A reason to be grumpy

Today’s guest picture comes from our son Tony, who spotted an audacious attempt by a ship to make off with the Bass Rock, an internationally important nesting site for gannets. Luckily it was seen in time and they made them put the rock back.

We had another sunny morning here today, but it was even colder than yesterday and we didn’t venture out into the garden until we had had our coffee indoors. The temperature had got up to 6°C by this time but the brisk north wind made it feel a lot colder. A lot.

I watched the birds on the feeder basking in glorious sunshine just before coffee.

Chaffinches arrived in the sun and left under a cloud…

…and among the usual sparring siskins, a female redpoll appeared so it looks as though we have a pair.

When we went out, we wisely kept ourselves warm by working hard. I was doing more raking, sieving and levelling of the gravel in the drive and Mrs Tootlepedal was delving away as she remodelled the front border. She broke off from time to time to cast an expert eye on my efforts, and between us, we made good progress. We won’t know how successful we have been until it rains hard and we see if puddles develop, and where they develop.

I was projecting a walk after lunch but when I looked out of the window, I got a shock…

…so I found something do indoors instead.

When I looked out again, there were dark doings at the feeder…

…but it had stopped snowing so I went for my walk.

After yesterday’s hilly test for my knee, I took a low level walk today and went ’round Potholm’. As usual I started along the river…

…but by the time that I had got to the Kilngreen, it had started snowing again, and it was heavy enough to make me wonder if I was doing the right thing by being outside. A shape loomed up through the snow…

He and I shared a world view at that moment….

…and it wasn’t cheery.

However, I had quite well founded hopes that the shower would blow over in the brisk wind, and by the time that I had crossed the Sawmill Brig, I could see sunshine behind the snow at the Lodge gates.

I pressed on undaunted, hoping that the sun would last.

It did its best and only occasionally disappeared behind swiftly moving clouds so I was able to enjoy lichen and fungus…

…a phenomenally phat pheasant…

…green shoots on the forest floor…

…and a fine view up the valley when I got to the North Lodge.

Walking up the track to Potholm is a treat at this time of year as it is a popular spot for primroses. It was no surprise to see lots of them today. I could have added many more to this little gallery…

…but I was really amazed to see a lone bluebell in a very shady spot. It is weeks ahead of schedule.

I had chosen my direction in the hope that the wind would be behind me as I crossed the Potholm Bridge…

…and walked along the exposed road past a wonderful blackthorn.

My hope was fulfilled, and with the chilly wind at my back, I was able to look around and enjoy the sight of larches getting a little colour on the opposite side of the valley…

…striking lichen on the roadside wall…

…and lambs practising looking cute.

I did think for a moment of extending my walk by taking the track up on to Meikleholm Hill but a timely flurry of snow told me not to be silly. I took the direct (and well sheltered) route home down the road, passing a wall of moss and spleenwort, a lone scarlet elf cup lit by a transient ray of sunshine…

…and a lovely display of dandelions growing in the cracks in a wall as I got back to Langholm.

Leaves are developing in spite of the snow and cold wind…

…and I ended my five and a half mile walk in a cheerful mood, even though when I got home, Mrs Tootlepedal noticed that the cold wind had literally brought a tear to my eye.

A cup of tea and several freshly made ginger biscuits added to my feeling of well being.

Although I had enjoyed my walk, it had also made me quite tired, so the rest of the afternoon and evening was very peaceful and uneventful.

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

A lot better than expected

Today’s guest picture is another from Venetia’s recent garden visits in Somerset. This lovely pattern was captured at The Newt, which is a country estate and not an amphibian in this case.

The forecast had been a bit apocalyptic with talk of blizzards and gales and Arctic blasts, but I am beginning to suspect that the forecasters like to look on the gloomy side so that when the weather is bad but still better than forecast, we feel happy about it.

It was cold, there was a strong wind and we did get two snow showers, but as the sun shone from morn till dusk, and the two showers amounted to no more than this sprinkling of tiny hailstones…

….we were able to put up with the genuinely cold wind with reasonable equanimity.

Our admirable ironmonger’s shop opened today for the first time for several months, and Mrs Tootlepedal braved the chill to walk up to the High Street and let loose some of the suppressed spending power that the newspapers have been talking about in the hope that it will bring about an economic revival. She brought a new pair of gardening gloves. The chancellor of the exchequer will be rejoicing tonight.

I walked round to the corner shop and then did a bit of gravel raking for the drive project.

It was too cold for coffee in the garden in the brisk wind in spite of the sunshine so I had coffee indoors. I came out again and shifted all the compost from Bin A into Bin B. We are now ready to start the composting cycle again.

The birds were very busy…

…and I filled the feeder twice today, but as I was quite busy too, I didn’t have a lot of time to look at the action.

I caught a goldfinch hanging on to a swaying twig as tightly as it could..

…and a greenfinch testing out its hoity toity look.

It was too cold for anything interesting to have happened in the garden, so after lunch, I went out for a walk to see what I could see.

I started along the river and was pleased to see a grey wagtail standing still for once (though a bit too far away for a really clear picture).

I walked on over the Town Bridge and up the main road to Whitshiels, where I took the road up the hill towards the White Yett. I had been walking straight into the north wind up to this point and it was keen enough to bring a tear to the eye and even the lambs were wearing long woolly socks…

…so I was a bit hesitant about going up an exposed road. However, the first part of the road is well sheltered…

…and I think that the wind must have dropped for a moment, as when I came to a more open section…

…it was still quite calm. Even so, when I came to the end of the section of stout beech hedges around the house at Hillhead, I decided not to venture further up the hill but took the track to Whita Well along the side of the hill. This put the wind at my back.

It was a sound decision. In the beautiful sunshine and equipped with a good jacket and a woolly hat, I was very snug as I walked along enjoying the views.

I put this little panel of three views in just to show how differently the camera sees the sky and grounbd colours when it turns its head. I suppose that I do too, but I don’t notice it as much as the camera does.

I was enjoying my walk so much that instead of going straight home down the Kirk Wynd when I got to Whita Well, I carried on along the Quarry Track…

…rather surprised but very grateful to find myself out on the open hill on a day with such a bad forecast.

The views continued to please, both near…


…and far.

It wasn’t long before I came to my favourite wall and stile…

…where I noticed that a brand new bench (of a familiar design) had been put in place as a memorial to a local man who had died recently.

I sat respectfully on the bench and took in a popular view of the town…

…and zoomed in on the golf course…

….where, if aches and pains permit, I hope to play a few rounds with Dropscone when the warmer weather comes.

The gorse behind the bench is in fine condition and after a look at it…

…I clambered across the stile which has rather large steps for an old man)…

…and made my way very carefully down the hill towards the oak woods and the Round House. My knee is far from 100% and I had to watch where I was going pretty closely, so there were no more pictures until I got onto level ground.

A friend recently came round with an old postcard of the Round House, taken in the days when sheep grazed everything off the hill apart from two ancient oaks.

I tried to recreate the picture today.

…and as far as I can tell, the two oaks are still there. It shows what happens when the sheep are taken away.

I dropped down to the old railway and Skippers Bridge and made my way home along the Murtholm where buds are turning into leaves.

It was only a four and a half mile walk but as it had taken in river, road, hill track, a sporting stile, steep descent, woodland paths and river again, I thought that it had been a good adventure, and very much better than I had anticipated when I had set out for a chilly walk on a windy day.

I just had time for a cup of tea before Mrs Tootlepedal and I zoomed with my brother and sisters.

Mrs Tootlepedal produced a feast of baked potatos and baked beans for our evening meal and fortified by that, I had just enough energy left to write this post.

The flying bird of the day is a chaffinch.

An assignation

Today’s guest picture comes from my Somerset correspondent, Venetia. She found a bench after my own heart on a visit to a National Gardens Scheme garden at a place called Midney.

I had an unusual experience this morning as I had a cycle ride with a purpose. I was shipping a delivery of grass across the border. Before some over enthusiastic algorithm from the security services gets too excited, it was not that sort of grass.

Mrs Tootlepedal had arranged with a fellow soprano from the Carlisle Choir to send her some ornamental garden grasses, and they had arranged that their husbands, both keen cyclists, would be the method of transport.

Thus it was that I got going quite early in the morning for me, after a quick check on the bird feeder (nothing but siskins).

I had a couple of panniers holding the grasses on my bike as I made my way down to Gretna to meet Bill at the border.

I passed a goose at the Longtown pond on my way…

…and arrived for the meeting on schedule. Bill was waiting for me. I gave Bill the grasses and he kindly provided me with a cup of excellent coffee from his flask and an enormous biscuit to fuel me up for the return home.

It was far colder than it has been lately and we had had to return to our full winter cycling gear. I had had a battle against a cruel wind on the way down so I was looking forward to a wind assisted return home and chose a slightly longer route back to add a few miles before next week’s really bad weather arrives tomorrow.

After a three mile whizz down wind to Longtown with Bill, I soon found that I had chosen the rest of my route home very badly. For a lot of the time I was back battling the wind again. I was grateful for some good shelter from these hedges near Tarcoon.

I could have done with some shelter from the Kerr Wood but that has been reduced to matchsticks now. The felling has revealed a curious structure in the distance on the moor behind the felled wood. I wonder if Dr Who is involved in some way.

I had intended to do 40 miles but my poor route choice made me settle for 34 miles in the end. And even at that, I was very pleased to get home.

Mrs Tootlepedal had been doing some gardening but was making soup when I arrived. She and I walked round the garden as the soup simmered. Although it was cold, a brunnera had arrived to join the other spring flowers…

…and the light was suitable for another go at getting a better picture of the viburnum flowers.

The star of the show was the first tulip of the year, almost out and showing a lot of promise.

We went in for lunch and after enjoying a bowl of first rate vegetable soup, I had a chance to look at the birds.

The siskins had been replaced by goldfinches on the feeder…

…but there were other birds about and the ringed redpoll from yesterday was back again

When the goldfinches left a space, it was soon filled up…

…and I watched a blue tit have an unfortunate experience as it dropped the seed that it was trying to trap beneath its feet.

I liked the way it looked round for somebody else to blame.

We went back out into the garden and I did a little work on the gravel on the drive project and shifted the last of the compost from Bin B into Bin C, while Mrs Tootlepedal did some therapeutic garden tidying.

After that we needed a quiet sit down on our new bench in some welcome sunshine.

I had my camera in my pocket and looked about for things to point it at from time to time.

I saw euphorbia…

…and the first fully out dicentra…

…and a selection of other flowers including a bee on a scilla.

The magnolia is not as well wrapped up as Mrs Tootlepedal would like as she ran out of fleece, but it has survived a couple of frosty nights fairly well.

When we got back in, I saw a jackdaw tip toeing across the lawn…

…and some rude behaviour from a goldfinch.

After a cup of tea and a slice of toast and strawberry jam, I went for a short walk. Having had to cut my morning cycle ride short, I didn’t want my legs to think that they could boss me about.

I walked down to the Kirk Brig and enjoyed the daffodils on one side but was more pleased to find a pair of goosanders on the banks of the Esk on the other side of the bridge.

It was overcast and a bit chilly by this time, but the walk round Easton’s and Gaskell’s walks was enjoyable…

…and it has been very dry lately so the paths and tracks were a pleasure to walk along.

I saw woodrush and wood anemones in the woods, and lichen underpants…

…and a sycamore bud beside track and road.

I always like to see a proverb or saying in action.

I took my final bird picture of the day when I got back…

…and then settled down to enjoy an excellent meal of roast chicken and roast potatoes cooked to perfection by Mrs Tootlepedal.

According to the forecasters, we are going to have a windchill factor of zero degrees all next week (except Thursday when it is going to rain instead). It is not entirely clear what is going to happen but while others get snow, we may get very windy but cold and sunny days. We are keeping our fingers crossed.

In the meantime, I couldn’t decide between two candidates for flying bird of the day so I have put them both in.

Composting cycle

Today’s guest picture comes from our son Tony who stopped on his way to work this morning to record an early flight crossing above the rising sun.

The sun rose in Langholm too, and after another chilly start, we had lovely weather all day.

In the middle of the morning, we had a Zoom with our granddaughter Matilda and her father Alistair. They were enjoying fine weather in Edinburgh too and were both in cheerful form.

On either side of the meeting, we spent a lot of time in the garden distributing compost onto beds in the vegetable garden and surrounding the soft fruit bushes. In addition, Mrs Tootlepedal did some gardening and was active with the strimmer making the vegetable garden look neat so we had a busy time.

I really enjoy the process of composting. It as near as you can get to money for nothing, and everything goes back onto the garden where it came from in the first place. The present lot of compost in Bin A has got a lot of cardboard in it, as we have been composting the the packaging of things that have been delivered during the lockdown. It will be interesting to see if it comes out well.

I did manage to waste spend a fair amount of time grappling with a bumper holiday crossword both before composting and after lunch.

Mrs Tootlepedal went back out into the garden after lunch and I mooched about for a while, trying to think of a good cycling route. I spent so much time thinking about it without coming to a satisfactory conclusion that when I did finally get going, it was too late to do any of the interesting rides that I might have thought of. As a result, I was in rather a grumpy mood about going round a familiar route for yet another time and I wasn’t helped by the fact that my body was in an even grumpier mood than me.

However, grumpy bicycling is better than no bicycling and the wonderful Dr Velo soon began his customary cure. By the time that I had got to Waterbeck on the much improved road from Falford, my spirits had risen and instead of going round in the usual circles, I struck off on the back road to Middlebie and Eccclefechan. This road too has been improved, and there were no potholes to navigate as I went up and down the many little valleys you have to cross on the way, stopping to take a picture or two…

…of spots that caught my eye.

I liked the daffodils on the bank opposite Middlebie Church…

…and I liked that way that the church itself seemed to be climbing the same steep that I was cycling up.

It had some striking red flowers at its gate and a closer look showed that they were an early flowering rhododendron.

I may not know a bank where the wild thyme grows, but I do know a bank which is covered with celandines. It is between Middlebie and Ecclefechan.

When I got to Ecclefechan, I found some early green leaves on show, helping to hide the motorway from my view.

The motorway didn’t really need much hiding as there was hardly any traffic on it today.

I turned off in Ecclefechan and crossed the Mein Water by this handsome bridge…

…just before it joins the River Annan at Meinfoot.

This is a beautiful spot, it was a beautiful day and my grumpiness was long gone. As I pedalled gently along the quiet roads enjoying the sun and the views, I reflected that in spite of not seeing our grandchildren, having a sore knee and a bruised toe and having being stuck at home for a year, life could be a whole lot worse.

Especially when a turn in my route meant that the wind would be behind me for almost all the way home.

I didn’t follow the river to Brydekirk today but turned back towards Eaglesfield, and after enjoying a final view over Annandale…

…I went along the road…

…that would take me down to the valley of the Kirtle Water and eventually back to Eskdale.

I was on familiar roads now so I didn’t take my camera out except to show the welcome view of Whita and the monument which tells a cyclist that they are only a bit over five miles from home…

…and a very fine blackthorn beside the main road at the Hollows.

I got home after 38 miles and the mellowness of my mood could be measured by the fact that I didn’t think it necessary to rush up and down the road to add the two miles to me trip that would have brought up a nice round forty miles. It was either mellowness or the fact that I was pretty jiggered.

Mrs Tootlepedal had been busy while I was out, and had made progress with improving the gravel part of the drive.

Between the compost work and the cycling, I had no time to look at the feeder today. I only took one token picture just to show that birds were still about.

…so the non flying bird of the day is the first butterfly of the year, a small tortoiseshell on a primula, spotted in the garden this afternoon.

For those interested, I have included a map of today’s flat ride and a click on the map will bring up more details.

A final touch

Today’s guest picture comes from our neighbour Liz. She found some fine icicles on her morning walk today. They show how cold it was early on.

As the temperature had dropped a couple of degrees below freezing in the early hours of the morning, Mrs Tootlepedal was happy that she had tried to protect the nascent magnolia buds with fleece overnight. She was less happy to find a pair of jackdaws tearing the fleece to bits in the morning in the pursuit of nesting material. I took a shot of the guilty party!

It was a sunny day from the start though, so the morning soon warmed up. The bright light of the sun behind the feeder made my camera see things in an artistic way…

…but it made it just warm enough for coffee in the garden with our neighbours Liz and Margaret. Once again we were serenaded by a full throated robin.

As well as birdsong, there was colour in the garden as the forsythia has come out and is looking good.

There is potential too and I saw the first hint of dicentra today and the lilac is full of promise.

Apart from socialising, I mowed the greenhouse grass with the hover mower for the first time this spring, but the chief business of the morning was adding a decorative touch to the drive project.

After examining a slab half buried under grass at the far end of the drive, it appeared that it might be broken in a way that would match the broken slab near the road. I dug it up and rolled it along the drive. Then with the help of some first rate teaspoon levelling work from Mrs Tootlepedal, we lowered it into place and found that the match wasn’t too bad at all. Serendipity.

This all took a bit of time and lunch and bird watching took place during the work.

The lunch was Mrs Tootlepedal’s curried parsnip soup but the bird watching was mine.

The sun was on the feeder now and goldfinches were lit up. Here is one looking up just before lunch…

…and here is one looking down after lunch.

When we had finished the slab laying, I had another moment to see a male chaffinch posing…

…along with a female…

…and I noted a welcome visit from a lesser redpoll.

The last one to visit us came in October so it has been a long wait. We would have normally seen quite a few by now.

I couldn’t wait to see if another redpoll appeared, as I was keen to go for a cycle ride while the sun was still shining. Since the wind was blowing from the north, I decided to head north in the hope of being blown home.

The sun was shining in the Ewes valley as I set off up the road, but it didn’t take long until clouds were casting their shadows on the hills.

By the time that I had gone eight miles, I was fed up with cycling straight into a cold wind and turned off at Fiddleton Toll to to follow the Carewoodrig burn along the more sheltered road towards Hermitage.

According to the Ordinance Survey map, I passed Crude Hill, Castlewink and Tup Knowe to my left as I went along the pretty burn…

…and came to Butter Hill and Headless Knowe further along to my right.

The single track road is in reasonable condition and this nice bridge crosses one of the minor tributaries of the main burn….

…which chatters away beside the road.

The valley splits in two at Tup Knowe, with a subsidiary burn coming down a valley from the left…

…while the road I was on climbs up the side of the hill to the right.

This is a steeper hill than it looks in the picture so I went up very carefully in my lowest gear. I enjoyed the view along the ridge when I got near the top…

…but I wisely stopped and turned for home before going any further.

The view to my left as I headed back down the hill was impressive…

…but I had to keep my eyes on the road while I went down the steep hill with even more care than I had come up it.

Still, my hope of being blown home by the wind was realised and I took only slightly more than half the time to get back than I had spent on the outward ten miles.

When I got home, I found Mrs Tootlepedal doing some more work around the front door on the drive project, and after a walk round the garden, where there were new flowers to be seen…

…we went inside and had a cup of tea and some bread and jam.

The cycle ride had perked me up, so when the tea had been drunk and the bread and strawberry jam eaten, I went back out to the garden and started to shift compost from Bin B to Bin C. This is garden compost which has been sitting quietly in Bin B during the winter. It has been working hard at decomposing though, and is in nice condition and ready to go on the garden when required.

A Zoom with my siblings and a ready made steak pie from the butcher for my evening meal rounded off the day. Any day which has sunshine, or coffee socialising, or lawn care, or slab laying, or a cycle outing, or composting is a reasonable day. A day with all of them in it, is an outstanding day.

The flying bird of the day is not alone as it usually is. I thought that I would show some of the abuse that a flying bird may have to put up with as it approaches the feeder. Not everything in the garden is lovely!

The end of the road

Today’s guest picture comes from a couple of weeks ago and shows a rather slanted view. The sunshine will give you a clue that it was taken in East Wemyss by our son Tony.

It was cooler than yesterday here, but it was fine again and the wind was nippy but fairly gentle. We spent most of the day ignoring the fine weather and keeping our heads down as we put in a lot of work on the slab part of the drive project.

We probably went on for longer than was strictly wise, but once we could see the end of the road as far as laying slabs went, there was no holding us back.

This was the end of the road that we could see.

As we have another slab elsewhere in the garden with an almost matching broken corner, we might lay a final slab in the penultimate row. But that will be on another day. When we counted up, we found that we had raised, shifted and laid nine slabs between us today.

We took a long view of the project later on.

(The curious white thing at the end of the drive is the magnolia, partially protected against a forecast frost tonight.)

Now that the slabs are laid, we have still got a lot of work to do in getting the rest of the drive level and neatly gravelled. And Mrs Tootlepedal is going to plant up the new space to the left of the slabs. We are not likely to run out of thing to do for a while yet.

There was not much time or energy left in the day for anything else, but there was a moment to watch the birds at the lunch break…

…and we did manage a walk round the garden at the end of the working day.

We are keeping our fingers crossed that a projected week of frosty nights won’t do too much damage, especially as things are starting to come out, like the climbing hydrangea…

…the pulmonaria…

…and in the white corner, the primula and bergenia.

I have hired a gang of jackdaws to pick the moss out of the front lawn for me and they started work today.

I had carelessly let one of the slabs drop onto my big toe in the course of the works, so to make sure that it didn’t seize up, I took it for a short three bridges walk after we had had a cup of tea.

The Ewes Water, the Esk and the Wauchope are all lined with daffodils now…

…and the Esk has added blossom…

…as well as familiar faces…

…so there was plenty to enjoy on my way to the Sawmill Brig.

Once over the bridge and onto the Castleholm, I could enjoy the lengthening shadows…

…while the sun picked out male flowers developing on the noble fir….

…and lit up the willow flowers at the Jubilee Bridge.

The final few yards of my walk were illuminated by blossom in our friends the Tinkers’ garden, and some bright colour on our neighbour Hector’s flowering currant.

When I got home, I found Mrs Tootlepedal putting the frost protection of the magnolia and that ended our actions for the day.

I did have a moment to take some late bird pictures while I was cooking the evening meal. A greenfinch showed both its hard stare and its appetite for seed….

…and the flying bird of the day is a goldfinch, shot earlier on.

Testing the road

Today’s guest picture comes from my brother Andrew. He knows that I like a bridge so he sent me two for the price of one today.

The forecast had suggested that it might be the first day for ages with only light winds, so I was definitely hoping to wake up with no side effects from yesterday’s second vaccination. When the time came, I opened my eyes and found that all was good; the winds were light and I had no side effects. Bicycling was in prospect.

While she was looking out of an upstairs window after breakfast, Mrs Tootlepedal noticed a thrush on the lawn. Unfortunately, it had gone to the far end of the lawn before I arrived with my camera.

In the end, it took me some time to get organised and get going. The morning was rather cold and I didn’t want to be too cold when I started or too hot in the middle of the day. Of course you can take clothes off as the temperature rises but then you have to carry them around for the rest of the ride. I waited until Mrs Tootlepedal and our neighbour Margaret had settled down for coffee in the garden (with blankets) before I finally pedalled off with just enough clothing to keep me warm but not too much to cook me later on.

It’s terrible being old. In former times, I would have put up with being cold at the start and warmed up as the sun rose in the sky.

As I left the garden, I saw two ducks swimming in the dam behind the house.

Are they making a nest on the stepping stone across the water in the background? Time will tell.

It was a lovely day for a pedal with not enough wind to turn the turbines on the windfarms. Even though what wind there was was against me, it was no problem to ignore it.

My plan was to try out the newly repaired road to Waterbeck. I had ridden over the first resurfaced section last week and was looking forward to a smooth ride the rest of the way today. I was disappointed though, because after that good start, the rest of the road had only been patched and not resurfaced. Experience leads me to believe that patched roads soon degenerate as water gets into the edges of the patches and frost works its mischief. In the meantime though, it was a treat to cycle along a pothole free road for a few miles.

I stopped after ten miles for a snack and a drink and found that the authorities had sent out a low flying plane to check on my whereabouts.

It was very large and really low. The local rooks were most upset.

I had meant to go straight on when I left the village of Eaglesfield and head west for Annan but from sheer force of habit, I found that I had turned left and was heading south. Gathering my thoughts together, I went through Kirtlebridge and under the railway viaduct that crosses the road and the Kirtle Water at the same time.

Once back on the Annan road, I decided to turn off..

…down a road with a fine beech hedge to visit Brydekirk to add another bridge to my journey.

I had crossed the Kirtle Water three times already, but this was the first time that I had crossed the Annan Water.

There is a popular walk from Annan to Brydekirk up one side of the river and back down the other and I did the cycling equivalent of the return journey on the road and soon found myself crossing the Annan Water by the bridge in the town of Annan.

The recent rainy spell had left a fine pond on the upstream side of the bridge…

…which was popular with gulls today, both for resting..

…and swimming.

I cycled through the town and headed along the coast road towards Gretna. Just before I got to Gretna itself, I stopped at my fourth bridge over the Kirtle Water to have a snack. The bridge is undistinguished but just beside it, I saw not only a native ladybird but several fine lichens (I can count four).

There is a well made conduit bringing a field drain into the stream just above the bridge. It would be made from a big plastic pipe these days.

From Gretna, I took the road to Corries Mill and admired the large quantities of celandines along the verges.

All along my ride, I passed carpets of these bright flowers and if I had stopped to take pictures of them all, I would never have got home.

As it was, I had to try a bit harder to get home than I would have wished. The wind changed direction entirely during my ride and I found myself pushing against an ever strengthening north wind as I made my way back to Langholm.

I stopped for a final breather as I passed Hawkshole Farm on my way down to join the main road at Canonbie. I was at the very edge of our hilly country here, and looking down towards the plains round Carlisle.

I got home after 50 enjoyable miles, ready for a cup of tea and a slice of fruity malt loaf.

I hadn’t watched the birds at all in the morning before cycling so I filled the feeder and had a look at them while the kettle was boiling.

It was a time for chaffinches…

…and siskins.

Top poser of the day was a chaffinch.

Although the north wind was blowing, it was a pleasant afternoon and Mrs Tootlepedal and I sat on the new bench outside the kitchen window to enjoy the sunshine while we drank our tea.

Then we had a stroll round the garden. The crocuses are nearly over but new flowers are arriving every day.

I have been trying to take a satisfactory picture of tiny viburnum flowers for some weeks with not much success. I failed again today. But it was a better effort.

The day proceeded with a sibling Zoom and I made myself fried haggis and chips for my evening meal. Mrs Tootlepedal had something a bit more refined.

The weather is due to stay fine but to get decidedly cooler over the next few days with some frosty nights to come. I hope that the garden can take it.

The flying bird of the day is a female siskin.


Getting a pedal and the needle

Today’s guest picture comes from my brother Andrew. He found himself beside the river on a lovely day today. Two geese had the water to themselves.

We had a much improved day here today with no rain and a lot less wind. It was still pretty grey in the morning whenI went off for a cycle ride….

…and Mrs Tootlepedal disappeared into the mists on the Langholm Moor to take part in a small ceremony to mark the completion of the community purchase of the land from the Buccleuch Estates.

The wind was still gusting at 20 mph and between that and my delicate knee, I took things slowly but managed to get round my customary Canonbie circuit and bring up 300 miles for the month. I thought that this was very satisfactory.

A hint of sunshine appeared when I was out of the hills and I was delighted to see the Canonbie cows on my way…

…as well as some lesser celandine and butterbur to show that spring really is coming.

I didn’t stop a lot as stopping is no problem, but starting again puts pressure on knees. However, I couldn’t pass a little European larch that I know of beside the river without checking for a flower and fresh needles. I found both.

Mrs Tootlepedal and I got home at much the same time, and we enjoyed a late coffee before going out into the garden.

Mrs Tootlepedal gardened while I raked gravel on the drive. Then she came to my assistance, and we raked, sieved and washed gravel until lunchtime.

After lunch we went off to the Buccleuch Centre where we received our second Covid vaccinations. This was a prompt and painless affair, though the doctor gave us a severe warning not to get overconfident and start breaking the lockdown rules. I was pleased to see Dropscone there too, getting his shot.

We suffered no ill effects and when we got home, I looked round the garden. It was wonderful to be out on a warm sunny day for once.

The tree peony is getting more exciting every day.

Then we had a cup of tea and watched the birds for a moment or two. When the dead Michaelmas daisies were finally cleared away from behind the feeder, we stuck in some pruned buddleia stems to give the birds some protection from sparrowhawks and a place to perch. They have worked very well, but they are so close to the feeder itself that I don’t have much time to catch the birds in the air before they land on the feeder.

I took a lot of pictures of birds very close to landing as my reflexes are not what they used to be.

However, they do making getting perching portraits a piece of cake. Some birds still prefer the old fake tree though.

After catching a glimpse of a dunnock…

…we went back out and spent quite a lot of time and energy in re-laying four of the drive slabs. The combination of heavy rain and having the car drive over them had caused them to sink slightly. Another two still need adjusting but we felt that lifting and shifting four was quite enough for one afternoon.

It was such a lovely afternoon that when we had finished the slab shifting, I contemplated the middle lawn. I found a blackbird doing the same. I went to get my bird camera and it obligingly waited until I came out again.

While I had my camera in my hand, the first grape hyacinth called out to me…

…a robin sang as loudly as it could…

…and a starling had a think for a second or two…

…before deciding to sit up straight for a picture.

You will doubtless have noticed in the blackbird picture above that the grass has been growing, so I got the push mower out and mowed the middle lawn. To my surprise I collected quite a lot of grass for the compost heap, and I sat on the new bench with Mrs Tootlepedal when I had finished and contemplated life.

It was quite good.

We felt that another cup of tea was in order by this time and while Mrs Tootlepedal went in to put the kettle on, I had a last look round.

The Jetfire daffodils looked good in the sunshine…

…and I saw the first daisies of the year and a promising magnolia bud.

I was thinking of going for an evening walk but somehow, once settled down indoors after quite a busy day, getting up and going out again seemed like hard work, so I looked out of the window instead.

And that concluded the activities of the day.

We are due to have another fine day tomorrow so I hope that we can make good use of it and don’t find ourselves laid low temporarily by the after effects of the vaccination. Fingers crossed.

The flying bird of the day is a chaffinch caught between the feeder pole and the feeder.

Up for the cup

Today’s guest picture shows a colourful bed in the secret garden in Regents Park. It was taken by my sister Mary, and brings a much needed note of colour into another grey day here.

After a second wet and windy night, we had another windy day but not so wet. This was a relief, and I found that the river had actually gone down when I cycled round to the shop in a dry moment in the morning. Mrs Tootlepedal had gone off to be part of a group being interviewed by our local TV station about the community buy out, so I mooched about the house, occasionally looking out of the window to see what the birds were up to.

A flock of goldfinches were busy eating seeds.

This lead to quite a lot of queuing on the fake buddleia.

A siskin preferred the top of the feeder for its vantage point…

…while another got so fed up waiting that it went off to bang its head against the feeder pole.

Under the feeder, the ground crew tidied things up.

When Mrs Tootlepedal returned, I made some lentil soup for lunch and in an exciting change to normal procedures, I used brown lentils instead of red lentils and didn’t put any carrots in. I like to live dangerously.

The forecast claimed that even if the wind was going to keep blowing, at least it wouldn’t rain at all in the afternoon so I went for a walk. The clouds were firmly stuck on the top of the hills and my leg is still not back to full working order, so I chose a sheltered flat route again. In fact, I went round the walk to Broomholmshiels which I had done a few days ago, but this time in the opposite direction.

Because I started along the river, I had the opportunity to spot a wagtail and was forced to take a picture by a blackbird which rushed to the front of a bush and posed furiously.

As I walked along, two bursts of yellow brightened up the grey day.

When I got to Skippers Bridge, there was a fair bit of water running through it, but nothing to write home about. I think that the strong winds have made it feel as though it was raining harder than it actually was.

I saw the first tulip of spring just before the bridge…

…and a fresh looking fungus on a tree as I walked up to the track through the woods after the bridge.

I was wondering if I might have trouble getting across Jenny Noble’s Gill which runs across the track, but when I came to it…

…it was lively but a good step got me across it.

After a last look at the oak wood…

…I came out into the open and passed the fine gorse bush which was looking even better than when I last passed it.

It was so gloomy that I thought that the outbuildings at Broomholmshiels would look better in black and white than in colour.

Instead of heading straight home when I got to the road back to Langholm, I made a small diversion in search of scarlet elf cups. They certainly added a little colour to my stroll….

…even though something seemed to have been nibbling the edges of the cup.

On my way back, the predominate colour was green. There was a mossy wall on one side of the road…

…and plenty of dog’s mercury on the other side.

I hadn’t realised that the leaves were so toothed before.

I took a last shot of a mossy wall exhibiting the full range of available greens…

…and then got home without taking any other pictures worth saving.

I really hope that the wind drops tomorrow as is forecast and that I can go cycling rather than walking because my knees are complaining about the amount of roads to which I have been subjecting them. They would have been complaining much more though if I had taken them up and down the hills.

The day continued with a cup of tea and a family zoom, followed by a bowl of Mrs Tootlepedal’s spag bol for our evening meal. Although the evenings are longer now thanks to the clocks going forward, you wouldn’t have noticed it because of the miserable weather. We are promised some better weather before overnight frosts return at the weekend.

The flying birds of the day are two rooks that were part of a very noisy mob that circled over the garden in the middle of the morning.

In a jam

Today’s guest picture comes from my brother Andrew. He noticed two lambs playing leapfrog on his walk today.

After a foul night of wind and rain, we were provided with a foul day of wind and rain to follow it. On occasions, the rain did ease off to a drizzle but it was still a horrible day.

In one of the drizzly moments in the morning, I walked round to the corner shop, checking on the rivers as I went.

There were no rocks available for wagtails or oystercatchers to stand on today.

One of the riverside trees tried to persuade me that it was a nice spring day with a display of blossom…

…but it failed.

There was really nothing much positive to say about the day or our activities at all. We went to the Co-op, and finding the recycling bins had been emptied, Mrs Tootlepedal drove back and recycled our stack of old newspapers. That was good.

We stared rather glumly at a large puddle on the drive which may mean that some of the slabs will need to be raised a bit. That wasn’t so good.

I filled the feeder and wondered if the birds would be put off by the wind and rain. They weren’t, and quite a few goldfinches turned up.

…and a siskin…

…but as usual, siskins were more concerned with stirring up trouble than getting on with eating.

I had purchased some unseasonable strawberries from Spain in the Co-op and I made five pots of rather runny strawberry jam after lunch. I don’t mind the jam being a bit runny as I use it a sauce on ice cream or to make yoghurt taste more palatable. And it it spreads thinner on bread which makes it last longer.

Landing on the feeder could be a bit tricky in the breeze.

Just standing on it wasn’t much fun either.

A stout pigeon inspected the lawn.

In another of the drizzly moments, I went out for a moment into the garden and saw purple.

I joined the Carlisle Community Choir’s virtual practice for the last session before our Easter break. It is a little disheartening when the only voice you hear is your own. The whole point of going to choirs for a singer like me, is to enjoy pretending that you are helping to make the lovely noise that the choir produces. Singing by yourself makes it clear that it is the others who are making the good sounds.

Still, Mrs Tootlepedal cooked some very tasty mince and tatties for our evening meal and that was by far the brightest thing about a depressing day.

The wind is due to continue blowing for some time but the worst of the rain should be gone by tomorrow.

The flying bird of the day is a chaffinch.