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.

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!


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!

Budle Bay near Bamburgh, Northumberland



It was April 2017 when I last posted on here and as I’ve just had a reminder from wordpress that my annual subscription is due….I thought I’d see if anyone was still out there!

Lots of stuff going on in the last year, none of which I’m talking about here except to say that my ricketiness has extended to my feet – which is pretty poor news for a walker!  However, I have a lovely acupuncturist who is working hard to help me get better and today Mr RR and I did our first good walk for a long time.  It was going to be just 4 miles and ended up being nearly 7 (!) which is probably a bit more than I wanted to do….but we made it back (well I hobbled) to Bamburgh for tea and shortbread which is the important thing!

Anyway – let me know if you’re reading and I’ll see if I recover enough to try another ramble later this week.

Sunday, September 9th 2018

Bamburgh to Budle Bay circular (7 miles – which included some wandering about the beach)


The Lindisfarne Nature Reserve in Budle Bay:


Home to hundreds of birds but it was really difficult to take pictures because of the high winds and also my failure to charge my camera before we left home!


Oyster Catcher

The kite surfers were worth seeing too:


And across the bay – Holy Island.

The tides were all wrong for us to visit Holy Island today.

See you again soon hopefully!

J x

North Berwick – on the beach…


Yesterday we took advantage of the sunshine – even though there was no thaw in sight – and travelled north for just under an hour to North Berwick in East Lothian.  No snow here but it was freezing cold…..bracing is the word!

Sometimes we catch the bus from North Berwick to Aberlady, a beautiful village on the Firth of Forth with excellent bird watching.  Then we walk back across golf courses and through woodland until we reach the coast path back to North Berwick which is a fair old distance!  Or we might get off the bus at Dirleton, a hamlet a little way inland and about 5 miles out of North Berwick.  There are lovely castle gardens and a tea room to take advantage of before making our way back along the beach.   Continue reading

A quick ramble around Perranuthnoe

Wednesday, 6th May 2015 (Day 3, week 18)

Aiming for 1000 miles in a year (and getting a bit behind!!)

Total so far: 334.6 miles (7.5 miles this week)


This is a walk we did last Wednesday – I’ve been a bit slow in getting it written up! Fierce winds kept us from high cliffs, so for a quick walk we popped down to Perranuthnoe and scurried around our favourite route. For a short walk, we saw a surprising amount of birdlife.

Continue reading

Ooops…….Rickety Rambler takes a tumble!

Friday, 20th March 2015 (Day 5, week 11)


What a lovely day it is here!   The sun is shining and the birds are singing and all is well with the world – except I’m a bit more rickety!  You know what I’m like…..always falling down! Not much damage, thankfully, just some bumps and bruises – ouch! Continue reading

Me and Ms B…

Tuesday 3rd March 2015 (Day 2, Week 9)


Today I had the company of Ms B for a walk along Perranporth beach. It was one of those days again where the weather can’t quite makeup its mind. Sometimes the sun was shining, mostly it was cold and windy and at the end it hailed and rained – but we had a lovely day!  Thanks Ms B.

Enjoy reading


Target: 1000 miles in a year (20 miles a week)

Total achieved: 187.1 miles (target 190 miles)

Achieved this week: 10.5 miles

Bolingey to Ligger Point via Perran Beach and return (7.2 miles)

So we started off, well wrapped up against the biting cold wind, walking from Ms B’s residence down the hill through the village of Bolingey with its drystone walls full of crocus, daffodils and clumps of primroses, and then turned left onto the Perranporth road. The road follows the path of a stream as it wends its way down to the sea in Perran Bay.  On our left a flooded woodland resembling a prehistoric forest with its twisted lichen lined tree trunks, and on our right a reed bed at the edge of a nature reserve.

We make our way onto Perran Sands with Chapel Rock straight ahead of us; it’s low tide and we have plenty of time for a long walk.  The beach is practically deserted apart from a few hardy dog walkers and a couple of kite surfers, not surprisingly as it’s freezing cold and there has already been hail and sleet in Bolingey this morning.  The skies are blue at the moment as we turn right and begin our walk along this three mile stretch of sand towards Ligger Point in the distance.  The beach is host to the South West Coast Path although at high tide there are footpaths across the high dunes.

Chapel Rock, Perran Beach
Chapel Rock, Perran Beach

Kite Surfers, Perran Beach
Kite Surfers, Perran Beach

The sand dunes are impressive, extending a mile inland and known as Penhale Sands. After a while I notice caves in the cliff face and we divert to investigate.  The colours of the rock are amazing and we can hear water tumbling down in the dark depths of the interior; unfortunately neither of us is equipped with a torch so we resist the urge to investigate further.

Rock, Perran Beach
Rock, Perran Beach

Ms B entering the cave!
Ms B entering the cave!

The light is constantly changing as clouds gather and disperse and at times the water looks grey and forbidding, at others a hazy purple.

Perran Beach
Perran Beach

Up on the dunes to our right, an enterprising person has been gathering the detritus which always spoils these places to build sculptures.  We can’t quite make out what this one is – but we think it’s a lady with a shopping trolley holding a bunch of flowers:

Sculpture, Perran Beach
Sculpture, Perran Beach

We finally reach the far end of the bay and stop a while to watch a buzzard hover overhead. It’s in competition with a helicopter which has been circling above us and the gulls, huddled  on the cliff face, suddenly become nervous, screeching and swooping, presumably  protecting their nests.

Helicopter over Perran Sands
Helicopter over Perran Sands

As we turn to head back, looking forward to lunch, the clouds have gathered once more and before long icy hailstones are falling, a more persistent storm this one and we’re soon quite wet.  Not bothered by the weather, a single oyster catcher loiters at the water’s edge and a rock pipit hops about, almost under our feet, it’s mate flitting about the rocks at the cliff edge.

These little birds prefer rocky shores where they can forage for food among the pebbles and boulders. Its known to be a relatively tame bird and this one certainly doesn’t mind us stopping to have a close look at him.  Their populations are declining in Britain, possibly as their nesting sites, often on popular holiday beaches, are disturbed, so we’re lucky to catch sight of this one.

Rock pipit, Perran Beach
Rock pipit, Perran Beach

Ahead of us as we hurry back we can see Cligga Point to the South West and all the way to St Agnes Head, where Mr TB is hard at work in the Coastguard Station.  We give him a wave, so that he knows we’re surviving the storms.

Turbulance Acrylic on Canvas
Acrylic on Canvas

Soon we’re back at Perranporth and walking over the bridge into the main street in search of lunch.  Revived by hot soup and once more in the sunshine, we make our way back along the road and up the hill to Bolingey.

On Pilgrim's Way
On Pilgrim’s Way

Associated artwork for Ricketyrambler by Andrew Major:

Hayle Estuary, The Towans and Phillack

Dear readers

Something strange is happening in my world.

Last night as I sat studying an OS map and contemplating tea and cake in M&S while waiting for the car to be serviced today, some words suddenly popped out of my mouth:

‘We could always go for a walk while we wait for the car’ I said.

This is unprecedented, I’m not sure what’s happening to me……

Enjoy the ramblings.


(P.S:  I forgot the camera again today – all photos are Mr RRs)

Target – 1000 miles in one year. Weekly goal – 20 miles

Total achieved so far – 143.4 miles (target 140)

Achieved this week – 15.5 miles

Hayle Estuary, The Towans and Phillack (4.9 miles)

So we did……we left the car to be serviced, walked straight past Marks and Spencer and followed the path up over the A30 and along the main Hayle road turning right to walk alongside the estuary with its reed beds and marshes.  The tide was out and the river bed was buzzing with birdlife (do river beds buzz?  Anyway – you know what I mean).


We saw dozens of wigeon – you may remember that we have previously been confused about the duck population, however, we are now fully signed up members of the RSPB (something strange really is happening to me!) and we have the book!  These were definitely wigeon, with their little wedge shaped bright yellow patch on their heads, foraging in the weed. We saw a flock of lapwing (love these!), shelducks, redshank, a curlew, an oyster catcher and a heron (another favourite!) sitting regally in the middle of the river.  And then we saw a solitary little squat grey bird with a short beak, we had to consult the book – a grey plover!


As you continue along the banks of the river you enter the George V Memorial Gardens, a subtropical garden completely maintained by volunteers.  It’s stunning in Spring and Summer.  Not much going on at the moment but the volunteers are hard at work pruning and tidying.

Coming out of the gardens we crossed the road to North Quay, which has been recently redeveloped to provide moorings for boats and will eventually have waterside cafe’s and restaurants and easy access to the beach as part of the Hayle Redevelopment Masterplan.  We walked down onto the beach and round the corner away from the estuary, taking a look across at Lelant Church on the opposite hill,  before ascending onto Hayle Towans via the South West Coast Path.


Hayle Towans – (from the Cornish ‘tewyn’ meaning sand dune) – includes the area from Mexico Towans to Gwithian, a Site of Special Scientific Interest.  We’re heading for Mexico Towans – no idea why it’s so called – following the coast path across the dunes with the sea on our left and Godrevy lighthouse ahead.

At Mexico Towans we head inland, climbing a high dune for an excellent view of the area and a discussion about which way to go.  We can see Phillack Church ahead so we follow the path out of the dunes and through the houses to the church, then down over a steep hill – on which someone has thoughtfully provided me with a chair, in case I was thinking of climbing back up the hill!


At the bottom of the hill we’re back at the estuary and a short walk across the road and round the corner finds us having a quick cuppa before reclaiming the car!

Estuary Mixed Media Andrew Major
Mixed Media
Andrew Major

On Pilgrims Way-1

Associated artwork for Ricketyrambler by Andrew Major:

I’m Currently reading:

Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit