Saturday, July 16, 2011

Teesdalian Botanophilia: Part One

Goldberry is having a washing day here today, so time to catch up on some overdue posts.

I am ashamed to say that, until this year, I’d never visited Upper Teesdale. As someone declaring a passing interest in botany, this is indefensible. I rectified this shocking omission in my botanical education in June.

And I am so glad I did. It was fantastic. I will pick out a few highlights from our week there to tempt you to go too!

So to Upper Teesdale we went, staying in a cosy self-catering cottage in Middleton-in-Teesdale. It took about 4 hours to drive up there (essentially straight up the A1 for 180 miles and turn left at Scotch Corner). We stopped in Barnard Castle for lunch and shops, then drove the last few miles to Middleton. The views up the dale were grand.

One area we explored was the Hudeshope valley just north of Middleton. Hudeshope Beck flows through Middleton, on its way to meet the River Tees just below the town. 

Near the town the beck flows through a wooded valley. Here you find the common but delicate, inconspicuous flowers of wood avens (Herb Bennet, Geum urbanum). 
And on grassy banks near the stream, the drooping heads of water avens (Geum rivale).
But far more frequently we found the lovely natural hybrid between these 2 plants, Geum xintermedium.
Eat-the-Weeds suggests that herb Bennet makes a tasty crispy seaweed substitute. I might try that as it grows liberally in my garden. 

Other plants on the banks of the beck included this blotchy, brazen beauty...........
.....I hesitate to name it as I am unsure if it's monkey flower (Mimulus agg.) or blood-drop emlets (Mimulus luteus) or a hybrid. (See this post here on Wild About Britain about Mimulus spp and it's discussed in papers here and here.)

Mimulus guttatus is a naturalised alien from North America and Mimulus luteus from South America; both were introduced into gardens in the early 19th century, from whence they rapidly escaped. Their gaudy flowers seem excessively showy for a woodland stream.

The more restrained purple wood cranesbill (Geranium sylvaticum) was growing in the grass by the beck and along the roadside. 
Unlike meadow cranesbill, whose seed-pods droop, wood cranesbill's are erect. 
One other plant, another geranium, before heading further up the valley. This subtle little beauty is shining cranesbill (Geranium lucidum) and was growing between some rocks by the beck (and on tops of walls in the town).
Shining cranesbill has delicate pink flowers with distinctively keeled, ribbed sepals. The leaves are shiny and can develop a red tint.

Further up Hudeshope Valley, you come across reminders of a once thriving industrial landscape.

Skears lime kilns are near to a limestone quarry (now abandoned). The first kiln was built in the 18th century and the kilns were in use until 1960.

This gloriously opulent wood-water avens hybrid was growing in the grass next to the kilns.

A few miles north, the landscape acquires a much bleaker aspect. The trees are long gone and the beck wends its way through sheep-grazed grasslands. 
This is an old industrial landscape, gouged out by centuries of lead mining. Most especially damaging was a process known as 'hushing' used in Victorian times, which left deep scars on the land.

Even in this grainy photo (below) looking across Hudeshope Valley, you can see 'hush gullies' on the far hill-side. Hushing was a method of lead-mining which used damned-up streams to wash away topsoil to expose the underlying lead ore. The 'V' shaped scars of hushing litter the valley.

The most dramatic gash left by mining in Upper Teesdale is Coldberry Gutter which is above Coldberry mine at Hudeshope Head. The huge notch in Hardberry Hill can be seem for miles around. The buildings in the photo are Coldberry Mine. 
The mine buildings are now home to sheep and cattle. The site is used by school groups and is freely accessible on foot. It's a great place to explore.

Even in this close-cropped, scarred landscape there are ravishing little gems, like this mountain pansy (Viola lutea), just underfoot.
Well, Goldberry seems to have finished her washing for now, so maybe the Beeston Wildlife Group BBQ won't be a wash-out tonight after-all! 

If you do decide to go to Upper Teesdale (and you really should) then excellent sources of information are;
1. North Pennines AONB here.
2. The Tourist Information Centre in Barnard Castle has some useful leaflets. There is one for the lead-mining walk, which unfortunately I can't find online.
3. The cottage we stayed at was 2, The Mews, Middleton-in-Teesdale here

Update for those who haven't read Lord of the Rings; Goldberry is Tom Bombadil's wife. She's is also called the river-daughter. The hobbits meet her and Tom in the Old Forest. Tom describes a rainy day as Goldberry's washing day. 

All pictures were taken with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ3


  1. Yes, your fifth image from the top is definitely monkeyflower. You often find it spread along watercourses in the North Pennines.

  2. Hi James
    Thanks for your comment and confirmation. It is an amazing flower to see:-)

  3. that mimulus is same as i remember when growing up... people called it "the 5 drops of blood"... i can never find it anywhere;( PAUL.

  4. It is really distinctive and I always look for it when I travel up north :-)