Hallington Reservoirs

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Frozen corner of Hallington reservoir

Tucked away near the small village of Colwell these reservoirs had been far from my list of destinations to visit in Northumberland.  About two years ago I finally found my way cross country to this quiet part of a quiet county.  Today’s wintry, clear skies provided a crisp and clear view of these lakes, the browned vegetation around the margins taking on a golden hue in the afternoon light.

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Fishing boat on Hallington Reservoir

These reservoirs were one of a series of such structures linking the hills of Northumberland at Catcleugh to Newcastle’s water supply at Whittle Dene.  There is a complex series of pipes and aqueducts linking them all with Colt Crag and Hallington weirdly placed amongst rolling hills with dams at multiple places around the water’s edge.  Hallington Reservoirs are actually two on differing levels split by a central dam.  Today’s walk circumnavigated the western of the two.

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Bridge date and company logo, Hallington Reservoir

The green iron bridge that carries you over the western spillway has a date and intertwined company initials at its centre.  1889, NGWW.  The Newcastle and Gateshead Waterworks later became the Newcastle and Gateshead Water Company.  Now it’s run by Northumbrian Water.

It was a relatively quiet day in terms of wildlife.  A few cormorants fished the eastern section while a golden-eye repeatedly disappeared into a dive.  Tree sparrows fed on some feeders at the fishing club along with blue and great tits.  A small flock of unidentified gulls stood incongruously on the lingering ice at a sheltered corner while long tailed tits twittered through willows at the water’s edge.

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Afternoon sun at Hallington Reservoir

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Old Lanes

Occasionally you come across an old lane that has never quite become a modern road.  Most of these routes have a story to tell, some historical reason that has ceased to be important in the modern world.  A wonderful maze of these old routes occurs in the bocage of Normandy but elsewhere near abandoned routes occur for a whole range of reasons.

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Mill Lane near Stamfordham (c) Duncan Hutt

Near Stamfordham, in Northumberland, is Mill Lane, one of these roads that exists but is rarely used, with an ‘unsuitable for motors’ sign marking the point the asphalt ends.  The lanes original purpose is shown in its name.  This was the route from the small farming hamlet of Heugh down to Heugh Mill.  The corn mill has long closed and the local focal point became the village of Stamfordham.  The number of people wanting to utilise Mill Lane must have dwindled and it was never properly surfaced.

Now it’s a peaceful countryside route, in summer the lane can be buzzing with hoverflies and in early winter the hedges and trees provide a food corridor for visiting fieldfares and redwings.  Today all was quiet, a bluetit and wren dived for cover in the hawthorn bushes to the edge but little else stirred.

Posted in Archaeology, Northumberland | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

An Island Challenge

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Sunset over The Snook on Lindisfarne (c) Sally Hutt

We’ve taken a break from blogging for a while but have set a new challenge over 2019 and 2020 to visit 50 islands.  Had budget and time been no issue this would be a simple task involving lots of interesting travel to fascinating places but in reality jobs (and families) get in the way.  To be realistic most of the islands will end up being around the UK as even these take time and planning (and some money) to reach.

January 2nd saw us visit our first island, one close at hand and easy to do in a day.  Lindisfarne is a tidal island so in our rules that we have set ourselves we needed to stay over a high tide, the tides on January 2nd were ideal.

As it’s a separate challenge we have set up its own special blog, 50 Islands.

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Autumnal fungi

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Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria) (c) Duncan Hutt

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Yellow Stagshorn (Calocera viscosa) (c) Duncan Hutt

A weekend trip out to Colt Crag Reservoir wasn’t exactly rewarding from a weather perspective, showers were insistently blowing in from the coast.  Now that autumn has turned up the wildlife spotting has shifted too.  No more (or few more) hoverflies, butterflies and the like but instead here is the season for fungi.  They, like invertebrates, are a tricky group. Some easy to identify like the archetype toadstool with its red cap with white spots; fly agaric (Amanita muscaria).  Others are more awkward and easy to misidentify so perhaps the identification of (Mycena galopus) could be challenged?  These, of course, are traditional mushroom-shaped fungi but there are plenty of other variations out there such as the yellow stagshorn (Calocera viscosa) that was dotted on many of the old rotting spruce stumps.

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Mycena galopus (c) Duncan Hutt

 

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Red Underwing

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Red underwing (Catocala nupta) on a country park noticeboard! (c) Duncan Hutt

It may not have the striking colouration of a hawkmoth but at 4cm long the red underwing (Catocala nupta) is one of our larger moths.  A night flier it was resting quietly, on a warm and sunny day, on the shaded side of a Newburn Riverside Country Park noticeboard.  They can be found feeding on flowers in the early evening but it was much too early in the day for this sort of activity! It has a red underwing (unsurprisingly) but this was certainly not on show as it tried to blend in to its background.

The red underwing is a common species in the south of the UK but in the north-east there are a just a scattering of records, more in recent years but perhaps this is more to do with recording than an actual increase in numbers?

Posted in Invertebrates, Northumberland | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

A Channel island?

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The old fort, Îles de Chausey (c) Duncan Hut

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Petit Epail, Îles de Chausey (c) Duncan Hutt

The Channel Islands sit off the Normandy Coast and form a group of islands administered as Jersey or Guernsey, with their strange statuses as Crown Dependencies of the UK.  Yet a few miles south of Jersey is a small archipelago of islands that are French.  The Îles de Chausey are a scattering of tiny islands and rocky reefs with the largest, Grande Île, at the heart.  The tidal range here is huge and as such many islands link together at low water with sandy beaches and bays only to separate out again as the tide rises.  In summer, at least, there appear to be as many small boats as there are tiny islands and these too cluster around the largest landmass with its cluster of stone houses tucked onto the leeward side.

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Grande Île houses (c) Duncan Hutt

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Common lizard (c) Duncan Hutt

The Grande Île is reached by boat from Granville with regular summer services, albeit governed by the tides.  The sea was choppy as we left the shelter of the huge harbour walls at Granville heading for a low-lying blur on the horizon.  The islands slowly emerged from this blur to become tiny individual islets and Grande Île itself became apparent by its distinctive lighthouse and tiny white and grey houses along the shore.  The landing was onto a small wooden jetty which soon was lost under the incoming tide.

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Harestail grass (Lagurus ovatus) (c) Duncan Hutt

A walk around the island takes in houses linked by narrow paths, handcarts being the main form of transporting items to these sometimes tiny dwellings, the large lighthouse and the Napoleonic fort.  From there is turns to the southwestern shore almost devoid of habitation except for a large imposing fortress dating to the 16th century.  Otherwise the path tracks through rocky cliff edges where lizards scurried away over the warm rocks then through areas of scrub and grassland leading down to small sandy coves.  The free draining sandy or stoney soils were parched dry and this, coupled with the salt, makes for some harsh conditions for a variety of unusual plants such as the distinctive harestail grass, Lagurus ovatus, on the cliffs or Jersey sea-lavender, Limonium auriculae-ursifolium, on the sea edge.

After the boats have departed and the day visitors have gone the islands must take on a peace that comes with isolation but we were amongst that crowd of tourists to drop in for a mere glimpse of these islands.  So we embarked on the boat to Granville, a calmer and warmer return journey back to mainland France.

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Jersey sea-lavender (Limonium auriculae-ursifolium) (c) Duncan Hutt

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A moment by the pond

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Emerald damselfly (c) Rebecca Cassie

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Azure damselfly pair (c) Duncan Hutt

The day wasn’t promising, a gray blanket of cloud was the best that the morning could offer with temperatures more akin to March than July.  As the cloud broke so the showers started, heavy drenching showers with the slightest glimmer of sunshine between.  None of this is great for spotting dragonflies and damselflies but a brief burst of sun meant it seemed worth a quick trip out; part of a survey to see what species are found at Throckley Pond.  Sadly the fresh breeze also reduced the activity around the water although once you got your ‘eye in’ the resting damselflies were relatively easy to identify as they held firmly to pondside vegetation.  And it was all damselflies today, no sign of their bigger dragonfly cousins.

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Blue-tailed damselfly (c) Duncan Hutt

First to be seen were the small dark damselflies with an almost glowing blue thin stripe on the end of the abdomen, these blue-tailed damselflies (Ischnura elegans) proved to be pretty common around the water’s edge along with the much brighter blue azure (Coenagrion lunulatum).  In sheltered spots males battled over unseen territories while the females were somewhat less conspicuous or daring in the challenging conditions.  Much less common, and at the beginning of their flight season, were a few emerald damselflies (Lestes sponsa) with their almost iridescent green backs over more cream coloured flanks, only four were spotted but numbers should rise in the coming days.

The site was oddly lacking in butterflies around the flowery margins and sheltered banks of the pond.  The lack of the almost ubiquitous speckled wood was unexpected and the newly emerged ringlets were also strangely absent.  In fact the only butterfly of the day was a large skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus) that settled on a tiny piece of willowherb by the path as we left the site.

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Large skipper (c) Duncan Hutt

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