Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Grass of Parnassus

Thursday's Guardian Country Diary is an account of a walk along the river Nent, between Alston and Blagill in Cumbria, taking in some lovely hay meadows and also a rather special wild flower.

This attractive little bridge is at the Alston end of the walk, where the river ......

... drops over this low waterfall. Downstream it flows into the South Tyne.

The first part of the walk leads over these high pastures towards Blagill. This is curlew and oystercatcher country in summer and their calls followed us all the way.

The return leg of the walk drops down from Blagill to a footpath that follows the southern bank of the river, through some wonderful hay meadows that had many more spotted orchids in flower than we could possibly count. The patch of purple you can see in the picture above, just below the centre, is ....

........ melancholy thistle, once thought to be a herbal cure for said affliction. Finding it thriving in damp hollows in the meadow certainly lifted our spirits because this characteristic hay meadow species is declining in many of its North Pennine strongholds, although there's still plenty of it along the uncultivated road verges that are themselves remnants of meadows. It's a thistle that has no prickles and the undersides of the leaves are almost pure white, thanks to a dense covering of fine hairs. The flower heads are as big as shaving brishes (for those who can remember using these implements).

The wet gulleys that run down the escarpment in the haymeadow were full of ragged robin ....

.... looking suitably ragged in the blustery wind. 

Downstream from the meadows there were .....

.... mountain pansies still  in flower .....

.... in several colour forms, but the plant we'd really come to see was .....

...... grass of Parnassus, which isn't related to grasses at all but usually grows amongst them. It looked like we were too early - the flower buds, like little pearls, were still clasped in their sepals ...... 

...... but eventually we found just one in bloom ......

...... allowing us to examine its most unusual feature. It produces nectar to reward visiting pollinators but it first catches their attention with false nectaries - they're the yellowy-green finger like projections with droplet-like spheres at their tips that you can see between the stamens and the petals.

The other notable feature of grass of Parnassus is that it is the county flower of Cumbria, featuring on the county's coat-of-arms.


  1. My kind of country to walk in, lovely flowers. All still looks very green.
    Amanda xx

    1. Usually plenty of rainfall in that part of the Pennines, Amanda

  2. Replies
    1. One of my favourites - must go back more often

  3. Thanks for the lovely virtual walk!

  4. What a pretty flowers those are. I don't think I have seen either one. You have some beautiful walks in your area.

    1. This route is particularly good for wild flowers because it passes through such a variety of habitats