Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Land of Fire

With the arrival of some warmer weather I knew that the Adder (Vipera berus) would be out of hibernation so had a wander down to a hibernation site I have been observing for many years. Sure enough one individual was laying out in the sun enjoying a few rays. I had hoped to see several here and it is a bit worrying that there was only one.

06D-6159a Adder Vipera berus Sensing with Tongue
Adder Vipera berus.

At the moment the North Pennines moors are looking like some kind of apocalyptic landscape and everywhere you look there are fires and massive palls of smoke sweeping across the moors.

01M-8504 Heather Burning in Upper Teesdale County Durham

This is of course controlled heather burning but for anyone who has never seen such a practice it must look pretty alarming. Heather burning has been going on for generations and is done as a part of the grouse moor management and conservation and is completed just before the nesting season begins. The burning of old heather in a mosaic encourages new heather shoots to grow and ensures the grouse that feed on the shoots have plenty to feed on. It is not without controversy it has to be said, but it is certainly not a black and white argument.

It has to be said grouse shooting is an emotive subject and from my own personal viewpoint I have mixed feelings about it. On the other hand i know several families that rely on the income from these activities either directly as gamekeepers, beaters and other estate staff, or indirectly as suppliers, accommodation providers, etc. I must admit I find it difficult to understand the mindset of people who enjoy killing animals for fun, but as one gamekeeper pointed out to me, all of these birds go into the food chain and they are not left to rot on the moors. He does have a point and unlike some forms of intensive farming the birds do have a better quality of life. It is a part of the argument I find hard to pick holes in and if I am honest my dislike is perhaps more one based on the dislike of killing for fun as much as animal welfare or the effect on the environment.

Anyway opinions aside, I had a wander over to one of the fires to get some pics. This is access land but even so was not sure what sort of welcome I would receive. Fortunately the keepers were friendly enough and using a long lens I was able to zoom into the action without getting in the way.

06D-6350 Heather Burning Teesdale County Durham UK

06D-6362 Gamekeeper Controlling Heather Burning in Upper Teesdale County Durham

06D-6438 Gamekeeper Controlling Heather Burning in Upper Teesdale County Durham

06D-6444 Gamekeeper Controlling Heather Burning in Upper Teesdale County Durham

Text/images copyright David Forster

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Weardale Wander - Carrs Top and Catterick Hill.

It's odd but there are a number of hills in Teesdale and Weardale that I have only ever been on as a result of mountain rescue searches and I have never stood on the top simply for enjoyment - the hills of Carrs Top and Catterick above Bollihope in Weardale being two such places.

It was time to put this right and in spring sunshine I left the car at Bollihope and made my way up towards the first hill, Carrs Top.  There is no official path to the summit of Carrs and it was simply a case of following various sheep and quad bike tracks in the general direction of the summit, stopping every now and again to look at anything that caught my eye. 

View south over Bollihope
It has to be said these moors are pretty barren at first glance but there are a few distractions in the form of collapsed shelters, cairns, old mine workings and bird life such as Golden Plover, Lapwing, Curlew and Skylark which were all seen and heard this morning.  On the lower slopes where the watershed comes together as Bollihope Burn, Ring Ouzel, Dipper and reptiles such as lizard and Adder can also be found.

With the honking of Geese from a pond on the other side of the valley floating over and the air alive with birdsong it really felt as if spring had arrived.  Mind you it felt a bit like this last year and the end of March beginning of April brought two big dumps of snow, so spring could still be cut short.

Carrs Top is only modest hill at 540m but it has long reaching views, which is why it has a trig point.  Its eastern end also has a small cairn with good views across to Catterick Hill, my next objective.

Cairn on Carrs Top with the view east to Catterick Hill in the distance

The view west across Weardale
Leaving the summit it was an easy if rather boggy walk to the road high point, which was crossed at right angles before making my trackless way towards the summit of Catterick (426m).  

Cairn on Catterick Hill with the OS trig point in the distance

Trig on Catterick Hill and the view north over Weardale
Moving west from the summit I made easy progress across trackless heather and after three hundred metres or so cut south towards some old mine working with lots of mineral coated rocks and some nice pieces of Fluorspar.  In fact the whole area has been mined and earlier in the day I even found a massive boulder at least 6 feet square that was completely coated in crystals.  The location of that particular gem is staying a secret for others who enjoy getting off the beaten track to find. 

Crystal rock close up
Making my way steeply down towards Bollihope I came across two holes that had recently opened up due to the heavy rain.   If you do intend walking in this area it is definitely worth keeping this in mind especially when walking in deep heather.

Several holes have opened up including one which drops into the nearby mine level that is not fenced off
Walk Date 3rd March 2014

Just as a postscript to this walk I headed back over this way the next day and noticed that a small hill called Long Man had some good light on it so made the short walk up.

Long Man Cairn
Oddest bit of littering I have ever seen
Rammed rather unceremoniously in the cairn was a plastic cremation Urn.  Needless to say I did not look inside and it may have been empty so perhaps they had already scattered the ashes.  It seems a shame to despoil the place by dumping it on the cairn though. 

Images/text copyright David Forster