Nature’s Playground

Took the kids into Eaves Wood today. They balanced on fallen tree trunks, climbed in a favourite yew, played in a hollow behind the yew – which Amy christened Macca Pacca’s house – waved sticks about, drummed with their hands and feet on the fallen beeches I found last night, and stopped for a snack in the in the root hollow left by those beeches.

Ben is surprisingly fond of woodlice and so was thrilled when we managed to pull some bark off one of the trunks:

At the edge of the new clearing created by the demise of these beeches are two more beeches which I imagine must look pretty similar to the way that the pair that fell must have looked:

I was standing close to an ash tree on the edge of the clearing when the earth moved. Angela says that she saw me jump. It was another bright but very windy day, although here in the woods we could hardly feel the wind. Standing back a little we watched as the movement of the upper part of the tree made the ground around the roots gently rise and fall as if the earth were breathing. One of the roots of was lifting clear of the ground and a crack appeared alongside the trunk. The soil here is very thin and the wood is full of large trees that have fallen.

Sycamore’s seemed to be my favourite trees today. Firstly we saw leaves spotted with tiny red lumps:

I think that these are the eggs of some insect, and I remember that when we were kids we used to call them spangles, but I don’t suppose that’s a proper name.

Many of the sycamores in the wood have this bright orange lichen on their trunks:

The seeds of the sycamore are hidden away under the leaves and could easily be missed:

Having said that, my favourite trees in Eaves Wood are really the mature beeches (even better standing up then lying down!):

At Cynthesis you can find posts enlivened by photos of heart-shaped leaves, stones, shadows…etc. I’ve been on the look out for hearts in our woods and beginning to think that either the woods are deficient in hearts, or that I’m just not looking in the right way. Finally, today I came across a heart-shaped tree-stump. Unfortunately, the photo I took was a bit of a dead loss. But shortly after the tree stump I noticed this ivy leaf on a dry-stone wall:

What do you think? Almost there?

Nature’s Playground

Fairy Steps

This morning we drove to Cockshot Lane for a walk on Beetham Fell. We were into the woods straight away and came across these Aqualigea’s.

It’s quite a way from any gardens so they’ve done well to seed themselves here.

After climbing a very awkward leaning style we were in fields and lush long grass. We played follow-the-leader so that the kids wouldn’t mind walking in single file. Ben found a pheasant feather, which is almost as good to wield as a stick. He had been carrying a stick I but I took it off him after a couple of accidental whacks. Amy decided to eat some clover. She seems to be none the worse for the experience.

Near Hazelslack Farm, the grass was shorter and there were Rock Rose:

In the garden at the farm this peacock was calling loudly…

…but his two female companions seemed completely impervious to his strutting and shouting.

Nearby a pair of Guineafowl fussed and pecked:

The day had started bright, but by now a few dark clouds had appeared and we felt the odd spot of rain. Fortunately, the weather recovered from this point and the rest of the day was sunny, although the wind was quite cold.

From the farm the path is rocky and arrow straight. It climbs steadily until a blue rock face apparently bars any further progress:

But the path seeks out a fault in the rock…

And we pass through with ease:

Remarkably, before Arnside had its own Church, this was the coffin route over which the dead were carried to be interred in Beetham. The rock wall on the right has a rusted hinge fixed to it as if this passage were once gated.

Ahead a second band of rock once again blocks the route. This time the way ahead is more obvious, but more tricky:


Ben on the Fairy Steps

Local legend has it that if you can climb to the top without touching the sides then you are granted a wish. Amy assures me that she made it, and that from now on all of our rain will fall between Monday and Wednesday, guaranteeing dry weekends.

I know that I certainly can’t climb up there without being squeezed between the sides, and with Sam asleep in the back carrier I didn’t think that I could make it at all. I took a path which skirted below the cliff, intending to meet the others in a large clearing where a number of paths meet. When they didn’t initially show up I followed their route back towards them. I was struck by the light on this tree and the dappled light on the path:

I was surprised not to have come across them and so headed back the way I had come, only to find that they were just moments behind me:

On the way back down through the woods to the car, Ben waged war on the many wood ants criss-crossing the path. I was more interested in this low shrub..

…which I thought might be another garden escapee like the Aqualigea, but I find in my books that it is actually Tutsan, from the French toute-saine meaning all healthy. Herbalists laid the leaves over wounds and it does have antiseptic properties. In contrast to the amorous associations that every plant I came across a couple of weeks ago seemed to possess, Tutsan has a reputation for inducing chastity. Apparently, men should drink infusions made from the plant, and women should spread its twigs below their beds.

The leaves when dried are reputed to smell like Ambergris and so it is also called Sweet Amber.

These flowers are not quite open. I wonder if I can get back this way to see them when they are?

Fairy Steps

We’re Going On a Bear Hunt

Walked the same route again today, for the third time this week, but this time in reverse and with the whole family and Amy’s friend Sarah. The kids raced across the lots. The starlings weren’t so busy today. I did briefly see a head in the hole in the tree, but the children didn’t get to witness the birds feeding the chicks.

However, they were more than happy to get down to the Cove and plodge in the mud:

Then scramble up the rocks to the small cave here:

This little cave mouth always makes me think of one of the children’s favourite books ‘We’re Going On a Bear Hunt’ and the cave in which they eventually find a bear. Ben was clearly making the same association because he was expecting to find a bear too. He seems to have lost his fear of caves: back in January he became convinced that all caves were infested with Dragons and could rarely be induced to enter. He’s now keen to come back with a torch to explore further (he won’t get very far because they isn’t much to this particular cave.)

I explored the high-tide line at the back of the shingle.

I found a couple of pieces of this rusted, curiously light material. Could this be almost heart-shaped if you squint a bit and stand on your head to look at it? Cynthia over on Cynthesis finds hearts seemingly everywhere.

Silverweed, which thrives in the marginal spaces between land and strand, has now come into flower:

This plant also seems abundant and vigorous in these same unpromising spots:

Anybody know what it is?

I like the way the wind has given the cliff-top trees here a perfect manicured trim:

On the way home we found that Oxeye daisy flowers are finally opening up and showing off:

(See the previous post for more about the mathematical properties of this flower.)

We’re Going On a Bear Hunt

Levens Park

Brighter weather today, but with a fresh wind.

This morning I took Ben and Sam for a short drive to Levens Park. It’s part of the grounds of Levens Hall, originally a medieval pele tower but converted into an Elizabethan ‘gentleman’s residence’. It’s probably most famous now for it’s topiary gardens. The park was laid out at the same time as the gardens – between 1694 and 1710 –  designed by a Monsieur Guillaume Beaumont. It’s an open Deer Park with huge Oaks, Beeches, Sweet Chestnuts and Limes – presumably 300 years old.

What caught my attention at first though was a much smaller tree, another Hawthorn, but with red flowers:

They could almost be Roses, couldn’t they? But they are much smaller, and are apparently a cultivar of Midland Hawthorn (as opposed to Common Hawthorn).

The river Kent flows through the park, and having left the path to take this photograph I was in a position to look down on the river. A flash of metallic blue was a Kingfisher crossing low over the water. It was a brief and distant view, but the first time that I have seen a Kingfisher for some time. Can any other British bird rival the colours of a Kingfisher?

I had promised Ben deer and so was relieved when a herd appeared on on the hillside.

These are rather unusual Fallow Deer, imported from somewhere to add exotic colour to this manicured simulation of wilderness. They are much darker than other Fallow Deer. At the moment they seem to have odd dark spots and I suspect that they are shedding a darker thicker winter coat.

Ben was captivated and insisted that we stalk as close to the Deer as possible.

I was thrilled that Ben enjoyed the Deer, but he soon put me in my place: when we left the park and crossed a field he was even more impressed by the huge sloppy cowpats that made the path into a scatological maze.

The route follows a very quiet lane beside the river for awhile. The lane is bisected by the dual carriageway of the A590 and becomes two cul-de-sacs joined by a concrete walkway under the main road. This Heron seemed unperturbed by the traffic noise:

We finally reached a road bridge and crossed the river to make our return. Ben was beginning to flag, but was revived by the excitement of crossing over the A590 on a bridge. Speeding traffic may also be more exciting then Deer when you are three.

We were soon back in the Park and stopped for a snack. We were joined by a Hen, most definitely free range:

And not remotely shy:

Our walk now followed an avenue…

of huge Oaks:

Along which we soon encountered a herd of Bagot goats:

Like the Deer, I think that these are pretty much unique to this park.

Ben preferred the Goats to the Deer, I think because they allowed him to approach without running away.

The next cause for excitement was a hollow oak.

Which naturally required close inspection:

Via the back door:

I think that this is an Oak Apple. I remember reading about the life-cycle of the wasps that live in these galls, because I was fascinated by the fact that the generations alternate living in the tree and then on the roots.

Ben had completely recovered his energy and enthusiasm by now and was climbing on the trunk of a felled oak:

(The other child is a stranger who was keen to join in but understandably nervous about the idea.)

And whizzing off on his bike to find a hiding place in the base of another giant oak:

This oak…

…was probably the biggest that we saw all day. The photo doesn’t begin to convey its majesty. I couldn’t persuade Ben to pose against it to give a scale by which to judge it.

This tree demanded attention because of these bulbous growths on its trunk:

You can see the Kent in the background.

The walk was intrinsically enjoyable, but I also enjoyed it because Ben was having such a good time. It made me recall days out from my own childhood, when we regularly visited Bradgate Park in Leicestershire. There were both Fallow and Red Deer there which was fantastic, especially during the rut. Clambering in and on hollow oaks was another common feature, as was hiding from my Dad. I often think that it was the freedom to charge around, to climb, to explore the open spaces there that first fostered my love of the outdoors. I hope that I can give the same gift to my kids.

Levens Park

Lanefoot Farm Weekend III

Monday brought wall-to-wall sunshine. We parked at the top of the pass at Newlands Hause and took a short walk…

…to admire Moss Force:

..and to paddle in Moss Beck:

The water was very cold, the rocks were slippy and perhaps inevitably we set-off back to the Hause for a picnic after an involuntary immersion for one of the party.

After the picnic, Gill and Jane joined us having walked over the tops from the campsite. Some of the kids were raring for the off so I joined them for a steady climb up Knott Rigg. It’s a fairly steep climb and with Sam on my back I was glad of the grey-brown grubs that littered the hillside and that Ben insisted on stopping to pick-up and carefully examine. With the pace thus limited I had plenty of opportunity to enjoy the views back over the Hause to Moss Force:

Ben was in fine form and climbed all the way to the ‘top’:

Sam had fallen asleep, so while everybody else had a sit down to admire the view…

…or to try to scratch their name on a rock…

…I plodded on along the ridge. Knott Rigg is not really a top at all, just the beginning of a ridge which eventually leads to the summit of Ard Crags. I’m pretty sure that I’ve only been up here once before and that was probably twenty years ago, on a mammoth day which began at Honister Hause and took in Dale Head, Hindscarth, Robinson, Ard Crags and a round of the North-Western fells before a camp down in Braithwaite. I do miss long days on the tops, but sharing the outdoors with my kids is a pretty fair substitute.

Lanefoot Farm Weekend III

Lanefoot Farm Weekend II

After faffing about on the campsite for most of Sunday morning we set off for a short drive down the Newlands valley. Unfortunately, we timed it so that we hit the early stages of the Keswick half marathon. It’s not so many years ago that I ran this race myself, although I’m sure that it wasn’t staged on a bank holiday weekend then. I do remember that the amount of traffic on the narrow roads rather spoiled what should have been an excellent run.

Sam was asleep when we arrived at our parking spot so while the rest of the party embarked across the Newlands valley, I sat in the car with him and listened to the radio. When he woke up we crossed Newlands Beck:

And soon found the rest of the party having their lunch on the slopes of Cat Bells.

The weather was quite odd with sunshine, but also drops of rain in the air. From our picnic stop it was a short walk…

To Hawes End on Derwent Water – a top spot for throwing stones into the lake:

Having a run around:

Or a natter with your Dad:

At Hawes End we caught on of the scheduled launches that circuit the lake. The front of the boat was open and the very front seats were empty. Naturally the kids were very excited and made a beeline for those seats. Nobody thought to warn us why they were empty. Out on the Lake it was windy and choppy and as we hit the wake of another boat a huge wave crashed over the bows and into our laps. On the first leg of the journey we just about managed take it in our strides and laugh off the discomfort, but after picking-up more passengers at Nichol End the waves were bigger and more frequent. The boat was packed and there was no real way to get the kids out of the way of a proper drenching. Some of them were very wet and cold, and Ben in particular was upset, but kids are remarkably resilient and once we were off the boat they were soon racing around the shore and swinging on a barrier.

In Keswick we had a bit of a wander around a park and a quick stop for a snack.

Captions are invited for this photo, my own thoughts were either:

I thought that you had the meths!

Or, perhaps Jane is thinking:

I never was in favour of Care in the Community

Not all of my friends are scruffy, just the oldest and closest ones.

After several hours of trying it finally began to rain in earnest. We boarded another launch to complete our trip around the lake, but this time got seats inside. The rest of the trip was fun, but as we approached Hawes End the rain showed no sign of abating. Angela, Jane and Matt disappeared to fetch the cars and Andy and I were left to try to maintain the spirits of the flagging children. Ben had slept on my lap around the lake, and not surprisingly didn’t appreciate being woken up to be taken out into the rain. I ended up carrying him up the hill to the road. There was a bit of a mix up with the cars but on the whole the children did very well despite the cold and wet and my rendition of several verses of If you’re miserable and you know it. I did bribe them with chocolate biscuits. And a cuckoo serenaded us whilst we waited – the first that I can remember hearing for quite some time. Given recent gloomy reports about the dwindling numbers of migrating birds it was nice to have the opportunity to hear it, even in the pouring rain.

We arrived back at the campsite to see a short-lived but stunning rainbow over Skiddaw and from that point the sky began to clear in preparation for a glorious day on Monday…

Lanefoot Farm Weekend II

Lanefoot Farm Weekend I

Over the long weekend we were away camping at Lane Foot Farm near Thornthwaite in the Lake District. This is an annual get together which has been going on in various venues for over 20 years now, but which in recent years has changed in character due to the addition of ankle-biters.

On Saturday we took the assembled clans for a short walk to Braithwaite in search of a playground. The sun shone and although the gorse has been flowering for months (does it ever stop?), this was the first time this year that it has given off its wonderful coconut scent.

There were butterflies about too: peacocks, orange-tips and what I think was a small blue. It’s extraordinary that these are the first that I’ve seen this year – a testament to how unusually cold March and April have been.

We had to settle for a picnic snack in Braithwaite, but who needs a playground when there are woods to explore on the way home?

Worms and beetles are endlessly fascinating to Ben and here he had a willing accomplice. He also made a fine collection of pine cones. The woodland floor was carpeted with wood sorrel:

The tiny flowers are beautiful and the shamrock like leaves have a pleasant sharp grape-skin flavour.

The path follows the bottom edge of the wood and we had great views across the valley to Skiddaw:

We finally found our playground in the last field that we crossed before arriving back at the farmhouse:

As parents we took it in turns to bite our tongues as the kids vied with each other to climb highest up the tree.

The children had organised their own queuing system so that even the youngest of them had his turn:

He was also discovering challenges nearer the ground, where it seemed as if the root system had been exposed or perhaps several trees in close proximity had cooperated and joined to become one:

Later we enjoyed a barbecue…

…and the evening light on Skiddaw:

The kids took seats into the trees behind our tents and took great delight in eating their hotdogs in their ‘den’.

Lanefoot Farm Weekend I


Home again for the weekend after a pleasant few days in Lincolnshire helping my Dad to celebrate his 70th birthday.

On Saturday I took the kids out for a brief walk. Where did they want to go? Woodwell of course.

For the usual sport with sticks and the pond.

Sam slept, for a while at least. I listened to two birds singing call and response from opposite sides of the clearing. I eventually located one of the birds and I think that it was a wren – it was certainly very small – but it was constantly on the move, and silhouetted against the sky . Grey has high praise for the Wren’s song in The Charm of Birds.

Today it was cold and overcast, but we managed a happy hour at the local playing field even though it was raining by the time that we left.

Amy and Ben played happily together whilst I pushed Sam on the swing and then in his pushchair. I took him for a tour around the small field whilst he was dropping off for his afternoon nap. Beneath a wall at the top of the field were several vigorous clumps of a hairy plant with small blue flowers.

It’s quite common in the area, but always in the lea of a wall or otherwise close to habitation. My Reader’s Digest Field Guide to the Wild Flowers of Britain tells me that it was probably introduced from France or Spain in the Middle Ages and that it is often found near the sites of Medieval Abbeys, where it was grown as a source of red dye. Apparently the name comes from the Arabic al-henna for the henna shrub the roots of which also produce red dye.


It’s A Bug’s Life

A delightfully sunny walk up Arnside Knot with Amy and Ben.

This is the view northwards over the Kent towards the Cumbrian fells.

This is looking south-west over the Bay.

We saw this little creature on the path.

When Ben (inevitably) prodded him with stick he curled up in a ball. His body seemed to be in segments and he had lots of legs like a woodlouse or a centipede. I have no idea what it is.

There were lots of busy ants and ants nests too. On one section of path we passed three nests in as many yards.

This is the view eastwards form the top of the very steep south side of the hill.

On the horizon you might be able to make out Ingleborough:

From here you look down on Arnside Tower:

Here’s Amy at the trig pillar:

By now the wind had turned very cold and on Helvellyn and Coniston Old Man we could see a touch of snow:

The kids weren’t deterred. There was a bench to balance on:

And the remnants of two knotted larches to investigate:

It’s A Bug’s Life

Sumer Is Icumen In

After spending the last couple of months searching for signs of Spring, I’m now beginning to think that I’m noticing hints of the impending arrival of summer. At Jack Scout yesterday I noticed these leaves which I’m pretty sure are Early Purple Orchid:

Today I was out with Sam for his mid-morning nap again and the sunshine was warm enough for me to shed my coat and walk in my shirt-sleeves. Do two swallows make a Summer?

Of course Spring is still in full-swing.

Willow catkins, or pussy willow, is not as often seen as you might expect given all of the damp mosses in the area:

I was struck by these opening buds (sycamore?):


We walked with the kids to the Wolfhouse Gallery this afternoon. They were on their bikes:

They enjoy looking at the art in the gallery, but cakes from the cafe and the small playground are the real draw.


Here’s something else that I see all the time, but have never thought to mention – Dog’s Mercury:

The flowers are very inconspicuous. I think that ‘Dog’s’ in the name refers to the fact that the plant is poisonous and therefore useless to the herbalist.


Sneaked out of the house and across the road whilst doing the dishes tonight to capture the sunset:

Sumer Is Icumen In