I woke up this morning to realise it’s already May: though without the accompanying balmy weather. And I hadn’t yet done Jude’s April Photo Challenge. I wonder if she’ll notice if I squeeze it in today?
She wants us to explore curved lines. I’ve found this the most difficult of her challenges, so let’s see what I’ve come up with.
I’ve begun on one of my daily walks near the house: An oak tree providing a natural arching frame over a field of rape, horizontal as the horizon.
Let’s go on a virtual journey to the Yorkshire Dales where in normal times, we love to walk: streams, rolling hills, drystone walls, snaking ahead of us on our path.
And at our nearby nature reserve, Nosterfield, brambles frame the local landscape in the autumn.
Lastly, let’s make a trip to Gateshead, and look at the Millennium Bridge framing the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art.
Herons seem to be a part of our lives. It’s a rare week when we don’t spot one flying languidly along the river, or waiting on an exposed rock for the next snack.
Wherever we travel, we can go heron spotting. We’ve seen them in Dordrecht in the Netherlands, Córdoba in southern Spain, l’Albufera near Valencia, and Busan in South Korea. Town and country: herons are there.
We see them as we walk along the path towards West Tanfield, and spot them on the garden pond.
The other day after a stressful week, I needed a bit of space. Nosterfield Nature Reserve just up the road was the answer. I walked along the wetland paths watching water birds courting, feeding, simply being there, standing motionless or swimming peacefully. Quiet fields formed the backdrop.
I went to the farthest hide. I became transfixed by the under-stated drama being played out between a heron and two or three egrets. They were fishing. All plodded gracefully in and out of what humans might see as each other’s personal space. They didn’t care or even seem to notice one another. They simply co-existed, fishing.
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* The Crow Road: Iain Banks
Regular readers know I’m a member of a walking group. Regular readers don’t know that one of the features of our summer programme is a series of evening pub walks: walks of only three or four miles, finishing up at a pub for a convivial meal or drink together. Usually about eight to twelve people come along. This time, it was my turn to lead the walk, which had been publicised round the area in a low-key kind of way.
I’d already been messaged by a Chinese woman who asked if, though they weren’t members of ‘rumbles’, a group of nine of them could come along. Three other new-to-us people got in touch, and on the night, two other ‘newbies’ were there. Then there were Emily and Miquel, over from Spain.
The group of nine proved after all to be eleven, and included two small children. They were an extended family, living in various places all over the north of England, who’d snatched a few precious days staying together at a local campsite.
The usual regulars turned up. I did a quick head count. Twenty nine people….
Have you ever tried getting twenty nine people over several stiles, down narrow paths, along the lakeside, through the woods, across the fields, down the road and back through the Nature Reserve without losing anyone en route? Actually, because of the small children, the Chinese team left us at half time, but we had fun making new friends and promising to try out the restaurant that one branch of the family runs, many miles north from here.
The pub coped admirably. In fact only twelve of us chose to eat there, though most of the others stayed for a drink. Here’s free publicity for The Freemason’s Arms, Nosterfield. Great home-cooked food (try the fish and chips if you dare. Massive), provided by a friendly, unflappable team.
We don’t live near the sea: 61 miles, to be exact. But sometimes, on a hot day, only a wide expanse of water will fit the bill. And that’s what Nosterfield, fewer than four miles away can provide. It was – and still is – a gravel quarry. On any day of the week, you’ll see great yellow trucks lumbering down the road, laden with gravel. Back before the 1980s, this area was a lunar landscape: sand and gravel pits, gargantuan earthmovers,spoilheaps. Some of it still is.
But in the 1990s, a professional landscape architect, Simon Warwick, spotted its potential. He’d noticed how even as an industrial site, the area attracted thousands of migrating ducks and geese each autumn. Parts of the site were no longer economically viable and no longer being worked. Not without considerable difficulty, he established the Lower Ure Conservation Trust, and focused on creating an area of wet grassland, with water attached – sometimes extensive lakes, and at other times drying out into muddy scrapes. Native flora were allowed to regenerate naturally.
Wildfowl are delighted. Wading birds are enchanted. 200 species of bird make use of this service station for birds, halfway between the important migratory staging posts of the Dee Estuary and Teesmouth. Birdspotters and nature lovers generally love this place, and the well-appointed hides that are a feature of the site are rarely out of use.
If, like us, you’re strictly amateur in your knowledge of birds, you might love it too. It’s a tranquil place, except when the birds are having spirited and raucous exchanges, and a perfect place to spend an hour or two at any time of year. But especially on a hot day in summer, with a cooling breeze drifting from the waterside. With wild cherries, apples, plums and blackberries on offer, you’ll even have a snack provided.
For a few weeks now, we’ve been watching the geese. At first just a few, but in the last week or so, huge skeins of them in groups of V formations take over the sky, honking as they fly, at about half past eight in the morning.
Saturday was The Big One. Two thousand or more birds invaded the sky above. And somehow, though we were looking out for them, we missed them. These are the birds, far fewer, that flew over yesterday.
I’ve spent time on the net, trying to find out more about where they’re coming from, or going to. All I know is that while they’re here, they enjoy scavenging in the recently harvested fields, and Mecca, for them is the wetlands of the former quarries at Nosterfield. And I also know that their massed flights mean that summer is over.
We’re migrating too, albeit temporarily. We’re off to Poland, my father’s country of birth. If I can I’ll do a daily post while I’m there.
- William Shakespeare: ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.