Bird Therapy

Skylark on Gorse

“Even when the world around us is a dark place, the birds still sing, they still migrate – they’re just being there, being, in a way that perhaps we all aspire to be ourselves”

Bird Therapy by Joe Harkness

This week is a strange one. It’s annual leave for me, that means I get to take time off from my paid jobs – which I love – to stay home and do my unpaid ones – about which I’m slightly on the negative side of ambivalent. Luckily, the young Ms RR remains in residence and came up with the idea that I should go out! Another strange thing – going out….. We are of course, in Scotland, in Phase 1 of ‘returning to normal’ which means that unless you’re shielding, you can go out within about 5 miles (or not so far that you need to use a toilet in another persons house). Of course going out, when you’re a carer usually involves a lot more than just…..well, going. However, I currently have live-in help in the form of Ms RR, so after considering all of the reasons why I shouldn’t go and failing to come up with a logical one, I went. Alone. On my own. Yet another strange thing.

So, there I was, out, alone. With my walking boots, my book, a flask of tea, a chicken sandwich and a vague sort of plan to walk along the River Tweed from Dryburgh. At the weekend we had a picnic lunch on the banks of the Tweed and then walked a little way along through the meadow grasses – they were stunning, those pink tinted grasses interspersed with white umbellifers and surrounded by beautiful clumps of Russian Comfrey. I decided then that I wanted to come back and here was the perfect opportunity.

Russian Comfrey

I stopped on the way at Scott’s View, just because it is such an amazing view.

The view from Scott’s View

And that’s when it happened! The first thought – that this was silly, that this was a bad idea, that I couldn’t walk along the river bank alone, sit and have lunch alone. Now, for those that know me, this isn’t such a surprising thing – there are lots of reasons why I shouldn’t do this thing on my own, not least of which is that I have a well known propensity for falling down! I’m always falling over, I’ve lost count of the times I’ve arrived home bruised and scratched from taking a tumble into thorny bushes, or down a flight of muddy steps. What if I fell into the river! Or, heavens above landed in a bush and couldn’t get up! Even worse – what if someone saw me!! As well as this possible calamity, there was the ongoing problem of the foot pain, some days a mile is all I can manage without the burning incapacitation of pain in my feet. What if I got to the river and then couldn’t walk back! Also, though I used to walk a lot on my own, when we lived in Cornwall…..things have changed since we moved North and I seem to have had my ability to venture out on foot alone eroded. All this thinking flew through my brain in nanoseconds as I contemplated the view and listened to Alexander Armstrong on Classic FM. What could I do?

In the end, what I did was, start the engine and drive a little further on. I thought that if I got to Dryburgh and strolled just a few yards to the river, that would be enough. I could eat lunch in the company of the ducks and then stroll back again. So it was with some surprise that I found myself pulling into the car park for the viewpoint from the Wallace Statue – a fair walk from Dryburgh – and steeply downhill at that. But here I was. No-one else in the car park, so safe to leave unnoticed, if I changed my mind.

And so it was with some trepidation and a few palpitations that I stepped out of the car, changed into my walking boots and hoisted my backpack onto my shoulders – you’re not a real walker unless you’re carrying a backpack! Off I set, into the woods…..all the while I was telling myself that I only needed to get to the first bench, sit with my cup of tea and then drive on to the next viewpoint. And then…..not 100 steps into the wood, I spied a bird with a long pointed bill working its way in a hopping action up and down a tree trunk! I stood and watched, and I saw another….Tree creepers I thought. Oh how jealous Mr RR was going to be!! I watched them flitting about, every now and then flying off to a further tree and then back again. It occurred to me that they were feeding young, although I could see no nest in the further tree. I stood and watched and tried to catch a photo for many minutes until a sound somewhere nearby sent them skitting away.

Spot the bird!

It wasn’t until today, that I checked the little bit of bird that I’d managed to capture on camera that I realised – not tree creepers at all, the tail is all wrong and these birds were going up and down the tree – tree creepers only go up! The only British birds that go down the tree headfirst are Nuthatches – elusive, and according to the RSPB website, only rarely seen in southern Scotland, they are found in deciduous woodland and nest in natural holes in trees.

https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/nuthatch/

Whatever they were, the standing and the watching and the silence had calmed me and I set off determinedly for the river.

“Jon Kabat-Zinn, whose work most modern, mindful stress-reduction therapies are based around, defines mindfulness as ‘paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally’. When applied to birdwatching practice there are evident correlations. You pay attention in a particular and focused manner, not just on birds, but also on the wider environment. It’s very much a purposeful pastime, as it can be accessed almost everywhere. It grounds us in the present moment – here and now……”

Bird Therapy by Joe Harkness

The path from here down to the pretty village of Dryburgh used to be bordered with dense woodland, but much of this has been thinned now letting in light and air.

Much of the woodland used to screen the William Wallace statue from view before you actually came upon him, but now I can see this massive memorial ahead staring out over the valley towards the Eildon Hills.

Sadly for him, his huge eyes are empty and he stares unseeing at the countryside laid out before him….

From here its downhill along a steep path softly carpeted with beech nut shells, more wood clearing has gone on and the sun is shining through the remaining branches. Through the village and past the currently closed Abbey, and then along the path towards the river. It’s going well!

There’s ploughing just started in a nearby field and in the air, the smell of the newly furrowed earth. As I pass this field, ahead of me I spot a deer, just its head visible above the crops, I stand and watch as it saunters towards a line of trees.

And then I’m on that path alongside the river, walking between the wild flowers and grasses.

I decide that I’m going along as far as the Mertoun Bridge which is about a mile or so and then, if I feel like it, I’ll cross over the bridge and continue to walk along in the same direction looking for somewhere to stop for lunch.

After the meadow, there is a hill up through more woods and then I’m high above the river looking down through the trees on the sand martins and oyster catchers far below. In the field, right next to me as I stand and stare, a dunnock is having a bath in an old water-filled trough. I stay still until he’s finished but then he hops onto a nearby rock and starts drying and preening himself. Joe Harkness talks about dunnocks in his book, he says they are:

“the archetypal ‘little brown job’ which is a term that birdwatchers tend to assign to any small, nondescript and (obviously) brown bird. If you take your time and study one properly, you’ll actually see a deep palette of colours and markings taking shape. Delve further into their detail and you’ll begin to realise just how intricately marked they are.”

Personally, I feel I’ve noticed enough details for now, I’m getting hungry, so selfishly, before he’s halfway dry I decide to move on, finally startling him out of his own meditation and sending him fluttering to the nearest tree.

To get to the Mertoun Bridge I need to descend some roughly cut steep steps and as I approach them I know instinctively that this is danger time! If I’m going to fall….it’s going to be here. The top two steps are completely worn away meaning there’s a huge crumbly leap down to the first safe-looking standing place. Here’s where I turn back…..except without even a hesitation I hang on to a wooden post and lunge down, inelegant but achieved! I manage to come to a stop on the third step with only grumbling knees to show. Ha! Today is not a falling day! Down I go, one slippy slidey step after another until I’m on the road, a big silly smile on my face. Luckily there’s no-one to see and no traffic to bother me as I walk on across the bridge to the footpath on the other side.

The view from Mertoun Bridge…I’m heading for the path in the right hand corner.

More steps down on this side, but safer ones, built out of wood. And then I’m in the woods again walking along beside the river keeping an eye open for a good lunch spot. The path diverts away from the water for a while as the river bank is eroding but its soon back alongside and in the distance I can see a pebbly shore just right for a sit down.

I stay and eat. Across the water a pair of swans and oyster catchers, mallards and gulls. And in the air hundreds and hundreds of sand martins in their continual insect catching flight. I stay for an hour or so just watching.

This swan floated along meditatively for the whole time I was there, oblivious to its surroundings, to the frantic flights of the sand martins (that’s the blur in the foreground) and the high pitched call of the oyster catchers….just all in its own world.

Decision time now….go back the way I’ve come or walk on the other bank of the river through the golf course and into St Boswell’s and back via the chain bridge. The golf course is busy and I’m reluctant to be ducking out of the way of golf balls and not feeling like nodding hello to golfers, so I go back the way I’ve come.

Mertoun Bridge on the way back.

Back up the wooden steps, knees creaking, across the bridge and make for the crumbly steps. I’ve deliberately not thought about getting back up till now, I have to do it so I just keep going. My feet slide under me a couple of times and then its a clamber up to the top over the missing step on hands and knees – even more inelegant! But I make it and set off across the field and back down through the woods, spotting a woodpecker on the way.

It’s a lovely afternoon so instead of heading back through the village, I find a place on the river bank and take out my book. It’s quiet, just the sound of the golfers shouting whatever it is they shout every now and then, and the oyster catchers calling their calls. And then about 20 minutes in…….a huge flock of gulls descend. Time to go!

The timing is right, I’m in need of a cup of tea and because the sun is shining families are coming to the river to paddle and play. I wander back slowly up the hill, past William Wallace and through the woods to the car, feeling quite pleased with myself…..I may do it again one day!

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Bird Therapy is a lovely book by a guy who writes about his struggle with his own mental health and how connecting with nature and in particular with birds has helped him in his journey to wellbeing.

In the book Joe talks about a morning when he was ‘awoken at seven by a witch-like din of screeching and cackling from the back garden’. What he finds are ‘eleven shimmering starlings writhing across my feeders, jostling and snapping at each other….’ Well I know just what he means. We have our own ‘murmuration of starlings’ in our back and front gardens. Even as I write this, there must be 50 or so adult and juvenile starlings all trying to crowd onto the single bird feeder in the back garden and a similar cacophony happening in the front! All of the babies are fledged, and all of them are shrieking and screaming and demanding to be fed! Even the cat has retreated indoors and is sulking on the sofa!

Easter Highlights

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So – that was week three of lockdown…how was it for you? Thanks to all of you who commented on last week’s ramblings. It’s lovely to hear from you all.

Highlights for us this week: lots more lambs born and brought to the field, I’ve lost count now but I’m watching them from my window running around amongst the chickens and there are a lot! Hares….what a lot of hares there are at the moment. I went for an early walk one morning and saw six in one field, the cat found one hiding amongst the daffodils in the garden – luckily it was too quick for her and escaped unharmed, and as you’ll see in a minute we watched a couple on our walk yesterday.  A few days ago a deer appeared in the field opposite us. It looked a bit bewildered, the field has recently been ploughed and planted and I think it had lost the way out, we watched it for quite a while before it finally made its way across the burn and up the hill back to the woods.

We haven’t had the sunshine that many of you have had recently, although its not so cold at the moment – just a bit grey. Yesterday morning we repeated last week’s walk, but backwards….makes a change and the views are different!  You can see Hume Castle nearly all the way from different angles.

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We started out in bright sun but by the time we got to the garden gate grey clouds had arrived again! There were a few exciting moments – I managed to get my first photo of a yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella)!

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I’m very pleased about this one, they’re quite flighty and difficult to capture but we spotted this one alone in a tree as we walked towards the farm. Lovely bright yellow head – although I’ve seen brighter ones than this one – my RSPB book says that in winter the yellow is obscured by greenish-brown streaks so I suspect this one is still changing its plumage or it’s a juvenile. They are found throughout Britain but are red listed due to a recent decline in numbers mirroring that of other farmland species – loss of wide field margins, autumn planting and use of herbicides impacting breeding. We have a flock of yellowhammers just along the road from us, and the other day after the field opposite was planted I spotted one in our hedge which then flew down to help itself to the new seed, but apart from that one I haven’t seen them venture this far along the road before.

A little further along the road we saw this pair of hares sitting in a field, we watched them for a little while – as long as you’re quiet they don’t notice you.

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Apparently their eyesight is not good but their hearing is. Which explains why out walking in the early mornings they often lollop towards you getting quite close before noticing you’re there.

Remember the Swiss sheep with the curly horns? – they’ve taken their coats off:

and the pony with laminitis has moved back in with his mates:

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It’s a lovely walk along this track, there’s a woodland on one side and views of Sweethope Hill on the other, I love woods like this with gnarled old trees and mossy logs,

although I do think my companions are taking social distancing a bit far!

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Wait for me!

We spotted a kestrel near the end of the track, hovering and diving, obviously after its lunch, but I couldn’t manage to get a photo.

Walking this way round means we have to go up a long steep hill, my feet were really painful by this point so we took a rest on a mossy boulder and ate chocolate flapjacks – another highlight – the young Ms RR makes delicious flapjacks from an adapted Nigel Slater recipe, they have quickly become my favourite snack!

Perfect for taking a quick break to rest the sore feet.  A flock of sheep watched jealously:

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As we got to the top of the hill more ploughing in progress plus the spreading of some very pungent fertiliser! Earlier we’d seen a deer hoof print in the mud and as we walked by all the activity we saw a pair of deer, panicked by the machinery trying to find their way to the woods. They made several false starts before suddenly making a run for it and escaping.

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Turning the corner to head downhill towards home, we could see lovely views of the Eildon Hills….

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…..and a beautifully mown field – I love a pattern!

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There were more highlights to come: A virtual Easter Egg hunt via Zoom with our grandson – we stuck paper eggs up around the room:

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and he got a real ‘chocolate ball’ when he answered the clue and found the eggs; he seemed to enjoy it anyway! Also a surprise Easter Egg hunt of our own devised by Ms RR;

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and a half eaten mouse left specially for us by Mojo! I decided not to take a picture of it….but here’s the culprit in hiding:

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Makes of the week – not so much knitting and sewing this week although I did start a rainbow which needs sewing together. Managed to produce some hot-cross buns although they don’t look much like the real thing, they taste alright. Plus a chocolate sponge cake as I didn’t buy any Easter Eggs – which I made before remembering that Ms RR does not like sponge cake!!  More for me then 😁!

Maybe see you next week! Let me know what you’re reading at the moment…I need a good book!  I hate choosing books online, it’s just not the same as picking it up and flicking through.

Have a good week.

J x

Abbotsford circular via Cauldshiels Loch

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A nearly 5 mile circular from Sir Walter Scotts House visiting Cauldshiels Loch on the way.  You can read about the walk which we’ve done before, here: Two Lochs and some views .  It was May last time we walked here and there were lots of wild flowers about.  It was too early for those this time, we saw some hawthorn just coming into flower and the wild garlic is budding up now but that was about it. Continue reading

The River Tweed and Tweedbank

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15th January 2017

Hello again!

Just returned from a ramble from Abbotsford House – home of Sir Walter Scott you’ll remember – along the River Tweed which was grey and murky today.  It was a grey and murky day……no sunshine, and the tracks were back to mostly mud rather than mostly  snow and ice – shame really – mud’s not so pretty! Continue reading

Duns Law and The Colonel’s Walk

14th January 2017

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Hello

I’ve recovered from the the dastardly mud and the humiliating tumbles on the Eildon Hills and, having been confined to the house for a couple of days by gale force winds, was keen to get out today and make up  some miles. We decided to make for Duns and have a ramble through the grounds of Duns Castle and a climb to the top of Duns Law.  It was cold and, as you can see the snow is still lying on the ground, but thankfully the wind has dropped and the sun managed to put in an appearance.

Continue reading

Waterloo Monument on Peniel Heugh

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5th January 2017

Hello!

It’s been a good first week of the year for walking – a bit on the chilly side but very little wind and clear skies.  I’ve managed several local walks since I last wrote and today Mr RR and I took ourselves off to see the Waterloo Monument which is at the top of Peniel Heugh, and at 48 metres high can be seen from quite a distance.  We’ve often driven past commenting  that we must go and see what it is one day – and now we have! Continue reading

Crossing Borders…

Sunday 31st July 2016

Hello

Mr RR and I visited Paxton House last Sunday – an 18th century mansion on the River Tweed.  We didn’t go into the house this time, but had lunch in The Stables Tea Room and then wandered about the grounds before taking a short ramble along the river.

Here are some highlights!

Enjoy!

RR x


Paxton House to Chain Bridge Honey Farm via The Union Chain Bridge (and back again) – about 3 miles.

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Paxton House built between 1758 – 1763.

The house was designed by John Adam, a Scottish architect (1721 – 1792), for Patrick Home, a rich young man who considered his family home near Eyemouth on the north-east coast too cold and draughty for a man of his means.

The herbaceous borders were looking splendid:

My favourite flower was this beautiful day lily:

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Lots of bumblebees were enjoying the flowers too:

I’ve tried to identify this one but sadly the pictures aren’t good enough.  the Bumblebee Conservation Trust – http://www.bumblebeeconservaton.org – has clear pictures for identification but there are so many different species – even lots of different ones with white tails like these, that it’s impossible to say.

We walked on beside the croquet lawn and putting green to a small pond filled with waterlilies:

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and then down over the hill through the woods to the River Tweed.

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The path took us along to a bird hide where we stopped to see what we could spot.  An information board tells us that, because we’re not far from the sea here, the river is tidal and the mixture of fresh and salt-water means that often sea birds are seen and even seals  on occasion.  We see some ducks which are too far away to identify but otherwise nothing of interest, so we follow the path on through the woods and over a stile until we’re right next to the river.

Right in the middle of the River Tweed at this point is the border between Scotland and England – so…..we’re in Scotland as we ramble along….but those sheep in the picture above are in England; they are obviously keen to cross over though as they keep edging towards the water and staring longingly across at us!  Clever sheep!

About half a mile downstream we can see the Union Chain Bridge in the distance:DSCN3532

This is the oldest surviving iron suspension bridge in Europe!  It was the very first one to be designed to take vehicles although now it’s not strong enough to take more than one car at a time:DSCN3541.JPG

By the late 19th century it was becoming imperative to have a safe crossing to take coal and lime from Northumberland to Berwickshire for export. Before the bridge was built the only way to cross the Tweed between England and Scotland at this point was at the New Water Ford which could be perilous in flood water and dangerous even at high tide. So along comes Captain Samuel Brown RN who, whilst still in the navy, had pioneered the design.  It took less than a year to build and was opened on 26th July 1820 with a demonstration of its strength by Captain Brown who drove across in a curricle followed by 12 loaded carts weighing 20 tons, and 600 spectators!  The event was witnessed, not only by the Scottish engineer Robert Stevenson, but also by the 18 year old Isambard Kingdom Brunel who, of course, went on to build the infamous Clifton Suspension Bridge across the Avon Gorge in Bristol.DSCN3542.JPG

At the far end you can see what remains of the Toll Keeper’s Cottage built into the red sandstone cliffs on the English side.  The actual cottage was demolished in 1955 but in the early 1900s a family of five lived in its two rooms.

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The site of the Roxburgh family home

We reach the crossing point and spend some time looking over the border and watching some German motorcyclists taking pictures of themselves beside the border signs.  I decide I should do that too…..although Mr RR politely declines to have his picture taken in either Scotland or England!

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Here we are in Scotland……

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And now here we are in England…..

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Northumberland to be exact!

High above us, on both bridge towers is a a plaque in the form of an intertwined rose and thistle bearing the legend:

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Vis Unita Fortior………United Strength is Stronger.  Very apt in 2016 don’t you think?  Or maybe not….. depending on your point of view!

On the English side there is information relating to the fact that this icon of British civil engineering is nearly 200 years old now and much loved by local communities on both sides of the border.  Fundraising is underway to complete a major programme of restoration by 2020.  There’s a little honesty box for some donations which we add to, helping ourselves to an information leaflet which tells us that just 200 metres uphill from the bridge on the English side is the Chain Bridge Honey Farm with Honey Museum Visitor Centre and a tea shop in a double decker bus!  Well…..how lucky is that!

Off we trot up the hill.  Chain Bridge Honey Farm ( http://www.chainbridgehoney.com )  was started by beekeeping advisor William Selby Robson in 1948 and subsequently expanded into a successful commercial enterprise by his son Willie on Williams’ death in 1962.  The bees came from local retiring bee keepers and were kept in hives made from a local timber known as Thuja – which is very light and resistant to decay.  There are now nearly 2000 hives on the farm……although we couldn’t see a single one, even from the upper deck of the double decker bus!

The Honey Farm has the most amazing little museum and visitor centre, absolutely full of intricately researched information all about bees and honey and bee hives as well as a whole room devoted to information about the building of suspension bridges.  Much of it is hand-written and illustrated and all of it is fascinating.  I was a bit slow though – I was so looking forward to tea on a double decker bus that I didn’t even think about looking up those bees we saw earlier.  We bought some honey (well you have to really don’t you) and wandered off to find the bus.

Will you just look at that!  This bus originally ran on the Bristol to Bath route and the upstairs is beautifully converted.  We had a lovely tea of scones and jam and honey cake.

All too soon we have to leave the farm, head back downhill and recross the border into Bonnie Scotland.  We make our way back along the footpath towards Paxton House, passing our original trail uphill and carrying on along the river a little way before turning left and up a steep hill, through the woods, back to the house.


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Artwork for Ricketyrambler by Andrew Major

andrewmajorart.co.uk

The Eildon Hills and Mrs Buller’s Explosive Views….

Thursday 21st July 2016

Hello

The walk to Mrs Buller’s Seat which is in the Cicerone Walker’s Guide to The Border Country begins with the following phrase: “A wistful linear stroll from Sir Walter Scott’s favoured viewpoint……”.  Now, if this is ringing bells with you – you get top marks, because we started this walk once before (read about it here: In Scott’s Footsteps ) and cut it short exactly because, along the way, we discovered it was ‘linear’!  So what happened this time?   Continue reading

Coldstream and The Hirsel

12th July 2016

Hello!!

It’s been a while I know, but here’s another ramble…..I promise to try and pick up the pace a bit and walk more!!  That’s enough about that!

This morning we followed a walk from a little book called ‘The Scottish Borders – 40 favourite walks’ by Robbie Porteous.  Part of it we’ve done before and you can read about it here: The Hirsel Country Park.  This walk begins in the town of Coldstream and wends its way along the banks of the River Tweed and through Dundock Woods before reaching The Hirsel. Continue reading