A tumble into archives

With my half-term break being halted by a tumble into a fence post, that subsequently meant bed rest, I turned to my other love. Archives. Being a student of history (and a teacher of it…), I always find comfort in going down a bit of a rabbit hole in archives, and I thought it could be fun to take you on this one. Initially, I started looking into historic ‘bike birding’ and whilst I have no doubt it’s existed for a while, there is very little online archive evidence for it. So I broadened my search and came across some images labelled up on the Historic England photographic archive as ‘”Countyman Cruise”, a bird watching cruise from Plymouth along the River Tamar onboard the boat “Scomber”. My interest was piqued.

A quick google of the organiser of the cruise, Tony Soper, did not disappoint. If you’re a birder or a keen naturalist, it’s probably a name you’re more than well aware of. Shamefully, it’s not one I recognised. But what a life! Born in 1929 in Southampton by 1947 after not following in his father’s footsteps at the wharf he was working as Youth in Training for the BBC with an illustrious career to follow. Tony started of as World Service Radio Technical Assistant, before moving on to work at the West of England Home Service, in 1950 he worked as a producer on programmes such as ‘The Naturalist’ and ‘Birds in Britain’. by 1957 he’d co-founded the BBC’s Natural History Unit and began producing incredible programmes such as ‘Plapp’ the story of a cormorant that was weak due to oil pollution – this aired in 1958 on Christmas Day! To see the incredible life of Tony Soper head to his website here.

After detouring in Tony’s life and awesome body of work, I was back onto the initial interest – his tours of the River Tamar. On his website Tony mentions that the cruises were started with the purpose of ‘supporting an RSPB appeal’, this of course sent me off track into a different rabbit hole. It’s been difficult to find any mention of a specific RSPB appeal in 1967, however this was the year of the horrific Torrey Canyon Oil Spill. A disaster which saw an estimated 117,000 tonnes of crude oil being spilt into the sea off the south-west coast of England (making it Britain’s biggest oil spill), impacting the coastline which the River Tamar feeds into. The Torrey Canyon oil spill was an ecological disaster through which it is thought 15,000 sea birds were killed, despite heroic efforts from the RSPCA, RSPB and Wildfowl Trust – which you can read about in this report. So perhaps this is what Tony was raising money for on his cruise – the clean up effort? Perhaps not…

This initial date of 1968 didn’t match up with the photographs I’d come across – 1973, so the reading continued. It turns out that in 1973 and 1974 Tony was living a self-describe ‘Walter Mitty’ period as captain of his own 60ft passenger vessel the ‘Scombar’. Tony labels these as ‘avocet cruises’, so that’s the next bit of research. Why avocets and why the Tamar?

The River Tamar is a natural county border between Devon and Cornwall, starting just miles below Bude on the Cornish coast and meeting the sea 50 miles later in Plymouth Sound. Another quick tangent playing around on Magic Map allows me to see the significance of the landscape surrounding the River Tamar, heavily patchworked common land, areas of outstanding natural beauty, nature reserves, and sites of special scientific interest. A hint as to why birdwatchers would love it.

Flanked by ancient woodland along lengthy stretches, the river also provides rare habitat. The intertidal systems are perfect for mudflats, saltmarshes and reedbeds – all home to birdlife, including the avocet. The woodlands are also a haven for birds and butterflies as well as rare lichen and orchids. There is important heathland up-river as well, where rare birds like the Dartford Warbler can be found.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/devon/hi/people_and_places/nature/newsid_8897000/8897885.stm

Avocets are one of those incredibly unique success stories of protection and conservation projects in the UK. They returned to specific areas of East Anglia in droves when areas were flooded to protect against invasion, subsequently creating the perfect habitat for breeding. Since then their numbers in the UK have been on the rise, with 50% of avocets nesting on RSPB reserves – no wonder it’s their logo! Overwintering on the South West coast the River Tamar plays host to huge flocks of avocets, making it the ideal place to host winter wildlife river cruises! These are still running by Tamar Wildlife who also have an incredible list of ‘where to watch birds’ – if you’re local these will definitely be worth checking out, and I shall admire from afar (for now…).

Having been inspired by so much of this research, I have of course created a Komoot wish list tour of the River Tamar – skirting as close to it as I can. Not knowing the area at all, I’m sure I’ve made some blunders and would love to hear from locals (or previous visitors) about spots that shouldn’t be missed on the River Tamar!

If you want to hear Tony Soper talking about sea birds you can catch him on BBC Sounds ‘Soper’s Sea Bird Safari’. A great listen! Plus a quick search for his books shows up some real treats! I’m so pleased I came across his story and was submerged into researching a variety of tangents to come back to the simplicity of birdwatching.

GUEST SPOT: Angus Croudace with an East Lothian bike and bird hide

Back in December 2020, Angus Croudace shared a great shot to @bikesandbirdhides from a route along the East Lothian coastline with stops at the Musselburgh Lagoons and Aberlady Bay. I’m really pleased to be able to share with you Angus’s own words and images from this ride! It’s certainly gone on my birdwatching bucket list.


[Edinburgh and the Pentlands in a resplendent winter coat as seen from Gosford Bay.]

Ok, it’s one of 2020’s most clichéd lines, but it is only recently that I have truly appreciated my more local nature reserves. I think that this year in particular has helped show a lot of people what we have previously neglected on our doorsteps. With the lure of the mountainous north and wild west coast on hiatus, there were big outdoorsy boots to fill for many. These two marvellous sites rise to the occasion and have become a new regular stomping ground for me.

Musselburgh Lagoons occupy old ash waste deposits from Cockenzie Power station, much of which is now a popular nature reserve (aka Levenhall Links). Three brick hides provide a vantage point from which to observe the birds roosting at high tide, although they’re often bitterly cold. The hides are always worth a stop, but you can often see just as much, if not more by peering over the 2.5km long sea wall. Waders flood the muddy expanses at low tide, and many ducks, geese, and gulls bob on the waves at high tide.  Slaloming around the wide puddles that litter the parallel gravel track is a blast, especially with a tailwind. There is plenty of space to share the area with other users, and sections of it are paved too.


[One of the hides at Musselburgh. My bikepacking gear is invaluable for transporting layers, ID guides, binos and cameras, and of course snacks and warm drinks]

On a dawn raid recently, I had the privilege of slowly passing a Peregrine Falcon ~2m away on a fence corner near the hides, and then watching it lazily rise into the bright early morning rays. It was one of the special moments that you treasure. Other recent highlights have included a large deceit of lapwings playfully circling the scrapes, and roosts of several hundred Wigeon. I have also spotted Red Breasted Mergansers, nearer the mouth of the river, which are a favourite ever since I regularly saw a pair whilst staying on Arran for a few months. Earlier in the winter, geese and swans in huge numbers noisily clattered around the shore. The omnipresent oystercatchers skid along like speeder bikes in Star Wars, and there are plenty of smaller waders too, the likes of plover/redshank, which I need to get better at identifying!

15km further East is Aberlady Bay, with a huge tidal range that reveals mudflats and saltmarsh surrounding the mouth of the Peffer Burn. WWII submarine wreckage and the rib cages of shipwrecks pierce the horizon – but beware the sinking sand in the bay if you are approaching them!  An attractive wooden footbridge provides easy access to paths on the eastern side, where a tranquil dune environment provides a welcoming environment for both birds and birders. ELC Rangers provide excellent protection and seasonal signs and updates, and The Scottish Ornithologists Club have a beautiful visitor centre, exhibition space and HQ just before you enter Aberlady.

There is usually a flock of sheep too, nibbling at the grass as part of conservation grazing initiatives. For those of a geological persuasion, there are some interesting volcanic outcrops on the coast too, and to be honest #bikesandrockoutcrops should probably become a thing! The Fife and East Lothian coastlines have a world class haul of interesting rocks and fossils…

[Inset shows the bright green dolerite, photo taken at Gullane Point. Geological map is reproduced from the BGS. (www.bgs.ac.uk/data/maps/maps.cfc?method=viewRecord&mapId=10808)]

On my first visit I was lucky enough to see a Little White Egret stalking through the saltmarsh. Recently I spotted Shelducks dabbling in the shallows, a Grey Plover, fields full of Curlew and Deer, and a pair of Teal. The Sea Buckthorn was mobbed with Fieldfare and Redwing in their hundreds.

Not only are the two sites veritable wildlife havens, but the coastline between them is dotted with small coves and harbours which often provide yet more to see. I have spotted Goldeneye all along the coastline from Musselburgh to Cockenzie, unmistakable, not just with their gold eye (they’re not the only species with one!), but with the white stripes along the back.


[Golden eye.]

I was delighted to see a pair of Eider in the harbour at Cockenzie and Port Seton and stopped for a wee look and some photos. Content, I carried on no more than 20m before looking into the second half of the harbour where a huge raft of Eider and gulls had gathered. Bingo!

At Longniddry, a boisterous Stonechat posed for a photo whilst overseeing the kingdom of Fife. As I then proceeded to follow the trail towards Aberlady, startled Fieldfares skipped to new branches, and the alarm calls of blackbirds rang out.


[Stonechat overlooking Fife.]

This section of the route is a real gem. The stretch of John Muir Way between Longniddry and Aberlady meanders through the sandy backshore, allowing a cyclist to zip through tunnels of Sea Buckthorn like orange kaleidoscopes before later dodging the stark contrast of concrete anti-tank defences.


[Trees from Middle-earth, street furniture from Armageddon?]

The infrastructure actually allows for lots of subtle variations on the route, and fine tuning to the type of bike or people (kids etc) you are with. The route along the coast has a fairly spacious main road that is a very popular road cycling route.  Sustrans cycle paths weave through parks, seawalls and housing estates and the John Muir way has plotted a quiet route for walkers and considerate cyclists alike. The Komoot tour is a rough template, use your nose to explore, safe in the knowledge that you can’t really go wrong!

I am glad to have found these local reserves. Not only do they provide a means of outdoors escape quieter than many other honeypot sites, but they also help me combine a passion for cycling with a passion for nature. The array of species constantly helps me improve my identification skills. I look forward to my next visits, and who knows what I’ll see?!

Hopefully, this wee write up helps point out some beautiful spots that so many cyclists likely pass by, unaware of just how much life thrives there. In fact, most of the best vantage points are arguably directly on the cycle route! Next time keep your eyes peeled, and of course please treat the sites and wildlife with the respect that they deserve.

You can find Angus’s route idea here: https://www.komoot.com/tour/309447938/

Bikes and Bird Hides Culture Club

What in the heck is a ‘culture’ club? Well, it’s like a book club but rather than simply reading a heck load of books, we’re opening it up. Yes, the main focus will be a trusty in your hands (or ears if you’re an audiobook kinda person) book, but alongside each book we want to share documentaries, archives, articles, maybe even throw a podcast in there! We’ve even decided to be so organised that below is what we’re planning on perusing over the upcoming year. Why? Because maybe you really won’t be interested in the choice for March but will be totally stoked by the July offering. Hopefully you can also see it’s not just bikes and bird hides…!

The plan is to meet the first Monday of every month at 6pm, for roughly an hour, via the COVID blessed ‘Zoom’. To join the March culture club, please fill out this google form to receive an invite link closer to the time!

We don’t want to go into too much detail (kind of ruins the fun), so we will leave you with the blurb:

When Joe Harkness suffered a breakdown in 2013, he tried all the things his doctor recommended: medication helped, counselling was enlightening, and mindfulness grounded him. But nothing came close to nature, particularly birds. How had he never noticed such beauty before? Soon, every avian encounter took him one step closer to accepting who he is.

In this ground-breaking book filled with practical advice, Joe explains the transformative impact that  birdwatching had on his life, and invited the reader to discover these extraordinary effects for themselves’

CW: mental health issues, OCD, suicide, and addiction

We’ve set up a Bikes and Bird Hides Culture Club page on bookshop.org – this is an online bookshop with a ‘mission to financially support local, independent bookshops. This is an affiliate link and the book club would receive 10% of any purchases you made through this link but at the end of the year we’d take any money made and donate it to a charity we as a club agree on! We’ve added nearly all of this years book on there, just in case you want to get a jump start.

If simply reading the book isn’t enough for you (or you finish early and want to explore some more) here are some links to get you started:

A ‘teaching pack’ from Joe’s website (aimed at kids and adults):  http://joeharkness.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Bird-Therapy-Teaching-Pack-V3.pdf

Science Focus Interview with Joe: https://www.sciencefocus.com/books/joe-harkness-i-wrote-bird-therapy-to-share-support-and-inspire/

An article by Joe from The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/aug/12/after-a-breakdown-birdwatching-brought-me-friendship-escape-and-a-new-love-of-nature

Jo Mortimer in conversation with Joe: https://www.jomortimerproofreader.com/blog/2020/4/22/bird-therapy-in-conversation-with-joe-harkness

Joe on BBC’s Winterwatch 2019: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iXOnw1oJmkU Joe on ‘Science Shambles’ podcast: https://cosmicshambles.com/scienceshambles/jan-17

Looking forward…

2020 has been an unusual year to say the least, and honestly, who knows what 2021 holds. Nonetheless, it’s important to look forward, so here are some bikes and bird hides ‘unset in stone’ plans / ideas for the future.

PLAN 1: BIKE-BIRDING GROUP RIDES. I’ve loved sharing online my small selection of bike and hide rides this year, but next year if possible I’m really keen to get some group rides organised. Whether that’s taking people to my favourite spots, or joining others on rides to their favourite spot, who knows…! If it’s something you’d be interested in, let me know and I’ll actually get the cogs whirring.

PLAN 2: LOCAL HIDES. With potential restrictions looming, I’ve put together a list of local hides and reserves I want to visit and revisit.

PLAN 3: FURTHER AFIELD HIDES. If restrictions allow, these are some of the sites I’m most keen to get to next year!

PLAN 4: SUBMISSIONS. I love sharing my #bikesandbirdhides adventures with you, but I love it even more when people share their local / favourite bike and bird hide spots (as seen in the great posts from @anguscroudace and @felix__smith below). So, in 2021, I definitely want to include more of your submissions next year – just get in touch via the comments or Instagram!

I’m looking forward to seeing what 2021 has to offer, and I’m grateful that 2020 allowed me time to combine my love of riding and bird hides and hopefully inspire others to do the same. Thank you to advntr.cc for asking me to write up a guide to getting started, and a massive thanks to anyone that reads the blog or follows the instagram, it genuinely is appreciated.

Happy biking and birding!

South Walney Nature Reserve – Cumbria

…shingle island reserve full of interest and a fantastic place for bird watching. South Walney Nature Reserve is home to the only grey seal colony in Cumbria.

Cumbria Wildlife Trust

As promised, I’m finally writing about a trip to somewhere other than Arnside and Silverdale AONB! I’m still along the Cumbrian coastline for this post, but just further west, at the incredible South Walney Nature Reserve a fantastic site made up of large lagoons, shingle beaches, and sand dunes all looked after by Cumbria Wildlife Trust on Walney Island.

The reserve is home to huge numbers of waders and wildfowl, making it a heaven for bird watchers. On top of that it has such a range of bird hides from your classic wooden huts, to repurposed industrial containers/porta-cabins which not only make a for a unique snap but also experience!

Curlew with the southern fells as a backdrop

I wasn’t sure about riding on the island, in all honesty I was tired and out of sorts. But as always, my bike came to the rescue. It ended up only being a short ride around the bottom half of the island, when the weather is less gusty (how can there be a headwind in both directions!?) and bracing I will be back to cycle to the northern sand dunes! Although it was short in miles, I extended it in time with all my stops. Every field I passed had some bird to stop and look at: a Little Egret wading in a channel or a flock of Curlews being startled by a Merlin resting on a post. Not before long I was desperate to get back to the reserve where I knew a flask of tea was waiting for my bitterly cold hands and face!

Little Egret wading in a channel

After refuelling with cups of luke warm tea it was time to take a stroll with my bike around the reserve. The first hide I came upon is my favourite kind – exposed and simple. It gave great views across the estuary with tidal pools and mud flats on show, which were hosting Curlew, Redshank, Oyster Catchers and Knots. Thankfully even with the restrictions this type of hide is still accessible!

Before long it was time to move on and head into the Salt Marshes and Dunes that the wildfowl of the reserve call home. Sadly, due to COVID, the beach hut reserve was closed but I sat next to it and watched Eider and Wigeon (at least that’s what I think I identified) glide across the pools of water. The second hide hidden amongst the pools was open with social distance guidelines posted as a reminder.

By this point my hands and face were becoming numb again so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get out the flask and settle down to watch the birds come and go.

South Walney is definitely worth a visit and I’m looking forward to heading back when their visitor centre and hides reopen. I didn’t even get round the entire site so there’s still more to explore. If you can’t get to the site but are interested in seeing more, you can check the grey seal cam here – it’s been brilliant watching the seal pups grow and face the wind!

The reserve is located just 3 miles off the National Route 70 (Walney to Wear) and National Route 700 (The Bay Cycleway). I’m currently trying to plan a birdwatching bikepacking trip around the Bay Cycleway so if you’ve ridden it before let me know!

As always, here’s my ride – although it’s short it could easily be linked up especially with nearby beautiful town of Ulverston which has a train station!

Jack Scout and Jenny Brown’s Point- Arnside and Silverdale

The coastal climate, woodland, limestone pavement and grassland all help to make this area perfect for so many species.

National Trust, Arnside and Silverdale
Great White Egrets flying over the salt marshes

Arnside and Silverdale AONB has yet to let me down when it comes to biking and birding! With its extensive range of priority habitats, it’s not hard to see why. The roads and bridleways are lined by dense woodland, with huge slabs of limestone pavement allowing for thriving Yew forests. These rights of way all seem to lead you down to the incredible coastline where in winter you can see your typical (but still spectacular) sea birds but also overwintering birds who make good use of the habitat.

Priority habitats map taken from https://www.arnsidesilverdaleaonb.org.uk/uploads/2016/05/lsca_chapter3a.pdf

I feel as though I am becoming slightly obsessed with this area, and I promise the next post won’t be focused on this incredible AONB…

After spending time gathering a better idea of the bridleways through Arnside Knott and around Jenny Brown’s Point, I felt compelled to throw together a route that allowed for a chance to stop at the intertidal flats (the largest in Britain) and admire the birds that use the coastal salt marshes as home.

In a short time spent squelching through the public bridleways I reached the start of the marshes just past Leighton Moss (a blog about this reserve can be found here). After not even ten minutes I’d heard and spotted Curlew, gangs of Oyster Catchers, Redshank and Pink Footed Geese. Then, two swooping Great White Egrets flew in front of me across the farmers field, one stopping a moment to perch atop a tree, before moving across the expansive salt marshes – a truly incredible site and I was so pleased to get home and identify them correctly, their distinctive streaks of yellow at the top of their legs being a good starting point!

Taking Sand Lane, it wasn’t long before I was at Jack Scout, a stretch of National Trust pasture and rocky headland. The pasture land, often grazed by Belted Galloways for conservation, provides a perfect home for birds such as warblers, thrushes and wrens. Here I was able to spot a Kestrel hunting and a very photogenic Robin that was all too keen to be in the limelight!

Binocular Series

This area is a must visit, and can offer real tranquility away from the often bustling National Park. Grab your bike and try this route I’ve put together on Komoot – it’s a selection of all my favourite parts, including a great cafe (still doing takeaway) just past Jack Scout

Oxenholme Station to Arnside and Silverdale

Gait Barrows National Nature Reserve – Arnside and Silverdale AONB

The NNR contains an intricate mosaic of limestone habitats that are home to a rich variety of exciting and often rare wildlife. From open rock pavements to damp fen; from deep yew forest to the tranquillity of Hawes Water, there is much to see on a visit to Gait Barrows.

Natural England
The recently completed summerhouse project

Arnside and Silverdale AONB is home to a variety of incredible bird watching sites from Leighton Moss to Arnside Knott. I spend a lot of time riding around Arnside and Silverdale, the wood lined countryside roads and network of bridleways makes for an incredible ride every single time. On today’s post I’m sharing a beautiful ride which passes by the incredible site, Gait Barrows. I say goes past as a lot of the tracks through Gait Barrows are permissive or footpaths and to protect the important limestone landscape it’s best to push the bike through!

This ride starts in my hometown of Kendal, which is serviced by two train stations (Kendal and Oxenholme). You head through the quaint Cumbrian villages of Sedgwick and Hincaster before rolling down onto the quiet causeway roads by the widening River Kent. Ride along Kent estuary up to the beautiful village of Arnside (fantastic fish and chips / ice cream parlours!), after a steep and steady climb you’ll hit the edge of Arnside Knott – this incredible place is filled with a maze of bridleways. Owned by the National Trust it’s a brilliant place to roll slow as not only are the views across to the fells and bays incredible, but there’s also a chance to see rare wildflowers and butterflies.

After coming out of Silverdale you’ll start to ride past Gait Barrows National Nature Reserve a site looked after by Natural England. This site, with its variety of habitats, affords great opportunities to see some rare birds! There’s chance to spot the ever elusive Bittern, Woodcock, and Green Woodpecker – an absolute treat. On my visit, I was lucky to spot an ever chatty charm of Goldfinch and a soaring female Marsh Harrier.

The recent summerhouse project is a must see, whilst it is currently closed due to COVID restrictions, the outside makes for a beautiful spot for a flask stop! The team have taken a derelict hut and restored it, creating an information site. What’s even more incredible is that their restoration techniques, such as the repointing, takes into consideration leaving gaps for bats, amphibians and invertebrates to access the building. I can’t wait to revisit this 250 year old building when it’s reopened to learn even more about the site.

I plan and record all my routes on Komoot. You can find this particular one here! Just please note the route doesn’t show going into the site – it’s a pusher not a roller for me!

GISBURN FOREST AND STOCKS – FOREST OF BOWLAND

Amongst the 160 reservoirs owned by United Utilities, Stocks is rated as the most important for wildfowl and is high amongst the best sites in north west England.

United Utilities, Stocks Reservoir Pamphlet.

This post has been a long time coming, but it’s finally here…all the way from June 9th! Visiting the Forest of Bowland had been high up on my tick list for a long time since moving to the South Lakes, and we finally found the time to head out to Gisburn Forest to explore not only the mountain bike trails but also the hides situated along Stocks Reservoir.

Stocks Reservoir is situated within the heart of the Forest of Bowland AONB, nationally recognised for its heather moorland, blanket bog and rare birds. Whilst the reservoir is known for it’s population of migrating winter wildfowl birds, we thought we’d try our luck and see if we could spot anything.

We parked at the Gisburn Hub, which sadly was closed but would usually provide an information point and café – definitely one to revisit after all this. We had already decided to do the Bottoms Beck trail as we knew it dropped down to the reservoir which would give the perfect opportunity to hit up the hides along the shore of the reservoir. We ripped through the blue trail…bouncing along on our perhaps not so suitable gravel bikes – it was a great introduction into constructed trail riding, and definitely tempted us even further into getting mountain bikes to be able to explore further and hopefully go faster!

From the main hide we were able to spot Canada Geese, Lapwing, Oyster Catcher and plenty of Ravens. What was even more exciting was the male Hen Harrier we spotted on our drive to the forest! Hen Harriers are one of the most intensively persecuted birds in the UK – mainly due to its impact on the grouse moors that dominate so much of its habitat in England and Scotland. Seeing this bird glide with it’s prominent shallow ‘V’ over the moorland was such a breathtaking sight. We’ve been fortunate to see one before at the Geltsdale RSPB reserve, but to see one so clearly out in the open was beautiful, and a sight I won’t forget for a while!

Whilst the ride was incredible, the hides themselves could definitely do with a spruce up. I’ll be keen to go back to the reservoir to see what else can be spotted throughout the seasons.

As always I use komoot to plan and record my rides and this route can be found here!

THE RIVER KENT – CUMBRIA

The Lower Kent has been an industrial river, powering the mills of Kendal. During the nineteenth century the wool industry was king, but the Kent also powered sawmills, corn mills and even gunpowder works.

Taken from ‘Knowledge Me – River Kent’

This one is not a usual bike ride and hide post, but it’s still very much based on somewhere I go to bird watch with my bike… just not at a hide. I want to share where I’ve been fortunate enough to spend most of my outdoor time during lock-down, along the banks of the River Kent. When we were restricted to one hour outside, the banks of the Kent became my favourite place to go, I could roll along the bridleways and country lanes alongside the coursing river and be immersed with the sounds and scenes of nature. It became a refuge and a place of sanity, and watching it unfold with life throughout spring was incredible!

There are many spots along the river to stop and look out for wildlife, but I really recommend stopping on the banks of the river near Sedgwick, particularly near the suspension bridge. Every time that I have sat here I have been lucky enough to see Kingfishers, with that tell tale flash of blue darting across the river from an overhanging branch! Further up the river, I have sat and watched two Dippers going through a courtship display – a brilliant show of posturing, river walking and flapping of wings! The dense trees are lined with Blue Tits, Coal Tits, and Long Tailed Tits plus the constant call of Chaffinches.

Further up, there’s a brilliant spot below a bridge along Hawes Lane which can take you directly to Natland. Here is the perfect place for coffee outside, and another chance to check out the nature along the River Kent, I’ve been fortunate enough to spot Pied and Grey Wagtails flitting along the limestone rocks that crop up throughout the river.

There is currently a campaign to save the Heart of Kendal which is drawing attention to and hoping to stop dramatic and devastating changes to the River Kent as it flows through Kendal. I am shocked that as part of a three-phase flood defense scheme the council is proposing to destroy over 500 trees that bring the centre of Kendal to life, and there will also be huge building and construction works along the SSSI and SAC which will have an untold impact on the nature that not only lives here, but thrives. During lockdown I have felt incredibly fortunate to be so close to such a relaxing and beautiful spot, and I’m hoping that even as restrictions on movement lift, I won’t forget to spend time along here and truly appreciate it, whilst I can.

LEIGHTON MOSS – ARNSIDE & SILVERDALE

Leighton Moss’ diverse habitats include reeds, woodland and limestone grassland. It also incorporates extensive areas of mudflats, coastal marsh and saltwater lagoons along the shores of nearby Morecambe Bay. 

RSPB LEIGHTON MOSS AND MORECAMBE BAY WEBSITE

Today’s post features another beautiful spot situated in Arnside and Silverdale AONB. Since moving to the South Lakes I have wanted to ride out along country lanes and bridleways to the RSPB’s reserve at Leighton Moss (I had previously visited in the car and fallen in love with the surrounding countryside – a recurring theme!), so with time at home continuing, I put together a ride that would hopefully incoroparate the best of the beauty of the area – it did not disappoint!

Heading from the doorstep in Kendal, I headed towards the village of Stainton. Stainton is a recent lockdown discovery, it’s a sweet South Lakes village with the Lancaster Canal Trail running through it. From there I pedalled on to the back end of Milnthorpe, heading up the promising ‘Paradise Lane’ towards Beetham. Around Milnthorpe Parish are these great historical plaques which are a great reason to stop, read, and take in where you are travelling through!

From there I headed on up steady rolling climbs to just before the village of Warton – I turn off up ‘Occupation Road’ bridleway, which initially seems like the brutalist of climbs/pushes, but soon flattens out and turns into a fast decent crossing over Warton Crag with glimpses out to Morecambe Bay. The bridleway spits you out by the railway track, and the flat bay road which takes you up to Leighton Moss.

Leighton Moss has a staggering seven hides, and a beautiful viewpoint structure (shown in the photograph above). The viewpoint, when accessible. offers beautiful views across the North-West’s largest reedbed, I imagine standing on here will be particularly beautiful at dusk in winter when the vast starling murumations begin to swirl in the sky. Sadly, the site when I visited was mostly inaccesible with hides locked and trails understandbly cornered off. However, there is a permissable bridleway that cuts through the site to Leighton Hall, so I pushed my bike along here. Surrounded by thick layers of reeds it wasn’t long until I heard the high pitched ‘pip’ of a beared tit – a year round attraction at Leighton Moss. I sadly couldn’t spot them in the depths of the reeds but even just hearing them as I moved along the track was beautiful enough!

I’d been lucky to spot two large Marsh Harriers over Barrow Scout Fields, outside of the main Leighton Moss site, seeing them sky-dance, swoop and dive across the pools of water was incredible. I’m a huge fan of any bird of prey, but there’s something that always draws me to harriers, they move in the air with such precision and skill it’s truly staggering to watch. It’s great to see that through the efforts of organisations such as the RSPB that they are recovering from historical decline with approximately 400 breeding pairs across UK. I can’t wait to revisit when all the hides have reopened and spend a full day birding!

I use Komoot to plan and record all my routes and you can find this route here!

Happy biking and birding – Bikes and Bird Hides!

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