You didn’t need a crystal ball to know that my walk yesterday, reached by car rather than directly from home, might be my last for a while. The thought of impending Lock Down made my hours alone near Masham, walking by the River Ure and through the nature reserve of Marfield Wetlands, special, memorable and something to be savoured, even if it’s not actually a Great Yorkshire Walk.
After a couple of miles there’s some pasture land. Some trees there are dead or dying. Ancient trunks have actually fallen. They were demanding to be centre stage for Jude’s Photo Challenge this week, mixing textures with other colours and patterns.
See? Lichens have cunningly introduced themselves into the regular fissures of a fallen log. Lush young nettles complement the bleached dry bark of a different trunk. Peep though knotted holes to spot the greenery beyond. Wisps of white wool wander across the surface of moss encrusted ancient branches.
Then I met stones, originally smoothed and polished by the River Ure as it hurried and bustled noisily along. Now they’re covered again: not by water, but by springy mosses and young creeping plants, and pert little celandine squeezing between them.
Then though it was time for sheep. Not just sheep, but their lambs, endearingly new-born, in their two-sizes too big overcoats. Who could resist?
Keen not to abandon Jude’s assignment, I found two last shots. A row of fat cattle, chewing away in their barn, contrasted with the diagonal and vertical lines of their shelter. And then a rusted old bit of farming machinery provided a perfect picture frame for a view. A fine use for a bit of tackle that’ll probably be on the scrap heap any day now.
The Wetlands were surprisingly quiet (lunchtime…). But I had a bit of fun with a teasel, getting up close to get a shot of its spiny plump body.
A good walk. Lots of memories to store up for a long, odd summer ahead.
Mud. I can’t be doing with it. Viscous, squelchy, squishy, sticky, over-the-top-of-your-boots kind of mud. We’ve had ground slick with treacly mud here for weeks and weeks. But then there’s also Cabin Fever, and the need to plan a walk for our walking group in a fortnight’s time, when spring might have sprung. Walking won out over yet another day indoors.
My friend Chris and I set forth for the Yorkshire Dales, parked up in Lofthouse, and set off. Really, it could have been worse. It was a full twenty minutes before we came upon our first serious mudbath: prior to that we’d only had water-on-the-path to deal with.
But climbing now, we saw what the fields were like: yes, those are fields you’re looking at. Gouthwaite Reservoir’s not here: it’s over there in the distance.
We had our rewards though. The views: the remnants of a snowscape: sheep – and oh look! Our very first lambs of the season – a little huddle of black ones, and just one snowy specimen with its mum.
The last remnants of the snow.
Nidderdale, between Lofthouse and Ramsgill.
White mums, black lambs.
A single lamb resting near its mother.
Middlesmoor in the distance.
Surveying the scene.
This sheep inspected us as we sat on a log for a snack.
And then, a pleasant surprise. The café at How Stean Gorge was open – on a weekday in February! Coffee and home-made cake while enjoying the view of the stream jostling and hurrying through its narrow ravine. I forgot to take a photo for Jo, but the website shows the Yorkshire Slice Chris and I shared.
We were on the home straights now. All we had to do was struggle up a steepish hill to the now barely-populated village of Middlesmoor. Just outside its church, on the path that plunges down to our starting point are thoughtfully-provided seats. This is one of the best views in England, and despite the wind, we wanted to appreciate it.
And then, half way down the hill- a traffic jam. This herd of cattle blocked our path. The farmer asked us if we’d mind waiting five minutes. He turned out to have a countryman’s clock, but no matter: we weren’t going to argue with all those cows.
More mud …
… and more mud …
Finally, the cows moved on, and so did we. We got back to the car just as the rain, and then the sleet, started once more.
I’m in London on Half Term Duty. Zoë’s at Nursery, but William’s four, and at school these days, where an early encounter with the planets quickly turned into an all-consuming passion.
So I thought I should take him to the Planetarium in nearby Greenwich. There’s not much he doesn’t know about the solar system (Makemake anyone?),so ‘Moons beyond counting‘ seemed a likely hit. Twelve thirty, I said, that’s when we’ve got to be there.
At 8.30, William was all present and correct, dressed; rucksack packed with essentials such as a pencil case and an I-spy book of birds; shoes on; coat organised, demanding to leave. I fobbed him off for a while, but by just after 9.30, we were on the top of a double-decker bus bound for Blackheath and Greenwich.
Greenwich has one of London’s lovieliest parks. There are wide avenues, trees, green space – hills even – and if you walk to the far end, a wonderful playground. William was persuaded that this was a good place to spend the two and a half hours before the show. We trotted down avenues and gravelly paths. We chatted to dog walkers – William, having given his full address to one, informed him that I was a visitor who didn’t normally live here.
We examined tree bark.
And we reached the playground, where William climbed, chased, crawled, bounced, made new friends and finally announced, round about 11.30, that he was hungry.
We climbed one hill and then another, looking across at the views of Greenwich below, and the City of London, just across the Thames.
And we picnicked pretty much on the Greenwich Meridian line.
Finally, it was time for the show. We sat next to a boy called Jack who turned out to be just as much of a planet geek as William. The performance over (it was very good thanks, and back home, William gave a far better account of it than I did), Jack and William hurled obscure facts and quiz questions at one another, and were half pleased and astonished, half vexed that each knew as much as the other.
We decided enough was enough, and took a different route back through the park to the bus stop and home. Where we spent the rest of the day doing – what else? – a jigsaw of the solar system.
We had to go to Middlesbrough for an appointment the other day, so we thought we’d stay and explore.
Middlesbrough is what’s known as a ‘post-industrial town’. Once, its steel and other heavy industry and its port brought wealth (to some), employment, and attendant grime and looming industrial architecture. Now, it’s reliant on newer technologies, engineering and the presence of the university developed in the 1990s from the older Polytechnic.
But its landscape is still an industrial one, as is that of the surrounding towns: Billingham, Stockton, Redcar. Could it be true that the RSPB had developed a Nature Reserve here, on its outskirts?
It could. RSPB Saltholme. Though it was hard to believe, as we navigated along roads edged by towering chimneys, great metal hangars, clattering unseen machinery.
But in the end, there it was, among the industrial flatlands – wetlands actually, punctuated by shallow lakes and pools. We’d arrived.
But the birds had left. How silly of us not to remember. At our local nature reserve, Nosterfield, the birds regularly knock off at lunchtime, only reappearing towards dusk. Who knows where they go?
Never mind. We enjoyed a peaceful walk. We got a moment of drama when flocks of birds DID appear, swirling and swooping above the lake. It was quite likely that they were taking evasive action from a resident peregrine falcon hunting for a meal. Drama over, they disappeared once more.
A peregrine-inspired panic?
We enjoyed our time in this peaceful oasis. We explored trails that ended in well-equipped hides.
We studied noticeboards with information about what better-informed visitors had spotted that very day. We passed fields with the inevitable large numbers of greylag geese. And towards the end, we were rewarded with just a few sightings: some shelducks feeding; a shoveler or two; a few swans and a very distant heron.
Helpful what-we-have-spotted board. We did not contribute.
But we enjoyed our afternoon. A near-empty wetland, with its unusual backdrop of an industrial past and present, and the never-out-of-sight Tees Transporter Bridge made for a fine afternoon’s walking … and there was even a café.
Do you want to come for a walk with me in Cádiz? Let’s see. We’ll want to see the Cathedral and its museum; the former Cathedral; the Roman Theatre; the Mercado Central; the Castillo de Santa Catalina; the monument to Cortes of Cádiz, promulgators of the Spanish constitution in 1812; the city walls …..
That sounds too much? You’re right. Let’s just go for a stroll instead, and see what turns up.
We’ll start out from our hotel. It was a convent once, and while it’s still a spacious and gracious place, we didn’t have to get up in the small hours to pray.
By day …
…and by night.
We’re surrounded by a warren of old streets just like this.
And just down the street is this greengrocer, with its inviting wall display that changes every day.
Breakfast first though. Let’s find a bar. We’re having a large glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, pan con tomate (grilled bread with grated raw tomato and a drizzle of olive oil), and a good strong coffee.
We needed to post a letter on our first day. It took us ages to find somewhere. And it’s here, in the wall of the Central Post Office. That was once a convent too.
The Central Post Office
And a letter box.
And look! These narrow streets need protection from ill-driven carriages crashing into them, Corners of buildings are kept intact by covering them with metal plates, or even using redundant canons from the Napoleonic wars.
Look hard to find the canon upended and protecting this archway.
We haven’t been to the market yet. It’s in the hub of the city, and all about the fish: stall after stall of it. It’s hard to believe there’s anything left in the sea. Fruit and veg., meat and cheese and all the rest come a poor second here.
We said no sightseeing. But we have to pop into the cathedral – mind that crane!
And climb the tower for views over the city.
You’re never more then a minute or two from the sea here. Views? Of course there are. But there are also community-driven cats’ homes, randomly furnished with boxes and cast-off carpets, and lots and lots of cats.
And while we’re walking along the seafront – look at this. It’s a ficus macrophylla – a giant kind of fig tree, allegedly brought back from India as seedlings round about 900 by two nuns. It’s too big to photograph really.
And here’s La Casa de las Cinco Torres (five houses, despite the name), built facing the sea in the 18th century, to make a fine impression on incoming visitors.
Time for a drink now? You’re in sherry country (Jerez is just down the road), so let’s go where the locals go, and ask for some advice about what to choose. Here’s Taberna Manzanilla. Malcolm was offered a 7 year old number, but mine was 14 years old, and accompanied by a local sheep-and-goat cheese. What will you choose?
We could just as well choose La Manteca. Either way, decorating the interior with bull-fighting posters seems obligatory.
Tired now? Well, mooch round a bit then – here are some entirely random images.
a canon that defended the city.
A fine window that’s seen better days.
A fine detail on this house.
This hairdresser’s took my eye …
… together with the notice outside.
Another street scene.
Then we’ll finish off the day in the fisherman’s quarter, La Viña , at la Tabernita, a family concern only open at the back end of the week, and weekends, share a few tapas, and wander back to the hotel.
A reflected image of La Tabernita
La Viña by night
An entry for Jo’s Monday Walk: Jo – I don’t think this walk will get past Quality Control, as it’s a composite. But I just couldn’t pick one!
You may have realised we’re in Barcelona with Emily and Miquel, looking forward to the Three Kings arriving tomorrow. But yesterday, we left the Big City, caught a slow local train, and trundled off to the foothills of the Pyrenees, to Vic, 45 miles away.
The Romans knew Vic. The bridge they built here is in daily use. There’s a temple too.
The early Christians knew Vic. An important bishopric was established here, and a seminary, the basis of the present university. It was the most important market town in the area. This was the mediaeval town we’d come to see.
Look! Here’s the busy Market Square.
I’ve taken this photo from one of the covered arcades, built tall enough to allow a man on horseback to ride there. Many town doors are big enough to allow this horseman through.
Nowadays, Vic is assertively Catalan. If you look, you’ll see banners on the buildings supporting their political heroes. Slogans are everywhere.
But here is the Olive Tree of Peace. Hang your hopes here.
Most of my photos are in my camera. Here are phone snapshots of our walk round this delightful untouristy town, going about its market day business.
Our good friends Gill and Dave host a mid-winter walk for all their friends after Christmas every year. We’re invited, and we’re never sure why. We’re not known for showing much interest in horses, and we don’t own a dog. As you can see from this shot taken just as we set forth, fortified by bacon sandwiches and coffee, having a dog in tow is pretty much expected.
We love this post-Christmas event, and this year I was especially keen. I’ve not been able to go on a decent hike for six months now because of a knee condition, but today was the day to begin to put all that behind me.
So here we all are. Here are the dogs, here is the mud, here are the woods and the local views – understated, pleasant good old rolling English countryside. I’ve deliberately overstated the mud for dramatic effect – it really wasn’t bad at all, and with enjoyable company we didn’t notice it anyway.
Back home with Gill and Dave, we ate and drank, laughed and talked for most of the afternoon.
And on the way home, this was the sunset.
Another entry for Jo’s Monday Walk. It’s been such a long time since I’ve had the chance…