BBH SOCIAL RIDE: SANDSCALE HAWS AND SOUTH WALNEY

PHOTO: ALICE WOODS

I always find it really hard to put into words these social rides, I mean how do you effectively convey the utterly wholesome feeling of a group of people getting together with the sole intention of riding to spot birds? But I guess that’s what I’m about to try and do! I’d visited South Walney back in November of last year, on a day when the headwind seemed to follow you no matter which way you decided to ride, but even from that bitterly cold visit I’d hoped to make a social ride that explored this often forgotten peninsula.

We met outside Dalton Castle, a 14th century tower which used to be the manorial courthouse for nearby Furness Abbey, a practice which continued even after the dissolution of the abbey in 1537 – whilst the castle isn’t open you can explore its history by looking through the online collection held by the National Trust which includes some pretty impressive armour! After thoroughly embarrassing Nathan with a plethora of badly made home gifts for his birthday, it was along country lanes to Sandscale Haws National Nature Reserve. Sandscale Haws is predominantly a dune habitat which famously hosts Natterjack toads which are best spotted in late spring across the site. It has a great etymology with the name ‘Sandscale’ coming from Scandinavian words: ‘sandur’ for beach ‘skali’ for hut, and ‘haws’ meaning hills. Cumbria GeoConservation have created a really informative leaflet about the makeup of the dunes and their importance.

For us, it served as the perfect first spot – with big open views across the River Duddon estuary to Hodbarrow and the chance to delve into some delicious birthday blondies from Rosanne!

PHOTO: NATHAN CURRY

Although bird spotting here was limited (gulls, swallows and a potential stonechat), it was a great spot to bask in some unforeseen sunshine before heading through the busy town of Barrow-in-Furness. Crossing the bridge over the Walney Channel out of Barrow gave us our first glimpse at the flat island and the stretched out marshes of Walney which seemed to disappear into the horizon. As we rode along Carr Lane shouts from the group of ‘Curlew’ and ‘Egret’ could be heard as we spotted birds in flight over the saltmarshes, the sense of excitement building as we neared the reserve! We pulled in by Hare Hill to watch as Starlings seemed to practice their murmuration technique, gathering on the telephone wires before swooping down as one great mass of birds (apart from a few stragglers who we were happy to critique).

After locking up the bikes on the edge of the reserve, being given a quick run through of the rules of the site, and hints as to where to spot what, we all clambered into the aptly named ‘sea hide’. From this viewpoint we could make out eider, oystercatchers, gulls, shags and cormorants.

PHOTO: MEU

A walk along the beach, following the red route, led us past the lighthouse to the bay hide which overlooks the lighthouse pool and lagoons – remnants of the islands industrial past when in the 19th and 20th centuries salt, gravel and sand were extracted. Little Egrets, Redshank, Godwits and Mallards lined the lagoons, moving along when they inevitably disturbed one another.

The next hide offered incredible views across the mudflats to Piel Island, we sat and took in the last of the big views as a group, watching two more little Egrets move along the channels of water. It was here we were able to spot a migratory female wheatear – I’ve only ever spotted these little birds in valleys so it was a real treat to see it on the coast!

PHOTO: TIM LYONS

After walking back along the shingle causeway, spotting more Redshank, Greenshank, Gulls and Wheatears, we stuck to Sustrans Route 700 to loop us past Rampside, Leece and back into Dalton. It had been a long day, meeting at 10am and not arriving back into Dalton until gone 6 – but I came away brimming away with joy at not only what we’d managed to spot but also the atmosphere that this incredible group of people always seems to create. Thank you so much as always to those that take the time out of their lives and commit to a day of riding around looking for birds – it always baffles me (in the nicest way possible!). Can’t wait for the next one!

As always the route can be found here on Komoot! Happy bikebirding!

BBH SOCIAL RIDE: SEDBERGH TO SMARDALE

Having previously visited Smardale Nature Reserve as part of a hike and spotted the bridleway signs that crisscrossed the reserve, I knew there was potential for a great day of riding in the area…

So, another social ride was planned and this time one which would start in a different national park: the Yorkshire Dales. Sedbergh is a great place to start any type of ride, surrounded by quiet country lanes and sizeable fells littered with bridleway tracks cutting up the valleys. It also has a great deli (Three Hares Deli) providing the perfect first coffee, which seems to be a prerequisite of the social rides at this point. Setting off into the drizzle out of Sedbergh was initially refreshing, but my route planning may have gone a little awry as we attempted to clamber/ride our way around the foothills of the Howgills. The narrow slippy single track provided gorgeous views back towards Sedbergh, which we were certainly able to make the most of as we pushed our way through. The track soon opened up by Cautley Beck with views down the valley to Cautley Spout (well worth a visit by itself!).

After Cautley Spout we headed up (feeling as though we’d been heading forever up at this point) the side of Harter Fell, passing above Wandale Beck and its ethereal woodlands and hay meadows. So far, thanks to the slow going, as a group we’d been able to spot a buzzard, curlew, meadow pippets, goldfinches, and a possible redstart!

We finally made the road, and after a much needed lunch break, we took the descent down into the village of Ravenstonedale following the quiet roads to Friar Bottom Lane and the edge of Smardale Nature Reserve. Some of the group were even able to spot a puss moth caterpillar making its way across the cycle path!

Entering Smardale we stood on the bridge over Scandal Beck watching as a large flock of Sand Martins skirted over the water and surrounding grassland. Sand Martins are highly sociable birds, and often nest in large groups along riverbanks excavating their metre long burrows in colonies, they are even known to return to these nests in following years excavating further if necessary. As we made our way through the dale we spotted magpies, a willow warbler, and a heron who flew between the large arches of the viaduct. Smardale reserve consists mainly of steep wooded slopes down to the gill which opens up to the rolling countryside around the viaduct offering a perfect habitat for a plethora of flowers, butterflies, birds and even red squirrels. With the woodland dating back to the medieval period it’s created a great diversity of plant species which alongside the limestone grassland creates an overall incredible site.

After pushing our bikes through the reserve, as the responsible nature lovers that we are, we made it through to the start of the reserve where a bird feeding station and hide constructed from an old railway wagon has been placed. Here we were lucky enough to spot some very bedraggled and soggy fledglings (robin, chaffinch, blue tit, great tit and coal tit).

After leaving the reserve we headed back to Sedbergh via the roads. We skirted by fields full of Lapwings, as we rode past their flopping flight path evident, their Latin name Vanellus vanellus literally means willowing fan, most likely because due to the nature of their flight style. Fun fact: the collective noun for a group of Lapwings is a ‘deceit’ – there’s a couple of interesting blog posts on why they may have earnt this collective term which can be found here and here.

It was another fantastic social ride, and I’m so grateful to all those that joined and embraced the day! Thank you for an excellent ride/hike and hopefully see you at the next one!

As always the route can be found on Komoot here!

BBH SOCIAL RIDE: GAIT BARROWS & LEIGHTON MOSS

I’m absolutely going to caveat this post, no matter what I write, or what pictures I put up, it won’t encapsulate how much I loved yesterday – a group of 12 relative strangers, all riding to go and spot some birds…brilliant. Following on from the fun of the first ‘official’ bikes and bird hides social ride to Foulshaw Moss, another was quickly planned. This time heading into Arnside and Silverdale AONB from Kendal to do some birding at Gait Barrows NNR and RSPB Leighton Moss.

After meeting in Kendal, the group set off along the River Kent towards Sedgwick, the river seemingly devoid of any bird life but still a great first stopping place before heading on to Beetham via Paradise Lane – the name being derived from ‘Parish Dyke’ as it formed the ancient division between Beetham and Heversham, the sign at the bottom suggests that due to the variety in shrubs and trees along the lane, that the hedgerows must date back to early Middle Ages.

Gait Barrows NNR can be found in the heart of Arnside and Silverdale AONB. It’s home to a mosaic of limestone and peatland habitats, with meadows and woodland surrounding Hawes Water. There’s a permissive bridleway down to the shoreline from the road, a great place to stop and snack is by the recently restored summerhouse- whilst it’s not yet open, it’s still a beautiful building. As we sat charms of goldfinches flittered over the water and chaffinches called from the surrounding trees.

It didn’t take us long to then reach the main attraction, Leighton Moss! On arrival we were welcomed so warmly by a worker who couldn’t quite believe we’d all cycled out to come and enjoy the reserve – no we hadn’t just shown up for the cafe discount! His quick introduction to what star species we could expect to see definitely got us excited and we happily showed him our brevet/bingo cards…

We headed to the Sky tower first, the perfect viewing platform to really grasp the scale of the site – Leighton Moss is home to the largest reed bed in the North West. From the top you can see over to Wharton Crag, Hutton Roof in the far distance, and Morecambe Bay as well as all the pools of water that make up the moss. From here we spotted (and definitely heard) black headed gulls, coots, sedge warblers, herons, and swans.

From here we looped through the reeds to get to the Grisedale Hide. We settled in, we’d been told this was the best hide to spot the Marsh Harriers from, which included three recent fledglings made distinct by their all brown colouring. After watching the coots in the foreground intently, we spotted the distinctive low soaring of a Marsh Harrier as it made its way across the tops of the reeds before diving down out of sight. We waited with baited breath for it to re-emerge, it soon moved between trees and was soon joined by an older harrier (it’s golden face highlighted). They booth took up rest in a tree, all binoculars trained on the spot waiting for movement.

I’ll never get over seeing Marsh Harriers, they are truly incredible. They are the largest of harriers, and you truly appreciate their scale as they fly low over the reserve. What’s even greater is that looking back through my 1980s guide to birdwatching in the Lake District, the Marsh Harrier appears to be a success story. They are marked as a ‘spring passage’ visitor, but can now be seen at the site all year round!

A gentle walk along to the causeway hide rounded off the trip to Leighton Moss, a great spot to watch cormorants drying and diving. After becoming best friends with the resident ducks at the picnic area, we were back on our bikes heading up to the bridleways that cut through the glorious Arnside Knott (not a single red squirrel spotted…). After resting at the pier we took the causeway roads back to the River Kent.

Heading back into Kendal we were greeted by a Little Egret making its way up the river through town. It was an absolutely incredible day, and I’m so grateful that there are people who want to ride their bikes and sit in hides all day! Planning for the next social ride has begun, so keep your eyes peeled for an update soon.

ST BEES HEAD AND ENNERDALE – CUMBRIA

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to pick up a birdwatching in the lake district guide, originally released in the 1980s. I’ve spent hours reading through, wondering if the birds they so easily spot are still to be found across the sites they’ve picked out to share. I’m hoping to make my way through the guide – hopefully it’ll give me a bit of focus and push to head out beyond the usual sites. That’s how I ended up at St Bees Head this weekend: after a last minute call out on Instagram to see if anyone fancied it, thankfully Alice agreed and we hastily planned to meet at Ennerdale and head out to the cliffs! I apologise now (but not really) for how picture heavy this post is going to be.

Heading out of Ennerdale, there was a long climb up to Kirkland before following the traffic free section of Route 71 along an old wagon way to reach the outskirts of Whitehaven. The surrounding meadows and thick hedges offered up a constant call of finches and warblers.

After coming off the track and finding ourselves in suburbia, it was another climb to the red sandstone cliffs. The views down to the lighthouse from the private but permissible road from Sandwith were breathtaking, with a clear view the Isle of Man and a very hazy Irish coastline.

St Bees Head supports northwest England’s only cliff-nesting seabird colony, with ‘star species’ of Fulmar, Guillemot, Herring Gull, Kittiwake, and Razorbill. Whilst the RSPB website makes no mention of visiting or nesting Puffins, according to my ‘new’ guidebook ‘the best area to see one of he dozen or so Puffins is from the first viewpoint south of the lighthouse’ – so we headed to the viewing station. Whilst we didn’t spot any Puffins, we did spot seemingly hundreds of Guillemots and Razorbills resting on the cliff edges or hurling themselves off the cliffs and into the sea below. Kittiwakes, Fulmars and Gulls circled the tops of the cliffs, chasing down bold Jackdaws. Every time you thought you’d spotted all the birds, flocks would come around the corner, bobbing around on the sea.

The cliffs themselves are an impressive sight, roughly four miles long and reaching over 300ft, the sandstone having formed over 300 million years ago and slowly eroded into perfect nesting ledges!

British Geological Survey (BGS) | large image viewer | IIPMooViewer 2.0

It was breathtaking – the sheer amount of seabirds amassed on the cliff edge. Alice and I spent a while observing and snacking. With the sun blaring down on the coastline, it was time to make our way back inland back towards Ennerdale where we’d planed to head up the River Liza for a dip.

We followed the same track back, before heading up the forestry tracks at Ennerdale to the perfect plunging spot on the River Liza. Ennerdale has undergone a transformation over the past ten years through a partnership programme that has a vision of: “to allow the evolution of Ennerdale as a wild valley for the benefit of people, relying more on natural processes to shape its landscape and ecology”. You can find out more about the impressive low level intervention/management project here Wild Ennerdale – Shaping the Landscape Naturally.

This was an incredible way to spend a Saturday, and I’m super grateful to Alice for agreeing to come with me and spend the day rambling around the area! The route we followed can be found here on Komoot.

GUEST SPOT: IMMY, A LOVE LETTER TO SNIDLEY MOOR

Since the creation of bikes and bird hides last year, Immy has been a big old supporter and now even co-hosts the monthly Bikes and Bird Hides Culture Club, so it seems only right that she shares her beautifully penned love letter to her local spot, Snidley Moor, on the blog!

There is a small spit of woodland near my house. You access it by a tiny dirt track alongside a static caravan park; in the summer it becomes a tangled knot of vines. If you don’t know it exists, it doesn’t exist. A few meters ahead and on the right is a path to the sandstone trail, so most people don’t notice this tiny little entrance. Their eyes slide from the horses in the paddock, to the caravan park, and back to the cut stone steps to the trail. You can slip undetected into a shaded dappled path and out of sight.

The woodland here is ancient. There’s oak, beech and hawthorn, but it is mostly dominated by silver birch now, which has been coppiced for the past century. In the winter, the flexible poles creak and sway in the wind, and the whole place becomes ghostly. You can cycle if you are careful and keep to the bridleway. Mountain-bikers, drawn here by the steep root-bound descents, have caused a lot of damage to the ground flora over the years, and so cyclists are treated with suspicion.

It’s strange how the birds react when you visit. The little song thrush that sits at the mouth of the wood is more concerned with being louder than you are; the crows call angrily at their sanctum defiled by humanity, but mostly it goes silent as soon as you enter. It is very obvious you are being watched.

The gravel track is rutted and grooved deeply from small rivulets in clayey soils that have worn away over the years. Blackbirds, wrens and little dunnocks will follow you, flitting between the bracken on your left for a short while, but will leave you as the sandstone walls rise up. On your right is a gnarled and twisted silver birch – one of the oldest in the UK. In its trunk is a small brown notebook in a plastic bag, and people have been writing messages in it since the 1920s. Children leave toys and food for the birds. It is quite normal in this area for people to leave gifts at the base of trees. Further on is a tree where all manner of things are left: One week I saw a mug with a bear in it, and another time a small tin watering can. Other trees have people leaving small piles of sticks in trunk hollows, or dried flower bundles at the roots. I wonder what private traditions these are, and what draws them to specific trees or spots. I can’t find anything on the internet about them, so assume they are personal rituals held tightly in people’s fists and pocketed.

Whichever way you walk, you are met with steep vertical inclines to the top. From here you can see all the way to North Wales and if you fancy it, Liverpool. Beneath you is a severe cliff face, carpeted in the summer by bright blustery rhododendron. I know they are considered to many a pest, but this smudged ribbon of purple, thumb-smeared roughly across the cliff face always cheers me up. It cheers the birds up too. The chaffinches, goldfinches, coal tits and various other warblers make ample use of the thickets and, mostly undisturbed by humans (so few know about this place and even less can be bothered with the climb), jabber away a sparkling cacophony of little voices regardless of the season. Once, I heard what I think was a black cap. It sounded like two marbles being clacked together sharply, and I enjoyed listening to it. I saw a Jay too, planting acorns, and heard the distant high whistled ‘pheee-yew’ of a buzzard. We first learnt to identify buzzards as children with my dad, who would lazily point to the daub of hovering black in the summer, and say ‘look, buzzard’. As an adult, I realised that beside the robin and the blackbird, the buzzard was the only bird he really recognised. He still spots them first though, from miles off, and gestures with the same mild indifference that only dads possess. I listen out for them now, and hear the whistle weave in and out of range.

There is a wooden bench, and I like sitting here. Time doesn’t really exist in this woodland. I could sit for 5 seconds, 5 minutes, or more than an hour: It doesn’t matter – I know I am always late home if I sit.

There is something magical about this woodland. Just two miles down track are thick ridges of sandstone, so in the summer the soil becomes blood-red and glows in the late evening sun. In winter, ice laces the littered blocks of stone (felled from years of quarrying and erosion) in thin egg-shell crusts that crunch very softly when you tread on them. They glitter like quartz, and one year I remember walking when it began to snow. A sudden hush came over the woods, and the silence pressed heavily before the whole forest exhaled. Nothing stirred, and within minutes a white sheet had carpeted the trail. The sandstone cliffs in the hollow – deep auburn and decidedly saharan- appeared unnervingly at odds with snow. It was like the two scenes had been clumsily photoshopped together.

Carved into the sandstone walls are initials of those from 1668, 1917, 1942, 1986 and 2011. Some have left softly warped shapes and pictures alongside the dates and initials; moss and lichen have rooted into the grooves, and as I trace the lines with my fingers I consider that the significance of these stick-scratches has died alongside their authors. Their motive, energy, thoughts, worries, enjoyments have all dissolved back into the earth, and we know nothing of ‘AF’, ‘SY’ or ’T.C.’.

Beyond, you can still see the ramparts (the outer defensive wall) of the iron age fort that once dominated this woodland. I had my sandwiches on it once, completely unknowingly seated on bits of stone laid by men and women around 1,300 years ago. A mile onwards is Jacob’s Ladder, precarious steps cut into the rock face in the mid 19th century. There is a famous picture of two young girls in white dresses and wide hats and leather boots sat unsmilingly on the steps that I have seen in our local Morrisons. I always think of that picture when I climb them, and I wonder how many times they climbed.

That’s what is magical about the woodland. There is so much human history here, warped and twisted alongside the ancient rocks and roots. The sandstone cliffs here are about 30 million years old, and I take great delight in telling people that humans have only been in existence for about 1.6% of their lifetime. The stone hasn’t even noticed us yet.

But as you walk, the left disintegrates into tangled cliff faces, and the right is tightly separated by three lines of barbed wire. There is a golf course here, and the tidy lawns stop sharply at the wire, and seem utterly incongruous with the gnarled and ancient ridge-line. This is humanity. I once saw fox pick it’s way lightly across the green and it seemed absurd. The birds quieten here, and even the wren – the most obnoxious of all the small birds – knows it is not its place to speak, and it shuts up. The further you trek, the neater the edges, the softer the stone, the louder the unending drone of the distant motorway. You’ll reach a very straight edge of tarmac that butts sharply against the sandstone track. The two meet, but they do not mix. This is Carriage Drive and this is the end.

Skipwith Common and Kiplingcotes Chalk Pit Nature Reserve : A weekend in East Yorkshire

With May half term signaling the end of a hectic term at work, I seized the opportunity to leave the Lakes and head back to East Yorkshire for some much needed rest in familiar scenery. Some beautiful weather was forecast for the weekend, it seemed only right that the bikes should be loaded up onto the car to make the most of the Wolds. One of the great things about the Wolds is it’s extensive bridleways that follow old railway lines, having previously done the Hudson Way (a ten mile track from Market Weighton to Beverly), I decided to head the other way towards Selby and the Vale of York along the Bubwith Rail Trail. Looking on a map, it was easy to see that Skipwith Common could be used as an extension to the ride – a 40 mile round ride was created!

The rail trail cuts through the arable land of East Yorkshire, lined with thick hedgerows opening up onto vast views of green and yellow fields. The hedgerows seemed alive, goldfinches, bullfinches, and tree sparrows all darted between branches and flew alongside us, and buzzards and kestrels soared over the crop filled fields. The trail itself is quiet, and like much of East Yorkshire and the Wolds it gets overlooked for its nearby counterparts. The small village of Bubwith makes a great spot to stop, there’s a good coffee and cake stop at the Jug and Bottle plus plenty of areas to stop and sit by the River Derwent.

From Bubwith you take quiet country lanes to Skipwith Common – the common is SAC (special area of conservation), and is one of the last remaining areas of northern lowland heath in England. It’s an incredible sight and a stark change in environment after riding past endless open fields. It’s 270 hectares of open heath, ponds, mire, fen, reed-bed, woodland and scrub and thankfully has several bridleways that cut through the heart of it allowing cyclists to explore some of the landscape easily on wheels.

The woodland areas were full of bird call, and it was brilliant to see longhorn cattle and hebredian sheep being used for conservation grazing on the site. With much of the site only accessible through walking, it’s definitely one to revisit and spend an entire day there particularly as there are Bronze Age burial mounds to see! The rail trail was used to fly along back towards Market Weighton.

The next morning, I headed along the Hudson Way to Kiplingcotes Chalk Pit looked after by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. It’s a small site formed from an old chalk quarry. Although small, it’s well worth a visit with the scrub filled with yellowhammers and red kites flying overhead. In late summer the grassland supports Pyramidal orchid; Common spotted orchid and Common twayblade. It makes the perfect place to stop if you’re doing the Wolds Way or even just continuing on the de-commissioned railway line to Beverley.

Routes for both rides can be found on komoot here! Happy bike birding!

Torver Common – Cumbria

This post is going to be a little different, yes there will still be bikes, yes there will still be birds, but there will be no hide and there will be the admission that this ride was not planned with birdwatching in mind – it was simply to get out in the sunshine and explore the bridleways around Coniston. We set off from Tarn Hows and used the bridleway that runs below the crags of the Coniston Fells.

After skirting along the shoreline of Coniston on the permitted cycleway, we hit Torver and were greeted with a bevvy of steam engines outside the pub. We couldn’t not stop, and after chatting we were told the one I was swooning over was actually an ammunition carrier from World War One that had been restored. Built in 1917 and working in France, it was incredible to see, especially as they were so targeted and so few brought back post-war. Even better, the gathering was for a stag do!

After tearing ourselves away from the engines, we headed out to Torver Common using a single track bridleway to get to Throng Moss Reservoir. The views back to Coniston were incredible, but Torver Common was to bring out the real sights and sounds. As we made our way along the reservoir we spotted what we thought *could* be a cuckoo, but we knew we’d need ‘audio confirmation’ to be sure. And we got it, sitting eating our sandwiches we heard it’s distinctive call. We were ecstatic – our first cuckoo of the year! Following this, we sat and watched/listened as a willow warbler made it’s way from tree to tree. As if it couldn’t get any better, we were the treated to a lizard basking in the bracken next to the track. Heading down past Stable Harvey the common was littered with wheaters, stonechats, and meadow pippets. I have no apologies for the amount of photos to follow.

Subberthwaite, Blawith and Torver Commons is an SAC (special area of conservation) which is made up of a range of upland habtitas, including twenty-nine types of mire plant communities, heath, open water, base rich flushes, acid grassland, bracken and some woodland and juniper scrub. It has a network of bridleways running across it, and it’s important due to its sensitive nature to stick to these! Torver Common is looked after in part by the Duddon, Seathwaite and Torver Commoners Group, who are currently working hard to restore extensive native tree and scrub habitat across the area.

We took the main road back to Torver, passing by the convey of steam engines by the lake shore, before heading back up to Tarn Hows via more bridleways. It had been an incredible day – full of unexpected wildlife watching, firsts of the year, and some beautiful riding. A cracking day out and one that will definitely be repeated. As always, the route can be found here on komoot!

Brockholes: Lancashire Wildlife Trust

Since 2007, The Lancashire Wildlife Trust has been working to create a mosaic of habitats at Brockholes… from wetlands to woodlands and this helps attract a wide range of wildlife.

Lancashire Wildlife Trust: https://www.brockholes.org/wildlife

Brockholes Nature Reserve was one of the first sites I wrote on my ever expanding list of ‘post-covid’ visits, and whilst I’m well aware we are far from being ‘post-covid’ when the news broke that we could meet others to enjoy the outdoors with I knew I wanted to get to this reserve ASAP! Thankfully, Immy (who runs BBHCC with me), didn’t take any persuasion to finally meet up and get some bike birding done. We agreed to meet at Brockholes, and then head off around Preston using the circular Guild Wheel route, with neither of us knowing the city we thought this would be an easy way to get a taste of Preston without getting too lost!

Brockholes is situated just off from the M6 and by all accounts is a relatively new reserve, with Lancashire Wildlife Trust beginning their incredible work in 2007. It’s transformation from quarry site to nature reserve is incredibly impressive, and when you’re there you get the impression it’s always been like this. Immy and I meet up in the car park and quickly unload our bikes before heading to the floating visitor village to grab a coffee. The visitor village is nestled among the reedbeds on the Meadow Lake and the open space gives incredible views out onto the lake which is home to nesting geese, coots, and mallards. The nearby motorway is drowned out by the electronic calls of lapwings who are wheeling across the sky from shore to shore.

We do a loop of the site, making sure we push our bikes when necessary, before joining the Guild Wheel route that cuts through the site. Before we leave the reserve, we head into a hide overlooking ‘number one pit’ which is a previous gravel pit that has been reshaped to create underwater ledges and peninsulas to encourage birds to roost and feed here. Again, we’re hit with a cacophony of lapwing calls alongside geese and gulls all calling to one another.

After pushing our bikes up and out of Bolton Wood, we started following the blue signs waymarking Route 622. Passing through fragments of parkland and woodland, we find ourselves along the Lancaster Canal and decide to make a stop on its banks. From here we sit and watch nuthatches work their way up and down the trees which lean from the banks over the canal.

We continue on, enjoying the sunshine and riding at a steady pace – which is only broken when we physically can’t stop laughing and have to double over our bikes and try to regain our composure (unsuccessfully…). In no time at all, we find ourselves on the banks of the Ribble, Preston docklands stretching out before us, the route then takes you along the Ribble skirting the bottom of Fishwick Nature Reserve. The sandy banks of the Ribble were teeming with sand martins becoming re-acquainted with their nesting sites – tunnels carved into the river banks.

We make it back to Brockholes, greeted by hovering Kestrels. I can’t speak for Immy, but I’d had one of the best rides out in a long time – the peaceful nature of the Guild Wheel route allowing you take in the changing scenery and ending at an incredible reserve that shows how well nature can reclaim spaces. The route can be found on my Komoot here, but as you can see we made a few turning errors, so always worth double checking those blue signs!

APRIL READ: BIKES AND BIRD HIDES CULTURE CLUB

This month’s book is ‘Rebirding: Rewilding Britain and Its Birds’ by Benedict Macdonald, winner of the 2020 Wainwright Prize for Writing on Global Conservation. We’re really excited to read this highly praised book which delves into the desperate need for rewilding, nature restoration, regenerative farming and the widespread reintroduction of lost species to the UK. It’s going to be an incredibly interesting read, and hopefully one which will leave us ready to ask some big questions about the state of nature in Britain.

Here’s the official synopsis to get you excited: Britain has all the space it needs for an epic return of its wildlife. Only six percent of our country is built upon. Contrary to popular myth, large areas of our countryside are not productively farmed but remain deserts of opportunity for both wildlife and jobs. It is time to turn things around. Praised as ‘visionary’ by conservationists and landowners alike, Rebirding sets out a compelling manifesto for restoring Britain’s wildlife, rewilding its species and restoring rural jobs – to the benefit of all.

There’s a great review here if you want to look into the book a little more.

If this sounds like something you’d enjoy, join the group to chat about the book on Monday 3rd of May at 6pm via zoom – to ensure you get your invite fill out this form!

Meathop Moss – Cumbria Wildlife Trust

This nature reserve is an internationally rare lowland raised peatbog. High and stable water levels are essential to the health and long term future of the bog.

https://www.cumbriawildlifetrust.org.uk/nature-reserves/meathop-moss

A last minute Saturday morning decision was made to exploit the spring sunshine and spin out to Grange-over-Sands via Route 70, Bay Cycle Way We knew we’d pass birding spots such as the River Kent, Sizergh Castle, and Foulshaw Moss. What we’d totally overlooked was the fact that we’d ride straight by the smaller Cumbria Wildlife Trust site of Meathop Moss.

After a quick coffee stop at Sizergh, we decided on using Ashbank Lane as a quick way to cut across the bottom of Sizergh Fell and down into Levens, rather than slogging it up Sizergh Fell Road (it always feels like a slog to me…). The view across the valley floor with the towering fells in the background was exceptional, and I felt incredibly grateful to have pushed myself to get out on the bike, and on a route I’d recently been dismissive of. After dropping out of Levens, it’s straight onto flat causeway roads that follow the A590.

Skirting around the bottom of the ever impressive Whitbarrow Scar, you start to see Foulshaw Moss in between the trees – you can turn off here easily to head into the reserve just before you get to the bottom of Mill Side. The roads are insanely quiet, almost traffic free apart from the lambs and ewes being guided to their new pastures.

After diving into the Witherslack Community Shop for a sweet treat and a chance to actually enjoy the sunshine, we crossed under the A590 passing along the outskirts of Foulshaw Moss. We’d always assumed it was just pastures beyond the site, but we soon saw reedbeds and slowed down. We’d come across Meathop Moss, completely unexpectedly! Heading down a public footpath which was enclosed by dense hedging, we got to my favourite nature reserve feature – a boardwalk.

The site itself is best known for it’s incredible summer visitors: green hairstreak butterflies, emperor moths, large heath butterflies, and a myriad of dragonflies. The site is also home to adders, red and roe deers, plus sedge warblers, reed buntings, snipe, stonechats, and tree pipits. At the first viewing point we heard the incessant call of a reed bunting and took the time to read up on what had recently been spotted. This first section overlooks a small pond which is surrounded by dense reeds and willow.

The boardwalk then loops around a section of the site, moving through a small section of woodland filled with birch and scots pine, before heading out over the bog, It’s a short walk, but offers up plenty of stopping points to take in the rich plant life, and as always it’s going to be a fantastic site to revisit in summer!

The ride to Grange-over Sands continues on flat lanes, gliding over drainage canals, and taking in the glimpses up the valley. Just outside Grange-over-Sands we stood mesmorised by a little egret, it’s distinct yellow feet an easy identifier. Behind us a rookery came to life, as the crows began circling together over the tree line. They’d clearly been disturbed by something, but weren’t chasing, we strained to see what was causing the commotion. A peregrine falcon glided into view, swooping over the trees and down the rock face before circling up again. It’s distinct ‘roman helmet’ head a clear sign of the falcon.

We followed the same route back, following the blue signs back to Kendal. Another nature reserve ticked off the list, but added to the ‘revisit in summer’ pile. The ride certainly ticked a lot of boxes, and it’s got the cogs whirring about upcoming group rides! As always, you can find the ride on my komoot here! Happy bike birding!

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