I didn’t give a fig

Today’s guest picture is a Waboom or Waggon Tree, so called as its wood was used to make waggon wheels because it is very tough It was sent to me by Tom from South Africa and brought a welcome splash of colour on a very dreary day. It is the only tree protea, Tom tells me.

It was a day of unremitting greyness here, with steady rain falling from well before we woke up until after three o’clock in the afternoon. I don’t think that we are getting really good quality rain though, as in spite of raining for eleven hours on the trot, we only accumulated .4 of an inch according to our local weather station.

Still, it was wet and windy enough to keep me indoors in the morning again.

And to keep the birds away from the feeder. I saw a lot of this again…

…and the seed in the feeder didn’t go down at all.

With nothing better to do, I set about making some fig rolls, except as I didn’t have any figs, they morphed into date rolls instead. I used Paul Hollywood’s recipe and the results turned out to be very tasty. I haven’t included a picture as the presentation was not up to Bake-off standard and will need (a lot) more practice. They have a little bit of crystallised ginger in them and that is a good addition.

When I had finished cooking the biscuits, I had coffee and then did 50 minutes on the bike to nowhere. This seems to be the only place that I am going to cycle to in the immediate future according to the weather predictions.

I followed up the cycling by making some lentil and carrot soup for lunch so I had an interesting morning in spite of the rain.

(Although the casual reader will not have noticed it, the finely tuned regular reader will have observed that I broke of the post just now for long enough to get a batch of ‘Greek style cheese’ on the go. This is the next step on our journey into the world of cheese. It takes three days to make so there will be no rush.)

After lunch, in spite of a failure of the rain to stop, I put on my waterproof coat, trousers and boots and went off to see where all the rain had gone. Disappointingly (from a photographer’s point of view only), the rivers were exceedingly tame…

…and it was obvious that there had not been a lot of rain further up the country where our rivers collect their water.

The streak of brown at the Meeting of the Waters showed that there was more extra water coming down the Ewes than the Esk….

…but even the Ewes was passing under the Sawmill Brig in a very polite manner, though both arches were in use.

After agreeing with some rather fed up looking ducks that it was a rotten day for all concerned..

…I proceeded (politely) over the Sawmill Brig and up the track past the Estate Offices. The water was running freely off the hill here…

…and the track along the top of the woods made me pleased that I was wearing wellies and could splash through the puddles and not have to tiptoe round them.

I have been a bit short of gates lately, so I took this one on my way up the hill…

…and noted two openings in the wall along the track that might have had gates in the old days when the Lodge was regularly visited by the Duke in the shooting season.

The Duke’s family were keen cricketers and it is no coincidence that Langholm’s cricket ground is on his land near the Lodge. This is a typical team sheet, taken from a match against Hawick in 1886: Langholm: Duke of Buccleuch, Lord G Scott, J T Burnet, Lord E Hamilton, Earl of Dalkeith, Lord H Scott, Buckland (pro), Lord J C Scott, A Thompson, W A Connell, J Fletcher, W Irving.

The alert reader will notice that Langholm could afford the services of a professional cricketer.

However, it was far from cricketing weather today, and I kept my camera dry and in my pocket, only taking it out to record a vigorous streamlet dashing through a hole in a wall near the North Lodge.

It was not a day for views…

…so I turned for home and walked back by way of the pheasant hatchery and the Castleholm (past the cricket pitch). The rain had eased off but it was hard to tell that it had stopped, as the trees were still dripping furiously. I kept my umbrella up. Under the shelter of the brolly, I got my camera out to record some fungus on a tree stump…

…and three patches of fungus growing in the cracks on the bark of a tall tree, which is probably not all that long for this world.

I liked the framing of the snow on Whita behind the dark trunk and branches of a pine tree.

I was able to put my brolly down when I got to the racecourse, but it was still a wet day.

I passed up the opportunity to cross the Duchess and the Jubilee bridges, and took the new path round the bottom of the Castleholm.

As I walked beside the river, I could hear a crow cawing loudly, and when I looked round, I saw a crow sitting beside a buzzard on the bare branch of a tree. It was a very odd sight, just like two old men on a park bench. The buzzard had had enough of the noisy crow though (or perhaps me), and flew lazily off before I could get my camera out.

It perched on a few trees in front of me in a teasing way as I went along, but always flew off before I could get a picture. Finally, it flew across the river, and now thinking itself far enough away, rested for a while and stuck its tongue out at me.

It hadn’t reckoned on the handy zoom on my little Lumix.

I walked back over the Sawmill Brig and along the Kilngreen without meeting anything of particular interest and finished my bridge tour by crossing the Town Brig and looking at the Esk.

A lot of water had flowed under the bridge while I was walking.

Instead of people waiting to be vaccinated, there was a large gathering of jackdaws and starlings outside the Buccleuch Centre.

By some curious coincidence, I arrived home bang on time for tea and toast (and a couple of date rolls). This was very satisfactory, as was the late appearance of two birds at the feeder, the only ones that I had seen all day.

I don’t think that the seed level had gone down at all.

I am going to round this post off now as I have to go and add the rennet to the milk and yoghurt mixture for my cheese. It then has to sit undisturbed for twelve hours. This is not a hasty cheese like the Crowdie.

The flying bird of the day is like the weather, not very good at all.

Lining up a new route

Today’s guest picture comes from my Somerset correspondent, Venetia. She found a very elaborate tree on one of her local walks.

After a night of rain, we woke to a morning of rain. To show how one day runs almost invisibly into another during lockdown, when I was considering yesterday’s post I completely forgot that I had been to the dentist in the morning and failed to mention it. Sadly, there was no such entertaining diversion this morning, so in spite of the usual footering about, I had no alternative after coffee but to embark on the bike to nowhere for fifty minutes.

I might have spent some time watching the birds too but they seemed to have been discouraged by the weather and I saw a lot of this…

…and very little of this.

There was one moment of difference though when a chaffinch was as surprised as I was to see a dunnock on the feeder.

The forecast suggested that there might be a small window of opportunity for a walk in the afternoon so when I had finished my lunch, I put on my coat and hat and went out. Mrs Tootlepedal looked at the weather and thought that she had better things to do,.

The overnight rain had washed away almost all traces of snow in the garden but there was still some left on the upper slopes of Whita.

I had expected to see the river running high with rain and melting snow, but it was nothing to write home about at all.

I had intended to walk up the road to Broomholmshiels and return through the woods, but as I walked along the road beside the river, I came up behind Nancy who was walking in the same direction with her friend Kate. It turned out that they had the same route in mind, so rather than walk in front of therm and then get in their way when I stopped to take pictures, I turned off and took the track beside Jenny Noble’s Gill first. The gill was chattering down the hillside.

As I walked up through the woods beside the gill, there were various fungi to be seen, big polypores at the bottom of the hill..

…and decorative frills at the top among the oaks.

When I came out into the open, I could look back and see that there was no snow left on the top of Warbla where I had dropped my camera yesterday. I had to look further up the valley to higher hills to see any white blanket, and even that was thin.

I passed Nancy and Kate, now going in the opposite direction to me, and walked through the farm buildings at Broomholmshiels and down to the road. I was at a col and instead of turning right and walking back down the hill to the Esk, I turned left and walked down the hill to the Tarras Water instead. I was hoping that I might see some scarlet elf cups, as this is a place where I have seen them before, but there were none to be seen. I will look again in springtime.

In place of fungus, I saw sheep among the trees…

…a tree among the gorse…

…and variations in the way that roadside fence pipes were joined together.

There is no end to the excitement that can be had on a walk in our area.

I went as far as the bridge over the Tarras Water…

There was a gang of tree planters getting into their vans at the bridge, ready to go home after a hard day’s work. They had been planting birches and alders. To my surprise, I found that this was not new planting, but that they were replacing trees that had failed to grow in the plastic tubes that young deciduous trees are planted in these days. The foreman told me that they might visit a plantation two or three times after it is first planted to make sure that there are viable trees in every tube. I was impressed.

The bridge was my limit for distance so I turned for home, climbing up the hill that I had just come down.

Some might think that going back by the same road that you came down could be dull work. It is not necessarily so, as you get different views and even on a gloomy day like today, you often see things that you missed on the outward trip, like this moss covered ivy putting its arms round a tree.

All the same, I didn’t go all the way back down to the road that I had walked along before, but turned on to the old railway track at Broomholm.

It doesn’t look much like an old railway track when you first get onto it but that soon changes…

…and it provided me with another fine set of fungus.

The railway took me back to Jenny Noble’s Gill..

…and I crossed the gill and walked up through the birch woods…

…to join the track to the Round House. It rained gently for quite a lot of the walk but it was warm enough as long as I was out of the wind. From the Round House, I went back down to the old railway and then took this steep path….

…down to Skippers bridge…

…from where it was just a hop and a skip (or in my case, a groan and a stagger) back to the town.

I was greeted by this cheerful stone as I crossed the Park Brig.

Following quite a severe outbreak of the virus in the town, a number of these stones have appeared with the joint purpose of persuading us to be sensible and optimistic at the same time.

As I got to our back door, I took a picture of the Sarcococca there.

Mrs Tootlepedal has brought a few twigs from it into the house and they smell delightful.

With impeccable timing, I got home after completing six miles in perfect time for tea and toast.

In our sibling Zoom later in the day, I showed some old photographs of a holiday we had at my sister’s house in Greece. We could have done with some of that glorious sunshine here today.

Almost inevitably, a chaffinch is the flying bird of the day. I had no choice.

Missing a shot

Today’s guest picture comes from our son Tony. It shows the sea near East Wemyss in uncharacteristically turbulent mood.

It is well known that into every life a little rain must fall, but in our case it was a little snow today. Once again it was half hearted snow, settling on the hills above the town…

…but fading away like a government promises when it hit our garden.

It was one of those days when it snowed quite often without having any effect. This was odd because it was only a degree or two above freezing at the most and the ground is still hard as nails. I didn’t need much encouragement to spend the morning doing very little, though I did manage a little practice of one of the new songs that our Carlisle choir conductor has given to us to work on at home.

I tried to watch the birds too but the cold, the snow and the wind had discouraged them too, and it took some time before they arrived.

It was a gloomy day, not very good for flying birds, so I got my pocket camera out and used it to take some pictures of birds standing still.

…including two of my favourites.

Going back to the bird camera, I tried to find a moment when all four perches on the feeder were being used at the same time but I never got to more than three. One problem was the unwelcoming attitude of the incumbent chaffinches.

There was a small gap where the forecast suggested that after lunch the snow might take a break, so I put my stout boots and warmest coat on and walked up the track to the top of Warbla.

If I had hoped for splendid snowy views, I was disappointed…

…as there was a fair amount of snow about but no views thanks to the very low clouds.

Walking up the track was enjoyable, with only one other set of footprints to mark the way. At times they had been almost covered by fresh snow and the brisk winds, so it felt quite adventurous to be out.

I had to turn a corner at the top of the rise in the picture above, and I found myself heading into the wind. This was blowing at about 30mph so it was hard work to get to the summit and even harder work to stop being blown off the summit when I got there.

Crouching behind the trig point for some shelter, I put my hand in my pocket to pull out my camera for a snatched shot before leaving, and found to my horror that the camera wasn’t there. Looking around, I couldn’t see it on the ground so I assumed that I had dropped it back where I took my last photo whihc was that one at the corner of the track.

I got out my phone and took a shot just to show that I had been there (notice how the strong wind had blown almost all the snow off the summit itself)…

…and went back to find my camera beside the track, looking carefully in case it had dropped out on the way.

I got to the exact spot where I had taken the last picture and was quite upset. The camera was nowhere to be seen. I had a choice. I could go home crying or I could walk back to the summit and look round there again. The wind was getting stronger and it was started to snow quite seriously. I made the only sensible choice and walked back to the summit.

And there was the camera, lying on the windward side of the trig point. How it got there, I can’t quite work out, but it was there and that was the main thing. It was in a good waterproof case and I hoped that it had come to no harm. I didn’t stop to test it out but beat a retreat, only stopping to put my Yaktrax on as going back down the track was a more slippery business than climbing up it had been.

Added to the boots, they provided me with good secure footing…

…and I was able to nip down that hill until I could get out of the worst of the gale and check that the little camera was still working. I found a row of trees to provide a dark background to the wind driven snowflakes.

As I came down the hill, the snow eased off and disappeared across the town…

…leaving me with a much calmer drier walk home.

In fact, it cleared up so well that I took a diversion along the Stubholm and back by Easton’s walk to round my outing off. This let me enjoy a little fungus on my way.

I took a final picture and it might be a puzzle for readers to work out what it shows.

Oddly, considering how sculptural it looks, it is water running freely down a steeply inclined flat rock beside the path

I did think of going down to the river when I got back to the park bridge but another flurry of snow persuaded me to go straight home.

Mrs Tootlepedal has been persuaded by our daughter Annie to take out a trial Netflix subscription, so we were able to watch a new film called The Dig once I was safely back indoors. It was quietly enjoyable, especially after the tumult on the top of the hill on my walk.

Looking at the forecast, today may turn out to be one of the better days for weather this week! I am keeping my fingers crossed that walking opportunities will be available as cycling looks out of the question again.

The flying bird of the day is a chaffinch.

Needled

Today’s guest picture is another from Tom in South Africa. He gets some bigger hills than I do when he comes to choose a cycle route.

We woke to a fine sunrise here…

…but in spite of the familiar saying, red sky this morning was not a warning for shepherds or anyone else. We enjoyed dry and calm weather all day, and it was often sunny.

I have been having one or two minor aches and pains lately, attributable to nothing more serious than old age and a little too much stress on my joints from walking poles, a heavy camera and too much use of the computer mouse. Under the circumstances, I thought that another gentle day would be a good idea so I spent a quiet morning in. Unfortunately I didn’t find a good moment to watch the birds and the light was never right when I looked out of the window…

…and having the camera on a tripod rather than in my hand limited my choices. I used my pocket camera to look at starlings on the walnut tree and a jackdaw on a neighbour’s roof.

By midday, it had warmed up a bit outside. Although the ground was still pretty frozen, Mrs Tootlepedal thought that it would be useful for her to spend some time in the garden, and I thought that a gentle walk without walking poles would do me no harm.

She started to tidy up a border or two and I headed off to the river in pursuit of dippers or anything else interest that might be there.

The best that I could find was a sunlit mallard swimming in very clear water at the Kilngreen.

Once again, we were very lucky as the roads remained ice free after another cold night, so I was able to enjoy a stress free wander up the road to the White Yett.

I noticed a tree keeping an eye on me while I was on my way to Whitshiels.

I took plenty of time to look around as I walked, and was quite sorry not to be up on Timpen which seemed very inviting today.

Still, I had good views..

…and for once the clouds were not down on the top of the hills, which made the light a little better than it has been.

There was a big sky available…

…and plenty else to look at.

I even saw a small flock of birds beside the road. A couple of them sat on a fence for a moment for long enough to let me get a picture of one of them. We think that this might be a reed bunting. (The other one was so busy preening that it didn’t help identification at all.)

The views may have been sunny but there were still patches of ice about that showed that we have not got rid of the cold weather yet.

When I got to the White Yett, instread of turning right and walking up the track to the monument or going straight on and dropping into the Little Tarras valley, I turned left and followed the wall along the ridge.

The wall divides sheep country from old grouse moor.

There is a clear track along this side of the wall and the frozen ground made for easy walking over the many boggy bits on the way. I didn’t go far, but I was rewarded by some fine views to the north, with snow capped hills in the distance…

…and across the wall to the east, where a little snow lingered on our local hills.

It was a fine day for a stroll but I couldn’t dally or go far because I had an important appointment in the town in the afternoon.

When I got back to the White Yett, I met Nancy and Ming, two indomitable walkers coming up out of the Tarras valley. They were considering their route options, but I took the direct route and headed back down the road, turning off to take the track across the hill to the top of the golf course.

I couldn’t pass the wall there without stopping for a quick look..

…but then I made my way down the hill to the town without another pause.

I did have to stop when I was nearly home because a reflective dipper in the Wauchope demanded a portrait…

…though I wish it hadn’t chosen quite such a shady spot for its pose.

I got home in time for a late lunch of Mrs Tootlepedal’s Scotch broth with bread and crowdie cheese. I did try to get a better feeder picture…

…but failed again as the light wasn’t any good and I was rushed.

The reason for the rush was an appointment at the Buccleuch Centre to get our first Covid vaccinations. Everything was very well organised and painless, and we were soon on our way home again. We were given the Pfizer dose, and it was exciting to be part of a whole new development in vaccine technology.

With excellent timing, we got home in perfect time for afternoon tea and a biscuit.

We had a sibling Zoom later on, and we have all now been vaccinated at least once, with my sister Caroline leading the way, having had her second dose already.

The newspapers this morning were full of alarming forecasts of exceedingly low overnight temperatures, followed by a lot of snow tomorrow but the forecasts for our local area now are much calmer. We await the dawn with interest.

What with relaxing, wandering and being vaccinated, it wasn’t a good bird day so this was my best effort at a flying bird of the day.

Biscuits but no cheese

Today’s guest picture comes from Langholm exile Tom in South Africa. He has sent me this cheerful study of plumbago and blue sky.

We woke to find that the merest speckle of snow had settled on Langholm overnight. It might have been that sort of snow that was too thin to be picturesque but thick enough to make things slippery, but fortunately it was so thin that even with temperatures only just above freezing, it soon disappeared.

Even so I saw an early blackbird trying to sort out seed from snow under the feeder.

As I had decided that today would be a day of rest after a busy week, it didn’t bother me one way or the other because I wasn’t going anywhere in the morning. Instead, I had my hair cut by my resident barber, Mrs Tootlepedal, followed by a shower, and then an hour of taking part in the Big Garden Birdwatch run by the RSPB. For those who are unfamiliar with this annual event, it involves watching birds in your garden and counting them.

We had a rather disappointing turnout, with only a couple of siskins, no wren, no greenfinches, no thrush, no collared doves and only the usual suspects, and even they were not present in large numbers.

The chaffinches tended to work on the one in, one out principle…

…though sometimes we got two together.

We had different styles of approach, rush up and stick on the brakes…

…and cruise in coolly.

Some birds just stood around when they had arrived…

…but others took the Big Garden Birdwatch seriously and really watched the garden.

When the birds had been watched and counted, I made a batch of Garibaldi biscuits. I made them slightly thinner and a little more crispy than the last batch. This turned out to be an obvious mistake because they had almost all disappeared by the time that I came to write this post. Where they can have gone to is a mystery, but it is probably not helping anyone to stay slim.

In spite of having resolved to have a complete day of rest, the weather turned out to be so nice after lunch that I couldn’t avoid going for a stroll. I didn’t go far and I didn’t go fast, so it was a pretty restful walk.

As I left, I noted a starling on the walnut tree catching a bit of the sunshine that had tempted me out.

The walk was a good decision and I started off by seeing some excellent dog lichen on a wall.

And then the scene on the Wauchope just above Pool Corner reflected the calmness of the outing very well.

I had intended to go round Gaskells Walk, but I found myself catching up another walker heading in the same direction. I didn’t want to end up overtaking him and then having to let him go past as I stopped for a photo opportunity (and possibly having to do that more than once), so I turned off up the road to the Becks and looked back down on the Auld Stane Brig rather than crossing it.

I was happy with the route that I had chosen and passed a lone tree…

…on my way up the hill.

After seeing the frozen old curling pond at Lockerbie in Elaine’s recent guest picture, I thought that I would go to see how the disused Langholm curling pond was doing. To say that it is bit overgrown is an understatement. It needed the eye of faith to see that it was ever a pond at all.

…but there were consolations.

A pile of mossy branches made a pretty picture…

…and two scarlet elf cups could hardly be missed.

There was fine fungus on nearby tree stumps…

…and an unassuming pile of logs…

…turned out to have an astonishing array of fungi on almost every one.

The views were very reasonable…

…so I was in a very cheery mood when I walked back to pick up the path over the wooden bridge crossing the Becks burn..

…that would take me back home.

From this point, I spent quite a lot of time avoiding other walkers and left my camera in my pocket.

I had taken plenty of time over my stroll but I still had time for a cup of tea and several Garibaldi biscuits before (and during) the virtual Carlisle Community Choir practice. We have been sent some new music so I had opportunities to nibble my biscuits and sip my tea while the sopranos and altos were going over their parts.

I then took my courage in both hands and installed a Virtual Private Network on my phone and both my laptops (I have a back-up laptop for that terrible moment when this one finally gives up).

Whether this proves to be a good idea, only time will tell. It has been recommended, and with criminals (and advertisers) getting ever bolder at devising methods to creep into your private spaces, I thought that I ought to give it a go.

The day ended restfully as I cooked a simple meal of scrambled eggs and baked beans for our tea and settled down to watch Countryfile on the telly.

The flying bird of the day is a chaffinch. We counted him in and we counted him out again.

Footnote: As I walked up the hill towards the curling pond, I noticed water running under a patch of ice beside the road I thought that this was interesting enough to take a seven second video of the effect.

A crowded day

Today’s guest picture comes from my brother Andrew who found that his local river, the Derwent, had got a bit too enthusiastic yesterday.

The first picture in the post today looks a little out of place, but honestly, it was nearly today when I took it when I went to bed last night. I looked out of the window and to my surprise found a full moon floating in the night sky. It was a fine sight so I went back downstairs and fetched up my camera and took a couple of shots from an upstairs window. I cropped the second picture in the panel below to show the craters. It is amazing to me that my camera has such wonderful eyesight.

(For those interested in that sort of thing: The left hand panel: f/6.3 1/320 sec ISO 160 Focal length 600mm and the right hand panel: f/14 1/640th sec ISO 160. focal length 600mm (heavily cropped and a lot of brightening in the editor.))

Having seen the moon afloat in the clear sky, it was a pleasant surprise to find when we got up that it hadn’t been frosty overnight and the ground was ice free, although the thermometer was only showing a miserly 1°C.

Normally, I would never have contemplated cycling at that temperature but the forecast was good, even offering a glimpse of sun towards midday, and my monthly mileage is terrible, so after the crossword and a coffee, I got my bike out and set off up the Wauchope road.

But I watched a few birds before I left.

Another siskin turned up.

Otherwise, it was mostly chaffinches once again. A male loomed up and a female politely asked him to find another perch…

…but he was a male and thus entitled to any perch he wanted in his view.

You can only shake your head at such behaviour.

I put the camera down and picked up my bike.

I knew that there would be a brisk wind about and I opted to start with the wind behind me today. Shortly after I had set off, I met another cyclist coming back into Langholm. He groaned theatrically and said, “Strong wind against coming this way, ” so I decided not to go too far!

To vary my route and the breeze, I took two side diversions when I got to Wauchope Schoolhouse, the first up to Cleuchfoot and back…

…and the second up the opposite side of the road past the Bloch farm for a mile to the cattle grid. This gave me a view over the Solway to the English hills, which for once were not covered entirely by cloud.

As I came back down to the Wauchope road, there was a hint of that promised better weather ahead.

I turned left when I got back onto the main road and headed up to the top of Callister, and then a little down the other side, just so that I could enjoy a bit of blue sky and get a views both near…

…and far.

The cloudscape was very odd.

I soon found out that that passing cyclist had been telling the truth and I had to pedal pretty hard even to get down the hill from the top of Callister, so I was quite pleased when I got back to Langholm. I had thought that I might not be so happy when a flurry of snow came out of nowhere when I was still three miles from home, but it disappeared as suddenly as it had come, and it was sunny enough to tempt me to add a couple of miles to my trip to make up a standard twenty mile outing.

That twenty miles took me just over 100 miles for the month, almost as far as I have walked. It was not what I would have hoped for but it was not too bad considering the very cold weather that we have had.

After lunch, Mrs Tootlepedal was keen on a walk, so we wrapped up well and set off towards the river to see if we could see a dipper. We saw two on the Ewes Water, but one instantly flew off and the other dived under the water and disappeared, so there was no chance of a picture.

We headed up the Lodge Walks where we passed Sandy out for a walk of his own.

Once we had passed the Lodge , we took the top road towards Holmhead…

…where we stopped to look up in wonder at the very tall and straight trees that line the road.

We cut up towards the top track just before we got to Holmhead. The snowdrops there are looking promising…

…but a little warm weather to bring them on would not go amiss.

It was a treat to stroll along the top track…

…and as long as we kept out of the wind, it was generally a very good day for a walk. The bridges were not up to much though.

At the end of the rack, we got a good view of Whita…

…and passed a sunlit mossy wall…

…on our way back to the river in pursuit of more dipper sightings.

There were none on the Ewes Water, just some ducks in the low sunshine…

…but we did see one on the Esk and one on the Wauchope before we got home. The one on the Esk was too busy ducking and diving to pose for us, but the Wauchope dipper was more polite. You can see the white spot of its underwater eyelids in the first panel.

We got home in good time for tea and toast and then we set about making a second cheese from our gift pack from our daughter Annie. We have nearly finished the goat’s cheese so this time we made a crowdie, a Scottish cheese. It is resting overnight in the fridge as I write this post so we won’t be able to test it until tomorrow, but it looks all right so we have got our fingers crossed.

The way the curds suddenly appear as you gently stir the milk is very rewarding.

The moon was out again tonight when I looked, but this time it is going to freeze overnight so January is bidding to go as coldly as it came in.

Two sparring chaffinches are joint flying birds of the day.

Home and awhey

Today’s guest picture comes from my occasional correspondent Elaine. She found the pond at the Lockerbie nature reserve well frozen the other day. As the pond was a curling rink in a previous existence, there must be ex-curlers looking at it with regret.

We had another grey and chilly day here today, but it didn’t freeze overnight, so we were ice free again.

Except for the big ice disk from the bucket, which will take some time to melt.

My plan was to go bicycling, and I had hoped to be able to get started fairly early and go a little further than my standard twenty miles.

Events conspired against me. For a start, I had to cope with a gnarly crossword which took quite a bit of time to unravel. Then, just as I got changed into my cycling clothes, it started to rain. It wasn’t particularly heavy, but when the temperature is around 2 to 3 degrees C, getting wet is not much fun on a bicycle. I drank coffee and ate ginger biscuits and toast until the rain stopped an hour later.

I also looked at the birds of course.

I was pleased to see a greenfinch, the first for quite some time…

…and at one point, we had two greenfinches, a goldfinch and a chaffinch on the feeder.

As usual these days, there were more chaffinches than anything else..

…but there were quite a few goldfinches too.

Once the rain had stopped, I still had time for a reasonable ride, but when I got going up the main road north out of town, I found that there was a brisk 15mph northerly wind in my face. It was not only brisk, it was mean and unforgiving too. By the time that I had got up to Mosspaul, ten miles up the road and more or less straight into the wind, I had had enough. The ten miles uphill and into the wind had taken me an hour, the ten miles back took me half an hour.

I stopped halfway up for a picture or two at Ewes church. The weather looked better on one side of the road…

…than it did on the other…

…but by the time that I got to the last climb to Mosspaul, it looked pretty wintery both at the bottom and the top.

…with plenty of water running down the hillsides.

I might have gritted my teeth and gone on a bit more if it hadn’t started to rain just as I got to the hotel. This was the last straw. I enjoyed the whizz back downhill to Langholm a lot.

The number of Covid cases in our area is reflected in this sign at our popular visitors’ car park on the Kilngreen…

…definitely a sign of the times.

I had a walk round the garden when I got home and was impressed by a bunch of snowdrops beside the back path. Not out yet, but a definite hint of spring there.

Lunch was leek and potato (made with whey) soup, with goat’s cheese on (made with whey) bread, and very tasty it was too.

The cheese had improved with age, even a single day making a noticeable difference.

After lunch, I had another quick look at the birds and found that the chaffinches were busy again, flying in all directions.

And a blackbird looked rather optimistic about life, I thought.

Mrs Tootlepedal was occupied so I rang up Sandy and we arranged to meet for a short walk.

I explored the wood above the Scholar’s Field while I waited for him. It is full of interesting things; trees stumps, fungi old and new, and a strange building which was probably once the ice house for the Langholm Lodge.

It turned out that I was waiting for him here, while he was waiting for me there, but we came together in the end and had an an enjoyable stroll over the Duchess Bridge, round the pheasant hatchery and back by the Jubilee Bridge.

We were doing more chatting than looking around, but Sandy spotted this slug crawling up a tree trunk..

…while I noticed a tree with colourful red bark and a mass of lichen on it…

…and the macro mode on my phone came in handy when we took a closer look at the slug and lichen (and some moss too).

We thought that is was unusual to see so many different lichens closely packed on the one tree.

A good patch of wild snowdrops near the Lodge was a cheerful sight.

We parted after our walk, looking forward to the time when we might have the freedom to travel further, try different walks and find more interesting things to talk about than lockdown restrictions.

I got home in time for tea and ginger biscuits (the last of the recent batch), and then Mrs Tootlepedal and I had a lively Zoom with my siblings. It was my brother’s birthday so we sung Happy Birthday to him. He took it well.

Mrs Tootlepedal has acquired another ham hock to make stock for soup and this enabled her to cook ham rissoles for our tea. They went down very well.

I have been complaining about January being a chilly month so I looked up the average temperatures for the last 40 years in Dumfries and Galloway on the Met Office website and the average maximum has been 6.8°C and the average minimum has been 1.5°C. Our local weather station has recorded that we only just got up to 6° on two days this month, we have been below freezing for at least 11 nights, and once we went down to -10°. The average temperature for the whole month, day and night, has been 1°C so it really has been chilly, and it is not just old age making me grumble.

A goldfinch is the flying bird of the day today.

A whey we went

Today’s guest picture comes from our son Alistair in Edinburgh. He found a heron standing on the ice when he visited his local park this morning.

For once we didn’t have an icy start to the day here, with the temperature staying between 2 and 4 degrees C all day.

There was ice about though. Mrs Tootlepedal has a bucket of water to help her wash gravel on her drive project. It has been thoroughly frozen for weeks, but when I looked today, it had thawed round the edges and I was able to lift a disk of ice out of the bucket. It was remarkably heavy, being at least a couple of inches thick, and I thought that it was worth a picture. The series of thaws and frosts have left it with an interesting pattern of bubbles going down deep into the ice.

It may not have been freezing but it was raining, gently but persistently, so this seemed like an ideal morning to get to work on a cheese making kit which our daughter Annie had very thoughtfully sent us as a present to help pass these lockdown days.

We started with a simple goat’s milk cheese, The goat’s milk was provided by courtesy of our admirable corner shop. John had got it in specially for us.

The instructions were very clear and included the wise words, “Read the whole method before you start.” We read it twice. Then under the supervision and with the assistance of Mrs Tootlepedal, I made the cheese. It turned out very well for a first effort, looking like this…

…and as an added bonus, I was able to use the whey as the liquid in making some leek and potato soup when the cheese making was finished. So we had home-made soup with home-made bread and home-made cheese for lunch.

The cheese was young so it was a little light in flavour, but the whey added a tasty tang to the soup. I am using some more of the whey to make a loaf in the breadmaker as I write this post. It will be interesting to see how that comes out.

We put the cheese in the fridge to firm up and when we tried some later in the day, it had a much better flavour.

The cheese making did allow a little time for bird watching and I saw a couple of siskins on the feeder. They didn’t waste any time before getting into arguments with themselves and others.

Our resident robin was back, delving deeply into the peanut butter jar.

After lunch, I was given the eye by a pigeon and a blackbird…

…spotted two soggy goldfinches on the feeder…

…and saw a female blackbird on Mrs Tootlepedal’s subsidiary seed table outside the kitchen window.

As you can see in that final picture, the rain was very light by this time and I decided to go for a walk. It wasn’t at all windy, so I didn’t need heavy rain gear and just took a light jacket and my umbrella. Unlike yesterday when the mist seemed to be lying low and moving up, today it seemed to be sitting on top of the hills and occasionally coming down. I therefore chose a low level walk and went ’round Potholm’.

It was never going to be a day for lovely views. I kept my eyes down as I walked along the road out of town and saw moss, fresh brown fungus and several scarlet elf cups, still a surprise for me at this time of year, though I learned when I looked it up that it does grow at this time of year and likes to flush after a thaw. Perhaps I should stop being surprised and look a little more carefully.

When I turned off onto the Potholm road, the rain eased off, but as the clouds came right down to ground level at the same time, this wasn’t as beneficial as it might have been. The mist wasn’t as thick as on my cycle ride yesterday and I could see quite well if things were close…

…but views across the river were not quite so good.

However, I was walking beside an excellent wall…

…and as regular readers will know, where there’s a wall there’s a whey way of passing time. It’s called ‘looking at lichens’.

The lichens are really enjoying the weather at the moment.

I passed a group of sheep eating turnips. It was hard to tell if they were enjoying themselves.

I crossed the river and walked up the hill to the track back to Langholm on the other side. Finally, the icy patches along the track have all disappeared, and I was able to stroll along with confidence for the first time for ages.

Nothing grows under beech trees and I took a picture of this patch just to show that the moss doesn’t always win, though it keeps trying.

The day didn’t get any brighter as I went along…

… but it didn’t rain all the time and I was frequently able to furl my brolly and tuck it under my arm. Looking at the hills, I would say that I had made the right decision in keeping to the lower ground.

I noted a few things on my way back…

…but the cheeriest thing that I saw was this row of beech leaves on branches that have been pruned and regrown..

I got down to the Ewes water at the Kilngreen and looked around for dippers. I saw one which perched on a rock in between several long dives. I followed it down the river until it suddenly got quite agitated and flew back upstream. The reason for its agitation emerged from a mess of twigs at the water’s edge. Two dippers for the price of one.

The top left picture in the panel above shows just how small dippers are in the great scheme of things. It is a tribute to the amazing zoom lens on the Lumix that I can get any pictures of them at all on such a gloomy late afternoon.

Mr Grumpy is bigger and easier to spot.

Once again, I had timed my walk perfectly and got home just in time for four o’clock tea and toast.

The fives miles I had walked took my walking distance for the month up to 100 miles so I feel a bit better about only having cycled 60 miles. It is not often that I will walk more than I cycle in a month, though this will be one of several months recently when I have cycled and walked further than I have driven.

…..

Curiously, I have just had to take a break in writing this post because I was overcome by the need for a cream cracker with freshly made goats cheese on it. I found that Mrs Tootlepedal was watching Winter Watch on the telly and as I passed by, they were discussing lichens. Yesterday I had a picture of a gorse bush on my blog and they were discussing gorse on Winter Watch; today I have lichens on the blog and they are discussing lichens on Winter Watch . What is going on? Are they checking my every move? If they have goat’s cheese on tomorrow’s programme, we will know the truth.

There might be a chance of a bicycle ride tomorrow if the forecast is to be believed. I am keeping my fingers crossed.

I am afraid that there is yet another chaffinch as flying bird of the day as I missed the chance to catch the dipper flying up the river this afternoon.

A day of unrest

Today’s guest picture comes from our son Tony in sunny East Wemyss. Three days ago, his sun had unusual sparkle.

We needed a guest picture with sparkle because after a gloomy day yesterday, we had another fairly gloomy day today. It was dry and warmer than it has been lately, and it stayed above freezing all day, but it was still pretty grey. It was a difficult day to read as far as the weather went, but there was a moment after breakfast when the sun nearly came out, and Mrs Tootlepedal picked this good moment to have a walk up to the road to inspect the state of a potential manure mine. Would the parking be satisfactory for the car? Would the manure be unfrozen enough to shift? Would it be well rotted? These are questions that are well above my pay grade, so I left her to it and got ready to go for a bicycle ride.

I did waste a little time watching birds before I went.

Blue and coal tits were busy at the peanut feeder and a blue tit gave me a friendly acknowledgment when it visited the seed feeder too.

The robin was very busy, popping about and posing…

…but otherwise birds were scarce and this was as busy as the feeder got.

I spent some more time waiting for a delivery that didn’t come and then finally got out. Any hint of sunshine had disappeared by this time, and I thought that I would do a straightforward ride up the main road to the north of the town for ten miles and then come back again.

It turned out not to be as straightforward as all that. I hadn’t gone more than a mile out of town, when it started to rain on me. It was a sort of sleety rain that felt like it might turn to snow if I kept going north. I took the hint and turned back, went through the town and headed down the main road going south.

This was an excellent idea as far as the rain went, as it soon stopped. Unfortunately, I couldn’t really tell the difference, as I found that I was pedalling into very misty conditions instead. I had a double set of front and back lights on my bike so I ploughed on regardless. It was lucky that I didn’t want to go over the border in to England, as it turned out that as far as I could see, England wasn’t there.

To be fair, I couldn’t see very far.

I turned for home and headed up through Canonbie. I had hoped for some views from my cycle ride to add a little variety to this post. This was the point of view today.

One cow stood out though.

…and a sheep was even clearer.

I was very pleased to get twenty miles on the clock in spite of the lack of views, and both Mrs Tootlepedal and the delivery had arrived safely while I was out.

I was so disappointed with the scenic haul from my bike ride that I went out for a walk after lunch.

The snowdrops beside the dam behind the house summed up the day well. Hopeful but soggy.

The mist had been thinning when I got back to Langholm on my bike, but as I went out for my walk, it seemed to be thickening up again while I walked up the track past the golf course. I could hear the plaintive cry of a golfer who had lost sight of his ball after a good shot.

I looked over to my left and saw Castle Hill covered in mist….and then, literally a minute later, I looked again and saw that the mist had dramatically shrunk. It was very odd.

Warbla appeared above the mist…

…and as I got higher, the mist got lower. Strange.

But all was not quite as it seemed. When I turned to look ahead at my route along the quarry track, the mist was attacking again.

…and soon it was creeping up behind me as well.

If, as I sometimes do when faced with a long and not particularly interesting post with a lot of pictures, you scroll through my efforts today at pace, you could hardly get through them more quickly than the weather changed as I walked on. One moment, it was this..

…and six minutes later, the views were back again as if by magic.

By the time that I got to the wall, the gorse was in the clear…

…and it looked as thought there had never been a drop of mist anywhere.

There was even a hint of sunshine as I walked down the track to the woods once I had crossed the stile, and there were some dramatic views across the valley too…

I was coming down into more mist…

…and I wondered if it would get thick enough to make navigation problematic.

It didn’t thicken up though, and when I got into the woods, it hardly seemed misty at all. I had to keep an eye out for occasional large icy patches surviving from the recent cold weather.

The bracken offered a splash of colour…

…as I headed down the track named after Jenny Noble’s Gill.

By the time that I had got to the road beside the river, the mist had disappeared entirely and the day had become dull with high clouds. I stopped to admire the hard work of the man who is building his walls…

…but otherwise, I kept going as the light had faded and there was little of interest to detain me, apart from a hart’s tongue fern…

…as I got near the park.

I made it home more or less bang on four o’clock, the perfect time for a cup of tea and a slice of toast and home-made strawberry jam.

Mrs Tootlepedal had been able to get out into the garden for some gardening activity while I was walking so we both had quite a contrasting day to yesterday.

The usual sibling zoom meeting in the evening was enlivened by a couple of sets of old family photographs of past holiday trips, the only trips which are available just now. I am going to try to find a few of my own and scan them in for the next meeting. The trouble is that I didn’t take many pictures in those days, and a lot of them weren’t very good when I did take them. I have learned a lot from Sandy and other members of the camera club since then.

The slow cooked lamb stew made its third and final appearance at our evening meal so we will have to think of something else to eat now.

The flying bird of the day is not just the best one that I captured this morning but the only one.

Him indoors

Today’s guest picture comes from my camera club friend Simon. He wanted to show me that they have frosty fences in Canonbie too.

After a some sunny but cold days, it was a shock to wake up to tenths tenths mist today, and it was annoying to find that it was still cold. We had little incentive to rush out into the world.

The mist did clear as the morning went on but as it was replaced by persistent rain, we weren’t any better off. I turned idling into an art form and did nothing noticeable until I went for a pedal to nowhere in the garage for an hour before lunch.

Before I had my coffee, I spent five minutes looking out of the window into the gloom, and I took an excellent picture of a hole in the hedge into which a wren had disappeared a second before I clicked the shutter.

I was entertained by two noisy blackbirds airing their views…

…and then I was just in time to catch a rear view of the wren scurrying away from the other side of the hedge with its characteristic tipped up tail.

I could see what sort of day it was going to be so I turned away and took a picture of a goldfinch on the feeder.

When I turned back again, I found that to my amazement the wren had popped up onto some stalks.

It was too far away, the light was appalling and it was hiding behind a twig, but it was undoubtedly, a picture of a wren in the garden, a very infrequent occurrence.

And then it turned round and gave me another go. The light was still rotten but it cheered me up immensely.

On the feeder, there was a sudden burst of activity…

…which quickly evaporated, leaving a blackbird below…

…and female chaffinch on the feeder…

…and a robin reaching into the peanut butter jar.

All in all, quite a productive five minutes in an otherwise lazy morning.

After lunch, I spent a moment watching a robin posing…

…and then I had genuinely intended to put on a lot of wet weather gear and go for a walk, but it was so gloomy and the rain so persistent that first my resolve crumbled and then my legs crumpled. Luckily there was a sofa at hand to receive my falling body.

It was so comfortable that I stayed there for a long time.

Here there should be one of those screens that appear in films that say:

“Three hours later.”

But that would imply that something exciting was going to happen. It didn’t.

After our evening meal, I retired to my computer to write this post, and to brighten things up I lit a fire. This provided the only ray of colour in the day.

One good thing that did happen during the day was a text from the NHS to say that both Mrs Tootlepedal and I had tested negative for Covid. This wasn’t a great surprise but it was very welcome all the same. We were impressed by how quickly the test result had been returned. This is useful when you are trying to control outbreaks.

The forecast is a bit better for tomorrow thank goodness. It was probably just as well that I didn’t go for a walk today as there were reports of very icy paths on our local facebook pages.

The flying bird of the day is a chaffinch.