Looking up in my allotment garden today, I found my Champion of England tall climbing peas had reached the 8 foot high crossbar on their giant pea frame 😀 (That’s almost 2.5 metres, if you’re metric!)
If you want to learn more about growing climbing peas or about saving this heritage variety of peas from extinction, you can find the rest of the story about my Champion of England tall climbing peas in my post, “A tall pea plant tale”.
History in the landscape fascinates me. I love to explore the architectural forms built by our ancestors, from castles to abandoned coal mines and from intact and preserved structures to stray bricks found in a stream bed. Whether I am exploring ‘virtually’, through maps and photographs, or physically on the ground, a question that I often ponder is, “Why was it built here, in this particular location?”
With the Nine Arches Viaduct, in Gateshead’s stretch of the Derwent Valley, it is possible to answer my question definitively. When the Derwent Valley Railway was built in the 1860s, the Earl of Strathmore refused to allow the railway to cross his land on the south side of the river and this meant two sizeable viaducts were needed to route the railway onto the north side to avoid the Earl’s Gibside Estate. I can appreciate that to keep the railway on a level route would have taken the railway rather close to the grand Georgian house and besides, the Earl’s coal interests didn’t require this railway line, so why would he help out his competitors?! Arguments of this sort were commonplace as Victorian coal mine owners sought routes to transport their coal to the River Tyne and so increase their fortunes.
The Nine Arches Viaduct now carries the Derwent Walk Railway Path, a multi-user route that is very popular for walking, cycling and horse-riding. This route is part of the C2C long distance trail between the east and west coasts of England.
Many people must travel over the rather unassuming concrete surface of the viaduct without ever knowing the reason for its existence and those who never venture from the main path down to the river bank would also never know the huge scale of this amazing piece of Victorian engineering, 500 feet (152 metres) long and rising 80 feet (24 metres) above the River Derwent.
As you’ve probably guessed, the viaduct is known as the “Nine Arches” because it has nine arches, though only one of them actually spans the River Derwent.
Looking up from the meadow and the river bank is the best place to see the impressive scale of this sandstone and brick bridge structure. The fence under the trees and the trees themselves in the above image give you some idea of the height of the railway viaduct. Now let’s take a look at the Nine Arches Viaduct from an elevated viewpoint.
Here we can see the Nine Arches Viaduct in context. You can see it is dwarfed by its own landscape setting, taking its small-scale place in this wooded valley. I think the view over this part of the Derwent valley is wonderful when the woodland is in its Autumn colours.
I like to change my blog header for each of our seasons. Being a keen gardener and based in the UK, my seasons divide neatly into three-month blocks: March, April, May is my Spring; June, July, August is my Summer; September, October, November is my Autumn; leaving December, January and February as Winter.
The end of November – beginning of December is when Autumn and Winter converge, and we have definitely noticed changes in our weather. November has been dull and dreary with mists and fog, but December has already brought us drier, brighter weather, though colder, with the beginning of frosty nights.
For my Winter season blog header, I decided to choose a very wintry image. The header is taken from this photo I took a few years ago at the entrance to our woods after a heavy snowfall. I love the way the snow conceals almost everything, just leaving the tree trunks and a few branches visible.
The other obvious thing that remains visible in the image, is the wooden signpost that marks the converging footpaths at this point. If you look very carefully you may also just see the faint tracks in the snow – some coming in from the right and others heading straight on along the old railway path.
Imagine – you’re waiting here alone. Darkness will fall soon. Suddenly you begin to hear galloping hooves approaching through the mist. Your heart leaps, but you’re also trembling. You know soon you will be escaping from the lurking dangers of the night …
Imagine – you’re sitting on the sunny riverbank on this warm Summer’s day. Shafts of sunlight stream through the tree boughs that overhang the slow-moving river. Your eyes are mesmerised by the river’s kaleidoscope of gentle swirling green reflections as you drift into your sun-warmed dream …
After my surprise and delight at being selected by Cee as one of her Featured Bloggers for my post in last week’s Fun Foto Challenge on the colour blue, this week I have looked for yellow signs of Autumn in my favourite environment, the woods.
When we took a Sunday stroll in one of our local woods last weekend, we could certainly see Autumn is upon us. Yellowing bracken and yellowing leaves were all around us.
The Autumn leaf colours that we all so enjoy are a very visible sign that the trees and plants have done their work and are approaching their Winter’s rest. The changing colour we observe is part of the chemical process in the leaves that we know as photosynthesis.
The lower levels of sunlight and cooler temperatures of Autumn mean the leaves are no longer able to produce chlorophyll, the pigment that paints the leaves green in Spring and Summer. As the chlorophyll is used up by the leaf for food and the leaf is no longer able to produce more, we observe the green of the leaf fading to yellow.
The yellow colour is provided by the carotene that has also been present in the leaf but in Spring and Summer is not visible to us under the green cloak of the chlorophyll. We learned all this and more on the changing colours of Autumn leaves from this fascinating Woodland Trust information leaflet.
The signs of the approaching time of rest for the trees gives rise to another kind of sign in the woods too – Tree Felling time! Autumn and Winter are the seasons for a lot of woodland maintenance work. The woodland you see in my images in this post is currently undergoing a restoration plan. The ancient woods that once cloaked our valley have largely disappeared as farmland, villages and commercial forestry took over.
There is now a move to try and restore some of the remaining woodlands to their former glory, especially in woods such as this one, where small pockets of the ancient woodland remain. With careful planning it is possible to remove the commercial plantation plantings and facilitate the regrowth of indigenous tree and understorey species. We have already seen how successful this can be in other parts of this wood.
When we visited these woods on Sunday we saw the tree felling signs were in place, ready to remove the fully grown Norway Spruce trees from an area of the wood our children have known as ‘Mirkwood’. If you’re a Tolkein fan, you will recall instantly that dark, dense forest from The Hobbit. So, although we know the restoration of ancient woodland will be wonderful in the long run, it is with a tinge of sadness that we see this part of a childhood play area being felled. Perhaps we can recognise this as a sign of our children growing up too – though I doubt they will ever grow out of building dams in woodland streams or having pine cone battles between the trees!
I’m very fond of Swallows, their grace and elegance in flight is mesmerising. Watching them is one of the joys of Summer. I love the way they ‘talk’ to each other, constantly, whilst they are on the wing too – though I have occasionally pondered on this propensity to ‘talk’ and eat at the same time! However, I will forgive Swallows their table manners because here in the UK they are our often-longed-for heralds of Summer.
If the weather is sufficiently mild, from early April I will scan the skies regularly, searching for the Swallows returning after their Winter sojourn to Africa. By chance it was Easter Sunday when I spotted my first Swallow flitting high in the sky over our street – that was 20th April this year and we’d been enjoying a warm and sunny few days. There is an old saying, “One swallow doth not a Summer make,” but seeing the first one is always cause for uplifted spirits and hope.
There is an old saying, “One swallow doth not a Summer make,” but seeing the first one is always cause for uplifted spirits and hope.
There are really two reasons I am pleased to see the Swallows return to our skies. The first is the happy one I have said above, the Swallows bring with them the promise that the sunny days of Summer are not too far off. The second reason is rather darker – I am thankful that at least some of them have survived the long and dangerous journey that they must endure as they migrate between here, in the north of England, and South Africa, then back again in the Spring. Starvation, exhaustion and storms mean that many birds will not survive this hazardous round trip. Flying around 200 miles each day and a total of over 5500 miles (9400 km) in each direction is an amazing feat for a bird that is only 7 1/2 inches (19cm) from its beak to the tip of its long tail feathers.
I always feel a tinge of sadness when I see our Swallows begin to gather on the wires outside our house. For us, it means the end of Summer and the year drawing on into the colder months of Autumn and Winter. For the Swallows, it means they are about to embark on their dangerous adventure – for the young ones it is their first time. I wish them well for a safe journey and a safe return.
The Swallows’ migration route takes them from where we are in north east England, to the south coast of England, across the English Channel and down through the west of France, across the mountains of the Pyrenees and down the east of Spain to Morocco. Then, incredibly, many Swallows cross the Sahara Desert as part of their migration route, though others take a course down the west of Africa to reach South Africa.
I wonder, how did Swallows and many other bird species evolve to have this adventurous spirit that causes them to cover such vast distances and face such huge risks? Migration truly is one of the wonders of nature.
I think there is something immensely ethereal and primeval about sunlight in Winter. Here on latitude 55 degrees north, we experience our ‘shortest day’ of the year on 22 December. On that day the sun rises around 8.30am in the morning and sets around 4.00pm in the afternoon. Since it occurs during our normal waking hours in mid-Winter, we notice and often watch the sun as it rises or sets in spectacular fashion. The above image was taken in mid-January at 8.30am. As the sun rose over the woods to the east of us, the sky filled with flaming colour, silhouetting the trees and the valley horizon … and our washing line and the streetlight. Even these mundane details were drawn into this dramatic, glowing dawn.
It is not at all surprising to me that our ancient ancestors were such keen observers of the ‘movements’ of the sun, nor that fire was of such significance to them, especially during those dark Winter days. A few miles across the moors from us, the town of Allendale hosts a unique fire festival on New Year’s Eve (31st December) called the Tar Barl, when flaming barrels of tar are carried through the town as part of the New Year festivities. In northern Europe fire festivals hark back into ancient times when encouraging the return of the sun after the dark days of Winter was an important task.
Browsing through our photo archives for silhouette images for the WordPress Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge this week, I noticed the images that best fitted the theme also had something else in common – Winter sun.
The old railway cutting is one of our regular paths so we have seen it in all weathers, as we make our way in and out of the woods. I love the way the snow lights up the cutting, emphasising the dark tree trunks on each side. The pale peach light of the setting sun is just visible directly ahead. When we see that pale peach light, we know we may be treated to a beautiful Winter sunset as our path takes us onwards out of the trees.
I showed another image of this location in my last post for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge Winter theme. Here on the edge of the wood we can look out right across the upper valley and moors. Beyond the drama of the dark foreground silhouettes of the tree and the gatepost, I also like the middle distance silhouettes of the Winter trees. Their leafless branches expose the stark beauty of their structure, like natural sculptures. In Winter the sun sets behind the distant valley here, so this is a favourite view of ours.
This is another one of those slightly strange Winter sun experiences. My son spotted this silhouetted tree pattern against the sun as it struggled to put in an appearance through the cold and heavy grey sky.
Having fresh herbs to hand makes home cooking even tastier. During the warmer months of the year I like to make sure I’ve got some of my Summer-grown herbs stashed away ready for use in the colder months too. A little while ago I was telling you about the various herbs I am growing and preserving this year.
One of the herbs I grew from seed this Spring was the wonderfully aromatic Sage. I cut my first batch of Sage 6 weeks ago on 24th June and hung it up to dry. Now this week I when I checked its progress I decided it was dried enough and ready to ‘rub’. Rubbing Sage is simply breaking up the dried leaves with your fingertips so that the herb can easily be stored in a jar ready for use.
You can rub Sage onto a plate or other surface but as I only had a small batch to rub I attempted to rub it straight into the jar … most of it went in, as you can see, with only a little escaping onto the clean cardboard beneath. First I removed the Sage leaves from their stem. To do this, hold the base of the stem in one hand and point the leaves downwards. With your other hand, pinch the stem firmly near its base between your thumb and first finger. Then draw your ‘pinch’ downwards, pulling the leaves from the stem as you move towards the top of the stem.
Now we are ready to rub the Sage leaves. It’s best to lay the leaves down and work with just a few at at time. Hold the leaves between your thumbs and fingertips and literally rub the leaves. If they are dry enough they should break fairly easily, though some may need a little tug to tear them apart. Sage leaves don’t take much processing as we are aiming for small pieces of leaf rather than dust! When all of the leaves have been rubbed they can be stored in an air-tight jar.
I love not only the smell of Sage but the texture of the leaves too, so rubbing the Sage allows me to enjoy both! I think the way the veins grow in the Sage leaves give them such an interesting mosaic texture.
My Sage plants have also now grown on enough to allow me to cut a second batch today and hang them up in their brown paper packet for drying. This second batch is more substantial than the first. This is because when I cut the Sage I left about one third of the stem on each plant. All of the stems I had left have now re-sprouted strongly. Again I have left a little of each stem to enable the Sage to regrow.
Maybe I will be able to take a third batch for drying before the plants slow down their growth when the weather begins to grow colder and there’s less sunshine – I shall have to wait and see.
Natural textures don’t only reveal themselves to us through our eyes, I find. Sometimes they appeal to our sense of touch instead. An example of this for me is when I notice something new in the texture of tree bark. To really appreciate its beauty, I am drawn to touch it, to experience the tactile nature of the texture.
This week I have been working with what I call ‘real’ wool in a crochet project. This hand processed and handspun natural undyed wool is from the fleece of Jacob sheep. This wool yarn has a wonderful springy texture which is retained in the crocheted fabric as I work. In this particular project I am introducing a further texture in the form of a herringbone stitch pattern. The herringbone design dates a long way back into antiquity and I felt this ancient design seemed appropriate for this ruggedly natural wool yarn.
My second natural texture came as part of my recent experiments with natural ingredients for ‘tea’ type drinks. This week this led me to try out raspberry leaves. For me, natural ingredients are more likely to be found in the woods and hedgerows than in supermarkets. For raspberry leaves, I knew just where to look.
Picking raspberry leaves whilst balancing on the edge of a ditch makes you acutely aware of all your senses, it seems. As I stretched out carefully to reach some unblemished leaves, I was intensely aware of how soft and velvety raspberry leaves are on their dark green upper side whilst their pale, grey-green undersides are traced with prominent veins, plus one or two small thorns. Following a refreshing raspberry leaf tea taste test using a single fresh leaf, I am currently drying the remainder of my foraged leaves for future use.
Sometimes when searching through your photo archives for a particular shot you need for a project, you come across images you love but had almost forgotten. This shot of a Small Copper butterfly resting on the sun-warmed riverside shingle is one such image for me. I love the delicate softness of the butterfly against the stones. The stones themselves provide a wonderful variety of textures – from rough to smooth. Hiding away towards the top left of the picture I noticed a piece of rusty metal too.
I have enjoyed exploring the creativity of texture for this week’s WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge. I am always inspired when visiting other blogs to see how people have interpreted the challenge.
When I saw the themes of two of this week’s photo challenges, it made me remember an interesting industrial archaeology project we worked on a couple of years ago. For Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week we are seeking out “straight lines”. For the WordPress Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge we are considering “contrasts”. In the place we were exploring our industrial archaeology we noticed several combined instances of these concepts.
Our local area is full of industrial history as we live on part of the Durham Coalfield. Remnants of old mine shafts, iron workings and networks of old railway lines and waggonways are woven into this peaceful green and rural landscape. It must have been a very different environment a hundred years ago when coal mining here was at its height. The noise, the dust and the smoke have all gone completely. The collieries, old spoil heaps and railway tracks are now gradually assimilating into the landscape. Reclaimed by Mother Nature and grown over with woodland (some natural, some planted), unless you know their story, you don’t really notice them at all when you pass by.
Here’s my selection:
Most of these photographs were taken by my son. He loves to seek out interesting patterns in the landscape.