The Bees and the Birds

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., on a tour which he organised with Balkan Tracks.

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. 

Author: margaret21

I'm retired and living in North Yorkshire, where I walk as often as I can, write, volunteer, and travel as often as I can.

49 thoughts on “The Bees and the Birds”

    1. I hope Margaret will forgive me hopping onto your comment, Kerry; just wanted to say how good it is to ‘see’ you. Sending good wishes and hope life is finding a new pattern with spaces to breathe and enjoy small pleasures 🤗

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  1. Brilliant post. I love the little creepy crawleys best (and a very brave person to hold that bumble bee on his finger) but it’s great to see where they live!

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      1. I’ve never been stung by a bee. My son once but it was self-defense: he stepped on one sitting in the grass. Bees are really no bother. But I’ve never had one on my hand either.


  2. After neglecting you for a too long time, I’m totally enchanted to ‘find you’ so much in synch with nature. You know that I love rural England and I don’t know how it will impact on my mental and physical health if I can’t soon return to visit ‘my Devon’ and my friends…. This is truly a wonderful experience to make and I for one thank you very much for taking us along to. Magic photos too and what riches of crawlies and flying wonders.
    I now think that I nearly drowned and saved a Gatekeeper butterfly, as – when I poured our morning tea into our large mugs, I felt that the hot tea was being poured over something. I quickly stopped and saw a wet flutterer. I fished it out with a long spoon and brought it immediately outside on the arm of our English bench. 10′ later when we had breakfast outside, the butterfly was gone – so I did good!

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  3. Loved this post, and sounds like a great time was had in Derbyshire! The only time I ever went to the Peak District, it r,aimed relentlessly, so we had a very soggy time riding our bikes! Apropos childhood “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” was my experience too…..rose hips and foxgloves are two things that immediately spring to mind

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    1. Ah, but did you go gathering rosehips for Delrosa too? That was what we all did on some autumn afternoons – the whole school. Slave labour of course. No payment.

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  4. Sounds like a great weekend! I love to take photos, when out walking / hiking, also the small stuff like insects or micro structures. My friends often have to wait for me, because I take so many photos, it must be ideal to be in a group where everyone is keen on that.

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    1. It was indeed. Malcolm and I felt the junior partners, because our specialist subject was … unknown. But that was fine, because sharing our finds and knowledge was all part of it.

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  5. A brilliant post for all those gardeners trying to grow wild flowers and who might just benefit from remembering that, for once in many cases, poor thin soil is the best.

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  6. Really enjoyed this Margaret. Bees are quite friendly really and will rarely sting if they land on you. They quite like to sample the salt on our skins. Wasps and hornets on the other hand are aggressive. The trouble is that most of us tend to panic and wave our hands around if a bee is close and they are sometimes forced to defend themselves!


  7. What an enjoyable weekend. Bees, birds an beautiful landscape via your lens!
    Thank you for sharing, Margaret!


  8. oh Margaret, what a treat for us all and you. There were still plenty of insects in my childhood too, and I can remember going out to the local pond to dip. So so different these days though – whilst i know there are pockets of wondrous nature still they seem to be getting smaller by the day. I worry about the future for out grandchildren

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  9. Oh my goodness, Margaret! What wouldn’t I give for a weekend in the Peak District looking at insects and flowers and birds with MARK COCKER! We miss the Roaches with Hen Cloud, Coombs Dale and Buxton so much, not having visited for a couple of years. Mark Cocker is a favourite author/writer, too.
    Your descriptions of the places you visited are wonderful!
    Good to see Kerry here, too!

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