Up with the Warblers, Herons, Harriers…

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I had set my alarm for an early start, or to put it another way, I left the curtains open, which never fails. A quick cuppa and then I was out, the early sun lighting the clouds in the eastern sky from below, but not yet visible above the horizon. (At this latitude, and this time of year, that does require a bit of a sacrifice of potential sleeping hours.)

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Everything was freighted with pearls of dew and down towards Hawes Water a cloud of mist hung over the trees. I climbed up into Eaves Wood, hoping that the extra height would give me a good view over the low cloud.

With the trees in the wood now fully clad with leaves, the views weren’t as clear as they were after my last early start, but the mist was glowing pink with the early light, so churlish really to complain.

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The mist from Eaves Wood – Ingleborough on the right.

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Cobweb, Sixteen Buoys field.

The mist was more dense than last time. A pale white disc appeared though the murk and then gradually brightened, suffusing the fog with colour as it simultaneously burned it off.

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In the wildflower meadow beyond the lake, the grass was strung with gossamer, which was in turn bedecked with dewdrops.

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I suppose this mass of spider’s webs must always be here, at least at this time of year, but usually goes unnoticed without the coat of sunlit drops to illuminate it.

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It looked likely that anyone who had opted to watch the sunrise from Arnside Knott would also have been treated to a temperature inversion. I don’t suppose that Brocken spectres are a common sight from the Knott.

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In the trees on Yealand Allotment, I had more cheering, but slightly frustrating encounters with families of Marsh Tits and Great Tits; I have lots of photographs showing birds partially obscured by leaves. I did eventually locate a tree-top Chiff-chaff, which was singing it’s name as ever. I also saw a couple of Fallow Deer again, although they too were too veiled by leaves for me to get a very clear photo.

This big, old Horse Chestnut by a gate into Leighton Moss is a favourite of mine.

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We drive past it every weekday morning and I was alarmed to notice, last week, that its large limbs have all been lopped off. I hope that isn’t a precursor to chopping the whole tree down.

This tiny Sedge Warbler, probably weighing about 10g…

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…was singing with great gusto and astonishing volume.

“…exuberant song, full of mimicry, seldom repeating itself, suddenly halting, then tearing off again, always sounding vaguely irritated.”

from The Complete Book of British Birds

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Yellow Iris.

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On this occasion, I had Lower Hide all to myself. Aside from the Greylag Geese and a lone Moorhen, there didn’t seem to be much to see. But with a couple of windows open I could hear warblers on every side. I kept getting brief, occasional views in amongst the reeds, but it didn’t seem likely that I would get a better view than that, until, just as I was thinking of moving on, a pair of birds landed in the reeds right in front of the hide…

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They were Reed Warblers. Like other warblers, migrants from warmer climes. Paler than their close cousin the Sedge Warbler and less yellow than a Chiff-Chaff.

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They shuffled between the reed tops, the nearby bush…

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…and down deeper among the reeds…

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They would fly off for a while, or disappear into the reeds, but eventually they would reappear. Maybe they were building a nest?

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As I reached the Causeway path and looked out into the fields towards Grisedale Farm, I was lucky enough to spot these deer.

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My immediate thought was that they must be Red Deer, because they seemed relatively large, but then I began to doubt myself; if they were Red Deer, why weren’t they in a large group, which is how I’ve usually encountered them locally? Maybe they were Roe Deer and I was mistaken about their size? After the fact, I’ve realised that I should have had the courage of my convictions. Roe Deer bucks have mature antlers at present, whereas Red Deer stags have new antlers, covered in velvet.

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Dog Rose

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Another warbler

Where the causeway crosses a small bridge I always pause to take a look around.

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And to peer into the water…

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Common Backswimmer (I think)

I was astonished by these tiny red mites…

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…so small that I wondered at first if they were inanimate particles undergoing some sort of Brownian motion. But they have little legs, so clearly not.

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From the Public Hide, I took no end of photos of this Heron…

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…which was feeling very chilled, in no hurry at all, and quite happy to pose. Perhaps predictably, it’s the very first photo I took which I prefer from the entire selection.

Although it was probably still what most people would consider to be indecently early to even be up on a Saturday morning, there were quite a few people about now. Birdwatchers are an ascetic bunch; up with the lark and all that. A chap and his daughter (I assumed) had spotted this warbler…

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…which was singing from the reeds. He asked me if I knew what it was. At first I demurred from offering an opinion. Then said that it was a warbler, probably a Reed or Sedge Warbler. I don’t know why I’m so reticent in these sort of circumstances; I’m usually not short of an opinion, or shy about sharing my views. It’s a Reed Warbler. (And even now I’m fighting the temptation to hedge my bets with a ‘probably’ or ‘I think’). Not only does it look like a Reed Warbler, but it sang like a Reed Warbler. Reed and Sedge Warbler’s have similar songs, and it comes as something of a surprise to me to realise that I could tell the difference, at least on that Saturday morning, having already heard both species singing when I could see them clearly as they sang.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a huge variety of wildlife as I have this spring, but then I know I’ve never before made such an effort to get outside to have the opportunity to have encounters. Reed Buntings are a good case in point: I’ve seen far more this year then I’ve previously seen in total.

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Male Red Bunting.

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Yellow Iris with Tree Bumblebee (?)

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Marsh Harrier.

There’s more water to peer in to at the pond-dipping area.

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Pond-Skaters

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View from the Skytower.

This bumblebee…

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…was stock-still, apparently frozen in position.

Whilst I was taking the photo, several of her sister Early Bumblebees arrived to forage…

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But she stayed completely motionless.

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My theory is that, on cold nights, like many we’ve had of late, bumble-bees get benighted, too cold to continue, so they have no option but to stay where they are, effectively asleep until at least the following day, when the sun warms them sufficiently to get them mobile again..

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Ragged Robin in Lambert’s Meadow

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Early Bumblebees again (I think).

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Female Broad-bodied Chaser

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Episyrphus alteatus (?).

All that and still back in time for a latish breakfast. It had been slowish progress however: roughly four hours for a route which I know I can complete in two and a half. Sometimes, taking your own sweet time really pays off.

Up with the Warblers, Herons, Harriers…

A Saturday Triptych – Fit the First.

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Last Saturday and an early start revealed the forecast clear skies and frost, which had brought a low lying mist, particularly, it seemed down towards Hawes Water. I thought I’d missed the sunrise, but in fact was out just in time to catch it. And when the sun duly gilded the southern flank of Eaves Wood I was induced to bend my steps that way.

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Eaves Wood.

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The Coronation Path.

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Honesty.

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Not a great photo, I know, but I was thrilled to see another Tree-Creeper so soon after my last encounter.

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The Ring O’Beeches.

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A Ruddock.

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Hawes Water mist.

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The rabbits were much more tame than usual. In fact, I felt like all the wildlife I saw was remarkably sanguine about my proximity.

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This is one of the many gap-stiles I’ve been firmly wedged in over the years. It’s particularly awkward because the ground is higher on the far side, but it’s getting easier!

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Hawes Water.

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A Warbler. A silent warbler, so I don’t know which flavour. There were lots of small birds about. In this spot a male Bullfinch was tantalising me with flashes of its scarlet belly from the far side of the hedge.

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Cowslips.

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Another gap-stile, the fat man’s agony. To be honest, this one still requires fair bit of wriggling. I suspect that I will never find it easy to manoeuvre through.

I found myself – I hadn’t planned it – following a new favourite route of my, from Hawes Water, through Yealand Allotment and ’round the back’ of Leighton Moss. I’ve never quite followed exactly this route before this year, but this was now the third time recently.

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This one was singing – a Chiff-chaff.

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Willow catkins.

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Very different Willow Catkins – there are several kinds of willow and it’s a bit of a blind spot for me – I shall have to work on it.

I’d arrived at the Lower Hide. I dithered momentarily – to go in or to continue toward home? Just a brief stop I decided. But then, there was already a birder in the hide, and as is so often the case, a chatty, knowledgeable and generous birder at that.

He told me about recent sightings – a Whitethroat on Walney Island, a Bittern at Martin Mere, and, just that morning, an Osprey perched on a log by the River Bela near Milnthorpe.

“The Cattle Egrets are over there at the back of the mere by the reeds, if you’re interested.”

A nice way to put it, implying as it did, that I was already up to speed about the presence of Cattle Egrets. I wasn’t, although I had been wondering about the cars I’d seen parked along Storrs Lane over the last week – now I knew why they’d been there, twitchers in all probability.

Needless to say, I was interested. I’d never seen Cattle Egrets before, and whilst they were only bright white specks in the distance, with the aid of the powerful zoom on the camera, I would soon have a good view of them and some photos to boot.

What a good time then, for the camera battery to go flat. I’m not sure I’ve ever let this happen before, or not since I bought this new camera with a rechargeable battery, well, not till now at least. I suppose I have been taking a lot of photos recently.

Then, just to rub salt into the wound, a male Marsh Harrier decided to perform a number of leisurely fly-pasts. And then something very strange started to happen. First it was a male Pheasant. It was stood by the path. When I approached, instead of running comically away, or noisily taking to the air squawking and flapping, it sat calmly preening itself, completely ignoring me, even when I was a yard away. Then a Great Tit dropped to a tree trunk beside the path and continued to feed until I was in touching distance. Not one, but three successive male Wrens – normally fast-moving birds, hard to photograph –  landed on prominent perches near to me and began to sing lustily. I felt almost invisible. When I saw a rather portly man with a very large camera jogging along the Causeway ahead of me, I knew, with a sinking feeling, that there would inevitably be a Bearded Tit on one of the grit trays. There was. And me with no working camera. It was a conspiracy – the birds were laughing at me!

Still, it had been a good walk, the sun was still shining, it was still very early. Time to head home for a cup of tea, a bit of a chat with the folks, a bit of pottering, put the ham on to boil, recharge the battery, and then out again…

A Saturday Triptych – Fit the First.

Beneath the Boughs

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I was out early today, a half-moon still high in the western sky.

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It was my intention to watch the sunrise from Castlebarrow, but a line of cloud in the East was going to delay the sun’s first appearance and it was far too cold to stand around waiting.

Instead, I took a turn around Eaves Wood and watched the sunrise from the Ring O’Beeches.

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Later, I was out again with A. She chose the route and took me for another, longer tour of Eaves Wood. I hadn’t noticed the Snowdrops flowering there when I passed the in half-darkness earlier.

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I’ve walked past this new(ish?) bench once before…

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…, but didn’t notice then the small plaque attached to it.

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I’m sure I’ve quoted W.H.Davies poem ‘Leisure’ before. It must be his best remembered poem. I found his ‘Autobiography of a Supertramp’ very entertaining.

During both walks I saw, and heard, a buzzard coasting above the treetops.

I noticed last weekend that the Robins were singing, seemingly from every tree and bush. Great tits have begun to join them and I think I heard a Chaffinch today too.

I was out for a third time later, briefly in Eaves Wood, then crossing the Lots, but having set-off in the half-darkness again, didn’t take any photos.

Beneath the Boughs

A Snowy Sunrise

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Snow came to Silverdale, an unusual occurrence.

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I’d been up for a while, catching up on some red-ink dispersion, but was now heading for those woods on the skyline, to catch the sunrise.  I should really have set off earlier; twenty minutes before the sun came up the clouds were suffused with a pink glow which I didn’t have a decent vantage point to photograph.

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When the sun did finally rise, it was obscured by the clouds on the eastern horizon. I suppose I could have waited, but my toes were cold, I had places to be (well a place – Cartmell – to collect B from a night away with his team-mates), and if I had stayed put, I would have missed the spectacle of the sun appearing through the snow-rimmed trees…

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As I’ve noted before, coming back down the hill creates an illusion of a second sunrise…

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And with that, astonishingly, I’m up to date.

Feels a bit weird.

A Snowy Sunrise

Another Sunrise and Two More Sunsets

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The last day of our Christmas and New Year break. ‘All good things must come to an end’ they say. Well, who are they and why are they such a pain in the you-know-where?

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I was up early for another sunrise from Castlebarrow.

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In fairness, there’s no call to be up particularly early at this latitude to catch a sunrise.

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Nice though to grab a revitalising pre-breakfast leg-stretcher, a lungful of fresh, cold air and a free light-show.

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One advantage of watching the sunrise from a hilltop is that you can effectively watch it rise again as you descend the hill…

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Our old friend X-Ray came over for lunch, tea and a card game or two. As usual on such occasions we went out for a bit of a wander too. We all toddled down to the Cove and then the rest of the family decided that they’d had enough exercise for today, thank you very much, and left X-Ray and I to continue down the coast to Jack Scout. From where we watched the sunset over the bay….

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Not as spectacular as the previous days offerings from Warton Crag, but very pleasant none the less.

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We continued round Jenny Brown’s point and along the edge of the salt marsh.

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You can see that the light was getting a little low. And we still had a fair way to go back up through Fleagarth Wood and through Sharp’s Lot to the village. X-Ray has dodgy ankles and wasn’t entirely impressed by my choice of route for what had become a night hike. I, on the other hand, am rather relishing finishing my walks in the dark. At least for the moment.

Later that week I managed to make an early exit from work and dragged the boys out for another venture to the Cove.

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For yet another sunset.

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Sunrise, sunset
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly fly the years
One season following another
Laden with happiness and tears

Sorry, couldn’t resist that one, I’ve had the tune playing mentally since I typed the post title – I’m one sunrise short, I know.

More sunsets to follow.

Another Sunrise and Two More Sunsets

What Camera?

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Early December – I’m still more than a month behind!

For quite some time now, well over a year I reckon, I’ve been debating about buying a new camera. Much as I’ve enjoyed the Olympus, it has been physically deteriorating for a while now. And I’ve had a feeling that it’s performance has begun to slide somewhat too.

But what to buy? I haven’t even been able to decide what kind of camera to buy, let alone what model. The convenience and relatively low cost of another bridge camera was tempting – after all, I have liked the Olympus. But the pocketability of a compact also had some attractions. Then again, for many years I used an SLR and I seriously considered upgrading to a DSLR. Then there’s the mirror-less cameras to consider, and consider them I did. At great length. I drove myself, and perhaps several other people, mad going over it again and again, reading reviews, shopping around. Several times I was convinced I had finally made a decision, but could never quite bring myself to make a commitment, put my hand in my pocket, sign on the dotted line etc etc.

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Then, over the Black Friday weekend, my friend and colleague The Proper Birder emailed me to say that she intended to replace her own camera – with a direct replacement, exactly the same model she already owned, because she likes it so much. She was getting a good deal, did I want to order one, because she was going to the shop and could pick it up for me? I’d seen her photographs of exotic birds taken in the Caribbean, which were pretty stunning, and I’d also read several reviews of the camera and thought it might be the one for me. So I finally took the plunge and bought myself an early Christmas present.

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These photos are the fruits of my first trip out with that camera, a brief, early expedition to watch the sun rise from Castlebarrow, above the village. 

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What did I choose? A Panasonic Lumix FZ200 – another bridge camera. In the end I decided that having a huge zoom and a macro facility all without needing multiple lenses was perfect for me.

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The unique (as far as I know) selling point of the FZ200 is that, although its zoom is relatively modest by current standards (x24 where x50 is not unusual now) it allows a wide f2.4 aperture throughout the range of the zoom, letting more light in to the camera and therefore giving a better chance of getting good shots with the zoom in low light. Trying to take photos of squirrels running around in the trees on a gloomy morning with the Olympus for example would have been a complete waste of time.

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What Camera?

An Early Bird on Sleddale Fell

Early Sun on Kentmere Pike

A stunning forecast for Saturday coincided with a busy family day and it seemed that there was no possibility that I would get out on the hills. But my Mother-in-Law took pity on me and offered to look after the kids until lunch time. Accordingly, I was fumbling my way out of bed, bleary-eyed and yawning, at five, driving by half-past and parking up at Sadgill in Longsleddale at six thirty. There was a bright half-moon hanging huge above the Kentmere ridge to the west and in the velvet sky the stars were beginning to fade as the pre-dawn light gradually strengthened. There was enough light to walk without a headtorch, although I opted to stick with the track heading for the Gatescarth Pass whilst the light improved, a route I might not have chosen otherwise.

A bracing northerly hurtled down the valley, an owl hooted from across the river. I confess, I did wonder a little about the sanity of the enterprise. It was bitterly, bitterly cold.

Birkett suggests following the path into Brownhowe Bottom and up to the col between Tarn Crag and Branstree, but previous experience suggested that this would be an indefinite path through very boggy ground which I had no desire to revisit. On the map, a stream heading west of west-north-west almost from the top of Tarn Crag seemed to offer a promising handrail to the heights. So I followed it, after peering first into the small disused quarry close to where the stream passed under the track. After the first steep pull the gradient eased and I suspect that ordinarily the going would have been a little damp underfoot. No such problem today as everything was well frozen. Drips from the edge of peat hags had become substantial icicles and the ground crunched and crackled as I walked.

Looking back again 

A fitter man than I would have reached the summit for the sunrise, but the fitter man was still in his bed, so I had the shady hillside to myself as an orange glow spread downwards on the Kentmere ridge opposite. A Tortoise-like steady plod has long been my Modus Operandi and eventually I toiled up to the summit of Tarn Crag. As I said, it was a bitterly cold day, but here it was colder yet – the wind chill must have been considerable. I flung on all of the additional layers I was carrying, but then, perhaps unwisely, took off my gloves to take some photos. My hands were soon painfully cold, then numb and then, after I put my gloves back on, painful again as the circulation returned bringing with it a prickly burning sensation.

But the sky was almost cloudless, the clarity of the air was superb and the views magnificent.

Tarn Crag Summit - with Survey Pillar 

The pillar here is a survey pillar, built when the Manchester Corporation was flooding Mardale to create Haweswater. I didn’t go to take a closer look, but if you’re interested, there’s a photo here of another pillar (there are several roundabout) on Branstree, taken on another stunning early February day. I once camped on the summit of Tarn Crag. Arriving in the late afternoon, I had the summit to myself then too. A glorious evening was followed by a very wet morning, and then a wet day splashing my way across the Shap fells and down to Tebay.

Kentmere Pike and Harter Fell 

Sadly it was just too cold to linger for long by the summit cairn.

Tarn Crag Summit Cairn 

So I set-off again, heading toward the distant line of the Pennines. Cross Fell stood out clearly, holding more snow than any of its neighbours.

Looking East to the Pennines 

As I dropped into the hollow which separates Tarn Crag from Grey Crag and Harrop Pike the wind suddenly died away. The contrast was amazing. I was out of the wind and in the sunshine – too good an opportunity to miss, so I stopped briefly for a hot drink.

Harrop Pike 

Looking toward Harrop Pike.

Harrop Pike Summit Cairn 

Harrop Pike Summit Cairn.

Looking down to Longsleddale from Grey Crag Summit 

Grey Crag cairn, looking down into Longsleddale.

I’m not sure that I’ve ever visited the little cairned and knobbly top of Grey Crag before, but it turned out to be another victory for Birkett Bagging – a lonely spot with great views of Longsleddale and the hills across the valley, and, more distantly, of the Coniston Fells.

Longsleddale and Great Howe 

From there I picked a way through the very broken crags heading towards Great Howe, which is the high point of the broad sweep of ridge on the right of this photo. Although not evidently a ‘summit’ in any way, Great Howe is another little gem with fantastic views of the wooded slopes and patchwork fields of the lower part of Longsleddale. I took photos, but they were into the low winter sun and so not particularly successful. Great Howe has two more survey pillars, but both are slightly below the ridge and on this occasion I didn’t feel inclined to detour to investigate, besides which I was working to a deadline.

Tarn Crag from Great Howe 

Tarn Crag from Great Howe.

Grey Crag from Great Howe 

Grey Crag from Great Howe.

Upper Longsleddale from Great Howe 

Upper Longsleddale from Great Howe

The slopes between Great Howe and Longsleddale are pretty steep and crags abound. When I arrived back at the car, I could see that it is possible to take what looked like a pleasant route down the ridge and via a stile down across the fields directly to Sadgill, but from above, knowing that this wasn’t access land, I opted for a more tricky descent back to the Gatescarth track. I once climbed Tarn Crag by following Galeforth Gill, a route which I can recommend. Now I took a line down and across the hillside towards that Gill.

Goat Scar, Kentmere Pike and Longsleddale 

Goat Scar, Kentmere Pike, Harter Fell and Upper Longsleddale again.

A perfectly placed gap in the crags brought me safely down to the gill a little way below an impressive waterfall. (If you choose to follow Galeforth Gill up Tarn Crag you can avoid the fall by diverting into the gully on the right, or possibly by following the tributary stream on the left.)

Galeforth Gill 

The stream bed and the rocks beside it were coated in a fascinating variety of ice formations.

Icicles by Galeforth Gill 

I was particularly impressed by these ice coated grass blades.

Ice coated grass blades, by Galeforth Gill 

Goat Scar and Longsleddale 

A final view of Goat Scar and Longsleddale.

Sadgill Bridge, River Sprint

Sadgill.

A very quiet walk – I saw no other walkers at all until I reached the Gatescarth track, shortly before I got back to my car. There were now fourteen cars parked at the road end at Sadgill. I chatted to chap who was sitting in the boot of his 4 by 4 tying his bootlaces, evidently about to set-off.

“What’s like up there?” he wanted to know.

“Fantastic. Frozen, everything’s frozen. Not much snow, but what there is, is firm and a pleasure to walk on.”

“Cold?”

“Oh, yes – extremely cold.”

I was home again by midday.

After lunch B and his pal wanted to me to take them for some tree-climbing and den-building in Eaves Wood. Then B and I watched the thrilling Calcutta Cup match on the telly together. Finally we rounded off a marvellous day with a meal at Cinnamon Spice Restaurant in the village. Two walks, a rugby international and a curry, and it wasn’t even my Birthday.

Throw those curtains wide……

A wee map:

Tarn Crag Walk

An Early Bird on Sleddale Fell