An ‘Aaah!’ moment.

Wildlife has had a tough time getting going this year.  Bluebells late, lilac late, bird migrants late – where are our swifts, diving and swooping in the evening skies, gorging on feasts of flies before night sets in?

At last though, mallard ducklings have appeared on the village pond.  There seem to be three families: tiny ducklings; some a few days bigger; and one lot who could be described as teenagers.  Apart from having little in the way of wings yet, they look pretty grown up. We idled away part of the afternoon the other day, just watching them scuttle and swim.

It’s as well they breed so prolifically, those ducks.  The babies have little chance of making it to adulthood.  The resident goose doesn’t like them.  Jealous drakes don’t like babies who aren’t their own.  Foxes like them alright, but as a snack.  And then there’s the road, though drivers try hard to avoid these creatures, who simply haven’t learnt their Green Cross Code.  My favourite sight from last year was seeing a mighty dustbin lorry shudder to a halt, and wait while Mrs. Mallard led her brood of seven efficiently across the busy road.

At last, spring is here.

Snapshot Saturday: Rearing the next generation

Mother and babies on Good Friday. Yes, I know you can only see seven. There’s always one off exploring ….

It was a couple of days before Good Friday when we first saw them.  Mrs. Mallard swimming on the village pond with her eight tiny ducklings.  We kept a proprietorial interest in them, and were dismayed when over the next few weeks they became seven, then five …. then only two balls of fluff.  These two kept growing until they were, in duckling terms, almost teenagers.  Then they too vanished.

No more ducklings on our pond.  Just a single baby coot.

This was the baby coot on Good Friday. Now he’s almost adult – long legs, huge feet, and camera-shy.

Last week though, walking along to a friend’s house, I spotted them.  Mrs. Mallard had hatched another brood.  Seven this time.  I wonder whether this little lot will make it?  It seems as if there have to be an awful lot of ducklings put upon this earth even to maintain the population at replacement level.  Both male and female mallards will attack and kill ducklings who are not their own.

Two of the latest ducklings, spotted yesterday evening.

It’s eleven weeks since we first saw those baby ducklings.  Mrs. Mallard is still no nearer to successfully rearing the next generation of mallards to replace her.  In some ways, time has stood still.

This isn’t mum. She was in the reeds, chivvying her babies into safety.

WordPress Photo challenge: Delta.  For this week’s photo challenge, share a picture that symbolizes transitions, change, and the passing of time.

Snapshot Saturday: One walk, one footpath, one – no eight – skies

It was the summer solstice this week.  It was also, for three days only in the north of England, summer.

So let me whisk you back eighteen months, to a crisp and clear January day when I took myself off to walk for a couple of hours or so, looking upwards rather than at my surroundings.  Skyscape succeeded skyscape. These changing skies perfectly illustrate this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge: transient.

Le Tour de Yorkshire. Allez! Allez! Allez! Oi! Oi! Oi!

Le Tour on the Big Screen.

Three years ago, Yorkshire hosted the start of the Tour de France, which I wrote about here, here, and here.

Three years ago, plans were hatched for an annual Tour de Yorkshire.

This year, le Tour once again passed the end of our drive.

We watched the Women’s Race from the end of our road, and had a happy low key morning chatting to neighbours we knew, and neighbours we hadn’t previously met.  Police motorbikes sped past, support vehicles, a helicopter above, then the riders themselves, followed by more support vehicles, more police, and finally, a couple of women riders who were never going to make it into the winning cohort, but were giving it their best shot anyway .

Women riders zooming through North Stainley.

During the afternoon though, I sauntered into West Tanfield to watch the Men’s Race.  I arrived to find a party atmosphere.  There, amongst all the stalls on the village field, was the Big Screen showing the progress of the Tour in real time.  Just look though.  Just as in ze Tour de Fraunce, everysing eez in Frainch.  ‘Tour de Yorkshire’,  ‘Le Côte de Lofthouse’, ’29 avril 2017′.  It’s a sweet little homage to the Tour de France, without which …..

The Big Screen explains all, in French.

I’d missed the caravan giving out freebies.  A friend told me that in Health and Safety conscious England, these aren’t chucked randomly out of publicity vehicles.  Instead the vehicles stop, and small teams amble among the crowds, giving out flags, batons, shopping bags.  She said it was rather nice and added to the party atmosphere.

Spectators with their freebie shopping bags.

A hot air balloon was moored near the pub.  We didn’t find out why, as it never became airborne.

The securely tethered hot air ballon.

As the Big Screen informed us the riders had reached Masham, we started to line the streets.  Volunteer Tour Makers shooed us onto the pavements, and we waited ….  First of all, police motor bikes.  Then this vehicle, complete with Man with Microphone.  ‘Allez, allez allez’, he yelled. ‘Oi!  Oi! Oi!’, we yelled back.  ‘Allez,  allez,  allez!’ ‘Oi! Oi!  Oi!’. ‘Allez!’ ‘Oi!’, ‘Allez!’ ‘Oi!’ ‘Allez, allez, allez!’ ‘Oi! Oi! Oi!’

Cheerleader’s vehicle.

Then this, the moment we’d been building up to.

They were gone.  More support vehicles, and a final one telling us it was over.

Support vehicles came from all over France, from Belgium, from the Netherlands, from Italy …. and from the UK.

We all wandered off, perhaps to check out the big screen showing the riders going through Ripon.  As I left the village, the dustbin men were already clearing the streets.  The party was over.

What a difference six months make…..

Look.  Here was the scene in the field near our house, in January this year.  Fields and roads flooded, impassable pathways, rocks and earth tumbling into the River Ure.

Near Old Sleningford, January 2016.
Near Old Sleningford, January 2016.

This was the same field yesterday.  Barley, barley everywhere, all fattening up nicely for the harvest.  Nearby, fields of poppies.  Really hopeful, cheery sights on a sunny and blustery day.

The same field, July 2016
The same field, July 2016

Will all our present political crises end so well?  I wish I could feel more optimistic.

PoppyFieldsJuly2016 013

Planning my planting for 2017

AllotmentsBoroughbridgeMarch2016 013

I love allotments.  I love those productive shanty towns that you often see at the side of housing estates, edging railway lines, or just beyond the local sewage works.  I relish the make-do-and-mend of gardeners’ huts fashioned from lengths-of-wood-and-bits-and-bobs, set alongside neat little cabins bought from B&Q.  I enjoy contrasting planting styles.  Here – neat meticulous rows of cabbages, beets, carrots and potatoes: there – less organised plots with discarded tyres serving as planters for courgettes and beans set among a hotchpotch of gooseberry and redcurrant bushes.  I love the camaraderie of the allotment community – the willingness to share hard-earned knowledge, tips, seeds, cuttings, and even muscle-power.  So much more fun that a solitary afternoon battling with weeds.

In Harrogate, I had an allotment.  I was the disorganised type, always running from behind, because work and family life got in the way.  In France, our vegetable garden was too far away to get the attention it deserved.  Here in North Stainley, there are no allotments …..

….. until now.

A few years ago, some villagers decided to initiate an allotment project.  They worked hard, but progress was slow.  Surrounded by countryside, even identifying a suitable site proved difficult.

I heard about the plans and asked to become involved just as the group reached a turning point.  The local landowner has offered to rent out a plot large enough for ten full-sized allotments.  An allotment is ten poles (or rods or perches) large.  That’s the size of a doubles tennis court.  We reckon most people will be happy with a half plot.  Twenty allotments then.

Our allotments-to-be.
Our allotments-to-be.

So last Saturday we went to look at the land.  It’s a large chunk at the end of a productive field, and it’s currently rather wet, like just about every other field in England.  Promising though.

AllotmentsBoroughbridgeMarch2016 011

Then we went along to neighbouring Boroughbridge, where they’ve had an Allotments Society for the last 6 years or so.  They were friendly and generous with their time.  So much to think about though.  Paying for water to be piped to the site.  Thinking about car-parking and access to individual plots.  Keeping pesky rabbits at bay.  What to do with allotment tenants who grow only weeds.  Establishing a fair rent and knowing what that rent has to pay for.  We’ll be lucky to be up and running for next winter.  There’ll certainly be no planting before 2017…

Six years ago, this was a field as unpromising as ours. There's hope, then.
Six years ago, this was a field as unpromising as ours. There’s hope, then.