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Saunterings:  Walking in North-West England

Saunterings is a set of reflections based upon walks around the counties of Cumbria, Lancashire and North Yorkshire in North-West England (as defined in the Preamble). Here is a list of all Saunterings so far.
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16.  The Wildflowers of Sulber

birds eye primrose
It must be frustrating being a botanist, not being able to stride out on a long walk, head up, admiring the scenery. Botanists must be forever focussed on the flora underfoot. It must be even more frustrating if there is little flora to see. Having got rid of nearly all our meadows, removed many hedges, and converted our hills into monocultures suitable only for sheep or grouse, we havenít left much space for wildflowers. It is not a problem for me on my saunters because my knowledge of flora is so scanty that I rarely feel the need to investigate it. However, I made an exception on this short walk. We set out with the main objective of finding a birdís-eye primrose.

The Ingleborough National Nature Reserve is an area of over 1,000 hectares around Ingleborough managed by Natural England. The leaflet describing the Sulber part of the Reserve mentions a number of plants and flowers: purple-flowered heather, pink-flowered cross-leaved heath, juniper, common butterwort, the white flowered grass of Parnassus, wild thyme, salad burnet, birdís-foot trefoil, fairy flax, rock-rose, many types of fern within the limestone crevices, as well as the birdís-eye primrose. That is too many for novices so we focussed upon the birdís-eye primrose, a particularly fine-looking and (we hoped) distinctive flower that is relatively rare in the region. It is found almost exclusively on damp grassy, stony or peaty ground on limestone in the northern Pennines and the Lake District. We set off hoping that it would be found by us.

I have just discovered that, unbeknownst to me, I had taken two photographs of birdís-eye primrose in the past, one above Bannisdale in the Shap Fells and the other on Orton Scar (shown above). It is a delicate, pink-purple flower that must have caught my eye, without me knowing what it was or bothering to look it up in the flower books, until now.

We entered the reserve above Beecroft Hall, ignoring the turquoise pond and the noise of the quarry and instead admiring the view of Pen-y-ghent behind and of limestone terraces ahead. As we walked along Sulber Nick we noted the buttercups and many other yellow flowers that werenít. Some of these, on closer inspection, we identified as rock-rose and birdís-foot trefoil. Ingleborough came into view ahead. We then tackled our main objective by walking north along the bridleway to Borrins where, in the flushes below the bridleway where lime-rich water seeps from the rock, the leaflet promised us the birdís-eye primrose.

Pen-y-ghent from Sulber


Ingleborough from Sulber

However, we did not find any birdís-eye primrose. Maybe it had all finished flowering after our hot May. Maybe it was there but we just missed it. Maybe itís not there at all. Maybe the cattle had eaten it all. (Natural England emphasises that the reintroduction of hardy native cattle breeds helps the wildflowers but I donít know why the cows should be so considerate as to avoid the birdís-eye primrose.) We were a little disappointed but we still had a breezy, brisk walk-out in fine limestone scenery. A real botanist would be frustrated not to see what they hoped and expected to.
cow on sulber

    Date: June 18th 2018
    Start: SD807726, Horton-in-Ribblesdale car park  (Map: OL2)
    Route: W over railway line, NW, N through Sulber Nick Ė Pennine Bridleway Ė N Ė Borrins Ė S Ė South House Ė S, SE Ė Horton-in-Ribblesdale
    Distance: 5 miles;   Ascent: 155 metres

The two following items:
     18.   Viewpoints around Keswick (part 1)
     17.   Sheep-Wrecked Matterdale?
The two preceding items:
     15.   On the Hobdale Fence
     14.   Logging Along the Cam High Road
Two nearby items:
   102.   Upper Ribblesdale: Drumlins, Three Peaks and a Cave
   189.   The Standard Pen-y-ghent Walk
A list of all items so far:

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    © John Self, Drakkar Press, 2018-


Top photo: The western Howgills from Dillicar; Bottom photo: Blencathra from Great Mell Fell