Category Archives: Mike

Green belt

I went to stay with my old friend Mike in the south Manchester suburbs on Friday. In the evening, we took his dog, Milly, for a walk through Kenworthy Woods, along the banks of the River Mersey, and around Chorlton Water Park. I had never been there before, and was astonished to find such a large expanse of greenery right next to the M60, so close to Manchester. An area of precious green belt.

Chorlton Water Park and Kenworthy Woods, Greater Manchester. (East is to the top of the image.)
Chorlton Water Park and Kenworthy Woods, Greater Manchester. (North is to the left of the image.)

As we walked through the woods and along the river, Mike and I demonstrated to each other our general ignorance of trees, hazarding guesses at various species. We agreed on ash, and there were willows of some description, and hawthorns and horse chestnuts and sycamores. I think I impressed Mike at one point by confidently identifying alder, although, to be honest, it was little more than a guess. And there were some trees with heart-shaped leaves. I had no idea what those might have been, so I guessed lime. I really must get my head around trees some time, like Emma Warren is trying to do.

On the bird front, I don't think I've ever seen quite so many swifts in one place before. There were scores, if not hundreds of them, flying low over the river and lake. At one point, one of the swifts flew within touching distance of me. It was quite a thrill. I regretted not bringing my camera, but the light was poor, rain threatened, and the swifts were being true to their name.

Milly wasn't the least bit interested in the stupid swifts. Far more interesting to her were the bait boxes of the anglers fishing in the lake.

Grange Over Sands

I had a day-trip to Grange Over Sands on Saturday to watch my friend Mike launch the wooden kayak he has just finished building (with a little help from a professional boat-builder). Around 20 of Mike's friends turned up to watch him splash a small bottle of champagne over the bow of Lynne, named in memory of his long-term partner, and wife of only a few months, who died after a long illness last year.

Kayak launch
Mike names his kayak.
Kayak launch
It floats!

Some of Mike's more adventurous friends had brought boats of their own along, so, while they made a brief tour of the Kent Estuary, the rest of us hung around eating pork pies and drinking champagne (a classic combination). I'm sure Lynne would have been very pleased. She was a nice lady.

Grange Over Sands
Canoeists off Grange Over Sands.
Grange Over Sands
Grange Over Sands.
Herring gull
Herring gull.

Oh, and I saw my first swift of the summer, not far from Skipton. It made me happier than was strictly reasonable.

More photos »

Lake District

My friend Mike is currently building a kayak in Cumbria, so I went over to stay with him for a couple of days. On my way there, on Tuesday, I took a spin through the Yorkshire Dales, visited my joint-favourite second-hand bookshop in Sedbergh, drove over to Windermere, then took the Kirkstone Pass to Brothers Water.

I've wanted to visit Brothers Water for about 20 years—ever since Mum returned from a holiday in the Lake District with Dad, full of excitement at having seen red squirrels in the woods next to Brothers Water. She thought I should drive up there right away to look for them. On Tuesday, I finally got round to it.

Brothers Water
Brothers Water

Not wishing to build up any sort of suspense, I should tell you right away that I didn't see any red squirrels. I've only seen one red squirrel in my entire life: out of a car window, when I was about six, in Dibbinsdale, near our home in Bromborough. You won't find any red squirrels in Dibbinsdale today. Or ever again, most likely. They've been seen off by the pox, and a nationwide cull of the invasive grey vectors seems unlikely.

Who needs squirrels? It was a lovely walk along the footpath near Brothers Water. The weather was unseasonably warm, but there was quite a lot of mist about. Despite the mist, my photos came out better than I expected:

Near Brothers Water
Near Brothers Water
Hartsop Hall farm
Hartsop Hall farm
Near Brothers Water
Near Brothers Water
Grey wagtail, Brothers Water
Grey wagtail, Brothers Water
Rook near Brothers Water
A pensive rook

The following day, yesterday, with Mike taking almost as long as Noah on his boat, I took a spin up to Keswick to visit Castlerigg stone circle. I then popped into the town and visited the pencil museum. There's 15 minutes (and £4.50) I'll never get back!

I stopped for a brew at Coniston Water on my way back to Mike's place. As I tucked into my, I felt, well-earned Eccles cake, I was visited by a pair of robins, on the scrounge for crumbs. Unfortunately, they took it in turns coming over to me, so I wasn't able to get a photo of the two of them together. But they did come sufficiently close to enable me to use my favourite macro lens:

Robin, Coniston Water
Robin, Coniston Water

Yesterday would have been Mum's 76th birthday. She'd have been delighted to hear of my close encounter with a pair of her favourite birds. Even more delighted than if I'd seen some red squirrels.

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Cumbria

By a serendipitous coincidence, two of my best friends were both staying in or very near to Grange-over-Sands last weekend: Mike until noon on Sunday, and Stense on Sunday evening and Monday. So I invited myself over to Mike's place to kill two birds with one stone.

The weather, it must be said, wasn't much to write home about, but I did manage to get a hill-walk in with each of my pals: Hampsfell with Mike, and Whitbarrow Scar with Stense. Both of them brought black dogs named Milly along. In between these walks, I even managed to slot in a solo trip to Coniston Water on a brief literary pilgrimage.

I didn't see much in the way of birds and wild animals (other than a red kite twisting off across the fields), but I did manage to take plenty of moody, low-light and poor-weather photos.

Hampsfell
Hampsfell

Now, if you don't mind, my camera sensor is in urgent need of a clean.

Redwings, red grouse, and red faces

The redwings are back. I heard them before I saw them, as I went to open the gate for Jen last weekend: the now-familiar seep! call. A pair of them, heading for the safety of one of our sycamores.

Later in the week, I heard and then spotted my first wren for ages. They had a dreadful time last winter, by all accounts. Now, winter draws on once more. Perhaps that's why it sounded so cross.

I've never been very good at identifying birds by their calls, but I'm working on it. I have a CD of British bird songs, but it's a bit artificial: you really need to learn them in the field to put them in the right context. I learnt the golden plover’s wheezing call this May, as Jen and I walked near Blackstone Edge. For five minutes or so, I was under the misapprehension that the wheezing was coming from my right nostril. Then we spotted the plovers, and it all began to make sense.

I recognised the golden plover's unmistakeable call again this Wednesday, as I was walking on the moor with my friend Mike and his labradoodle, Milly. We had reached the first trig point, and were taking in the view:

“Wow! Do you hear that wheezing call?” I asked, astonished. “That's a golden plover! I wonder what it's doing up here at this time of year.”

“Erm…,” ermed an embarrassed Mike, “that would be Milly whining. She does that all the time.”

Like I said, I'm working on it.

No mistaking the call of the red grouse. Later in the walk, approaching the second trig point, we were treated to the rare sight of an unflushed red grouse standing sedately amongst the dead grasses. I fired off loads of photographs, the best of which (heavily cropped and processed) was this:

Red grouse
A red grouse on Wednesday.

You can see more photos from our walk here.