New Years Day – Sunday 1st January – Nunney, Somerset – A bad cold meant that my alcohol intake at the New Year party was limited, thus I am free of the usual hangover. I take Jasper (Peter and Jo’s Irish Wolfhound/German Shepherd cross) and Dill the Dog up to the field behind the “big house”. There are flocks of Black-headed Gulls and Fieldfares on the field. Pete and Jo have two new ewes after a year without sheep. They do not seem to recognise Jasper as the old sheep did and just stare blankly at us. A Common Buzzard sits on a twisted metal stake stuck in the ground near a watering trough in the middle of the field. It flies over the brow as I approach. When I reach the brow, I see there are two Buzzards in the field. My silhouette alarms them and they fly off and alight on telephone poles along the Mells road. Periwinkles are flowering on top of the limestone wall along the side of the road back into Nunney.
Wednesday 4th January – The Fleets – At home it is grey and damp, yet as I head down Smithies Lane towards the River Dearne the landscape whitens with a heavy frost on the trees and bushes. Fleets Dam is partially frozen and Black-headed Gulls stand around waiting for something to happen. A Green Woodpecker “yaffles” loudly from over the river. Blue Tits call in the trees as the search for morsels to eat. A Blackbird by the lake edge calls loudly in alarm.
Saturday 7th January – Netherwood Country Park – It is raining and muddy. This does not deter Dill the Dog, who has, in recent days, been running around like a puppy. The River Dove is running clear and fast. The woods are dank and dark. A large flock of geese are grazing the hillside – Canada, Greylag, Egyptian and feral crosses. A Dunnock emits a mournful whistle from a small Larch and flies off. There are several Goosander on the pond by the road along with a Grey Heron, numerous Mallard and hybrid ducks and a Moorhen swimming jerkily across the water.
Sunday 8th January – Home – It is a miserable day – dark, grey and fine rain. Wentworth Farmers Market is quiet with a number of traders missing. At home, the stove is stoked up and glows warmly. In the garden there is a decent sized flock of Greenfinches and Chaffinches. Blue Tits visit the peanuts but are moved off by a Great Spotted Woodpecker.
Tuesday 10th January – Barnsley Canal – The car is in for a service so Dill the Dog and I head off in slight drizzle and an uncomfortable breeze towards Barugh. I still need to find out whether the canal passed here as it headed to Silkstone – well, I know it passed here but exactly where? (actually, I discover later that the route can be seen quite clearly from the M1 motorway!) The Dearne is running steadily past The Millers Inn. Up to Swallow Hill Farm. A Mistle Thrush crossed the road. There are Magpies in the empty and muddy fields. The path leads off from the road and over a field of sprouting grain to the bridge over the river. The path between the new and old sewage settling pond is muddy and churned up. A pair of Mallard fly overhead. A much larger group are put up from the old settling ponds. Black-headed Gulls are circling the sewage plant. Over the rough pasture to the end of the canal. Here Dill the Dog manages to be spooked by a Blackbird, but few other birds are showing themselves in this weather. On the hillside a horse is being exercised as we pass up towards the railway. It is then a steady, if damp slog on upwards to home.
Wednesday 11th January – Woolley – Into a wood of relatively young Oaks and Birches, although they look gnarly with many broken branches. A Great Tit calls a simple “tuit”. The path passes through four foot high stones at each end of the wood. The stone walls either side of the posts are broken down and overgrown. The path leads out into a field of willow being grown as sustainable fuel. The next fields contain winter wheat and a root crop. Something, probably pigeons, has been nibbling away at the beet leaves. These are large fields and three trees in a row show where a hedge has been grubbed up. In the distance gas is flaring off Royston coking plant. It seems a shame that this energy cannot be put to better use. Up the hill, the road crosses the ridge of Woolley Edge. A path drops down through more woods of Oak and Birch of a similar age as the previous. At the bottom of the hill, the path splits. Ahead it leads down to the village of Haigh via Near Moor Farm. To the left, it leads along beside the huge landscaped remains of Woolley pit. Bulldozers continue to move the earth around. Woolley was still a thriving pit in the early 90s and connected underground to Redbrook pit which is a mile up the road from home. Woolley is at least five miles away. From the edge of the woods the view looks over the valley through which the M1 motorway runs. On the skyline are the windmills on Whitely Common. Between the path through the woods and the pit are redundant concrete posts of long gone fences standing over broken stone walls.
Thursday 12th January – Scout Dike – A strong wind blasts across the reservoir. On the hill above, the majority of the Whitely Moor windmills are standing still, which seems strange given the energy in the air. A pair of Goosander glide serenely across the water. Another two males fly down the reservoir and rise up and over the pines beyond the dam wall. A flock of Mallard are sheltering near the dam. A Kestrel is feeding on something on the path ahead. It rises carrying its prey in its claws and flies off. A noisy skein of Canada Geese fly over, then turn into the wind and drop down onto the water. The reservoir tapers into a narrow stream. As I approach the bridge over the stream the path grows muddier. A bright white flash ahead reveals a Bullfinch. Its bright pink breast is vivid against the dullness of the leafless bushes. Another Bullfinch is “meeping” quietly on the other side of the reservoir. Moles have been busy in the pastures beyond the path with molehills dotted everywhere.
Wednesday 18th January – Thornhill – Thornhill is a village standing high above the River Calder to the south of Dewsbury. I start off at the park with has a large flat area which drops away down the valley – it looks like it ought to be the site of a castle, but is not. Down the hill and a Kestrel flies out across the park. A spring issues from underneath an Aspen tree and clear water flows down the hill in a small channel. At the bottom of the hill is a moat. A wooden bridge leads across to an island. There is a small piece of ruined masonry which looks like a fireplace. There is also a small section of wall and by the edge of the water a pair of badly eroded statues, probably eagles on plinths. There had been a hall house in the 13th Century and a 15th Century house. The site was excavated between 1964 and 1972. The later house, built circa 1450, was stone-built and H-shaped in plan. The excavations also revealed a bridge abutment, the remains of a gatehouse, traces of a possible formal garden and a 17th Century bowling green. The site was the seat of the Thornhills, who intermarried with the De Fixbys and Babthorpes in the reigns of Edward I and II. They later married into the Saville family of Barnsley. The house was destroyed by Parliamentarians in the Civil War. Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and Robins are all in song in the surrounding trees and a Green Woodpeckers calls from a little way off. A couple of trees have fallen into the moat.
Outside the park a road leads down the hillside from The Combs, the site of a mining disaster in 1893 when 139 miners were killed in a fire damp explosion. A couple of old cottages with soft brown sandstone walls and moss covered tile roofs sit beside the road. Here the road splits into Thornhill Farm, an organic supplier of dairy produce, and another track, part of the Kirklees Way, continues down the hill. A Bullfinch flashes by. Ahead, a Fox is sitting on the track watching our approach – of course, Dill the Dog does not see it. It trots off into a field and along a tree lined ditch. The white end of its brush contrasts with its dark brown coat.
The track passes over the abandoned Royston to Dewsbury Savile Town Goods line, built by the Midland Railway in 1906. The line was part of a planned scheme to run between Sheffield and Bradford avoiding the congested Leeds area. However, when the Midland gained access to the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company lines, the scheme was never completed and this line terminated in Savile Town goods yard. The line closed in 1950. Shortly, another bridge crosses the Calder and Hebble Navigation. Here the track terminates on the tow path. I head east to a pair of locks, confusingly called the Figure of Three Locks. The lock cottage seems relatively modern. Beside the cottage is a small dock. One part terminates in a vertical drop whilst another bay runs along beside this drop for maybe twenty yards. Access from the canal is through a very low bridge under the tow path. Beyond the vertical drop, the River Calder can be seen flowing past.
A path leads off under the Goole-Manchester railway line, this being the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company line mentioned above. This still carries trains. The River Calder course is twists through an S-bend here under bridges of stone, steel and concrete. A footbridge crosses the river to Healey New Mills. Beside the mills, now an industrial estate, is the large Horbury Junction goods yard. Healey seems to be made up of disjointed short rows of terraced houses. In Calder Terrace stands what looks like a truly traditional pub, The Brewers Pride, but it is far too early in the day to test this out.
Thursday 19th January – Thornhill Lees – Dropping down the hill towards Dewsbury from yesterday’s ramble, to where the Calder and Hebble Navigation crosses under Slaithwaite Road. The bridge has two bronze plaques on the wall – the first is the coat of arms of Dewsbury, the other that of the Savile family with their motto – Bee Fast. This is a straight section of canal between this bridge and Brewery Street bridge. A pair of Magpies are sitting in trees beside the path, watching with the occasional grumble. A party of Mallard are noisily circling on the canal. Beyond Brewery Street is a desolate area of abandoned industrial sites. A huge factory, Yorkshire Transformers, is empty, its modern architecture of glass panels now looking forlorn. The next bridge is Forge Lane. Here there are moorings named after the pub by the bridge, The Perseverance. The bridge is a modern concrete affair standing on old stone footings. Next, a railway bridge carrying the Goole to Manchester line. The bridge has been widened at some stage; one section is made of long stone blocks, the other of brick. It crosses the canal at an angle and has a pleasing flowing line. Beyond the other side of the canal now is tall earth bank with signs, “Danger Keep Out, Deep Excavations”. I climb a bank to look over and it appears to be a land-fill site. The odd bit of masonry indicates it was once an industrial site.
The Spen Valley Greenway, an 8 mile cycleway and footpath built on the old Lancashire and Yorkshire railway line Ravensthorpe Branch, built in 1869 and closed in 1986. Four rasping Mistle Thrushes fly overhead. The bridge carrying the mainline from Dewsbury is a magnificent construction. Rising out of the river are staggered stone pillars with angled shoulders. From these six arches of steel with cross-braces hold the bridge. The sides of the bridge have iron work that resembles arched windows of a church. From the Greenway, I can see there is a matching double arched bridge over the River Calder. The next feature over the canal is four huge pipes surmounted by rusting machinery. Beyond is a lock with a single gate which leads out into the wide expanse of the Calder. Two Cormorants fly over but seem to disagree on where to go. One flies upstream and the other down. A few minutes later, the latter returns and heads upstream too.
Friday 20th January – Barnsley Canal – The wind is blowing hard from the north. Three Cormorants fly up the valley. It is very wet and soon begins to rain. Mallard dabble on the canal. The sun struggles to cut through the cloud but is bright enough to start a rainbow on the horizon. A Great Tit is calling as we cross the pasture towards the stream that runs down the valley. On the meadow beyond the stream, molehills are scattered over the grass, some relatively fresh. The sun grows in strength and so does the rainbow. It is soon arching across the sky and a ghostly second bow forms. The wind rushes through the high tension wires across the valley creating a deep bass drone. Back along the canal and the sky is now blue – and I am soaked. Dill the Dog is also saturated and coated in mud. Up beyond the wood Jays fly in from the fields, croaking harshly. Along the path behind Greenfoot Lane School a Sparrowhawk flies off silently.
Saturday 21st January – Ludlow – We arrive in the town in the late morning. The plan is to look around the area in terms of a possible move to here in the future. However, my foot, which has been sore all week, has flared up for some reason and I can hardly walk. So, after a short walk around the town centre, we book into our hotel and I get a pint. This may seem like an ideal situation for those who know me, but I am genuinely disappointed at my immobility. Kay managed to get out and about during the afternoon, but I was forced to sit and sample the large range of real ales on sale.
Sunday 22nd January – Welsh Borders – I take Dill the Dog up onto Whitely Common which is over the River Teme from the town of Ludlow, but I am still very restricted in my walking. After breakfast we have a look around the residential areas of Ludlow by car. It is slightly frosty and very foggy. We then headed west through hills and dales to Leintwardine. We have a quick look at this pretty little village which was once a major Roman settlement called Branogenivm on the Watling Street West. We then head on to Knighton which is actually in Wales. Back over the railway by the station on the edge of town and we are back in England. From here we head north looking at Craven Arms and Church Stretton, both nice enough places but not having that something that makes us say we want to live there.
Wednesday 25th January – Dearne Valley Country Park – A piping Pied Wagtail flies across the grass on a dull and grey morning. It is quite cold. Down by the river, large stands of dark brown stems of Japanese Knotweed spread further each year. There seems to be little attempt to control this pernicious weed and it will not be long before the river bank loses all its indigenous plant life under this pest. Returning on the other side of the river, a large flock of Goldfinches fly off ahead of me. Magpies are chattering in Cliffe Wood. Wood Pigeons sit in the trees hunches and puffed up against the cold. Blue Tits churr incessantly. A Wren picks its way through leaf litter and brambles. The old Willows have been trimmed and piles of logs lay beside the path. Screaming Black-headed Gulls dive and splash in the lake. In the upper lake, a pair of Coot squabble noisily. A flock of Siskin feed in Alders by the river. Across to the Pontefract Road and Hoyle Mill Chapel stands in a sorry state, broken windows and the feeling of neglect permeates every stone. The founding stone records that Mrs Edith Senior of Beevor Hall laid this stone on this very day 120 years ago. Up Elm Row, a small row of terraced houses to the Snooker Club. The canal ran behind the club at thirty feet above this point. It seems that a line of evergreens marks its former course through the cullet works. It then proceeds eastwards behind Ash Terrace. This row of terraced houses is unusual in that their front doors face the bank that held the canal and their back gardens ran down to the Pontefract Road. The terrace joins Oaks Lane which leads up to the old Barnsley Main Colliery. From just up the lane, the line of the canal is clear as it approached the bridge carrying the road. The remains of the bridge are scant but it shows the road took a different route once. Beyond the bridge, the line of the canal is obscured by dense undergrowth and trees.
Saturday 28th January – Barnsley Canal – It is a bright morning with a slight frost on Willowbank. I head down Willowbank, across the canal and down onto the rough pasture in the valley. Unfortunately, horses have turned most the paths in quagmires. Whole areas have been churned up and it is heavy going trying to get through. The only song heard is a persistent Great Tit. A number of moles have been busy on the other side of the stream. Huge molehills are everywhere. The River Dearne runs slowly. Along near the sewage works, an old Alder has attracted a number of Great Tits, either for food or are they inspecting the old woodpecker holes as potential nest sites? Back up on Willowbank a couple of Robins are singing and it begins to cloud over.
Sunday 29th January – Langsett Moor – I head down from below Upper Midhope towards a valley below the moors. Cock Pheasants strut about the horse pasture beside the track. The track leads past a large conifer plantation. Blue Tits are calling. Old tumbled down walls are lime green with lichen. Tall stone monoliths of gateposts open to nowhere. From the beck, gurgling Red Grouse can heard from the moor beyond. The water in the beck is deep and black. Layers of gritstone are weathered where they are exposed on banks of heather. It always seems impossible that such a gentle stream can have eroded such a deep valley. The track rises between conifers and moor. The drainage channel beside the track is over three feet deep; clear water bubbles over rocks. The path itself is rocky and threatens ankles. As the moor opens out into open access land there are some tumbled down ruins of buildings. The track now turns into a badly eroded path across the moorland. Broken dry stone walls crisscross the heather. Red Grouse fly to and fro, diving down into the heather calling, “Go back, go back, go back”. A junction with the path up from the Little Don Valley appears. Sheep are dotted over the moor. The ground is slightly frozen and thin sheets of ice cover puddles. I reach the point where the path drops down into a fold in the land before rising to Mickledon Edge. This is far enough and I turn and retrace my steps.
Monday 30th January – Fleets Dam – A grey, chilly morning but no frost. A Coot is feeding in the willow carr. Again, no-one is fishing on the lake – quite unusual. But there is someone searching for fish – a Kingfisher darts across the lake and into an overhanging tree. Four Grey Herons are also around the water, but do not seem interested in feeding. A Robin sings from a tree on the river bank. Great Crested Grebe are beginning to grow their breeding plumage. Two of the herons rise from the fishing stages and head off up the valley. A number of Black-headed Gulls mill around.
Wyke – A small town to the east of Halifax and south of Bradford. I head off down Station Road and over the Halifax to Leeds/Bradford railway line. The road turns sharply and there is an entrance to Judy Woods. The woods were named after a local character, Judy North, who lived in a cottage, now demolished, near Horse Close Bridge. She was born Judith Stocks in 1795 and died in 1870. She was also known as Gurt Judy and Stick o’ Judy’s and Judy Ellis. She sold sticks of spice, ginger beer and parkin to passers by. She and her son, John Barraclough, looked after the gardens at Judy Woods. She led a colourful life, being married three times, Joseph Barraclough in 1819, Isaac Jowett in 1833 and Joseph North in 1847. She also cohabited with Amos Kellet, who sold the woods to a Mr Smith of Royds Hall, Low Moor. The woods are made up of a number of old woodlands such as Doctor Wood, Gannerthorpe, Jagger Park Wood, Low Wood, North Brow Wood, Old Hanna Wood and Royds Hall Great Wood. The whole may well have been part of Brianscholes Forest, an ancient woodland that may have spread down to the Sherwood Forest. The woods are mainly mature Beech. There are the remains of Bell Pits for the extraction of coal which fired the furnaces of the Low Moor Company, which made cannon for the Napoleonic Wars. From the woods, a path heads back up towards Wyke across a landscape of small hills and valleys. Numerous Magpies in trees on the crest of the slope are making a raucous racket. From the crest there is a fine view across the Calder valley. I rejoin the A641 and wander down towards Station Road again. There are small Victorian terraces leading off the road. Many of these houses have bricked up coal shoots in their front walls; one still retains the cast iron fretwork plate. There is some writing in the iron, but it is too eroded to read. Ginnels (small passageways) weave their way through the backs of the houses. Just past the Station Road junction is a fine house, a hall even, with many outbuildings, now all converted in residences.
Tuesday 31st January – New Mill – New Mill lies in a valley where the Huddersfield to Sheffield road crosses the Barnsley to Manchester road. A stream runs through the village. It is coloured bright orange. Just up from the crossroads is Moorbrook Mill, built in 1838. Those were the days of the great British woollen trade. It has now gone and the mill stands empty with its tall chimney cold. The centre of the village has a Co-op, Indian and Chinese takeaway, post office and two hairdressers. However, there is what looks like a decent butchers! An old brewery – the name of which has been erased from the lintel of the entrance to the yard – has been converted into apartments. Two other mills in the village have also been converted to other uses. The chimney of Glen Dale Mill stands alone on the other side of the Sheffield Road from all the other buildings. A footpath up beside it climbs a steep valley. A cottage is set into the hillside. At the top, another footpath over a lane follows a pavement of flagstones across a field. A large house, probably built by a mill owner, stands with a large square tower with a cast iron railing around the top. The villages of Totties and Scoles can be seen over the hill. The path comes to a football pitch and I retrace my steps. The lane leads down to the Penistone Road. The lane is called Spring Lane and at this junction is the reason why, a stone wall and a set of steps leads down to a spring. There is little water and a lot of rubbish here now. Across the road, a lane leads up to Sude Hill. The original village stood up on Sude Hill surrounding Christ Church which was built in 1829/30.