There's a road that I like to drive along if I am going to Tebay, or more particularly Kennedy's Fine Chocolates in Orton, that is called the 'Old Scotch Road'. I leave the M6 at junction 37 and head east towards Sedbergh, but turn immediately left on to the Old Scotch Road. The reason I like to drive it is for the cracking views of the Howgills, and because of its history. It runs along and above the M6 heading north for perhaps a mile, and then veers away from that noisy, concrete, hellish arterial route!
Looking towards the Howgills from the Old Scotch Road
Sections of the road along this stretch are wide and have deep verges (more on this later), which is evidence that the Old Scotch Road was an old droving road. However, there is more evidence as this road has been marked on maps since the 1800s to the present day as Old Scotch Road.
This ancient route was known as the Galwaithgate (the Galloway Road), and it was referred to by that name in the 12th century. Most of the cattle were from Galloway or further north in Scotland, even the Highlands, and they were black like the current Galloway breed.
A large proportion of the cattle had the same drovers for the full journey to the south of England, and the Highlander in their plaid would have been a common sight on the Galwaithgate. When the Lancaster to Carlisle railway opened in 1846, it ensured that by 1855 cattle droving on the Old Scotch Road was no more.
I'll come back to the Old Scotch Road shortly, but for now I want to have a quick rewind to first light Wednesday morning when I carried out my second bird survey at one of my plantation woodland sites underneath the shadow of Blencathra.
I set out under full cloud cover with a light ENE wind and good visibility. It would seem that generally speaking, or for a number of passerines, that it has been a good breeding season this year, and there was plenty of evidence for this during my survey. At the start of my survey in the first compartment I had a large Tit flock move through the trees and it contained at least 19 Great Tits and 21 Blue Tits!
A calling Cuckoo towards Blencathra was a welcome sound, and let's hope that they have had a good breeding season too. Other bits and pieces encountered during my survey included eleven Lesser Redpolls, six Siskins, a Sedge Warbler, a Mistle Thrush, a Reed Bunting, two singing Blackcaps, three Willow Warblers, a Goldcrest, two Grey Wagtails and a pair of Pied Wagtails with five juveniles in tow.
Back to the Old Scotch Road. On my way home from the north Lakes I decided to stop off at the Old Scotch Road and walk a section. I headed north along the road with the noisy M6 to my left (west) and upland pasture to my right (east). A late displaying Curlew reminded me that I was in breeding wader country, despite the pastures being a tad over-grazed, and any sense of wildness removed by the close proximity of the motorway.
I saw a female Pied Wagtail perched on a wall with a bill full of invertebrates, and she was probably waiting for me to pass before she slipped in to a crevice between the stones to a nest full of youngsters. This was followed by a male Blackbird with a 'gob' full of food, and I watched him flying high from the east over the M6 to the west side of the motorway, and he dived straight into a conifer plantation. This was obviously where his nest was located and it just shows how far they fly to forage and provision their chicks!
Blackbird nest site
The ever present noise from the motorway made it difficult to hear any birds calling from the vegetation in the wide roadside verges, in fact it was a bit of an assault on my auditory senses, but a visual delight with the profusion of wildflowers and views to the Howgills.
I'm no botanist, but a quick squint in the verge as I walked along produced Foxglove, Meadowsweet, Red Campion, Oxeye daisy, Wood cranesbill, Heath bedstraw, Forget-me-not sp., Yarrow, Yellow rattle, Vetch sp., Commom knapweed, Greater stitchwort, Red clover, Kidney vetch, Self-heal and Hawkbit sp. to name but a few.
It was overcast and as such there was no butterfly activity, but I did have a number of the day flying Chimney Sweeper moths. It was a pleasant hours walk, and I will probably call again on my way home from the north. It's just a pity that the motorway couldn't be moved!