Sunlight and shadow play through slender ash trees. They are older than they seem, these Scout Scar ash. It's exposed up on the ridge and water drains away through the limestone clitter where they anchor so they are diminutive, never reaching the majesty of mature ash. Spring foliage comes late and the prevailing south-west wind is quick to strip them bare in autumn. The quality of winter light makes them distinctive against a foil of bright blue and gathering clouds. Perspectives lead you through the trees toward ethereal wisps of ash on the horizon.
'I drive to work through darkness and into such a sunrise.' Her eyes light up as she speaks.
A heavy frost saps colour from the Lyth Valley. The sun is low in the sky and a glimmering light suffuses the landscape, creating sharp shadows. Configurations of ash trees on Scout Scar offer perspectives unseen in summer, something elusive. Oblique light and the frosty air creates a mysterious mood. Frost has hold of heather in the hollows. Sunlight filters through brambles and frost highlights decay.
5 December 2015, the day Storm Desmond saw the RIver Kent burst its banks, flooding homes in Kendal. There had been weeks of rain, culminating in the Storm Desmond deluge.
Next day dawned bright and sunny. The river shrank back, leaving crayfish, bullhead and sticklebacks stranded in the mud. Floodwater had transformed the Lyth Valley and the road across the valley was impassable for about a month.
This week we had days of rain and mist and Sunday dawned fair. I went up onto Scout Scar to look down on floodwater.
A slender crescent moon and the stars linger. Frost and December sunrise, a rosy dawn. After last night's live-screening of The Nutcracker by The Royal Ballet, I'm bound for Scout Scar in dancing shoes. Lost in the refinement of a fairy-tale world, in the grace and athleticism of the dancers. I'd like a pair of Turkish trousers. A little girl has come in pink tu-tu and red boots. We're like them, like the dancers. Well we could be.
Before and after The Nutcracker, the news. In Katowice, Poland, David Attenborough tells the urgency of addressing Climate Change at a UN conference.
A radio 4 voice warns of the 'obese crisity' (sic). The obese crisity is hotting-up in The Nutcracker audience.
Lucrezia Borgia sits in the roof garden high in Castello Estense, listening to music. Lucrezia, Duchess of Ferrara, patron of musicians. Perhaps her little daughter Leonora is by her side, looking out over Ferrara toward the convent of Corpus Domini where she will become Abbess at eighteen. Leonora D'Este, perhaps the first known female composer. She will leave a rich musical inheritance to her convent, empowering women as musicians and composers.
In the loggia of the oranges I hear the pure voice of Emma Kirkby singing the music Lucrezia and Leonora heard.
Out of the blue, a female kestrel. She illuminates the day. Hovering, she is mantled in shadows. The poise and grace of the falcon as she scans the earth. Angel-messenger in a winter sky. She knows of old the secret life of the place. She swoops, flies low across the slope and alights in larch trees. Hidden, I cannot tell if she has prey.
She is the highlight of a winter's morning. Unexpected. I was seeking winter thrush, heard mistle-thrush and a lone fieldfare, redwing perhaps. The yew trees seemed bare of fruit, those fleshy red arils the birds love.
Then the falcon appears, out of the blue and nothing else is. She arrests time.
Mist defines Windermere- a soft silver-blue toward the distant fells. The morning grows warm and a peacock butterfly settles on stone. Shots ring out in the stillness: a pheasant shoot below the escarpment. A beautiful, hazy morning attracts lone runners and a few walkers. The woods colour- up and the day seems unremarkable.
A long line of runners bursts onto the escarpment, organised by the Kendal Mountain Festival. ' What shall I do with this bottle?' asks a girl. 'There isn't a litter bin.'
A rough and rainy night. At sunrise, raindrops pattern the window and the sun transfigures everything. Raindrops shimmer on leaves of gold on a tall and slender birch. And on the dark and leafless birch beyond it. A shimmering sunrise. The effect is sublime, and transitory.
Impossible to catch the full glory on camera. Louring cloud blots out the shimmer, until the next sunburst. Angle and alignment is everything for refracted light: the sun, the raindrop birch, the raindrop glass of the window, and me. Outdoors and looking up into the trees the effect is lost. It's about coincidence.
Listening to Thought For the Day this morning, I was taken back to Liverpool and a Sunday morning exploring in the vicinity of the University Sports Centre.
'I have a fly-swatter beside my bed,' she confided. ' Mosquitoes. Got one last week.' It is early November.
'Bread in the windows,' she said.
'Why is there bread in your windows?'
'Flies bred in the windows.' After a frenzy if fly-swatting she had to clean the walls. The art of fly-swatting calls for the proper implement with the right kind of flap for the swatting action. Their old stone cottage is fringed with woodland, that's where the plague of summer flies originated. The beck dried up, leaving only a couple of puddles for their golden Labrador to lie in. Didn't have the wit to keep in the shade. The cat had more sense.
Another day, once more a captive listener. I hone my skills.
You never know a writer's sources, not entirely. There are hidden encounters in a story, never reaching the acknowledgements. As a resourceful nature writer I like to consider fresh perspectives, yours as well as mine.
When writing Cumbrian Contrasts I found myself stuck on a train in the company of an engine driver from Walney Island. He was stranded, couldn't reach his train. So he talked to me about the mirage effect of wind turbines off Walney and there's the ghost of an engine driver in that chapter.
Great images but what’s the dotterel story? The Cairngorm Mountain experience is memorable but there’s a lifestyle to investigate.
From their wintering grounds in North Africa dotterel head north. With traditional stopping-off points a ‘trip’ of dotterel may appear on the summit of Pendle Hill, Lancashire before reaching the Cairngorms in mid-May to coincide with a hatching of craneflies, an abundance of insects.
Sunlight soon melted a dawn frost. The morning was so still. Mistle thrush and green woodpecker audible. A group of pheasants strutted across the escarpment, and flew off the cliff-edge. Distant church bells. Warm enough to bask in the sun.
A faint haze over the fells. Remember the film ' Girl With The Pearl Ear-ring,' where Colin Firth tells Scarlett Johannson to look at the clouds and asks the colour she sees? Or colours. What is it makes the colour of clouds?
A depth of bright cloud billowed above the surrounding fells and a dome of blue rose over Scout Scar. An inspirational cloudscape.
Approaching the ridge, I heard a shepherd shouting to his dogs; ' lie down, lie down,' now between a groan and a roar, 'lie down.' Black Hebridean sheep huddled close. Sheepdogs darted here and there but did not 'lie down.' Across a network of pastures wooden gates had been set out as if for a training course for 'One Man and his Dog. '
Sunday morning, delayed as the clocks have gone back an hour. The clean, cold north-west wind has dropped and wind comes from the north-east. A sky of bright blue. Exposed to the wind, the ash trees on Scout Scar are stripped of leaves, laden with bunches of keys. Winter light strikes bare trees and fragments of limestone pavement.
During the morning, dark clouds gather, plunge the escarpment into gloom as a flight of fieldfare passes calling overhead. Trees on the horizon are backlit, spooky for the approach of Halloween.
A calm sea and a comfortable voyage aboard Mannanan, sailing Douglas to Liverpool. On a bright October day the sand-dunes of Formby were distinct, seemed close. Then the dramatic sky-line of a great city.
We arrived the day the Giants were in town. Their third and last appearance and the city was thronged with families eager to see them. Our objective was The Terrracotta Army, an enterprise of antiquity on a far grander scale.
Next evening, Jodie Whittaker made her debut as Dr Who, set in Sheffield. How about Liverpool? Another time, Another Place.
'Eider beyond the lighthouse, directly off the Point.' Returning, he shared what he had found. Gannet flew by, deceptively close as banks of shingle plunged into deep water. Sea-smoothed pebbles rose in tiers of shingle, a natural amphitheatre where we settled into a drama of sea-watch. Late September sun, a fine cloudscape and the sea a spectrum of aquamarines. Off the Point, white water showed where tidal races met. Closer to the shore, rafts of eider bobbed up and down on the waves, heads tucked into the plumage of their mantles.
Late September and sunlight glosses seaweed and shingle with an incoming tide. From the yellow dunes, amidst sea-holly and marram grass, I spy a couple of waders outlined against the white foam of a breaking wave. The birds are foraging, running to and fro against the rhythm of the waves and heading north along the strand. Amongst the ringed plover there are dunlin, first winter birds with plumage of tortoiseshell and grey. Breeding solitary in the uplands, dunlin come to the coast and spend autumn and winter here in flocks.
Scarlett Point is great for bird-watching. Hidden in a car, we could observe the little egret's hunting tactics. The wind ruffled his white plumage, his panache- a wispy crest of feathers for this elegant white heron. His feet stirred amongst seaweed, searching, his long black bill stabbing and his toes trailing ochre weed.
Cormorant in silhouette on rock, eider off-shore. Sunlight illuminated Castletown across the bay.
Always the possibility of wildlife drama.
Black against alto-stratus cloud and blue sky, a flight of chough. They nest on cliff- ledges, on sea-stack and precipice here at The Chasms. A flock of thirty birds, their voices high-pitched- the counter-tenors of the crow family.
Chough are a motif here amongst precipitous cliff, rocky bluff and sand dunes. Their call evokes the coastal solitudes I love. Long black fingers as they soar. Wings folded in steep dive.
In late September and into October we heard stonechat on our coastal walks, and saw flocks of linnet sweep over the shore and disappear into the stubble of autumn fields. Then came a magical half hour above the cliffs at Pigeon Stream, on the Marine Drive beyond Douglas. Our vehicle served as a hide and a family of stonechat flitted about gorse and on the stout fence about the cliff-top car park. A flock of linnet were about and one settled on the fence. Then came another visitor!
Jan Wiltshire is a writer and naturalist living in Cumbria. She take photographs.