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High Expectations

A Very Tall Thistle
A Very Tall Thistle

If you want inspirational, then you can’t beat social media. How we continue to bumble along as we do, awash with such powerful messages, must be a testament to humanity’s ability to ignore good advice.
Just say we took even a fraction of the good advice that we have access to. Wouldn’t we be such unbelievably powerful and efficient individuals? The other side of the coin is, of course, what would happen if we took even a fraction of the good advice, that we so confidently offer to all and sundry, ourselves?
There are people out there who do all this stuff. They regularly take all their lemons and make lemonade. They constantly start journeys of a thousand miles with that first small step. They welcome change with open arms. Every single thought they think is positively positive, and never would they think of taking any action that didn’t stretch them to their extreme extremity.
Luckily, for the rest of us, they are the exceptions that prove the rule. So there’s no need to panic. It’s fine for us to just sit here, bemused by all the hullabaloo, shaking our heads and wondering, just where do they get the energy?
Talking of the exceptional, the hedge in today’s photo is a good seven feet (two and a bit metres) tall, and sticking out the top of it we have – a thistle. Surely, there must be an inspirational message here, somewhere.

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Big lack of Data

Not A Thistle
Not A Thistle

Our days are becoming quite autumn-like. We still have gloriously warm and sunny times, and we try our best to schedule setting out on our daily dawdle to coincide with these – but they are becoming harder to synchronise to. The alternative is a cool, clammy mist, not overly unpleasant, but not that pleasant either. In the mist, our horizon shrinks to a few miles, our mountain vista is replaced by a few fields and hedges and the sun is replaced by a lighter patch of grey in the sky.
The rooks have started their autumn dance, large groups of them wheeling, diving and calling while, every so often, a small guerrilla band break away to harass the buzzards. They have moved their rookery from the woods near the railway crossing, half a mile away, to the woods behind our house. During the nesting and chick-rearing of early Spring this past year, we could hear the racket they made, even at this distance. Having them as near neighbours this coming Spring will be, shall we say – interesting.
Today’s picture represents another feature of autumn. Although it has fluffy seed heads, this is not a thistle. You might think we could identify it by its leaf shape, but the leaves are dried and withered and are now identifiable only as dead leaves. The flowers too, other than that they were yellow, hold no clues.
At this time of year, nature ticks very few boxes on the questionnaire.

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Shall I Go or Shall I Stay

Thistledown
Thistledown

“Ooo! Ow! Stop pushing!”
“Stop complaining, you’ve lived here all your life, you ought to know that the leaves are prickly by now.”
“Yes, but it’s been so hot lately, they seem to be more and more prickly every day. Have you noticed things are, sort of, loosening up?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, now and again, these last few days, I seem to suddenly need to grab hold of something, I’m sort of – loose.”
“Actually, yes, I have noticed. I just thought it was because the sun was so hot.”
“Do you think it’s true, then?”
“What’s true? Oh you mean about the West Wind coming? We’ve had wind from the west before, you know. I can’t really see how it could make any difference to us.”
“Yes, but, well, it’s that whispering, it’s a bit eerie. I know everyone’s doing it – but I just don’t know if we ought to join in.”
“Well don’t join in next time, party pooper. You must admit it gives you a real buzz. The West Wind is coming. The West Wind is coming.”
“Come on. Pack it in! You’ll have the whole bunch at it again. Oh. Crumbs. Now look what you’ve done. You’ve started them off again.”
“The wind is picking up a bit isn’t it? Come on. Sway, sway!”
“Oops!”
“What do you mean, oops?”
“I’ve come unstuck.”
“Hang on to me, then. Oops. Wait, careful, now I’ve come unstuck.”
“Aaaah! We floating away. We’ll never get back now.”
“Who cares. Hold tight. We’re off. We’re off!”

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Food for Thought

Rose Bay Willow Herb
Rose Bay Willow Herb

The verge, on the road down to the beck, is quite broad on one side. Once again this year, a huge bank of Rose Bay Willow Herb has appear out of nowhere. What, over winter, had become almost bare ground, with a few wisps of grass here and there, is now a bank of plants three or four feet high.

Google knows a great deal about Rose Bay Willow Herb. As with most of the information on the Internet, many of the sources are contradictory – but all of them are very authoritative. I thought I’d pass on a selection of the wisdom of the world so you could pick out the pieces that appeal to you.

One option is that this is a native of North America. It was brought over to Europe as a garden plant, escaped and made itself at home. Next, we have it as a native of the Russian tundra. Here, they have been using the leaves to make tea and fermenting the pith of the stems to make beer for ever. Then, there’s the opinion that it was known here, in the north of England, before its supposed importation – but was considered very rare.

This is an amazing plant – most of it is edible or drinkable, it can be used medicinally to cure a range of ills – from typhoid to nappy rash, and it grows in huge banks of glorious purple in summer and the leaves turn a fiery red in autumn.

And what do we do with this, natures bountiful largess?

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No Yeti Yet

Rhododendron
Rhododendron

Our current home is the top floor of a converted barn. Below us, the barn remains unconverted. The building is built into the hillside, so while our front door leads into a small lobby with stairs up to the main rooms of our home, the back door leads straight out to ground level a good way up the hill. From the back door you step onto a small flat-ish area of lawn surrounded by trees and bushes of various cultivated varieties. Behind that, the steeply rising ground is the home of oak, holly and the occasional beech tree with, at this time of year, a carpet of daffodils.

Both the woods and the garden shrubbery are old established, possibly over a hundred years in the case of the woods. Over time, the shrubbery has climbed steadily up the hill and the woods have edged their way slowly downwards. Now, that terror of the spelling bee – the rhododendron, is from the Himalayas. For them, a steep incline is no deterrent. It seems to me that what is needed to keep them in check is some Himalayan local fauna. Honey made from the rhododendron pollen is toxic to humans. As anything with any semblance of human form is automatically drawn to consume everything that doesn’t actually kill them very often, and lacking any clear evidence to the contrary, I feel justified in assuming that that denizen of desolation, the Yeti, must exist on a diet of rhododendron flowers.

We’re hoping he’ll pose for a photo when he turns up – watch this space.

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Cherry Aid

Nascent Cherry Blossom
Nascent Cherry Blossom

Each year, about this time the cherry trees blossom. Cherry blossom means Japan, of course. In Japan they are in two minds about it. The arrival of the cherry blossom heralds the arrival of the hay fever season. While the cherry blossom is the most obvious culprit, it isn’t the main source of the pollen. Most comes from the Japanese Cedar and Japanese Cypress trees that were planted in their thousands as part of the reconstruction and rebuilding programme after the war. The pollen from these two trees  is maximised once the tree reaches the ripe old age of thirty. Most of the trees are now thirty to forty years old and well into the swing of it.

At this time of year a range of ‘anti-hay fever’ products appear – after all, on a nice day who wouldn’t want to picnic in the park amongst the cherry blossom. This year, the most popular seems to be a sort of bee keeper helmet, with a small battery powered fan in the top that draws in air through a filter. I presume that the air in Japan, realises that it isn’t supposed to come in through the gauze covering your face, and makes its way round to the fan independently – perhaps there are signs showing the correct path.

Our cherry trees, down by the beck, are doing their best. Every time we pass that way we stop and have a chat. Obviously, we’re concerned that all these negative vibes may put them off.

We’ve taken to passing on those ‘inspired quotes’ that litter the Internet every time we’re round that way.  Today we tried ‘It doesn’t matter if the glass is half full or half empty – as long as you have a glass with something in it’. I’m not sure if it hit the spot, though.

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An Embarassment of Riches

Yellowhammer at the bird feeder
Yellowhammer at the bird feeder

One of the problems with having nature as the central theme is that, while you are busy admiring the gold and red leaves and the fruit and seed pods of autumn – nature, who, by now, is totally bored by all this growth, expansion and the constant need to maximise income over expenditure, just nods off – and leaves you standing there, with nothing to write about. This leads to the temptation to write insulting and snide comments in an attempt to stir some response. It is as well to resist this, as it is firstly, pointless, and secondly – always bear in mind, not only does Google gleefully cache all slips of the keyboard for ever and ever after, but this cache immediately becomes available to European, American and Chinese security services to be broken up into sound bites and churned into Big Data.

Then, suddenly it’s Spring. This week we have some lovely pictures of our mountains, basking in the morning sun with a crisp clean bedcover of snow. Then, under the hedge on the way to the beck we found some Honesty coming into flower. Our wood is looking magnificent in its bright daffodil yellow jumper. There are hyacinths sprouting among the daffodils on the roadsides. We found some Lungwort with its red and blue flowers by the rookery and the Lesser Celandines are bursting out in the warmer spots.

But, in the end, I decided to show you Jackie’s picture of this Yellowhammer, he is on the RSBP ‘Red List’ – meaning there are not many around at the moment.

So, I thought you’d better see him before things get any worse.

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This Year’s Crop

First Lambs This Year
First Lambs This Year

As anyone who has ever kept sheep will lose no opportunity to tell you, sheep are the Houdinis of the animal world. They are escape artists par excellence. This field has had a new gate and new fencing installed recently. We’ll see how long it takes them to find their way out. Once the sheep realise that the all the tasty stuff is actually in the field with them, however, they knuckle down and focus on the job of keeping the grass clipped as short as possible. But this realisation dawns slowly. 

For the first few months, especially, the lure of the wild blue yonder is too strong to be denied, or may be it’s just that the grass has to be greener on the other side of the fence, they’ve read it on Facebook – it had twenty thousand ‘Likes’ – so it must be true.

Driving around at this time of year becomes increasingly hazardous as the lambs become more adventuresome and bolder. Some have taken the trouble to plan their escape route ahead of an emergency, others haven’t. When you drive down the lane, those on ‘Red Alert’ immediately take evasive action and head straight for the hole in the hedge they made on their way out of the field. Those happy-go-lucky types, for whom forward planning is an anathema, scuttle up and down the verge or run along the road in front of the car. Many times I have had to wind the car window down and lecture a bunch who belie Bo Peep’s belief.

Leave them alone and they’ll come home, indeed!

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Spring

Dunnock - Singing - It Must Be Spring
Dunnock – Singing – It Must Be Spring

Isn’t Spring a strange word. It must be one of those words that have their roots far back, at the beginnings of speech. You know, just when we had begun to tolerate our teenagers going round saying “Ugh” to each other (and all the thirty and forty something-s had started saying it too – just to prove that they were not really getting old) someone, somewhere comes out with “Spring”. Now, IMHO, all of us who thought we knew where we were up to, are back to having no idea what’s going on, LOL.

Spring, the kind you find sandwiched between winter and summer, not the kind that bounces around, or the kind that is coiled up and used for beds, or even the place where the water gushes out of the ground, has had one try at getting started so far. We had Im Bolg around February 4th. You know, writing was developed as a way of recording the sounds we make – as words, if I tell you that Im Bolg is actually pronounced im molk and it refers to the approximate date that ewe’s come into milk, can you remember how long it is since you had a bolg shake?

Here we are at March 1st and Spring is going to have another go at starting. If all else fails there is still the vernal equinox on March 20th (in most places – might sneak over into 21st in some places) but that really is the last chance.

Some can’t wait while Spring phaffs about, though. This Dunnock, singing his heart out on the hedge as we walked past today, has obviously become impatient with dates and times and has decided to just get on with it.

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Surprise!

Agusta Helicopter
Agusta Helicopter

The weather this week has been awful. The RSPB was running its annual ‘Big Garden Birdwatch’ – on particular dates you are supposed to count all the birds you see in your garden over a continuous period of one hour – we didn’t have an hour with any birds in the garden at all on those dates. They were all, very sensibly, sheltering from the ferocious wind and driving rain.

Because the weather dial, upstairs there, is set on ‘Random Selection’ at the moment, we have also had some clear sunny days during the week. We’ve done our best to synchronise our perambulations, we’re too set in our routine for them to be peregrinations, to the sunny periods and we’ve had proved to us, once again – sunny does not equal warm.

It has been hard to find something that would risk a venture out, into even the brightest day, that we could use as a picture for your edification. We’ve seen our robin – we know it’s ours, as two robins are incapable of co-existing peaceably – and a batch of chaffinches who, on the whole seem to be able to settle disputes, vocally, but without recourse to fisticuffs. They appear, grab a beak-full of seed and wing it back to the shelter of the bushes.

Then, on our walk this morning, quite suddenly, out of nowhere, this helicopter appeared. I grabbed the camera, wrenched the lens cap off, and pointed in the general direction (which was up, as it flew low, right over our heads) and pressed the button.

Not a bad shot, hey? We think it’s an Agusta A109

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A Hopeful Sign

Gorse
Gorse

I had this nice picture of Gorse. Yes, even in February this bush is producing flowers. So I shook Google awake and sent him off to see what he could find – for me to pass on as if I knew it all along. He found a few things. Did you know that we have three different types of gorse in the UK? One variety grows less than a metre tall and only in the south east, so this isn’t that one. The other two hybridise at the drop of a hat, I blame the bees myself – standards are slipping everywhere, so it is pretty pointless even trying to decide which one is which.

If you look closely at the flower and think it reminds you of a sweet pea or runner bean, you would be quite right, Gorse is a legume. Like the rest of the legume family, gorse is into nitrogen fixing and if you occasionally cut it right back it will release some of its store back and enrich the surface soil. It is also into calcium, it will fish it out of the sub-soil and use it to give its thorns a bit of backbone. When it dies back it drops its thorns, and sprinkles the calcium around.

It is actually, really interesting, if somewhat prickly, stuff. Chris Dixon of Penrhos in Wales, has a very interesting site here, with a whole page on how he uses it in Permaculture.

Then there was Dr Edward Bach (1886-1936) who devised a system of Flower Remedies. Gorse, for him was the remedy for people who had lost hope.

Indeed, a glimpse of the bright yellow flowers at this time of the year does lift the spirits.

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Multiple Choice

A Sunny Day in January
A Sunny Day in January

You find me in a quandary. What a strange word that is, do all words with qu sound like relics of a forgotten world to you? Then, there are all those words with gh and ght in them – dinosaurs all, stamping round swinging their massive tails and bellowing at the top of their lungs. You know, writing is just a way of recording speech. Someone, some-when in antiquity, sat there with his quill pen and wrote w r i t t i n g and then he chewed the end of the pen and wrote t h o u g h t.

Now, you can forgive him for adding the w at the beginning of writing, it was, after all the bleeding edge of human advancement, and they all had high hopes for it. Putting a w at the beginning made it special, and writing writing, with its w, made the writer feel special too. But why thought? They may have imagined that they had just invented thinking, every generation seems to do that, but if they wanted to give thinking a bleeding edge spelling, why not apply a little consistency? Surely wthort would have done just as well?

I must confess, for a moment I had considered pondering on whether a quandary had three or four wheels or perhaps a fur-lined collar, but no, the actual problem is – do I claim the brownie points for catching the sheep right in the middle of the gateway or the crow in flight?

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That Time Of Year

Christmas Decorations
Christmas Decorations

We’ve been away. I’ve been off to a local rest and recuperation centre. He has been down south visiting relatives. We synchronised our existence again today – and went off for our walk, just as if nothing had happened. I think it’s pretty safe to say, nothing had happened.

I left a few posts in strategic places as we went on our rounds but, from the fragrance of the moment, life seems to have been wandering on, in pretty much the aimless manner it did when I was here to oversee things. I suppose that in winter (or are we still in autumn?) you can’t really expect dramatic developments on a daily basis. The cows have all moved on to greener pastures – or at least a comfortable cowshed with all mod cons to see them through the cold and wet months. The cow I spoke to about this was very emphatic this was an important part of their work ethic, to say nothing of their hooves rotting away in the mud.

The sheep don’t seem to be quite as picky about a little cold and damp. They are out there in their dozens, filling up the fields so recently vacated by their, more delicate, bovine relations. I don’t mind sheep – but I do wish they wouldn’t stand at the gates of the fields and stare at you.

Oh, yes. And did you notice? They’ve put the Christmas decorations up.

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Tropical Topic

Log In The Beck
Log In The Beck

 

Well I’m off on my holidays. See you in a week or so. What? Oh. Don’t worry, he’ll write something for you. Who knows what you’ll get, probably a helicopter. See you later.

As you’ve gathered, The Dog has gone off to play with her playmates at one of those, what you used to call summer camps over in America – or so I believe. So I seized control. Then I remembered why I let her take over. There isn’t actually anything to write about at this time of year.

We fought our way, through the sleet and the howling gale, down to the beck today. Here I must digress and assure you that our gales do really howl. I’m not sure if it is the ground contours or just the gap between the buildings but it makes quite a noise. The trees, on the hill behind the house, tend to roar. I think that the wind excites them, it isn’t a ferocious roar or roar of pain – they’re just shouting at the tops of their voices, because they want to. So, with the noise of the wind and the roar of the trees and the hood of my raincoat pulled over up over my head, I often feel quite isolated – it’s a bit like undergoing solitary confinement – but cold and wet as well.

As The Dog has gone off to Summer Camp I wondered if the beck was at all tropical – sure enough, I found a crocodile lying basking in the hail. Of course it could be an anaconda.

Or an anadile. Or a crocaconda. An alliganda? An anagator?

OK. It’s a log.

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Just hanging out

Juvenile Blue Tit
Juvenile Blue Tit

Another week of a little bit of everything, weather-wise. Still, I have worn my all-weather coat all through the summer and now things are cooling off a bit it is really coming into its own. He has to get wrapped up like a mummy before we venture beyond the garden gate – you should just see the performance – it’s just a good thing I’m naturally so patient. As you can see the main difference between summer and winter for us dogs is that in summer we just walk straight out of the door when we go for a walk, whereas in winter we sit and wait. And sit and wait, and wait, while our walking comrades envelop themselves in layer after layer of clothing.

You can see from the picture that the skies were that sort of no-colour grey. He says looking at the sky is like trying to fill in a newspaper crossword with a 2H pencil. Newspapers aren’t bad for tearing up but they do tend to stick to the roof of your mouth. I can’t comment on 2H pencils.

The picture is of a bird. How enthralling is that? I don’t have much time for birds. There are so many places on our route with really interesting scents and he want to show you a picture of a bird? What can I say? It takes all sorts, I suppose. He says to tell you that this is a blue tit. It is still young and won’t have its full uniform of yellow chest and blue cap until it grows up in spring.

That’s probably why it’s content to sit in the hedge amongst the sparrows for now.

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Crunchy

Frosty Morning
Frosty Morning

We’ve had our usual fair share of dull gloomy days this week but as is only fair we have had some nice sunny days too. The problem with nice sunny days is they tend to be, shall we say, bracing? Our good fresh country air has a tendency to become even fresher.

The sun is not particularly enthusiastic at the moment, I think he is preoccupied with his duties down in the southern hemisphere, even on the lovely clear mornings, he really only manages to raise himself up on one elbow for a few hours. This means that the hedges and bushes throw long shadows and there are plenty of places that don’t have any direct sunlight. There isn’t much warmth, even when he’s at his brightest, but the parts that do have its benefit, warm up and so loose their frilly frosty Christmas tinsel by the afternoon.

These nice bright days have added extra dimensions to our daily ramblings. The leaves that have piled in corners and against hedges, make excellent places for snuffling around and when the grass verges are covered in a good hard frost there is a very satisfying crunch when you walk around in them.

You know, on some days, things are getting quite Christmasy

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Lazy Days

Buzzard Soaring in the Sun
Buzzard Soaring in the Sun

I know I said that you wouldn’t get any of that flying rubbish from me and that we were going to be down to earth from now on. Well, here’s the first of the exceptions that prove that rule. You see, it was such a nice day – sometime in the middle of the week, I think – and he and I decided, when we came to the level crossing, that we might as well go all the way round. All the way round is about three miles – and between my interests and his we can usually stretch it to a bit more than an hour.

Up the hill we went then, as we came down to the bottom of the other side, we could hear a couple of those silly Buzzards whining and mewing up in the air. Really, would I expect to catch anything if I spent my time barking? We did however, stop to watch them flying round high up in the air. The verge is actually quite broad at this point so I took advantage of his preoccupation to do a little investigating of my own.

The Buzzards swooped and soared, then, with nothing better to do, one of them floated over and sat on a fence post. We walked a little further, keeping an eye on him. Just as we found a place with a clear view, the bird drifted off the post and with no overt enthusiasm landed in the field. This was not a swoop and absolutely nothing like a pounce – more of a flop I’d say.

Then he just sat there – trying to look as if he didn’t mean to catch anything anyway.

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Who Nose

Chestnuts - Here They Are
Chestnuts? Here They Are

Quite a few things have happened this week, most of them, rain. When we were looking through the pictures to see if we could find one that was worth showing you, the thing I noticed most was the number of mushroom photos he has taken. I suppose that mushrooms do look interesting but I found out long ago they really don’t smell that interesting at all. So I wanted to find you something you’d appreciate. Well, perhaps appreciate is the wrong word, shall we just say – something you won’t turn your nose up at?

You are probably going to get tired of hearing this but – he just doesn’t know how to go for a walk. We set off in the morning and we stop at the gate. This is a very important place, it’s a bit like Facebook or maybe we should call it Nosebook. We always need to stop here to see if anyone has ‘Liked’ my last post yet. Before I’ve had a decent chance to see what has been ‘scent’, he drags me off down the road. I ask you, how am I supposed to have any social life at all?

Anyway, eventually, we stopped to have a look up in some tree or other, he was peering around up there for hours, it was so boring!

In the end, I had to take a hand. I think this is what he was looking for.

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Give Us A Kiss

Give Us A Kiss
Give Us A Kiss

The Dog, Jackie and I have been living in our new place for just over a year, now. A year ago I set myself the task of posting every day. The main farming activities in the fields that surround us are winding down. The trees are shedding leaves and the flowers are dying back, in preparation for whatever the winter weather has in store for us. So many things seem to have come full circle. I was standing in the back garden this morning, listening to the rattle of acorns as they fell through the branches, with the occasional thump, as an acorn landed on the roof of the house. A train came past along our embankment, going at a good lick, downhill, on its way to Carlisle. I watched until it had disappeared round the bend. In the silence that followed, I heard the tap, tap, tap, of the woodpecker, doing a little carpentry, in the trees behind me. All reminders of how delighted we have been with our new home, over this last year.

But time and tide wait for no man – Google notes that they have known this truth since at least 1225 and probably earlier. So it looks as though Time and Tide haven’t changed much since then. We, however, are making big changes. From today we will only post once a week – on Friday to start with, but there is no logical reasoning behind our decision, so things may change. This, then, is not the end. It is the start of something new, we’ll be telling you more as it happens.

But for now, wish us luck.

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The Beginning of the End

Sea King
Sea King

Well here it is. This is our last/first post of the year. In the spirit of modern marketing, not to just satisfy customers but to try our best to delight them, we think we will probably carry on our daily posts until Friday. We wouldn’t want you thinking you didn’t get your money’s worth.

When we started the year we set off by train so, to show we’ve gone up in the world, we thought you might like a helicopter at this end of the bookcase.

It’s a Sea King, and that nice friendly colour is the sort of thing we associate with our Mountain Rescue team. Writing that, made me wonder under what circumstances a mountain might need rescuing. If it gets a bad case of vulcanitis and blows its top, I’m really sorry, but I think it’s too late for any attempted rescue mission.

The only other case that comes to mind, without having to think about it, is if it slipped down a land slide and fell into the sea. Of course, it’s over the other side that the North Sea is trying to fill itself in. It remembers the good old days, before the sea got above itself, when it used to lie round all day as a swamp.

It still romanticises about the wind in the reeds and the soft footfall of the mammoth.

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Ah Sweet

Sweet Chestnut
Sweet Chestnut

A couple of weeks ago, when we were talking to the guy who planted the Horse Chestnut trees, he mentioned that he had also planted a Sweet Chestnut tree – just over there. Naturally we started to look ‘just over there’ to see if we could pinpoint a tree that looked as though it had been planted – rather than it had just volunteered. It didn’t take us long to spot a sprightly young specimen who still had the tatters of one of those plastic tubes young trees are planted in, hanging round his knees. As he is now fifteen to twenty feet high, it is fairly safe to say that he has outgrown the need for its protection.

We blame this one on the Romans. The nuts are ground into flour and cooked into a porridge – the cooking kills the bitter taste – then the porridge is fed to legionaries just before they go into battle, so they brought them with them when they moved in here – just in case.

Sweet Chestnut wood is very strong and has excellent water resistant qualities so is made into barrels for Balsamic Vinegar which (well, the real stuff, anyway) has to be stored for twelve, eighteen or twenty five years so needs a decent cask.

Dr Edward Bach said that an essence prepared from Sweet Chestnut flowers was needed by people who could see no way out and were at the end of their resources.

Oh, and the leaves are good for whooping cough. 

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Watch Out

Rooks On Guard
Rooks On Guard

Through the village and past the village green and past the post box, we could hear the racket. A large number of rooks were swirling around above the trees that hosted last years rookery, making more noise, and with a greater decibel output, than a kinder-garden classroom full of excited youngsters waiting for the bus to take them on a school trip. We were going in that direction so we hurried along, to The Dog’s annoyance, to see what was going on. It is in the autumn that the young rooks congregate to dance with the winds and general show off before pairing up for the spring. It certainly isn’t nest building time.

Well, we reached the part of the road that goes through the tunnel created by the trees that support the nests and the sky was full of swirling birds. Even as we watched more groups of birds came diving in to give their support to whatever was happening. It could have been a football match, or a closing down sale. It could have been that a well known fruitier had announced a new handset. We watched in amazement.

Then we noticed that mixed up in the swirling mass, were the buzzards. There didn’t seem to be any attempt to attack them, it really just seemed like deliberate harassment. This went on for nearly ten minutes and then the rooks flew off and settled in trees a few hundred yards away.

Just teenage bravado, I suspect.

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Two Up Two Down

The Corner Cows
The Corner Cows

We stopped to chat to the corner cows today and found their predictive skills presenting a challenge to interpretation. Before we cast the deciding vote in this debate, we thought it might be a good plan to see if Google knew anything about cows. He wasn’t over enthusiastic. One day we really must ask him a proper question. He did turn up a few of the ‘Scientists have found out’ type of articles so beloved of urban myth-makers.

You know the sort of thing, “Scientists have found out that many people have difficulty standing on one leg. This proves that the world is tilting over to one side. The Government Secret Service is trying to hush this up as it is of huge military significance.” – Hang on – don’t panic. I shouldn’t have mentioned it. It isn’t that serious, the Government is aware of the situation and both parties are working towards a peaceful solution. It’ll be all right, honest

Anyway, as that was all we had, I thought I would pass it on to you: When cows are hot they stand up, as that makes more of the surface area of their bodies available for cooling; when they are cold they lie down, if they feel like it. On the other hand you might feel more comfortable with the idea that if the cows think it’s going to rain, they lie down to keep a dry space to lie in – an interesting concept.

So where does that leave us? Is it going to rain or not?

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That Old Chestnut

Horse Chestnut
Horse Chestnut

Do you remember, much earlier in the year, we took a picture of some Horse Chestnut flowers – just before they opened? I had forgotten all about it myself. The Dog mentioned it as we passed the tree the other day, I wondered what had become of the flower whose picture we took.

We had been walking past looking up into the tree, at the nascent blooms, when, taking a quick glance around just to be sure that the coast was still clear, I noticed this particular flower, at waist height, on a shoot protruding from the base of the trunk. I really hadn’t meant to photograph the Horse Chestnut blossoms at all, I meant to come back in a few days and get some good pictures of the tree in full bloom. However, it seemed that a kind Fate had presented me with a golden opportunity, and never one to look a gift horse chestnut in the mouth, I climbed up the verge and took a few pictures. A lucky decision as it turned out. Life intervened, as it is wont to do, and the chance to come back and photograph the tree in its full glory slipped away.

So we stopped and climbed up the verge again today and rooted around in the undergrowth to see if there was any sign of an actual nut.

Well, we found him, but he turned out to be a little camera shy and he refused to come out and talk to us.

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Difference of Opinion

Alpaca In The Sun
Alpaca In The Sun

“People think it’s the wheels, you know. But we needed to make sure everyone was fully occupied. It kept them out of trouble. The devil makes work for idle hands, and all that? There weren’t that many of us Incas – and there were people all over South America that relied on us keeping things under control. Once you have wheels you get more done with less people, and that was the last thing we wanted. Full employment was very important, it was the thing that held the empire together.

“And look at the roads, I mean, you people built roads all over the place and then went and let all the common people wander up and down them. That’s asking for trouble, you wouldn’t find the commons on our roads, no way. If you weren’t on official or military business, you better not get caught on the road. We didn’t want people moving around. How could the tax inspectors keep an eye on things if the people in their area wandered off?

“Then there’s writing, some people make such a big thing about the writing. We had the quipu, but we had the sense to make the whole business secret, only the specially trained could use it to record things or read what what it said. Knots and strings, that’s what it was to the rest of us. Well, I mean, look what happened when you people let Gutenberg get away with printing stuff the commoners could read. Look at all the trouble that stirred up.

“Serves you right, I say”

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Green Cross Code

Meadow Grasshopper
Meadow Grasshopper

If you should ever have the good fortune to visit Cumbria, could I ask a favour? If you happen to be riding a bicycle and you find a little old guy crouched in the middle of the road, with a small black dog snuffling amongst the vegetation on the verge, with her lead stretched to its limit at the most inconvenient angle – could you cough or back-pedal or ring the bicycle bell for me – or something? Bicycles move fairly silently and their sounds are imperceptible amongst the various tractors, hedge trimmers, sheep, cows, the wind in the trees (pine trees are especially vocal) that go to make the the idyllic sounds of the countryside that you came here to enjoy.

We came across this, the other day, making its way over to the far bank of the tarmac river. The Dog wanted to prod at it with her nose to see if it would jump, but I wouldn’t let her, so she grumped off to peer through the hedge while I took its picture. When I first started taking pictures of the inhabitants of the natural world (the non-human ones) I would have immediately assumed I knew what it was. I’m more cautious these days and I took a few photos from different angles, to see if it was anyone Google recognised.

Google and I think that she, yes she’s a female, is a Meadow Grasshopper, who is the only UK resident grasshopper who can’t fly.

So she had to walk – I hope she made it across all right.

 

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Don’t Look Now

Two Sheep
Two Sheep

“Look, look. I think that’s him again. He went past here yesterday, remember? I know you said he was just another human, but I’m not sure, I’ve not noticed another human with that black box thing growing out of their fore legs. Why on earth they walk round on their hind legs all the time like that is beyond me. Wouldn’t you think they would have worked out by now how much simpler it is to walk on all four feet. And his language! Well, if you can call it that. He hardly seems able to string two words together to make a recognisable sentence. Remember yesterday? We went over to the gate and really concentrated, trying to make some sense out of what he was saying, and it was just impossible. It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s been talking to that Stephen Hipperson in Yorkshire. They’re very isolated down there in Yorkshire you know. It’s not at all like living in Cumbria. It’s all ‘So tha says’ and ‘Hey up!’ down there, whereas here, well, I mean we’re all bilingual up here, aren’t we? Good grief I mean, I’ve spoken both Scotch and Cumbrian all my life. Yes, I’m fairly sure he’s a foreigner of some kind, probably from Down South. They’re a funny bunch down there you know. And, come to think of it he does have a really weird sort of accent. Doesn’t he?

“I mean ‘Baaaaaaa’. P – lease!”

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Creature Comforts

Medway Microlight's SLA80 Executive
Medway Microlight’s SLA80 Executive

There are people who enjoy camping. They enjoy the feeling of freedom and lack of restriction. If you’ve been reading any of our previous posts, it will come as no surprise to you, to find out that this whole camping thing is totally beyond our comprehension. 

In the hushed, dark depths of some city somewhere, in an office, insulated from the hard cruel world by legions of secretaries, surrounded by clerks and typists each with the required duplicity of assistants, there is an office where they hold a bi-annual meeting to make those major decisions that require an instant response. Pinned to the wall is a large chart. A man stands before the chart wearing a blindfold. Solemnly his companions rotate him three times then turn him to face the chart. With deliberation he draws a line from top to bottom. They remove the blindfold, to the left of the line he writes boldly ‘Microlight’. They shake hands, pick up their briefcases and leave.

There are people who trundle round the skies, dangling underneath a flimsy contraption that looks like a cross between a beach umbrella and a roll of fencing wire. They enjoy the feeling of freedom and lack of restriction. I put this sort of thing in the same box as camping.

The picture today is not an aeroplane, it is an SLA 80 Executive Microlight. Do you get the feeling that there is a little fudging going on?

Surely, flying round in this is a bit like going camping in a three bedroom cottage with all mod cons.    

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Watch Your Fingers

Indian Balsam
Indian Balsam

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there is nothing we like better here, than having a good moan about something. Preferably about a problem or issue that there is no reasonable solution to, this gives us a completely free reign. Well, as you can guess from the picture, we’re going to whinge about Indian Balsam. Well, no that’s not true, we’re going to whinge about people who whinge about Indian Balsam.

Let me ask all you environmental addicts out there something. We know for instance that squirrels bite the ends off acorns before they bury them. This stops the acorn from germinating. Good for squirrels – bad for oak trees. Squirrels are just parasites. They do nothing for the tree that provides them with food and shelter. The Jay also collects and  buries acorns, but the Jay buries them undamaged. Any acorns that the Jay doesn’t need are left in the ground to germinate and sprout into new trees. So, the question is, of the Squirrel and the Jay, which is the most environmentally friendly?

Let’s use a bit of vision here. If nature invented a creature (as in – us) that took advantage of almost every plant and animal on the planet, could it not be that the appreciation of the beauty of her works as well as their utility, was built in to us specifically so that we would collect and spread those denizens of her kingdom who were rooted to the spot?

We invited Indian Balsam to come in – and now suddenly we can’t wait to get rid of him. It’s no wonder the guy in the picture looks ready to bite your hand off, is it?

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Mill Right

Jackie's Photo of the Headrace Overflow At The Mill
Jackie’s Photo of the Headrace Overflow At The Mill

It was a nice day on Sunday so we went down to The Little Salkeld Water Mill. We went there before looking for Long Meg and her daughters – I did mention it. We didn’t want Long Meg to think that, now we knew the way, we could drop in unannounced at any time, so we stopped at the Watermill, ate fruit loaf and drank coffee and Earl Grey tea. We are constantly conscious of the responsibilities we took on when we moved up here, you’ll notice.

The mill was working, so we went round to have a look at the water sloshing over the wheel. Mill wheels come in different  shapes and sizes. Just over two thousand years ago, the Greeks started to take the idea seriously, and then the Romans had a go, then the rest of us chimed in and it wasn’t until the steam engine came along, water wheels had any real competition. Over this time, we had worked out that you can turn the wheel in three different ways. You can dip the bottom of the wheel in the river – cheap and cheerful, but not for serious work. You can raise the water so that it hits the wheel in the middle, that’s more expensive, more technical, but not too bad. Or you can raise the water even more and to pour it on at the top of the wheel.

This is high-tech stuff, as the taller the wheel, the more horse power it produces.

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A Flame

FireWeed
FireWeed

Well, it’s happened. We knew it would, sooner or later, and in our case it has turned out to be sooner. As The Dog and I set off this morning the sun was still shinning and the clouds were scurrying about, measuring up the blue bits to make sure there would be enough grey bits to give a nice even cover later in the day. We turned left to go down to the beck. The cows on the corner were all lying down near the gate. I couldn’t remember if this meant that it was going to rain or if they had been up late last night. We stopped to ask, but the one next to the gate couldn’t remember if they had to stand up or lie down for rain, so we went on.

It was then that we saw the devastation. Well actually, it looked very nice and tidy. The man with the machine has been round and the verge and hedge are looking trim and neat – and completely stripped of berries. So, no Hawthorn Berry Jelly from this hedge then – and we were supposed to wait until after the first frost before we picked them. I wonder if the Neanderthals had this problem.

The other side of the road, with its bank of Rose Baywillow Herb was untouched. You know, I had always thought it acquired the name of Fireweed from its habit of colonising burnt ground.

But just look at these leaves. The bank of purple flowers we admired in the summer is now a bank of flame.