Uphilldowndale

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


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Crab apple way

A few nights away in Cumbria, nr Ullswater, at one of our favourite sites, The Quiet Site (not sure why I’m telling you about it, every one will want to go, what with it’s swishy new zero waste shop an’ all   In the morning Mr Uphilldowndale had been charging around the hills on his bike, I put the kettle on to boil, to sustain my needs for tea and curled up under the duvet with a book, what a treat. Spud the dog snoozed contentedly.  In the afternoon we took a gentle walk along a track near the site, whilst the surface has been sealed at some time it looked little used by traffic.

Apple walk 3

We were surprised by the number and variety of crab apple trees we passed. I know that south Cubria is famed for its damsons, in fact the Westmorland Damson Association, celebrates them in every way.  

But I’d not seen so many apples before, It must look very pretty when they are in bloom, and a source of food for wildlife through the seasons.

Apple walk 8

They are hardy looking trees, that don’t give up when they are down

Apple walk 2

So many colours, bronze green

Apple walk 13

acid greens,

Apple walk

honeyed yellows

Apple walk 4

rusty red

Apple walk 10

rich plum shades

Apple walk 7

We don’t see crab apples in our hedgerows here in north Derbyshire, I tried asking a local, about how come there are so many varieties in just a mile or so of track, they weren’t very forth coming.

Apple walk 5

They can hardly have germinated from an apple cast aside by a passing car or (cart) can they?

The trees arising from discarded cores are genuine wildings, each one unique and with the potential to contribute their characteristics back into the apple gene pool, 

 

The apples had out paced the blackberries, the devil had seen to that.

Apple walk 6

Spud the dog usually like to bring home an apple or two, but these seem to have been a little too tart of his tastes.

Apple walk 12

 

 

 

 

 


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Shed or shrine, a place to tinker

Tinkering in the shed (well a garage, actually) my late father did a lot of that. It was his happy place.  When I saw this video I was so moved, not just by the dedication of Lee John Phillips, skill and determination to record the contents of his grandfathers shed, no, it was the Flora margarine tubs with there handwritten scrawly labels, that caught my breath.  My Dad did that. I can feel the brittleness of  each tub,  see the aged  yellowing plastic, the presence of its weighty load of rusty screws.

 

Dad’s garage may have looked chaotic to the uninitiated, but it had a filing system as complex as a giant Amazon warehouse,  just minus a robot.   It was all in Dad’s head.

When Mum died five years ago, and we set about the task of  clearing the family home, my siblings and I were pretty confident, we’d got the garage sussed, Dad pre-deceased mum by 18 years and a couple of years after he died, we’d hired a skip (at a price that would have horrified my him) to dispose of all those important little things he’d been saving just in case. Screws, wingnuts, little slithers of Formica, rubber belts and brushes. Old keys and watch faces. Tobacco tins and string. Bits and pieces that would have saved him a penny or two, and given him the priceless satisfaction of making and fixing.  At the time the task seemed never ending, my brother installed greedy boards on the skip as it started to overflow.

The task wasn’t as dangerous as dealing with his secret hoard of home brew,

home brewBut the second wave of garage clearing revealed  more stuff and memories than we’d bargained for (I saved this WWII ammunition box, and a selection of tools for Joe, they cleaned up nicely).

Dad's amo box_

I’m glad I took some photographs, drawing every item would have been beyond me in both skill and time. We’d kind of forgotten how ingenious some of Dad’s creations were, a tad Heath Robinson at times, but he made what he’d got, work for him (here, on the right, a device for trimming the climbing rose around the front door)

Dad's clippers

Dad often made his own tools, the childhood swing that he made for me, would disappear from time to time, seconded into the garage, to be used to support a pulley to lift out car engines, just as he designed and fabricated it to do.

As the world starts to realise the necessity of Reduce Reuse and Recycle, I can think how wrong I was, Dad was ahead of his time not behind it.

 

 


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Dam of emotions

It’s been a difficult time. When the dam of our local reservoir, Toddbrook, started to fail on Thursday 1st of August, it was deeply worrying. I was very close to the dam, when events started to unfold. As the first emergency response was arriving, this is what I saw; brown fluid, like clay slip, flowing from under the spillway, and concrete plates, lifted up above the retaining wall at the edge of the spillway. My spine froze. I took this photo on my phone, my hand shaking and left quickly.

Toddbrook mobile

I felt sure that the only way to fix this would be drop the water behind where it was leaking. In the mean time, the breach would be washing away the dam, which has clay at its core. It was a terrifying thought. The water gathering pace and driving more and more stability away.  I also felt sure they would have to evacuate the town.

My very physical reaction to the risk came I think, not from the fact my family is awash with engineers, but simply years of summer holidays watching the boys dam the river on Mill Bay beach in Devon, not for hours, but for days, till their hand were blistered, their cries and shouts as the dam started to fail, ‘Come on you guys, it’s going!’ Joe would yell* and they would all pile in to try and save it with spades and chunks of driftwood as the sand and water swirled away down the beach.  I guess I’m a visual thinker, but the magnitude of what could happen to Whaley Bridge was there in a heartbeat and did not leave me for the next six days..

It didn’t take me many minutes to get home, well up into the hills above the town.  The police were closing roads behind me as I left, I tried to compose myself, I rang Mr Uphilldowndale to tell him. I got through to his answerphone and left a tearful panicky message.

This video show the early response and the work that went on through the night.

 

At 5am the next morning, just 14 hours after the town had been evacuated an RAF Chinook helicopter was bringing bags of stone into shore up the dam.  Working to photos provided by the engineers they skilfully places the bags, where X marked the spot. I watched as they dropped bags into slit on the right hand side of the concrete kerb at the edge of the spillway. I watched 11 tonne bags fall, they just disappeared into the ground, vanished into the void.

 

Toddbrook Chin 3

 

Over a thousand people have been working around the clock, what they have achieved was astounding: new roads, floating pumps, miles of pipes, tonnes of stone to block any more water coming into the reservoir.  For the people of Whaley Bridge, who could only watch the RAF Chinooks have become the iconic sight and sound, we found the distinctive wockwockwock  sound of their  rota blades strangely comforting.

 

 

It was something we could see and hear, from our homes (or the homes of family and friends on higher ground, out of the flood zone) from the kitchen sink, from our bedrooms, from the garden, we stood and watched.

 

Toddbrook Friday Taxal Moor_

 

On the Friday it was intense. I  joined many others and watched from the local cricket club.

 

Toddbrook Friday 2nd 2

 

I found myself surrounded by military aviation enthusiasts, with camera lens as long as a broom handle, who told of their delight at being able to watch Chinooks working outside of an air show. I realised we had very different reasons for being there.

On Sunday, the weather gods, having placed us in this crisis clawed back the threatened clouds and torrential rain that was forecast. You could feel the valley breathe a little more easily: the sun came out, the landscape sparkled despite its open wound.

 

 

Words feel inadequate to thank those who responded: from truck drivers, to the RNLI, Mountain Rescue, civil engineers to construction specialists, Fire and Police, surrounding villages sending food to feed the thousand, 4×4 clubs evacuating residents, local volunteers, social workers looking out for the vulnerable and a thousand and one tasks that I could only guess at.

I think that for many  involved in the Toddbrook dam incident,  it will not only be something they never forget, but a career defining moment, a challenge they may even have relished in both its urgency and complexity.

I can’t come towards the end of this post, without mentioning Deputy Chief Constable  for Derbyshire, Rachel Swann, her clear and decisive leadership was as inspiring as it was comforting. We felt we were in safe hands.  She features in this video.

 

 

On Wednesday, six days after the evacuation, residents were allowed to return home. Tears of anxiety gave way to  tears of relief.

I think our little town will come out strong from this. We will have a new dam, the safest, smartest, sexiest dam in the country! Ready for the next 200 years. We know and value what we so nearly lost, and we know that there is strength and a steadfastness  in our friends  family and neighbours, that we never recognised before.

I’d be lying to say that nerves are not still on edge. On Thursday, the day after the all clear, I was startled to hear what I thought was the sound of a Chinook. It turned out to be the the washing machine on a spin cycle! Stand down everybody stand down. It’s OK.

We’re like the flag at the cricket club a little frayed around the edges.

 

cricket club

 

Take a look at the weather vane on the clubhouse roof, we came very close to losing so much.

*Joe is now studying civil engineering at university, all things to do with water management are his passion!

 

 


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Inside Eden

We decided on balance, we’d rather be warm and wet than cold and wet, so we didn’t linger outside in the grounds of The Eden Project, we went in to the rainforest biome,

Eden weather

It took a while for my lens to clear and even then, it was hard to capture the scale, I’ll settle for  telling you it is massive.

The Rainforest Biome covers about 16,000m² and is 50m high – you could fit the Tower of London inside it! The structure weighs 465 tonnes and contains 426 tonnes of air (dry air at standard temperature and pressure).

You can walk along  the canopy walkway, taking you high amongst the tree tops.

Eden mist

Beautiful orchids amongst the lush foliage.

Eden orchid

This reminded Mr Uphilldowndale and I of our visit to Borneo, many many moons ago, we were privileged to stay in a tribal longhouse;  I wonder, and worry if that part of the world still has it’s rainforest.

 

Eden long house

We ambled around in and amongst a party of lovely school children from Gordano school, who were having a ball.

eden school girls_

Their teachers told us The Eden Project has exceptional educational materials for the kids to use. We waited our turn to go up, right to the very top with them, Mr Uphilldowndale was not keen about the height,

Eden sky walk 2

But he was determined, he stayed in the centre of the platform, whilst I had a peek over the side, it was a long way down,

Eden sky walk 3

In this shot you can see the next batch of children patiently waiting to come up (not the place for overcrowding!)

Eden sky walk

The platform and the steps are suspended from the roof by wire ropes, so the steps sway a little, nothing  too dramatic, but enough to slow down even a teenager!

eden school boy

A magical place.

Eden flower

 


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Outside Eden

So you’ve discovered, reclaimed and restored the lost gardens of Heligan, what do you do for an encore, what is the next great quest? How about building the worlds largest green houses in a china clay quarry, in the heart of Cornwall? That is what Tim Smit and friends did next. The Eden Project, this is what they started with.

Image result for eden quarry image devon

And how it looks today

Eden Project, St Austell, Cornwall

I’ve visited before, way back in 2009, Mr Uphilldowndale had not, I was very keen to show it  to him, it’s grown a lot.

Eden domes_

As with nature the Eden Project is constantly morphing and changing,  and as with Heligan it has a delightful dash of creativity, with added playfulness.

Eden mirror.jpg

It’s an educational charity.

Eden Ext

Part of the vision for the Eden Project was that the domes should remain hidden in the depths of the quarry, revealing themselves as you approach. As we approached, the main entrance, revealed to us on the information boards, photos of Mr Uphilldowndale’s  late aunt and uncle, they are in the foreground, the photo captures them perfectly, with their bright enquiring minds and love of lively conversation.  Sadly, they are no longer with us, they died in 2009 and  2011, they lived not to far away in South Devon and were early visitors to Eden, the public were encouraged to visit, before it was even finished, to engage with the dream and watch the project grow.

Eden info board.jpg

It is fascinating to see how the lunar landscape of the quarry has been brought back to life since 2000,  it was a millennium project. Especially how they solved the engineering challenges, I think we’ll have to bring Joe along next time we visit.

 


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The Berry Report

I was concerned in the heat of the summer that there would be a shortage of berries for the birds this winter, great swathes of the best blackberry banks had withered and died,

Blackberry bank.jpg

The winberries, had the very life blood sucked out of them by a young oak.

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And of course my beloved pink rowan, had failed to flower, oh how I will miss it this winter, the birds will probably be more adaptive about it than me.

But things have rallied, acorns are abundant, I thought I’d be seeing the jays with their stitching flight, working across the field to their favourite oaks, but I’ve not seen one, I think they have found one tree and scoffed themselves silly, until they are unable to move

The red rowans are heaving with berries, well they were, the chickens have made inroads into them, further than you’d expect of a chicken.

Chicken berries_.jpg

They seemed to be having training seminars on how to get to the best position,

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I wouldn’t mind but I’d put the wire cloches there to stop them digging up my plants

Chicken rowan.jpg

The same flourish can not be said of the grass. Farmers are still very short of feed for the winter.

 


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Best of Both Worlds

Here we are tipping into Autumn, and I’m not through with photos and adventure from May yet.

I’m going to wrap up our tour of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, with my favourite photos of my favourite moments. That I was there, and saw such beauty, and had such a privileged glimpse into another world is almost dream like.

I’ll let the photos do most of the talking.

Dolphin UHDD 4

A whale watching trip, with Whale Watch West Cork

If I’d seen little more than a few fins I think I’d have been happy,

Dolphin UHDD 5

But we got so much more than that, we got

Dolphin UHDD 3

these views and the knowledge and experience of Nic Solcum  

Dolphin UHDD 6

The pod of dolphins short-beaked common dolphins  turned and tumbled in the wave from the bow, after a little while* Nic cut the engines and let them swim off, about their business. There was a little German girl on the boat, aged about five, she stood at the bow, and waved them goodbye. I’m pretty sure she will always remember the experience, I know I will.

*No idea how long, it was one of those experiences where time takes on a pace of its own.