AUGUST - "A house is made with walls and beams; a home is built with love and dreams" (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

I slip, I slide, I gloom, I glance,
Among my skimming swallows;
I make the netted sunbeam dance
Against my sandy shallows.

Please don't imagine that, because I don't mention the present pain on our planet, I'm not feeling it. We all are. My focus in this blog will be on the natural world as I experience it.

Powerful stuff!

August began, as July ended, in the Cumbrian part of the Yorkshire Dales and the first day was a reminder of the importance of railways, old and new, for wildlife. We were in an old carriage, pulled by an old engine, and it was easy to imagine that the reason for the stunningly beautiful trackside was linked to the antiquity of it all. But modern mainline railways have much to offer the observer of nature too. Where there are few people, as by the side of the railway, there is a greater wealth of wildlife. Makes you think! On the return journey from Warcop, it was the grasses and sedges which starred in the tableau from the carriage window - but there were many lovely flowers too.

I'm going to pretend they're not watching me eat my breakfast

Back at the house in Ravenstonedale, we continued to be entertained by the red squirrel, nuthatches and various tits. There was a family of seven chaffinches, living very close and regularly visiting the lawn, and I saw a mistle thrush on the track outside the kitchen window. It looked to be about 30cms from bill to tail but, when I looked up mistle thrushes, the book said they are about 26cms - and the back did seem an unusually pale grey. So, did I see something other than a mistle thrush? I honestly can't be sure.

Just hanging around

The lane was quite busy with little things - as well as sheep! An intensely yellow wagtail rested while the sheep were being shorn at the farm. After the shearing, there was so much wool everywhere that I was tempted to collect it and to bring it home. Then I remembered it would be like taking coals to Newcastle! But I don't suppose we can say that anymore!

On the journey home to Caithness, I felt sure just about all of the wildflowers which were removed from our roadsides by poisoning in the 1960s, had made their way back there - and long may they reign!

I was surprised at the number of hunting birds. Someone suggested that last year's lockdown may have benefited our natural environment and it struck me that this is a positive thing. Even so, there was such a lot of roadkill on our journey home.

We had Scotch mist, torrential rain, wind and thick fog as we travelled northwards so I lit the fire for our first night back. 

The next day, I was in the garden snipping things. It was good to be home!

I studied a thrush which kept incredibly still under the forsythia bush. Usually they do that with their heads tilted to one side but this one didn't. Later I buried a thrush which appeared to have flown into a window. I wonder if it was the one I had watched earlier in the day and that it had been ill when I spotted it?

We are really making neighbourly strides with our wildlife here in our new home. We drive at a snail's pace behind the hares which demand to be given plenty of time and space to get up the hill! We have deer by the river and by the now-dried-up wee pond. A hen harrier visits our woodland regularly and there are more by the river - as well as other hunting birds about which I can't be sufficiently sure to give you a label.

At the bird feeders, we have a friendly family of chaffinches, blue tits, great tits, warblers, a robin, sparrows and a dunnock. The wrens are everywhere along the old stone walls, in and out of the ivy. Blackbirds and thrushes sometimes hop lightly, sometimes rush at full pelt through the undergrowth and, last night, quite late, we were all outside watching the green glow from the Northern Lights, when a barn owl glided over our heads like an arc of light. The stars were to dream of - and a meteor was spotted amongst them.

We have butterflies too - never my strongest point - I can just about identify a peacock butterfly and a swallowtail butterfly but the others leave me unsure. There are so many white butterflies - and, it seems, there are more blues than I thought - not to mention the yellows!! I can tell you, however, that we have speckled wood butterflies in our trees - very pretty and aptly named.

A place to sit and think

When the bonfire was consuming the garden rubbish, I watched a large dragonfly pass from my right to my left and on towards where the pond had dried up in the lane. In the same area of garden - where fruit trees are eventually to be planted - a giant of an insect was spotted by a friend and it landed on my daughter. She kept really calm while her husband photographed said insect. It had an obvious "stinger" which turned out not to be a stinger but its implement for planting its eggs in a tree. It bores into old pine trees and lays the eggs there. It was, in fact, a Giant Wood Wasp, which is not a wasp at all!

Last weekend my daughter found a wonderfully warty toad as she was clearing an area of the garden near the house. She had been clearing away ivy and weeds and found our new friend under some deadwood. Her sister saw a frog and another sister spotted a vole in the wall by the toad's patch. We have hedgehog poo on the grass at the front of the house - so that may mean that a hedgehog will spend the winter in the hedgehog palace by the wall. These are exciting times.

Our daughter and family were up again, from near Inverness, and how blessed we were to have her husband - an expert in forestry - to get to grips with the trees here for a second time. He has opened up many to improve conditions and his advice is priceless. There is a fairly big tree in the garden at the back of the house which we just couldn't identify - it seems it is a Swedish Whitebeam - and very welcome it is too! It's a real beauty.

I'm surprised at the extent of the birdsong. I expect them to be a bit quieter after the effort of rearing multiple babies. What was it Thomas Hardy wrote? After hearing an old thrush singing in a bleak winter landscape, Hardy felt that there was . . .

"some blessed Hope, whereof he knew and I was unaware."

Hold that thought!

Walking round the Baillie Windfarm last weekend, it was easy to see fish jumping out of the lochan, in turn being circled by bigger fish with fins. Shark attack! Not really - but this is something we need to work on - some local knowledge would be good. They were seen again today but not in such big numbers. 

The willows by the roadside have now been trained - some into an archway and another into a definite shape - I'm just not sure what it is!! The verge has been mown there too - but not too severely as there are some little treasures growing in the grass.

Who threw my blue ball into this tree?

Pass the willows and head down to the river (Forss) and you are in for a treat. In front of you is a patchwork of fields edged with stone dykes and/or hedges and punctuated by ancient sites including a broch. We also have a broch across the road from us. You wouldn't really recognise it as such - it looks a bit like a midden with docks and scrubby grass growing on and around it.

Stand on the little bridge and spend a while just watching the river flow, maybe catch a glimpse of a fish, resident birds or identify the wildflowers and grasses nearby. Share a greeting with the friendly horses across the Forss, then turn back and help yourself to the wild raspberries growing along the track. You'll need longer to get back up the hill - believe me, I know!

It feels, here in the west of Caithness, as if we are a part of the landscape and a part of the history too. There's much to be done to both house and garden so that they can rest easy again - but I'm very happy to be a part of it. 

I've lived in a number of houses and every one of them has been the home I needed at that point in time. Living in a house is not the same as having a home. This house too is the home I need - it's a two-way thing - making a home of a house. All here - and those who love us - are working WITH our new house and garden - and together we are a home.

Deus abençoe cada canto desta casa 

If you've enjoyed reading my August blog for 2021, look at some of the others - you may like those too. My books, "Child of the Isle" and "Child of the Earth" reflect my love of Nature - here are some of the comments written about "Child of the Earth" -

“This is such a charming book filled with the musings of the author in regard to nature. Having lived in Lincolnshire myself, a small town called Spalding, I know the county a
little and, like the author, I understand many of its hidden beauty. I'd recommend this to anybody who enjoys nature and it's important in living a healthy life.” Female reader, aged

“I found this book a delightful read and an inspiration in terms of appreciating the nature around us.” Male reader, aged 63

“This author, I think, is a very smart lady who sees with better eyes than most and has a way of putting across her thoughts in a fun and accessible way. Talented indeed!” Female reader, aged 54