Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Up North Part 1: Northumberland

We spent a couple of weekends up north in July and August as well as passing through on our way up to Scotland. We visited a couple of good sites in Northumberland namely Lindisfarne and the Williamston Reserve on the River South Tyne near Slaggyford. We visited Williamston in mid July during the small heatwave, but it was probably the only place in the whole country where it rained. We sat out a long heavy shower in the car before making our way into the now hot, steamy and midge infested reserve which is situated along the east bank of the river. The reserve is one of the finest examples of Calaminarian grassland in the area. Calaminarian means that the ground is rich in toxic heavy metals. The sediment between the cobbles is contaminated with heavy metals derived from former mining activity upstream, particularly lead, zinc, cadmium and barium. An interesting range of metallophyte species occurs, both on the grassland an in the wooded areas.

Alpine Penny-cress - Thlaspi caerulescens

Pyrenean Scurvygrass- Cochlearia pyrenaica

Mountain Pansy - Viola lutea 

Monkey Flower Hybrid - Mimulus sp.

Blood Drop Emlets -Mimulus luteus have been known to grow here but I think these are its hybrid with Monkeyflower.

In the wooded area an orchid called 'Tyne Helleborine' grows.
'Tyne Helleborine' isn't an official name for it and it doesn't have a separate scientific name from Dune Helleborine of which it is a variety (probably) It is basically an inland version of Dune Helleborine and as it is often found along the River South Tyne it as acquired the name Tyne.

Tyne Helleborine - Epipactis dunensis var tynensis.

A week later we were in Northumberland again on our way to Scotland and took the opportunity to  pop over to Lindisfarne (Yes, I know you don't just pop over to Lindisfarne, it's miles out of the way!) because another Dune Helleborine was in flower there. The Lindisfarne Helleborine, which unlike the 'Tyne Helleborine' not only as an official scientific name it has been promoted from a subspecies to a separate species which is endemic to Lindisfarne. Don't ask me why? (although I think it's all in the DNA).

The Lindisfarne Helleborine is small, pale green and blends into the vegetation. It's pretty difficult to find even when you know you're in the right area. We were a little on the late side and could only find one plant which looked in good condition. Unfortunately from a photography point of view the plants' foliage tends to brown off before the flower spikes are fully open.

Lindisfarne Helleborine - Epipactis sancta

Autumn Gentian - Gentianella amarella ssp septentrionalis 

Seaside Centaury - Centaurium littorale.

Northern Marsh OrchidDactylorhiza purpurella

There's an awful lot of the awful Piri-piri Bur. I had to throw my socks away!

The fine sediment between the cobbles is contaminated with heavy metals derived from mining activity upstream, particularly lead, zinc, cadmium and barium - See more at:
The fine sediment between the cobbles is contaminated with heavy metals derived from mining activity upstream, particularly lead, zinc, cadmium and barium - See more at: as an interesting assemblege of

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Botanising in Scotland Part 5: Ben Lawers

No botany trip to Scotland would be complete without a visit to the botanists' paradise that is Ben Lawers. I'm really not very good with hills (let alone mountains) due to my ongoing health problem but there were plants up there I wanted to see badly, very badly!

View from the start of the walk.
 The mountain in the centre is Beinn Ghlas and Ben Lawers is beyond it and not yet visible. 

This is about two hours into the climb and I'd already had enough. It's about halfway, but still not at the summit of Beinn Ghlas. It was only going to get steeper from here, we foolishly took the path directly up Beinn Ghlas not realising there was a longer, but more gently climbing route around the shoulder of the mountain. It was only the thought of what I might see at the top that kept me going!

Looking back at the summit of Beinn Ghlas. We'd been walking for three and a half hours now and our destination was in sight.

Facing the other direction and there they are, the crags of Ben Lawers! I actually had a spring in my step again now. A small downhill section to look forward to at last. There were also some plants to see here on the ridge between Beinn Ghlas and Ben Lawers.

Dwarf Willow - Salix herbacea

   This is one of the smallest woody plants in the world, you can see just how small by the rabbit droppings in the foreground. 

Dwarf Cudweed - Gnaphalium supinum 

Although you can't see in this photo these grassy ledges are awash with colours from mountain flowers and one of the most striking is .... 

Alpine Forget-me-not - Myostois alpestris 

The ledges are just covered in these beautiful flowers which are the most amazing bright blue...except when they are pink!

The large flowered and exceptionally hairy Alpine Mouse-ear

Alpine Mouse-ear - Cerastium alpinum

Alpine Meadow-grass - Poa alpina 

This species is viviparous, meaning just formed seeds germinate on the mother plant giving a very distinctive appearance.

 Roseroot - Sedum rosea

Net-leaved Willow - Salix reticulata

Mountain Speedwell - Verronica serpyllifolia ssp. humifusa

This orange 'stuff' was a puzzle. Moss? Lichen? Fungus? Actually it turns out to be an algae called 
Trentepohlia aurea. 

Hoary Whitlowgrass - Draba incana

 This is the flower that the thought of seeing kept me going on the long hard climb up.
It's Alpine Gentian (or Snow Gentian) very small, very blue and very beautiful. We were amazed at how may there were, we counted a good fifty plants and didn't really cover a lot of ground as we still had the summit to tackle, so our time here was shorter than we'd have liked. I was also hoping to see Rock Speedwell and Alpine Fleabane in this area but unfortunately we couldn't find either of these. Good excuse for another visit though and I was more than happy with seeing the Alpine Gentian.

Alpine Gentian - Gentiana nivalis

To give you an idea of size I gave it the 'Polo Mint Treatment'.

There were more rare plants to look for on the summit and so we made the final ascent which took another grueling half hour.

View back from just below the summit.

Moss Campion - Silene acaulis

Not looking at its best having all but 'gone over' and the same can be said for...

Mossy Saxifrage - Saxifraga hypnoides

Starry Saxifrage - Saxifraga stellaris

Mossy Cyphel - Minuartia sedoides

Rock Whitlowgrass - Draba norvegica

Unfortunately we were too late for this and as you can see it is in seed. Still great to find though.

Alpine Pearlwort - Sagina saginoides

Alpine Saxifrage - Saxifraga nivalis

Drooping Saxifrage - Saxifraga cernua

This very rare plant rarely flowers, when it does it has one large flower at the top of the plant, more usually it reproduces by bulbils as seen here.

Mountain Saffron - Solorina crocea 

A very eye-catching lichen growing around the summit. 

I'm on top of a mountain... Never thought it would happen! 

Looking back to Ben Lawers from pathway down the Shepherd's Track 
(the way we should have ascended)

The Shepherd's Path, complete with sheep, looking toward the way back, just one and a half hours walking to go.

We arrived back at the car at 7.30 having set of at 8.30 in the morning. 
Eleven hours of agony and ecstasy! Worth every excruciating step!