Once Upon

Once Upon

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Rabbity Larks at Minimal Altitude.

The Simonside Hills in Northumberland... aren't really.....hills that is....not not in Northumberland.

'They' are a geographical feature that has resulted in a line of raised ground, mostly no higher than approx 400m above the briny North sea (the coastline of which can vaguely be seen from the tops....on a clear day). Simonside is a sort of a warm up for the more extensively remote and marginally higher Cheviot range.
The area offers characteristics that are typically north Northumbrian.....wide open, rolling moorland......wind-swept and interesting.......carpets of plantation forest and broad acres of tussocky-rough grazing for the hardy sheep.....mostly always dampish (both the sheep and underfoot), Simonside has a lot of space for yours truly to have a bit of a wander in.....and its only 30 mins or so up the road.

After reaching the small country town of Rothbury that sits by the river in the wooded Coquet valley below the 'hills', I drive up the wiggly minor lane to park the jalopy roadside and set out to tramp up the steadily rising heathered slopes above.

There is that familiar, almost instant feeling of release as I walk away from the car and out onto the open fell-side.....breeze in my face, rough gradient beneath my boots and the sights and sounds of 'wild' Northumberland surrounding me.

The close-up quiet rustle of my walking, and the gentle clump of my footsteps, are the only discernible man-made sounds amongst the more distant weave of nature's voice, underscoring
the span of moorland hillside.
I hear the insistent caw of a couple of crows as they flap lazily into the breeze ahead of me, and at the same time, see a pheasant reluctantly, yet urgently, bustle over the nearby loosely wired fence, no call of alarm, but its inept startled wingbeat and flurry making a sound so recognisable.

As I rise a little higher up the slopes, the views open up behind me, and looking out across the valley I can just about make out the sound of the collective bleating of the sheep I see being harried across the opposite fields, white smudges being buzzed by a couple of smaller, darker circling dots......the baa and meh occasionally accompanied by a piercing series of whistles from an unseen farmer.....

Walking further along an airy, gradually steepening ridge, I tread my way along a rough path snaking narrowly through thickening heather to reach a small outcrop of browny-grey rock. As I pass, I disturb a couple of Grouse who in turn, startle me enough to actually make me jump. Their sudden rising clatter and barks causing me alarm, never mind them, as they speed away low over the heather like fleeing wing-fluttered cannon balls.

I pause a short while.....and as I sit on a convenient seat of lichened boulder, the flash of a soltary Wheatear flits passed. It perches momentarily on a nearby stone, looks quizzically towards me on my own perch, and darts off again, unimpressed with my presence.


Looking through my ever-at hand small binoculars I track a pair of air-dancing Skylarks high above my head, my sighting being led by their twittering song more than by any keen observation.

Presently, after sweeping the expansive views around me of fellside and valley, I swing my proudly worn retro Millican daysac over my shoulder, loving the look and feel of it....no space-age fabric and zips for me boyo, oh no.......its canvas and press-studs all the way,......I make off towards the slightly higher horizon.

I remember being brought here as a lad by my late Father, and have vague recall of it being winter, snow on the ground, and bloody freezing. My then friend Graham was with us, and I seem to remember being bizarrely envious of his absurdly pom-pommed woolly hat............anyway, many years later, as a father myself, I brought my young son and daughter here too.....and dragged them through deep snow precariously, at high speed, along the forest rides, towing their plastic sledge on a rope behind my newly acquired 4x4 jeep. Tut tut.......how irresponsible.
I can still hear their screams of laughter and delight.

Today, I continue along the broad ridge towards the general high point happily aware of the space and the vista of the surroundings widening around me.
The holy trinity of Curlew, Lapwing and Snipe, I would love to report were all seen and heard........but they weren't. Not a sausage. Still, in my mind's eye they were still definitely there, covertly going about their business as part of the tapestry of the area......just wisely remaining unobserved.

The undeniable call of cookie and fruit-cake obliges me to pause again after a while, and as I sit waist deep in heather scoffing their loose-crumbed delights, I notice faint movement in the mid distance below me, on the edge of a bank of pine and fir.  Looks like a trio of Deer are cautiously nosing about in the long scrubby grasses and reeds that form a boggy moat beside a track around the trees. They are beatifully hard to see so well do they merge naturally into their environment.
I get better sight of them through the binoculars just as they appear to freeze, twitching noses all pointed towards the corner of the plantation.

Quickly, as one, they hop sprightly into the woods behind them and are instantly gone........just before a pair of bright lycra'd bikelists trundle into the picture totally unaware of the now evaporated scene.

I start to meander back along the way I came, enjoying the ease of walking that comes with the descent of a gentle slope.
A single rabbit, clearly a maverick or an outcast....(thereby hangs a tail......ha ha)...panic-scampers away. In leporidae terms, obviously a high altitude Sherpa of a bunny.

I eventually return to the car several hours after first leaving it, no doubt each hour of my traipse relieving untold hours of accumulated everyday harry......no great wildlife safari encountered, no great mountaineering conquest achieved, no adrenaline pumping adventure experienced.......just an inestimable amount of pleasure obtained from simply being....out of doors, naturally.

(....apologies for use of some  'stock' photographs.....but hey, they're there to be used......and they are only used for illustrative purposes to alleviate my mundane words!)

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Dark Side of the Spoon.

Well now....I have just returned from a shortish wander through my local woodland. Nothing special. Nothing seen. No sightings furred or feathered....nor flora noted.
It is currently 7.40am and pretty much still dark.

During my wander it was pretty much pitch black...... apart from a weak glow of clouded moon and a horizon hugging smear of watery thin haze.

Stars were vaguely visible at times when the cloud-cover cleared, but their distant pin-pricks of light just seemed to make it darker somehow.

Interesting experience to be walking within a night-time wood. No torchlight, nothing... reliant solely upon whatever 'night-vision' ones eyes can muster in almost total darkness.
Movement along paths you thought you knew well in daylight becomes a very different thing at night.
Ones ears and imagination combine to present an extremely vivid, yet totally un-seen vision of scene and activity.

To stand alone and silent for a while in a completely darkened wood ...what can I say.....
Try it.....a very different experience of being with 'naytcha'.

Anyway, back home, and just like Goldilocks, a bowl of porridge...just right.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Seen in Words....revisited.

At early hour the amber hint of winter sun, horizon low, seeps through a gentle morning mist to find, waiting, a silent stand of silver birch,
The mottled sheen of shining bark now edged in golden rim, each fluttered leaf and sleeping bud is met with warming touch.

(perfect pic borrowed from 'rambles with a camera'.....I have no shame).

The dew-wet grass lays witness to the waking day,
and in that morning yawn, the shadowed hedgerow lightens to outline twig and branch......

A fading line of footprint leads out across the frosted ground, an echoed tread of some risen farmer, early-huddled, eyes still veiled in weary glance.

Above in greyborn sky, a flight of steady rook pass silent overhead, black-feathered and intent toward a favoured tree-worn hill.......

Below, fielded in dawn-dampened fleece, sheep bow in constant graze, their hallowed breath, cold-sharpened, tastes the morning chill.

In quiet air the day unfolds, and rising from it's nightly shade, welcomes in the softened light that moves aside the darkened view.......

Wooded sleep is woken, the leaf-dimmed curtain drawn, still painted in pale pallette thin, yet with water-coloured promise of a deepened hue.


The morning hours begin to sound, robin song and wren, the pigeon coo, the cawing crow, the fence-line flurry of flustered pheasant....startled jay....finch-twitter, tuned and calmed with blackbird call........
Each fabled voice is spent in solo song yet does not mar with any other, the rhyming rhythm of natures reason, an age-old descant known by all.