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Issue #21 The Miscellaneous Adventures Digest
A Whitbarrow wander
I’ve been working in the woods around the massive chunk of limestone that is Whitbarrow throughout the winter, and at its foot in a small nature reserve for the last couple of weeks where unusual plants and wildlife finds a safe haven. It’s a place packed with interest, especially for lovers of wildflowers, trees and other small wild things. I wanted to explore properly outside of work time, and to show Emma and Benji some of the neat things I’ve seen so we headed south for a slow Whitbarrow wander.
The cliffs of Whitbarrow Scar rise almost vertically out of the earth. The whole hulking dome of limestone looks like it’s been picked up from somewhere else and plonked down onto the land. It’s a prominent feature on my journeys most weeks as I travel south along the A590 for work. Its shape often makes me think of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World and I wonder if the plateau harbours prehistoric life. The whole thing is of course prehistoric, being laid down 350 million years ago and then eroded over deep time by the colossal forces of glacial activity. I’m not much of a geologist, but places like this make me want to learn more. It’s funny that we tend of think of rock and earth as being static, lifeless and unchanging, but just like the rest of nature it is in a state of perpetual flux, constantly in motion yet at a speed we struggle to comprehend or appreciate.
Owing to the curious geology, the whole area is biologically rich (earning it several conservation designations). We are always drawn to places like this; we like our adventures to be kind of slow with lots to look at and discover on the way. We love looking at tiny wild flowers and at twisting, seeking branches of yews and oaks, and watching the slow decay of old stumps and trunks and listening to the stories that birds and beasts are telling and the tunes that the water plays over the rocks as it rushes along the beck into deep pools. Our best hikes are measured not in miles but in the encounters we have a long the way.
The ascent up the scar face is steep and slippery, with sheer drops in places. The summit is a very modest 220 meters but the terrain makes the route feel more adventurous, especially for Benji who, given his little legs has to scramble up rocks we can simply step over. The path zig zags steeply up through woods of hazel and oak. Grand old yews with exposed roots and gnarled trunks hug the near vertical walls of lumpy limestone until the woods give way to an open area of grassland and limestone pavement peppered with slender white trunked birches and low juniper scrub. It is warm in the sun as we clear the dense shade of the woods, the juniper is fragrant and we are reminded of other places, some of which we have never been to. There are resemblances to Sweden’s High Coast, where we hiked for three days with Benji when he was just two years old. Another place of geological and botanical interest, the highest points of the High Coast were exposed rock with gnarly, sweet smelling pines and blisteringly hot in the sun the summer we were there.
We wandered around on the plateau for a while, and found no signs of prehistoric life (other than the rock itself) but plenty of yews and junipers shaped into strange monster-like forms by the wind and sun. In the summer, this limestone grassland will be full of wildflowers and we’ll definitely be back for further exploration later in the season.
A short, steep scramble on loose limestone scree took us back down the scar, and we walked slowly along the path through woods of hazel, willow, oak and yew. Primroses lined the path, along with tiny violets and the easily missable but beautiful little barren strawberry. These woods have been coppiced since the 1990’s to create good habitat for butterflies and we were happy to see a few brimstones, commas and peacocks enjoying (I assume) the sunshine. There is a very different feel here to the mountains and valleys of the north and west where we live. In many ways it reminded me of the chalk grasslands of the South Downs and our old home, with its similar and familiar calcareous plant community. It’s fascinating that the geology and therefore the flora and fauna can be so different over such short distances - there’s something neat about being transported to another world in just under an hour’s drive.
The rest of our long weekend was a little slower than expected (Benji was not very well) but we appreciated the feeling of warmth on our bodies as we sat by the river and chopped wood in the garden after a long and cold winter (although as I write it’s freezing cold again and the mountains have snow on). This week we’re making a long list of trips, plans and adventures for the warmer days - we’ll be sharing it here over the next week or so.
How was your long weekend? Please do share stories of the places you explored and things you found!
Hello, Emma here again. One of the best things about moving north to a completely new landscape has been the discovery of new seasonal markers in the shape of flora and fauna, today we’re featuring one such find: bog myrtle. With a name that perhaps belies its loveliness, this low growing, bog dwelling shrub has fast become one of our new spring time favourites.
Bog myrtle (Myrica gale) is currently coming into flower here in Cumbria and if you visit a boggy area (of which there are many) you are likely to see this plant waving its golden catkins and wafting its incredible, sweet scent into the air. Like nothing we’ve smelt before, its impossible to walk past a patch without grabbing a catkin or two, crushing them between our fingers and inhaling the delicious scent. There’s a hint of eucalyptus, piney tones and a sweetness to it that instantly uplifts and puts a spring back in our step (useful sometimes, in a bog). Traditionally, bog myrtle was used as a midge repellent and so last year, I infused the leaves in olive oil (both the leaves and fruit contain the aromatic oils) and combined this infusion with beeswax to make an experimental midge repelling balm. It seemed to work quite well but will definitely need further testing…perhaps a summer Scotland trip beckons.
We found this incredibly informative article on the Trees for Life website which includes some fascinating information about Bog Mrytle’s nitrogen fixing powers, its interesting reproductive methods (we’ll definitely be trying to identify the male and female plants next time we’re out) and ecological relationships. Turns out this little shrub supports a whole host of invertebrate life and is food for larger mammals too. Do give it a read and make sure you look out for it on your next boggy hike.
And don’t forget to give it a good sniff!
Before we go, we wanted to give a shout out to friends of Misc. Adventures, Rooted. Beth and Jenny do wonderful work with young women and girls in Bradford, taking them into nature, providing them with the invaluable therapeutic benefit of time spent outdoors.
They are hosting a series of seasonal, nature based creative workshops with artist Laura Slater during the year which will help raise funds for Laura to work with the girls in the woods.
In the words of Beth and Jenny:
“These one off workshops will work in alliance with the seasons and have been carefully designed to offer a rich immersive experience. During each session Laura will lead us in a creative process of connecting, exploring and making in innovative ways and we will curate a nurturing restful space for you whilst you do it. Making Art in the woods - what a lovely life giving thing.”
That’s all from us for this week. Whatever you did over the long weekend, we hope you managed to find time to notice some nature happenings.
With warm wishes from the three of us,
Andrew, Emma and Benji
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