Wednesday 1st February – Fleets Dam – The day is grey and cold, barely rising above freezing. The Kingfisher seems to be a permanent feature now, flashing like a turquoise dart across the water. A whooshing noise drums from overhead. A pair of Mute Swan fly over then circle back over the lake before deciding to move on. A Robin sits in a Hawthorn bush, singing. A small flock of Siskin are back on the Alder tree.
Thursday 2nd February – Wortley Top Forge – Another grey and frozen day. The fields and trees on Hoylandswaine top are covered in a white rime. Down at the forge, the River Don flows quietly. A Dipper stands on a rock in the middle of the river. It watches my approach and then whirrs off upstream. The woods seem cold and empty. Gullies drain the fields up above the valley. One had a “bridge” of tree roots spanning it. The path comes to Thurgoland. Old Mill Lane is lined with houses built in the latter part of the last century. Bullfinches and Coal Tits feed in ornamental trees in front garden. There is a screaming sound from ahead. A Sparrowhawk bursts out of an evergreen shrub and lands on the driveway of a house. Under its claws is a screaming Blackbird. The hawk’s black, shining eyes watch me. One wing is outstretched, the barring visible though the quills. Its breast is a pale blush of pink. We stand and watch one another motionless. Then I move and the Sparrowhawk is up and off over the garage with its prey. Rooks are noisy high over the woods on the hillsides above. Back down the river, a small flock of Redpoll are feeding high in the trees. Blue and Long-tailed Tits are also up there.
Friday 3rd February – Holmfirth to Upperthong – The River Holme runs through this busy village, or is it a town? There is a path but it disappears as the river runs through some industrial premises – some are old Victorian mills converted to workshops, others foundries which are probably originals. I follow the busy Huddersfield road for a spell, then turn up the road to Meltham. Just up the hill a short way, a footpath leads down to a small bridge across a stream which gushes down over a little stone weir. The path leads on up the hillside through woods and emerges on a track above Holmfirth. The track continues up for a while before dropping back down towards the stream. Chaffinches are cheeping in the trees. The stream is surrounded by a strip of woodland consisting mainly of Silver Birch, Oak and Holly. The track is now a path and starts to rise again. Peering over a wall sends a large flock of Rooks and Black-headed Gulls up from the pasture in a noisy mass. The stream tumbles down a rocky bed. Over another dry stone wall is a herd of black and brown Aberdeen Angus bullocks. A path leads off into Upperthong, an interesting name apparently derived from “thing” a Norse word for a military site. The village, mainly known as the burial place of Bill Owen, is made up of old weavers’ cottages and many barn conversions and new build. The streets seem rather grandly named, Town Gate and Upperthong Gate. One can hardly imagine a gatehouse or the like here, but the word gate in this context comes from the Norse again, “gata”, a road or street. A track heads straight back down the hill to Holmfirth. The first metalled road encountered is prosaically named “Hill”. The descent becomes remarkably steep as it approaches the main road, not a place to walk in slippery conditions.
Monday 6th February – Holmfirth – Down the Penistone Road into the town centre. Smoke rises from the foundry in the valley below. A sign above a darkened building is flaking away but the name “Bamforth – Illustrators and Publishers” can still be read. James Bamforth was a magic lantern maker who during two periods, 1898-1900 and 1913-1915 made a historically significant series of films. In the period between the production of these films, Bamforth concentrated on picture postcard manufacturing. The First World War made it impossible to get film (the chemicals were required for making explosives) and after the war, Bamforth returned to postcards and became famous for his saucy seaside pictures. Production ceased in 1990. Along Hollowgate which runs beside the River Holme. Just beyond the market, a Dipper stands on a stone in the river. Past the Toll Bridge and on past weavers cottages. There is a stretch of the old cobbled road surface here. Unfortunately, the road stops soon after and I have to retrace my steps. Above the newly built houses here, the hillside climbs in small fields containing a few cows, chickens and Guinea fowl. Three steel plaques a fastened to a riverside railing. They commemorate disastrous floods in the Holme valley – 1738, 1777 and 1852, the last being the worst when the Bilberry reservoir failed during heavy rain due to construction faults. 81 lives were lost and the event made front page news in the London Illustrated News. Up Daisy Hill which runs behind the church. Here is the Owd Towser, a small stone building from the 1500s built on “God’s Acre” – the land around the church. A toll was charged to cross church land and this formed part of the vicar’s wages. The building has been used as a church lockup, Police, Fire and Ambulance station and a mortuary. In 1685, Reverend Edmund Robinson was locked up here for coin clipping and later executed at York. His son was also imprisoned but was later an employee of the Royal Mint. The road climbs up through narrow streets of cottages and house built into the steep hillside. From Cinderhills Road there is a fine view over the town and the main routes out towards Holme Moss and Greenfields. At the top of Cinderhills is a small council estate – possibly the least most suitable site for such. A track leads off across Stake Lane Bank to Wooldale Cliff. Here crags rise some thirty feet from the path. Sadly, they are disfigured with graffiti. The wind is cold and strong up here. A pair of Carrion Crows fly across harrying a Sparrowhawk.
Wednesday 8th February – Newmillerdam – A path runs off the sharp bend on the road towards Chapelthorpe. It heads back towards the country park woods. I hope to pick up the disused railway line than runs along the edge of the woods. I am surprised when the path dips down and straight onto the bed of the railway just after it passes under the A61. Clearly a lot of infilling has occurred. The line, the Chevet Branch Line, was opened by the Midland Railway in 1909 to take passengers from Royston to Dewsbury and then onto the main line to Bradford and the North. However, only the Royston and Thornhill section was built. A passenger service ran between Halifax and Sheffield and on to London St Pancras, but the line was mainly used for freight. It closed in 1968. A Sky Lark is singing high overhead and a Robin ticks from a bush.
Thursday 9th February – Wentworth – Probably the most picturesque village in South Yorkshire. Cottages in warm sandstone line the road and go back in little squares and cul-de-sacs. We regularly go to the Farmers’ Market held monthly, but today we call in at the Rockingham Arms for a meal and a couple of pints. Afterwards we brave the bitterly cold wind (although the sky is bright blue with fluffy white clouds – Simpson Clouds as Kay calls them) for a while and visit the church. In fact, there are two churches. The “new” church, dedicated to the Holy Trinity, was built by the 6th Earl Fitzwilliam in 1872. But we decide to have a quick look at the old church, now mainly in ruin. The chancel and North chapel are still occasionally used for services and the tower remains, but the nave has gone. It is a mediaeval church with mouldings dating back to the 13th Century. We decide this requires a much longer visit in warmer weather when the flowers are out.
Friday 10th February – Barnsley Canal – A dull morning with an overcast sky. A Kestrel drops down behind a line of bushes but is up again quickly which probably means it missed its target. The tow-path is only muddy in patches, testament to the very dry weather over the winter. Bullfinches flash along the edge of the canal. The water level is very low and there is a stench of decay. A Grey Heron rises ahead and then a wader speeds up and away with a flash of white rump. I would guess that it is a Green Sandpiper and its presence at this time of year may mean its winter range is spreading north.
Saturday 11th February – Wombwell Ings – Both Wombwell Ings and Broomhill Flash are frozen with just a small area of ice-free water. Mallard, Wigeon, Teal and Lapwings stand on the ice. A female Stonechat hops about the rough pasture, flying onto any clump of grass standing higher than the rest to look around. Gypsy Pond also has a small patch of open water into which Coots crowd. A large flock of Greylag Geese flies into Broomhill to join the flocks of Canada Geese.
Friday 17th February – South Yorkshire – I find myself gainfully employed again. The job is driving – delivering motor parts. It is taking me to places I have not visited for quite a while. Thus, I am surprised to find a large flyover and roundabouts at Denaby where none existed before. Likewise, the M62/A1 junction at Ferrybridge has changed out of recognition. Nottingham remains a driving nightmare though. I get stopped by every traffic light possible, including one pedestrian crossing that changes when no-one is in sight.
Saturday 18th February – Dodworth – The track to the hill overlooking the old colliery site is deeply rutted and muddy. However, an overnight frost has made it a bit easier to traverse. Up on the old stack the countryside rolls away beneath. The number of huge warehouses in the area is clear from here. They have few redeeming qualities, just cheap and nasty blocks of pressed steel, uniformly painted dull grey. Below, the new Dodworth By-pass is under construction. It was never really clear why the place needed a by-pass, the current road is adequate. However, from here, the extent of the adjoining industrial estate, built on farmland, is clear. The by-pass is to serve this monstrosity. A Sky Lark sings above, joyful at having some farmland left up here upon which to nest. Red catkins of Alder are opening to yellow.
Monday 20th February – Willowbank – In the half light before the sun rises I stumble across the muddy paths of Willowbank. The dawn chorus has been gathering strength over the past weeks. Robins, Song Thrushes, Blackbirds and Dunnocks are all gearing up for a new season.
Dearne Valley Country Park – The new season still seems a long way away in the grey of the afternoon. There is a small area of water alongside the River Dearne with a small island. Mute Swans nest here most years. There are a pair of swans on the water, but they look like young ones, probably last year's brood.
Thursday 23rd February – South Yorkshire – A day of rain is welcome as this seems to have been a particularly dry winter. However, it makes driving up the M1 motorway an unpleasant experience as visibility is seriously reduced because of the spray. There are still large flocks of Lapwings, Wood Pigeons, Black-headed Gulls and Starlings around. These will start to break up shortly as the breeding season looms.
Sunday 26th February – Thorpe Hesley-Ecclesfield – The sky is turning greyer by the minute as I head out of Thorpe Hesley on Jumble Lane. The playing fields are very muddy. It is the King George Field, celebrating King George V. Two old stone plaques declaring this are set into new brick plinths. The road passes Hesley Lodge Farm. Sheep are baaing in the fields. The next field is lined with Oaks. The road drops down to a hollow. The hedge contains Elder, Hawthorn, Holly, Ash and Oak. Fruiting Ivy with clumps of black berries climbs the green lichen covered branches. In the hollow, water drained off the fields and probably the M1 motorway pours down into a concrete culvert. The road rises and a bridge passes over the M1. There is a sign saying “Rainstorth”. This appears to be just a farm and riding stables – it is not clear whether any coherent hamlet existed. On the other side of the motorway the road undulates to a junction. Here is Butterthwaite House and Lodge. Documents from 1822 declares “Butterthwaite, in the township and parish of Ecclesfield, upper-division of Strafforth and Tickhill; 4½ miles N. of Sheffield, 6 from Rotherham, 9 from Barnsley.” Another resource in a paper on the economy of South Yorkshire by D.G. Hey tells of “John Jackson of Butterthwaite (1754) [who] emerges as the typical yeoman, as far as personal estate goes, with goods worth £128 10s 0d.” The road divides here and I head towards Ecclesfield. Under an abandoned railway (the old Rotherham to Sheffield LNER line) and then under the Barnsley to Sheffield line. Station Road is here, through a dreary industrial estate. A small stream runs rapidly under the road. The road comes out by Ecclesfield Police Station. I turn past the police station and into Green Lane and then Ecclesfield Lane. The Blackburn Brook flows down The Ravine. This is part of Concord Park and the Trans-Pennine Trail. I cross back over the river and railway and follow the disused railway before cutting up to Butterthwaite Farm. This road leads back up to Butterthwaite House.
Tuesday 28th February – Willowbank – It is just past 6:30 in the morning and the sky is completely cloudless. It is also bitterly cold. A few bare patches of frozen snow lay on the ground – more is forecast. It may be the cold has affected the birds as the dawn chorus is quite muted, just a Robin singing some distance away.
Scout Dyke – A few clouds are appearing and it is still bitterly cold in the wind. The water level in the reservoir is very low. A pair of Great Crested Grebes and a pair of Goosander glide across the surface. Mallard stand on the large area of exposed banking.
Yorkshire – From Hoylandswaine Yorkshire spreads out eastward. Plumes of steam rise from the line of power stations along the M62 – Ferrybridge, Eggborough and Drax and beyond is the shadow of the Yorkshire Wolds rising above the Vale of York.