Cloud sits low on Rampgsill Head and the roaring of stags echoes about Martindale. Mid-October and the season of the red deer rut, an ancient, atavistic sound-scape. The Martindale herd of native red deer is the oldest in England. Through the loud wind the stags bellow their challenge for control of the hinds. From Hartsop, up past Gray Crag, listening and searching the gullies above Hayeswater, below The Knott, toward Rest Dodd and the head of Rampsgill, below Place Fell we hear the bellowing of the stags. It’s a rite of autumn, the deer rut experience.
A crescent of silver moon is lost in cloud. Did I imagine it? Dawn is murky but it's far darker by 9.00am, triggering street-lights. The River Kent flows dark and silent after the turbulence of last week when rocks rumbled in the bed of the river below Stramongate Bridge, below the weir almost lost to standing waves. There's an eerie light in the sky, a flush of red. Hurricane Ophelia is heading our way. Red is her colour.
Yesterday in Kendal, the River Kent was rising fast. A rumble and clatter of rocks beneath the weir by Stramongate Bridge.
I left Castle Street with lots of signatures on the petition opposing cattle on Kendal Race Course. A lone voice questioned whether the cattle were actually there, she hadn't seen any. Well, here's the evidence from this morning. Once again.
Standing right by the cattle grid, blocking access to one of the two public footpaths.
The warmth of this October day was unexpected and, over-dressed, I glowed like an apple in this Askrigg garden. A baked apple. Askrigg, the location of 'All Creatures Great and Small.' It seems so long ago.
After the Lake District fells, the open grassy sweeps of Wensleydale and its limestone scars were a delight. A network of field-walls, barn, so many barns and sheep.
Becks brim-full , Sour Milk Gill a cascade of whiteness and every waterfall that ever flows pouring off the fells- rainbow in water droplets, rock gleaming wet. Up into Far Easedale, looking into sunlit waterfalls, by the tarn at Brownrigg Moss, over Calf Crag, Gibson Knott, Helm Crag - the sun gleaming off Easedale Tarn and threads of light on the meandering beck down in the dale. A wondrous day.
A late-September day, warm and still enough to entice dragonflies into mating flight beside Alcock Tarn. Heavy overnight rain had passed over, leaving becks and waterfalls gleaming in the sunlight. Mist swirled over the tops. Reflections of cloudscapes in the waters of the tarn on a magical day.
On a glimmering late-September day we head for High Cup Nick. A warm wind, autumnal mists and hints of sunlight that gleam off the meandering High Cupgill Beck.
Along the Pennine Way we shelter from the wind in a grassy hollow below a limekiln where we celebrate Jill’s birthday, for each of us a rich chocolate cake. Above us, moorland of shake hole and swallow hole- a limestone landscape.
Sunday morning and 39 cattle straddle the public footpath, via stile and cattle grid, via Bradleyfield Farm across Kendal Race Course. They've multiplied: from 25 to 39! That's a lot of cattle to walk through.
I meet Helen running home and she confirms the further footpath is clear of cattle, so I head over the milestone stile for Scout Scar. For eighteen years I've walked here carefree, in September enjoying the flocks of goldfinch that feed on thistles. Suddenly, I am wary and ill at ease.
Walk from Kendal on the Brigsteer Road and you reach a milestone and a stile leading to Kendal Race Course. A fingerpost points the way to Scout Scar and Barrowfield Farm. It's a much-used public footpath.
Straddled across the footpath are some of the 25 bullocks, introduced here earlier this month. The fence posts define an area of the limestone grassland where Natural England hope to promote flora and invertebrates. 'Compartments' that's what the scheme was called.
The bullocks congregate by the stile onto Kendal Race Course. This way to Scout Scar, says the sign post. If you can brave the bullocks.
'I don't mind, I'm a farmer's daughter,' says a runner.
'I'll not bring my son here, ' says a young woman with a dog.
'My wife is terrified of cattle,' says someone who likes to walk on Scout Scar.
Simply, there are those who can tough it out. And those who cannot. What are the public health implications of all this?
Cattle grazing is inappropriate on Kendal Race Course whose two public footpaths are in frequent use. For walkers, dog walkers, runners, this is the route to Scout Scar. A grazier with 17 years of experience at Kendal Race Course is certain that cattle pose an unacceptable risk here. The practice is unsafe.
We oppose this Natural England initiative that has introduced cattle to Kendal Race Course and ask that the scheme be stopped as a matter of urgency.
How you may help.
All was not well on Kendal Race Course this morning. There were raised voices, confrontations. The bullocks were causing trouble simply by being where they were not wanted. I feel rather sorry for them. They should be given a pasture well out of the way.
They congregated about the gate of Bradleyfield Farm, blocking one of the footpaths across the Race Course. So walkers, runners and dog walkers scattered, trying to keep out of their way. Someone came to ride a horse, saw it was impossible, and went away.
'These steps are made for six foot men,' he said as we climbed up the stone staircase to the summit of Ingleborough. Following a waterfall, I found a distraction in listening to a geologist talk of bedding planes and the ripple-effect in slabs of sandstone. From the summit plateau, we looked down on limestone pavement, grey-blue like the sea it once was.
We locals are shocked to be confronted by a herd of bullocks on Kendal Race Course- a Natural England experiment.
This week, Natural England suggested I talk to the expert on Kendal Race Course. So I did.
Brian Bowness was grazier here for seventeen years. Until very recently, we enjoyed the sense of pastoral his ewes and lambs gave in spring. Out in all weathers, every day, he explains not the theory but what actually happens here. Is our concern well-founded?
Last week, a herd of 25 bullocks appeared on Kendal Race Course, a Natural England experiment. Natural England’s stated objectives include
‘ helping to protect England’s nature and landscapes for people to enjoy ‘
‘ promoting access to the countryside and open spaces and encouraging open air recreation.’
The government encourages us to take more exercise. That’s what we seek to do in walking from Kendal, onto one or other of the two public footpaths crossing the Race Course, onto Scout Scar. Now we are discouraged by inquisitive bullocks that crowd the stiles and follow walkers. It’s intimidating.
Step off a stile into a herd of bullocks. They surround you, follow you across Kendal Race Course. They head-but each other, mount each other. Today, I set out for Scout Scar but I didn't fancy the walk across the race course, pursued by bullocks. I was not alone. I met others who had aborted their planned walk to Scout Scar, intimidated by bullocks. Natural England's new conservation plan contravenes their declared objective: that we should be free to enjoy a landscape. No-one was enjoying this close physical encounter with bullocks. It was unpredictable, felt unsafe.
At Kilchoman Farm Distillery they proudly claim the barley for whisky making is grown on the farm. Glossy black hens with scarlet combs strut at the entrance to the distillery and fields of bearded barley mark the fertility of Islay. I like to see the way agriculture harmonises with conservation. Where a burn bisects the barley field its banks are lush with meadow sweet and purple loosestrife, habitat for small birds.
Kilchoman is our base on Islay. We return again and again to Machir Bay and to Saligo Bay, in changing mood and weather. ‘Come in winter,’ says a local man strolling the beach. ‘ It’s wild and wonderful and there’s absolutely no-one.’
You plan to sail the southern tip of Jura, into the Sound of Islay? Watch out for Claig Castle, fortress of Somerled, Lord of the Isles . In power here in the 13th century, he held sway in the Sound of Islay.
Jura House is at the heart of the Ardfin Estate. In the 1840s the laird’s wife felt the nearby crofting township of Brosdale spoilt her view. So it was demolished, and relocated.
Our walking guide, published 2010, suggests coastal walks either side of Jura House and Gardens with ‘a welcome sign to Jura House.’ Not exactly. ‘ No access, construction site’- are the signs that greet us.
The fairest of fair days to make the Tarbert Crossing, that narrow isthmus where Loch Tarbert almost bisects the Isle of Jura. So, west to the head of the sea-loch, then returning along the track and east to Tarbert Bay. Walking the wilds of Jura, it’s rare to come upon a track but in the 18th century Tarbert was the most populous place on the Isle of Jura with 29 families. Tarbert of the Crossings avoided the whirlpool of Corryvreckan to the north and dangerous currents off the southern tip of Jura. Today, this is a tranquil and solitary place. We come to islands of the Atlantic seaboard prepared for anything a maritime climate can give, this weather is magnificent.
The Corran River rises amongst the Paps of Jura . We walk from Three Arched Bridge, built by Telford in 1804, following the river downstream through birch and willow. We hear lesser redpoll everywhere, see their dipping flight, but they rarely settle. From the estuary we look back across the sands toward the Paps. On a rocky reef in the Sound of Jura is Skervuile Lighthouse, built in 1865. A long peninsula shelters Lowlandman’s Bay , with houses built for the families of the lighthouse keepers. One early evening of perfect clarity, our sequence of recent walks here is illuminated.
My name is Jan Wiltshire. I am a writer and naturalist living in Cumbria and I take photographs.