Western Howgills

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Saunterings:  Walking in North-West England

Saunterings is a set of reflections based upon walks around the counties of Cumbria, Lancashire and North Yorkshire in North-West England (as defined in the Preamble). Here is a list of all Saunterings so far.
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This is one of several relatively short items about local walks during the first coronavirus lockdown, April - May 2020.

79.  Sand Martins by the Lune

Clearly, the coronavirus pandemic makes it impossible to continue this blog as before. For the time being, items will be about short walks from home. They will be relatively short and frequent, providing a sort of diary for this period of lockdown.

sand martin Left: Sand martin (Photo: RSPB).

If I were stopped by an official whilst out walking then I would say that I am out for my permitted one form of exercise a day. However, if I were really walking for exercise then I would be more energetic about it. I’d give the limbs, lungs and heart a good work-out. In fact, I am sauntering less energetically than before, pausing frequently to reflect. So why am I walking?

Having to isolate ourselves at home, essential as it is, convinces us that there is a pervasive, invisible malignancy outside. However, that is not all there is outside. I seem to feel a need to be reassured that, despite our predicament, the world outside is developing as it does every spring and as it will continue to do, one hopes, in future years. We are in lockdown but nature isn’t.

I am lucky to have a garden that provides some evidence that not all is not well. Bees, butterflies and bats are about. Chiffchaffs have returned, the first of our migrants to do so. Primroses and cowslips are out on the bank. The cherry is blossoming. However, it is the sand martin that I have adopted as my harbinger of spring and summer, and to see them I need to walk to the River Lune.

Every year I keep an eye out for the first sand martins. In 2011 their arrival in April coincided with a flood that put all their river-bank nests under water. In 2013, after a long, cold winter, I didn’t see any sand martins until April 20. In 2014 they arrived in March, blown here on a Saharan wind that also deposited sand everywhere. Generally, I see them in the first week of April. I don’t search assiduously by going to the river every day from, say, mid-March, searching high and low. I just like to see a few so that I can say “the sand martins are back”.

River Lune, with a bank where the sand martins nest

As you might expect, sand martins are tending to arrive earlier because of climate change. Swallows are arriving earlier as well but not, it seems, by as much as sand martins. They used to arrive more or less together but now swallows are about two weeks later than sand martins. Swifts are later still (late-April, early-May) but are not getting earlier, for some reason. Of course, we don’t have to walk to the river to see swallows and swifts – in a few weeks we will seem them from our windows.

River Lune, looking up-river towards Ingleborough

We walked to the Lune and followed the long meander below Lawson's Wood to the Waterworks Bridge. We saw one sand martin and then another two at once (one of which may, of course, have been the earlier one). That's all, but enough, I think, to say “the sand martins are back”.

    Date: April 3rd 2020
    Start: SD543644, Brookhouse  (Map: OL41)
    Route: N, E, N, W – Waterworks Bridge – S – Brookhouse
    Distance: 3 miles;   Ascent: 40 metres

The two following items:
       81.   The Lost Meander of the Lune
       80.   The Caton Moor Hares
The two preceding items:
       78.   Around Roeburndale
       77.   Bridging the Lower Little Ribble
Two nearby items:
     176.   The Cragg – Clougha Cuckoo Circuit
     111.   From Millstone Grit to Limestone
A list of all items so far:

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    © John Self, Drakkar Press, 2018-


Top photo: The western Howgills from Dillicar; Bottom photo: Blencathra from Great Mell Fell