The Bees and the Birds

England, Wildlife

What do you think of when Derbyshire’s Peak District is mentioned? It’s a  glorious area of England, part of its Pennine spine.  There are old stone-built towns and villages with long histories of hard work in mining, textiles and farming.  There are limestone and millstone grit uplands and escarpments, with distant forest and moorland views, and valleys and gorges cut deep into the limestone.  

A view from Hay Dale

We were there last weekend.  Not for the broad brush of those appealing landscapes, though we got those too.  Instead, we were there to inspect what we could see inches, or at most feet from us, as we and a small band of like-minded people slowly wandered narrow pathways and farmers’ tracks with Mark Cocker.

These were the tracks of our childhood, a time when (if you’re as old as me) flowers and insects weren’t routinely eliminated from the fields by cocktails of fertilisers and insecticides.  Nature Walks were the once-upon-a-time weekly staple of the village school where I began my education: a neat crocodile of children hunting curiously for leaves, berries and treasures for the Nature Table in the corner of the classroom. Our group last week formed anything but a neat crocodile, and we collected treasures through the lenses of our cameras, exchanged young eyes for our pairs of binoculars.

The places we explored with Mark often had poor thin soil.  It’s not worth cultivating, but huge numbers of wild flowers seek out and colonise such spaces and it can be pasture-land too.  Where there are flowers, there are insects: flying creatures of all kinds, bees of all kinds, beetles, moths, butterflies.

I knew there were a fair number of different bee species, though I had no idea that there were some 270 of them.  But I thought a bumblebee was a bumblebee was a bumblebee.  It turns out that there are getting on for twenty different kinds, and that some of those are cuckoos.  Cuckoos?  Well, yes.  Cuckoo bumblebees are as wily as the birds they are named after.  They lay their eggs in another bee’s nest and leave the workers of that nest to rear the young.

Erm… I hope this is a white-tailed bumble bee

We found caterpillars, we found flying creatures and bugs, we found moths and butterflies.  Mark was excited enough about one find to write it up in this week’s Guardian.

We climbed up to Solomon’s Temple. We wandered through Millers Dale, once the site of a busy railway line.  We explored a now disused quarry, now colonised by a rich variety of life, including orchids, and a collection of stunted trees.  Unable quickly to get the nourishment they need, they reach maturity as dwarves. We explored almost unvisited dales such as Hay Dale.  All these were limestone, but we had a little time in the imposing millstone grit landscape of The Roaches, which – don’t tell anyone – is actually just in Staffordshire.

Our days were far from silent.  Even if it’s no longer prime bird-song season, there were spotted flycatchers, willow warblers and sightings of various finches and tits. Wheeling above us: buzzards, red kites, hobbies, while shallow rivers, busily chattering over stones and rocks were feeding stations for dippers and ducks.

We even had a little time to explore Buxton, where we stayed, and where, each evening, we ate, talked, laughed and generally got to know each other at the (highly recommended) Brasserie.

Buxton by night

What a weekend. I’ve learnt that I still have an awful lot to learn. And our own garden is the perfect classroom. 

Spanish washing lines

Blogging challenges, Spain

Andrew, over at Have Bag Will Travel has been inviting us to share the washing lines we’ve enjoyed seeing on our travels in his Monday Washing Line series. I ran out of offerings weeks ago, so decided we should go to Spain to put this right. While we were there we thought we might as well catch up with the family, as already showcased in Becky’s TreeSquares.

My feature photo isn’t a washing line at all. But I thought fish hanging out to dry would set the tone for a holiday selection. The rest are far more workaday.


Thanks Andrew for a fun idea which has had lots of us happily hunting through our archives. Anything rather than get on with doing the washing.

A History of a Holiday in Fifteen Trees and Twenty Blues

Blogging challenges, Spain

Typical of me to miscount. This isn’t the last day of the month. But these are my last squares. Alongside my one and only square today are other shots, mainly in blue, for Jude’s monthly Life in Colour challenge. They’re all included as a final salute to our memorable month in Spain – until Monday, that is, when I’ll showcase the clothes lines that we spotted for Andrew’s Monday Washing Lines.

A palm tree in Premià: with a backdrop of the blue skies we saw day after day after day.

TreeSquare And thanks, as ever, for your Squares challenge Becky. A lovely month of choosing, squaring and sharing images of trees, ‘our most intimate connection with nature’ ( George Nakashima)

A History of a Holiday in Fifteen Trees – fourteen

Blogging challenges, Spain

Our nights in the country weren’t spent in Cantabria, but in the adjacent Basque country. We had to be within reach of San Sebastian, where we had the first of our three Covid tests required by the British government (this one within 72 hours of our departure from Spain, the other two back in the UK on Days Two and Eight), and of Santander, where we boarded our ferry back to the UK.

We chose Garai, a charming village of some 300 inhabitants and with the most delightful guest house, where we’d like to return with the whole family in tow.

As well as those two views from the village, I’ll give you a couple of scenes from the Parque de Cristina Enea in San Sebastian, and one from the delightful coastal road we meandered back to Garai on – but nothing from Santander, where I clean forgot to include any trees in my shots.


A History of a Holiday in Fifteen Trees – thirteen

Blogging challenges, Spain

How Mr and Mrs Country Mouse had been enjoying their Spanish holiday! But they’d spent nearly all of it in towns. Their systems demanded a recharge of the kind that could only be provided by a spell in the country. They drove through rural Cantabria, enjoying the hairpin bends and rugged sights of the Collados del Asón  and the Puerto de Alisas. And trees! So many, in forests, clinging to rock faces, or clambering across the slopes….

They can feel a walking holiday coming on….


A History of a Holiday in Fifteen Trees – Twelve

Blogging challenges, Spain

A couple of hours driving from Zaragoza took us to our lunch stop, Tudela. Sunday lunchtime is not a good time for diligent sightseeing. But it is an excellent time for strolling round a city which has interest on every street. It’s not on a main tourist itinerary, but we’ll definitely be back to explore yet another town where Romans, Moors, Jews and Christians have all made their mark. And storks. Who could fail to be seduced by a town whose every church houses yet another stork family?

Our storks provide today’s tree images. Not a whole tree today, but many hundreds of twigs: without which no self-respecting stork could build a large ungainly nest and raise a family.

And then of course there’s nothing for it but to sit in a pleasant square with a cold beer, mulling over a menu and wondering what to have for lunch.

Tree Square

A History of a Holiday in Fifteen Trees – Eleven

Blogging challenges, Spain

Zigzagging my way into Zaragoza’s old city centre, I came across, ahead of me, a glass canopy. A market perhaps? But no. It covered Caesar Augustus’ Roman Amphitheatre. I could inspect it quite well from the street, but on a whim, decided to pay the entrance fee and go in. ‘I’ve decided to take your word for it that you’re over 65’, the chivalrous man at the desk said. ‘It’s free for you’.

I was so glad I went. I discovered that this theatre was only relatively recently excavated. It was designed during the 1st century CE for an audience of 6,000 people (in a city of 18,000) and remained in use for some 200 years. When the Romans left, firstly the Moors covered over the site to provide extra housing space in the crowded city centre. Later, it became a Jewish quarter, and when the Jews were expelled in the 14th century, Christians moved in. And so it was until the late twentieth century. I didn’t quite understand why it had become possible to uncover and excavate this site in the 1970s. But I enjoyed exploring, and took pleasure in the unusual distorted views of it provided by the glass windows of the museum which explained the amphitheatre’s history.

Trees and the amphitheatre distorted in the museum windows.

Old meets new beyond the amphitheatre

Tree Squares

Monday Window

A History of a Holiday in Fifteen Trees – Ten

Blogging challenges, Spain

After our stay with the family, the plan was to wander back across Spain to the ferry in Santander, taking in Zaragoza on the way. Then we found out that Zaragoza was quietly sizzling away in temperatures of 37 degrees daily. Sightseeing temperatures? Perhaps not. So we cut our stay down to a single night- long enough to convince us that we must return to this city packed with ecclesiastical architecture, a Moorish past, a Roman heritage, and the works of Goya too.

I’ll show you just one of the city’s must-see sights, the Basílica del Pilar. It’s not even Zaragoza’s cathedral. It’s views like this, conveniently framed by trees, that tell us we must return.

For today’s tree though, let’s look upward. We were enjoying the multitude of swifts which zipped and ricocheted across the sky, just as they had in Premià. And look what’s included itself in the shot. A tree. A small tree – offering some apartment dweller a morsel of shade from that ever-present sun.

My featured photo shows a cooling city centre public garden where Malcolm had a rest as I went off on a small investigative tour, and came across a special site which I’ll share with you tomorrow.


A History of a Holiday in Fifteen Trees – Nine

Blogging challenges, Catalonia, Spain

The next town along from Premià is Vilassar de Mar. Emily says it has a hippie, arty vibe, and it’s certainly a pretty little town. Look what took our eye though. Alongside a tree trunk was this: part of a Town Trail for Tinies? We don’t know. We found no others.

When we visited, it had just finished its week long Festa Major, for which the symbol was – a tree.

Still, I suggest you join us for a vermouth in the oldest vermuteria in town, Espinaler, before going for a quiet stroll.