I FEEL BAD walking out to discourage the pair of mallards from making themselves at home in our pond but mallards are doing fine on the river, lakes and dams locally but I’m getting increasingly worried about our local frogs. Will we see them return when the warm weather reaches us this weekend.
THIS CLOVER-LIKE trefoil scrambles amongst grasses and taller herbs. It’s leaves are more elongated than clover. I’m guessing that it’s Hop Trefoil but there are a number of similar species, so I need to take a closer look. One of the advantages of having a patch of meadow at the end of the garden is that it is easy to do that.
Yellow Rattle hasn’t yet shown up in the section of the meadow that I sowed this spring but I can see 10 plants, mainly gone to seed, in a square yard of the established turf that I laid down. It’s a vital part of the wild flower mix as it is semi-parasitic on grasses, preventing them from dominating the meadow.
OUR BALCONY looks out towards the rugged limestone hills of the Greek mainland across the calm (while we were there) Ionian Sea. Every evening and morning there were a few small fishing boats about. I was impressed by the variety of fish at the fish stalls by the harbour; anchovies and sardines, the occasional pipefish, Red Scorpion-fish, still alive but gasping in their crate, which the fishermen warned us were difficult to prepare, a swordfish and other species which looked vaguely familiar but which I couldn’t put a name to. I did feel that some of the fish were rather small, particularly the swordfish which was little more than eighteen inches long including the sword. Hope that’s not an indication of overfishing. If you’ve caught a small swordfish, I guess that it’s then too late throw it back in to grow to adult size, so it might as well be eaten.
Naked Man Orchid
The Naked Man Orchid, Orchis italica, is found throughout the Mediterranean on grassy slopes, as here amongst the olives and cyrpresses, and in heathy garrigue and maquis habitats. Edward Lear was an enthusiastic visitor to Corfu and made watercolour sketches here. These flowers, with ‘arms’, ‘legs’ and anatomical details, remind me of the species Manypeeplia upsidedownia in his Nonsense Botany.
According to Collins Complete Guide to Mediterranean Wildlife, Red Helleborine, Cephalanthera rubra, ‘favours dry, shady woodlands, invariably on calcareous soils’, which is a good description of this clearing amongst the olives.
A Blue Pimpernel
The intense blue put me off but I should have realised that this flower growing by a dry path on an east-facing slope through the olives is a relative of our Scarlet Pimpernel, that grows in similar situations back home. It’s Anagallis foemina.
WE STROLL around Grasmere village for a couple of hours then hurry back along the riverside path as we’ve underestimated how long we might need to see all that we’d like to see.
I can’t believe that in all the years that I’ve been coming to the Lake District, this is the first time that I’ve visited the village or the famous Heaton Cooper Gallery. Of the founders of this fell-painting dynasty, I think that I prefer the work of the son William (1903-1995) to that of his father Alfred. William’s watercolours can be a little reminiscent of railway travel posters of the 1930s in the way he simplifies the landscape into interlocking arming shapes in harmonious colours while his father introduces more texture but the suggestion of powerful natural forces in the arching shapes, like billowing sails, of William’s work make the fells and the clouds interacting with them look suitably monumental.
We make the pilgrimage at last to the graves of the Wordsworths; William, Dorothy and Mary, at St Oswald’s church.
As we stop for coffee the most conspicuous subject for me to draw is the passing throng of visitors to the village. In these situations a universal law applies; whoever I choose to draw someone will always come and stand in front of them or park a car in front.
We take the narrow road along the hillside to the west of Grasmere Lake because I’d like to see – also for the first time – Loughrigg Tarn (left). The name is so familiar yet in all the years that we’ve been coming here we’ve never visited it.
With Loughrigg ticked off, we soon pass through Skelwith Bridge, a familiar junction on our Lakeland tours, but instead of heading for Coniston or Tarn Hows as we’d normally do, we turn up towards Langdale, passing Elterwater, another lake that I’m not familiar with.
Langdale isn’t on an Alpine scale but it reminded me of the similarly shaped Lauterbrunnen Valley that we walked along in Switzerland last year – a U-shaped valley with a flat bottom contrasting with soaring cliffs on either ride. It didn’t boast the vertically plunging cascades of its Alpine counterpart but Stickle Ghyll and Dungeon Ghyll have their own rugged appeal.
We normally return again and again to favourite walks in the Lakes, usually amongst the ancient Skiddaw Slates to the north of the National Park or the Silurian Slates around Windermere to the south. We’ve tended to miss out on the craggier fells of the Borrowdale Volcanics between.
It’s aimed at children who’re keen on spotting and ticking off the sights of the National Park but it’s also useful as an itinerary for like ourselves who have our favourite corners but feel that we’d like to see more of what is out there.
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Richard Bell, illustrator
SINCE YESTERDAY most of the lake at Newmillerdam has frozen over. Mallards, Black-headed Gulls and Coot have gathered by a small open area no bigger than a garden pond near the causeway across the top end of the lake. A Canada Goose waddles awkwardly across the ice towards the war memorial where someone is feeding the ducks.
We get a better view of the Dabchick. As the main lake is frozen it’s on the inlet channel, along with a few Mallards. While my drawing was enough to serve as a field sketch (even though it was drawn from memory later), I didn’t catch the buoyant character of the Dabchick; not as rounded and buoyant-looking as a rubber duck but not as lean and lanky looking as my sketch, which took on the proportions of an adolescent Moorhen.
I realise when we walk under the conifers where we saw the Siskins yesterday that I drew them (from memory) on pine branches, while in fact they were on Larch. I picked up this branch with two female larch cones on it to draw.
THE CAFE at Marks & Spencer’s Birstall looks out over the higher ground between the valleys of the Aire and the Calder. Ignoring the cars and the stores of the retail park I drew the trees and made quick watercolour sketches of the sky to the north when we called with my mum for coffee this morning.
AT THIS EVENING’S 139th annual general meeting of the Wakefield Naturalists’ Society (we’ve been going since 1851 but we obviously missed a few AGMs along the way) there are records of wintering wildfowl, such as the Great Northern Diver at Pugneys, but also unseasonal appearances of insects with a couple of wasps being seen today in one garden and a Red Admiral elsewhere. Things were different last year during a long cold spell.
IT’S TOO WET and windy for us to continue up onto the moors after our stop for a flask of coffee on the bench overlooking the River Little Don upstream from Langsett Reservoir so we take the shorter route back to the car park through the plantations. Some of the tall – but shallow-rooted – conifers have recently been blown down.
There’s a flock of between one and two hundred Redwings in one of the pastures sheltered by the top edge of the wood. Amongst them what appears to be a bird with a much paler version of the plumage. I think the term would be leucistic, which means lacking in pigment – the word comes from the Greek leukos meaning white. This one I would describe as a pale biscuit colour.
My sketch is of a normal Redwing from the earlier years of this diary, which explains its dotty quality as in those days I always scanned at 72 rather than 100 dpi and this is a GIF, a compressed image file that uses a limited range of colours. In those days of painfully slow dial-up connections, I could get away with this kind of image when it was viewed on the lower resolution monitors of that time.
A Nibbled Cone
I picked up this nibbled cone by the side of the track. I’m guessing that this is the work of a squirrel rather than a Crossbill, which we’ve seen here in the past. A Crossbill tends to tweak and twist the seeds from between the scales while a squirrel would eat it like a corn-on-the-cob, discarding the core.
We saw several Grey Squirrels on our walk through the woods, including two pairs. At this time of year the males are likely to be trailing around after the females or giving chase.
I’VE BEEN treating the birch plywood carcass of my new plan chest/worktop with Osmo top oil. This oil and wax treatment is based on sunflower oil, soya bean oil and thistle oil with wax from the leaves of the Carnauba Palm, a native of Brazil, and from a spurge, Euphorbia sp., native to Mexico and Texas, known as the Candelilla or Wax Plant.
This non-toxic treatment worked so well on our beech-block kitchen worktops that I decided to go for the same finish in my studio. The two Ikea Alex range A2 drawer units that slot snugly inside the plywood frame are already finished in a white plasticised coatings of various sorts.
The whole unit is lighter in tone than my old oak plan chest and it fits a lot better into my long narrow studio space. The room is now less of a furniture repository and more a light, airy and, being less cluttered, a calm working space. I’m looking forward to a session of printing, folding, stapling and trimming copies of some of my black and white walks booklets, using my new work-top.
The £180 that I got fro my battered old plan chest paid for the two A3 drawer units that have replaced it. Even so I was sorry to see the old plan chest go, because it has been with me for a long time and I had put a lot of effort into restoring it.