Archive for Jan, 2017

Today’s guest picture is a steam train at Carlisle Station.  My neighbour Gavin saw it not long ago.  They seem to be running regular steam excursions to Carlisle at the moment.  We saw one when I put Mrs Tootlepedal on the London train last weekend.

steam train Carlisle

It was a very dull day on the whole today.  It was raining when I got up and it rained all day until about 7 o’clock in the evening.  By way of a little variety, sometimes it rained quite gently and sometimes it rained quite heavily.

Under the circumstances neither walking nor cycling held out much appeal for me so I did neither.

Sandy came for morning coffee and Mike Tinker dropped in for afternoon tea and between these two welcome diversions, I looked out of the window a bit.


Blackbird with raindrops


A pigeon with raindrops

chaffinch and siskin

Chaffinch and siskin with rain

chaffinch in rain

A chaffinch with heavier rain

You can see that there is quite a theme developing here but the rain didn’t stop the siskins trying to throw their weight around.

siskin and chaffinch

A chaffinch sneaking up behind a siskin seemed a bit disapproving of the siskin’s untidy eating habits.

siskin and chaffinch

We always end up with a pile of seed on the ground when we have siskin visitors.

When I wasn’t staring out of the window, I was doing the crossword or practising songs for the Carlisle Choir.  I find it really hard trying to learn them off by heart.  I will have to try and develop a better method than I am using at present.  My present method is singing through a song three or four times and then trying to sing it from memory and subsequently bursting into into tears when I can’t get past the second page.  It is not a good method.

In the evening, I went off to the Buccleuch Centre for a screening of Il Trovatore from the Royal Opera House.  The singing was very good, especially the mezzo-soprano, Anita Rachvelishvili.  All her singing was excellent but her quiet singing was really sensational.

This was a ‘modern’ production with machine guns and so on and the setting was like the curate’s egg.  It worked well sometimes but it was also rotten in parts.

Fans of the old TV Comedy series “‘Allo, ‘Allo” will know why I was a bit distracted by the fact that one of the parties in the conflict had a little tank..

The perennial trouble is that the producers and designers have all seen these operas far too often and it would be boring for them to put on a production which the composer might recognise.   I have only seen this opera once before, in an amateur production, so I would have quite welcomed a ‘traditional’ setting.

The subtitles are very helpful and make the opera come alive but they do put some absurdities into your mind in passing.  When a singer sings, ‘I have no breath, I cannot speak’ and goes on singing for several more minutes, I can’t help raising an eyebrow.   Such is opera though.

I should say though that I enjoyed it a lot, as Verdi’s music when sung well is always a  great treat whatever the producer does.

There was a rather gloomy flying bird of the day today.

flying chaffinch in rain




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Today’s guest picture is a fine railway bridge, built in 1898, which was spotted by Dropscone when he was in Hastings on his recent holiday.

Hastings bridge

We had another subzero (just) morning today so I was happy to wait for the arrival of Dropscone bearing scones to go with a cup of coffee.  He had got back safely from his holiday in Kent where he combined sightseeing with his daughter Susan and catching up with his eldest son who lives down there.

He visited many of the places that I used to visit when I was a child there.  My memory has become very selective though and although I must have passed under that bridge several times, I have no recollection of it at all.

We enjoyed our coffee and conversation and when he had departed, I spent some time waiting for the temperature to rise above 2°C while looking out of the window.

There were bright eyed birds on the ground…

blackbird and robin

…and less frequent visitors up above.

sparrow and blue tit

There are sparrows in great numbers in many of the hedges and gardens near our house but for some reason, they don’t often visit us in the winter.  Maybe they can find better feeders nearby.

The chaffinches kept rolling in again today…


…and the light got better as time went by.

In fact this pigeon looked a bit surprised to see some sunshine.


I stopped staring and made some lentil, carrot and bacon soup for my lunch.

We had plenty of siskins which arrived around lunchtime….


…and one of them got into an argument with a chaffinch.  It expected that a sharp word would dislodge the chaffinch but got an equally sharp word back.

siskin and chaffinch squabbling

They kept up the sparring for quite some time before realising that there wasn’t going to be a winner and settling down to eat some seed.

The afternoon temperature only rose to a miserable four degrees in spite of the sunshine and I felt that worrying about the danger of an icy patch in a well shaded spot would make cycling a wearisome business rather than a pleasure so I went for a walk instead.

I drove to the top of Callister and walked three miles round a circuit through Kirtleton Forest.

Some of the walk was on rough ground…

Kirtleton Forest

…but as you can see, some kind person had been along with a quad bike or a buggy and had flattened a path for me to follow.

Most of the walk was on forestry tracks and although there were occasional icy stretches in well shaded places, the going was mostly very good and I had plenty of time to look around as I went.

The forest is mostly commercial planting, some felled and replanted and some mature which I could hear being felled as I was walking around but there are several little patches of deciduous trees to be found…

Kirtleton Forest

…all the more welcome for being colourful islands in a uniform sea of dark green.

There were small things to please the eye too.

jelly fungus

I think this is jelly fungus

There is a little pond beside the track but there was no sign of life today as it was frozen over.

kirtleton forest pond

There are lots of little streams running through the trees and some are significant enough to have a space of their own.

kirtleton forest

My sunshine was gradually being overtaken by the many vapour trails in the sky.  Living under a main road for aeroplanes can be a nuisance even if they are flying so high that we don’t usually hear them at all.

Where the  trees were too high for views, I looked beside the track instead.

Nature was working hard.  There was colourful moss, in a two metre wide clump..


…and delicate lichen on a ten centimetre pebble…


…intricate design work on a tiny tree…


…and a work of art.

lichen on boulder

It is entitled “Trapped”. You can see what you like in this conceptual piece, maybe a native American in a head dress or perhaps a barnacle encrusted seal.  Like all good modern works of art however, the viewer is left to do all the hard work.

Inside the densely planted conifer forest, it was too gloomy for colour.


As I came out of the woods, I walked a little way up a track which was made when the gas pipeline was laid about thirty or forty years ago.  I was on the last range of hills before the country descends to the Solway plain….

Solway Plain

…which is the main reason why we are such a popular spot for wind turbine installers.

I was nearly back to the car by this time and my last shot was of a tall grass beside the track.

kirtleton grass

Considering that it was a cold day with a chilly east wind blowing, I had a very comfortable walk and even got too warm.  The route turned out to much more sheltered from the wind than I expected and while the sun was still out, it was almost spring like.

Compared with last year when we had a succession of gales, we have been very kindly treated this winter so far, even if I haven’t quite got in the cycle miles that I would have liked.   At least I have had many enjoyable walks.

In the evening, my flute pupil Luke came and we considered the responsibility of the player for phrasing.  Modern music is stuffed with phrasing indicators as the composer likes to have his/her music played just has he/she wrote it but in the early music that we mostly play, the player is left to decide  how things should go.  This is quite a responsibility for a young learner.

After my tea, I went off to play with Mike and Isabel.  We often start with a chat before we play and on this occasion the political temperature became so warm that it was lucky that we had some charming pieces to play to cool us down again.  We had an excellent hour and a half of hard work.

The flying bird of the day is a chaffinch at full spread just entering the shadow zone of the feeder..

chaffinch flying

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Today’s guest picture comes from my brother, who visited the beach at Exmouth on the south coast today.  The sea is remarkably calm.


I had hoped to go for a cycle ride this morning but annoyingly the temperature was just too low straight after breakfast for me to be confident that there would be no icy patches on the road.

It didn’t upset the birds though and as I was making a stew for the slow cooker, the garden was quite busy.

After several days when I didn’t have a robin sighting, they have become regular again and I had several opportunities to catch this robin in posing mode.


The day was rather grey again so getting sharp pictures of the visitors was not easy as you can see.

There were well over a dozen chaffinches hanging about the plum tree at one time or another so there were many chaffinch opportunities too.


They all looked rather concerned, I thought. Probably worrying about their visas to enter the garden.

chaffinch and siskin

Chaffinches approached the feeder meekly enough but still often met with a hostile welcome when they got there, especially if there were siskins about.

Other birds came as well.

blackbird, blue tit and dunnock

I was well entertained while I was cooking.

With the Mrs Tootlepedal rescue service being unavailable and a choir practice looming in the afternoon, I opted for a walk late in the morning rather than risk being marooned miles out of town if I got a bike breakdown.

It was still grey, with the clouds clamped firmly over the hills, so I settled for a two and a half mile ground level affair past the Kilngreen, round the pheasant hatchery and back over the Duchess Bridge.

There were only four gulls at the Kilngreen when I got there and they were sitting in the middle of the river…

gull at meeting of the waters

A black headed gull looking as ruffled at the river

…but they knew their duty and as I walked along the river bank, they rose from the river and flew gently about in front of me before coming to rest on fence posts.

black headed gull

I notice that I have got the three pictures in the panel above in the wrong order so please read the panel from right to left.

I paused on the Sawmill Brig in the hope of seeing a dipper and I was rewarded when one actually flew down the river towards me instead of flying away as usual.  It is a gloomy corner but when I looked at the picture, I could see that it was flying towards a nesting site with material in its beak.  It waited for a moment or two on a rock before flying off again.

The picture quality is very poor but this is the first nesting activity that I have seen this year.


I walked on and came to the tree trunk which is being worked on by our local wood sculptor.

Interesting details are beginning to appear out of the tree trunk.

robin sculpture

.The tree was felled because it was in poor health and the sculptor is going to have a hard time avoiding bits of rot.  He has set himself a big task in trying to create works on the whole piece because, as you can see, the the trunk is quite a large affair.

wood sculpture

The low mist on the hills…

castleholm cloud

…gave me the opportunity to photograph some bare trees against a plainer background than usual.

bare tree

castleholm trees

There was a moment when the clouds threatened to part and let a little sunshine through…

castle hill in cloud

…but having had a little chuckle at raising my hopes, the weather gods thoughtfully provided some light rain to speed up my pace at the end of my walk.  I felt a bit….



I had to be in good time for the choir practice as I had a small administrative job to do which Mrs Tootlepedal would have done if she was here so I left in good time.

The weather gods, who were having a really fun day, were laughing themselves silly as I drove off and the clouds parted, the temperature rose and the sun came out .  With light winds, it was a perfect afternoon for cycling.  Ah well.

I discharged my task competently and was able to relax and enjoy the practice a lot.  We spent the whole time on just one song and it is always interesting to see our conductor getting us to improve not just the notes and the timing but the mood, colour and interpretation too. With a very large, open access choir, this takes a lot of skill and patience and he does it all with kindness.

The weather gods had one last little joke for me.  When we came out of the church where we sing, the last of the light was just fading and in the clear twilit sky, the most delicate new moon was hanging just above the roofs of the house.  Of course I hadn’t brought my camera with me and by the time that I got home, it had sunk from sight.

Still, I am always cheered up by a flying gull.

black headed gull

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Today’s guest picture comes from my son Tony, who was walking his dogs along the canal in Edinburgh when he came upon this barge.  Thomas Telford was born in Eskdale.


The chief business of the day was saying farewell to Mrs Tootlepedal.  She is going to stay with her mother for a few days and this was such a sad event for me that it rained all day here in sympathy.

I took  her to Carlisle  to catch her train and was hoping that the weather might be better there, as it often is, so that I could go for a walk after waving her off.  It turned out that the wet weather was all embracing so I went home and spent a dull afternoon indoors.

I did get a moment to stare out of the window before we went to Carlisle.

goldfinch and chaffinch

My usual friends were on the seed feeder and a dunnock had taken over the fat ball nibbling job from the robin.


It rained quite steadily so even a short walk wasn’t attractive and the only cheer came from the indoor jasmine.


It is doing very well and I just hope that I don’t kill it before Mrs Tootlepedal returns.

There really wasn’t much to say about the day so I am not going to say it.

The Burns supper last night went off without incident and both the toast to the Immortal Memory and the incidental music throughout the evening were very good. I had one good moment. The raffle, which is drawn just before midnight at the end of the proceedings, is always a bit of a trial after the speeches and songs but I managed to persuade the audience to keep very quiet for a while and it was drawn and distributed in record time and we got finished just before the witching hour. Hooray.

The flying bird of the day is a determined chaffinch.

flying chaffinch

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Today’s guest picture is another from Dropscone’s southern venture and shows a row of bathing huts on the Isle of Sheppey. He was not tempted to use one and go for a dip.

beach huts sheppey

We had another sunny but chilly day today so I went for a walk in the morning after waving at a visiting robin.


In spite of the good sunshine, it was rather hazy…


…and the conditions meant that there were a lot of persistent vapour trails from passing aircraft which spoilt what should have been a clear blue sky.

I enjoyed my walk even though there wasn’t a great deal to catch the eye.  I caught the eye of two sheep in a field as I passed.


I walked down through the woods, across the Becks Burn and up the other side.  The sun shining through trees at any time of the year always seems beautiful to me.

Becks wood

Some trees may be a bit past their best though.

hallcrofts tree

I walked down the road from Hallcrofts to the Lockerbie road, enjoying the view of Whita…


and noting that the frost was still lying where the sun’s rays hadn’t rested.

There were catkins all around, these two on the left of the road…


…and a big flourish of them at the gate of a house on the other side.


Down in the bottom of the valley, things were icier…


…though the lichen on the right seemed totally unaffected.

A log covered with moss was really catching the sunshine and glowing like gold.

mossy log

The little patch of red near the tip of the log looked worth a closer examination.


I pottered back along Gaskell’s Walk but had to keep my eyes well down as there were many icy patches along the way and as I had been warned about them by a fellow walker in passing, I thought that I would look very silly if I slipped and fell on one of them.

I stopped and admired the view over the town when I got near the end of the walk.

Castle Hill

I walked past Stubholm farm house and went down to the Murtholm before coming back along the river.  A flash of green turned out to be a honeysuckle, one of the first plants of the year to put out leaves.


I wanted to check to see if I could find the the tree with the script lichen again.  I could.

script lichen

As I had walked along, I had been serenaded by many birds which were either invisible in spite of sounding to be quite near me or were too quick for my camera but when I came to rover near the church, I could miss a dipper standing on a rock singing loudly.


I wish I could find one standing in some sunshine and not quite so far away as my collection of indifferent dipper photos is now far too large.  But they are always fun to watch and to listen to.

I spent the afternoon hunched over my computer making notes for a Burns Supper which I am attending with Mrs Tootlepedal this evening.  In a foolish moment, I agreed to be chairman for this function, proving as a friend remarked the other day, that apparently you can never have enough fuel for the furnace of self esteem.  In spite of the strain of trying to remember what I should do, I will enjoy the evening but as it will go on late into the night, I am posting an early blog today in case I am not back home before tomorrow!

The flying bird of the day is an unmasked chaffinch.

flying chaffinch

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Today’s guest picture comes from Dropscone’s southern Odyssey.  He went about as far as he could go and found himself and Susan at Beach Head on a very misty day.

beachy head

We had another wonderfully sunny day today but this one was more in line with the way that things should be in January and was below freezing for most of the morning and not much above thereafter.

This made cycling an unattractive proposition so I gladly took up the offer to go up to the Moorland Feeders with Sandy.  Once again the sun was shining rather into our faces…


…but it has got higher in the sky lately so we were able to make out the birds better than on our last visit.

There has been a dearth of members of the tit family in our garden recently and I was pleased to see that they were thriving up here.

coal tits

There were lots of coal tits

blue tit

Many blue tits

great tit

And on the far side of the clearing, several great tits. This one is sharing with a greenfinch.

The inevitable pheasant was stealing the seeds meant for smaller birds….


…but at least it had the grace to look a little shifty about it.

A robin brightened our day…


…but it was a poor day for seeing unusual birds and as it was pretty chilly sitting around, we didn’t stay for too long.

On our way back down the road, I was just remarking to Sandy that it looked like a good day for seeing hair ice when he saw some.  He kindly stopped to let me take a picture.

Hair ice

I don’t think that I have ever seen so much around here before this year.  The fungus that causes it must be spreading.

I had time for a cup of coffee and a look out of the kitchen window when I got back…


A goldfinch with a gleam in its eye

…and a walk round the garden in pursuit of frosty glamour…

potential Violas

Mrs Tootlepedal tells me that these are potential Violas

…and then it was time to drive to Lockerbie to catch the train to Edinburgh to visit Matilda.

I noticed a door when we got to Lockerbie which I hadn’t fully appreciated before and the sun made the town sheep look very much on their toes.


Our train was on time and not very busy and to make things better, there was even a train waiting for us when the time came for our return journey this week.

When we got to Edinburgh, Mrs Tootlepedal needed to do a little clothes shopping so we dodged a tram….


…and I took the chance to wander along Princes Street with my camera.

Princes Street

Princes Street is well known but the shops which line the northern side of the street are a mish-mash of styles and the street gets its distinction from the fact that the southern side is building free and offers views of art galleries with the castle behind…

art gallery and castle

…the Scott monument, lit by the last of the sunshine today…

Scott monument

…and extensive public gardens.  I couldn’t show the gardens to you today as they resembled a ploughed field as they wait for spring planting.

Matilda was in very good form and honed her snap skills to a high degree.  I was absolutely jiggered after playing and reading with her for a couple of hours and extend my fullest admiration to her parents for their energy, stamina and skill in bringing up such a smart child.

The journey home went as smoothly as the journey up and although I had spent most of the day sitting down, it was very positive sitting down and I had enjoyed myself thoroughly.

The flying bird of the day is a buttoned up goldfinch.

flying goldfinch

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Today’s guest picture is one from a holiday that Mike Tinker took last year.  It shows a handsome bridge in Rhayader, Mid Wales.

Rhayader Mid Wales

I had requested a better day after our recent dreich spell and my plea was heard and we enjoyed a beautifully sunny day today.  As an added and unexpected bonus, the temperature was well above freezing from the very start and had I been better organised, I could have been out and about straight after breakfast.

However, at the moment I am not sleeping as well as I would like and it is taking me quite a bit of time to get up to speed in the mornings. I needed a cup of coffee and a roll and honey before I could even contemplate starting.

There were hardly any birds to distract me and the strong light made the re-appearance of Zorro the Chaffinch the high or perhaps the lowlight of the morning.

Zorro the Chaffinch

I had a wander round the garden,  A crocus has appeared, snowdrops are actually coming properly out and the rhubarb is more fantastic than ever.

rhubarb, snowdrop and crocus

I did finally get going, armed with two bananas and a tuna roll with a side supply of apricots and dates.  The view at Wauchope School was a lot more inviting than the last time that I came up the road…

Wauchope School

…and I headed out into the country with a light heart.  Fairly heavy legs but a light heart.

I was headed west and once you get out of our local hills, the land turns to gently rolling fields…

Middlebie road

Looking back towards Waterbeck

I went through Middlebie and Ecclefechan and headed for Hoddom Castle.  The road towards the Castle is flat and straight and I found myself pedalling head on into a noticeable wind.  This was a bit of a trial so I tried the Donald J Trump method and declared loudly to anyone who might be able to hear me, “I am not pedalling into a headwind.  The wind is behind.  It’s fine.”

Strangely, it didn’t work.  Obviously the alternative truth is not all that it is cracked up to be.

I did get within sight of the castle in the end…

Hoodom Castle

…and  stopped on the bridge over the River Annan to enjoy the view.

View from the bridge at Hoddom

I crossed the bridge and cycled on towards the next crossing of the river at Brydekirk.  The powers that be have put a lot of thought into the naming of streets and buildings in the village.


This is the cause of all this naming.

Brydekirk Bridge

I crossed the bridge when I came to it and had a banana and half a roll on the other side.  I was right beside a fine ivy plant.


And as you know, I am a sucker for a nice piece of moss on a bridge parapet.

moss at Brydekirk

By this time, I had turned enough to have the wind now across or behind me for the rest of the journey but this didn’t seem to speed my legs up very much.

From the top of the hill looking towards Eaglesfield after I left Brydekirk, I could see a fine crop of windmills, half at the old established windfarm at Minsca…


…and the other half randomly scattered across the country at the new Ewe Hill wind farm.

Ewe Hill farm

I think there are still a few more to be added to this lot.

I cycled down to Gretna on back roads, hoping to see some of our migrating geese in the fields but on this occasion, all my geese were swans…


…and there wasn’t a goose to be seen.

On my way to Gretna, I passed these trees…


…whihc would be very helpful to the confused traveller as they clearly show the direction of the prevailing wind.  South west.

When I got to Gretna, I had thought of going back across country and clocking up fifty miles but time began to press on me a bit thanks to my late start and my legs weren’t exactly over enthusiastic about any more unnecessary hills so I headed back up the main road, taking the quieter bike route through Canonbie…

Canonbie Church

It was a golden winter afternoon

…and limiting my ride to 47 miles.

It did give me the opportunity to admire a set of fisherman’s steps leading to the river at Broomholm…

fishermans steps Broomholm

…and the extensive scaffolding now in place at Skippers Bridge.

skippers bridge scaffolding

They have taken it through the arch and round the other side where the damage is.

skippers bridge scaffolding

I had a cheerful chat to two of the engineers supervising the task and asked them to take care of our bridge and make sure not to knock it down.  They assured me that they would take care.  Indeed, one engineer, a charming lady, told me that they really liked and admired  the bridge.  This was good to hear.

I got home and had a cup of tea and a biscuit with Mike Tinker who had dropped in and then after a good soak in the bath and a light curry for my tea, Mrs Tootlepedal and I went off to the Buccleuch Centre to watch a Woody Allen film, ‘Café Society’.

It went at a gentle pace, was well acted, beautifully set and costumed and had some (not a lot) of good jokes.  The great man obviously couldn’t work out how to finish the film so he didn’t bother and just let it drift away but it was none the worse for that and I enjoyed it a lot.

My favourite joke went something like this:

A pedantic and rather upset character say, “Socrates says the unexamined life is not worth living,”  and after a slight pause adds, “The examined life is not up to much either.”

As it was our 49th wedding anniversary yesterday, this was our anniversary treat.  We might do something a bit more flashy next year if spared.

The camera may not lie but it does often conceal quite a lot from the casual viewer.  Zorro the Chaffinch seen earlier in this post came straight from the camera.  Photoshop reveals that the camera knows who the masked intruder really is.

flying chaffinch

Herbert the Chaffinch unmasked

Details of the cycle ride may be found by clicking on the map below.



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