Young Peregrine fledgling in flight, Malham

It’s just after 5 am when I arrive and this is not how it was supposed to be. The Met Office app has failed me, again. Not right this minute, no, right this minute the app is quite accurate, but at 11 pm last night the app told me I’d be bathed in golden sunlight. Had I known Malham Cove would be enveloped by cloud and drizzle, I would have made a bigger flask of tea!

 

My disappointment in the weather quickly disappears though as I notice a familiar silhouette overhead. I’m not the only one to notice the stealthy shadow, it is instantly greeted by the haunting cries of four peregrine falcon fledglings. The visibility is still very poor when I reach the top, a wash of indistinguishable grey surrounds, but today is Summer Solstice, so I’ve got time on my side. 

 

Much of the morning remains dull and damp, dank. Each vague promise of blue on the horizon disappears as quickly as it appears. Then, from nowhere a sudden, strong breeze arrives and everything kicks off. The sun breaks through. The peregrines spring into action!

Young Peregrine fledgling in flight with prey at Malham Cove

In the gusts of air swirling above the cove the young fledglings tussle and lock talons. Playing, training, honing; beginning a journey that will turn them into a 200mph deadly missile.

 

Although I came to Malham with these spectacular birds in the back of my mind, my principal purpose is to finalise the route of a photo walk I’ll be leading in the summer. However, now I’m here, the peregrines are well and truly at the forefront of my mind and finalising the route has drifted into the distant back corridors of my brain! I snap myself from my trance and just as I manage to tear myself away from the beguiling aerial displays I remember that I have my 11am appointment. I’m nowhere near finalising the route but it’s the longest day… Maybe I could have my meeting, do some work, get the kids fed and ready for bed, get back out and sort the walk before it gets dark? Right? 

 

As I race down the steps a rusty-red flash catches my eye. It is one of the most striking birds of the British summer, Redstarts.  A male, a female and at least two young flits between limestone, fence and copse. By now I’m already pushing my luck but I can’t resist this heartwarming encounter. I watch them for as long as I dare and then take my chances with the roads. 

Male Redstart

It’s 8 pm by the time I return to Malham and the golden light that was promised at 5 am has arrived. The wind has dropped and it is the most pleasant of summer evenings. Learning from this morning’s mistake I decide to finalise the route first and finish with the peregrines (wrench though it is!). As I follow the clear, bubbling waters of Gordale Beck a stillness descends on me, if you could bottle this you’d be an overnight billionaire. 

 

The tranquillity is briefly broken as two oystercatchers pierce the air with their head-splitting calls. Understandably disturbed, two curlew parachute overhead and let their unique gurgle rip over the surrounding fields. The sense of peace is overtaken by a surge of joy. My enthusiasm makes my stride too bold, I lose sync with my environment and I see the barn owl too late as it takes flight to a nearby refuge. 

 

I do not know what makes three generations (grandmother, mother and granddaughter –  I presume) take selfies with their bums and feet in the air and their heads on the grass, but I suspect the answer lies with the upended bottle of prosecco. I make a point of noisily operating the kissing gate they awkwardly arch behind and walk on until the giggles fade into the distance.

 

Although the sun is remarkably high for this time of the evening, the cove has fallen into shadow. Only the odd shaft of light breaks through, spotlighting a tree here, highlighting a wall there. A fox makes its way down a distant slope and a stillness descends for a final time. Above the mobile reception dead zone that occupies a large area below the cove, my phone suddenly erupts with emails and messages. One message invites me to a local beer garden. I put the phone back in my pocket and enjoy the last moments of the longest day, safe in the knowledge that there is not a performance enhancing, mind-altering substance that could make this moment any better.