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Archive for April, 2017

As it is National Hedgehog Awareness Week, I was very happy to be sent this picture by Fiona, my Newcastle correspondent, who is taking care of two rescue hedgehogs.

Hedgehog Awareness Week

Our spell of dry weather continued but I was glad that I had decided not to cycle today as there was a very fresh wind blowing and as a result, it felt quite chilly.  It would have been hard and unforgiving work on a bike ride.

As it was, I made a sausage and bean stew for the slow cooker while Mrs Tootlepedal went off to sing with the church choir and then went out for a walk.  I was hoping not only that our bluebells would have reached their peak but that the woods would be full of wild garlic too.  Sadly, the cool weather has slowed things up and there were only a few garlic flowers to be seen…

wild garlic

…and the bluebells were not much further forward than on my last visit…

bluebells

..though they are still delightful, whether seen from a distance….

bluebells

..or close up.

They might have looked better if the sun had come out properly but it carefully waited until I got home before putting in an appearance.

I did see these….

seeds

…and a few of these…

wild flowers

I don’t know what these are. I thought they were daisies at first.

…and a lot of this…

saxifrage

…which I think is golden saxifrage.  It has done very well this spring and the woods are full of it.

The show stopper was a rhododendron in the park.

rhododendron

If you could get out of the wind, it was quite a springlike day.

Stubholm

I went down to the river before going home and was pleased to see a pair of goosanders cruising along….

goosanders

I  followed them downstream.

goosanders

I hoped to catch them from closer up as they went under the suspension bridge but they were too quick for me so I settled for some stationary trees.

River esk

Just before I got home, I stopped to take a picture of this very fine marsh marigold in the dam.

marsh marigold

This was when the sun came out.  Too late for the bluebells alas.

When I went in, I had to practise some songs for our Carlisle choir session in the afternoon but I had a moment to look at the birds in the  garden.

redpoll

A redpoll made sure that I got his best side.

goldfinch

The sun came out again to illuminate this goldfinch

Mrs Tootlepedal arrived and started on some garden tasks so I went out and mowed the drying green and was pleased to find a bee on the rosemary…

bee

…though I would have been happier still to find it on the apple nearby.

I couldn’t get past the anemone in another bit of sunshine.

goldfinch

Mrs Tootlepedal is going to plant some more for next year.

There was time for another quick practice and some leek soup before we went off to sing with the Carlisle Community Choir.  Our conductor worked us very hard as usual and I was quite pleased to be able to relax when we had finished.

The sausage and bean stew turned out to be rather dull (but nourishing) and may have to have some additions when it returns tomorrow evening.

The flying bird of the day is a rather grumpy looking siskin.  He probably thought that it was a bit too windy as well.

siskin

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Today’s guest picture was sent to me by my friend Bruce.  He was much taken by this planting on the course of the Hawick Golf Club.  It must be just about the neatest planting ever ( and helpful to senior golfers who can’t remember where they are).

IMG_0427

There are strong winds forecast for tomorrow so that made today the last comfortable cycling day of the month.  It was theoretically a degree or two warmer than it has been lately but it was still struggling to get up to 10°C (50°F) and even with the wind coming from the south, it felt chilly as I went out in the morning.

I decided that the best plan would be to start by pedalling 25 miles into the wind and then, as the wind got stronger, I would get the benefit of the breeze at my back for the 18 miles home.  Regular cyclists will be well aware of just how unreliable this sort of planning is as the wind is very unpredictable.   Today however, the plan worked to perfection and by keeping calm and pedalling gently into the wind, I managed the first 25 miles at  12.5 mph and still had enough energy (helped by a guava energy bar) to pedal the 18 miles home at 15.2 mph.   I love it when a plan works out.

The first 25 miles was slow enough for me to keep an eye on the verges and there was plenty to see, though the dull weather and being slightly puffed didn’t make for great photography.

wild flowers

wild flowers

wild flowers

I stopped for a banana at the 25 mile mark and looked at trees on both sides of the road.

catkins and flowers on trees

I passed a very fine clump of pink bluebells (if that is the correct term and not pinkbells) near West Linton….

bluebells

…and shortly afterwards saw the real things at Alstonby Hall.

bluebells

It certainly cheers a cycle ride up when there flowers to look at.

I have passed a Historic Scotland sign pointing to ‘Merkland Cross’ near Kirkpatrick Fleming many, many times and today I finally took a moment out to cycle up a side road to visit the cross.  I had to walk the last quarter mile through wild  flower strewn meadows beside the motorway while being observed by cows…

Merkland Cross

…but…

Merkland Cross

…the cross itself, carved from a single piece of stone, was a bit of a disappointment.  I had been hoping for an elaborate  Celtic cross of great antiquity but this one was rather plain and  from the middle ages.  At least the sign was honest.

Merkland Cross

Between the kindly wind, the flowers and the antiquity, I really enjoyed my ride.

When I got home, Mrs Tootlepedal had cooked some leek soup with the last leeks of the season from the garden and together with some cheese and home made bread, it went down very well for a late lunch.

After a shower, I went out into the garden and did some dead heading and mowed the front lawn.

We have three trilliums in the garden  (three trillia?) and the first one has come out.

I passed a very fine clump of pink bluebells (if that is the correct term and not pinkbells) near West Linton.... ...and shortly afterwards saw the real things at Alstonby Hall.

I was just looking at the birds….

redpoll

A pensive redpoll

goldfinch

A startled goldfinch

…when, rather belatedly, I remembered that I was supposed to be filling the Moorland Bird feeders in place of Gavin who is on holiday in the north.

The glade at the bird hide has gone green.

Moorland Feeders

The birds themselves were in a very uncooperative mood and insisted on using the feeders furthest from the hide.  A woodpecker did turn up and i was hopeful but almost immediately another one arrived and they spent so much time chasing each other around that there were very few posing opportunities…

woodepeckers

…so I got fed up and after photographing a blackbird with its mouth full….

blackbird

…and a pheasant on the road outside the hide…

pheasant

It looked exhausted from chasing lady pheasants about

…I took a last look down towards the Tarras…

Tarras valley

…and went home.

I had persuaded Mrs Tootlepedal to come out with me to the Buccleuch Centre in the evening to see a group of six singers called ‘The Westenders’ give a concert of songs from West End musicals.  I could understand Mrs Tootlepedal’s initial reluctance to come because it is very difficult to know what a show like this is going to be like but on this occasion, we made a very good decision and had a grand evening out.

The six singers had a small but competent quartet of musicians behind them and they put everything they possibly could into a very well planned and musically arranged evening of songs.  We both went home positively uplifted by the sheer verve and professionalism of their performances.

I only just caught the flying bird of the day in the nick of time.

siskin

Those interested in the bike route can click on the map below.

garmin route 29 April 2017

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Today’s guest picture shows Sandend harbour in Banff, on the north east coast of Scotland.  Gavin passed it on a walk today as he is on holiday up there.

banff harbour

We had another dry day here today, although one or two spots of rain did fall in a half hearted way in the afternoon.

After breakfast I had to frame a couple of wild goat pictures for a Moorland Exhibition in the Welcome to Langholm Centre in May and then I had a walk round the garden.

in spite of the frosty weather earlier in the week, many tulips have done very well and even some of the Ballerinas have survived….

tulips

…and more tulips are arriving every day.

tulips

The tulips that Mrs Tootlepedal bought at Alnwick have survived the journey home and the cold and are looking very healthy.  Here are three of them.

tulips

I couldn’t pass the anemone by without taking a picture….

anemone

…because they are delicate flowers and it might be gone if there is a heavy shower of rain.

Although progress is slow because of the recent chilly mornings, new flowers are arriving.

Solomon's seal and lithospermum

Solomon’s Seal and Lithospermum

I was very impressed by the volubility of a blackbird as I went down the drive in front  of the house.

blackbird

I didn’t have long to look around though because I was delighted to leave the garden to partake of some treacle scones brought round by Dropscone to go with our first cup of coffee for a while.  Dropscone followed his trip to Skye with a golfing break so he has hardly seen his home for a fortnight.

He hasn’t lost his scone skills though.

After he left, I had to go to the health centre for a routine check but i had time to check on the perching redpolls first.

redpoll

After lunch I went off for a cycle ride.   The wind had dropped considerably from recent days and had moved round from the north so it was both quite a bit milder and much more helpful as I cycled back to Langholm from Canonbie.    I concentrated so hard on the pedalling that i forgot to take any pictures at all.

When I got home, I took my framed pictures up to the town and helped hang them on the wall beside some offerings from the local art club.

goat pictures in WtL

The Moorland Exhibition has been well publicised so I hope that they get plenty of visitors.

In the evening, Mike and Alison came round and Alison and I had an enjoyable time playing as always.  On a sobering note though, we put a metronome on as I felt that we were slightly rushing a slow movement in one of the pieces. ‘ Slightly rushing’ turned out to be an understatement as were well ahead of the pace after only four bars.  We shall have to learn to apply the brakes.

The flying bird of the day is a goldfinch, looking a bit shifty I thought.

flying goldfinch

 

 

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Today’s guest picture comes from my son Tony.  While I was playing recorders in Denholm last Saturday, he was watching a cycle event passing by further up the borders.

cycle sportive

It was another dry day today, although it seems to have rained later on when we were in Edinburgh.

After breakfast, I went for a look at the new anemone to see how it was doing.

anemone

I think it is probably the prettiest flower that we have in the garden all year.  The colours are so rich that it is hard to beat.

While I was out, I saw that I am not the only one interested in euphorbias.

fly on euphorbia

Every flower had a friend….

fly on euphorbia

I have said it before and I will say it again, they are the most extraordinary plants, obviously designed by a committee which wanted to get everything in.

It felt quite warm and the wind seemed light in the garden so I set out for a short cycle ride in good spirits.  The warmth was real but the calmness was an illusion and as soon as I got out of the shelter of the town, i found myself battling into a brisk wind as I pedalled the ten miles or so out to Paddockhole.

On the this occasion the wind didn’t play any silly tricks so at least I was given a good helping hand on the return journey.   My daughter Annie has sent me some Colombian guava energy bars and I gave one a try today.  It was very tasty but my legs didn’t seem particularly grateful.  The wind might have had something to do with that so I will give them another try,  They taste better than standard energy gels so that is in their favour.

When I got back, Mrs Tootlepedal was working in the garden and I had a look round too.

bergenia

The bergenia is flourishing

spirea

As are the spireas

A blackbird sat on the silver pear and sang a challenge to all comers….

blackbird

The jackdaws made a mess of my lawn again yesterday, almost as soon as I had finished mowing it…

jackdaws lawn pecking

They are not taking the moss away as I cleared a bucket of pecked moss off

…so it was looking a bit part worn today.  They may save me the trouble of scarifying it if they go on like this.

I didn’t have a lot of time to look at birds but I took a shot or two after I had had my shower….

blackbird

A blackbird checks to see who else is around as it lands on the feeder

redpoll

Once again there was no shortage of redpolls

…and then it was time to head to Lockerbie to catch the train to Edinburgh to visit Matilda and her parents.

The train trip was very pleasant in the sunshine and we were much struck by the brilliance of this field of rape near Edinburgh.

rape near Edinburgh

Matilda and her parents were in good form and we spent some happy hours playing games, only interrupted by a trip to the shops.

I was just taking a sober picture of Mrs Tootlepedal and Matilda going down the steps from the house….

Mrs Tootlepedal and Matilda

…when there was a regrettable outbreak of media awareness.

Mrs Tootlepedal and Matilda

They were joined by Matilda’s mum, Clare and walked along to the shops to cries of…

Clare, Mrs T and Matilda

…one, two three, wheeeee!

Clare, Mrs T and Matilda

It was a very cheery outing.

The train journey home was uneventful and we were surprised to see that it had obviously rained at Lockerbie although we had had a clear, fine afternoon and evening in Edinburgh.

I managed to catch a flying chaffinch at lunchtime.

flying chaffinch

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Today’s guest picture comes from my sister Mary, who visited  Dulwich Park opposite the Dulwich Art Gallery in South London today.  It is an oasis of peace in a busy world.

Dulwich Park, opposite the Picture Gallery

We had another chilly morning followed by another dry day with a north wind.  More tulips fell under the heavy hand of the cold but some survived…

tulips

…and new tulips have come to join them.

tulip

I killed a bit of time while I was waiting for the thermometer to rise to 7°C by looking at sitting birds in the sunshine from an upstairs window.

goldfinch

siskins

… and when the temperature finally got there, I went off on the fairly speedy bike to test how strong the north wind was.   It was brisk but tolerable and blew me down to the bottom of the Canonbie by-pass at a very satisfying rate of knots.

Of course the  return journey, uphill and into the wind, wasn’t quite so carefree but it was far from being just a slog and I enjoyed my ride a lot.  I only stopped once, on the bridge at The Hollows, to show the gradual greening of the landscape.

River Esk at Hollows

Downstream

River Esk at Hollows

Upstream

The river level is very low, a testament to the dry spell that we have had lately.  A couple of warm wet days wouldn’t be entirely unwelcome.

When I got home, I found Mrs Tootlepedal hard at work in the garden and after a shower, a quick lunch and a look out of the kitchen window….

redpolls

More redpolls seem to appear every day.

…I joined her.  I employed myself as usefully as I could by doing some dead heading of daffodils, which have suffered from the cold and are getting to the end of their lives anyway, some sieving of compost, which is needed for planting out the early vegetables, and mowing the middle lawn, which wasn’t really needed because of the chilly weather but I like mowing lawns.

And of course, I looked at flowers.

It was surprising to me how some flowers seemed untouched by the cold mornings.  This lamium is thriving….

lamium

…and a new anemone came out today…

anemone

…and the curious tulips seem unaffected by the frosts….

tulip

…though it might be a bit hard to tell.

We are getting very excited by a trillium which should be open soon.

I was pleased to see a bee or two about….

marsh marigold with bee

This one was on a marsh marigold in the pond

…because fruit flowers will need all the attention that they can get.

gooseberry and blackcurrant

The gooseberry has a wasp at work and the blackcurrant is producing flowers in spite of a bad attack of ‘big bud’

apples

The espalier apples are starting to flower

The cold weather has held plants back a bit but there are hopeful signs.

lupin

The lupins are looking healthy.

I spent some time trying to catch more sitting birds to please Mrs Tootlepedal who finds constant flying birds rather fidgety.  The next two pictures were taken with my Lumix while I was outside int he garden which is most unusual for me.  The birds were sitting on the feeders very calmly as I approached.

redpoll

siskins and goldfinch

When I went in, I looked out again.

redpoll

It was a redpoll heavy day today.

I put in a bit of time preparing an MP3 file of a tenor part for one of our Carlisle songs to send to a fellow singer.  It is a tricky number and there are fears that the conductor might try to make us learn it so a practice aid will be helpful.

I noticed a blackbird outside as I came through into the kitchen after emailing the music file.

blackbird

By now, it was time for tea and I cooked myself a nourishing corn beef hash with added onions and mushrooms and fortified by this, I then went off to sing with our Langholm choir.

 

It was one of those evenings when the songs we sang were songs that by and large I could sing and the three tenors in the choir were in good humour and sang well together as a team so that by the time the two hours were up, I was on a musical high and came home in a very cheery mood indeed.  Singing is wonderful when it is going well.

The flying bird of the day is looming more than flying.

flying chaffinch

Note:  A helpful correspondent pointed out that yesterday’s post came without a comments facility.  I don’t know how that happened and I will try to make sure that there is one today.  If there isn’t, I apologise.

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Today’s guest picture was taken by my friend Gavin’s son Fraser when Gavin went to Yosemite with him.  I gather that you may have to knock other photographers out of the way to take this stunning view.

Yosemite

We had another day of mostly sunny weather but with an even stronger and colder north wind than yesterday so we were not as appreciative of the sunshine as we might have been.  The clear skies had brought low temperatures which had done a bit of damage to tulips and azalea alike.

frost damage

I have been rushing about a bit lately so I had decided that this would be a day of mainly doing nothing.  This gave me the opportunity to take a few bird pictures and see if I had learned anything from last night’s camera club meeting.  I tried to get some slightly sharper flying shots.

flying siskin

flying chaffinch

flying goldfinch

…with variable success but with enough progress to keep me trying.  For some reason, the flying birds went better than a sitting redpoll.

redpoll

In this way, I passed a leisurely morning though the sunshine got me out into the garden for long enough to do some dead heading of daffodils and mowing of the greenhouse grass.  It is very satisfying to find myself throwing the dead headed daffs into a sparkling new compost bin.

After lunch, the lure of the sunshine drew me out for a walk.  I took a fixed lens pocket camera with me in an effort to take some better quality pictures here too.

I was a bit handicapped though by the changeable conditions.  I was just heading up past the golf course and this stunning garden escape…

berberis

…with a view to going up on to the hill for some expansive views when the wind became even gustier, the temperature dropped and it started to sleet with a vengeance.

Luckily there was a handy tree under which I was able to shelter until the shower had passed.

The open hill had somehow lost its attraction so I headed down Drove Road (so called because it allowed those driving livestock through the town to avoid the toll bars in times past) and waited for the sun to come out again.

It didn’t take long to arrive and I walked along a picturesque path….

Lamb Hill gate

(I was looking for black and white opportunities but the colours were so delightful that I didn’t find any)

Lamb Hill path

(See what I mean?)

Lamb Hill path

…..until I came to the hill road and walked down that to the main road and set off away from the town towards the High Mill Brig.  I had to cross this handsome little bridge under the main road at Whitshiels….

Whitshiels Bridge

…before getting to the High Mill Brig…

High Mill Brig

…which became a subject for experiment later on.

I crossed the bridge when I came to it and took the path above the fields on the other side of the river to get back to the town.

Ewes valley

Click (if you want) to get the bigger picture as I looked back down towards the Ewes Water

The path was dry underfoot and had several high quality gates along it…

Pathhead gate

 

…but the brisk wind blew the next sleet and hail shower along before I had got to the end of it.  Once again I was lucky to find a suitable tree to hide under and although i could have done with a few more leaves on the bare branches to shelter me from the storm, it kept me dry enough to enjoy the rest of the walk home when the sharp sleety shower had passed.

I passed the old Episcopal Church….

Episcopal Church

…and waited in vain for a sight of nuthatches before giving up and heading for home before the next shower came.

Mrs Tootlepedal had a busy day today, helping at the Buccleuch Centre both at lunchtime and in the evening as well as doing a lot of gardening and some preparation for interior decoration.    She showed me a gardening disaster when I got back from my walk.  The Ballerina tulips had suffered badly from the morning cold which had attacked their stalks just below the flowers so many of them had lost their heads entirely…

Ballerina tulip.

…and ended up in a bowl in the kitchen.  This was a tragedy as they had looked at their best yesterday evening.

Mrs Tootlepedal has put in a request for less fighting birds and more peaceful scenes of perching so I got the camera out again and had another go.  I filled the feeders and the wind immediately blew the lid of one of them open which gave an opportunity to an enterprising pair of birds.

redpoll and siskin

Other birds waited in the plum tree, swaying about  in the brisk breeze…

chaffinch

…and the flying bird of the day is a pair of matching perching redpolls (who had been flying earlier).

redpolls

I completely failed in my effort to to take fewer but better pictures today.

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Today’s guest picture comes from my brother Andrew’s walk up Blencathra last week.  He got this splendid view of the Lake District as he climbed.

Lake view

We were promised a chilly day with a brisk north wind and we got it.  Luckily we got some very bright and cheerful sunshine for most of the day so as long as you were out of the wind, life was sweet.

I was out of the wind for two hours in the morning but out of the sunshine too as I was sitting in the Welcome to Langholm office, catching up on putting the newspaper index into the Langholm Archive Group database (now at over 80,000 entries).  I did welcome the occasional visitor too so it was time well spent.

Mrs Tootlepedal was busy in the garden when I got back and I had a look at the azalea, which has survived a couple of chilly mornings very well….

azalea

…and one of the developing fantastical tulips….

parrot tulip

…which is unfolding very slowly.  I just hope that another chilly night tonight won’t discourage it entirely.

I went in and made some sweet potato soup for lunch and then ate it.  While the soup was cooking, I watched some appalling behaviour outside.

goldfinch and siskin

Shouting and kicking. The siskin toppled the goldfinch off the perch.

goldfinch and siskin

But another goldfinch soon returned the compliment.

It was too windy for an enjoyable cycle ride so I went for a walk with nuthatches in mind.  Sadly the nuthatches didn’t have me in mind at all and were conspicuous by their absence.  I was cheered up though by the appearance of the running rails for the Castleholm horse racing track which have appeared…

Horse racing rails

…and are waiting to be erected.

Having failed with the nuthatches, I thought that I might have a look for a dipper at the Sawmill Brig and this time, I was luckier.  It wasn’t plain sailing though as the dipper was living up to it’s name…

dipper

…but it did pause for a breather on a rock once or twice.

dipper

The rock was a bit too far away for a good shot but I had a lot of fun watching the dipper dipping.

Further downstream, after pausing for a cold ice cream from the Kilngreen van, I crossed the town bridge….

The Esk from Langholm Bridge

…..and was entertained by birds flying rather than swimming.

Large numbers of swallows and martins were swooping up and down the river.  I panned the camera vigorously in trying to get a shot or two of them in the air as they passed me and an interested onlooker might well have thought that my underwear was on fire as I twisted and turned violently.

swallows and martins

You have to be really lucky or skillful to get a good picture  of a flying swallow!  I did my best.

An oyster catcher was a more available target for my lens.

Oyster catcher

I walked on down the river, stopping to admire the cherry blossom….

cherry blossom

….and crossed the Kirk Brig and walked through the park and then along the river through the woods.

As I went along, the plaintive quacking of a duck could be heard.

duck and duckling

There were half a dozen tiny ducklings scooting about in all directions paying no attention to the quacking duck.  I wondered if something had frightened them.

I wasn’t really looking for ducks though. My target was early bluebells…

bluebell

…on the banks above the river.  I found some.

bluebells

They are not fully out yet but there were enough to make a pretty picture or two….

bluebells

…or three.

bluebells

I was rather surprised to find that I was walking in broad sunshine and light snow at the same time as I went along the Stubholm track but the snow faded away and the sunshine persisted so I continued my stroll by going along Gaskell’s walk.

In spite of the cold wind and the flurry of snow, it felt like spring in the sunshine.

Gaskells in spring

blackthorn

The countryside is definitely beginning to look greener now…

Meikleholm hill

…and my walk was very green.

Gaskells in spring

The bare trees will soon be covered.

tree

I got home and then immediately went out to collect our car from the garage where it had been serviced.  To my relief, no major faults were reported and I drove it home in a good frame of mind.

I got home in good time because not long afterwards, I looked out of the window and a snowstorm was raging.  Luckily, it was a storm in a teacup and was soon past.

My flute pupil Luke came and improved the day even more as he worked very hard and listened very carefully.  I am expecting good progress over the next month or so.

In the evening, I rounded the day off with a meeting of the Langholm Camera Club where we were treated to a very interesting demonstration of photo editing techniques by an ex professional photographer who has recently joined out group. He had much sound advice to impart and I only hope that I will be able to take it on board and improve my pictures.

I often put not very good pictures on the blog just to show things that I have seen rather than for the quality of the photographs but there is no doubt that I should set myself some targets to improve the quality of shots where I do have time to worry about settings and  composition.  I hope that readers will see the results in time.

The flying bird of the day is a study in yellow.

flying siskin

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