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Archive for February, 2014

Today’s guest picture is the last that I have at present from my siblings’ visit to Barcelona.  My brother likes museums and art galleries.  This is the Catalan Museum.

Catalan Museum

The forecast was quite promising, the main features being no rain and very light winds so I was looking forward to a decent pedal.  The light winds meant that temperatures were too low to start pedalling after breakfast so I spent a little time peering out of the window at the mist filled garden.

ringed chaffinch

I was interested to see a ring on the chaffinch, the first I have noticed for some time.

I kept an eye on the thermometer and got quite excited when it hit four degrees C but less so when it it subsequently dropped back to 3 degrees.  I considered my options.

chaffinch considering options

A chaffinch meanwhile considered his.

Finally, the thermometer edged back to 3.9 so I piled on as many clothes as I could wear and still cycle and set off up the Wauchope road after a quick stop to buy some fuel for the journey from John’s shop.

First signs were a bit gloomy…

wauchope in mist

…but I pedalled on hopefully, turning left over the hill and eventually getting onto the Annan road.  I stopped in Annan after 22 miles for a cheese toastie and a cappucino and then headed out to the road along the Solway shore.  By this time, the mist had gone and the sky was blue.  It was still chilly but the splendid row of very out of character houses at Cummertrees looked at their best.

Cummertrees

I quote from the Dumfriesshire Companion of Haig Gordon:

There were brash new beginnings at Kinmount when the Yorkshire businessman Edward Brook took over the estate in the 1890s (adding it to his other big acquisition, Hoddom estate near Ecclefechan). He had plans for creating a vast seaside resort between Cummertrees and Powfoot. The scheme never took off but at the east end of the village a flavour of what he had envisaged remains in Queensberry Terrace, a row of properties originally intended as holiday apartments – ‘like a cross between Blackpool and Chelsea’, commented one architectural historian.

Anyone who has seen the mud flats along the Solway shore at Powfoot will not have to think hard as to why this grandiose scheme failed.

I was soon through Cummertrees and Ruthwell and looking across the flat fields towards Criffel and the mist covered Nith Estuary.

Criffel

The skies are big here.

I paused for a moment at the Brow Well…

Brow Well

…a not very appetising looking mineral spring.  It has a claim to fame though as a notice suggests.

brow well

The notice doesn’t add that the poet died shortly after his visit.  He drank the chalybeate waters and was dunked in the icy Solway near here in an attempt to cure his misdiagnosed gout.  I prefer the pills I get for my rheumatic arthritis and feel thankful in this case for the march of medical science.

I enjoyed a little bridge beside the well.

Brow well bridge

This stretch of road is genuinely flat and a great pleasure to pedal along.  My target was the small village of Bankend…

Bankend

…where, in spite of the lovely day,  the bridge had a lot of water flowing under it.  This is the Lochar Water.

Bankend bridge

I would have to liked to have my long lens with me as there was an interesting tower a few hundred yards up stream.

Bankend tower

Isle Tower is an early 17th century stone T-plan tower house, founded by Edward Maxwell of Isle.

I turned for home at Bankend as the days are still quite short and I didn’t want to be caught in the gloaming still pedalling.

As well as big sky, the Solway shore had some big puddles in the roadside fields as well.  This was the biggest of the day.

puddle

You can just see the real sea in the background.

I stopped at Ruthwell to eat my fuel from John’s shop, an egg roll, a banana and a very sticky tray bake.  There was a convenient bench there but it had been designed by someone with very short legs and I kept banging my chin as I ate.

ruthwell

Leaving Ruthwell, I pedalled on tiny back roads down to the shore at Powfoot.  The last time Mrs Tootlepdal and I had been here, a very high tide and angry seas were threatening to overwhelm the car park. Today it was playing host to a group of keen bird watchers.

bird watchers

Once back through Annan, I took the road to Gretna and enjoyed the last of my food on a bench opposite the Old Blacksmith’s Shop at Gretna Green.

Gretna Green

This is just one of three marriage rooms in Gretna and marriage is big business there.  It was the nearest place to the border where English couples could get married under Scottish law and was popular as a destination for eloping youngsters.  Mysteriously, to me at any rate, it remains seriously popular still and is a bus tour destination.

My literal mind looked at the sign on the side of the blacksmith’s shop….

Gretna Green

…and wondered what colour it had been before 1754.

From Gretna, I took a winding trail that led me down to Canonbie and a return to Langholm by the morning run cycle route.

The sky had clouded over by the time that I got home and the temperature was still only a meagre 6 degrees but the light winds had meant that I had enjoyed a very good day out on the bike.   Details of the ride may be found  by clicking on the map.

garmin route 28 Feb 2014

Not by coincidence but by design, my Garmin device recorded exactly 72 miles as I reached my house.  This corresponds with my age and it is my intention in future years to keep cycling at least once a year as far as I am old for as long as possible.

The ride brought my total for February up to 500 miles which is well above target and gives me a little leeway in the month to come.

Mike and Alison, Maisie’s and Frances’ grandparents have arrived back from New Zealand and came round for their customary Friday evening visit.   I enjoyed playing some sonatas on flute and recorder with Alison at the keyboard while Mrs Tootlepedal heard from Mike of their adventures down under.  I hope to have some photos of their trip, which included a visit to Singapore, in future posts.

I did just manage to get a flying bird picture in the morning mist before I left the house.

flying chaffinch

 

 

 

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Today’s picture is another from my siblings’ current visit to Spain and shows the water feature in front of the Catalan National Art Museum in Barcelona.  It was captured by my brother.Catalan National Art Museum

We had a very nice sunny day for the most part today but as Dropscone and I found out when we went to Waterbeck for our morning pedal, there was a pretty strong and chilly wind blowing from the west.  I spent most of the ride puffing along miles behind Dropscone and then, to his justified annoyance, whizzed past him when he waited for me at the top of the final hill before a downhill rush home.  The whole thing was not a triumph of teamwork.  Still, the scones were as tasty as ever.

As Dropscone has got a borrowed bike at the moment, there was an unlikely moment when he actually washed it before taking it home.  I was impressed.

When he had gone off on his clean machine, Mrs Tootlepedal and I cycled up to the Moorland Bird Feeders as I was filling in for one of the usual volunteers.  It was glorious as we pedalled up the hill, with a bit of warmth from the sun imparting a definite feeling of spring in the air.

going to the feeders

View from Broomholm

I was distracted by a flash of yellow on a tree beside the road.

Sensational lichen

I would have passed this by without looking twice in times past.

It was chilly and muddy in the shade of the trees at the feeders so we didn’t linger.  In contrast to our sunny ride up the hill, our return trip downhill was accompanied by a violent hailstorm.  Luckily, we were under trees for most of it and it had stopped as quickly as it had started before we arrived home.

Once home, I checked on the frog army.  The picture below is of poor quality but I have put it in because it was the best that I could do and I think I can count twenty frogs at least in it and there more out of shot.

frog swarm

I took some individual portraits as well.

three frogs

Under the bridge

frog

Soaking up the sun

After lunch, Mrs Tootlepedal went off to work and I went up to try to offer my friend Arthur some assistance with a malfunctioning computer.   Its ills were well outside any small area of competence that I have in these matters so I left him to seek more useful help elsewhere while I collected our car from the garage and drove home.

At a recent camera club meeting, the lecturer was extolling the use of continuous shooting.  I haven’t tried this before so I had a go today at some chaffinches in the sun and got some promising results.  I will have to get used to the extra work that producing so many shots entails.

I was looking at wings.

chaffinch wings

chaffinch wings

chaffinch wings

I looked at some flowers too.

daffodil

This will be our first daffodil of the year in a day or two if the weather permits.

wallflowers

Like the primroses, these wallflowers have been in bloom all winter.

The sky above the garden was full of rooks circling the town in a noisy procession.

rooks

After a pause to grapple with the crossword, I drove down to the Kilngreen to see what was to be seen by the river there.

dancing ducks

There were dancing ducks

Then I went home and put my boots on and walked up to the new bridge on Gaskells Walk.  The men had worked wonders in manoeuvring the heavy beams into place.

Gaskell's bridge

Handrails almost complete

It may not look much from the path but seen from below, it is quite a construction.

Gaskell's bridge

I hope to be able to photograph (and walk across) the finished product soon.

I took a roundabout way home and noticed an exciting slime mold on my way.

slime mold

Some time during the day, I took a picture of a perching chaffinch for those like Mrs Tootlepedal who prefer a calmer bird.

perching chaffinch

In the evening, I went to the Archive Centre with Jean and Sandy and rounded off a pleasantly busy day with an hour’s data entry with appropriate refreshment to follow.  If any local reader has read this far and has a Common Riding programme to hand, a correspondent has asked us if we can tell him who won the hound trail in 1909.  I seem to recall that the programme has a list of hound trail winners  in it.

The flying bird of the day was a dancing duck who had achieved lift off.

flying duck

 

 

 

 

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Today’s guest picture wings its way over from Barcelona where my eldest sister and younger brother are having a jaunt.  My brother tells me that these are the museum steps.

Barcelona Museum Steps

It was fine when we got up but Dropscone and I had had a look at the weather forecast and decided to give the morning run a miss.  This turned out it be a good decision as it didn’t take long for the heavens to open and we would have got very wet in a really strong wind if we had been out in the bikes.

I was just looking out of the kitchen window before the rain started, when my attention was caught by the sight of two cats at the far end of the lawn.

cats

They were sitting quite still and looked very peaceful but it soon became clear that they were having a cat staring competition.  The black one seemed to be the one most ill at ease and started moving very gingerly round the other cat.

_DSC3558 (2)

It was literally tip toeing and moving one foot very cautiously about every twenty seconds or more.

cats

The marmalade cat sat stock still and fixed its eyes on its opponent.  The scene was both comic and deadly serious at the same time.  The black cat circled right round the marmalade cat…

cats

…still moving at a snail’s pace, until it got to the very edge of the lawn…

cats

…leaving the marmalade cat sternly in control of the field.

cat

At this stage, because I don’t like any bird eating cats in the garden, let alone two, I appeared at the back door and said, “Shoo.”

Interestingly, as the marmalade cat made off to the right at speed, the black cat reappeared from the left, going even faster and there was a great caterwauling as it caught the other cat up in the back border.  Neither Mrs Tootlepedal or had had ever witnessed such a scene before.  It is my hope that both cats will have had such a bad experience that neither will come back to eat any more of my birds.  Let them eat cake, I say.

In spite of the rain…

siskin

…five siskins appeared as the morning went on…

siskin

…and claimed the feeder for themselves.  Later the chaffinches got back in business.

chaffinches

I put on my great big waterproof boots and my great big waterproof hat and went to see how the bridge builders on Gaskell’s Walk  were getting on.

bridge builders

They were moving two huge hardwood beams towards the crossing.    The next stage involved going down a steep and slippery slope and round a corner and there was a good deal of sizing up the job going on.  In spite of the cold wind, the pouring rain and the difficulty of the task, the men were in very cheerful mood.  I left them to it as I didn’t want to get the camera wet and walked home, stopping only to photograph yet another plant in the park wall.

Fern

I take it that this is a fern.

I spent a fair bit of time putting another choir song into the computer for practice purposes until Mrs Tootlepedal returned from some visits that she had been making.  The rain had stopped so after lunch she suggested a quick walk to look at the bridge from the other side before the rain started again.

We walked along the road and back along Gaskells.  Amazingly the hardy men had got both beams safely down the slippery slope and under the supervision of their boss, were engaged in the tricky task of sliding them across the gap.

bridge

There was quite a bit more head scratching which was not surprising because the little gorge they are crossing is remarkably deep.  We left them to it and walked back the way that we had come, pausing to take two photos as we went.

Becks Burn

This is the Becks Burn joining the Wauchope at a perfect right angle.

fungal

And Mrs Tootlepedal tells me that this is a fungal growth on a dead tree.

We looked back across the river at the gully as we walked round Pool Corner.

bridge

We had a look round the garden when we got back and I tried to get a picture of the mass frog army that has invaded the pond.

frogs

There were a lot more than these when I first approached the pond but they sneaked under water as I crept up on them.

We also saw the first stick of rhubarb of the new year.  Rhubarb crumble to come.rhubarb

In the evening, we went to our local choir and had a well organised and fruitful practice.  Hooray.  Well done the committee for getting things in hand.

The flying bird of the day is a feeble effort in very poor light.

flying chaffinch

 

 

 

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Today’s guest picture is a vivid view of the south bank of the Thames at night captured by my brother a few days ago.

The South Bank at night

It was a dry and sunny day and it would have been ideal for the morning run with Dropscone had there not been a very stiff breeze blowing.  It was still pretty nice by recent standards and we set off hopefully.

Dropscone had arranged to cycle the eleven miles to Longtown to put his bike in for a service and borrow a bike for the return trip.  This, as it turned out, was a trip straight into the teeth of the breeze and we had to work hard to cycle down the gentle slope to Longtown.  We were refreshed by a welcome cup of Earl Grey tea provided by the bike shop when we arrived.  The bike exchange was effected and having managed a measly 13mph on the way down the hill, we achieved a respectable 16mph on our way back home.  Dropscone’s borrowed bike behaved very well.

This  22 mile trip took me over 400 miles for the month which was very gratifying.  Any miles in a winter month are welcome and achieving 400 in February is a real bonus.  I have only once done more.

After coffee, I took a walk round the garden admiring the crocuses.

crocus

A definite touch of spring colour

crocuses

While I was out, I also caught the first of the aconites in full flower welcoming a rare bit of sunshine…

winter aconite

…and called in on the frogs.

frog

Then Mrs Tootlepedal and I went for a short walk.  She had received a message from our friend Bruce that a wooden bridge on Gaskell’s Walk was being replaced and we went to investigate.

We met the workmen doing the job and they explained that they were laying a couple of concrete bases for the new bridge before removing the old bridge.  The old bridge spanned a very eroded gully and although it was perfectly serviceable,  it was obviously thought that a wider bridge was necessary for safety in the long term.

old bridge on Gaskells

The timbers for the new bridge were lying beside the path.

new bridge at Gaskells

They look to be of high quality and the foreman said that they had been very heavy to carry into place.  If the weather is suitable, I will go up again tomorrow to monitor progress.

On our way back, I stopped to snap a sedum growing in the park wall among the moss and lichen.

sedum in park wall

We had had the best of the day for our morning cycle and walk but there was still enough light about to do a bit of bird staring.

siskins

Having said that there was only one siskin yesterday, four turned up today.  There’s another one round the back.

feeder

A representative sample of our feeder visitors, chaffinch, goldfinch and siskin….and rain.

The siskins’ small size does not lessen their desire to pick a fight.

siskin and chaffinch

I caught an unusual flying shot of a passing chaffinch.

flying chaffinch

And a very common shot of one just landing.

landing chaffinch

As they come to a halt, it lets me get some reasonably sharp wing feathers.

There has been no demand for the fat balls in the feeders so I broke one up and spread it on the lawn.  The blackbirds were beside themselves with joy.

blackbird happy

After lunch, I spent quite a bit of time re-ordering some second hand books from the internet for my friend Arthur which has proved to be a more time consuming business than I thought.  Then I wrote a letter to an Archive Group enquirer and drove up to the town to post it.  Unaccountably, some Italian cheese turned up in my pocket when I got home.  If it wasn’t such an inappropriate metaphor for me, I might say that I had killed two birds with one stone.

I drove up to the town and walked back because I had to leave our car at the garage.  It has taken it into its head that one of the doors is open, even when they are all firmly shut and as a result, the interior light won’t go off when it is being driven.  This is the sort of minor (but probably expensive) fault that is brought on by having more bells and whistles in your car than you actually need.

I took one more flower picture as I arrived home just before the light finally went.

dandelion

It takes all sorts.

In the evening, Susan drove me  to Carlisle to our recorder group and we had another excellent evening’s playing.  It was so good that we passed our usual time for tea and biscuits without me even noticing.

The flying bird of the day is another chaffinch doing the side stroke.

flying chaffinch

 

 

 

 

 

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Today’s guest picture from my sister Mary shows some reflections on the Regent’s Canal.

regent's canal

The day started with s stiff breeze and a good deal of rain but the breeze was quite a lot less strident than yesterday’s near gale and the garden was full of goldfinches as a result.  They didn’t always seem very happy about the rain though.

goldfinch and siskin

This one was joined by a lone siskin visitor.

I had to go up to see my friend Arthur on a matter of computer assistance and by the time that I returned, the rain had begun to slack off and the light had improved enough to make watching the goldfinches with camera in hand a sensible thing to do.

goldfinches

Some were very busy…

goldfinch

…and others were more chilled out.

goldfinch

…but mostly they were busy.

There were chaffinches about too in typically feisty form.

chaffinch

You can see from the pictures that there was even a hint of sun so I stepped out to visit the froggery.

frog

This one had a minder in the background.

After lunch, Mrs Tootlepedal went off to work again in  order to keep me in the style to which I am accustomed and I got the speedy bike out and resolved to see how strong the wind was.

garmin 24 Feb 14It was very strong in gusts but the gusts were reasonably far apart and the base wind speed was tolerable.  I was feeling a lot better than I was when  had to give up on Saturday and had enough energy to jump off the bike on several occasions to take a picture (or two).

I hadn’t decided how far or where to go before I set out but as the ride went on, the reasonably warm temperature (8 degrees C), the moderate wind and the high clouds with occasional patches of blue sky led me on and on and I ended up doing a loop of thirty miles.  The wind  got stronger as I went round but fortunately by the time it was at its fiercest, I was heading for home with the wind behind me.

The first 6 miles uphill and into the wind took me a good length of time as I pedalled well within myself to avoid getting too tired.  This led to a slow overall time but an amazingly pleasant ride as I had plenty of energy left even when I had finished.

My first photos were on a watery theme with two of my favourite little cascades on the Wauchope and a picturesque puddle being ruffled by the wind.

wauchope cascade

wauchope cascade

There was plenty of water going down the river.

puddle

And in the fields all round my journey.

I passed this ruined cottage between Kennedy’s Corner and Chapelknowe.

ruined cottage

After passing through Glenzier, I decided to take the morning run route home past the Kerr.  There had been signs saying that the road would be closed and I wanted to check this out.  The road past Ryehills was closed and I had to take a small diversion past Tomshielburn and Barnglieshead.  This road had been closed earlier and I was keen to see what sort of job had been done on it.

Parts had been gloriously resurfaced….

Tomshielburn road

…but parts had been left without improvement at all.

The ways of the roads department are a mystery to us all.

There were more puddles to be seen along this stretch…

 

horse and puddle

The horses at the back would have come to see me but they had lost their water wings.

…and some fine lichen on an old gatepost.

lichen

You could read all sorts of things into these patterns.  I can see Punch and Judy.

I finished my ride with a look at the Esk in langholm.  In spite of all the rain and puddles, the river hasn’t looked like flooding.

Esk

It is quite full though.

I dropped in on Maisie’s grandparents who have returned from New Zealand and was greeted with a cup of tea and some welcome ginger biscuits.

I took a picture to prove that they had got back safely.  You can tell from their naturally relaxed manner just how good I am at putting my portrait subjects at ease.

Mike and Alison

They are not at all jet lagged.

In the evening, I went across to Newcastleton with Sandy for a meeting of the camera club.  We both had several pictures in the competition and the judge truly loved out work.  He said so several times.  Sadly, he loved others’ work even more and we didn’t trouble the scorer as they say.

He showed us some of his own work as an entrant in top competitions and as they included a great shot of a goldfinch, I considered him a wonderful photographer.  It was a treat to look at his pictures and to hear his remarks ab0ut ours so Sandy and I came home well satisfied.

In spite of all the goldfinches, a neat chaffinch sneaked in as flying bird of the day.

flying chaffinch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Today’s guest picture shows Chiswick House, a fine Palladian villa (shorn of its wings after some damage during the Second World War).  It was visited by my sister Mary on her family visit to Hogarth’s house nearby.

Chiswick House

We were promised very strong winds and heavy rain today and the weather gods did not let us down.  The wind was strong enough to blow the rain through the end wall of the house again, which was a bit annoying and we will just have to hope that the chap who is looking into it for us can come up with some good ideas.  We are not holding our breath though.

The weather put paid to any ideas of going for a pedal or a walk or even trying to photograph any birds.  I only took two pictures through the kitchen window all day.

chaffinch

I don’t think he was enjoying the rain much either.

I did try to take a picture to show the strength of the wind but unless something actually blows over it is hard to convey what it is like.

 

grass

This doesn’t really do it but it was my best effort.

I was feeling rather tired for some reason so I was quite grateful for an excuse to dawdle about daydreaming.

Luckily, by the time that we had to go to Carlisle for our Sunday choir, the rain took a short break so after a quick frog check…

frog

…we set off and although I had to hold onto the steering wheel with a firm grip to avoid being blown off the road, the trip was otherwise quite uneventful.   The practice was excellent and given the care that our director takes to make sure we are learning the pieces properly, I feel my singing can only get better, admittedly having started at a very low base.

We got there a bit early today and I had a chance to snatch a photograph of the cream of the alto section.

altos

You can see how pleased they were to have their picture taken.

The wind had dropped for our journey home so the day ended on a generally satisfactory note.

A very blurred flying chaffinch was the best that I could do in the wind and rain.

flying chaffinch

 

 

 

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Today’s guest pictures were taken by my daughter and show that lichen can get anywhere, even onto a south London post box.

lichen post box

It was dry but breezy this morning and it was my intention to put this to good use by getting a decent pedal in.  I was too optimistic.  The breeze turned out to be very fierce by the time that I had got out of the shelter of the town and it proved too much for me and I threw in the towel after 14 miles, not being able to face another battle into the wind, even for a measly three miles.  I was a bit alarmed that I felt so feeble but there are some days when you are just not at your peak and this was one of them as far as I was concerned so I just had to lump it.

The chaffinches seemed to be about as cross as I was.

chaffinches

Only the frogs seemed happy.

frog

There were a lot of them about, smiling at nothing much in the pond.

frogs

After lunch, I went round the same walk that I had done yesterday but this time in company with Mrs Tootlepedal. I took my zoom lens with me in the hope of finding a field full of herons at the Murtholm but there were none to be seen and I had to content myself with a rather distant picture of the two oystercatchers.

oystercatchers

They were catching worms rather than oysters.

Mrs Tootlepedal has often been round this walk in her dog walking days and she drew my attention to a fine old oak tree on the middle of the woods.

oak tree

The king of the Kernigal.  The trunk must be 18ft in circumference.

I drew her attention to two stones beside a stream which I hadn’t noticed yesterday.

lichen

Lichen art

The wood is full of green carpeted glades…

glade

…and there were catkins everywhere. Individually…

catkins

…and in mobs.

catkins

I saw fungi that I had missed yesterday, near the ground on a tree stump…

fungus

…and up in the air on the end of a dead branch.

fungus

There was a different horse posing for the camera as we came down to the Stubholm.

horse

The green fairways of the golf course stood out on the lower slopes of Whita as we looked across the valley.

golf course

We finished our walk by going through the park and a patch of vivid green moss on the wall almost made it look as though the sun was shining.

park wall

The tree stump which you can see in the picture above was covered with a fine display of slime mold.

slime mold

When we got back, I walked round the garden.  There are a lot of crocuses to be seen but they are waiting for a bit of sun before they are going to open their petals.

crocus

By accident, I turned on the telly while the rugby international between Italy and Scotland was being broadcast.  I had meant not to watch the game as I have no confidence in the team’s coach and it is depressing to see good players losing matches because of incomprehensible tactics.  I was about to switch off when Scotland scored an excellent try….and then they scored another.  Things got back to normal when they gave away a try through lack of concentration and I was resigned to another defeat when they scored in the last minute to snatch a very rare but welcome victory.

Mrs Tootlepedal had cooked a chicken and mushroom casserole in the slow cooker and it turned out very well.  The surplus will go into the freezer and will do for quite a few meals.

As I write this, the wind is howling round the house and the rain is battering the end wall.  I am glad that I have an electric blanket to keep me warm in bed.

There were few other birds than chaffinches in the garden because of the high winds so a chaffinch is the flying bird of the day.

chaffinch

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