Is This The End?

Seagull
Seagull

Well, here we are at the end. This time it will really happen – or it has happened already. Of course, if you’re in Australia all this is old news. We’ve had a mild but wet spell recently but as the end draws nigh it’s getting colder again. The sky is clear though so I’m not sure if the snow that we’ve been promised will be able to make it. I have a feeling that it received several invitations for the party tonight and it’s not sure which it will go to.

As you can see, we have a picture of a seagull today. With the Solway Firth ‘just over there’ you’d think that they would be regular visitors but we don’t actually see that many, perhaps there are other, more delightful, delights between us and the sea and they get side-tracked before they reach us. It’s also possible that they’ve heard how important these next couple of days are in Scotland and have decided that it would be better if they left the country until things quieten down. It’s all that singing, you know – seagulls find what passes for song among humans, raucous harsh and outlandish. Not at all like the soft melodious song of the seagull.

Having arrived at this point, I suppose that the only thing left is for me, Jackie and The Dog, to wish you a very happy New Year.

See you, over the page, in 2013.

A Bit Windy

Rook - Made It This Far
Rook – Made It This Far

Here’s a rook, sitting in the top of a tree. I think the trees are rather ticklish – they  are finding the, current fairly strong, winds hilarious and are shaking and roaring with laughter. The noise is loud enough to make it hard to get to sleep at night, and when you step out into the back garden, which is between the house and the woods, the sound hits you like a body blow. It reminds me of walking in front of a loud speaker at a rock festival in the sixties. Today, of course, you’d have to be wearing ear defenders to be allowed that close to the stage. Perhaps the wind should come with a Government Health Warning.

I tried to take some photos of the rooks fighting against the wind as they stagger from tree to tree, thinking that, as they were flying into the wind, they would be easy to keep in the view finder. But no, I think that there just isn’t enough light to do long distance focusing and in the end I had to resort to waiting until they landed to get a shot.

It’s not just the trees that are having a great time in the wind. Notice that little blue bit in the photo. Quite a few of these are dashing round all over the sky today, in and out of the clouds like a bunch of tiny tots at a children’s party who are all on a sugar high.

Or whatever the latest excuse for children’s high spirits is.

Raindrops

Raindrop
Raindrop

Noah, of course, was the expert on raindrops. He only had forty days and forty nights of it – I don’t know how he would have managed with the amount we have had this year. Those poor pigeons would still be flying around looking for an olive branch. Come to think of it, we don’t have that many olive trees around here, I wonder if they are allowed a second choice – maybe a nice bit of oak, or a pine cone, or a piece of ivy?

I seem to remember that the climate was going to change and we were all going to be living in desert conditions and so needed to plant cactii (or cactuses). To help things along they planted olive trees at Kew Gardens, so if you see a pigeon looking a bit lost you might like to point it in the direction of Kew.

I always understood that The Flood was a legend that pre-dated Noah, and that he was modelled on one Gilgamesh of a few centuries earlier. I thought I’d mention it here. When I went to check Gilgamesh’s story, we take as little for granted as possible, I found it to be quite a different kettle of fish.

The story that mentions The Flood is the story of Gilgamesh’s exploits, true. But he did a great deal of exploiting. He killed off monsters and magic bulls and had arguments with assorted Gods and Goddesses. While doing all this he stopped to chat to a guy called Utanapishtim and Utanapishtim told him the tale of how he (Utanapishtim) had been commanded by his God to build a great raft and fill it with people and animals etc.

So it isn’t all Gilgamesh’s fault, at all. Next time I see him I must apologise.

Fun-gus

Common Puffball
Common Puffball

Every now and then, as The Dog and I wander aimlessly along, we find some mushrooms. The first thing that comes to mind, always, is, I wonder if it’s poisonous? So we take a picture and we trot back home to have a word with our old friend Google. Now, Google knows a lot of stuff, but sometimes it is very hard to get him to understand the question. The problem is he just doesn’t listen and he’s in too much of a hurry. You start typing in your question and before you’re more than a few characters in, he starts listing stuff that he thinks is probably the answer. You get the distinct impression that he has important people asking him serious questions that are really interesting – and he just doesn’t have time to bother with these trifling enquiries about puff something or other.

However, we are persistent and we don’t give up and click off somewhere to buy puff pastry or powder puffs or any of the other things he thought we should do first before we bother him with any more of our silly questions. Puffballs was what we typed in and information on puffballs was what we wanted. Quite often, as soon as he realises we are in one of those moods, he will give up and concentrate on solving our problem. In this case, this is a Common Puffball, and it has a hole in the top where the fine mist of spores were blown out by the wind or some passing vibration – like being kicked, for instance. No, it is not poisonous but this one is far too old to be edible. They are edible when they are young. Google did mention that when they are young they are very difficult to distinguish from the young form of various poisonous and highly poisonous types of mushroom.

That’s interesting, isn’t it?

Instinctive Reaction

Party Time For Rooks
Party Time For Rooks

We went out, one morning recently, into a darkly overcast and mist-filled day. Just as we came round the corner my eye was drawn to a cloud of rooks right at the edge of visibility. These are the one and two year-olds. I must mention here that the rookery, or at least the large group of trees where most of the rooks nest, is half a mile or so in the other direction. So this bunch of eighteen to thirtys had chosen to be well away from home. As you can see, the purpose of the meeting was quite simply to be able to indulge in beach barbecues and mud wrestling etc. away from adult supervision. It all happens at this time of year.

Did you see that the latest research at Stonehenge and various other Henges, has turned up a surprisingly large litter of well gnawed pig bones? Those deeply religious processions and services to the Moon or Sun or whoever, beloved of archaeologists, may possibly have taken place but the congregations would have been small, most of the attendees were there to have a party. Serious eating and drinking were the main attraction. If the people in those far off days were anything like their modern-day cousins, there was probably a fair amount of mingling and extending the gene pool going on too.

Then there are all those cast-away amphorae that litter the beaches near the tin mines way down in the south-west of Britain. Some of them appear to date back to the Phoenicians. I’m sure that one of the reasons they came was for the tin.

But after a few thousand years of ‘The Stonehenge Experience’ – we Brits do know how to give a good party, you know.

Happy Christmas

Happy Christmas FromThe Dog
Happy Christmas FromThe Dog

The Dog would like to mention that she thought that The End Of The World was going to be a bit more, sort of, well – she thought that something was going to happen. As it was, we actually missed it. We were busy around eleven o’clock on Friday when the Galactic Centre clicked into alignment and Planet X put in its closest approach, I think we were just finishing breakfast or looking out of the window wondering if it was time for a train yet, or something else that was more important than the mere ending of the world.

I suppose we should make a point of writing down somewhere exactly what we did at the moment it all came to an end. If we don’t, we’ll be sorry in twenty or thirty years when our descendants ask us “What did you do at the end of the world?” In fact, take the opportunity now, and start working on something that sounds really good.

The Maya, of course have been avidly awaiting the great day. They were expecting tens of millions of visitors over the period (I hope they took the precaution of asking them to pay in advance). It’s a bit of an anticlimax for them now, they have to wait until someone chisels out another calendar wheel before they can use up all the leftover tourist tat.

So on that note, it just remains for me to say A Very Happy Christmas from me and A Very Happy Christmas from her.

Keeping Our Fingers Crossed

Ash
Ash

This Ash tree stands between the village notice board and the post box. As you can only tell if it has this ash die-back thingy when it starts to grow next year, we are keeping our fingers crossed for it at the moment. The fungus, or whatever, is spread via the leaf mould and while young trees are being destroyed if they have it, the government has decided that older trees found to be infected should be left alone, as long as they’re safe, as even a dead tree is important to wild life.

Norse mythology has an Ash Tree called Yggdrasil, with humanity living beneath one of its roots, in one of the nine worlds. The whole business is very confused and no one seems to be too sure what the other worlds are. When you think of the way many of the Norse peoples lived, in isolated pockets of aggressive humanity in the company of the wild snow and ice and the, perhaps, even wilder seas, you can easily believe that a coherent theology was probably not at the top of their survival priorities.

Ash wood is not much good in external use as it soon rots away, but it does make very good bows, bats, tool handles, Morgan sports cars and World War One fighter aircraft.

Chilly

Alpaca in the distance
Alpaca in the distance

Now that the under-brush is dying back or being cleared away, a great many things that have been beyond our ken are becoming clear to us. If we carry on over the railway crossing we need to follow the road and climb up quite a steep hill. The nice thing about this, is that when you get to the top of it – every way forward is down hill. Quite often we only go as far as the top of the hill, just for the satisfaction of having no other way to go but down.

Standing there the other day, just enjoying the luxurious expectation of a down-hill stroll – whether we decided to go on ’round the block’ or even if we decided to turn round and go back, down to the level crossing and home the way we had come, looking around at the fields and trees to extend the enjoyable moment as long as possible, we noticed that the gorse and other bushes had been cleared away from the field perimeter. Closer examination revealed a large roll of wire and a wire tensioning tool.  Well, when you’ve eliminated the impossible etc. so we felt justified in assuming that the fence was being refurbished. Looking up the field along the line of the now cleared hedge, we noticed a few alpacas pottering around in a paddock a couple of hundred yards or so away.

Did you know alpacas come in twenty two different colours?

Circular Argument

Fence Post
Fence Post

At this time of the year, any amount of tidying up is going on around here. The verges are trimmed, the hedges are knocked back into shape and fences that have just been a disjointed, pointless conversation are given a new lease of communication. One part of our walk today sported a sparkling new section of fence, replacing the drooping, occasional strands of barbed wire that we’d become accustomed to. We had to stop and admire it. We followed it back to where, via an age blackened, robust corner post, it became integrated with the larger community of fence wires.

We couldn’t resist the newly-sawn tops of the fence posts and stopped and counted the rings in several of them. They, mostly, seem to have been felled when they were about eight or ten years old. No, having just done a little reading on dendrochronology, let me rephrase that, there seem to be eight or ten rings on most of the posts.

It isn’t just the rings, you see. Some years could have no discernible ring and it’s even possible to have two rings in one year. An average ring shows lighter, softer wood that relates to the early part of the year when the tree is doing most of its growing, and a darker part that relates to the part of the year when growth slows and stops.

If you think about it this means that the tree grows just underneath the bark. No wonder you have to remove the bark to stop fence posts turning into trees.

Georgia On My Mind

A Survivor
A Survivor

We were pleased to see our local pheasant pottering around the feeder recently. The previous weekend had been marked by a great hullabaloo and the sound of gunfire and we were a little concerned for him. Here he is however, looking perhaps a little subdued, but obviously still alive and kicking. He popped past to do a little tidying up for us. He doesn’t like to think of us having that mess all over the garden. Our pigeons seem to have deserted us – or maybe they too, are just keeping a low profile.

He comes from Georgia, the one on The Black Sea, along with that other homespun, back country boy Joseph Stalin, who also hailed from the region. The old name of the river that runs through, what is today, the port city of Poti was The Phasis and this is where his name is derived from – if you care to believe the things ‘they’ say.

‘They’ say, for instance, that Jason and the Argonauts came to Georgia looking for the Golden Fleece. The tale of how the Golden Fleece came to be in Georgia is a typical wicked stepmother story. The Greeks, of course, do things with style. To save the poor step-children the King of The Gods sent a magical ram to carry the children off – before the wicked step-mother could get to them. He was frolicking around as a ram himself, at that time, so he kidnapped a beautiful nymph and turned her into a ewe so he could have his wicked way with her, so producing the golden ram to send to the rescue.

All in a good cause, I guess.

All Change

Old Beech Hedge
Old Beech Hedge

Here’s a hedge that isn’t a hedge any more. For a varied catalogue of reasons it hasn’t been trimmed for a while. This happens.

People look around and think to themselves “Well, a hedge would be nice along there. It will . . . ” and so the ground is prepared, bits of stick are hammered in in a nice straight line and strings are tied on to them. The plants are planted exactly eighteen inches apart and fed and watered regularly. Once a year or so, around August, someone comes along and gives it a trim, looking at each of the bushes individually to decide what to cut and what to fold inside. Come the spring they walk along it patting its compactness and thinking how nicely it’s coming along.

And then, other priorities intrude. Perhaps the reason for the hedges existence no longer exists, or maybe it just isn’t that important any more. May be the person who was the driving force behind the idea that a hedge was needed is no longer around – we all shuffle off this mortal coil in the end, or emigrate, or move house. Somehow, those we leave behind just don’t see things in the same way and our hedge, which once took up so much of our time and attention, is left to its own resources.

I wonder if it misses us?

This Way Up

Blue Tit
Blue Tit

Here’s a tiny acrobat in the middle of his performance. What made him sit still at a time that synchronised with the time it takes the camera to get round to take the picture from the moment I pressed the shutter release? Who knows? I’ll just count my blessings. I have any number of pictures of blurred Blue Tits who just couldn’t get it right. I think they don’t relate to these newfangled digital cameras yet. Perhaps this guy is one of the younger generation so he is into digital. He probably doesn’t more than half believe those stories his parents tell, of how there used to be milk deliveries in the old days and how you could peck a hole in the top of the bottle for a beak full of cream.

It used to be a real treat to have the top of the milk poured off, for you to spoon on your porridge. All you needed for breakfast was a bowl of porridge with a good dollop of golden syrup on it, a little milk (and the cream,of course) poured carefully round the sides – you didn’t want to wash the syrup off the top, now, did you, and you were set up until the next meal came along.

Wonderful childhood memories! I can’t imagine how any of us actually survived through to adulthood, we didn’t get many of our five a day from that meal.

Just A Sparrow

Sparrow
Sparrow

You can’t mention sparrows without mentioning Edith Piaf can you? If you mention Edith Piaf then you have to mention La Vie en Rose. The song that everyone remembers her for – from the film that she made that no one can remember, so we won’t embarrass anyone by mentioning it here. She wrote the song herself and it was probably her greatest hit, certainly outside France.  Then there was ‘Sparrow’ written by Paul Simon – as in Simon and Garfunkel. Same bird in the title but a different generation of song writers writing about a different bird to the Parisian street urchin. Sparrows, of course are not to be trusted with lethal weapons – particularly a bow and arrow.

In the 1950s the Chinese government, in an attempt to increase the rice harvest put a price on the sparrow’s head and promoted the killing of the little birds – along with rats, and threw in mosquitoes and flies for good measure. Rats have been persecuted for millennia so they just ignored the whole thing. Flies and mosquitoes felt pretty much the same, but the program virtually wiped out the entire sparrow population within a few years. And did the rice harvest improve? No, actually. The sparrows eat far more of the insects that consider the rice harvest their own than they do of the rice. So the government took sparrows off the list. But it was too late. A few years later, the worst locust swarm for years caused widespread famine.

It isn’t just size that ranks you in the pecking order you know.

It’s A Long Story

Long Tailed Tits
Long Tailed Tits

The Long Tailed Tits visit us at around eleven o’clock in the morning. Not every morning, but if they are going to turn up at all, it will be about eleven. It’s the fat balls they come for. Sometimes a couple will settle on the peanut vendor but the seed feeder is not at all tempting. There’s usually eight or ten of them and they grace our garden and bird table for twenty or thirty seconds – and then they’re gone. So, if you want to take a photograph you have to have the good fortune to be able to put your hand on the camera at a moments notice.

They are very social birds, in the terms of the original meaning of the word and although they do Twitter I don’t think you’ll find them on Facebook. No. Social for them means that if a male failed to find a mate that year, he will help to find food for the chicks of a male relative. There are even cases where a couple had their nest raided and, instead of starting again, they both went off, back to their families, to help bring up their brothers and sister’s kids and waited until next year to produce their own brood.

They’ve been flitting around for some time – fossilised long tailed tits have turned up in the debris of the last glacial period, that’s going back about ten thousand years in this part of the world. Isn’t it strange to think that there were no humans around to put out fat balls for them in those days, unless of course, we were there – but we were so environmentally friendly, all those years ago, that we left no litter behind.

Chimney Pots

Chimney Pots
Chimney Pots

I’m sitting here, in a garden centre. Jackie has gone to watch a craft demonstration so I’m using the time to pull my thoughts together. That’s not as easy as it sounds. It’s Saturday and Father Christmas is in attendance. The entire floor area is waist high in three to five year olds, half of them excitedly clutching a small parcel or a soft toy – the other fifty percent are screwed up to bursting point with the anticipation. The tension oozes out of every child as they jerk and bounce in the direction of Santa’s Grotto.

The problem, of course, is the need to be ‘good’. “Have you been good?” How grown-ups do grind on. What would be really nice is if they would just explain what ‘being good’ actually is. The only way to find out what being good is, seems to be when you do something bad – but at this time of year that is just too risky. So we skate on, over the thin ice of parental approval and disapproval – the closer to Christmas, the worse the stress becomes.

The other major issue at this time of year, of course, is chimney pots. How will he fit down if you have one and how will he deliver the presents if you don’t have one.

Can he come out of the central heating, do you think?

First Foot

Coal Tit
Coal Tit

The various Tits that frequent our feeder are all busy little birds. They hardly have more than a few seconds to grab a beak-full of whatever is on offer and off they go to sit quietly somewhere and enjoy the bounty. This means that, although they are often around the feeders, sometimes in a small flock, they are quite difficult to photograph as they just won’t keep still. We have innumerable blurred and indistinct pictures of something that could easily be a Tit of some kind, perhaps even more pictures of an empty feeder or bare branch, from which the bird has, just that instant, flown.

This is a Coal Tit. He is known as a Fir Tit in Germany because he does so like Fir seeds and Fir trees. Germany, of course has The Black Forest which consists of large numbers of Fir trees (carefully planted in between the beds of gateaux). As far as he is concerned, there is only one reason for his existence. It is his bounden duty to fill up, all and any, nooks and crannies with whatever foodstuffs he can acquire. He seems to make no effort to mark his hoards and doesn’t seem to even bother to remember where he has stashed his cache.

Perhaps, like The Dozers of Fraggle Rock, he needs his store-cupboard raiding, after all, an empty store is just begging to be filled.

Once Upon A time

Mountains Floating In The Mist
Mountains Floating In The Mist

Once upon a time, in a place far, far away, beyond the mountains that are beyond those mountains, in a castle on a hill surrounded by a tall hedge of rose bushes, lived a beautiful princess. After all, a castle that far away and behind such an impenetrable hedge must have had a beautiful princess living in it, where else would you find one? As you can imagine, she was living there because a wicked witch had put a spell on her. Luckily, unknowingly, the wicked witch had placed the castle in an area with decent broadband speed.

And so, at this time, we see our princess sitting disconsolately in front of her laptop wondering if adding alternate text to the image descriptions on her Facebook landing page would increase the page hit rate. She is getting a bit desperate – it’s getting on for a thousand years now and still Prince Charming hasn’t turned up. Perhaps using that ‘Singles Over 40’ dating site wasn’t such a good idea – or maybe she shouldn’t have put “Interested in men under 1000”. She is beginning to think that maybe Prince Charming doesn’t have the Facebook app on his phone.

She decides to give the dating site one more try, this time she thinks she’ll go with –

“Bewitching Princess, wanting to let her hair down, seeks Prince Charming  (Sign up for my newsletter and I’ll send you the password for the hedge).”

Frosty Filigree

Frosty Filigree
Frosty Filigree

A few Silver Birch, a few Larch and a fir tree tucked in the corner. This view was hiding between two bungalows on the way round to the level crossing. It caught my eye as I went past on the way there, but didn’t really register. On the way back we stopped to have a proper look. It was a little misty this morning – and cold, but there was some sunshine in between the misty bits and sometimes, standing in a sunny spot, you could look around at a wall of mist with the ‘real world’ disappearing into the mist just beyond the edge of the ‘sun spot’.

As usual, we were in a hurry to get round to the level crossing, in case the train came before we were in position. It is a little difficult, with The Dog’s lead in one hand and the camera in the other, to wave to the driver but we must make the effort – I’m sure he recognises us by now. I am a little disappointed that The Dog doesn’t show more interest in the trains but I suppose that, at her level, one set of clanking wheels looks much like another. Perhaps I better start reading Thomas The Tank Engine and The Railway Children to her – just to give her some background.

Electrifying

Solway Firth And Scotland
Solway Firth And Scotland

The tide’s in, as you can see – the Firth is full – Scotland is relaxing over the other side in a nice, if hazy, bit of sunshine. They’ve got sunshine over that side and all we have over this side is an electricity transmission line in the most awkward position possible. We are quite lucky, I suppose, if Edison had won the tremendous publicity campaign he waged, back in the 1880s, to promote his DC (Direct Current) system over the AC (Alternating Current) system that Westinghouse was proposing we would be up to our necks in wires.

Or maybe not. You see, The DC system had a couple of problems. First, you could only supply power to consumers within a mile of the power station. Second, it was difficult to change whatever voltage the power company supplied to a different one, so the supply company had to provide a separate pair of wires for each voltage that you needed. Those parts of a city supplied with DC sprouted posts supporting hundreds of wire criss-crossing in every direction – just imagine, you would need a pair of wires from the power station for your phone charger, and another for your laptop charger, and another for the TV and another for the lights, another for the cooker and on and on. Houses would begin to look like hedgehogs, sprouting wires in all directions.

In Europe, where there was no big public AC/DC battle, a bunch of Hungarian and German companies soon sorted it out and we have AC this side of the Atlantic with just small pockets of DC lingering on until the 1950s in the older parts of large cities.

The interesting point here is, that if Edison had won, we would all probably be using his concept. This overcame the distance limitations of DC by having many small power generators, rather than a few massive power plants.

A bit like having solar panels on your roof and receiving a feed in tariff for your efforts.

Blackbird?

Female Blackbird
Female Blackbird

Well, here’s a brown bird, if ever we saw one. But I’m pretty sure it’s a Blackbird – no colour prejudice intended. I’ve had a look on the RSPB web site and they seem to think that there is definitely a chance that I’m possibly right. Blackbirds, they say, come in various colours. This one is most likely a female – no, I’m not saying that just because she wants to be different – female blackbirds are notorious for being different. The black plumage and yellow beak is quite often, although not always, the favourite outfit of the males. Now and then though you will find a Woman in Black – a sort of avian cross-dresser.

Blackbirds are used to controversy. The well known jazz standard ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’, written in 1926 by  Ray Henderson and lyricist Mort Dixon has lyrics that have generated much speculation about their meaning – with possible interpretations ranging from slavery through to prostitution. This confusion is mainly due to the change in popular music style.

Around the 1920s most pop tunes had a semi-spoken introduction, known as ‘the verse’, followed by the catchy melody of ‘the chorus’. By the 40s spoken verses were out, and so the later versions of Bye Bye Blackbird dropped the verse and only performed the chorus.

Once you read the entire lyrics, as they were originally written, the whole uncertainty about their meaning vanishes – see here.

 

Urgent

Skiddaw In The Distance
Skiddaw In The Distance

Now and then, as The Dog and I stride out purposefully, off on our morning walk, we are quite lucky if we can make fifty yards of purposeful striding before there is something one or the other of us needs to investigate in detail, and inevitably our purposeful stride deteriorates into an undirected amble, Our walk becomes a bit reminiscent of a pinball, flying straight and true until it hits the first pin – thereafter bouncing around in as an unpredictable and random manner as the fates can devise.

If we have a clear day and we chose to turn left out of our gate, we have a view westwards to Scotland and the mountains of the Lake District. The highest point, from our point of view, is Skiddaw whose peak rises above his surrounding mountains and foothills when seen from this direction. Indeed, the story goes that a beacon was fired on Skiddaw in times of national crisis.

These days, there are well marked paths starting from conveniently located car parks, all linked by a network of roads gouged out of cliff and lake to transport tourists and their vehicles from one healthy activity to another. Even so, from the most convenient car park to the top of Skiddaw is a good six hour walk and perhaps a five hour walk to come down again.

So, imagine in ‘those days’. Here comes a National Crisis – the Scots, the French or the Spanish are invading. A rider on an exhausted horse comes pounding in to the local constabulary. “We need to rouse the countryside. To. Arms! To. Arms!” etc. etc. Right, load up the horses with a couple of big bundles of firewood, if we’re going to keep it going all night we better have a whole string of horses – no popping to the supermarket for a bag of charcoal allowed – and, as night falls, off we go up the virtually unmarked trails in the dusk. Six or seven hours later – it’s now nearly midnight we reach the top.

“Did anyone remember to bring a tinderbox and a flint and steel? Come on, lets get the fire going. Then we can toast some marshmallows.”

Crises must have been much more leisurely affairs in the olden days.

One Two Tree

Birch Tree On The Hill
Birch Tree On The Hill

This picture is here because it is the result of a hard won battle. When we drive in and out of our house, we go down a narrow driveway, to the gate on the road or from the gate on the road. On one side of the drive is our hill. It doesn’t look much – just your average hill. Earlier in the year, the undergrowth hid much of the detail and how much was hill and how much was forest wasn’t obvious. Now the undergrowth has died back and we can see the lie of the land much better. As hills go it’s pretty unprepossessing. So this morning as The Dog and I set out for our morning amble, I thought that now the trees have no leaves on, there might be a view to be seen from the top.

As an aside here, I must explain that whenever the local (Lake District) tourist attractions are particularly punishing, any of our guide books worth its salt will include a line that promises “the views will be worth it”. I’m becoming brain washed.

Up The Dog and I scrambled – and scrambled is a very apt word here, it may only have been twenty or thirty yards but it was near-vertical and the undergrowth had merely died back to a barbed wire like consistency. It made it quite a challenging ascent.

And the view, when we at last reached the top? Scotland? Skiddaw? The Pennines?

No. But the picture is a clue.

Another Tree

Sycamore Tree-Not Much Shelter Here
Sycamore Tree-Not Much Shelter Here

We set out in a damp haze. Not quite as fine as a mist and not quite heavy enough to be rain. Sometimes, when the atmosphere is like this, you wonder how you get enough air to breath. You feel as if you ought to stick your head out of the top of the cloud every now and then and take a deep breath. Being near the top of the hill, quite often we can look out of the window and see the clouds moving through the valley below, where the beck is busy chuckling to itself as it hurries along, we can see both sides now, so to speak.

With no encouragement from the weather these last few days, it’s been a while since we’ve been all round the block – a bit over an hours walk – so as it wasn’t actually raining we decided to make the effort today. I don’t have to say any more really, do I? You’re right. As soon as we were just over half way the rain came down.

Almost at the halfway point there is a large sycamore tree – and yes, it is standing on it’s own and all the other stuff about sheltering under trees, but it hasn’t been struck by lightning yet and this was no thunder storm. So, as I have previously, when the choice is between definitely getting wet and the remote possibility of being killed by a thunderbolt, I opted to take the risk and stay dry.

When we reached the tree I found that we had fewer options than I had hoped for – so we carried on and we arrived home dripping wet.

Just What We Need

Like A Hole In The Hedge
Like A Hole In The Hedge

One of the most appealing things about winter, as far as The Dog is concerned anyway, is that, as the leaves fall off the bushes in the hedges and the grasses and other vegetation on the verges die back, all sorts of pieces of the hedge that we have walked past, without giving them a second glance previously, reveal themselves in all their naked glory. Parts of our walk, that I am used to pacing on past with reasonably steady progress, suddenly need detailed examination.

I have to confess, unobservant, decrepit, old human that I am, I would most probably just walk past many of the earth-shaking discoveries we seem to have been making these last few days. To be honest, I’m not all that sure exactly what they are but they have been important enough to interrupt our advance and when freezing feet insist that I should take a firmer stance, it is only with great reluctance that she will move on to the next newly unwrapped gift from the season of good will.

Take this hole in the hedge, for instance, it has obviously been known to every fox, rabbit stoat and weasel in the entire neighbourhood for the whole year, but it has only now come to our attention.

Isn’t it just amazing?

Choose Your Moment

Ivy Flowers - Soon To Be Berries
Ivy Flowers – Soon To Be Berries

As autumn winds down and the supply of nuts and seeds becomes exhausted, the birds are coming to our bird table in ever greater numbers. Birds who wouldn’t dream of frequenting our back garden are starting to appear on a more or less regular basis. We’ve had several wood pigeons and a couple of collared doves hanging around trying to look as if they were just waiting for a bus, and the scraps that the tits, of various types, distribute over the patio are of no real interest – oh well, as it’s there I suppose I might as well . . .

Our resident Blackbird is very possessive and has been kept on his toes by the arrival of several other blackbirds on his territory, he hardly has time to chase The Robin away these days. I’m not sure if it is the right time for the shortages to begin to bite – so early in December – it’s a long time until spring creeps over the windowsill.

And here, right on cue, we have the Ivy in flower. These flowers are a bit old now but they have kept a batch of autumn insects going with their nectar and are hurrying along to the berry stage.

Wikipedia says that Ivy is poisonous to humans – but that its taste is so bitter that poisoning cases are rare. It also mentions that here in Europe its own predators keep it under control but in America and Australia it has escaped from parks and gardens to become very invasive.

There will be any number of Blackbirds, Pigeons and many smaller birds too, keeping an eye on these morsels, hoping that they will ripen to see them through the winter to come.

 

Incoming!

Duck Coming In To Land
Duck Coming In To Land

We live not far from Talkin Tarn, so we pop round there often. It’s a popular spot over the weekend so we try to go other days. With the weather being so bad, we expected that there would be just a few die-hard walkers this Sunday so we broke our rule and snatched a few hours of daylight to go there in the afternoon. Would you believe it – the pushchair brigade was out in full force. It seems that you can’t keep toddlers cooped up any more than you can keep  chickens or pigs. We definitely seem to be a growing a good crop of free range children around here.

You can buy a small bag of duck food from the cafe/tea bar on the lake, sorry, tarn side, and the ducks approve of this facility. Small bundles, wrapped up until they can only be identified by their, mainly, pink and blue jump suits waddle around shuttling from an open bag held in a parental hand, to the waterside – with alternate trips to the swings and slide of the children’s play area. The ducks know that the percentage of the food offered to them and the percentage consumed by the child varies with the intensity of parental supervision.

One child per parent and the ducks expect to do well. Two children per parent and the ducks harvest around fifty percent. Over two children per parent – only the most persistent of ducks will show any interest.

Empty Nest

Adult And Juvenile Rook
Adult And Juvenile Rook

I don’t know if it always seems as if there are plenty of rooks around because there are plenty of rooks around or if it’s just because they tend to hang around together in large flocks. At one time they used to be a useful source of food and people used to climb trees to gather the birds out of their nests just before they fledged. There was no point waiting until after they fledged, naturally. ‘They’ say that the only useful meat was the breast meat, some old stories claim that other parts of the bird were ‘black meat’ and shouldn’t be eaten.

There are some adventurous souls who make a practice of looking for old recipes and trying them out. Come the Apocalypse (or the end of the world – pencilled in for December 21st. this year) they will be in great demand. One such leader from the culinary bleeding edge reports that the breast meat is the only meat on the rook so the issue of what you can and can’t eat becomes moot.

The rook here with the white beak is the adult bird the one with no white beak is the juvenile. In autumn, this year’s juveniles and any unattached one year old birds, gather in great flocks to play in the autumn winds – in a sort of eighteen to thirty package holiday.

Now you see it . . .

Hills In Scotland Across The Solway Firth
Hills In Scotland Across The Solway Firth

Here we have Scotland dozing in the morning mists. It comes and goes, Brigadoon like, depending on all sorts of whimsies – the phase of the moon, how many days until the end of the world, whether the month has an ‘r’ in it, pressure from Hollywood moguls and their associate tap dancers, old Scottish fairy tales and a convenient bagpiper.

We actually think that this is Criffel, for no special reason, other than for, as all the guide books say, its great isolation and relative height. It isn’t very high, they say, it’s just 570 metres. 570 metres sounds better as 1800 feet and 1800 feet sounds quite high enough to me. Most guide books mark it down as a ‘strenuous’ walk and end with the perennial promise that ‘the views will be worth it, though’. This is, of course, a matter of opinion and will depend mostly how inclement the weather turns out to be by the time you have strenuously climbed up there. Judging by the number of times we look in that direction and can see no sign of it on the Scottish skyline, my guess would be that the odds are not in your favour. People who write guide books only go to places that have warm sunny days with a gentle cooling breeze to make even strenuous walks a pleasure, of course.

Or maybe they do all their research on the Internet without any need to get strenuous at all.