Thursday, 18 December 2014

2014 A Year of Adventures - Part 1

Seriously - December again, already?!!  Must be my age but time seems to be going quicker and quicker these days.  Someone suggested time goes faster because it takes us longer to do things as we get older which I'm quite inclined to believe.  Or it could be that time flies because we've been busy tearing around having loads of adventures again - and you're certainly never too old to do that!  So where has 2014 taken us?


The New Year saw us taking my mum to Hawes - she's 79 and loves waterfalls but god didn't put many of them next to nice easy viewpoints - however in Hawes you can get fab views and a lovely cuppa too.

January was also a month of storms, high tides, beach cleaning at Walney Island and stunning sunsets on the way home.

Extra high tide at Levens
Beach clean at Walney

An hours work...

Nice treat for all our hard work.


February saw the last of the storms.  We got off a lot more lightly than Devon, but for Grange-over-Sands this was pretty impressive!

Next up was our first jolly out in Delores for the season - a week in Derbyshire.  We cycled, we walked, we explored many, many caves and we ate a LOT of Bakewell puddings. :-)

Cycling calories...

Central Bakewell

Heights of Abraham

Monsal Head

Speedwell Cavern


The first thing we did in March was go to Glasgow so I could audition for a role in the Commonwealth Games.  We'd never been to the city before and had a fabulous time exploring.  Who knew then where it would all lead..?

Howgills looking lovely from the train.

The amazing Waterside Museum

Clyde by night

And then there was one of the most spectacular inversions.  Just me, him and a couple of skylarks above the clouds in the sunshine on Red Screes for the whole day.  Bliss!

Then after a quick pause to enjoy a Windermere Cruise (half price for local residents, very nice!) I did my bit for Cancer Research.  While the rest of the world was taking #barefacedselfies I decided to don full make-up and a tiara and climb Hampsfell.  Looked bonkers but raised over £100.

My usual look...

Hampsfell in Heels

Started off fairly sanely in the Langdales with a friend, and ended with us in Kielder. climbing stuff and cycling lots.

Ever get the feeling you're being watched..?
Kielder dawn

Next stop, the Eiger

Art around Kielder
Then, before we'd barely had chance to draw breath, we were off again - to Land's End - for hiking and surfing and and inordinate number of cream teas - oh and we took a zipwire right over the Eden Project.

Knightshayes - the best NT property we've been to yet.


First there was Ingleborough, then there was Malham and the amazing Goredale Scar and then there was the tree top trek at Brockhole with the nephews. 

Just love the views from Ingleborough

First time to Malham. Won't be the last.

Goredale Scar took my breath away completely.

Yeah, I wasn't scared at all...
Then it was off to a Camping and Caravanning Club event in Scarborough and a chance to interview the lovely Julia Bradbury before heading off on a walk along the glorious Yorkshire coast.  We finished off with a visit to Bempton Cliffs to catch up on our seabirds.

Julia is the very good looking one on the left...

One of my favourite walks to date.

Gannets.  Lots and lots of Gannets...

June started with an interview on the BBC Breakfast sofa all about volunteering.  Not sure what was scariest - the TV cameras or having to wear make up.

June is my birthday month and this year I'd set my heart on seeing the puffins and the terns on the Farne Islands - I wasn't disappointed!


The puffins were MUCH better behaved - and even bought lunch!

Then I stormed Bamburgh Castle - then we got locked in - honest!

On the way home we stopped to explore Corbridge Roman town - utterly stunning!

And then spent a wonderful weekend at Greystoke with me learning to paint while Steve made a longbow.

Da di da di da da daaaa, da di da di daaa da  (Archers - geddit?  :-)  )

Not bad for six months eh?  If you want to see some truly SUPERB pics of our adventures then check out Steve's blog here - and he said he'd given me all his good shots...

I'll do part 2 next week - still loads of adventures and a few surprises to go!

Monday, 15 December 2014

But did you see the Pterodactyl?

Finally - the pot of gold?

Our very first birdwatching expedition took place on 7th May 2012 - you can read all about it here.  The odd thing is that, despite living virtually next door to Leighton Moss for 3 months in 2011 when we first moved up here AND being aware of the legendary status of their carrot cake, it still took us nearly 18 months to visit.  In an effort to make up for lost time we've been back at least once a month since and eaten so much cake that I'm now on a pre-Christmas crash diet.

I tracked our progress with the "novice birdwatching" columns in Walks & Wildlife magazine but now that the magazine is no more I felt there was one final tale to be told -1 final bird to be seen before we could move on to new challenges - the elusive Bittern.

Hutton Roof Crags
We have pursued it with dogged determination and have been taunted along the way with folks telling us "you should have been here yesterday", "Oh they popped out just after you'd left" and "yeah, last week they were out there tap-dancing on the ice" (OK - the last one may be a lie but there were 4 of them spotted circling overhead within hours of one of our visits, which is every bit as bad).

Along the way we've mistaken them for cows, tractors, trains, snipe and rutting deer (yes I know only one of those is another bird) and have darn near frozen to death in our quest to get even the briefest of glimpses, but last week we decided enough was enough.  Everything was perfect - we had a free day, the weather was right and we knew they'd been spotted regularly from Pubic Hide - flasks packed and away we went.
Not a creature was stirring...

We arrived just before 9am - the water was perfectly still, the sky was mostly blue, the snow was glistening on Hutton Roof Crags away in the distance and most importantly, Public Hide was empty so we nabbed the best spots and hunkered down.

During the day people came and went, birds came and went, but still no Bittern.  I dashed back to the visitors centre to replenish the flasks and acquire soup and cake, but still nothing.  By 2pm we were frozen solid and seriously questioning our sanity when it appeared - flying low and slow, from left to right directly in front of the hide. The moment was perfect - it was like when Ross & Rachel first kissed, when the Nescafe Gold blend couple finally got it together and when Sheldon Cooper finally told Amy Farrah Fowler that he loved her.  And yes I do realise how sad and geeky that makes me sound.

The proof!
It disappeared into the reed bed for a while before re-appearing along the channel known as "Al's Alley" where it sauntered around and posed nicely for photos - allowing a couple of visitors who'd dropped by on the off chance, on their very first visit, to get a splendid view.  Not that I'm at all bitter.  We even saw it fluffing its feathers and chasing another Bittern away.  Looking at the "beginners luck" newbies I knew exactly how it felt.

The upside of our many visits has been the chance to see so many other birds, other animals and marvellous sights - including the spectacular rainbow at the top of this blog - but I have also realised that whatever you've seen it's never quite enough.  I kept a note of everything we spotted during the day we were waiting for the Bittern and it looks like this:

Great Tit
Blue Tit
Tufted Duck
Bearded Tit
Assorted gulls (still need to work on those)
Marsh Harrier
Water Rail

Now I didn't think that was bad for one day, but when a gentleman asked if he could take a look at my list he read it, sniffed, peered at me over his horn-rimmed specs and said "but you haven't seen the short eared owl yet, have you?".  

No, we hadn't but we did see the Bittern AND we got to sit and watch the otters doing this - and until the Pterodactyl shows up, that will do us nicely thank you.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Don't let the sun go down on Morecambe Bay.

So Sir Elton John has seen the light and is headed to South Cumbria in June 2015.  It’s not every day we get a superstar on our doorstep and there will no doubt be thousands of folks heading to the region to enjoy the fun in sun (it never rains in Cumbria).  Las Vegas may have the bright lights, but Morecambe Bay has the jaw dropping views and spectacular wildlife, so why not add on a couple of extra nights to your concert visit and explore some of the amazing things that Morecambe Bay has to offer?  (I've even given them an Elton John theme...)

St Patrick’s Chapel just to the south of Morecambe dates back to around the 8th Century.  Near to the ruins of the chapel there are 6 stone tombs carved in to the rock – sitting on a headland at the south of Morecambe Bay they offer stunning views across the bay and a glimpse into the history of the area.

We all know the song was originally written as a tribute to Marilyn Monroe and in Lancaster we have our own tribute to a beautiful woman.  The Ashton Memorial was commissioned by Lord Ashton as a tribute to his late wife and sits in Williamson Park high above Lancaster.  It was completed in 1909 and the views from the first floor viewing gallery will take your breath away.

Morecambe Prom is the home to various festivals and events throughout the year – at last year’s Vintage Festival (centred around the beautiful art deco Midland Hotel) we were treated to a fly past by a pair of Lancaster Bombers – not sure if either of the pilots was called Bennie though...

OK – I’ll confess, this particular grey seal wasn’t photographed in Morecambe Bay – but there are many places around the bay where you can spot them, particularly at high tide.  My suggestion is to head to South Walney Nature Reserve & pack a picnic.

Say Goodbye to the Yellow Brick Road and “hello” to Morecambe Bay Cycleway.  Timed perfectly to coincide with Sir Elton’s visit, the Morecambe Bay Cycleway will open in June 2015.  The cycleway runs from Walney in the north to Glasson Dock in the south linking over 100 miles of traffic free routes with quiet backroads and country lanes – perfect for family days out and those wishing to get closer to the local wildlife.

The RSPB nature reserve at Leighton Moss is famous for being the home of BBCs Autumnwatch for the past 2 years – but it’s perfect to visit any time of the year.  You don’t need to be a birding expert, you can hire binoculars when you arrive and there will always be someone on hand to help you spot something interesting – like this gorgeous Marsh Harrier.

It’s not that we’re expecting trouble, but right in the middle of Lancaster is the castle – which up until 2011 still operated as a working prison.  The prison tours are an absolute must; though brace yourself for a few fabulous grisly horror stories - the famous Lancashire Witches are only half the story...

Whatever shade of blue you fancy – Morecambe Bay has it.  The vast expanse of the bay stretches as far as the eye can see with huge skies looming large above you.  Beautiful blue skies and white sandy beaches may lull you into thinking you're somewhere rather more exotic – but you don’t need to travel to the Bahamas - these blues are all on show at South Walney Nature Reserve.

Some folks think the chimney at Jenny Brown’s Point near Silverdale was part of an old copper smelting mill – others disagree.  Whatever its origins, they built it well and it makes for a dramatic view across the saltmarshes found in this part of the bay.

OK, so Sir John Barrow didn’t build a rocket, but he was born in Ulverston and was a founder member of the Royal Geographic Society.  The Hoad Monument is a scale replica of the Eddystone Lighthouse and stands on a hill overlooking the town.  On the days it’s open, for a small donation, you can climb to the top of the monument for views across the Lake District fells in the north and away to Blackpool Tower in the south.

Piel Island is a rocky outcrop just off the Furness Peninsula and though it has no crocodiles (and is unlikely to have unless global warming really kicks in) it does have the magnificent 14th Century Piel Castle which was built by the Abbot of Furness to guard the Barrow harbour from pirates.  While you’re over there nip into The Ship Inn next door to learn about the King of Piel Island and his knights....

Warton Crag is the perfect spot for an evening stroll and the ideal vantage point for watching one the superb sunsets over the bay before enjoying dinner at one of the many fantastic local pubs and restaurants.  Although, to be fair, in the middle of June the sun doesn’t actually go down for all that long so you’ll have plenty of daylight to enjoy the hundreds of other attractions in the area – like learning to sail at the Bay Sea School, afternoon tea the Midland Hotel, a visit to Carnforth station (where they filmed Brief Encounter) or a stroll around Leighton Hall

If you want to find out how to make the most of your visit to the area, click here to go to the local tourist information pages – choc full of other ideas and inspiration.  Don’t just come up for the Elton John gig – stay a while and see what Morecambe Bay has to offer – I promise you won’t be disappointed.