A false dawn

I needed something cheery for my guest picture on a very gloomy day, so I looked back for this picture from my Lancashire correspondent Paul, who was in the Lake District earlier in the year.

When I got up, it looked as though we might have a cheerful day here after a -5°C night . . .

. . . but it proved to be a false dawn. By the time that we had finished breakfast, the clouds had come in and the rest of the day got progressively gloomier and gloomier.

It wasn’t a day for going out, so I stayed in and tried out a new recipe for parkin. This is a kind of tough gingerbread made with oatmeal and wholemeal flour with butter, treacle, syrup and dark brown sugar. While it was in the oven, Sandy metaphorically brightened up the day by coming down for coffee, but even he couldn’t shift the clouds.

I had misread the recipe for the parkin and had set the oven a bit too hot, so it came out overcooked on the outside. Inside though, it was delicious, and I will certainly make it again.

Once the parkin was out of the oven, I watched the birds for a bit.

The feeder was fairly busy at times, and there were several blackbirds and doves about, as well as an anonymous bird trying the peanut butter feeder.

The star of the show was a robin, posing on a willow twig.

I got itchy feet after lunch. Although it was calm enough for a bike ride, the temperature had hardly crept over zero degrees, so I settled for a short walk to check on the storm damage. It had been raining in the town but I couldn’t tell whether it had fallen as snow over the hills. This was because I couldn’t see a hill at all.

I started by going up the Eskdalemuir road. I didn’t get very far before I came to a stop. A pole had snapped and wires were threaded through a fallen tree.

There was devastation on all sides, and when I had crept through the first tree, avoiding the wires, I soon came upon another obstacle which was totally impassible.

I took the hint and turned back for the town.

Walking along Eskdaill Street, I could see some of the spruces which we had cut on the moor waiting to be transformed into Christmas trees.

I went into the park and up the steps to the Stubholm where I saw that the large oak tree which Mrs Tootlepedal and I had seen on Saturday morning was still lying across the track . .

. . . so I headed the other way to see what the track to Gaskell’s walk was like. It had not escaped the carnage but I could sneak under a couple of fallen trees until I got to another kind of obstruction, the notice about the dangerous bridge.

I didn’t sit on the bench to admire the view for obvious reasons.

I thought that I might as well round up my review of local paths, so I went back down to the park and tried Easton’s Walk, the path along the river bank.

The story was much the same., although I could get along fairly safely for a bit . . .

. . . until I came to this . . .

. . . where I thought it prudent to stop. To tell the truth, I had to stop, prudent or not, as there was no possible way through.

It looks as though our local walking opportunities are going to be severely curtailed for some time. After the initial excitement of seeing the havoc wreaked by the winds, it has got rather depressing as the extent of the damage has become clear. The scale of the mammoth task of clearing things up is daunting. The very gloomy weather didn’t help at all, so it was lucky that there was some tasty parkin to have with a cup of tea when I got home.

Mrs Tootlepedal had given up on the day quite early in the proceedings, and we settled for closing the curtains as soon as possible, and ignoring the outside world.

The flying bird of the day is a beleaguered chaffinch.

Far too many fallen trees

Today’s guest picture comes from our son Alistair in Edinburgh. He woke to find a sprinkling of snow on his balcony.

This was a coincidence because we woke to snow here too . . .

. . . and we had to walk very carefully to church to sing in the church choir.

Although it was sunny, it was cold and we still had to walk very carefully when we came home.

As I try to record our life and surroundings and there was a lot to record today, I took far too many pictures. I apologise for wearing out the patience of readers. A lot of the pictures are in galleries which can be scooted past at speed by readers who are just waiting for the flying bird of the day.

There was more than the usual amount of flying birds in the garden today . . .

. . . along with winter blackbirds . . .

. . . a fleeting starling . . .

. . . and chaffinches in snow and sunshine.

The chaffinch in the sunshine marked the end of the light snowfall for the morning, so I had lunch and went out for a walk to enjoy the sun, the birds and the views while I walked up the river to the High Mill Brig and the Baggra.

My afternoon choir in Carlisle had been cancelled and replaced by a Zoom meeting, so I had time to wander about noting that the sun had cleared any snow off the tops of the hills round the town while leaving some snowy paths for me to walk along.

Snow was to be seen on a higher hill up the valley.

I was pleased to find that some prominent lone trees had not been blown down . . .

. . . but the nearer that I got to the river, the more fallen trees I saw . . .

. . . and when I got down to the Duchess Bridge, there were trees scattered everywhere.

Someone had cleared a tree from the bridge which had damaged the parapet.

A large old oak and been blown down into the river, damaging quite a bit of the road at the same time.

Indeed, the view from the bridge up river was quite shocking.

I could cross the bridge, but I couldn’t take a path in either direction when I had done so as they were both blocked. The path round the pheasant hatchery was blocked too with trees lying in serried ranks one behind another.

My only choice was to take the path down to the Jubilee Bridge, and I had to make a diversion round another tree there. It will take a lot of work to get our popular paths back into safe walking conditions.

The woods on the far bank of the river have been extensively damaged and it is thought that the road to Bentpath will be closed for some time until they are cleared.

In spite of the damage that I witnessed, I enjoyed my walk as there was fungus to see on the way as well as fallen trees . . .

. . . and it was a beautiful if chilly day.

I got home in time to have a cup of tea before my virtual Zoom practice with the Carlisle choir. The Zoom event did have the great benefit of making me realise how good the actual practices, however unsatisfactory, are when they are compared with Zooming for singing.

In the evening, we went back to the church where the minister had decided to hold a hastily arranged and poorly advertised Advent Carol Service. The choir outnumbered the congregation by a factor of four to one. As there were only four of us in the choir, this made us question the meaning of life a bit. We sang heartily and went home.

Finally, and not before time, we come to the flying bird of the day. It is a blue tit.

How are the mighty fallen

Today’s guest picture comes from our son Tony. In the forecast, East Wemyss was predicted to get the worst of the wind and we were worried for them. But fate was kind, and today East Wemyss was once again the sunshine capital of Scotland, as Tony and his partner Marianne found when they went for a chilly walk.

After a night of what sounded like apocalyptic winds, we were very relieved to find no more damage than a slate off the roof and some things in the garden blown about a bit. We had been lucky though, as the strong winds had ripped flat roofs off neighbours’ buildings, fallen trees had blocked roads into the town from all sides, mobile phone signals had disappeared, digital radios and terrestrial televisions were on the blink, and the rugby club had suffered roof damage.

We didn’t know this when we got up, but we thought that an exploratory expedition might be good, and everyone we passed had a tale to tell. Although it was still breezy and cold, it was sunny, and not an unusual day for late November, so the evidence of the strength of the overnight winds came as a bit of a surprise.

I took a lot of pictures, but one fallen tree may look quite like another fallen tree, and there were a lot of them, so I have tried to restrain myself from putting all the evidence before you.

We started by going down to the river to see a set of fir trees that had been toppled like dominoes.

We then visited the park, where trees big and small were lying around, and then and we walked up onto the Stubholm track, which was blocked.

We got round the tree on the Stubholm track by going through the field beside the track, but when we got to the slope down to the Murtholm, we were defeated by rows of fallen trees on every side.

We did find an alternative route though, by going through the bluebell wood and down the track beside the Hungry Burn. This involved a few scrambles, but we reached the bottom safely. We had the bonus of a fine set of turkey tail fungi on a fallen branch on our way.

We were slightly worried by the amount of trees leaning on other trees above our heads.

When we got down to it, the Murtholm track was blocked in both directions and the route back to the park along the river was impassible. A small diversion took me past the tree blocking the way to Skippers, and Mrs Tootlepedal leapt over it with one mighty bound.

More trees in the wood across the field were lying flat.

As we went along the track, the riverside trees had survived very well and we let our attention stray to other things.

The main road, which had been blocked by nine fallen trees earlier on, was open when we got to Skippers Bridge, but the traffic lights were not working and cars had to look carefully before crossing. We looked at the impressive new protective fence tacked to the the top of the wall beside the bridge.

We walked back to town, noting a peltigera lichen on a mossy tree stump, a fine display of chillis in the Douglas Hotel window box, the newly delivered town Christmas tree, and a large branch ripped from a pine at the Castleholm.

On the way, we collected our newspapers which had finally reached the paper shop.

Looking across the river from the Kilngreen, the inhabitants of the houses beside the river must have been happy to find that a tree had fallen away from them . . .

. . . and we wondered if the tree left standing will be left standing for long.

As I had promised Mrs Tootlepedal a belated birthday lunch, we were on our way to see if the cafe at Whitshiels had survived the storm. We feared that it might be shut, and when we came to the corner of the main road near the Sawmill Brig and saw the devastation there . . .

. . . our fears increased. The sight of a bent and twisted street light nestled among the tangled boughs did not impart much confidence.

Sure enough, the cafe was closed as there was no power, so we turned and walked back to the Eskdale Hotel and had our lunch there instead.

The peaceful nature of the scene at the Meeting of the Waters provided a curious contrast to the destruction all around.

The lunch was good, but we were glad to get home after nearly four miles of walking.

I took a moment to check on the birds before settling down.

There is a lot of work to be done by the power companies and the foresters before we will be back to normal. As we didn’t get the worst of the winds, it is hard to imagine what other places will be like. A sobering thought is that this was the first named storm of the season, so there may be several more to come.

I was a bit at a loss for things to do which required no energy in the afternoon. In the end, I filled up one of my coffee bean tins, and took all the old labels off both tins. This gives a good idea of the varied coffees we have been drinking over the past months. Food miles? What food miles?

Then I catalogued another box of recorder music (12 down, and maybe 8 more to go), and cooked some mince and tatties for our evening meal.

We get our television service from a satellite, and as a result we were unaffected by the loss of the terrestrial service, and we were able to watch Strictly Come Dancing. As our neighbour Margaret is a great fan of the show and had no telly, we invited her round to watch with us. We all agreed that in a perfect world, we would like less jumping about and more actual ballroom dancing in the show, but we enjoyed it all the same.

I didn’t manage to get a good flying bird of the day among all the excitement, so I have put three poor shots into a panel to try to hide this fact.

Another birthday

Today’s guest picture comes from my sister Caroline. She saw this fishy sculpture beside the sea, and, in a sign of the times, she tells me that it is entirely filled with plastic rubbish picked up from the beach.

It was Mrs Tootlepedal’s birthday today. She is a remarkable person, and has now been sixty years old nineteen times.

To celebrate this auspicious occasion, a large bunch of flowers arrived at the house.

There was not a lot of time for us to hang about ruminating on advancing years. I started the day with a visit to the health centre for routine treatment, and Mrs Tootlepedal went off to have coffee with her ex-work colleagues in the Buccleuch Centre. While she was there, I entertained Dropscone to coffee and scones (provided by the scone master himself.)

I found a moment to check on the birds and the state of the garden. The day had started off with rain but it cleared up as the morning went on.

And then I went along to the Buccleuch Centre to pick Mrs Tootlepedal up in the car. We drove up to the White Yett, and parked just past the cattle grid. We were not the only ones there, as a good group of volunteers for the Tarras Valley Nature Reserve had arrived to cut down more of the self seeded and unwanted spruces. The best of them were going to be given to the inhabitants of Eskdaill Street to be used in their Street Christmas Tree Competition.

We had expected to get wet and to be blown about, but the sun was shining and we were protected from the worst of the wind by the hill behind us. The moor was looking lovely . . .

. . . and the volunteers worked hard.

It didn’t take us too long to cut the thirty or so trees that were needed, and Kat, our leader was on hand with cups of restorative hot Ribena, as some of us gathered at the roadside to relax.

We got home in time for lunch, and then the ever energetic Mrs Tootlepedal went out again, this time to join a bunch of fellow embroiderers at a meeting of the ‘In Stitches’ group.

Not wanting to waste a sunny afternoon, I went out for a short walk while she was gone. I have used galleries as I took too many pictures. Click on a small gallery picture for a better view if you wish.

The wind was strong and very chilly, but it was still a lovely day as I headed up to the Lamb Hill.

The chief reason for choosing this route was to get a look at the tree felling which has been going on behind the rugby club. They had been very thorough!

As I continued on up the road towards the moor, I was not short of subjects for my camera . . .

. . . and I was passed by Daniel and his trailer. He was carrying a load of our cut spruce trees down to the town.

I got as far as the group of pine trees at Hillhead . . .

. . . before I left the road and walked along the hill towards the golf course and the Kirk Wynd.

Here, the weather changed. The wind blew stronger now, and a front brought some clouds up to smother the sunshine. The town looked a bit gloomy tucked in the valley below, and the clouds looked threatening.

I wouldn’t say that I quickened my pace, but I definitely stopped looking for photo opportunities with quite so much enthusiasm, and put my mind to getting home.

Only a gate with a view stopped me on the way down the hill.

I was home before Mrs Tootlepedal, and we had a cup of tea when she got back. The weather had got more threatening, so I took the hint and sat at my computer and added another box of recorder music to my catalogue. Susan and I brought back five more boxes of quartets from Jenny’s last night, so there is plenty of cataloguing still to be done. And Jenny still has more quintets at home.

Family phone calls, a sibling zoom and a light evening meal were still to come.

In the evening, we rounded off the special day with a visit from our friends Mike and Alison. While Mike and Mrs Tootlepedal caught up on all the news, Alison and I played recorder and keyboard duets with great enjoymen, and quite often with the right notes in the right order too. This created a pleasing effect.

As I write this, the wind is whistling round the house, and the lights have gone off once. Luckily they came back on straight away, but I hope that I can get this post published before they go again. We are only on the edge of the storm, so others must be having a torrid time.

The flying bird of the day is a coal tit, not a great picture, but a change from chaffinches.

An unexpected opportunity

Today’s guest picture comes from our daughter Annie. It shows that they have autumn colour in London too.

We woke to sub zero temperatures (-2°C) but some cheerful sunshine made up for the cold. I had a look at the birds after breakfast . . .

. . . and then went for a short three bridges walk hoping too get some sparkling frosty pictures.

The day was bright enough . . .

. . . but there was no sparkling frost about, and I had to make do with a reflective gull in the Esk between the bridges.

At the Kilngreen, I saw a pair of thoughtful mallards . . .

. . . and even the Sawmill Brig seemed to be thinking about something with watchful eyes.

I passed bright berries at the gate of the Lodge Walks . . .

. . . and some cheerful leaves tucked away in a corner . . .

. . . as I went up the otherwise almost leafless avenue.

There were different leaves on some of the tree trunks though.

I cut across the Castleholm . . .

. . . towards the Duchess Bridge, noting fine fungus . . .

. . . and treading on frozen moss on the path as I went.

When I was crossing the Duchess bridge, I had thought to myself that this was just the a sort of day when I might come across hair ice. Lo and behold, I came across some hair ice.

I hope to see many more examples as the winter months go on. The fungus that causes this phenomenon has become much more common round Langholm in recent years.

I got home in plenty of time to have coffee with Mrs Tootlepedal and Margaret, and when coffee was over, I had another look at the birds.

I had expected to see quite a lot of feeder activity on a chilly but calm and sunny, day but there were not as much as I thought that there would be . . .

. . . and the seed in the feeder went down slowly.

A collared dove sat in the plum tree for long enough for me to take a picture . . .

. . . but that was the full extent of our avian excitement.

Mrs Tootlepedal had made stock from the remains of my birthday roast chicken, so I made some leek and potato soup with it for lunch.

I may have used the hand blender a bit too enthusiastically when preparing the soup, so if anyone wants some leek and potato flavoured wallpaper paste, I have a good supply.

I kept a close eye on the thermometer, and when I found that it had reached a balmy 5°C by the time that I had finished my soup, I put on many layers and went out for an unexpected pedal. It was much less windy than was forecast, and while the sun was out, it wasn’t too bad at all. When the sun went in, the rest of the ride was quite chilly. I was glad that I had chosen a relatively quick and easy 20 mile pedal up to Mosspaul and back.

I took a few pictures on my way, but as my hands got cold when I took off my gloves to use the camera, it was only a very few.

I chose a good moment to take that last picture as it let a small queue of traffic pass me while I was stopped. In general though, the traffic was very light today, and my ride was more peaceful than usual for a main road on a working day.

I did get generously sprinkled with grit when the gritting lorry passed me just before the High Mill Brig on my way home, but as I was going to Carlisle by car in the evening, I thought that this was a very good thing.

When I got home, I found that Mrs Tootlepedal had gone out for a three and a half mile walk round Jenny Noble’s Gill. She returned as the light was fading.

In the evening,, my friend Susan came round and she drove me to Carlisle where we had an excellent evening of music making with our recorder quartet. I am very grateful for the lift as I don’t enjoy driving in the dark very much these days.

I collected some more boxes of the music from Jenny that she and I had collected from our former player Roy’s daughter, and I will add them to the catalogue of his music that I have been making. When I am finished, it will be the first time that we actually know of all the music that we have available to play. There is a lot.

The forecast for the next few days is cold and windy, with the possibility of gales, so I was very glad to get my little ride in today. It took me almost up to 300 miles for the month, a very good total for November, and my best for this month since 2014. If the gales abate in time, I might try and get one last ride in before the end of the month. (If you think that I might be slightly obsessed with cycling miles, you are probably quite right.)

The flying bird of the day is a chaffinch.

Footnote: we are volunteering on the moor tomorrow. Let us hope that the gales wait until we have finished.

More sociable celebrations

Today’s guest picture comes from my sister Caroline. She had a chilly but sparkling day for a walk round Portsmouth, and found the famous Spinnaker Tower looking at its best.

We had a chilly but far from sparkling day here, with some persistent drizzle in the morning putting paid to my scheme for a early start to a bicycle ride. Instead, I pedalled round to the corner shop and paid my bill. They have recently increased the amount that you can use the contactless card to pay for, and now disturbingly large amounts of my pension can disappeared into the ether in a flash.

On the other side of the coin, the government has kindly increased my pension now that I have reached a certain age. This rise amounts to a full 25p a week, and Mrs Tootlepedal and I are locked in negotiations as to how to spend it.

I peered at the birds on the feeder in the gloom when I got home. There were quite a few about, but they were quite hard to see.

I liked the hairstyle that this chaffinch had gone for.

The delayed start to my cycling brought an unexpected bonus when our neighbours Liz and Ken came round for coffee. Liz had made some scones and covered them with excellent home made lemon curd to mark my recent birthday, so for the third day running, we had not only good coffee but excellent food too. For those who think that I am a keen cyclist, Ken leaves me in the shade. He is almost the same age as me, but has done a thousand miles more this year than I have, and he has done them a lot faster too.. He is real enthusiast.

All this scone eating made a cycle ride a priority, so when Ken and Liz had gone, I had a last look at the birds . . .

. . . crossed my fingers that the rain, which had stopped, would stay stopped, and popped out for thirty miles.

My knee is not quite back to full function, so I had to go carefully up any hills, but otherwise the ride was good. I did get into a little drizzle on the top of Callister, more low cloud than actual rain, but by the end of the ride, the day had got quite a lot brighter.

It was pretty damp when I started, and with wet roads, I tended to get a bit of spray when traffic passed me, but by the time that I got to Waterbeck . . .

. . . things had improved.

The last time that I cycled through the village of Kirtlebridge, I stood on the old bridge and photographed the new. Today, I stood on the new and photographed the old.

I realised today that the the old main road and the motorway have two separate bridges squashed close to each other. The motorway bridge does not treat the river with respect.

As I left the village, I came upon a very untypical colourful scene, much to my surprise.

Generally, it was a grey outing.

The wind was not strong, but it did give me some help when I turned for home at Kirkpatrick Fleming, for which my knees were very grateful.

It was cold though, so I didn’t stop a lot, but trees often catch my eye and it was not different today.

When I got near home, the loss of leaves gave me a better look at Irvine House than I have had for several months . . .

. . . and a couple of minutes later, the sun came out very briefly to light up an oak tree in the house’s curtilage.

Looking at the forecast, this may well have been my last cycle ride of the month, so I am glad that I got it it in. I am a bit sorry, in spite of the excellent scones at coffee time, that I wasn’t able to get out earlier and add a few more miles to it, but you can’t have everything.

When I got home, I found that Mrs Tootlepedal had been busy sowing yellow rattle and other wild flowers in her mini meadow on the drying green.

Mrs Tootlepedal had raked the grass last year and planted yellow rattle then too. You have to be cruel to grass to be kind to wild flowers. Yellow rattle is a grass parasite and lets other wild flowers thrive (we hope).

I had a look round for colour without finding much today . . .

. . . checked on the overhead wires for birds . . .

. . . and then went in for a very late lunch. My bread and cheese was enhanced by some chutney which my recorder playing friend Susan had given me for my birthday.

Probably because of all the excitement of the past three days, both Mrs Tootlepedal and I felt quite tired, and we had a very peaceful rest until it was time for our evening Zoom with my siblings. This was followed by a light meal and a choir practice with the enhanced church choir. It was well enhanced and there were a lot of sopranos, but the other sections were smaller. I modestly took my place as the one and only bass (though I did not oompah up and down the square, fans of the Music Man will be glad to know).

It was a good practice, and we have made some sound progress towards our concert in December.

It was not a good morning for catching flying birds, and the light was gone by the time that I had got home and had a meal, so I have gone for quantity rather than quality for today’s flying birds with not one but two chaffinches.

More cake

Today’s guest picture comes from my brother Andrew who noticed this unusual street sign in an alley when he was on a visit to Spondon.

It was quite an appropriate sign for the post today, as I seemed to spend quite a lot of the day eating.

After breakfast, I cycled round to the corner shop, and then had a look at the birds. It was a cloudy day so I didn’t have a problem with the shadows. There was a steady but not spectacular flow of birds to the feeder,

A collared dove made an appearance down below . . .

. . . and up above, a goldfinch perched on the topmost twig of the almost leafless walnut tree.

I couldn’t watch the birds for too long as we were visited by our choir friends Mike and Anne who joined us for coffee with Margaret. Mrs Tootlepedal had made a great pile of drop scones for the occasion, and as all the others ate modestly, I polished off most of the pile myself, with home made raspberry jam and bramble jelly to help them go down. There was the other half of yesterday’s cake to finish off too, so it was lucky that we had plenty to talk about to give us time to get round to everything.

There was no need for lunch when the coffee gathering dispersed, so I got my bike out and went off to try to shake a few of the drop scones down on the way round my familiar Canonbie route.

The scheme to burn a few calories was slightly handicapped by eating some delicious Turkish Delight before I set off. Mike and Anne had brought this with them as a gift.

In reasonable calm and tolerably warm (8°C) conditions, I took things easily as I didn’t want to set back my knee recovery, and I enjoyed a gentle journey past a quizzical bull . . .

. . . a blasted tree . . .

. . . and others in better condition.

My favourite tree was this one, set against a distant background of English hills just before I got to my turning point at the bottom of the Canonbie by-pass.

There was not a lot to see on a grey day on a tried and tested route, but I liked the edging of larch needles showing where to go along the old road . . .

. . . and there were a surprising number of needles left on the young larches when I got to the point where the cycle track joins the main road.

I took a look round the garden when I got back and found more interest than I had expected.

The fungus under one of the plastic compost bins has grown well . . .

. . . and a berberis along the vegetable garden fence had some very colourful leaves.

I have been trying to get a picture of the tiny flowers on a viburnum for several days without any success, but the dull light this afternoon was oddly more suitable for capturing them. I got so excited that I took two pictures.

I was quite impressed by the little red rose which has made a good effort at recovering from yesterday’s frosty morning . . .

. . . but I was stunned to find that a clematis had come out.

We have had clematis out in November before, but this was ten day later than any recent sightings.

When I looked indoors, I found that Mrs Tootlepedal had disappeared, and I wondered if she had gone off on a cycle adventure of her own. It wasn’t too long before she reappeared though, and it turned out that after some indoor cycling, she had been no further that the offices of the Langholm Initiative.

The day was in a kindly mood, so after a cup of tea we went out into the garden. Mrs Tootlepedal did more work on improving the soil in the front beds while I raked walnut leaves off both lawns and sieved a little compost to help with the soil improvement.

It was almost dark when we finally went inside. I started work on entering another week of our local newspaper index into the Archive Group database.

There was a good deal of yesterday’s roast chicken still left, so we ate that for our evening meal (followed in my case by quite a lot of Turkish Delight).

We watched the final of the Great British Bake Off and that rounded off two good days of birthday cake and visitors.

The flying bird of the day is a chaffinch (with a bonus flying chaffinch in the background.)

Having my cake and eating it

Today’s guest picture completes a trilogy of recent East Wemyss scenes; day, dawn and dusk. This is dusk today, as seen by our son Tony.

It was my birthday today, and the weather gods obliged by presenting Langholm with a beautifully sunny morning to greet me when I got up. Just to make sure that I didn’t get carried away and run about laughing too loudly, it came with a nippy frost.

We are trying to work out if there is a better place to put the bird feeder which would stop our little birds being snatched up by passing sparrowhawks. In the meantime, I’m keeping an eye on it, and this morning there were quite a few birds at the feeder, while the shadow of the house still fell across it after breakfast.

It is only the front of the garden that is in shadow. The walnut tree was in glorious sunshine as the last of its leaves hung on.

We had a very festive morning, as both Sandy and Margaret came round to have coffee and share the excellent cake which Mrs Tootlepedal had made for the occasion. I still had enough breath to blow out the candles in spite of my advanced years. (The little camera was in extra sparkly mood for the occasion.)

After Sandy and Margaret left, I made some lentil and bacon soup for lunch, checked on the birds again . . .

. . . ate the soup, and went for a walk.

I had hoped to go for a birthday cycle ride, but at 4°C, I thought that it was too cold for cycling fun and decided on the familiar five and a half mile traipse round Potholm instead. Mrs Tootlepedal chose to do some indoor cycling while I wandered about.

I took too many pictures on my walk, but as it is my birthday, I am going to put a lot of them in anyway. To be fair to the busy reader, I will put most of them in galleries which you can scoot through with just a passing glance.

I walked past the Kilngreen to start off.

When I got to the river at Potholm, the lack of leaves let me get a better view of the bridge.

And then, as I walked along the road from Potholm bridge, I looked back, I looked ahead, and I looked at a very good crop of hawthorns in the hedge.

It was really too gloomy for views, although it was pleasant enough for walking, so I have put the set of trees that I passed into black and white . . .

. . . and I spent a lot of time looking at walls and not hills. Almost every stone in the wall had a story to tell.

If I had stopped to listen to them all, I would not have got home before dark.

The leaf in that last block is not a moss or a lichen, but a spleenwort, seen on the splendid spleenwort wall just before getting back onto the Langholm road.

I walked along the road back to town, rather than take the slippery path through the wood, and enjoyed the little bursts of colour that the fading hazel leaves brought to a dull afternoon.

I was going down the Galaside hill back into town, when the merry ring of a cycle bell woke me up to the fact the Mrs Tootlepedal on a bicycle had caught up with me. She had got bored cycling indoors, and with a bit more courage than me, she had got her outdoor bike out, and pedalled round the same route that I had just walked, hoping to catch me up before I got home. She managed this with perfect timing, and we completed the last quarter mile home in companionable fashion.

The social nature of my birthday was completed when our friends Mike and Alison came round to have a cup of tea and a slice of the cake with us.

My day was completed by a Zoom with my siblings, an excellent evening meal of roast chicken and roast potatoes prepared by Mrs Tootlepedal, and a WhatsApp video call with our granddaughter Evie and her parents in London.

I have reached eighty years of age today, and there may be some who would have expected a bit more of a fuss about reaching this milestone, but it has been a quiet day for two reasons. The first is that we don’t think that asking friends and family to travel about the country is a particularly good scheme at this time. Mrs Tootlepedal will have a significant birthday at this time next year, so we will be able to combine the two occasions into a single celebration then, hopefully in more auspicious circumstances and avoiding the necessity of two sets of arrangements for everyone concerned. The second reason was that I have felt a bit shifty about the whole thing. I didn’t want to tempt fate by making a fuss about something that I felt that I hadn’t done much to deserve. I hope that I will feel more relaxed about it next year.

I did get quite a good double flying bird of the day picture though, so perhaps the fates were kind to me.

A sunny day

Today’s guest picture comes from our son Tony and shows a typical morning in East Wemyss.

We woke to a crisp morning here, with the temperature just above freezing, but with some very welcome sunshine to make it a day to be cheerful.

We walked to church to sing in the choir. At the church door, Mrs Tootlepedal met with a potential new member whom she had encouraged to join. She was warmly welcomed into the choir stalls, and we hope that she will come back again next week.

The minister kept us on our toes by inserting a verse into one of the hymns that was not in the hymn book. Several members of the choir found themselves singing the same verse twice as we were looking at our books and not the big screen with the words on at the far end of the church.

We had time for a coffee when we got home, before having a very enjoyable Zoom meeting with our granddaughter Matilda and her parents in Edinburgh. They all seem to be doing very well.

I had a flower hunt round the garden after the Zoom.

Then I took advantage of the sunny weather to sneak out for a quick walk down to Skippers Bridge and back before lunch and a trip to Carlisle for my afternoon choir.

I went through the park and climbed the steps to the Stubholm, where I was greeted by some lovely late autumn leaves.

I walked along the track . . .

. . . enjoying fungus and good views . . .

. . . before I went down to the Murtholm. Even in the very middle of the day, the shadows are long just now.

There were plenty of catkins on the alders beside the river.

In spite of the sunshine, I was happy not to be up on a hill . . .

. . . both because my knee still needs a bit of care, and because there was a very nippy east wind blowing.

A car came up behind me on the track, and as I stepped aside to let it pass, I noticed that I was close to a flourishing ivy bush.

The weather gods like their little joke, so they turned off the sun just as I got to Skippers Bridge . . .

. . . and kept it behind a cloud until I was nearly home again.

There are going to be works at the bridge soon, and we wonder if they are going to involve repairs to this enormous wall which looms over traffic waiting at the lights to cross the bridge.

I walked back along the riverside path, keeping an eye open for interest as I went.

I was impressed by the way that a tree on the top of the banking on the other side of the river had persuaded its neighbours to lean gently away from it to give it space to expand. (The cloudy sky made me think of putting the picture into black and white mode.)

Some colour was provided by bramble leaves beside the path, and the willows at the Kirk Brig.

I spotted another crow beside the bridge. I wish that I could have caught it as it flew across the river as it had very white wings on show when it was in flight. On the ground, it looked less remarkable.

When I was nearly home, I couldn’t help noticing these bright pyracantha berries on Margaret’s garage.

There was another chance to look forward to next spring as I came into our garden.

After lunch, Mrs Tootlepedal came with me to Carlisle when I went to sing with the Carlisle Community Choir. I dropped her off to do some shopping while I was warbling away. There was not a big turnout at the choir, perhaps because it was such a fine day, and I was one of only two tenors. I enjoyed the practice all the same. It is useful to learn to sing your part without much support.

Mrs Tootlepedal had found a convenient coffee house to get some refreshment after her shopping, and I picked her up there on the way home. There was a beautiful sunset over Gretna as we drove north, but as stopping in the middle of a busy main road to take a photograph is not recommended, you will have to take my word for that.

Once again, there were no visitors to the bird feeder today, at least while I watching, so the non flying bird of the day is a jackdaw perching on Margaret’s roof before lunch.

Power cut

Today’s guest picture comes from our son Tony. It was taken in East Wemyss yesterday.

It was a miserable, chilly, grey and drizzly day here, until it brightened up too late to be useful at all.

The seed in the bird feeder hardly went down at all, and the nearest I got to taking a garden bird picture was this fine shot of a great tit which had just flown off.

One of my best, I thought.

I did go for a walk around coffee time, and took my bird camera with me as I had failed in the garden. I thought that I saw a dipper down by the Kirk Brig, but as soon as I got there, the dipper flew off back up the river that I had just hurried down. I took a long shot, sure that it would fly away again if I walked back up . . .

. . . but much to my surprise, it waited until I got back to it . . .

. . . and then popped onto the shore to give me a second view.

Nearby, a mallard paddled serenely up stream.

It was drizzling and chilly, the light was very poor, and I almost went straight home after seeing the dipper. In the end I kept going.

At the Kilngreen, there were gulls on posts on both sides of the river.

The gulls on the fence posts on the Castleholm started to play the game of chasing each other along the posts in a domino effect where they all end up one fence further down than they started.

I had set out with the intention of going for a two or three mile walk, but I found that I hadn’t got any energy or enthusiasm at all, so when I got to the Sawmill Brig, I cut my route short and dawdled home by way of the Duchess Bridge. It was a very gloomy day, not one for taking many photographs. A bare tree summed up the conditions well . . .

. . . but at least the loss of the leaves meant that I could get a better view of the bridge when I got to it . . .

. . . and the hazel catkins on the other side of the bridge made me think hopefully of spring to come.

As I went along the path on the other side of the bridge, I could see that some white fungus which I had seen on a previous walk had developed. It is plainly candlesnuff fungus as readers had suggested.

I was pleased to get home and sit down as I felt unaccountably tired. A much needed cup of coffee restored me a bit.

After lunch, we went off to church for a well attended memorial celebration for Bob, a good friend who had died during the lockdown. He had been a big part of the cultural and church life of the town for many years and is much missed.

As in the case of my recorder playing friend Roy, Bob’s family has had to wait many months until it was possible to invite friends and family to gather together to remember Bob’s rich and varied life. The pandemic has been very hard on grieving families, and in a cruel twist of fate, Nancy, Bob’s wife, told the assembled company that neither of their children could be with us today, his daughter having broken her ankle and his son having caught Covid. However, both children had been able to provide written memories of their father, and these touching and amusing accounts were read out to us among other tributes, and we got the warmth and humour that Bob’s memory deserved.

We walked home from the church with our neighbour Margaret in a reflective mood.

Although the day had brightened up at last, my energy levels had not improved much, and I limited my activity for the rest of the day to sitting around, and then cooking a tarte tatin and making some vegetarian sausage rolls with the surplus puff pastry, The tarte tatin was fine, but the sausage rolls came into the category of ‘more practice needed’.

As there were no birds, let along flying birds in the garden once again, I was lucky to find a mobile gull at the Kilngreen ready to take up the position of flying bird of the day.