A noble outing

Today’s guest picture comes from our son Tony, and shows a platform having a holiday at East Wemyss.

After a frost free night, the morning had a familiar feeling about it involving sunshine, a crossword, compost sieving, coffee and conversation with Liz and Margaret in the garden, daffodil dead heading and wandering about taking pictures.

New tulips are arriving from time to time to add to the variety of colour in the garden…

…and gooseberry flowers have joined the tree peony and amelanchier ( I have thrown in a cowslip to complete the panel).

…but although they are trying, the trout lilies don’t seem to be likely to recover from being frosted. They are a sad sight.

I had sardines on toast for my lunch and, pepped up by them, I went for a short walk before the virtual choir practice.

I went to check to see if the bluebells were out properly yet, and found that they are coming along but are not at their best yet.

As they arrive, the blackthorns are fading.

I walked up to the Kernigal wood , passing new leaves on a tree…

…and a rather faded view of Timpen on my way. The light was strangely muted today.

I walked up through the wood and then round the edge of a clearing. There was plenty to look at on the way.

I crossed onto the open hill above the clearing and found myself in a very nice little wood as I walked along the lower slopes of Warbla.

I came to the track that I had followed down from the top of Warbla last time I walked on the hill, and this took me down to Skipperscleuch. More new growth and some very dried out fungus added interest.

I arrived at Skippers Bridge, and since my cello playing friend Mike is very interested in the river levels, I went down to the waterside to take a picture of the extremely low water for him.

The scene was so peaceful that I sat on a rock under the bridge and rested my legs for a while.

Looking up, I could see the join where the bridge was widened in 1807.

If it hadn’t been for the call of the choir, I could easily have sat there longer and had a little snooze, but after a while, I scrambled back up the bank and took the walkers’ path up to the old railway line and then the Round House.

From there, I took the track back to town and since I had a little time to spare, went past the Kilngreen where the ice cream van, a gathering of motorcyclists and a Covid testing station made for a busy scene.

The fenced off area in the foreground will become a charging station for electric cars sometime in the future. The bases have been fitted but there seems to be no rush to put the chargers in.

The large numbers of people about didn’t make it good for watching waterside birds so I walked over the Sawmill Brig and went round the Castleholm looking at other things. There were more signs of spring.

I was chiefly interested in looking at the noble firs at the corner of the new path. They are related to the Korean Pines that I saw on a recent cycle ride. They were well worth looking at today with the male flowers busting out all over.

A few cones have started to develop too.

A lot of people walk past these trees without noticing them at all. I would have done so myself in times past. Getting a good camera and learning how to stop and look has been a great boon to me in my retirement.

I crossed the Jubilee bridge and noticed a bee and some speedwell beside the path round the Scholar’s Field.

I got back just in time for the choir practice. This was an interesting experience, as at times we were practising new music which I hadn’t been sent. Although I am a fair sight reader, reading music that I didn’t have is a skill that was beyond me. We sang songs that I did have the music for as well and I enjoyed the session.

It was still a lovely day when the practice had finished and after a chat on the phone with one of my recorder paying friends who had been at the Zoom meeting, I went back out into the garden and enjoyed the early evening light.

I hadn’t had time to look at the birds so I took a quick peek at them…

…but it was one of those days when I just couldn’t move my shutter finger at the right time and I gave up in the end and went and had a cup of tea with Mrs Tootlepedal sitting in the warmth of the greenhouse.

We seem to have come to the end of this run of cold nights and lovely sunny days, and we are coming in to a spell of cold nights and cloudy days for next week, with more frost on the cards for the end of the week. Notice the chilly nights. The weather people have said that it has been the driest April for some time but also the coldest. The poor flowers must be wondering what is going on. Still, they say it might rain tomorrow afternoon, and this would be good.

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

Taking to the hills

Today’s guest picture comes from my brother Andrew. He came across the River Erewash on a recent walk. It was a peaceful scene.

I almost wrote that we had another frosty night followed by a sunny day our of sheer force of habit, but as it happened, we didn’t have a frosty night at all, but we did have another sunny day.

The morning was spent in customary fashion for these dry sunny days. I dead headed daffodils, sieved some compost, went to the shop and had coffee with Liz , Margaret and Mrs Tootlepedal in the garden. Time passed pleasantly but uneventfully.

As usual, we were surrounded by blackbirds singing loudly all morning…

…and there was quite a lot of the buzzing of the bees too. The dicentra is always a bee magnet.

Although you can see that a bee visited a trout lily in the panel above, the trout lilies have suffered badly from the frosts. They were looking very strengthy when they first put out their flowering shoots, but both leaves and flowers have got quite depressed since then.

Tulips have done a bit better.

Last year the late frost killed off all our azalea flowers, so we are keeping our fingers crossed that they get a better break this year. They are looking promising…

…and the morning frosts have been keeping the willows in a state of suspended animation, but they are showing promise too now.

There were birds about. I liked the sight of a chaffinch perched among the plum blossom…

…and a passing rook frightened the little birds away for a moment.

Mrs Tootlepedal topped up the water in the pond and this encouraged the tadpoles to swim about.

…and pond skaters skated.

After lunch, cycling was the preferred option for both Mrs Tootlepedal and me. Mrs Tootlepedal and Liz went off on an adventurous eleven mile journey including a bumpy farm road, a stiff climb, a forestry track and beautiful views.

I took a more round about route starting in the same direction but taking in the Water of Milk valley…

…the Crossdykes windfarm with turbines coloured by sunlight and shade…

…and the road to Eskdalemuir by way of Castle O’er.

This road follows the course of the White Esk, up a valley that starts narrowly…

…and gets wider as it goes along.

This used to be my favourite road but the surface has suffered badly during the winter months and it is positively dangerous for cyclists now in places.

Still, I got to Eskdalemuir unharmed and enjoyed the view of the river coming from the north…

…while I crossed the bridge…

…and headed south myself.

There are two old stone circles beside the river near Eskdalemuir, part of the Eskdale Prehisoric Trail. I had seen one from the other side of the river on my way up. You can see it in the top left corner of the panel below. It is called the Girdle Stanes. I parked my bike and crossed an alarming stile to visit the other. It is called the Louping Stanes, allegedly because young men would show their daring by leaping (or louping) between the two largest stones.

Why there are two circles so close to each other is a mystery.

Shortly after I had left the circles, I came to the Crurie Brae, a steep climb with a starting gradient of 10%. I took this at walking speed, but cycled the whole way up, and then enjoyed the reward of the long steady descent back down to the river at Enzieholm.

The road crosses the Esk there, and I stopped to take a picture of the river…

…and the bridge.

The water was so low that I had hoped to be able to walk under the bridge and take a picture from the sunny side. Alas, a cunning farmer had put a temporary fence under the bridge to stop enterprising sheep with the same idea. The best I could do was to look up when I got directly under the bridge.

From Enzieholm, it was only seven and a half miles back to Langholm and my legs were pleased about that because it had been a hilly ride.

I enjoyed a look back at the Esk as I started to climb the final hill before home….

…and I enjoyed the whizz back down the hill into the town even more!

Mrs Tootlepedal was nowhere to be seen when I got home, and it turned out that she had combined going to fetch some seed potatoes from our friends Mike and Alison with drinking a glass of their wine, a good reward for her hilly cycle ride.

As I hadn’t watched the bird feeder much during the earlier part of the day, I took a few minutes before our evening meal to have a look.

There were a number of redpoll about. The bright red chests are a sign that it s their mating season.

A chaffinch flew in out of the sun in the face of siskin rudeness.

And a siskin and a goldfinch had a small disagreement about perch priority.

We should have another unfrosty night tonight which will be welcome, and there is wild talk in weather forecasting circles of as much as half a centimetre of rain early next week. We will only believe that when we see it.

The flying bird of the day is a morning siskin.

Taking it easy

Today’s guest picture comes from our friend Gavin. His phone reminded him that he had taken this picture of two cheerful walkers resting on a bench by the river seven years ago. We were much younger then.

New Grandparents

The caption on Gavin’s picture reminds us that our granddaughter Matilda has now just turned seven and that we haven’t seen her for over a year. We are not so cheerful about that.

After yet another frosty night, we had yet another sunny day. Although we definitely need rain, it is going to come as a shock to the system when it finally arrives after such a fine spell of sunshine..

Since I have had some energetic days lately, I had a quiet day today, doing very little in the morning except drinking coffee with our neighbours Margaret and Liz, and wandering around the garden doing nothing useful at all.

I did take a picture or two as I wandered.

Flowers that have been keeping their heads down are now looking up a bit more each day.

Tulips are the featured item in the garden at the moment as the daffodils are fading away.

The magnolia at the front gate…

…has come through the frosts much better than looked likely at one time, and it has some fine flowers.

I had a look at the birds when I went for lunch and saw a chaffinch keeping a wary eye out.

The small birds need to keep an eye out as the sparrowhawk has been visiting a lot. No doubt it has a family to bring up too. Later in the day Mrs Tootlepedal saw a pigeon use a very nifty sidestep to avoid being snatched up.

After lunch, I pottered about again and spotted a butterfly and a bee.

Then I went to have a look at some noises in the dam. Sparrows were playing about while a starling watched and tried not to get splashed.

The starling thought long and hard about having a dip itself. and shifted from foot to foot before diving in, coming up for air and then having another go.

Mrs Tootlepedal was too busy gardening to come for a bicycle ride today, so I went for a gentle walk by myself.

I chose an extended three bridges and took pictures of them all.

The view of the Town Bridge shows just how low the water in the rivers is at the moment.

On my way up to the High Mill Brig, my next bridge, I passed blackthorn beside the main road, lichen on a concrete fencepost, sunbathing mallards on the Kilngreen, and a nice patch of wood anemones beside the Ewes Water.

For some inexplicable reason, the High Mill Brig was in black and white when I got to it today.

As I walked round the field towards the Baggra, I could see larches adding fresh green colour to the wood on the other side of the river.

At the far end of the Baggra, there was an outstanding display of blackthorn blossom.

I was doing two thirds of a walk which I did on a wet and windy day a few weeks ago. It was very different walk today with the track up Castle Hill being as dry as a bone…

…and peacock butterflies warming their wings on convenient stones along the track.

There must have been something in today’s weather to trigger their appearance as I saw at least a dozen as I walked along.

It was hot enough today to make me grateful to get a bit of shade when the path went into the wood along the side of Castle Hill, but equally I enjoyed the view when I came to a clearing.

Going down through the clearing to the Langfauld track, I could definitely see some hints of early greening among the young trees…

…and this is welcome even if it is a bit late.

I enjoyed a selection of wild flowers on my walk including violets, a vinca, an early patch of bluebells and some primroses hanging on well.

There was a more than a hint of colour on some trees…

…but all the colour was still on the ground in the shape of celandines round this one on the Castleholm.

I scrambled down the river bank to take a picture of my final bridge…

…and happily, I managed to scramble back up again (with some difficulty).

In keeping with the gentle theme of the day, my five mile walk took me over two hours and it was so warm that I had to take my jumper off as I went round.

In fact, it might have finally got warm enough for there not to be another frost tonight. We shall see.

I got home in time for a cup of tea and the regular sibling Zoom before adding a gentle evening to the gentle morning and gentle afternoon.

The flying bird of the day is a female chaffinch.

Going out with Mrs Tootlepdal

Today’s guest picture comes from our son Tony in sunny East Wemyss and features a sea bird and some seaweed….and some sea.

Disappointingly, we had another sub zero night so that things are still developing very slowly in the garden in spite of sunny days. We had another very sunny day today and by mid afternoon, it was almost hot.

The morning warmed up quite quickly and Mrs Tootlepedal spent most of it in the garden and the greenhouse. I wandered about in my customary fashion, doing some compost sieving and daffodil dead heading, while taking pictures to pass the time.

There is very little new in the garden because of the cold nights, but a dicentra, which has been hiding after poking its nose out a few weeks ago, decided that it was warm enough to have another go today.

New tulips are coming out too and well established ones are opening out well.

One of those tulips is a cowslip. I like to keep readers on their toes.

The grape hyacinths haven’t done as well as we might have hoped…

…but somebody loves them.

I had a look at the dam behind the house and found that our neighbour Kenny has got some very fine large marsh marigolds growing in a little water garden that he has made, and we have got a little outbreak of dainty Lady’s Smock on our side of the water.

The star of the morning was one of our resident blackbirds.

After lunch, gardening was put on hold while we went cycling.

Mrs Tootlepedal had arranged to cycle up to Wauchope Schoolhouse with our neighbour Liz, and she invited me to join them for the outing. As I do most of my cycling by myself, it was a pleasant change to have a social cycle and we had good time chatting and pedalling along. At Wauchope Schoolhouse, the ladies decided to add an extra couple of miles to their trip by going up to Cleuchfoot and back before heading home. I left them to it and set out to complete a larger circle on my own.

I went over Callister and was going to take a scenic picture up the Winterhope valley on the other side but was distracted by a curious calf…

…and took a picture of Falford Bridge instead.

I turned off at the bridge and went through Waterbeck and then visited Middleble again. There is a steep climb into the village so my bicycle was happy to make use of a handily placed bench opposite the church to have a rest.

The daffodils on the banking are blooming marvellous.

From Middlebie, I went down towards the shallow valley of the Mein Water…

…which, though small, has an impressive bridge to get the road across it…

…and an even more impressive viaduct to carry the main line railway across it.

If I had waited for three or four minutes, I would have been able to show a train crossing the viaduct, but I wasn’t to know, and by the time that it passed, I had pedalled on towards Eaglesfield.

From Eaglesfield, I took a poorly maintained road to Chapelknowe, stopping to admire this gorse hedge on the way.

I paused at Chapelknowe village hall to look up at the old Half Morton Church, now a private residence.

The graveyard beside the church is still in use and if you look to the right of the picture above, you can see the Korean pines that line the side of the graveyard. They are my favourite trees, I think, positively bursting with life…

…and this year’s cones are developing really well.

I took the opportunity to eat a banana while I was there and looking up, I could see a very rare sight these days, a four engined jet plane crossing above my head.

I wish it would remain a rare sight as the clear blue skies that we have been enjoying in the absence of aeroplanes in the skies above us has been a treat. There was more air traffic today.

Looking a bit further over, I saw a very odd sight indeed, a vapour trail that showed a plane making a U turn.

I can only assume that the pilot, like me on many occasions, had forgotten the shopping list and was going back to collect it.

I was on familiar roads by now, so I put the camera back in my pocket and kept it there until I got home after thirty of the warmest miles of the year so far.

Mrs Tootlepedal and Liz had enjoyed their eight mile outing and had positively whizzed back down the road into Langholm with a helpful wind behind them. Mrs Tootlepedal’s bike computer showed that she had hit 20 mph coming down the final hill.

I hadn’t had an opportunity between the gardening and the cycling to look at the birds, so while my post-ride pot of tea was brewing, I took my chance.

The feeder was peaceful at first…

…but there was a steady steam of traffic while I watched.

We are stuck in a weather rut a the moment and we are promised another near zero night followed by another warm day. There are worse ruts to be stuck in by far but we could do with some warmer nights and some refreshing rain to get the trees to go green and the grass to grow for the livestock in the fields.

The flying bird of the day is a chaffinch getting ready to give another chaffinch a nasty shock.

The long awaited scone

Today’s guest picture comes from my brother Andrew. He had business in Banbury today which he combined with a walk along the canal there.

We didn’t have a freezing night which was welcome but the morning felt quite chilly in an easterly wind with light cloud cover. I had time to sieve some more compost before the arrival of a special treat at coffee time. It was Dropscone, who is always welcome, and even more welcome when he brings a batch of his excellent girdle scones with him, which he did today.

To make the morning even better, Sandy walked down to join us and we had coffee and conversation just like old times, except that we were in the garden with warm jackets on instead of being round the kitchen table.

Dropscone and Sandy were both well and both in need of a haircut.

After they left, the sun came out and I wandered about doing some daffodil dead heading and taking occasional pictures.

The cool weather has held everything back and developments are very slow but Mrs Tootlepedal did think that today was the moment to introduce her broad beans to the outside world…

…albeit with some personal protection from high tech mini greenhouses.

I went in for lunch and took a moment to look at the birds. A chaffinch and a siskin perched on the feeder pole, showing differing claw technique.

A female chaffinch preferred the fake tree for her waiting room while she weighed up her options.

Business was fairly brisk on the feeder itself.

After lunching on soup and a Scotch pie, I took advantage of the definite improvement of the weather which was now ten tenths sunshine and went for a walk.

Mrs Tootlepedal went off to collect some more manure. Each to his or her own.

I walked up to the High Street and then took the Kirk Wynd towards Whita Hill, passing a few wild flowers on my way.

Mrs Tootlepedal tells me that the tiny blue flowers are Speedwell but speed was the last thing on my mind as I went upwards…

…towards the open hill.

And a pause to look back when I got there was quite welcome.

It showed how dry the countryside is.

Still, the dry underfoot conditions made walking up the hill past cairns to my left and right very comfortable…

…and it didn’t take me too long to get to the monument and enjoy the views, though I had another stop along the way for a breather and a look up the Ewes Valley.

Once at the top, I looked in one direction over the moor behind the hill…

…and then down at the town below the hill…

…and finally, I took in the rest of the world that lies to the south.

It looked inviting, so I followed the wall and headed off down the slope towards Broomholmshiels and the bird hide.

There may be a path that goes the way that I wanted to go but I couldn’t find it so I ended up plodding over some rough country, past boulders and through heather…

…and dodging enormous mounds of moss..

…being grateful that the hill was so dry that the many marshy spots had hardened up and I could at least stumble around without getting soaked.

I came across an odd heap of stones that looked deliberate…

…and wondered who had put them there. A look on the map when I got home showed me that they had been grouse butts. I saw quite a few meadow pipits on my walk but didn’t hear or see a single grouse.

It took me as long to get down the hill over the rough ground as it had taken me to get up it but I finally made the road to the bird hide and was happy to sit inside and have a snack and a drink when I got to it.

There was a lovely willow tree nearby.

For my return trip, I had a choice of walking through the woods on a path or taking the road down to the river. I couldn’t make up my mind and ended up doing both, starting by going through the oak…

…and birch woods…

…and then cutting back down Jenny Noble’s to the road. On my way I passed this very bright protective shield round the field…

…and wondered what it was keeping in or out. A look over the material showed me that it was protecting dozens of little new planted hedge saplings. I hope that the hedge doesn’t grow too high as I love to look at this field and its fine trees.

It was a great pleasure to walk along the shady road beside the river…

…and a gravel bank island in the middle of the Esk showed just how low the water is at the moment.

Regular readers will know that it is against the law to pass Skippers Bridge on a fine day without taking a picture, so I took a picture.

I got home to find that Mrs Tootlepedal had been spreading manure over the garden in my absence.

At just under 7 miles and with 1000 ft of climbing involved, my feet were pretty happy when I finally sat down for a cup of tea and the last of the date rolls.

The regular sibling Zoom and some stewed rhubarb and custard for afters at the evening meal rounded off a very good day.

The flying bird of the day is an unusual view of a goldfinch.

Compost and a castle

Today’s guest picture shows a curious calm on the sea when seen from East Wemyss today. Our son Tony took the shot.

It was fairly calm here today too, but not quite as calm as that. It hadn’t been frosty overnight so we got out into the garden before coffee and I sieved some compost for the first time this year. I found this an exciting event but Mrs Tootlepedal managed to retain her calm without much difficulty. She did use some of the sieved compost later on in the day.

We had coffee in the garden with Liz and Margaret, and afterwards I went on a tulip hunt. They had opened up quite well today.

(One of the tulips may be a daffodil The sixth tulip picture did not come out well.)

The magnolia has suffered from the many frosts….

…but all is not lost.

We are hoping that this year, the plum blossom will eventually provide us with plums.

Last year the plum blossom was magnificent, and then almost every potential plum got nipped in the bud by a severe late frost.

The bumble bee was back buzzing about among the pulmonaria…

…and the trout lilies were talking among themselves.

I didn’t have long to look at the birds today, but I did capture a moment of tension in the chaffinch community.

I made some soup for lunch with lentils, bacon, celery, some aged carrots and an onion, i.e. everything that I could lay my hands on. It came out well though and gave me enough pep to go out for a pedal.

It wasn’t sunny on the whole, but it was warmer again (17°C by the afternoon) so it was good to get out and not have to be wrapped up like a Christmas present. The wind was light which made it feel even better as I pedalled out of the town up the A7 as far as Fiddleton Toll.

Here I turned off and took the road across the hills to Liddesdale. This involves a steep climb up to Carewoodrigg so I was happy to stop for a photo of the bridge at the bottom of the hill…

…before puffing up the hill to the beginning of the ridge. It seems as though you have done all the work when you look ahead…

…but this is a snare and a delusion. It is one of those roads where the top of the hill is always just round the next corner, and when you look back from the far end of the ridge…

…you can see why your legs are complaining.

Still, you are rewarded with a good swish down the hill into the valley of the Hermitage Water…

…with an enjoyable run down to the junction of the Hermitage Water and the Liddel Water which gives Liddesdale its name.

There is a compulsory stop to admire Hermitage Castle.

The huge arch makes the castle look quite small, but a view from the road…

…gives a better idea of its scale when you look at the size of the front door in the wall. It is an impressively grim building, meant to make visitors feel small.

At the junction with the road to Newcastleton, I found a handily placed bench to give my bike a rest while I looked at the bridge over the Hermitage Water from both sides, and enjoyed a large clump of hairy bittercress with an added dandelion.

I stopped for another bridge over the Hermitage Water near Steele Road.

A sign advises traffic that this is a weak bridge and you can see that they have tried to strengthen it. I went across it very carefully.

While I was there, I took a picture of one of the slightly conical hills characteristic of this area.

Further down the road, I met some farm goats and a llama which had turned its back on me. A discreet cough brought its head round to see who I was.

The Waverley Line, the railway between Carlisle and Edinburgh, used to run up this valley and there are plans to re-open it. In the meantime, it is a footpath and I took pictures of the trackbed, a bridge which lets the Black Burn run under it, the Black Burn itself, and a bridge which carries a farm track over the railway.

It will be a great thing if the whole railway is re-opened because at the moment it stops halfway between Edinburgh and Carlisle, but we are not holding our breath. It will take many years for the plan to come to fruition, even if it is approved.

I stopped in the village of Newcastleton for a snack and then set off down the very undulating road to Canonbie. The undulations took all my concentration and I only stopped twice more before getting back to Langholm, once for blackthorns near Archerbeck…

…and once for the ‘mile of daffodils’ between Rowanburn and Canonbie.

When I got back to the town, I was cheerful enough to add a couple of miles to my trip to bring up a round 40 miles. I like a neat number.

I haven’t been able to do this particular ride lately as it takes me out of Dumfries and Galloway and into the Borders Region but restrictions have been eased so we can visit other regions now. Next week, I will be legally able to go for a pedal in England.

I had a quiet evening in when I got home.

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

A trip to the post office

Today’s guest picture comes from my brother Andrew who was on a walk when he found that almost everyone needs a haircut these days.

We had a warmer night followed by a warmer day without going to extravagant lengths. It was pleasant in the morning while we gardened and had coffee with Margaret and Liz, and it got up to 64°F (17.7°C) in the afternoon.

We made the most of it, as the temperature is going to drop back down again soon.

After watering the soft fruit, I wandered round the garden dead heading daffodils and taking photographs while Mrs Tootlepedal did useful things.

She likes to do things properly so she has tied up the raspberry canes using raspberry coloured string.

A lot of the daffodils have been bent double by the frost in mid flower, so Mrs Tootlepedal picked some of them up to give to Margaret for a vase. I propped a particularly nice one up and took its picture.

It is an old narcissus, called the Poet’s Narcissus or the Pheasant Eye.

Tulips and primroses looked happy in the sunshine…

…and it was good to see a big bumble bee finding some pleasure among the pulmonaria.

Euphorbias again caught my eye…

…and although they don’t appear in seedsmen’s catalogues, wild flowers added to the floral cheerfulness in the garden today.

Although Mrs Tootlepedal is tolerant of wild flowers when pollinators need them, she draws the line at hairy bittercress…

…which is tiny but an absolute pest.

I went out to look along the dam at the back of the house. On our side of the road, aubretia is doing well, and on Liz’s side, there is a wonderful clump of marsh marigolds. There is Lady’s Smock on both sides.

In one of our back borders, an Amalanchier is going to be lovely. The first flowers are just appearing.

I learned that this shrub is also known as shadbush, shadwood or shadblow, serviceberry or sarvisberry, juneberry, saskatoon, sugarplum, wild-plum or chuckley pea but not by me!

After lunch, I had a moment to look at the birds where a goldfinch sat for a portrait…

…and flying chaffinches were ten a penny.

As regular readers will know, our hedgehog spotting trail camera broke. The retailer of the broken trail camera had sent me a return label and Mrs Tootlepedal had carefully wrapped up the camera and attached the label to the parcel. All that remained now was to take it to the post office. Thanks to the inexorable march of progress, Langholm no longer has its own post office. The visiting one comes twice a week but not until Wednesday. Impatient to get the parcel into the post, Mrs Tootlepedal suggested a cycle down to Canonbie, which though much smaller than Langholm still has its own post office.

This seemed like a good idea on a warm afternoon so we set out. After a couple of miles on the main road, we were able to turn off onto the bike trail which uses the peaceful old main road for a while.

We rolled on past Hollows Tower…

…and took the high road which let us look down on the village as we approached it.

A quick swoop down the hill brought us to the Cross Keys Hotel. This old coaching inn now has the post office under its wing.

When we arrived, we were dismayed to find that the post office was closed. To our relief, we found that it was due to open in five minutes. It was no hardship to wait for a while in the sunshine, take a picture of the Hotel, and collect up some energy for the return journey.

The post office opened promptly and Mrs Tootlepedal put the parcel into their care. Then we set off home, using the low road this time.

This took us to the Hollows Bridge and we paused to look at the Archimedes Screw working tirelessly for Hollows Mill. The water in the river was so low that I was quite surprised to see the screw turning. It is fed by the old water wheel lade.

We still had five miles to go so we didn’t linger too long. I took a picture of Mrs Tootlepedal speeding along the bike path at Hagg-on-Esk, past a row of dandelions.

We took a moment to catch our breath at the bridge near Irvine House and I noticed a small red plant growing among the green of the moss on top of the parapet.

I took a closer look.

I don’t know what it is, but it is a wonderful sight.

Mrs Tootlepedal noticed what looked like a white building on the hillside across the river. I got the Lumix to stick its zoom out and have a look.

It turned out to be communications mast catching the sunlight in its panels..

We got home after thirteen enjoyable miles, the furthest Mrs Tootlepedal has cycled for some time.

After a cup of tea and a date roll or two, I had a walk round the garden…

…before having a look at the birds, where a chaffinch got a hot reception from a siskin while a goldfinch looked on.

Then it was time for a Zoom with my siblings and our evening meal.

The flowers will be happy to know that it is not going to freeze tonight.

The flying bird of the day is an evening goldfinch.

A smile and a song

Today’s guest picture comes from my brother Andrew. It shows an elaborate bridge to get cyclists over a main road in Derby. My brother thinks that they have gone metaphorically as well as literally over the top.

We didn’t have a frosty morning here today though it was near zero, but as a counterbalance, we didn’t have a sunny day either. In a way we got the worst of both worlds as a front laden with rain clouds stopped some miles to the west of us, so we didn’t even get a much needed soak for the garden.

The winds were light though, and this was fortunate as Mrs Tootlepedal and our neighbour Liz went for an after breakfast bicycle ride up to Wauchope Schoolhouse and back. They are hoping to make this a regular habit. Mrs Tootlepedal hasn’t been out on her bike for a bit and was absolutely delighted to be back pedalling. She returned home with an enormous smile on her face (and since since she and Liz are a public spirited persons, quite a bit of the road side litter thrown out by motorists which they had picked up on their way home).

While she was gone, I took a picture of a siskin.

As a result of the failure of the rain, there was some watering to be done by the gardeners and the pond was given a top up before coffee.

While the watering was going on, one of the gardeners who shall be nameless, took time off to note two doves on a fence…

…a second white fritillary which has spontaneously appeared near the chequered ones which have been doing well in spite of the continual early frosts…

…and a rather bedraggled doronicum and two daffodils which have not enjoyed the frosts so much. The lamium, after an early burst of flowers has kept its head down until today when these two flowers appeared.

It has been hard to get good pictures of the daffodils this year as they have been hanging their heads in the cold weather and many have given up the unequal battle and have collapsed in full flower.

After coffee, it was time for the ceremonial opening of the newly paved drive. This was done with full honours and the traditional ivy band. The opening party posed for a formal picture and then Mrs Tootlepedal cut the ivy.

It felt rather chilly outside so we didn’t linger and we all dispersed to our various houses.

After lunch, I had another look at the birds and found that there was no shortage of action.

I had some time to spare before the virtual practice with our Carlisle Community choir so I went for a walk up Warbla.

There were some very pretty primroses beside the track up to the hill…

…but it wasn’t a day for a views, as a photo taken as I walked up the track showed…

…so I concentrated on walking and didn’t take another picture until I was on top of the hill and looking down to the route that I would take next.

I chose a slightly different way to walk down and passed a small sheepfold that I have never seen before…

…and was able to easily pass through a broken wall.

The path was steep so I had to go carefully, and by the time that I came down to Skippers Bridge, I was in danger of being late for my choir practice so I scooted home as quickly as I could. A clump of wood anemones was the only thing that delayed me on my way.

I got back just in time for the choir practice and was happy to be singing again after a two week Easter break.

I did think of going for an evening cycle ride but I was overcome by lethargy and stayed in and took bird pictures instead.

The feeder was still busy.

A group of three greenfinches arrived…

I like the siskin on the bottom perch trying to look tough and pretend that he is a greenfinch too.

Not all siskins are tough though, and I caught one sneaking away to avoid getting involved in a beak to beak row between chaffinches.

Greenfinches are the biggest of our usual feeder visitors…

…and redpolls are the smallest.

I thought that I saw a blossom on the plum tree and when I went, I found that one or two had come out.

While I was out, I checked the magnolia and found that a flower or two there had tried to open in spite of frost damage.

There are still unopened buds so with luck some of them may be alright.

The weekly forecast says that we are going to remain under high pressure for the whole of next week. There will have to be a good deal of watering, boring but necessary.

The flying bird of the day is a chaffinch.

Laid to rest

Today’s guest picture comes from Langholm exile Tom in South Africa. He found a layer of mist floating above the river when he went out for his morning cycle ride.

We had a layer of frost on our lawn yet again when we woke up today, but once again it was followed by a beautiful sunny day. The constant frosts have done a lot of damage to the magnolia which was looking very promising a couple of weeks ago, and they have put paid to the drumstick primulas which looked like this at the end of March, full of promise.

I haven’t the heart to show you what they look like now. I saw a very despondent bee visiting the bent and withered flower heads this afternoon in the vain hope of finding at least a grain of pollen. It left disappointed.

I went to the corner shop and paid my bill after breakfast and then we had a warm, sunny and chatty coffee break in the garden with our neighbour Margaret. Our friend Nancy dropped in for some gardening advice on her way from her allotment, and when she had gone, our neighbour Liz joined us after her morning walk.

After coffee, Mrs Tootlepedal and I set about laying the final half slab for the drive project. It shouldn’t have taken long, but it had a mind of its own when it came to lying flat. It just wouldn’t do it, and it took an age until we were satisfied enough to go in for a late lunch.

The pattern was dictated by the available slabs!

If it wasn’t for the fact that Mrs Tootlepedal wanders up and down the slabs pursing her lips and shaking her head from time to time, I would say that we had finally finished, but I fear more adjustments may be required to meet exacting standards.

While we were working, I spotted a jackdaw on a neighbouring roof…

…and a blackbird came to check on our progress.

After lunch, I had a walk round the garden. The cold mornings are keeping things back but tulips are opening by the afternoon…

…trout lilies are beginning to show flowers…

…and the weird and wonderful world of euphorbias is unfolding.

I idled about while Mrs Tootlepedal drove off in the car to collect several buckets of horse manure and some useful mulch.

When she came back, I roused myself to watch the birds for a moment before she began gardening.

It was a quiet day at the feeder and even the siskins were more interested in feeding than fighting.

I decided that it was too good a day to waste entirely, so I got my bike out and went for a rather belated ride. I was a bit tired, so I chose an easy route to start my ride and went straight down the main road south of the town. There was a light breeze against me and I looked forward to being blown home, but I made a mistake in the route choice and found myself on a gentle but long climb with the wind often across and sometimes even against me. The effort so addled my brain that although I stopped to take several pleasing compositions on my way, I didn’t notice that the camera was on the wrong settings.

A couple pictures came out almost OK in spite of the settings…

(This is our version of the Rio Grande.)

…but it wasn’t until I tried to take some close ups of the Korean Pines in Half Morton Churchyard that I noticed my mistake. Even with the right settings, the evening sunshine made capturing these extraordinary trees tricky. They were covered with male flowers…

…and there were plenty of potential cones too.

These are possibly the busiest trees that I know. I will certainly keep an eye on them over the coming months.

A little further on, a gang of lambs was keeping an eye on me.

I was so cross with my poor camera work that I stopped to take my favourite tree just to cheer myself up, even though it was in a post only a few days ago.

I really enjoyed the last few miles, down hill and with the wind now firmly behind me.

I had a final look at the birds when I got in and the evening light turned a siskin an odd colour.

Today’s header picture was taken a couple of nights ago by our trail camera. Unfortunately a tiny bit of plastic on the battery cover has snapped and we are going to have to send the camera back. I was able to have an actual phone conversation with a real person from the online retailer and she emailed me a return label without making a fuss. I was pleased and surprised about that in equal measure. Apart from the fault, we are very happy with the camera and I will get a replacement. Mrs Tootlepedal was very pleased to see evidence that the hedgehog is alive and well.

The flying bird of the day is a chaffinch.

Well oiled

Today’s guest picture comes from the garden of our daughter Annie, and shows the benefit of living 300 miles south of us.

We had another lovely sunny day here today but only after another subzero spell in the early hours. This pattern of chilly nights and dry days seems set to continue, and we are very soon going to be in the position of hoping for rain.

Some weeks ago, we got a visit from an agreeable young lady who told us that our electricity would be cut off for the day on the 16th April. We got a subsequent letter reminding us of this and the young lady paid us another call a week or so ago to check that we had got the letter. Then we got another letter just to keep us in the picture.

We had discussed this coming event several times with our neighbours and made plans to be prepared. Today was the 16th April and it came as a complete surprise to us when the electricity went off at 9 o’clock in the morning. Plans, what plans? I blame the lockdown which makes one day very like another.

We do have a reserve camping gas cooker for occasion like this, but it has got so old and rusty like its owners, that this seemed like a good day to get a new one. I went up to the town and came back with a very neat little stove and got ready to boil some water to make coffee. It came as a surprise again when the coffee grinder wasn’t working on account of the electricity being off. Still, I enjoyed a nice cup of tea with Margaret and Mrs Tootlepedal, and as it was actually quite warm in the sunshine, I was very content.

Because of the warm and pleasant sunshine, we lingered longer than usual over coffee and it was nearly lunch time when we stopped talking.

I took a picture of tulips…

… and went in to use the new stove to fry up some haggis for my lunch.

After lunch, I took a couple of bird portraits of a siskin…

…and a chaffinch.

While we were socialising in the garden in the morning, blackbirds had been busy carrying worms to a nesting site in the yew bush. Now I saw a lady blackbird getting some food for herself.

When the plumber backed his van into our drive yesterday, we noticed that he had found the line of slabs too narrow at the top of the drive so we resolved to use some old half slabs to widen that part for the benefit of people backing into the drive.

It was hot work in the sunshine but we got two pieces laid and have got one to go.

The gaps will be filled with artistic gravel.

After a visit indoors for a glass of water, a slice of bread and honey and another look at the birds…

…I got my bike out and went for a ride round my familiar Canonbie circuit to see if the gears were well lubricated. Things went very smoothly so I think that I must have followed the instructions correctly. Because I had left things a bit late, I didn’t stop at all on my way round and most unusually for me, I did the whole twenty miles in one go, no breathers, no snacks, no snapshots.

This left me a moment in the garden when I got back to appreciate a backlit tulip…

…potential silver pears and Victoria plums…

…and the “grapes” on the grape hyacinths.

Then, as the electricity was back on after the poles in a neighbouring street had been replaced, I had a shave and a shower before the evening Zoom with my siblings.

We are going to lay the very final half slab tomorrow and after that we hope to have laid the drive finally to rest, though Mrs Tootlepedal has a fair bit of work to do on creating the new flower bed beside it.

Plants are will need to be watered in the garden too, so we won’t be short of things to do.

The flying bird of the day is a chaffinch.