7 May 2011

The best holiday weather since 1996

That says it all doesn’t it – that I can actually remember the last holiday we had with really great weather – and not that recently either.

Please click on any of the photographs for a larger view.
On the Good Friday bank holiday we hit heavy traffic and were held up for some time – Herdwick ewes being moved into pastures closer to the farm ready to have their lambs. Mr Boo christened this photo “Where’s Woolly?”

This was taken over a week later, but only a few yards away so may well be one of the Herdwick ewes above being brought down to lamb. Each ewe only has a single black lamb.

We’ve just spent the extended Easter, Royal Wedding and May Bank Holiday period in the English Lake District and with the exception of one evening with a short-lived downpour – late enough that we’d already drawn the curtains and washed up from dinner, so it really didn’t trouble us – and one day that was grey and drizzly, we had wall to wall sunshine for the entire 12 days.

I’ve always had a bit of a fixation about sunlight through trees, it’s just one of my very favourite things.

Where we stay in a permanent static caravan on a working farm, the bedroom window is on the north east face of the structure and if I wake up with the sun on my face, we know it’s a good start. Unfortunately, that’s a somewhat rarer experience that I’d personally like. Every morning, bar one, the sun kissed my cheeks as the alarm went off. Fabulous.

Ramsen / wild garlic; the hedgerows and woodland were thick with it – the flowers just opening – it gives off a gorgeous sweet garlic smell if you brush the leaves as you pass.

But then you have to get up and to it quite promptly as long, static, metal caravans in full sunshine soon turn into baking tins and whilst the day might start with temperatures close to frost-inducing, the air warms alarmingly rapidly as the sun rises and heats the metal sides.

Our neighbour during our stay – taken through the kitchen window – this spot, nestled against one of the damson trees in the orchard, was a morning favourite as the sun warmed up. Soon after I took this, his brother sidled over and snuggled up next to him.

But it is fabulous to eat breakfast with the patio doors wide open and looking out onto the scenery with the spring breeze playing around you.

One of the very most important things to me is walking through woodland and it was just about perfect last week.

A rare moment of stillness in an otherwise very breezy period.

Walking through woodland along a lake shore and coming across small private (albeit rocky) beaches periodically to perch, catch your breath and admire the view, is about a perfect way to spend a spring day.

The weather was just about perfect for us, lots of sunshine, but cool air and on some days, a distinctly brisk and chilly breeze. Just ideal for getting out and walking, although our lunchtime picnics were a little more lively than ideal on some days. When your crisps blow off your plate and you have to hold bread down, you know it’s time to retreat indoors to eat. Al fresco dining; I love it.

I wish I could have captured the fragrance for you too. There are few things more perfect to enjoy than dappled sunlight on deciduous ancient woodland with masses of wild bluebells.

The trees pretty much fully opened from bud within the time we were there and there’s this short period each spring when the trees are this most magnificent luminous bright spring green – the foliage in the sunlight last week was breathtakingly gorgeous – beech trees especially are the most vibrant fresh colour. Foliage is pristine and un-ravaged by weather, disease or insects and at its most perfect – combined with the lovely clear air and sunshine, the Lakes were about as beautiful as I’ve ever seen them – and I’ve spent a lot of my life there in just about every possible set of conditions.

When we arrived, most of the ferns and brackens were unfurling and within a week, were all totally open

I wish I could share with you the fabulous fresh air, scent of the bluebells and the invigorating freshness of woodland in sunshine, but I’ll just have to leave you with the photos and your imagination will have to fill in the rest. There’s a more complete set of photographs in my image sharing gallery.

I love to sit on this seat around a tree and view the fabulous rock garden with its gorgeous maple trees at Sizergh Castle. I never tire of looking at it.

I love this scene in the castle gardens – the water lillies are just growing.

These flowers are less than an inch in diameter, yet fabulously complex geometric structures.

I was so excited when I came upon this pen of pigs – there must have been 50 assorted pigs of different breeds, colours and sizes, all sunbathing in a pile together – that I almost forgot to take photos – I was too busy trying to stop myself from squealing and jumping up and down in excitement.

Did I mention that I totally love walking through woodland and seeing the sunlight filtering through. I suspect I did.

5 Mar 2011

Fresh air, peace and quiet – just how we like it!

As regular readers will know, I am totally besotted with the English Lake District and spend as much time there as bank balances and work schedules will allow. We weren’t expecting to spend any time there until our regular Easter holiday but a lovely opportunity to do some photography work up there, as a return favour I owed someone, came out of the blue and at short notice, but it didn’t take much effort for me to be persuaded.

Between the work I had to do we did manage some quality time in some of our favourite places and that was a real bonus. The weather was decent enough for February too, so we managed a couple of nice walks and to gawp into our favourite patches of trees. It was incredibly quiet – just how we like it – and we haven’t had a winter break up there for some time and it was different to see it with bare trees, we saw all sorts of things normally obscured by foliage that we’ve not spotted before. I’ve had a run of health issues recently and the fresh air, peace and exercise did me a world of good and despite the work I still need to do finishing the project, was very well worth doing.

I’ll just leave you with the odd assortment of distinctly average photos I took over the weekend. If anyone sees my photography mojo, will they please pop a stamp on it and drop it in a letterbox back to me – I’d really rather like it back. I’m not even sure where I had it last.

Please click on any of the photographs for a larger view.

One of our favourite walks along Windermere starts along the lake side. There was a sailing race taking place at the time – I couldn’t fathom what was going on – it looked incredibly confusing, but looked like a perfect day for it with the colourful spinnakers billowing.

I hope that they know where they’re going!

Once the race had finished it went very quiet on the lake. All you could hear was birds and the occasional creaking tree in the breeze. I always kick through the leaf and timber detritus at the water edge and this is where I get most of my driftwood pieces as photography props and I picked up a beauty. I always carry a tie handle plastic bag with me for collecting such ‘treasures’.

It’s a relatively recent practice in managed woodlands to allow fallen trees to stay where they fall (unless there is a safety hazard) and for the natural ecology of the woodland to take over. I love to see how many things take up residence on logs like this. It becomes a fascinating little world all of its own.

I love the abstract design and textures of fungi, mosses and lichens, they’re worth getting a close look at them, they’re often complex and fascinating structures.

It was a bit muddy underfoot, but with the peace, sunlight through the trees, lack of people and abundant fresh air, it was just about perfect.

This photograph was somewhat about ‘the one that got away’ – it had been preceded a few minutes earlier by a passing over of the incredibly fast, loud and flying vertically on its wing-tips, Typhoon Euro-fighter – I’ve seen them in this spot over Thirlmere many times, but by the time you hear them, they’re almost out of sight. It was so loud Mr Boo actually swerved the car and we both ducked, although I have no idea why instinct should make you think that would help in the circumstances. Thankfully, this transport helicopter a few minutes later was going at a slightly more sedate pace. What a fabulous way to visit the Lakes. I stuck out my thumb but they weren’t for stopping. Note the heat from the exhausts blurring the trees behind.

The last dying colours as the sun sets behind Thirlmere

I love the colours of beech woodland; at any time of year.

We woke on Tuesday to a perfect clear deep blue sky and deep frost. As some of the work I had to do included exterior shots, I got out early to do them while the sky was so perfect and the undisturbed foliage where the sun hadn’t yet reached was dusted with delicate ice crystals – even the hairs on the stalks are frosty.

4 Oct 2010

It was a fungi sort of a day

As I posted about in my previous photograph-based blog, I love to walk in woodland and feel that trees are vitally important to my emotional and physical well-being.

We spend a lot of time in the English Lake District and have just spent some assorted days there over 2 weekends. This particular walk, Revelin Moss at Whinlatter, north west of Keswick, is another favourite and a more gentle walk than some we do and is consequently one we often do when we’ve either done something else earlier in the day, so have limited time, as was the case this last Saturday, or by its location, we often do late in the day, also the case this last weekend – so light levels were an issue for the photographs.

Please click on the photographs to see a larger copy, they’re rather dark here on the page.

The previous woodland blogged was well established and largely deciduous and in places mixed, where this one is more plantation style coniferous woodland and is owned and managed by the Forestry Commission. I have always felt that it has a slightly Alpine feel to it, it’s a little higher than other walks and the smells and atmosphere often transport me across Europe. It’s a looped walk designed for disabled access and pushchairs, so the paths are wide and well-maintained, so easy walking, albeit quite undulating. It also has a newly installed mountain bike route which crosses the path in places.

When you stop to look closely at the steep banks of moss and heather adjacent to the path in places where it carves through the hillside, you can see a massive variety of species growing shoulder to shoulder.

The last week has been both much cooler and some days have been incredibly wet – autumn arrived in no uncertain terms. Walks often have a theme to them – particular things are in season, or the weather highlights particular features. On Saturday the stand-out theme was fungi. The damp weather and changing season had caused all manner of woodland fungi to fruit and there were some fabulous specimens.

I had to take this from some distance and through foliage, and with a long focal length, as they were the other side of a stream from me and growing from the top of a dead tree stump.

I love to see them growing and think they’re fascinating things of great and diverse beauty, but I can’t claim to know much about them – I just like to see them, take photos and largely keep my distance. I would never know what might make good eating – it seems to me that the difference between and good meal and certain death (or at least an extremely unpleasant experience) is often a very subtle one, requiring serious expertise.

This was the largest patch of fly agarics I think I’ve ever seen, just nestled at the roots of some well established conifers. But the larger specimens of the group, off to the left and the size of dinner plates, were all kicked over and broken.

These large brown specimens seem to start very small and button shape, growing and opening until they curl upwards with undulated edges.

One thing that always saddens though is that I see so many kicked over and damaged. I’ve never known if this is people who are concerned by them for some reason, or just for sport, dogs routing around near them, or even wild animals like deer or badgers kicking at them to see if they’re edible. But it seems a common sight when walking in woodland, that whilst there are many lovely specimens – and some walks are especially good for the variety of species seen growing – there are always many that are broken up and damaged – and clearly not in a manner that suggests natural wear and tear or weather damage.

The dramatic looking red and white spotted fly agaric mushrooms shown earlier and above are perhaps one of the most recognised species and that is as many as I’ve ever seen on one day. Further along the walk I spotted three very new mushrooms just emerging from the ground at the base of a tree. One was barely breaking the ground and the other two were still tightly closed and only just above ground.

I had always thought that their redness was an indicator of their toxicity, but apparently they’re unpleasant, rather than deadly – you’d need to consume quite a lot of whole fresh mushrooms to actually be in real danger. But they are thought to have hallucinogenic properties when the flesh is properly prepared (and some of the techniques to do so are quite unsavoury) and the ‘fly’ of the name is less to do with insects and more to do with the likely resulting hallucination involving yourself flying.

There is even some speculation that their red and white livery is responsible for the traditional red and white attire of our modern Father Christmas / Santa Claus – thought to have arisen from the combination of many factors over time, from the fondness of reindeer to eat fly agarics (I wonder if they hallucinate about flying?), old stories of Siberian shamen spirits who visited yurts down the smoke hole bearing little leather bags of dried agaric pieces to tempt those below and their traditional appearance in fairy tales and folklore as a token visual and easily recognised mushroom – and often used as a decorative element around the festive period.

I think I prefer to see them nestled at the foot of a tree, just doing what nature intended.

29 Sep 2010

I can’t imagine life without trees

For me, for the most part, as long as I can periodically escape to some of my favourite spots outdoors and get some fresh air and stretch my legs, I can cope with whatever life throws at me. In tricky times, or with tedious things I have to endure, like dental work or waiting in unsavoury places for overdue buses, I imagine walking through some of my favourite tracts of woodland. It’s something I look forward to intensely when I know I have a trip planned. The mental images and memories of being in places such as the ones shown here, pop into my mind many times a day and I long to be there.

Please click on any of the photographs for a better view, they look rather dark here on the page.

Even on the treadmill at the gym, I position myself on one of the machines near a window where I can see a short run of screening pine trees they’ve planted to separate the tennis courts from the playing fields and picture myself walking through them into more dense deciduous woodland beyond. I just cannot conceive of life without trees and being amongst them. I’m totally comfortable in their company and more at peace than anywhere else.

Early in the walk, a well made path runs level along the lake shore, rising steeply away from it shortly.

If I were given the option to wish myself away to anywhere, it would almost certainly be to one of my favourite woodland walks. Ideally, on a crisp, still, autumnal day with clear blue skies, fabulous views and glorious autumnal colours – even better if the woodland is deciduous or mixed and has a good smattering of beech trees. This particular day it was grey and damp, so the colours are not at their best, but I’d rather be there in rain than most other places on a nice day.

There is a habit in more recent times in managed woodland, to leave some of the trees that have either fallen naturally, or been cleared for management, to rot naturally in the woodland as they would without intervention. This then becomes a habitat to a wide range of plants and insects, adding to the health and biodiversity of the woodland.

I just love the intense array of natural sculpture nature provides us with along the way, partly from human intervention as above, to the natural abstract of the materials of the forest, as below.

The weather doesn’t often play the game, but the venue is much more reliable. I don’t even mind less than perfect weather, sometimes it even has its advantages, well known spots tend to be much quieter, which is always a bonus.

I don’t mind walking in dampness – loving the English Lake District makes this somewhat a necessity – gentle rain certainly won’t stop us from setting off – but driving rain and wind do tend to just spoil things. To quote Billy Connolly, as I have many times; “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing.” If you attire yourself accordingly, it doesn’t have to stop you enjoying the outdoors.

One of the few advantages of being that bit more mature, is that you can plan your holidays outside of school holidays when it’s generally much more quiet and often the only people you pass are other mature types taking un-seasonable breaks and local dog-walkers.

Being a lover of and regular visitor to the Lake District, weather does tend to be a factor close to your heart, but we’ve had atrocious weather in summer and lovely weather in spring and autumn, even winter, so the time of year actually seems to matter little – you get what you get.

We’ve just returned from a 4 day break there, it was supposed to have been the start of our 2 week annual holiday, but a whole batch of assorted circumstances meant we had to downgrade it to a short break instead this time. And after a recent health scare and resulting hospital treatment, I was a little below par and my walking a tad less robust, but it actually made my time amongst the trees even more precious, valued and needed. It did me a world of good – woodland rarely fails to restore me.

There are a couple of sweet chestnut trees along this particular path and at this time of year they’re just falling off and opening on the ground. They’re fabulous to look at, nestled amongst fallen leaves, but decidedly hostile for handling. Last year I made the mistake of putting some in a bag to use as photo props, but having strapped it to my camera bag was like a pin cushion when I got back to the car – those interlocking randomly angled spines are incredibly effective defensive weapons.

The photographs on this page were all taken on one walk on Monday along the western shore of Windermere – the largest lake in the English Lake District. The eastern shore is the main holiday area and the best know to most people, but we love the other side – it’s densely wooded and much quieter. This particular estate is owned and managed by the National Trust.

This particular favourite walk, of just under 3 miles, starts flat along the side of the lake and rises and undulates through mixed and established woodland slightly off the lake, dropping back to the lake after about a mile and a third or so – it’s rather more steep in places than the photographs would have you believe.

We have a habit of getting to the point where the path meets a small beach with lots of large rocks, where we perch awhile, watch the boats, feeds some ducks, take some refreshments and then return, whence we came, for lunch back at the car park.

I just love being amongst this sort of mixed and elderly woodland and it’s especially gorgeous in autumn where the mix of beech and oak amongst a whole selection of different spruce and pines makes it an interesting and varied scene.