At least one made it!

After saying that few salmon make it upstream as far as Scorhill, there was one resting under the clapper bridge over the Teign at Scorhill today.

It didn’t look to be in wonderful condition, it had white markings around its head. I’ve read that hormone changes that start in the breeding season make them susceptible to fungal infections. It may be that this one won’t make it back to the sea after breeding.

The footpath assessment work is complete now and the drainage work begins. There are drainage ‘cut offs’ across footpaths that need digging out every year in time for the heavy rain.dsc_0101-3

Lots of Water

Heavy rain overnight caused the upper Teign at Scorhill to cover the two clapper bridges. The moor is pretty soggy now.

Over the last two weeks the river has risen enough for migrating salmon to continue their journey upstream. Until then I guess they had been trapped in pools downstream or perhaps they stayed out at sea until the rains began. Last Thursday I counted 39 salmon or sea trout trying to jump the ladder on the Drogo estate. Some didn’t make it, so it might have been far fewer fish seen several times! Some were tiddlers but most were good sized fish up to about 18 inches. I was told that few get up as far as Scorhill, most are heading for smaller tributaries like Blackaton brook.

This morning it would have to have been a very strong fish that made any progress up river. The photo shows the salmon ladder at SX7224589656.dsc_0100

 

Fernworthy Resevoir

The water level in the resevoir is very low and will probably stay that way for some time. The lack of substantial rain over the summer and autumn and the fact that South West Water use the water in the resevoir before low lying ones has meant the level has been falling for months. Water in the high resevoirs like Meldon and Fernworthy is used first because it needs less pumping to get it to where it’s used.

The exposed bridges and hut circles have been attracting lots of visitors in recent weeks, it’s not often that the stream under the bridge is reduced to the level it must have been before the valley was flooded.

A good deal of work has been done by SWW to improve the walk around the resevoir. Lots of Rhodedendron was cut back last year, but it’s making a comeback.

As well as lots of hut circles in the area, there is a wonderful Bronze Age burial cyst (a stone box in this case) located at SX66737 84337.

There are big flocks of Fieldfares and Redwings this Autumn, their migration from Scandinavia has probably been aided by a good blow from the  East just as they made their passage. There seems to be plenty of berries for them all this year.

Strimming season

Strimming sections of the National Park footpaths begins towards the end of June. Although vegetation is quite dense by early June, clearing the paths is left as late as possible to allow flowers and grasses to seed and to give nests and fledglings an extra chance.

The footpath that starts from the bottom of the road up to Clannaborough, through the woods and ‘wild’ fields to East Week is very wet in winter, and just wet in summer! It is nearly always passable because of stepping stones laid by the National Park authorities. A new section was added over the winter which has improved a section that cattle made difficult (SX66489143). The route is a good circular walk, returning through fields and crossing the Blackaton brook over a little clapper bridge near the starting point.

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Ten Tors

This year’s Ten Tors challenge was a week earlier than usual. The weather was nearly perfect for the youngsters taking part. At the briefing it’s stressed that the Ten Tors is not a competition, but teenagers being what they are take little notice of that.

The teams are trained to navigate in very difficult conditions but this weekend visibility was excellent. The area between the North Teign, the Wallabrook and Gallaven brook (around SX645875) presents difficulties of a different nature. It is often boggy and the walking is very strenuous because of big, closely spaced tussocks.DSCN2101

This morning the Army were busy flying soldiers in to remove the checkpoints. A helicopter landed at Kes Tor, three cuckoos in Batworthy wood were spooked and took flight.

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A large area has been burnt recently to the NE of the leat, cause unknown. It occurred before the Ten Tors teams arrived but within the last week, well after swaling finished.

La Wallen Chapel

DSC_0051A footpath crosses fields from Gidleigh to the lane connecting Chapple to Moortown farm on the ‘top road’. The path has a wet section that would take more than a spade or shovel to improve. Starting from the Chapple/ Moortown end, the path enters a small wood and continues over a clapper bridge. Just downstream from the bridge and signposted off the path is La Wallen chapel at SX6692188927. A good deal of research has been done regarding the chapel, an article about its history appears in the Dartmoor Magazine, Summer 2014.

It is thought that one Robert de Middlecote held masses there and that ‘on the 28th of March, 1328 he raped Agnes, daughter of Roger the Miller in or around the chapel of La Wallen.’ There has been a mill at Gidleigh since 1194 and it’s possible that the cleric would come into contact with local residents.

The fate of Robert de Middlecote is not clear, a trial of said Robert was held at Exeter Cathedral on June 1st 1329. However, a Robert de Middlecote is associated with Lidwell chapel, another desecrated chapel near Dawlish. Here Robert went on to offer hospitality to travellers, only to drug them, rob them and proceed to throw their bodies down an adjacent well.

At one time, La Wallen was used as a cattle pen. A later owner planted oak trees inside it to prevent the building that had once been consecrated from further such use. The oaks have since been felled to prevent further damage.

 

 

Swallows and Cuckoos

There have been a few sightings of swallows already near Exeter and along the south coast. A cuckoo was heard in Tiverton a week ago! The earliest I’ve seen a swallow in Throwleigh was April 6th, following a week of warm weather. There are Southerly winds forecast for the next few days, hopefully they’ll provide a tail wind for our long distance heroes.

A pair of Mistle Thrushes have been busy in a nearby pine tree chasing away Jays, Jackdaws and Magpies, in fact all birds that came too close to what I suspect was the site of this summer’s nest. ¬†Unfortunately this afternoon one of the Thrushes was surprised by a Sparrow Hawk, and with a screech and a squawk, that was the end of that building programme.

Yet again high winds have caused trees to fall. One blocked the road near Gidleigh, another lay across the footpath down to Gidleigh Mill. Both are now cleared.

Swaling

The burning, not only of heather and grass, but also gorse, bracken and bilberry is controlled by the Heather and Grass, etc. (burning) Regulations 1986.

Burning is allowed only between 10th October and April 15th in upland areas, DNP recommends no burning after March 31st to prevent harm to nesting birds.

Quite often there seems to be a prolonged dry spell in March and so it proved this year. The tell tale columns of smoke could be seen rising from different sections of the moor over the last few days. Swaling is not an exact science, but the skill and experience of commoners and farmers makes the process as safe and controlled as possible. Before burning can commence, Devon Fire and Rescue, DNP, Natural England and the Dartmoor Commoners Council must be informed. Occasionally, well intentioned visitors see the fires and call the Fire Service, who in turn check where burning is to occur and act accordingly.

Burning after dark is not common but when it does occur it makes for dramatic viewing.

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Frog spawn and other eggs

The first frog spawn seen this season was in December. The main event started 6 weeks ago and now the eggs have turned to tadpoles which are wriggling, bunched together in shallow water.

Having turned last year’s compost, it was sad to see the summer’s batch of grass snake eggs came to nothing. They had developed as they should but on inspection the eggs contained fully developed 6″ long but unfortunately dead snakes. They normally hatch around the end of August or the beginning of September, perhaps they had been too cold, or too hot, or too wet —-.

Grass snakes can grow to nearly two metres long, normally a fully mature snake is about 120cm. They are not dangerous, but they can give you a nasty turn when they move quickly! Warmer days will bring out grass snakes and also adders. Adders react to vibration and usually move away to avoid a confrontation. There is a risk to dogs that surprise them, it’s rare that a bite to a dog is fatal, but it would be sensible to see a vet.

It’s twenty years since anyone died in the UK as a result of an adder bite, the amount of venom is tiny. Nevertheless you’re braver than me if you go very close for a better look.

This is a photo of a mature adder, note the inverted V on its head.

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Blackaton brook

Evidence of the heavy rain last month is still to be seen in the roads and along the river beds. Damage was caused to the crossing of Blackaton brook, 100 metres below Shilley pool.

It’s a useful crossing because it seems all other ways across the brook and so up onto Cosdon involve wrestling with undergrowth and/or the risk of wet feet.

Dave Hatton and I, ably assisted and encouraged by Dawn tried to replace a stepping stone that had been dislodged a metre or so down stream. We gave up with plan A because we couldn’t get much purchase to lever the stone into place.

A second stone was used and after much wheezing and gasping, it was settled into a good position.Blackaton crossing #1