Normandy awakenings

lane near Pont Brocard (c) Duncan Hutt

Lane near Pont Brocard (c) Duncan Hutt

A few hundred miles south from home and spring is well advanced.  The mornings were still frosty but the warmth of the February sun is noticeably hotter than in Northumberland.  So in the lanes that criss-cross the countryside the primroses and celandines were in bloom.  In the sheltered spots the hazel trees were showing both the male catkins and the tiny red female flowers.

Fungus on a tree stump (c) Duncan Hutt

Fungus on a tree stump (c) Duncan Hutt

Hazel flowers (c) Duncan Hutt

Hazel flowers (c) Duncan Hutt

Recent heavy rain made many of the lanes somewhat muddy, exacerbated by the seasonal cutting and harvesting of sections of the lane side trees.  Some of the lanes are kept clear as part of footpath routes that cross the area or seem to exist around every local village.  Unfortunately those lanes not designated as such are slowly disappearing, nature taking over again as large tractors require alternative access to the neighbouring fields.

In a few months the lane verges will be a blaze of colour from the spring flowers, for now it’s the more subtle hues of yellow and green; a soft and gentle introduction to the new year.

Celandine (c) Duncan Hutt

Celandine (c) Duncan Hutt

 

Posted in Flowering Plants, France, Fungi | Tagged | 1 Comment

Wintery Hills

Summit of Cheviot (c) Duncan Hutt

Summit of Cheviot (c) Duncan Hutt

Hedgehope from Cheviot (c) Duncan Hutt

Hedgehope from Cheviot (c) Duncan Hutt

The Northumberland Hills are a great place to get distant views at any time of year but recent ventures out there have come with rather curtailed vistas with mist and blowing snow.  The snow has come and gone this year with great rapidity, snow one day, clear again a few days later and the snow has barely been seen down at lower levels.

Ice patterns on Cheviot (c) Duncan Hutt

Ice patterns on Cheviot (c) Duncan Hutt

We expected our walk up Cheviot to be in snow but it was only a thin dusting on the top.  Fortunately the deep frost had frozen the wet peaty paths making them less problematic.  The top of the hill was in mist, a small cap of cloud that increased through the day.  The flagstone path led us clearly to a top that is hard to find amongst the peaty pools and boggy ground.  It’s not the most pleasant summit in the area but the highest point in the County.  Little in the way of wildlife was stirring in the persistent wind despite some sun below the cloud covering.

Rowans in the rocks above Byrness (c) Duncan Hutt

Rowans in the rocks above Byrness (c) Duncan Hutt

Byrness Church (c) Duncan Hutt

Byrness Church (c) Duncan Hutt

The following week we were out again on a chunk of the Pennine Way leading north from Byrness, with its tiny church.  The path climbed quickly from the soggy snow at the valley floor to the windswept conditions of the hilly ridge, past a little group of rowan trees huddled together between dramatic boulders.  Glimpses could be had into the valley with its forestry and reservoir.  The path itself follows the edge of the Otterburn ranges, with signs along the route reminding you of the chance of unexploded ordnance.  Again the wildlife was keeping a low profile but the occasional breaks in the cloud provided rare dramatic views in a largely empty looking landscape.

The top of Ravens Knowe (c) Duncan  Hutt

The top of Ravens Knowe (c) Duncan Hutt

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

Our Challenge for January

Plastics in the oceans ends up as beach litter on the Turks and Caicos Islands

Plastics in the oceans ends up as beach litter on the Turks and Caicos Islands

The family challenge from tomorrow is to live without plastics for a month then try to maintain a low plastic existence thereafter.  To be more accurate we will avoid all single use plastics (otherwise no computer, phone, car, TV etc.).  This includes recyclable plastics too as recycling isn’t really a solution to the problem.  If you do look at recycling marks on plastics then it’s amazing how many are not even recyclable (particularly composite materials).  We are doing this with two of Duncan’s work colleagues and documenting some of it on a separate blog: goingplasticfree.  Why?  Well look at the why page on that blog!

Posted in Sustainability | 5 Comments

A Hill in the Middle

Buttermere from the path up Fleetwith Pike (c) Duncan Hutt

Buttermere from the path up Fleetwith Pike (c) Duncan Hutt

Vole prints in the snow (c) Duncan Hutt

Vole prints in the snow (c) Duncan Hutt

Positioned at what must be about the centre of the Lake District, Fleetwith Pike holds a commanding position at the top of the Buttermere Valley.  It’s a steep climb from the valley floor with a few false summits along the way.  Once at the top, however, the view can be stunning with Great Gable and Scafell Pike to the south, Helvellyn East and Skiddaw to the North.  The valley floor was icy and cold but gave way to a thin layer of snow and bright sunshine on the top.  A few ravens flew past but little other life was immediately evident; look closer however and the snow was covered in the trails of small mammals and the occasional set of bird prints.

View east from Fleetwith Pike (c) Duncan Hutt

View east from Fleetwith Pike (c) Duncan Hutt

Old slate mine on Fleetwith and view to High Stile  (c) Duncan Hutt

Old slate mine on Fleetwith and view to High Stile
(c) Duncan Hutt

The land to the east of Fleetwith Pike is slate mining country with Honister mines directly east and the remains of other, now abandoned, mines a little further south.  One of the old mine buildings remain as a bothy and the old quarries and tips are slowly blending into the landscape. This was once a busy industrial landscape now just the scars remain, the miners and quarrymen have long gone.

Blackbeck Tarn (c) Duncan Hutt

Blackbeck Tarn (c) Duncan Hutt

Innominate Tarn and Pillar (c) Duncan Hutt

Innominate Tarn and Pillar (c) Duncan Hutt

Two tarns stand by the walk on towards the smaller but rugged peak of Haystacks.  The first, Blackbeck tarn, comes with views of Great Gable while the second and strangely named Innominate Tarn accompanies views of Pillar.  Both tarns came with a sheet of ice, any life within them hidden from view.  Hay Stacks itself is a tricky hill with three contenders for status as summit and the route down is a bit of a scramble to Scarth Gap, from where the path descends back towards Buttermere.

Two valleys from Hay Stacks (c) Duncan Hutt

Two valleys from Hay Stacks (c) Duncan Hutt

Posted in Archaeology, Cumbria, Mammals | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Footprints in the snow

A lone pine by the path to Simonside (c) Duncan Hutt

A lone pine by the path to Simonside (c) Duncan Hutt

Pines and snow (c) Fraser Hutt

Pines and snow (c) Fraser Hutt

Quite by chance we have managed to walk in the Simnonside hills on pretty much the same weekend for three years in a row.  This year the weather was distinctly more wintry with deep blown snow on the plateaux.  Rather than the walk up Simonside itself we embarked on the extra 1.5km to Tosson Hill to the south-west of our normal top.

 Simonside (c) Duncan Hutt

Simonside (c) Duncan Hutt

The blown snow made for hard walking but we were mere visitors to this frozen land.  The footprints and holes in the crust over the heather showed where the red grouse had ventured.  There were few other signs of life in the monochrome landscape.  The green valley of the Coquet below gave way in the distance to the snow topped Cheviot while the view south was of unbroken whiteness down towards Otterburn.

South-west from Tosson Hill (c) Duncan Hutt

South-west from Tosson Hill (c) Duncan Hutt

The start and end of the walk was at the small hamlet of Tosson with its ruinous tower.  This is a ruined pele tower which probably dates from the 15th century.  Like so many other such local tower houses it dates from times of border unrest and it may have been the fortified part of a large dwelling or a simple stand alone tower house.

Great Tosson Tower (c) Duncan Hutt

Great Tosson Tower (c) Duncan Hutt

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Prepared for winter

Sycamore near Eachwick (c) Duncan Hutt

Sycamore near Eachwick (c) Duncan Hutt

Winter Ash near Stamfordham (c) Duncan Hutt

Winter Ash near Stamfordham (c) Duncan Hutt

It was a beautiful sunny December morning but the icy north-westerly wind hinted that winter really had arrived.  The low sunlight picked out all the lumps and bumps in the fields, old field boundaries, terraces and trackways picked out in the pastures and largely swept away on the arable land.  It was a great day for observing trees, their winter shapes so clear to see in the crisp light.  Just above the River Pont near Stamfordham was an Ash tree with its typically untidy shape and a little further an impressive if slightly too tidy Sycamore stood next to a country lane.

Holly near Dalton (c) Duncan Hutt

Holly near Dalton (c) Duncan Hutt

The holly trees along the road sides and field edges were speckled with red berries and some of the hawthorn provided food for flocks of blackbirds and redwings, visitors from Scandinavia.  These travellers are here to avoid the upcoming winter weather, which will inevitably be less severe than they would have had in Norway or Sweden.

Lane near Dalton (c) Duncan Hutt

Lane near Dalton (c) Duncan Hutt

In the small village of Dalton a flock of various tits fed in the trees above the old mill; blue, great, coal and long-tailed tits all feeding amongst lichen covered twigs.  The path out of the village was along an old lane, an unusual survivor in this part of Britain.  The tree-lined boundaries contained a numerous crab apple trees with the windfalls still littering the route.

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Looking over Ennerdale

Ennerdale, Herdus, Great Borne and Bowness Knot (c) Duncan Hutt

Ennerdale, Herdus, Great Borne and Bowness Knot (c) Duncan Hutt

View into upper Ennerdale (c) Duncan Hutt

View into upper Ennerdale (c) Duncan Hutt

The rolling fells to the south-west of Ennerdale just sneak into the edge of the Lake District National Park but lack the rugged nature of much else in the area.  A long finger of forest used to stick into these hills, with the wonderful name of Heckbarley, most of the trees have now been felled and the hills are once again open to the elements.  This patch of moorland used is still quite quiet but is visited a little more often than it used to be with those bagging the Wainwrights, the hills mentioned in Wainwright’s guide books of the area.

The walk up to the wonderfully named Grike isn’t that striking though the views out to the coast are good.  A short walk beyond takes you to the top of Crag Fell, a dull name but a hill with a fantastic view into Ennerdale and straight across to Bowness Knot and Herdus and Great Borne.

Fox Moth caterpillar (c) Sally Hutt

Fox Moth caterpillar (c) Sally Hutt

Stagshorn clubmoss (c) Sally Hutt

Stagshorn clubmoss (c) Sally Hutt

There were quite a few red admiral butterflies flying south over the hills making the most of the warm sunshine.  On the moorland a few large hairy caterpillars of fox moth were also to be seen.  There were a variety of fungi though most will remain unidentified to us with the exception of some shaggy ink caps on the side of a forest track.  In the shade of some remaining conifers, still too small to be worth felling, a heather bank was covered in dew festooned spiders’ webs and along the path edge were a few sprawling stagshorn clubmosses, a closer relative of ferns than of true mosses.

Dew covered webs (c) Duncan Hutt

Dew covered webs (c) Duncan Hutt

Posted in Cumbria, Invertebrates, Lower plants | Tagged , , | 2 Comments