Smugness: a cautionary tale

In heavy rain, Wolsingham is prone to flash flooding. The streets can turn into instant rivers and sandbags are a permanent presence in some vulnerable areas. Despite being rather close to the river, water runoff flows safely past our house and so we only fret when the river starts rising.

Last night we were sitting in the pub when the heavens opened. The downpour barely lasted long enough for us to reminisce about previous flood events, and mock the hapless householder whose broken down pipe was pumping water down their wall (“they need to fix that if they don’t want the damp to seep in”). It lasted just long enough for us to prolong our stay in the pub by two rounds.

So I really wasn’t expecting My Taller Half’s cry upon opening the back door “where has all this water come from?”. We had a flood.

First we checked the roof, then the door and windows. It looked like someone had turned on a hose. Then I remembered that sputtering down pipe we had been so quick to judge. Our back porch encloses the drain for the kitchen sink and back gutter. The force of the water had driven all the moss from the gutter into the drain and blocked it. Twenty minutes worth of thunderstorm was now sitting on our porch floor.

On the bright side, only the porch was flooded and I have now lifted off the final piece of hated lino. On the downside, our plans to get the floor tiled will have to wait for it to dry out. If only we’d had the foresight to get our gutters cleaned.

Next time I hope we think twice before passing comment on the misfortune of others.

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The Green Strawberry Thief

Nurturing plants up the Lottie. So much to do. I must net the strawberries soon.

My early strawberries start to ripen. One for me, one to the rot, two to the birds.

I net my first row. The others are still green. I will net them tomorrow.

I start to net. What’s this? Something is eating the strawberries – the green strawberries.

Cursing the blackbird as I net, I hear a shy chirruping from the hedge. I look up. A blackbird delicately tends to its young brood, oblivious to my gaze.

The Green Strawberry Thief. All is forgiven. For now.

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Not what I was hoping to tell you

There are no guarantees in nature, but I was rather hoping that I’d be keeping you updated on our garden blackbird shenanigans. Sadly, this is not to be. Something (I’m thinking mink, but I really don’t know) emptied the nest. One of the babies was dead on the ground, the others I presume were eaten.

It’s not all sad though. The sparrows are eating me out of house and home, as they have decided that my garden is the very best place to bring their loud and hungry children. We even have a tree sparrow family joining in. Lots of seed is getting dropped on the ground, so the chickens are happy too.

Two of the many sparrows that are visiting the garden right now

Two of the many sparrows that are visiting the garden right now

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The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen

For over a year we’ve had a tame blackbird living in our garden. With her pied plumage, she was easy to spot. More an honorary chicken than a blackbird, she would chide me if I was late in the morning letting the chickens out letting her into the chicken run. Bold and confident (unless I had my camera out, in which case she was incredibly shy), she would not be bullied by chickens or dog.

"My blackbird". She didn't like to show off her pied markings when I had my camera out

“My blackbird”. She didn’t like to show off her pied markings when I had my camera out

A non-breeder and reluctant flyer, she spent all last summer living it up in the garden, pretending to be a chicken, while other blackbirds squabbled and procreated but generally stayed out of the way. This spring I thought she would team up with a male, but she lost out in a vicious fight with a rival female. She stayed put though – the successful pair bred elsewhere.

Then one day I came back from a dog walk to an awful sight – a circle of blackbird-sized pale feathers next to her favourite hedge. I spotted the sparrowhawk tucking into a meal in a nearby tree. For two days I kept looking for ‘my blackbird’, knowing the truth but not wishing to believe it.

Roll on a few weeks, and I’ve had the pleasure of watching the rival female build a nest against the fence in my forsythia hedge. Not one of my regular visitors, nevertheless she makes no attempt to hide her activities, and has put up with a noisy dog, the construction of a new chicken fence, and builders. Lots of builders – the garden looks more like a building site right now. 

Eye Spy. There is a blackbird in this photo. Honestly

Eye Spy. There is a blackbird in this photo. Honestly

In a new development, a member of her first brood has found the nest. I often see it sitting on the fence, moping. Poor thing.

I can report today that the chicks have now hatched. The male gives me dirty looks before hopping onto the nest, but my new garden queen doesn’t care. The chicks are so quiet, you would never know they were there if their mother wasn’t so obvious. I spied them today though – there are at least three in the nest. I look forward to seeing them develop. 

I miss my old friend, but life goes on. The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen.

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Route finding

I’ve been coordinating guided walks for the Wolsingham Wayfarers for the last 6 months, and this month we were invited to host a walk as part of the North Pennines Walking Festival. The task was to find a long walk based in Wolsingham to suit experienced walkers for early October 2014.

Our regular walks are fairly moderate, to suit a range of walking abilities, so this is new territory for us. The challenge was on!

We decided straight away that the walk had to take us up to the fells. Wolsingham North Moor or Pikeston Fell? Pikeston Fell is bigger, higher and with more walk options. I was also really keen to make the magical, secret valley (shoosh, don’t tell anyone), the Meeting of the Grains, our official lunch stop, so ‘Pikeston Fell and the Meeting of the Grains’ it is.

Looking towards the Meeting of the Grains and Pikeston Fell

Looking towards the Meeting of the Grains and Pikeston Fell

We know where we’re going, now how to get there? My Taller Half is our walk leader, and he was keen to try some little-used paths taking in several fell-side farms – abandoned Linnew, shiny Sunniside, busy East Biggins, muddy West Biggins – before climbing to the Fell with the Elephant Trees beckoning. I wanted to find a truly circular walk, covering a good chunk of the Fell, the top of Hamsterley Forest, then back through moor, wood, field and river.

Pikeston Fell and the Elephant Trees

Pikeston Fell and the Elephant Trees

Our first route finding mission was educational. The initial circular option was ruled out when we came across a waymarker that pointed downwards into a boiling cauldron of a ‘stream’, and no safe way to cross. Maybe it’s normally a tame trickle, but we didn’t have time to wait the long weeks for our water table to drop to normal levels.

Not sure we want to be crossing that...

Not sure we want to be crossing that…

To compensate for this, we found a route – on map at least – that covered a smaller area but was still broadly circular. Route finding mission number 2 was scuppered when we took the wrong grouse track, and ended up going cross-country over bumpy, soggy, craggy, heathery moor, missing the Meeting of the Grains by a few miles.

Right then, how do we get across this lot?

Right then, how do we get across this lot?

Route finding mission number 3 was to check out how to link the two halves of the walk that we knew we wanted to do. The weather was wild and windy, and walking on the Fell-cum-windtunnel was unbelievably hard, but we were happy that, despite not walking the entire route in one go, it was a good un. Mission accomplished!

A day of wind, but also rainbows. And maybe a pot of gold?

A day of wind, but also rainbows. And maybe a pot of gold?

Until I got home and plotted the route on the computer. Fifteen miles of hard, hard walking. Pushing our brief a little (quite a lot), and on a bad weather day it would be a hard, hard, totally unenjoyable slog.

What to do? We’ve chosen a simpler way to get onto the Fell, and a simpler way to get off it. The final route is still fairly long – thirteen miles – but those miles are much easier, but still interesting, and if we get Weather we’ll be able to cope. Roll on the 5th October!

The final route. Less circular, more triangular

The final route. Less circular, more triangular

Who’d have thought that route finding could be so difficult?

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When dog meets horse

As a border collie owner, I often find myself wondering what type of human Holly would be. Would she be an intellectual? A teacher? A leader? Soldier? No, I have a sneaky feeling she would enjoy being a prison guard or a bodyguard.

At just over a year old, Holly’s farm dog genes are really kicking in (every time Holly tries to see off a farmer’s land rover, cattle, or more recently, horse-the-farmer-is-riding, I hear the shout above the urgent barking: “that’ll make a nice sheepdog”). She wants to herd: to control, guide, bend to her will. But she mostly wants to protect the pack (members and territory) from danger. Unfortunately, anything big or unusual that moves is considered by Holly to be dangerous.

So, we are out walking and pass by a field. Two horses wander over to see who we are. Holly goes batshit at them. These cob mares really don’t give a monkeys what Holly does, so I let her have a little bit of exposure therapy. Here’s what happened.

blog-2223“I’m keeping my eye on you!”

blog-2225“Am I bovvered?” also: “are you going to give me a scratch then, human?” (sadly, no – Holly won’t let me).

blog-2229“I’m gonna get you, you evil dangerous monster!! (and stay away from my Human)”

blog-2232“Oh my god, it looked at me! Abort charge!!”

blog-2241“I’m watching you… (what do I do now?)”

blog-2265“Oh my god!!!! There’s another one! I need reinforcements! … why don’t they run away?”

blog-2282By which time, the horses decide to liven things up and take the game to Holly. “Wheeee!”

blog-2359“Sod this, I’m going to play in the river”

So – prison guard – control, punish, escort? Or bodyguard – protect, escort, defend? I suspect the human Holly would enjoy both those jobs.

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That was the year that was

Trying to review the year based on what photos you took is always going to produce biased results. Rainy days? No rain in any of these photos. Parched ground and endless weeding? Can’t see any evidence here. Nevertheless, here is my photographic review of the year.

January to March

Snow. Snow snow snow snow snow. There were a few days with no snow on the ground, but they were boring so I didn’t take any photos. Holly grows from tiny puppy to adolescent dog almost overnight. The garden was chock full of birds.

Holly still looking puppyish

Holly still looking puppyish in the New Year

snowy conditions bring in lots of garden birds

Snowy conditions bring in lots of garden birds

February: what a difference a month makes!

February: what a difference a month makes!

March halts spring in its tracks

March and snow halts spring in its tracks

April

Spring makes a valiant effort to appear. Lambs are everywhere. The chickens arrive.

Lambs everywhere!

Lambs everywhere!

Chickens!

Chickens!

May

Finally, it feels like spring. Everything is late and some trees are only just starting to open their leaves. There is a mass emergence of ducklings and we get our only flood of the year. Unfortunately the flood waters damage one of our oldest bridges, cutting off Tunstall from the rest of the world until a temporary bridge gets installed (luckily this only took a week). I get an allotment.

There's a lot of catching up to do!

There’s a lot of catching up to do!

There's an explosion of ducklings

An explosion of ducklings

This old bridge is badly damaged in a flash flood

This old bridge is badly damaged in a flash flood

June

I get to go on a trip to the Farne Islands and take a stupid amount of photos. The allotment dries out and turns into a brick. The fields turn yellow with buttercups and I manage to get out just in time to see the spring gentians.

The traditional Farne Isle greeting from the arctic turns

The traditional Farne Isle greeting from the arctic turns

Puffins being harassed by gulls

Puffins being harassed by gulls

Watering can required

Watering can required

Buttercups!

Buttercups!

Spring gentian

Spring gentian

July and August

Summer! We take Holly out and about in Weardale and Teesdale. The garden pond explodes with life. I discover the hard way that 2 year old parsnip plants are bad for the skin.

Bowlees, Teesdale

Bowlees, Teesdale

We discover Holly doesn't like donkeys

We discover Holly doesn’t like donkeys…

or giant sheep

…or giant sheep

Purple heather

Purple heather

The chickens think they are herons

The chickens think they are herons

If your parsnips get this big, wear gloves when handling - the sap is phototoxic and causes bad sunburn. I found out the hard way

WARNING: If your parsnips get this big, wear gloves when handling – the sap is phototoxic and causes bad sunburn. I found out the hard way

September

Wolsingham show. There were horses there, what did you expect?

Horses...

Horses…

...horses...

…horses…

...and more horses! I'll stop now

…and more horses! I’ll stop now

October to December

Autumn makes itself known and winter knocks on the door. The main theme has been wind and rain, but we have not suffered the floods of last year, at least in this neck of the woods. The chickens destroy the garden, the allotment does not see enough digging action, and the repair work on the broken bridge begins. The days are short, but the sunrises and sunsets are pretty good. We started taking out monthly guided walks with the Wolsingham Wayfarers. I have lots of photos on the Wolsingham Wayfarers website.

Oh dear, where's the lawn gone?

Oh dear, where’s the lawn gone? (Click on image to see the temporary 5th ‘chicken’)

Repair work begins, finally, on the broken bridge

Repair work begins, finally, on the broken bridge

The only compensation for shorter days is that the sunrises and sunsets are at their best this time of year

The only compensation for shorter days is that the sunrises and sunsets are at their best this time of year

So, that was the year that was. Obviously not all of it. A bit of it. I’m slowly putting more photos online. I’m not using flickr anymore (the new flickr doesn’t work well on slow broadband). My latest photos are on Ipernity.

See you next year!

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