The Great Tit and the Apple Tree5 minute read

Great Tit

A great tit foraging in a wild apple tree features in this piece of nature writing, which is based on a hike up Scafell Pike in early October. A great tit is a striking little bird that can be seen year-round in the Lake District.

Although this writing can be read as a stand-alone piece, it is a sequel to The Garden Spider: Guardian of a Door to Another Dimension, so you may wish to read that first.

The Great Tit and the Apple Tree

Past an oak I hike on my way to the kingly Scafell Pike, a couple of caramelised leaves conspicuous against the thousands yet to turn.

Closer to the ground blackberries can be found outcompeting the fern. Teamed up with gorse they would be an impenetrable force if it wasn’t for the waymarked footpath.

Feeling a little peckish, I scour the prickly platter of fruit before me in hopes of a scrumptious snack. Unfortunately, the berry buffet boasts fruits of varying degrees of maturity; the black of some has turned to puce and just the slightest touch turns them to mush. Others are as red as a raspberry, their flesh firm, their unblemished immatureness, their immaculate symmetry, and their subtle shine together forming the perfect mimics of a sweet shop’s pick-and-mix lookalikes, although, of course, only with regards to appearance.

Failing to find a berry at that perfect point of plump, juicy, sugar-loaded ripeness, I quickly lose my appetite and so I carry on along the path until I am stopped by a beck. The beck is a good three to four metres broad, its bed full of loose rocks, as is its shore on the other side. I glance up and down the channel in search for an easier crossing, a bridge perhaps, but there is nothing. ‘There’s only one thing for it’, I conclude. I seek out the shallowest section, then, with a slight preparatory bend at the knees, I go for it. Splash. Splash. Clatter. A good old hop, skip and jump gets me successfully to the other side.

I amble awkwardly over the loose, rounded rocks and stones, a terrain studded here and there with small, isolated emergences of heather and harebells, until I am standing by a bend in the beck’s course, a meander. The water here is deeper but just as heavenly, its transparency totally untarnished.

At the bottom of the channel, down past the hypnotic, constantly-moving convolutions of light that infect the water’s surface and body, I can see every detail of every rock, rocks displaying a surprising array of colours⁠—white, grey, blue, purple and orange⁠—and of assorted shapes and sizes.

I rejoin the footpath which takes me to Lingmell Gill, a gill strewn with boulders in its lower quarters, and its narrow riparian zone replete with small trees and shrubs. It is here that my ascent into the fells begins.

Still down at low altitude, a wild apple tree takes command of my attention. The tree is relatively large and undoubtedly elderly, but like most, if not all trees, as tough as an old boot. Like a human arm ripped from its socket and hanging on only by a thread, a dead-looking lower limb barely clings on to the apple tree’s trunk, a huge cavity above the join suggestive of where it once extended from.

Little green apples, some of nature’s very own baubles, are dispersed throughout the crown, and emanating from the dense mass of slender branches and spherical fruits are the fleeting flashes of a great tit’s finery as the bird flitters restlessly during its forever-fervent forage.

The great tit, with its conspicuous combination of colours, is the epitome of ornate, a drop of exotic in an ocean of relative humdrum. A whiter-than-white cheek is made evermore white by the jet-blackness of the head that surrounds it. Just as black as the head is the beard, which advances downward over a breast made brilliant with yellow, and its mantle is silken and finished with olive-green gloss, its interaction with light exquisite. The wings and tail are largely black, but with a strong hint of blue showing unquestionably through.

As soon as the great tit departs, I do too, my route running alongside Lingmell Gill.

As my elevation increases, the number of trees decreases until, eventually, there are none. Behind me, Wastwater dominates the view, a great sparkling expanse sitting in the bottom of Wasdale Valley.

As I toil higher and higher the views become better and better. Soon enough I am level with the monumental tors of Scafell Pike and its very close neighbour Scafell. These colossal outcrops provide the ideal excuse to pause in order to comprehend their sheer size and beauty. Subject to some of England’s harshest conditions, these formations are highly weathered, every surface crisscrossed with cracks and crevices, their faces furrowed with fissures. The eroded rock is visible as scree, blurring the demarcation between craggy outcrop and grassy slope.

I push further and further up Scafell Pike until, at last, I reach the mountain’s mammoth cairn that marks its summit, where any breath I have left is taken away by the unlimited views available in every direction. I don’t know which way or how far I should look! Scotland, Ireland, Wales; they are all discernible through a distant haze. Closer to home, Skiddaw and the rest of the northern fells lying north of Derwent Water catch my eye. Closer still, Great Gable, a giant that I now look down on, grips me with its grooves filled with coral-coloured scree, like red runnels coursing precipitously down its side.

It may have been a tough hike to the top of Scafell Pike, but it was a hike that was certainly well worth it.

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