125 posts in the category

Gone for a walk

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A walk in the sun (Part 4): back through Millstones Wood

Three and a half weeks after my walk in the sun on the lovely first of June, in this final post of a quartet, I invite you to once more join me in retracing my steps via the medium of photography. In Part 1 I walked over Whitwell Moor; in Part 2 I set off down the salt path into the Ewden valley; in Part 3 I followed the salt path to Mortimer road; and in Part 4 we shall climb back up the valley-side to Millstones Wood.




The body of water to the right is Broomhead Reservoir. Millstones Wood occupies the horizon to the left of the signpost.

A common or English bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), the native bluebell of the British Isles. The English bluebell is threatened by hybridisation on a large scale with the non-native Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica).

Millstones Wood, lying one buttercup-filled field away.

Young master oak - probably an English oak (Quercus robur).

A shaggy-looking European larch (Larix decidua).

The floor of the wood was covered with these: the fallen male catkins of European beech (Fagus sylvatica).

Two catkins still on the tree, along with a developing cupule holding two beechnuts.

The fierce sun beating down through the needles and branches of a pine.

Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris).

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Chatsworth Park & a great veteran oak

Today was the day of the summer solstice, the longest day of the year; it is also Father’s Day, and we made an excursion to Chatsworth Park, the extensive grounds of the famous stately home, Chatsworth House. At the top of the field where we parked stood a massive oak.

Look at the size of this veteran giant! This photo doesn’t really do it justice, but in the flesh it was awesome-huge. My father is there to lend a sense of scale (and a hug).

The great oak in its entirety, albeit silhouetted by the sun. I think it’s an English oak (Quercus robur).

Proto-conkers. All of the horse chestnut trees (Aesculus hippocastanun) I’ve seen recently are absolutely covered with developing fruits. 2009 looks like it’s going to be a bumper year for conkers!

The River Derwent flows though the magnificent parkland.

The park is studded with hundreds of veteran oaks; this one is a typical example.

The ruins of the old corn mill. The A Taste Of The Peak District website says the mill “ceased operations in 1950 and was badly damaged when a tree fell on it during a storm in 1962.”

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A walk in the sun (Part 3): on to Mortimer Road

Continuing this series of photos from a walk in the sun on the glorious first of June… carrying on down the salt path to reach Mortimer Road.

Flowering hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna).

A big old yew tree – in the Ewden valley. Is Ewden a corruption of Yew Dene, dene being an old British word for a wooded valley? There aren’t very many yews in Ewden today at any rate!

Yew (Taxus baccata) leaves.

The green roof overhead.

From woodland the path opens into this sloping grassy field. I bet it would be perfect for cheese rolling.

Which one do you prefer?

Bear in mind that this photo was taken three weeks ago, but look how far behind this ash (Fraxinus excelsior) is lagging in the leaf stakes. Ash is the last tree to come into leaf in these parts, but the majority of the local ashes were by this time halfway through flushing.

Shady woodland on the bank of a tiny stream, a tributary of Ewden Beck

Mortimer Road just above where the path comes out. From Jack Branston’s History of Stocksbridge:

[Mortimer Road] was named after Hans Winthrop Mortimer, Lord of the Manor of Bamford who died in 1807. He had the idea of linking the Peak with the woollen manufacturing districts of the West Riding and so reap a profit from the road-tolls. This road was to run from Penistone Bridge to Grindleford Bridge, starting from Penistone, over Midhope Bridge to Bardike and Agden Bridge, past the Strines Inn and so on. In the wall at [I think he means outside the Strines Inn] you can see a stone built in which reads “Take Off”. This was another of Mortimer’s ideas; whilst wagon horses were resting he used chain horses to pull the wagons to the given point, then took them off and returned for another wagon.

The Sanderson – Bradfield and Beyond site says that the road was built in the 1770s and that Mortimer died in poor circumstances after failing to comply with the Authorising Act of 1770. And from this Flickr page, part of a comment by ‘evissa’, who mentions a small book called Mortimer Road: the turnpike that failed:

[Mortimer] owned property in Essex, Derbyshire and London and was MP for Shaftsbury. Alas he died bankrupt.

Hawthorn flowers in their prime.

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A walk in the sun (Part 2): down the salt path

Delectable hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) flowers.

Looking up from the Ewden side at the saddle between the Salter Hills (the eastern hill is on the right and vice versa). A branch of the old salt way from Cheshire almost certainly ran close by here. Several local names on this path - which runs down to the goat willows - are linked with the route: Salt Springs Farm, Salt Springs Cottage, Salt Spring Beck, and of course Salter Hills.

This is the eastern Salter Hill, adorned with a lonely hawthorn.

The view south-east towards the wooded upper reaches of the Ewden valley, with the moors in the distance. If the horizon looks dodgy in this photograph, it’s because I replaced the original over-exposed sky with my ideal blues. I don’t normally go in for Photoshopping photos like this, but I’ve never been able to get a good shot of this valley and now I can pretend I’ve got a half-decent photo in the bag.

This year’s goat willow (Salix caprea) catkin arc on treeblog has just about come to an end. Here we see a ripe female catkin at the seed-dispersal stage. For earlier stages in the catkins’ development, have a look at some of the photos in these posts: on the 21st of March, developing catkins (not sure which sex); on the 29th of March, slightly further developed catkins (again, unsure which sex); and on the 3rd of April, pollen-emitting male catkins and female catkins around the pollen-receiving stage (this post also includes a photo of the eastern Salter Hill).

Goat willow leaves.

Looking back up the path from the group of goat willows. The non-tree greenery in the foreground is almost entirely bracken (Pteridium aquilinum), a very common fern that dies back each year but grows back often taller than a man.

The same view on the 29th of March. What a difference summer makes!

Cotton wool in the grassy ground layer. Actually, this fluffy stuff comes from the goat willow catkins. It holds several tiny seeds inside. I saw this fluff all over the place – the wind can blow it for miles!

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A walk in the sun (Part 1): over Whitwell Moor

Last Monday (the 1st of June), in the middle of a period of brilliant weather, I went for a walk up Whitwell Moor, down into Ewden, through Millstones Wood, then back down Whitwell Moor. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, the trees were rustling…and I enjoyed every minute!

The branches of an ash (Fraxinus excelsior) hang low over an abundance of flowering cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris).

A cherry sapling (Prunus avium) growing amongst more cow parsley by the side of a lane.

The view to the west across Whitwell Moor from the Set C(r) parent rowan (right). The lush ground cover in the foreground is bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus).

Looking across the Moor - studded with naturally regenerating birch – to Emley Moor Mast. The mast is a Grade II Listed Building and the tallest freestanding structure in the UK at 330.4 metres. It may look as if it stands on top of the hill in the photograph but it is actually much further away, standing roughly ten miles distant.

Male Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) flowers.

English oak (Quercus robur) leaves in the sun.

Standing amidst the heather and bilberry, Whitwell Moor’s most iconic oak: the Lonely Oak (also an English or pedunculate oak).

A developing European larch (Larix decidua) cone. Remember all those photos of larch roses on treeblog in March? This is what they have grown into!

* * * * *

The 36th edition of the Festival of the Trees is up at Roundrock Journal - go check it out.

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Out on the bike: around Langsett and back (Part 4 of 4)

Fig. 1.a. Male pine (Pinus) flowers. Species unknown.

Fig. 1.b. Close-up.

Fig. 2. New spruce (Picea - probably P. sitchensis, Sitka spruce) growth.

Fig. 3. New larch (Larix) growth.

Fig. 4. Flowering pine, probably Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris).

Fig. 5.a. Unknown flowering pine.

Fig. 5.b. Male flowers.

Fig. 5.c. Three female flowers (red); male flowers in background.

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3

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Out on the bike: around Langsett and back (Part 3 of 4)

Continuing on from Part 1 and Part 2… my bike ride from the Sunday before last (24th May 2009).

A dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) seedhead in a forest clearing. An old English name for the species is blowball; I like that better than the current prevalent common name, a corruption of dent de lion, which is French for ‘lion’s tooth’ – a reference to the jagged leaves.

The leaves of a wild cherry (Prunus avium). The green balls on long stalks are the developing fruits.

Wild cherries have an obvious pair of red glands on their petioles: these are extrafloral nectaries. Whereas floral nectaries evolved to attract insects (and other creatures) to assist in the pollination process, certain plants have evolved extrafloral nectaries to attract predatory insects; these mercenaries keep down the populations of plant-eating insects.

Langsett Reservoir. It is surrounded by coniferous forestry plantations on all sides except the dam wall; further back, behind the trees, the moors stretch for miles to the west and south: Thurlstone Moors, Langsett Moors, Harden Moor and Midhope Moors. The reservoir is fed mainly by the Porter or Little Don, which enters from the west and runs out to the east; a couple of miles downstream that river flows into Underbank Reservoir.

These two photos were taken from the dam wall. When I first arrived at the spot, the reservoir surface was perfectly calm. After I’d stood there awhile, mesmerised by the water, the wind picked up and the surface became slightly disturbed. This caused the phenomenon seen in this photograph: yellow swirls along the water’s edge where it lapped against the stones of the dam wall. My guess is that the yellow swirls are pollen.

A sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) inflorescence.

A closer look. Sycamore inflorescences are complex, but I believe I can tell the male parts from the female at this range – I think the the wood-coloured ‘heads’ on stalks are stamens (♂), while the bright greenish-yellow, plumper, stalk-less ‘heads’ are stigmas (♀).

Common hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) flowers. They have only one style, whereas the flowers of our other native species, the Midland hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata), have two or three.

I was made aware of the sad loss of two familiar trees on this bike ride. The first was the rowan near Upper Midhope; the second was a sycamore growing next to a farm building in Upper Midhope, shown here on the 26th of March 2007. It has been cut down. Perhaps the owner of the farm building is planning to do it up and sell it as a house, and while it was fine to have a tree growing next to an uninhabited barn, it wouldn’t do to leave one so close to a home. That’s just pure guesswork on my part, but come on Upper Midhope! What are you doing to your trees?

Posted in Gone for a walk

Out on the bike: around Langsett and back (Part 2 of 4)

The Porter or Little Don river just above Brookhouse (or Brook House) Bridge. This little section looks nice in the photo but I tell you it’s ten times better when you see it in the flesh on a sunny day. Every time I’ve been there on such a day, as last Sunday was, there’ve been people sunbathing on the flat grassy area and kids playing in the river. I sat myself down on a large, flat stone poking above the water and let the river cool my feet. The babbling of the burn and the beautiful surrounds were highly relaxing and I reposed for almost an hour. The presence of all the people playing and chilling out (there were more than in the photo when I arrived, and there were many more behind me) added to the carefree, summery atmosphere, whereas normally I’d rather be away from the general public while enjoying the countryside.

A lovely, pebbly bit of riverbed next to my rock.

A large sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) – just right of centre in the first picture – and Brookhouse Bridge. All the stones in the lower right have built up behind a large weir, built to prevent such sediment from entering Langsett Reservoir, which isn’t much farther downstream. The bridge takes its name from Brook House farm, which had to be abandoned to prevent its livestock polluting the reservoir – Langsett was built to supply the rapidly-growing population of Sheffield with drinking water. There are old books and magazines describing the farm’s unusual rent, payable to the lord of the manor (a modern book has it being paid in 1588, but the older books imply it was a annual arrangement over several years):

BROOK HOUSE, Yorkshire.--A farm at Langsett, in the parish of Peniston and county of York, pays yearly to Godfrey Bosville, Esqre., a snowball at Midsummer, and a red rose at Christmas.

[ - from A righte Merrie Christmasse!!! The Story of Christ-tide by John Ashton (1894).]

Estates have often been held by the tenure of a rose – a red one – at times being stipulated for, and these floral tributes generally had to be paid on St. John the Baptist’s Day… For Brook House, Langsett, Yorkshire, it is said that a rose had to be provided at Christmas, and a snowball at Midsummer, and as evidently there would often thus be much difficulty in paying the rent, we are probably correct in surmising that in this case a money fine was the alternative.

[ - from Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip: An Illustrated Medium Of Interchange And Gossip For Students And Lovers Of Nature, Volume XVII, edited by John Eller Taylor (1881).]

The weir and the sycamore.

A wych elm (Ulmus glabra) leaf backlit by the sun. Wych elm is the only elm that is undisputedly native to Britain.

A cluster of unripe wych elm samaras (a type of winged fruit). Each samara has a seed centred between two symmetrical wings.

These leaves belong to a field maple (Acer campestre), another tree native to Britain. They always make me think of extra-large hawthorn leaves.

Bluebells are a classic British wildflower, the kind of plant that almost everyone can recognise. But there isn’t just one species in Britain anymore; there are two species and a hybrid. Our native bluebell is the common or English bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), but there is an alien species about too: the Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica), popular with gardeners and introduced around 1680. Both species hybridise to give the hybrid bluebell (Hyacinthoides x massartiana a.k.a. Hyacinthoides hispanica x non-scripta) which was first noticed growing wild in 1963. The genetics of our native bluebell are therefore threatened by dilution, and a lot of ecologists aren’t happy about that at all. According to Plantlife International, a recent study conducted by their volunteers found one in six British broadleaved woodlands surveyed contained hybrid or Spanish bluebells.

I think that these are hybrid bluebells. Why? Our native species have their bells all on one side of the stem, which droops over with the concentrated weight. Spanish bluebells have a thicker, straight stem with bells all around. The hybrid has bells around a slightly drooping stem - which is an accurate description of the bluebells in this photo.

In case you missed it, here is a link to Part 1 of this four-part series of posts. And here is a link to Bluebells for Britain: A report on the 2003 Bluebells for Britain survey, a leaflet in .pdf format by Plantlife that sheds more light on the subject and gives some simple advice to gardeners.

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Out on the bike: around Langsett and back (Part 1 of 4)

Sunday was a real stunner, and after the dire weather of May so far it was even nicer than usual to get out into the countryside. I took the pushbike for a ride over to Langsett, going clockwise around the reservoir via North America before coming through Upper Midhope and heading for home.

The spring to summer transition is virtually complete, with the ashes (Fraxinus excelsior) being the last of the trees coming into leaf. With it being so long since we’ve had such a nice day, and with summer now practically fully upon us, I was almost overwhelmed by the slightly surreal vividity of the ubiquitous greenery. The moors in particular, brown and desolate for so long, are now punctuated with patches of bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) bright green with new growth. The heather is not yet in flower, and so there was no sea of purple surrounding these verdant isles, but myriad other plants and trees were in bloom: rowans (Sorbus aucuparia), pines (Pinus spp.), bluebells (Hyacinthoides sp.), cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris), oaks (Quercus robur), hawthorns (Crataegus sp.), sycamores (Acer pseudoplatanus), buttercups (Ranunculus spp.), and white dead-nettles (Lamium album) to name but a few.

To say my camera was mostly in my pocket or rucksack as I was on the bike, I landed quite the catch of photos. Here be the first batch:

Clusters of male catkins dangling from an English oak. The English or pedunculate oak is a monoecious species so individuals produce flowers of both sexes.

This particular oak had pea-sized galls attached to some of the catkins. I’m fairly sure that they are the sexual galls, known as currant galls, of the currant gall wasp (Neuroterus quercusbaccarum). Common spangle galls found on the underside of oak leaves are the agamic galls of the same wasp.

An old friend: the rowan on Whitwell Moor from under which I collected half of my berries for Set C (replanted as Set C(r) a fortnight ago). Rowans are in full bloom at the moment, and this one was no exception. It was absolutely covered with infloresences!

A bit of lovely lichen growing on the rowan.

Get a close-up look at one of the inflorescences.

This young ash grows on the aptly named Long Lane and I’ve developed a habit of taking its picture every time I pass by, which allows for some interesting seasonal juxtapositions. Here it can be seen in the thick of a blizzard on the 2nd of February and also just coming into leaf in happier weather on Sunday. (See the same ash with and without leaves last October and November respectively in this post!)

The other rowan whose seeds comprise Set C(r). This unique and arresting rowan unfortunately blew over last year. It was still lying where it had fallen on the wall the last time I visited on the 14th of February, but since then it has been cleared away.

The only extant trace is this stump. The fallen tree was still alive too – I noticed live buds during my February visit. It must still have been connected to the root system. I hope that the roots continue to live and send up new sprouts, but given the stump’s situation in a field oft home to a herd of cattle it may never be able to re-establish anyway. I really hope that the seeds I took from it last year germinate to allow me the pleasure of raising the offspring of a remarkable ex-tree.

I took this photo looking south up-valley while standing on the bridge over Thickwoods Brook where that stream enters Langsett Reservoir. The brook gathers in the wee pond you can see in the bottom right of the photograph before rushing down a little weir into the reservoir.

Still on the bridge, but looking east towards Thickwoods, a coniferous plantation owned (as is the reservoir and much of the surrounding land) by Yorkshire Water. See what I mean about the bilberry being vivid? It’s almost glowing!

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Young sycamore leaves

Tree leaves: are there any so inherently beautiful as a sunlit young sycamore leaf? I resent Acer pseudoplatanus, a British non-native, for being naturalised across the whole country; but those luscious young leaves, goldenly illuminated by the sun; how appealing a token of spring!

Posted in Gone for a walk

Photos from a brief walk (even more goat willow, larch and alder)

Friday was another of summer’s outriders – a beautiful blue sky and warm enough for shorts and t-shirts, even in the wind on top of a hill. I fitted in a little trip to those goat willows I have under observation (my third in a fortnight) before heading off for the first barbeque of the year, on a sixth floor balcony no less. I took plenty of photos of larch roses on the way, but there has already been plenty of those on treeblog recently. In comparison, the male flowers have been underrepresented on these pages, so let’s start off with some.

A line of male European larch (Larix decidua) flowers. They look like tiny little birds’ nests or baskets full of tiny little eggs to me.

And on the same tree, brand new needles are emerging from a particularly knobbly bit of branch.

The Lonely Oak. Seen from ‘behind’, it doesn’t appear anywhere near as iconic (or lonely) as it does in the classic view.

The eastern Salter Hill, whose summit is home to the ruins of a WWII-era enemy plane spotting post. The branches hanging overhead belong to an ash tree (Fraxinus excelsior). I haven’t seen any ashes showing signs of flushing so far this spring, but they always are one of the later ones to come into leaf.

Three female goat willow (Salix caprea) catkins…

…and a pair of male goat willow catkins in different stages of flowering. At the moment, the male goat willows closer to Sheffield appear pale yellow from a distance because they are already covered with catkins at the same stage as the one on the left above. However, the males in this particular group, halfway up the Ewden valley, still have most of their catkins at the same stage as the one on the right above: this isn’t the right word, but they aren’t quite ripe yet. There are exceptions though, as evidenced by the above photograph. How far those stamens extend!

By the way, I tried the experiment I proposed in the previous post (If the bark is stripped from a two-year [grey willow] shoot, it reveals fine ridges absent in S. caprea). The result: no fine ridges. The conclusion: these really are goat willows and not grey willows.

Incidentally, I had a sniff of the debarked twigs and they smelled a lot like a freshly cut tomato does. I know that willows contain a lot of salicylic acid. Was this what I could smell? Does this mean that tomatoes contain a lot of salicylic acid too? A quick Google gave several faux health sites stating that they do.

Female common alder (Alnus glutinosa) flowers (and to the right, some of the male flowers). These will ripen into the little woody cones that are one of the alder’s distinguishing features: they are retained throughout the winter, and the old cones are very prominent on leafless alders.

A big ash. Backed up by old maps, I believe that a century or so ago this area would have been fields, probably rough grassland type. In time they were left to go wild, as you can see, with birch and goat willow and alder and bracken (among others) successionally muscling in. The 1894 map has tree symbols along the field boundaries. Are these supposed to symbolise hedgerows or individual large trees? This ash is one of the largest trees here today, but is it old enough to have been one of those large individuals a century ago? I digress. There is an old hawthorn standing right next to the ash (obscured in the above photo) that is split open and all charred inside. I reckon it must have been struck by a bolt of lightning that also damaged the ash, which has had much of the bark at its base removed. Both trees are still alive and new growth is starting to close over the wounds.

Posted in Gone for a walk

Goat willow and larch roses: a reprise

Sunday was an incredible day. The sky was an amazing blue, a shade darker than the hazier skies of Friday and Saturday the weekend before. The air was cooler, but summer lies ever closer. Another treeblog photographs-from-a-walk post begins.

In the saddle of Salter Hills – westwards along Heads Lane from the village of Bolsterstone - two Scots pines (Pinus sylvestris). From the Bolsterstone Extension Draft Conservation Area Appraisal 1:

Bolsterstone lies close to the main salt route between Cheshire and Yorkshire, and names such as Salter Hills, Salt Springs Farm and Salt Springs Cottage at the western end of Heads Lane… suggest that the lane may have been on a southern branch of the main saltway (Hey, 2001 2).

Clothing the southern flank of the western Salter hill, remnants of a wood planted between 1855 and 1893. Today it consists of nowt but Scots pine and European larch, tree-wise.

A week previous I wasn’t so sure. Now I am almost certain: these catkins belong to goat willow (Salix caprea) a.k.a. pussy willow a.k.a. sallow. In a week or so, these male catkins will have extended their stamens to become big, yellow pollen-deployers. [Update: Ahem. They would have if they were male, but I now think they are female catkins.] Notice the densely shrubby form in the background.

I have just learned that all willow species are dioecious – trees are either male or female, not both. The catkins of this particular goat willow are not quite flowering yet.

This catkin is slightly more advanced that its brethren. The yellow pollen-containing anthers are clearly visible.

Caveat lector! - From my Collins Field Guide Trees of Britain & Northern Europe by Alan Mitchell (1978):

The native sallows are a complex group, and several species, subspecies and hybrids occur, most of which pass as Pussy Willow when in flower. All except [grey willow (Salix cinerea) ] are strictly shrubs… S. caprea is distinct from the other tree willows in its rather thick, often short and knobbly shoots and upright shrubby growth. In the Highlands of Scotland many are [20 metres tall with a girth at five feet of 2 metres].

From the same book, an experiment that may be worth a try: “If the bark is stripped from a two-year [grey willow] shoot, it reveals fine ridges absent in S. caprea”. Leaves should help too.

A lovely female larch flower...

…and another two…

…and another. Guess what? I really like these. I hesitated before to say with certainty that these are European larch (Larix decidua) flowers, but I’ll hesitate no more: these are European larch flowers! I’m not afraid that these trees are Japanese larch (Larix kaempferi); I’ve seen cones and their scales don’t curl sharply outwards! And I’ve realised that if the bit of wood these larches belong to was planted no later than 1893 (for having walked circularly we have returned to that bit aforementioned), it is extremely unlikely that these larches are Dunkeld larches (Larix x eurolepis) for that hybrid wasn’t first selected until 1904!

Déjà vu then? This post is a cheeky reprise of last Wednesday’s Summer’s outrider: flowers & buds & catkins & trees. Another clear blue sky; those same two pines and that same bit of woodland; goat willow catkins; larch flowers… Obviously much of this walk shared the same route as much of the other. I wanted to see those willows again, wanted to see if they really were goat willows, inspired by some goat willows in full yellow-catkinned bloom I’d spied through a bus window two days earlier. And I wanted to take more photographs of larch flowers.

Remember the post-Set A unknown seedling? The one that was neither alder nor birch, but induced a “gut feeling of willow”? Could it be a goat willow? Its buds bear a strong resemblance…

1 The Bolsterstone Extension Draft Conservation Area Appraisal, published in February 2009 by the Peak District National Park Authority, is available from: http://www.peakdistrict.org/draftbolsterstone-conservation-area-appraisal.pdf (PDF, 3.59 MB).
2 Packmen, Carriers and Packhorse Roads: Trade and Communications in North Derbyshire and South Yorkshire by David Hey (2001). Landmark Publishing Ltd. All editions seem to be out of print.

Posted in Gone for a walk

Summer's outrider: flowers & buds & catkins & trees

Male catkins swinging from a common alder (Alnus glutinosa) at Owler Carrs.

Yes, Friday and Saturday were real stunners. It seemed as though summer was already upon us, even though the trees were still bare. Signs of spring were all about. Catkins still dangled from alders in droves, although most hazel catkins are now past their best; and immature catkins – probably male - were protruding stiffly from the ends of birch twigs. Sycamores (Acer pseudoplatanus) are on the verge of flushing, and I saw evidence that rowans and birches are to soon follow suit. A single larch was already sprouting bright green needles; other larches, while not yet flushing, bristled with small but beautiful flowers.

The photographs in this post were all taken on Saturday in the Ewden Valley as I walked down one side and up the other – then later on back the same way.

Two pines at the bottom of a hill. I’ve seen old maps from 1893, 1903, and 1905 that show this patch was then within the bounds of a coniferous wood. A map from 1855 shows the wood not yet in existence, and a “revision of 1929 with additions in 1938 & 1948” map shows the wood to have been much reduced in size. The wood survives today in a further reduced state, mainly to the left of this shot…

...here: a very open wood consisting primarily of stunted pines and larches. I wonder if the wood was planted as a means of sheltering Whitwell Moor, lying to the north, which in those days was grouse shooting territory.

A cluster of willowy trees growing around a spring. Are they willows? Dunno. I currently have little confidence identifying willows, but I want to change that. For the present… are these developing goat willow (a.k.a. pussy willow a.k.a. sallow - Salix caprea) catkins? Any help in the comments would be greatly appreciated!

More male common alder catkins. On the twigs just above where the male catkins are attached, immature, dark purpley-brown female ‘cones’ (technically catkins) are developing. My apologies for their being out of focus in this photo.

An unfurling rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) leaf. It’ll be up and photosynthesising in no time at all, sir.

Here are a couple of past-their-best, dead-looking male hazel (Corylus avellana) catkins. It feels as if treeblog has gone a bit crazy on the alder and hazel catkins lately. That’s a good thing.

So, you’ve seen the male parts of a hazel. In the interests of balance, how about a peek at the female parts? I’ve noticed that there are barely any of these female flowers on each plant, and I’ve read that hazel’s fertility in many parts of Britain is already compromised by grey squirrels eating the hazelnuts that these flowers develop into. It’s a wonder there are any new hazels growing at all.

Aaaah, larch flowers (probably European larch, Larix decidua). The above photo shows a bird’s nest-like male flower (left) and a beautiful, rose-like female flower (right). On the subject of L. decidua flowers, Forestry Commission Booklet No. 15, Know Your Conifers, by Herbert L. Edlin (published by HMSO in 1970) has this to say:

The male flowers, borne in spring just as the delicate needles open, are clusters of golden anthers. The female flowers, often called “larch roses”, are pretty flower-like clusters of scales, and may be green, white, or deep pink in colour. They ripen within one year to rather cylindrical cones. These cones only slowly expand their scales, and when the forester wishes to extract larch seed he has to break them apart.

And back to where it all began. The two pines from this post’s second photo join the background of this late afternoon sun-bathed pine scene.

This post lives on in March 31st's Goat willow and larch roses: a reprise.

* * * * *

Set C update – Day 14 (today): No sign of germination yet.

Posted in Gone for a walk

Summer's outrider: to Devil's Cave and Wind Hill Wood

Friday and Saturday were incredible days, real shorts-and-t-shirts weather; beautiful blue skies, and temperatures March will be proud of. On Saturday I went on a walk that took me down Ewden and along the edge of Broomhead Moor to the furthest point I’ve ever been up the Ewden Valley: the shooting lodge at SK 222 956 (check it out, Google Maps-style). It wasn’t challenging to get there – a Landrover track leads to the lodge – but it was pleasingly remote for a shortish walk. On Friday I didn’t stray so far, walking to Wind Hill Wood and the craggy outcropping of millstone grit I know by the name Devil’s Cave. I was annoyed to see that some morons had been littering, but don’t let that negative image tarnish the goodtime spring vibes I hope the following photos (taken Friday) are emitting.

The view NNW over Wind Hill Wood towards Midhope. The woods in the distance are coniferous forestry plantations around Midhope Reservoir

A rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) bud: big and softly, silvery furry. I’ve noticed that rowan twigs tend to be rather thicker than those of our other tree species.

A strikingly wind-swept beech (Fagus sylvatica) near Devil’s Cave… and from below:

One of the bigger blocks of grit making up the Devil’s Cave formation, dappled with lichens, mosses, bilberries, birches, and the shadows of trees.

One of the many tiny birches growing from cracks in the rocks. Their persistent roots pry open the cracks and split apart these vast boulders.

I chanced upon this rusty horseshoe hanging in a young rowan and was concerned that it wouldn’t catch much luck this way up. The beech on the right in the background is interesting in that on it’s other side a huge old wound stretches from the ground to the first branches; the tree is doing a good job of closing the wound with new wood and bark, but it still has a few inches to grow before the two edges meet.

On the return leg of the journey, I made a little detour to see a special birch.

Posted in Gone for a walk

Sheep larch reflections

This ewe and her lamb stared at me from across Ewden Beck. Then they jumped over Park Brook, the little stream to their right, which tumbles into the river as a small waterfall.

Something new to me: a few rosettes of marcescent larch needles. Normally all of a larch’s needles will have fallen by the onset of winter, leaving bare pegs like the one just left of centre in this photo.

Reflections of trees - probably willows - on Broomhead Reservoir.

The photos were taken on the 16th of March.

In other news, on another walk through the beautiful Ewden valley on the even nicer nicest day of the year yesterday, I saw horse chestnuts (Aesculus hippocastanum) and young sycamores (Acer pseudoplatanus) opening up their buds. The list of flushers, in order of appearance, so far looks like this: elder > hazel > hawthorn > horse chestnut / sycamore / grey alder. Based on past observations, I reckon birch leaves will be the next to appear, while oak and beech will be fashionably late.

Set C update – Day 8 (today): No sign of germination yet.

Posted in Gone for a walk

More signs of spring: alder and hazel buds and catkins

Common alder (Alnus glutinosa) male catkins, perhaps slightly past their best which may be why they are more red than yellow.

Yesterday was a lovely warm day, perhaps even lovelier and warmer than the day before yesterday which, certain newspapers yesterday reported, was the warmest day of the year so far. To make the most of it, I went on an adventure down Ewden. As luck would have it, I was successful in my ongoing quest for photos of alder catkins. Hooray!

A closer look at a pair of alder catkins. Now hold that image, because I want you to compare them with the hazel catkins below…

Hazel (Corylus avellana) male catkins. Much prettier than the alder catkins, if you don’t mind my saying so.

More hazel catkins, but these ones aren’t fully ripe. The bottoms of the catkins haven’t opened up yet.

These unfurling hazel leaves were down in the valley bottom next to Broomhead Reservoir. It must be milder down there than higher up the hillside, where hazel leaf-unfurlage hasn’t yet begun.

Two kinds of alder, going head-to-head in a bud-off. On the left… the top of treeblog’s very own grey alder No. 4 from Set A; on the right… the end of a common alder (A. glutinosa) twig of Ewden provenance. Common alder, with its glamorous purple buds, is a British native. The grey alder (Alnus incana) is not.

Oh-ho! While the buds at the top of grey alder No. 4 aren’t showing any signs of bursting just yet, buds lower down are opening to reveal their infant leaves! (The twig below the bud may look sticky in this photo but it’s only water – I’d just given the trees a soaking with the watering can.)

And this is the post-Set A unknown seedling. It too is getting in on the spring action. See how it mobilizes that upper bud!

Other signs of spring sighted include hawthorns flushing, lambs, frogs, and bulbs sprouting up from the woodland floor.

Set C update – Day 5 (yesterday): No sign of germination yet.

Posted in Gone for a walk

Signs of spring: hazel and alder catkins

Male hazel catkins.

Travelling through Sheffield and Hillsborough on the bus this afternoon, I noticed that common alders (probably Italian alder, Alnus cordata) have deployed their bright yellow male catkins. Each tree was covered in thousands of these long yellow pollen-dispersers, and they looked super. Determined to capture the glory on film (XD card), I took a walk down Ewden with my pa, aiming for the alder carr around Salt Spring Beck, Owler Carrs. Upon arrival, I was disappointed to see that these common alders (Alnus glutinosa) were lagging behind their urban heat island chums in the city, phenologically speaking. The male catkins were still in their compact, red wine-coloured winter forms – photograph please:

Wintery common alder male catkins.

But then – aha! Right by the beck, a young alder with a fair smattering of the yellow spring-form catkins. Not as tree-coveringly many as I saw in Hillsborough and Sheffield, but still plenty. Camera out, close-up shots ahoy. In the bag.

Later on, walking down the steep part of Mortimer Road towards Ewden Bridge, we spied another young alder with long yellow male catkins. Stopping to admire these early signs of spring, we noticed an unusual bud – the only one of its kind on the tree, as far as we could tell. It looked just like all the other buds, except for little red spikes poking a few millimetres out of its end. Puzzling.

The mystery.

Fast-forward several hours, and here I am uploading the day’s photos onto the computer. Before writing a post around the catkins, I thought it would be good form to see if I could find out what those red spikes were all about. A flower? A gall? A few googles couldn’t shed any light on the matter, but then I had an brainflash. What if that weird bud wasn’t on an alder, but was on a hazel. They both have long yellow catkins in spring…

Lolz. It turns out I’d been fooled. The Mortimer Road alder wasn’t an alder after all, but a hazel (Corylus avellana). Duh! The bud with red spikes? A female flower! Which, all things permitting, will develop into a hazelnut in the summer. (My Collins Field Guide Trees of Britain & Northern Europe, by Alan Mitchell, describes the female flowers as “brown ovoids 3-5 mm with bright deep red styles exserted 2mm a few days after pollen of same tree is shed.” And my Collins Tree Guide, by Owen Johnson, correctly likens them to “crimson sea-anemones”.)

Then the thought hit me that if I was wrong about this alder-hazel, could I also be wrong about the one at Salt Spring Beck. Yes I could. It’s all in the buds you see. Once I’d IDed the Mortimer Road tree as a hazel, I saw that its buds were green and scaly. Just like the ones in the background of the photograph of male hazel catkins at the beginning of the post. Alder buds are smooth and purple – you can see a couple in the photo of the red wine-coloured catkins, which actually are alder catkins. In a week or so they’ll open up, getting longer and exposing their bright yellow insides – just what has already happened on the alders I saw on the bus, which were definitely alders and not hazels because of their giveaway single-stem mode of growth and distinctly alderish shape.

A cluster of male hazel catkins.

A closer look at the top of the catkins, revealing the golden, pollen-carrying anthers.

What a waffly post! The quick version: man sees catkin-laden (Italian) alders in town; goes on walk to get photos of (common) alders; thinks yellow-catkined trees are young alders; transpires they were actually hazels. Thank the Man-Jesus for those little red spikes. New tree knowledge: what alder and hazel buds look like, and what female hazel flowers look like. Other signs of spring seen: elders (Sambucus nigra) have begun flushing.

Posted in Gone for a walk

Photos from a walk down Ewden (21st February 2009): Part Two

Carrying on from where I left off... While Part One was all about the broadleaves (and there was holly and hawthorn and sycamore and ash), Part Two is all about the conifers (and there is pine and Sitka spruce and larch, plus cameos from holly and oak). Enjoy!

Right on the edge of Broomhead Reservoir, a couple of the wee nippers that are springing up from seed dropped by the big forestry trees overhead. On the left, a luscious young pine (Pinus); on the right, a Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) seedling.

One particular spot, again right at the edge of the reservoir, was rich in chewed up spruce cones. The one shown in this photo is wedged between the spikes of a holly leaf. I saw another also wedged on a holly leaf and one wedged upright into a crack in the stump of a felled tree (see photo below). This stump was the centre of the cone stripping activity - obviously a favoured eating spot for some creature. From my Animal Tracks and Signs book, by Preben Bang and Preben Dahlstrøm:

Cones are a very important food… and conifer seeds form the bulk of [a squirrel’s] diet for a large part of the year… Fallen cones… are generally gnawed on the ground. The squirrel will usually sit on a little hillock or tree stump, so it has a good view all around and can spot possible danger in plenty of time… Squirrels begin gnawing at the base of the cone, holding it tilted with their forepaws… When it cannot tear off any more scales… it holds the cone firmly against the ground or branch, with one forepaw on the tip and the other on the scale-bearing section… Squirrels do not normally gnaw off all of the scales, but leave the top ones like a little tuft at the top of the axis. Clearly it would be difficult for it to gnaw off these last few scales, as this is where it has hold of the cone with its paw… As a particular squirrel will always hold a cone the same way, squirrels can be divided into right- or left-handed…

The distinctive, redonculously long leader of a Sitka sapling in an area of natural regeneration following clearfelling.

A recently cut spruce stump. We planted you; we let you grow big and strong; and then we cut you down, because all we ever wanted was your body.

Don’t forget to look up! The green trees are Sitka spruce and the bare trees are larch (Larix), one of the few deciduous conifers.

Much of the land just north of Broomhead Reservoir is forestry plantations of pine, Sitka spruce and larch. It might be owned by the Forestry Commission, but I’m not sure. A few years ago they clearfelled a patch, and more recently some thinning has being going on. Some of the trees that consequently became more exposed have since blown over. The cone in the photo is right at the top of a windthrown Sitka spruce, somewhere I wouldn’t normally get to see. The cones of the other spruce commonly found in Britain, the Norway spruce (Picea abies), have pointy tips.

This is the very topmost tip of the same fallen tree. The distinctive twin blue-white bands on the underside of the needles are waxy strips where the stomata (‘breathing holes’ for photosynthesis) are located. Notice how the needles are pressed upwards close to the shoot at the top of the tree; lower down, the needles are held perpendicular to the tree (like those of the seedling in the first photo).

Posted in Gone for a walk

Photos from a walk down Ewden (21st February 2009): Part One

My legs took me on a wee walk down Ewden valley the other day... I found a tunnel in the woods.

This young holly tree (Ilex aquifolium) looked beautiful bathed in the late afternoon sun, but unfortunately this photo doesn’t do it justice! And I don’t know whether it was this particular holly, or if I’ve just never noticed before, but the butter-coloured leaf margins were quite striking.

The vigorous-looking leading shoots of the same holly.

Three hawthorns (Crataegus monogyna) provide the backdrop for this barb. The hawthorns have spikes too.

A weird little twig sticking out of a sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) trunk. When this tree gets older the smooth bark will turn platey and flaky-looking, like this.

A tiny-weeny twig sticking out of the same sycamore. I think you can see it in the top left of the previous photo.

A reflection of sycamore and ash (Fraxinus excelsior) trees. Not in the Ewden valley, this one! Can you guess what is doing the reflecting?

Posted in Gone for a walk

A walk in the snow (2nd February 2009): Part Two

Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) to the left of me, European larch (Larix decidua) to the right...

A row of most snowy beeches (Fagus sylvatica).

In the heart of Millstones Wood...

Out in the fields, the snow was drifting behind the walls. Walking along a footpath hidden beneath this drift, I was ploughing through waist-high snow in places. It was either that or slide down a gorse-covered hill! The wind blowing through the gaps in the dry stone wall was sculpting fantastic shapes – this and the next photograph have been altered to highlight these.

More snow-sculpture. The oft-mentioned Millstones Wood can be seen in the left half of the background.

Near Ewden Height, and the snow was coming thick and fast. The bush in the foreground is gorse (Ulex europaeus) – a.k.a. whin or furze.

Millstones Wood again. Beech, beech, and more beech.

Posted in Gone for a walk

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