Notes and Evasions

A while ago in Lancaster’s Oxfam bookshop, I picked up a sumptuous edition of A Natural History of Selborne edited by Richard Mabey with engravings from several previous editions. I’ve coveted a copy since I borrowed the same edition from the library last year. Leafing through it again the epigraph caught my eye:

Men that undertake only one district are much more likely to advance natural knowledge than those that grasp at more then they can possibly be acquainted with: every kingdom, every province, should have its own monographer.

Gilbert White

Not because I have any pretensions to ‘advance natural knowledge’, or that I’m deluding myself by thinking that I’m well qualified to be the monographer for this province or this parish, but because it chimes with the very limited, localised brief that I generally stick to in my blog, and in my outings.

I’ve also been dipping into Birders by Mark Cocker and found this passage about note-taking:

…I think that note-taking has a number of major benefits. First, it gives you an opportunity as you formulate the narrative, however rudimentary, to reflect on what you’re seeing. More importantly, it often makes you reflect, as you scribble something down, on what you omitted to see. This resulting sense of failure eventually works through to affect the moment of observation itself. Since you know you’re going to write it later, it concentrates the mind to observe the details you’ll want to recall. In short, it makes you observe more closely.

A continuous feedback loop: recording informs observation and vice-versa. For me that’s a key thing, perhaps the key thing, about Blogging. I’ve been thinking about those the many things that I see whilst I’m out that I don’t record in any way – if I started a list now I might be here all night. The most obvious thing that springs to mind is road traffic and all the associated paraphernalia of signs, lights, road-markings, parking etc. Also – it’s a rare walk when I don’t see either rabbits, squirrels or both, but I don’t think that I’ve ever mentioned them. What else – buildings, people, litter – essentially all human traces in the landscape.

Early on Friday morning I took Ben and Sam out in the double-buggy for a pre-breakfast amble and for once, Amy decided to come with us. We were pushed for time because Sam had an appointment with the Health Visitor for his eight month check and because I was taking the other two to the Grand Theatre in Lancaster to see an adaptation of on of their favourite books – The Gruffalo. We went ’round the block’: up Spring Bank and down Bottoms Lane. On Bottoms Lane Amy took great interest in the old Lime Kiln:

Lime Kilns are common in this area. The kiln would be filled with limestone from above and a charcoal fire was built at the bottom (behind where Amy is standing). The end product is an alkaline crystal known as quicklime or burnt lime. It was slaked (water added I think) and then used in mortar and plaster, but chiefly to ‘sweeten’ unproductive land – apparently it helps to release nitrates form manure.

When I had a chance to get out again yesterday morning for Sam’s mid-morning nap, I made a bee-line for Jack Scout, where there is another well preserved kiln:

And then for today’s mid-morning nap, without making a conscious decision to follow up on the production of lime, I took Sam to Trowbarrow an old quarry which also used to have a limeworks. (There’s little sign of its existence now.)

The quarry is now a nature reserve, much frequented by climbers.

The huge boulder is known as the Shelter Stone because it was used by the quarrymen to shield themselves from blasting.

Notes and Evasions

Blog Project 2

This is Sir Edward Grey a contemporary of Ramsay MacDonald. When MacDonald was elected to the house in 1906 Edward Grey was already Foreign Secretary. He is most famous now for this quote from the outbreak of the First World War: “The lights are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.”

MacDonald would also go on to be Foreign Secretary, whilst he was Prime Minister. They belonged to different political parties and had very different backgrounds: Grey was Viscount Grey of Fallodon, MacDonald was the illegitimate son of a farm labourer and a housemaid. It’s interesting to speculate none-the-less that they may have at some time discussed their mutual love of the outdoors.

Grey wrote “The Charm of Birds” a book chiefly about birdsong which he describes disarmingly in his introduction as of “no scientific value”. It is however extremely readable, and his enthusiasm is apparent on every page. I particularly liked this passage form the introduction:

One who reviews pleasant experiences and puts them on record increases the value of them to himself; he gathers up his own feelings and reflections , and is thereby better able to understand and to measure the fullness of what he has enjoyed.

It could be my blogging manifesto. Along with this from Loren of In A Dark Time:

The best reason I’ve found to keep blogging is that it keeps me doing precisely the things that I most enjoy doing, like walking, birding, and reading poetry.

Well…no more posts about early 20th Century politicians for a while at least. I’m off to brew a cup of Earl Grey – named after a relative of Sir Edward, and then I shall write-up today’s brief but enjoyable jaunt.

Blog Project 2


“The wanderlust is perhaps the most precious of all the troublesome appetites of the soul of man. It makes him keep in his cupboard a friendly old suit of comfortable wear that has paled under the fervent eye of the sun, and been matured by dust and mud and rain, and with that, a pair of honest boots nailed like the oak door of an ancient keep which of themselves direct one’s way o’er moor and fell and bog and bypath away from the offence and clamour of cars and trains; it saves his soul from being lost in the vain attempt to keep itself alive by indulging in the vices of the smart or the flashy inanities of those to whom the jewels of life are paste or glass; it keeps his windows open to the winds of heaven and his heart to the song of birds. What better service can be done either to the body or the soul of man?”

This passage is taken from the introduction to “Wanderings & Excursions” by James Ramsay MacDonald, published in 1925 when he was Prime Minister. He was also a keen hill-walker. I came across this book recently in our excellent local second-hand book shop. On the whole, it’s clear why his fame rests on his political career. But I have enjoyed some parts of what I’ve read. I’ve been thinking of posting this quotation for a while and was finally prompted to get round to it by Solitary Walkers post about wanderlust.



One moment clouds feel oppressive and smothering, and the next they are the very things that inspire us to dream. Who hasn’t gazed up at castles in the sky and imagined a world away from the concerns of terra firma? As a Stratocumulus cloud develops out of a Stratus, glimpses of broken blue can begin to appear. Hours before, the sun seemed smothered, but now the foggy layer has started to gather into snow-covered mountains and melt into winding rivers of blue. There is another world up there – a shifting terrain of glacial valleys and billowing peaks, a land of promise and escape – one with its own nebulous laws of geology.

form The Cloudspotter’s Guide by Gavin Pretor-Pinney

For most of today we haven’t really had a sky so much as an all-enveloping grey blanket. A low monotone lid, closing of the sky and drenching everything with drizzle to add insult to injury. However, as the day drew to a close the wind picked-up and the Stratus layer began to break up much as described above.

The cloud was fizzing overhead at great speed, and even as the last of the colour drained out of the sky, the movement and the texture provided much more interest than the drab grey wash that had preceded it.

The Cloudspotter’s Guide is a great read. No doubt ideal for any Skywatch Friday devotees.

I’ve been finding of late that I’m often gazing at the clouds when I’m walking. You can find more sky photos that I took on Tuesday, last Friday, or a back on the tenth.

Happy cloudspotting!


A Nature Diary

image An inspiration for my Blog is Richard Adams’ A Nature Diary.

Essentially it does exactly what it says on the cover: it gives a day by day account of the things that he has seen each day in the countryside.

But it is also very much rooted in one place – his home on the Isle of Mann. He takes his dog Tetter for walks along his local lanes, over the hills and glens, on cliff-top paths and beaches.

We also get to hear about meetings and visits with friends, trips to Australia, Denmark, Anglesea, London and fell-walking in the Lakes. And Adams’ idiosyncratic views on any number of issues.

So quite like a Blog really.

At least half of the charm is in the wonderful illustrations by John Lawrence. In my hardback copy there are water colours on every page, with half of the pages in colour. They give a real character to the book.

A Nature Diary