August 2000

Saturday 5th August – Barnsley Canal – Numerous Gatekeepers, Small Tortoiseshells and Small Whites are feeding on the large stand of Michaelmas Daisies that border the canal. Further on there is a Comma on Ragwort and another on Spear Thistles. A Whitethroat croaks out a highly truncated trunk of its song by the bridge. A Small Skipper feeds on Red Clover. Swathes of Lesser Knapweed line the canal. Waterweeds, mainly Crowfoots (as opposed to Crowsfeet!) are covering the canal over most of its length. Appalling news in the paper – the two Mute Swans from the canal have been taken into care after being found with a number of airgun pellets embedded in their heads and necks. The report also states it is believed the cygnet was killed by shooters.

Wednesday 9th August – Thornton-le-Dale – Kay, Jo, Sam and I go to a real Country Fair in the village. The tannoy booms out calling for “Class 25, 14 to 15 hands, under 16 riders to the central parade ground” – in fact there are none for that class! Sheep, goats, pigs, cattle and horses are all paraded for best in class. Before they are shown then are in pens being fussed over and preened by their owners. There are curly-haired sheep, black-faced sheep, ginger sheep and almost ordinary sheep. The dairy cows are shaved and look hideously thin, bones sticking out everywhere. The beef cattle are huge beasts; surely one must be saying, “does my bottom look big in this”. There are massive pigs, saddle backs, a huge, oiled black sow and New Zealand piglets with little tufts on their chins and a huge “oooo factor”. There will be Sheepdog trials but first there is one using Geese, Indian Runners and ducklings. The geese are white with their noses in the air but scurry and the dog guided them through the standard trial course. Then out come the flock of Indian Runners who are taken through various obstacles, including groups of children, using a pair of dogs. Finally come the ducklings. They are also taken round an obstacle course including two rows of children. Throughout this Danny Kaye’s Ugly Duckling is playing over the tannoy. The whole things is seriously surreal, we are in hysterics! However, Dill the Dog is lying with her back to it all. There is a display of Owls. We check out the produce competition, rows of vegetables and fruit all carefully displayed. A neighbour of Jo’s parents has won several prizes (which amount to a couple of pounds at best). There are also displays of flowers, painting by local children, wood carvings and all manner of arts and crafts. Next the pet fanciers competitions. We pass cages of all manner of rabbits from snub-nosed dwarf varieties to a couple of enormous creatures that would scare the living daylights out of any marauding fox. Dill the Dog is half way round having been sniffing the carrying boxes under the cages with interest before she notices there are creatures above her. Then it near impossible to stop her jumping up to see what on earth are in these cages. One guinea pig is trying to avoid being picked up by the judge but then is confronted with Dill the Dog’s nose at the other end of the cage – some dilemma! There is a long row of fancy pigeons and doves, although what makes one a First Prize and other unplaced is beyond us.

Friday 11th August – High Hoyland – A walk through woods that fall away down the hill. High Hoyland church, now used by Bretton College stands on one of the ridges that ripple east to west across Yorkshire towards the Pennines. The lush valleys in between are farmed extensively. The sunlight dapples through the trees. The first Ceps of the year are growing on leaf mould by the track. Although small they have already been nibbled by slugs. Back up at the church yard we sit on the graveyard wall and look out over the valley through which the M1 motorway snakes northwards. Beyond “Black” Barnsley rises on the hill.

Saturday 12th August – Grange Gate – Follow the abandoned railway round, over the Dearne and then cut across the hill to another abandoned line. There are Gatekeepers everywhere. Tansy is in flower, yellow buttons on fragrant leaves. Willow Warblers, Greenfinches and Yellowhammers are in song. Magpies churr in the trees high on the hills above. The air snaps with the claps of wings from Wood Pigeons. Heathers flower a rich purple. From the bridge over the Dearne is a field spotted with yellow Ragwort, many feet below.

Sunday 20th August – Silkstone Fall – It is almost unnaturally quiet in damp woods. Occasionally a Blackbird, Robin or Tit will let slip a snatch of song. On the slag heap large, tumescent Earth Balls grow, apparently a delicacy in Eastern Europe but regarded as poisonous here. A rough wire fence runs along the base of the slag heap. It looks relatively new, but runs straight through the centre of the trunks of trees that must be at least 5 or 10 years old.

Saturday 26th August – Wombwell Ings – A wet, grey morning follows a night of electric storms and rain. Carrion Crows are sitting on a fence watching the fields silently. On the Ings there are calling Lapwings and a few Golden Plover. A grunting Grey Heron flies across the water, lands and starts stalking the shallows. Teal sift the mud. A Greenshank sleeps on one leg. A couple of Dunlin flies in with a small flock of Ringed Plover. A Stock Dove drinks. Back near the park a large charm of Goldfinches flies into an expanse of Thistles. Haws are now red and Sloes are ripe. We collect enough to make some Sloe Gin.

Bank Holiday Monday 28th August – Old Moor Wetlands – It is my first visit to the wetlands built on the old Wath Ings and surrounding fields and abandoned industrial sites. On the old Wath Ings pool there are Dunlin, a good number of Greenshank, at least a dozen Ruff, lots of Common Snipe, Ringed Plovers and noisy Lapwings. A silky, russet Fox trots along back of Wath Ings, investigating the tussocks of sedges and moving the duck out towards the centre of the water. Teal, Mallard, Shoveler and Gadwall are coming out of eclipse. Tufted Duck are feeding in shallow water, bubbling as they swim a few inches under the surface. Ungainly young Moorhens stagger across the mud. Amphibious Bistort hides more Snipe. Little Grebe have young. A Kingfisher flashes up a channel. Several Green Sandpiper feed on some new pools and two Black-tailed Godwit probe the mud with their long bills. There are numerous Grey Herons around the site; one jumps and dances in the water then grabs at something it has stirred up. An Arctic Tern dances in the air above the waters. A large flock of Golden Plover roost on a bank. Beautiful White Water-lilies are emerging. As we leave, a large skein of noisy Canada Geese head in.