Ramblings

October 2001


Monday 1st October – Edderthorpe – I finally see the Green-winged Teal that has been present for several weeks. It is a well marked male. A gaggle of eleven Greylags sweep in from the north. The Wigeon numbers have increased as have the Coot which have concentrated on the far end of the flash. A yelping gaggle of Canada Geese wings in from over the colliery waste tip. The noise actually disturbs Dill the Dog from her sniffing and she watches them with interest. Thirty Dunlin are feeding on an area of mud but are very flighty. High on the waste stack, a Carrion Crow is harassing a Kestrel. The aerial ballet is a joy to behold. Puff Balls peep from the grass beside the old railway track.

Barnsley Canal – Robins and Wren tick in warning as we pass. Russula fungi have appeared within the last few days; large concave, slimy caps lining the tow-path. A small flock of Yellowhammers are chasing each other by the loop.

Tuesday 2nd October – Home – And the apples keep falling. After a serious peel, slice, blanch and freeze session yesterday, I emptied the trug of windfall apples and pears from the garden. Today, the trug is half full again. A flock of Long-tailed Tits is moving through the garden creating a wonderful high-pitched cacophony. I have now netted the top of the tank used to collect rain run-off from the patio – after removing two frogs, again. As we are away for a few days, a polythene cloche has been put over the last of the lettuce for this year. The high winds have left the Runner beans in disarray, but they are now mainly for seed for next year. We have managed to ripen the first tomatoes and they were delicious!

Tuesday 2nd October – Whitburn Country Park – On the north-east coast, north of the city of Sunderland, the park runs along the cliff tops looking out over a very choppy North Sea. The wind blasts across the open grass land. A lighthouse looks out over the vast sea. Below sea arches, stacks and rocky outcrops in the sea provide resting places for gulls – Herring, Great and Lesser Black Backs and Black-headed. There are several Northern Wheatears on the paths. I chase after of flock of small passerines that fly up the cliff edge, but lose them. Probably Goldfinches as there are good numbers around, and not the Snow Buntings that this area is known for – too early in the year. Lots of Meadow Pipits flit up the cliffs, which are not steep and have plenty of ledges. A ferry is steadily ploughing through the sea towards Gateshead. Dill the Dog looks worriedly up the slope as there is a shooting range along the coast and she is not impressed by the sharp retorts. She also proves herself incapable of reading notices on the cliff edge that say It is dangerous to cross this barrier. I mention that rolling on her back at the cliff edge probably is not a sensible move.....

Newcastle upon Tyne – We head into the city centre after finding our hotel. It is in an Asian area and the delicious scent of spices emanates from a number of grocery stores. In the city we head down the steep hill towards the quay. The first pub we visit is the Crown Posada – a splendid little establishment. It is very small, a tiny snug, a length of bar which could just manage patrons two deep, into a narrow main area with a long upholstered bench, stools and enough passage for one other. Two stained glass windows depict a woman resignedly pulling a pint and a boisterous man wassailing – maybe a statement that never changes? Next port of call is Bob Trollop’s, a vegetarian pub. We go for a light snack, but forget that this end of England has little concept of small portions! Across the road is the Guildhall and all is watched over by the massive girders of the Tyne Bridge. From under the bridge the elegant arch of the new Gateshead Millennium Bridge shines against a stormy sky. Along the water front is another extraordinarily thin building, now a restaurant. It cannot be more than ten metres across, but much longer and four stories high. An old advertisement for the Tyne and Tees Steam Shipping Company, listing its destinations, remains on the wall. Climb to St Willibrord and All Saints Anglican Catholic church. A rare elliptical building by David Stephenson built 1786-1789 – unfortunately closed. The Holy Jesus Hospital (AD 1681) is hidden in a turmoil of highways and tower blocks. It has a low row of arches which support the deeper upper floors with fourteen doors lined along the under passage. We rise through concrete monstrosities and end of the hospital looks across a busy road – General Soup Kitchen 1880 reads a large stone plaque. The concrete edifice is dead – boarded windows and demolition contractor’s signs. I cannot imagine it will be missed. The main shopping area comes from all directions to a central area which contains a towering 135 foot high column dedicated to Charles Earl Grey; whose statue tops the edifice. He is remembered for his Reform Act of 1832 – and of course, the tea named after him

Morpeth

Wednesday 3rd October – Morpeth – The County Town of Northumberland. A splendid stone bridge of 1831 crosses the River Wansbeck, built by Thomas Telford to replace the first bridge of 1296. A great circular lodge graces the road into town and there is a semi fortified manor house tower on hill. After crossing out of town by the road bridge, we cross back over river by a footbridge, erected by public subscription by instruction of Jos Jobling esq, Mayor, built by Swinney Bros, Morpeth. Above the foot bridge, water is rushing down a wide weir. The Chantry was formally the grammar school educated Dr William Turner, physician, Dean of Wells and father of English botany. At the end of the main street stands a clock tower in stone blocks repird in the Year 1760 Charles Pye Thomas Softley Bailiffs. The main street is a delicious mixture of buildings from probably 17th to 20th Century. Off the Newgate, a church houses 1st Morpeth Company, the Boys Brigade, founded 1894.

Warkworth – The estuary of the River Coquet runs along beside the road. Decent numbers of Redshank, Dunlin, Curlew, Oystercatchers and a few Knot are feeding on the mud banks. A female Eider swims down river. Cormorants are sunning themselves. Gulls – Common, Herring and Lesser Black-backed rest in the sun. Various remains of boats lie around, black ribs rising from the mud. Further up the road the ruins of a major castle guard the route to a picturesque village.

Craster – A ridiculous ban on dogs, allegedly because of Foot and Mouth, means we are unable to visit Dunstanburgh Castle. Not sure at all why dogs would spread foot and mouth whilst humans will not!

Seahouses

Seahouses – One of the pleasures of life – feeding chips and bread to Eiders and gulls in harbour. Eiders adopt two strategies to beat the gulls, either dive just before the food and grab it from below or the reverse, grab the food and dive. A few gulls manage to avoid the competition by catching the morsel in mid air. The Farne Islands are basking in the sun. Gannets, mainly young, are plunge diving out at sea. Turnstones run across the rocks. A small stone hut sits on the edge of the harbour rocks. In the lee of harbour wall there are good numbers Eider, including some splendid males with pristine white breasts setting off the dark brown and green plumage on their heads and backs. Up the coast, the castle at Bamburgh rises from the low laying land. Just outside the town to the north, grass covered dunes divide the beach and the fields. There are hundreds of Eider at sea. In the distance, the Cheviots stand dark. Flocks of Golden Plover wing over. Swallows and House Martins feed in the afternoon sun.

Budle Bay – Lindisfarne Nature Reserve – A wide estuary where small rivers, Ross Low and Warren Burn join, with convenient roadside viewing point on the Bamburgh road. Mallard in decent numbers are right at the mouth of the estuary. There are also large numbers of Shelduck, Wigeon, Oystercatchers, substantial numbers of Redshank, and some Curlew. On the far side, really some distance away, is a large flock Barnacle and Greylag geese. Lapwings are in profusion but their cousin, the Grey Plover is in far, far fewer numbers. In a channel on the edge of the open sea a Red-breasted Merganser and a couple of Common Scoter accompany Eiders.

Thursday 4th October – Holy Island of Lindisfarne – The island is approached across a causeway which is flooded twice daily at high tide. Care must taken as driving through drifts of seaweed is both tricky and unusual. Just outside the village, stone walls are covered in lichen and poppies. The island’s history is closely linked to that of early Christianity in Britain. In 635, Aiden came to Lindisfarne and set up a monastery. A few years later, LindisfarneFinan built the first church, of wood and dedicated it to St Peter. In 673 Cuthbert was made Prior of St Peter’s Monastery. He died in 687 on Inner Farne and was buried on Lindisfarne. In 698 his body was exhumed and found undecayed. At this time, Eadfrith completed the wonderfully illuminated manuscripts of the Lindisfarne Gospels. In 793 the monastery was destroyed by Vikings. A second invasion of Vikings in 875 forced the monks to leave the island taking the body of Cuthbert and the Gospels with them. In 1069 they were returned by monks fearing William the Conqueror, but were taken back to Durham the following year.

During the next century, Benedictine monks from Durham rebuilt the Priory and extended the parish church, which was enlarged and given its present Chancel in the 13th and 14th Centuries. The Priory was dissolved in 1545. The bell tower of the church was rebuilt and the walls buttressed in 1836. Today, some Saxon stonework still forms part of Lindisfarnethe current church along with Norman pillars and arches. Inside the church, the oldest memorial is set into the north wall of the sanctuary; a mitre, cross and sword dating from the 12th Century. Nearby are four diamond shaped hatchets which are memorials to the local Lords of the Manor – two of the Haggerstone family and one each for the Selbey’s and Askew’s. Light-bellied Brent geese are feeding out on the mud flats. Red Admiral butterflies are plentiful, some feeding on late Hawksbit blooms. The island is made of hard, dark dolerite, part of the Whin Sill, a large area of igneous rock, 295 million years old. An outcrop rises near the Priory and is topped by a coastguard lookout. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flies around it calling. This must be one of the least expected species here. A skein of Greylags flies over, jagged Vs against the blue sky. The war memorial remembers eight killed in the First World War – for such a small place still to have lost eight sons shows that no part of the land could have been untouched. A few boats rest in the harbour. Piles of lobster pots are stacked high. Old luggers are upturned on shore, cut in half and made into huts. A road leads to the castle that stands on a high pinnacle of rock. On the beach are feeding Redshank, Bar-tailed Godwits, Dunlin, Knot, Curlew, Ringed and Grey Plover and a Green Sandpiper higher up near the tide mark. Pied Wagtails, numerous Meadow Pipits, a Northern Wheatear and at least one Rock Pipit flit around the rocks. A marbled shelled snail is fixed to a stone wall. Swallows feed over the village.

Horncliffe – Union Suspension Bridge designed and built by Captain S. Brown RN opened in 1820. It crosses the River Tweed, which is the border of England and Scotland. At the English end, cables are anchored into a buttress within a cliff of pink sandstone. The Scottish side has a tower to hold the other end of the cables, itself anchored by cables set into roadside blocks of sandstone. A crest is carved high on the English buttress, Vis Unita Fortior 1820.

Berwick upon Tweed – Town Ramparts – Mediaeval walls around the town, in places replaced in the Elizabethan era. There are forts with fine names – Meg’s Mount, Brass Bastion, Windmill Bastion and King’s Mount. A row of fine Georgian houses over look the harbour, one being The Manse. Across the mouth of the Tweed, old industrial buildings stand on the point. Up river, three bridges, the old crossing, a modern concrete road bridge and then, much higher, a Victorian rail bridge carrying the London to Edinburgh East Coast Main Line. A bundle of paper is moving oddly down the path. As we approach it becomes clear it is a fish and chip wrapping, with some residual chips, being towed by a large Brown Rat. High overlooking the river is a statue of Annie Lady Jerningham of Longridge Towers, obit 9 October 1902. She sits with two adoring hounds. She even has her summer bonnet behind her.

Cocklawburn Beach – Several rafts of Common Scoter are off-shore, some twenty to forty duck in each. Two Red Throated Divers head south. Numerous Eider bob just off shore. A single Guillemot is on the sea some considerable distance out.

Friday 5th October – High Letham Farm House – We have lodged for the two nights in Northumbria at this farm house on the Low Cocklaw road near Bewick. An excellent example of how a lodging should be – friendly hosts, a fine breakfast, comfortable beds and a splendid attention to detail. Down the lane, the fields are either spring wheat sprouting, stubble, swedes or grass; good arable farming. A flock of mixed finches Chaffinch, Yellowhammer and Linnet fly up and around the twisted, twirling branches of a dead tree. Houses here have a wonderful view down the hill to the river valley of the Tweed.

Lammermuir Hills. From Berwick we take the Hillfoot Trail over the Lammermuir Hills. Often the countryside could be any arable farming area of Great Britain. Then the hills rise and it is a vista all of its own. In the river valley that feeds Whiteadder Reservoir, we pause beside a wide bubbling stream. A Dipper is down river standing motionless by rocks before flying off. Overhead there is a sizable thrush flock – Fieldfares and Mistle Thrushes. Buzzards sail over the hills; one stoops and drops like a stone behind the hill. A Grey Heron stands somewhat incongruously in bracken on hillside. Above the reservoir, a hill, Spartleton rises 463 feet. Under the conifer forest, Fly Agaric and a boletus fungus, Slippery Jack have emerged from the short grass. The low bank that edges the track has a rabbit warren that runs forever. Only Mallard and pair of Tufted Duck are on the water.

Edinburgh – So much has been written about Edinburgh that there is little point in repeating it all. Architecturally, it is quite remarkable, the sheer height of the buildings around the Royal Mile overwhelm one. Unfortunately, the sheer volume of people is equally overwhelming.

Glen Almond

Saturday 6th October – The Highlands – From Edinburgh I try to find an area where I have found a Golden Eagle five years ago. Head north-west to Crieff, an fairly nondescript town and then north into Glen Almond. I find the spot with Meall Reamhar towering over at 666 metres, but no eagles. Still the beautiful steep mountainsides and the River Almond running through the valley is well worth a pause. Heading north again, we turn off up Glen Quiache past Loch Freuchie. The road is narrow up the glen but fairly level. Then, just after a little group of houses, a gate. We check we are still on the right road, and we are. So through the gate and then some serious driving uphill. Sharp twisting turns as we rise into the mountains, Meall Dubh (616 metres), Srôn A’ Chaoineidh (864 metres) and Meall Nam Fuaran (802 metres). A skein of geese crosses the tops. We marvel at the cyclists we pass, not surprisingly, nearly all pushing their machines. We then cross the bleak summit and descend to Loch Tay through autumnal coloured woods. At Kenmore we head south-west down Loch Tay beside mountains now topping one thousand metres high, Meall Greigh, Meall Garbh and Ben Lawers. Down the valley beside the River Dochart and then north-west again into the Ben Nevis and Glen Coe range. All around are lochs with small wooded islands. At the summit of Rannoch Moor a double rainbow arcs across the moor. Into Glen Coe itself, scene of the famous massacre of the MacDonalds in 1692 by the Campbells. The area remains wild and desolate despite the many visitors and an admirable visitor centre. We press on to Fort William, not the most picturesque of towns. Then on up the Great Glen, along side Loch Lochy, Loch Oich and the infamous Loch Ness. Unfortunately, Urquhart Castle is closed and construction works detract from its view. From Loch Ness, the road continues with the Caledonian Canal into Inverness. From here we travel back down the A9.

Loch Garten – A quick detour to the famous Osprey Loch (although the birds have already departed for Africa) and the Abernathy Forest. A Red-breasted Merganser flies across the choppy waters as the wind is quite intense. A single Crested Tit is located in with Coal Tits and Goldcrests.

Sunday 7th October – Musselburgh – Just to the east of the town, is a walk beside the sea wall. A grey, calm sea stretches out across the First of Forth. A Red-necked Grebe dives near some Scoter. It takes a few moments before realising that all the Scoter are, in fact Velvet Scoter. There are also several Red-throated Divers present. A man walking his dog asks about the seals. I had ignored these small dingy-shaped lumps on what looks like mud. They are a couple of Grey Seals resting on rocks. On the rocks by the wall, Turnstone, Redshank and Oystercatchers are numerous.

Aberlady – Another area of rocky mud along the Firth of Forth. Here a river estuary enters Aberlady Bay at Luffness. There are constant geese movements as skeins of Pinkfoots and Greylags fly inland. On the mud, Curlew, Redshank, Oystercatchers, Shelduck, Wigeon and Lapwing are all feeding in fair numbers. A single Grey Heron stands hunched on a sandbar. In the distance, nearer the sea more large flocks of geese are resting, including large numbers of Barnacle Geese. A single Grey Plover runs across the mud.

North Berwick – A town dominated by a conical extinct volcano called The Law. It has been used as a lookout point since Napoleonic times. Off shore, Bass Rock is covered with gulls.

Dunbar – A ruined fort stands on a headland. Below a little harbour with a rocky island. On the island are resting Cormorants, a few Shag and five Grey Seals – two dark grey and the other three much lighter with grey blotches. Several Gannets fly by. Of course, there are Eider on the sea, as there seem to be right around this coast.

Thursday 11th October – Broomhill Park – The Blackthorn bushes that line the old road opposite Broomhill Park are some the most reliable for sloes. This year, I am late and most of them have already gone. But I manage to get enough to start of bottle of sloe gin.

Grange Lane – The trail follows the abandoned railway around the hill below Ardsley. Fly Agaric and Milkcaps grow alongside the path under young Birches. Climbing the hill into a Birch and Oak wood, the number of Fly Agarics increases considerably – large groups of the white spotted red caps everywhere. However, rather more interestingly from a gastronomic point of view, there are a few Ceps, including a very large and entirely worm-free example.

Friday 12th October – Barnsley Canal – A Robin sings from the top of the shelters erected at the bottom of Willowbank for horses. The Mute cygnets are still with their parents but a full sized now. They exercise their wings by charging down the canal following their parents example of attempted take offs. The cygnets’ wings are white in contrast to their grey body feathers. The cob hisses angrily at Dill the Dog who is utterly unconcerned. Rose hips make a splendid display of vermillion along a whole stretch of tow-path. The Crab Apple tree has started shedding its fruit. A Comma butterfly, brilliant copper and black, rests on a bush.

Saturday 20th October – Barnsley Canal – Moorhens scatter down the canal and disappear into the overhanging brambles with much tail flicking. A Grey Heron, Carrion Crow and Magpie sit on different branches of a dead tree in the loop marsh. The heron launches off across the river with slow powerful flaps of its great wings. A noisy Green Woodpecker flies down the valley. The tow-path is full of puddles after a thunder storm at dawn. The grass is soaking, so Dill the Dog naturally has to roll in it. A wet and bedraggled Reed Bunting hops around a bush beside the concrete wall across the canal. From the foot bridge, thrushes are darting to and fro, disappearing deep into the Hawthorns. A couple of dogs trot up the tow-path beyond the bridge and send flocks of Redwings up into the air. A lone Fieldfare sits atop a dead tree. The warmish and very damp weather has meant fungi are prolific.

Tuesday 23rd October – Barnsley Canal – There is an explosion of birds at start of canal. Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Mistle Thrushes, Redwings, Robins, Reed Buntings, Chaffinches and a Wren are all appearing and vanishing again within a few metres. The odd lingering Himalayan Balsam bloom is all that remains of flowers now. The recent heavy rain means the Loop marsh is flooded. Several Mallard, a couple of Teal and Black-head Gulls swim around. Hips and Haws are in profusion. A pair of Grey Herons stand motionless at the edge of the reed bed. Beyond the bridge, Redwings are present singly rather than the usual flocks. A pair of Goldcrests move through an Elder with rapid, darting motions. Several Fieldfare arrive on the top of one of the Hawthorn hedges that cross the river flood plain. They stand and survey the area. The adult Mute Swans flap noisily along the open stretch of canal. The cygnets follow and both become airborne for a short period. A Willow Tit flies across the canal.

Sunday 28th October – Little Don Valley – The thinning of the conifer plantation that leads down to the Little Don Valley appears now to have been completed. In places, little dips and rises can be seen for the first time now the dark impenetrable wall of trees has been removed. A rill runs down beside the path over little waterfalls, sparkling in the sun. The Little Don Valley is full of the colours of autumn. The river runs fast and dark with peat. Where it plunges over stones and boulders it shines like brass. Bracken has covered the hillside, which is worrying as it swamps all other plants. The valley bottom is wet and marshy.