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Monday, 31 October 2011

Yesterday, Sunday, didn’t look too promising when we got up, having enjoyed the extra hour in bed as the clocks went back for the winter, but we had arranged to meet A’s daughter and go for a walk on the fells above Blanchlands, a picturesque old stone village just over the border from us in Northumberland. The sky was still fairly overcast when we got there, but was starting to clear.

There are several walks from the village: two that take you up through the woods and onto the moors, another that follows the little beck up-stream and takes you there by a less demanding climb.

The last time we were up that way was in that freezing spell last November, when the banks were thick with icicles. This time we were early enough to enjoy some of the autumn colours. The alder trees were still a dark green, but the beeches were just starting to turn; and one or two had their full autumn colours - but I just couldn’t get a shot of them in the sunlight.

I mentioned in my previous posting the dampness of our climate. We are in fact on the drier side of England. I’m not sure what the average rainfall is in Durham (I’ll check), but I do know that in York, barely 100 miles south of where we were walking, they get no more than 24 inches a year, although that’s spread over - well, as many as 80-100 wet days, I would guess; plus scores of overcast ones. You’re looking at 12-1300 hours of sunshine a year, much of it, in the summer, before most folk have got up. What this all means is that most kinds of vegetation flourish - even to the mosses that colonise our dry-stone walls. I was particularly struck by this outcrop, just where we left the beck and started climbing into the hills.

We know that the English are supposed to be a nation of gardeners (personally, I think the Dutch can show us a thing or two, and one or two other nationalities); we also have our share of eccentrics - who trim their shrubs into daft shapes like these:

We didn’t have to climb for long before the soft grasses vanished and we were onto the moors, and a vista of withered heather. Last year when we did this hike the snow was several inches thick and we all but got lost until a friendly mountain biker directed us to a narrow track we’d managed to miss. No such problems yesterday: the light was good, there was little wind, and despite a few puddles it was generally pretty good underfoot. At times it gets very boggy up there, the peaty soil acting as a huge sponge.

There were a lot of grouse about yesterday, despite the fact that the season opened way back on ‘the glorious twelfth’ - of August. And while we seemed to be scaring up one or two every few hundred yards, we came across one, possibly a youngster, who seemed unfazed by our presence and just sat on his gate-post trying to look like a tuft of lichen. So I was able to creep up close, use the zoom, and capture a couple of  images which will, I dare say, find their way onto some of our Christmas cards.

Back in the village we resisted the temptation to have a pint in the 12th-century pub, formerly a monastery; we settled instead for photographing it, then went off to the White Monk tearoom for a slab of cake and a pot of tea.

More anon, as they say.  


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