Monday, July 18, 2011

Teesdalian Botanophilia: Part Three

This is a follow-on from Part Two.

After Widdybank Fell, the next place on the botanical hit-list was Cronkley Fell. This site is not as easy to access as Widdybank and demands a fair hike in. We parked at the car park in Forest-in-Teesdale off the B6277 (GR NY 8671 2983) and followed the public footpaths over the hummocky farmland towards the River Tees. We crossed the Tees at Cronkley Bridge and then briefly followed the Pennine Way.
Cronkley Bridge
View up the River Tees from pastures just before Cronkley Bridge
The weather was drizzly. By the time we'd got a few miles we were pretty damp. But, we decided to stick it out (such was the lure of treasures on the hilltops). Eventually, although the sun declined to shine and the wind kept up, the rain stopped, so by the time we got onto the tops we were more or less dry.

On the way up a crag, nestled behind some rocks, I found this bright green fern which I believe is parsley fern (Cryptogramma crispa).
We climbed a style and all the land from here on is Open Access.
We then followed the Green Trod (an ancient, probably prehistoric, drove road over the moors) up to Cronkley Fell. This photo is taken looking back from half way up the hillside. You can see the 'green trod' quite clearly heading south. 
On the banks of a little beck to the left of the footpath was, the inconspicuous but worthy of notice, alpine meadow rue (Thalictrum alpinum). The plant in my photo is less than 4 inches tall. It doesn't have petals, just purple sepals and stamens.
There were sundews (Drosera rotundifolia) dotted about in the mosses by the beck. They were coming into in flower.
The Green Trod took us up onto the higher tops. Cronkley Fell is grazed, but there are fenced exclosures where the rarest plants are protected from the ravages of rampant ruminants; although when we were up there the gates were open and there were sheep in the exclosures.

The reason this area is so famous is because it's underlain by sugar limestone which supports unique assemblages of calcareous alpine flora. Sugar limestone is actually metamorphosed Carboniferous limestone which weathers to a crumbly, coarse-grained sugary rock. The combination of this unusual geology with montane climatic conditions is what makes this a very special place.
Sugar limestone exposed
Close-up sugar limestone really looks like, well, sugar.
Sugar limestone close-up
I was too late in the year for Teesdale's most famous flower, the spring gentian (see here) but I found quite a few nibbled off plants in the grass. I wonder how they seed if they get nibbled by sheep?

Hoary rock-rose (Helinathemum oelandicum ssp levigatum) is endemic to Britain and this is the only place in the world that you can see it (here is the UK distribution map!). I think this is the right plant!
Another 'hoary' plant is hoary whitlow grass (Draba incana); the dinkiest, neatest little plant you could ever hope to see. The plant below is less than an inch tall.
It is also called twisted whitlow grass because its seeds twist as they ripen, as you can just see in this photo of a plant on Widdybank Fell.
Limestone bedstraw (Galium sterneri) has creamy-white flowers.
Even at this height in this harsh environment we found the lovely, adaptable Bellis perennis, the common daisy. 
The views from the trig point further on were grand.
After our cheese and salad-cream sandwiches, we retraced our steps back to the car. En route we stopped to admire the meadows near Cronkley Farm.
Red clover (Trifolium pratense) was putting on a dazzling display.

We also found the starry spikes of marsh arrowgrass (Triglochin palustris) by the path.
And yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor) by the river.
I'm pretty sure this is a common sandpiper, well camouflaged amongst the rocks on the far bank of the Tees.

Further Information
See here for more geological information on the North Pennines (page 50 for sugar limestone).
Natural England discuss the flora of Upper Teesdale on sugar limestone here

1 comment:

  1. These flowers are so dainty and cute, and the views breathtaking! What a great place to explore -- thanks for the fantastic pictures!

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