An excellent Civic Society trip to Richmond last week. From Castle Walk, we looked over kitchen gardens down to the River Swale – the fastest river in England, we were told. A claim also attributed to the River Kent. Red valerian coloured the castle walls, with clumps of biting stonecrop and white snapdragons. Bees foraged in hare bells and we watched them as our guide told of the tradition of ‘beating the bounds’ – a motif I explore in Cumbrian Contrasts. She told of a Richmond man aged 159 who was always called upon to help adjudicate when there were disputes over the boundary and so over tithes. His memory was phenomenal at 159!! Walking to court accounted for his longevity, we heard. That and litigation.
Fly orchid: said to resemble a fly. To me, it's an alien making a parachute landing. There's a pale, bluish colour that looks like a belt-buckle- part of a harness. Up to you how you see it. Wherever imagination takes you, finding fly orchid is a challenge. It grows singly, or with only a few others. It's easily confused with the dark flowers of sedge, and it's tiny.
The morning was cloudy, with veiled sunlight which brought out the rich, velvety look of the fly orchid.
At this season, the flora of the limestone grassland is burgeoning. Fragrant orchid appear in profusion, in bud and in flower.
Last summer, I found this glossy green beetle wherever hawkweed was in flower. This year, the same. I like to confirm seasonal pattern, to note absences. If something that I’d expect to see is missing, what does that mean? Absences are significant . I see micro-moths but none of the larger and more colourful butterflies, none. Swifts are feeding low. Not one wheatear here this year. I’ve heard cuckoo only twice and seen it in the distance: a poor show. I’ve done well with linnet and lesser redpoll. Orchids are my motif of the day.
On the Farne Islands, Iolo Williams and the Spring Watch team follow the fortunes of a shag they’ve named Cathy. I reckon she was the burpy creature I caught on video days before Iolo met her. If you read my previous blog you’ll recognise the chair leg nesting material Iolo showed, and the blue rope. His female eider on a nest lined with down plucked from her breast is a bird we photographed too. I’m eager to discover whether her four eggs will hatch. It's fun to see Spring Watch following in our footsteps.
Magic and degradation meet here. Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Walk is so popular the route is under unsustainable pressure . A notice asking walkers to take a seasonal route is staked into eroded ground on the border of Cumbria and Yorkshire. Bare earth, dried out and deeply cracked, peat hags of softly crumbling dark peat, drying to dust. In wet weather we’d be deep in mud. To protect this landscape for the future we're asked to keep to the route of the season. It’s an urgent message and The Yorkshire Dales National Park gives a reasoned request . No dogs on this stretch, it’s important habitat for ground-nesting birds. So, what is the magic we don't want to lose?
The cries of sea birds rose up the cliffs and told of kittiwake. Skylark soared in song-flight , a whitethroat sang in bushes and red campion flowered beside the coastal path. In the distance, a sheer cliff of columnar rock gleamed white with guano. Our nearer cliff rang with the cries of kittiwake, solely kittiwake. Beyond an inlet of the sea a dense mass of foliage swept toward the edge of the kittiwake cliff, shrubs festooned with ivy. At this distance you puzzle it out with binoculars and a powerful camera.
Jan Wiltshire is a writer and naturalist living in Cumbria. She take photographs.