Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Snow, snow and yet more snow!

The snow fell with a purpose in Tarset on Thurs 25th November and it hasn't let up. Today is only Tuesday 30th November, a total of five days from the begin of the onslaught, in many ways it feels like 50 days.

The snow keeps falling, it is unrelenting. There are one or two beautiful interludes between ever increasing blizzards. Sheps house must be surrounded by a very good foot of snow . Shep lives mid way down the valley, when you climb further out there is a great deal more of the white stuff.

Away out bye it has reached two feet deep on the level, crotch deep in other places.

A shepherd in the coquet has reported the snow is three feet deep, up to his house windows. There will be worse reports too.

Today the wind has wiped up, drifts are appearing all over, roads are rapidly filling in, farmers and shepherds are concerned about stock getting happed up (covered with snow).

We are fortunate in that all sheep are in bye at the moment, not in nice lowland ground but held into pastures and fields for tup time. Even away out bye we had just managed to gather the hill when the onslaught commenced, the out bye shepherd knows where his sheep are, they are all in enclosures if he can find them.

Shep had to head over to the Rede over the weekend to gather hill sheep in, it is no longer possible for my car to get there but they are at least all gathered in to the place, the farmer knows where they are.

Today I headed out bye with the bike, no way a car will get out there. Sheep were fetched closer to home, out lying fields were no longer viable and so many hours have been spent cutting tracks through on foot and walking the beasts closer to home where they are slightly more accessible. Bikes will no longer travel on these high lying farms, the snow is too deep. Dogs struggle to travel too, I'm sure they sleep well at night.

Life is bearable, farmers are fortunate that they live on the job. Although having said that there are more and more of them that have attempted to expand their businesses by getting extra ground away from home. One such farmer has been on the phone tonight asking me to head out and find his sheep which are closer to me than they are to him. We are fortunate in that the plough will pass our house and we can usually head out on the quad, even on the untreated roads a quad is fairly easily dug out of deep snow.

There is huge concern tonight with the wind blowing that even tractors may not travel tomorrow for depth of snow. Who knows? Time will tell. Shep has an even greater concern, a necessity to get to town, tooth ache with the other half and passport photos needed for a visa application, the clock is ticking as we aim to depart on 31st December and leave these wintry conditions behind. The visa application desperately needs to be sent. The weather wasn't considered when the trip and flight was booked over the weekend. Fingers crossed for tomorrow!

In the meantime there will be some postings from Shep with some 'pretty pictures' to give you an idea of what is going on. This is just a brief update.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Wintry outlook

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The view last night upon darkening, it was only just after 4pm but the day was near enough over. It had flightered on with snow throughout the day but never been sufficient to lie, here we were upon darkening and it was still persevering, the white stuff just wanted to fall from the sky. The forecast wasn't too promising with wintry showers making the headlines. The lights went out on the day and Shep waited to see what morning would bring.
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Morning revealed the showers we had had during the night which were still persisting. Identical place for a photo as last night, however a panoramic scenic shot would have been a waste, visibility was so poor due to the heavy snow which was falling - not what you really want to wake up to!
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Kale bounded out of his kennel and ground to a halt, a quizzical look overcame him before excitement overtook him. Wow! This was different.... he took mouthfuls of the white stuff and tasted it, then threw it around, then rolled in it. Kids must be kids and this little fella was well chuffed with the new toy which had come to visit. Think he was the only one to be chuffed to see the white stuff.
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Doesn't look like these two blackie ewes are skipping around with joy, fortunately they are well insulated with their thick woolly coats. Although that is one good thing with the snow falling the temperature feels warmer than it has done for a day or two, some small conciliation.
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It seemed like a monochrome world we were living in today, very limited sunshine, albeit there was some, before further heavy snow showers obliterated the sun from the sky.
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Once again upon darkening the sun did attempt to grace our skies and then the frost kicked in, access to the kennels was made difficult due to the fact that snow covered bolts had frozen, it will be a hard night by the feel of things.

25th November seems early for the snow to arrive, not unheard of by any means but unfortunately the weather forecasters are not being terribly optimistic and it appears as though we may have this for a week or two yet. Roads have caught many out in Tarset, travelling has not been too good and will undoubtedly be worse in the morning if this hard frost persists. Stock are alright for the time being as the snow isn't too deep and hasn't blown. Many farmers and shepherds have a heavy feeling in their hearts mixed with an optimism that this will not be the beginning of an onslaught, just a blip. It was the 16th December last year when the first snow fell and it stayed for months, lets hope that wont be the case this year.

Friday, 19 November 2010

The salmon run

Not a mention of sheep in this posting, sorry to disappoint!

I had a day or two where the weather was bad and I too was under the weather, on the second day my mothers words were ringing in my ears "wrap yourself up warm and go for a walk, you'll sweat it out" And so, with pockets stuffed full of hankies off I set, dogs in tow and camera too.

I had no idea where I was heading, not far if I had my way as the wind was blowing a hoolly and rain was threatening, could I manage a mad dash and return dry?? Then there was the issue of the dogs, they needed a run but I didn't wish to disturb any stock which would be showing more sense than myself and be tucked into shelter somewhere.

I found myself heading up the burn. The Tarret to be exact, it runs into the Tarset which in due course runs into the North Tyne River. I could see the sheep sheltering on the far side of the water and scuttled by leaving them in peace. The burn was pretty much in spate, fair boiling it was, the roar deafening as I neared the Linn (waterfall).
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No doubt about it, there was a lot of water running, peaty brown in colour the water was boiling, the sheer force of it fascinating to watch. Nature and her strength is truly awesome.

I guess the title of this posting might have given the game away somewhat and you're all now waiting with bated breath to see a salmon running across the screen. Be patient....

Indeed the fish were running, all the time I was at the linn I never saw a salmon, although they do come up our burns the sea trout is far more common and every fish that I saw jump was infact a sea trout.

I don't profess to have a huge knowledge about fish even though I was employed for too many years as a call in bailiff - a fancy title for a not so fancy job. Basically I was part of a team that towed an electric net down rivers to catch broodstock fish. I believe I was accepted on the team due to the fact I'm not very tall and as I lead the way through the water deep drowning holes were easily found enabling my team mates to exit the water and remain safe on dry land - it was fun - honest!! The job did enable me to ascertain the difference between salmon and sea trout though, an invaluable aid for a shepherd!!

Anyhow, enough rabbiting and back to fish. I was surprised to see so many jumping, the middle of October fish had been spotted away out bye and I'd presumed that by now(12th Nov) many would have been away up stream. There were many bright looking fish though, a sign they are fresh run, they haven't been sitting around for ever waiting for the burns to fill with water, they have indeed come upstream from the sea quite recently, which is a good sign.
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The strength of these fish must be phenomenal, they do indeed have a tremendous power as anyone who has handled one will be able to tell you, the muscle and strength in their tails is quite something which gives them the propulsion to jump and swim on against the current.
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I sat for ages, in shelter I may add which was a huge bonus, the fact I had wellies, leggings and top coat on helped a great deal also as the ground was pretty damp.
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For all the water was roaring in my ears the splash the fish made was still audible, an odd one hit the stones on the side of the linn making a slithery thudding noise and I wondered whether they were lying concussed in the boiling waters below, for everyone which got up many didn't succeed but they persevered, a determination to reach their spawning grounds drove them on.
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Failure to rise above the obstacle facing them saw them doing aerial acrobatics as their bodies twisted in a downward spiral into the frothing cauldron below, they would re compose themselves and try, try, try again.
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a route which seemed highly succesful was to tuck into the side as this fish is doing, the water appeared a great deal shallower right at the side and once up it was possibly easier for them to propel themselves forward.
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This hen fish was succesful in her quest, once over the linn the fish were totally lost in the boiling waters higher up, they would probably swim on frantically until reaching a calmer spot where some would take five before battling on again. It is not surprising to learn that many of these fish don't make it back to sea, not only do they have predators to contend with, mink, otter, heron etc., but just the physical effort involved, the fact they are living off the fat of their backs as they don't eat on their migration and also they are highly susceptible to stress. They will have travelled hundreds of miles to return to their spawning grounds, the waters which they were hatched in, to lay and fertilise eggs to turn around exhausted and drift back towards the coast.
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I guess I owe my mother a huge thank you, I was suprisingly cold when the light became too poor for taking photographs, my hankies were sodden but I had enjoyed myself, I don't always have the time to waffle about with the camera. I've seen fish jumping for most of my life but can't say I've ever spent a few hours on a wet windy day in their company. As for a long walk to sweat it out? another day mebbes!

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

One last show of autumn?

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Wet, dank, damp, cold day and Shep walks upon this fungi, which I thought would be easily identified due to the striking colour and brightness but obviously my book and myself are not good enough to identify what it was I had stumbled upon. So bright in colour it truly stood out on what could only be described as a rather depressing early winters day. What exactly it is I don't know but I couldn't help but photograph it. I almost felt that it was like a sign; a sign of cheer on an otherwise cheerless day. So bright and vibrant, tucked tightly into the bankside, sheltered from the elements it stuck out like a rose in a bed of thorns. Truly beautiful.
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  1. Then tucked away in woodland where I had wandered to seek further shelter during my ramblings I come across more natural beauty, the above (which I again cannot identify), it truly was gloomy wandering through a dense wooded area but the colour of this dainty, fragile fungi again jumped out at me, so vibrant and cheerful on what could be taken as a less than cheerful day.
    Added 1st Dec. Thanks to Abbey Meadows I have the following information :Yellow stagshorn (2nd photo) and one of the Hygrocybe species (1st photo). These are Waxcaps and there are 4 similar species. I think it is Scarlet Waxcap but Crimson, Honey and Splendid Waxcap are all similar. View his blog at http://abbeymeadows.blogspot.com/

    Just goes to show there is so much to enjoy in life, as I so often say, open your eyes and seek the beauty which is just waiting to be seen and appreciated, it is all around us, where ever we live there is always something to appreciate.
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I can identify this one. A heron, slow to lift into the air probably due to a crop full of fish. A grainy photo but a record all the same
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Once overhead the size of these birds can be fully appreciated, on the wing they are truly big birds. There are many around at the moment, probably making the most of the migrating fish, a pleasure to see.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Optimism waning, or should that be raining?

Just a day or two back I was saying how I could make myself believe winter would be short - look on the bright side and all will be well. Umm.....my spirits are somewhat dampened, quite literally I may add. It's been raining and raining and.......... actually that is far too polite, especially for me, it has been pissing down, hammering down, call it what you want - WET, very wet.

Not just wet, mother nature decided gales were the order of the day too, horizontal rain what more could you ask for? A cold northeasterly wind just capped it off nicely. Today has admittedly been slightly milder, more of a westerly art and wait for it........ tomorrow might well be dry - way hey!!

Kale lost his kennel roof, unknown to Shep until morning when a very vociferous pup was found soggy wet in his roofless kennel, don't think he was too impressed, if he'd had any sense he would have crept under his bench for shelter, bigger fool he if he didn't.
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Ground is now well and truly saturated.
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Clarts (mud/mess) are now the norm, as seen here where cattle and sheep have passed by.
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My wellie print. Wellies and leggings are probably going to be the norm from now on, especially if we have our usual Tarset winter weather (with the odd exception winter has become increasingly wet of recent years).
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Wellies and leggins are grand winter wear, not only do they keep you dry, they also keep the clarts off so keep you clean too, then there is also the added bonus of the extra layer giving you that little bit extra warmth and windproofing, dare say they'll be sitting on the wellies for a while to come yet.

I spoke to the man who drives the dead cart this morning, they are being kept busy but then so are funeral directors, death must be a great business to be in. Everything dies eventually. Anyhow, the dead cart man was prophesying a busy few days, heavy rain coupled with cold gales would cause something to succumb somewhere. It's a bitter pill to swallow that you lose stock and then have to pay to have the carcase removed but then I'm getting on my high horse again, I've already covered this subject in the past http://blog.tarset.co.uk/2009/06/dead-meat-dead-money.html
He had actually called to put a calf out of it's misery, for some reason the calf had gone off it's legs completely and no amount of medication and TLC was going to see it bang up and gallop around. Last week the dead cart had visited the same farm to collect a dead cow, she'd had an accident. Lying on the dry ground on a drain back she had rolled over and like a sheep can she got herself stuck in the drain and died. All she had asked for was to lie on some dry ground, if only she had had the sense to lie still!!
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I had been trying to work out how I could photograph wind, flying bent as we call it will often get whipped up off hill ground and attach itself to fence wires but there was none of that at hand. My eagle eyes spotted this wool on a barbed wire and thought you may be able to appreciate how windy it was, to the left of the wire is actually quite a few trees so this was a slightly sheltered spot and yet still the wool is blowing horizontally off the wire, it was indeed windy. One night I even thought our little cottage might succumb. I often think this mind you, the interior is cardboard and the exterior is wood (no- I'm not joking) and when the pictures on the walls start rattling around I do envisage waking in the morning to find the building has collapsed around me lugs during the night, fortuantely the worst to date has been a roofing sheet or two blown off and that was a few years back now.
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The burns are boiling, much more rain and they will burst their banks, hopefully the drier forecast for tomorrow will see them run in a bit. This is of course helpful for the fish which are still migrating up stream to spawn (which I intend to cover shortly).

So, life is a tad soggy at the moment. Shep has been saved a drenching in sheep pens for a couple of days now, and thankfully so, as the common cold has reared it's ugly head with me nose running as hard as the burns at the moment. Shep has been lucky, most farmers and shepherds have got to go and tend their stock regardless of the weather conditions and personal health. Days like we've just had see wet top coats being changed frequently throughout the day until there are no dry coats left to be put on.

The stock are used to all sorts of weather, they have weatherproofing skins but it will still eventually wear them down, shelter is sought behind dykes (stone walls) or any natural rocky outcrops. Even undulating ground can provide a great deal of shelter and it's amazing how their natural instinct sets them out to find it. Hill sheep are so fortunate in this respect as they have a great deal of cover at ground level, rushes or tussocks of grass can provide an amazing amount of shelter. Field sheep can be less fortunate, especially if the field is wire fenced rather than dyked or hedged. Human intervention will often see these animals moved into a pasture which will afford them more shelter when the weather is truly at it's worst, nobody wants to encourage a visit from the dead cart.

So. I've had my winge. I blame the common cold! I'm already beginning to feel optomistic again. It's meant to be dry tomorrow, that's something to look forward to and hopefully it will see Shep get the last ewes in the area tailed too. What more could I ask for??!