The air was saturated with moisture and mist engulfed the Lyth Valley and the distant fells.. Gun shots rang out from the woods below Scout Scar escarpment, resounding through the mist with the shouts of beaters driving the pheasants before them. The morning was raw, temperatures fall in the mist. The sun was pale and wan as the moon, unable to disperse the thick mist that took out the valley.
A tell-tale brilliance crests a fell on the horizon. Snow has fallen overnight. The first snow of the season is always exciting and we stand on Scout Scar escarpment working out where snow has fallen, on Scafell to the west and on HIgh Street to the north. The fells show sculptural in sunlight and shadow, and low cloud hugs some of the tops and The Band shows below Bowfell. The woods below the cliff assume tints of autumn and the pastoral landscape is well-lit. The distant fells have an aura of solitude and mystery. Something ineffable.
An incoming tide floods a last shoal, dislodging roosting oystercatcher. They rise in a pattern of black and white and alight on a shoreline that darkens with countless birds. Widgeon swim by and out on the spit there are cormorant and male eider.
We hear redshank, geese and the occasional curlew. There's a flock of lapwing, waders fly overhead and it's all so evocative.
Afterwards, the images of the day bring surprises. We saw a sole male eider, my camera found forty. And it caught the fast-flowing tide when we were close-focused on grey seals.
Red Squirrels- read the notice. The track is strewn with hazel nuts, acorns and sometimes crab apples. They lie in a bed of fallen leaves and the wood has hues of autumn, green-gold and metallic colours.
Fallen trees sprawl the woodland floor like giant spiders, their trunks fruiting with fungi. Our track looks down upon a lost way bounded with ancient trees green with moss and epiphytes. The shapes of trees show forth as their leaves fall.
Bands of sunlight play over the fells and mist clings to the tops. Sunlight and shadow, the morning light plays to the Halloween motif.
Sunday morning is spectacular, with luminous white cloud enveloping the fells. Beneath a canopy of blue the Scout Scar ridge is well-lit. Slowly, the cloud-mass rises, the fells show faintly and a dark cloud over Morecambe Bay casts shadows across the Lyth Valley. It's a day of sensation. Climbing toward the ridge the warmth is lost to a chilly air. A flock flies silently overhead. I'm sure they're fieldfare but I wait to hear them and for the sun to show their colour before I claim my first sighting.
Car park FULL, the sign announced. But someone is leaving so we secure the only space. What’s going on? Bearded tits are about, the Bearded Reedling is lured from the sheltering reeds to feed on seed-heads, down to the seed-trays where they feed and ingest grit.
The afternoon sun dazzles on the water and the light is tricky for photography, but here they are.
Dry-stone walls pattern the pastures east of Scout Scar, giving the landscape a distinctive character. On a bright day the sun gleams on limestone and highlights sheep and Belted Galloways. The walls enclose livestock, keeping them safe. Although a few lambs escaped from Kendal Race course, venturing forth. Venturing too far. One died alone beneath a stone wall and lies saturated by September rains. Sometimes lambs jump up and strand themselves atop of walls. So farmers are constantly faced with wall repairs.
On the night of Storm Agnes the iconic sycamore of Scyamore Gap on Hadrian's Wall was brought down. Not by storm-force winds but (it would seem) by a teenage vandal with a chain-saw. Why would anyone do that, the cry goes up?
The 300 year old tree has featured on countless photographs and in the film 'Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves'. 'I'm Robin of Loxley and this is my land and my tree,' he tells the Sherriff of Nottingham.
We feel a sense of stewardship for our trees.
The morning was silent and still and a sense of mystery pervaded the wood. The light was low and colour drained away with toppled and tangled trees giving a weird look. A heron squawked and a pair flew over Kentmere Reservoir, a jay screeched at them. Nuthatch and great spotted woodpecker were calling and a tapping resonated in the silence. High notes of gold crest came from high in conifers. Crab apples ripen in the season of mist and mellow fruitfulness. The fells are lost in a thick white mist of saturated air that highlights the realm of spider silk.
'What are those red berries?’
From the board-walk we look beyond bog myrtle and heather, down onto wetter ground with sphagnum moss. Our location is Foulshaw Moss and here is the peat bog of a lowland raised mire. I reckon she’s found cranberries in a zone where sphagnum moss meets heather. And in a tangle of vegetation I glimpse tiny pink flowers – I had not expected to find cranberry flowering in early September. Here are flowers and trailing leaves, tiny pale green fruit and ripe red berries to be discovered.
At Foulshaw Moss the pink flowers of cross-leaved heath fade to tawny-orange as seed-heads form. A terminal compact cluster of flowers on long, straggly stems with whorls of four tiny linear leaves of pale greyish-green. In this image cross-leaved heath shows distinctly against a backdrop of heather with pale purple flowers. Heather or ling is extensive here at Foulshaw, spreading over the raised mire with bog myrtle shrubs.
Cross-leaved heath favours wetter areas of peat and can often be found in watershed zones. Here at Foulshaw both ericas show distinctly, so it's the perfect opportunity to look closely at their structures.
To show something of ericas at different seasons I search my photographic archives for images from a range of different locations.
Bog myrtle thrives at Foulshaw Moss with shrubs mingling with heather beside the board-walk and spreading out across the raised mire. It's a fragrant plant and I love it especially in early April when its bare twigs are reddish-brown and its catkins burst into flower. When snow covers the fells Bog myrtle shrubs are still visible in boggy watershed zones and if deer and sheep browse on the plant you can see the tips of its branches nipped off. Its catkins are exquisite and they flower so early. I made April pilgrimages to find Bog Myrtle catkins. I should have given attention to late summer and early autumn.
Heather is fragrant in the hot sun and there's a refreshing breeze. Dry stone walls pattern the fells, top-stones gleaming white. Heather gives way to pastures above Scandal Beck. There's a limestone quarry on the farther bank and, below it out of sight, two limekilns and a dismantled railway-line, the flower walk. To the south,the profile of Wild Boar Fell shows on a morning that grows hazier. Having walked through Smardale Gill so recently it's good to be high on the heather fell which cannot be seen from there.
The chatter of house martin fills the air as they fly in a whoosh and settle high on the castle wall, on narrow ribs on the stone tracery within a window, in a shallow shelf above lead guttering and in niches in the stonework. House martin cling to the stone, showing their white feathered legs and feet. Dark pointed wings poke up from a narrow shelf. Birds half-hidden cling close to the stone offering odd perspectives. This isn't a high-wire or parapet line-up with classic poses, it's much more quirky- like sea-birds crammed onto cliff- ledges.
Encircled by fells, Scout Scar is all about vistas. On a day of clarity it's spectacular. Clouds rise up over the fells and a wet summer ends with resplendent cloudscapes. The day is still and warm with a herbal fragrance and there's a play of light through clouds which form and reform, illuminating the earth for a moment, then casting pools of shadow. Fair-weather sunlit clouds against a foil of blues. Grasshopper are loud, raven are vocal and goldfinch flit through skeletal ash-trees. Ash die-back looks stark when trees should be in full leaf.
If the skies are clear tonight we'll see a super moon and a blue moon, a rare coincidence. Today there is a clarity and brightness rarely seen over recent weeks, through a rainy July and August.
Hawthorn is laden with berries and sloes are plentiful. On Helsington Barrows there are drifts of yellow hawkweed but scarcely a butterfly to be seen. At this season I hope to see swallows mustering. Sometimes hundreds of them will gather on trees close to the escarpment as they prepare to migrate to Africa.
‘Everywhere was once like this.’ She regrets a lost Eden, before mankind brought us to the brink, before the Anthropocene. It’s crept up on us, the Anthropocene, but now the scale and pace of man’s destructive impact on the planet is unprecedented.
Delight in Smardale is tinged with regret for what is lost. Up on Crosby Garrett Fell, on Ravenstonedale Common, springs emerge and wend their way down to Scandal Beck to flow through Smardale east to the River Eden.
For three summers we've come here seeking SIlver Washed Fritillary in late July, early August. Three weeks ago hemp agrimony, a favoured nectaring plant, was budding. In the interim, July and early August weather has been showery and cool and on this day last year SIlver Washed Fritillary were ragged but easy to find Watching over some hours their size and wing-shape, their pattern of flight against the dark shadows of the woodland fringe refreshes the jizz and a sense of familiarity.
A farmer is taking a cut of silage in the Lyth Valley on a fine day with a wet weekend in the forecast. White cloud is mirrored in the pool at Park End Moss where a heron disappears into the reed bed. Azure Blue Damselfly show acrobatic in the mating-wheel. The azure male clasps his dark green female by the neck and she contorts her abdomen to reach his reproductive organs. They’re in reeds close to the water where the female will lay her eggs on plants just below the surface in that soupy aquatic vegetation of blue, green and gold.