Brian Fereday’s Nature notes were written on his monthly walks around our farm trail. Brian lived and worked in this landscape and knew it intimately. We are lucky to have his records of the changing seasons and the comings and goings of the flora and fauna throughout the years. Here we revisit his October walk.
“A sunlit morning with the first touch of frost of the season greeted me as I walked down the lane from the car park. As usual, the ash had responded to the frost by shedding most of its leaves. The lane was strewn with golden ash leaves and I felt quite privileged to be the first one to walk this golden road. Across the lane, in the hedge, an elm bush had also changed. The elm’s hairy leaves had turned cadmium yellow rather than gold and towards the right-angled turn where the lane meets the beck, a stretch of blackthorn hedge was dressed in another shade of yellow.
I searched for sloes on the blackthorn but the growth was too recent and not mature enough to bear fruit. While I was looking, a robin sang an autumnal song from the wall top. The song was neither happy nor sad, just a statement that the sun was shining and there will be good and bad days ahead. I looked at him and thought if only we could all be so accepting and actually sing about it.
Frosty grass was sparkling in the lane just around the corner and the now brown leaves of the Greater Willowherb were beginning to crumple. The whole area of beckside vegetation although in decline was splashed with the reds of Black Bryony berries and Rose Hips and not to be beaten by the frost a single flowerhead of Yarrow could be seen, white, amongst the sheltering beckside vegetation.
I looked back as I usually do towards the farm and Sizergh Fell to the south-west. The beeches on the eastern part of the Fell were glowing copper in the morning sun. Closer to hand the sycamore on the nearer skyline were stark against the sky, having lost all their leaves. These hedgerow trees are exposed to wind from all directions and it’s no surprise for them to be stripped of their leaves before more sheltered woodland trees. There was no wildlife at the pond but the water running in was fresh and looked very cold that morning. Hence the pond was full and healthy, better than last month when it was still suffering from a lack of water.
Out into the sun once more and in the hedge a wonderful spreading oak tree. Sunlight filtering through her branches and glowing red – gold with all the leaves still intact. A beautiful tree, and a tree that had done well considering it had been planted, quite recently in the life an oak tree, in the early 1980s. As if in appreciation the same robin, or another one, sang from the hedge under the tree. Sometimes robins will follow on short walks probably hoping for food, or perhaps they just like human company.
Again, as I crossed the fields to the wood I looked to the skyline and there was the unmistakeable shapes of big ash trees against the sky. So different from the dark silhouettes of the sycamores, the grey-green ash. As I went into the wood, the sound of woodland birds met my ears. Lots of birds were calling and I stood still, which is the best way to watch birds, allowing them to come to you.
Great Tit, Blue Tit, Nuthatch and a family gathering of Long Tailed Tits were busy hunting for food. The lack of leaves helped in seeing the birds which were busy looking in nooks and crannies for grubs and other items of feed.
As I walked along the path, leaves rustled beneath my feet. Looking up, all the taller trees had lost their leaves but the understorey of hazel glowed golden beneath them. I looked back into the sun and through the trees. The tree trunks and limbs were hard compared to the softness that the sun created around the leaves and twigs of the hazel, droplets creating rainbow effects and mossy coverings making green halos on stem and branch.
In the first clearing at the top of the hill, the grasses were festooned with now melted dewdrops and silvery spiders webs. I expected to see finches flying up from the grasses. It looked an excellent feeding area for these birds with a wide variety of seeding plants. Perhaps they have too wide a choice at the present time and harder weather will concentrate them more.
I walked on to the top of the wood and entered the fringe of beech on the area just before the top gate. These beech were planted in the 1950’s and have grown well. They were planted with larch and over the years the larch have been removed in thinnings to be made into fence posts and rails. Indeed the beech have been thinned twice too, producing good firewood. If you look you will see red marks on some of the trees. These are to be felled in another thinning again for firewood. This will ensure that the remaining trees develop well. The most noticeable and beautiful aspect of this area at the moment are the autumn colours of the beech leaves. The felling will probably be a winter task for the National Trust foresters.
I emerged from the wood. The view from the top of the hill was lovely as usual. I always think of this view as embodying all that’s good in the South Westmorland landscape. As I crossed the car park a light breeze had picked up and still the ash trees were clattering leaves into the lane. I wondered at the time how many leaves must that ash tree have been carrying all summer. Then I saw the colour of the leaves and shape of the tree and forgot such scientific pondering, being taken instead by the beauty.”