Saturday 2nd July – Wensleydale – We camp at Bainbridge Ings, just outside the town of Hawes in Wensleydale, North Yorkshire. The dale, an old Norse word for valley, runs from West to East and was carved out by glaciers. The River Ure runs down the dale. Streams from the hills drop over steps caused by layers of hard limestones and softer shales. North from the campsite is Stag Fell, to the south Wether Fell. Both are steep green hillsides topped with grey scree. We head into the town, crossing a traditional meadow of grasses and flowers such as Red and White Clover, Yellow Rattle, Oxeye Daisy and Yarrow. The Ropemaker, Outhwaithe’s, has a viewing area that allows visitors to see the various machines making ropes. Bobbins whirl and move around at the same time twisting the thread into rope that is wound slowly onto drums. The village is generally unspoiled, with good traditional shops such as the butcher, J W Crockett selling an excellent pork pie and the splendid grocers of Elijah Allen. Ivor Grace is the wood turner. There are houses dating from the 17th and 18th centuries. Gayle Beck flows through the town, the River Ure being to the north. The beck is a series of steps with limestone risers and the eroded shale forming the flat area. From the lower, more modern bridge, there are signs on the side of a building that indicate there was a waterwheel there. Opposite is a structure that looks like a privy that dropped straight out into the stream. The station is now closed, but a tank engine and carriages stand there as part of the museum.
On the outskirts of the village is Hawes Creamery. There have been several attempts to close the creamery but the outcry has kept it open. Over recent years, the popularity of Wensleydale Cheese has been helped by the cartoon characters, “Wallace and Grommit”, a pair that the creamery makes sure they exploit. There is a viewing area to watch the cheese being made. A line of vats contain the various stages – firstly milk with the rennet being added, which is then stirred until the curds and whey separate; the next vat is allowing the curds to settle. In the third vat, the whey has been drained off and the curd is cut into large lumps then sliced into smaller pieces. In the fourth vat, the workers are adding salt and mixing the curd. They then shovel it into a machine that cuts it into small pieces that are packed into moulds and off for pressing. On the way back to the campsite, we notice the range of beautiful flowers on the grassy bank between the road and drystone wall – Water Avens and Bloody Cranesbill in particular. In the evening, we return again to Hawes and sample the Blacksheep Brewery’s fine range of beers.
Sunday 3rd July – Wensleydale and Swaledale – Overnight a gale rips through the area. I get up several times to replace guy ropes that have been pulled out. In the predawn, Curlews call from the fells. A little later a Red Grouse can be heard. I walk up the road towards the village of Gayle. Rooks are feeding in a mown hay field, young ones noisily demanding to be fed. In another field there are several Lapwings. Just as I enter the outskirts of the village there is a commotion in the long grass beside the foot path. I step back a pace and a Sparrowhawk shoots out of the grass, panics and drops the House Sparrow it is carrying and dashes off. The House Sparrow quickly picks herself up and heads off in the opposite direction. In a small space between buildings is the old graveyard. One gravestone has a copper plate dating from 1782 instead of the inscription carved in the stone. Gayle Beck runs through the centre of the village and on one side is a long leet leading to Gayle Mill. The mill was built in 1784 under licence from Richard Arkwright. It was at first a cotton mill then it spun flax. But for most of the 19th Century it was a wool mill. In 1878 it was converted into a sawmill and operated until 1988. On conversion, its water mill was replaced by a Thompson Double-Vortex turbine, built by Williamson’s of Kendal. In 1925 generators were installed that lit the building and some of the houses in the town. Much of the equipment is still in the building which is undergoing renovation. A paved path crosses the fields to Hawes. A Dipper is feeding in the stream flowing through the town. It is joined by a youngster which flaps its wings furiously demanding food.
Aysgarth Falls – The River Ure flows through a wide gorge down mid-Wensleydale. Below the village of Aysgarth, there is a triple flight of low waterfalls. Next to the road, a dead tree reaches out over the long drop to the river below. A pair of Spotted Flycatchers use it as a base for their leaps into the air after insects. Along there river, flooding has washed away the sandy soil around the bases of trees leaving a mass of intertwined roots exposed. Opposite, the gorge side is steep and wooded. Trees rise for many hundreds of feet and Jackdaws float noisily high above. Some are nesting in holes in a large limestone bluff, down which hangs a mass of Dog Rose and an Elder clings on. High above the river is the impressively large church of St Andrews, which has the largest graveyard in England. Rabbits and sheep graze and sleep amongst the gravestones.
Bolton Castle – One of the best preserved mediaeval castles in private ownership in England, Bolton castle dates from 1379 onwards. It was built by Richard, 1st Baron Scrope. The family had its ups and downs, from Sir William, who in 1398 became Treasurer of England under Richard II, but was beheaded after Richard was deposed, to Sir John Scrope, 5th Baron, who became Captain and Governor of the Fleet under Richard III. Sir John, 8th Baron Scrope, supported the Pilgrimage of Grace causing Henry VIII to fire Bolton Castle. Mary, Queen of Scots was a “guest” at Bolton Castle in 1568 in the care of Sir Henry, 9th Lord Scrope and Sir John Knollys. In 1569, she left the castle for Tutbury in Staffordshire where she was imprisoned for eighteen years before her execution at Fotheringay in 1587. John Scrope held the castle for the King during the Civil war, surrendering at the point of starvation. For his defiance, the castle was “slighted” – i.e. blasted with cannon fire. This left only the South West Tower relatively undamaged. The family left the castle for Bolton Hall in 1675. The North East Tower collapsed in 1761 during a great storm. Since then the castle has had various occupants, and much stone has been plundered for other buildings. The castle remains in the hands of the Orde-Powlett family, descendants by marriage of the Scropes and retainers of the title Lord Bolton. The castle still retains much of the character of a mediaeval fortress. The complete rooms give a clear indication of the relative comfort of the nobility, whilst the kitchens, brew house, grain stores and threshing ground etc. indicate the hard lives of those in service. Spiral staircases lead up to the top of the South East Tower. From the very top there are views right across Wensleydale, a patchwork of fields bounded by dry stone walls and the remnants of the once great forest of Wensleydale. However, as vertigo gets the better of me, I do not linger long up here. The gardens are still being reinstated. A vineyard has been planted. Herb beds and plants used for dying have been restored.
Swaledale – From the castle a road leads up onto Redmire Moor, a bleak stretch of heather clad moorland and then drops down across Harkerside Moor into Swaledale. We drive down the dale in search of a priory but it appears to be inaccessible. We turn and head up the valley through beautiful villages with names like Feetham, Crackpot and Muker and to and fro across the River Swale. We then take the road back up onto the fells and across Butter Tubs Pass. Again, there is a wild and bleak beauty up here. A valley drops away beside the road down hundreds of feet, only a steel cord barrier between the road and the stream below. High poles mark the road across the top, useful when the snow buries all. We drop down again to Hardraw, where a quick pint in the Green Dragon refreshes us.
Bainbridge Ings – During the night I am awakened by a loud call outside the tent. Although I do not recognise it, it says raptor to me, and considering the location possibly Hen Harrier. Later, checking by means of M. Reché’s superb set of recordings, I confirm this.
Thursday 7th July – Scout Dike – A grey morning and it is quiet at the dam end of this long reservoir. A Great Crested Grebe is on a nest in a mass of water weed some ten yards out from the bank. Coots are picking at the weed around the nest but this does not seem to disturb the sitting grebe. A fair number of Tufted Duck have congregated around some sort of net lying in the water. At the far end, the bushes are full of young warblers. I have previously seen Willow and Garden Warblers here, but have no idea which ones these are.
Fleets Dam – Something is calling in the willow carr. I suspect it is young Sparrowhawks, as they bred here last year, but I cannot locate them. A pair of Kingfishers flash past several times. There are numerous young Blue Tits in the trees. They look like punk versions of the adults with spiky and smudged attempts at the adult plumage.
Friday 8th July – Barnsley Canal – Willowherbs and Ragwort are coming into flower. No caterpillars of the Cinnabar Moth yet, but plenty of Bloodsuckers, little red Soldier Beetles Rhagonycha fulva (which, of course do not suck blood!) Butterflies are flittering around, Hedge Browns, Small Skippers, Speckled Woods and a Ringlet. Gawky looking Moorhen chicks stand on the edge of the reed beds. A Dabchick dives. Yellowhammers and a Sedge Warbler are in song.
Home – The garden is full of high pitched squeaking. A large flock of Long-tailed Tits is moving through.
Monday 11th July – Belford, Northumberland – A village on the Great North Road, although the A1 is now about half a mile to the east now. Once an important stop on the way to and from Scotland, Queen Margaret once stopped here. There is little of any great age in the village as the marauding Scots destroyed everything on a regular basis. The market cross stands outside the old Blue Bell Inn. In the reign of Charles I the village was described as “the most miserable beggarly town of sods that ever was made in an afternoon of loam and sticks. In all the town not a loaf of bread, nor a quart of beer, nor a lock of hay, nor a peck of oats and little shelter for horse or man”. It should be noted the sods refers to what were called divots, sods of turf with which the houses were roofed. Our first impression of the village does nothing to inform us that things have improved over the last 400 years. The first pub refuses us as they do not allow dogs in the bar. A cat lies asleep on a bar stool and a dog is in a back room that is being refurbished, but no entry for Dill the Dog. We try the Blue Bell Hotel but no-one seems bothered to attend the bar. The Black Swan is closed. We obtain a carryout from the Co-op. The effect of this store and another supermarket is very evident. On the high street there is no grocer, butcher or greengrocer. There is a stove shop and various shops selling trinkets and toys. We return in the evening and find the Black Swan open. It is a place of characters. The landlady (although we cannot work out who is who, so this is merely a supposition on my part) is mainly trying to get two young boys (not sure whose children these are) to bed without waking the “bairn”. She sits and chain smokes. Then she suddenly reached into her bosom and produces a small bundle, “Ah, that’s where I put the bairn’s socks”. A few minutes later she observes “They don’t even match”. She then remembers she needs to cover up the parrot “or it will wake the bairn”.
Tuesday 12th July – Alnwick – The night was unrelentingly hot. This far north it simply does not get dark, there is a bright glow and blue sky in the north at one-thirty in the morning. The blazing sun soon heats everywhere up to blood heat again. Alnwick is a fine town on the River Aln, having grown up by the castle. Entry to the town centre is through the Bondgate, a gate tower that was once part of the town walls. Only one car at a time can pass, yet until relatively recently, this was part of the Great North Road – the A1. In the town there are many of the usual high street shops, but they are outnumbered by local businesses. The central area is triangular around Northumberland Hall. Just outside the town is Alnwick Gardens. It contains some excellent water features – modern fountains, channels of water, long water steps etc. The rose gardens are just going over, but that is to be expected at this stage of the season. There is also a “Poison Garden”; all of the plants are poisonous. It is very hot and we spend less time here than it deserves.
The castle is still the home of the Lord Northumberland. It was built by Ivo de Vesci in 1135, but it came to prominence when it was purchased by Henry Percy in 1309. It was Henry Percy IV that is best remembered, the Harry Hotspur of Shakespearean fame. The Henry family was similar to the Scropes (see above under Bolton Castle), in that they seemed to come into and then fall out of favour with monarchs over the years. The castle is fully restored (personally, I prefer ruins!) The main keep has rooms in the Italianate style, walls hung with portraits by Old Masters. Most people now know the castle as where the Harry Potter films are staged.
Seahouses – This fishing port is now the main place for cruises around the Farne Islands that lay a few miles off shore. They are not so clear today because of the heat haze on the sea. The centre is crowded with tourists. We eventually find a hotel selling crab sandwiches, but they are strange items with what tastes like curry flavoured dressing.
Wednesday 13th July – Belford – The road outside the camp site runs straight and true. This suggests it is the old Great North Road. This is further evidenced by the presence of the Toll Gate Cottage and farm. Indeed, half a mile or so down the road, it takes a sharp right turn as directly ahead is the modern A1. Swallows are mobbing a Kestrel. It veers off and they return over the fields. Cries come from a large Ash in the direction of the raptor’s flight. Two Kestrels fly out and off across the fields. I suspect there is a nest high in the branches. A large Hare lops across the field, its long ears facing back to listen out for pursuit. Mistle Thrushes feed in paddocks.
Wooler – We pack the tent and head west to this delightful town on the edge of the Cheviot Hills. The main street has traditional shops. We purchase several cheeses made by Doddington Dairy, a couple of miles up the road. Wooler is absent from the Domesday Book, probably because William the Conqueror had yet to subdue this area. However, the town prospered when 1st Baron of Wooler was created in 1107. The town was granted a licence to hold a market on Thursdays in 1199. The hospital of St Mary Magdalene, was set up circa 1288. The wars between England and Scotland would have affected Wooler substantially. It was badly damaged by Scots raids in 1340 and again in 1409.
Rothbury – Another fine Borders town. Built on a hillside above the River Coquet in Coquetdale. The Simonside Hills rise above the town. It has had a turbulent history. The Reivers burned the town frequently during their raids in the 15th and 16th centuries. The whole area will repay a revisit in the near future. On the way south from Rothbury, a Red Squirrel bounces lightly across the road. For one frightening moment it seems it will turn and try to cross back through the oncoming traffic, but fortunately, it bounds into the grassy verge.
Friday 15th July – Barnsley Canal – A family group of Bullfinches flies across the canal and slips away into the willows. Another family group, this time of Willow Tits is in the Silver Birches beyond the second lock. I hear and actually catch a brief glimpse of a Grasshopper Warbler, my first sighting for fourteen years! There has been a large hatching of Gatekeeper butterflies and regularly along the tow-path, groups of a dozen or more flitter up from the sides of the path.
Tuesday 19th July – Royston – I follow the part Royston Boundary footpath which joins Lee Lane and crosses the fields to Windmill Hill, the northernmost tip of the village of Royston. The path is on the disused railway line of the Great Eastern Railway running from Barnsley through Royston and Notton to join the West Riding and Grimsby Joint line at Nostell. It is windy with frequent drizzle, not the real rain the garden needs. Oak and Silver Birch lines the track. The weather results in little bird call, just the odd twittering from Tits. A bridge has been removed but there is no indication where the road it carried ran; on one side a paddock and footpath and on the other a field of Broad Beans. At Windmill Hill the track ends high above the road, another bridge having been removed. The path leads on, now forming part of the boundary between Barnsley and Wakefield.
Barnsley Canal – Rain clouds have built up and are sweeping across the sky but, as yet, no real rain. Six Grey Herons stand in the field on the far side of the River Dearne. Plant life is tall beside the tow-path; Hogweed, Ragwort (now being eaten by the orange and black striped caterpillars of the Cinnabar Moth) and Great Willowherb. A Jay squawks in the Hawthorn hedge. I catch a glimpse of tail before it slips away. A young Green Woodpecker lands briefly on a tree on the opposite side of the canal but quickly dives off into the woods. A few moments later an adult undulates its way across the canal. A pair of Greenfinches stand on top of a bush at the foot of Willowbank. The pasture up the hill is yellow with Ragwort turning pink under the thickets with Rosebay Willowherb.
Wednesday 20th July – Oakwell to Ardsley – The car is in for a new windscreen which will take three hours, so Dill the Dog and I set off to wander. We pick up the link from the Trans Pennine Trail to the town centre just down from Oakwell. Over the other side of the is the end of a terrace of houses at Measborough Dike. The end house carries a faded advertisement on its gable but it is now illegible. Nowadays it would be a billboard that is changed regularly, back then the painted advertisement stayed for years. The path reaches an open area that is partly hill and partly spoil heap of Barnsley Main Colliery. The hill has a sort of never-ending summit, like some mountains where there is always another ridge ahead. This is rather less grand but when the top is attained there is a panoramic view over Barnsley, the Dearne Valley and beyond. The hillside opposite, over the River Dearne, is wooded. Monk Bretton spills down the hill in modern estates. Hoyle Mill lies below; a chapel stands out in the surrounding industrial buildings. The track, which is part of the incredibly complex network of railway lines, now mostly disused, heads towards Stairfoot passing under Hoyle Mill Road. There is a decent show of flowers along the trail – Kidney Vetch, St John’s Wort, Rest-Harrow, Ribbed and White Meliltot and Yarrow. Heather is growing on the rocky sides of the cutting through which the track now runs. The stretch before Stairfoot contains a line of fine young trees, some twenty-five feet tall. I recall my anger many years ago when these were planted and hooligans had broken every sapling. A tiny section of canal remains near the track. Over Stairfoot and beyond its infamous roundabout. A large boulder stands in the centre of the trail with a plaque attached. It commemorates the opening of the Trans Pennine Trail on 17th July 1996 – the first British sector of a European Long Distance Foot Path (No 8). The Marine Band Display, which showed the geology of the area is sadly gone. I leave the trail and head up a footpath through wheat fields towards Ardsley. Swifts are numerous over the fields, fattening themselves for the long journey south they will soon undertake. There is the remains of a seat on the slope under a hedge where one can rest and look out across the valley towards Aldham. A little way around, there is a view along the Dove Valley with its wooded hills above Worsbrough. There are what appear to be owl boxes stationed around the fields. The path continues alongside a field of near ripe Rape. It then comes out onto the Doncaster Road by the crematorium. The rest of the walk back is through an uninteresting housing estate, although it enters a far older part just before Stairfoot. I then rejoin the track and retrace my steps.
Saturday 23rd July – Silkstone Fall – The woods are quiet and very dry. A single call comes from the conifers; sounds like a Crossbill but I cannot confirm it. Over the railway line and into the old iron working area. Abandoned brick buildings are gaudy with graffiti. Just as I reach the path that goes up onto the waste stack there is a loud screech. A pair of young owls, probably Tawny, briefly flash into view and disappear into the trees. This sets off alarm calls from several Robins and Wrens. These continue for some time, so the owls are still here, but apart from the briefest of glimpses, I do not see them again. Back down the stack and into the woods and some more harsh calls. This time a pair of Jays flies off across the tops of the trees. Back down in the lower woods, Coal Tits bounce around the branches. A young Nuthatch, its plumage a pale version of the adult, runs along branches and up and down the trunks. A young Mistle Thrush, big eyed and gawky flees my approach.
Saturday 30th July – Barnsley Canal – Heavy and prolonged rain yesterday has cleansed the land. Streams that were murky affairs covered in flies now run clear. A Reed Warbler sings from the reed bed in the canal. A Song Thrush is also singing, but like most songsters at this time of year, the tune is tentative and sporadic unlike the full throttle blast of Spring. The stench of Hydrogen Sulphide from the drainage pump is very strong this morning. Grass seed heads are now brown. Ragwort is beginning to go over, but the other yellow multi-headed flower, Tansy is just beginning to bloom. A Grey Heron stands in a dead tree in the marsh. Approaching the wood below Redbrook, it is clear that water flooded off the fields above, flattening the grass and leaving a muddy surface on the path. The little stream looks normal but the lump of board that was used as a stepping stone has been washed away. Up on the hillside, Swallows and House Martins are feeding at all levels; some almost too high to see, others swooping low over the grass.