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.

Autumn in Bothal

Last week we visited the village of Bothal, which is not far from Ashington, Northumberland, A friend had heard about the war memorial there at her history group, which looks particularly special at this time of year.

Built in remembrance of those who died in the First World War, the monument is flanked by a pair of trees. To the left stands a weeping ash, with long trailing branches.

To the right of the monument is a Japanese maple. Autumn has turned its leaves to a glowing blood red colour.

The trees represent the tears shed for those who died and the blood that was spilt in the conflict.

The memorial is topped by a Celtic cross and stands in front of St Andrews Church. The church bell tower can be seen in the picture below. Known as a bell cote, this open tower houses three bells, one of which is dated 1615.

The church is ancient, dating back to around 900AD though it is thought that a smaller church existed on the site some 200 years earlier. The Anglo-Saxon building was replaced by a larger one when Richard Bartram, a Norman lord, came to live at nearby Bothal Castle in 1161. Other addictions have been made over the centuries.

The drive to the castle gatehouse is next to the church.

The castle itself is privately owned and not open to the public.

Bothal is quite an unexpected little oasis, hidden in a wooded part of the Wanbeck valley, quite close to busy Ashington. It was really interesting to visit and especially to see the war memorial trees.

Bedtime for the Boat

Today was the day for taking our little boat, the Isla Mia, out of the water and putting her into winter storage. Sadly we’ve not really used her this year. Throughout the spring we were in lockdown. Collecting the boat from where she’s stored and towing her 12 miles to her summer mooring at Alnmouth could hardly be described as an essential journey. It was therefore much later in the year that we’d planned when she was finally back in the water. Conditions had to be totally perfect to get out of the estuary as the river channel had changed position so sailing out to sea was always going to be tricky. After lockdown was lifted everyone seemed to migrate to the coast so parking became an issue. No wonder we never managed to do more.

Today there was a very high tide so K took the trailer down and positioned the boat ready to winch on to it. Son joined him to help…

… and Buddy supervised.

There was quite a lot of traffic on the river today. The sailing dinghies were racing and this rather beautiful skiff came in.

One dinghy crew were launching off the ramp and kindly lent a hand to keep the boat straight.

We watched a young girl take her paddle board out – she made it look quite effortless.

There are still quite a few boats in the water but many of the smaller ones will be brought out over the next few weeks. If we get severe winter weather boats can be torn from their moorings or damaged by debris such as fallen trees floating downstream. As the tide inched higher over the salt marsh it formed tiny islands.

A group of children were having a brilliant game of pirates. Sword fights determined which band of pirates won control of a tidal island. Actually they were using toy light sabres but that hardly matters in a game of imagination! Their dog was enthusiastically fetching a ball and digging in the mud. Every one of them was wet and muddy but they were having such a great time. They looked like they had escaped from the pages of old children’s adventure stories like Swallows and Amazons or The Famous Five series.

With Son operating the winch and K guiding her on to the trailer as the rising tide lifted her up, Isla Mia inched onto the trailer The engine at the stern of the boat adds a lot of weight so the water does all the heavy lifting work.

Eventually she was fully trailered, secured and hitched up to the car.

The backboard with tail lights was put in place and she was towed away to her winter home. Happy hibernation Isla Mia!

Do you have to make any preparations for winter?

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.

A Woodland Ride in Autumn

Yesterday Buddy the Labrador and I joined Daughter when she went riding in Swarland Woods. There are some lovely trails through this mixed woodland, which skirts a golf course.

There is an avenue of horse chestnut trees, which are currently dropping their fruit (conkers). There were plenty of shells but none of the smooth brown conkers they protect. Maybe people had collected them. Apparently if you put piles of conkers around your home they deter spiders. When I was a child we played the game of conkers. This involved drilling a hole in the conker and threading it onto a knotted string. Players would take turns flicking their conker at that of their opponent until theirs shattered. There were all sorts of tricks like pickling your conkers in vinegar to harden them.

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The beautiful fan-shaped leaves of the horse chestnut are just beginning to turn gold for autumn.

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There were plenty of ripe blackberries, but I didn’t stop to pick any or I’d have been left behind by dog and horse! My scooter keeps up ok, but not if Misty breaks into a trot!

There were other berries on show like these glowing red ones on the guelder rose….

…and the startling white fruits of the snowberry, an introduced non-native species. Neither plant’s berries are edible by humans, though are a good food source for birds.

I also saw this beautiful devil’s bit scabious. There are fewer wildflowers about as autumn sets in so this is a welcome splash of colour.

Misty is quite happy with Buddy walking by her side.

As we were almost back at the stables Misty neighed loudly at her two friends and they answered her. They seemed really glad to see us when we got back and posed for pictures.

Of course Misty had to pose too!

What a lovely afternoon we had!

Knitting At The Beach Again

As autumn has arrived and the holidaymakers have gone home, our lovely Northumbrian beaches are quieter again. We were at Alnmouth yesterday for the first time in ages and it was so good to be back with my favourite knitting view of Coquet Island.

For a while it’s been too busy to find a parking space. Also, when the weather is good and the picnickers are about, Buddy the Labrador thinks the beach is one massive buffet for his personal enjoyment! Not that I really resent the tourists. They have given the local businesses, including cafes, restaurants, pubs and hotels, such a boost since the COVID lockdown, hopefully enough to continue trading, so we can support them during the coming months. Not that that is happening much. We are in a local lockdown here in North East England, following a surge in Coronavirus cases, so we can only visit such places with the people we live with.

One change I did notice was that there is now a gate on the car park at Alnmouth Beach. Locals reported that a number of camper vans were “wild”camping there and leaving large amounts of rubbish behind. The same was happening at nearby Buston Links. The landowner has installed bollards to block the lane there to vehicles , which has not gone down well with people who go there to walk their dogs.

While K, son and Buddy went for a walk I got on with the brioche hand warmers I began to knit earlier in the week.

The sea was quite rough, so it was distracting watching the breaking waves. I am always mesmerised by the sea.

There were still lots of people about, but it wasn’t picnic weather so Buddy got a good run off his lead. When the boys returned at the end of the walk we treated ourselves to an ice cream from Gwen’s van. I do love knitting with a view, especially a sea view.

Autumn Walk at Druridge

Yesterday turned into a lovely day so we arranged to meet daughter for a walk at Druridge Bay Country Park, close to where she lives. The last time I posted about a family walk there it was January and freezing cold. This time is was mild and we were treated to a little early autumn colour.

There were all sorts of berries on the trees and bushes.

There were loads of lovely ripe blackberries – daughter was keen to pick some. She has some apples from my mother’s tree, which has cropped very heavily this year, I’m not sure whether she will make bramble and apple gin or add the brambles to a crumble with the apples – she had a good bagful in a short time.

But berries are not the only way that trees and shrubs produce their seeds. This little oak tree was covered in acorns.

The Ash has elongated winged seeds, known as keys, that hang in bunches.

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The field maple bears pairs of winged seeds.

Down by the lake there was a clump of reedmace, with distinctive velvety brown spikes.

The swans, ducks and gulls gathered by the boat ramp, waiting to be fed, while a lone paddle boarder floated by.

I was just beginning to think that despite all the colourful berries, there was very little autumn leaf colour, then I saw these beauties.

Close to the park exit there was a large stand of teasels. The spiky seedheads looked stunning in the late afternoon sun. We have some in our garden that I hope will attract flocks of hungry goldfinches.

What a lovely way to spend an afternoon!

What signs of autumn have you noticed?

A Walk In The Woods: Thrunton

Autumn arrived with a vengeance today, but we’ve certainly had a good run of lovely weather over the last couple of weeks. One warm day we decided to head for the hills rather than the coast, which was still pretty busy at that point. We went to Thrunton Woods, which is off the A697, west of Alnwick.

This is a Forestry England site, planted with conifers. There are marked trails of various distance and difficulty and some lead to points of interest such as a cave (the refuge of a 19th century monk), Hob’s Nick (a gully said to be haunted by hobgoblins) and a prehistoric fort. Some of the routes are quite steep but lead to spectacular views from hilltop crags. Cyclists and horse riders are also welcome on the trails.

I was using my new mobility scooter. Some parts of the main paths are quite treacherous as they are very rough and stony, and I wouldn’t even attempt some of the more difficult routes, but that still left plenty to go at. Buddy the Labrador loves Thrunton Woods and it’s great for dogs, although ticks can be a problem. Dog owners should also note that there are no dog bins. We always see a lot of bagged up dog waste dumped near the car parks, which is horrible! Why can’t people take it home? If it’s away from a path, any unbagged dog mess left will soon decompose. The plastic bags won’t. Moving swiftly on…..

,There is always something very atmospheric about mature woodland and Thrunton is no exception. The rays of afternoon sun were filtering through the trees and it was very still: beautiful but almost eerie.

It felt warm in the sunny spots on the paths and late summer butterflies were fluttering about or alighting on the vegetation to soak up the heat.

It’s always interesting to look at the flora of different habitats. The moorland that surrounds Thrunton Woods is purple with blooming heather in late summer and there is heather on the trail margins in the woods too.

The damp ditches that flank the paths are filled with mosses and ferns.

There were large groups of fly agaric fungi, vivid red against the greens and browns of the forest floor. When the toadstools first push through the earth, they are white but the warty outer covering breaks up as the cap expands leaving white spots on the red. These are the classic fungi in children’s book illustrations, very pretty but highly toxic. In addition to the nausea, vomiting and sweating the toxins cause, there is a hallucinogenic effect, historically used in shamanistic rituals in some cultures – no wonder it is associated with fairies and elves!

The scooter battery drained quickly as the trail went uphill and had to cope with the stony parts so we perhaps didn’t go as far as we would have done otherwise (I’ve ordered a second battery so hope to solve this issue). It was still the perfect place to be that day

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!