August 2005

Monday 1st August – Barnsley Canal – A dull and cool morning. A Sedge Warbler scratches out a few notes from the marsh on the flood plain. A female Bullfinch flies across the reed bed that completely covers the canal at this point. A young warbler moves through the Hawthorns, as does a Willow Tit. Up on the hill a pair of Red-legged Partridge scurry away. Several Jays also disappear quickly as Dill the Dog approaches.

Sunday 7th August – Darley Dale, Derbyshire – We camp at Darley Bridge, a mile or so outside the small town of Darley Dale. The town is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Dereleie, part of the Wirksworth Hundred. Evidence suggests that an Anglian settlement may have been established at Darley Dale as early as 800AD. The name “Darley” is derived from the Anglo Saxon deor-leah meaning “clearing frequented by animals”, probably deer. The word “dale” is a later nineteenth century addition. The River YewDerwent passes behind the camp site. The local pub, The Square and Compass, stands just before the bridge over the river from which the road rises into the hills. Just before dawn Tawny Owls are calling from nearby woods. The dale is full of thick white mist. At about six o’clock there is a familiar roaring noise of a hot air balloon’s gas burner being operated. The balloon floats above the thinning mist. Dill the Dog and I leave the sleeping camp site and head off towards the town. The church is set off to the west of the centre of the town, which has grown up around the A6 road. It is surrounded by substantial stone built houses, although the Domesday Book records a population of just seven peasants and a priest in the manor. In the graveyard is a magnificent Yew tree. Firth in “Highways & Byways in Derbyshire” (Pub. 1908, MacMillan) records that “at four feet up the trunk has a girth of thirty three feet”. He notes that Dr Cox has averred an age of two thousand years, although it is likely to be more like seven hundred. Firth discusses the matter of Yews in churchyards. Tradition has it that they were grown to provide wood for bows; however, there is evidence that much Yew was imported from the continent as being better for Gravestonebow-making. He considers that the dark funereal aspect of the tree best explains its presence, although I have heard that its poisonous nature deterred animals from browsing on it, something desirable where one is buried. There are gravestones and tombs dating from the early 17th Century in the graveyard and some older stones propped up in the porch where they have been for over a century. One has a little carving in the centre of a running dog. Unfortunately, as is common these days and with justification, the Black 5church is locked. In the town centre stands an impressive building, the Joseph Whitworth Institute. Whitworth, a Victorian engineer, bought Stancliffe Hall in 1854 and took up permanent residence there in 1872 with his second wife, Mary Louise. The Institute was paid for by Lady Whitworth after Joseph’s death. The local railway has been abandoned by the national network and has been adopted by steam enthusiasts. A War Department saddle tank engine is being steamed up in the sidings. A Stanier Black 5 stands covered by a tarpaulin. There are several other tank engines and old diesel engines awaiting restoration in the sidings.

Monday 8th August – Barnsley Canal – Three young Coot and a pair of adults are at the foot of Willowbank. It is a glorious, sunny morning. A Common Pheasant is croaking noisily from below, over the other side of the River Dearne. A Grey Squirrel dashes across the tow-path and up a tree, which stops Dill the Dog from sniffing for a moment. A Sparrowhawk soars overhead. A Little Grebe is calling from the Loop. Further along, a pair of Moorhens with two young wander across the thick layer of water weed and then disappear quickly into the reeds as we approach. Butterflies are resting in the bright sunshine before moving on – Gatekeepers, Small Whites and Skippers. A pair of Mallard are in the reed filled old dock, invisible with just their quacking revealing their presence. Back along where the Dearne sweeps round near to the canal, a Sparrowhawk is keening. I do not know if it is the one that was high above earlier or a young one waiting for the adult to return. It appears briefly being hassled by a Magpie. I sit at the bottom of Willowbank for a while. A Chiffchaff and a Wren are feeding in the brambles beside the edge of the canal. A pair of Willow Warblers move through. A Willow Tit flits between Hawthorns. A Bullfinch flashes his pink breast and white rump as he flies over the canal. A young Blackcap and a female are feeding in brambles further down.

Thursday 11th August – Dodworth – Four young Mistle Thrushes sit on the wires above the wheat field. A couple of Linnets join them and several Blue Tits rush around the Hawthorn bush beside the path below. I climb up the huge mining waste tip. The view on the top is much more restricted now as the saplings have grown into young trees, mainly Alders with a scattering of Oaks and Larches. Blackthorn bushes are bearing a few near-ripe Sloes.

Saturday 13th August – Barnsley Canal – Much needed rain is falling as showers. The area is very quiet apart from the odd strangulated call of a Dabchick and sharp tic from a Coot. Up on the hill below Redbrook, Swallows sweep across the sheep field, just a few inches above the ground. A Grey Heron is standing in a small pond in a paddock. Over the railway and along the path behind the junior school. A raptor is calling from near the railway. A Yellowhammer is also calling – “A little bit of bread and no cheese”. But the “cheese” note is shorter and less energetic than it was in Spring.

Tuesday 16th August – Home – It is a very close and humid afternoon. Some potatoes are drying on the soil after being dug this morning. Yet again the crop has been badly affected by slug damage. I am concluding that nematode treatment, although relatively expensive, is a necessity next year. Runner and French Beans are cropping heavily with many more to come. The tomatoes are coming along well. A small flock of Long-tailed Tits passes through. Ants are swarming with hundreds around the ponds including numerous winged ones.

Friday 19th August – Barnsley Canal – Although it has rained overnight, it remains warm and close. On the way down Willowbank I meet two police officers who are looking for someone who has reportedly fallen and broken their back. They have searched from Asda to here without finding anyone. The rushes in the canal are beginning to turn brown. Several Magpies and a Carrion Crow are mobbing a Sparrowhawk above the long hawthorn hedge down from Greenfoot Lane. There are some large brown toadstools under Silver Birches on the opposite bank beyond the old lock. A couple of Puffballs have sprung up on the track towards the end of the canal. I have not seen any Swifts for over a week now – summer is moving slowly towards autumn.

Tuesday 23rd August – Barnsley Canal – A bright morning but it is so quiet. The occasional tic from a Wren and a churr from a Great Tit is all that is heard. Butterflies are still plentiful – a Speckled Wood suns itself on a leaf; Meadow Browns flit to and fro. Large brown dragonflies hawk over the canal. Towards woods there is a large patch of Fleabane, bright yellow flowers shining in the damp ground. Just beyond the woods is a young Hedgehog lying dead. There appears to be no obvious reason for its demise.

Sunday 28th August – Home – Kay is cleaning up the front garden and brings in a large caterpillar on her trowel. It is a Poplar Hawkmoth, first I have ever seen. It is odd because there are no Poplar trees around here.

Monday 29th August – Dearne Valley Park – Although only the end of August, brilliant sunshine and a forecast of 30°C temperatures in the coming week, it is clear that autumn is just around the corner. Grasses are turning brown; Blackberries and Elderberries are ripe and last night we lit the stove to take the edge of a chill in the house. Jays screech from the woods, but little else moves or makes a sound.

Tuesday 30th August – Surrey – The Mother-in-law has bought Rhys a car from one of the old ladies in her block of flats in Surrey. I am heading down to collect it. The coach is supposed to leave Barnsley at 5:35am but, despite being the first pick-up, it is ten minutes late. It fills up in Sheffield and heads down to Chesterfield. On leaving the bus station there is a traffic sign – “Disabled Puffin Crossing”. An amusing image enters my mind. From then onwards to London we are in heavy traffic with many queues. The coach gets to Victoria Coach Station half an hour late – not too bad considering the road conditions. I get a tube to Waterloo Station and a train (one that takes the long way round and stops everywhere) to Addlestone. As the train leaves Waterloo, the London Eye is visible above the buildings. When the track crosses the M25 motorway I can see there is solid stationary traffic on the route I will be taking. However, this turns out not to be the problem. Having picked up the car and headed off, I soon discover the M25 is closed. (I later learn a tanker carrying Hydrogen Peroxide has exploded.) Surrey is now effectively a car park. I crawl around various routes trying to head towards the M1, but this is impossible. Eventually, I head out towards Windsor and Slough, north to Beckingham and onto the M40. The traffic is reasonable and at the Buckinghamshire/Oxfordshire border I am treated to views of a decent number of Red Kites. Not too far from the M42 junction that will take me past Birmingham and north, I decide to pop into the next service station to telephone home to report my progress. As the station comes into view, so does three lanes of stationary traffic. There has been an accident and the motorway is closed. Three hours later I am through and heading north again. I reach home at 9:30pm – an eight hour journey.