A robin’s nest

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Earlier this year, a couple of robins – who usually wouldn’t go anywhere near each other – decided to set up home together and raise a family in a bird box in my garden.

It was a rather attractive abode, hand-made by Simon and painted a duck blue by myself. Last year, great tits lived in a different nest box in Cosy Garden but this was the first time The Blue Cottage would come into use.

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I noticed one, if not two, of the robins every day it seemed. They were very busy, flying, eating from the feeder, perching on a garden table, surveying their territory.

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And then one day, silence.

I didn’t notice right away. I assumed they must have been doing their business when I was out at work or somewhere else. Also I expected the mother to be sitting on the eggs so I didn’t expect to see her.

But still…

I continued to avoid the top part of the garden so I wouldn’t distract the pair.

The days went into a week and then another week passed by. Perhaps the eggs had hatched and the chicks had flown when I wasn’t around?

Eventually, I gave a little peek. Something I avoid doing as new and expectant mums hate being disturbed.

But there was no one there except five tiny eggs.

So what happened? To this day, the robins have not returned. Possible explanations I have heard were the adults were ‘killed by a cat or car’ or ‘the eggs were never going to hatch, they weren’t fertilised in the first place. So they left’.

I hope the robins weren’t killed, hopefully this time it just didn’t work and they will be back with more eggs and a successful outcome.

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A trip back in time – Beamish

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Beam me up Scotty – or should it be beam me back?

Fancy being beamed back in time? Well, Beamish is the way to go…

My mum and I went on a weekend trip to Durham and Beamish in March this year.

Technically I suppose Beamish is a museum, but it’s no old-fashioned establishment, with glass cases and labels, it is more like taking a trip back into time.

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When I was little, my favourite museum was Wigan Pier (the title may appear familiar because it is a title of a famous George Orwell book). Unfortunately it has since closed down, but back in the 1980s, and to my young eyes, it brought the past to life. It was both interactive and realistic and it felt like stepping back in time. The 1800s classroom with its realistic Victorian lesson was my favourite although I was a little intimidated by the strict teacher and the cane! (Don’t worry, it was never used!) 

Beamish is an open air museum, its title is The Living Museum of the North. Divided into four main sections on a 350-acre site, it’s possible to walk around the whole site or catch a free old-fashioned tram or bus. It is a circular site, well signposted and near impossible to get lost.

Our first visit was to the 1900s colliery, it’s amazing to think how mining and its subsequent landscape and culture was dominant in a lot of Britain not all that long ago. In fact, the site of Beamish was actually part of Durham’s coalfield.

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Mining provided jobs but it was also very dangerous and, according to my Beamish Guidebook, in 1913, a miner was killed or injured every five minutes on average. In that year, more than 1,000 miners died.

We didn’t go down the mahogany drift mine, which was open to visitors, but the site is an authentic view of what a colliery may have been like in those days, with its lamp cabin (and its collection of safety lamps), winding engine house, engine shed, waggons, railway and powder house.

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No spitting allowed in the lamp cabin!

Next to the colliery is the 1900s pit village, with its pit pony stables, chapel, silver band hall, fried fish shop, school and terraced houses.

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The 1940s Farm is near by, showing life in the North East during the Second World War – farms were important during that time as there were fears imported supplies could be cut off because of the war. So here we have the cottages, tractors and machines and animals. Of course, I loved to see the free range chickens wandering about!

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We realised that time was ticking on and there was still much to see. Luckily a tram was waiting at a tram stop, so on it we went, heading for the 1900s town which shows shops, businesses and houses of that era.

Stores include a drapery, grocery and co-op. The printer, stationery and newspaper branch office is also prominent on the main street, as is The Sun Inn.

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The town stables can be visited – horses were still the main form of transport in the early 1900s. Curiously, the Beamish Motor & Cycle Works is also in the 1900s town. This must have been an interesting time to live, with both horse and motor transport. Of course, later on, the car took over from the horse. My guide book says the motor ‘industry was still in its infancy, with little standardisation of car design, components and manufacture’. How different to today’s world where we take cars for granted.

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We had a very quick visit to the 1820s, with the late Georgian landscape reflecting the changing face of industrialisation. According to my trusty guidebook, in those days, fields were ploughed into ‘ridges and furrows, before mechanised farm machinery’, there would be traditional breeds of animal such as the Durham Shorthand cattle and the horse-powered whim gin was used to raise coal and men out of mines in the 1700s and early 1800s. Examples are seen at Beamish, as is an 1820s waggonway. Back in the day, it would have taken coal to the River Tyne or Wear.

A more creepy sight is the gibbet!

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Alas, we didn’t have time to visit 1820s Pockerley Old Hall or see much of Rowley Railway Station in the 1900s Town. And there was so much else to see in the 1900s town centre which we missed but I think that shows how Beamish is absolutely jam-packed with fascinating history. And they are also planning to reconstruct a 1950s town!

We spent four hours there, but eight hours could easily be spent.

Well, I guess we will just have to ask Beamish to ‘beam us back in time again’!

 

 

 

 

Delightful Durham and its magnificent cathedral

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Durham is a lovely old city that I have never visited. That changed this year when Mum and I went on a weekend away in March.

We were only actually in Durham itself for a few hours so I can’t give a full description but my first impression was, if I had to live in a city, this is one I could happily live in!

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It reminded me of a smaller, less busy York. The castle was closed the day we were there but no matter, we did not have enough time to explore everything. We did visit the cathedral though. I had heard great things about this medieval venue. There were links with Harry Potter (it’s been featured as a film location for Hogwarts in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone), and is the final resting place of both The Venerable Bede and St Cuthbert.

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It’s a UNESCO world heritage site and American writer Bill Bryson has even called it ‘the best cathedral on planet earth’.

So it has rather a lot going for it!

Building the cathedral was started in 1093 to house St Cuthbert’s relics, which were brought from Lindisfarne (Holy Island). Cuthbert, who was born about 634, lived first at the monastery at Melrose, then Lindisfarne, where he became Bishop. When he died, a shrine was set up to honour him (he was renowned for his holiness during his lifetime) but Viking raids drove the community – and the relics – away to seek a safe haven.

Eventually they reached Durham, where they built a church – then a cathedral. Today the shrine lies in the cathedral, the saint being buried beneath a stone slab. When we were there, there was a procession taking part to the shrine.

Curiously, when St Cuthbert’s body was disinterred 11 years after his death, it was found to be undecayed.

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The tomb of ‘the father of English History’, the Venerable Bede, is also at Durham, in the Norman-style Galilee Chapel (which also hosts medieval wall paintings). A tomb-chest contains the bones of the Venerable Bede.

He was a monk and a scholar, born in about 673, who wrote about the church in that era. I actually have a book of some of his writings (A History of the English Church and its People) hoping, one day, I might get to read them!

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In the city, was this sculpture, pictured below, of monks taking the remains of St Cuthbert on its long journey, before reaching Durham.

Whatever your faith, or lack of, the cathedral is a truly beautiful building and Durham is a city worth visiting.

Our World: A dangerous one for badgers

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I’ve never seen a live badger except in photos or television. Being shy, retiring and nocturnal animals, it’s unlikely I will ever just bump into one on the off-chance but I did see the curious sight of a badger sett. At least that is what it looked like.

Simon and I were out for a walk along a wooded path, in Lincolnshire, when we came across a mound of earth on a sloping bank. I was about to walk on, not thinking anything of it, but Simon wanted to investigate further. Behind the mound was a large hole, much bigger than a rabbit’s or even a fox’s.

We believe it was a badger’s sett.

I have heard that setts (badger homes) tend to have large spoil heaps outside, which this one did.

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Unfortunately the British Government appear to be on a mission to kill badgers because of tb fears for cattle. The fact there is a vaccine available for cows and a vaccine available for badgers appears to have been ignored. Tb may even be caused by cows moving around – maybe increased, temporary bio-security measures may be the answer?  

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I do have sympathy for farmers and cattle but I’m sure there must be a better way of combating this issue.

I feel it’s wrong, especially when there are other solutions, and how could it ever work? There will always be badgers, unless the plan is to decimate the entire population? (Surely that would be highly immoral!)

And what if there are other causes and all these badgers have been killed and still tb continues?

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Even worse is the issue of badger baiting. This is thankfully banned but unfortunately undesirables (I’m sorry but there is no other way of describing them) are still baiting the poor creatures with dogs.

Yes, unfortunately even in this ‘enlightened’ age, this happens.

This is barbaric and cruel, both to badgers and dogs.

Maybe one day, the world may be a kinder place for these creatures. I hope so.

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Facts of the Day

1. Badgers live in large family groups.

2. Setts are mostly in woodland, near to open areas and often on a slope.

3. Badgers are relatives of the weasel.

Fitness Challenge 2019: April/May

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April 

Goals

1. Aim to walk 100 to 125 miles

2. Do something active every day for 5 minutes

3. Set aside 15 minutes 3 days a week for yoga

4. Buy trainers for exercise class

5. Go to at least 4 exercise classes

So far each month I have set myself targets but there was no concrete goal until Simon and I planned to do the Cuckoo Way, along the Chesterfield Canal, in May (46 miles in two days) and my friend Caroline and I opted to walk the Preston Guild Wheel at the start of June (21 miles in 2 days, a little easier!)

Would this make me more motivated?

I walked a total of 103.7 miles this month, beating my lower target of 100 miles – the first time I have done it this year!

Walking to work and during lunchtimes (3 miles in total), walking the family  dogs, walking to the leisure centre and counting Zumba steps, walking into the city centre, a Wicklow Mountain walk in Ireland, a walk to my local Woodland Trust Wood, Mason’s Wood, pictured below (3 to 4 miles), walk to my local shop (1 mile)… Most of these were short but they were more frequent than before. And I think my planned Chesterfield Canal walk spurred me on to do more.

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The doing something active for 5 minutes was successful. Either walking to work, walking the dogs, walking up and down stairs 10 or 20 times… For the most part, I did something.

The yoga, once again, was on and off. There were mornings when I did the Tree and Sun Salutation but I confess there were many more when I didn’t do anything.

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Despite having the time (it was only 15 minutes), I kept putting it off until it was completely forgotten.

Well, I did buy trainers for exercise classes so that was one thing done. Not the best pair but they will do for now.

I went to Zumba at my local leisure centre twice. It was the first time I’ve been back to Zumba after a long break of about 6 months. When I first went it was incredibly popular as it was the ‘big craze’ but now I don’t need to book first thing to get a place. In fact, the second time a friend and I just turned up and there were plenty of places available.

It’s essentially a dance class but without any complicated techniques. The instructor shows the dance moves and you just follow. If you get it wrong – and I often do! – it doesn’t matter! It’s just fun.

Pleasantly, I found that having my pedometer while doing Zumba meant my steps increased a great deal.

Notable Walks

Wicklow Mountains

I visited Ireland for a few days in April and we went on a trip to the beautiful Wicklow Mountains on the Saturday. Leaving the car in the car park, we made the silly mistake of not taking any water with us. I didn’t realise how long we would be walking for. There were four of us and the pace was much faster than I was used to. The decision not to take water was a poor one for me and I felt dehydrated, tired and weak once we started going uphill.

It is times like this that makes me realise how far I still have to go with my journey to become fitter.

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May

Goals 

1. Aim to walk 100 to 125 miles.

2. Complete the Cuckoo Way along the Chesterfield Canal.

I started May with only two targets, wanting to focus on the canal walk.

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I have written a separate post about the canal walk (not published yet), which took place Saturday, May 4 and Sunday, May 5. Suffice to say, it is the hardest canal walk I have ever done. We started at West Stockwith in Nottinghamshire and ended at Killamarsh, Derbyshire. 26 miles on the first day (!) and 12 miles on the second. Beautiful scenery and fascinating history but it did feel hard on my feet and legs, despite being on the flat. My legs were still sore three days later!

The next Notable Walk was BowFell, a Wainwright Fell in the Lake District. Again, there will be a separate post about this. Although I have been up BowFell once before, about seven years ago (how time flies!), it didn’t strike me as an incredibly difficult climb. But the walk on Saturday, May 25, was hard. We forgot the proper map so only had a less detailed one and I had difficulty with the steepness of the steps up the hill. And then, on the way down, the weather took a turn for the worst and we got lost.

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Normally I can laugh at these memorable walks in retrospect but after the Wicklow Mountains hike and this one, I now had doubts about my fitness ability. What is the point of going up a mountain if it feels too strenuous? And yet, it was something I wanted to keep doing for the scenery, the sense of achievement, the feeling of exploring somewhere new…

So I did something I never thought I would ever do again.

I joined a gym. (Just to be clear, that picture below is not me!)

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It is situated 10 minutes away from my work and 15 minutes away from my house.

And that’s walking distance.

There was no getting away from the place.

It tried to tempt me with vouchers in my workplace – ‘try me for free’.  And when I did the maths, it worked out at £5 a week. Okay, there was no swimming pool but there were various fitness classes included and the location was spot on. 

So I took my voucher, tried it one Saturday and joined.

There is also a selection of fitness classes here so I am hopeful I won’t lose motivation.

And because of the location, it is always there to remind me of my aim to get fit. There is no ‘out of sight, out of mind’ here!

And yes, I beat my 100 mile target this month!

May: 100.2 miles

The mystery of the pixie egg

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A few months ago, I came across a tiny egg. Now bantam eggs are small compared to the average hen’s egg (maybe about half the size) but this was a tinier than tiny egg. Was it laid by a quail? Or a leprechaun’s hen? Pictured above is the pixie egg next to a bantam egg. The bantam egg is half the size of a full-size egg so can you imagine how petite this one was? 

I had never seen the like.

Just to make sure no fairy chickens had infiltrated my hens’ coop  I looked for a rational explanation in my library.

And in Frances Bassom’s Chicken Breeds and Care, Frances reasoned why this may have happened.

She said, ‘When a hen is just starting out on her laying career, she occasionally lays very tiny ‘wind eggs’. They can frequently be as small as a marble and usually have no yolk’.

Why this happens is because of ‘a small leak of albumen into the oviduct’. A shell covers this albumen, thanks to the response of the ‘egg-producing mechanism’.

Once the chicken starts laying regularly, wind eggs are infrequent, concludes Frances.

So who was the culprit of this wind egg?

I reckon Ava, as, along with Mabel, she is the youngest of the girls and had previously only laid a few eggs before this cute but remarkable one appeared.

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And no, I never ate it.

 

Ainsdale Sand Dunes

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I first encountered Ainsdale Sand Dunes a couple of years ago. Simon and I paid a visit to Formby, therein you can see red squirrels, a scarcity in Britain. Near to Formby is Ainsdale and here is another rarity – natterjack toads.

Our walk took us through woodland – where we came across two metal detectorists. They told us about the varying equipment and costs and how it was possible to discover curious finds.

Of course, what they really wanted was to find treasure.

Our journey took us from woodland into the sand dunes. Sometimes the dunes themselves are not the easiest to walk on, having such a soft ground.

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We heard a reed bunting. A flock of black-headed gulls made a racket near a pond, we hoped that they wouldn’t eat any toads that may be around.

Pippets and buff-tailed bumblebees were also spotted.

The dunes took us to the beach. Yet another type of habitat. Unlike many seaside resorts, this beach is incredibly quiet. It can feel as if you are the only one there.

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We saw a boat wreck and wondered at the story behind it… And discovered a starfish sheltering under the wreck.

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Fish egg casings and an array of shells – razor, cockle and so on – were curiosities we came across on the beach.

The biggest discovery was natterjack toad spawn in one large pond.

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The last time we came was a little gloomy in that, while the weather was glorious for us humans, there were signs that the heat and sun was not such good news for our amphibian friends. Yes, we saw many natterjack toads that summer day. Depressingly, they were all dead because there was not enough water in the ponds because of the drought.

And in a way, I guess we did find treasure of a different sort that day, hope for a rare species of toad to survive and thrive in this peaceful wildlife haven.