Summer skies over the Yorkshire Dales and my mind is set to rest mode. But that rest is not totally restful; there is a niggle ... a memory, a hint of childhood, something that unsettles slightly - a light brush stroke of discomfort; a gossamer breath of discombobulation and a 'Woah! Wait a moment!' moment of 'that's-not-right!' - we're about as far from the sea as it is possible to be in middle Britain and yet, I can hear the distinctive Peep! Peep! of oystercatchers and the piercing cry of curlew. Here -
in the blue skies of the North Yorkshire dales and along the footpaths -
and above the endless miles of drystone walls are birds that should be at the coast.
Oystercatchers, with their distinctive red pliers attached to their heads feed on - you've guessed it - oyster beds. All along the coastline of the British Isles, their distinctive cry is the call of summer. Drowned out somewhat by the banter of seagulls but sharp and high pitched enough to be powerful prickers of memory. I grew up on the West Coast of Scotland, by the sea and frequently on the sea - oystercatcher, heron, curlew, tern, eider and shell duck, with the occasional puffin out among the Western Isles, were the backdrop and soundscape of my childhood. It's great to hear them again. But unexpected; discombobulating. The Dales aren't exactly known for their oyster-beds or salt water lochs.
A quick search on the internet reveals that, in the past fifty years, both species - the oystercatcher and the curlew - have increasingly been forced inland to breed, due to changing land use and habitat erosion along the coasts; overall numbers of both have declined and curlews are endangered; in the red zone, with oystercatchers marked as amber.
I have apparently over-stated the 'it's (another) oystercatcher/curlew' this holiday. I'm accused of flooding the air with CPD-like facts about the birds - which unhelpfully reminds me that I have my annual CPD-fest to write up before summer tips into Autumn (*extremely sad face*) - but I'm unapologetic. It is tragic to think that in another fifty years, Littlest could be walking in the dales with her children and reminisce that she once heard curlews here, before they became extinct. The fact that she currently says she will never walk on holiday with her children is quite beside the point. She will. Walk with them somewhere; I'm sure. Probably with satellite headsets that allow constant and instant communication with their friends while they walk, instead of the old-fashioned i-phones that struggle to find signal among these hills, but still remain stubbornly glued to the hand.
Enough of curlews and oystercatchers - Yay! cry Littlest and He-who-is-seldom-obeyed. Although I feel guilty dismissing them so lightly - the birds. The birds! Not Littlest; not HWISO - look at the RSPB website and the work they are doing to try to save these species ...
... I don't want to dream of empty skies.
Onward with our walking. What is it with walking? A slow perambulation through slowly changing countryside - slowly changing in more ways than one - there is a marked absence of wind farms, pylons, solar panels and pretty much anything giving away which century we're in. Slow wearing-down of the soles of walking boots and slowing the pursuit of cares and worries and preoccupations and quieting their carousing in our minds.
We walk in circles.
And find another species entirely. But what is it? Stoat, weasel or ferret? We think ferret. Aren't the other two reddy-brown? The species in it's mouth is a mole. Clearly no longer spring cleaning his patch of river bank, or boating with a water rat, or picnicking with otter, or chasing toads in racing cars, or facing stern looks from a certain Mr Badger.
The builders of footpaths around here are inventive in their design - upended barrels of concrete work surprisingly well.
Walking in circles is soothing. It is the reflection of eternity and of peace. Running in circles, on the other hand, quickly spirals into chaos. So walk - beginning to beginning to beginning.
When you walk in a circle, there's no opportunity for boredom. The view ahead keeps changing and nothing is repeated. And you reach your destination which was also your start, so there is no need for complicated bus coordination or expensive rural taxis.
It turns out that others agree and Yorkshire is dotted with circular walking routes. This one started at Askrigg and stopped half way at Aysgarth Falls -
It climbed several gates
was long enough (10 miles) to encounter different weathers
and finish in bright sun. The lifting of the cloud reminded me of these words, by Longfellow
'Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light; and the landscape lay as if new created in all the freshness of childhood.'
And since that last picture is of Askrigg, where the James Herriot television series was filmed in the late 70s, it is, I think, appropriate to finish with a quote that applies as much to me, and to any other dreamy procrastinator, as it clearly did to him -
'That quotation about not having time to stand and stare has never applied to me. I seem to have spent a good part of my life - probably too much - in just standing and staring and I was at it again this morning.'
Sorry, if I've rambled on and on, but just for a moment - Peep! Peep! back to the beginning - do have a look at the RSPB website. It's a more worthy distraction than the leader of the free world spouting misogynistic drivel. Again.