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.

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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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The Hoard

Having visited Soho House, we headed back into the centre of Birmingham, to dry out and warm up with lunch at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, the museum is a one of those classical buildings,  built when such cities were rich and philanthropists gave generously. Its galleries have high lantern windows in the roof, and it being such a grey day, there were times some of the galleries felt a little dreary, I wanted to ‘put the big light on’!

But there was no shortage of bright shiny things in what we had come specifically to see,  Staffordshire Hoard,  some of the 4,0000 items, from the sixth and seventh century AD, found by a metal detectorist in a field, nr Litchfield in Staffordshire.  My photos are somewhat dismal, as per the light, so I’ll direct you to the excellent website for the find

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The craftsmanship in these items is astounding, I was blown away by it; over 3,500 garnets, from the Czech Republic and Indian subcontinent, delicate braided gold and gold foil  what puzzles me is how on earth the makers managed to see to do this work, what tools do you use to slice garnets in to wafer thin slices, and then place them over gold foil, to make them sparkle? They must have had perfect vision, no glasses or magnification and no ‘big light’ would have been available, they must surely have all been under the age of 40, to see what they were doing, they’d have had to perfect their craft from an early age? (Mind you, I don’t imagine life expectancy was very long either!)

What a find for the detectorist and the farmer who owned the field! There was a fear once the significance and scale of the find started to emerge, that the finds might fall victim to Nighthawkes, who would plunder the items for their value as scrap, what a tragedy that would have been, so as a deterrent, whilst the archaeological dig was underway a rumour was allowed to grow that it was a police murder investigation that was going on in the field.

We’d rather like it if another series of The Detectorist, would return, a rare, gentle and rather lovely drama, set in ploughed fields, and the  accompanying music is all of those things too.

 

 


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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,

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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.

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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

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

 


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The Burren

(Burren) is a country where there is not enough water to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury him…… and yet their cattle are very fat; for the grass growing in turfs of earth, of two or three foot square, that lie between the rocks, which are of limestone, is very sweet and nourishing. Edmund Ludlow 1651-52

It wasn’t the kind of landscape I’d ever associated with Ireland, apparently it is a glaciated karst landscape, it’s striking, especially as we’d been fully immersed in headlands, seascapes and lighthouses on our journey along Ireland Wild Atlantic Way. This seemed like a different country altogether.

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I do like a a nice bit of limestone, it reminds me of home in many ways

The Burren view

And happy school trips to the likes of Malham Cove, on school geography trips. To look at the limestone pavements, the slabs of limestone, divided by clints and grykes . The Burren pavements.jpg

It looks barren, but there was lots of life. The Burren fren limstone.jpg

And the evidence of life forms past, were clear to see, such as this coral

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This was back in early June, we thought it was hot that day, I don’t imagine there is much in the way of water left in the rather caustic looking ponds, that were humming with dragonfly, none that would keep still to be photographed though.

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This land has been used for animal grazing, since Neolithic times, the walls are later.

The Burren drystonewalls

I have to say that a Derbyshire Gritstone sheep, would laugh at such a filigree wall, and then walk straight through it!

But they must have served a purpose, or they wouldn’t be here now.

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Daily Bread

Continuing our journey along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way

Altar church

Altar Church, beside Toormore Bay on the Mizen Peninsula, near Ireland’s southernmost point, is also known as Teampol na mBocht, the Church of the Poor.

It was built in 1847, at the height of the Great Famine.

Before we set off on our journey, knew a little about Ireland’s Great Famine, we knew a little, but we didn’t comprehend its enormity nor its horror.

This church was built, to provide work for the starving.

During Black ’47, The Illustrated London News reported that in the village of Schull, five miles from Toormore, an average of 25 men, women and children were dying every day of starvation, dysentery or famine fever.  At nearby Cove, the population fell from 254 in 1841 to 53 in 1851.

 


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Moving On Slowly

 

We’ve been away, to Ireland, we’ve been driving the Wild Atlantic Way (well part of it, its a long route, and there is a lot to see). The first thing to do  in Ireland, is  to slow down, there is no need to go anywhere in a hurry.

As the farmer said ‘Cows only have one gear’. (Unless of course they are ‘knocked out of gear’, then anything is possible and usually unstoppable).

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Taking the cows back to the field after morning milking, County Clare.


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Unseasonal Colours

You could have been forgiven for thinking a splash of colour was hard to come by today, heavy rain and weighty clouds have consumed us. But having watched the Met Office rainfall radar for a window of opportunity, Spud the dog and I grabbed it with enthusiasm. 

We made it to the post box today, another milestone for Spuds recovery, and its the first time he’s been a muddy dog for many a month.   The ‘new’ post box is a more useful size than the old one, but its sad to have lost the heritage of the old one.

We did find some colour, in the understory of a wooded area, from where we recovered the yew tree. I’ didn’t know (or hadn’t thought about) that woods have four distinct levels, canopy,understory, field layer and ground layer (todays blog learning objective has been met).

The understory of young beech trees, have kept their Autumn leaves, why do they do that when the mature trees don’t I wonder?  I’m also not sure why suddenly their are so many of them either, maybe the  grazing sheep have been absent long enough for them to become established, or maybe it was  the result of what a farming friend would call a mast year?

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The  sycamore  soaked by the rain, showed off  its  beautifully textured bark to good effect

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The lichens, seemed to have drawn up the lovely pink hue of the local grit stone;  dressed, this stone is very a very precious  commodity to us and our neighbours, and any that becomes available for sale, is snapped up and kept on the hill from whence it came for any building projects.

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