From a bird’s point of view, though not from a human’s, our local patch is a watery world. Our nearby town of Ripon has three rivers and one canal. The River Ure passes our house. Gravel extraction is a local industry, and once exhausted, these sites are made over to wetland nature reserves. Geese flock here. Autumn and spring are the times when large V-shaped formations pass noisily over the house, honking and calling. The feature photo shows just two – are they greylags? I don’t know. Herons are here – yesterday we watched as one heaved itself from the river, and, battling against the prevailing wind, launched itself towards a distant stand of trees, where it circled, circled, before finally finding its perch. Black-headed gulls follow the farmers as they plough and harvest. I was going to go on a trip to look at coastal birds too, but no – let’s stay local.
I didn’t plan to post today, but since I shared my sundown stroll with you last week, it seems selfish not to share the delight of a bright sunrise walk this morning. I left the house at 6.20, going along the River Ure, up the hill to a neighbouring farm, and back through the grounds of Sleningford Hall.
Peaceful? Not at all. The rooks in the rookery were circling their home patch and gossiping loudly. Oyster catchers gathered in groups and screamed and called as they flew high above the river while others skimmed its surface. A single curlew called. The lark ascended. And though the dawn chorus was all but over, blackbirds on every other tree took up their posts to offer an unending programme of melody to the morning sun. Lambs bleated plaintively as I passed, while their mothers’ objections were even more assertive. Only the rabbits, off to bed for the day, were silent as they swished through the dewy grasses.
My last photo in October should have been the moon – a full moon, a ‘blue moon‘ even, because it was the second one in the month, and the sky was gloriously cloudless. But I had neither phone nor camera with me.
Instead, I took my last shot the day before – and it’s not even a still photo. It’s a video of the River Ure surging, swelling, sweeping all before it near our house. It’s my first entry to Brian – Bushboy -‘s challenge, which you can read about here.
The river which moseys along and chatters beyond the back garden is our frequent companion. Whether we’re walking locally, out and about in Ripon, or having a morning in Masham further north, it’ll be keeping us company.
The River Ure is not a mighty river, wide as the sea, becoming ever slower and more stately as it forges its way to the coast. It’s not a super-highway for commercial barges, carrying manufacturing products to and from industrial heartlands. It’s not even a tourist destination, filled with pleasure craft and kayaks. Not far from us, it turns itself into the River Ouse, and even that doesn’t get to the sea, but instead flows into the River Trent, and then the Humber Estuary. So it has no delusions of grandeur.
But it’s our River Ure, home to water birds, otters, herons. We watch it through the seasons, as it surges to dangerously high levels in winter, then diminishes to an idle trickle in summer, exposing boulders and polished stones as venues for family picnics.
I’ve walked different stretches of it this week. Even under lock-down we’re encouraged to take exercise – alone – within reach of home. Put your (virtual) boots on and (virtually) come with me to visit those parts easily reached on foot within an hour or two. We shan’t meet a soul apart from the odd dog-walker, and we’ll shuffle away from each other, afraid these days to get too close.
Our river has refreshed, invigorated and calmed me. It’s been a real friend this week.
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.
It’s equinox season: that blessed time of year when day equals night, and when, for us, the days are getting longer.
It’s transition time in so many ways. Those wonderful winter trees, their tracery of twigs and branches transcribed against the sky are skeletal still: but only just.
This morning, on my way out, I noticed tightly furled leaf buds, glossy and taut on shrubs in the garden. Two hours later, coming back, the tender leaves had burst out, tiny and delicate, waiting to be toughened up and to grow in the mild spring air. It was very windy too – hence no photos.
Has spring sprung?
Today’s Ragtag Challenge is Tracery.https://wp.me/p9YcOU-1ll
All photos apart from the first and the last one were taken walking through the parkland of Studley Royal, Fountains Abbey.
Today gave me the chance to remember that our countryside, though so very different, has its own charms and pleasures. We walked from nearby Masham and past the gravel pits of Marfield, now home to water birds of every kind: though only Canada geese and a few proud swans got a look in this morning.
We passed stands of ancient oaks, saw stark lines of skeletal trees marching along the horizon, watched the sky turn from Pyreneen blue to moody grey and purple then back to cheerful blue again. Sheep in late pregnancy cropped the short grass. We stopped to chat with fellow walkers walking off a calorie-laden Christmas. The River Ure was never far away. A pretty good morning’s work, actually.
Back in England, it’s time to dust down our walking boots again. As we stepped out today, on a beautifully fresh and clear early Autumn morning, we contrasted our walk from nearby Masham with hikes we’d gone on in Korea.
It was the weather we noticed first. Probably it’s colder there now too, but then, we wore t shirts and battled against the humidity. We wore fleeces today. We tramped through fungus-laden woodland in both countries. Here though, as we glanced at the tussocky meadowland near the River Ure, we saw sheep, sometimes cattle . There, valley floors were terraced with paddy fields, citric green with young rice.
Here, there were distant views of solid stone barns and farmhouses – even a country house, Clifton Castle. There, we were more likely to come upon a hidden Buddhist temple, its solid, yet graceful wooden form painted cinnabar, blue-green, white, yellow and black.
In Korea, woodland in the countryside is dominant once you get away from ‘civilisation’. Here, we drifted between woods, meadows, ploughed fields and ground by the open river .
We enjoyed the lot. But today, we appreciated saying ‘hello’ again to our familiar local landscape.
What were they thinking, those Victorians?
During the 19th century, travelling botanists brought seeds of all kinds back from their exotic travels and often gave them to curious gardeners, who would try out these novelties as fashion-statements. In 1839, Himalayan Balsam was introduced and became Quite The Thing. It was so invasive (yes, we know) that it was great for making a huge and spectacular pink display at the back of the garden.
Then there was a certain Miss Welch, who in 1948 was so enamoured of the plant that she took seeds from her home in Sheffield and scattered them all over the place on the Isle of Wight. Or Mrs Norris of Camberley in Surrey who broadcast seeds far and wide, not only in Surrey, but in Ireland, France and Spain, and offered seeds to anyone who would accept them.
Now, apart from a few bee-keepers who recognise that their bees adore its nectar, nobody has a good word for this wretched plant. It marches along river banks and masses into surrounding woodland. It smothers any other species it meets on its relentless progress. It projects its seeds (800 per plant) by entertainingly popping open its seed pods and projecting them several metres away. It’s a bully.
And bullies have to be stopped in their tracks. All over England and beyond at this time of year you’ll find bands of Army Cadets, boy scouts, environmental groups, country lovers and villagers gathering in their local Himalayan Balsam Problem Spot to do battle with this tyrannical species.
We were part of one such band this morning. Our local nature reserve, High Batts, is practically our backyard. It’s a fantastically diverse small habitat for a whole range of birds, plants and other wildlife, and the River Ure courses through it. To the delight of Himalayan Balsam, which chokes the river banks before trying to spread itself all over the reserve. Today, a gang of us got on our dirtiest clothes, found protective gloves, and marched off to show the stuff we meant business. One of our number strimmed the worst affected areas, and the rest of us pulled out plant after plant after plant by its roots, until our hands were sore and our backs ached. I used to think breaking the flower heads off was enough. But no. These plants are many-headed hydras. Wound them and they’ll simply sprout forth ever stronger.
Army cadets and other volunteers had worked hard before us. Others will need to continue another day. But we did a pretty good job. And we were rewarded with elevenses of pork pie and three kinds of home-made cake, and the sight of those exclusively pink-flowered zones restored to satisfying diversity . Definitely worthwhile then.
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.
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.
Will all our present political crises end so well? I wish I could feel more optimistic.