New Year’s Day – Tuesday 1st January – Barnsley Canal – Snow and ice remain, despite bright sunshine. The temperature barely creeps above freezing. The ground is now frozen more deeply than a few days ago. The pools on the tow-path are solid ice. A few Teal and Moorhen stand beside the loop. Few other birds are in evidence.
Saturday 5th January – Home – At dawn a Robin sings lustily from the top of the Cherry tree. It is much warmer than recently, the temperature already at 5°C and grass is beginning to show through the melting snow. However, the compacted snow/ice on the steps is dangerously slippery as it is covered by a sheen of water. Yesterday, the remaining mince pies and the Christmas pudding were put on the table (rather a lot of pudding because the overeating of other food during the festivities left no room for a heavy dessert). The pies have vanished but the pudding remains intact, somewhat to my surprise as the rich, fat and fruit laden mass should be ideal Starling fodder.
Barnsley Canal – The thaw also continues here. Eight Long-tailed Tits, a few Blue Tits and a Chaffinch are feeding in a young Silver Birch. Two Mute Swans are on a pool of open water on the mainly still frozen loop. A couple of youths with air-rifles are down there. This is worrying; sometimes people with guns have injured the swans and often they are shooting at what they suppose are “water rats” but are nationally endangered voles. Fortunately, they move off without harming anything. The only sound is a calling Great Tit.
Tuesday 8th January – Barnsley Canal – Set off down Willowbank on a cold, wet and grey morning. Robins are singing from tree tops dotted more or less equally spaced across the area. The canal does not look deeply frozen, so it is quite a surprise to see a large dog Fox trot across it beyond the bridge. He disappears into the reed bed and, presumably, up the Hawthorn hedge towards Tinkers Pond. Several Moorhens scuttle across the ice at Dill the Dog’s approach. The slight remains of a broken wall line a seldom used muddy path down from the tow-path. Blocks of dressed masonry are moss covered. There is now a large break in the row of Hawthorns that leads down to a rough meadow and marsh where the old path led. A stream wells up from the marsh and is crossable by some strategically placed stones. The rest of the marsh is easier as the puddles and mud are sufficiently frozen to carry my not inconsiderable weight. A Wren ticks rapidly from the sedges and a Teal makes a dash and circles around to go down river. Dill the Dog gets into a disgusting state by hurtling round in circles through the sedges and reeds. Moorhens make a dash for cover on the far side. Overhead, electric power lines crackle and hiss in the damp air. The path leads to a bridge over the River Dearne. It is a very utilitarian bridge of sheet steel and welded railings. The path then leads up beside the huge spoil heap of the long closed North Gawber pit. At the top a road leads into Mapplewell.
Mapplewell – Good numbers of House Sparrows are sitting in Hawthorns along the road. A Blackbird calls continuously in alarm. In Mapplewell, it takes a few minutes to realise the old Victorian school has been demolished and replaced by flats. Small streets of terraced housing lead off the road. They are completely surrounded by new housing developments. A tanning and health studio has an old foundation stone in the corner of the wall – laid on 25th April 1892 by Mr Daniel Eddlestone. There is nothing else on the building to indicate its previous use, except for a goods door obviously originally with a hoist to bring goods up to a top floor storage area. A guess would say it is the old Co-op. From Mapplewell, we head down Spark Lane. There must be houses from every decade since the 1890s in this road. Off then along another path across a spoil heap. Underfoot is thick, cloying coal and clay mud. This joins an old railway line which eventually comes to join the Wakefield line just before Darton station.
Darton – A cottage stands alone beneath the railway embankment. Built in 1870, it has a side extension and entrance that cannot be more than six feet wide. The road crosses the River Dearne again. In the centre of the main street is a building with a stone plaque proclaiming it as the Sunday School, built by subscription in AD MDCCCXVIII – “Train a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it”. Up past the church, the pub and the Town Hall, each occupying a corner on the Huddersfield Road and onwards towards Kexborough across the M1 motorway. The road is lined with late 20th Century properties and it is not until the end of the village that older properties beside a farm are found. A fine long stone built barn runs along the road. Opposite, some old outbuildings look deserted and forlorn at the back of the White Bear public house.
Down Cawthorne Lane and a rest on a bench by the roadside. There is a constant rumble from the M1 which sweeps up and round Barnsley. Great Tits are singing their rusty bicycle song and Blue Tits churr. At the bottom of the hill runs Cawthorne Dike, a small stream fringed with Scots Pine. The stream is edged with a thin plate of ice. Dill the Dog is not keen on stepping on the ice but is eventually persuaded across it and into the cold water. She has a drink, a swim and then clambers out, to charge around like a mad hound. A bridleway leads up the hill to Barnby Hall. Chaffinches in good numbers pink in the trees. An Oak has bright green lichen, the colour of Copper Carbonate, over the base of its trunk. Past Barnby Hall, over the Barnsley to Holmfirth road, past Barnby Green Farm and down to Barnby Furnace. This is now a couple of cottages. Across Barnby Furnace Bridge and up the hill and back down to a small stream beside Hugset Wood and back up, under the M1 to Higham. Down Hermit Lane Dill the Dog is bouncing around on her lead, excited by something in the roadside hedge. A little Weasel is running parallel with us in the base of the hedge, clearly determined to get to its hole. Hermit Lane leads back up to Gawber. There are old farm buildings here beside the road which is lined by mainly thirties housing. The soft sandstone blocks are heavily eroded; indeed some have deep concave depressions in them. Past the hospital, site of the old Work House and then down the hill to home.
Home – A major annoyance in the afternoon when I turn my ankle in the garden. It is the third time in about ten years and yet again ligaments are torn. There is a lump the size of a lemon by the time I crawl back into the kitchen and it is the size of a large orange by the time I get the ice pack on.
Friday 11th January – Barnsley Canal, Old Mill – Although it is milder, the canal is still covered in ice. Someone has broken through the surface and thrown slabs of ice up onto the bank and on the remaining ice. The slabs are four to five inches thick! A Moorhen stalks the centre of the canal. Starlings sit on overhead wires, watching.
Sunday 13th January – Home – Robins are singing at all time of day. A small flock of Redwings scatters as the backdoor opens. Sadly, Jaws, the goldfish that has inhabited one of the ponds since we moved in, is lying on the surface. However, I do not think we will replace it, preferring a larger number of frogs and toads to survive – it ate them all last year!
Tuesday 15th January – Wombwell Ings – Another grey, cool day with rain threatening. A Robin sings loudly from a bare Blackthorn bush. A pair of Mallard bob gently in an eddy by the bank of the River Dearne. Scanning across to the ings reveals a small flock of Golden Plover on the mud and Black-headed Gulls and Goosander on the water. A Magpie stands on the back of one of the local ponies.
Thursday 17th January – Dearne Valley Park – It is easy to see why this time of year is called “the dead of winter”. All looks bleak and dead. Stark branches reach for a grey, funereal sky. Beneath are the dried yellow-brown stems of dead grasses. But the promise of rebirth is there. At the tips of the branches are tight brown buds with just a hint of green at the very tips. Although their unfurling is still some weeks off, spring is coming. A Wren darts across from the grasses to bushes on top of the bank of the Dearne. The river is very low and sluggish.
Home – The number of Stock Doves is increasing daily. At least six clattered off when Dill the dog was sent out to chase the Grey Squirrels off. It is a meaningless exercise as they are back as soon as she is inside again. The Great Spotted Woodpecker visits the apple tree with the fat basket. It explores the bark right up into the branches. Good numbers of Chaffinches and Greenfinches visit the table. The latter sit in the trees with the sun gleaming off their bright yellow primaries.
Saturday 19th January – Blackburn Meadows – A bright morning with a brisk and chilly wind. All the ducks on the first pool are avoiding the wind by sheltering in the lee of the far bank – Teal, Mallard and Gadwall. Two fully grown cygnets are still with the Mute swans, but surely they will be “asked” to leave soon. The far side marshy pool is nearly dry for some reason. It will be a pity if it does dry out as it usually contained at least one pair of Little Grebe, which probably breed here. Suddenly a sign of the coming of Spring – lime yellow catkins on a Hazel. Great Tits are darting about trees above the canal. Water is pouring over the lock gates, the result of yesterday’s heavy rain.
Monday 21st January – Wombwell Ings – A blustery wind blows across the flat valley. A Weasel runs across the disused road by the bridge over the River Dearne. There are over 150 Canada Geese on the winter wheat field between the Ings and Broomhill Flash. There are also decent numbers of wildfowl on the Ings – 280 Wigeon being the most prevalent. There are smaller numbers of Pochard, a couple of Shelduck, five male Goosander, Tufted Duck, Teal, Gadwall and Mallard. A small flock of Golden Plover flies over and an equally small flock of Lapwings flap over from the far side of the water to this.
Home – A fat Wood Pigeon has taken over the bird table and has no intention of letting any of the Stock Doves that are gathered around its base at the seed. One Stock Dove flaps furiously as it hovers by the edge of the table but as soon as its foot touches down, the Wood Pigeon lunges and the Stock Dove retreats. Yet, a little later a male Chaffinch lands on the table and starts feeding and is completely ignored. The Great Spotted Woodpecker is on the fat. Greenfinches are lined up to get onto the peanut feeder. Suddenly, they are all spooked and the garden is empty.
Friday 25th January – Grange Gate – Although not really cold, the dampness of the morning and a slight wind makes it feel decidedly chilly. Brown catkins hang from young Alders. On Silver Birches the male catkins at the end of the branches are small and hard. The fat, short female catkins are on the shafts of the branches. Blue Tits call incessantly. Tiny brown buds on Willows are mainly closed but just a few are beginning to crack open to reveal the pale grey catkins inside that give the tree the name “Pussy Willow”. There are a lot of hard, green amorphous galls on the branches. Bullfinches disappear into undergrowth, just their white rumps flashing their departure. Pools have a cracked veneer of ice. Magpies sit at the tops of bushes, for once silent. It starts to snow.
Saturday 26th January – Barnsley Canal – Overnight rain has turned the tow-path into a quagmire. It is quiet apart from the indefatigable Robin singing from the allotments. A Song Thrush sits silently in a tree up Willowbank. The resident Mute Swans sail down the canal with one cygnet. Another pair of Mute Swans are on the loop, which is flooded far out of its normal size. A few Mallard, fifteen Teal and a pair of Gadwall are on the pool. A Little Grebe dives by the reed bed. A pair of Robins move through the thick bushes and undergrowth between the tow path and the river. The lack of any aggression from either of them leads to the speculation they are a pair beginning to seek out a nesting site. Horses are released from a paddock on Willowbank and gallop down to drink at the canal. Their owner calls them back up for feeding. The other cygnet has appeared from somewhere and joined the Mute Swan family.
Tuesday 29th January – Dodworth Road – After a couple of days of high winds which have caused devastation in other parts of the country, the wind has eased and it is a mild morning. I have dropped my car off for repairs at a garage on the Dodworth Road. Coming back into town past inter-wars semis, there is a little street of Victorian two up/two downs (two upstairs and two downstairs rooms, originally) with arches leading into small back yards with the privy. Further down Dodworth Road, a ginnel (a small passageway) leads down to Emily’s Terrace, a row in Springfield Street. The street is probably named for the area where Sough Dike came out and flowed into Barnsley Town Centre, although there is no sign of it there now. Again, the street consists of terraces of two up/two downs. Then Grange House, a large Victorian villa. This is next to a factory (BBCS Ltd 1921 says the stone in the apex of the roof – Barnsley British Co-operative Society). It is likely an older factory stood here, possibly a mill, although most of the linen mills were closer to town where there were ponds dug for them, fed by Sough Dike. The other side of the factory is another large house. Half is abandoned and in a terrible state of repair, but the other half has cleaned brickwork and a new roof. The wrecked part has a curving scrolled gable end with an attic room. Exactly the same design is used in two rows of buildings which face each other between Dodworth Road and Springfield Street. A little further down the street, a cobbled street leads off at right angles but quickly peters out into a green area. On the other side is a large retaining wall of sandstone blocks and at its base is Sough Dike – or at least, about twenty yards of it. It emerges from a culvert and trickles across debris and rubbish before disappearing into another culvert and under a road. It then vanishes completely under the streets that surround Town End.
Peel Square – The old underground Victorian public conveniences are still open to the public. They are virtually unchanged. Large white porcelain urinals (by J Duckett and Son of Burnley) with a white tiled wall above, containing just one decorative line of black tiles. The cisterns are large white porcelain tanks. There is a duct with an extractor above the door of each water closet, probably no longer in use and possibly never that efficient! All the pipe work is the original old copper.
Thursday 31st January – Woolley Edge – This is a ridge running north out of Staincross (North Barnsley) towards Wakefield. In the valley to the west runs the M1 motorway. Here, on Beacon Hill, the view stretches for miles. To the north-west, the blackened spire of a church in Otley stands out clearly. But beyond that, towards Huddersfield, the hills are misty. As ones eyes drift towards the south-west, the scalloped scarps of millstone grit line the horizon. As the scarps move away, the great pillows of moors roll on. Between the moors and the valley below is firstly the tall concrete spike of Emley Moor transmitter, then, closer, West Bretton Village. The woods behind are a narrow strip of Oak, Sweet Chestnut and Silver Birch. Acorns and spiny Chestnut cases litter the ground. Blue and Great Tits call. Dill the Dog suddenly gets excited as a Grey Squirrel traverses the area from tree to tree. She yelps in frustration as it speeds on without any chance of her getting close.
Home – I am digging another vegetable patch out of the lawn. A third is just covered by a plastic mesh, but the rest is a spade spit overturned. The work is made much harder by numerous thick roots running through the ground – probably Ground Elder. It will take years to eradicate these, but constant weeding and mulching will win out. I have already put a variety of tomato seeds into pots. This will spur me on to get the ground cleared for a greenhouse. Broad Beans and Garlic are both shooting upwards despite the wet and windy weather.