In Praise of Limestone

Castlebarrow – Waterslack – Hawes Water – Gait Barrows – Silverdale Moss – Hazelslack – Beetham Fell – Beetham – Dallam Deer Park – Milnthorpe – River Bela – Sandside Cutting – Kent Estuary – Arnside – Arnside Knott – Heathwaite – Holgates

This could have been ‘A Snowdrop Walk’ but I think I’ve already had at least one of those in the last nine hundred posts (the last one was number 900, I now realise). It might also have been ‘The Ruined Cottages Walk’ since I passed three ramshackle buildings, generally not too far from where the snowdrops were.


Before I departed, I’d already been for a wander to the Co-op to pick up croissants, rolls and eggs for everybody else’s breakfast. After a second, leisurely cup of tea, I set-off at around ten and was soon at the edge of Eaves Wood, by a substantial patch of snowdrops, donning a coat as it began to first rain and then hail.


It had been sunny only moments before and I decided to head up to Castlebarrow – not part of my original plan – to get a higher viewpoint. Just short of the top, I disturbed a Buzzard which flapped lazily out of a tall standard left in an area which had otherwise been cleared of trees.

When I reached Castlebarrow and the Pepperpot…


…it had stopped raining, but it looked like Lancaster was probably getting a hammering.


The weather seemed idyllic again when I reached Hawes Water.


Another pair of Buzzards were circling overhead, but by the time I had dug my camera out of my rucksack, they had disappeared behind the trees. I would hear the plaintive kew of Buzzards several more times during the walk, but this was the last time I saw any. Nor did I see the Sparrow-hawk which I saw here last week and forgot to mention in the appropriate post.

Having stopped to look though, I now realised that atop one of the trees down by the reed fringed shore of the lake…


…perched a Cormorant. I’ve seen them here before and they’re hardly uncommon on the Bay, so perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised (and delighted) to find one here.

In the woods there was a Nuthatch and a Treecreeper, both too elusive for me and my camera. And of course…


…more snowdrops.


Looking back across Hawes Water to Challan Hall. (The Cormorant was still on its high perch).

By the bench on the boardwalks near the lake another walker had stopped for a breather. He had company…


Although I was heading for Beetham Fell, I didn’t feel any need for urgency and took a detour across the meadow, by the hedge…


…wondering about the very tall cloud above the Gait Barrows woods, and whether it might be an ill omen, weatherwise…



I was heading for the Gait Barrows limestone pavements…






It’s not all that far from there to Silverdale moss, but you can see that in the meantime, the weather had taken another turn for the worse…


The Cloven Ash.

It was pretty gloomy, but I could pick out a few Greylag, one of them clearly sitting on a nest, also a distant white bird, probably a Little Egret, and what I could identify, with the aid of the camera, as a male Golden Eye.


I turned to take some photos of these King Alfred’s Cakes on some logs left from the demise of the Cloven Ash and, as I did, it began to hail, soon quite ferociously.


I pulled my coat back on again, and then turned back to the Moss, because the nesting Greylag was clearly upset about something and was honking vociferously. A Marsh Harrier was quartering the reeds, at one point dropping and spiralling down to a spot very close to the excited goose.


It was gloomy and chucking it down, so none of my photos came out brilliantly, but it was fantastic to watch.


Fortunately, the rotten weather didn’t last too long, and soon I was shedding layers for the long climb from Hazelslack to the top of Beetham Fell.


Arnside Knott, Kent Estuary and Hampsfell from Beetham Fell.

Last Easter, when A and I came through this way on our walk to Keswick, we noticed a huge area of Snowdrop leaves, though the flowers had long since finished. I decided then that I would be back this February to take another look.


I think that this was the largest single patch, but the Snowdrops extend over quite a large area.


The climb from the outskirts of Beetham uphill to Dallam Deer Park was hard work because the ground was super-saturated, a bit like your average Highland hillside. I think it was mainly due to the extent that the ground had been trampled by the sheep in the field, because once I crossed the ha-ha wall into the Park the going got much firmer.


Dallam Deer Park, the River Bela and Milnthorpe.


Farleton Fell.


The Deer.


This unusual building…


…is a shelter for the deer.

From Milnthorpe I turned to follow the Bela, first across the park and then out to where it meets the Kent on the latter’s estuary.

In the park, a single Canada Goose joined a flotilla of ducks, mostly mallards but with a group of four diving ducks amongst them, the males black and white, the females a dull brown: tufted ducks.


River Bela and Whitbarrow Scar.


Greylag Goose.


A little further along, on the Kent, a group of six small fluffy diving ducks gave me pause. Even with the powerful zoom of the camera I struggled to get decent photos, but I think that these are Dabchicks: Little Grebes.


I was a little torn here: I had wanted to climb Haverbrack, but I also wanted to include Arnside Knott and didn’t think I had time for both. In the end, I decided to walk along the embankment (an old railway line, a Beeching casualty) which follows the Kent Estuary. The walk was delightful, but a low blanket of cloud was flattening the light so I didn’t take any pictures for a while.


Silverdale Moss from Arnside Knott. A snow dusted Ingleborough in the background.


In Praise of Limestone

Black Combe


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…


White Hall Knott.

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


…and across to the Duddon Estuary…


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…


…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?


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…


…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…


And guess what, at least two resident Painted Ladies…


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


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.


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.


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


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


Buck Barrow and Whitfell from Stoupdale Crags.


Meadow Pipit (I think) amongst Cotton Grass.


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


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


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


Looking back to Stoupdale Crags.


Black Combe summit.


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).


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.


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


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.


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?)


As yet unidentified moth.

Black Combe

Black Combe

Clouds, Mist, Sunset, Moon from Warton Crag

A Saturday afternoon early in January. The day after our Black Fell outing in fact. The forecast for the day was pretty dismal, except that around three o’clock the cloud and rain was apparently going to clear to give a final hour of sunshine to close the short winter day. And it did. The transformation was so quick that it was quite stunning: blue sky suddenly seemed to materialise where all had been grey and gloom.

I’d planned ahead – I would head to Carnforth to do some grocery shopping, but pause en route for a quick jaunt up Warton Crag. I found a path I’d never followed before, which gave a very pleasant stroll to the top. I didn’t stop to take photos – the views were clear, extensive and glorious, but they would be so much better from a higher vantage point I thought, and besides, I wanted to reach the summit in time for the sunset.


But when I got there, a low blanket of cloud had rolled in off the sea. The Cumbrian Fells were obscured.

The bay was only hazily visible…


And the coast to the south and the Bowland hills were missing from the view too….


But as you can see, the sun was suffusing the thin layer of cloud with colours and the cloud was still rolling through, shifting and tearing, putting on a real show.


There were a few other people at the top, chatting, taking photos and enjoying the spectacle.


Gradually the cloud was thinning and clearing away.


And the sun was inexorably sliding towards the horizon.







As soon as the sun finally disappeared, the temperature appreciably dropped. Or maybe it just felt colder. When I checked my watch, I could hardly believe that I’d only been watching for about 15 minutes – I took so many photos, and I felt like I’d been there an age.

In the meantime, the Lake District hills had reappeared to the north…


As I turned to head back to the car, I noticed that the moon was already high in the eastern sky. The shadowy bulk to the right of the moon is Ingleborough.


My new camera does pretty well with hand held shots of the moon (switched to black and white mode and with the exposure compensation turned down as far as it will go).


Having found a path which was new to me on my way up, I followed my favourite old familiar one on the way down. It follows a limestone edge and on this occasion gave great views of a thin smear of mist rising across the salt marsh and the fields.



And of the lights coming on in Warton, Millhead and Carnforth and the flooded fields which surround Warton every winter.




The moon and Ingleborough again. It was, for all intents and purposes, dark when I took this shot – I’m amazed how much colour it has in it. I’m quite excited about the potential of my new toy!

Not bad for a walk that lasted around an hour and half.

Clouds, Mist, Sunset, Moon from Warton Crag

Loughrigg Fell


Between Christmas and New Year, TBH’s parents came to stay for a couple of days. We left them and the children alone together for a day so that they could enjoy their rights to spoil and be spoiled without any interference from us. That’s my excuse anyway.

As we so often do when we have some free time together, TBH and I headed for the Langdale area. (Our first outing together was Jake’s Rake on Pavey Ark, but that’s another story.) We weren’t particularly early getting off, and it was, unsurprisingly, very busy, so by the time we’d found somewhere to park it was almost lunch time. Fortunately, a short stroll along the Brathay (or is it still Langdale Beck hereabouts – I’m never sure?) brought us to Chesters at Skelwith Bridge. Which was insanely busy. But we were quite fortunate in our timing and soon got seats and I have to say that the medley of salads we shared went a long way to demonstrate why the place is so popular.


My plan had been to walk one of the variations of one of our favourite walks – Skelwith Force, Colwith Force, Little Langdale and over the hill back to Elterwater, but when we’d finished lunch the sun shine was gently nudging me in another direction.


We took the minor road to Tarn Foot and then the rather lovely path round Ivy Crag, which I’m not sure I’ve ever walked before. It was popular, but with views like this one….


….why wouldn’t it be?

A number of paths cut up from that one towards the top of Loughrigg.


The gain in height broadened the views…


Loughrigg Tarn and the hills around Langdale.

Whilst low winter sun and golden crepuscular rays added to the colour and drama of the scene…


Eltermere and the Coniston Fells.


TBH on Loughrigg summit.


Fairfield Horseshoe.



We cut down from the top on a path not shown on the map below, although it is on the OS 1:25000. The big building in the centre of this photo is High Close YHA. We’ll be staying there later this year, with the usual crowd plus many more old friends, and something like this route would probably be ideal for a massed families wander.


We discovered that the woods around and below High Close all belong to the National Trust and are access land, so we had an unexpectedly pleasant route back down to the valley and our car.

Loughrigg Walk

Smashing day out that. More please!

Loughrigg Fell

Clough Head and Great Dodd


St. John’s in the Vale and Naddle Fell.

Long-suffering readers of this blog have probably come to realise that November and I don’t always see eye-to-eye. We aren’t exactly bosom-buddies. You might even say that I have a certain prejudice against November: I bear a grudge and no amount of comedy facial hair and feeble-pun-based name changes are ever likely to heal the rift. What is November? Autumn is pretty much over. Winter hasn’t really got going. The dark nights are drawing in, and……well:

the dark nights are drawing in
and your humour is as black as them
I look at yours, you laugh at mine
and”love” is just a miserable lie

from ‘Miserable Lie’ by The Smiths

The temptation is to succumb to some proper Morrissey miserablism and hide under a pillow until it’s all over.

Or, at least, that was what I thought. But this November unleashed an unbroken string of stunning Sundays (and some non-too-shabby Saturdays too) and I think relations might be defrosting somewhat.


Raven Crag.

I got a reasonably early start: walking at around 8, parked up at Wanthwaite, St. John’s-in-the-Vale, almost opposite where the Old Coach Road emerges onto the modern B5322. Amongst the trees around the old quarries here were substantial flocks of birds – mixed flocks of tits, starlings, field fare etc. Also quite a lot of fairly large toadstools including several groups of the archetypal fly agaric with it’s scarlet cap and white spots.

There’s a path marked on the map which climbs towards Threlkeld Knotts, but I just followed the boundary on the north side of the quarries and then struck off uphill on a slightly diagonal line, assuming that my route would eventually intersect the path.

The view behind of the early light on Naddle Fell (or High Rigg depending on which authority you trust the most) gave me all the excuse I needed for frequent pauses for breathers.

Beyond Naddle Fell, Raven Crag, or at least I presume that it was Raven Crag, was rearing above of the trees, slightly cloaked by mist, looking rather mean, moody and magnificent. I think it must be a Birkett, and since I don’t know the northern end of that broad, Central Lakeland ridge which runs south from Keswick down, ultimately, to the Langdale Pikes, I made a mental note that I must come back and climb it some time.

Meanwhile, the fells in the North-West Lakes were almost completely cloud free, and would remain so, as far as I could tell, all day. (I can’t be sure because at times I was in the clouds myself and couldn’t see how things were progressing elsewhere.)


You can see that I had a few spots of rain on my camera lens. It was one of those sort of days – very changeable weather: fast-moving clouds, some of them low, rainbows, short sharp showers and plenty of sunshine too and all of that quite localised. A great day to be out in fact: if you can’t have wall-to-wall sunshine and pin-sharp views, well then this is, as far as I’m concerned, the next best thing. In fact, I’m sure that you could make a strong case for this being the very best kind of day.

A bit of luck is necessary though. A while back, I climbed Blencathra in cloud and rain. Clough Head was bathed in sunshine when I entered the cloud and still cloud-free, bright and sunny when I dropped below the cloud later. 


Today wasn’t too dissimilar: Skiddaw and Blencathra were capped with a mantle of cloud almost all day, only briefly appearing for one short interval.

On my climb toward Threlkeld Knotts I encountered a loose grouping of four fell ponies, which gives me an excuse for another photo of Naddle Fell catching the sun…



Another fell pony.

I finally met the path only to leave it again almost immediately on another path, not marked on the map, which took me to one of Threlkeld Knotts’ cairned tops, slightly below the knoll with spot height 514m which Birkett gives as the summit.


From the summit of Threlkeld Knotts.


The face of Clough Head which towers over the Knotts is pretty steep, but the path – which you might be able to pick out in the photo above, rising diagonally from left to right – although loose in places, is a delight. Especially if the clouds are sweeping up the valley from Thirlmere and adding drama to the view behind…..



Emerging on to the shoulder of Clough Head.


Looking north across swirling clouds.


Summit cairn, Clough Head.

I didn’t have much of a view from the top of Clough Head, although the sky was still blue overhead.


The onward view: Great Dodd, Little Dodd, Calfhow Pike.


The weather was changing really rapidly now. Black clouds closed in and it began to rain more vehemently. But the North-Western Fells seemed charmed, staying relatively clear. I stopped at Calfhow Pike for a late breakfast and whilst I sat, the scene changed again…


I’ve walked this ridge before, a couple of times I think, although not for many years, and I have to confess that Calfhow Pike has left no impression from my previous visits. The path bypasses it, so perhaps I didn’t visit at all. If you choose to come this way, I commend it to you: it’s only a little pimple really, but being rocky it has lots of nooks and crannies and I imagine that in all but the stiffest of winds you could, as I did, find a sheltered spot to get out of the weather for a brew and a bite to eat. (Boiled eggs, tomatoes and crispy bacon if you wanted to know. Or even if you didn’t.)


A blanket of cloud was advancing up the Thirlmere valley and putting on a free show.


After the roaring success of my last little quiz (one response, could have been worse!) here’s a riddle for you:

I am the daughter of Earth and Water,
       And the nursling of the Sky;
I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores;
       I change, but I cannot die.

Too easy? Well, it’s not really a riddle anyway. It’s from ‘The Cloud’ by Shelley – the title might be a bit of a giveaway. But it struck me that it resembled the sort of thing Bilbo might have used to try to outfox Golem.


Looking back, Calfhow Pike and Clough Head. Notice Blencathra and Skiddaw almost free of cloud behind. Didn’t last long.

So, the point being – perhaps not emerging very clearly – the point being that, although I scour the forecasts hoping to see “100% chance of cloud free summits”, in point of fact, a few clouds, of the right sort, in the right places, can really enhance a view, and a walk, and a day, and the memories of that day.


I didn’t spend long on Great Dodd, just enough time to visit both summit cairns and to say a brief hello to the only other walker I met that day on the hills. A fell runner had already passed me twice, once going up and once hurtling down again. Had I mentioned that these hills were deserted? Lake District hills. On a weekend. When the forecast was pretty respectable. Just goes to show – you can still find peace and quiet, even in the overcrowded Lakes. The Old Coach Road was a little busier, but I’ll get to that later.

You’ll notice that I’ve skipped all mention of Little Dodd, the third of five Birketts on this circuit. That’s because I didn’t notice Little Dodd. It’s a name vaguely spread-eagled across a broad shoulder and has no contours to call it’s own. One of those inexplicable ones.

The photo above is from the ‘summit’ of Randerside, the final Birkett of the day, also bereft of its own contours, but worth a visit for two reasons – firstly because, like Calfhowe Pike, it has a good deal of craggy rock with handy folds and clefts where shelter from the weather can be found – an opportunity I didn’t hesitate to take, and secondly because coming this way brought me down across Matterdale Common, an agreeably empty expanse, which I might otherwise not have thought to explore.

It had been raining again, but now things were looking promising, with sunshine lighting up the long ridge of High Street…


There’s a path across Matterdale Common, but I chose to wander off-piste, both for a gander at Wolf Crags, and to bag the small top at spot height 541m, to the east of Wolf Crags. I couldn’t remember whether that was another Birkett or not (it isn’t). You can surely understand my confusion – it has exactly the same spot height as Threlkeld Knotts, likewise has two contours of its own and actually feels more like a top in its own right. To the south, just beyond Groove Beck and Wham Moss (no – I’m not making this up), High Brow, also with two contours does get Birkett status. It’s all very arbitrary. But that’s fine.


Matterdale Common.


Wolf Crags and Clough Head.

From the unnamed hummock, I dropped steeply down to meet the Old Coach Road – a busy thoroughfare, I met another walker and her dog, saw two more walkers on the track ahead of me and was passed, repeatedly, by three guys on trials bikes who seemed to be driving back and forth along the ‘road’.


The Old Coach Road and Clough Head.

Now here’s another poser: that prominent ridge on the right-hand side of Clough Head rises to a little pointy peak – White Pike. Not a Birkett. Why not?


White Pike.

Anyway – it’s duly noted for my next ascent of Clough Head, whenever that might be.

Notice the old goods wagon below the pike – I know that some people treasure those. Even collect them. Irrational perhaps, but not any more so than ticking off Birketts whilst incessantly moaning about the odd choices in the listing.


Rainbow! And Threlkeld Common.


Another old goods wagon. Slightly worse for wear.


Clough Head.


Blencathra – still doggedly refusing to reveal itself.

I was back to the car at around three, with a bit of daylight to spare, even accounting for the short, November days. This was my first proper hill outing for far too long: I hope that you can tell that I really relished it. And if November insists on snuggling up to me like this, well – we may even become friends.

You know, I sometimes think that November might be much misunderstood. Unfairly maligned. In fact, I don’t even know what it is that everybody seems to hold against it…..

Clough Head and Great Dodd

Slime Mould

Big skies

We’ve been having big sky weather – the forecast has been showing a black cloud with blue tears dropping from it and a spiky yellow sun poking out from behind – this has translated as large rolling clouds, white from a distance but black beneath, heavy showers, sometimes of hail, but also bright sunny spells. Proper April weather in fact.

This afternoon I proffered a late afternoon invitation for a walk and A accepted. She suggested the Pepper Pot and I asked if she minded if we dropped down on the Arnside Knott side afterwards…

Arnside Knott 

…which gave us another chance to take a look at the…

Green hellebore 

…green hellebore.

Green hellebore flower 

We also found a wonderful patch starred with wood anemones…


But the real star of the show was the blob I spotted on a birch log on my last visit.

This is what it looked like then…


…pure white, smooth, shiny and slightly uncanny.

Slime mould 

I wondered whether it might be fungi, but couldn’t find anything like it in any of my mushroom field guides. Phil suggested that it might be a slime mould, Enteridium lycoperdon, and naturally he’s quite right.

Here’s how it looked today.

Slime mould

A gentle touch sent small puffs of brown spores floating in the breeze.

Slime mould’s were once considered to be fungi, but they are far more weird and wonderful than that. They move. Like amoeba. Then they enter a sporangial phase, as above.

Further reading: (yes, yes, I pilfered this idea from Alen. Steal from the best, that’s my motto)

Here’s a link to four fascinating posts of Phil’s about various slime moulds. Well worth a read.

This is the wikipedia entry on this particular type:

And here is an excellent article from the Grauniad online, about experiments involving slime moulds and their apparent ability to solve problems without the aid of a nervous system.

Slime Mould

Never So Fair

Come a Thursday night and thoughts turn to the possibilities for getting out and about over the forthcoming weekend. Forecasts are checked, maps mental and actual are perused, plans are hatched. Last week, the local forecast for Sunday looked particularly promising and my half-baked plans centred around a Sunday morning jaunt.

On the day, I was awake fairly early, and might, I suppose, have made an early start in the car and headed off to do a bit of exploring, within the limits of what my dodgy ankle would allow. But no, after a quick internal consultation, I discovered that a local walk was unanimously favoured. In fact, ‘a local walk’ eventually became three very short excursions interspersed with brief breaks at home to rest the ankle, pick-up batteries for the camera, brew-up, eat lunch etc. All very civilized actually.

Hazel catkins

Every year, when a sunny early-spring opportunity presents itself, I like to take a photo of hazel catkins, now long and yellow and opened and presumably spreading pollen with abandon, and post the photo here. In my mind it means: the fuse of spring has been lit. But on this occasion, whilst I was taking the photo, I found that I was distracted by misplaced sea anemones, waving their tiny tentacles in search of hedgerow minnows.

Hazel flower - female

How have I taken so many catkin photos in the last few years and always missed these? In my defence, they are very small, but once I noticed one, it was like the scales had been lifted – they were everywhere. These are the Hazel’s female flowers, whilst the catkins are male flowers. Next spring expect more lamb’s-tail catkins, but also more waving red tentacles.


It wasn’t just me enjoying a taste of spring, whilst the curlews and oyster-catchers in the fields were working diligently, the smaller birds in the wood and the hedges were singing and hopping about and generally strutting their funky stuff. With no leaves on the trees this is a brilliant time to watch those birds. Over the three trips I saw robins, great tits, blue tits, marsh tits, long-tailed tits, a nuthatch, bullfinches, chaffinches, thrushes and blackbirds. Nothing out of the ordinary, but marvellous none-the-less.

Backlit beech leaf 

My first stroll took me into Eaves Wood. I’d thought: “Winter sun = backlit leaves”, but actually few opportunities presented themselves. Fortunately, there were many more things to point my camera at.


Including this crow, rather brazenly sunning itself over our neighbours chicken-coop.


My second stroll, a lollipop route up across the fields to Stanklet Lane, into Pointer Wood, along Hollins Lane to the cliff-top path, which took me back to Stankelt Lane and the path across the fields to home. A hollow in the limestone pavement in Pointer Wood seems to provide a perfect environment for primroses, which thrive there. Later in the spring there will be a stunning display, but already a few flowers are showing…

First roses 


Hazel flowers 

Male and female Hazel flowers.

Blue tit investigates nesting hole. 

I stood for a while and watched and listened to the birds. I particularly enjoyed a nuthatch edging down a branch head first, bullfinches very high in the trees, and a pair of blue tits exploring a promising hole in a tree trunk.

The third time I went out the kids tagged along. Well, there may actually have been an element of me dragging them along. But once we were out they were more than happy. They have their own agenda of course: I tinkered with our route to it, but inevitably we had to incorporate a visit to the many-limbed ‘climbing tree’ early in the walk. This time nobody fell out of it, which was a relief.

Posing in the 'climbing tree'. 

Castlebarrow was busy, with various groups assembled by the Pepper Pot enjoying the sunshine and the view. The kids had more trees to climb and a complicated game to play in which they were shape-shifters metamorphosing into myriad animal forms. I left them flapping and crawling and roaring their way around the hill and found a sheltered grassy spot, out of the niggley wind, where I could indulge in a little cloud watching.

Cloud watching 

Or to put it another way: lying down. The cloud had been building through the day. Until I lay down and observed for a while, I had it down as archetypal fluffy cumulus. Maybe it was cumulus, but on a fairly still day it moved quite quickly, rolling and tearing – fascinating to watch and decidedly not cotton wool white lumps. The sky directly overhead cleared completely and was then divided by the contrail of a transatlantic jet. I was surprised how quickly that contrail dispersed. My eyes may even have closed for a moment or two. Then I watched, high above, a large bird of prey effortlessly circling, probably a buzzard.

 Backlit birch bark

Backlit, peeling, papery birch bark.

Running in the woods 

Running in the woods.

Eaves Wood

Bare trees.

Unfurling cuckoo pint leaf

And a final photo of the day – I’d come looking for backlit leaf-litter, but much more appropriately, was presented with this glowing, unfurling cuckoo pint leaf, Arum maculatum, another symbol of early spring.

And the evenings are lengthening. Magic.


Another effect that bright fresh spring days have on me, is to send me back to the poetry of e.e. cummings, and on this occasion I found this…

The Eagle


It was one of those clear,sharp.mustless days
        That summer and man delight in.
Never had Heaven seemed quite so high,
Never had earth seemed quite so green,
Never had the world seemed quite so clean
Or sky so nigh.
        And I heard the Deity’s voice in
            The sun’s warm rays,
        And the white cloud’s intricate maze,
And the blue sky’s beautiful sheen. 

I looked to the heavens and saw him there,–
        A black speck downward drifting,
Nearer and nearer he steadily sailed,
Nearer and nearer he slid through space,
In an unending aerial race,
       This sailor who hailed
       From the Clime of the Clouds.–Ever shifting,
            On billows of air
        And the blue sky seemed never so fair,
And the rest of the world kept pace. 

On the white of his head the sun flashed bright;
        And he battled the wind with wide pinions,
Clearer and clearer the gale whistled loud,
Clearer and clearer he came into view,–
Bigger and blacker against the blue.
        Then a dragon of cloud
        Gathering all its minions
            Rushed to the fight,
        And swallowed him up in a bite;
And the sky lay empty clear through.

Long I watched.   And at last afar
        Caught sight of a speck in the vastness;
Ever smaller,ever decreasing,
Ever drifting,drifting awayInto the endless realms of day;
        Finally ceasing.
        So into Heaven’s vast fastness
           Vanished that bar
Of black,as a fluttering star
Goes out while still on its way.

So I lost him.   But I shall always see
            In my mind
The warm,yellow sun,and the ether free;
The vista’s sky,and the white cloud trailing,
        Trailing behind,–
And below the young earth’s summer-green arbors,
And on high the eagle,–sailing,sailing
        Into far skies and unknown harbors

Which, if not a perfect fit, chimed with my day sufficiently to make it glow again in retrospect.

Never So Fair