All Fools Day, Tuesday 1st April – Deepcar – April arrives exactly as it should, sunshine and showers – and a rather strong wind. From Station Road I head up a steep slope towards the end of Wharncliffe. Just over the top of the slope is the stone for which I have searched before – it is easier to find without the summer leaf cover. On the stone there is a plaque that states “To the left of this stone is a cliff-top site overlooking the confluence of the Don and Little Don rivers, which was once home to Mesolithic hunter-gatherer peoples pre-5000BC. The area was excavated and recorded in 1962.” This is one of the oldest sites in Britain where there is evidence of permanent human occupation and prior to its discovery it was generally thought that humans at that time moved from one temporary camp to another. The flints found here are now designated the “Deepcar” type. The site is very overgrown, it has been cleared several years ago, but numerous shoots have grown up some six feet from the stumps. From here I cross the valley in search of the Dragon’s Well on Allman Well Hill. This is two different names for the same well. A footpath crosses a golf course on Townend Common towards Allman Well Hill. A large stone sits (or outcrops) on the course. It is said that three stones lie down the common, dropped by the Dragon of Wantley when he flew from the Dragon’s Cave below Wharncliffe Crags to the well to drink. I only find this one. The path up through the heather is steep with many deep gorges running into the hill, which was quarried extensively. The path runs all round the back of the quarry giving magnificent views in all directions. Round the back of the quarry, Meadow Pipits flit across the heather. Across the hillside sits the village of Bolsterstones and below are the choppy waters of Broomhead Reservoir. The wind is very strong now. Back round the north side of the quarry I find a golf teeing off spot called “The Dragon’s Well”, but the exact site of the well eludes me (although I have heard that it is lost altogether). I head back along a track to the interior of the quarry which is a mess with much dumping of rubbish although at least it is sheltered from the wind. I head back and into the raw elements. It starts to rain then pelts down with hail, which is rather painful against exposed skin. I attempt to shelter behind a weedy Silver Birch which is useless, so I hurry down to crouch below a dry-stone wall, at which point the hail stops! To the north-east is Walders Low, a mound and cairn allegedly containing the body of Walder, a local Dark Age chieftain. After getting as close as I can, the mound being in a field, it is back down the golf course to the track and the car.
Wednesday 2nd April – Hardwick Estate – We finally visit Hardwick Hall, home of Bess of Hardwick, the most powerful woman in Elizabethan England after the Queen. It is a grey and rather wet day. A long narrow road takes us to the halls – two, the old and new. We visit the Old Hall first. It was constructed sometime in the 16th century – the lack of mediaeval walls incorporated into the building indicates it was a “new build” on the site. The family de Herdewyk took their name from their manor which means “sheep farm” and had been in the area since the 13th century at least. Bess rebuilt the hall in a grand style in the 1580s and 1590s, although in a piecemeal fashion as it lacks the symmetry of the New Hall. By the 18th century it had been abandoned when the Dukes of Devonshire preferred Chatsworth. Parts were stripped and sold off and the rest was left to decay. The building has been consolidated and it is possible to reach the level of the roof, five storeys high. Some white plaster reliefs remain on the walls, depicting mythical and biblical scenes. The views from the upper rooms is magnificent. Back across a road and behind a wall with an extravagant topping, is the New Hall. Started in 1590 and finished in 1597, the Hall is one of the outstanding buildings of the Elizabethan era still standing. Bess engaged Robert Smythson to design and build it, although she had a considerable input into the project. Looking at the building one is immediately struck by the size of the windows, inspiring the rhyme “Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall”. On the towers are huge letters, ES, for Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury, silhouetted against the sky. Inside it is a treasure house retaining much of the original decoration in the form a massive Flemish tapestries, Persian table carpets, painted wall-hangings, huge fireplaces, painted plaster friezes, ornate Elizabethan furniture and walls of portraits, including one of Thomas Hobbes, the philosopher who lived at Hardwick and died there in 1679. Much of the contents can be identified from the 1601 inventory compiled by Bess. Because the later Dukes preferred Chatsworth, much of the New Hall at Hardwick remained unaltered. The 6th Duke was particularly fond of Hardwick and made much effort to conserve its Elizabethan heritage. It was passed to the National Trust in 1959. It is a house that can divide opinion, I thought it magnificent but a far greater taste-maker, the 18th century Horace Walpole saw it as “vast rooms, no taste”. Outside are extensive gardens with a wonderful herb garden. It is too early in the season to see the gardens in their full beauty. Life-sized statues stand in hedge alcove, some naked to the amusement of passing school children. From the east side of the house is a perfect example of a ha-ha – the view from the house crosses a lawn with a low pool, through a perfectly cut hedge, across a field of sheep and on down a long avenue of Lime trees, all without interruption. However, beyond the hedge is a drop and slope back up – the ha-ha, that keeps the sheep out.
Monday 7th April – Roche Abbey – After a weekend of snow showers, it is still cold and grey. Roche Abbey lies in a valley to the south of Maltby. A stream runs through the valley, known upstream as Hooton Dike and here as Maltby Beck. Chiffchaffs, Robins and a Song Thrush are in song and a Common Pheasant croaks in the woods. The air is rich with the scent of garlic, Ramsoms are growing all along the banks. We take Dill the Dog for a short totter. A pretty little footbridge crosses the stream. The bank beside the footbridge has been reinforced with a wall of cut limestone, but it had been compromised by a tree whose roots had grown into its foundations. The tree has now fallen destroying the wall. A large piece of another rotting tree on the ground has a large clump of bracket fungus growing at what was once its core. The valley is an important limestone site. It was carved by the torrents caused by the melting of glaciers above Sheffield 2.3 million years ago. The limestone is Lower Magnesian (Cadeby Formation) and consist of different layers of thick granular layers and thinner rubble layers. The thick layers were valued as building stone locally. We reach the entrance house to the abbey and discover, despite checking on the English Heritage website, that it is closed. This is, to say the least, annoying. Although we can see the ruins from a footpath it is quite unsatisfactory and another visit will have to be arranged.
Thursday 10th April – Worsbrough – It is a beautiful morning. The weather forecast stated it would be a dull days unlike yesterday – well, here yesterday was grey and drizzly, but it is blue skies now. Up to the Rob Royd farm shop for some supplies. Too many goodies to tempt me. Over the road is a wonderful view of Stainborough Castle on the other side of the valley. Trees conceal the summit of the hill where the mock castle was built, sadly on top of an Iron Age fort which was wholly destroyed.
Friday 11th April – Woodlesford and Rothwell – Part of the large commuter belt south of Leeds, these two villages are now merged into a continuous urban mass. A path leads up from the station. At the top stands a large Victorian house, now a day nursery. Along the road is a terrace of late 19th century houses, the corner one having been a shop, the sign still along the wall above the door, but just unreadable beneath the black paint. The road turns west and up past All Saints Church, built in the 1880s but closed at the end of the 20th century and now a private dwelling. Next to it is a designer house, interesting if somewhat incongruous. Past the Methodist Chapel, early Victorian at least and the All Saints Church Hall and imposing Vicarage, now apartments. The road leads straight through to Rothwell. It is lined with mainly 20th century housing with the odd Victorian house or small terrace. Some of the houses have large Beech trees in their gardens, clearly older than the dwellings as there are old carvings on the trunk; I think I can discern a date of 1961. Needless Inn Lane is a modern development, the Needless Inn, which stood on the corner, having gone. The road crosses the A639, a major dual carriageway, once the Barnsdale and Leeds Trust road. The lane leads on into Rothwell. It is interesting to note many street names are just echoes of the past, Churchfields Lane, Orchard Close, John O’Gaunt estate – the latter reflecting the Inn called John O’Gaunt, who had a connection with the area. Past a graveyard, mainly modern although one grave commemorates one, Frederick Puffett, who died on active service in India in 1921, a year of widespread riots in Bombay occasioned by the visit of the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VIII. Down Wood Lane, past the site of the old Manor House and the Liberal Club, built 1920 and now apartments to Trinity Church. The graveyard is in a sorry state, dead grass and brambles everywhere, gravestones fallen and broken.
Gaunt: This royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot,
Richard II, Act 2, Scene 1 The back route up to the building is full of rubbish. The church is, of course, locked. Opposite in a scrubby field stands a single piece of masonry about 10 feet tall. It is all that remains of what was called Rothwell Castle, although it was more a hunting lodge of John O’Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. He was the third son of Edward III, born in Ghent in 1340. Although he spent time fighting on the continent, he never achieved the heroic status of his brother, the Black Prince. He was however, extremely wealthy and influential. Throughout the reign of his nephew Richard II, he affected affairs, including the introduction of the Poll Tax which led to the Peasant’s Revolt and his support of John Wycliff against the church establishment which caused great unrest. He had numerous children, one legitimate child was Henry Bolingbroke who became Henry IV. Shakespeare wrote of him in Richard II. Sadly, Rothwell’s memory of John O’Gaunt seems nil. The main shopping street is barred at one end by the wall of Morrison’s Supermarket. A huge development is taking place nearby. It is now raining heavily so I retreat to the Black Bull for a fine pint of Tetleys. When the rain eases I head back up towards the Woodlesford road. The road passes Springhead Park. Haigh Beck, which has run underneath the town centre, emerges and runs through the park in a concrete and stone channel. Another stream appears from under the road and joins it. The is a lot of chattering of House Sparrows (I later learn there is supposed to be an aviary here) and Magpies. Although most of the flower beds are brown and awaiting life, several are ablaze with the colour of primulas and pansies. Up the road is another entrance to the park with a plaque stating “Rothwell Park (Eastern Section) opened 18th September 1937 by Alderman Joseph Jones, Mayor of Barnsley”!
Tuesday 15th April – Sheffield – We head to Abbeydale in south Sheffield. Here is the Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet , a museum of early industry in Sheffield. Sheffield had easy access to iron ore, wood then coal, clay, gritstone and fast flowing streams which made it ideal for industry. The River Sheaf flowed through Abbeydale and the works became one of the largest water-powered sites on the river. There are records that indicate a waterwheel was operating in 1685, but the main records operated from 1714 to 1933. A large dam by the works provided a constant source of power; it was enlarged in 1777 by the Goddards who were tenants of the site. In 1833 John Dyson rented the site. He had a fractious time with the Grinder’s Union blowing up the Grinding Hull in 1842 as a protest against the employment on non-union labour. The Tyzack’s occupied the site from 1849 until closure. They too had labour problems with Joshua Tysack being shot at in 1862. The site was known for Crown Scythes and other agricultural implements. By the entrance is a massive Jessop’s Tilt Hammer, used in William Jessop’s Brightside Works in Sheffield. The office and tea-room was originally the work’s office and counting room. A worker’s cottage has been retained in original condition. Although it may seem primitive by today’s standards it is a perfectly adequate home. Into the site there are the footings of the boiler house built in 1855. The boiler drove a steam engine built in the same year which drove grinding machines in the Grinding Hull. These wheels are huge affairs made of local sandstone, sitting in a trough or “trow” of water which cooled them during use. These wheels could “burst” and were dangerous as apart from killing quickly when they disintegrated the dust caused silicosis in the grinders’ lungs. Large waterwheels are below the sluice in the dam. One turns as we are standing next to it, raising a tilt hammer. There are a series of forges where the scythes were beaten into shape, boring shop to drill holes in the blades, fitting shop where the blade and back were rivetted together and blacking shop where the scythes were oiled and painted. There was also a furnace for making crucible steel, the main way of making steel until the Bessemer furnaces were introduced in the mid 19th century. These furnaces were refired during the Second World War to make specialist steel. The Counting House was moved from the original site in the 1830s and remains as it was in the 1920s, with a long high desk. It was called the “counting house” as the workers were on piece-work and paid for each completed piece.The Manager’s House remains intact and is a fine dwelling. By it is a stable with a Brougham Gig, one of the most popular one horse carriages of the 19th century.
Beauchief – A little way from Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet stands the remains of Beauchief Abbey. Beauchief comes from the French meaning “beautiful headland”, referring to its position over the River Sheaf. The abbey was founded in the 1170s by Robert FiztRanulf de Alfreton. Thomas Tanner wrote in 1695 that FiztRanulf was one of the killers of Thomas Becket at Canterbury in 1170 and built the abbey in 1183 to expiate his guilt. But Samuel Pegge states in his “History of Beauchief Abbey” published in 1801 that Albinas, Abbot of Derby, was one of the witnesses to the foundation of the abbey and he had died in 1176. Pegge also stated he could find no evidence connecting FitzRanulf to the murder of Becket. The abbey was dedicated to Saint Mary and Saint Thomas Becket. It was a Premonstratensian house, an order founded by St Norbert at Prémontré in France in 1120. The order was also called the Norbertines or White Canons. The abbey was dissolved in 1537 and became the property of Sir Nicholas Strelley, Captain of Berwick. It passed down to the Pegge family. By 1660 only the great tower remained and Pegge built a private church against it as a sign of his displeasure of the re-establishment of the Church of England in the Reformation. In 1671 Edward Pegge used the stone from the now ruined abbey to build Beauchief Hall. Now only Pegge’s church with its magnificent tower remains. The church is locked, which is a great pity as it is one of the few churches that was not touched by the Victorians. The tomb of Christopher Pegge who died in 1729 is in the graveyard. Next to it is the tomb of the Revd Courtney Smith, Rector of Pleasley who died in 1867. Also recorded here was the death of his son Ernest who died in 1849 aged 3 weeks, his wife Emily who died aged 34 some 4 months after Ernest, possibly never having recovered from his birth and their eldest son Courtney Gorell Smith who died of Yellow Fever at “Pernambuco in the Brazils” in 1857. Just a few low walls and pillar footing remain of the abbey.
Thursday 17th April – Leeds – One of the major cities of England, Leeds presents itself as a modern, thrusting metropolis, but there are, fortunately, many older features intact. Beside the station new buildings are rising but between them is a small branch of the old canal, a short dock with the lock gates still in situ. The River Aire runs underneath the station. In the city centre at ground level all the shops have the current modern look but high above the Victorian porticoes, gables, roofs and cornices look down on the scurrying masses as they have done for a century. A tower rises over the Church Institute with a ring of dog-like gargoyles. Above a trendy coffee bar the word “LONGLEY” proudly stands in stone. Down by the market is a forlorn empty building with “BANK” in relief high on the portico. At the top of New Briggate a travel agent’s building has a large statue of a crowned woman with an orb, probably Queen Victoria. Most of the arcades house bijoux shops, except sadly the Grand Arcade which is full of blacked-out windows and forbidding doors leading to clubs. Only the old Trophy Shop and a vegetarian restaurant remain of the more traditional shops that were here not so long ago. In the evening the American band “Low” are playing in the Variety Hall. Their slow, gloom laden songs somehow seem appropriate in a theatre that retains all its music hall features, but it is the first time for many years I have seen usherettes with torches showing people to their seats at a rock concert!
Friday 18th April – Home – Dill the Dog died today. After 16 years of constant companionship, it is heartbreaking to take her to the vets for the final time, but she has been deteriorating rapidly over the past few days and it is clear that living is more of a chore than a pleasure for her.
Saturday 19th April – Barnsley Canal – It is a grey, overcast morning with a chill wind. The paths down the canal and the tow-path are muddy and wet. There is very little bird song to be heard, just the occasional burst from a Great Tit and a Robin. No sign of any summer visitors such as warblers or hirundines. Hawthorn leaves are emerging. At the bottom of Wilthorpe Park are a decent number of House Sparrows. Weeping Willows in the park are in leaf, a beautiful yellow-green display.
St George’s Day, Wednesday 23rd April – Barbon – A village in the Lune Valley north of Kirkby Lonsdale in Cumbria. We are staying at the village pub, The Barbon Inn. It is a beautiful spring afternoon so we tour the village and its environs. Up to the church, built in 1892 on the site of a church built in 1815 which was, in turn built on a century chapel of rest recorded in 1610. It is dedicated to St Bartholomew. A seat at the rear of the church is dedicated to Blanche Marion Lady Kay-Shuttleworth. In the chancel is a bier-carrier, a four-wheeled cart used to carry the coffins into the church. The main window behind the altar is clear giving a view of the fell towering behind. By the graveyard a private lane and footpath heads off across the river, Barbon Beck, towards Barbon Park and Manor. The water bubbles down over a rocky bed, around many larger rocks. Upon one stands a Dipper preening. The bridge parapet glitters with tiny specks of quartz in the red sandstone. The open fields are occupied by sheep and lambs. A ring of fencing, maybe 50 years old or more encloses a few Holly trees and Rhododendron bushes. Some sheep hurry down the hill chased by a Jack Russell that some idiot has let off the lead and cannot control – it is not surprising that farmers are not happy with people bringing dogs onto their land. We laze on a bank in the warm sunshine. A Blackbird flies into the undergrowth in the ring with a bill full of moss. Pheasants croke, Chaffinches sing their short but rousing song, lambs call to their mothers and are answered with a deep grunt, Great Tits sing their rusty wheel song and suddenly the tinkling cascade of a Willow Warbler, first of the year, comes from the cleft below where the river cuts through the hills. Above the fells are pale green and grey; Eskholme Pike standing at 307 metres marked by a cairn. Over the river valley is Barbon Low Fell topping out at 343 metres. A small beetle scurries across the tarmac. The field contains some magnificent old Ash trees, yet to burst into leaf. Down towards the river are Spruces, Elder, Pine and Mountain Ash. A Small Tortoiseshell flits by. Carrion Crows stalk the hillsides, Jackdaws fly overhead chacking. Back down in the village the houses and cottages are of a pleasant grey stone. A vicarage is one of the largest houses in the village. The forge is now a house as are other buildings that had less domestic uses, such as the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel. We return to the inn and sit beside a log stove and drink pints of fine ale.
Thursday 24th April – Barbon – As soon as I step out of the inn door into a grey morning it begins to rain. A quick walk up to the church lych gate to shelter within. A Goldfinch is chattering insistently despite the downpour. A cock Pheasant is running across the sheep field opposite followed by another. By the time the first bird has reached the field edge, the other has decided he has seen off a rival and stands erect in the middle of the field. A Robin alights on the church wall. Blue Tits chase through the Ash trees. As we head south towards Carnforth, my first Swallows of the year are sitting on the wires beside the road.
Warton – A village to the north of the town of Carnforth, it was once an important staging post on the route north to Carlisle and Scotland. St Oswald’s Church dominates, a rendered building that belies its age as the first church recorded here was pre-Conquest. Opposite down a path is the Old Rectory, dating from 1267 and in use in 1332. The ruins are in good condition with the gables still standing and internal walls intact; it is very rare for a mediaeval building of this period to be standing. The building consisted of a great hall at one end and a passage leading down the other end of the building with a kitchen, buttery and pantry off it. Above the kitchen end was a chamber with a fireplace and a small inner chamber. A large roofing crook stands by a wall near the building which belonged to a later cottage on the site which had to be demolished because of its poor state of repair. Near the church is the George Washington public house, his ancestors lived in North Warton and they are said to have assisted in building the tower of the Parish Church. A road leads up towards Warton Crags, which lay to the north. Beside the road on the south side is a lime kiln. The top is level with the road, a steep uneven set of stone steps leads down to the front entrance to the kiln. From the top of the kiln the land lies flat across the Lune Valley to Morecambe Bay and round to cloud covered fells to the north east. In the wet flat fields of the flood plain are several herds of Mute Swans. A path runs along the edge of the crag woods, parallel to the road. Bluebells are beginning to flower and Violets are in abundance. One clump of Bluebells has several pink and purple variants. Primroses are also shining yellow in the recently emergent sun. A small area has been cleared of trees and undergrowth, here Spotted Orchids are in flower, rich purple petals and some rather small Cuckoo Pints are growing.
Leighton Moss – List: Common Pheasant, Bullfinch, Mallard, Coal Tit, House Sparrow, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Great Tit, Black-headed Gull, Coot, Canada Goose, Great Crested Grebe, Egyptian Goose, Mediterranean Gull, Tufted Duck, Sand Martin, Lapwing, Moorhen, Hen Harrier, Greylag Goose, Shelduck, Carrion Crow, Pochard, Rook, Gadwall, Mute Swans, Sedge Warbler I have not visited this RSPB reserve for many years, however the noise of nesting Black-headed Gulls immediately recalls that earlier visit with the Old Earth crew. At the feeding station I am able to get some great views and photographs of Bullfinches, Great, Blue and Coal Tits, Greenfinches and Chaffinches. A surprise from the hide overlooking the nesting Black-headed Gulls is a Mediterranean Gull standing on a post yelling at the nesting birds below. Hen Harriers drift over the extensive reed beds, occasionally harassed by a Lapwing or Corvid.
Arnside – Almost a seaside town, a village with a Promenade and a railway station, overlooking the extensive estuary where the River Kent enters the Morecambe Bay. Great swathes of empty sand cut by channels from the river. A few Great Black-backed and Black-headed Gulls and several Oystercatchers are searching for food. A Shelduck flies down and disappears into a river channel. A multi-arched bridge, 522 yards long and opened in 1857, carries the railway over the the estuary and into the Lake District. This bridge caused the deeper water channels which were used by boats to silt up.
Kirkby Lonsdale – A market town with a bridge, The Devil’s Bridge, which crosses the River Lune. Tolls on this bridge, which is on the important drovers’ road from Scotland to York and London, helped build the community. The Main Street, like much of the town features some fine 16th and 17th century houses. Town End House has a drain header dated 1777. There were several squares for traders, the main Market Square which still is home to a weekly market, the Swine Market and the Horse Market lead towards the church. We head down to the Devil’s Bridge. It dates from 1370 and constructed of gritstone and consists of three spans. The piers are hexagonal, some 60 feet in diameter. Beneath the bridge, young canoeists are being launched off a rock platform into the river. The blue water flows across and around pale limestone rocky outcrops and boulders. Back up to the town centre, past some benches whose cast iron legs are in the shape of serpents. There was church here in Saxon times. The town is recorded in the Domesday Book as Cherchib meaning a place with a church, and later in 1090 as Kircabilaunsdala. In 1093, Ivo de Taillebois, Baron of Kendal (and the model for the Norman tyrant in Kingsley’s “Hereward the Wake”) gave the “Church of Cherkeby Lownesdala” to the Abbey of St Mary at York. Near the church the Normans built a motte, which can still be glimpsed over a wall. Inside the church, now the Church of St Mary the Virgin, are three superb Norman pillars, one with a deep diamond pattern and a second with a lighter similar to that at Selby Abbey, which was attributed to Hugh who had come from Durham where the design is known from 1096. The third column is a group of column shafts in a single column. At the top of one of the columns is a Green Man with foliage coming from his mouth. There is some fine glass in the windows. The main east windows has detached stone columns bound to the window jambs, unique to this part of the country, as are a number of detached circular columns on the outer wall of the chancel. A marble plaque is dedicated to the memory of William Sturgeon who died in 1850. He is a forgotten scientist yet he built the first practical electromagnet, made the first moving coil galvanometer and constructed the first rotary electric engine – all incredibly important advances in practical science. Some plaques by the tower seem somewhat overblown in their praise – one to a Mrs Elizth Redman “leaving to the world a rare example of unaffected piety, extensive liberality and universal benevolence”. The graveyard is extensive. To the north is The Gazebo, an 18th century folly once in the Rectory garden. Beyond a path, called Church Brow, leads around the top of a substantial drop down to a great loop in the River Lune. Here is Ruskin’s View, from where Turner painted a landscape described by John Ruskin in his “For Glavigera” as “one of the loveliest views in England”. It certainly is magnificent. Far below a pair of Goosander are feeding, rushing through the shallows with their heads underwater. Back around the churchyard, past a large drinking fountain “paid by public subscription in gratitude for the church restoration by Lord Kenlis in 1866”. The lane passes the Churchmouse Cheesemonger, recently featured on British Food Heroes, excellent selection of cheeses and other comestibles.
Barbon – We return to Barbon on the Sedburgh road, turning at a old stone sign at Holme Bridge. The Barbon and Middleton Fells are geologically linked to the Howgills and fells of the South Lakelands formed of sandstones and shales of the Silurian Period (415-430 million years ago). The Dent Fault runs along Barbondale.
Friday 25th April – Yorkshire Dales – We return from Barbon by heading up Barbondale. It is a bleak landscape, yet magnificent. The road runs between high grey fells with only sheep occupying its valley bottom. The road drops down into Dent, a pleasant village where the main road twists through the village centre laid with cobbles, not tarmac. We then continue up valleys where streams run alongside, with numerous little waterfalls in the limestone bed. Viaducts carry the railway line towards Carlisle. We again rise onto bleak, empty moors before dropping down into Wensleydale.
Monday 28th April – Deffer Woods – The sun shines through the tall Oaks and conifers of Deffer Woods but dark clouds are mounting. A Blackbird sings near the entrance. As we climb the steadily rising track, a Chiffchaff calls. An insistent piping followed by an search of the branches above reveals a Nuthatch. A Common Pheasant croaks from the fields beyond the woods. Something, the Nuthatch maybe, has nipped off the ends of Oak twigs which lay scattered on the path with little emerald leaves still attached. We are probably a week or more early for the great drifts of blue through the woodlands created by hundreds and thousands of Bluebells – a few are in flower but many areas are still dark green leaves only. From the shelter on the edge of the wood the bright, verdant pasture rolls away down the hill. Black and white cattle lay at the bottom of the field. Away along the hillside the mixture of trees creates a patchwork of different shades of green. In the distance the windmills on Whitley Common are turning rapidly and rain is sweeping down onto them. It takes only a few minutes to reach us as we head quickly back down to the car.
Tuesday 29th April – Barnsley Canal – I wander up the Huddersfield Road to Dearne Hall Road and down to Lower Barugh. I notice there is a plaque on the railway bridge over the River Dearne – “The Fairbairn Engineering Company, Manchester 1868”. Stitchwort, Dandelions and a wild Cabbage flower beside the tarmac path. The road bridge over the Dearne has “1850” carved roughly into the top of one coping stone. Up Swallow Hill where, appropriately is my first Barnsley Swallow of the year. A Wren darts into a bush and a Garden Warbler sings. Chaffinches call nearby and a pair of Robins are inspecting a bush near a garden. The footpath leads to a footbridge over the Dearne and past the sewage farm. The old settling beds now have a covering of tall Willow saplings. A Reed Bunting, male with a splendid black head, sits at the top of one of these. The area is fenced off and is a perfect undisturbed wetland, albeit quite small. A Dunnock stands on a dead grass stem. Across the valley bottom it is clear the water table is steadily rising. It was kept low for over the past century by the constant pumping out of the mines, but now that has all stopped the water is creeping higher again. At the end of the canal, areas that were dry are now marshy, areas that were damp are now pools of willow carr. Carrion Crows and Jackdaws stalk the fields. An Orange Tip and a Peacock butterfly flutter from flower to flower. There are several more Reed Buntings along the canal. A Willow Warbler is jumping from branch to branch through the Hawthorn bushes that dot the bottom of the slope leading to Greenfoot. By the canal bridge, a Chiffchaff is calling and the sound of two pebbles being tapped together indicates a Blackcap is hidden in the bushes.
Wednesday 30th April – Home – A Willow Warbler is moving through the shrubs and apple trees, picking here and there at the bark, seeking out insects. Blue and Great Tits are similarly occupied. The weather is similar to that which greeted April, grey with sunshine trying to force its way through, the threat of showers and a rather cool wind. Most of the apple trees are now in blossom, delicate pink and white flowers, the plum tree blossom has finished, the overgrown pear trees have pure white blossom high above ground whilst the large flowering cherry is a mass of white. In the late afternoon there is a violent confrontation between three Magpies and a Carrion Crow. The crow has one of the Magpies on its back and is pecking viciously at it, grabbing a beakful of feathers and throwing the unfortunate bird around. The other Magpies are jumping at the crow but it continues to attack until its victim flies off quickly followed by the crow and the other Magpies.