Friday, 24 April 2015

Make books while the sun shines!

I know what some of you are thinking - you're thinking that you keep reading blogs & watching TV programmes about the Lake District and they always show it bathed in glorious sunshine or shimmering majestically above another inversion, but when you get here it's grey and rains. Well, there's a reason for that, and the reason is that as soon as we get some good sunny days we all grab our cameras and head for the hills (and beaches).

This weekend, after a couple of weeks a magnificent weather, the clouds are closing in and the lakes are getting a bit of a top up, but we've been making good use of that time to shoot some fab pics for the book.  Well, Steve has been shooting the fab pics, I've generally just been getting in his way and cries of "Get out of my blooming shot!" can usually be heard ringing around the valleys.  All the pics below are just the ones from my phone - his are so much better, especially once he made sure I wasn't in them.

To whet your appetite for the book, here's a glimpse of what we've been up to...

We saw an inversion & built a snowman on Stoney Cove Pike.

See - this is what happens when I get in his shot.  :-)

We traced the source of the River Kent and questioned the sanity of the Romans.

You want to build the road where?

We got soaked to the skin on a very bumpy crossing to Piel Island and then got stared at by a sheep.

Look into the eyes, not around the eyes...

We looked for coal on Whitehaven beach, picnicked in the sunshine and ate fish & chips as we watched the sun go down over the harbour (yeah, that was a tough day that was...)

No sunset is truly complete without chips.

We found an iconic bridge and then walked further than we intended just so we could enjoy one of our favourite views.

Trying to imagine what it was like before.

And then I enjoyed a lovely peaceful afternoon at Leighton Moss while Steve tore around the northern lakes for 12 hours or so.  Seemed fair to me.

Oh, and inbetween times we made spoons - turning this...

Via this...
Into this!

Now the weather's closed in again it's back to the editing - still fun, just not quite so picturesque, but at least the cat helps (his attention to detail is so much better than mine!)

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Starry, starry night?

Welcome to one of my occasionally ranty blogs - honestly, I don't do this often.  So what's got me going this time then?

Well, today marks the last day of International Dark Sky Week for 2015 and this picture popped into my Facebook timeline an hour or so ago:

Please click here to visit Thierry Cohen's website.

The "photos" are superb and FULL credit to Thierry Cohen for creating them.  His website is here with more information about him and his exhibition dates - I'm only disappointed he's doesn't appear to be coming to the UK - but that's not what's got me all ranty...

Sunny Whitehaven
One of my snaps - Steve's fab pics are for our book! :-)
Yesterday we spent a fantastic day in Whitehaven taking photos for our book (deadline for the publishers is end of June so we need to seize every sunny day between now and then!) anyway, we decided to head home via Castlerigg Stone circle; we knew there would be no moon so hoped to see a few thousand stars.

To be fair there were a lot of stars, but we were shocked at the amount of light pollution - it's amazing how much glow even a relatively small place like Keswick can kick out.  Much as I love Cumbria the dark skies don't come remotely close to those of Kielder or Dumfries.  What is it with all of the lights?

Dark skies of Dumfries
Street lights every 10 paces and then house after house with external lights blazing away while the owners are tucked up inside with the curtains closed - what's the point of that?  Fair enough if you have an exterior light with a motion sensor that clicks on to light your way along the path to your door or to spook a would be intruder, but why on the whole time?

And that's not even the thing that's got me most ranty - oh no - the thing that has me most ranty is the fact that manufacturers are now fitting nice, bright external lights to caravans so that when people visit a stunning dark sky park like Kielder or Galloway Forest Park in Dumfries, they can camp up and stick their bright shiny lights on all night while they go out.

On our most recent visit to Kielder we stayed on a lovely little campsite and on one night, out of the three vans there (including ours) two had exterior lights blazing all evening while the owners were not even in them.  What's the point of visiting a dark sky park then lighting it up like Las Vagas?

I'm not asking folks to blunder around in the dark, just carry a torch or fit an external light with a motion sensor.  It's better for the planet, it's better for your energy bills and it's certainly a lot better for my blood pressure!  :-)

The only big bright shiny light that should be on all night.
You tell 'em Don.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

*That's* not a bog, THIS is a bog!

A few years ago I wrote a light-hearted piece called "Survival Tips for the Bog Bound" outlining some practical, if not entirely serious, approaches to crossing boggy ground on the fells.  Having now spent an afternoon planting seedlings in a proper bog, it's clear I didn't have a clue what I was talking about.

Foulshaw Moss is a Cumbria Wildlife Trust (CWT) property a few miles from where we live.  It's best known at the moment for being home to a beautiful pair of osprey, but they are only a small part of the story. Since 1996 when they took over the reserve from the Forestry Commission CWT have been hard at work returning the bog pristine condition - they've done loads, but there's plenty still left to do.

Many years ago this area was a huge boggy expanse and crossing the treacherous sands of Morecambe Bay was a preferable alternative to crossing the bog.  During the last century much of the bog was drained for agricultural reasons and in the 1960s was heavily planted with non-native species,  but as the water went away so did many of the rare plants and animals associated with it.  Stage one of the restoration was about removing of the non native trees and rebuilding raised banks to keep the water in.

Now that there is plenty of water around it's time to give nature a hand by replanting bog species to bind the soil and help maintain the conditions.  In all there are 27,000 seedlings to plant.  27,000 - that's enough to give me back ache just thinking about it!

One of the things I've often said to people about our new life is that we have a lot less money than we used to have, but we have a lot more time - and what's the point in having all that time unless you can spend it helping out a little, so with my philanthropic head firmly on, off we set, in the pouring rain, to plant seedlings in an enormous bog.

Expecting to spend the day getting very wet and muddy I opted for a set of ancient waterproofs which were so big they reminded me of school field trips.

Steve decided to get to grips with the plants we'd be working with...

And this is just a small selection to start us off.

Step one was distributing the seedling trays around the section of the reserve we were working on and step two was planting them all.

A spot of impromptu bridge building!

Reserve warden Simon showing me how to planter works.

Our handiwork.

Men at work

Men still at work - I did help, honest!

By the end of the day we'd managed to plant around 850 seedlings (only 26,150 to go!) and as if to reward all our hard efforts the sun shone down, brightening the landscape and almost making me forget my aching back (only almost!).

All that remained was for me to try taking an arty shot of some dead trees...

...before we finished off our flask of tea and maltloaf (the new orange one - have you tried it?  Fantastic!) while we watched the osprey from afar.  That's them in the picture below - they're on the small tree in the middle, right at the back.

Foulshaw Moss Osprey
And if that's not clear enough for you - here's some video Steve took with his super zoom lens of one of them preening.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

5 Great Reasons to Visit Kielder

I don't very often get all environmental but here's a scary fact to start off this blog.  Whenever we visit Kielder we're blown away by the size of the place so I've done a little checking and discovered that at 250 square miles Kielder Forest is the largest working forest in England - impressive.

Then I did a little more digging and found out that every single day over 337 square miles of rainforest are destroyed.  That's roughly 1.4 Kielders every single day.  Impressive, but in a whole different way.

Our campsite this time was the result of a mistake last time.  On our last visit we were booked into Leaplish campsite but turned up at Kielder campsite instead, which we really rather liked the look of so promised to return on our next trip, which we duly did.  There's nothing wrong with the Leaplish site per se, it's just that the pics make it look as though you have lovely views of the lake, but the reality is that only a few pitches have lake views and the rest are buried deep in the woods.

Kielder Campsite on the other hand doesn't promise any views of the lake but does have gorgeous big open spaces to pitch up, a perfectly pleasant toilet block (really, there's only so much you can say about a toilet block) and the village and pub just around the corner.  It's also part of a project to reinvest in the local community and that's always going to go down well with us.

So enough of my jibber jabber - here are 5 good reasons why you should visit Kielder.

1.  The dark skies.

The Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) claim that these are the darkest skies in England.  The area designated as the Northumberland International Dark Sky Park covers 580 square miles and is the largest dark sky protected are in Europe.  (Not far off twice the area of rain forest destroyed every day - no I'm not letting it drop).

With minimal lighting on the campsite (another plus over Leaplish) you can enjoy the skies from the comfort of your tent/ van, just so long as the muppets next door don't have their extra bright external light switched on all evening, even though they're out...

You can also book events at Kielder Observatory but book well ahead as they tend to be very popular. 

2.  Cycling

A cycled lap of the lake is the thing to do here - it's enough of a challenge without being over the top, plus there are lovely art installations the whole way around which are both a pleasant distraction and the perfect excuse for a rest.

We are infrequent hobby cyclists and our advice is to tackle the north side of the lake first - it's the hilliest and most challenging so best get it done while you have fresh legs.  The south side is less hilly and has the added advantage of the visitors centre & cafe at Tower Knowe and the bar at Leaplish to help you along your way.  We also recommend padded cycling shorts...

Not sure what this one is called but "how it feels to be a ready meal" would
be my guess.

The craziest crazy golf

Now you see me, now you see me, now you see me

The route around the lake is very well signposted so it's pretty much impossible to get lost.  There are also plenty of warning signs for steep downhill sections, though heaven knows why, the down hill bits were fine, it was the up hill bits I needed advance warning of.

3.  Hiking

There are dozens of forest tracks and trails to keep you distracted here.  None of them have the immense climbs of the Lake District, but all of them are prefect for family rambles.

The walk up to the observatory is well worth a go - the grounds are open throughout the day even if you don't have tickets for an event.  Plus there's another art installation nearby (Skyspace) which as well as being a lovely piece of art, is also an ideal stopping spot for a flask of tea and some sarnies.

4.  Wildlife

Red Squirrels, Osprey and Goshawks are the stars of the show, but as with all stars can be difficult to glimpse (apart from the stars in the skies overhead that is).  Over the few days we were there we spotted a number of buzzards, the occasional red squirrel and several dozen other birds we're unable to name because they didn't sit still long enough for us to get our book out.  This fella did though.

We didn't get any close up pics of red squirrels this time - but this one Steve took the last time we were there would have been hard to beat anyway.

5.  Peace and quiet

It can be hard finding an escape from the hustle and bustle, but Kielder is so big that there's always somewhere you can go to get away from everyone else (not the cycle route around the lake, that's pretty much busy the whole time).  I'm thinking of places like this

And this

And this

And this

And this

And finally this...

If Kielder forest vanished in the space of 1 day we'd all be pretty darned angry.  So if, like me, you're still a wee bit horrified at the amount of rainforest vanishing every single day, here are a number of practical steps we can all take to help make things a little better.