An Excursion to the Jonte Valley.

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We didn’t travel away from the campsite often when we were in the Cévennes, but we did have one grand day out. The journey itself was interesting, giving us another opportunity to look down into the Tarn Gorge.

And also to enjoy some more roadside entomology.

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It seems that as well as a bewildering variety of Grayling butterflies, the Continent is also home to several similar species of Ringlets. This is one of those. It looks very like a Marbled Ringlet, but online sources refer to that as an Alpine species. I remember seeing something similar when we visited the Vosges, although revisiting my post from the time I can see that it was perhaps slightly different. And also, to my surprise, a photo of what looks very like a Silver-washed Fritillary, so that I may have been wrong about never having seen one before.

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I can’t find this tiny moth, either in my field guide or online, so I don’t know what it’s called, but I do know that it’s stunningly patterned.

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This is a Red-winged Grasshopper, similar to the Blue-winged variety which featured in a recent post. You can’t see the bright red flashes which appear, to startling affect, when the insect hops into flight, but you can see the red hind-legs…

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Marbled Ringlet?

The drive over the higher ground was pleasant without being spectacular. It brought us to Meyrueis…

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In the valley of the Jonte, a tributary of the Tarn.

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Above Meyrueis, we stopped again briefly at a small hillside chapel – Notre-Dame du-Rocher…

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I enjoyed the contrasting colours of these flowers…

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And have included this second photo because of the tiny, pale Ladybird in the top left corner of the white flower.

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Gatekeeper.

We were soon underway again, heading for the excellent Grotte de Dargilan, of which more to follow…(eventually).

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An Excursion to the Jonte Valley.

Cirque des Baumes.

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Whilst we were camping in the Tarn Gorge, I’d mooted the idea of a walk from the rim of the gorge back down to the campsite, hopefully, by walking downhill, mitigating the worst effects of the heat; but when most of our party completed a walk, TBH and I had driven B to the hospital in the town of Millau instead, to get a painful ear checked out. (He’s okay now, although the problems continued for quite some time after our holiday ended.) That trip was not without it’s own interest – when we drove out of the town, onto the hillside above, we saw a great host of circling Red Kites – but I was extremely disappointed to have missed out on the walk, and so was very pleased when TBH and J agreed to an early morning foray, in J’s case for a second time.

We parked at Point Sublime, with fine views into a misty gorge.

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There were plenty of distractions on hand too, with both butterflies and Wall Lizards about to keep me and my camera occupied.

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Wall Brown.

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I think that this is a Silver-washed Fritillary, you can perhaps see why its called that in the photo below.

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Five-spot Burnet Moth.

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We passed no end of these silken tents, apparently constructed by the caterpillars of the Pine Processionary Moth.

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Another Blue-winged Grasshopper. I think.

The path was steep and narrow, but well worth the effort as it descended past a series of huge rock towers and cliffs.

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J, you will notice, is wearing a shocking pink hat. She has pink Crocs too. Her children are appalled by both, which is, of course, entirely the point. She is making up for the sobriety of her youth. I’m sure she completely sympathises with Jenny Joseph’s poem ‘Warning’ which begins…

“When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.”

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Wall Lizard.

I thought I saw a bird of prey alight on top of a distant tower and the amazing zoom on my camera helped to confirm that fact.

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It was exhilarating to watch the raptor soaring above the hillside, in and out between the karst features, eventually landing not too far above us…

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I have quite a few photos of the bird in flight, none, sadly, very sharp, but I think they show enough detail to suggest that it was a Rough-legged Buzzard, not something that I’ve seen before.

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Wall Lizard.

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Karst scenery.

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This was a terrific walk for butterfly spotting and on this steep hillside section there were a great deal of quite dark butterflies flitting through the trees. They were hard to catch in repose and generally, I think, belonged to species not found in Britain. Frankly, I’m not sure what this is; continental Europe seems to have numerous types of Grayling – I wonder whether this is one of those?

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It was J’s turn to pick out a large bird on a distant rock tower – this time on the one seen ahead in the photo above.

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A Griffon Vulture; soon joined by a companion….

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They didn’t seem to be very busy and I continued to take occasional photos as we descended past the tower.

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A Dusky Heath?

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Another Grayling of some description?

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Looking back up into the Cirque des Baumes.

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Striped Shield Bug – less prevalent , it seemed, than in the Dordogne, but still around.

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The Dryad? Love the eye-spot.

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This small butterfly led me a merry dance and I only managed to photograph it from some considerable distance. Could it be a Glanville Fritillary?

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Having reached the bottom of the valley, we climbed a little way back up to a point under the cliffs…

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Wall Lizard.

Where there was a tiny chapel…

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La Chapelle Saint-Hillaire.

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Sadly, the chapel was locked, but I managed to get an image of the interior through a small hole in the door…

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One final look back up into Cirque des Baumes.

We were down in the valley now and walking along the road, which for me was saved by the butterflies and flowers along the roadside. We passed a garden where a Buddleia was festooned with butterflies and moths, particularly fritillaries which I took to be more Silver-washed.

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Clouded Yellow.

When we were almost back at the campsite we paused by the ‘Mushroom Rock’ to take in the view and wave to friends and family below, then J and TBH rushed ahead to get out of the full glare of the sun and to get a cool drink, but I was distracted again by more butterflies and moths…

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This is a new species to me, a Jersey Tiger Moth, there had been several on the Buddleia earlier, but they were a bit too far away to be photographed very successfully. Unfortunately, you can’t see the stunning red underwings in this photo.

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When I took this shot of another Five-spot Burnet Moth I didn’t even see the two rather striking shield bugs nearby. I wish I had; the purple one in particular looks like it was stunningly patterned.

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Small Skipper.

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Perhaps not surprisingly, this striking insect is not in my ‘Complete Mediterranean Wildlife’. It will have remain a mystery.

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The underside of a Jersey Tiger Moth.

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Small Skipper and Silver-washed Fritillary.

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Jersey Tiger Moth.

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When we’d been kayaking on the Tarn and had pulled our boats onto a shingle beach to jump into the river and swim, a Scarce Swallowtail landed on the end of one of the kayaks. I managed to get very close to it with my phone, but none of my photos came out well. I was really pleased, then, to get another chance for some photos.

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Large Skipper.

Only a mornings stroll, but the views and the wildlife will stick with me for a long time I suspect.

Cirque des Baumes.

To the Bakery and Back

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Each morning I walked into the village to buy the day’s bread, sometimes with Andy, but usually on my own. The bread was delicious, but I enjoyed the walk too. These photos are from those walks and also from other times when we had occasion to walk into Castelnaud-la-Chapelle. That first photo is looking back towards the campsite from a very misty morning, although the mist was rapidly clearing.

This is the same view…

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…on a relatively cloudy day and this…

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…is a panoramic view from a little further along the road, in more typical weather conditions.

The view in the other direction was very much dominated by the village and the Chateau towering above it, and often, in the mornings, montgolfières rising above that.

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Here’s part of the village…

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…when the mist had just about dissipated.

Not only were the views excellent, but the meadows along the route held lots of interest too.  These blue flowers dominated…

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I think that the flowers are Meadow Clary, a relative of Sage, which has a very limited distribution in Britain, but seems to be abundant in France. The insect is a Hummingbird Hawkmoth which is only seen as a migrant in Britain, although by coincidence I saw one today whilst out for a local wander. I also often saw Hummingbird Hawkmoths flying along a wall which bounded part of the road, seemingly investigating nooks and crevices, although I’m not sure why they would do that.

This…

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…is a Broad-bordered Bee Hawkmoth, which can, apparently, also be found in Britain, but not in our area and I’ve certainly never seen one before.

One of the things I loved about our visit to France was the profusion of butterflies, although they weren’t always cooperative in posing for photos.

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This Scarce Swallowtail was kind however, and moved a little closer after I took that first photo…

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Wild Carrot flowers were also very common in the meadows and where the flowerheads had curled in on themselves and gone to seed there was a very good chance that you could see Striped Shield Bugs…

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…they were hard to miss!

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Spider’s webs, on the other hand, only became obvious when the mist washed them with silver droplets.

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The wall alongside the road was home, appropriately enough, to Wall Lizards.

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These two are my favourites from the many photos I took.

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The area around the wall also seemed to be the territory of some small orange butterflies which eluded my camera at first, but then turned out to be Gatekeepers which we see at home.

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I think that this first one is on a Hemp Agrimony flower and that this one…

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…is on Horse Mint.

The road crossed a bridge over the Céou which was a good place for spotting fish and also more Beautiful Demoiselles…

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Male.

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Female.

Right at the end of our stay, we came down to the bridge because some of the party wanted to emulate some swimmers we had seen by leaping from a high branch into the water.

In the event, only E managed it, not because of the height of the jump, but because of the difficulty of climbing the tree – there was a crude ladder of planks nailed to the tree-trunk, but one of the rungs was missing. Here’s E just before she jumped…

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The rest of us had to content ourselves with jumping from the bridge itself or from a small wall beside it…

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Which, frankly, was quite high enough for me.

To the Bakery and Back

At Swim Two Becks

Skelwith Bridge – Elter Water – Elterwater – Little Langdale – Slater Bridge – Stang End – Skelwith Bridge.

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Continuing the theme of my last post – novelty versus familiarity – this is a route I’ve walked countless times over the years, but this iteration was unlike any previous version. It was late afternoon, after work, but still very hot. Skelwith Force was a bit of a misnomer for the normally thunderous waterfall, now relatively tame. I was heading for this large pool in the River Brathay.

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Purple Loosestrife.

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Purple Loosestrife – Emily – is this what’s in your garden?

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Before I got to this point in the river, I was examining another clump of Purple Loosestrife when this Shield Bug landed on my hand and then on the path. I think it’s a Bronze Shieldbug, but I’m not entirely confident.

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Harebell.

Anyway, the reason I’d strayed slightly from the path and stuck to the riverbank, was that I was looking for a place for a swim. This looked perfect…

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And it was! The water was deep and quite warm, but cool enough to be refreshing. It was almost immediately deep, straight from the bank, but I found a place where I thought I could ease myself in, except that the riverbed was so slippery that I lost my footing, both feet sliding out from under me, and fell in anyway. It was a beautiful spot for a swim, with stunning views and a host of damselflies and dragonflies keeping me company.

A short walk upstream, past what looked like another ideal place for swimming, brought me to Elter Water…

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The lake, not the village. I’d had an idea that I might swim here too, but, as you can see, the water was very shallow close in and further out I thought I could see a great deal of weed, which I found a bit off-putting; I decided to bide my time.

If I wasn’t swimming, there were plenty of fish that were…

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I still had my wet-shoes on and paddled into the water to take some photos. The fish weren’t very frightened of me…

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I changed back into shoes more suited for walking, but retained my rapidly drying trunks; I had plans for more swimming.

In fact, before I’d left for this part of the Lakes, I’d been poring over the map, looking at blue bits which promised the possibility of a swim. As is often the case, I’d got carried away and had identified numerous potential spots and was toying with the idea of linking them together in an extended walking and swimming journey reminiscent of the central character’s trip in the film and John Cheever short-story ‘The Swimmer’, with your’s truly in the muscular Burt Lancaster role, obviously.

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Small Tortoiseshell butterflies. I saw, and photographed, loads of them.

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Silver-Y Moth. I saw lots of these too, but they were very elusive to photograph.

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Lots of Harebells too!

The short climb from the village of Elterwater over to Little Langdale was hot and sticky work, but brought the reward of views of Little Langdale Tarn and the Coniston Fells…

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This…

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…is the River Brathay again, flowing out of Little Langdale Tarn.

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Slater Bridge.

I thought that this pool…

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…just downstream of Slater Bridge, might have swimming potential, but couldn’t be sure that it was deep enough, so wanted to check the pool I’d seen before, back toward Little Langdale Tarn.

The ground beside the river, even after our long dry spell, was still quite spongy and full of typical wet, heathland vegetation, including lots of Heath Spotted-orchids.

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Good to have an opportunity to compare these with its close relative Common Spotted-orchid which I’ve photographed around home recently.

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This pool turned out to be ideal again. I dug my stove out of my bag, to make a cup of tea ready for when I’d had a swim. Whilst I was busy, a dragonfly landed on a nearby boulder. I grabbed my camera, but the photograph came out horribly blurred.  It does show a dragonfly which is exactly the same pale blue as a male Broad-bodied Chaser, but with a much narrower abdomen, making it either a male Black-tailed Skimmer or a male Keeled Skimmer, probably the latter, based on the distribution maps in my Field Guide, which makes it a first for me.

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White Water-lily – the largest flower indigenous to Britain, but it closes and slowly withdraws into the water each day after midday.

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Yellow Water-lily.

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Once again, the water was deep right to the bank, but somebody had piled up rocks under the water to make it easier to get in and out. The water here was colder than it had been further downstream, quite bracing even, somewhat to my surprise. I enjoyed this swim even more than the first. The low sun was catching the Bog Cotton on the bank…

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…and was also making reflected ripple patterns on the peaty exposed bank, which were stunning, but which I can’t show you because they were only visible from the water. In addition, the Bog Myrtle bushes growing along the bank were giving off a lovely earthy, musky fragrance.

It was eight o’clock by now, and I expected to have the river to myself, but a couple arrived for a swim and once they were changed and in the water, I got out to enjoy my cup of tea.

Returning to Slater Bridge…

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I watched two large dragonflies rapidly touring the area. They were so fast that my efforts to take photographs were doomed to failure. I thought that they were Golden-ringed Dragonflies, like the ones I saw mating near to Fox’s Pulpit last summer. At one point, one of them repeatedly landed momentarily on the surface of the water, or rather splashed onto the surface, making a ripple, and then instantly flew on again, only to almost immediately repeat the procedure. I have no idea what purpose this behaviour served. It was very odd.

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I still had a fair way to go to get back to the car, but also the last of the light to enjoy whilst I walked it.

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The post’s title is meant to be a punning reference to ‘At Swim Two Birds’, Flann O’Brien’s wonderfully nutty book, which some people claim is even better than his ‘The Third Policeman’. I probably should reread them both to see what I think now, after a break of a few years; if the house weren’t stuffed to the rafters with books I haven’t ever read, I would set about that task tomorrow. ‘At Swim Two Becks’ seemed appropriate when I thought I had swum in Great Langdale Beck and Greenburn Beck and before I had examined the map again and realised that in fact I’d swum in two different stretches of the River Brathay.

Of course, Heraclitus, whom I am fond of quoting, tells us that you can never step into the same river twice. You can, however, walk the same route twice, but it will never be the same each time. Previous blog-posts of much the same route, none of which involve swimming, Burt Lancaster, John Cheever or the novels of Flann O’Brien:

A walk with my Mum and Dad.

A walk with TBH.

A snowy walk with friends

A more recent walk with different friends.

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At Swim Two Becks

Gloucester Old Spot

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Half-term! Astonishingly, the good weather hadn’t given up the ghost just as we broke up, but was set fair and would continue to be pretty good for most of the week. On the first Saturday, TBH took A to Manchester to see ‘Blood Brothers’*, Little S joined a friend’s birthday outing to the flicks to catch the new Star Wars spin-off, leaving B and I to our own devices.

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I persuaded him that a walk would be a good idea and whilst his enthusiasm for the project was a little lukewarm, he soon perked up after demonstrating some fairly gymnastic tree-climbing and really came alive when he spotted this female broad-bodied chaser…

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On the totally unscientific basis of how many I’ve seen so far this summer, this has been a good year for broad-bodied chasers.

We were heading for Hawes Water…

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Where the Irises…

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…had come into flower.

Common Blue Damselflies were seemingly everywhere, mostly in mating pairs…

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B hadn’t seen the new boardwalk.

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Somewhat optimistically, we hoped that the Common Lizards, which on a hot day like this might well have been sunning themselves along the edges of the old boardwalk, might have already adopted the new structure. But I think that will take a while. There were still plenty of damselflies though….

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…if not on the new boardwalk, then very near to it.

At Hawes Villa they keep a small number of Gloucester Old Spot Pigs…

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They seemed to be happily eating dirt and it’s only subsequently that it has occurred to me that this field might once have hosted Pignuts, a common enough plant locally, which might explain their relish.

B was very taken with the pigs and having admired them for a while then wanted to read the sign right through (reading is not usually one of his favourite pastimes).

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“Eat them, to keep them.”, I read. “Do you want to try some?”

He did, so we did. We bought both sausages and burgers. We haven’t tried the sausages yet, but the burgers were delicious. With TBH and A still sticking to their vegan October regime, even the boys and I are eating less meat than we were, and with several local farmers supplying meat directly to customers, and the news that US style stockyards are appearing in the UK, I’m keen to switch to buying meat locally, where I have a fair idea about the welfare of the livestock. Having said that, this has just been a toe in the water so to speak, I need to think about where I go from here.

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B on a Cow Parsley fringed Moss Lane.

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Star of Bethlehem.

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The large stand of Honesty on The Row has finished flowering and the flowers have been replaced by giant seed-heads which resemble thin slices of Kiwifruit.

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Looks like a carpet moth. Maybe Striped Twin-spot Carpet?

This last one is a bit of a cheat, taken the next day, which was spent in the garden cutting down two overgrown coniferous shrubs and then driving back and forth to the tip to dispose of the evidence.

*This is a Sore Point. I wasn’t invited. Because, apparently, I ‘don’t like musicals’. That’s the last time I watch ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ or ‘West-Side Story’ with A when she’s off sick. Or take TBH to the cinema to watch ‘La-La Land’. Apparently, ‘Blood Brothers’ was very good, but I expected as much: it’s a great show.

Gloucester Old Spot

Herb Paris, Lily of the Valley and more…

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A Monday evening. With A hobbling about on her dodgy knee after her long DofE training walk, dancing was out of the question for her, so there were no taxi-dad duties for me to perform. I escaped to Gait Barrows, ostensibly to see whether the Lady’s-slipper Orchids were flowering. Some of them were, as you can see above, but some were yet to fully open…

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This is another of my annual flower pilgrimages and it served as a useful excuse, but really, with the sun still shining I was hoping for butterflies. I did see some: Orange-tips, Brimstones, Speckled Woods, but generally they wouldn’t settle to be photographed. Fortunately, there was a great deal more to see, in fact the Lady’s slippers were the last pictures I took in a great haul and I was tempted to appropriate Conrad’s phrase and title the post ‘blogger’s gifts’.

Usually, having come in search of the orchids, I’m a little late for the Lily-of-the-valley. The small areas completed dominated by the broad leaves are always still in evidence…

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But I often struggle to find any flowers; this time there were far more than I’ve ever seen before…

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The tiny, white bells are still quite shy and retiring, but utterly enchanting.

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In addition to the flowers there were hoards of Damselflies about. I took lots of photos, but will content myself with just two…

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Common Damselfly.

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Azure Damselfly.

The colours look very different, but that’s a function of the light which was falling on them at the time. The easiest way to distinguish these males is the pattern on the second segment. The Common damselfly has a solid black omega  – Ω; whilst the Azure has an elongated u, like – ∏ – but the other way up. (You may need to click on the photos to view zoomable images on flickr to pick this out).

Walking through some warm glades, which act as a sun-trap and have often been good for butterflies on previous visits, I spotted something in flight which had all the colour of a butterfly, but which was bigger and more co-operative with regards being photographed…

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Broad-bodied Chaser.

In flight, I thought that it was yellow (the field guide says ‘ochre’), so assumed that it was a female, but the males also start life that colour, but then produce ‘pruinescence’, a dusty blue covering, which process has begun for this male, and is more advanced in this male…

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… which was also basking in the sun, just a few yards from the first dragonfly.

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There were lots of these…

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…Brown Silver-line moths about.

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Maidenhair Spleenwort.

I need to make a concerted effort with ferns and grasses. Hopefully, I can pick up quite a bit relatively easily, since presently I know next to nothing. I think the fern above is Maidenhair Spleenwort. It’s possible that this…

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…is another spleenwort, or Wall Rue? I’m not sure.

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Bird’s-foot Trefoil. New flowers – they will soon be egg-yolk yellow.

I did eventually manage to photograph one butterfly…

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Green-veined White on Bugle.

In pursuit of an Orange-tip, I turned onto a slim-trod along a ride which I have never taken before.

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Which, it transpired, was a very happy choice.

The path brought me to a gate, overlooking a field…

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…which helped me to reset my bearings, since I recognised it.

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Only a couple of days before, I had been reading, again, about Herb Paris. A highly unusual plant, which has been frustrating me, because I know that it grows locally in many locations, but I have never stumbled across it. Anyway, I read that it often grows alongside it’s close relative Dog’s Mercury, a very common plant hereabouts, and when I saw Dog’s Mercury blanketing the woodland floor, I optimistically thought: maybe there will be some Herb Paris nearby.

And was then very surprised when my wish-prophecy came true..

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It’s an odd plant with quite a strange flower, but after years of waiting, I was very pleased to see it.

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From this point, the path seemed to peter out and though I continued doggedly for some time, I eventually admitted defeat and turned to retrace my steps. Except, then I was distracted by another, even slighter tread which was heading into the woods. Almost immediately, I was confronted by a pile of feathers…

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Then another, and another…

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And then several pairs of bird-less wings…

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The wings were all busy with flies, but also with several of these rather striking orange and black beetles – oieceoptoma thoracicum. They aren’t here feast on the carrion, but on the other insects which are attracted to the wings.

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The last time, and the first time, that I saw one of these was on another warm spring day, on Yewbarrow above the Winster Valley, when B joined me for a fabulous walk. It was eight years ago, which I think says something about the power of blogging as an aide memoire; my memory is generally pretty dreadful, but although I didn’t remember their latin name, I did instantly recognise the insects and recall their predatory lifestyle.

That walk was a good one, and the post has a much better photograph of this actually rather handsome beetle. That day we found several badger setts, but these wings were untidily strewn around a Fox’s earth. I found a dead fox cub not so very far away from this spot last year and one summer saw a fox, late one evening, running along the woodland fringe near here. B is quite keen to see the earth, I don’t know whether there is any mileage in bringing him late one evening in the hope that we might see the resident foxes too.

The path which I had diverted onto was clearly a path made by the foxes. It soon forked and forked again. It was difficult to follow, but I persisted and eventually it brought me to a ‘proper’ path, which I recognised, and which was close to where the Lady’-slippers flower.

Down at Hawes Water, work was still continuing quite late into the evening…

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Having started with the last photo I took, here are the first two:

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Stacked timber and…

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planks from the old boardwalk, by the Gait Barrows carpark.

Herb Paris, Lily of the Valley and more…

Silver Sapling Weekend

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Here is our trusty Conway Countryman pitched at the Silver Sapling campsite. Where’s that? What exotic locale have we chosen for our latest break? Well, er…it’s about half a mile down the road from home. The kids bikes, you’ll note, are strewn across the field by the tent, because they had decided that they would cycle rather than joining us in the car. It’s a Girl Guiding site, but bookable by other groups (although this is not immediately clear from the website). We were there for our friend Beaver B’s* big birthday bash. He’d booked it so that friends from the village could easily attend, but so that friends and family from further afield could also be easily accommodated. A brilliant idea I thought.

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We’d barely started to pitch the tent, in which task B is my principal assistant, when B discovered a Slowworm. It was dead sadly, but that gave us a good chance to examine it closely. It’s scales were gold on its upper-side and it was black underneath.

The weather was a bit mixed. When the sun shone, with trees on three sides but open to the south, the site was a lovely sun-trap. When it rained, we had the marquee to use, to which we added another tent to give a sort of T-shaped affair…

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For the kids there are pedal go-karts, grass sledges, giant jenga, and giant kerplunk (all provided on site), plus badminton, footballs, frisbees and bikes which we’d brought ourselves. There are huge barbecues and fire-pits on site too, which got good use, as well as a place where it’s okay to have a larger fire. Beaver B had ordered in a barrel of Tag Lag beer, which is brewed at the Drunken Duck near Windermere and proved to be very palatable.

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Most importantly, there was lots of good company, both old friends and some we hadn’t met before. A fine time was had by all, I think. I certainly know that I enjoyed myself enormously.

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We had a couple of visitors to our tent over the weekend. On the Friday night there were some comedy attempts to photograph a quite striking green cricket using flash photography (the results are predictably blurred). The following morning I spotted this moth on our awning. There is a species of moth called the Mottled Grey. Since this moth is both grey and mottled, maybe that’s what this is.

In all, a fabulous weekend. The camp site can be booked in sections (as we did) or the whole thing can be block booked (every year a group of bikers have a charity weekend and concert here for example). It can also be booked for daytime use. You only pay per camper. Why not give it a try?

*When Beaver B has appeared here previously, I think he has just been B, but, obviously that gets confusing with our own B. I’m not sure that he will be too enamoured with this sobriquet, but it is how we make the distinction at home, since Beaver B helped run the local Beaver unit when our own B and S were members.

Silver Sapling Weekend