Getting around again

Today’s guest picture comes from Mrs Tootlepedal who used her phone to record the scene in our garden this evening.

You will gather from the guest picture that it has not been a warm day here in Langholm. The sun did come out from time to time but it stayed cold all day. It was too cold for coffee in the garden but it didn’t stop Attila the gardener from being hard at work outside after coffee indoors.

She had a useful friend with her as she continued re-modelling the front beds.

In spite of the sunshine, there were still patches of frost on the lawn at eleven o’clock when I checked on the birds at coffee time.

The birds were obviously in need of seed and the feeder was very busy.

As Mrs Tootlepedal had mechanical assistance in the garden, I was not needed.

I thought that it was too cold for cycling and went for a walk instead.

I set off at midday and the sun provided a little warmth, but I needed full coat, cap and gloves kit as I walked down to Skippers Bridge.

The sun picked out some ivy on a riverside tree and I picked out moss and lichen on the wall beside the road up to Broomholm.

Like yesterday, I found a fine show of daffodils along a drive.

My plan was to walk round the ‘back of Whita’ weather permitting, and in spite of a small flurry of snow as I went past the bird hide, I got down to the Tarras Water without undue excitement.

The river was running low and very clear…

…and when I had crossed it by the bridge at Rashiel, I had fun watching a pair of grey wagtails hopping from rock to rock.

They were playing that much loved game, “Annoy the Photographer”. They settled on a rock and waited until I had nearly got the camera in focus before hopping gaily onto the next rock…and the next…and the next. When one finally did stop long enough for a shot, it turned its back on me and then flew off laughing.

I shouldn’t complain though. It was lovely watching them even if I didn’t get a good picture.

I walked up through the old farm at Cronksbank and came back down to the river at Perterburn, where I stopped at the bridge for a rest and a snack.

Refreshed, I went to have a look at the ford across the river to see if the water was low enough to have let me walk across. It was lucky that I hadn’t tried as Great Big Billy Goat Gruff would have been waiting for me (and the water was too high anyway).

It probably wasn’t Billy Goat Gruff but just one of the wild goats which were grazing near the ford. Some walked in the woods…

…but most were grazing among the long grass and far too busy too look up as I went by.

Finally, one condescended to acknowledge my presence.

As I got onto the moor, I was hoping to see hen harriers but once again had to make do with fine cloudscapes…

…and passing snow showers.

I was lucky when what looked like quite a heavy shower went behind the monument and down the valley which I had just walked up. It did no more than sprinkle me with a few snowflakes on its way.

The lack of any water running through this substantial pipe under the road near Hen Harrier Corner, gives an indication of how dry it has been lately.

I was very happy that it stayed dry where I was walking as another snow shower passed to my left.

Once I was over the col at the White Yett, I could look down into the Ewes Valley and see the road which I cycled along yesterday afternoon.

It was never very warm during the walk, even in the sun, but it was getting decidedly cooler as I walked back down the hill. A horse chestnut bud might have made me think of spring…

..if the chilly wind hadn’t been making me think of winter.

I was very surprised to see lots of visitors’ cars on the Kilngreen and even more surprised to see Pelosi’s ice cream van in the car park too.

In fact I was so surprised that I went and bought a nougat wafer form the van and sat on a bench beside the Ewes Water to eat it. It was so cold that it didn’t have much flavour but I thought that enterprise should be rewarded and was happy to have bought it.

A well kent face thought that he might get a morsel of the ice cream too if he walked up very discreetly and gave me a hard stare.

On the whole, I thought that a nougat wafer was probably not good food for a heron, so I ate it all myself, leaving him doubtless feeling a bit grumpy.

My phone, which was keeping an eye on my walk, told me that I had done just over ten miles when I got home. My legs had something to say about overreach. I enjoyed a cup of tea when I sat down.

I had another look at the birds when I recovered but there were so many about that I couldn’t photograph one without another getting in the way…

Even a small snow shower didn’t deter them but after a quick trip to the garden to check on a spirea that Mrs Tootlepedal had transplanted while I was walking…

…and to note that the tulips are still biding their time, I stayed in for the rest of the afternoon and made some Garibaldi biscuits.

The heavy snow shower recorded by Mrs Tootlepedal rounded off the day, and snow is lying on the lawns as I write this post. The weather forecaster mentioned that temperatures are a bit lower than the seasonal average. This was an example of understatement.

The flying bird of the day is a chaffinch, the only one of the day who found a little space for himself.

Changeable weather

Today’s guest picture comes from Michael, a long time friend of our son Tony. Just to show that he can take seaside pictures too, he sent me this fine study of a bridge next to the sea near Rockliffe on the Solway coast where he was today.

We had another very chilly night. Mrs Tootlepedal tells me that it was -5°C when she got up early this morning.

Once again a chilly night was followed by a sunny morning, and it was warm enough for Mrs Tootlepedal to start gardening not long after breakfast and for me to invite Sandy down for a cup of coffee in the garden.

We were joined by our neighbour Margaret, and it was pleasant to have an addition to our usual company. In spite of the sunshine, it wasn’t over warm so we didn’t dally for too long after the coffee was drunk. Sandy went off with our old bread maker, which he is hoping to be able to get working again, and Mrs Tootlepedal returned to her gardening. She is in full Attila the Gardener mode and two box balls bit the dust. I did some shredding and some more gravel raking, sifting and spreading on the very last section of the drive.

I found time to look round the garden…

…and have a walk along the dam at the back of the house.

Over lunch, I checked on the birds. The feeder was busy and a chaffinch couldn’t find a seat.

After lunch, I went for a cycle outing to see if my legs had stopped sulking. Fortunately, they were in a much better mood today, but unfortunately, the sun had started to sulk instead and it disappeared behind the clouds as I made my way up the road towards Mosspaul against a gentle breeze.

And then it started to snow.

The snow shower was not heavy and the snow itself was very light, so I kept going and by the time that I got to the head of the valley, it had stopped and the sun had re-appeared.

I had stopped at this point to look at the little waterfall that appears in today’s header picture. It is caused by the river running straight on and cutting a corner. The cut off loop to the left of the waterfall should be forming an ox bow lake but as you can see from the panel below, there is no water in the by-passed section of the river.

I had a look at the fine daffodils at the entrance to a farm…

…and set off up the climb through the narrow valley to Mosspaul.

Half way up, I met a small blizzard.

It began snowing quite hard and the flakes were starting to lie on the road. I did wonder for a moment if it would be wise to turn back. However, the previous shower had not lasted long so I pressed on, and by the time that I had got to the top of the hill, the snow had reduced itself to the occasional flake.

Fortified by half a banana, I decided to go five miles down the other side of the hill. I even felt confident enough to stop and take a tree picture.

I was a bit worried when another sharp snowstorm loomed up ahead of me, but fortunately it drifted past me, half a mile to my left, and I only caught a few flakes. Still, this unreliable weather did make me stop after fifteen miles.

My plan for the trip back was to cycle fast enough to avoid the next snow flurry coming from behind me, and slowly enough to avoid catching up the one that had just gone past me. It was a good plan and it worked out well.

When I got home, I found that Mrs Tootlepedal had walked up to the stables and got another bucket of manure. Her life is an endless round of fun.

I was in excellent time for a cup of tea and a look at the birds before the Grand National took place.

I spotted a redpoll arriving at the feeder in a race with a siskin…

…and a redpoll leaving the feeder chasing a siskin.

For the benefit of readers who do not know about British horse racing, the Grand National is a four mile handicap steeplechase, one of the biggest events of the horse racing year. There were 40 entrants this year and it was a frightening sight to see them all charging at the first fence. History was made as a female rider won the race for the first time, but the female rider that I was backing, was unseated and taken to hospital. I hope that she recovers.

By the time that the race was over, the sunshine was settled again and it was a lovely evening, so I went for a short three bridges walk, starting along the Esk, where I saw handsome birds…

… and beautiful blossom…

…and the first of the Lady’s Smock or Cuckoo Flowers of the season, a very welcome sight.

At the Kilngreen, the shadows were lengthening.,..

…and this gave me the chance to indulge my affection for back lit flowers as I walked on.

The Noble fir at the corner of the Castleholm was looking busy…

…and there were other developments to be seen…

…as I walked along the path to the Jubilee Bridge.

I met a family with two excited children who were searching for a set of numbered and painted stones which kindly people had set out round the town and the Castleholm as a sort of Easter holiday hunt.

I found one.

In spite of the sun, it was cold enough to bring a tear to the eye of a walker by this time, so I hurried home without taking any more pictures.

The pattern of dry and mostly sunny days with cold nights seems set to continue for a few days, but at least the forecasters think that the days will gradually get warmer. I hope that they are right as I would like to get a longer ride in soon and it is not much fun if it is cold all the time.

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

A brown study

Today’s guest picture comes from my sister Caroline who came across this sturdy building on a walk beside the sea at Portsmouth.

We had another frosty night here, but as it was followed by a fine sunny day with calmer winds, we were reasonable happy.

The gang of blackbirds was back, considering a lump of peanut butter which Mrs Tootlepedal had put out on the drive in front of the kitchen window.

There was a lot of squabbling but in the end, the female made off with the peanut butter.

The sunshine let us have coffee in the garden with Margaret. We were joined by our friend Nancy who was passing on her way to her allotment. She was tempted to pause and join the conversation by the offer of a ginger biscuit.

Mrs Tootlepedal took advantage of the weather by working hard in the garden both before and after coffee. She transplanted a clematis and then moved a lot of Vinca into the new bed beside the slabs in the drive. I went to the corner shop before coffee and scarified the front lawn afterwards.

The front lawn gets very little sunshine over the winter months and as a result gets very mossy by the start of spring time. I removed a binful of moss but could easily have removed as much again if I had wanted to. However, with more frosty nights to come, I didn’t want to do it too much violence, so I got the mower out to gently press the moss and clear up the loose pieces still lying around after I had raked the lawn.

The finished product was best looked at from a distance.

After coffee, I checked on the tulips. They are barely able to contain their impatience at the run of cold nights which is holding them back.

I sat on the bench outside the kitchen window and watched siskins come to the feeder.

Of all our feeder visitors, they are the least afraid to feed while there is someone near, clicking away with a camera.

Encouraged by the siskins a female chaffinch flew in and was received calmly.

Things got a little more heated when a male chaffinch barged in.

Another chaffinch sensibly waited on the fake buddleia until there was uncontested space at the table.

After lunch, I had time for another look at the feeder, where chaffinches and siskins were still arguing.

The wind was in a more kindly mood today so I got my bike out and set off for a pedal of an indeterminate length. Unlike yesterday’s walk when I went much further than I expected, today’s ride was shorter than I wished. My legs were not at all in a co-operative mood and I only made it as far as Canonbie and back, and even that was quite hard work.

I was happy to stop at the top of the hill to enjoy a good clear view over the Solway.

When we coming back from our second vaccination a week ago, a fellow cyclist pulled up beside us and told us that the Fauldie road had been resurfaced, I thought that I ought to investigate so I changed my usual route for my Canonbie circuit and took the Fauldie road down to the bottom of the Canonbie by-pass.

Our informant was right, the road had been resurfaced…

…but sadly, only about half the distance from Glenzier had been done to this excellent standard. There were several very smooth new sections and the rest if the road had been left unimproved, still bumpy and occasionally potholed.

The wind had moved round a point or two since my last trip to Canonbie, and although it helped me on my way down again, it was rather across and against on the way back to Langholm. I kept my head down and concentrated on pedalling rather than photography. I couldn’t resist the daffodils at Canonbie though, neither individually…

…nor en masse.

And I equally couldn’t resist a look at my favourite larch beside the river…

…and following a suggestion from Mrs Tootlepedal, I realise that I have got male and female flowers in this picture, the colourful females standing up at the back and the dull male drooping down on the right of the frame.

Rather surprisingly, considering that the the sun never stopped shining, I got snowed on as I cycled back into the town. It only lasted a few minutes though and came to nothing.

As the sun kept shining when I got home, after I had had a look at the grape hyacinths in the garden…

…and had worried for a moment that this chaffinch had flown so speedily into the feeder that its head was jammed tight…

…Mrs Tootlepedal and I drove up to the Langholm Moor in the hope of seeing interesting birds.

The moor is at its brownest just now…

…with heather, grass and bracken all dormant.

The wind had dropped, and we sat peacefully in the car with the window open and enjoyed the total silence of the moor.

We wouldn’t have minded a bird call or two, but there were no birds to be seen. We watched clouds instead.

In the end, we left without seeing any interesting birds and retired home for a cup of tea and the very last of the ginger biscuits.

I am hoping that my legs will be more amenable tomorrow, as we are promised another sunny day after a another chilly night, and it would be a pity to waste it.

The flying bird of the day is a goldfinch who looks as though he too is not having the best of days.

Gloves off

Today’s guest picture comes from my sister Mary. She spotted a fox in her small London garden.

We had another grey and chilly day here, not quite so cold but a lot greyer after a little overnight rain. In need of some excitement, I got Mrs Tootlepedal to cut my hair in the morning and after that I felt quite light headed all day.

Mrs Tootlepedal also felt the need for some excitement, so she walked up to the stables and came home with a bucket of manure for the new bed next to the relaid slabs in the drive.

I had a look at the birds at lunch time and found the feeder quite busy…

…though there was a moment when the avian world stood still to admire the cool of a chaffinch showing a stylish one handed grip.

After lunch, Mrs Tootlepedal spotted goings on in the blackbird community, where not just one…

…but two male blackbirds…

…were puffing themselves up and pestering a reluctant female.

She was up for a fight though and chased them both off in no uncertain manner.

Mrs Tootlepedal had spotted that blackbirds have made a nest in the clematis at the backdoor and I don’t know of this fracas was part of that affair or another set of birds altogether.

I looked round the garden and noted that the rain had got the hellebores to lift up their heads…

…and I had a look at the well concealed nest, while a starling tried to impress a pigeon with its flying skills.

After some debate with myself about a route (it was very windy again and rain threatened), I went for a walk. I didn’t have a firm route planned and thought that I would see how wind and weather went.

I visited the Kilngreen and saw an oystercatcher well tucked up against the breeze keeping its head and one leg warm…

…while a female mallard seemed less bothered by the conditions.

For the first part of my walk, I went up the High Mill Brig, strolled round the field and headed back towards town along the Baggra, giving myself the opportunity to end my walk early if it started to rain.

In fact, it stayed fine and there was even a moment when it looked at though it was going to turn out nice…

…but it was only a moment.

I took consolation in a show of primroses and some rather bedraggled marsh marigolds on one side of the track..

…and a fine display of cladonia lichen on the wall on the other side.

It is still very dry and there was only a trickle of water running off the field and into a drain. You might think that it was so cold that it was frozen…

…but that is a trick of the camera and when I upped the shutter speed, it revealed the individual drops in action.

It was like one of those bead curtains that you see in the seedier sort of night spots.

When I got to the moment to decide whether to go home or go on, the weather was pleasant enough to persuade me to put my gloves in my pocket and to go up on to Castle Hill…

…though I went through a handy gate rather than use the rather sporting stile.

Half way up the hill, I took the track that circles round the side of the hill…

…and then the track that goes through the woods above the Longfauld…

..before dropping down through a clearing and taking the forestry track back down towards the North Lodge.

I walked round the pheasant hatchery and was impressed by some spring leaf work…

…and a really big bud.

The rain was still holding off and I was well sheltered from the wind, so I continued down the side of the river as far as the Jubilee Bridge, crossed it when I came to it, and then walked round the Scholars’ Field path where I found flowers growing out of the wall.

As it was still dry, instead of going home at this point, I walked up the steps to Holmwood and took the track to the Becks Burn. I had rung up Sandy to see if he was available to join me for this section of the outing but as I had received no reply, I passed his house and kept going.

This might have been the proverbial step too far. A light drizzle started and I found myself heading straight into a rising and boisterous wind, but having started, I kept going, crossed the Becks Burn and came home by the road. From a photographic point of view, this section of the walk was a write off, as the drizzle and wind made me keep my head down, and the light was awful anyway.

From the point of view of an energetic walk though, it was a success, and I was thoroughly tired but entirely satisfied when I got home after an unexpected seven mile trip in the course of which I had followed all the three rivers which meet in Langholm.

I had just enough strength left to down a cup of tea and eat three ginger biscuits.

We are promised four more days of freezing nights and chilly days but as the wind is due to drop, I may be able to mix walking and cycling which will please my knees.

The flying bird is a goldfinch, not a great picture but at least it is not another chaffinch.

Magical geometry

Today’s guest picture comes from my sister Caroline. She took in a plant to protect it from the winter and it has grown so well indoors that she can’t get it back out into the garden again, and it is blushing unseen in the utility room.

Nothing much would have wanted to be going out into our garden here early this morning as the temperature had sunk as low as -5°C in the early hours.

However, it had warmed up just enough to allow a well wrapped up coffee in the garden with our neighbours Liz and Margaret when the time came. In spite of the odd glimpse of sunlight, we didn’t last all that long though as it was still pretty chilly.

After coffee, we went back inside and found things to read to keep us happy until lunchtime. Mrs Tootlepedal made ham and vegetable broth for lunch, just the thing for a cold day.

After lunch, I had a look at the birds, and found an impatient chaffinch which had grabbed a seed almost before it had landed on the feeder….

…and a calmer female who took a firm grip and got her wings down before getting stuck in.

There was a beady eyed pigeon keeping an eye on things again…

…and the redpoll was back, which was good to see. They are tiny birds and their colouring tests the ability of my camera to get a sharp picture of them unless the light is just right, which it wasn’t today.

In general the feeder was busy again…

…and I will have to remember to order new supplies of bird seed soon.

It was still cold after lunch but the wind was much less strong than it has been lately, so I put on all possible layers of cycling clothing and went out for a short ride.

Although things are greening up in the garden and woodlands, the hills are still very colourless, and this shot, taking looking behind me when I stopped on my way up the hill from Wauchope Schoolhouse…

…shows that we have a few weeks to go before our green hills are back again.

As you can see, there were patches of sunshine about and when one of them infrequently included me, the sun was high enough to give a welcome feeling of warmth.

As I continued up the hill, four birds rose up from as field beside the road and I tried to get a picture as they flew across the sky in front of me.

I wasn’t very hopeful but the magic of the photo editor can enlarge the tiny dot that you can see in the left hand panel just enough to prove that I was watching four lapwings in flight. Lapwings have become very rare round here in recent years so it was good to see four of them today.

The wind was strong enough to give me a good helping hand over the hill and down to the bottom of the Canonbie by-pass, so I was expecting a bit of battle back up the valley to Langholm. However, on this rare occasion, the wind turned out to be behind me, or at least not against me, in both directions today. This sounds unlikely, but as my route is essentially a very shallow V shape, if the wind is perfectly positioned, each way assistance is possible. And very welcome.

I was enjoying my pedalling so much that I didn’t stop for another picture until I got to the old main road, now a bike and pedestrian route, a couple of miles from home. I was beside the river…

…and I checked to see if there was another flower on the young larch tree there.

Thanks to the kindly wind and an improving knee, I did the ride today twelve minutes faster than my last effort a week ago!

When I got home, I enjoyed a cup of tea and a ginger biscuit, but not before I had had a walk round the garden.

The tulips are still biding their time in the cold weather…

…so we are relying on various daffodils…

…to keep us cheerful…

…for the time being.

There are other flowers available but not in any quantity. The Forsythia is colourful but modest in size…

…and the dandelions are fine but grow close to the ground (and not in the flower beds!)

I am keeping an eye on the tree peony shoots which look more potential each time I look.

I saw a lone bee among the fritillaries…

…which obviously have plenty of pollen on board.

My favourite sight was this combination of hellebores and daffodils inn the bed outside the kitchen window.

The bird feeder was well down by this time so I topped it up again, and it was soon dealing with a rush of customers.

Neither of us have been sleeping as well as we would like lately, so we were quite happy to let the day ease gently down with a sibling zoom and a light evening meal. Some warmer weather would no doubt help a bit, but there is no sign of that on the horizon just now.

The flying bird of the day is a chaffinch (again). They are by far our most frequent visitors with twenty or thirty about on some days

A reason to be grumpy

Today’s guest picture comes from our son Tony, who spotted an audacious attempt by a ship to make off with the Bass Rock, an internationally important nesting site for gannets. Luckily it was seen in time and they made them put the rock back.

We had another sunny morning here today, but it was even colder than yesterday and we didn’t venture out into the garden until we had had our coffee indoors. The temperature had got up to 6°C by this time but the brisk north wind made it feel a lot colder. A lot.

I watched the birds on the feeder basking in glorious sunshine just before coffee.

Chaffinches arrived in the sun and left under a cloud…

…and among the usual sparring siskins, a female redpoll appeared so it looks as though we have a pair.

When we went out, we wisely kept ourselves warm by working hard. I was doing more raking, sieving and levelling of the gravel in the drive and Mrs Tootlepedal was delving away as she remodelled the front border. She broke off from time to time to cast an expert eye on my efforts, and between us, we made good progress. We won’t know how successful we have been until it rains hard and we see if puddles develop, and where they develop.

I was projecting a walk after lunch but when I looked out of the window, I got a shock…

…so I found something do indoors instead.

When I looked out again, there were dark doings at the feeder…

…but it had stopped snowing so I went for my walk.

After yesterday’s hilly test for my knee, I took a low level walk today and went ’round Potholm’. As usual I started along the river…

…but by the time that I had got to the Kilngreen, it had started snowing again, and it was heavy enough to make me wonder if I was doing the right thing by being outside. A shape loomed up through the snow…

He and I shared a world view at that moment….

…and it wasn’t cheery.

However, I had quite well founded hopes that the shower would blow over in the brisk wind, and by the time that I had crossed the Sawmill Brig, I could see sunshine behind the snow at the Lodge gates.

I pressed on undaunted, hoping that the sun would last.

It did its best and only occasionally disappeared behind swiftly moving clouds so I was able to enjoy lichen and fungus…

…a phenomenally phat pheasant…

…green shoots on the forest floor…

…and a fine view up the valley when I got to the North Lodge.

Walking up the track to Potholm is a treat at this time of year as it is a popular spot for primroses. It was no surprise to see lots of them today. I could have added many more to this little gallery…

…but I was really amazed to see a lone bluebell in a very shady spot. It is weeks ahead of schedule.

I had chosen my direction in the hope that the wind would be behind me as I crossed the Potholm Bridge…

…and walked along the exposed road past a wonderful blackthorn.

My hope was fulfilled, and with the chilly wind at my back, I was able to look around and enjoy the sight of larches getting a little colour on the opposite side of the valley…

…striking lichen on the roadside wall…

…and lambs practising looking cute.

I did think for a moment of extending my walk by taking the track up on to Meikleholm Hill but a timely flurry of snow told me not to be silly. I took the direct (and well sheltered) route home down the road, passing a wall of moss and spleenwort, a lone scarlet elf cup lit by a transient ray of sunshine…

…and a lovely display of dandelions growing in the cracks in a wall as I got back to Langholm.

Leaves are developing in spite of the snow and cold wind…

…and I ended my five and a half mile walk in a cheerful mood, even though when I got home, Mrs Tootlepedal noticed that the cold wind had literally brought a tear to my eye.

A cup of tea and several freshly made ginger biscuits added to my feeling of well being.

Although I had enjoyed my walk, it had also made me quite tired, so the rest of the afternoon and evening was very peaceful and uneventful.

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

A lot better than expected

Today’s guest picture is another from Venetia’s recent garden visits in Somerset. This lovely pattern was captured at The Newt, which is a country estate and not an amphibian in this case.

The forecast had been a bit apocalyptic with talk of blizzards and gales and Arctic blasts, but I am beginning to suspect that the forecasters like to look on the gloomy side so that when the weather is bad but still better than forecast, we feel happy about it.

It was cold, there was a strong wind and we did get two snow showers, but as the sun shone from morn till dusk, and the two showers amounted to no more than this sprinkling of tiny hailstones…

….we were able to put up with the genuinely cold wind with reasonable equanimity.

Our admirable ironmonger’s shop opened today for the first time for several months, and Mrs Tootlepedal braved the chill to walk up to the High Street and let loose some of the suppressed spending power that the newspapers have been talking about in the hope that it will bring about an economic revival. She brought a new pair of gardening gloves. The chancellor of the exchequer will be rejoicing tonight.

I walked round to the corner shop and then did a bit of gravel raking for the drive project.

It was too cold for coffee in the garden in the brisk wind in spite of the sunshine so I had coffee indoors. I came out again and shifted all the compost from Bin A into Bin B. We are now ready to start the composting cycle again.

The birds were very busy…

…and I filled the feeder twice today, but as I was quite busy too, I didn’t have a lot of time to look at the action.

I caught a goldfinch hanging on to a swaying twig as tightly as it could..

…and a greenfinch testing out its hoity toity look.

It was too cold for anything interesting to have happened in the garden, so after lunch, I went out for a walk to see what I could see.

I started along the river and was pleased to see a grey wagtail standing still for once (though a bit too far away for a really clear picture).

I walked on over the Town Bridge and up the main road to Whitshiels, where I took the road up the hill towards the White Yett. I had been walking straight into the north wind up to this point and it was keen enough to bring a tear to the eye and even the lambs were wearing long woolly socks…

…so I was a bit hesitant about going up an exposed road. However, the first part of the road is well sheltered…

…and I think that the wind must have dropped for a moment, as when I came to a more open section…

…it was still quite calm. Even so, when I came to the end of the section of stout beech hedges around the house at Hillhead, I decided not to venture further up the hill but took the track to Whita Well along the side of the hill. This put the wind at my back.

It was a sound decision. In the beautiful sunshine and equipped with a good jacket and a woolly hat, I was very snug as I walked along enjoying the views.

I put this little panel of three views in just to show how differently the camera sees the sky and grounbd colours when it turns its head. I suppose that I do too, but I don’t notice it as much as the camera does.

I was enjoying my walk so much that instead of going straight home down the Kirk Wynd when I got to Whita Well, I carried on along the Quarry Track…

…rather surprised but very grateful to find myself out on the open hill on a day with such a bad forecast.

The views continued to please, both near…


…and far.

It wasn’t long before I came to my favourite wall and stile…

…where I noticed that a brand new bench (of a familiar design) had been put in place as a memorial to a local man who had died recently.

I sat respectfully on the bench and took in a popular view of the town…

…and zoomed in on the golf course…

….where, if aches and pains permit, I hope to play a few rounds with Dropscone when the warmer weather comes.

The gorse behind the bench is in fine condition and after a look at it…

…I clambered across the stile which has rather large steps for an old man)…

…and made my way very carefully down the hill towards the oak woods and the Round House. My knee is far from 100% and I had to watch where I was going pretty closely, so there were no more pictures until I got onto level ground.

A friend recently came round with an old postcard of the Round House, taken in the days when sheep grazed everything off the hill apart from two ancient oaks.

I tried to recreate the picture today.

…and as far as I can tell, the two oaks are still there. It shows what happens when the sheep are taken away.

I dropped down to the old railway and Skippers Bridge and made my way home along the Murtholm where buds are turning into leaves.

It was only a four and a half mile walk but as it had taken in river, road, hill track, a sporting stile, steep descent, woodland paths and river again, I thought that it had been a good adventure, and very much better than I had anticipated when I had set out for a chilly walk on a windy day.

I just had time for a cup of tea before Mrs Tootlepedal and I zoomed with my brother and sisters.

Mrs Tootlepedal produced a feast of baked potatos and baked beans for our evening meal and fortified by that, I had just enough energy left to write this post.

The flying bird of the day is a chaffinch.

An assignation

Today’s guest picture comes from my Somerset correspondent, Venetia. She found a bench after my own heart on a visit to a National Gardens Scheme garden at a place called Midney.

I had an unusual experience this morning as I had a cycle ride with a purpose. I was shipping a delivery of grass across the border. Before some over enthusiastic algorithm from the security services gets too excited, it was not that sort of grass.

Mrs Tootlepedal had arranged with a fellow soprano from the Carlisle Choir to send her some ornamental garden grasses, and they had arranged that their husbands, both keen cyclists, would be the method of transport.

Thus it was that I got going quite early in the morning for me, after a quick check on the bird feeder (nothing but siskins).

I had a couple of panniers holding the grasses on my bike as I made my way down to Gretna to meet Bill at the border.

I passed a goose at the Longtown pond on my way…

…and arrived for the meeting on schedule. Bill was waiting for me. I gave Bill the grasses and he kindly provided me with a cup of excellent coffee from his flask and an enormous biscuit to fuel me up for the return home.

It was far colder than it has been lately and we had had to return to our full winter cycling gear. I had had a battle against a cruel wind on the way down so I was looking forward to a wind assisted return home and chose a slightly longer route back to add a few miles before next week’s really bad weather arrives tomorrow.

After a three mile whizz down wind to Longtown with Bill, I soon found that I had chosen the rest of my route home very badly. For a lot of the time I was back battling the wind again. I was grateful for some good shelter from these hedges near Tarcoon.

I could have done with some shelter from the Kerr Wood but that has been reduced to matchsticks now. The felling has revealed a curious structure in the distance on the moor behind the felled wood. I wonder if Dr Who is involved in some way.

I had intended to do 40 miles but my poor route choice made me settle for 34 miles in the end. And even at that, I was very pleased to get home.

Mrs Tootlepedal had been doing some gardening but was making soup when I arrived. She and I walked round the garden as the soup simmered. Although it was cold, a brunnera had arrived to join the other spring flowers…

…and the light was suitable for another go at getting a better picture of the viburnum flowers.

The star of the show was the first tulip of the year, almost out and showing a lot of promise.

We went in for lunch and after enjoying a bowl of first rate vegetable soup, I had a chance to look at the birds.

The siskins had been replaced by goldfinches on the feeder…

…but there were other birds about and the ringed redpoll from yesterday was back again

When the goldfinches left a space, it was soon filled up…

…and I watched a blue tit have an unfortunate experience as it dropped the seed that it was trying to trap beneath its feet.

I liked the way it looked round for somebody else to blame.

We went back out into the garden and I did a little work on the gravel on the drive project and shifted the last of the compost from Bin B into Bin C, while Mrs Tootlepedal did some therapeutic garden tidying.

After that we needed a quiet sit down on our new bench in some welcome sunshine.

I had my camera in my pocket and looked about for things to point it at from time to time.

I saw euphorbia…

…and the first fully out dicentra…

…and a selection of other flowers including a bee on a scilla.

The magnolia is not as well wrapped up as Mrs Tootlepedal would like as she ran out of fleece, but it has survived a couple of frosty nights fairly well.

When we got back in, I saw a jackdaw tip toeing across the lawn…

…and some rude behaviour from a goldfinch.

After a cup of tea and a slice of toast and strawberry jam, I went for a short walk. Having had to cut my morning cycle ride short, I didn’t want my legs to think that they could boss me about.

I walked down to the Kirk Brig and enjoyed the daffodils on one side but was more pleased to find a pair of goosanders on the banks of the Esk on the other side of the bridge.

It was overcast and a bit chilly by this time, but the walk round Easton’s and Gaskell’s walks was enjoyable…

…and it has been very dry lately so the paths and tracks were a pleasure to walk along.

I saw woodrush and wood anemones in the woods, and lichen underpants…

…and a sycamore bud beside track and road.

I always like to see a proverb or saying in action.

I took my final bird picture of the day when I got back…

…and then settled down to enjoy an excellent meal of roast chicken and roast potatoes cooked to perfection by Mrs Tootlepedal.

According to the forecasters, we are going to have a windchill factor of zero degrees all next week (except Thursday when it is going to rain instead). It is not entirely clear what is going to happen but while others get snow, we may get very windy but cold and sunny days. We are keeping our fingers crossed.

In the meantime, I couldn’t decide between two candidates for flying bird of the day so I have put them both in.

Composting cycle

Today’s guest picture comes from our son Tony who stopped on his way to work this morning to record an early flight crossing above the rising sun.

The sun rose in Langholm too, and after another chilly start, we had lovely weather all day.

In the middle of the morning, we had a Zoom with our granddaughter Matilda and her father Alistair. They were enjoying fine weather in Edinburgh too and were both in cheerful form.

On either side of the meeting, we spent a lot of time in the garden distributing compost onto beds in the vegetable garden and surrounding the soft fruit bushes. In addition, Mrs Tootlepedal did some gardening and was active with the strimmer making the vegetable garden look neat so we had a busy time.

I really enjoy the process of composting. It as near as you can get to money for nothing, and everything goes back onto the garden where it came from in the first place. The present lot of compost in Bin A has got a lot of cardboard in it, as we have been composting the the packaging of things that have been delivered during the lockdown. It will be interesting to see if it comes out well.

I did manage to waste spend a fair amount of time grappling with a bumper holiday crossword both before composting and after lunch.

Mrs Tootlepedal went back out into the garden after lunch and I mooched about for a while, trying to think of a good cycling route. I spent so much time thinking about it without coming to a satisfactory conclusion that when I did finally get going, it was too late to do any of the interesting rides that I might have thought of. As a result, I was in rather a grumpy mood about going round a familiar route for yet another time and I wasn’t helped by the fact that my body was in an even grumpier mood than me.

However, grumpy bicycling is better than no bicycling and the wonderful Dr Velo soon began his customary cure. By the time that I had got to Waterbeck on the much improved road from Falford, my spirits had risen and instead of going round in the usual circles, I struck off on the back road to Middlebie and Eccclefechan. This road too has been improved, and there were no potholes to navigate as I went up and down the many little valleys you have to cross on the way, stopping to take a picture or two…

…of spots that caught my eye.

I liked the daffodils on the bank opposite Middlebie Church…

…and I liked that way that the church itself seemed to be climbing the same steep that I was cycling up.

It had some striking red flowers at its gate and a closer look showed that they were an early flowering rhododendron.

I may not know a bank where the wild thyme grows, but I do know a bank which is covered with celandines. It is between Middlebie and Ecclefechan.

When I got to Ecclefechan, I found some early green leaves on show, helping to hide the motorway from my view.

The motorway didn’t really need much hiding as there was hardly any traffic on it today.

I turned off in Ecclefechan and crossed the Mein Water by this handsome bridge…

…just before it joins the River Annan at Meinfoot.

This is a beautiful spot, it was a beautiful day and my grumpiness was long gone. As I pedalled gently along the quiet roads enjoying the sun and the views, I reflected that in spite of not seeing our grandchildren, having a sore knee and a bruised toe and having being stuck at home for a year, life could be a whole lot worse.

Especially when a turn in my route meant that the wind would be behind me for almost all the way home.

I didn’t follow the river to Brydekirk today but turned back towards Eaglesfield, and after enjoying a final view over Annandale…

…I went along the road…

…that would take me down to the valley of the Kirtle Water and eventually back to Eskdale.

I was on familiar roads now so I didn’t take my camera out except to show the welcome view of Whita and the monument which tells a cyclist that they are only a bit over five miles from home…

…and a very fine blackthorn beside the main road at the Hollows.

I got home after 38 miles and the mellowness of my mood could be measured by the fact that I didn’t think it necessary to rush up and down the road to add the two miles to me trip that would have brought up a nice round forty miles. It was either mellowness or the fact that I was pretty jiggered.

Mrs Tootlepedal had been busy while I was out, and had made progress with improving the gravel part of the drive.

Between the compost work and the cycling, I had no time to look at the feeder today. I only took one token picture just to show that birds were still about.

…so the non flying bird of the day is the first butterfly of the year, a small tortoiseshell on a primula, spotted in the garden this afternoon.

For those interested, I have included a map of today’s flat ride and a click on the map will bring up more details.

A final touch

Today’s guest picture comes from our neighbour Liz. She found some fine icicles on her morning walk today. They show how cold it was early on.

As the temperature had dropped a couple of degrees below freezing in the early hours of the morning, Mrs Tootlepedal was happy that she had tried to protect the nascent magnolia buds with fleece overnight. She was less happy to find a pair of jackdaws tearing the fleece to bits in the morning in the pursuit of nesting material. I took a shot of the guilty party!

It was a sunny day from the start though, so the morning soon warmed up. The bright light of the sun behind the feeder made my camera see things in an artistic way…

…but it made it just warm enough for coffee in the garden with our neighbours Liz and Margaret. Once again we were serenaded by a full throated robin.

As well as birdsong, there was colour in the garden as the forsythia has come out and is looking good.

There is potential too and I saw the first hint of dicentra today and the lilac is full of promise.

Apart from socialising, I mowed the greenhouse grass with the hover mower for the first time this spring, but the chief business of the morning was adding a decorative touch to the drive project.

After examining a slab half buried under grass at the far end of the drive, it appeared that it might be broken in a way that would match the broken slab near the road. I dug it up and rolled it along the drive. Then with the help of some first rate teaspoon levelling work from Mrs Tootlepedal, we lowered it into place and found that the match wasn’t too bad at all. Serendipity.

This all took a bit of time and lunch and bird watching took place during the work.

The lunch was Mrs Tootlepedal’s curried parsnip soup but the bird watching was mine.

The sun was on the feeder now and goldfinches were lit up. Here is one looking up just before lunch…

…and here is one looking down after lunch.

When we had finished the slab laying, I had another moment to see a male chaffinch posing…

…along with a female…

…and I noted a welcome visit from a lesser redpoll.

The last one to visit us came in October so it has been a long wait. We would have normally seen quite a few by now.

I couldn’t wait to see if another redpoll appeared, as I was keen to go for a cycle ride while the sun was still shining. Since the wind was blowing from the north, I decided to head north in the hope of being blown home.

The sun was shining in the Ewes valley as I set off up the road, but it didn’t take long until clouds were casting their shadows on the hills.

By the time that I had gone eight miles, I was fed up with cycling straight into a cold wind and turned off at Fiddleton Toll to to follow the Carewoodrig burn along the more sheltered road towards Hermitage.

According to the Ordinance Survey map, I passed Crude Hill, Castlewink and Tup Knowe to my left as I went along the pretty burn…

…and came to Butter Hill and Headless Knowe further along to my right.

The single track road is in reasonable condition and this nice bridge crosses one of the minor tributaries of the main burn….

…which chatters away beside the road.

The valley splits in two at Tup Knowe, with a subsidiary burn coming down a valley from the left…

…while the road I was on climbs up the side of the hill to the right.

This is a steeper hill than it looks in the picture so I went up very carefully in my lowest gear. I enjoyed the view along the ridge when I got near the top…

…but I wisely stopped and turned for home before going any further.

The view to my left as I headed back down the hill was impressive…

…but I had to keep my eyes on the road while I went down the steep hill with even more care than I had come up it.

Still, my hope of being blown home by the wind was realised and I took only slightly more than half the time to get back than I had spent on the outward ten miles.

When I got home, I found Mrs Tootlepedal doing some more work around the front door on the drive project, and after a walk round the garden, where there were new flowers to be seen…

…we went inside and had a cup of tea and some bread and jam.

The cycle ride had perked me up, so when the tea had been drunk and the bread and strawberry jam eaten, I went back out to the garden and started to shift compost from Bin B to Bin C. This is garden compost which has been sitting quietly in Bin B during the winter. It has been working hard at decomposing though, and is in nice condition and ready to go on the garden when required.

A Zoom with my siblings and a ready made steak pie from the butcher for my evening meal rounded off the day. Any day which has sunshine, or coffee socialising, or lawn care, or slab laying, or a cycle outing, or composting is a reasonable day. A day with all of them in it, is an outstanding day.

The flying bird of the day is not alone as it usually is. I thought that I would show some of the abuse that a flying bird may have to put up with as it approaches the feeder. Not everything in the garden is lovely!