Dukes Quarries, Whatstandwell

I love walking along the Cromford Canal and this year have also started to explore woodland near the canal. It is possible to park near the Cromford Canal at Whatstandwell or in a couple of small parking places along Robin Hood Road. This area has a cluster of old stone quarries which started to be worked over 200 years ago. Most are now overgrown with trees and other vegetation, one however, Middle Hole Quarry is still working.

Yesterday we started our walk from Robin Hood Road, walking through a gate and down towards the canal. At this point there is a bridge over the canal named Sims Bridge. There is also an open area which has been tidied up I think by the Wildlife Trust. On the right is a small wall and behind it what looks like an old rubbish dump. I didn’t see any plastic but old Denby pottery, meat bones, thick glass bottles and leather shoes etc.

We carried on walking straight ahead on a path that started to climb gently uphill and then crossed Robin Hood Road following a footpath signposted Wakebridge. The weather was sunny but the way through the woods felt pleasantly cool. To the right of the path was plenty of evidence of previous quarrying.

There is something magical about a wood on a sunny day and lovely to see shafts of sunlight through the branches.

Continuing to walk upwards we passed a stream, the trees cleared and the path continued on to Wakebridge. At this point we turned around but it is a walk we will enjoy doing again.

There is much more information about this area on the Derwent Valley Mills website.

Spending time in the natural world is so good for both physical and mental health.

Nature during Lockdown

Lockdown because of the Coronavirus started in the UK in the middle of March 2020. This has been a very strange time for all of us and has affected people in so many different ways. At the start we were asked by the government to basically stay at home, if that was possible and only leave the house for one hour a day for some outside exercise. Obviously the possibility of this varied because of our different circumstances. I have been very lucky to have time to learn new skills, more time to garden and observe wildlife. I realise that for many life became more stressful and do hope that the natural world has helped them cope.

Some of the immediate effects were better air quality, less noise and those who went outside started to notice the wildlife and wild plants near to their homes. As someone who has always loved the natural world it has been most interesting to continuously walk the same fields and really notice the progression of flowering plants in the fields and hedgerows. I have written about this in a previous blog Wildflowers during Lockdown. I am more aware of all the small creatures we share the world with and now watch continuously for a slight movement that means I am not alone.

When Chris Packham was asked if there had been more birdsong during lockdown. He explained that the reduced road traffic might have led to the sounds of birds being more noticeable. “It’s that extra five minutes when people are in natural spaces, they are taking time to think, Oh what birdsong is that? People are looking at flowers they’ve walked past for years.”

My Grandchildren have done some research to try to find out if nature has helped people cope during lockdown and would like to thank everyone who spent the time to answer their questions. The survey is now closed and once they have studied the results I will publish here.

A Walk Along the Cromford Canal

I like to walk along the Cromford Canal and enjoy the wildlife, industrial heritage and numerous wildflowers. One of my favourite walks starts in the village of Lee where Florence Nightingale and John Smedley came from. Parking near to the Smedley factory the walk starts along the Nightingale arm of the canal. John Smedley Knitwear was founded in 1784 at Lea Mills, Matlock, Derbyshire by Mr. John Smedley and Mr. Peter Nightingale (Florence’s great-great Uncle). The Lea Mills factory is still John Smedley’s home, making it the world’s oldest manufacturing factory in continuous operation.

John Smedley, Lee Mills, Lee, Derbyshire.

The construction of the Cromford Canal was completed in late 1794, to improve the movement of heavy goods in and out of Cromford. The canal soon became very busy moving thousands of tonnes of stone all over the country from Cromford Wharf. Lead was taken the much shorter distance to the smelter at Lea, using the Nightingale Arm of the canal. One of the most unusual of shipments was two stone lions, sculpted in Darley Dale  and then taken by canal to Liverpool, where they can still be seen standing by the entrance to St George’s Hall.

The Nightingale arm of the canal joins the main canal at the site of Aqueduct Cottage.

Aqueduct Cottage where Nightingale and Cromford Canal meet.

Aqueduct Cottage was originally built as a lengths-man’s and lock-keeper’s accommodation in 1802 by Peter Nightingale. It was necessary to have a stop-lock at the entrance to this arm of the canal and the operation of the lock needed to be supervised by a lock keeper. This is most likely the reason for the construction of the cottage in this location. The cottage was occupied until the 1970s but then gradually fell into disrepair. It is currently being repaired by the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust with the help of many volunteers. It will become a visitor interpretation centre, to tell the story of its history, the former people who lived there, and how these aspects related to a Derwent Valley landscape.

Once I have walked the short distance from Lee to the main canal I can choose to turn right and walk towards High Peak Junction or left towards Whatstandwell. On this occasion I turned left and this is a record of some of the flowers seen at the beginning of August 2020 along this stretch of canal.

Hemp Agrimony

All along the canal there is plenty of Meadowsweet, which is edible and can be used in similar ways to elderflowers. Once valued for its lasting fragrance; the dried flowers were strewn across floors to perfume the home, and was said to be Queen Elizabeth 1’s favourite scent, ‘for the smell thereof maketh the hart merrie’. It was also used in Anglo-Saxon times to flavour mead, and has had many medicinal uses. In the 1890s it was used to make acetylsalicylic acid later known as aspirin but unlike todays aspirin it is kinder on the stomach.

Along this stretch of canal there are several Guelder Rose and Bramble bushes, this year both have plenty of ripe juicy fruit.

The flowers and berries this year have been beautiful and seem more rampant than usual, maybe due to weather or less pollution because of lockdown.

Wildlife Gardening

There are definite advantages to gardening for wildlife. When I decided I no longer wanted an immaculate garden but a garden that would attract as much wildlife as possible the first thing I did was stop the war on weeds. 

I used to start my gardening year by spending a couple of weeks crawling under bushes trying to dig up weeds. I now leave most of them and although many of the flowers are small they are still beautiful. One of the first weeds/flowers I noticed was Hairy Bittercress. This plant has tiny white flowers and is edible, tasting like cress it works well as part of a salad or in a sandwich.  http://thegoodliferevival.com/blog/hairy-bittercress

Hairy Bittercress tastes good in a sandwich.

The second plant/weed that I have plenty of is Wood Avens. These like damp shady conditions and there are many areas in my garden that it loves. The flowers are small and yellow, the seed heads are attractive and can stick to your clothes. It is another edible plant. https://www.wildfooduk.com/edible-wild-plants/wood-avens/ 

Wood Avens also known as Herb Bennet

Both of the previous plants have added themselves to my garden and so has this next beautiful yellow flower. I still do not know what it is but it grows happily in the garden and I like the look of it.

Unknown yellow flower, seeds itself all over the garden.

In the last two years I have been adding wildflowers to the borders, some grow well while others seem to disappear without a trace. Rose Campions and Betony were the first to give plenty of flowers.

This year 2020, I have added Cowslips, Oxeye Daisies, Comfrey and Borage. A large clump of Common Ragwort has also appeared.

We have allowed our small amount of lawn to grow for several weeks and by mid July only cut it twice. This has allowed clover, buttercups and some meadow grasses to appear. The bees and hover flies have been very happy.

I wanted to add a pond to the garden. Our garden is heavy clay, difficult to dig in the winter because of its stickiness and in Summer like concrete.  I started digging in March and then lockdown happened. Having no pond liner I used an old washing up bowl, surrounded it with rocks and added a couple of water plants. I placed rocks inside the bowl to enable birds to drink safely and was very pleased to notice blackbirds and robins using it regularly . Early in June I noticed a frog had moved in and now in July I have seen two frogs and several froglets.

We have a bird table, bird feeders, piles of rocks and logs and some messy corners. All Winter we were visited each day by a pair of Bullfinches and now have regular visits from families of Long Tailed Tits and Blue Tits. A Wood pigeon has nested in a hawthorn tree just beside the patio in what looks like a very precarious structure.  Our favourite resident however has to be the one legged Robin. 

Here is a list of other birds seen, Nuthatches, Jay, House Sparrows, Long Tailed Tits, Blue Tits, Coal Tits, Goldfinches, Greenfinches, Hedge Sparrows, Starlings, Blackbirds, Bullfinches, Chaffinches, Wren, Song Thrushes and Wood Pigeons. Other garden visitors include a hedgehog, a family of squirrels and several frogs. Butterflies include Speckled Wood, Large White, Gatekeeper, Orange-tip, Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell  and Common Blue. Last summer we also saw Peacocks and Painted Ladies. I have noticed the caterpillars of Mullein moths on the Buddleia and a Dragonfly in the front garden. A useful site for identifying butterflies  https://butterfly-conservation.org/butterflies/identify-a-butterfly

Having spent more time than usual pottering around the garden I have become aware of different bee species.  Firstly I noticed Tree Bumblebees which were first seen in the UK in 2001. I have also observed something that I have never seen before, Bumblebee’s mating. The action was happening on a gravel area. Then to my surprise the queen starting to try to fly off, she bumped up and down along a path and then managed to get airborne with the male still attached to her.  

I have grown Nasturtiums in pots and found them a most interesting addition to the garden. We have eaten their leaves and flowers in salads, the bees have enjoyed their nectar and I am saving the seeds to pickle when I have enough of them to fill a jar.

Lastly here are some books I have read and recommend.

Homemade Beauty Products.

I have been interested in making my own beauty products for a number of years. It is one way of knowing exactly what you are putting on to your skin and is definitely cheaper than shop bought items. This period of lockdown has given me the time and opportunity to have a go.

I have been using shampoo bars to wash my hair for over a year and several weeks into lockdown I was nearly at the end of my last bar. I have never made soap before and had no idea how difficult it would be, so searched the internet for the simplest recipe I could find. This is the recipe for the one I chose to make. Check this hair shampoo link for information. I had to buy a couple of items and alter the recipe a little but it made 2 large bars and I really like the way my hair feels.

Two finished bars of soap.

The items I bought online were a glycerin soap base and a pot of shea butter. I already had olive oil and coconut oil in my kitchen cupboard. I left out the orange and seasalt completely as I didn’t have either of them. I used some essential oils I already had first checking that they would be okay for my hair and skin. The oils I had were rose, geranium and bergamot. As I didn’t have any soap moulds I used some old soap dishes which worked really well. 

I started running out of skin moisturiser a few weeks after lockdown started so again looked for the simplest recipe I could find using the shea butter I had bought for the shampoo bars. I found a recipe and then altered it slightly. My final moisturiser was made by melting 40 gms of the shea butter in a pyrex bowl placed on top of a saucepan partially filled with water over a medium heat.

Once the shea butter was melted I took it off the heat and added 25 gms of carrier oil. I used jojoba oil as I already had some of this but you could also use sweet almond oil, grapeseed oil, or avocado oil. I had some vitamin E capsuals so split a couple of these and added the contents as well and a few drops of the essential oils I already had. I let the mixture cool and then put into the fridge for a couple of hours. Once it had become thick and creamy I gave a stir and then put into a sterilised tin ready for use. I have read that a calendula infused oil would also be good for this recipe. I am growing calendulas in the garden so this is an idea to try in the future.

Homemade face cream ready for use.
Calendula flower

I also wanted to make a body scrub and the first one I tried was 50 gms coconut oil, mixed with 50 gms brown sugar and a couple of teaspoons of vanilla essence. I found it best to rub over dry skin and then wash off. It smells delicious. A word of warning however, be careful that it doesn’t make a bath or shower slippy. You could also add sea salt instead of sugar. 

Brown sugar and coconut oil body scrub

One item I tried to make but unfortunately it failed was a rosewater skin toner. Mine did not smell very much like a rose. Here is a recipe which looks good to make rosewater. It is not the one I used so I will try again. I love the smell of roses and they are meant to be really good for your skin.

Wildflowers during Lockdown

I have always enjoyed walking in the countryside and over the years have tried to recognise and learn the names of wildflowers. I have four wildflower books at home but even these do not show every flower as there are so many different ones in our lanes and fields. In more recent years there have been concerns about the demise of our native plants and the loss of wildflower meadows. It is thought that we have lost 97% of wildflower meadows since the 1930s. There is a lot of debate over the picking of flowers but it is important that children learn to love them and this could mean picking a few. This is what Plantlife has to say,

‘Contrary to widespread belief, it is not illegal to pick most wildflowers for personal, non-commercial use. In a similar vein, it’s not illegal to forage most leaves and berries for food in the countryside for non-commercial use.’

Path around the field.

During this period of Lockdown in 2020 we have been allowed to go out each day for exercise but asked to keep within walking distance of home. This has been quite an eye opener to discover all the flowers growing in the fields near Belper. I have been walking virtually the same route each day and have really noticed the succession of our beautiful, colourful flowers.

Looking across the fields towards the A6

Lockdown started on March 23rd and during this month I noticed Wood Anemones and Mouse-ears both small white flowers. Wood anemones grow in shady places and droop their heads at evening time or during bad weather. It used to be said that fairies slept in the flowers closing the petals around themselves. Mouse-ears seem to like a bit more sun and are considered to be a weed but I wouldn’t mind some in my garden. In the hedgerows blackthorn flowers open before the bush grows its leaves .

Blackthorn flowers before the leaves come out.

April is the month when Bluebells and Wild Garlic appear and this year the bluebells seemed to be early, probably because of the warm weather. The fields are bright with the yellow flowers of dandelions and bluebells flower around the field edges and in the hedgerows. Hawthorne flowers open in the hedges and the edge of woods look glorious with Wild Cherry blossom. Cow Parsley starts to wave in the field margins and cuckoo flowers appeared wherever the grass was allowed to grow. It was good to have the time to really observe these flowers as so much of my usual rushing around had to stop. 

In May Dandelions gave way to Buttercups, just leaving their whiteish seed heads behind. Cow Parsley continued to open closely followed at the end of the month by the much sturdier Common Hogweed (not to be confused with Giant Hogweed). Also towards the end of the month I noticed large areas of one field turning white with the opening of Oxeye Daisies. Hawthorne flowers faded and the Elderflowers came into bud ready to open towards the end of the month. On the edge of one of the fields was a large patch of Yellow Rattle the first time I have seen this in the countryside. The rest of this field was covered in the yellow and oranges of Bird’s-foot trefoil and the lovely cerise pink of clover.

June so far has seen the Elderflowers open properly in the hedges and some of the fields look red at a distance with the flowering of Sheep’s sorrel. I also notice pink Dog-roses covering the bushes and the small white flowers of Brambles are coming out.

I have really enjoyed walking over the same fields for weeks and noticing how different flowers come into bloom and change the colour of the fields and hedges. I had not really thought about this before and at the moment in June the fabulous Foxgloves are just starting to flower. The fields where the dandelions flowered earlier are now being covered by Rough hawkbit.

I am looking forward to seeing more flowers opening during the month of June and how these alter the colour of the fields.

More About Bees

I am becoming increasingly more fascinated by bees and can report that in my garden I have identified, Buff-tailed-bumblebees, Tree-bumblebees, Garden-bumblebees, a Mining-bee and a Hover-fly which looks very similar to a Honey-bee. Apparently Hover-flies have short antenna and only one pair of wings. One of the best sites I have discovered for simple identification of bees is Friendsoftheearth.uk

Hover-fly that looks similar to a Honey-bee.

A bee has a brain about the size of a sesame seed, (it is 20 times denser than a mammals brain) and they can do so many amazing things. Many scientists have spent years researching their behaviour, Dave Goulson  lecturer at the University of Sussex tells in his book A Sting in the Tale, about four years research he did while working at Southampton University. He wanted to find out how bees knew which flowers had plenty of nectar and which are temporarily low in nectar. He discovered that bees have smelly feet and if a bee had drained a flower of nectar another bee will be able to tell by the smell of the previous bees feet. 

The book I am reading at the moment.

I think bees are very clever and are confusing us all. Looking on the internet I notice more research has been done and some scientists say bees know which flowers to go to for nectar by learning scent patterns. This is what the Independent said in 2018,

‘A team of scientists from Queen Mary University of London and the University of Bristol studied how the arrangement of cells on flowers’ petals are arranged in patterns. These are recognised and learned by bees, enabling them to distinguish between flowers.’

Other scientists at Bristol University have done some research on what they call electric fields around flowers and this was published in 2013. 

The University of Bristol have shown that bumblebees can sense the electric field that surrounds a flower. They can even learn to distinguish between fields produced by different floral shapes, or use them to work out whether a flower has been recently visited by other bees. Flowers aren’t just visual spectacles and smelly beacons. They’re also electric billboards’

In other words we still don’t really know every skill or sense that a bee uses to locate the nectar they need. I have found out however that flowers make more nectar once a bee has had its fill. This was something I had wondered about as there are so many bees in my garden this year. I thought they would be draining the flowers and then have nothing left to eat but that doesnt seem to be a problem. Flowers are also very clever in the way they attract bees and then refill their nectar store to keep the bees coming back.

Bees collect nectar by sucking droplets with their proboscis (a straw like tongue), some bees has short proboscis will others have longer ones. Short-tongued bumblebees are able to extract the nectar from flowers with an open shape, like brambles and raspberries, whereas long-tongued bumblebees can reach nectar deep inside long, tubular flowers such as foxgloves.

This year one of the good things for me having been forced to spend more time at home has been to watch the bees in the garden. I realise how lucky I am that I have a garden and I don’t work in a stressful job. I have also been experimenting with knitting a slightly more realistic woolly bee and so I am adding the pattern to this blog.

Bee with pipe cleaner legs
Bee with crocheted legs.
I am not sure which species of bee this is!

Getting to know Garden Bees

I have to admit that most of my life I have not taken too much notice of bees. I have not been afraid of them because I believed they wouldn’t want to sting me and only do so as a last resort, unlike wasps. My ignorance was so bad that I didn’t realise that there were bumblebees and honey bees. I thought that all bees were black and yellow striped and fluffy looking. When I heard about bee decline and how important they were for pollinating and therefore our survival, I started to take more notice. I was amazed to discover there are several hundred different species of bee in the UK alone and that not all bees make honey, but all I believe collect pollen.

Tree Bumblebee on the cotoneaster

There is so much information today on the internet that anyone who wants to find out more has no excuse. Sites such as the different Wildlife Trusts , Countryfile , Blooms for Bees , and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust , to name just a few. It can be rather daunting however as within one species of bee the Queen, the Workers and the Male bees can be different sizes and have colour variations. As to really get to grips with bees would take a lifetime, I decided that with the lovely weather and restrictions on movement during lockdown, I would try to discover what bees visit my garden and learn to recognise them. 

Just received this by post, published this month May 2020

I have also been reading some really useful books on the subject such as The Secret Lives of Garden Bees by Jean Vernon, hot off the press this spring. It is a most beautifully produced book with fantastic photographs, perfect for anyone of any age who would like to get to know a bit more about the world of bees. There is a book review here, Kids of the Wild.

I have also listened on Audible to the book by Brigit Strawbridge Howard, Dancing with Bees, a journey back to nature. Brigit writes about her love of the natural world and how important it can be for our mental health. She gives us a lot of very interesting information about bees and other garden wildlife. This book was published in Summer 2019. More information can be found here on Brigit’s Blog. I can thoroughly recommend both of these books for a beginner who would like to know more about the world of bees.

Anyway to get back to my garden bees. So far I have discovered four different species which I now hope I would be able to recognise again. The first and probably the one I have seen most of is a new comer to our UK gardens, the Tree Bumblebee. This bee has been very obliging and I have managed to take a few photographs.

I have designed a knitted bee that has a resemblance to the Tree bumblebee. I will add this pattern to my next blog post for anyone who would like to try knitting one. The Tree Bumblebee has only been here since about the year 2000 but does seem to like the flowers we have in our garden. More information can be found HERE

The second species I have noticed in the garden is the Buff-tailed bumblebee. This one is a bit confusing as apparently it is the Queen whose tail is buff coloured but the workers have white tails. They have two yellow stripes not three like the Garden bumblebee. I noticed one of these bees on the cotoneaster but it would not stay very still for me to photograph consequently my picture is very blurred.

Buff Tailed bumblebee

I found a bee lying on its back in our dining room, thinking it was dead I got a piece of kitchen roll to pick it up. When I put my hand near the bee it moved and clung onto the paper towel. I quickly took it outside and placed on some weigela flowers, the bee immediately moved into one of them. It spent about thirty minutes eating and resting before flying off. I believe this was a solitary bee called a mason bee. I have now bought a home for mason Bees and really hope someone moves in https://www.masonbees.co.uk

We also have some bees nesting under our shed but to be honest I am not sure what species they are but could be the Buff tailed. I have noticed a bee on our walks which seemed to like to burrow into hard ground and I think this may have been a Mining Bee.

A small selection of UK bees.

My next blog will have details of knitting your own Tree bumblebee or possibly bee species of your choice.

Learning to Forage

I have been fascinated for some years with the idea of foraging and being able to eat free food from the countryside. Some of the obvious items such as blackberries we have eaten for years and almost don’t think of these as wild. In the last couple of years I have made Elderflower Cordial from the flowers and last Autumn Elderflower Jelly from the berries.

With more time at home at the moment during lockdown I have been trying out other recipes. The first was wild garlic pesto. I found a recipe on line and substituted wild garlic for basil,  walnuts for pine nuts and strong cheddar for parmesan. It was delicious and I used some to flavour pasta and also spread on chunky homemade bread. The flowers of wild garlic can be eaten and these look good as a garnish to decorate salads etc.I posted my efforts on Facebook and was challenged to make a tart which included wild garlic, dandelion leaves and stinging nettles. The recipe suggested seem to use large quantities of all three so I decided to make a cheese and egg quiche and add as many leaves as I could gather. The original recipe was for Wild Garlic, Nettle and Dandelion Tart,  which does have useful information on how to prepare the wild leaves. I then made my usual shortcrust pastry, lined a flan dish, added the prepared leaves, filled with grated cheese, 4 beaten eggs mixed with half a pint of milk, cooked at 180 C until well risen and golden about half an hour. It was delicious.I have always loved dandelions as a flower, they are such a lovely bright yellow colour, the leaves have a most interesting shape and seed heads are amazing.  They are also very important in the Spring for bees and other pollinators but this year I have been even more aware of them in the fields and grass verges. I decided to have a go at making dandelion flower jelly. Altogether it took about 5 hours. One to gather the flowers, 2 to remove the petals, 2 to simmer the petals in water, so not an efficient use of time. I eventually ended up with one jar of jelly. I have since found several recipes for dandelion honey and this does seem quite popular so I may have another try. I am also going to try dying fabric with some dandelion petals.I have noticed that the elderflowers are in bud but not quite out yet so I made some cordial from hawthorn flowers. The recipe is here Hawthorn Blossom Cordial I really love this recipe and the flavour of the flowers, I would even go so far as to say I prefer it to the elderflower cordial.There are so many wild plants that can be eaten but also many that are very poisonous so I am very careful to stick to the plants I can be very sure of.

Cooking during Lockdown

Since the 23rd of March 2020 we have been told to not go out except for shopping or work, if you cannot work from home. I have never liked to go to the supermarket and load a trolley full of food to last a fortnight or even a month. I like to shop locally for things as I need them and consequently do not waste food. We are now being told to go out as little as possible even for shopping. Buying necessities has become a nightmare as you often have to queue outside and then when you do get into a shop many of the shelves are bare.

It has meant we have had to adapt and change many of the things we eat and the way we shop. It became difficult to buy bread and if we did manage to find some there was very little choice. I am not a bread maker but luckily for me it was something I had intended to do one day. I had a tin of dried yeast in the cupboard and some bread flour that was only three months out of date. Looking on the internet for a recipe, I was very pleased to find that you could make bread in a slow cooker and it worked. Here is the recipe Slow Cooker LoafThis has worked well now four times and I will continue even when bread becomes easier to buy. I have also made these bread rolls which do not need yeast. They do not look like the photo on the actual recipe but they do taste good and  seem to last up to three days. Roll Recipe.Buying fruit and vegetables has become more difficult as the local green grocers is a small shop where social distancing was not really possible. The shop decided to close and offer home delivery. We have been able to have them deliver fruit and vegetable boxes. The downside of this is you cannot choose all the items in the box. My first vegetable box contained both parsnips and a swede. Items my other half refused to eat under any circumstances. The challenge was to change his mind. I started with the parsnips and discovered a recipe for Parsnip Cake. I didn’t have all the ingredients but the cake still worked with a few changes and has now become our favourite cake. I used almonds instead of pecans, honey instead of maple syrup and lemon instead of orange.I thought the swede would be more difficult as at least parsnips are sweet and therefore lend themselves to cake. Having asked on Facebook, what to do with a swede? The recipe Spiced Swede Cakes, was suggested and once made it became another favourite. We were disappointed this week not to receive another swede.I have been foraging locally for ingredients to add to recipes and wild garlic is one of my favourite. This year for the first time I made wild garlic pesto which was added to pasta and also spread on bread. I will write more about this in my next blog.