Nothing doing

Today’s guest picture comes from Venetia. I think this must have been a stopping point on her journey north. The offer of tea and cakes seems attractive.

We had a better day here, slightly warmer and slightly less windy. As the sun often came out, it was much more pleasant in the garden too. This was lucky, as I decided to pay some attention to the fact that I was feeling a bit tired and I didn’t leave the house and garden all day. If you don’t like garden flowers and birds, this is not a post for you.

When we checked the trail camera, we were very pleased to find a hedgehog still pottering about in the middle of the night.

We hope it is our mother from the garage, but we will have to wait to see if any hoglets appear.

Inside the house in the morning, Mrs Tootlepedal and I had had a cheerful WhatsApp video call with our granddaughter Evie who was exactly twenty three months old today. Outside in the garden, we had an equally cheerful cup of coffee and a chat with our neighbours Margaret, Liz and Ken. Ken was telling us that he had cycled 60 miles in the brisk wind yesterday. As he is the same age as me and as I thought that it was quite windy enough when I did my twenty miles yesterday, I take my hat off to his determination and staying power.

When I wasn’t chatting online and off, I wandered round the garden taking pictures, and doing occasional small tasks while Mrs Tootlepedal worked at the serious stuff.

In the greenhouse, she pointed out the developing tomato flowers to me.

They look good, but they are nothing compared to an opium poppy which seeded itself in the greenhouse uninvited, but which Mrs Tootlepedal has allowed to develop.

It has developed well!

Out in the garden, I found that a pale astrantia has arrived to join the red one.

I then discovered that Mrs Tootlepedal has been nurturing another one in her cold frame. It has done very well too.

They are lovely flowers, each one a miniature garden in itself.

A bright red geum has come to join the yellow and pink ones already out.

The yellow rattle on the drying green, part of Mrs Tootlepedal’s proposed mini meadow, is getting stronger every day.

She has thrown down some other wild flower seeds but they are not showing yet, and we may have to wait until next year for better results with them.

Foxgloves are beginning to pop up all over the garden . . .

. . . and a melancholy thistle has appeared in the back border among the cow parsley.

We have had a rosa Moyesii near the road hedge for some time. Mrs Tootlepedal took some offshoots from it and planted them in the back border where they are making progress.

There were a few more bees and other buzzers about today but not nearly as many as we would like . . .

. . . and I noticed a letter in the paper today from another a gardener who was complaining that they have no bees in their garden at all. It would be nice to think that the government thought that this was a problem worth worrying about, but I am not confident that they do.

We went in for lunch and I took a moment to check on the birds. Sparrows were very much in evidence among the siskins . . .

. . . coming in from . . .

. . . all sides.

The picture below gives a good idea of the difference in size between sparrows and siskins, but note that the siskin is still airily waving the sparrow away.

After lunch we went back out into the garden where I took a picture of a nectaroscordum siculum . . .

. . . which I find is also known as honey garlic. Since nectar means honey and scordum means garlic, this should not have come as a surprise to me, but it did.

Among the ‘wilder’ elements in the garden, orange hawkweed is just coming into its own, and there should soon be a small sea of orange in the garden . . .

. . . flecked with vetch.

Irises are also turning up all over the place.

I continued to do small tasks until I got the hover mower out and mowed the drying green, greenhouse and vegetable garden areas.

After this, I found that I need a sit down and a snooze on a garden chair in the warmth of the afternoon sunshine. Mrs Tootlepedal gardened steadily on while I dozed.

I woke up and we went in for a cup of tea.

I took my camera out into the garden after tea for a last look round. Sparrows and siskins were whirling round the seed feeder . . .

. . . and starlings were sitting all over the holly.

I went to have a look at the heavily pruned fuchsia on the back wall of the house and was happy to find a few flowers out.

There is life in the old bush still.

That was the last active moment of a very quiet but enjoyable day. I hope that it will have recharged my batteries and given my sore knee a chance to recover.

The flying birds of the day are a pair of ducks flying over the garden in the late afternoon..

Those who wish can choose their own flower of the day from the selection above. I liked them all.

Another pedal, another tootle

Today’s guest picture is another from Paul’s Lake District stay. He found an interesting addition to a tree and an explanation.

We had another mostly grey, occasionally sunny, and always windy day here, although it seemed a little bit warmer when we got up. All the same, we had coffee (and treacle scones) indoors when Dropscone came to visit. He has been playing golf as usual, and he told me that he has qualified for the match play stages of the club’s seniors section championship. This achievement sounds impressive, but he also told me that there were only seven players competing for eight places so it wasn’t quite as difficult to qualify as it might have been.

Before coffee, I roamed round the garden taking in the brilliant reds of the rhododendrons and the poppy on the back wall. The wind and rain has given the poppies a bit of a battering. Alliums, the first philadelphus flowers and a pale pink rhododendron provided a contrast in colour.

This was my favourite garden view of the day.

We had been worried that our weigela, the oldest shrub in our garden, might have been fatally damaged by the frosts but it has recovered well and along with the climbing hydrangea is producing flowers. The red astrantia is getting up to full strength and a new geranium has come out.

I looked up from the flowers to see a siskin on a twig . . .

. . . and then looked down again to find a blackbird passing with a beak full of nesting material.

After coffee, I cycled round to the shop for essential supplies (Friday is cream cake day), and on my way back, I nodded to an oystercatcher standing on one leg beside the river.

When I got home, I mowed both the middle and front lawns. I am adopting a no fertiliser and moss killer policy this year, and letting wild flowers grow where they can. I am still going to mow regularly but not frequently to see what happens.

Looking down from above later on, there was just enough grass growing on the front lawn to make a pattern but the damage done by the pecking jackdaws is pretty plain.

Still, it’s fairly green and Mrs Tootlepedal has trimmed the edges so it doesn’t look too bad.

When I had put the mower away, I had leisure to appreciate the first of the yellow Scotch roses . . .

. . . and a very dark iris in the vegetable garden.

After lunch, Mrs Tootlepedal had arranged to talk to Fred, the film maker, about the community buy out and the moor. As I had not been a part of the group that organised the buy out, I went off for a cycle ride to get out of their way.

The seed feeder had been busy with busy with sparrows today. . .

. . . but I had also put out some mealworms, and when I looked down from an upstairs window while I was changing, I saw that they had attracted the attention of a cautious jackdaw. It circled the bowl three times before taking a peck.

It was still rather windy, though a bit less so than yesterday, and as a result, I stuck to my regular Canonbie route in the hope that after a stiff three miles unto the wind, I might find it less of a struggle when I turned at Wauchope Schoolhouse. This proved to be an accurate assessment, and I enjoyed a helping hand for a lot of the rest of the route, both down and then back home again.

The roads are still rich in wild flowers as the verge cutters have stayed their hand, and it is a treat to cycle through country like this . . .

. . . or this . . .

. . . even with the rush of traffic that you can see in the top picture.

I have been keeping an eye out for the dark green patch of plants in the ditch near the bottom of the Canonbie by-pass and I saw that they had got flowers today.

Mrs Tootlepedal had had a feeling that they might be poisonous and Google Lens tells me that they could be hemlock. This looked like a good suggestion to me when I checked some pictures. I would be happy if someone could share an opinion on this.

Other wild flowers and grasses lined my route back up to Langholm. . .

. . . and a rhododendron at Irvine House made a splendid picture.

I got home in a very good mood thanks to the friendly wind and the profusion of flowers.

As I walked round the garden with Mrs Tootlepedal, who had just finished her interview, we noticed a lone bee on the beans.

The odd weather has left us very short of bees and butterflies at the moment.

In the evening, the day was rounded off by a visit by our friends Mike and Alison. A Friday evening visit from them was a regular occurrence in the good old days before the lockdown, so it was great to feel that a bit of normality had returned. Alison is a pianist, and she and I played flute and recorder duets while Mike and Mrs Tootlepedal put the world to rights.

We hope to meet again next week.

The flying bird(s) of the day is/are any of many simultaneous sparrows seen from that upstairs window.

A grey green day

Today’s guest picture comes from our son Tony who found himself looking up at the first Forth road bridge. It looks rather insubstantial from below.

We had a grey day here, with occasional drizzle, no sun and some strong winds. Our friend Venetia paid us a flying visit for a walk round the garden before heading north for her wildlife holiday in Grantown in Spey. It is a long drive so she was wise to leave early.

I had a quiet morning in, watching an early bird trying to persuade its father to give it a worm.

In fact the blackbird was offering its young some mealworms which I had put out.

They were very popular with the sparrows too.

The mealworms are new departure for me on the bird feeding front and we are waiting to see if they attract any new visitors to the garden. I am hoping that the sparrows will be so grateful for the mealworms that they will stop attacking Mrs Tootlepedal’s vegetables. Mrs Tootlepedal doesn’t have much faith in that idea.

A siskin overshot the seed feeder and looked back to see what he had missed.

While a collared dove perched on the fake tree and looked carefully to see what was ahead.

I found things to do indoors either side of having coffee in the kitchen with Margaret, and then made some lentil soup for lunch. In spite of the depredations of the sparrows, the vegetable garden is now providing salad leaves for lunchtime sandwiches. I had a delicious pate, tomato and lettuce sandwich with my soup.

I had a wander round the garden after lunch and noted raindrops, though not on roses. . .

. . . and then went for a gentle and flat walk. Mrs Tootlepedal, flushed with the success of the drive slab project, levelled off some smaller slabs round the greenhouse while I was out.

I tried not to take too many pictures today and this first one comes from the Baggra when I had already been going well over a mile.

As you can see, there has been a lot of growth and the wild flowers are in full swing. Red Campion is everywhere.

I enjoyed a fine clump of crosswort….

. . . and was pleased to see that the little bit of rain that we have had has refreshed the lichen on the wall beside the track.

When I got to the end of the Baggra, I continued my walk up the track through an avenue of Pyrenean valerian.

. . . and then through the tunnel of trees when I got to the top of the little hill.

I was grateful for the protection that the trees gave me against the strong wind.

Beside the track, a Jacob sheep contemplated life.

I walked along the track as far as the North Lodge and looked up the valley.

I did think for a moment of walking further up the track to Potholm and then coming back by the other side of the river, but it was only for a moment. I would have had to walk back into the brisk wind and the thought of that was enough to direct my footsteps homeward.

I did look over the felled area beside the track before I started home.

It hasn’t taken nature long to cover up the devastation left by the foresters when they cut the conifer plantation down. They don’t seem to be going to replant this area.

I strolled down to the river as I went round the pheasant hatchery. The Esk will need quite a lot more rain before it has a decent amount of water in it. It is till exceptionally low for the time of year.

There were no views to be had in the gloomy conditions and not much photographic excitement either, but it was warm enough out of the wind and it stayed dry so I enjoyed my walk.

The ribwort has enjoyed the weather a lot and there is a large spread of it beside the path round the Scholars’ Field.

It was a humid afternoon and because I had dressed for rain, I found myself a bit overheated by the end of the walk. I must have looked tired, because when I stopped to chat to our friends Mike and Alison as I passed their house, Alison asked if I was all right. I said that I was, but I was obviously a bit unconvincing and she gave me a newly baked rock bun to take home to have with my cup of tea to build up my strength.

It was very good. She gave me one for Mrs Tootlepedal too, but I ate most of it.

I had another check on the birds and as the sparrows had eaten all the mealworms, they were coming for the seed now.

Then we let the day drift quietly to a close without bothering it any more.

The flying bird of the day is another sparrow.

The flower of the day is sweet smelling honeysuckle in our hedge beside the road.

Going to the wall

Today’s guest picture comes from ex archive group member Ken. He came across this very delightful railway scene at Wylam on the Carlisle to Newcastle railway.

We had another grey day in Langholm today, with a hint of drizzle when we went out after breakfast. I had time for a walk round the garden before our visitor Venetia arrived. The theme today is abundance.

Mrs Tootlepedal especially likes those alliums under the silver pear tree. I like everything . . .

. . . but especially the soup plated sized poppies on our back wall. It is hard to pick a winner though.

Our visitor arrived and we went off for a short three bridges walk. Venetia is a regular blog reader and was keen to see some of the places that often appear in the posts.

We started at the church, where Mrs Tootlepedal took her inside to look around, and I watched the man on the cherry picker looking at the back of the church.

He had come down by the time that the ladies re-appeared, and he told Mrs Tootlepedal that there is no shortage of work needing to be done to make things safe.

From the church, we walked along the Esk to the town bridge. The waterside birds put on a good show for Venetia.

We went along the Kilngreen, crossed the Sawmill Brig and then we had a look at the red horse chestnut trees on the Castleholm.

We walked round the new path, admired the noble fir cones, crossed the Jubilee Bridge just as a blue tit emerged from the nest hole in the tree there, and got back home in time for a coffee just as a light drizzle started.

There had been plenty of blackbirds in the garden as usual but today, they were joined by a thrush.

After coffee, we got into the Zoe and set off for a drive to Hadrian’s Wall country.

We had a grand circular tour of about 100 miles in mind, coming home via Kielder Water, but being in an electric car, there is always a tinge of range anxiety even though our gauge was offering us a range of 190 miles as we left Langholm.

We got safely to Walltown Crags on the wall and parked the car to go for a walk. Much to my surprise, I found that there were two free electric charging points in this rather remote car park. This would have been ideal for a charge up while we walked, but unfortunately, I couldn’t access them and the phone reception was so poor that I couldn’t go onto the website to register which I think that I needed to do. There was no advice at the charging point and the lady in the kiosk couldn’t help so we left the car uncharged as we went off.

The walk was a great success. We looked up at the crags . . .

. . . and wondered if we would make it to the top! But there was a good path through a feast of wild flowers . . .

. . . including many northern marsh orchids, brilliant broom, tiny lesser trefoil, and up on the top, a single thyme flower.

The best looking orchid of them all was a spotted orchid. Looking at the internet, this may be a hybrid of the northern marsh and the common spotted.

The walk to the top of the crags was by way of a sheep cropped field . . .

. . . and surprisingly soon, we were looking back down to the wild flower meadow below . . .

. . . and up to the Roman wall ahead of us.

Perched on the top of an escarpment, the wall runs along the edge of the steep slope.

. . . we were just one of several parties of walkers enjoying the sunshine and the great views.

The wall is only a fraction of its original height now but it is still an impressive sight.

This is one of the small turrets that appear regularly along the wall . . .

. . . and of course where there is stone, you will usually find fine lichen too.

The wall has been robbed of much of its sone work over the centuries and this section soon ran out . . .

. . . and we took this as a hint to stop ourselves, and turn back to go to the car.

Some people think that Hadrian’s Wall is on the border between England and Scotland, but as we walked back and looked north over the wall, it was still England and not Scotland that we were looking at.

When we got back to the crags, we were able to look down on a large pond in the old quarry at the foot of the crags and the rolling hills beyond.

We had an ice cream when we got back to the car park and then decided not to complete the large circular drive but to go home by very much the way that we had come, with a diversion to Lanercost priory.

We passed a mile castle at Banks on the way to Lanercost and stopped for a look. Venetia checked an information board showing what the castle would have looked like when it was built . . .

. . . and saw that what is left is only a shadow of the original.

. . . but it was in a beautiful spot with a section of the wall and fine views so we were quite contented.

When we got to Lanercost, we had a walk round . . .

. . . and we decided that we would see if we could visit the ruined section. Sadly another technical glitch got in the way of this plan. Although there were no visitors around, we could only get in if we booked online. I got out my phone and started the process but it was so complicated and required so much information about all three of us that half way thorough, I lost the will to live, and we went and had a cup of tea on the cafe instead.

The fact that they couldn’t let us just write down our names and addresses and pay the entrance fee as there were no other visitors about was a tribute to an inflexible system. We didn’t have to write anything down in the cafe to get our cup of tea.

The cup of tea, revived my spirits and the drive home was a pleasure. We stopped at a garden centre on the way to let Mrs Tootlepedal buy a new hose attachment.

We had had a good afternoon of sunny weather for our trip and our enjoyment was perhaps enhanced a little when we found that it had obviously been drizzling steadily in Langholm in our absence.

Which it continued to do.

Venetia joined in our regular sibling Zoom, and then returned to her hotel. She will visit us for coffee tomorrow before heading north for the rest of her holiday.

We were very grateful to Venetia for giving us an excuse to have a genuine outing, the first for many months, but I am quite tired after two busy days, so I won’t be too unhappy if more rain tomorrow gives me an excuse for a quiet day in.

The flying bird of the day is a sparrow in the evening rain.

A night on the town

Today’s guest picture comes from my sister Caroline. She was in a local botanic garden and was surprised to find a plant full of snails.

Our spell of fine weather came to an end this morning and Mrs Tootlepedal and our neighbour Liz went on a post breakfast cycle ride in a light drizzle. They battled up to Wauchope Schoolhouse against the wind, and came whizzing back at great speed.

While they were out, I completed the Langholm Initiative newsletter and mailed it out to the 700 plus members.

I had a walk round the garden when the drizzle stopped and found plenty to look at . . .

. . . including a new orange hawkweed, a new very red rhododendron, the first of what will be a flood of big daisies (and some old favourites).

It wasn’t very warm so we had coffee indoors with Margaret, which made a change.

After coffee, I went round to the shop and stopped on my way to watch a busy wagtail at the waterside.

The chap who is mending the church has a good head for heights.

When I got home, I dedicated the rest of the morning to turning compost. First I moved what was left in Bin B into Bin C and then I moved almost all of Bin A into the now empty Bin B. Because of the mostly dry weather, the compost has got a bit dry too and it has not rotted down quite as well as I would have liked. I can see that more shifting will be in order, and Bin D will probably be called into action soon.

I had a late lunch, checked the bird feeder . . .

. . . and then considered my options.

It was dry and a bit warmer by this time, but there was a brisk wind blowing so I opted for a walk rather than a pedal. I haven’t been up a hill lately because of my slightly suspect knee, but I felt that it had improved enough to give it a hilly test today, and went off up Meikleholm Hill.

It is not a severe climb but it does go up 500 feet in the first mile and there are sections at 15% to 20% so it was a good test.

I found a rabbit in my way when I got onto the open hill. . .

. . . but I went boldly past it.

My walk was considerably brightened by the many hawthorn trees in blossom on the hill . . .

. . . and if I had stopped to photograph all the ones that stood out . . .

. . . I would still be there now.

Since my knee had passed the Meikleholm test, I carried on and took in Timpen as well. It was so windy on the top that I had to nail down my cap for fear of it blowing away.

It is always worth going to the top of Timpen just to enjoy the views.

The cloud was beginning to break up and it had turned into a good day for a walk, so I headed along the ridge to the Black Knowe before turning back downhill towards the road.

The ridge was shimmering in front of me as bog cotton tossed and turned in the breeze.

From Black knowe, I looked along the ridge to Craig Hill . . .

. . . and wished that I had had the time and the legs to walk the whole way along it.

As it was, I sloped off to the right, and edged my way down the hill towards the square sheep fold above the road.

This was another good test for my knees, with gradients again reaching 20% at times. Elderly walkers will appreciate that going down hill these days is a much tougher task than going up hill.

I noticed a group of hill cattle over to my right . . .

. . . but they were more alarmed by me than I was by them, and they drifted off up the hill, leaving me a clear route down to the gate onto the road.

The going on the hill had been very good as it has been dry enough to harden up the boggy bits, and the road felt very hard under my feet when I got on to it.

The wild flowers in the verges took my mind off any little aches and pains though.

And some had company.

As I had my walking poles with me, I got off the road as soon as I could and took the steep path above the river down to the Duchess Bridge.

I looked at things as I went along . . .

I couldn’t miss the wild garlic which was everywhere. The little yellow flower is an avens of some sort, I think, and it is possible that the plant with the big leaves might be knotweed. If it is, that is very bad, as it is most invasive. I would be pleased if a knowledgeable reader can keep me right.

The path along the river bank before the Duchess Bridge is a delight. . .

. . . but there is so much leafy growth now, that it hard to see the bridge itself. My best chance was to see it reflected in the clear water of the river below.

I was pleased to get home after five quite strenuous miles, and my knees were even more pleased when I sat down for a cup of tea.

I had time for a last look at the bird feeder for the day. . .

…and a much needed shower as it had got quite hot by the end of my walk.

I then settled down to go through the day’s pictures (too many again!), because the day was to end most unusually. My Somerset correspondent, Venetia, is working her way north en route to a wildlife holiday in the north of Scotland. She had got as far as Langholm today and very kindly invited Mrs Tootlepedal and me out to an evening meal in the hotel where she is staying.

Were are pretty sure that this was our first meal out since March last year, and as such, it was a great novelty. The food was good and the conversation was interesting so it turned out to be an excellent re-introduction to real life. We can only hope that the government is paying attention to what is going on, and that this won’t be our last meal out for another year.

The flying bird of the day prefers to remain anonymous . . .

. . . and the flower of the day is an Icelandic poppy.

At last a tootle and a pedal

Today’s guest picture comes from my Lancashire correspondent, Paul. He has been having a holiday in the Lake District and enjoyed a scented azalea garden with an enormous pieris.

I had a full day today and some lovely summer weather to go with it. At the moment we getting very friendly temperatures, warm but not too hot, and often with a cooling breeze on hand. We could do with some rain for the garden but, as they say, you can’t have everything.

The day started with a disappointment. The overnight camera showed that cats had once again managed to evade Mrs Tootlepedal’s security system and entered the garage overnight. When Mrs Tootlepedal checked, there was no sign of the hedgehog or any young in the garage at all. Whether they have just moved out because the intrusions of the cats or whether the babies have fallen victim to the predators is not clear, but it is clear that hopes of seeing a hedgehog family in the garage are over.

Things could only get better after that.

I had a look round the garden before coffee.

A young blackbird was looking as though it was time that someone turned up with something for it to eat.

The red peony is lovely . . .

. . . and a choisya has come out in the bed at the top of the middle lawn. Mrs Tootlepedal is not happy with the state of its leaves but it is flowering well.

I was relieved to find that there were more bees about today, poking about . . .

. . . and getting stuck in.

We had coffee in the garden with Sandy today as Margaret had gone to Carlisle. Sandy is going off on a holiday in England at the end of this week and he was looking forward to it a lot. We are still trying to make up our minds as to whether we should go to London to see Evie, our granddaughter.

In the garden, the care of youngsters was very much to the fore with sparrows and blackbirds getting looked after. I enjoyed a little cameo on the feeder pole by a pair of starlings. It is to be read clockwise from the top left corner.

I had time for another wander round the garden before going to the shop for supplies.

Colourful corners are well established . . .

. . . and the alliums are now nearly all spherical.

On the drying green, the yellow rattle is breaking into flower…

…which is part of Mrs Tootlepedal’s plan for a mini wild flower meadow. Yellow rattle is a parasite which should weaken the grass and give space for other wild flowers to grow.

Lupins are getting bigger and better very day, both the blue . . .

. . . and the white.

I cycled round to the shop past the church, and saw that work on repairing the bell tower has begun.

The metalwork in the tower is in poor shape but the right people seem to have been hired to get the repairers up to the job.

I checked on the birds in the vegetable garden and on the feeder when I got back.

The good weather has been causing me to take far too many pictures and I took far too many again today, so I apologise for an extended post. It is hard to throw them all away.

After lunch, a cheese sandwich with a dressing of Mrs Tootlepedal’s home made vintage green tomato chutney, I went out for a pedal.

After yesterday’s trip with Mrs Tootlepedal, I decided to start in the same direction, but instead of turning left at the top of the first hill, I kept going and pedalled on to Claygate and then went to Harelaw. The verges were full of wild flowers . . .

…and the fields were full of hawthorns.

When I got to Harelaw, I looked over into England across the valley of the Liddle Water . . .

. . . and then plunged down the hill to the bridge that marks the border.

I had hoped to wander around taking pictures but quite a number of people had got there before me so I took some quick shots and got on my bike and puffed my way up the steep hill on the English side.

At the top of the hill, and some way from the actual bridge, is the Bridge Inn, and this had a handy sign showing me what I had missed.

Instead of going straight down the road to Longtown from the Inn, I tacked across country on some very minor back roads, enjoying the scenery and the peace and quiet.

I had stopped to check on the map when I saw a strange looking flower on a stalk. I thought that it was some sort of grass but research tells me that it is Common Bistort.

Common Bistort, P. bistorta, is a vigorous rhizomatous perennial growing to 1m tall. I knew that you would want to know that. It is very pretty.

I enjoyed the north Cumbrian roads on both sides of Longtown and I add some illustrations without further comment.

I was just back across border near Milltown of Sark, when I saw this fine meadow of buttercups.

I came back to Wauchope Schoolhouse across the hill so that I could get three miles of downhill, downwind riding to end my trip and at the same time check to see how the local hawthorns are doing.

Quite well, was the answer.

I got back after thirty two slow, hilly but enjoyable miles in time for a cup of tea and a shower before the regular sibling zoom.

An already good day was then made even better by an hour of playing flute, cello and piano trios with my friends Isabel and Mike. I have been practising a bit, and while far from perfect, I played a bit better than I did at our first go last week.

The flying bird of the day is a siskin…

A song and a definite smile

Today’s guest picture comes from Langholm exile Tom in South Africa, and shows what a garden there can do in mid winter.

Our spell of excellent weather continued today, and the sun was shining as we cycled off to church to sing in the socially distanced church choir. With two sopranos, two altos, a tenor and a bass, we were not a big choir, but we sang as strongly as possible, and in our own way, made a cheerful noise.

We had coffee by ourselves for once when we got home, and then it was time for a wander round the garden.

I actually started by wandering out of the garden and along the dam at the back of the house. The red poppies are multiplying at one end of the house but at the other, the much pruned fuchsia and the much frosted lilac are not quite so showy.

In the garden, the azaleas are doing better . . .

. . . and the first roses have arrived. They are small but very welcome.

I am always impressed by what lengths nature goes to provide interesting looking flowers to keep me entertained.

I noticed a siskin on the feeder practising that ‘over the shoulder’ look that celebrities use when they know that a cameraman will catch them when the look round.

We were standing in the drive when we were nearly decapitated by some low flying swifts who are nesting in the eaves of our house. They swooped in and out with alarming ferocity.

There is a shortage of swift nesting sites, we are told. Some people put up swift boxes but we just have a hole in our house which seems to do the job.

I sieved some compost, did some watering in the vegetable garden and dead headed some Welsh and Icelandic poppies, and then had another wander round before lunch.

Three sets of three blue flowers took the camera’s fancy.

I had used all the compost in Bin C when I had finished my sieving, so after lunch I started shifting the contents of Bin B into Bin C. We have been trying out more cardboard in our composting lately as we have had no dedicated paper and card recycling until this month, and the recycling bins at the Co-op were always overflowing. It was gratifying to find that almost all of the card has rotted down well, especially as we have been putting even more card among the garden waste in Bin A.

We spent some time watching the final stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné bike race. Considering that the winner of the race had a puncture at a vital stage of the race today. and his number one lieutenant actually crashed his bike going down a tricky descent, yet they both got back on and continued as though nothing had happened, you have to take your hat off to the mental as well as the physical strength of these great riders. Roll on the Tour de France.

I checked on the bird feeder to find the usual suspects in residence.

Inspired by the racing cyclists, Mrs Tootlepedal suggested a bike ride of our own after I had attended the virtual choir practice of the Carlisle Community Choir.

While not quite a mountain stage, her route round the back of Whita Hill did contain some climbing, rough tracks and a ford.

It was a perfect late afternoon for an outing.

We started by going through the town and then along the river . . .

. . . before climbing up the hill to Broomholmshiels . . .

…and then onwards up the road through hawthorn, buttercup and cow parsley…

. . . to the bird hide. We finally got some downhill as we dropped into the Tarras valley, crossed the river but then we climbed back up to Cronksbank.

We looked up the Little Tarras valley towards the road that would eventually take us back to the town.

There were plenty of wild flowers to give me an excuse to stop for a photograph.

We cycled happily along the track from Cronksbank to Perterburn and then Mrs Tootlepedal fearlessly led the party across the raging ford that must be crossed to get to Middlemoss and the road home.

We were just over half way round by this time so we stopped under the pine trees . . .

. . . for a snack and a drink of water before climbing back out of the Tarras valley by the track back to the road.

It really was a fabulous evening by this time and there more things to notice by the way . . .

. . . including the little hangers attached to power lines to try to stop the birds of the moor crashing into them.

The views weren’t bad either. The hills are green now . . .

. . . and the light was good.

We had one last hill to climb as we went up to the White Yett before rolling back downhill into the town. . .

. . . but fortunately this is one of those very rare hills which are a lot easier to climb than they look. There is something about the gradient here that makes pedalling uphill a pleasure.

At the top of the hill, we found film maker Fred busy setting up for filming and recording the dawn chorus on the moor tomorrow morning. We arranged to meet him again next week and then freewheeled down the hill back home.

At just under ten miles, there can have been few better ways to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon than this on leisurely scenic ride.

It was exactly time for our evening meal when we got home, so we had organised things well. It was definitely a day on the credit side of the great ledger of life.

The flying bird of the day is one of the siskins at the feeder with a little mayhem in mind.

Hedgehog update: Unfortunately, Mrs Tootlepedal’s cat defences were not up to the job of repelling unwanted visitors last night and we saw two cats in the garage when we checked the trail camera footage this morning, and no sign of the hedgehog. Mrs Tootlepedal has strengthened and narrowed her defences tonight and we will check the camera tomorrow. If there is no sign of the hedgehog on it, we will check the nest itself.

Very quiet

Today’s guest picture comes from our friend Bruce who is over in the east. He visited Chillingham castle and found a display of McLaren cars. I would have loved cars like this when I was young but now they just look difficult to get in to and impossible to get out of.

We had a very pleasant summer day here today, but I failed to make optimum use of it. I found that I was rather tired when I got up and I never really perked up at any stage.

I did manage to get out for a walk round the garden before coffee. I was impressed by how healthy the hostas are looking . . .

. . . and there were plenty of flowers enjoying the sunshine.

The deep red peony is looking gorgeous . . .

. . . and it shouldn’t be on its own for much longer.

I don’t usually take pictures of other people’s flowers without permission, as it feels a bit like stealing, but I made an exception for one of Kenny’s lilies, planted on the far bank of the dam behind the house. It is so close to our house that it feels as though it is quite at home.

I had filled the feeder, and I found a goldfinch visiting when I looked out of the window after I had gone inside to brew the coffee.

One of the few benefits of the lockdown has been the way that it has got us used to having coffee outside in all weathers. Today we sat on the lawn with Margaret, Liz and Ken and enjoyed the beautiful conditions when in times past, we might well have all been sitting indoors looking out at the weather through a window.

After coffee, I looked at Mrs Tootlepedal’s mini meadow on our drying green. The yellow rattle is coming on well.

I had been reminded by a picture in the New Hampshire Gardener’s blog that we have a red horse chestnut tree on the Castleholm. His was out, so I thought that I would walk round before lunch to see if ours was out too.

I saw a selection of birds by the water as I walked along the Esk . . .

. . . but there were far too many visitors at the Kilngreen to see any birds there. I took a picture of one of the new electric car charging points which are being installed, but not yet in operation, there.

I crossed the Sawmill Brig . . .

. . . and found the the red chestnut trees were flowering. I think that I was a day or two early to see them at their best.

I walked round the new path and noted the progress of the cones on the noble fir…

…and another conifer trying to break the record for most new cones on a single branch.

Although the Kilngreen had been busy, the path was very peaceful and I hardly saw another person as I walked along.

I admired the fine tree at the Jubilee Bridge…

. . . and I was very pleased to find a pair of blue tits very busily taking food into the nesting site in the trunk of the tree.

This nest hole used to be home to families of nuthatches. I took this picture in 2017, the last time that they were here.

nuthatch

In recent years, blue tits have moved in.

In spite of missing the nuthatches, it was good to see the blue tits because there was a recent report saying how badly they have done in the very cold spring this year.

I left the blue tits to their task and walked on to the Duchess Bridge.

On an earlier walk this year, I had noticed a lot of wild garlic plants growing beside the track up the other side of the river past the bridge. I took this picture on May 4th . . .

…and I wondered if the garlic had flowered, so I crossed the bridge, walked up the path and had a look..

It has.

The smell was glorious too.

I walked back down to the scholars field and tipped my hat to the wonderful corydalis that grows improbably out of the wall there . . .

. . . before getting home for a late lunch.

I had many possible plans for the afternoon but none of them matched sitting around watching a bike race with Mrs Tootlepedal for a hour or so and then getting as far as the garden but not to do anything more useful than sieve a batch of compost before taking a few pictures . . .

. . . and then going back in again.

Mrs Tootlepedal had been shopping and bought me some strawberries at a very reasonable price. As I had bought some sugar myself on an even better offer on a previous visit, I made them both into some strawberry jam.

And that was the sum of a day which should have been ideal for more interesting or energetic activities. You can’t win them all though.

The flying bird of the day is a passing jackdaw . . .

. . . and the flower of the day is sweet rocket.

Hedgehog update: the trail camera took pictures of the mother pottering around the garage last night but it also spotted an intruding cat which was most unwelcome. Mrs Tootlepedal has narrowed the gap into the garage and hopes that cats can’t now get in. We have put the camera out again so I will report back tomorrow.

Getting around

Today’s guest picture comes from my eldest sister Susan. She has been visiting my younger brother Andrew for a couple of days, and came across these striking pansies when they stopped for a coffee on an outing.

We had a fine day here, made all the better by reports from my sisters of a very rainy day down south.

I had a walk round the garden after breakfast, and enjoyed the latest addition to the stock of blue poppies.

The first peony is doing its best to come out but it is taking its time.

At coffee time, it was rather breezy and a bit cloudy, As it was only 15°C , Dropscone brought his traditional Friday treacle scones into the kitchen, where we ate them in comfort while we drank some Nicaraguan coffee.

When he left (with some rhubarb as he loves a rhubarb crumble), I set about mowing the drying green and the greenhouse grass. I am trying to strike a balance between keeping it neat and letting the daisies grow and I felt a bit guilty as I beheaded a good crop of wild flowers. They will grow back soon enough though.

I sieved a bit more compost and then had another stroll round the garden. The sun was out again by this point and it was a beautiful morning, and not too hot.

The first rose is almost out . . .

. . . but lots of other flowers are in rude health.

I was checking the plum tree for potential plums (quite a few), when I noticed this outbreak of resin on a branch. It is probably not a good thing to see on a tree but it looked very pretty.

Then I had to go in and do some more work on the newsletter for the Initiative. I produced a provisional version and sent it off to the boss for approval and amendment if necessary.

After lunch, I (just) managed to avoid being tempted to watch the cycle racing with Mrs Tootlepedal and went for a cycle ride of my own instead.

It won’t be long until the hawthorns on the bank a couple of miles from the town are out. They make a grand sight and it was very disappointing when the late frost killed off all the blossoms last year.

Like yesterday, a stiffish breeze was blowing in my face as I pedalled up the Wauchope road, but this time I kept to my plan and pedalled on into the wind towards Paddockhole. The lovely weather as I looked back when I had passed the turn off that I took yesterday . . .

. . . may have played a part in my decision. It was no hardship to be out on a day like this.

Two bulls watched me go slowly up the hill.

I stopped after ten miles for half a banana and a rest. It had taken me very nearly an hour to get there. There was plenty to see as I looked around…

. . . and I added the clump of stitchwort in the long grass beside the road a bit further on as an excuse to have a breather on the way up the steep hill from Paddockhole Bridge.

From Paddockhole, I took the road that follows the Water of Milk to its source. It is a green and pleasant valley.

I was going steadily uphill but I received help from the wind for this part of my more or less circular trip. As you can see, the turbines at the Crossdykes windfarm were pointing straight behind me, always a welcome sight.

The windfarm is right at the head of the valley . . .

. . . and the nest step is over the little col and down into Eskdale.

My way was made easier by a group of workmen patching the worst potholes in the road. Building the windfarm has led to quite a bit of damage and the repairs are very welcome . . .

. . . thugh a complete resurfacing job would have been more welcome still.

The wind was still helping a bit as I sped (relatively speaking) down the road from Bailliehill to Enzieholm and I enjoyed the pungent aroma of the wild garlic before getting to the bridge at Enzieholm and the bright patches of clover after it.

Looking across the river as I got near to Bentpath, I was struck by the neat work in a field among the trees on the opposite hillside.

It is hard to resist the temptation to take yet another picture of Westerkirk Church and the bridge over the river at Bentpath, especially when the sun is shining.

Not so long ago, when commercial forestry trees were felled, the foresters stripped all the branches off the trees and left the brashings in place as the trunks went off to be processed. These days absolutely everything is cleared off.

It will be replanted I am sure, but it makes for a brutal landscape in the meantime. What the long term effect on the soils of the hillsides will be is anyone’s guess.

The scene was more peaceful when I got nearer to Langholm and looked down to the river . . .

. . . and enjoyed the sight of the may blossom on this side of town finally out now that June is here.

I only managed a very moderate average speed for my trip, thanks to the slow start into the wind, but I thoroughly enjoyed the 26 mile outing all the same.

When I got back, I phoned our friend Alison Tinker and her husband Mike very kindly brought round a book on hedgehog behaviour. While Mrs Tootlepedal showed him things of interest in the garden, I had a last look round.

I love the middle lawn in the shadow of the walnut tree on an early summer evening.

. . . and the patch of wild buttercups in the vegetable garden back bed glowed in the sunshine.

I would have liked to go for a walk down to the river, but there was a family Zoom and more work on updating the subscriber list for the newsletter top be done instead. You can’t have everything.

The flying bird of the day is a busy starling responding to the incessant demands of its young . .

. . . and the flower of the day is a fine rhododendron growing old and losing its colour gracefully.

Footnote: the trail camera caught the hedgehog roaming around the garage last night . . .

. . . and as a result of reading the book from Alison, we have left the garage door open tonight so that it can go out and forage. We have also put food and water down in the garage. We await developments.

An unexpected visitor

Today’s guest picture shows Tony’s dogs enjoying some of that eternal sunshine in East Wemyss.

After our mini heatwave, we returned to more sensible temperatures here today. If the sun had shone, it would have been perfect, but it turned out to be cloudy all day and we had to have a jumper on for coffee in the garden with Margaret.

After breakfast, Mrs Tootlepedal got busy in the garden and I went off for a routine visit to the Health Centre. I couldn’t walk across the suspension bridge so I cycled the long way round over the town bridge and stopped to do some shopping on the way back.

I had time for a walk round the garden when I got back. We have been a bit worried that the walnut tree might have been badly affected by the long frosty spell as it seemed reluctant to show any leafs. However, in the last few days leafs have been appearing . . .

. . . and we think that things may be all right after all.

Currently the Japanese azalea is definitely the king of zing . . .

. . . but when it comes to sheer volume, the cow parsley carries off the crown. It is now taller than me.

Fresh volunteers have arrived to join our small army of flowers in the shape of fancy dicentras . . .

. . . and a host of flowers on the frost damaged white potentilla.

The Veronica is shooting up boldly…

. . . and the back path is a sensory treat.

Of all the plants in that picture, Mrs Tootlepedal is currently most pleased with the red potentilla which is doing far better this year than it has ever done before.

The whole bush is good and the individual flowers are lovely.

I didn’t have any time to do anything useful in the garden this morning though as I have been volunteered to produce a newsletter for the Langholm Initiative as the usual editor has moved on to another job. Rather surprisingly, everyone who was asked to provide a contribution has provided it on time, so I had no excuse to delay.

The newsletter is produced on a program that also mails it out and uses a preset template. It took me some time to find out how everything worked. The previous editor had sent me some comprehensive instructions so after a while I began to get the hang of it and started to add content. It is a few years since I have done something like this, and reading instructions always makes my head hurt these days, so I was happy to break off and have coffee.

After coffee, I had another walk round the garden to put off the moment when I had to go back to the newsletter.

I had been sitting beside these alliums as we sipped and chatted.

The azaleas are coming on a bit more every day . . .

. . . and Mrs Tootlepedal noted that one has made new shoots from the base of the plant and they are flowering too. This is a bonus.

In spite of the red and white potentillas being well out, we have only just seen the first flower on the common yellow flowered bush.

There were too many other flowers for them all to get a frame of their own.

I went out to talk to two dog walkers who had stopped at the dam, and we wondered whether there were any tiddlers about. When we looked, we saw that there were dozens swimming against the current just above the bridge..

Back in the garden, our plastic heron was keeping an eye on the tadpoles in the pond.

I did a bit more work on the newsletter and then we had lunch.

After lunch, I went cycling. I should have gone in the morning when it was less windy and brighter as I had a real battle to get up the road against a very gusty wind, and there was a hint of rain in the air to make things even less welcoming.

My original route plan would have required me to cycle ten miles straight into the wind. As I couldn’t even average ten miles an hour, I gave this idea up after three miles and turned left and headed down to Canonbie, finding the wind now across at worst and sometimes quite helpful.

I think we are pretty well at peak cow parsley and the roads were lined with silver which brightened up a dull day.

The open moor at the Kerr was covered in bog cotton . . .

. . . so in spite of the grey weather, it was quite a cheerful ride.

The farmers have been quick to use the week of good weather to get their silage cut and stored, and I found only one field where the grass was still on the ground. A tractor was putting it in rows ready for baling as I passed by.

On a narrow road near Glenzierfoot, I had to stop to let a car pass, and then I had to stop again a moment later and stand in a ditch as it backed up towards me to let another car past in the opposite direction. Since I don’t usually see any cars on this road, this constituted a major traffic jam.

While I was in the ditch, I found myself standing beside some horsetail.

The way back was better than I expected. The wind was very kind and I actually went slightly faster back up the hill to Langholm than I had come down.

There was a continuing hint of rain in the air so I didn’t stop, except to take a picture of that drawback to life as an asthmatic cyclist in the early summer, grass pollen.

When I got home, it just in time for a cup of tea and a review of the last few kilometres of the Critérium du Dauphiné bike race on Mrs Tootlepedal’s tablet. It was a most exciting finish to the stage.

Then I had a final go at the newsletter for the day and made good progress. I have found out how to add pictures! I am hoping that I will be finished tomorrow.

The chief excitement of the day was kept for the evening. Mrs Tootlepedal heard mysterious snuffling sounds in the corner of the garage when she went to shut the door for the night. Further examination revealed not just a hedgehog hidden behind a mound of plastic sheeting, but a nest of little baby hedgehogs too. How the hedgehog got in there when the door is shut every night is a mystery, as is the questions of what it is living on. Mrs Tootlepedal has put down food and water and we hope that we haven’t disturbed the mother too much

The flying bird of the day is a siskin . . .

. . . and the flower of the day is a cornflower.