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Monday, 19 October 2015

North Pennines - a Grouse or Two! - 13th to 16th October, 2015

No, not a grouse about the North Pennines, but Grouse in the North Pennines - more of that later!

I've not posted on Blogger for some time now as spirits have been a bit low. However, I was very much looking forward to taking a short break with my wife, Lindsay (that's 'with', not 'from'!), based on Middleton in Teesdale, County Durham. That break has set me up to get on with life.

Tuesday 13th October

We had a gentle start to the day, setting off from home at around 10h45. Our first stop was in Boston Spa, where we intended to have lunch at the Deli Cafe - a great favourite of ours. You can, therefore, probably imagine our disappointment when we discovered that the proprietor had, since our last visit, decided that he's going take one day off a week, and that day is Tuesday! We lunched in an establishment a few yards down the road, and ended up with the resolve that we'd never return there again under any circumstances.

We arrived at The Teesdale Hotel, in Middleton in Teesdale in the mid-afternoon and, after refreshing ourselves with a cup of tea, set out to explore this small town. We instantly took to the place and even managed to find a craft shop which sold English Lakes ice cream (and beautifully crafted they were too!). I'd met this make of ice cream a couple of months previously when passing this way with friends David and Miriam, and had been extremely impressed, so was pleased to find it here. Lindsay had 'Thunder and Lightning' and I had 'Raspberry Pavlova' - both were excellent!

That night we had a drink in the cosy bar of the hotel before taking dinner (very good) in their restaurant. We slept quite well after that, although it would have been better if the duvet, instead of being exactly the same size as the top of the bed, had had a bit of an overlap. Fortunately the room was warm so we didn't suffer from cold draughts at the edges!

Wednesday 14th October

This was a holiday for us both, rather than a birding break (although the Thursday did become somewhat 'birdy'!). After a good breakfast we set off southwards for The Bowes Museum. I'll not go into detail but this amazing place was a purpose-built museum, and the result of the philanthropy of an extremely wealthy couple (he was English, and she French). She was also an extremely talented artist. Tragically she died before the completion of the vision that was largely hers. We spent a very enjoyable couple of hours here before setting off again to somewhere for lunch.

The Bowes Museum - Barnard Castle
We had a very enjoyable light lunch at The Bowlees Centre, just north of Middleton and then set off on the short walk to the waterfall which is Low Force, and continued a short way beyond beside the River Tees. I didn't take any images of Low Force as the weather was a bit dull and I'd got a few decent ones in August.

There was a distant Dipper present in July, and this time there was one somewhat closer - but still rather distant (around 40 metres).

Dipper (Cinclus cinclus) - above Low Force
I watched the Dipper for around half an hour, but it never came any closer. Even more distant were a pair of Goosander, tucked behind an island at around 150 metres distance.

Goosander (Mergus merganser) - above Low Force
I'd left Lindsay sitting on a grassy knoll, watching the river, so dutifully returned to her so that we could set off back to the visitor centre. Sadly, the selection of flavours of English Lakes ice cream here was uninspiring.

Our next destination was the High Force Hotel, where we parked our car and walked to the High Force waterfall. Here you pay for the car park and entrance to the waterfall, but it saves a walk of around 2 km each way.

On the way to the falls we were amused by this sign.

beside the path to High Force
Also from the path to High Force I had my first sighting for the year of Kingfisher, but it flew past rapidly and I couldn't locate it again, so no photo. High Force is more spectacular than Low Force but not as beautiful. To my mind, the view a couple of hundred metres before you get there is better than the close-up view although you don't get the full impact of the thunderous noise of the water.

High Force  - Forest in Teesdale

On the way back to the car park, Lindsay noticed this Ladybird. Sadly, the light was awful, as it was fast approaching dusk and this was a densely wooded area.

Orange Ladybird (Halyzia sedecimguttata) - near High Force
That night we had dinner in the fish and chip shop opposite our hotel. Lindsay said it was the best fish and chips she'd had in a long while. It was an ice cream cone for pudding!

Thursday 15th October

As we'd had a relatively energetic day the day before, we'd decided that we'd explore the nearby moorlands by car this day. After breakfast we set off north-westwards on a relatively main road, before diverting onto single-track roads. The day was rather cloudy, but the sun did break through occasionally. We'd not been going long before we started to see Red Grouse.

Red Grouse (Lagopus lagopus scoticus) - near Garrigill
I was quite pleased to get some of these images, especially when the sun decided to poke through, and commented to Lindsay that what I'd really like to see was a Black Grouse. I can't remember her exact words, but they were to the effect of 'dream on'! Now she should have known better than to say that, as I seem to have a canny knack of saying something like "we haven't seen a so-and-so in the garden for a few months" and then one turns up a few minutes later, or "this looks like whatyoumacallit country" and there's one just round the bend. Needless to say, a few minutes after my comment, I noticed a dark shape on the ground over the other side of a drystone wall on Lindsay's side of the car. I reversed up, and there it was - a male Black Grouse! I'd stopped on the verge on Lindsay's side and got out of the car,  standing in the road whilst keeping the car between me and the grouse, with just my head above the roofline. 

Black Grouse (Tetrao tetrix) - near Nenthead
The grouse was spooked by our car stopping, and made for a nearby wall, where there was another male and two females. From my position behind the car I banged off a few safety shots before adjusting my settings. Unfortunately a fast and noisy car came down the road towards me and I was forced to move to the side of the road in full view of the grouse, which then beat a hasty retreat. I did manage a few usable images, however.

Black Grouse (Tetrao tetrix) - near Nenthead
This next image is of the second male, which was somewhat further away.

Black Grouse (Tetrao tetrix) - near Nenthead
I then noticed a third male on the next wall down so quickly got in the car and moved down the road. This bird was even closer than the others had been and probably less than 5 metres from Lindsay's window. I only had time to fire off a few frames without adjusting settings before the bird was spooked - possibly because of the proximity of the car. I am sure that this was, by far, the closest I'll ever get to a Black Grouse!

Black Grouse (Tetrao tetrix) - near Nenthead
Only a short way down the road there was a pheasant on the wall on my side. It took off as I stopped. This was a shot that nearly worked - too slow a shutter speed and wing tips just out of frame, however. Oh well!

Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) - near Nenthead
On Dryburn Moor I had another excellent opportunity to photograph Red Grouse.

Red Grouse (Lagopus lagopus scoticus) - Dryburn Moor
We drove around for a while longer, ending up in the splendid place that is Allendale Town. We had an excellent lunch in the Allendale Forge Studios, followed by one of the finest ice creams that I've ever tasted - it was coconut and pineapple flavoured, and I forgot to make a note of the make! After more wandering round this small town (more a village in reality) we set off to explore minor roads again.

Near Ninebanks we found three Red-legged Partridge on a wall. I was all set to get a relatively decent shot when a car came and passed within a couple of metres of the birds as it drove round us.

Red-legged Partridge (Alectoris rufa) - near Ninebanks
Near Ouston there were several Brown Hare at various points along the road and I stopped to take a photo of this one.

Brown Hare (Lepus europaeus) - near Ouston
It was getting late by now and it was time to set back towards our hotel for dinner. We returned via the road that we'd seen the Black Grouse on, and they'd come back to the same spot. This time there were 2 males and 3 females. The cloud had become more dense, and the light had gone so I only managed a record shot of one of the males, before they were spooked and departed.

Black Grouse (Tetrao tetrix) - near Nenthead
Just a little further on, I took a photo of a Red Grouse. It's a rubbish image but it does show a bird with a lot of white in its plumage. It makes me wonder if this bird is a result of interbreeding with imported Willow Grouse, perhaps as part of a 'breeding for shooting' programme?

Red Grouse (Lagopus lagopus scoticus?) - near Nenthead
That night we had a drink in the bar before eating in the hotel's restaurant. Sadly, Lindsay's meal was a doubly disappointing one. When her meal arrived, the beetroot dauphinoise which accompanied her meal was cold. This was quickly rectified, but then she found that her pork chop had sharp slivers of bone in it, one of which became lodged in her throat. She managed to dislodge it with some dry bread but her throat was sore for a few days afterwards.

Friday 16th October

I'd planned a route homeward that would have us travelling south down the Pennine moorlands on minor roads for the best part of three hours. We were up quite early, and fully packed before breakfast, so managed an early getaway. Unfortunately the weather was not in our favour, with a steady drizzle with us from the word go. The light was terrible to start with, and inside half an hour or so we were up in dense cloud and not able to see more than about 10 metres ahead. This stayed with us for most of what would have been an extremely scenic run. I did manage a few photos of Red Grouse on Whitaside Moor, but these were significantly inferior to those already obtained during this break, so I won't publish them here.

We arrived in Boston Spa in time for a late lunch at the now-open Deli Cafe - and a great lunch it was too! It was then time to make the last leg of our journey home.

This had been a highly enjoyable break, and the weather had been relatively kind to us, considering the time of year. I felt that I'd returned with batteries fully recharged!!

Thank you for dropping by. The subject of my next post has yet to be decided on - I have one of three topics in mind!


  1. Grouse aren't one of my favourite birds but the images have swayed. I really like the male and female Black Grouse on the rocks. And the Red Grouse look brilliant in the light.
    One of my favourite images is the Red legs running along the wall. Quite comical.
    So glad you caught up with the Dipper too. It took me a while to realise what somesome clever scamp had done to the "lick the flowers" sign lol.

    1. Thanks, Doug. You must have been writing you comment on my blog exectly at the same time as I was writing my comment on yours!

      I hadn't realised just how pretty a bird the female Black Grouse is, I'd only ever had half-decent views of males before then.

      Lindsay and I had a good chuckle over that sign!

      Best wishes - - - Richard

  2. It was obviously a much needed break Richard, it appears from your writing that it did the job! Loving all the images but the male Black Grouse on the rock is excellent!! On another note, I think this post would also qualify for a gourmet blog, you both seem to be spending an awful lot of time enjoying the finer tastes that seem to be on offer, nice one!!!!

    1. It certainly was a most enjoyable get-away, Paul. For some reason, we seem to have settled into a daily routine of having an ice cream when on holiday, no matter where we go and what time of year it is. I must admit it does draw a few amused looks when we stroll down the street, cone in hand, when there's snow on the ground!

      Best wishes - - - Richard

  3. Good to see you back and a great look round one of my favourite areas.
    I tend to disregard High force as it is usually heaving with folk but Barnard castle is a very appealing town.

    1. Hi Adrian. It feels good to be back.

      We obviously went to High Force at the right time. We were only at the falls for about 10 minutes, but we had the place totally to ouselves. We probably only saw eight other people, but that was just on the path to and from the falls.

      We never got to spend any time in Barnard Castle, Adrian, but we intend to return to the area and, prompted by your recommendation, will be sure to visit and explore the town. I'm not sure what the significance is, but there were prominent signs say that, for safety reasons, the Aquaduct Walk was closed.

      Best wishes - - - Richard

  4. Wonderful shots of the grouse here, Richard, especially the Black Grouse which is certainly more elusive than the Red. I still have very fond memories of my lifer Black Grouse with you in Scotland although the views were certainly more distant. Great job!

    1. Thank you for your kind words, David. Next time you visit I'll try and get you some closer views. I'll also be taking Miriam to The Bowes Museum if we're in that area. Just south of where we were staying is a 'craft route' which might take a couple of days to do justice to!!!

      My very best wishes to you both - - - - Richard

  5. Hello Richard, good to see you are back and enjoyed your break. What a beautiful captures of the Black and Red Grouse. The Partrige is a most wonderful bird and the Brown Hare you captured so well. The capture of the waterfall is amazing. And great you managed to see te Dipper. All in all a real good impression of the wildlife and landscape.

    1. Thank you for your very kind words, Roos. I believe that we've only just scratched the surface of this area, and I look forward to returning. It's an area which I believe will be interesting in all seasons.

      My best wishes - - - Richard

  6. Look's like you and Lindsay had a fantastic break I always look forward to seeing your new adventures,and this post is fall of magical images,I'm blown away with your photography,love every shot.
    Take care.

    1. We had a great time, John, even though it was a very short break. Thank you so much for your kind words of encouragement.

      My best wishes to you both - - - Richard

  7. Hi Richard, County Durham! I have been visiting County Durham for the past twenty years, Malcolm's father lives in Ferryhill and we usually go to see him a least twice a year, staying a week each time. It is a beautiful area and not crowded like here in the South. Some of our favourite places to visit are Eggleston Hall Gardens, High Force, Cow Green Reservoir, Durham Cathedral. Did you see the silver swan at Bowes museum, we saw it in action, it is amazing how acurate they have got the swan's movement. Lovely pictures of your grouses. It is a pity that small minded people only view these birds to be shot at with a gun. One of the things we have noticed about County Durham, no birds of prey, we have never seen a buzzard not even a kestrel. We did see a Long Eared owl and a Little Owl, but that is all we have ever seen. I am glad that you are feeling better and that you both had a lovely time. You and Lindsay seem to be fans of ice-cream ;-)

    1. As we were leaving to come home, I mentioned to Lindsay that next time we should visit Eggleston Hall Gardens. Now that you've recommended it, it will probably happen!! I think I preferred Low Force to High Force, and the refurbished visitor centre at Bowlees is excellent and the people there are extremely helpful. Your other recommendations will also be high on the list of things to do.

      The Bowes Museum Swan operates at 2 p.m.and we were away before then. We did see a video display of it in action, but only saw it static 'in the flesh'. I was totally bowled over by the paintings by Joséphine Bowes. I found her style, particularly her use of light to be remarkable and very distinctive to the extent that, with the exception of a couple of 'uncertainties', I was able to pick out each one of her many paintings on display, and would rather have had one of hers than any other on display there.

      We did see Buzzard (one) and several Kestrel while we were up there - but no owls!

      Yep, we do like our ice cream - Lindsay falls under my bad influence!!

      With my best wishes to you both - - - - Richard


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