Walking and Gawking

Eaves Wood – The Row – Bottom’s Lane – The Green – Stankelt Lane – The Lots – The Cove – Elmslack Lane

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Cherry Blossom.

The forecast was poor, but the rain was meant to stop eventually, late in the afternoon. It didn’t, but then just when it seemed set in for the entire day it suddenly both stopped raining and brightened up, leaving dramatic dark skies to the east, but sunshine overhead.

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Honesty.

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I headed up the Coronation Path (bought in 1953 by the village to give access to Eaves Wood) knowing that I would gain height with a view of those glowering clouds.

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The sun was low filtering through the trees and lighting the new Beech leaves…

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From Castlebarrow, looking over the village, I could see the hills of the Forest of Bowland were still shrouded in a layer of cloud.

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But that it was slightly brighter out over the bay…

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A Robin was serenading me from the top of a Yew tree level with the crag…

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Beech leaves in a rut, Andy Goldsworthy style?

Most of these photos were taken in the early part of the walk. After that the light was generally too poor. When I’d asked TBH to lend me her phone so that I could monitor my mileage, A had very kindly offered me hers instead, but insisted that I use a different App which she assured me was ‘better’ in some unspecified way.

This turned out to mean that the phone, rather disconcertingly, announced aloud, every kilometre, my average speed, split times, distance etc. It took me a bit by surprise the first time, to be spoken to in an American accent whilst I was ostensibly alone in the woods. It was no real surprise, on the other hand, to discover that my speed increases significantly when I stop taking photos.

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After my almost obligatory visit to The Lots and The Cove I walked past a friend’s house and discovered him having a quiet smoke on his front step. Twenty minutes later as we sat chewing the fat over a cup of tea in his kitchen, A’s phone piped up to deliver very disappointing news about my current speed and split time.

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Must try harder obviously!

Walking and Gawking

Two Bonus Birthday Hills

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Cove Road Quince flowers.

So, I had a little op, part of my ongoing review of local surgery facilities. I had the same op 24 years ago. On that occasion, I spent a few days in hospital afterwards, and although the aftermath was a good deal better than the few days prior to the procedure, suffice to say that it wasn’t entirely comfortable. This time then, I knew what to expect. What’s more the surgeon had warned me that I would need at least a week off work to recuperate (and then scotched that silver-lining by sending me a date at the beginning of a two week holiday period) and I had been sent home with a handy collection of pain-killers to help me get by.

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Violets.

I went under the knife on the day before my birthday, so not much chance then of my usual walk on my birthday, and certainly no hill-climbing, at least that’s what I thought, which was why I was so keen to drag the kids up Pen-y-ghent and Helvellyn in the days beforehand.

But this time, the op had been performed as a day case, so at least I was sent home. And it had gone much better than expected and I wasn’t really experiencing much pain. A little discomfort would be nearer the mark.

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This clump of sedge is close to the Elmslack entrance to Eaves Wood. I’ve walked past them countless times before, but never noticed them flowering, or are they fruiting? To the left of the rush the shorter, fine ‘grass’ is actually some kind of garlic or chive – it has a strong garlic flavour and smell.

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A consultation of ‘Roger Phillips Grasses, Ferns, Mosses & Lichens of Great Britain and Ireland’ has led me to the conviction that this is Hairy Woodrush.

In fact, I felt pretty good. I’d been told I couldn’t drive for 24 hours. And that I couldn’t be left alone during the same period. But nobody had categorically told me that I couldn’t go for a birthday walk. And the sun was shining. Or at least, it was when I set off, although a wave of cloud was rushing in from the west, presumably carried in on a front of some kind.

I did go out on my own, which probably contravened the terms of my release, but I took my mobile so that I cold phone for help, if I fell unconscious or somesuch….

I planned to head up to Castlebarrow, giving me a hill, however small, as is my custom on my birthday and a vantage point to watch the weather change, but I was distracted by the area of fallen trees just off the path, which the children used to enjoy visiting in order to build a den between the roots of two large trunks.

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There are several large fallen trees in the one small area…

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The area around the trees is now filling up with a thicket of saplings…

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…in contrast with other nearby areas where the mature trees still stand and the woodland floor is only covered with old leaves and the odd patch of Cuckoo Pint.

I expected to find fungi growing on the dead wood…

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And I did!

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But also, on an old Yew, a new Yew…

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And…

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….something else, I’m not sure what.

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New leaves…Hazel?

Because of all of my faffing about admiring dead trees and fungi, by the time I reached Castlebarrow, the blue sky had virtually all been enveloped by the cloud.

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It was really too gloomy for taking bird photos, but there were a number of duelling Robins on adjacent small trees…

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…and I couldn’t resist them!

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Blue Moor Grass

From Castlebarrow I dropped down on to the northern side and took a dog walkers path into Middlebarrow which I may have followed before, but which I don’t know well. I heard a Green Woodpecker yaffle very close at hand. Scanning the nearby trees I was rewarded with a flash of exotic green and red as the woodpecker flew away. I frequently hear Green Woodpeckers but very rarely see them, so this was a special moment.

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Arnside Tower and Blackthorn blossom.

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Honeysuckle.

Following the path which traces the northern edge of the Caravan Park I expected to see Green Hellebore…

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Green Hellebore. No flowers in evidence. Too late or too early – I suspect the latter.

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Primroses.

But certainly didn’t expect to see another Green Woodpecker. I heard it first, then tracked down its position due to the sound of it knocking persistently on the trunk of a tree. I could just make out it’s head…

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And managed a frustratingly useless first-ever photograph of a Green Woodpecker. It soon flew off, and whilst I waited to see if it would return, and watched the antics of a dog which had skipped over the wall from the path and was gleefully evading its owners, I wondered about the ownership of a largish hole in the ground I could see just beyond the wall. I didn’t wonder for long…

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This…

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…is the large Blackthorn where last year I watched for a while entranced by the huge and varied population of bees frequenting its flowers. It wasn’t fully in blossom this year and I was struck by its lichen bedecked branches.

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Cherry Blossom on the cricket club grounds.

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Primroses on a Cove Road verge.

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Barren Strawberry on a Cove Road wall.

Briefly, as I neared home, the blue sky returned, but this was a very fleeting improvement in the weather – patches of blue appeared and then, in a matter of moments, virtually the whole sky was blue again, but only moments later it had all disappeared again.

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Jack-by-the-Hedge, or Hedge Garlic, or Garlic Mustard. Supposed to be good to eat, but much too bitter for me.

There’d been a dispute, apparently, about who was going to cook me a birthday breakfast, but this was a bit of a pointless argument, since I don’t eat breakfast these days. However, A deferred her menu choice and served up a very creditable Spanish omelette for lunch. We now just need to work on the other 364 days of the year.

When I’d bought the boys new boots the day before, S fixed the shop assistant with a glare and asked, “But are they waterproof?”

To which he responded; “Well, you’ll have to wax them.”

I’m glad that they got this from someone else, because I doubt they would have taken it half so seriously if I had told them. Anyway, B, particularly, was very vexed that he had scuffed his boots on Helvellyn so I decided to take advantage of their enthusiasm for their new boots and they washed them, and then applied two coats, one of a leather treatment and softer, and one of wax.

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Which, in turn, encouraged me to do the same to mine!

I’ve kept my ‘cleaning kit’ – wax, rags and brush – in the box my own relatively new boots came in, in the summer house and said box had two sizeable residents spiders…

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I think they have been living in here a while because the box also contained a couple of shed exoskeletons. I suspect that these are some kind of wolf spider, but I don’t have even a remotely comprehensive guide to British spiders, so really, I’m just guessing.

Later, A had a dance lesson in Milnthorpe. Whilst she was there, the boys and I had a simple straight up and down walk up Haverbrack…

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So, rather unexpectedly, I managed two hills on my birthday, only the modest heights of Castlebarrow and Haverbrack, but it’s a good deal more than I anticipated.

Two Bonus Birthday Hills

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.

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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.

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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…

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

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The weather seemed idyllic again when I reached Hawes Water.

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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…

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…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…

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…more snowdrops.

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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…

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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…

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

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I was heading for the Gait Barrows limestone pavements…

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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Dallam Deer Park, the River Bela and Milnthorpe.

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Farleton Fell.

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The Deer.

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This unusual building…

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…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.

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River Bela and Whitbarrow Scar.

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Greylag Goose.

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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.

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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.

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

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In Praise of Limestone

Black Combe

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Painted Lady.

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

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

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

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White Hall Knott.

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

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…and across to the Duddon Estuary…

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

As I plodded up White Combe…

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

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Looking back to White Hall Knott.

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

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

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

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And guess what, at least two resident Painted Ladies…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Buck Barrow and Whitfell from Stoupdale Crags.

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Meadow Pipit (I think) amongst Cotton Grass.

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

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

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

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Looking back to Stoupdale Crags.

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Black Combe summit.

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Black Combe South Summit.

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

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

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

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

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

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Looking back to Stoupdale Crags and White Combe.

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

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As yet unidentified moth.

Black Combe

Black Combe

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.

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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…

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

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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.

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

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Gradually the cloud was thinning and clearing away.

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And the sun was inexorably sliding towards the horizon.

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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…

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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.

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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).

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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.

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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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….

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….why wouldn’t it be?

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

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The gain in height broadened the views…

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Loughrigg Tarn and the hills around Langdale.

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

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Eltermere and the Coniston Fells.

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TBH on Loughrigg summit.

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Fairfield Horseshoe.

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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.

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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.

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Smashing day out that. More please!

Loughrigg Fell

Clough Head and Great Dodd

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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.

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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.)

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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. 

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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…

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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.

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From the summit of Threlkeld Knotts.

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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…..

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Emerging on to the shoulder of Clough Head.

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Looking north across swirling clouds.

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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.

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

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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…

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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.)

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

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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Matterdale Common.

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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’.

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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?

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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.

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Rainbow! And Threlkeld Common.

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Another old goods wagon. Slightly worse for wear.

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Clough Head.

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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