Sunday, 28 November 2010


We've had quite a lot of snow in Redesdale this week. Not as much, perhaps, as other parts of Northumberland, and certainly not as much, yet, as we had in the last week of the old year and the first two weeks of 2010 when I was snowed-in for three weeks. But worryingly, the large scar, marking a car-wide track down to the road that I dug out of the six inches of snow lying on my drive yesterday, was almost entirely filled by the overnight snow.

For all of this, the countryside around me is looking picturesque as I discovered this afternoon on a short walk up onto the village trail.

A view west across Redesdale to Padon Hill

On the village trail looking north

Looking east from the village trail to Fawdon Hill

Monday, 22 November 2010

Longhorn Beetle at Sidwood

In July, on the same day that I found the Scorpionfly at Sidwood, I came across another interesting insect, a Longhorn Beetle (Pachytodes cerambyciformis) feeding on what I thought was Feverfew (Chrysanthemum parthenium) but I am grateful to Stewart Sexton who tells me is Sneezewort (Achillea ptarmica), described below.

The best habitats for finding longhorn beetles are flowery woodland rides or edges, flower-rich meadows or roadsides near woodland, such as here at Sidwood, or marshy areas. Only a few species are common in very built up areas, gardens, coastal habitats and heath land.

Regarding Sneezewort, its leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. They are cardiac, diaphoretic, digestive, emmenagogue, odontalgic, sternutatory and styptic. The leaf is chewed to relieve toothache and can be used as an insect repellent. The dried, powdered leaves are used as a sneezing powder. The plant yields an essential oil that is used medicinally.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Indoor Wildlife

You can imagine my surprise recently, when I discovered a small Common Frog (Rana temporaria) swimming in my toilet pan. I have thought very hard about how it could have got there and have concluded that it must have come through the open window and then found its way into the pan through a gap at the back of the seat. It seemed unable to scale the inside of the pan and make its escape. It was not a fully grown adult, being about 60mm long. I didn't take its picture while it was swimming about in the pan but this picture was taken after I released it in my garden ...

Common Frog (Rana temporaria)

This is the second time I have found an unexpected creature inside my house. In August, 2007, I found this male Common Lizard (Zootoca vivapara) in my porch. Again, I have little idea how it arrived there as I don't often use my front door. It had lost its tail but this had regrown shorter and darker, which I understand is not uncommon. I placed in the sun on the wall at my front door and took the following picture before it made its escape ...

Common Lizard (Zootoca vivapara)

It would be interesting to hear from others who might have had similar experiences.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Holystone North Wood

Holystone North Wood, a semi-natural, acid sessile oakwood, more typical perhaps of the Lake District, is a little way to the north of the Holystone Burn. It is thought to have survived since at least 1700. Many of the trees have multiple stems suggestive of copicing in the past, although records show that the wood was last worked in this manner over sixty years ago.

The Forestry Commission plans to increase the oak woodland in Holystone to over one hundred hectares. Many of the surrounding conifer plantations are now being felled and will be replaced with oaks grown from local seed.

The wood is approached by an up-hill walk through, and then along the edge of one of the conifer plantations. The first view of the wood, across a small pasture when leaving the conifers, is most inviting ...

Some of the wood is fenced off to allow natural regeneration, but there is still plenty to see from the public paths ...

During my visit this week, I had good views of small groups of feeding Redpolls and Long-tailed Tits. Jays and a Red Squirrel were also active. I also found this Bonnet Mycena (Mycena galericulata) growing on a decaying deciduous tree ...

The return walk to the car park offered good views south towards the Holystone Burn, in the valley beyond the pasture, and Holystone Common ...

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Hill Born

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

The poem is from Gibson's First World War collection Battle. Due to his ill health, the army would not accept him for service abroad and he spent some months as an Army clerk in England. His poems in Battle are written from a soldier's point of view, portraying the horrors of war and the terrible effects on the young men who went to fight in the trenches.

In Hill Born, the thoughts of a Northumberland man fighting in France turn to happier times spent in the Cheviot Hills ...

I sometimes wonder if it’s really true
I ever new
Another life
Than this unending strife
With unseen enemies in lowland mud,
And wonder if my blood
Thrilled ever to the tune
Of clean winds blowing through an April noon
Mile after sunny mile
In the green ridges of Windy Gile

Today, our thoughts turn to those who went to war and had no homecoming to the green ridges of their native hills.

Windy Gyle, on the Cheviot Ridge, from Shillhope Law

Friday, 5 November 2010

Holystone Burn

The area surrounding the Holystone Burn is one I return to regularly, not least because the panoramas across the upland moorland are beautiful at almost any time of year, and certainly enhance my drive to the shops in Rothbury. Here we see the view towards Simonside in July, looking across the semi-natural woodland alongside the burn ...

And here in late August, when the air is thick with the smell of honey from the fine sweep of heather, left ungrazed for many years ...

And finally here, during my visit last week, when the autumn colour in both the trees and the decaying bracken was at its best and the distant Simonside was obscured by driving rain ...

The land, which is owned by Forest Enterprises, is managed jointly with the Northumberland Wildlife Trust as a reserve and I hoped to find some interesting fungi in the woods. Sadly, there were not as many to be found as I might have liked ...

Brown Birch Bolete (Leccinum scabrum)

Jelly Rot (Plebia tremellosa)

Stag's Horn or Candle-snuff Fungus (Xylaria hypoxylon)

The Pixie Cup Lichen (Cladonia pyxidata)

And during the walk, the Holystone Burn, glimpsed here through the trees, ripples along in the background ...