Outlook cloudy


FOR no particular reason, this week I thought we would celebrate clouds. We all know the usual formations but I have found a few stills and videos of less common ones.

Lenticular clouds often look like a UFO. They are formed when an obstruction (usually a mountain) gets in the way of airflow creating turbulence and causing air to rise and fall in a wave-like pattern on the leeward side of the mountain. As this air rises and meets a layer of moist air, the air condenses and forms a cloud. Because lenticular clouds are an indication of windy conditions, airline pilots avoid areas where they form, as it might mean a bumpy ride. This cloud was pictured over Palm Springs in California

and this time-lapse video was shot in Yorkshire.

Nacreous clouds are sometimes called mother-of-pearl. They are formed in the stratosphere ten to 20 miles above the earth and seen (rarely) within two hours after sunset or before dawn. Their tiny, uniform ice crystals scatter the light from the sun from just below the horizon and show beautiful iridescent pastel colours.

This picture was taken from Newcastle upon Tyne.

This video was shot in Scandinavia.

Noctilucent clouds are formed even higher in the atmosphere, in the mesosphere, when the necessary water vapour and dust (from volcanoes or tiny meteors) are present. They appear in the summer in far northern and southern latitudes at about the same time as the brightest stars, and often stay visible after dark because they are still reflecting sunlight due to their great height.

This picture was taken in Cheshire.

Benjamin Shaw, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

All I know about this video is that it is from the UK.

This one, from Somerset, has the bonus of a comet.

I love timelapse films, so finally here is one of a thunderstorm cloud apparently struggling to form before suddenly getting the hang of it.

There are many more fascinating cloud formations so I think I will return to this topic some time.

My husband Alan, the world’s No 1 Joni Mitchell fan, reminds me that clouds are of the inspiration for her classic song Both Sides Now, which begins: 

Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere . . .

It was written in 1966 and recorded by Judy Collins, to whom Joni had sung it over the phone. It became a worldwide hit. It also appeared on Joni’s second album Clouds

Last year, at the age of 78, Joni returned from severe illness to make a surprise appearance at the Newport Folk Festival, encouraged by fellow singer Brandi Carlile. Both Sides Now was one of the highlights of her set. Carlile is beside her, trying to control her emotions. And failing.


WALKING beside the Ribble during the summer I often see darting flying insects with dark wings but they never stop still long enough for me to get a picture. A few weeks ago I succeeded at last (though as invariably happens the background leaf is in sharper focus than the subject).

I am pretty sure it is a male Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens), a type of damselfly found along rivers. You can see much better pictures at the British Dragonfly Society here. 


Sheep of the Week

THE Whiteface Dartmoor is one of Britain’s most ancient breeds. It is indigenous to Dartmoor and remains largely restricted to the area. It is well adapted to its upland pastures and moors, being hardy and able to withstand very wet or cold winters.

At one time there were hundreds of thousands of animals, but numbers have declined dramatically as farmers turned to even hardier mountain sheep from the uplands of northern England and Scotland. There are now as few as 2,000 and the breed is on the ‘at risk’ list of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.

You can read more at the Whiteface Dartmoor Sheep Breeders Association website.The Association describes the breed as the original ‘easy-care’ sheep; perfect pure-bred or as an outstanding crossing breed, renowned for exceptional mothering instinct and ease of lambing, produce high quality meat, wool and beautiful long-curled skins.

There aren’t many videos of the breed – this is the best I could find.


Wheels of the Week

Continuing our series on steam locomotives by JOHN ELLWOOD. This is Part Seven; you can read the previous parts by clicking on the numbers: 1,  2,  3,  4,  5, and 6. 

ON August 10, 1968, I visited the newly opened heritage line in the Worth Valley with my friend Mark, who had introduced me to trainspotting almost ten years earlier, and my cousin Greg, who always enjoyed an expedition.

The five-mile line between Keighley and Oxenhope was one of the first to be saved by heroic enthusiasts. Notable amongst them was the local Labour MP Bob Cryer, a sensible Eurosceptic and steam fan.

Our journey to Yorkshire was to coincide with the fateful following day, when the final British Railways-hauled steam train took the so-called ‘Fifteen Guinea Special’ from Liverpool to Carlisle. I remember an uncomfortable night in a field and a long wait to watch the Britannia Class Pacific 70013 Oliver Cromwell fly past somewhere near Hellifield.

At a time when British Railways was desperate to kowtow to Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s ‘white heat of technology’ nonsense (the 1960s equivalent of Net Zero) a steam ban on their rails came into force on August 12, 1968.

In the three or four years before the ban steam enthusiasts witnessed closing depots, closed lines and a rapidly decreasing number of mostly dirty engines. An air of despondency was coupled with what seems to be management and political indifference. The Labour Party like us to forget that they were enthusiastic supporters of Beeching’s infamous reorganisation report (but only after they had won the 1964 election). That report, The Reshaping of British Railways, was commissioned by Transport Secretary Ernest Marples at the behest of Tory PM Harold Macmillan. Marples, who had very strong connections to the road building industry (see more details here), seemingly had a strong vested interest in the report. Beeching, who had no previous involvement with the rail industry, was criticised for the conduct of his research and the short-sightedness of his proposals. (Incidentally, it does annoy me when people say ‘Beeching closes . . .’ because all closures were subject to parliamentary approval.)

Fleetwood sheds closed in 1966. On my rare visits in 1965, I encountered the depressing sight of the scrap line where redundant engines, some less than 15 years old, awaited disposal. 

By 1970, Fleetwood had lost both its magnificent main station and nearby Wyre Dock.

The outlook for steam enthusiasts was bleak. The steam ban appeared to be permanent and the number of locomotives earmarked for the national collection was woefully inadequate with huge gaps in the representation of certain types of engine.

Fortunately, private enterprise, bloody mindedness and dedication came to the rescue.

The photographs shown were taken by my good friend and fellow steam enthusiast Howard Leach.

Our semi-autobiographical experiences of trainspotting are recorded in Steam Dreams, available from Amazon Kindle.

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