Monday, 17 July 2017

A visit to RSPB Saltholme nature reserve. (There's cake involved, because, there's *always* cake involved.)

Hello, hello. 

You'll often find me sharing photos of our trips to art galleries, museums or nice little shops;  y'know, the kinds of places I can wear a nice skirt and a big necklace and where there's plenty of opportunity to stop for tea and cake? But today's post is a little different because ... we've actually been outside, in nature, under the (damp, British-summertime) sky where we filled up on birdsong and reed-rustling and, yes, OK, obviously there was cake too. Naturally. We're not complete savages. 

Disclosure: Last Saturday I was a guest at RSPB Saltholme where they waived the usual £5.00 per car entry fee in return for a blog post and some social-media sharing about my visit. I did not receive payment for this post, I wasn't asked to mention anything other than how they have Family Activities running throughout the summer, and all views are my own. Because ... can you imagine me agreeing to let someone put words in my mouth? Exactly. 

So, now that's out of the way, lace up your walking shoes and grab your binoculars ... we're off on a nature walk ...

RSPB Saltholme welcome sign

RSPB Saltholme is a nature reserve in Teesside, just outside of Middlesbrough. If you can find our landmark Transporter Bridge, you can find Saltholme, the bridge is visible from right across the reserve (see if you can spot it in the background of my photos). 

And if you can't find the Transporter Bridge when you're in Middlesbrough then just stop someone in the street and they'll point the way, or just look up and it'll be there, plus it's bright blue so ... you can't miss it. You could even use a visit to Saltholme as an excuse to have a trip across the Transporter too because, as the name suggests, it 'transports' vehicles/pedestrians across. Anyway, you've distracted me now by asking about bridges, where was I? 

Oh, yes, I was in jeans, trainers, and a coat (although my socks did have fringing on them and I did manage to squeeze in a big necklace under my hoody) and I was on a nature reserve, under a damp sky, trying to be a good blogger while keeping my camera out of the rain!
Last weekend they hosted their annual 'Woolly Weekend': a celebration of all things sheep-ish, as the site keeps sheep to graze the grasslands.

If you follow me on social media you'll have seen more images and video of the day, but I'll just show you a few photos of that here, because I want to show you what you'll see if you're visiting Saltholme during the rest of the year (they're open every day except Christmas day!)

As for those sheep, we watched them being sheared both with traditional clippers:
And modern electric shears: 
You could actually buy the fleeces from these sessions and, while I was tempted, I resisted ... what would I have done with it? I suppose I could've tried my hand at spinning it ... but maybe I'll leave that to the professionals:
And we watched this beautiful breed - whose fleece is so dark they looked like dense, dark, shadows with horns:
... being rounded-up by some very willing sheep-dogs:
 (ahem .. anyone notice the bright blue iconic bridge anywhere in the scene?)

The Environment: 
Speaking of dogs ... Saltholme is a dog-free zone, only assistance dogs are permitted on the reserve. 

I know I joke about my dog-phobia (because, oh my, if I didn't ...) but anyone who:

  • has a phobia themselves,
  • or has seen one of my dead-eyed panic attacks, 
  • or who knows just how many activities I can't bring myself to do because of it ... 
... will know the absolutely debilitating restrictions it imposes on my life. So, being able to walk around in nature, without having to worry about an off-the-lead dog bounding up to me is a freedom I'm rarely afforded.

Truth be told - I did have to get James to tell me that there weren't any dogs there - just to hear it, to double-check - but after that, I was OK. I was free to enjoy being outside without anxiety, something I guess many other people take for granted? (I don't know ... I can hardly conceive that some people aren't constantly vigilant and hyper-aware while they're out and about! It's like when you think about how the internet works; you know it's true ... but you still don't 'get' it.)

And Saltholme is an oasis in more ways than one. 

It allows me to enjoy the great outdoors, it provides food and habitat for a huge variety of birds and wildlife, and - like many places on the industrial side of Teesside - it nestles itself amongst major works sites, making it a complete natural haven in the heart of man-made industry:
And it's the land itself, the combination of wet grassland, reed beds and meadows that contributes so much to its eco-system: 

What your visit might look like: 

If, like us, you have a general - rather than comprehensive - knowledge of birds, then don't be put off; there are plenty of guide-books, signs, wall displays, and real-life guides to help you work out what you might be looking at. And currently, in the visitor centre:
 ... there's even a chance to catch-up on what the nearby seals are doing on their 'Seal Cam Live!':
From the visitor centre you can take one of two exits to explore the reserve, we headed out towards the Transporter side where we headed past the various gardens and play areas, along part of the Lake Walk and down to the hide at 'Paddy's Pool':
From here you can pull up a chair, wind down a window and get a closer look at some of the birdy happenings (can you tell I'm not an official 'twitcher'? What gave it away?)
 From here you can take a number of routes across the reserve, we opted for a wander through the wildflower meadow:
It was extremely peaceful and there were plenty of photo opportunities!
BTW: this was a pathway cut into the grass, but the majority of paths on the reserve are suitable for pushchairs and wheelchairs.

From here we dipped into the 'Wildlife Watchpoint' another cosy spot to pause and take in the scenery:
Here we watched clumsy moorhen chicks trying to get their long ungainly legs to cooperate with the rest of their bodies, and, we're pretty sure we spotted a water-vole bumbling under the surface at the water's edge!
The combination of lackadaisical ducks and swans gliding over the water, the background noise of rustling reeds, and all that fresh air very nearly sent me to sleep. Next time I can't nod-off I'll know where to come ...
 And, if birds aren't your thing, you could stop off for some mouse-spotting!
This little mouse house  linked up to a woodpile outside so, if you're lucky, you might catch yourself some mouse-action (not a sentence I've ever envisaged writing ...).

Back on the Lake Walk we stopped for a closer look at the reed beds:
If you've been visiting me here for a while now you might remember that I've visited Saltholme in winter on several occasions when they host their annual 'Soup and Starlings' events. There we get to watch tens of thousands of starlings swoop and swirl in their 'murmurations' - the en masse air-ballet they perform - before dipping down to spend the night among the reed beds. (You can see some of my photos from those events in these older blog posts.)

So it made a change seeing this habitat in summer and not on freezing - I'm-wearing-30-items-of-clothing-and-my-eyes-are-the-only-visible-part-of-my-body - afternoons in December and January! 
And it was here that I saw something  my parents really would've found really useful when I was little!
There are at least three occasions in my childhood where they could have deployed a Lifehook.

At least three.

Where you can take a break:
And, after all that walking, watching, ducking out of the rain and feeling the sun, wind and rain on our faces all in the space of 4 hours (as a British summertime will regularly offer) ... we were ready for lunch.

And when I say 'ready' I mean ... the 'give me the homemade beef chilli and rice AND a slice of lemon cake, right now, thanks, OK, great' kind of ready. I know you know that kind of 'ready'.
Fortunately the Saltholme visitor centre has a lovely cafe upstairs so there's no need leave the site to find sustenance. And, once you've finished your cake and had a glance around the gift shop you're either good to go back out for another wander, or head home feeling smug about all the wholesome activity you've enjoyed.

Oh, and tired. You'll be feeling tired too; that proper, healthy 'fresh air' kind of tired.  So it's bye for now Saltholme. See you again sometime! I'm just off for a nap ...

Further Information:
To find out more and keep up-to-date on their special events:

Right, you can kick off your walking shoes now, I want to hear from you ...
  • Have you been to Saltholme already? What did you see? Did you have cake?
  • Maybe you've visited your own local RSPB reserve? American friends - maybe the American Bird Conservancy organisation is your equivalent. What kinds of things do you do there?
  • Maybe you too are looking for dog-free spaces to enjoy the great outdoors, if so, I hear you. Ask at your local reserve to check the dog situation there.
Also, I've been told recently that I appear to do weekends well plus there seems to be lots of exciting things happening near where I live. If either of those things are true - it's only down to:
  • Putting in a little bit of extra effort, when all I often want to do on Saturdays is sit still and maybe, at a push, throw an M&S meal deal in the oven. 
  • Following all my favourite local-ish galleries, museums etc on social media to be in with a chance of spotting their new exhibitions/events etc.
  • Using the planner app on my phone, with reminders, to keep track of key dates. 
And, honestly, there really isn't anything  unique about where we live, if anything, there's a distinct lack of cultural activities to be had in the immediate area; but we're willing to regularly travel anything up to around an hour or so away from home to see the interesting stuff.  

And perhaps where we are particularly fortunate, it's in living somewhere that sits happily within a comfortable half-hour to an hour's drive away from a wide variety of town, country, and coastal locations to choose from for a visit. Turns out it's not all grim 'oop North' you know.  (At this rate my next gig should be with Teesside tourist board!)

Don't forget to check out RSPB Saltholme if you're in the area ... or even if you're an hour away. And if you're  further afield, then I hope you enjoyed walking alongside me on our virtual visit.


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