Saturday, 27 October 2012

The hills are alive...

No - I'm not about to burst into song, the hills really are alive.  I woke up this morning, sun seeping around the curtains, and I could distinctly hear Hampsfell whispering to me that I needed to pack a flask and head up there pronto!  I've had one of those really long weeks - lots of travel, lots of work, and the idea of staying snuggled under the duvet really appealed, but the fell was not to be ignored, so up I popped, flask and camera in hand, and started the day Cumbria style.

Morecambe Bay

As I made my way up I realised that the only other people I was passing were dog walkers, out and about because their dogs needed exercise.  Maybe dogs can just hear the fells better than most human...

Other distant fells. Pretty sure they were calling too.

The duvet may have had its attractions, but the fell was right, I did need to be up there.  The skies were crystal clear and the views were stunning.  I'd only got my little point and shoot with me, but I had a go at a panorama.

After all that exertion on top of the hospice I figured it was time for coffee, so hopped down and found a nice sunny spot out of the wind to soak up the day.

Do Not Disturb.
Seems I wasn't the only old fossil at the Hospice

Replete with coffee and starting to get a little chilly (it was blowing a hooly up there), I took a poke around the inside.  I've always loved the notices on the wall.  There's also a fireplace which is always primed with sticks and ready to go - not sure who keeps restocking it, but I'm sure it's been very welcome on many occasions!

Right, time to head home, milk is needed if I want more coffee so off down into Grange for fresh supplies.  On my way down I passed a new herd of cows which I've not noticed up there before.  They were very curious and very horny.  A sentence that could get me into a lot of trouble in most other contexts.

The route down off the fell is very straightforward and the views over the bay were stunning.  But the views back weren't too bad either.  Now I just needed to get home and try to explain to Steve about talking hills and horny cows without him thinking that I've finally lost it completely.


Sunday, 21 October 2012

Midgemunchin'Trouserrippin'Eyepoppin'Chocolatescoffin'Felltoppin'Huffinpuffin'Picturesnappin'OSmappin'Lungbustin'Jawdroppin' CUMBRIA

Today we set on on a gentle 6.5 mile hike around the Langdale Valley.  We were trying out one of the High Fell Story walks for the Cumbria Wildlife Trust - an utterly brilliant idea where the audio walk is supplemented by interviews and descriptions from people who remember what the place was like in the fist half of the 20th Century.

Anyway, we'll be writing that up properly for the CWT over the next week or so - even the part where we got distracted and took a major detour, forging a rather unorthodox new route up Side Pike.  Thing is, the colours were so amazing today that I wanted to share some pics now.  So enjoy a break from my constant yattering and enjoy the views.


Elterwater Bridge

A remarkable red tree outside Elterwater YHA

Sun through the trees in Sawrey's Wood.

Beautiful and good for wildlife.

A very berry holly bush.

Baysbrown Farm Barn

Looking up the valley towards the Pikes.

Crinkle Crags and friends. (Including Steve!)

Almost too idyllic.

Side Pike. It wasn't on our route but it looked so inviting...

Check out the geology on those!

I had an Ansell Adams moment...

And another one...

This was meant to be a pic of Juniper bushes, important in the history
of the area.

Great Langdale Beck, where there used to be trout.

More Holly Berries.

Not a route for the well built...

Beautiful Blea Tarn

Whistful Sheep...

Iconic silhouette

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Bittern Spotting for Beginners.

The beautiful Leighton Moss RSPB Reserve

We’re novice bird watchers but learning fast (does that make us fledglings?) and thoroughly enjoy a few hours pootling from hide to hide around the reserve.  At this time of year there are many migrating species moving through the region so there’s a lot to keep up with, and each time we visit we usually see something new.  This time we spotted Teal (very pretty little ducks), Pochard (very pretty slightly larger ducks), Shovellers (duck sized but huge bills) and Marsh Harriers (very large and not at all duck like).  However our mission was threefold: to see a murmuration of Starlings, to see (or even hear) a Bittern and to see the resident Otters.  It’s fair to say our success in these missions was, at best, patchy.
This is not a Bittern.

First up the Starlings.  As we arrived a couple of hours before dusk we got lucky with this one and, although comparatively small compared to what it apparently grows to later in the season, we did indeed see a minor murmuration.  However small the flock it’s still quite breath-taking to see them swoop, switch and dive in unison with no collisions; far better choreographed than the dance routines most people were watching on TV that evening.  Pretty soon they settled down to roost amongst the reed beds with their distinctive chirping. Oddly this is a sound which always reminds me of Birmingham because, as a child, when we visited Birmingham (to see Santa in Rackhams) the starlings would be roosting in the bank opposite the ramp leading into New Street station, so their sound has always held magical connections for me.  (Not often Birmingham is described as being magical).  So, mission one accomplished.

Mission two: the Bittern.  One of the rarest birds in Britain these creatures are usually heard rather than seen and have a distinctively deep, booming call.  This is good to know, but not all that helpful when you don’t know what their “deep, booming call” actually sounds like.  We got excited at several “deep, booming” calls which disappointingly turned out to be (in order) a cow, a rutting stag and a distant tractor.   We may be fledglings but we clearly have much to learn.   We read the info board which, helpfully, had a large picture of them and pointers as to when was the best time to see them.  Dusk is best apparently, around the edges of the reeds.  They’d been seen that day but sadly didn't make an appearance for us.  That said the info board also said they were “masters of disguise” so I tried to convince Steve I’d seen one disguised as a swan.  He didn't believe me.
This is also not a Bittern.

And lastly the otters.  Or rather, not the otters for they too assiduously avoided us.  They had apparently been out partying in the sunlight for the hordes of observers earlier in the day but when we arrived, sitting stock still and silently sipping tea in the Lower Hide, they stubbornly refused to reappear.  We’d been told to watch the other birds for clues as to the location of the otters, which conjured up images in my mind of a row of Warner Brothers style ducks sitting bolt upright holding “Otters this way” signs.  It seems I misunderstood.

And this most certainly isn't a Bittern.
There were many fantastic things we did see though; on our way to Lower Hide we stopped to watch a group of deer, including a stag, grazing and then lying in the warm afternoon sun.  They knew we were there but were far enough away to not be too troubled by our presence.  As I mentioned before we were lucky enough to see the Marsh Harrier again swooping around and I’m sure someone claimed that the large bird we saw chasing some of the Starlings was a Peregrine, but I could be very wrong about that.  We also saw a huge flock of Little Egrets gathered in the trees at the far side of the lake; at least 30 when we tried to count them, though they’re fidgety things and didn't hold still long enough for us to get a more accurate count. 

My very best shot of the suspected Bearded Tit.
Whaddya mean "it's a bit dark"?!
And did we see a Bearded Tit?  Well, on our way back to the car in the late dusk we spotted a small bird pecking around in the gravel ahead of us, very near to the gravel trays.  It didn’t seem too jumpy and, had it not been really rather dark by this point, we’d have probably gotten quite a nice pic, but as it was all we had to go on was its silhouette and, let’s face it, we can’t spot a Bittern in broad daylight so our chances of identifying this were non-existent.  As we reached the car it was getting quite dark and all we could hear away in the distance were owls calling to each other – another bird we could add to the “heard but not seen list”.  At least we think it was an owl, it could have been a distant train, or a car alarm, or a mobile phone, or a… 

Thursday, 11 October 2012

About not going to Harrogate.

I tried it without the wellies - too cold!
Like several million other people we didn’t go to Harrogate this weekend, but unlike many of them we very nearly did.  I finally had the rare opportunity to take a short break and I really fancied being looked after for the weekend, nothing too pampery, just  not doing the cooking would do me fine.  Spa weekends and the like have never appealed; the very idea of being half naked while a complete stranger smears expensive goo about my person doesn’t make it anywhere near my list of “relaxing pass-times".  In fact someone kindly bought me a voucher for a pamper experience once; I came out more stressed than I went in and very nearly punched the masseuse.  Anyway, back to Harrogate, or not as the case may be.

We tried all of those “last minute” sites but none of them seemed to have particularly good deals; a little digging soon showed that their “very special, once in a lifetime, never to be repeated oh my god it’s amazing” deal was in fact very similar to their “this is our usual rate” deal except it was written in red and had the rather misleading words “special offer” written in front of it.  The final nail in Harrogate’s coffin was when we decided to bite the bullet and click the “book now” button for one hotel, only to be told on the very next page that an additional £68.72 had now been added in “taxes and fees”. My stress levels reached a new high as I hurled some very rude words at the laptop and shelved the whole idea.  Or at least the idea of Harrogate.  As we still wanted to head off we decided to forget the notion of being looked after in any way, dust Delores down and head for the border.
Finest view of the weekend?

We managed to get her ready in double quick time and were soon on our way towards Luce Bay, or more specifically the CC site at New England Bay on the far side of Luce Bay some distance south of Stranraer.  Some of you may remember when we visited here before during our Great North Fun tour when I vowed and declared I never wanted to leave and if you’ve ever been there you’ll understand why.  It’s funny isn’t it when you think you want one thing (Harrogate) but in reality what you actually need is something else entirely.  Our weekend was truly idyllic and here’s why.

Rainbows.  The weather had been squally the whole way up and about 20 mins after we arrived there was a heavy downpour.  No major concern as we were already snuggled up inside with a cup of tea and a biccie.  We’d positioned Delores to make the most of the stunning sea views and a couple of moments later 2 of the most amazing rainbows I’ve ever seen popped up over the bay.  Tea mugs (and biscuits) were quickly discarded as we raced out with our cameras to admire it close up and try and get some shots.  Not a bad start really.

Not a bad start.

If only we had a boat to find the pot of gold...


Celestial bodies.  Being on the very edge of Dumfries & Galloway the site benefits from being incredibly dark which means there are excellent views of the night sky.  On our first night the moon rose at the same time as Jupiter making for some dramatic shots.  The only downside to the moon being up so early was that it was so bright that it made the Milky Way a little tricky to see.  No problems the second night when a later moon rise and a completely cloudless sky gave us ample opportunity to try and enjoy the incredible night sky.  Billions of stars with the Milky Way arcing up and over Delores in spectacular fashion made  us all feel very tiny indeed.

Milky Way

Moon (seriously - you needed a caption for that?)

Milky Way

Neptune. Ha! Kidding.  It's the moon again.

Delores & moonrise.

Sunrise.  Steve’s not much of a morning person, but the combination of a cat jumping on his head and a few golden strands of sunlight seeping through the blinds were enough to lure him outside and onto the beach uncharacteristically early.  I followed soon behind having paused to make us a flask of coffee and a bite to eat.  There’s nothing quite like watching sunrise from the beach with hot coffee and a warm egg and bacon roll.  The beauty of this secluded spot is that apart from the odd dog walker we had the place to ourselves.  An hour or so later it was all done and we were back in the van before the clouds and a little light drizzle appeared.  As I made my way across to the campsite shop one cheery camper greeted me with a “miserable morning isn’t it?”  I would have told him it was beautiful at sunrise but I didn’t think I could cope with the chirpy company the next morning if he decided to join us.

"Miserable morning"

Do I smell coffee & bacon?

Wildlife.  As you may know we’ve teamed up with CumbriaWildlife Trust and are currently on a mission to learn more about wildlife so we thought we’d see what Scotland had to offer.  Plenty as it happens.  For starters the campsite is teeming with bunnies; hundreds of them everywhere driving all the local dogs to distraction and providing Monty with plenty to peer at as he surveyed his surroundings.  On our first day we cycled down to the Mull of Galloway and back via Port Logan; a 20 mile hilly route not made any easier by my bike deciding to lose half its gears.  No matter, the trip was more than worth it.  We ate lunch sat on a cliff top watching gannets, gulls, shags and harbour porpoises diving in and out of the choppy waters before stuffing ourselves with hot chocolate and cream scones at the rather splendid visitors centre.  Then on towards Port Logan; we stopped along the way to watch a small murmuration of starlings swooping and diving over a freshly cut field of hay – a first for both of us.  They were joined by a large flock of crows and a fair smattering of pigeons – not a combination of birds I was expecting, but wonderful to watch nonetheless.


Starlings & a few crows.

Port Logan.

Harbour Porpoise

The next evening the seas were completely calm and as we sat on the beach (again) with our coffee (again) we watched a shag flying low across the water as he made several trips to and fro across the bay.  A few other birds pottered around overhead and then a solitary seal made an appearance, lazily bobbing around, keeping a nosey eye on what we were up to and seemingly enjoying the quiet calm of the evening.  As the evening wore on and the stars began to appear we could hear a flock of birds nearby; no idea what they were but they made a distinctive chirrupy chirping noise that went on well after dark.

Birds.  Not sure which ones...


Seal.  Not crazy.

Luce Bay

Balancing Stones.  We've seen the arty photos of balancing stones on a beach so decided to have a go ourselves.  Hmmmmm...  Really not as easy as it looks.  These "towers" may look simple but they took ages to balance, and all the while the tide was coming in and getting higher and higher up my wellies...

Ta daa!

Ta daaaa again!

Delores.  Ever since we moved from the campsite at Silverdale, having lived in her for best part of 3 months, she’s been woefully underused thanks to work commitments and wrangling with our dodgy tenant and eventual house sale down south.  With all of that now blissfully behind us and my permanent work commitments coming to an end, we’re looking forward to spending much more time touring the country and seeing what the UK has to offer.  Great adventures don’t necessarily require you to travel to the far side of the world; our aim is to explore just what amazing sights and adventures are available right on our doorstep.  Who knows, one day we may even make it to Harrogate, though I think we’ll give the hotels a miss.