Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Fell Walking For Wimps 3 - Sale Fell

We’re being a bit more adventurous this week, climbing 613 feet up Sale Fell but, being true wimps, we’re walking around it rather than going over the top. The views are excellent, even from the lower elevations, and if you want a view from the top, well, that’s what Google Earth is for! Butterflies, flowers, falcons and fungi are all about in this bracken and grassy habitat but first, let’s have a closer look at the gorse. This is a plant that is so common that it is often overlooked but is quite fascinating in its own way.

This is common gorse, (Ulex europeas), also known as furze or whin and is usually to be found on heaths, moors and hillsides where the soil is poor but well drained. It provides food for certain caterpillars, wild ponies and even ourselves. The flowers are reminiscent in smell and taste to coconut and you can make tea or wine from them, or even add them to salads for an exotic touch. Their thorniness makes them ideal for nesting birds such as the Dartford Warbler and the Whinchat, and in southern England, where gorse is in flower almost all year round, they have a saying: "When gorse is out of blossom, kissing's out of fashion". If you’ve ever wondered what happens to your blood test when it goes away to the lab, it could meet up with some gorse seeds. They contain a particular chemical (Ulex europaeus aglutinin, if you’re interested) which is used to identify certain antigens which may, or may not, be present in your blood. Who knew?


T
hat’s the northern and eastern flank of the fell climbed, so let’s rest awhile on the soft grass, admire the scenery and look at some of the other plants that we’ve seen on the way up. Just back there, in the damper area, I noticed some Bilberries just coming into fruit. This is a good dessert fruit and, in Celtic tradition, they are traditionally collected on Lughnasahd (on or about August 1st) which marks the beginning of the harvest season. If the Bilberry crop is good, then so will the rest of the harvest be. We also have some English Wild Thyme growing up here, which we also saw on Slate Fell a couple of weeks back, and this pretty little blue and yellow job. This is a Mountain Pansy and it’s a bit unusual in that it’s blue rather than a pale yellow. It’s a northern English flower which only grows at an altitude of 660 ft and above, according to the literature. There’s a kestrel up there, look. You can only make out the silhouette, but they’re easy to identify from their flight. He’s quartering the fellside with wings outstretched - he’s spotted something…. wings up into the classic kestrel ‘V’ shape for hovering – check and lock on to target…. down come the wings and undercarriage and... drop like a stone into the heather. Magnificent. I wonder if he caught anything?


Onwards and downwards, for a change as we round the sunny, southern side. The gorse is flowering more on this side and there are a few little butterflies enjoying the warmth of the day. About half the size of a Peacock or Red Admiral, these are Small Coppers (or to be politically correct, maybe they should be Vertically Challenged Police Officers?
). Like many butterflies and moths, they lay their eggs on specific food plants, in this case sorrels and other docks. The larvae hatch out on the top surface of the leaves, then walk round to the underside and begin munching, leaving little windows of the transparent top layer of cells. So, if you see a dock leaf in spring or summer, with little windows in it, turn it over. You may see a Small Copper caterpillar underneath. Talking of caterpillars, there’s a woolly monstrosity wandering down the path. It’s a Fox Moth caterpillar. This is one of the Lappet or Eggar Moths and although the caterpillar is quite spectacular, the adults are a rather disappointing dull brown-grey with a couple of wavy, cream lines.



A
nd now it really is downhill all the way, with a nice view of Bassenthwaite in the middle distance. I’ve seen a few mushrooms/toadstools and jelly fungi on our way round and this golden one by my feet, here, looks to be a very choice Golden Chanterelle. I say ‘looks to be’ because, without examining it more carefully; checking what it does when you cut it, taking a spore print, and so forth, I wouldn’t risk putting it in my mouth. In all honesty, I find that the romance of fungi foraging is a bit overrated. For a start, about ninety percent are not worth the trouble, as they’re tough, tasteless or both, and the other ten percent are either delicious or deadly. Having sorted the lovely from the lethal, you then have to get them home and cook them before the ‘room’ disappears and you’re left with ‘mush’. Far better, in my view, to concentrate on the fungi within a mile of your home; find out if there are any good ones, check that you like them enough to get up early and collect them, otherwise buy cultivated ones which have been grown for the table. But that’s just me – no romance in my soul at all.



I
spotted a pheasant on the way up to the start of the walk. Not just any old pheasant, but The Pheasant, which I know from last week’s visit to Dubwath Silver Meaows, serves a nice pint in a pleasant garden, and the nibbles aren’t bad either. I suggest we adjourn until next week, when we may go and investigate one of those permanent puddles that the county is famous for.


Stay safe and be happy,


Steve


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The Quick Guide to Creepy-Crawlies

All you need to know to identify any type of insect, spider, worm or snail very simply and find out more about it.

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