Taking a chance

Today’s guest picture comes from my sister Susan. Stepping out of her front door the other day, she came across this fine display of early hellebores, a welcome sign of good things to come.

We had a dull and occasionally drizzly morning here, but I held back from resorting to the bike to nowhere for my exercise as the forecast offered the possibility of a better afternoon. Or to be more precise, one forecast offered the possibility of a better morning (which was obviously wrong) while another went for a 30% chance of rain in the afternoon. As the 30% chance of rain was accompanied by a detailed weather map showing no rain over Langholm in the afternoon, I crossed my fingers and opted for that one.

Mrs Tootlepedal had been invited to take part in a Microsoft Teams meeting in the afternoon by someone interested in the process of the community land purchase. As we had not used Teams before, she spent some time installing the app and trying to find out how it worked. I am happy to report that her meeting went without a hitch.

In between offering Mrs Tootlepedal moral support and making some lentil and carrot soup for lunch, I watched the birds. It was so dull in the morning that even shooting sitting birds produced unusable results. The only two that I kept were shots of a blue tit at the peanut butter feeder…

…and a rook on a wire.

I had nearly given up, when unexpectedly the sun came out.

The change was dramatic….

…and suddenly there was a lot of action…

…and reaction.

A chaffinch flew in trailing a thread.

After a bowl of lentil soup and some bread and cheese, I felt strong enough to get my bike out and take a chance on that 30%. Although the temperature had made it up to 4°C (40°F), I didn’t feel totally confident about little used back roads or going up hills, so I stuck to the main road south and pedalled into a chilly wind down the A7 to the bottom of the Canonbie by-pass.

To go any further would have meant entering England. This is not recommended under our regulations (and anyway I had forgotten my phone so I didn’t want to stray too far from home in case of mechanical or physical breakdown). I turned back and pedalled back up to Langholm through Canonbie village, passing the three sisters at Grainstonehead who were looking less dramatic today…

…and a nice pair of pines at the Hollows.

The rain held off, so instead of going straight home when I got back to Langholm, I pedalled through the town and out of the other side going up the A7 northwards. As I came up the hill from the High Mill Brig, I stopped to look back to check that I wasn’t going to be overtaken by bad weather from behind. I was pleased to find it looking relatively bright to the south.

Further omn, a little shed in a field beside the road caught my eye.

With the brisk wind now behind me, it would have been tempting to keep going but thinking of the wind in my face on the way back, I settled for three miles before stopping to admire the scenery in general…

…and a very uncompromising wall in particular.

The three miles back home took my journey up to 22 miles. I was very grateful to have got any miles in in the changeable weather.

When I looked at the forecast for the next three days before I started writing this post, it suggested an inch of rain every day. Now it is suggesting an inch of rain for two days and then a fine day to follow. This gives an idea of how difficult the forecasters are finding it to predict the weather as the climate changes play havoc with their models.

After Mrs Tootlepedal had finished her Teams meeting, we had a lively Zoom with my brother and sisters and that rounded off another day of lockdown. Thank goodness for that little burst of sunshine that cheered up the chaffinches (and me).

One of them is the flying bird of the day.

Frozen in

Today’s guest picture comes from my camera club friend Simon from Canonbie. He came across this very detailed selection of rock strata beside the River Esk near the Hollows on a recent walk.

It was just cold enough in the morning to put a hint of iciness into my mind, and after a bit of havering about in internal discussions with myself, I settled for another forty five minutes on the bike to nowhere rather than venturing out into the real world.

In between the pedalling, the crossword, the coffee and reading the articles in the magazine without pictures for a second time to see if I understood them any better, there were quite a few birds to watch today for a change.

A chaffinch seemed as surprised to see a siskin as I was.

…and when another one saw a siskin and a goldfinch at the same time, he was so shocked that he missed his footing.

Things got quite busy for a time…

…and as is so often the case, this led to an outbreak of unwelcoming bad manners.

Flying chaffinches were ten a penny as they came in from all angles.

Fortified by a bowl of Mrs Tootlepedal’s ham broth, I went out for a walk after lunch.

I found the dipper at the Kirk Brig again. It was singing loudly, either to claim territory or to attract a mate, and didn’t pay any attention to me standing on the bridge. It was a pity that the light wasn’t as good as I would have liked.

At the Kilngreen, a female mallard in better light shook her tail feathers out…

…and a black headed gull did a little strutting to entertain me.

I walked up the road past the Estate Office and was very surprised to see a good show of snowdrops, with some almost out…

…which seemed very early in the year to me. However, memory can play tricks and when I checked in my records, I saw that I have seen snowdrops this early before, even though the main flowering comes quite a bit later.

There were quite a few people out walking and when I saw a couple with dogs going along my intended route, I changed my plan and walked up the lower slopes of Castle Hill instead of going along the track to the North Lodge.

I had noticed earlier that the cattle were grazing right at the top of the hill, so I stopped half way up and looked back over the town…

…and then took the track that runs along the side of the hill above the Esk river. I haven’t walked along this track in this direction before and I was pleased to find that it gave me a good view up the valley…

…before I got to the trees…

…which were well worth a look in their own right.

There was some fine fungus beside the track through the wood…

…and a good view past a lone pine in one of the clearings…

…as well as a very unwelcome patch of ice.

I went carefully down the far edge of the cleared area to join a track back towards the North Lodge but found it so full of icy puddles and slippery mud where thousands of pheasants had trampled the ground that I had to keep my eyes firmly on where I was putting my feet. One of the puddles I was avoiding was worth a second look though.

When I got back to the North Lodge and started walking back home, there were a good many others about who had correctly decided that this was a good day for a walk. As a result, considering that keeping a social distance was required, I kept walking and didn’t stop to take more pictures and get in people’s way, with the exception of a snatched shot of some script lichen on a tree.

Nobody followed me over the Duchess Bridge so I was able to take a photograph of its elegant curve…

…and the potential wild garlic…

…and luxuriant lichen beside the track on the other side of the bridge.

I got home in time to make a cup of tea before joining the virtual Zoom practice of the Carlisle Community Choir. I must be getting used to these rather unsatisfactory affairs now as I quite enjoyed myself.

Although the days are definitely getting longer, it was still dark by the time that the practice finished so another day drifted away. On the plus side, Mrs Tootlepedal did manage to get out into the garden for a while in the morning to do some tidying up, but the ground is still frozen and it was too cold for her to be out long.

We are in for a rainy spell and may not see the sun again until Friday. As the forecast says that the sun will come with overnight temperatures of -8 degrees, this may be a mixed blessing. I can see an ice rink developing.

In spite of the other visitors, a chaffinch is the flying bird of the day.

Real cycling

Today’s guest picture comes from our son Tony who celebrated his fiftieth birthday by taking his dogs for a swim.

After a night of rain, we woke to slightly higher temperatures here, and it stayed comfortably above freezing all day. There wasn’t a trace of snow and ice in the garden and as the hills were quite snow free too, I thought that I might get my road bike out of the garage and do some actual cycling for the first time in 2021.

This was my plan but it took many hours to bring it to fruition. I wasted time by watching birds who weren’t there. Two chaffinches with tails up and down were the best that I could do…

…as once again the light was very poor and the odd flying bird that did appear was not very clear.

I did the crossword and read the newspapers carefully, and then I read one of those magazines that have long articles with no pictures and make your head hurt. There was soup to eat for lunch too with bread and cheese.

But finally I ran out of excuses and time wasting activities and had to get on my bike and go.

After twenty five days off the bicycle, I wondered how my legs would take to it, but they seemed happy enough and I chose an easy start to the ride by cycling down the main road to Canonbie.
I checked on the river Esk as I crossed the Hollows Bridge and found that there wasn’t as much water coming down as I had expected.

I was pleased to see the Archimedes screw patiently turning, unaffected by our recent cold weather.

It was a grey day so there was not much in the way of exciting views as I went through Canonbie. I settled for some trees, which I always appreciate.

The three sisters at Grainstonehead looked quite dramatic against a sky which had a hint of sunshine in it.

And the pylons crossing the Fauldie road were even more striking.

I couldn’t tell from the sky whether I was going to get some rays or some rain but I had to keep my head down as there were some severe potholes and puddles along this stretch of road. I don’t often cycle along it these days, although Dropscone and I must have passed this tree…

…dozens of times in the days when we went for a ride round this route as many times a week after breakfast as we could fit in to our golfing schedule.

I came to the main road between Langholm and Annan and had to decide whether to go tamely back via the A7 or to take the road across the hill by the Kerr Wood and come back down the Wauchope road. My legs were in a perky mood so I chose the hilly route.

The snow may have disappeared from the fields, but there was plenty of water still about as this small inland sea near Tarcoon shows.

The ripples indicate that I was cycling with a vigorous cross wind, and this wind combined with a short but steep climb meant that I was happy to stop to take a another couple of trees…

…and check the weather. It was still looking variable as the forecasters say.

For a moment, the sun won out over the clouds…

…and stout beech hedges gave me shelter from the crosswind…

…so everything looked promising as I pedalled on towards the sunlit uplands.

Although there were still dark clouds about…

…I was happy with my route choice, but pride comes before a fall, and I was quite lucky to avoid a fall as I was caught out by a sudden change of road conditions…

…which I hadn’t expected. The combination of ice and potholes made for a couple of miles of very cautious cycling indeed, especially when I had to negotiate a car and a van coming in the opposite direction.

They have been busy felling the Kerr Wood….

…and soon it will all be gone.

Coming down the hill towards the Wauchope road, I finally got clear of the remains of the snow on the road, but my delight was tempered by the appearance of a rainbow leaning on a telegraph pole.

Where you have a rainbow, you have rain so I was in no rush to pedal quickly down the road back to Langholm in spite of having the wind behind me at last in case I caught up with the shower. I got ahead of myself though and caught the rain up before I got home. It didn’t last, and I was able to stop and take a picture of a reasonable amount of water going over the caul at Pool Corner…

…and note that there was hardly a drop of snow left on Whita.

When I got home after 21 miles, I found that Mrs Tootlepedal had gone off for a walk through the oak woods to Broomholmshiels while I was out cycling. I put the bike away and walked down to meet her. The Old Town bowling green showed that still frozen ground is going to be slow to let surface water drain away.

Mrs Tootlepedal had been a bit delayed on her walk by socially distanced conversations with other walkers but she had got round the four miles at a good speed, and was nearly home when I met her.

We both were grateful for tea and toast after our exercise.

It is not going to freeze over night so with a bit if luck, I might be able to get out for another pedal tomorrow. If I do, I shall be sticking to well used, low level roads.

It was a great pity that thanks to the virus we weren’t able to celebrate Tony’s fiftieth birthday in person, but we spoke on the phone and he told us that he had had a good day.

The flying bird of the day is a goldfinch.

Clouded vision

Today’s guest picture comes from my sister Mary. She wanted a socially distanced walk away from crowds earlier in the week, and was surprised to find she could have one along the canal at the Camden locks. In a normal year, this popular spot would be heaving with passers by.

We had a quiet, dry day here today with the temperature hovering just above freezing. As I am not going cycling until the thermometer hits five degrees C at least, this was another opportunity for a forty five minute session on the bike to nowhere.

Preceded by the crossword and followed by coffee, once again this took care of most of the morning. I did find time to check on the birds too.

Goldfinches arrived but preferred to remain anonymous.

The robin had another go at the peanut butter and seemed to enjoy it as it spent a few minutes pecking away.

Looking at the walnut tree, I thought that starlings might be starting to pair off…

…but when I looked again, they had rearranged themselves into a more separated system.

When the sun came out and crept round to the feeder…

…. it brought out chaffinches in enough numbers to make for a perch competition…

…and a small procession.

I was encouraged by the sun myself and went for a walk after lunch. I set off up the track to Warbla in the hope of getting some sunlit snowy scenes.

The outing started well with a fine clump of frozen moss on the park wall…

…and a frozen plant too on the shady side of the wall.

But the sunlit snowy scenery proved more elusive. I was in sunlight myself, but as I got onto the open hill and looked around, it became clear that there was a pervasive layer of low cloud and mist lurking on or just over the top of every hill round the town.

These clouds sitting on the tops of our hills have been very common lately and must reflect some temperature gradient, perhaps with cold air sitting in the valley bottom and warming as it rises and catches the sun. The sun is so low at this time of the year that it is often screened by the low cloud while there is blue sky above. That was the case today.

This was quite interesting but annoying and unclouded snowy scenes were hard to find…

I seemed to be getting into some sun as I walked up the snow covered track…

…but when I got up to the corner and looked back, it was the same story, mist and clouds spoiling the picture.

The blue sky overhead made this frustrating and I hoped that I might have better luck when I had got to the summit which looked promising…

…but it was not to be. The town was visible…

…but the view up the valley was still invisible.

I didn’t hang around on the summit, but went straight on and down the other side of the hill, across the tussocks and boggy bits until I got down to the river at Skippers Bridge.

In the absence of views, I took a picture of a frozen fern by a wall.

The views may not have been any good, but it was a grand day for a walk (as long as you kept your eye open for icy patches), so I decided to extend my outing with a walk along the river and then to come home by Jenny Noble’s Gill and the Round House.

This gave me the chance to admire the vast quantities of hair ice in the wood beside the road. I have never seen it looking quite so opulent.

I left the road and walked up the track beside the gill…

…and wondered if it had started to rain in spite of the sunshine as I was getting hit by little drops. A closer examination showed that frozen drops from the tips of branches above my head were falling from the trees, and when I looked down I could see that beneath my feet, tiny precious gems lay gleaming in the sun.

It may not have been a great day for views on the hill, but it was a lovely afternoon in the woods and I saw a tree creeper creeping about on a tree (too far away for a good picture unfortunately)…

…and I enjoyed the golden light from the sun filtered through the light mist in the valley.

I had to pay attention to walking as I went along because the track was alternately icy and ice free. Counter-intuitively, the icy patches were in the sunnier sections and the ice free spots were where the track was firmly in the shade of the trees. Once I had mastered this idea, I went along more securely. I suspected that it had snowed, melted and frozen in the open spaces and that the snow had never got to the ground in the shady parts.

I have walked along here many time in recent months so I kept my camera in my pocket and concentrated on not falling over. I managed this pretty well, and got home after five varied and enjoyable miles. Tea and ginger biscuits with Mrs Tootlepedal helped me to recover from what had been an energetic outing, and I was able to sneak in a little singing practice before Zooming with Mrs Tootlepedal and my siblings in the evening.

As Mrs Tootlepedal provided roast chicken and vegetables for our evening meal, I counted this as good day in spite of the absence of the sunlit snowy views (which weighed on my mind a lot, as the snow may be washed away soon).

A chaffinch is the flying bird of the day.

Selective snowing

Today’s guest picture is needed to brighten up a second wet and grey day in succession here. Needless to say, it is from Tony in East Wemyss. He took it last week.

We woke to a day of two halves here, up and down. Looking down on the garden all was green, but looking up at Whita behind the house, all was white.

Connecting the up with the down was a steady fall of precipitation, changing from snow to rain at about 150m above sea level.

Looking at the steady rain made getting on the bike to nowhere seem quite an attractive proposition and I managed 45 minutes before cracking and taking to coffee and chocolate biscuits. These gentle morning indoor pedals are not doing much positive for my fitness, but they are keeping my legs moving and stopping me getting totally unfit so they are worthwhile.

I read a couple of local bird lovers on social media complaining that there is not much traffic at their feeders so I am not alone in wondering where the usual birds are. They were certainly not in our garden today and a pair of doves high above…

…and a few chaffinches down below…

…were all that I saw when I looked. The light was so poor though that flying birds were hard to catch, and only posing birds were fairly clear.

Mrs Tootlepedal has acquired another ham hock so we had a very tasty bowl of ham broth for lunch, and with that inside me, I felt strong enough to face the rain and go for a walk.

I put on my waterproof coat and trousers along with my wellies, and went off to see if I could find some snow.

I got a very early bonus for facing the elements in the form of a dipper in the Wauchope near the Kirk Brig. It was standing facing me as I approached…

…and very kindly turned to give me a side view before flying off.

I crossed the suspension bridge and the High Street and headed for Whita Hill. As I walked up the side of the golf course, the rain turned first to sleet as I passed the third fairway…

…and then to a thin, damp snow as I got to the top of the course.

It was a few degrees above freezing and even in the snowier parts of my walk, everything felt rather wet. There was none of that delicious crunch that fresh snow sometimes brings with it.

As I always do, I had a look at the lichen on the wall beside the gate onto the open hill and a few yards further on, a bright jelly fungus on a branch caught my eye.

The gorse flowers had been discouraged by the frost and snow so this fungus was one of the only two patches of bright colour on my whole walk.

I walked up to Whita Well…

…and decided that the snow was too wet to make climbing further up the hill to the monument much fun. Instead I went along the side of the hill to the road over the moor. I liked this work of art which I met on my way.

When I got to the road, it was a lot more snowy but a lot less icy than when I had last walked up it.

I followed the road up for a short while and then cut across the rough pasture towards a field…

…and followed the fence down to the track to Whitshiels. The rough ground was still frozen hard enough to making walking across the boggy bits very straightforward.

I stopped and looked back up to the monument….

…and was quite pleased that I wasn’t up there.

It was more sensible to walk down through the shelter of the woods, pause to look at the selection of lichen and moss on a gate beside the track,,,

…and enjoy the ice free descent to the main road.

The little burn that runs under the track near the main road was flowing freely today.

On my way home, I walked over the Sawmill Brig and took the new path round the bottom of the Castleholm. Looking across the river to the Kilngreen, I could see the Covid testing team.

Unfortunately, we have a lot of cases in the town at the moment but this didn’t seem to have brought on a rush of people wanting to be tested.

When I say that I followed the path round the Castleholm, I am using the term lightly as it was often more like a lake than a path at times.

As it is due to freeze over the next couple of nights, we may well be back to having icy fun on the pavements again.

Further round the path, a new branch on a beech tree displayed the second patch of colour on my walk.

It continued to rain, so I got home rather damp but quite cheerful as the rain, sleet and wet snow had been more persistent than heavy, the wind had been very light and my new coat is excellent.

Mrs Tootlepedal and I polished off the last of the Christmas biscuits with our afternoon cup of tea, and as is rather the habit in these dark days of winter, the rest of the day faded gently away.

This is where we miss the choirs, clubs and societies which meet in the winter for the specific purpose of providing entertainment for the daylight deprived, not to mention films and concerts at the Buccleuch Centre.

Still, mustn’t grumble. Everyone is in the same boat but we are lucky to have the hills around us to walk in.

A very ill focussed chaffinch in the rain is the flying bird of the day.

No wonder

Today’s guest picture comes from our son Tony in East Wemyss. He saw this buzzard in a tree while walking his dogs a day or two ago.

The forecasters had been pretty certain that we would get a good fall of snow today and I was looking forward to being able to have a winter wonderland on show in today’s post. Sadly we were just a little too far to the west to get the snow and only got some miserable rain instead. I would probably have muttered about treacherous conditions underfoot if it had snowed, so perhaps I shouldn’t complain.

I will complain. It was a miserable and gloomy day….and no good for photography.

It was almost too dark in the morning to be able to see the birds properly, but peering through the gloom, I did see a few welcome visitors to the peanut butter feeder.

Then I went off to do 45 minutes on the bike to nowhere and didn’t look for birds again until after cycling and coffee.

When I looked out of the window, all I could see was a dunnock leaping about on the feeder tray and looking quite pleased with itself when it landed on the rim.

Next, some chaffinches and a few siskins and goldfinches arrived…

…but traffic was light, and I went off to look at a tray of seed on a table that Mrs Tootlepedal has put out so that she can watch birds from the kitchen window. It had drawn the inevitable chaffinches too.

…though a blackbird was lurking around nearby…

…trying out a few poses.

After lunch, Mrs Tootlepedal suggested a walk. The rain didn’t seem very heavy and as there was no noticeable wind, it looked like quite a good idea and we went off up the Wauchope road under our umbrellas to stretch our legs and get out of the house.

In spite of yesterday’s thaw, our own road was still very slippery in places but once we got onto busier roads, the going was good and we were able to look around as we crossed the Becks Burn.

We were headed for a walk beside the river at Bessie Bell’s, and when we got there, we were very surprised to see a large floe of ice pancakes in the shallows…

The picture doesn’t do justice to these strange forms about the size of a pizza.

We walked round the grassy flat beside the river and I took pictures of the decorative dead head of a cow parsley…

…and of a dash of colour from some rose hips.

In site of the rain, we had seen quite a few examples of hair ice beside the road but it wasn’t at its best today.

Walking back home, we passed a cow taking much the same view of the weather as us…

…and a good example of the less than peaceful time our rocks have had in the past…

…as well as an indication of how cold it still was.

The valley was filled with mist and this was a typical hill view today…

…though some colour was provided by a burst of green from a mossy tree…

…and some abundant lichen.

Then, most excitingly of all, we came across three nifty fence wire connectors.

Readers will be interested to learn that you don’t need tools to fit these connectors as they work with an internal spring.

It was no brighter when we got back to the town than it had been when we left…

…but we still enjoyed our stroll.

We had a quick look round the garden when we got home and I picked out the green of the bamboos…

…and the cheerful red of the dogwood stems.

Just under three miles was not a bad outing for a wet day and we felt that we had earned our cup of tea with some of the last of the Christmas fancy biscuits (I may have had a ginger biscuit too).

A dull day was considerably enlivened by the arrival of a delivery of seven different sorts of cheese from my cheese supplier in Glasgow. The only problem was which to try first.

As darkness fell, the day wound down with a sibling Zoom and an evening meal of liver and onions.

Flying chaffinches of the day were hard to come by and when they did arrive, they were not made to feel welcome.

Treading carefully

Today’s guest picture comes from my brother Andrew. Because of the current restrictions, he has to walk very locally as we do, but he found both a fine tree and a fine day today.

We had a fine day here too, but as it was back to being below freezing (-3°C) when we got up, we had to watch our step again when we went out of the door.

I stayed indoors in the morning as a result, and dawdled a lot of time away as well as doing three quarters of an hour on the bike to nowhere. Because my Lancashire correspondent Paul has been doing some interval training on his indoor bike, I did make an effort to put in a few bursts myself today. This had a marked effect on my pulse, so the efforts were very well spaced out!

I had a look at the birds before I got on my bike and found that the feeder was in shadow and the garden behind in the sun. This led to some rather odd colour effects as a pair of chaffinches chased each other away from the feeder…

…and another flew quietly in.

A rough bunch of starlings stayed in the walnut tree to catch some rays.

A blue tit and the peanut butter feeder were both in the shade.

As you can see, it had begun to thaw by this time but it remained pretty cold for the whole day and the temperature is back to -3°C again as I write this.

There were not many birds about at when I had finished cycling, and I was pleased to see a robin and a dunnock on the ground in the absence of any seed eaters at the feeder.

After lunch, I decided to go for a walk for a change. I set off rather nervously as I didn’t know whether I would find renewed icy conditions or not. As a precaution, I had my Yaktrax in my pocket, but in the end I didn’t need to put them on as there were only a few seriously icy patches and I was able to edge round these successfully. All the same, I had to be careful and not look round too much as I was walking.

I decided to walk ’round Potholm’ and started off up the road that runs along the top of a steep bank above the river. Every now and again, a dip in the fence beside the road indicates a spot where the banking has slipped a bit.

…but as the road is still there, I live in hope that it is not going to give way entirely as I walk along. I noticed one of the old fence pipe joints. The pipes are both screwed into a joining collar in this method.

There are wooden fence posts further along and one of them caught my moss fancier’s eye.

As I turned onto the road to Potholm, I took a picture of yet more moss, this time acting as a fringe to a fine crop of spleenwort on a wall.

When I came along this road on the last day of December, the mist had almost been down to the top of this tree…

…so it was quite a contrast today.

A helicopter flew past, going low over the hill, as I ambled along the road. When I looked at my picture of it on the computer, I wondered if it was carrying a camera.

As long as the road was in the sun, I could walk along with confidence and look around to see sights like this on one side…

…or this on the other…

…but when I came to shady corners, I had to take my time.

I was pleased to arrive at Potholm Bridge safely…

…and even more pleased to find that the track up the hill from the farmhouse was in excellent walking condition….

…and it almost felt springlike as I went up it.

When I got to the Longfauld track at the top of the hill, there were plenty of icy puddles to remind me that it was far from spring yet.

…and a frozen cone made the point too.

But I still enjoyed the view up the valley…

…and the mossy floor of the wood on the other side of the track…

…and this very unusual ice on a puddle.

I also met some tremendously white fungus growing on a dead log.

I was near the bottom of the Lodge walks when I met an old friend and while we talked, a robin tried very hard to make us take a photograph of it, finally popping up onto a fence a few feet away to make sure we couldn’t miss it.

I don’t know if this is the same one that I met while talking to friends two hundred yards further up the Lodge Walks a couple of days ago. If not, perhaps the Lodge Walks’ robins are competing to see who can get the most pictures taken.

I kept an eye out for interesting waterside birds as I walked home along the river but didn’t see any.

Tea and toast soon restored me to full strength and in the evening I was able to cook trout for our tea and a new batch of 30 ginger biscuits after the meal. On this occasion, I got to them with my phone camera…

…just before the biscuit quality inspector arrived. She gave them her seal of approval.

With possible snow in the forecast and temperature not supposed to get above 3°C for the next week, I am afraid that patient readers are in for a lot more local walking. I must try to find somewhere different to walk.

The flying bird of the day is familiar too.

Ah well, it can’t be helped.

Moss, moss and more moss

Today’s guest picture was sent to me a bit ago by my neighbour Liz’s sister-in-law, Elaine. I should have used it earlier but I forgot. It shows a monkey puzzle tree at Powfoot with cones, something that I have never seen before.

The thaw continued here, which was very welcome, but it came with rain and very heavy clouds which were not so welcome.

Once again, the weather was so miserable that an hour on the indoor bike seemed like quite a cheery way to spend some of the morning. Luckily I found an enjoyably varied hour of jazz record requests downloaded from the radio to keep me entertained.

I did have a look for birds after coffee but it was hard to see them in the very poor light, especially the little brown dunnocks scurrying past against a brown background.

The goldfinches put in a brief appearance…

…and they were joined by the usual chaffinches.

A sparrowhawk whizzed through the garden without catching anything but that put paid to bird watching so I went and made some lentil soup for lunch instead.

The forecast suggested that I might get a short dry spell in the afternoon, so I put on my big coat and went for a walk, choosing a fairly sheltered route as there was some gusty wind about.

A burst of fresh looking moss on the park wall brightened up the start of my trip…

…and there were many bits of lichen and moss elsewhere on the wall to keep me happy. I liked the suspended water droplets too.

I went up the hill and along the top of the banking above the park and was very pleased to find that the track was entirely ice free.

It wasn’t particularly warm at 46°F/8°C so the disappearance of the hard packed ice in a couple of days was a good deal more rapid that I had thought that it would be. The forecast says that we are going to go back to just below freezing tomorrow morning and evening but nothing like the low temperatures of last week.

With the ice gone, it was a good day for a walk but it wasn’t really a day for taking photographs at all. However, a little colour in the alder catkins along the Murtholm track caught my eye…

…and once again I was surprised by how little water there was in the river when I stopped for a look at Skippers Bridge.

There had been enough run off from the hills to turn the water brown but the snow from up the valley can’t have been very deep.

I noticed a cunning device used to join up the hollow pipes that make up the road side fencing.

This is a new bit of fencing that has been put up at the recent land slip with metal pipes running through holes in concrete posts. Previously I have noticed that sections of pipes have been screwed into each other. I thought that I ought to keep an eye out to see if this method has been used elsewhere. (This shows the effects of nine months of lockdown!)

I may have been short of sunshine and hill views on my walk, but I certainly wasn’t short of moss. There was moss on the walls, on fallen trees, on standing trees and on track banks.

I did see some trees which didn’t seem to have a lot of moss on them.

There was moss on steep slopes…

…and there was moss filling hollows in the woods.

I was definitely better off in the mossy woods than I would have been on the exposed hill tops today…

…but it started to rain even in the woods so I pressed on homewards, stopping to brighten my day with a flash photograph of some striking lichen on a fence…

…and a shot of the Christmas lights on the Town Bridge which emphasised how dark it had got by quarter to four.

Luckily the rain didn’t come to much and I got back from my three and a half miles walk if not quite dry, then certainly not soaking wet. A cup of tea and a slice of toast made up for the early arrival of the darkness.

The rest of the day was as unmemorable as the weather, except for a cheery Zoom meeting with my siblings, so I have nothing to say about it.

The flying bird of the day is a chaffinch battling through one of the more rainy spells in the morning.

Welcome gloominess

On a dull day here, a cheerful guest picture was needed, so I have gone back to early December when Laura, my Lake Michigan correspondent, was at Weko Beach, Bridgman at the right time of day.

For the first time for what seems like weeks, it wasn’t freezing when we got up. I stood outside the back door after breakfast hearing nothing but the gentle drip of snow and ice thawing.

It still wasn’t very warm though, so I was quite happy to spend 50 minutes staring at the wall of the garage on the bike to nowhere instead of risking stray icy patches and penetrating damp chills on my road bike.

Low cloud was firmly clamped down on our hills and it was very gloomy indeed, so from a photographic point of view it was an unattractive day, but from a not falling over when you went outside, it was a much better day than the recent sunny spell.

The bird feeder was poorly attended and I didn’t find much to look at apart from a pair of blue tits on Mrs Tootlepedal’s fake tree.

As a result of this, I decided to go for a short walk in the hope of finding a flying gull. The tops of our hills were not the place to be today…

…so I stuck to well cleared low level paths.

Even though the ice in the dam behind the house had melted away…

…and the main road was completely clear…

…so much so that I briefly regretted not having gone cycling, there were still a lot of very icy areas….

…which made me pleased that I hadn’t..

…and the grass, which looked green enough, was a snare and a delusion. Although the lying snow had melted away, the frozen ground underneath was now covered in a sheet of ice which made it worse to walk on than the icy paths.

In a marked contrast to yesterday, instead of snowy views, I saw snowberries on my stroll today…

…and instead of pines picked out by snow and sunshine with a blue background, I saw dull outlines against a colourless sky which might just as well have been black and white.

I walked up the unfrozen section of the Lodge Walks and fell into conversation with two friends at a gate. A robin joined us and perched on the gate post a few feet away from us…

…and then tried several different positions in an effort to provide me with the killer shot.

It then leapt down to the road and ran about around our feet. Robins are not shy birds.

As I crossed the Sawmill BRidge, I noticed that the Ewes Water was still pretty low in spite of the snow melt, and it was amazingly clear too…

I looked down river from the Langholm Bridge at an almost entirely snow free bank and church…

…and got home in time for a little action on the drive project before lunch. The frosty weather had caused one of the slabs that had been put in as part of the project to rock when trodden on. Thanks to the thaw, we were able to prise it up and Mrs Tootlepedal put enough sand under it to get it back on the level again. It may need further treatment when the ground dries out, but it will do for now.

My hopes of finding some flying gulls at the Kilngreen was fully realised as they flew up as I approached and then passed in front of me several times, some up in the sky…

…some low over the river…

…and some in between.

I think that many parents must have been taking their children to feed the ducks during the lockdown and so the gulls were expecting me to be carrying bread too.

I had soup and the last of Mrs Tootlepdal’s soda bread for lunch and then had another look to see if there were any garden birds about.

The answer was that there were very few, and only a blackbird waited long enough to get its picture taken.

The Carlisle Community Choir has started its new session of virtual choir practices and there was a good turnout of members to greet the new year when I logged on later in the afternoon. Our conductor is considering a second go at a virtual performance. I hope she gives it a try as I enjoyed our first effort, and the result was better than we all expected. It will motivate me to try to get my voice back into something like singing condition again.

As Mrs Tootlepedal took on the cooking duties for our evening meal of the last of the Christmas ham, I had nothing to do for the rest of the day, but I did it very well.

It is going to get quite a bit warmer and rain tomorrow according to the forecast, so perhaps our paths may become usable again without special footwear.

One of the middle layer of the Kilngreen gulls is the flying bird of the day.

Icing on the cake

Today’s guest picture comes from Annie and Joe who had taken our granddaughter Evie down to the river Thames to enjoy the golden evening light.

The temperature fell very low (-10C, 14F) last night here, and when I looked at our thermometer just before midday, it was still pretty chilly outside our kitchen window.

Once again, I took the sensible option after breakfast and went for a pedal in the garage.

Things didn’t go quite to plan as I pedalled for what was obviously about half an hour before looking at my phone and finding that I had only been going for 18 minutes. On some days, indoor pedalling is like that. I pulled myself together though, clamped my headphones more firmly on my head, and managed to last for fifty minutes in all before cracking and going for coffee.

After coffee, I went to look at the birds. I wondered whether the cold would keep them away, but there was a decent turnout today.

Considering how many sparrows appear in the veg garden in spring to eat Mrs Tootlepedal’s young vegetables, it is surprising how few turn up at the feeder in winter to eat my seeds. One came today…

…along with some familiar figures like this coal tit…

…and blackbird.

Chaffinches again made up the bulk of the visitors…

…and a robin made several appearances (or possibly two robins making some each).

Mrs Tootlepedal had got a recipe for soda bread from a friend and she set about making a loaf at lunchtime. In anticipation of a slice of this bread with some raspberry jam at tea time, I set off to work up an appetite.

It was quite nippy when I started and I found that the cold overnight temperatures had frozen part of the dam behind our house, and where the whole dam wasn’t frozen, the cold had created artistic icy fringes.

With that in mind, I wasn’t totally surprised to find some ice floating down the Esk when I got to the Meeting of the Waters…

…and there was more upstream.

In spite of the ice in the river, the pavements had been very well gritted and cleared so I was able to walk in comfort up to Whitshiels. The road from there up the hill to the White Yett was a different matter though…

…and I put my Yaktrax on before walking up the hill. In spite of the ice, I was following in the footsteps of several other walkers and I was passed by a couple of brave motorists who were coming down the hill very carefully.

The effort of walking up the hill was amply repaid by the views. I could soon see that fresh snow had fallen on hills up the valley…

…and I got some lovely views as I went.

Walls had been picked out by the snow…

…and I thought that my favourite clump of pines deserved a picture of their own.

My favourite view was as good as ever.

I got to the White Yett and tackled the icy track up to the monument.

From there, I looked across the Langholm Moor to Tinnis.

In spite of the sub zero temperatures, walking up the road had been quite pleasant but once I turned on to the hill track, it became plain that I had been sheltered from a very astringent wind so I wasn’t tempted to hang around at the top of the hill (and the light wasn’t very good for views down to the town anyway) and soon set off back down the track.

I didn’t fancy going home straight down the steep face of the hill in the tricky conditions, but I thought that the diagonal track across the Birnie Braes that I had come up the other day would be more comfortable, so I took it.

It had been well trodden and was both easy to follow and safe to walk on, and I soon found myself able to stop and look around as I descended. To the west, the skies were cloudy and mist was rising from the Nith estuary as I looked past Warbla and the Solwaybank windfarm towards Criffel in the distance.

Although it was still before three o’clock, it had the feel of evening as the sun was low in the sky behind the thin clouds. I like to pay tribute to the producers and conveyors of the electricity that makes this blog possible, and I thought that they made striking pictures today..

As I got near to the golf course, I stopped for one last look at Warbla and the view…

…and hopped over the fence on to the golf course to walk down to the town.

I found that I wasn’t the only one on the golf course having fun, as several sporting young ladies were sledging down the practice fairway…

…supervised by proud but nervous (“don’t go ever the edge!” “watch out for that tree!”) parents.

I have had some good sledging on that slope in bygone years.

I was able to take my Yaktrax off as I left the golf course and walk safely home on well cleared pavements.

At just under five miles, it hadn’t been a long walk, but the ice on the river and road, the snow on the hill and the merry cries of the sledging children had made it seem like a real winter adventure so I was very cheery when I got home. This cheerfulness was greatly increased by a slice or two of Mrs Tootlepedal’s freshly baked wholemeal soda bread with my afternoon cup of tea. I felt that I had earned them.

It got dark early so after my soda bread and raspberry jam, I sat at my computer and put some more of the newspaper index into the Archive database.

I cooked the last of the Christmas chicken from the freezer in an onion and mushroom gravy for our evening meal, and followed that up with peaches and ice cream. All things considered, and in spite of the best efforts of politicians and pandemic to make our life gloomy, I felt that this was definitely a day to enter on the credit side of the great ledger of life….and outside, it is warmer now than is has been all day, and the thermometer is supposed to stay above freezing all day tomorrow.

The flying bird of the day is a questing chaffinch.