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Today’s guest picture comes from my ex colleague Marjorie who sent me this picture of a misty Schiehallion taken during her highland break over the festive season.

schiehallion

We woke to another chilly grey day here but the weather forecast suggested that a little sunshine might be available in the afternoon.  This turned out to be one of the forecasters little jokes but it didn’t matter as we had our own little ray of sunshine today in the form of a visit from our friend Sue.

She came in time for a coffee and not only were we pleased to see her, but we were pleased to see a small flock of birds at the feeder to entertain us as we sipped and chatted.

busy feeder

There was a constant coming and going for a while…

birds coming and going

…with visits from jackdaws to the fat ball feeder as well.

jackdaws in elder

In order to work up an appetite for lunch, we went for a walk to the top of Whita Hill after coffee.  Well, in fact, we went for a drive up to the White Yett and then walked the three quarters of mile up the easy track…

sue and mrs t on whita

…to the summit.

The track has a fine collection of boulders with colourful lichens at the bottom….

lichen at mcdiarmid memorial

…and an even more colourful set of lichens on the wall at the top.

lichen at whita summit

I took a worm’s eye view of the lightning conductor that is embedded in one side of the monument…

worms eye view of monument

…looked over the wall at the mist shrouded valleys to the south….

view over tarras

…and then we walked gently back down the track and admired the MacDiarmid memorial outlined against the Ewes Valley.

mcdiarmid memorial and ewes valley

The memorial celebrates the life and work of Langholm’s most famous poetical son, Hugh MacDiarmid.

mcdiarmid memorial

The sculpture is in the form of an open book and is constructed in Corten steel and bronze. Corten is a weathering steel which oxidises on the surface; it forms a protective skin and therefore requires no maintenance and to my eye, it looks thoroughly at home among the hills which MacDiarmid loved.

When we got home, Sue tried out our new bench and declared it to be very comfortable even in January.

 

sue and mrs t at bench

We marvelled at the rosemary, which thanks to the protected spot that it lives in, is still in flower…

december rosemary

…and then we went in to a lunch of curried parsnip soup and cheese flan provided by Mrs Tootlepedal.

Sue is one of the recorder group with whom I have played for many years and after lunch, she and I played a selection of duets while Mrs Tootlepedal got on with the crochet blanket she is making.

All too soon, it was time for Sue to head for home and while Mrs Tootlepedal continued with her crochet, I made an unavailing effort to solve the Saturday prize crossword.  Usually these crosswords yield to concentrated effort but today’s one has got me baffled.  I shall sleep on it and try again tomorrow.

All being well, we shall see Sue again tomorrow as she sings in our Carlisle choir and it meets for the first time in 2019 tomorrow afternoon.  I am looking forward to it.

There are not one but two flying birds of the day today which is cheering.

two flying goldfinches

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Today’s guest picture comes from my Somerset correspondent Venetia, who found herself, with a crowd of other musicians, singing the European National Anthem very loudly outside the Houses of Parliament to indicate their support for free movement for  musicians after any Brexit.  This is niche protesting brought to a fine art.

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There were no protests here today and the temperature was comfortably above freezing at 4°C when I walked up to the health centre after an early breakfast to give a thimbleful of blood for testing.  This is to check my iron levels which were a bit low a few months ago.

In a way, I would be obscurely pleased if the levels were  still a bit low as it would give me a medical excuse for being frequently tired as opposed to a well founded suspicion that this might be down to a general dilapidation of mind and body on account of having had too many birthdays in the past.  Mind you, it might just be the onset of winter.

It was  grey day and when I got home the light meter on my camera told me that it wasn’t just grey, it was really grey so while Mrs Tootlepedal put in some time on her bike to nowhere, I did the crossword and occasionally looked out of the window, hoping that the temperature might rise a degree or two and that things  might brighten up.

In the gloom, I could pick out a dunnock scavenging for fallen seed..

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…and a party of greenfinches, peacefully munching away on the feeer.

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The peace didn’t last long….

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…as chaffinches and sparrows barged in.

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It is always fun to see the concentration needed for landing safely on a perch.

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I don’t know whether the gloomy weather makes it harder for birds to judge the landing but this chaffinch looks as though he is working hard.

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I was frustrated to find that although the temperature had gone up a degree or two before lunchtime, it had also started to rain in a morose but persistent way so I gave up thoughts of cycling or walking, had some soup and turned to music practice and preparation to fill my day.

Mrs Tootlepedal was busy on some errands but when she got back, she thought the day was good enough to plant out the last of her tulips.  I went out to offer her some light supervision and was delighted to find that one of the perennial wallflowers still had a flower or two on show…

P1150928

…though it was so dark that I had to use my flash to capture it.

Our ever patient heron was on guard at the pond and I liked the pattern that the perennial nasturtium’s leaves made on the yew behind it.

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(I had an appalling panto thought: It’s a behind yew.)

Next to the greenhouse, the rosemary bush is in very perky form…

P1150933

…and one or two enterprising shoots have pushed through the ventilator into the greenhouse itself where they are putting out a few flowers.

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In the early evening, seven members of the Archive Group assembled in our front room for our AGM.  You may think that AGM stands for Annual General Meeting but I have been taking lesson from you know who and can tell you that AGM stands for A Great Meeting …and not just a great meeting but a really great meeting, a really, really great meeting….probably the best meeting in the world.

At any rate, we were happy with it as we have once again done a lot of work and met with appreciation for our efforts.

After our evening meal, I pulled myself together and spent a gentle half hour on my bike to nowhere in the garage and that rounded off a quiet but useful day.

The flying bird of the day can be seen pushing through the miserable drizzle.

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Today’s guest picture comes from my brother Andrew and shows Great Malvern Priory.  He tells me that when Henry VIII’s men came to sell off Great Malvern Priory, they accepted £20 from the parish for the Priory church (after removing the lead from the roof!)

Great Malvern Priory

We had one of those days which the weather gods must have found very amusing.

In the morning, when I was free to go for a walk and see nuthatches and wonderful wild flowers, it rained persistently.  The rain stopped as we were having lunch and then the day cleared up very nicely just as we had to head off for Carlisle for our weekly choir practice.

It was still very nice when we got back but by that time the light had faded and I was too tired to make any good use of a lovely evening.

The reason that we were both tired was that after whizzing up to Glasgow on the main line (in 90 minutes) late yesterday afternoon and enjoying a wonderful performance of Verdi’s requiem by the Bearsden choir (of well over a hundred singers) and the Orchestra of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland with top quality soloists under the direction of our choir conductor Andrew Nunn, we then had to catch a very slow train back to Carlisle.

Nothing condescends to go down the main line on a Saturday night so we found ourselves on a two coach local train which trundled through the wilds of Ayrshire and Dumfriesshire at a very sedate pace (150 minutes) and in the end, we got back home at half past one in the morning.

The train was packed with young and youngish people returning home after a good night out in the city and a flavour of the journey can be gathered by the fact at one time, in the midst of some serious unrest, the nice lady sitting next to me leant over and said, “You’ll be all right dear, I’m a trained martial arts instructor.”

This was in fact, very reassuring.

Still it all passed the time well and we got home safely.

So as far as today went, I never got further than the far end of the garden with my camera.

The Japanese azalea is coming out.  It is a wonderful colour.

Japanese azalea

The last of the other azaleas is about to join the party too.

azalea

Geraniums are popping up all over the place but my current two favourites are these ones.

geraniums

I like the detailed work that the designer has put into these flowers.

What is better that one Camassia?  Three Camassias of course…..

camassias

…though I see that from a photographer’s point of view, these are one of those annoying plants that start dying at the bottom before they are finished at the top.  This is definitely one of those cases when you can’t have everything.

It fell to us to pick up Andrew, our conductor and Gillian, our accompanist  from the station in Carlisle today.  They come down from  Glasgow every week for our practice and I must say, Andrew’s energy seems inexhaustible and far from being a mere shadow of himself after last night’s concert, he was in excellent form and put our choir through our paces without flagging.

We are very fortunate to have the services of such an accomplished musician (even if he does give the tenors a hard time).

After the practice, we dropped Andrew and Gillian off at the station and then made our way home.

I had prepared a lamb stew in the morning while Mrs Tootlepedal sang with the church choir and in a moment of supreme efficiency, I had not only put the stew into the slow cooker but I had also turned the slow cooker on  so this week we were able to enjoy a hot meal when we got in.

I had time for a last walk round the garden before we ate.

An aquilegia turned its head and winked at me as I went past.

aquilegia

Our tree peony is thriving but its flowers are deeply and darkly buried among the leaves….

tree peony

…and need a helping hand if they are to be seen.

tree peony

In the vegetable garden the chives are flowering….

chives

…and the rosemary continues to do very well.

rosemary

With a busy day ahead tomorrow, it seems like a good night for an early bed.

No flying bird of the day today but a young sparrow stands in as ‘bathing bird’ of the day.

sparrow in puddle

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Today’s guest picture shows a fine waterfall visited by Dropscone and family on his Skye holiday.

Skye waterfall

In spite of a forecast of rain, we had yet another dry, cool day with a brisk wind until the evening.  I should have gone cycling (my neighbour Ken did 40 miles in the morning) but I was feeling lazy so I had a cup of coffee with Sandy instead

After coffee, I combined doing the crossword with some lawn mowing and compost shredding and occasionally looking at the birds.

greenfinch

A greenfinch dropped in

I had yet another go or two at photographing the rosemary.

rosemary

The slightly different colours reflect the fact that I tried with two different cameras.

I did some deadheading too and looked at flowers as I went round.

tulips

The chilly weather means that daffodils and tulips are still our staples but I was pleased to see a butterfly although I couldn’t get a very good picture of it.  It was struggling to get enough warmth to fly.

white butterfly

Mrs Tootlepedal was in Attila the Gardener mode and started on giving our topiary chicken a very severe haircut after lunch so I had plenty of clippings to put through the shredder.

I had to stop though when Sandy reappeared for a prearranged outing.

We went up to the Moorland bird feeders at the Laverock Hide in the hope of seeing something interesting.  We did see a couple on unusual sights.  A hare ran across the clearing right in front of the hide and a goshawk made a pass up the clearing and then flew across it later on. All three of these events were good to see but unfortunately too quick for catching on camera.

One thing we couldn’t miss was the male pheasants….

pheasant

…strutting around and pestering the females.  Some of the females were chased about on the ground and got rather ruffled while others took to the trees to escape unwanted attention.

female pheasants

Of course there were plenty of small birds to see too.

chaffinch, blue tit and robin

After the goshawk had thoroughly cleared the clearing for the second time, we gave up and went down to the Castleholm to see if the nuthatches were at the nest by the bridge.

Two were to be seen.  One arrived at the tree and flitted from branch to branch before perching and singing furiously.

nuthatch

It flew off and almost immediately, another nuthatch emerged from the nest hole, gave a backward glance….

nuthatch

…and flew off.

After a moment or two the first nuthatch returned with something in its beak…..

nuthatch

…which it dropped into the nest hole without entering and then it too flew off and all was quiet.

We waited for a bit and then the call of teatime became too insistent and we left.

We did see some promising bluebells on our way to the nest….

bluebells

..and some fine primroses on our way back to the car.

primroses

…as well as any amount of attempted growth on the trees.

leaf buds

There had been a lot of waiting for some indifferent bird pictures but seeing the nuthatches and goshawk had made the outing worthwhile.

When I got home, the formerly plump chicken….

topiary chicken

…had been reduced to this….

thin chicken

…by Attila but she is hoping that the end result will be a slimmer and better looking bird.  Think of it as a work by Brancusi meanwhile.

A little sunshine had arrived rather late in the day and it lit up a tulip for me….

backlit tulip

…before I went in for my tea.

In the evening, Mike and Alison came and Alison and I played music in a style which fairly accurately reflected the lack of practice opportunities for us both during the preceding week.

It is the London Marathon on Sunday and while we talking about it after playing, Mike revealed that he had run no less than seventeen marathons in his younger days.  Mrs Tootlepedal and I were very impressed indeed.  We knew he had run several marathons but had no idea that he had done so many, quite a few in under three hours, a very respectable speed indeed.

The flying bird of the day is a goldfinch about to give a siskin a hard time.

flying goldfinch

 

 

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The guest picture of the day comes from Gavin who has deserted the wild woods of Yosemite and taken to the groves of Academe at Stanford University.

stanford university

We were expecting wet weather today but in spite of a gloomy forecast, it remained pretty dry and this would have been more welcome if it hadn’t come with a drop in the temperature and a very nagging and cold wind.

Under these conditions I took my cue from the celebrated Roman general Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus Cunctator, who became famous for hanging around doing nothing during the Second Punic War.  He was an amateur compared with me this morning.

I stirred myself a bit after lunch and went out into the garden where the sun was shining and Mrs Tootlepedal was quietly snoozing in the warmth of the greenhouse.

I looked at the tulips which were glowing in the sunshine.

tulips

Peered inside one.

tulip

Dark secrets

Admired the wide spreading petals of another group….

tulips

…but realised that in the prevailing brisk winds, this broadness is just a prelude to tulip death.

daff and tulip

A morose daffodil and wind blown tulip reminisce over those great days in the garden that are now gone for ever.

There are hundreds of daffodils in the garden and the cool weather means that they have lasted very well but there are still a lot that need dead heading every day so I did my rounds and then went back to see Mrs Tootlepedal.

I disturbed her by mowing the grass round the greenhouse.   When she emerged into the real world, we set about simultaneously narrowing the raspberry bed and widening the path beside it in the vegetable garden.

Having achieved this, we went inside for a cup of tea.

On my way, I had a check on the espalier apples.

apple blossom

It is nearly apple blossom time.

Unlike me, the birds were very active again today.

We had two very occasional visitors, a starling early in the day….

starling

…and a greenfinch a little later on.  It seemed to spend more time flying away than coming…

greenfinch

…but it managed to fit in a nibble or two.

greenfinch

While i was having my cup of tea in the afternoon, a flock of birds descended on the feeders.  I tried to see how many flying birds I could get in one shot.

busy feeder

Four and a half in this shot

busy feeder

Five in this shot

busy feeder

And seven in this shot

Several threatening clouds rushed by without raining on us so I thought that I would cycle round to the Jubilee Bridge to see if I could see the nuthatches.

When I got there, I could hear them but I couldn’t see them.

I spent so long waiting that the light had gone for taking any bird pictures by the time that I cycled back past the Kilngreen so I contented myself with a picture of the poplars on the river bank below the suspension bridge…

poplars

…and came home again.

The light perked up for a moment and I looked at the rosemary bush…

rosemary

A decent close up of the flowers still eludes but I will keep trying.

Mrs Tootlepedal went out to a celebration dinner for one of her ex work colleagues in the evening and I relaxed again.  I felt surprisingly tired considering my quiet day but the wind is going to drop tomorrow so I hope that my day of rest will have put me in good fettle for a cycle ride.

The flying bird of the day is a siskin.

siskin

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Today’s guest picture comes from Venetia.  She was walking at Burrington Combe in North Somerset, when she saw this sight on the far side of the road.  It is the very crag which inspired the writer of the 1763 hymn starting: ‘Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself  in Thee’

Rock of Ages

We had another dry and mostly cloudy day today.  The dry weather was very welcome but once again the chilly and brisk wind took away some of the pleasure of being out in the garden.

After a cup of coffee and some excellent scones with Dropscone, I spent a lot of time in the garden so felt the wind quite keenly.

I was finishing tidying up after the installation of the compost bins.  I sorted the old wood into ‘(possibly) usable’ and ‘totally rotten’ piles and then with Mrs Tootlepedal’s help, I used some of the wood to improve the partition between Bins C and D.  It all looks very good now but I haven’t put in a photo of the finished set up because I have elderly readers and don’t want to over excite them two days running.  This is a responsible and caring blog.

In between the compost work, I mowed the two lawns and looked at the moss, which always seems more conspicuous after a cut, in a slightly depressed way.  I am waiting for some warmer weather to encourage grass growth before getting the scarifier out.

Mrs Tootlepedal has transplanted some hellbores and a fritillary as she thought that they were blooming rather unseen where they were and she has put them beside the other hellebore near the feeders….

hellebores

…where they will make up a new ‘spring corner’ if they survive the transplanting.

I couldn’t resist another look at the amazing euphorbia…

euphorbia

…although the brisk wind made taking flower pictures tricky.

We are getting quite excited by the prospect of azaleas….

azalea buds

…and Mrs Tootlepedal is impressed by her rosemary beside the greenhouse.

rosemary

I find it a very difficult plant to photograph well as my camera sees the leaves much more clearly than the elegant flowers.  I will try again with the macro lens on a sunnier day.

I thought that I had found a nascent tulip afflicted by a dread disease….

fancy tulip

…but Mrs Tootlepedal tells me that it is a fancy variety and is supposed to be like that.  I look forward to seeing it when it is fully out.

The aubretias overhanging the side of the dam are thriving.

aubretias

In spite of having had quite an energetic time in the garden, I had enough oomph left to go for a short cycle ride late in the afternoon.  It was still very windy so I settled for a valley-bottom-hugging ride up and down the road beside the Wauchope Water to Cleuchfoot and back a couple of times with a bit added on to make up twenty miles.

I was rewarded for my get up and go spirit when the sun came out just as I started cycling

I saw a towering gorse bush…

aubretias

…and some very young lambs in a field.

cleuchfoot lambs

I went along the banks of the Esk in the town on one of the laps, hoping to see some interesting birds but had to settle for a small meadow on the bank beside the suspension bridge…

cleuchfoot lambs

The flowers that look quite white in the sunshine are in fact a very pretty purple when seen from closer in.

wild flower

Whenever I had a chance through the day, I looked out of the kitchen window.  It was not hard to spot birds lining up to try the new feeders.

goldfinch

siskin and chaffinch

Some customers got impatient though…

chaffinches

…which led to some unedifying moments. ..

chaffinch, goldfinch and siskins

…while off feeder, discussions on the value of a second Scottish Independence Referendum became heated…

chaffinches squabble

A goldfinch wished that all this bad behaviour would cease immediately.

goldfinch

All this bird action is very entertaining to watch but it leads to mess under the feeders and Mrs Tootlepedal is justifiably starting to complain about the smell.  My sense of smell is so poor that I don’t notice anything myself but I will have to put my mind to clearing up and disinfecting the affected area.

In the evening, Mrs Tootlepedal went off to see some high class ballet being streamed to the screen in the Buccleuch Centre and but as I find ballet very impressive to watch from a technical and athletic point of view but painfully slow and repetitive from the point of view of advancing a plot or telling a story, I left her to go alone and did some catching up on blog reading.

There are two flying birds of the day,  a goldfinch absolutely delighted by the prospect of one of the new feeders….

goldfinch

…and a siskin.  Not a good picture but siskins don’t hover so getting a picture at all on a dull day is a bonus.

siskin

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Today’s guest picture comes from Dropscone’s sister Elizabeth, who is visiting her daughter in America.  It was taken on the Monticello estate (home of Thomas Jefferson) which is near where her daughter  lives. It shows a hotel for insects, and she assures me that there are many insects in this part of the world.

Charlottesville April 2015 005Although it has been chilly and windy lately and the road gritter was out again last night, in general there have been enough sunny spells to keep our spirits up.  Today was almost one continuous sunny spell, although it was only 5° when I set out on my bike to do a little training.

Rather than go for a cycle ride, I decided to see if I could cycle up a 1½ mile, 600ft climb twice in a row without wrecking myself.  I took the climb at a very steady speed and stopped to take a photo or two with my phone at the top.

White YettThe white van rather spoiled the view so I disappeared it on the computer when I got home.

White YettThe monument and the McDiarmid memorial were looking very good in the morning sun.

monument and memorialI rolled gently back down the hill and then climbed back up it again, still slowly but quite comfortably.  The view was still good from the top.

white yettI was at 272m or 892ft when I took this picture.  The bottom of the climb is at 86m or 282ft so the climb is almost exactly 600ft.

Once again, I rolled gently back down the hill, as I am a decidedly cautious descender these days and spurning the chance of a third go at the hill, I rolled on home, having done just under eight miles in almost exactly an hour.

Fortunately Dropscone was soon at hand with some reviving treacle scones and I was very happy to find at the end of the day that my legs were none the worse for the exertion.  The point of the training is a cycle event in Cumbria on Monday which is fifty miles and has 3500ft of climbing.  I realise that eight miles and 1200ft is a bit on the short side but I haven’t been feeling at my best lately so knowing that I can do some steady hill work is very reassuring.

During the day, I had quite a few strolls round the garden and I paid particular attention to the tulips.  Mrs Tootlepedal has some very decorative miniature tulips out at the moment.

Miniature tulipMiniature tulipI love the geometry of the internal workings of the bigger tulips.

tuliptuliptulipThe joy of six.  I am sorry (but not very) to have so many tulip pictures but it was a day for repetitions.

I had seen some promising wild garlic, which is an allium, on my walk yesterday and today I saw a tame  allium in our own garden.

alliumI checked the gooseberries to see if the insects were still at work.

gooseberry with beeThere seems to be plenty of pollen about in spite of the freezing mornings.

The plum blossom is looking not too bad either.

plum blossomHaving said that we never get any sparrows at the feeder, we are getting quite regular sparrow visits now.

sparrowMrs Tootlepedal had spent the morning doing some useful shopping and among other things, came home with a very reasonably priced log splitter from Aldi so we won’t keep having to borrow Liz’s from next door. I split a few logs with it.

In the afternoon, having almost finished the work on the front room, Mrs Tootlepedal turned her attention to the garden.  With some modest help from me, she put in our potatoes for the season.  I took time out to sieve some compost for her to add to the potato bed and when I was not needed, went off and mowed the gauss round the  greenhouse and on the drying green grass.

After a very brief discussion, it appeared that we were both more than happy to turn over the bulk of the front lawn to a wild flower meadow.  It lies in the shade for a lot of the day for most of the winter months and is hard to keep up to a good standard.  It will be interesting to see if the plan for the mini-meadow works out well.

While Mrs Tootlepedal continued to slave over the potatoes, I took another photographic stroll.

I am mazed that I ever thought that euphorbias were dull.

euphorbiaDiscreet, yes but dull, no.

There is a flourishing rosemary plant beside the greenhouse.

rosemaryIn a spirit of repetition, I had another go at catching the apple buds.  My big zoom lens had found it hard to do them justice so I gave Pocketcam a go.

appleIt was more successful.

The final picture of this tour was perhaps the fanciest daffodil that we have in the garden.

daffodilIt was really nice to be out in the garden in the sunshine once more, watching Mrs Tootlepedal at work and if there are two things that I enjoy, they are sieving compost and mowing grass so we were both very cheerful.

I made a trip to the High Street during the morning to get in new supplies of Ethiopian coffee beans and while I was doing that, I called in at one of our art galleries and picked up an object which Mrs Tootlepedal had commissioned from a local potter.

tea bag bowlIt is a unique vessel specially made to put our tea bags in to dry before they are recycled, hence the handy holes in the bottom.

A recent survey claimed that retired Danish ladies are the happiest people in Europe but as I sit at my tidy computer desk, typing this entry in a warm, dry, well lit room, with some economically chopped logs glowing in the stove, I am giving them a jolly good run for their money tonight.

The flying bird of the day is a wide winged chaffinch.

chaffinch

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