Walks from Limestone Cottage, Levens: Helsington and Sizergh Castle

A walk from Levens of just under 4 miles, visiting St John’s Chapel at Helsington (above Brigsteer) for the viewpoint, and Sizergh Castle – for the tea room!

Walk north out of Levens, along the road signposted to Brigsteer.

After about a kilometre, turn through a gate on your right (1). The track beyond the gate leads directly to Sizergh Castle. To go via Helsington, turn immediately left through another gate and follow the path diagonally up the hillside.

Bear left after you pass through a gap in the line of trees, then go through a couple of gates until you come to a track at (2). Follow the track straight ahead until you come to the chapel at (3).

There is a good view across the Lyth Valley from the view point near the chapel, with some of the Lake District fells in sight to the north west on a clear day.

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When you’re ready to carry on, walk back past the chapel and turn left across a cattle grid onto a concrete drive. Follow this until you pass through a gap in a wall (4).

As you pass through the gap, turn off to the right of the concrete drive, and head for the right hand edge of the small group of trees you can see ahead. You will go down a field, over a ladder stile, then down the next field to a gate in the hedge on the right.

The gate leads to a stony lane. Turn right, and after a short distance turn back on yourself through a gate on the left, to descend a flight of steps leading into woodland. Follow the path through the woods until you come out into a farmyard (5). Cross the farmyard, go through a gate and follow the track to Sizergh Castle (6).

The Castle and gardens are well worth a visit (free to National Trust members). You can visit the shop and cafe without having to pay to go in.  To walk back to the cottage, walk through the car park to the far end, and go through the gate to walk along the left hand edge of a field.

At the far end of the field (7) go through a gate then diagonally right up the hillside, following the track in the grass. You will come to a hedge, go through this and continue walking in roughly the same direction. The path will take you down hill again, to a gate in a limestone wall (8).

Once through the wall, bear left and keep going until you come to a road (9). The path leads to a gate – the right of way is actually across a stile just to the right of the gate. Turn left along the road and follow it round until you arrive back in Levens village.

 

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Osprey chicks and other wildlife events

Foulshaw Moss Nature Reserve is only a few miles from the cottage. I first visited the reserve a year ago – some photos here.

Ospreys are nesting again this year. The reserve is looked after by Cumbria Wildlife Trust, and they have posted a video of this year’s chicks. There’s also some excellent webcam videos of last year’s ospreys in their nest.

Check out other events from Cumbria Wildlife Trust here.

 

 

Winter weather – inversions

The term ‘inversion’ when talking about the weather refers to conditions when cold air is trapped below warmer air. The normal temperature profile of the atmosphere is for the air temperature to decrease with increasing height.

It isn’t the temperature itself that makes inversions in the mountains interesting, but the cloudscapes that can occur. The air holds a certain amount of water as a gas, and as the air cools some of this water condenses to form the tiny drops of water that we see as clouds. Most of the time you are more likely to encounter clouds as you ascend a mountain, as the air cools.

On day with an inversion, however, the coldest air is at ground level. Inversions can happen at any time of year, but they are most common in the autumn and winter on a still day when the skies have been clear the night before.

Early morning mist is due to a temperature inversion, like this faint mist on Ullswater in the morning. Such mists often ‘burn off’ during the day.

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Cloudscapes formed by inversions are often more spectacular when you are up in the mountains, like this mist lurking below the peaks.

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And sometimes proper clouds form, such as these seen from Helvellyn.

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The best inversion I have ever encountered was on New Year’s Eve in the Lake District. The day did not start out promisingly, with very poor visibility, but we decided we’d get out anyway and tackle the walk to Grasmoor from Braithwaite via Grisedale Pike. This is the kind of view we had as we set off.

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We’d reached something like 400 m altitude when the sky started to seem lighter. Brighter clouds are often just a symptom of wishful thinking, but not on this day. We could soon see sky, and then some hills above the layer of cloud.

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Onwards and upwards, and we were rewarded by the sight of the various peaks around us poking out of a sea of cloud. That’s a bit of a cliche, but really does describes the views.

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new-year-8-9-4-v2dsc05498 The conditions persisted all day, and it was only reluctantly that we set off back down into the gloom after one of the best winter walks I’ve had. The views were still spectacular in the fading light.

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These two websites have more details on inversions. Interestingly, the video included in both of them was shot on the same day as my photos above.

How to catch a cloud inversion

Cloud inversions – how to catch them

And here’s a stitched together panorama of the view. Click here for a better view of it on Flickr (this blog site shrinks it too far!).

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There’s no guarantee you will get such spectacular scenery if you come to the Lakes in the winter. But what is guaranteed is that you will never see it if you don’t come!

 

 

Winter weather – sunsets

The autumn equinox is almost upon us and then the nights will be longer than the days. And when the clocks go back next month, dusk will fall even earlier.

While there are many benefits of summer, the darker part of the year also has its attractions. For example, you can take daft photos like this without having to be on the hills really late.

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Shadows from a low sun

In the autumn and winter months you can see a sunset from the mountains and still be back in the valley in time for a quick pint before dinner.

These pics were from the descent of Wetherlam in February, and we we were back at our accommodation drinking tea and eating cake by 6 pm.

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Looking south-west from the south ridge of Wetherlam

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Sunset over Levers Hawse from the south ridge of Wetherlam

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Sunset over Levers Hawse from the south ridge of Wetherlam

One of my other favourite mountain sunsets was seen from a winter walk on the Fairfield Horseshoe.

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A winter sunset from Rydal Fell

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A winter sunset from Rydal Fell

And sometimes there is another benefit of a low sun – such as lighting up the hills like this:

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The last rays of the setting sun on the Helvellyn range

So, as this is a blog for a holiday cottage, the real message is – don’t let the shorter days put you off the idea of visiting the Lakes – it is lovely at all times of the year.

Now, unfortunately, it’s time for a safety disclaimer…

We hadn’t specifically planned to return to the valley after dark on either of the ‘sunset walks’ above, but we were prepared for walking in the dark with decent head torches. We had also done both of the walks several times before and knew the way down and that there was a clear path to follow. If you aren’t confident with your navigation (and remember that GPS batteries may run out so you also need to be confident with map and compass), make sure you plan to at least be back on a road by the time the sun sets. If you fancy some night walking or seeing sunsets from up in the mountains, there are plenty of guides who can take you or teach you what you need to know.

Building for birds – RSPB Leighton Moss

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Reed beds at Leighton Moss

The RSPB reserve at Leighton Moss is the largest area of reed beds in the north west. I lived in Carnforth until 2012, and so it was right on my doorstep. As members get in free, I’d often have a wander in just to see if there was anything interesting to be seen and sometimes have tea and a scone in the tea shop. My main memories were of hides that were getting a bit worse for wear, and where you had to make sure you hooked up the windows properly otherwise you risked getting whacked on the top of the head while peering through your binoculars.

 

There was quite a difference when I visited at the beginning of June. It was a lovely sunny day, and I’d just driven up from the south-west so I popped in for about an hour to see the new sky tower that I’d read about. But that wasn’t the only change.

The visitor centre looks like a barn conversion, with the shop, entrance and toilets downstairs and the tea shop upstairs. The area behind the building used to be a staff/disabled car park. Now it has raised beds with bee-friendly flowers (labelled, so you can copy the planting), with shady and sunny places to sit. In the woods just beyond there are plenty of picnic tables, and a place with bird feeders to get some close up views of woodland birds.

The paths through the reserve are partly winding through woodland, and partly through the reed beds. As such, the normal view from the paths (as opposed to from the hides) is of either trees or reeds, with the occasional view into small pools.

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The normal kind of view from the paths.

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One of the pools viewed from a path.

The skytower is not far from the visitor centre, and climbing it allows you to get a view across most of the reserve. You can, of course, see across the reserve from the surrounding, higher countryside, but the tower gives you a much closer view.

There weren’t many birds around during my short visit, but I did enjoy standing on the top and just watching the wind blow the tops of the trees below me. It was also a good place to take a panorama of the lagoons. The water level was very low, I think because of work they were doing to maintain the reed beds.

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Is this skytower an eyesore, I hear you ask. Judge for yourselves – it is in the photo above captioned ‘The normal kind of view from the paths.’

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The Causeway hide.

There are 8 hides altogether on the reserve (I think!). Two of these are quite luxurious, with large glass windows where you can sit to look out over the lagoons, as well as the more normal benches with drop down windows to look through (but that let the wind in on cold days!). A couple of hides are some distance away, right next to the coast, and two more are reached by walking across the causeway – a public footpath that crosses the middle of the main part of the reserve. The hides I went to all looked to have been rebuilt relatively recently, and the windows now open outwards and downwards, so nor more risks to heads!

The old way to get to the causeway involved walking along a road. Not a busy road, but still a road. There was an off-road footpath part of the way, but this has now been extended by a new boardwalk that crosses that corner of the reed beds, and gives a view of the vegetation and the wildlife that you don’t get from the gravelled paths elsewhere.

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Part of the new boardwalk

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View from the Causeway hide – sadly more flowers than birds when I was there!

The reserve is a great place to go at any time of year. On this hot, sunny day it was lovely to walk along some of the wooded paths, and see the irises in bloom. On horrid days, put your wellies on, take a flask, and sit in one of the hides spotting birds. The reserve is only 10 miles from the self-catering cottage in Levens, and you get in free if you go on public transport or by bicycle – and it is a lovely scenic ride too.

 

Bridge to nowhere (1)

When I first started coming to the Lake District, several decades ago, the road to the southern lakes and beyond was a narrow road, only just wide enough for one lane each way. Then pressure of traffic led to parts of it being widened and some bits becoming dual carriageways. One of these bypassed the pretty village of Lindale, but then the road became narrow again as it wound through Low Newton and High Newton. A few years before I bought Limestone Cottage in Levens, the dual carriageway was extended by building the High and Low Newton Bypass. This has speeded up the journey considerably (until you get to the next narrow bit), but can’t have done much for the passing trade in the pub in High Newton.

Anyway, the reason for this rambling is that there is this ‘bridge to nowhere’ over part of this new bypass. This puzzled me for some time.

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It is, apparently, a ‘bat bridge’. It is thought that bats navigate around their patch in the dark using their sonar to follow hedgerows or walls. Bats are reluctant to cross open spaces, due to the risk of predators, so removing linear features such as hedges and walls can restrict their commuting routes. When they do cross open areas they tend to do so low down – at vehicle height, with the inevitable fatal consequences.

Bat bridges like the one above are an attempt to mitigate these problems by providing a higher-level structure that the bats can detect and, hopefully, follow to cross the road. However in the years since structures like this have been built in various places in the UK, there is little evidence that they work – bats still cross open spaces lower down.

There is more on bat bridges here.

Ospreys and dragonflies – Foulshaw Moss

Foulshaw Moss is a few miles from the cottage at Levens, on the southern edge of the Lake District. Part of the area is owned by the Cumbria Wildlife Trust.

I’d read that there were ospreys nesting there, so I thought it was time for a visit. I saw the osprey’s nest, and with the aid of a ‘scope provided by one of the volunteers on site I might have seen the head of one of the ospreys… but what I really enjoyed was the discovery of a totally different landscape.

But first, the ospreys…

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The nest is in the tree in the middle distance.

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The second pic is with my 300 mm zoom lens, and is similar to the view through the scope. Ah, I thought, I can see one of them sitting on the left of the nest! But no, that’s one of the cameras used for the nestcam.

What was impressive was a mocked-up full size nest on the way onto the reserve. I didn’t manage to photograph anything for scale, but the eggs looked to be a similar size to hens eggs. There were some quite large lumps of wood there, but the volunteer on duty assured us that the real nest contained pieces of a similar size.

 

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Mocked-up osprey nest at Foulshaw Moss

Apparently the ospreys have been seen feeding at the RSPB reserve at Leighton Moss, just the other side of the Kent estuary from Foulshaw – so ironically that might be a better place to try to see them. But the reserve at Foulshaw is still worth a visit for the different landscape, and for the wildlife that lives in peat bogs.

Until a few years ago the area to the south of the A590 was forested, then the trees were sold and there were plans to sell of all the underlying peat to be bagged up for garden centres, with the hole that was left to be used as a landfill (all this according to the chap on duty at the entrance). Thankfully EU regulations prevented this and eventually the Cumbria Wildlife Trust, with the aid of various grants, managed to buy the land and restore the peat bog habitats. When I visited there was a small shed at the entrance with information about the reserve and the wildlife. They ask you to make a £3 donation unless you are a member of one of the Wildlife Trusts. There is a boardwalk that takes you on a short loop into the reserve, with a couple of viewing areas. At this time of year there are puffs of white cotton grass among the pools, and an interesting contrast between the wetland scenery in the foreground and the limestone hills to the north of the reserve.

The raised platform allows some distant views, and is also handy for looking down on the pond life. A better naturalist than me might be able to identify the dragonflies!

Further round the loop of boardwalk there are groves of birch trees that have been left, making amazing reflections in the still water.

People on their way out were being asked if they’d enjoyed it. I certainly had, but there was one grumpy chap who muttered that he liked it better before the board walks were put in. Personally, I like keeping my feet dry, and also appreciate that the boardwalks limit where visitors can go – a reminder that these reserves are for the benefit of the wildlife, not designed primarily for tourists to wander around. In fact, many of the Cumbria Wildlife Trust reserves are not open to the public at all.

See the Cumbria Wildlife Trust page for directions to get there and a list of the wildlife that can be seen there. That site has a link to a google map – but if you are approaching from the east along the A590, the first trick is not to turn off at the white road sign that says ‘Foulshaw Moss’ – that has no access to the reserve. Carry on along the main road and there is a small sign on the left, just before you get to the blue ‘Dual carriageway 1 mile ahead’ sign.

 

 

Lake District back in business

It was most enouraging this week to read that the A591 has been mended, and ahead of schedule. The A591 is the main road through the middle of the Lake District that links Ambleside and Grasmere in the south with Keswick in the north. Storm Desmond, at the end of 2015, washed part of it away. There was still a road open – the small road around the western side of Thirlmere. However this road is narrow and windy and not suited to the normal volume of traffic and so it was closed to everything except buses and bicycles.

All the publicity about Storm Desmond and the homes and businesses flooded seem to have convinced a lot of people that the Lake District suffered much more damage than it really did. As a result the tourist industry, on which many depend, has been very slow to pick up this year. Mine included – one reason for setting up this website was to try to get a few more people staying in Limestone Cottage!

One benefit from this road damage is that the National Park has improved an existing right of way over Dunmail Raise to make it easier to walk or cycle over the Raise without having to use the road.