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Archive for Dec, 2019

Today’s guest picture comes from my nephew Dan who is in Tromsø in Norway.  It rained so much that he and his companion had to take refuge in the Tromsdalen Church, sometimes called the Arctic Cathedral.

Tromsø Tromsdalen Church or the Arctic Cathedral

The forecast, which had suggested a sunny day and a temperature of five degrees by lunchtime, was partially right.  We did have a beautifully sunny day but the temperature  was still below two degrees at lunchtime, and the lawn was still covered in frost.

frozen lawn

Any thoughts of cycling had had to be abandoned.

Circumstances have not been kind to my cycling ambitions in November and December and after doing sixteen hundred miles in the four months from July to October, I have barely done three hundred miles in the last two months of the year.  I am hoping for no injuries and better weather next year.  I started this year hoping to do 4000 miles and have had to settle for a little bit over 3000 instead, but I have done more walking recently so I am reasonably content.

The roads were a bit icy in the morning so I did the crossword, had coffee and watched the birds.

They were looking cheerful in the sun.

sunny chaffinch

A dunnock tried to look like a heron…

sunny dunnock

…and a siskin tried to find someone to argue with…

sunny siskin

…while the robin made a welcome re-appearance after a few days of being invisible.

sunny robin

The bird that I was most pleased to see was this lesser redpoll, the first one that I have seen this winter.

first redpoll of winter

After lunch, I set out to make some use of the sunshine.  I still had to tread carefully while I was in the town as there were icy spots here and there, but once I got onto the track up Warbla, the going was good.

It was easy to see where the fields had been in shadow during the morning.

sheep in sunshine

Looking across the Wauchope valley,  I could see a favourite little ridge, Naze Hill, which is pleasingly symmetrical.

naze hill

I had to pay some attention to where I was walking as well as looking at the view because there were icy puddles on the track.

ice on warbla

I tried to avoid taking too many pictures because I posted quite a few shots of this walk not long ago when I came the same hill with Mrs Tootlepedal, but it was such a lovely day that I had to take one or two when I got to the summit.

view up esk valley from warbla

Holmwood and the Esk Valley

langholm from warbla

Langholm and the Ewes Valley

On this occasion, I did not go back home by walking down the way that I had come up.  I headed on down the far side of the hill, roughly following the line of the electricity poles which would take me down to Skippers Bridge in the end.

view of way south from warbla

It was rough ground but the frost kept things firm and made the moss look very festive.

frozen moss

Towards the bottom of the hill, I was on the shady side of the ridge and there was a distinct chill about.

two warbla trees

As I walked down to the main road, I was surprised to see some hair ice beside the path, but as I went on, I could see that there was a lot of it about.

hair ice

Wikipedia tells me:

In the year 2015, German and Swiss scientists identified the fungus Exidiopsis effusa as key to the formation of hair ice. The fungus was found on every hair ice sample examined by the researchers, and disabling the fungus with fungicide or hot water prevented hair ice formation.  The fungus shapes the ice into fine hairs through an uncertain mechanism and likely stabilizes it by providing a recrystallization inhibitor similar to antifreeze proteins.

The fungus must be spreading round Langholm because I see more hair ice every year.

I crossed Skippers Bridge and walked back to the town along the river bank.  There is a fine tree beside the river at the Co-op store.  It has some good fungus and a mysterious tag which has been nailed on to it.

tree at Co-op

I have noticed several trees round the town with these little tags on them and would welcome help from any reader who can shed light on what they are for.

The sun was still high enough to shine on me when I got back to the town so instead of crossing the suspension  bridge, I continued on to the Kilngreen and had a word with the gulls.  They were also enjoying the sun.

gulls on grass

I crossed the Sawmill Brig and walked round the bottom of the Castleholm, where the castle was doing a little basking in the  sun too…

Langholm castle in sun

…and went home via the Jubilee Bridge and our corner shop.  Our neighbour Liz was doing a little shopping there too so we walked home together.

I had done five miles and that proved quite enough exercise for me for the day.  I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening doing some creative sofa slumping.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has taken the time to read the blog over the past year, and in particular those who have added the always polite and often informative comments that make writing the blog feel worthwhile for me.

I hope that 2020 brings readers all that they might wish and a little bit more.

I personally am keeping my fingers crossed that our National Health Service can weather the storms ahead.  Our church organist Henry, who drives a bus for a living, recently had to wait three minutes to get an emergency call answered when a passenger had an epileptic fit on his bus.  When his call was finally answered, the call handler told him that as his passenger wasn’t actually dying, no ambulance would be sent out.  This is not very satisfactory.  Voters will have to learn that there is a crucial link between paying taxes and having a good health service and politicians will need to learn that leaving sick people lying beside roads at night is a matter of great shame in a civilised country. (Henry took the patient home in his bus.)

On that cheerful note, I end by wishing all and sundry a very happy new year.  I hope to meet you all again next year.

The flying bird of the day is a gull, disturbed by an elderly walker and heading for a fence post.

gull landing on post

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The sign says it all

The guest picture pf the day comes from my ex-colleague Marjorie who is on a toot in the Highlands and came across a well known road sign.  It is famous enough to have figured in a TV quiz show last week.

Marjorie's sign

The sign made an excellent guest picture today as it was an exceptionally dull day here today.

This was the mid morning view from an upstairs window on one side of the house…

dull day whita

…and this was the view from the other.

dull day meikleholm

Just for the sake of a little colour, I looked down at the garden while I was there.

dull day garden

There is not much to be seen but the hedges and lawns please the eye even in the middle of winter.

You may notice that there are no birds at the feeder in the picture above and that stayed much the same all day.  It might have been a bit too windy for them.

It was certainly too windy and gloomy for me and I was happy to have a cup of coffee with Sandy in the morning to help to pass the time.  He has been suffering from a very painful back which limited his Christmas plans in a big way, but he was a bit better today and had almost enjoyed his walk down to visit us.

Unlike yesterday, when it was at  least dry, there was a perpetual fine mist/drizzle in the air outside today which made walking unattractive.  In the circumstances a trip to Gretna Shopping Village seemed like a good scheme.

This time, again unlike yesterday, the enveloping gloom did not let up at all as we went south and it was just as miserable in Gretna as it was at Langholm.

They have a very jolly Christmas tree though.

Gretna tree

Being what they call an ‘outlet village’, you can never tell what stock the units will have on hand when you visit Gretna.  We went in search of shoes for Mrs Tootlepedal and socks for me and came back with a vegetable chopper for Mrs Tootlepedal and a pair of pyjamas for me.  We weren’t unhappy.  That is the nature of shopping at Gretna.

And that was our day.  It was fairly dull in every way (except for the coffee with Sandy) and I even made some dull soup for lunch.

There is wild talk on the weather forecast of light winds and sunshine for tomorrow but I will believe it when I see it.

A jackdaw was the only bird that I saw on the feeder today.  Sharp eyed readers may be able to see a flying jackdaw in the background and that was the closest that I came to a FBotD.

visiting jackdaw

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Today’s guest picture comes from my brother Andrew.  He recently found himself on top of Bosley Cloud, a 1125ft eminence on the Staffordshire- Cheshire border with, according to to the Visit Cheshire website, stunning views over the surrounding countryside.  It lived up to its name when my brother was there though, and there was a marked absence of views, stunning or otherwise.

Bosley Cloud

We had plenty of clouds here today as well.  In fact it was so gloomy that when I threw open the curtains to welcome the day, the room actually got darker.

Still, we sang some cheerful Christmas carols when we got to church.  Our new minister takes the view that Christmas is too good to be wasted on just one Sunday in the year.   I agree.  We returned home for coffee and a mince pie and as I added a modicum of brandy butter to mine, all was well with the world in spite of the dark clouds.

After lunch, we considered our options.  It was dry and warm (7°C) so I considered a bike ride but checking on the wind, I found that gusts of up to 30 mph were expected. Mrs Tootlepedal fancied some exercise so she and I went off for another walk instead.

After yesterday’s tramp up hill and over rough terrain, Mrs Tootlepedal called for a flatter route on dry roads today so we drove down to the Hollows Bridge and walked the three mile Canonbie circle along to the village by the top road and back by the old main road beside the river.

Mrs Tootlepedal stopped to read an historical information board by the Hollows bridge and I checked to see if there were still stone statues in the wood there.

hollows sculptures

We crossed the bridge and stopped to talk to the owner of the Archimedes screw who was just setting off for a family walk and then we took the top road to Canonbie.

I was very impressed by the neat appearance of a hedge in a field beside the road.

hollows hedge

Purists may think that it is a bit too sparse to be effective as a hedge but as it has a wire fence right behind it, that doesn’t matter too much.

As is often the case, the weather had got much better once we had got south of Langholm and out of the hills.  Looking back as we went up the top road, we could see the impressive gloom over the town behind us.

looking back to langholm

Even without the dark clouds overhead, it wasn’t sunny and as we walked along a stretch of road between a conifer wood and a tall beech hedge, the camera was unimpressed by the amount of light available.

hollws road hedge

It was able to pick up a crop of catkins though, a reminder that we are on our way towards spring now.

catkins

We passed a lot of good trees along our route but this one was my choice for tree of the day.

hollws road tree

The road to the village took us along the top of a steep escarpment above the river and I could look down on Canonbie church, which almost seemed to be catching a hint of sunshine.

Canonbie Church

Mrs Tootlepedal called my attention to a dunnock.  As a dunnock is also called a hedge sparrow, it was good to see one living up to its name by posing on a hedge for me.

dunnokc on hedge Canonbie

(It turns out that a dunnock is not a sparrow at all but an accentor.)

Although we weren’t in sunshine, there was blue sky above our heads, we were sheltered from any wind and we had left the black Langholm cloud behind us so walking was very comfortable.

cloud front

We passed a fir tree in a garden before we got to the village.  It was covered in smallish upright cones and looked very like a Korean pine but with brown not blue cones.

pine tree canonbie

As we walked down the path to the village, Mrs Tootlepedal noticed this bracket fungus on the fence rail.  It is unusual to see them on treated wood like this.

bracket fungus on fence canonbie

Canonbie’s Public Hall has a fine clock which celebrates the centenary of the hall in 2012.

canonbie hall clock

We crossed the river Esk by the newly resurfaced Canonbie bridge and walked along the old main road back to the Hollows Bridge.  There was a moment when the sun actually shone on us and we could see our chadows…

shadows on old A7

…but it didn’t last and the sun was so low anyway that the trees on the far bank of the river were looking very sombre.

trees on Esk escarpment Canonbie

It wasn’t a day for sitting at the fine new bench at the lay-by and having a picnic.

Canonbie bench

Rather worryingly, the back cloud over Langholm seemed to be slipping south and was getting nearer and nearer to us.

cloud front canonbie

This lent a bit of urgency to the last half mile of our journey but I still had time to admire a monkey puzzle tree in a garden at Byreburnfoot.

I liked the way that its bottom branches pointed down, its top branches pointed up and the ones in the middle were absolutely pointing neither up nor down.

monkey puzzle byreburn

I was considering the habits of walls on our walk last Saturday and this wall at the Byreburnfoot Bridge was another example of the curious behaviour of nature. The wall is more or less totally black until it gets to the bridge itself when it suddenly becomes covered with pale lichen.

byreburn bridge with Mrs t

It’s another mystery.

It didn’t rain and we got back to the car after three miles of gentle exercise.  The weather looked very black as we drove back to Langholm but even there, it wasn’t raining.  The Met Office says that the humidity today has been around 95% so I have no idea why it hasn’t rained.  I am not complaining though.

It was too dark to get a satisfactory flying bird today so the best that I can do is to show one of our resident garden dunnocks standing in for the absent fliers.

dunnock in garden

 

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Today’s guest picture comes from former Archive Group member Ken, who is now over in the north east.  He sent me this picture of a very special K4 kiosk, one of only 50 introduced in 1927.  They combined a telephone kiosk with a coin operated stamp vending machine and a post box.  This one is still in use in Whitley Bay, although the stamp machine no longer works.

K4 Kiosk

After the recent Christmas excitements, I had a quiet morning at home with nothing more testing than a crossword and a visit to our corner shop to help pass the time.

I did have a look at the birds who were out in force today.

We had siskins and goldfinches…

siskin and goldfinch incoming

…and lots of chaffinches…

chaffinches incoming

…and sometimes siskins, goldfinches and chaffinches at the same time.

busy feeder

A chaffinch landed with a single claw on the perch…

one footed chaffinch landing

…but once it was in situ, it was determined not to be shifted.

goldfinch and chaffinch determined

Unlike the chaffinch, Mrs Tootlepedal was set on being shifted and so, after an early lunch, we went out for a walk.

Encouraged by her five mile, relatively flat walk yesterday, she had bigger ambitions today.  I followed in her wake as we walked along the main road for a mile before turning up the Copshaw road to walk up to the White Yett.

We stopped to admire the beautifully trimmed beech hedges at Hillhead…

beech hedges Hillhead

…and I noted that the monument, which was on Mrs Tootlepedal’s planned route, looked quite far away and quite high up.

I stopped again to record an unusual grey sheep in a field with more standard models.  I have no clue as to what make it is.

grey and white sheep

As we got higher up the hill, I looked over a wall at a view up the valley, but it was a dull day so the wall was more interesting than the view.  I have no idea what the little brown globe on the lichen is.  I haven’t seen anything like it before.

lichen with brown ball

Another wall caught my eye.  It had a purpose built hole in it.

hole on the wall

Mrs Tootlepedal likes this bench near the parking place at the White Yett.  It reminds her of one like it in her childhood.

seat on White Yett road

We didn’t stop to sit on it though, but pressed on when we got to the MacDiarmid memorial and headed up the track to the Monument.

memorial and monument

It was warm for the time of year, and the hint of sunshine was encouraging as we climbed up to the monument on the summit of Whita at 355m (1164ft), passing some good looking lichen on the way…

kichen in stone whita

…and being passed by an enthusiastic mountain biker…

mountain cyclist whita

…who soon disappeared over the horizon.

cyclist at monument

It is very difficult to get a view to the west at this time of year because the low sun is in the way, but it did make the Solway Firth gleam as it came into sight.

solway gleaming from whita

Following Mrs Tootlepedal’s plan, we walked on past the monument at the top of the hill and came to the edge of the world.

Or at least we came to the end of the last Scottish hill and looked out over the expanse of the Solway plain stretched out below us.  It was misty in England.

solway plain from edge of whita

We kept going and walked down the ridge towards the Moorland Project bird hide.  This involved some hard walking through heather, over moss…

sphagnum moss

…and tussocky grass…

rough moorland whita

…following faint tracks across the moor until we finally got to the road just above Broomholmshiels.

Both of us fell into bogs on the way but we were very brave and soldiered on.

It was a relief to have solid ground under foot again.  We had a choice of road or a somewhat soggy track to take us back to Langholm and unsurprisingly, we chose the road.  After walking down the hill to the banks of the Esk, we took the direct route home and arrived in perfect time for a cup of tea after three and half hours of fairly strenuous walking.

A check on the map when we got back showed that Mrs Tootlepedal had taken me on a seven mile walk.  I was very grateful to her as this was the longest walk that I had managed all year.

Not unnaturally though, we were fairly tired after that so not much else of note happened before the end of the day.  To be be honest, nothing else happened before the end of the day.

We look as though we might be in for a spell of dry weather so I hope to add a little pedalling to the walking before the end of the year.

The flying bird of the day is a siskin.  It was not the cleanest picture that I took today but I like the tiny siskins a lot, so it got the honour.

flying siskin

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Today’s guest picture comes from my Somerset correspondent Venetia.  I have seen many murmurations of starlings before but I have never seen one where the starlings murmured in the actual shape of a starling.   She was on the Somerset levels when she took this amazing picture.

Ham Wall on the Avalon Marshes

We had another morning of family fun with Matilda and her parents and then, after a light but creative lunch, Al, Clare and Matilda got into their car and drove off to Edinburgh.  There was no argument, it had been a very good Christmas, and we were sad to see them go.

On the down side, as is probably inevitable over the Christmas period, too much eating had gone on, and both Mrs Tootlepedal and I felt that a good walk was needed to help shoogle down some of the surplus calories.

We started off at two o’clock and it was already very grey as we walked up the road past Holmwood…..

P1010144

The camera needed its flash to record another concrete fence post with a mossy head.  This one looked as though it needed a hair cut.

P1010145

The ways of walls are curious.  This one beside the road was absolutely covered in moss until it wasn’t.  Why the moss had chosen to stop there is one of the questions that may never be answered.

P1010146

And just round the corner, the moss gave way to a huge collection of spleenwort.  The wall is covered with it for many metres.

P1010147

We turned off the main road and walked along the quiet back road to Potholm.  Even on a grey day, the country has its charms…

P1010148

…and the mist was rising off the hills as we went along.

P1010149

Our plan was to walk to Potholm along one side of the Esk, cross the bridge and walk back to Langholm on the other side of the river.  We paused to consider our options though when a furious fusillade of shots rang out across the valley.   A pheasant shoot was taking place along our route home.

Would it be finished by the time that we got there?  We thought that it would, and walked on.   There must have been a lot of pheasants about though because the shooting went on for ages and we were across the bridge at Potholm before it stopped.

I looked back from the bridge at Milnholm farmhouse, judiciously perched on a little ridge above the floodplain.

P1010151

I had been a bit worried that it might be dark before we got home and the forecast had been for a good chance of rain on the way, but it stayed dry.  It even got a little brighter at one moment so we could look back down the valley and the see the way that we had come.

Our road is hidden behind the wall that runs along the top of the fields.

P1010152

As we passed the lonesome pine, we could hear gamekeepers whistling to their dogs as they collected the ‘bag’ for the day.

P1010153

The shooting had finished by the time we got to the scene and we were able to walk past unscathed.

When we were passing the pheasant hatchery, we noticed another victim of the wet and windy weather.  Our trees grow in shallow soil.

P1010155

By the time that we got to the Duchess Bridge, it was too dark to take pictures…

P1010156

…but we were very pleased to get home while it was still light enough to be able to walk in comfort.  We had managed 5 miles in just under two hours and it had been warm enough for us to unbutton our coats and I had taken off my new Christmas gloves too.

The trouble about having a good walk to shake down too much eating is that it gives you an appetite.  I had two slices of Christmas cake with my post walk cup of tea. Ah well, I can always have another walk tomorrow.

It’s very quiet here with no-one to play Ludo and Snakes and Ladders with me.

The flying birds of the day are a small flock of gulls, disturbed by the pheasant shooters and looking for somewhere with a bit of peace and quiet.

P1010150

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Today’s guest picture comes from Mary Jo in Canada.  She was on a family visit when she noticed the under snow tracks of a directionally challenged mouse.

mouse tracks in snow

As well as family visitors today, we had a few bird visitors too.  Interestingly, we had almost no bird visitors yesterday judging by how little seed had gone, so perhaps the birds were all staying at home with their families too.

chaffinch goldfinch

We spent most of the day in the house but I did pop out to buy some milk and visited the gulls on my way  (well, it was nearly on my way).

They were all on the water when I arrived but as soon as I got there, they flew up in the air…

flock of gulls

…and started to play musical chairs…

gull musical chairs 1

..on the fence posts.

gull musical chairs 2

It was a decidedly chilly day with a nippy wind, so more good eating, games of snakes and ladders and Ludo, dancing, talking, playing and singing were all enjoyed indoors.

Matilda and I watched the King George VI steeplechase on the telly and then Matilda gave me a demonstration of her own riding skills, first going down to the start steadily…

matilda on rocking horse 1

…and then riding out a close finish with hands and heels.

matilda on rocking horse 2

Mrs Tootlepedal and Clare, with some occasional help, finished off a decorative 500 piece jigsaw puzzle.  It was not as simple as it looked at first sight.

christmas jigsaw

We have made a small dent in the seasonal food mountain but there is a lot of eating still to be done.  It is really hard not to get too much food in when family are coming to visit, especially if they bring more delicious things with them.  We have eaten very well though, so I am not complaining.

I did get a flying bird of the day today.

flying gull`

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Today’s guest picture comes from our friend Bruce.  His terrier sums up precisely that  evening feeling on Christmas day.

christmas day terrier

Many readers kindly wished that Mrs Tootlepedal and I should have a happy Christmas and their wishes must carry great force, because we did.

For a start, the sun shone properly for the first time for a week…

christmas day walnut

…and indoors, the house was warmed by Matilda who was in turn, cool….

matilda christmas 1

…and hot.

matilda christmas

After the presents had been opened, Al, Clare, Matilda and I went for a short walk while the cook worked her magic undisturbed.

In spite of the sun, low clouds still concealed Whita’s crest from view…

christmas day whita cloud

…but it was still a grand day for a walk.  The Edinburgh contingent were on a Pokemon hunt (don’t ask me) and….

christmas day matilda, clare and al

…while I saw trees in the sunshine….

christmas day trees

…and a goosander….

christmas day goosander 1

 

…they stared at their phones with great intent, ignoring the views.

christmas day pokemon hunt

I couldn’t even interest them in an exciting fungus…

christmas day fungus

…or the clearing mist…

christmas day clouds lifting

…or even a crow on top of a noble fir.

christmas day noble fir

Though to be fair, they were impressed by the huge cones right at the top of the tree.

Still, we all enjoyed the walk and the  fresh air and we had a good appetite when it came to eating our Christmas lunch.  Mrs Tootlepedal provided a feast.

After lunch, we followed those Christmas traditions of lying around recovering from eating too much and watching the Strictly Christmas Special.  This was very good this year, with a lot of excellent dancing.

Al and Clare shook down some food with a little afternoon walk and while Matilda was keeping Mrs Tootlepedal occupied, I nipped out to walk the two and a half miles down to Skippers…

christmas day langholm distiilery

…and back as fast as I could.

It was too dark to take pictures on the way so I rested the camera on the bridge parapet and took the traditional shot of the distillery just to prove that I had been there.

We ate a very light evening meal, though I did manage a helping of Christmas pudding and brandy butter, and then we subsided into a contented peace.

No time for looking out of the window today, so no flying bird.

 

 

 

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