Sea and Sunshine

It’s been a glorious day today here in Northumberland. We headed to Howick for a dog walk and there was a parking space by the Coastal Path so K and Buddy headed off for a walk and I sat and knitted and watched the birds.

There were two pairs of eider ducks swimming close to the shore showing some breeding behaviour, throwing their heads up. The females are a nondescript brown (and fairly well camouflaged when they are on the nest) but the males are a striking black and while – you can’t miss them really. My favourite thing about eiders however is the sound they make – they don’t quack, they coo!

There were also lots of fulmars flying about. They nest on the cliffs here. Superficially they look like gulls, but whereas gulls have a “W” shaped outline, with bent wings, the fulmar has straight wings and glides over the water – it is more closely related to the petrels and shearwaters. If disturbed they spit a foul smelling oil. Not nice!

A few oystercatchers flew past emitting their piping call.

I was lucky enough to see a couple of dolphins swim past – all summer when there was loads of dolphin activity along the coast we saw nothing and here were a couple when we hadn’t;t particularly set our to find them. Typical!

Not long before we left, couple of canoes went by. – what a perfect day to be on the water.

Coastal Capers

Here in Northumberland we have the most beautiful coastline, with glorious sandy beaches, expansive mud flats and romantic rocky shorelines. Somehow I can never stay away from the sea for long so we had a couple of trips along the coast this week. It’s so much quieter since autumn arrived and the tourists left.

The first took us to Sugar Sands. which I’ve blogged about before. It’s a hidden gem, reachable down a gated farm track. It was pretty deserted apart from a few seabirds and a lone seal that came in quite close to shore.

It was day of showery rain with sunny intervals which led to some moody clouds.

Buddy and K dodged the rain and had a good walk.

Our second trip began early in the morning and took us to the north of Budle Bay. We parked by a gate with a good view towards the coastal mud flats

K and Buddy set off for a walk, but before long I had some visitors.

They soon lost interest and wandered off.

We at the peak of the bird migration season right now and the coastal flats and fields are filling up with geese and ducks. You always hear them first, then look up to see the V-shaped formations or skeins of geese far overhead.

We’ve seen Brent, Barnacle and Pink-footed geese recently. They have been spending the summer in Siberia and Northern Scandinavia and have arrived to spend the winter here.

My next visitor was a hare, than ran up the field towards me.

Hares are common here and we see them often. They are easily distinguished from rabbits by their larger size, black-tipped ears and because they run rather than hop. Hares also have the most beautiful big hazel eyes when you see them close up. They seem to stare straight through you and it gives then a strange mystical quality. It is no surprise therefore that the hare features strongly in myth and legend. It is associated with witchcraft, fertility and the moon in folklore from many parts of the world. It is one of my favourite animals.

I also saw this young roe deer.

The roe deer is also very common in Northumberland. They seem to be present in even the smallest piece of woodland. We see them more often in winter when they venture into the fields to feed. They can be quite a hazard on the roads at night. Several times I’ve had to brake hard to avoid hitting one. I’ve learnt to drive off very slowly and carefully when this happens as there is always another one! This one eventually left and bounded through the undergrowth on the field margin.

We set off back down the coast, next stopping at Budle Bay. The tide was out leaving a huge area of mud.

This is an important site for birds, especially waders and waterfowl, that feed on invertebrates in the mud.

We saw various ducks and geese, swans, gulls, oystercatchers and redshanks. There were huge numbers of shelducks further away. From Budle we headed for Bamburgh andNorthumberland White Hart Rock.

The image of the deer is repainted regularly. Looking south, Bamburgh Castle looked stunning.

Out to sea, Inner Farne was clearly visible.

Our final stop was at Howick. The sea was calmer than it had been, so we did wonder if we would be able to spot any dolphins, but there were none about. We enjoyed watching a group of gannets feeding.

It had turned into a beautiful day. It’s such a privilege to live in such a stunning part of the world.

BackTo Knitting With A View

One of my favourite things to do is drive to the beach and sit with my knitting while K takes the dog for a walk. It’s been a while. The beach is just too far to walk to from home so when lockdown began we stuck to dog walks round the village. Then when the restrictions were lifted the world and his wife seemed to arrive in Northumberland for a staycation. The coast was basically full! The surge in domestic tourism has helped the local economy and kept our local hospitality industry going which is great, but now the school term has begun and many of the holiday makers have gone it’s lovely to reclaim our beaches.

Today we went to Sugar Sands. It’s a bit off the beaten track and getting there involves a gated single-track road through a farm (with an honesty box – you pay £1 to park by the beach and it all goes to local church funds.) It’s been one of the few places we’ve been able to park on the coast, until August Bank Holiday, when it appeared on a list of “Britains’s top secret beaches” somewhere and got overrun. There were still quite a few people about but as you can see there was nobody sat on the beach.

The parking area is at the top of a steep bank , so the view over the beach and out to sea is wonderful. It was such a beautiful day, if a bit breezy, and the sea was the most brilliant blue.

There were still some sand martins about (they nest in holes in the bank). Some tiny wading birds (sanderling I think) were trotting about the shoreline like clockwork toys. A pair of gannets were hunting quite close to shore, unmistakable when they turned into the sun to show pure white plumage and black tips to those long straight wings. They would soar to gain height then fold their wings and plummet into the water with a splash, catching small fish with that dagger beak. It’s always spectacular to watch.

I love to knit with a view. Do you have a favourite knitting spot?

Watching The Kite Buggies

A few weeks ago, we headed up to Spittal, which is at the mouth of the River Tweed, on the south side of the river (South of Berwick-on-Tweed). We had gone there in search of Bottle-Nosed Dolphins as they had been been seen there on most days during the early summer. There were no dolphins to be seen, but I ended up watching three people doing an extreme sport I’d never come across before.

I’ve since discovered on the internet that these are kite buggies, vehicles, usually with 3 wheels, propelled by the wind using a power kite and steered with the feet.. It looks rather like a cross between sand yachting and kite surfing. I’ve seen the kite surfers at Bamburgh many times and that looks pretty spectacular, but this was something new for round here.

The big beach at Spittal was pretty quiet (even though the car park was busy), so they had plenty of space. I’m not sure how easy it is to control speed and direction!

There was a bit of a breeze, so they were zipping along pretty quickly. I suppose one of the advantages is that you don’t need to have quite such a good sense of balance as you would with kite surfing.

It looks like great fun!

Enjoying the Spring Sunshine

I’ve been struggling with the blog recently. Regular blog subjects, like visiting the beach, eating scones at local cafes and taking part in knit and natter groups have all stopped. I threw myself into some knitting and craft projects, but it didn’t seem the same. I’m not a walker – I use a disability scooter to get about, and have other health issues so I hadn’t been leaving the house. This week I reached the point when it was time to pull myself together and, as the weather was so good, I got the scooter out and joined K on a couple of walks with Buddy, the Labrador. I’m so glad I did.

The little Amelanchier tree in the front garden has finally come in to flower and is looking stunning

As we walked through the village I saw a few rainbows, painted by children and stuck in windows.

There’s also this sign, which has been placed at the entrance to the little garden of remembrance, which is known as Green Hut Corner.

It’s a lovely gesture – the village has applauded loudly for NHS staff and other key workers every Thursday night – there were even fireworks last week!

I enjoyed seeing all the spring flowers. This garden wall was festooned with aubretia.

Here in Shilbottle, the grass verges are full of daffodils in Spring. Until now I hadn’t noticed that some hyacinths had been planted with them in one spot. I wondered if they had originally been indoor ones that someone had planted out after they finished flowering. They had a beautiful fragrance that we could smell as we went past.

There’s a really quiet lane that winds through farmland – we can let Buddy off his lead there. He’s not bad at avoiding other dogs and people if you tell him to “leave” . We met several people out for their daily exercise or walking dogs but all were cheerfully observing distance guidelines. We are lucky to live here where there is the space to get out safely.

One of my favourite spots on this route is a by a gate at the top of a bank- there’s a wonderful view towards the sea from here. It was very hazy on one of my walks this week but yesterday was beautifully clear.

It was good to see the wildflowers in bloom as well as the garden plants. These primroses are one of my favourite signs of spring.

The blackthorn is also in full bloom. We hope that the sloe berries this autumn are as profuse as the flowers – we always make a batch of sloe gin if we can pick sloes. Some years, if there are late frosts that stop the fruit forming, there are none to be found.

Of course the newborn lambs are one of the signs of spring we love to see and there were plenty in the fields.

We doubled back and came back up the hill, stopping for a little while to take in that view again. Buddy seemed to be glad of the break. I had forgotten just how important it is to get our in the fresh air and I felt so much better for it.

A Ray and a Rainbow

It was blowing a gale again when we were at Boulmer this afternoon.

K had already been checking out the beaches this morning. He was choosing his mark for The Amble Open – an annual fishing competition which is held tomorrow. He found this Cuckoo Ray washed up at Sugar Sands. Buddy was fascinated.

We haven’t seen this species before – the books say it prefers deeper, warmer waters. As the fish was still alive, K returned it to the water. Buddy’s intermittent retrieving instinct did kick in at this point, which it always seems to do at the wrong time, but K was able to distract him long enough for the ray to swim away.

At Boulmer the sea was not as rough as it could have been, but the spray was blowing off the wave crests on the shore and on the rocks out in the bay. Boulmer is sheltered by reefs and out to sea beyond them there were a lot of white topped waves.

With relatively few walkers about there were a lot of wading birds on the beach, pushed in by an incoming high spring tide, including turnstone, redshank, curlew, oystercatcher and lots of these little knots (at least I think that’s what they are – I may need to update this post!). They run rapidly up and down the shore avoiding the incoming waves. I’m always reminded of clockwork toys when I see them.

As the winter sun got lower it lit up the wave crests and every so often I could see rainbow colours in the spray. Then I looked up and there was a proper rainbow

It looked even more dramatic against the dark clouds to the west.

Of course, with all this to photograph, I didn’t get to do any knitting there, so I’ve made myself a mug of hot chocolate and will sit here and get on with trying to finish the cobweb grey scarf.

This is my new favourite mug. It sums me up perfectly. Do you have a favourite one ?

What a Difference a Week Makes

How the weather has changed since I posted this time last week in the same place. The rain has stopped and the temperature has dropped. While K walked the dog I put my knitting on a picnic table while I took photos – It was freezing, so I was soon back in the car to get on with my knitting before my fingers got numb.

The body of the poncho cape has grown and I’m really enjoying putting the different blue tones together. I’ve just joined in the turquoise colour you can see on the left – it is an oddment left over from the Valdres Sweater. The number of stitches is increasing rapidly, so I’m about to change to circular needles. You can see how this needle is absolutely crammed.

Last week’s breakers have washed up loads of kelp, The sea is a lot calmer now and it’s so good to have sunshine and blue sky. Coquet Island was clearly visible this week now the rain and fog have gone. The island is an important nesting site for the Roseate Tern – one of our rarest breeding seabirds. Other species breed there too, notably the Puffin.

Even though it was only about 2pm, the sun was very low in the sky, but then it is December. It made the Aln Estuary look beautiful.