Posted in Fitness challenges, Nature, Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures, Walks

Walks in the Yorkshire Dales – Walk 2: Buckden Pike

At the top of Buckden Pike – looking tired and windswept!

Buckden Pike – 702 metres (2,303 ft)

It had been a while since I had walked up a hill (the 500ft Pendle Hill was the last on a particularly sodden wet and windy day, I didn’t make it to the top on that occasion) and I felt a sense of trepidation at the idea of walking up one of the Dales hills. I love hills and mountains, the views from them en route or on the top, the sense of achievement, having reached the top, the sense of achievement having reached the bottom, the feeling of a well-earned pot of tea afterwards (and maybe a slice of cake?) But the actual journey itself of going up a hill… My lungs protesting at every step: “This is too much, Clare. Take a breath, look at the scenery. Have some water.”

And never does water taste so wonderful as it does while going up a hill!

The start of the journey

We parked in a car park in Buckden, close to the start of our trek. Next to the car park was a wooden gate leading to a path in a field. There was a signpost stating Buckden Pike – two and a quarter miles.

A nice short walk then! Ha! It didn’t feel like that to me – never trust a sign pointing up a hill.

The signpost directing us to Buckden Pike

Apart from the sounds of the skylark and curlew, sightings of wheatears and pippits, it felt like we were the only ones on the Dales. It was so quiet and peaceful. Maybe it was because it was Monday and the week after the Easter holidays. But it did feel like we were the only two inhabitants on the dales. Not a soul or hint of civilisation could be seen.

Yorkshire Dales

A steep hill – where we noticed wild pansies – took us to the top where we walked along the ridge to the trig point at 702 metres. Buckden Pike actually narrowly misses out on being the highest peak in this area, it is Great Whernside which earns this title. Instead, Buckden Pike is the seventh highest peak in the Yorkshire Dales and is eight metres higher than Pen-y-ghent itself – one of the ‘Yorkshire Three Peaks’. I had gone up Great Whernside (704 metres) before – or at least most of it as it was a terrible day weather-wise. (You can read that story here: https://cosycottageandthequestforthegoodlife.wordpress.com/2020/05/23/trek-diary-part-1-oct-nov-2017-2/).

From the top of Buckden Pike, on a clear day, one can see the three peaks Pen Y Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough.

Buckden Pike

There is a stone slab pavement at the top. According to the National Trust: ‘The moorland here is important blanket bog and we are creating a path with old mill flagstones. This will protect the delicate peat from erosion.’

On the way back, along the ridge and then over a ladder stile into another field, we came across the Polish War Memorial commemorating a crash from a Second World War plane. Five Polish soldiers died when their plane crashed in 1942. If you look closely at the base of the memorial, you’ll see a fox’s head. That’s because the only survivor reached the village of Cray in the snow by following a fox’s footprints.

The memorial on top of Buckden Pike

We continued along a stone wall, gradually going downhill. There were some boggy areas, considering how the recent weather had been fairly dry I could imagine how soggy it could get if there had been recent rainfall. Some walks turn off at Starbotton, the next village but we carried on until Kettlewell.

Not too far from Kettlewell, we came across an older couple, who looked as tired as I felt and yet they had only really embarked on their journey. Luckily for them, they were heading back to Starbotton, not quite as far as the trek we were on.

The &Then cafe we went to yesterday in Kettlewell was closed so we ventured into the cosy Bluebell Inn for a well deserved pot of tea and glass of lemonade. We noted ‘local wild foraged garlic’ among other tasty items on the menu. The menu was tempting for an evening meal. (And indeed we did return on our last evening). Once refreshed, we continued along the River Wharfe back to Buckden. This time the sign said four miles…

We saw a lamb on the other side of the fence which provoked a dilemma, should we help or would intervention make things worse?

On the first night, Simon had proved to be a successful sheep wrangler, helping to herd a few straggler sheep and lambs away from the road, and then away from the nearby housing estate back into their own field. They had ended up in a neighbour’s garden, munching away at the lawn, at one point! But this was a different scenario and we didn’t want to startle the lamb into running off and getting lost. As it turned out, while we were pondering this, the lamb ducked under the fence and went back into its own field itself. Problem solved!

Lambs in the Yorkshire Dales

On our gentle river stroll back to Buckden, we saw river debris evidence of what looked like recent flooding and a male goosander. We also saw what looked like mandarin or wood ducks. From a steep hill climb to a relaxing river stroll, this walk had plenty of variety.

Posted in Fitness challenges, Nature, Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures, Walks

Walks in the Yorkshire Dales – Walk One: Grassington to Kettlewell

Yorkshire Dales

The Dales Way – Grassington to Kettlewell (12 miles)

It was the first full day of our Yorkshire Dales break, we had enjoyed a hearty breakfast and were now all set to explore the surrounding countryside. This ramble, the first of our holiday, would be a village to village walk via The Dales Way in Wharfdale. We took our sticks from the car and started walking away from our dwelling in Grassington to a nearby path leading into a field. Although we didn’t go up any steep hills, the various inclines meant I was glad we had our walking sticks. It was approximately six miles to Kettlewell and another six miles back.

In case you were wondering, the word ‘dale’ means ‘lowland valley’ which gives an idea of the type of terrain we were walking in today. This part of Yorkshire is also noted for its limestone scenery (although nowhere beats Malham for that, more about Malham in another blog post).

On our journey, we also went past Conistone Dib, a dry limestone gorge. We saw an oystercatcher and pipits and heard the call of the curlew. Our walk through the fields gradually took us to our mid-way point, a little hamlet called Conistone.

Conistone

There appeared to be a maypole in the middle of the village. I wonder if it was used for maypole dancing back in the day, or maybe even nowadays?

Back on the dales, we spotted a curious rocky ‘hill’ which we nicknamed the ‘castle’. I later learned that it’s a limestone outcrop and its real name is Conistone Pie not Conistone Castle! I suppose it does look a little like a pie to a hungry rambler from a distance …

Off the dales and onto a quiet road nearing Kettlewell, we went past Scargill House, a Christian holiday and conference centre founded in 1959.

We also came across two unusual ‘locals’. We were used to seeing white fluffy animals grazing grass – but these two ‘sheep’ looked rather different!

Alpacas grazing in the Yorkshire Dales

After our six-mile walk, a refreshing pot of tea was enjoyed at the little &then cafe in Kettlewell.

&then cafe in Kettlewell

We then explored St Mary’s church and churchyard. According to the church’s website, it’s situated beneath the slopes of Great Whernside.

Kettlewell Church

The beautiful churchyard is home to various wildflowers and limestone gravestones. There is also a meadow labyrinth, made of limestone and created in 2020. It’s no surprise that, in 2021, it won North Yorkshire’s Best Churchyard Competition.

Rather than going back via the dales, we headed back along the quiet country single road. Normally we would avoid roads but apart from a long convoy of MG sports cars (I felt sorry for the motorist who was heading in their direction and had to reverse some way to let them pass), this was very quiet and more like a country lane.

We took a quick detour into Grass Wood on the way back, but it was much bigger than expected so we decided to explore it another day. If we looked over to the right, we could see the River Wharf flowing beside us.

River Wharfe

It was a very pleasant walk, with ups and downs (on the Dales Way towards Kettlewell rather than the flat road going back) but nothing too strenuous. Even so, I was certainly ready for my pizza meal that evening at The Foresters Arms in Grassington!

  • Facts of the Day
  • 1. The word ‘Dale’ ‘probably shares a common root with the Welsh ‘dol‘, meaning meadow, pasture, valley’ (Country Walking Magazine).
  • 2.  The Dales Way is a long distance footpath of about 80 miles. It runs from Ilkley to Bowness-on-Windermere.

Posted in Environment, Gardens, Nature

Early spring flowers in my garden

It’s very pleasing to see that my budding camellia a couple of weeks ago has blossomed into the above beautiful flower. It was a housewarming present and I’ve had it since 2012 – it’s celebrating its 10th anniversary this year! For the first few years, it did not flower but its glossy dark green leaves indicated that it was healthy. Then a couple of years ago, it presented its first flower and has never looked back. A lovely splash of colour at the bottom of my garden.

Camellia
Camellia
Posted in Environment, Environmental issues, Nature

Our World: Litter-picking

At the start of this year I wanted to get fit (or at least fitter). I also wanted to be more proactive in looking after nature and the environment. So why not combine the two and start litter-picking walks?

This morning I went on my first, only a 10-minute one to start off. I left my house complete with litter-picking gloves, a litter-picker and a reusable carrier bag. (I’d bought the gloves and litter-picker last year when I felt inspired – and then promptly forgot about them until very recently). There are those who take big black bin bags with them and are much more productive but this was my first attempt.

I actually would like to say that I came home with an empty bag with no litter to be seen, but alas, barely a couple of minutes away in a wooded spot, there was a remnant of a child’s toy (too heavy for me to carry in my bag), a blue disposable face mask (I was too squeamish to pick it up even with gloves and litter-picker), a ‘World’s Best Grandad’ badge (that went into the bag) and various drink cans and bottles. The cans and bottles were the most numerous.

This was all in one spot. I have no idea why anyone would throw litter on the ground but I can certainly see why people go litter-picking. It helps you get fit, keeps places – city or country – clean and tidy and it felt productive too.

Litter-picking can be done by individuals or by groups and there may be organised local litter-picks that people can join (something I might look into). Safety should also be thought of too. I’ll use my litter pick and gloves but there are some items I will avoid picking up. In fact Keep Britain Tidy says litter pickers should leave clinical waste such as needles/syringes, instead advising people to make a note of their location and inform the local council. But leaving the potentially hazardous material behind, there are still plenty of other crisp packets and plastic bottles, drink cans and sweet wrappers to pick up.

I’ll definitely do it again and I recommend it.

For more information, visit Keep Britain Tidy at https://www.keepbritaintidy.org/

Posted in Environment, Nature, Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures, Walks

A ramble around Nottinghamshire’s Idle Valley Nature Reserve and along River Idle

Idle Valley

One Saturday in January I embarked on a wintry morning ramble along the River Idle in Nottinghamshire with Simon. We parked on Chainbridge Lane and headed towards the river. On the map it’s called the ‘Riverside Discovery’ walk and I thought this was all part of Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust’s Idle Valley Nature Reserve at first. It was a sunny, cold day with frost on the ground. Instead of making the ground slippy, it actually made the walk more pleasant as it meant the path was less muddy. As time passed, this frost melted and the ground became muddier.

Map of Idle Valley

A couple passing by mentioned a large gathering of siskins further up, adding: “You’ll hear them before you see them”. In the meantime we came across a clearing where many trees – conifers I guess? – had been felled. This was part of the nature reserve so I presume the plan is to plant native trees instead.

We also came across a swan family of varying ages swimming in the river.

Swans on the River Idle

I had forgotten about the siskins by the time we heard their calls coming from the trees. The siskins could be seen perched on the branches but the sun blocked out their vivid yellow colour and we saw them as silhouettes instead.

It was quiet on our walk with only a few walkers and dogs but as we entered the Idle Valley Nature Reserve – 450 hectares of lakes, wetland, scrub and grassland – we encountered increasing numbers of people. This particular reserve, run by Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, is both a Local Wildlife Site (LWS) and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). It is Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust’s largest reserve and one of the largest sites for nature conservation in the East Midlands.

Idle Valley Nature Reserve
Idle Valley

We reached the visitor centre where Simon had a warming bowl of soup and I enjoyed a filling jacket potato. Our table had a very pleasant view of Belmoor Lake. The visitor centre has a shop, toilets and cafe. It is also called a Rural Learning Centre and looks like it’s connected to North Notts College. I also noticed a sign for Muddy Fork – Social and Therapeutic Horticulture. I believe that nature, whether it’s in the form of gardening, walks or voluntary work, can do wonders for our wellbeing. It’s good to know that there are programmes like this out there.

Idle Valley Nature Reserve

A Willow Tunnel and boardwalk took us back into the reserve, passing a natural playground on the left and Belmoor Lake on the right. Bug arch sculptures were dotted along the path.

We later saw a flock of lapwings flying overhead and goldeneye on the lake.

It was only afterwards when I was reading up about the reserve that I discovered that beavers have been reintroduced here, after an absence of more than 400 years. I also found that Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust offers regular beaver enclosure tours. It would be wonderful to see a beaver!

According to the Wildlife Trust website: “A pair and a family with four kits have been released into an enclosed section of Idle Valley Nature Reserve.  We have created one of the largest beaver enclosures in the UK and in November 2021 released eight beavers, including four kits (baby beavers), to this area securely separated from the River Idle and closely monitored.”

The nature reserve was once gravel pits and was known as Sutton & Lound Gravel Pits, which was incorporated with Hallcroft & Bellmoor Pits near Retford. The whole site was bought by Notts Wildlife Trust.

https://www.nottinghamshirewildlife.org/idle-valley

Posted in Environment, Gardens, Nature

Early signs of spring in my garden

Although there is still greenery in my garden, it lacks colour (except for my vibrant sun-yellow mahonia) at this time of year. But I have noticed a few early signs of spring. My perennial lungwort has started to flower, as it does about this time every year. I have found the plant to be as popular with bees as humans.

Lungwort

My primroses can also always be relied upon to provide a splash of colour at this time of year.

This time of year (start of February) is a turning point in the Celtic calendar with its festival Imbolc marking the beginning of spring, halfway between the winter equinox and the spring equinox. Looks like my garden agrees and I look forward to seeing more glimpses of spring awakening from my currently sleeping perennials over the next few weeks.

The plant got its common name because its leaves are shaped like lungs, and lungwort was indeed once used medicinally to treat lung ailments.

https://www.thespruce.com/
Posted in Chickens, Gardens, Nature, Pets

Storm Eunice

A wintry scene

Just after telling another blogger that I haven’t seen any snow this year, along came Eunice. Or Storm Eunice to give it its full name.

Simon’s parents had to find somewhere else to stay as their Cheshire hotel had a power cut. A slate fell off my parents’ house because of the wind. Trees were blown down and people even died.

The wind did little damage to my gardens thankfully, apart from the compost bin losing its lid (it was found elsewhere in the garden). But the next day was Eunice’s encore – a sleet shower which turned into snow.

Keeping warm and dry
Dottie thinks about going back to bed
Spring is still on its way
Posted in Charity, Environment, Environmental issues, Nature

Our World: Supporting wildlife charities

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

One of the ways we can fight against climate change is to join, support or donate to an environmental charity. Eco-charities may focus on creating and maintaining habitat for wildlife, caring for injured animals, campaigning for better awareness of climate change or an improvement in laws against pollution… There’s a myriad of ways that nature can be helped by the organisations out there, and it’s just as well as wildlife needs all the help it can get.

Personally, I’m a member of The Woodland Trust and the RSPB, two of the largest nature organisations in Britain.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The RSPB has a long history, stretching back to 1889, when it was created by Emily Williamson. It was originally called the Society for the Protection of Birds and its aim was to fight against the Victorian fashion for exotic feathers and plumes; a fashion that meant birds, such as great crested grebes, were heading towards extinction. The society gained popularity and was awarded a Royal Charter in 1904 (so now it was the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) and its first big success was celebrated in 1921 when the 1921 Importation of Plumage (Prohibition) Act was passed. The RSPB’s come a long way since then. It bought its first nature reserve in 1947 (Minsmere) and now manages more than 200 nature reserves across the UK. Leighton Moss, near Morecambe, is the one nearest me and I’ve had several good experiences there.

If you live in the UK, maybe you’ve heard about Big Garden Birdwatch? Well, that annual garden bird count is run by the RSPB and although it may be seen as simple good fun for the family, it also helps the RSPB see how Britain’s birds are faring. One million people took part in 2021 – the largest number ever.    

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Increasingly, the RSPB has changed its focus from solely birds to birds and other wildlife species. It also looks at the global picture. The RSPB is part of BirdLife International, a network of organisations working together to save nature around the world.

I joined the RSPB nearly 20 years ago because I got a free bird feeder (not quite the most profound reason to join a wildlife charity but that feeder did help the birds!) The bird feeder may have been replaced since then but I still enjoy reading the magazine, which has become brighter and more picture-led over the years. has helped me gain some knowledge of these creatures, and also other wildlife.

The Woodland Trust

I’ve mentioned The Woodland Trust before in a few posts as they manage various woodlands near me (that’s how I found out about them in the first place) and it’s the second nature charity I am a member of. While world leaders pontificate to the world while flying by private jet to a conference about climate change, organisations such as The Woodland Trust actually do the work. They plant trees, maintain woodlands and protect vital wildlife habitat from developers. The Trust was started more recently than the RSPB, back in 1972, and is the UK’s largest woodland conservation charity. They maintain more than 1,000 woodlands, campaign to stop destruction of ancient woodland, restore damaged woods and create new woodland. Only 13 per cent of the UK is covered by woodland compared to the EU average of 37 per cent. I think nature lovers in Britain would agree that this is definitely an area we need to improve on.

Masons Wood

Over the years, I have been an on and off member with The Wildlife Trust.

The Wildlife Trust is made up of 46 local Wildlife Trusts, which, altogether, look after 2,300 nature reserves, campaign for laws and policies that help wildlife on land and at sea, carry out research, running targeted conservation programmes to help save water voles etc. My local one, Lancashire Wildlife Trust, looks after 50 sites, around 1,288 hectares of habitat in total. At this time I’m not a member but will rejoin at a later date.

These are just three of the largest nature charities in Britain, but there are many, many more. There are small ones, maybe focusing on a local nature reserve, such as Grimsargh Wetlands Trust, in Lancashire. There are specialised ones focusing on a particular species such as Butterfly Conservation. I feel I may need to revisit this topic later on as there are so many people out there helping wildlife in various ways and it really does give me hope.

The RSPB – https://www.rspb.org.uk/

The Woodland Trust – https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/

The Wildlife Trust – https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/

https://butterfly-conservation.org/

https://www.grimsarghwetlands.org/

Posted in Crafts, Environment, Gardens, Nature

The RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch and making a bird feeder

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The Big Garden Birdwatch is on this weekend in Britain and nature lovers are being invited to watch our feathered friends for an hour, count the numbers of each species and then tell the RSPB our results. The bird watch can be in your garden, but if you don’t have one, the local park or other green space will suffice. I’m not a big ‘twitcher’ but I do like watching birds going about their business.

I have a regular robin visitor who seems to follow me around, looking for mealworms and sunflower seeds. Recently I have even seen two robins in my garden. Robins are not great fans of robins so I assume they are a pair or maybe relatives – a mother and daughter or father and son, perhaps?

Last weekend I enjoyed a close-up view of a bullfinch eating seeds in Simon’s Lincolnshire garden. I hadn’t realised how colourful bullfinches were. The below photo wasn’t taken by me but it illustrates how vivid Simon’s visitor was in its colouring.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

If you’re not in the UK, maybe you could do your own informal bird watch? For more info on the birdwatch and the RSPB, visit https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/birdwatch/

And if you want to attract birds to your garden, here’s an idea for a recycled bird feeder…

First, we need an empty plastic milk bottle, two branches, an empty tray – in this case it’s a plastic one, two pieces of twine or string, a scoring tool and a pen knife.

The items needed to make a bird feeder
Pictures courtesy of Simon Hunter
Milk bottle and tools Picture courtesy of Simon Hunter

Score or cut four holes into the milk bottle and slide in the branches – this is for wild birds to stand on while feeding. Cut two holes near the top and slide the twine in as seen below. This is to hang up the bottle in your garden. Cut holes above the branches as an opening so the birds can access and eat the seeds.

Then fill the bottle with bird seed. The seed will scatter onto the tray rather than the ground, providing less opportunity for rats. Once the feeder is finished, the same thing can be done again meaning it will be more hygienic, especially when there are cases of bird flu in the area.

Looking at the size and shape of a bird’s bill provides a good clue to its diet. Starlings, blackbirds and gulls have ‘general purpose’ bills that enable them to take advantage of a wide variety of foods.

RSPB Birdfeeder Handbook, Robert Burton
Posted in Environment, Gardens, Nature

Learning about Trees and Shrubs: Mahonia (Oregon Grape)

My mahonia – pictured in January!

When I moved into my house 10 years ago (I can’t believe it was that long ago!), my garden was very sparsely planted indeed. A bamboo on the left (which Simon very kindly volunteered to take it out, a difficult task), a laburnum further down, a rhododendron on the right…

The bamboo and rhododendron may be long gone but the bold and dramatic mahonia – a spiky looking shrub with large dark green leaves, displaying yellow flowers in winter and blue-black berries to follow in spring – is still here and I hope for a long time yet. I believe it is a mahonia japonica as it’s about 7ft in height and doesn’t look like it will grow much more. When I was reading about this particular species, it was described as a very hardy shrub (just right for me) and will grow well in most soil types including heavy clay. Heavy clay? I have plenty of that in my garden!

When I learnt about the benefits of the mahonia to me (as well as being a striking plant, it provides plenty of colour in winter) and to wildlife (offering berries, flowers and shelter), I was pleased that this complementary gift came with the house. I noted my parents liked it too, so one Christmas a few years ago I bought them one. It’s not as big as mine yet but it’s growing healthy and strong.

The genus name, Mahonia, derives from Bernard McMahon, one of the stewards of the plant collections from the Lewis and Clark expedition (USA expedition from August 31, 1803, to September 25, 1806, to cross the newly acquired western portion of the country)

Wikipedia

Here are five facts about this dramatic looking tree:

  1. It’s also known as the Oregon Grape and comes from the Berberidaceae family.
  2. It’s an evergreen, upright shrub.
  3. There are around 70 species of Mahonia. The charity variety can grow to 10ft while the Mahonia aquifolium only grows to 100-200cm tall (3-6ft).
  4. As well as being a striking, colourful beauty in the garden, it’s a productive shrub. Its flowers provides nectar to bees; its berries can be eaten by birds; and its evergreen leaves can shelter birds, especially in winter.
  5. The plant is originally from Asia and America.