A quiet day

Today’s guest picture comes from my sister Mary, who found a wonderful show of colour on a recent visit to the park.

We are still a bit short of colour in our garden, which is no surprise after another chilly night. At least we had a good day to follow the cold night. In spite of warnings of showers, the weather held out until the evening, and we had coffee outside in the morning and a cycle ride in the afternoon.

The hedgehog doesn’t seem to be put off by the cold. We got several pictures of it roaming around beside the greenhouse in the night.

Both before and after chatting to Margaret over coffee, I got on with lawn care, and once again cleared the moss scrabbled up by the jackdaws off the front and middle lawns. This time, the birds didn’t immediately return and start making a mess again, so perhaps they have pecked up all there is to peck.

I did a little deadheading of tulips, and some weed killing on the drives and paths with my mini flame thrower. That managed to fill up my morning very well. I did look round the garden with my camera in hand too.

In spite of the lack of new flowers, there is new colour about, like this Rodgersia…

…and some handsome ferns.

The rhododendrons are nowhere near fully out but they are producing more flowers each day…

…and the good looking tulips are hanging on very well.

Considering that the espalier apples are flowering well…

…I was very happy to hear buzzing in their vicinity and to see that there were quite few bees about in the garden today.

As well as bumble bees, there were honey bees to be seen too (but not when I had my camera in my hand).

The oranmental strawberries have just started to flower. They are very good value and should keep producing flowers for months on end.

And the garden geums are arriving, but might like some warmer weather to get them to hold thier heads up.

I sat on the old bench in the sun just before lunch and saw the siskins at the feeder from an unusual viewpoint.

Looking at the bird feeder from the window a little later on, I could see that siskins were throwing away seed in their usual reckless manner…

…while a goldfinch waited alertly in the wings.

After lunch, I went out and sat on the old bench again with my bird camera and hoped that an interesting bird would pass over head. I was quite surprised when one did. It caught me unawares and an electric power line got in the way of my first shot and then the bird flew away…

…but the buzzard kindly circled back and gave me another go.

It found nothing to interest it and gradually drifted off towards the Castleholm.

Goldfinches started fighting behind its back.

Mrs Tootlepedal was in the mood for a pedal, so we set out to go to Cleuchfoot and back. It was very hard work going up to Wauchope Schoolhouse, straight into a brisk wind, but Mrs Tootlepedal had enough energy left to look about for interesting things and spotted a butterfly fluttering round some Lady’s Smock.

I got my camera out and got two quick pictures before it fluttered on.

They are not great pictures but I think that they show a female orange tip butterfly.

We turned off at Wauchope Schoolhouse and were grateful to have merely a crosswind as we cycled up towards Cleuchfoot. Two buzzards circled overhead…

…and Mrs Tootlepedal pressed on as I stopped to photograph them.

It was a good day for birds because not only did we hear a cuckoo calling but we actually saw one perched on a electricity pole. It flew off before I could get my camera out, but just seeing a cuckoo is pretty rare so we were pleased about that.

The Cleuchfoot road is short but scenic.

After the battle up to Ceuchfoot, we enjoyed a wind propelled rush back to the town and got home just in time for four o’clock tea. It was a round trip of eight miles, which we accomplished in exactly an hour, coming back twice as fast as we went out.

I had all sorts of plans for an evening walk in the sunshine, but after quite a vigorous day yesterday, the plans faded as soon as they were made, and I found gentle things to do indoors.

The forecast for the next two days is very poor, so I may get more rest than I actually want. Still, there is always the bike to nowhere to fall back on.

As well as the buzzard, I saw a pigeon when I was sitting out on the old bench in the afternoon and it is the flying bird of the day.

Acting my age

Today’s guest picture comes from our son Tony, who visited the Union Canal at Ratho near Edinburgh at just the right moment.

We woke to a sunny morning, although it was chilly again, and as the forecast was pretty positive, I decided that this was the day for a longer ride after a month of short rides so far.

I waited for things to warm up a little, had a slice of toast and an early cup of coffee, and got off at about half past ten.

It promptly started to rain.

However, the rain was not heavy and the westerly wind looked as though it would soon blow it over my head so I persevered. By the time that I had gone eight miles, the situation looked better.

The beech hedges are starting to go green…

…and as long as I was in the sunshine, it was a good day for a pedal.

I went through Eaglesfield, and took the old main road down to Gretna, passing Robgill Tower on my way.

The car parks at the shopping village at Gretna were well filled now that restrictions on shopping have been lifted, but I passed up any retail opportunties and headed over the border into England.

My progress was brought to an abrupt halt by a closed level crossing.

I lined up with some cars, also trapped at the crossing.We waited for some time and then the Glasgow express whizzed by. We got ready to go but the gates remained shut. After what seemed like an age, a very slow, very long goods train (pictured above) trundled past. Once again, engines were started, my foot put on the pedal…and once again, the gates stayed closed.

This was getting beyond the joke and we didn’t laugh at all when a solo diesel locomotive pottered across the crossing. Still no gate action, Finally the two coach diesel from Glasgow to Carlise via Dumfries bobbled past with a cheery toot and the gates were opened. It was lucky that we didn’t have to wait for an Edinburgh train too. I have never had to wait for four trains to pass at a level crossing before.

Still, life on the other side of the crossing soon made up for the delay.

I went through Rockcliffe, went past the railway marsalling yards, and took the cycle path whch runs alongside the Carlisle by-pass. The cycle path has been very well maintained during the lockdown and it was a pleasure to use it to cross the River Eden and get to the lovely country on the southern shore of the Solway.

In order to make a loop for the return journey, I turned off the coast road at Kirkandrews-on-Eden and enjoyed a splendid view of the Lake District hills…

…before turnng west and heading for Kirkbampton, which has a delightful 12th century church…

…much ‘improved’ 150 years ago, but with some original features remaining.

It was a battle getting to Kirkbampton into a brisk wind, and I was very happy to come to the end of the loop and turn back for the coast and the road home.

I was even happier when I saw that the may is out at last….

…although I won’t be tempted to cast a clout until it gets quite a bit warmer.

I had hoped to see the sea, but when I got to Drumburgh, I found that the sea was out….very out…

…in fact it looked as though I could almost have cycled straight across the sands to the Scottish shore. I had no incination to do that though, as there was a heavy rainstorm going on over there.

I gave my bicycle a rest on a handy bench instead.

The road along the shore to Burgh by Sands is dead flat and with the brisk wind now behind me, I made good speed, though a little rise at Boustead Hill gave me an excuse to stop and enjoy the sight of cattle in a pond on the marsh.

As I was headed in the direction of the wind farm at Gretna, the miserable looking weather on the other side of the Solway made me a bit nervous…

…but by the time that I got there, the rain had disappeared and I pedalled home in almost continuous sunshine.

On my way, I went round the Carlisle by-pass again and was much struck by a brilliant broom at a roundabout on the top of the hill.

It was not quite so impressive at the minister’s broom, but it was right next to a constant stream of traffic so I though that it was doing very well.

Usually I expect to see broom come out as the gorse fades, but there was plenty of good gorse on view today, and I liked these little bursts of colour in a hedge near Blackdyke…

…though the prize for good gorse went to the terrific display along the banking of the motorway near Gretna.

I crossed the motorway and headed back towards Scotland, coming to what was an important road in times past…

…but which is now a little used back road. I used it to cross the border and go up to Kirkpatrick Fleming through Gretna Green.

Once at KPF, a friendly wind blew me home at a good speed for the end of several hours cycling. To give my legs and back a break every now and again, I would stop for a snack or a drink and one of these breaks happened to be beside the Korean Pines at Half Morton. They were busier than ever.

My last stop was to appreciate the mass of garlic mustard in the verge near Irvine House.

The temperature dropped a bit and it clouded over as I got near Langholm and I feared that this meant that a rain shower was coming. My fear was unfounded, and the sun was out when I got home.

To those interested in the science of sports nutrition, I can say that I was fuelled by three bananas, six home made date rolls, three Palestinian Medjool dates and a small grain and Belgian chocolate bar from M&S. I drank tap water from my cycle bottle.

Mrs Tootlepedal had been busy while i was out and had raked up the jackdaw’s depredations on the middle lawn into neat piles of moss, so we cleared these off and then I had a look round for flowers. The cold nights have not been helping and there was little new to see. Mrs Tootlepedal is of the view that gardening at the moment is a vale of tears, but she likes the cheerful pansies in the chimney pot…

The rhododendrons are progressing…

…but the azaleas are still very hesitant.

I had forgotten to fill the feeder before I left, so I filled it now and hung it out with a rather guilty air. Siskins of every size and colour soon arrived…

…and naturally soon started fighting and shouting.

Mrs Tootlepedal had made a tasy curry for our evening meal and I enjoyed the sparkle of the spray as she washed a pan after we had eaten.

I had set out to do at least 63 miles which is 100 km today, but finding conditions to my liking, I had extended my trip to 80 miles so that I have recorded another year in which I have completed a cycle ride to match my age in miles, in this case exceeding the target by one mile. The plan is to continue to do this for as long as my legs hold out, using an electric bike when that becomes necessary.

The eighty miles may be seen as a tribute to Dropscone who turns eighty this weekend. (There was a mystery package of two pain au chocolate and a fruit bread waiting for me when I got home. Seeing that they had been obtained from the late evening discount counter of a Hawick supermarket for the princely price of 10p each, I rightly surmised that this was a gift from Dropscone. He likes to time his return from evening golf committee meetings in the Borders to coincide with the bargain bakery moments at ASDA.)

The flying bird of the day is a siskin leaving the feeder in disgust at the bad behaviour there.

Footnote: Here is a map of today’s very flat ride. Those who wish may find further details by clicking on the pic.

Social media proves useful

Today’s guest pictures come from Laura, my correspondent from Lake Michigan. She and her mother visited a tulip festival in Holland – the city near Lake Macatawa, not the country in Europe. They found some lovely tulips there in Riverview Park in Downtown Holland.

We had another cool day here, with occasional rain and even more occasional sunshine. It looked as though the best time of the day for a pedal would be sooner rather than later, so I set off well before coffee to go round my usual Canonbie circuit.

My legs are not very fond of early morning exercise and I went round at a gentle pace. It was too grey for views, but I did see some promising growth in the cow parsley department…

…and the first ribwort of the season.

The three sisters of Grainstonehead are getting their summer attire ready…

…and nearby, a fine copper beech stood out among other trees.

It was still dry when I got home, and after a cup of coffee, I had a walk round the garden.

Our rhododendrons are slowly coming out, but slowly is the right word, with only two white flowers fully out…

…and a single red one.

The jackdaws have been at work on the lawns again, but I hadn’t the heart to clear all the moss up today, and I even looked sympathetically at a blackbird who was doing some minor pecking of its own.

In the vegetable garden, beans are beaning and chives are chiving.

Other flowers and a fern were available.

I went back out after lunch but the weather looked unreliable…

…and after failing to make up my mind about what garden task I could fit in before it started to rain, I did none of them. I filled the bird feeder instead, and then went back inside to watch the birds.

There was a better mixture of birds today.

…and as it soon started to rain, I felt that I had made a good decison to come indoors. The birds didn’t have that option.

A poor goldfinch was exercising its neck to ease the pain brought on by the damp weather when it suffered an unprovoked attacked from a siskin that blew it off its perch.

As the rain continued, I felt the call of the biscuit and made a batch of date rolls, using Paul Hollywood’s fig roll recipe. The best thing about the recipe for me is the use of some stem ginger in the filling which makes the rolls very tasty.

I managed to fill in quite a lot of the afternoon doing this, and then squeezed in a visit to our corner shop just before it closed.

The rain stopped as I got back from the shop, so I decided that this was a chance to stretch my legs and went out for a short three bridges walk.

The mallards were swiming in the dam again as I left the house. It would be good to see ducklings there too.

Unusually, I saw a great tit on the road and a bue tit on a bush before I had even got down to the suspension bridge.

An oystercatcher was standing close to the Kirk Brig and stared back at me as I took its picture.

Having been able to photograph five birds so early on my walk was a good omen for the rest of the stroll. Indeed, I might have been able to take quite a few more bird pictures if the battery on my camera had not run out just after I saw the oystercatcher. I had my phone with me, but although phone cameras are good, they are not suited to zooming in on flighty birds (or at least not in my hands they aren’t).

Luckily the day brightened up and I could point it at some river views instead. In spite of the recent rain, our rivers are still very low.

I looked both ways from the Town Bridge, up…

….and down.

The clouds had lifted from the hills very quickly after the rain.

Since I didn’t have a working camera with me, I thought that I would be bound to see any amount of interesting birds but I didn’t see any at all, and just enjoyed strolling in the calm of the early evening.

I did see a red campion on the edge of the Scholars’ Field…

…and the new broom in the minister’s garden was beyond compare.

I got back in time for a cup of tea before the regular sibling zoom and Mrs Tootlepdal was overjoyed when our builder turned up to complete a job that had been waiting for several months.

While doing some tidying up related to the arrival of my computer, I had found four large books of photography which I had read and then tucked away. I thought that they might be of interest to others so I put a note about them on a local Facebook page, saying that they were free to a good home. This evening, I was able to hand them on to a couple who had seen the note, asked if they could have them, and arranged a time to collect them. Facebook comes in for some well justified criticism but this was an example of it working just as it should.

The flying birds of the day are two goldfinches indulging in an aerial battle.

Spring has finally sprung

Today’s guest picture comes from my sister Caroline, who found the sea in a very calm mood when she went down to visit it recently. The Isle of Wight may be seen in the background.

We had a pretty calm day here, but it was cool again, and if the sun wasn’t out, which it wasn’t for a lot of the day, coats were needed for sitting in the garden.

I started the day off with a crossword, a visit to the shop, some tulip dead heading, and getting the mower out one more time to clean up the mess made by the pernicious peckers.

I noticed a pair of mallards in the dam when I came back from the shop.

I broke off from lawn care to have coffee with Mrs Tootlepedal and Margaret. This might have been a significant day as in theory, we will be able to have coffee with Margaret (and Sandy or Dropscone or anyone else) indoors from now on if the weather is inhospitable. However, nothing is certain these days and the regulations may change at the drop of a hat.

While we were chatting, an orange tip butterfly appeared. After fluttering about in an apparently aimless way, it settled on a Lady’s Smock, where it waited long enough for me to leap up and take a picture of it.

After coffee, I finished off the lawn care and then looked around for new flowers. There was potential…

…but nothing newly out that I could see.

I cleaned the tray under the bird feeder, then cleaned the feeder itself and refilled it, and then went in and watched the birds through the window.

Siskins were the order of the day again…

…and a visiting chaffinch showed just how small they are.

There was a moment when three siskins indulged in some formation wing flapping..

…but mostly they indulged their passion for in-fighting and bad language.

A redpoll rose above it…

…while a chaffinch showed that it could be rude too by turfing off a siskin and repelling a redpoll and then making faces at all and sundry.

In return, a siskin and redpoll were rude to a chaffinch.

There is plenty of action to watch at the feeder just now.

After lunch, we watched a bit of the Giro d’Italia, but I had to stop before the stage finished to join a virtual choir practice with the Carlisle Community Choir.

After the practice, Mrs Tootlepdal kindly re-ran the final kilometres of the stage for me on her tablet and they proved to be very exciting.

Feeling the need to stretch my legs, I went out for a walk. It had rained a bit earlier on, but it seemed dry enough so I set out to walk down to Skippers Bridge.

The rhododendron in the park was looking quite impressive…

…and the wild garlic is bursting into flower in the woods all along the river bank.

There was a carpet of bluebells beside the Beechy Plains….

…and I might easily have got distracted from my walking plans and stopped there to take more pictures.

But I pressed on to Skippers Bridge, passing a fine bird cherry on my way…

…and found the scenes there were quite delightful enough to make me glad that I had perservered with my outing.

I couldn’t stop myself from taking yet another Skippers Bridge picture….

…and who can blame me? It never fails to please.

As I walked down the road beside the river, it really felt as though spring was here at last.

(It really did look like that. The sun came out for a bit and the picture is not the result of any photo editing at all.)

I took the track up beside Jenny Noble’s Gill, and when the path came to cross the gill, it was lined with golden saxifrage.

We have had enough rain to leave a puddle or two on the paths, but they were in pretty good condition as I walked though the still leafless oak wood.

I took too many pictures on my walk, and I have put a selection of things that I saw on my way into a panel.

Because the suspension bridge is closed, I had to walk through the town, cross the town bridge and come back along the river to see how the works on the suspension bridge are going. This gave me the chance to enjoy the cherry blossom beside the Esk as I noticed that there are now scaffolding towers at both ends of the bridge.

With the added distance from my detour, the walk came to just under four miles and I had worked up a good appetite for another plate of sausage stew and spinach.

Spring may have sprung, but with rain in the forecast for every day next week and temperatures not getting above 13 degrees at best, we are not feeling like celebrating wildly yet.

I failed to get a good flying bird of the day today so I have put in two small ones as the best that I could do.

Deja vu

Today’s guest picture comes from Elaine, the sister in law of our neighbour Liz. She is over on the east coast enjoying some fine weather at Beadnell Bay in Northumberland.

We had some fine weather here too today, but sadly it didn’t even last until coffee time. It clouded over abruptly, and we sat in a rather chilly garden with Margaret, wondering whether this year is ever going to warm up properly.

The jackdaws had been busy again, so after coffee, I had to get the mower out and tidy up both lawns.

The front lawn, which is the more mossy of the two, is beginning to look a little threadbare after the persistent pecking by the jackdaws.

After the lawn care, I had a walk round the garden with Mrs Tootlepedal to check on developments.

The rhododendrons are just beginning to show a flower or two, both red…

…and white.

One or two trout lilies have escaped complete devastation by the morning frosts…

…and in my view, there is never a bad time to put another euphorbia picture into a post.

A blackbird in the rowan tree was in full voice again at midday, and when I went out two hours later, there was a blackbird in the same place singing just as loud. Whether it was the same one, a better blackbird identifier than me will have to say.

I got out the hover mower and gave the grasss round the greenhouse and the vegetable garden beds a trim…

…and checked out some future eating possibilities.

There is a little bunch of bluebells in a corner of the veg garden too.

We made a final tour before going in for lunch and passed the first potentilla flower, a new anemone, and the fierce ajuga and gentle speedwell at the corner of the middle lawn.

Mrs Tootlepedal noticed an orange tip butterfly fluttering about, and I stalked it round the garden for some time before it finally settled for a moment. It wasn’t a shock to find that it had chosen a lady’s smock, one of the orange tip’s favourite flowers.

I had a rather large lunch including haggis, a tomato and feta salad, and a sardine pate sandwich. It took me some time to recover.

I watched the birds for a while. The chaffinches seem mostly to have gone to do their nesting elsewhere, and the siskins have taken over as top visitors.

Occasional goldfinches turn up too…

…but this one couldn’t persuade a siskin to shift. Another goldfinch waited for an opportunity.

I continued in resting mode by going out and sitting on the old bench to see if anything interesting flew over the garden. While I waited for aerial interest, three promising buds caught my eye…

…and I was sad that there seem to be so few bees about that the white dicentra are not attracting a buzz at all.

Some pigeons turend up, and one strolled along our ridge tiles like a tightrope walker…

It was joined by others and a stately chase ensued onto the bathroom dormer.

In the end, they all flew off and I went in to get changed to go out for a cycle ride. I had originally intended to go for a longer ride but found that it was difficut to get motivated earlier in the day. I settled for a 20 mile Grand old Duke of York job up to the top of the Mosspaul Hill and back down again.

It was grey, but the wind was light and I found myelf enjoying the pedal more than I had expected. In fact, I enjoyed pedalling so much that I didn’t stop for a picture until I had done eight miles. To tell the truth, there was nothing much to stop for, with the verges devoid of interest and the views looking rather dull too.

When I stopped for a banana at the top of the hill, I did see an adventurous sheep and lamb crossing a burn at Mosspaul…

…but I went so well back down the hill, that I wasn’t tempted to stop at all until I got home. When I did get home, I was very disappointed to see some familiar criminals at work.

Will they never stop? You would have thought that they must have eaten all of whatever it is that they are eating by now.

In spite of the grey, cool weather and the unadventurous route choice, I really enjoyed my cycle outing and my legs did too. There are no challenging hills on the route and I got into a good rhythm, so I managed an average speed of 14 mph, a very satsfactory effort for me these days.

We then watched a rerun of the last few kilometeres of today’s stage of the Giro d’Italia and saw some people who really know how to pedal.

It got even gloomier as the day went on, so I had no temptation to take an evening walk and spent some time instead in getting my new laptop to talk to my old printer before enjying an evening meal of one of the butcher’s meat pies with some spinach. Tasty and healthy.

The flying bird of the day is one of the departing pigeons, leaving the rooftop in a flurry of wings.

Treacle treat

Today’s guest picture comes from Mrs Tootlepedal while on her cycle ride this afternoon. She passed the moorland wild goats grazing among the long grass .

We didn’t have any more frost last night, and we enjoyed a reasonably warm, reasonably calm day today. It was warm enough for coffee outside, and I was very happy to welcome Dropscone to the garden. As it was Friday, he brought a batch of the traditional Friday treacle scones with him, and it was just like old times. In return, he went away with a good supply of rhubarb, enough for a crumble or two.

He had been playing golf in a seniors tournament up the borders yesterday, and was quite pleased with his efforts. I am meaning to try a game or two of golf myself again this year, but I need to get my knee into better condition first.

I spent a fair bit of time today getting necessary stuff loaded on to my new computer and didn’t get a camera out until after lunch when I had a look at the feeder. There was a siskin looking for a fight there.

I went out into the garden and found a blackbird up above and another persistent pecker on the lawn.

While I was out, I looked at the flowers and found that nothing new had arrived. A tulip looked a bit sad…

…but the lady’s smock is well. It should be attracting butteflies but they are in very short supply at the moment.

Mrs Tootlepdal had to wait in for a telphone call and when it had finally come, we leapt into action. She combined shopping with an adventurous nine mile cycle ride round the back of Whita Hill, involving some steep hills, rough tracks and a ford, while I went for a tame outing round my familar Canonbie 20 miles crcuit.

It was a pleasant day for a ride, with occasional sunshine picking out parts of the country as I looked back down Wauchopedale.

I saw and heard curlews and lapwings as I cycled over the hill past the Bloch Farm but they were too quick for me and my camera.

I had to make do with a tree that was lying down for a rest. In spite of its very tenuous contact with the ground, it is still very much alive and has just come into leaf again.

When I got to the open country, I was impressed by the big sky on offer.

And I photographed a tree which has appeared in recent posts twice before. It was just about at its peak today.

The beech hedge has still got some way to go before it is fully out.

In the verges near the tree, I spotted a large number of geums…

…and a mystery plant. It looks very healthy, whatever it is.

When I came to the final hill down to the the main road, I looked across the river to the English side and noticed that there are still a lot of trees there waiting to produce their leaves.

Nearby, what looks at first sight to be a small lake is actually a sea of plastic used in growing maize.

I was enjoying myself in the better conditions, and was much more inclined to stop to look around than I have been on recent rides when I have been battling cold winds and trying to avoid rain.

There were blue and whitebells beside the river Esk at Canonbie…

…and I noticed that Hollows Tower is open to visitors again.

As I got nearer to home, there were black clouds over Whita…

…and I worried about Mrs Tootlepdal who was somewhere on the other side of the hill.

I did not need to have worried as the weather stayed dry and she arrived home shortly after I got back.

While I was waiting for her, I checked on the bluest flower in the garden…

…and a nearby clump of cowslips.

I went in to put the kettle on and look at the bird feede. A redpoll was in residence…

…and then I went out again to sit on the old bench with my camera in the hope that interesting birds would fly past me. In the absence of interesting birds, I took pictures of the trillum and berberis beside the bench.

I did see a blackbird with a worm…

…and a rook flew in, posed and flew out again.

The day ended with a sibling zoom and a dish of sausage stew. Any day that has treacle scones, a bicycle ride and sausage stew in it must be counted as a good day,

The flying bird of the day is a siskin.

Up to speed

Today’s guest picture comes from our friend Gavin who is on holiday in the west of our region. He enjoyed the sight of the Bladnoch Distillery, and the aromas too. This is the most southerly of Scotland’s many distilleries.

We had the hedgehog camera out over night, and when Mrs Tootlepdal brought it in, we were a bit shocked to find that the temperature had dropped to -2 in the early hours of the morning. The low temperature hadn’t discouraged the hedgehog, but it had fogged up the camera so the last shot is a bit blurred. Luckily we had got two better shots earlier during the night.

I tried and failed to set the camera to video so I will try again next time that I put it out.

We got some welcome sunshine in the morning which helped to warm things up a bit, and I was able to get the mower out and tidy up the mess that those pecking jackdaws had left on the front lawn. I did a bit of tulip dead heading too, and then walked up the hill to have coffee with Sandy. It was very nice to sit and chat on his patio in the sunshine, especially as he had laid on a delicious slice of orange cake to go with the coffee.

I couldn’t stay too long as I had a visit from a BT engineer scheduled for between 12 and 2 o’clock. I left in plenty of time. This was lucky as Mrs Tootlepedal rang me up as I was walking back down the hill to tell me that the engineer had arrived twenty minutes early.

He was very cheerful and helpful and made sure that I had the best possible internet speeds all over the house, even in the garage where the bike to nowhere lives. If I want better speeds, he told me, I will have to wait until full fibre reaches every house in the street. He expects to be retired before then.

Just as he left, I got a delivery of a new laptop. This was the reason for my attempt to make sure that I had the best possible internet connection. My old laptop had got so slow that writing the blog, and especially producing the pictures for each post, had become a tedious task. My new laptop, bought with advice from my younger son who knows about these things, is lightning fast and I am using it to produce this blog. I am a happy person, though I would be even happier if I could get the spell checker to work.

All this activity meant that I didn’t have mich time for taking pictures but I did have a quick walk round the garden before I went up to see Sandy.

Late tulips are looking good…

…and there was a heavy hint of white rhododendron flowers to come shortly.

A female blackbird was busy collecting worms from the tidied lawn…

…and a bee was visiting the dandelions again.

After the engineer left, I unpacked my new computer. I didn’t dare touch it in case I broke it so I looked at the birds instead…

…and discovered that it had started to rain.

That didn’t discourage those pesky peckers who were back making a mess of the middle lawn.

I didn’t go back out into the garden but had lunch instead.

I spent quite a lot of time after lunch tidying up the room where I do my computing so that it would be in a fit state to welcome the new machine. Then I carefully connected everything up but didn’t turn it on. It looked so smart that it made me nervous.

There was some light rain continuing, but I put on my cycling gear and went off to have a short ride in the middle of the afternoon.

In spite of the rain, it felt good to be out with the wind behind me at the start and temperatures feeling quite springlike by this time. By the time that I had done nearly ten miles, the rain had stopped and I stopped too. Beside me in the verge, I saw the first plantains (I think) and some crosswort which is popping up everywhere now.

A little further on, the gorse was in great form but there were parts of the bushes that looked extremely dead as well.

I went up to Gair and turned off to take the road past the Solwaybank windfarm. There was a lot of this in the verge at one point…

Mrs Tootlepedal thinks that it is sedum. It looked amazingly healthy.

I had chosen the route for the conditions as some of it is tree lined, and not only does that bring balm to the soul in spring..

…it also provides excellent protection from the wind.

And it has a very good surface.

I had to go out into the open again to get home and it was a bit of a battle into the wind. A glance across the moor back towards the wind farm…

… showed that it was a pretty grey day even if the rain had stopped.

I got home safely but slowly, and found that MrscTootlepdal had had to spend longer at her upstairs window painting project than she would have liked as some masking tape had been very reluctatnt to become disengaged from the glass of the window. Therse things are sent to try painters.

I had another look round the garden and found a very open tulip…

…and a very pecked middle lawn.

Some flowers have lasted well past their sell by date in this odd year, like these grape hyacinths…

…while others have been made sad by repeated frosts. The magnolia looked so promising earlier on but almost all its flowers look like this now.

The pansies in the chimney pot outside the kitchen window continue to look very cheery.

I couldn’t stand the mess so I used the mower to clean up the moss from the middle lawn and then made a sausage stew for my tea.

While it was cooking, I bravely switched on my new computer and found it worked very well. Apart from having to get what seemed liked endless confirmation messages on my mobile phone to make progress, I have got most of what I need installed and running. It turns out that much of the slow repsonse and sluggish perfomance I have been blaming on app providers and internet signal suppliers was actually caused by my old laptop. I hope that my happy state of mind contiunues and that I don’t find any hidden drawbacks as time goes on.

In a busy day, I just didn’t have time to spend trying to get a decent flying bird of the day so a passing siskin will have to do.

Breaking the barrier

Today’s guest picture comes from our son Tony who spotted the navy sailing up the Forth yesterday.

Another frost free night here was followed by a dry morning with a reasonable, but not jacket shedding temperature.

As we had things to do in the afternoon, I went off for a fairly early cycle ride. Because I didn’t have a lot of time, I followed my familiar route down to Canonbie and back, and kept an eye for wild flowers as I went.

Just as I got near to the bottom of the by-pass, a big splash of white caused me to apply the brakes. It was some fine stitchwort, standing tall in the verge.

My next pause was caused by what I think of as grass…

…and some research suggests that it might be Timothy. I would be happy to be corrected by a knowledgeable reader (or two). It is all over the verges in several places.

I am a lot more confident about silverweed. It grows so close to road edges that it is hard for a cyclist to miss when its flowers come out. These were at the Hollows and you can see the tarmac in the corner of the picture.

It was good to see new growth, but further on at Irvine House, growth of roadside young trees is soon going to spoil one of my favourite views up the river.

I had to hold my camera above my head to take this picture.

My breathing wasn’t at its best today, and I struggled to keep my pace up, but a couple of judicious rests for a minute or two got me going again, and I arrived home in fairly good order.

Mrs Tootlepedal was busy in the garden and I joined her for a while. We were very pleased to see that the dandelions were at last earning their keep and providing facilities for visiting bees.

I noticed ferns unfolding in the back border.

I did a little weed killing with my flame wand on the drive and two paths, and then went in to get changed and have lunch.

And, naturally, checked on the birds as I went past the window.

It was a day for spotting redpolls.

They must be nesting nearby because we are getting a steady stream of them visiting the feeder every day at the moment.

After lunch, we drove to an industrial and retail estate on the outskirts of Carlisle and did some shopping.

This may not sound like much, but it was the first time that we have done this for some months and it felt quite strange. Mrs Tootlepedal bought something to help with painting a bedroom window, and then went into a hobby shop to get material and a zip for a dress for our granddaughter Matilda to wear at a dance competition.

While she was in the shop, I had a look around the car park and was pleased to find that I had my camera in my pocket. You never know when you will need it.

It is probably a lesser black backed gull like the ones I often see near the suspension bridge in Langholm. It was standing on top of a tall lamppost, looking imperious.

Mrs Tootlepedal got her material and then we went into a M&S foodhall next door and did some impulse buying. Buying cheese and coffee beans off a shelf and not online was a novel experience.

The wisdom of getting my cycling done in the morning was confirmed when it rained on us as we drove home.

However, the rain didn’t last and after a cup of tea and a slice of sourdough bread (another impulse purchase) and home made strawberry jam, I went out for a short walk to check on the state of the suspension bridge and to see if I could find any waterside birds while I was out.

I don’t know what work they are going to do on the bridge but it obviously needs this imposing superstructure built over the new town end of the bridge…

…and some hefty clamps on the suspension wires.

While I was out, I admired cheerful cherry blossom in the park…

…and saw two oystercatchers, one on the church wall and the other lurking beside the river.

Upstream from the bridge, two goosanders were to be found beside the water. Unusually, they didn’t immediately sneak away as I approached. I was able to watch the female do a little grooming and then slip down a rock and take up a comfortable position, half an and half out of the water.

The male did nothing.

At the Kilngreen, an old friend was stalking worms in the grass…

…but he obligingly posed for a portrait too.

Two mallards passed by. The male was still talking.

There were no black headed gulls about, and a crow had taken their place on the fence post across the river.

I drifted across the car park to buy a small ice cream cone from Pelosi’s van and while I was eating it, I went back to the river and added to the afternoon’s bird count by first seeing a grey wagtail…

…and then a little wren hopping along the far bank of the Ewes Water.

The light was too gloomy for good pictures but I have put them in just to show what was going about on a May afternoon.

I walked round the new path on the Castleholm, hoping to see a tree creeper or a nuthatch to add to my bird collection but I had to settle for conifers sprouting…

…willows leafing up…

…and laurel flowers going over.

I got home in good time for the regular sibling Zoom.

I made too much cauliflower cheese for my evening meal and may have considerable difficulty getting up the stairs to go to bed tonight.

The flying bird of the day is a siskin, flitting from the willow withies onto the feeder.

Delayed gratification

Today’s guest picture comes from my Welsh correspondent Keiron. Injury is keeping him off his bike at the moment, but he still managed to get out and enjoy this nice waterfall at Ynysarwed.

We had another warm night here, followed by another warm day, and this time there was no rain to spoil the morning. There was however, a brisk wind and my original plan to jump on my bike shortly after breakfast and go for a long pedal was put on hold. My knee is still not quite up to full function, and pedalling into a brisk wind for some miles is not recommended as part of the cure.

I opted for going to the shop for supplies and being useful in the garden. I dug a hole for a flower that Mrs Tootlepedal was transplanting, did some shredding and deposited the shreddings under a hedge as mulch, and finally used the mower to clean up all the moss that had been left on the lawns by the pecking jackdaws.

In between times, we had coffee in the garden (without Margaret today), and I wandered about taking pictures.

We are in a bit of a gap between the tulips and what comes next. There are signs of what is coming and there are even one or two tulips still waiting to come fully out…

…but there are other flowers about. The trillium is terrific this year and an ajuga that our neighbour Liz gave us is doing well too. It is an unassuming flower at first glance but it repays a closer look.

And I always enjoy the strangeness that is a euphorbia.

It is hard to tell what exactly is going on with this variety but a hoverfly…

…was happy to visit.

The feeding frenzy of the small birds has calmed down a bit as the better weather has arrived, but the feeder was still quite busy today, with a greenfinch soon shifting a siskin off its perch…

…and then ignoring cheek from another siskin.

The forecast was for the wind to drop during the day but for rain to arrive later on. It was a matter of trying to get out late enough on my bicycle to take advantage of the falling wind speeds, but early enough to avoid the incoming rain.

In the end, after lunch and another look at the birds…

…I got out in the afternoon and set off to see how far my legs would take me.

I went over Callister and down to Waterbeck from whence I took the direct route to Eaglesfield. I looked back from the hill out of the village and got a fine view over a small racing stable.

I haven’t used this road much in past months as it has been in a poor state of repair, but the road menders have been at work and it was in much better condition today. There was even a gang of workers improving a section near Eaglesfield village today.

I stopped on the way to admire a stand of trees beside the road.

It was reasonably warm at just under 15°C (60 °F) in the middle of the ride, and I was made even happier when I turned on to the old main road south having gone through Eaglesfield and found the wind that had been against me for 13 miles was now helping a bit.

The old main road which has been overtaken by the opening of a motorway running along the same line, is now a quiet route with a cycle lane along most of it. It also has a good number of wild flowers in its verges. There was a fine show of dandelions under a bridge at Kirtlebridge…

…although they are starting to go over and the clock is ticking for them.

I saw my first red campions today…

…and some cowslips too…

…which were quite easy to spot.

I had thought of going down to Gretna and even visiting England to extend my ride, but as I got near to Kirkpatrick Fleming, it seemed to get a little colder and it looked rather grey to the south. I didn’t want to get rained on, so I turned off at the village and headed straight over towards Langholm.

I passed more colourful flowers in the verge on this road, but I think that they were garden escapes as these were Spanish bluebells and not the native variety…

…and this was not familiar to me at all.

But it was good to have colour in the verges so I was quite happy to see them.

Having looked at the noble fir in the park on my last walk, I stopped to look at its relative, the Korean Pines, in the churchyard at Half Morton. They form a boundary between the older and new parts of the graveyard.

The first developing cones that I met were still green…

…but round the corner, there were older ones to be found as well as more early developers.

They are amazing little trees with every inch absolutely covered with needles, flowers and cones.

Helped by the favouring wind, I made good speed on my way back to Langholm and didn’t stop again for pictures. I covered thirty two miles, not as much as I had hoped for at the start of the day, but as it was 32 miles at just over 13 mph in light winds and for the greater part in warm sunshine, I was quite content when I got home.

I hadn’t been home long when Mrs Tootlepedal emerged from the greenhouse with a very rare visitor in her hand.

Some research suggested that it is ruby tiger moth, which is described as fairly common although we have never seen one before.

I just managed to get the picture as Mrs Tootlepedal opened her hand and the moth flew off.

The threatened rain took its time and arrived much later in the evening so I was able to have another garden wander where the berberis flowers caught my eye.

A cup of tea and a slice of toast, followed by a shower, and then an evening meal of corned beef hash seemed to fill up the rest of the day. I did have time to make a first effort at recording my contribution to the Carlisle Community Choir’s new virtual performance. Could do better, will try again.

The flying bird of the day is a goldfinch which is having words with a siskin.

Footnote: the jackdaws were back and have pecked up the front lawn again.

Return of the pesky peckers

Today’s guest picture comes from my sister Susan. She may live in a big city but she can still find lovely flowers to enjoy like this Choisya close to her home.

We had another warm night and another warm day here, and another set of rain showers to go with it. The garden and the gardener are not complaining about the rain, the cyclist is more ambivalent.

Choosing the best time to go cycling between the showers was tricky but I had arranged to have coffee with Sandy and I didn’t get up early enough to out before coffee, so the morning was ruled out and I did useful shopping tasks instead.

And looked at the birds, where goldfinches and redpolls could be found on the feeder.

The redpolls were females without the showy red breasts of the males.

A siskin had to wait on a willow withy for its turn.

A shower of rain just before coffee time was unsettling, but it cleared away and I had time for a walk round the garden before Sandy came. Mrs Tootlepedal has recently laid out some money on pansies to go round the chimney pot outside the kitchen window. I think that it was money well spent.

She had also spotted the first azalea buds of the year…

…and we are keeping our fingers crossed that they don’t get destroyed by a late frost as happened last year.

I checked on the tulips and was surprised to find a hoverfly on one when I looked at the picture on my computer in the evening. I hadn’t noticed it when I took the picture.

The later tulips are lovely.

It was a busy social morning, as I not only had coffee with Sandy, but then went on to have coffee with our neighbour Margaret. It was her ninetieth birthday today and we enjoyed cake with our coffee to celebrate this auspicious occasion.

I intended to go cycling after this, but by the time that I had had another look at the birds where the siskin’s time had come…

…and the redpolls had to take their place in the queue…

…it had started to rain quite heavily. I decided to have an early lunch and take my chances afterwards.

This worked out quite well, and I got almost all the way round my usual Canonbie 20 mile circuit before another shower came along. Because of the fear of impending rain, I didn’t stop a lot for photos but I noticed the first crosswort of the year…

…and thought it worthwhile to record the fact that we are getting greener every day by taking a picture of the old main road at the Hollows…

…and a view of the River Esk from the Hollows Bridge.

Although it was raining when I arrived home, it soon stopped and Mrs Tootlepedal was able to show me exciting developments in the garden. She is intending to create a mini wild flower meadow on the drying green and to that end, she sowed yellow rattle before winter. Yellow rattle is a parasite on grass and makes ground more hospitable for wild flower seeds. She was very pleased therefore to find quite a lot of the yellow rattle sprouting.

Wild flower seeds will now be sown.

I looked around and saw more euphorbia madness…

…and other slightly damp pleasures too.

I am going to have to put my lawn tidying skills to use again as the pesky and persistent peckers returned to the task of digging up the lawns.

After a shower and a cup of tea, it looked as though it might stay dry for a bit, so I went for a short walk to see how the bluebells were enjoying the warmer, wetter weather.

Bluebells don’t like a lot of shade so it is not great news for them when the leaves are fully out on the trees. They are coming out…

…but there is obviously still enough light about to keep the bluebells happy under the trees….

…and as a bonus, I got a brief glimpse of sunshine as I walked up the bluebell path.

I passed the first flowers on the wild garlic on my way to the bluebells…

…and wood sorrel and wild strawberries on my way back.

I checked on the Noble Fir in the park and it was laden with both male and female flowers.

Many people pass this tree without looking up and never see these delights.

I got back in time for the regular Zoom with my siblings and Mrs Tootlepedal, and then a meal of fishcakes and Brussels sprouts rounded off a very enjoyable day.

The flying bird of the day is one of the jackdaws who was busy chasing off a competitor.

Footnote: very sadly we found that the baby blackbird, which I photographed on the nest yesterday, had fallen to the ground overnight and was lying dead on the concrete outside the garage this morning. Blackbirds usually bring up more than one brood each year, so we may still see new baby birds in the garden this year.