Canada Geese

Canada geese are a rare and shy visitor to the Priory.

DSM_3097

But this year a pair have arrived who don’t fly off, honking, when I appear.

DSM_2717

Introduced from North America and considered a pest by many, I certainly wouldn’t want large numbers of them arriving – and the droppings they would produce.  These two alone make quite enough.

DSM_3025

And the thought of a dozen geese foraging in the borders isn’t one that brings an indulgent smile to my face.

DSM_3099

But as an occasional visitor they are welcome.

DSM_2485

And very watchable.  One day last week, the female (obviously) laid an egg on the little island on the east pond.  Here she is in flagranti.

DSM_2495

I stood watching with Lawrence (who is doing work on the house) and he told me that she would probably be back to lay another.  And then another; when she had laid a clutch she would start incubating.  Apparently the eggs can be left cold initially; it is incubation that starts the embryos developing, after which they must be kept warm.

Thinking that she might return and lay another, I went off for my tea-break.

DSM_9990

But Lawrence, the goose and I hadn’t reckoned on the mallard sitting on her own nest in the decrepit old duck house.

DSM_9997

When we returned the egg had gone: we think the duck rolled it into the water.  She was, after all, there first.

DSM_3122

The goose didn’t lay again but they stayed for the rest of the day

DSM_2920

and the following one too

DSM_2812

but haven’t been back since.   They might return but perhaps they’ve found a less crowded nesting site elsewhere.

DSM_3126

It is probably just as well.  I really don’t want a flock of geese at the Priory.  Though some goslings would have been nice.

Walking Across England

I’ve recently returned from a fifteen day walk across Northern England.

img002

I started at Ulverston, Cumbria and finished at Berwick-Upon-Tweed, Northumberland.  My route comprised the Cumbria Way, the central (and best) bit of the Hadrian’s Wall Path and the St Oswald’s Way.

Here’s a photo-blog of what I saw.

oooOOOooo

As you may know, one of my biggest worries on any long distance footpath (apart from a closed-sign in a pub window) is persistent rain; day after day of ceaseless, pitiless rain.

DSM_0269

And one year that will most certainly happen … but not this time.

DSM_0289

March 2014 was (finally) a fine example of why I go walking in early spring and, compared to the rigours of last year, this was a comparative walk in the park.  Albeit a 220 mile walk in the park.

DSM_0316

There were the daffodils and spring flowers I always hope for

DSM_1234

the regular ‘a-little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheese‘ call of yellowhammers,

DSM_2145

the almost constant song of skylarks,

waterfall

and often in the Lake District the background sound of running water – it was mostly frozen last year.

DSM_0253

Oh and lambs; hundreds upon hundreds of newborn lambs.

DSM_1185

In over two weeks, I had only two afternoons of rain and one of those was of intermittent, light showers mixed with sunlight

DSM_1203

which provided a succession of rainbows leading me eastward.

DSM_0436

Low Tarn from near the summit of Coniston Old Man

On day two, the weather was so perfect that I couldn’t resist climbing a mountain.  Leaving the Cumbria Way behind and making up my own route,  I climbed the Old Man of Coniston (2634 ft) and nearby Swirl How (2631 feet),

DSM_0478

Greenburn Valley

for an exhilarating high level traipse (and my only snow of the trip)

DSM_0517

across and down into Great Langdale.

DSM_0522

In the five days it took to cross Lakeland, I had no rain at all – which confused me.  Doesn’t it always rain in the Lakes?

But then day three dawned overcast and misty and I thought my run of sun was over.  It wasn’t until I climbed up and over Stake Pass

DSM_0549

that I emerged above the mist,

DSM_0558

into bright sunshine once more.  Climbing above mist or cloud is always a rich reward on a stiff ascent.  That and chocolate.

DSM_1125

In the middle section of my walk, I rarely saw sunshine but the cloud provided a moody, dark backdrop to the grandeur of Hadrian’s Wall.

DSM_1031

I have visited sections of the Wall before but it is only by walking beside it for mile after mile (and visiting the marvellous fort and museum at Housesteads) that I truly appreciated what an incredible feat of construction it was.

DSM_1092

The Wall imposed an arbitrary line across England, sealing out the tribes to the north from the Roman Empire and cutting through farmsteads and villages (whose inhabitants were forcibly relocated).  For the first time in British history, the Romans implemented a fixed border between what would eventually become England and Scotland.

DSM_1108

I can’t recommend this stretch of walk enough.  I thought it spectacular and you needn’t undertake a long distance footpath to see it properly.

DSM_1101

Sycamore Gap, Hadrian’s Wall

The most impressive section of Wall is between Gilsland  in the west and the Roman fort at Housesteads – a distance of about 12 miles.

DSM_1627

When I reached the Northumberland coast the sun returned – and so did company.  I was joined for a day by my friend Jonquil and for the rest of the trip by my partner Jim and regular walking pal, Tracy.

DSM_1845

This is a magnificent coastline with mile upon mile of vast sandy beaches,

DSM_1782

Low Newton-by-the-Sea

pretty little villages

DSM_1639

Jonquil and Tracy. Lunch stop at Boulmer

and pubs serving great food.  Always important.

DSM_1977

And it has castles galore: Bamburgh Castle is world-famous but very heavily renovated in the C19th by Lord Armstrong (who also built Cragside);

DSM_1616

I much preferred Warkworth (which I had never heard of), one time home of the Percy family

DSM_1739

but fell in love with romantic Dunstanburgh.  Built by Earl Thomas of Lancaster as a refuge from King Edward II it didn’t help him much.  Defeated at the battle of Boroughbridge, Thomas was captured and Edward had his head chopped off in 1322.  He should have stayed at home.

DSM_0332

I try to keep a sharp (if myopic) eye open for animals and birds whilst walking.

DSM_0894

Amongst the birds I managed to photograph, there was an obligatory dipper but only one (I feel a little cheated if I don’t see a dipper);

DSM_0954

Tufted duck

and there were plenty of species which I struggled to identify.

DSM_1554

I certainly hadn’t seen shy goosanders before.  Have you?

DSM_1799

Or a reed bunting?

DSM_2122

Or how about a meadow pipit?

DSM_1930

There were eider ducks,

DSM_1877

and oystercatchers,

DSM_1902

and the call of the curlew was a another regular strand to the soundtrack of my walk.

DSM_0663

On the banks of Derwentwater

DSM_0661

sat an unperturbed cormorant, who didn’t mind in the least if people stopped to stare.  And many did.

Though I saw a hare and even a dolphin, there were no deer, very few rabbits, no stoats or weasels, no seals, no badgers or foxes.  I had especially wanted to see a red squirrel but without success.   Then one morning, as I sat on a rock eating a very nice orange, I looked up into the eyes of a curious squirrel about eight feet away.  I slowly reached for my camera but not slowly enough.

DSM_0779

He was off and I only managed a rubbish blurred photo a thrilling action shot as he scampered away.  Never mind, I did see another one a few days later.  But you’ll need to take my word for it – that one was even more camera-shy.

DSM_0523

The Old Dungeon Ghyll, Great Langdale

I stayed in some marvellous B&B’s, hotels and pubs.

DSM_0751

With top marks especially to Anne and Tim at the very beautiful, very comfortable Old Rectory, Caldbeck (this is a perfect example of all a good B&B should be – and cheap too!),

DSM_1369

to Lorna at Cornhills, nr. Kirkwhelpington

DSM_1040

and the superb food and much sought for company (I was a bit lonely by this point) of Sean at the remote Saughy Rigg Farm, Twice Brewed.

DSM_1472

Pauperhaugh Bridge, St Oswald’s Way

So, how was my walk overall?  How did it rate against other, similar long distance walks I’ve undertaken?

DSM_0338

Well, I got a suntan, no blisters and lost half a stone!  The clement weather was a big bonus (though actually I did miss the challenge of snow and ice and even blizzards);

DSM_1135

The North Gate, Milecastle 37, Hadrian’s Wall

the path was hugely varied with mountains and beaches, moorland and rivers, forests and farmland, more castles than I’ve mentioned and, of course, that Wall – there was just so very much to see and explore.

DSM_0493

A serene moment? Not really, my heart was yammering after running into shot before the shutter clicked!

It is only twenty miles longer than the Coast to Coast path but, with all due respect to Mr Wainwright, ‘my’ walk knocks his C2C into a cocked hat and boots it deftly over a nearby dry-stone wall.  Or at least, I think so.

DSM_0903

If you’re thinking of completing an English Coast to Coast walk I would heartily and unreservedly urge you to do this one.

DSM_0690

Looking south over the Lake District from the Cumbria Way

Apart from the steep climb of Stakes Pass and the (by-passable) ascent of High Pike (2159 feet) on the Cumbria Way there are few long ascents;

DSM_1043

and whilst the Wall has plenty of ups and downs, after crossing Lakeland and with hardened calves of steel, you’ll barely notice them.  (You certainly don’t need to include the exhausting and long climb up Coniston Old Man with a rucksack – I was in a masochistic frame of mind that day).

DSM_0674

Climbing out of Keswick

And, perhaps, when you do finally reach Berwick you’ll be disappointed that your walk is finished and wish, as I did, that you could simply carry on walking.