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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Beside the Seaside

Blackpool is arguably England's most renowned seaside resort, but until yesterday (26 June), I had never been there. I set off by train from Barrow-in-Furness and with my rail card and a "cheap day return" it cost about a third of what I might have spent on petrol if I had driven. As a change from England's recent rain storms, the day was bright and sunny with a fresh cool breeze coming off the sea - perfect!

Here are a few of my impressions.

Blackpool's iconic tower can be seen on a clear day from Cumbria across Morecambe Bay

I missed the last trip of the day up the tower by just a couple of minutes. I must go back!

Ever popular donkey rides on the sands

The North Pier. Many artists have performed here, including Anna Pavlova

I invested a fiver, but it brought me no luck

I had a ride on a tram, another one of my small ambitions fulfilled!

Ubiquitous deck chairs, under wraps before the main holiday season, the best I could do for Tortoiseshell!

Epony- mous Blackpool lettered rock

Seafood bar. No jellied eels here, but I had a punnet of prawns

One of the biggest roller coasters in the world. They must be crazy!

Thursday, June 21, 2007


Today is the Solstice

Happy Summer Solstice everyone: may your fruits ripen and your harvest home before the deepening darkening nights of winter overtake them.

To our friends in the Southern Hemisphere: may the strengthening rays of the returning Sun gladden your hearts and bring fertility to your gardens (and anywhere else that you wish).

The traditional place for Solstice gatherings in Cumbria is the mountain of Helvellyn, but with a forecast for a low cloud base, I opted for the nearer peak of Black Combe, itself of a no mean altitude of some 70,200 Barleycorn Units. So out of bed at 2.00am, I was parked at the base by 2.50 and commenced my ascent into the foothills, hoping for an assault the summit by sunrise at 04.38am.

The notorious trudge through the Cauldron of Despair was a struggle, however the fearsome Devil's Armpit was surmounted without incident, with Wheatears, Meadow Pipits and Skylarks urging me with their dawn chirpings. But a stumble on the cursed Witch's Bonnet called for a pause for an invigorating swig from the Flask of Ferment to restore confidence.

Black Combe with its head in the clouds

When I eventually mounted onto the Saddle of Turmoil I could see that the summit of Black Combe was in cloud and that I would be denied the sight of a Solstice Sunrise. As I broke through the cloud base into poor visibility I checked the GPS to find the batteries were flat. Ho hum. Never mind, today was not the day to resort to technology; today was for raw brutal Pagan instinct. So, setting my bearings on the song of an eponymous Lark Ascending that penetrated the mist, and fortified with another gulp from the Flask of Ferment, I made my foggy way towards the Summit Plateau.

I was slightly concerned that I might miss the summit in the fog and wander too far and crash headlong over the treacherous Crags of Myrmidon, but with a final push up and over Braithwaite's Step, I was relieved eventually to see the summit Trig Point and the hemispherical cairn of the Arms of Aphrodite, just minutes before the appointed time. Here I set up the Kitchen Instruments in preparation for the Ritual of the Sacrifice of the Bacon Rashers, and the Consumption of the life-sustaining herbal Infusion of Asgaard, strengthened with a measure from the Flask of Ferment.

Kitchen Instruments set up in the Arms of Aphrodite

The kitchen: Red blob: Trangia spirit stove for sacrificial bacon rashers; Yellow blob: Pocket Rocket brewing life-sustaining herbal Infusion of Asgaard; Blue blob: Extra Sacrificial Rashers; Brown Blob: Flask of Ferment

The descent

With all Rituals and Sacrifices duly completed, I packed up the instruments and commenced the descent in strengthening daylight.

The wicked Devil's Armpit

It is convicts that see the first full rays of the Solstice Sun as they appear to focus through a hole in the clouds on H.M. Prison, Haverigg.

Descent into the Cauldron of Despair while a village slumbers.
The Irish Sea coastline in the distance

My first view of rays of the Solstice Sun

I am back at my computer at 7.15 am and I noticed that my neighbours are just about to start their day. I think it's back to bed for me. Oh, hang on, I notice that there's still something left in the Flask of Ferment...

Friday, June 15, 2007


I arrived in Kraków during the evening of June 6th with travel companion Stuart (previous joint trip to Nimes). We were in time to visit the market square where a live outdoor orchestra was playing Holst’s Planets Suite during the evening as part of Kraków’s 750th anniversary celebrations.
Kraków’s Market Square, which was packed with half a million visitors during the evening

Stuart photographed this male Black Redstart near Kraków

Among the many places of interest we visited in and around the city, a “must see” was the salt mine at Wieliczka.

Down in the salt mine – the figures are carved out of rock salt in one of the mine’s 2000 chambers

From Kraków our next destination was the village of Krościenko situated in the Pienini mountain range - a range of rolling wooded hillsides with some staggering limestone crags and outcrops, largely preserved within the Pieninski National Park.

The rolling countryside of the Pienini range

The village of Krościenko, our home for four days

One of the most popular activities in the national park is to take a raft trip through the Dunajec River gorge where some of the best crags are to been seen. We were hopeful of finding the elusive Wallcreeper, especially as a the national park map indicated its presence here!

Rafting down the Dunajec River

Negotiating the "rapids"

A more active pursuit was trekking up to Trzy Korony, the highest point in the Pienini range, a walk which rewarded us with views of Hazel Grouse.

Trzy Korony – we made it, but not up that face!

The evidence!

Trade Descrip- tion? We did not find this bird indicated on the map, the elusive Wall- creeper!!

Our next objective was to visit to the lofty Tatra Mountain range that lies on the border between Poland and Slovakia.

View of the Tatra Range from the Pieninys

The route took us via Zakopane to Kuznice where we started walking up the track up towards Giewont mountain. Although resources did not permit an assault on the summit, we climbed high enough to obtain some spectacular views of mountain scenery. We then went to Łysa Polana and took a horse-drawn carriage for a 9-km ride into the heart of the range, to the lake of Morskie Oko.
Into the Tatras the easy way!

Morskie Oko - the heart of the Tatras

"Bird of the trip" - we found this Nutcracker here

Our final day in the Pininis was spent on local walks to the Wawoz Homole gorge, and a walk along the bank of the Dunajec River where we crossed the border into Slovakia for a coffee.

Jim and Stuart in Slovakia - another country "ticked off" the list!

We saw 85 species of birds, of which I found the most interesting to be: Black Redstart, Fieldfare, Icterine Warbler*, Hawfinch, Great Reed Warbler, Green Sandpiper, Red-backed Shrike, White Stork, Black Stork, Scarlet Rosefinch, Whinchat, Serin, Collared Flycatcher, Hazel Grouse, Nutcracker*, Ring Ouzel.

There were numerous butterflies in the mountain meadows, including: Brimstone, Green-veined White, Small Copper, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Large White, Orange Tip, Painted Lady, Silver-washed Fritillary, Ringlet, Mountain Ringlet*, Duke of Burgundy, Large Skipper, and various Blues of uncertain identity.

* Lifer

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Giant among bikes

My sparkly new Giant Escape N7

During my retirement party in Spain it was announced that my present was to be a mountain bike. This fantastically generous gesture was absolutely unexpected. However, with expert advice from no less an authority than the Titchfield Cycling Association (TCA), it was decided that a Giant Escape N7 would be appropriate for my needs. This robust road bike will also cope with moderate off-road trails. And so it was to Top Mark specialist cycling dealer in Barrow-in-Furness that I went to place my order. For the experts, the technical specifications can be scrutinised here, but in brief:

Frame ALUXX aluminium, Fluid Formed; Fork CroMo rigid; Brakes Shimano Nexus Roller Brakes; Wheels Alex ACE 18 rims, Shimano Nexus hubs; Drivetrain Shimano Nexus 7 speed; Size 19".

After a couple of hours fixing the accessories and a couple of local spins to get the feel of the bike, I decided my first proper adventure should be in deepest Furness (see map below).

Handle-bar bag for binoculars, camera, portable telephone, digital voice recorder and map. Bracket for GPS.

Rear bracket for saddle tool bag (with still room for Rennies and a Mars bar), lunch pack and cagoul.

Drink bottle (must remember to fill it!), pump and D-lock securely clamped to the frame


I transported the bike in the back of my X-trail to Great Urswick and set of from there. It wasn't long before memories of the cycling days of my first childhood* came flooding back: zipping along country roads on a warm, but not overbearing, June morning with the wind in my face, battered by flying insects, midges up my nose and in my lungs... But above all, I could HEAR the birds of the hedgerows singing: Whitethroats, Willow Warblers, Tree Sparrows, to name but three.

The circular route was planned to pass some of the tarns of the Furness Peninsula, which are known to attract interesting migrants and breeding birds. The first was Urswick Tarn with Great Crested Grebes and Coots on the open water, Reed Warblers singing in the fringes and Swallows and House Martins hawking for insects. Then on south through Scales to Mere Tarn, a delightful reedy water almost hidden from view which had breeding lapwing and a couple of recently-fledged Grey Herons.

It was then but a short leg past Gleaston Castle to the old watermill at Gleaston where I discovered the Dusty Miller café by the old water mill. Although I appreciate that coffee and cherry flan with clotted cream is not strictly in accord with the customs of TCA, it was just the job at 10.30 am on a Sunday morning!

Morning coffee at the Dusty Miller by Gleaston Water Mill

The return route took me north via Stainton back to Urswick Tarn where I had my sandwich and flask of coffee whilst listening to the song of a Reed Warbler on the edge of the Tarn. Finally, in respect to TCA, a visit was made to the General Burgoyne in Great Urswick for a glass of shandy.

* It has been asserted that I never left it.

The blue arrows show the route (the big one at Great Urswick is where I parked). Big green blob is Mere tarn; big red blob is The Dusty Miller café.