CUMBRIA, TRIP REPORT, 6 - 9 JULY 2020
Monday 6 July
David Dennis arrived around 8.20am ready for the long drive up to the southern Lake District and twenty minutes later we were on our way. Our route took us up the M1 and M6 Toll until we pulled into Sandbach Services for a coffee, floor arrows guiding our socially distanced steps. We then headed for Haweswater via the village of Shap along narrow roads in limestone country bordered with the soft blue of Meadow Cranesbill (Geranium pratense) and duly parked in the only available car park space at the end of the road exactly 5 hours after leaving home, our pre-packed sandwiches quickly consumed.
In warm sunshine we commenced our ascent of Kidsty How en route to the summit of Kidsty Pike, initially along the lakeside immediately encountering Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus) and a Middle-barred Minor (Oligia fasciuncula) unexpectedly flying in the sunshine and nectaring on thyme as Dark Green Fritillaries (Argynnis aglaja) raced around, non-stop. The climb gradient, initially very wet underfoot, steadily increased and was challenging on thighs and lungs, a proper sweaty work out. The views from the How back down over a sunny Haweswater were spectacular in contrast to the cloud that now sat above us and across to Kidsty Pike, the key area where our main target (at least for me, being the only UK resident butterfly species I have yet to see here) namely the Mountain Ringlet (Erebia epiphron) might be found, a declining prospect in the brisk breeze. Undaunted, we made it up to the rocky outcrop aka the Pike having climbed c1,600 feet (534m) from the lake. With the breeze now behind us we walked back to the How through the Ringlet’s grassland habitat with Skylarks and Ravens calling, but in the total absence of any sun failed to disturb any of the target butterfly!
It took about an hour to get back from Haweswater to the Wheatsheaf Hotel at Beetham (where we'd stayed on a previous visit in 2016) and where Cumbria Butterfly Conservation’s Chris Winnick now awaited us. Having checked-in quickly and dropped our bags in our rooms we joined Chris for a most welcome pint, dinner, and much site info, making plans for tomorrow and Wednesday. We departed to our rooms around 10pm, checked out the very good wifi before 'turning in'. We were both on the top floor, me in the corner ‘turret’. The nearby church maintained its chime on the quarter-hour but did not pervade my sleep.
Tuesday 7 July
An overcast morning, but the poached eggs for breakfast at 8 were excellent, as was the bacon, all local produce. The plan to meet Chris at 10 o’clock at White Scar on the south-east corner of Whitbarrow had to be delayed until 2pm due to rain so David and I planned an optimistic trip to Thrace for early April 2021 making good use of the time.
Chris was waiting for us at Ravens Croft on what was still a grey and drizzly day and although David found a roosting Northern Brown Argus (Aricia artaxerxes) the only other butterflies that we disturbed were Meadow Browns (Maniola jurtina) and Ringlets (Aphantopus hyperantus). We continued the short distance to the superb floriferous Latterbarrow in unchanged weather conditions noting some roosting Small Skippers (Thymelicus sylvestris) and a couple of Large Skippers (Ochlodes sylvanus), but nothing additional for the day. Chris kindly offered to buy us a pint in the nearby Derby Arms ironically coinciding with a short-lived period of sunshine! The full social distancing routine for coronavirus was in operation here.
Back at the hotel we had an hour and a half to kill before dinner, both of us thoroughly enjoying the fish and chips. The hotel staff are excellent – Sally and her Kiwi sky-diving partner Dan run the place assisted notably by the larger than life Andy behind the bar, with Laura efficiently waiting tables.
Wednesday 8 July
Up at 7.30 on a sunny morning, and down for breakfast again at 8. The plan today was to meet Chris at 10am at Holme Park Fell, not too far away though fiddly to find on cross-country lanes. As the morning was fine we set off early at 9 to make the most of the day, locating the village of Clawthorpe and then finding the site entrance. Crossing the lane, we entered a grazed meadow but still containing plenty of varied vegetation. Even though the sun wasn’t all that strong, and a light breeze was blowing, Dark Green Fritillaries and a Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) were soon discovered. Chris duly arrived and together we toured the site listening to the site management plans developed to encourage violets whilst also clearing some bracken to improve grassland for grazing, a good example of co-operation with landowners. Continuing up the slope we arrived at the National Trust reserve of Holme Park Fell with its extensive limestone pavements. On the top here we found many Dark Green Fritillaries, the males mostly shredded but several females in lovely condition, but getting the chance of a photo wasn’t easy. Chris netted a rare High Brown Fritillary (Argynnis adippe) sweeping it from its Marsh Thistle, and potting it up to be photographed later. Graylings (Hipparchia semele) also flew on the limestone and other species included Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus), Small Skipper, and a Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) nectaring on Thyme. The High Brown Fritillary was duly released onto a thistle allowing David and I to get some photos before it warmed up and flew.
Chris then wanted to take us to a White-letter Hairstreak (Satyrium w-album) site close to the Lancashire Canal at Farleton not far from Kendal but even though the Wych Elms grew strongly the cool and now overcast conditions failed to reveal any of the butterflies. Lunch here consisted of cereal bars and an apple.
The final location for the day was a short way up the A5074 on the east side of Whitbarrow at a spot called John Scales. Chris has a key for the gate enabling us to drive up into Rough Wood where we parked about a mile further on. This is stunning woodland habitat, species rich, and Chris’s pride and joy. The absence of sun meant that little was happening and 3 or 4 Northern Brown Argus provided the highlight. With rain threatening from very dark clouds we returned to the cars around 4pm and said our farewells to Chris who had been very generous with his time and had looked after us really well.
A pint on reaching the hotel went down well before we went to our rooms, meeting up again at 6.50 heading for the No3 Curry House in Milnthorpe. After a very good meal and chat with friendly staff we dashed to the car through moderate rain. Feeling weary and not in the mood for another drink back at the hotel we both took the opportunity for an early night.
Thursday 9 July
Rain through the night left the morning grey and wet with no change showing on the forecasts. Spending another day in wet grass with no butterflies on the wing wasn't really an option, and the prospect of finding Mountain Ringlets atop Hartop on Friday morning seemed equally unlikely. So, reluctantly, we decided to quit a day early and head home, just as we'd done on our previous visit here in 2016. Sandbach entertained us in similar fashion to the upward leg, the motorways ran well, delivering us back home soon after 3 o'clock.