All Fools’ Day, Sunday 1st April – Barnsley Canal – The sky is clear and, although the sun has yet to appear over the hills, it promises to be a fine day. Chiffchaffs, Dunnocks, Song Thrushes and Great Tits are all greeting the dawn. Wood Pigeons are clattering out of their roosts in Hawthorn bushes. A Grey Heron flies over Willowbank, drifting slightly westwards in the wind. A pair of Tufted Duck are on the canal. I do not know if they are looking for a nesting site, but they are too flighty for this stretch of water where they will be frequently disturbed. After moving down the canal once on my approach, they fly up and off over the Hawthorn hedge. Looking back over the valley after climbing the hill, there are a distinct greening of the area or in the case of one field, yellow-greening as the oil rape crop starts flowering. By the railway, a pair of male Chaffinches are going hammer and tongs! Feathers fly as they battle, banging into the fence and passing me by inches without apparently noticing my presence. In the dank path below Greenfoot Lane School, Dog Mercury is displaying its tiny green flowers and the leaves of umbellifers cover the ground. Cleavers are also making an appearance.
Monday 2nd April – West Bretton Woods – Down the track and then through a gate into Brick Yard Plantation – a Nature Reserve maintained by the Wakefield Nature Trust on land donated by a local timber merchant, Job Earnshaw and Son. A path leads down beside a small meadow and then into the woods. The land drops away down a steep bank, but I remain at the top. Chiffchaffs are singing loudly. A Song Thrush repeats every phrase of his song. Great Tits and Blue Tits are active. There is the briefest glimpse of a Goldcrest. A Great Spotted Woodpecker is seeking food in the topmost branches. Back along the track, Robins are singing. Over at the pond a pair of Mallard fly off. A Chaffinch’s white wing bar flashes brightly in the morning sun as it crosses high over the water.
Wednesday 4th April – West Bretton Woods – It is a glorious Spring morning. Chiffchaffs and Robins are in full flow. A Grey Squirrel is running along a dry stone wall next the a field. A male Chaffinch bursts into song.
Grange Moor – Across the roundabout where the Barnsley-Coopers Bridge and Wakefield-Huddersfield roads cross. The road skirts the former pit village of Grange Moor and heads north-west. Past the quarry entrance and there is a gateway with a locked and rusted gate across a road. I park here and head through a gap in the gate and up the hill to The Temple – a folly. It is a square building with large arches on each side. To the north there is a lower entrance. Inside the folly is a drop into a circular pit with the north-side entrance. Four small alcoves are set in the corner of the structure. The upper (or ground floor from three sides) floor was apparently present in the 1950s but has now fallen. Like the floor below there are alcoves between the open arches. The folly was built in the grounds of Whitley Hall, possibly as a summer house, at the end of The Terrace Walk which overlooked the drive from the road to the Hall. The Terrace Walk was known for its fine displays of rhododendrons. The Temple is locally called Black Dick’s Tower after Sir Richard Beaumont, called “Black Dick of the North” by James I. However, Black Dick was born in 1574 and died in 1631, long before the erection of the folly. The original Hall was built in 1560 with a new frontage between the wings being built in 1704 forming a quadrangle within. Charles Sutcliffe bought it in 1924 and it was sold for demolition in 1950 when open cast mining started. The Temple is the only remaining part of the Hall. The views over Huddersfield and Mirfield are magnificent. Almondbury Hill stands like an island in the middle ground with a backdrop of the moors beyond. A Green Woodpecker crosses the open ground between woodland. By the entrance gate is a strange stone wall with a small entrance into what looks like was once a stile, but now is blocked by a stone wall.
Huddersfield – I have found a reference to Huddersfield Hill House, possibly a timbered fortified house, which once stood in Fartown. It takes a few moments to orientate myself from the OS map, but I head up Miln Street near where the building is said to have stood. However, the density of old mills, now having other uses, soon makes it clear there are no remains to be seen. I head up some steps into a small street with houses curving round a bend into Kings Cliffe Road. There is a fine Methodist Chapel but as I take a photograph a voice behind me says “It’s only a building!” An old chap in a wheelchair sits in his doorway. “Look at the mess it is, all the money they have spent!” he states in a Caribbean patois. He points to where a window has been replaced by a peeling door high on the façade. It does seem disappointing that such a tacky repair has been made to so fine a Victorian building. We discuss Dill the Dog for a few moments before I make my way. I go back down to Miln Street. There is a small stream that runs in a channel over a wall. There are some fine Victorian houses just down the road, on the site of Bay Hall. Opposite, Bay Hall Common Road contains the Armitage Arms, a three storey late Victorian public house, opposite Bay Hall Mill.
Elland – I have not visited Elland, between Huddersfield and Halifax, for some years. Down past the Co-op, which looks like a modern stone built store but actually dates from 1870. I head down the hill towards the River Calder. A fine building has a double entrance with a balcony over, tall towers like pepper pots stand either side of the entrances. It would seem ecclesiastical in some way, but there is no indication on the blue fencing in front of the building. Nearby, on the other side of the road is the back way into the parish church. Gravestones lay in the grass. It would seem that assuming one lived through early childhood, and clearly many did not, and then survived one’s early twenties, one could hope to live into one’s late sixties and seventies. Over on the opposite side of the valley carved by the River Calder is a great mill I last saw with a burnt out roof and looking very derelict. It has now been refurbished into luxury apartments. At the bottom of the hill, facing the river bridge, is the Britannia Buildings with a magnificent façade of four marble columns by the entrance, a pair of flat marble columns at the edge of the façade with an intricate carved relief in-between. Above the entrance is a decorated frieze and pediment. On the top is a large statue of Britannia with a metal trident. The building was built in the late 19th century and was the Huddersfield and Halifax Bank. It has been refurbished by Fluid Solutions, a graphic design company. The River Calder looks much as always with the small islets in the middle of the water. A Grey Wagtail flies downstream. Back up the hill, past Dobson’s Sweets, a famous sweet maker to the Church of St Mary the Virgin. The paving stones outside the entrance are old gravestones – the oldest “holds the body of Richard Denton of Jagger Green who died the 27th April 1689 aged 69”, along with many relatives who passed away in the following years. Other stones and tombs state the buried are “awaiting Resurrection Day”. Further towards the centre of the town, where I purchase a pork pie which I eat sitting on a wall outside the Council Offices where the old stocks reside, with a stone lower block with semi-circular spaces for the legs.
Thursday 5th April – Home – Another glorious day. A gentle wind and warm sunshine quickly dries a line full of washing. A Greenfinch is wheezing his song in the Flowering Cherry. Daffodils and tulips create a wash of colour. A Grey Heron flaps lazily overhead. Dill the Dog “chases” a Wood Pigeon which has taken a little too much of a liberty with the old girl. The “chase” is a gentle gallop in the general direction, but she looks pleased to have seen off the interloper. A Coal Tit sits in the tree and preens before flying over to the feeder and making off with a seed. A Sparrowhawk glides through. Tadpoles are hatching from the spawn.
Good Friday 6th April – Tenbury Wells – A small market town on the Worcestershire-Shropshire border. The high street is approached via a fine arched bridge over the River Teme. Most shops are open, which is surprising as it is technically a holiday. There is a small “beach” beside the bridge made of river gravel. Dill the Dog decides to have a paddle but I call her back before she goes in too far. On the upstream side, a large tree has floated downstream and lodged against the bridge. With the water so low, it is odd that the authorities have not taken the opportunity to saw it up and remove it as it is creating a considerable obstruction. The lovely old Council Offices are up for sale. A riverside walk leads off beside them. At the back there is a lawn thickly spread with Primroses and a single, large clump of Grape Hyacinth. We sit beside a large tree and watch the Mallard and pigeons. Rubbish in the branches of trees growing on the bank side are evidence of how high the river can rise, at least ten feet higher than present. Back down the high street and along a twitten to the Church of St Mary. We do not linger but head on down to the market place where a splendid circular market hall houses a cheap food and a cheap garden ware stall. We head back towards the high street and find a butcher selling pork pies. So we treat ourselves and sit under a spreading Cypress near The Crow inn and opposite the Pump House. This is an unusual building designed by James Cranston in the “Chinese Gothic” style and is one of the earliest examples of a prefabricated building; it was made in Birmingham of a prefabricated iron framework, and reassembled in Tenbury. It pumped water from an unusually saline source for a spa from the 1840s onwards.
Newnham Bridge – A small village a few miles from Tenbury where we stay at the Talbot Inn. A splendid Victorian inn on a road junction. The road junction has changed at some point. Now the right of way is the Worcester to Leominster (and thence, Wales) road with the Birmingham road joining it, but it seems clear from road numbers and traffic flow that the Birmingham road was once the main route. The hotel has already gone “smoke free”, which is wonderful and not only is there an excellent pint of mild on offer, it is only £1 a pint! There is also a lovely pub dog – Max. We take a mid session break with a walk up Mill Lane. A barn has numerous ventilation spaces in its walls by means of gaps in the brickwork. The lane-side bank has Primroses, Dog Violets, Anemones and Celandines in flower. Chaffinches and Blackbirds are in song.
Saturday 7th April – Newnham Bridge – A morning walk. There is little access to the River Teme which flows round under the road opposite the Talbot. There has been a light frost overnight which will quickly disappear in the morning sun. I head up into the outskirts of the village. Song Thrushes, Dunnocks, Blackbirds and Robins are all greeting the dawn. The now closed railway runs under the road and into a new housing development.
Nunney, Somerset – We head down to Pete and Jo’s via Malvern, where we pause for another reconnoitre as a possible place to live. By early afternoon the sun is hot in a clear blue sky. We sit in the garden with cold beers.
Easter Sunday 8th April – Nunney – Another beautiful day. Sitting in the garden listening to the cooing of Wood Pigeons, often followed by the clap of their wings are they launch up into the air before soaring down in a glide. Collared Doves make a more strangulated coo. One lands on the aerial and is joined by a Starling which starts chattering in short bursts, accompanying each outburst with a shudder of its outstretched wings. The Collared Dove seems unimpressed. There is a clap of wings behind me and I move gently around the mound of rockery and a tall cypress to see a Red-legged Partridge by the garden wall. It notices me a hops over the wall and is gone. Two Common Buzzards are circling high above the field. Below, a Mistle Thrush sits in a tall Ash. A Great Tit starts his rusty wheel song. A Greenfinch joins in. The church bells start ringing. Later, Jemima wins her class in the Easter Bonnet competition – the first time after eight years of trying. Zebedee the Springer Spaniel does not win (although most agree his hat is the best!) Throughout the afternoon the sun shines warmly. Common Buzzards continue to circle effortlessly in the cobalt sky. I comment that I am surprised there are no Swallows and a few minutes later a pair obligingly sweep across the field. The umbrella is retrieved from the garden shed and placed in the hole in the table. On opening a pair of huge Garden Spiders are disturbed. Peter bravely removes them, whilst wearing thick gardening gloves – I make myself scarce.
Easter Bank Holiday Monday 9th April – Nunney – Although the morning is grey, the dawn chorus seems even more varied and pronounced. Cooing from Wood Pigeons and Collared Doves, a high pitched vignette from Dunnocks, a powerful directness from a Wren, coarse cawing from Rooks and the gentle wheezing of Greenfinches. Bees are visiting the Flowering Currant. Pied Wagtails pause momentarily on the aerial before bobbing off. Four Dunnocks are in a bush with much chasing and wing flicking. A Common Pheasant croaks.
Mells – The annual Daffodil Fair is underway, although most daffodils have bloomed and faded now. There are even more stalls although the variety has not changed much – much more hand-made jewellery! Rob and Linda have their plant stall and also is selling brightly coloured shopping bags their daughter has brought back from India. Nothing has changed at the beer tent, although the cider runs out and also, shortly after, the beer! Fortunately, I have had sufficient.
Thursday 12th April – Dodworth – I plod up the huge old waste stack above the industrial estate on the former Dodworth Colliery site. It is a warm morning and Dill the Dog is panting noisily and walking even slower than me. From the top there are panoramic views across South and into East Yorkshire, but today there is already a haze which restricts the clarity and distance. A lone Lapwing is standing in a sheep meadow to the north. Several Sky Larks rise up into the sky and some Rooks flap off over the young trees that surround the summit. Many leaves of trefoils and other members of the pea family are on the already hard-baked clay soil. All the bushes and trees have leaves bursting and the Blackthorn is still in flower.
Friday 13th April – Fleets Dam – A very heavy mist has fallen overnight. The river is very low after a sustained dry period. Chiffchaffs seem more numerous than ever. A Grey Heron flaps out of the white veil covering the lake and then turns and vanishes with a croak.
Barnsley Town – I wander into town for a haircut and a bit of shopping. The fish market has no huss (dogfish) for sale yet does have Nile Perch! Town End is a huge building site where the “Towngate Plaza” – a hotel, office and retail complex is being erected. Earth diggers and giant drills go down through the clay coloured soil and what looks like thin coal seams. The great glass edifice of the new Westgate Council offices has many windows covered with makeshift curtains as workers cannot see their computer screens because of the glare from the sun. The natural stone around here is a lovely pale brown-yellow sandstone yet it is hardly ever seen in new building in the town centre – just steel and glass edifices or, as in the case of the new bus station, plywood painted garish colours. I head down Victoria Crescent. Chiffchaffs sing in the trees on the steep embankment above the railway. A Robin joins them as does a warbler. It takes a couple of weeks of warbler song to get my “ear in” each year and this one is not helping as it is mainly muttering with a quick blast of song. Either Garden Warbler or Blackcap and as it seems to be skulking in the middle of a bush I suspect the former. In the late afternoon I head down Eldon Street North to the Keel, my Friday watering hole. There is a little row of terraced houses in Spa Well Cottages. There were several wells in Barnsley that produced spa water, but I do not know the history of this one.
Monday 16th April – Tankersley – A track runs down near the road that links the M1 with the A629 Huddersfield and Manchester road. As I have commented before, there are excellent numbers of Chiffchaffs this year and the woods here are no different. Bluebells have flowered. At the bottom of the lane is New Biggin Reservoir, which is surrounded by anglers. Back up the lane, a path leads off up beside a large slag heap from the old Bell Pits that operated here from the 16th century. A rabbit darts across the path and is off into the undergrowth. The path emerges into the car park of the golf club. Just by the entrance is the capping stone of a pit shaft. A Yellowhammer flies into a small patch of gorse with a beakful of nesting materials. Hedge Mustard, White Dead Nettle and Forget-me-nots are all in flower.
Tuesday 17th April – Woolley – A path leads down from the Woolley Edge road out of Mapplewell. Great Tits and Robins are in song. Fine old Oaks, thick trunks and twisted branches but limited height are along the path edge above a field of grass, called Windhill Bare. On the other side, a grain crop is growing well. A cool north-westerly wind keeps the temperature down despite the bright sun. The path is now lined by a mixed hedge containing Hawthorns and Apples, the latter in blossom. Inevitably, as I approach Windhill Wood there are Chiffchaffs calling. Orange Tip butterflies flit along the edge of the wood. The barely discernible remains of a wall, which runs along the edge of Husband Wood, disappears into the undergrowth. There is a clump of Wood Sorrel by the path; large purple tinged flowers. Above is the delicate green-brown of the Chiffchaff that is regaling me so consistently. There is a Blackcap nearby. The path winds through the wood towards the edge of what was the extensive Woolley Pit. There is now a large housing development being constructed here. I traverse the site and out into Woolley Colliery village, just a few terraces on the edge of Darton. Woolley is an old name from the Domesday term Wiluelai which meant “a forest glade frequented by wolves”. Up past the end of the terraces and back up the hill. The track passes a small paddock which contains a pair of Llamas which look down their noses at us – Dill the Dog seems fascinated. Back into Windhill Wood where old stone gate posts stand at the edge of the paths, silent vigils for past times. Blue and Coal Tits are active. Speckled Wood butterflies sunbathe in glades then flitter up into the air together and off through the woods. A tall Beech has initials carved into its bark up to twenty feet or more above the ground. The higher the carving the more it has expanded in the bark. The track emerges out into a Hawthorn lined path through the fields. There is another large housing development on the hillside. Below the M1 motorway is crawling slowly northwards, as it has been doing for over an hour now. Gritstone bedrock emerges through the path, sparkling with tiny crystals of quartz.
Thursday 19th April – Penistone – There is a fun fair on the car park in Penistone. Across past the skateboard park and along the old railway line. Red Campion is flowering, a delightful pink flower. A strong wind blows, which may account for the lack of bird song. The delicate white flowers of Stitchwort, with yellow stamens, shine out from the rapidly growing grasses at the edge of the track-bed. Stitchwort also rejoices in the names Adders’ Meat and Queen Anne’s Lace. The line goes into a cutting which is protected from the wind. The first Willow Warbler of the year for me is singing. A Great Tit is working through the branches seeking food. Up on the field above, a new extension to the cemetery has been laid out.
Saturday 21st April – Leominster – We spend the late morning wandering around the town centre. A bustling market town despite there being no market today. We have a pork pie lunch beside the Kenwater branch of the River Lugg. Sand Martins are scything down along the river, often in pairs, rising back up across the green opposite or the car park behind us, making their little twitterings. Just upstream is a tall retaining wall holding the garden of the riverside dwelling. In the wall are drainage holes. Martins are investigating these as possible nesting tunnels. Orange Tips flit along opposite bank. We are viewing a cottage on the outskirts of the town. We wander up the public footpath that runs beside the garden hedge. On the other side of the path is a field of Broad Bean plants, just a couple of inches high. Beyond the garden limits is a field of clover. A Springer Spaniel bounds across the field some hundred yards or so to say hello – a quick lick and jump and then back off to his mistress.
Sunday 22nd April – Ludlow – We stayed in Ludlow overnight. In the morning I head off to Whitcliffe Common, which stands over the River Teme. The trees are in fresh leaf, verdant and vigorous in the morning sun. The path drops down past the layers of Silurian limestone emerging from the rock-face. A pair of tiny ducklings seem to have got left behind and are paddling like clockwork balls of fluff for the opposite bank. Ransoms are in flower – ragged white blossoms above the pungent green leaves. The river curves gently to pass under the gentle arches of Dinham Bridge. A pair of Mallard are sitting on the parapet of the bridge and seem disinclined to move for anyone. A path leads back up the hillside. From high above the river I hear a large splash below. I only see some ripples. Then another and this time I espy a black Labrador happily retrieving a large stick for the river. Across the valley, the town rises up to the hill top where St Laurence’s Parish Church, one of the largest in the country, rings out the bells for eight o’clock.
When Ludlow streets are still
And Ludlow bells are calling
To farm and lane and mill.
A E Housman
Wednesday 25th April – Fleets Dam – Behind the water control shed by the weir is a small sun trap with various plants growing beside the path including Giant Hogweed. The area is full of large black flies – in the air and all over the leaves. Ransoms is in flower. On the lake a pair of Great Crested Grebe are displaying to each other – facing each other, stretching their necks and shaking their heads from side to side. Black-headed Gulls are circling the water, taking time out from their food search to hassle any Grey Heron that flies across the lake. Several Terns are also searching the water. Their short squawks contrast with the more sustained scream of the gulls and the guttural bark of the herons. Clouds sweep across the sky but do not obscure the sun for more than a few moments.
Thursday 26th April – Wombwell Ings – It is overcast although there are patches of blue sky peeking through. Blackcap song rings out from the bushes alongside the River Dearne. Out on the rough meadow there are a pair of Canada Geese and another of Greylags. Lapwings are chasing Jackdaws. Although the ings look quiet and peaceful, the area is full of activity. Good numbers of wildfowl are feeding – several pairs of Gadwall, Mallard, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Coot and Moorhen. Black-headed Gulls are forever on the outlook for a bit of dropped food they can pirate. Swallows swoop low over the water; they are well provided for as there are clouds of gnats making the air shimmer. Sky Larks are singing continuously from on high. A Redshank pecks at the mud. Several Jackdaws fly over the river with beakfuls of nesting material. A Meadow Pipits blends in well with the dry, horse hoof churned mud. Reed Buntings feed on last year’s Bulrush heads by Gypsy Pond.
Friday 27th April – Silkstone Fall – The woods are cool. Song Thrush and Chiffchaff song rings out loudly. The slope falls away steeply into a deep vale between the path and the road. No-one ventures down there. The Bluebells are chunks of sapphire laying on a green baize. A Tawny Owl flies silently up the vale and into the trees. Across the leaf-litter strewn slope, Grey Squirrels dash here and there and then up trees. Sadly, Dill the Dog can no longer see them and her days of futile chases are past.
Monday 30th April – Fleets Dam – I am walking slowly and slightly gingerly after having cracked a rib a week ago. I have been told I should do effectively nothing, which is leaving me a bit bored to say the least. Up across the wasteland that was landscaped several years ago, for football pitches I understood. But it stays little strewn and empty. A track leads down another piece of rough pasture, with a damp area beside the roadway into the lake. Rushes and willows are growing here. Along the road is a small clump of Oxford Ragwort, with bright yellow flowers, which was introduced into Oxford in 1794. A Whitethroat is singing its scratchy song near the river.
Barnsley Canal – A Kestrel is soaring high above Willowbank. The bird song is vibrant as is the mass of pink blushed white Crab Apple blossom. Hawthorn flowers are just emerging. Moorhen chicks scatter, running in an ungainly, leggy manner across the algae covered canal. Foals are asleep on Willowbank, their mothers standing patiently over them. A Long-tailed Tit dashes hither and thither after insects on the Hawthorn saplings by the water.
Home – The great Horse Chestnut trees beyond the end of the garden are covered in white “candles”. It is good to see House Sparrows back in the garden – these had all but vanished over recent years. The ground is very dry, the ponds water-level dropping and the water butt is greatly depleted. There appears to be no prospect for rain this coming week either.