Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

A birthday and a puzzle

Today’s guest picture comes from our son Tony and shows the sun shining in East Wemyss.  He tells us that it does rain too and you can indeed see a puddle in the picture.  He tells me that his phone does the rather dramatic editing without being asked.

wemyss teasels

A brief blog today as there was little opportunity for taking photographs in the continued absence of any birds in the garden.  This is very strange.

We went to Edinburgh as we usually do on a Thursday but this time, we added another family member to our collection and had lunch with our elder son Tony and his partner Marianne.

We were very pleased to get to Edinburgh at all as the railway company that runs the trains through Lockerbie reached new depths of incompetence today and having cancelled two early trains through a train fault and driver shortage, then had to close the line entirely south of Carlisle because the overhead lines had collapsed.

We drove the forty miles to Tweedbank instead and caught a slow (but more reliable) train to Edinburgh from there.  Luckily the weather stayed calm and dry and the traffic was light so the drive up was  a pleasure and the drive back in the dark was no great hardship.

It was Tony’s birthday today so we stood him lunch and bought him a nice steak for a birthday meal when he got home. He wants to point out that he is not fifty yet.

Our transport woes for the day weren’t quite over because after our meal with Tony, the bus we were travelling on to get to Matilda’s broke down and we had to change to another one.  We got there in the end though and enjoyed lending a helping hand in the completion of not one but two jigsaw puzzles.

matilda jigsaw

Matilda had taken part in the annual show put on by her dancing school last Sunday and someone kindly took this lovely picture of the dancer prepared for action.

matilda ballerina

The show went very well and Matilda was presented with a rose for being the most improved pupil in the ballet class.  She was modestly proud.  We were very proud.

The forecast says that we might see some sunshine tomorrow so I am hoping that it will be warm enough for a bicycle ride.,

The only bird in the garden that I saw before we left for Edinburgh was one of our resident dunnocks.  This is the second day running that a dunnock has had to stand in fro the flying bird of the day.

dunnock on wire

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Today’s guest picture is another from Gunta, who sent me this charming photo of snowy plovers resting in horse hoofprints on a beach.


We had a day with plenty of birds about and some dry and occasionally sunny weather…

plum tree of birds

…which came with the first sign of snow of the year when I looked out of an upstairs window.

monument with light snow

As it was our day to go to Edinburgh and the recent timetable changes require us to leave home shortly after coffee, I had no time to explore the snow and stuck to a quick tour of the garden where I saw the winter jasmine and..

winter jasmine january

…that first daffodil bud that Mrs Tootlepedal had noticed yesterday..

first daffodil bud

I noticed that there were quite a few blackbirds about too but they were shy and I only just caught this one before it disappeared.

blackbird january

A jackdaw hung about for a bit longer.

jackdaw chaecking things out

By the time that we got to Lockerbie Station, the sky was blue…

lockerbie town hall

…but a pile of snow on the platform bore witness to a heavy shower of sleet earlier in the day…

snow lockerbie station

…and there was plenty more snow to be seen when the train got into the hills.

snow on train to edinburgh

We had had time to admire the pile of snow on the platform before we left as the train was quarter of an hour late.  However, it bustled up the line and got to Edinburgh only a few minutes behind schedule.

We popped across the road from the station and enjoyed a light lunch in an art gallery cafe and, having lunched, we enjoyed three free exhibitions in the gallery itself.  The best of the the three was of the work of Mary Cameron.  She was quite unknown to us but we really enjoyed her work and felt that we should have known about her earlier.


She had a wonderful range of subjects in the exhibition, including such a harrowing picture of horses after a bull fight that the French government made a postcard of it which it then used in its public campaign to discourage bull fighting in France.

We went back across the station to do a little shopping and catch the bus to Matilda’s.

The station was busy and we watched the London train roll into the platform to pick up passengers for the trip south.


Matilda was in good form and we were joined by her other grandparents and her aunt and cousin for our evening meal.  Alistair cooked a delicious feast, this time a lentil and dahl, and we all tucked in.

After the meal, we caught the bus back to the station.  Knowing the railway comany’s unreliable habits, I had carefully checked that the incoming service from Lockerbie was running and would arrive in time to take us back to Lockerbie.  We were pleased to see it roll into the platform as we got to the station.

To say that we were therefore a bit stunned to see on the departure board that our train south had been cancelled is a bit of an understatement.

It turned out, as far as anyone could tell, that they were going to keep this train to act as the next train two hours later and if we wanted to get to Lockerbie meanwhile, there was a bus waiting outside the station to take us there.

We took the bus.  And arrived at Lockerbie an hour behind schedule which is why this post is hurried, I haven’t answered yesterday’s comments and I am not going to read any posts tonight.  I will try to make up for these omissions tomorrow.

On the plus side, the bus was remarkably smooth and comfortable, the driver competent and cheerful and motorway traffic light, so the actual bus journey, though long, was not too bad at all.

I took a flying goldfinch picture which didn’t come through the editor quite as it should have, but I liked it all the same so it has sneaked in…

flying goldfinch

…but the official flying bird of the day is this chaffinch.

flying chaffinch

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Today’s guest picture is another from my friend Marjorie’s Highland jaunt.  She may have visited Dull but she had a far from dull time, as this shot of the sun behind the hills at Loch Rannoch shows.

loch rannoch view

We did have a dull day here.  In fact it was so dull that when I pointed the camera out of the window at the deserted bird feeder, it couldn’t even summon up enough shutter speed to take a clear picture of that. (With the aperture set at f5.6 the best shutter speed my bird camera could offer was 1/80th.  In an ideal world, I like speeds of 1/1000th or better for a flying bird!)

To be fair it was blowing a gale at the time so the feeder wasn’t exactly hanging quietly.

deserted feeder

No birds visited anyway, so it don’t really matter that I couldn’t have taken their picture if they had come.

As it was Thursday, a visit to Matilda in Edinburgh was on the cards.  The train company has introduced a new timetable which has had two effects.   The first is that the service has become more unreliable and the second is that our usual afternoon train no longer stops at Lockebie but rushes through the station, laughing as it goes.

This means that we now have to catch a midday train which leaves little time for fun at home in the morning in the winter months.  Mrs Tootlepedal did find time to cut my hair though.

We checked very carefully to see if our train was actually running, and when we found that it was on the way, we had a coffee and set off to catch it.

It was only five minutes late, but not with the promised new coaches and with the old ones now painted in the livery of another rail company altogether.  Still, it did get us to Edinburgh…

…where it was pouring with rain.

As we were earlier than usual, we had a light lunch in a rather nice cafe just across the road from the station and then we went shopping.

The heavy rain had reminded me that my old wet weather coat, which I was wearing, was no longer watertight and Mrs Tootlepedal told me the sight of me wearing it had made her think of a scarecrow.  Under the circumstances, a new coat looked like a good idea.

We considered a very nice coat with a multitude of pockets, warm linings and a good hood but had to have a quick sit down when we looked at the price tag.  We moved along a bit and found one with less pockets but still warm and well hooded and as it was a third of the price, we settled on it.

When we got to the till, another twenty pounds disappeared from the price in an unheralded discount so I was very happy to put it on and walk out of the shop into the rain wearing it.

A friendly bus appeared and took us down to Matilda’s where we enjoyed a full afternoon of entertainment.   Mrs Tootlepedal took this picture of Matilda explaining the finer points of trigonometry to her grandpa.

matilda shows grandpa

Matilda’s mother Clare was very unimpressed by my mild moan about the small number of pockets on my new coat.  She pointed out that it is almost impossible for women to find a coat with any usable pockets at all.

To be fair to the train company, our train back from Edinburgh was the new five coach rolling stock and it was on time.  On the down side, the ride is incomparably worse than the old coaching stock.  The guard helpfully explained to us the the new coaches, which are Spanish, are far less sophisticated than the old stock as far as the system of attaching the carriage to the bogeys underneath it.  Hence the bumpy ride.  The seats are pretty uncomfortable too.  The guard, having chatted to us and other passengers, then made an announcement over the intercom to suggest that disaffected passengers should be sure to send their complaints to the management!

On our way up to Edinburgh, we were interviewed on the platform at Lockerbie by a man from ITV Border news, but my contribution to the general abuse of the train company hadn’t make the final cut when we watched the news in the evening.  It was a well recorded and edited package though, so I had no complaint.

No flying bird of the day today because of the very poor light and strong winds this morning.   Looking at the forecast, things should be better tomorrow.

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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…..


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.


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.


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


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…


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


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.


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.


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


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.


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


…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.


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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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Today’s guest picture is another of Gunta’s fine bridges.  This one is at Newport.

newport bridge

It was another gloomy morning here with occasional rain.  Even the chaffinch on the feeder seemed to be a bit hunched against the weather.

feeder in the rian

The rain stopped but it didn’t make this blackbird feel any happier about things.

proud blackbird

At one moment, I looked out of the window and thought that the rain had caught fire…

sparkle in the garden

…but it turned out to be the reflection of the Christmas tree, newly decorated by Mrs Tootlepedal.


The morning was full of preparations for a seasonal visit from our granddaughter Matilda and her parents, but I had some time over lunch to look at the birds.

In spite of the fact that the sparrowhawk had passed through the garden earlier in the day, the birds were back in force and the goldfinches were doing a lot of lurking.

four lurking goldfinches

There was action on every side when siskins arrived as well.

four siskin and goldfinches in action

…and a dunnock could only stand and stare.

dunnock fluffy

Though, when it comes to staring, there was nothing to compare to a passing jackdaw.

mean jackdaw

I got really excited when there was the tiniest glimpse of sunlight, picking out a chaffinch on Mrs Tootlepedal’s fake tree….

sunny chaffinch december

…but it was only a glimpse and it was back to grey when I went out for a short walk in the afternoon while our potential visitors were driving down from Edinburgh.

The berries on the severely cropped shrubs beside the Wauchope are looking amazing.

berries at kirk brig

I walked along the river and when I crossed the Town Bridge, I saw an excellent turn out of gulls at their posts on the Castleholm.

many gulls on posts

The only gull left in the river was the young gull that I saw before.

young gull

I walked across the Sawmill Brig and took the track out towards the High Mill Brig, stopping to gaze at sheep grazing under a bare tree…

tree with sheep

…and then to wonder at the sheer variety of lichens growing within a yard or two of each other on the wall beside the track.

four lichens on same walltwo lichen on same wall

To avoid a boggy piece of ground at a gate, I went into the field and looked at the wall from the other side.  There was hardly any life on the side exposed to the elements.

tree and wall

At the end of the track, I had a look up the main road to the north, down which our visitors would come in the course of time.

lookingup A7

As I went to cross the Ewes Water, I thought that the sun might have come out again when I saw a patch of yellow, but it was just the topmost twigs on a tree.

yellow tinged twigs

Two hundred yards further on, there was a genuine brightening and the trees at the Rugby Club bridge were lit up by actual sun.

sun at RFC bridge

They are building a third log cabin at the Whitshiels cafe and are at a stage which reveals clearly the cunning interlocking method of construction.log cabin

As I got back to the Sawmill Brig, the sun had already sunk behind more clouds…

sunset castleholm

…and the light rapidly faded as I walked home across the Jubilee Bridge, my fifth bridge crossing of the day.

It was dark by the time that Matilda, Al and Clare arrived but there was still time for Matilda to enjoy a couple of board games with me before tea.  I was fortunate to come out top at Snakes and Ladders but Matilda comfortably beat me at Ludo so honour was satisfied.

On behalf of Mrs Tootlepedal and myself, I would like to wish all blog readers a happy Christmas and thank them for their continued attention over the year.

The flying bird of the day is a sparrow, an uncommon visitor these days.

flying sparrow

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