August 2006

Wednesday 2nd August – Willowbank – July was the hottest month on record in the UK. However, the weather has changed. Yesterday saw frequent heavy showers, this morning there is a blustery wind and rain in the air. The grass has enjoyed the rain, it is re-greening rapidly. Bird life, however, seems less keen with all keeping their heads down.

Saturday 5th August – Fleets Dam – Dill the Dog has suffered another episode of “Peripheral Vestibular Syndrome”, a middle ear inflammation which results in a serious loss of balance. We have a short walk along the river to the the Fleets. She walks on ahead of me, but every time she looks around for me, she falls over. The episode started on Wednesday night, but now she does, at least, seem to have got used to it. It is still distressing for all of us though. Young Sparrowhawks are screaming in the trees that rise above with ponds and marsh between Old Mill and the Fleets. The lake is ringed by anglers and we head back.

Home – I have started digging the potatoes. They have proved pretty disappointing so far. The potatoes are small and there are not many per plant. The long period of dryness obviously did not help. Even more annoying is that there is still slug damage, despite both the dryness and the application of nematode worms to kill the slugs. It seems the worms fell victim to the drought, but not the slugs. Our first tomatoes are ripening and the French and Runner Beans are beginning to crop well. We have already had a couple of courgettes.

Friday 11th August – Willowbank – Dill the Dog is well on the her way to recovery but still a little unsteady on her feet. The morning is cool. Bird song has been reduced to a few mournful wheeps. A Song Thrush flies up from the path into a Hawthorn. A Blue Tit mutters briefly on the edge of a thicket. A bright sun to the south-east and a large pale moon to the north-west – Apollo and Selene facing each other across a cloudless sky. Or maybe it should be Lugh and Cerridwen, their Celtic equivalents. A Jay flies silently through the bushes. Rosebay Willowherb flowers are now long pink sheaths of seed, soon to split and cast the downy mass across the area.

Saturday 12th August – Shobdon, Herefordshire – We travelled here yesterday afternoon. The plan is to look at a house for sale in Leominster and tour the estate agents. Last night we visited a country pub that does not allow dogs in! Tends to say something about many villages these days. So we sat in the cold and drank some excellent Wye Valley Brewery beer. The morning is dry and fairly bright. We are camped under an old Oak tree with a number of dead branches. However, the live ones are heavy with acorns. Blue Tits are searching for grubs. A pair of Jays fly over screeching. Two young Goldfinches fly up to a branch on the tree and flutter their furiously, demanding to be fed which an adult obliges. There is a growth of a creamy coloured fungus on the dead wood. In the afternoon I wander up to Shobdon Arches. The road leads up the hill and joins another road running along the hillside. This road enters a long avenue of Beeches. To either side are wheat fields, one being harvested. The road ends in a large car park. Just before this is, to the higher side a cricket pitch with a match in progress. Down the hill is Shobdon Church. There have been three churches on this site, a Saxon chapel, unusually dedicated to a female saint, St Juliana. Nothing of this church remains. The second church was built between 1070 and 1160 in the Romanesque period. There was a chancel arch and north and south doorways which were richly carved and more of them later. The present church is an extraordinary Rococo construction. It was consecrated in 1756 and built for the Bateman family, which had bought Shobdon Court from Sir Robert Chaplin for £30,428 in 1705. Sir John Bateman, the Second Viscount, is credited with rebuilding the church but it was his uncle, the Hon. Richard Bateman who was was responsible for the design and construction. The actual architect is unknown. The inside of the church is a considerable surprise. One is used to dark buildings with glowing stained glass windows, but the interior of Shobdon church is lightness itself. White walls with friezes picked out in grey; white pews with delicate Wedgwood blue details; a pulpit standing on a plinth and scrolls (which are clearly too delicate to hold the weight of the ornately carved pulpit they appear to be supporting) and glass in the nave windows by William Price the Younger of London. Leaving the church and ascending the hill, one comes to the Arches. They are at the end of an Oak avenue and were placed there as an “eye-catcher” in the eighteenth century. They consist of three arches, two semi-circular tympana – the north and south “overdoors” and the chancel arch from the Romanesque church. The elaborate decoration is the work of a group of sculptors called “The Herefordshire School of Stone Carvers”. The arches are now extremely eroded and worn but one can still make out the wonderful work involved. Lithographs by G R Lewis published in 1852 show the tympana as depicting Christ in Majesty and The Harrowing of Hell. On the pillars are dragons, knots, and the “pipe cleaner” men. More information can be found here. Descending the hill, the track passes a large building, now flats. This was once the servants’ wing of Shobdon Court and is all that remains of the great house. Two lakes lay either side of the roadway as one descends further and then into the village of Shobdon itself.

Wednesday 16th August – Willowbank – Dill the Dog and I set off from the bottom of Greenfoot Lane. There is a good crop of cobnuts on the Hazels outside the school and I pick a pocketful. Along the path towards the railway there are more Hazels. A large mass of Woody Nightshade has grown up over the brambles and saplings with a mixture of red berries and purple and yellow flowers. Blackberries are ripening fast and Elderberries are beginning to darken. Hips and Haws are still green, but Sloes are only a few weeks from full ripeness. Over the railway and down the field to the top of the slope above the Dearne river valley and the canal. It is still green down in the valley but up here the grass is yellow and full of brown empty husks of Bladder Campion. Horses and ponies crop the grass and play with each other. A single Sheep’s-bit Scabious stands on the hillside, a small, as yet unopened, purple flower head on a long stalk rising from a small clump of leaves.

Saturday 19th August – Barnsley Canal – It is very damp after a couple of days of rain. On Thursday there was a substantial storm and the downpour flooded through the A&E Department at the General Hospital, into the basement and took out the electricity. A number of roads were impassible because of flooding, including the Huddersfield Road. This morning it is overcast but no rain. A tiny frog is crawling through the grass. Several flocks of twittering finches pass by. Down beside the River Dearne there are large patches of Himalayan Balsam in flower. A noisy “parliament” of Magpies disperses on our approach. Dill the Dog is walking well; this is the longest walk she has had since her ear problem. Back along the canal, by the marshy area, a few Long-tailed Tits are chasing through the bushes. The area has obviously dried out during the long, hot spell in July and there are areas of dead and flattened reed. A Mistle Thrush rasps. A large patch of Fleabane shines bright yellow in the green rushes. I pick a decent number of blackberries for a crumble with windfall apples from the garden.

Saturday 26th August – Hoyland Common – I park in a turn-off from a roundabout on the Dearne Parkway that goes nowhere. At the moment there is a field with a couple of horses beyond the end of the short section of road, but it is clear that the area will be developed one day. The grass is very wet and my trouser legs are soon soaked. There are scattered groups of Field Mushrooms and I pick a bagful. At the other corner of the field is a plantation of saplings – Alder, Oak, Beech, Larch and Birch. The land slopes steeply to a gully which drains the area; Bulrushes rise from a small pond and underfoot is very marshy. Up the other side of the gully and onto a red gravel track. This leads up a slope between fields of milk cattle and more saplings. Carrion Crows sit hunched backed on the fence wire, croaking occasionally. A path leads towards the main road and passes between a playing field and the overflow cemetery. The gravestones here are mainly late Victorian, many with florid verse accompanying the details of the deceased. The church of St Peter stands on the opposite of the road looking rather forlorn and uninviting (and being locked up means that any invitation is irrelevant). Large rigid steel joists wrap around the base of the building holding it together. A little up the road is the modern overflow cemetery and opposite is Hoyland Service Reservoir. There is a bricked up stone building on the reservoir which I assume was once a pumping station. I head back down towards the centre of Hoyland Common. The houses are a mixture of styles from the last two centuries. There are a number of modern and somewhat bland bungalows. A very square house with a curved edged recess from ground to roof containing the double width front door and a classic art deco arch over the door stands as a statement against the traditional late Victorian, or more possibly Edwardian villa next door. Opposite is functional but ugly mid twentieth century council housing. Then a thirties house followed by a modern development of town houses; an extraordinary number all crammed together on the available land for maximum profit. Next is a lovely row Victorian cottages and the mixture repeats as the centre of the village approaches. Here there are more Victorian establishments. The Wesleyan Chapel – rebuilt in 1894 – is now a furniture outlet. Opposite a church is now the Community Centre. Off down a side street and the mixture continues, a terrace of late Victorian, a post war house then modern bungalows.

Sunday 27th August – Barnsley Canal – The small car park at the Smithies Lane end of the canal has been transformed by a large steel barrier and squeeze gate. This has stopped the moronic fly-tipping that so often disfigured the place. Along the canal much of the undergrowth and many Willows have been removed, opening up the path and canal to the light. A layer of hardcore has been put down on the path which should make it less a quagmire in the winter. Haws are now brilliant scarlet and hips are ripening fast. By the site of the now demolished lock-keepers cottage, the old great Willow has been drastically pruned. A fence has been erected and flowers planted at its base. A new picnic table overlooks the Dearne below. A notice proclaims that the Barnsley Canal Refurbishment was undertaken between the 19th and 26th July 2006 by 2 (Catterick) Squadron 11 Signal Regiment. Along the canal more undergrowth, mainly large rambling masses of bramble and rose briar have been removed to reveal a row of mooring posts, which have been given a lick of black paint. There also seems to be an absence of Japanese Knotweed, which is excellent! The whole area has been greatly lifted by this clean-up. A few House Martins are gliding through the Hawthorns and over the canal water. A good number of finches are dashing between the tickets, mainly Greenfinches I think. A Robin sings somewhat stutteringly by the foot bridge. A Moorhen chick bobs underwater at my approach. Mint is in flower on the water’s edge.

Bradford – There is a large international street market being held in the centre of Bradford. Stalls are a wonderful mix – French cheeses, garlics, bread, Turkish sweets and pastries dripping with honey, German sausages, Asian dresses and jewellery, piles of nuts and dried fruits from various countries, not to mention all the tat one gets in a typical English market. One row of stalls are from London’s Borough Market traders with a range of English cheeses, hams, game, scallops, oysters and other seafood, pies and roasts. We purchase a crown of chicken stuffed with a boned pheasant and chestnut stuffing. We also get some bulbs, Hyacinths which I hope to get ready for Christmas and some tulips. A crockery stall has some cheap serving dishes to replace our chipped ones. Along with a £10 bag of German sausage, we stagger with our load back to the car.

Bank Holiday Monday 28th August – Barnsley Canal – As I head down Smithies Lane, old Jack is standing outside the hostel. He has on his dark blue suit, immaculately white shirt, bright scarlet bow tie, white cotton gloves and, somewhat incongruously, a faded blue baseball cap! Down the slope and through the thickets. A Blusher toadstool stands under a Silver Birch. Along the canal, pale dun coloured finches and maybe warblers dash between the dense red spotted green clumps of Hawthorn. Up the hill again beside the pond in the dense spinney, Hare Bells wave their delicate Wedgwood blue flowers in the light breeze. Clumps of Tansy are tired and turning brown. I gather some Blackberries for a crumble. The sloes on the Blackthorn are nearly ripe, dull blue with their powdery yeast coating. A Mistle Thrush flies to the top of a tree, rasping harshly. A Blackbird flies up from her bath in a puddle at the edge of the horse paddock.