A Breath of Fresh Air

How I'm getting back out into the countryside whilst living with MS

Archive for the category “Out and About”

Hibernation

I’ve decided to place my blog into hibernation. I started it as I wanted to share the difference in outlook that our tandem had brought to my life, now that MS is part of it. I hope that I’ve been able to get across how it’s helped me, not only to get outside again, but to actively try to be out in as many different ways as possible. And not just to be outside but to be immersed in the countryside once more, to get muddy and rained on and to smell the grass in sheep-nibbled fields again.

enjoying a summer evening

enjoying a summer evening

I don’t want to become repetitive so I thought I’d take a break. I shall only be taking a break from writing the blog though – definitely not from having adventures! We shall continue to cycle, bumping along uneven paths, to track down more bird-watching haunts and to splash about in the canoe. I might even try something new again if something catches my eye. I know it would be worth my while.

by Hebden Water

by Hebden Water

In the meantime, I’ve loved hearing from other people who have tried out new ways of adventuring, be it by adapted cycle, tramper or horse riding.

a little damp on the Camel Trail!

a little damp on the Camel Trail!

We have a weekend away coming up with EMpowered people which I’m looking forward to. It will be good to mix with others who have similar tales to tell again, and to swap our experiences. There are many more Lakeland tarns to glide across and the wheelchair is getting used to being pushed along unlikely paths.

muddy Pennine paths

muddy Pennine paths

Then there’s the Paralympics coming up soon, and when I start to feel a little bit inadequate in the face of their superhuman efforts, I can remind myself of just what I am achieving. Just as the Olympics inspire people to try something out, the Paralympics remind me that I have adapted my life to get out there and do something – there will be no hibernating for me!

tandem happy amongst the sheep

tandem happy amongst the sheep

Tramping in the Lake District

I’ve just had a really great day out: scooting about along Lakeland paths in a Tramper!

Tarn Hows, Lake District

Tarn Hows, Lake District

We were at Tarn Hows on a beautiful spring day and had booked one of these four-wheel all-terrain mobility vehicles from the National Trust. I collected it from their information point at the tarn’s car park then we headed off on the circular walk around the tarn.

The Tramper

The Tramper

It’s a lovely walk, and one I have done many times over the years, so it was fantastic to be doing it once more. It takes you from beside the water’s edge, through shady woodland and on up to higher ground so that you get a great view of the tarn from above.

We had picked a perfect day and, although I wasn’t moving and creating body warmth in my sturdy seat, I didn’t get chilled – even through the shady woods. The light made its way softly through the still bare trees, dappling the grassy tussocks. It really felt like a fairy dell, quite enchanting!

through the woods

through the woods

And the Tramper was magnificent, powering up the inclines without a hint of complaint – it felt great! It was so good to be in control too, and, with some reassurance from Pete that he didn’t mind, I enjoyed the freedom of being able to speed up, slow down and stop where I liked.

powering up the hills

powering up the hills

Of course, I ‘walked’ along beside Pete too but I hadn’t appreciated the difference between tootling along at a sedate pace beside him at his normal walking pace, which was a pleasant gentle exertion for him, and the fun of that extra speed for me. It was only a couple of miles an hour extra but it just gave that extra buzz and more wind in your face and hair flying about! Of course, I was very safe in my handling of the vehicle – keeping an eye out for others strolling along the path and avoiding the deepest muddy puddles.

simply enjoying the ride!

simply enjoying the ride!

We stopped for a little while at the far corner of the lake where the sun was speckling the water in bright shards of light. It was mesmerising.

tranquility

tranquility

On we trekked, up and down the undulating path and along to more open views.

Eventually, we had to hand back the Tramper but it really was a great way of getting out. The ‘ups’ would certainly have been too steep for a wheelchair so it was the perfect answer. Highly recommended! You can get more information about hiring one here: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/tarn-hows-and-coniston/features/take-a-tramper-at-tarn-hows

Almost Snowbound

The rain stopped at long last and we made plans to go out on the tandem. However, we were thwarted once more … this time by snow!

It fell softly overnight and looked beautiful over the hills but it meant we could not cycle.

enjoying the winter colour

enjoying the winter colour

However, I was not be deterred! I donned my walking boots, held on tight to my walking poles and left the house. I’m lucky that there is a lane immediately by us and I was able to tentatively amble along it a little way.

The distance didn’t matter. There was much to enjoy.

snowy hedgerows

snowy hedgerows

The snow clung attractively to the hedgerows, the air was fresh (and not too cold) and I was able to say ‘hello’ to several people who were also pleased to be out.

I could hear people (children) shouting happily among the snowy slopes and, close by, caught the sound of melting snow dripping on to leaves.

... and walls

… and walls

I didn’t want to come back inside when I got back to the house so I persuaded Pete to bring me a cup of tea and sat on the bench enjoying the clear bright sky lifting my spirits.

Rain!

I walked to a puddle today. It has continued to rain or promise to rain ever since the Boxing Day floods. There has been no hope of a tandem ride – and anyway, the canal is not fit for cycling at the moment after the flooding. The skies have matched the mood round here at the moment – gloomy and despondent.

the puddle

the puddle

That’s not to say that people aren’t pulling together – they are in spades! But you just look at the amount of damage and the cost, and can’t help but wonder whether the Calder Valley will get itself back together any time soon, and when Hebden Bridge will be back to its bustling colourful self.

There are some very positive signs: the cinema is open again – upstairs only and you need to bring a blanket! A few shops have been able to open their doors and two of the flooded schools are hoping to open again this week. However, one school’s pupils are having to decamp elsewhere as their building won’t be fit for months, and there are rumours of some businesses saying they’ve had enough.

So, all you want to do is get outside in some cold bright winter sunshine. Except there hasn’t been any. Zilch!

sodden field

sodden field

Anyway, I really had to leave the house and feel some outdoor air on my face. I got my coat and my walking poles and walked to the nearby field. I got wet. I got blown on – and it felt pretty good. Even if I was looking at a puddle. But I wasn’t looking at raging flood water coming down the hillside and the sodden view summed up these holidays rather well!

Floods

December has been the month of floods. They have hit places I know, one after another and it feels as if they have been coming ever closer.

The early floods of December inundated my home town of Kendal, amongst many other Cumbrian towns and villages. It was shocking to hear of familiar streets submerged under water, especially as the town’s flood defences have stood strong for nearly fifty years.

Glenridding, a little village in the Lake District, was one of the places repeatedly deluged by water, and is also somewhere very familiar to Pete and me. Only a couple of weeks before, we had been enjoying a meander past the gently flowing stream that runs down to the village. It has since transformed itself into a torrent of water bursting through Glenridding, again and again.

Whilst spending Christmas in the Kendal area we were able to see the town getting back on its feet, but knowing from past experience of our own area how long it really takes to recover. Then, on Christmas night, we kept an eye out on the rising river Kent as another storm hit the north of England.

The next day, suddenly our thoughts turned home to the Calder valley. News was coming in of severe flooding up and down the valley, from Todmorden, through Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd to Sowerby Bridge. We searched for information, checked in with friends and looked on horrified at the pictures of flood waters submerging our local towns and villages. The roads had all become rivers.

What made it worse was the knowledge of all the people and small businesses affected – again. It was only three years ago that the valley was last hit by floods. Everyone had rallied round to put it back on its feet and flood prevention work has since been carried out. And now it was all back with a vengeance.

piles of rubbish outside post office

piles of rubbish outside post office

We arrived home two days later to an eerily dark and silent town. We could make out dim piles of furniture outside homes. There was still no electricity in the centre of the town, although the Christmas tree in the square was lit and trying to spread some cheer.

debris from cafe and pub

debris from cafe and pub

This morning, with the sun now shining, I have wandered round Hebden Bridge. Everywhere there is still mud and piles and piles of soggy belongings. I have passed two schools with their contents piled high outside. Nowhere is open. Everywhere has been hit – from the post office to the cafes, from the laundrette to the petrol station. Shopkeepers are still clearing out their premises, three days on. Everyone is just getting on with it and those not affected are pitching in to help. Hopefully the next storm will miss us.

mud everywhere

mud everywhere

A sign in one shop window said defiantly that they would not be defeated by a bit of water. I don’t doubt it, but it will be hard work.

deceptively calm river - with layers of mud

deceptively calm river – with layers of mud

 

Off-roading by wheelchair!

After weeks of all-day fog, rain and storms, we happened to be in the Lake District when the weather turned all bright blue skies and sharp winter cold. Pete had an idea for an explore.

We went to Glenridding, by Ullswater, where he had an idea for a little walk. It was along a path by a stream. This was not a path that immediately shouted wheelchair accessible. It was stony and uneven. In fact, it was along one of the routes that ultimately took you up Hellvelyn!

stream at Glenridding, Ullswater

stream at Glenridding, Ullswater

However, Pete was undeterred, and pushed and cajoled the wheelchair along the path. It was one very bumpy journey and the path always looked slightly smoother just a little further along …

I got out on several occasions to walk over particularly stony sections – I felt at great risk of being bumped out by the rocks at several points!

It was well worth all Pete’s heroic efforts. The stream we followed was fast flowing and lively, slipping over stones much more smoothly than us! I was outside for long enough to really feel woken up by the cold and was able to enjoy being right in the depths of the Lakes.

pink sheep!

pink sheep!

It certainly wasn’t a path to recommend for a wheelchair but it was fun to make it accessible for the day. A lady stopped us on our way back along the (very smooth!) road. She said she’d watched us making our way along the path and was glad we’d been able to get ourselves round – I think she was a little impressed!

On the Edge

We were staying in a caravan in Whitby, or rather, not in Whitby, but above and behind it, like in the old days.

Whitby, North Yorkshire

Whitby, North Yorkshire

We used to camp up here year after year – a fresh air get-away. The highlight was walking along the cliff path which hugs the edge of the fields on one side and plunges straight down to the sea just beyond a crooked wire fence on the other. We would descend the 199 steps into Whitby, mooch around the shops and walk along the sea walls, then trip back up the steps to our haven above the cliffs.

Whitby's red roofs and the 199 steps

Whitby’s red roofs and the 199 steps

Whilst we regularly return to Whitby it had been a long time since we‘d stayed on the cliff top as tents were no longer welcome at the site. However, we had been very pleased to take up the offer of staying in a friend’s caravan.

harbour wall

harbour wall

Our first day was taken up with enjoying the open views from our bolthole – miles of green fields and wide blue skies, with a glimpse of Whitby Abbey in the distance; and refamiliarising ourselves with the piers, cafes and shops of the town.

... with perching cormorants

… with perching cormorants

Although I think I’ve had my fill of the cobbles in the old part – painful bumps, deep fissures that the wheelchair (and Pete) struggled to manoeuvre out of and such numbers of people to negotiate!

In the evening we returned to enjoy the views by night. It was now distinctly autumnal but so fresh, making you feel very alive.

harbour at night

harbour at night

The next day, Pete did an early morning check of the footpath and returned to say that he thought it was negotiable by wheelchair from the site right along to Whitby Abbey, above the town.

approaching Whitby Abbey from across the fields

approaching Whitby Abbey from across the fields

This was great news. I had been pushing away those memories of all the coastal walks we’d done round here, which wasn’t helped by the fact that the caravan was right next to one of the footpaths along which a steady flow of people passed, clearly enjoying the walk.

wheelchair-friendly footpath

wheelchair-friendly footpath

I didn’t need to think of that any more. Soon I was on the path myself, peering through the fence and following the line of steep cliffs careering down to the sea hundreds of feet below. The tide was out and we watched tiny people walking their dogs across the flat rocks. And we simply watched and listened to the sea.

cliff edge

cliff edge

After about half a mile we reached the ruins of Whitby Abbey, and shortly after that, having bowled through Dracula’s graveyard, we found a bench overlooking the town. From here we had spectacular views of the harbour, the maze of houses with their red roofs, and, of course, the sea.

cliff top view

cliff top view

It was great to be back on top – and I didn’t have to negotiate the 199 steps either!

September Sunshine

Well, I may still not be up to a tandem ride but I’m feasting my eyes on the beautiful moors when I can – and making the most of this September sun!

A visit to the Packhorse Inn above Widdop gave me the chance to enjoy the glorious scenery, lit by endless sunshine – is this really Yorkshire? In September?

moorland at Widdop

moorland at Widdop

I’m so pleased I’ve been able to get out into this lovely September weather – sometimes sitting in the garden, sometimes out on a drive like this. My fatigue will pass and I will get out cycling again … we have plans! In the meantime, the views are still great!

by the Packhorse Inn

by the Packhorse Inn

 

Heather Hills

Sometimes it’s fine to simply enjoy our local countryside by car. I wasn’t up to cycling but the weather was lovely. I couldn’t stay inside.

So we simply packed a picnic and set off in the car. It was beautiful! The sun was shining and the moors were carpeted in bright heather. How could I not be happy!

heather moorland

heather moorland

We stopped at a lay by right on the Lancashire/ Yorkshire border. That suited me fine – I feel like I have a foot firmly in each county, having been born in the first and live in the second.

border way marker

border way marker

Just above us was a stile, and, a few scrambling steps beyond, we could set out our picnic, right by a clear gurgling stream. We were immersed in the moors and felt we had them all to ourselves, yet were only yards from the road.

perfect picnc spot

perfect picnc spot

I closed my eyes and the stream was definitely louder!

A cyclist pedalled past, crying out ‘Yorkshire!’ as he crossed the border. Slightly unexpected, but it made us smile.

views in all directions

views in all directions

Camping Wild(ish!)

It’s been nagging at the back of my mind for some time that the thought of going camping doesn’t appeal in the way it used to. Too much hassle for a body that has limited strength and energy. But the thought of sleeping outdoors still appealed in an abstract way …

dreaming of camping!

dreaming of camping!

Meanwhile, I’d been trying to arrange a night away for us at Tan Hill Inn in North Yorkshire. When I rang to book us in they laughed and said it was booked up for months but we could camp outside if we liked. I started to ponder … One night camping right outside a pub sounded like an acceptable way of resolving my problem.

And so off we went!

We headed north, past the Ribblehead Viaduct where we saw lots of people who were midway through the Three Peak challenge. Then it was on to Hawes, where the odd polkadot could still be seen fluttering on bunting, in memory of last year’s Tour de France. We stocked up with provisions for our night’s camping: bacon, bread, milk. Then it was time to go on.

Passing out of Keld, the road climbed and the landscape grew emptier. We passed beyond the stone barns of Swaledale and up on to the moors. The landscape was vast and wild.

leaving behind Swaledale's stone barns

leaving behind Swaledale’s stone barns

I hopped in and out of the car a couple of times to take photos but struggled to keep the camera steady in the strong wind. I quickly got back inside. We had definitely got on to higher ground!

open moorland

open moorland

At last, we came across Tan Hill Inn. It stood alone on the open moors. There was nothing else for miles around. I couldn’t even see any sheep.

We were blown inside by the wind. It was packed with people! There were bikers, walkers and cyclists. More people came in with presents, ready for a celebration. It was all a bit mad!

Tan Hill Inn

Tan Hill Inn

We found seats not far from the fire – it might have been July but its cosiness and warmth were still very welcome. Once Pete had put the tent up out on the moor at the more sheltered side of the pub (definitely camping wild – no facilities here!) we settled into our seats for the evening.

camping wild

camping wild

The reason for wanting to  come to this particular pub was that it is the highest pub in England at 1732 feet above sea level – it certainly felt that high! Also, we had camped there before (many years before!) when we had been walking the Pennine Way. It is an even more welcome sight after a long day’s walk! So it was good to be there again – and camping again!

the Pennine Way outside the inn

the Pennine Way outside the inn

The evening ebbed and flowed most pleasantly. The initial crowds, popping in as part of a day’s ride, headed off. People came in for a bar meal, more came for the party in another part of the pub, and groups of young men came and went, carrying camping gear. They were celebrating a 30th birthday and were camping out like us.

perfect fireplace!

perfect fireplace!

There was a slight lull for half an hour but it was all bustle again before we knew it. A girl singer provided entertainment later in the evening. Later still, one of the birthday lads began quietly strumming a guitar. Eventually, we decided it was time to find our tent.

happy customers

happy customers

It was now pitch dark – no street lighting here! Fortunately, we made it to our tent without incident. As I snuggled into my sleeping bag and Pete fell to sleep immediately, I discovered that my shoulder was on its own little slope which was pushing me towards Pete. I felt I had to cling onto the mattress to stop myself from falling on to him! It was going to be long night!

And then the birthday lads started singing along with their guitarist. Lovely songs – but not in the middle of the night! And sometime later, having heard a large array of songs, I heard a huge argument between four other campers. It was all happening at Tan Hill Inn!!

Thankfully for me, Pete woke half way through the night and agreed to swap over sleeping positions, so we each got a little sleep.

breakfast bacon with a view!

breakfast bacon with view!

It was all forgotten in the morning though, as it was breakfast time – the best bit of camping has to be the bacon butties for breakfast! These were excellent, as was the view from the tent. A most satisfactory night’s camping.

Big Skies in Morecambe

On a recent visit to my parents, I had the chance of a day out in Morecambe, Lancashire. I’d particularly wanted to visit the Midland Hotel there, which is an Art Deco building that had fallen into disrepair before being recently renovated back to its former glory.

Morecambe, looking towards the Lake District

Morecambe, looking towards the Lake District

I’d scarcely visited Morecambe since I was a child when I remember regularly running along the prom whilst a sea breeze tugged firmly at my coat. The wide prom was still there, and the breeze was still fresh, but I had no recollection of the endless curving view across Morecambe Bay to the blue-tinged Lakeland fells in the distance. It was simply panoramic!

Midland Hotel

Midland Hotel

We gently made our way along the prom to the hotel. I was not disappointed! It is so elegant with its smooth white walls and its curves which complement the sweep of the shoreline.

hotel entrance

hotel entrance

We made our way inside to have a morning coffee and found more elegance coupled with a relaxed atmosphere. And views! Through the long windows we could look out across the sunny bay. It was beautiful.

long hotel windows to maximise the views

long hotel windows to maximise the views

As was the decor. Dad and I had a little mooch round, and I was really impressed by the bar, all pinks and reds.

looking out from the bar

looking out from the bar

I saw someone taking photos of the ceiling above the spiral staircase. I had to have a look too … and then I also had to take a photo!

spiral staircase from below

spiral staircase from below

Outside, we had a walk down the stone pier which has a bird theme. As well as a large metal sculpture of cormorants, more are perched at intervals along the railings.

cormorants at start of pier

cormorants at start of pier

And a feature I totally appreciated: there are breaks in the cobbles so that those on wheels can have a smooth passage along. Full marks for that!

cobblestone gap along pier

cobblestone gap along pier

The sea front is so long and the parking opportunities so numerous that you can choose how little or how much you want to do and park accordingly. There is plenty of space to run if you are young and energetic like my four-year-old niece who came with us and illustrated the point admirably! It is flat and bump-free if your form of transport is a pram or wheelchair. Or it makes a lovely cycle ride along the whole bay if you prefer. And all with plenty of sea air!

fishing boat in the bay

fishing boat in the bay

Edinburgh on Wheels!

We had decided that a weekend away in Edinburgh would be good for us all to do (Pete, me and the offspring) so I booked the hotel and we started looking forward to it. It was many years since I’d been and what I remembered were the wide streets, the old buildings and the Royal Mile.

Then I started to think some more … wasn’t Edinburgh the hilliest city we could have arranged to stay in … were we completely mad?! I decided that if I was going to make the trip then going with three healthy and helpful members of the family was the way to do it.

towards Calton Hill, Edinburgh

towards Calton Hill, Edinburgh

I really made the most of my support team: Calton Hill – no problem! The Royal Mile – no problem! Miles of Edinburgh streets – no problem! (Okay, total exhaustion by the end but totally worth it!)

There are a few steps at the start of Calton Hill which I successfully negotiated and the upward slope thereafter was well within the capabilities of my pusher – and it was only just off the main thoroughfare. There were great views at the top, as well as a cluster of great monuments, and the slight rain showers didn’t dampen our spirits.

National Monument, Calton Hill

National Monument, Calton Hill

The younger members of the party clambered around the National Monument which is pretty impressive up close. And all of us, as enthusiastic Proclaimers fans, just had to recreate their iconic album cover for ‘Sunshine on Leith’, looking moodily over to the coast towards Leith. Totally embarrassing but quite hilarious at the time!

with apologies to the Proclaimers!

with apologies to the Proclaimers!

We spent a sunny Saturday morning conquering the Royal Mile on our mission to get to the castle – a distinct effort was required by the team to get me there. Once we arrived at the castle entrance, wondering how we’d manage the next steep cobbled path inside, I was approached by a steward who said that I could be taken by car into the castle right to the top. Excellent!

I waited with a 92-year old woman who had walked to there under her own steam(!). We were taken by car round the side of the castle, through a tunnel which was bored through the ancient rock in the 1980s, and emerged at the sunny summit, with no effort required!

We generally mooched around enjoying the amazing views over the city, admired the huge gun, Mons Meg, and watched the ever growing crowds making their way into the castle.

views across Edinburgh from the castle

views across Edinburgh from the castle

My driver(!)  had said that there was disabled access to see the Crown Jewels. I thought that this possibility ought to be investigated. We approached the entrance to the exhibition but all I could see were a narrow turret, steep stairway and long queue … not promising.

However, our daughter was not to be deterred. She went in search of a steward and came back (Miss Fixer that she is) with information and assistance. There was a secret entrance – we were taken via a lift right into the depths of the castle and emerged near the front of the queue. A very friendly but firm steward in the Jewel Room ensured that I had a great view of the displays. After we had finished, the whole queue was halted to enable me to exit via the lift. This must be how celebrities feel!

Although the collection is modest, the jewels are beautiful and an important part of Scottish history. The way through is narrow and the queue was long, and I would definitely recommend going on a quieter day than we did, especially if you can’t call on the VIP treatment.

Edinburgh streets

Edinburgh streets

In the afternoon the younger group headed energetically up Arthur’s Seat whilst we meandered at a slower pace down to Princes Street. There, I was able to lie on the grass and rest whilst listening to cheery jazz musicians. It was so good to lie down!

I was having a great time but was finding just watching the sheer number of people exhausting. I’m not used to being around crowds!

A friend had given me a recommendation to visit the Royal Botanic Garden and it was sounding ever more attractive as an antidote to the business of the morning. Fortunately, we could break up our journey by stopping off at our hotel en route as it was probably a 30-40 minute walk from the centre.

riverside cottages, Stocksbridge

riverside cottages, Stocksbridge

At every step we travelled north, the roads and footpaths grew emptier. We had wide Georgian streets flanked with parks to ourselves and before long we found ourselves in what felt like a village within a city, in Stocksbridge. There was bustle here, but of a much more relaxed Saturday kind.

We passed streets of cottages and followed a river. On we went, over cobbles (ouch!) and negotiating some unhelpfully high kerbstones, until we eventually arrived at the Botanic Garden.

ancient hedge, Royal Botanical Garden

ancient hedge, Royal Botanical Garden

It was wonderful, a real haven of calm so close to the city centre – definitely worth the journey. It was late afternoon when we arrived so it wasn’t too busy but there was so much space that I’m sure it would be difficult for it to actually look busy.

There were wide paths, lawns spotted with trees, hidden spaces behind hedges and well-tended bushes in full flower.

We’d been advised to visit the Queen Mother Memorial Garden. It was a circular garden, tucked away behind a 100-year-old hedge, and commemorated the Queen Mother’s long life, marking off the decades on flagstones with notable dates. All around the edge were little alcoves to sit in, hidden from everyone.

Queen Mother Memorial Garden

Queen Mother Memorial Garden

Elsewhere, there was an amazing conservatory, and next to it lay Britain’s largest plant fossil, of a tree that grew 320-340 million years ago.

330-million-year-old tree fossil

330-million-year-old tree fossil

Although the cafe was just shutting as we arrived, we were able to sit outside looking out towards the Edinburgh skyline. No hurry, no rush. Perfect!

impressive glasshouse

impressive glasshouse

Just a note about accessibility – I would not have been able to get about as I did if it wasn’t for my energetic pushers. I wouldn’t recommend the city for self-propelled wheelchairs – the kerbs were a real challenge. I don’t recall seeing any other wheelchair users and definitely saw no mobility scooter. However, taxis would certainly be way of getting about and the castle did well considering its great age.

 

Birdwatching Aplenty!

We had a tip-off for a suitable birdwatching site! It was an RSPB reserve at Fairburn Ings. A check of the website told us that there was a mobility scooter for hire, which could be booked in advance – so that’s what I did!

coots ducking and diving

coots ducking and diving

It was a lovely spot with different areas suitable for different bird species. The paths were flat and either gravelly or made from duck boards.

We headed for a small pool where children were busy pond dipping. Just beyond them, we could see coots flitting about. Adults were feeding their young and we even saw one collecting nest material to place on a splendid nest, seemingly suspended on the water.

coot nest

coot nest

Along another path a feeder screen partitioned the trees from us. There were holes in the screen at heights suitable for everyone. Well, we just had to stop and peer through these holes ourselves! Feeders hung from several branches and there was a steady flutter of wings as blue tits, great tits and sparrows feasted. We were also very chuffed to catch a glimpse of a woodpecker for a couple of minutes.

peering throught the screen ...

peering throught the screen …

 ... at feasting birds

… at feasting birds

We then headed out towards a larger body of water where I was delighted to see avocets wading gracefully in the shallows, with their impossibly slim legs and their long curved beaks. I’ve only ever seen them in books before. Wonderful!

avocet foraging

avocet foraging

and another!

and another!

Pete’s day was made when we saw a great crested grebe sauntering along the water, surveying the world around him with his magnificent ruff of feathers around his head.

imperious great crested grebe

imperious great crested grebe

We spent several happy hours meandering about – there was a cafe too with space to sit outside (always a bonus!). Having the scooter was great too as it meant that I was independent and Pete could look after just himself, and we were able to be outside in a rural setting, amongst footpaths and trees … and lots of birds!

Hiding!

We decided that, if we were to consider ourselves proper birdwatchers, and not just people who were pleased to see birds when they hopped into the garden, then we needed to have a day Birdwatching. That, we decided, meant watching from a bird hide.

looks hopeful!

looks hopeful!

We discovered that there was a National Trust site with a bird hide at Malham Tarn in the Yorkshire Dales. Perfect!

The hide was nestling right by the side of the tarn. It was very exciting – our first visit inside a bird hide. (We are easily excited!) We were about to become Birdwatchers!

We set about making ourselves comfortable, getting out our flask of tea, binoculars and bird book … and waited.

getting settled in

getting settled in

Hmmm … I am beginning to realise that an intrinsic part of birdwatching is the waiting.

After a while, we spotted some ravens in the distance, flying towards a rookery at the far side of the tarn. Some other birds flew across the sky. They might have been grebes … let’s say they were!

Malham Tarn

Malham Tarn

Well, our sandwiches tasted good. And it was great to be sitting inside on sturdy benches, with only our faces open to the air, feeling like ‘proper’ birdwatchers, even if we couldn’t see any birds!

Eventually, we saw a couple of tufted ducks – we definitely saw the tufts!

tufted duck - honest!

tufted duck – honest!

Sadly, we didn’t see much other birdlife but it was very restful sitting by the tarn for a while in a sheltered spot.

We decided to head down to Malham where Pete pushed me along the start of the path to Malham Cove. We’d hoped to be able to get further but, although the surface of the path was ok, it was too steep for much pushing. Still, we got far enough along to have good views of the fields and the cove itself.

Malham Cove

Malham Cove

Finally, we sat by the river, which was flowing fast after several days of rain, and watched some ducks resting at the water’s edge – no binoculars required!

clear view of ducks in Malham!

clear view of ducks in Malham!

Not Puffin Hunting

We could see the Farne Islands from where we were staying in Northumberland. Islands and boats are a winning combination in my book so there was no way we wouldn’t be paying them a visit. Actually, the secret reason for the trip north was to get on to the islands – and to look for puffins.

So we hopped aboard one of the many boats offering such a trip from Seahouses harbour. Puffins were advertised as arriving from the end of March, which was a whole week previously, so obviously there would be no problem …

Seahouses harbour

Seahouses harbour

As the boat approached the islands, it was amazing to see how the number and variety of birds increased – and also the noise! There were birds everywhere – flying overhead, flying past the boat or sitting on tiny ledges of rock. There were eider ducks, shags and kittiwakes, and, around one of the outlying islands, fulmars. But no puffins.

However, there were seals! So many seals! They were basking lazily on the rocks, totally unfazed by the boat coming close and the many pairs of eyes staring at them. They just stared back, not very interested. They came in many shades, from rust coloured to black, from grey to speckled. And they were all so very chilled.

seals

seals

After a tour of the islands, we landed on Inner Farne for an hour’s explore. We tried not to think about puffins. I’d already heard a distinct lack to the word ‘puffin’ and there had been no sign of any flying about so far. Sightings were going to be unlikely.

more seals!

more seals!

This experience of Inner Farne was very different from our previous visit when we had been pecked within seconds of arrival by fierce little arctic terns guarding their nests which they’d carefully placed right by the side of the footpaths. At least this time we had arrived before them and could look around without cowering!

It was clear that this was puffin city as the whole island was pocked with burrows – puffin homes. It was just that they hadn’t moved back in yet. Although this was disappointing, I did console myself with remembering that we had been before and seen them at their height. This time we could enjoy the other birds.

nesting shags

nesting shags

The stars of the show were the shags which were nesting on rocky ledges all around the island. We could get very close to them and were able to clearly see the tufted crests on their heads.

rocky living!

rocky living!

After a wander round the whole (very small!) island we sat by the shore enjoying the sunshine and waiting for our boat to take us back home. The odd shag flew by with its beak full of nest material.

All in all, it was a very good day not puffin hunting!

waiting for our boat

waiting for our boat

As to accessibility – I had to climb down a number of steps to the boat but that would vary with the tide. The boatmen were very helpful in providing stable arms to get me aboard. On the island, if you can walk a little way uphill at the start (or have sturdy pushers!) it is wheelchair accessible as there is just one circular footpath around the island which is covered by duckboards. It wasn’t even very bumpy! There are also trips which don’t include landing on an island.

Happy adventuring!

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