Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Weekend away at High Wray, Cumbria on 25-28th August 2017

After six years of having our annual Christmas weekend at High Wray in Cumbria, we decided to do something quite radical this year: we went there in summer instead! And Christmas will instead be celebrated in the Yorkshire Dales at Buckden.

The night before

Grey skies and steady rain accompanied the drive up the M6 and A591, but we all arrived in decent time. Lisa and I had brought a tent, which we managed to put up before dark. We were slightly apprehensive about the volume (and poor quality) of the music being played by our neighbours in the other basecamp block 100 yards away, but thankfully the rain had sent them indoors long before we turned in for the night.

Home for the night ...
Day 1. Task: fence removal. Small green visitor of the day: froglet.

The next morning we were woken by the flapping of wings as birds flew over our tent on their way to the feeders that hang outside the basecamp veranda. We were treated to blue tits, great tits and coal tits, chaffinches and goldfinches, and a couple of nuthatches.

The nuthatch opts for the seed feeder rather than the nuts!
At 9.30 we set off for Fletcher's Wood near Elterwater, where we removed an old fence that was past its best, had given way to a new replacement, and had sulkily started to embed itself into the ground, the wall and various posts and stumps. We grappled with wire, posts and undergrowth, and had done the bulk of the work by lunchtime.

Lisa and Gordon multitask by flattening the old wire while imitating some animal or other
After being greeted at lunchtime by a froglet that somehow avoided the trampling of boots around our camp, and indulging in Ben's lemon drizzle and Ally's tiffin, we headed uphill to find more old fencing, and dragged down several large bundles of wire to leave with the morning's spoils, just behind the wall by the road, for woodland ranger Richard to pick up at a later date.

Little lunchtime visitor
After an afternoon spent showering / recovering / drinking tea, Lisa and I cooked up some pasta for tea - despite carefully measuring out the quantities, we had twice as much as we needed - followed by chocolate orange cheesecake which did its best not to set, but still tasted great. Then the games began.

Lisa beat me in the opening round of Giant Connect 4, was then beaten by Neil, who was then beaten by Martin. Martin managed to avoid the 'Curse of the Champion' and went on a half-dozen game winning streak before I came out on top in an epic tactical battle that eventually came down to whoever was the first to be forced to drop their big plastic disc into the 'column of instant death'.

The tension is palpable: Giant Connect 4 doesn't get more epic than this ... Note the 'column of instant death' third from the left!
Giant Connect 4 was followed by Giant Jenga, played on a big and very grippy set that Gordon suspected had been waxed at some point, making it impossible to move most of the bricks without bringing the whole stack crashing down.

Lisa expects while Ally ponders. The rest of us keep a safe distance!
Bedtime followed swiftly, and while Lisa and I settled down in the tent with music still being played loudly by the neighbours, at least there was some quality '80s fare being offered up, in contrast to the previous night's drivel. Within seconds though there were some extremely loud bangs (thankfully it was fireworks in Windermere rather than gunshots in High Wray), followed by a couple of minutes of the neighbours' dogs baying like the hounds of war. After some 'encouragement' from Lisa, the music was turned down a few notches and we finally got to sleep.

Day 2. Task: spruce clearance. Small green visitor of the day: lizard

Day 1 had seen us complete the fencing work in double quick time, so we stayed closer to basecamp today and did some spruce regeneration clearance at Nor Moss, a task that we had done last Christmas.

Any job that involves mattocks is usually an unwelcome one, with 'backbreaking' and 'attritional' being uppermost in the vocabulary of descriptive terms. And there were some big trees to remove (Philippa cunningly demonstrated on a small specimen, exactly as her colleague Matt had done last Christmas!).

"Can we fit this in the car?"
But as we set about the job, we found that a methodical approach, strategically targeting particular roots, worked a treat. At one point Lisa and I took out seven closely growing trees in one go, while later on a 15-footer was taken down in just a few minutes with minimal fuss.

Excitement was provided when Tim and Tricia discovered a small lizard beneath a big tree (which unfortunately they'd just destroyed). This definitely trumped yesterday's frog as the most exciting small green thing to appear on a worksite over the weekend. It was allowed a couple of minutes of fame before being released back under the trees.

The best small green visitor of the weekend
By 12.30 we'd done a surprising amount, and piles of vanquished spruce dotted the borders of the moss. Then we headed back to pack up (well, most of us except Ally, Neil and Madeleine who were staying an extra night). Ally was particularly handy at deflating airbeds.

Mick and Pip turned yesterday's excess pasta into a delicious lunch that was enjoyed by all. It was a glorious afternoon and felt too soon to be heading home. But we'll be back, whether that's in summer or winter next year.

Day 3. Optional day of leisure

Neil, Ally and Madeleine did some stuff. I'm not sure exactly what, aside from visiting Wray Castle (judging by Ally's Facebook page) as by this stage I'd gone home and was lifting bricks and shifting soil in the garden. I'm sure Wray Castle was much more enjoyable!

The Weekend Reprobates (sorry, 'Hard-working volunteers'!)

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