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Archive for January, 2016

Today’s guest picture was sent to me by my sister Mary.  She has been spending a day or two in Bristol with my brother for his birthday celebration.  They viewed the Avon Gorge from the Clifton Bridge yesterday.

Avon Gorge

Following my own advice on being prepared to cycle whenever the opportunity arises, I ignored a light drizzle and a chilly 4°C and went out on the fairly speedy bike after breakfast rather than stare at the garage wall indoors.

The clouds were wholeheartedly embracing our hills so there were no views to be had or photo opportunities to be taken but, on the plus side, there was very little wind either.  This made the drizzle very bearable and I scooted up and down the road to Wauchope Schoolhouse until I had clocked up twenty miles and then I stopped.

Fortunately 20 miles leaves me exactly outside our garden gate.

While I was pedalling, Mrs Tootlepedal had been singing in the church choir and she just got home before me.  As a result, she had started on making the beef stew for the slow cooker which I had intended to do.  This was a good thing, as the stew tasted absolutely delicious when tea time came.

As I had time on my hands, I spent it looking out of the window.  The bird action started slowly with a casual chaffinch….

chaffinch approaching feeder

…followed by an even more casual goldfinch.

goldfinches

As the feeder got busier what started as polite enquiries….

chaffinch and goldfinch talking

Is this perch free?

…turned into heated discussions.

chaffinch and goldfinch talking

Can’t you see its busy, you nitwit!

The rain came and went and at times it was very gloomy….

goldfinch

…but the birds kept on coming…

goldfinches

We had more goldfinches today than usual

…and coming.

busy feeder goldfinches and chaffinches

Of course now than the garden bird count was over, I saw a redpoll (before I had the camera out) and a brambling.

brambling

The brambling obligingly flew down and stood beside a male chaffinch so that those interested in these things can clearly see the difference between them.

brambling and chaffinch

They are very similar in size and not too different in colour when seen from a distance so you might have to look twice to tell the difference if they are up in  a tree together.

After lunch there was time for a moment’s silence as we mourned Andy Murray’s inability to put one over the unstoppable Djocko in Australia but we cheered ourselves up with a bit of ukulele practice.  We are trying to master O Sole Mio with Mrs Tootlepedal picking out the melody while I strum the chords.

It was soon time to lay the instruments aside and go to Carlisle for our choir practice.  The choir seems to get bigger all the time, and today almost all the pews in the church were full of singers.  We make a rich sound when we are on song.

Once again our conductor was looking for as near perfection as we can manage so we spent two very hard working sessions going into a lot of the fine detail for two of our competition pieces.  The cup of coffee and choccy biscuit in the middle were never more welcome.

The wind was still calm as we left for home but it was raining heavily.  We are promised a rising wind over the next two days, reaching up to 60mph at times but once again, it should be worse to our north so we are keeping our fingers crossed (and everything nailed down).

Among the birds and the drizzle, the splashes of colour in the garden keep reminding us of spring.

Daffodils

These are the aptly named Rijnveld’s Early Sensation

primula

An optimistic primula

Even if the weather is terrible, the days are getting noticeably longer which is as good as a vitamin D tablet.

I had many choices of flying bird to day so I have chosen two, one horizontal….

flying chaffinch

…and one vertical (and vocal).

flying chaffinch

 

 

 

 

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Today’s guest picture was sent to me by Venetia during the cold snap a week ago and shows her cat testing the ice on her pond.  It held up.

Venetia's cat

There was no ice here this morning although the temperature was only just above freezing and in spite of a very gloomy forecast, there was no snow either.  Looking at the weather maps there was snow on all sides of us but once again, we had escaped the worst.

I put out some food for the jackdaws.  It attracted their attention…

jackdaw

…and that of a rook too.

rook

In fact it was quite a pleasant morning if you were able to disregard the piercing wind.  Mrs Tootlepedal found a sheltered spot round the back of the house to do some gardening and I wrapped up well and went for a short walk.

I took a picture or two in the garden before I left as there definite signs of things to come to be seen.

crocus and magnolia bud

I was hoping to see some suitable gulls for the flying bird of the day on my walk but there were no gulls to be seen, just some ducks lurking in a corner out of the wind.

mallards

It wasn’t a day for taking your hands out of your pockets more than necessary and as I was walking a well trodden route and there was nothing new to see, I only took the occasional picture.

contrasting tree trunks

When I got home, I noticed that the rhubarb has begun to show itself….

rhubarb

There were quite a few birds about so I settled down for an hour to do a garden birdwatch count for the RSPB.

There were plenty of birds to watch both on branches….

birds in plum tree

…and in the air…

busy feeder

…but I was a bit disappointed that not all the birds which I often see put in an appearance today within the time limits.  I saw rook, jackdaw, chaffinch, goldfinch, greenfinch, siskin and blackbird but didn’t see sparrow, robin, blue tit, great tit, coal tit, dunnock or starling.

When the time was up, it was far too windy to be an attractive outdoor cycling day so I did a gentle half hour on the bike to nowhere in the garage and then had lunch.

As you can see from the busy feeder picture above, there were few snowflakes about but they came to nothing so after lunch, I went for another walk.  Owing to the adverse cycling conditions, I have put on some weight since Christmas and I will either have to start watching what I eat or get less fussy about cycling in miserable weather.  Meanwhile a walk was a feeble effort to shake down my lunch.

As long as I was out of the wind, it was a nice enough afternoon for walking but if you caught the wind in your face once you were out of the shelter of the town, it was both hard to walk at all and hard to stop crying.

Luckily I had planned a sheltered walk.

There were hints of sunshine too.

Castle Hill

I would look at Castle Hill again later in the walk.

There was plenty of moss to be seen on Gaskell’s Walk.  This was all on just one tree stump by the path.

moss

There was lichen too but I kept my hands in my pocket as I passed it.

I tested the zoom on my new Lumix to its fullest extent to try to catch a heron in a field on the Murtholm and by propping it on a fence post managed to keep it steady enough to get a recognisable picture from a good distance away.

heron

A fallen tree trunk beside the path caught my eye as I climbed the steps to the old railway at Skippers Bridge….

tree grain

…but there were some less welcome ones to be negotiated on the railway.

trees on old railway

Even on a raw winter’s day, it was a pleasure to be out in the woods….

Wood near round house

…but a quick look at  Castle Hill when I got to the Round House…

snow on Castle Hill

…persuaded me not to hang about but to head for home without delay.  I managed to get to within 300 yards of home before the snow hit me so I was quite pleased with my timing.

Although the snow didn’t come to anything once again, the day was very grey by this time so I settled down to do some top quality idling for the rest of the day.  I did interrupt it to cook my tea and have another very short pedal on the bike to nowhere but idling was the chief activity.

I checked the Met Office website and saw that they have got another named storm for us in the offing.  We can look forward to being slapped by the coat tails of storm Henry on Monday evening though the worst should pass to the north of us.    We would give a lot for a small ridge of high pressure.

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

flying chaffinch

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Today’s guest picture comes from my brother Andrew who spent his birthday today on a trip to Bristol where he saw this striking bridge over the harbour cut.

Bristol bridge over the harbour cut

A combination of old age and my usual confusion led me to to conflate the UK and American storm names in yesterday’s post and in fact we were visited by storm Gertrude today not Jonas.  Gertrude is the transatlantic follow on to the US storm Jonas which provided the snow there recently.

This means of course that we have only been getting a storm once every two weeks since they started naming them not every week.  It just feels like every week.  I am sure that none of my alert readers were confused even if I was.

We woke to lashing rain and heavy winds today, courtesy of Gertrude and it really sounded as though it might be the end of times but things calmed down remarkably quickly after breakfast.  By the time that Dropscone appeared, bearing his traditional Friday treacle scones, the sun had come out and he was able to arrive by bike.

When he departed, I helped Mrs Tootlepedal prune back the climbing hydrangea on our front wall.  Left to itself, it shoots up the wall, forces its way under the gutter and then dives into the roof.    Thanks to my new knee, nipping up and down ladders is no trouble at all so I cleaned the gutter out a bit while I was up there.

Mrs Tootlepedal continued her gardening but I went back into the house to see if there were any birds to be photographed through the kitchen window.

Earlier in the morning, while I was waiting for Dropscone to come for coffee, there had been an unexpected treat.   After a single chaffinch had led the way….

chaffinch

..a  little flock of goldfinches and siskins appeared out of nowhere.

goldfinch and siskin

Chaffinches had to look hard for a spare perch, sometimes searching low..

chasffinch, goldfinch and siskin

…and sometimes high.

chasffinch, goldfinch and siskin

The arrival of some greenfinches increased the crowding….

greenfinch, goldfinch and siskin

…and led to some beak to beak confrontation.

greenfinch, goldfinch

A sharp eyed chaffinch could still find a spare seat though…

greenfinch, goldfinch, siskin, chaffinch

…but even after the goldfinches had gone, they had to look sharp among all the to-ing and fro-ing of siskins and goldfinches.

 goldfinch, siskin, chaffinch

I don’t know what brought this sudden rush of birds into the garden.  Perhaps the strong wind had blown them further than they usually go.  They were very welcome anyway.  The visit didn’t last long.  The siskins left first and after some more excitement…

goldfinch and chaffinch

…the goldfinches took off too.  The whole episode lasted for about ten minutes and by the time that I had a moment or two to look out of the window again an hour or so later after coffee and gardening, there was only the occasional chaffinch and the odd blackbird left in the garden.

I went out and took a picture of our daffodils instead.

daffodil

The RSPB has reported that the very warm winter has led to a dearth of garden bird visitors this year and I can only agree that this seems to be true in our garden at least.

After lunch, the weather closed in again and the day became very gloomy so Mrs Tootlepedal proposed a trip to Carlisle to visit a garden centre to buy the seed potatoes for the year.  As the garden centre also has a cheese counter, I was happy to agree and while she picked out the potatoes, I filled a basket with an excellent selection of sheep, goat and cow’s cheeses.

The main road out of the town had been blocked by a fallen tree in the morning but it had been cleared by the time that we drove down and although it was very windy still, the drive was uneventful.

When we got back, we were visited by Mike Tinker who called into say that he wouldn’t be visiting us for our usual Friday night music and conversation fest as both he and Alison have heavy colds. He suspects that they caught their colds from us but he is hardly blaming us at all.  He was only just well enough to visit us to say that he wasn’t visiting us but he managed a cup of tea while he was here.

We had a quiet night in.  Snow is expected overnight but since we escaped the worst of the rain and wind, perhaps we will escape the snow too.

For the flying bird of the day, I have remained loyal to our regular visitors and put in a chaffinch of each sex….ladies first of course.

flying chaffinch

flying chaffinch

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Today’s guest picture was taken by my flute pupil Luke’s mother.  Sharon works a few miles out of town and has had to drive through bad conditions.  This is why we stayed in today.

Eskdalemuir road

The weather wasn’t quite so bad today as the forecast suggested but we abandoned two possible excursions and stayed quietly at home.  I have got past the age when driving in heavy rain and strong wind in the dark is a challenge.  It is more of a nightmare now and I avoid it if I can.

The morning was mostly dry but very windy and after a short session on the bike to nowhere in the garage, I went out for a walk rather than face the gale on two wheels.

There was growth in the garden….

euphorbia

….at the side of the dam behind the house…

dam snowdrops

…in the park…

laurel

…and this cheered me up as I walked along in a fine drizzle.

There was plenty of water in the fields….

Murtholm puddles

…and the farmers must be having a really hard time.

I had a look at Skippers Bridge as I passed over it to see if yesterday’s flood had made the damage worse.  It looked much the same to me.

Skippers Bridge

They had hoped to do some temporary repairs earlier in the week but the conditions were against them.  I did notice a large rock at the foot of the damaged cutwater though….

Skippers Bridge

…and wondered if that had been dropped in as a basic protection rather than washed up by the storm.  The trees were added by nature I would imagine.

The bridge parapet was home to some very attractive lichen as always.

Skippers Bridge lichen

Skippers Bridge lichen

Skippers Bridge lichen

There were many others too.

The persistent drizzle didn’t make lingering very attractive but I did stop once more when some decorative decay on a tree stump at Lands End tempted my camera out of my pocket.

Townfoot treestump

The day got windier and wetter and I spent the afternoon indoors adding choir songs to the computer so that I can get some serious practice in.  It is not so much singing the parts that is the problem as our conductor has chosen pieces well within our range but remembering the words and the music at the same time.  It will come.

We are now getting warnings of even heavier rain, stronger winds and then snow so at least I won’t have any excuse not to learn the songs properly.

For the first time, the Met Office started giving personal names to storms at the end of last year.  They started with Storm Abigail on the 10th November and we are currently about to enjoy Storm Jonas.  That means that they are coming along very nearly at a rate of one a week.  I think that they should stop naming them as it only seems to encourage them.

The birds didn’t like the weather at all today so no flying bird and as I didn’t have two in my hand, one in a bush will have to do.

robin

 

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Today’s guest picture was sent to me by Dropscone and shows a handy chart telling me where to get my coffee from.  He found it in a coffee shop in Bromley, Kent.

coffee belt

I had quite a full day today with a very contrasting set of weather conditions to go with it.

I had to get up early (for me) to take the car to the garage for its annual MOT test.  In order to do this, I needed the full wet weather gear as it was blowing hard and raining heavily and I had to walk back from the garage.

Then it was time for breakfast and a battle with an unforgiving crossword while the rain sluiced down outside.  The rain eased off in time for Dropscone to arrive by bike for a cup of coffee (from Ethiopia).  As we sat and sipped, the wind eased off a bit too and birds returned to the garden.

chaffinches

Chaffinches..

goldfinches

..and goldfinches

It even got light enough to see some flying birds.

chaffinch and goldfinch

The river had been quite high when I went to the garage in the morning but nothing like as high as yesterday but Dropscone remarked that he had thought that it was well up when he had come for coffee.  It had rained hard before he arrived so after coffee, I went to check.

Dropscone was right.

Church in flood

The church was under threat….

Church in flood

…from all sides.

Once again, I was glad that we don’t live right beside the river.

Esk in flood

Luckily, it had brightened up quite a bit by this time and it looked as though we weren’t going to get flooded in the town.   The park wasn’t so lucky….

Park in flood

…and the Castleholm was awash as well.

Castleholm in flood

Once again today there was talk of road closures and riverside evacuations in neighbouring towns and in the Lake District one poor village was flooded for the fourth time in two months.   We had been lucky again.

But the time that I got home from my brief walk, the sun had come out and the day was looking as though butter wouldn’t melt in its mouth.

January sunshine in the garden

chaffinches

I should have gone straight out for a cycle ride but the sudden onset of sunshine gave me such a shock that I had to sit down to recover.

I did get organised in the end though and got the fairly speedy bike out and set off for a few miles up the Wauchope road.

In spite of the blue sky, the ride wasn’t quite idyllic as there was a brisk wind blowing into my face and the road was running with water.  I am trying my very best not to fall off and bang my new knee so very wet conditions make me go cautiously.

Still, the light was gorgeous when I got to my turning point at the top of Callister.

Callister

…and even better as I went back down the hill.

view from callister

I stopped to look at one of my favourite cascades but there was almost too much water going over it and it was rather flattened out.

Wauchope cascade

I cycled down to the River Esk when I got back to the town to see if had dropped.  It was well within its banks but looking quite lively all the same.

Esk in flood and sun

Although the temperature had dropped from 10 degrees at eight o’clock to 6 degrees by the time that I had finished cycling, it was still such a nice day that I tempted Mrs Tootlepedal out for a short walk.

Unfortunately, she was deep in some curtain making and by the time that she was ready to go, the sun had gone.  It was still dry though so we took a turn round Gaskell’s Walk.

I took pictures of snowdrops and a nearly out daffodil in our garden before we left…

snowdrop

early daffodil

…and then put the camera away until we passed a tree stump covered with fungus on top and down the side.

fungus on gaskell's

When we came to the top of the bank at the Stubholm, there was more evidence of the damage caused by the weather.

fallen tree Stubholm

We got round our walk in the dry but not long afterwards there was another fierce shower.

It had passed by the time that the car was ready for collection, having passed its test without needing expensive work done.

A bit of research on the internet showed local roads in terrible conditions with landslips and floods on every side.  We were hoping to go to Edinburgh to see Matilda tomorrow but our main railway line is closed because of flood damage to a viaduct and the alternative route requires nearly a hundred miles of driving to get to the station and back.  The forecast for tomorrow is for more heavy rain and driving doesn’t look very appetising at all so we will have to rely on Skype for contact.

In the evening, I went to the Archive Centre with Sandy and put a week of the newspaper index into the Archive Group database.  What with one thing and another, it was our first combined visit for over a month.

There were many opportunities for flying birds today, often all at the same time….

flying birds

…but in the end, I settled for one which wasn’t a very good photograph but which I think makes a striking image.

flying chaffinch

When I was out in the morning, I took a very brief video to show the force of the water passing under the Langholm Bridge.

 

 

 

 

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Today’s guest picture was sent to me by my son Tony.  Being the proud owner of a tradesman’s van himself, he was amused by this inscription on the back of an Edinburgh ambulance.

ambulance

It was a day of strong winds and continuous rain so I was happy to invite Sandy round for a cup of coffee and a dainty biscuit to help brighten the morning.

After he left, I needed full rainwear just to go round to the corner shop for a bottle of milk.

After lunch, I got the rainwear on again and went out to buy a new daylight light bulb for Mrs Tootlepedal.  Her old one had ‘popped’ and she needs one of these for embroidering on gloomy days.

When I crossed the suspension bridge, the river Esk was showing where all the rain was going.

River Esk in flood

While I was out, I extended my trip to the High Street by going round the Castleholm to admire all the lovely water that was to be seen on every side.

The Ewes and the Esk

The Ewes and the Esk compete.

Langholm Bridge

The Langholm Bridge does a little surfing

Kilngreen seat

No takers for a seat with a view today

Looking down the Ewes

The view from the Sawmill Brig. Not many tourists about.

Even when I got away from the rivers, there was still plenty of water.

Castleholm tree in puddle

This often had the effect of giving me two trees for one.

trees in puddles

I came back by way of the Duchess Bridge…

Duchess Bridge in flood

…making sure that I kept well away from the river bank as I went along the slippery path beside it.

Esk in flood

I wasn’t really looking out for small items of interest as I battled against the rain and wind and hopped the puddles but I couldn’t help noticing this thriving bit of moss on a tree stump.

moss beside Esk

When I got back to the town, I made a diversion to Pool Corner….

Pool Corner

…before heading in for a cup of tea and a slice of toast.

It is hard to remember that this was the view at Pool Corner nine days ago.

Pool Corner in snow

I had made some sour dough bread in the morning and for once I left it to rise for long enough instead of getting impatient and I have ended up with a tasty looking loaf.  There will be plenty of time to eat it in the days to come as being indoors looks like a good option for most of the rest of the week.  We may see the sun tomorrow though.

My friend Gavin, fearing that I might be bored on such a miserable day, kindly gave me the books of a club for which he is the treasurer and asked me to do a quick audit for him.  This is what friends are for and with the help of Mrs Tootlepedal, I passed a happy hour or so untangling his accounting.  It all added up very well.

No flying bird in these conditions but at least I did spot a perching bird of the day.

chaffinch

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I gave up my strike as it wasn’t haven’t any effect so here is a guest picture from my brother.  It shows a mediaeval bridge over the Rive Soare.

And a mediaeval bridge across the River Soar

The forecasters promised rain the mid morning and a dry afternoon.  As I had to go up to the Information Hub in the morning and had the afternoon free, there was a spring in my step as I walked up to the High Street.

It was still very grey but with the temperature at a very un-January like 13°C, a feeling of ‘musn’t grumble’ was all around.

I was entertained by Dropscone and a slice of bannock while I sat in the Hub not giving information to anyone and Nancy, the Archive Group treasurer dropped in with the latest bill from Scottish Power for the Archive Centre just as I left.

I was a bit sorry to see that it hadn’t rained as I walked home but hoped that things would still work out for the afternoon.

Things didn’t work out from the moment that I got home.  First I managed to  make some lentil soup for lunch without putting any lentils in.  The resultant thin gruel required a reboot.

Then, in one of those moments that cause any amount of innocent merriment in the celestial halls, as soon as I got ready for a walk, it started to rain and the wind got up and howled through the garden.

The birds must be as baffled as everyone else by the quick change between winter and spring like temperatures because once again there was hardly one to be seen in the garden.

Under the circumstances, I thought that this might be a good moment to speak to Scottish Power about the Archive Centre bill.

It turns out that there is never a good moment to speak to Scottish Power about the Archive Centre bill.

The Kafkaesque conversation that ensued was a perfect example of Catch 22 in operation.  The highlight (from one point of view) was that my opening request to speak to a manager was met with the reply, “The managers are here to manage the staff, not to speak to the customers.”

The fact of the matter is that for one reason or another  they are expecting quite different readings than the ones that we give them or indeed the ones that their own meter readers give them (which tally with our readings) and their system can’t cope….and there is no one that you can talk to about this interesting disparity.    The conversation with someone who has to stick to a script and can’t admit that his company may have made a mistake and so implies, but very carefully without saying so, that you are either incompetent, a liar or a crook,  goes precisely nowhere.

This sort of thing isn’t good for the blood pressure at all.

However things took a turn for the better when my flute pupil Luke came and we played some enjoyable duets.  After tea, I went out to visit Isabel and brightened the day even further by playing some quality trios with her and Mike.

Alls well that ends well….

The weather is going to be worse tomorrow as the recent US snowstorm arrives here bearing rain.

On the plus side, the warm weather is bringing on the snowdrops in the garden very well.

snowdrops

And I did spot a perching bird of day in the gloom.

chaffinch in rain

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