Tag Archives: Flora and Fauna

THE TOLKIEN TRAIL.

I was weary from my day’s exertions with Sir Hugh on our SD 38 walk which involved quite a bit of travelling time today so I asked JD to sort something out for the morrow whilst I soaked in the bath.

He had researched in a book ‘Birdwatching Walks In Bowland’ by David Hindle…

… and came up with The Tolkien Trail.

Author J.R.R. Tolkien regularly stayed at Stonyhurst College in the Ribble Valley whilst his son was studying there. It is thought, perhaps optimistically, that he derived inspiration for his Lord of the Rings trilogy from the surrounding scenery. So JD had conjured up a historical and ornithological walk for this lovely sunny day, if I’d thought I would have brought my binoculars.  There is plenty of information for The Tolkien Trail on the VisitLancashire web site.

We started in Hurst Green and were surprised at the amount of housing development creeping into the green fields. A well used path into Stonyhurst College sports grounds, but there is a new sport, clay pigeon shooting, and warning signs have been erected as well as a probably ineffective ‘alarm bell’.

I had recently been reading of the original observatory at the college built in 1838 and succeeded by the modern one in 1866. So as we approached the school buildings I was keen to identify them both, old and new.

We walked out past the gardener’s cottage and then the houses of Woodfields were masters live. Pleasant fields take you into Over Hacking Woods and a staircase down to meet the Hodder. We hadn’t seen many birds up to this point, apart from Robins singing full throat, but the woods had a truly Tolkien atmosphere.

Below us were the original ruined changing rooms for the college’s swimming lessons in the river, I think they have an indoor pool nowadays. I mentioned these in a recent post when we passed this way. Up the slope is Hodder Court previously a preparatory school, but now private dwellings with a statue of Gandalf in one of the gardens. shame the trail leaflet doesn’t mention it. See the above post for pictures.

An Australian couple were following us with their friendly dog and it couldn’t wait to get immersed in the river. We saw a few ducks along this wonderful stretch of the Hodder.

This was the third time I’d arrived at Lower Hodder Bridge in a week so didn’t intend to show more views of ‘Cromwell’s Bridge’ however when we joined The Ribble Way and rose above the river there was a good view back down to the two bridges.

We knew about the heronry in the tall trees next to Winkley Hall Farm and sure enough we saw Herons flying in to their nests. Whilst watching them I spotted a small bird flitting through the hedge, a rare sight of a Gold Crest.

Where the Hodder meets the Ribble we found a fisherman’s hut with a bench, a perfect spot for lunch and watching the rivers run by.

Along the next stretch is the site of Hacking Ferry used until 1955, the last boat is in Clitheroe Castle Museum apparently. Across the river is the 17th century Hacking Hall near where the Calder enters the Ribble.

An Egret was spotted on the far bank, a couple of Canada Geese also but no Kingfishers or Dippers.

Before long we left the river and headed back to Hurst Green coming through the car park of the Shireburn Arms, we were tempted by a pint but looking at the state of our muddy boots decided not to. All day Pendle had been brooding in the background.

*****

THE WAY OF THE CROW. Second day, Bleasdale to Arbour, Calder Valley.

JD seemed worried when I described the next leg of our straight line way – “it is extremely rough going, the game keepers are unfriendly and there are rumours of a wild rhinoceros”. Despite all that he agreed to join us on his recommended shortened version. The picture above was taken from his house when I picked him up in the morning, The Bleasdale Fells which we had to cross are to the left of the higher Fairsnape group. Beacon Fell is far left.

The car park at Bleasdale Church was busy with Sunday worshippers.

It was a glorious sunny morning as we used field paths into the heart of Bleasdale discussing our individual Saturday night’s exploits, I probably had the largest hangover, Sir Hugh had been consructing a cat flap and JD entertaing his family.

Donning extra layers when we realised how cold it was.

No that’s not the rhino but pretty scary anyhow.

After the isolated Hazelhurst Farm we found the beginnings of a land rover track that would, via a series of zigzags, take us steeply into the open access area and onto the fell top. We puffed our way up with frequent stops to admire the views over the nearby Fairsnape/Parlick fells with Bleasdale and  the Fylde below. Surprisingly and fortunately another quad track led to the remote trig point, 429m, of Hazelhutst Fell. We are on grouse shooting moors up here and much has been written about the persecution of other wildlife in this vicinity to try to promote the shooting fraternity. Whatever one’s opinions about grouse shooting I am strongly against the wilful and unlawful killing of our protected species. On this stretch of the walk we came across several loaded Fenn Traps which are legally only allowed for stoat trapping [killing] but are known to trap other species. These are lethal looking spring-loaded traps which could almost take the tip off your walking pole.

From the trig point there were hazy views across Morecambe Bay to Black Combe and Barrow. Taking a compass bearing we set off across the heather in a NNW direction and fortunately found another quad bike track taking us down past shooting butts so avoiding all the heavy going. After what I’ve said about the grouse shooting land owners we were thankful for their tracks. The final descent was vertiginous. The surroundings were reminiscent of a Scottish Glen and we found the bridge over the Calder to the Victorian shooting cabin of Arbour. This must be one of the best kept secrets of Lancashire.

We found a sheltered spot out of the cold east wind for lunch. There were no windows into the shooting lodge to see the rhinoceros head. The story goes that a rhino escaped from a train near Garstang and had to be shot, it’s trophy head being mounted in the lodge.

By now all the excitement was over and we had an easy walk out on the track alongside the River Calder.  We were back at Sir Hugh’s car much sooner than we’d planned because of those good moorland tracks. We will have to walk back in next time to rejoin our line.

*****

 

IT’S GRIM DOWN SOUTH.

I couldn’t think of a theme for this post until I was caught up in the transport chaos that is almost the norm down here. [almost as scary as the Hieronymus Bosch painting seen below] After a lovely weekend I was dropped off a few streets away from  Woking station as the traffic came to a stand still. I was going to catch a train up to London Waterloo to begin my journey home but the station was closed as the lines were blocked due to ongoing weekend engineering works. I was pleased with my lateral thinking and quickly had an E-ticket on my phone for the coach to Heathrow to link in to the tube system. OK the bus was an hour late due to the traffic but once on board the driver skilfully navigated the traffic and dropped me off at Terminal 5. Should I go back to Preston or fly off to the Caribbean?

 

I was down here to see my old friend Mel [a regular walking companion on many of my posts here]  who has had some recent heart surgery and is on kidney dialysis, some people get a bad deal. He was feeling great and looked really well.

I’d arrived at Euston Friday lunchtime, usually I have a break in the British Library but today headed across the road to The Wellcome Collection, ‘the free museum for the incurably curious’.

 

What a strange but fascinating collection – artificial limbs, paintings, sex aids, obesity, pharmaceutical jars, Charles Darwin’s walking sticks, Napoleon’s toothbrush, Everest medicine chest and much more all collected by Sir Henry Wellcome.

The Garden of Earthly Delights from Hieronymus Bosch.

On at the moment is an exhibition Living with Buildings looking at the relationship between our health and the spaces we live in. Included is a painting by Pissaro, Andreas Gursky’s iconic photo of apartments in Paris, the Paimio chair. There is a separate Global Clinic exhibition looking at a new design for simple and sympathetic installations in emergency situations and remote locations.

Oh and there is a nice cafe and an upside down Gormley statue. Quite a place and one I’ll put on my visit list for trips to Euston.

 

Whilst Mel was at hospital Saturday morning I visited the Woking Lightbox for an Impressionism Exhibition. This gallery is only small but seems to organise some outstanding displays and this was no exception…

There was a good selection of paintings but I was intrigued by the previously unknown bronze statues. A glorious infants head [Dalou], a simple peasant worker [Dalou] and a brutal figure [Rodin] drew my attention.

Next door was an exhibition of Elisabeth Frink’s works and when you step in the room you are confronted by …

… the gallery lady on duty felt uncomfortable when alone with this figure.

I joined up with Mel’s wife for a street Korean lunch at Shins, I was confused by the menu and smiling staff so I just opted for a tofu Bipimbap – tasty and filling. The Katsu curry looked good as did the glass noodle soup. Waiting at the bus stop was an experience as we were directly below the cranes working on some new sky scrapers almost as scary as Frinks works. These will completely transform the skyline not necessarily for the better according to local opinion, but they may save some fields being built on.

Sunday morning saw us at the RHS Wisley garden, it was clear and sunny but very cold so we headed to the cafe for hot drinks. A walk around the grounds is always selective but we managed to see the vegetable plot, rock gardens, Bowles corner, alpine houses and the Tropical Glasshouse. The autumn colours were still prominent and I found this a relaxing interlude in a busy schedule, I am envious of having this wonderful place on your doorstep and being able to visit regularly and leisurely to see the changing seasons.

I didn’t fly off to the Caribbean but caught the train to Paddington and a bus to Euston. With all the rearrangements and travel this morning I’d not eaten so I ventured into a Nepalese Restaurant in a nearby side street for a late lunch. https://www.great-nepalese.com/eat/  It was actually quite authentic and made me wish I was back in Kathmandu but I ended up in Preston.

HEDGEROW FRUITS.

After the rigours of last week’s walk in the gales I’ve returned to my usual stroll around Longridge.

I was very aware of the fruits in the hedges as I walked up the lane to the farm. The best of the blackberries have gone but I started to count others and wondered about their edibility and uses.

Hawthorn.  [Cretaegus monogyna]                                                                                  

Very prominent were the red berries of the Hawthorn bushes. Apparently the berries contain potent antioxidants and have been used in herbal remedies for heart problems. Leaving that aside I have found some recipes for jelly and tea, but I’m not convinced as yet.

 

 

Rose Hips.                                                                                                                                                                                                           

Scrambling through the hedges were rose bushes with their characteristic red hips at this time of year. Now I know these do make a good jelly and also tea. The itchy seeds need to be removed first and apparently they are best after the first frost.

 

Rowan, Mountain Ash. [Sorbus aucuparia]

                                                                  
I’ve never before considered whether Rowan berries were edible but reading up about them shows they are, again mainly in jellies or jams.

 

 

Elder. [Sambucus nigra]

In past years I’ve made elderflower cordial but not used the berries. They can me used for wine making and also in pies and crumbles.

 

 

Blackthorn Sloes. [Prunus spinosa]

This year seems to have been good for the sloes on the blackthorn which grow commonly round here. I think their main use is for flavouring gin and other spirits.

So a short walk brought several possibilities of hedgerow fare, I will research a few recipes in more detail and return for some Autumnal pickings.

A LITTLE MORE OF THE LOT.

It’s the end of August and I’m back in the Lot Valley, France, for a couple of weeks as is usual.

The house of my friends is as welcoming as ever and the weather is perfect. The problem is I can’t get out of bed in the morning. My stiffness in shoulders and hips has intensified and nobody sees me until lunchtime when I’m the head chef. After that I’m semi OK and can walk up the easy Combe de Filhol behind the house. To my amazement on an oak tree I spot a luxuriant fungi. Orange and yellow bracts sprout from the tree, I’ve no idea what it is but I suspect it is edible and return to cut off a few slices.

A quick search suggests, no proves, it is  ‘chicken in the woods’  – a delicacy in some regions. Without further to do I fry a piece up and season up with salt and pepper. It tastes good but more like a lemon flavoured mushroom than chicken. I start with a small piece, some people are allergic to them, but the next day fry up more pieces for friends who realise I’m not dead.

Nothing to do with the fungus but I slowly become worse with the stiffness and pain, almost certainly PMR [look it up], and have to resort to the steroids prescribed to me. I take two after breakfast and two the same evening and miraculously the next morning I’m virtually back to normal. Life is returned and  I’m able to do some gardening, swim and go on my usual walks around the area. I enjoy a lovely walk along the ridge to the communication tower and back along the vineyards. Buzzards flying above and butterflies fluttering alongside, blues and clouded yellows. From the ridge I have great views of Puy L’Eveque above the River Lot and am impressed by the size of the church above the town, arrowed below. I don’t think I’ve ever visited it,

So a couple of days later we make a pilgrimage to investigate. What a find! The church of Saint Sauveur began in the 13th century and is in an elevated position with views over the valley. It is of course built from limestone giving it a clean bright appearance. There is an elegant arched entrance porch soaring up to the bell tower. Elaborate stone carvings are found above the door. The interior is generally plain with high vaulted Gothic arches but there are fine stained glass windows. Coming back outside we can see where the building was extended in the  C19th. High on the North East wall is a strange observation tower. Surrounding the church are masses of burial vaults.

Apart from that it is mainly eating and drinking at the numerous local hostelries. In particular Le Pigeonnier alongside the River Lot gives a fine view of Puy L’Eveque’s medieval houses rising from the valley. In contrast Le Cote Lot restaurant in the Bellevue Hotel has a fine terrace room looking down onto the Lot below. Le Caillau courtyard restaurant close to the house has a romantic atmosphere with fine food but due to its popularity we found the service has deteriorated. More fine evening dining was experienced at La Venus Restaurant in nearby Prayssac and of course we made our usual pilgrimage to the Brit Hotel in Fumel for their fabulous lunchtime buffet.

Looking up at Puy L’Eveque from Le Pigeonnier.

Looking down from Cote Lot to the river.

Le Caillau courtyard.

The Brit’s Buffet.

Back at the house mirabelles, quince, plums and figs all collected locally gave a healthier balance to our diet.

It will be a wrench returning to the UK as Autumn starts.

LOWS AND HIGHS IN THE LOT.

 

Attention, chiens méchants.

As we pulled into the house after our flight  a nightingale was singing in the maple tree, the one in front of the house with the misletoe. A great welcome. It continued its sweet song for the rest of the holiday but despite scanning the trees with binoculars I never convincingly saw that small brown songster. The Magnolia grandiflora was producing ‘grandiflora’ – all was lovely.

https://www.british-birdsongs.uk/common-nightingale/

 

Next door neighbours have changed and there were a couple of yappy dogs guarding their ‘secure’ enclosure. The next day mine hostess was walking up the road when the two dogs came out onto the highway and bit her severely on the leg. Fortunately she escaped relatively lightly with nasty bites and bruising. Apparently they have bitten before and have been seen chasing cyclists. The next few days were spent between doctor, mayor and the police. The neighbours were most unhelpful and denied any guilt, the worrying point is they have a two-year old child sharing the space with the dogs which turn out to be miniature Dobermanns! We will leave it with the local police to sort out but I’ve grave doubts about the outcome, surely enough is enough.

Not as pleasant as they appear above painful bites followed —

 

So what else? I decided to call it ‘save a tree week‘. Well not just one but several conifers which have been neglected and have other species growing up  within them destroying their lower branches which will not regrow. The species in question include oaks, cherries. maples. clematis, ivy and numerous unidentified sticky plants. This meant full on plant warfare. Clearing the worst before going in with the strimmer and mower, they should be OK now for a further five years.

As well as my gardening endeavours the fields of rape seed surrounding the house were harvested by massive machinery, this attracted the local buzzards looking for small prey.

All was not stress and work. The weather superb with the pool refreshing in the hot temperatures. We enjoyed some excellent French meals at various restaurants in the area.

Each day I walked/ran up the hill behind the house and then down the Combe De Filhol before breakfast. Not a major trip but one getting me back into fitness for the mountains this summer. I managed to wear out my trainers.

An eventful trip to The Lot which could have been so much better.

 

A WEE DONDER. 6 Dalserf to Uddingston.

On and off the Clyde.

There were two obstacles today: the large towns of Motherwell and Hamilton straddling the Clyde and a complicated motorway system where I had read that it may be necessary to catch a bus around major roadworks. We found more problems in the streets of Blantyre.

From our morning bus we recrossed Garrion Bridge and sped up the hectic road to seek The Clyde Walkway going off down a lane. it wasn’t signed, waymarks and posts have a mysterious habit of disappearing from roads. The traffic noise faded and soon we were in beautiful woodland and showing our, or at least my, lack of knowledge at tree identification.

We continued to see a garlic-like plant we had noticed for the last few days growing prolifically in the shade alongside the river, it looked introduced and invasive. Research showed it to be the Few-flowered Garlic, Allium paradoxum, which we had never seen before and is obviously a nuisance. I have in my garden the bluebell like Three-cornered Garlic Allium triquetrum a similarly invasive species which although attractive I am constantly battling with.

Most of our walk along the Clyde here was on a flood plain with lots of evidence of previous high waters, there were in fact signed alternatives for when the river was high. On the hill above us were high rise flats in the vicinity of Motherwell, are these the ones you see driving north on the motorway? But generally the towns had little impact on the walk. All seemed rural and peaceful especially looking back to our old friend Tinto Hill.

Around us was the old Hamilton Estate but to be honest we didn’t see any of the remaining ruins. If we had had more time it would have been interesting to explore some of the obviously popular paths around Dalzell House in the estate. There was a nature reserve, Barons Haugh, with observation hides over the marshes but without binoculars all we could see were the flats.

The  railway Ross Viaduct was a landmark high above us.

Heading for Strathclyde Loch and Country Park. we could hear it before we saw it. One minute this…

…the next this.

The boom boom of loudspeakers was an intrusive element of the day and totally unnecessary in a ‘country park’ but it was good to see people out enjoying themselves. We followed the masses alongside the artificial loch which was centrepiece for the 2014 Commonwealth Games water sports venue.

At the North end of the loch the River Clyde had disappeared somewhere and we ended up on roads to a restaurant at the Innkeepers Lodge where we enjoyed a coffee in the sun and discussed our options for onward travel. The bus transfer was still advertised but the new pedestrian bridges and walkways through the motorway complexes had literally just been opened days before so we followed our noses on a carousel of paths. I’m not sure what we crossed over or where we ended up but the Bothwell Bridge over the Clyde appeared  and at its far side a way-post down to the river path. Unfortunately this didn’t last long and soon we were back up on the roadside following our instincts. This we did through a good part of Blantyre urban area. A cyclist approached us looking for a cycle shop to buy inner tubes, he’d had a lot of punctures. We couldn’t help which was a shame as he also was on a LEJG journey. We eventually realised we must have missed something so before entering a huge shopping complex decided to strike off down a side street and under the railway to luckily join up with Clyde Walkway on a newly surfaced path which had come from we know not where.

Soon we were at The David Livingstone Centre. This includes the listed building of his birth, surrounding parkland, and a 3,000 piece David Livingstone collection. We managed unintentionally to miss it all, I presume it may have been closed.

An elegant iron cantilevered suspension bridge, built in 1952 but rebuilt more recently in 2000,  took us onto the north bank of the Clyde for our final stretch. And what a delightful stretch. woodland, bluebells, sparkling river, dippers and a kingfisher. Suddenly ahead up in the tree covered banks was a red sandstone castle looking impregnable. Boswell castle was started in the 13th century and played a major roll in the Scottish Wars of Independence.

We diverted off the route into a place named Uddingston to find the station only to find no trains running but there was a replacement bus which eventually arrived and took us into Glasgow for our two nights of accommodation.

*****