A winter walk: footprints, snowy sheep – and just one robin.

A field near North Stainley.

I think I like this kind of wintry day best of all. We’ve had a carpet of snow on the ground, blanking out grass, pavements and drifts of snowdrops. But today, it’s just a little warmer, and the snow is softly melting into the ground. But still here. We go out for a walk, before the cold descends once more. Winter footprints are visible now, because the impacted snow has dissolved away, leaving a silhouette of – what? Is that a crow print? A pheasant? Oh look, those are rabbits – look at how they land, four square and neatly as they run. And here’s a dog of course.

The landscape assembles itself into broad strata of austere colours: raw umber earth; no-longer pristine snow, almost dappled in places; perhaps some olive-shaded grass, and behind all these, a line of winter trees, their skeletons highlighted against the grey sombre skyline.

We see this robin on a fence post.

But apart from him, sheep are the only living creatures we spot on our walk today. Against the snow, they aren’t white at all, but a slightly dirty cream. They scratch an unsatisfactory meal from the less snowy parts of the fields. They come to look at us. We look at them.

Then we look for snowdrops instead, and for wood. It’s forbidden to go out at this time of year without coming back with an armful of kindling for the log burner.

And how glad we are to get back to our log burner! We enjoyed seeing our familiar landscape clothed in its skimpy veil of whiteness. But we appreciated getting back to warmth, a fireside, and a nice cup of tea even more.

Here’s a contribution to Jo’s Monday Walk (Jo’s own walks tend to be in Portugal these days. That’s where she lives. Feeling chilly Jo, reading this?)

Click on any image to view it full size.

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.

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