Uphilldowndale

Watching nature take its course, from the top of a hill in northern England


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Sleeping with corncrakes

It was one of my Hebridean holiday aspirations to see a corncrake, a secretive little bird, that at one time used to live in our meadow,  here in  north Derbyshire so Freddy the farmer told me.

Killed off: The Corncrake

Freddy was born around 1920, and farmed from this house until the 1970’s, when during that life time the corncrakes disappeared from our meadow, I don’t know, but I do know that there are now only  just over a thousand calling males (and hopefully a similar number of females) in the UK. The birds demise has been a result of changes in farming practice, and the birds reluctance to break cover when the grass is mown, you can guess the rest.

One of the best places to find them is the islands of the Outer Hebrides, where much work is being done to give them the best chance of breeding safely.

One you’ve heard a corncrake, you will know its call forever.

We heard plenty but didn’t see a one.  They favour clumps of nettles and long grass.  I spent a long time staring at clumps of nettles, knowing the blighters were in there.

what no corncrake.jpg

They’d lure you in with a call, then fall silent for fifteen minutes or so, then, just as you were starting to think you’d move on they’d give another rasping call.

The best time to see and hear them, is at dusk, or dawn, or just after it has rained. the problem with dusk and dawn in the Outer Hebrides in June, is that dusk is very late and dawn is  very early.  We heard plenty, especially around four am. I have the badge to prove it.

I slept with corncrakes!

A calling corncrake is a lullaby I can sleep with.

 

 

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Riparian

Where the peaty brown river meets the sea.

Barra river meets sea

Where the water flowing from the flanks of Beinn Mhartainn, on Barra, meets the sea.  I thought there must be a special word , for when a river meets the sea, but I could only find estuary, which just didn’t seem to capture the moment, so I’ve gone with riparian, which means located by the banks of a river , stream or other body of water.  (Is this where ‘rip tides’ come from?)

Barra river meets sea 2

I’m sure that this rich mahogany coloured water is the kind of thing that must enhance the flavour of whiskey? But I can only find references to the use of peat in the process of distilling whiskey, not the water that goes into it..

Mr Uphilldowndale took to rock hopping, and pretending to make a beach landing.  Spud the dog and I kept our feet and the camera kit dry.

Island hopping Barra

 

 


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Travel Arrangements

There’s more than one way to arrive at the Outer Hebrides,  we sailed, from Oban to to Castlebay on the island of Barra, but not before we had a very tasty lunch at the cafe at the ferry terminal, lovely food, delivered by lovely people, I had a bowl of cullen skink, delicious, safe in the knowledge the weather was fair and we were in for a smooth passage, it probably wouldn’t  be the best dish for heavy seas! Spud the dog is pretty chilled about ferry crossings, he stays in the van on the car deck, but there is a lounge on the ferry where you can be with your pets for the passage, but we think he’s happiest in his home on wheels and it avoids him having to navigate the precipitous stairs between decks.

But back to Barra, you can if you wish arrive by air

Plane Sign .JPG

If the tide is out. Barra Airport

It is the only airport in the world, that has a scheduled service that lands on the beach. Barra airport is compact and bijou. Its been voted the second most scenic airport in the world

Barra airport tide in_

I was especially taken with the baggage reclaim.

Baggage reclaim_

And my many friends who like a Landrover, will be taken with the fire engine.

Barra Airport fire engine_

It also has a cafe, I’d been told  in advance about its legendary fish and chips. But we were out of luck, I was gutted, it was to be a reoccurring theme.

Fish supper

We waited for the flight to arrive, there is something that feels very wrong about standing in the path of an aeroplane as it comes into land!

Barra beach take landing 3

Plenty of spray, you probably don’t want to buy a second-hand plane from this route!(All that salty water can’t be good for the mechanical bits).

Barra beach take landing spray

It taxis up to the door, and the ground crew attend.

Barra beach landing_

The passengers disembark, take a selfie or two.

Barra beach landing passengers_

Things that need to be done for the return flight are swiftly attended to, and away they go again, before the tide comes in.

Barra beach take off prep

You can watch a landing, they are using one of the two other ‘runways’, landing across the beach rather than up the beach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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At a crossroad

I’m still here, not that you would think so, from the lack of posts.

I’ve been busy putting a project to bed, its nearly done now, I’ve only a couple of days work left to do. What next, I don’t know,  I suppose you could say I’m at a small career crossroad .

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This extravagance of signage for a modest little junction, is at Wetton Mill in the Manifold Valley


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You have reached your destination

We meandered our way through Shropshire, and the South Wales coalfields, to reach Cardiff, our boy Joe has been working in Cardiff on his industry placement year, what a cracking time he’s been having (he’s studying civil engineering at Swansea University). There is a very handy campsite, near the city centre, (book it is you can it is fully booked more often than not) this allowed us to catch up (and feed, what student doesn’t want mum and dad to turn up and take them out for dinner?) with Joe in the evenings and we got to have a good mooch around the city, with Spud the dog, close at hand.

We were on the doorstop of The Museum of Wales, at opening time, along with a large number of school parties, but we were swift of foot, and savvy to getting ahead of school parties, before teacher could raise their clipboard, we were off and in, to see astronaut Tim Peake’s *landing capsule, which has been touring the UK, it’s got a bit of a Sutton Hoo look about it, in the background, the parachute with which it drifted down to earth or came down with a bump, depending whose story you believe.

Tim Peake 8

It was very well lit, so you could see inside, not much room to swing a cat…

Tim 1_

it looks kind of basic doesn’t it, compared to the smart phone or tablet you might be reading this blog on?

Tim Peake 4

We were comforted to see, that if all else fails, there is a ring bider or two you can refer to for instructions what to do next.

Tim Peake 5

Not sure how you recharge it though.

Tim Peake 2

It looks like it took a bit of a knock, I’m sure a bit of body filler or gaffer tape would sort it though, no harm done.

Tim Peake 3

https://www.esa.int/spaceinvideos/Videos/2016/06/Soyuz_TMA-19M_landing

*Tim Peak is a bit of a hero in our books, not only for what he did in space, but with what he continues to do educating  and encouraging young people into studying  STEM  sciences and with his involvement of  The Scout Association

 

 


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Dig Deep

I want to go to Big Pit, said Mr Uphilldowndale, after we’d been wallowing in the history of the industrial revolution in Ironbridge. ‘That sounds interesting’ I said, ‘but I’m not going down it.’ For decades Mr Uphilldowndale has been regaling me with his description of what it was like, back in the very early 1980’s, when he went down to the  48 inch thick coal face of Emley Moor colliery and there was no way I was going to be wriggling around 300 feet underground. Far to claustrophobic for my liking.

So we  headed south into Wales and rolled up at Big Pitt,

Big Pit National Coal Museum (Welsh: Pwll Mawr Amgueddfa Lofaol Cymru) is an industrial heritage museum in Blaenavon, Torfaen, South Wales. A working coal mine from 1880 to 1980, it was opened to the public in 1983 under the auspices of the National Museum of Wales. The site is dedicated to operational preservation of the Welsh heritage of coal mining, which took place during the Industrial revolution.

big pitt

Mr UHDD went to check the lie of the land and came back to tell me that I wouldn’t have to crawl around I could stand up throughout our tour, that admission was free (I had been feeding the dogs) and that we were going down the pit now, as they were expecting 70 school children to arrive in twenty minutes time. So cajoled by added headroom and propelled by the thought of not wanting to be caught up amongst 70 children in a confined space we were on our way down Big Pit.

No photos allowed I’m afraid, cameras, phones, digital watches are all contrabrand

The mine is covered by HM Inspectorate of Mines regulations, because it is still classed as a working pit.[4] Visitors wear a plastic hard hat, safety lamp, and a battery on a waist belt which weighs 5 kilograms (11 lb). Visitors must also carry on their belt a rebreather, which in case of emergency will filter foul air for approximately one hour, giving a chance for survival and escape.[40]

The tour guides are men who used to work at the coal face, or either Big Pit or another colliery, so you got a real flavour of what it was like ‘in their day’ and plenty of history too. Who can start to imagine what it was like for children,  working underground.  There was enough to  see and hear about keep my attention from wandering to the fact, I was in a coal mine, most of the time.  I was surprised about the amount of woodworm in the pit props and timbers though! They can’t treat the timber with chemicals, they just have to keep on replacing it.

They had some beautiful shiny miners lamps, I’ve one at home, it looks a little neglected to compared to Big Pit’s lamps. No canaries down the mine but they did have some in the lamp room (I hadn’t been reunited with my camera at this point!)

Big pit canary

Plenty to see around the mine

big pitt bogies_

Many of the original buildings are accessible,  from the explosives store,

big pitt book

to the medical room,

Medical room Big Pitt

And displays of equipment and ephemera.

Big pit nurse poster

The locker room, what a lot of lockers! I’d never thought about the fact a miner would have two lockers, one for his coal soiled clothes and one for his clean clothes.

lockers

I can imagine both would have been popular.

smoking and spitting_

The arrival of ‘pit head baths’ must have transformed the daily routine, for the miners and the women at home…  I love these towels, their style is on the edge of my childhood memory.

showers big pitt

In the showers they also had a recording of  singing, I thought it was Tom Jones, but then a lot of Welsh miners would have sounded like Tom Jones…

 

 

 


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Much Wenlock

After visiting three of the ten museums in the Ironbridge Gorge, we sought a hearty supper and a welcoming campsite in nearby Much Wenlock.

Much Wenlock is an ancient market town, it was sleepy when we hit the streets early next day, it has many beautiful old buildings,

Much Wenlock timbered building

I was caught by a wave of childhood nostalgia, by a RSPCA collection box, a little bell rang when I put Mr Uphilldowndale’s money in it, lovely, look how loved those noses are!

RSPCA vintage collection box

The Guildhall, 16th century.

 

Much Wenlock Guild Hall

A place you wouldn’t have been wanting to be chained too, back in the day

Guildhall much wenlock

Can graves look cosy? Maybe its just the symmetry.

two graves much wenlock

There was an antique shop, that was very well stocked…

Much wenlock antiques 2.jpg

Certainly not somewhere that has not had a Marie Kondo makeover!

Much Wenlock antiques

Another little flash of nostalgia, my grandmother had a little table just like this, I’m sure she brought back from one of her early early ‘package deal’ holidays, of which she was an early adopter… I must post about that.

Nan's Table

Much Wenlock was the home of the modern Olympics, founded by William Penny Brookes

Penny Brookes

A little town, with much to see and note,

Much Wenlock window

But we must be on our way, underground.