Nature Notes

Chalk for Gritstone.

IMG_4029The high winds blowing through Swaledale and Wensleydale are rumbling and rough; a sharp contrast to the smoothed out, keening swish and wail over the downs of home. This wind rolls gritstone around, buffing limestone scars and the corners of our thick-walled farmhouse at Skellgill. The sheep tuck in to line the bottom of the dry stone walls, like remnant snow from another season. The fledged swallows in the adjoining stone cart shed are sitting this one out, crowding at the edge of their too-small mud-cup nest.

The sun returns. I have fallen in love with this breathtaking landscape. I love the wide open moors and the intimacy of the small, walled fields that cloister wrens and weasels; each with a stone barn, weatherboards at the windows silvered, warped, sere and loose like dirtied nets blowing to catch a ghost.

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I love the lush cow pasture close to the yards and lanes besmirched with grassy cowpats rising to rougher fields full of lapwing that I’ve lost my heart to – and the wild, curved cries of curlew and pied and orange oystercatchers. Sycamores in their summer dark take on a dappled, brindled character when their leaves are turned over in the wind,  like the patterning of the lichen-patched chequered walls.

I learn new geology and language in exploring limestone scars, grykes and clints; the pits and pans of ancient seabeds higher and grittier than our soft, white, rounded chalkbeds. Flame-tailed redstarts bob like robins and there are dippers and broods of spotted flycatchers, wild marjoram, blue cranesbill and the red raspberries of great burnet.
One hot, early morning, I watch a stoat threading through exposed roots on an eroded bank, like a laced ribbon pulled through trellis. It splashes lithely through the gill and loops through walls, pushing out stonechats, a wheatear, scolding wrens and rabbits.

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The last time we were here, I was pregnant with my youngest child and struggled to fit through the gap stone stiles. Now, we have tea on village greens and wild adventures, walking behind waterfalls and being thwarted by a missing central stepping stone in the River Ure, whose winter force had bouldered it away out of line to an unjumpable, unwadeable distance.  Through my binoculars, I spot my son and husband mountainbiking miles away, up a walled track onto the high moor, spokes sparkling. They descend to another river crossing, hoiking bikes and boots onto their shoulders.

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The girls spend days scrambling down the gorge of clear, peat-filtered Skellgill that rushes past the back door like poured tea or cola, fizzing over stones, until they discover a small plunge pool. My eldest daughter dives under in shorts and an ironic Hawaiian T-shirt. The bronzy light is filtered through ash and sycamore onto thick moss-covered rocks capped with grasses, harebells and purple knapweed. I breathe in the sweet, earthy, ottery smell, and feel, below these purple grouse moors and their controversy beyond, that I’ve made a home here in a week. I am the last to lock the door on leaving, and make it take as long as possible.

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