An Introduction to Grasses.

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Exactly a week after my Grassland Monitoring course and I was on another course, organised again by Morecambe Bay Partnerships, this time on grasses, and based here in Silverdale.

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Initially, there was a presentation in the Green Room of the Gaskell Hall, introducing a handful of species commonly found in the major habitats in this area. Then we progressed to The Lots to test our new found knowledge.

And finally, went down to The Shore to look at the grasses on the salt marsh.

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Botanising.

I’ve had a couple of Field Guides to non-flowering plants – grasses, sedges, rushes, and ferns – for quite some time, but never seem to have got to grips with them. I still think that I’m going to find them challenging, but maybe now that I’m familiar with a few, I can start to slowly chip away at the others, like I have done with flowers.

Having said that, I didn’t make a good start – I took no pictures of grasses to add to this post, but when we got down to the shore and there were some flowering plants to see, out came my camera!

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Sea Milkwort.

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Sea Plantain.

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Thrift.

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These leaves, I was told, belong to an Orache. There are several, I’m not sure which this is. Not very exciting to look at I know, but it pleased me, because I knew I recognised the name and that I would find it, and I subsequently have, in the pages of the first field guide to plants which I bought – Richard Mabey’s ‘Food for Free’. Apparently, young leaves can be picked and used like spinach. Perhaps I should try it.

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When we’d finished, I walked home by a circuitous route across the sands to The Cove. Many people were out making the most of the firm surface created by the long spell of dry weather we were enjoying. We were all surprised by two microlights flying surprisingly low above the beach, you can see one in the photo above.

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An Introduction to Grasses.

Swindale and Mosedale Beck

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An exchange of text messages and phone-calls with TBH during my walk on the Helm gave some shape to the rest of our day. We would have a barbecue at some point, and either take the boats out or maybe look for a gill to play in. You can see that we chose the second option. I also decided to cook at lunchtime so that we didn’t have to rush home in the afternoon. Hardly surprisingly, this turned into a very leisurely affair and wasn’t very conducive for an early departure, but not to worry: we arrived as most people would be leaving and the sun was still shining.

There’s a sign someway short of Swindale Foot warning that there is no parking further up the valley. The boys were quite happy with where we parked however…

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…since it gave them a chance to crawl through this culvert, which was practically dry after a couple of weeks with little rain.

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I already knew about the new fish ladder in Swindale Beck…

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…because Conrad recently posted pictures – subconsciously, that’s probably what put Swindale in my mind when I was trying to think of stream with falls and pools and an east facing aspect to catch some late sun. The fish-ladder is part of a joint venture between the RSPB and United Utilities. They’ve also put the meanders back into a part of the stream which was straightened some time ago. I assumed that the fisher ladder was intended to benefit Salmon, but it’s won an award from an organisation dedicated to Trout, and there seemed to be a device for counting Eels too, which shows the limit of my knowledge about fish.

We didn’t need to cross the beck…

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…but who can resist stepping stones?

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Gouther Crag.

The RSPB have also created a nature trail, which follows, I’m pretty sure, the track along the valley in the picture above. None of the information boards they’ve put up made that clear though, so we stuck to the road…

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Which was very quiet and pleasant walking.

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Hobgrumble Gill and Dodd Bottom.

Dodd Bottom is pancake flat and must surely once have been a tarn?

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Away from Dodd Bottom, the valley floor is a mass of hummocks which I assume are drumlins. Among the trees on the left we spotted an enormous boulder, presumably another remnant of glacial action….

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We were fast approaching our destination…

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The beck is Mosedale Beck above this steeper section and Swindale Beck once into the valley. Where the transition from one to the other occurs, I couldn’t say.

I’d done a little research online and read that this footbridge…

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…was washed away by flooding some years ago, but clearly it has been reinstated.

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The beck flows through a series of small waterfalls and cascades, with lots of enticing bare rock on either side. The boys and I decided to see how far we could get, without getting wet, by sticking to the rock.

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They soon tired of that though and we turned back. They were much more eager to get into the water…

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I didn’t join them in this pool, it was evidently too shallow for a decent swim.

This one looked much more promising…

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…but whilst it was quite deep, it also contained several very sizable boulders which made swimming quite awkward. The pool above, however, which was sandwiched between two waterfalls, although small, was very deep, and we managed to find a spot from which we could jump in with care, which made B in particular, very happy.

As the sun began to sink behind Hare Shaw, we ate out picnic and then walked back on the other side of the valley, beneath Gouther Crag, on a path not shown on the OS map. Little S had remembered some of the edible wild-plants I introduced to him last year and he gleefully tucked into some Sorrel and Cuckooflower leaves. I’m thrilled with his interest, but wish he would show the same inclination to eat salads and vegetables at home!

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Incidentally, this valley is excellent for both birds and wildflowers. Photos here from my last visit, which I was stunned to find was as long ago as 2011.

Swindale is also almost certainly the last resting place of Little S’s sledge, which he lost to a gale this winter.

Swindale and Mosedale Beck

Norber, Crummack Dale, Austwick Beck

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Oxenber Wood, from just above Austwick.

My post-work walking outings this year have been exceptional. So much so that I’m almost regretting the fact that work has come to an end for the summer*. This walk started on a sunny afternoon in Austwick, a picturesque village which, inexplicably, I completely neglected to photograph.

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Robin Proctor’s Scar and Nappa Scars.

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Robin Proctor’s Scar.

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Moughton Scar.

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Wheatear.

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Skylark. I think.

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Classic perched Norber Erratic.

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Skylark and Meadow Pipit – the Proper Birder told me that Skylark’s are larger!

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I spent quite a long time exploring the famous Norber Erratics, zig-zagging back and forth taking photographs of birds, boulders and the expanding views. I was pleased that the erratics were so clearly of a different rock than the underlying white limestone, having been mistaken about erratics before.

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I wasn’t expecting to stumble across a manhole cover. A caver’s dig?

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Seems likely. A quick google reveals that this is indeed a dig, an attempt to find an easier route into Nappa Scar Cave, which was itself discovered by a digging party in 2013.

The very white, highly-textured limestone, made for very distinctive drystone walls…

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View to a distant Pendle Hill.

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Pen-y-Ghent above Moughton Scars

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Ingleborough from Norber.

Unusually, this post has no photographs of butterflies, although I did see quite a number of Small Heaths in the grassy areas between the Limestone Pavements and some Red Admirals later on.

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Pen-y-Ghent across the head of Crummack Dale.

Crummack Dale is surrounded on all sides by limestone scars and at it’s northern end by two sets of cliffs with a large area of limestone pavement in between. I’ve camped near Austwick on several occasions in the past and feel that I must have been this way before, but, then again, if I have then surely I would remember: this is truly breath-taking scenery. To me it compared with seeing High-Cup Nick or Malham Scar for the first time. My photos totally fail to do justice to it, but perhaps that explains why it isn’t as well known as it might otherwise be – it is difficult to capture the grandeur of this scenery in a photo.

This photo…

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…was taken at Sulber Gate. Next time I’m in this area I intend to sit here and make a brew and eat a lengthy picnic whilst I enjoy this view.

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Panorama, click on the photo (or any other) to see a larger version on Flickr.

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Thieves Moss.

I was a bit surprised to discover that this area, in amongst all of this limestone, is genuinely a moss, that is wet and boggy, with Bog Asphodel and Cotton Grass and a few acid-loving plants you might not expect to see hereabouts.

I wouldn’t normally include a picture of a stile…

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…but this is named on the map: it’s the Beggar’s Stile. A path continues from here along the edges of Moughton Scars and I must come back to try that path sometime soon, but on this occasion I wanted to drop down into Crummack Dale.

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To seek out another tributary of the Lune, Austwick Beck, which is the dark line in the middle of the photo below…

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And which flows out of a cave mouth, which was unfortunately rather difficult to photograph because the sun was just above the horizon, making the light difficult.

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Austwick Beck Head.

To the east…

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…another stream flows down to join Austwick Beck from a spring at Moughton Whetstone Hole, somewhere else I shall have to come back to explore another time.

The Limestone Pavements had been busy with Wheatears, Meadow Pipits and Skylarks. This wall was  host to several families of Wheatears, juveniles and adults alike, all perching on the crest of the wall, or the wire, or the fence posts…

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Juvenile Wheatears.

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Crummack.

As I approached Crummack I could near a Buzzard calling from the crags off to the right. I scanned in vain, but couldn’t pick it out, until it flew away from the crag and apparently straight for me. It made a bee-line, but then veered off when it was about half-way between me and the crag, landing in the trees surrounding the farm at Crummack. I wondered whether the apparent flight in my direction was just a coincidence and continued to check the trees trying to spot the bird. I couldn’t see it, but could still hear it calling and then I noticed a second, larger Buzzard, presumably the female, heading up the valley towards the trees.

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When I lost sight of this second Buzzard, I wandered a bit further down the valley, but stopped again a little way on to admire the view. The smaller Buzzard, the male, now made a second flight, arrow-straight and unmistakably heading directly for me, this time leaving it much later to veer off and return to the trees. This was nothing like the close shave I had in the past, but I definitely felt like I was being warned off. I did get a photo of the male, just as it changed course, but it is disappointingly blurred.

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Part of the reason I’d stopped was to consult my map in order to amend my route. The western side of the valley was now in deep shade, so I opted to take the track across the dale towards Studrigg Scar.

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Clapper bridge over Austwick Beck.

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The track on the far side of the valley turned out to be a narrow affair, slightly overgrown and overrun with flies. It might have been a disappointment, given how shady it was, but for the fact that many of the verdant plants hanging over the path were canes loaded with Raspberries.

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Most weren’t ripe, but there were still more then enough for me, and they were delicious. I don’t think I’ve seen such a fine crop of wild raspberries since I was walking in the Black Forest something like 30 years ago.

From the tiny hamlet of Wharfe, rather than heading straight back to Austwick, I crossed this little brook…

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…cheerful with Monkeyflowers….

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…then over Wharfe Gill Sike and round the hillside under Wharfe Wood and Oxenber Wood (more places to come back to explore). I had hoped that I could chase the sunshine up the hillside, but it was much faster than me and I finished the walk in shade, although I could see that the sun was shining still on the slopes of the hills above Bentham.

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Flascoe Bridge and Austwick Beck.

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The final section of path had a fine display of the tall and showy Giant Bellflower, though it was getting a bit dark to take photos. This has appeared here on the blog before, but I’m much more confident about my identification this time, partly because ‘The Wild Flower Key’ is excellent, especially now that I am beginning to know my way around it a bit, but also because there are several very detailed wildflower plant websites available now.

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Norber, Crummack Dale, Austwick Beck

The Great Stone and the River Wenning

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Tufted Vetch.

A warm and rather sultry mid-week evening. I parked near to the Punch Bowl in Low Bentham and have to admit that the tables lavishing in the sunshine outside the pub looked very tempting. But I had miles to go and photos to take, so – another time. Some of the first part of the climb out of the valley was on minor roads, which weren’t busy at all and anyway had the compensation of the diverse flora and fauna of the average untrimmed roadside verge.

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Tree Bumblebee.

This Bumblebee, unusually, didn’t seem to be intent on doing anything purposeful at all, just exploring this small bark-free area of a tree trunk and soaking up some rays. I wondered if the communal nest was somewhere nearby.

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Dog Rose.

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Beyond this hedgerow you can see Ingleborough, which was to dominate the view throughout almost the entire walk, but the reason I took the photo was the fact that the hedge here was draped in more webs.

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Tent moths again, I suspect, but I couldn’t see any caterpillars this time.

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Volucella Pellucens on Ground Elder.

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Drone Fly (or something similar).

I left Mill Lane, embarking on a section of the walk which passed through a series of pastures, some with stock, some without, some which had been grazed, some which hadn’t, at home the silage cut had begun, but not here.

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The White Clover in this field was thronged with bumblebees which seemed to favour it over the even more prolific buttercups.

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Bumblebee on White Clover.

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Painted lady.

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Gragareth, Whernside, Ingleborough.

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I’m reading John Wright’s book ‘A Natural History of the Hedgerow’ at present, and it is making me scrutinise hedges even more thoroughly then I generally would. On thhis walk, many of the ‘internal’ hedges I passed (i.e. between two fields rather than bordering a road) had grown out into separate shrubs and trees and were no longer stock-proof, requiring an accompanying fence. The one above however had recently been laid.

The building at the end of the hedge is Willow Tree, where I would cross a minor road and Eskew Beck in quick succession.

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This hillside above the Weening is criss-crossed by a multitude of both paths and small streams and there’s plenty of scope for return visits with substantially different routes. Beyond the farm of Oakhead, I climbed beside the County Beck and then turned right onto an abrupt change of terrain. Suddenly I was on undrained moorland, wet underfoot and heavily populated with burbling Curlews…

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It was slightly odd, because uphill of the access area the land reverted to farmland – I wondered why this area had never been ‘improved’. Whatever the reason, I was glad it hadn’t.

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Gragareth, Whernside, Ingleborough. Again.

A short stroll across the moor brought me to…

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…the Great Stone, a glacial erratic, or, alternatively, a bit of debris dropped by Old Nick when he was building Devil’s Bridge at nearby Kirkby Lonsdale. Incidentally, both the route, and that bit of local folklore are lifted from Graham Dugdale’s book ‘Curious Lancashire Walks’.

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Somebody has carved steps in the boulder to give easy access to the top, so, having clambered up to admire the view, I settled down to get the stove on to make a brew, something I do far too infrequently on these evening rambles.

This has to be one of the best places from which to view all three of the Three Peaks…

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Whernside.

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Ingleborough.

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From there, I dropped down across more open moorland, crossing Burbles Gill…

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Small Heath.

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I don’t think I’ve seen quite such a concentration of Curlews in one place before – even when I walked around Roeburndale earlier this year, they weren’t this numerous.

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The walk along the wooded Branstone Beck was very pleasant. At one point I disturbed a whole family of Wrens. They all came streaming out of a small shrub, each little red-brown ball heading in a slightly different direction, it was like watching one of those cute fireworks which get set off in-between the really impressive ones. One of the Wrens, I presume a juvenile, didn’t go very far and sat in plain view for a while, whilst a parent sat on a nearby branch presumably exhorting her offspring to move away from the nasty man.

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In amongst the trees, in the wet ground here, there were quite a few orchids. This one…

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…with a single lower lip to the flower looks to me like Heath Spotted-orchid, but this one growing nearby…

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…with the lower part of the flower more obviously divided into three is more like Common Spotted-orchid. Of course, just to add to the confusion, orchids are well known for hybridising.

The remainder of the walk was along the Wenning, although frustratingly it wasn’t always clearly in view, because of the trees growing on the bank, and beyond High Bentham it passed through a large, manicured and rather dispiriting caravan park.

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I actually have two John Wright books on the go at the moment, I’ve also been dipping in to ‘Hedgerow: River Cottage Handbook Number 7’. Whilst the titles might sound similar, this book is more straightforwardly a book for prospective foragers. In it Wright opines that Sweet Cicely can be as dominant on roadside verges in the North as Cow Parsley is in the South. I must be looking in the wrong places, because I don’t find it very often. Some umbelliferae are poisonous, so I suppose caution should be exercised, but if the leaves smell of aniseed and the seeds are relatively large then you probably have Sweet Cicely.

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Sweet Cicely.

Sweet Cicely has traditionally been used, as the name implies, as a sweetener, with tart fruit like gooseberries and rhubarb and it genuinely is surprisingly sweet. I took one to chew on and then, when I’d finished, was very tempted to go back for more. I should probably issue the additional caution that my diet doesn’t include anything remotely sugary, so that most vegetables taste sweet to me, and that I really love aniseed. I’m attracted by the idea of adding some of these to steep in White Rum for a homemade pastis. (Wright is also the author of the River Cottage Handbook on Booze.)

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The Wenning.

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Chimney Sweeper.

One of the things I like about ‘A Natural History of Hedgerows’ is the way it has got across to me the web of symbiotic relationships between plants, fungi and insects. I now know that the huge fungi we saw near Sizergh Castle are Britain’s largest fungi and that they only grow on Beech trees and that the Toothwort which I so obsessively seek out each year will only attack Hazel or Elm. Likewise, this tiny moth, which I remember seeing in great numbers last summer in Kentmere, feeds exclusively on Pignut (another forager’s favourite).

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River Wenning.

I’ve been meaning to take a visit to the Great Stone ever since I was first given ‘Curious Lancashire Walks’, which was a while ago: it seems the ‘Lune Catchment’ project has given me new impetus and encouraged me to try pastures new rather then sticking exclusively to tried and tested favourites.

 

The Great Stone and the River Wenning

A Short Stroll Along The Shore

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With members of our little tribe now working or studying at four different schools we had a staggered back to school arrangement. The boys had a weeks more holiday left when I started back and had gone away to County Durham for some peace and quiet. (Peace and quiet for those of us left behind, obviously.)

On the Thursday afternoon, with the sun still beating down, TBH, A and I decided to get out for some fresh air. We didn’t go far. Just down to the Cove and then a little way along the shore.

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The ladies decided to cool their feet in the channel, whilst I took a closer look at this rockfall…

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Part of the charm of the outdoors is the way things change with the seasons and the weather and even the time of day. We’re well used to seeing the course of the channels in Morecambe Bay changing for example, we expect it, and the changes are frequent and sometimes quite dramatic, but I was bit taken-aback to find these large boulders and the matching scar where they had tumbled to the beach. The striking colour revealed is evidence of the haematite present, which was quarried nearby at Red Rake at the back of The Cove.

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Apparently, I was missing out on shoals of tiny fish which were hurrying about in the shallow channel.

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But there were bigger fish too, quite a few of them it seemed. We saw the splashes as they sprang from the water from time to time, and this heron..

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…seemed to be finding rich pickings, when we weren’t disturbing his fishing.

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I’ve cropped these already, they aren’t as sharp as I would like, but you can see a successful catch below.

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It really was all wonderfully peaceful and not solely because the Dangerous Brothers were away terrorising their grandparents.

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TBH and A headed home at this point, but I extended the saunter just a little by heading up Stankelt Road to Sharp’s Lot.

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There’s a wilding apple tree there which seems to produce a lot of fruit every year. Last year I was bit late in visiting it. This year I was too, although at least there was still some fruit on the tree.

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The apples are pretty tart, not as tooth-curlingly sharp as crab apples, but not really dessert apples. I imagine they’d be good for jam, but I’m only guessing really.

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This year seemed to be a bumper year for hazelnuts. Certainly, the large tree which hangs over the bottom corner of our garden was shedding large quantities of nuts for a few weeks. Although many of the shells held disappointingly small kernels when you cracked them.

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Acorn.

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Sloes.

Another autumn has passed without my fulfilling my regular promise to myself to make some sloe gin. I don’t like gin at all (something to do with drinking it in inappropriate measures in the dim and distant past, perhaps) but I do enjoy sloe gin. And I suppose that’s the problem – if I make some, I’ll only end up drinking it, which is probably not advisable.

A Short Stroll Along The Shore

Woodwell and Jack Scout – slight return

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Another sunny day for an amble. A was keen to get in on the foraging act, and to walk round the shore from Jack Scout so we decided to visit Woodwell and Jack Scout as I had done a few days before, although in the event, the routes we took were almost entirely different from the paths which I had followed.

Some snow in the Howgills 

We started across the fields towards the Green, in part because that gave us a view of the snow still clinging to some slopes in the Howgill Fells.

Blackthorn 

Because the hawthorns are coming into leaf and everything is arriving so early this spring, I’d been thinking that somehow I’d managed to miss the blackthorn flowering. Fortunately, I was wrong.

Ash buds - a bit further down the line. 

The ash flowers near Woodwell are just that little bit further along. I think that these might be male flowers, but I shall have to go back again to be sure. Ash trees are sometimes male, and sometimes female and sometimes have flowers of both types.

A pointy pond snail 

Another pond snail. A ‘pointy shelled one’.

Ash flowers 

These are definitely female ash flowers.

Near Woodwell we watched a pair of buzzards circling overhead. The smaller of the pair (and therefore probably the male) repeatedly pulled in his wings and went into little dives and swoops. I asked A what she thought he was up to. “He’s trying to impress the female isn’t he?” Even at her tender age she probably recognises this sort of behaviour from the playground!

Cow's Mouth 

Cow’s Mouth with Grange-over-Sands in the distance.

At Jack Scout we discovered that the tide was in and so we couldn’t return by the beach.

Song thrush 

Song thrush again.

A in Bottom's Wood

We went back through Bottom’s Wood instead. Here’s A surrounded by the lush carpet of ramsons. We’d already collected some young leaves to add to sandwiches and salads and to chop into mayonnaise to give a garlicky relish to accompany or Good Friday fish.

Woodwell and Jack Scout – slight return

Eat Yer Greens

B foraging

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall was extolling the virtues of nettles as a vegetable in the Grauniad Weekend magazine recently. TBH declared herself willing to give it a go. The boys weren’t interested in going for a walk, but when I rebranded the idea as going foraging, B jumped at the chance. The sun was shining, but there was a fierce and bitter wind blowing, (although it wasn’t as cold as it had been the day before when we visited Skipton for fish and chips on our way home from York and it was sleeting). We didn’t need to walk very far, since we have a plentiful supply of ground elder in our own garden. We had to go a little further afield for our nettles.

We were soon in the kitchen rinsing a large colander full of greenery (more ground elder then nettles). We cooked them in the drops of water retained from their wash, then added fried onions and garlic and a generous pat of butter.

Nettles, Ground Elder, Onions, Garlic, Butter

And…..?

Well – surprisingly tasty. I suspect that it was actually the ground elder which was the real winner – a pleasant tangy flavour, far preferable to spinach as far as the nippers were concerned. (Although the novelty value helped.)

Eat Yer Greens