Wednesday, 6 May 2015

A May walk in the Ribble Valley Part Two

Today, I am on my usual daily walk. Although some of you came with me on this walk in April things can change noticeably from month to month. The most obvious change is that the blackthorn has now gone over and Hawthorn dominates the hedgerows. Hawthorn blossom is traditionally known as May blossom, and there is a saying, "Ne'er cast a clout till May is out." For the uninitiated this means don't put away your winter clothes until the Hawthorn blossom appears. While Hawthorn blossom is attractive, I wouldn't put it in a vase in my living room, as it smells like a rotting corpse. This is because the flowers are pollinated by flies.

I noticed this horse through a gap in the hedge. I thought that it made a good focal point for a photograph, especially with a pond in the foreground. My daughter once asked me to walk her Labrador dog while out at work. He didn't walk well on the lead but was perfectly well behaved off it. On this particular occasion he smelled the water long before it came into view and he was gone. By the time I reached this pond he was swimming and the young woman who owns the horse gave me a dressing down for not keeping my dog under control. I never took him with me again.

I often meet her while she's out riding. Someone told me that she's a mounted police officer. I have no way of  knowing  if that's the case, but she certainly appeared  comfortable while tearing me off a strip for my neglect. The young woman  also owns a white pony, which she may have ridden as a girl, but its current function is as company for the horse. In addition to meeting her while riding I sometimes meet her while walking the pony, as others might walk a dog. Perhaps it doesn't get enough exercise in the field and needs to be encouraged to walk? While taking the photograph of the horse I suddenly had the feeling that I was  being watched.

By the side of the road I noticed this tree in flower. It looks like an apple tree to me and it must be at least a couple of hundred years old. That got me thinking, how did it come to be growing in a hedge. Was an apple core, a remnant of a plowman's lunch, carelessly thrown into the hedge by a farm worker, or was it a snack discarded by a traveller on the road from Ribchester to Whalley. Or did a blackbird simply eat a rotting windfall in the autumn and spread the seed in its droppings? Whatever happened to plant this tree it took place a hundred or more years before any of us were born.

This plant is not a plant that you see every day, but growing close to the old apple tree there were hundreds of them growing in a rainwater  ditch. It appears to me to be a fritillary, so I looked it up in my idiots guide. Apparently Britain boasts just one native fritillary, (The Snakes Head Fritillary), but to be honest the picture in the book didn't appear to be an exact match. I've discovered that The Snakes Head Fritillary grows in just a few meadows in Southern England and the Midlands, so if I have identified it correctly what is it doing so far north? Perhaps someone can tell me what this plant is? 

This picture shows Pendle Hill in the far distance. Its summit is 557 metres (1,827 ft) above sea level. There is a saying locally that if you can see Pendle it's going to rain, and if you can't it's already raining. In 1652, during the early years of the Quakers, George Fox, a founding father, claimed to have had a vision while on the top of Pendle Hill.
As we travelled, we came near a very great hill, called Pendle Hill, and I was moved of the Lord to go up to the top of it; which I did with difficulty, it was so very steep and high. When I was come to the top, I saw the sea bordering upon Lancashire. From the top of this hill the Lord let me see in what places he had a great people to be gathered.
George Fox: 

I wonder if George's vision  included a Mexican themed restaurant sitting on the top of the hill, or a dry ski slope and a ski lift, or perhaps he envisioned young men jumping from the top and paragliding in the thermals? If so he truly had a vision of the future.

Here are a few of the wild plants that I photographed during the month of May. 

Herb Robert
Red campion
Ladies smock
Greater stichwort
Ivy leaved toad flax

Monday, 4 May 2015

A May walk in the Ribble Valley.

Today I have a doctors appointment in Whalley. Usually I walk into Whalley and catch the bus back, but today I intend to use my bus pass and spend some time in and around Whalley. If you'd like to come along I'm sure that I can sneak you onto the bus unnoticed. 

May always say's bluebells to me. Everybody in the UK remembers a bluebell wood fondly from their childhood, and they invariably call it bluebell wood because they have little idea of it's real name. This is Spring wood, my bluebell wood. Spring wood is very popular with dog walkers and picnickers alike. There is a car park, a toilet block, picnic tables, and an ice cream van which parks there daily, in both winter and summer. I don't know how much ice cream he sells during the winter months, but he's always there, perhaps his contractual arrangements require him to be there or he will lose his license to trade.  A path runs around the perimeter of the wood, which borders the golf course, and in the deepest darkest part of the wood there is a small pond which is fed by a waterfall when it rains. At this time of year the pond teems with smooth newts, all trying to pass on their genes to a future generation.

From Spring wood it's possible to walk along the banks of the River Calder to Whalley Nab, a steep sided hill which dominates Whalley village. That is where I came across this cheeky little fellow sitting on a post and playing with his nuts. I see squirrels almost every day during the spring and summer months, and especially in Autumn, but they are usually in retreat and not willing to pose for a photograph. I only carry a pocket camera on my walks, and as I didn't want to scare the little fellow away, I had to ignore the distance between us and use the necessary magnification.  The picture still had to be heavily cropped, and I'm afraid that the quality isn't great in consequence of this, but I thought he looked cute sitting on his post and I had to include him.

Blackthorn blossom dominates the hedgerows in late April and early May, the flowers open before the hedge comes into leaf, and the hedgerows become white as if covered in snow. By late Autumn the blossom, if pollinated, has formed into large berries,  which look a little like purple grapes, and which people, for generations, have collected to ferment into sloe gin.

Behind the hedge I discovered a stream, which had been culverted, a century or more ago, to allow farm vehicles, and animals, to enter the field beyond. At this time of the year wild garlic is as prolific as are bluebells, and it grows in similar locations where spring light is replaced by cool darker conditions once the tree canopy develops. This wild garlic once grew in a shady position but the telephone company have recently cut down a number of trees, as they were interfering with the telephone lines, and the plants will now be exposed to the summer sunshine. Will they survive, the answer is I don't know.

We are heading back towards the bus station now, but if you look through this arch you will see  the  parish church of St Mary and All Saints. A church existed on this site in Anglo Saxon times and there are three well preserved Anglo Saxon crosses  in the churchyard. Most of the present church was built in the 13th century, with the tower being added in the 15th century. This is the southern gate, but the northern gate was designated as the devils gate by locals, and was only used by people who wished themselves to be regarded as witches. In Harrison Ainsworth's novel The Lancashire Witches, the witches congregated around this gate, on Sunday mornings, to intimidate parishioners.

Before we leave Whalley we just have time to view  the 18th century Whalley old Grammar School across from the bus station. It is currently being used as an adult education centre where I  once attended watercolour painting classes. I'm quite good at drawing, even if I say so myself, and I thought that I would also be good at painting. It turned out that I was the newby and among a large group of women, and only one or two men. I did okay, but I'm better at drawing than painting. The other class members were all more experienced watercolourists, and not wanting to be regarded as the dunce of the painting class I chickened out, after only a few weeks, and began writing novels instead.

There is much more to see in Whalley village, including the ruined abbey, and I will be returning.  When I do I'll let you know so that you can come along if you wish.

Friday, 24 April 2015

An April walk in the Ribble Valley, Part Two

Catkins appear on willow trees in April, we used to call them pussy willow when we were kids. I'm not quite sure why. probably because the the name is derived from the obsolete Dutch word, katteken, meaning kitten. The seed heads look nice photographed against a blue sky, don't you agree, but I have two large willow trees growing behind my house and they are the bane of my life. Soon the catkins will begin to fall, and they always seem to fall in my garden, bucket loads of them. On windy days the seeds blow around like snow and it's impossible to sit out in the sunshine for two whole weeks of the year. To make matters worse seedlings grow everywhere. I'm still digging out last years and soon the new ones will seed. I wish someone would cut them down and turn them into cricket bats.

Hazel catkins are also abundant in the hedgerows during April, as children we called these lambs tails, for obvious reasons. Have you ever watched a lamb when it's feeding? It wiggles it's tail happily, and when the wind blows the hazel catkins wiggle  like the tails of lambs. 

These animals are young bullocks awaiting slaughter. If you've ever walked a dog through a field of bullocks you'll know just how curious they are. They will follow, and if you stop they will stop, keeping a safe distance. If you walk towards them they will back up, but when you continue on your way they will follow for as long as the field boundaries will allow. This group were so curious that they broke down the fence while trying to check me out.

The woodland floor is carpeted with celandine at this time of year, taking advantage of the available light before the woodland canopy casts them into relative darkness. Even though the leaves are not yet on the trees I had to use a flash to take this picture. I bet some of you think I know what I'm talking about, come on admit it, but I've bought an idiots guide  to spotting wild flowers with which to identify them.

Easter has already passed us by, but then all photographs are retrospective. I was intrigued by this symbol of Easter purposely erected on the top of a small hill to represent Calvary. It appears even more poignant  because of the gorse, with its thorny crown, growing around the base of the cross. I wonder if the architect of this scene felt the same way, or if it was just a happy accident.

I've reached a signpost pointing the way back home. You can just see Whalley Nab in the distance, with the television and radio booster mast sitting on top. It's time that Pendle Forest transmitter and the Whalley Nab booster were updated, as reception is chronic around Whalley, and very few freeview channels are currently available. I bought a DAB radio a couple of years ago but it will only play on FM. What's the point of that?

On our first internet walk 200 people turned up, 84 from Russia, 49 from the UK, 41 from the USA, 22 from France, and 1 from Bulgaria, Spain, Hong Kong, and the Ukraine. If you enjoyed this walk through the Ribble Valley please share this post with your friends on Facebook and Twitter, and let's see if we can attract an even bigger crowd this time.

Some wild flowers photographed during April.

Common daisy
Wood Anemone
Garlic Mustard

Saturday, 11 April 2015

An April walk in the Ribble Valley.

    For health reasons I have to walk on a daily basis, wind, rain, hail, or shine, I must partake in my daily exercise. I've decided to take with me a pocket sized Kodak camera to record anything that interests  me. If you would like to accompany me on my monthly  internet walks you are more than welcome to come along.

Daffodils are synonymous with April, so I must begin my journey through April with them.   In Britain we have wild daffodils, they are small and grow in woodland, but the ones in the photograph are not of the wild variety, but garden escapees. How do daffodils escape from gardens you may well ask. One thing is for certain they didn't decide to relocate. I can understand seeds being carried on the wind or via the guts of birds, but it's difficult to understand how bulbs ended up growing by a stream, unless of course someone planted them, but why?                                                                                                                                     
  Local councils tend to plant daffodils along grass verges and on traffic islands, but not in a field next to a stream. These daffodils have been planted by Ribble Valley Borough Council on a grass verge outside of the Black Bull public house at Old Langho. They used to make great hoagies at the Black Bull with minted yogurt, perhaps they still do I'll have to re-visit and find out.

    This is a picture of the church of St Leonards at Old Langho. The church was built in 1557. The stonework, windows, and many of the fittings, are thought to have been recycled, by local people, from nearby Whalley Abbey, following the dissolution of the monasteries by order of Henry V111, after a tantrum because the Pope refused to grant him an annulment from his wife Catherine of Aragon, which would enable him to marry his mistress Anne Boleyn. 

 In woodland and hedgerows grow wild primroses. Our gardens are full of primroses, of every hue, at this time of the year, given to mothers by small children on Mothers Day, to sit on windowsills in pots, or plant outside in borders or planters along with miniature daffodils, but this is the native variety and you can have it in any colour  just  as long as it's pale yellow.

   This is the time of year for births in the animal world, and lambs are being born in large numbers during March and April. Farmers try to ensure that as many ewes as possible give birth to twins, for maximum profit at the auction, and here we have two such families wondering if I'm a threat.

  Many calves have also been born, but we don't see them, as dairy herds are still undercover until the weather settles. This Friesian cow, and her calf, are enjoying a warm day outside. I don't know who the little brown one belongs to, perhaps the same mother. He's got his ears tagged and will probably be sold on the continent for veal, as the British are a bit squeamish about eating anything cute. He's certainly very interested in me. 
    This field is on Chapel Lane and when I came to live in the Ribble Valley in 1971 a chapel stood on this site, there are certainly no signs that it ever existed now. Perhaps Time Team will one day come to dig it up.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Springwatch, Part 2

The first of the years flowering shrubs have begun to burst into colour in the garden. The yellow Forsythia and the pink flowering currant, Ribes. This is an exciting time as it indicates to me that spring has definitely arrived and from this point onwards there will be no turning back.

A blackbird is building a nest in one of the flowering currants at the front of the house while a magpie is repairing last years nest in a tall willow tree at the back. Magpie's are predatory birds and if they discover the blackbird nest they will steal the eggs, and the chicks, to feed their own brood, and I'm afraid it will be bye bye blackbird.

Frogs have begun to spawn in the pond, I'm finding them all over the garden and I've had to lift the net to allow them access to the pond. The females, swollen with spawn, carry the smaller males on their backs, sometimes two at a time, as the males jostle for the privilege of mating. It's all just a waste of time, although I'd never tell them so, because as soon as the tadpoles emerge the fish will eat them and few, if any, will survive.

A saw a shrew the other day nosing about in the leaves. I assume it was looking for worms or woodlice. A while ago I saw one attack a frog twice its size. The frog jumped into the water and submerged with the shrew still attached. I expected the shrew to let go and return to the surface, as did the frog I suspect, but it didn't. It may have been a water shrew, they have a venomous bite and can stay underwater for long periods of time. I waited for ages but I never saw either one of them return to the surface. Did the shrew drown or did the frog die from the bite, I don't know, but  if the shrew killed the frog, how the hell would it get it to the surface? Perhaps it would leave it on the bottom and keep returning to feed, I'll have to make enquiries. 

 When I was young sparrows and starlings dominated the bird table, but both of these species have suffered a decline, while blue tits and great tits have become the most common birds in my garden. I tend to treat them with contempt, as I once did with the humble house sparrow, but they are attractive little birds and have a lot to offer the observer, as they search among the shrubbery for grubs and caterpillars to feed their offspring. I'll have to put up a bird box so that I can watch them more closely, maybe one with a camera inside? 

Sunday, 15 March 2015

No Charge

A boy handed his mother a piece of paper. It read,

For washing up, 50p
For making my own bed, 50p
For going to the shop, 50p
For taking out the rubbish, 50p
For getting a good report card, £1

Total owed £3.

His mother picked up the pen, and she wrote,

For bringing you into this world, there’s no charge.
For comforting you when you cried, no charge.
For bathing you and changing nappies there isn't a charge.
For washing your clothes and for wiping your nose there’s no charge.
For hugs and sticking plasters on your knees, still no charge.
For loving you, unconditionally, even when your naughty, there’s no charge.

Total owed, nothing.

On Mothers day give a card and flowers, no charge.
Give some of your precious time, no charge. 
You will never be able to repay the debt you owe.

This blog has been inspired by the song, No Charge.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015


It may not feel like spring, and officially it isn't, in fact it's been hailing and snowing for most of the  week, but daffodils are flowering in my garden and I always associate daffodils with spring. By the law of Higgins the year is divided into four equal monthly parts. June, July and August constitute summer. September, October, and November, autumn, December, January, and February, are definitely the winter months, so consequently March, April, and May, must logically be labelled as spring.

Birds will be nesting soon, so it will be time to stop feeding peanuts, so that parents will have to search for more suitable food to feed their chicks. I stopped feeding peanuts a while ago because squirrels were coming into my garden from the trees across the road, balancing on my larch lap fencing, like tightrope walkers, and making their way to the bird table around the back of the house. Now I have no problem with that except that two of them have been run over,  and to discourage them from crossing the road I've discontinued feeding peanuts. 

Last week I had a flock of long tailed tits in my garden. I only see them once or twice a year. They arrive in huge flocks, which can take fifteen or twenty minutes to pass through  as they hop from tree to tree, bush to bush, and branch to branch, searching for food. They arrive suddenly and just as suddenly they disappear again for another year.

When I was at school we visited the Ribble Valley  to see the Roman museum at Ribchester. On that trip I was more intrigued by the colourful snails, which I had never seen before, than the Romans, although the full face helmet, discovered in the River Ribble is something to behold. Now that I live in the Ribble Valley the snails are less of an attraction and I am intent on eradicating them from my garden. During my post winter tidy up I've discovered hundreds of them overwintering on fences, walls, my greenhouse and even beneath the soil. It looks like it will be war again this year.

Across the street we often have a visitor, a tawny owl which  sits on a street lamp and hoots incessantly throughout the night. You might think that the sound of an owl at night is a little eery, and unnerving, but I've become accustomed to its nighttime calling and barely notice it at all. If it's intention is to rid my garden of the many field mice which inhabit it then it's failing miserably in its duty.