Sunday, 16 July 2017

Other people's wilds - somewhere old

For several years we lived  within the Yorkshire Dales National Park. We left our hearts there and visit often. Excitement rises as we get closer - those first breaths of mountain air are (nearly) better than champagne. Some places just feel like home; we breathe easily and sleep deeply there. And we wake to the sound of the swallows chattering under the eaves. Normal, daily attire is walking boots and waterproofs. I love that.
It feels like a place to stay fit in; it feels like a place to stay fit for. During the first few miles we feel our calves and thighs burning. Hearts thud and then steady as we find a rhythm. Boots slip and grip: peat hag, gritstone path, close-contoured climbs and breezy, springy tops. Amid the much loved names and places we try some new peaks. We climb Great Shunner Fell in the cloud, quickly eating a picnic in the windbreak with cold, damp fingers. Great Whernside is a gorgeous steep climb out of Kettlewell, we are quickly on the top and then rewarded by a meandering return and spectacular descent. From Nine Standards Rigg there is a 360 degree view: we see Blencathra in the Lakes and as far as the Northern Pennines. We stretch our eyes and unravel our minds.

Smartly black and white, with vermillion lacquered bills and legs, oystercatchers are nesting. They feed in the high pastures and line up on the stone walls to call a warning. Curlew cry in the wind and lapwing dip and dive. There are red grouse and sandpipers too. Yellowhammer, skylark, wheatear and ring ousel complete our upland itinerary. Along the tea-coloured rivers, we look for our favourite locals: a dipper, a grey wagtail; and is it too soon for goosander?

We talk away the miles. The stomp of boots on the ground seems to free the tongue and the mind. We remind ourselves how much we love it here. We ask each other why we left. We plot and plan our return.


Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Local patch 12

An early July day dawned bright and sunny. But by the time the yellow coach arrived at the car park, the sky was many shades of grey and the air was wet. Everything was wet. But none of this dampened the enthusiasm of the fifty-three 6&7 year-olds who scrambled out of their school bus and crunched across our wildflower-filled car park.

They were dressed for the occasion: sunhats served as rain-visors and they unpacked waterproofs from their bright backpacks. Year 2 was here for mini-beasts and pond dipping and a rainy start was not going to put anyone off!

In the mini-marshes they sat under a temporary event shelter and heard about the basic needs of plants and animals. They agreed that animals needed food, water, air and shelter. They used words like habitat, herbivore and predator and thought about the best places to find their mini-beasts. Then, armed with beaters, trays, magnifiers and identification keys they were off. 'The big question, guys, is has it got legs?' and then 'has it got 6 legs?'. They learnt how to identify insects and molluscs, beetles and spiders.

After a quick picnic lunch they reconvened at the dipping platform on the pond. Under the watchful eyes of teachers, volunteers and adult helpers they learnt how to kneel sensibly by the pond and dip their nets without flicking each other. Nobody fell in. Again, beasts were collected, observed and identified. The children concentrated hard. They asked lots of sensible questions and were respectful of the environment, although mild hysteria did break out when a large harvestman spider crawled across the groundsheet at lunchtime.

There is great environmental work going on in the Schools on Reserves programme. Sessions are carefully and appropriately planned with strong links to learning objectives in the curriculum. Key vocabulary is reinforced, being used in practical situations, and new skills are learnt and rehearsed. But more than this, the children get to have huge fun outdoors. Wonderful Ham Wall cast its spell and wove its magic once again. Come back soon Year 2!