Archive for Dec, 2013

Today’s guest picture, from my sister Mary, shows Mrs Tootlepedal and Pat on a Christmas walk last week.

pat and ally

It was raining again when we got up so I had breakfast and sensibly went back to bed again.  I rose gracefully from my resting place just in time for a cup of coffee, kindly provided by the management who was going full steam ahead through the holiday washing.

After coffee, I took out the sodden newspapers which had been mopping up the steady drips of water coming through the end wall and lit a fire in the hope of drying things out a bit.

The brightest spot of the morning was provided by a robin perching on the plum tree among the raindrops.

robin in  plum tree

Mrs Tootlepedal was just getting ready to go to work for the afternoon when a strange thing happened.  It stopped raining and the sky brightened up.  I could see clearly now.

chaffinch landing

The chaffinches put on a little show for me to celebrate.

flying chaffinches

I had started off a sour dough loaf and dealt with some of the washing which Mrs Tootlepedal had started when a strange light filled the sky.  The sun had come out.  I took my cameras, got into the car and headed out.

Unbelievably, considering the rain yesterday and the fact that it had been raining all morning, the rivers were running calmly between their banks and the gulls were back on the fence posts at the Kilngreen.

gull on post

It was as if yesterday and been but a dream.

The heron was in place too.

heron at Kilngreen

Some gulls flitted along the river bank…

flying gull

…while others soared upwards with a beak full of food.

soaring gull

I stood for a while but decided that the light would be all right for a visit to the Moorland feeders.  There was plenty of water rushing along and over the Penton road as I drove along it.  If there was a snap frost, things would be very dangerous.

When I got to the feeders, they were pretty well all empty so I filled them up and within seconds of sitting down, they were back in business.

busy moorland feeder


The mild if gloomy winter is still providing plenty of food elsewhere and there were only the usual customers on show but as always, I enjoyed watching them.

blue tit and coal tit

A blue tit and a coal tit share the peanuts.

great tit

A great tit arrives.

The bird ringer’s bands show that these are residents. There were some less frequent visitors to be seen.  A greenfinch…


…and a siskin.


There were several woodpeckers about too, chasing each other off the feeders.  This one came up close for a moment.


I was thinking of walking through the clearing and on down to the river but volleys of shots from below showed that shooters were around and I thought better of it.  This pheasant agreed with me and kept well out of range of the shotguns.


The birds in general were unfazed by the noise of shooting but I didn’t find it very restful so I cut short my stay.  On the way back to the car, I could see a pair of birds of prey circling high above the moor.

birds of prey

Every now and again, more pheasants sneaked past me, keeping low to the ground as the sound of the guns continued.

flying pheasant

For the good of my health, I should have probably been pedalling instead of bird watching but there was a brisk and very chilly wind and the back roads were awash with water so I didn’t take long to persuade myself to stay warm, and dry.


When I got home I looked at my cycling spreadsheet for the last time in 2013.  It tells me that I have cycled 4368 miles this year (with perhaps a few dozen unrecorded miles around the town as well).  This is an advance of 800 over last year which is good but well over 2000 miles less than I managed in 2011 which is not so good.  This is entirely down to having contracted rheumatoid arthritis last year but the generally cold and unsympathetic weather at the the beginning and the end of this year have not helped.  I am hoping for warm temperatures and kindly winds to get me over 5000 miles again next year.

Of the four thousand miles, I have done 1211 with Dropscone, 633 with Mrs Tootlepedal and 2524 by myself.   I did roughly 900 miles on my belt driven bike, 3300 on the Giant and 150 on a hired bike when we were on holiday in France.

WordPress kindly provide bloggers with end of year stats.  These are notoriously unreliable as they don’t differentiate between people who just hit your posts in the hope that you will then hit theirs and people who actually stop and read the stuff.  Allowing for all that though, it is quite amazing to find that people from 111 countries have clicked on the blog over the year.

I have tried to post this diary every day but didn’t quite succeed but even so, I must thank those of you who take time to read my ramblings or look at the pictures (and particularly those who do both).   Thanks also go to those who comment both regularly and from time to time.  This is much appreciated.

I would also like to thank those bloggers elsewhere who provide me with such a rich diet of words to read and so many wonderful pictures to look at in awe. The standards of spelling and the absence of typos are a tribute to the care which people take with their posts and the politeness of the occasional disagreements taken with the general good nature and wit of the posters is a continual tonic.

I have learned a lot over the past three years in this community and one thing that sticks with me, as I sometimes moan and groan about my petty ailments, is that there are many people out there bearing much severe loads than I with a lot less moaning.   Still, as I really enjoy a good moan, I don’t think that I will be able to follow their good example.

In a change from the flying chaffinch of December 31 2012, I am ending 2013 with a flying gull.

flying gull

May I wish all those who have read this far a really happy and preposterous New Year.   I hope it exceeds your expectations in every way.


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Today’s guest picture, sent by my younger son from Edinburgh, shows the Scottish Parliament building at Holyrood.  In 9 months we will know whether it is to house the governing body of a newly independent nation or to remain a provincial outpost of the London banking system as at present.


It was raining when we went to bed last night and it was raining when we got up this morning.

I went out to see where all the rain had gone.  Some had gone into the Wauchope.

Kirk Brig, Wauchope

It was just squeezing under the Kirk bridge.

Quite a lot had gone onto the Esk which was why the Wauchope was having trouble getting under the bridge.

Esk in spate

The Esk was having quite enough difficulty squeezing under the town bridge…

The esk at the town bridge

…and the fence posts on the Castleholm which had been a resting place for gulls a day or two ago…

Gulls along the Esk

…looked very different today.

Castleholm fence posts

I went home to have a cup of coffee and a scone or two with Dropscone and was rung up by Bruce who told me that there had been a landslip on the main road to the south of the town.  After our coffee, Dropscone kindly offered to drive to the site of this literal catastrophe.  Although it had figured on a national radio station traffic report an hour earlier, it was less than sensational by the time that we got there.

Landslip on A7

A couple of good men with a digger and a truck had cleared the rubble off the road and only the water remained.  The slip had not been very big in the first place….

Landslip on A7

…and cars were able to pass it with disappointing ease (for me at any rate).

A7 landslip

I walked back towards the town, stopping at Skippers Bridge to admire the sticking power of the old distillery.


They have even routed a stream under the road and through the building.

The Esk was rushing through all three arches of Skippers Bridge which is a rare sight.  I hoped to be able to get a good shot of this but getting down the bank to get clear of the trees was just too risky.

Skippers with three arches full

I had to settle for a clear shot of a little stream pouring down the bank onto the road beside the bridge.

Cascade at Skippers

This won’t help the road which is already in a very bad state of repair.

I crossed back over the bridge and splashed my way home along the track past the Murtholm, enjoying the gate of the day on my way.

Murtholm gate

I only had Pocketcam with me but I was sorry that I hadn’t taken a long lens when I saw this busy puddle/pond in one of the Murtholm fields.

Herons etc

I think that I can count at least three herons and possibly a pair of goosanders too.

The trail back through the woods along the riverside path was enlivened by many little streams cascading down the bank to my left.

streams from Stubholm Bank

The path had stood up well to the amount of water passing over and under it.

As I was going along through the Beechy Plains, an unfortunate incident occurred.  I heard some barking behind me and was surprised to find myself bitten  on the back of the thigh by a yappy little terrier.  A good shouting  from me did nothing to put it off and it had another go when I turned to walk on, this time just catching my welly rather than my leg.  Resisting the temptation to land it a good kick in the particulars, I waited until its ineffectual owner appeared crying, “Come here Fido, (or some such doggy name),” a command which it found all too easy to disobey.

I stood my ground until finally he caught the little pest.

“Your dog’s bitten me, ” I said indignantly.

“That’s most unusual,” he replied, an answer that was both inadequate and probably untrue as well.

As I had a pair of waterproof trousers on over a pair of ordinary trousers over a stout pair of long Johns, I expected to have suffered no great hurt and I left him trying to get his other, less aggressive but equally disobedient terrier to come to heel and continued my walk.

The river had risen enough to get onto the park when I got there.


I was intending to take a turn along the Esk and see what the state of play was on the Kilngreen but the back of my leg was a feeling a bit sore where the horrid hound had sunk its tiny teeth so I returned home and got Mrs Tootlepedal to check on the damage.  Amazingly, although there were no tears in any layers of the trousers, there was a bit of collateral damage on my leg.  (Warning:  For those of a squeamish nature, scroll quickly past the next picture.)

dog  bite

Picture courtesy of MRST Photo Associates.

This was annoying as it meant that I had to go to the walk in (hobble in?) afternoon clinic at the health centre to get it checked out. It got a clean bill of health and a neat dressing but a check on the records led to me having to have a tetanus injection as I hadn’t had one since 1998.  I am definitely going to kick that dog if it comes near me again.

I took advantage of the visit to the health centre to take another couple of pictures of the Esk as I crossed it on my way.

Elizabeth Street

The residents of George Street are doubtless very glad of the wall along the river.

Suspension Bridge

Mrs Tootlepedal had to cross this in the dark on her way home from work. It made her quite nervous.

The church looked a little lonely across the Wauchope

The church looked a little lonely across the Wauchope

When I got home, Sandy came round to cheer me up and we had a quick walk to check on the water level and amazingly, since it was still raining, the rivers had dropped considerably and we soon returned home for a cup of tea and a couple of the many biscuits that I was given for Christmas.

It is a sad thing when your enthusiasm for photography leads to you wish for just a small disaster to photograph so I was probably well served by getting bitten.  As a side note, I rang up Dropspcone to tell him of my misfortune and he was very scornful.

“I’ve been bitten nine times,” he said, “Once is nothing.”   The joys of being a postman!

We are still full of the Christmas spirit and we had some tasty turkey rissoles for out tea.

I didn’t manage to catch a flying bird in the gloom and the excitement so I hope this very brief movie of a flying river or two will do instead.  Be prepared, the noise of the river is quite loud.

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Today’s guest picture shows a Turkish bath in Leamington Spa.  My brother saw it on a recent visit.  The designers in 1840 certainly tried to make it look ‘Turkish’.

turkish bath

Our brief spell of pleasant weather continued today and it was bright and sunny when I went up to fill the Moorland bird feeders after breakfast.  Sadly the low sun was once again shining straight up the clearing towards the screen so I wasn’t able to take any pictures.  I will have to go back later in the day for my next visit.

I took one or two bird pictures when I got home instead.  The robin sometimes pops up onto the feeder if it is not too busy.

robin on feeder

After a great deal of high quality scientific observation, I have come to the conclusion that the small birds don’t seem to be right or left footed but land with whatever leg is handy (or perhaps leggy) and sometimes with both at the same time.

chaffinch landing

They miss the perch surprisingly often.  I have put the next poor quality shot in because it is possible that the undistinguished bird at the bottom left could be the first redpoll of the winter.  Sometimes it is hard to tell one from a dark siskin.  I am open to enlightenment on this identification.

possible redpoll

A Sunday should start with a visit to the church choir for Mrs Tootlepedal and a decent cycle ride on quiet main roads for me.  This Sunday started just like it should although I left a bit later than planned to give the thermometer time to climb from 3 to 4 degrees C.  Apart from a two minute stop at the malfunctioning traffic lights at Skippers Bridge, my 20 mile journey to Newtown was very enjoyable, with a hint of warmth from the low sun and only a very light wind in my face.

garmin routeThere was a little more traffic on the roads than I might have expected but not enough to be annoying and being Sunday, there were no lorries at all.

One of the pleasures of the route is that the road from Longtown to Newtown has been recently resurfaced and it provides the best cycling in the area.  With no potholes or other nasty surprises,  I could pedal along with my mind occupied  by all sorts of airy fancies.

I gave the bike a short rest at the traditional bench at Newtown while I scoffed a couple of bananas.

bike at Newtown

You can see what a nice day it was.

I didn’t take any more pictures en route because I had hit a steady but gentle pedalling rhythm and it didn’t seem right to interrupt it.  This means you have lost the chance of seeing a picture of quite an interesting gate but I expect that you can bear this with equanimity.

I finished the 40 miles at an average of just over 15 mph, not very impressive for such a flat route in benign conditions but high enough for me to consider myself as not quite dead yet which is always a comfort.

Talking of death, when I got home I found that Mrs Tootlepedal was ceremonially burying the carcase of the Christmas turkey.  She has done this every year after Christmas since time immemorial.

burying the turkey

We will expect extra special roses against that fence next summer.

After I had eaten some lunch and had a shower, there was just enough light  to look out of the kitchen window again.  The feeder had needed to be refilled so that meant a scattering of the last few old seeds on the lawn.


A blackbird amidst the usual chaffinches.

The sparrows prefer the fat balls.


So many jackdaws appeared today that I have had to put the fat ball fortress on again this evening before they eat me out of house and home.

A tubby chaffinch posed on the chimney.


And the dying rays of the sun caught the walnut tree.

walnut tree

The dark clouds in the background are harbingers of rain to come.  I looked at the forecast for tomorrow….


…and cancelled the morning pedal with Dropscone.  I may have had the last pedal of the year by the look of the weather for the next two days.

It was rather a waste of a sunny morning to go on such a dull cycling route but I did manage to find time for a flying bird of the day.

flying chaffinch



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Today’s guest picture is an arty effort from Edinburgh, courtesy of my younger son.

edinburgh art

The first business of the day was toast and porridge and the second was a trip to Carlisle to put our guests on the London train and wave goodbye.  Owing to following the precautionary principle with a little too much zeal, we arrived at the station half an hour early so we left them there to kill time and we went off to do a little shopping on our way home.

When we got home, I went up to the High Street to replenish my stock of fat balls for the birds.  Not all of the consumption of my present stock had been by beak.

mouse in bucket

How the mouse had got into the bucket was a mystery but it certainly wasn’t going to be able to get out without my help.

Although the weather in December has been wet and gloomy, it hasn’t been very cold and the fat ball seller was telling me that sales of bird food this month have been severely hit by the amount of free food still hanging from bushes.  Retail is a tough world.

It was a beautifully sunny day so after a quick look out of the kitchen window….

Two chaffinches

Two chaffinches thinking about their lunch.


A dunnock or hedge sparrow on the lawn.

…and a light lunch, I headed off for a walk.



My target was the lower slopes of the hill in the background.

My route took me along the Esk to the Kilngreen where it meets the Ewes Water.   My departing sister Susan likes a picture of a perching bird and the gulls were happy to oblige…

Gulls along the Esk

Lining up along the Esk.

Gulls along the Ewes

And along the Ewes as well.

So vigorous was the competition for places on the fence posts…



…that one gull had to settled for the barbed wire in between.

Gull on wire

Probably high on the list of things that are not recommended.

The angle of the strong low light made the mallard’s heads sometimes appear purple…


…and sometimes green.


Leaving the riverside,  I walked on up the track to the hill, passing an inviting gate on my way.

gate on Castle Hill

Once on the hill, I looked back at the town.  Although I was in the sun, most of the town was already in the shade of the surrounding hills.


I walked along the edge of the fields, noting that many of the haws on the hawthorns were fading away uneaten this year.


I slipped through a gate in the wall and walked down through a delightful open wood…


…until I came to the track to the North Lodge.

Although I was now in the shade, there were trees beside the track  tall enough to catch the sun .

tall tree

And others with interesting decoration.

tree trunk

I came to the North Lodge….

North Lodge

…and turned for home.  The sun was below the hills by now and the light faded away quickly as I walked back along the river.

There was just enough to see some fungus…


…but not much so I put my cameras away and concentrated on getting to a cup of tea as soon as possible.

My stepmother Pat gave me an excellent book called the Horologicon by Mark Forsyth for my Christmas present.  It gives examples of valuable but obsolete or lost words which should be still in circulation in the opinion of the author.  Among them was spretzzatura, which the author defines as the appearance of nonchalance in the perfect courtier.  The idea is to do a great deal of work to keep your boss or your guests satisfied but to seem as if it is no bother at all, in short to practise discreet diligence.

I have been working on my sprezzatura during the recent visit of my family, as it can be tempting to make a great deal of fuss to show just how much you are doing to keep your guests happy but I was not a patch on Mrs Tootlepedal who managed exemplary sprezzatura while doing nine tenths of the work too. It has been a great Christmas with the family but all the same, the late afternoon and the evening were spent by both of us in deep relaxation…or snoozing as it is sometimes called.

I am pleased that the better weather allowed me to capture a rather grainy flying bird again.

flying chaffinch





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Today’s guest picture, sent by Bruce, shows his dog Guthrie in festive mood.  A dog after my own heart.


After the brief glimpse of reasonable weather, we were back to rain and strong winds today and there was no opportunity for bird watching at all.  There was a moment of excitement when the two jigsaw puzzlers swapped position….

jigsaw puzzlers

…but that soon died down.

My sister Mary is an active person though so she and I donned waterproof coats and waterproof trousers and ventured out into the wind and the rain for a walk.  We stuck to sheltered paths and the force of the wind was quite bearable.  As the rain had also reduced its fury for a while, we quite enjoyed battling the elements.

I had Pocketcam with me.  It was well wrapped up in my pocket but I risked getting it out for a couple of shots.

Skippers Bridge

Not the usual picture postcard view from Skippers bridge.


And I couldn’t leave a fungus unphotographed.

Although the weather has been pretty miserable this month, the little streams that tumble down every hillside round about have not been as swollen as I would have expected.

This little stream near the park…

park stream

…looked quite harmless though not so long ago, it brought down a mass of stones, blocking the path and requiring mechanical diggers to clear up after it.  Perhaps that truth of the matter is that although we have had a lot of rain, we haven’t had any of the torrential downpours that cause floods so we must be thankful for small mercies.

After our walk it was time for lunch (turkey soup, who would have guessed it?) and a quiet sit down.

The afternoon was spent solving crosswords and cheering on the jigsaw puzzlers until the 1000th and final piece was put in pace at last.


The picture is called Modern Rome and was painted by G P Panini in 1757.  It is currently in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art.  Curiously and inexplicably, the picture in the jigsaw….

Modern Rome

…is printed the wrong way round.  Whether this was by design for some legal reason or just an oversight, it is impossible to tell.

When the jigsaw was finished, we had a final round of cards and laughter (more characteristic bad luck for me)  in the kitchen before repairing to the Douglas Hotel where our guests kindly treated us to a slap up farewell meal.

Altogether it has been a first class solstice celebration, brightening the darkest days of winter and lifting the gloom that the bad weather has induced lately.  The only sadness is that I am unable to round it off with a flying bird.  Still, one can’t have everything.





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Today’s guest picture is part of a photograph which was sent to me by my younger son who went for a walk in Holyrood Park in Edinburgh today.  He was looking north from the lower slopes of Arthur’s Seat past the football stadium of Hibernian Football Club, over the Firth of Forth and on towards the hills of Fife beyond.

edinburgh view

We didn’t have quite such a lovely day here as he did but it was nice enough to send  one of my sisters up to the High Street window shopping while Mrs Tootlepedal took our two other guests out for a walk.  I took the opportunity to sneak out on my bike for a gentle twenty mile pedal to Waterbeck and back.

I took Pocketcam with me but didn’t take any pictures with it because it inconsiderately started to rain just when I was at the highest point of the outward journey and didn’t stop until I was nearly at the same point on the return trip. I was well wrapped up though so it didn’t bother me as a cyclist.    Luckily the walkers had been in a sheltering wood while it rained on them.

Once home, we settled down to peaceful, indoor pursuits and eating up the remains of the feast.  The food was just as tasty as it had been yesterday but there is quite some way to go before we will have finished it all off.

The peaceful indoor occupations included my oldest sister busy at some needlework….


and Mrs Tootlepedal and Pat poring over the hardest jigsaw puzzle that I have ever seen.

jigsaw puzzlers

It has certainly got all their attention.

My indoor pursuit was bird watching as usual.

perching chaffinch

I am trying to include a perching chaffinch each day while my sister Susan is here.

chaffinch and siskin

Being  restless, my sister Mary and I went out for another walk after lunch in the rapidly fading light.  It was quite chilly so I put on the traditional  woolly hat that my daughter gave to me for Christmas….

woolly hat

It’s lucky that I have long arms.

…and off we went.

Our route took us over the two pedestrian bridges across the Esk.

Duchess Bridge Jubillee Bridge

The one on the left built in 1813 and the one on the right in 2002

We saw a red squirrel scampering across the road at the Lodge which was a treat but it was far too quick for Pocketcam.  Luckily, some trees were a bit less skittish.

Pheasant hatchery tree

A tree of definite inclination

Mossy tree  by school

It would be hard for a tree to have more moss on it than this one.

The rest of the day passed in conversation, embroidery, jigsaw work and more eating.  It was rounded off by another game of cards where I enjoyed uncharacteristic good luck which made me more than usually cheerful.

The forecast for tomorrow is for continuous rain and high winds so peaceful indoor pursuits will be the order of the day.

A ‘noisy’ goldfinch is the flying bird of the day.





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Today’s guest picture is a seasonal one sent to me by Gavin and taken on Beaver Mountain in the USA by his son or daughter-in-law who are skiing there.

beaver mountain

We had a wonderful Christmas day with wall to wall sunshine and a much reduced wind.  Inside the house all was good as well with Mrs Tootlepedal cooking up a feast and everyone joining in the eating of it with gusto.

The presents which we received and gave turned out to be exactly what everyone had wanted and not a cross word was spoken all day.

Mrs Tootlepedal and my sisters went off to church where they enjoyed the service and Pat and I went up to the Moorland bird feeders to check that they were filled.  In spite of the sunshine, the light was not good as the sun was shining straight towards our screen so we only sat long enough for me to take a perching chaffinch…

perching chaffinch

Mrs Tootlepedal and my sister Susan prefer perching to flying birds.

…and a woodpecker who had not discouraged an approaching chaffinch.


I went down to the Kilngreen on my way home to see if I could wish the heron a happy Christmas.  The heron wasn’t there.  Pat walked home from there to work up an appetite for the feast.  When my sisters got home from church, I went for a quick walk with my sister Mary for the same purpose.

As we passed Pool Corner, we saw a heron.


My sister Susan says that I can put as many heron pictures on the blog as I like.

The heron saw us….

heron flying

…and floated off leaving Pool Corner looking peaceful in the morning sun.

pool corner

Our walk was brisk and uneventful, though I did find a moment to admire some lichen…

lichen forest

…and some colourful turkey tail fungus….


…and have a brief word with the Young Riders Group’s pony.

Young Riders' pony

We walked along Gaskell’s Walk and then down to the start of the Murtholm fields before walking back along the path beside the river Esk.  This is subject to trees falling down the bank above it and landslips blocking the path from time to time.  There were no freshly fallen trees today and only a very small landslip…

Easton's walk

…so we passed by safely.

The church was looking more midsummer than midwinter as we went through the park.

church at Christmas

And I took a special picture of the source of Christmas bells.

bell tower

Our lunch was everything a Christmas lunch should be.  Afterwards, Mary and I not wanting to waste a rare day of sunshine, nipped out for another short walk but by this time the light was too low for photographs.

The afternoon was spent opening presents, doing jigsaws and battling with an enormous holiday crossword (and just sitting down and groaning gently from time to time).

In the evening we settled round the kitchen table for a game of cards where I put up with characteristically bad luck uncomplainingly (almost) while my sister Susan was narrowly triumphant.   It’s not for nothing that the game is called Oh Hell.

We are promised another reasonable day tomorrow before the gales return so we hope to make good use of it.

The flying bird of the day was that heron.

heron flying

I would like to finish in time honoured way by wishing a Happy Christmas to all my readers.  Thank you for taking time to read these ramblings and thank you in particular to the regular band of commentators whose input always brightens my day.





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