Thursday, June 20, 2013

Bluebells and Globeflowers in Teesdale

Today's Guardian Country Diary is an account of a walk that follows the river Tees upstream, between Middleton-in-Teesdale and Bowlees.

Along the route the footpath passes through some beautiful old meadows, with shallow fast-flowing shallow streams like this that flow down from the fells into the river in the bottom of the valley.

This is one of the umbellifers that's common in the old, flower-rich grassland: pignut Conopodium majus. There's archaeological evidence that its underground tubers were once an important food source during the Bronze Age and those who have tried them report that they taste like Brazil nuts although, given the poisonous nature of many umbellifers, this isn't something that anyone should try unless they are absolutely certain of the identification. Many of the plant poisonings that are reported, including fatal ones, are the result of mistaken identification of umbellifers - usually water dropwort species which also have roots that resemble carrots.

If you travel from sea level at the coast up into the Pennines you can walk back through the seasons in County Durham.  Because of the late spring and the altitude, there was a fine display of bluebells along the footpath (which is part of the Pennine Way), even though they had long since faded away at Hawthorn Dene on the coast, which we'd visited recently. 

The smell of the bluebells, confined between the dry stone walls early in the morning on a windless day, was glorious.

The steep banks of the Tees host fine displays of bluebells amongst the ferns, with...........

.... some fine specimens of early purple orchids amongst them.

Bluebells are most familiar as woodland plants but one of the features of the meadows here is that they are sometimes full of bluebells too - a reminder that this cultivated land was once woodland and that some of the fields here have not been ploughed in recent memory. Double-click this image for a larger one, which shows the bluebells more clearly.

Bird cherry is a tree with a predominantly northern distribution and this year its floral display has been magnificent. It's usually a small hedgerow tree and large, well proportioned specimens like these two are uncommon.

Bird cherry blossom complements Teesdale's white painted farms perfectly.

When the footpath descended to the edge of the Tees we found these globe flowers, known to earlier generations of Teesdale folk as 'double-dumplings' . They are much larger relatives of the buttercup, with incurved yellow petals and sepals, so that they resemble art deco lamps. These days they are mostly confined to the riverbank, but they used to be common in wetter areas in old unimproved meadows, growing alongside meadowsweet, ragged robin and melancholy thistle.


  1. I remember back to the late 1940's when me and all the village boys would dig up the pignut with our penknives and eat the tubers when we roamed free in the woods and meadows around our pennine village.

  2. You've tempted me to try it David!