Saturday, 28 November 2009

Wallington West Woods

I enjoyed a very pleasant afternoon at the observation hide in Wallington's West Woods yesterday. The weather was fine, if suddenly very much colder after the recent mild spell.

Activity at the two feeders was frenetic: Chaffinch, Nuthatch, Robin and Blue, Great and Coal Tits were all regular visitors. Happily, the ground-feeding chaffinches were joined by a group of four Brambling; I was particularly pleased to these as they are still to return to my Redesdale garden this year. Two male Great Spotted Woodpecker's were present and a Jay put in an occasional appearance. A single Red Squirrel popped in and out to feed from nuts it found on the ground.

A male Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla)

A male Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopus major)

Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris)

I include a picture of the Jay (Garrulus glandarius), only because I am pleased to have photographed one for the first time (it's certainly no prize winner).

Wednesday, 25 November 2009


A small selection of Fungi pictures taken in Coquetdale and Redesdale.

Hypholoma capnoides

Stag's Horn

Granny's Bonnet

Sulphur Tip

Below, Dr. Gordon Beakes, of Newcastle University, describing Granny's Bonnet fungi on a decaying branch in Rupert's Wood, Redesdale, during a visit to the wood by members of the Redesdale Society. Rupert's Wood is a large ancient woodland which forms part of Lord Redesdale's estate.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Glen Elg

In the second of two pieces about my recent trip to Scotland, I have a little of the highland countryside to share with you.

The day following the visit to Chanonry Point was devoted to a drive into Glen Elg. The weather was much less reliable than it had been the day before and the first stop of the day, to take in the Map of Scotland view at the western end of Loch Garry, was rather overcast ...

I saw a post-sitting Hooded Crow and a small group of distant Red Deer while passing Loch Cluanie. A pair of Golden Eagle, a Peregrine and numerous Buzzards were also seen. Shortly afterwards we began our climb of the Ratagan Pass where we stopped to view the Five Sisters of Kintail ...

and the view across Loch Duich to Sgurr an Airgid ...

A short stop at the Kylerhea ferry landing, opposite the Isle of Skye, in the hope of glimpsing sea otter, left us otterlessly car-bound in driving rain.

If views of wildlife were few and far between and the landscapes were not all that was hoped for because of the weather, the after-lunch visit to the Glen Elg brochs certainly provided ample compensation. The two brochs, at Dun Telve and a short distance away at Dun Troddan, are the best preserved in mainland Scotland and date from between 2,300 and 1,900 years ago.

Above: The remains of the Dun Telve broch; Below: the Dun Troddan broch

Both the brochs are twin-walled circular structures with a single doorway; off to the side of the doorway is a short passage between the walls which may have housed a guard or watchdog. Once within the inner enclosure, there is also an inner entrance leading to other passages between the curtain walls, and parts of the stairways still survive which gave access to upper levels.

Top left & right: The entrance and the 'guard-room'; Bottom left & right: An inner passage and stairs between the curtain walls and a selection of mosses and lichens growing on the walls surrounding the site.

The brochs stood around 10 metres high and both approach this height today in places. There are remains of wooden post holes at various points in the structure, and it is thought that the inner circular courtyard may have been roofed, giving comfortable living accommodation during times of attack.

It is believed that the Dun Telve broch survived almost complete until the eighteenth century when it was partly demolished for buildings nearby. The site was excavated and poorly recorded in 1914 when coarse pottery, stone tools and several lamps were found.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Chanonry Point

I visited Chanonry Point on the Black Isle last week during a short trip to Scotland. The main purpose of my visit was to look for the pod of bottlenose dolphins which live in the Moray Firth. I positioned myself on the south-eastern tip of the point with the lighthouse behind me, traditionally the best place to see the dolphins. The conditions were perfect; the Firth was quite calm and the late afternoon light was ideal for photography. Sadly, both time and the absence of an incoming tide were against me and the dolphins didn't make an appearance.

Looking towards Rosemarkie

A pair of long-tailed duck flew up the Firth towards the Kessock Bridge and a lazy common seal surfaced occasionally and glanced about. Gulls and oystercatchers were also feeding at the waters edge.

A passing Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus)

Herring Gulls (Larus argentatus)

Great Black-backed gull (Larus marinus)

Saturday, 7 November 2009


On Remembrance Day, I thought it would be appropriate to offer another of the poems by the Hexham-born poet, Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, this time entitled Otterburn.

Gibson was very good at telling a story in verse, and some will be familiar with his fine narrative poem Flannan Isle which was published in 1912. In that year, at the age of 34, he took a train to London where he met Rupert Brooke and, at about the same time, Geraldine Townshend who was to become his wife. The couple moved to Gloucestershire where they set up home in a cottage called The Old Nailshop in Dymock. There, they walked and drank cider with Brooke and other poets, among them the American, Robert Frost, whose first visit to England was prompted by his wanting to meet Gibson.

The start of the Great War, when Gibson already had half-a-dozen books of poems in print, brought an abrupt end to this rural idyll. From the beginning, he was concerned about the fates of ordinary soldiers and was publishing poems depicting their sufferings as early as October, 1914, long before any other writer. Although he served as an Army clerk in England, his ill health prevented him from being accepted to serve abroad; this makes the poems published in Battle, portraying the horrors of war and the terrible effects on the young men who went to fight in the trenches, all the more remarkable.

A carved sandstone lintel over the entrance to Otterburn Memorial Hall records the names of the nine local men who died in the Great War. Two carved stones on either side of the door name fifty seven others who served in the conflict. Whether Gibson had in mind any of these men when he wrote the poem Otterburn is unknown but it prompts us to remember them all, and others, on Remembrance Day.


The lad who went to Flanders -
Otterburn, Otterburn -
The lad who went to Flanders,
And never will return -

Though low he lies in Flanders,
Beneath the Flemish mud,
He hears through all his dreaming
The Otterburn in flood.

And though there be in Flanders
No clear and singing streams,
The Otterburn runs singing
Of summer through his dreams.

And when peace comes to Flanders,
Because it comes too late,
He'll still lie there, and listen
To the Otterburn in spate -

The lad who went to Flanders -
Otterburn, Otterburn,
The lad who went to Flanders,
And never will return.

W. W. Gibson's poem Otterburn is included in a collection of his work entitled Homecoming, published by the Wagtail Press in 2003 to celebrate the 125th anniversary of his birth in Hexham. It is included here with the publisher's permission.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

The Rose-hip (2)

In the second of this two-part piece about the Rose-hip I describe making Rose-hip and Apple Jelly.

From the same recipe book that provided the recipe for Rowanberry Jelly, one first published by the Agricultural Press Ltd in 1935, comprising the favourite recipes of country housewives living in every corner of Britain, I used the following simple recipe:

"Take 4lbs of windfall apples, after any bruised or damaged parts are removed and 2lbs of firm, just ripe, rose-hips.

Cut the apples and put into a preserving pan with enough water to cover and one pint extra for the rose-hips. While the apples are cooking, put the rose-hips through the coarsest cutter of a mincer.

Add the minced rose-hips when the apples are cooked and simmer for ten minutes. Move away to stop it simmering and leave for another ten minutes before straining through a thick jelly bag. Leave to drip over night.

Next day, measure the juice and allow 14oz of sugar to each pint of juice. Measure the sugar and put it in the oven to heat through thoroughly. Bring the juice to the boil and add the warmed sugar. Boil until it reaches the setting point and pour into warmed jars.

This jelly has a most attractive rose colour and has a delicious flavour

I picked two pounds of road-side rose-hips I found near Greenhaugh and used four pounds of the windfall apples I had been given. As I don’t possess a mincer, I used my food processor to gently chop the cleaned and washed rose-hips.

Top: The cleaned and washed rose-hips; the rose-hips after being chopped in the food processor; Bottom: Four pounds of windfall apples; The cooked apple pulp and the chopped rose-hips 'infusing' before straining in a jelly bag.

The seeds of the rose-hips are covered with stiff, sharply pointed hairs, and these can become a dangerous internal irritant, especially for children. It is for this reason that the minced rose-hips are added to and strained with the apple pulp. The picture shows that plenty of colour is released from the flesh during the ten minutes the rose-hips are simmering with the apple pulp; the further ten minutes when the pulp is off the heat allows additional colour and lots of flavour to infuse the pulp.

Next day I followed the recipe. When the setting point was reached I poured the jelly into the warmed jars and sealed and labelled them.

The jelly is delightful spread on a home-made fruit scone and served with tea.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

The Rose-hip (1)

Rose-hips (Rosa canina)

“The fruit of the wild rose, the hip, is the star of one of the great success stories of wild food use.” So begins, Richard Mabey in Food for Free, his classic guide to the edible wild plants of Britain, first published in 1972.

The fruit of the wild rose, Rosa canina, is an orange-red, oblong, berry, sometimes as much as an inch long, and is found on bushes between late August and November. It is the only completely wild fruit which once supported a national commercial enterprise - the production of rose-hip syrup

It was in 1934 that the fruits of the wild rose were discovered to contain more Vitamin C than any other fruit or vegetable - four times as much a blackcurrants and twenty times as much as oranges - but it was not until the Second World War, when imports of citrus fruits were virtually cut off, that the potential of rose-hips as a source of Vitamin C, was first taken seriously.

In 1941, the Ministry of Health proposed a collection scheme resulting in 120 tons of wild rose-hips being harvested by voluntary helpers. In the following year, the responsibility was transferred to the Vegetable Drugs Committee of the Ministry of Supply and 344 tons were harvested. The Ministry of Health established a crash programme in identification and gathering techniques and for three years from 1943, voluntary pickers working under County Herb Committees harvested an average of 450 tons each year.

The story continued after the war years and the BBC website has two interesting film clips from 1956, one showing school children collecting rose-hips, the other showing the manufacture of rose-hip syrup at the Delrosa factory in Newcsstle upon Tyne.

Some weeks ago I gathered two pounds of rose-hips and I was given a very large supply of windfall cooking apples. In the second part of this two-part piece, I will describe making Rose-hip and Apple Jelly … from road-side bush to plate.