County next door seems a world apart

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The thing I enjoy most about visiting other parts of the country is discovering wildlife we don’t normally find here in the Borders.

Recently, I spent a couple of days in the Lake District and although it’s still in the Border TV catchment area, there are a few differences in some of the flora and fauna.

The most striking difference I noticed was the lack of birds compared to here. Even butterflies were fewer despite the lovely countryside and wildness of the hills.

I put the lack of birds down to the number of people traipsing across the countryside. The villages were like cities in miniature with cars everywhere and pavements crammed with people.

I spent half an hour in a queue waiting to get off the M6 at Penrith just to get access to the Lakes, such was the volume of traffic. It was nose to tail for four miles, just trying to get into Ambleside.

The country roads were buzzing with vehicles, weaving around cyclists taking their life in their hands on narrow lanes with no verges and drystone walls right up to the carriageway. I wonder if these people have ever heard of the Scottish Borders with their miles of quiet wider roads, beautiful scenery and much cheaper prices.

I digress.

While enjoying the view down Coniston Water, I couldn’t help noticing tall purple flowers growing by a jetty. They looked like drawn-out orchids with much longer spikes of six-petalled flowers.

Later, I looked it up in my flower book and identified it as purple loosestrife.

It flowers between June and August when its nectar becomes a valuable food source for long-tongued insects like bees, moths and butterflies, including Brimstones, Red-tailed Bumblebees and Elephant Hawk-moths.

It is quite scarce in Scotland, but was really abundant here.

Another unfamiliar plant I discovered in great profusion on a roadside verge near our hotel was great burnet.

It was taller than most of the rank grasses and its tight purple pom-pom flower heads were quite unmistakable.

I had only seen it once before near Selkirk, where there was one small colony growing in a similar wayside habitat. It is normally a plant of flood plains where its extensive rhizome root system can survive frequent inundation by water.

Burnet wine was traditionally made from its flower heads. The latin name Sanguis (blood) and sorba (absorb) points to its medicinal use; to staunch the flow of blood, including nosebleeds.

It can also used to treat burns and insect bites and the leaves can be eaten in salads; they taste like cucumber.

On the way home, I came by Newcastleton and I had hardly crossed the Border when the wildlife picked up noticeably.

I stopped to let the dog out and within a few yards I had seen two species of butterfly, a dragonfly, a family of wrens and a buzzard.

Yes, it was good to be back.