Tag Archives: family fun

Large subjects - cumulus cloud

Large subjects for Cee’s Black and White Photo Challenge

Cee said, “Have fun and use your imagination and creativity with this topic.” … and I took her words literally. As Cee also pointed out, what we see as large can be purely a matter of perspective. I certainly had a lot of fun trawling through my photo archives to choose my selection for this week’s Black and White Photo Challenge on the topic of Large Subjects.

Large subjects - trees
One of my favourite stands of pine trees in our woods

This stand of Scots Pine trees hugs a small escarpment above a stream in our woods and we often pass by them. At their feet, bluebells grow in Spring and then a bed of bracken takes over in the Summer months.

Large subjects - Winter Gardens
Treetop walkway at the Sunderland Winter Gardens

Whenever we visit the Sunderland Museum to see an exhibition, we never leave without taking a walk around the wonderful Winter Gardens that are there too. Here in the heart of Sunderland is a miniature tropical forest in this fascinating giant greenhouse, complete with a treetop walkway from which you can gaze down on the amazing tropical plants and mesmerising water features.

Large subjects - Koi Carp at the Sunderland Winter Gardens
Koi Carp at the Sunderland Winter Gardens

At ground level in the Winter Gardens is an artificial ‘stream’ that is home to many colourful Koi Carp. On this particular visit a few years ago, my son took a whole series of photographs of the fish – in all their colours, shapes and sizes, including this rather well-grown monster!

Large subjects - a toad in the hand
My son holding a very small toad in his hand

Staying on the theme of small boys and creatures, this young toad is being carefully persuaded to have its portrait taken. My son’s hand looks very large compared to the tiny toad. We have spent many happy hours down beside our local river, especially in Summer when the new ‘toadlets’ are just beginning to leave the water and venture into the unknown lands of the riverbank. Our boys loved to catch the little toads but were always very careful not to hurt them.

Large subjects - Theatre Royal, Newcastle
The Theatre Royal at the top of Grey Street in Newcastle upon Tyne

The Theatre Royal on Grey Street in Newcastle upon Tyne is a large and beautiful building. I thought of the theatre for the ‘large subjects’ theme because in its town centre location its large size makes it difficult to photograph all of it at one go. This does not prevent the Theatre Royal from being a very popular building for photographers. Whenever I have been photographing the theatre there have always been several others doing likewise, from quick phone snaps to serious tripod set-ups.

Large subjects - cloud
A large cumulus cloud over our valley

Here’s another of my favourite photography subjects, clouds. From just outside our house we often see wonderful cloudscapes. I captured this impressive cumulus cloud as it sailed away south-west, up the valley.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my selection of ‘large subjects’ and do take a look at what others have found for Cee’s Black and White Photo Challenge this week.

J Peggy Taylor

kite surfing at South Shields

Kite flying for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge

Lets Go Fly A Kite is our theme for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week. We have had lots of family fun with kite flying over the years. I remember when our younger children were still quite small, we made a homemade kite from upcycled plastic sheeting – it was almost as big as the youngest child. This kite lasted several years but then our youngest decided he wanted to make the really old fashioned kind of kite – from broadsheet newspapers, sticky tape, garden canes and string. When it was completed, this one flew well and provided hours of fun on windy days.

kite surfer at South Shields

We generally go kite flying in our local park, close by to where we live, but on our Summer visits to the seaside at South Shields, we often see a different type of kite flying – kite surfers enjoying their energetic sport. Our seaside sport tends to be a little less exerting as we stroll off along the cliff-top path, enjoying the views of the rocky coastline and nature-watching as we go.

seagull flying over the sea

One of the pleasures of the coastal path walk is watching the sea birds as they ride high on the air currents or swoop low over the sea to seek out a tasty snack.

Marsden Rock, South Shields

As we walk a little further along the path above Marsden Bay, we can see Marsden Rock. The remaining piece of this Magnesian Limestone sea stack stands 50 metres high and is alive with seabirds. Kittiwakes, Herring Gulls and Cormorants tend to be the most numerous when we have visited. Many of these birds nest on the cliff edges of the stack. My photo was taken in late July so the youngsters would all have fledged by now. You can just make out the white dots of the birds flying around above the rock.

kite flying in the park

Here we are kite flying in our local park, our nearby kite flying area that I mentioned earlier. Our eldest son had found some Star Wars themed kites whilst away on his Summer travels and this windy day provided the ideal opportunity to try them out.

kite flying in the park

Sometimes big brothers are handy when you are having a spot of kite trouble. But a little readjusting of the string and up we go … just mind the trees and the electricity wires over there!

We do have one particularly well-remembered family kite incident – not on this visit but another time – when our youngest’s kite became stuck in a small tree. He was determined to retrieve it and so set off to climb the tree. This was not as easy as he’d anticipated, but he persevered. Just as he finally swung himself up into the branches, the wind blew the kite free from the tree! Oh the joys of kite flying 😀

Do take a look at what others have found for ‘Let’s Go Fly A Kite’ in Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week.

J Peggy Taylor

Old rail trails and a bear hunt for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge

Whenever I look out across our green and wooded valley it seems hard to believe that around a century ago it was a major coal mining area with pits in every village and an extensive network of railways with steam trains carrying tons of coal every day to the staithes on the River Tyne.

This industrial heritage has left us the legacy of miles and miles of old railway paths, many of which have now been ‘upcycled’ into trails for walking, cycling and horse riding. As Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week is “Ground:rocks, sand, dirt, paths, walks, trails”, I thought I share some photos of some of our local old rail trails.

The old railway path and railway bridge in the woods where we often walk. I think in this misty shot it looks like something from a Victorian mystery story!
The old railway path and railway bridge in the woods where we often walk. This railway was a mineral line carrying coal from local mines. I think in this misty shot it looks like something from a Victorian mystery story!

Some of our local railway paths form part of a particularly popular long distance cycle route, enjoyed by 15,000 people every year. It’s called the C2C, and it is celebrating its 20th anniversary this weekend. The route travels 79 miles right across Northern England, literally from sea to sea, hence the trail’s name! I can’t say I’ve ever covered the whole distance, though we have walked several sections of it at different times.

The Derwent Walk railway path forms part of the C2C cycle route through Gateshead. This 9 arched viaduct was built to carry the railway over the River Derwent.
The Derwent Walk Railway Path forms part of the C2C cycle route through Gateshead. This 9 arched viaduct was built to carry the railway over the River Derwent. Built originally in 1867, the Derwent Valley Line carried goods and passengers.
The Nine Arches viaduct that carried the Derwent Valley Railway. The C2C cycle route follows the Derwent Valley Railway Path through this part of Gateshead's countryside.
The Nine Arches viaduct that carried the Derwent Valley Railway. The C2C cycle route follows the Derwent Valley Railway Path through this part of Gateshead’s countryside.
The Waskerley Way is an old railway path in County Durham that forms part of the C2C cycle route. The Stanhope and Tyne Railway was also a mineral line but this one carried limestone for use in the local iron and steel industry.
The Waskerley Way is an old railway path in County Durham that forms part of the C2C cycle route. The Stanhope and Tyne Railway was also a mineral line but this one carried limestone for use in the local iron and steel industry.

Whilst I was looking for my challenge photos for this week I also came across one I took whilst out with my youngest son recently. This one involves a muddy trail and a muddy tale!

Our walk took us along one of our favourite muddy paths where we spotted a trail of deer tracks in the squelchy mud. We observed from the tracks that the deer had been running in the same direction as we were walking but though the tracks were quite fresh there was no other sign of the roe deer that had left them.

Tracks in the mud - is it a bear chasing a deer?
Tracks in the mud – is it a bear chasing a deer?

After we’d followed the tracks for about a hundred metres or so my son spotted another set of tracks that seemed to be punctuating the deer tracks every now and then. We observed these tracks were from the paws of a large carnivore … and so the story soon became jovially embellished! We decided that, obviously, the tracks we were following were those of a bear chasing after the deer! … I should perhaps add that we don’t have bears here in the north of England of course … but, in storytelling, dogs could become bears, I’m sure 😉

J Peggy Taylor

OS map and Silva compass

Enjoy map-reading with Ordnance Survey maps

As a great fan of the traditional fold-out paper version of OS maps, I was surprised to receive an email today from Ordnance Survey confirming that their paper maps are here to stay. “What?!” I thought. “I didn’t know they’d been threatened with extinction too!” … but then I read on …

Apparently, in some of the UK newspapers that I don’t read, there has been a story circulating recently that Ordnance Survey will no longer be routinely producing maps that cover the whole of the UK.

I am pleased to report these stories are entirely false! In the words of Ordnance Survey themselves –

This is simply not true!

We are pleased to confirm that we have no plans to stop producing our iconic range of OS Explorer Maps and OS Landranger Maps for the whole
of Great Britain.

Ordnance Survey go on to emphasise the importance of their paper maps and recommend that people carry a paper map as well as digital versions. You can find free map-reading guides on the OS website including a map-reading guide for children. I found the children’s guide a useful tool when I was introducing my own children to map-reading.

Map-reading is one of those skills I am always keen to encourage. When we meet ‘lost’ people I find it much easier using a map to explain to them where they are … relative to where they want to be! I know map-reading was part of the school curriculum (at least in the recent past! – though things change so quickly in the field of education here in the UK these days!). But a skill like map-reading can only really be honed with practice. With the Easter holidays around the corner, there’s a great family fun activity for everyone to get lost in!

I jest … slightly! If you are all just beginning map-reading and practising your skills together, I would recommend starting out by exploring your own neighbourhood or somewhere you know reasonably well. This will give you a chance to get to grips with exactly what all those lines and map symbols look like ‘on the ground’.

Map-reading the landscape
Our feature-rich landscape including an earthwork (under the small copse of trees) and a TV mast (across the valley on the horizon towards the right). Roads, field boundaries and height contours can all be more easily understood when they are there in front of us.

We are fortunate to live in a rural valley with lots of visible features such as patches of woodland, a river and streams, a television mast, hills. When teaching my children about contour lines, I found climbing a hill between two known points helped them really understand the relationship between those wavy brown lines on the map and the actual gradient of the hill.

After we’d been learning about public footpaths and bridleways, it was fun to plan a route before going out and discovering the ‘real version’ of the features we’d noted in our plan as we went along. We ‘discovered’ lambs and horses in some fields we were crossing, so this prompted a discussion on the importance of closing gates behind us. We also ‘discovered’ missing stiles and marshy footpaths that had to be carefully negotiated, but this was all part of the fun of exploring.

Moorland in the North Pennines
Exploring the moors in the North Pennines

I am pleased to say my map-reading teaching seems to have stuck with our boys, so now when we’re out walking in unfamiliar territory I am no longer the only one who can read the map and compass.

J Peggy Taylor

Catching up on Nature’s Calendar

Today I was catching up on my Spring nature records – I had my Elder bud-burst to record from Sunday and then today (as I’d anticipated in my last blog post) at lunchtime I spotted our snowdrops had opened their flowers to this morning’s warm sun. Unfortunately, it started to rain at that point so no photos yet … perhaps tomorrow.

Recording  Snowdrops on Nature's Calendar
Recording my Snowdrops on Nature’s Calendar

Phenology sounds like a phenomenally important kind of science I always think – and it certainly is. But the great thing about phenology is that many of us ‘just do it’ in our own small way without even thinking about it. As we go about our daily lives we notice nature’s own events – we spot snowdrops or bluebells coming into bloom, buds bursting on hedges, trees sprouting new leaves, frogspawn in a garden pond, a butterfly … and so on. We comment too on whether it is earlier or later than we saw them last year.

I tend to record my ‘sightings’ in a small notebook and take photos if possible. I’m usually fine with photos as long as the subject can stand still for long enough! So, flowers and frogspawn, yes; birds or deer, no!

As well as keeping my own notes and photographs I also try to share my nature records. Nature’s Calendar is one of the places where I submit my seasonal sightings. Nature’s Calendar is the Woodland Trust’s web-based phenology project and is also a really good source of information for anyone wanting to learn more about nature and the timing of seasonal events in their local area. This ongoing wildlife survey covers the whole of the UK and it’s easy to use and free to register.

As you would guess, currently Nature’s Calendar is recording Spring sightings as they occur in different parts of the country. Here is a quick peek at the key Spring events Nature’s Calendar would like us to record.

Recording Spring events for Nature's Calendar
Spring events for Nature’s Calendar

Together all of these records help to map changes in natural events over the years so every record submitted really does count. We have taken part in numerous ‘citizen science’ projects as a family and as well as being educational we find they are also lots of fun. … and of course grown-ups too can enjoy recording and learning about nature! So if you’ve never tried your hand at something like this before, why not take a look at Nature’s Calendar … beware though, it can become addictive!!

J Peggy Taylor

Chinese Dragon, Lion and Unicorn dance

Celebrating Chinese New Year in Newcastle-upon-Tyne

We always try to get along to the Chinese New Year celebrations in town and so off we went on Sunday morning. As usual, hundreds of other families turned out too. There is such a wonderful atmosphere at this event.

We normally start by taking a wander around the mini-fairground including some tastebud-tempting Chinese food stalls. Then we make our way up onto Stowell Street and join the crowds thronging the pavements to await the arrival of the traditional Dragon, Lion and Unicorn. Stowell Street is at the heart of Newcastle’s ‘Chinatown’ and is lined with Chinese restaurants and food shops, so the air is full of delicious aromas.

Chinese Dragon and Lion dance
The Dragon and the Lion arrive

Soon the dragon’s arrival is announced by the loud rhythmical beat of the huge drum that accompanies the parade. The Dragon appears and is closely followed by the Lion.

Chinese Lion dances by
The Lion dances by

As they dance their way along Stowell Street the crowd follows behind. Small children are hoisted onto adult shoulders as we all crane our necks and wave our cameras and phones in the air trying to snatch another glimpse of the dancing parade.

Chinese Dragon, Lion and Unicorn dance
Dragon, Lion and Unicorn dance

In the centre of the street, outside of the North East Chinese Association, the parade stops briefly and the Unicorn joins the Dragon and the Lion in their ongoing dance. The parade sets off again, the crowd follows and the dancing continues to the end of the street then finally round to the Chinese Arch. The following crowd doesn’t quite make it that far as the event stewards must carefully ensure everyone’s safety … and there’s another crowd already waiting by the Arch!

Chinese New Year parade
Dancing off to the Chinese Arch

The sights, the smells and the sounds all combine to create a truly memorable occasion. Having returned home with only photos, I wished I’d thought to record the fabulous drumming that accompanies the traditional dances. Also adding to the ‘official’ drumming are many children and families in the crowd joining in with their small Chinese drums too. The noise is amazing.

Kung Hey Fat Choi!

J Peggy Taylor