Mountain landscapes demand our attention, whether viewed from valley level, or at height, our gaze is drawn to the vastness of it all – the crags, the glint of a beck or to distant horizons bathed in the last light of the day. This is “the bigger picture”, but what’s colouring the view, defining those subtle changes in light and texture – it’s often the montane flora, the pixels that colour the moors and mountains, and they’re on your route, if you’ll take a look.
September 2017 edition of Trail magazine does just that, getting down to boot level in The Lake District fells, from a recent walk, when I met up with the Trail Team to take that closer look, boots to the crag, and with a close focus on the plants, ferns and lichens that are at home in these often harsh and challenging environments.
Martindale, near Ullswater, provided the backdrop to our “closer look”, edging around crags and fell grassland, rewarding us with views of Heath Bedstraw, Thyme, Heath Milkwort and a montane specialist, the Parsley Fern, with its two different fronds, on the one plant, found in rocky crevices and colonising scree – a specialist of these mountain ranges and in Snowdonia.
Many lichens cling to the rocks here, and vary by the compass orientation of the rock face, even in a small radius of exposed rock – Stereocaulon-type lichens and the flatter “map” lichens, that may be more familiar to most – all bringing year-round interest and colour to the landscape, and with a firm grip on the crags.
Wet ground can bring interest from the insectivorous plants that make their home there, the sundews and butterworts – sustaining a life on impoverished soils, supplementing their nutrient intake with insects caught on the glistening, sticky parts of the plant – often vulnerable habitats, sensitive to drying or erosion and wash-out.
Saxifrages provide particular interest, tenacious graspers of the narrowest opportunity to root on the rock – their name, from the Latin, for stone/rock breaker – from the Rue-leaved Saxifrage encountered on the dale’s drystone walls, to the Mossy and Starry Saxifrages of exposed crags and Lakeland edges, thriving – where we need to toil to keep our grip – and often in flower, with a delicateness that belies their montane credentials.
So, enjoy the mountains, their grandeur, height, their wildness, but keep an eye to your route, at boot level, and add a new dimension to those days at altitude, rooting new memories from the flora that colours our montane landscapes.
Life at boot level is a feature in Trail magazine – September 2017 edition:
(Phil also currently has images of montane flora, observations and his writing, featured in Keswick Museum & Terry Abraham’s “Life of a Mountain – Blencathra” Exhibition, which runs into early New Year 2018).