Heeling spirit

Today’s guest picture comes from my brother Andrew. He visited this fine church in Melbourne, Derbyshire yesterday.

We had another grey morning here with a very brisk wind making it feel quite a lot chillier than the thermometer said that it was. Sandy came down for coffee which brightened the day up a bit.

After Sandy left, I went out into the garden to check on snowdrop developments and saw the new hellebores waiting to be planted, a great mass of nasturtium seeds lying on the ground, obviously of no interest to passing birds, and quite a nice display of snowdrops along the back path.

Perhaps because of the strong wind, there was hardly any bird action at the feeder today. Indeed, this goldfinch was the only bird I saw on the feeder itself all day.

After an early lunch, I went for a walk round Potholm to give the new heels on my old boots a good test. You can never tell whether re-heeled or re-soled boots will be as comfortable as the originals until you try them. The boots were very satisfactory and I enjoyed my five and a half mile walk.

I saw the resident oyster catcher . . .

. . . and was very pleased to find that it had a friend too, although the friend was shy and evaded the camera.

The feeder along the Lodge Walks was busy. I saw a long tailed tit, two chaffinches, a robin and a blue tit in the brief time that I paused to look . . .

. . . and wonder of wonders, a few yards further on, I got another glimpse of the tree creeper creeping up a mossy tree trunk.

I walked on and enjoyed a sunny moment on the low road which faded away before I got to Holmhead where I found the the snowdrops there were putting on a fine show.

Heading along the Langfauld, the sunshine always seemed to be a bit further up the road and the light was strangely flat as a result. It was pleasant walking though, as the brisk wind was behind me and pushed me up the gentle hill towards Potholm.

At Potholm, I admired the snowdrops on the banking below the farm house and crossed the bridge when I came to it.

I was now walking straight into the chilly wind, and I made hard work of the mile and quarter along the road until I got to the shelter of the trees at the far end. I noted the bright green lichen on the wall beside the road and the heavy traffic that I passed on my way.

Rather than walk back along the main road, I took the path through the woods down to the Duchess Brig, being grateful for the luck that meant that many uprooted trees had not totally destroyed the path, and for the skill of the men who had cleared the trees that had fallen across it in the big storm.

While I had been out walking, Mrs Tootlepedal had been tree hugging again, this time in the company of an expert. She added a new ancient tree to the records when she got home.

There were still no birds visiting the feeder.

We had a quiet evening in.

The only flying bird that I saw today was a fleeting glimpse of a jackdaw flying over the garden. It was seen through a window.

Heavy drinking

Today’s guest picture comes from my sister Mary. She had a very sunny day today for a trip down the river passing under Vauxhall Bridge.

By contrast, we had a very grey day here, but as it was quite warm at 8 degrees and we spent a lot of the day in the car driving 94 miles, it didn’t matter very much. Our day started with a visit to the hospital in Dumfries where I was having a precautionary check.. This involved me drinking 2 pints of water after breakfast, and I was very relieved that I managed to survive until midday without having to pay a visit. The check went well and didn’t reveal any nasty surprises.

A side benefit from visiting the hospital in Dumfries is that they have free electric car chargers in the car park. They don’t charge very quickly though, and my treatment today was so prompt and so well organized that we had only got 14 free miles into the battery by the time we had finished.

We celebrated by going to a nearby garden centre and having an enormous scone and coffee each before Mrs Tootlepedal bought a fine hellebore to cheer up the garden.

We made diversions on the journey home to drop off a cot no longer needed by our visiting grandchildren at a re-use centre in Annan, to pick up a pair of boots for each of us which had been mended in Carlisle, and finally, to buy the seed potatoes for the year at another nearby garden centre. It was a bit disappointing to find by looking at the plants and products on sale that the garden Centres in Dumfries and Carlisle are obviously now being run by the same firm. I see by looking on the internet that this actually happened quite a long time ago.

After all that, we got home with just enough time for me to squeeze in a three bridges walk before it got dark. Not that it was particularly light.

It was light enough though for me to see that the oyster catcher was still beside the river, looking on this occasion as though it had an eye in the back of its head.

It turned out to be in the right place.

While I was looking at the oyster catcher, a strange stain in the river caught my eye. It looked as though paint had been spilled . . .

. . . but when I looked up, I saw that it was a reflection of the protective covering on the roof of a disused church on the other bank of the river.

I crossed the bridge and walked along the Kilngreen, nodding to an old friend . . .

. . . before I crossed the Sawmill brig and walked up the Lodge Walks in the hope of meeting new friends. I was lucky. There was a blue tit on the feeder on the gate . . .

. . . and a flicker of movement on a tree trunk caught my eye

It was too dark by now to get a good picture with my little pocket camera, but there is no doubt that it was a tree creeper pecking away at the moss, always a delight to see.

It remained gloomy with all the neighbouring hills having their heads in the cloud . . .

. . . so I didn’t dawdle. I found a beech nut case on the Castleholm . . .

. . . and a promising display of not quite out yet snowdrops beside the Duchess Bridge . . .

. . . but mostly my mind was set on a cup of tea and a slice of bread and butter as I hadn’t had any breakfast and only one scone during the rest of the day.

There was work on the computer to be done on family arrangements in the evening and a busy day had left me with no time at all to find a flying bird to photograph,. Instead, some dull lichen, matching a dull day of weather, finishes off today’s post.

A late start

Today’s guest picture comes from our friend Bruce. He was across in the north east today visiting Cragside, an interesting house and garden.

After a moonlit night, it was very grey here when we got up, but at least this meant that the temperature was above freezing. It was only just above freezing though, so my plan to go our for a longer bicycle ride was knocked on the head, and I waited till the mercury had crept up to 5°C (41°F) after lunch before I got a bike out.

In the meantime, I did the crossword, we had coffee with Margaret, and I did some tidying up and shredding in the garden, so I didn’t waste the whole morning.

It was a very quiet day for birds and I didn’t take my camera to the window until after lunch, when I really should have been getting ready to pedal. You can see that I wasn’t highly motivated to get out on another chilly day.

Birds had appeared by this time and I was interested to see that a sparrow seemed to take the hardest possible approach to gripping one of the feeder perches.

There were more siskins than any other visitors today . . .

. . . and they didn’t take kindly to chaffinches trying to butt in.

Two jackdaws and a dove shared the top spots on the walnut tree.

We seemed to have a flock of male siskins today and they are handsome little birds . . .

. . . which ever way you look at them . . .

. . . though they are very messy eaters and give rise to a lot of fallen seed.

Hoping to pick up some seed were two pigeons below the feeder, one completely headless . . .

. . . but the other with its head well screwed on.

I finally got changed and found that I had left myself too little time for a leisurely ride on the push bike before two afternoon zoom meetings, so I got my electric bike out yet again. I found that it needed a bit of TLC and by the time that I got going, I was well behind schedule. In the end, I had time for just under 28 miles but no time to stop and take a lot of pictures on the way.

This didn’t matter a great deal because it was a very dull day and I choose a fairly dull route. Just for the record I took a picture before I crossed the bridge at Between the Waters . . .

. . . and a couple going along the Sarkshields road.

I used quite a lot of battery assistance and whizzed my legs round as fast as they would go, and got home in under two hours. This left me with time for a quick cup of tea before having a Zoom recorder lesson with our granddaughter Matilda and a chat with her father.

Later on, Mrs Tootlepedal and I had a Zoom with my brother and sisters where the arrangements for the funeral and memorial services for my sister Susan were discussed. Ministers have been found for both services and everyone is being very helpful so we feel that things are getting organised.

The day ended on a high note when we successfully made a connection after only two clues in a musical round of Only Connect, a quiz show on TV. Only lovers of the show will know what a triumph that was.

After yesterday’s excitement, the flying bird of the day is a standard chaffinch.

An unexpected visit

Today’s guest picture comes from my brother Andrew who found daffodils out this morning when he visited Manchester Square, an 18th-century garden square in Marylebone, London.

We got a little welcome sunshine here too today, but it was at the cost of a morning frost. The highlight of the day came very early. We were upstairs getting ready to go to church when the sharp eyed Mrs Tootlepedal noticed a sparrowhawk sitting on a hedge in the garden. I scampered downstairs to collect my camera and came back up fully expecting to find that the bird had flown. It had not.

What was even better was that after standing and staring on the hedge for a while, the hawk flew up and perched on the feeder pole, right opposite my camera. Birds are not usually so helpful. I took more pictures before it flew off..

It is a female sparrowhawk, and it was all the more welcome because it didn’t carry off any of our little birds in its claws as it left.

We walked to church and back because we didn’t want to risk cycling in the slightly icy conditions. When we got home, I saw that there were plenty of birds back on the walnut tree, undeterred by the hawk’s earlier visit.

After a cup of coffee, I had a quick walk round the garden to enjoy the effects of the frost.

Mrs Tootlepedal had directed my attention to a large fungus on the weigela stump.

I had quite of lot of tasks to be done at the computer today so there was no time for even a short walk between choirs, but I did get a chance to look out of the window when the sun got round to the bird feeder. After a lone goldfinch appeared . . .

. . . I could hardly stop taking flying sparrows and chaffinches today.

There was a single walking pigeon at one moment . . .

. . . but it soon took to the air too.

As I hadn’t had the opportunity to take any pictures on a walk, the sky above the garden kindly put on a special show for me when we left to go to the choir in Carlisle after lunch.

We had an excellent guest conductor for our practice today and we made good progress on our songs. It was an extra treat to find that for the first time for some weeks, it wasn’t entirely dark as we left the hall.

And as a bonus, the clear skies let me get a look at the full moon later in the evening.

A cold chicken and chutney sandwich and more work at the computer rounded off a day that had produced more photographic interest than I had expected from a very sedentary time. The flying bird of the day is probably the least interesting picture of them all but a picture of a flying sparrowhawk is very rare so it took precedence over better shots of the many sparrows and chaffinches.

Subdued colours

Today’s long and thin guest picture comes from my brother Andrew who is in London at the moment. He passed by the Shard, an extremely tall building, but claimed that he couldn’t see the point of it.

Although the temperature was comfortably above freezing today, it wasn’t a very welcoming day, being grey again and occasionally drizzly. I walked up to the High Street across the suspension bridge in the morning to get milk but I didn’t see any sign of the oyster catcher beside the river. It may have decided to go somewhere else for the time being.

Neither of us had slept very well so it took us quite a bit of time, and two cups of coffee, before before we summoned up the energy to go out into the garden and do some tidying up

I had scattered some fallen seed on the lawn when I got back from the town and it didn’t take long for a couple of chaffinches to become interested.

Mrs Tootlepedal helped me prune the very tall bamboo on the back fence and then she tidied up the front beds while I cut back a buddleia beside the bamboo. We produced quite a lot of work for the shredder between us and compost Bin A is getting full. The bamboo may not look as though we cut it back much but it was very tall and we had enough clippings to provide a panda with a meal, if one had been about.

We were ready for lunch when we had finished our work. After lunch, I had a look at the birds. There was a good turnout.

Although it was drizzling very lightly, I thought that my niggling leg might feel better for some gentle exercise, so I went for an undemanding walk.

As I left, I could see that more chaffinches had discovered the scattered seed.

I went along the track to the Becks Burn, taking my chances under leaning trees . . .

. . . and as there weren’t any sunny views to take, I occupied myself by finding as much winter colour on a grey day as I could. This selection is from the section up to the Becks Burn. There was not a lot of bright stuff about so I had to take any colour as I found it.

The second section was taken once I had crossed the burn.

The third selection came from going along Gaskells.

I could see the Becks Burn plunging into the Wauchope as I went along this bit of my walk and as I was thinking about colour today, it made me wonder why water appears white when it is foaming over a cascade. I found an interesting explanation here.

They weren’t particularly colourful but my eye was drawn to the striking knots in the wood of the handrail beside the new path up the hill at the end of Gaskell’s Walk.

I finished my walk by going along the Stubholm track and then back to the town along the riverside path. Colour was in short supply here . . .

. . . and the light was so poor that I couldn’t be certain what sort of little bird it was, perched on a tree beside the path and singing loudly, until it turned to one side and became recognizably a robin.

I was trying to end my walk with a picture of three mallards swimming up the Wauchope as I stood on the Park Brig when they flew off in the face of a horse and rider crossing the ford there.

When I got home, I couldn’t bring myself to watch Scotland playing England at rugby football as I get very emotionally involved and it makes me extremely depressed when, in the last few minutes, as they often do, Scotland lose games that they should win. On this occasion, almost by accident, I did watch the last five minutes of the game and Scotland didn’t lose. I was amazed.

Mrs Tootlepedal prepared a very nice one pot lemon flavoured roast chicken with potatoes and carrots in the air fryer for our evening meal and that rounded off a day when I felt quite a bit better at the end than I had at the start.

The flying bird of the day is a chaffinch getting hectored by a siskin.

A niggle keeps me in

I looked in my files for a guest photo today and found this fine sunset in Worcester, SA, sent to me just before Christmas by Langholm exile Tom.

It was another day here with neither a visible sunrise nor much of a sunset as it was grey all day. It was warm for the time of year though, and occasionally drizzly. It didn’t matter much to me as I had picked up a niggling groin strain on my walk yesterday and thought it best to have a day of rest today.

As I am also feeling rather tired, I didn’t do much that was useful, but I caught up on some necessary business on the computer and helped Mrs Tootlepedal record the results of her tree hugging exercise on the Woodland Trust website. It is a detailed business with a 10 figure grid reference, measurements, photos from all sides and a description of the condition of the tree included. She has recorded three trees.

Mostly I lounged about feeling rather sorry for myself, occasionally glancing out of the window to see if there were any birds about.

There were some.

I hadn’t scattered any seed on the lawn today so a blackbird had to scavenge in the feeder tray for his snack.

A look at the walnut tree showed me that a rook had claimed the top spot.

On the feeder, one sparrow looked imperious . . .

. . . while another made an inelegant one legged grab for security . . .

. . . and two chaffinches headed for the same perch.

. . . .and a moment later, another chaffinch kept very level headed as it came in to land.

Mrs Tootlepedal had been out for coffee with her ex work colleagues in the morning, and after lunch she went out again to her afternoon stitching group, leaving me to potter about not doing much. To get a breath of fresh air, I went out into the garden. In spite of the drizzle, the warmth had nearly brought the snowdrops into flower . . .

. . .and I enjoyed a fresh leaf on the summer honeysuckle . . .

. . . as well as a raindrop bejewelled flower on the winter honeysuckle.

The rhubarb patch glowered gently in a corner.

A pair of jackdaws had been banished to the sidelines . . .

. . . and the collared doves were all over the place.

When Mrs Tootlepedal returned from her stitching group, I made some pinwheels to cheer myself up. Instead of marmite and cheese, I used sultanas and brown sugar as the flavour ingredient this time. Although I am not quite convinced that this is the optimum filling for the pinwheels, they disappeared quickly enough to show that they weren’t totally without merit. I wonder what bananas and raisins would taste like.

I hope to have a bit more get up and go tomorrow. A good night’s sleep would help.

The flying bird of the day is a sparrow.

Footnote: a reader enquired about our composting methods and I took a picture of our little electric shredding machine. It can deal with surprisingly robust twigs and small branches and does a good job of providing brown woody material for the compost bins.

Hunting the hugger

Today’s guest picture comes from our daughter Annie. It shows the sparkly cloak that our granddaughter Evie was wearing today. Some children have all the luck

We had a very far from sparkling day here today. The weather varied between grey and very grey, not quite drizzling and actually drizzling. On the plus side, it was warmer than it has been lately. When it wasn’t drizzling, it was quite pleasant to be outside.

I was in no rush to get out though, and was quite happy to dawdle about indoors until Dropscone arrived for coffee, bringing with him some excellent scones. I got out a jar of bramble jelly and we had a feast. Our neighbour Margaret and Mrs Tootlepedal joined us, and coffee and conversation flowed freely.

After the hubbub died down, I had a look at the birds. Business wasn’t brisk but the feeder had gone down quite a lot since I had filled it.

In an exciting new development, I cycled off on my shopping bike to our old corner shop for the first time for several weeks. It re-opened two days ago and has now become a butcher’s shop with some vegetables on sale as well. I bought a leek, some carrots and some diced lamb, and went home where I added a little red wine, an onion, some sweet red pepper, and mushrooms and apricots along with a few herbs and spices to make a lamb stew in the air fryer, using its slow cooking capability.

Then I went out into the garden to have a look round and consider some composting. Although we didn’t have a partridge, we did have a chaffinch in our little pear tree, and I caught it at the brightest moment of the dull day.

A jackdaw had bagged the top seat in the walnut tree so a collared dove settled for a perch on the plum tree.

I found some more potential daffodils to get excited about. (There is not much to get excited about in the garden at the moment as you can imagine.)

We have two bins for our kitchen compost. We use one for a while and then close it up and use the other one while the compost in the first one gets a good long time to rot down. Every now and again, the day comes to open up the closed bin and sieve the contents. This was that day.

It took me some time, and lunch intervened during the process, but I finally got it done. Now the left bin is empty and ready for use and the right bin will be shut up for a year. We have a big red bucket of weed free compost (centre) to go with the big red bucket of garden compost (right).

The supply of garden compost is endless and that bucket will be refilled many times while we wait for the next batch of kitchen compost to mature.

While I was sieving after lunch, Mrs Tootlepedal went off on her electric bike to do some tree hugging. She is helping to survey the ancient oaks at Longwood for the Woodland Trust. It really does involve tree hugging, as she has to measure the girth of the trees among other activities.

When I had finished the composting, time had slipped by and it was too late for a cycle ride, so I settled for a walk up to the oak wood to see if I could find the tree hugger at work.

On my way, I passed the early oyster catcher standing in pretty much the same spot that it was yesterday . . .

. . . a roadside wall dripping with hart’s tongue fern . . .

. . . and a tall garden wall which at first sight looks as though it may have some red stones in its make up.

A closer look reveals, that it is not red stone, but grey stone covered in red algae.

I passed the tree hugger’s transport, securely attached to a fence and carried on up the path into the wood, searching in vain for an oak tree which had a hugger nearby.

Heading up the hill to the edge of the wood, I finally spotted her at work.

This fine old tree took some hugging as it had a girth of over 4 metres.

Each tree needs several pictures taken from different angles so that it can be identified correctly and I did this while Mrs Tootlepedal finished her recording activities.

Then we waved goodbye to the tree and headed back down the hill.

We came across a tree stump that has been attacked by an axe in a very odd way.

When we had collected her bike, Mrs Tootlepedal politely cycled at walking speed so we went home together, getting to the suspension bridge as darkness was beginning to fall.

The slow cooked lamb stew came out very well, and I will definitely be going back to the corner shop again.

In the evening,Mrs Tootlepedal went out for a rehearsal for the 100th anniversary concert of the local operatic society, and I did some preparatory work on a booklet for my sister Susan’s memorial service in London in a couple of weeks. It is a sad time and we miss her.

The poor light didn’t make getting a flying bird easy, and the best that I could manage was a greenfinch looming up behind a sparrow which was shouting at the wrong bird.

A hint of spring?

Today’s guest picture comes from my sister Mary. She went down to the Thames for a walk yesterday and found a display of sitting gulls in front of Blackfriars Station on the bridge.

We had another grey and chilly day here, with a north westerly breeze making sure that we didn’t get too excited by the temperature being above freezing (4°C at breakfast time).

Margaret came round for coffee and she was well wrapped up against the chilly air. When she left, I took a moment to look at the birds and was quite surprised to find very few about. A siskin gave me a sideways look . . .

. . . but he was the only one on the feeder.

I went out and did some shredding and added the results to a barrowful of garden tidying that Mrs Tootlepedal had done yesterday. Then I deposited the whole lot into compost Bin A. While I was there, I got the compost sieve out and sieved a barrowful of compost from Bin D. It is in excellent condition and was very easy to sieve. The big red bucket of ready to use compost is now full to the brim, ready and waiting to go out onto the beds.

I came back in to warm up my hands and saw that the siskin had been replaced by a blue tit as the sole visitor to the feeder. It paid several quick visits.

While I had been visiting the compost bins, I couldn’t help but notice that the car was looking rather grubby so in the spirit of spring cleaning, I gave it a good wash and hose down. I also took the opportunity to use a little air compressor to check the tyre’s pressures and add some air to them. Exhausted by being actually useful for once, I went back in again.

The topmost branch on the walnut tree is a popular spot, and different birds come to enjoy it on different days. It was the turn of a collared dove today.

I had spread some of the fallen seed from under the feeder on to the middle lawn earlier in the day and blackbirds and chaffinches were very grateful.

The amount of birds on the feeder doubled at one point. (You can see more seed being added to the discard pile. How they manage to drop the seed behind them is a mystery.)

After a helping of Mrs Tootlepedal’s lightly curried parsnip soup for lunch, I had another look at the birds and finally found a flurry of action at the feeder.

The forecast held out a 50% chance of rain in the afternoon, and as there was cold wind blowing, I thought of going for a walk and went upstairs to put my walking socks on. However, when I looked out of the window, the clouds were high in the sky and the trees were not blowing about much, so I changed my plan and my clothes and went for a cycle ride instead.

Because it was pretty chilly, I took my electric bike and pedalled round my customary Canonbie route, going down the main road first as fast as I could in an effort to get home before any rain appeared. As a result, I didn’t stop to take a picture until I had done 14 miles when I checked to see if there were any ducks in the seasonal pond at Tarcoon. Not only were there no ducks, but there was hardly any pond left either.

It was quite a contrast to my visit a week ago.

Although it was grey, it was quite a clear day compared to my last outing, and I was able to enjoy some seasonably brown colours as I went over the final hill before dropping down into the Wauchope valley.

By pedalling as fast as I could over the final four miles, with the gentle gradient and the wind in my favour (and applying electrical assistance on the small lumpy bits on the way), I managed to get my average speed up to just above 15 mph for the 20 mile trip. This was about the same speed as Dropscone and I used to manage unassisted when we often cycled this route before coffee in the mornings ten or so years ago. We were young then.

I had beaten any potential rain, and I even had time for a quick walk round the garden when I got home. Our snowdrops are looking promising . . .

. . . and there are hints of early daffodils too.

We usually see the first daffodil in the garden about the second week of February.

I don’t think that the old chimney pot that acts as the centre piece of the circular garden outside the kitchen window is going to make it through another year.

We had an interesting flower moment this morning. Mrs Tootlepedal had only just remarked that she didn’t much care for the scent of the sarcococca outside the back door . . .

. . . when the lady who was delivering my big sack of birdfood said, “What a wonderful smell that plant by the back door has.” I have a very poor sense of smell so I remain neutral.

The blue tit’s visits provided me with the flying bird of the day. It is not a great picture and the blue tit is not actually flying, but it is a change from the usual suspects. You can’t have everything.

Mostly dodging the showers

Today’s guest picture comes from our son Tony. He spotted this interesting cloud over East Wemyss.

We had very variable weather here today with some heavy showers, some very gusty winds, and a bit of sunshine thrown in from time to time.

One of the heavy showers came in the morning, but as we were having coffee at the time, we remained very calm. After coffee, I had a look for birds and found very few at the feeder. There was a dunnock creeping about underneath and a pigeon preening itself on the top of the walnut tree

When I walked up to the town to order more bird seed, I met two keen walkers crossing the bridge. Considering that they had been caught by that heavy hail shower on an exposed part of the hill on their morning walk, they were remarkably cheerful.

I was walking along the High Street on my way home, when I got offered a lift by John, the ex proprietor of the corner shop. He thought that I might get rained on if I continued to walk home, and he was right. Mrs Tootlepedal was just setting off on her bike when we arrived at the house, and she was soon driven back home again by another very heavy rain shower. I thanked John for the lift. He tells me that he is surviving retirement.

I spent some time clearing the last of the sawn up logs from the walnut tree trimming out of the garage and into a small pile in our log store . . .

. . . and then swept the garage floor and got the shredder working. Mrs Tootlepedal has just started gardening again and there will be shredding to be done. Mrs Tootlepedal had another go at cycling through to the town, and this time she managed to get her errands done and get home dry.

After a bowl of lightly curried parsnip soup for lunch, I had another look at the birds and found a lot more action. I was glad that I had ordered more bird seed.

It was far too windy and wet to think of enjoyable cycling, so I put my heavy coat on and went off for a walk, hoping for the best. Margaret’s snowdrops are looking more promising every day.

I met two friends on the suspension bridge. They were looking up the river with great interest. They pointed out the first oyster catcher of the year, saying that they thought that it had arrived so early by accident and might well go away again. I would not have spotted it if they if they had not pointed it out, because it had its back to the bridge and I needed it to turn its head so I could see its orange beak. I got a better picture of it from the side as I walked up the river, but as it was raining by now, it was not a very good effort

It continued to rain as I walked along the Kilngreen and up the road to the rugby club. To get a bit of shelter, I took the track through the trees up the hill from Whitshiels. Someone has very kindly very kindly put a convenient gate for pedestrians at the top of the track. I went through the gate and looked up the valley. There was not much of a view in the rain, but a minute or two later, I spotted a faint rainbow. It wasn’t long after I had passed the three dancing trees that I got a splendid view.

As I walked round the pine trees and onto the road, the state of the weather depended upon which direction I was looking.

I had hoped to go up to the top of the hill, but the strong, cold wind and the threat of more rain modified my ambition, and instead, I walked along the side of the hill to where the wall is crossed by a stile.

I was very fortunate that two or three rain showers passed me by on the other side of the valley, and by the time that I walked down through the woods beside Jenny Noble’s Gill, the sun was shining.

In fact, it looked set fair for a while, so instead of taking the direct route home, I walked along to Broomholmshiels and came back by the road. This let me enjoy the mossy wall beside the road at Broomholm with its attendant peltigera lichen.

Walking back along the river, I noticed two sets of rather ramshackle railings, put there for the benefit of fishermen, and I stopped yet again at Skippers Bridge to show that in spite of some rather poor recent weather, it hasn’t rained enough to put a lot of water in the river.

I paid a visit to the Langholm Initiative on my way, and got home as the light was fading and a fine drizzle was starting. I had walked just under seven miles in just over two hours of walking time so I had been very lucky with the weather.

Strangely, I was happy to spend the rest of day sitting quietly in conversation with Mrs Tootlepedal and listening to the radio.

The flying bird of the day is a chaffinch.

General zooming

Today’s guest picture comes from my brother Andrew. He was staying with my sister Mary last week when he spotted this visitor to her frosty garden.

It was a few degrees above freezing here today without getting particularly warm, but it was dry and almost sunny when Sandy came down for coffee. Both he and Mrs Tootlepedal are being sensible about what they eat at the moment, so I had to eat a couple of the excellent chocolate biscuits which I had purchased from Lidl yesterday all on my own. I bore this with fortitude.

I filled the feeder, but there weren’t many birds interested in sunflower hearts today. I spotted a shady sparrow after coffee . . .

. . . but things were very quiet. After a while, I realised that going cycling would be a better use of my time than not watching birds, so I put on many layers of clothing, ate a banana, and went off on my electric bike. Although the temperature was about 5° or 6°C, there was a noticeable north westerly wind blowing and I was glad of my many layers.

Because I had electric assistance, I chose a route with a hilly start and went through Paddockhole with this fine conifer beside the road just past the bridge . . .

. . . and then turned left at Bankshill and headed uphill for what should usually be a glorious view when you look back. However today the light was not very helpful at all, and although it was almost sunny and the hill was still quite steep, the view was very flat.

Going down the other side was not much better, with only a glint of the Solway to be seen . . .

. . . and even the little reservoir above the village of Middlebie didn’t have its usual charm in the hazy conditions . . .

. . . so I put my head down, zoomed down the hill paying attention to any poor bits of road surface and kept pedalling until I came to Middlebie itself, where I found the lichen covered church looking rather charming today.

I stopped to take a picture of the viaduct over the Mein Water at the bottom of the hill . . .

. . . and a waited a few minutes in the hope of catching a train crossing the arches. I did hear a humming noise and got quite hopeful, but I decided that it was probably just the noise of traffic on the motorway a mile away and set off on my bike again. You can imagine my mortification when a train zoomed past me two minutes later, going far too quickly for me to get my camera out.

I did try one more view, looking back to the flat topped hill at Burnswark . . .

I did take one more view when I looked back towards the flat topped hill at Burnswark which I had cycled past as I came down the hill . . .

. . . but the light had not improved. I was on rather dull larger roads by this time so I put my camera away and only got it out once more to show what happens to the Korean pine cones at Half Morton over the winter. Birds or squirrels have been busy.

I was getting a little chilly by this time in spite of my many layers, so I kept going until I got home after 37 thoroughly enjoyable miles. I had done the distance on the strength of one banana and a couple of dates and I was more than ready for a very late lunch when I got in.

I finished the day off with two Zoom meetings, the first with our son Alistair and his daughter Matilda. Matilda played her recorder so well that we accused her of secretly practising, an accusation which she indignantly denied. She then played one of her more recent pieces from memory, impressing both her father and me. Neither of us would have been able to do that when we were eight years old. Her dancing lessons are obviously useful in more ways than one.

The second zoom was with my brother and sisters and Mrs Tootlepedal as we met to discuss the arrangements for our sister Susan’s funeral. There is a lot to think about.

Due to the lack of birds at the feeder, there is no flying bird of the day today. A sunny chaffinch is standing in.

For those interested, I have put the map of today’s route below. You can see that the start was quite lumpy but the ending was mostly smooth. You can click on it for further details of the ride if you have time to waste. The wind started from the north west but moved round to the west as the ride went on, which was generally quite helpful.