New Year’s Day, Thursday 1st January – Nunney, Somerset – It is past ten o’clock before I emerge, the morning after the night before! Up to the field above the ‘big house’. It is mild and windy. Pete and Jo’s sheep are in a paddock next to the field. Spotty, the ewe, patrols the fence warning off Jasper, the Wolf Hound/German Shepherd cross and Dill the Dog. Her lambs, now wethers (castrated rams) follow close behind her. A column of Rooks rises on a thermal across the fields. A Dunnock skulks along the low hedge by the fence. From here, one can see how Nunney castle nestled comfortably in the valley. The castle and the church rise high above the surrounding cottages. Rooks and Jackdaws are blown around the air over Nunney Brook which is rushing down quite vigorously.
Beacon Hill – A wood to the north of the Somerset Levels set on a ridge. We head to the edge of the wood. A row of three round barrows lines the top of the ridge away to the west. Far out across the Levels, Glastonbury Tor rises cloaked in mist. There are more barrows within the wood; the area was a Bronze Age burial site, some 4000 years old. Evidence has also been found of Roman occupation. Indeed, the great Roman road, the Fosse Way, which ran from Exeter (Isca Dumnoniorum) to Lincoln (Lindum) via Bath (Aquae Sulis), Cirencester (Corinium) and Leicester (Ratae Coritanorum), passed through the wood, although the exact route has been lost. Deep in amongst some magnificent Beeches and Oaks is tumulus with a standing stone. This was the original beacon, first recorded in 1736. There is writing carved into two adjacent sides of the stone. It is hard to read, but one side says “Shepton Mallet 1766”. The other side is even less distinct, a word probably beginning with “D” and “Bath 1766”. The geology is igneous rock, the oldest outcrop in Somerset, juxtaposed with red sandstone. There are numerous rounded pebbles and calcite or quartz chippings scattered around. Much of the wood floor’s unevenness is the result of quarrying in Iron Age and Roman periods. Querns of old Red Sandstone have been found at the Iron Age fort at Cadbury Castle and the nearby Roman settlement of Charlton. A pool at the base of the beacon mound gives the scene an ethereal feel – the fairies have danced here; elves passed under the eaves of these woods. There are good numbers of fungi growing on the ground and fallen tree trunks – Greasy Tough-shank, Tripe Fungus and several, as yet, unidentified species.
Nunney – The clouds are backlit by a bright moon. A wind causes the trees to creak. A Tawny Owl hoots in the distance. Spotty the sheep’s baa is distinctive in the dark. The clouds part and the moon lights up the fields. Stars sparkle.
Monday 5th January – The Fleets – A Kingfisher shoots across the lake, a turquoise dart. Three Grey Herons stand on fishing stages in different places. A Cormorant passes over. A few Black-headed Gulls circle the perimeter. The lake is various shades of grey, reflecting the sky.
Thursday 8th January – Redbrook-Mapplewell-Darton – The car is in for a service and I had planned a walk whilst it was being worked upon. Dill the Dog and I forge on despite the driving rain. There is, not surprisingly, no wildlife to be seen anywhere. Dill the Dog’s belly gets covered in grey-black mud from the old mine workings at Mapplewell. There are rows of manglewurzels laid out in an adjoining field, but the sheep have wisely sought shelter somewhere. We both get soaked to the skin.
Friday 9th January – The Fleets – Yesterday’s rain has swollen the River Dearne and water plunges over the weir at a rate not seen for some time. Six Goosander sail serenely on the lake. The resident two pair of Mallard swim seemingly in random directions.
Saturday 17th January – Barnsley Canal – The first time Dill the Dog and I have had a decent walk in nearly a week. Normally, she goes out with me after I have dropped Kay off at work. But in the past week, it has been a quick trip over the road in darkness and then rushing back after dropping of Kay to let in the builders who are replacing the bathroom. Anyway, after torrential rain on Thursday, it has brightened and today is sunny and frosty. The muddy canal tow-path has not fully frozen, but it has been hardened enough. The canal is full, near to overflowing. Blackbirds, Great and Blue Tits chatter in the hedgerows. Winter thrushes have disappeared, not surprisingly as they have stripped every Hawthorn of its berries. The Loop is frozen in patches and a Moorhen negotiates the channels of open water. I can hear, but not see Teal and Mallard. A female Bullfinch sits in a Hawthorn, sunning herself.
Tuesday 20th January – Fleets Dam – A fine drizzle descends. A small group of Bullfinches shoot out of the willows and shrubs and head off into the deeper woodland. Water crashes over the weir below Old Mill Lane. The rise in the river has cleared away much of the rubbish from the river, but one large raft of trash floats trapped behind a large Willow branch that has cracked and lays across the river. Black-headed Gulls stand on the end of the old jetty. Lime green Silver Birch catkins hang everywhere.
Monday 26th January – Fleets Dam – A cold, damp morning. Both the lake and the River Dearne are tranquil and still. Six Goosander drift slowly across the water. Another three Mallard have joined the two pair that are regularly here. A Goldfinch flock flits up from the pathway. Trees and bushes are being searched by good numbers of Blue Tits. A Song Thrush is in full song, anticipating Spring, although he may be in for a surprise – weather forecasters have predicted snow. Further on, a Robin is also establishing his territory with song. Black-headed Gulls sit on the water, whilst others fly over. The two resident Grey Herons are disturbed as usual. A Moorhen scuttles across the river. Wood Pigeons sit on wires and tree tops, hunched and motionless.
Tuesday 27th January – Fleets Dam – It is getting colder. The sky is grey. Goosanders glide across the lake like Polaris submarines and sink gently under the surface in a tranquil dive. A few Black-headed Gulls have gained their eponymous heads.
Wednesday 28th January – Barnsley Canal – There are reports of heavy snow around the country, but little has fallen here. The tow-path is frozen into hard ridges. There are large numbers of Wood Pigeons across the river, both on wires and in the winter wheat field. A solitary Fieldfare calls, but receives no response. A Water Rail squeals like a stuck pig from the dead reed bed by the Loop.
Saturday 31st January – Fleets Dam – Near continuous rain for 15 hours has washed away the remaining vestiges of snow and the melt and rain water pours down the River Dearne and crashes over the weir. It has failed to shift a large log that has jammed by the edge. Fishermen huddle under their large umbrellas. Little else moves.