Taking things easy

Today’s guest picture comes from my brother Andrew. He found the lake in Markeaton Park in a very peaceful mood in the late afternoon while on a recent walk.

We woke to a false dawn here. It was lovely when I looked over the roofs of Henry Street out of our back window. . .

. . . but by the time that I had got downstairs, the rosy glow had disappeared and another unrelentingly grey day set in. We have got reasonably high pressure overhead, so at least it was dry and chilly and above freezing.

Either because of my stumble at the bird boxes, or because I pedalled a bit too vigorously yesterday, my knee was quite sore this morning, and I had an even quieter time than usual. I did want to keep my leg moving though, so I made a small excursion into the garden and pointed my camera at things that I saw, including some actual flowers. I wouldn’t say that the garden was ablaze with colour, but they definitely were flowers.

The dead heads have stayed on several of the Japanese anemones . . .

. . . and we are looking forward to spring too. I hope that we get good weather and no late frosts for the azaleas this year.

And as always, there was lichen to look at. Blotches on paving stones don’t look very interesting until the camera peers a little more closely.

Margaret came for coffee and we enjoyed a comfortable chat while I ate all the biscuits.

In spite of an unsuccessful fly through by a sparrowhawk, there were plenty of chaffinches at the feeder today after it left.

Mrs Tootlepedal had been to the butcher, so I had an individual steak pie for my lunch. This made my knee feel a lot better.

Mrs Tootlepedal is going to make new curtains so she needed to go to Carlisle after lunch to find some thread which would properly match the fabric. I asked if she needed any help or advice from me, and when strangely it turned out that she didn’t, I went for a walk.

I chose a dead flat, two and a half mile three bridges route, and went along it very carefully and slowly.

It was rather grey and one of the two white ducks at the Kilngreen stood out from the standard mallards.

Gulls flew past me, possibly in the hope that I might have some food for them in my pocket . . .

. . . and mallards splashed down in the river ahead of me.

As I don’t carry food for ducks and gulls, they were all disappointed.

I pottered up the Lodge Walks and round the pheasant hatchery, and my eye was drawn to trees. It is a good year for lichen on tree trunks . . .

. . . and I liked the colour palette on this fallen branch.

Because I was anxious not to trip over any fallen twigs or branches, I was very pleased to find that the estate has made an excellent job of clearing the riverside path back to the Duchess Bridge . . .

. . . with most of the cut timber taken away already and only a few branches left in neat piles.

I enjoyed the variety of designs in the trunks and branches that I passed.

There is still a bit of work to be done near the Duchess Bridge . . .

. . . and the bridge itself is still closed . . .

. . . both because the parapet is slightly damaged, and because the paths on the other side of the bridge are still badly blocked by fallen trees.

I walked on and crossed the river by the Jubilee Bridge where I found a game a football in progress on the Scholars Field.

I stayed to watch for a while, but there was not a lot of goalmouth excitement so I left when the referee blew for half time.

My knee benefited from the gentle exercise, and I arrived home just as Mrs Tootlepedal returned from Carlisle. We sat down to an early cup of tea, and our enjoyment was enhanced when we found that we still had some French biscuits left from our son Alistair’s Christmas hamper.

There is a promise of a bit of sunshine tomorrow. As I will be at church choir in the morning and the Carlisle Community Choir in the afternoon, I will have to try to squeeze a quick outing in between singing. It always seems to be sunny on choir days.

The flying birds of the day are a pair of the Kilngreen gulls flying in formation.

Coffee and two trips

Today’s guest picture comes from my Auckland correspondent Stephen. He gets views like this on his morning walks along the shore at Waitemata Harbour.

Our spell of grey and cloudy weather continued here, but once again it was dry and comfortably above freezing.

After breakfast, Mrs Tootlepedal went off to take the minutes at a Langholm Initiative board meeting, while I entertained Dropscone to coffee. He brought four of his excellent girdle scones as he usually does.

We had a slightly shorter meeting than usual because I had another appointment, and the conversation was so full of interest, that the time sped by.

I had a quick look at the birds when Dropscone left. I saw this chaffinch. Like me it was looking round to see if it could see any birds.

My appointment was with the Tarras Valley Nature Reserve volunteers at the Laverock bird hide. I was in a group that was putting up some bird boxes in the little wood from which we had cleared the plastic tree guards on a previous visit.

The boxes are tied to the trees rather than being screwed or nailed on to avoid damaging the trees. They are all numbered, and Kat, our leader, was marking their exact whereabouts using the what3words app on her phone so that she can check each one at a later date. I downloaded the app and was quite impressed by it.

I noticed a striking black fungus while we were working.

The bird boxes didn’t take us long so we went off to join our second group which was collecting unwanted pheasant feeding bins from another wood nearby.

These bins are heavy and awkward to carry, and as I had already tripped over while going down to the bird box wood, I was quite pleased to find that the other group had already collected all the bins from the area which we were exploring . . .

. . . so we just had a very enjoyable wander round a wood which was new to me. We spotted some fine fungus here too . . .

. . . and a large outbreak of witches’ broom on a big tree.

We took a closer look at one of the clumps.

I read that these curious growths on birch trees are caused by the fungus, Taphrina betulina. Andrew Curtis on the https://www.geograph.org.uk website says that the fungus enters the tree and stimulates extra growth in the place of one shoot, and then feeds on this extra growth. It does not seriously harm the tree, and is usually classed as a gall, although particularly in young trees, it will reduce vigour and overall height.

When we had all gathered back together at the bird hide, Kat supplied us with hot Ribena and a chocolate biscuit before we went home. On a tree nearby, a chaffinch waited impatiently for us to clear off so that it could get at the feeders which have been put out there.

Mrs Tootlepedal was home by the time that I got back and we had lunch together. In the afternoon, she went off to visit our neighbour Betty for tea and scones, and I took advantage of a slightly less windy day to go for a cycle ride round my familiar Canonbie circuit.

I didn’t have a lot of time, and it was very grey, and even occasionally faintly drizzly, so I didn’t stop for many pictures. I did see two crows on a gate . . .

. . . and a morose bull . . .

. . . but otherwise, I kept going until I had to stop just past Canonbie to put my cycle lights on. As this was beside a monkey puzzle tree, I took a picture.

I was a bit worried when I looked at the hills in the background as they seems to be under a rain shower. Happily, this turned out to be an illusion, and I got home dry.

Mrs Tootlepedal had a very sociable time over her tea and scones, but got home just in time to take part in our regular Zoom meeting with my brother and sisters.

It was very dark by the time that I got home, although the sun had not yet set, so I couldn’t find a flying bird. I had only seen two birds at the feeder in the morning and this is both of them..

Footnote: There is a 2 minute video of some volunteers putting out the first set of bird boxes on the Tarras Valley Nature Reserve Youtube channel. You can find it here if you have a few moments to spare.

Shorter and duller

Today’s guest picture is yesterday’s sunset from East Wemyss. Our son Tony sends us these just to make us envious. He succeeds.

We had another fairly chilly, fairly grey day here today, but it wasn’t foggy and it wasn’t freezing so we didn’t complain.

I walked up to have coffee with Sandy, and found him putting up with his currently limited life stoically. If anyone needs help with this, between us we have sorted out what needs to be done to make the world a better place. We would be happy to share our thoughts with any national leader who hasn’t got a clue himself or herself.

I came home, delivered some Archive Group stuff to Nancy, cycled round to the shop, posted a birthday card, did the crossword and peered through the gloomy light to see if there were any birds on the feeder.

Not many, was the answer.

I had a look at the fungus that Mrs Tootlepedal had spotted in the garden yesterday. It is very small and it is hard to get a good picture of it.

I will try again again.

After lunch, I went out for a short and slow cycle ride round the Solwaybank windfarm loop. Like yesterday, there was a brisk wind blowing, but unlike yesterday, there was no sunshine to take the edge off the chilly breeze.

I stopped to take a picture of the Relief Church at Kirtleton, one of many churches that are now private houses.

I was pleased to turn for home after eight miles into the wind, but the poor light meant that I didn’t stop for many pictures. This view looks back down towards Gretna and the long hill that I struggled up on yesterday’s ride.

It was an odd day, because it was quite clear, and you can see the English hills a good distance away in the background of the picture above. The clouds were high and it didn’t feel gloomy, but the camera doesn’t lie when it comes to light. I had to boost the image quite a lot in the photo editor to get it to look anything else but pitch dark.

The road patchers had been out, and they had filled a carefully curated collection of potholes while leaving dozens of others to catch out the unwary cyclist.

In a couple of places, they had surfaced the whole width of the road but only for a few yards at a time.

Compared to yesterday’s ride, the light was very dull indeed . . .

. . . and I was happy to get home and out of the cold wind. Mrs Tootlepedal had been out in the shelter of the garden doing useful things while I was pedalling, and she came in too when I got home.

I had noticed some rose hips peering over our hedge when I walked up to Sandy’s in the morning, so I took a picture of them before I went in . . .

. . . but we got a much more colourful treat later on. Kathryn, of ‘Flowers by Kathryn’, delivered the third monthly set of Mrs Tootlepedal’s birthday bouquets.

Two more treats to come.

I had a curious experience in the evening. In response to letter from the government, I had agreed to do a telephone survey about home insulation. The telephone rang on time and after twenty minutes of questions which had nothing to do with home insulation, the interviewer thanked me kindly, and said that this was the end of the interview. When I said that I had only taken part in the survey because it was about home insulation, he told me that half of the people questioned were being asked about home insulation and the other half weren’t. He didn’t say why.

It is occurrences of this nature that lead people to think that there is a conspiracy going on.

The flying bird of the day is even duller than the day was.

Crossing boundaries

Today’s guest picture is another of Laura’s views from the icy shores of Lake Michigan.

After the drop in temperatures last night, I was expecting an icy morning here today. It was an agreeable surprise to find that warm air from the south had blown in, and the thermometer stood at a very reasonable and ice free 5°C at breakfast time.

This should have been the cue for a rush to get out the bike and eat up some miles. It should have been, but it wasn’t. By the time that I had grappled with the crossword, drunk coffee with Margaret, made some honey sandwiches, and watched the birds for a moment (seeing a great tit, several blue tits and a coal tit). . .

. . . it was nearly twelve o’clock before I finally got going.

I chose a route with an easy start and headed off down the main road into England, and then through Longtown and out on the Brampton road. This should have been a doddle, but an unexpectedly brisk wind made it hard work and by the time that I had done 15 miles, I was beginning to think that I should have brought more food with me.

Turning off to head east straight into the wind, reinforced this view and I was happy to stop and take a picture looking back down the road I was cycling along.

Mrs Tootlepedal tells me that wide verges mean that this is probably one of the roads which was made when the land was enclosed into fields. I like these roads because they are well drained and consequently their surfaces stay in good order. It helps that they are not pounded by heavy timber lorries.

There was pine tree catching the sunlight nearby.

I crossed the A7 at Blackford Church . . .

. . . and found some more picturesque pines a little further on.

I had done about twenty miles into the wind by this time and was more than pleased to turn for home and get a little help every now and again from the mainly cross winds.

I stopped near Justicetown to eat one of my honey sandwiches, and as I got off my bike, a flock of birds floated gently and silently down out of a row of trees beside the road and into a grassy field. It was rather uncanny, there were no bird calls and no flapping of wings, just a gentle glide down to the grass. As I munched my sandwich, as if at a given signal, they rose as one, circled round over my head and perched in a tree behind me.

I got a fuzzy picture of one quite far off in the field . . .

. . . and I wonder if they were fieldfares.

I headed on back into Scotland, went through Gretna, dived back into England again for a mile or two, and then entered Scotland for the last 15 miles home.

Just after I left Gretna, I came to the Black Sark, where a man making the new steps for the footpath by the bridge last year told me that he had seen otters. I stopped on the off chance, walked down the steps and admired the bridge . . .

. . .but found that any potential view of otters was hampered by yet another fallen tree.

In spite of a fairly helpful wind, I found it quite a slog from Gretna, which is 18 feet above sea level, to the top of the hill at the Kerr which is 500 feet higher and I needed a couple of stops to admire the views to stop my legs getting too discouraged. There are one or two welcome sections of down among the pervasive ups.

I liked the late afternoon light in this shot of the open country just before the final summit.

I got home before the sun set after 41 miles. I was pleased with the distance, but a bit unhappy about how long it had taken me. I will take more care with my nutrition on the next occasion when I go for a longer ride.

Here is my route map. My Garmin bike computer tells me where I have been in case I can’t remember.Those interested can click on the map for more details of the ride.

When I got home, I found that Mrs Tootlepedal had been gardening. She had been cutting back a berberis under the walnut tree, but had paused in the middle of the task to go and have a cup of tea with our neighbour Liz. When she got back, we shredded the rest of her cuttings and Mrs Tootlepedal showed me a fungus that she had found in the garden.

I will try to get a better picture of the fungus tomorrow.

Then we had a meeting with our plumber to discuss a possible new boiler.

In spite of the generally slow pace of things, it had been quite a full day, so I was content to let the rest of the day unwind gently without me dong anything to upset it.

No flying bird today but a couple of cheery perching chaffinches instead.

A bit of this and a bit of that

Today’s guest picture comes from my Lancashire correspondent Paul. He is on holiday in the Lake District and had a splendid day today for enjoying views of the Kentmere Fells.

My plan for the day, which involved enjoying wall to wall sunshine, coffee with Sandy and a mid length cycle ride, was an excellent plan and would have undoubtedly come to fruition if it hadn’t been extremely misty rather than sunny, and a very miserly -0.5°C at breakfast time.

There were justified hopes that the mist might burn off and that the temperature could rise, as some blue sky could be seen if you looked straight up. Sadly, the mist hadn’t read the script, and it was still all over the town when I walked up the hill to have coffee with Sandy.

Sandy and I had a good chat, and I was happy to learn that he is expecting to go in for the operation on his other leg early next month. It will be good when he is clear of problems and on the road to a full recovery.

The mist was obviously sticking to the valley bottom because the sun came out while we chatted and when I left, it lit up Sandy’s gatepost and its associated items of interest . . .

. . . but it was still misty when I got back home. Mrs Tootlepedal was having coffee with Margaret, and while they chatted, I had a look at the birds.

We could still see the blue sky straight above the town, so when Margaret left, I suggested a drive up to the White Yett to Mrs Tootlepedal to check if we could rise above the clouds and look down on mist filled valleys below us.

Once again my plan was good, and it went well as far as getting up to the start of the track up to the monument and looking back down the Ewes Valley.

Once again though, the best laid plan went agley, and as we walked up the track, the mist walked up faster and engulfed us. Soon there was no sign of the monument ahead of us . . .

. . . and although we could look back and be above the cloud . . .

. . . we were soon in thick mist and the only thing to be seen was a curious sheep beside the track.

Occasionally we could get a glimpse of the monument as the clouds swirled about, but it was only when we got to the summit of the hill, that we finally got into the clear.

It was even quite warm in the sunshine and we stopped for a while and enjoyed what views we could see above the thick river of mist rolling up the valley.

As we went back down the hill, the river of mist subsided a little and we could see both over it and under it at the same time.

I stopped the car on the way back down the road to finish off our misty trip with a shot of my favourite trees.

The mist had sunk well down by this time, but the town was still misty when we got home. With the mist being quite thick and the temperature in the garden being 1°C, cycling looked an improbable dream. However, while I was tucking into soup with bread and Brussels pate, the mist thinned and the thermometer rocketed up to 4°C.

There had been no sign of ice on the track to the monument, so I took my courage in both hands, hoping that the mist would continue to thin and the thermometer would stay up, and went for a cycle ride.

The start of the ride could not have gone better, and the sun was shining when I came to the Glencorf Burn.

I wasn’t foolhardy though, and jinked about so that I could get my twenty miles in without ever being more than 6 miles from home. This was in case the temperature dropped as the sun went down and left me in danger of evening ice. In fact it was ice free at the top of Callister where the tractor driver is completing his abstract art work entitled ‘Life Has Many Branches’ . . .

. . . and it was still 3° as I went back towards Langholm. The mist was gathering again as I went back down the road . . .

. . . and by the time that I got to the Sawmill Brig (while I was adding a little coda to my trip to bring up the twenty miles), the sun was setting and the mist was rising over the Castleholm.

In the end, I got home more or less precisely at the official sunset time, so I was very grateful to have managed to squeeze the ride in. Along with my coffee with Sandy, my walk with Mrs Tootlepedal, and the many misty pictures, it had been a much better day than had looked likely at one time.

As the temperature has dropped to below freezing again as I write this, we may well have the same scenario tomorrow, with a nervous wait to see if the day clears up enough for another pedal.

The flying bird of the day is a chaffinch homing in on the feeder.

Deferred gratification

Today’s guest picture comes from my Lake Michigan correspondent Laura, the daughter of my friend Sandy’s cousin. She visited Tiscornia Beach in St. Joseph and found these fine icy structures on the beach grasses.

We were far from that sort of frost here this morning at 3°C, but sadly it was in every other respect a rather miserable day. The clouds were so low that not a hill was to be seen, and a light but persistent drizzle made cycling very unattractive. I decided to put any thought of cycling to one side for another day, and make sure that my legs were in order for the promised sunshine tomorrow.

During the morning, I got another set of entries for the Archive Group’s newspaper index from data miner Nancy, and I put half a week of my manageable backlog of entries into the database. I found time to watch the birds on the feeder. Unlike yesterday, there were quite a few about.

. . . including a coal tit who waited in the plum tree before darting in for a seed.

A loud noise outside drew me into the garden, and I found that rooks were flying around in all directions . .

I had just gone back in, after taking a look at a collared dove on our power line . . .

. . . when a different noise drew me back outside. This time it was a huge skein of geese heading south.

There were so many geese overhead that I couldn’t get them all into one shot as I had my bird feeder camera in my hand and not my big sky Lumix. My phone made a feeble effort to catch the whole skein as it disappeared into the distance.

There were well over 100 birds, and perhaps nearly 200 in total, so they made an impressive sight and sound as they went over us.

Our resident bird life seemed a little tame after that, but there were plenty of pairs of jackdaws about . . .

. . . and the feeder stayed quite busy with goldfinches and chaffinches in the rain.

Mrs Tootlepedal was busy on the computer in the afternoon, so in spite of the miserable day, I went for a gentle and flattish walk just to keep my legs working smoothly.

As the drizzle was only light when I set out, I did without an umbrella. I hadn’t gone more than a couple of hundred yards at most before I realised that although the drizzle might be light, I was going to get unpleasantly wet if I went on. I used my brain for once, and went back and got my umbrella and set off again.

I have learned from experience that getting your camera wet doesn’t do it any good, and the light was terrible anyway, so I was very sparing with picture stops along the way. I thought that this summed up the day quite well . .

A couple of bits of fern on banks stood out.

But otherwise, every picture told the same gloomy story.

It was gloomy.

It wasn’t windy though, so the umbrella kept me dry, and it is always a pleasure to walk through the oak and birch wood in any weather.

I had an interesting encounter on the way when I met two men with a very big machine. One of them told me that they were just going to start to clear the enormous tangle of trees that have blocked the path to the park through the Beechy Plains. He thinks that they will have cleared it by the end of the week. It is an enormous task but he was quietly confident.

I took my time over the four mile walk, so it was extremely gloomy by the time that I got home. I was pleased to be welcomed with a cup of tea and some Christmas hamper shortbread provided by Mrs Tootlepedal.

Life is running at a very slow pace during these dark days, and I managed to fill the rest of the day without doing anything that I noticed. We did have a Zoom with my brother and sisters, and there were fishcakes for tea, but that was all the excitement.

The forecast is very promising for tomorrow, so I will definitely cry if I don’t manage to get out for a cycle ride, especially after great hopes for today were dashed by the drizzle.

A small selection of the flock of passing geese are the flying birds of the day. I don’t know what sort they are. They might be pink footed geese.

Barking mad

Today’s guest picture shows that it must have been raining quite a bit in Derbyshire. This is the Markeaton Stream in spate, captured by my brother Andrew today.

It did rain here too today, but only very gently and only now and again. Mostly it was just moist, dull and chilly. We cycled to church to sing in the choir and were surprised to find both organist and organ in place. The organ was supposed to have been under repair, but the repairers, like a lot of other people, had been detained by Covid. Repairs may start next week instead.

We had coffee when we got home, and then we were visited by a friend who is a tree surgeon. He weighed up the job of making our walnut tree less of a threat to a neighbour’s house. It has got so big that it would do serious damage if even one of its branches fell off. The recent gale showed that this is not just a distant possibility.

After lunch, Mrs Tootlepedal went out and did some gardening. I did some assisting under supervision, and the result was the first stirrings in the making of this year’s potato bed.

Mrs Tootlepedal was conscious of the need not to overdo the digging on the first gardening outing of the year, so we have plenty left still to do.

My legs are still feeling rather stiff after that slippery walk in the snow a few days ago, so I gave them a break today, and only went out for a short and gentle three bridges walk after the gardening.

It was very gloomy, there were no views, and I saw no birds of interest, so I stuck to taking pictures of the bark on the trees beside the path.

I was going to put them all in individually just to pad out the post, but I thought that that would be taxing readers’ patience too far, so here they are in a gallery (in the order that I met them).

As I was walking round the Scholars’ Field, I did spot something of note.

I did a double take, but it really looked as though this was a wild flower in bloom in January.

There was nothing in bloom in the garden apart from the winter jasmine, but there are still a few berries left on the cotoneaster horizontalis.

There are plenty of blackbirds in the garden so they should go before too long.

Mind you, I didn’t see any blackbirds in the garden today. Indeed I only saw one bird of any sort. As it was a sparrowhawk, perhaps that explained the complete absence of visitors to the feeder. Mrs Tootlepedal spotted the hawk, but it flew off long before I could get to a camera. It was perching on Mrs Tootlepedal’s improved fake tree.

I continued to rest my legs when I got home, and did nothing more purposeful than adding another week of the newspaper index to the Langholm Archive Group’s database.

I am keen to get my legs back in good order as the weather forecast for next week looks quite promising as far as cycling goes. It would be a pity to miss a good cycling day through carelessness at this time of year.

As there is no flying bird of the day today, I end this post with another two tone tree trunk taken on today’s walk. Those who read the comments at the end of yesterday’s post will know what causes the two tones (if they didn’t know already of course).

The first pedal of the year

Today’s guest picture came out a curious colour, but our son Tony sent it to me just to show that they have a moon in East Wemyss as well as lots of sunshine.

We didn’t see the sun or the moon here when we got up today because we were back to cloudy and grey weather. It was a degree or two warmer though, so the snow had gone and there were no slippery spots to negotiate.

We had a very quiet morning in. I did rouse myself enough to look for birds from time to time. There were none about at all when I first looked, but visitor numbers built up over the morning.

. . . and it got quite busy . . .

Sometimes the birds were so busy that they were just a blur . . .

. . . but if I pulled back the zoom, I could get a clearer picture.

The forecast had said that it would be quite windy with a chance of rain, but it seemed fairly quiet and clear, so after lunch, I got my bicycle out for the first time in 2022 and went for a spin round my familiar Canonbie circuit.

I did get a light sprinkling of rain soon after starting out, but the wind was not too bad at all and I was quite happy.

I got even happier when the sun came out after six miles.

With the temperature at 5.5°C, it had turned into a very friendly day for January cycling.

Beech hedges, which retain their leaves in winter, added a little colour to my trip.

I stopped to say hello to old friends at Canonbie.

I would like to say that we see eye to eye, but I don’t think that that is possible.

There had been some heavy rain overnight, and there was a bit more water running down the Esk and under the bridge at the Hollows as a result.

I have passed a lot of cut tree trunks after the storm, and many of them have the differential colouring that I saw on this example at Hagg-on-Esk.

I don’t know whether this is normal, or a natural result of exposure to the air after cutting, or whether it indicates a bit of ill health that might have contributed to the tree being felled. I would love to be able to interpret tree rings. It looks as though something interesting might have happened to this tree about thirty years ago.

I had to keep my eyes pretty carefully on the road while I was on the bike paths and old road sections of my trip from this point onwards. There was a lot of debris and wet leaves about as well as the very occasional patch of slushy ice. This knocked my average speed down too, but I was in no hurry and arrived home safely.

I found that Mrs Tootlepedal had gone off for a five mile walk, so after calling her up on her mobile phone to check her direction of travel, I got changed into walking clothes and went off to meet her.

We were getting near to sunset by this time but the weather was still good and the road past Holmwood has got much brighter since the storm blew the trees down.

You can get views that have been hidden by trees for many years.

Mrs Tootlepedal was going well, and I hadn’t gone a mile before I saw her coming towards me.

She hadn’t intended to go this far when she set out, so I was pleased to be wearing my bright yellow cycling jacket to make sure that passing motorists could see us as we walked back to town. The moon was up . . .

. . . and some threatening clouds were extending their hand towards us . . .

. . . but we got home exactly as the sun set, so that was perfect timing.

The cycle ride had made me feel very positive, and after tea and two pieces of shortbread from the Christmas hamper, I found the strength to fill in two sets of forms which I had been successfully ignoring for several days.

Sunrise is getting a minute earlier every day now, and sunset is coming two minutes later so we really are on the journey to spring. Mrs Tootlepedal even mentioned gardening today.

If it wasn’t for the fact that Covid cases in our area are rocketing up, all would be well. Sadly, we are far from being carefree yet.

The flying bird of the day is another chaffinch.

Sticking to the road

Today’s guest picture comes from my Somerset correspondent Venetia. She left Somerset recently for long enough to visit the smallest town in Britain (allegedly) Llanwrtyd Wells in Breconshire. There she saw this fine bridge over the River Irfon. Llanwrtyd Wells is the home of the world bog snorkelling championships.

Although it was only just above freezing when we got up this morning, almost all of the yesterday’s snow had disappeared. It snowed again lightly at coffee time and the day never got very warm, hitting a maximum of 3°C, but the snow didn’t lie, and the roads and pavements were ice free too.

We had an unusually sociable morning as first Dropscone came round for coffee, then our neighbour Margaret, and finally our other neighbour Liz. She had just completed her ten days of self isolation after family members living elsewhere in the town had had Covid. There is a lot of it around at the moment.

Dropscone told me that he had walked to the top of Whita Hill with his daughter, my recorder playing friend Susan, to celebrate the New Year. As they had gone straight up and down the steepest route, I was impressed.

When our guests had all finally departed, I watched the birds for a bit. Liz had remarked that there weren’t a lot of birds about, but perhaps they were waiting for me to have time to pick up my camera, because as the last guest left, the first siskins arrived.

They were soon followed by a small charm of goldfinches.

A flock of goldfinches is collectively called a charm, but as you can see, they are quite ready to get into an argument when they feel like it.

After lunch, Mrs Tootlepedal and I went for a walk. Mrs Tootlepedal was keen to take a rough track but after yesterday’s slippery outing, I was anxious to stick to well cleared roads, and she kindly gave way. We walked up the Wauchope road and back in a dull but safe manner.

I noted some welcome green shoots in the garden before we left . . .

. . . and we passed some cattle having their lunch too as we strolled along.

We went just over a mile and came down to the river at Bessie Bell’s. While we were there, the sun came out for a moment or two . . .

After we had enjoyed the riverside scene, Mrs Tootlepedal headed back home, and I added another mile up the road to my trip. The little bit of sunshine had passed over . . .

. . . and was shining on Whita hill behind me by this time.

As I didn’t have to worry about icy patches, I was able to keep an eye out as I walked along, and I enjoyed this whiskery tree.

Little bits of sunshine came and went, picking out the molehills and conifers.

Among the many mysteries of nature is the question of why only one patch of red hawthorn berries is left in a big patch of hawthorn bushes on the hillside.

Just beyond the hawthorns, there is a wall beside the road. It is a library of lichens. I saw all these within twenty yards and I could have added many more.

Considering that I also saw lichen on a tree trunk on the way out and more on a wall near home . . .

. . . it was a good walk for a man who likes lichens.

I turned for home after going two miles, and found myself being accompanied by the loud bleating of a sheep on top of a bank.

I don’t know whether I had upset her, or it was just life that had annoyed her, but she sounded very cross about something. Baa humbug!

I was pleased to have the time to enjoy this view . . .

. . . because when I am cycling down this little hill, I have to keep my eye on the road to check for traffic coming round the sharp corners ahead and don’t have time to take it in properly.

I was half way home, when I was very surprised to meet Mrs Tootlepedal coming the other way on her bicycle. I thought for a moment that she had come to check how I was going, but she explained that she had lost one of her scarves on the way home and was looking for it. When I told her that she still had it on round her neck under her other scarf, her reactions were somewhat mixed as you can imagine.

As the light was fading, she didn’t hang about but headed off home, and when I got back, we had a cup of tea and a biscuit to recover from all the excitement.

In the evening, I had not one but two Zoom meetings. The first was our regular meeting with my brother and sisters. The second was with my sister Susan’s New Zealand friend and occasional guest picture contributor to the blog, Stephen. He and his wife live in Auckland now, and we had a most entertaining conversation with them. Stephen promised to send me some more cheerful summer pictures from New Zealand soon.

The weather looks as though it might warm up a bit now, so I am hoping to have some cycling pictures by next week.

Today’s flying bird of a day is a chaffinch being rude to a siskin, a reversal of the normal order of things.

A definite change in the weather

Today’s guest picture is a fine oak, captured by my brother Andrew on a walk near his home.

The light was poor all day today, but it was quite an interesting day so I took a lot of very dim pictures. To save the patient reader from overkill, I have mostly put them in galleries and those interested can click on a frame to get the fuller picture. (Real life was much gloomier than the photo editor pretends that it was.)

If red sky in the morning is a shepherd’s warning, we were well warned today.

The snow did not put off the chaffinches . . .

. . . and I was very pleased to see a greenfinch at the feeder, along with goldfinches and siskins.

The snow eased off and left a rather slushy situation for Mrs Tootlepedal and I to negotiate when we went round to different shops. I went shopping in the morning, and then went for a walk up the hill in the afternoon while Mrs Tootlepedal did her shopping.

I headed up to the golf course where I took a set of pictures as I walked to the top of the course.

I like those two trees,

Once I got on to the open hill and started to walk along the hilly path to the road to the White Yett, I was so fully occupied in not falling over, that I forgot to take any pictures. It was sleeting as well so perhaps my camera was better off in my pocket. I should have had my Yaktrax on, but my two walking poles kept me upright on more than one occasion, and I arrived at the road in fairly good order.

Looking at the road . . .

. . . it seemed too tempting not to walk up to the White Yett and look over into the Tarras Valley Nature Reserve. I was hoping that those black clouds ahead were the sleet shower that had just passed me and not one which was going to get me further up the road.

The going on the road was surprisingly good and the sleet stayed away so I enjoyed my walk as far as the MacDiarmid memorial.

. . . but my plan to take some lovely snowy pictures of the moor was foiled by a sleet shower which turned up just as I got to the top of the hill. It reduced the visibility to about 100 yards. I turned to walk back down the road, sightly worried that going down hill might be a bit more tricky than going uphill.

This proved to be the case, and I really regretted not having my Yaktrax. I had to use small steps and keep my eyes on where I was going, and even so, my poles rescued me more than once from an undignified visit to the slush.

The sleet followed me down the hill, but I was lucky that it was coming from the side, and my good winter coat and hood kept me warm and dry. When the sleet stopped, there was even a hint of sunshine to the west, but it was only a hint.

When I got to the Kilngreen, I found that an old friend was taking a stand . . .

. . . rising above a gaggle of mallards.

Because the snow was so slushy, I hadn’t realised how slippery my walk would turn out to be, and I was very pleased to get home after four and a half miles without falling over. I resolved to make sure to take my Yaktrax with me if another snowy walk appears on the menu, whatever the state of the snow.

However, a cup of tea and the final slice of Mrs Tootlepedal’s gingerbread when I got in soon restored my equilibrium. The effort of concentration on the walk had made it quite tiring though, and I was very happy to spend the rest of the day sitting quietly until the time came to make a sausage stew for the evening meal.

The flying bird of the day is another chaffinch. The greenfinch flew off when I wasn’t looking.