Tuesday, 29 June 2010

ABC Wednesday - Insects with the X Factor

Elegant and mesmerising creatures of light and air the Dragonfly has flown across the earth for over 300 million years and still has the X Factor.  Back in ancient times giant dragonflies with wingspans of up to 36 inches hovered over the water but smaller species existed similar to their shimmering descendants.  Their aerial acrobatic skills  are due to the fact that unlike most insects dragonflies beat their front and hind wings independent of each other.  Like small helicopters they whirl and zoom across a stretch of water their wings beating more than 1,600 times a minute and, it is estimated, they can travel over 30 miles an hour.
These two images are of a Black Darter although as you can see the predominant colour is xanthos, OK that is latin for yellow but those X words are hard to come by.  It is either female or an immature male possibly the latter as it has three yellow spots in the black band of the thorax.  The extraordinary eyes can see as far as forty metres  (44 yards) but in common with other insect eyes it cannot move them, but this is no problem to the dragonfly for it can rotate its head giving it an almost 360 degree vision. 

Dragonflies are benign in their attitude towards humans. They neither sting nor bite us and in fact they do a great deal of good in keeping down mosquitoes and other small flies which make up the bulk of their diet. I hope it had a go at the ones that were nibbling at my knees while I took the photographs. They only enjoy a brief life of iridescent beauty, usually just a few weeks on the wing. The remainder of their total lifespan of two years is spent as underwater larvae but just as they are formidable killers on the wing so in their aquatic form they are just as ruthless.  Maybe this is why in Japan dragonflies are associated historically with victory in battle.  The X rated story from medieval England is that the long, needle-like bodies of dragonflies would sew up the lips of children that told lies. Shudder...

Damselflies belong to the same order as Dragonflies, Odonata, but are smaller and have different patterns of behaviour being more social, less aggressive in their territorial defences and populate an area more densely. What prettier sight is there than dozens of brightly coloured Damselflies floating up and down in the air by the side of ponds. This Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) alight on a fern rests its wings over its body unlike the Dragonflies which remain spread out in flat, horizontal positions. They also do not feed in flight.

 Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa), the sun just catching its wings.

 What other insect has the X Factor. It has to be the butterfly. A Large Skipper feeding on its favourite plant, the bramble.  It can be found anywhere with wild grasses and has the wonderfully long proboscis as you can see here, ideal for its favourite flowers.

All these photos were taken in the peat moss of Angerton ideal condition with their pools and flora for these creatures.
But some insects you can just take a snap of when wandering down country lanes with a pocket camera. The Small Tortoiseshell, usually one of the first to appear in the year and in the autumn it is most commonly seen in gardens.

But country lanes can also provide something that looks like an X Files episode, webs covering all the hedges, reminding me of those old B films of aliens wrapping humans in cocoons or huge spider colonies tucking away the bodies of their victims.   Thankfully this is the work of the ermine moth which provides protection for its thousands of caterpillars from the birds, who find them rather tasty.
 The trouble with Insects with the X Factor is that they are rather fast and flighty - click - too late they have gone -  Bxxxx

We are nearing the end of this round of ABC Wednesday having reached the tricky letter X but for inventive posts for the letter X go here.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Saturday Mix - Angles

 The newly painted Woolpack Inn, Eskdale

The daily weather board is a sight often seen in the Lake District valleys, useful to know what a day in the mountains is going to throw at you.  I could not get the black and white effect of weather board and window in the picture but I could if I tilted it, and rather liked the result.

This is my entry to Shannara's Saturday Mix photomeme whose theme this week is:  ANGLES

Friday, 25 June 2010

Levers Water

 Levers Water Reservoir with water level stick

The north west coast usually get a lot of rain, the weather comes across the Atlantic hits the mountains of the Lake District and down comes the deluge. This year the wind has not been coming from the west and the rain has dropped on the east coast of England.  The year, so far, has been the driest since 1929, many of the reservoirs have fallen to half their capacity, as you can see here.  There is now talk of hosepipe bans in the north west, a bit of an irony when November had record rainfalls and flooding in Cumbria. 
 Levers Water in its setting, lying at the height of 1,500 feet, just beyond is Coniston Water and further, in the haze, the Irish Sea.  A very pleasant place to sit in the sunshine and part of a popular waking route up to Coniston Old Man.  I wonder if we are going to get another summer like 1976 when the countryside turned a golden yellow in the heat.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

ABC Wednesday - Willaston

Willaston in the Wirral. Here we are on the village green. the sign resting on local sandstone. This has been a settlement for at least 1000 years.  The house in the background is modern but much of the village
still retains its old houses. This looks 16th century but with a modern roof. 

The whole area of Wirral in 1120 was officially made into a forest, an area set aside for hunting by the ruling class, but in 1376 in response to a petition by the nearby citizens of Chester complaining about the activities of criminals who had taken refuge in the forest, it was dis-afforested.

It retains the medieval pattern of farmhouses being located within the village core. The farmland would have been dispersed in small strips in the surrounding communal fields.  The enclosing of communal fields and then later the Enclosures Act meant that farms eventually became separate and self contained units.
Most of the houses that make up the historic part of Willaston are 17th or 18th century. This one is easy to date because the plaque says 1731 and looks very much the farmhouse.
And a similar style but with more symmetry. 

Willaston was owned by a series of landowners but was eventually bought by Sir William Hatton, later to be Lord Chancellor, and one of Queen Elizabeth I's favourites.  His heirs in the early 17th century sold Willaston to a number of freeholders.  These men, and their successors, who numbered anywhere between 18 and 33 at any one time exercised the lordship of the manor in rotation.  This most unusual arrangement lasted until 1907 by which time the manor court was an anachronism.
I wonder if they met here. The 1735 Nags Head, still serving beer, but much altered in the early 20th Century.
Or more likely in the Red Lion, built in 1631 but significantly enlarged from an earlier construction.  This remained a pub until 1928 (nearly 300 years of steady drinking) and is now a private residence.
Would they have had a "luxury shave" as advertised in this window?  Whatever that is.  Probably not it is a modern shop with period wooden detail.
For things are not always what they seem. The Willaston Memorial Hall is Edwardian (1900-10) but built in the vernacular revival style using local sandstone and black and white timber framing.  Pretty enough to take a photograph.
Not so pretty, but ever so useful. The Welsh Water, or Dwr Cymru, Sewage Pumping Station. A no nonsense Victorian brick building and a small reminder of the municipal sanitation programmes that transformed cities and towns.  We are not in Wales but this water company also serves parts of western England

Time to walk round the corner of the Pollard Inn, originally a farmhouse built in 1637, but now another pub located in this commuter village.  If I had thought I was going to do an ABC post, on this, my only visit to Willaston, I would have probably have taken a picture of the front, or the old photographs in the hall, the beams, the beer pumps but

I was taking my ease in the Beer Garden admiring the perfectly formed copper beach. 

Wander over to the ABC Wednesday and see the other participants and their words beginning with W

Monday, 21 June 2010

Lakeland Valleys

A glorious weekend and a walk from Tilberthwaite

(looking back over the valley while photographing the photographer)
to the Coppermines Valley near Coniston. Which in the lower reaches is usually festooned with
foxgloves.  But not this year.  All the surrounding valleys and here in the Duddon have their usual number, but whether it is because of the severe winter and the exposed nature of the valley, no sign, not even a leaf. 

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

ABC Wednesday - Viaduct

Let me take you on a trip round some of the vintage viaducts in the east of Cumbria. The most perfect of them rides across its surroundings and nestles down in what is now the Smardale Gill Nature Reserve. This Grade II listed structure, 90 feet high, 184 yards long with 14 arches, was designed in 1861 by Thomas Bouch (probably more famous for his disastrous construction of the Tay Bridge which collapsed in high winds).  The Smardale Viaduct was built for the South Durham & Lancaster Union Railway which crossed the Pennines to take coke from County Durham to the iron and steel furnaces of Barrow and West Cumbria. At its peak, in the 1880s, the volume of one million tons of coke a year were transported along the line.  When Barrow steelworks closed in 1962 so did the railway.
Thanks to the formation of the Northern Viaducts Trust in 1989 this and other viaducts were restored and saved. The original stone was all quarried locally.  Which is also the reason this nature reserve is so important
both for its limestone which supports many rare plants and invertebrates and also the sandstone on another side which sometimes merges with the limestone and becomes brockam.
 Limekilns, visible in the top of the photo, (who could resist the contrast with the blossom) were used to burn limestone to make lime which could be spread on fields to neutralise acidity in the soil, my Uncle Charlie used to say it was like sprinkling sugar on the land.

Scandal Beck which runs below the viaduct after weaving its way through the woods rolls down the verdant valley and is home to many creatures, the walkers on the bridge are seeing if they can spot anything
such as the white clawed crayfish, thankfully not not the same size as the way-sign, although it would be easier to spot.

Are you thinking "but what about the viaducts".  OK here is another one
 the Merrygill Viaduct, nine arches of 30 feet span.  Not as easy to photograph you have to scramble down the steep side and then haul yourself back up by the fence, which luckily only has barbed wire on the top. It is pleasing  to see the bends in the wire where other hands before you have done exactly the same thing.
The old railway track is now a walk which takes you to the Podgill Viaduct, this is the view from the picnic tables where victuals can be consumed, an idyllic place with the birds chirping away and the trees sheltering me from the drizzle of rain.  No sign of the native red squirrels but we did spot two resident macaws flying overhead from nearby John Strutt Conservation.Trust.
The Smardale Gill Viaduct was built as a double track but it only ever had one track, however the Podgill Viaduct was built as a single track and then they had to widen it, notice the two different types of stone.  The statistics are, eleven arches crossing Ladthwaite Beck at a height of 84 feet.
The trail then leads on the the Poetry Path, (poet Meg Peacock and artist Pip Hall) with a variety of shapes, stones and script.  The verse says
"Squirrel is speaking his mindknapweed purples the banks/ for touch, taste, small, sight, hearing/ 
I give thanks"

And leads this time to a bridge, not a viaduct, over the River Eden, one of the few large rivers in England flowing north. The fracture in the earth's crust here means the river has disappeared down the Coopkarnel, a Danish word for cup-shaped chasm, or perhaps, so I can get another v word in, a vent.
Here is the end of the walks of the northern viaducts trust so take a seat and venerate  those that built the structures and the nature that surrounds them.

Take a Visit to the other participants in ABC Wednesday and see lots more words beginning with V.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Baa-ck Soon

Summer has arrived and like this curious sheep we have all taken our layers off, but of course nature does that for her.

I am off for a week's holiday in the Howgill Fells which is not very far from here in the Lake District, about fifty miles.  Wainwright describes it as "a stepping-stone between Lakeland and the north western Yorkshire Dales".  Weather of course is unpredictable so I may come back with blue sky photos or an atmospheric watery misty grey.  If the latter I may find time to resume my reading challenge which has slipped by the wayside in the last month.

The gorse is now in its full bright yellow flower everywhere.  The blue on these sheep denotes they are a hardy fell sheep, used to roaming the hills.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

ABC Wednesday - Tranquillity

Borwick Hall, Lancashire
Do we pursue tranquillity or does it find us?  Or perhaps it is always there;  in a garden.
Doctor Bridge, Eskdale, Cumbria
or resting by a river on a summers day,
Tarn Hows, Lake District
watching by the waterside,
Coniston Water, Lake District
lapping by the stones,
Boat House Inn, Chester
and sharing a drink in the afternoon.
Coniston Churchyard
A reflective tranquillity
from Walney Island , Cumbria
 And the end of the day.

   Toddle over to the ABC Wednesday meme to see lots more words beginning with the letter - T