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

Waterfalls in Teesdale

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Last year Simon and I enjoyed a visit to the historic market town of Richmond, Yorkshire. One of our adventures can be seen here: Muker and the highest pub in Britain (528m/1732ft)

We liked Richmond so much that this year we decided to spend Simon’s birthday weekend in the same town again. We had booked our b&b a month earlier; the weather was the last thing on our minds. But one month on and the UK had already suffered from the tantrum of Storm Ciara – and now Storm Dennis was due on our Richmond weekend.

Hmmm. I wondered if we hadn’t already booked our accommodation, would we have called the weekend off?

The roads going to and back from Richmond were fine, but one could see many of the fields were flooded.

On the Sunday of our stay, we took a trip to see Low and High Force Waterfalls in Upper Teesdale, County Durham. They’re located within a National Nature Reserve.

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However, we had to take two detours as one road had a sign warning motorists to go no further because it was closed due to flooding.

And another road was open but a massive puddle flooded it. A large 4×4 could get through but a small Skoda?

Maybe not.

We didn’t take the risk anyway.

So instead of going through Barnard Castle (which is a small town with, you’ve guessed it, a castle), we went through the village of Middleton instead. On our way back we enjoyed a hot drink and warming tomato soup at a little cafe called Rumours.

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There is a car park where we nearly parked last year. On that occasion, we hoped to have a quick walk before heading on our way back to our respective homes. But there was a charge that had to be paid by a certain number of minutes – or else a lovely fine would come through the door.

And they had CCTV to check.

You also had to pay extra to actually see the falls.

So after a quick exit, hoping that we hadn’t been in the car park for more than 10 minutes, we had the luck of spotting a lay-by where cars could park for free and you could walk for free to see the falls.

That time we didn’t see High Force, but we still had a pleasant walk along the river, enjoying the calmer sight of Low Force.

One year later, we parked in the lay-by again. Evidence of Ciara and Dennis (the rain of which we endured the evening before) could be seen in the muddy paths. Thankfully I was wearing good walking boots!

We walked along a single-person bridge over the River Tees. A sign which is often ignored considering the numbers of people on it that afternoon. When I strolled across, three people were behind me!

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The first bridge was built in 1741 and, according to the sign at the site, ‘was the earliest known suspension bridge in Europe ‘. Tragically, three men fell in the river in 1802 after one of the chains snapped. One of the men died. The current bridge was built in 1830.

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Low Force was just as scenic as I remembered. It drops over the Whin Sill, a layer comprising a hard rock called dolerite. Locally, it’s known as whinstone.

As we followed the muddy path towards High Force, we admired artistic carvings along the walls.

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Juniper trees seemed bigger than I’d seen before – but unfortunately a sign declared that a disease was killing them in the area.

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There were boot wash facilities en route but whether walkers took this precaution is another matter.

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High Force is a dramatic scene. As I mentioned, we had just had two storms in a fortnight and bystanders could see the amazing effect of this on the waterfall. The power of the River Tees gushing down the 70ft cliff edge is highly impressive. With the heavy rainfall, it formed two falls but I have heard that, in exceptional conditions, the level of the river could even reach and flow down the middle section of rock.

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It looked rather intimidating too, but thankfully we were safe at our viewing point!

Despite appearances, High Force is not quite the highest waterfall in England, according to Wikipedia. It seems Cautley Spout in Cumbria is nearly 590ft (180m) high! But the Wikipedia entry also says High Force ‘does have the largest volume of water falling over an unbroken drop when in full spate’.

It’s an amazing sight to see.

Fact of the Day

The word ‘Force’ comes from ‘Foss’, an Old Norse word for waterfall. The word came with Viking settlers more than 1,000 years ago.

(Information from a sign at the High Force site).

 

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

A wander around the RSPB’s Sandwell Valley Nature Reserve

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The West Midlands, especially around Birmingham, has a reputation of being a built-up, urbanised sprawl – but there are some rather idyllic parts here too.

One such peaceful haven is Sandwell Valley Nature Reserve. I was lucky enough to visit here one sunny October day and here are some of the beautiful views I saw…

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As well as the beautiful scenery, wildlife we spotted today (mostly at the hide overlooking the lake) included heron, swans, coots, cormorants, lapwings and gulls.

My godchildren especially enjoyed the mud kitchen, making mudpies (yum, delicious!), the bat trail and a nearby children’s playground.

Even where there are large cities – this site is close to Birmingham after all – there is always natural beauty nearby.

Facts of the Day

1. RSPB Sandwell Valley was once used by the nearby colliery.

2. There are a variety of habitats including wildflower meadows, woodland, scrub, wildlife garden, ponds and lake.

3. The site is based around Forge Mill Lake and is part of Sandwell Valley Country Park.

4. The address is: RSPB Sandwell Valley, Tanhouse Ave, Great Barr, West Bromwich, Birmingham B43 5AG.

5. For more information on the RSPB, visit http://www.rspb.org.uk/

 

 

Posted in Environment, Environmental issues

Our World: Threat to ancient forests in England

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Quite rightly, the world condemned the Brazilian Government for destroying the country’s precious rainforests – home for indigenous people and wildlife alike. It is also a vital part of the planet’s ecosystem, which affects all of us.

The UK Government was among those voicing disapproval.

Most British politicians like to claim to be ‘green’ but, in my view, only when it suits. (I’m sure there will be genuine ones who care about people, animals and the environment but I can’t think of any, please let me know if you do).

There is much talk of climate change but what’s the point of discussing this topic if trees keep getting replaced with concrete?

I do think investment in public transport is a fantastic thing. We need fewer cars on the road but if there isn’t a viable alternative, why would people give up their vehicles?

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So, when I first heard of of the HS2 project, it sounded a good idea. Investment in our train service? I’m all for that… Good for people, good for the environment…

Oh.

Maybe not.

The HS2 – which could cost £85 billion, £30 billion over budget – is supposed to make the train journey from London to the North of England quicker.

But it will be at a cost of 34 ancient woods, 56 hectares, along the London to Birmingham leg of the route. And that’s just the start of the destruction…. It’s thought more than 100 of these woods are under threat in total.

The contractors are due to start felling the trees next month, even though a spending review is underway and this expensive project may not even go ahead.

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According to the Woodland Trust, if the woodland destruction goes ahead, this will wipe out all the barn owls ‘breeding within a mile of the new line, either by destroying their habitat or collisions with trains’. That’s more than 100 owls, ‘an estimated one per cent of the UK population’.

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Photo by mark broadhurst on Pexels.com

Another rare species is Bechstein’s Bat, which roosts ‘among the remnants of the medieval forest of Bernwood, now under threat’.

The intelligent thing to do would be to use the money to improve the existing railway and make public transport in general more affordable and reliable.

But I sometimes wonder about the intelligence of those running the country and unfortunately, while Brexit distracts the electorate, billions of pounds will be wasted and a vital habitat will be vandalised.

And for what? A slightly quicker journey to London?

So maybe it isn’t just the Brazilian Government which is guilty of environmental vandalism and crimes against precious forests…

For more information and to sign a petition, please visit https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/hs2

 

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

A Day on the Dunes

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Saltfleetby-Theddlethorpe Dunes, near Louth in Lincolnshire, is a very peaceful seaside spot. Instead of sandcastles, ice cream and sunbathers, there are mudflats and ponds, salt marshes, wildflowers and sand dunes.

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Natural England manages the 556-hectare National Nature Reserve section, while Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust manages the remainder of the area.

When we first entered the reserve, we walked along a path through wildflower-rich grassland, encountering ponds en route. This walkway took us to the dunes and saltmarsh.

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It is an important site for wildlife. We didn’t see any Natterjack toads but did come across many insects, including grasshoppers, butterflies and dragonflies.

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By holding out a stragically placed stick, Simon rescued a struggling dragonfly who was in danger of drowning in one of the ponds.

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We also came across two discarded dragonfly larval cases – they weren’t dead, they were skins of two nymphs (juvenile). Once the juvenile is ready to become an adult, they cast off their old skin. They are well prepared for this life-changing event, with a new skin underneath.

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As well as nature’s dramas, the remnants of military history can be found on this reserve, in particular the beach… Today we can still see a corroded Comet tank and a ruined pillbox, dating from the Second World War.

 

The Air Ministry bought the site in the 1930s and old vehicles, that had been driven onto the beach, were used as targets. The dunes were mined and pillbox built during the Second World War as an anti-invasion defence.

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Being here reveals how the landscape changes over time. It is thought that the dunes began forming in the 1200s after large storms blew sand and shingle and, even now, the tides and wind is changing the landscape slowly but surely. New saltmarsh and dunes are still being created today and Simon told me he saw a difference from the last time he was there.

At certain times of the year, seals can be found with their pups along the coast. The adult seals don’t look as cute as you might think, being big and clumsy and even a little violent with each other (the males at least). The babies are very cute but, of course, it is advisable not to go near and disturb them.

In July though, there are no seals but we did come across this poignant sight… A seal’s skull.

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A purple orchid

It is a lovely quiet area, I even came across a comment on an internet beach forum saying it was an ideal place to go for a naked walk and skinny dipping!

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For more information on The Wildlife Trusts, visit http://wildlifetrusts.org

Posted in Environment

An encounter with wild honey bees

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There is a place near Ollerton, Nottinghamshire, called Thoresby Park, which includes the Victorian Thoresby Hall Hotel, a craft centre and pleasant riverside surroundings to meander around.

It was along this river that Simon spotted a tree with unusual residents – honey bees.

I tend to associate honey bees with bee keepers, who keep them in hives and collect honey. If I had the time and a bigger garden, it is something I would like to do. There are bee keeping courses but is there a point if, at the moment, it is just a little ‘Good Life’ daydream?

Now wild honey bees is something I hadn’t come across before and for some reason, when I saw these bees I thought of Winnie-the-Pooh and his love of the sweet stuff. Wasn’t there a story of him ‘stealing’ honey from wild bees?

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(Not my picture but a photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com) 

Even where I was standing, I could feel one in my hair. Not a nice sensation (!) but I edged away carefully and thankfully the bee realised I was no threat and flew away.

From Larousse’s Pocket Guide Wildlife of Britain and Europe, it says: ‘Most honey bees live in artificial hives, but wild colonies live in hollow trees and similar places’.

The Woodland Trust adds that the honeybees have been domesticated for centuries and, although they are commonly found feeding on flowers, ‘ it is rare to find a truly wild colony’.

So we were rather lucky to see such a colony. 🐝🐝🐝

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Posted in Environment, Environmental issues

The world’s first Naturalist?

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Have you heard of Alexander Von Humboldt? I hadn’t until I read Andrea Wulf’s The Invention of Nature – The Adventures of Alexander Von Homboldt, The Lost Hero of Science. Long subtitle aside, the biography opened my eyes to this scientist who really was born before his time.

How did I never hear of him despite all the places, plants and animals named after him – the Humboldt Glacier, Humboldt penguin, Humboldt squid, Humboldt Current…?

Or the fact that he influenced notable scientists and thinkers of the day including Charles Darwin, Henry David Thoreau, John Muir…?

Or that his many travels – including climbing Chimborazo volcano in Ecuador – experiments, learning, studying and immense memory brought so much information about the environment to us.

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Or his view of nature, combining poetry and emotion with science, focused on the interconnectedness of the world.

His vision was called Naturgemalde, a ‘painting of nature’, which illustrates nature as being interconnected. When Humboldt learnt a new fact – and he discovered many during his lifetime – he connected it with other aspects of the natural world.

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”Individual phenomena were only important ‘in their relation to the whole” for Humboldt.

Temperature, climate, humidity, atmosphere, animals, plants… instead of focusing on one topic, Humboldt would look at them all. Instead of studying one mountain and that’s it, Humboldt would link any information gained to other mountains across the world. His interdisciplinary scientific logic partnered with an artistic, poetical view of nature, resulting in engravings and artwork to accompany scientific findings.

Born in 1769 into a wealthy Prussian family, he lived at a fascinating time in history, of revolutions, war and turmoil. He met most of the most famous people of the time, such as Simon Bolivar and American presidents, and travelled extensively to Russia, South America, Europe and the US. He also managed to fit in writing several influential books.

Despite all this, what I found most impressive about this German scientist was his insight into the ecosystem and how humans were affecting it.

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Alexander Von Humboldt

Wulf writes: ‘Humboldt was the first to explain the fundamental functions of the forest for the ecosystem and climate: the trees’ ability to store water and to enrich the atmosphere with moisture, their protection of the soil, and their cooling effect…He also talked about the impact of trees on the climate through their release of oxygen’.

‘The effects of the human species’intervention were already ‘incalculable’ and could become catastrophic if they continued to disturb the world so ‘brutally”.

As Wulf says later on, ‘Humboldt’s views sound alarmingly prophetic’.

A man ahead of his time indeed.

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The cover of Andrea Wulf’s The Invention of Nature

The Invention of Nature – The Adventures of Alexander Von Humboldt, The Lost Hero of Science by Andrea Wulf