Life’s Rich Pageant

Thursday afternoon – blue skies and sunshine naturally.  Once again I was walking home from Carnforth. This time I decided to stop to look at the churchyard at Saint Oswald’s in Warton, inspired by Francesca Greenoak and the flower dappled  churchyard at Holy Trinity in Seathwaite. Sadly at Saint Oswald’s all is carefully manicured lawns – not much scope for wildflowers here. The churchyard is very large – not too surprising when you realise that historically Warton was a huge parish incorporating Silverdale, the Yealands and several other villages. Since the grounds were a little disappointing I popped into the church itself…

Apparently there may have been a church here since before the Norman conquest and the oldest part of the current building is 14th Century. The Stars and Stripes hangs alongside the Union Jack inside the church, sent by American servicemen after WW2 due to Warton’s connection to the ancestors of George Washington, also celebrated in the name of one of the village’s pubs…

On this occasion I wasn’t tarrying for a pint however: too much to see. Behind the pub the crag road climbs steeply and a little way up that road is a small car park, the back wall of which is liberally festooned with red valerian…

..which confusingly, can also be white…

..an introduced species from the Mediterranean which is obviously very happy on these limestone cliffs.

I feel like I’ve turned something of a corner when it comes to identifying flowers – although I haven’t entirely got the hang of using the keys I have at least learned to look at the entire plant and I’m beginning to pick up on familial traits which give useful clues. I’m far from expert, but I’m getting better.

With grasses etc. I’m not even sure that I’ve made it to square one yet.

Could this be red fescue? Gettin to grips with grasses, sedges and ferns etc. is bound to be a steep learning curve, but I know that I shall enjoy looking. Already I’m quite taken aback by the huge variety I’ve discovered since I began to take more careful note.

Meanwhile the large clumps of biting stonecrop which I noticed on a previous Thursday afternoon’s Shank’s Pony commute…

…have begun to flower…

 Across Carnforth to Clougha Pike – must get back there sometime.

When I found these…

….before on Heald Brow, I tentatively identified them as quaking grass. I’m feeling much more confident now. After all the inflorescence (ooh I know – get me) is…

Inflorescence a pyramidal panicle, with very distinctive ovoid to broadly triangular spikelets 4 – 12mm, usually purplish, shaking in the wind on slender stalks *

They’re certainly very distinctive and rather handsome too.

Here on the crag they were plentiful too and since I first saw them they have grown and spread out like a child’s mobile so that they really do quake in the breeze. Quite hard to catch on camera the overall effect…

Of course, having boasted about my abilities as a plant identifier, I can’t trace this large and very vigorous one…

…which looks like it may be about to flower…

 

…so hopefully I can come back again soon and get some more clues. (The keys led me to a couple of plants neither of which quite seemed to match, but we shall see…)

No keys needed for red clover…

 

….I just enjoyed these three flowers, all on the same plant and seeming to offer an opportunity for a sort of faked time-lapse sequence.

I saw a number of butterflies and some damselflies but none would cooperate by sitting still for a photo. I chased one orange butterfly – some sort of fritillary I hoped, and when I lost it, noticed this large egg-shell down in the grass.

I thought that this might be flea sedge….

…but I searched for images and now I’m not at all convinced.

These tiny flowers are a bedstraw, but hard to decide which one. Heath bedstraw looks favourite except that it favours acid soils.

This had been one of my slower ascents of Warton Crag. Once over the top I was into the woods and the vegetation changed.

In the shade under the canopy, there’s lots of this…

..which I think is male fern…

This is black bryony…

…which is dioecious  (ie male and female flowers on different plants) , apparently related to the yam, although you wouldn’t want to eat it – the berries it produces are poisonous (other parts of the plant can apparently be safely eaten after cooking but would you want to risk it?) According to Gabrielle Hatfield** it has several uses in folk medicine including the treatment of bruises, hence the French name ‘herbe aux femmes battues’ – the plant for battered wives.

 Lakeland hills from Summer House Hill.

Walking down past Leighton Hall I was struck by a meadow blushed white by oxeye daisies….

On the opposite side of the driveway a similar effect was achieved by more daisies..

…a mayweed or a chamomile, but I couldn’t get the closer look needed to try what looks like the tricky task of deciding which this is.

Meadow vetchling. 

So confident am I feeling, in fact, in my ability to chase down the identity of flowers that I thought I might even take on an umbellifer. How difficult could it be? The flowers seem quite distinctive…

And the pinnate leaves….

The stem is grooved. It’s growing in a damp spot on the edge of the causeway path across Leighton Moss. Easy surely?

Well…I’ve tussled with it for ages. It looks like wild celery. I quite like this idea – it would give me an opportunity to tell the story of the ‘ancient Incan’ herbal tea I was given in Peru when I went down with Cuzco tummy, which it transpired was made by steeping celery leaves in hot water. Made me feel much better though. But…if this is wild celery then why can’t I find a picture of wild celery anywhere which shows these striking red stamens?

Because it isn’t wild celery at all, it’s Hemlock Water-dropwort. You wouldn’t be well advised to be drinking  a tea made by steeping these leaves in hot water. You might find yourself with a ‘dead tongue’ which is an old Cumbrian name for this plant. Or you might just find yourself dead, since this is one of Britain’s most poisonous plants.

 

There were several of these along the causeway too. If I had needed any convincing about ‘The Wild Flower Key’ after Sheila’s recommendation, I need only have flicked through the few pages on orchids, which I have just done – and now I can pronounce with confidence, rather than my usual bemused confusion, that these are common spotted orchid.

Reed-bed view.

I listened for quite some time to a warbler (I like to think sedge warbler but I know I’m only kidding myself when I think that I can tell the difference.) and was charmed again by a family of long-tailed tits chattering and hopping about in the alders on either side of the path. One of the marsh harrier was circling overhead. Generally they fly quite low over the reed-beds, but this was much higher than usual. Also it was calling, which I’ve never heard before, a rather plaintive cry.

I’ve written before about the wonderful spiral patterns in the centre of oxeye daisies.  On this occasion paying attention to the daisies yielded additional rewards…

I think that this is a honey bee. If you look at the wings you can see a long thin cell on the outside edge, a marginal cell, which almost extends as far as the wing-tip and then three sub-marginal cells next to that which apparently is characteristic of honey bees.

Frustratingly, I can’t find this natty pin-striped hover fly in my book. Ferdinandea cuprea has grey and black stripes on the thorax but a bronze abdomen whereas through the wings this seems to have stripes. Another hover fly rhingia campestris has a prominent snout, which this seems to have, but also a very striking orange abdomen. No mention is made in the description of either of banded legs. I shall call him Malvolio, for now at least, because he is cross-gartered and yellow-stockinged.

Where the causeway crosses a bridge and the view opens-out because there’s a gap in the reed-bed, I’ve learned to approach slowly and cautiously because that way there is often something interesting to see.

There were three red deer hinds in all. Unlike last time that I saw deer at close range here, the deer soon turned and disappeared into the reeds.

Even if there’s no wildlife to see, the view is special in itself.

 

This tall plant with flowers hidden behind it’s own long and abundant stamens is common meadow-rue.

I’ve drawn a blank with this too. It’s quite small, sitting on an alder leaf. I thought maybe a wasp, but I’ve got no further than that.

 Figwort.

Pleasantly red – no idea what it is.

Bittersweet flowers are tiny but very striking. This plant is related to the potato and the aubergine, but again the berries it produces are best avoided. They cause sickness rather than death.

The plant’s species name dulcamara, is derived from two Latin words meaning sweet and bitter.

Because of the presence of the toxic alkaloid solanine in the stem, leaves and berries, they taste bitter at first and then sweet.#

 

 

Could this be star sedge?

In the hedgerow, a vigorous climber covered in lots of unopened flowers like the one above, and some open flowers….

 Tufted vetch.

Nearby…

..another purple vetch which I think is wood-bitter vetch.

 

This fern has grey-green patches where the leaves attach to the stem. Any ideas?

 

this apparently unperturbable bunny let me walk right up to it,

..and past…

..without ever being too distracted from the golf-course grass.

I noticed that many of the oxeye daisies I passed were infested with what I presume are aphids. Apparently there are around 550 British species, so I shall just content myself with ‘aphid’.

Whilst I was meandering home taking frivolous photos, the fields around the village were busy with the making of sileage…

* Guide to the Grasses, Sedges, Rushes and Ferns of Britain and Northern Europe by Fitter, Fitter and Farrer

**Hatfield’s Herbal                   by Gabrielle Hatfield

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

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It’s  all Andy’s fault.

He set me a quiz question and I enjoyed both answering it (even if I did have to cheat) and the discussion which followed.

So (and also by way of a trailer for the next post) how well do you know your Lake District?

Which valley are you in if you can see: Truss Gap, Seat Robert, Mosedale Beck Forces, Gouthercrag and Hobgrumble Gill?

Life’s Rich Pageant

Kendal Castle

Yet another fine sunny morning. We had an hour to kill before lunch at the Brewery Arts Centre and a theatre trip for TBH, A and B. What better way to spend that hour than a walk on Castle Hill and a wander around the ruins of Kendal Castle.

A and B were very excited and had run ahead and begun to explore before we joined them. S also ran but his little legs don’t generate much speed and he had to settle for bringing up the rear with his grandparents.

According to the information boards dotted around the castle it was built in the early thirteenth century and was occupied by the Barons of Kendal until it was abandoned in 1597. Katherine Parr who was Henry VIII’s last wife was from Kendal Castle.

Although it’s ruined the castle has plenty of nooks and crannies to explore.

After following their granddad onto this tower…

 

…the children decided that it was a dungeon and had soon imagined that they were prisoners there…

We climbed every available staircase and examined every extant room…

Troutbeck Tower

…and then walked around the moat to view the battlements from there.

There was more ivy-leaved toadflax growing on the walls. Also this…

which might be maidenhair fern.

Castle Hill is all of 93m, but none the less, like most castles, Kendal Castle is a fine vantage point with views over Kendal and on a clearer day of the hills of the lake District.

It’s also possible to pick out some of the road bridges over the Kent as it passes through Kendal – a reminder of unfinished business.

You can find more (better) pictures, including an aerial one, and some history of the Castle here.

Kendal Castle

Self Similarity

Yet More Sunday – Walk the Second

Having very briefly returned home and dropped off A and B and their mum to make their way to church, S and I embarked on another modest loop to celebrate creation in our own peculiar way.

In the spring I whiled away several strolls hunting for rooks. Then two pairs came and nested in an oak tree visible from the house. Hardly the huge gathering expected of a rookery, but a start. Now they seem to be back, four birds roosting in the same tree.

Walking along the perimeter of Hagg Wood, in reality just a small copse, I was attracted to the frost trimmed margins of these ivy leaves…

…and another example of the as yet unidentified fern that I spotted recently in Pointer Wood…

These specimens had brown nodules on the undersides of the leaves, presumably spore producing bodies like those on hart’s tongue fern?

As ever my companion was fascinated by the wonders of the natural world, and expressed his delight in his usual inimitable fashion…

Which meant that he missed what would undoubtedly have been the highlights of the walk for him…

…this jacketed pony and his diminutive Shetland Pony companions…

…and these Long-Faced Leicester sheep, which for some reason decided to follow us around Pointer Wood. Perhaps they recognised a kindred spirit exiled from the east midland home of fox-hunting, ‘mild’ beer and “ay up me duck” greetings. Or perhaps they thought that I might feed them.

Despite the indifference of S, I was still convinced that the frost made just about any subject worth photographing, not matter how banal…

Another sharp frost again this weekend and I shall no doubt take lots more pictures like this one…

…and this one…

…I liked the way that the darkness of the leaf contrasted with the frosted emphasis of the skeletal framework.

I did find some variations on favourite themes though. This dew spattered oak leave had been frozen into something new…

…and the dew-drops on the twigs, which had been frozen on Saturday, now had an additional opaque layer of ice crystals…

Fungi are another staple motif of my walks and my blog…

I hope that I can get away with one final photo of frosted leaves…

…if only as an excuse to remark that the structure of the central leaf mirrors that of a tree itself, a self-similarity on an entirely different level than my unrelenting repetition of the same few walks and the same few images. Which, in my mind at least, brings me back to where I started: celebrating creation in my own peculiar way.

Walk the Third

After lunch the whole family were out again, this time in the company of Dr R and her daughters. Our walk took us past the crooked tree which sparked The Crooked Tree Competition with Ron at Walking Fort Bragg. It looks different again now that its branches are bare…

What I have never noticed before, and I’ve walked past this tree countless times, is the tree watching me…

 

The Owl-Tree Competition starts here!

Martin and Sue spotted a watchful tree on their visit to the area, but that tree looked much less benign.

After an unscheduled loo stop at a friend’s house on The Row, our walk took us past Dog Well and Bank Well and then across the golf course to Leighton Moss. We warmed up in the cafe there, but didn’t have time to watch the mass starling roost before setting off for home in near darkness.

Two bright ‘stars’ appeared early in the southern sky. I would have assumed that one of them was Venus, but been stuck with the other, but Dr R tells me that it was probably Jupiter. I was absorbed for the remainder of the walk trying to picture the relative positions of the Sun and the planets if Venus and Jupiter could appear in the same part of our sky.

Self Similarity

Fernucopia

My paean to leaves was inevitably partial and incomplete. Some of our ferns caught my attention on Sunday too.

Hart’s tongue is fairly common in this area. The stripes on the leaves…

…are the spore producing bodies which are on the undersides of the leaves:

This last photo was taken in Eaves Wood, but the first two were from Pointer Wood where the Hart’s Tongue was growing next door to another fern:

Which I’m not familiar with. Any ideas?

Fernucopia