Saturday, 11 April 2015

The Ribble Valley in April

    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.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Winterwatch Part Two

I had thought that Spring was on it's way, the garden was a carpet of snowdrops and crocuses have begun to open on sunny days, but the last few days have put paid to that idea. A few days ago the sun was shining and temperatures were nudging double figures, but not anymore. While the weather was spring like I continued with my clear up in the garden, and soon discovered that I had a new best friend.

We associate robins with winter and even put their images on  Christmas cards, but robins find the winter a very stressful time and many of them die in consequence. They are largely carnivorous birds and as insect and grub life is in short supply during the winter months, when I began disturbing the soil and trimming the dead foliage from last years perennials the robin must have felt that it was its birthday. Each time I reached for my border fork he, or she, as both sexes appear the same, was sitting on the handle, and as soon as I moved on to another location the robin was picking over the soil. When I reached for my wheelbarrow to fetch more compost for top dressing there he was sitting on one of the handles of my wheelbarrow.

I've been having a few problems by losing goldfish from my pond and I put it down to the neighbours cat, but as the water is deep and the fish are semi-hibernating at the very bottom I figured they'd be safe throughout the winter months but I couldn't have been more wrong. When I went  to the back of the house, with my wheelbarrow, there was a grey-heron helping itself to my prized fish only yards from my kitchen door. The heron flew away, on seeing me, but it will be back so I've been forced to net the pond until the water lilies grow and cover the surface of the pond.

In the wintertime roe deer often come down from the surrounding hills. I often see them  on grazing land but sometimes they come into the village in the early hours of the morning. I discovered evidence of deer activity in my garden, they'd been scratching on the garage wall and leaving tufts of hair behind. Children, waiting for the school bus, were upset, one morning, because one of the poor creatures had been killed outside of my house. It must have walked, or run, straight out of my drive and in front of moving traffic, as there was blood and hair on the road where the collision had occurred,  but the poor creature had managed to cross the road and lay dying on the grass with blood running from its nose. Roadkill deer never stay for very long because the next time I looked out of the window it had gone, probably into someones freezer, or more likely to be sold at the kitchen door of a local restaurant.

My greenhouse is like mouse city during the winter. Field mice bury into pots containing overwintering plants and create tunnels. From their tunnels and chambers they nibble away at the roots of my plants and any new shoots on the surface. They also eat their way through the plastic bag which contains food for my goldfish and devour my fish food. They are only being mice, and being field mice they never come into the house, but they will  have to go. I've bought an ultrasonic rodent repeller and plugged it into a power socket in the greenhouse, That seems to have done the trick.

I'm looking out of the window as I write this blog and watching the snow. This blog should have been entitled Springwatch, but it's definitely still winter. 

Monday, 2 February 2015


Like most people the garden appears dead to me in winter. I pass through it to get to my car parked in the drive, and ignore the autumn detritus of dead sticks and fallen leaves, but snowdrops have begun to flower and I decided to clear some of the debris so that we could enjoy them from the house and from the garden path.  I thought the snowdrop was a British native, but apparently it was introduced in the sixteenth century from continental Europe. 

I discovered, during my labours, that the garden is not dead in winter after all. The fallen leaves had provided a home for large numbers of seven spot ladybirds, and I even discovered a wasp. I would have expected wasps to overwinter in outbuildings, the bug hotels, which appear to have become fashionable, or hide in piles of logs, so you learn something new every day.

In a conifer, which I bought as a dwarf conifer but which is dwarf no more, I noticed movement. On investigation I discovered a goldcrest, I watched it from barely two feet away as it searched for something to eat, while totally ignoring my presence. The goldcrest is the smallest of European birds. It breeds in coniferous woodland and gardens. Birds from the north and east of its breeding range migrate to winter further south and the odd one ends up in my garden. 

While I was working a flock of redwing's invaded my holly bush, well it's more of a tree now, and stripped it  its berries within a matter of minutes. The name redwing derives from the birds red underwing which is more noticeable when it flies. It breeds in Iceland, Scandinavia, the Baltic States, northern Poland, Belarus, and through most of Russia. Being migratory it arrives on our shores in large flocks, during harsh winters, to strip my holly bush, which looked magnificent over Christmas..

As I cleared away the debris I noticed a pile of leaves in the corner of the garden, and on inspection discovered a hibernating hedgehog. Last year I found a nest of five baby hedgehogs in almost the same spot. As winter was fast approaching, and as they had nowhere near reached the required weight to enable hibernation, I arranged for a rescue centre to house them  for the winter months. I once tried to overwinter one in a spare bedroom but it kept us awake at night pitter-pattering around on the bare floorboards. If you open your eyes the garden is far from dead in the winter.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Short trousers.

     The other day it was snowing a blizzard and I crossed the moor to go to the supermarket. The fields were white with snow and the roads were slippery. On the way I came across a walker, nothing unusual in that except that he was wearing shorts in January. It made me wonder why he would choose to wear a padded anorak, a scarf, a woolly hat, gloves, walking boots with thick socks, and shorts. Shorts when I was wearing the thickest corduroy trousers I could find and had the heater blasting out on full heat.
     When I arrived at the supermarket there was another idiot pushing a trolley and guess what? he was wearing shorts. A big coat, shoes with black socks, and shorts. Shorts with socks are not a great fashion combination at the best of times, and it's always middle aged men with legs which should be covered so as not to scare the horses who insist on wearing them. I wouldn't mind seeing an attractive young woman wearing shorts as I wander around the supermarket, it would  make my day, but I don't need to see knobbly knees and varicose veins,  it's enough to put you off your breakfast cereal. Who on earth get's these people dressed? Do they get out of bed, look out of the window, see the snow and instantly think I must wear my shorts today? but it's cold so I'll need my big coat, bobble hat, and thick socks. Are are they incapable of any kind of rational thought, or thought of any kind?

Answers on a postcard.