Up to a point

Today’s guest picture comes from our daughter Annie. It shows our granddaughter Evie leading me across the hill this afternoon.

The guest picture takes away quite a lot of the tension that I was hoping to build up regarding whether the weather would lighten up in time to let us get out for a walk. As you can see it did, but it wasn’t very promising when we woke up to another grey day with a bit of rain falling.

The rain had stopped by the time that I walked up to the town to do a bit of shopping, and I could see the tops of the hills clearly as I crossed the suspension bridge. By the time that I came back, I could see a positive panoply of celestial cerulean ahead of me.

The garden birds had brightened up too.

Annie very kindly offered to treat us to lunch at the Buccleuch Centre, and as it was a very sunny day by now . . .

. . . she and Evie walked along, while Mrs Tootlepedal and I drove there in our car. This was not from laziness but because we were going to make an excursion up to the White Yett after lunch. We had an excellent meal, piled into the car, drove up the hill to the car park, and admired the view up the valley when we had got out

We made slow but steady progress up the hill from the Macdiarmid Memorial at the bottom to the convenient bench beside the monument at the top.

There was a nippy wind and it was far from warm, and Evie required quite a bit of heroic carrying by her mother. She did decided that the direct route across the grass and heather would be best at one point and took me with her. She did very well as you can see from today’s guest picture, but it wasn’t too long before, “I can do this myself,” turned into, “Are we there yet?”, and we returned to the track and the help of mum.

It was pretty bitter in the wind on the top of the hill as I took a set of pictures from the summit.

In spite of the chill, we were in good spirits, though Evie sensibly had her head well protected from the wind. (Selfie by Annie)

Evie needed no help getting back down the hill and trotted along at a good speed, leaving old people trailing in her wake.

I took a couple of pictures when she paused for breath every now and again.

Evie, knowing that I like to take pictures of rocks picked up one to show me, and she also spotted some fine lichen on a boulder.

When we got home, we all felt that we had had a fine adventure, and we were quite pleased to be able to sit down and relax after it. Ginger biscuits may have been eaten while relaxing.

Later in the evening, a glance out of the back door showed that it was still a clear day with the moon and Jupiter showing up very brightly.

That might be all the sun that we see while Evie and Annie are with us, so we are glad that we made good use of the afternoon.

The flying bird of the day is a siskin.

A misty pedal

Today’s guest picture is another from my brother Andrew who is staying in London to help my sister Mary for a while. Our other sister Caroline joined them today. Andrew took this picture of Hawley Lock at Camden on a sunny but chilly day in the south.

The temperature crept up a degree or two here this morning and the clouds correspondingly crept downwards so the town was covered in mist when we woke up. It stayed that way and we weren’t tempted to go for an early morning outing. I spent time watching the birds.

Once again, there were a lot of them about but once again, the light was so poor that it was hard to take a decent picture of them. It was all right if I took a long view of things . . .

. . . but if I tried to take a closer look at a flock of siskins arriving, the results tended to be rather blurred birds.

I was pleased to see a greenfinch back on the feeder. They have been very scarce lately.

It was a pity about the poor light as there was more or less continuous action whenever I looked out, with goldfinches, sparrows, siskins, and chaffinches all making many many appearances.

After coffee, there was a move to go shopping. As I thought that Mrs Tootlepedal, Annie and Evie could probably manage that without my help, I went for a bicycle ride.

I was slightly surprised by my keenness. It was only 6°°C and still very misty. I decided that it was definitely a day for my electric bike as I wanted to whizz along as quickly as possible in these conditions. I didn’t commit myself to a route before I found out how misty it was going to be when I got out of town.

I looked back when I got to Wauchope Schoolhouse. The road that I had come along was misty but not dangerously so (you don’t want to get squashed by a quarry lorry). . .

. . . and the road over the hill past the Bloch Farm looked as though it would be much the same . . .

. . . so I headed on over the hill and down to Canonbie, following my usual twenty mile route. I went slowly enough to be able to stop if traffic loomed out of the mist coming in the opposite direction on the single track road.

The cloud did get a bit thicker as I went up the hill past my favourite oak tree . . .

. . . but by the time I was coming down the other side of the hill into Esk valley, the weather had cleared up considerably, and I could see the partially frozen seasonal pond at Tarcoon . . .

. . . and the three trees at Grainstonehead . . .

. . . without having to peer through the mist.

As a reward for getting out on my bike, the three Canonbie cows were standing conveniently near a gate, ready to be photographed.

The flashing light on my helmet caught their eye and they all turned to look at me in a most helpful way.

Apart from today’s header picture, I didn’t stop to take any more photographs on my way home, as it really wasn’t a suitable day for the camera.

I got home just in time for lunch, another helping of Mrs Tootlepedal’s excellent cottage pottage.

The shopping trip had gone so well that there was talk of going out in the car in the afternoon to show Evie some of the hills round Langholm. In the event though, the clouds had not lifted far enough to let anyone have a view of our hills at all, so indoors was the only option. I took the opportunity to make some fairly carefully measured ginger biscuits.

Then I refilled the bird feeder and had another look at the birds. Goldfinches and siskins appreciated the fresh seeds.

Even without the morning mist, the light was no better, so I put my camera away and went off to get some cosmetic treatment at the health centre.

On my way across the river, I confirmed that hills were not available for viewing.

Practising choir songs and playing with Evie took up the rest of the afternoon. Mrs Tootlepedal was in full rustic mode and produced a very good cottage pie for our evening meal. I made a semolina pudding for dessert.

We are keeping our fingers crossed that the promised sun does arrive tomorrow or Evie will think that Langholm is a very dull place.

The flying bird of the day is a siskin.

A quiet day

Today’s guest picture comes from Dropscone. He looked up the other day and found a digger in his garden. (He has kindly allowed the couple who are converting the church next door into a dwelling house to run their drainage through his estate.)

I would like to start this post by thanking the many people who added sympathetic comments to yesterday’s post regarding the death of my sister Susan. She was a remarkable person as you will find if you take the time to look at her blog if you haven’t already done so. She found something interesting to comment on pretty well every week since November 2013, and that takes some doing. To get a flavour of her indomitable character I recommend the series of posts that she did on her middle aged ‘gap year’ when she did a solo tour of the continent in a VW camper van.

We had a very grey day here today, but it was warm enough of get rid of most of the traces of snow and ice from the garden. It wasn’t that warm though and it was drizzly too, so our visitors were happy to find things to do indoors in the morning, with the exception of a very brief excursion to look round the garden.

Evie was impressed by an incipient snowdrop and I was impressed by the survival qualities of the lichen on the drive.

I have spent sometime trying to work what this raindrop on a bramble is reflecting or refracting, but I still can’t make out what it is.

There were lots of birds at the feeder to keep Evie entertained when she looked out of the window . . .

. . . but the light was so poor that it was hard for me to get a decent picture until the birds stood very still.

At one time doves had commandeered the top of the walnut tree, and at other times, small birds had taken over.

It was such a dreary day that we had to keep a light on indoors and I had to be careful not to get the reflection of the light in the way of my attempts to take pictures of the birds. I wasn’t always successful.

I did manage to get to get a shot of a blue tit fetching a seed though

Indoors, an old cardboard box contained a surprise again. You never know when a grandchild is going to pop out of that box.

Mrs Tootlepedal had made a very nourishing broth for our lunch and as it was quite thick, we wondered if it would qualify as an an example of cottage pottage (or perhaps cotage potage).

After lunch, it was nearly warm enough and the rain was nearly light enough to tempt me to get out my bicycle, but the thought of getting damp and cold and perhaps coming upon a surviving icy patch on a back road put me off. I watched as a pack of siskins descended on the feeder . . .

. . . and then went off for a walk. Evie thought about coming with me, but when her mother suggested that this would mean putting on some warm trousers, she thought better of it and I went off on my own.

It was a dark day.

When I went through the park, I saw that the council had removed the hedge round the old play equipment. The hedged enclosure had been rather forbidding before, and even on a gloomy day, it looked a lot more welcoming now.

I walked along the river and then back up to the Stubholm, nimbly skipping over fallen trees . . .

. . . taking in script lichen and wet undergrowth . . .

. . . having fellow feelings about the weather with a rather depressed looking horse . ., .

. . . and finding an unexpected spot of colour by a stable.

I decided to go home by way of Gaskell’s Walk, and I had passed a bush dripping with lichen . . .

. . . and gone down the hill past the site of the old bridge when I received a phone call. Evie had reconsidered the merits of putting on some warm trousers and was taking her mother to the park. Would I care to join them?

Of course. I retraced my steps and found Evie enjoying the delights of the new play area, determined to have fun whatever the weather.

It was just as well that she had the warm trousers on as she had a go at almost everything in the way of swings and roundabouts in both the new and old play areas in spite of some rather wet thinmgs to sit op.

We got home in time for me to have a recorder lesson with our other granddaughter Matilda by way of Zoom. Our granddaughters exchanged cheery digital greetings.

In the evening, Mrs Tootlepedal went out to a practice for the 100th anniversary concert of our local opera group. I had intended to take part in this too but the task of learning the songs off by heart was too daunting for me so I have withdrawn.

We are hoping for better weather tomorrow, but we may have to wait until Wednesday to get a sunny day for our visitors.

The flying bird of the day is an unidentified flying object spotted over the garden in the gloom.

I end by reiterating my suggestion that it is worth a look at my sister Susan’s blog. Pick any month in any year from her archives at random and you are almost guaranteed to find out something that you didn’t know before.

A rather gloomy day

Today’s guest picture is a reminder of sunny weather in London a couple of days ago. It was taken by my brother Andrew.

It is appropriate that the guest picture for today comes from my brother Andrew because it was he who rang me last night just after I had finished my post to tell me that our eldest sister Susan had passed away peacefully in her sleep. This was sad news for all her relatives, as well as her legion of friends.

She had been getting very much worse over recent days, so it was some consolation for us that she had avoided any more suffering. I was personally pleased that I had been able to sit and talk with her during my recent visit. Our thoughts go out in particular to our sister Mary who lives a few hundred yards away from Susan, and who, as well as as well as being her sister, has been her daily friend and companion for many years.

The weather here was suitably gloomy and matched our feelings when we walked to church to sing in the church choir this morning. It stayed that way all day.

It was a bit warmer than it has been though, and the above zero temperatures brought the birds back to the feeder in force.

There was plenty of action but not enough light to get a good record of it.

At least a robin had the grace to stand still a couple of times for me.

I had a quick three bridges walk after lunch before going to Carlisle for a choir practice. There could hardly have been a greater contrast with the sunny walks of the last two days.

With no views to look at, I saw lichen on moss on the parapet of the Sawmill Brig . . .

. . . and I did see a lot of flying birds on my walk, as someone was feeding the gulls as I went along the Kilngreen.

Our choir practice in Carlisle was a little sombre too, as we spent most of the time working on a beautiful but difficult and rather downbeat song.

After the practice, we drove along to Carlisle Station . . .

. . . where we picked up our daughter Annie and our granddaughter Evie from the London train. (For lovers of the Upstart Crow I should point out that their train was bang on time but while we were in the station, another was announced as running very late and a second one was cancelled altogether because of lack of train staff.)

It is lovely to have our daughter and granddaughter with us and it was a reminder than in the midst of death, life goes on.

Today’s flying birds are a small flock of starlings above the garden.

This is an appropriate shot for today as I can well remember standing with my sisters Susan and Mary while hundreds of thousands of starlings formed a great murmuration over our heads at Gretna Green one year when they had come to visit us for Christmas. Susan will be missed.

Still no cycling

Today’s guest picture comes from my brother Andrew. He is in London at the moment and enjoyed a walk up a hill yesterday. to get a view and a breath of fresh air.

We had been promised warmer weather today by the forecast, but it was -5°C again at breakfast time and it didn’t get much if any above freezing all day. I got a kind offer of a guided hill walk from my friend Mark in the morning but I wasn’t organized enough to take advantage of this. I did get organised enough to look out of the window though to see if there were any birds about today.

Once again there were not many about. There were a few more than I had seen yesterday, but there were more starlings on the walnut tree then there were chaffinches around the feeder.

There were a couple of male blackbirds to be seen as well as a single female who made sure that I got her best side . . .

. . . and then stepped forward into the spotlight to take a bow.

I pulled myself together and went for a walk on my own after lunch while Mrs Tootlepedal continued working at her sewing machine.

Although they like the newly trimmed walnut tree, the starlings have not forsaken the holly tree and I saw these two as I left the garden.

Although much of the snow and ice has disappeared, there is still quite a bit about and I fitted my Yaktrax on my boots for a walk up to the Monument. The going underfoot was variable as I walked along the riverside and then up through Longwood..

At the end of the wood, I took the new track up the hill as far as the pylons and then walked up the mountain bike track to the ridge. Luckily no one was coming down the track on a bike so I had a very peaceful stroll, with plenty of opportunities to look round and enjoy the views before I got to the monument.

I was not the only one at the monument as an adult and two children arrived from the opposite direction at the same time as I did.

I walked down the path by the fence on my way to the White Yett, enjoying more views as I went. Looking at the north facing slopes of the hills to my left showed how much the gentle heat of the sun rather than any high general temperatures had been responsible for clearing the snow off the south facing slopes.

I looked around as I went down the hill.

I followed the road down from the White Yett as far as the pines above Hillhead. The sky had clouded over during my walk but it broke through as I got to the pines.

I didn’t go right down the road but turned off above the beech hedges and walked along the hillside to the top of the golf course.

Here I met a neighbour, a keen walker, who had been out for a stroll of her own, and we walked back down the golf course, into the Market Place, across the suspension and bridge and back home at such a brisk pace that I didn’t have any chance to add to the photos from the walk. I enjoyed the company and the conversation as we went along.

I found that I had walked six miles and climbed 1000 feet so I was quite ready for a cup of tea and a slice of toast when I got in.

With three hill walks and a busy visit to London during this week, I was ready for some relaxation now, so abandoning all thoughts of energy economy, I ran a hot tub, added potions guaranteed to cure me of any muscle aches, and had a good soak before our evening meal.

Our daughter Annie is bringing our granddaughter Evie to visit us tomorrow for five days so I hope that the forecast is right this time when it says that it is going to be quite a bit warmer next week.

The flying bird of the day is a male chaffinch.

A toddle and a tootle

Today’s guest picture comes from sunny East Wemyss. Our son Tony wishes to point that they get the moon there too.

We got plenty of sunshine here today, but as the temperature was a measly -5°C at breakfast time, there was no inclination to go outside and do some sunbathing. Mrs Tootlepedal went off to a Langholm Initiative board meeting, and I thought that I would have a gentle morning watching the birds while she was out. A very severe lack of birds thwarted this ambition so I walked up to the High Street to register my new bank card at the cash machine there instead. Although it was still very chilly, it was a lovely morning .

I got home safely, and when the sun crept round to light up the bird feeder and a sparrow appeared looking keen . . .

. . . I thought that my ambition to bird watch was about to be fulfilled.

However, it was not to be, and this was my typical view for the rest of the morning . . .

. . . though there were some starlings perching on the top of the truncated (branchated?)walnut tree.

Giving up on the birds, I made some lentil soup and Mrs Tootlepedal came back in time to join me in testing it out at lunchtime.

As it was still below freezing after lunch, there was no question of cycling and I went for a walk up a hill instead. It had obviously stayed cold in Langholm while I was away in London because there was still a fair amount of snow and ice about. I put on my Yaktrax and headed up the well used track to Warbla.

Although it has been cold, it has obviously been sunny too, because while the track was white the views were mostly green and brown.

I passed some curious sheep on my way to the summit and I had a good look round when I got there. (I made a couple of galleries from this part of the walk, and as usual, a reader with time on their hands can click on a gallery to get the bigger picture.)

I continued over the summit and down the other side of the hill, springing lightly from tussock to tussock as I went, (the technical term for this skill is ‘staggering’) and pausing from time to time to catch my breath and enjoy the views

Although there were lots of footprints in the snow as I walked up the hill and on the first part of the descent, as I got to the rougher ground on my way down, I saw only a single set a footprints coming up the hill towards me. When I noticed that the walker’s boot marks had been accompanied by some paw prints, I wondered if my walking friend Mark had been this way earlier in the day with his faithful hound Henry.

My question was answered in the affirmative when I met the faithful hound taking Mark out for a second walk of the day, this time with Mark’s wife Leila too. Mark and Henry had been up the hill in the morning. They are indefatigable walkers.

I came down to Skippers Bridge . . .

. . . where you might not think that it had snowed at all. All the same, I was grateful to have my anti slip footwear on as I walked home along the Murtholm Track and took the slippery path beside the river to the park. Appropriately for an icy day, the sun was slipping behind the hills as I walked along.

I finished my photographic walk with some neatly outlined bramble leaves and a a chilly look at the river as it flowed past the park.

Although it was still a clear day, the light the light was fading fast by the time that I got in, and as the temperature was beginning to drop well below freezing, I was not tempted to go out again.

In the evening our friends Mike and Alison came round for their traditional Friday visit. Thanks to one thing or another, this was their first visit for some time and I really enjoyed the opportunity to play recorder music with Alison at the keyboard, while Mike and Mrs Tootlepedal caught up on the news. Mike and Alison are going to New Zealand soon to see their son and his family, so we won’t have another musical evening for quite a bit.

I was extremely fortunate to be at the window at exactly the right time to catch one of the very few possible flying birds of the day.

Back in Langholm

We have a first in the matter of guest pictures today. Not only are there four but they were all taken by Mrs Tootlepedal herself during my absence in London. She got quite excited by the possibility of a sparrowhawk perching on the top of the walnut tree . . .

. . . but calmed down when it turned out to be just a pigeon.

Closer to hand, she spotted a blackbird . . .

. . . and a dunnock.

I was still in London this morning, staying with my sister Mary and visiting my sister Susan and meeting some of the team who are helping to look after her.

I had a fleeting meeting after lunch with my brother Andrew outside Kentish Town station as he arrived to stay with my sister Mary and support Susan while I left to catch the train to Carlisle from Euston.

They have installed some very colourful departure boards at Euston . . .

. . . which they mysteriously claim will reduce congestion on the concourse.

As there will be exactly the same number of passengers staring at the new boards as there was at the old boards, I don’t know how this will work. I did like the new boards though. They were very easy to read and my train left on time.

I paid a little extra money to sit on a more comfortable and roomy seat than the standard fare provides, and I had a very smooth journey, chatting away with the other three people at a table of four. They all got out before Carlisle and I was left with a colourful pillar on Preston station platform for company. I took an impressionistic view of it through a rather grubby train window.

Thanks to recent reductions in the number of buses running between Carlisle and Langholm, the last bus had left before I arrived on my train, so I was grateful that Mrs Tootlepedal was kind enough to drive through the cold dark night to collect me at the station. And she had some very tasty fish pie prepared to welcome me home.

No flying bird today, but I hope that there will be one tomorrow.

I am very grateful to the restraint of readers in the matter of comments on recent posts and I hope that it will continue for this post too. Clicks on the like button are much appreciated as gestures of support for the family at this troubling time.

At home

A very brief post today just to say that after a hard day of preparation and some delay, my sister Susan arrived home and was greatly cheered by being in familiar surroundings after the rather alien world of the hospital ward. My sister Mary and I were indebted to my daughter Annie for her help and competence.

Seeing Susan

I went to London today to visit my sister Susan who is in hospital and not very well. If all goes well, she will be discharged home tomorrow, and I am helping my sister Mary with the necessary arrangements.

The journey down . . .

… went with the utmost smoothness, but it was very sad to see my sister Susan lying in hospital.

I am staying with my sister Mary who has provided unstinting support for Susan during her illness, and to thank her, I took her out to a little Italian restaurant for our evening meal. We ate early and it was blessedly quiet. The food was delicious.

Although I know that many readers of this blog also read my sister’s blog and will be concerned about her health, I would ask politely that for once readers don’t comment on today’s post. I will take your good wishes as read. (Click the like button by all means. )

We will be quite busy tomorrow.

A surprise

Just to show that it still often sunny in East Wemyss, our son Tony sent us this picture taken a couple of days ago.

We expected it to be cold this morning, but all the same we got quite a shock when we looked out of the window when we got up.

The snow didn’t discourage visitors though. First Sandy and then our neighbour Margaret and finally our other neighbour Liz joined us for coffee so we had a very sociable morning indoors.

When all our visitors had left, I had a moment to look at the birds. I found that we had quite a lot more visitors outdoors, enjoying the sunshine and not bothered apparently by the chilly temperature.

The feeder was more or less continuously busy . . .

. . . so I filled it up and put out a second feeder. They both became busy even when the sun went in for a while.

Where there is a siskin there is conflict . . .

. . . but the other birds were very conscientious in their tidying up underneath the feeders.

It has to be said that the snow was not very deep but it did seem as though a little walk in the hills might be quite rewarding photographically, so after lunch I put on my boots and set off up our nearest hill. When I looked around, I saw that the sunshine had reduced the snow cover on the hills round the town.

I circled round the side of Meikleholm Hill, avoiding cattle grazing on the path half way up and coming up to the col by a non standard route.

Although the snow was not deep, it was still hard work plodding along, and I was happy to stop for a breather and a view back down the hill before I got to the summit of Timpen.

You can see from the number of footprints in the snow that I was not the first person to try this route today but I didn’t meet anyone else on my walk this afternoon.

When I got to the top of Timpen, I had a good look round.

Because of the cold conditions, I was using my tough Olympus pocket camera to take pictures, but I realised that if I wanted to show a genuinely snowy summit, a zoom lens was needed so I got my little Lumix out of my other pocket and put it to work on some higher hills in the disatnce.

The Lumix’s zoom gets a bit cranky if it used too much in the cold, so I put it away and went back to using the Olympus on my way back down the hill.

On my way down to Meikleholm Hill, I rested for a while while I talked to my sister Mary on my mobile phone. I am going to London to visit her and my sister Susan tomorrow and there were arrangements to be made. It is a sign of the times that I thought nothing of being able to do something which would have seemed miraculous when we first came to live in Langholm when even TV programmes came to us down a wire rather than directly through the air.

While I had my phone out, I let it have a look round too.

I went back down by the other side of Meikleholm Hill on my descent, hoping to avoid the cattle, but they had shifted over during my walk and I had to go round them very sedately, pretending that I wasn’t there.

I didn’t stop to take a picture until I was well past them.

When the cattle were out of sight over the brow of the hill, I took a few more pictures on my way down as the shadows lengthened.

My final picture, taken just before I dropped back into the town, was of a sinewy tree catching the low sun.

I had a wander round the garden before I went inside and I liked the icing on the box ball . . .

. . . and was impressed by how much evidence of avian footfall there was in the snow.

Astute observers will note that I was wearing my Yaktrax on my walk.

After a cup of tea, I had a Zoom recorder lesson with our granddaughter Matilda in Edinburgh which went very well. She had actually practised behind my back. Mrs Tootlepedal is in the process of making a dance costume for Matilda and she was able to show her the progress that has been made so far. Matilda was very excited.

After our evening meal, I put a week of the newspaper index into the Archive Group database. Thanks to the lens problems with the new reader, the data miners have been out of action and I have actually caught up with them at last. My desk is clear. Now that the lens in working properly, I will probably fall behind again quite soon.

As I am going to London for a few days, there may not be another proper post until Friday though I will try to post a quick phone update just to keep my daily posting regime intact. It says it will be -5°C here tomorrow morning so I hope that the bus and train run on time.

The flying bird of the day is a chaffinch at full stretch.