An escarpment opens up horizons. Today low cloud lingers over the distant fells and, without clarity, I am well content with the middle-distance. Vistas another time. This chequer-board of fields down in the Lyth Valley is my objective. From up on Scout Scar escarpment it resembles a map spread out below. A map with an overlay of farming calendar, of season and of weather. Traces of flood water linger from yesterday's thunderstorms . Armed with binoculars and camera, all I need is a vantage point and for the sun to play along. I sit contemplating the landscape, thinking upon the hours I spend waiting for the sun to shake off clouds and shed light where I’d like it. That coincidence of elements coming together is rare, and elusive.
Hearing a distant cuckoo I was alert and listening, following the sound. I scanned the taller trees, the dead trees it often displays from. And heard it closer. I walked in the cover of the wall, attentive. Then I glimpsed a bird in flight and fixed my binoculars on it, unmistakeably the cuckoo. Fast and purposeful flight, long rounded tail and pointed wings. Strong light showed the greys of its plumage. Maybe I've photographed this bird before, certainly I know its lineage. Welcome home cuckoo.
Sunlight and shadows play over the face of Scout Scar escarpment. The woods below show all the freshness of May. Birch trees of vibrant green, the pallor of white-beam on the grass and scree of the buttress, tapering fine as they climb the cliff-face. Dark slivers of yew like shadows in the rock. Louring cloud with welcome rain is not far off, after weeks of blustery, fine weather that dries and cracks the earth. At this season the cliff-face flowers with hoary-rock rose and the motif of yellow takes hold on the cliff-top, the very edge. What flowers grow in this exposed location?
A beautiful May day for the bluebells of Wharfe Wood and Oxenber Wood. The abundance of flowers is breathtaking: bluebells, primroses, early purple orchids and cowslips. There's wood sorrel growing in shady places, but the sun is so strong that light blazes through the wood and there's little shade.
The redstart sings from a slender white-beam, its leaf buds bursting. His song carries loud along the escarpment edge, eager to attract females who arrive a few days later. As the sun rises higher in the sky it dispels shadows in the hanging wood below. Runners and dog walkers arrive and the redstart will dip out of sight and sing invisible, tantalising, from sunlit tree-tops directly below the cliff- top. For the last ten years I've heard redstart singing from this tree. They're faithful to site and I wonder how many lineages of redstart have claimed this territory.
A fresh brood of green-veined whites flitted about a bank of flowers of garlic mustard and green alkanet. Some were nectaring, proboscis drinking nectar. A green-veined white alighted in a profusion of wings- a pair of butterflies mating. Bright sunlight created shadows that make this image sequence interesting: sometimes shadows show sharper than the pale butterfly. Shadow-play offers two butterflies with six antennae, a flurry of shadow legs.
I know a bank where garlic mustard grows, sheltered from wind off the North Sea, and by mid-day the flowers are in full sun. Surely today will be a butterfly day, at last, as that north- north- east wind eases. Orange-tip butterflies have been on my wish list since the day I found one sheltering from fine rain beneath Jack-by-the-hedge, Garlic mustard, at Waitby Greenriggs. So long ago I was without a camera. This morning there are white butterflies on the wing amidst white flowers and I follow their flight over garlic mustard, over nettles and brambles.
The Helm Wind has made magic in the clouds this last week, in Cumbria. Beautiful lenticular clouds over Scout Scar. And the Helm Bar has been photographed in the North West. The Helm Wind is a phenomenon of the Cross Fell escarpment and this week dramatic clouds have featured on the evening weather forecast.
I had marvelled at the early morning cloudscape but had not realised this was the creation of the Helm Wind until a neighbour mentioned the weather report.
To watch redstart singing in the white-beam rising from Scout Scar escarpment, I have to be there soon after sunrise. The cliff-edge is the viewpoint, popular with runners and dog walkers and the redstart tolerate neither. I approach the cliff with caution, so as not to disturb the birds. But after a glorious redstart morning three days ago there's nothing. A blustery wind didn't deter them before. Perhaps the early frost and the chill in the NNE wind affects them.
Redstart are singing all along Scout Scar escarpment and each year a male sings from this same white-beam growing in the cliff- edge. He sings to attract a mate and does his best to conceal himself from a photographer- there's no cover up here and I can come no closer. The moment walkers with dogs appear the bird dips silently over the cliff into the hanging wood. They are faithful to territory, returning to the same trees year after year. Once the breeding season is well underway they're less vocal, so now is the time to admire them.
Sharp Edge is always a focus, shall we, shan't we attempt that airy arête. Conditions are perfect- a fine day with little wind and there's been almost no rain for weeks. Steep screes fall from Sharp Edge, to the corrie lake of Scales Tarn. Sunlight plays over outcropping crags and I think I hear ring ouzel. It's the perfect habitat, if they can tolerate the popularity of Sharp Edge. I listen, intent and eager. If only I could see the bird to confirm the sighting.
A literary pilgrimage, after listening to Helen Dunmore’s novel Birdcage Walk. At Bristol Harbourside the Matthew was under sail and as we climbed up toward Clifton Hill we paused to look down on the SS Great Britain, and over toward Ashton Court. Vistas over the city and the surrounding countryside. I had thought Birdcage Walk would look out over the Avon Gorge, but it does not. I wonder how I lived in this city for so long and only now discover this peaceful spot.
Jan Wiltshire is a nature writer living in Cumbria. She also explores islands and coast and the wildlife experience. (See Home and My Books.)