Archive for May, 2015

Today’s first guest picture comes from Muriel, the leader of the Mrs Tootlepedal’s church choir, who was at our concert on Friday in Canonbie where she took this photograph of us.

choir at canonbieThe second guest picture comes from Luke’s mum who took this picture of her talented child at Eskdalemuir yesterday.

Tom and LukeThe musical weekend continued today as Mrs Tootlepedal went off to sing with the church choir.  I was silent for once as I put a week of the newspaper index into the database while she was out.

It was very windy again and as we had still got a lot of singing to do, once again I let the chance of a cycle ride slide away from me.  I really will have to pull myself together soon but some less busy weeks are coming up so I hope for the best.

The day was much better than the forecast as far as rain went so I strolled round the garden. Some new flowers are about.


This geum is a cheat though as Mrs Tootlepedal bought it at a plant fair on Saturday


The columbines are coming along at last.

As well as a bit of colour, there is quite a lot of white.

whiteStill, in general things are at a standstill and waiting for a warm day so there was not much to get excited about.

A blackbird was very calm as I walked up to it.

blackbirdOn the other hand a sparrow which was perching in a gutter at the top of the house was getting very excited indeed.

sparrowWe had an early lunch and set off for Carlisle to combine some shopping with a practice with our other choir there.  We have got a concert coming up in two weeks with them so we were working hard to get some polish into our programme.  We would make more progress if we could remember to do what we had learned in the previous weeks without having to be taught it again but I suppose that must be true of many choirs.  Our musical director is very patient.

We had time for a light meal and a couple of garden pictures when we got back….


Possibly the last sighting of a tulip this year.


And an almost complete absence of colour at the far end of the lawn.


We are having to make do with foliage.

…..before we set off for Westerkirk for our Langholm Choir concert there.  The church is set in an idyllic spot…

Westerkirk Church…beside the river Esk.

Bentpath BridgeAnd although it has a slightly forbidding entrance…

Westerkirk Church…it has been redecorated very nicely inside…

Westerkirk Church…and is light and airy.  The audience eventually outnumbered the choir but was not as large as the audience at Canonbie on Friday.  The choir gave their best again though and the audience was very appreciative.  The two Langholm Sings concerts went as well as could have been expected and I feel sure that we will visit both of the venues again.

It has been a hard working weekend but enjoyable.

In a complete contrast to yesterday, the flying bird of the day is a streamlined goldfinch.


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Today’s guest picture shows a room with a view.  It was captured by Venetia while on holiday in Corrèze. She seems to have had plenty of interesting things to look at while she was inn France.

CorrezeWe had sunny spells and brisk winds again today but we were spared any showers which was a relief.  Once again though,  I failed to get out on my bike for one reason or another.

I did manage to some useful work in the garden instead.  I mowed the middle lawn and the grass paths on the front lawn too.  Then I raked one of the potential wild flower areas in the front lawn to try to get rid of as much moss as possible.

Having cast a critical eye on the state of health of the middle lawn, I gave the more pathetic parts of it a dose of liquid fertiliser.  I don’t expect to see much growth though until we get some warm weather.

I moved a couple more barrowfuls of compost from Bin A to Bin C but I have not included a photograph of this to avoid excessive excitement among the readership.

I ended the work with a good session of shredding of Mrs Tootlepedal’s spring prunings.

I wouldn’t like to pretend that this was continuous work as it was interrupted by periods of contemplation, crossword solving, sitting and thinking, lunch and sitting without thinking…..and taking a few pictures in the garden.

daisy and lilac

Two flowers coming out just in time to greet June


The last two daffodils which sadly are not quite going to make the first of June after all.


Two lonely flowers on azaleas surrounded by unopened petals

plum tree

It looks as though we may get some plums this year but the late frost has seen to at least  half of the flowers.


And only half of the clematis above the back door has come out so far.

Still, there are bees about which is encouraging.


A bee ranging over the lithodora


And finally finding the one it wants.

Because of the work in the garden, there were not a great many birds to be seen today but the usual suspects were about.

starling and chaffinch

A starling gives a chaffinch a curious look.


One chaffinch comes as another goes

During the day, Mrs Tootlepedal moved the old feeder from the elder to protect her flowerbed underneath and put it back on the pole outside the kitchen window.  This didn’t discourage the goldfinches.

goldfinchesThey may prefer it to the new feeder which some of them find a little awkward to land on.

goldfinchThough it is no problem to the blue tits.

blue titA well judged combination of gardening and idling filled the day and in the early evening, we drove up to Eskdalemuir to the new Hub which has been set up in the old school there.

The school lies across the road from the river Esk…

River Esk at eskdalemuirBoth Mrs Tootlepedal and I remarked that on a pleasant evening at this time of year, Eskdalemuir can easily be mistaken for Shangri-la.  It is a different matter though in the midst of winter when the winds are raging and the snow is falling.  Then it can be mistaken for hell.

The managers of the Hub had organised a day of music and I was there to contribute a little by playing some simple duets with my flute pupil Luke.  Luke was in very good form and not least because we adopted very sensible tempos, we played our pieces well and got rewarded with a warm round of applause.  I was very pleased for Luke who had practised hard and was touched to see that his playing had moved his proud grandmother, who was in the audience, to tears.

We didn’t stay to listen to more music but drove gently home by the road down the other bank of the river.  It is one of the benefits of living in a  less prosperous area of the country that we didn’t meet a single car on our 26 mile round trip.  In fact, I was able to sop in the middle of the road near Hopsrig and take a couple of pictures on our way home.

yellow flowers

Bright yellow flowers among the debris left by tree felling

bluebells at Hopsrig

Bluebells among the few remaining trees.

We will have a busy day of singing tomorrow with a rehearsal for our Carlisle choir and the second concert with our Langholm choir.

The flying bird of the day is a goldfinch.  It is not a good picture but I have used it anyway because I love the arc that a goldfinch’s wings make when they are fully extended.

flying goldfinch

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Today’s guest picture shows Argentat on the Dordogne which was visited by Venetia during her recent French holiday.

ArgentatAfter a good breakfast, we said goodbye to Granny as she went off to the deep south with Mike and Frankie.  She had been the perfect guest and we were sad to see her go.

Shortly after they had gone, Dropscone appeared, having returned from three days in the bitter wind and rain on Scotland’s east coast where he had been officiating at an international junior golf tournament.  In spite of the weather, he had enjoyed himself and his reappearance was made even more welcome by the fact that he had brought some of his special Friday treacle scones with him to have with the coffee.

Unfortunately, the best weather of the morning had co-incided with these social activities and by the afternoon, we were back into the world of sunshine and showers.  I did get my cycling gear on and head off up the road after lunch but I had only gone one and a half miles before I discovered that the council had covered the road with fresh tarry gravel, quite unsuitable for cycling on a road bike for a day or two until cars have flattened it out. As some big black clouds were looming up, I decided to cut my losses and go home.

While the sun still shone, I started on the next stage of the composting process and Bin A is gradually being turned into Bin C.  (Mrs Tootlepedal found another bin on the go and threw that into Bin C as well.)  I know that some readers do not feel that their day is complete without a compost picture so here is today’s.

compostExciting, isn’t it?

The continuing cold wind is still making flowers reluctant to emerge but one or two are poking their heads above the parapet.

geraniumsOthers are being battered in a picturesque way.

tulip and poppyMost of the azaleas are in a state of shock and this one has been waiting so long for the flowers to open that the leaves have come out regardless.

azaleaWe are getting to the stage when we are almost a month behind.

The garden is full of poppies hanging about.

poppy budThe bird feeder which I hung on the elder for Granny’s entertainment is still there and I must say that it is very relaxing to be able to sit in a comfortable arm chair and watch the birds.

bird watchingI am going to keep it there until Mrs Tootlepedal gets fed up with the state of her flowerbed underneath.

I spent some time in the chair today.

goldfinch and chaffinch

The feeder was quite busy

goldfinch and chaffinch

With birds arriving from either side.

The main business of the latter part of the day was music.  Luke came for final practice of our duets for a little performance we are giving at Eskdalemuir Hub tomorrow and then Mrs Tootlepedal and I went off to Canonbie for the first of two concerts with our Langholm choir.

The concert was in the rather austere looking Canonbie Church….

Canonbie Church…but the inside of the building has been completely redecorated and furnished….

Canonbie Church…and it made a most welcoming venue for our concert.   For once there was plenty of room for both the choir and the audience, the piano was in tune, our two conductors had a solid  rostrum to stand on so that they were clearly visible to the singers and the acoustic was good.  In addition, there was an excellent turnout, the hall was nearly full and the choir was paying a lot of attention to the job in hand.

The result of all this was a most enjoyable evening for the singers and listeners alike.  The choir sang just about as well as it possibly could and the audience provided us with a genuine warmth of response so that both Mrs Tootlepedal and I went home in state of mild euphoria….and the concert wasn’t too long either.

Luke’s mother, who is one of the sopranos, kindly sent me this picture which she took of Mrs Tootlepedal and some of the other ladies of the choir as they waited for the concert to begin..

Choir ladiesWe can only hope that the concert in Westerkirk Church on Sunday goes as well.

The flying bird of the day is a goldfinch.


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Today’s guest picture is another from my sister Mary’s Lake District trip and shows the path to Easedale Tarn.

Looking back down path to Easedale TarnIf only I could have persuaded myself to get up at 6 o’clock when I opened my eyes to see strong sunshine outside, I would have been able to make the best of the day.  As it was, my eyes snapped shut again and by the time that I got up, the weather was trying to break all records for the number of sharp showers in a single day.

The short spells of brilliant sunshine between the showers made this all the more annoying.  Every time the rain stopped, it looked as though summer had come but fifteen minutes later, the clouds were back, the wind gusted,  the temperature dropped and the next shower was on its way.

I started the day with a visit to fill up the Moorland feeders and while I was lurking in the hide for half an hour, two showers passed over.  All the same, I had a very entertaining time as the glade was the arena for six woodpeckers to chase each other up and down the trees and on and off the feeders.

Mostly they were half hidden by branches or too quick for me but from time to time, I was able to catch them at work.

woodpeckerswoodpeckerswoodpeckerswoodpeckersAt one stage, one of them was joined by a jay.

jay and woodpeckerBut the jay soon left.

There were a few other birds about.


A chaffinch posed for lovers of peaceful bird shots.  This was in one of the rain showers.


There seem to be quite a few greenfinches about this year in spite of the disease that struck them last season.

When I got home, Mrs Tootlepedal was trying to get some useful gardening done in between the showers and was pleased to have managed to uproot a considerable amount of creeping buttercup, one of the banes of her gardening life.

I found a couple, of breaks in the rain to finish shifting the last of the compost from Bin C to Bin D.

compost binsIt was rather soggy work today.  The next task is transferring Bin A to Bin C.  This will take time as it requires the use of a wheelbarrow.

In the sunny spells, there was quite a bit of colour in the garden.  The rhododendrons are working hard.


An azalea sneaked into the montage.

Less showy flowers are to be seen too.

allium and japanese azalea

An allium and a Japanese azalea

euphorbia and chive

Can anyone tell me what  botanical purpose the crab like claws on the euphorbia serve?

In the garden, I saw a great tit….

great tit…and there were still a lot of starlings about.

starlingFinally, later in the afternoon, there seemed to be enough stability in the weather to let me out for a short stroll and I ventured round Gaskell’s Walk with one eye on the wild flowers and the other on some looming clouds.  I wisely didn’t spend too much time looking for photo opportunities and got back home before the rain started again but I did see a few things along the way.


A thriving lichen on a wall beside the road.

geum and blue flower

I know that the plant on the left is a geum but I don’t know the blue flower

red flower and butterfly

The may be red campion on the left and it is definitely a butterfly enjoying a bluebell on the right.

red flower and hawthorn

An unknown (to me) red flower and some potential hawthorn blossom

rhododendron in the park

A rhododendron in the park

It was time for a cup of tea with Mike Tinker who was visiting Granny when I got home and not long afterwards, Mike and Frankie, Mrs Tootlepedal’s brother and sister-in-law,  returned from their short holiday in Troon and Mull.  They hadn’t enjoyed the best of weather but a reunion with old friends and  the scenery had made the trip worthwhile.

In the evening, Granny took us all out for an excellent farewell meal at the Douglas Hotel as she is going to go home with Mike and Frankie tomorrow.  We will be sorry to see her go and hope to see her again next year.

More wind and rain is forecast for the next few days.  I was hoping for a few more bike miles before the end of May but it will take a mighty big (and improbable) effort to get me out in these conditions.

The flying bird of the day is that jay from the Moorland Feeders.

flying jay

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Today’s guest picture comes from Venetia’s recent trip to France.  It shows a house competing in the most window boxes of the year competition.

Le PescherAfter a burst of cycling activity in recent days, I was helped in my decision to have a calm day today by an even colder and more blustery wind than usual.  It was back to having to wear a coat if you went outside for any length of time and working in the garden was no fun at all.

During the morning I received a text from Sandy asking if I would do the filling of the moorland feeders for him as he is away.  Without thinking, I went off to to the feeders only to find them full.  It dawned on me later that his day is tomorrow and not today so I will have to go up again tomorrow.   I spent a little time in the hide while I was there and it was a bit like a disaster movie.  Everything was deathly quiet and literally not a bird was to be seen.  Finally two birds turned up.


A far off greater spotted woodpecker


And a shy greenfinch near the hide.

Even in the hide, it was freezing so I didn’t linger.

There were far more birds in the garden at home.

garden birdsWhen I got home, I used the time to put a week of the newspaper index into the Archive database and then to resuscitate my cycling statistic spreadsheet from last year and put this year’s rather weedy stats into it.

It turns out that I have done 1100 miles so far this year so I have set myself a notional target of 4000 miles for the whole year.  As the mathematically minded will observe, this gives me  an average  of around 400 miles a month for the rest of the year.  Judging by how things have gone so far, my knee should be able to stand this mileage easily but it is very weather dependent.  After doing 390 miles in April when the weather wasn’t too bad,  I have only managed 300 this month when the wind has hardly ever stopped blowing.  A quick look at the long range forecast does not raise my hopes.

I mixed some singing and flute practice with some staring out of the windows.  The lawn had been taken over by starlings today…

starlingsWe are taking bets as to whether the daffodils at the back of the lawn will still be there in June.  It would be almost unprecedented to see daffs out that late in the year.

The starlings were very busy all day and several had a go at getting seed from the new feeder.

starling on feederThey have to flap quite  hard to stay on the little perches but they must think that the cost benefit analysis in terms of effort against seed acquired is positive because they came back a lot.

Some took their time before plunging in.

starlingThe older feeder is hanging from the elder outside the sitting room window and the white wall of our next door neighbour gives an unusual background to my feeder photos today.

chaffinch and goldfinchesThe finches were very active, even when it started raining in the afternoon.

greenfinch and goldfinchAnd at every opportunity, they got stuck into the seeds.

greenfinch, goldfinch and blue titAs you can see, the finches were joined by a blue tit who kept an eye out for spare perches…

blue tit…and dived in when one became available.

blue titThe rain got very heavy as the day wore on and I got a text from Dropscone, who is officiating for several days at a junior golf tournament, to say he was suffering miserable weather there too.

Mercifully it took a break when it was time after tea to walk to our last Langholm choir practice before our concerts at the weekend.  We worked hard but it would be paltering with the truth to say that we are note perfect. Nevertheless, we have a cheery programme so the audiences should enjoy themselves.

It was pouring with rain again as we walked home.

The flying bird of the day is a goldfinch.


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Today’s guest picture is another from my sister Mary’s recent Lake District holiday.  It shows Grasmere.  She takes lovely pictures.

GrasmereIt was a bit warmer when I got up today but it didn’t feel much warmer because of the dratted wind which was still blowing strongly.  It took me some time to summon up the will to go for a pedal but I eventually managed it and set out on the 22 mile run to Gair and back.  Because of the wind, I was going quite slowly and had plenty of time to look at the verges.

When I looked closely, there were more wild flowers about than I have been giving the verges credit for.  I stopped when I saw a flash of blue and within the space of four yards I saw a lot. Here are just some of them.

wildflowerswildflowersThe beautiful yellow flower on the left is one of the many things that I would never have noticed before I caught the camera bug.

I passed a delightful small wood where bluebells were mixed with white wild flowers and the effect was magical.  Pocketcam couldn’t really do it it justice but it gives a flavour of the scene.

Wood at CraigsAnother flower that I might have missed in years gone by.

wild flowerThe wind made the ride hard work and I was much slower than yesterday but I was pleased to have got out and the scenery, as always on a sunny day, brought a lift to my heart as I puffed along.   I have cycled 135 miles in the last seven days and my legs were beginning to feel the strain by the time that I got home.

Gerry who lives in the south of France recently did a horrendously long and hilly ride and posted a fine picture of the effect that wearing a cycling helmet has on the hair style.  I think that it is only fair to point out that short and easy rides can have much the same effect.

helmet hair

Stylish in the extreme.

I had a walk round the garden when I got back and was pleased to see the first of the aquilegias in flower.  Mrs Tootlepedal is a bit sniffy about aquilegias because whatever colour they are when they first come up, she thinks that they always seem to revert in later years to the rather dull colour you can see in the right hand picture below.

aquilegiaI like them because of their shape.

I also like the showy rhododendron which is at its peak,   I couldn’t decide between a close up or a distant view so I have put them both in.

rhododendronMy Newcastle correspondent brought her children and a friend into the garden yesterday evening on a frog hunt.  I was pleased when they found one and pleased to see that there was one here again today.

frogIt has been quite dry recently and there have not been a great many birds at the feeders but there are lots of sparrows in the garden, pecking away at the lawn.

sparrowAnd there are blackbirds on every side.

blackbirdAfter lunch, I mowed the back lawn and drying green and shifted a bit more compost from Bin C to Bin D.  It is amazing what a difference turning compost just once or twice makes to the speed of its breakdown.  I would like to turn it a lot more often but creaky joints set a limit to my enthusiasm.

Later in the afternoon, Mrs Tootlepedal and Mauri, her mother, went off  to take tea with a neighbour and I popped out on the slow bike to see if I could see blue tits in the nest hole at the Jubilee Bridge.  They were quite busy…

blue tit

It seems like a big tree for such a tiny bird.

…but I was distracted first by a chaffinch hopping along the metal fence stealing insects from a spiders’ web…

chaffinch…and then by a nuthatch feeding in the branches above my head.

nuthatchI pedalled on to the Sawmill Bridge in the hope of seeing dippers but had to settle for a grey wagtail instead.  These little birds are very fidgety and well camouflaged against the stones that they perch on so getting a good picture is often beyond my skills.

grey wagtailIt collected a good beakful of insects while I watched it.

Mr Grumpy was on sit down strike on the Kilngreen…

Mr Grumpy…possibly because of these two dogs cavorting in the water a few yards upstream.

dogs in EwesIt turned out to be a really nice day, especially if you could get out of the wind.

In the evening, Susan took me to Carlisle in her new car and we had a very progressive time at our recorder group, selecting material for a concert in which we we are taking a small part at the beginning of July.  We have ended up with a varied programme which we will enjoy playing and which we hope the audience will enjoying hearing.

The flying bird of the day is a goldfinch squeezing past the pole towards the new feeder.

flying goldfinch

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Today’s guest picture comes from Venetia, my Somerset correspondent, who has been away in France.  The picture shows a charming boutique in Collanges-la-Rouge.

Collanges-la-RougeA cloudy and windy morning gave rise to quite a long internal debate over the pleasures of cycling.  In the end though,my sense of derring-do just won out over my tendency to derring-don’t and I set off up the Wauchope road on the fairly speedy bike.

I was glad that I had gone as my legs and I were in harmony from the start and I even stopped to take a photo or two.  Due to a combination of the cold spring and some wanton mowing of the verges by the council, there are not many wild flowers to see on the way but I was impressed by this display of blackthorn blossom near Westwater.

blackthornOn the other side of the road, a splash of yellow in a ditch caught my attention.

ditch flowersAlmost every flower had a little insect attached.  Nearby an orange bee was busy.

bee at westwaterI didn’t stop again until I was nearly at Paddockhole, my outward destination.  One of my favourite views caused me to take the camera out to record ‘fifty shades of green’.

PaddockholeAn indication of the power of the wind may be gathered from the fact that I glanced down at my bike computer on my way home to find that I was doing 30 mph along a pretty flat piece of road.  I was more impressed by my outward speed than I had been at the time that I was puffing along against the wind.   I really am getting fit enough so that a little wind shouldn’t be an excuse any more to stop me going out.  It probably will be but it shouldn’t be.

When I got home, Granny and Mrs Tootlepedal were in the garden so I joined them and took a couple of pictures.


One of Mrs Tootlepedal’s two willows going great guns.

There are several colourful corners developing in the garden but I concentrated on some details today.

flowersThe day steadily improved and by the afternoon, it was a pleasant spring day (but still breezy).

After lunch, I took the two paintings which had been given to me to look after by Mrs Turner up to to one of our local picture framers.  He agreed to frame them so that they can be hung up in our new visitor centre when it is ready.  His studio was one of many locally that were open today as part of the Spring Fling and I visited four others while I was in the centre of town.

My favourite was the studio of Julie Dumbarton but as photography was not allowed, you will have to visit her website if you want to see what it is that I like about her work.  I would need a bigger house (and a much bigger wallet) if I was going to buy one of her paintings though.

Because I was thinking about  the two water colours that are being framed, I walked on down to Skippers Bridge to see if I could show the ancient and modern together.  It was not entirely possible but I did my best.

The view upstream in 1859 as seen by William Nutter…..

nutter distillery…and in 2015 as seen by me.

Distillery 2015What is most noticeable when you look at old paintings and photographs of the town is how many more trees there are today.  I couldn’t get down to the river on the same bank as William used for his picture of the bridge but I scrambled down  the other bank and got as far out into the river as I could. There were still too many trees.

Mr Nutter in 1859 saw this….

nutter skippers…and I saw this in 2015.

2015 skippers bridgeThe bridge has been widened by about a half since the painting was made.

The scramble down the bank was quite exciting and so I thought that I would take some pictures of my own while I was down by the water’s edge.  This is my view of the distillery.

distilleryAnd this is my view of the bridge disappearing into the spring foliage.

Skippers in springAfter a last glance at the river….

Esk…I scrambled arduously back up the bank….and noticed a much easier path a few yards further along.

My walk back home on the west bank of the river was made very attractive by a river of daises on the Murtholm….

murtholm daisies….a fine copper beech on the opposite bank….

copper beech….a burst of wild garlic at the end of the fields….

garlic…a swathe of bluebells in the woods….

bluebells…and a final flood of garlic down the banking just before the park.

wild garlicThe walk was full of sensation for the eye and the nose too.   It was rounded off by a cup of tea and a slice of banana and walnut loaf when I got home.

I didn’t have much time for bird watching in all this but a great tit is always a welcome visitor…

great tit

On the old feeder

…and greenfinches make me smile with their apparent solemnity.


On the new feeder

This reminds me that I found the new feeder on the ground when I came down this morning so the rooks have obviously been busy again.  I must tie it up safely before I go to bed tonight.

My flute pupil Luke came and we had a useful practice.  As we are playing in public on Saturday, I have arranged an extra go for Friday evening.  You can’t have too many practices before a performance, however brief.

Mrs Tootlepedal took Granny for a short but scenic drive after tea while I practised a little singing and cut the seventy pictures on my camera card down to a nearly manageable number.

The flying bird of the day is a sparrow.

flying sparrow

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