New Years Day – Monday 1st January – Oxfordshire – We head north from Surrey, where we spent the New Year celebrations, along the M40 motorway. Beyond High Wycombe, Red Kites, mainly in pairs, are increasingly common. A male, with his head looking as if it is dappled with snow, swoops down across the motorway to try and grab the carcass of a rabbit lying in the fast lane, but there is too much traffic. There are a number of other Kites attracted to the feast – if it can be retrieved.
Tuesday 2nd January – Old Waggon Road – The sun is bright and the sky blue, but there is rain or even snow in the air. A wild wind comes from the south-west. A fading rainbow is in the western sky. Past the garden of Beechwood House, a house at the junction of two paths. It has a large garden, sprouts are still standing but the chrysanthemums of autumn have long gone. Hand-painted memorial plaques are on walls or, in one case, by an Oak which the sign states has been grown from an acorn from Rugby School. Along the track there are branches downed recently. Large pot-holes are filled with water which Dill the Dog trots through becoming covered in mud. Streams are in spate, rushing by, a muddy brown. Blackbirds and Redwings fly away from the hedgerow into trees on a little meadow. Beyond the stream the land rises high. Here Rooks feed among sheep. Past the old furnace and on to the sewage farm. A lone Pied Wagtail searches for insects in the settling tanks. It seems an age ago that the swooping hirundines of summer fed here. The rainbow, that had brightened is now fading again as clouds obscure the sun and rain, almost sleet falls. Back along the track, the stones that held the tracks of the small horse-drawn railway that carried coal to the canal are slowly disappearing as the road level rises. A Pheasant croaks. There are good numbers of Robins in the hedge all along the track. A farmer in a tractor carrying a bale of hay to the sheep calls out a cheery “Happy New Year”. A pair of Great Tits search the hedge for food. A Goldfinch flies over, struggling against the wind.
Wednesday 3rd January – Caldervale – I have driven past the boating lake and fishing lake to the west and east respectively of the M1 motorway at Caldervale, but I have not visited either. So to remedy that I park in Horbury outside a premises with a painted over lettering – “Horbury Industrial Society Ld No. 2 Branch 1897”. The premises are now an electrical contractors. The road leads down past an industrial estate to the River Calder, which is rushing over a weir and then through a maze of little islets of grass and stunted bushes. The path passes under the railway bridge (with a pedestrian way in a enclosed box under the track) and out into parkland. The surface is sodden and badly damaged by numerous tyre tracks. A large flock of Black-headed Gulls is on the grass just before the bank of the boating lake. They fly up at our approach and relocate on the water. The track around the lake is also a quagmire created by vehicles. Tufted Duck and Coots are on the lake with the gulls. The track passes under the M1 motorway beside the river. Dill the Dog’s underparts are already coated in mud. On the fishing lake are Tufted Duck, Mallard, a few Little Grebe and a couple of Grey Herons. A Cormorant flies upriver. Two Mute Swan fly in. Some vehicles have even driven along the raised leveé, despite there being a wide track by the lake. The track passes over sluice gates where a Wren tics angrily. A pair of Goosanders and a Goldeneye (my first of the season) lift from the water and fly upstream. A Jay squawks and slips off over the railway. The Hebble & Calder Navigation splits from the river, after rejoining it briefly at the end of Broad Cut, the other side of the motorway, through a lock gate. The gates are being inspected by someone from the British Waterways Authority. The track heads up towards the main road, but I turn under the railway, through the bridge nominated “Lupset No 3 at Thorne”. The path runs alongside the City of Wakefield Golf Course. The hedges here a lively with Bullfinches, Great and Blue Tits, a Dunnock and Goldfinch. The golf course club house lies across the way, a listed building called Lupset Hall, previously home of Daniel Gaskell, Wakefield’s first MP (1832-37). A Great Spotted Woodpecker flies past chipping and lands on a tree by the railway. Back under the railway and past Spring Valley Waters Fishing – a strange set of long rectangular ponds carved out of a rather nice old pond some years back. The road passes St Mary’s Church and I am back at the car.
Thursday 4th January – The Moors – Heading towards Langsett over Gilbert Hill. The sun breaks the south-eastern horizon, an orange ball illuminating the clouds that partly obscure its disc. The wind is a raging gale. Langsett Reservoir is covered in white edged waves. A thick mist of rain is driven across the dam wall and road by the furies. A few Black-headed Gulls are bouncing in the turbulent airs. Down the hill from Upper Midhope, sheep huddle by the dry-stone walls or in small hollows. Dill the Dog and I head off down the track. By the time we reach Langsett Woods, a very short distance, the rain is being driven into every pore and I have had enough. The conifers and swaying to and fro, hissing and groaning. Dill the Dog seems quite unconcerned about the conditions and looks surprised as I retreat. Water flows down the steep road that drops to Ewden Beck. More water gushes out of the stone retaining wall at edge of the road. Several channels can be seen pouring down the wooded hillside. Down the road towards Bolsterstones Reservoir, there are large areas of cleared conifer plantation. Deep ruts of churned up mud head into the woods were further felling is indicated by take around trees. The reservoir seems empty of life. A track leads into Rushy Lane Woods. A pair of Common Pheasant scurry off. The wind is less fierce here, but the rain remains persistent. A stream flows rapidly over white limestone past gnarled and twisted old Oaks, lithe young Silver Birches and tall gloomy Larches. A Robin bobs in a bush watching our passing. A Grey Heron rises from somewhere in the trees and heads round towards the reservoir.
Bolsterstones – One of the old hill villages of the Sheffield area. It lies on the Salt Road, the route used to bring salt from the mines in Cheshire to Yorkshire. Bolsterstones stands at some one thousand feet above sea level on the ridge between the Stocksbridge and Ewden valleys. In the centre of the village is St Mary’s Church, built between 1872 and 1879 on the site of an earlier church built in 1795 replacing a ancient but ruinous chapel of ease. The lych gate and “Jubilee” tree, a fine Sycamore, were both part of the celebrations of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1897. In the churchyard are two large stones, the “bolsterstones”. The upper stone has two morticed holes in it. Local legend has it that they the base of a hanging post and gibbet. It is thought more likely the stones held an Anglo-Saxon cross. The gravestones record many typical Yorkshire names – Heppinstall, Hattersley, Helliwell and so on. On the other side of the road, down Walder Street, stands the Porter’s Lodge. Part of a large arch lies in the wall of what is probably a 19th Century building. A plaque on the wall, itself of some age, states the doorway may be from 1250. It is thought both the door and arch belong to a 16th or 17th Century building.
Friday 5th January – Wombwell Ings and Darfield – Numerous Blackbirds are around the park entrance. Four stand on the parapet of the bridge over Bullings Dike – a.k.a. the sewage transfer ditch. Two large flocks of Canada Geese are feeding on either side of the ings. There are not a great number of wildfowl on the ings, but quite a decent variety – Mallard, whistling Wigeon, a pair of Shelduck, Teal, a very good number of Shoveler, a single male Goosander, a couple of Pochard and a family of Mute Swans. A Grey Wagtail flies up from a sand spit beside the River Dearne. Past the confluence of the rivers Dearne and Dove and then up into Darfield. There are new gates and fencing at the bottom of the path to the village. I note a makers badge – from Frome in Somerset. Can the really be no local company that can provide a pretty basic gate and fence?
At the top of the hill is what may well be the old centre of the village. An inn stands on one corner. A lane leads to the church. One house is now the Maurice Dobson Museum. Opposite is a Reading Room erected, according to the stone plaque, by Rev. H. B. Crooke – Rector of Darfield – 1879. The building has been acquired by the Darfield Area Amenities Society for restoration. Next to All-Saints Church is a fine rectory and cottage. The church appears to be undergoing major restoration within. The graveyard is quiet. Steps lead down to a park beside the Dearne. Robins sing fitfully, Chaffinches pink, Blue Tits churr. At the top of the tallest tree sit several Wood Pigeons and a Mistle Thrush that stands upright, watching all below and utters an occasional rasp.
Up onto the main Barnsley-Doncaster Road. Middlewood Hall peeps over the hill. There has been a building here for many years; the present hall was built by George Walker in 1761. Over the Dearne via Mill Houses Bridge and down Cliff Road. There is a mixture of modern and older dwellings here. One older house has a stone gate-post built into the wall. Several of its windows look like they have been blocked up for many years. Another villa declares it was built in 1852. The central window on the first floor has a curved top with faces decorating the ends. The road ends and a path leads off beside the Dearne. A pair of Goosander noisily fly off from the river. A mixed flock of Redwings, Chaffinches, Greenfinches and tits are flitting up and down the Hawthorn bushes on the river bank. A Goldcrest hovers and twists in the air, feeding on unseasonal gnats. Back down Broomhill Lane (closed since the opening of the link road) and over Marle’s Bridge to the park again.
Saturday 6th January – Barnsley Canal – Another relatively mild and damp morning. Flocks of Redwings and Fieldfares are all along the canal. Despite the numbers of these winter thrushes, the Hawthorn crop looks hardly touched. A Willow Tit stands on an arching bramble. It flies off into the Hawthorns and a few seconds later its buzzing call can be heard. A Jay calls across the valley. From the end of the canal I cut back up across the fields below the railway. In several places the ground is utterly water-logged to the extent that water is over the top of my boot and I have a wet foot. Dill the Dog has her usual mud-soaked underparts and is in the shower again when we return home.
The Grey Horse – They seem to have sorted out my local pub again – chucked out all the kids. They are also stocking good ales again, although Theakston's Old Peculiar runs out after my first pint! Bill arrives with Prince, his old Cocker Spaniel. The dog is sadly struggling to walk. He can no longer get down to the canal any more, just manages to stagger to the top of Willowbank. He can still find voice to demand his crisps though, and despite the length of time I have stayed out of the Horse, Bill still has a packet of cheese biscuits in his bag for Dill the Dog!
Monday 8th January – Edderthorpe – On the way to Edderthorpe I was struck by the amount of new housing being built. West Green is a small village between Monk Bretton and Cudworth. Nothing much there – a row of houses, a few industrial units and, just up the road, the huge Rexam Glass factory. Now, a huge area of old industrial units and scrubland has been cleared and houses going up at a prodigious rate. Edderthorpe was quiet. A lot of Mallard, a large flock of Lapwings and a few Teal and Wigeon. Usually at this time of year the water is teeming with wildfowl but it seems many have not bothered to move south as the weather is so clement.
Houghton Common – A woodland between Great Houghton and Hemsworth. The name would suggest this was an open area once. Now it is covered with mainly Silver Birch and a scattering of Oak. One Oak has been sawn and reveal about 50 rings. This stump looks about the same size as many of the other trees, so it is reasonable to assume that reforestation occurred around 50 years ago. Blue and Great Tits are calling. The low remains of an old wall crosses the wood. It then drops away into West Haigh Wood, a much more extensive and older looking woodland. I do not continue on down the slope, but the map shows the wood extends to the outskirts of Grimethorpe.
Clayton – A small village to the east of the Great Houghton to Hemsworth road. It seems to be mainly more modern properties surrounding several old farms and a quaint Post Office. The correct name for the village appears to be “Clayton with Frickley”, although the hamlet of Frickley is a couple of miles away. In 1870-72, John Marius Wilson described the village in his Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales:
Over a mile and a half further along the road, one can see a small church over a field. Down a track and there is All Saints Church at Clayton with Frickley in the Parish of Bilham. Into the graveyard which surrounds the church. There is a large square area contained by a low wall and filled with pebbles. A headstone states: “Remember those whose cremated remains are laid to rest in this place”. A few feet away is an impressive plinth and column. On the plinth is carved “Thomas Fox’s Vault”. The plinth reads:-
Another face on the column records the death of his wife, Charlotte, on May 6th 1878, aged 80 years. The iron railings that surrounded the plinth have eroded away. Behind the church are a number of graves of the Aldams and the Warde-Aldams, including that of William Aldam, who died in 1890, just three years after his servant. The most recent interment in this vault is in 1973. There are a couple of chest vaults dating from 1816 and 1820. There appear to be older graves, probably late 18th Century but they are all too worn to read. The church is, of course in this day and age, locked. Arthur Mee records (in 1941) that the spire may be 500 years old, the north aisle and arcade mainly 13th century and the chapel perhaps 15th century. The building was made new in 1875.
Tuesday 9th January – Winscar Reservoir – It is grey and windy in Barnsley. It is still grey when I drive up through Carlecotes and Town Head to the reservoir high above Dunford Bridge. However, here the wind is a raging gale. The reservoir is full and white-crested waves are dashing the shore like a beach. On the shore are a large number of Mallard , Canada and feral geese. A pair of wooden seats have been installed commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Ranger Service in 2004. Both have a little rhyme carved on them:-
Water, brown and peaty, is gushing over the outflow in waves and pouring down the steep channel to the village below. The reservoir is a dammed part of the River Don, which flows down in numerous tributaries from Grains Moss, through Winscar and off down the valley, through Penistone, Sheffield, Rotherham, Doncaster and then north-east to eventually join the great Yorkshire Ouse near Goole. I climb up to the hill overlooking the reservoir but here the wind is so fierce I can hardly stand. Dill the Dog’s face is distorted as the wind holds one eye wide open and the other near closed. We quickly retreat down the path again. On the journey back a Weasel runs smartly across the lane and bounces through the grass.
Thursday 11th January – Fleets Dam – Overnight a fierce wind shook the house with much roaring and whistling. This morning the wind has lessened a bit but is still a gale. Squally rain makes a long walk an uninviting prospect. So Dill the Dog and I simply have a short stroll along the Dearne at Fleets Dam. The river is higher than I have seen it for a while. It cascades over the weir with no indication of the step in the centre through which the river normally flows. There are a few small branches scattered around the path, but no evidence of major damage caused by the overnight wind. Black-headed Gulls, wings half-cocked, twist through the turbulent air. Robins are singing strongly. A Green Woodpecker cackles briefly from some way away.
Home – Shortly after reaching home again, the heavens unleashed another downpour. Water flows down the gutters in the street like a mountain stream. Later in the morning I refill the feeders in the garden. Visitors include a Great Spotted Woodpecker, Blue and Great Tits, Greenfinches and Wood Pigeons. A Robin seems to have taken to the arm of the rotary washing line, using it to watch over the garden.
Friday 12th January – Elsecar Reservoir – Down Burying Lane, between Wentworth and Hoyland to a small bridge. Under here flows Harley Dike. Either side of the bridge, the stream forms an area of Willow carr – very wet areas with willows, now a rare habitat. A path leads toward Elsecar Reservoir. Great Tits are very vocal this morning. Everywhere is very wet and the sky is grey, threatening more rain. A Kestrel rises near the reservoir. There are a number of large branches freshly broken off of willows. The reservoir was constructed in 1794 to provide water for the Barnsley Canal, which was completed in 1798. A couple of Great Crested Grebe, a good number of Mallard, Coots and Moorhens are on the water. Dill the Dog gets spooked by some dogs whose owners are chatting (the dogs are only being friendly) and trots off back down the path. The other dog owners call to her, but I explain she is now pretty deaf and her eyesight is deteriorating. One gives a loud whistle that stops her and a few hand claps and arm waving from me brings her back. The path leads into Elsecar Park – a fine municipal park. Down the hill is a band stand in good condition. The path leads up the other side of the outflow over the reservoir dam and along the other side of the water. The path here has been made good with stone chippings, but when these stop things are very wet and boggy. Back into the woods and willow carr and over Harley Dike to rejoin the path back to Burying Lane.
Saturday 13th January – Wortley – Through woodland beside the Huddersfield-Sheffield road near Wortley. Chaffinches are pinking and Blue Tits twittering. Beyond the wood is Mill Moor Height, the top of the old moor, now consisting of sheep fields and the wood that rose up from the Don valley. From here, Crane Moor, a small village, can be seen nestling in the valley. Over the other side of the valley a wooded hill rises. Stainborough Castle lies within the woods. Across the field the hill path leads down to a farm – Well Houses – but I head back to the woods. Walls surrounding the woodland are ruined and often little more than a footing. One old stone gate post stands by the track, the other lies on the ground like a tomb lid.
The next stop is in the village of Wortley itself. Wortley should be famous for being the birthplace of the notorious highwayman Swift Nick (John Nevison, 1639-84). It was he, not Dick Turpin who made the infamous ride on horseback from London to York in order to establish an alibi for a robbery. But I could find no mention of him. Long before this, the Romans mined iron here. There are two roads leading from the main road. One goes to Wortley Hall, the ancestral home of the Earls of Wharncliffe. Since 1951 it has been owned by the Trade Union, Labour and Co-operative movements as a conference centre. The other road is called The Flats and passes the Top Lodge, a very square, single story building. The estate wall of Wortley Hall runs down one side. The other is occupied by modern houses until the wall ends at Park Lodge, a far older dwelling. Squirrels are everywhere, but Dill the Dog can no longer see them. A cast iron gate crosses the road at Park Lodge. Beyond are open fields with trees spaced in such a way that it looks like this was once parkland for the Hall. A field of uncropped corn stands pale yellow and withering. Probably for feeding pheasants. A cast iron fence runs down the side of the estate. On the way back I peek over the wall. An ornamental pond stands looking disused and forlorn. Robins are singing.
Sunday 14th January – Deffer Woods – The constant chatter of Blue and Great Tits accompanies us as we walk up the track through the woods. A Blue Tit investigates a nest box more suitable for a woodpecker. Beeches stand gaunt and bare. Conifers seem gloomy despite the blue sky and bright sun. Some stand green and looking like they have been carefully trimmed into perfect cigar shapes. Young (relatively speaking) Yews, without any twists or gnarls in their upright splendour. We follow the path round. The old pantechnicon trailer is still in the woods being used as a store. Rhododendrons are spreading through the area; there was always considerable thickets of them but they are clearly more widespread. Long cones hang from the top of a tall Norway Spruce, fresh reddish brown.
Tuesday 16th January – Scout Dike – It is bitter in the wind and I have worn a too thin a coat. The reservoir is full and water tumbles over the lip of the overflow and falls down the concrete stairs to the stream below. Each stair has a face of white water. An information board informs that the reservoir is 12 metres deep and covers 16 hectares. It contains 709 cubic metres of water. It was built as a compensation reservoir to provide compensation flows to the River Don for the impounding of water by Broadstone, Ingbirchworth and Royd Moor water supply reservoirs. I am chilled and retreat rapidly .
Thursday 18th January – Fleets Dam – It is a very short walk in strong winds and rain. The river has risen again, certainly higher than last week. It has been dull most the week, but today is predicted to be stormy.
Home – The barometer is showing 976 mbars and the wind is increasing in intensity. Powerful gusts bang in to the windows. Showers of rain and sleet keep everywhere damp. The wind does not seem to faze the Great Spotted Woodpecker which is scurrying up one of the apple trees. He flies over to the fat feeder and prises out the last lump, which it takes to the apple tree and jams into a crevice. The woodpecker then proceeds to peck at the lump. It is watched by a vibrantly virescent Greenfinch. Blue and Great Tits visit the seed feeders, snatching morsels and retreating to the shelter of the leylandii. A Sparrowhawk flies over, although the wind seems to be controlling its flight more than the bird itself.
Friday 19th January – Blackburn Meadows – The wind has dropped but it is far from still. The water level in the Sheffield-Rotherham Canal is high. The first pond, grandly named Ferham Lake, contains several Tufted Duck, a few Coot, a single male Pochard and three Lapwings standing on a hidden bank in the water, hunched-backed and looking pretty miserable. The path to the first hide is blocked by a fallen Alder tree. The first hide looks over the second pond, Holmes Farm Flash. It reveals nothing. A new section has been opened and a path leads round between the lagoon and Magna (the great rolling mill, now a steel/science exhibition). A large dull brown Fox trots across the path, his white tipped brush disappearing into the long grass. Great Tits are singing persistently now. Long yellow catkins hand from scrubby saplings. Round the far side, the Fox reappears and vanishes again. He cannot have gone into the old slurry pits area as there is now a close-meshed fence completely surrounding it, so he must have slipped off down to the track below. A cock Pheasant flies across the area, but does not seem excited, so the Fox must not have been close. Unfortunately, the fence is completely closed at the far end, so I must retrace my steps back to the first hide. Blackbirds are giving their alarm calls as Dill the Dog and I pass. I had thought the fencing was very recent, but clearly I have not been here for a while as there is dead Greater Bindweed entwined to the top. From the second hide there is a Mute Swan visible on the smaller pool. The windmill, a steel derrick with a multi-bladed sail, is working well. It pumps water from the canal to the ponds to maintain their level and also pumps out methane from a ventilation system under the ponds to prevent a gas build-up.
Saturday 20th January – Helmsley – We head to the North York Moors via the Howardian Hills. These hills are designated an “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty” and lie to the south of the North York Moors. The roads climb and fall through small villages and hamlets with Norse names – Brandsby, Stearsby, Grimstone and Oswaldkirk. As we leave the hills the road drops down into Helmsley. A small town with a fine castle, Helmsley was recorded in the Saxon Chronicle as Ulmetum and in the Domesday Book as Emslac or Hamlake. We have visited here on several occasions, but a stop is always required to visit the delicatessens, where we purchase a free-range chicken for Sunday dinner, a haggis (McSween’s, of course) for Burns night and pork pies and treats for lunch. Behind the square is Castlegate, a street with a stream running down one side. At the top of the road is the parish church, which is open (sadly an all too rare occurrence with churches these days) so a visit is in order. There is evidence of a Saxon wattle and daub church on the site but the first recorded date for a church is 1129 when Theodric was in the Priest in Charge. The present church, dedicated to All Saints, was built in the 12th Century but substantially restored in 1868. On entering the church one is confronted by a north aisle entirely covered by splendid murals. They were painted at the beginning of the last century by a London artist, Mr Gast, and completed in 1909. Restoration took place in 1949. The murals depict figures holding scrolls listing the Vicars of Helmsley, Abbots of nearby Rievaulx Abbey and the Bishops and Archbishops of York. The “Helmsley Tree” shows the branches of the parish, once the largest in England. The branches, Harome (1863), Beadlam (1882), Bilsdale Midcable (1896) and Pockley with east Moors (1989) became separate parishes. Another “tree” shows the patrons of Parish and yet another shows how 15 daughter abbeys were founded by the monks of Rievaulx. The “Church Tree” shows how the church has become divided into the Latin, Greek and English branches (something of a simplification methinks).
The windows set into the north aisle wall depicts the life of Sir Walter L’Espec, friend of Prince Henry, later Henry I. Sir Walter was descended from a Norman baron who came over from Normandy with the Conqueror. His brother held estates in Somerset and a later descendant of this side of the family was John Speke, who with Richard Burton, discovered the source of the Nile. L’Espec founded the Augustinian Priory of Kirkham in 1122, allegedly on the spot that his son was killed whilst hunting. The first window shows the arms of L’Espec and Nostell Priory from whence came the first prior of Kirkham, L’Espec’s uncle. On the south wall of the north aisle is a piscina which indicates that this aisle was a chapel, probably dedicated to St Nicholas. To the east of the aisle is the Chapel of St Aelred, erected in 1881 by the Revd Gray in memory of his father, Robert Gray, first bishop of Cape Town. On the west wall are two painted wooden plaques reporting how Misses Sarah and Margaret Dixon, in 1861 and 1868 respectively gave £50 “to be invested in Public Securities, the interest thereof to be expended for the encouragement of Psalmody, under the direction of the Vicar with the the assistance of church warders for the time being annually at Christmas.” Each gave a further sum of £60 for alms for the poor to be distributed at Christmas. On the south side of the nave is the Chapel of St Columba. A beautiful set of stained glass windows, with an emphasis on blue, depicts the life of St Columba. Murals on the wall tell of the “Mission of St Aiden” and, just below the roof, St George slaying the dragon. In the baptistery there is a slave yoke, removed from a freed slave by Dr David Livingstone. A letter from Livingstone written on 14th July 1863 to Mrs Gray, the Revd Gray’s mother is in a frame on the wall. Here also is another wooden plaque recording donations from various worthies for the poor, dated 1720. On returning to the car is the rather sad sight of Dill the Dog barking at being left alone, but unfortunately her voice is now so weak that none can hear her.
Rosedale Chimney Bank – We leave Helmsley and head through Kirkbymoorside and then up towards the moors. The road drops down into Hutton-Le-Hole and then across the moors to Rosedale Chimney Bank. On top of the steep escarpment down to Rosedale runs a trail. We head off to see a cross erected about half a mile away on a buff. The wind is ferocious, Kay and I hunker down and walk steadily. Dill the Dog seems to love it and is galloping to and fro happily! The wind up at the cross is even stronger and we quickly retreat down to the path. Red Grouse watch our passing, the odd one flying up and dropping down further away with a cry of “Go-back, go-back, go-back”. Down the hill to “The White Horse Farm Hotel”, where we are staying. A fine Georgian inn selling Black Sheep ale and doing an excellent evening meal. Just as we sit with our pints, down comes the rain and out comes the sun resulting in a rainbow arcing over the deep valley below.
Sunday 21st January – North York Moors – Across from the inn is Daleside Road that leads to Thorgill. Dill the Dog and I set off along there before breakfast. A 9-hole golf course is along the side of the hill. Ahead stands what looks like a Georgian country house, but a plaque high on the wall states “1873”, so mid-Victorian instead! Below the valleys are classic U-shaped glacial features. The rock is mainly Jurassic and was covered by a massive ice-sheet during the last Ice Age, over 12,000 years ago. The melting of the ice created floods which further carved the landscape. Woodlands developed and the whole area would have been covered by broad-leaf forest. The coming of the monasteries brought large scale sheep farming which resulted in clearances and the creation of the moors. Streams, rills and ditches run down the hill. They are all in spate and flowing water can be heard constantly. We set off after breakfast and travel across the moors heading more or less north-east. We rise out of the Rosedale valley. Across the valley there are signs of quarrying and sharp cliffs high on the escarpments. Up on Glaisdale Moor it has been snowing, although the covering is light and patchy. A sign points to Fryup, a name which conjures strange images. We drop down into deep valleys. Often there are piles of rock salt every few yards on the side of the road. One steep hill drops down to a rushing ford, which is traversed slowly, although the water is not deep. Some brave soul is camping next to the stream. Past New Row which seems to consist of a terrace of cottages across a field, no doubt, the “new row”. At another ford there is a lovely stone bridge arching narrowly a few yards upstream. We notice several cricket pitches, or at least flat, wet, green fields with a large roller and a club house. The Esk Valley railway line passes over and under the road several times. As we near the edge of the North York Moors national park we pass a house that has a long row of lavatory pans outside being used as plant pots.
Tuesday 23rd January – Pugneys Country Park – The weather has turned cold. It is bright and ice crunches underfoot. It is not a deep frost but the puddles are frozen, as Dill the Dog discovers when she slides across one and falls over. There is some sort of construction being carried out beside the ditch and a wide track of mud has been created by mechanical diggers. Three Redshank pipe as they fly overhead. A Robin sings from the ditch-side willows. There are a fair few wildfowl on the lakes, but not as many as may be expected in late January. Mallard, Tufted Duck (including five on the River Calder), Goldeneye, Great Crested Grebes, a few Wigeon, Pochard (a decent number sleeping beside the reeds on the Nature Lake), Shovelers (in the same place), Ruddy Duck, Coot (very few), a few Grey Heron and Cormorants. A widely-spread flock of Lapwings drifts north towards Wakefield. They are accompanied by just two Golden Plover. Good numbers of Great Tits are slipping through the trees between the main and Nature lakes. The ruins of Sandal Castle stand on the hill watching the scene below as it has done for hundreds of years.
Home – In the evening I set out for a short walk with Dill the Dog. It is snowing. Doubtless the snow will be short-lived but it gladdens my heart. A winter without snow is like a pudding without custard – not essential, indeed probably safer without, but so much more satisfying. Over by the green, despite the lateness of the hour, some children are playing excitedly. Dill the Dog manages to slip over but, as usual, does herself no harm.
Wednesday 24th January – Horbury Bridge – The snow was indeed an ephemeral spirit that vanished in the morning light. It is grey as I park up in Horbury Bridge. A building on the corner has a blue plaque declaring that the building had been a Mission Church founded by the Revd Sabine Baring-Gould, 1834-1924, writer of “Onward Christian Soldiers”, first sung Whitsuntide 1865. The River Calder is wide and, until maybe fifty yards upstream of the bridge is still as a millpond. However, underwater obstructions show the stillness to be illusory as the water rushes and swirls down and under the bridge. The Calder-Hebble Navigation canal is quiet. A large flock of Redwings with just one Fieldfare fly out of the Hawthorns beside the tow-path. After watching from the other side of the canal they head off across the fields with their quiet tsp tsp call. Blue Tits are also active along the hedge. It starts to rain. Opposite the boat yard, which is entered under a arched bridge carrying the to-path, is a stream entering the canal through old stone walls. There appear to be a number of similar constructions along the side of the canal leading to the bridge, but they are all filled or blocked with debris.
Friday 26th January – Bretton Woods – The constant chattering of Blue Tits greets one to the woods. Greenfinches and Great Tits are also moving through the trees in search of food. Round at the pond it is quiet. A glazing of ice covers the surface. The conifers opposite look sad and brown. There is some signs of storm damage in the woods, one tree has its top third ripped off, but not a great deal. A Grey Squirrel dashes up a tree trunk and remains motionless on the far side. I can see the edge of its fur, but rather like the apocryphal Ostrich tale, it seems that if it cannot see me, it cannot be seen. A Robin, on the other hand, stands boldly on a low branch as I pass. A Long-tailed Tit group, not really enough to call a flock, a surprisingly muted in their calls. A female Great Tit is up in a tree apparently listening to a pair of males engaged in alternate calling some distance away either side of her. A Great Spotted Woodpecker calls then dives off through the trees. Carrion Crows fly over the woods, calling harshly.
Saturday 27th January – Barnsley Canal – The paths are deep in very wet mud. Large numbers of Redwings fly off in different directions. Dill the Dog is in a sulky mood for some reason. She tries dawdling behind but then gets lost, so I keep her in front of me. But instead of moving along at a sensible distance, she keeps slowing down and has to be nudged along, which results in a dirty glance back. On several occasions she glances back and then turns and loses balance, falling into brambles or a bush. Looking back over the valley from the hillside reveals very little moving. It is quiet, despite the bright sunshine and blue sky.
Home – A Great Spotted Woodpecker is on the rind of a ham I hung out. But the lack of red on the nape indicates it is a female and not the male that has been regularly visiting.
Monday 29th January – Holmbridge – This village lies in the steep sided valley of the River Holme, up the valley from the town of Holmfirth. It owes much of its existence to the river which was used to power textile mills. The parish church of St David occupies the centre of the village. Opposite is the cricket pitch with sheep currently controlling the grass. A road runs up beside (or rather some way above) the river. A concave curved wall forms a small dam. A stone channel runs off at an angle and then a smaller channel runs off at a right angle to bring the flow back to the river. The sluice gate must be blocked as water flow is straight over the top of the dam. There is more evidence here of recent gales with broken and uprooted trees scattered through the woods. A cloud of midges hovers over the road – evidence of the mildness of this winter. Emerald green mosses blanket the stone walls. The road ends at the foot of Digley Reservoir. The dam was started following the disastrous breaching of Bilberry Dam, further up the valley near Holme, in 1852 which flooded Holmfirth and caused 81 deaths. The present dam was not completed until 1954.
Steep steps lead up the hillside into a wood of Birch and Beech. A path wanders across the hillside before coming out on the road just before Digley Reservoir. Mistle Thrushes rasp in the trees. There is a seat overlooking the dam. I rest for a few minutes but Dill the Dog decides to have a roll in the grass and topples off down the steep hillside. She stops in a mass of brown, dessicated bracken from which she has difficulty in extracting herself. A Jay flies across the narrow valley and a pheasant croaks in the distance. Over the road the reservoir is blue. A circular structure of arches in stone with a white cast iron fence has been built around a large hole down which the overflow water flows. Black-headed Gulls stand on the railings. Some are beginning to get their black caps back. A Goosander flies low over the surface of the water. There are a few Canada Geese in the distance. A road leads down towards Holmbridge. There are some fine houses down this road. Bank Top overlooks the steep valley. In front of the house, the wall lining the far side of the road has been replaced by a white cast iron fence. “Molly Wells” is a splendid house with a well tended garden and lawns near big enough to be called parkland. Still further down, just on the edge of the village, is Field End Farm with a quite magnificent farm house. Opposite the farm is the Old School House. Travelling down the hill past a barn is the Old School itself, built in 1841, but now a private residence.