Metcheck was showing good weather to the west of Gilsland, and rain to the east so it was an easy decision to head to Caerlaverock.
TT came with me, he hasn't been during the winter months so hasn't seen the mass of swans and geese that overwinter on the Solway coast.
We arrived just in time for the 11am feed, I have no idea how swans tell time but they obviously do because with a few minutes to the hour they start arriving at the feeding point.

Whooper Swans and Mute Swans gathering to be fed
Wouldn't this be a great jigsaw puzzle?

When the wheat is cast there's a boiling of the waters until it's a mass of swan bodies and you can see where the expression 'pecking order' comes from.

Fancy seeing you here.

There's a hide overlooking the feeding area, the windows don't open so while the swans can see people behind the glass they don't appear to feel threatened. You get great close up views of the birds and the staff seem to keep the glass of the hide clean so it's easy to get photographs.

Eventually the food is all eaten, the smaller ducks wade in for their share and all is tranquil until the next feeding time comes around.

Whooper Swans and Tufted Ducks, calm after the feeding frenzy

Lots of other ducks and birds to see and this has been a great year for unusual, even rare birds at Caerlaverock, if you check the site news you'll be able to see what you might find when you visit.

Tufted duck has a 'bad hair' day in the windy weather

Swans and Geese should be around for another month.
I can't describe the sound of 6,000 geese taking off it's magical and something not to be missed.

All photographs used in this blog are copyright of Joan Thirlaway and cannot be used without written permission.


26 02 11 Hadrian's Wall

The most popular spot on Hadrian's Wall is probably Steel Rigg, certainly on a nice sunny day during the summer the car park gets packed.
You do see the Wall from the car park so anyone with a disability can enjoy the views without having to clamber anywhere, and you can get a good photograph along to Hotbank.
The fitter visitors can climb up the rock steps to Peel Crags and then follow the remains of Hadrian's Wall along the the Crags to Hotbank Farm, a footpath goes behind the farm and returns to Steel Rigg on a track running parallel to Hadrian's Wall .
You get the Roman view and the 'barbarian' view in one walk, during the summer months you're walking through hay meadows full of buttercups a beautiful sight.

A November day on Castle Gap.
Although you access Winshields Crag from the same Steel Rigg car park, it's never as busy, maybe because you're immediately heading uphill people are put off making the effort.
Winshields Crag is the highest point on Hadrian's Wall and the views are well worth the climb.

The view over Steel Rigg from a little way up Winshields Crag on a blustery autumn day
There's a campsite at Winshields Farm, just to the south of this spot, imagine waking up in your tent on a nice morning and watching the sunrise over Hotbank


24 02 11 Hadrian's Wall

The day started out grey but the wind got up and blew the clouds away.
I'd been in the garden taking photographs of the birds, nothing any different but a shift in numbers, Bramblings are down and Siskins are way up.
We also have some frogspawn, the earliest ever for our garden.
It seemed a shame to waste the sunshine but by the time I'd finished my chores the day was getting on and I started to wonder about a sunset.
I looked at this site to see where the sun was setting in relation to Hadrian's Wall and thought I'd go out to Crag Lough, with an option to climb up behind Hotbank Farm if the light was right.
Unfortunately it was as far over as I'd hoped which meant the Crags were in darkness, so I wandered across to the Lough.
Boy was it muddy (or clarty if you want a good Northumbrian description) and, unlike past years the boats hadn't been taken off for winter storage, which was a mistake, one had capsized and the other was full of water.

I waded through the mud for a wee while longer but as the sun sank behind the Crags there was no light  to lift the photograph.
I watched the farmer herding his cows for a while, they were bellowing fit to bust, then walked back down the track to my car, pausing to take a picture of the sheep silhouetted against the setting sun.

Perhaps not as productive night, photographically speaking, as I hoped but it was great to be getting back into the swing of things.
Rain again tomorrow.

All photographs used on this Blog copyright of Joan Thirlaway and cannot be used without written permission


23 02 11 Hadrian's Wall

Walltown Crags at sunset

I love being up on the Crags at Walltown for sunset, I'd been wandering around when two young men came up the hill and sat having their supper.
They were walking the Wall and seemed to have no overnight stop arranged. Believe me it's not a good idea to be on the Hadrian's Wall Path in the dark, the path is uneven with stones to trip you.
I was hoping they were intending to put up a tent for the night but didn't want me to know, wild camping isn't allowed here, but I would rather they were breaking the rules and staying safe.
From this spot I can see Gilsland where I live and then right over to Criffel on the Scottish side of the Solway, on a good clear day you can see the Lake District.

It's a harsh climate up on the high part of Hadrian's Wall, yet the gnarly old Hawthorns seem to survive.
You can see the remains of Hadrian's Wall behind the tree as it heads downhill, there's a sharp drop where the quarry works took away the cliff face and the remains of the Wall.
Just across from this point is the Roman Army Museum, currently having a refit but a great place to visit, I imagine it will be opening for Easter weekend.

All photographs used on this blog are copyright of Joan Thirlaway and cannot be used without written permission.


22 02 11 Hadrian's Wall

Came back from Haltwhistle on the road that meets the Cawfields Road at the Milecastle Inn.
While I'd been in a mini meeting the sun had appeared and fortunately I had my camera with me.
Lots of ewe's waiting the arrival of their lamb's, I'm so looking forward to seeing the lambs bouncing about and racing each other up and down the hills.
The farmers I've spoken to are lambing in April although they always get some early arrivals.

Looking across Blake Law towards Walltown, fog is lingering.

So many mole hills, at one time the farmers would poison the moles but that's forbidden, there must be thousands and what a mess they make.

View from the north side of Cawfields Crag

If you double click to enlarge the photograph you should should be able to see people on top of the Crags following Hadrian's Wall up.
I imagine the view today is very similar to the one seem by the Roman soldiers on their patrols along the Wall.

Milecastle 42

The sheep grazing where once Roman soldiers would have walked. The Roman's did things to exact dimensions and although there was a flatter bit of land just to the west of this Milecastle it had to go on the slope because that was where the Roman Mile was measured to.

This handsome fellow was wandering around the car park at Cawfields and a fair way from any of the local farmyards, you just never know what you'll see when you go for a walk hereabouts.


21 02 11 Hadrian's Wall

Today it snowed again, not the beautiful white fluffy snow but the horrible wet cold snow that seems to get sown the back of your neck.
I didn't take the camera out today but I have two pctures to share from when the cold weather made a picturesque scene.

Mucklebank Crag, from Walltown Crag. The snow covering enhances the ridge that is all that is left of Hadrian's Wall on this Crag, although there is a milecastle three quarters of the way up.
I waited for a figure to crest the top of the hill to give it a bit of scale.

Steel Rigg on a very cold morning. Any photographer worth hhis salt will tell you to get out early before anyone has walked on the snow but that pre-supposes you have transport capable of managing the ungritted roads. Unfortunately I don't so we have a well trodden path heading onwards to Peel Crags.
It's supposed to get warmer and hopefully drier as the week progresses - I live in hope.


20 02 11 : Hadrian's Wall

Cawfield Quarry on the Hadrian's Wall Path

Most photographers like to use water in their shots, you only have to look at the winners of big landscape competitions to know how it can enhance a photograph.

On the high part of the Hadrian's Wall Path we only have two areas of water that are easily accesible and Cawfields Quarry is one of them.

This is an early morning shot with the rising sun just catching Hadrian's Wall on Cawfield Crags, taken last October so the sun is rising to the south of the Wall.

It's a useful morning stop because the lake here is deep so you can often find mist rising off the water.
Wildfowl don't use it very often for some reason.

Crag Lough

The second area of water is Crag Lough and it's best for sunsets.
The rights to the fishing are owned by a syndicate and from March to October the boats are on the Lough.
You have to cross farm land belonging to Hotbank Farm to reach it, as always please treat the land and animals with respect.
Sometimes the cows will come down to drink or just paddle in the Lough and if they place themselves nicely it can enhance the shot.
From this angle you look west, Hadrian's Wall runs along the top of the crags to the left side of the picture, the peak in the centre is Winshields Crag with Steel Rigg beneath it.
This was taken in September last year.
This Lough also is good for mist in the early mornings but that would be from the Steel Rigg viewpoint.

All photographs used on this Blog are copyright of Joan Thirlaway and cannot be used withpout written permission


18 02 11: Garden Birds

Back to grey skies although the light was trying to break through.
In the end the clouds won and I realised it wasn't going to be a day for landscape photography.
Still getting to know my new lens and with numbers of birds coming to my feeders dwindles I decided I'd try and get a good Brambling shot today.
During the hieght of winter we had more Bramblings that Chaffinches coming to the garden, one count was 40 birds.
Today it was just two or three, I suppose that's a sign that spring is on its way.

Male Brambling (Fringilla montrifingilla)

Siskin numbers have increased with about 15 on the various feeders today.
For some reason they feed upside down on the peanuts.

Male Siskin (Carduelis spinus)

Lots of birds in smaller numbers although Chaffinch numbers are still in double figures, mostly male birds hope someone elses garden has the females.

Male Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)

Blue Tit (Parus caeruleus)

Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)

Male Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus)

Collard Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) Always 2 birds together.

I have one of those hides with a built in seat so it folds up over you like a pram hood.
I normally try to conceal as much of myself as possible but every movement I make sets the birds off.
So, today I opened up the front of the hide so the birds could see me and, as long as I moved slowly they seemed less nervous and sat for much longer.
Other visitors to the garden were Robin (times 2) but both very camera shy, Great Tit, House Sparrow, Dunnock, Tree Sparrow, Jackdaws.


17 02 11 Hadrian's Wall

Fog this morning but by 11am a chink of light appeared in the sky.
I set off for Sewingshields Crag, it's ages since I've been there but, just past Caw Gap the light went and I was back to fog.
I pulled into Steel Rigg and decided to have a walk out to see if things would improve.

A sliver of light hits the Castle Crag and I have hopes that things will improve

I decide to walk along to Sycamore Gap, perhaps I can get some dramatic views from the north side of the Wall.
The sun is doing it's best to break through the fog at Scyamore Gap

Hotbank Crag becomes more defined and blue sky shows through at last. With all the rain we've had recently Crag Lough is almost twice the normal size.
No boats during the winter but I could see swans on the Lough.

I was suprised at how many people were about, here one walker comes through Sycamore Gap and starts the climb up Highshields Crag

Walkers crest the rise at Castle Gap and the fog tries to blank out the blue sky

Great to see some sunshine and to get some fresh air and exercise, let's hope we get a lot more of the same in the coming months.
Soon the sun will be rising on the north side of the Wall and that's my favourite time to be out.
I did hear a Lark today and that cheered me immensely.


16 02 11: Hadrian's Wall

Photographs of Hadrian's Wall today.
Sunrise is one of my favourite times to be out on Hadrian's Wall and over the 8 years I've lived here,  I can count on one hand the number of times I've met another photographer out so early.
Even this classic view of Cuddys Crag was mine alone to savour.
I love the way the world wakes up, gentle curves and peaks emerge from the darkness, birds and animals call out to welcome the day, a magical time.

Hadrian's Wall on Cuddys Crag

The gateway at Rapishaw Gap with a path that saves you having to go up and down the slopes of Cuddys Crag.

Hadrians Wall heading west as it comes down from Cuddys Crag, crosses Rapishaw Gap and then climbs up Hotbank Crag.
I find it quite difficult to find good viewpoints in an east-west direction.

All photographs used in this blog are copyright of Joan Thirlaway and cannot be used  without my written permission


14 02 11

I love trees and always seem to see the very best ones when I'm travelling and unable to stop.
Big old oak trees, majestic ash, the few elm's that survived and Beech with their beautiful colours.
Today I offer two photographs with single trees, one at Birdoswald,taken in September when the tree was in leaf and one taken in Dumfries last week.
They add so much to the landscape, the world would be a poorer place without them.

On the Hadrian's Wall Path between Birdoswald and Banks

On the way east from Caerlaverock in Dumfrieshire


13 02 11: Hadrian's Wall

Some mornings you get mist on Hadrian's Wall, and I admit, I love misty mornings.
But, just occasionally, there's too much mist.

View east from Housesteads to Sewingshields Crag

I'd gone up to Housesteads Fort hoping for a lovely sunrise and certainly the sky looked promising.
I took just this one photograph and then the mist closed in completely, blanking everything out, so I walked back down the hill to the carpark and headed back to Gilsland.

View east from Birdoswald, on a clear day you can see Walltown Crags from here.

The mists weren't quite as think as I headed west, so I carried on upto Birdoswald and caught Hadrian's Wall, and Michael Baxter's sheep, as the sun was breaking through.

All photographs on this Blog are copyright of Joan Thirlaway and cannot be used without written permission.

12 02 11

A few shots from Caerlaverock WWT reserve in Dumfries and Galloway.

Unlike other WWT reserves there are no captive birds at Caerlaverock and in winter they get huge flocks of Barnacle Geese and Whooper Swans.

Amazing to see them flying around the site and the noise of their wings is like music.
The honking, and there's a lot of honking, is not musical at all.
The swans are fed three times a day and know exactly when to arrive for food, you can see them fly in and land with a great splash,  the black on the beaks of the Whoopers make them look as if they're smiling, which is infectious.

Waiting to be fed

Folly Pond, Solway and LakeDistrict beyond

Splash Landing

Wild Whopper Swans flying over Caerlaverock WWT reserve

Wild Whooper Swan in close-up, most hides have windows that open but where the swans are fed, and they come in really close, you must photograph them through glass. It is kept clean.

Blue sky and Whooper Swans


Lots of various ducks, Curlew, Lapwing, Peregrine, Yellowhammers, Reed Bunting, deer and of course Geese about on the site at this time of the year.
The Caerlaverock website does list what's been seen on site on a regular basis although obviously these are wild birds so come and go.

all photographs used in this Blog are copyright of Joan Thirlaway and cannot be used without written permission


11 02 11

Rain for much of the day so, I've been sorting through my Starling Murmuration pictures.

One night in December I got so many I wanted to keep (unlike yesterday) that I'm only just getting around to going through them.

Unfortuately with the extreme cold weather at the end of December the starlings split up, some went to Carlisle, or Silloth and some stayed around the railway station at Gretna.

On the night I took these shots I was told there were in excess of a million starlings, it's a sight I will never forget, absolutely amazing.

As you can see from the movement, the starlings travel at different speeds and in different directions yet never seem to collide.

If you get the chance to see this natural display go, there are several big roosts throughout the UK from October to March each year, you won't be disappointed.

All photographs on this Blog are copyright of Joan Thirlaway and cannot be used without my written permission


10 02 11

Beautiful day today, went back to Caerlaverock with a particular photograph in mind.
Thousands of Barnacle Geese but for some reason they just wouldn't follow my instructions and their formation work left a lot to be desired.
Took hundreds of photographs but nothing stood out as being worthy of the Blog so it's back to the archives and Hadrian's Wall.

The view east from a spot above Castle Gap, you can see Crag Lough in the middle of the picture and Hotbank Crag with its misty veil.


From the same viewpoint as the last photograph but zoomed out to take in more of the landscape, and Hadrian's Wall as it drops down to Castle Gap and the Milecastle remains there.
It was taken before the sun has risen, so the colours are more muted.
As with yesterday's offering these were taken in September 2010.

We've been promised rain tomorrow, give me a chance to go through the 845 photographs I took today , I've a feeling I shall be deleteing 95% of them - thank goodness for digital cameras.

All photographs on this blog are copyright of Joan Thirlaway and may not be used without my written permission.


09 02 11

Seems ages since we've managed a decent sunrise on this part of Hadrian's Wall.
The best lately has been a tantalising thin glow of red below a big grey bank of cloud, as if to remind us of what we're missing.

At this time of the year the sun comes up to the south side of Hadrian's Wall, so there are limited opportunities for a good viewpoint.

Typical isn't it when you could set your alarm for 7am and still be up in time to be out for a sunrise photograph?

Late March is when it moves across to light up the crags and that means a 5am alarm.

This viewpoint from Steel Rigg is one of my favourites and not just because it's a short walk from the car park.

The mists rise from the low lying marsh land and from Crag Lough, it moves and the whole scene can change in seconds, natures own 'dance of the seven veils'.

These photographs were taken last September as the sun was heading back, and it's somehow comforting to know that no matter what goes on in the world, this view, repeated each March and September and no doubt enjoyed by the Roman soldier's guarding Hadrian's Wall, will go on until the end of time.