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Song cycle

Today’s guest picture comes from our daughter Annie.  She and Joe took Evie to the children’s zoo at Battersea Park but as Evie fell asleep, Joe and Annie did most of the animal watching for her.

annies animal

I started the day with a visit to the producers’ market at the Buccleuch Centre where I made purchases of fish, honey and meat and ordered a capon for Christmas.  While I was there, I turned down a kind offer of a cup of coffee from Mike Tinker on the grounds that I was going cycling and had no time to spare.

Having spurned the coffee, I had no alternative but to turn my words into action so I wrapped up well when I got home, and went of for a twenty mile pedal round my well worn Canonbie route.

It was grey but dry and the brisk wind was coming from the best possible direction and it helped me more than it hindered me as I went along.

I kept an eye out for trees along the way and saw several.

These are the remains of an old hedge.

3 trees raehills

And this one has seen better days.

blasted tree

This one lives on the edge of the first hill after the Solway Plain and as a result knows the local south westerly wind very well.

tree chapelhill

It wasn’t a day for views and I  could hardly see England at all.

view from Tarcoon

My final tree was this impressive specimen at Woodhouselees near Canonbie

Woodhouselees trees

The recent rain had lent impetus to a little tributary of the Esk at the Hollows….

spout at Hollows

…but it has been pretty dry recently after a prolonged period with an easterly wind, so there was not a great deal of water coming down the river.

esk at Hollows

There was enough though to keep the Archimedes Screw at the mill turning over sweetly, making green energy with little fuss.

archimedes screw

W hen I got home, I found that Mrs Tootlepedal had dug up the Christmas tree ready to be brought into the house when Christmas Eve comes for another festive scene .

Christams tree dug up

I had timed my bike ride well as the weather  got steadily worse as the day went on and by the time that we went to Carlisle in the afternoon for the first of our two choir concerts it had turned into a horrible day.

Luckily, as is often the case, the weather in Carlisle itself was better and we were able to get a little shopping done before going to the warm up and concert performance.  We usually have a primary school choir performing with us and this tends to add good numbers to our audience.  Unfortunately on this occasion the children weren’t able to be there as their conductor had suffered a family crisis and was called away.

Nevertheless we got a good audience (i.e. more than there were singers in the choir and we are a big choir) and they received our singing enthusiastically.  St Cuthbert’s Church is a good place to sing and as it is the custom of our choir directors to have short concerts, both the audience and the choir members left the church in a very good mood.  The choir are going to do it all again tomorrow afternoon in a different venue.

The Christmas lights outside St Cuthbert’s Church, which have been silver angels in previous years, are golden kings this year.

St Cuthberts Kings

I counted them and I think that there are three.

I think that the brisk wind must have kept the birds away from the feeder today as I hardly saw any birds at all, let along a flying bird, so a greedy goldfinch, trying to get a big beakful of seeds, is the non flying bird of the day today.

goldfinch

The weather forecast is terrible for tomorrow, Sunday, but we might get a bit of sun on Monday. 

Quite busy

Today’s guest picture comes from my sister Mary.  She visited Margate, home of the Turner Contemporary art gallery and was please to be able to capture a Turneresque shot of the seaside while she was there.

margate view

I had a day of general activity, none of it very vigorous.   The morning started with the crossword and this was followed by the arrival of Dropscone (with treacle scones) for coffee and conversation  (scones good, conversation interesting).

When Dropscone departed, I looked out of the window to see a blue tit on the fat balls…

blue tit on fat balls

…and a siskin on the peanuts.

siskin on peanuts

I couldn’t stop for more bird watching as I had to go up to the newspaper office to photograph an article from 1888 which had caught the attention of a Scottish Dance enthusiast as he was searching through our on-line index to the newspaper.  He thought that it might cast light on a Scottish country dance called Langholm Fair.  The article mentioned the old customs at the Langholm Fair so I have sent him a digital image of it.

On my way home, I passed the sparkly bicycle that I saw on my way to choir practice on Wednesday and noticed that it has a cyclist as well as sparkle.

cheery bicycle

By the time that I had done the processing of the image for the country dance man, the day had turned nasty and staying inside looked like a good idea.

It hadn’t discouraged birds though and after lunch (Mrs Tootlepedal’s curried parsnip soup, delicious), I had time for a look out of the window.

Sometimes it was quite wet….

wet goldfinch and siskin

…and sometimes it was very wet…

wet feeder

…and sometimes it almost stopped.

I was pleased to see quite a number of siskins on the feeders.  They are winter visitors and brighten up a gloomy day.  This is a male.

male siskin

Siskins are small but fierce and are not frightened of other finches at all.

siskin and chaffinch sparring

There were moments when the air seemed to be full of birds.

birds flying in

We still have more goldfinches than anything else…

goldfinch attacking goldfinch

…and I liked the slightly resigned air of this one on the top of the feeder pole, patiently waiting for a spare perch.

goldfinch in rain

There was plenty of entertainment for the casual watcher…

chaffinch attacking goldfinch

…but I took a last shot of this greenfinch winging it…

greenfich winging it

…and went to do some work on the hymns for Sunday.

This took some time and I was a bit surprised when I looked up and saw a hint of sunshine outside.  I put on a coat and went to investigate.

There was indeed some sunshine but I had left things a bit late and the sun was sinking behind the hill.  Only the top of Whita was still sunny.

whita in evening sun

It was already too dark to take riverside bird pictures so I just pottered round the New Town, admired the sky over Eskdaill Street…

sunset over eskdaill street

…and went back inside.

After an early evening meal of beautifully cooked (by Mrs Tootlepedal) beef and veg, we set off to pick up my fellow bass, Mike, and drive to Newcastleton where Langholm Sings had a concert.

The church at Newcastleton makes a good venue for an informal concert and it was both warm and well filled with a polite and attentive audience tonight.  Mrs Tootlepedal, who was in the audience, reported that the choir had sounded quite satisfactory so we drove home in a contented frame of mind.

Mrs Tootlepedal and I are both singing with our Carlisle Choir tomorrow and I will have to do some more practice for that before we go.

The flying bird of the day is a chaffinch.  It was not the best picture of the day but our chaffinches have been neglected in the pictures above, and I thought that the slightly blurred effect captured the miserable weather quite well.

flying chaffinch

A good decision

Today’s guest picture comes from my Somerset correspondent, Venetia.  She was checking out a potential walk route when she came across this charming bridge and kindly thought of my fondness for bridge portraits.  The bridge spans the Brue, canalised in the 13th century.

venetia's bridge

We had another depressingly unphotogenic day here today.  It didn’t rain all day but once it had started, it didn’t stop and a very strong wind made going out unattractive even when it wasn’t raining.

I have learned from experience that if you are going to catch a train to Edinburgh from Lockerbie, it may well pay to check the rail company’s on-line information to see if the train is running late or even if it is running at all.

I was intending to visit Edinburgh in the afternoon to enjoy the light show that the Botanical Gardens there puts on in company with Matilda and her father so a check was in order.

I discovered that an earlier train had been cancelled but was pleased to find that mine was running and was due to be more or less on time.  Luckily, I delved a bit further and found that although my up train was there, the train I would need to catch to get back had been completely cancelled.  The next train would be two hours later and would lead to me getting home near midnight. As the alternative would involve ninety miles of driving to Tweedbank in very poor weather conditions, I rang Alistair up and told him that Matilda and he would have to have illuminated fun without me.  He was sad but understood.  He added that the weather in Edinburgh was not too bad.

With nothing better to do, I checked on the birds and was pleased to find that a small gang of goldfinches had turned up.

goldfinches on a windy day 1

The feeder was less than half full…

goldfinches on a windy day 2

…and a bit of a queue had formed…

goldfinches on a windy day 4

…so I wen t out and filled the feeder and put out some fat balls too.

I went back in and readied the camera for a charming collection of avian action shots.

I didn’t see another bird all day.

This may have been because the wind was getting even stronger and when I looked out of the back door at lunch time, I could see smoke from a neighbour’s chimney being blown horizontally off the top of the stack.

garden on a wet day

I couldn’t see any of our hills at all.

Still, I was getting a bit fidgety and when I checked again after lunch and found that it was only raining lightly, I did a full John and went for a walk.

It was gloomy and the wind gave me a few vigorous buffets as I walked up the hill towards the Becks track.  It wasn’t a very promising day….

miserable afternoon

…and it promptly got worse as it began to rain malevolently.  It stayed that way until the end of my two mile walk.  I was well waterproofed so I was comfortable enough but my new camera stayed safely in pocket except for one moment when I was well sheltered by an overhanging bank…

becks burn on a gloomy day

…but to be honest, I was more concerned with getting home than taking pictures anyway.

When I did get home, Mrs Tootlepedal told me that our son had rung up to say that the bad weather had reached Edinburgh and the Botanical Gardens had cancelled the illuminating event so the decision not to drive 90 miles through tempest, storm and flood began to look like one of my better ones.

We are hoping that we may get to go next week instead (weather permitting)

I put some of the newspaper index into the Langholm Archive Group database while my trouser cuffs dried off.

The reason that I was going to Edinburgh by myself was that Mrs Tootlepedal’s community land purchase group had arranged a public consultation meeting for this evening.  She went off worrying as to whether anyone would come out to be consulted in such vile weather.  As she has not come back by the time that I write this though, I can only assume that people did turn up.  I hope so because an immense amount of work has been done by the group.

I nearly got a flying bird before the goldfinches went off when I filled the feeder.

goldfinches on a windy day 3

Today’s guest picture comes from my brother Andrew who met this alien in a shop in Derby.  For some reason, possibly connected to the label on its shoulder, he didn’t buy it.

Andrew's robot

It’s not often that a day completely defeats me when it comes to taking photographs or finding something interesting to write about, but today was one of those occasions so I apologise to anyone who has logged in hoping for entertainment.

It was grey when we got up and it got greyer and windier and wetter as the day went on.

I did go out for a cycle ride after breakfast but when I found myself battling to pedal at 7mph into the wind on a flat piece of road, I gave up the unequal struggle and went home and sulked. Fourteen miles was not what I had hoped for and the camera never came out of my back pocket.

At least I got home before it rained.  Mrs Tootlepedal was out on an errand when it started and got soaked very quickly.

The birds must have been sulking too because this was the most common view of the feeder today by far.

no birds

I almost saw a bird at one point but thereby hangs a tail.

a bird's tail

And when one or two did turn up, the light was too dreadful to get a proper picture.

dim birds

I gave up and devoted the day to writing a little seasonal piece to read at our Langholm choir concert on Friday and doing a lot of practising of songs for both my choirs.  I have got three concerts in three days coming up this weekend.

The day ended in a better way though, as the rain had stopped and the wind had dropped by the time that I walked to the Langholm Choir practice.  At the practice, I sat between two very competent singers and had a most enjoyable time as a result.  I sing a whole lot better when two other people are singing the right notes close beside me!

On my way to the choir practice, I passed a cycle chained to a lamppost.  There are quite a lot of these in Langholm.  In the summer they tend to be festooned with flowers but in winter, the flowers disappear and some of the bikes get suitably decorated for the season.

I don’t really approve of this as a cyclist because it pains me to see perfectly good bicycles used as flower beds or baubles, but there is no denying that they brighten up the town and lots of people like them.

The example I saw tonight is the flying bird of the day.

fancy bike

PS: The weather looks as though it may be even gloomier tomorrow.

I have a rich seam of guest pictures at the moment, so thank you to all who have contributed.  Today’s comes from my sister Mary.  She went up towards the Greenwich Observatory and looked back behind her on the way.

greenwich view

The slight warming of our weather continued today and there was no need to use the handy pre-heating facility on the Zoe before we drove down to Longtown for a visit to the opticians.

While Mrs Tootlepedal was answering difficult questions about the comparative readability of this…or this…or this…or this…

…I went down to the riverside to have a look at the bridge over the Esk.  Some weeks ago we heard a rumour that the bridge had fallen down, but this turned out to be an exaggeration.  This was lucky as we had crossed it to get to our appointment.

I passed an extremely severely pollarded tree on my way to the river.

lopped tree Longtown

No compromise with beauty there.

As you can see the bridge is still standing with all its arches intact…

Longtown bridge

…and fortunately the section that fell down was underneath a pavement on the approach to the bridge and not under the road itself so traffic has been able to keep crossing in a single lane on the far side.

Longtown bridge collapse

The arches themselves look well enough constructed to last for another hundred years at least. Longtown bridge piers

I learn from the Undiscovered Scotland website that “the Reverend Robert Graham inherited the family estate of the Grahams of Netherby. He began by building Longtown Bridge, which crosses the River Esk on the line of the Edinburgh to Carlisle road in 1756. The bridge was widened and strengthened in 1889 and again more recently.”  It has stood the test of time.  I take it that it was the recent alterations that have fallen down.

I walked up onto the bridge approach and looked down at the damage.  Quite a bit had fallen off.

Longtown bridge rubble

Then I went and had my turn with the difficult questions.  My eyes are so different that I can read the very small bottom line of the opticians chart with one eye and only the very big letter at the top with my other one.  However, I get good glasses from Mr Hagen so I don’t bang into things too much, though this may explain why I was hopeless at sport when I was young.

The most important thing is that my eyes were passed as perfectly fit for driving.

We drove back to Langholm and I dropped Mrs Tootlepedal off at home before taking the Zoe into the local garage to get a slow puncture fixed.  This was a nervous business for me as there is no spare wheel and no jacking points on the car and the battery lies flat along the bottom of the frame.   The garage was equal to the task of getting the wheel off without electrocuting themselves and an intrusive nail was removed and the tyre satisfactorily plugged.

I got back to find our ex-minister Scott having a cup of coffee with Mrs Tootlepedal.  I was deeply surprised that his scone radar had not told him that if he had come yesterday, he would have got a teacake to go with it.

It was good to catch up with his news.

When he had gone, I looked for birds on the feeder.  They were few and far between.  I captured a lone siskin and that was it for today.

SISKIN

We had lunch and then I went out for a walk as it had got too late for a cycle ride by this time.

December is supposed to be the official start of winter, and I think it is fair to say that my walks have definitely become wintery.

beechy plains december

I passed reminders of last summer..

seed heads murtholm

…and hints of next spring…

buds murtholm

…as well as a selection of trees, both complicated…

tree skipperscleuch

…and straightforward.

tree on track to kernigal

The track took me into a spruce plantation with no views…

kernigal track

…but further along, the spruces have been felled and there were prospects of hill…

whita from kernigal

…and town.

town from kernigal

And of course, there is always moss.

moss in kernigal

The writing was on the tree trunks…

script lichen on trunk

..in the form of script lichen.

script lichen

I finished my walk with two bridges, one natural which I went under..

fallen tree hungry burn

…and one reflective which I crossed.

reflective park bridge

Early in the evening, Mrs Tootlepedal went off to the Buccleuch Centre to do front of house volunteer duties and after I had had a bit of choir song practice, I went along to see the show.

The occasion was not the usual entertainment at all but a recording of two programmes for Gardeners’ Question Time, a long standing and much loved BBC Radio 4 series.

The audience were asked to submit questions in advance and mine was among those chosen.  Regular readers will not be surprised to hear that my question related to plant photography and the panel gave some very good answers.  But whether it will feature in the programme when it is broadcast is unclear, as they almost certainly recorded more material for the two programmes than they needed.  The programmes will be broadcast in January next year.

Kathy Clugston was in the chair and the expert panel were Matthew Wilson, James Wong and Christine Walkden.  Ms Clugston was very composed and charming and the panel were extremely knowledgeable and helpful so it was a treat to be there.  Radio is a marvellous medium and the lack of fuss and egos throughout the recording was very marked.

The team had come to Langholm at the invitation of the Langholm Chilli Club, a very enterprising group which grows huge amounts of chillis in the town and surrounding neighbourhood.  You can find out more about them here if you want.

My friend Sue Toon kindly sent me this picture of the panel which was taken by Roddy. of the chilli club.

GQT

None of the panellists have wings but this is the flying bird of the day!

A small step

Today’s guest picture is another from our son Tony and the kingdom of everlasting sunshine, East Wemyss.  If you look closely, you might see a seal on the rock in the foreground and perhaps a cormorant too.

wemyss seascape

After our recent sunny spell, we went back to rather grey and gloomy today, but the silver lining in the clouds was a rise in the temperature to above zero.  It was a curious day because in spite of the higher temperature, the dampness in the air made it feel colder and rawer than the recent much colder but drier days.

And although the thermometer had only gone up to two degrees, by lunchtime the roads and paths were miraculously cleared of frost and ice.

It was still slippery in spots in the morning so Mrs Tootlepedal had to take care when she cycled off to a meeting about the community land buy out and I had to go cannily when I cycled to our ex-corner shop for milk and a cauliflower.

I got back safely though and was able to welcome a determined goldfinch to the feeder.

goldfinch december

It stood its ground while chaffinches circled around.

busy feeder

We seem to have a pair of dunnocks in the garden at the moment, this one…

one of dunnock pair

…and this one.

other of dunnock pair

I think they must be a pair becuase I read that they are quite fractious birds and if it was two males, then they would be trying to chase each other away.

I couldn’t find any reliable guide to tell me how to distinguish a male from a female.

A blackbird made a face at me when I asked it to pose prettily.

blackbird making facw

I have had a sore back and have not been sleeping quite as well as I would wish so I had a very quiet morning, doing nothing more active than my visit to the shop and making some dull soup for lunch.  A toasted tea cake with my coffee kept me cheerful though.
(If you like tea cakes, I can thoroughly recommend Dan Lepard’s Top Tea Cake recipe from his book ‘Short and Sweet’.  His kneading method is brilliant for people with arthritic hands)

After a bowl of the dull soup (which was enhanced by some onion gravy granules to good effect), I went off for a walk.  Although I enjoy walking up hills, coming down them again doesn’t suit my feet at the moment so I stuck to the flat today, and did an extended three bridges.

I had it in mind to take a portrait of the handsome white duck that hangs about with the mallards at the Kilngreen if it was there.

It was there but it wasn’t co-operating.

diving white duck

However, after some preparatory preening…

preening white duck

…it finally posed for a portrait.

posing white duck

Mr Grumpy was not amused to find that he wasn’t the star of the show today.

grumpy heron

Then I focussed on trees.

This one looks green enough but the green is entirely moss and lichen with not a leaf in sight…

castleholm mossy tree

…whereas this one still had a great many leaves hanging on.

castleholm leafy tree

My final one, standing between the pheasant rearing houses, had neither moss nor leaves.

pheasant pen tree

Although there was no ice or white frost left on the track that I was walking along, there was still plenty to be seen on the branches of trees that had not seen the sun lately…

frosty branches

…and this little tree trunk looked as though it had been iced by a pâtissier

iced gtree trunk

…and a fungus beside the path was fully iced too.  Very curious.

iced fungus

I had thought that going along this track might put me in danger of slipping and falling but as it was, I could stride out with some confidence.  This was lucky because it was remarkably raw and I didn’t stop a lot for pictures, although hair ice is always a temptation.

haor ice Lodge

As I got near home, I could see that Whita had retained its own little cloud for the afternoon…

Whita in low cloud

…with the monument peeping shyly through.

monument in low cloud

On my way past his house, I called in at Mike Tinker’s to collect some photographs which he had been given to pass on to the Archive Group, and he returned the compliment an hour later when he joined Mrs Tootlepedal and me for a cup of tea and a toasted tea cake. (Tea cakes have a habit of mysteriously disappearing.  I made twelve on Saturday and the last one is going to a good home as I write this.)

Then Luke came round and we played a sonata by Hadyn and worked at a little Bach partita.

In the evening, Mrs Tootlepedal went off to the Buccleuch Centre to see a screening from the Old Vic of a performance by the National Theatre of Present Laughter by Noel Coward .  She enjoyed it thoroughly and I must say that this new idea of screening these London plays nationally is a very good one.

I found several moments during the day to practise choir songs but was left with a strong feeling that more practice is still needed.

The temperature is due to rise a little more tomorrow, so the prospect of a bicycle ride may not be too far off.

A chaffinch is the flying bird of the day again.

flying chaffinch

 

Today’s guest picture comes from my Australian correspondent Stephen.  Having read about the Langholm Christmas tree illumination, he sent me this shot to show that Australians can do Christmas too.

australian Christmas tree

Talking about Christmas, our resident robin is working hard to get us into a Christmas mood.

sunny robin

As you can see, we had another sunny day today but once again, it was pretty nippy and the thermometer didn’t get above zero all day.

The odd goldfinch braved the cold and made it to the feeder, but they didn’t stay long.

goldfinch departing

Mrs Tootlepedal had a quiet morning in after yesterday’s very long day, so I went off to sing in the church choir by myself.  Our potential new minister has been voted in by the congregation but will not start work for ten days so we had a visiting minister today who chose cheerful hymns and gave us an interesting sermon.

When I got home, the feeder was still quite busy but the bright sunshine is a mixed blessing when it come to taking pictures of the visitors and I settled for a flying chaffinch…

flying chaffinch

…and a sitting greenfinch…

greenfinch on feeder

…before getting ready for a walk.  The robin appeared again before I could go out…

sunny robin 2

…but I managed to resist the temptation to take even more pictures of it and went out into the cold.

Out of the sun, it really was cold in the garden and this was the side window of our car.

car window ice

After three days of frost, the leaves in the garden are no longer just fringed with crystals, they are covered with them.

garden leaf ice

…and even our wooden heron has got signs of a runny nose.

garden heron drip nose

A box ball summed up the two sides of the day…

half frozen box ball

…and Lilian Austin was frozen stiff.

frozzen rose

The chilly conditions had turned every leaf on one of the golden box balls into little ice flowers.

frozen golden box leaves

I left the garden and walked up to Pool Corner where a lone larch tree has retained some its needles.

last of the larches

I liked this contrast in tree shapes as I passed the Wauchope graveyard.

three trees wauchope

Expert navigators are supposed to be able to tell the points of the compass by looking at moss growing on tree trunks.  Today, the ice on fence posts gave a pretty good indication of East and West.

frozen fence post

Who needs diamonds when its frosty?

fence post ice

I crossed the Auld Stane Brig and walked back towards the town along Gaskells Walk.  I was keeping an eye for hair ice and I was pleased to find an example beside the path.

hair ice gaskells

The track runs along the side of the hill and was in shadow so it was occasionally icy underfoot and always chilly.

 

icy gaskells

My hands had got pretty cold from taking my gloves off to use the camera and I had to keep a good eye on the where I was putting my feet so the camera stayed in my pocket and I concentrated on walking fast enough to keep warm.

I added Easton’s walk to the end of Gaskell’s walk and found another example of hair ice as I walked back along the river.

hair ice eastons

I was pleased to get back into the warmth when I got home.

When we drove to Carlisle after lunch to go to our Carlisle Choir, the temperature was -5°C and we hit a fairly thick patch of fog not long after we started.  I wondered how the electric car would enjoy these conditions but it seemed unworried, although the battery charge went down a lot more quickly than it does in the summer.

Luckily the fog didn’t last for long and we got to the choir in lovely sunshine. This was the last practice before two concerts next weekend so we worked hard to polish up some of the awkward corners that had remained a little rough.  Mrs Tootlepedal and I agreed as we drove home (-6°C) that time will have to be found during the week for some final homework on the songs.

The temperature should get above freezing tomorrow (fog permitting) and we are due to get up to double figures by Friday.  I hope we do as I have done very little cycling lately and I am getting distinctly tubby.  Two mile walks taking pictures are fun but they don’t burn calories.

The flying bird of the day is a rather dashing chaffinch, showing great determination in the pursuit of a seed.

flying chaffinch lunge