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Walking is the new wonder drug. Guess what, you don’t even need Lycra. Whilst at the Otter, why not take part in a short guided ramble around Hadrian’s Wall path.

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With the sun out it brought to mind the recent picnic we enjoyed at Kirklinton House in Kirklinton. It was so easy to get ready local sliced cold meats from Mulholland and Mrs Mulholland does fabulous home baked quiches too.

Mostly when the sun is out I prefer to take advantage of it, one of my and Leah's favourite is Lanercost Tea Room, great to enjoy tea on the terrace with Leah temporarily on a lead and then a walk down to Hadrian's Wall to work it off. Perfect combination. Try it yourself.

 

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The best part of being here at the Otter is seeing our guests enjoy their special moments. This is one of the recent picture shared on our Facebook page of a special anniversary.

I'm guessing that this must be Fieldfare lodge. I could be wrong.

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We've feeling a little flushed with success at the number of flowering bluebells, they are more abundant than ever, at least around the Tranquil Otter.

We think we know why. Nick has been managing our woodlands around the Lough with a view to improving the diversity of wildlife and has been greatly helped by The Forestry Commission and Natural England. With their help we've been thinning the wood in places, coppicing some trees, felling others and creating a few  small clearings. Letting light in at selected area is the reason why.

The native variety of bluebell flower is always blue, the flowers tends to be on one side of the plant stem and the top mostly droops in the direction of the flowers. The varieties that come in a number of colours including blue, pink and white are often from mainland Europe and tend to have flowers all around the stem. Native Bluebells have a distinctive, sweetish scent, other varieties have barely any scent at all.

A quick note, in case, like me, you don’t know what coppicing means, it involves cutting a tree low and causing it to sprout long shoots. In former times theses long shoots were used for fencing and charcoal.

Those of you who follow us on Facebook may have seen our posts about our two ewes, Thelma and Louise. We now have three delightful lambs bouncing about our field.

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Blackcap

Winter’s mantle is mostly brushed off with just one pair of teal and Gadwall on the lake. The breeding season has started with one swan’s nest in visible. Woodland birds are proclaiming their territory.

Good year for blackcap, 11 males singing this year, 7 heard this time last year and 3 the year before. Wrens, willow warblers and chiffchaff are all adding their voices to the chorus and are about the same number as last year. The great spotted woodpeckers seem to be increasing, although it’s hard to tell as they keep moving around.

The full species list from RSPB's Bird Count at @ The Lough on 19th April 2014, are you ready?

Blackbird, Blackcap, Blue tit, Bullfinch, Buzzard, Carrion crow, Chaffinch, Chiffchaff, Coal tit, Coot, Dunnock, Gadwall, Goldcrest, Goldfinch, Great spotted woodpecker, Great tit, Jackdaw, Jay, Lesser redpoll, Little grebe, Long-tailed tit, Mallard, Moorhen, Mute swan, Nuthatch, Reed bunting, Robin, Starling, Stock dove, Teal, Treecreeper, Willow warbler, Woodpigeon, Wren.

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jay.jpg

The mild winter in Cumbria and at The Lough seems to have benefited our local wildlife and in particular our feathered friends!

It’s quite incredible just how many different types of bird can be seen both on The Lough itself and in the surrounding woodland. In addition to the usual residents such as blackbirds, blue tits and bullfinches, we've recently also spotted two greylags, a great spotted woodpecker and even a jay!

Jays don’t always get a good press, often down to their noisy, chattering call, and in fact, they were once persecuted by gamekeepers as they would take the eggs and young of game birds, but here at the Tranquil Otter, we love them! Their beautiful pinkish brown colour with striking blue flashes through their wings certainly light up in the shafts of sunlight that penetrate the wood.

Interestingly, Jays were also hunted down by fishermen who prized their bright coloured feathers for fly fishing.

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Massive congratulations to Liz Whitehouse who won one of our special gift hampers last month.

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Through the colder winter months, when I would sit inside of an evening and watch Leah curled up on her blanket in her favourite spot by the door, I used to think ‘A Dog’s Life’ maybe wasn’t that bad.

Now that we’ve been spending more and more time sitting outside, enjoying watching nature unfold in front of us and, I don’t know if it’s the same where you are, but the bird life this early summer has been just spectacular.

The reed buntings in particular seem to be enjoying the fabulous weather as much as we are, and when I sit quietly, watching them flitting away around the lough, tending their nests and keeping the midges down, I’m start thinking that ’A Bird’s Life’ may not actually be so bad!

I don’t know about you but I just love the small birds, sparrows used to be my favourite, and I simply adored my sparrow etching by Melanie Geomans (above left) so much so that we had her create an etching of the reed bunting for Tranquil Otter guests to buy and enjoy at home. I think Melanie has captured this beautiful little bird perfectly, which can’t be easy given how rarely they stay still!

Melanie etches onto zinc using a wide range of techniques including hardground, aquatint, sugarlift, In hardground etching, a metal plate is covered with a waxy ground. The artist draws through the ground with a point, revealing the bare metal. The plate is immersed in acid, which eats into the metal where it is exposed by the drawing. These marks hold ink, which is printed onto paper in a heavy rolling press.

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Leah, the resident pooch, is friendly no doubt. She also happens to be persuasive too. They say that collies are clever, in terms of Leah this is an understatment. If you do happen to have a visit from Leah, or are escourted by her around the lake, please resist the temptaion to feed her.

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The woodlands are abundant with birds singing and chasing around. It's lovely to walk through them and try to work out birds from their song. I only know "teacher, teacher" and can't remember which bird matches this song. Of course I recongnise the drumming of the Great spotted woodpeckers.

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Nothing like a walk on the fells on a Sunday. Nick decided on a circular route, a pub and dog - must have, wife and kids - nice to have.

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Now that we have two pretty little kids in the woods, Hazel and Bianca, there is even more reason for our two boys to be out in the woods and more importantly off their xbox.

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The ultimate mini retreat, two days of total tranquillity, is surprisingly affordable. Take off from the nearest mainline station close to home, and hey presto you’re in your lovely lodge @ the Otter.

When Edward I died on Burgh Marsh in the summer of 1307 his body was laid out in the local church at Burgh by Sands and for ten days this tiny Cumbrian village had the eyes of Britain upon it.

 

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Book a three-night stay at the Tranquil Otter, 5 star lodges overlooking the lake, to arrive on Jan 24 and you could win a Burns Night dinner for two in the beautiful surroundings of Tullie House.

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I love that feeling of waking in the mornings and knowing that for a change I'm not the first one up! I admit I'm an early riser and enjoy it, but it can be a bit lonely in the winter months waiting and hoping - usually in vain - for one of my brood to bring me a cup of tea while I'm still tucked up in bed.

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Even though the rest of the Country is deep in snow, the sun is shining in Cumbria and I feel spring in the air. Each new day is a little longer than the last with fewer sightings of the Christmas Robin.

Robin

Snow drops and crocus are pushing through around the Tranquil Otter and birds are starting their territorial actions with the Great tit calling “teacher, teacher, teacher”. Yes it really does say teacher – listen for yourself on the RSPB website. The great spotted woodpecker has also started its drumming of trees getting ready. To me all these birds have such big personalities and yet when you see them with the naked eye they are so tiny, I feel like commanding them to sit still so that I can take a look and work them out. Never mind with a bit of patience and food bribery it is possible to sit and wait for the birds to appear, either in the bird hide or the deck of each lodge.

If you know your birds then why not see which of the following you can spot, blue tit, coal tit, nuthatch, blackbird, chaffinch, woodpecker, wren, long-tailed tut, treecreeper, corvids and Jay. Let us know how you get on.

In terms of waterfowl, as opposed to the woodland birds, we have been so lucky with Mute Swans this year, one of the resident pair had 8 cygnets in 2011 and they all survived – unlike the three geese we were hoping to keep. Recently we counted 21 adult Mute Swans and 8 cygnets. We also had a passing visit from 4 whooper swans, perhaps they were checking out the neighbourhood.

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Gretna Green has always been a favourite location amongst couples and we recently received an invite to eat out at the town’s beautiful Smiths Hotel.

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I am feeling like one of our mute swans at the moment.  I think I’m still managing to seem serene and under control but, beneath the surface, I am paddling like mad.

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The nights are drawing in fast and the mornings are dark too but the Lough at The Tranquil Otter is bustling with winter visitors – not only our guests in the lodges but also plenty of birds out on the lake including mute swan, little grebe, wigeon and moorhen.  I love waking up to all the bustle and activity in the summer months but there’s something intriguing about a view gradually emerging on a winter morning too.