Teesdale – an Embarrassment of Riches

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Low Force.

Make a cup of tea, maybe grab a biscuit to dunk or an apple to crunch: this is a long one with a lot of pictures, but I think it’s worth a few moments of your time. OK, settled, ready? Then we’ll begin.

I’ve mentioned before that when I read John Fisher’s ‘Wild Flowers in Danger’ last year, and realised that many of the flowers in the book grow reasonably nearby, I resolved to make an effort to see some of those flowers this year. This trip was planned to, hopefully, find one of those rarities. Once I’d decided to drive up to Teesdale, I searched my bookshelves, wondering whether I might have a book with a suitable route to follow. I found one in Christopher Somerville’s ‘Somerville’s 100 Best British Walks’. (It is, I realise now, an anthology of walks from The Torygraph – you can find the Teesdale one here.) Somerville’s description made me all the more determined to come this way, but I really wanted to incorporate High Force and so devised a longer version. Then I decided I couldn’t omit Low Force, so extended the walk again. The trouble was, I already had things to do in the early evening, so an early start was necessary. I was walking just after seven (after a drive of about an hour and a half, mostly through rain, wondering what I was playing at.)

I parked in the picnic area near the visitor centre at Bowlees. They have a ‘donate and display’ scheme, an excellent idea I thought. As I arrived, the rain cleared and the sun began to shine, just as the forecast had predicted, although a little earlier than I had anticipated.

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This is Wynch Bridge, just below Low Force. I have a picture of my Dad here (well actually he has it) taken in April 1985 when we walked the Pennine Way together. He was a little younger then than I am now, a sobering thought, and like me, he had a white beard, although his was temporary, tolerated only until we returned home from Kirk Yetholm.

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Because I had a relatively long walk planned, and wanted to get home reasonably early, I knew that I couldn’t afford to hang around taking lots of photographs.

Some chance! There were just too many distractions.

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Low Force again.

In the first instance, the falls and the river. Low Force and High Force are the consequences of volcanic activity:

“High Force is a great place to see the famous Whin Sill. This is a layer of a hard, dark rock called dolerite, known locally as ‘whinstone’. The Whin Sill formed about 295 million years ago, when molten rock at over 1000°C rose up from within the Earth and spread out between layers of limestone, sandstone and shale. The molten rock cooled and solidified underground to form a flat sheet of rock, known as a ‘sill’. After millions of years of erosion the Whin Sill is now exposed at the Earth’s surface, forming dramatic landscape features such as High Force”

Source

Then, there was an absolute abundance of wild flowers. Some familiar: Bluebells, Wood Anemones, Primroses, Marsh Marigolds, Pignut, Early Purple Orchids…

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White-lipped Banded Snail.

Some less familiar, like this Globe Flower…

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It’s a kind of buttercup, but is relatively tall and has quite large flowers. It’s found in the north, mainly in wet, upland, limestone meadows.

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There were lots of birds too, many singing from the trees by the river, Lapwings and Curlews in the meadows, Dippers, Oystercatchers and Sandpipers by the river.

I have a strong feeling that this…

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..is a Garden Warbler, but the only thing I can say categorically is that it wasn’t a Chiff-chaff, its song was far too musical.

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Cowslips.

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Curlew.

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More Globe Flowers.

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Water Avens.

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More Cowslips.

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Common Sandpiper.

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I was surprised to see this Scurvy Grass here (the other flower is Cuckoo Flower or Lady’s Smock). I thought that Scurvy Grass was a plant confined to coastal locations, but I think that this is Mountain Scurvygrass – the leaves are a slightly different shape from Common Scurvygrass.

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Even more Globe Flowers.

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When I was a boy, Lapwings – or Peewits as we called them – were a common farmland bird. Even then numbers were in decline and sadly that decline has continued. We’re fortunate to still see them close to home, and in the fields and skies around Roeburndale they had been present in great numbers.

But in Teesdale they were not only plentiful, but also less wary about human visitors.

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I took lots of photos of this individual, and as I did so, it moved towards me, not away as I would have expected.

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Rabbits too were both numerous…

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…and less wary than those I usually encounter.

This…

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…I’m hoping, is yet another phenomena which I’ve noticed several times over the years: when I manage to put a name to something, or notice it for the first time close to home, I then find that it is much more common than I previously realised. It happened with Bee Flies, Eyebright, Gatekeeper butterflies and I could probably quote a host of other instances if I put my mind to it. The surprising thing about this is that each of these things was apparently invisible to me for a period before I suddenly cottoned on to its presence. Now I think the same thing may happen with Wild Privet (supposing that is what this is!).

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What’s this ball of fluff?

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A fledgling Lapwing, watched over by a cautious parent.

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Bugle.

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Lady’s Mantle.

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Mountain Pansy.

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I came across Mountain Pansies several times during the day, at various altitudes. They were numerous and very variable in colour. Sadly, many of my photos didn’t come out too sharply.

As I approached High Force, I entered England’s largest Juniper woodland.

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I’ve never thought of an area of Junipers as woodland before, but I suppose it is. This one was rumbustiously alive with bird song, but the songsters were very well hidden on the whole. Only this Song Thrush showed itself for more than a brief moment.

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I’m hoping that somebody can help me with an identification for this tree. It was growing through a Juniper. I suppose it superficially resembles Elder, but I don’t think it is Elder.

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Sadly, the Junipers are under threat from a disease which is killing them off. At either end of the wood there were boot cleaning stations to be used as you exit, to stop the spread of the disease.

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I saw several Junipers with these orange fungal fruiting bodies on them and wondered whether this might be the pathogen.

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It isn’t, but I’m glad I photographed it, because these are telial horns of one of the species of Gymnosporangium. These fungi infect Junipers, produce these fruiting bodies which release spores which go on to infect a different plant: apples, pears, hawthorn, rowans…trees which are all from the same family (and a different species for each different species of Gymnosporangium, I think). There they produce a rust, galls on the leaves and then new fruiting bodies which produce spores which complete the life cycle by infecting Junipers. A parasite with alternating host species – where is the evolutionary advantage there?

Down below the Junipers, this…

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…had me puzzled. But I think it is a white flowered Bugle. Is that possible?

I’d finally reached High Force…

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Ironically, this view was taken from behind a safety barrier, but at the top of the waterfall, I could lean out and take a view straight over the drop…

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Just beyond High Force I witnessed a family meal for four. I actually thought I was watching some sort of territorial dispute, so aggressive were these juvenile Dippers.

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They kept up a constant racket and shook those stubby wings angrily.

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Eventually, one of the adults took some time out to preen itself close to the river bank…

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This was close to the incongruous scar of Dine Holm Quarry.

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The path climbed away from the rive for a while, on Bracken Rigg, before dropping down to the farm at Cronkley.

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Green Hill Scar and Cronkley Scar.

The meadows here were resplendent with a yellow wash of Marsh Marigolds.

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I had my first human interaction of the day here, a cheery wave from a very happy looking young lad driving a piece of farm machinery. (It wasn’t big enough to be a tractor, but a bit too big to be a quad bike so…I’m not sure what to call it.)

In the riverside meadows here there were several Redshanks…

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High House and the Scars again.

And lots of Lapwings…

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I also spotted a male Reed Bunting…

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The next long stretch by the river as it curved around Cronkley Fell was every bit as superb for birdwatching as the earlier sections had been, but with a definite change in the kind of birds showing.

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I think this is a Meadow Pippit.

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I would have missed this Frog, but for the fact that it took an extravagant leap into a sidestream as I crossed it, splashing very conspicuously.

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Common Sandpiper again (okay, not all of the birds were different).

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Wheatear.

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I’m even more convinced (i.e. almost convinced) that this is a Meadow Pippit. There were actually two birds which flew along the edge of the river ahead of me.

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More Bird’s-eye Primroses.

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Falcon Clints.

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Raven Scar and Fox Earths.

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Looking back down on Falcom Clints and the River Tees.

I finally left the river for the short climb to Man Gate and onto Cronkley Fell. It was here that I hoped to spot the rare flowers I had set out to find, but I had already enjoyed my walk so much that I decided that if they proved hard to find, I would be none-the-less happy about my decision to come this way.

In the event, I could hardly miss them…

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Spring Gentians.

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On Cronkley Fell several areas are fenced off to protect the flora, presumably from sheep and rabbits.

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The gentians are present here because of the Sugar Limestone…

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A metamorphic rock which has been crystallised by volcanic activity. It produces a fine, granular, almost sandy soil.

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I think that these tiny, delicate flowers…

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…are Spring Sandwort, such a good indicator of the presence of lead that it was also once known as Leadwort.

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More Mountain Pansies.

We are lucky at home, we have Bird’s-eye Primroses flowering nearby, right on the southern limit of their range. But I’ve never seen them growing in such profusion as they were here…

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I tried, unsuccessfully, to find a place sufficiently out of the wind to make it feasible to get my stove lit for a brew. Since I couldn’t, I rattled on, heading back down towards Bracken Rigg.

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Dropping down Birk Rigg I met a couple of walkers, the first I’d spoken to all day. It was around noon – these are lonely moors.

Well, they had been. I was vacillating: should I head back down Bracken Rigg and retrace my steps along the river, or vary the route by continuing along the higher moorland path. I’d enjoyed the riverside path so much that I was very tempted to follow that course, but just as I reached the path junction, a huge party came along the Pennine Way towards me from the river; I changed my mind and stuck with the higher path.

If I hadn’t I probably wouldn’t have seen…

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…this, which I think is a Golden Plover. The only reason I’m unsure is that all of my books show that black patch on the belly extending all the way up to the face. But this is summer breeding plumage, so perhaps this is a transition phase.

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An unusual stile.

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Holwick Scars.

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Holwick.

I turned out of Holwick on a minor lane heading back down towards Bowlees. A small, grey raptor landed in a tree ahead. It was gone almost as quickly with a lapwing in hafl-hearted attendance. It had something clutched in its claws. A Lapwing chick? It occurred to me later that this might have been a Merlin?

The hedge bottom by this same lane had a superb display of very tall Water Avens.

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This Common Carder Bee was enjoying the Water Avens too. Moving with great agility from one flower to the next, without flying.

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Lovely colours!

As I arrived back at Low Force…

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I found myself quickly stripping off layers – it had been sunny for much of the morning, but now it was finally warming up.

I had thought at one point that I might struggle to get back for my later engagement, but now found that I unexpectedly had time for a bite of late lunch at the Visitor Centre…

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I ate outside by a busy flowerbed…

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…with bird-feeders just beyond.

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Nuthatch.

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Siskins.

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What a day!

And it wasn’t over yet: the reason I wanted to get home early was that The John Verity Band were playing at Five O’Clock in the Silverdale Hotel and we’d promised the kids we would take them. (It’s not often a former member of Argent plays in the pub around the corner – and if you know who Argent were, then you are showing your age). In the event, the kids made us leave at the interval – in some sort of weird role-reversal they complained that it was ‘too loud’. I was really enjoying myself. Fortunately, it seems that the band will be returning to the Lower House later this year, maybe more than once.

Teesdale

Teesdale – an Embarrassment of Riches

Pen-y-ghent

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The kids and I were on a mission. I like to climb a mountain on my birthday, if at all possible, or failing that, as close to the actual day as can be arranged. I knew that this year I would be recovering from surgery, and so wouldn’t be up to much on the Big Day, but our Easter holidays had begun (although sadly TBH was still working), and the forecast for the Monday and Tuesday before my op were almost perfect. What’s more, I’d remembered that in ‘Walks in Limestone Country’, Wainwright says:

“April visitors will ever afterwards remember Penyghent as the mountain of the purple saxifrage, for in April this beautiful plant decorates the white limestone cliffs on the 1900′ contour with vivid splashes of colour, especially being rampant along the western cliffs.”

Purple Saxifrage, Saxifraga Oppositifolia, is one of the flowers which appear in ‘Wild Flowers in Danger’ which don’t grow in the immediate vicinity of home, but which can be found within striking distance, and which I’ve therefore decided to seek out.

The sun was shining, the kids were all on fine form, and we made rapid progress up to the south ridge and to the lower line of cliffs seen above. And there just a short, steep climb above the path, we found…

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Purple Saxifrage.

It was almost an anticlimax, but only in as much as I’d been expecting a bit of a hunt to find it. I’m not sure how patient the children would have been with any lengthy deviations anyway, so it was probably for the best that we came across it so easily.

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We climbed part way up the steep nose of the ridge, but by now, Little S, always the first to crack, was demanding a lunch stop. When we reached the second steepening of the ridge we found a relatively sheltered spot, out of the wind, behind a wall.

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For the first time in quite a while, I’d brought a stove and the makings of a brew. I really enjoyed my hot drink, doubly so since the boys, who had made their own lunches and seriously miscalculated on quantities, were soon eating my lunch as well as their own.

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The second, gritstone line of cliffs. “It’s so wrinkled, it looks like an old man,” opined Little S.

From our lunch stop it was quick work to make the summit.

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You can probably tell that it was very windy. There is a clever S-shaped shelter there in the wall and we sat for a few minutes. I think the kids would have quite liked to stop for another lunch, had it not come so soon after our previous halt.

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Ingleborough and huge flags for repairing the Pennine Way path.

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Our descent brought us to the western cliffs, where, just as AW predicts, the Purple Saxifrage is ‘rampant’.

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“Traces of the Purple Saxifrage have been found in Britain in deposits that were laid down 20,000 years ago, that is before the end of the last Ice Age. As each of the glaciers retreated north towards the Pole, the Arctic alpine plants – of which the Purple Saxifrage is one – followed up, going ever northward. The Arctic alpines were in turn followed by plants that could live at higher temperatures and, when the ice finally vanished for good, the Saxifrages and other Arctic alpines had to find refuge wherever they could on high mountains, cliffs and the like.”

“At first the plant looks as though it had been showered with white dust, but a close examination of the leaves reveals that each is flattened and truncated near the tip, and that, in the flattened area, is a pore from which small nuggets of limestone are expelled. One would hardly have expected this to happen, as the Purple Saxifrage favours sites that are rich in lime. But the plant also likes constant running water and perhaps this sometimes contains more lime than was bargained for. At any rate most Purple Saxifrages seem to have lime to spare.”

Wild Flowers in Danger by John Fisher

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Only Little S joined me for a short exploration of the base of the cliffs, A and B opting to sunbathe (and bicker) back down by the path. Wainwright has a drawing of a limestone pinnacle. I suspect that there may be a few such pillars along the entire length of the cliffs, but this one does look quite like the one in his drawing.

P1100194This is only a short walk – Wainwright gives it as 6 miles – but there are plenty of points of interest along the way. The next one being Hunt Pot.

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200 feet deep apparently. For us it provided another place out of the wind for lunch stop number two. Or in my case, another cup of tea and the privilege of watching the Gannets demolish the remainder of my lunch. To be fair, they did magnanimously share some of it with me.

The rocky cracks and ledges here, sheltered and protected to a certain extent from sheep,  were decorated with Primroses and Coltsfoot…

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Dark clouds were hurling in from the west now, but we had one more landmark to locate. Due to a bit of navigational muppetry, we came at it from above, following Hull Pot Beck…

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Where there were both Pied and Grey Wagtails flitting about.

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The beck becomes a dry stream bed when the water disappears underground…

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…and leads to…

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…Hull Pot…

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…an enormous collapsed cavern.

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The missing water emerges part way down the cliffs…

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But apparently, after heavy rain a waterfall flows directly into the top of the pot, which, on occasion, can actually fill with water. I can see myself making a return visit to witness that.

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In all, a great day out, in marvellous company. Certainly on a par with some of my favourite previous birthday hill-days. But, being greedy, I was determined to try again on the Tuesday and see if we could go one better. (More to follow!)

The kids meanwhile are quite taken with the idea of ‘The Three Peaks’. The boys, having done two of them in quick succession, would like to knock off Whernside, in fact were angling to do it the next day, and all three of them are keen to have a crack at the Three Peaks walk. I need to get into training!

Pen-y-ghent

Weiditz

Hagg Wood – The Row – Eaves Wood

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Toothwort (and photobombing Wood Anemone)

A short walk this one, after a morning of rugby and an afternoon of tidying up in the garden – cutting the grass for the first time, pruning an unruly shrub – that sort of thing. A few days before, I’d noticed the nubs of newly emerging spears of Toothwort in Eaves Wood and wanted to see how they had progressed.

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I notice that this year it can be seen flowering on both sides of the lower path through Eaves Wood. I also know of one spot in the woods by Hawes Water where it grows, and I noticed a couple of days ago that it is growing along the path which links The Cove and The Lots.

It’s a curious plant, which I seek out every year; one of several local specialities which merit their own trip in the appropriate season – the snowdrops by Hawes Water, the Early Purple and Green-veined Orchids on the Lots, the Lily-of-the-Valley and Lady’s-slipper Orchids at Gait Barrows, the Bird’s-eye Primrose and Grass of Parnassus on the grassland of the Hawes Water shore, the Burnett Rose on the coastal cliffs; just compiling the list is making me smile. This year I’ve already added the Snowdrops in the woods above Beetham and I intend to seek out again the Twayblade on the ‘Orchid Triangle’ at Sandside and the Bee Orchids in Trowbarrow Quarry.

Earlier this winter I resolved to extend both the range and variety of my flower pilgrimages after reading ‘Wild Flowers in Danger’ by John Fisher. I have a bit of a second-hand book habit – I buy musty old books at a rate greater than I can read them. When I purchased ‘Wildflowers In Danger’, I thought that it would be a good book to dip into from time to time. Then when I got it home, I was chiding myself that it was just a bit too specialised and that I would never read it, but I did eventually begin, early in the winter, and soon found myself hooked and reading it from cover to cover. It’s an unashamedly partial compendium of photographs and short articles about some of Britain’s rarer flowering plants; full of interesting natural history, but also biographical details about botanists.

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When I picked it up again recently, to research a possible ‘new pilgrimage’ (post to follow), I decided to also look up an old favourite, which I’d recently spotted again at Far Arnside: Green Hellebore.

“The Green Hellebore was one of the plants to appear in that revolutionary work Herbarum Vivae Eicones – Living Images of Plants, published in Strasbourg in 1530. It was written by Otto Brunfels of the same city but the illustrations by Hans Weiditz were amongst the first to show drawings made from real plants with all their imperfections in place of the conventional mediaeval devices as remote from the truth as the diamonds in a pack of playing cards.”

But hang on, Weiditz? Didn’t I recognise that name? Surely, I’d read it recently in Neil MacGregor’s ‘A History of the World in 100 Objects’?

So I checked. This…

…is “Christoph Weiditz’s drawing of Central American ballplayers at the court of Emperor Charles V.”

“In 1528 the Spanish brought two Aztec players to Europe, and a German artist painted them in mid game, back to back, virtually naked, wearing what look like specially reinforced briefs with the ball in flight between them.”

This from chapter 38, which is about this ceremonial stone version of the ‘specially reinforced briefs’.

Hans and Christoph were, some lazy internet research reveals,  brothers and, like their father, Renaissance artists.

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Incidentally, ‘A History of the World in 100 Objects’, another second-hand bargain – of course – is a brilliant book to dip into. I missed the Radio 4 series of the same name, but the British Museum is my favourite place in London, and this book, featuring 100 of its countless treasures, is almost as good as a visit.

Weiditz