frankly, was quite high enough for me.

To the Bakery and Back

Foulshaw Moss Again

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Figwort.

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Wasp on Figwort.

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Green-veined White on Tufted Vetch.

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Green-veined White on Bramble.

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Large Skipper on Tufted Vetch.

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Large Skipper on Thistle.

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Large Skipper on Bramble.

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Common Carder Bumblebee (I think) on Thistle.

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Cinnabar Moth Caterpillars on Ragwort.

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Foulshaw Moss, with Arnside Knott and Meathop Fell on the skyline.

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Foulshaw Moss, with Whitbarrow Scar behind.

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Great Spotted Woodpecker, adult, female I think.

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Great Spotted Woodpecker, juvenile.

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Black Darter, female.

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Foulshaw Moss.

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Common Lizard.

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A web-tent. I couldn’t see any caterpillars within.

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Scots Pines.

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Reed Bunting, male.

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Marbled Orb Weaver Spider (perhaps).

These photos were taken just over a month ago on an evening visit to Foulshaw Moss whilst A was at her weekly dancing lessons. Since they were taken, we’ve been away for three weeks, camping in Wales and then France, and this little outing feels like a distant memory.

I have enjoyed looking through them, however, and trying to put names to things I recorded. Not here are the many small birds which tumbled about in the trees, Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits, Linnets and Chaffinches. Also missing are the crickets and/or grasshoppers which I saw, but failed to photograph and the Ospreys, Adders and Large Heath Butterflies which I hope to see when I visit, but which have always eluded me so far.

The Black Darter, Britain’s smallest species of Dragonfly, is new to me, so that should probably be the highlight, but it was the adult Great Spotted Woodpecker, which I heard first and then picked out in flight, flying, unusually, towards me rather than away and landing at the top of a dead Birch relatively nearby, which will stick in my mind. Also, the hordes of Wasps feeding on Figwort flowers, reminding me of my observation last year that the flowers and the Wasps seem to have coevolved so that a Wasp’s head is a perfect fit for a Figwort flower.

 

Foulshaw Moss Again

At Swim Two Becks

Skelwith Bridge – Elter Water – Elterwater – Little Langdale – Slater Bridge – Stang End – Skelwith Bridge.

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Continuing the theme of my last post – novelty versus familiarity – this is a route I’ve walked countless times over the years, but this iteration was unlike any previous version. It was late afternoon, after work, but still very hot. Skelwith Force was a bit of a misnomer for the normally thunderous waterfall, now relatively tame. I was heading for this large pool in the River Brathay.

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Purple Loosestrife.

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Purple Loosestrife – Emily – is this what’s in your garden?

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Before I got to this point in the river, I was examining another clump of Purple Loosestrife when this Shield Bug landed on my hand and then on the path. I think it’s a Bronze Shieldbug, but I’m not entirely confident.

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Harebell.

Anyway, the reason I’d strayed slightly from the path and stuck to the riverbank, was that I was looking for a place for a swim. This looked perfect…

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And it was! The water was deep and quite warm, but cool enough to be refreshing. It was almost immediately deep, straight from the bank, but I found a place where I thought I could ease myself in, except that the riverbed was so slippery that I lost my footing, both feet sliding out from under me, and fell in anyway. It was a beautiful spot for a swim, with stunning views and a host of damselflies and dragonflies keeping me company.

A short walk upstream, past what looked like another ideal place for swimming, brought me to Elter Water…

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The lake, not the village. I’d had an idea that I might swim here too, but, as you can see, the water was very shallow close in and further out I thought I could see a great deal of weed, which I found a bit off-putting; I decided to bide my time.

If I wasn’t swimming, there were plenty of fish that were…

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I still had my wet-shoes on and paddled into the water to take some photos. The fish weren’t very frightened of me…

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I changed back into shoes more suited for walking, but retained my rapidly drying trunks; I had plans for more swimming.

In fact, before I’d left for this part of the Lakes, I’d been poring over the map, looking at blue bits which promised the possibility of a swim. As is often the case, I’d got carried away and had identified numerous potential spots and was toying with the idea of linking them together in an extended walking and swimming journey reminiscent of the central character’s trip in the film and John Cheever short-story ‘The Swimmer’, with your’s truly in the muscular Burt Lancaster role, obviously.

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Small Tortoiseshell butterflies. I saw, and photographed, loads of them.

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Silver-Y Moth. I saw lots of these too, but they were very elusive to photograph.

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Lots of Harebells too!

The short climb from the village of Elterwater over to Little Langdale was hot and sticky work, but brought the reward of views of Little Langdale Tarn and the Coniston Fells…

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This…

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…is the River Brathay again, flowing out of Little Langdale Tarn.

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Slater Bridge.

I thought that this pool…

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…just downstream of Slater Bridge, might have swimming potential, but couldn’t be sure that it was deep enough, so wanted to check the pool I’d seen before, back toward Little Langdale Tarn.

The ground beside the river, even after our long dry spell, was still quite spongy and full of typical wet, heathland vegetation, including lots of Heath Spotted-orchids.

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Good to have an opportunity to compare these with its close relative Common Spotted-orchid which I’ve photographed around home recently.

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This pool turned out to be ideal again. I dug my stove out of my bag, to make a cup of tea ready for when I’d had a swim. Whilst I was busy, a dragonfly landed on a nearby boulder. I grabbed my camera, but the photograph came out horribly blurred.  It does show a dragonfly which is exactly the same pale blue as a male Broad-bodied Chaser, but with a much narrower abdomen, making it either a male Black-tailed Skimmer or a male Keeled Skimmer, probably the latter, based on the distribution maps in my Field Guide, which makes it a first for me.

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White Water-lily – the largest flower indigenous to Britain, but it closes and slowly withdraws into the water each day after midday.

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Yellow Water-lily.

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Once again, the water was deep right to the bank, but somebody had piled up rocks under the water to make it easier to get in and out. The water here was colder than it had been further downstream, quite bracing even, somewhat to my surprise. I enjoyed this swim even more than the first. The low sun was catching the Bog Cotton on the bank…

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…and was also making reflected ripple patterns on the peaty exposed bank, which were stunning, but which I can’t show you because they were only visible from the water. In addition, the Bog Myrtle bushes growing along the bank were giving off a lovely earthy, musky fragrance.

It was eight o’clock by now, and I expected to have the river to myself, but a couple arrived for a swim and once they were changed and in the water, I got out to enjoy my cup of tea.

Returning to Slater Bridge…

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I watched two large dragonflies rapidly touring the area. They were so fast that my efforts to take photographs were doomed to failure. I thought that they were Golden-ringed Dragonflies, like the ones I saw mating near to Fox’s Pulpit last summer. At one point, one of them repeatedly landed momentarily on the surface of the water, or rather splashed onto the surface, making a ripple, and then instantly flew on again, only to almost immediately repeat the procedure. I have no idea what purpose this behaviour served. It was very odd.

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I still had a fair way to go to get back to the car, but also the last of the light to enjoy whilst I walked it.

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The post’s title is meant to be a punning reference to ‘At Swim Two Birds’, Flann O’Brien’s wonderfully nutty book, which some people claim is even better than his ‘The Third Policeman’. I probably should reread them both to see what I think now, after a break of a few years; if the house weren’t stuffed to the rafters with books I haven’t ever read, I would set about that task tomorrow. ‘At Swim Two Becks’ seemed appropriate when I thought I had swum in Great Langdale Beck and Greenburn Beck and before I had examined the map again and realised that in fact I’d swum in two different stretches of the River Brathay.

Of course, Heraclitus, whom I am fond of quoting, tells us that you can never step into the same river twice. You can, however, walk the same route twice, but it will never be the same each time. Previous blog-posts of much the same route, none of which involve swimming, Burt Lancaster, John Cheever or the novels of Flann O’Brien:

A walk with my Mum and Dad.

A walk with TBH.

A snowy walk with friends

A more recent walk with different friends.

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At Swim Two Becks