19th May 2007 - Cow Green Reservoir/Bowlees, Teeside, Yorkshire

Our good friend Pauline decided that if we met her at the caravan up Fellend Way near Leighton Moss (well near enough) she would give us a tour of Teesdale and we could also help her find a flower that has eluded her for approximately 30 years. Being the good company that she and her partner Ian are we thought 'why not'?

Myself and good lady, Gill, arrived at the caravan, had a swift cuppa and set on our way leaving Ian behind because he wanted to watch his beloved Manchester United in the FA cup final. Silly bugger.

Anyway we went through some wonderful countryside along the way with Water Avens seemingly growing everywhere. Amazing as I had never seen this species before! Embarrassing really because every roadside verge was literally bursting with the stuff as well as Crosswort, Cow Parsley and Sweet Cicely. The weather was looking decidedly hit or miss but enthusiasm and optimism go hand in hand so spirits were high as we travelled forth.

Eventually we drove through a village towards our destination and being of eagle eye I spotted a small bookshop. 'Can we just have a look' was out of my mouth before I knew it and so we parked, perused and purchased. It seems almost every excursion these days I discover a retailer of books and end up buying some hidden gem. These little dealers that are tucked way in the middle of nowhere really do offer the naturalist some welcome treasures and are always worth a small visit. Even Pauline got drawn into the book fever and ended up with 5 items for X amount of money (X being delicately used so as to keep her out of bother with her loving hubbie). A quick look in the Tourist Information centre and we were back on our way gradually going further out into the wilderness and discussing various topics such as the strange goings-on of the people who frequent the lonely houses out in the moors and what my young daughter was up to at that very moment. (The reason for my little un's absence was that she was in New Jersey, USA for 6 days training and taking part in a Rhythmic Gymnastics competition - not bad eh).

As we ascended higher the weather became more erratic but nearby Lapwings and Golden Plovers, both with chicks, kept spirits high. Almost at our target we approached two men in the distance who seemed intent on finding something very small and of noteworthy value. Heads bent and faces ruddy from the invigorating wind we pulled alongside the two hunters and I politely asked what they were seeking.

'Moonwort' came the reply.

Well what a bit of luck as that was one of the target species for the day and in truth a real rarity.

'Just beyond the wire fence on the left' was no soon as uttered than thanks were given and we drove the few yards and set about finding this miniature fern. With wind increasing and eyes streaming even after a couple of minutes I thought we were beat but 2 specimens were duly found in double quick time and appreciation was had with total disregard to the inclement conditions. Funny how something troublesome is easily overlooked by the distraction of something wonderful.

Back in the car and to Cow Green Reservoir only to be met with a bleak horizon that had nothing in store only evil intent. Undeterred we set out and the brave heart was rewarded with a few obvious but cracking finds. First up a nice patch of Birds-Eye Primose that stood defiant and fluttered against the whistling gale trying its best to look lady-like and elegant. Mountain Pansy was prolific with splashes of purple everywhere and sneakily it seemed providing camouflage for the target species of the day. Another of Paulines 30 year quests was over as I bent down and discovered two closed flowers of Spring Gentian. A rare flower nationally but doing pretty well here in this remote and harsh area. Further scrutiny of the surrounding area found plenty more specimens with only one daring to open its deliciously blue eye and gaze up at an unappreciative sky. Pauline immediately started to unpack her photographic gear in true manic style but this was not a day of treasured snaps. Almost in time with the removal of the camera the heavens opened and the case was repacked and several rather indelicate expletives were thrown into the wind. A two fingered salute to the darkening skies was given by Pauline and myself and Gill awaited the thunderbolt that would surely come and strike down this frustrated naturalist.

Moving on (with Pauline remarkably still in one piece and unsinged by heavenly fire) we came up with Spring Sandwort, a nervous and suspicious looking Ringed Plover plus an almost open specimen of Mountain Everlasting. There should have been more but the hail-filled downpour persuaded us to head back and cut our losses and go to lower land and pastures new. Soaked, cold and muttering obscenities we all got in the car and tried to warm up, each of us marvelling at how the clouds had cleared and the sun started to shine as soon as we had started moving. Mmmmm.

We were headed to Bowlees and the drive was pleasant with a few diversions here and there in pursuit of secretive wonders of the botanical kind. Globeflower was quality and the fields of Marsh Marigold were a real joy as the fresh sun caught the glossy, yellow petals. The hedgerows were fit to burst and in a couple of weeks these alleyways of greenery would be awash with colour and insect life.

We arrived at Bowlees in sunshine and having near enough dried off we had a cup of tea and a nosey in the spacious visitor centre. The lady behind the desk was an enthusiastic pleasure and a real kind-hearted soul who gave an insight into the area and what it held. Pauline decided to stay at the car park and get some birdy photos whilst myself and Gill chose one of the 4 walks and did some discovering. The route we chose was past the visitor centre headed towards High Force Waterfall via Wynch Bridge and Low Force Waterfall.

Now for anybody who hasn't visited here before then you are in for a real treat, just as we were, as the diversity of habitat, general scenery and natural ambience is just delightfully English. The first river just before the visitor centre gave us stunning views of an adult Dipper feeding two young and the nearby steps had Sanicle almost ready to flower. We strolled passed the visitor centre and alongside several cottages whereupon we discovered Good King Henry growing quite superbly against a dry wall. Across a road and along a path that dissected a meadow which gave stunning views of swooping swallows above a carpet of lush green grass that promised to erupt from its pubescent state into a riot of flowering colour in a matter of weeks. A Spotted Flycatcher made excitable sorties from a drystone wall and various thrushes skipped around in search of molluscs and titbits. An entrance within the wall brought us into a small wooded area that broke out into an open area beside Bowlees first attraction, namely Low Force Waterfall. Very picturesque indeed offering many a photographic opportunity.

Onto the Wynch Bridge where we watched a couple of Common Sandpipers mooching alongside the river in search of midge larva and such like and our minds drifted and appreciated the scene. We discussed how pretty it was and admired the simplicity and such like. By chance we both glanced sideways and then, much to our embarrassment we realised that the bridge was only one person wide and that the awaiting people at the other end seemed bewildered by our dream-like indifference. Ooops! Apologies and sheepish smiles were given and we turned right and headed towards High Force Waterfall. On our righthand side were open fields and on our left the wide, coarsing river Tees escorted by opposing rows of trees and banks filled with botanical delights. Globeflower, Wood Cranesbill, Birds-Foot Trefoil, Alpine Bistort, more Water Avens and Pignut all pleased the beholder but in truth the high point was coming across a female Goosander with 10 chicks in her wake, one of which seemed determined to hitch a ride up river. At such close quarters the beauty of the female was apparent and the cute little chicks really did have the 'Awwww' factor - even for an old punk like me.

Before High Force was reached the rain came again and reluctantly we decided to turn-tail and head back rather than risk a soaking and leaving Pauline too long hanging around the car park. We returned to find her photographing a very obliging Grey Wagtail feeding a young bird by the rivers edge. We enthused about what we had seen and all set about packing up and returning back to the caravan.

On the way back we popped off at Sunbiggin Tarn and found a nice spread of Early Purple Orchids and watched a pair of Roe Deer secretively move to a safe distance whilst watching our every move. Both were in fine fettle with glossy coats and alert, shining eyes. Not a bad way to end a good day. Even better was the chippy finale with a good couple of cups of tea at the caravan and a chat about this, that and t'other.

The weather may have not been so kind but this is what I call making the most of a free day. The only way to see things is to be out there and today this was more than evident. The jobs a good un'.