Plan B(iscuits)

Today’s guest picture from my brother Andrew shows a pond near his house. It was well filled by the rain associated with Christoph.

We had another cool day here today, with the temperature at zero at breakfast time and only rising to 5°C for an hour in the early afternoon. But it was dry and pretty calm, the sun was often out and there was no obvious ice about so I was in a quandary. Should I get on the bike to nowhere in the morning and go for a walk in the afternoon? Should I walk in the morning and go out for a real bike ride in the afternoon? Should I go out for a good long walk in the middle of the day and use the bike to nowhere later on?

I watched the birds while I wrestled with the problem. As has become usual lately, very few chaffinches were the only birds to be seen on the feeder..

…though the peanut jar did get some business…

…and the robin popped up a lot here and there.

I did so much pondering that I found that I had made a batch of Garibaldi biscuits and some leek and potato soup before I had made up my mind. Surprisingly, I was able to dig the leek up out of the vegetable garden with no difficulty. Our pond has stayed frozen but the soil was quite soft.

More birds distracted me as the sun got round to the feeder after coffee.

Mostly chaffinches again…

…seeing who could come in at exactly ninety degrees…

…but there was an odd sparrow and goldfinch too.

While I was out in the garden, I noticed that there is always hope of cheerier days to come.

When I got back in, I saw a lady blackbird getting very excited by an escaping seed…

…but she pulled herself together again.

By the time that I had pulled myself together and stopped distracting myself with cooking and bird watching, my mind had been made up for me. It was too late to do much at all so I just went for familiar walk after lunch and didn’t cycle either indoors or outdoors. Maybe this was my secret plan all along.

On my walk, I kept an eye out for dippers and kingfishers but didn’t see any as I walked along the riverside path so I had to make do with tiny lichen on a fence. I used the macro function on my phone and it did a fair job on lichens that are hardly bigger than a pin head…

…but having walking poles and gloves didn’t help. I will have to be better organised and put everything down before I try to take this sort of shot as the phone needs to be held very still.

I used my pocket camera to record the scarlet elf caps hanging on to a fallen branch beside the road. They have lasted a log time through rain, snow and frost. I saw them first exactly a month ago.

I had another go with the phone at some lichen on a tree at Broomholmshiels.

It had been cloudy when I started out but the weather got better as I headed back along the track towards the town…

…and the sun came out as I walked through the oak wood.

Sometimes cameras have a mind of their own though, and today my camera thought that it was a lot gloomier than I thought it was. I took a view over the town from the Round House…

…which I thought was rather cheery, but the camera reminded me that we are still only one month through winter with two still to go.

It did get a bit brighter as I walked on but the sun is always low at this time of year..

As I got back to Langholm, I caught up with my friends Mike and Gavin who were out for a walk of their own. They had chosen a longer route than me so they had obviously not spent as much time as I did in making up their minds where to go. Sensible fellows.

I added a mile to my walk by going through the town, along the Kilngreen..

….over the Sawmill Brig, and back by the Castleholm and Jubilee Bridge. I had secretly hoped to see interesting birds but once again I failed. This time I made do with some noble fir cones left untouched when all the others have gone…

…and a look up at pine where an interesting bird was calling loudly but invisibly.

I got home after five miles in time for a cup of tea and a slice of toast before two Zooms.

The first was with our granddaughter Matilda and her parents in Edinburgh. They are not wasting their time during the lockdown and as well as doing lots of school work, Matilda is encouraging her father to do exercises to strengthen his core and keep flexible. She has got some new tap shoes and gave us a display of the steps that she is learning. Hot taps we thought.

Then we Zoomed with my sisters only, as my brother was otherwise occupied. They had all managed to get out for some permitted exercise so they were pretty chipper too.

The forecast is suggesting a severe frost tonight and it is already down to -3°C as I write this. I hope that it stays dry enough to avoid ice.

The flying bird of the day is a chaffinch in the morning sunshine.

Out and out

Today’s guest picture comes from my sister Caroline who lives in Southsea in Portsmouth. She found a brisk breeze rippling the waters of a fountain on her walk today.

After two days of rain, it was a relief to wake up to a different sort of day here today. This was the view from an upstairs window at coffee time.

I expected that the snow, which was only on the hills and not in the town, might bring a few more birds than usual to the feeder but I was disappointed. I did see the peanut butter feeder in use…

…and there was some chaffinch action with the occasional goldfinch and sparrow thrown in..

…and a siskin appeared too but business was slow.

In spite of occasional sunshine, it was decidedly nippy outside with a brisk north westerly wind blowing and a wind chill factor below freezing, so I wasn’t tempted to go for a bike ride in spite of ice free roads. I thought that the snow demanded a picture or two so I set off to walk up to the top of Warbla and have a look around.

As always, where there is a wall, there is a will to take a picture or two, and I saw other things on a tree and at a stable as I walked up the track to the open hill.

There was not much snow on Warbla itself, even when I got near the top of the hill…

…but there was plenty to be seen on the top of the surrounding hills and even a little sunshine now and then to make it sparkle.

I would have liked to have had clear blue skies but the grey clouds behind the hills made for some quite dramatic shots.

Further up the Borders, they had had quite a lot of snow down to low levels but we had got off lightly and I had to zoom in to get a genuinely snowy picture.

I tried to catch the spots which the sun had picked out, but you can see the ghostly outline of a hill still under the clouds in the background of this shot….

…and sometimes the snowy hills and the cloudy sky were hard to tell apart.

The wind was quite strong when I got to the top of the hill and I had to pay attention to avoid being sent flying in one or two of the stronger gusts. I didn’t stay for long but I did notice that I could see the English hills for once. They weren’t as snowy as I had expected.

I didn’t quite get the snowy view up the Ewes valley that I had hoped for either, as the snow level stayed higher than I expected.

It was inhospitable to say the least on the summit, so I soon set off back down the track and. needless to say. as I went down, the sun came out in a serious way for the first time.

If I had still been in my prime, I might have turned and run back to the top of the hill again to get the views, but I wasn’t so I didn’t.

I looked over the top of Sandy’s house at the hills beyond from where I was…

…nodded at a sheep and enjoyed more lichen on a wall…

…before cutting into the Kernigal wood to get out of the wind.

From there, I could see that the snow on Whita was already beginning to retreat in spite of the chilly wind…

…but I was grateful for the shelter of the trees.

The sun was shining brightly when I got back to the park, so I thought that before going home, I would go down to the suspension bridge in the hope of spotting a dipper.

There was no dipper at the bridge and I was walking up the river bank in the hope of seeing one when an unusual flash of colour over the water caught me eye. The tiny flash of colour settled in a willow beside the water (you can see it if you look carefully at the left hand picture in the panel below), and when I looked more closely again…

…I saw that it was a kingfisher.

Kingfisher pictures have appeared in the blog before but one was in New Zealand, one was made of metal and one was sent to me by a bird ringer who was holding it in her hand. This is the first time that I have seen a kingfisher for long enough to take a photograph of my own so I was absolutely delighted.

It was in no hurry to move off and even turned round a bit to show me another side.

I didn’t see it fly away as I had been distracted by movement nearby. It tuned out that a pied wagtail was preening itself on a rock.

I went home in a very cheerful mood as you might imagine.

In the garden, we were visited by jackdaws and doves.

I had thought of a cycle ride after lunch but the experience of the piercing wind on the top of the hill put me off. Luckily Mrs Tootlepedal was in the mood for a walk so I went with her instead. We walked down to the river in the hope of seeing the kingfisher again.

This time we didn’t see a kingfisher but we did see two dippers at the Meeting of the Waters, one on each side of the river. By the time that I had got round to the Kilngreen, they were both on the same side of the river but one was under water.

They must be a pair so I hope to see them again.

We walked up past the Estate Offices but instead of going along the Baggra again, we turned left and walked along the track to the North Lodge. It was a lovely day by now and we were well sheltered from the wind so it was a good route choice.

We could see that the snow had almost all gone from Whita when we looked across the valley.

This came as a surprise because it felt pretty cold but a check with our local weather station tells me that the temperature was above 40°F (4°C) while we were walking. It didn’t feel like that.

We looked about as we went.

…and there was plenty to keep us interested.

When we got to the North Lodge, I had a peep up the valley…

…and then put the camera firmly back in my pocket as the light was beginning to fade and I had already taken over 100 pictures in the day. There comes a time when even I have to stop.

We met Mike Tinker doing a little work in his garden as we passed and stopped for a socially distanced chat for a minute or two. Then it was home for a cup of tea and a well deserved slice of toast. When I checked on my mapping programme, I found that we had done three miles and since I had done just under four miles on my morning walk, I felt that I probably didn’t need to add a stint on the bike to nowhere to my daily exercise routine.

The forecast is offering us four or five freezing nights to come with temperatures only just above freezing during the day. With a bit of luck, the drying wind that we had today will mean that we won’t have such an icy experience on the pavements and paths as we had last week. Considering that there have been serious floods to the south of us and heavy snow to the north, we have come through Storm Christoph very well, hardly noticing him at all.

We rounded off the day with a nourishing dish of mince and tatties for our tea.

The flying bird of the day is two chaffinches approaching the feeder simultaneously. I thought it would be rude just to pick one of them.

Footnote: I am sorry about the excessive number of pictures but I found it hard to throw them all away after at last getting a day with some friendly light (and a kingfisher).

95 percent

Today’s guest picture comes from my sister Mary. She passed this striking corner building on one of her recent walks.

The ninety five percent of today’s title refers to the average humidity of the day here. It was pervasively damp, and if it wasn’t raining, it was humid enough to make you believe that it was raining. Like yesterday, it was a grey day so although it was a degree or two above freezing, I wasn’t very tempted to go out for a bicycle ride and spent 50 minutes on the bike to nowhere instead.

As usual, any gaps in the morning were filled with footering about reading newspapers, drinking coffee, doing the crossword and watching birds, if there were any birds to be seen.

The avian day started slowly with just a dunnock scurrying about picking up fallen seed…

…and a robin investigating the peanut butter feeder.

Away from the feeder, there were quite a number of birds to be seen but they were perched high in the walnut tree, like this small flock of pigeons….

Later in the morning, chaffinches arrived…

…and then they were joined by a few goldfinches.

It was raining steadily again after lunch, but when I checked the rain gauge, it was not registering very much at all. It has been an odd couple of days, with a lot of time spent raining but not much actual rain falling. Our local weather station recorded only a third of an inch today.

Still, it was wet enough to require waterproof trousers, an umbrella and the wellington boots for my outing.

I started off with dippers in mind and spotted one on the far side of the river when I got to the suspension bridge. I eagerly crossed the bridge and as I did so, the dipper flew back across the river to the side that I had just left. I knew what would happen if I crossed back over the bridge, so I took a long range shot…

… and walked on.

My memory is not very reliable but I don’t remember having so many misty days in winter before. Mist was wafting about again today as I walked down the riverside.

Some alert readers may remember this fine show of fungus on a tree beside the Co-operative Store which appeared in a post in early December (with an extra ivy shot)

I had feared that this fungus might have been fun for a photographer but that it signalled bad news for the tree, and today when I got to the spot, there was a pile of logs, a few snowdrops and a marked absence of tree.

This is a great pity as the three trees in a row made a grand sight, but having a large tree falling on passers by or on the store behind it was probably a risk that it was sensible not to take.

I walked on and enjoyed the contrast between the winter heads of daisies and willowherb on the river bank.

I hadn’t really decided where I was going to walk before I set out, so when I got to Skippers Bridge. which was looking mean, moody and magnificent…

…I had to choose a route. I crossed the bridge and took the track up towards the Kernigal. There was a good deal of sinuous visual interest close to the track as I passed the cottage…

…but as far as views went, looking up…

…and looking back down…

…produced the same result, more mist.

Instead of sticking to the main track, I took a forestry track that I hadn’t followed before and headed up through some dark woods, too dark to photograph until I got to a thinner piece of planting and looked back.

I had hoped that the track would lead me up to a gate onto the open hill, and as it was pretty heavy going in the soft ground, I was very pleased to come to a gate…

…and not to have to go back down the track again.

Once on the open hill, the walking was better but the views were just as bad, whether looking forward…

… or back.

The ground was quite slithery and I had to keep my head down, but this provided me with a good look at a small rock covered with very decorative lichen.

It was only about a foot long but it had a really good collection. I had a closer look.

When I got back down to the road at the Auld Stane Brig, I had more route choices, the Becks track, Gaskell’s Walk or straight back down the road. My legs got to choose so I went straight back down the road. Walking over soft ground in wellies and waterproof over-trousers is hard work these days.

Back in the garden, I took a look at a rhododendron bush.

It is looking quite promising but last spring it had looked promising too, and then it got clobbered by a late frost. I hope it has better luck this year.

My walk had only been just over three miles but it had felt quite varied and even adventurous. In spite of dire warnings about snow and gales, there had been no wind and the rain had eased off a lot as I walked. As a result, in spite of lowish temperatures, I had been a little too warm if anything. Our son Tony has recommended a pair of lightweight waterproof hiking trousers and I think that I will look into getting a pair of them.

I had a cup of tea and watched Joe Biden getting inaugurated. He has a heavy load to carry and I hope that he can manage. However, as America, like Britain seems to be run by and for the benefit of only the insanely rich, I am not tremendously optimistic about meaningful change.

The day ended with a Zoom with my siblings and Mrs Tootlepedal’s fishcakes for our evening meal so I felt a bit cheerier after that.

The flying bird of the day is not a chaffinch!!!

Christoph creeps in

Today’s guest picture is a very fine portrait of a hawk. It came from Simon, my camera club friend from Canonbie. He tells me that the hawk stayed in his garden for an hour.

We have been threatened with bad weather from Storm Christoph over the next couple of days but we are right on the northern edge of the affected area, so we are hoping to get away with a glancing blow rather than getting the full blast. We certainly had rain all day today, but it never rained really heavily and it was extremely calm as far as the wind went.

After doing quite a lot of walking and indoor and outdoor cycling lately, my legs asked for a day off today, which I graciously granted. I left the bike to nowhere alone and frittered the morning away. The birds were taking a day off too, and it was so gloomy that it was hard to capture the few that came.

Even when they stood still.

We had a few siskins today and I saw three on the feeder at the same time.

The bird watching was so intermittent that I amused myself by taking pictures of the climbing hydrangea beside the window, offering signs of the past year and hopes for the future.

After lunch, we got itchy feet and put on extensive rainwear and wellies, picked up umbrellas, and went for a walk.

We started out along the riverside in the hope of seeing a dipper. We did see one at the Kirk Brig but it saw us too, and flew off before I could focus.

To tell the truth, I don’t think that it would have been a good picture even if I had got focussed. It was a very gloomy afternoon with the clouds well down.

We walked up the road past the Estate Offices and were impressed by the amount of water running off the hill.

I had emptied five inches of rain and melted snow out of Mary Jo’s rain gauge before we left for the outing, and the was plenty of evidence of water running off the fields as we went along the Baggra track….

…and plenty on the track itself as Mrs Tootlepedal picked her way along it.

Although it was a soggy day…

…the track was not as bad to walk along as it looks. It was wet but it wasn’t deep and our wellies were well up to the task. The track is always attractive in any weather in our view…

…and the clouds did begin to lift as we went along.

There is no doubt though that the theme for this part of our stroll was ‘chattering water’.

We went down to the High Mill Brig…

…and looked forward with trepidation to crossing it and walking along the short stretch of main road to the Rugby Club. It has no pavement and many large puddles. Luckily, we found a moment when there was a lull in the traffic, and the few motorists that did pass us showed extreme good manners, both slowing politely down and giving us a wide berth.

We gave them a cheery wave and I hope that they went on their way feeling that they had done a good deed in a naughty world.

When we got to the Kilngreen, the ducks made it plain to us that whatever anyone said, they did not think that it was good weather for ducks…

…seeing as it was as wet on land as it was in the water.

We went back along the river in the hope of seeing a dipper again and the sharp eyed Mrs Tootlepedal saw one in the middle of the river. I saw another one at the Kirk Brig. The one in the river was too busy dipping to let me take a good picture, and the other one flew off as soon as it saw my big red umbrella.

It was not a top day for dipper shots…

…to say the least.

Still, our umbrellas had kept us dry and a cup of tea and a slice of toast and strawberry jam was an excellent reward for a three mile walk in the rain so we were quite content.

I found some time in the day to complete putting a week of the newspaper index into the Archive Group database, so between that and the walk, I got more value out of the dreary day than I thought that I would.

We have got more rain forecast for tomorrow but the wind is not supposed to get up much so it looks as though we will be lucky with the weather.

Flying birds were a challenge! Here is a siskin, my best effort of the day.

Footnote: I think that Simon’s hawk might be a goshawk rather than a sparrowhawk but I am not an expert and would welcome guidance.

Taking a chance

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

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

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

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

…and a rook on a wire.

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

The change was dramatic….

…and suddenly there was a lot of action…

…and reaction.

A chaffinch flew in trailing a thread.

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

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

…and a nice pair of pines at the Hollows.

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

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

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

…and a very uncompromising wall in particular.

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

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

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

One of them is the flying bird of the day.

Frozen in

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

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

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

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

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

Things got quite busy for a time…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…before I got to the trees…

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

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

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

…as well as a very unwelcome patch of ice.

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

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

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

…and the potential wild garlic…

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

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

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

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

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

Real cycling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Although there were still dark clouds about…

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

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

They have been busy felling the Kerr Wood….

…and soon it will all be gone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The flying bird of the day is a goldfinch.

Clouded vision

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

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

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

Goldfinches arrived but preferred to remain anonymous.

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

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

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

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

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

…and a small procession.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…but the view up the valley was still invisible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A chaffinch is the flying bird of the day.

Selective snowing

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

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

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

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

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

…and a few chaffinches down below…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I walked up to Whita Well…

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

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

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

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

I stopped and looked back up to the monument….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…though a blackbird was lurking around nearby…

…trying out a few poses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…and some abundant lichen.

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

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

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

…but we still enjoyed our stroll.

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

…and the cheerful red of the dogwood stems.

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

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

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

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