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Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Halton Gill

This picture perhaps gives an idea of how remote some of the Dales communities are. This is the hamlet of Halton Gill, a tight little cluster of old stone buildings near the head of Littondale, facing out towards Fountains Fell and the peak of Pen-y-Ghent. I can find very little about it online, though it must have a fascinating history. I have no idea whether the hamlet grew up because of farming or because of some long-gone industry. It seems to have had its 15 minutes of fame in the Sainsbury's 2010 Christmas advert, filmed here! (Click here to see it.)

Tuesday, 29 April 2014


These Dales landscapes always thrill me....

Monday, 28 April 2014

Captions needed...

'Ooh, mum, what's that?'
'She's a human being, in a red jacket, with a thing called a camera.'

'Come on; honestly, you always like to be different.'

Sunday, 27 April 2014


Littondale's thin limestone soils provide an increasingly rare and valuable habitat, supporting a variety of unusual plants. Skoska Wood is a National Nature Reserve between the villages of Arncliffe and Litton, a strip of ash woodland and herb-rich pasture.  To be honest, I don't know that much about wild plants and, generally speaking, I wouldn't recognise a rare plant if I saw one. Though they are not uncommon, I was thrilled to see banks of wild primroses (Primula Vulgaris), which are such a pretty, delicate, pale yellow. I didn't know, either, that there are two types of primrose flowers - pin flowers (shown) and thrum flowers, which have a sort of little coronet in the centre. Fertilisation can only occur between the two types (thanks Wikipedia!). You learn something every day.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Fresh air and space

There is little better for a townie like me than getting out into the fresh air and enjoying all the wide open space of the Yorkshire Dales. Littondale feels particularly spacious. It's a broad-bottomed valley carved out by glaciers. It has a small river, the Skirfare, running through it but despite the fact that we have had a wet winter, there was no running water in much of the main riverbed. I can only think that the water runs underground, as the rock is limestone and very porous.  The stream you see here is a small tributary running off the valley sides through the meadows.

I saw plenty of sheep and spring lambs and a few cattle of an unusual type, black with a broad white band round their middle (Dutch Belted?). There were are also a good few birds about - lapwings tumbling through the air, a couple of oystercatchers in the meadows (not many oysters hereabouts for them!). I also saw a curlew, as well as the commoner species of country birds: crows, rooks, blackbirds, gulls, magpies, jackdaws, robins, great tits, blue tits and several magnificent pheasants, their plumage stunning at this time of year. I might have seen more, but I don't carry binoculars as well as my camera.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Rest awhile

What a lovely place to sit and eat my packed lunch... (and later I retired to the pub in Arncliffe, where they still serve ale out of jugs.) Someone has thoughtfully placed a memorial bench in the churchyard, overlooking the River Skirfare and the bridge. It was so peaceful, enjoying the spring yellow of the daffodils and the celandines and watching little birds busily collecting nesting material. Some of the gravestones are covered in thick lichen but many are still readable. I was touched by those you see nestled together on the left of the photo. One is the grave of a three-year-old boy who died in 1936. Almost touching it is another stone, that of his mother Jane who died in 1996 aged 81. Her husband, John, and possibly another son and daughter, who both died in their 40s/50s, are buried a few yards away. Jane appears to have outlived them all.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

St Oswald's Church, Arncliffe

St Oswald's church, a Grade II listed building, is attractively situated on the bank of the River Skirfare on the edge of Arncliffe village.  There has been a church here since the early 12th century but the existing building was largely rebuilt in the 19th century, although the tower dates back to the 15th century.  Built of local limestone, it almost appears to have grown out of the earth, so well does it fit the character of the surrounding limestone dale.

I stood on the bridge over the river for quite a long time, watching pied and grey wagtails busily flitting over the rocks, hunting for insects and bobbing their long tails in their distinctive way.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014


Prettily planted with daffodils, Arncliffe is a typical Dales village, with stone houses clustered around a village green.  If it looks vaguely familiar to some, it may be because it found fame as the original setting for the TV soap 'Emmerdale Farm'. Now just called 'Emmerdale', these days the series is filmed on a purpose-built set on the Harewood House estate. I imagine Arncliffe's residents are quite glad about that!

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Another photo walk?

The bliss of the long Easter weekend was made even more blissful by some fabulous spring sunshine, though it is still rather chilly. So... chores forgotten, do you fancy another country walk?  We'll go to a place I have long had on my 'must visit' list - Arncliffe. It's not that far - about 30 miles (50 km) and very near to some of the places I have visited quite often - Kettlewell and Kilnsey.  But, in common with most visitors to the Yorkshire Dales, I have always followed the road up Wharfedale and I have never branched off into Littondale. The smaller Dales are for the most part just as attractive as the better-known areas and have the advantage of fewer visitors. Though there were quite a lot of cyclists and walkers, there tend to be fewer cars. Just as well, as many roads are single-track with passing places.

I certainly felt welcomed when I arrived!

Monday, 21 April 2014

Late post

The bright red of the postbox provided a pop of colour in an otherwise muted landscape up at Ribblehead. A welcome sight, especially given that it was inset into the wall of the pub! You might have to wait for your postcard though. I posted it on Saturday but Friday's collection had not even been made.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

True grit

The regular symmetry of the arches of the famous Ribblehead viaduct contrasts dramatically with the rugged limestone pavement of the hillside above. This was one of the few photos I managed to get at this location that didn't have rain spots on the camera lens. As fast as I wiped them off, more landed!

This impressive 100 foot high viaduct, with its 24 limestone arches, carries the Settle-Carlisle railway line over the wonderfully named Batty Moss. It was built in the early 1870s by over a thousand navvies, who lived in shanty towns on the moors with their families. It must have been a bleak existence. A nearby small churchyard has over 200 men, women and children buried there from this period, victims of smallpox epidemics, industrial accidents and other tragedies that must have been particularly hard to deal with in the circumstances.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Whispering grass

Yomping around Batty Moss up at Ribblehead and given that the rain was driving hard, I gratefully accepted a suggestion from the workshop leader to concentrate on smaller, lower 'landscapes'. It was quite amazing to slow down and notice how many different types of grass, mosses and sedges there were, of all different textures and colours. I longed for a macro lens - I could have happily spent hours up there if it had not been quite so wet and cold. After a bit of experimenting with slow shutter speeds, I liked the soft effect of these blown grasses.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Limestone landscape

Even in the driving rain, the limestone landscape of Ribblesdale has a certain bleak beauty, criss-crossed by drystone walls.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Vintage arches

The glass and original ironwork canopy of Hellifield station (grade 2 listed, like many of the buildings in Saltaire) has some pretty tracery, incorporating the MR for Midland Railway.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Hellifield station

I went on a photography workshop with some friends from my camera club. As so often, the weather gods found out in advance and a run of pleasant, dry weather was interrupted by a day of cold wind and rain - heigh ho. Despite being frozen and often wet too, and having the usual battles with my tripod (think grappling octopus..) I came home with quite a decent batch of images (imho).

We started at Hellifield station. Hellifield is a village on the way up into the Yorkshire Dales, and has this wonderful old railway station on the Settle-Carlisle railway line, built by the Midland Railway in 1880. The line is celebrating 25 years of survival - thanks to 'people power' - after being threatened with closure and is one of the most scenic lines in England. Occasionally steam train excursions run through here and that must be a thrilling sight. The station itself has recently had a makeover so it's looking good, painted in the old Midland Railway colours. The signal box in the background is itself historic, being one of only two manually operated boxes left on the line.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Look up (when you're feeling down)

Spring is everywhere. A haze of bronze anticipates the unfurling leaves of an old copper beech tree.

Elsewhere the magnolia trees are in bloom, showy but short-lived. The blossoms look wonderful against a blue spring sky.

When they have faded, we will have cherry, apple and hawthorn blossom to look forward to - and lady lace prettifying the hedgerows.

I love spring.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Water everywhere but nowhere to swim

Grange over Sands has a very long and flat promenade stretching for a good distance along the edge of Morecambe Bay. Made attractive by the spring planting in public gardens and flowerbeds along its length, it's a perfect place to stroll, cycle, scoot, rollerskate, toddle or be pushed in your wheelchair/baby buggy, depending on your age and fitness. There are plenty of seats and walls on which to rest a while, too. At one time the sweep of the bay used to be sand (or mud and quicksand) but changes to the course of the rivers flowing into the bay have caused a build-up of salt marsh. This now means that just over the sea wall there are wild birds feeding: geese, ducks, waders and gulls. It's quite odd. In most other seaside towns in England you'd find families shivering on a strip of beach, watching kids building sandcastles. Here there are blokes with telescopes scanning the marsh!

If you're desperate to get your swimming costume on in Grange, you're in trouble really. There was an open-air lido from the 1930s to the 1990s. This closed and is now gently decaying, though it is listed and there have been contested plans to redevelop it. A modern swimming pool (which won a design award!) was opened in 2003 and closed in 2006 due to high running costs and structural problems. Oops. That lay derelict too. Sad. I wouldn't recommend a swim in nearby Windermere either...

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Grange over Sands

Grange over Sands is a small, quiet and quaintly 'retro' seaside resort on the north coast of Morecambe Bay. A fishing village until Victorian times, it grew with the coming of the railway, when many of the towns on the north-west coast became get-away places for factory and mill workers in the fast-expanding northern cities. In Edwardian times, wealthy businessmen built fine houses, hotels and gardens here. These days it's a popular place to retire to and also a centre for those exploring the nearby Southern Lake District. This is its main street, although it's a sprawling ribbon of a place with public gardens and promenades along the edge of the bay. I really liked it, it's 'different'. I am mildly amused that the local tourist info site displays a photo of the railway station. (Clearly it thinks it's the most attractive feature!)

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Morecambe Bay

This is part of the vast expanse of Morecambe Bay, a huge area of intertidal mudflats and sand, formed by the estuaries of several rivers that flow into it. On the northwest coast of England, just south of the Lake District, it is an important wildlife site with abundant bird life. Traditionally the bay is also harvested for cockles (shellfish). Being so flat, the tide goes out a long way and then rushes in unpredictably (as fast as a horse can gallop, they say). The bay is also full of quicksands and can be a very dangerous place. In 2004, a group of illegal Chinese immigrants, harvesting cockles for a pittance, were cut off by the incoming tide and at least 21 men, women and children drowned. It was a terrible tragedy, very sad. It seemed they didn't understand the dangers and had misjudged the tides.

There has been an official post of 'Queen's Guide to the Sands' for centuries, since the lack of transport and the inaccessibility of the surrounding area meant people used to need to walk across the bay. They had to be guided by someone with intimate local knowledge. Nowadays the guides accompany people walking the bay to raise money for charity.

My photo is taken from the north shore looking southeast. Through the haze you can just see the village of Arnside (see here) across the bay (below the flying geese).

Friday, 11 April 2014

Sheer indulgence

I met friends in Cartmel and we wandered into a coffee shop, just intending to have a drink. Then we spotted the meringues and they looked so wonderful that we all decided to enjoy one! I had a rosewater meringue - pink and tasting of roses, which sounds horrid but was delicious. I could have had ginger or hazelnut too. I tell myself that there is a lot of air in a meringue... (but who am I kidding?)  The reviews on TripAdvisor suggest I am not the only one who rates the meringue - see Cartmel Coffee. It was a really pleasant, modern café too, with a relaxed seating area as well as standard tables, and bookshelves and newspapers to browse if you really wanted to chill out.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

A postcard from Cartmel

As you can see, Cartmel in Cumbria is a pretty little village (though overrun by cars - I thought Saltaire was bad enough!) The river Eea runs through the village, past historic buildings, mostly dating from the 16th to18th century, which cluster round a square dominated by the old market cross and some ancient stone fish slabs, a relic of when markets were held here. Narrow, winding streets radiate from the square and are now home to some very upmarket shops, many of them selling artisan foods like speciality bread, cheese; there is even a micro-brewery. There are wonderful tea shops too and an acclaimed Michelin-starred restaurant, Simon Rogan's L'Enclume, where you can enjoy a 21 course 'tasting experience'. (Not that I did.) Cartmel also boasts a racecourse in a lovely setting close to the village centre. All in all, a surprising place!

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Mother and child

Inside, Cartmel Priory is an inspirational fusion of ancient craftsmanship, including fragments of medieval stained glass and carved wooden misericords, and some beautiful contemporary sculptures. Most are by Josefina de Vasconcellos, an English sculptor with Brazilian heritage and at one time the world's oldest living sculptor. I don't recall coming across her name before though I now realise I have seen some of her sculpture in other places. I found myself deeply touched by the pieces displayed in the church. The Madonna pictured was not attributed but I am pretty sure it is her work. Josefina died in 2005 shortly after her 100th birthday, having produced work well into her 90s.

What better place to spend a few moments quietly contemplating the news that my daughter is expecting her second child... Please join with me in hoping and praying that all will be well this time and that she may have an easier birth experience after the trauma of my first granddaughter's very premature delivery.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014


I made my first ever visit to the village of Cartmel, in Cumbria. It's an attractive little place, dominated by the huge medieval Priory Church. Established as a monastery in the 12th century, it survived destruction after Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries in the 1500s only because an altar within the church had been given to villagers. They petitioned to save the church as their sole place of worship. Even so, it almost fell into ruin and was saved and repaired many times by various benefactors. Nowadays it is a living, thriving church with a wonderfully peaceful atmosphere inside, soaked through by centuries of faithful prayer. When I visited, the nave was cordoned off and the roof swathed in plastic sheeting as they are replacing rotten roof timbers. It rather ruined its good looks but I still enjoyed wandering round and discovering its secrets. 'Ancient jewel, living church', as its guidebook says.

Monday, 7 April 2014


“She turned to the sunlight
    And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbor:
    "Winter is dead.” 

I was cheered by these harbingers of spring: daffodils and wild celandines, clustered around the roots of an old tree in a random but pleasing display.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

A touch of frost

A camellia - one of the loveliest of flowers, such vibrant colour set off by dark, glossy leaves ... but she pays the price for daring to flaunt her showy beauty before most other plants spark into bloom. Dreadfully prone to frost damage, even in a mild winter like we've had, the petals and leaves are nearly always tinged with brown.

Saturday, 5 April 2014


Travel a mile or two north from Leighton Moss Reserve (see yesterday) and you reach Arnside, a quaint little village of slate-roofed stone and stucco houses, perched on the edge of the estuary of the River Kent at the corner of Morecambe Bay. Not much seems to happen there but that is part of its charm... a few little shops, a café and a pub or two and the vast expanse of the tidal estuary mudflats, with the promise of exciting birdlife for those prepared to watch and wait. Because of the topography of Morecambe Bay, Arnside has a fast-rising high tide, which can be very dangerous for the unwary. It also (oddly, for such a small place, I think) has a railway station, on the Lancaster to West Cumbria line that crosses the bay on a long, low viaduct just out of shot to the left of my photo. (Another line that was axed by Beeching in the 1960s and has since been reinstated.)  The area surrounding Arnside and Silverdale is designated an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, well worth a visit.

Friday, 4 April 2014

RSPB = Rare Sights Produce Bliss

I visited one of my favourite wild places at the weekend - Leighton Moss RSPB Reserve. Hidden away down country lanes, it's a wonderful haven of reedbeds and lagoons, not far from Morecambe Bay and the southern end of the Lake District.  There are peaceful paths through reeds and woodland and a few well-placed hides with panoramic views over the lagoons.  Despite only having an ancient pair of binoculars, I still saw a good number of bird species as well as some red deer. I was thrilled to watch three harriers swooping about. They are beautiful birds. I am pretty sure I identified them as marsh harriers - the two males had very distinctive patterns of black wingtips, then grey bands and then brown patches close to their bodies. A male bullfinch thrilled me with its brilliant colours. I also saw my favourite little bird - that pink and grey bundle of fluffiness, the long-tailed tit. Leighton Moss is famous for being a breeding area for the elusive and rare bittern. I have never seen one but I did hear their curious booming sound, like someone blowing over the neck of a bottle. No bird photos, as I don't have the huge lens necessary for good wildlife photography - and anyway I just like quietly watching and enjoying the stillness in a place like that. Despite the very overcast weather, I had a blissful day out.

Thursday, 3 April 2014


Where there are bacon butties in the fresh air (see yesterday's post), there are almost bound to be gulls, specifically black-headed gulls. They have a magnificent Latin name : Chroicocephalus ridibundus. These sociable birds are far from being 'sea-gulls' as they are found inland in quarrelsome, noisy flocks wherever there is food to be scavenged. Resident and breeding in Britain, they can be confusing to identify as they change their plumage between winter and summer. This adult is already sporting its summer plumage. In winter it will lose its black (or chocolate brown) head in favour of a white head with a black spot beside its eye. Juveniles are more mottled, like the ringed bird below. Anyway, beware of being gull-ible - they are bold (I couldn't photograph many birds with my kit lens as such close quarters) and they can easily snatch food from the hand of the unwary picnicker.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

A tale of two bridges

I had a weekend away in the north-east west, and on my journey there I had a break at a well-known stopping-off point in Kirby Lonsdale called Devil's Bridge. You can buy hot drinks and a good bacon butty from a mobile café and (cause or effect, I'm not sure) it's a traditional meeting-up place for motorcycle enthusiasts.

It's a crossing point of the River Lune where many packhorse and drovers' rotes converged. Devil's Bridge was built around 1370, probably by monks. Legend has it that the Devil appeared to an old woman, promising to build a bridge in exchange for the first soul to cross over it. When the bridge was finished the old woman threw bread across it for her dog to chase, thereby outwitting the Devil. The old bridge is only 12 feet wide and was closed to vehicles in the 1930s. Another bridge was opened just downstream, which still carries the main road. I'm not sure who decided to paint that one orange....