North West Way: Another reflection

On the train back from Carlisle, I sat as I always do, by the window and enjoying the scenery. This time, after walking from south to north and now travelling back south, the view was of the places that I’d walked through over the past 12 days. One of the things that doing the walk taught me is that you can never properly experience, enjoy or understand an area by ‘passing through’ either by car or train but the only way to do so is by foot. Compared to the hours I’d spent walking through these areas, the train journey from Carlisle to Preston (where I started the walk) was just a brief summary of the places I’d walked.

Following on from my last blog post, on day nine I reached the highest point of the entire walk (and the highest point on the Pennine Way) Cross Fell. On this stretch, I started in Dufton on a very windy morning. Even before I reached the hills, the strong winds were almost blowing me over. Whilst doing the first climb, I was having to stop and stabilise myself every time the wind gusted. I’d never experienced such conditions before! Once on higher ground, the mist drew in but the wind calmed slightly. Through the bleak conditions, I could hear curlews calling and occasionally flying out and disappearing back into the mist. Along with the blurring silhouettes of other waders as they flew into the mist, it was incredibly eerie. I was also treated to seeing and hearing more golden plover.

Once over Cross Fell, it was all downhill to that nights’ accommodation. Part of this included walking over another grouse moor. One that was obviously more ‘managed’ then the ones I saw on the previous day. This was evident by the sheer number of grouse, traps set up and work being done on the moor. The next day I found an information board that stated the North Pennines to be ‘England’s last wilderness’. This quote infuriated me. If it really is one of England’s few remaining wild places, then why had I seen diggers on the uplands and vast areas that were completely bare? I was aware of this ‘type’ of management on the moors, and after seeing through the original beauty that I thought National Parks possessed, I realised that below the skin, these areas are plain. Those who visit National Parks for its beauty are being conned.

Realising and having to experience this, partly makes me feel quite depressed about the situation. However, the areas have a lot of potential for what they could provide. As I walked along, surrounded by almost emptiness at times, I imagined and questioned how these areas could look and what they could provide. Although I had seen some great birds and sights on the moors and uplands, in the future, this could be enhanced so much more.

During my last three days, I followed a disused railway as far as Greenhead then joined the Hadrian’s Wall Path to my final destination, Carlisle. Although I was partly pleased to get home and have a good night’s kip, I suddenly found myself disappointed that it was all over. At times, it was incredibly tough and I really had to push myself to continue and finish the walk, but this was all part of the experience and what made the whole thing so satisfying and enjoyable. I’m now really looking forward to my next adventure. Being outside for so long every day for 12 days after the stress of exams over the last few months was thrilling, and I still can’t believe all the different places I went to and spectacles of the British countryside that I experienced.

Then, of course, the swifts! On my Just Giving page I’m on my way to £3000. This is unbelievable. I started off thinking that it would be great to get £500, nevermind £3000! I’m going to keep pushing the page until the end of the week to hopefully reach that £3000 figure. On the walk, I also counted the number of swifts I saw: in total this was 176.

Here is the link to my Just Giving page –

A bit bleak on the top of Cross Fell…
Greg’s hut Traps set up on the grouse moor after Cross Fell View from Lambley viaduct over towards Haltwhistle Last full day of walking, following the Hadrain’s Wall Path.


I did it!


North West Way: One week to go

Exactly one week today, I will be setting off on my North West Way walk from Preston to Carlisle. At the moment, I’m really looking forward to getting stuck in and enjoying all of the fantastic scenery and places that I’ll pass along the way. The thought of spending all day, every day outside for 10 days is exciting and I look forward to birding along my way. The walks route will take me through some superb areas of countryside. From along the Ribble Way, Malham Cove and areas of the Yorkshire Dales. Many of the areas and paths that I’ll follow are ones that I haven’t before, therefore I’m very excited.

On the other hand, it’s going to be a challenge. The walk is 191 miles long and I will be doing this over 10 days. Meaning that after I include all the times I’m likely to get lost, on average, I’ll be walking 20 miles a day for 10 days. Along with this, I’ll be stopping in different accommodation every night and have to carry all the clothes and equipment that I’ll need for the 10 days in a rucksack. Physically and mentally, it’s going to be very tough. However, not only will I get to experience and visit some incredible areas, but I’m raising money for a very worthy cause. A cause which I’m very passionate about.

Swifts are superb birds. My favourite! However, this wasn’t always the case. There seems to be a story behind everyone’s favourite bird, by that I mean, why that bird is their favourite. For me, this is due to my trips to Spurn. Spurn is a brilliant place to see swifts on migration. In fact, right now great numbers are passing through daily. I remember on my first trip to Spurn, I joined other birders up at one of the points used to observe visible migration, known as Numpties. Within an hour, I’d seen more swifts then I’d ever seen in a single space of time before. This passage of streamline squawkers sent me into a phase of awe as I began to realise how brilliant they are.

There is no better way to spend a day then counting swifts on migration. Bird after bird, you never get bored, but in fact, more excited as the numbers increase and the thought of where they’re going curdles your mind. When I was revising for my A levels, there was no better way to encourage and motivate working then opening my window and listening to swifts.

It would be a real shame to see a bird favourited and enjoyed by so many decline further. Therefore, the research and work being done by the BTO is incredibly important. I am very pleased with the amount that I have raised so far and very thankful for all the donations I have received. If you haven’t yet, you can donate by clicking this link.

Back from the text books

On Thursday morning, I had my last A Level exam. Meaning that I have officially finished school. After spending the last two years pushing and shoving myself through lessons and to commit to my A Levels, this is a huge relief and incredibly exciting. I’m now looking forward to not only what the next few months will hold, but what I’ll be doing post-school.

Over the last few months, I’ve felt as though I’ve been very quiet. Thus, I’ve felt quite guilty about this. Very few and no regular blog posts or writing elsewhere, spending fewer and fewer hours a week on my local patch as the weeks went by and the constant pressure to give up doing the things I love doing to stick my head in text books for hours on end instead. Although this was the ‘necessary’ thing to do so that I could succeed in my revision, pressure so bad that you have to give up what you enjoy doing altogether has its toll. However, it’s all over and hopefully the struggle will have paid off.

On the other hand, I strongly believe that exam results don’t represent anyone’s true intelligence or what they’re capable of achieving. This is a key lesson that I’ve learnt over the last two years. All the information that I retained in my lessons will never match what I’ve learnt when I’ve been out birding, using trail cameras or out walking. If you ask me a question related to what was in my English exam on Thursday in a month’s time, I could almost guarantee that I won’t have a clue what the answer is. Something that reflects this is my predicted grades. In English, I’ll be lucky if I get a C grade, however in a project I completed as part of an AS level (known as an Extended Project Qualification) about the impacts of Nature Deficit Disorder, I’m predicted to get an A grade. The difference being, although I enjoyed English as a subject, I was forced to retain information that may appear in my exam but for my EPQ, I wrote about something that really interests me.

However, I couldn’t keep myself completely absent from everything over the last few months. For a starter, I’ve been practising for my 191-mile trek that I’m doing next month to raise some cash for the BTO’s swift project. Practising has been a great excuse to take a break from my revision, get some exercise and spend some quality time outdoors. From cycling the lanes close to where I live in Staffordshire to long distance practise walks every few weekends. And since the beginning of May, these outings were made even more delightful by the accompaniment of swifts.

So far, I’ve raised over £1000, which I’m thrilled about. This cash will go towards funding the BTO’s swift project, which includes tagging and monitoring them to find out the reasons for the decline that we’ve seen in recent years. It’s incredibly important work. You can read more or support my walk by clicking here.

A momentary moment for me in the last few months, which I didn’t get the chance to blog about at the time, was voting for the first time! Some may remember my multiple blog posts around the time of the EU referendum last year and the 2015 General Election. I wrote about how the way in which the country voted was important when it came to future protection of the natural environment. I also wrote about my disappointment in not having a voice due to not being able to vote. The argument to be able to vote at 16 is a very valid one. Although many believe that young people are either not educated enough about politics or simply don’t care enough to make the right decision, I think after the results of the recent General Election, young people are beginning to prove those who doubted them wrong.

I was pleased with the result too. It was a rare occasion as I felt positive. After losing her majority, Theresa May’s attempt to repeal the Hunting Act has now been torn apart and with rising popularity of the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn, it gives a glimmer of hope as the end of the Tory government and chaos might be within reach. This could spell the end to the badger cull, bring better protection for the environment post-Brexit and bring in a government that understands and realises the importance of the natural world. Unlike last week’s events when Michael Gove was made secretary for the environment. A man who believes that environmental protection is a nuisance, attempted to remove climate change education from the curriculum whilst he was secretary for education and doesn’t see a problem with pesticides.

In the run up to the General Election, I did manage to attend a few rallies and demonstrations. A few weeks before the General Election, there was a debate on the badger cull following the success of Simon King’s petition that reached over 100,000 signatures. Although it was certain that the result of the debate was unlikely to bring any positive change, I was desperate to make it down to London so that I could join others outside the Houses of Parliament before the debate began. Unfortunately, the attendance of ministers and MPs was as it was expected to be, very poor. As was any ‘debating’ or any outcome. Following the overall uncertainty in the UK and for the government over the last few months, it’s going to be interesting to see what happens with the cull this year. A few months back, it looked as though it was going to be the worst cull yet with further cull zones across the UK and more freedom for land owners. However, recent events and challenges facing the government could force them to change their minds.

Another interesting march I went on was one of the ‘March for Science’ events that were taking place across the world. The one I attended was in Bristol. It was another excellent day and I was surrounded by passionate individuals fighting for the sake of science and in response to recent actions and comments made by certain individuals, in particular, Donald Trump.

After the success of my peregrine watch at Lichfield Cathedral last year, I decided that it would be wrong not to repeat the events this year. Thus, I put a poster together, sorted some dates and managed to get hold of some optics. This was all with the help of some lovely local birders. We organised three mornings in total, all of which were very successful with many coming to have a look. We were also treated with some brilliant views of the birds. I absolutely loved being out doing these watches. It was brilliant to engage with people who had no idea about the birds being there. But when we told them what they were and after they had a look through the scope, the look on their faces was the best!

Unfortunately, I won’t be in Lichfield to do the watch events at the cathedral next year but I’m sure that they will be taken over by others. This is because I’ll be a student at Hull University from September. Those who know me fairly well will be aware that a reason why I’m so excited to go to Hull is because I’ll be within stones throwing distance of one of my favourite places in the world, Spurn. Whilst taking my exams and during times of intense studying, I spent a lot of time at Spurn. I could revise, take very effective breaks and enjoy decent bouts of birding. On my last trip, a week before my exams started, I had one of the craziest days ever. From sat at a desk revising for my English exam, I walked a matter of steps and saw my first Honey Buzzard! My reward for a mornings hard work.

Now my exams are all over, I have a lot planned over the summer. In fact, whilst writing this post I was on the overnight ferry from Aberdeen to Lerwick, Shetland on the way to my first stop: Fair Isle. Where I was supposed to arrive this afternoon but due to weather conditions, I won’t be able to get there until Monday at the earliest. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to exploring Shetland, where I’m currently ‘stranded’, tomorrow.

Trek for Swift tracking

Those of you who have been following my blog since it first began will be aware of how it’s changed. Not the fact that blogs are becoming less frequent (sorry about that, I promise to do more soon!) but they’re now about a wider range of topics. Some of my very early blogs were mainly focused on the wildlife I saw and recorded, along with my outings. On multiple occasions I blogged about my experiences from the walks I’d been on. I still love going on long distance walks, whether that’s locally or further afield. It’s a fantastic way of delving deep into the countryside.

Below are a few examples of some of my first blogs about my walking adventures. You can view them by clicking on the titles:

Some of you may also be interested in the piece I recently wrote for A Focus on Nature’s (AFON) Christmas advent series. In the blog I explore where my enthusiasm for long distance walking began –

Later this year I plan to put all of this into action by taking on a long distance route. The North West Way. A 191 mile trek across the North of England. Starting in Preston: it follows parts of the Ribble Way, the Penine Way, through the rugged dales of Yorkshire via the thundering waterfalls of Teesdale and High Cup Nick and follows a section of Hadrain’s Wall before finishing in Carlisle.

It will be 11 days of back to back walking and although this may sound slightly mad, I’m really looking forward to it! Even better, in doing so, I have decided to raise funds for the BTO to help support their Swift tracking project.

Swifts are remarkable birds. Watching them dazzling in the sky above me on a summer’s day never fails to put a smile on my face. They are very iconic and for some, a sign of summer. The sight of their dark, sooty brown streamline, forked tail silhouette and shrieking overhead is a memorising sight and a real spectacle!

Unfortunately, their breeding numbers have declined by 47% between 1995-2014 here in the UK. This is an alarming decline and making matters worse is the fact that no one is quite sure why. Although the loss of nest sites through modernisation of buildings is implicated, it is very likely that this is only part of the story.

During the breeding season, Swifts depend on large bursts of insects to collect enough food for themselves and their young. It’s likely that the decline in the abundance of invertebrates that has occurred in Britain due to climate change has reduced the amount of food available for breeding Swifts. However, little is known about their foraging behaviour during breeding due to the difficulty of following them over relatively large distances that they are thought to travel to feed.

Swifts are only present in the UK for 3 months a year, therefore it is possible that they are being affected by processes occurring elsewhere in the world, in the areas that they use outside of the breeding season. To find out more about this, the BTO plans to track Swifts on their migration.

By deploying miniature GPS tags on swifts at breeding colonies in England, the BTO will be able to track swifts both on their foraging flights during the breeding season and over their annual migrations. As each tag will be able to record around 300 locations per deployment, this will allow the BTO to quantify the amount of time spent over different habitats and the distances travelled from the colony through short-term deployments during the breeding season. Through longer-term deployments with different tag programmes, it will allow scientists to look in much finer detail at the use of the stopover points in West Africa on spring migration.

The money that I raise will go towards supporting the BTO to ensure that these tags are safe enough to be deployed on Swifts during the summer and winter so that scientists at the BTO can gather and store data on long term deployments to help them learn more about the challenges they face on migration. This is key, as if scientists can understand what’s going wrong, we know what we can do to reverse this.

To donate please click here.  All donations are greatly appreciated!